Adventure Accomplished

It’s been a few months since I returned to The States. I kept forgetting that I never actually had any closure to my Euroventure Blog. I’ll do the best I can to close this out, fashionably late as it may be.

London was awesome. Took a one-on-one walking tour. Took a bike tour of all of the royal sites. Ate fish and chips at a couple pubs. Got shoved all up people’s personal space during rush hour on the Tube. Then I got the flu. Crawled down the street to a pharmacy. Got nursed by an angel. By angel, I mean a young female pharmacist that felt sorry for me and fed me, gave me medicine, and let me lay back and moan and groan in the back of the store. Then, flu and all, I caught my plane back to the states on August 19th. Best plane ride of my life, seriously. My flu left me weak and tired, where all I could do was reflect on the enormity of everything I had just experienced over the past seven weeks. And plan my romantic, long-awaited reunion with Nellie.

I adjusted back to life in Northwest Arkansas much more easily than I thought I would. I did enjoy having a room all to myself for a change. It felt surreal to unpack and, well, leaving things unpacked because I was no longer a backpacking vagabond. Although I do miss waking up in a foreign country, lacing up my shoes and meeting an adventurous day head-on, I do enjoy taking Saturday mornings slow, making breakfast in my own kitchen and getting excited over (American) football season.

As I’ve adjusted back to life at home, I’m bombarded with thoughts of experiences from my trip that have changed me. Individual experiences, of course, but also the trip in its entirety has had a tremendous effect on me. And like many experiences in life, only when I take time to be still and self-reflect do I realize the immensity of what I learned and how much I grew from July 4th to August 19th. I get to yapping to friends about my trip and in mid-sentence, I realize the once-in-a-lifetime-ness of what I got to experience. Seven weeks. Eight Countries (ranging from two days to two weeks in each). By myself. Lots of food and drink. Sights, tours, early mornings, late nights, brutal hikes, sprints to catch trains, long and lazy afternoons, rich conversations, fatigue, joy, scratches and bruises, missing Nellie, building courage, planning and executing travel while maintaining flexibility, etc.

The question I’ve received the most was “How was your trip?!” And I’ve answered the same way every time: “That’s impossible to answer. Read my blog.” For those I’ve said that to, I apologize for my bluntness. For those five or six of your that read my blog, I apologize for making you unnecessarily hungry by posting exquisite pictures of everything I ate. I guess the only way to review my trip and write down a final conclusion to this blog will be to make a list of things I learned. Sounds broad, I know, but I’ll try. For much more detail, read my previous posts. Here we go…

Things Carlyle Has Learned:

– Travel is exhausting. Exhaustingly worthwhile.
– A picture can be worth a thousand words, but the travel behind the picture can be worth a bajillion words.
– Ouzo is kinda gross.
– Clouds are illegal on the Greek islands.
– Designated rest and peace every day isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Let’s Go guidebooks are worth their weight in gold.
– The journey is more important than the destination. The journey is more important than the destination. The journey is more important than the destination.
– Hiking mountains by myself in Greece and Switzerland, though dangerous, were the most peacefully exhilarating experiences of my life.
– There are two things I’m willing to really spend money on. Real, good food and authentic art handmade by an artisan. Both bring me more joy than anything mass produced or electronic.
– Hostels are really hit or miss.
– In taking time to not only learn, but deeply understand history, you receive an education in history, human nature, architecture, military tactics and social activism. You also unearth fiery passions for each of the aforementioned subjects within yourself that you never knew existed.
– I’ve perfected the art of self-entertainment so much so that I would be surprised if I’m ever bored once again for the rest of my life on earth. Suggestions: Singing (lower the volume when others are in close proximity), listing off things to be thankful for, praying out loud, finding joy in learning new things, focusing solely on the beauty of your food when you eat, and finding humor in everyday life.
– If you visit Jerusalem, you will never read scripture the same.
– Israel is hot. Like, real hot.
– I’ll choose walking rather than public transportation any day. To an extent, duh.
– Although my camera rarely left my hip, I’ve learned that those who see most of their travels through the eye of a lens experience a lot less beauty than those who genuinely experience the place/thing they’re actually taking the image of.
– Remember those tourists at the beginning of Despicable Me? Yep, they actually exist.
– Wandering off of the beaten path and through side streets to find a local eatery is well worth the extra effort.
– The longer you stare at something, the more beautiful it becomes. Make yourself do it. It’s worth it.
– Climbing those extra few hundred stairs is worth the view.
– Some things I’ll just never know (How did they cut those stones a thousand years ago? How did they get that high? What’s holding these bricks together? How did they get around without a GPS? How did they build this thing? Who?…Wha-…How?)
– Street performers are great entertainment.
– St. Francis knew what he was talking about. And his town of Assisi gets my vote for prettiest small town in the world.
– Taking initiative to meet people is worth the extra effort. Out of that comes rich conversation, advice, laughter, and the occasional gift of 20 Euros for a free meal (see my post on Assisi).
– Learning a foreign language is a must.
– Spontaneity is a gift. I’ve learned that spontaneity combined with joy leads to an exhilarating, adventurous life to the full.
– Florence has good, good, good food.
– Small & Quality >; Large & Quantity
– I hope they have wine, fresh-pressed olive oil, and warmed, herbed bread in Heaven.
– Initiating and maintaining quality conversation with strangers is an art that, with enough practice practiced, enhances life tremendously.
– Wandering is highly beneficial. It leads to exploration, curiosity, deep thought. And some pretty stunning views and surprises.
– With most food, you get what you pay for. And, oh, is the occasional splurge worth it!
– I would always rather regret something I did rather than something I never did.
– Us humans are like ponds. Most of the time we’re ruffled, making it difficult to see the depths of ourselves. But when we’re intentionally still and peaceful (preferably in the Cinque Terre in Italy), we see a whole new depth to who we are and develop a healthy perspective on the world around us.
– You know those moments when time stands still and the world becomes small? Yea, those. I want more of those.
– When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello. And sip it slowly.
– Brutal hikes are brutally beautiful with the right people, with the right attitude, and a gorgeous destination.
– I’ve discovered the inexplicable happiness that comes in being the recipient of a gift from someone I never knew, nor had the opportunity to even thank.
– Gimmelwald. Oh, Gimmelwald.
– Learning the basics of photography has manifested itself tenfold in my life.
– The Lord knew what He was doing when He ordered people in the Old Testament build monuments and stones of remembrance. Memories trigger powerful emotions. They can squeeze tears out of your eyes, make your armpits all sweaty and make your heart beat so hard you can feel the pulse in your fingertips. Memories put life in perspective and are fuel for inspiration.
– Initiating and engaging in rich conversation with strangers is a worthwhile art. It helps when you’re both hiking in the Alps.
– Live music unifies people. Especially in a hostel with other backpackers. In Gimmelwald.
– The resistance efforts that took place during the Holocaust are some of the most powerful tales of human will I’ll probably ever hear.
– Bavarian Diet = Heart Attack.
– Communism is ugly. But the innate thirst for freedom in human beings, like you see when you visit somewhere that was once under communism, is beautiful.
– There are endless puns in the word “Czechoslovakia.”
– Sunrise and dusk make for the best pictures.
– Lastly, I feasted on “Daily Bread.” The daily bread I tasted was a kind I had never eaten before. For the past two years or so, I’ve “chewed” on the statement Jesus makes in the Bible about asking Him for daily bread. I’ve found that when I pray for daily bread, my circumstances around me don’t change as much as I personally change. I don’t see my bank account busting at the seams, but instead, I experience The Lord in deeper ways in situations I’m already in. My intimacy with The Lord during my time traveling was rich. I loved the peaceful excitement in not having each day planned to a T. It was a small taste of the adventure I’m sure the disciples felt when Jesus sent them out. Spontaneity is spiritual, and I enjoy it.

I thought a lot on my trip. I saw a lot too. I ate and drank more than I thought and saw combined.

Looking back on my trip, it seems surreal. But the maturity I gained, lessons learned, and the depths of humanity I experienced are very real.

I’ll seal this blog with a quote I read on the sidewalk in Prague:

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“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

Adventure Accomplished,

Carlyle

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A City of Czechsellence and Pragueress

I hadn’t planned on czeching out Prague when I was outlining my trip back in The States, but after six weeks of travel and hearing from nearly every backpacker I met that Prague was a “must,” I decided to czech it out.

I was already getting giddy as soon as the train crossed the river where I could get a good glimpse of the city. Unlike Munich, the city of Prague was left mostly untouched from WWII bombs which preserved the city’s gorgeous late 19th century architecture. It’s almost like one giant dollhouse. Since 1989, Prague has taken full advantage of no longer being under communistic rule, which is evident in the pragueress that’s been made towards the restoration, beautification and tourist-ization of the city.

On my introductory stroll around town, I couldn’t help but feel an odd familiarity with the place. Then I realized where it was coming from. This beautiful city was where my seventh grade action/adventure/badboy-but-goodguy/evil russian-slaying idol, Vin Diesel’s character in XXX, saved the world from terrorism. I mean, who doesn’t love the classic “Hey that speed boat is carrying nuclear weapons so we’re gonna drive a mint-condition GT convertible parallel to the river while I shoot it with a harpoon gun and zipline onto the boat and take down the bad guys and save the world” move. I sure did/still do. (I did not take this photo)

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Moving on: I enjoyed a czech skewer for dinner and called it a night.

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The next morning I hopped on a walking tour of the city with a young guide who, again, said some jokes that I laughed a little too hard at. He imitated a rooster crow that I applauded him for. We walked around the town and I learned about the history of the Czech Republic and the significance of the city of Prague. I paid as much attention as I could, but for the most part I was just mesmerized by the eye candy in the beautiful buildings all around me. Mid way through the tour I cracked a joke about the relation of the Czech area of Bohemia to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and actually received a bit of history from my tour guide. The reference to Bohemia now has evolved into something more along the lines of free, unconfined movement. Hence, the sparatic nature of the classic song. I also learned about all of the different nations that the Czech Republic has been a part of in recent history, most recently Czechoslovakia, which was divided peacefully in the early 90’s.

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After our walking tour, our rooster-crowing guide invited us on another tour he was leading of the Prague Castle. From down in the middle of the city, the castle across the river looked pretty intriguing, so I joined him.

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On our way there, we passed a small tent set up in a fairly busy corner of town. Tijo, our guide, said it was part of the Occupy Movement in the Czech Republic. I figured it would be more suitable for them to call themselves the Czechoslovoccupy Movement, but I kept my suggestions to myself.

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The castle was fun and informative, and we all enjoyed a beautiful panorama of the city.

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After the tour I joined some friends to go back to the same restaurant I had been the night before to get some more kebabs. Before we knew it, we were talking with each other for three hours before finally responding to the subtle hints from the servers for us to please exit the premises.

The following day was slow and peaceful. My goal for the day was to simply walk around, people watch, get a souvenir and see more of the czechstraordinary architecture the city had to offer. And that I did. I also spent a little too much time listening to some great street performers too.

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On my final morning, I czech’d out the Museum of Communism in town, ironically sandwiched between two institutions that couldn’t be more repulsive to Stalin himself – McDonalds and a casino.

Although the museum itself only takes the average person about an hour and half to see entirely, the content of it struck the same cord in me that my Third Reich and Dachau tours did in Munich. I had never done any extensive research on communism in the 20th century, and had always seen North Korea as just a cold, quiet place. I spent quite a bit more time in the museum than the average person, and had the eyelids of my heart stretched open as I saw in detail the truth about the Soviet reign for the first time. Like in Munich, I was moved by the power in the muffled resistance efforts of the people.

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I’m telling you, the history I’ve learned on my entire trip from Israel to the Romans, Nazis and Communists has forever changed my appreciation and passion for freedom. As a journalism student, I’m drilled daily with the importance of freedom of speech. The knowledge became an understanding as I saw pictures and videos of underground, illegal music performances, people being publicly beaten by law enforcement, a statue of Stalin being erected while people starve, and journalists desperately trying to publicize truth while constantly being suppressed by a deceitful, iron-fisted government.

The museum also had a small exhibition about modern day North Korea. After learning about the ills of 20th century communism, then seeing crystal clear images from North Korea in the present day, is moving. Again, eye lids, stretched way open.

After leaving the museum feeling like a czechspert on twentieth century history, I grabbed a bit of fresh air (physically and emotionally) and hiked around a local park. I say hike, because the entire park is on an uphill slope. I got to a good view, sat in the grass, and meditated on everything I love about freedom: My freedom to pursue my faith relentlessly and legally, Dave Matthews Band, reading any book I want to, singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at our Fayetteville High School Young Life clubs, not stopping believing, voting this November, writing music, college football rivalries, importing things from other countries, pursuing something just because I love it, and writing a travel blog without every post having to pass through a government-approved filter. The city in it’s current state is a wonderful czechsample of celebrating freedom and democracy. It just czechsemplifies how heavy the Soviet control was, and what a city can do when it’s finally able to breathe.

So I czech’d out of Prague and caught my overnight train from Prague to Cologne, Cologne to Brussels, Brussels to London, and London to Brighton. And in Brighton I celebrated my freedom by dancing, sweating and singing with Vintage Trouble in a hot, humid and hoppin’ sold out venue. Well worth the long, tiresome journey. The town of Brighton had a nice pebbly beach too. Good place to lie down and meditate on freedom.

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Prague was beautiful and a wonderful czechsperience.

The remaining time in my trip is ticking fast. I’m soaking in every minute I’ve got in London before I fly home on Sunday. It’s bittersweet. I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever experience a trip like this of such spontaneous freedom and indulgence in such an array of cultures. But I do miss Fayetteville. And Nellie. And American football. But I’ll save my sappy, sentimental post for my last one.

Fergie’s “London Bridge” is stuck in my head,

Carlyle

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Thank You Very Munch…en

Contrary to popular belief, there is more to Munich (Munchen) than beer and Nazis. And the people of Munchen are called Muncheners, not Munchkins.

Although beer and Nazis each played a role in my time in the Bavarian capital, I was able to develop a new appreciation for this new city with a lot of old history. I say “new” because 85% of Munich was obliterated by Ally forces in WWII. Nearly the entire city has been rebuilt over the past 70ish years, while keeping the traditional architecture of the pre-obliterated Munich.

My first full day in Munich I took a walking tour of the town, hitting a large chunk of the major historical highlights while receiving an entire brain’s worth of WWII history. I forgot my camera at the hostel – woops – so I just strolled and enjoyed my lens-free walk. My group’s guide was a professional sailor from Australia who’s sense of humor ran parallel with mine. For example, he mentioned a period of Munich’s history where they imported cats from Italy in order to eat mice, thus, starting to end the Bubonic Plague. He said “If you listen close, you can hear the cats say “Me-ow-a.” Like most jokes I like, I was one of the only ones embarassingly laughing a little harder than everyone else.

After the tour, a group of us had lunch at a local restaurant where I took the recommendation of the “crunchy schnitzel.” The schnitzel was the size of a frisbee and on the side I recieved a sack of potatoes worth of fries. Overall, the Bavarian diet seems to me like a recipe for heart disease. But I stuck to my routine of eating as locally as I could, and put it all down. (Photo credit goes to Patrick James.)

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After a nap that assisted in digestion of my frisbeeschitzel, I enjoyed some time in the bar area of my hostel with some a new German friend. He educated me on Bavarian Brew, and we spent the night talking about brew, a bit of politics, and a lot about the glory of the greatest 7ft. German ever, Dirk Nowtizki. Then a live band came on for about an hour before a fight between a two naked guys broke out that had to be broken up really awkwardly. I wish I was joking. #adayinthelifeofabackpacker.

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I don’t think I had ever been so engaged in learning history as I was on my second full day in Munich. Due to my walking tour the previous day, I developed a itch of interest about the rise of the Nazi party that had to be scratched. I took a lengthy tour that took my small group and I on an in depth walk around the city, describing the Hitler’s progressive rise to power and eventual dictatorship.

I was educated on humanity’s nature to react desperately to desperate circumstances. I remained silent for the majority of the tour because my heart felt like it was full of lead the entire time. I had no knowledge about the intricate depth of the Nazi party’s rise to power and the systematically inhumane process of convincing an entire nation to proudly support evil. And I was taken back that it happened less than a hundred years ago. And I was taken back even further upon learning the death tolls in other historical genocides.

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But what weighed on my heart more than the numbers around the genocides, was what I learned about the resistance efforts that took place. There were many, but one that really shook the floodgates behind my eyes was a group of college-aged medical students known as the “White Rose.” In short, they were a handful of students that learned of the Nazi’s schemes. They printed and distributed leaflets illegally and were eventually caught and executed. They were thought to be a part of a giant British Intelligence operation, when there were only six of them in total. Their last letter was smuggled to England, where it was then printed in bulk and dropped by the thousands out of Ally aircraft all over Germany.

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The city has done a great job in being transparent and acknowledging the past. Holes in the sides of buildings that used to hold Nazi propaganda signs are purposely filled with cement that is distinctly a differently color than the surrounding bricks. Bullet holes in government buildings are left untouched.

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After the tour I joined my guide and another couple to a local beer garden. Bavaria at it’s finest.

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On my third full day I visited the concentration camp memorial known as Dachau, a train and a bus ride outside of the Munich city limits. I forgot my camera again, but that doesn’t mean my mental images will ever fade. It nauseated me, which is the least of what I could have felt going into a place like that. I learned of the daily roll calls, the murder, the torture, and the deliberate, systematic psychological breakdown enforced on the victims by the Nazis. Each person’s humanity was stripped of them and replaced by a number and a symbol. I can’t really describe the unique feeling of heavy tension that was in my chest, so I’ll just leave it up to you to if you’d like to do your own research. To say the very least, I was moved.

I would consider myself patriotic. I love America, and no matter what your political beliefs, you should too. But my appreciation for the heroics of my country’s military were taken to a new level at Dachau. To learn about the Nazi Regime and the dehuminization of millions, and then see images of the Ally’s liberation efforts, would make the devil himself cry.

I capped my time in Munich with a tour of the four best beer gardens the city has to offer. I made some friends from all over the world and we shared many a’brew while I spent hours trying to distinguish the differences between Aussie, New Zealand and South African accents. To them it’s obvious. And they think the world “y’all” is hilarious. They also said they didn’t ride kangaroos to school, nor was Croc Wrestling a requirement for high school graduation. I was extremely disappointed.

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Munich, I think you’re pretty swell.

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Prague takes the cake now on the most beautiful big city I’ve ever been in, but you’ll have to wait for the next post to read all about it.

Ginormous pretzels, Bavarian brew and Ally heroics,

Carlyle

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Gimme More Gimmelwald

The United States may be my favorite country in the world, but Gimmelwald takes the cake as my favorite single place in the world.

Gimmelwald is a small farming village outside of the tourist hub of Interlaken. One simply takes a train to Interlaken, another train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, a bus from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg, and a cable car ascending a few thousand meters from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald.

On top of the cliff on which Gimmelwald sits, one feels as if Mount Jungfrau, the tallest mountain in Europe, is within arm’s reach. In reality, the mountain is a few miles across the valley.

Like many things in life, Gimmelwald is indescribable until experienced. For example, I can’t explain in a blog how I feel when my heart beats against my sternum violently from simply sitting outside of my hostel feeling small and swallowed by the enormity of Mother Nature around me. The sounds of Gimmelwald consist of the faint roaring of waterfalls from the surrounding snowmelt, the “cling-clang-clung” of the bells around the necks of the cows, and the repetitive swishing of the sickles from the locals gathering up hay from the steep hillsides. The tastes of Gimmelwald consist of local cheeses and meats sold from “The Cheese Lady,” a house/store down the street from the hostel. You don’t just walk into The Cheese Lady’s store. You ring the doorbell, and she invites you into her home.

Now, to an explanation of my time in Gimmelwald. I’m enlarging the size of the pictures more than I normally do for your Alpine viewing pleasure. Grab a napkin to catch your drool.

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Upon arrival at 3:30p.m. I quickly unpacked my things in order to squeeze in an afternoon hike. I took some advice and hiked to a point labeled “Bryndli” on my map. After this hike, I gotta be honest, I want to name my firstborn child Bryndli. With the fog that rolled in and the adrenaline that was rushing through me from the surrounding scenery, I felt like I was at the Machu Pichu of Europe.

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On the peak of Bryndli was an old iron cross and a wooden box with a notebook in it. Of course I signed it.

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The hostel had a great common room that I spent my evening in making conversation and gathering advice with other backpackers.

The following morning a group of new friends and I hiked up to a point known as Tanzenboden, or “the shark fin lookin’ thing up there” as the other hostelers called it. A few hours later, we reached the peak and spent some time doing my favorite activity Gimmelwald has to offer – sitting, breathing, and looking around.

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Later that afternoon, my cousin Laura Grace hopped off the cable car and joined me in land of milk, hiking and quiet beauty. She’s teaching English in Germany this coming year, and made the trip to come hang with her cuz for a few days. I gave her an exhaustive tour of the town for about 12 minutes, and later enjoyed some pizza for dinner. We eyed a plate of chocolate fondue behind us and asked the young women eating it if they recommended it. No less that five minutes later, the bartender walked up with a plate of fondue, courtesy of the ladies we were creeping on. They were nowhere to be found. What a way to make a backpacker’s day! If you know me well, you know when I eat something really good I close my eyes and kinda do this moan and groan thing. Yea, I did that.

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The following day we rented harnesses and dangled off of 700 ft. cliffs and tried not to soil our drawers. That’s a bad explanation. Laura Grace and I joined a group of friends on the “Via Ferrata,” a ropes course-esque trek from Gimmelwald’s neighbor, Murren, back to Gimmelwald that included hiking, walking on wires over canyons, and of course, dangling off of a 700 ft. cliff. I totally wasn’t scared (insert nose growth here).

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We took the evening slow, enjoyed some hearty Swiss macaroni at the neighboring restaurant, and the night with conversation with some new friends from Australia.

On our last full day, the cuz and I hiked so some nearby glaciers. They were beautiful, and so was storm that rolled in and torrentially down poured on us. It made for a fun experience, and we marched through it like champs.

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That evening we made a visit to “The Cheese Lady” (I do not believe that’s her birth name, but don’t quote me on it) and collected some local eggs, cheese and sausage that together made for the best omelette I’ve ever eaten. LG would agree.

Then later that evening my soul regrew it’s musical wings that have been flightless for a few weeks, and soared into a land of musical bliss. In other words, a young lady named Serenyah knew how to play piano and she and I spent the remainder of the evening in the hostel’s common room playing and singing Elton John, Jackson 5 and Adele until my heart’s musical withdrawals were finally fixed. LG was a champ and listened to us until she couldn’t stay awake any longer.

On our last morning, we took the cable car up to the Schilthorn, Europe’s second highest peak. We enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant on top of the mountain and sat next to a window as the restaurant spun slowly, giving us a 360 degree view of Switzerland.

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LG and I hopped on the train outta town, then I squeezed her neck hard at my stop to go to Munich and we said our goodbyes.

There is no place on the planet like Gimmelwald.

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I just finished my first full day in Munich. I love this place too. You’ll hear about it in my next post.

Peace, love, and The Cheese Lady,

Carlyle

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Cinque Chillin’

It took two days for my system to reboot in Lucca, but soon enough my Merrels were laced tight and I was ready to hit the road again.

Over breakfast at the hostel, I was joined by two females from Holland and Poland who I made some brief conversation with. Ms. Holland, being fond of spontaneity, decided in about two minutes to hop on the same train as me to the Cinque Terre. Ms. Poland chose to go the next day. I learned a bit of Dutch and we shared our favorite jokes, but the real fun began on board our second train.

Climbing on board, we noticed that 98% of the seats were occupied by boy and girl scouts sporting merit badges, duffel bags, and in the train we decided to take the standing room in, two beautiful acoustic guitars.

Brief aside: There are two things absent from me on this trip that I dream about daily. 1.) Nellie Hillner. 2.) My guitar. Continuing on…

I heard the sound of “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows sung with precious Italian accents and could remain stagnant no longer. I marched to the back of the railcar where the melodies radiated from and joined in the songfest. Our spontaneous setlist included an array of Disney favorites, House of the Rising Sun, Let It Be, tidbits from Mama Mia, Wonderwall, and Elton John’s Your Song. The scouts gave their salutes, and hopped off at some spot where they disappeared into the woods to go do who knows what. My itch for an acoustic sing-song session was finally itched and I felt like a new man. It was like a miniature Young Life Club. I’m sure the two Asian and British couples at the other end of the car would’ve tipped us had we had our guitar cases open.

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Then we arrived at the Cinque Terre, “The land of a billion dreams.”

The Cinque Terre (pronounced CHINK-weh TEH-ray) doesn’t actually have an official slogan, but if it did, it’d probably be the aforementioned quote. Cinque Terre directly translated means “Epitome of Picturesque.” That’s a lie, it means “Five Towns.” The five towns that stick to the mountainous coastline like beautifully painted barnacles are, in order of appearance from South to North, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.

Like the islands of Greece, the second hand on the clock just ticks slower in this unique collection of paradi (“paradise” pluralized). Along the coast, daily life constantly has the soft background music coming from the collision of waves against rocks. Outdoor seating far outweighs indoor, and in the morning and early evening one can look in shaded street corners and find groups of local elderly men meeting in the “usual spot,” sitting, watching the sun make its rise and descent, and conversing with one another as if the hoards of sunburned tourists around them didn’t exist. I remember what my bicycle guide, Encyclobike, said to me in Florence. He told me about the Italian’s emphasis on lifestyle. He said one of the things he’s noticed most about his time in Italy was the time many people intentionally designated out of their day to spend time with each other, usually outside, away from work or any other attention magnet. It’s beautiful.

I spent the late afternoon floating around in the Mediterranean off the rocky coast of Riomaggiore. I savored a slow dinner of Pesto Pasta, and hit the hay.

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My first full day in the area, I decided to make the hike that connects the towns to one another. It was no walk in the park. (That was a joke. The Cinque Terre is actually considered an Italian National Park. Just laugh.) What made it fairly difficult was that, because I had to split my nights up at different hostels, I had nowhere to store my pack which meant I carried it on me for the majority of the hike. Leg work out – check. The humidity was also unusually high, which meant that my sweat was up to par with Ted Striker from Airplane in the scene where he’s trying to land the aircraft. The hike was a blast and the views were stunning.

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That afternoon was filled with more swimming and some cheap dinner and drinks with some new friends from the hostel.

Full day number two in the land of a billion dreams was slow and peacefully exhilarating. Manarola was the only town not explored on the previous day’s hike, so I took the morning slow, caught the train to Manarola, and strolled around the back streets of pastel-colored hotels and apartments and found a few secluded overlooks reserved only for curious explorers. I got a snack of fried squid and shrimp and ended the afternoon watching daredevils cliff jump into Manarola’s natural swimming hole.

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That night I joined two female hostel mates from Ireland and Canada to a local restaurant raved about in my guidebook, Trattoria del Billy, and the restaurant surpassed the hype of the book by a few hundred lightyears. The daily special was a lobster pasta. When I asked if the lobster was fresh, the server brought a live lobster to the table saying “fresh enough?”

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The meal that followed was the best I’ve yet thus far on my trip. The oil and thick balsamic vinegar was the best my tongue has ever come into contact with. The sauce that glazed the noodles and the lobster was sensational, and the local wine washed everything down wonderfully. And of course, after hearing the word “tiramisu,” I succumbed to the waiter’s invitation and moaned in enjoyment of every bite.

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With three days to kill before my hostel reservation in Switzerland, I trained to Nice for a day and a half and soaked in a whole lotta rays on the popular pebbly beach in the south of France. I also strolled around the famous flower and fruit market of Nice and hiked around an old castle.

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Now time for another brief aside of comic relief. Feel free to skip this section. But if you want to laugh, continue reading. I stopped by a free modern art museum while in Nice and saw some interesting things. I assume no one reading this will get offended when I say that I don’t quite understand most “modern art.” It’s visually appealing, but very, very different from the art at, say, the Vatican Museums. I grabbed a free hand out that guided me through the museum hoping it would help me understand the three artists that the temporary exhibit highlighted. I began chuckling so uncontrollably I had to hide my face. Mind you, this is given to art laymen like myself and many other “average Joe” visitors. If you can understand this, please tell me what it means. Read slow. This is actually real:

“Linguistic polysemy and the slipperiness of meaning confer a ‘fundamentally ambiguous message’ onto these works, creating a potentiality, a new field of possibilities that appeals to our every sense and leads to a recreation, a poieses. The untranslatable work of art aspires to uncover the mystery of the world through travel, creative imagination, the universe of correspondances and poetry. The world of our three thaumaturgists works like a fiction, a mythology, in which they seem to create themselves in the manner of millennia-old forms from the natural world. Inhabited by animist philosphy subservient to ceremonial protocol, they are the manifestation of a (formal and intellectual) creation-in-process, in which the work of the hand disappears, as it does in a miraculous or holy image. The phenomena of apparition, emergence, formation, and birth allow for the momentary, instantaneous capturing of the world’s primordial energy…”

Now, some very exciting news. A band I’ve been fanatically enraptured by since March, Vintage Trouble, is touring in the UK in August. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me, and I searched online to find a ticket I was willing to pay anything for, and found nothing but dozens of “Sold Out” banners. Devastated, I emailed the band directly on their website and asked them about any opportunities to be put on a waiting list or buy a ticket from a third party. This is the response I got:

“Hi Carlyle,

Thanks so much for the kind words and support. We are heavily oversold for that date and normally couldn’t do this, but we still have a tiny few guest spots open. However, we do love the backpacking stateside spirit and so we have added your name to the guest list for Brighton. All you have to do is just show your ID at the door to get in.

All we ask is that you come ready to party, play the record loud, and spread the VT gospel with as many people as possible. :-)”

I thanked them, and rewrote my itinerary to be in Brighton, England on August 15th. Oh, the joy that live music brings to my spirit, whether it be on an Italian train with scouts of on stage with soulful rock band.

Ciao Italy. My two weeks with you were great. Hello Switzerland.

Carlyle

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Florence (Day Two) and Lethargy in Lucca

Whoever invented Tuscany was a genius. Whoever invented the bicycle was a genius too. The two together make for a pretty groovy combination.

On my second full day in Florence I took an all-day bike tour through the Chianti region of Tuscany, just outside the Florence city limits. It was the best bang for my buck, I mean, “yang for my Euro” that I had spent thus far on this trip.

My group, consisting of about 7 others and myself, was lead by Australian guide who was a Chianti Classico encyclopedia on wheels (“Encyclobike” for short). Chianti Classico is the wine that is made in the region that we biked through, and as we pedaled up, down, and around Tuscany’s hills we made pit stops in our day-long crash course in the production of Chianti Classico. It was gorgeous and the clouds were gracious enough stand guard in front of the sun most of the day, leaving us with temperatures hovering between 75 and 85 for our entire ride.

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An Italian villa from the 16th century marked our halfway point where we sat down to a three course italian meal where our guide insisted that we drizzle everything we eat in the villa’s fresh-pressed olive oil. Comparing the olive oil I consumed at the villa to my usual go-to brand in the States is like comparing a live broadway musical to it’s recorded album. It’s miles, I mean, kilometers (It’s all metric system over here, gets me every time) beyond anything on the shelves in Arkansas. We also got to try two different types of wine that the villa makes on site, with mid-sip descriptions from our handy Encyclobike.

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Encyclobike then lead us on a very informative tour of the winery, walking us through the different rooms that make up the simple yet precise and difficult process of making world-class vino.

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After the tour, we forced our full-bellied selves back on our bikes and cruised through the mostly-downhill route back to our home base, but not without stopping for a cup of authentic Italian gelato at some local holeinthewall place.

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Upon arrival back at my swankified hostel, I met two new friends from Cali who I joined for dinner later that evening at a restaurant famous in the Aguren household, “Acqua al 2.” My body said “no,” but my mind said “yes” to the balsamic steak. My sister had gotten the same thing a few years ago at the same restaurant, and the heavenly balsamic glaze continues to be a topic of conversation among the foodie Aguren family. Honestly, more than once have we eaten something with any top of fancy sauce on it, and the conversation was as follows:
“Wow, this sauce is to die for.”
“Yea, looks like it. But remember that one in Florence?”
“Of course! I mean, this one’s good, but that one in Florence…”
“Yea, unbeatable.”
“But I mean, yea, this one’s good too. But that one in Florence…”
“Unbeatable.”

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So I ate the steak that my usually meat-free stomach hated me for, but you better believe I slurped that balsamic sauce like it was from the fountain of youth. I’m convinced that that magical concoction was stirred and sizzled by the angels of Heaven (Gabriel is the Head Chef. Michael is his Sous-Chef) and drizzled onto my plate as it was being delivered to my table.

You reading this: “Did Carlyle really just spend, like, two paragraphs describing, of all things, a sauce?”
Answer: “Yes.”

After dinner we hunted for an infamous gelato joint raved about in our Let’s Go books. We found the place, tucked into a small, dimly-lit street, with a line curling out of the door. And thus, the age-old debate between who had the best gelato – Rome or Florence – was decided. Hey Rome, you’re still great. Keep your chin up.

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The next morning I caught my train for Lucca. I arrived at my hostel, joined my new friend from Perth , Mark, on a walk to the local grocery store and spent the evening munching at a park bench and watching the sun set behind the city’s medieval walls.

Then I woke up and felt bad. Real bad. I tried to walk around town, but didn’t have the energy. To be honest, I was pretty miserable. I had caught some Italian bug that was eating away at my energy levels and immune system.

So I did what I could to sleep it off, and it took two full days and 27 hours of sleep for my body to reboot and flush the bug out of me. I alternated between sleeping in my room and napping a few of the many parks along Lucca’s beautiful walls. On a good note, I was able to spend a lot of time in my new book about St. Francis of Assisi and in my subscription to World Magazine.

I’d love to go back to Lucca one day and really experience the town. I would consider it to be the Fayetteville of Italy. The town loved their art, and had large sculptures made by local artists in nearly every piazza in town. There was also plenty of live music throughout the entire day, and events at night throughout the week that celebrated how much the local population loved their town.

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So I don’t end on a note of nausea, I’ll give you a brief glimpse into my next blog post. It will consist of singing “House of the Rising Sun” with a group of Italian girl scouts. Badda-bing-badda-boom.

Next post: Chillin’ in the Cinque Terre

Alive and well, back on my feet and traveling,

Carlyle

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A-see-si and Florence (Day One)

I’m convinced that in my bloodstream now flows some sort of concoction of olive oil, mozzarella, chunky marinara and chianti. I’m, as they say, “eating my way” through Italy.

After Rome, I was drained of energy to the point of mild sickness. I was in need of a designated day of rest (if you’ve been reading my past blogs, I needed to be “Greek’d”).

So I pulled into Assisi Saturday afternoon, and as I was flipping through the pages of my guidebook for an accommodation on the bus ride up in elevation to the mountainside destination, and I was recommended by a young lady in the seat across from me to check out the hotel where she had been staying. I took her advice, followed her from the bus stop through the town square, down an alley and into a gateway swimming in flowers and ancient medieval stones that led to the five rooms that this house/hotel consisted of. The middle-aged Assisian woman who owned house/hotel greeted me speaking 100mph in Italian, and showed me to my room. She continued spatting off information to me in Italian, and after repeated “I do not have a clue what you are saying to me” gestures, I just stuck to smiling and nodding whenever she’d point to stuff and talk. I gazed in awe of my view of Tuscany’s rolling hills outside my window, and left for a mild introductory stroll.

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I enjoyed dinner on the edge of the mountainside as the sun set in the distance and the pasta and wine set in my stomach.

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Like I said, I needed rest, so I didn’t set an alarm and slept for 11 hours. My day consisted of sitting in a cafe, strolling, sitting, blogging, and sitting on a park bench reading my new book on St. Francis. I punningly call it A-see-si because that’s about all I did. Sit there, and look at it. It’s prettier than most things on Earth. Except for Nellie.

I felt like a new man and boarded my train for Florence. But not before a brief conversation on the bus with a traveling Scottish couple, who, upon hearing that I was backpacking and going to work for a Christian non-profit in the Fall, sought me out half an hour later in the train station to hand me twenty bucks and tell me that my dinner that night was on them. #payitforward.

I arrived in Firenze and almost dirtied my drawers when I walked into my accommodation for the next three nights as I wiped my eyes in disbelief at the most swankified youth hostel I’d seen/head of yet. Like, totes.

I made friends with two Swissmen and two Cali-gals (Well, one of the girls is Californian/Swiss, long story) and spent the slightly overcast day with them on some free walking tours through the Renaissance capital of the world.

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And I ended my day with a meal. ‘Twas no ordinary meal. I’ll never again forget my camera when I go out to eat. Ever again. It was one of those meals so good, you just wanna slap ya mama (I do love you, mom, it was just that good). I wish I could post pictures so you could see, but… what? What is that you ask? You’d like to hear all about it… in poem? Well gawlee, that seems a little odd, but if you insist:

*Eh Ehm*
‘Twas a Monday in Florence
and all throughout town
not a soul was unjoyful
not a bicker, nor frown.
With a belly a’growl
and no time to waste
I surf-ed the net
to find a fix for my taste.
I found a neat place
unbeknownst to the masses
where the air’s filled with melodies
of the clinks of wine glasses.
I strolled down the street,
took a seat, and said “Question:
I’d like to hear what
is your finest suggestion.”
The waitress said “Pasta wiff bazil
ees are finest meal”
And I said “Add chianti and Bruschetta
and we’ll call it a deal.”
Observing the legs
of my chianti, so slowly
then was brought my bruschetta
’twas so good, ’twas near holy.
Had a balsamic glaze
on the top, ’twas a drizzle
made me ‘t’want to stand up
and exclaim “for shizzle!”
I received my main course
and my senses ran rampant.
After licking my fingers,
with approval, I stamped it.
I gave thanks for Wayne and Susan
who taught me fine dining
as I strolled back to my room
with a taut stomach lining.
Whilst I’m in Europe
for cheap food, I’ve abhorrence.
I bid farewell with “When in Rome”
even though I’m in Florence.

Carlyle

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