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Dave Go Round

I am a world traveler. These are my stories.

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Sat
3
Sep '16

What we actually need…

My lovely new friend, Lena, gave me this quote recently. Since then, I have bought this the author’s book. A change of situation often offers a change in perspective and an opportunity for growth that we may never have if we stay put. That being said… pack accordingly. I have been known to say that all you really need to pack is a sense of adventure, and I hold to that statement. Even if you are staying rooted, though… know what you need.

You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living breathing screaming invitation to believe better things.”
~ Jamie Tworkowski

Wed
31
Aug '16

Ring My Belgium: Partie Deux

Beer. Chocolate. Waffles.

These were the foremost thoughts of mine before I came to Belgium. Delicious thoughts.

Having been here for a few days, I had yet to experience Waffles or Chocolate. Enter: Matthias and Kathleen!

Matthias is leaving for a big trip today, and we decided to grab lunch before he goes. In the square in front of Église
Sainte-Catherine, Saint Catherine’s church, there is a blue covered shop called Nordzee; half fish market, half corner cafe. We
pulled up on the corner and started ordering everything on the menu that caught our eyes, along with a couple Belgian beers. The fishmongers kept crying out plate after plate to be picked up as we stole pieces off one another’s dishes and hungrily decimated the culinary landscape before us.

After far too much lunch, Matthias looked at me calmly and said, “Perhaps we can go for a waffle.”

It wasn’t a question; it was a statement that we were going for a waffle, which is apparently what Belgians do after a meal. I
was fast falling in love with this country. Along the way, Matthias and Kathleen described to me the two different kinds of
waffles and how they are made traditionally, and how tourism has affected the types of waffles available in the city. It was all
quite interesting, and I was quite ready to eat them.

On the way, we just wandered past a bunch of people in haz-mat suits that were acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I wasn’t convinced, but hung around long enough to snap a pic for evidence, should I need it.

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Along the Rue de e’tuve, there are a number of waffle places. Some are touristy, but the best are small, unassuming, and will
sell you a waffle for €1. Loaded down with whipped cream and strawberries was €1.50! 🙂

If you proceed south, braving the sweating bodies of untold countries of tourists hellbent on the best photo or the most
souvenirs, you will come across one of the National Treasures of Belgium; The Manneken-pis. The Little Man Pee.

Seen world round as an icon of phallic fountain perfection, the tiny peeing statue is the template by which so many others
fountain wieners have been produced. Writing this, it makes me wonder how citizens of Vienna, Wieners, came to be synonymous with penis…

Kathleen, Matthias, and I all took our turn snapping a ridiculous tourist photo in front of his exposed member.

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I had to get back to work, so the couple walked me home, and Matthias dipped into a shop for a moment to pick me up a
commemorative bottle of Kathleen’s favorite beer; Bush!

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I was off to work again, but as the hours wound on, I found myself in constant appreciation of the day and the lovely Belgian
day I had had this far. I took a quick break to walk back to the Grand Place and stop through several of the most highly rated
chocolate shops and pick up some gifts for the friends that I had yet to visit on this trip.

Back at the house later, dangerously near 10 o’clock, I realized that I had to leave and get some food, or I would not eat until
the following morning. Le Pré Salé was close, delicious, and most importantly; open! Charlotte, the lovely waitress from earlier
in the week was working again alongside a different young pretty waitress that I had not seen before. The unknown curvaceous
quantity stopped in her rounds to fix her hair in a strangely placed mirror and lean in to ensure there was nothing in her teeth
from whatever snack she had last consumed. It is fun to watch others concerned with their appearance when I am traveling, as
that is often the furthest thing from my mind. 🙂

The pair of them wound their serpentine routes through the restaurant, which always seems a bit hectic to my untrained eyes, and Charlotte even found time to stop in and ask me how my time had been in Belgium. I answered honestly, that I wish I had more time to stay and see the local side of things. She gave me the names of some local bars, then paused thoughtfully before asking for my number.

I’ll call you when I get off work. I’ll show you around with my friends. We are going out around 1:30.

Now, when you are pushing 40 like me, going out at 1:30 am is a damn late night. However, being the intrepid adventurer that I
am, going out with locals to do anything is always a priority, so I agreed.

Already, today, I had had beer, chocolate, moules, waffles, lunch with Belgian friends, and was now going to go tour the secret
bars with the locals. This was shaping up to be a banner day.

I went back to work. I was hard at work until 12:30 Belgian time, cranking out request after deadline for work, finally shutting
down just before 1 o’clock. I still hadn’t heard anything from Charlotte, but thought maybe she just wouldn’t call, and so I
took a shower and started getting ready for bed.

At 1:10, the message came in from Charlotte. “Meet in the Grand Place in 20 minutes?”

I was already undressed and sitting in bed. Weighing the effort of remedying my current state of undress with the potential for
hi-jinks, I promptly responded in the affirmative, threw on some clothes, and hit the road.

The Grand Place is filled to bursting with tourists during the day. They are everywhere crawling over the place like an
overturned anthill. At night, the square is peaceful, but not abandoned. There are groups of kids everywhere, sitting on the
large flat stones with bottles of beer and wine in varying stages of emptiness. They are laughing, playing games, smoking…
even puking.

Nearby a teenage blonde does her best to hold her brunettes friends hair from her face as she sprays the paving stones and her Converse low-tops with the overflow of too much beer on a Thursday night. Drinking is legal at 16 in Belgium. It doesn’t
ensure that they are any better at it. The two cars of police look on but do nothing. This isn’t the first time they’ve seen
this, and certainly won’t be the last… maybe not even tonight.

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Interesting thing to note. The Grand Place in Brussels has free WiFi. It’s clearly labeled, and available at all hours of the
day and night. This helped immensely at 1:30 am when I was trying to figure out whether Charlotte was still coming or not.

After taking some time to appreciate the moon over the square and the quiet beauty of the location in the dark, we took off
through the now happily empty streets to a bar named Bonnefooi. Her friends Emily and Ana follow. We dance and sing and laugh and drink beers until one of the barmen comes to our table and tells us it is time for shots. I don’t know what was in it. I have no idea why we were the recipients, but he poured one for each of us and himself, taking care to keep them lit and explain wordlessly the process for downing them without setting your face on fire. Not the simplest of things to do in the wee hours of the morning, after a healthy share of Belgian beers.

Ana is somewhat the worse for wear, and Emily decides it is time to take her home. I offer to walk Charlotte home through the cobblestone echoes of words that wish I could pronounce them properly just once. The night is so quiet compared to so much of the day. Staying up until people being to wake up does that, but this is the only time of day when you get the movie shots of these old streets: the solitary boy and girl swaddled in thousands of years of history. There is something special about these moments. These are the days that stay with us. This is my most Belgian day ever.

Wrap-up:

  • Bonnefooi is a great place to kick it after hours with locals
  • La Grande Place has free WiFi
  • Get out to dinner EARLY!
  • Waffles!
  • Manneken-pis is ridiculous but fun. Go see the golden shower.
Mon
29
Aug '16

Monkeys in my head; Lisboa, Portugal.

I didn’t know what to expect here, but I didn’t expect this.

Portugal is the only 100% work free country of this trip. I wanted to take some time, and just get away from everything and do some writing. Initially, I thought I might go to Tuscany and rent a little place and then I remembered Love Actually; where the writer went to Portugal to write. I thought that sounded good. The Portuguese would say “Ter macaquinhos na cabeça.” I have monkeys in my head.

Stepping off the plane, there is free WiFi in the airport, and Uber is in full effect in Portugal. It was a welcome change, and I was at my AirBnB place in Lisbon (pronounced Leash Boa) in no time. Unfortunately, I forgot there was a time change and I got to sit on the stairs for a while until my host showed up.

My apartment is near the top of a building, above an old underground night club, and smack in the middle of the action. As I
walked out to get dinner the first night, two guys offered to sell me hash, and I had to Moses my way through the sea of
tourists. August is basically a Holiday month for Europe. Yes, Americans, Europeans get way more paid vacation than you do.

I flew into Lisbon, booking two nights with an AirBnB near downtown, and was happy to find that on top of free WiFi at the
airport, Uber is also alive and well in Portugal. I was at my apartment in no time and for a only a couple Euro. My first night in town was almost enough to send me running for the hills. Over crowded with families of tourists, North Africans trying to pass as locals attempting to sell me drugs in the street, along with the shock of returning to Euro pricing after a week of Hungarian Forints: I was overwhelmed. I am very glad that I stayed, though.

This wasn’t Portugal for me, yet. The language was Brazilian. The stairs were Roman. The tile on the buildings was Moroccan. It seemed a city with an identity crisis, while I was trying to find some unifying theme in a place I had never seen.

The following morning I got up early to investigate a place I had seen a picture of and become enamored with. I am a hopeful romantic at heart, which has led to some questionable decision making on my part. Sometimes it can be a simple photograph, or a cheesy Hollywood movie that is enough to make me want to travel somewhere. Today, a picture of a hole in the ground drove me to go to Sintra.

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The Quinta da Regaleira is a huge acreage of land above Sintra which is now my new favorite place on Earth. It is acre after acre of winding paths through overgrown side trails, beautifully-maintained centuries-old castles, towers, caves,
subterranean passages, waterfalls, and more. I was lost for hours just following one route or another like a toddler escaping
the garden for the first time; fearless and ecstatic with wonder, propelled as much by my endless thirst for newness as much as by the lingering feeling that I shouldn’t be having this much fun… that somehow an overseer had forgotten to lock the gate and I was breaking all the rules.

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As soon as I arrived, I noticed a castle where the clouds should have been over the city. When I learned you could hike to it as well, eschewing the tour bus, I sprung into action. The hike was purported to be an hour, but I was there in 25 minutes easily, bathed in sweat from the heat more than the climb; it was nearly 100 farenheit. The Castelo dos Mouros was every little boys dream come true. A castle running from mountain top to mountain top, flags, and spiral staircases to the ramparts… tower after tower to explore… no safety railings, no warnings, just adventure at your own risk. It was heaven.

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Eventually, as I am no longer a Lost Boy, these things must come to a close. I began the tired, sweaty, and quite satisfied walk back to find a ride down the mountain; climbing up a mountain is fine… climbing down is a chore. In line for the bus, I met a fantastic Canadian family whos daughter is currently in Grad school in Germany and gave me a new avenue to explore for Grad School programs. As we spoke, a tuk-tuk pulled up yelling “€5 for a ride down to the train station!”

Tired of waiting for a bus full of people, I ran off to the near certain death of a downhill mountain tuk-tuk race and found a lovely pair of blonde Americans already in it. Off we went, caroming down the mountain to our doom or a good conversation.

My new friends, Rebecca and Hannah, had just come from Porto and were on their way to Regaleira, so we swapped tips on what to look forward to, and exchanged contact info, promising to meet up later for drinks or the beach, the way that travelers do; well-intentioned but rarely fruitful.

In Lisbon later, I open my windows and shutters, walking around in my boxers letting the breeze blow through the apartment. There is a huge Tango party happening two floors below me and I sit in the window staring out at the city, watching the lives of others through their lit windows. The music gives it all a strange H.S. Thompson or Tarantino feeling. Across the street on the floor above me, I witness the spastic rhythmic flailing of a head and the rise and fall of a hand; uncertain whether I am watching lovemaking or a murder set to music.

Given the heat of the past few days, neither would really surprise me.

Windows open, lights on, I wake up to a whispering city in the small hours of the morning when the only people awake have
reasons to be quiet; be they amorous or sinister. The heat of the day is gone, as is the wine dizzy sleep that caught me unawares. With a last breath of the night air, I get up off the bed to close the shutters, kill the lights, and nestle back into Portuguese dreams in my last night of Lisbon sleep.

Promises of sea water rouse me from my bed an hour after the sun has stopped trying. I’ve a message from the American Blondes from the night before detailing why they couldn’t meet up the night prior, and with promises to meet at the beach later. I’m on the street in minutes sporting a mutilated Tshirt and my american flag shorts; making sure to bring a bit of Texas class to this side of the Atlantic! On the train ride, I remember that Estoril, a city that used to host the MotoGP championship is on the same train line. As we pull into the station, I note that the train is about 30 meters from the ocean across a beach. Acting on impulse, I leave the train and bury myself in salt water for the first time in over a year.

Baptism isn’t the right word, but it’s all I have.

Salt water cures everything; be it sweat, tears, or the sea. An hour of immersion, and I am feeling new again. I realize that the Estoril beach also has free WiFi. I check my phone, and see the American Blondes have messaged that they are at another beach 3 minutes down the line; aptly name Beach of the Queen. Catching the train from Estoril to Cascais, I disembark and see large signs claiming to point the way to the beach. I know the truth… what we seek is never found by following others signs. Praia do Rainha is not far, and not necessarily hidden, but not advertised. Walking in the opposite direction of the signs, I wander down to the water; immediately jumping in and thoroughly enjoyed myself for another hour or so before the girls find me. It’s a good feeling to be recognized in a strange land.

Awash in sea water, strange music, and the ocean of uncovered breasts around us we lose ourselves in our stories of our travels, our homes and loved ones, our ridiculous jobs, and what truly matters to us. Hannah, by her own admission, could hold a conversation with a wall. In an hour of her queries, I tell them enough of my outrageous experiences that the American Blondes name me the Second Most Interesting Man in the World; only bested by the Dos Equis guy because of his beard. 🙂 I’m ok with that. Hopefully, they never see my Iceland beard… that might mean I have to give an acceptance speech or something.

The Sun loves us in it’s furious fashion. As we talk and laugh and run down to jump in the ocean we darken; maple, then brown, and finally red starts to creep in at the edges. The conversation turns to protection from the sun, and I realize that I have a bag to pack, and a train to catch. I spend so much of my life running away. Why can’t I ever just stay put? Tonight, in another city, I will feel the heat of the shower exquisitely on my browned skin and I will remember this moment.

The train to Porto is a simple thing. I don’t plan ahead; all the best stories happen that way. I just walk up like I belong on the train and the ticket counter gives me a First Class ride on their Alfa Pendular… the name being far more evocative that the train at first sight. I’m in First Class as all the coach seats were already sold by the time I made it to the counter; the late tax. This First Class action isn’t something I normally do. The hills of Portugal roll by; farms, hay bales, low slung baobab copies… maybe olive or orange trees?  It reminds me of my first train ride.

I arrived late; having spent an hour lost in the Madrid underground. First Class was all that remained. A strange girl with hair like chocolate asked to join me. We rolled through the Spanish countryside, those Gladiator hills… giggling, drunk on wine and the elation of one another, aware that we were somehow breaking the rules… in disguise here among the adults.

How long ago was that? How many tens of thousands of miles?  How many lifetimes?

This is not that life. I am no longer the fearlessly unfolding Lost Boy fueled by endless imagination. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities… but I am no longer a beginner.  This is not that life, but it’s all I have.

Next stop: Porto

Lisbon wrap up:

  • Stay away from the tourist streets. Try Caffe Tati. Try A Venda Lusitana.
  • Better yet, get out of Lisbon as quickly as possible.
  • Go to Sintra. Spend a day, two days, explore and play and hike.
  • Catch the train to Cascais. Stop at any beach you find along the way. FOMO has no place here.
  • Go to the stairs south of Alfama and dip your toes in the water and watch the sunset.
  • For breakfast, try Ovo Royale at Tartine. You won’t be disappointed.
  • Use Uber rather than the taxi mafia.

 

Wed
24
Aug '16

Netherlands: Low down and Dirty

Netherlands are named so because they reside at such a low altitude; much of the land having been reclaimed from the sea and below sea level, protected by dykes (no, not those kind). The citizens speak Dutch, and their National soccer team is always referred to as Holland. It’s a confusing place. But not nearly as confusing as some of their artwork.

This was to be a quickie; in and out. When I landed in Rotterdam, I had a few places I wanted to go in mind, and had the map saved in my phone, so I just took to wandering. Going south from the main train station (easily accessed by high speed train from Brussels) you will wander into a neighborhood named Eendrachtsplein in about 15 minutes. Upon your arrival you will be greeted by a sight like none you have ever dreamt of, unless you are a very weird person.

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Yeah. It’s exactly what you think. Everything just goes down hill from here. The amount of yannic and phalic imagery that pervades this city is really staggering. Aside from the sexual innuendo, I found the city easily navigable, even though there were not many English speakers to be found. Take a peek.

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OKOK, so maaaaybe seeing the gnome just kind of set the mood and all the rest of this wasn’t really that dirty… it just looks that way when you start your day with a giant sex toy goblin.

I made my way East across town to a place named Picknick, that I had chosen ahead of time. It was lovely! The staff spoke English, had WiFi, and some great food. Possibly the tastiest sausage wiener penetrating a piece of bread that I had ever eaten. Truly a lovely spread.

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As with France, I didn’t have much time here. I would have liked to spend much more, maybe find out just how dirty the locals were, but alas, I must away!

Bonus: Mustache Lady

Hermana Bigote

Hermana Bigote

 

Info:

  • Easily accessed from Brussels Midi train station via high speed train. Trip takes just about an hour one way. € 100 round trip.
  • City is easily walkable and enjoyably so.
  • Butt Plug is straight south of the main train station.
  • Wander, enjoy, take pictures, check out the water, etc.

 

Mon
22
Aug '16

Fast French Food

Never have I ever… wanted to go to France.

fry

That’s not entirely true. Once, I met a lovely French girl in a hostel kitchen in Costa Rica. Her name was Sonia, and she just spoke to me, deeply and direct, as we sat across from one another; equally ignored by and ignoring the others around us. It was the only time when I have ever wanted to go to France; to watch the sun play in the ringlets of her hair on the breeze.

Now, after more than 6 years, I am finally on my way. I won’t have Sonia or her angelic hair to accompany me, though I probably have her to thank for it as much as anything, so… Merci beaucoup, Sonia!

Now for the informative part of our post. You can take the TGV to Paris in less than two hours from Brussels. The international information office is just to the left of the main ticket counter in Brussels Central station behind a pink door. They can sort you out quickly. All international high speed trains leave from the Brussels Midi station, just a few minutes train ride from Brussels Central. Allow 20 minutes for the transfer. Your international ticket should get you passage on the local train to and from Brussels Midi, so no need to spend the extra few euro for a local connection ticket.

As I had limited time for the trip, I opted to go to Lille; just across the French border from Belgium. The TGV high speed train could be in the city in 30 minutes, leaving me ample time to explore and still get back to Belgium in time for work.

Yes, I am working almost every day of this Eurotrip, aside from Travel days. It’s not optimal, but it’s keeping me employed and out of trouble… mostly out of trouble.

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Prior to this trip, I’ve only met one French person in my life, Sonia, who spoke to me willingly. Most ignore me or treat me with open disdain. I know I’m a hard pill to swallow, but really? I met two Frenchmen in a hotel in Bogotá, and addressed them both in English and in Spanish asking a simple question. They stared at me blankly, then shook their heads “no” until I walked off to ask someone else. A while later that day, I head them speaking Spanish with the hotel owner, and English with another guest. It was mildly infuriating.

Recently, a Belgian posed a theory of his to me. He believes that the French education system is so weak on foreign languages, that French people simply don’t have the confidence to speak to others in their own tongue. This particular theory doesn’t really address why Parisians in particular are reported to have refused to acknowledge foreigners speaking French…

I know next to nothing of the French language. Merci. Fromage. Escargot. That about sums it up. Though, being clueless hasn’t stopped me from doing a great many things in my life. France was going to be tricky, I knew, but it would not be the first time this month that I’ve been a stranger in a strange land. Leaving the train station in Lille, grab a map from the information counter, or at the hotel immediately on the left as you go down the main road. If you are in need of WiFi, there is a Burger King with free internet immediately within the first entrance to the Mall left as you leave the train station.

I had looked up some places for breakfast the day before and planned to go to Tamper; an espresso specific breakfast place deep in the old quarter. The city was supremely calm and enjoyable at the relatively early hour of 8 am. I took many wrong turns walking through the city, but I was in no rush, and the lostness of it fit well with my morning. The old city was just waking, not quite asleep, but still refusing to get up and start the day. Accompanied by this half-waking entity as I arrived at Tamper I almost kept walking just to prolong our sleepy morning together.

Inside the tiny but never cramped shop at Tamper, I was impressed by everything. The decor, the cakes, the menu, the English skills of the proprietor, the tiny plaque on the door proclaiming that Yelp! had rated Tamper the #1 place to eat in France in 2016. A pretty laudable achievement.

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When the owner told me they had fish pancakes as an option for breakfast I knew there was no way that I could order anything
else. How many times do you get to say, “Bring me your finest Fish Pancakes, good sir!” and have someone comply?!

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The food was nonpareil. The coffee was top notch. Everything was seamless and lovely. I bought some slices of cake for the road, and took off to meander through the old town, just taking in the sights for another hour until I had to catch the train back across the border.

Nothing wild, nothing fancy, I just went to France for breakfast. Strange thing for an American to say. America has such a
shared history with France. Our independence, the Statue of Liberty; even awful things like D-Day and Bastogne. There are few
foreign countries that we are more closely intertwined with than France, and yet we’ve drifted from that in recent decades, I
feel. This was a short trip by design; like dipping a toe in the water before you decide whether or not to jump in. This little jaunt made me think about these things, and want to return to explore more of the country… and more of the Food!

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wrap up:

  • TGV train from Brussels midi to Lille or Paris is fast and comparably cheap. 60-100 euro round trip depending.
    International ticket office is the pink door to the left of the main ticket counter in Brussels Central. Take a number and wait.
  • There may be free WiFi on the train, but do your homework ahead of time and know where you are going. Download offline areas in google maps.
  • For Lille, grab a map and have fun. Free wifi is available at the mall in Burger King or at McDonald’s in the main square.
  • As we’ve established in a previous discussion, French Fries aren’t actually French… they are Belgian, so try something weird and you will likely be rewarded!
Sun
21
Aug '16

Ring my Belgium: Partie Un

Hungry for the heat and friction of the ground, at odds with every other flight oriented piece of the plane, the wheels bounced with delight in the dark waking the other passengers. I hadn’t slept as the last flight from Frankfurt slipped in to Brussels Airport. The spots of light in the dark did nothing to let me understand what was out there waiting.

From the moment I touched down in Belgium to this moment, waiting for my plane to take me away, NOTHING has gone according to plan. And it’s all turned out just fine. This has been a practice of just letting go and rolling with it. Some things get figured out… and some just remain a mystery and you move on with life. Like why are the vowels missing in all the airport signs? And what IS Nutroma, and is 0% REALLY premium quality?!

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I was to meet a friend, Tim, at the central train station, but Tim had lost his passport and sent another guy, Matthias, to come meet me. Unfortunately, Matthias and I had never seen each other and I had no way of contacting him after I left the airport. A bit like a microcosm of slingshotting a probe to where you think Mars will be at some future point.

Oddly, my innate American-ness saved the day. As I stepped out of the train station, I said “sup” to a guy riding by on his bicycle who turned out to be Matthias. As Brussels natives would never speak to a stranger, given the choice, he figured I must be the lost American he was looking for, and we walked across town to Tim’s apartment. Tim’s apartment that was 20 meters from the start of the neighborhood in Belgium where some of the nastiness in Europe recently is purported to have originated: Molenbeek. If you don’t know about this, read up on it.

Tim’s place was awesomely Belgian and reminded me of something from the opening scene of Moulin Rouge. The door didn’t meet the doorframe. Toilet and shower were separated by the kitchen. Three tenants and three visitors staying there, and not a level surface in the whole place. I was in love with it immediately. The first floor of the building was a typical Belgian bar, so we wandered down and sat on the street drinking as Tim and Matthias explained what Belgian life was like. Once we had closed the bar down, it was finally time to sleep. Tim gave me a sleeping bag and pointed me at the futon in the haphazard living room.

I slept like a king.

The problem that would ultimately separate me from my beautiful new abode arose with me the next morning. Tim’s wifi wouldn’t work and he had already left town at 6 a.m. for Germany to see his girlfriend. I decided to wait and see if the other roomie, Pieter, could do something about it and I took wandered off through the city to hit the train station and see about tickets to France, Holland, and Luxembourg.

Returning home from my mostly successful sortie, I hoped that Pieter would be available and we could see about the wireless and my laptops. Having walked across the city and back without disaster, I was feeling chuffed. This was short lived, I’m afraid. After some unsuccessful troubleshooting, I was forced to concede that I would be unable to work from Tim’s place. I booked an apartment nearby on AirBnB and got settled into my less authentic, but serviceable digs and get some work done.

Along with my lovely new apartment came new neighbors. A young, very dark guy from Senegal 20-ish, accompanied by a 50-ish distinctively white lady. I remember them as they were bringing in groceries while I was leaving, and they were quite pleasant, if in a hurry.

I also remember him because he was sleeping on my doormat in the hallway the following morning as I left. More on that later.

Brussels is full of lots of good food. Just make sure you go eat it before 8 p.m. Everything begins closing down shortly after this, and your options narrow rapidly. This is always something of a learning curve when entering into a new society… how and when do they eat? Years ago when Joe and I went to Argentina, we would go out for dinner at 8 p.m. only to have the restaurant manager laugh in our faces, telling us that they weren’t open obviously and to come back later, at a more reasonable hour. I made this mistake a couple times in Brussels; trying to get dinner shortly after 9. I have a sneaking suspicion that Argentines don’t come to Belgium, or Austria for that matter. They would all be emaciated and starving in the streets in a few days. One night, I went to bed hungry. Another, I managed to slip into Le Pré Salé for moules, which are a huge thing for Belgians and they were right in season for my visit.

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Did you know Belgians invented “French” fries?

The practice in Belgium when going to a restaurant is to walk in and sit down wherever the hell you want. This is similar to Austria. Once there, you wait until the server notices you and comes over to see what the hell you are doing there. I am not accustomed to this, and often find myself standing around looking obtuse when I first enter a restaurant and stand around until someone asks me what my problem is because I’m behaving like a crazy person.

OK, so, back to the dude sleeping in the hallway… I was on my way out to Lille on my second morning in Brussels, this would be my first visit to France, and opening my door I saw the dude had taken my doormat and slid it away from the door and tried to curl his almost 6 foot frame onto it; rather unsuccessfully. He looked around in a very confused manner and started stammering in French. I just told him to get his act together, and messaged the property manager informing him of the situation. Once I got all the run down from the property manager and the Senegalese himself, I decided he was having the most fucked weekend I’d heard of in a while.

Apparently Senegal isn’t exactly overflowing with lucrative business ventures, even for the most enterprising of young men. In a time honored tradition, perhaps the oldest profession, some of these guys had turned to tricking; selling their bodies.

In my lovely North American life, I am not exposed to this sort of thing.I don’t know any prostitutes, and sex tourism really takes a different feel in the USA becoming more of a green card marriage than a cash transaction. This was something of a surprise to see.

The Senegalese was away for a weekend as a boy toy to an older woman who wanted to get it good for a weekend, and had apparently lost his luggage after they arrived. This included his passport and basically everything other than the clothing he had on. He and his matron had a falling out the night prior and she had kicked him out of the apartment, but he hadn’t left the building; leaving him awkwardly perched on my door mat. The best part of it all, for me at least as I’m sure the humor was likely wasted on him, was the phrase slapped across the doormat in black bold lettering…

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I can’t imagine that he agrees.

Tue
16
Aug '16

Just the tip… s?

So maybe time for a new dash of my new favorite tricks when taking on a new place. There is a lot of great info out there on this, and other, sites. If you have any others that you want to add, put them in the comments below!

In no particular order:

  • Google the airport you are going to and find out what the WiFi is like and any other Gotchas.
  • Smartphone users: unlock/jailbreak your phone before you leave the country. Call your provider if necessary.
  • Bring a backup NON-smart phone. Local simcards are usually cheap and can help out a lot when you are stuck.
  • Install the google translate app, and download the offline languages for where you will be. Seriously.
  • Use Google maps?  Download the offline map areas for the cities you will visit. GPS works everywhere and this can save your bacon.
  • If you know where you want to visit, save those addresses as Stars in Google Maps. You can find them offline later.
  • Don’t overpack. Seriously, don’t do it. You can get anything you need almost anywhere in the world within minutes.
  • If you really want to try something out of the ordinary, look up your destination on atlasobscura.com
  • If you are going to a foreign country, learn how to say “I don’t speak <insert language here>. Do you speak English?”
    • Yes, I’m assuming that you, the reader, speak English.
  • Language basics
    • Hello / Goodbye
    • Where / Where is…
    • What / It /Something
    • Basic directions i.e. straight / left / right
    • Please / Thank you
    • I want / need / have / like
    • where is an internet cafe?
Tue
16
Aug '16

Österreich: Schnitzel, Wurst, and Fairy Tales

Austria is a land of fairy tales. From the moment I left Graz, the train took me into every bed time story I had ever heard. Mountains, villages, castles… all I could see was Sleeping Beauty, Rose Red, Hansel and Gretel; it was otherworldly.

Austria is also a land of meat. Everything… everything is either weiner, schnitzel, or wurst!

The things we, as Americans, know about Austria are all derived from pop imagery. Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Sound of Music, and the fact that they make food named after genitals… not really, but, yeah, really.

Leaving Germany, where nary a smile was returned, Austrians were a lovely change. They have mostly been warm and engaging, and while not everyone smiles back, sometimes I’ll get one!

I’ve never been to Austria before this weekend, and when I found out the MotoGP was here this year after a 20 year absence, I thought it was a great change to kill two birds with one awesome stone! Here’s a quick peek at Turn 4!

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Graz is the second largest city in Austria with a population of around 300,000. It’s a nice place with good food, but one can find good food almost anywhere. Austria really came alive for me once the train pulled out of the station leaving towards the GP. That first train ride alone made the trip to Austria worth it.

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I dropped my bags off at the apartment I rented for an exorbitant sum and went straight to the track to watch qualifying. The first night back in Leoben, I went out to dinner; initially having a troublesome time of finding a place that I wanted to go that was close and open. I went to the main square, which is just where you must go for food, it appears, and went to
Weinlaube Schwarzer Hund on a whim and a TripAdvisor review.  I was astounded by the knowledgeable, helpful, English speaking Birgit; my server. I simply asked for a glass of her favorite red wine, and whatever menu items would go well with it; which was of course, Meat. Everything was perfect.

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Then I was introduced to Birgit’s brother and friends and they immediately adopted me. We spent the next 6 hours drinking beer and spritzers and talking about life in Austria and America and dancing in a Bodega. It was more than I could ask for to feel so at home while so far afield. If you ever feel lonely, friends are just a beer away.

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The Österreich ring is a 30 ish minute train ride from Leoben to Knittelfeld, and the Red bull ring has shuttle buses running all day that pick you up for free and take you to the track. If you give the bus driver 2 euro, he will hand you a beer for the ride. Remember, this is Austria, where beer is legal for 16 year olds.

The track was extremely well managed, no grief from security for my backpack, even police all over the place, but everything flowed quite well.  Aside from the occasional person on holiday who passed out drunk in the middle of the afternoon.

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All in all it was a fantastic weekend. Sunday, after the race, life was quiet in Leoben, and nothing much to do but sit in the Hauptplatz and watch the locals down beer and ice cream. My new friends were no where to be seen, and it allowed me some quiet time for reflection before retiring in order to get up early for a train ride back in time for breakfast at Granola in Gratz.

There is something romantic about church bells in a small town. the echo of old metal through the cobbled streets. Calling men from their homes, and sending them back again when a day’s labor was finished. reminding children when to scatter home after mischief end.  In Islamic countries, there is the call to prayer 5x a day. While the bells toll much more frequently, they are less insistent; more cadence. They aren’t commanding you to do something, just patiently marking the passage of our time here… perhaps a reminder that this is all we have… so do something with it. These are the thoughts in my head as the bells toll me into consciousness as the sun rises on my last day in Austria. So I decide to climb to a mountain castle.

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And now, I’m off. Leaving the magic of the mountains and the Sound of their Music and off to Belgium, to visit my friend Tim from our wild trek across Salar de Uyuni.

 

Here’s a quick wrap up to get you started on the right foot:

  • Learn some basics in German: directions, what, how, something, numbers, i need/want
  • Learn how to say you don’t speak German! Ich kann kein Deutsch sprechen.
  • Austria closes down earlier than a lot of places, be prepared, your options will get limited after 8 p.m.
  • Trains are awesome, and you should take your time and ride one rather than fly if you can.
  •  Most towns in Austria are easily walkable, no matter where you want to go. Enjoy it.
  • Always keep a few 50 cent pieces in your pocket. Most toilets in train stations are pay to enter.
  • Water is free, as opposed to Germany, and it is some of the best you can get; straight from the tap!

 

Fri
12
Aug '16

I think my pig is whistling!

Frankfurt has been fun, and my stay here far too short. I’m packing up after 4 days to head to Austria for the first MotoGP race there in about 20 years. I’m marginally excited. 🙂

I have spent my time here either head down in work, or wandering the streets, or Straßen, repeating German phrases over and over to myself. I must have seemed like a crazy person. They have a phrase for that.

Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben. Or, “Not having all the cups in the cupboard.”

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German has lots of awesome phrases, I am learning.

Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift. Jetzt haben mir den salat! 

My German is not the yellow from the egg… but it goes!

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I’ve loved my little apartment with the tiny solarium and Colombian neighbors, but it’s time to run away.  A few impressions from Frankfurt, since I showed up knowing almost nothing aside from the University name!

  1. Westend is quiet and lovely and expensive. Shoot for North or East end for something hipper and cheaper.
  2. Bergerstraße is an awesome street to just wander for food, drink, and fun times.
  3. Public transportation will get you just about anywhere, or you can walk the breadth of the city in less than an hour.
  4. People rarely smile back, but they will stare at you quizzically if you smile at them.
  5. Get your phone unlocked BEFORE you come to Germany if you plan on using a local simcard.
  6. Buy a Tageskarte for public transportation. If you get off the bus/train more than twice, it’s worth it.
  7. Local apfelwein is pretty decent. Actually, anything with apples here is good!

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There’s not much more I know. I only understand train station. 🙂

Time is short, and I’m off to Austria. Time to mach die fliege!

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Thu
11
Aug '16

An Exit

Another grand adventure unfolds under my feet…

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Arriving at the airport today, I felt the hum of excitement building in me. The familiar return to a building that sees every permutation of human emotion every day. My experiences in airports have often been so emotionally charged that I can’t be near one without feeling that part of my guts that is tied to them twisting and dancing like a fish on a line. Today was no different.

The rampaging nerves peaked after I had my ticket in hand and hit the loo before I had to stand in the line for Security check. I was suddenly nervous almost to the point of panic. I had no idea what was waiting for me on the other end of this flight. I should run home and hide in the relative safety of my empty rented house and it’s lack of uncertainty.

I almost faltered; which was odd for me. This moment that was so foreign to this concept of who I am in my head, but is a real part of me and everyone and life! As much as I want to believe that I am dauntless, I have emotions and am far too often subject to the whims of adrenaline, hormones, and nerves. Recognizing the nerves as counter productive to what I had come to do, I strode into the security line and waited for them to pass. After some touch and grab with the TSA agents, I realized after I had passed through that the nerves were gone, replaced by calm confidence and anticipation for what lay ahead, rather than fear of it.

I think this happens to many of us, and it’s often hard to know what to do with it. I think without the guidance of some of my mentors and a very few close friends, I could have spent most of my life in that paralyzed state; running from uncertainty and never fully exploring myself or the world around me. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Maybe that’s why so many people seem to get addicted to change, to pushing the boundaries, to the adrenaline rush… to love? We keep looking for something to make us feel alive. Point Break being a prime example.

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I had never heard of Condor airlines before I saw the billboard over the freeway as summer warmth cracked over Austin making motorcycling enjoyable again. Nonstop to Frankfurt. Condor Airlines. They aren’t new, just new to me, and they have the most attractive ticket and gate agents in Austin International by a fair margin. They’re doing something right.

The plane is not new, showing signs of work, but it is clean in the way that German things are. I am not new.  My passport is not new. The plane is certainly the cleanest of we three.

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Awakening in a different country is still a somewhat surreal occurrence. It’s as if you aren’t fully awake enough to read or understand what words are being spoken to you… but permanently so. Something like a never-ending concussion. The German populace is gracious and liberal in their application of English, and I’m a bit surprised to see police with rifles just wandering the airport as if this were commonplace; almost as if this were Ben Gurion rather than the financial capital of one of the more affluent countries in Europe, if not the world.

We’re not in Kansas.

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More later. 🙂