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Eurotrip Tips for the Young Backpacker: Planning Your Itinerary [Step 1]

Tower Bridge, London, England

So in a past blog, I went into crazy depth about WHY you need to travel, so on and so forth and if you didn’t read it, you can check it out here unless you’re already convinced that it’s time to travel:

https://onlymyinterpretations.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/why-you-should-travelbackpack-while-youre-young-misconceptions-how-to-start/

But anyway, moving on, first things first, congratulations on making the decision that YOU want to travel! Specifically for this series “Eurotrip Tips for the Young Backer”, it will revolve around Europe so if this is a possibility for you, do stick around!

Now, where to begin?

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Planning is something that was an extremely crucial asset to my backpacking trip. I may have actually gone overboard. But my philosophy is, it’s better to take the time and inconvenience out of your comfort at home to ensure a safe, organized, and efficient trip rather than be panicking, lost, and in a frenzy in foreign grounds. Like I’ve said before, I met people that actually didn’t plan period and laughed at me and my stuffed folder of receipts and Google Map directions, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is advice, take it or leave it.

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Now, let’s get started! First things first, before all, you should consider:

Step 1: Are you Traveling Alone or with Friends?

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The reason why I’m putting this out there as number one is because if you’re traveling with friends, you guys should be planning this TOGETHER so everyone has awareness of the itinerary and the weight of the trip isn’t entirely placed on you. The last thing you want is your trip to be spoiled because you end up having to play Mom or Dad for a friend that consistently depends on you or worse, completely conflicts with you. Make sure everyone is on the same page with finances, make sure everyone is communicating, make sure you address this at HOME and are not finding this out at the Eiffel Tower when Bobby needs you to spot him extra Euros for hostels and food for the rest of the trip. Let’s move on.

Step 2: Figure out your Total Budget

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Okay now that we have an idea of whether you’re alone or with company, it’s time plan your budget like you learned in high school Econ class…or maybe you didn’t because your high school Econ teacher was the football coach that hopped on the job last minute and let everyone party the whole time instead of doing his job. No worries, I’m here for you!

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So! Grab a pen and paper or open a Microsoft Word document. Whatever you prefer. Figure out how much money you have right now that can be used for this trip. All the fundraising, work savings, maybe graduation gift money for you recent grads, yeah all of that, combine it into one number and physically write it out. The grand total you create is your base budget. This will cover EVERYTHING from the plane ticket over and back, transportation within the countries, hostels and hotels, and don’t forget FOOD, LOCAL TRANSPORTATION, AND RECREATION. And this is the point where if you feel like you need to back out and save up a little bit more, that’s fine. It’s better to realize this now then when you’re out of luck scrounging for food and shelter in the streets of Venice.

Personally, I find that writing everything out always helps me to visualize and make sense of all the possibilities that can happen instead of letting everything infinitely get out of control in my mind. I admit, my method is a little too scrupulous and overwhelming so my best recommendation for you when planning this trip is at least make sure that you’re keeping an eye and record on your total budget. Make sure your deducting prices appropriately and accurately from the total budget while planning to ensure that you’re not overspending your limit. Grab a calculator if you have to.

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Plan out hypothetical possibilities in terms of destination-wise and financial-wise. If you see a good deal on airfare, transportation, or sleeping accommodations, bookmark it, save it, and write it down.

Unless your traveling for over a month, you want to be absolutely SURE that this trip is finalized from start to finish before booking ANYTHING. Once again, I feel the looks of skepticism from my wanderlust explorers that just hop on a plane and follow the wind, but seriously, I’m just here to ensure as much efficiency and safety as possible. If you want to experience this adventure free of planning, save yourself the read, good luck, and above all, please be safe.

But if you still could use some advice, I’m here for you. Trust me, it’ll be a headache. Grab the Advil. Suck it up. Let’s do this.

Step 3: The Actual Planning of the Euro Trip

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So we have a base total to work with. Cool. Now comes the extremely tedious part, which is the actual planning. Don’t get discouraged, stay with me. You’ll be fine. You might pull your hair out, but trust me, it’ll all be worth the discomfort now versus in the latter. Whatever you do, you’ve come this far, don’t you dare stop and say you can’t do this, it’s too overwhelming. Trust yourself. Stick with the program buddy.

And before I forget or if you get tired of reading this blog, if there’s one thing I want you to do is KEEP A FOLDER OF YOUR RECEIPTS. Now. Get a folder. Save the receipts. Keep track of your finances. Okay got that out of the way. Let’s get to it.

Key points to consider:

1. How long are you planning on staying?

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Time. Consider time. Did you just take vacation time off of work? Maybe it’s your break from school. Are you seriously planning on catching a red-eye and going to work or class the next day straight off the plane? Class maybe it’s okay to skip, but a professional job, you may want to consider flying in a day or two earlier to recuperate, just a suggestion.

Whatever the case is, figure out your desired and eligible trip length. Is it one week? Two? Three? A month? Six months? Depending on the amount of time you have depends on the possibilities and extent of your trip. For an example, I’ll give my recommendation of how I’d plan a trip depending on these time lengths.

One week = 2-3 cities

Two weeks = 4 cities

Three weeks = 5-7 cities

One month = 7-10 cities

Six months = It’s seriously on you at this point. Good luck and kudos to you.

I give this recommendation because I felt like the most common complaint I heard from other backpackers was:

“We literally just rushed through this city to that city and we didn’t get to enjoy anything, in fact, we’re just really exhausted now.”

With this allotted time frame, I can ensure that you’ll be able to enjoy your time in each city and country and truly take in what each place has to offer. Unless you prefer the thrill of hopping from each city to city without stopping by to smell the roses, by all means, I’m not saying this is “The Universal Backpacker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, so if you feel like you can cover more ground with the risk of missing out on staples of each city, by all means do it. This is just a baseline and a recommendation.

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Also keep in mind jet lag will play a toll in your itinerary the first few days, while your mind and body will begin breaking down on the last few days. Definitely put that into consideration.

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Another point to bring to your attention. Some places like in Paris, almost all the shops are closed on Sundays. This is crucial when planning around weekends.

2. Research your destination

Airport delay

No I’m not trying to be your History teacher, but seriously. Do some research before heading over. Is there a political rebellion, war, or strike happening in the country you want to go to? Maybe it’s better you save this destination for another time for the sake of your safety and the possibility of getting stuck here due to blocked roads or military reinforcement at the airports. Don’t be ignorant, educate yourself, and if you’re willing to accept the consequences entitled with walking through foreign conflict, be safe.

3. Inbound and Outbound Airfare

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This will truly dictate the outcome of your trip in my opinion. If you’re only going for 2 weeks and you’re flying in to Dublin, it’s gonna be tricky to squeeze in Istanbul, Venice, and Budapest. Likewise if you’re flying into Venice with 2 weeks to spare, it’ll be tricky to traverse to London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. But, this is advice, if you’re up to it, go for it! All I’m saying is, if you have limited time, it’d be wise to knock out cities regionally. For an example, combining Western Europe and UK or Eastern Europe with certain areas of Western Europe. If you have more than 3 weeks to spare, don’t even worry about the regional organizing, you’ll be fine.

The actual cost of the airfare is going to be the first and possibly heaviest strike on your grand budget unless you or a relative works for an airline then kudos to you. But if you’re like me, it’s up to you to find the best deal on airfare.

– Consider the seasons

Is it peak season? Is it off season? If you don’t know what this means, read this article:

http://traveltips.usatoday.com/cheapest-time-year-airline-travel-35436.html

– One Way Tickets

I thought this was obvious, but I felt like it needed to be said. One-Way tickets are sometimes a lot cheaper than round trip tickets and honestly, a round trip ticket can restrict your movement since you’ll need to relay all the way back to the city you came in from. Keep this in mind when planning your trip. One-Way ticket in to let’s say Paris. One-Way ticket out from let’s say Rome. In that aspect, you won’t have to worry that night in Rome that you have to traverse all the way back to Paris.

– Buy tickets through travel agencies

Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity are a few of the mainstream one’s that come to mind; however if you’re between the ages of 18-26, I can vouch for Sta Travel. They provided me an unbeatable airfare during peak season. Seriously do your best to find out every possibility of searching cities inbound and outbound thoroughly. It’s super tedious. But I would literally sit at my computer for a few hours changing the flight dates, inbound city, outbound city, and through different travel agencies just to find the best deal. And it paid off. It really did. I found a deal through Sta Travel that was exclusively incomparable to anybody else after patience and persistence. It’s very time consuming, it’s very tedious, but it can help shave off a lot of money if you strike gold.

http://www.statravel.com/home.htm?wt.srch=1&wt.mc_id=PPC%20Google%20Brand%20RLSA&gclid=CjwKEAjwwtOsBRDdjZTbvYvTlzcSJADOY0DRlOOklyM9X5AJLl19dz-pDOr7xy12yIJMc8aGf5I3SRoChq_w_wcB

– Research your airlines and understand their rules and regulations

Like I always say, do your research. Seriously. Certain airlines like American Airlines or Ryan Air in Europe are notorious for putting on the hurt with additional fees, making your cheap airfare more expensive than you planned. Look up the rules, fees, and regulations so you come in with a plan instead of ignorantly getting hit with charges. How many bags are you bringing? Hopefully, if you’re reading this, it should be one with the exception of a day pack.

4. Internal Travel (City to City, Country to Country)

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Some people vouch for buses since they enjoy a scenic view of Europe. Others enjoy planes because it’s fast and efficient. Luckily for you, traveling within Europe is fairly cheap either means of transportation, it’s up to your fancy.

– Transportation Services

Are you planning on conquering Europe within a month? Grab a Eurail pass. If you’re under 26, you get a discounted price. It’ll save you a lot of money and the Eurail trains are convenient and safe.

http://www.raileurope.com/train-tickets/

Are you planning on doing the UK and parts of Western Europe in 2-3 weeks? Maybe the Eurail pass isn’t the best solution. The UK has it’s own rail system separate called Britrail that does not connect with Eurail. Consider options such as Mega Bus or Ryan Air. These prices rival around 1-20 euros/pounds for a fare depending on when you book it and the demand of passengers. I can vouch for both Mega Bus and Ryan Air. Mega Bus is safe and now, it even covers ground and sea between the UK and certain destinations of Western Europe. Ryan Air, just come with a plan and do your research on their baggage and check-in fees beforehand and you’ll be fine. I feel like Ryan Air deserves a blog of it’s own so maybe I’ll make one in the future for how to take advantage of their unbeatable prices.

https://www.megabus.com/

https://www.ryanair.com/

– The Night Bus and Train

If you’re traveling via ground transportation, night buses and trains can save you a lot of money on hostel and hotel fees. A 12-hour bus or train ride at night will also allow you to get from city to city without wasting a day. It’s a very plausible and efficient option that I recommend.

5. Sleeping Accommodations

Hostel Lounge Room

Now where are you going to rest your head for the night? Hostels? Hotels? Airbnb’s? Couch Surfing? Maybe you have a deal with Workaway? Whatever the case is, you better have a plan on where you’re going to be sleeping so you’re not hugging your backpack in a subway station next to a homeless man at four in the morning.

Don’t forget to consider:

– Location

Make sure you Google Map where the place is. Sure it may have an unbeatable bargain, but you don’t want to pick a place that’s infamous for robberies or on the outskirts of the city making the city a hassle to get to. Sometimes you need to bite the bullet of a better price for a better location. Research the area. What if this place doesn’t have public transportation near by? Then you’re spending even more money on expensive cab rides. Do your damn research.

– Check-In and Check-Out times/Baggage hold policies

Don’t forget guys, if it’s a hostel or hotel, plan in accordance to check-in/check-out time. The last thing you want to do is get kicked out of your room unexpectedly and be left to wander the city with your huge backpacking bag the entire day until your plane, bus, or train. Some places will be nice enough to allow you to store your baggage behind the counter or in a locker until a certain time, others will simply tell you, “Thank you for staying with us, get out”.

The same goes for checking-in, if you show up hours before the check-in time, you won’t be able to just drop all your belongings and spread out on a bed just yet. Just be aware of the times and policies.

– Where’s the best place to stay?

Honestly that’s up to you. Are you talking about price? Are you talking about luxury?

One thing I can say for sure is hostels are NOT sketchy penthouses for criminals, thugs, and bums. Get that out of your head. I stayed in the cheapest 24-man dorms or 8-man dorms and most of the people staying are college students, recent grads, or other young travelers just like you, with the exception of European businessmen. It’s not jail. I’ll write a blog about hostels in another time, but if there’s one thing I can vouch for hostels other than the price, it’s the community. You’ll never get that community vibe in a hotel, trust me. You’ll make a lot of friends in hostels. Check out Hostel World for good deals and more information on locations and such.

http://www.hostelworld.com/?source=adwordsrlsaenglobalbrand&network=g&creative=87224544131&adposition=1t1&uniqueclickID=5775009464260579001&sub_keyword=hostelworld&sub_ad=e&sub_publisher=ADW&gclid=CjwKEAjwwtOsBRDdjZTbvYvTlzcSJADOY0DR8K2RVU1eiowUQaSFELQjizP7ntottjRmYOH85PirNRoCN93w_wcB

Airbnbs and Couch Surfing were means of accommodations for people I encountered; however I can’t personally vouch for them since I’ve never experienced them, but I thought they were worth mentioning. Some friends of mine told me Airbnb was cheaper than hostels if you’re coming with a partner or a group so that’s something to consider. Couch Surfing is a roulette, I’ve heard not to bank on it unless it’s a last resort because they’re not guaranteed stay; however many people have told me that the people that they’ve housed at were extremely friendly. Once again, I can’t personally vouch because I haven’t done either, but they’re options to consider.

https://www.airbnb.com/?af=1922719&c=A_TC%3Dm84nccm9s3%26G_MT%3De%26G_CR%3D22111491256%26G_N%3Dg%26G_K%3Dairbnb%26G_P%3D&gclid=CjwKEAjwwtOsBRDdjZTbvYvTlzcSJADOY0DRnq-yFTBeB-zRnPaczIKpD8sYtS17LvsiJfHNmcjqpRoCZbbw_wcB&dclid=CK6tjLXhvMYCFc9BNwodjcwIGw

https://www.couchsurfing.com/

I’ve also heard of Workaway, but once again, I don’t have personal experience from it. From my understanding, you work in a country with a host on farms or in the community and you get a free stay for your labor. I haven’t met anybody personally that has given me feedback as well, but I’ve heard good things about them through online sources if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty while traveling!

https://www.workaway.info/

6. Local Transportation

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Local Transportation is important to keep in mind. How are you going to get from the airport to your place of stay? Does public transportation run late? Does public transportation run on weekends? How much is the cost? Is the city small enough for me to just travel by foot?

Keep these questions in mind. Once you figure out what means of transportation is best, do yourself a HUGE favor and print out the maps NOW. Or as soon as possible. Whether it means screen shotting it on your phone or printing it out or physically writing out the steps, or all of the above, just DO it. This will save you time and terror of being lost when you don’t have access to wi-fi or internet or even your phone at that. Knock all of the local routes out now and make them easily accessible for your sake and benefit. It’s a LOT better than pulling out a HUGE map of the city exposing to pick pocketers that you’re a lost and vulnerable tourist. Trust me.

7. Food

All hail the almighty falafel

If you’ve been keeping track of your finances throughout this whole time and creating hypothetical itineraries, whatever is left with the remaining budget should be prioritized towards food above any recreation.

I’ve seen budget backpackers that travel around the world eating Top Ramen, canned food, and McDonald’s. If you can help it, try to avoid the extreme budget backpacker life and have the funds to buy good food from time to time. Seriously, at least for me, good food made a huge difference to my trip. I’m not saying go to the fanciest restaurant in Paris and order everything, but treat yourself to some of the local eats. I remember at one point in the beginning of my trip, I just ate apples the whole day and by the time I splurged on a good meal, I literally felt like crying from happiness. Enjoy yourself. Have a good time. If you need to save more money for it, then do it.

8. Recreation

Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland

At this point, it’s up to you! Do you like museums? Parks? Restaurants? Cafes? Tour Guides? Bars? Clubs? Whatever the case is, you’ve created your own personalized agenda and itinerary, it’s on you to decide what to do and where to go; this is your trip!

A handful of museums are free in Europe while parks usually don’t require fees. Look up what places require entrance fees and possibly research your happy hours or weekend deals. Some places even give student discounts if you bring your student ID! Whatever money you have left that isn’t prioritized by food, go have fun!

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9. Finally, if you haven’t, I’ll say it again, print your receipts, maps, and tickets NOW

I will continue to bug you for this. Do it. Listen to me. Just do it. It’s better to be over prepared. Put it all together in a folder and make sure to keep it safe. If you can’t print out your airline ticket for the outbound flight yet, that’s fine. Print whatever you can. Documents are crucial. That is all.

And that basically concludes the fundamentals for planning your trip. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to Your Homie Omi, I’ll be around with open ears- eyes I suppose.

If you’re going to jump the gun and travel after reading this blog, safe travels my friend, I’d totally grab a beer with you if I could, but I can’t at this current moment, so enjoy for me! Cheers!

If not and you still need more time, no worries, you’ll get there. Be sure to keep an eye out for “Eurotrip Tips for the Young Backpacker: Step 2″ which will cover what to pack. Thanks again for reading and stay tuned!

Picking Out the Seeds of “The Big Apple”: “Lady Liberty” (The First Installment)

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“She’s not going to make it. There’s nothing I or any doctor can do. Tonight might actually be her final night.” I gazed at the orange and red sunset eclipsing Lady Liberty, casting a silhouette of tranquility, freedom, and life. I turned back to see the face carved with life experience in the form of intricate wrinkles, the closed eyes sharp and fierce showing concentration of an internal epic battle between life and death. Death was winning.

-5 hours prior to this moment-

A bird. An intricately handcrafted bird of prey artfully sewn into a pair of chocolate moccasins through red, white, and black beads.

A girl. A girl of mid twenties parallel to my vision, frowning distastefully at her electronic tablet, bouncing subtly with the train like a metronome of its movement.

“Nice shoes,” I remarked. She shot up, glanced, and dully responded.

“Thanks.”

She immediately plugged wires into her earlobes and commenced violently fingering her flat screen, releasing orgasmic revelations of white light and euphoria. Her face, stoic, masking any signs of self gratification behind psychological and emotional barriers molded through consistent repetition and years of disengagement.

I looked around. Sadly, this abnormality was no different. The man in the business suit. The mother with the stroller. The teenager that reserved a bag on the seat next to her representing, “Don’t you dare sit next to me”. The child that probably was too young to even read a book. Wires. Wires everywhere stuffed into the sockets of heads, a one size fits all solution for social seclusion. As if I were the delusional freak of nature amongst the population of brainwashed droids.

The train only moved on, robots leaving, and refilling the compartment, essentially continuing the routine of antisocial normality. The sound of silence deafened my ears, the grave frowns of each individual creating an illusion of mourning and death. But everyone was living. Or were they?

“Welcome home,” I smiled feebly to myself silently.

It’s been exactly a week since I’ve returned from Europe. This is the first time I took the train into Manhattan from Queens since being back. Except this time, I felt like the foreigner.

Yes, Europe too has been caught by the impending plague of technological addiction; however it’s nowhere close to the scale of The Big Apple. Even riding the Tube and the Metro in London and Paris, grand huge cities, it wasn’t this contaminated. I could at least tell that there was a beating heart within each vessel.

“This the final stop, World Trade Center.” The only communication I heard the entire ride was from a machine. The irony. Time to get off.

Horns blaring, people swearing, engines revving, the symphony of the city yanked onto my ear lobes and said with a deep Brooklyn accent, “Welcome home buddy. We missed yo- Hey get the fuck out of my way!- Yeah we missed you buddy!”

I’m back.

I attended a music concert for an independent band called “Superhuman Happiness” at Brookfield Place along the water. A concoction of Jazz, Funk, and Rock shrouded in an organic cloak of originality and quirkiness, they are definitely an underrated group of characters that deserve more attention. I’ll write more about them in my music blog, but check them out if you have the time; their drums are on fire.

“One Stella please,” I asked the bartender, a middle-aged man with hair drenched in styling product and a handlebar mustache that looked out of place and try-hard as if he put it together to tell everyone, “Hey, I’m a fancy bartender, trust me”. He didn’t bother to converse with me, nor smile, but the girls before me were rolled out the red carpet and given a full-blown stand-up comedy show. They must have been celebrities. I highly doubt it.

“That’ll be eight bucks.”

Wow, that’s pricy. Oh well. I pay the eight bucks. He pours the drink sloppily providing me half foam, half drink.

“There ya go.”

I pause to give a look of skepticism as he continues to look busy, not even bothering to look up but fiddling with cups; a front to look professional when he had no idea what he was doing. I sip on my frothy overpriced beer and continue down the pier as the sun begins to set on the city. And this is when I saw her.

A woman stretched out in what appeared to be a hybrid of a hospital gurney and a wheel chair. She had wires plugged into her too just as the people on the train had; however her wires weren’t connected to her ears, rather her mouth and her arms.

She was old.

Her eyes were barely open. Dark pools of black hid behind the heavy eyelids that forced themselves not to shut. She was frozen like the Statue of Liberty out in the visual distance. She was accompanied by another woman, younger, but her face was subtly carved with the wrinkles of time.

The other woman sat beside her on a bench. Hunched over with her hands clasped together on her lap, she sternly gazed into the horizon. She looked as if she had been entranced under a spell. The wind knocked over an aluminum can next to her and blew towards me. With a delayed reaction, she slowly rose up to retrieve it. The can landed at my feet, an invitation to their life. I picked it up.

“Thanks,” she smiled meekly, her head appearing to weigh more than the rest of her body as it slouched over while she walked away.

“Uhm, excuse me?” I asked. She turned around.

“By any chance, are you two…related?” I don’t know what made me ask this. I really don’t. But I did.

“Yes,” she said weakly, turning to the elderly lady, “That’s my mother.”

“Is she…alright?” I hesitantly asked.

As if that one question had unlocked an attic overflowing with past items, waiting to unleash its entirety, her mouth began to spill words. You could tell she was emotionally troubled and relieved to finally expose this untold story. She remained standing and didn’t bother to make eye contact with me, once again spellbound by the sun rays.

“Two years ago they found the cancer in her,” she started, “The doctors said it was going to be alright, it was only in the first stages and it was nothing to worry about. It was around my son’s twenty-fifth birthday,”

Her voice began to tremble.

She turned to her mother. Her mother was struggling to stay awake, her eyes were no more than vibrating slits.

She continued on, “On that day of the party, she kept excusing herself to the bathroom. She kept saying she was alright because she didn’t want to disturb her grandson’s birthday but eventually she told me she needed to go to the hospital. I knew she was in pain. We all took her in. The same doctors said they miscalculated the severity of the cancer, claiming it was a lot worse than they expected. I couldn’t believe such a mistake since these guys are the professionals, but then again, I’m no doctor.”

Her head dropped and she paused for a second, silent tears beginning to slide through the crevasses of her frowning face. She recomposed herself, staring out at the sunset.

“The doctors suggested chemo since that’s the only thing we can do in hopes of containing the cancer. It was a tough choice. I’m a single mother working three jobs just to help my youngest son in college and provide food on the table for my teenage daughter. My Mom was aware. One day in the hospital bed, she told me, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ve lived a good life. Live yours. Take care of the kids. You’re their Mom. They need you. I’m your Mom. I fulfilled my life in raising you. It’s your turn to finish raising your kids.'”

She cut herself off, the spell seeming to lose effect for a second as she caught herself with a deep breathe.

She went on, “The chemo was a lot of money. But it’s my mother. I agreed on the chemo and she goes through with it, but she’s angry. ‘Why are you doing this, you don’t have the money for this, I told you, it’s fine!’ We argued a lot. She wasn’t happy. But we went through with it. They say she’s okay to go home after some time in the hospital. ‘So she’s cured?’ I asked. ‘She should be fine, but she’ll need extra care and she’ll have to come in for regular appointments’ they told me. All I remember were the words, ‘She should be fine’.”

Tears were glistening in the reflection of the sunlight.

“She returned home, this time in a wheelchair rather than her two feet. We had a celebration. A month later while I’m taking care of her, she begins saying she’s not hungry and she doesn’t want to eat. I tell her we should go see the doctor again, but she says she never wants to go back to the hospital because the doctors are mean and she hates the presence of hospitals. That day she cried. ‘I feel like such a burden. Why didn’t you just let me die happy? I have no purpose here on Earth anymore.’ I kept telling her we needed to go to the hospital. She kept fighting. ‘If I were to die, it would be by the docks, near the Statue of Liberty, where I met your father, where I found love. Not hooked up to some heart monitor in a cold hospital’. I consistently argue with her because I feel like I’m fighting for her life more than she is. I don’t know what to do.”

She began to choke on her words, her dialogue coughing out of her mouth. I stand there petrified. I don’t know what to say. My stomach churns uncomfortably as I witness this first-hand struggle. I feel helpless. I feel guilty as if I’m reopening and pouring salt into a heavy wound.

She recomposes herself and goes on.

“One day, I come to check up on her and she’s not moving. I rush her to the hospital. She’s still alive according to them. But barely. They tell me once again, they made a miscalculation. I’m furious and crying and screaming since I just don’t understand, we did the chemo and they said she should be fine and I just don’t understand. How many mistakes can you make? But I’m no doctor. They stare at me with their ‘I don’t care faces’ because they really don’t have to, she’s just another cancer statistic, not my mother. I ask them if she needs to undergo more treatment or surgery. They tell me there’s nothing they can do. They can keep her hooked up to the monitor and it would allow her to live longer, but there was nothing they could do to keep her alive. It’d be a waiting game.”

Tears were falling to the floor. Rain drops. I could hear the gentle sounds of the water crashing onto the wooden dock.

“And at that point, I realized,” she wiped her eyes.

“She’s not going to make it. There’s nothing I or any doctor can do. Tonight might actually be her final night.”

A moment of silence.

“And you know what? The more I hold onto her, the more I realize it’s hurting her. She’s not living anymore. She stopped living as soon as she lost the power to do what she wanted. She’s dying. And it’s my selfish fault. She’s dying slowly and painfully and it’s my fault. Because I refused to let her go. I don’t want her to go but,” her voice shook again.

Spitting out words, she finished, “I guess the least I can do is fulfill her final wish. When she passes, I know I’ll never see her again, but better that then to see her like this.” She recomposed herself. She stares at me for the first time.

“I’m so sorry for taking up your time, you’re probably thinking ‘Why is this crazy lady talking to me?’,” she forced a smile. I embraced her and I felt hot tears streaming from my own eyes. I took a deep breathe. I look at her mother. Her eyes are closed. The wires looked constricting, almost as if they were draining the life out of her rather than keeping her alive. I couldn’t look anymore.

I should leave them alone, I thought to myself. I say goodbye and I walk away. Before I leave, unnoticed, I snap a photo of them, just to remember this moment and to preserve her life eternally, proof that she returned to the place where she learned to love. As I leave, I notice her hugging her mother, silently sobbing in the distance.

I continued along the pier. A woman walking her dog. A man on his tablet. Two lovers cuddling. One, two, three, four guys run by me. Life continued its path. The world continued to spin. I stop to breathe. I realize how blessed I am to be where I am and have everything that I do. I stare in a trance at the sunset. It’s true. These people do have souls. They’re hidden. They’re buried. But they do. Unplug the wires and it’s there. Somewhere.

I stare at the sun through the eyes of the mother. If this were the last image I’d see in my life, life is beautiful. I smile because I’m happy to be alive. I’m happy she’s free.

A sound of photography snapping interrupts my train of thought.

An Asian girl around her late twenties to early thirties was rapidly snapping photos through a fancy digital camera. She was skinny. Very skinny.

I approach her and ask what kind of camera she’s using. She turns to me and gives a sudden look of disgust at my outdated camera as if I were a kid on a playground showing her a cockroach. She tells me anything’s better than my camera. A mentality spoiled by the city. I keep a smile. She turns back to her camera.

She asks me what I do for a living. I tell her freelance blogging and writing.

“A fancy word for unemployed,” she says coldly. I keep my smile. She doesn’t mean to be this mean, it’s the way she’s been conditioned by the city.

She gives me a name to a cafe in her district since it should help out my blog. Basically throwing some pennies at the beggar. I tell her thanks and that we should a grab a cup together, an attempt to melt the ice around her heart.

She stops to look from the lens of her camera with a confused look. Immediately it becomes a smirk.

“One, I have a boyfriend. Two, you don’t even know me and I don’t even know you,” she goes back to her camera.

“It’s a cup of coffee, not a hand in marriage,” I say.

Ignoring me, “So what’s your blog about exactly? You just pretend like your living the good life raving about awesome places?”

“It was, until, well, I realized people enjoyed more of the personal interactions and stories I encountered with other human relations rather than the travel brochure reviews.”

“Uh huh. So you’re basically just another one of the thousand copies of Humans of New York.

“You could say similar, but we’re definitely not the same. I do believe in the same philosophy that everyone has a story to share, waiting to be unveiled.”

Laughs. “Good luck getting people to talk to you through your fairy tale la la land perspective in New York.” She fiddled with her camera settings.

“I’m talking to you, am I not?”

“True. But you know. People here don’t want to be bugged. Hell, I don’t like to be bugged. Like right now. You’re kinda bugging me. I cringe at shit like Humans of New York. It’s so corny. It honestly makes me sick. People suck. Trust me. Stick to giving quick reviews. People like that stuff. You’ll actually maybe make a living rather than with your cheesy stories.”

“If that’s the way you see the world, I’m sorry. I think people are misunderstood. I’ve seen it. I know it. And I know I can prove this. Trust me, I just had an authentic and heartbreaking experience just now before I even talked to you. ”

Rolls eyes. “You mean with that crippled lady way over there? Yeah I saw that. Okay, go ahead. Tell the world about her. I’m sure people will want to read about a vegetable. We all have our own problems to worry about, who cares about her? Honestly. Hell, the lady next to her is fucked up for keeping her alive in that condition. Seriously.”

My smile dropped. I could feel myself getting hot with anger. I clenched my fists. I recomposed myself. I smiled weakly.

“If only you knew,” I breathed.

I took a step away. I turned back halfway.

“And by the way, it’s just like you said, ‘you don’t even know me and I don’t even know you’. Thanks for the advice and your perspective but, I don’t have anything to prove to you. You’ll see one day. Take care.”

She gave a look of doubt and a sarcastic, “good luck.”

I continued on my way, traversing the skyscrapers, the flashing lights, and the rush of traffic and people.

I hopped on the train. Wires. Wires everywhere. I took a deep breathe. I smiled solemnly. There’s a lot of work to do in picking out the seeds of The Big Apple.

Why YOU Should Travel/Backpack While You’re Young: “Misconceptions” & “How to Start”

Because you don’t want to be the old man from Edinburgh I met that was dying from regret of never seeing the world through young eyes.

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If I could give one reason why you late teens or twenty-something to thirty-something-year-olds need to travel, it’s exactly because of the “Embrace Your Youth” cliche.

Now what is the hurry?

A lot of people asked me this, especially my close friends that I eagerly pushed as if I had come back from Europe with a heroine addiction. Well young age and perspective is just like the gigantic tub of Greek yogurt that you bought from the grocery store last month and didn’t get around to eating it all, it’s slowly expiring. It’s just, unlike the yogurt, you can’t buy your youth back. The naive perspective with the potential of a fresh future is only that much more seasoned with traveling experience under your belt; don’t let it go to waste.

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Okay, I get the youth part, but isn’t traveling when I’m young more dangerous?

Yes and no.

Because of movies like Taken, people have this heightened fear to the ugliness of underground sex and organ trafficking that are unfortunately apparent globally. Which isn’t a bad thing that people are afraid, in fact it’s good because people should be aware that this is a reality. Okay, not Liam Neeson just magically knowing the answers to everything and rescuing his daughter like a total BAMF, but definitely the impending threat of kidnapping and trafficking.

I’m not saying disregard this, but if anything, let this be a reason to be more cautious when traveling. Do your research beforehand. Find out if anywhere in your itinerary is high in threat or potential risk. Don’t show up to a third world country with a Gucci belt and the latest Jordans. Don’t whip out the Louis Vuitton purse or wallet in public. Don’t skip in the middle of the streets holding hands with your friends screaming the latest Taylor Swift song. Common sense people, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t have it.

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Don’t let this be you and your posse walking the streets of another country.

Addressing the question of “is it more dangerous to travel as a youth?”, I said “yes and no” because there are also potential dangers of traveling when you’re old. Pick-pocketers prey on the elderly and those with families since they’re considered vulnerable. By the way, look out for a future blog about how to avoid pick pockets.

In the end, it’s up to you. There’s always going to be risks with any choices you make. Hell, you can say “I don’t want to leave my house because someone might rob it if I leave”. And then there’s the risk of a random earthquake that will cause the house to smash you to pieces. The bottom line is, do your research. Travel smart. Bring a friend or friends if you must. Regardless of age, there will always be risks.

But I’m a girl.

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Like I said, there are always going to be risks. You’re a girl. That’s kind of sexist against yourself saying your incapable of doing what men can do yeah? But nonetheless, like I said, I know this fear stems from the recent spike of awareness from trafficking and the vulnerability of being a damsel in distress.

Once again, do your research. Seriously. Do. Your. Research. Be smart. And of course no amounts of research can make you invincible, that’s why things are called “accidents”, but it’s definitely better than going in as a headless chicken. And no, I am not responsible for any accidents that can or may occur on your trip whether male or female, this is your choice, be smart, be safe, be aware.

Bring a friend. Bring two friends. Bring three friends. Bring ten friends. If it means more security for you or maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s concerned parents, bring friends. It won’t be as educational and self-fulfilling as conquering your adventure alone, but if it means your safety or the peace of mind of your parents, bring friends. I’ve met plenty of twenty-something-year-old girls backpacking, some alone, but mostly they came in pairs. By all means, go for it. I’ll also personally leave some Youtube channels at the bottom of this blog geared towards “Backpacking for Girls” that you can watch or share with your parents also if it’ll help.

Well, I’m just going to wait until I’m older, wiser, and more fiscally stable.

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That’s GREAT. Enjoy lavishing in a jacuzzi in a five-star hotel with room service and a tour guide once you’re making it rain as a fifty-year-old baller.

But something that you won’t be able to do is once again, (time to beat this dead horse into submission), you won’t gain the life experience as if you were young.

The Adicts at SO36. Kreuzberg-Berlin

Are you planning on taking your wife and kids pub hopping until the break of dawn? Are you planning on hanging out and dancing at the local “hip & happening” spots and finding romance when you’re seventy? Are you planning on eating all the rich and delicious delicacies when you develop diabetes and a heart condition?

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It goes without saying that young age is truly something everybody with young age takes for granted because just like everything “we don’t know what we got ’till it’s gone”. The amount of energy, adventure, and potential you get from traveling young is undeniably at it’s peak. It’s unquestionable that you can take more risks and truly take advantage of the city’s culture, both the old and the new. The lessons, friends, and experiences are priceless treasures that you can hold onto into adulthood.

If anything, at least experience traveling young ONCE as a humble vagabond versus an established aristocrat.

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But I’m broke.

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Are you really? If I visit your house right now Mr. Impoverished, I better not see a PS4. I better not see Yeezy’s. I better not see an Iphone 12, Beats headphones, or a decked out M5 in your garage. As for Ms. Impoverished (or Mrs.), the same applies, but add Tory Burch flats and a plethora of Longchamp Bags. Actually it can be applied for Mr. Impoverished too- but you get my point.

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That does not show me that you’re broke. That shows me that you have other means of intent for your money that you have. Which is fine. If it makes you happy, I’m all for it.

However, hear me out. These items of capital, in about I’d say five years from now, they’ll lose their value. Eventually. Experiencing different culture and learning life lessons? You’ll keep those forever.

Once again, this horse is a bloodbath by now, your youth can NOT be bought again. Take the time to evaluate where you stand in terms of happiness and life now. If you can honestly say you don’t need to travel to make you happy and that traveling would actually hinder you, that’s fine, just DON’T tell me you’re broke. That’s an ignorant and horrible statement to use compared to those that truly are.

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Now that we’ve knocked out the misconception of the word “broke”, if you truly can’t afford to travel but you REALLY want to, it’s going to be difficult, but you can do it. Set aside a small percentage of your savings that you can afford to push aside. I know a lot of friends that have used “Go Fund Me” and received donations that have helped them get to their destinations. I’ll leave you the website at the bottom if you need it. It’s possible. It’s hard. But it’s possible.

When I did parts of Europe, I stayed in hostels. 24-man bunk rooms for ten euros a night, pretty radical. I was able to travel through cheap services like Ryan Air and the Mega Bus, which are steals. It’s possible. I’ll be making a blog in the future based on living in hostels and budget backpacking in the near future.

Okay fine, I’m not broke, but I don’t have time.

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New job? School? Both? Whatever the case is, there’s always time. Whether it’s taking a vacation or seasonal breaks, there’s time. Just figure out when you can comfortably take time off. Take time for yourself. I think that was the best advice anybody has ever given me. If you don’t take time for your own happiness and life, nobody else can. Don’t be a lost cause.

And by all means I’m not saying completely quit your job or drop out of school or make drastic life changes. If you decide to do that because it’s negatively holding you back and it’s not what you want to do, good for you, but that’s not my doing, that’s yours.

I don’t speak anything else but English.

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Me neither. Unless you consider elementary school French and toddler-level Japanese. Actually the toddlers may know more than me. I’m not fluent in anything other than English. Once again, research ahead of time helps. Maybe learn at least the basic “Hello, I would like this please” or “Hello, where is this?” especially “Thank you” for your foreign country of intent. Other than that, I’m not saying you should go into a country expecting them to speak American- I mean English, but for most countries at least at the hotels and airports, someone speaks English. Just don’t expect them to and be the ugly American getting pissed off that people don’t understand your native tongue or your ignorance at that.

I’m slightly convinced, but it’s pretty damn scary.

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Of course it is. Traveling to a foreign country is always scary, but it’s exciting! It’s the thrill of facing the unknown and leaving your comfort zone. You have every right to be afraid.

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Take your time. Plan things out. I had people on my trip that I encountered that smirked at my printed out itineraries or told me it was ruining my experience of freedom but honestly, it put my mind at ease and it saved me time, money, and the risk of ending up in the wrong areas. I’ll be making a future blog around how to plan your itinerary. If you’re a free soul that likes to just go at it, props to you.

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I know I’m not one to advocate this but like I said, if you need to use the buddy system, go for it. I push for independent travel because I did it myself and it allowed me to truly find myself as cliche as that is. You’re your own agenda. You push yourself. You stop yourself. It’s great. But if bringing friends will help ease the anxiety for a first time backpacking experience, do it. It might actually be pretty fun.

Honestly, don’t let fear stop you from stepping out of your local comfort zone and opening your eyes to the world. Trust me. You don’t want to be the old man from Edinburgh that wasted his youth away by worrying and never got to experience the world. He can vouch for you.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, shoot me a message or comment! Here are some blogs/Youtube Channel’s below that you can read or watch to help you plan a trip and answer any additional questions if you’re raring to go already!

thesavvybackpacker.com

http://www.gofundme.com/

Youtube Channels:

“redwinehelpsyousleep”

“Hanna Taylor” (For girls)

“Backpacking Bananas” (For girls)

“PsychoTraveller”

My Favourite Meeting Place: “The Bald Barista” (Dublin, Ireland)

Classic and cozy. I think these two words best describe my experience associated with Dublin’s beloved cafe “The Bald Barista”. Boasting proudly on the exterior of their window “‘Voted Dublin’s Best Coffee’ – The Dubliner“, this reputable gem holds three locations in the South Inner City of Dublin. The location I will be proudly sharing is the one nestled in between Dublin’s renowned landmarks St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Stephen’s Green.

Where to begin? As I just stated, the location of The Bald Barista sits between two of Dublin’s finest beauties. Feel like taking the experience of The Bald Barista outdoors? No problem, take your cup of coffee to-go and your pastry to Dublin’s refreshing St. Stephen’s Green Park. Maybe you’re a tourist and wanted to catch a glimpse of St. Patrick’s Cathedral first thing in the morning when the lighting is ideal for photography. Perfect, the epic landmark is only a few blocks away from your breakfast!

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Stephen's Green

St. Stephen’s Green

Furthermore, the location is conveniently located a measly two blocks away from the Irish Rail’s St. Stephen’s Green stop in addition to a block from the Whitefriar Place Dublin Bus stop. Transportation to this cafe could not be more optimal! In addition to this, The Bald Barista shines bright and early, opening at 6:30am weekdays, 7:30am on weekends, earlier than the majority of Dublin.

In comparison to other local cafes around the area, the pricing here is average, if not considered cheap. Expect to pay merely around the range of two to three euros for a cup of coffee that has been “Voted Dublin’s best”. An additional breakfast, lunch, or pastry also range from the prices of two to six euros, depending on whether you’re grabbing a quick breakfast bagel or a full Irish Breakfast. It’s hard to beat the prices, especially when the food is so comforting and satisfying.

Still not convinced by the unbeatable prices, the high caliber of coffee, and the phenomenal location? Well if not for any of those, do go for the environment! The cafe provides free wi-fi and holds many tables and chairs available for kicking back. The music in the background is always miniscule in the sense that it’s played as a supplement to your experience rather than your focus. The cafe vibe definitely brings a sense of coziness and a homey vibe with comfortable cushioned living room lounge chairs perched in corners next to a brick fire place. The art pieces on the wall supplement for a classy like setting, perfectly positioned as a mural or collage of classic portraiture, landscape works, and minimalistic displays. The ambiance screams hip and trendy with a shot of classiness and a side order of chill.

If you’re there for pure business and don’t feel like talking to anybody since you need to compile your report as soon as possible, that’s fine. Once again, there are plenty of independent spaces positioned off to the side of the main traffic, whether it be the cushioned chairs or the high risen seats perched facing the windows away from the distractions. And if you’re somebody that truly cannot work in the presence of any noise or around other people period, like I said earlier, St. Stephen’s Green is only a few blocks away if you truly need it in case of emergency.

Now, if you’re somebody there that wants to grab a cup of Joe with a companion, yet you’ve come alone, fear not, for this place always has good company. Because this cafe is conjoined with a hostel, people from all around the globe perch themselves at this lovely joint. If you decide to sit with the community tables on the other end, your certain to meet eager and friendly traveling folks that wish to converse their stories or hear about your life experiences. Trust me. I’ve met some fine and cultured individuals specifically here.

So let’s take a look back. Location? Check. Pricing? Check. Coffee? Check. Ambiance? Check. What could I possibly be missing- ah yes, the food! What’s on the menu? Would you fancy the comfort of a traditional full Irish Breakfast composed of eggs, ham, and toast? No? Maybe a grilled mushroom and cheese sandwich, crisped to perfection and melted artfully. No? Possibly you need to satisfy your sweet tooth with a decadent homemade chocolate brownie or a lovely baked pear tart. Whatever the case is, The Bald Barista will provide you with any of the staple cliches a cafe could possible satisfy your needs for. You will find sweet, salty, and savory through the forms of homemade classic sandwiches, bagels, and pastries crafted through love.

In terms of coffee, I am a simple man that takes my coffee dark black; however this coffee was brewed to perfection more so than even cups I have drank after living in New York City for three years. Not only is the ambiance of the cafe filled with masterpieces, but the baristas are quite skilled in their coffee art as well, both with their trademark patterns, along with the overall product quality. I don’t understand how they made the coffee consistency so perfectly rich, roasted, and refreshing! What more can I say, I am an advocate that further supports the notion of The Bald Barista holding the best cup of coffee in Dublin.

Maybe you’re not a coffee drinker? No worries, they hold an arsenal of tea and hot chocolate options for the non-coffee conformists.

So if you ever catch yourself in the South Inner City of Dublin, do check out this precious cafe, satisfaction guaranteed.

My First Time Backpacking Europe Alone: Closing Remarks & Shoutouts

I did it! I made it out alive! Two of the longest and shortest weeks of my life have breezed by and dragged on at the same time. Holy shit, what an experience it has been. Hell, I’m sitting right here at Charles De Gaulle Airport waiting at my gate for my plane back to JFK right now as I’m typing. Living proof to those that it is possible that if I can do it, you can too. Dublin, to Edinburgh, to London, to Paris, what an eye-opening experience.

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

This morning I woke up, left the hostel, dropped by every single bakery on the way to the train station and bought something from each, found out that my iPhone had misguided me into the outskirts of Paris into the ghetto of France, navigated my way back into Paris, hopped a train stall, dodged two young Romanis trying to pickpocket me, made it onto the train, got past airport security, and here I am. I am alive and kicking…barely. I’m so exhausted.

I must say, traveling alone is the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, company is amazing and I met a bunch of people that were traveling with friends along the way; however I feel it can be limiting and traveling is fully experienced when you can selfishly have the freedom to do whatever YOU want to do. Look out for my upcoming blog “Why Traveling Alone is the Best” or something like that. I don’t know, I need a better title, I’m not trying to come off too cliche. “10 reasons why YOU need to Travel NOW!” *cue the beautiful pictures with cheesy one liner sentences and the last reason being “because you’re only young once” showing a bunch of young folk on a beach laughing* gags. Just kidding. Kind of.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

That leads me to my next point, as this is the conclusion to my installment for my first backpacking experience in Europe, this will not be the last. If you have been an avid follower or just recently hopped onto the OnlyMyInterpretations wagon and are curious about backpacking Europe or know of people who are curious about backpacking Europe or maybe dealing with concerned parents or guardians, or maybe you are one, look out for my next series of blogs which will cover the do’s and dont’s, what to bring, what to look out for, misconceptions etc. so on and so forth. “Traveling with Your Homie Omi”. We’ll work on the fine tuning later.

But back to the matter at hand, what a trip. I have truly met the most inspiring and positive people in the world. I’m not gonna lie this trip has thawed what I once deemed a frozen heart. It’s been a journey of self awareness, cultural enlightenment, and education rather than a vacation. Living in the hustle and bustle of New York City, it’s easy to fall prey to cynicism, snootiness, and self absorption. You forget how to love because you’re so enveloped in your own. Everyone around you seems to be competing for attention, for self gratification, and for an ego boost and they don’t mind if they have to step on your head and push you below the water for their self gain.

And the reason why is because everyone’s scared. Scared to fail, scared to not fit in, but most importantly, scared to not exist. It’s the truth. Hatred and bitterness are viral plagues that infest the Big Rotten Apple within the competitive flow of screaming horns and blinding lights. This trip really hit home to me, kind of smacked me up and told me “This isn’t you! Stop trying to fit in with the lifeline of the city! The world is beautiful, stop living under the dome of robots and capital.” This trip has opened my eyes to beyond the realm, reminded me that their is faith in humanity, that love is the answer. Love is the cure. It’s reminded me to be who I was before adapting this New York state of mind, when I was the peace loving kind soul with a passion for giving to others. Life is love. Life is art. Life is good.

The London Eye, London, England

The London Eye, London, England

In all honesty, this trip has provided me something money can never buy. It’s helped me find myself as cliche as that sounds. It’s helped me come to terms with my position in life and where I stand. I have never pushed myself to take so many risks in such a short span of time. I feel like I’ve grown exponentially as a result.

To my readers, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this trip most importantly is seriously, do what makes you happy. You want to go travel? Find the means, plan it out accordingly, and hop on the damn plane. If traveling makes you happy, then do it. Afraid that backpacking is too cliche for people in their twenties? Please. I know I’m one to throw around “that is so cliche”, but honestly fuck what I say. Hell this whole paragraph is full of cliches and the pretentious asshole inside me is cringing as I write. Laugh out loud. Fuck what anyone says if it means hindering your life experience and happiness. Life is too short to live on another person’s watch. Like I said, negativity is a virus. If people around you are negative, cut them out. I’ve learned there’s so many people in the world, why stick with the few that are holding you down out of the million you’ve never met? Cut them out. Find new friends. Get out of your comfort zone. I’m serious.

Le Tour De Eiffel, Paris, France

Le Tour De Eiffel, Paris, France

Wow, what do I say? I’ll be completely honest, originally this whole backpacking gig was NOT going to be blogged. At all. Period. This was just going to be an independent journey solely devoted to myself, a sort of graduation gift and a pat on my back for finishing college. But then that first night in Dublin happened with that one dude that reeked and it just evoked me to share this with everyone back home. And then out of nowhere, I get feedback from people I’ve never met. I get messages from friends on Facebook telling me they can’t wait for my next blog. I get a message from a company out in Dublin asking me to write a story and review for them on their travel brochure. This “vacation” in a sort suddenly becomes the opposite of a vacation. I get people messaging me “How come you haven’t posted yet?” I get people in my hostels telling me they love my blog. All starting from one freaking story about a smelly Dutch man. It’s crazy! And you know what? I’m glad it happened this way. If this was just an unrecorded undocumented journey without a follower base, I would have never pushed myself to keep on experiencing things. I would have probably just slept a lot more or not taken half the risks I would have done.

Brick Lane Cafe

Brick Lane Cafe

Whenever I saw someone new, I would force myself to converse. If I saw a place I didn’t know and my feet were killing me, it would force me to travel further. As that movie Stuck In Love says, “A writer is only the sum of their experiences”, I wanted to make sure my blogs reflected as many experiences as possible. It helped me make the best of this trip. Although the four hours of writing, editing, and publishing everyday was a bit of a hassle, it doesn’t matter. I must have overdosed on coffee in order to supplement for the two to four hours of sleep I was getting after the overindulgence from European beer the night before. Overall I enjoyed and appreciated every bit of the sacrifices I had to make.

Old Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

Old Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

A repeating question is, “Did that really happen?” Yes. Everything I recorded happened. Like I said, I literally pushed myself beyond my whims to find inspiration and ideas to write about. If you don’t believe it, I honestly don’t care. There’s a reason why this blog is called “Only My Interpretations” and this is all a personal journal for me to look back and reminisce on in the future; it was never intended for a larger audience. The world is composed of billions of people with untold stories, hardships, and feelings. You’d be surprised how many of them are relieved to finally share them and receive the proper recognition they deserve. The world is a beautiful place.

Another repeating question everyone always seemed to ask me was why I never gave the real names of the people I encountered and how I’d usually name them after their city of origin with the exception of a few. The answer is, I wanted you, the reader, to place into your head whatever your stereotype or association with each region was. I wanted to shatter these stereotypes, to showcase these people as people, to enlighten my readers that regardless of their place of origin, ultimately in the end, we’re all people that share the same existence. I wanted you to craft your mind around this real life person as a character, in a sense a way to envision these people as something other than name titles. Name titles are great, but they don’t essentially capture and collect the entirety of an individual. Names I feel are limiting. In addition, it was also a matter of privacy terms, I didn’t want to put anybody on blast if they didn’t want to be.

The Fourth Arrondissement, Paris, France

The Fourth Arrondissement, Paris, France

Which leads me to my conclusion. The end credits. The most important part for me, the shout outs. Some people are probably reading this rolling their eyes being like, “Wow, this guy thinks he’s hot shit just from a measly backpacking experience, psht.” Haha! Not at all. Not at all. In fact this experience has made me even more humbled. If anything, I used to think I was hot shit. Now I understand how small I am in comparison to the vast majority of humanity. Yeah I’m not WordPress famous or an established writer, but does that not give me the right to express my thanks to the one’s that have shown me nothing but love and support? Trust me. This is only the beginning. A jump start to a vision at the end of the tunnel. I’m at the bottom of the totem pole, but I’ll make it.

But where was I? Shout outs. Yes. My Mom raised me to write Thank You notes and cards every time after I got a present because gifts are gratuitous voluntary acts of kindness and the generosity should be recognized. This trip has been the ultimate gift to myself and it would be wrong not to recognize those that have contributed in making this happen before I was on the plane or literally while I was in the moment. Where to begin?

Shout outs to those that helped me even make this trip possible:

First and foremost my Mom, Dad, and sister Kristen. Without them, I truly would have been the budget backpacker scrounging for food eating Top Ramen in Paris. They were not letting that happen. My Dad was literally like that guy in the temple from The Legend Of Zelda that says “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” but instead of the Master Sword, he left me a Chase card for one good meal a day. My Mom went out of her way to send me a care package of toiletries and goods before I could even go out and start hunting for them myself. My sister contributed as well while I was in Paris, making that heavenly falafel possible. They’ve shown me nothing but support and love. I am blessed with an amazing family. I admit I’m spoiled. Judge me all you want. Thank you Dad for teaching me how to be a man and to take care of myself. Thank you for teaching me to get things done the night before, how to mentally plan and prepare for a trip, and how to always be aware of my surroundings. Thank you Mom for teaching me the bits of Japanese culture and heritage that you tried to preserve in me and for always teaching me to be cautious and how to be especially tidy, neat, and organized. Thank you Kristen for just being the greatest big sister and always trying to look out for me regardless of how physically far I am from home. I love you all and I know I’m spoiled just to have the bare minimum of an amazing family like you all.

To the rest of my family that helped contribute to this trip through donation or “graduation gifting” of any sort. I’ve met people on the trip that have shared to me that they didn’t even have close knit families, that their families have been broken since day one. I’m lucky enough to have a reason to feel bad that I can say both my father and mother’s side of the families still get together and are there for me. Once again, I am truly blessed with amazing family that is so supportive of my life and happiness. Thank you.

To The Savvy Backpacker (http://thesavvybackpacker.com/backpack-europe-planning/). Seriously, they cover basically everything associated with backpacking and how to plan. “So why are you making a blog about how to backpack?” you might ask. That’s like asking why watch NBC if ABC already covers the news? It’s a matter of providing different perspectives. I give credit to where it’s earned though and they have helped me create my trip, as well as are my inspirations whether they know it or not. Do check them out, they’re very resourceful and thorough! Huge shout out to you guys!

To my Little Bro Alex. I’m typing on his laptop right now. He sacrificed the risk of his laptop being stolen or tampered just for the sake of originally my photography. He made the blogging possible. He actually pitched the idea to me first. I love you Little.

To my roommate Alton for taking the time out of two of his days to drive me to and fro the airport. Public transportation and cabs are a bitch. I’ll actually be seeing him soon. Also the other roommate Michael for the laptop charger. Came in clutch. Not too many people can say they’re comfortable living with a roommate and here I have two that are awesome. Spoiled I’m telling you. I’m spoiled.

Shout outs to the folks in Dublin:

Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland

Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland

To the first person I met in my entire backpacking experience, the receptionist at the hostel. To some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve never met someone that literally had me hanging around a lobby for a straight hour just talking about music and almost everything I stood for. If you’re reading this right now, what’s the crack? Haha, I hope you reach out to me if you ever come to New York City, we never grabbed our Irish coffee, so I’d be due to treat you to a pint of Brooklyn Brewery or Bronx Pale Ale. I’ll show you how boarding is done. I know in a few years, if I read the news in Ireland, I’ll be reading about how you’re changing the game and society with human rights activism. You have a heart of gold. I hope you had a chance to listen to 2014 Forest Hills Drive whether you liked it or not, it’s a life changing album. I hope you have a fun time at your music concert and that you keep keeping it real.

To Idaho, she is literally a piece of art. I mean literally. Her body has the most beautiful tattoos, not just because of the looks, but because of the stories associated with each one. Idaho if you’re reading this, my family crest is coming soon. If you ever get yours, please send me a picture. I hope your first backpacking experience was just as phenomenal as mine and I’m sad we didn’t get a chance to go out in London. ‘Till next time!

To the Canadian Girls, I swear I just want to call them the Canadian sisters because I felt like they were related. Might as well be. I haven’t met two individuals that have maintained such a close friendship that endured the obstacles of time and change. Thank you guys for dragging me out to have fun my first night in Dublin, it was the extra kick start I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I’m still mad at you guys for dissing basketball. Thank you for proving to me that it’s possible to have lifelong friends. Be safe continuing your journey and don’t ever let go of your friendship.

To the generous woman that runs the cafe near St. Stephen’s Green, she stuck her neck out for me just to make sure I was comfortable and to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone in life. She may never even find this, but if she ever does, I want her to know that she was the first person I met that truly touched my heart with her kindness. She was the one that shattered my barrier of believing it was always me against the world and through what? Kindness. That breakfast was the best breakfast I had this entire trip and it’s solely because I knew it was made from pure love. Thank you again and I hope that your nephew returns telling you that he was treated with same hospitality that you provided me.

To the siblings from Tennessee, man I know they’re gonna go far. I just know it. I have never met such gentle souls, let alone siblings that could travel together without killing each other. Tennessee brother, you are going to be a great dentist and Tennessee sister, you are going to be a great doctor just because I know your patients are going to love and trust you guys. You guys will be the one’s in the medical field that people will be willingly going into appointments for because you guys will be taking care of them and they’ll just want to be around you guys. I know we’ll cross paths again someday, I just have this feeling. Thanks for the good times.

PS. Sorry I tested you on Beatles knowledge, you are a legit Beatles fan and I have much, much respect.

Shout out to the folks in Edinburgh:

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

To my boy from Hungary. This guy is hilarious. And he doesn’t even try. I think that makes him even more comical. Whether it’s him attacking himself because he’s frustrated with his English or just his pervy tendencies to gravitate towards boobs like they’re magnets, this guy is a straight character. My man, I will actually search through those fifty something people with your name and look for the guy in the samurai suit. Best of luck finding work in Edinburgh. You’re the first Hungarian guy I’ve met and I want to say, you were complaining how everyone was pessimistic, but you were far from. You’re an adventurous soul and I hope we cross paths again someday.

To Atlanta. This guy has the cleanest, well-groomed, epic beard I have ever seen. Usually well-groomed and epic don’t go in the same category for beards, but I was wrong! Man, this guy is most definitely a brother. He is the epitome of badass. Thank you again for following my blog and actually spreading it around the hostel. You are the man. You’ll be that teacher in the future that all the chicks dig and all the dudes want to be like. You are too cool. A round of drinks on me when you drop by New York City, cheers mate.

To the bartender. She showed me a glimpse of what love looks like if it was condensed into a short story rather than a novel. She made me feel as if I was on top of the world. If you ever find this, thank you for showing me the beauty of Scotland. I know one day you will leave Edinburgh and see the world yourself, you just have to believe in yourself first. You have set the bar high for what I look for in a woman. The way you made me feel that night is a prerequisite for my future wife, someone that can take my breathe away yet make me feel so grounded and real. You will always have a place in my heart. If I come back to Edinburgh and find out some lucky man has put a ring on your finger, I literally might cry. If you ever come to New York City, please find me. Thank you again for reminding me what it feels like to love.

To the husband and wife at the Scottish pub that treated me to a Guinness and played the ultimate wing man and wing woman. They honestly treated me as if I were their own son. Their marriage is beautiful. If you guys are reading this, you guys have further proven to me that true love lasts past the honeymoon. Thank you for the beer, the good times, and for just being some of the friendliest folks I’ve ever met.

To the motherly owner of the cafe in New Edinburgh, boy does she know how to make people start their day off with a smile. If I lived in New Edinburgh, I would look forward to Monday mornings simply because she would be sure to start my morning with a smile. If you’re reading this now, thank you again for teaching this stupid American how to use pounds and pence and thank you again for breakfast. You are the only holder in this world of the vaccine for a case of the Monday blues.

To Brian O’Headhra, he is an inspiration in its self with amazing talent. He is such a humble man and I am honored to have sat next to him that day and have him have genuine interest in my life and direction. Brian, if you ever read this, I’ll never forget what you told me that day in the Scottish pub. Thank you very much. Thank you for showing me that it’s always important to return to your humble roots and to pay respect to those around you regardless of how far you’ve made it. Thank you.

To the Asian Canadian from Toronto. Yeah I had to outright say Asian Canadian because he was the Asian brother from another mother that I could relate to. I barely even got to kick it with this guy, but he always greeted me as if we had been homeboys long before the trip. My dude, I hope you and your boys are safe traveling through Eastern Europe.

To the Australian I liked and not the one I hated with the Gumby shirt. And by that I mean the one I shot pool with and approached on that random silent afternoon in the hostel. You are truly charismatic. I have never spoken to someone that made me feel so comfortable with myself. You are an amazing listener and I respect seasoned listeners more than anything. Thank you for the game of pool and best believe if I’m ever in your neck of the woods, I’ll be sure to hit you up and if you ever want to experience the four seasons of New York, hit me up. Surf’s up dude!

To the Austrian girl, she was young, conflicted, but had a brilliant mind. The fact that she could speak so many languages and be so brilliantly smart and charming, but yet she was so worried about her future falling short of her expectations only provided me a self reflection of myself. Thank you for showing me, reminding me that although we hold ourselves to such high expectations, we mustn’t forget that failure is inevitable and a necessity in life in order to grow. I know that you will be brilliant. I know that you will live happily and follow your dreams and achieve beyond your dreams. You have your whole life ahead of you, anything is possible with the power of youth. When you visit New York, shoot me a message and I’ll treat you to an independent American movie. Until then, best of luck with college. I’ll be waiting.

Shout outs to the folks in London:

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

To Stanford, this girl is going to be the next multimillionaire, I can feel it. She has her ducks lined up in the right path and she’s definitely setting the bar for twenty something year olds in the work world. You are going to be so successful with coding and I’m going to be so jealous when you get your dream job and your reeling in the dough and traveling the world. But it’s all well deserved, you work your ass off and I have great respect for your work ethic. Thank you for that spontaneous day of tourism and joining me on the Shore Ditch adventure. If I’m ever back in the bay, let’s go on another adventure, it’ll be a lot more organized, I promise. #nontouristsforlife

To Cambria, this guy was so carefree and melancholic about life, as if life was a casual game. Thank you for giving me the life perspective of what my life could possibly be in ten years. Thank you for reminding me that I’m too young to worry. Most importantly, thank you for being that guy in the hostel cafe to have breakfast with me amongst the other robots.

To Melbourne, I don’t even know where to START with this guy. Charismatic, cool, calm, collected, basically name any positive word that starts with a “C” and it would describe this guy. My man, that conversation we had in the cafe in Shore Ditch was unbelievable. You are going places. You definitely are. I’ve never been so inspired by another human being in my life. Hell, I didn’t even know you for half a day but what we spoke about that day in the cafe was so on point and seasoned that I might have overdosed on the authenticity. Your passion that you have for giving back to others is beautiful. You’re an amazing individual that I’ll never forget. Thank you for being so authentic. You are one of the realest guys I’ve met. Please visit me in New York so I can show you around Williamsburg and we can grab a cup of coffee and some brewskis. Much love.

Shout outs to the folks in Paris:

Sacre Coeur, Paris, France

Sacre Coeur, Paris, France

To OK Cupid aka Fullerton aka Korean-American aka girl that we just couldn’t put a name on because no name seemed to represent her correctly, thank you for making my first night in Paris comfortable. Thank you also for the three Euros which I owe you in a drink when you come through to New York. I’ve never met anyone so brave and courageous as you to face life and society with a big middle finger and just choose your own direction in life. You are something special. As I said in my blog, I loved how eloquently and precisely you enunciated when speaking, it was literally art in motion to my eyes. Best of luck making it in Paris, by the next time I see you, you better be fluent in French! Good luck and I’ll see you in the near future!

To the Korean damsel in distress, she was the epitome of innocence. If you ever find me on Facebook or wherever, keep in touch, I want to make sure you’re not getting lost in the subway now that I’m gone. Thank you for the adventure and for choosing me as your knight in shining armor that night, it was fun and I wish you the best of luck with your job tutoring kids.

To the Japanese woman I helped buy a train ticket for, thank you kindly for the twenty euros. They say money can’t buy you happiness, but those twenty euros led to a whole lot of brioche and beignets and if that’s not happiness than I don’t know what is. Arigatou gozaimasu.

To the elderly Japanese couple that bought me ice cream, thank you for being my obachan and ojichan for the day. I’m not going to lie, before I met you guys, I was intimidated by people from Japan because I had a misconception that you guys despised American born Japanese, but that was an ignorant assumption. Thank you for curing my ignorance through your generosity and kindness. Thank you for allowing me to accept my culture without fear. Arigatou gozaimasu.

To Bboy Pierre of Bad Tendencies crew and the rest of the French bboys, merci beaucoup for relighting the fire of dance for me and for reminding me what it feels like to be free in the circle. Thank you for vibing out with me and allowing me to reconnect with my mind, body, and soul through music again. See you at Freestyle Session and keep running the cyphers. Peace, love, and unity.

And last but certainly not least…

Coffee

Coffee

If you’ve made it this far, excuse my French, but you are truly fucking awesome. Thank you my readers, my followers, my friends. Whether it was a simple like, a bump, a share, or a comment of any sort, you have been the source of my inspiration to continue writing and to continue pushing myself during this trip. You are the reason why my trip was pushed to the best of my ability. You are the reason why I was able to experience Europe on another level of awesome. As soon as I realized this trip wasn’t just about me and that I was taking along more than a handful of eager readers, I knew I had to make sure to take full advantage of this trip because others didn’t have the chance or opportunity. I knew I had to make the best of it for the sake of you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for the support, I feel like you all were literally there with me. Thank you for taking the time out of your precious life to look into mine, you don’t know how humbling that is to me. For those of you that took the time out of your days just to step up the extra mile to tell me you enjoyed my writing or my stories or I’ve inspired you to travel or write or to do whatever the fuck you want to do, thank YOU for being MY inspiration. I’ve kept a mental note of what you’ve told me and I’ve stored it in my heart. The sky is not the limit, fly high my friends. This is only the beginning. Thank you. Until next time.

*Special shout out to my kiddos Jonathan So, Darren Chen, and Jason Chen for surprising me at the airport in JFK as soon as I got back. I love you guys so much*

Coffee

Coffee

~ Fin.

June 21 2015: The Final Night. (Paris, France)

“Arigatou gozaimasu!” The fifty something year old Japanese woman with a Cheshire Cat grin kept bowing to me repeatedly as if she were a swinging pendulum. She was so grateful that I had helped her buy her train tickets with the limited Japanese vernacular I possessed; however she spoke neither French nor English and nobody else was stepping up to help her. She handed me twenty Euros. I politely refused. Jazz hands. No thank you, I’m okay, arigatou, ano, boku wa dijoubu desu. She gave me a stern look as if I had just vulgarly offended her, the kind of look a mother gives a child after they’ve been waiting for them impatiently all night to get home and it’s five hours past the curfew. I accepted hesitantly. She bowed once again and went on to blend in with the flow of traffic amongst the Parisian hustle.

My goodness, I’m finally creeping to the final blog entry of this backpacking series. I cannot believe how time has literally whizzed by in the blink of an eye, yet it also feels as though I have lived the entirety of another life. It’s difficult to explain. Two weeks may not be a seriously long time; however when traveling solo, two weeks easily begins feeling like two months. Anymore time on this trip and I think I would be overexerting myself personally.

I had no idea how to spend the last 24 hours of Paris. I decided to head to the Louvre and slow the pace down with some art gallery surfing, take some genuine time for myself if you get what I mean.

One hour, one minute, and forty two seconds. I literally set a timer for how long the line took to get into the Louvre. I studied the statues and ancient artifacts of Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Iran. I do this for a few hours. I end up getting lost and by lost, I don’t mean in the art, I mean literally lost. Whoever constructed the Louvre signs for exits seriously did it purely out of tomfoolery. I follow the green exit signs everywhere and yet it surely doesn’t lead me to the exits, but rather in a circle.

I encounter the Mona Lisa. One can already tell it’s the Mona Lisa by the hundred and something people swarming the portrait like flies on a piece of fecal matter. I literally get elbowed in the ribcage by some elderly Chinese woman, a palm to my face from a Russian lady, and whacked in the head by an Indian man’s selfie stick. I don’t even get to the front because it’s just too crazy. This doesn’t feel like the Louvre, this feels like like a mosh pit at a Metallica concert. I gotta get out of here.

After spending a satisfactory amount of time in the Louvre, I head across the bridge and enter the Musee D’Orsay. I show them my St. John’s University card and tell them I attend the campus in Paris. They give me a look of skepticism and let me in for free. Score.

I love the Musee D’Orsay. It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the Louvre; however I must say I have a personal affinity for Impressionist art as they were staples of my childhood. As I’m enjoying my paintings, I don’t know if age and living in New York has made me a more impatient individual, or maybe it’s the exhaustion from backpacking; however people specifically on this day are intolerable with their behavior at the art exhibit. It has come to my attention that I need to make a “Museum Etiquette for Dummys” or at least a list of rules of some sort.

Disclaimer, I don’t claim myself as a professional art connoisseur or beholder of mastery, rather an art enthusiast and fan. Do not take offense to my list if you find yourself or your traits amongst the list, this is merely a concoction of my observations and experience combined with a hint of ostentatious and a cup of pet peeves and hopefully, it will make you self aware of your actions if you find yourself committing any of these “sins” per say. Once again, art is free, art is unlimited and there are no rules, therefore your behavior and actions are yours to hold; however myself and a few others I have conversed with agree that there are a few things to be addressed by mere criticism and observation. This is purely recreational and out of genuine humor and play and not an imposing constitution. Now that I have addressed my intentions, I shall begin.

Museum Etiquette 101: 3 Key Points from Your Homie Omi

1. Do not intentionally intercept a conversation between the art and the beholder if it can be avoided. By this I mean, if there is an individual that is analyzing the art and you can see the focus, the passion, and concentration in their eyes, do not physically walk between their line of vision and the artwork. One might ask, “But what if the conversation is the length of the entire room and they’re trying to gauge the piece from a different grand perspective? Are we not allowed to walk the room?” Of course, if it can’t be helped, it can’t be helped. But if you have the option of walking around a conversation rather than cutting through, trust me, it would be appreciated. Especially if you’re just there to take pictures for your Instagram feed and showoff to everyone for your selfish five minutes of fame rather than actually respect the art. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Appreciate and respect the art. This is open ended and ambiguous, I know. This is opinion-based and a philosophical rant can be composed about what it means to appreciate and respect the art leading to infinite regression. What I mean in my terms is if you’re going to a museum, go there to absorb and truly indulge the art. But I noticed far too many people yesterday just hopping from renowned painting to renowned painting, skipping the underrated works as if they were not reputable or worthy and I could see the pattern of those who were just there to show off to everyone that they were having a splendid time when in reality, they were just breezing by using the popular art pieces as staples for their self-popularity and not cherishing the true craft in each piece they were taking for granted. But were they really doing this? You’d have ask the individual, I can’t answer that for them. I’m not saying don’t take pictures, hell I love taking pictures and analyzing or just glorifying in the permanent memory of the art when I’m not physically in its presence and I’m not saying it’s wrong to show the art off to your friends and family, by all means. I’m just putting out there that maybe it’s time to relax the smartphone and use the naked eye to truly observe the work that’s presented rather than through the tunnel vision (or in this case box vision) of a lens or white screen. Take the time to observe the color, the patterns of the strokes, the emotions, the landscape, the characters. The beauty of art is, there is no right or wrong answer as they say. Your interpretation is what makes the art significant. Take the time to craft your personal story, conversation, and connection with the art rather than use it as your quickie on Instagram. Trust me. But then again, there is no right or wrong method of enjoying the art. This is my sole opinion and maybe I’m missing out on this new method of speed dating between famous masterpieces.

3. Volume control. There is no need to yell to converse with your partner. If the art truly evokes you to scream, by all means, to each their own. However, I would notice too many people yesterday breaking my concentration with the artwork through obnoxiously loud conversations with one another about things that did not pertain to the art. No I’m not being the stern librarian smacking you with a meter stick telling you to hush, but it would be greatly appreciated if conversations and dialogue were kept at an indoor voice level or at least not where I’m getting an earful about what your travel itinerary is in Paris or about how much your hangover sucks literally screamed into my ear as I’m admiring the Impressionist pieces.

Follow these three rules and you will be on your way to professional museum surfer, satisfaction guaranteed. Just kidding. But seriously, it would be greatly appreciated by yours truly and a handful of others. Thank you for taking the time to read my chichi rant.

After I enjoyed my time at the Musee D’Orsay, I traversed back to the falafel place that was closed yesterday. Crossing fingers, please be open, please be open, please be- YES. It is open. We are in business. I could already see the long line almost comparable to that of the Louvre stretching down the block to this beloved falafel joint.

My dear readers, if you find yourself around the third or fourth arrondissement and find yourself in dire need of satisfying your taste buds, do yourself and your buds a favor and drop by “L’as Du Falafel”. It is the game changer of all game changers in the falafel game. Don’t be intimidated by the line, nor don’t fall short of perfection and settle for less at the neighboring joints. Treat yourself to the worth you deserve, muster the line, and enjoy.

As I continued to walk around after my falafel, I noticed everybody holding beautifully scooped gelatos. I had to figure out where this was being produced. “Pozetto” was the name and yet again, I witnessed a spectacular line out the door. I had to see what the hype was about.

While in line, a Japanese couple in their mid seventies kept turning around to stare at me. They asked me in Japanese if I spoke Japanese. The second encounter with my roots of the day. I did my best to speak to them in my native tongue. I felt like a simpleton, yet they still continued trying to hold a conversation with the uncultured little shit I was embodying. I gave them the bare minimum of what I knew. My name, my age, I am an American, I live in New York, I am sorry I don’t speak Japanese well, I came here alone, I travel to Dublin, Edinburgh, London, and Paris, I study English in America, No I am not student now, I am a blogger. It definitely helped me pass the time in the line as I had this mental struggle of using Japanese.

We get to the front and they order their ice cream and I order mine. I notice the wife conversing with the husband, and pointing at me, but they’re speaking in standard terms, not the dumbed down version for me so I can’t understand a word they’re saying. He nods his head and smiles at me. I smile back but I don’t know what for. She runs up to the cashier and points at me and hands him a twenty euro bill. God damnit were they treating me to ice cream? Sigh. I couldn’t believe it. It was literally just ice cream, but my heart melted as if it were the frozen dairy substance itself. I smiled weakly. “Arigatou gozaimasu”. I bowed my head. I said fuck it and gave them hugs. They laughed and went on with their paths, bidding me “Sayonara”.

I continued walking until I reached an area along the Seine river with public beach chairs. I laid there and thought to myself. I’m in Paris. A jet flew above me. I wonder what beautiful view the pilot is witnessing at this very moment. A couple next to me displayed PG-13 PDA. I wonder how long they’ve been dating. I wonder if they’ve shared this very moment with others before. Some high school kids hopped the fence of the river border and sat on the ledge, smoking cigarettes and sipping beer. They laughed and gazed at the water. Who will they grow up to be? A man beside me snored in his chair. It must have been a long week. I began thinking about life and how ultimately, this platform I was witnessing showcased the variety of life. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just going with the flow. We seize moments and moments seize us; however we’re just living for these moments that I’m seeing first-hand, the good feelings and vibes that make us realize that we’re alive and that life is worth living. It’s universal. I get up and continue on with my day.

I get lost. That’s a surprise, usually I’m really good with my sense of direction. I come across something I’ve never seen before out of my four times traveling to Paris. Music. Live bands everywhere of all different genres. In one corner I hear Jazz, in another I hear Alternative, in another I hear R&B, in another I hear Blues. Cultural dancers are dancing meringue and salsa. People in Native American headdresses and cultural attire sit on the sides. A parade of Algerians dance by with a marching band and a flag. Yuppies. Hypebeasts. Denim heads. Hipsters. Hardcore heads. Classic Artists. Grafitti Artists. People providing free hugs. People providing free massages and hypnotism. A shirtless man with an afro shuffling down the road. No I am not writing you a contemporary version of Dr. Seuss’s To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street, though it feels that way.

The heart of this artistic body is a fountain I have never seen before. This is no ordinary fountain. Modern art sculptures of abstract art spout water. A pair of lips. A snake. A mermaid. A musical note. And many other abstractions. It’s beautiful. The backdrop is a gigantic masterpiece of graffiti art, unlike any I’ve ever seen even in New York City. My jaw drops. I continue walking around.

Drums. I hear drums. Snares. I hear snares. Funk. I smell the funk. My heart beats fast. I glance over. Positioned are numerous amounts of individuals dressed in Adidas, Puma Suedes, Snapbacks, Crewnecks, and Spin Caps. B-boys and b-girls getting down on a piece of linoleum. No, not street performing breakdancers with a cheesy skit and acrobatic moves, actual b-boys and b-girls that aren’t dancing for show, but for self expression rhythmically translating music into physical embodiment. I join the circle.

At first I’m just snapping photos, but then one of my favorite tracks of all time plays and it’s on. To my reader, aside from blogging and photography, B-boying has been a huge influence and craft in my life if you weren’t aware and are confused. All it takes is one throw down and I’m called out by a guy within seconds to duke it out. I’m keeping up with him as we exchange rounds. I can’t stop smiling. It’s been over year since I’ve battled. He takes it as mockery and me not taking him seriously and begins to get frustrated, trash talking me in French. I just smile and laugh even more because I can’t understand what he’s saying and it’s all so surreal that this is happening and I haven’t felt this real, this free in a long time. We exchange eight rounds before I get extremely exhausted. Everyone claps, we hug it out, and people give me daps. By far my favorite experience in Paris, if not this entire backpacking trip. I leave the circle after vibing out a little bit more and head back to my hostel.

I conclude the night with a beer, a hot dog and a baguette, and the sun setting on Paris atop the hill from Sacre Coeur sprawled out on the lawn. What a way to finish my trip. As the sun sets on the city, I gaze out into the horizon. “Merci beaucoup” I whisper to the city before putting my hands behind my head and laying back. My story has finally come to it’s final chapter. J’ai fini.

June 20, 2015: Damsel in Distress (Paris, France)

I’m coming to the end of my two week UK/Western Europe expedition and I can honestly say, it’s been one hell of a trip. I’m exhausted, mentally and physically. Blisters have popped and recreated. The regular cup of Joe in the morning doesn’t kick start me the same way it used to. My body knows it’s almost time to go home.

If there’s one perk, if not the greatest perk of traveling alone, it’s the self realization of who you truly are and what you stand for. Interestingly enough, it never occurred to me until I’ve reached this phase, the end run. This entire trip, it’s been on me to pick what I wanted to do. There was nobody holding me back except myself. There also was nobody pushing me except myself. Within the span of two weeks, I’ve seen myself in both my strongest and fragilest states. I’ve studied my own social patterns and behaviors after self reflection and assessment. There are specific personal aspects that I’ve uncovered that I would have never seen had it not been for this trip and had it not been alone. There are answers and fulfillment that I have yearned for, which have finally been solved and achieved. I have never been more in tune with myself in life as I am now.

This morning was the first that I woke up completely refreshed, being I was spoiled by the penthouse as recalled from my last entry. My body woke up on it’s own at seven in the morning without an alarm clock, a positive indication that I slept soundly. Beams of light crept through the curtain as if the heavens were pointing laser beams telling me it’s time to wake up and not waste the day. I was going to miss the luxury of this as I had to switch hostels at ten thirty, but I know there is no adventure nor growth in comfort. It sure was a nice change of pace though.

I played music, what song perfectly fit this ambiance? “Merry-go-round-of-life” by Joe Hisaishi.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31nOaXSeqSo (it’s worth a listen if you haven’t before, trust me)

I opened the curtains and let the flood of light drown my room. I opened the windows and felt the crisp cool French breeze kiss my face “good morning”. Across the way were cute Parisian style buildings with gardens on their porches. Below me were people driving, walking, biking to their morning commutes. I look to the right. The Sacre Coeur overlooked us all. I embraced this morning ambiance and packed my bags.

Breakfast was served downstairs complimentary. A staple cliche of croissant, baguette, and coffee, but although cliche, there’s nothing that can compare to the freshness and quality of french bread and coffee. I pulled out the pad and pen, sipped my coffee, and wrote for the next four hours.

My next hostel was surprisingly literally right down the block. I checked into my four bedroom dormitory. All three beds were definitely occupied, but the room was empty. At this point in the trip, as I begin to get more exhausted, my level of antisocial introversion is tending to overtake my mind and body like a plague, therefore it was almost a relief that I didn’t have to go through the formalities and small talk with strangers.

I left the hostel and across the way was a Boulangerie.

“Bonjour Madame! Je voudrais un sandwich avec saumon et un brioche s’il vous plait.”

I swear Paris is going to make me the physical embodiment of gluten. Whatever.

Salmon baguette in my left hand, brioche in the other, I walk down le rue cheesing like I’m the biggest baller. This food is seriously that delicious and fresh. A quick pretentious rant directed towards my American bakeries, 85 degree and Paris Baguette and whomever else, shame on you for selling such shoddy frauds in which you call “brioche”. You have committed sins for your false advertisement and allowing your customers to consume lies and forgery. That is all.

I decide to walk instead of take the Metro. I want to absorb the culture and squeeze my way into the puzzle of society through walking amongst it.

Of my observations, what truly amazes me is not the French, but les chiens, the dogs. Paris is one of the only cities I have ever seen in which dogs are leash less. They are outstandingly well-behaved and walk alongside their masters with discipline and obedience. Nothing seems to fathom them, not people on the side eating food, not wild pigeons, not another dog that crosses their path. It’s quite the spectacle.

I walk to Notre Dame. Obligatory photo. I’m suddenly overcome with nostalgia and flashbacks. This is my fourth time in Paris, the first time without family and the first time alone. I glance to the right and see a family on the side enjoying gelato. The son and daughter are perched comfortably next to the mother, the father busily pestering with a camcorder. I laugh. I smile sadly. I take a walk down memory lane and visit the hotel that my family had stayed at in the past.

Hotel Marignon. My dear reader, I cannot tell you the amount of sentiment that overcame me when I saw this building. Memories of a young chubby child on a Razor scooter with a tourist beret to a teenager trying to act “too cool for school” replayed into my mind. Those were different times in my life. I wonder what today’s version of myself would be documented as. “Pretentious asshole with a hint of sarcasm, independence, and solvagance”. The hotel was an old friend of mine telling me “Bonjour monsieur! Wow, you have grown up once again since the last time I’ve seen you. It is good to see you. Nice beard.” Today I’d end up seeing Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and Le Jardin de Luxembourg, but nothing put a smile on my face like the power of sentiment from this personal sacred landmark. I moved on.

The sweet aroma of sugar and crepes overpower my nostrils. I order a crepe with nutella and banana from a side street vendor. I can’t stop thinking of that scene from Talladega Nights where Sasha Baron Cohen forces Will Ferrell to say “I love crepes”. So ridiculous. I love crepes.

I enter a Vintage Boutique, just another fancy paraphrase for thrift shop. Nothing new that I can’t find at Beacon’s in Williamsburg. I’m on the underground level and the employee comes running down the stairs, hiding behind the heavy leather jackets, texting away as if she’s on a top secret mission in complete stealth. She has her hair in a top bun, the top fringes are purple. Her outfit is a myriad of trendy, crop top, cape, high rise rider pants, and chelsea boots. I decide to see if she can help me find the underground of France, and by that I mean the hip and happening and not the catacombs.

“Pardon moi?” She jumps as if she’s been busted.

“Oh la la,” she immediately walks away fast and without looking, stores her cell phone away. I try again.

“Pardon moi.” This time she stops and looks over.

“Uhhh, bonjour. Je suis American. J’adore tes style de vetements. Uhhhh pouvez-vous m’aider? Je suis recherche por le lieux de ‘hip & happening’? Uhhhh ou est le lieux de ‘hip & happening’?” I cringe. My French is horrible. She begins laughing.

“Don’t ever speak French again, but that was cute” she laughs in French-accented English. She tells me to check out some places in the Latin Quarter. She tells me she personally loves to hang out in the Third arrondissement, which is the Art area and she thinks I’d like it. I thank her and take off.

I walk along the Paris canal. I spy with my little eye a Romani holding a rabbit headed my way.

“Bonjour monsieur” she begins to say as she extends the rabbit to me.

Oh hell no. I wave at her with a pair of jazz hands telling her to back off. She continues to harass me, extending the rabbit and getting more aggressive, speaking in French that I can’t understand. I tell her no and continue walking. She’s finally following me and keeping up the pace trying to make eye contact with me on the side while speaking to me extending this brown rabbit.

“Back the FUCK off lady” I yell at her loudly. People around stare. She notices the attention and runs away. Crazy bitch. Check my pockets. Everything is still there. Cool.

I walk to the Eiffel Tower and do the damn stairs. Totally not satisfactory. People stigmatize Americans as the fat overweight people yet I was the only American today and I was trumping over all the other sorry foreigners that were huffing, puffing, dry heaving, and sitting on the steps for breaks. Yeah, that’s right, ‘murica. No, I’m kidding, I totally get it, America as a whole seriously is fat. But on a real note, I was surprised how out of shape the rest of the world was.

I get to the top and attempt to take my selfie while a Spanish family obnoxiously squeezes there way into my selfie space to take their selfies. I switch spots. Hell I don’t even like taking selfies but I’m on the top of the Eiffel Tower so I just feel obligated. An Indian family shoves their way into my selfie area. I’m starting to get annoyed. I move to another area. The same Spanish family squeezes their way into this new territory that I claimed. Forget it. Just forget it. I try to think of the positive. At least the stairs were good exercise and I was able to gauge how far I walked around Paris, which was far.

I take the Metro back to my hostel since my feet are completely worn out. I get back to the hostel and change into dress attire. I was going to check out this Art District that the thrift chick had recommended. On top of that, it was in the same area as a falafel place that I absolutely loved from past experiences in Paris. The falafels this place serves is on another level of perfection.

I take the train. It’s about ten o’clock in the evening. I get there in thirty minutes. And the biggest disappointment in my trip happens here, more disappointing than London as a whole. The falafel place is closed. I’m not sure if it was closed for the day or out of business, but their hours are usually until midnight. Fuck. I grimace and continue walking around the Art District. The atmosphere is seriously live, the cobblestone streets are packed with the majority of the age repertoire of thirty something year old people.

I squeeze my way into a bar. Too loud. The lights are blinding me. I smell douche bag. Hell I can’t even get to the bar. I squeeze my way out. I walk a block. Ah this place looks cool, a lot more chill. Let’s check this out.

It’s a wine bar. All the walls are white. Weird music is playing and I mean weird. It was like finger snapping acapella if that makes any sense. I look around the room. People are giving me snooty looks. They’re dressed in the strangest attire I’ve ever seen. A women has on her head what appears to be a silver tray while she wears bell bottoms and an oversized shirt. A man is literally wearing what looks like a women’s dress, but he’s not in drag if that makes any sense. A man is on the side with a long ponytail, sunglasses, a cardigan, a spiffy bowtie, a button up shirt, and short shorts. He’s ranting in French to two other women that he has his arms around. They all hold cigars. Far too pretentious even for my standards. I leave.

It’s an ongoing pattern of too douchey and too pretentious and I just can’t seem to find the chill vibe or balance that I’m searching for. Maybe I’m just not made for night life. I go out to gaze upon the Seine River. I think about home and how I live in the city that never sleeps. I personally can’t stand going out to the clubs and bars that my friends seem to enjoy. My friends call me a “home body” or “Dad”. I glance back at the bars. People getting shitfaced screaming their heads off. It clicks in my mind. Those people aren’t me. This is not me. This is not what I enjoy and you know what, that’s completely fine. This is my experience. I don’t need to force myself into the puzzle piece of this category of the night life if it just doesn’t fit. I gaze back at the river and the street lights reflecting on the ripples and the reflections with Notre Dame illuminated in the background. This is me. This is what I enjoy. This fits. I’m at peace. I sit in silence taking in the setting. Eleven thirty. I should head home. I hop back on the train.

I take a seat. The train stops at the next station. A twenty something year old girl runs in looking completely distressed. She’s Asian, though I don’t know what kind. She has very fair skin, a short haircut shaped like a chestnut dyed red with super trendy black leather trimmed pants and an over sized t-shirt which compensate her hourglass figure. She continuously looks at the train map. She looks around. She spots me. She looks back at the train map. She looks back at me. She looks at the train map. She looks back at me. She sits next to me.

“Sorry!” she says as she accidentally brushes up against me clumsily as she takes her seat. I tell her it’s quite alright. Interesting that her first choice of language usage is English. She looks at the map, she looks at me.

“Uhm excuse me, I need help,” she says to me. Her English is broken. It’s her first night since she moved to Paris from Korea. She has no idea how to get to the train station that will take her to the small suburb outside of Paris back to her new place of residence. Her English is extremely limited and she speaks zero French. I take a look at her itinerary. She’s definitely on the wrong train. Although it’s only been a day for me, I’ve memorized the metro map. My train stop is the next stop. I’m so tired. I want to sleep. My feet are killing me. I look around the metro. Everybody is looking a little more sketchier than the usual crowd. I look at her completely forlorn. The train stops at my stop. I skip my stop and tell her I’ll escort her to the train station and not to worry. Her face relaxes and her frown literally flips upside down. Sigh, why must I be the hero?

We transfer trains and head to the Gare de L’est Train Station. She’s completely impressed with my sense of direction and asks me how long I’ve lived in France. I laugh. She tells me that she’s completely terrified of Paris and she had to work late hours at her job as a Korean tutor. She tells me all the streets begin to look the same and she can’t seem to communicate with the people around here. I ask her to pull out her phone. Although she can literally just Google Map this all on her own, I do it for her, I ask her for a piece of paper and a pen, and I modify the route and the train for her in steps and pictures that she can follow easily so this doesn’t continue to happen. We get to the train station. We leave the train. She links arms with me.

“So,” she smiles as we walk up the stairs, “do you have girlfriend?”

My foot literally gets stuck on a stair and I fall forward, I’m seriously telling the truth and I swear I’m not putting this in for any sort of comedy, this seriously and coincidentally happens. She screams, but I shoot back up and brush myself off quickly. Big smiles. Nothing happened. I tell her I don’t.

We get to the train terminal. Chateau-Thy is the train she’s looking for. I find a conductor.

“Pardon moi monsieur, ou est le plate-forme por Chateu-Thy?”

He tells me it’s platform dix-neuf (nineteen) and the next one leaves at twelve thirty in a few minutes.

I escort her to the platform. She can’t stop thanking me. I’m just happy she got here okay since I don’t know how long she would have been wandering around Paris on the metro. It was a complicated route. She pulls out another piece of paper and pen and leaves her phone number, her name, and her email and tells me to keep in touch and asks for mine. She gives me a big hug and her hands slide across my arms to my hands. She smiles at me as she stares into my eyes. She plants her lips on my cheek and then a quick peck on my lips. She runs off to her train. I could feel my face burning crimson. She continuously turns back to smile and wave. I just smile and wave back. What a night.

June 19, 2015: The Megabus/First Night in Paris (Paris, France)

6:05am – Hostel, London, England

BEEP! BEEP! BEE-Slap. I snooze my alarm clock. Give me twenty more minutes.

6:30am – Hostel, London, England

BEEP! BEE-Okay, I’m up, shit. Last day in London and good riddance. I’m so ready to leave. Something falls on my head from the top bunk. What was that?

I look at it. It’s the guy’s passport that’s snoring like a wildebeest. Sigh. I open it up. Bald with a gap toothed grin from Milwaukee. Stupid American. I slip it into his hoof while he snores away.

8:30am Victoria Coach Station, London, England

I’m early. Too early. Check-in is at ten for the Megabus. This is just great. What to do. Twiddle my thumbs. Count the tiles on the floor. 1, 2, 3, 4…

10:30 am Victoria Coach Station, London, England

I’m late. How did I get carried away reorganizing my phone contacts? I’m the only person in the gate waiting. I step outside.

“Oi, don’t tell me you’re on the Paris bus,” said the bus driver. He had pointy ears, fierce eyes, and a round body. He looked like a goblin, but one of those goofy goblins that are used as comic relief rather than malice.

“I believe I am sir.”

“Where the fock have you been?! I’ve called ‘Last Call’ at least a hundred times.”

“Sorry sir”

I board the bus. It’s full.

A guy pulls up his bag and lets me sit. We’re right next to the bathroom. Great. Pop the Dramamine, I’m sleeping.

1:00pm Office of Foreign Affairs between England and France

“Everybody get off the bus and bring your passports. Don’t you dare think about going into the shops or grabbing a bite to eat or I swear I will leave you. You have ten minutes, the second my wotch goes ‘beep beep’, I will leave. You have ten minutes.” Hail the megabus driver.

1:10pm Office of Foreign Affairs between England and France

Doors Close

1:12pm Office of Foreign Affairs between England and France

A heavy set man in a bucket hat and an “I <3 London” shirt sprints like a buffoon, holding onto his Burger King bag as if he were Indiana jones escaping the temple.

“Are you focking kidding me, what the fock did I tell you?!” the bus Nazi yells.

“Get the FOCK in here!”

Doors slam shut

2:12pm Still at the Office of Foreign Affairs between England and France…

We’ve been sitting in the same spot since he slammed the door. We’re stuck due to a delay. The Chinese people in front of me unpeeled a banana naked and handle it with their bare hands. I never understand why people hold naked bananas without utilizing the peel. They throw the banana peel on the floor. The smell marinates.

“So you’re going to Paris too?” The American behind me attempts setting up chemistry with the Italian girl next to him.

She laughs, “Yes, I love Paris.”

“Wow, me too. Let’s exchange numbers so we can grab a drink or something! Megabus buddies gotta stick together, yeno?”

“Hey, watch this video,” she totally disregards the phone number asking and pulls up a short snippet of some baby dancing to rave music.

“Hahahahahaha! Oh my God, that’s fucking hilarious! Hahaha!”

“Yes, yes! Watch this one too!”

3:12pm Still parked at the Office of Foreign Affairs…

“…and watch this one!” Another baby at a rave.

“Ha…ha…yeah…that’s funny…” The American grows bored. You can hear the resentment in his voice. He pretends to sleep, but we all know he’s awake and avoiding the torture of tasteless humor.

We’re still in the same spot due to delays.

The British couple to my right begin making out.

The boy next to me sits silently and reads American Psycho. He’s halfway through.

3:30pm A Box

We begin moving again. We enter a box. Literally. The bus drives into a box. An announcement comes up.

“While on the train, please remember-”

The Chinese people in front of me overpower the message announcement. I can’t hear the announcement.

“-and don’t forget, you cannot do-”

they speak louder as they fight for volume against the PA.

“-thank you for listening.” Great. What the hell is going on?

3:40pm The Box

The box begins to shake. We’re parked in the box. It feels like we’re on a 3-D movie ride. What is happening?

“Babe what is happening?” the British girlfriend asks her boyfriend. He shrugs.

4:00pm The Tunnel

Oh. We’re being transported in the box through an underground tunnel. That makes a lot of sense now.

5:00pm France

We’re out of the tunnel. The British couple clap. Why are you clapping? Stop that. The bathroom has been tainted by so many people. The smell creeps into my nostrils. Sigh.

5:30pm Amenie, France

We arrive in Amenie.

“Babe, this doesn’t look like Paris,” the British girlfriend says.

Because we’re in Amenie.

“Babe, since when did Paris look so Eastern European?”

Because we’re in Amenie.

“Babe, we got here really fast.”

Because we’re in Amenie.

“Oh, we’re not in Paris? Where are we?”

I go to sleep.

8:30pm Paris, France

We get to Paris. The Chinese people in front of me start screaming and clapping when they see the Eiffel Tower. Cute.

9:00pm Porte Maillo Coach Park, Paris, France

Where do I go now? I look around. Everything is in French. Obviously. Uh, gotta find the Metro…oh there it is. I take the Metro to the hostel.

9:10pm Hostel, Paris, France

I leave my stuff in a six bunk dorm room. Not too shabby. A guy enters the room. He’s from Boston. He reeks of American.

“Where you going bro?” he asks.

“Oh just out and about.”

“I’ll join you, I’m trying to get fucked up every night while I’m in Paris. Trying to slay some French vagine if you know what I mean.”

“Uhm, actually, I’m not going out to drink, I’m just going for a stroll. I’m really tired, I had a long day on the Megabus”

“Oh I get it, you’re scared.”

“Scared?”

“I get it, that’s cool, you’re scared. Well that’s fine. That’s all I had to hear,”

Pause to look at him. “Have a good night.”

9:20pm Sacre Coeur, Paris, France

“Bonsoir monsieur”

“Bonsoir madame. Je voudrais un sandwich thone thomate.” I put extra emphasis in my accent. She begins speaking to me in more French. I give a stupid look. Busted. Fuck.

“Oh, you are not French? I see. You spoke well though,” she laughs.

I’m flattered.

9:30pm Sacre Coeur

I take my sandwich to the lawn and watch the sunset on Paris as I eat silently. It’s beautiful. Tourists flock with their selfie sticks in the background. Children on a field trip are playing “Happy” by Pharell and dancing around like kids do. Couples nuzzle against each other and pop their bottles of champagne. Algerian hustlers are on the side selling tourist trinkets.

I notice another person sitting alone on the lawn below me, quite possibly the only other person who’s actually alone. Some Asian girl around her twenties if I’d guess with a leather jacket and…is that a tie that’s casually looped around her neck? Interesting. She must be French. She’s the only other person here that’s alone.

9:32pm Sacre Coeur, Paris, France

She begins to leave. I should talk to her. Maybe she can give me suggestions for places.

9:33pm Sacre Coeur, Paris, France

“Pardon moi mademoiselle, tu es francaise?”

“No, no, uhm I speak English”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah…wait you too? Are you American?”

“Yeah”

She’s not French. She’s American. A Korean-American from Fullerton, California that went to college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that graduated with a double major in Linguistics and Japanese that moved to NYC to work for a dating site called “OK Cupid” that went on to work for the independent freelance company “Simple Pick Up” that quit that job that went to move to France in May to find work. She writes travel blogs freelance on TripAdvisor. She does not speak French. Interesting. Daring. Respect. We go out for a drink.

11:12pm Some bar in Paris, France

We sip beers in a bar with an ambiance that yells cliche. Cigarette smell. Check. Dim lighting with dark shades of red and black. Check. Loud American tourists outside the bar. Check. We manage to find seating inside. I enjoy the fact that the bartender grows aware that people are conversing and switches the music from 90’s mainstream to chill instrumentals. I applaud you bartender.

We’ve exchanged a lot. I adore the way she pronounces words so eloquently and elaborately as if she’s on a panel for a public speaker presenting to an audience of thousands. Must be the Linguistics influence. She moved to Paris in order to live independently away, selfishly, but in a good way. I understand. I understand completely. I appreciate her scrupulous mentality in the sense that she goes out of her way to research a culture and its history before making any evaluating assessments or judgments. Once again, I find another person who’s more Japanese than myself. She knows the language fluently and has lived there temporarily. She ends up spotting me three Euros for the beer because of a miscommunication on behalf of the order. She won’t let me pay her back. She has to get home before the last train stops running. I enjoyed her company dearly. We exchange contacts. I bid her farewell and tell her to text me as soon as she gets home.

11:30pm Hostel, Paris, France

“Excuse me sir, we made a terrible mistake. This room has been booked already by six people There is a room open that we can move you too if you’re willing?”

11:32pm Penthouse

He opens the door. A queen sized bed. A flatscreen T.V. Single Room. A private balcony. A private bathroom. A bathtub. Towels.

“Is it okay if we switch you here? I’m sorry for the inconvenience”

I try to hide my smile. Ahem. Well I suppose this will do if I absolutely must.

11:45pm Penthouse

I’m smiling ear to ear stretched out on my bed. I start the bathtub. I turn on the T.V. Some French programs. Interesting. I look over into the mirror. The man in the reflection is different from the boy that left JFK to Dublin two weeks ago. Wiser? Older? I don’t know. Definitely different.

12:00am Penthouse

She texts me that she got home safe. I’m glad to hear. I get out of the tub, grab a towel and chill on the balcony. I gaze into the city. Street lights. Silence. Serenity. Paris, you are the best.

June 18, 2015: “Mind the Gap” (Final Day of London, England)

“Mind the gap between the train and platform.” I must have heard this at least fifty times today and this is not an exaggeration. The London Tube, aka their subway, reminds their passengers with this lovely message after every single stop. Cute and courteous, but quite annoying.

I realized today was the last day in London yesterday as I booked my Mega Bus ticket incorrectly. I thought I had booked my ticket for ten thirty at night, but to my surprise, I double check the ticket and it says ten thirty in the morning. Shit. I had to book another hostel last minute or else I would have been sleeping in the subway station in Paris tomorrow. Eleven hours on the bus during the day. Quite the waste.

Today was the day I wanted London to prove me wrong, that there was something more to London than I was experiencing thus far and that I would fall in love with this city. Prove me wrong London, I challenged this city as soon as I woke up.

I started the day off in the hostel cafe eating breakfast. Same mundane cliques and the same eating in silence expected from this retched hostel until a man came along and sat across from me. He had a book. I asked him about it. It was a book on Australian history. He was Australian. Makes perfect sense.

He was an Australian from Cambria around his early thirties with slightly long dirty blonde hair, a five o’ clock shadow, and a bit of a protruding gut. He was in London temporarily until he would travel to Paris to obtain a work visa in hopes of finding a job while living with his girlfriend in Montpelier. He had traveled a great amount of the world, telling me stories about his experiences backpacking China, Taiwan, Japan, Syria, and all of Europe. He had just met his ex girlfriend in London yesterday, whom was the girl he backpacked Japan with when he was twenty one years old. He claimed meeting up with her brought back a nostalgic vibe, reminding him of who he was ten years ago and how he remembered who he was then, but he was not the same now. He had lost his phone in Barcelona last week at a pub. I apologized. He told me, “Don’t apologize, it’s a phone, not my kid. I’m better off without it, trust me.” What I respected the most about him was his accuracy in pronunciation with words from every culture correctly as they should, never butchering the vernacular of any for his personal compensation. He told me he was at the point of his life where he had no idea what he was doing, but he didn’t believe anybody truly did.

“And if they tell yew they dew, they’re a gohd dame liyah.”

He was good breakfast company.

Immediately after breakfast, I’d meet another Australian in the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth.

He was twenty something years old with styled hair, a groomed chinstrap, bottle green pants, a fitted white shirt, and a golden brown cardigan. He was from Melbourne and had just flown in. He looked pretty hip. I told him to check out Shore Ditch. The amount of friendliness he donated was surprising to me in comparison to the amount of social interaction provided from others within the hostel. He was down to hangout with me today and immediately even after he had just landed from a twenty something hour plane ride. We exchanged contacts and I told him I’d meet him in Shore Ditch later.

I left the hostel and head to Kings Crossing.

“Mind the gap” as I get off the platform.

Life goal number two: Obligatory Platform 9 3/4 picture. I get to the station and I see a line zigzagging to the iconic cart from Harry Potter. Employees are facilitating the line movement and taking the tourists photos, selling them within the stores as an amusement park would. Oh boy, this is gonna take a long time.

It takes a long time. About an hour. The entire hour, I stand in line with children around the ages of five to twelve. Wait, wasn’t I the same age as these kids when I was interested in Harry Potter? I would have thought there would be more adults, but whatever. The kid behind me is pushing my buttons.

He was a seven year old brat with brown hair and a nose full of boogers that he continuously picked. For every step I took, he would be quick to step on the back of my shoes to fill the gap. He had no sense of personal boundaries. His mom, a lady with the same haircut as “The Little Lad who loves Berries and Cream” didn’t bother to stop him, standing there with a stoic tight face. He continuously attempted to cut me in line. I continuously had to squeeze the gap, feeling like I was in elementary school again about to yell, “No cutsies”. Kid, I don’t care how old you are, if you dare try to cut me, I’m gonna Avada Kedavra yo ass.

After enduring this annoyance for exactly one hour, I get to the front of the line. Finally.

“Excuse me, can you take my photo?” I hold out my phone to the prop lady who’s in charge of providing the scarves and wands for the photo, “I don’t need the props.”

The prop lady looks around with a confused look. She tells me she can’t do it. I ask the man taking the fancy photos for the picture you can buy from them at the store. He asks a lady on the side to take it for me.

“1, 2, 3!” I do the iconic jump. I do this three times. People in line laugh and clap.

“Wow, that was beautiful jumping!” Yeah, whatever, fuck all of you, just give me my picture.

I look at my phone. There is no picture. Not a single one. The lady that was supposed to take my picture totally flopped.

“Excuse me, the lady didn’t take my picture, can I redo it?”

“Sorry, you had your chance, you’re going to have to wait in line to retake it. But our photographer took your picture and you can buy the professionally done one inside.”

My eye twitches. You fucking schemers. Fine. Just because this was seriously something I had dreamed of since I was a kid, fine. I’ll pay the ten pounds for the stupid picture.

“Hmmmmm, I don’t see a picture of you…is this you?” The lady pulls up a picture of some Asian guy posing in front of the cart. That’s not racist at all. She calls over the camera man and asks him where my picture is.

“Oh you’re the guy with the great jumping! Yeah, you just kinda ran away before I could even pull out my camera so I didn’t even get to take your picture.”

I give him the death stare.

“I didn’t run off. How could I possibly have run off if I had time to tell your staff that the lady didn’t take my photo and I wanted to redo my stupid jumping and she was the one that was like ‘Oh, well we already took it so you can buy it’?”

He shoots back a look of skepticism as if I’m in the wrong. He regroups himself and puts on this big fake cheesy smile.

“Well,” he says through a plastic grin, “If you would like to retake the picture, we can just cut the line and I’d be more than happy to shoot your photo since you insist.”

At this point, I’m stuck. I don’t want to take the photo because first, this guy’s being an ass hat, second, I don’t want to go through the damn humiliation of them going “Okay kids, hold up, we have special treatment for this twenty one year old man with a beard to take his stupid photo jumping with the cart so wait your turn and let’s all watch him jump like an idiot while we tap our feet impatiently”, and third, I did not want to pay these fucking people any of my money at this point. On the other hand, it was one of those things I came looking forward to coming to London for and he did say I could cut the line which was better than nothing. My pride gets the best of me. Snap back to reality.

“Forget the picture, this is so stupid,” angrily I fume off. I hear him in the background saying, “It’s always the Americans, always expecting things their way.” I’m literally about to turn around and yell back some smart ass remark, but I just let it go. It ruins my mood and sticks with me. I take the train to Shore Ditch.

Fuck that guy, I’m thinking in my head. I keep replaying what happened over and over again.

Just let it go.

No.

“Mind the gap”

Fuck London.

A girl smiles at me as I walk by in Shore Ditch. I smile back.

Wait, what was I mad about again?

I grab lunch in Shore Ditch. I get a message from Melbourne that he’s in the area and wants to chill. We meet up and go grab coffee at Brick Lane Cafe.

We talk over coffee for a long time. Reminiscent to the receptionist in Dublin, this was just one of those conversations that was so damn real. I mean this conversation was such an artful exchange, I felt as if I was getting high off dialogue. We conversed about life, philosophies, society, culture, the whole ballpark. He talked to me about how he had a gig with photography in the past but he felt that when it became an occupation he felt limited and he talked about his perception of art as freedom and he talked about what direction he wanted his life to go and what it meant to achieve the pursuit of happiness. He tells me about how he originally studied business and finance, but he volunteered his time recently to traveling to Africa to help uplift underprivileged villages and build communities. This conversation goes in the record book of my favorite conversations of all time. Out of all the people I have met on this trip, Melbourne was definitely the most inspiring, insightful, and friendly individual I had met. I left our conversation feeling like I had known him my entire life.

Melbourne had to move onto a busy agenda for the rest of the day leaving me to finish my final day in London. Sky Garden. I was supposed to go to Sky Garden. I look it up. I needed tickets three days in advance. Why did I not see this beforehand? Sky Garden is a no-go.

I remember Melbourne telling me that he heard Kew Gardens is beautiful. No my fellow New Yorkers, not Kew Gardens and Union Turnpike. The actual Kew Gardens. I take the train all the way to Kew Gardens which is about a good fifteen stops and forty five minutes to get there from Shore Ditch.

“Mind the gap” times fifteen.

I get to Kew Gardens. Everybody is leaving. I find out it just closed as I got there. I’m sad. I head back to the train.

“Mind the gap” times fifteen.

I’m just about to say fuck it and call it a day and I change my mind last minute. I’m not going to end London like this. No. I’m going to make it work because I can. I am going to love London. Let’s do this.

“Mind the gap” times ten.

I get off at London Bridge Station. Yes, I’m going to see London Bridge, and I’m going to love it- wait are you kidding me, this is London Bridge? I stare at the plain infrastructure of what London Bridge is. For some reason, I thought it was going to be as glamorous as Tower Bridge. Stanford had warned me about it yesterday. London Bridge is a no-go.

I remember that Burroughs Market is nearby. I follow the signs leading to there. Please be open, please be open, please be open, I think to myself as I navigate through the alleyways. I turn the last corner to Burroughs Market. I see emptiness. Signs of food vendors hanging from tarps flying lifelessly in the wind with vacant spaces. Pigeons flying to and from, scavenging for remnants of leftover scraps. In my eyes, it was a battlefield after the war had been fought. Burroughs Market was a no-go.

I walk along the River Thames. I force myself. It cannot end like this. It cannot end like this. A man is playing a shoddy rendition of “Black Bird” by The Beatles. A couple passes by me linking arms their laughs echoing. A pizza parlor. Business men talk business and sip their beers as their stomachs inflame with intoxication and gossip. Children run by and a mother yells them to stop. A pigeon dodges my head. A beggar sticks his hand out. The wind dances with a napkin. A boat full of tourists floats by as their cameras snap pictures that will be archived into photo albums and cherished as “Our First Trip to London” which will be passed on and glorified by their great grandchildren years in the future. A couple locks lips and forgets the combination to unlock. It was no use. I was only forcing myself to find something. I turn back. I head to the train station.

“Mind the gap”.

June 17, 2015: Shoreditch. Need I say more? (London, England)

“Oh, you know where you need to go? Shoreditch. It’s like Williamsburg with mature hipsters. I think you’d appreciate it,” was what the local Londoner told me yesterday. I’ll get back to the topic of Shoreditch eventually.

I woke up today and grabbed breakfast at the hostel promptly around seven thirty in the morning. I don’t like this hostel. If there was such thing as a hostel with a high school atmosphere, this would be the one. People stick to their race over here like cliques. Walking into the dining area, you got your Germans, your Chinese, your Koreans, and your French that all stick to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand it’s reasonable to want to sit with people that you can communicate and relate with easily, but this is the first hostel where it lacks the community vibe. In the other hostels, it didn’t matter what race or what language you spoke, you made it work, you made friends, you laughed at the game of charades you had to pull with each other just to get the other person to understand you. People here don’t want to step out of their comfort zone. People here would rather plug their headphones in and keep to themselves. Granted, it’s my fault for being an ignorant American and I wish I was bilingual or trilingual and able join the non-English conversations, but the bottom line is, I’m not so that takes me out of the loop. My eyes have been opened to the American idiot I truly am; as soon as I get home, mastering another language is a necessity and a long-term goal.

I’m sitting at a table and the Chinese girl to my right is yelling at the top of her lungs communicating through Facetime. It’s a little too loud for my comfort at this time of the morning. I decide to switch tables.

“What’s up guys, mind if I sit here?” The Germans stare at me.

“Yes? No?” I point at the seat and give thumbs up or thumbs down. They nod their heads and continue speaking to each other. Sigh. I eat in silence. I look to my left. Three people glued to their smartphones with headphones cutting them off from reality. Mindless robots. Is this what I look like in New York everyday? It’s quite pathetic. Not pathetic. More, sad. I make a mental note to ditch the headphones as soon as I get home. I look out the window. Cloudy with a chance of antisocial.

I think I’m allergic to London. No, not in the sense that I don’t like London, but I’m literally allergic. I can’t stop sneezing to save my life. I must have sneezed twenty times in one hour. Even as I’m writing this blog right now, I keep holding back sneezes making me look like I’m about to burst out crying every time my face scrunches up and relaxes. No wonder people aren’t talking to me.

I enter the lobby after breakfast. Once again, blank faces, white screens, and silence. There must be at least eleven people in here but you wouldn’t know it if you passed by. I look around, shake my head, and begin to start figuring out where I should go today.

Movement. What was that? I see it through my peripherals. Did somebody actually stray from their technology? I look around. I must have imagined it.

Movement again. I quickly look up. A girl directly in front of me is looking around the room and looking back at her phone, looking around the room, looking back at her phone. I found a survivor.

“Can you help me figure out how to use this train card?” I ask her. Honestly, I knew how it worked, I just needed an excuse to make conversation. She smiles. She has emotion. She responds. She can talk. It’s a miracle.

She was a petite brunette that had just graduated from Stanford University with a Master’s in Computer Science. Her roots stem from Southern California in the Valley, but she’s far from a Valley Girl so I’ll just refer to her as Stanford. She was half Filipina, half Caucasian and loved the Sherlock series. She had a German boyfriend, but she traveled this trip independently, London being her first stop and the next three weeks still unwritten. She flew in yesterday and slept twelve hours after a stressful day of flying and having her luggage lost by United Airlines. She had done an internship in New York City as well as an internship in Tokyo in the past. She could speak Japanese, Spanish, and the bare minimum of Mandarin, but she did not consider herself fluent in any of them. She had an artistic side, Impressionist art being her forte while Monet and Cezanne were two of a handful of her favorite artists. She had mastered piano playing by first grade. She was very cultured, smart, and talented. I was impressed. We both had this strange pretentious idiosyncrasy that revolved around being tourists not wanting to be tourists because we wouldn’t fall for touristy tourist traps, but we would still see the tourist places for the overall experience. She became my travel partner for the day.

Hanging out with Stanford made me realize how truly ignorant and stupid I really was. I knew nothing about England.

Her: “I really want to see the Change of the Guard at Buckingham Palace”

Me: “Oh yeah, me too, totes. Wait, what is that?”

or

Me: “Wow, London Bridge is so cool.”

“This is Tower Bridge, not London Bridge.”

or

Me: “You know that one wheel that like everyone goes to and it’s like you see all of London?”

Her: “You mean the London Eye?”

At this point, I sound like the Valley Girl. I promise I’m not this dumb and uncultured most of the time, I just didn’t do my research thoroughly for London.

We end up hitting the tourist spots just to knock them out of the way. Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, the National Art Gallery, Tower Bridge, we take them all out. She has the book smarts, but it’s my turn to put my input on the street smarts. I recommend Shoreditch.

We walk forever. I have no idea where we are. I could tell she’s tired from jet lag and possibly irritated that I don’t know my sense of direction coherently, but she’s holding it back to be civil and polite. I ask a man where Shoreditch is and he says it’s up the block. Thank the lord, at least we were going in the right direction.

Please be a cool place, please be a cool place, please be a cool place, I think in my head as we turn the corner. I begin to panic a little when I see nothing but men in suits and bland buildings. Ugh, oh well, at least I tried. She googles places to eat around the area. We aim for a place she heard about in a review. We begin walking. We turn the corner.

Street art. Street art. Everywhere street art. Bicycles. Fixies. Thick frame glasses. Plaid shirts. Beards. Gauges. Skinny jeans. Porkpie hats. Overalls. Suspenders. The smell of cigarettes and coffee. Cafes. Instruments.

It was as if we had stepped into the wardrobe to Narnia, it’s just this wardrobe must have belonged to a thirty something year old bike riding, gluten-free, non-GMO, banjo playing, vegan with a side order of graffiti. It was dope. I smiled ear to ear as I comprehended what I saw. Shoreditch was live. The myths were true.

We encounter a place that smells amazing. Stairs lead us to what appears to be black storage crates elevated twenty feet above the ground. Each individual storage crate seemed to contain a specialized restaurant with unique cuisines and specialties. It was called Box Park. If you’re a New Yorker, I’d say it’s comparable to Smorgasburg if Smorgasburg actually held its food stands in individual huge boxes in restaurant style ambiance. It was incredibly trendy and hip.

I could have ordered any of the fusion cuisine, but I felt like it hit too close to home with Smorgasburg. Yes, I ordered the specialty haddock and chips. It was cooked to perfection. It blew the fish and chips I had yesterday out of the water. The golden fried layer was precisely thin and the beer batter did not overpower the flavor of the fish. Hands down the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.

After eating, we decided to still check out the place Stanford wanted to see. It was a Cereal Bar. What is a Cereal Bar you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like. A bar with cereal. Replace the walls of Jameson and Jack with Fruity Pebbles and Coco Puffs, replace the draft beers with organic milk, replace the rocks with bananas and nutella and you get the picture.

Cereal Killer Cafe was the name of the Cereal Bar. They literally have every flavor cereal you can imagine from Great Britain and the world. Their “cocktails” were concoctions of prearranged cereal suicides that they found the most tastefully appealing. I ordered the “Shooty Shooty Bang Bang” which composed of Krave Roulette, Twix Mix, Nutella, Popping Chocolate, and White Chocolate Milk. Diabetes in a bowl, but I enjoyed every chocolatey bite.

The cafe’s environment was structured to arouse your nostalgia boner. The walls were decorated with an 80’s and 90’s kitchen-like setting with cameo features of old NES video game flyers, celebrity posters of British boy bands, Michael Jackson, and Mariah Carey, and retro television sets that replayed He-Man, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Friends. The chairs were all individually unique, I believe it featured every style of 90’s middle class suburban family kitchen or dining room chair I’ve ever seen. Eating there made me feel as if I had just woken up at a friend’s sleepover after a long night of video games, only to creep into their kitchen and scrounge around for the box of cereal that I could trust and devour. It was a memorable and worthwhile experience.

After the Cereal Bar, we walked around Brick Lane for a while. Vintage thrift boutiques, more street art, and classy cafes filled the street. I couldn’t have asked for more, this was literally my safe haven within the London hustle and bustle. I’ll definitely be returning.

London, you’re turning out to be okay.

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