The BeginningThe end
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain
On April 8th I began a 50 day journey through Europe. I had no idea the types of challenges I'd encounter, if I really could handle traveling on my own, or if some random event would prevent my return. In the end it was a much needed trip; I met people from all over the world, saw places I could only dream of in the past, gained life experience impossible to gain in any other way, and grew a full beard many thought would always be patchy for me.
I would like to thank all who actually did read this through, those who joined midway, and those who read just to see if I wrote about them. It really does mean a lot to me that people found interest in what I had to say and my travels (or maybe you kept hoping for more and I left you disappointed, but what can ya do). I also thank leading blog commenter Josh of the Terebelo variety for his insight on many of the destinations.
And now we get to some of the favorites, the oddities, and not so serious thoughts. First I'd like to congratulate Tyler, for the best comment and revealing my secret that I never went to Europe. I knew people were on to me when my family started saying some of the pictures looked "photo-shopped" I reveal a picture that didn't make my cut, just couldn't get it right...
In reality, of course I went, I have witnesses (or a lot of confused people around the world as to why Benjie Klein is now friends with them on facebook), but I say go for the fake trip yourself, will save some money.
I've been asked numerous times my favorite places to have been and it's nearly impossible to say. As a country Italy was my favorite, there is so much history and each city/region I visited has it's own uniqueness. Also the people in Italy that I met were great too, which always made a city better when I genuinely enjoyed the people. From the group I met in Venice, to getting to see my cousins in Rome, and the people in Florence it definitely added to Italy. My favorite individual city I think was Vienna, maybe I felt it was a turning point in my trip, but from the Schoenberg Palace (and it's maze) to the beautiful parks and gardens I just felt it to be a real nice place. I thought the views in Athens and around the parts of Greece I made it to were some of the most picturesque I've ever seen in my life. The St. Stephens Green park in Dublin may have been my favorite of the parks and gardens, I thought Dublin itself was just alright, but I had a weird connection with that park. The Counting Crows concert was fantastic, the songs were perfect for my mood and helped take me on a retrospective journey with songs I hadn't actually listened to or thought of in certain ways in a long while. As for favorite days, nights, and people, it's so hard to really figure out. Possibly the most impact-filled and interesting day was my visit to Dachau. It's hard to explain what happens there and the feeling you get, but you learn and feel so much that it's a very rare and real experience. That accompanied with later finding out how my grandfather was one of the liberators of the camp make it an even more meaningful and intense experience. The Vatican was perhaps the most interesting of all museums, while the Louvre is filled with some incredible art. As for people, I've only talked to one person I met since I've been back, which if I had to choose one, it would be the person I talk to, but there were a few others out there I wouldn't mind having a random conversation with at some point.
The next topic, a favorite of many... the food. Each culture had their own culinary creations that are nearly impossible to compare. I will rehash some of my favorites though. In Lisbon the whole Octopus was a great meal, very simply prepared. In Madrid I had some good tapas and a solid morcilla (spanish blood sausage) bocadillo. Barcelona the first paella had great fresh seafood mixed in. I also had that mini wheel of garroxta starting a solid train ride cheese trend of mine. Paris had solid food, nothing that stood out above and beyond, but the foie gras did just melt in my mouth. Amsterdam doesn't really have anything special to them, the Indian restaurant and random chip shops were good, however, in addition to the daily cheeses I got. Berlin started off with some very good Currywurst, Prague starred with it's pork knuckle and ostrich steak, Vienna went back to German food with their schnitzel. Vienna also achieved the most disgusting food incident with the still haunting lard oozing hot dog. Munich's giant pretzel was a nice treat and Italy makes it impossible to put many meals ahead of the other. Florence stood out with Perini's special sandwich, true parmigiana reggiano, the four course Tuscan meal and the bistecca I had one night made for great meals daily. The homemade lasagna, gnocchi, and pizzas all throughout Italy in general are also special. And of course, nobody can forget Giolitti, the best gelato in the world from Rome. As for Greece it also falls in a similar boat as Italy, so many great options. I think the chicken souvlaki I had one night does stand out as do the grape leaves.
There were not many dislikes. Generally everyone I met was nice and in the same boat. One guy described it correctly that you skip all the bullshit when meeting people, you don't go through the full evaluation process, you're all in the same boat, and it's easy to get along. Were there people in real life I wouldn't be friends with? I'm sure, but there were probably people I would be friends with as well. There were no cities I disliked, maybe some that didn't live up to whatever expectations I had, but each experience was unique with weather, mentality, and timing all playing roles in each place.
I'd love to go back to Europe, some new places and some old. I'd like to see Barcelona again because I was sick for a couple days and didn't get to explore in full like I'd have liked. Paris I thoroughly enjoyed, but feel I missed a lot as well that could only be made up with another trip. Amsterdam I missed out on hookers and pot, but I probably wouldn't go back, I can get those at home, I did enjoy it though. Germany I wouldn't mind exploring some more as a country, Vienna I'd definitely go back to. Florence and Rome I'd go back to in a heartbeat as well as exploring a lot more of Italy in general. Greece I'd love to go to some islands and even go back to Athens for a couple days to hit up the closed museums that I missed.
As for traveling alone, I would totally do it again, however, the truth is I would hope my next trip to Europe is with at the least friends, some kind of school or business trip, and the most desirable with someone I love. Traveling alone is something I would never talk someone against. You meet people you wouldn't necessarily meet if you were with someone else or a group, you can make your own schedule, go where you want to go without having to come to a compromise, and you learn a lot about yourself, good or bad.
And now for those interested the rest of this is a semi-serious reflection of my mental thoughts and challenges throughout the trip, if you don't feel like viewing these, I won't be offended, but I do thank you for stopping by for the conclusion of Benjie off the Leash: The European Edition. I hope you enjoyed my writing (cause you know, I'm kind of about to start school for it) and the stories I told.
Mentally the trip started off where I had last left my mind in December. I had essentially avoided all thoughts for four months, I was resigned to the fact that mentally I had hit rock bottom and with this trip I would work my way back up. Was it a quarter-life crisis that many thought, I don't really think so, but more a culmination of thoughts and fears over the past couple years. All the framework was in place; I finally determined a future path by committing to Wisconsin, I felt (and still do) that I have more friends at this point in my life than ever before, and that it was time for a massive challenge. Before getting on the plane to Lisbon I no longer felt ready, the anxieties crept in, and screaming thoughts of both miniscule and enormous changes swirled around. It was my official way of starting at the very bottom. As the plane ride progressed calming effects of movies and the realization of controlling my own trip soothed my concerns. Not controlling in the sense of making everything happen, but taking the chance to meet people, go to certain places, and create opportunities for the good surprises out of one's hands was most important. I stepped into Lisbon with a new mind frame from where I had been 12 hours earlier.
As I visited cities early on I still had many days where I was hesitant in meeting people. The anxieties weren't as bad, but every 4th day or so I'd have a chemically unbalanced day. They were good to have though, because wandering around I realized those days will happen no matter where I am and what I do, even if the thoughts don't disappear still has a large impact on what lies ahead. If I fight through those days controlling what I can, even if I'm on my own and can't meet anyone or have anybody to talk to for the day, there are ways around it. I also heavily pondered the concept of people passing in and out of life. In the traveling world this scenario is magnified, you have dinner with a person you met one day and the next you may not even remember their name and will never see them again. Now compared to most "real life" relationships where a person disappears after a year or longer the impact is nowhere near the same, but the way in which people may impact you without your realization throughout life is exemplified through the travel experience. I can remember cities, I can remember the faces, and some of the conversations, but if something pops in my head at a random point I may wonder who it was that made the impact. I do hope for me at least some people I met I was able have some sort of impact on, maybe I'll never know, but it's always a good feeling to make a person think in a different way or even bring an unexpected smile when there was none in sight.
When I reached Prague, 20 days into my trip, I actually hit the bottom of my trip. I really enjoyed Berlin, the people, and had avoided many anxieties for almost a week, but then it all nailed me. The first night I arrived late and went to bed early. The next morning the weather was rainy, I still had a heavy lack of sleep, and I could not shake the feeling that came over me. I walked around all day seeing the sites and still enjoying what I was taking in, but something never seemed right that first day. I did a lot of walking and listening to music heavily sprinkled with Elliott Smith fighting with myself throughout the day. I don't think I looked like a homeless man screaming in the streets because most would not have ipods, but I'm sure I got some looks (just kidding, I never spoke to myself out loud). I also read some more from Infinity Blues, Ryan Adams' poetry book, which surprisingly helped. After that day the clouds opened up, I rubbed the good luck statue on the Charles Bridge and began to work my way out. By the end of that day I was social again, neither the rain at night nor the terrifying club could bring me down. I headed to my next stop of Vienna with a new sense of self and a new attitude. I still had lingering anxieties early that first night, but they dissipated the second day and it was relatively smooth sailing from there until the last week when thoughts of going home began creeping in. The Monday before I headed home I woke up with a semi-panic attack not ready to leave or not ready to be back home, I couldn't truly decipher which. It had probably been a year since I woke up like that. Part of the reason I'd love to go back to Athens is since it was the last stop, too many thoughts of going home and figuring out everything kept creeping in even though I tried to keep out thoughts of the trip coming to an end. On the plane ride back I almost had a similar incident, but fortunately the on-demand began to work on the plane and I was able to think in different ways. I panicked when I officially got home, probably the lack of sleep did it accompanied with disorientation as to where I was and reexamining every aspect of my life.
Dreams also played a large role on my whole trip. There were definitely moments I dreamt of on my trip. I'm entirely convinced that certain random scenes that seemed familiar had come from previous dreams. It happened 4 or 5 times where I'd catch something in the corner of my eye and take in the whole atmosphere knowing I had been there before in someway, it's really mind-blowing when that crazy deja-vu happens, so just thought I'd mention it. Also, for the first time in a while I had some of my most vivid dreams in years throughout the 50 days. When my mind is extremely active I dream about those thoughts that bother me most. It used to be one of the reasons I was a hardcore insomniac because why go to sleep if you're still facing the same thoughts that haunt you through out the day. This time around though I took a different approach of accepting the dreams and thinking through them the next day. Some would bring anger, like a morning in Rome where I hadn't felt that anger in years all from a dream, some sorrow, and different perspectives on bothersome thoughts, but it all helped give me an understanding as to where I was mentally and how to get through it.
I did a lot of writing on my own, outside of this place. Not as much as I would have truly liked, but definitely got things out. I tried a variety of different writing styles as well; straight journal, poetry, story telling, lists, some use of my favorite lyrics, and I even drew a face, best face I've ever drawn. I can't read my handwriting or I'd maybe put some here, but probably not. As for continuing writing, obviously I hope it works out for me and I can create insight, entertainment, and a unique perspective for the masses one day. I may continue a blog at school about my life, I'm sure in classes I'll have to have actual topical writings outside of my life, but keep reading if you want.
Signing off, for now,
Benjamin Adam Klein
"The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” - Samuel Johnson