Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day 320: A Lament for Home

Looking forward to my waterbed and Lola.

If you've ever eaten too much you might know how I feel. I'm stuffed– only it's my mind instead of my stomach, and my heart is starving.

The past 11 months have been, without a doubt, the most exhausting, rewarding, and developmental period of my life. I've had to rely on myself for everything whether it be; dealing with stress over where I'm sleeping, or sending out another scattering of couch requests. I've met hundreds of people, most of them have become friends, and a few of which have taken up residence in my heart. I've carried my pack all over the continent– whether hitch hiking, train, bus, or boots. I've written blog articles long enough to cross the Atlantic. I am humbly satisfied with my trip and ready to begin another phase of my life.

With less than a week to go, I've felt a drastic change in my mood. While a jovial excitement has pervaded my trip, now that I'm counting down the days I don't feel like doing anything but going home. Traveling for a year hasn't directly made me tired, but being away for my family so long and knowing that I'll see them so soon is making it difficult for me to concentrate on enjoying my environment.

I keep imagining what seeing my family will be like. For sure, I'm going to be an emotional mess– emerging from the terminal to find my family waiting there for me. Throughout this past year, beautiful experiences have been plentiful, but nothing I've experienced will compare with this reunion. The thought of going to the park with Mom and her dog McKee or having dinner with Dad and Grammy, Pop Pop, and the rest of his family makes my heart tender.

I've been traveling for so long that seeing new places is no longer exciting. Instead of going out to see Catania I am writing this lament for home. I've come to the conclusion that it's not the new places that I grow so tired of, it's meeting new people. At this moment, I don't want to meet anyone. I don't want to tell stories of my travels, I don't want to share my childhood, my favorite bands, or my political views. Lately I've felt a bit like a broken record, repeating the same sentences over and over. Now I don't say much. I want to be surrounded by people to whom I need no introduction and can laugh, cry, or complain to without preface. I want the familiar ears of my family and friends.

Hitching from this gas station in CZ was truly 'senseless'.

These feelings are not new-- though my homesickness has reached a new intensity in the last few days. I started missing home and growing tired of traveling around the time I was in Paris. Thankfully Paris was so exceptional in every regard that I forgot largely about this, but it wasn't the city itself that helped me the most. On July 14th I met Banu at a special CouchSurfing picnic in celebration of France's National Day.

Banu in her place, the tent.

You're welcome to blame the wine, but we found something in each other that fulfilled both of us. Traveling solo for 8 months had been exceptionally rich as my oneness allowed me to meet and bond with an incredible amount of people. Despite much friendship, I was lonely. Banu and I found each other at the perfect time in my trip. While I missed out on seeing many of Paris' classic attractions, I hardly cared.

Banu and I enjoying Prague's pathetic excuse for an Eifel Tower.

After a brief separation we spent the next month and a half traveling together. Her warm company filled a void in me that made traveling easier, even though we both knew our time was limited.

The couple that hitches together gets rides together.

It was a rough day at the airport in Krakow when she flew back to Paris, leaving me waiting for my flight to the Sicily.

Now that I'm alone the surppressed feelings of homesickness have resurfaced in the form of straps that hold me to the hostel bed.

I don't feel like it. I don't want to learn language. I don't want to meet new people. I don't care about local cuisine. I don't want to hitch hike. I don't want to send out CouchSurfing requests. I don't want to keep traveling. All I want to do is go home, despite the little voice in the back of my head that tells me I'll miss all this.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 273: Antwerp Sings

Yesterday I hitched from Brugge to Antwerp. Fortifying my belief in Belgium as a hitch hiker's paradise, I waited less than 10 minutes for all three rides combined. When I was back in Gent I found myself hitching out of the same spot I was in 4 days ago, but this time I had company. I was excited to see another hitch hiker. He said he had been there for 30 minutes. I only felt a little bad when a car picked me up in 7 minutes and he was still standing there. Though this was going to be my narcissistic beauty for the day, Antwerp trumped it.

Hippies get rides faster, good luck!

Upon arriving in Antwerp, my hosts came to meet me and after dinner, brought me to a one night event called "Antwerp Sings." An event where people get together and sing songs, whether they're Belgian classics or American pop, everyone sings together. We could hear the singing before we saw the scene. Fueled by beer tents, a plaza full of people with vocal chords ablaze.

Even though I didn't know most of the songs, being a part of a crowd full of singing people was so beautiful. I started talking with a young woman next to me and she was kind enough to explain the history behind many of the Flemish songs. I didn't even feel bad that I only knew the words to 'I Gotta Feeling' and 'Thank You for the Music'. Everyone was having a great time singing and the communal atmosphere was beautiful... and free!

What started out as a crowd of bar-goers has expanded exponentially into a a city of singers. The rapidness which this event expanded is inspiring. Getting people together to sing is a simple idea that I'm surprised doesn't happen more often. This event tours around a handful of towns in Belgium, uniting all of the townsfolk in song. Case in point -- here I was with my two CouchSurfing hosts who I had only known for a few hours and I ended up chatting with this other woman for the rest of the night, singing with a crowd of strangers -- that's a beautiful thing.

What was the most beautiful thing that happened to you today?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 271: Livin' Free

After suffering through a frustrating bout of withdrawing money, I sought to find a cafe for me to write and banish my morning hunger pangs. I was fortunate to stumble upon Le Pain Quotidien. Enveloped in their cozy French interior, my taste buds gushed as they hobnobbed with scrambled eggs, toast, and an almond croissant. You may have guessed from their name that delish bread is their specialty, but breakfast wasn't the most beautiful part of my day.

My favorite part of the day was the same reason I didn't write my blog this morning. Over the past week or two I've become increasingly curious in living without money. Yesterday I discovered Daniel Suelo's Free Life Blog, blog about a guy living in the Moab desert who doesn't use money at all. Thanks to a new sustainability blog I've began reading I also found an 'Adventurous Life Zine' which is a PDF guide that covers a handful of strategies that inform someone who is fascinated in living without money. Topics range from dumpster diving tips to composting toilets, and travel to health.

Daniel lives for free in a cave!

While reading this I couldn't help but laugh out loud. I felt ridiculous as I imagined myself doing these things and living happily. Until recently I hadn't thought too much about the free lifestyle. I knew people live in abandoned buildings and eat dumpster buffet but I always thought it was only bums or lazy people. Now I realize that this is not the case. I will let the intro of the zine speak for itself:

"This zine is not about being a cheapskate, being frugal, living in poverty, or scamming people to get stuff for free. It's about letting go of the belief that money is essential to get anywhere, and being open to the abundance of nature. It's about sharing everything you have, and allowing yourself and others to reach their full potential."

Through various experiences on my trip I've realized that none of my favorite experiences have come from money (one could argue this trip wouldn't have been possible otherwise, but this is a separate discussion). I've ranted and raved about hitch hiking and CouchSurfing, both of which are free, and laughing with friends and connecting with people is free too. Often times money is a way of buying myself out of an experience. Money is quick and easy, but never fun. I remember worrying about my budget severely when I was in Italy and cursing at Western Union on multiple occasions. When money is taken out of the picture people come together to help each other through clothes swap parties, shared meals, or community gardens. Everyone is on the same level. Cool.

Mom and dad, don't worry. I'm not going to go live in a dumpster (at least not yet), but I am pleasantly curious about this lifestyle. From my frustrating experience withdrawing money this morning to the €11.45 bill for breakfast, living without money is becoming more and more appealing. Accepting new lifestyles over toast – that's a beautiful thing.

What was the most beautiful thing that happened to you today?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 269: James' Letter

Yesterday I hitch hiked from Ghent to Brugge. I tried to get artsy with the sign and gave birth to something uniquely hideous. Thankfully I didn't have to display it long before a bearded baldie pulled over. He told me his name was James. I told him that James was a noble name.

Riffing off of my statement that I was from NYC, James said he had a friend there. He pulled out an envelope that looked like it survived a four year tour in Vietnam. Written a seductive script, I could tell it was a feminine hand that pressed this ink to the page. The words reminisced of an old friendship and extended an open invitation for James' return to the city. "I've been carrying that around for the past five years," he said. It was clear that he thought of its battered appearance as a badge – every crease a memory of their bond.

My fingers witnessed the paper's texture and my eyes read the words but I couldn't absorb the beauty of the openness I was a part of at that moment. Sitting in a car with a stranger who, despite my orange pants and hideous sign, picked me up and was freely sharing this piece of his heart, made me realize how the length of time that people have known each other isn't as important as how much they can open themselves and share.

James brought me all the way to the doorstep of my CS host's house. He waited when I rung the doorbell to see if I would get inside safely. When my host opened the door we exchanged our goodbyes and I couldn't help but wonder if he realized how much he inspired me. My beliefs were confirmed – James is a noble name.

Stay open, James.

One day Aras asked me, "Tell me about the most beautiful thing that happened to you today." Since I replied to him I have been asking the question to others and it always sprouts a beautiful conversation. A few days ago I was struck with the idea to create a blog around this concept. I will share some moments of brightness here.

Now I ask you: What was the most beautiful thing that happened to you today?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 262: Highlights From The Past Two Months...

Dear Friends,

After an evening of hitch hiking – instead of snoozing on a couch in Brussels, I find myself inside my tent, on the side of the highway. Overcome by the urge to write, I am at a familiar loss for words. By no regret of mine, so much has happened since my last blog entry that I don't know where to continue the story. I could start from...

Camping on Inisheer by the ocean and a ship wreck.
Camping on the cliffs of Moher (that's my tent).
Celebrating my birthday with the circus in Western Ireland.
Climbing mountains in the Connemara.
Rainy hitch hiking in Ireland.
Trippin' as an angler fish.
Performing for CouchSurfers at Edinburgh Rocks.
Introducing a Brazilian to the wonders of Fluff.
Hitch hiking the Scottish Highlands.
Meditating with Tibetan monks.
Getting tickets to Glastonbury from a couple I met in the Sahara Desert.
Experiencing the construction of one of Europe's largest festival.
Participating in a world record breaking game of Twister.
Enjoying amazing artists like Paul Simon.
Witnessing the massive mess left behind.
Magical sunsets.
Exploring the legendary realm of King Arthur.
Having to share the bed with hosts (4) my entire time in London.
Hitch hiking across the English Channel with crazy Hungarians.
Sleeping 'rough' in Paris.
Getting a tour of Paris on motorbike.
Climbing the Eiffel tower.
Celebrating French National Day with fireworks, friends, and wine.
Enjoying Rodney's "picnic du jour" ... everyday!
Meeting a childhood internet mentor in person.
Savoring the fruits of a wild plum tree.
Exploring the old railway and catacombs.
Getting soaked underneath Paris.
Meeting some authentic catophiles underground.
Partying in the catacombs.
Falling in love with more than the city...

...having to leave a city that's stolen your heart... and now, sleeping next to some gas station off of the motorway, behind a large metal box producing loud clicky-clacky noises.

How my blog will continue from here is uncertain. For the same reason I stopped blogging, I probably won't blog as frequently as my feverish three times a week. Western Ireland's beauty was so overwhelming that I couldn't write fast enough. While I'm about two months behind on experiences these tales will have to wait till I'm home to be told... and be told they will!

Though I have developed an aversion for speaking about the future, I fancy writing a book when I get home. On what, exactly, I'm not sure. Something about my past 11 months traveling, perhaps? I know that I don't want to teach people how to travel or make a recommended list of places to go. While these may be included as byproducts, I believe it will be mostly selective content from my blog though with more meta bits about how I've developed as a Ross throughout my trip. I guess we'll wait and see.

I look forward to writing Ross Roams again. When words come to me I'll do my best to deliver them faithfully. I am excited to share more intimate thoughts, though not experiences. For these, words are useless to convey.

Brussels is an overcast beauty with amazing architecture and enough chocolate, waffles, beer, and fries to keep me happy for a lifetime. Although I'll only be spending another day or two here I look forward to spreading my experiences (like Nutella on a waffle).


Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 222: Galway and the Aran Islands (Inisheer)

In the wake of a week in Dublin the bustle of the city had me craving the country. Heading West to explore 'true' Ireland, I had no idea that I was in for one of the most memorable weeks of my 8 months of traveling Europe.

Traditional Irish breakfast.

Against my desire, I heeded Rory's advice to take the bus instead of hitch hike to Galway. When I arrived I didn't have any accomodation prepared as all of my couch requests seemed to fall on deaf ears. One surfer said he couldn't host me as he moved out of his apartment, but he was staying in a hostel and we should meet up. I would have loved to meet with him but I couldn't bear to stay in a hostel named Snoozles. Rocking up at the creatively named Galway Hostel, while checking in I had a strange experience.

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The dude behind the desk asked me for my passport and when he read my name he said "That's funny, my girlfriend said we have a CouchSurfer named Ross staying with us tomorrow night. He's also from America." Though striking at the time, when I checked my requests, sure enough, Maria said that her boyfriend worked in the hostel. Unfortunately Maria and I would not get to meet because of two frogs.

There she was, cute as can be– and she was talking– to me. Angeline was her name, and she was not alone. Despite our fascinating conversation, it wasn't long before her boyfriend made himself known. Contrary to my initial dissapointment, we all quickly became friends. Tomorrow they were planning to go to a group of three small islands off the coast of Galway. As both parties had tents, I suggested that we join forces and camp together. Not only did they accept but after exploring Galway with them I knew that we were going to have a lot of fun.

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The next morning I was awake before I had fallen asleep. The bus that would bring us to the boat left at 9:30 from Galway but I had personal matters to attend to... aka, bright and early blogging! Following a classic hostel breakfast of butter, jam, toast, washed down with some pathetic representation of orange juice, we soon found ourselves on a boat.

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