A Travellerspoint blog

Temptation Beckons, Aaron Follows

Home Sweet Home

sunny 35 °C

I am shutting the blog down. I made the decision yesterday to give in to temptation and fly home to the states one month earlier than previously planned. It was a tough decision and though I expect to feel some tinges of regret in a few weeks when I am languishing in Somers, I know it was the right one. After thirteen months in Europe my heart simply wasn´t in it for the long haul - I just could not envision myself smiling through Poland a few weeks from now.

One more week in Spain. One more week in Europe. Thanks for reading. See you soon America. Aaron

Posted by AAY 06:09 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Tieing up Loose Ends

Santiago de Compostela and Granada, Spain

sunny 32 °C

Santiago was great. Galicia is beautiful and an entirely different shade of Spain. I hope to have the chance to return one day after having walked the Camino - the town was littered with pilgrims having just completed their trek across the north of Spain. I feel like I cheated myself a bit having gone there by bus; if, or maybe better to say when, I walk it I will already have tasted the reward at the end. Thankfully it a reward that I know I will appreciate. I also had the opportunity to visit Pontevedra and A Coruña during the day - both pleasant but not an equal to Santiago.

Granada is special. The Alhambra is perhaps Europe´s finest treasure. It was my third visit and I was glad that I had taken the time to go, endured the 15 hours of bus rides to get there. The architecture, the intricacy of the detail was equally impressive this time around - and again, much more so than anything Istanbul had to offer. I had the chance to explore the old Moorish quarter much more this time around too - a labrynth of white washed homes cascading up the hill opposite the Alhambra. The views from both were stunning.

Posted by AAY 05:19 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Lacking a Good Hook

overcast 20 °C

Last year my blog entries flowed a little more effortlessly. There was no challenge finding exciting new things to share about the places I was visiting - the terrain was raw, the history was fresh and had an edge. These were countries that few back home knew about or cared to venture to in the future, complicated places with a fascinating history that deserved explaining. It was fun experience conveying what superficial understanding I had gathered of these places through observation and reading. This year, its a little different. I may be going to some obscure spots but as of now I don´t think cities like Salamanca provide a wealth of material to share.

It was a great, pretty city. The architecture was amazing - the facades of the churches more ornate, more impressive, than any I had previously seen. The town had a very relaxed vibe, the perfect college environment with manageable size and healthy array of bars. It had some great park space, particularly Plaza de Santa Anaya. I spend afternoons in this part of the city reading - it was very peaceful. The plaza mayor approached the size and greatness of Madrid´s. I enjoyed walking around, never getting bored and always being pleasantly surprised by a new building, a new park, a new something to capture my attention.

The major drawback though, and I imagine anyone traveling here would list this as the number one complaint, was the sheer number of American students that have infested the city. I heard more English than Spanish in the center. Now, I know I am part of that problem, but I hope that although I havent mastered this language - I am more conscious of my behavior and make a greater effort to blend in then most of those I came across. To see 18 to 22 year old Americanos acting like, well, Americanos, was a little discouraging. It makes me wonder why I am so anxious to go back, and makes me painfully aware that once I´m home for a week or two, I will desperately want to return.

I did take an interesting daytrip from Salamanca to Ciudad Rodrigo, a small outpost close to the Portuguese border. Its historical relevance dates back to the Peninsular war (Spain reconquering Spain from the French in the early nineteenth century). It was a sleepy little place, dusty but well preserved with a surprising number of old nice homes in spite of its frontier presence and the everlooming threats of attack in its past. Its city walls remain intact though are not always in great condition depending on where you are. Still, you are able to circle the city walking along them offering good views of both the town but also the surrounding countryside. It was enjoyable and given how few tourists there were - and almost no Americans - I glad I did it.

I am not in Galicia - Santiago de Compostela. I have taken day trips to both Pontevedra and A Coruña - both were very pleasant. I will write more soon, but it was a great stop - the countryside is some of the best I have seen in all of Spain and the town itself, here in Santiago, with the cathredal, the pilgrims, and the stone homes in the inner core of the city are very nice. More soon - tonight off to Granada!

Aaron

Posted by AAY 08:54 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Explaining the Blog Title

Salamanca, Spain

sunny 26 °C

People are often surprised to hear how much I enjoy traveling alone. They wonder why I wouldn´t choose to share the experience others in my life, people with whom I can talk about the things I see. More so, people presume the road to be a lonely place - somewhere where a friend would be welcome to help pass the time. The short answer is that if I was so lucky to have a friend who had the same flexibility as I do - months to meander - and a love for the same things - an interest in venturing to the odd corners of Europe - then perhaps it would be a better way of going about it. But, in the end, those folks are in short supply. That said, there are two virtues which would make it really hard for me to add a companion; the first is purely selfish - I wake up and do what I want, go where I want, see all the things I want. There is no need to compromise - I am completely independent and need not cater to anyone else and their needs/wants. Its not that I am capable of doing so - it simply isn´t necessary.

The second reason is a purely social one. When one travels alone the reality is that your days do get lonely. You do want to talk to people, to share things but not at the expense of the first reason above. You are forced to reach out to other travelers, to swap your stories, to hear their plans, and to learn about their cultures. When traveling with a friend, with a group you are comfortable with and know very well, the tendency is to remain insular and avoid these opportunities to learn. Why make friends - you already have your own by your side? In some cities luck isn´t on your side. The people aren´t engaging, their stories are bland - hey, mine might be too - and you pass time caught up in your own thoughts, writing them down, waiting for another day to pass them on to someone else. But often you can be very lucky. I have shared beers with Kosovars in Macedonia, shared a train cabin with a Turk in Greece, partied w Austrians in Bulgaria, and was forced into sharing a two liter beer with a Serbian peasant on my way to Skopje, and the list goes on. Each experience taught me a little that I probably wouldn´t have had the opportunity to learn if not for my having been riding solo.

In truth though, most of these relationships are extremely superficial and over time, the process of meeting people can leave you quite jaded. Each day you find yourself asking the same generic questions - a filter that allows you to sift the interesting from the pedestrian. Where are you from? Where are you coming from? Where are you going to next? How long are you traveling? What do you do when you aren´t traveling? Sometimes you can tell that both the questions and answers are so forced, so ingenuine that its makes the process such a waste. You can see this with those who have been on the road for a long time. They realize how ephemeral most of the relationships will be. The diamond in the rough is so elusive that its easier to take days off, to avoid the struggle rather than expend precious energy on another dead end conversation. But, every so often we do get lucky. Not everyone we meet on the road is a friend for a day or two and then never heard from again. Sometimes a true friend is found.

Such luck struck for me last year at Lake Bled. I met a great kid named Andy who shared many of the same interests as me, had attended the same study abroad program as me in Brussels, and we even had a friend in common back in the states that we could joke about in our one night together. It was fun to talk to him but we were both going in a different direction the next day and didn´t even exchange information. A week later I was searching for my hostel in Split, Croatia when I ran into Andy on the street. To our surprise, we were staying at the same place, same room, and would both be there for the next few days. As we talked I learned that our next three cities coincided. We were both fiercely protective over the next week of our space, wanting to do things our way and as I mentioned above, to avoid compromise. Every night we met up late, had a few drinks, explored the nightlife of Belgrade and Sarajevo. We spoke about the things we did each day and made suggestions on what we found the most interesting. In Belgrade we visited Tito´s grave together, something that fascinated both of us. Andy, like me, knew the history, had read or wanted to read the same books about the region. His passion and interest rivaled mine. He proved to be the perfect companion for those days and someone who I would hope to see again, to share more time on the road with..

After our paths diverged we stayed in touch over email. Sharing our itineraries, sharing our thoughts on destinations the other had already been to. Andy was going to be in Paris this past fall and with me in Madrid we´d talked about meeting up either in those cities or elsewhere in Europe. Towards the end of the trip Andy started to feel sick. When I next talked to him in September after arriving in Madrid he surprised me one day on google chat by telling me that he was at home in Connecticut. He had just been diagnosed with Leukemia. Over the next few months we talked on a semi-regular basis - every two weeks maybe. He would ask about Madrid, teaching, girls in my life - and any travel plans on the horizon. He didnt like to talk much about his health - he probably had been doing that enough. The last time we talked he cut short the conversation because of problems he was having spelling and needed to lie down.

I never saw him on google chat again. We never talked again. In late March, fearing the worse - I googled his name and I found an obituary from the week before. I was really taken aback by how emotional his death made me. We´d only spent one week of our lives together but given our shared interests, shared career intentions, shared spirit for the road and traveling solo - there was too much in common to not find the loss devastating. The obituary hailed his adventurous nature - at the age of 23 he had already visited 44 countries. When I was proud of myself for heading to such unstable places like Bosnia - it really isn´t - alone he was going one step further venturing as far as Belarus and Cyprus. He was an inspiration for me as a traveler, truly unafraid, never letting an opportunity to see a place of interest pass when he was on the doorstep. It reminded me how much I regretted sidestepping Kosovo and a that if such an opportunity presented itself again, I wouldn´t pass it up.

Anyway - the point of this message is more than to write about a friend gained and lossed. The real intention was to explain why I chose to title this years blog ¨mopping up europe¨ - these words are a direct quote of his, a response I heard him explain to many others many times when he was asked those same generic questions about his trip. He had seen it all and was trying to reach those hard to reach chips at the bottom of the bag. Given how disjointed this summer´s trip is - it seemed both appropriate, a way to honor the guy, and the best way to make sure I never stop asking those generic questions - you never know who you may miss out on meeting if you take the day off.

You don´t get lucky very often. I hope I do again...RIP Andy.

Posted by AAY 06:20 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Hasta Luego Madrid

Madrid, Spain

sunny 35 °C

To reflect at length on my times here in Madrid - the experiences I have had, the people I have met, the city I have come to love - would be a daunting task. Its a special place and I'm certain that it won't hit me just how special it really is until I am gone. Leaving is bittersweet - I know I will miss calling Madrid home but it would be a lie to not admit its the right time to move on. I am anxious to see what comes next...

The Spanish football team was accommodating enough to give me some great memories on the eve of my departure. To be witness to all of the excitement/euphoria surrounding Spain's Eurocup victory will remain fresh in my memory for a long time. The sea of red and yellow that invaded the streets of Madrid, with the interminable sound of horns being honked all night, people dancing in fountains, the sheer exuberance of the moment - they were champions and nothing could strip the smile from their faces. It continued deeep into the night, people simply enjoy the moment, partying in the street. Very unique experience. We are as crazy in America about sports as any country, and probably more so - but our culture doesn't emphasize or even appreciate national success like they do here - it adds something special because in these cases there is no loser - boston isnt celebrating at the expense of new york or los angeles rather a nation that is as disjointed as any in Europe, the least patriotic country I have visited, joined together over the course of a few weeks to celebrate something very rare. I was glad I was to be able to witness it - to see the hope of a nation crescendo across the tournament with all of the emotions that go along with that rollercoaster ride.

But its time to move on and before I hop back across the pond I have 45 days to play with...

My itinerary for this summer is a little disjointed relative to last summers and to be honest this has made it a bit of a struggle to generate excitement leading into the trip. Two of the most important traits that make for a great trip are absent from the start - a thematically unified agenda (for example, my Balkans trip last year) and limited flexibility (given the distance covered I have already purchased 4 flights to help me move across Europe before it has even begun). I hope what I outline below reflects about what I will be doing but given my state of mind at the onset it seems highly probable I will scrap portions for greener pastures - ah Slovenia! I hope I find enough to distract me/contain my cravings for American soil - ah Chipotle!

The first two weeks will be spent in Spain. My original plan had been to cross the north of the county but it has been adjusted to reflect the financial constraints of travelling solo. That trip will have to wait. I will first head to Salamanca, then on to Galicia - Santiago de Compostela for a few nights, with a bunch of day trips around the region - Pontevedra and A Coruna. I will then make a completely irrational but welcomed leap across the country to Granada, before making a quick stop in Malaga. Next will be Girona - a Catalan city between Barcelona and the French border which I will reach by plane via Madrid.

From Girona I leave Spain. The next portion is the least defined. I fly to Graz, Austria. After a quick stop in this town, I will head to Vienna, then Bratislava and other parts of Slovakia. Poland is next, with at minimum time spent in Krakow and Warsaw, if not other spots. I have a few extra days to kill here and may come by way of Budapest - I didnt fall in love the first time but it may be deserving a second chance I think. Finally, I head to the Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia - for about 12 days a few countries Ive been looking forward to visiting for a long time. If time permits, Helsinki will get a day or two before flying to Berlin - six days, including my birthday. Fly to Madrid. Pick up bags. Fly home to America. The end.

Its looks like a solid trip. I hope it proves to be better than that. I have saved plenty of money teaching and won't need to tighten the belt so much this time around - maybe this will mean an occasional upgrade from a chicken kebab (flakes of meat) to a chicken breast (real meat), or perhaps a few less pizzas in favor of a well rounded meal - one can dream. My plan is also to scale back on things to lighten my bag. Six shirts will likely now be four this summer. I think two pants will now be one, and so on. Nothing better than a light pack.

I hope to maintain my commitment to the blog all summer this time around - last time I faltered late. Feel free to follow along, ask questions, comment positively or negatively, whatever suits your interest. There is a nice subscribe function to - you can receive an email every time i post rather than need to look it up - it makes it easier to follow if you so wish. Anyway we shall see - cross your fingers.

Hasta pronto...

Posted by AAY 02:17 Archived in Spain Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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