The second part of a three part series, I recollect the second week of the beginning of my travels and end with a self-realization that will hold true for the rest of the trip:
In a bit of a change of pace from last week's very personal story, I'd like to take a moment to check in and provide an idea of what I'm hoping to do and where I'm hoping to go in the near future. As it is the very nature of such lists that they are subject to change, I’ll update this list periodically as I check things off and discover new ones along the way. For now, here are my top choices for 2016:
Episode One of Postal Code Unknown. Covers the story of the genesis of the website, and welcomes new readers and listeners. Hope that you enjoy!
When I first started this project a year ago, it was not much more than a "radical dream." I had some brief experience traveling solo in the States when I was younger (my freshman attempt at a travel blog right out of college didn't make it much further than the first post) and planning a trip of this scope was so far beyond my knowledge base that I had difficulty visualizing how to actually accomplish it. I didn't really know how to begin, and eventually I would realize that I didn't need to. I became a better traveler by traveling, and found that making the choice to leave was the only step that was really important.
To really get to the heart of what has brought me to where I am now, let's start with a story:
Now three months in to my travels, the practical realities of moving at this pace are starting to surface in ways that I hadn’t quite anticipated. Returning from Istanbul was like waking from a dream into a completely different one.
At this point, I haven’t spent more than 5 days in a single place (Barcelona takes that honor) and frequently closer to one or two. Needless to say, I’m beginning to miss some of the practical realities of my life back home: having people to talk to on a regular basis that I’m comfortable with, being able to hop on my bicycle or in my truck and get to wherever I’m going without needing to learn a new public transit system, or knowing where I’ll be eating or sleeping the night ahead.
With that said, I love putting myself outside of my comfort zone, it allows me to internalize new perspectives and solve problems that I would have never faced if I had allowed myself the luxury of complacency. Even relatively small victories, like ordering food in an unfamiliar language, can become triumphs with the right attitude. It’s also the easiest challenge that you can make for yourself without having to travel halfway across the world to do so.
This made having an opportunity to relax and feel normal again really special.
I have a very close friend living in Vienna that offered to let me stay at her place while she was away. At first, I was a little uncomfortable with the prospect (I have trouble accepting help from others at times, but experiencing the Camino’s very unique and supportive social structure has taught me to accept help as easily as I provide it).
My friend’s roommate, we shall call her Ms. X (which is a bad ass nickname, you’re welcome 😉), whom I am still not entirely certain is *not* a spy really made my visit all the more worthwhile by including me in her regular social activities. For the first time in months I felt like a person, not a tourist, and it was wonderful.
From encountering a pop up dance party in a park (this seems to happen to me more often than you’d expect), to playing beach volleyball with new friends, to a night spent playing Cards Against Humanity in good company, to hours spent watching the Perseid meteor shower, Vienna has been so much more than just another stop on the road. It’s where I was able to get my head back above water, and learned that if I really wanted to, I could make a home anywhere in the world.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing. I have chosen this day to begin my walk on the Camino de Santiago for its personal significance, and for my hope that if my father could see me now he would be proud of the choices I have made with my life (regardless of his thoughts when I spoke to him of this).
A friend of mine once told me that everyone walks their own Camino, and yet I find that to be true of life in general. No two paths can necessarily be the same in their entirety, and I appreciate the moments when I get to share my own path with others.
For those that have been following along, this will be my last entry until I have completed the pilgrimage of Saint James (a 790 km walk from the south of France to Santiago de Campostella in the northwest of Spain). I will continue on from that point (and hopefully get a chance to fill you all in on the adventures that I have walking!)
Thank you all for reading so far, take care and wish me luck!
Carcassonne has been the first fully intact castle (not counting Disneyland) that I have visited this far in Europe. I set out with my intrepid companion, M, from the Toulouse train station slightly later than anticipated, but still with plenty of time to see much of the old and new city of Carcassonne without much issue.
M was a roommate of mine while I was going to school in San Diego. I still remember my candidate interview for the house was dependent upon my willingness to play Super Smash Bros. with the rest of the crew. A good friend that I hadn’t seen in years, and the kind that upon meeting again feels as though no time had passed. In part, much of my experiences in Carcassonne were made more positive by being able to spend time with a friend that I knew well for the first time since leaving home.
We approached the city walls from the southeast, crossing a stone bridge and stopping to take a picture. At first, I had asked M for a picture so I could have one in my “full” GoPro gear (a hat and hat clip) and he asked what landmark I would like to have in the picture with me.
Confused, thinking that the Carcassonne castle (the intent of the visit) would be the obvious choice, I exclaimed “the castle?”
In his most sincere and earnest tone, M replied “what castle?” To which I didn’t have much of a response other than to nearly fall off of the bridge laughing, and was fortunately stopped by a group of tourists from Ireland whom had heard the entire exchange and wanted to chime in.
There are times where you meet the most interesting people while traveling for the strangest reasons, and then there are times where you keep running into those same people, and they are *insistent* that they are not following you. This experience fell into the latter camp. We must have run into that same group several times in passing throughout the rest of the day.
At first, it was that same initial awkwardness of trying to show that we were not following each other that drove M and I to find a secret path to the castle while playing a game of “driveway or trail.” (Hint: it was a trail)
The whole experience felt very absurd, as if we had been translated directly into “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and we’re then given a quest to find a way to storm the impenetrable castle.
The guard on duty didn’t seem to concern himself deeply with the two agents of his impending doom, and didn’t offer a second glance as we walked by. Entering the citè interior through the gate was a far more momentous occasion, as it is extremely well preserved, even as it has transformed into a repository for fantastic trinket shops and restaurants.
Highlights of citè interior included:
- Eating Cassoulet. Even though it was mentioned in a previous post, I will reiterate it here. We found a restaurant that advertised food made from fresh ingredients and home-made bread. It did not disappoint (even if finding out that the Medieval wine listed on the menu was non-alcoholic, it was still really cool) and was one of the best meals that I had in France by far. The salad that was served with a mound of bacon certainly helped with that too.
- Carcassonne Haunted house. Because why not? It was fascinating to see how they decided to re appropriate the space in a corner for something that I certainly didn’t expect. Each room had an automatic timer, and you had about 10 second to pass through when the door opened or you would be stuck standing in complete darkness for 6 minutes or until the next group passed through. Seeing as the house didn’t seem like it was seeing too much traffic at the time, we certainly didn’t want to get stuck there.
The house ended with a strange story (that I assume was supposed to frame the experience) about a man who figured out how to reanimate corpses. After discovering that his concoction was successful, his wife was then murdered by the reanimated corpse. As my French is limited to the small bits I have picked up while in France, it was difficult to tell how the story ended other than with a bunch of ghosts and full moons and scaaaaarrrry noises. Still, fun for being an experience that was utterly contrary to what I expected to find.
- The Carcassonne ramparts and Citè interior. This was why I came to Carcassonne, to experience what it might have been like to walk along the still intact (if renovated) walls of the fortress. There is something incredible about being able to sneak along the stones, to peek through slotted windows, to peer over into the new city proper, and to finally fulfill a childhood fantasy of visiting a *real* castle.
Seeing my friend again after such a long time, and after learning of the extraordinary circumstances that he had triumphed over since the last time we spoke was one of the most encouraging and important experiences that I have had thus far. It has given me hope that while I may have decided to leave the life behind as I knew it, there are still people that I care about that can still participate in meaningful ways.
It was also good to spend some time with a friend before embarking on the next stage of my journey, which would prove to be one of the most challenging, extraordinary, and rewarding experiences of my entire life.
To anyone and everyone who told me that one day was too short a time to experience the Louvre, you were completely right and I should have listened. If you are planning a visit, please heed their advice where I did not.
A massive labyrinthine collection, the Louvre is to museums as the U.S. National Archives are to public libraries. Walking the halls here has filled me with a sense of wonder and appreciation for humanity in a way that I have never felt. As such, it is extraordinarily difficult to translate that type of experience into film. I have selected a few of the works that I felt particularly drawn towards; with the highlights being the Spanish Gallery, Apollo’s Hall, the Medieval Collection, the Sculpture Garden (I am very partial to artwork that plays with the presence of its surroundings), and the exhibition on Thrace.
A short note on the Mona Lisa: The painting is diminished by the way it is chosen to be displayed, behind a glass case in the center of a massive barren pillar in the heart of the Louvre. It is denied the power that it could have in a smaller space, but it is granted something entirely different. Crowds of people gather to take photographs in front of the painting at all times during the museum’s opening hours, and the Mona Lisa quietly smirks in its glass cage while absorbing the selfies and camera flashes as if offerings to its effigy. I find the Mona Lisa more interesting in its power to attract than its artistry. With that said, I gladly paid homage and found that Mona Lisa’s smile is quite difficult to replicate 😏.
Hello all, and thank you again for following along!
A quick update on the blog: I am entering an area where I will have limited cell service (by choice) and have reduced the frequency of updates to one scheduled per day until I anticipate completing my task.
Please enjoy the remainder of my adventures in France, and there will be more updates and information coming up afterwards to discuss this in more detail (don’t want to ruin the surprise!)
Because this is a day that I plan to return to when I have enough time to give it the proper attention, this update will be brief:
Based on a friend’s recommendation, I started the day seeking the view from the cafe on the summit of the Arab World Institute in Paris. Little did I know, they had an excellent exhibition on Hip-Hop inside that I spent most of the day absorbing its selections. There were some extraordinary examples of spray paint art produced on site, a tour of hip hop with Arabian influence (from Morocco to Paris to Palestine), and some other excellent selections regarding a very specific cultural heritage. I have done my best to choose the few that really spoke to me during my visit and share them with you all.
From the Arab World Institute, I made my way to a massive park in Paris to meet a few friends that I was put in touch with by another friend (who is quickly becoming my best resource in Europe). We were meeting to attend a Spritz party, which despite my efforts to find out what a Spritz party *was* online, I don’t think I could have been prepared.
Spritz, an orangey cocktail that is being heavily promoted at the moment in France was throwing a party at the pavilion in the park, drawing a modest crowd of a few hundred throughout the evening. Having limited access to places to stand, I chose the menu outside as an appropriate meeting point. It was there that I met my first new friends in Paris, hereafter referred to as M an H.
A charming and charismatic duo, M and H were excellent resources for learning about European and International culture, and were both *hilarious*. They reminded me quite a bit of the relationship that I have with my youngest brother (M being the eldest sibling, and H the youngest). They were both originally from my next intended destination, Lyon, so it was nice to hear some suggestions from a native for things to do there.
As the night continued, an Italian band (which as I understand it is influential in recruiting other Italian bands to Paris) started playing inside. We went inside to get a closer view of the band, and to join the dance floor. The music, while entirely foreign to me and difficult to play along with the words, still has its own universal language in a way. Plus, one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my life is to never turn down a dance with a beautiful woman, regardless of whether or not you know what you’re doing (you’ll figure it out somehow). The highlight of the night was being a part of the crowd as they asked for more music, and hearing the revolutionary song “Bella Ciao” (a famous song that I had no personal context for, but will remember now for a long time).
With a mad dash to the metro, I managed to make it from the park back to my hotel. I am, and will always be grateful for the kindness of strangers, and am very glad to have met M and H. May they both enjoy long and fruitful lives.