The Europe Trip – Spain, Portugal, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy

Seville, Spain is incredibly beautiful. I’m very happy to be here even though finding a place to stay seems to be a bit of a challenge. If I had the money, I would stay in a beautiful Seville hotel or vacation rental, but this trip, my budget is set.

While I am out of Morocco and very glad to have a little break from the constant circus, sadly, there was a bit of a tragedy before I left. The first of the Vagobunnies were born on one of the coldest nights I’ve been there and when we found them, they were all five dead. We hadn’t expected them to birth so soon and hadn’t made adequate preparations. It was a real bummer to dig their little pink bodies out of the straw.Two more rabbits are pregnant though and Hanane tells me we also have several new chickens that just hatched from eggs as part of our farming project. And I finally remembered to take a picture of my famous camel hair blanket from Fes!

Yesterday I woke up, said see you later to Hanane (cause I will see her later) and her Mom and then caught a petit taxi to the grand taxi to the train in Fes to Tangier where I caught a boat to Tarifa in Spain, by that time it was a little after 6 pm and I was fairly tired so I got a pretty nice room, had a hot shower (a real shower!) and ate a bad spanish pizza. I think, on the whole, Spanish food is pretty bad.

After that I slept like a log in a bed with a real mattress and woke up to toss a coin to see whether I should head to Lisbon in Portugal or go to Seville first. Heads told me to come to Seville so I rode the bus for four hours after having some coffee and a pastry and waiting in windy Tarifa’s sorry excuse for a bus station (it’s a bus stop really!).

The bus ride was comfortable and I arrived in Sevilla at 4pm where it is hot and there is some sort of big festival about to take place. Lucky break that, except the hostels have jacked up the prices 25% because fo the demand. No biggie on that one though, the festival might be worth it.

The trip across southern Spain was uneventful. Tarifa looks very much like Lahaina in Maui and has most of the same surf shops. I sat on the beach for a bit this morning and enjoyed the wind and sand.

As for the rest of southern Spain, it seems dirty, smoggy, dusty, and not very picturesque. I didn’t have high hopes for Seville, but arriving here, it seems pretty nice. Lots of sunbathing in the park, beautiful architecture, and even a mosque they stole from the moors and converted to the worlds third largest cathedral.

The Cathedral reused some columns and elements from the mosque, and, most famously, the Giralda, originally a minaret, was converted into a bell tower. It is topped with a statue, known locally as El Giraldillo, representing Faith. The tower’s interior was built with ramps rather than stairs, to allow the Muezzin and others to ride on horseback to the top.


In doing a little digging, I find that this was the home of one of the greatest Sufi mystics ibn Arabi (aka Dr. Maximus)

A vastly prolific writer, Ibn Arabi is generally known as the prime exponent of the idea later known as Wahdat-ul-Wujood, though he did not use this term in his writings. His emphasis was on the true potential of the human being and the path to realising that potential and becoming the perfect or complete man (al-insan al-kamil).Some 800 works are attributed to Ibn Arabi, although only some have been authenticated

Also it was the home of Ibn Khaldun, the first real anthropologist, so my forefather by educational lineage.

…an astronomer, economist, historian, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, hafiz, jurist, lawyer, mathematician, military strategist, nutritionist, philosopher, social scientist and statesman—born in North Africa in present-day Tunisia. He is considered the forerunner of several social scientific disciplines: demography, cultural history,historiography, the philosophy of history,and sociology.


Also Seville is the setting for Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in which Christ returns to earth and is arrested

The main portion of the text is the Inquisitor explaining to Jesus why his return would interfere with the mission of the church. The Inquisitor frames his denunciation of Jesus around the three questions Satan asked Jesus during the temptation of Christ in the desert. These three are the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to cast Himself from the Temple and be saved by the angels, and the temptation to rule over all the kingdoms of the world. The Inquisitor states that Jesus rejected these three temptations in favor of freedom, but thinks that Jesus has misjudged human nature. He does not believe that the vast majority of humanity can handle the freedom which Jesus has given them. Thus, he implies that Jesus, in giving humans freedom to choose, has excluded the majority of humanity from redemption and doomed it to suffer.


Seville was also the famous home of Don Juan, the world’s most notorious lover.

Don Juan is a rogue and a libertine who takes great pleasure in seducing women and (in most versions) enjoys fighting their champions. Later, in a graveyard Don Juan encounters a statue of the dead father of a girl he has seduced, and, impiously, invites him to dine with him; the statue gladly accepts. The father’s ghost arrives for dinner at Don Juan’s house and in turn invites Don Juan to dine with him in the graveyard. Don Juan accepts, and goes to the father’s grave where the statue asks to shake Don Juan’s hand. When he extends his arm, the statue grabs hold and drags him away, to Hell.

(Originally Published 03 APR 2009)


In answer to my friend’s assertion that it is nice to be in civilization because the garbage gets picked up – I offer the following two photos of Sevilla’s beautiful waterfront….looks like the King of Morocco needs to come here to. They always clean up when the king arrives.

Despite the festivities planned here for Semana Santa, the idea of sticking around while groups of inquisition style monks move through the streets dressed like the ku klux klan doesn’t appeal to me for some reason. I made an attempt to find a couch on couchsurfing, but was told that the city is packed because this is Europe’s biggest religious party.

Frankly, I don’t really need to be here for a celebration of the crucifixion of Christ, so I’m moving on to Portugal today…hopefully it will be cheaper there…and warmer…per normal, I arrived on a nice sunny day and today is overcast and cold…do I have so much power that I change the weather everywhere I go? And why can’t I change it to sunny and nice?

And of course, while I ‘m here, I’m constantly singing The Barber of Seville,

The opera is featured in the Our Gang comedy, “Our Gang Follies of 1938”, in that Alfalfa is tired of just being a crooner and decides instead to actually sing opera, auditioning for “The Barber of Seville”. In fact, after his intro in the follies, he comes out on stage with an accordion shout-singing “I’m the Barber of Se-VILLE!!”


It is pretty here at night though…and seems to be a pretty nice city, which aside from a lack of garbage pickup has a lot to offer…especially if you are into drinking…which, these days I am not.

ABC stores have made it to Spain! Not just Hawaii anymore!

While it may mean that I end up in hell, I freely admit that I just went to Burger King and ate a whopper with onion rings plus a caramel sundae and it was completely delicious and satisfying. The king for this king.

(Originally posted 04 April 2009)

I have no idea where I am going to stay in Lisbon, but I’ve heard that the hostels and hotels in Portugal are reasonably priced. So, as usual, I’m going to wing it.

The bus from Seville was pleasant enough and I definitely feel like the food here is already better than Spanish food.

Yesterday wasn’t a big photo day but I like these two from my first view of Portugal….

(Originally published 5 April 2009)

Uh-oh! Broke in ParisAh, yes, here I am in Paris. I’m going to enjoy it, but I’m a bit screwed at the moment. Several days ago, Paypal decided my account activity was strange since I was in France (and yet they didn’t find it strange that I was in Morocco, Spain, Gibraltar, or Portugal….) and they shut down my access to my debit card and my account.

This is where nearly all of my money was. In order to fix it, they need me to be at my address of record in the United States…or equally insane requests of faxing utility bills or rental contracts. I managed to get the complete restrictions lifted from my account so I could transfer funds back to another bank account, but this will take 3-5 business days.

I figured it was no problem though, since I had another bank debit card with a couple of hundred dollars. I went to use it to buy some bread and tuna fish earlier but the grocery store told me that my bank had requested that the card be returned to me!!!! It was shut down too!

So far, they haven’t notified me of anything and they certainly have my email. I checked my account online and there is money there (just like in Paypal) but I can’t access it.

Luckily, I had already withdrawn a couple of hundred Euro before paypal shut down my account. So I was able to get the train to Paris, pay for my hostel for three nights, and buy my bread and tunafish.

But now, my friends, I am in Paris with 15 Euro. I need to get to Brussels by the 22nd to catch my flight to Milan and then will catch my flight back to Morocco and my bride to be.

I don’t mind not having money, but having money and not being allowed to access it really pisses me off. So here I am, I hope that something works out…but for now, this will be a very cheap couple of days in Paris.

Of course, having fun without spending money is actually something I am very good at. So, while frustrating on one level, this should be fun.

 

(Originally published 15 April 2009)

bergamo hostel I had been unable to find a couch in Milano because there was a convention of interior designers there during the period I was going. I figured, I would find something when I arrived, but I figured all the hostels and hotels would be full too. So when I realized I was right next to Bergamo, I decided it was better to go there. The bus was a couple of Euro from the airport.


I found a hostel address in Bergamo and set out.

Bergamo was incredibly nice. Beautiful in fact but the hostel was full, I was referred to the tourist office who told me everything was full because of the interior design thing, the lady at the Bergamo tourist office called a second hostel that was 3 km outside of town. They had one bed left and she reserved it for me. I literally got the last bed in town at the Nuovo Ostello di Bergamo

She gave me directions to get there and finally I arrived by bus. Absolutely beautiful hostel and setting. A hostel in Milano would have been 45 Euros and probably not very good, here it was 18 Euros per night. They managed to do some juggling and booked me for 3 nights, each night in a different room. No problem for me.

I asked the clerk to suggest a walk to me and she told me to walk to the Cialto Alta, the high city. It is a world heritage site. Very very nice place.

I noticed something in Italy that surprised me. The sky is different there. It really looks like all the paintings of the old masters. I always thought it was a style, but no, the sky is a little different color, the clouds are different. It’s really really amazingly beautiful.

So that was the first day. In the morning I woke up and sat on the Terrace and enjoyed a very nice breakfast looking across the valley at the Cialto Alta.

Then I walked to the train station and took a train to Milano (Milan). It cost about 4 Euros each way. I was glad that I was able to come back to Bergamo and this incredibly nice hostel.

Nuovo Ostello di Bergamo – I recommend you reserve in advance!

From the airport it is easy to reach the hostel. Take bus number 1C, get off in ‘Porta Nuova’ and from there take bus number 6, (after 9pm become bus n 9) in direction to ‘Monterosso’. Get off at ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ bus stop, and take the steps near the bus stop to arrive at the hostel.
Otherwise if you take a taxi at the airport, the ride will take only 10 minutes.

Even though it was raining when I went through these places and so I didn’t stay…I liked the feel of them.

These were perhaps the most magical areas I’ve been through in Europe so far.

Very different places in different countries with different cultures, but unified by being Basque. Here is a complete list of hotels in San Sebastion, Spain with user reviews and multi-stie price comparison.

The Numbers inThe Vago Equation. Here’s an odd travel story for you. I almost missed the train from Porto to San Sebastion and jumped on at the last minute. I grabbed an open seat in a very big and very empty train. After a bit, the train began to fill at other stops and I figured I should find my seat. More than 21 big cars with 100 seats per car. Guess what? The empty seat I sat in was my exact assigned seat…fucking crazy…do the math there… thats a 1 in 2100 chance…




If the weather had been nice, I would have been tempted to spend a lot of time there, as it is, I think I will spend time there in the future.

Most of these are from San Sebastion in Spain, I actually preferred it to Biarritz.

I actually would have stayed in Biarritz but the rain made me not too happy searching for a place to stay. I found a youth hostel but it was full and I didn’t feel like looking more, so I got on the train and went to Bordeaux


It was an incredibly beautiful little place and I think the outdoor opportunities in both places deserve to be explored sometime in the future.

 


Okay, I’m taking the piss a little bit here, but I thought Bordeaux overall was not a very groovy place.

It had a nice free museum, the Musee d’Aquitaine with lots of anthropology stuff. There were a lot of hotels in Bordeaux so there must be tourists who come here and find something wonderful. On this trip, I seemed to miss it.

Yes, this is an exhibit of the past in a museum….


It had some pretty buildings.

It had some nice gardens and a nice farmers market.

And it had a guy in a chicken suit giving away free juice of some sort.

It also had lots of expensive vineyard tours I didn’t take, lots of sex shops I didn’t visit, and lots of drugs I think.

I thought I was going to be mugged on my way to the train station to leave, but happily, the would be mugger responded with some shock to my shove and commmand of No! as if I were talking to a dog. The guy grabbed me and I just reacted as if a dog were jumping on me and shoved him off with that commanding No! Then he just stood there and I walked away watching my back in the plate glass windows to see if he would follow, he didn’t.

Check out me checking out a 12th century Jesus on the cross.

Oh, by the way the reason I knew the french lady was crazy on the train, was because even though I told her i didn’t speak french very well she insisted on telling me long stories and when I started to go to sleep, she turned on some very loud and annoying music and then began to talk again. She wasn’t all bad though, in between chain smoking on the train, she gave me a few smokes and a pack of halls mentholyptus.

(originally posted 16APR2009)

I’m proud of catching the Madonna in these pictures, can you find her?

I left Bordeaux to head to my friend Izzy’s in the small city of Thouars but the only way to get there was to have a five hour wait in Bordeaux or to wait for five hours somewhere else along the way. I opted to wait somewhere else. I was staying with friends, but there is more than one great hotel in France so you should be able to find something suitable.

The somewhere else I picked was an incredibly beautiful little city with wonderful architecture, a well run tourist center that watched my bags for hours and provided me with walking tours and entertainment, and all of it cost me just asking.

Tourism has been creating a sense of nausea in me of late, the capitalism and prostitution of the past is beyond disgusting to me.

This town showed me something different.

No duck tours, no aggressive touts, no bullshit tour companies, just a town saying “Hey, we have a lot to offer, come have a look.” Really refreshing.

By the way, thus far, all the French people I have met with the exception of the would be robber, have been tremendously cool. Even in Paris, not just cool, but nice.

I sure run into Jesus a lot in Europe, I think he is as surprised as I am about it.

(Originally posted 16APR2009)

I should have gotten a picture but it didn’t work out. I was walking around today penniless and found a pretty nice suit coat and was already wearing my fedora. I reached in my pocket and found my harmonica and thought what the hell, maybe Paris will take care of me if I put my hat down and play some blues.

So I found a nice busy corner in Montmarte and started to play with my hat in front of me. An hour later I had 70 centimes. That’s about a dollar. But I also had a big smile on my face. There’s something really good for the soul about playing the harmonica.

But I guess the blues don’t cut it in gay old Paris.

I spent my hard earned cash on a postcard for Hanane. Wish I had enough to buy her something nicer, but c’est la vie.

I did end up in about a dozen tourist videos, about a hundred pictures, and made a lot of kids and old people smile, and that is certainly worth something…at least to the soul.

(Originally published 17 April 2009)


Perhaps the highlight of this trip (with the possible exception of panhandling in Paris) was having the chance to make a friendship that has existed only virtually for the past several years into a real life one.

My visit with Isabelle Aubert Baudron and then spending some time with her ex-husband, Jean Louis was the stuff that dreams of travel are made of. These are really cool French intellectuals who were hanging around with the likes of William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say that Izzy and Jean-Louis made me very comfortable and the small city of Thouars is one of those dream places where one meets a man who has been collecting ancient things since his boyhood and built a museum, ancient buildings sit side by side with modern ones, and the fattest cats in the world purr on in contentment while old french dogs beg for cheese, and are quite content in themselves.

Hearing the stories of Izzy and Jean Louis, seeing Jean Louis’ spaceship, experiencing the wonder of Brion Gysin’s dream machine, and hanging out in the French countryside make my wet journey worthwhile.

And as I sat in my battered old hat and read personal inscriptions in first editions from William S. Burroughs and others, I realized that this journey is just as important as those that the beat poets took and others as well.

The dreamachine (or dream machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William Burroughs’s “systems adviser” Ian Sommerville created the dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’s book, The Living Brain.A dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optical nerve and alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. The “viewer” experiences increasingly bright, complex patterns of color behind their closed eyelids. The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the “viewer” feels surrounded by colors. It is claimed that viewing a dreamachine allows one to enter a hypnagogic state.

There are amazing people in this world and I am very happy to be able to be friends of quite a few of them.

Here are a couple of pictures from Izzy’s galleries at www.interpc.fr/mapage/westernlands

With William Burroughs

Kandahar Afghanistqn October 1974

 

(Originally Posted 18 April 2009)


The bus ride from Paris to Amsterdam was fairly uneventful but one thing I did notice was that as soon as we crossed into the Netherlands, there were bicycles everywhere. I’m not really into marijuana or prostitutes, but bicycle culture is something I can really dig.


The bus was about two hours late and I arrived in Amsterdam at Amstel Station at about 10 pm. I was surprised to find that the ticket vending machines only accepted coins, no bills or cards, and that there weren’t really any helpful station folk about. I finally managed to get change and still couldn’t figure out where the toilets were, that’s because they all close at 10 PM. I figured out the coins, found my way to the train to Rotterdam and that was my first experience with Amsterdam.

The train had a toilet, for which I was thankful. I arrived in Rotterdam about an hour later than I had told my friend Laila I would get there. It turns out that since I said I would arrive at 10 and not 22, she thought I was supposed to have arrived at 10 am anyway.

In Rotterdam, not only were there no toilets open but the cigarette shops had closed, and as I searched the station I realized there were no public phones either. Ahhh! Finally I found a burger king and a public phone but couldn’t reach Laila. Tried twice then got a burger and two giant drunk dutch guys came rolling into the door and fell on the floor hitting each other with massive fists.

Hmmm, I thought. This is going to be an interesting night. Finally, third call, I reached Laila and she came to the station to get me.

Over the next few days we climbed the Eurospike, walked in very nice gardens, drank coffee in cafes (rather than smoking pot in other cafes), checked out some art, and in general just caught p on what we had been doing the past 8 years.

We looked at the Rotterdam walk of stars and I took a picture of Bryan Adams hands.

She showed me the Dwarf Buttplug.

We ate shrimp in Dizzy Gilespie’s bar.

We shook hands with warm metal trees.

We looked at the cube houses.

And we chilled out and talked over frozen pizza, ate bagels, and cruised through the farmers market.

Knowing that she had an exam coming, I set out for Brussels since I had to catch a flight from there (I thought) the next day.

This was really nice, a chance to see a new city, renew an old friendship, and have a great time. Plus we got to see a crazy lady in a very short skirt teaching young kids to jump rope. Her bottom looked like it had just been spanked…rosy red! She was dressed like a prostitute. Strange….

(23 April 2009)


The bus ride from Paris to Amsterdam was fairly uneventful but one thing I did notice was that as soon as we crossed into the Netherlands, there were bicycles everywhere. I’m not really into marijuana or prostitutes, but bicycle culture is something I can really dig.


The bus was about two hours late and I arrived in Amsterdam at Amstel Station at about 10 pm. I was surprised to find that the ticket vending machines only accepted coins, no bills or cards, and that there weren’t really any helpful station folk about. I finally managed to get change and still couldn’t figure out where the toilets were, that’s because they all close at 10 PM. I figured out the coins, found my way to the train to Rotterdam and that was my first experience with Amsterdam.

The train had a toilet, for which I was thankful. I arrived in Rotterdam about an hour later than I had told my friend Laila I would get there. It turns out that since I said I would arrive at 10 and not 22, she thought I was supposed to have arrived at 10 am anyway.

In Rotterdam, not only were there no toilets open but the cigarette shops had closed, and as I searched the station I realized there were no public phones either. Ahhh! Finally I found a burger king and a public phone but couldn’t reach Laila. Tried twice then got a burger and two giant drunk dutch guys came rolling into the door and fell on the floor hitting each other with massive fists.

Hmmm, I thought. This is going to be an interesting night. Finally, third call, I reached Laila and she came to the station to get me.

Over the next few days we climbed the Eurospike, walked in very nice gardens, drank coffee in cafes (rather than smoking pot in other cafes), checked out some art, and in general just caught p on what we had been doing the past 8 years.

We looked at the Rotterdam walk of stars and I took a picture of Bryan Adams hands.

She showed me the Dwarf Buttplug.

We ate shrimp in Dizzy Gilespie’s bar.

We shook hands with warm metal trees.

We looked at the cube houses.

And we chilled out and talked over frozen pizza, ate bagels, and cruised through the farmers market.

Knowing that she had an exam coming, I set out for Brussels since I had to catch a flight from there (I thought) the next day.

This was really nice, a chance to see a new city, renew an old friendship, and have a great time. Plus we got to see a crazy lady in a very short skirt teaching young kids to jump rope. Her bottom looked like it had just been spanked…rosy red! She was dressed like a prostitute. Strange….

(23 April 2009)


Let me get this out of the way, I expected absolutely nothing from Belgium. On the way from Rotterdam the train passed by Antwerp and I had nothing but a sense of dread and foreboding. The place just seemed evil. I’m not joking, the smog, the shape of the cathedrals, it just seemed like I was heading into Mordor. I had requested a couch in Brussels, but it wasn’t available, so I went to the emergency request group and put in another request. I didn’t expect much, after all, the other requests were from “Two Asian Girls”, and assorted other single women. I tried to make my request interesting though.

I got one response from a real nice guy named Rafael who said that while it wasn’t ideal timing since he had his two daughters with him and was working,he said that if I couldn’t find anything else he would hook me up because we had a shared interest in Tarot and several other things.

So I tried again, but with no luck and emailed Rafael before I left Rotterdam hoping to hear from him in time.

No such thing by the time I got on the train. So anyway, I arrived in Brussels with no plans, no idea of what the place was about (as usual) and no guidebook. My thought was that if I sensed the same thing I’d gotten from Antwerp, I would just get on the train and go to Cherleroi, where Ryan Air flies from about 60 km from Brussels itself.

I was in for a surprise though. Coming out of the station, which was nothing special by any standards I was faced with a beautiful day, a beautiful city, and a city that was anything but ugly. Since I didn’t have anyplace lined up and it was midafternoon, I almost got back on the train, but the vibes in this place were so good that I decided to wander around a bit and see if I could find an internet cafe.

I am so glad I did. As I wandered around I was in wonder. Finally, I was in a place that really fit what I had always imagined a city in Europe would be like. Laid back shops, guys playing happy music on accordions, coffee shops and restaurants with chairs and tables sprawling into squares. Old couples sitting next to fountains. It was relaxing, beautiful, and despite being almost Disney stereotypical, it was incredibly enjoyable.

I finally found an internet cafe and when I checked the internet, there was a message from Rafael. He gave me his address and phone number but wouldn’t be back home until around 6:30 so suggested that I wander the city.

I set out in the direction of his house with some help from some World Wildlife Fund guys who were canvassing in a public square and when I got there was pleased to see a hostel nearby where I thought I might stash my bags.

No way. They were not even friendly about it. I even offered to pay. So then I went across the street to a big fancy hotel, The Queen Anne, and asked the clerk. He said no problem, put my bags in their storeroom and refused to accept a tip. I think I am through with hostels unless I really have to deal with them.

Then, free of bags I wandered a beautiful little city filled with bookshops (English, Dutch, French, and more languages with many choices).

I was slightly confused by the many many statues of small children pissing that I saw in all the shops.

I ate a Belgian waffle with strawberries, whipped cream, and extra chocolate just like the all the other tourists. Hands down it was the best waffle I ever had.

And then I ate pizza at Coliseum Pizza which I was later told by Rafael has the best pizza in Belgium. I believe it, it was fantastic.

I picked up my bags and headed to Rafael’s where I was once again reminded of how great couchsurfing can be. We had coffee, great conversations about our mutual adventures and spiitual matters, and then took a long walk through an amazing city.

This is the only city in Europe where not only can you piss on a church, but you are encouraged to do so.

It turns out the pissing child statue is a famous statue with several legends attached to it that people from all over the world come to Brussels to see and snap pictures of.

On occasion, the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer. Cups will be filled up with the beer flowing from the statue and given out to people passing by.
One legend goes like this: In the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held their ground for quite some time. The attackers had thought of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Juliaanske from Brussels happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.

Note the hat, sticks, and satchel on the door of this church! Vagabonding is respectable as both I (Vago) and Le Mat can tell you.The shell is the symbol of this pilgrimage.

The Notre Dame church is the Belgian starting point for a very famous Vagabond/Pilgrim trail that runs all the way to Santiago Spain.

The route known as the Camino de Santiago is neither a road nor a highway. It’s a walkway trod by travelers of all kinds for more than 2,000 years. Christians have traveled it for nearly 1,300 years.

Much of the route described in a 900-year old guidebook is still in use today. Some of it wends its way over the remains of pavement laid down by the Romans two millennia ago. Its a route that writer James Michener no stranger to world travel”calls the finest journey in Spain, and one of two or three in the world. He did it three times and mentions passing through landscapes of exquisite beauty. The European Union has designated it a European Heritage Route.

Christians are attracted to this remote corner of Europe because of a legend that Santiago de Compostela is the burial place of the apostle James the Greater. As such, it ranks along with Rome and Jerusalem as one of Christendoms great pilgrim destinations.

The Camino de Santiago has its origins in pre-Christian times when people of the Celtic/Iberian tribes made their way from the interior to lands end on the Atlantic coast of Galicia. For them, watching the sun set over the endless waters was a spiritual experience. As part of their conquest of Europe, the Romans occupied Iberia by 200 B.C. They built infrastructure, including a road from Bordeaux in modern France to Astorga in northwest Spain, to mine the areas gold and silver. Some of the original road remains on todays Camino.


There is a bar that never plays music where the patrons always play chess and a massive covered arcade/mall that was relaxing and anything but pretentious.

I can go on and on, but you will have to read the book later for more. In short Rafael, his daughter Laura, and I took a delightful night walk where around every bend he was able to show me something else exciting and interesting.

Instead of a creepy city (by the way, Rafael told me that Antwerp is roughly 1/4 fascist…hows that for feeling the vibes!) I found Brussels to be a laid back, intellectual, unpretentious, and totally livable place. In terms of the cities I’ve seen, I think it moves right to the top of the list.

Not only is there great graffiti, but there is a great culture of comic book art in Belgium that is encouraged by the city by putting art up on corners from great comic books.

In the morning, Rafael made sure I knew how to get to the airport, walked me to the tube station, and I left knowing that I had made another friend through couchsurfing that I will no doubt see again someday.

 

(Originally posted 24 April 2009)


I left Belgium on Ryan Air from “Brussels South” airport. It was my first time flying Ryan Air and as an airline, it is by far the worst I have flown. I booked the tickets through a promotion they had where the flight from “Brussels” to “Milano” was 10 Euros and the flight from “Milano” to Fes was 24 Euros.

Classic bait and switch. The taxes and fees (10 Euros for checked bag, 5 Euros for online check in, etc etc) and by the end, the cost was 200 Euros for both tickets. Plus, it turns out “Brussels South” is actually more than an hour from Brussels by bus so that is another 13 Euros, plus they never bother to say that the airport is this far from actual Brussels. Same thing with flying to Milano, it is about an hour train trip to Milano. On board the flights, they try to sell you everything…nothing is free on Ryan Air. No in flight entertainment, no magazine (unless you pay for it), no free snacks (not even water or peanuts), and if you simply try to get into a book, the flight attendants are hawking make-up, lottery tickets, and other things every five minutes during the flight. Maybe next time I’ll take a Rome Holiday. We’ll see.

Sure, overall pretty cheap and efficient even with the fees, but not what they are advertising and as for the feeling of flying being special, it is less special and less comfortable with Ryan Air than it is on good old Greyhound.

Okay, the view of the Alps as we flew over beat anything from a Greyhound…

With that rant out of the way, I had been unable to find a couch in Milano because there was a convention of interior designers there during the period I was going. I figured, I would find something when I arrived, but I figured all the hostels and hotels would be full too. So when I realized I was right next to Bergamo, which I had never heard of, I decided it was better to go there. The bus was a couple of Euro, Ryan Air had been selling tickets for 10 Euro. Shysters.

Anyway, I used the internet in the Italian airport and found that e-fascism is alive and well in Italy. You have to register with your passport if you use a computer in the airport or in an internet cafe. Not only that, it is expensive. Anyway, I paid a Euro for five minutes, found a hostel address in Bergamo and set out.

Bergamo was incredibly nice. Beautiful in fact. The hostel was full, I was referred to the tourist office who told me everything was full because of the interior design thing, the lady at the Bergamo tourist office called a second hostel that was 3 km outside of town. They had one bed left and she reserved it for me. I literally got the last bed in town.

She gave me directions to get there and finally I arrived by bus. Absolutely beautiful hostel and setting. Again, expensive internet, but I wasn’t complaining. A hostel in Milan would have been 45 Euros and probably not very good, here it was 18 Euros per night. They managed to do some juggling and booked me for 3 nights, each night in a different room. No problem for me.

I asked the clerk to suggest a walk to me and she told me to walk to the Cialto Alta, the high city. It is a world heritage site. Very very nice place.

I noticed something in Italy that surprised me. The sky is different there. It really looks like all the paintings of the old masters. I always thought it was a style, but no, the sky is a little different color, the clouds are different. It’s really really amazingly beautiful.

So that was the first day. In the morning I woke up and trying to avoid all the interior design students the place was packed with, I sat on the Terrace while they sat inside and enjoyed a very nice breakfast looking across the valley at the Cialto Alta.

Then I walked to the train station and took a train to Milano (Milan). It cost about 4 Euros each way. I spent the day walking around Milan and to be honest, I was not impressed a bit. Milan has some decent but not spectacular architecture, in terms of the other places I’ve been, it was really a fairly flat, boring, not very interesting place. The main thing in Milan is the fashion houses and I could give a rats ass about them. I did buy a dress for Hanane while I was there and some scarves for her sisters, but that was all I had to do with fashion.

I visited the interior design expo for about 5 minutes and decided to leave. Some very snooty people all dressed to impress each other and really not looking all that great. Maybe I’m snooty too.

Milano is filled with men in suits that look too small for them.

I wandered into a down and out outlying area and found a pizza shop where they spoke no english and got a nice slice of pizza. Okay, it was amazing. Not as good as Lily’s Pizza in Raleigh, North Carolina, but better than Chicago or New York pizza.

Then I caught the train back to Bergamo, stopped and had the best ice cream I have ever had. Italian Gelatto is the best in the world…at least in my experience.

My last day I was happy to wander around Bergamo reading a bad science fiction novel I had picked up in Brussels, sitting in parks, going to an archeology and natural history museum,


going inside one of the most beautifully painted cathedrals I’ve seen anywhere,


and doing a lot of people watching. There was a jazz festival I was thinking of checking out, but by the time I got back to the hostel, I had done a lot of walking and decided to simply do my laundry, shower, finish my book, and then walk to the nearest pasta place to get some Italian pasta.

Where is the water? we both asked. (Me and the monk in the picture)

This was one more strange experience. For some reason, nearly everything was closed but I finally found a pasta place that was open. I was surprised when I went in, it looked like a very nice place but all the waitstaff were Japanese girls that spoke no Japanese, only Italian and Spanish. They weren’t sisters, not related. I had gnocci and shrimp with pesto, a nice glass of wine, and sadly, they were out of Tiramisu so I ordered something from the dessert menu I had never seen.

I swear it was deep fried Mochi filled with peanut butter. Delicious, but I seriously doubt it is a real Italian dessert, Japanese maybe…anyway, real Italian pasta will have to happen another time.

Back to the hostel, a shower, packing, went to bed, and in the morning, woke up and took a bus to the airport where I caught a flight back to Fes (yes another Ryan Air flight, just as bad). Arriving in Fes I was met by Hanane and our friend Yassine. I made it through customs first since I was apparently the only passenger with his own pen, and here I am….it’s nice to be home….

 

(Originally posted 26 APRIL 2009)

These are the tickets from this last little galivant, most of them anyway.

First of all, let me say that I am safe and sound writing this from Hanane’s bedroom in Morocco. This was a very nice little jaunt through Europe. Just as a quick recount, I left my house in November and couchsurfed with friends in Hawaii until December. After that I flew to Oregon and traveled by train through California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania. Then I flew to Spain, went to Gibraltar, and came to Morocco for two months. Then I went back to Spain, to Portugal, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. And now, I am back in Morocco.

I started with out very much money and now I have even less money, but I haven’t had to work since the end of November. Now it is reaching the time of having to work again.

I’ve got two offers, I’ll let you know when I know.

26 April 2009