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Published: September 30th 2017
The Hostel Archi Rossi in Florence has a tradition - guests are allowed to write a personal message on the walls. What did I write? Just a little message to Europe. Want to know what it says? Then learn Spanish!!!
Geo: 51.0197, -115.547
So, in the past 98 days of travel, did I actually achieve my goal and "find myself"? I can't say that I did, and I can't say that it really matters. I've realized that the whole notion of "finding myself" was flawed. I think I wanted to find the man that I used to be, but the truth is, that man no longer exists. This is not a bad thing because people are, and need to be, dynamic. When this dynamic element is lost, it is time for a change.
I didn't recognize this and ended up in a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-loathing. I, and my life, had changed so much in such a short period of time that I lost all sense of direction, and who I was. The worst part was that I allowed myself to stagnate; had I recognized the need to adapt, I probably wouldn't have quit my job and gone to Europe for all that time. I think in my desire to find the man I used to be, I lost sight of who I was and who I was becoming. As I continued to travel in Europe, it slowly dawned on me that I could no longer find who I used to be, but I could still search for the next evolution of myself.
So even when I was stuck in a wasteland (Naples comes to mind), or stuck talking with some obnoxious person in a hostel bar, there was still a sense of adventure and excitement ... I always managed to discover things about myself in the most unlikely of places. Perhaps reading a book and coming across a passage that felt like it was written solely for me ... or slapping a Naples pickpocket in the crotch ... or standing before a beautiful Spanish senorita, who held my fate in the palm of her cute little hand, my mind overrun with thoughts too numerous to count or comprehend 😊
I've thought much about this, but the best analogy (or in this case, least lame) I can come up with, is that of a jigsaw puzzle. A person is composed of many separate pieces, with the central pieces forming the core of that person. These core pieces can never change; they are the essence of that person. But all of the pieces on the periphery of the puzzle - these represent the changes that people undergo through the course of their lives. Maybe the piece no longer fits, or a better-fitting one is found ... these are constantly exchanged for new ones. Sometimes the new pieces are not a good fit ... but hopefully the proper fit will one day be found.
I have been mistaken in my belief that I had lost some of the core pieces ... it turns out that these pieces were merely misplaced. But I think I managed to find them all throughout the course of my travels. So in a way, I still managed to "find myself". I think when you've lost parts of yourself like that, re-discovering them is all the sweeter.
I guess I've always felt that I've never truly "fit in" anywhere ... and this was especially apparent traveling through the world of backpackers. Not a partier, student, or under 25, I wasn't the typical backpacker, yet I still managed to find some people that I clicked with. I suppose that I've always had difficulty defining who I am, because I don't fit into any one conventional category. One thing that this trip has taught me is that I need to embrace that aspect of myself. So I don't fit perfectly into any one category ... at least that means I kind of fit into many other categories.
It's part of the "new" me. I used to be 99% pessimistic and 1% optimistic. Now I am 75% pessimistic and 25% optimistic. Don't laugh - that's a big improvement for someone like me! Amongst the other changes ... I'm more of a lover now, and less of a hater (if you can believe that!). I'm less of a pessimist and, since I don't think optimist is a word that can ever be used to describe me, I will instead say that I'm more of a realist. I've gone from a wannabe Spanish Casanova to, apparently after writing this final blog, a wannabe modern-day Confucius. Thankfully, I've still retained my cynicism. It's the only thing I have that, when used properly, can sometimes be mistaken for charm!
This trip was exactly what I needed to cure whatever it was that was ailing me. Good or bad, I have had many unforgettable experiences during this trip. I deposited much of the baggage that I've carried with me for far too long, and returned with a backpack stuffed full of wonderful memories, and stories that will be cherished for years to come. Honestly, I don't think I will fully understand the extent that this trip has changed my life until I can look back on it, several years from now.
It was a singular experience ... one that taught me the most valuable experiences one can have need not be exceptional ones. It sounds trite, but I've learned to be satisfied by the simple pleasures in life. What do I want now? Very little. To live. To love. To learn. To feel. To exist. To be. Writing those last few words is actually a bit of a scary experience for me - whoever wrote those words is nothing like the person I was before embarking on this journey.
Whoever I am when I travel is the person I want to be. A person that can write bizarre things like "To live. To love ... etc." and actually believe them, and not burst into laughter after reading them. A person that has re-discovered long-forgotten and long-lost hopes and dreams. If anyone notices me reverting to my old ways, please do me a favour - slap me silly until I come to my senses! I've only been back a few weeks and I've already needed to be slapped on more than one occasion!
Many people have asked me what the highlights of the trip were, and what I will miss most about Europe. In the spirit of the new, ever-so-slightly optimistic me, I will present the highlights first, with the best highlights at the top of the list.
1) The way Isabel shyly looked away when she said "Of course I do!" in response to me saying "You probably don't remember me, but I was here last year."
2) The colour of her face as she blushed, after I presented her with three roses and a pick-up line of epic cheese proportions.
3) The way she said, after a brief speechless moment, "Oh! I don't know what to say ... thank you!" after I told her that I was there for only one reason - to see her again. I could continue on like this forever, so I better stop with these three!
4) Following my dreams and doing absolutely EVERYTHING in my power to try and make them come true.
5) Re-discovering my love of life.
6) Meeting and hanging out with Aude and Emilie in Split and Dubrovnik. Croatia was all about good friends and good times.
7) Listening to the Sea Organ in Zadar, and feeling at one with the seemingly infinite Adriatic sea. Transcendent.
8) Being a complete fool in Toledo and making an ass out of myself in the process - yet enjoying every minute of it!
9) Discovering that even for a cynical guy like me, love at first sight is possible, if even for only once in my life.
10) Discovering that it wasn't even really love at first sight, but love at first sound. There really is something indescribable in Isabel's gentle voice that makes me melt. Like butter!
11) Eating Brazilian churrascaria, watching "La Traviata" under the stars in Vienna, and laughing with Soo about outdoor bathrooms and hot dogs taking baths. Trust me - you had to be there to know how funny these things were!
12) Soothing my tortured soul with the funky beats of "Tortured Soul", on a moonlit beach in San Sebastian.
13) Speaking Spanish in Spain - for the first time in my life, I was totally comfortable communicating with locals in a foreign country. I didn't want to leave! However, I think the beautiful Spanish senoritas that seemingly lurked around every corner contributed to that!
14) Another night in a Naples hostel - 20 Euros. Bus ticket - 1 Euro. Slapping a Naples pickpocket in the crotch, seeing the look of shock on his face, and hearing him grunt in pain and surprise - PRICELESS!!!
15) Despite falling short of my goal of becoming a modern-day "Don Juan" in Toledo, settling for the knock-off, pale-imitation, and made-in-China version known as "Don Wong". Who knew that I had so much cheese whiz flowing through my veins?
16) Being mesmerized by the mind-blowing talent of the saxophone player in Split.
17) Basking in the glory of Dubrovnik's beautiful sunsets and stunning vistas of the Adriatic Sea.
18) Hanging out in Nice. Beautiful ocean. Incredible food. Half-naked Finnish girls prancing around the dorm room. Enough said!
19) Despite being bored to tears at times, and having a sore butt afterward, sitting in a 2000 year old Roman arena and watching "Aida".
20) Gorging myself on wonderful French food.
21) Sicilian food, gelato, and granita. Wow!
22) Sampling the incredible pizza of Naples and Sicily.
23) Prague - as much as I hated the fact that it was excessively touristy, it still is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. It might even be the most beautiful.
24) Escaping Europe's heat wave and enjoying the cool tranquility of Lake Como.
25) The crappy days in Sardinia - because they reminded me of all the incredible times I had elsewhere, and because they made my arrival in Santa Teresa di Gallura all the sweeter.
1) The look in Isabel's eyes that told me, without saying a word and without a doubt, that she still had a boyfriend. 😞
2) Delaying my arrival in Toledo by three days - the turmoil!!!
3) Missing friends!
4) The war zone/crap hole that is called Naples. At least I wasn't killed while I was there! Though I did have one strange experience - I woke up one morning in a bathtub full of ice, and with a scar on my lower back. I think the bastards stole a kidney!!! The least they could have done was kept me in a bathtub full of gelato!!!
5) The Australian jackasses staying at the hostel in Korcula.
6) Suffering through the heat wave in Carcassone and Arles.
7) Sardinia - I was as bored in some parts of it as I've been on the entire trip.
8) Being bored in Turin and Milan.
9) After staying in Bratislava and Ljubljana, realizing that this time could have been spent somewhere good!
Things that I'll miss:
1) The death of my "Sweep a cute Spanish Senorita off her feet" dream 😞
2) Drooling over Magda, the beautiful Polish hostel worker in Krakow. Trust me - every guy that stayed at that hostel will have this near the top of his list!
3) Having transcendent moments. They seem to only happen for me in Europe.
4) Learning so much about life and myself in such a short time.
5) Temporarily making gelato a fifth food group.
6) Learning about European history through European eyes.
7) Cheaping out on food - some of my best meals have been simple ones, eaten at the most spectacular of locations, with the most incredible people.
8) Running into Chuck and Eileen all over Eastern Europe.
9) Smiling for no reason at all.
10) As Mel Gibson once said in Braveheart - "FREEDOM!!!!!"
11) Having half-naked Finnish girls as bunkmates.
12) The exhilaration of one night stops - moving from city to city, and waking up with a new place to explore every day.
13) Passing long hours on the train by reading.
14) The vast selection of incredible yogurt. Hazelnut, pomegranate, aloe vera, almond ... there are too many to name! But if only they would make a "pain au chocolat" flavour ....
Things that I won't miss:
1) Waving my towel at train and bus stations like a fanatical patriot waving his flag, in a vain attempt to speed up drying and prevent the towel, not from smelling skanky, but from smelling any MORE skanky. Only backpackers can know both the shame and pride of waving our flags in public places. My flag is made of micro fibre and has an imprint of my butt on it. It's the flag that all backpackers pledge allegiance to!
2) Loud and inconsiderate bunkmates. Especially jackasses from Australia, staying in Korcula.
3) Not having any music to listen to.
4) Clutching my towel on trains and buses like a young child clutches his blankie. Again, in a vain attempt to facilitate drying.
5) Sleeping in crappy hostel beds. If pet dogs were forced to sleep in conditions like this, PETA would hold protests against animal cruelty.
6) Having an algae-like afro for hair.
7) Cheaping out on food and missing out on some good stuff!
8) Cheap travel pants whose zippers kept getting caught in the fabric. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but trust me - when you've been holding it for hours on a bus and finally get to a bathroom, it IS A BIG DEAL!
9) Hearing and feeling my hip joints popping as I walked with my overstuffed backpack. On more than one occasion I've said "I've fallen, and I can't get up!". I've learned to say that in over 12 different languages!
10) Practicing the ancient backpacker art of "Towel Origami" - always trying to find new and creative ways of towel folding to quicken the drying process.
11) Night trains. Hot. Crowded. Uncomfortable.
12) Having dozens of microscopic little cuts and abrasions on my feet that only become apparent after stepping into salt water.
13) The exhaustion of one night stops - sometimes, I felt like a homeless hobo, hopping trains to who knows where.
14) The crappy, sandpaper-like toilet paper of Eastern Europe.
15) Having unnatural cravings for Asian food. I fantasized about hot Spanish women wrestling in Vietnamese noodle soup, on more than one occasion. And who knew that fantasies of bikini-clad women covered in sweet and sour sauce could be so sexy? I definitely wanted to dip my chicken balls into that sauce!
16) Feeling like I don't quite fit in with the hostel crowd, both age and personality-wise.
17) Being confined to train and bus schedules.
18) Crappy hostel breakfasts.
19) Despite the majority of them being crap, overstuffing myself at breakfast. When you're on a budget and don't know when you will eat next, you are forced to do this.
20) Long and boring bus/train rides with nothing to do. Of course, this problem ceased to exist once I stopped being cheap, and finally bought some books.
21) Bad bus drivers that make you nauseous. Very common in Sardinia.
22) People staring at me like I was a freak in parts of Eastern Europe, Sicily, and Sardinia. It was just like I was in Canada!
23) Constantly packing and unpacking. Irritating!
So after over 100 blogs, this is the end. What started out as being a simple method of keeping in touch with friends evolved into so much more. I have never, ever tracked my daily life for more than a few days, let alone for almost 100. Let alone for almost 100 life-changing days. Honestly, it was a lot of work, but I definitely feel that it was worth it. This is the single best souvenir of my entire trip. I suppose there could have been an even better souvenir - but unfortunately, she objected when I tried to stuff her into my backpack, and bring her home to Canada 😞 But she still managed to do it in an oh-so-cute way!
I thank everyone for listening to my sometimes random, and always bizarre thoughts. I am pretty sure that many of the people reading these blogs are random people that just stumbled upon it. That's kind of cool, when I think about it. And if any of you random people happen to be a single, cute, and Spanish woman - e-mail me! I hope everyone enjoyed the blog, and if you didn't ... screw you! It's not like I was getting paid for it!!! Ha ha ha!
My choice of music has always been a way of expressing myself. When I couldn't think of the words or a way to say them, there was always a perfect song for my frame of mind. I think an appropriate way to end this saga is with a little music. What became the theme song for the "Summer of Don Wong" is a little ditty by Gnarls Barkley.
"Crazy" was being played all over Europe, for pretty much the entire duration of my trip. Yes, it's catchy and funky - I can understand why it was such a popular song. But have you ever really listened to the words? Perhaps I'm the only one, but I find the lyrics to be poetic and insightful. They were the perfect soundtrack for a "Wannabe Spanish Casanova", and all the trials and tribulations that he went through.
Until my next journey, enjoy!
I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that phase.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space
And when you're out there
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much
Does that make me crazy
Does that make me crazy
Does that make me crazy
And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice
Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control
Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me
My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done
Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
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