Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Thin Line

There is a thin line between being bold and being wreckless. Between being open and being naive. Between being cautious and being paranoid. I am testing the balance here in Paris. Last night after loosing my connection to my new American study abroad friends, I ventured off to have a good ole time with some true Parisians. One Frenchman, Vincent, and I carried on learning eachothers' language. I beleive I am truely picking it up! Before I knew it, I was in the center of a large group of drunk French partiers in, coincidentally, a bar with an American/ Canadian theme. They were a lot of fun, but I could tell they couldn't help but tease me a little. I think that if you are in Paris and an American, you just have to accept that there is some hesitation to take us seriously. I completely understand that, especially as I peared around the bar to witness several drunk American students being obnoxious and ridiculous.

As the night wore on, I realized that I needed to find my friend to get myself home. He was nowhere in sight, so I mustered up the courage to face the late Paris streets alone and forge my way home. I was tipped off that there was a metro station a few blocks away, so I picked up the pace and bee lined it for the station. Some how I found it, and found my connection back to north Paris. There were several drunk travelers joining me on the train, eager to make conversation with me. I had the pleasure of meeting one girl as I turned the corner in the station to find her urinating in the stairwell. Always a great way to meet a new aquaintance.

The train ride was a long ordeal and when I at last arrived back at the hostel after a chilly walk home, I realized how I was really pushing it. Running across these situations is bound to happen and late night stragglers see a naive American young girl as a perfect target. As much as I would like to say we are all on equal playing feilds, I know that isn't true. I will be more careful as I party in new places with new people. I will do my best to trust, but also be aware of potential dangers.

So today it is rainy and I have some errands to acheive. I also am unfortunately getting a bit sick. My throat is aching and my back is stiff. I will make my way to the drug store and hope they can help me. Tonight Lisa arrives and the trip will change dramatically upon her arrival, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Goodbye Amsterdam, Hello Paris

After 10 long hours on and off trains with my big heavy backpack, I am finally safe and sound at the next hostel in Paris. My first impression of it is very corporate, clean, organized. As nice as that is, I hope it is warm and friendly. In hind sight, I made some really great friends in the last hostel and it's bareboned, somewhat seedy atmosphere may have contributed to that. I can't believe how much I miss it already! Yesterday was so great and me and one of the aussies ended up on the roof of our hostel, overlooking the redlight and central station. So amazing after a bed time Amsterdam goodie.

So now I am waiting for Jason's friend Met's Guy (Evan) to meet me for my first meal out in Paris. In two days Lisa will be here, so this seems much easier than my Amsterdam experience starting off. I also know the trains and neighborhoods pretty well since I've been here. Once Lisa leaves and I'm alone again, the real challenge will continue.

This trip has so far been such an amazing ride and it is so great that you all are enjoying the posts. I will continue to keep everyone interested up to date on what's happening here. Thank you for the comments and interest and I miss you all so much!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Last Day in the Dam

I'm reaching the end of my leisurely stay here in Amsterdam. It has only improved since first arriving completely disoriented last Friday evening. Yesterday I met a new friend from Australia that joined me on a mini adventure outside of the city. We went to a random tiny beach town with not much going on, but it was nice to take a walk on the sand. On the way back, we stopped in Harlem, a historical city about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam. It was so pretty and more of what I pictured of the Netherlands. We strolled about with no schedule or place to go, then posted up for a couple of beers in a big open air square in the shadow of a beautiful cathedral. Amazing. When we got back we met up with others and had yet another crazy night getting lost around the red light in a space cake daze. Back at the hostel one of the greek girls grabbed the guitar and we collectively enjoyed the beautiful words we did not understand until the wee hours of the morning. So great...

From talking to others I've met, I have some new changes to make the itinarary. I really want to go to Prague and Budapest now and I think it will be feasable to do after Munich and before Vienna. They are apparently very cheap and a lot of fun.

The trip is coming along well and I can't beleive how much I'm learning every single day. In additional to the blog, I've written over 40 pages of introspection, observation, and reactions to things. Lots of great material to take back after this experience. In the laundramat yesterday I also met an extremely interesting Welsh guy now living here and for a good hour we dug into all types of social and politiacal dynamics of the world. It's fun to dive in and explore dreamy ideas of changing the world with people from so many different backgrounds. I'm sure that is not the last eye openning, random convo I'll stumble upon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Melting Pot

Amsterdam is an interesting destination to meet people because it attracts people from all around the world who want to let loose and do pretty much nothing. Yesterday after I actually did have a busy day seeing the Van Gough Museum and the Anne Frank house, I came back to the hostel and accumulated a diverse group of new friends. What began with a game of pool with a cook from Argentina turned into a group of about 10 people wandering the red light to a little cafe, the Green House. I was with people from Bulgaria, Austria, England, Brazil, Argentina, and Switzerland. It was the first time being completely away from anyone from the US and noone from the country I am actually in. It was a good time, pretty mindless, but enjoyable. What is most interesting to me was how exposing my ''American'' attributes are. The stereotypes are true in many ways and I couldn't help for certain qualities to come out. I also found it humbling that we all met in English to speak, my only language, but only one of several that the others spoke. In the US it's just not a priority. This was the first real opportunity I had to spend an extended period of time speaking with people from many different cultures simaltaneously and I suspect it will certainly not be the last. Very interesting and quite the learning experience.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Breakers= Not Great Soul Searching

Today is Monday and for me that always marks a clean slate for the week no matter where I am. This weekend was a bit of a haze as I simply went with the flow of my surroundings. While I had not a care in the world, I also did not get much out of my experience thus far. I haven't seen much of the city outside of the Red Light District where my hostel resides. Come to think of it, I haven't really been off this block with the exception of Saturday's walking tour. One reason for this is absolutely the fact that I am flying solo in a town and time of the year where people are here to go crazy and mindless. Springbreakers packed the hostels all over this weekend and instead of meeting interesting backpackers, I was surrounded by large groups of youngsters here to go absolutely ape shit. I figured, I can't avoid them, so might as well join them. By the end of it all, I felt entirely drained and a bit frustrated. Finally, I get to do some sight seeing today, seeing more than the inside of coffee shops, pubs, and clubs. A friend I made randomly in London has coincidentally had a very simular itinarary as me, so we are going to do our museum hopping together. Himesh was in London to visit friends and then Ireland for a friend's bachelor party when I was there and is now here in Amsterdam. We posted up at a cafe last night and for the first time on this entire trip I finally got to explain my purpose here. At home I was able to dive into this with dad and a few select friends (you know who u r :)), but here it's been all surface level introductions and sharing not much more than a good time and funny stories. That is all well and good, but I am here for more than holiday. I am here to have an experience and learn more about myself and the world. Being in Dublin for Patty's day and now Amsterdam for Springbreak is totally throwing me off. Hopefully in my next destination I won't feel so overwhelmed by partiers.

I also must say, I am feeling very home sick partially because I haven't established any real bonds yet here and because everyone here is a stranger. I am anonymous. It makes me feel so much love for my family and friends back home and I am so glad I get to return to you guys. It helps that you all are reading about my journey and behind me all the way.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Amsterdammmm

This place is nuts. I want to divulge all the great details but I have very limited time at this hostel to be online. Here's the run down so far:

Arriving in Amsterdam on a Friday night, not knowing a soul, and going out on the town in the pouring rain with people that don't speak very good English is pretty overwhelming. I met two Hungarian girls and a French guy and we proceeded to find a club in a lively part of town. It turned out being relatively anticlimactic because of our lack of consensus on a place to go and I came back to my hostel tucked away in the seedy red light district. I went to bed feeling like I genuinely can't hack it here alone. I was wrong.

Yesterday morning I met 2 aussies during a walking tour and we ended up parking in a coffee shop for hours after, me simply laughing at their halarious antics. Eventually we pulled together some bit of motivation, got dressed, and hit the strip for the night. What an amazing night, but won't divulge too many details...

Today I'm not feeling that great, but I need to wash clothes desperately, so I'm going to bite the bullet, get the job done, and then see where the day leads. Hopefully I'll find my mates at some point. Right now I have a rasta guy from an island off of France tapping me on my shoulder, trying to get me to once again put off the laundry and enjoy the day, if you know what I mean. .. This place is crazy. Truely crazy crazy crazy. It would be such a different experience with all my friends since the town is littered this weekend with tourist celebrating and going nuts, but my unique experience is irreplacable.

I miss everyone at home so much and just hope I can keep from being too gripped by the twinges of home sickness. I'll keep posting all I can and look forward to see what the next moments will hold!! Jeeze...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wow, wow

What a day... I have been at it since 5:00 AM, flying out of Ireland, to Brussels, and now at last in Amsterdam and somewhat rested. The last several days have been an extreme whirl wind. Here's the run down:

Tuesday night was St. Patty's Day Eve and actually a bigger celebration than the day it self as far as the late night scene is concerned. Krish and I found a bar packed with Irish people and we quickly blended with a large group in one section of the bar. The night grew more chaotic as the drinks flowed and more people joined the madness. A few people I met in London from LA made it to Dublin and joined us as well. By 3 AM I was done for and managed to convince Krish to call it a night. We enjoyed the traditional, healthy Irish fair of Burger King fried goodness on the way home and at last I got a much needed long night of sleep. I woke up around noon and was privilaged enough to grab a beer from downstairs at the hotel and watch the parade march down the street 5 floors below my room as thousands of people lined the streets. After much deliberation, I decided to spend my afternoon observing the Galic games, saving the excessive alcohol consumption for later on. Randomly, another lone veiwer was walking into the game infront of me and was a fellow young American. Sean, from PA, also had a seat in the same section, so we enjoyed the game together and he stuck with us the remainder of the night. After a shower, food, and finding Krish, we did some minor pub hopping and landed on the most bizzare, yet entertaining club I've ever been to called Spy. The crowd was young and Emo-ish, dancing as if their limbs were disjointed from their bodies. We had a great time joining in and drinking cheap mojitos. The night ended with the suberbs and some great late night homemade Irish food...

Thursday was a day just for me that I needed to recharge and refresh. After sleeping in, I made my way out to a small, scenic fishing town called Howth. At first the chilly wind and mist created painfully uncomfortable conditions for the cliff hike I was there to embark on, but I put up my hood and beared it. Great decision. As I hiked further along the steep ridges, the veiws of the sea and the island grew increasingly picturesque. I was instantly in love with this island. I hiked a loop for about 8 km, taking pictures and zoning out to the incredible setting. The hazy sky cleared gradually and eventually I found myself strolling through the final portion of my hike in the sunshine, watching it sparkly on the distant water. So perfect. When I finally got back to the city around 6, Krish and I headed out for our final night together and enjoyed a quiet, yet perfect evening of sushi and great converstation.

I didn't sleep a wink because I knew what was instore for today. Everything was packed, my plans were secure, but my mind reeled. I literally fell asleep one hour before needed to wake up to catch my crack of dawn shuttle to the airport. On the flight I met 4 fun guys from Brussels on their way home. They offered to drive me the long hour trip into the city in stead of taking the expensive, crowded bus. The drive was extremely entertaining and I got to practice my french. They dropped me at the train station where I some how figured out how to lock up my bag, and take the underground into the city. I was exausted and generally unimpressed with the city. I did have a good sandwich and an incredible, famous waffel, so I guess it was all worth it. After being lost and alittle out of sorts, I found my way back to the train station and caught the train here to Amsterdam. I got a few moments of shut eye and now plan to throw myself into the scene here. My hostel is very interesting and I'm intriuged with where the night will lead. I'll be sure to keep the blog up to date with new stories as the materialize. For now, I'll spend some time in the hostel bar watching March Madness! I know, in Amsterdam! I should have made a bracket... :) (PS- spell check doesn't work here, so my bad spelling is exposed...)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dublin, Ireland

Well this trip has certainly started off with a bang. Saturday was day one and due to an important rugby match against Whales, the streets of Temple Bar were lit up. We found a great pizza place to start slow and get a little sustenance, then made our way to a lively, 3 story pub where we spent the remainder of our exciting evening. The place was packed with red jerseys of the defeated Welsh, but the lost was nothing several pints couldn't cure. The traditional Irish music filled the crowded space with carefree enjoyment and it took no time for the front man to find the two American girls in the crowd. As a tribute, they played "West Virgina", of all songs. I met several lively folks, all gents from all different areas. A table of French guys took over my camera and a tall Welsh man got my attention until he began to chug beer out of his buddy's boot. That was a bit of a deal breaker... As the night carried on, the Irish dancing was in full swing as we stomped our feet and swung each other around. It all was going perfectly until a slap heard around the pub put a damper on the evening. My travel companion was a victim of one drunk jerks antics and was smacked unsuspectingly across the cheek. Everyone rallied against him, but the damage was done. None the less, it was still a fabulous evening and she shook it off like a champ.

Sunday we hit the Guinness factory, has a great Irish brunch at a place called Queen of Tarts, enjoyed a cup of tea on Gaftin Street, and then decided to have a quiet night in and ordered "Inglorious Bastards". The next morning while Krish was at work, I had a full day of sight seeing around the city, checking out the famous jail tour, walking through Trinity College, strolling in the park, and having lunch at Dublin's oldest cafe, Brewley's. Then in the evening we found a great pub for dinner that was 5 stories of live music at the center of the many balcony's. After dinner a band took the stage that played many familiar American tunes that got us on our feet. We did some minor bar hopping in the area, but every place was littered with tourists, so we made it a night around 12:30. Today I checked out St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Writer's Museum and met some amazing locals at a pub that we plan to find again tomorrow. Tonight we are headed to a restaurant with individual taps at each table then meeting up with a group of travelers from LA that I met in London. Should be a good night, but should try to contain ourselves seeing that tomorrow is the most famous day of the year here.

So far this experience has been enjoyable and a breeze. I would like to see the country side and escape city life on Thursday. I also am a bit exhausted of the many tourists everywhere. I know I am guilty of being one of them, but who goes to another far off place to spend time with the familiar, everyday people? I can't wait to spend some time with the residents of Europe's friendliest city.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I'm here!

Finally I'm in London!! Benny is letting me crash at his flat for today and tonight, so I'm safe and sound and comfortable. While he nurses his hangover, I can make my first abroad update.

So far things are running smoothly but it has been a long 12 hours since leaving RDU. I ended up sitting across the isle from a really neat fellow traveler on his way to Europe for spring break. He too will be staying in hostels and unfortunately we will be missing each other at the Flying Pig in Amsterdam by a day. We chatted for a while until our Tylenol PMs kicked in. I got a good four hours of sleep in and now I'm trying hard to stay up. Once in London, I had to wait in so many long lines and it took me about 3 hours to get off the plane, through boarder patrol, claim my bag, get cash, hop on the train, and walk to my destination. Now I have to start thinking about navigating my way to Gatwick tomorrow morning and finding my flight to Ireland. Hopefully since I am starting with English speaking countries, I won't run into too many snags. I will say one thing, the actual travel part of the trip is a lot more exhausting than I imagined. My bags felt much more like their true weight after lugging them around all morning. Oh well, all part of the adventure.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tomorrow I Depart

Tomorrow the trip will be here at last. I will shed what is left of my routine life and embark on an unpredictable adventure. The career, the home of my own, my regular social life, the day to day errands of life, my various responsibilities, those have been shed. Now I will shed my family, my pets, the familiar... my phone, my computer (I'll be updating this in cafes), all possessions that do not fit in my backpack. Three months to try to live differently, bond with new, interesting people, live on a strict budget, have no home. I will be exposed to new cultures, meet other travelers on quests of their own, see historic places I've only heard about, and of course, have a damn good time. The excitement is rising within me and it's hard to imagine what to expect. When I return, I will no doubt be excited to see the American flag waving and pull up to the drive way of my parents house in cozy Raleigh, NC. One of many reasons to do a trip like this is to gain a new appreciation for what we have here in the states. Western Europe is surely not far removed from the way we do things here, but even the subtle differences will be fascinating.

So here I go, time to take this mysterious tour of Europe. People have encouraged and reassured me plenty, but I still naturally feel the discomfort of what I am about to do. Is this the right way to figure out what's out there, to soul search, to explore? Well, hopefully it is, because in 24 hours I will be kissing my parents goodbye and walking through the the concourse to my terminal. Here I go! The adventure begins at last.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Goodbye, little Cody Bear

Yesterday I had to say farewell for now to my little sweety, Cody. The sneaky little fur ball is more than just a michevious kitten that found his way onto my porch back in Atlanta. He is now my a member of my family. While I know he is in excellent hands and I had no choice but to temporarily part with him, I couldn't help for the tears to well up in my eyes as I gave him one more hug and headed out the door. Since I parted with him, I have been unsuspectingly feeling brief twinges of sadness when I notice the paw prints he left behind on my desk or momentarily mistake a sound for being the bell on his collar. I realize he's just a cat and I'll only be gone for 3 months, but I can't help but miss the cute little noises he makes when he spots a bird out the window ruffle the leaves or how he cuddles up as close as he possibly can when he's sleepy. Aw Cody, I did not plan on getting so attached to you!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Six More Days...

With less than a week to go, nerves and excitement are really setting in. Yesterday was a productive day for planning, getting solid lists of what to do in each city together, hunting through my stack of travel books, and finalizing arrangements with the friends I will be seeing in certain countries. The London/ Ireland portion of the trip is looking solid thanks to my amazingly accommodating friends. Amsterdam should be pretty easy to arrange, and then Lisa will be on her way to spend a week and a half with me in Paris, Interlakin, and Munich. She's been incredibly helpful in getting this part of the trip set. Excited doesn't even begin to describe the emotions I feel as I anticipate all that is ahead.

Yesterday evening, as I sat in the RBC center with my dad, watching my beloved Hurricanes breeze through another astonishing victory, it occurred to me that this will be my last regular season game, and likely the last Canes game I'll see this year. Three months is a long time to be away! I'll also be missing March madness this year, the bulk of Spring, and several other events I have enjoyed in the past with my friends this time of year. I have never gone this long out of my routine and away from home. That in itself is pretty intense to think about. Oh well. I'll just have to substitute my hockey and basketball for soccer games. I'll be spending St. Patty's day in Ireland, Cinco de Mayo in Spain, and Passover in Austria. The thing I'll miss the most is my friends and family for sure. But with all the moving I've done over the years, I am incredibly used to going stretches not being near the people I love the most. It's only three months, after all. It's not like I'm going away forever.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Drudgery

Having not worked for the last two months or so, I am well aware of how spoiled I am. The flip side is, I am so out of the loop when it comes to buckling down and taking care of the not-so-fun responsibilities, it is torture. The last couple of days I have been trying to tie up loose ends with necessary evils which has resulted in long periods of time spent on hold and parking in front of the computer all day long. Is this the real world I must return to? One of the most frustrating elements of my previous job (and life) was the unavoidable drawn out process to get anything accomplished, inevitably shaving precious time off my life. Ugh.. It never bothered me before when I was consumed by it everyday and it was unavoidable. Must have gotten too comfortable with not dealing with that meaningless monotony. There has got to be a future for me that isn't ruled by such things.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I feel so much better after getting all my stuff packed up in my practice packing job. I know it's probably over kill, but I just don't want to stress about my pack being to heavy or forgetting any important items. Good news, it was only 24 LBs and I have about 15L left to work with!! Maybe that means I can get away with adding at least one cute pair of shoes or something... :) I guess I can wait to get some awesome Euro shoes when I get over there. The weather is going to be interesting since it will be between seasons. That could make for very pleasant sight seeing and hiking during the day. I created a long list of every last thing to remember to bring. I feel very prepared with still over a week to go, so that's a big load off. I think my over preparation is helping me not be so nervous about the unknown. I would like to enjoy the pure experience and not get distracted by little details that could have been easily avoided. Tomorrow I'll take care of all the not so fun stuff like calling the insurance company, going to the bank, post office, etc. Once those things get taken care of once and for all I'll feel a lot better and my to do list will be much more manageable.
What a start to the week... Receiving my Eurail tickets in the mail yesterday made the reality of how soon this trip is coming up set in. I spent a sizable amount of time planning my travels, but I also had other significant events occur yesterday. Closure is very important in certain circumstances, and I got the closure I needed in one important aspect of my life. I also experienced several bizarre coincidences that reminded me the reasons I am taking this path. I did not leave IBM and embark on this adventure for the simple purpose of an enjoyable experience. I am searching for that all important next step to do something significant with my life that will have a positive effect on much more than myself. I realize that to make a difference I must start small and realize that people can find their own unique ways to have that positive effect. "Be the change you want to see in the world" sums up what I am trying to do with my life and that quote is one that showed up three times yesterday in very significant places. Very bizarre but too real to brush it off. I continue to ponder in wonderment that I have not even left for this big journey yet, and already the wheels are turning. I feel more and more inspired and motivated everyday. I don't know where all of this is coming from, but I'm going to enjoy it and live for right now. As some of my dear friends reading this would say, "This is nooowww!" :)