Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part II

Read this first: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part I

EuroBen, Day 5

I am very proud for going on this trip—now in my second leg heading to Edinburgh, Scotland. I am carefree, shut off from work and daily responsibilities and routines. I am freed from time which both passes and leads to new futures, but I can do anything I want so time means nothing to me. I think I am addicted to traveling.

Random neighbor on train traveling around Europe
While passengers ride the Tube to reach their destinations in the shortest amount of time, trains are an intimate and charming part of the culture of traveling across Europe. Riding trains provides ample time to think about where you've been and where you're going geographically and in life. And what about other solo travelers, like the relaxed girl with the pretty pink socks and her shoes kicked off, well-dressed with a coat and scarf—where is she headed? What led her to travel to Scotland by herself?
I stow my carry-on between cars five and six and my crutches in the overhead in train car four. I move freely to different cars and seats, enjoying the views and experience. I could ride while listening to The Gaslight Anthem on repeat the entire day.

Ten minutes before we arrive at Edinburgh Waverly station I go looking for my crutches. They are not where I left them. I suddenly feel like the train car is a chamber that is tightening around me. Pop quiz: if you can retrieve only your luggage or your crutches before the train leaves your stop while you are still on board, which do you choose?

If I search for my crutches instead of my luggage then I may end up in Edinburgh with neither, so I push through other riders to find my suitcase. Whew, it's there. The doors are open and I rush out to speak with a station attendant. “I can’t find my crutches!” I say. “I left them in the upper left compartment in car four. I can't walk far without them.”

“You can get back on the train and search for them. The train leaves in seven minutes,” he says.

I leave my carry-on behind a post and hope nobody steals it. I get back on the train and run through the cars, jumping on seats for a better view of the open storage compartments that line the cars from end to end, forgetting I can’t run and jump. I would tell passengers to get out of my way but my eyes say it more clearly. I check under seats, in between cars, in every nook. The doors close and it feel like my lungs do, too. Now I must choose between continuing my vacation without crutches, or stalling the vacation—still possibly without crutches. I remember the rules that guide me, that I desperately want to live by: Live without regrets. Live for adventure.

I must go. I look at the sign above the exit describing how the door opens, but my brain can’t comprehend the words. A girl sees my despair and pops the window and pushes the lever for me. I walk away and retrieve my suitcase. I will visit the East Coast rail office at Edinburgh Waverly and get all the stations’ lost property phone numbers, but my crutches will never show up.

In my book I wrote that the best thing in life is health. I offer a revision: the best thing in life is freedom. Somebody stole my crutches. Somebody stole my freedom.

EuroBen, Day 6

Life just works out sometimes: I share my tale with the young woman, Ring, who is hosting me on Airbnb for two nights and she finds spare forearm crutches in her closet from when she broke her ankle last year. “I hope I don’t need crutches again, but if I do then they will be free thanks to our National Health Service. I can’t let this ruin your holiday. Take my crutches.”

Every so often someone goes out of her way to improve your life. The magnet from Edinburgh Castle that I gave Ring and my offer to pay 1.5 times the price of replacement crutches (which she declined) don’t compare to Ring’s gift, so I will keep my eyes open for my chance to pay it forward.

Edinburgh Castle, Whiskey Experience, National Museum of Scotland and Dominion Cinema
Counterclockwise from top: Edinburgh Castle, Castle cannon, best animal exhibit ever at National Museum of Scotland, 3,400 bottles of Scotch whiskey at The Scotch Whiskey Experience, and best theater ever with reclining sofas at Dominion Cinema. Edinburgh's landscape, architecture and whiskey are only surpassed by its people: always welcoming and so easy to befriend. This is among my favorite cities and I will surely return to Edinburgh and see more of Scotland.
Renting an Airbnb room in Edinburgh during the Fringe festival
My Airbnb room with the loft bed reachable by ladder. The view and host (Ring) were special; the ladder, not so much.

...Stay tuned for Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part III, coming soon

Leia Mais…

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part I

"So you just go up to strangers at the pub and hope they want to talk to you? Don't you fear rejection?" my beautiful Australian hostelmate, Conversary, asks.

I think of all the girls over all the years; the publishers who didn't want "Twice"; the people I approached last night who kept their circle closed to me; Conversary who will likely tire of me soon. "Yes, I fear rejection."

EuroBen, Day 1

Benjamin Rubenstein departs for Europe with few possessions
Beginning my first solo trip to Europe with just a carry on, sling bag, sweatshirt and crutches
I pass through customs at London Heathrow Airport after 11 a.m. and two hours of sleep. I take my time. I go through my morning ritual in the washroom, clean my Nalgene and drink my protein shake. I follow signs for the London Underground.

My first four hours in London validate all the time I spent preparing for this trip: I purchase an Oyster card for the Tube instead of taking Heathrow Express, saving 18 pounds; secure my luggage at the hostel with the most expensive Master Lock padlock, which I bought; and buy a Vodafone UK SIM card so my mobile can function completely. It takes another hour to find a stop for the hop-on hop-off bus tour. I am exhausted and fall asleep on the bus.

I waken and exit the bus at Covent Garden after one complete loop. I enter a café and order Americano (which is espresso dunked into hot water—Brits don’t care much for freshly ground drip coffee). I sit at the bar and ask the fellow next to me for a fish and chips recommendation. He is excited to offer one and even draws a map to reach the restaurant. I connect to the free Wi-Fi and email my family “London rules,” so they know I am safe and that they can reach me by email.

I eat dinner with strangers. Italy’s employer sent him for training and Spain is here on holiday. We all roar with laughter about London’s cost of living (fried fish, fries and a beer cost us each 18 pounds, or about 31 U.S. dollars, which is a fair price there). Spain is interested in my writing and asks me to type this blog’s URL into his mobile browser. He will read it this evening, he says. Solo traveling rules. I’ve never felt so free.

EuroBen, Day 3
Collage of London sites during vacation
I tackled most of London's landmarks in one day. It was invigorating rushing from one to the other.
Collage of museums in London
I don't care much about history or art and sped through museums (except for the powerful Holocaust and mummy exhibits at Imperial War Museum and British Museum, respectively). I just had to make sure I got my souvenir magnets.
London reminds me of Washington, D.C.: the sidewalks, streets and landscaping are immaculate and blanketed with incredible and free museums; there seem to be more foreigners than locals; and people on the Tube stare at nothing while listening to music with earbuds or Beats headphones. These cities, full of people from across the planet and webbed with a beautiful rainbow of train tracks, are turned inwards. I may be right next to you here, but we are utterly alone.

There are no seats in the bar area so the pub waitress sits me in the corner. I am trying all the traditional British dishes on this trip—“bangers and mash” for this meal. When a family sits at the adjacent table, I smile and move my crutches out of their way. Like me, they order unhealthy food. I actually can't recall seeing or eating a single vegetable, and yet people are leaner here.

I mosey back to Covent Gardens and into a different pub. Whiskey in hand, I set my crutches in a corner and stand in the open, searching for my next friend. A group of four next to me talk and laugh. I interrupt with a lighthearted question and a smile. They stop laughing, answer me, and return to their banter.

I realize I must adjust my traveling expectations. Expecting I’ll find my next girlfriend, pen pal, pub buddy for the night or even a single conversation could ruin EuroBen. Now I expect to see the world and write about it, taste new foods, and meet new people during a night out or maybe just in a curt response.Yes, Europe can still rule with these expectations.

Naturally I am more introverted than extroverted. Seeking new friends depletes my energy and I have just enough left to try once more. Five Brits are out celebrating one of them losing her job—seriously, celebrating—and they take me in because “nobody should drink alone in a pub,” they say. They teach me what “taking the piss” means, and about Pimm’s cocktails and Sunday roast. I laugh at everything because they are hilarious no matter what they say or how often they curse. They buy me many drinks and won’t let me return the favor because I am a visitor. And they prevent a different Londoner from taking advantage of me. We close the pubs down. We are all Facebook friends. They rule.

EuroBen, Day 4
Haggis and jam doughnuts, two of Great Britain's culinary treats
Two of Great Britain's treats: raspberry jam donuts from Sainsbury's, and Scotland's haggis: sheep's heart, liver lungs, and stomach

I visit a pub attended by locals, away from the tourist areas. It is sparse with some old-timers watching Premiere League football and shooting pool. They also watch me. After I finish two quick pints they welcome me. Beer, I decide, is the sign of acceptance in England or maybe the world.

I ride the Tube to meet Conversary. Yesterday, we hung out at the British Library and went on an adventure to find real coffee. I forgo seeing a theater show to be with her tonight. This is not because I am a pushover—I just have a rule that, with pretty girls, I play it through until they opt out, no matter what.

Conversary is more guarded and less talkative now. I pick up the slack. “What does your sister do?...Do you like your two- or four-year-old niece more?...I bet you miss them…What does your sister do for work?”

“Are you joking?” she says. “You just asked me that. What’s wrong with you?”

I falter instead of making a joke, the wound too deep to recover from. I take Conversary back to her hostel and return to my hotel. I really wish I saw “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by myself on my last night in London instead of this, though I know I’ll always make the same mistake, as hopefulness and a desire for adventure always outweigh a life of rejection.

Keep reading: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part II

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Does Frisbee Golf Have to do with Cancer?

This morning I joined FOX 5 DC's Good Day DC set to talk about one of my favorite organizations, First Descents. I know what you're thinking: only a goofball [insert other descriptors here if you wish] would mention frisbee golf in an interview about cancer and adventure trips for survivors. But hey, I'm 30 years old which means I have a license to be a _______.

You can see my interview by clicking the image below. You can also read stories I previously wrote about my experience with First Descents on its blog and The Huffington Post.

Cancer survivor Benjamin Rubenstein interviews on FOX 5 DC's "Good Day DC" about First Descents

Leia Mais…

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why it’s Possible to Spend 80 Hours Planning a Trip

The various methods of vacationing fall on the following spectrum:

the spectrum that shows the level of planning for different kinds of trips

Next week I travel both to Europe and by myself for the first times. When I decided to pull the trigger on this trip, I’d have pulled a different trigger had I known planning it would require this much time. Here is why it is actually possible to spend 80 hours planning for your solo international travel.

You want to experience all kinds of shelter and social interaction so you book a hotel, hostel, Airbnb and couch. Couchsurfing requires you to create a brand new social network profile, but nobody wants a strange dude on his couch so you face unending rejection. This is the online dating of finding shelter.

You are frugal so every day you search for cheap airfare, until your world-expert-at-traveling cousin books your flight for you using his award miles. You then buy tons of gift cards using specific credit cards so you can reimburse him the award miles. Learning about credit card “churning” requires a separate 80 hours in itself.

Pickpocketing is rampant (according to Fox News). You search for the perfect bag that has different features like a sling strap, zipper locks and slash-proof material. You consider how much will actually fit inside the small bag and your carry-on suitcase. Two changes of clothes and a passport for two weeks of travel sound about right.

Using the trains is cheaper with an Oyster card, but is it worth buying a weekly pass, and should you get a visitor Oyster card? There are four hop-on hop-off bus tour providers and which one is best and closest to where you will be staying? Oh wait, you haven’t booked where you’re staying yet. There’s a hostel app for that. But will your hostel app work with your Galaxy phone in Europe? It will if you find free Wi-Fi using the Wi-Fi-finder app, but how can you use the app without mobile service in the first place? Get an international SIM card, but only if your U.S. mobile carrier works with it. Or maybe pay for some international data…but only if your U.S. mobile carrier works with it. Pray the slash-proof material isn’t just marketing to make you feel better about yourself when your bag is slashed and your phone is pickpocketed.

Inform your credit card companies you’re traveling, and remember the PIN to your credit card’s fancy chip. You’ll need that to buy stuff, like train tickets. Which fucking Oyster card do you buy again?

Don’t forget to print all your documents, and scan and email them to your family in the States and a friend in Europe. Should you scan the front and back of your credit cards? Who knows, just do it!

Document your travels in your blog (I’ll try), but don’t bring an expensive computer or tablet because it will probably get stolen. Bring your backup computer that doesn’t work unless it is plugged into an outlet. You need a plug adaptor. Which one? Who knows, buy them all! Assume that TSA will trash your computer when you return back to the States since it is so old that it won’t power up on its own. This is ok because now you have room to bring exactly two souvenirs back with you, as long as they are small- or medium-size t-shirts.

Buy travel guides. Don’t ask anyone whether you should get Lonely Planet, Time Out, Frommer’s, Eyewitness Travel or Rick Steves. You’d receive five different answers.

You better research the best currency exchange app, whether water is safe to drink, the best checklist to print so you don’t forget stuff, what to do when you forget and lose stuff, and the must-visit pubs and landmarks.

Give your doctor enough time to prescribe Xanax so you can sleep on the plane and give your bank enough time to exchange for British Pounds. If you even succeed at one of the two then that’s a win.

See you over the pond.

Leia Mais…

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Teenage Boy and His Parents Walk Into a Sperm Bank

As published on The Huffington Post

I have become desensitized to the annual ritual where my dad hands me an envelope he's received in the mail addressed to me and that has no return address. After 14 years, we are both nearly positive of the envelope's origin. I open one side and remove the bill just enough to see Fairfax Cryobank across the top, and then hand it back to him. "I think this is for you."

My mom and I visited Fairfax Cryobank for the first time on September 25, 2000. The doctor explained my risk of sterility and the sperm banking process, and then asked my mom for written permission for me to use pornography.

"If he needs it," she said.

The previous night my dad had asked if I "know how to get it out" or if I "need help." I kept my eyes fixed on the same textbook sentence I had already read 30 times without realizing and said, "I know how; no thanks, Dad," thrilled that the dull lamp in my bedroom hid my features, hot and red as a mature habanero. At 16, I could only laugh with friends at my dad's inquiry, unable to understand his courage.

I did need help from the magazines, however. With my mom one room over, chemotherapy to treat my aggressive bone cancer beginning three days later, and the sterile cup and alcohol swab on the counter next to me, I wondered if anything other than live action would do the job.

I returned to the cryobank once more before starting chemo, this time less nervous and with both parents present in the waiting room. "Are you done already?" my dad asked after I emerged from the room with the brown couch that so many with cancer before me had been forced to execute on. Keep reading, here.

Leia Mais…