Things I have learned #3256…

I’m relatively sure it isn’t that many, but I lost count and couldn’t be bothered to go back through my posts to check how many TIHL posts I’ve made already.

  • When travelling by Amtrak in the US, always book a lower level coach seat. They’re no bigger or more spacious than the normal upper deck coach seats (or expensive, as far as I can tell), but they are in their own little compartment which is a dead end, so it has the huge advantage of not having people walking past your seat all the damn time, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Check Greyhound and Amtrak prices before booking anything. While the Greyhound is often cheaper, it’s far less comfortable and for some reason Amtrak tickets are actually cheaper if you book ‘em the day before you travel (or I happened to get lucky/need a cheap route).
  • While we’re at it, if you’re near a major city or transport hub and need to travel from a minor outlying town to another minor outlying town, check prices for indirect routes into said major city and then out to the other town again, rather than minor town to minor town. Example, La Crosse to Iowa City – over $100 and a ridiculous 24 hour bus ride for some damn reason. La Crosse to Chicago to Iowa City – $72 (train for $60, express Greyhound for $12), and eight hours.

These things I have learned this time are getting a bit lengthy. Need to think of something short and pithy.

  • White T-shirts appear to be more slimming than black..?
  • Taking my laptop and camera out of my backpack and carrying them in a messenger bag doesn’t appear to reduce the weight of my backpack whatsoever, and yet it does increase the weight of my messenger bag exponentially. Physics, you’re doin’ it wrong.
  • Americans do not know that hostels exist in their country. At all. “Wait, whu? You stayed in a hostel? We have those here?” Yes, you do. Some of them are awesome, and they’re cheap (ish, certainly –er than in Europe).
  • I knew this one anyway, but I feel it needs advertising. I fucking love the album Swim, by July for Kings. Look it up on Grooveshark.com, it’s all there and free and legal. Do as you’re told. Go, now. Not you, parents.
  • I’m still good enough at Chess to beat a guy who sits on the street in Downtown Denver every Sunday and plays with other like-minded chess players. First game, stalemate, second game, won.

I haven’t learned anything else. I was quite knowledgeable to begin with.

Things I have learned #… 3?

  • People like when I make lists about things I’ve learned.
  • Always carry a half litre bottle of water with you. Always. Whenever you are at a tap, fountain, outlet, or bathroom that has drinking water, fill that bottle up, no matter whether there’s only a mouthful gone, or a mouthful left.
  • People make the place. Both the staff, the other travellers, and the people in the dorm with you.
  • Plastic bags of all shapes and sizes are infinitely useful and should be pilfered whenever possible. Whenever doing some shopping, keep the bag; whenever buying fruit or veg in a supermarket where you have to pick it and bag it in little sandwich bags, take a whole handful of those bags too; if a cleaner should happen to leave a roll of bin liners around and glance the other way, take some. Yes, I’m advocating stealing plastic bags, for they are certainly on the Swiss Army Knife of travel accessories.
  • I need periods of down-time once in a while. A day a week, perhaps, maybe a few days in every two weeks, I need to sit around and do exactly nothing whatsoever except be stationary. These days are often some of the most enjoyable, despite a notable lack of museums, monuments, beaches or bars.
  • Similar to point #5, I need periods of time where I’m travelling alone, or hanging out in my own company, as well as periods of time spent with others, or moving from place to place with someone else. Zagreb to Sarajevo without Damian, and Dubrovnik to Naples without Brendon would have been far more stressful and less enjoyable journeys. Conversely, some long train rides spent alone are wonderfully peaceful and recuperating.
  • The need for decent Wi-Fi access cannot be overstated. Pretty sure I mentioned this on another list but as I don’t have internet access at the time of writing, I can’t check. Hence it being on the list twice.
  • As a native English speaker, and only English speaker, I am incredibly ignorant compared to pretty much the rest of Europe when it comes to languages. Case in point, having a conversation with a couple of German girls and a Croatian guide, the German girl used the word ‘gentrification’ perfectly and in context, and the Croatian guide understood what she meant. Most of my English friends wouldn’t know what gentrification means.
  • On that note, Germans are good at taking jokes, especially about the war. And Jews.
  • Lists should come in tens.

One month on the road…

Well, as of yesterday, I’ve been on the road for a month. I say on the road – it’s mostly been by rail, but you know what I mean. I would have written this post yesterday, but yesterday became a clusterfuck of very swift changes of plans and directions and thus I had neither the time nor ability to sit down and write. Here I am a day late instead. You should’ve expected it.

So I left on the 19th of July, and it’s now the 20th of August. I’ve been travelling around for a solid month now. Let’s recap on what’s happened so far.

I’ve visited the following places: Lyon, Clermont Ferrand, Grenoble, Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Lucca, Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara, Venice, Ljubljana, Zagreb, and currently Sarajevo. That’s 14 cities in five countries so far. That’s broken my previous 13 cities in one trip record.

I’ve befriended 10 people, two of which I imagine keeping in active and regular contact with.

I’ve travelled a total of 1116 miles as the crow flies.

I’ve taken approximately 1400 photos, which is a little over 17Gbs of hard drive space.

I have finished reading six novels.

Hmm. Is it a little sad that I can only summarize an experience like this by using lists and tallies? Or, as in my previous post, Bell curve graphs? I guess it comes from having a scientist’s mind. I keep it in a jar. It doesn’t make for good empathic reading for you folks though, so let me try and expand and get in touch with my emotional side. This might get messy.

When I set out on my trip the first couple of places I stayed at were for four days each. During the first week or two it felt an awful lot like time was dragging. The whole “it’s only been a week? Feels like ten” effect. Now I’ve been going for a little longer it’s feeling very much the opposite, and it doesn’t seem like I’ve been away for more than a week or two. I wonder what the reason for that is, but perhaps it’s just that I’m hitting my stride. I’ve another few weeks left of treking around, then I board the yacht in Greece for the sailing stretch of the trip. After I disembark and fly to Athens I have no fucking idea what I’m going to do still. Fun fun.

What have I learned about myself? Introspection incoming.

I like the company of others and I hate people. There’ll be a whole detailed post upon this subject when I find the motivation to write it.

I’m certainly getting more confident in strange places, but that’s gotta be kind of a given at this stage.

I can walk a long-ass way with my pack on my back, and will usually elect to do so if the public transport is remotely complicated.

I am really uninventive when it comes to cooking dinner.

I’m not too sure what else I’ve learned about myself so far. I’m sure something will come up separately. And I think right now, that’ll do for the summary of the first month. Onwards.

Things I have learned #2…

  • There will always, always be sweat. It will cover your skin. I became sweaty when I was drying off from a shower, for Christ’s sake.
  • Fat men can snore at a volume loud enough to drown out passing traffic outside the open windows. Last night was the first time I’ve poked someone’s bed to shut them the fuck up.
  • Mosquitoes, vampire flies, are annoying. I have upwards of 20 bites, which while making me look all kinds of sexy, is somewhat irritating. One of them has swollen up and gone all bruisy on my ankle. The one thing I forgot to pack – cortizone-related cream.
  • Things I value most in a hostel – good directions from the train station, both walking and public transport (because if it’s under 2kms, I’ll always elect to walk); an abundance of power sockets in the rooms (hostel owners take note, you can never, never have too many power sockets); more than one toilet per floor; helpful front desk staff.
  • Hostels will screw you over on prices of things they sell if they possibly can. Case in point, I purchased a bottle of water from the supermarket adjacent to my hostel in Ravenna and it cost me E0.14 (I appear not to have a Euro symbol on my keyboard). That’s fourteen cents, so approximately 11p in British money, or, like, free in Dollars. I then had to purchase another one from the hostel here in Ferarra (Sunday, shops closed) and for the exact same bottle and brand, they charged E2. So, that happened.
  • Italy closes for the summer. Literally, every establishment closes and just leaves for three weeks every August. There are signs on shop doors saying “Closed 7-28 August, ciao”, and not a single fuck is given. This strikes me as lacking in business acumen, but hey ho. Good thing I’m leaving Italy.
  • Ciao seems to be a catch-all word of pretty much any use. Meet someone new, “ciao”, leaving for the day, “ciao”, thanking someone for your shopping, “ciao”. The closest I can imagine it meaning in English is something along the lines of “alright”, or perhaps colloquially “word, bitches.”

Things I’ve learned…

  • Stuff you learn in school when you’re fifteen won’t mean anything to you when you’re 28 unless you have continued to use that knowledge consistently. Case in point – I remember precisely none of my French GCSE apart from some pretty rudimentary stuff. Hello; thank you; do you speak English (please God)?
  • The grid system works, bitches! Some of you may know I’m quite a fan of the US, having been there a fair bit in the past. Upon my first visits I wasn’t too keen on the system of building towns to a grid, but after wandering aimlessly around some really old European towns, man do I wish they’d been built to a grid. I have quite a good innate sense of direction when walking around places I don’t know, but even with a map in hand I got lost trying to find my last hostel. Damn silly windy streets that barely look like footpaths. Europe, fair warning, when I’m in charge you’re getting bulldozed and rebuild with avenues and streets.
  • Stereotypes exist for a reason. When I checked in to my last hostel in Clermont Ferrand (nice city, shitty hostel) there were four Korean (I think) kids sitting in the common room, all on their laptops, all watching animé. I stayed in that hostel for four days. I swear, every single time  I went into that common room, first thing in the morning, last thing at night before heading to bed, and every time I left or entered the hostel, all four were there, in the same places, doing the same thing. Now, I’m not one to judge how people spend their vacations, but one imagines you don’t leave home and pay to stay in a hostel somewhere just so you can sit inside on a computer much like you’d do at home. Not one word of this account is exaggeration.
  • Gloucester (and to a lesser extent, the UK) is a hole in comparison to the places I’m visiting now. For example, please see the below photograph of the area outside the Lyon train station. Now admittedly, I’ve sepia toned it and given it a slight diffuse glow to cheat and make it look all romantic and shiz, but you get my point.