nonchalant bomb discoveries

Our return to Utrecht served as reordering period. It was a chance to take a few deep breaths, stock up on supplies while still in the Eurozone (we did the same before departing Czech Republic, because then we considered the euro really expensive. Ah, relativity!), and in general to just chill.

Christy and I worked some in Ruthie’s garden, then we (minus Valerie) went to the canal for a swim. We shared our swimming spot with large boat traffic, which made for fun waves. There were several cycles of swimming in the cold water, then drying in the warm sun before we returned to make dinner – a barbecue! We had grilled zucchini and goat cheese wraps, of course Swiss mushrooms, and Swiss grilled chocolate bananas, but this time with peanut butter. Because Holland believes in peanut butter. Cheap and natural peanut butter. You go, Holland! There were some difficulties actually starting the grill, but in the end Ruthie prevailed.

We also successfully dumpster dived. We brought in an impressive haul of quality, non-spoiled fruit and veg. Which the Ruthie and Christy then turned into a delicious meal. You may consider this gross, but I say what is free, delicious, and unspoiled is a-okay.

Christy decided to stay an extra day and meet up with Valerie and me in Hamburg. So Valerie and I set off alone. We went to an official hitchhiking location (to our delight), marked with a sign and everything. Again, you go Holland! We got a lift within minutes. At one point in the day another hitchhiker showed up at our low-traffic location. He acquired a ride before us, but his driver offered to let us join, since we were heading the same direction. We were dropped by this lift at a petrol station in heavyish rain. Upon arrival a group of three other hitchers sought cover. Our competition wasn’t a problem. We got a ride with a bright yellow and bright green car, both pulling caravans (one with an orange stripe – we still can’t decide if this counts as hitching an orange vehicle). Our drivers were Polish, and despite being in different cars, we really enjoyed the lift. Before the Polish guys departed we acquired a ride all the way to Hamburg. The barefoot and turquoise clad woman had to think about it when we asked, which I really respected. Usually people either say ‘no’ without consideration, or feel obligated to say ‘yes’. She said we could ride with her. But she warned us that she had a cold, as well as back issues which forced her to dance while she drove, and did we mind this? We didn’t.

So we arrived in Hamburg at a reasonable hour. Our hosts, Sarah and Sebastian, were in the midst of moving. I don’t know about their previous flat, but the one they were settling into was on the top (fifth) floor. Not a fun move. After hefting our own packs up the very long and winding stairs, Valerie and I helped them carry the last remains of their belongings. After which we all stayed up and talked far longer than anyone who had a day as long and tiring as any of ours had been should stay up and talk. But it was good conversation in good company.

The next morning commenced early with construction noises. They had never been there on a weekday morning, and this came as a surprise.  Since they both had work, Valerie and I showed ourselves around the town. We saw the harbor, walked through a tunnel beneath the river, attempted to find the pepper storehouses (but only succeeded in getting rained on),  located an infamous Starbucks and utilized their wi-fi, and made a final stop at old faithful: Lidl. I was craving creamy salmon pasta, so that’s what we made.

All this time Christy was meant to be making her way to join us, but she was unsuccessful in her venture, and returned instead to Utrecht.

the map room

my equilibrium feels jostled. my lungs expand and contract heavily. my cheeks betray tears through a wet smear that won’t sink in. the world is feeling too large to comprehend. I combat – or retreat. beneath a table, in a room soaked in warm light. my belly and my spine gently cradled between solid objects. an attempt to make smaller my perception of the world, until it becomes a more manageable size. leaking and pooling and seeping into the blue, blue beneath my tender face – my tears expel the disconcertedness of my being. echoes in hollowed form. and then, and then my spirit can rise again – can fill again the halls of my newly uncluttered mind, body, self.

un jour, une semaine, ______, un an

Leaving for Paris was daunting. Would we make it? We weren’t entirely confident that we would (at least not in one day), but sure enough we acquired ride after ride that brought us there. The last was for a several hour stretch directly to Paris. Christy wasn’t feeling so hot that day, so she pretended she didn’t speak French. Which turned out quite fine. The man was driving a work van, so only two of us fit up front, and the third was sentenced to isolation in the back amidst all sorts of tools and things. I took my turn first. It was quite pleasant – I spent my time reading and eating chocolate. Oh, and I had my own private dance party. That was definitely a first for me. But soon enough we made a stop, and Christy switched places with me.

This was an important thing, I think, as it prompted my first ever French conversation. Our driver did not speak English, and at first we didn’t really communicate at all. I think it was Valerie’s typical slow and gesture-riddled questions that started my attempt at interaction with him. I knew enough to sort of translate, so it worked out okay. But then he started asking questions too, and so I was forced to actually speak. I’ve decided that hitchhiking for long distances is one of the best way to learn a language. It’s not like either of us had anything better to do, so he was very patient and would wait sometimes as long as two minutes for me to think of a way to say what I wanted to. He was a good sport, and I can actually hold a conversation better than I would have expected. It was really fun! And it lifted my several-year-long feeling that I would never actually be able to learn a language. Score! And I managed to deduce that his flat was only ten minutes from our ultimate destination, so he dropped us right at our doorstep.

Edward, our host, was not present when we arrived. But, to Valerie’s dismay, his six snakes were very present. In my defense: when I initially started arranging CS hosts, I forwarded every invitation to the other two birthrighters, and Valerie said ‘it doesn’t matter to me – I’m fine with staying with whomever.’ Essentially. She never expressed an issue with staying in a place with snakes. But anyways, it was a bit of an issue. Which she sucked up and got through admirably.

Edward (actually not French, but British) is a crossfitter, and reminded me constantly of my dad. They would get along so well by sharing time being miserable and then consuming large quantities of protein. Anyways, he was full of different and interesting opinions on life, and I enjoyed hearing about them. Another couchsurfer was there as well, Aiste from Lithuania. We didn’t spend very much time with either of them, but I enjoyed their company during the time we were together.

Of course, day one featured the free walking tour. It was enjoyable, but nothing spectacular. I was more excited about my book purchase from Shakespeare and Company – a splendid secondhand English book shop. Other moments in Paris included sandwiches beneath the Eiffel Tower, a day exploring Montmartre, a quiet evening alongside the Seine, and my personal favorite: The Dark Knight Rises and truffle cream pizza. Paris far and away took the prize for best pizza in my book.

We were kind of nervous about hitchhiking out, as Paris is known for being tricky to escape via thumb, and Christy has had issues with such previously. So I posted on the CS Paris group, and actually received a reply. Within a matter of hours we arranged to go straight from Paris to Utrecht with a couple. We each had to contribute €22 for tolls and gas, but I was okay with this, as we had been planning on alternatively taking a train to Lille for €20, and not even getting to our destination.

Just before leaving we were informed by a kind fellow CSer that our ride was rather a sketchy fellow. Upon checking his CS profile we determined that yes, he was indeed sketchy. So we debated about whether or not to go, with input from Edward and Aiste. None of us were thrilled with the prospect, but overall we felt that it would all turn out okay. There were three of us, we knew what we were getting into, and we could always say no if we felt uncomfortable upon meeting our ride. So we set off.

Upon meeting we did decide to go through with it, and it ended up a fair decision. It was a mostly quiet and not uncomfortable ride, albeit with two suspicious stops. We decided not to ask questions, and that too, I think was a decision well made. If I were to go back in time (without the benefit of hindsight) I might not have decided to go – but that said, I’m glad we did.

Utrecht greeted us sleepily at 3am. Sweet Ruthie was waiting for us, and we gratefully piled into her new home.

in miniature at such great heights

The birthrighters made it to France with the help of a Swiss, Italian, Croatian, a few French, and the Swiss police.

Oh yes, we had another encounter with the authorities.

Fortunately for us, the Swiss police are much kinder than the German police. They spoke kindly, and even drove us many kilometers to a better hitching location. Unfortunately they didn’t share with us their abundance of sandwiches that I spotted tucked away in the front seat.

But we made it to Paul and Karan’s! Right to their doorstep, and it felt like home. For those of you who are unaware, Christy and I stayed with Paul and Karan on our first venture out of the States, we consider them to be our bonus family.

Since we arrived with daylight to spare (how novel!), Karan took us for a walk down at the lake in Pontcharra. Then, then it was time for pizza movie night. A wonderful, great, splendid tradition. One which I was glad to re-experience. So much so, that we had two pizza movie nights during our stay.

We went mountain climbing the following day. That’s right. We took a lift up the mountain, and then, well, not so much climbing as hiking. (We don’t have mountains in Florida, so you’ll have to forgive my flawed/nonexistent knowledge of mountain-related things.) Initially it was pretty easy, but once we chose to take the second path, then it got difficult. After some slipping and climbing and hiking, we felt pretty accomplished, but we weren’t at the top. Christy and Valerie decided they were satisfied with their achievement and decided to wait for us there (due mostly to inappropriate footwear, I think). This is the part where I point out that Paul and Karan are grandparents, and Karan has had multiple knee surgeries. So, needless to say, I was pretty impressed. We pressed on, and the terrain became more and more difficult, but finally, finally we were almost to the top!

But no.

It just appeared to be the top.

Actually, it was just hiding the next stretch of mountain. “Well, we made it this far”, Paul said. So we continued. It looked tough, but in fact was slightly easier. It wasn’t too long until we made it to the top.

But oh no, no.

Again, the mountain was merely hiding a whole other level of mountain. “I really wanted to make it to the top!”, said Karan. So we pressed on. It was even a bit easier now. “Wouldn’t it be funny,” I asked, “if it happened again?”

It was only a little bit funny.

But this time we were certain that it would be the last rise. And if not, we would just pretend. This climb was really easy. And indeed, it led to the very top. Our climb produced a really breathtaking (for beautiful and terrifying reasons) view. It was well worth the work. At the top we sat down and had lollipops for our reward. Well, I suppose the real reward was spending a long while admiring the spectacular forms, colors, and depths surrounding us. But the lollipops were cool too…

Getting back down was a different challenge. Karan managed mostly by sliding. I made my way in slow and careful steps. But we made it.

Before returning home we stopped to see their son Stephen and his wife Elodie. The last time I saw him, we were both about to start university. Between then and now, I attended university, moved three times, dropped out of university, spent several months in Spain and Ireland, and a slew of other things I consider important in my life. And he had graduated from university and gotten married. It definitely provoked a lot of thought. Time is eerie. Anyways, we all got ice cream, which is always a great decision.

The next day was sore and lazy, but still happily pleasant. We weren’t exactly thrilled to leave Paul and Karan’s. But fortunately for the rest of our trip, they too, were leaving.

of decisions made in color

It was wonderful hanging out with Vivien again. Her and her flatmate Stephy are so cute, and their flat is a magical symphony of plants and pictures and objects. It was Stephy’s birthday, so we went to her father’s place for a barbecue – the first of many in Switzerland. Stephy’s father was adorable too. He reminded me of a grown up version of the kid in Love Actually, and was very kind, and very concerned about the three of us birthrighters eating enough food.

Our first day we meandered about Lucerne, which is as gorgeous as Valerie had claimed. Elegant, stone building-lined streets amid oceans of sparkling lakes, all tucked into a mountain landscape. I really liked it. Later we met up with Viv and set off for Swiss pizza. Upon arrival at the restaurant recommended by Stephy, we were informed by the waiter that they didn’t have enough pizzas for us. I’m not really sure how that works out, but we found a different place and checked Switzerland off of our pizza/country list.

The next day was pretty lazy. We sat and talked in procrastination of actual productivity. Then we walked to a park, laid in the grass and talked some more. Our second Swiss barbecue took place that evening. We were introduced to garlic and herb cheese-stuffed mushrooms as well as grilled bananas – two foods that will forever remind me of Switzerland.

We left then, for Bern. But it wasn’t so sad, because we convinced Viv to join us! She and I formed a hitchhiking team (just like old times), and Christy and Valerie formed a team. Within five minutes Viv and I were on our way with a ride straight to Bern. Upon arrival we set off in no particular direction. While waiting to hear from the other two we saw the entire city, had iced chai tea lattes and a pastry, visited an earthy-mystical-hippie shop, had panache overlooking a river…and then they texted. Apparently they had been berated by an old woman, had rocks thrown at them by lewd boys, and been invaded by other hitchhikers. Their day was not going so well as ours. Basically they never arrived.

I miraculously met up with our CS host, Emmanuele. Like Agnieszka in Warsaw, he managed to recognize me despite my lack of two heavily backpacked co-travelers. Viv said goodbye and headed back home to Lucerne. It wasn’t till after we had purchased dinner materials and arrived at his place that I knew for sure that the other two wouldn’t be coming. It felt really weird. This, my first night away from them since mid-May. The room I would be occupying suddenly felt huge and strangely empty. I think being around them had subconsciously become habit. Weird.

But anyways, I had a really nice evening. Emanuele was from Italy, and I learned a lot about Italian culture during my few days in the capitol of Switzerland. A friend of Emanuele’s (also Italian) and his not-especially-English-speaking sister joined us for dinner. Another barbecue. More garlic and herb cheese stuffed mushrooms and more grilled chocolate bananas. It was a fun night, and it made me really want to visit Italy. So much for being ready to settle down for a bit when I return to the States. And for my next trip being to Asia.

Without getting verbose, Christy and Valerie got a ride with the same guy who took Viv and I the day before. It worked out well. While they explored the city, I spent my afternoon in a park with my bread/cheese/tomato specialty and Swiss chocolate. Despite having several invitations that evening from friends of Emanuele, we birthrighters decided to have a quiet evening to ourselves. We decided too, to stay an extra day. Christy and I planned to visit a nearby chocolate factory where, at the end of the tour, you can sample as much chocolate as you like. Seriously.

Again, sans unnecessary detail (and misery), we tried hitching to the chocolate factory and failed. Oh, and I ate cereal with worms in it that morning. So it wasn’t too awful to miss all-you-can-eat-chocolate, seeing as my stomach pretty certainly would have daintily deposited it into the nearest toilet/trash can. Anyways, it wasn’t my favorite day ever. But we did end the day with another barbecue. Swiss barbecue number four. With my two favorite grilled items, you should know them by now. Also Emanuele made pasta carbonara for us, which is pasta with raw egg and [cooked] bacon sauce. It was delicious. Everything made by Emanuele was really good. I really enjoyed staying with him. Not just for the food, but mainly for his company. It’s funny, you expect to stay with locals while traveling, but instead we tend to find fellow foreigners welcoming us into their homes.

account of a solitude

when ends the constant motion
and forgets persistent forms
at desperation lingers hope
where leave brings grateful storms
on mountains etched in black ink
through teacups of time passed
from memories paved in magic
so caught in rainbowed glass
as worlds drift past each keyhole
for those wonders of the still
if steps form on a pathway
or nature claims its fill
by weightless contemplations
with sleep a heavy stack
a tangle of frayed endings
all come winding back
of creatures formed by shadow
to exist because the sun
in tings and notes of solitude
the chaos falls undone

the chaos falls undone

Our host in Überlingen was an American. Fancy that. On Saturday Jeremy took us to the market, where we were treated to the most delicious antipasto sandwiches. Seriously. Per usual, it was excessively sunny, so we spent most of the day at the magnificent lake. In the evening we had a curry dinner with a bunch of Jeremy’s colleagues. It was a good day. On Sunday we decided to hitch for the day to Constance. A co-worker of Jeremy’s, also a fellow American, named Jess joined us. Yes, four girls hitching. We made it there pretty easily, but we had started late, do we didn’t actually get much time in Constance. We had dinner, and then thought to try hitching a boat back. Well, 7pm is a pretty lame time for trying to hitch a boat, so needless to say we were unsuccessful. We did manage a car ride all the way to Überlingen though, so that was nice. We headed out on Monday, and Jeremy made egg rolls for our journey!

It is honestly a miracle that we made it to Kandern. We were dropped by one man on the side of the almost-highway. A car stopped for us, but only to threaten us with calling the police. We brushed him off – the police had already passed and given us no problem. Well, fifteen minutes later a shiny, flashing lights patrol car stopped just ahead of us. Not that I’m anti-police, as my father was among the enforcers of law, but these guys were jerks. The man asked if I spoke German, and when I replied ‘no’, he angrily asked ‘Why?’. Perhaps because if one was required to master the language of a country before visiting, they’d spend their lives learning languages and going nowhere. Anyways, I am grateful that they didn’t fine us (technically I think our hitching spot wasn’t illegal, as we weren’t on the autobahn). They took us to a ‘better location’. Despite the inconvenience of being scolded by the authorities, I feel a little bit cool for acquiring a ride in a foreign cop car.

Later we were dropped in a city center by a well-meaning, but not hitching-savvy lift. City centers are the black holes of hitchhiking. You get sucked in with no way out. So we reserved ourselves to our unfortunate fate of being trapped until the following day. But solitary freedom was so close! We didn’t give up, and the pedestrians of Freiberg proved really friendly and full of hitchhiking advice. Sadly for us, each new person contradicted the last. We moved round and round a triangle section of street, all to no avail. Finally we ended up at a traffic light looking hopefully at each car with our sign. About three green lights in, a long haired man with rock music wafting from his car stopped and asked if we were going to Basel. That was exactly where we were going. As we jumped in quickly (we’re getting really good at that – bags and all), I informed him he was my favorite person ever. That’s a slight hyperbole, but he was my favorite person I’d seen that day.

Until I met our next lift. We weren’t exactly going to Basel. That too was a hyperbole. We were actually going to a tiny town in Germany that was on the way. We were dropped at the autobahn exit, precisely fourteen kilometers away from our destination. Fourteen kilometers, we figured, was walkable. But a bit miserably so. We decided to try a walk-and-hitch. But before we started walking a car stopped for us. ‘Kandern‘? He asked. It’s way out in the country and we’d never make it, he insisted. So he drove us, I suspect fourteen kilometers out of his way, all the way to our destination.

Then commenced a wonderful few days of birthrighter solitude. Courtesy of our friends Scott and Cammy, who happened to be back in the States at the time. I’m not entirely sure how the other two spent their time. I did a lot of reading to the calm sounds of Brian Eno, sitting outside just absorbing the silence, stretching, and being blissfully unproductive and unsociable. It was great. Oh, though Christy and I did go on a tour of Black Forest Academy, the reason for Scott and Cammy’s presence in Kandern. That was really cool – I was impressed with it. Our last night we had waffles. Oatmeal and chocolate chip waffles. Aka my favorite food. Good times. We were all sad to leave, but the next stop was Lucerne, Switzerland – Valerie’s favorite city, and home of my friend Viv, whom I met while Wwoofing in Ireland, and incidentally who introduced me to hitchhiking.

That day of hitching proved epic. We walked across the German/Swiss border and we hitched a caravan! A caravan! Score, score, score! And so Switzerland became the land of magic.