Tag Archives: travelogue

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?

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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.

——-

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…

songs are stories with a melody

hello friends, i apologize for not having a suitable story out to you yesterday.  i am currently roaming the irish countryside and have not had a wifi connection for awhile.  in fact, my current signal is very weak and i can’t upload any photos, so instead of a story today, i will leave you with another new song i recorded just before i left on my journey.  again, it is modest, without any professional equipment, just a microphone and some instruments in my bedroom.  all instruments performed by me, and the song is an original as well.  i wrote this for someone i cared deeply for, but i never got a chance to share it with them.  so instead, i share it with you.   i hope you enjoy it, feel free to share it with others if you so choose.  i’ll get you a story online as soon as i can manage it!

a lonely bench in plitvice national park, in croatia in winter
a lonely bench in plitvice national park, in croatia in winter

visual feedback: iceland

i’ve been taking a little break in nice, france between posts to rethink a little of my format and content in posts.  over the next couple weeks i’ll be writing a few posts sporadically that talk more about state of mind and observation as opposed to destination-based.  during this break, i had a chance to throw together a video of my time in iceland, where the whole trip started.  have a look and enjoy the amazing scenery.  watch it full screen to get the full “hd experience!”

 

skogafoss

na zdraví: Prague, part 1. castles, cheap beer, and street jazz

prague square at night
prague square at night

robert and i had some time to kill before leaving berlin and we both had some minor items we’d wanted to pick up from a large city like berlin before heading into some of the smaller places that might not have the shopping selection options one could enjoy in a massive city like berlin.  we split up and agreed to meet later.  my feet had begun to seriously hurt me on this trip now, to a point where the pain was almost unbearable after walking for 4 hours.  i had begun to get sharp pains in specific points of emphasis under the knuckles of my feet, as well as my arches.  robert had explained to me I likely needed orthotic shoe liners, as my current shoes were not giving me any support.  he confirmed this for me when i told him it didn’t hurt me when i ran, only when i walked for a long time.  having had similar issues in the past, he offered a lot of well-researched information on the subject and so i set out in search of some insoles that could cure my woes.

i didn’t find any, so i found a boutique shoe shop and i bought some nikes, confident that this would fix the problem.  it didn’t, but at least i look hip now.

eventually we met back up and boarded our bus for prague.  it was to be a 4 hour ride, during which i had meant to write as much as possible.  i was successful for however long it took us to get to the Czech border, but once we

warm sunshine blankets the czech countryside
warm sunshine blankets the czech countryside

crossed, i became enthralled by the breathtaking czech countryside, dancing by under a doting sunset, as if the sun and the czech republic were aware that we were arriving, and wanted to roll out the red carpet to their new guests.

we passed by a few very small towns with a little river running through the middle of them.  a castle on the side of the mountain, overlooking the water and the small houses below with the sun setting in the background, it all seemed very pedestrian and unspectacular to everyone else on the bus and probably to anyone living there, but i couldn’t get enough.  i put my computer away and set aside my camera and let my eyes drink in the scenery.

after a few hours we had arrived in prague, and we made our way to our hotel. before we had left, robert had researched accommodations, as he is a little more particular than i am, and after having not been incredibly excited about any of the immediate options, he looked up quizzically and asked me directly “how would you feel about staying on a boat?” i didn’t even hesitate. “book it. don’t care if it sucks. i want to say i stayed on a boat.”

and so we stayed at a place called the “botel albatross,” (how clever) situated right on the river on the north side of old-town prague where the river bends.  it wasn’t particularly incredible, but it was about as affordable as it gets on short notice and it was easy to find.  also, it’s a hotel on a boat on the river, so it needs no further justification. the novelty of it was great.  after checking in and getting settled, neither robert or myself were ready to turn in for the night, so we immediately set out in search of a few cheap sights and more importantly, something to eat.

neither of us really knew anything about prague, other than everyone always saying “oh prague is awesome!” so we weren’t sure what we should be looking for (i think this has become the theme of not only my travels, but my life).  we decided to head for the main square.  within 2 minutes of leaving, we were already impressed by the quaint nature of the town, with cobblestoned streets and narrow walkways that seemed to go whichever way they pleased, all under the careful watch of centuries-old buildings with spires and clocktowers on seemingly every structure (seriously, I’ve never seen so many clocktowers in my life).

…and now I'm in Prague.

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everything was lit up like a movie set.  every building that needed to be seen was clearly visible at night, with floodlights placed strategically on opposing rooftops and any other vantage point that would give the most flattering view of whatever needed to be shown off.  prague knows it’s beautiful, and it knows how to show off.

telling time in prague square
telling time in prague square

none of this was more impressive than the old town square.  a wide open space with people walking to and fro, brisk in pace or slow with head directed up and marveling at the architecture on display, people were mingling this way and that, musicians were busking, trying to impress enough to earn some change from anyone who would listen, the asian tourists were busily taking photos with their selfie sticks, and british stag parties were loudly consuming beer from large mugs on patios on the sideline.  i saw few cities so easily accessible and interactive in europe as prague was. it was clear to me almost immediately:  i like prague.

after we had gawked enough at everything to see, robert and i realized we had both gotten extremely hungry.  we also had trouble finding anything that looked palatable and non-touristy, or that wasn’t going to take forever to be ready to consume, so we settled on a pizza place a modest distance away from the plaza.  it was decent enough, and the owner there was clearly italian, so we justified not eating something inherently “czech” by assuming the pizza was “italian enough.”  plus it had free wifi.

the next day, robert and i made for the other side of the river, on the north and western banks of the river bend. our goal was to explore the neighborhood and eventually make it up to the castle, crossing 2 different bridges in the process.  we first made for the charles bridge, and were a little dismayed by how many people were already there.  we knew that to truly enjoy the bridge without the throngs of tourists, you had to get there early.  apparently 8:30 – 9am is not early enough.  nevertheless, we slowly made our way through the crowds and the vendors, stopping briefly to enjoy a couple musical performers, including one guy who was a maestro on the accordion, and a folk trio complete with a banjo player, a guitar player with a harmonica, and a percussion player playing the spoons and the washboard.  they were all quite good.

as we made our way through the streets, i was amazed at just how picturesque the city was.  every direction i turned my head looked like it should have a frame around it and be placed above someone’s fireplace.  it might be the most photogenic city i’ve ever seen.  we ascended into the hills, heading in the general direction of the prague castle, but we were generally avoiding the main thoroughfares that the large crowds were following along.  whenever one of us would see some small alley or side street that looked interesting, we’d motion to the other to signal we were deviating from the path in search of something less trodden.  this behavior eventually led us to a large “tv tower” on the western hillside that sported, in my opinion, the best view of the entire city.  these tv towers are indicative of most significant cities in central europe and east, particularly anything that at one point was under soviet control.  imagine an air traffic control tower that you might see at your airport, then imagine it looking a little more like it was from the jetsons, and now you have a tv tower.  these things served as watchtowers that one could see incoming threats and send/receive radio transmission for 360 degrees.

so robert and i paid 5 euros to enter and climb the 200 or so stairs to get to the top and take in the view.  it was magnificent, and totally worth the cost.

the prague riverfront on a hazy morning
the prague riverfront on a hazy morning

after snapping photos and taking enough video, we descended and made our way to the castle.  on our way there, we wandered by a centuries-old underground monastery that now had a restaurant friendly towards tourists (how nice).  i insisted we stop inside so i could sample some of the “blueberry beer” advertised on a chalkboard out front.  i ordered a bowl of goulash to balance out the beer and enjoyed the cave-like structure around me.  it was dimly lit with rounded and arched ceilings that seemed to follow no rhythm except whatever the earth had given the constructors to work with whenever the place had been built.

after the monastery, we wandered by a cathedral and crossed a few more small squares before finally finding the prague castle.  by the time we got there, it was closing time, so there was no opportunity to ascend into the towers or enter into the structure, but i was okay with that.  typically in my experience, when you get to the top of the biggest, coolest point of interest within a city, you lose your ability to appreciate the biggest, coolest point of interest within a city.  i was much happier having found the tv tower earlier (actually a little taller than the castle, but not nearly as impressive looking) and having paid significantly less for my ascension to the top.

that night robert and I found somewhere to eat where robert made a very annoying observation.  well, it was very annoying for him, but for me, it was one of my favorite things about my time with robert.  he became visibly frustrated that, at every single place we had been to in prague (which was probably 5 or 6 restaurants at this point), water was more expensive than beer, usually by at least a euro.  i started laughing joyously.  finally one of my vices was paying dividends instead of costing them.  robert good naturedly picked up on the humor of the situation and this scenario became a ritual of every place we went in prague.  we’d pick a restaurant and he would immediately find the beverages section on the menu and would let out a sigh of exasperation and would read the cost of a water versus a beer aloud, to which i would appreciatively laugh.

robert had tracked our steps that day with a pedometer app he has on his iphone 6.  he mentioned we had walked somewhere around 20 miles that day.  that explained why my feet hurt so bad (coupled with the issues i was starting to develop with my arches).  i had wanted to go find a jazz bar that night after learning that the czechs really like jazz music, but i could barely stand to be on my feet anymore so i elected to do that another night.  on our way back to our

alley jazz in prague
alley jazz in prague

botel, however, we encountered by chance a tiny restaurant down a back alley where a little jazz trio was playing for a small group of patrons.  led by a violin, a guitarist and standup bassist accompanied in the background, robert and i elected to stand and watch for about a minute before i asked if robert minded if we grab a seat for a nightcap and watch them finish their set.  robert acquiesced and we sat down.  i ordered a couple fingers of whisky and focused on the music.

three generations of jazz in prague
three generations of jazz in prague

we were able to watch them play for about 5 or 6 songs, and they did not disappoint.  to this point in my trip and beyond, i haven’t heard anyone quite as talented as these 3.  the violinist was clearly the star of the show, as he stood front and center and adeptly maneuvered up and down the neck of his violin maniacally during each song, never missing a note and channeling gypsy maestros from the 20s and 30s with remarkable ease.  this man could have easily been playing on a large stage or at a city hall with an orchestra, but here he was playing in a dimly lit patio for a few tourists with his bandmates.  i actually think there was a good chance these three were all different generations of the same family, as they all bore a resemblance to one another.  the guitarist being the youngest and the bassist being the eldest, they were all very familiar with each other and knew exactly when the music called for a change-up or someone else to hop in and improvise.  it was excellent jazz, and i was vocal about it, clapping appreciatively or responding audibly after an impressive solo.  no one else in our crowd seemed to understand that this is how you appreciate gypsy jazz, by letting the performers know that you enjoyed whatever it is they just did, rather everyone else sat quietly, waiting to be entertained.  after the first time i offered praise, you could tell the band was immediately glad that robert and i were there, as they began to orient themselves a little more in our direction, and they would smile and nod every time we offered applause, or whenever one of them was about to do something cool in improvisation.

when the performance had ended, the guitar player came over and attempted to engage in conversation with us but his wnglish was extremely limited and both robert and myself and i speak absolutely zero of his native tongue, so the conversation didn’t go very far.  we thanked him profusely for the music and offered a few euros as compensation.  they gratefully accepted and we made our exit.

we wandered through the illuminated streets and crossed through the main square again on our way back to the “botel,” as one can never get enough of looking at those buildings.  eventually sleep’s pull was too strong however, and we turned in for the night.

————-

today’s tuesday tune is a song that’s been kicking around my spotify account for a couple months now (check me out over here if you’re following along:  
and i just can’t get enough of this song.  its what i listen to when i’m feeling happy go lucky.  if i’m wandering a city and i want a break from the sounds of the city, i pop my headphones in and put this song on, put my hands in my pockets, and happily stride down the street.  plus it feels appropriate to to suggest a song called “emperor” when we’re talking about a city like prague, where there are castles and royal looking buildings everywhere.  give a listen to this one when you get a chance.  enjoy…

guten tag: welcome to germany, pt 2. berlin, reunification, and graffiti

the days following hamburg and oldenburg flew by.  berlin is truly a unique city, one that views like a good book reads, where each successive chapter continues to build and surprise, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, it surprises you again.  when i had initially started outlining last summer what countries i wanted to visit on this trip, berlin was just a city that had made the list because it was simply on the way to other places I wanted to go and it would have seemed idiotic to leave out.  i knew that i would be interested in the history, but i didn’t really know why else i was going. this thought occurred to me on the train over from hamburg.

an old friend from my youth had seen some of my instagram photos pop up on his social media account and, having a few weeks for himself to do some traveling, decided to join me for a couple weeks.  he chose berlin as the rendezvous point. i suppose reuniting with an old friend after more than a decade seemed only appropriate in a city like berlin, but that comparison is probably eye-rollingly obvious. i was more than grateful for robert’s arrival, as i was still a little shell-shocked from the language barrier/loneliness issues from paris, and i was worried of a repeat performance in germany (now that i was truly out on my own and had no more options of meeting up with old acquaintances and friends from my past).  plus, when you’re exploring new places, it’s always more fun when you have people to explore those areas with.  you get to share the experience with someone else, see the things they see that you missed, see the world through their eyes, get their perspective.  you also have the added benefit of external opinion.  one of the toughest things about traveling alone is, ironically, decision making.  i thought this would be the easiest thing, because i am a decisive person and i do not have to worry about accommodating anyone other than myself.  but on the contrary, the problem is one of surplus of choice:  you have too many options. sometimes having to appease someone else’s wishes and desires is actually really nice, because making the decisions (or even caring) can often be a daunting task for yourself, especially if you don’t always know exactly what you want.  game-planning is something i have always been good at, but when you’re doing it all the time, it gets exhausting.  arriving somewhere new and trying to figure why it is cool and what you need to go see, what you need to eat, what you need to drink, who you need to meet, and trying to fit all that into a window of three to six days becomes a juggling act in a revolving door.

so i was glad to have a friend along for the ride.  robert and i became friends through a long-disbanded group of buddies that all used to play a particular computer game together.  it was called “delta force:  blackhawk down” and it was a 1st person shooter that mimicked the types of battles fought by troops in the crisis in mogadishu in the 90s (made famous by the movie of the same title).  our group had a “clan” which we’d cleverly (read as:  immaturely) named “cleavage.”  each member of the team had a code name or “call sign” that fit within the theme.  an exclusive club, we really only had 2 criteria for membership:  we had to know you personally and you had to be funny.  some examples of “call signs” on the cleavage clan were as follows:  left breast, right breast, perky breast, saggy breast, fake breast, etc. et al.  the members of our team would log on together from our own computers at home, join the same team, and then we would wage war against other doritos-eating-mountain-dew-downing-teenagers until the wee hours of the morning.  and we were good.  our team members had different roles to play within the team, and we played them well.  rarely would we lose, thanks to aggressive domination from the likes of core members andreas, terry, ardy, Robert, cody, and myself.  it was good clean fun.  mostly.

robert on kgb patrol at the brandenburg
robert on kgb patrol at the brandenburg

anyway, robert is a complex individual with a firm grasp of who he is in the world and what he likes.  a coffee enthusiast, he’d modestly tell you that he’s only just learning how coffee really works since he’s only been in search of the perfect “flat white” for a couple years now.  but in the time I’ve been traveling with him, i’ve learned more about coffee than i ever desired to (i don’t really drink coffee, i know that will cause me to lose touch with a couple readers.  sorry. i am what i am) in just a handful of conversations with him at cool coffee houses that he somehow locates with some sort of coffee bean sixth sense.  he also knows more than most people i know who drink starbucks religiously.

robert is a front-end software engineer who has found his way into freelancing as a way to help him balance out his need to travel off the grid from time to time, but still stay connected to the tech world in silicon valley and beyond that his career has tied him to.  i’m a little envious of skills and abilities in programming as I think if I was able to “freelance,” i’d probably live the rest of my life on the road, rambling from town to town, only stopping to work whenever I found a reliable wifi signal and a contract i liked.

i'm clearly a spy. at checkpoint charlie
i’m clearly a spy. at checkpoint charlie

we met up at a little hostel in the mitte neighborhood of berlin.  it’s a cool and clean neighborhood that some might call “yuppie-ish,” and they’d probably be right, but it’s got a great charm to it.  it’s pretty safe and is handily located next to a few metro stops so it is easy to get to and from.  once we got our bearings, we wasted no time at dissecting the city, knocking out tourist mainstays like the brandenburg gate, the reichstag building, and checkpoint charlie within the first couple days.  when we were done with those, we would wander for hours through random neighborhoods that robert had found while searching for his hipster haven coffee shops.  while i don’t really partake of this pursuit of his, i’ve been thankful for it because it has often led me to places i probably would not have found on my own.   often times while in search of a cappuccino shop that robert had seen good reviews for, we would wander down some random wrong street and find some ornate clocktower that wasn’t visible from the main walkways.  Or we would see some really cool graffiti that one would have no clue was there had they never left beaten path.

speaking of graffiti, berlin has to be the best city in the world at embracing its graffiti.  they don’t even fight it.  in the US, if graffiti ends up on a wall somewhere, it’s rarely clever or intelligible, and it is usually covered up or painted over expeditiously, and the eyesore is gone before you know it.  in berlin the graffiti is EVERYWHERE, and often times it has a very clever message about consumerism, or it pokes fun of itself, or even makes you think deeper thoughts about your own existence. 

Berlin has the best graffiti #Berlin #CheckPlease

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everywhere i went, i found myself really enjoying graffiti even more so than some of the sights.   i even began to notice some of the taggers’ calling cards.  i could tell which neighborhoods belonged to which artists.  and when a commissioned piece had adorned a wall in giant mural fashion, there seemed to be a respect among the taggers.  they would usually leave those walls alone.  or, if that wall was tagged, it would be tagged around the mural, so as not to disturb the art, and the new tagger would only hit an area that was empty and unoccupied by paint.

East Berlin space program. #BerlinGraffiti #itsnotreallyspaceyouguys

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my guess is that a lot of this acceptable culture comes from the acceptance of living with a giant wall running right down the middle of the city for 30 years. the amount of decoration and graffiti that came to adorn this monstrosity likely spilled over into the rest of the city as years wore on, and now its just a badge of pride.  but that wall is something else.  i can’t even describe how i felt as i walked along segments of it during the week i was in berlin.  trying to put myself the shoes of someone living in this city during the soviet reign made my head spin countless times.  the thought that i could be living on one street corner one day and the love of my life might be living on the other side of the street, and the next day a giant wall went up between us and i might never see her again… this scenario kept resurfacing in my mind for days, until i saw the following scribbled on a section of the wall near checkpoint charlie:

heartbreak at the berlin wall
“to astrid: maybe someday we will be together”

i knew that it had happened to someone at some point;  it had to.  but the reality of loved ones being separated during this conflict suddenly became real to me when i saw a heartbreaking message scrawled onto the wall with the words “to astrid: maybe someday we will be together.”  i stared at the message for at least 10 minutes while the light rain fell around me.  i was overcome with sadness, despite the fact this tragedy had occurred decades ago.  eventually i moved along, but this moment has stayed with me during my trip.

this city grew on me every day that i was there.  if a trip to europe was a march madness college basketball tournament, berlin was the dangerous 14 seed that was starting to upset all the mainstays and work deep into the tourney.  berlin was the darkhorse.

berlin wall madness
berlin wall madness

i think one of the things i liked about it so much was that everywhere you looked, there were old remnants of painful memories of the city:  the past was never far.  just like people, i like them better when they have a story to tell.  especially if that story hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows.  the pain of berlin no longer holds its citizens back, but it is always lurking in the shadows warning just how far a city or a person can fall if they are careless with the world around them.

or maybe that isn’t the message waiting to be interpreted.  for the life of me i couldn’t decipher what the history and identity of berlin was.  was it the powerhouse city of the north that was a haven for the nazi empire that crumbled and has been slowly rebounding ever since?  or was the city a victim, that had been subjugated by a radical aggressor in the nazi party and was then taken advantage of by another meddling power in the soviet union, which then suppressed and abused the people and city for decades, and now they were finding their way out of the dark?

or is the identity something completely different altogether?  perhaps berlin is a place that, through ages of darkness and consequence, knows the weight of action and reaction, and now uses that knowledge to its advantage to help shape its future and rebuild a brighter and more prosperous outcome (which it is easily succeeding at)?  surely this is the identity, and the longer i spent in the city the more confirmation i received.  berlin is a bastion of hope, and one need nothing more than to walk its streets for a day to see why. it exemplifies that no matter what happens, no matter how grave the circumstance or the situation, nothing is completely beyond saving.  one need only the will, the discipline, and the desire to restart from the bottom, and any height can be achieved.

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today’s ear candy is a new single by zola jesus, and i. love. this. song.  can’t get enough of it.  this girl can sing, but she has this brooding, deep baritone pipes that just strike a chord in all the right ways for me, probably because she sounds so different than most singers out there in pop music.  i first heard her sing on the first track of the m83 album “hurry up, we’re dreaming” that blew up the whole world a couple years ago but i confess i never really sought her out to see what she was doing on her own.  i can tell you now, however, that her new album is fantastic from top to bottom.  enjoy the video…