In Memory of Disposable Kodaks

At the start of my romp around Europe in March of this year, I decided to pick up two disposable cameras in London. I was drawn to the challenge of capturing two weeks of adventure in less than 60 images. I really do believe in soaking up and being solidly present in the places I visit. I see too many people constantly glued to their cameras or phones, that they forget to see the world right in front of them with their own eyes, and not through artificial lens. Photography is amazing, but not all of an atmosphere or mood can be picked up in pixels.

When I walked back to my apartment from the Kodak store with my fresh batch of photos, I was actually smiling ear to ear. Something about the combination of anticipation and nostalgia in looking at pictures taken five months ago. It’s a new age (now, old age) time capsule, a blast from the past reminding you of how far you’ve come, and the fascinating places still left to be discovered. Aside from this fluffy stuff, here’s what I learned about taking pictures with disposable cameras:

Pros

  • They are lightweight.
  • You feel hip.
  • Instant vintage filter!
  • Everyone looks great because HD quality is not always a good thing.
  • It’s like Christmas morning when you pick up your developed photos.

Cons

  • Photo quality is hit or miss, especially for indoor shots. I only bothered scanning around 40% of all the photos.
  • You get called a try-hard hipster.
  • It’s expensive to develop. CVS was charging something like $18 a roll.

Overall, I definitely plan on using disposable cameras again when I travel. They’re a lot of fun and the resulting photos make beautiful souvenirs. I now have envelope stuffers for the letters I’m writing to my friends abroad who were kind enough to host me and show me around. The photos are also cheery decoration for freshly minted, post-grad millennial apartments.

I already sealed the pictures I took of my friends and myself into envelopes to be mailed, but I still have plenty from just around town. Now without any further ado, and in no particular order, I present my 2015 European Backpack Trip in twenty-one images! Click on them for closeups and occasional captions. Can you guess where each was taken?

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Hopping Through Central Europe: Berlin, Dresden, Prague, and Vienna

Memories really do fade quickly. Or maybe just the ones that weren’t that important to remember. I visited Berlin, Dresden, Prague, and Vienna over three months ago, but I must’ve been having way too much fun this last quarter of college to have bothered to document those experiences. By now, all that’s left is how my expectations for each city differed from the actual thing. That disconnect may actually be 68% of the joy of traveling.

Berlin, Germany

Expectation: Artsy, modern, great for history buffs, unfriendly to tourists, intimidating

IMG_2965Reality: Maybe I’m just used to “intimidating cities” because I’m a Chicago-girl, but I found Berlin to be the most American-like city that I visited in Europe. The architecture was glassy and sharp. The graffiti was edgy and reminded me of Pilsen street art. The food was so refreshingly affordable after a week in London and Paris (and had actual flavor!)

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Currywurst and fries!

The most impressive thing about Berlin was hands-down, the way the city marks its history. Topography of Terror and the Holocaust Memorial were both extremely well designed, informative, and grappled with the politics of national memory. IMG_2967

Dresden, Germany

Expectation: Free four hour stop over on the train from Germany to Czech Republic. Therefore no expectations.

Reality: The bombing of Dresden would have been considered a crime against humanity had the Allies lost the war. The city left the charred markings untouched on the buildings in memory of that event. I found out that the Dresden Academy of Art is a pretty big deal. The city is a weird juxtaposition of High Renaissance complexes and gleaming new shopping centers.
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Prague, Czech Republic

Expectation: My good friend’s girlfriend lives near Prague Castle. They filmed the Bachelorette here and it looked absolutely stunning. Milan Kundera’s city/country.

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Still from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, featuring the Prague Spring.

Reality: Prague and Paris are now tied in my heart. Though I could never taint my experience of Prague by aspiring to work there. No, Prague is a city in which to slow down, marvel, and share with a loved one. I’ve only ever had one other intense emotional reaction to a city before, and that was in 2013 when I walked along the Seine for the first time in Paris. This time, I took a midnight stroll from my hostel near Prague Castle, over the Charles Bridge, and into Old Town Square. That moment when the city widened before my eyes as I crossed the river, spotlit towers and an expansive sky framed by the Bridge’s stoic stone statues – I think I teared up.

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A courtyard in Prague Castle. Romanesque to Renaissance to Empire style- a living architecture textbook.

The cafes are also magnificent. The Czech tradition of fostering the world’s most beloved writers still prospers – and I bet those cafes have something to do with it. Czech food also is the best tasting in all of Europe in my opinion! It’s rich and tender and flavorful and filled with spices. Ahhh I fell in love with the roast ducks and potato dumplings and the nutella-filled spa wafers.

Cafe Louvre, where Einstein and Kafka were patrons.

Cafe Louvre, where Einstein and Kafka were patrons.

Many people’s number one complaint about Prague is that it’s too touristy, but my reaction was the complete opposite. Yes, the tourists swarm to the city, but the city’s hallmark cafes, streetcars, parks – they are all also well used by the locals. Perhaps it’s just a little hard to imagine how such a storybook place can still exist and function in the modern world. I did benefit greatly from having a local friend show me around. Any city is infinitely more well appreciated when the experience is shared with a great friend and/or someone who can show you the “real” parts of the place.

Colorful.

Colorful.

Fun Facts: 

  • Beer is cheaper than water at $0.68/liter (and it’s good Czech beer).
  • Cannabis paraphernalia is abundant
  • Strip-club industry is on the rise.
  • Europe’s premier bachelor party destination for the reasons cited above
  • Surprisingly large population of Vietnamese immigrants

Vienna, Austria

Expectation: Cultural capital for the performing arts, intellectual hot bed (at least historically), home of the largest collection of Egon Schiele’s works.

Reality: Kind of racist, stuffy, and elitist. The Egon Schiele Museum was bomb though. My favorite part of Vienna was the museum’s exhibition at the time that explored Schiele’s romantic relationship with his muse, Wally. It was the most personal depiction of an artist and his works that I’ve ever seen, and thus also my favorite. Read more about their relationship here.

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I know I sound kind of salty about Vienna but, I still had a grand old time because I was staying with my good friend. One of those friends with whom you can carry four hour long conversations and feel energized at the end instead of drained. Oh, despite the snootiness, Vienna really does have the best coffee in Europe. That melange…IMG_3134

All in all, Central Europe shouldn’t be skipped over! In fact, it should be a prime destination. It’s so affordable, so well preserved, and really quite different from Western Europe. I was kinda broke so I took the buses a lot, but if you get a chance, take the trains! You will be treated to a view of twisting rivers snaking through forested valleys and dotted with colorful homes. Leisurely train rides through Europe must have been modeled on the ones going through Central Europe. That dining car and its frothy cappucinos are just quintessential European Backpacking Perfection.