Jun 1, 2006

Letters from Europe Part II (with a Stop in Vancouver)

Five years after my initial, life changing journey to Europe, I realized the time had come for an encore adventure.

Times were a little different from my maiden voyage. For starters, I was 28, not 23. Life changes a lot from your early 20's to your late 20's. I had a lot more money, and grew up quite a bit. Over a two week span the previous year, I broke my hand in a road rage fight (some guy was tailgating me because I gave him the bird after he tried to cut me off, then I surprised even myself by beating his ass after the guy decided to physically confront me, only to shatter my left hand), then fractured my skull in a drunken mishap where I tripped and fell, hitting my head on a light post. I had Cerebrospinal fluid leaking into my ear, I suffered a black eye from a blow to the back of the head, and threw up for two straight days due to a major concussion I suffered. Waking up in an Emergency Room and not knowing how you got there isn't an experience I'd recommend to anyone. All this with a cast on my hand from the previous fight. It quickly made me realize that I needed to mature and stop acting like a college kid. This included quitting my smoking habit of 12 years.

A year after these moments of clarity, I embarked on a road trip to Seattle to visit my Mom, who was living there at the time, before heading off to Europe.  The following are unedited letters I sent on my journey.

Greetings from Amsterdam

The AMSTERDAM CAFE that is, hahahahaha ok, I'll shut the fuck up. Yesterday, which happened to be the one year anniversary of not smoking a single cigarette, was my jaunt to Vancouver. Freakin' AWESOME! That is, 'till the end of the day, but I'll get to that shortly.

First off, I think I realized why it's such a bitchin' town (besides being uber-liberal). People there are actually HAPPY. They smile at you on the street, materialism doesn't seem to be a recurring theme, and the city itself is just beautiful.

I started the day off by stopping at the Amsterdam Cafe, and cruising next door to pick up some "herbs." I found out later that since my first visit here, there are a lot of offices I can pick "herbs" up at, with a wide variety of "herbs" to choose from at very affordable rates. A sweet tidbit to know for my next trip.

Speaking of affordable, the U.S. Dollar SUCKS MAJOR ASS now. It's practically even with the Canadian Dollar! How crazy is that! Meaning that Canada is suddenly very expensive. Whatever though, still a great country. Now where was I.....

Ah yes, Amsterdam Cafe. Rolled up a couple of "herb" cigarettes, then walked around town for a bit, picking up a steamed, healthy burrito along the way ('cause you know, the appetite was increased for some strange reason). Then I went for a bitchin' bike ride through Stanley Park and the city itself, probably covering 15-20 miles. Straight exhausted by the end.

So I roll back to the Amsterdam Cafe for one last stop (met some great locals), check out Vancouver's infamous Observation Tower, then take off. Great day. That is, until I realize that my camera (with which I took some phenomenal pics) is GONE! Straight vanished. Right before Italy. Sweet.

How did it happen? I have no clue. It could have fallen out of my pocket. I could have been pick-pocketed (gotta admit, the bums in Vancouver are even more aggressive than SF, and that's saying a lot). Whatever the case, great pics and an expensive camera are gone. Brutal.

Is this an Omen? I mean, forget the fact that no one give's a shit about the fact that I quit cigarettes, but for this to happen right before my trip? I'm already freaked out about all the flights.

Still, it was a great time, and today is the lull before the main event: Italy (and possibly other countries as well). I'm nervous as hell, but it's going to be an amazing adventure.

Bonjourno (Again, After 5 Years) From Cinque Terre

First off, this computer doesnt have an apostrophy key on it, so bear the grammatical errors. After a brutal jaunt here that included 11 hours of flying (with a 4 hour stop in Copenhagen that Ill talk about in a future e-mail, since Im going to spend a full day there on the way back), and four additional hours on the train out of Milan (turns out that Italy is celebrating a holiday that nobody really knows the details about, just that everyone is off, so the first three hours of the train ride was like being on a packed NY subway. I have yet to go to a European country and not have them celebrating some sort of holiday. Awesome.), I am in a bitchin spot, a beautiful city called Riomaggiore. Its the last of five cities tied together by beautiful hills, a national park called Cinque Terre (an area a lot of you former backpackers have frequented in the past).

I was planning on goin swimming in the Mediterranean, buts its windier than Steve Bs flatulence, so Im passing today, although the sun is shining bright. Im staying in my own apartment, a spot right in the town center thats costing me a chill $40 Euros a day. Speakin of the Euro, two things about this change in currency. One, the US dollar sucks major ass right now (up in Vancouver, the Canadian dollar was virtually even with the US!). Two, because the majority of Europe shares this currency, the days of backpacking through this continent on the cheap are at an end. I would feel bad for future backpackers fresh out of college, expept I dont. Sucks to be you! Hahahahaha....

So anyways, Im going on a long hike tomorrow through the five cities that comprise Cinque Terre. Its supposed to take all day, but the scenery is amazing, and being able to experience five different Italian cities in one day is going to be sweet indeed. Milan was interesting. The train station was like nothing Ive ever seen before, unbelievable architecture. Beyond that, while it has a lot of life, it isnt worth spending more than a day there.

I dont know where my next stop will be. I may take the long train ride to Barcelona and party there for a couple of days, or head further south and check out the southern tip of Italy, or go back to Rome, who knows. Havent met too many people yet either, but its early. I hope everyones doing well, and Id love to e-mail pics, except my digital camera went bye-bye in Vancouver.



Ciao from Roma!

Its been a wild ride since the last e-mail. I havent had time to be on a computer until today, when I briefly checked e-mails before heading out of Naples, and now I am in the one place that I have previously frequented, Rome! To catch up on the events, Ill go in chronological order.....

First off, Cinque Terre is out of control phenomenal. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been too. So the night after my last e-mail, myself and a bunch of other backpackers were drinking wine (which is a recurring theme), when I started Bush bashing. Ah, a lesson I learned that evening - never underestimate right-wingers lurking even amongst backpackers in Europe (from Minnesota of all places!). Political discussion amongst drunks, vibe ruined, ugly end to an otherwise fantastic day.

So despite being brutally hungover the next morning, going off of three hours of sleep, I decided to do the famed hike of the five towns. Un-fuckn-believable. Such an amazingly georgeous hike, with each city having its own persona. Along the way, I met up with a few 20 year olds chicas from Texas (and liberals, imagine the relief!), and we ended up swimming in the Mediterranean at a beach during the day, and partying the night away. Good times all around, Cinque Terre has catapulted amongst the elite of vacation destinations.

The only downside to my time there was that I got zero sleep. I forgot how little rest you get in jaunts like this. Five years later, my body definitely cant handle abuse like it used to, but Im still truckin (would insert a smiley face here, but no colon on the keyboard).

So I decided for the next stop to head to Southern Italy instead of Barcelona (Ill explain in more detail why shortly). I bolted on the train for a seven-hour ride to Naples (or as the locals call it, Napoli). When I got there, it was dumping rain, so I grabbed a ferry to an island called Capri. I have only been to one place where people were more rich, and that was in Monaco aka Monte Carlo. Beautiful place though, with two small beaches. This was rest-up and re-fuel time.

The next day I went to Napoli, and decided to hostel it for old time sakes. Found this place called 6 Rooms, and it was freakin perfect! No obnoxiously loud college kids, just a great mix of mellow college grads and younger adults. Met some really great people also.

The town of Napoli is a complete trip. Complete madness on the streets (no traffic rules whatsover, never seen anything like it), yet a wild energy that feeds onto you (and fantastic pizza from the birthplace). And the women! My goodness, Ive never been to a city with so many ridiculously beautiful chicas. EVERYWHERE!!!!! And this guy doesnt speak Italian. Talk about the perfect tease (especially since I was getting some looks, AHAHAHAAAGGGGGHHH!!!!). Great old churches all around town also, you run into them everywhere you go.

I went for a day trip to a nearby town called Pampei, where Mt. Vesuvius destroyed it nearly 2000 years ago. Amazingly enough, the ash from the eruption, while killing 2000 people, preserved nearly the entire city. I missed seeing a few corpses (didnt know they were there until I left), but saw so many unbelievably ancient and beautiful structures and art (many of which was also preserved).

And now? Im back in Roma. Its a day trip only, and Im taking a break from all the walking to catch up with e-mails, news (Heat-Mavericks in the Finals, wow!), and give you one last tidbit, the main reason why I am back in Rome. I just left Vatican City and saw the most amazing collection of art ever, climaxing with the single-greatest piece of art known to man. The Sistine Chapel. Breathtaking. You have to go through long hallways and tunnels of art to see it (and this part sucked ass, because it was so damn crowded with, fat, old, smelly tourists that I wanted to smack upside the head multiple times). Yet the art is unbelievable in and of itself, and the Chapel, just wow. Pure respect. I even ran into a Canadian chick I partied with in Cinque Terre, really random (same thing happened a few times during my last trip). Roma itself is still incredible, just too many tourists. Mainly US.

The journey is coming close to an end. I am hopping on a train shortly to Florence, where my mom and step-dad have an apartment. I need the rest, I am definitely killing myself with all the walking, pizza and wine consumption, and lack of sleep. A day trip to Siena is in the mix, along with a stop in Pisa (I came all the way out here, might as well seeing the damn leaning tower). From there, back to Milan, then a long-stop in Copenhagen (Ill check out at least the downtown area, will try and take up your recommendations Christian) followed by the long flight home. One last letter coming, hope everyone is well!



P.S. I ran into an Australian carrying a surfboard in CINQUE TERRE of all places, and he told me that he came from a surf trip on the coast of France, Portugal and Spain. Said the surf was INCREDIBLE! No one in the water, clean waves.

What a Long (Not Long Enough), Strange, and Wonderful Trip It Has Been.....

Ciao again, and for the last time on this journey, from Italy! I am writing to you just outside the train station in Florence, preparing to head out to Milan, where I will fly out tomorrow morning. The cool thing about that is I am staying in Copenhagen for 7 hours, so I will get a bonus stop and check out the Scandinavian town.

So since I last wrote, a grip of great sites and experiences came my way (are you really surprised?). Florence itself is amazing. Still a grip of tourists, but its tolerable. The museums, art galleries, architecture and the river (with accompanying bridges) are unbelievable. I saw one of DaVincis most amazing works, David. Its really captivating to see in person. Also checked out DaVincis museum, where you get to play with a lot of his inventions (sort of like a Toys R Us for adults, really cool), and climbed 476 steps of Florences Duomo, where you get an amazing view of the city. A lot of other places to see, but those were the highlights.

Before I start on the next part, which was that evening, a little tidbit you all should know about Florence (and if you have been here, you already know this). There are a lot of students studying abroad here, absorbing the culture and arts, and the ratio is something like 7-1 female to male. Now, being born and raised in Cali, all the gents know that Cali is a bitch in that department. Hickory Farms/Oscar Meyer/SausageFest central, where you either learn the game or get played (so girls, enjoy it, cause youre spoiled like a mofo). New York City
and Florence are the two places in the world I have been to where the numbers favor.....US!

Unbelievable. It was just too easy. LITERALLY 15 girls from Floriduh State who were studying here picked up on me, and dragged to all these different bars. I ended up sticking with the two that werent "hickish" if you catch my drift (the liberal types who love SF and Cali), and raged. Although there were a grip of Americanos at the bars we went to, it was still a good time. For some reason, the fact that I was only drinking vino, and not cheap beer or cocktails, appealed to them even more. Great times.

So yesterday was a painful day because of the late night, but did it stop me from rolling on? FUCK NO! So I grabbed a train in the morning to Pisa to see what is really a waste of time, the Leaning Tower). It was worth it though, mainly because I met a couple of French Canadians chicas on the way there, and we promised each other warm host treatment if one of us visits the others city. Its funny, a bunch of the tourists there like to pose for pictures, and in their pose, they make it look like they are holding the tower up. SO CORNY!

That story will be relevant in a few here. So after Pisa, I took another train to what is one of the most beautiful cities in the world (from my experiences), Siena. I had to make a pit stop in a local city called Empoli, where I divulged and gorged on pastries and gilato that wasnt made for tourists (and it was so delicious), then saw a city thats really unlike any other. Siena is georgeous. The view from the top of their Duomo is breathtaking, with the best view of the Tuscan hills I have ever seen. While up there, I was chatting with some guys who were studying abroad there from Florida, and they were telling me how when they went to Pisa, they took a picture of themselves flipping off some tourists doing that pose I was tellling you about. Apparently they almost got into fisticuffs because of it, but I was laughing nonetheless.

And the church and art there was what probably shocked me the most, only because it ranked up there with Florence and Rome in terms of art and history. Fascinating and captivating, with art dating back to the 1200s. Highly recommend Siena if and when you ever come out to Italy.

So now I am off, on the last leg of my journey to Milano, where I will finally grub on some Veal (havent had a chance to for some reason), check out some models, grab a few hours sleep, then fly to Copenhagen before flying home. I wonder if some of you are jealous reading this. If you are, GOOD! Why, you ask, am I writing this in a malicious manner? Because I want you to be motivated to get your asses out here! Traveling is good for the soul, it opens the eyes, gives perspective, and reminds you that lifestyle, not career, should come first. These journeys are what life is all about.

Ciao bella my dear friends.


My Brief Adventure in Copenhagen

So as I sit at my mom's house in Seattle, feeling like utter shit with jetlag and a sore throat (which I'm really hoping isn't strep, I have a couple of white spots on one of the tonsils), I have to write about Copenhagen.

So we had a good 7-hour layover in the capitol of Denmark. The transition from the airport to the city was really easy, via a short train ride. The cithy is actually very beautiful. Unusual architecture that I'm sure is similar with most Scandinavian cities, very nice people (practically everyone speaks English in addition to their native tongue).

The food is outrageously good. I grubbed on quite a few treats. However, the most interesting part of the city was my venture to a district called Christianhaven, and a little area within that called Christiania. This is an area that has basically proclaimed itself to be its own country. Extremely liberal, with signs all over discouraging violence and hard drugs, yet they love to smoke the hashish. Crazy place, a lot of families there that clearly have been stuck in a time warp from the 60's.

I heard about the place from my treck through Europe 5 years ago, only at that time it was left completely alone by the Danish government. Not no more. Apparently the new leadership has taken on a Bush-like stance, cracking down on the ganja scene. I saw cops strolling all over the place.

Yet despite this, I was still able to grab a quit toke of some fine hashish (for DIRT cheap), and strolled along the riverside, taking in a very natural scene. Also walked by this weird park with an amusement park (and a crazy-looking spiral tower in the middle) called Trivoli, which looked pretty cool.

All in all, between the stroll on the pedestrian-friendly streets of Copenhagen, plus its city within a city, Christiania, a great place, very impressed (didn't hurt to sit next to a hot Swedish minx on the flight back, it's like a first date when you sit next to someone for 9 straight hours).

Now I will sit and dwell in my depression that is being back home. That and this very brutal sore throat I have.