Never would’ve thought this thing would become a thing when I put some stupid shit up about walking my dog, but here we are; my 100th post. Thanks for the feedback, and thanks most of all for reading. I’ve decided to go back through my stacks of Moleskins and do a throwback to where it all began. My first solo backpacking trip to Europe.
The man I am now was created, or at the very least forged, out of cataclysmic heartbreak. March ’06 I found myself staying at my parents house, between jobs and floundering for some buoyant piece of hope to carry me through this uncertain time. My little brother was on a Spring Break trip to Europe, and in passing my mom said “maybe you should go to Europe to take your mind off things”. Little did she know what this would create. Every time I head to a “dangerous” third world country to discover their food, music and culture, I have you to thank Mom. You give me shit every time, but looking back; this is what you started. Thank you.
Its bit embarrassing looking back, but this is my first travel journal. Abridged, but not edited (*italics are present day me chiming in).
I am alone. I am a singular being. My world has flipped, and haven’t quite recovered from the vertigo.
Tomorrow I leave for Europe.
03/19/06 6:05 PM EST
On a plane bound for Paris. First stop is Frankfort, so mostly German being spoken around me. I get an interesting thrill out of the fact that I understand nothing.
03/20/06 Paris Day 1. 7:45 PM
I waiting to order at a very expensive restaurant. Starving!
Ok they gave me some pretzels so starting to feel a thousands times better. I feel like I’m conquering this place. My french is “tres horrible”, but hopefully it’ll improve. I’m getting by with my garbled mumbling. My room is nicer than I was expecting in some ways. Its has a private bathroom, and there are three other guys in the other bunks. Hopefully after dinner I can run into them and see if they have any suggestions for tonight.
After I landed in Paris, I stumbled through Charles d’Gaule airport. I learned an important lesson today. Ummm learn a little bit of the fucking language before landing in a new place. Bleary eye’d after the red-eye flight, the little french I remember from high school was worthless. The only word I can reliably recall is “pampelmousse“. That means grapefruit. Worthless (*but fun to say, try it…). I bumbled my way through the airport until I found what I was searching for. The train to Paris was a few euros, and a little over an hour, but relatively easy. I’m staying at Hostel Absolute, near Belleville, Paris. Fun to say.
(I just had my first sip of wine in Paris. Probably overpriced and shitty, but to me delicious)
After I dropped off my bag, I walked the KM or so to Cimetiere du Pere Lachase to find Morrison’s grave. The grave itself was disappointing, but the search was fun. Lots of old elaborate mausoleums. I was searching for a long-lost Duford relative’s resting places; but no dice.
I met a few Americans in the maze of graves, and after some quick chit-chat they gave me their day pass for the Louvre. It was good all day, and I had a couple hours to cash in on this random gift. I ran over and did a whirlwind tour; starting with the Mona Lisa of course. It’s really small and had a crowd 8 people deep around it. Cool to see, but I liked a lot of the other pieces there; most of which I recognized from Art History class. The mesopotamian stuff was awesome! The Code of Hammurabi is there just chilling. The Louvre…check!
Tonight I will start my European adventure with wine and a dinner of moules et frittes! After that I’ll see what happens. Jet lag? WHAT JET LAG!?!?
03/21/06 Paris Day 2
I didn’t manage to make it out last night, but did meet one of my roommates. Interesting guy. Already forget his name, but he was from Ireland and wasted off absinthe. It was a decent conversation until after a couple more swigs of absinthe he said he had to go back out to find the guys who tried to rob him in some alley earlier…or something. Whatever. Didn’t see him this morning, but I assume he’s just fine.
What a day today! Today was my “tourist day”. I did another whirlwind tour. Musee D’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The (French) Pantheon. They were all great to see in person. Musee D’Orsay must be the most incredible collection of impressionist art in existence. On the walk near the Eiffel Tower I discovered my favorite pastime while in Paris (*to this day). Feeling a little peckish, I stopped in a random cafe. I ordered an espresso, watched the world go by, and on the way out grabbed a baguette to munch on as I trekked on. I could live off coffee and bread in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower popped out surprisingly from behind a seemingly normal neighborhood, and there she was in all her glory. I walked around her feet taking in the carnival-like atmosphere, snapped a pic, and had to keep it moving. Eiffel Tower….check.
Next stop was Notre Dame and the Left Bank. Notre Dame was truly impressive as my first glimpse at a Medieval European cathedral. I poached an english speaking tour guide talking to a group near me, and tried to summon facts I learned in college. Jesus Inc. had outdone themselves on this one.
I had heard about some student protests that had been happening in parts of France prior to my arrival, and as I got further into the Left Bank, I started seeing evidence of it. I think they are protesting a law that will affect them when they reach the work place. Being that that won’t happen for a couple years I’m a pretty impressed with their foresight and badassedness. On the way back from the Pantheon, I ended up in a pretty gnarly protest with riot police shooting tear gas into the young crowd. After all the famous culture I’ve seen today, this is an interesting final glimpse. Paris is romantic and historic indeed, but the youth aren’t stagnant.
OH MY GOODNESS! Today was good but right now is incredible. As usual, all day I’ve been going back and forth trying to decide what to eat for dinner. Eventually, after MUCH hemming and hawing, I decided to go to the Place Monge vicinity in search of a tibetan place or something recommended by my travel book. Anyway, forgot to write down the street it was on so once I got off the metro I just started walking. I walked down Rue Monge (I think these are right…) until I got to an intersection where I made a hard left onto Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. After walking up an un-promising hill, I came upon a veggie gastronomical oasis.
Les Cinq Saveurs D’Anada is a small, but welcomely lit bistro. Its mainly veggie (I saw a fish-of-the day option I think), and totally macrobiotic! What a random and happy break from a steady diet of coffee and bread by day and heavy cuisine francaise by night. All the main dishes had a tofu, seitan or tempeh option, with two types of setups; “plat du <tofu/seitan/tempeh>” or “plat du <tofu/seitan/tempeh> complet”. I got the plat complet (duh), and its pretty much amazing. It came out steaming hot in about 5 minutes, and quickly alleviated the damp chill still clinging from the outside. Plat complet; tofu, white beans, brown rice, and QUINOA!!!!! (*this was way before most people new about quinoa, and the first time I’d seen it at a restaurant…I was pretty excited…) All this surrounded by steamed seaweed, salad and a mix of veggies (yams, turnip, carrot, green beans, bok choy). A plate of this nerdy healthy goodness is rarely seen outside of my mom’s, sister’s, or my own kitchen.
The tofu was different than I’ve ever had. It was soft and similar to meatloaf oddly enough; with carrots, peppers and spiced mashed all up in it. The salad and seaweed had a unique but mild sauce (I think ginger was involved). They have three black boards with specials of the day, making me wish I had more time to come back and try everything. It was all absolutely delicious and the man and young woman serving were very nice. I was actually able to order my whole meal in french which was pretty exciting. Oh! And instead of salt they have toasted hemp seeds! Crazy town. I’m going to go explore the neighborhood. Hopefully I’ll find some good bars, and have to stumble home!
So yesterday ended up a little hectic…
I got to Marseille fine, but no one told me (…and I didn’t think to ask) that the metro shuts down at 9PM. I arrived around 10 and was a bit freaked out. Standing at the deserted train station, in the darkness of a city I had no clue about, weighing my options for sleeping on a bench or behind a bush. Eventually I was able to flag down a taxi which took forever and cost 20 euro, but c’est la vie. In an ongoing theme, the minor bump in the road led to a nice “Fre-nglish” conversation with my driver. I liked the CD he was listening to, and it was soothing after my little freak out. Turns out it’s a guy from the states named Ben Harper. I’ll check it out when I get back.
Can I keep saying it?!? Another good day! After some worry this morning over my financial situation, and an interesting bus ride where the police raided some kids I assume are involved with the protests, I eventually made my way by train to Cassis. What can I say? If heaven is a small town on France’s Mediterranean coast, this would be it. The center of the village hugs the port, and is fairly quaint (with an undeniable bit of touristy-ness). The port is lined with outdoor restaurants and cafes. The hills rush up behind with typical mediterranean houses perched through-out and rocky bluffs poking through the scraggily trees. The water in the harbor is filled with colorful boats bobbing up and down, and I feel like I could sit at one of the cafes for hours just enjoying the good life.
The reason for coming though is the Calanques (which I think means rocks *um…it doesn’t). There are hiking trails among these huge limestone fingers that jut into the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea. I walked all through under the toasty sun and blue skies. I have to say my pictures and words can’t portray the stunning vistas around every turn. There are plenty of these trails, lots more remote than any I made it to in one day. Guess I’ll add it to the list of places I have to come back to one day!
Now I’m back by the port at a restaurant, “Le Delphin”. Ate an approprate salad with smoked salmon, anchoivies, mussels and crabs. I have a front row view of the setting sun, but after the buisness almost stuck at the station in Marseille the other night, I might err on the side of caution and skip the sunset finale for the second to last train back to Marseille. I’d love to be “trapped” here, but I already paid for the last night at my hostel.
Fuck it. I think I’ll have one more “Verre Vin Cassis AOC”, and watch the men play bocci ball across the way. I’ll tempt fate, and enjoy the moment.
At the moment I’m sitting outside at Restaurant Djudjura near Marseilles’ Vieux Port. The port itself is a beautiful area, and its surrounds have been a port of call/cross roads of trade and culture for centuries. The meeting of ideas here is apparent and wonderful. At any moment I could blink and be in Morocco or Spain or Istanbul. The mashup of French, Spanish, African, and beyond is beautiful.
A perfect example of this mashup up is what has me so fucking stuffed right now! I stopped here, and ordered an Entree de Couscous Legumes. It was eye opening and amazing! I took a picture (*my first picture of food…game changer). Out comes a terra cotta pot of stewed carrots, turnips, green beans and exotic spices (I don’t where from exactly….Morocco? The Middle East?). It came with a huge platter of steaming couscous, garbanzo beans and a dish of “harissa”. Harissa is a spicy paste that reminded me of cayenne, tomato paste and a little cumin maybe? Along with a carafe of wine and a coffee and the whole thing was less than $20. It was by far the most robust and in the ranking for best meal I’ve had.
I’m definetely cutting it close for my train, so I’m going to chug this coffee and run! Its been real France, next stop Spain!
I took an over night train through the French Alps and Basque country, and met a couple young travels who I’ve kept in touch with sort of though out the years (mostly thanks to this new thing that happened called social media). For the next few days I stayed with my friend from high school, Rachel, at her flat in Barcelona. She had been living there for a handful of years teaching english. It was in this week that I fell in love with Barcelona and to this day I call it my favorite city on Earth. Rachel was an amazing hostess, and the stay with her was a welcome chance to explore with a friend in the know.
Sadly I said goodbye to Barcelona and took an overnight train to Torino, Italy; then on to Florence.
Somewhere between Torino and Florence.
I’m on the slowest train ever.
Well I finally fucking made it to Florence. I must say so far, a bit non-plussed with Italy (*I can’t believe I felt this way but no editing!). The sweltering train ride (and I had PLENTY of time to take it in…) showed more industry than the Italian country side I imagined would be out there. Again, hate to say it, but my first impression is that people are mean here! Maybe its the fact that I assumed my rudimentary spanish would get me by in italian. Turns out…nope! I think it just pisses people off when I attempt to speak in italian. Anyway probably just me being a bit road weary and crabby. Once I got to Florence, I walked what I could (most museums are closed on Mondays), and took in the Duomo and general street atmosphere. Easy to get lost in the little winding streets. Lots of shady gypsies and tourist aren’t helping me get excited about Florence.
By far though, I think my best experience is happening right now. I’m sitting outside in Plazza Santo Spirito at a tiny trattoria called Osteria Santo Spirito. I got a three course meal, probably cost 25 euro with 2 glasses of wine. I started with minestra di farro, which was a creamy (but not rich) soup. Spelt with cannelloni, kidney and garbonzo beans in a light broth that must’ve been thickened by parmagiano reggiono and seasoned with a heavenly rosemary and olive oil. Next up, chitarra pomadora y basil. This was a simple spaghetti dish with garlic, tomatoes and…of course…basil. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Exactly what I wanted for my first Tuscan dish. My immediate thought after the first bite was…”so THIS is al dente!”. I ended in italian style with an insalada mista. Basically a huge salad, but I was so happy to see the quality and variety of the veggies compared to past european salads. This insalada was WAY more than iceberg, tomato, and a few olives (it had fennel for example!).
Ooh I’m getting sleepy. I hope to walk around a little, but I’m stuffed (the italians win the portion size contest so far for sure!). I have to mention one thing. I promise this will be the last time I’m snobby. Why are Americans so obnoxious?!?! There’s tons of them here, and they are so abrasive and unhappy, leaving me wondering why they come?? I’m over hearing the young couple next to me aren’t happy with their dishes…maybe its not on par with the Olive Garden they are used to? How can they not know how lucky they are, WE ARE, to be here. Its fucking fresh pasta, in Florence, and its waaaaaaaayyyyyy better than anything at home. Maybe its different then you’re used to, and MAYBE THATS THE FUCKING POINT OF TRAVELING. Idiots.
Sorry. I’ll stop now.
I’m sitting in a piazza in Rome after a mad day of trekking all over the city. I literally did everything in one day. From the Coloseum to the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa (a person favorite from class), an art history nerd’s rampage of Rome.
I found this restaurant, Da Giovanni ar Galleto, because it was just close enough to Campo di Fiore before my legs fell off. The manager/owner is a terribley nice man who I don’t think speaks any english, but managed to convey that I need to sit outside and move my chair around so I could have a view of the piazza. Its very peaceful here. There is a slight breeze (it was pretty hot today), and the water is pleasantly dripping off the fountain in the center of the square. Not to mention this is the first time I’m sitting down after nearly 9 hours of hoofing it through Rome. The manager gently corrects me from “buon giorno” to “buona sera”. I ordered orecchiette con broccoli, and not shockingly at this point its perfect. Its a revelation to have actual italian food. Its so simple and delicious. No need for stuffed crusts or never-ending-breadsticks….
My favorite italian phrase is “buona sera”, “good evening”. Its magical. At a certain time of day, with no set-in-stone hour as far as I can tell, the proper greeting changes. Just about when it feels right. As dusk starts creeping in on the edges, everyone seems to know it switches over. Certain words are starting to roll off my tongue easier, and I’m beginning to appreciate the beauty of the Italian language. Almost nothing sounds as lyrical as kind words in Italian.
I think I’m going to extend my trip. I guess I’ll decide by the end of the night. I have some money saved still, and could head back to Barcelona for a few extra days. I have a thrill in my life I haven’t felt, and am dreading letting it go.
Arrividerci Rome! Today I’m heading to La Spezia in the Cinque Terra for the afternoon, and then….? Not sure. I changed my flight so now return home from Barcelona in 5 more days. So I’ll make my way there fast or slow, and enjoy every second along the way.
I hopped off the train and walked through La Spezia looking for a pizzeria near the port. I’m embarrassed to admit this will be my first pizza in Italy! Definitely a different vibe here. Closer to something I’d like. Still a little briny with maritime grit, but beautiful none-the-less. The tempo here is much slower than Rome or Florence. Lots of old men having lively conversation outside of small cafes. Very “Italy”.
The pizzeria I’m at is called Trittico. Its quiet (now that the table of men next to me got their food and started scarfing in silence) and small. Wood burning oven. I got a simple pizza marinara (fresh basil, oregano, and whole cloves of garlic), but I can see the guy making the sauce from my table! From scratch!
I think next I’ll head to Nice….
The train between Atilles and Marseilles was the most spectacular train I have been on in my life. Starting at the ocean, then winding through mountains and vineyards. Its true what the artists said of the light in Provence. Its pretty great.
It’s a lovely day, and I’m in Montpellier for a two hour layover before my last stretch back to Barcelona. What a beautiful little town. Just a short walk from the train station there is a magical promenade with an outdoor market and amazing flowers planted everywhere. To top it all off there is a huge chess set with old men and students squaring off. Each move requires dragging a three foot piece. Its very cool. Then in the older section there are mazes of shops. Gotta run to catch my train, but glad Fate had me stop here.
Back in Barcelona, and the surrounding areas Rachel and I did some more exploring when she didn’t have work. And I had some time to wander around solo contemplating my last days abroad.
04/07/06 Plaça Revolucion
Not much to say (although I haven’t had my coffee yet), just want to document my “contentness”. I’m at peace, and connected to the world in a way that is honestly shocking. I never thought that the last days of this little “vacation” would have me feeling so changed. Cheesy. In the back of my mind I have a nagging thought that I’ll go back home, and everything will be the same as it was a month ago. I don’t want that.
Back to the present. Well, that was interesting. I stopped myself dozens of times from editing my 26 year old self, fuck it. Its just the internet right? Re-reading the first book, its funny to realize that I’ve actually grown up a lot. These are the words of a kid. Wide eyed, a bit naive and with NO clue how much these days would form the man I am today. I’m a bit more jaded. Tired a lot more of the time. I certainly hope my pictures are more in focus and less dutch! Goddamnit I was mad at myself looking back through these! Over-night buses, trains and planes are a necessary evil as opposed to a new adventure. Now I take pictures of my food and call it a day instead of writing 5 pages about a bowl of pasta.
But I still hold that connection to the amazing wonderment this planet has to offer. I found that out there in the Spring of 2006. This is the genesis story of the Cirque Duford.