A man came to the Hostel I was volunteering at. We spoke for a bit sitting on opposite ends of the room. He did most of the chatting and at one point said,
“You just don’t know how foolish it is to be doing what you’re doing. You can run around and act like a child now because you’re young, but soon reality will hit you and you will realise it would have been better to have started your career and made money to take care of yourself.”
After talking some more, it was revealed that this man was unsatisfied with his personal life, feeling unhappy and empty with his own career choices, relationships, and quality of life. Of course, I said nothing of this, only simply thought to myself, “How strange, that someone who is so unhappy is telling me how to be happy.” Obviously this is a form of false logic, but I read once that we should take advice from those we aspire to be. So far, all the people I’ve admired have all given up the “normal” life and the things that are “common sense” to pursue what they really wanted. None of them had regrets.
A wonderful couchsurfing host in Kiev told me,
“I can find you tons of managers who wish they could quit their job to go traveling, but I can’t find you a single traveler who wants to quit traveling and become a manager.”
And while I don’t necessarily propagate that everyone has this innate sense of wanderlust, there are endless single-row lines of men and women who are dying to themselves everyday for the sake of normality and unoriginality all awhile trying to convince themselves that it’s what they want, or what they ought to want. This guy was just one of millions.
As for myself, I spent most of my winter in Albania volunteering in a cold Hostel with little to no heating, and where temperatures drop to -9 at night. Ha, at one point the water was frozen in the faucet. No water, no HOT water. Believe it or not, this is actually a tame beast compared to Kosovo, which was -24 a week ago, or Ukraine which can sometimes hit -30.
(Yes, those are orange and lemon trees. Nothing like fresh fruit picked in the morning sun). I worked at reception mostly, and I met some of the most beautiful people there. So many of them have come through to this little Narnia despite the frozen roads- cyclists from Scotland, France, Austria, and Switzerland, Motorcyclists from Germany, gap year students from the US and UK, world travellers from Singapore, the Latvian-Irish woman who taught me about bluntness, and a lot of vacationers from Italy and Macedonia, and more. All of them have been incredibly interesting, with all sorts of stories from their personal journeys. I have made several friends here, and as always find it difficult to say goodbye. HSP problems, heh heh.
I realised, after spending time with specific guests here, that travel is an eyeglass which we use to gaze into the great open spaces of ourselves. It is sobering how clearly you begin to see yourself- the good and bad, the pride and the shame, the complications and simplicities- you cannot hide from you. This is terrifying, but oddly relieving as well.
I went paragliding over the edge of a mountain. We were picked up in Tirana and drove south to Berat, and up, up, up a mountain, the road shaving down to a sliver, and I do believe I was more afraid of falling off the edge than the actual gliding. Not to mention that the jeep broke down half way up! Oil was boiling and gurgling out the engine like a bubbling geyser.
I volunteered to be the first to go, though my legs were shaking and my lungs were unsteady with fear. When explaining the coming events, I was told to just run, to book it towards the edge of the cliff. I was geared up and clipped onto the front of the host; my whole body was shouting, “Hell no!” but we pushed on anyway until the wind, like invisible hands stretched from above descended and plucked me off of my feet. Where my feet once had met the earth, they now met nothing, and they kicked in the air- I was flying. I wish I could say my landing was graceful, but in reality I tumbled like a weed. Face first, mud on my clothes, but I jumped up and gave a shout into the frigid air, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” because I flew. And through this experience and others, I learned something important about possibilities: They are endless.
Only through traveling have I come to this conclusion; the vast expanse, the stars shine bright, and they come out to play, to brag and revel in their prideful glow. On quiet nights, I can look into their eyes and I feel them, I can hear their breathing, and in unison we sigh together- a sort of choreographic dance, basking in all the glory we share between us. Every second, a new opportunity presents itself to be, requesting that we take it gently. And we do.
If I had to give one serious complaint about Albania, it would be the sexist attitude that remains questioned. Unlike America where sexism is at least acknowledged as wrong (“I’m not sexist but…..”) here it isn’t an issue. One guy, when discussing acceptable age gaps in relationships, remarked that a woman should never be older than the man because the man must lead the woman, and how she should never have any authority over her husband. It seems that Christian, Catholic, Islam, and Orthodox fundamentalism still have a firm grip on perspectives on gender in many of the Balken countries.
Winter depression has kicked in, a few weeks ago, as it does every year. The only difference between this year and the previous ones is that I will have to live on without inviting old friends over to me during its occupancy; no cup of tea at the table, or no monopoly fight or community cooking. This is a new experience for me, but I have survived thus far by going to Ballet performances (4.00 Euro tickets?), reading some wonderful books, and watching TV series huddled under blankets, hiding from the cold winds outside. And with a big mug of hot chocolate in my hands, I sit cozy until the spring comes around when I can absorb the sunlight and use the new energy to move up North come this March.
Peace out people, stay warm. I hear it’s also quite cold back in New Jersey, but the Knight Riders are probably still running around “scaring horses and old people.” Till next time, here are some bonus photos:
I’ve heard it said that a person is never their true self unless they are sure they are alone; if this is true, then I must truly be a lunatic.
I have found myself, when walking in fields completely absent of others, reciting and reenacting whole musical scores such as “Jack’s Lament,” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or “If I Were A Rich Man,” from The Fiddler on The Roof. I leap from fences and logs and stumps, thrusting my hands to the sky, becoming quite animated- which made it all the more embarrassing when I walked right past someone I hadn’t seen. C’est la vie.
The Netherlands was a fun country. Rotterdam was cool, Amsterdam was overrated and smelled like tourism, marijuana, and sex but it was the ghostly sound of Dutch that seduced me. I love the way they say good morning, sounding like “Huda Morgen,” with a windy whisp of the throat and tongue on the R. And oddly enough, I thought I could understand them, even though mentally I knew that I didn’t. Such were the similarities between our respective languages.
It was in Amelo, far east, where I met someone that ended up more than a traveling acquaintance. Linda became my friend, and I actually spent more time at her place than I planned!! A first for me, as I am usually constantly moving. She introduced me to her Italian friend, and I cooked spaghetti with my homemade vegan recipe. Frederico said it was perfect, a great feat apparently, that a real Italian enjoyed a traditionally Italian meal prepared by an American.
As I live and breath, my favorite part of traveling is meeting new and interesting people who are willing to share their life with me. I have felt this multiple times with many, a sort of vulnerability that makes possible the great connection I feel- like a secret knowledge we share together. This is still somewhat of a mystery for me, however, and maybe I can understand it as I grow.
I have felt the first pangs of loneliness while sitting in a campsite in Amsterdam. I knew they were destined to come sooner or later- you can´t expect to uproot one`s entire life and not feel even the least bit lonely. But come the morning, I felt quite alright, and ready to take on the world once more. I regret nothing of leaving. I truly feel alive, a little anxious, but blessed all the same. Solitude is a gift, and I recieve it gladly. But it is still okay to miss people now and again.
I walked across the German border and took a train to Munster. Not sure where I should stay, I began walking towards a green splotch on my map (a possible Forrest?) and took a small break in a thrift store; I hoped to find a book in English, as the one I had was almost finished. In broken German, I tried to ask for one when a woman of about 50 or 60 spoke. “I have a book in English in my home if you’d like. It’s one of Steinbeck’s, but it was too complicated for me.,” she said. Of course I accepted. I made myself comfortable and waited for her return. A bad smell lingered on my clothing, and my thoughts were filled with doubts- “where would I sleep? It was getting late. What would I eat? Where can I clean my clothes” and so on. Upon returning, the woman gave me not Steinbeck, but a small collection of short stories, and then offered me a bed for the night.
“I invite you in because you have a good energy in you, and I hope that somewhere someone will help my own traveling son as I help you,” she explained. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told I had “Good energy.” A French man asked me where it came from and I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. The woman gave me beer, cheese, bread, and other food that night. She helped me clean my clothing, and I slept like a baby.
Hannover was amazing: I met a group of couchsurfers and found a place to stay there after my CS plan fell through. Tip for anyone wanting to use it: Make sure you confirm everything so you don’t misunderstand like I did. All of them were interesting, to say the least. Garret, the guy who helped me, had hosted hundreds of people. There was a Frenchman who, “Didn’t know why he was in Germany.” He was quite hilarious, with a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor. Rebecca, a German shoe maker who invited me for tea the next day was an intelligent and kind woman. Upon meeting her she said, “You’re English is very good!” Which gave us all a laugh because I should hope it’s good- it’s my native tongue!!
I made my way to Berlin to meet with Claudia, one of the coolest, most chill persons I’ve ever met in my life. Actually, she reminded me of my dear friend Alex, and I told her as much. She took me to “The REAL Berlin,” where tourists don’t often go… Ever. This tour included three spots: Tippie Land- a homeless community where you can set up a tent and stay in, Kopi- a punk rock squat, and Yaam an African hang out. Kopi was amazing. The sign on their door read:
“We will not tolerate Facists, Racists, Sexists, Homophobes, Tourists, or Cameras.”
There was a drunk Italian man, fat, with a head too large for his body equiped with a winter hat way too small for his head. Other memorables would be the loud American girl, pierced to the nines, who sleeps in graveyards for their cheap and peaceful qualities, and a Finnish rock musician traveling around Europe.
After playing music with Claudia the next morning, swapping the guitar back and forth, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and bought my self a small guitarlini. Decked me 130€ but if I play on some city streets… 😀
I gathered by things and made my way to Karstadt, where, after missing my train twice, I met my first workawa hosts! They took care of six horses: Santos, Argus, Akazie, Arik, Abbe, and Aiva. I spent the next two weeks (ish), shoveling horse crap into buckets, painting doors, cleaning stables, and antagonizing the pet dogs (Not really, but come on, faking fetch throws is classic). One of the dogs, a black and white poodle named Nemo, seems to have taken a liking to me; whenever I would play the guitar, he would find a way to stroll over and lie down next to me. This, as you can imagine, made me feel quite cool. The other dog, Mahjo, was far too cool and highclass for my rugged ways. But after sneaking her some delicious treats, she warmed up to me.
At one point, I was playing the guitar and this huge, fat cat waltzes right up to where I am. It looks at me, and I look at it, and this must have signaled the creature. It jump upon the table in front of me, and steped right over the guitar and found its way comfortably resting in my lap, purring loudly, rubbing its head against me. Thanks a lot, cat. What did I do? The same thing any one who has been chosen by a cat does- pet the crap out of that thing and earn more purs. Teddy was his name.
Steffi, the daughter, works with training horses via positive reinforcement: a system of training that I can definitely support, with no beating, whipping, or otherwise painful wazs of mistreating the animals. She uses a clicker strategie and took the time to give me some basic lessons. I now feel quite confident that I can teach a horse (or any other animal) that a click means a treat, and a treat means I liked what you did, which then causes the action to resurface again and again. I learned so much from this workaway, that I am quite excited for the next ones. You can see her website here. Its in German so beware.
I am back in Berlin, spending a few days here before I head towards Poland and the Zakopane mountains. Packed up my bag again, ready to hit the road once more, only this time I am a little more musical, and know a little bit more in this world of endless knowables. Till next time, share this post, subscribe, comment below.
- Wicklow National Park (And home of the owner of Guiness)
- Wicklow Town
- Frankfurt An Der Oder
- Hiking 700 miles (1,128 km) on the National Blue Trail:
Hello, people! Sam here- and wow; these keyboards are killing me. The layout is completely different, ah well. I do apologize for any mistakes made.
I got to France and it has been quite the sight indeed. I went to a hostel and completely crashed- sleeping for 12 hours straight; explored the city, ate bread, wine, and cheese in scenic view of the Eiffel Tower with a woman I met named Orsola:
And I later met up with a group of vegans who were having a pot-luck dinner in which Couchsurfers could join- so of course I did! and I met some of the most amazing people there like the Woman who collects peoples love stories around the world, the Ballet dancer, and others. Everyone was truly great, and it has been my favorite CS event to date.
The next day, I began walking North towards Belgium and every French person I met was quite kind, contrary to what I was told by many, but perhaps this was because I was trying to speak in French.
But France had a sort of creepy vibe to it. There was a three day period in which I saw very little people. All shops were closed, all doors shut, it was very strange. I would walk into a forrest and get the most peculiar feeling, as if I zere being watched by something in the trees. And I woke up once and had two mysterious bite-like marks on my neck-
In 30 years from now, I will realize that I havent grown a day- Vampires anyone? At one point, during the weird three day period, I got lost and walked up a mountain and found some cool stuff, like this super great ravine/fire pit/cliff, that, to add to the creep factor, had about 50 condoms thrown everywhere
And then I came across this water fountain- it was so truly refreshing after being lost in the mountain for days that I drank and drank, and afterwards I felt very sleepy. I wanted to take a nap, but I was still feeling that strange, almost fairy tale-esque thing, and I remembered a story of the Hero that took a nap but woke up years later- well I didnt want that soooooo, I left.
And literally every church here has a chicken on top of the cross. You all think that I am playing, but no; I am totally serious:
After walking about 100 Miles, I began to hitchhike. Because I was sleepy. Oh, and because of a night of uh, lets say fun. I was sleeping in my tent when I was suddenly awoken by the distinct sound of walking. A deer, perhaps? No. No sooner had I begun to wonder did I hear three very clear and unmistaken sounds- Sniffing, Snorting, and then Squealing. Pigs. Or more concerning, Boars. I clentched my knife and waited for about 15 minutes before they left me alone. Maybe they were just curious.
I have been couchsurfing more often, and everyone has been so kind, generous, and interesting. I ended up singing Karaoke- Disney songs dubbed in French, with another group I was playing guitar and singing in a park picnic. One guy there started playing In The Jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and while they sang their version, I sang mine.
“In english the Lion is sleeping?” they asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“In the french version, the Lion is dead!” and a hilarious laughter followed before one man chuckled, “eternal sleep,” and more laughter ensued.
I realize now that the Vagabond life is not separate from a simple one. Everyday I wake up and follow the same routine of 1. Pack up, 2. Eat, 3. and begin walking. Everyday I ask myself the same two questions: What will I eat today; and Where will I sleep. And in this way, complications have virtually vanished from my life all together. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the differences between a homeless person and a worldly vagabond. I had gone to a church and during the service I smelled something terrible and after investigation realize embarrassingly: It was me. A man had been standing next to me, but moved his seat hahaha. Both I and the homless, we smell the same, look the same, do the same things, sleep in the sane unorthodox areas, and very often I feel that passer-bys think me to be some sort of drugged and dangerous hobo. Tell me in the comments what the differences are, because I’m having a hard time figuring it out.
Bonus round: Notre Dame Catherdral in Amiens:
I eventually left France and headed into Belgium. I tried hitchhiking, but the Police said that I was reported by people and was not allowed to do it. Darn. So, I have been taking the train- an extra 6 Euros per day. The Dutch don’t joke with their sweets either!! My goodness, chocolate for breakfast. I ordered a croissant and bit down into it, but to my surprise I discovered it to be filled with nutella!
But if France felt like a fairy Tale; Belgium looked like one.
While walking in the city of Ghent, I took a break in a small stadium wherein there was placed a piano locked inside of a cage. Some children were playing it rather obnoxiously, and I began to eat my lunch. As I consumed peanuts, Nutella and more, an elderly couple, I would guess around 95 for they could barely walk, slid past the instrument while it was unoccupied. The woman led the man to it, and he must have been slightly blind as he stumbled quite a bit. He sat on the bench and rest his hands on the keys- I watched curiously. He at once began to play the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard in my life, and with such grace. His playing must have had a profound effect on my soul, for no sooner had he begun did I find myself weeping; not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. Such was the complete and utter perfection that came from that piano, and from such an old person- weak and fragile. I quite shocked myself- I didn’t know why I was crying so.
A crowd had gathered, and when he finished, we gave a great applause to which he jumped in fright- he did not know there were so many. He bowed, and played a few more. Many people played that day- all beautiful to be sure, but none as near perfect as the old man.
On a more joyful note, I finaly ate a real Belgium waffle with the help of Sarah!- Life goals hahaha
And with the help of my friend Dylan, I was able to meet these guys, who helped me out a ton and were honestly so great:
But right now, I’m taking a train into Rotterdam in a few minutes so, until next time. Thanks for reading, leave a comment below, share and subscribe- See you!!
“Nothin’s gonna get’ch you there! Not your little compass, not the size of your penis- nothin’!”
– was the response I got while asking for directions to Glendelough, Ireland’s National Park.
Fortunately, this was the only bump in my road, in regards to interacting with other people. Besides this, honestly humorous conversation, I have been met with nothing but kindness from the people here. Ah, except at the border control where the man wasn’t convinced that I didn’t want to live here. I was only given two weeks to explore this stunning country.
Dublin, very similar to Philadelphia, was loaded with old architecture, and it came with a certain feeling of openness. Every town I have walked through has at least 4 bars, all proud to serve Guinness. After landing, I walked to my couchsurfing host, Vijay, and we spent the night cooking, discussing religions, and more. He gave me traditional Indian food for dinner and breakfast the next morning, and was an excellent introduction to the community of CS.
I waltzed down and spent the night fairly cold as I got lost in the town of Enniskerry. I slept in a wheat field, fighting off rats, and in the morning I had learned my lesson: Don’t wait until nightfall to find a place to sleep. I found myself in Bray, and was invited by a Couchsurfing group to hike the mountain there. After the hike, they told me that if I had dinner with them, they would pay for my meal. I have my new acquaintance, Namig, to thank for a chicpea burger with “Chips,” (A.K.A. Fries).
Life here has been fun. Often times by accident, I’ve seen so many unbelievable panoramic views that finally taught me the value of experiencing something so massive first hand. I took some photos of certain areas but they simply do not convey the feeling in your soul that you get when you see them with your own two eyes. Here for example is a picture taken on the top of Luggala, above the owner of Guinness’ home-
You can see it and say, “Yeah, that look’s pretty grand,” but you can’t feel the mist soaking your clothes, the wind almost blowing you over (Seriously, the wind here does NOT joke around), or the incredible height at which I am standing. Maybe it’s because my camera is a simple ‘Point-and-shoot,’ but to stand above that was simple breathtaking. I wish I could have shown this to the man I had quoted at the start, because boom, baby, that was taken after walking over 100 Miles to the sight. I have learned that I can do whatever it is I want, that where there is a will, there is a way, and often times, the way is quirky, unpredictable, but undeniably more pleasant that the easier, more modern mode of travel.
It was here that I ran into a group of French folk that here hiking The Wicklow Way. Since I was going the same direction, we joined up and a wonderful time. By the time we got to the village of Roundwood, they offered to buy me a drink with them at the local bar- my very first Guinness in the land of the Irish at a table of French men. Afterwards, we hopped a fence behind a lake to camp out, wash our clothing, and clean out otherwise smelly bodies. I definitely needed that =P
We split ways in the morning after they berated Irish cheese for being pretty much worthless, I headed down to the sea fairing town of Wicklow where, when scoping the area for a place to stay, I bumped into an old man named Sean Cleary. After talking for a bit, he said, “Well, how would you like to stay indoors tonight?” And just like that, I had a bed, dinner and breakfast, and I learned all about this man’s life. Turns out he was a big humanitarian who worked with a woman named Kay Barry in Bosnia, and the former Yugoslavia. He, like every other religious person I have met, is a devout Catholic, although as he says, many young people are turning away from the belief. It’s not often that I am invited to stay in someones home, however, mainly, I believe, because of my suspicious physical appearance and the fact that I probably smell weird (I definitely do miss hot showers every day). But Jane and Emily Murphey were two very kind souls who also gave me a couch to sleep on and food to eat. They were part of a church that was, I think, “Full Latin Mass as ordained by Christ Himself,” which you can take or leave. No matter the case, the people there were as kind as I’ve met and the women were amazing cooks.
Speaking of Catholicism, this group has been the kindest I have met so far. I always stop in at the large church buildings, if only for the complete silence within their walls, but in most cases, someone comes over offering me food. And so far, they always allow me to camp out on their property.
As for everyone else Fate had cross my path, they have all been pleasant. The two women from a coffee shop in the town of Dalkey, the man in the photography display preparing his Siberian trip, the former Irish boxing champion who plays the accordion after Sunday mass, the dog who peed on my backpack, the girl in the camping store, Americans hiking the Wicklow Way, all the above mentioned persons, and more. I truly feel so blessed, so alive, and so full of potential experience that I frequently feel as if my life is not real.
With that being said, my entire time hasn’t been great. I got a bad fever a few days ago but have since recovered, and let me tell you that hiking 15-20 miles a day sucks sooooo bad when you’re sick. Yeah, screw that.
As I said earlier, I only had two weeks for Ireland because the immigration officers thought that I wanted to live here forever. But, I suppose this is the beauty of the way I am going: I have no plan set in stone, and I can work with this life however it comes to me. Tomorrow, I am catching a flight to France, and I have a strong feeling that I might soon walk El Camino De Santiago, if not now, then certainly when I come back through France next year.
Until next time, here are some more photos. Thanks for following, share this post if you want, and don’t forget that you can always pop in and say hello in person where ever I am =] I’m going to France to get some cheese and wine on the recommendation of my French Pals- so until then!!
Oh, and P.S. Fresh Blackberries, like, EVERYWHERE!!!
Everything I needed to know before traveling! This list is specific for citizens of the United States in relation to other countries.
- A list of Visa free countries, or Visa upon arrival.
- Staying in an area for more than a month? Try Workaway! Lodging and Food in exchange for honest work!
- Just passing through? Use Couch surfing to avoid hotel and hostel costs!
- Use Gmap Pedometer to track distance and mileage.
- If you’re just going to one country, VisaHQ is an excellent website that helps explain what you need to visit. They also offer services to get you there.
After a lot of frustrating calls to embassies for EU countries and mixed answers from all sides- I finally got an answer to my questions on how to travel through Europe long-term. Drum roll please:
You Can’t! Ta-daaaa
Unfortunately, you can’t as far as I can tell. If any country is apart of the Schengen, Agreement- The countries in Blue-
– they share one Visa. However, they don’t all share the same entry prerequisites. Let me break it down for y’all:
If you are an American Citizen (and some other countries, but I’m focusing on me here), you may:
- Enter the Schengen Zone without a visa for up to 90 days. You may travel throughout the entirety of the Shengen area wherever your feet take you. Yay!
- If you wish to stay longer, you must apply for a Long-Term Schengen visa which is specific for each country, not the entire Schengen zone. This means that you can enter, say Germany, for up to a year (or if you are a student, longer).
- But! If you would like to go to France with the same visa, well tough luck. You can’t. You have to apply for a specific French Schengen visa from your home country. Not cool.
In my opinion, this defeats the entire purpose of the Schengen visas. But whatever, rules are rules and I’m just a lowly foreigner, who am I to disagree? I’m nobody. SO! It’s up to me to find loopholes… as best I can. I have created this wonderfully professional photo to explain what I’m thinking:
I would spend 2-3 months in both Ireland and the United Kingdom because they’re rebellious and at this point in time unconnected to the Schengen Zone. Once I hit France though, I’ll have three months to get through it, along with Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. After that, I can spend 2 months or more in Belarus, Russia, and the Ukraine in order to spend the 6 month required absence to RE-ENTER the Schengen territory. I can run through those bottoms ones, and exit into the lower European nations. I can use another 6 months rummaging in them until I hit the 6 month mark for a second, giving me permission to obtain an additional 3 months in Schengen.
I would have to really book it to get down to the port and catch my ferry to Morocco, but I can do it. This isn’t ideal, but you gotta do what you gotta do.