I’m uploading pictures onto my flickr (finally). It’s taking forever and is still by no means even remotely complete, but they are being added on to slowly but surely.
I’m uploading pictures onto my flickr (finally). It’s taking forever and is still by no means even remotely complete, but they are being added on to slowly but surely.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” -Lin Yutang
That’s right folks: I’m home. I’m writing this from the comfort of my bed, staring out at the tops of the trees from my window, slowly watching the sky lighten up. I’ve been awake since just about 6, which is almost reasonable actually. Well…except that I went to bed at 12:30 am and I’ve got the most ridiculous cold. This always happens, you know! I travel, or I’d be at school, caught up in life, busy busy busy, and the minute I get home WHAM! sickz0rz. It’s like my body goes, “Oh good! You’re home! I’ve been saving this up for you. Let’s make your head explode and chafe your nose down to a nub with all the tissues you need!”
Naw, but it is nice to be home, even if it feels a little surreal. And of course, I’ve started attempting to tidy up my room which I’m fairly certain is an impossible task. I mean, I graduated from college on May 22. Went to family’s for a party and got home with all of my stuff from the mod (apartment, for you non-Hamp folk) on May 23. On May 26th I left to go on tour with The Downside Up Circus. Needless to say, 3 days to see friends wasn’t hardly enough time to figure out the post-college mess. And then I got home from tour on July 9 and left for Europe on July 12.
So now I’ve got piles of college stuff, piles of clothes I sent home with my parents after the wedding in Portugal, and I’ve sort of managed to almost unpack from Europe, but most of it is just everywhere. This is ridiculous. Oy.
BUT! I did get home! The airports were a wreck because of some nasty weather in London, so things were getting canceled left and right, but eventually I got on a flight to Amsterdam and then to JFK. The flights weren’t bad…the transatlantic one was actually kind of nice: the guy next to me is this Texas mathematician (apparently he’s kind of a big deal…all I know is that he’s really friendly and has a rather contagious light southern accent and his son just graduated, too) and I got to watch a bunch of movies. Like Inception! And sure, this comes a few months late, but man! That was a cool movie! Also watched Bounty Hunters (it was free, what do you expect from me?) and had Salt on, though I’ve concluded it’s like every other one of Angelina Jolie’s recent movies: guns, her mouth, and dramatic looking-out-of-the-corner-of-her-eye expressions. Bleh. Boring.
OH! Here’s a fun post travel thing. Travel by numbers! Here goes:
“I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.” -James Baldwin
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
Well, my friends, it’s Friday. And whereas normal folks are excited for Friday and the end of a week, I’ve got a feeling that’s…well…nerves. This is the final day of my trip: tomorrow my flight leaves at 7.30 am and I get home in the late evening. I’m torn: I’m excited to go home and see my friends and family because I miss them quite a lot. I’m also excited to wear something different (pretty sick of the 6 shirts I have) and take a bath and get hugs. But at the same time, it’s another big change. I’ve been really independent on this trip, relying almost exclusively on myself. It will be nice to not have to worry about that, but at the same time, I don’t know how I’ll be able to adjust to a life staying put. (And I have no idea how to deal with the impending culture shock. I was thinking of a Glee marathon and baking mountains of Christmas cookies to start out with.)
Huh, but I guess that sounds a lot sadder than it feels. I mean, I really am looking forward to home comforts. And I am excited to figure things out when I get home. I mean, I’m planning to find a job in Boston for a year or two and then do another big trip. As of today, I think I’ll do South America next, probably January 2012 for a few months, then come back in time for a summer job. And of course, little trips in between. But they say traveling is an addiction and I think I’m understanding that now more than ever .
In the airport, first flight got cancelled, got another one to Amsterdam, then NYC (rather than CT), that was supposed to get me in earlier. However, it’s delayed, so it looks like the journey continues with trying to get home. Oy. Proper post when I’m home, hopefully!
Okay so as I mentioned, I’m in Barcelona right now. However, I completely neglected to write about Norway! So here’s a quick piece of awesome information.
I was there for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
And no, I don’t mean, I was in town. (Obviously, I was.) I mean, I was there. As there as you can be without having an invite to actually be in the building. Dagfinn (an old friend of my grandfather’s) and I went to the little concert beforehand filled with young kids jumping to the tunes of some singers I don’t really know, and then after we went to the town hall and got to watch everyone come in! Granted, the winner, Liu Xaibo, wasn’t there (nor was his family) ‘cuz he’s in jail. For those not in the know, he’s a Chinese dissenter who was heavily involved with the Tiananmen Square protest in ’89. The Chinese gov’t jailed him for an undetermined amount of time. It’s kind of a really complicated situation because on the one hand, he was fighting for peace and human rights (hence winning the NPP). On the other hand, China’s kinda pissed at him. So it’s become a political issue where China is furious with Norway and anyone who went to the ceremony. In fact, there were several demonstrators supporting Liu, and then a large group condemning him, holding signs like “Criminal= Nobel Peace laureate?” “Liu Xaibo is a criminal”, etc. Was a bit weird. Anyway, so we got to see everyone go in, and even got to see Norway’s king and queen! No crowns, unfortunately. They looked disappointingly normal.
So then we drove around and explored the city a bit, but at 6.30 or so, Dagfinn dropped me off for the torch parade. Traditionally, the public has a parade where they carry torches to the Grand Hotel and the Nobel Peace Prize winner greets the crows from the balcony and often gives a speech or something thanking them. But since Liu wasn’t there, it was quite a bit different. Our torches were these MASSIVE things, over a foot long (that’s what he said) and they burned for a bit over half an hour, giving us time to walk down to the Grand Hotel and be greeted by a huge projection of Liu’s face on the hotel, and then we listened to a bunch of speeches and songs and things. And I got to see the king and queen again as they were driving by! Anyway, so that was REALLY cool, definitely something I’ll remember for a long time.
And now I’m four days away from home (yes, I will be coming home Mom, don’t worry), and still loving Barcelona. Today I walked..uhhh…everywhere. Up to the top of this crazy mountain with a gorgeous church. And an amusement park. I’m not sure who thought “Oh wow, this church has been here for a few hundred years, what a sacred place! You know what it needs? ROLLER COASTERS!”, but I guess someone thought it. So that’s weird. But this city is gorgeous. Gaudi’s architecture is like none other and gives the city a lot of character and color, there’s tons of painfully attractive scruffy hippie boys with large, dark eyes and dreadlocks down to their waists, the Christmas lights and music fill tiny alleys crammed with Christmas markets, and it’s just lovely. OH speaking of Christmas markets, there are two things that I’ve seen a lot of. One: a log with a face painted on and a Santa hat, and two: an elf figurine squatting with his pants round his ankles…pooping. I’m not making this up. In fact, there’s a shopping mall, and right in the center, there’s a huge (I’d estimate about 30 ft tall) statue of said elf and a big pile of post-food under his enormous, naked butt. Call me prudish, but WHAT?! I recently learned the explanation.
First, the log. Every house gets a log like this, and the children ‘feed’ it, much like how American kids leave out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. Spanish kids do the same. The next morning, the food is gone. Where does the food go? On Dec 6th, the log (I’m borrowing this phrase directly from my host) poops presents.
I’m gonna give you a few moments to deal with that sentence.
Yep. So the process goes like this: Kids leave sweets out for the log. In the morning, the sweets are gone. The more sweets you feed it, the more presents you will get. Then you cover the log with a piece of cloth, take a stick, and hit the log while singing a song that encourages the log to poop lots of presents. I guess you do this a couple times. I’m not making this up. I’m creative, but I’m not that creative. Or crass. So here you’ve got a present-pooping log with a creepy grin painted on.
Secondly: the elf. The first few I saw I thought were a crude joke. But no, apparently this is quite a thing. Traditionally, you have the nativity scene with Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus away in a manger and all this. And then behind the nativity scene, on the other side of the mountain (or even just behind the stable), you’ve got the pooping elf. I have NO idea why. I guess ‘cuz people have to poop, even when God’s son was being born.
Again, I’m not making it up. It’s real. It sounds kinda blasphemous, even to me as an atheist, but it’s EVERYWHERE.
Merry Christmas, indeed!
Anyway, in my spare time/to warm up, I’ve been putting on my ipod and dancing in mostly empty parks. It’s loads of fun, keeps me warm and happy, and tends to make the passersby laugh as I bop around, pretending I’m in a musical. I highly recommend it. Be careful when dancing on high places though. Sometimes you get dizzy from spinning and falling is just such a buzzkill. Any recommendations for my boppy dance music playlist?
This morning I was brushing snow off my coat. This afternoon I was walking down the pier enjoying the sun and palm trees. And I fell in love with Barcelona. I mean, really. Love it. Might not want to come home afterall….
What madness is this? Two posts! One day! It’s wild!
Right! So, where was I before I so rudely interrupted myself by catching everyone up on Denmark? Ah yes, I’m in Sweden! Not for long though, since I’m on a bus to Oslo, Norway. As I briefly mentioned, it is, in fact, quite snowy. Apparently it’s -7 Celsius, which makes it roughly 19 degrees Fahrenheit. And the sun is out! It tends to rise around 9am (if it’s not overcast), crawls along the tops of the trees or buildings and then collapses, exhausted, back into the horizon sometime around 3.30. Sunset starts around 3 in the afternoon, and by 4 it’s pitch black. Ah, the sun’s behind clouds again. So of course, even at high noon, the sun is casting long shadows and blinding you since it’s just about at eye level. What a jerk.
But there is snow! And as always, I’ll refer back to my journal for a few observations of my ride from Denmark up to Västerås, Sweden. (About 1.5 hrs from Stockholm.)
“There’s LOTS of pine trees. Like the Pacific north west, except they’re bending under the weight of big gobs of snow. We drove by a barn where a horse was picking its way through snow up to its knees. There’s like, 1-2 feet of snow on the roofs. Maybe closer to just a foot. Wow. We drove by a warehouse and there’s two men on the roof shoveling. Their shovels are more like handheld plows, actually. Aw! We drove by this little shop (just left Tidaholm) and two kids pelted the bus with snowballs as it went by.”
Well, it wasn’t the most elegant piece to quote, but whatever, I can’t make everything sound good. But yeah, everywhere you go, people are bundled up. I spent a day wandering around Stockholm and I was armed with: heavy tights, yoga pants, jeans, thin socks, thick socks, hiking boots, a T shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece sweater, down jacket, mittens, knit scarf, and knit hat. And I was plenty warm. Well…except for my skin. My face got SO cold, so I ended up just burying it in my scarf, which helped. I was reminded of something someone said in Denmark. She mentioned that they might be banning the burka, which is stupid because in the winter EVERYONE is covered up to their eyes. It’s a fair point, really. Anyway, I was staying with the family of some of my mom’s former students. They were incredibly welcoming and generous, even though they were a little busy with school and work and whatnot. Still, I had a lovely dinner of homemade Swedish meatballs with gravy, ligonberry sauce, potatoes and veg. Mmm. And I poked through one of the cookbooks and got some good ideas for other things to cook when I get home. OH! And one of the traditional Christmas treats is a yeasty, sweet bread made with saffron. Tastes like saffron and honey, and I quite liked it. I’m planning to make some when I get home. (Can you tell I miss cooking?)
Also, re: the Swedish Chef. I was hoping that the Swedish language would sound like him, and I was well prepared to spend 4 days stifling delighted giggles. Unfortunately, no. However, he does apparently occasionally say some Swedish words, so that’s fun!
Anyway, I got to spend yesterday exploring Stockholm. I gotta say, it is beautiful! It’s an absolutely gorgeous old city with tons of lovely buildings. There’s also a lot of water, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s stay away from water if you’re already cold. Not because of the keep-dry aspect, but because harbors, piers, and the seaside tend to be astoundingly windy. I mean, blast-you-in-the-face-and-freeze-your-eyeballs cold. Not recommended. But the old historical district is really cute with small alleys and people scurrying back and forth Christmas shopping. I’m not doing it justice by any means, but trust me: it was a great place to be and I highly recommend it.
Now, as I mentioned, I’m on the bus heading to Oslo. Speaking of which, the Nobel Prize is being awarded tomorrow. Maybe I’ll run into some famous folks? The winner won’t be there since he’s jailed up in China, but maybe I’ll see other people, who knows.
Itinerary-wise, things are busy!
-Bus to Stockholm Saturday
-Flight Stockholm to Barcelona 6 am Sunday
-Bus to Madrid
-Bus to Lisbon
-Flight home, 7.30 am Saturday
9 days! Yes, I’ve definitely come to the point where I’m excited to come home. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be interesting to see Oslo and I’m really excited about Barcelona, but, well, it’ll be good to get home. It’s funny…on the one hand, I’m on “vacation”. (From what? From life?) But on the other, there’s actually a lot of work involved. It takes ages to find and book transport (are there buses? are the websites in English? Otherwise I have to go back and forth with Google translate. I try to avoid planes because they’re kind of a pain and the environmental impact and blah blah blah), and it takes about 2-3 hours to search for hosts to stay with in a given city (will I work or couch surf? I have to find good location, good personality match, people that look trustworthy, etc) and then sometimes I have to do it all again if none of my initial people can host. So that’s like…20 places that I’ve written to that I have stayed with, and that doesn’t include the people I wrote to/searched for in places I didn’t end up going. So that ends up taking a while and gets a bit stressful sometimes. Fortunately, the end of my trip looks like smooth sailing. But I guess what I mean is that this way of traveling does take quite a bit of work, so it’s not always relaxing and fun. It can get stressful. (Specifically the other night when I couldn’t find any tickets to Barcelona for less than $100. I was worried I might not actually get to go, but the next morning a cheap one popped up!) It’s funny because it’s both tiring and energizing to be traveling. I’m always meeting new people and learning new things and it’s definitely a passion. However, it will be really nice to get home and be in one place for a while. I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends and family again, and I love the holidays and I can’t wait to cook for everyone and be in a place where everything’s familiar.
And it’s funny because I think I may have mentioned that when I set out on this journey, my goal was to travel enough, have enough adventures, see enough places, and learn enough that I would look forward to going home. I figured that if Dec 18th arrived and I wasn’t eager to get on that plane, then I did it wrong. So I think I can safely say this adventure has been exactly what I needed and wanted. At first, I was having a hard time because the thought of returning from Europe was painful. Having just graduated from college, I wasn’t sure where home was. Hampshire isn’t home. I’m thankful for everything I got out of Hampshire, but I am completely sick of everything having to do with Hampshire and the Pioneer Valley. It was home for a long time, but it isn’t any more and even 7 months later, I’m delighted to be as far from it as possible. So that leaves my hometown. That didn’t quite feel like home either…it felt like my hometown and home in the sense that it’s where my family is, but when I left, I was glad to get away from it. At this point though, it feels like home again. Which isn’t to say I’m going to stick around forever, goodness no. I’m planning to be home for January while I go through some vicious reverse culture shock, see friends and family, and hunt down a job and apartment, most likely in Boston. But by February I want to be on to the next phase in my life so I can start saving up for my next trip. (Oh I know, I’m not even home and I’m already planning my next trip…heh.)
What I guess I’m saying is I found home in Europe, but I’m looking forward to making another home for myself. And I’m ridiculously excited to see the people I love again. :)
But here I am, talking about home when I’ve still got so much to see. I do have to remind myself to pay attention sometimes…I don’t want to miss the end of my trip because I’m distracted by home! And I promise not to make anyone look at 5 months of pictures. But I will have them if you want to poke through on your own!
P.S. This is a snowbow that hung around all day when I was in Stockholm. It’s a product of the constant glitter-like flurries that were swirling!
As we speak (or rather, as I type), I’m on a bus driving through a winter wonderland. I’m not kidding, the trees look like Pier 1 was having a holiday sale and went a little overboard. They’re pure white and blend in like albino eyelashes into the snow and the grey-white sky.
As per usual, we’ll do a little bit of a backup. In Denmark, I stayed with this lovely collective of folks, which I believe I described previously. I was planning to stay with them Fri-Sunday, then stay with another host Sunday night so I could catch my early bus Monday morning. I went to the train station to meet up with my next host at noon. 12:30 rolls around. Then 1. Then 1:30. Around 2 I decided I was entirely too cold and only five minutes away from my last host, so I might as well go back and see if I could crash with them for the extra night. Indeed, it was okay and they were all incredibly sympathetic. I wasn’t too worried about it though: I knew that the new host was moving to a new apartment and as I was waiting for him I realized he probably didn’t have internet set up and most likely didn’t even get my latest email. Plus, I knew I had a backup plan, so it wasn’t dramatic at all. Perhaps a tiny bit frustrating, but I literally just headed back to the other place, was able to leave my bag, and then I headed off to explore Christiania. Christiania is this hippie ‘free town’ commune from the 70’s in Copenhagen. I’d heard marvelous things about it: the place overflows with art and music and creativity and it’s a haven of self-run anarchists and vegans and stoners.
Yeah, emphasis on the stoners. Seriously. I was walking down one of the ‘market streets’ and there were little venders (with booths similar to Lucy’s “The doctor is in” booth from Peanuts) selling weed. Groups of giddy teenagers and 20somethings were gathered around, buying bags and cones and the venders looked completely bored and impatient. It was weird. I’d been told by my first host that there’s a bakery where you can buy the most “magical” sugar cookies. She described going to buy one and gushing about how magical she thought they are. The baker was sorta confused and informed her that there weren’t any drugs in them. That made her laugh because she knew that, she just meant that they were so incredibly good, it was like magic. So with this in mind, I decided to splurge and buy myself a coffee and a cookie. I say splurge because a simple coffee is generally around $5. (Black, small, straight from the percolator.) However, I can say with delight that one of the benefits of Christiania is that everything is much cheaper. A coffee and monstrously large cookie cost me 20 crowns: about $4USD. Pretty good! The cookie was, indeed, delicious, and the coffee was…well…coffee. Nothing special, but it was hot.
Anyway, yes, there is a bit of art in Christiania (murals everywhere, even the bricks in a wall have been painted) and many people have constructed their own houses, so there’s some funky architecture. However, I was underwhelmed. I mean, it was cool, but didn’t quite stand up to the hype. I think there are several reasons. 1: I had high expectations. Everyone told me it was truly amazing. 2: Wintertime. People tend to not linger outside making music or anything, so walking around isn’t as exciting. 3: I don’t enjoy being around people smoking pot. (Or anything, actually.) Perhaps a good description of my impressions comes straight from my journal.
“I was excited, and figured it’d be arty/circusy/hippie. Instead, it seems like Hampshire attempting to function in the real world with the same tourist reputation as Amsterdam. And I’ll be honest, it’s a turn-off. I just don’t trust anything. So just as I was overwhelmed and not enamored with Amsterdam, I can’t help but feel like there’s just a lot of stoners which seems really immature to me. Like, surely there’s better things to do. And nothing really seems that welcoming. I’ve heard that it’s criticised for being too cliquey and not quite as open as one would expect, and I can see that being true. However: I’m also a bit uncomfortable around drugs, winter makes things seem unfriendly, and I haven’t talked to anyone, so what do I know? Anyway, I’m sitting in a cafe with a cookie and coffee. Outside, it’s snowing. It’s a pretty consistent amount of small snowflakes, but they are building up. There are these two young dogs (certainly not puppies, but definitely not full grown either) and they’re mighty cute.”
So there you have it. The cafe was indeed cozy and the dogs were super adorable and a separate smoking room helped keep the stench away a bit. Then I walked around the houses for a while and in the evening went to a music thing. Again, I’ll turn to my journal to paint you a picture.
“It’s a big open room upstairs. There’s a stage with thick, dark red curtains, a beach-type bar with Chinese decor in the corner, and chairs and tables littered around. I stood at the entrance awkwardly for half a song, then saw a girl sitting alone at a table texting, so I asked if she wouldn’t mind if I joined her. She didn’t. Her man has returned from the bar, but it doesn’t seem to be awkward. With the noise, there’s not much to overhear and I’m clearly preoccupied, though I know I ‘should’ be drinking. The band is this nice, upbeat band that’s reminding me of Phish just a little bit. But they’ve got a violin, a la Dave Matthews Band. Anyway, that gives you an idea of the music. I’ll admit, I started writing so that I’d feel more comfortable (I don’t feel like spending money on a soda I don’t actually want anyway) and it works astoundingly well. Let me describe the setting a little better. This is a large building, almost like a small factory, though I know it was actually once a military barracks. This room has a well-worn hardwood floor with wide planks and geometric designs in some places in red, white, blue and yellow. The tables and chairs are an extremely simple, standard design, painted white like the brick walls, but the red, blue and green lights and multicolored glasses lit up with candles give the place an interesting ambiance. The large, wooden support beams all throughout the room have been painted red, yellow, then blue giving it quite a lot of color without being too in-your-face. Random things have been hung on the walls: a red and white life saver, a picture of I-can’t-tell-what (it’s a cheap poster that’s been crinkled and crumpled) in an ornate, classical gold frame and other things. The room is hazy with smoke, but rather than the sharp dead smell of tobacco, everyone floats on the earthy murkiness of grass, most likely purchased form the woman at the entrance to the building. She sits behind a card table laden with weed and looks bored. She doesn’t make eye contact. The next band is not nearly as good and the main singer is a cute, potentially Ani DiFranco type, but she can’t sing. After an hour or so, the crowd thins and those that remain are settled into clumps, more interested in conversation than mediocre music. The drummer is a young dark guy clicking out his own rhythm while a cigarette puffs steady clouds of smoke from his jack-o-lantern grin….[a while later] There’s a new band. Or rather, the previous band left and a blonde girl–woman, rather– has settled herself on stage with the guitar. She’s an excellent singer and plays a bright, almost sultry song that makes your hips want to sway. The young dark guy with the jack-o-lantern smile dashes up on stage and she halts.
‘Don’t stop, baby!’ he says. ‘Don’t stop!’ He jumps behind some djembes and starting hitting out a latin beat like bubbles popping in Rio. Soon a guy with light, straight hair down to his waist has picked up the bass and is weaving its notes around the singer. By now we’ve also got an improving jazz pianist and a harmonica that sounds like it’d fit in well in the wild west, but it works. I don’t think any of them have ever met before, but it all works. Life returns to the crowd.”
Anyway, I ended up meeting up with my first Copenhagen host there, and she drew as I wrote, so it was a comfortable evening afterall, though it was nice to get out to some fresh air. I also ended up writing about touch a bit. Now, at home, and especially at school, I get touched a lot. My friends and I constantly hug and kiss and back at school, we circus folk more than often ended up sitting on one another. Touch is our primary mode of communication. Now, I’ve been alone for a while. Sure, I’ve met loads of amazing people and met some great friends, but I don’t get touched much. Mostly, I get handshakes hello and hugs goodbye. But when people walk by me, they keep their hands to themselves, whereas at home there might be a quick rub on the back, or playing with my hair while talking to me. At the collective, we were often in very close spaces, so knees would bump or someone would touch my arm to get my attention. And a terrible thing has happened.
Yes. I jump when I’m brushed against or touched, or I instinctively flinch away. This horrifies me. I am DESPERATE for affection. I would love to watch a movie under a pile of my friends. I never flinch from touch. Often, I’m the one thoughtlessly touching someone’s knee or arm in conversation, or nuzzling an arm that stretches across me. Instead, I’ve become so accustomed to being alone that I’ve reverted back to the normal-people-status of keeping my hands to myself and being emotionally open with others but not ever being touched. I look forward to my cuddles. Back in Dec 2006, 5 friends and I crammed into a pick up truck to drive cross country. The truck was small enough that we didn’t have personal space, we were always touching. I reckon that’s one touch-extreme of my life and I’m currently at the other extreme. I prefer constant touch, definitely.
Uhhhhhhm. What else. This was supposed to be a post about Sweden, but instead it’s about Denmark, so I guess I’ll write another Swedish-based one and hopefully I won’t get distracted this time.