we had been driving for hours in the southwest of bosnia without running into anything noteworthy. it was winter, and anything resembling a plant was dead. the rolling hills were a flat brown throughout, and the further into the country we got, the more desolate everything looked. occasionally we would drive by a tiny village or a bombed-out house on the side of the road, clearly a remaining casualty of the genocide committed here 20 years ago. a somber silence would sporadically settle in upon our car as we passed the remnants of past atrocities. even the border patrol was scary and depressing. large men with official military uniforms and big automatic weapons with menacing dogs patrolled the area around our car, and the guards took forever to run our papers, as though they were just waiting us out, convinced we would get nervous and make a run for it. when the man returned with our passports and then searched our car and our backpacks, he finally asked us one final question: “why do you come to bosnia?” as if in disbelief that a couple of americans would ever want to visit this place. i replied with an optimistic “we want to experience your culture and see your beautiful country!” but he only rolled his eyes and shook his head as he waved us by. this random detour from our croatian holiday was suddenly much heavier than the adventure-filled traverse through the balkans i had envisioned. Continue reading “why do you come to bosnia?”
it was only about a two hour drive down the coast to reach kotor, montenegro, but dave and i had been so enraptured with dubrovnik that we had spent too much time wandering the walls and hadn’t left until sunset. by the time we reached the border crossing, it was dark, and dave and i pulled into the passport inspection trepidatiously, unsure of how it worked or if we were proceeding correctly. i had never driven across a border before, and most of europe’s borders are open, due to the schengen agreement (schengen is an agreement throughout a majority of european countries that states that all internal borders among countries are open and allow travelers to move unencumbered without having to produce documents to enter or exit countries. the only enforced borders are external borders, or borders from the countries on the outer boundaries of the schengen zone. when entering into through those ports -or airports, obviously- you go through a security zone where documents are checked, passports stamped, and then your countdown begins for allowable time spent in the zone starts – for americans this is a total of 90 days allowed spent in europe during a 6 month period. once your 90 days are up, it’s time to leave the schengen zone), but montenegro’s border is secured entirely by the montenegro government, as they are not part of the schengen agreement. as we approached the gate slowly in our vw golf rental
car, i was reminded of all my favorite cold war era spy movies, where you drive into a cleared out area, approach a gate with heavily armed guards and official-looking military uniforms that command attention. i started joking with dave about what his spy name was and then suddenly snapped to attention when we pulled up by the guard station. i rolled down my window and held out our passports and rental car paperwork. i was surprised when the guard emerged from the window, revealing herself to be a very attractive woman in her late 20s. she smiled politely, said hello, and then sat back down in the booth, checking to make sure everything was in order. i looked back at dave to make eye contact and silently mouth the word “HOT!” to him. he smiled and nodded and we looked back.
without looking up from her work, the woman addressed us. “why do you come to montenegro?”
expecting the question, i didn’t hesitate. “we want to see beautiful kotor!” i said cheerfully.
the woman glanced up and then held her gaze. time froze for a second, just long enough to wonder if i had just said the wrong thing, and suddenly she burst into a cute, relaxed laughter. confused, i smiled in relief and waited for some sort of explanation.
“guys, you can relax.” she said through a giggle. i looked back at dave, who had the same confused smile i had. we were both leaning forward and looking up at the guards with almost uncomfortable curiosity and intensity. we had been so on edge and so intent on making sure we didn’t mess this up that we looked like a couple of overeager schoolboys on the first day of class.
“is only montenegro,” she said with a knowing smile, “welcome and enjoy.” she returned our papers and the arm of the barricade lifted up. we slowly pulled out of the border control zone, laughing at our own silliness.
we drove the winding roads in the dark for another 15 minutes before passing through the first major town, herceg novi. it was dimly lit, with sparse street lighting that cast a shadowy atmosphere over the city. it appeared to be more on the industrial side, with few things attracting passersby or tourists. we passed by a few graffiti decorated buildings and a couple sections of roadside with broken up sidewalk with weeds growing up through the rubble, and people walking along, not too far from the road.
“yikes. this seems a little shady.” dave expressed a little concern. it was then that i realized that this was probably the closest to “unsafe” that dave had ever experienced while traveling. we certainly hadn’t been anywhere in italy or dubrovnik that was off the beaten path. i smiled, unconcerned with any potential danger. i knew exactly what dave was feeling, but it had been awhile. i actually missed the feeling a little. the light fear of the unknown, the inexperience of a new culture, the insecurity of the new. i had been traveling long enough now that this was my new norm. suddenly i got excited. i was going to get to watch the evolution of dave. i would get to be front and center as dave interacted with new cultures and became exposed to different worldviews, and i would get to see how his thoughts would expand and change, just as mine had over the previous four months.
we finally reached kotor, after driving all the way around the bay. everything was dark, so we hadn’t been able to see the giant body of water we had been driving alongside, but as we approached the city, we stared in awe at the dimly lit compound that loomed high in the mountains above the city. it was the medieval fortifications of the city from ancient times, preserved now with rebuilt walkways and steps and leading all the way up to st. john’s castle at the top of the mountain. the hazy, dull orange glow from the streetlamps illuminated the perimeter as it rose high above the city. dave and i agreed we would hike to the top the next morning.
we found parking and located our hostel after entering the walled old town center and wandering around for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get around when none of the avenues were labeled. the old town was a small area, so it was easy to memorize if one was so inclined, but for a first time arrival, it confused us a little. when we finally arrived at our hostel, the property manager, kokolo, greeted us cheerfully and took us on a tour of the city.
“you can leave the hostel? but what if someone needs you?” i asked earnestly.
“there is no one here! there is only 4 japanese students staying here this week other than you two, and they don’t talk to me or anyone else. they are kind of boring, so i don’t think they will need anything from me” he said with a laugh. he was happy we had arrived.
as we walked around the old city, kokolo pointed out important historical buildings and the significance, happily teaching us about the history of his city and his country. he stood about 5’8” and had a big, toothy grin that always adorned his face, even when he was listening passively to someone else speak. he had short black hair and thick eyebrows that sheltered his dark, honest eyes. he had started to allow his beard to grow in thick, as the winter of december had begun to set in over the balkans, and he wore a hoodie sweatshirt and a jacket to combat the cold.
dave began to get more inquisitive and curious about this individual who had lived a wholly different life from him on the other side of the world, but was really very similar in interests and style of conversation. i tailed from a distance, snapping off photos and listening attentively as dave and kokolo interacted. neither dave nor i had known much about montenegro or its history, so it was really interesting not only to get a private tour of kotor, but to be able to get the local take on things without the tourguide spin. kokolo was studying tourism in school, but he wasn’t practicing being a tourguide with us, he was genuinely interested in us and wanted to share his culture. we asked him questions about managing the hostel, about life in montenegro, and eventually about the conflict in the 90s. he shared with us freely, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
as we returned to the hostel, a young cat crossed our path casually (are cats ever not casual?) and kokolo excitedly scooped her up. we had noticed quite a few cats throughout the old city, often picking through garbage bags left in back alleys, ready to be disposed of the next morning. but this particular cat was one that kokolo was familiar with. she affectionately cuddled up against him as he held her, and he enthusiastically informed us that he had been feeding her semi regularly until about a week ago she had
stopped coming by. this was the first time he’d seen her since.
a little later, dave and i left the hostel to find some dinner. we found a small local restaurant and had an unremarkable meal that filled us up and did its job. after dinner i suggested we venture out again into the night and explore some of the areas that kokolo hadn’t taken us. dave seemed unsure at first, but caved easily once i pressured him.
we wandered away from the well lit areas and explored into the darker alleys and walkways. the further i pushed into the dark, the more uneasy we got, but it was fun and exciting to be extending into the unknown. i found a steep staircase that i excitedly ran up, and found myself along one of the fortified walls. i wanted to see what was on the other side, but there were no windows, only tall stone walls. i found a small garden area with a small door in the corner where there clearly was a small apartment that someone must have lived in.
“dude i think we’re in someone’s front yard. we should get out of here” dave suggested.
“hah. cool. okay we’ll get outta here, but let me just look down here first.” i walked to the end of the walkway toward an archway that was in disrepair. i poked my head in to find only darkness. there was no roof, so the night sky hung low over the clearing i was now standing in, but i couldn’t see anything around me. to my right, about 50 feet away, was the silhouette of a low portion of the wall. on the ground below, a floodlight bathed the outside of the wall in illumination. i turned to approach the edge and look out, but suddenly i heard a noise. it was heavy breathing. i froze. i definitely should not be here. i heard steps, growing louder and louder. it was a faster pace than just casual walking.
“dude, let’s go!” dave whispered violently. i turned around and began to retreat when my eye caught the silhouette of an old man jogging near the floodlit wall. he drew near to me as i made my way back the way i came, and suddenly i could see him better. he muttered a phrase to me i couldn’t understand repeatedly and gestured for me to come in, come in, come in. he passed by, not really caring to see if i actually would. strange, i thought. i turned back around and strode confidently into what appeared to be a courtyard area on the top of the wall. i walked up to the edge of the wall and looked out. a paved road ran underneath me, leading to i don’t know where, but the view was quite nice, if unspectacular, only due to the visibility as opposed to the darkness i’d been standing in. i turned around as the strange old man lumbered by me, completing another lap of the courtyard. in that moment, i felt a sudden comfort, and i wanted to stay and meet the old man, and explore more of this mystery area i’d discovered. but the old man was getting his exercise in, and had merely detected that i was just a curious tourist and had wanted me to see this rather than retreat in fear. i waved to the man, who didn’t see me, and returned to dave. we retired for the night.
the next morning we awoke and consulted with kokolo about the best way to find the trailhead to climb the mountain to st. john’s castle. he directed us accordingly and then asked us about our plans. earlier on, before dave had arrived in italy, we had agreed to only focus our energies on croatia and montenegro, but i had been very eager to explore bosnia. eventually i had ceded that we would be trying to squeeze too much in if we were going to make it to amsterdam for the new year. we were up against a deadline, but i couldn’t help myself. whenever i had found myself up against time constraints while traveling, instead of relaxing and focusing attention on one particular place like most people, it seemed to have an opposite effect on me. i always tried to squeeze as many destinations and activities as humanly possible.
“do you think we have enough time to get to bosnia?” i asked kokolo. the tourguide in kokolo lit up, and he began telling us of the wonderful things to see in the country that a typical tourist might never even know about. my eyes began to get big. kokolo showed us a picture of an ancient arched bridge in the town of mostar that i immediately wanted to visit. i looked at dave, pleadingly. dave clearly wasn’t interested in bosnia. he was looking forward to getting back to croatia.
“or should we stay here? should we stay longer in kotor?” i asked him, weighing options.
“well… you are here in offseason. there is not much to do here now, and no people to hang out with. i think you should go to mostar. and then you will be halfway to sarajevo! and this city is amazing!” i was sold. i wanted to go. i pleaded with dave as we packed our bags and checked out.
“okay fine. let’s go to mostar and if we don’t like it, we’ll just go back to croatia,” dave compromised, “but first let’s do this hike.” i was ecstatic. we made it to the trailhead and ascended the stone switchbacks at a breakneck pace. we now needed to get up and down and on the road quickly if we were going to get to mostar before dark.
there was no one else on the trail, almost as abandoned and forgotten as many of the thousand-year-old ramparts and fortifications that we passed alongside on the path. by the time we reached the top, we were exhausted. the view was incredible. the bay of kotor reaching all the way down the channel with the hills stretching up to create a perfect green and brown contrast to the deep blue of the water. the city below was small. a light breeze drifted along the top of the ruins of st. john’s castle as we ate sandwiches and energy bars. we had the place to ourselves. it was a perfect place for a perfect moment. a tiny swallow landed a few feet from me and stared curiously at me for a moment while i basked in the sun and allowed my pulse to return to normal.
after 30 minutes dave and i agreed it was time to get moving. we stowed our garbage into the backpacks and began our descent. we ran the entire way down, taking stairs two at a time. i almost fell twice, but the adrenaline rush was coursing through my body as my blood pumped wildly, sweat escaping my pores. we got to the bottom and reentered the city in a breathless, sweaty mess. a few old women sitting nearby looked at us funny and then began giggling.
we made our way back to the hostel, collected our belongings, bid farewell to kokolo and thanked him for his advice, and then went on our way. next stop, bosnia.
this week’s musical magic comes from seattle electro pop quartet beat connection. featuring fun little synth touches and a light dusting of guitar funk, the soft melodies of song “so good” will leave you swaying to the beat and relaxing in moments. enjoy…
and for those following along on spotify…
the following night, dave and i touched down in croatia and were wandering around an empty, unlit terminal searching for a rental car company in the dark. when we finally found the right bungalow, it was apparent that the guy running the office had been waiting for us for awhile, his final customers of the day. his demeanor was very gruff, cold almost, but not rude. there was a measured indifference in his voice, and i could tell that he was ready to go home for the day. i surmised that there was a good chance that i would experience this ‘measured indifference’ again during my time in croatia.
the dubrovnik airport is located about 20 minutes south of the city, so i had a little time to get comfortable with our volkswagen golf on the darkened highway, pressing the accelerator to the ground a couple times and hugging a few turns, making dave nervous in the process. getting a reaction to my driving from him was becoming one of my favorite things about traveling with dave.
we pulled into the outskirts of dubrovnik and began searching for the apartment we had rented from airbnb, making a few wrong turns and getting slightly lost. the apartment seemed to be located somewhere between the two roads that had forked off of the main highway we had been traveling, one going high up along the mountainside, and the other down below, closer to the walled city and coastline, and we couldn’t locate any actual roads that could get us anywhere between the two. in this area of seemingly un-navigable land lay rows of old houses and high-reaching walls that all gradually made their way further up the mountain. we needed to get in there somehow. i found a narrow alley, barely wide enough to fit a car, and pulled the tiny vw into the tight squeeze. i drove slowly for a minute while dave checked the map on his phone, and the alley widened ever so slightly. there was an SUV parked tightly up against the wall on the right and i inched the car alongside and past the SUV, leaving a mere inch on either side of the car.
“how did you do that?!” dave exclaimed. i laughed, proud of my navigational skills. i pulled the car ahead of the parked obstacle and began creeping forward again as the alley began to narrow again, searching desperately for an address or a street sign in the dark that might give us a hint of where we were going or where we were.
suddenly two bright headlights came rushing down the alley from around the corner and stopped in front of us, the two cars staring face to face, nowhere to go. dave and i froze, staring blankly ahead, unsure of what to do and hoping that the other car would back up into some magic parking lot behind them around the corner that obviously did not exist. the men in the other car began waving their hands directing me to get the hell out of their way. okay, i thought, i’m the person who doesn’t live here, i need to go back.
“shit. okay here we go man.” i said to dave and shifted into reverse.
“okay, but, wait! watch out for…!” dave panicked as i quickly backed the car back into the extremely tight space between the wall and the parked SUV. i was going backward faster than i had gone through forward before. i frantically swiveled my head back and forth, checking my mirrors repeatedly as i eased the car backwards past the SUV and back out into the alley, down the narrow, winding alley, and back out into the main street entrance, the exiting vehicle impatiently following me the whole way, then making a quick pass once they had a chance, escaping out into the night. i shifted into park and slumped back into my seat, letting out a big sigh of relief. i looked over at dave. he was staring at me with eyebrows raised and his mouth agape.
“what just happened? i blacked out.” i joked. honestly i had no clue how i had escaped the situation unscathed either.
we eventually were able to locate the apartment, and after being welcomed by the owner, andres, we ran quickly down into the walls of the old city, about a 15 minute walk. the city streets were empty but very well lit, and the white polished stones in the walkway projected the lights overhead back upward, giving an ethereal mirroring effect that made you feel like you were walking on an ancient mirrorball. after wandering around for a few minutes, we located a small restaurant that we had read about in online, known for great local croatian cuisine and wine. tucked away in a little nook of the city and built into the great outer wall of the city, the place looked empty and closed. undeterred, i poked my head inside anyway and found three people sitting on barstools at a small counter in the front, and a waiter on the other side who looked up to see us with a surprised and welcoming smile.
“hi, are you still open?” i inquired.
“yes, please come in my friend! welcome to my restaurant, the bota sare!” he ushered us to the corner, bringing us waters and menus. the place had a very elegant but simple feel to it, white stone from floor to ceiling. the menu was full of local ingredients and seafood, made into sushi arrangements. also oysters. lots of oysters.
“i’ll have a dozen oysters and a bottle of a local white wine. whatever you recommend that is reasonably priced,” i instructed politely. dave placed a large order of sushi and we elected to share. the rest of the establishment was empty, so it was only a short time before our food arrived. as we feasted, we couldn’t help but listen in and appreciate the 3 locals at the bar who were extremely drunk. i couldn’t help myself as i listened to their clumsy conversation, bouncing back and forth between croatian and english, slobbering and stumbling every step of the way. there were two men and one woman, all three of them were tall. they kept ripping through bottle after bottle of wine, and the restaurant owner tried to dissuade them from ordering more, but they persisted. at one point, one of the men fell off of his stool and flat onto the stone floor, where he lay unconscious. it wasn’t a violent fall, more of a slow slump, so when his friends began laughing at him raucously, i couldn’t help myself and began laughing as well. the owner looked at them disapprovingly, embarrassed that they were causing such a scene, but when he looked over to see david and me laughing appreciatively, he smiled in relief. the woman stumbled over to us while the man woke his friend up and encouraged him to drink more.
“where y’ from?” she managed to blurt out.
“the US,” i replied with a smile. she turned around and motioned to the owner.
“shots! rakija! for our american friends!” she demanded, not out of rudeness, but more out of the brain’s necessity to focus solely on essential words after speaking becomes a labor and politeness and prepositions become an afterthought. the owner brought around some shotglasses and poured 4 shots of a clear liquid.
“what is this?” i asked curiously.
“rakija. a croatian brandy made from fruit” the owner informed me. okay, here we go, i thought to myself, trying to prepare for what might turn into an all-out binge.
“Živjeli!” said the locals, and we knocked the shot back. for about .5 seconds, everything was fine. suddenly a wave of disorienting aromatic sweet and sour tingling came rushing up my esophagus and down the inside of my nose. the sides of my tongue began throbbing with a strong cherry tart flavor. the croatians all began laughing as dave and i attempted to recover and salvage some dignity. i actually liked the rakija, but i prayed to god they weren’t going to offer me anymore. i didn’t want to binge drink tonight, i wanted to a restful sleep. luckily the drunk woman slapped dave on the back and laughed heartily, then returned to her drunk friends and eventually left.
the owner explained to us that they had all been friends since primary school, and that typically in the tourist off-season (december, january) the city is completely empty, so the locals
will often times to go the places they don’t normally go when they are crowded with tourists. we informed him we weren’t bothered at all by drunkenness, if anything it made the otherwise quiet night more enjoyable. i then began asking the owner about his life in dubrovnik. there were no other customers in the restaurant, so the owner pulled up a chair and poured himself a glass of wine. he began to tell us about how beautiful the summers were and how wonderful croatian people were. we began to drift backward in time, i started asking questions about the war in the 90s, unsure if he would be willing to talk about it with us. after a little hesitance, he started sharing openly, telling us that he had been in this very building as a child when the first bombs had hit the walls of the city, fired by serbia. dave and i listened with wide eyes as he recounted the horrors of the war, and we smiled with him when he
spoke proudly of how the thick and sturdy walls withstood every shell and missile fired, never collapsing or failing. he admitted that shells had obviously hit inside the city,
and he informed us that if we walked enough within the right areas of the city, we would still see the craters and demolished buildings. we asked him how things had changed over the years, and we asked him about current relations with serbians. he admitted that he had a difficult time accepting serbians because of the atrocities that he had witnessed and the friends and family that he had lost at their hands in the war. as he shared with us, i found myself minorly shocked about how different his childhood was from mine. we were roughly the same age, i had been through my own tragedies and warzones (i grew up in gangland southern california during the early 90s race riots. those were fun), but nothing like what this man had seen. his city had been bombed by another
neighboring country, and had undergone a horribly pointless war for 3 years, simply because his countrymen had wanted independence from the mess of socialist yugoslavia. i felt fortunate that i had never had to experience something so conflicting and awful. but i also was appreciative of this man’s willingness to share with us openly about his experiences. at the end of the night we thanked him and went on our way.
the next morning we arose early and elected to pay a few euros to walk up onto the city walls and walk the perimeter of the whole city. it was a beautiful, blue sky day, without a cloud in the sky, and the sun shone brightly over the sea on the other side of the castle walls.
old dubrovnik was quite a sight indeed. the walls alone were incredibly impressive, standing 80 feet at its tallest and 20 feet at its thickest, i tried my best to imagine just how difficult it would be to build fortified walls like that. how many layers of stone blocks is that?!? the modern walls that you see now were initially built starting in the 12th century, and is considered to be the greatest defensive fortification of the middle ages, as the walls have never
been breached in open combat. i gawked at every new angle i could find from atop the walls, looking down the outside from the top edge, appreciating the way the walls sloped down and out, wider at the base to protect from any lean or tipping. the city had also done a great job of staying updated with the times, as the defensive purposes had not been necessary in almost 20 years, so the cosmetic work that had gone into preserving and beautifying the city and it’s famous walls had been extensive, and the work had been effective. dubrovnik was perhaps one of the most uniquely beautiful places i’d ever been in my entire life.
as we completed our lap around the city, i found a tower in the northern corner of the walled city, what looked to be the most strategic defensive position of the city with the best view of the entire city. i climbed to the top and looked out the tiny window, surveying the man-made wonder around me, paired with the natural beauty of the mediterranean sea just beyond the city walls. directly below of the tower i was in was an elevated basketball court with high fences and a great view that a group of young boys were playing in. after watching them for a few minutes i decided that they were playing basketball on the best court in the entire world. no nba court in the US could compare with the beautiful simplicity and unique backdrop that these young croatians had.
“hey man, we should get a move on if we want to make it to make it into montenegro before dark.” dave had caught up to me. i descended the tower and we exited the great walls of the city. i would definitely be back some day.
this week’s musical selection is actually not a new song, but it’s new to me and i can’t stop nodding my head to it, so i’m sharing it with you. hailing from tacoma, washington, motopony’s song “seer” sports a dirty little acoustic guitar riff as the spine, and a solid rock n’ roll backing that builds an anthem with muddy pianos and guitars, a soaring organ, and quirky vocals that give just enough bite to keep you wanting more. enjoy…
and for those following along on spotify…
i took a break from writing last week to write and record a brand new song. the inspiration came when i was finishing up my video on italy and youtube wouldn’t let me use a Tweedy song for the soundtrack due to copyright infringement. they tried to force me to use some mediocre royalty-free songs which i hated, so instead i used my own music, and then i immediately turned around and wrote this. i hope you like it, it’s a bit of a departure from the folky stuff i normally write. if you’d like to use this for a video project or something you’re doing, just contact me and i will send you the file for free. enjoy…
this is my final post on italy. it was one of those places that i knew i needed to go, but wouldn’t be surprised if i found it overrated. i didn’t. it surprised me with every new location i explored, and i truly did wish that i could have stayed there a lot longer. but i will be back. someday i will explore the southern half, and i’m sure that it will sweep me off my feet just like the northern half did. i have one more fun little story about rome below, but before you read that, enjoy this little video i put together of my time in italy with my good friend dave. also, one last special note. this is the first time one of my videos features music actually written by me (the first half). let me know what you think…
i woke up the next morning a little hazy and thick in the head. there was definitely a point in the night where ceasing to drink would have been wise, it was probably right around the time dave had ordered a pitcher of long island iced tea, but we had breezed straight through that and now i was suffering the consequences.
we only had a few hours to kill before our flight to croatia, so i woke dave up and we groggily walked nearby to the colosseum. we had only passed by it at night previously, and now that i had a little time, i wanted to see inside. i initially balked at the ticket prices, but once i realized i could also get into the roman forum with the same ticket, i handed over the cash and we sprinted inside, hopeful that we had enough time to see both historical attractions. Continue reading false farewells in rome
we pulled into a gravel lot adjoining a bed & breakfast in the small town of chianti in the region of tuscany just as dusk was setting in. we had rented a car in florence and i had eagerly taken to the narrow, winding roads of the italian countryside, whipping our tiny black fiat to and fro, this way and that, far exceeding the speed limits and making my copilot, dave, nervous on more than one occasion. periodically i would feel guilty, but those feelings usually only lasted as long as the next adrenaline rush.
we checked into the bed and breakfast, a charmingly decorated place called the hotel salivolpi. it had a style i could never replicate in my own home even if i had stolen all the furniture and accoutrements straight from the lobby. the woman operating the place appeared to be the owner/operator, and she had a kind but direct and efficient manner about her. i inquired if anyone else happened to be staying at the b&b, aware that it was christmastime, and was semi-disappointed when she informed us there was only one other couple, newlyweds, at the inn. i then laughed to myself when i began to pick up on the fact that she believed that dave and i were some sort of granola-y, bearded gay couple looking for a romantic getaway in quiet tuscany. this amused me, and i did nothing to dispel her assumptions. i don’t think dave had picked up on it, but once we got settled into the single-king-bed room that we were sharing, i told him and we had a good laugh over it. Continue reading sleepwalking from tuscany to rome
i had been in genoa for a couple days doing nothing when i finally received an email from dave, written in a brief and rushed manner:
“finally got rebooked. boarding now from germany, see you in a couple hours.”
a few hours later i was wandering around the empty streets of genoa trying to find my friend dave before he got too lost and i couldn’t find him. i rounded a corner and saw him standing underneath the facade of a large university building, squinting at the signs in italian, searching for any kind of english or guidance as to where he should be going.
“need some help, gringo?!” i called out as i approached. he spun around and looked at me and burst into laughter. i gave him a big hug, grabbed his bag and walked him to the hostel, where the hostel manager, a thin, lively man named carlo, was giving a few of the guests a little lesson on how to prepare noodles in italy. we got dave checked in and situated in the dorm room and hurried back down to be a part of the action. Continue reading a reunion in the ghost towns of cinque terre, italy
i arrived in florence the next afternoon amid a contemplative daze. so many questions about my past and my future had been raised, and it was too easy to take the bait and wander down tangents of useless what-ifs and might-haves. i wanted to sit down, focus, lock myself in a room somewhere and hash everything out like it was some kind of math problem, but i was old enough to know now that this was not how it works. there was no quadratic equation to one’s problems or happiness. there was only awareness and progress, and every life, no matter how short or long, was just a process of evolution or devolution. i needed to focus on the present and keep moving. besides, i had exited the train and wandered directionless while my thoughts had run free in an oblivious daydream. now i had no idea where i was.
i was indeed in florence, one of the artistic and cultural icons of the world, home to the powerful medici family (so powerful they were able to get two of their family members to be elected pope), birthplace of the italian rennaissance, and home of such historic titans like machiavelli, the poet dante, galileo, michaelangelo, raphael, donatello, leonardo da vinci, and master splinter (ninja turtle joke ftw!!!!). as soon as i was paying attention again, it didn’t take long for the ghosts of greatness to begin lingering in every shadow and corner of this magnificent city. Continue reading an existential crisis in florence, italy
i arrived in venice rejuvenated. the peace and solitude of nice in the winter time had been exactly what i needed, and now i entered italy with a vigor and excitement. but i also spent a lot of time reflecting in the french riviera, and i was now even more aware of the effects the journey was having on me. i was more in tune with my reactions and emotions, and rather than shy away from the “why” of things, i was now embracing and dissecting it all. i was more open to experiences and people, and less intent on “conquering” locations and checking off list items, and more content to patiently absorb. i was indeed slowing down, but it wasn’t a bad thing.
i collected my pack at baggage claim and took a bus across the bridge and into venice. a thick, damp fog had descended from the dolomite mountains down to the floating city, limiting my visibility and relegating me to watching the raindrops collect and race each other from one side of my bus window to the other. when the bus pulled in, new instincts kicked in as i oriented myself directionally and then crossed east over a bridge and into the heart of venice.
i was confused and startled as i crossed the bridge. the wet haze from the fog was beginning to clear and separate, revealing a strange, snaking system of Continue reading solitude and self-discovery in venice, italy
my plane landed in marseilles and i quickly found the train station and boarded the train to nice. i was still a little on edge from the morning’s events in tangiers, morocco, so i didn’t really enjoy the train ride or its scenery, unfortunately. but it was only a matter of time before the delicate side to side rock and roll of the train lulled me into a fast asleep. i awoke only minutes before the train pulled into the station.
i exited and hoped it wouldn’t be too long before my friends had found me. i was tired of being on edge and i was tired of not being able to trust people. the morocco medinas had worn me out. i stepped out into the terminal and walked a few feet. i didn’t see my friends, but something else had momentarily captured my attention. nothing. people rushed around me, hurriedly trying to catch another train or grab a cab, music played softly overhead, and people navigated on autopilot while interacting with their cellphones. but no one cared that i was there. i may as well have been a garbage can, merely an obstacle to avoid, an object to tolerate but pay no mind to. no one was trying to sell me anything, no one in my face demanding that i purchase some item that i likely had no use for, no opportunistic agents persuading me to follow them down some darkened alley to a “hotel” i had no desire to stay at. i was completely anonymous, and not a single soul around me gave one ounce of a damn about me. i breathed a sigh of relief. i’d never been so happy to be among the french.
a few minutes later Continue reading seeking refuge in nice, france.