An important lesson I learned during the fateful 20 hour train day from Umeå to Oslo, was how easy it is to miss your stop on account of unrelenting sleepiness. If you fall asleep on the train and your stop is not the last on the route, you could easily end up hours away from your destination.
At the beginning of the six and a half hour train ride from Trondheim to Oslo, I marveled at the breathtaking scenery outside of my window. We went from snow-capped mountains, to beautiful fjords, to blank white wind swept plains.
As the sun slowly sank beyond the horizon, the bright scenes outside of my window turned to dark nothingness and the length of my day caught up to me. For the last couple hours I nodded off and hadn’t even thought of setting any sort of alarm. Rookie mistake.
This could have ended in tragedy. I could have easily stayed asleep through leaving time and ended up wherever trains sleep. Or, even worse, if the train’s last stop had not been Oslo, I would have kept on going to God-knows-where Norway. (Which, all things considered, isn’t that bad. It’s much better than Allah-knows-where Afghanistan…)
Luckily for me, I had a savior on the train. It was in the form of an Old Norwegian Guy with a hefty voice and a sturdy hand. As I lay there paralyzed by sleep while almost everyone had departed the train, Old Norwegian Guy gave me a hard jolt to the shoulder, looked into my half groggy, half asleep eyes, and said with a grin on his hardened endearing face, “OZ-low”! I got the message and sprung out of my seat quickly, realizing my luck. Forever his one word, Oz-low, will be engrained in my mind as an example of what happens when you don’t set an alarm for your train’s expected arrival time.
On only my second European train ride I saw a young Swedish woman learn the hard way that if you have space to put your luggage on the upper rack, do it. Also, avoid leaving your luggage out of view. This is especially true if you happen to be on a late night train.
The young woman, let’s call her Bella, had boarded, stored her luggage on the floor at a luggage spot near the front of the train car and taken her seat. Soon thereafter Bella apparently had some other business to take care of elsewhere on the almost empty train and left the car.
At some point during this train ride a couple of youngsters quite far into their night boarded the train and went into a compartment together. One of them, needing to relieve himself, left his compartment stumbled by the bathroom and, mistaking the luggage area for a hole in the ground, proceeded to piss all over Bella’s suitcase.
I confess I listened to the act half in horror and half laughing, intermittently peaking over the seat in front of me out of sheer intrigue. Without the conductor in the car and not a word of Swedish to my name I wasn’t sure what I could do. There was only one other soul in the car with me and his seat faced the opposite direction from the action. He only turned once to see what the trickling sound was.
About 15 minutes later Bella returned to her seat. A little while later she went to retrieve something from her suitcase. Her first reaction was mystery. She inspected the scene of the crime like a dog first meeting a new awkwardly smelling friend. Bella soon realized the problem and with a face of pure disgust, shot up and out of the train car with an internal fury I think only hell hath.
Bella returned with the conductor’s escort and they began the search. Naturally they first went to the other person in the car, I suspect because he looked less American than I, and oddly enough, although I’m quite sure he knew what happened, he chose not to get involved and brushed away the conductors inquiries.
The conductor then moved towards me and said something I didn’t know in Swedish, but that I perfectly understood. I pointed to the compartment where the culprit and now accused was residing and explained in English, which I’m pretty sure he understood, that the guy had dark hair.
The conductor rapped on the door, opened it, brought out the two lads and began the inquisition pointing repeatedly at Bella’s shiny bright red suitcase and firmly questioning them in Swedish.
From this point on I have no idea what was being said, but I imagine it went something like this:
Conductor[C]: “Did one of you piss on this suitcase?”
Almost Reasonably Drunk Blonde Swede[ARDBS]: “No, no, we’ve been in our compartment. It wasn’t us.”
Unreasonably Drunk Dark Haired Pissing Swede[UDDHPS]: “Yaughughghay”
C: “I was told that one of you came out of your compartment and pissed all over the luggage right here. Where do you think this piss came from?”
ARDBS: “I don’t know”
C: “Get back in there and do not leave.”
At this point the conductor came back to me, looked at me, pointed towards the spot where he had been questioning the alleged, and raised his eyebrows. I nodded vigorously and said again it was the dark-haired one. Apparently he did know a little English, said thank you and stomped to the compartment even more incensed because now he had been lied to by young drunk dumbasses on HIS train.
Let’s just say the next 10 to 15 minutes entailed a lot of yelling in Swedish, both of the drunks getting kicked off the train and the conductor having to clean up the mess left behind. I’m happy to report Bella got her two (or three or four) cents in as well.
Again, I can’t say I knew what the conductor or Bella were yelling at these two party animals, but the word “pissa” which is apparently similar to its English brethren was used a lot. In between the numerous “pissa’s” were words said with an inflection that implied they would not be normally used in polite company.
I’m grateful this situation came up early in my trip so I could clearly understand the potential consequences of not taking care of where I left my bags.
I have always had an affinity towards transportation. Whether it’s plane, train, car, bus, boat, biking or simply just walking, I enjoy the excitement of going somewhere new and taking in the experience along the way. Even if human teleportation existed, I’m sure I’d find something alluring about the journey it provided.
For my walkabout I was venturing into a relatively blank chapter of my transportation book. I had a Eurail Global Pass for two months that worked in 23 countries and the only real train trip I’d ever taken was from Boston to NYC on Amtrak. Needless to say, I was planning on learning on the fly, or, err, rails.
There were things I knew, things I didn’t know, and things I thought I knew, but definitely didn’t know about train trekking around Europe. Before the trip I had fantasized about going everywhere and seeing everything so I could, as it’s commonly phrased, “get it out of my system”. I quickly learned how erroneous that idea was.
Not only will I, or probably any travel minded folk, ever get “it” out of my system, but also, the sheer idea of thinking you could somehow see “everything” is completely absurd and naïve.
Yes, I had traveled before, but in those past expeditions my itineraries were strictly regulated and planned by someone other than myself. In those experiences I didn’t have the opportunity to break away and see outside the trips constraints, and instead was left living in a travel bubble. I’m guessing these past experience are what lead to my rather narrow-minded expectations.
I have now happily accepted I will NEVER see everything and will NEVER get traveling “out of my system”. Perhaps that’s lesson number one from the walkabout.
Another lesson I had to quickly pick up was minimizing risks while basically living on trains.
It’s not so much I expected something bad to happen, or even that it was a large possibility, but more about reducing my “harass-ableness ” in general so as to ward off any potential harassers.
I always did my best to keep my two backpacks as close to me as possible, my passport/money belt on me at all times, and to set an alarm to make sure I didn’t sleep through my stop1. I like to think I did my best to minimize all risks which, is part of the reason, among others (including luck), I had zero safety problems2.
Let’s be honest, are there risks to riding around by train almost daily for months? Absolutely. But, to put it bluntly, who cares? There are risks involved of every part of daily life and the risks in this sort of excursion are minimal at best and will provide great rewards. If you’re not at least a little scared, you’re not pushing yourself far enough. Plus, even if you do get gassed to sleep and have all your belongings stolen, or have bodily excrements deluged all over your stuff, as long as your not permanently scarred in some manner, at worst you’ll have a great story to tell. And what more can a traveler ask for than great stories to write in his blog?
1Examples of why these methods may help will follow soon. This includes the “pissa” story. [It might be worse than a Tuesday night sitcom, but I'm not sorry for the double cliffhanger.]
2If you consider walking through the center of Naples after midnight with all your belongings on your back and hookers by your side while trying to figure out where some hostel you know little about is located and that hostel happens to be located in a relatively sketchy dark and dirty alleyway, OR walking up a dark densely forested hill path by yourself in Budapest late at night with only a camera at your side while feeling like you’re being watched classifies as some sort of safety risk for you, then perhaps my safety record isn’t completely clean.
Well I’m finally restarting this blog… again. I’ve had some post ideas I’ve wanted to get out but hadn’t quite got to it recently. But wait no more. Unintelligible, disorganized, gobbledygook, resembling something akin to chicken scratch (can someone tell me if that font exists?) has been assembled and is currently on the editor in chief’s (my) carving table.
The general gist of the aforementioned “writing” is all about train travel in Europe. There are tips on how to do it, safety maneuvers, pricing, and numerous other juicy tidbits, including behind the scenes stories of the Walkabout previously untold that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Let’s leave it at, if you want to learn what the word “pissa” means in Swedish in regards to my train travel, you’ll most definitely want to stay tuned.
When you experience four seasons in four months, you’re bound to have bad weather. During my walkabout, I had winter in Scandinavia, spring in Southern Europe, fall in Sydney, and summer in Los Angeles.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to change the weather. Complaining about it, worrying about it, and being victimized by it will do no good. The path to good weather is all about outlook.
In almost all situations the weather could always be worse. For example, throughout my trip, whenever I thought it was cold outside I just remembered a few months back when I went skiing in Winter Park, CO and looked at the car thermometer reading -27 degrees. That was before we took the chairlift above tree line with a sharp wind whipping across our bodies.
There were times on the chairlift when it was so cold, the only exposed part of my body, my nose, started stinging so sharply that I thought Old Man winter had cut it off.
Knowing that my upcoming travels would take me to some harsh climates, I took a moment to remember that sense of extreme cold. Therefore, every time from there on out I thought it was cold, all I had to do was think back to that abrasive chairlift ride and remember, “Oh yeah, this 10 degree weather is really not bad at all”.
Most importantly, do yourself a favor and plan ahead and be prepared for any weather change. If it could get cold, carry extra layers. If it might rain, bring a raincoat. If you’re in the Sahara, some water, a hat, sunglasses, and some sunscreen might help… and maybe a ticket out of there too. If you don’t know what the weather is going to be like, either look it up or prepare for the worst.
When you are traveling, hiking, or just plain living, there aren’t many things that will get your mood down faster than being excessively hungry, thirsty, tired, cold, or hot. Those last two are where your weather smarts come in.
Whether it’s snow in Sweden, cold in Copenhagen, wind in Venice, rain in Rome, heat in Cyprus, or just sunny in Sydney, it could always be worse. Take advantage of every travel moment you have because they are the best of times and there’s never a good reason to let a rainy day keep you down.
There’s a lot of hubbub in the travel ranks about whether it’s better to embark on a whirlwind tour of many places or hunker down and engulf yourself in one area for a prolonged foray. Well, ladies and gentlemen, as one who has recently ended a tumultuous three-month, 17 country renegade jaunt through Western Europe and around the world, and also had relatively lengthy stays in a few different countries, I feel it would behoove the yearning public to remain unacquainted with my completely subjective two cents. As my lawyer turned Latin teacher used to tell us, whenever there is a highly disputed and intricate question at hand, the answer is remarkably easy, and that answer is… it depends.
I know, I know, a complete copout answer designed to release me from my responsibility to answer the delicate question. As my rather ridiculous English used to say, “If you don’t get off the fence, you’re liable to have your balls cut off”. Now, which teacher, Latin or English, is correct, that’s a different topic. But putting all academic advice aside, let’s dig into this considerably intriguing dilemma.
First off, this is a good problem to have. As I’m sure someone wise and perhaps related to Alfred Lord Tennyson once said, “‘tis better to have traveled and left than to have never traveled at all”. But how to travel is the crux of this issue.
When I look back on my walkabout through Europe I can’t say I had a moment I didn’t enjoy. The challenges I faced while trying to navigate through so many different places so quickly were certainly rewarding, but at the same time potentially tiresome. You have to pick your battles and accept it’s impossible to see everything on one trip. I had three wondrous days in Rome, but could have easily filled up thirty. I spent one night each in Brussels and Naples, didn’t get a very good impression of either, but felt as though if I had the opportunity to stay longer, I could have easily given in to the cities’ charm.
My time constraints lost me the opportunity to really dig deep into any of the cities I visited. But at the same time, those same time constraints allowed me to become more efficient and productive with my time in each city. When you know you will be in one area for an extended period of time I think we naturally tend to put off visiting or doing things we believe we’ll have enough time to do later. But suddenly, one thing leads to another, then the time comes to leave, and you’re left thinking how did I manage not to do x, y, or z. You took time for granted, something someone with little of it would be sure never to do. I witnessed so many different and exciting places, and met so many new and enchanting people simply because I supplanted myself into a situation where it was required.
On the flip side, just as some people thrive on moving around every few days, some thrive on just the opposite, immersing themselves into and country, culture, and community with satisfying ease. It doesn’t matter how many places you’ve visited, but rather how you’ve visited them. The personal prize that comes with truly learning a people and place can create an everlasting bond of appreciation. Weaving yourself into the fabric of a community allows for a deeper understanding than anything you’ll ever get in a few day stay.
There can also be great challenges starting anew in an unfamiliar place. New foods, languages, etiquettes, social, religious, and political perspectives all dare you to move out of your comfort zone. With each uncomfortable step you gain the ability to learn about yourself and others. It’s an outstanding method for ripping back the superficiality of being just a tourist and really getting at the heart of your environment.
So, here we lie. Stuck between superficial, yet spontaneous and efficient fleeting stays, and limited, yet profound and eye opening extensive forays. The answer to which reins champion is truly up to you. It depends on what you need, who you are, and why you’re traveling.
To save my balls, I must admit that for me, fleeting stays float my boat. I love the unpredictability, the constant change, and the environment that forces me to act. There is no right or wrong choice, and I would never say my preference will not change, because in the end, travel is all about change. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing the new and different. Meeting new people, coming across new places, and learning about yourself and others comes with either method. If you boil this battle all the way down, you’ll always be left with one fact; it depends on you.
From L.A. I moved on to a much more familiar city for me, Boulder, CO. The idea was to stay there a week or so to catch up with friends a bit and go to a concert at the idyllic Red Rocks Amphitheatre about 45min south of Boulder. The specific concert we had tickets to was for a band called Dispatch. It’s a sweet Boston jam band that I hope most of you have heard of. If not, make it happen. Download Spotify and listen to some of their stuff. It’s fantastic.
Red Rocks is basically an amphitheater carved into the side of a mountain. It’s right at the beginning of the Rocky Mountains so if you look closely, you can see Denver in the distant background. The seating area is lined by gigantic steeping relatively smooth rock formations leading to the stage which is backed by more of the relatively smooth, lined clay red rock. The acoustics of the venue are fantastic and Red Rocks has hosted many live recordings because of it.
To be honest, I’m not a big concert guy. I’ve probably been to a total of four or five in my lifetime. But I must encourage anyone and everyone to try and get to Red Rocks at least once. This Dispatch concert was fantastic and not only because of the band. Listening to live music while nestled in nature is a transcendent experience. Check out this video I took http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIuIaivildA to get a feel for the band and the venue. I apologize for the shakiness, but I was pretty zoomed in, not to mention I was at a concert… Also, the lead guitarist breaks a string near the beginning but it gets replaced almost instantly and they don’t miss a beat. Impressive.
After the concert and my stay in Boulder, the walkabout, very sadly, came to an end. I had circumnavigated the globe and had been made better because of it. I returned to the “real” world. Unfortunately, the real world brought me nights like last night when the Red Sox managed to finish off their epic September collapse (you didn’t think you were going to get this post without a mention of it, did you?). [Decided to cut out three paragraph Red Sox rant so as to save you some reading. It may show up later though, when I’m not boiling with anger]
The next few blog posts will try and wrap up this whole trip and put some things in perspective, while also going over highlights, lowlights and potential changes. Thanks again to all of you for reading!
I know I kind of owe you all a post since that photo post doesn’t really count. So I think I’ll wrap up this around the world trip with my arrival back in THE United States of America.
To say it was a bittersweet trip back would be an understatement. Yes, I had been traveling for a while. Yes, it was nice not to have to deal with language and currency barriers. Yes, I was dead broke, but let’s be completely clear here; there is no possible way on earth I could sit here and type that I was or am happy the trip was coming to an end. I mean, you’ve read what I’d been doing for the last 3+ months, is there any part of it that seemed dull, repetitive, or just not fun? No. No there is not. Not even close. Not even a little bit. If I had unlimited funds I would have no problem continuing this type of travel for many more moons. Although, if I had unlimited funds I may change a few things. However, we’ll save the “this is what I’d change” paragraph for a later post.
Now, on to the City of Angels. Jeff and I landed in LAX and were picked up by some college friends of ours who both had somehow procured excessively flashy cars considering their post grad paychecks. I think the car thing has something to do with living in LA where it’s always sunny and 75 degrees so your car never ages by weather.
At any rate, it was great to have Jeff (or Jash as he will forthwith be called considering the almost overwhelming number of Jeff’s floating around this earth) and Keith pick us up and house us for a few days.
Jeff and I managed to check off most of the major must-do’s in LA. We rode the bus through horrific traffic (yes, it’s the hands down worst in the world), saw Rodeo Drive (and unfortunately failed to try and order a burger and fries at one of the high-end fashions stores’ door buzzer’s [wait, can someone tell me if this is even possible? All I know is that I saw those Mighty Ducks kids do it and wanted to try ever since…]), walked down Hollywood Boulevard, witnessed tourists of all kinds taking ridiculous amounts of pictures, went up to the observatory looking over LA, noticed the pollution covering the city, got into CBS studios through one of Jeff’s friends (and almost got into The Price Is Right), went to Santa Monica and played touch football on Venice beach.
One of my favorite things in LA had to be the giant soft pretzel we got at our happy hour place of choice on Venice beach. It was huge and soft and doughy and delicious. And we got 3 more after the first one… Speaking of food in LA, I really wanted to go to an In and Out (isn’t it a bit sad that the food to look forward to in the U.S. is a fast food burger joint? In France you want wine, bread and cheese, Italy has pizza and wine, Germany has brats and beers, England has fish and chips, Greece has seafood and lamb galore and even Australia at least has kangaroo and meat pies… we stink) and I didn’t end up at an In and Out because of certain situations that arose, the most important of which was there not being an In and Out within walking distance of our temporary abode. WAIT! I almost forgot. I did have a LA food special that must be noted. One-dollar fish tacos! Delicious and cheap. Good call by Ben on that one.
Other than the good ‘ole sites and some food specials here and there, LA was a pretty short trip and I really didn’t take any pictures. For some reason, after walking all over Europe and Australia with my camera out in full tourist mode, I didn’t feel right breaking it out in my home country. In retrospect that was a poor decision. In fact, anytime I have ever decided to not take my camera with me has almost always been a poor decision. One of these days I’ll learn…
Next stop is back in Boulder by the way. I do have pictures form the big event we went to while there; Dispatch at Red Rocks! You’ll have to wait for that though.