Tuesday, January 25, 2011

10 Day Journey

My ship left early on the 19th of September. So early in fact, I had to stay out the night before because there wouldn't have been a launch boat for me to get ashore before it departed in the morning.

So I had to start my leave early, the damnedest luck. Although I did have to foot the bill for a four star hotel at the last minute, I didn't really mind. I would leave Naples the 19th as well, having already seen most of what I wanted to in time that I had ashore during the week while the ship was still there. It was actually a relaxed few days of work leading up to my vacation as we adventured thru the hectic streets of Naples (which I personally got to drive through, and that was an exciting yet stressful endeavor), all over Pompeii, and even up to the crater of Mt. Vesuvius!

Standing atop the sleeping beast I remember thinking how foolish all of the nearby residents are. Especially with the daily reminder of their worldwide attraction still set in 79 A.D. I also remember thinking that the wine we toasted to after looking out at the sea and the ship that brought us there, that the wine grown on the side of the volcano, was horrible! From the top you could see Pompeii and the rather long path leading to the ancient city that the smoke and burning debris had to travel.

I'm still amazed at so much from Pompeii, the size and the sophistication of the society in particular. I made my own way through the city after I grew tired of crowds of people in my picture frames. I only feel slightly bad for hopping wall after wall and to see behind the scenes. After all, it was evident that I was not the first one to stray off the path, but at least I was respectful enough not to leave my wrappers and bottles behind. It was slightly creepy, however, exploring the ruins, hut by hut and church to church by myself, but it was also a much more personnel journey.

I caught a train to Rome out of Naples. In my cabin I met a nice older couple from Washington state that was on their way to Tuscany. We talked for a while after I attempted drawing some things and designing the family crest. Rome, like Naples, was a big city, but it was much different. I walked a few blocks from the train station, mentally patting myself on the back for booking a hostel so close that I wouldn't have to lug my duffel bag and absurdly heavy backpack too far. It was more of a coincidence actually, as I was keen on staying at this particular hostel that was conveniently located near the station.

It was late afternoon when I check in and I decided to take the night walking tour offered by the inn. A girl from Ohio led the tour, which started out at an old Roman bath, and ended two hours later at the Pantheon. Most of the sites were lesser known, by me at least; It was a good introduction to Rome. I ended up revisiting a few of the places the next day because they had been closed during the tour. I also searched for a microfiber towel for a few hours because I didn't want to pay for one at the hostel, and I would surely use it again on my trip. This was the start of my exhausting trip. I would walk ALL day, party most of the night, and then drag myself out to walk the cities again.

It may sound as if I am complaining, but there is really No better way to do it. I did walk and climb more stairs than I ever would've anticipated though. I spent nearly a full day at the Vatican and it was totally worth it. Saint Peter's Basilica was jaw dropping. From its sculptures to the view of the city, it was well worth the money and the climb. The Sistine Chapel and the museums were pretty great as well. I just wished that I had remembered more from my 18 credit hours of art history and the meaning and importance of a lot of the works and styles that I (at least) recognized.

This was where my struggle with motivation and discouragement for my own art began, and would last throughout Italy and Greece. In the presence of hundreds of masterpieces from the last few thousand years, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I felt like an ass for not pursuing my art more, and sketching more, and studying more and just doing more artistic things (things of substance) in my free time than I have been. It was an aspiring feeling. Then, from the other hand I felt heavy and suppressed. The looming thought that there is so much amazing art from the past, and current artists that my work will surely never make a ripple, began to creep in. Not that I doubt myself or want to quit, I'm just a realist. Anyway, we all struggle with something right?

Rome was full of sights and I saw them! The nightlife that I found, was quite lacking though, and after 3 days with the Romans, by the 23rd, Florence was calling my name.

The station to hostel walk was a lot longer this time, but the streets of Florence were quaint and peaceful in the early evening, so I didn't mind the walk. I found some pizza after dropping off my bags, and proceeded to walk the city until I was lost. It's a tendency of mine, even though I usually have a destination, and a map, I usually get sidetracked and end up losing myself with in the new surroundings. Florence was an amazing city with a plethora of great art. Not being a huge city, I really felt a connection there and would love to stay longer in the future. The Uffizi museum was especially nice and included many artists and styles that I really enjoyed. Three days wasn’t enough.

I did slip away to Pisa for a few hours which was really great except I had to pay a fine on the train because apparently having a ticket isn’t enough. No one tells you that you have to validate it until they are also telling you to pay a 40 Euro fine. Fuck that! I talked her down to 5, playing the stupid tourist card.

Next was Venice! What a unique city, but damn it was expensive. What’s worse, I booked a hotel this time instead of a hostel, and out of the entire trip it was the worst place I stayed. I had my own room (more like a closet) but shared a one person bathroom with the whole floor. That wasn’t so bad, it was just extremely awkward because there was no frame to the shower, and it was directly adjacent to the toilet. What a mess a shower proved to be. I asked if there was a fridge at the hotel, or wifi and the clerk laughed and said, “No, this is just a one star hotel”! WTF, I didn’t even know 1 star’s actually existed, especially for 90 euros. Oh well, at least it was close to the station. Other than that, Venice was a blast as I had the best company in the world! It was quite easy to get lost there, and we kept going in circles, it felt like I was in the Labyrinth. On the water it was much easier, beautiful too! Venice didn’t last long enough either, but I nearly had to stay because the damn hotel almost made me miss my flight to Athens. The front desk which was supposed to be manned 24 hours was empty, and I was locked in at 4 am while needing to catch a bus to the airport. After searching for a key, yelling a bit, and banging around some, the guy finally woke up and came down to let me out. It was wild because I literally stepped onto the bus as the doors were closing.

The walk to my hostel in Athens would’ve been quite short if the metro was running. However, the first two days I was there, they were on strike which is a normal occurrence in Greece. The location of the hostel couldn’t have been better though, and its rooftop view of the Acropolis can attest to that. Although having some pretty sketchy areas, Athens proved to be very cool! Three days was more than enough to see the sites, but their nightlife is in full force and lasts until the sun comes up. Plus, the gyro’s and Greek salads are pretty damn good. Acropolis and all the sites and museums around it were very cool. It really is wild and humbling, walking around among such ancient ruins and trying to imagine the lifestyle and being alive in those times…

It's a way of life

Athens, Greece
Sep 28th, 2010 5am

I just met a homeless man of 30 years! He says it is his chosen "profession" and that he's had many opportunities along the way to change. Apparently, this self proclaimed world traveler has 'had' many women and made pretty good money his whole life.

It all started when he was young, working in a bar in his hometown of Scotland, when an elderly man stumbled in and throughout the night, showed him how to beg. That was the last night he worked in the bar. He says that he has worked since, but never had to. Eventually boredom takes over and he goes back to what he knows best.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Like Vegas, but with Bulls!

A seed was planted in my head seven months ago when I first hit mainland Europe. I knew that I would be in Spain in July and could possibly make it to the week long festival of San Fermines, aka Running of the Bulls. Yet, for as much as I thought about the trip, I really had little substance of a plan to show when the weekend came. Four coworkers and I had agreed that we would simply catch some trains (due to difficulties online, we did not know times/prices/transfers) and then crash on the ground when and wherever necessary (no vacancies- All hotels/hostels/couchsurfers were booked). So, not to my surprise, plan 'A' was quickly tossed aside as we discovered the trains were also booked. We instead decided to rent a car and just drive. This actually proved to be a much cheaper avenue and provided us with storage, shelter and put us on our own time line. After all, how long could the drive from southern to northern Spain be?

Ten hours later we arrived in Pamplona, at 3 A.M. Now, from what I've learned about Spain, I expect the nightlife to last well past sunrise, but here, it might as well have been New Year's Eve! I'm not aware of any other place with a full week of non stop partying, 24 hours a day. Shortly after arriving, we were each armed with a jug of sangria and started sardining our way around the crowded city. We had to be efficient, so we started scoping out the run path while hopping from bar to bar. The 2 females with us had already declared their intent not to run, but for us 3 guys, we weren't sure if we were actually running or just watching.

The morning light came out and the time to run was creeping up quick. While still scoping the scene out, I got separated from the group on the 'in' side of the path, near the entrance to the bullring at the end of the 800 meter run. A brigade of about 30 Policia was herding us away from the bullring, but I was in! I was one of the last people not ousted by the blockade. So I guess I had no choice but to run, it was written.

I was wrong; another blockade came up from the opposite direction and squeezed us all into a side street and behind a wooden wall. A second later, they let their guard down to allow one person back in and myself and about 15 others rushed by. With about 1 hour to go, I was in again!

That didn't last long either. After about 10 minutes, the gauchos were back at it and wedged us out again, leaving the last 200 meters of the street vacant. This was Bullshit! I would have to find a different point of entry. Another side street provided an opportunity when one of the Policia passed out and once again I nonchalantly eked my way by their breakdown. AGAIN! A damned third time I was forced off of the street, leaving even more of it empty with only 15 minutes to go. Where did all of these cops keep coming from?! And why did they keep shitting on my parade? Perhaps, it wasn't written. After 3 rejections, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I would not be running. Maybe it was better that way.

I walked back to the beginning in hopes of getting a good view of the start. It was pretty crowded though, and I could only see small bits of the street through the people and wooden barricades. There was however, a slow stream of people that kept getting closer and closer. I followed them to the front and then through an opening in the barrier. It opened up, and there were fewer people inside and another wooden partition 10 feet away. As I asked a gentleman where the bulls would come out, I realized that I was standing only 50 meters from the starting point, on the path! With only 5 minutes to go, I new I was finally in, and started walking back to my original spot.

One minute to go. It was there, a few hundred meters from the bullring where I remembered I should do a quick stretch and check my shoelaces. I don't really recall the thoughts that were flooding my head, but I do remember hopping from foot to foot, as if I was preparing for a big boxing match.

0800, the gunshot sounded and the bulls were released. Over the next 5 minutes there was a wide variety in reactions from one runner to the next, not to mention varying level's of athleticism. I was probably at the 600-700 meter mark and almost immediately, there were people sprinting for the arena. This was a little premature as it was another 60 seconds before I even saw the first bull. I was later told that those "Premi's" were booed and called names by all the spectators inside the arena. It is however, an awkward feeling to see dozens of people sprint by you with fear filled eyes and still stand your ground. My time to run came soon enough though.

As the first pack of bulls approached, adrenaline spilled into the streets, and I was 'on my horse'. The pace of the bulls was manageable, but as expected, the variable was the other runners. Differing speeds and flow of people were what I was paying attention to most. It was a new thing for me, watching where I was running, hurdling a few downed men and filming behind and beside me all at once. I made my way inside the arena shortly after the first pack of bulls and ended up waiting a few minutes for the rest to file in and trot straight back and into their stables. It was over relatively quickly and I stood their in the center of the arena with a few hundred other runners, taking in the moment as the audience cheered. I couldn't believe that was all, it was somewhat anticlimactic, but an amazing experience nonetheless. I started heading to the side to hopefully reunite with my group, but felt compelled to pull out a pen and paper to start writing down my thoughts and feelings for this very chronicle. With only two sentences down, I noticed there were still about the same number of people in the arena, and witnessed a few being told that they could not hop the fence. Where was the exit? What was going on here?

I can only imagine how big my eyes were when they released a bull back into the arena! And I could swear that the crowd was celebrating my terror. How had I not known that they would lock us in after the jogging of the bulls, and let fresh legs in to trample us?

We became a school of fish, fluidly avoiding the young energetic, devilish bulls. Well, some of the fish strayed off or caught the bull's eye and paid for their mistakes. The tyrant was loose for about 5 minutes before the god's opened the gates to allow the beast to depart.That was unexpected, but I lived. I walked back over to the gate where the bull had left and took pictures of the people kneeling and thanking their makers for sparing them. Once again, it seems I was fooled. Another bull was let out and these people must have been praying to not be crushed because they were willingly crowding around a ticking time bomb. They let out 6 bulls, one at a time in this fashion.

It was a bit stressful, evading energetic bulls in a crowded ring for over half an hour. In the short time observing the brutes, I conjured up the theory that they don't run straight for very long distances, and will eventually turn to take some bait. Well, twice I was proven wrong, or maybe the bull knew that I was going to stand my ground, expecting him to turn away. I forfeited both games of chicken and dashed aside at the last second. The bulls turn erratically and I escaped with a valuable lesson learned. The path of the bull is unpredictable and this animal shall not be underestimated.

The rest of the day really didn't matter. It was all downhill from there, but the feeling of truly being alive still endures.


All pictures and videos were taken by me.