Notes from a Vacation

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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17 Responses

  1. Chris Dierkes says:

    If there is a more beautiful city than central Prague, I haven’t seen it.


  2. paul h. says:

    I really do wonder at people who, in the course of their 20something hipsterish tourism ‘experience,’ denigrate the “masses” on their “tour buses”; I don’t really see how what you’re doing is any different (in a sense, it’s even worse; you’re not experiencing the “real Europe” any more than they are), except that you’re incredibly smug about itReport

  3. Paul – you’re probably right that I am being overly smug here, but I should note that I’m a few years into my 30-somethings now. I was pretty up front, I think, that I don’t pretend to have “experienced the real Europe” – which is something that requires actually living in a place for quite a while.

    But I’ve taken the mass bus tours, and I suppose for some they’re probably enjoyable, but for me, I wind up losing my mind because they do tend to be so sanitized and free of any kind of opinion. It often seems to wind up treating the host country as a zoo, or a curiosity, that is supposed to live up to a certain set of stereotypes.

    Anyhow, I’ll admit that there are some elements of this post that I’m not happy about writing, and generalizing based on a handful of conversations is of course pretty arrogant. That said, I don’t think most people who travel are even aware that personal/small group guides exist, are affordable, and offer an opportunity to actually interact with someone from a different background in a way that large bus tours don’t even attempt to do.

    Again, for some people, those types of tours are perfectly fine, especially if the purpose of your vacation is simply to relax for a few days in a beautiful setting and maybe see the sites just so you can say you did. But if what you’re interested in is making new acquaintances, or hearing a different point of view, or just generally recognizing that there are real, honest-to-God people beyond the borders of the United States, then you have to actually interact with people who live beyond those borders at some point. I suppose for many older travelers, this need has passed them by – either they fulfilled it when they were younger, or it just can’t shine a candle to the need to simply relax for a few days. But for younger travelers who still have much to learn about the world, sitting in a tour bus that gives a sanitized version of something that happened centuries ago and which they can read almost verbatim in their old High School history book doesn’t do much to teach them anything of value.Report

  4. Michael Drew says:

    Mark, don’t sweat it! Travel writing is all about relating your experience. And if four Europeans sitting around a table all were sour on the U.S. b/c of our behaviour the last few years, well that’s just consistent with broader trends we know are true.

    Moreover, this is intended as a happy report of an enjoyable vacation. Don’t worry so much about how it might read! Having been to Prague, I agree with just about everything you had to say. I haven’t taken a bus tour there, but I definitely had the experience of a colorful guide on a foot tour I took. What a city! And the beer is fantastic!

    Did you have a chance to climb up the clock tower?Report

  5. Thanks, Michael! Unfortunately, we didn’t climb to the top of any buildings in Prague, although I’m not really sure why not. But we definitely climbed to the top of the bell tower in Bruges (a plenty beautiful place in its own right), which was a pretty cool – and dizzying (366 tightly spiraled steps!) experience.Report

  6. E.D. Kain says:

    I’m jealous. 😉Report

  7. King Wenceslas says:

    Hello from Prague Mark, I am for the first time here, and I like your blog post. I absolutely agree with you about the ugly architecture communists left here in Prague, I would say it’s a crime if you compare to the great architectural style in Prague historical center. But that’s not all, communists had their bad influence on the intellectual side of Czech people, the behavior, the attitude..etc and it will take generations to recover from. My personal opinion is that Communists were supposed to be judged the same as Nazists, if the Nazists killed people, the Communists killed their brains and kept them alive, which is even worse. But never mind we will keep smiling and looking forward to a better future.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    King Wes, know that there will be at least one American toasting you tonight as he gets nice and drunk before a four-day weekend.

    Would that we had millions like you. Billions.


  9. Good King Wenceslas:

    Thank you for your comment – well said! Na zdravi!Report

  10. Will says:

    Mark –

    There’s a word for Americans who voluntarily visit Europe. It begins with a “c” and ends with an “ommunist.”

    Welcome back!Report

  11. Michael Drew says:

    Mark — In that case we each have been up one tower, and have one yet to climb! In Bruges is a hilarious movie, btw, (if you like blood and midget humor) in case you haven’t caught it yet. Shot on location; some key moments occur at the top of the bell tower. I’ve always found it fun to see locales one knows in film.

    I think between the two towers you might have the better end of it thus far, but hopefully we can both eventually experience both. Cheers!Report

  12. Michael Drew says:

    (Little person, should it have been? My apologies, in all honesty. That was written too hastily.)Report

  13. Heh. Actually, I did see In Bruges a few weeks before we left. As it turned out we even wound up staying in the hotel where Colin Farrell’s character stayed (this was not intentional, believe it or not). Of course, when we got to the bell tower we were shocked, SHOCKED! to learn that Hollywood had lied about the tower’s configuration in order to move their plot along. For starters, the top of the tower is completely enclosed by wire fencing, so there’s no way the guy in the movie could have thrown himself off the tower. Second, one of the funnier scenes in the movie, IIRC, involved an interaction with the cashier at the entrance to the tower. In reality, this entrance doesn’t exist and the only way to enter the tower is by climbing a set of outdoor stairs from the interior courtyard; the cashier’s room is well-lit and at the top of those stairs, not some counter guarding a ground-floor entrance on the main side of the building.

    Ticky-tack, I know, but dammit is it really too much to ask for Hollywood to make an attempt at accuracy and honesty? I felt a little bit lied to by Colin Farrell when I got to the top of that tower.Report

  14. William Brafford says:


    I’m not sure Hollywood deserves the blame for this one, as the film was written/directed by an Englishman and was filmed on location, i.e. nowhere near Hollywood… and I think their money came from a British development company. (Not that it matters.)


  15. William – I’m sure you’re right….but it’s just so much more fun to blame Hollywood!Report

  16. Kyle says:

    “Also – it’s worth remembering that one need not be part of a country’s cultural elite to take severe umbrage at the notion of a foreign power telling your country what to do, which is exactly how these folks perceived US foreign policy in recent years.”

    You know, there’s no small amount of irony that stems from European complaints of being told what to do by a wealthy and powerful state. Irony that would no doubt be appreciated in New Delhi, Beijing, or Harare.

    Also, that article in Prospect you linked to was fascinating. Glad you enjoyed your vacation.Report

  17. Kyle: Believe me, it was all I could do to hold my tongue on that point when having that discussion in Belgium. I mostly succeeded, thankfully, by reminding myself that whatever wrongs Europe may have committed in the past, those wrongs have little bearing on the validity of their positions in the current debate, at least insofar as they’re taking the anti-imperialist position.

    The conversations I had in Prague on this issue were far less in-depth, but obviously the Czechs don’t have that history of imperialism, but instead have a long history of being its subjects.Report