This day last year I was on a plane bound for Rome, the gateway to a summer in the Italian Alps, Budapest and Berlin.
By this time last year I had traveled to the East Coast, to Canada, and all around Washington and Oregon.
This year, I've been in Boulder for two days, and haven't really left the Bay Area in five months.
How things change with a job.
I'm sitting in limbo right now, pulled between goods and bads. Where's that? The Oslo airport. On the friendly side, it is a beautiful, open and modern building with easy recycling and apparent efficiency. But, its ungodly expensive. I saw a pair of underwear for 30 euros, however much that is in USD. I just bought "lunch," 20 euros for a small smoothie (full fruit content!), some chips and a little bag of nuts, seeds and grapes. Its worth exploring why my traveling has taken me today to learn about my style of doing things, and maybe offer some advice along the way. I've written about some over my overlying travel philosophy, but here is some insight into the day by day, nitty gritty.
I knew before I got to Berlin that I would love it. This is a dangerous recognition that can lead to disappointment, but even in my first few hours and days, my gut feeling about the city was affirmed over and over again. I was only supposed to be here for a week as the final part of my fellowship. But I quickly found that a week wouldn't be enough time, nor would I be content to only see Berlin in this structured and non independent context, so I extended my stay here by five days.
Leipzig is the classic girl next door, but with a twist.
Budapest is the Paris of the East. Or maybe Paris is the Budapest of the West. Wait, who cares? How much I love each of the two cities is lost in those silly semantics. Sure they have their similarities, but each cities individual character vastly outshines what they have in common.
There's not too much that's more exciting than seeing a pretty girl leaning up against a nice bike maybe an old steel Peugeot or a flashy fixie. Budapest is full of sites like these. But as with any city the question must be asked, is it really a good place for cycling. I took to the streets, the only way to find out. For maximum ease, I used the Bubi bike, Budapest's bike sharing system. It is not as extensive as the vélib in Paris, but it has many bikes and frequent stations. My time in Budapest was too busy for proper cycling, so it was relieving and exhilarating to be back on a bike.
Language is a powerful tool, that is to say, the capacity of words to communicate and portray is extraordinary. That said, expression is even more significant, with tools such as art and physical expression filling in the gaps that words lack. Everyday here in Budapest I meet with a few curators or artists or directors of galleries. Most are Hungarian and not a single has spoken English as their mother tongue. But everyone has spoken quite good English, quite fortunately for me.
My apartment here in Budapest is just off one of those main boulevards that every big city has. It is heavily trafficked by motor and foot alike. Along the wide sidewalk are hundreds of restaurants and cafés, almost all of them shit. Un memorable places lacking in character, quality food and creative cuisine. But they are flocked to by tourists because of their superficial appearance and most of all, convenience. I don't eat at those restaurants. Food is one of my biggest expenditures traveling, so of course I'll do it right. Plus, I've found that food offers a great way to explore a new city.
Art tends to be city centric, but during times of conflict and chaos, some of the most progressive and creative artists seek refuge in the countrysides and provinces, further from the reach of the centralized power. This was seen in World War 2 when numerous French artists spent time in countryside of the South of France, as the North including Paris was occupied. In the post-World War 2 Soviet era in Hungary, it was only outside of Budapest where contemporary art could truly flourish without the ideological control of the Soviet government.
I've begun the second chapter of this journey as all adventures should, by diving in rather than beginning with a taste of the waters. Yesterday I spent the day at the Hungarian National Gallery, meeting with the curator of the post-World War II section and exploring the collection. In talking with my contact at the Ludwig museum (more to come on that one), and Zsolt at the National Gallery, I’ve come to understand much more clearly the artistic system in Hungary, as well as the development of contemporary art in the last century.
In Rome, my buddy Matteo was incredulous of my plan to be in Bormio for a month. Wouldn't I get bored in a small mountain village, no more than a few thousand people, most of whom don't really share a language with me?! The easy answer is no. I went there to bike, and I threw myself in. I was usually out all day, and time spent off the bike was usually with incredible Italian food.
Sometimes life puts you in interesting company. This holds especially true as a guide - the company you keep often hits an interesting margin between friends and clients. Sometimes I'm just there hanging out, sometimes I'm a babysitters, others a coach and a role model.
I wrote a while back about how the way we identify places, specifically travel locations is stupid and limiting. I dubbed this problem the recommendation conundrum, noting how we concentrate on one or two specific aspects of a place, making it a must-see. For example, Rome is a city for history, Paris for art, etc. I sincerely hope that i never end up spending serious time in a city that can be truly condensed so minutely.
Rome is one of those places that you can't get out of your head. Its history and buildings constructed in warm tones are pleasing for the wanderer, foreign as it may be, it is physically welcoming. Its grandeur is in its weathered nature, in battered buildings that have stood for centuries, and in the intricacy of its marble fountains and wild traffic patterns alike.
t has become a daily habit to wake up and think about where I was and what I did the previous year on the current day. Its nostalgic and at the same time awe-inspiring. Tuesday may seem mundane, but last Tuesday I was in Paris, where I lived.
People love to talk about culture shock and other similar things. The pains of leaving a place like Paris, a vibrant canvas to the grey drab of boring old America. But why the negativity? Sure its sad to leave, but there's a positive side to coming home. The positive side shined for me. I always figured, leaving is inevitable, at least I'm going home to California. Of course I'm biased since I've lived there most of my life, but I think California is freaking awesome. Warm weather and a vast diversity of of stunning natural landscape makes it a stellar place to both live and adventure.
How do you leave a place you've fallen in love with - even more so, a place you've accepted as home? Even further, how do you walk away from the most beautiful city in the world, a dazzling array of buildings, people, monuments - each prettier than the last? How can you keep from turning back when memories of joy and discovery have added another layer of beauty to the surface of such a magical playground of art, food, character, passion, exploration and intellect? The city in question is Paris, and the answer to the question is no simple one. The only easy way, which in itself is not easy is to throw out the bad. Its egotistical, stubborn and even arrogant, but to get over the heartbreak and loss, just ignore the pains of saying goodbye and think about the good times that were had there, and the good times to come in the next place.
Excitement levels were inordinately high as the bus left the city and headed for nature. Its a refreshing homecoming to depart the uniform and artificial sprawl of buildings for the expanse of trees that extends just as far, yet with such greater beauty. And what better way to accentuate this splendid scenery than with a challenge? Back in Tacoma, where I go to University, Mt. Rainier looms in the distance, visible and majestic from nearly everywhere. It rise up to over 14,000 ft from sea level unbelievably quickly, dominating the horizon with little effort. Mt. Olympus on the other hand, is nearly invisible. Just 3 kilometers as the bird flies from the sea, and less from the town of Litochoro which itself is nearly on the coast, the mountain itself sits behind a series of hills , so you don't get the treat of gazing upon the awe-inspiring rock until you're nearly at the top.
Looking back, I cannot confidently say why, but I headed into Thessaloniki, one of the largest cities of Greece on the Northeastern coast with high hopes. Its not too well heard of by American travelers, despite playing a prominent part in history. Like most places we'll be going for the rest of the trip, its a land touched by many empires, a city where you can find Roman ruins of the agora just a block or two from a Byzantine church, itself not far from a Greek orthodox church built a few hundred years later.
Frenzy is one of the words that come close to describing the frequent scene in Santorini, each time a ferry arrives. Organized chaos would be too generous, because despite the back bone of structure that most definitely does exist - the mayhem is king. Eight hours in the sun or the stuffy artificial interior of the ferry from Athens leaves imprints upon the weary travel an increased desire for comfort, the beach, space, and the beauty of the island that awaits.
I just recently reached the nine month point away from home. In the time since I've left the states, trees have lost and grown again their leaves, and babies have past from a dream to a reality. Yes, I have changed too, but now is not the time for that. We say things like "home is where the heart is," or, "there is no place like home," an indication of the fondness we as people carry for our homes. That in mind, I'm interrogated often as to how I live without homesickness and how missing California doesn't tear me up inside. The truth is you learn to cope, and with a life such as that as I am living, it is quite easy to.
The resounding image of winter in Paris is a frowning girl in a cafe, adorned by a cigarette and the fluffiest down coat ever. Yet with one glorious day, all memories of the frozen wasteland were eradicated as we skipped straight from winter to spring. Saturday evening was cold and rainy, Sunday morning I left the house in shorts and t-shirt. It was if a fire alarm woke a sleeping beast, the sun brought every resident and visitor of the city out of their houses, out of their coats, and coaxed smiles from the icy visages.
Having adults visit has broadened by vision of Paris, as well as improved it. As a relatively poor student, I'm willing to search for the cheap places, and to go wherever. Settle is a good word for what we do, things may not be perfect, but we'll take them. A mentor used to teach "my compromise is your sellout." Settling is a compromise, in that sense, its a sellout. I understand it, but being cheap means giving up a degree of taste and quality.
In cycling we like to say "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear." Regardless of the schematics of the point, the important thing is that a little weather should never keep you inside, never keep you from having a good time.
When I came to Paris, I said that I wanted it to snow once. I could see its beauty in the snow, take a few pictures, then have it melt immediately so I didn't have to deal with it.
Appearances are important in Paris, there's no doubt about it. Regardless of whether or not you yourself care how you look, everyone is up to the scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of Parisians. It leads to a city full of well-dressed and composed people.
Cycling is a magicial sport because the fans can emphasize so well with the racer.s While we may not ride as hard or fast or long, we reach the same breaking point on our rides, and then keep on pushing it. Its that that brings hundreds or thousands out to races, standing for hours in the cold in city squares and on country roads alike for a view of our heroes that may only last a few seconds. Its the excitement and comprehension that brings us out again and again. We live for the sport and no matter how many heroes fall of their thrones or are taken down or give in to cheating, it doesn't changing the humming of wheels, the clanging of gears shifting, the elation of flying down a descent or the thrill of a spring that leaves everything on the tarmac, either while racing or watching. The passion is based on the action, not the participants that we watch, and thus, cycling lives on.
Coming back into Paris after a month of traveling through 7 countries was a shock, but a welcoming shock. I came home to a snowy Paris but it felt like easing into a warm bath rather than diving into a frigid stream. Paris was already home and I already loved it, and no amount of traveling or new food could change that.