So how am I fitting back into the world?
I’m on a new mission: To make a billion dollars. In that sense, I’m still traveling. Moving forward, trying to absorb as much of my new life as possible. Which is? I live in the bay area. Within a few days of getting back, after having a little shin-dig with about 20 friends or so, I packed up my truck, motorcycle in the back and moved to a new place 500 miles away to head the coffee division of MoreFlavor Inc. My friends know one of the brands well, MoreBeer – but the company has since started putting a lot more beef behind the wine and coffee divisions. I manage nearly every aspect of the division, which requires me to be an expert on everything coffee, in addition to marketing, sales, public speaking and everything that comes along with those. And it’s been a fast paced 6 months. I haven’t really had much time to think about much else.
One of the biggest challenges has been separating the coffee and the wine from a beer website. This implies a lot more than just a site switch. It implies that everything has equal importance and quality. And so in addition to drinking and professionally sampling tons of coffee, I’ve put together the coffee site and nearly all the content within. The site revolves around the idea that people can roast their own coffee. It’s fresher, you have a huge selection of top quality green beans to choose from (I sample many lots before I make a decision on which to carry), it’s 1/3 the cost of the roasted stuff – and it’s just damned cool, fun and interesting. Roasting your own coffee takes 10 minutes and it’s really fun to see how much people get into it.
I just got back from Guatemala in January, actually, for work and that was cool. I visited some processing plants and coffee farms.
And I’m loving the Bay Area. It’s fun to take the train down to San Francisco and hang out every once in a while. It’s pretty cold right now but it will warm up soon and I can go hiking again. There are tons of places to hike around here and I bought a new tent and backpack for the tail end of summer last year. I’ll be away nearly every weekend this coming spring camping and hiking. It’s just so much fun – and I don’t have to fly all the way to New Zealand or Nepal!
So how am I different after a trip like this? I don’t know. I like to think that I have a bit of a better understanding of people. I’ve met a lot more people than many will ever meet in their lives. Observing and interacting with them has given me a lot of experience. I had a lot of time for introspection while spending a lot of time doing nothing while I was gone, too. I like to think that I have a pretty good understanding of my shortcomings and flaws, and what I need to do to work around them. I realized that often times, people have shortcomings that make them who they are, and upon which their strengths are built. Eliminate the flaws and the rest of the person comes tumbling down, great qualities and all. So life is then a process of examining which flaws are parts of those pillars (meaning which you can do away with without consequence – and only makes you a better person) and which you need to either compensate for, or tame – because they are with you forever.
It’s humbling to realize that you aren’t as great as you thought you were when you were younger. At least for me, it is.
I also have no home. And I don’t think I will have a “home” mentality for a long time to come. Right now I am following the money. That may take me as far away as China. Or I might stay in the same place for a long time. But buying something like a house just seems like bad business right now. For one, it ties you down. Two, the housing market is just coming out of a peak. Three, I make very little money. And based solely on that third point, I’ll be renting for a while. I get paid on profit, however, so hopefully my paycheck will steadily increase. Sales are up exactly 156% for the year, after being on a steady decline before I took over. The funny thing is, though, that I could live out of a box if I had to. I’m so focused on this empire that I want to create that a few cold nights would be nothing to me if it meant that I could save a lot more money and put it towards my goals. This is something that very few people seem to understand, having slept in a nice warm bed every night of their lives. For those of you who followed my posts: you remember when I slept in that cave in Malaysia and woke up to rat droppings next to my head. It doesn’t faze me. Anything is luxury, here.
I’m sometimes kept awake at night by my goals and dreams, and a million memories swirl around in my head. Throughout my day, a thousand funny stories constantly want to come out of my mouth because I’m reminded of something in some far off country, but I bite my tongue because I don’t want to sound pretentious, “when I was in (a country you’ve never been too), this guy once said to me….” My experiences have opened my eyes to perspectives and ideas that I never dreamed of. I’ve learned more about myself than I thought possible. But I’m alone in this growth. And there are very few people I can relate to. But I only have to take a look at my pictures – which I will have for a lifetime to be taken back to any moment in time. Staring at each is a private pleasure that only I can enjoy to the fullest extent. Each picture is a moment in time with a thousand stories attached to it. I took over 15,000 pictures on this trip and I’ve narrowed them down to about 230 of some of the most stunning pictures I’ve ever seen. There are no captions and no explanations in this album – the photography speaks for itself.
This will be my last post. I’d like to thank everyone for following me through this saga. But at the same time, keep in mind that the real trip has only just begun. You’ll understand when you suddenly start to see me on the cover of all those business magazines.
And I’ll end this on what I think the two most important things I pulled out of this whole experience: 1) Everyone deserves your utmost respect – and it helps to make your respect for this person as evident as possible. The only way they should be able to end up in a place where you disrespect them is if they slowly chipped away at the foundation you started the relationship with until there is nothing left. And when you disrespect someone, it is best to maintain as profound a distance from that individual as possible.
And 2) confidence in yourself causes other people to have confidence in you. And trust. A confident person will have many more opportunities in life than an insecure individual, but they both have the same potential for these opportunities. Confidence generates luck like nothing else.
Man, this trip never ends! So I’ve been in Peru for a while now and I’ve pretty much just been hanging out with my dad. So we left on the 4th, leaving for the airport at 3:00AM and departing around 7:00AM. The cool thing was that my dad insisted that we fly first class. Hey, I wasn’t complaining. The cool thing about that was that you get to hang out in the first class lounge before you leave. You get coffee and CNN, and the paper and all that stuff. And clean bathrooms, which is a plus. We eventually took off and landed for our layover in Mexico where we were to stay for 3 hours. We had to get our passports stamped which entailed waiting in a massive line for an hour, but eventually, after lunch, made it to the lounge where I took it upon myself to take full advantage of the massive refrigerator full of beer, Coke, Red Bull, a full bar, and a coffee machine. I think my final toll came to 5 vodka Red Bulls, 2 beers, 4 coffees, 2 espressos, 1 Coke, 9 pastries, one bottle of water, and 2 rolls – but the fact that our plane was delayed 4 hours kind of helped. We were promised that they would put us up in a hotel and everything at the airport when we arrived because of the delay, but when we finally did arrive, they essentially told us to screw off. First class was pretty comfortable, but if it’s my money, I’m still gonna fly coach. The food is good, but you still can’t sleep – and while you’re staring at the seat in front of you for hours at a time, it doesn’t make much difference if the seat is leather or not. It was something cool to do, though. So anyways, we finally arrived, took a taxi to a hotel and slept. The next two days we explored Lima. I’ve been here before and all the memories came back. The smog, the strange colonial, paint chipped, dilapidated buildings, the tiny cars, the ocean. We ate in some nice restaurants and visited some churches while we were there, which I had already been to, but didn’t mind seeing again. The catacombs always fascinated me. So instead of burying people a few hundred years ago, the Spaniards just decided to take all the bones and clean them off. Then they would organize them in different piles according to the type of bone. Thigh bones here, skulls there, forearm bones there, you get the idea. It’s underground and all musty with lights added for effect and it’s all pretty spooky. The churches here aren’t nearly as impressive as those of Europe, but they are interesting nonetheless.
And so after a few days of hanging out in Lima, we headed up to Cusco. I really like Cusco – it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. The flight was only an hour and when we arrived, we grabbed our bags, hopped in a taxi and were whisked to the town center: La Plaza de Armas. I ordered my dad a coca leaf tea and headed out on the town to track us down a good hotel. I had strict orders to find a warm place with a soft bed. After checking out 5 or 6 places, I finally found one right in the square and we checked in. We spent a few days hanging out in Cusco after that, not doing much but walking around, checking out different restaurants and stuff like that. Cusco is great for doing nothing. You can finish a whole day and when it’s dark, stop and think, “…wait a second…what exactly did I do all day?” The plaza has tons of restaurants with balconies that you can just sit on and overlook the action. There are tons of things going on everywhere you look: little kids trying to shine your shoes and sell stuff to the tourists, restaurant touts trying to con people in for a bit, police strolling, parades, taxis and buses zipping round the huge roundabout, funny tourists just back from the Machu Picchu trek limping around, old brightly dressed ladies with babies on their backs begging for money, church bells ringing, firecrackers going off, locals sitting around doing nothing but laughing, etc…, etc… It’s all quite entertaining to see from above over a cup of mate de coca. We walked around and saw the Inca Walls, which are walls from the time of the Incas. The impressive thing about these walls is that they are just so expertly made. They have absolutely no mortar in between the blocks and each one fits incredibly precisely. They match perfectly, you can’t even fit a knife blade in between each crevice. They still don’t know how they did it, but there are theories about some sort of chemical used to melt the blocks, or something to that effect because apparently they didn’t have iron at their disposal to shape the blocks. And even if they did, it’s hard to imagine that they could chip bocks to be that precise. It really is something you just have to see.
Everything tourist related centers are the Plaza de Armas. It’s the main square that the Spanish built after they arrived in Peru. There are several churches and museums, a little central part with a fountain and benches, lots of restaurants and shops and tons of other things to see and do. There are lots of other plazas nearby and it’s really fun just to wander up and down the hilly, cobbled streets and see what there is to see. So I did that (my dad was too tired to keep up with me) and eventually we headed to Machu Picchu by train early in the morning. They have this pretty incredible system of getting up the mountains whereby which they go up one way, change the tracks and put the train in reverse and go up the next step, then change the tracks and go up the next step forward, and so on and so on in this zig zag way until they get to the top of the mountain. You go through the valleys and around the mountains like this for four hours until you arrive at Aguas Calientes, from which it’s only a 20 minute bus ride up a mountain to the ruins. We got checked into a hotel and headed immediately up to the ruins. The bus goes up this huge set of zig zags on a narrow dirt road until you arrive. We got there and after getting to the lookout, my dad and I split up and set up a meeting later on. My plan was to get to the lookout point that I had been cheated out of my first time at Machu Picchu. I walked the 4 day Inca Train the first time and when we finally arrived at sunrise to the point at which you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu – the point at which all your work is supposed to be paid off with an incredible view of these ancient ruins – the point at which you are supposed to be knocked on your ass with the shear beauty of the site……and all we saw was fog. Solid fog. One guy held up a postcard of what the view was supposed to look like and took a picture of that in front of the fog. The rest of us just walked through the rain down the mountain.
So it wasn’t raining and I wanted my view. I huffed up the mountain and soon enough, I arrived and got the view I had been missing for two years. It was great! The next thing I did was walk to the Inca Bridge around a different mountain. It’s cool because you can see the train wind up the cliff side and into the distance. You can’t walk on it because it’s overgrown and dangerous, but it’s pretty incredible that people actually had the guts to walk on it in the past. After that, I headed to the ruins to snap a lot of pictures. My first time through, I was running out of space and so I didn’t take many pictures. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again and so I took like 300. I went crazy! It was pretty incredible to wander through the ruins again though…all the feelings of amazement and wonder came right back to me. Although my pictures can’t express the incredible feel of this place, they do a pretty good job of capturing the scope of the ruins, I think. Like my dad said, you have no idea how big this place is until you try to walk around it. It looks small in the pictures, but it’s actually quite expansive. So after a few hours of that, we were pretty beat and we headed back down the mountain. Once we got back to our room, we both got on top of our beds and instantly passed out from exhaustion. An hour later, I got up and took a shower and we headed off in search of food. Aguas Calientes is actually quite an interesting town, too. It’s really small, but it’s got this really nice tourist road that stretches up the hill to some hot springs, a nice little plaza and in the center with a church and all, and friendly people. I took a stroll in the night and saw the locals all crowded at a little cement soccer court where little kids were kicking around the ball before the big kids came out and the game started. Everyone watched the game from stones on the ground, even the police, and I sat around for an hour or so and watched, too. I then wandered around the dirt roads and checked out the town outside of the tourist area. The thing that was interesting is that no one really stares at me like they do in Asia. They all just go about their business and ignore me, pretty much. That night, I met up with a guy I had met in the train station in Cusco and randomly bumped into in the town and we got some beers and played chess – during which time he beat me 3 times. I told him that I really like getting beat. You see, chess is something that I think I’m pretty good at, and when I get beat, it reminds me that I’m not as good as I thought I was. This can be applied to life too.
In the morning, we didn’t do much but sit around and wait for our train to leave. We bought a few gifts for people back home at the market and then headed back to Cusco. Coming on the train was pretty incredible because as you come down the mountain and into the town, you see the whole town all lit up. It’s breathtaking! And with that, we descended into the town, got dinner and went to bed. The next day, I checked my email and found out that my friend Ali was randomly coming to Peru to study Spanish and do some volunteer work. I knew that she would be doing some stuff in Asia or maybe South America, but I didn’t know when or where. And she didn’t even know I was in Peru. But it just so happened that she was flying into Cusco the same day I was to leave it! Man, what a crazy coincidence, but I haven’t seen her in a long time so I decided to stay in Peru for another week to hang out with her and her friend and changed my ticket and stuff to do so. So as it turns out, I’ll be here until the 26th which was the soonest I could change my ticket to. I’ll do some volunteer work here in Cusco in the meantime. So we pretty much did a whole lot of nothing in Cusco again, and yesterday headed back into Lima. My dad must have picked up a bug because he is pretty sick right now, and so it’s just a matter of hanging out until 8:00pm tonight when we go to the airport, I send my dad off at midnight and I roll out my sleeping bag and sleep beneath a table or chair at the airport while I wait for my flight back to Cusco which leaves at 5:50AM the next morning.
Man…what a crazy life I live…
So I really wanted to go to Pilsen to see the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Although Chandler doesn’t drink much, he was totally down to go see it too – and Dapo (Chandler’s friend) wanted to get away and had a car, so we went together. We brought Genevieve along and had a great time. The brewery is over a hundred years old, I think, and the operation is pretty impressive. The tour was more about the history and stuff and we just got a topical view of the actual operations (no bottling line, etc…), but the freshly brewed beer they poured us from the actual conditioning barrel in the basement (a special traditional brewed batch they do) made it all worth it. The beer was phenomenal, to say the least. Even Chandler, a guy who isn’t much of a fan of beer, loved it. I bought some souvenirs and we headed off into the town to see some sights where Dapo and I played chess and we drank a lot of coffee. The next day, I walked around Prague and did some sight seeing alone which was nice. Prague is a city where you can just wander around for hours and entertain yourself. The castles, incredibly old buildings, statues and cathedrals are endlessly fascinating. Prague was one of the rare old European cities to escape devastating bombing during WWII and looks the part. It’s simply beautiful.
So I saw the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, but I still had one on my itinerary: the Budweiser brewery. “Budweiser??? Ewwww!” you might say. And if you do, you have no clue which is the true Budweiser. It is actually a traditional Czech beer called Budvar that they sell under both names. Budweiser stole it and uses the name…and if you tasted the two you would realize why it’s damned near blasphemy. So Chandler and I were going to go see this brewery, but we ended up getting up too late and missed the bus, so we went to this place called Kalovavary which had all sorts of hot thermal springs that you can drink from a special tourist cup they sell you. It’s called “The Drinking Cure”, and Genevieve made us drink almost all of them, as it’s supposed to fix all your ills, even ones you didn’t know you had. The town itself was nice and Chandler and I had some interesting conversations about God/life/everything else, as usual. It is always fun discussing things with people who actually think about the wide range of things that randomly pop into my head – and seeing as he is pretty religious, he always has a different spin on things, which I appreciate.
The next day I took the bus to Cesky Bedjevice where they have the Budweiser brewery and got a tour of that. It was pretty cool and was a much more impressive operation, seeing as it is a government company. Can you believe that? The government provides beer to the people! The tour was much more behind the scenes, too, and we got to see nearly everything. I really enjoyed it – and the beer was great to boot!
So the next day I bid farewell to my excellent hosts and took the train to Luxembourg. After several changes and a whole day of traveling, I made it to Luxembourg and walked around for nearly two hours trying to find my hostel. It was way down in this valley and I had to do some exploring to find it, but I eventually arrived. The hostel was the only one in town and they were booked to capacity, which meant that there were lots of interesting people wandering around. I met a cool English guy and a French guy and then a bunch of cute Spanish girls and we all went out together to a carnival in town. They spent the whole evening talking to me, because they couldn’t believe that I had been around the world. We had a great time and had breakfast in the morning together. That day, I went to a much smaller town in the outskirts of Luxembourg which was interesting but not terribly exciting. I took their little walking tour with a map I had and saw the city walls and stuff and then got some beers while I wrote in my journal. It was interesting to see how old the city was. The buildings were several hundreds of years old and still standing – and looked it too. When I returned back to Luxembourg, I spent the day wandering around and visiting some sites, like the cathedral and wandering around the park and seeing the old city defenses and stuff. It was really awesome. The city walls are still intact in a lot of places and you can walk all around the city on parts of them. The city itself has a huge valley jutting through it with a nice park at the bottom and I really liked wandering through it. I also visited the Casemates which are little caves dug into the mountain from which you can get awesome views of the city. I really liked Luxembourg. The people were really friendly and the place is beautiful. I will be back.
So that afternoon, I took the train to Germany so I could take my flight to London that I got for like 20 bucks after taxes. When I finally arrived in Frankfurt (the train stops at the airport), I couldn’t find the Ryanair checkin and they all laughed at me when I asked. I was at the wrong airport…I needed Frankfurt Hahn! Who knew? So with 3 hours before my flight, I ran to the bus terminal only to find that there were no buses leaving for hours. Luckily, there were four other Americans leaving on the same flight who did the same thing and so we negotiated a cab for 160 bucks to take us to the airport which we split 5 ways. We arrived on time to catch our flight and then got all checked in. I got called into the back of the airport security office before takeoff because they thought I had a butterfly knife in my bag, but it was only my harmonica. I met a cool English girl in the airport and we chatted the whole time and during the whole flight and before I knew it, I was in London!
I stumbled through customs half asleep, got a bus to town, paid 20 bucks for a London cab to Simon’s house, 5 minutes away and after catching up for a bit, went to sleep in my room. Yes, my room. I had my own room at Simon and Kat’s place in central London! They are great!! You know those bombs that just exploded in London? One went off right below his apartment, and the bus blew up right down the street. Crazy, eh?
So the next morning, I woke up late, messed around on Simon’s turn tables and we talked for a while before going out for beers at a traditional English pub with Simon’s dad. After that, we went to visit some places around London – a few churches, London Tower (the king’s old castle) and the Tower Bridge. We then went to Simon’s dad’s apartment for wine and got into an interesting argument about Wal-Mart (there is a lot of anti-Wal-Mart sentiment around the world) after I got trapped in his bathroom when the handle broke and they had to get all these tools to drill the handle out and rescue me. Awesome!
The next day, Nancy came down and we went around London together. It was really great seeing her again and we had a nice time taking in some of England’s sights and stuff. We all went out drinking that night with some of Simon and Kat’s friends and I nearly exploded after I ate the world’s biggest Doner (a pita with a bunch of chicken inside). I had to go for walks and stuff because I was so full. But I survived and after taking the London Tube back, we crashed at Simon’s place. In the morning, we headed to Nancy’s parents house in Cambridge and went to see the university (where we did this stick boating thing called punting) and then her parents made us a terrific dinner. We watched some funny English comedies that night and the next day headed off to Oxford. The university there was pretty nice and we got some beer at some really awesome English pubs before meeting up with my friend Matthew (who I met in New Zealand and stayed with in Australia and then met up with again in China) and we stayed at a little get together with his friends at the university. We crashed at Matt’s house that night and in the morning headed to a really nice town called Bath before staying in Bristol with Nancy’s cousin. The next day we went to Stone Henge and then a little beach town called Brighton (England’s gay capital, by the way) before heading to Nancy’s sister’s house in south London and spending two days there. We did go back into London to meet back up with Simon and say goodbye to him and Kat, which was cool. I really had a great time with them. And going around England with Nancy was incredible. It was a lot of fun seeing such cool places with such an awesome girl. I’ve had some incredible luck on this trip. England was pretty great. The funniest thing was hearing everyone speak in a funny English accent. It sounds weird to say this, but it is the same feeling as going to a country in South America and being able to understand everyone speak Spanish. It seems like a different language, but you can understand it – but just barely. It was just funny. The English culture is quite interesting too. It was hystericaly funny to see all the English flood to any patch of grass they could find – even the gas station lawn as they gassed up their cars – whenever the sun came out. You see, it is usually dismally cloudy in England and they really savor every beam of light that comes through. We have it too good in Southern Cali! Another funny thing was how incredibly formal everyone is. No one talks in the subway and people are usually very respectful and quiet. In places like an elevator, everyone just kind of looks down at their feet and doesn’t say a word. American voices carry quite far because we are so loud by comparison. You know, the US started as an offshoot of English culture. It was interesting to see how much we have changed…quite an interesting cultural experiment.
So Nancy drove me down to the airport in the morning and after goodbyes, I headed to Dublin where I got a Guinness while I waited for my flight home. The time came and I flew home after 10 ½ hours on the plane. I was already exhausted since I couldn’t sleep the night before, but I still couldn’t sleep. My brother met me at the airport and we were to surprise my parents. I told them that I wouldn’t be getting home for another 3 days or so and I was just going to show up at their houses and surprise them. We went to my dad’s and he just opened the door and without blinking just stepped aside and said to come in. He showed me the changes he’d done to the house and stuff and then escorted me to my gifts. He had printed out nearly all of my pictures, a monumental task, and put them in albums for me! He also bought me an incredible laptop! So I started loading all my pictures from CDs that I sent home onto it and rotated them so I could start a little digital gallery with all 11,200 pictures. Yes…11,200. Crazy!
The next day, after registering my motorcycle, I headed to my mom’s house where I stayed at my Aunt’s next door until she got home from work. When she arrived, I called her and said I was in London and that I would be home in a few days and stuff. The I told her I had to go for a minute and would call her back – and then walked over to her house and knocked on the door. She just about flipped! We went out to my favorite pizza place and talked and since then, I just took care of loose ends, like insurance, buying new clothes and stuff like that.
So now I’ve got to tell you guys all about how crazy and different I feel now that I’m back, right? Well, sorry to disappoint, but I’m not really overwhelmed with emotion. I was really excited to come back, especially seeing my home town from the plane as we came in to LA. I was talking to the guy next to me about my trip and stuff as we came in and talking about the world in general and my mode was very much on the stuff I’m going to do now that I’m home. That’s really how I work. I never really get bored because I’m always planning my next conquest and stuff. I picked two years to travel on purpose so that I would want to come home by the end of it. And I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times when I came close to coming home. But the truth is, that after two years of living in strange places, eating random food, being sick to my stomach and constantly pushing myself and my body to keep taking in more and more, I’m ready to just be in one place and get my life going. I kind of equate this experience to going to university. You don’t always want to do it, even though it’s a lot of fun, because of the studying and the tests and stuff (it’s a lot of work) but you keep at it because you realize that you are learning a lot and it’s better in the long run. Traveling for such a long time provides you with an interesting perspective. You see, when you are on vacation for two weeks, everywhere you go has this magical flare to it because you know you only have two weeks and you want to relax and enjoy it while you can. But when you are traveling for such a long time, time is no longer so precious. You can waste as much of it as you like, because the end always seems so far away. You can stay at places for a long time, a short time, whatever, and you no longer see things as these magical romantic getaways. You just kind of see it how it is in it’s true reality.
Now there is a tradeoff with this, you know. Things aren’t as romantic, but you get a pretty good vision of reality and how things really are, uninfluenced by how you would like them to be. The problem is that when you aren’t going off the adrenaline of romanticism, you get tired. And I am tired. So when people say that you return and you get all stir crazy and emotional, this is probably why I’m not. I’m ready to start working and make my millions. I’m ready to put everything that I’ve learned about the world and myself to use. I’m ready make a contribution to society. And although I’ll still take vacations and stuff to other places in the world, I’m not sure that I would want to do another trip so long. Maybe a few months would be the max. But it was good to do what I did, I think. It was a phenomenal experience and I think I crammed more life experiences into these two years than I would have had in 20 years living at home.
My initial observations after being back home have been mentally noted and I’ll do a post with some summaries and comments after I have time to synthesize it all.
Right now I’m in Lima, Peru, though. I’m on vacation with my dad showing him around Peru and Machu Picchu and stuff. So my next post will probably be about being back in Peru.
My God…this trip never stops!
Man o man, so much has happened since France. France! That was aaaaages ago! Seeing as I just got home yesterday, a month and a quarter is far too much to cram into one post, and so I’ll break it up into two. One today and the last section a day or so after. Then it’s off to Peru for two weeks with my dad so you are still in store for another few posts. So I last left off with me in Toulouse. I’ll pick up from there.
Here it goes though. So the deal was this: Brieanna and Casey (Brieanna’s friend) didn’t have school on Friday and were looking to go to Spain, and seeing as I didn’t have school on Friday either (and haven’t on any other day for about two years now), and also wanted to go to Spain, we decided that we would go together. Their plan was to go to this little country called Andorra in between Spain and France after, so it would all work out. We took the train early in the morning and ventured south, eventually arriving in Barcelona after having to wait around at a few stops for connecting trains. We wandered around looking for our hotel and eventually found it. That began my Spanish adventures. Our two days in Barcelona consisted of wandering around all day and visiting the sights, buying lots of beer in the evening and sitting out on the balcony talking about life and psychology until the wee hours of the morning. We visited some of Anthony Gaudi’s buildings (a famous Spanish architect) and those were pretty crazy. All his buildings are really wavy and colorful and stuff. He also started building a cathedral called “La Sagrada Familia” which looks pretty insane (like a melting ice cream cone), but which he never finished – and actually never even intended to finish. He wanted the completion to take several generations, like the gothic castles of the past. We took the elevator up to the top of one of the towers and that was pretty cool. This guy was pretty remarkable. He didn’t have computers or anything, he just used stones and ropes to build the models of his buildings and for the cathedral, he had a plan to build a 350 foot high tower in the middle of the cathedral and when all the modern architects looked at the plans, they insisted that he was mistaken – that it was impossible. But when they plugged it all into the computer, it turns out that he was exactly precise and would work perfectly. So they will build it. But it’s slow going seeing as it is only being build with funds from donations.
Barcelona itself is nice, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I thought I would be. It had some nice museums (including a Picasso museum with 3000 paintings by the guy) and lots and lots of stores and stuff. Wide streets and interesting architecture. A beach. I went to go buy some coffee at Dunkin Donuts (they sold big cups) and some guy named “Anass” served me. I tried not to laugh. Then I went upstairs and tried to open the bathroom door but it turns out that a women was on the other side and I really had to shove the door because it thought it was stuck. But it ended up smacking her on the ass (she was leaning over the toilet or something) and she started to cry. I ran. After Brieanna and Casey left, I moved on that evening to Madrid.
Madrid was pretty cool. The subway system had signs and telephones everywhere assuring everyone that they were safe and cameras were watching them. This is in the wake of the Madrid bombings. I spent lots of time wandering around Madrid with some people I met in the hostel – a really cool and crazy Greek girl, a cool guy from New York and a funny French guy. We had a great time going around town and visiting museums and hanging out in the parks, then going out with everyone from the hostel, at night. This was one of the rare experiences I’ve had where everyone in the hostel just kind of clicked as a group and we all had a great time together. In the evenings we would all go to a pub or two together and then stumble back to the hostel in smaller groups at night.
One night at about 3AM, after asking a transvestite prostitute where a strip club was (the crazy greek girl wanted to go to one), we were walking around and a little Chinese woman appeared out of nowhere and started selling sandwiches, beer and coke. This blew me away. I chatted with her in Chinese and she gave me free gum with my purchase because she liked me and my friends all bought something. A little while later, some beggar approached me and asked for some money.
I looked at him and told him that there was a woman down the street who came to this country “from China. From Chiiiiina!” with nothing and sat around and thought about how she could get ahead. Drunk people like food and beer since they can’t buy it after a certain time at night, so she would sell that. She sets her alarm clock for 2:00am every morning and tries to make a buck. I looked at him in the eyes and asked him (I love speaking Spanish as well as I do in these situations), “My friend, tell me. Why should I give you some money? Why wouldn’t I go give it to this woman? Why do you deserve it over her?” He shrugged his shoulders and said “all right” and walked away. Then another guy came up and asked me the same thing and my friends all laughed as I told him the same story (“From Chiiiiiina!”) with the same intensity. He walked away too. I’ve got all night, folks. That Chinese woman really impressed me.
So after hanging out in Madrid for a few days, I decided to head south to Sevilla to get a taste of a different part of Spain. I fell in love with it, let me tell you. The women are beautiful, the houses are all different colors, there are tons of narrow and winding cobbled streets leading everywhere (some not even wide enough for a car and a person to pass) and there were all sorts of cool castles and churches to check out. I really enjoyed my time there, but one of the coolest things I saw was a Flamenco dance show. I don’t have time to get into detail as to why it was so incredible, but if you ever run into me and want a really cool explanation, buy me a beer. It really was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life, though. I ran into a guy from the US and we went out to a really cool pub together (La Carbonaria) which had another Flamenco show and live music. That was pretty awesome.
The next day, I headed up to Paris. It was a long train ride and I eventually arrived. The first day was spent wandering around and checking out the buildings, while I tried to get a feel for the city. I met a Mexican girl who was studying there and we got some coffee and then I visited the Lourve, which was free after 6:00pm that day and spent a few hours in there checking out some pretty incredible art. What a massive complex that place is. Imagine this: it took me 3 hours to get through about one half of one floor and there are like 5 floors. It’s insane. After that, I visited some other churches and stuff and realized that I really didn’t like Paris that much. I tried to figure out why. I don’t get this feeling very often, so I was trying to put my finger on it. For one, the French in Paris weren’t all that friendly. Next, the cultural dimension wasn’t all that interesting: just a bunch of nicely dressed people going to expensive cafes. Next, it was almost as though they were whoring out every building of any conceivable interest for a price. There is a difference between Paris and a town like Zurich, Sevilla, or Rome that has lots of interesting stuff where some of the stuff you can visit, some of it you can’t, and some of it that just has a plaque or something out front explaining a bit about it. There is a bit of beauty and innocence about it, saying something to the effect of, “listen, tourist, we like you and all, but we don’t revolve around you. This building is cool. You can’t look in it because it’s not yours. But you can go look in some others, if you want.” Paris flung its doors open and charged you for everything. Even the lame stuff. It was the difference between a beautiful fresh faced girl who doesn’t reveal everything and doesn’t need makeup but is still stunning and then a supermodel with a bunch of makeup on and lots of fancy clothes and for whom you needed to buy lots of expensive stuff to keep her happy. They are both nice…but which would you like to spend any amount of time around? A Slovakian guy also pointed out that it was like everything was focused on the past; the dead. And I got that feeling too. For all these reasons, I didn’t like Paris all that much. But everyone else seems to, so I’m glad for them.
A crazy thing happened to me while I was there, too. So I was walking down the street and all of a sudden, I heard a girl screaming hysterically and at the top of her lungs. People were running away and freaking out and this 16 year old girl was just screaming her lungs out. I walked up to see what was happening and her father was in convulsions on the ground. They were both English and she didn’t know what to do. Her dad just laid there shaking, with his eyes in the back of his head. A man quickly came up and undid his belt and put him on his side and then he had to leave. Everyone just stood around him looking and the girl was just screaming that nothing like this had ever happened and she didn’t know what to do. The police were just kind of scratching their heads while they waited for the ambulance and I just stayed there to help the girl if she needed anything. I thought that if her father had to go to the hospital and she were left alone, she would need some help if she was still in shock and stuff. I just told her to relax and to let the police do their job – and that everything would be okay. A woman took her into her office so she could call her mother in England and while she was gone, I just sat there and looked at the man. He had stopped shaking and was just laying there kind of comatose which bloody drool oozing out of his mouth. I thought to myself, “this guy just died…my god…I just saw this man die…” but one of the cops pinched him and he responded, so he was still alive.
Just then, as quickly as I can snap my fingers, his eyes snapped open and he looked around at everyone standing over him in confusion. He tried to get up and the French kept obnoxiously asking him, “where are you???! Do you know where you are??!” and he didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t figure out why he was on the ground. I kneeled down and asked him if he knew where he was (with no obnoxious French accent).
“I’m in…bloody Paris. Why are you asking me this?” he said.
“You just had a seizure. Your daughter is all right and will be back in a minute,” I said.
He looked at me sharply.
“Who had a seizure?” he said.
“You did,” I replied.
He had absolutely no idea what had just happened to him. Absolutely no idea. He looked at the blood from where he had bitten his tongue with disbelief and tried to get up. His daughter came back and she talked with her father for a minute and then looked at me and asked if he was going to be okay. I said that I didn’t know. She told me that nothing like this had ever happened to her father before – that he had never had a seizure before. When I saw that there was nothing else I could do, I told her that I was glad that they were both all right and I slipped away. The thing that didn’t settle well with me was this: People don’t just get epilepsy at 55 years old. The fact that this guy just randomly had a seizure means that he probably had a brain tumor that changed his brain and caused the seizure, which means that I just saw the beginning of a massive change in two people’s lives, not to mention the rest of the family. Their struggle was only just beginning. My god…
I moved on pretty quickly to Belgium. That was the plan, anyways. When I got to Brussels, I met a girl in the train station who was headed to this place called “mini Europe”. I had nothing else to do so we left our stuff in the train station lockers and headed there together. It was pretty lame: just a bunch of models of famous European places and then a bunch of European Union trivia games at the end and so we walked around Brussels for a while and chatted. She was meeting her friends later and then heading to Amsterdam. Seeing as I had no plan, that was as good as any, so we met up with her friends (they were all Mexican) and we all headed to Amsterdam together. We had a great time – everyone was a lot of fun. Amsterdam was cool. The Dutch people were incredibly friendly and witty. The city itself was beautiful and there was the infamous red light district where you walked down this long street of women displaying themselves in windows and trying to lure you into the room so you could pay them to have sex with you. We spent the nights there just wandering up and down that street and looking and stopping in pubs in between. Marijuana is legal there so you can also walk into any store and buy all sorts of different kinds. Drug dealers walk around and sell all sorts of other harder drugs illegally. It’s 30 euros for a gram of either coke or heroin, I found out after talking with some guy on the streets. Crazy, huh?
After two days, we headed to Brugge in Belgium, which was beautiful. We didn’t do much but wander around there, but the town itself is stunning. I also spent a bit of time buying some of the most incredible beers in the world and trying them all out. Belgium is world renowned for its beers. We all split up from there and I headed to Germany – Cologne to be exact.
Cologne was nice, but nothing spectacular. They have the largest cathedral in Europe and that was interesting, but I just spent a day wandering around the town after sleeping there one night and continued on to Hamburg. I liked Hamburg, but it was always raining and so I couldn’t snap any really incredible pictures. I just spent a day there wandering around and looking at stuff (most places were closed) and after spending a day and two nights there, I continued on to Berlin.
I actually really liked Berlin. It had a ton of personality. I saw where the SS camp headquarters was, checked out some monuments and the next day checked out a museum with some a really funny Argentinean girl and a cool guy from New York and then headed back to the hostel where me and everyone else from the hostel (quite a fun mix of people) hung out together. The following day, I took off to Prague and Isolda, the Argentinean girl, came with me. I was going to Prague to meet up with my old Physics teacher and friend, Chandler, who packed up his stuff and family and moved there from California to teach at an expat school. He had had a daughter since and I really wanted to meet her and his wife who I had been talking to via email for quite a while. When we finally arrived, I met up with Chandler and we headed off to get Isolda checked into a hostel and then we all had dinner at his place together.
The next day, Isolda and I checked out Prague and then Chandler, Genevieve and I went out to dinner together and wandered around town. It has been really great to meet back up with him and chat about the incredibly wide range of stuff we chat and debate about. I’ve really been enjoying my time here with him and his family. His daughter is absolutely adorable. It is incredible to see how clever 5 year olds can actually be. We just got back from a 4 day trip to Austria with his friends, Dapo, Shola and their kids. Dapo is from Nigeria and manages the P&G cosmetics plant here, and also happens to be an incredibly intelligent guy and excellent business man. I’ve been enjoying my time chatting with him.
So anyways, Chandler and I are supposed to go to Pilzen and Budjevice to visit the breweries there tomorrow. I think that will be pretty cool.
And I’ll be the first to admit that this post sucks. It’s just impossible to cram the past month into a post. There is so much to write, so many interesting and funny stories. So many descriptions. When you sit down and try to pour all that out, it is incredibly frustrating. Stay tuned for the rest of the trip, which will include the rest of the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and England. Then the trip home!
I’m on a European adventure! Since my last post, I’ve flown through Italy, Switzerland and now I’m in France. And man have I been busy!
Where to start, where to start. Let’s see. So on my last post, I had just arrived to Rome and summed up what I had seen and the like. Rome was awesome. It has to be my favorite city in the world now. Lots of people I meet say that they didn’t like Rome because it was “too big”, but I think maybe they missed a big part of the fun of Rome. Yeah, the city itself is huge and it has tons to see and do, but it also has thousands of random, peaceful, and winding cobbled alleyways that you can spend hours just wandering down, past incredibly old churches. You explore and after a while, get dropped off into a central piazza where all the random alleyways meet and with a bunch of trees, a nice fountain and a café or two for you to sit at and ponder. Locals walk briskly by taking their dogs for walks and then stop to talk to each other in the incredibly passionate and intense way that Italians do. Italian really is a beautiful language. It’s just so passionate and it flows with such rhythm. French is nice too, but far too pretentious. Italian is much more down to earth. So that was my favorite part of Rome. You could get away from the tourist scene and just relax in a nice and quiet piazza, then pick up your stuff and keep going. What’s interesting is that in Italy, price of coffee are much more expensive if you sit down. Maybe 80 cents for a coffee standing up at the bar inside the shop, and $2.50 if you sit down for the same cup. I did a lot of standing, but sometimes it was worth it just for the atmosphere to sit.
I was staying in Rome with my friends Daniel and Renalto (from Costa Rica) and we usually ended up splitting up and meeting back up later in the day just because I liked seeing the stuff by myself. We would usually randomly run into each other anyways. We would see the sites during the day and then get some dinner at the supermarket and go out at night. Rome has two piazzas which are really famous for nightlife where foreigners and locals alike congregate around the fountain and at the various pubs and cafes chatting and having a good time. We ended up meeting some Australian girls going to the same place as us one night and had a great time with them. To make our group more interesting, I would randomly talk to strangers and get them to add on to our party and so we met a lot of people that way. I’ll never forget the three girls that thought I was trying to hit on them though (they weren’t even pretty!) and when I asked where they were from to try to start a conversation so I could introduce them to everyone else (they were blatantly from the US), they said “Rome” in this condescending voice like I was some sort of idiot and walked away. You go girls. You are totally Roman. Sometimes you meet such asses while traveling. So Danny and Renalto left the next day but I ended up staying another two days or so and hung out with Claire, Sarah and Georgina for the next few days. It was a lot of fun and they were really funny girls. So then it was time to head north. I have this thing called the Eurail pass which entitles me to 15 days of travel in two months and so the catch is that you don’t want to waste a whole day’s travel on a short trip. So I hopped on the train and headed for Pisa (you know, with that leaning tower?). On the train, I met two Korean guys and we walked to the tower together. We were able to snap pictures just before it got cloudy and started raining and then pretty much just headed back to the train station the long way so as to see more of the city. The funny thing was when the Korean guys took a picture of the tower. They asked me if I would “picture?” and I said yeah and went to take their camera. But they didn’t want a picture with each other, they each wanted a picture of me with each of them separately in front of the tower. Hah!
Once, in this pub in Australia, this girl behind the bar was telling me about how different nationalities always act differently when looking for something. I don’t remember all of what she said, but she said Americans always ask where the thing is before looking and Asians never ask, they just all group together and try to figure out the problem amongst themselves. I say this just to point out that we all really behave differently and one of the funniest things to see while traveling is a bunch of Korean or Chinese girls traveling together. They all dance together and flit around trying to be as girly as possible, giggling to themselves and stuff. It really is a site to see. The guys act pretty normal (by Western standards, that is) and are just more reserved. But I still can’t wrap my mind around the picture taking thing with foreigners.
The tower was interesting – it really is leaning quite dramatically – but there isn’t too much else to see unless you pay to go into the tourist packed church. So I left. I got back to the station and hopped on the train to Florence. Pretty uneventful and we arrived and when our separate ways. I didn’t have anything booked and the first hostel I tried was full and I met some Canadians (Canadian flag patch and all on their backpacks – as always) and we decided to go try to find a place together. A tout approached us and offered us a deal at $20 euros each a night and so we took it. It was at a bed and breakfast and the place was nice so I stayed both nights I was in Florence. The city itself is really nice. It’s smaller but a bit more open than Rome but doesn’t feel nearly as old. In the two days I was there, I just kind of wandered around, ate ice cream (Italian ice cream, called gelato, is to die for) and visited the sites. The first night I didn’t do anything but take pictures at sunset and take in the night life. Day two was spent visiting some incredibly intricate churches and seeing the statue of David (a must see), and also climbing the tower at the French Duomo church for a view of the whole city which was pretty impressive. I’m sure you have heard of David. I managed to snap a picture off before I got yelled at the I couldn’t take pictures (I really didn’t see the sign). It’s quite a bit bigger than you think and is incredibly detailed. Surrounding the statue are aspiring artists trying to capture the essence of the statue on their sketch pads. Some are trying to draw the whole thing and some are just sticking to the hand or face. It’s a cool thing to watch. That night I went back early because I was tired and met three Spanish girls, a Columbian guy and an Argentinean girl in my dorm. We spent the whole night chatting and making jokes before I crashed out. In the morning, I got up super early so I could beat the line to get into the famous Florence museum with all the DaVinci paintings and stuff. The line is regularly 4 hours long during the day and I figured that if I got there 30 minutes early, I could avoid the wait. I was wrong. I still had to wait an hour and a half to get in, but it could have been a lot worse. The paintings were worth it. I was blown away by one of Da Vinci’s paintings, although I can’t remember the name. The detail and shadowing was breathtaking. It just blows me away that someone can imagine something (this was an angel scene and so was imagined) and put it onto canvas like that. It just looked so real!
So after the museum, it was off to the train station to meet up with Ana, the Argentinean girl I had met on the boat to Italy. She was passing through and we decided to go up to Venice together. We met up, played some chess and then arrived at Venice and looked for a room, which we finally managed to track down on the other side of town. There was going to be some festival with fireworks and all and so all accommodation was booked up solid. The place we did end up managing to stay was a real hole, but we didn’t have any other options and didn’t want to spend the rest of the day wandering around looking for a room and so we took it. We got some food and just sort of wandered around Venice for the rest of the night.
Venice is a cool place. In Venice proper (there is an outer Venice that is more commercial) there are no cars, only boats going down the thousands of little canals dispersed throughout the city. I thought Rome was cool for its alleyways, but Venice has even smaller and more random alleyways to explore. I loved it and all the canals made for some excellent shots. The town, although peaceful, is violently alive with colors. Every building is painted a different vibrant color and all the streets are cobbled, making it even more picturesque. When we returned, we had forgotten where our hotel was and spent 2 hours wandering through a thousand little alley ways trying to find it at midnight. We eventually arrived though – and thankfully didn’t have to spend the night sleeping on a street corner. The next day, after booking into a dorm room at a hostel, we walked down to the square the long way (randomly through the alleyways in the general direction we wanted to go) and then spent a while listening to men play waltz music at a restaurant and admiring the square, which happens to be absurdly filled with pigeons everywhere. I’ve never seen so many pigeons in my life! People were feeding them and what not, and they were landing on everyone’s heads and nearly flying into people walking by. There were soooo many! I took lots of pictures and then we ended up heading back to the hostel for a nap. There, I checked my email ($2.50 for 15 minutes!) and met some American guys, Nick and Ben, passing through for the night. They didn’t have a hotel room and so I offered to help them find one. All hotels were booked, so they checked their stuff into the luggage storage at the train station and proposed that they just didn’t sleep. After all, there was a festival that night and their train left early in the morning. Fair enough. We went and bought a bunch of beer and a huge bottle of wine and marched to the square. We met lots of people on the way and once there, we hung out and chatted. They turned out to be really cool and interesting guys and I really enjoyed myself. We watched the fireworks, then hung out in the square offering random people wine, then seeing as we had lots of extra cups, divided them evenly and tried to see who could build the highest tower. About that time, we met some Argentinean girls and we all spent the rest of the night together telling jokes and walking back to our section of town. What a fun night. Nick and Ben ended up being able to sneak into our hostel and sleep in our dorm room (which was actually just an attic with a bunch of sheets hung by rope dividing the beds.
In the morning, we all went our separate ways and I said goodbye to Ana. I was off to Switzerland and so I stocked up on meat, cheese and bread for the train journey and had some coffee before catching my train. I discovered a new love in Venice: Italian Prosciutto Crudo. A sandwich with this meat, fresh Italian cheese and freshly baked bread is nothing short of orgas…incredible. I just kept going back to the same supermarket and having them make me more and more sandwiches. I love them. We love each other. You can’t stop us! While in Venice, I would just sit under some bridge in front of a canal in bliss while eating one of these sandwiches. Then I would go get some 80 cent coffee at one of the cafes and read The Economist and listen to everyone speak Italian. Then I would go get another sandwich. You get the idea. Venice was awesome.
I hopped on my train to Zurich, Switzerland to meet up with my friend Valerie. I met her in Galapagos two years ago and we have kept in touch and I was really excited to go see her again. Her boyfriend offered to let me stay at his place and she was on vacation from school so it was going to work out perfectly. And it did. When I arrived, they had also just arrived at the train station from France and we went to his place close by, I put down my stuff and then we went and got some beer and chatted. In the morning, Valerie and I walked all around Zurich, went up in a tower at the church and took a boat ride across the lake (about which time it started raining and we had to run to a café and wait out the storm). We had lunch and chatted about all sorts of stuff. This is the girl that speaks 5 languages, mind you. English, Spanish, French, German and Chinese. Yes, Chinese! But she speaks Spanish better than English so we always just spoke Spanish. But she spoke French with her boyfriend and German with everyone in Zurich. Crazy, huh? It was funny to hear her speak English though. It’s always strange to talk to someone in a language you’ve never heard them speak before. When I was traveling with Ana, she said I spoke differently in English than I did Spanish and I couldn’t get her to expound on as to why. I am just as confident in Spanish as English seeing as I speak both with a fair degree of proficiency, but perhaps my voice changes (I know the rhythm does since I speak Spanish faster than I speak English) or something like that.
But Zurich is nice. It’s much smaller than I expected and is really quite a quaint place. Everything is incredibly expensive though. I paid nearly 4 dollars for a medium coke at McDonalds (strangely, they say the don’t have larges, only mini, small, and medium) and then 2 dollars to use the bathroom at the train station. I couldn’t believe it. That night, Yann, Valerie’s boyfriend cooked us dinner and we spent the evening looking at pictures from Valerie’s album and then my own. The annoying thing about traveling with myself is that I have to listen to all my stories over and over again. They are exciting, but they get boring if you have to hear about them so much and everyone wants to hear them so I have to tell them. I’ve got quite a few, but still. You know?
So anyways, the next morning, I got up early and headed to the train station. I was to take the train to Paris, then to Toulouse to meet up with my friend and ex girlfriend, Brieanna. She is studying here for a month (a summer course for law school), and so offered me a place on the floor with her roommate. Cool! I caught the train to Paris, but the train to Toulouse left from a different station and so I spent quite a while trying to figure out the metro system. I finally arrived that the other station and sprinted to the ticket counter to get my reservation and then to the train 2 minutes before it left, sweating like a pig (say…do you think pigs actually sweat?). Once on the train, I sat down and noticed that there were quite a few beautiful girls sitting around me. Paris seems to have quite a few of them and so I’m looking forward to going back. The whole train ride was spent staring outside the train and the beauty passing by. The Swiss and French countrysides are nothing short of breathtaking. Switzerland was filled with picturesque little towns and lakes and mountains. Rolling green hills and castles. France is filled with thousands of vineyards and villas, rivers and bright green hills everywhere. It’s better than TV!
I kept stealing glances at one of the beautiful French girls across the aisle (our seats faced each other) and she kept stealing glances at me. Every time our eyes would meet we would pretend we weren’t looking at each other. I saw her looking from the reflection of her window (tricky!). But it’s one of those things where I could get up and go talk to her, but she would get off on her stop and I would just be haunted for the next day or two with memories of another beautiful girl. Sometimes it’s just easier on me if I don’t say anything. Or maybe she just thought I looked funny (“Does he know that he has a piece of ham on his cheek? Oh my god, he doesn’t! He has a piece of ham on his cheek!”). My friend would say, “why didn’t you go talk to her?? Who knows!” But that’s the mentality of someone stuck at home. Back home, beauty like this is rare and if you see a beautiful girl checking you out, you’d better go talk to her because you may not get the chance again. But when you travel, you see beauty everywhere and you learn to recognize the situations in which you can actually get to know the other person. Hesitation on my behalf isn’t for lack of confidence (lord knows I’ve got plenty of that). It’s just that lots of times you can’t. Sometimes you can. That’s just how it is. But in my time here in France, I really have seen some stunning girls. And it’s different here than a lot of places, I’ve noticed. French girls seem to have this silent pride about them that is incredibly attractive. It’s just the way they carry themselves. Of course, I’ve spent a two days in France now, so I’m not sure that I’m quite a proper authority on this, but I am surely impressed.
So I arrived at the train station and met up with Brieanna and her roommate, they showed me their place and then we went out for beers at a pub and chatted the whole night before coming back, making pasta and going to sleep. It is really nice to see her again, although it doesn’t feel strange. I’ve met up with so many people in so many random places that to meet my ex-girlfriend in France just feels normal. What can surprise me anymore??
Yesterday, we went to the air and space museum, which was cool, but would have been MUCH cooler had any of it been IN ENGLISH. Man, the French really do hate using English. If you ask if they speak it, they will always say, “just a little” and nothing is in English here. It’s just so funny that this one country out of all the others still sticks to this one thing so hardcore. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t paid 17 euros for the entrance…
So then we headed back home, hung out, had dinner with Casey (Brieanna’s roommate), Brie and their friend Kelly and I recounted some funny stories and told a few stupid jokes before we headed out and hit the pubs. Last night we stayed up talking until about 6:00 and then got up an hour later for school (and I got up to use the free internet at their school), which is where I am now. I got some coffee and fell in love with a French girl sweeping the floor and singing at full volume in the cafe. The girls here just seem so alive!
Jesus Christ, Casey. Get a grip.
The logs are going to get a lot shorter and less interesting now.
Why? Well, with internet running around $3.00 an hour, I can’t afford to write much. And on top of that, things in Europe are going quickly for me. I barely have time to sleep!
So I’ll write what I’ve been up to these past few days and I’ll fill in the blanks when we meet up for a beer or two after I get back.
So I flew to Athens from Tel Aviv. Remember that beautiful and funny girl I mentioned in my last log? She was randomly at the money changing place at the airport when I turned around. I told her that she found me out and that I was stalking her. We spent the 45 minutes before her flight laughing.
So then I went to Athens. I arrived and caught the bus and then went to the hostel I had booked. From there, I went out and bought a guidebook for western Europe and got some food, which were both important at the time. In Greece I’ve only been eating fried Gyros which are cheap ($1.80 each) but are fried. They are ALL I ate the whole time in Greece. So I went to the museum and met another beautiful girl and ended up spending a few days with her. We wandered around Greece, drank beer, talked and then went to Delphi (a little north of Athens) together. When we got back, we went to see the Acropolis and stuff. It was surreal to finally be there and see it. But I did it! So then I went to a small town called Napflio and spent a night there wandering around and hiking up a mountain to check out a 300 year old Venetian castle. You know how that goes…
My plan was to catch the boat that day to Italy. Bank of America was causing me problems so I had to change money and I missed a bus because of the line and so I almost missed the next bus but ended up making it to the bus 10 minutes before it was about to leave.
You know, I am not a hateful man. But whenever someone talks to me about Bank of America, hatred bubbles up from deep within me and spills out from everywhere. My God I hate that bank. Okay, I have to stop. I’m starting to shake.
So I got on the boat, and ended up running into who else but Yannick from Egypt! He was with a beautiful Argentinian girl named Ana (you know how I like Argentine girls) and we all had a great time. And who else was on the boat but the Costa Ricans that I had met in Athens! We had a really fun night drinking cheap wine and passing around jokes (thanks, dad, for teaching me a thousand of them). I ended up letting Ana use my sleeping bag so I shivered in the cold on the deck of the boat the whole night as I slept (because I used my Eurail pass for a half off ride, I was exiled to the deck along with all my other brother backpackers). But no worries. I’ve suffered much worse. So when we arrived, we wandered around town (Bari) until we arrived at the train station and then reserved our trains. We all started on the same train and then split off in different directions with the next train, but we all had a lot of fun hanging out in the train station for the hours that we did. What a fun group of people – and even better that everything was in Spanish.
So Renalto, Daniel (the Costa Ricans) and I went to Rome together. After hours of searching, we finally found a hostel and in the morning looked for another which after hours we finally found. And I’ve spent the day wandering around Rome.
The Vatican is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my life. I was blown away by the art. Then I spent the rest of the day meandering around, looking at people and taking everything in. I went to buy ice cream in a plaza but dropped my 2 Euro coin in the trash and spent 5 minutes in front of everyone digging through it. But I had the last laugh when I finally bought my ice cream with my trashy euro. Finally, I spent 20 minutes sitting in an alley and watching one of the most passionate violin players I’ve ever seen playing in the street. How incredible that was! He was playing for money and then some random guy came up and asked me for a euro and when I said no, he talked to me for 10 minutes. He kind of destroyed my moment, but he was just as much a part of the experience as any other so I talked with him (in Spanish). Half the people here speak Spanish, so it’s easy to get around.
And then I came back to the hostel, met up with Renalto and Daniel and we bought some food at the supermarket and sat in a plaza and ate while some random sketchy guys walked past us like sharks trying to steal our bags and we eyed them back just as menacingly.
I don’t know what the plan for tonight is, but I’m sure it will be fun.
I’m spending a lot of money. It feels weird but strangely invigorating. Hopefully I don’t run out.
I want to apologize. Those living vicariously through my adventures are going to be missing out on these posts in Europe. I feel overwhelmed every time I sit down to write emails and do a post as I have so much to say. But I’ve been writing much more in my journal so I won’t miss out.
Anyways, I’ve got to run. Que Bank of America se pudra y se queme en el infierno!
Yeah, I’m in Israel – and I’ve been keeping busy. Doing what, you ask?
Well, the first day I was here, I slept a bit and so did Zach (he had just gotten back from his own world tour and hadn’t slept since) and when we both woke up, he took me around Haifa with his ex girlfriend, Moran, and we visited some of the city’s major sights. A lot of Haifa is up on a hill and so you get some spectacular views from above. We visited some really nice temple made by the Bahais (look them up on google) and then went out to the Kibbutz. The Kibbutz are various farms in the Israeli countryside where people live and farm in exchange for food and housing or a modest pay. Kind of like an experiment in socialism, but (imagine this) they all seemed to be failing and so now they are more commercial in that people get paid and have to pay for food and housing. But the farms are really nice and relaxing and the people are friendly. We stayed in Moran’s dad’s house and drove her grandma’s golf cart around the grounds while Zach and Moran showed me the various crops and animals. It was pretty cool and that night, Zach and I played some chess (just like the good old days in Nepal). We also went out and got some killer Arabic food (schwarma: a pita with all sorts of spices and vegetables and meat roasted rotisserie style).
In the morning, Zach and I headed back to his place and then to a little beach city called Akko. The city is surrounded by an ancient wall that actually held up against one of Napoleon’s conquests. It was nice to wander around the cobbled streets and take in the atmosphere. The views of the ocean from atop the wall were incredible. So then it was back to Haifa for a nice family meal and then got ready for Jerusalem. The plan was this: go to Jerusalem by bus, meet up with Zach’s friend Hen, stay at her place for two nights while exploring Jerusalem during the day and on the third day, visit the dead sea and go swimming in it.
So that is basically what we did. On the bus ride over to Jerusalem, I met a really cool girl named Inbal and we chatted the whole way over there. Israel seems to have lots of really hot girls. A lot of them have bellies and have an “S” shape though. It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s like their bellies come out and, at the same time, so do their asses and they like to jiggle while they walk, so as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a pretty funny thing to watch your typical prissy Israeli girl walk around. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my life. But Inbal didn’t have the “S” thing, and she was beautiful, so the bus ride went by pretty quickly.
When we arrived, Zach and I tracked down Hen’s house and she welcomed us in and gave us food. We then went to the Holocaust Museum and spent a few hours there. To be honest, I thought it would affect me a lot more than it did – although it was really well done. They had a lot of videos of personal accounts and stuff from the war – and displays with a lot of history on it, but what happens is that there is so much information that the brain gets kind of overwhelmed and you just start glossing over it. It becomes like a history book, and those aren’t known for being super personal. There is so much going on in it that you can’t really wrap your mind about what it’s really about. I think the movie “The Pianist” affected me more, but I think the point of the museum is to educate, not to make you cry. And as far as that goes, I did learn quite a bit.
So after that, we went to the Old City of Jerusalem and wandered around the market in the Christian quarter. As it was getting dark, we didn’t have much time there, and we very quickly left to meet Hen at the apartment. Only we got lost and ended up spending an hour wandering around the city before we finally just got into a cab and went there. That night, Zach and I went with Hen to her friend’s house where a bunch of her friends had gathered to watch a movie for a class. Only no one had rented the movie. We ended up picking some random one off the shelf and watching it, and I was happy because I got free food.
In the morning, Zach and I went back to the Old City – only Zach wasn’t feeling well, so he ended up going home early and left me to my own devices. I saw the Tower of David museum which is a really old part of the original city wall that hasn’t been destroyed and rebuilt – and that was cool. And then to the Western Wall which is another original (and holy) segment of the wall. The Western Wall was interesting in that there were a bunch of really religious Jews praying at it and bowing while reading scripture or banging their heads into the walls. They had a separate section for men and women and I had to cover my head with the little Jewish hat (a kippa) before entering the area (the kippa I wore was basically just a little paper hat, which could have easily doubled as a French fry holder). After that, I spent a few hours just wandering through the thousands of cobbled stone alleyways that make up the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a pretty surreal experience to wander around streets that Jesus himself probably wandered around several thousand years ago. I wasn’t using a guide book, which was nice because occasionally I would stumble upon some really nice church or mosque or some other religious place. One place I found claimed to be the Prison of Christ, which is where he was supposedly kept while on trial. It was pretty crazy seeing as it was several floors below ground and even if it wasn’t this one that he was kept at, it was something just like it. The cool thing is that people still live in all the random alleyways and you can wander for hours going down dead ends and having to turn around and go in a new direction. That’s the kind of stuff I live for – none of this tour group “now we go here and now we go there” stuff.
That night, I went back to Hen’s place and we all went out and got some food before going back home and crashing. We were all pretty tired. In the morning, Zach and I woke up early and headed to the Dead Sea. Man…it was so cool! The bus ride over there was pretty uneventful, and when we arrived, Zach went hiking for a while which I opted out of since it was far too hot. When he returned with the Finnish girls we had met, we wandered down to the shores of the dead sea and hopped in. It was great! You really do float and it’s actually hard to keep your feet down. When you look in the water, you can see the salt floating around in it (it’s kind of hazy but clear at the same time) and the rocks on the shore are all covered in crystallized salt. I got the photo with me floating in it and reading a magazine and we all just spent a while floating around in the water and making jokes. It was pretty surreal just being able to float around and paddle. It’s like you are your own boat!
After that, we hiked to a fresh water spring and waterfall and washed all the salt off our bodies. Then we caught the bus back to Jerusalum.
There I met and American girl named Judy and we chatted all the way back to Jerusalem. I don’t know what it is about Israeli buses and incredible girls, but I seem to sit next to them on all my trips. You know, I really have met thousands of people on this trip. Maybe if something happened and I remembered a funny story about some random person, I could tell you about quite a few of them. But then I have a special part in my memory for a few people who are really different. Of course, there are those who say that all people are special and different – and to a certain extent, they are right. But then there are a class of people beyond that, I’ve noticed. These people love life and make the most of it, and you can see it in their eyes and their smiles. They usually seem to be really intelligent people and it’s almost as though they have made a conscious decision to get as much out of their lives as they can. You can feel the life in them, and sadly, this is something that a lot of people don’t have. They just are there, floating around. I can’t really put this into words that well, but if you were to travel with me, I could point them out to you as we met them – but be warned, they are far and few in between.
So in this whole trip – I’ve met maybe, I’ll be generous, 10 of these people. This girl Judy was one of them and she could easily light up a room just by looking around it. And just to be clear, I don’t mean this in a sexual way. There is a difference between sexual beauty and poetic beauty. They are very, very different, mind you. One makes you think of sex and is usually based solely on looks. Poetic beauty (although these girls are usually beautiful to begin with) radiates from within and seeing it makes your heart beat like seeing a beautiful work of art or an incredible sunset. I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve been able to meet so many people and appreciate these nuisances as they are and it’s satisfying to meet these people and see such rare beauty first hand. It really is.
Or maybe I’m just making this all up 🙂
So Zach and I got back to Jerusalem and then headed to Haifa, then took a bus to his house and then had a really awesome dinner with his family again. I like Israeli meals. Everyone sits around and eats pita bread and hummus with olives and cheese and maybe something else and chats. It’s great. I then played Zach and then his dad chess and after that it was off to bed.
Today is just a relax day. We aren’t really doing anything because Zach’s parents need the car. But tomorrow I leave for Greece to start my European adventures. It’s gonna be pretty hectic traveling because I’m trying to cram a lot into two months. Then it’s back home.
But before I end this post, I’ll say a little bit about what I’ve seen in Israel.
The people here are great – very friendly and very social. When they meet you, they greet you with a genuine smile and a handshake and welcome you to wherever it is they are. Zach’s friends have given me free stuff from their stores and let me stay at their houses (and given me free food!). His parents have really gone out of their way to make me comfortable. Even with random people you meet on the street, you get the feeling that you’ve met these people many times before. And I guess a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are so few people in this country. Jerusalem, the capital, only has a half million people in it and I guess that kind of contributes to a small town mentality with regard to how people interact with each other. The other side of it is that everyone seems to have a gun. The military is mandatory here for teenagers and everywhere you go, you see soldiers going home, or to work or vacation – but always with their guns (which I am assuming you have to have with you). Sometimes they don’t even have their uniforms on and so you just see some random guy walking down the street with an M16. In the bus station in Eilat, there was a guy who had his gun on his lap and it was pointed directly at me across the building. I’m sure it was on safety, but it was still a bit unnerving. In addition, every time you go into a building, you have your bag checked and you have to go through a metal detector. The mall, the bus station, you name it. They search you. There are also cameras everywhere.
It’s just the way they live.
But I have really enjoyed my time here and will be sad to leave it. But onward I go. To the next random set of adventures – and hopefully, more beautiful girls!