May I be as brave in life, as I am on the road.

Archive for April, 2009

Europe: My head is spinning, my heart aches…

I remember Ariel with frangipanis behind his ear. I called him Little Mermaid and he called me sunshine. The words I said most to him were ‘Merci Beaucoup’, because he always gave me something to thank him for. I hated to see him unhappy or in pain. He bounced into my life and changed it irrevocably, as I’m sure he did anyone he let in. Ariel said that living with me was like being 14 again and having a midget control his life. He reminded me of my mum too. She said to me, god sometimes takes the special ones. Ariel once argued with me, saying that random bad things happen that we don’t ask for or choose. I never would have asked for Ariel to hurt. But even in his death, there seems a divine order. I hope he is resolving his differences with god. When we last spoke about it, he was telling me god is just a fantasy used to make ourselves feel better. But to know Ariel, was to know the light. Sharing with him was like sharing with all the beauty in the world crammed into one person. More than anything, I will miss sharing with him. I will miss playing with him. He knew how to play! The day Ariel passed away was the first day I noticed the constant aeroplanes crisscrossing the blue skies in Europe. The trail they leave is fleeting, and kept only in our memories. And so together we will hold him in our hearts. It is spring here, there are blue skies and babies and warmth and sunshine. In his eternal sunshine I cry, until it is time for me to live, in his eternal sunshine. 

Ellen. ‘It’s normal’. She fetches falafel. I move my bed to the balcony and sit with bear and diary.

 

Last weekend we went to the Slovak mountains. I drank alcohol all day with sash, Kim and le france Nikko on the back seat of the bus. They kept me laughing by getting caught smoking in the toilets. Slovak mountains was the last trip organised by the university and the guides made sure we wouldn’t forget them by waking us up every 15 minutes, talking loudly and needlessly in the microphone. Day one, Heather and I find ourselves locked in a castle. My life flashed before my eyes.
We hiked up a mountain, and down a mountain, with me stopping and sitting in the middle of the road to cry, without explanation. At the top, nestled between snow-capped hills we spun around on children’s play equipment. There were cats there, a pregnant ginger white and black kitten that I fed Mark’s salami (thanks Mark!). Had fun kicking a footy around. We stayed in cottages in the hills, Demanovska Dolina Valley. The stars were unbelievably bright, in a way I haven’t seen since I have been in Europe. Drank some hot wine and bounced on a trampoline with Hilary, necks craned back looking up at the stars. The next day, we walked down into a cave and up out of a cave. At one point we also took a ‘romantic’ raft down the river Vah through the Strecno valley. The guides were funny, and I fell asleep. Bus home, sang Yael Naim on repeat with Nikko ‘a new soul, in this strange world… learn a bit bout how to give and take. Finding myself making every possible mistake.’

On Monday I received a letter I wrote to myself in Wollongong on October 28th. It says- Life is now. Open up, breathe and enjoy every second. To call my mother, because she is probably sleepless (I did). On Tuesday I woke at 8.15 and went jogging with Enrique. (Stranger things have happened, right?) He gets frustrated with me stopping to cry, every time I run and the grief comes up. Beautifully, he draws a picture of leaves, tells me to imagine letting go, and I throw them in the air. Wednesday Bridget read my memorial to Ariel in Australia. Thursday, drank wine and ate olives under a tree. Thursday night, got hopelessly drunk on a tram and did some puking.

Drama.

Woke early Friday and packed my bags. Ellen mentioned she wants to see the CZ, hitching, and I’m keen as mustard. At 3pm, once I’ve sobered up enough, me and Ellen catch the tram to the highway. We were aiming for Cesky Krumlov in the south of the Czech Republic, followed by Karlovy Vary in the West. CHANGE TENSE.

The first car takes us to the service station up the hill. The next car was headed to Kutna Hora and he recommends it as a place worth visiting. We have Bean Goulash on a patio as the sun set and the temperature drops. Stood for a while overlooking a peaceful little valley with a forest behind it. Went into a pub where everyone was wearing green hats and ties. Met some people who said they knew people who owned a hostel, Harley’s bar? That we could stay there for 8 euro. About a kilometre away, they said. We started walking. Got to another pub. Went in and asked for directions. Harleys bar?? That’s another town across, they said. The gentleman grabs his keys. After some awkward minutes in the car he asks Ellen if she speaks German, she does! The car drives and tiny town signs wizz pass. Entering Hizov, exiting Hizov. Entering Libernice, exiting Libernice… Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore! We arrive at a slightly bigger town. Drive around, back and forth, asking about Harleys Bar. Ellen and I begin to laugh hysterically. Finally find it, with a wave, he leaves. We go in and ask for Pavel Gabrielle. Absolutely is no one there by that name, and it is a pub, not a hostel. We shrug our shoulders, lie down and wait for a miracle to happen. We wake to a Czech waitress talking angrily at us. We leave.

Kolin, the train station sign says. Prepared to find ourselves in this situation, Ellen unrolls her sleeping bag and I…. unpack my bright yellow Vinarska dorm blanket. We sleep for a short while until the train to Prague arrives. The conductor is very animated and amusing at 430am and only charges us 25 crown each. We arrive at Prague train station. I wrap myself in the bright yellow blanket and go back to sleep. Get woken up by a police officer who tells me, You can’t sleep here. Told you so, says Ellen. We get the tram down the river to see the sights as the sun rises.

We guess it is 2.30, it is only 12pm. At Vinarska, we may still be sleeping.

We hitch again, getting picked up by a woman who looks our age but apparently has a daughter our age. She drops us at a car park in Cesky Krumlov. We walk down the hill to a bridge over a stream. We look around, and it is fucking beautiful. We stumble across Hostel 99, for 250 a night, even though we vowed not to spend that much money, it is fucking beautiful. We walk in through a terrace with people sitting in the sun playing guitar with background accompaniment of a bubbling creek. The floors are wooden and there is a water view. We walk (me barefoot) up a cobble stone street. We climb the bell tower and sit in the sun looking at the UNESCO protected town. There are 2 bears imprisoned and we are not impressed. Ellen takes pictures of a small child with a gorgeous background. I buy postcards. We go back to the hostel, shower (Ellen under cold water) and sleep for two hours. We wake, and eat vegetarian cuisine by the water. Sweet and funny waiter gives us complementary chocolate dessert. We go for a long walk around the town to find a pharmacy- there is probably nothing to worry about, but I want a morning after pill. Shudder. The town is silent and still, at one point we walk past a hospital/prison surrounded by electric fences that gives me the heebie geebies. We get back to the hostel and Ellen goes to bed.

I sit up talking to a writer called Bradley, from New York. We look up at a distorted painting of a man and woman and talk about the Czech collective subconscious. Sitting in front of a huge wall map, we point to places we’ve been, places we will go to. He tells me not to go to Ukraine, cos there is no food, no beds there. As he talks about the world, I ask him, Why? Why? Why?

Sunday, the monastery tea garden is closed and we hitch home. No Karlovy Vary this time. Once again, I am woken to the sound of Ellen and the Czech van driver laughing at my head rolling around with open mouth as I sleep sitting up.

Today, I receive news. 1. After spending hours on the phone to MasterCard in Tromso, and everyone calling this past week, my Optus phone bill is $1535.55. 2. Centrelink have not given me youth allowance this week, and as a result 3. My scholarship has been suspended. I need to send my passport home to Australia to have my Visa stuck in it, don’t know how that is going to happen.

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. I am learning how important it is to share with those around you, because one day they will not be there for you to share with, and all you will want is to share. The world was piercingly beautiful through my tears and I felt blessed. I am learning not to apologise. Grief showed me that you have to do and be as you need. I read somewhere, don’t apologise, your friends don’t need it and your enemies will use it against you. The words ‘I’m sorry’ are all you have to give someone when they are faced with loss. And that’s the only thing that makes any sense.

Thank you everyone for your love. Thanks for hair holding, kebab fetching, tissue giving, aeroplane counting, trampoline jumping, mutual crying, memorial reading, breakfast cooking, long hugging, angry jogging, bus drinking, happy substance sharing, song singing, chocolate giving, forgiving pasta sauce eating… I could write a million more words on the topic of thanks, but for the moment, that is all. Love you!!!!!

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April 15th, 2009.

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Tromso and spring and everything in between…

Everyone keeps asking, how was Norway? My standard response:

It was cold. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It was expensive. Very expensive. It was eventful.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
I went dogsledding, we went snowboarding, twice even.

The boys didn’t tell me how renowned the Kroken ski lift is for being a shitty death trap. I foolishly got on it before I had mastered the snowboard basics of Stand, and Stop. After getting whacked in the baby maker by the strange hooks that you have to shove between your legs and hold onto as they drag you up the BIG hill, I finally got on… and then fell off half way up, held on and got dragged up the hill on my stomach… then gave up and came screaming all the way back down, with one leg strapped to a snow board and unable to stop. The Norwegians looked at me like I was a strange bug in their red wine. The boys watched and laughed hysterically at my ineptitude. I wrote on their thank you card ‘Aim for the moon, and at least if you miss you will be amongst the stars… or on your ass half way down a ski lift. Ha.’ Ended with one very sore right knee and me feeling sorry for myself. I realized snowy hills are much scarier then they look. It’s not like skiing behind a boat; you can’t just let go of the rope!

And the dogsledding was hysterical. They were small Alaskan huskies and I couldn’t take them seriously. They were forced to wee and poo on the run and had me in stitches. Learning to steer the sled also had me laughing hysterically as I veered off through the snow. And being the end of the day, the dogs got tired, and Sebastian had to push the sled. Heh. Good times. We also ate reindeer stew in a Sami hut.

My first Couch-surfing experience was a good one. Endre, Marius and Joakim- Norwegians who speak English with an American accent (go figure!). The house was gorgeous, the guys welcoming. Heated tiles (yes, I was obsessively in love with them, I just cannot extol the virtues enough), touch operated stovetop, which took me 4 days to figure out how to work, comfy bed, and gorgeous view. Sleeping past lunchtime, Guitar hero, Carl Barron jokes (FiFi!!), constant puns and sarcasm made me feel like I was back in Oz. Ended up staying the full week there. We went out in town twice, where the beers are not cheap ($12 AUD is a conservative estimate) and the pubs and clubs shut at 3am! Norwegian kebabs are tasty and come with sweet corn.

I didn’t want to come back to Vinarska, I cried on the plane. Left a piece of my heart behind. Will have to go back to get it (according to Endre, people can’t truly live with their hearts in pieces).

No, I didn’t see the northern lights. Why? It was freezing cold outside; I couldn’t convince the guys to do midnight snowman building; It was a little too late in the year and the sky was bright; It was overcast and snowing a lot; After watching a Norwegian Zombie movie that Endre assured me was ‘funny’, I had trouble going outside by myself at night. Sigh.

And the 21-hour bus ride? No biggie. We went through Germany, got the ferry to Denmark, then another ferry to Sweden and onto Oslo. And back.

I hitchhiked on the final day in Tromso. I missed my bus to the airport, turned around, stuck out my thumb, and the first car picked me up. He was nice.

The shit money situation persisted, despite daily phone calls to MasterCard. Fuckin hopeless. How many times do I have to tell them, I am in the Arctic Circle, there are no Western Unions or express delivery here! Finally did an international money transfer and withdrew money from my Czech Bank Account. Why didn’t I do that sooner? Because it is supposed to take 7-10 days to process. Lucky for me, it happened quicker than that.

Wisdom teeth started coming through for serious shortly after my arrival. Swollen face, hurts to eat and couldn’t open my mouth properly. That (combined with injured knee and AWESOME sinus congestion that had me blowing bright yellow snot out of my nose every 5 minutes and feeling like my brain was going to explode when the plane landed) had me on the phone to Dominic in tears for a good hour or so.

The most beautiful place on earth to cry.

It is Spring in Brno. From -8 degree weather in Tromso, to singlet and shorts in Brno. It makes such a difference, feels like home. It smells like Australia. Missing everyone at the moment. Consoling myself with strange (but delicious) salty Norwegian ‘lakris’. Much love, Happy Easter.


Hungary, Poland and pancake parties

Wow… it’s much longer since I wrote then I thought!

So. After I recovered from the tonsils, went on the weekend and caught up with the rest of the group in Budapest, Hungary. Stayed for one night and went to Cinetrip- ‘Sparty’- which was held in a very old Turkish bathhouse. My favourite part was the artificial rain from the ceiling! But they also had laser shows, beach balls, girls hanging from material from the roof doing acrobatics, and fireworks. We played ‘chicken fights’- where you get on peoples shoulders and wrestle- I was undefeated, despite on of the girls ripping my swimmers off, eek! We saw some pretty sites, and the next day went to the thermal spas in Gyor (about 1.5hrs away). They were beautiful. Much fun was had on the slippery slides. I had a Swedish massage for about 20 bucks Aussie, and it was, umm, unsatisfying. I wanted to go home to Judy and Lotus!! The lady couldn’t talk English and seemed to be making it up as she went along. Hmm.

The following weekend we went to Olomouc by train- still in the Czech republic. We were all very sleepy but trooped around the city in ordinary weather looking at churches and old buildings. I liked the astronomical clock and now want to go see the big one in Prague. Most fascinating was a group of street dancers practicing in the main square; I could have watched them for hours. We went to the zoo… there was a beautiful big lion, but his concrete apathy was heart wrenching. He couldn’t even be bothered moving his head; because it was raining he was stuck inside. My heart hurt for him. I felt like I wanted to apologise to him and pick him up and carry his huge ass out of that shit hole.
In our society, if you kill someone, what is the absolute worst punishment you can get? Life in prison. If you rape and kill 20 people? Still, life in prison. And it drives people crazy, right? Counting away the hours of boredom waiting to go out into the yard. Now what did he do to deserve that?! Ange = not impressed.

Moving on. Rami Pastrami (who has a really big Rami) realised a few weeks ago that I make amazing crepes (which they tend to call pancakes? or in Czech, are palačinki). As a result, many midnight and 3am pancake parties were held. My stomach and thighs started objecting to this floury sugary treatment. Additionally, Tesh, bless her heart, found a delicious brand of dark, dairy free chocolate. Do you see the predicament?? Not good for the tight new jeans I bought in Vienna.

The weekend March 21, we went to Krakow, in Poland, and I trekked across the city and found an AWESOME little vegan restaurant- that means absolutely no animal products, which means, absolutely no milk!!! I could eat anything off the menu. Amazing. 🙂

Day one in Poland, we went to the Auschwitz Nazi Concentration Camps.
_ It has taken me a further week to come back to this note and I still don’t know what to say about it. Left me very angry with everyone around me, and feeling utterly disconnected, mistrusting. Kevin summed it up by, feeling like there is no good in the world. Some good conversations the following day helped to lift the fog (thanks guys). I am glad I went though, it was so real and undeniable; the Holocaust became personal for me.
It raised a number of questions that are difficult for me to express in a politically correct way. On a spiritual level, I, and most of society, hold certain ideals. Most emotionally mature people come to realise that as long as you hold yourself a victim to situations, they have the power over you and you do not heal until you reclaim it back; that until you find a higher meaning for yourself within situations, it is very difficult to move past them and heal. This can probably be generalised to larger wounds on a societies consciousness.
I don’t tend to believe in the concept of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, like some people do. I think most people are doing the best that they can, and making messes along the way, because we are imperfect, flawed humans. So, what to make of the holocaust? The question that came spewing out of me the day after Auschwitz- I am (going to be) a psychologist, when I see peoples behaviour, I like my ability to explain it, usually. But, why??Here was something utterly incomprehensible to me, such a mass of human beings cooperating to orchestrate something so awful.
Going to a place that millions of tourists trudge through every year, where the past is painstakingly re-explained every single day; it was strange and difficult. Because there is no ‘why’. At current, the best there seems to be is- because ‘they’ were evil? and we were victims to what ‘they’ did. And that is no good explanation. Ugh. And I wondered, where does the rehashing of it all get anybody, what does it achieve? While so much effort is being put into honouring the past, where does that leave the human race, in the here and now? Where does that leave the people in the present day who are suffering equal atrocities around the world? The people who are dying for oil in Iraq- but more so, the people whose situations I am ignorant to: because now, in the present moment, we still do not know why, so we don’t want to think about it and experience the helplessness this presents. These situations
recreate themselves around the world: in Africa where the children starve and die every day, just like the prisoners at Auschwitz did. We are visiting the past, finding no meaning, only senselessness, and turning a blind eye to its recreation right now, what’s happening in Rwanda? I don’t even know. Got no answers to this one.

The MasterCard Story: rapidly becoming a problem.
WARNING very long ranty paragraph

Saturday night in Krakow, went to the Deutsche Bank ATM in the main square to get some cash out. ‘Please Wait’ it said. Five minutes later, it goes back to a blank screen, and I am minus a bankcard. It has taken a while for me to comprehend the implications of this. At the time, I was like *Ugh, now I can’t get myself any of those shot that’s are 19 zloty for 8*. Casually I called the commonwealth. They told me, they can send me a new card- either to Australia in 7-10 days and then family can forward it on to me, or, the can send it to me and I can pay for the courier. Never mind, I thought, I’ll just get it back from the DB ATM. I emailed them and they told me to call the bank, or contact my bank at home. I emailed the bank directly, no response. Called the bank directly and am currently waiting for a response. For $6.50/min from my Australian Optus phone, I have indeed contacted my bank repeatedly (because I can’t use my Czech phone to call or SMS because I am out of credit and can’t buy anymore!) The commonwealth gives me two numbers to call MasterCard. I call them both and can get neither into the proper calling format. Still not feeling too fazed, I figure I will just transfer the money out of my commonwealth account to my Czech KB account; the fees are WAY cheaper anyway and I am sick of paying so much every time I want money! So! I go into KB and ask them to do all the necessary things to activate my net banking; 15 minutes of unnecessary European paperwork later, I have a Netbank account and password. I spend half hour on Ellen’s computer getting the ‘security certificate’ to work (don’t they have tech peeps for that shit?). I sign into my Commonwealth Netbank and it tells me I need an international money transfer code for KB. I call KB and get it. I log back into Netbank and it tells me that the default limit for international money transfers is ZERO and that I need to call the bank. I call the bank and they tell me to call back tomorrow because their system is down. I call back tomorrow and they fix it. Yes I think, this problem is solved. Not so. Soon after I talk to Kim and Christine and they tell me that international money transfers between banks take 7-10 days, standard, not immediately like my fabulous KB banker told me (he usually is fabulous actually). So I start investigating direct money transfers through Western Union. Call home, they are good to transfer me some sweet moolah when the Czech bank opens. Then I realise I can do it online straight from my account. $60 transaction fee, it tells me. AHH well I think, lets get this over with. Then I realise Australia is sleeping. I call the commonwealth and they tell me that no, they cannot guarantee the transfer will be processed before their following business day. And by the time it is the following business day in Australia, I will have left for Norway. ‘Okay’, I think, I will find a western union in Norway. There is one in Oslo, near the airport, but once again, Australia is sleeping. And Tromso? None. No Forex either. I call the commonwealth with a final plea of DO SOMETHING- they tell me to find someone who has an Australian account, transfer the money which usually happens quickly- and then use their card to withdraw the money. I know 2 Aussies, why didn’t I think of that! It’s 6am and Dal has passed out after his birthday, and Dan is missing. I message him. Wait 4 hours and then finally wake up Dal, he doesn’t have enough money to withdraw. Midway through all this, Ellen informs me I can use my maestro (normal commonwealth card) overseas! YES I think. Go to the ATM. What is my password? After using the card multiple times a day in Australia and not in the 2 months since, I have forgotten my pin. FUCK. I meditate on it. 5357! I’m sure. I go and try. Incorrect pin. Dom might remember. I call him. 6124 he says, without hesitating. Sound right, I go. Incorrect pin. Call the bank- no we don’t know, no we can’t tell you, you’ll have to get a new card, they say. I drink some Griotte, cut marks hair while drunk, and suddenly think- 1624! I remember the eight-digit difference between 16 and 24. Last minute run down to the ATM. Incorrect Pin. SO I borrowed enough money for the bus ticket, and deposit my emergency travellers cheque of 100 euros into my account… and then manage to pay for my bus ticket using my credit card number, without having my credit card. And now, I am winging it and hoping for a miracle! Fucking Polish Bank.

So, after all that, a 21-hour bus ride. I arrive in Norway and see that a cafe sandwich or meal at McDonalds is $15. After receiving a particularly beautiful, heart wrenchingly beautiful email from Dom, I sat in the square outside the train station in Oslo and cried. A man bought me a flower and told me to stop crying, bought me a beer. I realised the sun was setting over the beautiful snowy bay and I wanted to witness it. He followed, telling me which way I should go and insisting I go that way.

Jason Mraz came into my head:
Hold your own
Know your name
Go your own way, and everything will be fine.

I realised that independence doesn’t always win you friends, that chasing what you want sometimes means you have to refuse to compromise. Sometimes I have to say no, even when I can feel what another person wants, if I want to feel truly satisfied and not resent them. He asked me if I want to be alone and I said yes. I ate dinner at a gorgeous Iranian restaurant in Oslo, and upon learning that all the hostels are full, slept at the family home of the waiter from said restaurant, upon his insistence. Adventure Adventure!

I’m now in Tromso, above the artic circle at the top of Norway. I’m couch surfing in a house with heated bathroom tiles and a breathtaking view. The guys are lovely. Unfortunately due to the stupid airport laws, I had to abandon the Pilsner and wine I bought for them. Time to go to the tourism office to investigate banking (ugh), snow boarding, dogsledding, and the (please, please, please) Northern Lights. I have some incredible sinus congestion going on, on the plane I thought my eardrums were going to explode and its like I am trying to drown myself in snot. Ewww. Don’t tell mum, but living in a dorm is such a hotbed to catch so many varied germs and illnesses.

Random details I want to share, of which there are many: I have an on-going fascination with the different sounds lights and styles of pedestrian crossings across Europe. I am collecting postcards from everywhere I go and a magnet for Macca from each city/country.

Until next time, time to explore! Love you all, big hugs, keep on truckin’ 🙂