I remember walking up to this by accident. My girlfriend and I were actually looking for this amazing sandwich shop. (All’antico Vinaio, ask for Eugenio.) I was stunned by the intricate detail which comprised this enormous structure. I want my life to feel like this all the time.
After hours of walking around historic Roman ruins, she stood looking behind me at the ground we had just covered. The background was perfect and reminiscent of a picture I had taken of me the year before. At this point we had been away from home for three weeks, but our thoughts were not looking forward to that. Instead, we were looking to extract every minute detail out of every moment, to remember what it felt like to be somewhere where people had lived and died and lived and lied for 2,700 years.
We held onto one another as we made our way to the Metro. We sat close as we boarded and flipped through the day’s photos and lived it all over again. Our walk from the station near our hostel was quick and unimpeded and we were greeted by faces both familiar and new. Settling into a table of people we knew, we drank beers, smoked cigarettes and laughed heartily deep into the night. We didn’t want to go home.
I learned a lot on my tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. However, the thing that resonates the most with me is that the Romans were so advanced. The floor of the Colosseum was wooden, covered in Egyptian white sand and hid an elaborate underground system for the storing of animals which would pop up through trap doors.
I closed my eyes and I could hear the roaring of the crowd, urging warriors to battle on. I opened them to see the worn marble where wealthy men and senators would sit. I walked the many steep, angled steps where people were placed based on their status and looked down upon what was once the greatest spectacle the world has ever known.
This past week marked my third trip to the capital of being yourself, Amsterdam. This visit was a bit different than the last couple, in the fact that I was traveling with her as opposed to any other dude that I’m friends with. Also, for the first time, I was interested in being a tourist. While Sam, Pat, and I had seen this city many times before, none of us recalled actually knowing anything about the city. So with that, the four of us ventured towards Museumplein, where some of Amsterdam’s rich history resides. After catching glimpses of other museums, the Rijksmuseum and it’s quaint yet vibrant gardens called upon us and we heeded.
As we entered, we were given far too many options and decided to take it on in chronological order. In the 1100s we immediately grouped into pairs, with Sam and Pat venturing ahead while she and I took our time going over every subtle nuance available. We made our way through religious art, both graphic yet simultaneously beautiful and deep. We climbed the steps to the 1600s where beautiful stained glass marked the men who were so integral to the creation of a national museum and the rich art and educational culture of the time. The 17 and 1800s showed us the glories of the Dutch through war paintings, collections of weaponry through the ages and treasure both stolen and earned through battle. Hours passed as we made it from exhibit to exhibit with the only thing that prevented us from continuing our adventure into the 20th century was the closing of the museum.
To this point, my Dutch education merely consisted of pills, strobe lights and walking home at dawn. While a different brand of education altogether, the two seem to harmoniously coincide into a beautiful experience. I suppose it took traveling with a different person or even a different type of person to open my eyes to the many aspects that not only this city, but the world as a whole contain.
We are so often told that our hard work will eventually pay off. It’s nice when that gratification is seemingly instant. Climbing what seemed like hundreds after hundreds of steps, ascending to the top of Montmartre, she and I sat at the foot of Sacre Coeur and all of its glory. The real treasure, however, can be found if you simply turn around. The Parisian sprawl appearing to be so accessible, coupled with that instantaneous feeling that you can conquer it all, only to be reminded how truly small you really are in the magnificent eye of the capital.
The sky set a perfect blue opposite the still beaming 8pm sun. Clouds majestically sitting over the chateau, lined on each side by well manicured forests. There are no days like this anywhere else in the world.
Versailles, as vast and imposing as it may be, it warns you and cradles you like your own home. For all it’s grandeur and luxury, all you need to know about it is that in its little nooks, you are safe from the revolution.
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.