Tag Archives: backpacker

a winter wander in plitvice, croatia

it was dark, and we hadn’t seen a street sign, a building, even a streetlamp in over an hour. we had seen nary a clue that we were even traveling in the right direction, but had seen no other roads headed in this direction on the map, so we pressed on faithfully into the night, expecting any minute to find a sign.  

the roads toward the interior of croatia were much smaller and more narrow than the decidedly more oft-traveled corridor of the adriatic coastline, thusly making it more difficult for me to progress toward my destinations at the breakneck (and slightly illegal) pace that i had grown accustomed to in rural europe.  despite my frustration, i found a silver lining in the intricacies of the winding country roads, and the fun that came with the need to test my maneuvering skills at a high degree of mastery. dave, on the other hand, didn’t share my navigational enthusiasm.  

whitewalkereventually we found the turnoff we had been looking for and made our way through a tiny town with few amenities or notable attractions.  a light snow was now falling and the ground had accumulated a sheer white layer, making it almost difficult to look directly at with the bright headlights of the car beaming directly onto it.  i approached each turn with a degree of caution, conscious of the fact that i had turned down the rental company on their offer of all-weather tires only a week ago.  

dave guided us to a house, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, that he had found on airbnb.  as we pulled into the designated parking space, i humorously remarked,
“…and this is how it ends.  in the pit of some croatian farmer’s barn, never to be seen again.”  dave laughed and exited the vehicle, walking into the house of the property owner to handle the check-in duties while i gathered the bags.  a few minutes later we were claiming beds in our apartment for the night and unwinding from a long day of driving.

@davegurley can't figure out how to use his bed at this B&B… #YoureDoingItWrong

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it was a homely little apartment, but it was just what we needed. it was quaint and quiet, and removed from any hustle or bustle of a normal city.  very different from the place we had stayed the night before in the oceanside town of zadar.  a self-proclaimed “design hostel,” it was clean and minimalist with eccentric aesthetics.  we were the only ones staying in a place that had capacity for at least 80, and our shared-bunk dorm felt like a sick mix between a hospital and a room from charlie’s chocolate factory.  tall ceilings, narrow spaces, the walls were candy-striped with disturbingly contrasted orange and white and the bunks had stiff shutters that could close off from the outside world, allowing the sleeper to create a cocoon.  i wondered if i had missed the part where they assigned me a straightjacket before locking me in the room.  

zadar, croatia
zadar at night

zadar had actually been a pleasant surprise, and i had found myself wishing that i’d been able to stay there longer than the twelve hours i gave it, especially if i could come back some day in the summer.  that

sea organ zadar, croatia
the sea organ

evening, as i walked along the harbor admiring the sunset, i stumbled upon the Morske orgulje, or “sea organ,” an architectural object and experimental musical instrument that produces sound through a series of pipes inset the marble ground i walked upon, powered by the waves of the ocean that brushed up against the side of the marble and into the pipes, pushing air out and producing the unpredictable chorus.  it was truly one of the most uniquely creative things that i had seen on my travels, and also one of the most unexpected.

after a few minutes of unwinding, a knock at the door sounded.  it was the daughter of the property owner with a gift:  homemade rakija.  dave and i both expressed our deep gratitude and accepted the gift, but when we closed the door, we exchanged more knowing glances.

“oh man.  good thing they only gave us these small glasses, this stuff smells stronger than the cherry stuff we had the other night,” dave warned cautiously.

“it is!” i spat out as i coughed down my first sip.  “way stronger!  i think this is peach flavor too.”  we did our best to finish the drink (which i estimate to have been about 2.5 shots worth of alcohol), but neither of us could make it all the way through.  apparently this was the old man’s special recipe, and he distilled it right there on property.  impressive, but not for the faint of heart.

the next morning we arose early and set out to find plitvice lakes national park.  after a 20 minute drive, the windy snow-covered road led us to a parking lot that seemed out of place with the rest of landscape that we had grown accustomed to seeing.  we deduced that this must be the place.

following an oddly unnecessary footbridge over to what appeared to be an empty visitor center,  a tourist bus pulled into the lot and parked while we attempted to figure out where to go and how to pay for whatever it was we were supposed to be seeing.  i laughed as 5 people got off the bus that could hold probably 50.  eventually we found a walking path and assumed that if there was a pay booth somewhere, clearly no one cared if we paid or it would have been more obviously located.  we started down the path perplexedly defiant.

bird's eyethree minutes later we were staring down a cliff surveying a wintery panorama of emerald blue rivers and lakes fed by icy white waterfalls.  i had never seen anything like it.  like a croatian iguazu, we had found a legitimate natural gem in the harsh balkan cold, and there was no one around to spoil our enjoyment of it.  dave and i excitedly bound down the switchbacks until we were at the water’s edge, walking on man-made wooden planked walkways across the water and staring up at the looming waterfalls.

the ice and frigidity of winter had obviously restricted the water flow, somewhat muting the normally powerful display of water in nature in this protected croatian landmark. but we knew we were getting to see a very different side of an oft-photographed sight, and the narnia-like effect that the white winter had on the place gave the atmosphere an eery yet striking touch that made me forget about the bitter cold and enjoy the moment.

dave and i separated for a while, wandering toward different parts of the park and periodically meeting back up in different areas to make sure we weren’t lost.  during that time, i tried to focus on being present, enjoying the moment and not worrying about the future or plitvice walking on waterthe past, or letting my mind wander too far along pointless reveries.  i was getting better at this.  i remembered back to the beginning of my journey, being a total mental mess, roundaboutworried about where i was going in my future, sad and victimized by my past, and always paranoid and conscious of the strangers around me and what they plitvice down in the valleythought of me.  rarely did i have these concerns any longer. occasionally i might be aware that i was out of place in a situation, or i might want to impress someone appropriately, but seldom did i have any social anxiety about my foreign status or my ragged appearance.  i just didn’t care anymore, and i felt liberated.  and nowhere more did that carefree comfort truly reveal itself than when i was
away from congested society and out into the raw of nature.  the worries of life and society seemed to fall by the wayside whenever i wandered a dirt trail among the trees and the rushing water and an unending sky. a light snow and fair breeze coerced the water gently from its course atop the cliff to the basin below, transforming a calm stream into a drifting cascade.  it was peaceful here, and i never wanted to leave.

dave and i reconvened aboard a ferry that carried us across the main lake and to a new section of the park for us to explore for a few more hours.  eventually the cold won out, however, and dave and i decided it best to seek warmer temperatures.

A duck relaxes comfortably in the frigid Croatian winter in Plitvice National Park.

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The next day we were on the road again, and before long we were slipping and sliding our way through the streets of zagreb, the capital city of croatia.  a heavy, wet snow had been falling for hours before we arrived, and still fell, as we searched for parking near our hostel.  we checked into yet another modern “design hostel,” impressively marked with comfortable yet minimalist furniture, modern decorative art, and clean lines throughout the architecture.  croatia knew how to put together a solid hostel.

we spent another pair of days exploring the old and new in a city that dates back at least a thousand years.  exploring old churches and cemeteries, and a few bars in between, zagreb seemed to be a large city without much of the draw that tourists journeyed to the adriatic coast for.  but there was charm in that.  it was a different side of croatia, more business-like, more straight to the point, and the unassuming nature of it put one at ease.  it was easy to go about your day and take the city in without feeling the pressure to make sure you had checked off all the necessary boxes to prove to yourself it had been worthwhile.

colorful rooftopsour time came to an end however, and dave and i said our goodbyes to croatia.  we rose early before the sun and city, and sped hurriedly to the airport.  in our early morning haze, we pulled up to the front gate of the departures section and began preparing to offload our luggage.  we both sat uncomfortably for a moment, not sure what was wrong.  suddenly, it hit me.

“damn!  this is a rental car!  where’s the rental office?!”  i exclaimed, suddenly wide awake.  dave looked back at me blankly.  panic set in, we were already likely late for an international flight, and we had forgotten to return our rental car.  

dave turned on his iphone, hoping he could locate the rental office nearby, while i pressed the gas pedal, determined to find it the old-fashioned way.  

cemetery walls“i don’t get it.  google maps says we’re on top of it,” dave said, perplexed.  we both looked around.  nothing.  i drove to the end of the airport road.  nothing but office buildings, no rental lots.  i turned around and went back to the entrance of the airport loop. dave kept poking at his phone screen with futility, much like he had the entirety of our time in the balkans.  google maps didn’t have as high an adoption rate here as it did the rest of europe and the US thus far, hence the wild inaccuracies we had experienced almost everywhere we had gone.  

little yellow houseafter a few minutes of driving around in a panic and yelling obscenities at dave’s iphone, i hooked my head left and searched east, across an empty field and down what appeared to just be a service road.  i whipped the car illegally across traffic and sped down the road without saying a word.  dave, recognizing that i was in one of my zones, said nothing and held on for dear life, trusting that i knew what i was doing.  i barreled into a parking lot and up to the front door of the europcar rental office.  dave stared at me incredulously.

zagreb cemetery“how did you see this?!” he exclaimed as we walked briskly to the door.  i didn’t answer, frustrated as i realized that no one was at the office yet.  someone was late to work.  annoyed, i repeatedly rang the bell and pounded on the door, unconcerned that no one could hear it.  

a few minutes later another car entered the lot and 2 men in ties rushed in to open the office.  embarrassed, he was aware that i knew he was late. i said nothing and noticed that he was working at a pace faster than what he normally might.  he processed our paperwork and drove us back to the departure gate.  dave and i grabbed our bags and sprinted through check-in and security, barely making our flight.  
as the plane climbed into the morning sky, i exhaled deeply, relieved.  dave began laughing, unprovoked, and it was only a matter of seconds before i was laughing with him.  

“i don’t ever want to fly with you again” i said jokingly, and our laughter grew even louder.

i would miss croatia. and bosnia and montenegro as well, and the mysteries of what lay beyond the boundaries that dave and i had pushed haunted me.  i would be back someday, to explore sarajevo, and bucharest, and albania, and macedonia. to sail from the northern tip of croatia all the way down to the southern isles of greece, when the summer sun beats down upon the blue sea and is cooled by the mist on the skin and the tradewinds blowing through the hair.  i would most definitely be back someday.

but now i returned to amsterdam, to celebrate the new year with the dutch, at the party of a lifetime.
keeping warm by Brandon Miquelon
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today’s song has been out for a few months now, but the more i listen to it, the more it becomes a part of me.  it’s called “dark bird is home,” and it’s by the tallest man on earth.  it’s a song about separation, and learning to grow and cope with change and loss.  this song makes me feel so many emotions when i hear it, and it has earned a place on my eternal rotation.  tallest man will be performing in denver, co this summer and i plan on attending.  feel free to join me.

a croatian christmas party, in split

we arrived in split in the middle of the night.  after a couple hours of getting lost in the dark of the midnight bosnian countryside, we had found a main highway that led us across the border into croatia.  dave had dozed off and i laid down on the accelerator, taking full advantage of the expansive and luxurious toll road highway cutting through the middle of croatia. periodically dave would stir awake, and i would bring the car back to a normal speed so he didn’t get nervous, but the second his eyes were closed, i had the machine back above 120 miles per hour.

despite the success of cultural exchange that had taken place in the restaurant between dave and the restaurant owner, i had been disappointed that i’d not been able to convince dave to stay longer in bosnia.  bosnia & herzegovina was some sort of wild frontier for me; a place i could attempt to get off the grid again and find some truly unique experiences, and maybe even push deeper. i had begun to realize there were so many cultures in the balkans that i knew next to nothing about, and now my interest was piqued.  but alas, now i was in split. and instead of being able to enjoy it, i was thinking of neighboring lands that seemed never further away than they suddenly did now, despite never having thought of them before that day.  to say that i didn’t partially hold a little silent resentment toward dave at the time would have been a lie, and for a couple days there was definitely a tension between us that i had created. Continue reading a croatian christmas party, in split

“why do you come to bosnia?”

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?”

new footsteps in old montenegro

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

okay, this is checkpoint charlie in berlin. this is not what the montenegro border control looks like.

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 10869887_10203450034919114_1000369602329276144_obig, 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.

IMG_6217as 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 IMG_6218had 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.

kotor at night“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.

DCIM100GOPRO“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. IMG_6208 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.

bay of kotor“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.

out on the balconythere 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 curious observermoment.  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.
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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…

a walk on the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

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 old man and the seathe 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 streets of dubrovnikhighway 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 spirescar, 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.

the streets of king's landing
the streets of king’s landing

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.

free parking“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.

terrace by the sea“i’ve seen you do some crazy things, but i think that was the most impressive.  how did you not wreck the car into that wall?!?!  you were going WAY too fast!”  he started laughing nervously.

“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 old dubrovnik town centreonline, 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.

croatian sushi“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 croatian winea 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.

ocean view“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.

farmers marketthe 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
a window with no barswill 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 collapsible courtyardsin 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 where is my mind?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
down broadwayneighboring 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.

tower guard davethe 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.

drive thruold 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 kings landinghow 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 dubrovnik lovefrom 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 basketball in dubrovnikbelow 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.

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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…

spain pt 2: barcelona; love, and its tempered disguise

arc de triomf

spain lulled me into siesta the next few days. i had been running around from place to place all over europe, and i was now struck with a travel fatigue.  my friend micah in denver had warned me of this.  he had told me there would come a point where i would just be tired.  tired from exploring, tired of searching for a place to sleep, tired of adapting to a new language with new customs, tired of figuring out what the “must-see” attractions are of a new place.  just…tired.  i was tired.

martín had told me that he had come back to barcelona to finish off his trip so that he could relax on the beach and do nothing for his last week in europe, and that is exactly what he did. every single day i would ask martín what he was doing and he would respond with a big goofy grin and say “oh man, eets reeeallyy nice outside, man.  i’m going to the beach!”  and so i went with him, in need of “throwaway days,” as i like to call them, where i had absolutely no expectations for myself.

after a few days in the city, i received an email from an old denver friend named amy.   Continue reading spain pt 2: barcelona; love, and its tempered disguise

happy bday to me: a look back at 31

on monday of this week, my clock turned the grand ol’ age of 32, so i am taking a break from the storytelling for one week to fast-forward to the future (present) and take a visual and mental look back at the last year.  it’s hard for someone introspective like me not to think too much about calendar items like birthdays, but each year i try to think differently about them, and this year, i obviously had a lot to think about.  31 was a big year for me.  those who know me well know that i’d had a pretty rough start to the year, after a couple of failed relationships (one for most of 2013, and then one for the first part of 2014) that hit me really hard back to back, paired with the realization that i had been miserable with my career for years and hadn’t even realized it til it was staring me in the face during a vacation to peru.  i was suddenly in a midlife crisis and a minor depression, and i’m not someone who struggles like that with anything.  and there i was, struggling with everything.

but that was the crux of the issue.  i’d spent so long telling myself Continue reading happy bday to me: a look back at 31

Music Monday Mix: The Bigger, Badder and Better Adventure Mixtape

IMG_1467

hey everybody, Viss here with your music monday mix, and this is an epic one.

anytime you go on an adventure, whether it is a day-trip to the mountains, or a six month journey around the world, you are going to encounter a wide range of activities, from traveling downtime or active exploration. both of these mixes are a journey in themselves. they rise and fall with some familiar songs and some that are going to give you a new listening experience.

this mix is a modern take on the old school mixtapes which were recorded onto blank cassette tapes and passed along to anyone who wanted them. after collecting the majority of music for this IMG_1461mix i decided that it would be best to have it split into two groups, so i decided to go with the “A side” and “B side” mixes. the “A side” is going to have more traditional instrumentation while the “B side” is going to have a more electronic feel.

i hope that you enjoy these mixes as a whole and use them to provide some added substance to your own adventures as they have done to mine!

feel free to save the to save the “A side” or “B side” mixes to your spotify page, or follow me if you want to keep up with the stuff I am listening to in real-time.

A SIDE:

B SIDE:

Switzerland: what the hell is a fondue?

halstatt lakefront
hallstatt, austria on a clear day from a distance

 

i had seen halstatt.  it was one of the things on my list that seemed a little more niche and extravagant, and i hadn’t been sure if i was going to pull it off, especially considering all the adversity i had encountered.  but i now had a strong sense of accomplishment and pride in myself for surviving the day, as silly as that sounds.  i had faced a number of my biggest fears about solo backpacking all in the same day, and i hadn’t panicked.  things had somehow just worked out, which was something i had heard people say before, but the paranoid planner in me had never believed them.  i’ve always come from a place that the prepared mind is the one who is granted fortune, which i think still is often true, but i knew there was romance somewhere in the no-man’s-land of spontaneity, and one of my primary goals before i set out on this trip was to force myself into that abyss.  it had been uncomfortable, stressful, comical, and… wonderful.  i didn’t understand it yet, as i was still decompressing and dissecting the day’s events in my mind, but the seeds of experience had been planted in my mind, and i knew that i was already beginning to change and grow from it. Continue reading Switzerland: what the hell is a fondue?

prost! austria, part 1: elegance and romance in vienna

autumn trees stand naked in vienna
autumn trees stand naked in vienna

our arrival into vienna was a dreary affair with rainclouds, which actually wasn’t all too unwelcome of a sight considering the luck i had been having on the trip so far.  everywhere i had been so far had produced sunny, cloudless weather with the extremely occasional afternoon shower.  so when a little rain settled overhead, i wasn’t too bothered by it, especially when it only lasted for a day.

again avoiding the hostel circuit, robert and i had opted for an airbnb apartment in a nice part of the city near all the

key areas downtown and in a safe location.  it was actually my first time to use airbnb and i must say, it is truly a brilliant concept.  it really takes the middle man out of hospitality, allowing property owners to rent out their properties to tourists for cheap, and providing a plethora of options to the traveler.  i really like this idea, and if i am traveling with others in the future, i will definitely be using airbnb again.

vienna would prove to be a tricky destination for me.   not because i didn’t like it, and not because i had any bad experiences there, but for reasons much simpler.  i just really didn’t connect with it.  vienna is a stunningly beautiful country, rich with tradition and culture and art and architecture to match even the finest destinations in the world.  but i think that may have been part of the problem for me, is that maybe it was just a little too rich for me.

i realize it sounds like i’m being a little diva-ish and unreasonable but stay with me here, the point i make here is not

st stephens cathedral vienna
st stephens cathedral vienna

one of criticism of the amazing city of vienna, but merely one of personal preference.  when i travel, i like to get a little dirt under my fingernails.  not too much dirt, mind you (lest you see me tromping around the streets of iraq), but enough to where i feel like i didn’t simply see all the museums and statues in the city and then move on.  i like to venture down backstreets and find old buildings that look like they’ve seen better days.  i like to find old and new faces standing around, that make you unsure if you can trust them, i like to find graffiti that isn’t “commissioned” but is still creative nonetheless.

these things weren’t always easy to find in vienna.  instead, vienna was incredibly well maintained, a beautiful marvel of perfect architecture, art, and living all fused together.  the streets were remarkably clean at all times, the citizens always well dressed and put together, as if they were all ready should a last minute business meeting be called.  the vienna sculpturesstreets were impeccably manicured, cobblestones carefully placed, graffiti usually painted over or removed, vienna is just a perfectly high class city, and unfortunately for me, i am just not in a high-class state of mind in my current place in life.

and to illustrate the difference with which someone can find within a destination, one could look at how both robert
and i thought of vienna after we left.  after 4 days, i was slightly bored and ready to leave, yet robert was in love with the city and wouldn’t have minded staying longer (in fact he would return later after we went separate ways later in the trip).  robert explored more of the city than i, and each day when we would meet back at the apartment, he would always have recommendations of great places i needed to check out that he had discovered.  sometimes i would check them out, and sometimes i wouldn’t.  it just wasn’t a place that had truly excited me at the time.  i’m sure someday i will return here and be completely blown away by everything my eyes were closed to at the time.

regardless, it was still a beautiful place to visit.  one of the recommendations i had gotten from robert was a royal palace a little outside the main area of town called schonbrunn palace.  i hopped on a train and entered the property. not really wanting to spend any money, i found that the gardens were not only free, but quite expansive.  i spent the afternoon just wandering around and snapping photos.  i suppose it would be a wonderfully romantic place to have a picnic with a significant other, but i enjoyed myself thoroughly as i walked the gardens and up the hill overlooking the estate and the rest of the city.  it really is a magnificent place.

Vienna, you are passively stunning. I will see you another time. #Austria #vienna #hyperlapse

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one night, i had been very keen on finding some sort of connection with the high classed fanciness of the city, so i had searched for some expensive cocktail lounges.  i settled on a place called “ebert’s” on gumpendorfer st.  i got as dressed up as i could (i only had 1 collared shirt packed on this trip, so i wasn’t exactly prepared for a city like vienna, nor was i really “dressed to impress”) and then trekked across town and located the establishment.

on a relatively uninteresting block with no other places open at that time of night, ebert’s stood out with large windows and curtains drawn back halfway, allowing you to glimpse inside and see the poshly decorated interior.  knowing i was still a little underdressed for the place with my nikes, jeans, and untucked black collared shirt, i straightened my collar, took a breath, and then entered confidently.

i looked around and noted first that the place looked even nicer once you were inside, and then noted that there was nobody there, save for a bartender and a barback.  i took another look around the room and decided that rather than sit in the corner by myself and make them wait on me, i would sit front and center at the bar and have a little conversation with them if they were willing.

i was greeted cordially by mo, a well dressed man with darker skin and thick-rimmed glasses and bulging muscles from his toned physique.  i joked to myself about how the place must save money on employing bouncers because mo can easily double as one while also tending the bar.  mo had a thick french accent but spoke very good english as well as german (a couple other austrian patrons trickled in and out for a drink during the time i was there and i overheard the interactions) and was a very good bar conversationalist.  at first, the idle talk was simply surface level, but as it became apparent to mo that i wasn’t going anywhere for awhile and i wasn’t meeting anyone there, he decided to drop whatever other prepwork he was doing behind the bar and focus on me.

knowing that this was a proper cocktail bar when I had selected it, and upon seeing their expansive liquor and whiskey & bourbon collection, I had quietly tested mo with my normal litmus test with the whiskey old fashioned.  i’ve been using this test for about 6 years now to determine if a bartender is worthy of my time, cash, and trust.  the reason for this is because drinks with bitters in them are fairly easy to screw up, and if a bartender can serve you a drink with bitters and not take away too much of the bourbon taste, you probably have someone on your hands who understands the balance of taste in a cocktail.  so all that to say that mo passed with flying colors.  once i appreciatively thanked him for the wonderful drink, we started talking whiskeys and bourbons and after a few minutes mo took a step back, looked at me wryly out of the side of his glasses and said in his thick french accent “you know, i love when americans come in here because they understand whiskey properly.”  it’s probably the best compliment a barkeep has ever given me.

we continued to chat about whiskey topics both old and new (like the new “whisky stick” that you can buy and put in a bottle of cheap whiskey and within 48 hours it will make your whiskey taste like a finely aged spirit.  I’m not linking to it, because it’s an appalling idea and it’s totally a hoax, but idiots out there are still buying it), but eventually the conversation wandered to other topics like mo’s background.  mo was born in africa but moved with his family to paris where he grew up.  he then moved to hamburg, germany when he became an adult and studied and eventually became a bartender.  he had only moved to vienna 6 months earlier at the request of an old colleague of his who was managing this bar and needed help with a proper “A+ level” barman who could help raise the bar, so to speak (heh.  heheh.  i love obvious jokes).

schonbrunn wall ivyafter a couple hours of good conversation and tastebud tantalizing temptations made by mo, i encouraged him to dream up his own concept bar and open it somewhere outside of vienna.  a guy like him belongs in a different style of city with a little bit of a rougher edge around it and he deserves to have his own place.  he lit up when i said that, and then started to share with me some of his ideas.  we excitedly went back and forth, and i could tell that it was something he needed to hear.  he struck me as the kind of guy who had really only moved to do a favor for a friend, and while things were going well at the bar, it might not have been as fulfilling as what he had hoped for. perhaps he was struggling with building a network or support group of people around him that helped push him forward or provided positive reinforcement.  i think it may be possible that hearing someone like me intuitively pick up on that and then communicate it to him without a hint or a prompt may have been meaningful to him.  i hope it was.

leaves falling on vienna benches
leaves falling on vienna benches

at a certain point in the night after mo and i had covered a lot of conversational ground, a couple had slipped in and quietly made their way to the rear corner of the room.  they had kept to themselves for awhile, but at a certain point they had joined the conversation.  mo and i were glad to have a few good souls along to help give the night a little life, and james and slavka were more than happy to make some friends.  before long, i think mo knew he had more than just a few casual drunks in the establishment that night, because the conversation was so rich and in-depth, and everyone was really enjoying each others’ company.  every person in the room was my kind of people.  they were “in tune.”

mo, feeling the atmosphere and positive vibe, started making up drinks off the menu.  he was getting creative, and his drinks were getting better.  eventually mo’s wife actually came in and hung out for a bit.  it was closing time before we knew it, but mo told us that he was going to make one more drink for each of us and lock the door, allowing us to take our time and finish our drinks while he cleaned up and closed down before we all left.

james and slavka were completing a storybook romance honeymoon in Vienna, and 5 days later they were to return to england as husband and wife.  they had met 6 years earlier in london on a bus when james had sat down next to slavka and struck up a conversation.  james was actually living in cambridge, about 60 miles away so after the initial sparks had flown, they settled into the long distance thing for a couple years.  when they finally tied the knot, they chose to have the special day in kosice, slovakia, slavka’s hometown.  james’ family and friends all flew down for a traditional slovakian wedding celebration that lasted 4 days.  after the celebration, james and slavka made their escape to vienna, where i met them, before returning home and starting their new life together.

as james retold the story to me, i found myself getting simultaneously sentimental and hopeful.  i listened intently, allowing myself to get caught up in the magic and let the story come alive.  it was nice to be the listener instead of the storyteller for a change, especially when the content was so enthralling.  too often in my former life, the person i had grown to be was a very cynical person who would not allow myself to be too impressed or surprised by anything, so when i might hear a great story like james and slavka’s, i would still actively and politely listen, but i might reserve emotion or expression in order to preserve the image or character that i was portraying forward.  or worse, the greater cynic in me might mentally dismiss it as another “story” and not even allow myself to entertain such fantasies of love and magic and emotion.

vienna sidewalks
lonely vienna sidewalks

as i’ve gotten further along in this journey of mine, i’ve tried to identify when the bad habits i’ve picked up along the way in my life have crept back up.  particularly with my own romantic connections which have been marked by a string of failed relationships and unrequited love, i had become increasingly jaded and this skepticism had taken a strong root in my life, like weeds choking out a rose garden.  and so i’ve tried to find the things about my personality which stop me from experiencing emotion and joy and i’ve tried to deactivate them.  these mechanisms of cynicism and sarcasm which normally serve as a wall of protection from being taken advantage of or being the “sucker” do serve their purposes but there is always a consequence, and for me that consequence is that some of the more elemental and basic joys of being a human get blocked.  they become forgotten about, and my world had become grayer because of it.

so when i was enthusiastically talking with this wonderful pair, i caught my instinct to “play it cool” and i quickly shut it down.  i listened, i got excited, i expressed my enthusiasm, i asked for elaboration.  it was fun, and they were a fun couple.  james’ witty british humor made the retelling of the story easy to want to join in on the ride, and slavka’s periodic additions or corrections helped provide balance and accuracy to the story, as shared stories between brits and americans are wont to stretch a bit when there is whiskey involved. it was fun to watch them interact with each other, and i could tell that they were a great pair, one that would definitely last.  they appreciated each other, and more importantly, it was obviously that they truly did enjoy hanging out.  there was chemistry there, but there was also that “partner in crime” element that i don’t always see in couples.  especially after traveling together with no other normal distractions to occupy them.  often times in those couples i see something different:  exhaustion.

at around 3:30am, mo had finished all his closing duties and made the fateful announcement that it was time to headvienna palace gardens home.  james, slavka, and i all profusely thanked mo for the perfect night.  we all exchanged information, finished our drinks, and ducked out into the night, going our separate ways and vowing to stay in touch.  i smiled to myself as i walked home under the evening streetlamps, thankful for having met james and slavka.  couples like that always give me so much hope and optimism, that i might one day be able to find that perfect balance of attraction, friendship, partnership, and fun.  i promised myself that, despite the whiskey drinks and the hazy head, i would remember that evening i spent with james and slavka in the hopes that i might one day more easily recognize that “thing” that they had if i were to one day find it with someone else.

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today’s jam is one reflective of my thoughts about james and slavka’s story.  it’s a song full of hope, energy, romance, and as the title reflects, “magic.”  featuring disco guitar legend nile rodgers, whom had re-emerged onto the pop music scene after being featured on last year’s daft punk rise from the dead (notably on the mega hit “get lucky”), and brandy, another pop artist who has been absent from the scene for years, this new track by luis dubuc’s electronic pop act “mystery skulls” is one that just gets into your veins and starts pumping blood without the need of a heart.  but when you listen to the lyrics, your heart can’t help but join in.

“magic” is good clean fun, but if you can stomach a few bad words, i highly recommend you check out the full album from mystery skulls, which just came out about a month ago.  it is just good fun from start to finish, with incendiary synth tracks and catchy melodies.  enjoy…

and of course, if you’re following along on spotify, here’s my “we philistines selections” playlist, with all the songs i’ve featured on this blog.