Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part III

Read these first: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Parts I and II

EuroBen, Day 8

I am back on the train headed to a small town north of London where I will stay with friends, the Stroopwafels. Unlike during my last train ride, I maintain awareness of my new crutches in the storage compartment above me. I am also aware of my job, nationality and lack of debt that together allow me this privilege to travel. I feel fortunate.

I get off at Peterborough and board my 4:20 p.m. bus to Cambridge—exactly as my ticket says, at bus bay B8, which is the only one where buses heading to Cambridge pick up, according to the sign. The bus driver reads my ticket and says, “This is Stagecoach and you need National Express coach. That’s over there,” he says, pointing to the opposite side of the station with 10 more bus bays.

I rush over to the other side of the bus station and speak with an attendant. He points to a bus just driving off. “That’s your bus.”

I can catch it if I run. I grip my rolling carry-on tighter and brace to run, and then I freeze. Three days ago I ran and jumped through the train cars looking for my crutches. Since then I have moved gingerly. Unable to bend, I must crawl my hands down my legs to tie my shoes, further stretching my tight lower back and hip muscles with each millimeter that I get closer to the laces. I imagine stretching a guitar string to attain a higher and higher pitch and then, ping. I complete the knot and slowly straighten my posture, now each millimeter in reverse causing an equally painful flame through my muscles.

The next day I bought Tylenol after waking. I could not have navigated Edinburgh Castle without it. I've been reading A Tale for the Time Being in which the main character learns to sit zazen for meditation and posture. As I rode the hop-on hop-off bus for an entire loop waiting for the medicine to take effect, I sat in a seated zazen position, perfectly straight, moving only my neck to see Scotland's beauty.

I let the bus go by. I have my freedom and possessions. I have a Kindle book to finish and new Gaslight Anthem and Rise Against albums to listen through. Life, sometimes, is really amazing and I’ll just catch the next bus in two hours. In one week when my pain begins fading I will think life is even more amazing, as the fear that I had caused permanent damage to my vulnerable hip also fades, a fear I must live with forever because my hip looks like this. From now on I will try to move slower with a shorter gait and coddle my left leg even more than before, and sit straighter and breath deeper like zazen, though this effort, too, is likely to fade, because I am still human.

Visiting Ely and Newmarket in England
Mrs. Stroopwafel took me around small-town England including Newmarket, which is considered the birthplace of thoroughbred horse racing, and Ely, which is home to Ely Cathedral which dates back 900 years. I don't think the public would tolerate tax money going into projects like Ely Cathedral nowadays so we will just have to look in awe at this and other ancient creations.
Riding replica horse at Newmarket's National Horse Racing Museum in England
At the National Horse Racing Museum, Mrs. Stroopwafel mimicked a jockey on this fast-moving replica horse as I stood and laughed
EuroBen, Day 12

Amsterdam’s architecture and water engineering amaze me. So does the blending of bicycles and nude women and hash and transsexuals. There is no judgment in this pretty city.
Visiting Amsterdam's attractions including The Heineken Experience, brown cafes and canals
Left: The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam goes from cheesy to techno to beer-providing and is great. Top: Amsterdam's authentic pubs are known as brown cafes and serve great coffee and beer (and maybe marijuana). Bottom: Amsterdam was designed in the 1600s on canals. The engineering and architecture blow my mind and this may be the prettiest city I've ever seen. Seen here is a houseboat. The government limits the number of permits for houseboats, which makes these extremely expensive places to live because of their high demand.

“I want to kill 1.5 billion people with all my guns because everyone else in the world doesn’t matter.”

I sit at a bar that locals frequent—away from the red light district and its tourists—and this extremely intoxicated local does not like hearing that I am American and speaks to me as he imagines an American thinks. Many people here in Amsterdam are as welcoming as the Scottish. They love their culture and want to share it with me. Some others though, including this gentleman who is oddly wearing an I ♥ NY t-shirt, do not.

“Everyone in your country is either rich or poor,” he says. “You Americans and your arrogance.” He starts patting me on the back, and then he starts feeling my shoulder and arm. “I haven’t gotten my fucky fucky today.”

A second later I am standing and tell the bartender to run my card. I disregard my new objective to move slower in life and instead I trot on my crutches faster than I ever have, down the dark streets towards Central Station. I buy a tram ticket back to the airport, and then a bus ticket back to the hotel where I close the door and lock it behind me.

Maybe some cities are meant to be experienced in groups.

EuroBen, Day 13

I chose not to pack my computer because I didn’t want to take time away from vacationing. Who am I kidding: I’m a writer.
Writing on the ferry from Amsterdam--typing is overrated
This very story, version 1
Mr. Stroopwafel enjoyed our short vacation and having a break from work. I had a blast with my Americans-temporarily-living-in-England adopted family.
Riding the ferry from Hoek van Holland
Relaxing on the seven-hour ferry ride from Amsterdam's Hoek van Holland back to England

EuroBen, Day 14

I have learned by many different methods, and perhaps none more densely than by traveling myself. I feel more courageous and worldly for having done this. For those reasons I think everyone should try traveling alone at least once.

I understand now that there are many ways to live beyond the Merika' way, with our ease of freeriding and mega-consumption; arrogance; and above all, freedom. I know that I never want to live anywhere else long-term. I love my country. I have felt others' hatred because of my nationality, but after seeing firsthand how hundreds of millions of people want to live here and the risks they will take for that dream, I wonder if sometimes that hatred stems from jealousy. I am sorry everyone in the world can't be as free as I am.

Where will I vacation next? Will it be on a group trip overseas, on a cruise, or by myself again? All I know is, wherever and however I travel next, I’ll get more magnets.
You can never have enough magnets