Sunday, November 4, 2007

Around the World

I'm sitting in my brother's attic in Tacoma with the rain pelting the skylight above my head, thinking back over this past year. I've had a lot of time to think this past month, as I'm recovering from mono and can't do much else other than look at photo's, read, and watch movies. It's a far cry from wandering from place to place, waking up to different sounds wafting in through the window, meeting strange and unusual people. Yes, these days are a bit more tame, but it's a transition time that allows for contemplation. Lately I've had a hard time figuring out how to put an end to this blog. I've had so many diverse experiences this year and to paraphrase or "sum it up" would be futile and redundant, not to mention boring as hell. I enjoyed sharing some stories though this site, and was glad to keep people up to date (relatively) throughout my so called adventure. I tried not to get too philosophical or wordy in my previous posts as I have a heart and a little modesty, but in this case I will make an exception, feel free to run if you get the urge. For those brave enough to read on, consider yourself warned, I've had nothing to do for a long time now. First of all I had a great time, that much is for sure. I saw some old friends, made some new ones, and shared some laughs with people I will never see again. I will cherish all of these memories for the rest of my life. Not many people choose to travel alone, and it's easy to presume the reasons for doing so. Was I really just being a bum, blowing a bunch of money for some thrilling but short lived good times? Or was I running from my life, my responsibilities? The most common preconception is that a traveller is trying to "find oneself". Those that are attempting to do this probably found out what I did fairly soon, life on the road is much like life in general. There are routines to be had if you want them. There can be stress, boredom, even work to go to if you don't watch out. I was lonely at times, missing friends and family, but also had the most exhilarating adventures of my life. Touring around from country to country is a learning experience you can't get from a book or the travel channel. I certainly had a brief encounter with a lot of cultures this year, 16 countries in all. I can't really say I "know" much about any of them sadly, but I was able to get a feeling for each place, soak in some of the pace of life, notice the little differences and commonalities. I know now where I would like to return and where I want to avoid, and I have noticed much higher scores on geography questions on Jeopardy, not that it gives me a chance against my mother, the Kung Fu master TV competition! One revelation I've had this past year was how little I know about MY OWN country, magnified by the fact that so much of the world is familiar with our culture. There's a lot to see out there, beautiful places, historical artifacts, the strange and grotesque, but if you try to see it all, your going to miss out. In the end, the important thing to me was the change in my perception of time. In the repetition of the working world I think we tend to forget how to use it, we condense it down and fill it up and think there is none but really we just let it pass us by. During the past year time seemed to fly, weeks seemed like days, every moment was "here and now". Time also slowed down, 20 minutes spent underwater seemed like hours, watching the sun set on the sea almost froze to a picture, and a first kiss seems like its still happening. Little of this has to do with place, and I didn't have to be travelling to experience them, but for some reason, the fact of being in a different place made me appreciate them more. I guess I felt more connected to my life this past year, and appreciated it more than I have in a long time. The other main aspect of this tramp around the world has to do with appreciating all that we have that others do not. I've seen poverty and sickness met with smiles and optimism, learned to squat over a hole without feeling funny about it, and had certain personal rights taken away for the first time. Not taking things for granted is how I've grown this past year, and I think anyone can use a dose of the facts of life every once in a while. So was it all worth it? The way I see it, if you have the option to try something when most don't, it would be a shame not too. So why not? I'm excited that I now know a smidgen of Mandarin, can drive a stick on the wrong side of the road, can describe the taste of my favorite Trappist bear, and can watch a Premiere League game and recognize a players name. I've read more books this year than in the past five and returned in the best shape of my life. Upon my return I have been so glad to see my friends in San Francisco and Seattle and spend Thanksgiving with my family knowing that I love this country. So I can't say that I have much to complain about with my around the world trip. Bryson describes travel as, "... a series of interesting guesses." I'm guessing this will not be the last time I travel, but I probably will never do anything quite like this again. For any interested, here are some links to the many movies I took this past year. There, the blog to end all blogs.
New Zealand
Australian Day Funny Dance:
Hong Kong
New York

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mr. Ahlberg Goes to Washington

George wasn't home, but I did get to see my old college roommate Dedric. It was great to see him and he showed me around D.C. Now this was America, through and through. We went to a friends bar-b-q where talk revolved around baseball and football. I was definitely back. In college, Dedric and I used to just lay around and watch TV, usually while nursing hang overs. We felt inclined to reenact this scenario, spending my entire second day there watching Tennis on TV. It was great. The only thing we were missing was a little Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Dumb and Dumber. On Tuesday I walked every inch of the Mall and wore two holes in my feet. I really liked the new American Indian Museum and sunset at Arlington Cemetery. I think it was fitting and proper that I stop by here on my way home, reintroducing myself to my own history and culture after learning so much about other places and people. My first experience of the East coast was interesting to say the least, but I'm a West coast boy, so it was time to get myself home. Good night and good luck.

Start Spreading The News

America, home of the brave, home of the Ethan. I arrived at JFK and witnessed some crazy shit. The girl ahead of me in line got detained, then the lady in the line next to me got cursed out for crossing the yellow line too soon. All non-residents were having their finger prints scanned and mug shots taken. It was pretty welcoming. I was welcomed at the airport by my friends John and Allison Haselbauer, who whisked me off to their nice brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. We went out to a cool restaurant with a live band on the patio and had some beers as I regaled them with stories and got the low down on life in the big apple. The next day I went to the US Open, completing my personal grand slam minus the French. I saw a couple great matches and pictured Kramer as the ball man and George stuffing his face with ice cream. That night we had a bar-b-q in the back patio garden, then I was introduced to the Flight of the Concords, a great show featuring a couple of kiwi's. On Friday I met John at work in the afternoon and we wondered around the city. We checked out the Main Library, where we checked out the reading rooms and pictured Bill Murry and Dan Ackroid running down the steps after seeing a ghost. We had a snack in the park, then went to Grand Central Station, where I reminisced on when Matthew Broderick arrived for a unexpected adventure in The Freshman. We then stopped by the Seagram Building for a drink at the bar. After chatting for 10 minutes I realized that we had a heaping bowl of hard boiled eggs in front of us. I didn't know what to say or do. I finally stuffed a couple in my pocket and asked for the bill. We proceeded to the MOMA where we discovered it was free Friday, and made it past the line nazi with our eggs. We met up with Allison there, and basically embarrised her as we took pictures of our eggs and moon walked all over that house of art. We walked through Rockefeller Center as the sun was setting, then went out for Indian in the Village, ending our night with a drink at KGB. We started my last day with bloody Mary's on the patio, then beer and hot dogs for brunch. Walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and past Ground Zero and all the conspiracy freaks. Hopped the subway to Central Park, which was wonderful, and also the location where Rick Moranis was attacked by an evil dog in Ghostbusters. In about an hour and a half we saw out of control kids on roller blades, a UFO, a crazy singing Indian ( ), a kid brain himself on the Alice in Wonderland statue, and had a drink at the Boathouse. We ran by the Guggenheim and saw all the scaffolding, then went to Washington Square to see the real freaks. Then we met up with friends Cat and Brad for a few drinks at some local watering holes. New York is great and so diverse it didn't really feel like I was in the states. It was really cool to see my friends in their new life out there.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Munich Calling

Back to Bayern, land of beers, and the start of this European vacation. I met up with one Miss Claudia again, who had arranged for me to stay in a nice apartment that her friend had vacated for the week! We went to the castle and I did a water color, we met up for drinks with her crew, and the highlight was when Claudia surprised me by suggesting that I forget to return a couple of beer glasses to the beer garden......I was feeling kind of weird as I waited for my flight to New York. I don't know if it was the blues of a trip coming to a end, or the sight of so many stocky Bavarians in their leiderhosen. I think it was just weird to be in that airport, again. It seemed fitting to be there at the end of this trip, bookending my time in Europe with the same city. It was great to see a familiar face at the end, and had a great time in Europe, but I was honestly really looking forward to seeing friends and being back in the good ol US of A, after nine incredible months.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Hills Are Alive

With the sound of Ethan coughing. Still feeling a bit ill, I wondered around the beautiful streets of Vienna and splurged on the famous Sacher Torte and a Vienna coffee at Cafe Sacher. They were sublime. I also checked out the museum dedicated to one Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the trippyest artists/architect this side of Gaudi. Spent one day walking around and then headed out to Salzburg, home of Mozart. Also home to the best break dancers I saw in Europe, and the Mozart balls are oh so good. I would have liked to spend more time in Austria, but I was getting that feeling again, that feeling that I had to get back to Deautchland.

Czech This Mutha Out

Prague used to be the hidden jewel of Europe. I therefore had high expectations. I also was looking forward to spending 4 days with Alex in cheap Eastern Europe! I arrived two days before her, and found myself once again hanging out with a group of crazy Irish, and we all know what that means. Hang overs. Also had a cool dude from Melbourne named Zane, a shy fella from Rio named Jr, and a ROTC grunt from the states in our merry room out in the middle of no where. Prague, alas, is kind of a shit hole. There, I said it. It has amazing architecture, this is true, and it can be cheap, but it also is the most touristy place I've been in Europe, worse than Paris, Rome, London, and its so much smaller it doesn't hold all the gawking tourists well. The nice parts of the city seemed overwhelmed. Then once you exit the main city center, it turns ugly real fast. All this being said, we did have a good time there, my expectations were just too high. I spent the majority of my time defending Jr to the Irish who couldn't comprehend a traveller who didn't drink. I unfortunately started to feel ill, which started when I borrowed one of Jr's cigarettes, that's thanks for ya. I had had enough of the hostel scene by the time I moved into the wonderful apartment Alex had found on the Internet. I met her at the airport with roses and a sign. (unfortunately, the little old Czech lady I asked to video the surprise forgot to press the button!). It was so nice to see my girl again after a long month of tramping around Europe, and we popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate our third country. We wandered the back alleys of Prague, poked our head into art galleries, took a paddle boat down the river, and lounged in our great pad over the next 3 days. We also took a day trip out to a little town with a nice old chateau and wondered around the lush grounds and lake. I also had a good time watching Alex attempt to walk in high heels on the cobble stone streets, even though she's taller than me when she wears them! She laughed when I read her my sad attempt at poetry, which I will now share with you......An Ode to the Cornish Game Hen
Who Believes in a Cornish Game Hen?
I do.
What would the world be minus the little savory birds of lore?
Poo, through and through.
I search every glen.
I peruse every pen.
I watch every fen, for your cozy den.
A tear just dropped on my pen.....
Skeptics scoff at my desire
When I defend you, it's preach'n to the choir.
They laugh, I cry inside
When they said I had lied.
Admittedly, this poem is rubbish.
Words can never convey
What I need to say.
You sound so delish
and in fact, would make a fine dish,
served with red wine from the box.
I'm diseased, with CGH pox.
Perhaps you went way of the Dodo?
The mere thought is a low blow.
So we had a brief but wonderful rendezvous in Prague, but then had to say goodbye again, which seems to be what we do best. I miss her.

Bach & The Tralfamadorians

................................................................................................I hit Leipzig for a day to take in some culture and possibly sell my soul to the devil. Turns out my soul ain't worth all that much these days, but I did visit the vast and echo filled Communist designed Museum der Bildenden Kunste, once I found it no thanks to an erroneous map. I have never felt so small as when I reached up to grab the door handle to the monolithic doors of the museum. Let me repeat, I REACHED UP TO OPEN THE DOORS!. The spaces were huge and mostly empty, but I did get a good cross section of art history as I wondered around. The stairs from floor to floor were 52 steps, so I got in a good work out as well. After walking around the town I took in a donor kebab and hit the sack. The next day I stopped by the scene where the American bombers massacred an entire city of civilians. As luck would have it, I showed up just in time for the biggest summer festival I have ever seen. The entire rebuilt old town was filled with stages, bars, food stalls, and lively Germans drinking and singing. I wondered around and checked out the church with its recovered melted cross, and had a few beers myself. It was then that I realized something about Germans. No matter how diverse a people this culture has, they have one thing in common, they love to smash glass. To purchase a beer, you have to pay a deposit for the glass of about 50 cents. This does little to deter the drunk Deutchlander of doing what he loves best. Down that Pils and smash the vessel into tiny bits and laugh. It looked like it might be a cathartic exercise, but I just couldn't bring myself to join in. I loved Dresden, it was a beautiful smallish city with a lot of character and cool neighborhoods.