Dos

I am writing this post in the apartment Martin and Andrea, a wonderful couple I met on my Iceland hike, in Augsburg, Germany jamming out to FM 4 internet radio station and a belly full of M&M’s. Because what is the point of blogging if you cant snack during.

Truly, the two month mark for my trip caught me completely off guard. Month two was entirely different from my first month but the time passed equally quickly. But while the time has passed quickly, I can also hardly believe that I have fit so much into such a small amount of time. To think that I was in Maastricht, Netherlands when I wrote my post on my first month and have since travelled countless miles through five countries is really difficult to wrap my head around and I was there for thw whole thing!

I know that my blog has fallen off recently and I do apologize for that, but the past month has been far from dull. I saw some of my best friends in thw entire world and The Phantom of the Opera in London, urban camped for two nights under a bridge along the Seinne in Paris, explored a Moorish castle in Portugal, swam in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain, hiked in the Pyrenees, grew my family by five in Lyon, and had litre after litre of beer in Augsburg. The past month has been incredible for me and I love my choice to go on this journey more each day.

When I was staying with my host family, the Segneri’s, I was present for their ‘high, low’ dinner table conversation and I will use the same format to relate what my life has been like the past month.

High
I fucking love traveling. Even before this trip, I had been so blessed in the traveling I had done and now I do it 24/7. I have already doubled the number of countries I have been to and have discovered so much about myself and the world. The sense of accomplishment that comes with each new town explored, each train successfully caught, and each stranger turned friend is what keeps me going. While this month wasn’t nearly as physically intense or remote as my first, it posed an entirely new challenge in navigating urban environments that I admittedly was not the best prepared for. It has been a blast though!

Low
Traveling is fucking exhausting. I dont think I ever been so consistently tired both mentally and physically. Mentally, it is a bit defeating to leave a city right when I start to become comfortable in it and there have been times I struggled with homesickness. On top of that, plans for 2015 weighed very heavily on my mind for most of this month. I love the freedom that my trip and lifestyle has brought me, but I do find myself distracted by what my next step is quite often. Physically, the last month hasnt been as demanding, but for some reason my body handled walking through rough mountain trails much better then it has paved city streets. My hips and back, which have always been tight, are now worse then they have ever been despite a rigorous and consistent stretching routine. I also increased the amount of food I eat (losing 12 pounds in the first month had me a bit spooked to be honest) and have gained back 6 of the 12 pounds but I think I am beginning to feel the effects of a prolonged diet that lacks diversity and nutrients. I am far from malnourished so please do not worry and I am taking steps to reverse the trend.

So that is my high/low for the month. What is yours?

Money Makes the World Go Round, Dammit
A big difference in the past month from the first month of my trip is the amount of change that has happened to my itinerary. While the general direction hasn’t changed, a lot of the stops were cut out due to the time and cost they represented. While time is far from the main concern of those two, I definitely felt the cumulative effects of my nonstop, nomadic lifestyle in earlier weeks and therefore slowed down (but that is a relative statement) my progress so I saw less places for longer periods of time. This decision is a double edged sword. It meant I was able to explore Lisbon, Malaga, Lyon, and Augsburg much deeper then I originally would have but also that stops like Porto, Barcelona, and Marseilles went entirely unexplored. My hand was forced more by my wallet then by my watch, though. Money is tight. I can sit here and make excuses about train reservations and exchange rates all I want but at the end of the day Europe is much more expensive then I was expecting, even with the style of travel I am doing.
But I refuse to let that bother me and, instead of focusing on what I had to cut out and didnt get to do, I am choosing to learn from the situation, be happy that I was able to manage the situation and get through it, and realize that I was still able to do extremely cool, once of a lifetime experiences that I would never have done had I stuck with the original plan.
Besides, I do have a weird sense of pride in my ability, however forced it was, to let go of the plan I had made to adapt to my present circumstances.

What’s Next?
Great question. Right now, 2015 is more up in the air then it was when I wrote about it a month ago. Thats okay, though. Dont worry, you’ll be the first people to know outside of those who hear my gleeful bursts of joy whenever I make a decision. Because odds are, I will be insanely excited not just about the opportunity but also about finally making a decision.
As for the next month of my trip, it will have a lot of great things in it! It’ll be my last month with the Eurail pass and I will be spending most of my time working my way Southeast towards Istanbul. On my way there I will have a week in Czech Republic with Sara, see a third friend playing professional sports in Europe, go to a Halloween party, explore Poland’s Holocaust history, reunite with dear friends in Budapest, and go hiking in Croatia! This itinerary is pretty solid, as all of these things have been at the top of my list since day 1 and are highly anticipated! Of course I am open to spontaneous adventures in between but that is a solid skeleton.

More to come soon!
All my love.

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London

Ello there London!

Sunday, September 21st

I arrived in London at the ass-crack of dawn, 6:30am is when my bus pulled into Victoria train station, and was immediately lost. Seriously, London is huge and intimidating and DO NOT try to figure out the bus system on no sleep. It was immediately apparent that I wasn’t in small town Sweden anymore. I eventually navigated to the correct bus route and headed out to the hostel I was splurging on for the next few nights.

The hostel that I was staying at was called New Cross Inn Hostel (don’t know why they had to have both Inn and Hostel in there) which I had found for a great deal on Airbnb. It was a bit more ‘big box’ hostel then what I had wanted but it was going to serve its purpose wonderfully. They let me throw my pack into the luggage room, scarf down some of the free breakfast for the day, and then I was off back to downtown for a day I had been looking forward to for years…. The Group was going to be reunited!

The Group was my close group of friends during my backpacking trip through New Zealand in January 2012. Made up of four Londoners (Claire, Andy, Rachel, and Alexandra) and myself, we were instant friends and they without a doubt made my New Zealand trip the incredible experience that it was.

I made my way to Euston station where I was reunited with Rachel after two and a half years! Rachel is this crazy, wonderful human being who provided much of the comic relief during the trip and it was so incredible to see her again. She had a walking route all planned out for the morning until we met Claire and Andy at Victoria Station, too! She took me through Covent Garden where we saw an opera singer performing, through Trafalgar Square and past St. James and Buckingham Palace, and then down to Victoria Station. We grabbed a beer while we were waiting for Claire and Andy and we all let out a huge, “KaKaaaaw!” when we were all finally together. It was so amazing to have them there with me. They were a huge, massive reason why I made London a destination on my trip and it was so good for it all to come together.

The four of us continued our tour of London past Westminster, Big Ben, and Parliament, crossed the Jubilee Bridge, ate lunch at an Italian restaurant off of Trafalgar, and had some drinks in Jubilee Gardens. It was incredible to be walking through London with all of them and at some points I just took a step back and smiled as the three of them all bounced back and forth with conversation going a thousand miles a minute. Clair and Andy were the same as I remembered them. Their relationship and the constant sarcasm and wit that surrounds them was a constant sense of joy on our trip in NZ and the same could be said for today. What made it even better was that Claire was pregnant and due in just a week or two. It was magnificent. My cheeks hurt from the constant laughing and smiling before the day was even halfway over.

While the day was missing one of the original Group, it was such an incredible day and even if it had been the one day I had in London would have been completely worth the cost and time it took me to get there.

Monday, September 22nd

I enjoyed another free brekky before heading to London Bridge station to explore the city. I walked past Monument to St. Paul’s Cathedral where I went exploring for a few hours. The Cathedral is beyond gorgeous and absolutely massive. I embraced my rebel spirit and snuck a few pictures while I was there before climbing up into the dome for an incredible view of the city and descending into the crypts to see all the final resting places of famous dead people. It was quite a wonderful few hours! I then walked up to Kings Cross Station, stopping at the food carts in Exmouth Market along the way. When I got to Kings Cross I embraced my inner wizard and went to platform 9 3/4 where, for just a fleeting moment, I might have hoped that the brick wall actually did lead to a secret world of magic, moving pictures, and dragons. Mainly dragons.
I decided to cope with my deep disappoint over my muggle-ness by taking the subway down to the Natural History museum. This is one of the many museums in London that are free and everyone knows that the second best thing to live dragons are dead dinosaurs so it made perfect sense! I spent a few hours in the museum perusing their collection of animatronic ancient reptiles, shiny rocks, and taxidermy specimens (which they admit is growing old and faded but they dont refresh due to the demand it would create for endangered species poaching) before making my way back to my hostel. I spent the evening skyping with Sara about life and if or travel plans would be able to match up or not. I ended the night by exploring the depths of the discount theatre ticket market in which, much to my delight, I found a deeply discounted ticket for tomorrow’s Phantom of the Opera performance. My wallet and logic got the best of me though and I didnt purchase it.

Thursday, September 23rd
The first thing I did Thursday morning was buy my ticket to Phantom of the Opera. See how long that lasted? I was beyond excited for this opportunity, as Phantom has been my favorite musical ever since I read it in 8th grade. And I was going to see it in London, of all places!
I had a full day of exploring to do before the show, so I headed back to London Bridge station to begin my tour of the Thames. I walked across London Bridge, explored the entire outside of London Tower (which is super expensive to get into but had an impressive display of red lilly flowers all around its walls in remembrance of World War I soldiers with each flower marking a single death), and then followed the bank all the way to the Millennium Bridge. Thankfully it wasn’t being ripped apart by Death Eaters while I crossed so I was able to make it to the other side and see the Globe Theatre! I almost bought a standing room ticket for a performance that afternoon but decided that Phantom would be more than enough theatre for a day. My next stop was the London Eye, that giant ferris wheel that is apparently the only thing that exists in London according to Hollywood, where I rode up high above the skyline for some truly incredible views. I also met an eloping couple who was getting married in front of the Eiffel tower the next afternoon, so that was pretty awesome.
I took the train out to Earls Court, which gave me just enough time to see Kensington Palace (I was under strict orders to find Kate by a dear friend in Louisville but unfortunately I was unable to accomplish this), explore the massive Hyde Park where I saw the Diana memorial, and finally the Wellington Arch and all the war memorials at the entrance to St. James Park. I ate dinner on the steps of Trafalgar Square with a trio of dancers performing below and a massive, blue chicken watching from above.
I was beside myself as I walked up to Her Majesty’s Royal Theatre. Just the name is impressive! I did take a sigh of relief when I saw the attire of the other patrons. I wouldnt stand out too much in my hiking boots and tech shirt.
Even though I was in the very last row of the very highest balcony (I looked down onto the chandelier if that gives you an idea) I was still giddy with excitement. And even with my incredibly high expectations I still walked out absolutely baffled at how perfect and emotional the show was. The Phantom took a bit of getting used to but I soon was captivated by his raw, emotional performance. My favorite was definitely Christine though. Her voice was perfect. The sets and props were all phenomenal, with my favorite being either the graveyard or Opera rooftop scene. The show made me laugh (whether it was improv or not the performers put some pretty witty humor into some scenes) and cry multiple times. Music of the Night and the Phantom professing, “Christine, I love you,” definitely brought tears to my eyes. After the show was over I made it back to my hostel and fell asleep so I could dream about wizards and phantoms.

Wednesday, September 24th
I had an early morning so I could catch my bus from London to Paris. Note to readers, try to avoid going through rush hour public transport with a 70L pack. It is no fun.
I made it the Victoria bus station with time to grab some groceries and take one last peak at those big double decker buses. It would be a long, 10 hour ride over land and sea (or under the sea I guess).
Unfortunately the wifi on the bus wasn’t working for my phone again but I was able to get a lot of planning/mapping of what I wanted to do for the rest of the trip done.
And just like that, before I even knew it, I was in Paris!!

Malmö and Copenhagen

Sunday, September 14th
I would spend the vast majority of the day riding Swedish trains through over half of the country from Ostersund to Malmö. I had spent nearly two weeks in Sweden (much longer then originally planned) and it was time to move on.
I did have the very fortunate opportunity to stop in Stockholm for about two hours so that I could see Henrik and Olle, who were both in Australia at the same time as me. I had missed Henrik the first time I was in Stockholm and it is always good to see Olle again!
We grabbed a beer and I demolished a burger at the train station sports bar. In wonderful irony it’s walls were plastered with every Boston sport memorabilia imaginable yet was broadcasting Swedish hockey. It was great to see Henrik again. He was always the big partier getting everyone motivated for another crazy night out (although few of us needed much motivation) and I once again couldn’t believe the luck I was having with reuniting with friends. But unfortunately my stay was very limited on time and soon I was off to Malmö.
I left a friend in Ostersund to get drinks with two friends in Sweden and left them to go stay with a friend in Malmö. This was proving to be a very friendly Sunday.
When I got to Malmö, Folke, who’s aunt Karin had just hosted me for two days in Kiruna, was waiting for me at the train station. We walked to his car where I was introduced to his wonderful girlfriend, Linda, and then taken to their place just a short drive away. It was a really nice apartment in a new area of constuction that was right along the water and at the foot of the first skyscraper I had seen on my trip, a building known as the Twisting Torso.
Folke and Linda were just incredible hosts. We had a dinner of fresh tacos (which apparently Swedes absolutely love) and great conversation about traveling, the Swedish election, and our favorite television shows. We turned the tv on to the live election results and that brought us into an intense conversation about how and why the openly racist party had the third highest votes. If you haven’t, please refer to my last post, specifically regarding my experience being abroad on 9/11, for my feelings on that.
I really loved spending that night with Folke and Linda because I was able to just hang out with them. There was no awkward silence to be filled or time constraints. Just three people talking about life, particularly racism and HBO.

Monday, September 15th
The big perk of staying with Folke and Linda (outside of getting to spend time with them obviously) was that they were a short (and free!) train ride to Copenhagen. Since both of my hosts worked, I got up to an empty apartment but quickly vacated it in order to have the most time possible in Denmark.
I got to Copenhagen around 10pm and immediately grabbed a city map, circled all the places I wanted to get to, and estimated what the quickest, most efficient way to get to all of them was. This would become my go to practice everytime I got into a new city.
The first thing I went to was the cemetery where Hans Christen Andersen’s grave is. It was quite a hike and out of the way but let me see the less touristy side of the city as well as the gorgeous lake that sits just outside the city center. I had never seen so many swans in one place! After ambling through the cemetery, which could easily have been called a garden for its wooded walkways, flowery gravesites, and hedged plot rows, I headed to the harbor. I stopped for lunch on the ramparts of the old fort, still in use as an active military base today, that overlooked the habor and palaces. Aside from having one of my peanut butter and jellies sat on by an elderly woman who needed a rest (I wish I was kidding), it was quite enjoyable! Stomach full, I continued on to see the inexplicably popular Little Mermaid. While it was a very beautiful statue, I was baffled at how it was considered to be such a huge tourist draw. The size and detail and location were of no incredible nature and honestly it didnt meet my expectations, although I can’t tell you what those expectations were. Maybe I thought itd be more involved and built up from being a tourist attraction but a single tiny Asian woman with her cart of roasted almonds was the entirety of the tourist scene. But the quiteness around the statue grew on me and it is fun that I can say I have indeed stood with the Little Mermaid. I worked my way back through the city now bouncing along the streets from palace to palace to church to palace. So many palaces. So many churches. I finally got to the Old Harbor area which made me yearn for a six pack and some pals to people watch with.Staring at one another from across the thin strand of water were multicolored buildings with bustling cafes poking out from their sidewalks and bobbing between them were two rows of massive sailboats, all permanently docked I would assume, no more out of place than a Toyota parallel parked in New York city. It was incredible. I followed this street to the new harbor where I crossed over to find the neighborhood of Christiania. Folke had told me about it the night before, that it was this area of the city settled by hippies decades ago who just never left and now attracted the city’s wanderers, artists, and pot heads (as there is an established, bustling marijuana industry within its boundaries despite official Denmark law). It was so cool! There was a sign at the front that said, “You are now leaving the EU and entering Christiania.” Not quite that extreme but it was a place unlike any I had ever seen. Every surface even remotely vertical was covered in art (it is hard to call it graffiti when it is on such a grand and accepted scale), the buildings were small scale structures that hardly looked permanent, and the market area was dotted with canvas covered tents where those of a more uplifting inclination could get their fix. I had no cash otherwise… I mean, no thanks Mr. Christiania weed dealer (my mother reads this blog). After wandering into one too many private backyards (although it is arguable the concept of privacy existed in this part of the city) I decided to head back to the train station, stopping at, you guess it, more palaces along the way! Seriously. So many palaces. I made good time because I didnt go into any of them because they were all expensive as fuck for entry so I killed an hour or two in the Hard Rock, my guilty travel pleasure, before catching the train back to Malmö! I had spent just over 8 hours in the city and easily 7 of those had been on my feet. I was wooped.
When Folke got back we headed out to get falafel! I know, I was confused when he said falafel, too, but apparently Malmö has a large immigrant community that has created this incredibly diverse foodie paradise, the most notable being delicious falafel. They ever have a yearly contest for Malmö’ s best falafel! I got witness another demonatration (seriously it is like they are drawn to me) while we walked along enjoying our falafel with salad, fried cheese, garlic sauce, tomatoes, and who knows what else. It was delicious and made me crave the street food of Israel more than I already did.
That evening I had the unfortunate realization that my trip from Malmö to Copenhagen would be much more time consuming than originally hoped for which meant I would need to say goodbye to Folke and Linda that night instead of tomorrow evening. I thanked them both for their wonderful hospitality and friendship, made tentative plans to meet with Folke again on his fall break from teaching, and called it a night.

*THANK YOU FOLKE AND LINDA FOR AN INCREDIBLE TWO NIGHTS IN MALMÖ. You allowed me to see two cities where I would have only seen one and do so in comfort and circumstance that I never saw coming. You are always welcome to join me where ever I am in the world and one day I shall repay your hospitality with that of my own!*

All my love.