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Be well,
Sthewriter

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Travel Diary: Atomium

By: S. Davis

May; Belgium:

It’s just past noon. We’ve done this dance a few times now as I ride to Antwerp: I don’t want to go back to the United States.

It’s not that I want to remain in Belgium – although I wouldn’t mind, it’s a nice city – I’d just rather avoid the crap I have to slog through in Los Angeles. Whatever…

Let’s get started with the rest of the day…

Now the plan was to get up and get out of the door this morning really early but wine, jokes, music and women made me call an audible last night/early this morning. In just under a week here the weather has finally cooperated. At least during the day. At night I don’t care what elements rear their head but during the day I just need it to be mostly dry. I have to go searching for treasure!

My alarm blared at 9 am although I was awake a good time before that to have a shower. The day was moving about a half-hour later. I think I should’ve gotten out a little earlier as my legs aren’t on the same page as the rest of my body.

Tourists dominate the Atomium and its surrounding park – and it’s obvious why. It’s like a postcard out here today. It’s lush, green and the clouds are looming but the sunlight’s fighting through. Apparently this site is a “must see” in Brussels so I felt obligated to travel too far north of where I needed to be to get a good look for myself. Worth. The. Walk.

The bus seemed like the best option but since this is a holiday weekend – and the schedule is truncated – I like my chances much better with my trusty puma’s. Having the warmth of the sun made the trek worth it. Although I do wish I activated the step tracker on my phone just to get an idea of the distance that I covered. As I take a glance at the time-stamp of photographs I took earlier, I’ve walked an hour and 45 minutes. I cut 20 minutes off the time during my return as I had the benefit of the first trip – and I was starving.

 

To lighten my backpack I ate a massive breakfast. I didn’t carry much food with me with the exception of an apple, a banana, my water bottle and two granola bars. However that did push back my departure time by 40-50 minutes. I returned to the hostel to eat my Bolognese penne. I placed the pasta inside a large piece of french bread, added some sea salt, pepper, and olive oil – and ate it like a sub.

I’ve got a train to catch to Antwerp…

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)
Part 7: Hostel
Part 8: Berlin Wall
Part 9: Somewhere in Kensington
Part 10: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Part 11: Strausbourg
Part 12: Vienna
Part 13: On To Switzerland
Part 14: Het Steen
Part 15: Chinese Dining in Belgium
Part 16: IR-70 to Luzern

Travel Diary: IR-70 to Luzern

By: S. Davis

April; Switzerland:

I made the 12:04 pm train for a 40-minute ride to the city of Luzern. A round-trip ticket to Luzern – from Zurich – costs $55 USD. I mentioned how expensive Switzerland is, right? Were you not paying attention? Oh….wait that’s on me, I forgot that these entries aren’t in sequential order. I’m sorry. My birthday’s a few days away; two, three? Sure, I’ll blame it on that.

It’s overcast and gray, not that I mind in the slightest. However, I’m concerned that it’s 57 degrees (Fahrenheit) at 11:30 am and the sun is completely obstructed by the clouds. Taking all that into consideration I’m prepared with a sweater, jacket and skull-cap. If the wind kicks up, my scarf’s inside my backpack. I can manage if my upper body gets a chill but when my neck’s cold I can’t remain outdoors for an extended period of time. There’s enough gear to get me through the day no matter what the weather decides to do.

For an early afternoon commute, it’s remarkably quiet. Although Europeans are quieter than Americans in most cases. A conversation in the row of seats nearby meanders as a child weaves a tall tale for his mother. A phone rings and a loud, obnoxious guy speaks because he’s certain the entire car wants to be included. He needs everyone to know he’s important. He’s not American.

Small victories…

The ticket clerk politely validates my ticket – to which I say, “Thank you.” A woman directly across from me begins to chat as she liked my accent. She quickly labels me American. She inquires about my vacation and eventually reveals that she’s weeks away from completing her M.A. in Hospitality. She asks me to guess her ethnicity – I score points with “Greek” on my first attempt – and she laughs as her look is hard to pinpoint. There’s no argument there; she shares that she’ll usually receive four or five incorrect attempts before someone arrives at the proper answer. I can’t take the credit though; I attribute it to being born and raised in New York City.

She details how she just wrapped an interview – in her field – minutes before catching this train. The interview was conducted entirely in German; which she lists as her weakest language among the several she can wield, i.e., Greek, French and English being the others. How impressive is that? She rattled off her linguistic skills like she was listing her breakfast platter. Impressive. I commend her – and Europe. We both laughed before she added that she’s able to converse, on a basic level, in Persian. Unreal.

C’mon America! Second language education should be mandatory in American schools, on par with math, history and sciences.  Eleanor felt she “did well” before revealing that she does have two legitimate job offers on the table with a cocky shoulder shrug. I respect the confidence! She’s got a sly sense of humor.

We talked the entire ride. I snapped a few photos of the scenery as she asked about New York City and Los Angeles. She wants to see it soon. I told her that unless something drastic happens, “they’ll both be around for a while.” We almost didn’t notice the train was at the final stop until it came to halt and didn’t move. We exchanged pleasantries as she had to get home to work on one of her final assignments for class – and I had a lot of walking/exploring to do.

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)
Part 7: Hostel
Part 8: Berlin Wall
Part 9: Somewhere in Kensington
Part 10: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Part 11: Strausbourg
Part 12: Vienna
Part 13: On To Switzerland
Part 14: Het Steen
Part 15: Chinese Dining in Belgium

Travel Diary: Chinese Dining in Belgium

By: S. Davis

April; Belgium:

I’m sitting for dinner. I’m about to stuff my face at a Belgian Chinese restaurant. It’s gloomy over Brussels this evening. This stupid nose of mine is running and it’s getting on my nerves. I guess I haven’t learned my lesson from Paris. Remember when we were kids and our parents would wipe our runny noses and we’d squirm for them to stop? I need that right now. Ha!

I’m just being lazy, I guess. My stomach is full of oysters and beer as well. I’m just pointing that out. It could play a factor in this post so I want to make that clear since I have no idea where this diary will go. Are you still here?

Now it’s officially raining, pouring specifically, as a sea of people unfurl their umbrellas and run across the street. I do love the rain. It’s so captivating. I’m not sure of the lasting impact of this journey. It’s marvelous here and I’m having a memorable time yet for large chunks of it I’m finding myself without much energy. That’s my fault though; I can’t help but stay out every night. That’s on you, Sean. However I can admit that I’ve definitely slept – well, overslept – on most nights here without having to combat my usual mental demons.

I never regret spending money when it puts me on a plane to an international destination. I’m grateful for every trip. Every single one that I take. The finish line is still a week away so I’m not going to get bogged down with that. Switzerland and Belgium are fantastic however I don’t feel that aching; the connection I’ve felt with other countries. It’s interesting to me. Is there a single part of me that would relocate to either country?

This trip was supposed to be a path from Switzerland to France and then Belgium – but it actually went Switzerland, Germany, France, Luxembourg and then Belgium. I added Luxembourg to my itinerary on a mere coincidence. Germany could snatch me away from home – and so could France. I’m still shocked that I felt so tied to Paris. My week there is so fresh in my mind. It’s as if I can touch it; there are times where I feel that I can.

Outdoors, it’s tapering off so I wouldn’t classify it as “raining” at this point. That was quick. When the rain comes down in force I tend to engage in a live-action video game. In said activity, I award myself points by timing how swiftly I can make it from one store front to another with the hopes of making it home as dry as possible.

Thirty points, great Sean! Anyway this is completely dumb and arbitrary – and I love it. Did I mention that I turned 38 a few nights ago? So…I guess I need to be an adult now – or so I’m told.

I stopped at a corner store to grab another drink after the food because I didn’t want to pay for another drink when I ordered soup to help me with the (dry) seafood fried rice I ordered as a main dish. It was perfectly edible but definitely forgettable. The soup was really tasty; chicken and corn with a thick, rich broth. For a moment I thought about the sake but I decided against it.

I stumbled upon a lemon soda by Schweppes that’s TREMENDOUS and I’m not a soda drinker. Every now and then I enjoy a sprite or a ginger ale or a Pepsi but that’s it. This lemon soda needs to be exported to America.

 

I stroll into this massive hostel/hotel and a mix of families, singles and couples dominate the reception area. It’s buzzing and the energy – which I love – honestly, but weirdly, makes me want to sleep. What the fuck is that?

After staring at the art adorning these walls I finally have to write about the thought I want to ignore. It’s been on my mind for an hour now. I bought a few bars of Swiss chocolate for a female friend back home. She’s cool and it isn’t serious but…I don’t know. Whenever I choose to open up to her and show my vulnerabilities – which I’m told one has to do in pointless relationships…never mind. It’s new and I’m not sure I want it to work. I believe the energy between two people should flow without much work. It should be harmonious; it has been. What if I want that? The most likely answer is that I don’t. There isn’t a clear reason I can pinpoint either. I’m sure she’ll like the chocolate.

I’m still learning about the man staring back at me. There’s a single grey follicle I haven’t noticed pushing through on the left side of my chin. Oh my…

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)
Part 7: Hostel
Part 8: Berlin Wall
Part 9: Somewhere in Kensington
Part 10: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Part 11: Strausbourg
Part 12: Vienna
Part 13: On To Switzerland
Part 14: Het Steen

Travel Diary: Het Steen

By: S. Davis

April; Antwerp:

I’m in Antwerp as I take some time to journal today. Honestly, I’d rather drink but it’s chilly this afternoon. The wind is cutting and I’m sure as the hours progress it won’t improve. I could get a drink but that would mean that I have to sit indoors and that’s the opposite of where I want to be at the moment. My trips have taken me to some splendid places and I know this memory of the Het Steen Fortress will be a nice one to have stored in the memory bank. This fortress is the oldest in the city of Antwerp – dating back to 1200 – and has also served as a prison, residence and now a museum.

My eyes gaze across the Scheldt River as I find a bench in direct sunlight. I’m winning the day, I’d say! I sit and it’s serene. The greenery across the river, couples to my left and right, a dog playfully fetches a water bottle thrown by its master. A boxer, with a gorgeous cappuccino coat; elated with joy, waiting patiently for the game to continue.

Warmth starts with my face as the suns rays glide from my hands to my nose. I’m feeling okay, I’m much better than okay as I contemplate.

A couple completely in love – at least from my perch – can’t decide if they want to lock hands or hug while walking. They compromise and do both. He stumbles over his left foot and she tugs his arm to help him balance. Teamwork right there; cute.

To my left, another couple warms in the sun as I am. When I passed them to find this open bench, he was staring across the river while she rested her head on his right shoulder with a look on her face of comfort, relaxation and peace. She felt safe. For a moment I wanted to snap a picture of them; just to keep that moment fresh. It would be odd though as the way I would have to frame it would make it obvious as to what I was doing. In turn they would probably think I was a freak – and I wouldn’t blame them for it. I’m not an asshole so I didn’t. Also, I couldn’t ask to take the photo as that moment would be interrupted. Pointless.

Those moments don’t seem to fit into my immediate future. I can’t explain why. There is someone I think that I like. Those reading this might say, “If you think you like her then you don’t.” Logical. Yet the humans that have any true idea of Sean know that nothing about me or my life seems simple, normal or by the book.

I’m the type of person to deliberately process emotions when it comes to romantic entanglements. I don’t leave a single stone unturned.

There’s some random street fair happening so this is a good time to get some alcohol in my system. The wind is still present but the large buildings are helping although some of these walkways are like wind tunnels. Outside seating? Yes! I take a seat and drop my backpack on the empty chair across from me. As I begin to write in my pad, a waiter comes over. Before I can speak I’m greeted in English. Should I be offended by that? Most of my interactions in Belgium, where the conversation was initiated by the stranger, I’ve been greeted in French – and I immediately express that I only speak English, unfortunately. Of course I wasn’t offended I just wanted to know why he chose English, so I asked. I wasn’t dressed differently from the locals, no bold colors or large logos on my clothing. “Just a guess, you know?” was the response. I ordered and got back to writing, briefly.

The architecture in Antwerp was worth the ride from Brussels. This has been a long day but it feels invigorating to explore. In the back of my mind the dread is seeping in as this trip is coming to its conclusion in the next few days. A group of women sit at the table adjacent to mine. I nod, they return in kind. I exchange glances with them all as I sip on my beer and pretend to write. The pained expression on my face seems to draw their attention. I’m acting. Randomly I laugh to myself recognizing how much of a jerk I am. Weird. Ha! I say hello, they respond as well. As I drift off into my mind they order and talk amongst themselves.

Should I eat? I could always stuff my face but I’m not inspired to feast at the moment. Life seems so calm when I’m abroad as I only have to worry about how I’ll spend the day. It’s not even worrisome. It’s an unplanned, winding block of time that I have to fill by doing whatever comes to mind. It’s liberating. I just sit…and watch strangers stroll along.

The women leave. They wave to me and I wish them a good day – or night I should say. Since I’m not pressed for time I order another beer. There’s nothing but an open canvas for the rest of the evening. This is peace.

A random thought I scribbled as I walked to Five Guys and the skies began to cry; I wanted a burger: It’s important to know who you are and to be wholeheartedly honest with yourself. I’m not accepting aging well. It’s holding up a mirror to vulnerabilities I’ve never had at any other time in my life.

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)
Part 7: Hostel
Part 8: Berlin Wall
Part 9: Somewhere in Kensington
Part 10: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Part 11: Strausbourg
Part 12: Vienna
Part 13: On To Switzerland

Travel Diary: On To Switzerland

By: S. Davis

April; (hovering) the United States:

There are eight hours and 52 minutes remaining on this 10.5 hour direct flight to Zürich. The overwhelming joy that usually invigorates me hasn’t hit. Yet. It’s peculiar. I’m not dwelling on it but I feel that it’s worth pointing out. A great little nugget about the flight thus far is that I have three whole seats to myself. The entire row! It’s like I’m in first class, you know? Well, without the money and uh…yeah, the money. I have three pillows to myself though. YES! I’ve been fortunate that this has happened to me a few times and I love when it does. It never grows old. The plane begins to make its way towards the runway and it’s cemented that I’m going to have all the space I need. I’m sprawled across my row as I write this minor entry.

The evening envelops the last rays of sunlight.

It’s probably a fool’s errand to attempt to snatch a few hours of sleep considering I’ve only slept once – on a short 90 minute flight from Paris to Berlin back in September. The human body is weird and mine is a mystery as it pertains to my level of comfort each time I board one of these steel flying rods.

My mind is incredibly active. It’s almost as if I can feel someone sifting through my thoughts as if they were alphabetized and filed in an office cabinet. I’m just so worn – but not physically. There’s just a great deal dominating my thoughts. Specifically, I honestly feel emotionally and mentally exhausted. My battery, so to speak, is plugged into the wall – and yet I’m topping out at 85% on most days. Grabbing that elusive 15% is imperative.

What’s happening with my career? Not as much as I’d like. It’s definitely an issue of my work not yielding any tangible results – which is frustrating. The snail’s pace at which my web series is moving is testing my sanity.

I’ve been staring at this journal for ten minutes and there’s nothing that wants to come out of my brain to be transferred to my hands. I feel flat. I want what I want out of life now. However my immediate present seems to be rife with an abundance of problems. I’m now sleepy and I feel beat, drained. I’m going to stop now to relax although I know that doesn’t equate to sleep.

We’ll be in Zürich soon enough, Sean.

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)
Part 7: Hostel
Part 8: Berlin Wall
Part 9: Somewhere in Kensington
Part 10: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Part 11: Strausbourg
Part 12: Vienna

Travel Diary: Vienna

By: S. Davis

September; Austria:

As I sit on the plane, flashes of the trip flicker and dance in my head like a slide show. Seeing the glass pyramids of the Louvre for the first time which made being soaked in rain worth it, Whitney spotting me and shouting my name across a packed hostel in Berlin on our first evening there, laughing loudly to myself when I was outside of the Louvre – before I encountered the glass pyramids – and how happiness and relief washed over me as I was dead tired. I needed a jolt to push me through the day considering the jet-lag I was battling. How stoked I was to see Nina and her smile as our eyes met after I finally arrived in Salzburg. She waved as I entered the airport corridor and that put me in a stellar mood considering I was sad over leaving Berlin. We shared a hug and it didn’t feel like the last time we saw each other was four years prior.

I deliberated for a few days but I decided to hop on a train to Vienna. I didn’t want to take the journey and I can’t discern why. The only explanation I can muster is that I was keenly aware that my trip was at the halfway point and I was feeling low energy; though not from partying and running around Europe. I felt sluggish over consecutive days and it was sapping my drive to explore. As usual I ate a lot of food in the morning and got my ass on one of the earliest trains out of Salzburg. How often will I be on this side of the world? That simple question motivates me on odd travel days.

Walking through Vienna was what I imagined. The architecture blended contemporary and classic structures effortlessly. The sky was overcast and I was a little worried about hard rain as I just missed a storm a few days prior. Austria was cloudy most of the week I was there so I was hoping for sun. Vienna supplied it for the majority of the time I was exploring. I had some crunchy, hot, street potatoes and a legitimately memorable cheeseburger. I’m a growing boy! I need the calories.

 

The sun broke out and I happily applauded that I went with my gut and left my jacket in Salzburg. I hit a museum briefly but spent more time outside in the courtyard. Museums are crucial on all my stops but that was a day I needed to be outdoors. Besides, I never visited Vienna so everything to me was a breathing exhibit.

Playing pool with Noa had me laughing. How I wanted to build a time machine to torture the city planners that drew up the city grid in Paris. The streets, pathways, etc; right angles don’t seem to be in style in France. Ha! The French look at streets the way I view traffic on the 405: All common sense seems to be of another language that I don’t care to translate for anyone. The fine dining was worth the flight alone. I missed the smell of the fresh bakery in the mornings – just about 60 feet from my bed. The black olive and chocolate baguettes I ate for breakfast – and purchased throughout the day make me happy just thinking about them. How I envisioned myself actually living in France because I was so surprised at how much fun I had. In my experience, French people aren’t rude. The women were nice to me.

The home-cooked meal with Nina and her hilarious mother…so much laughter in one night. The view from her balcony of those glorious mountain ranges and how she wanted me to return to hike the “authentic” mountains together; that was classic. How Nina and I sped through Salzburg singing rock music together. The cold I caught on my first night in Paris because I was too stubborn – until it was too late – to admit the rain was too much to tackle. How I fell asleep on the two-hour flight from Paris to Berlin. I remember taking off and landing; that was a two-hour nap that I don’t think will ever happen again.

How stunning Salzburg is; it’s very underrated. Mile-for-mile it may be the world champion of effortless beauty within the confines of a city. I could make a case for it against any place on the planet. The strange aura I felt while in Berlin. That’s a compliment, make no mistake. I was there and it felt like New York City – and it was my first time visiting. Everywhere felt like a NYC neighborhood with the only exception being a few more people spoke German. I will never forgive Berlin for trying to kill me every night. Ha!

I can’t wait to land in a few hours to roam the streets of London again.

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)
Part 7: Hostel
Part 8: Berlin Wall
Part 9: Somewhere in Kensington
Part 10: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Part 11: Strausbourg