Thursday, May 27, 2010

And so it ends....

Just like that, it's over. In a snap, the most incredible experience of my life is done. Today I have been living vicariously through my own past adventure as I get every last photo from every country organized and online. It's my way of staying busy, giving my trip tangible validation. So now, I sit here at home, still buzzing from the time I spent away, and can only think of how to make this type of living never end. It is hard to get used to just sitting here in Raleigh and settling into some structured, settled lifestyle again. I need to keep moving, exploring, meeting people like I met while on the road. But how? The trip for me was not merely a vacation to see pretty sites and party. It was a deeper experience for me that turned out being even more incredible than I could have ever anticipated. Finding the words to describe the feelings I have right now are nearly impossible. As I made the long flight back yesterday from London to Raleigh, it was impossible to stop the lumps in my throat and the tears in my eyes from overwhelming me. I had to say farewell to much more than a list of various locations.

When I look back at all my photos, this blog, my little scraps of paper shoved in my bag with names and addresses, my now empty backpack I was living out of, priceless memories rush through my mind. I miss the tiny beds and crappy community showers in all those hostels I called home; I miss the rickety train rides from country to country; I miss the cheap sandwiches and free hostel breakfasts of toast and corn flakes; I miss the delirious conversations that manifested from lack of sleep and too much boozing; I miss the banter in foreign languages all around me and the crazy drivers and being completely lost in new cities and the smoke filled bars. I miss it all. More than anything I will miss those individuals that touched my soul, those people I could be completely honest with and they loved me even more for doing it. They have changed me forever. I feel as though a void that I have always tried to fill is gone. I feel more than satisfied. This experience has uplifted me and brought me indescribable joy. Beyond the current sadness for it's closure, I feel sheer gratitude for being able to embark on such a special journey. I am so blessed. All I can say now is thank you, thank you, thank you...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happyland ;)

I love it here. I´m comfortable, content, fulfilled. Every moment is special. How do I feel so at home in a place so dramatically different from my true home? There is no use analyzing the perfection of it all. The days are winding down but I am choosing not to acknowledge that. Two more days here in Brussels. Five more days in Europe. I will be back, no question. I am not ready to close this chapter yet. This entry is short and sweet because I have an afternoon to go spend in my lovely temporary fantasy world. Surely I will have an endless stream of reflections on all of this when I return, but for now, I will simply relish what´s right in front of me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closing In on the End

As the end of this trip draws closer, it some how manages to get even better each passing day. The dwindling moments are filled with joy as I spend them in this student home in Brussels. I´ve seen fourteen countries, twenty five cities, several major monuments and events around Europe. Now it is time to step back and truely enjoy some of the relationships I have established here. Somehow I find myself with this new family, fitting in perfectly with the second floor of this international temporary home. I have a home for a week, a special someone putting me up as we share as many hours as we can before ultimately parting.

How will I ever manage leaving all of this and returning home? As I spoke on Skype with mom and dad last night, they prepared dinner in the familiar kitchen I will soon return to. I miss them so much and I miss home, but seeing the routine in action reminds me that this life I have been living the past 70 days, this life I live this week, will not last. All of these wonderful experiences and people will soon come to a close and I must brace myself for an emotional shock as I enter back into reality. My reality is changed now. It has to be. This is more than a vacation. I found peices of myself I never knew were there, new best friends from all around the world, a special connection that will only be real for this one week.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From Naples to Nice

I've experienced quite the contrast going from one extreme to another. Naples is real, in your face, dirty, and completely nonpretentious. Nice is upscale, sophisticated, and spotless. In Naples, you are always on your toes, always watching your own things to make sure nothing gets snatched. Here you are more or less invisible, watching all the exorbinantly rich people flaunt their fancy things. I love the beauty of Nice and the honesty of Naples.

My final day in Naples, I had the privilage of meeting an amazing fellow female solo traveler who is on her own soul searching mission. We got lost in the busy, caotic streets, loving every minute of it. Another fascinating conversation was sparked, leaving me with an enriched perspective on life and a few pointers to live by. It was a perfect follow up to the late night discussion I delved into with a few other hostel dwellers the previous evening, covering everything from philosphy, religion, politics, to spirituality and the meaning of life. Deep, interesting, heated at times, most of all enlightening. The group at this hostel impressed me in their maturity and awareness. We didn't need a ton of booze and empty conversation to fill the time. We skipped right to the good stuff and I therefor bonded with them imediately. I miss Naples for it's in-your-face approach and blatent honesty, not to mention the incredible pizza. The chewy dough, sweet sauce, and creamy mozzarella were out of this world... I didn't even mention Capri and Pompi, which blew my mind too. Ah, Naples...

Today has suprised me in Nice. I made the first train out to Cannes this morning for the film festival with a fellow hostel dweller from Chicago. We watched the various industry folks strut through the busy scene, preparing for the high profile guests to arrive. Hollywoood was everywhere and I couldn't get over the lavish people all around us. The yachts lining the harbor were impressive, but nothing compared to our next destination for the afternoon. Monaco was dripping with cash, from the multimillion dollar boats to the most extravagant vehicles. Today was day one, the time trials, of the Grand Prix, and some how we managed to enjoy hours of the racing experience, up close and personal. My ears are still ringing and I still have an buzz from the edreniline of being so close to the action. Cannes film festival and breakfast, Monaco Grand Prix and lunch, old town of Nice for dinner. Not a bad way to spend a beautiful sunny day in south France!

This trip has been rolling on now for over 60 days and it still does not seek to amaze me. Tomorrow I head for Brussels to see my great new friends who I parted with back in Viennna and will cap off the trip in London. Sad to see the days winding down to a finish, but I am completely content with every ounce of this trip and can't wait to start planning the next amazing adventure when I face the US again.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Florence, and Naples: Catching up the Blog

Balance has been restored at last to this wild ride. From partying until 6 AM in Spain, to rubbing elbows in Rome with star athletes, to bonding over wine in Florence, and cruising through the busy streets of Naples on the back of a motorcycle, this has been quite an eventful stretch of days that I have neglected reporting. I will do my best to sum it up in a few short words:

There are real pros and cons to traveling solo and to traveling with another. For Spain, I was fortunate enough to have a friend from home come enjoy with me. The comfort of having a companion to share every great moment was more then welcomed, but the compromise of our significantly differing motives created a few minor stumbles. This is to be expected and I am thrilled that in the end, all order was restored and Spain was deemed a success.
The night life in Barcelona is the stand out attraction of this insane beach city. Going home earlier than five is considered a laid back night. I had trouble maintaining the pace, but we still managed to see the city by foot and bicycle each sunny day. The no sleep, all party brought illness on my travel companion, but she somehow fought through the deathly cough and exhaustion in order to make the best of her time abroad.
We made great friends at our small sleepless hostel in Barcelona. I will never forget our many halarious moments, classic experiences, and fascinating conversations with our ever morphing, international group. Barcelona comes with its unique set of challenges like street hasslers and gawking men, but in the end, I have a warm, fuzzy feeling for the party city.
Madrid was a refreshing break from the nonstop fiesta. We spent very little time there, but enough to see the entire city, enjoy some artwork, and experience some real Spanish tradition. I bid Becca adieu after less than two days here and made my way to the next wild ride of Rome.

At last, I got to see mom and dad. After fifty five days of separation with all that is home, seeing the old parents could not have been more appropriately timed. We shared enormous, emotional hugs in the train station and proceeded to have three amazing days together to experience this remarkable Italian city. When the taxi pulled up to our hotel to park my bags and settle in, I got my first of many doses of shock. The Hilton Cavalieri is the world's nicest Hilton hotel and one of Rome's popular hot spots for visiting celebrities. Policy surrounded the premises and I discovered why in no time. The entire Inter Milan football team was staying with us for a week to play their version of the Super Bowl later in the week. Not only that, but the Williams sisters and other notable tennis players graced the lobby casually as they awaited an important local match. Unbelievable. This place truly was extravagant and an overwhelming change from the tiny hostel beds and community showers I have become accustom to.
The city itself blew me away even more than our outrageous hotel. Strolling through the busy city streets, we would suddenly stumble over enormous classic landmarks and old city buildings dating back thousands of years. For those of you that have been to Rome, I will spare the details of each site. The structures are so famous that I don't want to clog up the blog with imagery of well known monuments. I can't go without mentioning the Vatican, though. Extravagant, beautiful, marvelous, breathtaking... none of these words come close to doing it justice. Even the hallways of the Museum leading up to the Sistine Chapel were unbelievable. The main event was that times ten. And just when we thought we had seen it all and our necks were begging for mercy from being craned up all afternoon, we then entered St. Paul's Cathedral. Wow. That is all I can say.
By the time our trip was approaching the end, we were all ready to move on to something a little less action packed. Mom and Dad were off to the Amalfi Coast and I headed to Florence. It was more than a treat to see them and the love of family was a cozy reminder of what I will soon return to. Recovering from two weeks of comfort was a challenge, though, as I entered unfamiliar territory with no plan at all.

Rain, rain, cold, cold. Boo for bad weather. I barely saw any of this Tuscan city. When I first got in, the greeting I received at the hostel was cold and nobody seemed to have much interest in meeting new people. Quickly my mood sunk and that old familiar feeling of anxiety began to come over me. I decided to get out as soon as possible and find a friendly atmosphere to sip wine, eat good food, and be alone with my thoughts and my journal. I struggled to find an area not completely swarmed with tourists. At last I chose a mediocre place that rushed me through my meal in a pushy attempt to turnover my table; very unlike Europe, but completely appropriate for the day I was having. I felt defeated, and headed back to the unpleasant hostel to get a good night of sleep. Luckily, a nice fellow solo traveler from California was also pondering what to do on this leg of his trip and was staying in my room when I returned. We proceeded to chat it up for hours and spent the remainder of our brief stay here together.
The next day we attempted to tour the city and enjoy strolling through Florence, but the rain and wind kept us down. We gave up all attempts at last and indulged in cheap red wine to escape the wet weather. What could have been a wasted afternoon morphed into one of the most intriguing conversations I have had all of my days here. I cannot describe how inspired we both were after an entire day of uplifting exchange, but now I feel that much closer to figuring out what I am really supposed to be doing with my life. I would say, I am willing to sacrifice seeing one city along my journey if it means enjoying an afternoon of spiritual enlightenment...

I arrived a mere twelve hours ago and I can already tell this place is going to be amazing. As soon as I got here, the hostel owner, Giovani, told me to drop my bags, throw on a helmet, and hop on to the back of his motorcycle. We darted off to a classic tea room, downed an espresso and a tasty pastry, and proceeded to tour the city for the next three hours of perfectly clear sunny skies. When we got back, he helped me arrange the next four days of my adventure. Before I could absorb all the information, I was out the door with two other hostel dwellers to grab my first original Naples pizza and wine. We brought the pies back to the common area and proceeded to eat, drink, and be merry with a myriad of musical entertainment. Giovani strummed his guitar and played his harmonica while I tried to remember the words and perform the vocals for the classics like John Denver, Pink Floyd, and other good old American tunes. Everyone was completely beat, so we head in early and I got the pleasure of my first peaceful sleep in several weeks. Now I am off to see the city of Pompei, the volcano that destroyed it, and another similarly preserved city. I also plan to see Capri, the Amalfi Coastline, and Naples itself all in the next four days, so hopefully I won't burn out and won't see anymore rain clouds for a while...

Long post, but the moment was finally right to share. With 57 days behind me and only 20 to go, I have so much more swirling through my mind, but hopefully my action packed rendition of the journey so far is sufficiently entertaining and paints the picture well.