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Friday, February 16, 2018

Tiny House Shower: Take 2!

Alisha McDarris
Let me start right off by saying I loved our tiny house shower/tub combo. I loved the way it looked, I loved that I got to have a soak on cold winter days (even if I had to curl up in the fetal position to submerge 3/4 of my body. Unfortunately, we had no idea what we were doing, but sure thought we had a great idea. We built a nice box around our hefty rubberized trough, we hung some dope vinyl tiles on the wall and grouted between all the joints. It was beautiful! It was brilliant!

Look at those vinyl tiles in our tiny house shower! Love.

But it also wasn't terribly functional. Some of you will see the issues right away. Some of you, like me, might need them pointed out but then you'll be all, "No, it'll be great! We'll pull a Tim Gunn and make it work!" And we did. Sort of. But not really.

We built our tiny house bathtub out of pallet wood if you can believe it.

Here was the first issue: see those corners and edges of the box surround? The ones that sit lower than the edge of the black tub? That was a design flaw and it was all on us. Seemed like the easiest way to get a cutout that fit without having to be perfect was to design it so the tub would just drop in and the lip would hide any imperfect cuts or measures. On that count, it worked perfectly. But when one goes to use the shower, water tends to pool in those corners and just sit. And no matter how much sealant or lacquer you put on a wood box, ain't nothin' gonna stop collecting water from daily use from damaging the wood.

We tried to solve the problem by putting absorbent material in the corners. But they still needed to be wrung out every day, so that didn't work. Then we resorted to a full 360 curtain surround, but if it wasn't closed perfectly water still splashed and sprayed out and made a mess. Plus it had a tendency to make the shower seem a lot smaller. Not something you want in an already relatively close space.

The next problem was with the tiles. I don't know if vinyl self-adhesive tiles like this weren't meant to be mounted vertically (probably) or the adhesive we used wasn't strong enough (possibly) or the movement of the tiny house when we towed it was too much for the grout (you never know), but that crap started to bubble and separate from the wall not long after we settled in.

So finally, after renting our house out all summer and coming back to a bathroom that suffered a bit of water damage from an imperfectly designed system, it was time for a re-haul.

Mid tile removal. And yes that is a pizza cutter in the bottom right corner. They're very handy for wedging behind vinyl tile to help pop them off the wall.
We considered just paying a little extra for a proper shower surround, but when we considered that the drain would have to be in the exact same place as our current drain and couldn't find a model that was the right size anyway, we gave up on that.

We considered buying vinyl flooring by the foot, painting the walls with that heavy-duty waterproof paint name it, we considered it. But what we ended up with was 4x8 sheets of plastic sheeting found with the decorative wall panels at Home Depot. It was plastic, 100% waterproof, and about 1/4 inch thick. There were even handy little end caps and corner pieces to cover up the cuts we would make that would doubtless be far from straight.

The walls of the shower went up first.

We cut one piece for each wall, then made a frame out of 1x1 boards to go around the tub lip so our new top would have something to sit on and be flush with the tub, thus preventing puddles. We--very carefully--measured and cut out a topper to go over the frame and the tub, cut pieces to trim the edges and make it look all clean and snazzy, and caulked the crap out of everything.

The finished tiny house bathtub, sealed and ready to go.

Is it perfect? No. Apparently even with killer wall panel adhesive and a vinyl roller tool we still can't seem to mount walls without getting that weird bubbly effect here and there. But I bet you can't tell. I can tell, but I'm hoping you can't.

It's just another adventure in DIY tiny house living!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Strange and Sordid History of Valentine's Day

Alisha McDarris

Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is weird. Like, really weird. Not so much these days, what with all the red and pink and hearts and candy, but if you head back to medieval times and look at where some of the foundations of this holiday came from, you might be in for a surprise. Personally, we're not really that into Valentine's Day; never have been. Except for when mom would make us truffles. That we were into. Dad taping balloons and flowers to our lockers in middles school when our egos and reputations were painfully fragile? That embarrassment we could have done without. (Although in hindsight we can see clearly how adorable and parent-brag worthy that was.) But we are into strange and sordid history and pointing and laughing at folks who base romantic escapades on it. Wanna know what we're talking about? Course you do. Check out these weird facts and histories about Valentine's Day:

1. Valentine's Day may or may not celebrate a dude that was martyred
On the 14th of February, as a matter of fact. Of course, Saint Valentine could possibly have been two different men, maybe even three. Nobody seems too sure about this point. But we think it's a guy from Rome who was beheaded for helping couples get married in secret. Or possibly a Christian martyr who's last written words were to his love from, "Your Valentine." Seems like a stretch, but what are you gonna do? These days, he's the patron saint of happy relationships, but also beekeeping, epilepsy, fainting, and travel. What?

2. Valentine's Day may be a product of the classic Church declares new holiday to replace pagan Lupercalia
The church did this a lot back in the day, Christmas included. They'd be all fed up with the pagans celebrating in the streets, so they'd find a way to make the holiday their own and make a bit more palatable. Lupercalia was a fertility festival in Rome in mid-February during which, among other ghastly rituals, men would slap women and crops with bloody goat hide to make them more fertile. Not sure how that worked out for them, but seeing as they didn't have birth control yet, they were probably pretty prolific with or without the flayed animal flesh.

3. Love literally involved the luck of the draw
Part of Lupercalia may have also involved all the single ladies (cue the Beyoncé) putting their names in a pot to be drawn from. The local dudes would draw and the couple hooked up for a week or a year or some such nonsense. So much for a woman's right to choose.

4. The holiday is official
In 1537, King Henry VII declared February 14 officially St. Valentine's Day. Whew. Think of how close we might have come to not spending hundreds of dollars on fine dining, flowers and jewelry every year! No seriously, think about it. Men spend an average of $150 on gifts each year. Women only about $75. Guess we're just thrifty that way.

5. People freaking love cards with cheesy hearts on them
Valentine's Day is the second largest card-giving holiday. That's according to Hallmark. They would know, right? Let's assume the first is Christmas. And I'm told this love-lettering showed up all the way back in the 1400's, but mass production of Valentine's Day cards started in the 1840's when some lady started cutting up her grandmother's good lace and pasting it to red cardstock. Of Course, Hallmark didn't step in until the early 1900's, but I guess that's probably when all the romantic handwritten letters stopped. Thank goodness for other people expressing your feelings for you!

6. Valentine on display
St. Valentine (don't ask us which one) is supposedly on display at several cathedrals around Europe. They call that sort of thing "reliquaries," but really, it's just bones put on display so people can be like, "Oooh, is that the skull of St. Valentine? Maybe if I can just stand next to it my beekeeping business will finally succeed!"

You do you this Valentine's Day. But seriously, maybe avoid drunkenly charging up and down city streets with bloody strips of animal hide. Girls don't like that.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Things to do in Budapest, Hungary

Alisha McDarris

First of all, let's get one thing clear: It's pronounced Booda-pesht. Folks'll be impressed if you manage to get it right. Secondly, Budapest is a wonderful Eastern European destination.While still being fairly popular with travelers, it's far from overrun like Prague or Amsterdam. The wide streets and eclectic walkways provide ample space for wandering and exploring and the city's combination of old and new strikes just about the perfect balance. We spent far too little time there. So, basically, in a nutshell, Budapest is worth a visit. And to prove it, here are some of the things you can do for free (or really cheap) in this city of duality.

Getting Around Budapest

A major train station and comprehensive bus and tram routes make the city super easy to navigate.

Buses, trains and trams: Public transport is cheap in the city at 350 HUF (Hungarian Forint or Ft) or about $1.40 for  a single ride or 530 Ft ($2.15) for a transfer ticket to jump from metro to bus to tram. You can also get travel cards for unlimited trips in a set number of hours. But be wary of the ticket machines located near stations: they don't give change. It's often easiest to purchase a ticket book from a local convenience store. Buying a ticket on board will cost a bit more. Buses, trains and trolleybuses operate on the honor system, and while we never saw officers checking tickets in cities with similar structures (Berlin and Prague), at least once there was an officer manning a Budapest station to make sure riders were following the rules, so don't risk it.

Bike share: MOL Bubi is the city's bike share program. It's not the cheapest we've found in Europe, but it'll do. For 500 Ft ($2.00) you can get a 24-hour "ticket" (1,000 Ft for 72 hours) that allows you unlimited rides up to 30 minutes. Use the bike longer and you'll pay a bit more. There's a 25,000 Ft refundable deposit, too.

Walk: Budapest is a totally walkable city. It's pretty flat and no matter where you are there are always interesting sights or buildings to appreciate, so try taking a stroll instead of spending on a bus ticket. You'll experience more.

Free Things to Do in Budapest

Put your wallet away. These are things that don't cost a dime.

The Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest is one of the most attractive I've ever seen

Marvel at Parliament: Budapest's parliament building is probably the most impressive I've ever seen. It's built in my favorite architectural style (neo-gothic) and massive, to boot. And when you're finished straining your neck to take in all the brilliant details or the stone structure, take a snap in front of the Budapest letters, too. And on October 23, it's free to check out the inside.

In Memorium: 1956, October 25 is deep, dark and haunting

In Memorium: Right outside parliament is a staircase that goes down into the ground instead of up. Beneath the hustle and bustle of the street you'll find a mini museum about the massacre of October 25, 1956 and Hungary's challenging struggle for independence. It is a haunting display that reveals the bleak points in the city's history. Nearby is another downward-leading staircase that has old bits and pieces of important structures like the Parliament building on display.

60 pairs of steel shoes represent Jewish men, women and children who were murdered during WWII

Shoes on the Danube: This memorial to the Jews that were murdered, shot into the Danube River, is chilling, to say the least. A vision of all shapes and sizes of shoes left behind, marking the spot where they were murdered and sent to watery graves, is a solemn reminder of the devastation the city suffered during WWII.

The view from Gallért Hill on the Buda side of Budapest

Gallért Hill: You'll find the Citadel on top, but the walk up is just as inviting. Not only is it quite the hike, a myriad of sprawling paths and trials offers dozens of ways up, down and around the hill. You can see the Cave Church cut into the side of the hill (which costs extra to enter), a great view of the city, and there's a pretty killer playground with trampolines and super slippy slides about halfway up. Take a break and have a play!

The gardens of Buda Castle are perfectly picturesque

Buda Castle: It costs to enter the interior of the castle, but it's worth the trip just to have a stroll around the gardens and along the tops of castle walls.

Vajdahunyad Castle in Varosliget Park in Budapest is a lovely place to spend an afternoon
Josh found Bela. Can you?

Vajdahunyad Castle: On the east side of the city there's another castle. Again, there's a 1,600 Ft admission fee for entry into the museum and tower, but it's located in lovely Varosliget Park, so gardens and cool architecture make it worth the walk. Also, see if you can find the bust of Bela Lugosi that somebody randomly placed in a little alcove some years ago!

The monument to fallen heroes in Heroes Square

Heroes Square: Right next door to that is Heroes Square, complete with towering monument and pillars commemorating all the people who gave their lives for the country's independence.

Memorial to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence, Budapest, Hungary

Memorial to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence: While you're over in that direction, hit of this ominous monument. It's eerie and gleaming in the sun, sharp and striking. Hungary's history often gets overlooked in American history classes; this work of art makes it impossible to ignore.

Margaret's Island: Take a stroll on this lovely island in the middle of the Danube. It's free to get to the island, just walk over on Margaret Bridge and relax on the grass under a shady tree somewhere. Maybe next to the fountain or the Japanese Gardens.

Cheap Things to do in Budapest

Spend a little, experience a lot. Budapest is cheap!

KuglerArt Szalon: This little gallery is set up in a homey space and dedicated entirely to Roma (gypsy) art and culture. It's about 620 Ft to enter, but it's the only thing like it in the city and not overrun with visitors. It's worth the hunt to find it.

The interior of St. Stephen's Basilica
Yep, that's St. Stephen's severed right hand; a holy relic

St. Stephen's Basilica: Technically it's free, but the church requests a donation upon entry. Suggested donation is 200 Ft, but you can drop in whatever you think is fair. Once inside, marvel at the detailed craftsmanship and artistry, but don't forget to head to the back where you can drop in another small coin (or follow somebody else who will drop one in first) to light up the box that contains the severed hand of St. Stephen himself. It's a weird story, but the hand gets carted around the city once a year in a parade. Admiring the exterior of the impressive cathedral is free, of course.

The view of Gallért Hillfrom Buda Castle

Buda Castle: These days it houses the National Gallery (1,800 Ft, free on national holidays), History Museum (2,000 Ft), among other attractions.

Tour Parliament: The view from the outside is free, but if you want the inside scoop, you'll need to take a tour. It costs 2,400 Ft for EU residents, 6,000 Ft for everybody else, but on October 23, a national holiday, it's free and open to the public.

Take a "Free" Tour with Free Budapest Tours: Yes, technically it's free, but you are more or less expected to give a donation at the end to help pay for the guide's time and expertise. That said, feel free to give whatever you think the tour was worth! You might just learn something.

Visit some Museums: Among the interesting and popular museums you can visit in Budapest is the Terror House (3,000 Ft), Hungarian National Museum (1,600 FT), and The Museum of Fine Arts (which unfortunately is currently closed until fall 2018). Many are free for students or EEA residents under 26 at least one day a month. If you don't know what an EEA resident is, don't worry about it: you're not.

Cheap eats in Budapest

So much cheap food. So much.

Josh enjoying a traditional Trdelník

Trdelník: Or kürtőskalács. These are a traditionally Hungarian food. While not typically vegan, they are a tasty vegetarian sugary treat; like a cinnamon roll cooked on a revolving stick and served up in a hollow, pull-apart street snack. Don't buy one in the city center, though. Those will run you about 900, while stands on the outskirts of the central district are only 200 or so.

Great Market Hall, aka Central Market Hall

Great Market Hall: Also known as Central Market Hall. If you want to stock up on fruit, veg, or meat, this is the place to be. The upper stories are reserved for souvenirs, but you're likely to find better prices on the same items elsewhere.

360 Bar: This has to be one of the coolest rooftop bars in the city. It rises far above surrounding buildings, so you get a great view of Buda, Pest, and the river in between. Plus, a nice bar, comfy and swanky seating and food drinks make it a cool place to be day or night.

Falafel: Pick a spot; it's everywhere. It's cheap, most places can do a vegan version, and it's filling. Humus Bar, Tik Tak, Falafel Sziget, are all vegan friendly.

Quirky and abstract Csendes Létterem, a cafe in Budapest

Csendes Létterem: This quirky cafe serves up a mean latte. But be careful not to spill it down your front when you're trying to take in all the weird stuff on the walls. It's definitely a unique space.

Istvanffi Burger: Ignore the unpronounceable name. This small chain serves up veggie burgers and chunky fries for cheap! Like, as little as 790 forint! That's $3.15! There are multiple vegan patties to choose from, some of which are gluten free, and everything is tasty. So fill up!

Govinda: A pay-by-weight buffet affiliated with Hare Krishna. It's simple food, but cheap, warm and tasty. There are several locations to make it extra convenient.

Vega City: Some items in this vegan, cafeteria-style restaurant are priced individually (like burgers), and some are priced per weight. Pick what you want and eat up (including dessert)! Prices are reasonable and food is fresh and tasty.

Have any of your own fave hot spots in Budapest? Share 'em! Seriously. We'd go back in a second. Wander on!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The most romantic cities in the U.S.

Alisha McDarris

Valentine's Day is nearly upon us. I know, right? Again? I can't say we're big fans of the holiday--we pretty much treat it like any other day of the year--but folks seem to like an opportunity to escape from the day-to-day with a little romantic getaway. So if you're in a relationship, grab your partner and hit the road. If not, these cities are pretty all-around awesome whether you're single or not, so grab a friend (or schedule a little me-time) and explore!

In no particular order, some of the loveliest cities in the U.S. for a romantic (or bro-mantic or girlfriend) getaway:

1. Savannah, Georgia
All that Spanish moss creating tunnels in the park? How could you not want to hold hands?

2. Key West, Florida
Um, because who doesn't love palm trees and the beach in the middle of winter?

3. New Orleans, Louisiana
Like jazz? Love creole? Head to the bayou. Just steer clear of Bourbon Street if you plan on keeping it classy.

4. Honolulu, Hawaii
Beaches, waterfalls, snorkeling, you need a reason to go to Hawaii.

5. Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California
Snow is a perfect excuse to play outside and then chill by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa.

6. San Francisco, California
There's just something about that bridge, isn't there? If you like urban retreats, this might be your jam.

7. Portland, Maine
Leave the hustle and bustle behind and journey to the picturesque northeast. You'll practically have the place to yourself in February.

8. Sedona, Arizona
Cool to mild in this desert oasis, it's the perfect time to squeeze in some hiking or climbing together.

9. Boston, Massachusetts
It may be chilly in February, but this city is rich with romantic experiences, especially for history buffs.

10. Austin, Texas
Maybe it's because we live here, but we love this city's eclectic mix of swanky clubs, outdoor activities and posh local hotels.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

10 Things to bring on a long flight to keep from going insane

Alisha McDarris

Long flights are torture. You know, the ones that span oceans and drop you in a time zone so incongruous with the one you just left that you don't even know what day of the week it is. Plus, sometimes I think I must have the attention span of a barn swallow. I don't honestly know what sort of attention span a barn swallow has, but I can't imagine it's lengthy. They do tend to flit around a lot. So I need plenty of options to occupy my time and attention. Unfortunately, long flights are an unavoidable part of travel, so I find that the best way to avoid losing your mind in that cramped airplane seat with two inches of legroom and no way to move without elbowing the guy in the seat next to you in the ribcage every time you move is to be prepared. For anything. And possibly everything.

 Here are our favorite things to bring along on a long flight to help keep our sanity.

1. A book 

Like a real, actual book. Made of paper and ink and stuff. Batteries die. Eye strain after looking at a tiny screen for six hours is real. You can't have your laptop out for takeoff and landing anyway. Grab several books if your not sure you're gonna like the first one.

2. A pillow

Whether it's a simple inflatable neck pillow or one of those ridiculous-looking ostrich-shaped things that had me ROFLing for five minutes the first time I saw one, they make a huge difference when trying to catch some Zzz's in an upright position.

3. A sleep mask 

See above. For me, this is also vitally important as I've been told I sleep with my eyes open, which is apparently mildly unsettling.

4. A blanket 

It may seem unnecessary, but if you're gonna be on an airplane for 16 hours, you're gonna want to get cozy. Plus, planes are freaking cold! A large shawl, scarf or towel (obviously) will do, too.

5. All the episodes 

Got your iPad or compact laptop (even 15" models don't fit well in economy seats)? Before you take off, download all your fave episodes or any movies you've been meaning to see from your Netflix or Amazon Prime account.

6. Headphones and a diverse playlist 

I don't know what I'm going to want to listen to after I board a plane. Maybe rock. Maybe electronica. Maybe the Les Miserables soundtrack. Pick your faves from multiple genres and make sure they're downloaded to your phone prior to takeoff.

7. Socks 

Even if it's hot, don't be that guy walking around barefoot, stinking up the plane. Just. Don't.

8. Snacks 

Lots of snacks. You're not gonna want to pay $8 for that tiny bag of pretzels. So stuff your pockets. For a long haul on a cheap flight that doesn't offer meals, stuff some sandwiches or cold noodles or some such in there, too.

9. Something to keep your hands (or your brain) busy 

I have a hard time sitting still, even if I'm watching TV or listening to music. I want to be doing something. So bringing a coloring book, knitting, brain teasers, word puzzles, stuff like that, will help keep you from going stir crazy.

10. Work 

Unless, of course, you're vacationing. We don't vacation; we travel, which usually involves some sort of work while we are away, even if it's travel-related. There's no better time to catch up on a project, be it a personal project like a photo book or screenplay or a work thing, than when you're stuck in a flying metal tube for 12 hours.

A good book and a cup of orange juice on a long flight. Where my Vonnegut fans at?

Have your own fave items for planes? Share 'em! Happy travels!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Terradrift gets Swagtastic

Alisha McDarris
There's a new link at the top of our site. You may have noticed it. It says Store. And it's there because we think you need more awesome stuff in your closet. Stuff that proclaims to the world how awesome you are. Stuff that says, I've been places, bruh. We think you need it because we think we need it and we're pretty much the same, you and I. So if you haven't yet, check out the sweet threads we designed just for you (ok, maybe also for us).

And yes, they do come in all shapes, sizes, styles and colors. I mean, just look at some of these stellar options just begging to added to your wardrobe. There are shirts for men, shirts for women, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, zip-ups, tank tops, athletic shirts, you name it.

I mean, check out this legit baseball tee. Love it.

And if you want to keep it basic, show your love for the world and all its cultures with some simple text.

Personally, I love a good muscle tank for the gym. Shows off my guns (and my propensity to wander).

Or keep it simple and show some love for your favorite travel site.

Check out the full lineup in the store and get yourself some Terradrift swag! You won't regret it.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Free things to do in Vienna, Austria

Alisha McDarris

Austria's not like a lot of other European cities. I mean, there are still tourists everywhere, that's a given, but they're mostly concentrated in one general area and the city itself has a very different vibe from party cities like Berlin, historical sites like Bruges, and outdoor adventure capitals like Reykjavik. Vienna is classy. Real classy.

I'm talking opera and immaculate streets and shiny new buildings. I think Vienna might be the only city we visited during our two-month European tour where we never saw anyone urinating in the street. Not a single time! It was amazing! And while it's certainly a clean and modern place to be, that comes with its own set of complications, i.e. it's not cheap. In fact, we were a bit surprised at the lack of free things to do during our stay. But in order that that not happen to you, we've compiled a list of the best free and super cheap things to do to keep you occupied for a few days in this mecca of music.

The Viennese are very proud to home to Mozart in life and in death.

Getting Around Vienna

Buses, trains and trams: The public transport in Vienna is pretty good, but it's not the cheapest in Europe at 2.20 per trip. There are electronic ticket kiosks at all underground stations and major hubs, but you can also get tickets at newsstands and similar outlets. Buying the ticket on the tram or bus will cost .10 extra. Don't forget to stamp-validate them before you board. You can also get a 24-hour, 48-hour or 72-hour pass for 7.60, 13.30 and 16.50. Not including the airport, of course. That would be too easy.

From the Airport: There are several was to get into the city from the airport. A 16-minute ride on the City Airport Train (CAT) i€11 and takes you to Mitte station. The Railjet takes a little longer at 26 minutes but only costs €3.90 and goes to a few different stations or the bus, which goes straight downtown to several stops but costs €8. 

Bike Share: Too far to walk but don't want to take the bus? No problem. Just pick up a Citybike from one of the dozens of stations in and outside the city. Vienna's bike share is actually one of the best we used as it was only €1 to register and then free to use a bike for 30 minutes as many times as you want. The kiosks do make you swipe a card and put a monetary "hold" on it in case you never bring the bike back, but you can basically ride around the city for free! As long as you do it in 30-minute bursts, of course.

Just a bit of bouldering to break up the afternoon
Walk: The city is totally walkable. Take a stroll to get from point A to point B and you might stumble upon a fun surprise. We decided to walk to Schönbrunn Palace and end up passing a little playground with a pretty legit bouldering setup where we killed some time climbing on rocks. Fun!

Free things to do in Vienna

Bring your camera. You're gonna be taking a lot of photos or gardens and architecture!
The mermen and horses at Schönbrunn Palace
The view of the gardens from Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace: No joke, we almost didn't go. We were bummed about our options for free entertainment and weren't sure if we could be bothered to make the trek out there. It's probably only a 15-20 minute bus ride, but we didn't want to pay for that and we hadn't yet discovered the bike share program. Fortunately, my cousin who had been before recommended we give it a go and we quite enjoyed ourselves. It's free to walk around most of the gardens and grounds and you can get some pretty stunning views. Plus there's a fountain with mermen riding merhorses. You know, like mermaids, but with horses...who had fins instead of hooves. That alone would have been worth the walk. Some attractions like the gallery and orange grove charge for admission.

MUSA is a small, strange art museum with changing exhibits

Museumsquartier: This is more of a place to just go and hang out than browse, but if you want to lounge on some funky chairs, use some wifi, drink some coffee and people-watch, thesis the place to do it. It's pretty hip, the open courtyard surrounded by museums, and is worth a walk-through at the very least. You should be able to spot a little artwork in some of the walkways and there is always the museum gift shop. And while the museums do charge admission, on the first Sunday of the month most of them are free (the Geldmuseum, Kunsthalle am Karlsplatz, Bezirksmuseen, and MUSA, [some of which are not in Museumquartier] are always free).

St. Stephens's Cathedral (Stephansdom), Vienna, Austria

The interior of St. Stephen's

St. Stephen's Cathedral: You can't miss this church in the middle of the city center, not least of which because there will be hordes of tourists surrounding it constantly. It's free to go in and appreciate the stunning architecture, so by all means do. If you want a spooky tour, that'll cost you (but more on that below).

Rathaus, or City Hall, Vienna, Austria

City Hall (Rathaus): In the summer months you might be able to catch a free flick in the courtyard, but if not, the building is a marvel to look at. Some weekdays it's even open to tours if you want to rent an audio guide and go exploring.

Markets: Whether you want fresh produce, tchotchkes, souvenirs, or to be bombarded by servers begging you to come eat at their restaurant, there's a market for that. Naschmarkt is the biggest, but everything from Turkish specialties to flea market finds abound from one market to another.

Stroll the streets in and along the Ringstrasse for shopping, dining, cafes, history, you name it

Yes, that is a fountain with a man projectile vomiting water. So glad you asked.

Ringstrasse: Just start walking and marvel at the parks, statues (maybe of the city's beloved Mozart), and architecture in this historic district. It's called Ring Road because on a map it's actually a ring around the city that contains everything from the ritzy shopping area to St. Stephen's to Hoffburg Palace and more. Just take your time and take it all in.

Cheap things to do in Vienna

"Free" Tour: I say "free" because while guides don't charge for their services, they do appreciate a tip at the end. So while you don't have to drop €20 on a tour, a couple bucks at the end of the 2.5 hours is more or less expected.

Saint Stephen's Catacombs Tour: You know us. If there's one thing we're going to spend our hard-earned and harder-horded cash on, it's gonna be something weird and definitely not mainstream. One day it was spent on a tour of the crypts below the iconic church. And let me tell you, that 5 was totally worth it. A guide will take you down, show you where royalty (or sometimes just their innards) were interred, right next door to where thousands of black plague victims' bones are piled to the ceiling. Creepy. Eerie. We love that stuff.

The Vienna State Opera House or Staatstoper

The Staatstoper at night

The State Opera (Wiener Staatstoper): You might not think a budget trip to Vienna would include a visit to the famous opera house, but it most certainly could. The venue isn't the only one that lets lowly backpackers enjoy a show, either. We saw the ballet Giselle for only 4 per person. And that was a splurge. We could have gotten tickets for 3. Here's how: 80 minutes before each performance you can enter at the "Wiener Staatstoper Stehplatz-Kasse" sign at the rear of the building. Inside, line up in the hallway to get your tickets (one per person). A limited but hefty number of tickets are handed out (don't worry, we got there just after they opened for sales and still got some, as did everyone behind us in line) and you can decide which balcony you want to be on. Full disclosure: You will be standing for the duration of the performance, but there are rails to lean on. Just bring a scarf or sweater to claim your spot so you can come and go as you please before the show starts.

Cheap eats in Vienna

Der Wiener Dewan: This is a pay-what-you-like all-you-can-eat buffet. Like that sound of that? It's all Pakistani food and plenty or it is vegetarian and vegan. It's pretty popular with the backpacker crowd, so don't be surprised if you run into half the residents of your hostel during dinner.

A cheap dinner at Voodies: burger, dutch fries, lemonade and mm mmm peanut sauce

Voodies: Besides cheap vegan burgers and killer dutch fries, they have some tasty house-made lemonades (because man do the Germans and Viennese like their lemonade)! You can get just a burger or a burger, fries with dipping sauce and lemonade for just around 11.50. There are wraps, not-dogs and salads, too, of course.

Look at that marzipan cake from Nom Nom Vegan Bakery

Nom Nom Vegan Bakery: We don't usually go for the fru-fru girly stuff, but despite the very cutesy tea-and-cupcakes interior of this shop, these sweets deserve mad respect. They have cupcakes and pie and macaroons and marzipan and you name it. Wash it down with a coffee if you like, but get thee across the river for some sugar.

Swing Kitchen: Vegan burgers and desserts like cheesecake and tarts that'll make your mouth water. While not as cheap as Voodies, they have some impressive options and a few things that are worth spending a few bucks more (like €7-9 for a burger).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Terradrift goes to Dresden, Germany

Alisha McDarris

For the three of you reading who have ever heard of Dresden: Good for you. You either know more about WWII history than most or you're a Kurt Vonnegut fan. I was the latter. Nothing like a little "Slaughterhouse Five" to teach you a little something about history. But whether you knew the city existed or not, you should know it's well worth a visit. It's balanced mix of history and culture, new and old, making it a lovely place to spend a few days. Or an afternoon, as we did.

First of all, a little history:

We actually weren't really "planning" on passing through Dresden. The thought had crossed my mind - I am a Vonnegut fan, after all - but I hadn't yet located it on a map when we ran into a couple of German girls in Iceland with whom we hitchhiked for two days who casually mentioned it. When I asked them about the city they described a place of wonderment: a beautiful river, cafes by the water, historical buildings, rocking concerts... I was intrigued, not least of all because Vonnegut himself was a prisoner of war there in WWII and wrote about the firebombing in his fictional novel, "Slaughterhouse Five."

Naturally, we had to go. There was no excuse when we discovered it was basically halfway between Berlin and Prague, which were scheduled back-to-back on our itinerary. So we took a bus from Berlin and arrived in Dresden in the morning, hit the sidewalk and started walking.

If this isn't a wild juxtaposition of old and new in Dresden I don't know what is

The city is more or less split in two by the Elbe River. One one side is the historic district, or rather, what was left of it after the city was wiped out in 1945. On the other is the more modern city center, peppered with cafes, shops, restaurants, vegan ice cream, anything you could hope for in a relatively small city in Germany. It was quite lovely, actually. It hit the oft-missed sweet-spot of modernity and small-town loveliness that I adore in a city. The main street was wide and lined with trees and park benches, a great place to drop our bags and dig into the sad lunch of bread and marinated tofu that we had pieced together from the grocery store. There were fountains and churches and marketplaces and it was just a nice place to find oneself.

Horse-drawn wagon rides for those not traveling on a dime ;-)

But we wanted to see architecture. History. So we waltzed across the river, peering down the way to see if we could spot the building where Vonnegut hid out during the firestorm (we couldn't - it's been turned into a convention center parking lot or some such), and promptly panicked as I ran out of data on my phone plan.

I say we, but what I mean is I panicked. Josh rarely panics. Which is good, because you hardly need two people threatening to throw cell phones across the cobbled street into a 600-year-old building. So instead of just starting to wander, we spent an hour locating free WiFi and squatting on the sidewalk next to a gift shop trying to get it to work again. It's not easy when your European service provider's website is all in French and Google won't offer to translate it on your phone for some reason. By the time we did work it out we decided we needed coffee and sustenance before carrying on.

A weekend festival in Dresden's Striezelmarkt

Fortunately, Aha Cafe was nearby and we dug into a bowl of tasty potato soup, complete with brown bread (we were in Germany, after all), and sucked down some coffee. I then proceeded to use the men's restroom in the basement because I somehow missed the sign for the women's toilet on the main floor. Lucky for me, as I didn't realize what I had done until I came back upstairs, no one else decided to use the bathroom at the same time. Not that I would have been bothered at this point in our two-month European jaunt; by then we had already been using co-ed hostel bathrooms for weeks.

A history in mosaic: the Furstenzurg or "Procession of Princes"

Theaterplatz in Dresden

Then we got on to the historical stuff. And man, let me tell you that what didn't get destroyed during wartime is singularly impressive. Striking churches, towering monuments, and one former palace grounds called Zwinger. It may cost a fee for entry into the museum, but it's free to wander the open garden in the center of the square complex. You can even hike up some stairs from the outside and treat yourself to a view from above. To say it's an impressive piece of architectural craftsmanship is being modest.

The view from the terrace at Zwinger

A stroll around the gardens at Zwinger provides a pleasant diversion

Many of the baroque churches, like Frauenkirche, charge to go in and up into towers with sweeping views of the city, but it's free to admire them from the street! The Theaterplatz and Katholische Hofkirche were equally mesmerizing. Basically we just walked up and down winding streets all afternoon examining ages-old buildings and art. There was a surprise around every corner.

You can pay to go up into the Frauenkirche tower if you fancy a view
The Katholische Hofkirch, Dresden

But because most of the city was destroyed, the only historical part left is quite small in comparison to the city as a whole. So in no time we found ourselves back into modern streetscapes again and a street market that had been transformed into a mini festival for the weekend. Tiny Ferris wheel and all.

Basically, Dresden is a daydream of a town. In fact, it was the first European city we had visited that met my odd and often contradictory standards for a place I could possibly see myself living. Except for the weather. It gets too dang cold in Germany. Long story short, it's a great place to spend a weekend wandering streets, looking at art, and maybe going on a treasure hunt for Vonnegut's slaughterhouse.

And of course, a Dresden pint before the bus ride to Prague

Fun Facts about Dresden, Germany:

  • Toothpaste and coffee filters were invented in Dresden
  • The number of deaths reported after the firebombing in1945 range from 18,000 to 200,000
  • Pre-WWII Dresden was considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world
  • After the war, many of the old buildings were reconstructed from what was left of them and a new city was built around it
  • There is an international airport and several rail and bus stations making traveling to Dresden easy (It costs between 10-12 to get there from Berlin or Prague and only takes a few hours by bus or ride-share)
  • The slaughterhouse where Vonnegut hid out during the fire bombing is now a convention center. The basement where he was has been renovated but contains a memorial wall in his honor. Find it here:

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