europe, pt 1

paris, 2016

Last weekend I spent the first few days of 27 in Seattle. This was probably against my better judgement, but I’m glad I did. It had been over a year since seeing some of my closest friends, longer since my oldest sister.

It was weird flying again. In some ways, it felt quite natural and I could get used to the additional leg room. At other times it felt uncomfortably crowded. Not only in the plane, but also the space in which your mental gymnastics tries balancing feelings of guilt and reason. Guilt for traveling in the middle of a pandemic. Reason in considering that the “middle” is a pretty abstract concept at this point, where masks and discounted flights may simply be the new norm.

Of course, my phone died about fifteen minutes into the flight. So to kill time, I started crunching some wedding numbers in my journal (getting married in December.. crazy). After establishing how broke I was about to be, I began flipping through the journal’s earlier entries. The first few pages documented my trip through Europe during the summer of 2016—my first taste of life outside of North America. I forgot these pages and many of the memories contained in them still existed. In the event that I lose the physical copy, and since memories aren’t always entirely reliable, at least I’ll have this.

Flipping through those pages, I was quickly taken to a new place entirely: I was on a bus, somewhere in Europe.

***

6/27/16

Well, about a third of the way through my trip and I finally picked up a journal. This might be a long one.

I arrived in Paris on the morning of the 16th(?) and after a little trial and error on the public transit system, I met up with Weston at Saint Christopher’s Canal Inn. Very neat little hostel located in a sub district maybe 30 minutes from the city centre. Paris (or the tiny section I saw of it) was a cool city. I liked Paris. Mostly because the French government subsidizes vineyards, so you can pick up a decent bottle of wine for no more than two or three euros. Other than that, I think I’m probably too poor for Paris. We alternated days of eating good with days of eating nothing but bread and canned sardines. Woof. But the highlight of those first three days was undoubtedly playing some pick up with the locals—even if Weston scored an own goal, immediately justifying all the stereotypes and every European’s belief that Americans have no place in football. Bastard.

We bussed to Amsterdam that Saturday and I experienced my first (of many) multi-hour bus ride: 8.5 hours to be exact. It sucked. Well worth it though, as the night did not disappoint. For the most part. Pretty sure we were slipped something funky disguised as “juice” at one of the first bars and about five different Russian dudes tried selling us little bags of white powder labeled “drugs” (read: sugar), so it went about as you would expect. The city is a labyrinth though, designed in a way that somehow seems to funnel you back to where you just came from. And there was no way my drunken self was finding its way home at 3 in the morning so I spent the following day’s budget on a cab. Not my most frugal moment but I’m also not at the bottom of one of the city’s many canals so there is that.

After exploring Amsterdam in the daylight the next morning, we caught a short tram ride to Utrecht. The hostel we had made reservations at was a further 15 minute cycle (also, everyone and their tall, handsome dutch brother rides bikes there) and actually ended up being way cooler than the city. The brevity of the place was captured by a comment left on the guest sheet: “Bunnik is the perfect detox after Amsterdam.” Indeed it was. With more farm animals than people, the countryside was a great escape from the cities we had grown used to.

Wes bought some truffles in Amsterdam (perfectly legal) and had been waiting for a good opportunity to take them. He couldn’t have found a more beautiful setting. Unfortunately they were more or less duds, and Wes didn’t have the visceral, life changing experience he had been hoping for. But I had a feeling that might be playing out for him in other ways.

Still, it was a solid day filled with cycling through scenic countryside and then watching the group stages of the Euro’s in the bnb’s bar at night. It was a peculiar little place and I was slightly confused as our bartender looked younger than I did. Then Wes reminded me we were in Europe and kids can pretty much drink once they’re tall enough to see over the bar.

From Utrecht, we decided to head East towards Germany. We had been lucky enough to secure our housing via the app “Couchsurfing.” Couchsurfing connects travelers with locals that are willing to offer you a place to stay. And the best part: it’s free. But realistically, the currency you’re trading is social equity. The more positive your reviews as a host, the more likely people are to let you stay in their home when traveling yourself. Our hosts name was Lara, and she turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. While curious as to why we ended up in Dortmund, Lara and her equally accommodating roommate, Alice, nonetheless welcomed us into their small, two-bedroom flat.

They hosted us for two nights and we saw pretty much all that Dortmund had to offer, including their pride and glory in Signal Iduna Park. I’m not so sure we would have had such fond memories of the town had it not been for our new friends. It’s kind of a shithole rumored to have a healthy population of neo-nazis. There is, however, some incredible street art in that city. We must have walked over 10 miles that day, admiring the graffiti while fueled by a similar number of Bitburger’s.

Alice is from the states originally so that was somewhat refreshing. Very nice girl, very smart. Very dorky too; filled with jokes you’d find on the disappointing end of a popsicle stick. She moved to Germany to live with her boyfriend, Daniel. Nice guy. Great taste in film, studying something like music and media. Quiet but not shy. Probably the type who simply prefers to listen. That or he hated Americans which I couldn’t really blame him for when looking at our presidential candidates heading into this next election. Lara was telling me that as a student in Germany, your future is basically decided by the age of 10which roughly equates to the 4th grade. Had I been placed based on my exploits as a 4th grader I would probably be in prison right now. So good for them for not being in prison. I’m liking them more and more.

From Dortmund, we said goodbye to (most of) our new friends and took another uncomfortably long bus ride to Berlin. Lara actually ended up taking the day off from work and meeting us in the city. Really working for that five star Couchsurfing review. We did more of the same here. More Bitburger, more murals. Just a coupla’ happy go-lucky lederhosen-wearing schnitzel boys (Schnitzel boy.. That’s a great band name).

That is about everything of note I can remember up to this point. Only a few hours away now, time to squeeze in a nap before seeing what Prague’s all about.

7/1/16

One hour down—thirteen to go. Somehow I convinced myself to save 40 bucks and hop on a 14-hour bus ride from Prague to Paris. This, instead of forking over the difference and flying there in a quarter of the time.

And with no connection to the outside world or any form of entertainment (wifi), I really have no excuses not to put in a few lines.

Looks like I left off on the ride from Berlin to Prague. We spent fourish nights in the Czech Republic, splitting our time between the capital and a funky little medieval town called Cesky Krumlov: a cool, albeit touristy, little place that looks straight out of a fair tale. Kind of reminded me of that Colin Ferrel movie In Bruges, only I’m not half as handsome as Colin and I don’t think my traveling partner is trying to kill me. Yet.

Got lucky with both of our hostels as they were cheap, peaceful, and staffed with very accommodating humans. I would say the highlight of the last few days was renting a canoe and spending 8 hours floating down the Vlatva river– even if we capsized multiple times thanks to a few (unbeknownst) 3-foot drops. Lost my hat, favorite shirt, Weston’s sunglasses, and most of our dignity. Fortunately, we managed to recover the water-locked bin containing our passports and gained some valuable perspective: it could always be worse.

Weston is turning into a modern day Buddha. Always listening to Alan Watts podcasts and contemplating eastern philosophy and the phenomenon of existence. Makes for some memorable conversations on topics that I’m also interested in. I think we make a decent pair, with his spontaneity complementing my more structured approach to things. Me, structured, whoda’ thought.

In other news, my wifi just turned on.

Update 1: 20 minutes later, it appears that the wifi has never worked, and I think I’m about to run out of data.

Update 2: We’ve crossed the border into Germany and I am in fact out of data, once again disconnected from the outside world. Stranded in my tiny cabin, nothing left but pen and paper. The smell of stale bus carpet transports me to my father’s old office at Cruise West. But then another scent brings me back to the bus, and I am reminded that Weston’s pack is filled with two weeks worth of unwashed clothes.

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