This is the ninth installment in my ongoing autobiography (some funny business with a decimal point led to 8 entries, but only 7 "parts". It's been a while since I last wrote one of these, but then again, I had to do some more living before I could write about it! If you aren't up to speed yet, please feel free to poke around here for parts 1-7. Now a brief recap:
Joel was born in the garden spot of the universe, Bastrop, LA. No running water, no electricity, but a comfy log cabin house and a regenerative cherry tree in the front yard for him to chop down everyday. He had buddies, (Darren, Trey, Ellie) went to college, made more buddies (Amanda, Walker, Rick), did some theatre, made more buddies (Stewart, Richard), and met the woman of his dreams (he had plenty of buddies). He became a DJ and lived happily ever after...until he didn't. Thus we enter our next chapter...
Europeans Do It Overseas
Ella had (and has) a traveling soul. She finds it hard to be tied down, she loves to see the sites, taste the food etc. etc. She had already traveled extensively in the states before I met her. She had even taken a couple of trips south of the border. For our honeymoon we went to Jamaica (thanks Mom and Dad-in-law) and the next year we drove to Niagara Falls.
But Europe is where she wanted to be.
Ella had always had an interest in Europe. Particularly France and Italy. Her mother's family is French and Italian (Sicilian specifically) and hold their heritage in high esteem. She loves good food, good wine and the French language. The girl deserved a European vacation.
Meanwhile, my best friend (Herr Richard Bennett), was stationed in Germany serving his country. Our perfect opportunity for European exploration had arrived. We had to take it. Months of planning, emails back and forth (and back and forth, and back), all led up to us packing our belonging into a rental storage unit, saying goodbye to Ruston, my job, and most of our friends and flying to Europe early in May 2007.
Our plane left Dallas/Ft. Worth, landed in Atlanta, then flew to Amsterdam before an eight hour layover. We did have the option to skip the layover, but Ella and I thought it would be cool to be able to leave the airport and actually see a bit of Amsterdam before our trip started in earnest.
It was. We walked around until we were sore and sleepy, but we managed to fit in a lot of sightseeing in our short layover. No, we didn't smoke the "reefer" or pick up any prostitutes, but we did see a sex shop next door to a McDonald's and have a beer and lunch with the fattest cat in the Netherlands (I'm not being facetious, there was a GIGANTIC cat in this pub we ate in).
After wearing ourselves down completely, we returned to Schipol Airport (the coolest I've ever been to in my admittedly limited flying career) and caught a few z's before our flight to Germany.
Over the course of the next three weeks or so, Ella, Richard, Allie and I spent significant time in Prague, Rome, northern Italy, Paris, Dublin and then Germany. It was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my life (and I imagine, though I hate to speak for them, theirs). Too much time has past and it would take me far too long to relay the minor details of our trip, but I would like to share a few high points:
1. The Roman Indian Chinese Laundromat Owners -- In Rome, we stayed in a little place called the Magic Hotel (I kid you not). It's a sweet little place in a terrible location (right next to the main train station). This location is convenient, but quite shady after dark. After our first full day of Roman sightseeing, I had walked until I was literally chapped and pissy. The rest of the crew wanted to go to dinner and to walk to the Trevi fountain. I wanted to have too many beers and pass out in our hotel room. We all won.
Instead of being a complete waste of space and time, I suggested that while I was drinking heavily (and nursing my over-exertion wounds) I could do laundry for us at the laundromat downstairs. This establishment was of the (ever popular in Europe) Laundromat/internet cafe variety. A nice man of Indian descent helped me, giving me a reasonable (if a bit high) price for the laundry I needed done and throwing in 30 minutes of free internet use. I took him up on the "deal" and began typing some emails to my loved ones (begging for money to be deposited in my bank account, if I remember correctly). Ella came back early (having gone to dinner, but bailing on the fountain experience). While we shared a big fat Italian beer on the front stoop, the proprietor regaled us with stories about his Chinese upbringing, even though it was obvious from his appearance and accent that he was Indian.
In the end we did discovery the truth, he and his partners/brothers were/are vagabonds. They move somewhere, establish a business, enjoy the sites and sounds the new country has to offer and then move on, like "Shane" after the big shoot-out. Not a bad way of life, if you ask me!
2. El Peregrino - "The Pilgrim" -- It's 3 in the morning near the Italian/French border and we're trying to get some rest in a grungy train station surrounded by shady fellow passengers and even shadier policemen. Who will help us? El Peregrino. He introduces himself to us in a broken French dialect tainted with enough Italian that it makes it difficult for Ella to translate. He says he is a pilgrim, a member of a religious order and that he has devoted his life to God, traveling from one shrine or holy site to another. He is a fascinating man, and when he tells us that we too are pilgrims, he becomes one of our favorite people in the world. I don't know where he (or his Jesus stick) is now, but I hope he is well and wandering the roads in God's service.
3. The fisherman -- In northern Italy, near the French border are five small towns that collectively are known as "Cinque Terre" or Five Earths. Each has it's own distinct feel and attraction, and they are only reachable by train. We left Rome and headed here based on Ella's research of the area. We were not disappointed. The view sitting in the harbor of Vernazza as the sun goes down is breathtaking. But our best experience was the next day as we were waiting for the train out of town. We journeyed to the fishing village, Riomaggiore. This town has the biggest train station of all the Cinque Terre and was where we needed to connect for our train journey into France. It also is the least "touristy" of the Cinque Terre and we wanted to see it. We got a HUGE bottle of wine and settled on the wharf overlooking the water to spend our last hour on the Mediterranean. We were quickly joined by a heavy-set man, probably in his early 40's that was taking his lunch near the water too. He acknowledged us when he sat, but since he didn't seem to speak English and none of us spoke any Italian, we thought that would be the extent of our interaction.
After a few minutes, he stepped forward, addressed us and offered us some of his lunch (cheese and a legume of some kind). We thanked him, but declined at first, but he was persistent and eventually there we were sharing lunch with a man we couldn't converse with. Language barrier or no, he was determined to talk to us and for the next 45 minutes or so, he would talk for a while and we would snap onto any word that sounded vaguely familiar from the French, German and English we knew. Then we would try to respond to whatever we THOUGHT he had just said, and he too would grasp at straws trying to make it all make sense. Pointless? Probably. Enjoyable? Hell, yes. Memorable? I'm writing about it three years later, aren't I?
Europe was an adventure like no other in my life. Someday, I'll go again. I can only hope that I have such good companions on my second European adventure.