Monday, April 26, 2010

Cinque Terre is Perfection

I'm feel uplifted from this beautiful place. Upon arrival, I was apprehensive about the nature of this romantic stretch of towns, but it was exactly what I needed to refresh

I hit the trail yesterday and motered through four out of the five cities and back. My legs burned from the vigorous long walk, but I was addicted to the trail and refused to stop as the sun set and catch a train back. The biggest set back was the insane number of visitors clogging up the hike. They walked slowly and jabbered on, detracting from the picturesque view. I put on my I pod to drown them out and sunk into my own pleasent world. I tried to ignore the crammed streets of each tiny villiage with success. The return hike was mostly clear of people and allowed me to really cut loose on the steep climbes.

Upon arrival back to the hostel, I planned to shower, find a nice open air restaurant, and sip wine with my thoughts. The dorm changed this plan as I was greeted by several other American 20-somethings that were eager to find Riomaggiore's only bar. We sipped Italian beers at the empty town bar to pass the evening away. In the morning I set out with one couple to a rocky beach and proceeded to spend hours basking in the sun. I escaped the beach scene for a moment to myself and found a secluded rock look out where I found noone but two men, both older, one fishing and the other sunbathing. The sunbathing man turned out to be an Italian with excellent English and endulged in great conversation with me about nature, life, and the beauty of it all. We chatted over delicious blood oranges that he offered me and I felt the coversation was absolutely perfect for this beautiful day, looking out into the sea from the warm rocks where we lounged.

The day passed quickly and now it is time for me to make my way to the train and catch a ferry for 20 hours to Barcelona. I haven't braced myself for what lies ahead, but I figure I'll take it as it comes. The last 48 hours have been so perfect that I hardly seem phased by a thing. Stress has no place today in my pleasent little world. :)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Feeling Right at Home

It has been a nice few days here in a small town outside of Venice. The gracious family I have been staying with have selflessly taken me in with no hesitation. Soon I will be headed out to my next destination, alone and responsible for myself once again. The break has been a welcome change from the typical flow of this trip, but it is time to get back on the road with my backpack and continue the journey.

I can smell the aroma of home made lunch right now as I wait for my afternoon departure. Rosanna and Massimo, the parents of the household, take care of Saturday afternoon domestic tasks and the two children of the family, Ale and Ari will be home from school shortly. Being absorbed in this stable, quaint life has reminded me of what normal life looks like and that I will likely return to my own version of home soon enough. While it is incredibly comfortable and pleasent, I am not ready to step into that quite yet. I have many new challenges ahead of me and the idea of settling into a routine still seems quite dull and premature.

Every day I wake up aware that I have one less day to enjoy this special trip. I can't help but feel the pressure of what life will entail upon my arrival to the states. Will I go back to work and begin to collect an income again, living in another town with another apartment, going to different bars, mingling with a different circle? Maybe I will immediately plan my next adventure abroad or simply take up some type of part time work to kill time while I decide. I could go back to school, I could move away to take up temporary vocation like teaching english or guiding tour groups... So many choices, the same as before I left, but with a refreshed perspective. I am trying hard not to ponder on the looming choice too much for now, but I still have in the back of my head the awareness that a decision must ultimately be made.

For now I intend to enjoy the last peaceful moments with my new lovely Venitian family in this cozy small town. Tomorrow I will be hiking through Cinque Terre and then taking a very long ferry ride to Barcelona. And so, the trek continues...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ah, Venice....

Yesterday as I strolled through the magnificant city of Venice, I felt intermingled with the atmosphere. This man made island has been the focal point of many paintings, movies, and idealized images. Taking one long walk through the narrow calles of the town makes it blatently clear of why that is. The melody of an accordion serenading a couple as they float down the adjecent canals in traditional lavish gondalas, the aroma fresh dough wafting through the air from a tiny pizzaria, and the old structures spinkled with bright flowers and ivy lit up dimmly with an occational street lamp, inadvertently absorb you into a state of mind unique to only Venice. Each corner of the winding allies reveals a new surprise. Some are tiny squares with the single cafe on the old cobble stone ground. Others are made famous by an extraordiany church or tower and filled with people enjoying competing orchestra bands at classic high end resturaunts. When I arrived at the anticipated destination, my new Venitian friend and guide, Alessandro, accompanying me, my breath was momentarily taken as I took in the view that stood before me. After climbing several stairs and walking for what seemed like hours, we finally arrived at Venice's most famous bridge, the Ponte di Rialto. As the sunset over the wide canal and the street lights lining the water dimly lit the old structures and single sidewalk, I felt as though I was peering at no more than a movie set. We stood for a moment and no longer was I on the outside, taking photos of the imaginary scene; I was part of this romantice bridge, completely absorbed in what can only be described as the perfect Venice moment. I watched the young lovers all around me trascending to this lovely state and I felt no void of that illusive other, just contentment within myself for this snapshot in time. They merely added to how special this place truely is.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eyes Open Wide

Each day of this trip I become more connected, more self aware. Even on days with relatively low activity that I spend wandering around the city on my own prove to be extremely valuable. Today I had an unexpected extra day in Veinna and decided to spend it roaming the streets of the city center. While it deemed to be overall unsuccessful in finding my desired sites, I did manage to stumble upon a special little cafe off one of the side streets. It was old and smokey with only the basics, but an inspiring atmosphere, none the less. My pen got moving on my pad and spilled out a plume of enlightened ideas. I had a simular afternoon two days ago as I paused my long day of bike riding for a pensive writing break in a lively garden area.

It's hard to explain the deep feeling of contentment I have over here in Europe, but I feel as if I was born for this environment. At last I feel complete contentment and peace of mind. I could only acheive this at home in my past life during planned moments of coordinated relaxation. Here is a free flow of simply living and it is down right delightful. So how can I continue this way of life after the journey has ended? Should I just accept this as simply a holiday from the stress of conventional life and gracefully return to the hustle and bustle when I get back to the states? The idea makes me cringe. There must be another option and I feel as though I am getting closer to discovering a next step that will alow me to live on in this world I can only attempt to describe.

With all of this amazing introspection already, I find it hard to beleive that I am merely halfway through this European experience. Eleven countries have already been partially experienced, but the three most anticipated still await me. Spain, Italy, and Greece have a reputation for their culture, beauty, and spice for life. I can only image what lies ahead.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Generousity

This trip, particulary Austria, has given me a refreshing perspective on the extent of generousity. I am greatful for how selfless the people are here and they have shaped this portion of my trip ten fold.

When I first arrived to Vienna, I almost ran into my biggest challenge so far. If it were not for a chance meeting with a kind girl working late in the train's convenient store I would have been stranded in Vienna with no place to go. She saved me and took me in with no hesitation. I stayed with her and her roommate and was able to find my friends the next day.

I went from one warm welcoming to another as I joined back up with my Spainish friends from Brussels. They once again absorbed me into their group and I proceded to wonder the streets of Vienna with my new buddies. I was able to have a bed and a roof over my head, plus some great sandwiches over amazing conversation, making for an excellent start to the Austria part of my trip. That night was special for other reasons, too :)

When they departed, yet another kind new friend welcomed me into her home. A nice Austrian girl and her English boyfriend imediately welcomed me to stay with them once in Vienna when I met them in the hostel pub in Munich. I enthusiastically accepted and have been here in their great apartment for the last couple of days. They have fed me, lent me a bycical, taken me around, and given me a place to rest my head at night. I could not be more thankful. Not only have they provided me with basic comforts, we have also enjoyed amazing exchanges, and I again feel as if I have know them for ages. Thanks to them I can also post a few new photos for everyone's viewing enjoyment!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Amazing People

I was certainly not expecting the last 4 days to work out as they have, but a chance meeting on a crammed sleeper cab spawned an unforgettable trip through Prague and Vienna with friends I will never forget.

On Sunday night I grabbed the night train from Krakow to Prague and was randomly assigned to a crowded cabin with five other students studying in Brussels, four from Spain and one from Italy. They went from being complete strangers, stuffed into a rickety train car, to new travel buddies, inviting me to join them in the 8th bed of their hostel dorm room. I took a liking to all of them quickly and was eager to accept the invitation. This was the best decision I could have made. The next four days ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences of this trip and the people I bonded with are now so uniquely special to me. The cold rain that we trudged through to see the sights and the lousy hostel conditions were merely afterthougths. The final day was the most magical for me and seeing them leave this morning to venture to their next destination reminded me that this is only a snap shot of this lengthy adventure. With that said, I still hope to see them again soon and plan to make my way to Brussels at the finale of my trip.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Auschwitz

I had a lump in my throat all morning and afternoon as I made my way through Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau death camp. Although the cold rain soaked through my clothes and shoes, the less than favorable conditions appropriately complimented the chilling tour. Witnessing several rooms dedicated to recovered items hit too close to home. The mountains of human hair, shoes, suitcases, and other various items was an eery reminder of how recent the extermination was and the sheer volume of people torn away from their lives, never to return. Birkenau was the most depressing for me. Soon after our arrival at noon, Poland recognized yesterday's loss of their president, first lady, and 90 other officials with a national moment of mourning. We stood in the rain, surrounded by barbed wire in the open area of the death camp as the blaring siren steadily rang for two minutes from the old watch tower. It made the experience feel that much more real and intense. Then, as we walked through an old barracks, the facts at last set in that my anscestors were merely cattle working to their death, and that the mass extermination of jews just like my own family and friends was even more devastating than I have ever let my mind absorb. Feelings of sadness brought tears to my eyes, but I choked them back for fear that the emotions would be too heavy to handle. A combination of the cold, wet walk along the train tracks in the camp, and being all alone in this aweful place where members of my own family were unjustly murdered, made for a depressing afternoon, to say the least.

Being in such a sad place for several hours was an overload, so myself and three others decided to relax over some warm, satisfying Polish food upon our arrival back to the hostel. The perogies and hearty soup hit the spot, but I couldn't help feel twinges of guilt as we indulged. I certainly appriciated the meal more than usual.

Even though today was quite depressing, I am glad I came here. With the added tragety in Poland yesterday, this was an important experience for my trip. Everyday cannot be a party and good times. I feel greatful to be a part of it all and feel quite humbled by my two day stay in Krakow. Tomorrow is Prague and I hope for spirits to once again be risen as I spend a few days in many other travelers' favorite European destination.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Eastern Europe

Budapest has been a unique experience compared to previous cities visited thus far. The recent influence of Nazi and Soviet occupation is obvious as I walk the streets of the city. The prices are extremely low and the buildings have an eery feeling as many of them expose their concrete foundations. With that said, there is remarkable beauty and a sense of subtle pride umongst the people.

The hostel I am staying at, Carpe Noctem, has shaped the experience ten fold. The atmosphere feels like home. Only accomidating 25 people at a time, the temporary residents are instant roommates that begin to bond on the spot. The group mentality cannot be avoided and undeniably welcoming. Suzie, the owner and resident who greeted me upon arrival, started this hostel after stepping away from corporate life, creating a safe haven for visitors from around the world.

My stay here has been brief but energizing. This afternoon I parted with the group for the first time and treated myself to an unbeatable hour long Thai massage. My thoughts drifted as she worked the oil into my skin, pushing out the aches and pains from carrying my heavy pack, sleeping in crappy beds, and enduring lengthy train rides. It was the perfect conclution to a chilled out day. Even though I will ultimately only be here for two full days, I extracted great vibes, indulged in enthralling conversation, and bonded with several new friends. Tomorrow I venture off to Krakow, Poland with a fellow traveller to experience Auschwitz. I'm glad I'm not doing this alone and with someone with a deep connection to his Jewish roots.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's 4 am and I have no where to go...

Well since I am so brilliant, I missed my night train to Budapest and am now sitting in the hostel lobby try desperately to stay awake until the morning train at 7 am. I had an awesome, memorable day, but I didn't properly plan for what I would do when I finally had to figure out accomidations and logistics. We had an incredible 5 hour bike tour today and our group bonded so much that we wouldn't leave each other. A father and son from Minnesota, three trouble makers from Toronto, an awesome couple I am planning to stay with from Vienna, our guide from Sydney, and two other great guys from Canada we picked up at a bar after the tour sucked me in with great conversation and their lively energy. What began as a georgeous day of strolling through the Munich streets by bike transformed into beers flowing generously at the english beer garden, setting the stage for many more to come. When back in the city, we found a hidden bar and really dug our heels into amazing chats. These conversations closely reflect a simular chance meeting last night with a rasta guy in the hostel bar with some amazing insights. I can't elaborate now because it is entirely too heavy for this moment, but I has certainly renewed my spirit and raised new fascinating questions.

Anyway, we had to make our way to the famous Haufbrau house before the night was finished for me. I was scheduled to catch the 11:30pm night train, arriving at 9 am tomorrow. The liter beer turned into 2 liter beers and I was easy to influence on continuing the fun. We left the beer house after closing it down, the group began to disapate, but myself and the guys from Toronto dove into a nearby, hopping night club with our biking gear on and all. My train was long gone so we continued on. The night began to get a little ridiculous and when it was time to figure out where to sleep, it was too late to book another night and really pretty pointless for only a few hours anyway.

So now I sit here, probably close to 5 at this point, sleep deprived, coming off the beer buzz, sort of wishing I would have gone with my better judgement on this one. Oh well, it was great fun and I'll learn from it. I wish I wasn't so sleepy because I would love to dive into the amazing connections I have made with the most unexpected sources. There are still several distracting influences everywhere I go, but those few moments of clarity have brought me to a new level of consciousness.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Munich solo

I didn't realize how freakishly long that last post was, so I'll keep this one short and sweet.

Yesterday was my first day back to being solo and I got some great writing done. My pen just seemed to flow with incredible ease and I felt incredibly inspired. I spent my afternoon after of a morning writing over coffee, at the first concentration camp, Dachau. It was sobering, but important to see. I could not help thinking of my family and my Jewish friends as I learned about the detailed history of this massively upsetting event. Dachau was only one of many establishments like it, which hit pretty hard. The images were almost too much to take at times. The documentary shown toward the end of the tour shocked the room as they silently showed video reels and images of the suffering prisioners.

After a somber day, it was time for a beer and I quickly made friends with several ex-pats in the hostel pub shooting pool. I decided to try my luck with the these pool sharks and to my surprise, I hung in there and earned my spot on the table. It didn't take much for a few of them to talk me into a mock pub crawl. They showed me some of the bars they regular and we ended up meeting up with other locals for a late night of more beer drinking. I missed the morning bike tour today, but luckily the weather kind of sucks, so it's no big loss. I am taking a moment to catch up on some must-dos and tomorrow I'll be sure to get an earlier start.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Adventure So Far

I have so very much to report, but my computer access is quite limited and with a different keyboard, writing has proven to be a bit monotonous. I will do my best to provide an update regaurdless.

Switzerland was absolutely beautiful and I can state with all confidence that I will be back. Three days was not nearly enough time to absorb the pure beauty of the Alps and take in the positive energy of the swiss people. Going from Paris to Interlaken was quite a shock to the system. We went from a large, packed hostel in the middle of one of Europe's largest cities to a sleepy little mountain town, even smaller and more quaint than Boone, NC. Paris is an important city to experience with all of it's marvelous cultural landmarks and unique sophistication. Switzerland was a breath of fresh air, however, not only due to the crisp mountain altitude, but also the vibe of the people transformed from a bit snobby and standoffish to welcoming and laid back. I enjoyed the overall Parisian experience, but was more than ready to depart, especially with less than ideal weather and a few creepier men we encountered the final night of our stay.

Interlaken was very quiet, almost too quiet because of the unusual time of year we selected to visit. None the less, we still were warmly welcomed and managed to bond with several locals. They were typically tandem skydivers, hostel staff, and bartenders from the local community and abroad. Switzerland seems to be a popular destination for young Austraillians. Our second day we boldly lept off the side of a mountain overlooking the story book town we planned to make our final decent. With nothing but a parashute and our tandem jumpers, Lisa and I took our 3 steps off the cliff into the air, thousands of feet above the tree tops. We soared high above land for about 15 minutes that seemed to last forever. It was so overwhelmingly peaceful and spectacular. After landing on solid ground, we shared a round of brews with our paragliding pros then headed to the popular underground pub beneath the Balmers. The drinks flowed and conversation deepened as we bonded with the local workers. Once again I was recharged as we dove into ideas about how to escape the seemingly inevitable fate of the working world as I've know n it to be. As the night tapered off, I felt renewed and excited about what the future holds for me.

The next morning we were greeted with snowflakes as thez clung to the skylight above our bed. The snow continued all morning and made for an absolutely spectacular veiw on our train ride to Luzern. A thin layar of white powder covered the vast green fields and distant mountain tops. Little villages sprung up sporatically and the tiny cottages appeared so quiet and untouched that our passing train seemed to violently disturb the scerenity. On our train car, children laughed and played while other passengers gazed out the window at the scene, snapping photos and enjoying the view. A precious collie joined the ride and became my companion for a sizable portion of the journey. The large version of my own pet at home so closely resembled Gus that I couldn't help but miss my own family back at home.

Luzern was overall short lived, but enjoyable. We met a couple of young college guys from Texas that insisted on joining us for dinner. They were relatively pleasent at first, but as the drinks flowed, they quickly and acurately fulfilled the stereotype of loud, disrespectful Americans. Frustrated and a bit embarrassed, we quickly decided to part ways and found a couple of nice Swiss guys to show us to the next lively scene. I struck up a long conversation with one of them, dispite the booming music in the background. This friendly local shared many common interests and was a real joy to mingle with. We parted abruptly as the night ended, but I do hope to maintain some type of communication.

We made the long trip to Munich yesterday and started off our trip here with a lot of beer and a wild and crazy evening across town at a lively club. It was enjoyable, but left my head pounding in the morning. We still made it to the 3 hour walking tour and enjoyed a beer and lunch at Munich's largest beer hall. Lisa leaves me tonight and I will be once again solo in this crazy party city.

Being with a friend from home made this trip much easier and much more comfortable, changing the projectory of my trip temporarily. While it was more than a pleasure to have her with me, making many elements logistically and socially easier, I will once again have to remember my purpose for making this trip. This trip is part vacation, but also part of a greater journey. I have had my fair share of booze and excitement, but have lacked introspection and personal time for reflection. Lisa successfully dug her way through the travel books as I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Now I am all alone again and must regain the motivation to reach out to new people and forge my path. Budapest is next, Tuesday I set off on the night train to this mystery town I know very little of. I can only imagine the vast differences but welcome the experience and the challenge.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

SWITZERLAND

I need to keep this short and sweet, but Switzerland is amazing. This key board is completely different and I have very little time, but I just wanted to check in and say that paragliding is so great, the people here in the small town of Interlaken are so chill, and I must come back here before I make my way to the next destination. We met a load of awesome locals, jumped off the side of a mountain, ĂȘnjoyed a snowy morning, and so much more. Only one minute of internet to go, but I will post more from the next Swiss destination of Luzern that we set off to today.