Travel Log: Western Europe, 2012 30-05-2012

Today, I leave for Europe. May 6th to May 9th shall find me in London. Paris is from the 9th until the 12th and Rome from then until the 16th. After that is a three day stay in Barcelona until the 19th, and then a return to London for a day before returning to the United States on May 20th.

I'm in the gate now at Dulles and I cannot help but wonder what I will see. What will I discover? What will find me? First flight, first departure from the well-known comfort of the East Coast. Nerves are present, yes, but of excitement more than anything else. It may be the Old World, but it's new to me.

Who will I meet? What will I learn? When and where will I first mutter, "wow?" Anything may happen, everything awaits and I proceed one step closer to my goal of really being a citizen of the globe. An idealist, yes, but I recognize the value inherent in experience.

Forty-four minutes until boarding and I can feel my nerves (the anxious ones, at least) calming. For the past few days as the date has neared, I've felt a sort of impending doom. Like something will preempt and prevent me from making it to London. Now that it is so very close, that feeling is subsiding. I can almost feel the London fog, nearly see the hands of Big Ben. I hope for this to be as amazing as I believe it will be.


Air travel, at least thirty minutes in, is marvelous. The sight of the geography some 37,000 feet below, even for an area in which one has lived their entire life, is eye-opening and positively enthralling. I saw features I had not yet seen, discerned patterns of development I had not yet detected and gained an entirely new appreciation and understanding of my home. It really is beautiful; it took a trip to a romanticized "Old World" for me to see this more clearly.

And the clouds! Immaculate. Like fluffy, perfectly formed mountain tops of snow. Like how I imagine the icy deserts of Antarctica must look. Cloud cover below, above and at eye level, in disjoint but deeply connected layers, and layers upon layers upon layers. If not for the warm and brilliant Sun, it would be nigh impossible to discern up from down. Disorientation.


Watching the Sun set over Maine was nothing short of the very personification of Beauty herself. A bold, fiery magenta gradually yielded to one of the purest blues I have ever laid eyes upon, then further into an impossibly deep and wondrous indigo as day yielded peacefully to night. Wow.

As we have lazily (yet thunderously, I must imagine) strolled up the coast of Maine into Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, I have spotted only a very few specks of light. I presume light houses, but am honestly shooting in the dark with that assumption. Regardless, the lonesome disposition of this jagged, scarred coastline is truly soothing. From my neighborhood in Vienna, the view of the sky is positively red with light pollution. To see such stark apathy to the bright lights of civilization, wielded by such a powerful, lovely portion of this planet, is heart-warming and breath-taking.

If my camera is smitten with Mother Nature, then I must be in love. The Sun has almost entirely set now. The sky is black, but transitions to a lighter and lighter blue as it moves toward the horizon. It forms a grey-green-yellow band, darker in the center, when the two forces meet. A slightly orange-red remnant of the Sun follows, directly preceding a sudden black. A single star follows along for the ride. As it becomes too dark to differentiate between sky and ocean, I am at peace.


It is now 12:33am EDT, or based on my estimates of where the plane currently is, about 4:33am local time. My body does not give many clues as to the state of its internal clock at the moment, but I just slept for roughly one hour and I feel alright. There is some complex mixture of adrenaline, exhaustion, excitement, sore legs, "cabin" fever, a longing to stroll London on a Sunday morning and a desire to crawl into my hostel bed and collapse. I'm usually not "ready" for sleep until 1:00-2:00am anyway, so we will see how I am doing once we land at Heathrow.

Watching the Sun rise over the northeast Atlantic (we've almost made landfall over Iceland, I believe) is just as stunning as watching it set over Maine. A faint grey-blue sea of cloud matches seamlessly with the nearly white sky. The same banding of colors I saw at the sunset is again present at the sunrise, and it has not lost its luster whatsoever. I never paid so much attention to the transition from day to night and back again as I have while aboard this plane, but I'd like to hope that being essentially forced to analyze and admire will only breed further, more organic intrigue in such lovely phenomena.

The brightening of the sky is only accelerating and I can sense that we are close. I've been planning and conceiving of this trip for over a year and it is finally coming to fruition. One hour to landing and I can hardly wait. Whatever awaits on this trip will surely be magnificent. The Sun is in clear view now; its warmth is like no other. Adventure lays ready under its yellow glow.


Over the course of three days in this massive city, I have seen so much and met such very interesting people--I am afraid I cannot recount all of it here, so I will share merely a subset.

Coming out of the Underground at Hyde Park Corner into the air of London for the first time was a critical moment for me, I believe. I released myself into a new, far-off city, completely on my own. I was in the center of the massive, sprawling, consuming London landscape with no working phone, a handful of pounds, no idea where to go or what to do... only myself and my thoughts. I went into Hyde Park and was immediately struck by its beauty. I photographed everything in sight. Everything. A wonderful person once told me that she was trying to teach herself “that just because something is pretty doesn't mean it needs to be photographed,” but I clearly did not heed that advice. I was enthralled, amazed and ever so slightly frightened.

The old man provoking the fierce swan with his cowardly dog was hilarious. On the shore of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, I had my first conversation with a Londoner:

"Thanks for the photo op." He smiled, "Well, I've got to give the old mutt something to be scared of time and again, and if it gathers all you tourists up in one location then all the better for me." We laughed.

It emboldened me enough to go eat a traditional English breakfast at the cafe right there at the lake. Sausage, English bacon, scrambled eggs, baked tomatoes, field mushrooms, baked beans and English toast. It was... an intriguing experience for my palate.

This British Victorian architecture is absolutely brilliant. Wonderful. From the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace to the little villages and their little neighborhoods with their amazing little homes, everything. I now see where much of this city's mystique comes from. Wandering a city you've been cultured to romanticize and seeing picturesque landscapes in nigh every direction is partially creepy, but also validating. Like being in a wondrous movie you weren't cast in but whose set you wandered onto.

But the people! The people you meet in hostels make the hostel experience and collectively form the entire reason of staying there. Sylwester, the 50 year old Austrian IT professional with the positive outlook, interesting (if mystical) philosophy and unique mannerisms within the English language. My dorm mates: Patrick, the recently graduated Irish doctor with the quite demeanor and complete disdain of politics; Jennifer, the Kentucky-born Biology major with a huge smile and sights set on Neonatology; Sarah, the recently graduated Canadian actuary with the warm laugh, the pretty glare and curious insights into ideas of Home. They all enriched my trip immensely with their conversation and stories: Patrick's mishap with the Blarney Stone, Jennifer's younger, crazier brothers, Sarah's completely random choice of Actuarial Science, Patrick's work in a Zambian hospital, etc. Their kindness and good-natured personas further drilled in my conviction that people are naturally good wherever you go.

Side note: I just waved good bye to Sylwester as he departed to catch a train back to Austria. We previously exchanged email addresses and he offered me a place to stay when I go to Vienna. He thanked me for his first conversation with an American, which he said showed him that not all of us were "blind warmongers." I'm glad to have had a positive impact for such a nice person.

"Stay positive, always," Sylwester encouraged.

Additionally, Londoners are almost obnoxiously polite. I had no run-ins, encountered no rudeness and was never made to feel like an outsider. Like in how Small Town, USA is envisioned, random people smiled at me as we passed on the sidewalk, and folks behind counters at shops and cafes were overtly friendly, even when I held up lines in confusion. There was the whole business where I was followed down a dark alley by a man clad in all black just after midnight, but I'll leave that story for a different time. Every one else: polite.

And the remarkable diversity of London and her inhabitants was encouraging. Admittedly, I was here for a few mere days and, admittedly, I am not in touch with its sociopolitical climate. But it was without a doubt the most ethnically diverse place I have ever been (even more so than Northern Virginia and New York City) and it seemed completely inconsequential to them: I didn't really encounter any social circles or customs, in my very limited scope, which were exclusionary on grounds of race or skin color. This was a wonderful sight. It made me a bit more hopeful for our collective future as a society.

I felt at utter peace as I gazed out over the Thame from the fields behind Westminster Abbey. The cool breeze coming off of the water, the gentle lapping of waves on the rocky shore, the sights and sounds of the boy and his grandfather engaging in a little football, the feel of the misted, dampened grass on my bare feet, the look of my own little view of the London skyline, the experience of knowing I was having an experience. Amazement.

Thank you for the good times, London. I'll see you soon.


I am sitting in the hotel room in Rome, enjoying every minute of the city. I have not yet written down my thoughts on the Parisian portion of the trip, and I would be remiss to neglect to do so.

To put it short: Paris is a city of beautiful stucco architecture, fast-moving and sharply-dressed people, bright lights at night and much people-watching at street-side cafes. The Parisians struck me in this latter regard particularly strongly: seemingly every public space is lined with people looking in on the passers-by, eating a baguette (I am not being stereotypical at all here) and appearing to be at the optimal state of lounging. This is a particularly odd quirk of the Parisian: while she moves in remarkably quick strides and seems to live life at a fast and highly efficient pace, she is also a Queen of Relaxation and spends large chunks of time doing nothing but conversing and enjoying the weather.

You might think that both qualities would lead to a general discontent of tourism and tourists, with their slow, stumbling gait through the busy boulevards, but in my experience I encountered only nice, friendly people who had no issue with speaking with me in English and who never glared nor shouted at me for getting in the way on the sidewalk. Like the New Yorkers, I believe that Parisians are getting a bad rap. Or maybe they're just used to our nonsense.

Two sidewalk-related tangents: the speed at which people cascaded and dove around me made me understand what people from the South and the West Coast must feel like when on the East Coast, and the usage of sidewalks by scooters and motorcycles was nothing short of startling. Motorcycles just pull up on the sidewalk as their riders navigate their way around and through throngs of pedestrians. One particularly amusing sight was a totally Mad Max-looking fellow trying to figure out how to hold his baguette as he sat down on his motorcycle and raced off (he simply pinched it between his left arm and torso).

I saw all of the touristy locations, and they lived up to their popularity for the most part. The Arc de Triumphe was impressive and the view from the top gave you a great sense of Scope (Paris, like London, is absolutely enormous, extending outward to the horizon). The Seine was beautiful even in its green and city-crowded aesthetic. The Louvre was a remarkably intriguing case study in the interplay between old-world ornate garishness and new-world modernism, and Sacre Couer (and all of Montemarte, really) with its absolutely breathtaking views of central and downtown Paris was a nighttime delight. Young people from all across the hip neighborhood gather outside of Sacre Couer at the overlook with the view of the Parisian landscape, listen to live music, dance under the stars and watch the Eiffel Tower light show. The atmosphere is positively electric.

Speaking of which, the Eiffel Tower was simply stunning. Particularly at night when it was lit up wondrously, and on strokes of the hour when its festival of mad, frantic lights blinked across Paris, the sight of the massive tower forces awe and joy into the onlooker. The slow elevator climb to the very top of Gustav Eiffel's masterpiece gave me my first ever miniature height-based panic attack; not only is it remarkably slow, but you hear every gear click and turn during the ascent. When you step out onto the top of the tower, and the wind whirls and whips through your hair, it is a completely enthralling experience.

The panoramic sight of the city below was what really made the experience special for me, though. It put the view from the top of the Arc to complete shame, and at night was one of the most beautiful urban light paintings imaginable. It gives the name "City of Lights" a completely new context.

The Gardens of Luxembourg, however, were my absolute favorite locale in all of Paris. With massive fields of green, near forests of lushness and a wide-open, unabated view of the afternoon sky overhead, the Gardens are a paradise. It all centers around a small pond around which countless people lounge, watching the youngsters push miniature wooden sailboats adorning flags from across the world. Mallards and other ducks dive in and out, taking turns in the little anchored duck-house and paying no mind to the sailboats which approximate their size. A beautiful skyline of trees provides a natural blockade from the traffic to the East, the Palais du Luxembourg and its clock tower form a lovely backdrop to the North and massive fields of grass, loungers, tennis courts and cafes selling delicious crepes and gofres expand to the West and South. Taken together, the areas surrounding the pond provide insulation from the swirling Parisian chaos.

Maybe it was exhaustion from a day which began at 5:30am in London and saw me through a train ride to Paris, an anxious commute into the city via the airport and much exploration with a full pack, but laying on the brim of the pond as sailboats floated by to my left and the clouds drifted above was one of the most purely enjoyable moments of my life.

Paris is an incredibly unique landscape in space and in time. It presents a mixture of new and of old, a completely intriguing population of people to interact with and a subway system with absolutely no consistency and ridiculous levels of heterogeneity (which was both endearing and adventurous). It also afforded my first opportunity to visit a place where I did not speak the native tongue, picturesque views everywhere I looked and plenty of moments to remember with fondness and a smile.

Goodbye Paris, you silly, stunning urban storybook. Ciao.


After a four night, three day vacation in Rome, what can I say about the city? A great many things, I suppose. The overarching theme however is that Rome is a wonderful, amazing place with new life experiences just around every corner.

The trip began with a flight from Paris into Rome, on a budget airline, into a relatively sketchy looking airport, late at night. This was followed by a hectic (albeit thrilling) shuttle ride from the airport to a street somewhat close to where the hotel was located. I knew that the trip was off to an interesting beginning when the driver, a professional whose living is based off of knowing how to get to anywhere from anywhere within Rome, had absolutely no idea where the hotel or even its street was. He had to consult a map, and eventually left us about two blocks away from the hotel. The actual ride was positively death-defying, as the driver dove around and through the crazy Roman backroads and alley ways, almost (from my untrained perspective) striking some dozen pedestrians. On the plus side, however, the shuttle ride allowed me to see parts of the city I might not otherwise have.

After the hair-raising shuttle ride through Rome's stoney, razor-thin alleys came a slightly alarming walk to the hotel, Hotel Ivanhoe (a delightful establishment with great people manning the front desk), which is in a neighborhood which is either "authentic" or a "ghetto" depending on who you ask. It was definitely not touristy, and was not the sort of place where, say, an American family of four would get their Italian pizza from. This made it infinitely better for me--I was thrown into a part of Rome where not every little detail was conceived and planned with my tourist wallet in mind. I was able to see up close how the neighborhood flowed from day-to-day and how people interact and behave when not surrounded and inundated by a wave of tourism which causes their town to become completely foreign to the local way of life. And though I was there for only a short time, I'd like to think that I did learn a thing or two about Roman life.

Maybe coming from Paris sets up an unfair comparison, but the general pace of movement and, I believe, of life is slowed. No one seems to be in much of a hurry, merchants in their alley shops seem to be relaxing more than anything else and every one seems to be primarily concerned with only one thing at a time. Unlike in almost every other city I've been, the people of Rome are not habitual multitaskers as they stroll the sidewalk. Where the Parisian is talking to someone on the phone while eating a panini of some sort while navigating the boulevard, the Roman is only walking and looking, looking and walking. In fact, the people who most struck me the most were an old man carrying flowers through an alley, a young lady walking a dog through the square and every one else who seemed focused only on the moment.

Of course, I was only able to observe on a surface level, but I did focus on the people and I believe that their patterns were strong. Being in a more pure, perhaps more "authentic" area of Rome was enriching in this sense.

Perhaps the most striking human feature in all of Rome, however, was the immensely developed street economy. In every location in the city where tourists could be found, merchants were nearby, selling everything from souvenirs to scarves, tschotskes to "information," using cons and schemes of varying complexity. There was massive redundancy and market saturation, as well as coordination at very high levels. These folks make a living crafting an approach to their sales tactics which annoy the majority but sell just enough to stay afloat. In the most popular tourist locations, one can expect to be pitched to about twice per minute on average and to see about ten merchants in every 100 people. It's simultaneously frustrating and impressive.

Speaking of which, I must have seen every single notable locale in the city. Countless basilicas and chapels, the Spanish Steps, the Fontana di Trevi, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, various ruins, the Villa Borghese, the Arc of Constantine... I can go on and on. Being in a city built around, upon and throughout the ruins of its own previous incarnations was almost eerie at times. The non-ruined Roman architecture has the lovely Mediterranean aesthetic: a palette of varying shades of yellow, orange, brown, tan and red, with ornate balconies, flat and vertical facades, extremely close proximity to the street and beautiful, ever-so-slight decay. It made for a peculiar but striking brand of pretty. Overall, Rome is an architectural delight.

After wandering through London and Paris and noting an extreme idealization of the Italian lifestyle and fashion sense in much of their advertising, I had assumed that Rome would set an example as "fashion forward," perhaps resembling London on a macro scale in that every one would be dressed in roughly the same, sharp, meticulously designed manner. I had assumed that in Rome there would be demigods of style from which all of this inspiration had been drawn.

This was assuredly not so. Every one in Rome had their own styles, tastes, looks, etc. No extremely strong fashion trends were found with the notable exception that people seemed to simply dress comfortably. Perhaps these expected demigods are simply elsewhere in Italy (Milan?), maybe the warmer Mediterranean climate is a significant factor, maybe I was just mistaken. But I am left to ponder whether Londoners and Parisians are being sold a false ideal by advertisers? It would certainly not be a new phenomenon.

Another pleasant surprise was the way in which the Peruvian neighborhood was able to uphold its culture under the massive external forces of the surrounding city, particularly with its close proximity to tourist-central at the Colosseum. We came across it as a neighborhood football match was well underway and ostensibly everyone was out to watch. Little kids ran around outside the field kicking a ball with aspirations of playing in the big game, pockets of friends shared food and drinks, rows of onlookers tracked the ball with a laser focus. The Peruvian flag flew proudly and Spanish was the only language to be heard. It was wholly and completely different from the surrounding neighborhoods, which was fantastic to see as a citizen of a nation which sometimes attempts to swallow everyone and everything into its monolithic cultural vortex.

But some of the best experiences to be had in Rome were the smallest and most transient. Making brief, hilarious eye contact with a seemingly unhappy dog and seeing his tail wag in response, joining in on a little passing of the football between two boys and a father and experiencing one of the youngsters clap (perhaps sarcastically?) at my forceful but errant pass to his brother, attempting to throw a rose into the Tevere and completely missing and not caring at all, being awestruck at the sheer ornateness and splendor of that first random basilica, being told that my pale skin was an "imminent danger" under the Roman Sun by the wonderful, old German man behind the desk at Ivanhoe, sharing a laugh with the younger Italian gentleman at the desk when he finally guessed the number of my hotel room after days of failed attempts, snagging a slice of pizza from a hole-in-the-wall and realizing it was the best of my life, sharing in thunderous applause for a rider who finally nailed a trick after a dozen missed tries at a BMX demo outside of the Forum, completely befuddling a street merchant when I apparently tried to steal a free rose, evading dehydration at the coolest, best tasting water fountain I have ever sipped from, spending a few relaxing moments watching a young man with a Kobe jersey shoot hoops by himself only moments after seeing a younger girl with a Messi jersey kick a ball around, feeling exultation at the various summits of the Roman hills... Maybe it is the impromptu, isolated little events which have the greatest impact? They certainly left an indelible mark on me.

Thanks, Rome, for all of the little things. Arrivederci.


From taking the train from the airport upon arrival well past the city and deep into Catalonia because the information system was hard to decipher, to being floored at how ridiculously extravagant the hotel was given the context of its location and price, to being thrown for loops of all sorts while exploring the city, to being somewhat shocked at how amazing the food was, to stumbling (haphazardly, mind you) to the highest peak in the mountain ranges of the Catalonian Lowlands, to having to descend 1,236 meters down the mountain on foot through perilous crags, steep stairs and slopes, and paths that made no physical sense because the modes of transit off of the mountain at the Monastery closed ridiculously early, to narrowly making a train back to the city thanks to a couple of good samaritans whom I will never forget, to completely and utterly screwing up the (short) trip from hotel to airport on the morning of departure due to completely erroneous and poorly dispersed information within the Barcelona transit system, to somehow booking a flight a few hours later that will deliver me home... it has all been unexpected, thrilling and downright crazy.

I am awaiting flight to London as we speak, and my reflection on the last portion of this two week European excursion has brought my mind to all of the wild adventure that has been had. It has truly been a wild ride with experiences that I will not ever forget.

Stumbling upon the Mediterranean after finally making it from the airport to the city was a sight for sore eyes. The water is a gradient from a clear teal to the deepest blue I can recall. The sand is golden-white and completely pure in composition. The salt air is delicious and the sailboats, surfers and fellow beach loungers are a joy. Though the water was still a touch too cold to swim in, I did go into the sea up to my knees and confront a breaker or two. I cannot wait to return to this lovely sea again some day.

Stumbling, weary and exhausted, into the four star hotel with the king-sized bed, the beautiful view of the city and the best, most exhilarating, most wonderful shower I have ever encountered was a terrific but strange experience. The sheer opulence of the room astounded me, and I felt absolutely pampered. And though I have never had meager living or travel arrangements before, I have never stayed somewhere quite like Hesperia, particularly relative to the hostels and hotels which found me elsewhere in Europe.

But it was strange because the hotel towered, quite literally, over a less fortunate outlying portion of the city. The view to the East included the Mediterranean, bright lights and some commercial structures. The view to the West included only cramped apartment complexes in varying states of ostensible decay. It was the kind of situation I had hoped to avoid, honestly: staying in a ritzy hotel where I was almost insulated from the city locals. This disheartening semi-shame combined with the positive thrill of comfort for my tired legs and shoulders... that is what is strange.

Stumbling up Montserrat to the peak at Sant Jeroni was a carefree adventure. From making the last minute decision to take the train out to the mountains and see the Monastery, to deciding on the fly to go hiking on the trails and picking an arbitrary one with no information, to choosing randomly where to go at various forks in the trail, the entire hike was an exercise in letting the wind and the earth take you where they will. It was also a display of tremendously good fortune, as all of these small, pseudo-random happenings resulted in the best outdoors experience of my life and lead me to the most wonderful view I have ever seen. From the top of Sant Jeroni, you can see almost all of Catalonia, including Barcelona, you can see the island of Majorca, you can see clear north to France, you can see countless mountains and rolling hills, you can see everything. And picnicking at the summit with a grocery store lunch of turkey, ham, apples, oranges and chocolate cookies and a lovely, amazing person to share with was the best way to quell a hungry stomach at that place and time. We made a couple of rock sculptures like the many hikers and travelers before us, and began to descend.

Stumbling down Montserrat from the peak at Sant Jeroni was a perilous adventure. The hike from the peak to the funicular that carries one from Sant Joan down to the Monastery was lovely, generating views as beautiful as those found on the ascent. But, issue one: the funicular was closed. So followed an hour hike around the mountain to the Monastery on foot, which was also spectacular but included anxiety that if the funicular was closed, so might the cable car and tram down the mountain. Upon reaching the Monastery after a hike which included the amazing sight of three playful ibexes locking horns in a field, the concern was manifest as the transit down the mountain had closed ten minutes prior at 7:00pm. That's issue two. And so began a dangerous descent from an altitude of about 1,000 meters in the twilight. There was indeed a path down, but it was fraught with stretches which are most assuredly not for the faint of heart and ample confusion. It went back upwards at times and each view of where it headed seemed to imply that it had no end. This made for a somewhat stressful couple of hours. But reaching a paved road at the bottom and looking back up at the peak to see how far and high it really was inspired immense pride.

Then came a walk through the small town at the base of the mountain, Manresa. The destination was the train station and I was pointed in the correct direction by a local who spoke with me in Spanish. I must have misunderstood because he presented me with issue three: the train that came and went minutes prior was the last one of the night. A full on sprint to the station showed that, according to the timetables, there was in fact another train in one hour. After about forty-five minutes of waiting on platform two, a freight train pulled into the station at the same platform, and stopped. This was very fortunate: the delightful, kind, guardian-esque conductor stepped out and told me in Spanish that the information on the departures monitor was incorrect and that I wanted to be on the opposite platform. After crossing over, I looked back and saw him on a phone, apparently verifying his own knowledge. This, too, proved to be fortunate as he then crossed over the tracks to tell us that this new departure information was also bad and that I wanted to be on a completely different platform. The train did soon come and, after many "gracias", hand-shakes and waves, departed for the city. Not only did this fellow prevent a catastrophic issue four, but he helped to reinforce and cement my conviction of the goodness of people.

He had nothing to gain from from stepping out of his train, walking down the platform to talk with me, helping me to go the correct platform, calling some one to verify that he had been right, helping me again and sticking around to make sure that the departure went off without flaw. He saw an obvious tourist in a rural area waiting on a train and stepped in to help with great kindness and care. It was heart-warming and altruistic, a display of humanity for humanity's sake.

And after a couple of minor snafus after transferring to the Barcelona metro, including a failed attempt at a misdirect-and-pickpocket by two men, the stumble into the hotel room was a welcome one.

To say that that was a particularly adventurous day would be an understatement. And much of the rest of the Barcelona trip was packed with its own little pockets of adventure.

But I would be remiss to neglect to discuss the many fellow travelers that were encountered. Especially at Montserrat, it seemed that a friendly smile and an interesting conversation was just around any bend in the trail. There were folks from Denmark, Australia, Ireland and even America (former DC residents, no less!) and they each had a witty comment about the climb, useful information, friendly encouragement or a simple "Hello, where are you from?" This doesn't even take into account everyone that passed by with a smile and greeting. And it struck me that every one seemed content and joyful; perhaps those who travel are more easy going and relaxed. Maybe it does not scale and maybe it does not continue through their respective returns to their respective homes, but maybe traveling and seeing the Rest of the World is rejuvenating. I'm not quite sure how I personally feel yet, and I still have one day to go, but I'm doing pretty swell so far.

And of course the architecture and the geography and the food and the overall experience of Barcelona were terrific, but having that mountain adventure, getting through a daunting, potentially deadly situation with only trust and care, was the real high point of the trip, and maybe of the entire European vacation. It also helped to teach me, with help from the world's best travel companion, that logistics and planning are much less stressful when you don't care where you're going.

Like the rest of my time in Barcelona, it was certainly a thrill. For this, Catalonia, I thank you. Adios (or, rather, adeu).


It is just after midnight here at Zone A, Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, London, England, Earth, where I intend to pull an all-nighter before catching the 11:15am flight back to DC. I could have booked a nearby motel, and I'd likely be sleeping right now, but sitting in a windowed corner of a foreign airport while Washed Out chills and soothes me seems pretty okay. It gives me time, to think, to reflect, to take it all in, to just be.

It's been two weeks of non-stop travel around Western Europe and my body has held up admirably. Even so, I'm exhausted and drained. I feel mentally disjointed at the moment: thoughts of all sorts are flowing free with little guidance or coherence. It is partially the music and partially the atmosphere of a near-vacant airport that is leading to a mental swim in an ether of thought and of sound and of the sounds of my thoughts. I almost forgot what this feels like. Feels nice, especially after what can only be described as a journey.

A journey is not a vacation. A journey is not about a place. The place is just a medium, like each possible location at each point in time is a canvas that has its own unique properties which are slightly obscured from you but are revealed through your travels. Going on a vacation is like buying a print and scribbling and drawing on it. And that's okay. But a journey is like accepting whatever canvas the world gives you and making something which is deeply personal but cannot be made without a close some one or a new friend. The journey is about the people who help you fill in that space-time canvas with newness and with realness and with life. This canvas, with this person, is pretty beautiful I must say.

Going home will be interesting. I look forward to seeing my friends and my peers and my family and my bonsai and my cat and my bed. I look forward to simply laying on my couch under my fuzzy, purple blanket. But I feel like there's so much more to do and to see, both here in Europe and everywhere else on this big, blue-green globe. I have been infected by the travel bug, and my mind is being consumed by thoughts of what should come next. South America? The Far East? Africa? They'll all come in time, but I want to start now.

I asked myself when this all started: what will I see? What will I learn? I wanted to write it all down, partially out of fear of forgetting but also so that there would be some permanent monument that I could always come back to. But I know now that that would be impossible: there has been too much to describe and record, and I honestly don't have adequate words for most of it. And I don't need it anyway. These memories aren't going away anytime soon.

So thank you to everyone I met on this voyage. You all taught me in such varied ways, though we do not even know each other's names. And thank you to all of the kind folks who helped me without expecting anything in return. I'd have been hopeless otherwise.

And a special, everlasting brand of gratitude to the best travel companion that has ever existed. I'd have truly been lost without you.