Sunday, September 06, 2009


Going almost two months without a blog post was not one of my goals for the year. But due to a facebook/blogspot/any other cool website block in Yantai, I was unable to update the Wild East over the last few weeks I lived there. Then, I hit the road and it went something like this:

July 26 - Overnight train from Yantai to Beijing

July 27 to 29 - Stayed at a hostel in Beijing and checked out the Ming Tombs with my German roommate

July 29 to August 3 - TRAIN from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway; laughed in the dining car and drank a lot of vodka with people from Australia, Sweden, Taiwan, Russia, New Zealand and Norway; my cabinmate Gerry left his shoes on the Mongolian dining car and ended up wearing my slippers the rest of the trip

August 3 to 7 - Couchsurfed at two different places in Moscow and got two unique, distinct slices of life from each; the first place I surfed was with a Philipino expat who hosts about 400 strangers a year and basically treats his apartment like a well-run and trusting hostel; the second place was with a Russian couple who treated me very well - we cooked a meal together, they gave me a tour of the neighborhood, and I basked in some of the most thought-provoking conversations of my trip (they pointed out that a government's love for its people is more vital to happiness than we realize)

August 7 to 10 - Chilled out and surfed again in Vienna at an East German girl's apartment; her terrific cooking skills were matched only by her love of the TV show Scrubs and it is because of the latter that I watched the show for the first time and now have appreciation for it; in terms of cities, Vienna is almost too quaint and serene

August 10 - Woke up early and took a train Venice; I shared the train compartment with four generations of an Austrian family - two young children, their mother, grandmother and great-grandfather (who had been to Louisiana, Texas, and New York City as a prisoner of war from 1943 to 1946); spent most of the afternoon and evening by myself in Venice surrounded by canals, couples, and crafty back alleys

August 11 to 15 - After an overnight train to Rome, I met my friend Carla at a subway station near her home; over the course of the next five days, we proceed to visit anything in Rome worth visiting, including: Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Novono, the Vatican (her apartment was a block away), Arch of Constantine, Colosseum, St. Peter's Square, the Mouth of Truth, Pantheon, Santa Maria in Trastavere, Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, San Giovani and a few others; by the end of the five days, I was dizzy from the churches, piazzas, and gelato - and all too appreciative of Carla visiting all these places for the 8th time since moving there

August 16, 17 - On the morning train to Naples, I met a girl who used to live in Chicago and was now spending time in Europe after volunteering in Africa over the past year; in the afternoon, I jumped on a boat to Capri to meet up with cousin Bob and get a brief taste of what it would be live in a Mediterranean postcard; we walk the island and intrigue each other by having conversations about two completely different generations of our family; the patience and wit he uses to tell stories of the past leaves me envious; after breakfast on the terrace, I boat to Sorrento and take a train to Pompeii; I go to the amphitheatre where Pink Floyd played in 1971 and am impacted more than expected by walking around the preserved city and seeing the ruins and body casts

August 17 to 19 - On Monday night, I train from Sorrento to Rome and spend one more night at Carla's place before training to Perugia to visit my friend Sally who is studying music at the university there; she takes my camera and I'm suddenly the star of my own photoshoot as we walk the narrow, winding streets of the city; Tuesday night saw my fourth and final couch surfing experience of the trip when I surfed with Paolo and Luigi, friends who live together in Perugia; they are boisterous, welcoming conversation lovers who point out that every Italian citizen is a soccer coach in their own right; Paola cooks dinner before giving me a tour of neighboring Assisi, where St. Francis is from; then I board the overnight train to Zurich

August 20 to 24 - It had now been over three weeks since I slept in a hostel or hotel; there are many aspects that make cousin Jim unique and his love of comfort is one of them; I knew there would be no hostel or couch surfing with him, just a good ole fashioned Swissotel; these four days turn into a blur of drinking and sleeping in until 4 pm; the closest we come to having any kind of culture exchange occurs at 10:30 pm on Saturday night when I purchase condoms and a neck massage from a bachelorette party; the following day, we somehow manage to arise before noon and check out Lake Zurich basking in all of its wealth and glory; there are people jumping off bridges and rafting on the Limmat River; at night, I board an overnight train to Amsterdam

August 25 to 31 - Ted and I met at the train station clock tower at 9:30am; if the previous few days in Zurich had been a blur of drinking, then this time in Amsterdam can only be categorized as a blur of coffeeshops, trashy hostels and walking; each day we headed in a different direction, got lost and backtracked, and found more unique ways to cross over the canals that paint the city; overdosing on Amsterdam is easy and we found ourselves in the seaside town of Haarlem for two nights where we rode bikes along the Atlantic coastline, browsed outdoor markets for Christmas gifts, and walked the beach

August 31 to Sept. 3 - My return flight to NYC connected through Dublin and the airport authorities there threaten to arrest me for the pocket knife I forgot I was carrying; I miss the last bus to North Wildwood and walk to a hotel in Times Square where my old roommate Terry works; he pulls a favor with room service and I eat real food for the first time in over a day - a bacon cheeseburger with fries and it is delicious; at his house, his wife returns from the US Open and the three of us share beers and talk about the good ole days in Chicago; the following morning is like Christmas morning as I catch the bus to North Wildwood; there are tears everywhere as I greet my parents at their hotel and even my nephew gets in on the group hugs; we spend the next two days going for walks, eating home cooked breakfasts, lounging by the pool and simply being giddy that we're around each other again