A couple years ago, while killing time on the internet for no particular reason, I came across the work of a tattoo artist based in the Czech Republic named Ondrash. He has a very distinctive watercolour, abstract style that differs greatly from conventional tattoo art. I love it. Thinking it was a long shot, I sent him an email in October of 2013 inquiring about a potential session. I got a response saying he was booked through 2014. I would be added to a waiting list and contacted when space opened up. That was that, for about a year.
Sometime in December, I was tossing some trip ideas around. I get really restless if I don’t go anywhere for a couple of months and it usually leads me to a point where I start planning random trips just in case I can get one of them to work out. On a whim, I sent off another email to Ondrash, asking whereabouts I was on the waiting list, thinking it’d be at least a couple years. I got one back: “So, how about March 20th?"
YES. YES PLEASE. I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW I’M GONNA DO THIS BUT LET'S MAKE IT HAPPEN.
Of course, buying transatlantic plane tickets for only a couple days to get a tattoo isn’t exactly a great value. Three weeks was reasonable in terms of both time off from work and budget, so three weeks is what I started working with. Loathe as I am to get halfway across the world and not see either Paris or London, two of my favourite cities ever, I decided to keep it a little more concentrated around the Czech Republic to make the most of my time there. On my first trip, I had skipped out on both Germany and Switzerland, two places that I wanted to see. They’re close enough.
So: a week in Switzerland, a week in Germany, and a week in the Czech Republic. Done. Train pass bought, flights booked, route planned, even managed to factor a concert in there - off I went.
Zurich Hauptbahnhoff (Central Train Station), Switzerland.
Part I: SWITZERLAND
I landed in Zurich at about seven o’clock in the morning. Priorities: coffee. Jet lag sucks, sleeping on a plane sucks, and I still had a day to get through. But in the five minutes it took me to walk from the main train station to the nearest Starbucks, I think I woke up enough just from being back. Europe is my playground. Rooftop patios are my swingset, cobblestone pavements are the gravel I play on, Italian gelaterias are, well, my ice-cream stands on the corner of the block. I love it, and it always manages to reduce me to a giddy little kid again. On the inside, at least. In terms of photos, the change of scenery provides more inspiration than I know what to do with. I always come home with a ton of images.
(Some of these images have been featured already on my tumblr, Facebook, instagram and twitter accounts, but most of them are new. Conversely, the above accounts have more pictures that aren't featured here.)
I don't do a ton on trips, to be honest. I don't fancy the idea of fighting my way through a horde of tourists at the most popular attractions, I rarely have the budget to seek out the most exquisite cuisine and or review the fanciest spa. Most of the time I just pick up my camera and wander. See how the streets of another country compare to those of home.
One of my biggest goals this trip was to do a little more street shooting. It's a genre that is immensely appealing, because I love to people-watch, but also very intimidating. Ideally, you don't want to be noticed by people because it compromises the documentary, fly-on-the-wall quality that I like in street photos and they can become very posed and unnatural. That being said, you don't necessarily want to photograph people without their permission, and a language barrier makes that even more difficult. It definitely presents a challenge.
I'm not a morning person. And getting up for sunrise is exponentially harder when you're sharing a dorm with 4-10 people and you don't want to wake them up. But man, it's worth it sometimes.
From Zurich, I headed south to Zermatt, a ski town in the Alps. It's most well-known for it’s proximity to the Matterhorn, one of tallest and most picturesque peaks in Europe and also known as the inspiration for Toblerone chocolate’s triangular logo. Zermatt is accessible only by train; the only cars in the village are the taxis that look like mini-buses and private transports owned by the vast number of hotels and resorts.
I did a bit of hiking too - would've loved to do some skiing but I only started learning how to ski this year and I thought maybe giving it a shot by myself in the Alps wasn't the best idea. I spent the better part of a day hiking up a trail and then catching the gondola to Schwarzsee, the starting point for climbers trying to ascend the Matterhorn. Had lunch (peanut butter sandwiches and mandarin oranges, which was my affordable diet for pretty much the entire time in Switzerland) with this as my view:
Finally, the last stop in Switzerland was a little town named Interlaken in the central part of the country. It’s part of a cluster of villages that hikers, skiers, and tourists use as a base when exploring the Bernese Alps, including the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger peaks. Jungfraujoch, a train station built on the col between Jungfrau and Mönch, is the highest train station on the continent, marketed as the “Top of Europe.” The town itself is on a plain between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz - hence the name, from the Latin meaning "between the lakes": inter lacus.
And that was the end of week one. Week two moved to Germany....
(To be continued)