Category Archives: great britain

winter is passing

diversion end

i’m sitting here in the london airport, 4 hours early for my connecting flight to new york, coming from scotland this morning.  my trip as it stands in this segment, is effectively done.  i am leaving the continent that i began this soul search on, where i began to learn so much about myself, and the way the real world actually is when it’s not being experienced from behind a desk and a salary.  i’m leaving, and i’m not entirely sure why, or if i’ve even accomplished anything at all.  i know that i achieved the simple, surface level goals that i had set for myself before i set out. ultimately meaningless goals like time (i wanted to make it 2 months of wandering before coming back – i assumed i wouldn’t even make it that long.  when all is said and done, i’ll have been just a week shy of 5 months) abroad and an idea that i could land somewhere without a plan and survive, these things seemed like big challenges to conquer at the time, but now in retrospect they seem so… sophomoric.  and this is only because they stand in the shadow of the greater, looming challenge of “what next?”

i’ve been self-indulgently telling my own story for 5 months now, basically when i first set foot on this path, initially not knowing exactly why i wanted to tell my own story for any reason other than self-documentation.  so that i could have a time capsule that i could look back to someday later in my life and remember this one incredible, beautiful, outrageous, dangerous, chaotic, colorful thing that i did with my life that prevented it from being a total waste.  so that i could see and know exactly the lessons i learned and grew from and not forget them.  the writing gave me purpose, and it became the only stable thing in my life.  while everything about my life was scrambled into a mess of vagabonding and wandering, itinerary-less adventuring and an existence devoid of accountability and responsibility, i formed a routine with the writing, giving myself deadlines and outlining topics and ideas and coining my own terms and saving them for later use in future posts.  i generated motivation by telling myself that “my readers need something new,” and that if i didn’t get something out there regularly, people would stop reading.  the obvious irony here is that i didn’t have any readers, other than my mom (hi mom.  thanks for reading). i wanted to feel like what i was doing was important, even if it wasn’t really helping anybody other than myself, so i constructed an imaginary world around my travels and worked as hard as i could to play into the fantasy.  things that brought me down or discouraged me, i ignored.  i remember eagerly checking my site statistics to see how many hits i had gotten on my first few posts, and being disappointed at how minuscule the traffic i was getting.  so i stopped checking (now my traffic has grown to a modest 1,000 hits per month, and i’ve done nothing to advertise or monetize it other than just post weekly updates on my personal facebook wall.  thanks to you all for sharing the posts with your facebook friends.  it really is flattering and greatly appreciated.  please keep doing it!).  i only focused on things i could actually do something about, which was traveling and writing.  so i traveled more and i wrote more.  i got criticized by “friends” on my own facebook and nstagram posts, so i removed those people from my contacts and my life, trying to prevent their negativity from poisoning my desire to create. the writing became the gasoline in the engine, and i did almost anything i could to protect that.

and explore, i did.  while the blog content is about 2 months slower than reality, if you follow my instagram handle, (wePhilistines) you’ve seen what i’ve been doing.

i’ve been wandering. truly. just enjoying the peace of mind of having no ultimate destination and no definite purpose or itinerary.  a friend i made on this journey asked me a few weeks ago “so what are you going to do once you’re done?  you’ve had like 5 months to think about it.”  to which i replied, “i’ve had 5 months to not think about it.”

and now, here i sit.  in an airport waiting to return home, writing a very tarantino-esque-out-of-order ending to a story that i hope hasn’t ended.  i still have over 2 months and 10 countries more to cover on this blog (so don’t worry, i still have lots of stories to share), but i am now stuck in a weird, parallel purgatory where i’m retelling the past, looking blankly into the future, and standing paralyzed in the present.  one foot forward and one foot back, i don’t know where I’m supposed to be at the moment, or where i’m going, and i know i can’t live in the past.  i’m not sure exactly how i’ve changed, other than the obvious things like having a beard longer than it’s ever been and a newfound ability to sleep anywhere.  but somehow i know that i’ve changed.

epic beard
i’ll need a landscaper to help me get rid of this mess.

i’m not the same.  in ways i can’t clearly define yet, i have noticed that i don’t talk to people the same way anymore.  i don’t look at the world with the same cynicism i used to (i’m still cynical, just a less negatively dismissive version of it).  i’m more curious about the world. i don’t endeavor to prove something to it like i used to, and now i’m more content to just be in it. i don’t have an intention to impress people any longer, a desire to control others’ opinions or regard of me by showing them how interesting or accomplished or knowledgeable i am, and instead i am now confident to just sit back and take things as they come, (relatively) free from worry about being viewed as attractive or talented or desirable.

and therein lies the crux of my fears.  in the midst of the metamorphosis, amidst all these positive things i’ve begun to learn and develop in, i am now stepping onto a plane to take me back to everything i left behind, everything i ran away from.  some people are happy when they return from a long journey, happy to see the people they’ve missed, happy to eat the food they’re used to, happy to sleep in their own beds, and happy to return to the life they put on pause when they stepped away.  i can’t say that i’m exactly “happy” to return to the life i left behind.  to be sure, i’m looking forward to seeing all my friends and family whom i’ve missed dearly, and i’m looking forward to sleeping in my bed, and i’m REALLY looking forward to having some new york pepperoni pizza when i step off that plane for a short visit to the city (sorry, but nobody makes it as good as new york.  and it’s not even close), but i’m scared of falling back into the rhythm of complacency and materialism and safety that had taken control of my life.  i’m scared of falling into the same bad habits that got me into that rut, i’m scared of living an unremarkable and risk-free monotonous life, and i’m okay with admitting to myself that i don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when i get back.

but i do have ideas and hopes.  they are longer term ideas and shorter term solutions, with a few world-weary wisdoms to keep me at least semi-confident that i can survive just about anything that life can throw at me now.  much of that involves creating.  creating music and creating videos and getting better at photography and writing.  always writing, never stopping.  i refuse to ever allow my creative muscles atrophy again the way i did before i took this trip.  so don’t worry friends, the story lines continue, though the timeliness may be off.  i will continue writing and capturing, creating and sharing, and i will keep you informed of all of it.  i’ll be back home in denver next week, if you’d like to get a coffee or go snowboarding or just walk around the park and hang out, just reach out.  I know the key to preserving these new perspectives i’ve gained is to remain open, waiting for the world to extend itself, and for me to respond in kind.

i’ll pick up the story next week where we left off in austria, headed for breathtaking switzerland, where i met some people with amazing life stories, and even found myself guiding a little expedition of other tourists into the wilderness surrounding the matterhorn.  i think you’ll enjoy it.  i also promised another playlist to you guys which i did not post last weekend because i was wandering the scottish highlands and did not have a reliable wifi signal.  so i will post that this weekend with a brief write-up of the songs.  i think you’ll enjoy it as well.

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for today’s musical magic i have a song i’ve been saving for… well basically since the trip started.  i don’t know what it is specifically, but this song by australian duo “luluc” gives me a peace that i can’t quite describe, and given the subject matter of today’s post, it’s a peace that is desperately needed.  the title “winter is passing” has a special significance for me, considering the season of life i am in at the moment, so i find it very a-propos.  the entire album, “passerby” is fantastic, and full of subdued delicate beauty that you can leave on for hours on repeat without getting tired.  i suggest a spin or two.  enjoy…

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for godsakes, just take the tube…

noon on the thames, londonLondon went by quickly.  I really only had 3 days to spend in the city, as my first and last days were spent traveling.  I elected to take the tube as little as possible and try and walk everywhere. The thought was that I would see more of the city above ground than below, and this would really enable me to see what London was all about.  I don’t know why I fall in love with these romanticized ideas sometimes, but this plan proved less fruitful for my intentions and more painful for my legs. I walked so much that I couldn’t enjoy the sights as much because I was too busy compensating for the pain in my feet.

I don’t know why, but I hiked long 15 mile hikes in Iceland and my feet hurt less than this. I think it was because I was now navigating a concrete jungle, and since there was no real climbing or ascending, the muscles I was using were pretty limited.  Nevertheless, I soldiered on with the plan and set about exploring.

Unfortunately I made a very bad decision early on.  My second night, I decided to participate in a pub crawl organized by my hostel.  I figured it would be a good opportunity to meet some other travelers, go to some local pubs, and hopefully meet some local people.  I was wrong.  I met a fellow friendly American early on in the night and we had elected to stick together and be “wingmen” on the night.  We would help each other meet women.

Here’s why this was a bad decision:  this isn’t really why I came to Europe, mindlessly partying my ass off. Certainly I would not be upset in the slightest if I met some mysterious female from another country that swept me head over heels and convinced me never to return to the US, but going out “hunting” while I debaucherously imbibe drink after drink and carelessly attempt to meet some floozie over the obnoxiously loud music and ridiculous behavior of a bunch of drunks is certainly not an elegant or intelligent way to invest one’s time abroad.

I woke up the next morning, nursing a hangover and a marginal amount of shame that I had thrown away a night on irresponsible behavior with nothing redeemable to show for it.  I hadn’t met any cool locals, I didn’t have a feeling that I had really had a cultural experience, and I had probably spent a lot of money.  I had basically had a normal night in los angeles.  Which is why I moved to Denver.  Oh well, what the hell.  Old habits die hard.

I got up around noon and decided to be productive, I found a place called “the juice well” in soho and got a fantastic smoothie and decided to walk down to the thames river to see big ben, the house of parliament, the palace, and everything else I could find down there.  And luckily, right before I left, I checked my email and noticed that I had an email from andy, a Briton that I had met earlier in the year when I was in peru.  He wanted to meet for a pint after he got off work. Excellent.  I could make up for last night by actually hanging out with a local.

london street vendor

I met andy after I had settled into a hostel in the middle of the desert in central peru. I was hours from anything. There was an ocean and sand dunes, so you had to really be adventurous if you wanted to have fun out there, and I made the most of it. The hostel was an absolute dive, the room that my stepbrother and I stayed in was literally 4 sheetrock walls and no roof with 2 beds (thank god it never rained out there in the desert), and you could tell that not very many people stayed at this place on purpose.  The town was paracas, and it was clearly a place that you stop on your way to somewhere else if you haven’t budgeted the proper amount of time to get there.  One of the nights andy and his girlfriend lou had been hanging out in the front lobby at night and I had wanted to make some traveler friends, so I took my laptop and made my way to a table and started editing video, hoping that I could get into a conversation.  That night there were a group of rowdy Brazilians whom had brought their own alcohol and wanted to party.  They came into the lobby and were hoping to recruit some followers, but they were met with harsh looks and annoyed responses.  They weren’t welcome among this crowd.

It was actually amazing, because you could see something slowly and then quickly happen to the room.  There were the two brits, then the two americans (stepbrother gert and myself), then a nice swiss couple, a quiet, intimidating german girl, a canadienne, an Argentinian, and I think one or two other forgettable europeans. Every single person in the room had seen this scene unfold before.  The obnoxious partiers come in and take over the atmosphere and the quiet vibe that you had going becomes lost and you have to retreat to your dorm room for peace in quiet (where you’re likely just greeted with some snoring instead. Not sure what’s worse). But this time, slowly each person in this room realized that they were in fact the majority this time, and that if we banded together we could scare them away.  And scare them we did.  And after they left, a few of us started laughing and talking, and before you knew it, the whole room of people was trading stories and friendly conversation.

If you’ve read previous posts of mine, you know that I am particularly drawn to these types of magical  interactions.

Andy and Lou’s story was the most fascinating. Andy had grown to dislike his job and was a little disenfranchised.  He needed change, but somewhat luckily enough for him, the employment had come to an end and he had a modest severance package.  He and Lou could consider buying a home together (or similar) or they could do something crazy and go backpack south America for 7 months.  They chose the latter.  Andy’s story would eventually be one of my sources of inspiration for my own journey.

I met andy near “monument,” near the financial district. I showed up about 10 minutes late but he didn’t say anything of it.  We shouldered our way up to the bar and ordered a pint.

Two things I’ve noticed about the drinking culture here:

  • Irony: you travel halfway around the world and resolve to try for the most authentic local experience you can, and you immediately see that half the beers on tap are from Colorado. Go figure
  • This is a true drinking culture. I thought coloradans liked to drink, but they could learn a thing or two from Londoners. A Briton gets off work and goes straight to a pub. Not like a pub in the US.  I mean a pub. They serve beer there and that’s it. No food (or if they do it’s just fish & chips or similar variations), hardly any seating, and you’d have to search to find cocktails behind the bar.  Not only that, these places are ALL PACKED. The patrons are all spilling out into the streets (something you can’t do in the US typically), just hanging around with a pint in their hand, talking away.  All of them. The entire city is at the pub every day from 5pm – 9pm.  And then everything SHUTS DOWN.  Every bar in the city is closed by 11 during the week. It’s crazy.

nights at the london pub

Andy is another one of those individuals that’s “in tune.”  He is a genuinely good person, with good humor and a good nature, and he cares about important things, and he has good perspective.  He works for a nonprofit.  Lou is an artist of some sort, I’m not really sure, just from what I can derive from her facebook posts of cool fashion shows or music events.  They’re the kind of people you want in your life because they bring color and substance to it and they don’t just regurgitate things they’ve heard on the tv.

Andy and I joked about all manner of things before eventually starting into a more serious conversation about life and adjusting after a major journey like he’d gone on, and the one that I was on right now.  We talked about the difference between Americans and Britons, we shared ideas and observations all across the board.  One of the interesting theories that he shared is that he thinks that americans tend to obsess more about their sense of identity and purpose and meaning in life than brits.  He said that brits tend to not worry about those types of things so much, whereas americans can’t not think about it sometimes.  A fascinating theory, and I jokingly told him he had me pegged.

We talked about the narcissism that is seemingly being driven by social media, that digital connection is luring people into a hibernation that prevents authentic interaction and exploration and curiosity.  We then laughed at the irony of meeting previously in the middle of some random desert and then connecting on facebook, and now nine months later we are criticizing the very medium that made this interaction even possible.

Eventually we parted ways, but not before I realized that andy had saved my London trip.  Outside of that meeting, I felt incredibly lonely during my time in London, even with so much history and culture.  I really struggled to find meaningful connection with people amongst so many options and opportunities. Every passerby was a potential new friend, but I couldn’t break through.  I began trying to make eye contact with everyone on the street, but everyone was too busy commuting or being on their mobile phone.  Even in the pubs, people were busily chatting in their cliques.  I couldn’t get in.

This isn’t a knock on the Londoner culture, but more a realization of modern technology and also of the timing and brevity of my visit.  I realize I was only there for 4 nights and I was there during the week, not on the weekend.  Luckily I likely will return there before I return to the states, so my travels in the UK are not over.  but andy gave me a window to experience and connect in the way that i wanted to.  i didn’t just want to be a tourist, and he helped me escape that.

oh, and one sidenote, andy recommended a fantastic museum that i will pass on to you:  the john soane house.  john soane is one of the chief architects of london, and his influence is widespread and obvious once your eyes are open to it.  for example, he designed the red telephone booths that you see all over london.  this museum is actually just his house, and it is a fantastical building.  known as the master of architectural space and light, soane specialized in efficiently managing small spaces with taste and style, and it is very evident in the way he designed his home.  no space is wasted, and he also has a very eclectic and eccentric art collection.  and it’s a free museum.  trust me, it’s worth your time.

and lastly, you’re noise pollution for the weekend…

minding the gap: welcome to london

My final reflections on Iceland I think were pretty obvious.  A magical place of outdoor wonder and beauty beyond compare.  A place with colder temperatures but warmer experiences, it sometimes felt like i may as well have been walking on the moon. I often felt that the Icelandic culture had a quirky sense of humor, but it was not always easily detectable, as the personalities of the local people I met were usually reserved and on an “even keel.”  This could probably be misinterpreted by travelers as “cold” or “unwelcoming,” but I don’t think that is the case.  I think the culture is just a little more straightforward and practical than what an American might be used to.  Their sense of humor is quirky and playful, if you can get to that level of comfort with a local.  The food wasn’t always mindblowing, but I never had a meal that made me lose my appetite.  Plus, you don’t go to Iceland for the food.  You go there to get outside, to see breathtaking spectacles of natural, untouched, ever-changing elemental earth.  I met quite a few people in Reykjavik who had 3 or 4 day weekends in Iceland planned with no intention of venturing outdoors and were content to just explore the city.  If this could be you, let me save you the trouble: don’t bother.  You will be doing Iceland wrong.  Bring a pair of hiking boots and at least take a guided bus tour of the “golden circle,” which takes you around the pingvellir park, the famous geyser, and beautiful waterfall gullfoss.  Even if you’re not outdoorsy, you can handle this 5 hour loop by bus with minimal physical activity.  Trust me.  Also, sack up and stop being such a baby.  Learn to go outside and appreciate the world you live in!

here are a couple final pics from iceland, taken by a writer/photographer friend i made on the eyjafjallajökull volcano hike, named jonathan vandevoorde.  a very talented and fun guy to hike with, and very knowledgeable about getting outside and back into the wild…

2014_IJsland_099 courtesy of jonathan vandevoorde

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London would prove to be an entirely different beast. I think it definitely tested my resolve and emotions in different ways, especially because it would prove to be the polar opposite of Iceland for me in experience.

When I arrived in London, I was a little weary, but I still had a lot of excitement built up.  I had always been interested in the history of this great city and had always wanted to visit. I landed at heathrow, collected my bag, breezed thru customs and then began stumbling around trying to figure out how to locate the correct subway train, colloquially known as “the tube,” to get to my hostel.  I am supremely convinced that new york has the most chaotic and difficult subway system (but also the most useful when you consider how many people it services each day and how effective it is) in the world, so I felt confident that if I could figure out that one, I could figure out London’s. I purchased my ticket and wandered around a few tunnels before finding the appropriate platform to board my train.  I had around 20 minutes to wonder what to expect and hope to god that I could wander aimlessly to find my room in the soho neighborhood.  Unfortunately this time I was navigating completely blindly; I had no map, no gps, no navigation, and only a vague memory of the google map I had tried to commit to memory before my flight left from Iceland.

The longer I rode the train, the more I began to worry about how I was actually going to find my hostel.  It was getting late.  It was now 10pm, and while London isn’t exactly Iraq, there most certainly are areas you don’t want to be stuck in after dark.  And I didn’t know how to avoid them. Furthermore, I didn’t even know what stop I needed to exit on.  I had simply guessed when I was looking at the map, but once on the train, I realized it wasn’t that simple.  I didn’t know the directions from any of the 5 train stations that were seemingly equidistant to my hostel, and to get to all of them I would need to switch train lines.  I didn’t know if that meant I would have to buy another train ticket, but I wasn’t interested in paying more so I resolved to just get off at the next stop and find my way on foot.

i started off on my obstinate pace and immediately walked down the wrong tunnel, going the wrong way to exit. great start.  i turned around and decided to just follow everyone else.  as i was laughing at the irony of finally being back in a country where I spoke the language, and still not being able to get around adequately, i had been slowly ascending the stairs when I was met with a blinding light that knocked me back, honestly putting me off balance on the stairs with my heavy backpack eagerly trying to drag me end over end back down the flight of stairs.  I regained my footing and looked back up:  I had just exited at the Piccadilly circus station in the middle of what I could compare to times square in nyc.  Bright lights, theaters with rolling marquees, people hustling and bustling by, I had randomly chosen to exit the train at seemingly one of the busiest intersections in London.  Welcome to England, brandon.

I wandered and wandered, no longer caring about whether or not I was going to find my hostel.  I was too busy staring at the lights.  Watching the frenzied pace at which people were scurrying down the streets, in a rush to get to or from somewhere, phone in hand and held high enough to be able to read their facebook notifications and simultaneously use their periphery to prevent themselves from an introduction with a pole or telephone booth (yep, there’s still plenty of red telephone booths around London. very cool) or oncoming car. it was actually quite impressive. Not that I was envious. i listened to all the conversations around me in 3 second increments, picking up whatever I could before the person passed me and the story was gone forever. But the dialect, the british accent, made everything sound so much more elegant. Everything seemed more interesting, no matter how mundane the tidbits of conversation I could pick up were.

Eventually, after a couple hours of stumbling aimlessly, my pack was getting heavy and my shoulders beginning to hurt.  I asked a couple for directions and eventually settled down in my new home for the next 4 nights.