5 Months, 2 Continents, 10 Countries, 24 Cities, & 7391 Photos
Well its over, and Im not quite sure how I feel about it. As I sit here on my back patio, reminiscing on my last month of travel, I cant help but feel a bit sad its behind me. I was battling homesickness on and off throughout the latter half of the trip, but found myself clinging to every minute when I was in my final weeks, days, hours. Its funny how we want what we dont have. There I was, seeing the places I had dreamed of my whole life, and theres a little voice in my head telling me “theres no place like home”. Conversely, when I see the return date approaching, I do everything I can to slow down the time. Wacky humans. Anyway, time presses on, and I’m back in the united States, dealing with the seemingly endless to-do list of tasks. Travel Europe
Being home is strange. Everything is familiar, yet renewed. My favorite coffee shop smells different than I remember, I have to use google maps in some of my most familiar areas, and my previous American lifestyle feels foreign. Everyone speaks English, everyone operates in the same societal norms, everyone drives everywhere. Like I said, familiar but renewed. But the most interesting sensation ive noticed upon returning has to be my heightened sensitivity to peoples energy. When traveling alone, you must heavily rely on your ability to read someones energy. Many times there is a language barrier, or you are trusting a stranger with your safety. Likewise, you have to be hyper-conscious of your own energy, as you are destined to attract a similar signal you emit. I spent five months subconsciously strengthening this muscle, and coming back home has provided a bit of a shock. Like diving into a cold pool, Im much more aware of my surroundings. Its so great to reconnect with friends and my community, but I’m seeing people through a different lense than before. Its similar to a relationship, sometimes you have to completely purge yourself of it before you can legitimately see it with objectivity. And Im feeling that right now. Some of the people and priorities in my American life are no longer healthy for me, and its time to move on. Im not quite sure how it will play out, and Im not looking forward to hurting people I care about. But its become painfully obvious upon my return, and I cant unlearn what I learned being abroad.
The wisdom of travel is internal rather than external. Yes, you pickup a bit of the local language and history, but what you really learn is how you operate outside of your comfort zone. Ive touched on this before, but it is the common takeaway from all of my travel experience. You become more comfortable with yourself, you begin to value your time with yourself (a foreign concept for many American extroverts), and eventually you rely on that precious alone time. Each time I’ve returned from a stint abroad, I immediately feel the need for more self-time in my schedule. Maybe I’m just aging, or I have increasing responsibilities, but that doesn’t dilute the sensation. I’ve felt it every time I’ve traveled, and I especially feel it this time. This touches on a hypothesis I have about personality types. I believe that no one is 100% introvert or extravert, everyone has a unique proportion of each. Unhappy extraverts simply lack self control to budget time for themselves. Unhappy Introverts don’t understand the types of socializing they actually enjoy, and certainly not how to facilitate these environments. Maybe im way off, I’m sure im not 100% right, but I do know I’ve experienced both of these sensations while traveling.
I’m already sunburned, and I haven’t even started the actually recap of the trip. This Colorado sun is no joke…
Berlin for the win!
I’m going to start by saying this, Berlin was my favorite stop of the entire trip.
Not to sell any other place short, they were all beautiful experiences, but Berlin resonated with me like no where else. I planned 6 nights in Berlin, I stayed 2 weeks. The city is beautiful in a completely alternative way. The night and day seem to blend together and overlap in the city’s culture. I found myself having to decide whether to sacrifice the day for the night, or vice versa. The city is incredibly diverse and rich with street art and culture. As with anywhere you go, the people are equally as important to the experience as the location. My first morning in Berlin, I met a group of Aussies that soon became close travel family. Four consecutive all-nighters later, and I had fallen in love with Berlin house music and knew I needed to stay longer. After some much needed recovery, I began to love Berlin during the day, and again extended my stay. I would’ve happily stayed for the rest of my time in Europe, but I had less than a week left and would’ve regretted missing Amsterdam. Maybe it was the perfect weather, or that beautiful spring energy a city experiences when winter breaks; but Berlin grabbed me. I’m not jaded, I’d never consider moving to Berlin until I had experienced it in the winter. But Berlin is special, and I know I will be back one day.
Here is my best attempt at breaking down why and how to tackle Berlin:
The Clubs: I hate clubs, and I don’t use that word lightly. If I’m out being social, the music must be low enough to talk over. If I’m out for the music, I either want to be playing it or watching it. I actively avoid loud crowded bars and clubs for this exact reason. EDM meat markets with expensive shitty drinks is not my Friday of choice. I’ve hated that scene my whole life. That is, until I came to Berlin. I had heard from reliable sources that the Berlin party scene was unlike any other, and purposefully saved my energy in Budapest and Prague to prepare. I had also been probing travelers along the way to ask about the mysterious exclusivity of these famous clubs. “Wear all black, don’t dress nice, look unimpressed, go alone or with a small group of guys and girls, know the name of the DJs, being gay helps”; these were all real (and true) examples of the advice people gave me. Holy Shit, what am I getting myself into?! Finally the night arrived, and I was honestly a bit nervous. Nervous to not get in, nervous to get drugged, nervous to not fit in, nervous to fall asleep like a chode; just nervous. First step, prepare for an all ngihtter. Take a “nap” when normal people go to bed. Like 8 or 9 pm, and wake up at 1030, cold shower, maybe a light meal, and prepare for a long night. We left for the club at 1:30 AM, which is apparently like going to Denny’s at 6pm for a senior discount dinner. We took 2 cars, the first loaded with 5 guys, the second with myself and an australian couple. I watched in anticipated horror as the sausage fest got denied entry by the doorman, and feared the same for us. The three of us approached, threw out the german “three” with the thumb (see Inglorious Basterds), and were ushered in! Next step, stickers over both cameras on your phone (some places force you to check your phone with your coat). If you are seen using your phone for photos, social media, or just being non-social, you’re out. Preeeeachh. I firmly believe this is what makes the Berlin scene pristine, and can only pray the rest of the world adopts the policy. The following 7 hours were transformative. No phones, good vibes, amazing music, and a half million dollar sound system to pump it. I’ve never danced that much in my life, especially to house music. I came out of that club to a fully dawned morning, and with a new found appreciation for a genre of music I had previously written off. I was hooked. Over the next 2 weeks, I managed 6 nights/mornings similar to this, all of which accompanied by stories for another time. Side Note: I managed to have the time of my life on nothing but clean food, steady light alcohol, and a tiny bit of adderal I’ve had since college. But this is not the norm, the drugs are abundant and being used freely. Be prepared to see some shit if you venture into the Berlin night life.
Suggestions: Kater Blau, Sissyphos, Kit Kat, & About Blank.
Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and a city of street art: After that 4-day bender, my Berlin family moved on in their travels, and I decided to change hostels. I had gone on an “alternative city tour” earlier that week, and really wanted to spend more time in the famous Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. This area was shaped by the cold war, there’s a very interesting story behind it. Squatters, artists, musicians, and small businesses inhabit the area to effectively be the “Brooklyn” of Berlin. There are entire blocks where the buildings are covered in street art. The city embraces the graffiti culture (somewhat), and some of the most beautiful and famous murals in the world reside on these streets. Walk around on a Tuesday, and you’ll see artists on scaffoldings painting new installments, its literally their 9 to 5. Friedrichshain is very simlilar, but a bit more family oriented, with less bars and clubs and more restaurants and daytime activities. The neighborhoods are on opposing sides of the Spree River and the east side gallery, the longest strip remaining of the Berlin Wall. I spent many of my days exploring these areas; eating at amazing (and healthy) restaurants, meeting cool and interesting people in the parks, and taking photos of the incredible street art. There are also some incredible river side bar complexes; serving food, drinks, and something cool. Some places have full on climbing gyms, others have open stages for music, and others just amazing hammock and bean bag areas to chill. In theme, all of these places are covered in amazing street art and are worth a walk though, even if you have no intention of staying.
Suggestions: RAW complex, Yaam, East Side gallery, Burgermeister
Bring the bottle with you: Many places in Europe allow alcohol in the streets, but Berlin almost encourages it. Theres something about buying a beer at the corner store, then walking to your next destination with it in hand. However, the nasty side to this is that the city is covered in broken glass. My plea to those who visit is to enjoy the freedom of drinking outside, minus the douche-bagery of smashing your bottle.
See everything else: Admittedly, I missed almost all of the traditional tourist attractions Berlin offers. While I cant speak to them personally, I heard the museums, monuments, and historical sites are awesome. Ill be sure to check them out next time, maybe…
I think what struck me so deeply about Berlin was how different it was from the rest of Europe. Up until then, I had been visiting beautiful historic cities with gorgeous architecture. Typical European travel destinations. Berlin doesn’t share that history. They lost world wars, twice, and the city and people reflect the aftermath. It goes without saying I came to Berlin with my guards up. So many people associate Berlin with its horrific past, and rightfully so. Berlin was the heart of the most evil empire in recent history. But you cant condemn someone for the sins of their father, and the city has gone through so much in the past 80 years. Its beautiful because the people make it beautiful, one tag or park at a time. Its artistic, clean, and progressive because the people make it so. Ive never felt so welcomed in a foreign city. Berlin wins the prize, and I never would’ve seen it coming.
Amsterdam is as Amsterdam Does
My final stop was Amsterdam, and I barely made it. Obviously I was sad to leave Berlin. I dragged my feet leaving for the station, and literally had to sprint about half a mile, with all my gear, to make the bus. A sweaty mess, I eventually fell asleep for the over night bus ride to Holland. Amsterdam is not Berlin, and I spent my first day or so reliving the craziness of Berlin in my head as I walked through the many tourist traps of the city. I dont want to put down Amsterdam, its a wonderful place, but it can be quite the tourist trap. Bikes, Buds, and Butts; I just came up with that. Once you see the “sites” of Amsterdam, my best advice is to actively avoid it. There is so much to see outside of the central city, and if you dont seek it, you’ll miss it entirely.
Amsterdam do’s and don’ts:
Spend a day being a tourist: It’s going to happen, so you might as well prepare for it. As soon as you enter the city, you’re in the tourist spider web. So go smoke your weed, take your canal photos, and peruse the red-light district. Its a site to see, and I’m glad I did it, but the locals will tell you the real city lies just beyond the typical sights.
The Museums: I went to the Moco Museum, and the Van Gogh. Both were incredible experiences. The Moco currently has a Banksy exhibit in the upstairs, and Lichtenstein in the downstairs. I went for the Banksy, but was floored by both exhibits. However, the Van Gogh museum surpassed all my expectations and was one of the most inspiring 3 hours I had in Europe. I knew nothing about Van Gogh, just that I enjoyed “Starry Night” and his museum was highly recommended. I went at the end of the day, which I would recommend. I’d imagine that place gets crazy during the peak hours. While I enjoyed all the works in this museum, along with learning the story of the artist; it was his painting pallet which struck me the most. Seeing the chaos and genius on this artists pallet reminded me why I love art so much. It’s about the journey of the art. I am constantly consumed with the desire for deliverables and finished products, often seeing the labor hours as the cost. Seeing Van Gogh’s pallet gave me an new perspective on this. He spent more time on his pallet than he did on any one of his most famous pieces. The pallet is where he tested his ingredients, played with flavors, and took chances. The pallet is the most important part of the art. Its the tool, the work bench, the instrument, the gear, the knife set; it’s wear it all begins, where the craft is formed. However, all that being said, the man is a master and seeing his famous works was a spritual experience.
The Countryside: On my last day in Europe, I decided to rent a bike and go for an epic ride through the surrounding countryside of Amsterdam. The city houses over 800,000 bikes, I figured they could spare one. I mapped out 3 or 4 destinations, roughly 5 hours of riding, and set out. I highly highly recommend doing this, a perfect counter to the touristic city feel of Amsterdam. The paths are flat, well maintained, and have gorgeous views. I basically smiled the entire afternoon. There are dozens of bikeable destinations, I chose Volendam, Zaanse, and Muiden. I rode my ass off, but it was quite worth the effort.
And that’s all she wrote…
The day after my bike ride, I flew to London, spent an afternoon seeing a couple sights, and the next morning I was on my flight back home.
How do you conclude five month journey in words? I’m not sure, I’ve never traveled this long nor wrote about it. I guess the takeaway that continues to stay in my heart is that the journey is never over. I feel so grateful for a life that has afforded me opportunities such as this adventure. Now that I’m home, and the “real world” is quickly rushing back in, the tendency to fall back into old habits is very real. We are a species of routine and comfort, though I believe we must always be challenging these in order to continue growth. Travel truly is a state of mind. Yes, go see some amazing shit, but realize that the adventure is inside you, not in some ruin or on some waterfall. Continue to challenge yourself everyday; exercise, compliment a stranger, ask someone out, commit to a night to work on yourself. Many of us wait for the motivation to inspire the action, which is a kiss of death. The motivation may come one day, but it won’t last and it will be too late. Start acting today, challenge yourself and you’ll be amazed at where it takes you. Thank you so much for following me on this incredible journey, I hope it was entertaining and maybe a bit helpful. The Mindmill has and will always be a passion project for me, scratching my itch if you will. As I prepare new podcast episodes and other media, my goal is to exercise vulnerability and authenticity in all aspects of the project. That is my comfort zone challenge, and I’m frightened. But I was frightened to leave for 5 months of solo travel, and im still standing. What are you avoiding like the plague? I invite you to rise to the challenge and face it head on, I promise its not as scary as you think. There is no monster in the closet, no rejection that is worse than the despair of not acting. Get out there, do some epic shit, and tell me about it.