Thursday, November 5, 2009

two months later

Two months later. Two months on the road. Two months travelling around. And what do we have to say for ourselves?

This last month has taken me through Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Verona, Milan, and Interlaken. How did it compare to month one? Yes – how did it compare to month one. That's an excellent starting question, and one that's answer is far less than straight forward.

In my first month of travel, everything was new and fresh – so you'd think it would be the greater experience, And it was for a brief while. There are few things t compare to my first stop in Iceland. And yet, so long ago now, it fades into almost nothing. I've tried to keep in touch with the people I met there – with varying degrees of success. Facebook has made this easier, of course. But just like that infamous party where everyone bonded before going off to university, the return to real life weakens some bonds. Still – the bonds rarely break, and though the ol' college team may never get back together again, they're still there one on one, and all the merrier for it.

But after that – I was staying in hostels full of old people, school groups, and the like. I hadn't fond my stride yet. It wasn't until month two that I was able to really understand what I wanted, and as such go out and try to get it. There's something far more widespread to that by the way. You really need to know what you want before you can try to obtain it. And it's only through failure, and god awful miserable times that you're able to correct your bearings and start heading out in that new direction. Even then, you'll find time and time again that you're still not headed exactly where you'd like to be. But you keep on changing course little by little, and I have no doubt that you'll eventually find it.

I still have no idea where I'm headed, but at least I have a better idea now.

I've seen so much the last month. Paris offered me one of the most beautiful cityscapes I had yet to imagine. And it also provided me that little piece of insight – obvious though it may seem – of just how much “more” travelling with a friend can be.

The days with my pseudo-Parisian accomplice made all the difference on those days. Going to the top, or middle, of the Eiffel would have been significantly less meaningful were I alone. And yet both of us were allowed to go or separate ways at night. And there's something to be said for that too.

I've heard a lot of stories lately about people travelling together. More often than not fights break out, and people go their separate ways. The worst story I heard was of one person who packed up in the middle of the night, wrote an “eff you” you to their travelling companion, and grabbed a train and took off, without saying where they went.

It's terrible – but these things happen when you travel some times. When every waking moment is with the other person. You don't even spend that much time with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, or anything there in between. But just like NAS says in The Message, “a thug changes, and love changes / and best friends become strangers, word up.”

Word up indeed, NAS; word up indeed.

Paris led to Spain, and that had its good times too. It was to be the last time I'd feel true warmth. Hanging out at the beach is something that everyone should try out now and then. But being part of Barcelona made everything hard to enjoy. The more I travel Europe, the more stories I hear about people getting robbed, or mugged in Barcelona. This is the city's legacy. And it's just accepted. The police don't care, the people don't care. Barcelona is the 1980s New York that everyone feared would become real. But because it looks like a resort town, rather than urban drawl no one seems to care. Well no more, Barcelona, no more. You may have a magic fountain – but you're still a terrible place for any traveller to go, who wants to stay safe and leave with everything they brought with them.

We can look at theft and think how really it's helping the locals who are losing their town because of the tourism industry, but that's always seemed like a lousy excuse to me. Maybe in ultra-poor countries this is true. But if you live in a city like Barcelona and you're upset that it's full of tourists – well, get out and leave. Your city would crumble and be forgotten if not for the millions of people passing through each year to see your unfinished church, and your half naked women on the beaches.

It would be like me claiming that I rob people in Toronto, because I'm sick of the snow, and get affected by the winter. It's something you know will be there, something you know will come, and blaming it for anything is ridiculous. If you don't like it – leave. Madrid is close enough.

I do not rob people in Toronto.

Just saying.

Madrid had its moments – back to the city life. And hello giant rally. It takes all different types of people in this world, I'm sure. So the less said about that the better. But it was back in Madrid that I really felt, for the first time, that I knew what I wanted. It was there, contrasting against B'lona, that I got just how much the life of a city meant to me.

This would be put into further perspective in Rome.

Rome – it really didn't do it for me. Rome was like a museum. It had lots of great stuff in it, but hey – no one really wants to live in a museum, do they? And this is one thing that I would tell all potential travellers – it's ok to hate something.

Sure you paid lots of money to get there, and you feel like yo should tell yourself you love it – but don't force yourself. If you don't like something, own up to that, and feel the hatred, feel the rage, feel the utter apathy and cynicism.

But don't let it cloud you too much, else you'll find yourself creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But – seriously – don't feel you have to love everything, and enjoy everything. Some places just are god awful. Some countries you will absolutely hate. And that's fine. I met a girl in Italy who told me how “ignorant I was” because I didn't like Ottawa – that I found it to be a boring, slow city. She told me that it was so ignorant for me to be travelling the world, without appreciating my own nation's capital.

Now – this is the problem with letting the youth of the nation out on the world stage. They're not quite sure what the words they use mean. Is it ignorant for me to not like Ottawa? No it is not. My dislike of the city (despite the fabulous War Museum, and the best Chinese Food – Jade Dragon – I have ever had) is based on a lot of well considered thought. It's just not “urban” enough for me. It's very slow paced.

I tried to explain this to her – but she would not listen. Instead she just yelled, and screamed, and told me how wrong and ignorant I was. These are the heralds of our nation now. Oh good.

So once again – do not feel bullied into loving something. If you hate it, then you feel proud to hate it. Hate it with pride!

Rome was also the place where it really hit me how much the weather affected my love of a place. I'm still not sure what my “true feelings” on a city are – the rainy ones or the sunny ones. Probably neither. It's probably stuck somewhere in between – either that, or there is no capital t Truth, and all thoughts are as true as they are in the moment that you feel them. But no more of this talk!

Florence provided me with more things to dislike, despite the love that other people seem to feel for the place. And it was here that I really started to appreciate a city not as a destination, but as a base of operations from which to launch day trips. And for that Florence is an excellent place.

Venice fulfilled my expectations. Some people said it was more magical “because it was real” but I found that a lot of the magic was gone because it was real. It's hard to take what you've seen from television and movies, and then try to fold that over into real life. Despite how much I love Tokyo – that place will never seem as wondrous as it does in Lost in Translation. The simple reason being that any time a week of life is condensed into two hours, it will always seem to capture - - - something - - - more. It can't not.

And this is, once more, where I would warn potential travellers. Travel isn't all fantastic, and wonderful, and magical. Every moment will not be this great adventure. There will be terrible times, annoying times, boring times – times where you may want to pack it all in and head back home (I've not hit this yet – but I'm sure it could happen.)

Think of travel shows, where everything looks lovely. You don't see them waiting in line for an hour to grab a train ticket, or have screaming kids around them while they sit on a ferry for hours. They don't have to wait to get from point a to point b, they're just there. That's not travel. That's television magic.

Travel on television is about as real as relationships and romance is on television. So take that how you will. Did Dawson ever end up with Joey Potter? How did that ever play out, anyway? Is that reference too far lost from today's pop culture? Maybe I should have invoked Smallville instead.

And then there was Interlaken. I loved it in the rain. I loved it in the sun. I just loved it. Mountains + Water = fantastic, I don't care where you are. And it really makes me greatful to live in Canada, because as great as this place is – and oh, it is – I could see comparable things without leaving my home country.

I'm also noticing how things that remind me of Canada bring forth a lot more love than those that don't. So there's some hometown pride. Take that “ignorant” girl. I love my country just fine, thank you very much.

And that's that – two months on the road.

A little wiser, a little better travelled, and a little more ready for things to come.

With one month left in Europe, I still have Poland, Prague, and Germany ahead of me. Not many countries – but man, it's not until I travelled that I really appreciated just how big Germany really was.

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