Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Last Entry?

As each day draws me closer to my adventure's end, more and more of my actions become the cause of a feeling of ominous finality. I am constantly making note of lasts: my last load of laundry... my last cash machine withdrawl... my last train ride. These are the lasts of not only my holiday, but also of a period of my life which describes its entirety, even to the point at which I write this. My commitment to past activities like high school, Boy Scouts, university, and even this trip, emerges from a mostly unconscious obligation - I simply do because it is expected from me and it seems the natural thing to do. When I return to the states on August 2nd, my life will be in my hands in a way that I have never experienced. The pursuit of a career is the obvious next step, but I have become self aware enough to realize that isn't what I want to do - at least not yet. The newness of this looming next chapter keeps me uneasy, but I am excited nonetheless and intend on making the most of it.
"Happiness is only real when shared," appear to be the last words and then final revelation of Christopher McCandless in "Into the Wild," and without trying to imply that my experience compares with his own, I still have to say the subject matter in the film spoke to me much more directly when experiencing it again at an open air screening in a park in Paris. I have met some amazing people while abroad, and their company has indeed made my experiences all the more real, and even though most I will never see again, I am grateful for them in ways I find difficult to explain. Even my exploits while alone are the more worthwhile knowing I get to share them with people I care about, and so even you I left behind am I grateful for and look forward to reuniting with. I've been ignited with a lust for "simple beauty," and I can't help but feel that will define my pursuits for years to come.
Holy crap, as I am scribbling this down on a train near Rotterdam, I saw three horses nibbling grass by a brook surrounded with low hanging trees and unreal patches of yellow flowers.
Bruges has been called the Venice of the North, and I can't argue with that myself. The two are wrinkled with charming canals and remain the most well preserved (and romantic) medieval cities I have seen. Swap the gondolas for horse drawn carriages and the wine for beer, tweak the color hue, and it is practically the same thing (not true, but it gives you an idea). The Belgians seem incredibly fit despite the cusine they have become known for. I have had plenty of waffles, fries, chocolate, and mosastary brewed beer in various combinations, but regretfully never at the same time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm in your continent, growing mah beards

The young people of Europe do not seem interested in growing beards. Moustaches, goatees, and sideburns do make appearances, but never in the unified glory that is a beard. As mine continues to develop, it has been affecting the way the people I meet regard me. In Venice's Jewish quarter, a young Orthodox Jew lit up when he saw me, taking me for a foreign Jew going on a pilgrimage of sorts. Partying in Rome, I was called Jesus, and spent the evening turning water into whisky (and since, I have heard numerous passers-by call out "Jesus!" or "Amen" to me). It pleases me most to hear those I meet comment on my beard while intoxicated, and therefore uninhibited. A Frenchman told me I needed to borrow his razor: "You are looking like a Pakistani." An Englishman, "you'd be quite an attractive chap if it weren't for that damn beard." I feel the least out of place in the many museums I visit, hanging out with the likes of St. Paul and Hercules.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Go to this...

Go to here

...It is nice to be back in Paris. I was supposed to wake up at 4:45 am to catch the bus to the Eurostar line from London back to Paris, but I woke up at six and cursing. Calling a taxi - and sprinting to an ATM to pay the taxi - got me to the station just in time, but the mix of very sudden stress, exercise, and a night of drinking with friends just prior had me going, "I think I'm going to be sick," on the train. I tossed in the lou just before burying under the chunnel.

Somehow, it is the cities that I become the most endeared to that I have the hardest time finding the words I want to share. I feel like anything I try couldn't possibly do them justice. My earlier week in Paris was amazing (all the more so because I got to stay for free (thank you Jenny Long (check out her beautiful photos here))). An English ex-patriot told me, "you never leave Paris." Even as I did, I thought he was right. Very much like Vienna, Paris is endlessly classy and so much fun. Despite the extra length I have allocated to both cities in comparison to my other stops, I doubt you could ever spend too much time in either.

Eating in London has been fine, but hardly because of the English offerings. You are never far from cheap cuisine from the Indians, Turkish, or the many nations of Asia - all with friendlier options for vegetarians. My efforts in London have been super touristy, and I have no apologies or regrets. Museums and landmarks mostly... Big Ben and the Rosetta Stone (which is much bigger than I imagined). I quite liked seeing Shakespeare in the Globe Theater, with my my arms folded as I leaned on the stage (apparently they let women play in the theater these days). In a woody pub, I heard one Englishman (with the Geiko gekko accent, but much stronger) explaining "Skape" to a pair of friends (we say "Skype"). An older gentleman piped in (and seemingly without any irony), "What's the internet!?" I hope dearly that he was serious. For the first time in my journey, I wasn't disappointed to find grey skies and rain - in London it is part of the experience. Oh, and Charles Darwin is on the printed money. Awesome.

Oh, and it was a waste of time, but I did see Quentin Tarantino at the UK premier of Inglorious Basterds.

Look, we broke this young man's constitution. He is smiling!

Oh yeah, Dr. Scholl should go to prison for malpractice. The injustices done to my feet evaporated once I threw my sole inserts in the waste bin. And all the while till then, I was like, "boy my feet sure do hurt right now... I can't imagine how much worse they would be if I didn't have these Dr. Scholl's sole inserts."

Today, I wandered from the the Latin Quarter to the Champs Elysee, spent an afternoon with Van Gogh and Renoir in the Musee d'Orsay, and drank wine on the banks of the river Seine with a dozen Englishmen and Americans. Two days till the Tour de France. I will be very sad to leave.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I tried to swim to Africa

...but didn't quite make it.

I have mentioned to a few of you that my affection for a city can grow to the point where I have this impossible desire to make the idea of a city into a blanket and then roll around in it - very much as a dog who finds a particularly pleasing smell does. I became very close to achieving this in Barcelona. A friend I made from Denmark found a rental bicycle that had been discarded for its being broken. The rear brake was entirely dysfunctional, but the front worked just fine when pulled at the correct angle. We went out and had a very full helping of Tapas and Sangria. The bike ride afterward was majestic. Until that moment, I had very much forgotten just how much I love to bicycle, and to do so while tipsy in beautiful Barcelona - it felt very much like the city was simply washing over me.

Oh yeah, Paris says hello. Happy Bastille day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My week in Italy

...went by with a tragic quickness. This country is a delightful mess of new and old, and it never left me bored (and I must say, I am quite fond of pasta, pizza, and gelatto). People speak of getting "museum-ed out," but so far I have experienced quite an opposite effect. Passing through the Guggenheim in Venice, the Uffizi in Florence, and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, paintings seemed to come more and more alive by the day. Maybe it is because I have not seen a film in so long, but I have never sensed such overwhelming drama and even sexuality from visual arts before (is it weird to be aroused by depictions of the virgin Mary? Some of these Madonnas are hot!). My visit did have its rough edges... The heat was sometimes miserable (mandating culturally appropriate siestas), the Romans seem to prefer throwing trash in the gutters and bushes, and Italian beer realized how much I have been spoiled by Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic (and damn my eyes, I should have realized the Colosseum and the Roman Forum were covered by the same ticket!). And my night train from Rome to Switzerland... The air conditioning was broken, making the cabin quite like a sauna, the water system was broken, making it difficult to brush our teeth or soak our shirts to battle the heat, the electricity was broken, so we could not charge our phones or ipods, and the train was an hour late by the first stop (pssh... Italian trains). My bunk was at the top of the ladder - three beds high. Heat rises. After stipping down and still feeling the sweat rolling down my sides, I threw all my sheets down and slept on the floor.
Bern is cute - and served as a pleasant return to the refreshingly brisk environment I had learned in Germany and Austria. A fine place to recharge my batteries after my challenging pace in Rome. It is strange though, to walk into a shop and not know if you will be greeted with a "Guten Tag" or a "Bonjour." German and French are pretty interchangable there.
A meaningful shock took hold of me when I realized I would be much upset if I lost my notebooks than if my ipod were stolen. My notes I hope to use as an index to help bring me back to these beautiful day I am having... my ipod is just a nice toy (but a helpful one at that - prior to leaving I loaded it with a handful of language guides, cultural podcasts, and walking audiotours).
I am now in Barcelona. I came here to swim in the Mediterranean. And it is raining. It has been raining all day. Tomorrow, rain or shine, I am swimming in the Mediterranean.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


must be the most beautiful city in the world. It's patently ridiculous (and expensive too (except for the wine - they have wine shops where you can bring in your own container and pay for it by the liter. I filled my giant water bottle for about €2.40)).