The Large Scale Apple – Part 2

            Friday – This was the big day of my trip in my eyes. The three of us started out hopping on the subway to head to Williamsburg. Lunch was decided upon way in advance as we headed to Pies ‘n’ Thighs. This is a southern style fried chicken place in the heart of hipster heaven. (Or hell, depending upon how you feel about it.) We walk in and though they are not overly busy, their servers seem a bit overwhelmed, or maybe they just don’t care, either way, everything seemed a bit hectic for the amount of people in the restaurant. We walk up to the counter and ask what the wait would be for three people. As the words passed from Halley’s lips, the guy behind the counter comes around and asks a gentleman sitting by himself if he would mind moving to the back area of the restaurant, to which he kindly obliges. A few moments pass before our server, Cody, approaches the table.

 

Cody: “You guys ready to party?”

            Halley: “Uh, sure.”

 

We place our order, which consists of Fried Pickles, Hush Puppies, and for each of us, their Chicken Box. This came with three pieces of their fried chicken, a biscuit, and a side. I opted for the Mac & Cheese. We ordered Micheladas, which are a very interesting combination of hot sauce and beer. A bit like a Bloody Mary, but on crack. The first sip stings your palette with an indescribable bite. I’m not sure how to explain it, but you should just try one. The building was reminiscent of a house that had been gutted years ago and then transformed on interior design tips from the Beverly Hillbillies. We waited for about 30 minutes before we got curious about what the hell could be taking so long to get our appetizers out. We tried flagging Cody down a few times to no avail. Five minutes later, a girl server brings us the Fried Pickles. She placed them down, smiled and then walked away. We were so happy to see food at this point that we all immediately dug in. The pickles were crispy and salty which made them quite delicious. Not worth a half hour wait, but satiating enough.

 

Roughly ten minutes later, our second appetizer (that we ordered at the exact same time, mind you) is on its way to the table with the same female server that delivered our first round. She is also carrying a basket of the Fried Pickles that we just enjoyed. Our server, Cody abruptly stops her letting her know that we’d already gotten those, and to only deliver the hush puppies. Between the three of us, I think that Brandon had the most incredulous look on his face when this happened. Honestly, I was so stunned by this that I don’t remember how this part of the meal went.

 

Between fifteen and twenty minutes later, our main course arrived, much to our pleasure, but once again, not delivered by our server. We were more than annoyed at this point, but still enjoyed each bite to the best of our ability. The chicken lacked the desired crispness, and minus the hot sauce, my side lacked a certain flavor that you would look for in macaroni and cheese. Not to mention the gritty consistency that it held. In fact, upon finishing our meal, the only really good part about this visit was the pie that we ordered after: one slice of Chocolate Pudding Pie, and one slice of Banana Cream Pie, the latter of which was a true ten-bell piece of dessert. I can’t say that this saved our wholly underwhelming experience at this establishment, but it certainly gave hope that I would someday have a reason to return.

 

After heading back to the apartment for a couple of hours of relaxation, Brandon and I departed to go to the concert I’d been waiting for since I bought tickets over a month ago. British hardcore outfit Enter Shikari were playing at Irving Plaza, and I couldn’t have been anymore excited. This however, is far from Brandon’s style of music, but being the good friend that he is, he agreed to accompany me. We got to the venue as the second band was going on, and they were absolutely awful. Brandon ordered a Beck’s and within a few moments of walking towards the middle of the pack, the band started and their ravenous fans started a huge circle pit right where we were standing. Some scenester whose parents clearly didn’t love him came barreling towards us, knocking Brandon’s beer out of his hands before getting run completely over by a total behemoth of a man. Instant karma is a bitch, too. After about 45 minutes of a wall of sound, this band exited and the real fun started to begin. Chants for favorite Enter Shikari songs started almost immediately. Brandon and I settled about four rows of people in front of the stage. I don’t remember this from going to hardcore shows when I was younger, but apparently it is appropriate to not shower the month before going to a show.

 

Brandon: “Dude, it smells like the inside of a locker room in here.”

            Me: “I think you’re putting that a bit lightly.”

 

We were standing right in front of the olfactory offender, and we made sure that he could hear everything that we were saying.

Brandon: “I’ve stepped in dog shit and not cleaned it off for days and it’s smelled better than this.”

            Me: “I’m pretty sure my room didn’t smell this bad when I threw up on my floor.”

            Brandon: “ I think I’d rather sleep in a pig sty right about now.”

            Me: “No, you know what it really smells like? You know how fat kids in elementary school always had that distinctive awful smell? That’s what it smells like here in our general vicinity.”

            SmellyKid: “Yeah, you guys are totally right.”

 

You must be kidding me. Brandon and I looked at one another with a shock reserved for seeing someone fall from a fifty-story building.

 

They opened with “System…” which segued into “…Meltdown” which were played with such an intensity that the entire crowd were ebbing and flowing like the Atlantic Ocean. Within the first two songs my shoes were coming off and I was holding them in my hands. In between tracks, I would put them back on, only to wind up holding them again mid song. After replacing them once more, the band’s most intense track “Gandhi Mate, Gandhi” started. Before the end of the opening rant of my song, I had actually lost one of my shoes. No more than thirty seconds l lost my other shoe. And no more than 15 seconds after that, a crowd surfing girl came flying over the top and kicked me in the head. I lost one of my plugs, and had to result to changing which ear I would wear an earring in for the rest of the evening. Brandon had gone missing sometime around this time, but I was having so much fun thrashing about that I hadn’t really noticed. After that, lead singer Rou Reynolds told a story about how the rest of his band mates had asked if they could play the song “Sorry You’re Not a Winner”, which he wasn’t really up for. But he continued on that they used their powers of persuasion, namely placing their balls in his face until he relented.

 

A half hour of moshing, crowd surfing and searching for my shoes, the closing track of their set, the namesake track “Enter Shikari” was played. I was immediately tossed up by some huge guy, and barefoot, was walking atop the other fans. This allowed Brandon to spot me and he worked to make his way back to the front. The band came back for their encore, playing “Return to Energiser” from their first album, and one of my favorites from their new one, “Ssssnakepit.” Reunited, I screamed every lyric into Brandon’s face.

 

The show let out, and we were going to the coat check to grab our things. Dripping in sweat when we got to the bottom of the stairs, the line was out the door, to which we said “fuck that” and went to the nearest Duane Reade for refreshments. It’s a funny thing about being completely soaked from sweating and cold weather outside. They don’t really mix. At all. We began our trek back to the venue only to find it closed. Like front door gated, bands in the lobby loading their things closed.

 

Brandon: “So, my keys are in my jacket.”

            Me: “So, I’m really fucking cold.”

 

After about ten minutes of shivering, a gentleman directed us to the side door so that we could get in to reclaim our things. Thank goodness for that, because I’m pretty sure I would have died.

 

Hunger setting in, Brandon and I made the five block walk to where he works at the Momofuku Noodle Bar. Looking properly disheveled and exhausted, we sat down at the bar in front of the open kitchen. We had the Pork Buns (Sorry, Halley!), which are the item that made this restaurant famous. Brandon settled on Chicken Wings, while I opted for the Pork Ramen. We also had another appetizer of Roasted Rice Cakes, which were absolutely phenomenal. Which was spicy in all of the right ways, bits of whole pepper and crispy duck skin delicately planted throughout the dish.

 

The two of us reminisced on how varying, yet overall incredible forays into different restaurants throughout different areas of the city had left us for the most part –outside of a horrendous display by some hipsters in Brooklyn- satisfied. The train ride home was quiet and sleepy. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve actually deemed a picture too embarrassing to share, I’d post the picture of Brandon passed out on the shoulder of an incredibly intimidating black woman, who had happened to also enjoy her subway slumber. We made our way through the sullen streets of Prospect Park, back to his place, where I claimed my rightful place; sprawled across the couch with a cool pillow over my face as I slowly nodded off.

 

-Sidebar. FUCK YOU, CODY! There is absolutely no excuse for how awful your service was. I know it’s the cool hipster thing to do to act like you don’t care, and probably fortunately for you, mommy and daddy are still paying your bills and for your probable bullshit attempt at being an actor or whatever an asshole like you thinks that you have some semblance of talent in, but that isn’t cool. Especially at a table of people who work in the industry, and are honestly as laid back as it comes when it gets down to service, you dropped the ball in an astounding way. That’s why for the first time in any of our lives, we did not tip a server. It was that bad. In addition to this all, the clever bastard that he was, added a 23% tip for himself after the fact, which Halley caught, and rightfully disputed. People like this absolutely make me sick. –

 

 

Two Days in the Life – Pittsburgh – April 2012

Well, it’s a bit of a situation when your life interferes with what you truly hold near. I’ve felt a little stripped of my own self because I’ve been so entwined in work and preparing for my upcoming vacation. To catch all of you up, here are a couple of anecdotes from your favorite degenerate:

I like to have a drink after work seemingly every day. But while some of those days are spent solemn, searching for answers in the bottom of a pint glass, some of them are spent in wonderful conversation with lovely people.

The other night, post-Sonoma, I decided to take in a beverage at Vallozzi’s on Fifth Ave. Upon entrance, the two bartenders, both named Melissa, greeted me. I ordered a Woodford Reserve on the rocks, and began taking in, for who knows what reason, the Pirates game. I noticed instantly that I was sitting next to a quite attractive older lady and her husband who were out for a nice evening out of the house. Making friendly conversation with the bartender, we’ll call her Melissa 2 (solely based upon the fact that I met her after the other identically named girl, I began talking about how earlier on in the day); I had sold an outrageously priced bottle of wine. Listening in on the conversation, the gentleman politely includes himself in the discussion. It turns out that he fancies himself to be quite a connoisseur. His name is Doug, and his wife, her name is Michelle. It was refreshing in speaking to the both of them for the first ten minutes or so to learn that everything that I thought that I knew about wine was not total bullshit and that I had picked something up in the last year or so of drinking. Doug and I continue our conversation, touching on hockey and how much the city of Philadelphia is an awesome place with awful people and even worse sports teams, how the Pirates have managed to make a science out of putting a sub-par product on the field and still make money, and some of the best places to eat in Pittsburgh. This was slowly turning into one of the better nights that one could have on a Tuesday, but hey, good conversation is welcome any day of the week. Our back and forth spanned across many topics; I had slipped in that I would be taking a backpacking trip across five countries in Europe, just as he had expounded upon his fondness for a good Czech Pilsner. Things got a bit interesting from there, the conversation moved on to politics, which is never a good subject between people who’ve just met, but things seemed to work smoothly as I told them about my total apathy for the whole process due to the fact that nothing ever changes. Then, this happened.

Michelle: “While you’re in Europe, get stoned.”

Me: “Pardon?”

Michelle: “Smoke, and fuck, and do whatever the hell you wanna do! It’s Europe!”

Me: “I. Um? I just…”

Michelle: You’re trying to tell me a pretty black man with beautiful dreadlocks isn’t going to get fucked up and have sex with European women? Come on, I know how you work.”

 

There are so few things that could render me speechless, but this was one. Shortly after this exchange, her husband escorted her from the bar, to their vehicle and wished me the best. I’m pretty sure the next time I sit at that bar, there will be a total lack of shock and awe, but hell, one must take these experiences as they come.

The next night, I decided to take my father to a baseball game. I had a French final in the morning, but still had time to buy tickets and relax for a good bit of the day. A few days prior to that, I had picked up some mushrooms, but had no idea when I would ever have the time to eat them, so I gave half to someone, and let the other half hang out on my floor. Coming home after my exam, I just wanted to relax for a little bit, maybe play some video games, maybe even take a nap. Of course none of those things happened. It was about 3 when I decided that I was just going to do it. I was going to eat these boomers, and see where my day took me. My dad showed up to my place about an hour later, and I still was feeling pretty normal.

My brother joined the two of us and we headed to the North Side to visit PNC Park. Sitting on the train between downtown and the stadium, for lack of better phrasing, things in my life started to pick up. After grabbing our tickets from the box office, I was full on tripping my face off. I was hallucinating in public, with my father and my brother, trying to concentrate on baseball. I watched as the city skyline in the background altogether blended with the river and the outfield fences of the park. The crack of the bat has never had such satisfying sound. Vendors calling out to fans to buy hot dogs, or $8 beers were lyrical. A gentle drizzle of misty rain even began around the start of the seventh inning. It simply could not get any better than that.

Naturally, it did. Looking down the row in front of us, and about 6 seats over, a plump, rosy-cheeked pre-teen sat down with a jumbo sized Pepsi, and an ice cream cone that encompassed the size of his head in both height and circumference. My eyes widened, tears rolled down, and laughter that could have been heard from ten miles away, bellowed from somewhere deep inside of me, to the tip of my tongue, and out of my mouth.

At this moment, I knew that the Pirates had won the game, but upon further review, I truly believe that I won the day.

A Day in Dublin – May 2012

Waking up Thursday, everything still felt completely surreal. I was on the holiday that I had finally wanted. I had left our 16-bed dorm room to go downstairs for the complimentary breakfast the hostel offered daily. (Complimentary for a reason!!!) Upon arriving downstairs, I sat down with my bowl of cereal and a glass of what we’ll call juice -though that might be a bit friendly for whatever that drink was- and made friends with a French traveler named Vava. She was certainly not what you would call traditionally attractive, but there was something that she had that made her mind-blowingly sexy. Between her curves, her thick French accent, and clear-cut sense of who she was, I was hooked. We struck up conversation by the computer about whether or not I knew where to catch a bus to Galway, which I didn’t. After that, I’m not sure of a word that she said. I was so drawn to her that I found it absolutely impossible to focus, which lead to me spilling half of my bowl of cereal directly into my lap. We both had a chuckle at my total lack of poise, and continued on. I learned that she was a complete wandering soul, who only worked when she needed money to travel, and only traveled to keep herself sane, which is a sentiment, looking back on it all that I can one hundred percent acquiesce myself with. After my pants mostly dried, and our conversation dwindled, a couple of new faces walked into the common area, so I felt it was my duty to introduce myself to them. I heard them speaking, and it wasn’t English, so I went with my first guess.

Me: “Hey, are you two German?”

Both: “Uh, no.”

 

Real smooth, Eric.

Mylene: “We’re Canadian, from Quebec.”

Me: “So, I wasn’t even close. I play this game really well, if you couldn’t tell.”

Mylene: “My name is Mylene, and this is my friend Martine.”

Me: “I’m Eric, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

At that point, Pat had walked down the stairs to join for breakfast, only to find that he had missed it. I walked away from the two girls to greet my travel mate and discuss what it was we were going to do for the day.

So we set off to walk about town for a bit, taking in all of the sights that this grand old city held for us. Our first stop was the Christchurch Cathedral, which was a five-minute walk from our hostel. This massive formation was built around the year 1000 and is still in use to this day, outside of it even stood the original chapel, which couldn’t have been any bigger than the tree houses most kids have these days. Every step I took felt comparable to a slight voyage back into history. Next stop was Dublin Castle, which was built in 988. Pat and I wanted to walk around on the inside, but holy tourist hell would that have been a mistake. American tour groups are the worst thing to ever happen to any vacation. Skipping that, we made our way about the perimeter of the castle, checking out all of the different changes in architectural styles due to time and of course, necessary renovations.

Roughly four hours of walking later, we found ourselves settled back into the common area of our hostel with a four-pack of pounders to each of us. Naturally, the next two people to walk into the room are the French-Canadian girls from this morning. Being the perfect gentleman that I am, I offer them each a beer, to which one accepts, but the other is drinking cider, so she declines. We all start chatting about what we want our trips to be, where we plan on going, and what we plan on seeing. Completely oblivious to my surroundings, our table has become full. To my right is a tall, bespectacled guy named Tony. He’s a professor from Australia. Across the table next to Pat is a couple from California, Shane and Miranda. We’ve effortlessly assembled a crew. Becoming aware of the situation, I propose a plan.

Me: “So, tonight there’s that free BBQ, and then we could do the pub crawl after that. Everyone in?”

 

The group unanimously agreed and we went our separate ways to get ready for whatever the evening held for us.

Meeting back up an hour later, we all made our way to the Temple Bar area to find Darkey Kelly’s pub. Walking in the front door, there’s absolutely no one in the pub except for two bartenders and three men with varying instruments. So we did what came naturally, ordered pints and hoped for the best. A couple of sips in, we realized there was noise coming from the back door. Opening it up, there were heaps of people outside lined up for free food. The seven of us grabbed the only table left, and it was available for a reason. I’ve seen raving lunatics on the streets of Manhattan off of their medication more stable than this thing. Shane and Miranda hopped into what seemed to be a never-ending line. We were all chatting away about wherever home was to each of us, and all of the empty promises that you make to friends that you meet traveling such as; “I can’t wait to visit you!” or “We’ll go do that together!” we even made real plans for the next day. The two retrieving food made it back about twenty minutes later with some of the most pitiful looking food that I have ever seen. This BBQ was free for a reason. The burger was about the size of a charcoal briquette, and the sausage, well you could make your own small joke on that one. There were no condiments either. (Well, there was ketchup, but it wasn’t Heinz, so that doesn’t count.) We made our way back inside where the gentlemen from earlier had started playing, and they were absolutely amazing. The singer had a booming voice, which carried clearly over his guitar and the accordion, singing proper old Irish tunes that had us clapping, dancing, and smiling from ear to ear. As a group, we paired off, some of us with a person we knew, while the mischievous few of us found older ladies in the bar to lock arms with. The notes were played perfectly as his voice carried effortless through the bar, filling every corner with sound. Two songs in, we checked the time to realize that we had missed the first stop of the pub-crawl. At that point the group decided that we should make our own stops for the evening.

Before departure, I decided to hit the head. I walked in and there were two other gentlemen standing ahead of me. While waiting my turn, these two were conversing in French about the upcoming Euro 2012, and how France should make the final. This made me chuckle out loud as I stepped up to the urinal. Then all of a sudden one of them asks in French:

BathroomFrench: “Do you speak French?”

Me: “Yes, a little bit. Your football is in a bad moment. I don’t see silverware in your future.”

BathroomFrench: “Aren’t you on of the Americans from the hostel? You know about football?”

Me: “Yes and yes. But give me a moment, I’m busy.

BathroomFrench: “Ah yes.”

 

And with that, he tapped me on the shoulders almost to congratulate me on speaking French. The two of them continued their conversation waiting for me to be done. I finished up, washed my hands and there they were, staring at me like I was some sort of anomaly. This encounter broke so many of my bathroom/personal space rules.

We all met out front and made our way headfirst into Temple Bar. We waded deeper and deeper through all of the solicitors, tourists, locals and everything in between. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a voucher for a free beer at The Temple Bar. I walked in ahead of the group, and this place was wall to wall packed. Realizing that I was never going to find a bartender let alone get a beer, I turned to Pat and pointed towards the door. On the way out, I tried to hand my voucher to some guy, which I don’t think went over favorably. This man stared at me with a look on his face like he was going to pop my head off of my body like some sort of doll. Exit, stage left.

Making our way through more bodies, more signage, the group decided on Buskers, which is where Pat and I had been the night before. We walked in to people dancing, and having a grand old time. I was with Shane and Miranda getting drinks, as Pat and Tony went out front to smoke. The two girls from Quebec walked around the bar for a bit before meeting back up with the three of us. Almost immediately after getting my beer, a quite haggard old woman grabs me to dance. I’m talking missing teeth, hair completely disheveled, make up painted on as if she threw it in front of an industrial fan and stood in front of it. Obviously this woman attended and graduated from the highest level of life hitting really hard. The horror within me was palpable, and I’m sure the look on my face gave everyone fair notice of how I was feeling at that moment. After a song or two, I gave the others the signal to bail me out, which they heeded and we walked out to the front to get the additional members of our crew. Between Shane and Miranda hysterically laughing at my misfortune and the full on panic attack that I had from this woman touching me, we almost missed Martine pretending to eat the plant right in front of us. The hilarity of the last ten minutes was a perfect way to end the evening, and we couldn’t think of anything else to do, so we headed back to our hostel to turn in for the night.

But since the BBQ was such a let down, I was starving. So I did what I always do when I get back from a night out.Image

The Large Scale Apple

Wednesday: I don’t really care how many times I visit this city, or if I wind up living there, or whatever my future may hold, I will never get sick of looking to my left before crossing into New York and looking at such an amazing skyline. It’s absolutely astonishing, even at midnight on a Wednesday. Loading off of the bus, I cannot help but look straight up into the Manhattan night and take it all in. I have arrived. I hop on a downtown Q train to Union Square to meet up with my buddy Brandon at a bar called O’Hanlon’s on 10th & 1st. As I walk to the front of the bar, a bear hug and a beer greet me. Light conversation is had as Brandon introduces me to a couple of his workmates Manny and Sam. Of course my favorite way to be introduced to people is a round of shots, and tonight, the drink of choice is Jameson. As the bartender is pouring, Brandon and I are talking about my upcoming trip to Europe, which will include a stop in Ireland.

Bartender: “Oh, well you’ll love the Jameson over there! I pretty much live there when I’m not here and what we have here is shite.”

            Me: “Yeah, I’m sure.”

Brandon can feel the judgment in my eyes boring holes through this girl. I look at him, and he cannot help but crack a smile because he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Funny, I didn’t remember ordering my shots with a back of pretentious and pointless second-guessing.

Well, I’ve had all that I can take of this place, and it is roughly 3AM, so it’s about time to head home. We have a six or seven block walk to the subway station, and I didn’t have the forethought to use the restroom before leaving the bar. Halfway through our walk, I cannot hold it any longer and if you were walking by you would have sworn a fire hose had been in use on the side of this building. (Sorry, Duane Reade!)

            Thursday – I wake up in Brandon’s apartment in which he shares with his girlfriend Halley in Prospect Park. I greet the two of them with a 10AM packed bowl before discussing our plans for the day. Brandon and Halley are both phenomenal chefs, so naturally the plan is to seek out some of the finest faire that New York has to offer. The two of them decide to take me to a restaurant in the Momofuku family that Brandon works for called Ma Peche. Upon walking into the restaurant, lit for some type of ambience, but I’m not sure what, Brandon heads down to the kitchen to drop off beer for everyone working. Apparently, that’s how they show appreciation. Personally, I just like dropping a fat tip on someone, but to each his own. We’re guided to our seats and are placed right next to two people, an older man and a younger woman. For the life of us for the first half hour of our meal, we were trying to figure out if she was his daughter or his girlfriend. Or both? Weird things happens in New York.

Our first course arrives, which is a double order of their Oxtail Buns, which were delicately braised and came on bread as soft as clouds. It was one of the most splendid things I’ve eaten to date. Immediately after this is sent out, we’re sent a complimentary second course of Trout Roe with a Coconut Cream, and Foie Gras with toasted Brioche and Malt. This too, was something I could eat over and over again. Much to the chagrin of our neighboring dining partners, we’ve gotten two courses to their one. She calls over the waitress.

            Girl: “Um, excuse me, but we’ve been here longer than they have, AND have gotten more food than we have.”

            Waitress: “I can assure you that all of your food will be coming out in a timely manner.”

            Girl: “But I don’t understand why their food is arriving and ours is not.”

            Waitress: “Let me go check on that for you.”

             Which was actually the most polite blowing off of a person I’ve ever witnessed in service.

The man sat there, stoic, the entire time, only speaking when the girl addressed him in French. Through my limited understanding of the language, I gathered that he was annoyed, but that he understands how restaurants work and that she should calm down.

Upon arrival, our third course of Beef Tartare and Broccoli Salad was immediately consumed, leaving behind no doubt of our fondness of the cuisine. Quickly followed by the Bahn Mi Maison, and the Pork Belly Hero, which were hastily dispatched of as well. Last but not least came our Lamb Ramen, which was accompanied by a complimentary Pork Shank dish that we all were salivating over. I don’t think that lunch could have gone any better.

At this point, I’m full, I’m happy, and I’m ready for whatever else this city has to throw at me. But of course, lunch gets better. As the pair next to us departs, both Brandon and Halley’s eyes are the size of golf balls. Perplexed:

Me: “What?”

            Halley: “We just ate lunch next to Joel Robuchon.”

            Brandon: “Like Chef of the Century, Joel Robuchon.”

            Me: “You’re telling me, that without effort. Not even a tinge of effort, in my first 24 hours in this city that we have pissed off someone very well known and respected?

            Halley: “Pretty much.”

            Me: “Well, this is a fucking great trip already.”

             Upon walking past us, our server Logan has heard what we were talking about and stands next to our table with this creepy grin on his face. In fact, he was just creepy in general. Also, I would retell the conversation we had if I wasn’t so busy being freaked out by this nearly robotic man. The gist of the conversation was that he was name-dropping people that no one gave a shit about, to try to get us to go to restaurants that I would prefer to lick dirt than eat at.

I parted from those two after lunch to meet up with an old friend, Claire, who is now living in the city. I know Claire from Charlotte, and if we could honestly stay in the same city for more than a couple of weeks at a time, we would be (if possible) better friends than we are now. I arrive at a destination selected by her, Taproom No. 307, which certainly lives up to its name. I order the house lager, which I later find out is made by a brewery in Pennsylvania called Lion’s Head. My friends and I used to drink this beer in high school. We felt classy because it came in bottles, but the price tag was a wonderful $10 a case. She arrives after she gets off of work. We immediately begin chatting, drinking and reminiscing. We hung out for a few hours watching the Penguins beat the Rangers, to the dismay of everyone else around us, as I was the lone Pens supporter in a sea of Ranger blue. The thing that kept us (me) there more so than the beer, or the game was our hilarious, foul-mouthed, and incredibly attractive bartender Danielle. I have never heard a girl say “cunt” more often than this girl, and I could not help but be completely enamored with her “I don’t give a shit” attitude. After a few rounds, and the ending of the game, Claire and I ventured further into Manhattan to an Irish pub named Paddy Reilly’s, where they feature live, native Irish music every night of the week. Not to mention that this bar is the only one in the world that strictly serves Guinness on draught. We make friends with a gentleman who sits down next to us, who is from Manchester, UK. He chats us up as we enjoy our pints, going on about subjects from his favorite bars in the world, to us rapping a few bars from the song “It Was Supposed To Be So Easy” by The Streets.

Good to the last drop, we finish our beers, say our parting words, and head our separate ways. The peaceful stumble to the train and the gentle vibrations of the Q back to Brooklyn synced perfectly to the rest of “A Grand Don’t Come for Free”, and as I stepped into the front door of Brandon and Halley’s apartment, I fell immediately asleep as my head met the couch cushions.

How fantastic.

Barcelona, 7pm

IMG_1531Barcelona, 7pm

Around the corner from our temporary residence at the Albareda Youth Hostel, Justin and I found a rather picturesque and quiet park where we could smoke. The view once we climbed to the top of the crumbling stone steps was astonishing. With the port illuminated and water glistening, stoned or not, this was a sight that made me happy that I don’t care about anything but seeing as much as I can with these eyes.

Amsterdam, sunrise.

Amsterdam, sunrise.

First night in Amsterdam, my friend and ex-pat Nikki and her Dutch beau Varen took me and my travel mate Pat in and gave us a place to stay. What they also offered was a wealth of knowledge on how to have a great time in this beautiful city of canals, cobblestone, and bridges. After a full day of sightseeing and exploring, we all felt the need to lay low until we went out that evening. Nikki told us that she’d see us around midnight and to be ready at the latest by one.

Leaving for a night out on the town at 12AM definitely took some getting used to the first couple of nights that we were afforded to go out. It was even stranger for us to be the early birds on the evening. Getting to the Leidseplein and having no idea where I was or what to do with myself was an endless thrill.

I made my way from my friends, to strangers who looked enough like they would want to socialize with me. People all around, grabbing my arms, and hands, pulling me to dance with them, to talk to them. Strangers quickly disappeared and were replaced by friendly faces with names, and stories. Someone from one side tapping me on my shoulder, asking to touch my hair. Inviting me to their circles to go smoke, or partake in any other festivities the evening may have brought our way. I was fucking free.

My friends decided to turn in around 4 that night, and I took it upon myself to get the most out of the night that I could. I stuck around with a mixed group of Spanish and Australian kids as we proceeded to drink, smoke, dance, and laugh our way to 5:30 AM.

As things started to slow down, we began to head our separate ways. The need to exchange information was never pressing, as in situations like this, you meet people that you enjoy and hope that if you were meant to be in that person’s life, you would find a way to cross paths on your travels. Maybe in that same city, maybe across the world at a different time. So, on my own, I made my way back towards Oud-West and the comforts of an air mattress and a blacked out basement in a friend’s house. I only knew a few streets and a few landmarks, so the way that I got there was certain not to be the way I took back. The sun was up, and my eyes were strained by the incoming light, but I found the peace of a silent street lined with bicycles and scooters.

In those ten minutes of tranquility, I couldn’t have been any happier with the decisions that had led me to being in this position.

The Eternal City, 6:46 pm.

The Eternal City, 6:46 pm.

You can get so lost in Rome, very quickly. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as that’s how I stumbled upon this. But getting lost there, in most cases, can turn into a wonderful adventure that takes that average traveler off of their itinerary and allow them to see the real beauty of a city. That’s something a museum or a tour can’t give you.