Belfast, Northern Ireland (the first time)
Belfast, Northern Ireland (the second time)
While I was in Europe, I shot sixteen rolls of film on my camera in six months, and in twelve or so different countries. I didn’t mark any of them, so when I returned to the U.S. I had no idea which roll of film was from which trip, but now that I have money to develop all this film I’ve been choosing a couple rolls at random and letting myself be surprised by the result. Now I’m kind of glad I didn’t have the forethought to mark them! Here are some images from the first four rolls!
London, United Kingdom
songs: “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones and “Laura” by Girls
I knew, before I even started traveling, that this was going to be among the most epic three and half weeks of my life and as a result, I had my iPhone constantly on the ready to record all of the incredible experiences I was having. I think it annoyed the people I was with a little, but I’m so glad I did it. I’ve watched this video probably twenty times since I’ve completed it, and it never ceases to bring a huge smile to my face. It was amazing to live it and now I’m so glad that I have this video as a memento, and that some of my best memories of my travels are preserved in moving pictures for all time. I hope you enjoy watching it too!
The third week of my travels got off to a bit of a rocky start in Madrid. I arrived late on a Thursday evening and had had a couch surfing host all lined up, but due to miscommunication, when I arrived at the host’s apartment he told me that he wasn’t able to host me after all. Trying not to be upset, I went to the first hostel I came across and ended up paying 40 euro for a single night’s stay. I sent out a few emergency couch requests, and from 9am until about 3pm the next day, I was walking around the city with my huge backpack, just waiting to hear back from someone who was willing to let me stay with them. I started getting really down about it and started thinking that the rest of my time in Madrid was probably going to be a bummer, but a miracle happened: I was offered a couch by a guy named Herman, who ended up being my favorite couch surfing host I’ve ever had, and of all the places that I traveled in those three weeks, I had, without a doubt, the most fun in Madrid.
I barely took any photos in Madrid. The city is really large and spread out, so most of what I saw of the city was from the passenger seat of Herman’s Mini Cooper. With the top down. Just sayin’. We spent an entire afternoon just driving around so that he could show me all of the landmarks, and later we picked up Natasha, a couch surfer that he was hosting from Russia, from the airport. The three of us went up to the viewing deck of the Ayuntamiento de Madrid (the City Hall) for a really lovely view of the city center, then out for tapas and drinks in the evening, and then later met up with some of Herman’s friends and went to a seven-story dance club called Kapital, where we stayed until 6am when it closed. It was absolutely crazy.
After Madrid, I had planned to take a quick day-and-a-half jaunt to Alicante (on the coast of Spain), and Natasha was going to come with me. However, we met a Turkish guy named Zahid at Kapital and he told us that he was leaving the next day for Valencia (also on the coast) because there was a huge celebration/party taking place that weekend, and that we should go to Valencia instead of Alicante and stay with him and his friend Adrian. And so we did.
The city was in full celebration mode when we arrived. The celebration is called San Jose, for the city’s patron saint, and it’s the city’s way of welcoming the beginning of spring. Apparently there’s an artist that designs these incredibly detailed large-scale art installation pieces, and he works all year with a team of builders to create these pieces. There were over four hundred of them this year, and they’re put on display throughout the city for four days before being burned to the ground. During the day, people just walk around the city center and set off fireworks in the street, so we were constantly being startled by loud explosions, but after a couple hours we were used to it. We set off a few firecrackers ourselves, sticking them inside oranges that had fallen from the trees or throwing them into an empty alley way and then running to hide behind a car. We had so much fun.
There was a parade in the street, and in the procession there were people twirling fiery batons, men dressed in indigenous headdresses and Arab robes and turbans, as well as little girls in enormous traditional Spanish dresses. It was so surreal. Adrian took us to the most amazing sandwich place called Mare Meua (which translates to “Oh my Mother!”) that had the most delicious mini sandwiches and tinto de berrano (red wine and fizzy water) for 1 euro each. Natasha and Zahid and I each vowed to open a sandwich place like Mare Meua in our respective countries.
We decided to camp out at an art installation that featured some monkeys dressed as humans and wait for it to be set ablaze at midnight. Since there were so many installations throughout the city and none of them could be set on fire without a fire crew at the ready to keep the flames from getting out of control, it ended up being 2am before our installation finally started burning. By 1:30am, it had started raining and we were worried that they might forego burning this installation all together, but after a few small fireworks were set off from around the front of the installation, we watched as the largest piece began to burn from the inside out. The flames grew higher and higher and the fire crew sprayed their hoses on it to keep it contained, and there was so much heat coming off of it and everyone cheered as the giant monkey’s head burned and burned and finally fell to the ground. There was something sort of magical about it, and I felt a strange solidarity with the crowd of people that surrounded me. It was definitely one of the coolest things I experienced while in Europe, and definitely worth spending a single day in Valencia to witness.
Reykjavik was my last European destination before returning to the U.S. When I was booking my airfare a month earlier, I just knew that by the end of my travels I would be almost out of money, so I made plans to stay in Iceland for only one night. I definitely want to return to Iceland in the future, to go camping out in the wilderness and see more of the natural wonders of the little island, but since I was only going to be there for a day, I only got to see a bit of the city. Reykjavik is more like a small town than a city, really: it’s very quaint and quiet and has a wee population of 200,000 (which, interestingly enough, is two-thirds of the population of all of Iceland). I spent most of my time at the Blue Lagoon, which is a geo-thermal spa about forty minutes outside of Reykjavik. It was pretty fantastic. The fifteen or so steps I had to take to get from the inside of the guest center to the edge of the water were absolutely freezing, but once I was submerged in the water, it was like instant heaven. The water was so warm and soothing and steam was rising up from the surface, and there was a soft breeze rolling down from the hills that blew the steam across the water in the most ethereal way. I wanted to sit in that geothermal pool forever.
The second week of my travels began in Stockholm, Sweden. After a week of fairly mild early spring weather in the UK, the low temperatures in Sweden felt particularly frigid, but apparently I had just missed even lower temperatures and a substantial layer of snow only a week earlier. I was able to meet up with my friend Joe, who’s a medical student in Scotland and who I met back in October when I hosted him as a couch surfer in Amsterdam, and we couch surfed with an awesome guy named Andre, who is originally from Portugal and is working in Stockholm as a software engineer for Google (wicked smart!). The three of us got along famously, and had a lot of fun walking around the cold cold city together.
Although there wasn’t any snow on the ground, there were monstrous chunks of ice floating in the river. They were huge! I wanted to ride them down the river like a surfboard! When the chunks bumped up against each other they made a soft tinkling sound, like wind chimes almost. It was a really lovely sound.
Andre took us to an epic lookout spot up on a hill along the river as the sun was starting to set. This seems like a good point to advocate for couch surfing: it is truly the best way to travel, in my opinion. Not only is it free accommodation, but it’s an opportunity to meet awesome people and have a cultural exchange instead of a purely tourist experience. I probably never would have found this amazing lookout spot on my own or in a tourist brochure, and I feel like I got to see Stockholm as a local sees it. So that’s my two cents on couch surfing: it’s awesome and I highly recommend it.
Joe left early on my last day in Stockholm, so Andre and I took a train a short distance outside the city and walked around a frozen lake. It was kind of incredible. Despite my apprehension, we stepped out onto the lake and walked around on top of the ice, and we even did a little moonwalking (or attempted to, at least).
If I thought the temperature shift from the UK to Sweden was intense, it was nothing compared to going from icy Stockholm to sweltering Lisbon. It was in the low 80s! So hot! I couch surfed with a fella named Diogo who lives in the Belem area of Lisbon, so I spent most of my first day in Portugal just walking around the neighborhood checking out the San Jeronimos monastery, the Monument to the Discoveries, and the famous Pasteis de Belem which serves delicious pasteis, a super tasty egg custard pastry, to the hungry masses.
I absolutely ADORED the mosaic sidewalks around the city center. They’re so gorgeous and so detailed, it was difficult to take my eyes off of them while walking.
One section of the city center area used to be a largely Muslim neighborhood, and you can see that influence in the Arabesque tiled facades on many of the buildings. So pretty.
One day, I took a train out to Sintra, which is a stunningly picturesque little town about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon. There are three major castles in Sintra, but unfortunately I only had the energy to climb a formidably steep hill in the overbearing heat to make it up to one of the castles, the Castelo dos Mouros. It’s amazing that these castles were built so long ago and have remained intact and just absolutely stunning. To be so high up and looking down on the sprawling landscape in miniature below made me feel both so big and so tiny at the same time.
Seriously, it does not get any more epic than this.
The Torre de Belem was one of the last sights I saw in Lisbon, and it was dusk, right before Diogo and I went to a photography exhibition opening at the museum he works at. Isn’t the color of the sky amazing? The photography exhibition was gorgeous, and it featured five different photographers from different Portuguese-speaking countries. There was a ritzy reception afterward with endless free glasses of champagne and divine hors d’oeuvres, including pasteis! It was the perfect way to end my stay in Lisbon.