The End is Near

The end is near, verily it is upon me.

I find that hard to believe, after months of trekking around this continent. It has finally come to an end.  It feels like forever ago that I left New York…it´s like a faded dream in the back of my mind. The life of a backpacker has been MY life for three months now, and it´s still my current reality, and it´s weird to think my life is about to change again! So much change. But change is good.

When I left New York, I was an unhappy man craving adventure, wanting to see the world and whatever opportunities may be out there for me. After everything, I have learned the real lesson:  The value in having friends and family and loved ones, in a place that you know and can call home. That is what matters in life; your own little universe that you create within your own little sphere of influence.

As human beings, that is all most of us can ever have, and even for the ones who wield more control over the masses, their own little circle matters most to them as well. I have seen so many countries and cities, and I am continually baffled by the sheer numbers of people in this world. It seems like there is just an endless amount of people. Even now, as I am in the Internet cafe, I look around and see dozens of people staring at their screens, typing away, sending messages to their loved ones and friends, and reading about the things that matter to them. They each have their little world, and I have mine.

So, now I return to New York, a place that I have grown to miss considerably. I return to build my little world, live in it, and be happy. But I come with a greater knowledge of the world at large, forever changed by experience, a new person, never to go back to the unhappy rut I left months ago. What I will do, how I will accomplish all of this, I do not know. But I do know that my journey has not ended. It has only begun.

Here now, is a list of the countries I have been to, and the cities I have either seen extensively or passed through for a few hours and got a nice glance. The latter will be marked with a “*.”

Israel:  Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Tiveria, Haifa.
Bulgaria:  Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas*.
Turkey: Istanbul, Cappadokia, Pammukale, Selchuk.
Greece: Samos, Mykonos, Athens, Delphi, Patras*
Italy: Brindisi*, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Venice.
Switzerland: Bern, Interlaken
Germany: Munich, Fussen, Dachau, Berlin
Czech Republic: Prague
Netherlands: Amsterdam
France: Paris, Nice, Cannes, Monaco, Montpellier*
Spain: Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Grenada, Algeciras, Gibraltar, Cordoba, Barcelona.
Portugal: Lisbon, Sintra, Lagos.

So, the final count is 12 countries (13 if you count Monaco as its own country) and 50 cities. Whoa…the enormity of my trip just hit me. That´s a lot of ground I covered in 3 months!  A lot of train rides…a lot of youth hostels and hotels. A lot of figuring out the currencies, studying maps, getting over “new city” anxiety. This list does not include all the little towns I stopped in to change trains, or just passed through on the fly. Between this list, and all the amazing countryside I have seen from the windows of my trains, I think it is safe to say I have seen Europe, no?

Today, June 6th, is my last full day in Barcelona. Tomorrow, I hop British Airways, stop over in London, and head back to NYC. My last day. It´s over…very strange to think about….

By the way, I don´t think I am going to stop writing these updates. I have enjoyed writing so much, and I have heard so many things from the people reading them about how they have enjoyed them too. So, I may just have to do a “Jared at Camp” series, and after that, who knows?  But it seems this is becoming my journal. So, if along the way anyone gets sick of these emails, let me know and I will be happy to remove you from the list, no hard feelings 🙂

I hope to see everyone at Luna Lounge on June 15th, Thursday, 7:00 pm.  Early evening pah-tay. I will bring my sword for show and tell. Oh, yesterday I bought a hand made drum from Africa, so I will have that to show off too 🙂

Thank you everyone for reading, for all the messages of support. And to all the people I have met along the way, YOU helped make my trip an amazing time. Please keep in touch with me.

So, that´s it. The final update from Europe. End chapter. Let the new chapter begin……NOW.

Jared

Jared at the Bull Fights

I shall now attempt to describe to you in detail exactly what goes on at these bull fights that so many of us have heard of, but are not quite sure of what they entail.

Parents, you may want to read this one with your kids….oh hell, they see enough blood and guts on TV and in the movies…so….

Oh, and my vegetarian friends, you have a new ally: Me. But I still like chicken.

Bull Fights are perhaps the most gory, sickening, barbaric display of inhumanity I have ever witnessed. Tonight, in Barcelona, I went to one. Going to a bull fight was something I thought to be the quintessential Spanish experience, having heard of them my whole life. But I certainly was not aware of what went on!

Bull fights are like baseball in Spain…it´s their national pastime, I suppose. It´s a big event, and they have stadiums built just for this purpose. There are famous bull fighters, called Matadors. They are celebrities. People file into the stadiums like they would for any sporting event. The crowd gets very lively, screams, applauds, boos, they throw things into the ring, and they get very angry and emotional. It´s quite interesting to watch.

What happens:

The event begins by parading the three matadors around the stadium. They are dressed in gold outfits looking all adorned. They carry red capes with them, which they use to taunt the bull. There is much cheering and roaring during the parade. Then the field clears and the first matador readies himself for the bull.

The bull comes charging into the arena. It is clearly pissed off. I don´t know what they do to the poor thing behind the scenes, but it comes running in like a freight train and it heads straight for the matador. He waves his red cape, and the bull charges for that. Just as it´s about to hit the cape, he pulls it up and turns around. The crowd cheers “Olay!” I thought this was just a joke, but they really say “Olay!”

So the matador taunts the bull for a while..it keeps charging, he keeps waving his red cape. Then, a horn sounds and into the area come two guys riding horses that are blindfolded. I think they blindfold the horses, because if a horse saw a bull charging at them, they would buck their rider off and run like mad. The horses have shields around their bodies to protect them from the horns of the charging bull. The guys on the horses are carrying big spears. They taunt the bull and it charges the horse, at which time they repeatedly stab the bull. Yes, they stab it…and it bleeds like mad. After stabbing the bull, it goes crazy and starts to run around. Then some more guys come out on the field with mini-spears, and they approach the bull and stab it some more, and the spears stick into the body. So the bull is running around with spears stuck in it, bleeding like mad, panting for breath, slowly dying. All the while the crowd is cheering at the site of this. With every good stab, the crowd cheers. I was ashamed to be a human being.

Once the bull is good and stabbed, all red from blood, the matador comes back alone into the arena and waves his cape some more, and the poor bull keeps heading for the cape. I wish they had more brains to aim for the matador and knock him on his ass, but for some reason they always go for the cape. So, the matador has his fun with the bull, does some dancing around it, smacks it on the ass, plays with it and stuff. The crowd loves this part, and the more daring the matador gets with his approach to the bull, and the more risk he takes, the more they cheer him. Finally, he pulls out a sword and aims right at the back of the bull´s neck and buries the sword to the hilt in the bull. The bull stumbles around, turns circles, falls down, tries to get up, coughs up blood, bleeds profusely, and eventually collapses dead.

There are great cheers and the matador is praised as a hero. He circles the area and people shower him with flowers and applause. A team of men and three horses come into the area and string up the dead bull and drag it around the ring for all to see, leaving a trail of blood, and then through the gates.

This whole sequence repeated six times. Six bulls died tonight, very slow, cruel and painful deaths, all for the pleasure of sick human beings. It´s not safe to be a Spanish bull, to say the least.

I was sickened by the sight of all this. I felt like I was in ancient Rome in the coliseum, watching people get thrown to the lions. I find it hard to believe that bull fights are still common in Spain. Several times I cheered “Go Bull!”,  because honestly, I wanted to see the bull get some good shots in before it got ruthlessly stabbed. At one point the matador slipped when the bull charged him, and he fell under it. The bull kept ramming him and rolled him halfway across the field. That was scary, because the matador could have easily been impaled by the horns. Revenge of the bulls.

So there you have it, the scoop on bull fights, brought to you by moi. Look at what I do for you, my readers 🙂

See you soon…

Jared

Jared in Barcelona

Last I left you, I was in Cordoba, somewhere in the central, southern portion of Spain. It was nice and all…but what can I say of it? I was there for a mere few hours, I walked around, saw some old stuff…more ancient buildings and medieval alleyways, and more tourist trap souvenir shops selling “authentic Spanish memorabilia”.

I had bought a ticket for the night train to Barcelona, and reserved a couchette. Remember, these are the sleeper cars that cram four people into a coffin, practically on top of each other. Very close quarters. As the hour arrived, I began to dread the ride. I prophesied to myself: “Verily, there shall be three fat and smelly old men in my car, and behold, the stench thereof shall rise into my nostrils and maketh me wretch”. Perhaps it was the will of the gods to spoil my last ride, or mayhap I was toying with the fabric of space-time with my premonitions, and call me Nostrodamus, but I made the call correctly.

I climbed aboard the train and entered my couchette car, and SMACK! PUNCH! in the face I was hit with nassssty nasssssty BO. And there sat three fat, smelly old men, smiling pleasantly and welcoming me into their stench den. With a grimace of disgust, I dragged my crap in, stored it, and climbed up on my bunk. I faced the wall..put on my walkman…and I tried, really I did…but I just couldn’t stand the smell. I climbed down and made my way to the bar car, mumbling colorful metaphors to myself the whole way there. I sat at the bar and ordered a whole bottle of wine. I figured if I get liquidated, maybe I´ll pass out and sleep through the stench. I poured myself a glass, lifted it to the crowd and pronounced a toast to fat and smelly old men, and proceeded to get ripped. An hour later, I stumbled back to my car, completely wrecked and somehow I managed to climb up onto by bunk and pass out…..I woke up a few times from the stench, but I made it through the night.

So, Barcelona. I had these grandiose visions of getting a nice hotel and spending my last few days in luxury. I planned to use the hotel booking office at the train station to make my arrangements. But there was no booking office. Let the quest begin again. I prayed it would be easy…”Dear travel gods, let my last quest go smoothly, and may I find a nice cheap room, amen”. The gods were laughing at me that day, my friends, oh yes. Every hotel I went to was booked…every single one. I must have tried 15 different hotels, dragging my crap all around the city center. Nothing. Finally I came upon a dingy looking pension that had one dingy room left available, for a lofty price of $30 a night. I had no choice, so I took it. Why, gods, why must I endure these things for thee?

So even though Barcelona is more expensive than I expected it to be, it´s still pretty cool. My pension is right on the main drag that runs through the center of the city, called La Ramblas. This is a median strip full of street vendors and all manner of performers you can imagine. Some of the street vendors are selling birds, live chickens, ducks, ducklings, baby chicks, mice, gerbils, and the whole gambit of rodentery.

Then, you have your books and standard brick-a-brack. But the street performers are certainly the most interesting facet of this avenue. Most of them are the “living statue” types. I am sure you have all seen the people that paint themselves silver and stand on a platform and don´t move until you drop a coin in their box…then they do something mediocre. Well, here in Barcelona, they have taken this practice to the extreme and some of these people have gotten very creative with their art.

There was one guy dressed as a vampire and he laid in a coffin, and when you a drop a coin in, Dracula music starts playin and he rises from the dead, shakes your hand and tries to bite it. Then, there was the ET guy, dressed like our favorite alien, and when you drop a coin in, he holds up his finger and says “ooouuuch” and touches your finger. And let us not forget the Frankenstein guy who, when you drop in a coin, comes to life and chases you down the street trying to make-believe he will strangle you. These are but a mere few of the very creative living statues here. I spent the afternoon walking around dropping coins in all the boxes to see what they would do. Kept me very entertained.

I have been running into a lot of people I have met throughout Spain and Portugal. Strange. It happened three times in the span of an hour…I guess everyone converges on Barcelona before moving on to their next destination. Me, I am goin HOME!

Today I hit the Picasso museum…guess I should take in some serious art before it´s all over…once again.

Don´t forget my party on June 15th, Thursday at Luna Lounge, 7:00pm!

See ya there!

Jared