Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Art & Psychosis of Traveling Alone: Part II

February 23, 2014
Just as I said, some days you feel really alone; some days you feel loved and part of something great.  Yesterday, I met a bunch of cool people: 
a) After the walking tour, I went to the train station to inquire about train times to Budapest and Bratislava.  On way out I passed this Czech girl, and talked to her. She was receptive. Surprisingly. We had coffee. We walked around together and we decided to meet again today for lunch.
b) I met this American guy at the hostel named Phillip.  An investment guy from Los Angeles, and we walked around and had a most delicious dinner together: traditional Czech pork, dumplings, and sauerkraut.  So delicious!
c) Back at hostel, we ran into the Argentineans from the walking tour, and we all had some drinks together at the bar.  We watched the Olympics a bit.
d) This German girl I met at the train station in Berlin found me on Facebook and added me, which made me smile. 
e) And this morning, I met an awesome guy from Costa Rica--an architect--and rather funny story:
Carlos is traveling alone too and before I even mentioned it, HE mentioned that it’s weird traveling alone because you meet cool people and then almost immediately, you have to say goodbye, because either you are leaving, or because they are leaving.  I’m really glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Traveling alone certainly does have its pros and cons. 
I wrote this on Facebook yesterday:
"Monroe Mann (Photo of the words: Mozart debuted his opera Don Giovani here in Prague)
Greetings from Prague, Czech Republic. This fun fact about Mozart reminded me of something. I sometimes find myself second-guessing my decision to head from here to China for a year. Strange land. Strange culture. Oh so strange language. And I wonder how it all fits into my continuing showbiz aspirations--just as things were starting to take off, I left. But this little bit about Mozart reminded me that I felt the same way when I left showbiz to join the Army: I felt the same way. And yet years later, where did I find the majority of the money for the Stephen King film? From one of my army buddies turned investment advisor: My showbiz dreams were in fact fueled by my departure from showbiz. And so too did Mozart's opera not debut in his native land. And so perhaps too will China (like the army) be another back door leading indirectly to where I am supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing: show business. Moral of story: follow your dreams, even if at times they seem to contradict one another and seem to be mutually exclusive. I don't know how, but in some way, living my dream of going to China for a year is one day gonna be a "big break" that I look back as a blessing to my career--just like the army turned out to be in retrospect as well. OK: time to walk across the river and mosey to the train station to choose my tomorrow's destination: either Budapest or Bratislava. Ooh the suspense!

Want more musings about my travels?

 — feeling inspired."

I hope I'm right. 

This morning I talked with Carlos, the architect, and he agrees with me that the bathroom shower is very poorly designed: form over function.  As he says, “Looks nice but doesn’t work” haha  I'm glad to know I have an architect's eye haha.

He also agrees with me that these hostels are like being in the Lord of the Rings movies, going to the local Inn, where everyone is drinking beer, and some are going, some are coming, and everyone has an interesting story to tell.  He actually equated it to the ‘Star Wars bar’, haha.  Which is funny: people coming from every planet, and each person stranger than the one before.  I really do feel like these hostels are the last vestige of old world travel.  It's not like hotel traveling which is so clinical; here it's so social and so anchored in the soul of the independent traveler. 
I’m actually sitting now downstairs in the cafĂ© with the Argentinean guys and Carlos.  The Argentineans are here on business, starting a painting company.  Well, two days of business in Berlin, and 20 days of travel, haha. 

I need to check out now, and store my bags in their storage room.  Then gonna walk to meet the Czech girl for lunch.  She's really tall: my height.  And blond, with blue eyes.  She's very funny.  She made me laugh a lot yesterday.  But alas, gonna have to say goodbye to her soon too.  Just as I have had to say goodbye to everyone I've met so far.  I guess it's good to have Facebook in order to keep in touch with everyone, but it seems like a small parting gift.  I wish I could just stay in one place and get to know someone on more than a surface level.  But who knows what the future holds: perhaps I will see some of these people again one day...  Many say that they are going to come visit me in China, but I would be very surprised if ANYONE actually comes to see me.  Even from NY.  I really do hope that they do.  It would be nice to see some familiar faces, but I'm not holding my breath.
Until next time!  I think I'm gonna head to Bratislava this afternoon.  Stay for one night I think.  Will have to see. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Art and Psychosis of Traveling Alone (I'm now in Czech Republic by way of Berlin, Germany)

February 21, 2014
Prague, Czech Republic

Long story short: Copenhagen to Berlin to Prague.  That’s where I am now. 

It’s weird traveling alone.  Some days, I feel in wonderful spirits having met some really cool people at the hostels and hanging out and laughing with them, and seeing the city with them.  Like in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Berlin, where the hostels were very conducive to meeting others.  Other times, like tonight, here in Prague, I have met no one, and even my charming smile and unabashed ability to just walk up and talk to people has proven useless this first evening here in the capital of the Republic.  And it makes me wonder: why am I so troubled by being alone suddenly these years.  In my earlier days, nothing fazed me.  Now, just being alone drives me absolutely crazy.  Maybe it’s being alone, or more likely, the feeling of not being loved after having felt such strong love from you know how (who so lovingly finally responded to my email of two months ago on Valentine's Day with the words, "Hi Monroe, I never want to see you again."  How lovely. 

Sad to say, as a result of that breakup,
I’ve now become one of those saps who can’t be happy if he’s single, or not hanging out with a girl, or hanging out with someone.  In years past, I used to think nothing of women and nothing of being alone.  And now, I can’t think of anything but being with other people; of hanging out with a girl; of NOT being alone.  It pisses me off that my damn self-esteem appears now to be based on that.  But this trip alone is certainly helping me to reestablish my ability to be on my own and love myself once again.  Cause I AM F***IN AWESOME!  (As Nirvana's Lithium blares at the hostel bar)
Anyway, I'm here in Prague.  I had a great time in Copenhagen--probably the coolest city I've visited yet on this northern tour.  Barcelona comes in second now I think.  Why Copenhagen?  Just the layout of the city.  The way the boats are all layed out in the uniquely designed ports.  The awesome main shopping street which is just  indescribable.  And eating the pancake sticks.  DELICIOUS!
As usual, I met some cool people on the walking tour.  After the free tour, this Australian girl and two guys from the UK joined me to visit Christiana (google it), this crazy hippie town where selling pot on the streets is 'legal' (or at least not prohibited entirely).  I never smelled so much burning marijuana just walking down a street before.  And we visited the little mermaid statue: that fairy tale all started in Copenhagen with Hans Christian Anderson.

Next city: Berlin.  As always, by train.  What a historically rich city with such a sad past.  I went on two walking tours.  The free one, and then one called "Red Berlin".  The city is amazing, but it's also so depressing.  Walking around, in many ways, it still felt like 1960s Russia.  It just has this old creepy feel to it.  Like there is no heart and soul to the city.  I know some people may take offense at this, but it's just the feeling I got walking around.  The 'buzz' and 'adrenaline' of other cities just wasn't there.  FUCK YOU BERLIN WALL AND FUCK YOU COMMUNISM FOR WHAT YOU DID!
And today, I took the train from Berlin to Prague.  4 1/2 hours.  Not sure how much I like this city yet.  It's got the European flair, so I understand why many films are shot here, but nothing jumped out as amazing quite yet.  Perhaps tomorrow in the day time. 
I'm pretty excited that my Chinese visa was approved, finally.  So I'm gonna pick that up in Rome soon.  In March. 
Train travel: truly, there's no better way to travel in Europe.  It's amazing.  And my eurorail pass is awesome.  One fee and now I can ride any trains I want for free.  I just have to pay a $5 (approx.) booking fee for each ticket to hold my reservation.  And it's always first class (space available) and SO comfortable.  Such a great decision. 

I'm at the Mosaic hostel here in Prague.  Probably the closest thing to a hotel yet.  It is so gorgeous and the bathroom is huge and amazing and fancy.  Generator hostel in Berlin and Copenhagen. 
In Berlin, I met a nice Italian girl from Milan, and also a Canadian.  I do like meeting all these new people.  I hate that after one day, I have to say goodbye to them.  That is getting very frustrating, but in this sense, settling in China will be a relief and is actually starting to be something I am looking forward to.  To just be in one place for a while. 
The battery on my laptop is nearly dead.  I want to post this before I lose it. More to come!

Monday, February 17, 2014

On the train from Stockholm to Copenhagen

Monday, February 17, 2014
Wow, been a while since I posted.  And I've been to quit a few places.  Five countries to be precise.

In Barcelona, Spain, I met this cool girl from Argentina and she joined me on my drive back north to Paris, France.  We stopped in Castres to pick up my suitcase, and then stayed in Limoge for one night, and then made our way finally to Paris where we stayed in St. Christopher's hostel for three nights.  Paris is definitely a nice city, but I still think I like Barcelona more. 

On the 12th, I drove  Elena to the bus station (she was heading back to Spain, and then Argentina), and I dropped the rental car off at the airport.  I then flew down to Rome.  A short two hour flight.  I was gonna take the train and subway to my friend Roberto's apartment, but I had three bags and my guitar.  Just too much.  So I hired a shuttle for about $30 to take me there.  Oddly, I met two more Argentinians in the shuttle: a businessman/banker and his daughter.  We exchanged info.

I spent the night at Roberto's apartment.  Helen is there too.  Engaged finally to one another.  I went to law school with both of them.  They were getting their LLM though.  Me my JD.  He from Rome; she from Bulgaria.  But she's black.  So she's not the typical Bulgarian.  Anyway, SO good to see them.  I felt at home immediately, and could relax.  Sort of like my base camp for this trip.  I didn't think just one night there would refresh me enough for the journey ahead of me, but it did.  A nice shower.  They cooked me dinner.  Introduced me to this awesome guy Ralph, from Poland.  This staunch anti-communist/anti-socialist who reveled with me in bashing the foolish social policies in America.  It pains him as it does me to see what so many Americans do not: that the country is on a path towards too much government power.  Power that can only lead to things going from bad to worse.  He loved me "Reagan for President" t-shirt, and agreed with me that most Americans just don't understand what too much government power can do.  He grew up in a Poland under the USSR.  So did his parents.  They know firsthand (like Ayn Rand) the horrors of government oppression; most Americans are either uneducated in history or so ensconced in the bubble of America and so poorly-traveled that they are just ignorant parrots, echoing the sentiments of the media. 

Anyway, I had a great time there, did some laundry, and in the morning, I head off onto the subway, and then the train (I just had one bad now, for travel, one that I bought in Paris because a) I had too much stuff and b) the wheels on my other small one broke so I needed a new one) to the airport.  Leonardo's Express.  So glad I speak Italian well.  Most of those I spoke with didn't speak English (unlike here in Scandinavia, where everyone--EVERYONE (virtually)--speaks English). 

So from Rome, I took a flight to Oslo, Norway.  And I'm so tired that I need to take a nap on this train.  I will continue this story shortly.  :)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I'M NOW IN SPAIN!

February 5, 2014
Barcelona, Spain!  I adore this city.  I love it so much more than Paris.  The people seem so much nicer, and maybe it’s because no one is stressed.  No one!  No honking horns.  No fast walking like in New York City.  I find that only half of the people you speak with know any English, so I’m speaking either French or broken Spanish with people.

I parked the car okay and found a great garage where I can come and go as I please for 4 days for 50 euro.  I probably won’t use the car at all, which is fine.  It’s just nice to know that the car is safe and I don’t have to constantly find a parking spot for it.

The hostel is wonderful too.  Mediterranean Youth Hostel.  I love the atmosphere, and I already met a bunch of people.  I met a novelist from Sweden (Stephan), a surfer from Japan (Yosuke), and two university students from Belgium (Hanne and Lore).  Stephan, Yosuke, and I went food shopping together, and we all cooked dinners back here at the hostel.  Yosuke and I ate with Hanne and Lore at the communal tables.   So fun: speaking Swedish with Stephan; Japanese with Yosuke; and Dutch with Hanne & Lore.  Oh, I also met Elena, from Venezuela, and we spoke Spanish.  She might join me tomorrow on the free walking tour at 10:30am. 
The drive here was tough.  Long and sad drive, particularly because it reminded me of the drive from Altenholz, Germany to Frankfurt, Germany back in 2012 after Louisa broke up with me.  That miserable 6 hour drive that I will never ever forget. 

But upon arriving in Barcelona, wow, I saw lines and lines of palm trees along the highway.  And in town, even more.  And just being in a big city, driving, felt so great!  I felt like I was back in New York City, and I just felt and feel even now totally at home.  I love this place!  I love it here even more than France.  I don’t know what it is, but everything just feels so comfortable here. 
At the border, the French border agent must have seen that it was a rental car, because none of the other cars were stopped.  Mine was.  And he was rather suspicious about why I was going across the border.  A good five-minute interrogation.  My being American relaxed him a bit, but mentioning that I was going to China after tightened him up again.  But I finally made it through.  I then expected to stop at the Spanish border, but there was no border guards.  It finally dawned on me afterwards that it’s the EU: there’s no need for two border crossings anymore.  But if that’s the case, why is there even any border guards?  What are they checking for?  Who knows.
Alas, I’m here.  In Barcelona.  And very content and smiling right now. 

Oh, and I brought my guitar.  My Spanish guitar.  And earlier today, I played some Spanish guitar for Stephan and Yosuke.  It felt good to play Spanish guitar here in Spain.  Where it all began. J
In other news, I bought my plane tickets from Paris to Rome, and from Rome to Oslo.  Only $100 from P to R; and only $75 from R to O.  Pretty awesome.  And my eurorail pass is already set.  I’ve made some plans to see Roberto and Helen in Rome; and some others in Munich maybe.  And definitely Lugano.  They say it’s freezing in Oslo and Stockholm.  Below zero.  Joy, haha.  But frigid is better than the lukewarm temperatures in Castres for sure. 

I’m super nervous about China.  Not super nervous, but nervous enough.  It’s going to be such a culture shock, I’m sure.  But once I land, the one-year clock begins, and after a month there, I am sure I will get used to things.
Oh: shipping!  France has a 7KG flat rate shipping box to anywhere worldwide for $60.  Pretty awesome!  I bought four of them for $240, which is SO much less expensive than it was in the US.  And packed up books, clothing, etc.  But alas, NO ADDRESS!  Mandarin House won’t let me send any more packages in their care, and I don’t have any address for my WSE location yet.  So I’m just leaving the packages in France with my French family, and once I arrive in China and get an apartment, I will send my address to them, and they will address the packages and pop them in the mail for me.  So it works out okay.

Okay, I’m exhausted.  It’s 11:45pm and I’m gonna head up to bed.  I posted a goodbye message in French to all the French students at the school and I’m touched: I got over 80 likes and over 30 messages and comments from the students.  It makes me feel like I really had an impact on them, and that puts a smile on my face.  I was going to say ‘happy’, but I don’t even know what that word means anymore, to tell you the truth.  Happy isn’t an emotion, really.  And too often people say happy when they mean content, or satisfied, or non depressed, etc.  And the Buddha says that Unhappiness, i.e. suffering, is our base and natural state, i.e. that all life is suffering and to try to totally escape it is a fruitless quest.  So what is happiness?  Again, I don't know.
Why am I still typing?  BYE!!!!