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!!

Maastricht

Thursday, September 18th
I got into Maastricht around 3pm and wandered around the city for awhile while I waited for Aaron, a friend from my Birthright trip last spring, to meet me. I would be staying with Aaron for the next two nights and was very excited to see him. A fellow CISVer and an all around great guy, we had really hit it off on Birthright and I was really looking forward to experiencing Europe through his perspective.
Maastricht was larger than I thought it was going to be, but it definitely was no Amsterdam. I liked the small town feel that it had to it and once Aaron came he was able to give me a lot of history and informstion on the place. We sat at a bar by the university where Aaron teaches to catch up over some beers. Aaron was able to recommend what I should try which helped me get a truer (and tastier) local experience. When we got to Aarons, we decided to do a homemade dinner and went to go get the makings for tacos! Here Aaron introduced me to a self checkout process that took it to the extreme. There was no worker checking your bags, you scanned and put your groceries in your own bags in the store so there was no moving of groceries from a cart to a bag, and the entire thing just involved such a high and evolved level of trust it was astounding.
Aaron, a whiskey lover, then treated me to some great whiskey and conversation to end the night. It was a good first night in Maastricht.

Friday, September 19th
Had a wonderfully lazy morning where I was able to take a long shower and eat a big brekky. I had missed fresh muesli and milk.
I headed into town where I was meeting an old friend from high school, Carlene, who had recently moved to Maastricht with her boyfriend. I was pretty nervous to see Carlene. Even though it was only to hang out for a day, I hadnt seen or spoken to her in five years and confess that I had done a poor job of keeping that friendship a priority. Thankfully my worries were without need.
Carlene and I had been close senior year of high school. We had been partners in crime, so to speak. It was incredible how quickly we got back to that ground. It wasnt immediate, I know I personally was unsure how to go about conversation, but eventually we were once again comfortable in each other’s presence. I have had my share of reunions at this point so youd think I would be used to seeing an old friend sitting across a table from me in a random place in Europe, but even then I still couldn’t believe that it was actually happening.
Carlene and I grabbed lunch at one of the many cafes in Maastricht and then went and enjoyed a traditional fry cone. I was advised to get curry ketchup, mayo, and onions on mine so I hesitantly put aside my dislike for mayo and was treated marvelously for the decision. They were delicious and apparently the favorite of the locals. We then walked through the shopping streets and made our way to the riverside where we enjoyed a nice Belgium beer (truly great beer but I do miss my IPA). By then it was time for me to meet back up with Aaron so Carlene and I said goodbye and made some tentative plans to try and go to Oktoberfest together.  Unfortunately these plans fell through later but it meant a lot to me that Carlene invited me in the first place.
I returned to the same bar outside Aaron’s university and soon was joined by him and a group of his coworkers. This was the first time that I realized that over the past month I had legitimately lost some of my social skills. I was intimidated and felt out of place in a social setting that I had always flourished in. I got my social feet underneath me soon enough though and it turned into a wonderful evening.
We all went to dinner at a really nice local spot. Halfway through one of Aaron’s coworkers learned he was an uncle so that added some cheer and excitement to the night. Set on making sure I had experienced Belgium beer, Aaron then led the way to another bar where we had a few drinks before calling it a night.
This day was incredible but far and away frol anything I had experienced so far in the trip. Eating out twice, having drinks throughout the day, and being in constant social interaction was not something I was used to. I loved every minute of it, but knew that it wasn’t sustainable with my budget or approach to the trip.

Saturday, September 20th
That morning I finalized my bus ticket to London from Brussels later that night.
I packed up everything from the past two days, which included newly washed laundry, and joined Aaron for a final lunch in Maastricht. It was so good. A heaping chicken sandwich that had me more than satisfied. I was sad to be on the road so quickly, because Maastricht had been really awesome, but my trip to London was quite possibly the most excited I had been for anything the whole time I had been on the road.
My train to Brussels, where I would catch my bus to London, left just past 2pm. I would only be in Brussels for a few hours but I wanted to make the most of it so when I got in just before 5pm I grabbed a map and optimistically set out to find my bus stop and then go explore! If I am being completely honest, I was overwhelmed by Brussels for the sheer reason of trying to locate where I would pick up my bus. I had taken the train to the central station but my bus left from one of the other main city terminals. In an attempt to gain my bearings I approached the ticket counter where I was reluctantly greeted by the douchiest ticket teller of all time. As soon as I uttered the word bus, he interrupted me to let me know that this was the place to get train tickets. I explained that I knew that but was hoping he could point me in the right direction to the station I had to go to. He outright refused, stuck on the fact I had mentioned bus even though I was asking for the location of a train station. So I smiled, told him he was absolutely no help at all, flicked him off, and walked away. I am not proud of it, but in the moment I was so beyond furious with that human being it was the most polite option I had to choose from. I dont know if I would have sped up my car if he had been standing in the road, but I definitely wouldn’t have braked.
Anyways, I found the station on my own and once I was confident I could navigate to it I ventured out into Brussels for a few hours. But I was so out of sorts that I had lost a lot of interest in walking around. I explored the Grand Place which, as its name suggests, is quite grand and impressive. A marching band had been going through the square and the gypsies were peddling their flowers and magazines as a group of Russian tourists followed their guide like baby ducks. It was a wonderful sight. It was dusk so the buildings were all lit up and the side streets were all bustling with the sound of cafes and bars and chocolate stores.
I retreated into the Hard Rock (I really do have a guilty pleasure with these places) and actuallt sat down for a meal. The staff immediately had me feeling better as they all asked where I was from, joked that my pack needed a meal of its own, and informed me of the unknown perk of a free sundae for Eurail pass holders! I left Hard Rock in a complete different frame of mind and headed to the train station where I would catch my bus. Once there Brussels continued to redeem itself as the lady at the car rental office let me chsrge my phone at her desk as I read my book outside. When confronted by security for sitting down in that area, she even came out of her office to tell them I was allowed to stay. It was then that I really began to feel bad about my behavior with the attendant earlier and I told myself to never let something like that get me that frustrated ever again. So far, I have kept thst promise.
I was really anxious about catching this bus. The company didn’t have an office in the station and there was no sign for where the bus would be. All I had was a general sense of where it would be. Thankfully I attached myself to other people waiting for the same bus so that eased my mind a bit.
I boarded the bus just past 11pm and wouldnt see London until 6am. Lets tango, iDBus!
The bus ride was good. I didnt get much sleep and customs was a really weird, drawn out experience but I did get the second passport stamp of my trip which was fun! To cross the Channel, the bus actually drove onto a train that then used the tunnel. I remember the bus driving onto the train, but after that I was out like a light.

I would wake up in England.

Amsterdam

Tuesday, September 16th
My day started much earlier than I had hoped for and this early departure meant that I had to say goodbye to Folke and Linda the night before. But I was very excited to get to the next part of my trip. I had spent a long time in Sweden and was about to start on a very intense whistleblower tour that would have me in five different countries in the span of ten days. Amsterdam was my first stop!
I had a pretty complicated train itinerary to get to Amsterdam but I wasnt complaining because, finally, the trains were free! The reservations had really been adding up for me and I was very relieved to be able to do some travelling without them.
I got into Amsterdam around 11pm and immediately set out for the bar that my hostess was at. Without even realizing it, I walked straight through the red light district with my massive pack and city map. I definitely got turned around but eventually I found the small, local bar and had one of the more random and exciting reunions of my trip.
In a wonderful case of being in the right place at the right time, a close friend of Gio’s, the Brasilian CISV Interchange leader who I was partnered with three years previously (who I now consider a third sister), Hana, had recently moved to Amsterdam to study. I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw her, it was such an incredible, random chance. We immediately picked up right where we left things off three years earlier when I was living in Sao Paulo. It was like no time had passed. We talked about what we had been up to, the highs and lows we had experienced since we last saw one another, and what the circumstances were for both of us being in Amsterdam.
Exhausted, I was happy when the bar closing expedited our departure. It was a long walk back to Hanas but the time passed incredibly quickly since we had so much to talk about.

Wednesday, September 17th
My first morning in Amsterdam was a very exciting one. I had slept incredibly, knew I was able to leave my pack at Hanas, and had the entire day to explore Amsterdam. Hana had school so I was flying (no pun intended) solo on this adventure. I grabbed a day pass for the Amsterdam city transport and took a tram into the city center. My first stop was going to be the most emotionally intense of my trip, the Anne Frank house.
Fortunately, the wait was a relatively short one and passed quickly after I met two Canadian backpackers. But as soon as we walked through the doors of the house, the travel stories and laughter stopped immediately.
The beginning of Anne Franks story and the museum start in the ground floor of a neighboring building, what would have been the storage rooms of the businesses at the time Anne was there. Aa you work your way through the storage rooms and front offices of Otto Franks business, you are given the background of the Frank family, how the Nazi occupation forced them into hiding, and the arrangement they made with the incredible human beings who would help them during their time in the Hidden Room.
When you enter into the immediate area of the Hidden Room, which were the front rooms in the upstairs of the building, the air changes. The background story done, you are now walking through the same rooms and hallways that Anne, her family, and the others walked. It was haunting. I felt like gravity was stronger in those rooms, a force holding me there even though no matter of time could help me to fully understand what had happened there. Those walls had witnessed love and horror on an unparalleled level.
While my eyes had tears for the majority of the experience, the first time that I broke down was when I saw the bookcase that blocked the Hidden Room from view. Seeing the doorway opening behind the angled bookcase froze my heart. This had been someone’s front door. Walking behind the bookcase was even more intense. I have never felt so claustrophobic yet so small in my entire life. Forced to turn sideways to navigate the angle of the bookcase and the tight quarters that wait behind it, I was scared. I dont know how else to explain it. I felt as if turning sideways to enter into the Hidden Room forced me to leave something behind. An innocence. Either that, or it added something to my soul. A weight of knowledge that no text book or picture can give you. An unavoidable force that attaches to you and turns you into a witness. Either way, no one is the same person once they step behind that bookcase.
The rooms were completely bare save for a few plaques telling the story of the occupants. When the Nazi’s had discovered Anne and the others, they had stripped the space of everything and it was the wish of Anne’s father, the sole survivor of the group, that they remain that way. There were pictures of where the rooms had been temporarily furnished to the way it had been, but now they stood empty. Anne’s room, the second you walk through, still had some of the photos and comics and magazine clippings that she had put up on the walls. Seeing ‘Chimpanzee Picnic’, pictures of animals squared up side by side, and magazine ads all plastered up against the wall made it feel like Anne was in there with you. But what hit me like a freight train was seeing a comic, now unrecognizable, half ripped off the wall. I cried when I thought about the love that had gone into putting the comic up and the hate that had hastily ripped it down.
The one part of the Hidden Room that visitors can’t enter, whether it is due to logistics of entry/exit, safety, or respect, is the attic. The hatch is open and a mirror placed so you can see up into where Anne would go to watch the large tree and birds, but not even the most muffled of feet step up there. That place belongs to the ghosts.
I thought that I had gone numb as I went through the other rooms. Seeing the unattached water faucet and gas line of the kitchen, the stock exchange board game, and climbing the stairs didnt affect me like I thought it would. But then you exit the space of the Hidden Room and enter back into the neighboring building where the story abruptly jumps to the betrayal, discovery, and death of the entire group except for Otto. It was overwhelming. All lined up down the side of the room are the individual fates of each of the members. They have even gained some of the official ID cards that the Nazis used to document the movement, family members, and death of their victims. Like a roledex of whose purpose was to keep information not for ease of communication but for ease of extermination. Had someone told me that the bookcase, half ripped comic, and death documents wouldn’t be the most intense part of the experience I wpuldnt have believed them.
And then I turned a corner and saw a picture of Otto Frank standing alone in the Hidden Room, returning to the place where he had hid with his wife and daughters and friends, who were now all dead. The picture froze me in my place and I couldnt move for a long time. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen. This man who had survived hell when his loved ones hadnt and who had now returned to the last place where he had known them. It was heartbreaking.
What a terrible burden, surviving.
But it is not one that he carries alone. I, for one, now carry it more then ever.
The rest of the museum is dedicated to the physical diaries of Anne. The checkered diary that is the most well known is displayed in the center of a room downstairs and all along the walls of the room are the other books, loose pages, and sticky notes that Anne used to write her diary, stories, and quotes. The experience ends with a video of testimonials on how to take Anne’s story and turn it into a lesson to be learned and taught in the hope of it never being a reality again.
When I exited the Anne Frank House I was completelt exhausted. I slowly regathered myself and headed off into the city, following the canals and trying to digest everything I had just experienced. I found my way to the Hard Rock where I cooled off and then went to the I Amsterdam letters where I traded photo taking favors with a few others to get my tourist fix for the day. I then went for a long walk through the park just outside the city center. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and the city had come out in full force to enjoy it. Children ran every which way, the outdoor cafes were bursting at the umbrellas, and the paths were filled with the walkers, runners, boarders, bikers, and chicken suits. The chicken suit challenged me to a pillow fight which, after a second of hesitation and disbelief, I soon found myself in the middle of. It was phenomenal. It was exactly the spontaneous, quirky, loving thing that I needed. It was some sort of group making a short film or advertisement that I needed to sign a waiver for. I told them to email me the finished copy but unfortunately I have yet to receive anything. Bummer.
I made my way back to the Red Light District and into a coffeeshop, Baba, that had been recommended to me by a friend for their incredible… coffee.
Eh, who am I kidding, I got high. I sat in a corner, rolled a joint, which I realized was much like riding a bike (not that I know what that is like) and comes back to you quickly,  and people watched for awhile. Then, being the fool I am and not yet feeling the effects, I took a space cake to go and went back out into the afternoon. The space cake was soon consumed and I was about an hour away from quite a ride.
I needed to be back at Hana’s around 6pm because we were going to her friends birthday dinner and by the time I got back I was stoned out of my mind. I even sent a snapchat of my face in a kite, because, you know, I was high as a kite. I laughed at my cleverness for entirely too long and the drawing that should have taken a few seconds consumed the next ten minutes of my life. Good on ya, Coffeshop Baba. Hana returned to me stuffing my face with ham and cheese toast and, after doing some loose math, told me that I was probably on the decline of my munchy-inducing high. NOPE.
We tried unsuccessfully to get me to ride a bike. I think even if I hadn’t been ripped out of my mind I would have failed but my mental state definitely doomed this attempt. I am sure we made quite the duo, Hana cruising on her bike beside my happy ass walking down the sidewalk. When we got to her friends home, we discovered much to my stoned delight that he was a sushi chef and had made homemade sushi for us! Best.munchy.food.ever. It took all my mental control to not devour each piece and to slow down and appreciate the product of 5 hours of work. Only one problem, I kept getting more high. At this point I was the highest I had ever been. Higher then when I watched the entire movie Seven with my eyes closed. Yeah we are on thst level. I went outside to get some fresh air and out of the overwhelming social interaction happening around the dining table. The evening was perfectly cool and I laid down on the balcony, which still had heat from the day’s sun, and quickly went into what can only be described as a trip. I have no idea how long I was down there, but when I arose to the Hana asking if I was okay I could only say, truthfully, that I was phenomenal.
No longer too stoned to interact with people, I returned just in time for the start of a game called Hat. We were all paired up and told to write one word down for four random categories. These words were all put into a hat and the game began! The game consisted of four rounds and in each round the pairs had to take turns trying to guess as many words as possible in 45 seconds. One would give the clues and the other wohld guess. Each round imposed new rules on what kind of clues could be given. The first was words, noises, touch but you couldnt say the word um. This was my downfall. I have never been more self concious of how much I say um! The second round limited you to one, single word, the third round you could only use movements, and the fourth round you could only use sounds and your partner had to cover their eyes. It was an absolute blast and ended the night on a wonderful high note. Get it? Ba boom pshhh.

Thursday, September 18th
I said farewell to Hana in the morning before she headed off to school. I was catching my train to Maastricht at 1pm so I killed some time by getting a cheap canal tour. Far and away the most touristy thing I have done on my trip, it was enjoyable but not something I would do again. I ambled through the city for a bit and then, eager for the next adventure and reunion with two close friends, I was off to Maastricht!!

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.

Kungsleden Day 8: Nikkoulakta

Wednesday, September 10th
I had made it to the last day of the longest hike of my life!
I had a terrible night’s sleep, only getting a combined two or three hours between being invaded by mice and the hikers who for some reason needed breakfast at 530am. They were most likely going to attempt a summit of Kebnekaise but it didnt make their racket in the kitchen any less disturbing. But I was the one using the space in a way it wasn’t intended (or allowed) to be used so I just pushed the tiredness to the back of my body. I would have to deal with it later.
I avoided the tent for a long time. Took my time making breakfast, packing the bag, and mentally preparing myself. While I wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been a few hours ago, I was still upset about the night’s events.
When I finally did get to the tent, it was just as I had remembered it. Three mouse made holes, a Ben made tear, and mouse shit everywhere. I decided that I wasn’t in the state of mind to deal with repairing the tent then and there so I did a thorough cleaning of the tent, strapped it onto my pack, and headed out.
The walk did me good. 19 kilometers nearly entirely alone gives you time to work through a few things. I went through the various stages of coping at a record pace. When I was no longer upset, I became hateful, followed quickly by sadness over the damage, pursued almost immediately by a sense of acceptance and willingness to set it behind me. I knew that I couldn’t let the mentality of the mice ‘taking’ my tent away from me manifest itself any further so I buried it under the rhythm of my boots and the few rays of sun poking through the clouds.
The 19k went smoothly. The trail was marked off nearly every kilometer and was broken up by two docks where a boat service acted as a short cut for those that felt 300 SEK was worth 4 kilometers of their energy. This served to pass the time quickly and predictably. I got stuck in the midst of a high school class. I could almost smell the douchey hipsters before I could see them.
The hike was a tad monotonous but when I was able to set aside everything going on inside my head I was able to stop and appreciate the birch forest that served as my scenery. A river valley historically used by the Sami culture, there were several side paths that led to historical/cultural sites from this native people. The sun breaking through was always appreciated.
When I saw the sign hanging over the trail, the word Nikkoulakta carved into it, I could feel my body relax, as if it was finally able to feel tired and hungry and dirty.
I had done it!
Despite the use of huts, the unexpected but equally appreciated saunas, and generosity I had been the fortunate benefactor of, I felt a very large sense of accomplishment. The longest hike, both in distance and time, of my life was completed! It was both relieving and reassuring to think back on the past week, the distance I had covered, and the incredible things that had happened to me. It seemed like yesterday that I had left Abisko and the days ran together but individual faces and sights stuck out bright in my mind.
At the cafe at the end of the trail I met Folke again, who said I could join him and the students on their chartered bus into Kiruna. I told him I had planned on camping in Nikkoulakta but he said that Kiruna was a much bigger and better place to spend a few days, plus he had an aunt that he would try to put me in contact with. I accepted his gracious offers and spent the next few hours sitting with him and his colleague. I tols them about the mice invading my tent and it was remarkably comforting for them to find it so humorous. Normally you’d think that someone laughing at an event that rattled you would make you upset but in this case it proved to move myself away from those negative emotions and closer to being able to laugh at myself.
I loved the time I spent on the Kungsleden and will always remember it as my first big test, and triumph, in my quest to find my niche in the world. But with that beinf said, I was very happy to collapse into that bus seat and head off to Kiruna.

All my love.

Kungsleden Day 5: Singi

Sunday, September 7th

Easily the most enjoyable morning of the trip. I slept for a glorious 10 hours straight through the night and had an invite to eat my breakfast up with Bosse and Maggan, the hut hosts at Sulka. I ate breakfast and played with their dog and almost immediately afterwards ate fika with them.
Fika is the Swedish tea or ciesta. It involves coffee or tea and a small, sugary treat of some kind. Maggan made me an entire pot of tea for myself and laid out more cakes, cookies, and breads that you would eat for a full meal! We were soon joined by two Sammi farmers/hunters who were, as I later was informed, out to herd up the reindeer. I spent the entire time thinking that they were there to repair the sauna due to the thick Swedish accent Maggan put on the word Sammi, so I had a good laugh at myself over that one.
Before I realized it, it was 11am and I hadnt even taken my tent down! I was floored by how quickly the morning went. I couldnt leave without grabbing a quick picture with Maggan and Bosse. Then I was off for Singi hut!
The hike to Singi was very nice. The clouds had come back but with the wind at my back and no rain it was perfectly enjoyable. Reindeer were literally everywhere at this point. Signs of their domestication became more apparent, too. They simply weren’t afraid of me. They didn’t like me and usually moved as I came too close but several times I was taken aback by how close they let me get. At one point I passed a large group sitting right next to the path. When I approached all but one got up and walked away. Of course the one that didn’t was the largest male of the group. It was unnerving to the point I unbuckled my pack in case I had to run from the damn thing. Looking back I feel silly about it, but in the moment it seemed the best choice. See Mom, I am making active safety choices!!
I eventually caught up with Lennart and his father about halfway through the hike. I stuck with them the rest of the way, talking to Lennart and joking around with his dad. After awhile we came across the packs of the Swedish class that Folke was guiding lying on the side of the path. We looked around and eventually found Folke waving his arms on the other side of this massive suspension bridge that I hadn’t even noticed until then.
We went and met up with him and the students at this incredible waterfall/rapids cutting through the cliffside. The suspension bridge went across the most powerful current. The sides of the cliffs had been shaped into what appeared to be perfectly smooth concave lenses. The water would jet up from the bottom into these spaces and then whirlpool around the bottom in what appeared to be eearily calm water. We started exploring the cliff after that, as it gave a great view of the valley below, Singi hut, and a Sammi farming village. My adventurous spirit got the best of me and I talked Lennart and Folke into climbing down to the rapids. Steep, moist, and the plants that hit the rocks underneath made it quite the descent. When we got down there, we discovered the rocks right by the water were so smooth and wet that there was no way to get any sort of grip on them. So we went out on them! The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is standing on ice. It was quite a rush, as it would’ve been quite the ride to the bottom if one of us had slipped in. Going back up I chose a different way that involved some really fun bouldering.
We spent about an hour at the waterfall and cliff before continuing on. In total it took 4:15 to do the 12k to Singi. Lennart and his dad moved on, but I enjoyed a free camp spot and the few hours that the sun was breaking through the clouds with a good book and a chocolate bar I had been saving for such an occassion.
I ate dinner with Folke that evening and we were joined by a German solo traveller, David, who was starting a backpacking advisory business. I talked to him at length about that, as it sounded like a really great idea and paralleled some of my own ideas. We had a laugh at Folke due to a mouse hanging out around his tent (I would later regret those laughs. Karma is a bitch.)
It was another cool night so we retired pretty early, but not after I got to see those impressive moonlit clouds again.