Friday, September 28, 2012

Somewhere between here and there.

I travel with one big black duffel bag. Packed with some clothes, tent, 60L backpack, sleeping bag and panniers. I like to call it my Jason Bourne bag because it has everything I need to survive a life on the road including a zip lock bag with maps and SIM cards for different countries, which as my sister reminds me, isn't quite the same as having multiple passports. But I love my big black bag. Not because of what it contains but because of what it represents. Exploring the unknown.

These notes from the field are proof that I’m often most comfortable in uncommon places. This blog was created to document what I see and feel during my travels. Which is why I always begin to question its relevance whenever I board my return flight. “What will I write about now?” I ask myself the closer I get to the country, culture, and language I’ve known for most of my life.

My first impulse, usually felt in the middle of wicked long flight from the unknown to the known, is to stop posting on the blog. Maybe a farewell post. Which is what this post would be if it were not for an email I received from a distant friend of the family. He wrote that "although it’s difficult to clearly determine, all of us have a purpose and something to offer the rest of the world." In short, I took his inspiring email as a challenge to keep telling my story.

It would be easier to turn off the blog, to not worry about posting anymore. But I love a good story. I love to share a good story. I love to be inspired and inspire others. If this blog reaches but a few people who find some of what I write inspiring, than I am doing something I believe in. Which is really all I'm searching for during this nomadic life. Well that, and a place to live.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taking a walk before heading west

Taking in the same view that inspired van Gogh to paint Wheatfield with Crows

My stride is often criticized for being a saunter. However, I find a slow walk allows the imagination to run wild. This theory was with me today when I stepped off the train at Auvers Sur Oise, made my way up the hill, passing the church to an open field where Vincent and Theo are buried.

Getting from the 10th Arrondissement in Paris to Auvers happened in a flash. At 10am I caught the direct train which only runs on weekends from Gare du Nord. In 30 minutes the busy streets of Paris transformed into rolling farmlands.

Before noon it felt like fall. The sky was a solid tone of gray and the faint breeze had a cold bite. After paying my respects to Vincent and Theo I started to walk the loop that showcases spots that inspired some of Van Gogh's most well known paintings.

By the afternoon the sun started to shine through the clouds. I was making my way towards Dr. Gachet's house when I came across a bench on the side of the tiny street. I took a seat, broke off a piece of baguette, crammed it full of Camembert and started to laugh out loud as I read The Dharma Bums by Kerouac.

I looked up from my book every so often desperately wishing Vincent would pass on his way to meet his friend and physician Dr. Gachet. Once I had my fill of baguette and self-induced hallucinations I continued my journey around town.

Evening arrived around the same time as my train. I took my seat and stared out the window turning my thoughts towards my good friend Pat Bognar. I remembered the first time I heard her rave about Auvers Sur Oise during a Black&White Photography lecture.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How I found a fratello

A person goes through life meeting people. We are constantly meeting people. Some stick and some don't. I believe this to be even more true when traveling. During my five summers I spent working at a sports camp in Switzerland I met a lot of people. It was my first summer and my roommate was an Italian named Nicola Stella. That was almost a decade ago.

Now, after several summers/winters in Switzerland, countless beers shared across the globe, and a master's program that gave me the opportunity to live in Torino, I have infiltrated Stella's social circle. His network of friends is unlike anything I have ever known back home. Stella's collection of friends have shared the same playground, they remember the names of each other's high school girlfriends and, having remained close even after university, formed an enduring bond often reserved for brothers.
Top row: Mimmi, Guido, Fabio. Bottom row Matteo, Stella
I have one wonderful sister but no brothers. Growing up my older sister taught me things I would have never otherwise known. But just as I can appreciate what she has taught me I have always been envious of others who have brothers. I imagine that dynamic would be different. Just as my sister instilled in me a sense of style (which has worked with varying degrees of success) I believe a brother would teach skills from the other side of the spectrum.

Fortunately I found five brothers. This small group of guys who were Stella's friends when I met them nine years ago have since become some of my closest friends. Roughly the same age, we have watched each other evolve, sharing advice and insights along the way. I have come to appreciate each of them with their own distinctive personality. Jokes and jabs aside I admire how they look out for each other, overcoming challenges not alone but as an elite squad of friends finding their way through life.

Who knows why we meet the people we meet. I can't guess why a random set of circumstances led me to work that first summer in Switzerland. But one of the many things that traveling has taught me is to never take anything for granted, whether it is finding a shepherd who shows you a hidden source of fresh water or getting the "ok" to stay at the Shakespeare and Co bookshop. Logistical good fortune aside, the people I have met from traveling are what I am truly thankful for. To have found such a friend as Nicola Stella will remain one of the greatest gifts of my life, made only sweeter because through him I have found five brothers I would have never otherwise known.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

So long Sardinia

I pedaled a little slower on my last day in Sardinia. It wasn't from tired legs but from not wanting to leave. It may be considered Italian by the mainland but never before have I had to remind myself where I am than on this enchanting island.  Sardinia consumed my imagination with its beautiful beaches and soaring mountains. Even the shortest interaction with locals had me wishing I could speak Sardinian dialect. Not being able to listen to these proud people tell their stories will forever haunt me.

It's another all night ferry from Olbia to Genoa for Lyudmila and I. From there a train to Torino to share a long dinner with old friends.

Editor's note: I was just along for the ride. Up steep climbs, cranking hard on the pedals, Lyudmila managed without a single flat tire, broken chain, or snapped cable. Nothing. She never quit me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When you wake up next to a bicycle.

Dawn breaks as I roll over (off my sleeping pad) and see her (Lyudmila) leaning up against a tree, staring at me through the thin netting of the tent. Like a dog that wants to be walked my bike wants to go for a ride. Secretly I'm just as excited to start the day.

The first hour of each day on this cycling adventure is like they say in photography terms the "golden hour". I break down camp. Every item has its specific place in the panniers. Every movement starts the flow towards that first crank of the pedals.

Finally setting the wheels in motion, leaving behind the known for the unknown, we begin the search for the most important destination of the morning. AN OPEN CAFE. Like the black lab that can pick up the scent of Orca scat, Lyudmila somehow steers me towards the lonely tired cafe owner firing up the coffee grinder.

Once inside the ritual is always the same. Go straight for the warm croissants that are always found in this magical little plastic set of shelves, pull a napkin from the dispenser and pick out the one with the surprise inside (apricot jam) while ordering "un cappuccino". Then stand at the bar and bask in the five minutes of banter between the bartender and whoever else is up at the ass crack of dawn.

And then it beings. The real sense of adventure hits me when I start to ride away from the cafe and find the open road under my wheels. Everyone is waking up. Starting their day. The road is quiet, the only time the road is quiet. The sun still fighting with the moon for earth's attention. The cool air is giving way to the heat of the day.

I pass an elderly man and greet him with the best Italian tone I can muster.
"Buongiorno!" it just rolls off my tongue.
Looking surprised he sends me a soft reply with a smile.

The road unfolds in front of us and we follow it, wherever it goes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bentu maestru and amazing beaches in Sardinia

My mother is famous for quoting the idiom "it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." But as I pushed my pedals in order to go down hill I couldn't help wonder who or what was benefiting from the Mistral (or Bentu Maestru in Sardinian).

The powerful wind that whips down from France started on my second day in Sardinia. The locals have told me it will blow for three days. Taking it slow and steady I head over the middle section of the island, going west to east over the mountains. For now, a few photos from my time along the southern coast.

The beaches of Sardinia have to been seen to be believed. 

Killing some time as I wait for the ferry to reach the small island of San Pietro just off the southwest corner of Sardinia

Flamingos in Sardinia. They glowed pink in the early morning.

Reaching the far side of San Pietro.

The people of Sardinia are proud to be from this island. I have noticed more than one tattoo outlining the island's shape. So it came as no surprise when I saw this mini cooper, sporting the flag of Sardinia.

Kids at play during the rough seas created by the Mistral

Sunset along the coast.

Search This Blog