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the charm of the Adriatic

looking back on my time in croatia, montenegro, and bosnia & herzegovina, it was a strange time, but a wonderful one.  i was traveling with a friend, which i had not had the luxury of for most of my trip, so i was never alone during these weeks.  but before that, i had just begun to grow accustomed to being alone, and was starting to enjoy the introspection that came with it, and the peace of mind that had started to evolve and emerge from my thoughts.  nevertheless, traveling with my friend dave, who was not a seasoned traveler, forced me to take command of situations with more authority and efficiency than i had ever needed to, and exposed to me just how far my development had come since my early days in london, paris and berlin, of following other travelers i had met like a lost puppy.  i was now the veteran, and it took me by surprise.

putting together this video was really fun, not only because i wrote and recorded the sountrack, but also being able to re-live the scenes and memories.  the balkan states are fascinating, co-mingling the hope of the future with the tragedy of the past, there are few places i’ve been where both sides of that story were always nearby, and i still regret not being able to make it further into the balkans to explore all the other interesting countries in the region.  i will return.  someday.

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.

spain, pt 1: barcelona; minding my misconceptions

arc de triomf

i woke up the next morning sorer than i had in months.  it was the good kind of sore, the kind that reminds you that you had earned it, and any other unhealthy foods you could get your hands on.  but i was also inexplicably restless.  after i had gotten home from the previous day’s hike, i had been looking forward to a couple beers and a good in-depth conversation with my new french friend, jean, about life, love, his adventures in colorado, and everything in between.  i was disappointed however when i returned to find his bunk empty and a note on my pillow with an apology on it, informing me that he had a received an urgent call from home and he’d left switzerland early.  i crossed my fingers and hoped everything was okay, and lamented that i would likely never see him again.  another casualty of the wander.  it was something i was still learning how to deal with, even after being abroad for 2 months already.

i started to re-evaluate what my gameplan was.  it was october 29th, and i was up on the alps in a ghost town.  this was what i had wanted.  i had wanted an epic hike in the alps and i had wanted to escape the hustle of the city, and i had gotten that, but now for some reason my feet were beginning to itch for a new destination again.  the quiet solitude had quenched my wanderlust for only a day.  Continue reading spain, pt 1: barcelona; minding my misconceptions

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…