Hello Fellow Fish,
While I was in Prague, I met a fellow traveler who would turn out to be a great travel companion. Katie was American, and had been living in Prague for a little over a year. Since I was leaving, we decided to take a imptromptu trip, to anywhere. So on my last day, I packed up all my worldly possessions, and headed to the bus terminal. We looked at the board of possible destinations, and many of them were full or only had one seat available. We tried a few different companies, and were getting discouraged that we might not be able to leave that day when after a long pause, the bus man said, “How about Paris? Departing tonight at 11pm?” Yup. Its important to note that it was about 10am at that point, so there was a lot of time to kill.
Since my time in Prague was coming to a close, I spent my last day doing the things I always said I would, but figured I’d get around to another time. Such as going to see the famous Prague Castle, trying an Indian restaurant I’d passed every day but never went in to, and walking around areas that I thought seemed interesting. In my down time, I reached out to any and all my contacts in Paris, and tried to find a Couch Surfing host. As luck would have it, I got a place within an hour! All that was left to do was wait for the bus.
|Selfie overlooking Prague|
The whole trip got off to a rough start. Our bus was delayed by about an hour and a half. While we waited for the bus, I casually told Katie, that it can be a good to have all important things in one place like a carry on bag. Things like passports, money, credit cards, etc. She nodded in agreement and we kept on waiting. When the delayed bus finally arrived at 12:30am, everyone was tired and fed up with waiting. So I get a place in line, and check our bags under the bus. I look back and see Katie, now frantically, unloading all the contents of her backpack on to the ground in search of her passport, which was needed to board the bus. After about 10 more minutes go by, the bus is ready to leave, we’re getting death stares from the passengers and driver for holding everyone up and I see Katie’s eyes start to well with tears as her panic turned to terror as hope of her finding her passport quickly faded. In my mind, I start thinking of possible courses of action. If she can’t find it, do I stay back with her? Or do I go ahead without her? I was in a true dilemma. I finally suggest that we look in her bag (which I had checked under the bus) and sure enough, it was there. Crisis averted.
There were a lot of complaining patrons on the overnight, but considering some of the bus rides I had been on, this one was not so bad. We arrived in Paris and met our Couch Surfing hosts Marine and Raphael. Two incredibly generous and fun-loving Parisians, that went above and beyond the usual call of a CS Host. As soon as we got settled in our room in their apartment, they took us on a Seine (the river that runs through Paris) river boat and we got to take in all of Paris’s greatest landmarks right away. This would be a huge help for getting an idea of where things in the city were as we would spend the next few days wandering the streets of Paris. After seeing the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Place du Concorde, etc. our hosts took us to a very French picnic with their friends. I felt that I was getting a real French experience being around all their friends just eating cheese, French bread, various meats, and wine. Lots of wine.
The more I drank, the more my 9 Years of French education started to come back. My speaking was probably elementary, but I was following conversations better than I ever thought I would.
|Backside of Notre Dame|
|L'Arc du Triumphe|
|National Academy of Music|
We were fortunate enough to be in Paris for Bastille Day (14 Julliet/French Independence Day). After stopping at the Louvre and seeing some more of what Paris had to offer, we went to watch fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. While we waited for the show to start, we got some beers to drink at a bench, and that slowly ended up becoming just a big backpacker party. It went from Katie and me, to a group of about 9-10 people just having a great time on the sidewalk in Paris.
|Fireworks and Eiffel Tower-Bastille Day|
In Paris, I was able to have a reunion with an APU friend, Paul. It had been 4 years since Paul and I last saw one another and we picked up right where we left off. For long time readers of this blog, you know that APU provided the breeding ground for all my great friends located around the world.
|Our CouchSurfing Hosts|
On our last day, we said our good byes and booked tickets to our next spontaneous destination, which turned out to be Berlin.
The bus ride to Berlin was terrible. Even by my standards. If at all possible, try to avoid taking Eurolines.
|Berlin Eastside Gallery-art on the old Berlin Wall|
Unfortunately, Berlin would be the last stop for my travel companion and me. She needed to go back to Prague for work, and I had the road calling. So I went to the bus station and got my next spontaneous destination: Amsterdam.
I arrived in the early hours on a Sunday. The metro is closed on Sundays as it turns out. The sun had yet to come up and the streets were empty but for the handful of taxis hounding the group of us who had just disembarked the bus. I had all my worldly possessions on my back and in my hand, and asked how much a ride into the town center would be. Their response wasn’t to my liking, so I ask how far it was and they said about 4-5 kilometers and pointed me in the right direction. So I decide to walk. After an hour or so, I start to come across some of the canals for which this city is famous. I wander the streets trying to find someplace that is open for business with no luck. Eventually, I happen upon the Red Light district, which seemed to be just ushering out its last customers as the sun came up. After some time, I make my way to one of the many “Coffee shops” (I use quotes here because coffee shops are also the weed shops), and order myself a coffee. Much to the surprise of the attendant who says Americans are always really excited to have the hemp menu to peruse and order from. Not for me.
I find out my Couch Surfing host won’t be back until about 10pm. Which means I had an entire day to spend carrying around all my things. In the town center, I go to all the hotels and hostels, finally one believes my story that I’m checking in with a group and was early, so they let me park my bags there for the day.
Once I was rid of my bags, I spent the day wandering the streets. The city slowly started to wake up and the streets would soon be full of bikes, tourists, and buses all going about their daily routines. I try to contact a few of my friends who are Dutch, but none of them were in town. So I ended up making a new friend, a girl who worked at a cheese shop and was nice enough to give me some free samples and advice on things to do around town. She even offered to let me stay at her house, which I stored as a back up plan in case my regular host didn’t pan out. During my wanderings, I come across the original Heineken Brewery. I go inside, and see that they are charging 26 Euro for a ticket. Pffffffff yeah right. I seize an opportunity when one of the ticket checkers turns her back for a second and cruise right in. I made my way through the museum and history of the company and even got 2 free beers at the end.
That night, I went to meet my host Kwinten, who turned out to be awesome. He was about my age and had an internship with a private equity firm. He spoke near perfect English, just like the rest of the country, and we ended up having a lot in common. He introduced me to his two Spanish roommates who were a real hoot n’ holler. My next few days with them would be a ton of fun, with BBQs in the park and small get togethers at their house where the neighbors upstairs would throw tomatoes at us to get us to be quiet.
It was sad having to leave Amsterdam after such a short time, but I had flight arrangements that couldn’t be changed. Kwinten was nice enough to walk me to the bus terminal that would take me to the airport to head back to the USA. After a brief stop in…
My flight landed in Copenhagen and I hastily made my way straight for the door. I only had a few hours in the city and I wanted to make the most of them. I took the metro a couple stops and was greeted by my good friend and former travel companion through South East Asia, FIE!
It was raining when I got there, but Fie and her boyfriend Nikolai still took me to all the cool places around the city. We spent a good deal of time in Christiania and the surrounding areas, eating pastries and drinking beer. The best part was being able to catch up with an old friend who I was seeing outside of the “Backpacker bubble” in her home environment.
Unfortunately, I had to get back to the airport only after a few hours. So we said our good byes once again and I made my way to the airport.
I was very nervous leaving Europe because I had overstayed my visa by about 4-5 months. My fellow football coach, Taylor, got held up as he tried to leave, they detained him, took his passport, he missed his flight, had to book another one out of his own pocket, and was banned from the EU for 6 months, because he also overstayed his visa.
I tentatively approached the window, in which they check your passport to get in to the international terminal of the airport. The kind man thumbs through all 50+ extra pages of my passport. I watch his face go from amusement to bewilderment as he searches for my EU Stamp, to check the date. After a minute or two, he sees the line growing behind me, he shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head and stamps me through saying only, “ you’ve sure have been a lot of places…”
“Yes I have, sir.”
Until Next time,