CENTRAL EUROPE — You felt it this week.
It could’ve been that subtle chill in the frostbitten wind, the surprise shiver at a football game or the more obvious snowfall, but these frigid harbingers all signal one thing: winter is coming.
No, I haven’t ever watched “Game of Thrones”, but I have been to Europe — where much of the show was filmed — and this cold reminds me of my most recent trip there last winter.
The trip took me all over Central Europe, and though I spent much of my journey with family, I managed to get in some fishing because of course I did.
Like the majority of our tourist activities in the Old World, you’ll end up walking. A lot. I averaged about five miles per day on this trip, breaking the 10-mile mark a couple of times.
Yes, the car-oriented cityscape of North America is a shining contrast to the pedestrian-oriented cityscape of Europe. This disparity between North America and Europe is obvious, but some differences are more subtle.
Take, for instance, fishing licenses. In the United States, you’ll buy a license that grants you access to an entire state. In Central Europe, you’ll be required to buy a license for a specific river, stream, lake or part thereof. Most of these licenses are for a single day, which is even more frustrating.
It can be insanely complicated for the casual angler, but fortunately, there was an app I got for $2.99 called “Fly Fishing Austria and Slovenia” that helped me figure things out — at least in those two countries.
By “figure things out,” I mean it helped me realize I couldn’t afford to fish much in Austria or Slovenia — at least in freshwater — because most day licenses cost between 15€ and 100€. Now, as a teacher I know you expect me to be a high-roller, but forking over that much money would’ve bled me dry. Coincidentally, Lake Bled, Slovenia was one of only a handful of places I fished freshwater on that trip. Hooking and then subsequently losing what would’ve been my first pike at Lake Bled was cruel, but only pride bled away as opposed to all of my money.
Fishing licenses were certainly frustrating, but what pissed me off the most was actually the difficulty I had trying to, well, piss.
For the North American, it may sound strange, but free bathrooms in Europe were more elusive than a Cincinnati Bengals playoff win.
Throughout Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Croatia, bathrooms (1) were tough to find and (2) cost money to use.
Yes, you had to pay money to access a basic human need. Which seems ridiculous until you realize you pay for food, water, shelter, clothing and, as noted above in some detail, fishing licenses.
There were almost no public bathrooms, but those we ran across cost between 0.10€ and 1€ to use.
It didn’t stop there, though.
Diner’s Club International created the modern credit card in 1950, but apparently Europe is stuck in the 1940s because “Cash Only” is one of the few things most business owners in every country could say in perfect English.
This further complicated the toilet issue.
On one occasion, I had a particularly urgent need to use the facilities, but I’d forgotten to carry cash because it was 2018.
Scrambling a bit, I ultimately had to go to a restaurant, place a drink order then run to the bathroom or face certain bladder infection and renal failure, courtesy of the Socialist Republic of Austria.
The private bathrooms all cost money, but typically you could get a voucher if you actually bought something at the store and then get refunded, sort of like a parking validation but infinitely more dehumanizing.
My bladder was gripped by an egregious stranglehold while in Europe. Even though it was frigid outside, we were walking miles per day, and I was drinking far too much coffee because bad coffee doesn’t exist in Central Europe, I wasn’t drinking enough water. Why would I? It created downstream (pun absolutely intended) problems.
Not drinking enough water, in turn, led to headaches and limited my drive to get out and fish in the few areas where you didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to do so.
You could typically use the bathroom in restaurants without paying, so long as you took time to eat there.
Gas stations all had pay bathrooms that were about 0.50€, but if you bought something there (including gas), it would be refunded.
It was certainly an adjustment from the American reality I lived that let me use a Starbucks bathroom any and every time I needed to.
For the most part, I complied.
There was that one time I was arrested for public urination in Czechia, but it was more embarrassing than anything. Fortunately, when I woke up from that nightmare, it made me suck it up and avoid having to actually live it out. I begrudgingly paid to pee the whole time.
Despite the piss and vinegar I’m spouting, visiting Europe was a phenomenal experience, and fishing the Slovenian and Croatian coastline was incredible. I would absolutely go again — especially during the holidays.
That said, if you visit yourself, don’t think European because in all likelihood, you’re a-holding it.