To the right, to the right

Even though I brought gym clothes with me to work out after work yesterday, I ended up taking a detour to Pike Place Market along the waterfront of Seattle last night. I felt a little like I was being extra brave, given the terrorist attack that happened just the night before at the Christmas markets in Berlin. I thought to myself as I walked, “Take that, terrorists.”

Of course, after the events in Berlin this week (so similar to those in Nice in July, it’s scary), I thought back to the same line of thinking I had when I wrote another recent post, Marked safe. Why should I get to go to Pike Place Market and be safe, when 12 other people went to the markets across the world and they weren’t? Sometimes, it’s just not fucking fair.

I thought of the fire in Oakland’s Ghost Ship, which happened the night I arrived in Berkeley, Oakland’s neighbor, earlier this month. How those 36 people went about a perfectly mundane night listening to music, making art, supporting other artists, and how that night ended. It felt realer and closer because I was in town over that weekend, and maybe partially because my mother knew I’d be there and was so worried I was in the fire, she made me call her to prove I was safe.

Monday night at the gym, watching the results of the electoral college (which, by the way, proved itself completely worthless and useless) voting that day, I started hate stationary-biking. I’m so fucking sick of seeing the name Trump, of seeing his chubby turkey neck and stupid schmuck look on his face all over the news/media. I’d hoped we’d have a Hillary win, and he could fade into obscurity via shame spiral, but that was not to be. Thanks, ‘Murica. Since my hate biking, I’ve tried to limit my exposure to news/media because the state of world, if it wasn’t getting to me before, is surely getting to me now.

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I know I shouldn’t hate. It brings me down to the level of everyone else rooted in hate – the KKK, anti-LGBTQ initiatives and  supporters, and so much more. But I fucking hate Trump and all that he stands for. I hate the team of people he’s selected for his cabinet. They might as well call his team the Bad News Bears. Cruella DeVil for animal protection. Bill Cosby for women’s rights. For real. I’m sickened to live in a country that voted for him. To be clear, I did not.

But in limiting my exposure to news, I still managed to read something which resonated with me. I usually try to cite my sources when I can, but unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read about this idea.

There is a global trend toward right wing ideologies inspired by the waves of terrorism increasing in frequency and amplitude everywhere. That’s how ISIS was supposedly inserting itself in nearly every country. By performing acts of terrorism in not only war-torn middle eastern countries, but also the US, Europe, etc., ISIS was effectively attacking democracy and the very foundational ideals on which the western world exists. Brexit was a British right-wing response; Trump winning the election was the US’s right-wing response to terrorism; as was the socialist president of France deciding not to seek re-election due to an unfavorable climate, stepping aside to make way for more conservative republicans who have broader favor with the French people. France had its fair share of horrible terrorist attacks recently, with the most recent attack in Nice on Bastille Day, November 2015 with shootings at multiple crowded locations before that, and shootings at Charlie Hebdo before that. And the French people are leaning more conservatively now, as a result.

Russia hacking and influencing the US’s election of Trump was the pinnacle of attack on democracy, and I did read an article that John McCain, of all people, is making a case for a special investigation into the cyberwarfare. McCain advocates that, “A committee is necessary to look at ‘the whole issue of cyber warfare, where we have no strategy or no policy’ because it is ‘perhaps the only area where our adversaries have an advantage over us.’” Cybersecurity is where America is weakest and potentially not #1, thus that is where we must build our defenses.

The global political climate leaning more and more to the right actually induces way more fear in me than I thought possible. I always felt safe in San Francisco, slightly less so in Sydney but to be fair, I was also outside the country and thus outside my comfort zone there. I feel pretty darn safe in Seattle. Having a president-elect who believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese also terrifies me, because this is a crucial point to continue and even ramp up environmental protections to save this planet from mass self-destruction. But, I digress.

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But it’s like countries who have been fucked with by conservative terrorists want a conservative no-more-chances response from government. So in a way, the terrorists ARE winning and everywhere is falling into the plans they had all along. They wanted us to react with hate, and fear, and conservative views on all kinds of topics from immigration to jobs to welfare. So good job everyone. *slow clap*

Being more conservative aligns more closely with terrorist views and how they want things. In my best Beyoncé voice, “to the right, to the right.” I’m not saying by any means that electing Trump was the right thing to do. Rather, in the game of chess, we’ve been played. Check-mate. We lost. Unless the sane part of the world comes up with a genius response to unwind all of this soon, where we’re heading is not good.

Despite raging against the dying of the light by going to the Seattle markets last night, most of the stalls were closing up as I got there. I didn’t get what I went there for – gifts for family and friends. I felt better for going, though. I felt I had to, despite the cold, despite my limping on a sore knee and foot that won’t go away from a gym injury a few weeks ago. Because some people who went Monday night in Berlin couldn’t finish their time there. So, that one was for you, you 12 souls lost, who have yet to be named. Trying to patronize stalls of local artisans instead of ordering everything through Amazon Prime was for you, lost souls of Ghost Ship in Oakland. I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do. I am not perfect, and even I am susceptible to hate. But my gift is my actions, and that one was for you.

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Doppler effect in real life

It’s hard to perceive, when travel plans are coming at you with the full force of a siren, that there could be any kind of Doppler effect when it comes to adventures. Compared to the emitted frequency from my trip, the received frequency is higher during the approach, identical at the instant of passing by, and lower during the recession. It’s science; look it up.

Prior to leaving on my trip, all I could think about, all I could focus on, were the impending plans, hostels, what to pack, who and what I would be seeing, and louder still, the daily grind, the rat race in the workplace hamster wheel, yearning for that release to sabbatical mode. It was so loud, like a wailing ambulance zooming off to save a life.

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When you’re finally on that trip, and deep in it, it’s not quite so loud. You rushed and planned before, so you could slow down. You then take each day as it comes while traveling, and embrace the sense of adventure, heartbreak, accomplishment, and the facing of fears. You watch the sunset at the end of the day, knowing you lived that day. Or as close to sunsets as you can get in the land of the midnight sun.  If you’re successful, you’ve managed to forget all passwords, not think about what emails you might be “missing”, and removed the source of all work thoughts and the “grind” part from your daily routine. You can get comfortable in your surroundings, and finally enjoy the forest for the trees, or the boobs for the bed. As you like it.

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But after it’s over, the trip begins to recede. First, it’s your senses of your immediate environment. Suddenly, signs are in languages you can read with words you can recognize and pronounce, again. Then the ambient noise of conversations around you is suddenly understandable, again. The memories you made of smells and tastes begin to ebb away first, as if waking up from a dream; then, suddenly, if you didn’t take a picture of it, you perhaps can’t remember it actually happened.

When I was in Berlin, the soundtrack in my head was basically every Pink Floyd song from The Wall. One in particular, Comfortably Numb describes this post-travel Doppler recession.

“There is no pain; you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can’t hear what they’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now…”

I was performing my final sort on photos before posting them to my Flickr account today, and my photo editor crashed on me just as I started into the Berlin album. Nooooooo.

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Now, dear reader, what you may not know is that Berlin was one of the most sensitive times for me on this whole trip. A butt-load of feelers creeped in when I wasn’t looking, which were then exacerbated by moving experiences at concentration camps and other heavy historical sites, and I was a bit of a mess. It was bittersweet. Mostly bitter.

When my photo editor crashed, I lost a good 5-7 photos from the beginning of my walking tour, which commenced at Brandenburg Gate. Some of my best shots are now lost in my Macbook Air abyss and I’m absolutely inconsolable right now.

I had those images, and I had those few moments of memories in photos, and now, they are gone. Is this what a miscarriage is like? Not that I’m trying to poke fun or belittle the horrible experience. But as an artist, as a creator, I had a few pieces of work that I put effort and time and care into; they were made with love. I didn’t get a chance to birth them to my Flickr site, and now they are gone forever. So I shall pour one out for each of my lost photos, whimper a silent sob, and try to move on. Just know my Berlin album is missing some gems.

But the more important result of the above loss is that now my Flickr account finally has some albums on it. It’s now live! Go check it out! It’s under Photography in the menu above, or you can go straight to my albums here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/idigres/albums

I still have yet to tackle Bergen and Iceland photos for posting, and somehow this whole day got away from me, editing photos and posting them. I love how I spent my day today. I bathed in the memories of a portion of my trip. Suddenly work things were quiet again. I wasn’t thinking of the future, either. I could just be right there, in the moment. Even if my Swedish haircut is growing out from 5 weeks ago.

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It calmed my soul and almost made me feel like the whole experience wasn’t receding quite so fast. I got to go back to each of those beautiful places around the world again today, without a travel hangover or jetlag. But boy, am I tired now.

More to come from me, as I get totally caught up on my trip images, and continue immersing myself in this train wreck of daily life again, making this less and less of the travel blog it temporarily was, and more and more of the whatever the hell it is now.

Rough. Area.

Concentration camp outside Berlin

I wrote this blog post yesterday, after going to Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, at the site of the original concentration camp. These are my initial thoughts, immediate reactions, and do not necessarily encapsulate everything that I learned yesterday. I highly recommend you visit the camp for yourself and form your own views. I thank you in advance for reading this blog, as it’s not for the faint of heart or stomach.

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Today, I went to a concentration camp, and was brought to tears, that I tried to hide. I didn’t expect that.

As part of my 3-day stint in Berlin, I decided I wanted to visit Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp just outside Berlin, about 35 kilometers. The first German concentration camp, as my tour guide informed me today, was actually in Dachau, outside Munich. I only recently found out my grandfather was a defector from the Russian army and wound up at Dachau as a political prisoner during the late 30’s or early 40’s. I don’t know much about my father’s side of the family, and everyone seems to have their own truths, which change frequently. This made the concept of one of my relatives having been at one of these places all the more real to me.

When we arrived in Berlin yesterday, after a very smooth and brief flight from Oslo, we immediately went for a 4pm walking tour, which kicked off at the Starbucks by Brandenburg Gate. We saw the Gate in all its glory, the Hotel Adlon (famous as the place where Michael Jackson dangled his baby), the double bricks in the road signifying where the Berlin Wall ran, the place that is now a kindergarten playground but held 8 meters below it the barracks where Hitler hid and ultimately shot and killed himself. We saw the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Humboldt University, and the square where the infamous book burning was.

Here is a photo of the memorial in the square where the books were burnt. If you look down, it appears as if you are looking into a mirror, with the sky and your own silhouette looking back up at you. But if you look through this, you will see many rows of empty bookshelves. There is a great quote (in German) just across the square from this memorial, from Heinrich Heine years before the book burning that was almost prophetic. “Wherever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”

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At the conclusion of the walking tour yesterday, we bought tickets to visit Sachsenhausen, which we chose to use today, through the same tour company. We had the same meeting point this morning, the Starbucks by Brandenburg Gate, and many people were turned away because only two guides were available to give the tour.

I ended up with an alternative fellow named Mark as the guide – he wore a blazer reminiscent of the 1980’s, rolled up to his elbows, and a button down white shirt with all buttons buttoned. He had a British accent, being from the UK, and a metrosexual haircut. He wore one red sock and one blue sock with what appeared to be unbranded Doc Martens. Mark was a history teacher at a secondary school before leaving London to specifically become a tour guide in Berlin 4 years ago, so he was very knowledgeable about the topics that we discussed. Perfect example of the alternative style I come to expect of Berlin, and provided many stories and the rich context needed for the tour.

We immediately headed to the train station at Brandenburg Gate, after much urging from the two tour guides to bring food. While waiting for it to begin, I grabbed Hank Moody and I some sandwiches at Starbucks, a fruit cup and a lovely mozzarella and tomato focaccia which they even heated for me, but alas, I had to wait to enjoy it.

The militant pace the tour guides kept proved to be a major challenge for me all day, and would have been a challenge for anyone. It didn’t help that prior to the tour, I discovered NIVEA Haus and bought a ton of skin care products, hand crème, deodorant, and shower gel for dirt-cheap. So beyond having to bring an impromptu pack lunch, I also had some heavier products in my bag, as well as a full Nalgene bottle of water and my trusty steed, my DSLR camera.

We rode the train to the very last stop, and then had a “15 minute walk” (translation: 30 minute walk crammed into a 15 minute military light jog) to the compound. Immediately, I was confronted with walls and layouts, and the German efficiency I would expect, but not necessarily from a concentration camp.

The main area we were to visit was in the shape of a triangle – originally this concentration camp was meant to be the example of how all other camps would be modeled. With the triangle shape, the watch tower was bisecting the base of the triangle, and all barracks fanned out in concentric circles from the watch tower (forming a sort of rainbow over the base tower), to allow for maximum visibility. It had to; there were originally 290 SS officers for thousands of prisoners. At one point, the camp was so full, the 3 level bunk beds held 3 people each, and that bed was narrower and shorter than a twin sized mattress. Unreal.

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With each story Mark imparted, the feeling of sickness, of shock, of dread, of sadness built, like bricks in a wall, until it culminated in the two stories, which absolutely did it for me and brought me to tears.

The first was of the work details available for people in the camps. You see, there were death camps, and there were concentration camps. Sachsenhausen was where political prisoners, then ultimately Jehovah’s witnesses, Jews, criminals, communists, homosexuals, and others were brought to work before possibly dying from exhaustion or disease, or being sent on to death camps, like Auschwitz.

Some people were made to build bricks and then haul them, and those bricks were ultimately going to be used to build Germania, a reformed Berlin once Hitler led the Germans to a successful outcome in the war. To me, Germania symbolizes the new, pure Aryan race, which weeded out those marginalized groups listed above. Germania, as a gleaming, thriving capital of Germany never came to be, so I can’t tell you what happened to bricks made for this purpose but that perhaps it was in vain.

But the work detail that did it for me was what many homosexuals were sentenced to do: boot testers. There is a strip within the concentric circles of various types of rocks – tiny loose gravel, large volcanic rocks, and the like. Boot testers were given boots, guaranteed to be the wrong size, then were given 20-kilogram packs (which is like a 40-pound pack for all of you on the Imperial system rather than the metric system). Those boot testers then were forced to run laps over those various kinds of terrain for 12-15 hours per day. The German army did not have the money or resources to provide leather and rubber boots to its soldiers, so it was trying to develop alternative low-cost alternatives for boots to give its soldiers.

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Homosexuals were often given this work duty because homosexuals were believed to not be contributing to the nuclear family and populating missives of the Nazi regime. They challenged gender and sexual orientation stereotypes, and it was believed at that time they could be cured, reformed, and otherwise “fixed”. So they were run into the ground quite literally as boot testers. The life expectancy of someone sentenced to boot testing work duty? 6 days.

Sweet baby Jesus and the seven dwarves. The tears came and I couldn’t stop them. After he shared this story, I walked the concentric circle, across the loose gravel and large pieces of volcanic rock in my already aching feet, my empty stomach wanting that tomato and mozzarella focaccia in my 10-kilogram backpack, and couldn’t help it. All that coursed through my head were Sue Sylvester quotes from GLEE along the lines of “You think that’s hard? Try being blanked by thirteen blanks! That’s hard!”

We also saw Station Z, a part of the camp created to handle the mass murders of prisoners at the camp. There is an area outside the station, where prisoners would know what was coming, be put up against a wall, and then be shot from meters away. Often they would scream, wiggle, run, and bullets were wasted in trying to end them.

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The Nazis manufactured a more efficient way to handle the mass killings which became Station Z on the camp. It started out with a prisoner being led to a building, through a small hallway (in my picture below, the area marked 3), into a main room (room 4), under the premise they were going to be checked out by a “doctor.” Classical music even played in the main room to keep them calm and not set off any alarms as to their impending doom. The doctor would shuffle them to a room off to the left (room 2) if the person had nothing in their mouth upon inspection that would prove valuable like gold teeth or fillings. That room to the left looked like showers, but through the showerheads, gas would fill the chamber that could hold up to 35 people and they’d be gassed. However, that left bodies too far from the oven room, and those still had to be moved.

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If the “doctor” noticed something of value in the mouth, they’d mark the prisoner with a blue X on their chest, and that prisoner would be shuffled off to another room (room 7). The “doctor” would them escort them to room 13, have them stand upright against a wall, under the guise of having their height measured. The wall held a narrow wooden ruler with a space between the ruler that allowed the top flap to move up and down, which measured their height. Unbeknownst to the prisoner, this was the way the Germans would then have the prisoner shot, in the back of the head/neck, as that gap in the ruler was a tiny opening to room 14, a secret room behind room 13. Once the person was aligned and upright, the guard in secret room 14 would take 1 shot, wasting no bullets, and getting the job done, without any panic from the prisoner. The room in which this happened was just next door to the main oven room (room 17) where the prisoners would have their valuable fillings and teeth extracted, by other prisoners, and then shoved into the ovens in room 18. Eventually, the prisoners caught on to what was happening in Station Z, and they used to say they could tell what type of prisoners were executed by the type of smoke emitted from the ovens. Black smoke meant there was fat on the body being burned, but white smoke indicated it was mostly just bone being burnt.

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The other big takeaway for me was at the end of the tour, when Mark asked if we’d noticed how women were not mentioned at all on today’s tour. Being one, of course I noticed. He went on to explain the concept of the “Joy Division” – women brought over to Sachsenhausen from a nearby female-only concentration camp for the sole purpose of making the men on work duty at this one more “motivated.” The women were basically forced into rape. I would expect something like the SS guards taking advantage of them, but when I heard that other male prisoners were given vouchers to make them better workers with conjugal visits from these women, I nearly lost my shit. When someone is in conditions like that, how can sex be on anyone’s mind? When you are depressed, you’re being given 900 calories a day on which to function for 12-15 hours of hard labor, how could one possibly need the company of an unwilling woman???

Mark pointed out the people of Germany do a good job of owning what happened here in the past, in allocating government money to the preservation of camps like this one so that we learn from the past, so as not to repeat it. The Holocaust Memorial is in the middle of Berlin, within sight of the Parliament building. It is against the law to deny the holocaust, and they embrace and put on display for all to see the darkest part of their past. If there is a race of people who know how to embrace their dark sides, the Germans are it.

But fuuuuuuuuuuck. That is all I can say after today. And, my feet hurt.

But more importantly, fuuuuuuuuuuck.

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Looking forward to leaving

Life has been a little busier than normal lately, between work and basic things like eating and sleeping. I’ve been working quite a lot as it’s my busiest time of year at work. There is an end in sight though, and that end is May 5. That is the date I go on leave for 2 months and head to Europe.

I don’t think I’ve shared my full itinerary with you yet, dear reader. I’ve only just hinted at bits and pieces. Perhaps I shall clue you in now, as it’s one of the main things on my mind, getting me through the days and nights.

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On May 5, I shall board a flight I acquired through use of United award miles for an ungodly low amount, and head to London, UK (1) as my first stop. There I will visit a friend and my former flatmate from Sydney who lives there now. I went to London in 2009 and saw many of the tourist attractions then – Kensington Palace, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Tate Modern; I even saw the crown jewels of Henry VIII that was on display at the time. Therefore, London is about unwinding, detoxing, acclimating to a new time zone, and seeing good people. I’ll have time to deprogram from work and I’ll call London home for about 2 weeks. Then the real adventures begin to countries and cities I have not yet visited.

I depart London on May 21 for 5 days in Paris, France (2), with said flatmate from Sydney. He spoke French in school, and knows many things about the culture. I know next to nothing. I’ve never been to Paris. I was holding out on Paris and most of Italy until I had a romantic significant other, to make the experience that much more enjoyable. However, life is too short to hold out any longer, so I figured it’s time. On the docket in Paris is the Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre, Notre-Dame cathedral, Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the Louvre, Moulin Rouge, and possibly the catacombs (though I’ve heard the last one is actually somewhat illegal, so forget I mentioned that.) I shan’t forget the wine tasting experiences and food to try either – though I doubt escargot will make an appearance. Snails are for throwing, not for eating…

After Paris, my flatmate and I will take a train for 5 days in Rome, Italy (3). After reading the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, I knew just what I wanted to see in Rome – and it’s a loooong list. Too long to include here, but rest assured, I’m going to see the hell out of the city, all the things, and probably get lost a few times, too. There will be pizza, pasta, carbs of all shapes and sizes, balsamic vinegar, serrano ham, buffalo mozzarella, and all kinds of amazing food and drink.

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From Rome, we’ll head back to London for 1 night, and then my flatmate returns to work while I venture elsewhere. I hope to not have a tearful goodbye; rather, I hope to have many more memories of hilarious moments and funny accents with him. Retreating back to London after our Paris/Rome debauchery also allows me to travel lighter in those two locales, and leave my larger luggage in London at his place. I’ll repack my bags and head off on June 1 to Helsinki via Oslo.

In Helsinki, Finland (4), on June 1, I will meet up with a travel buddy from Sydney, a friend I’ve mentioned in my blogs before called “Hank Moody”. Hank and I have a couple days to explore Helsinki, with its Bronze Age historical sites and unique cafes, and then will meet up with my aunt (also formerly mentioned in another blog post), “Auntie Chianti”, before we board a train to St. Petersburg, Russia (5).

I’m very excited for St. Petersburg. I’ve written posts on Russia and the Anastasia adventure I want to have there. The excitement of having obtained a Russian visa, and the contact drunk from being near so much vodka, crescendos with tickets to a Russian ballet production, just a single day after Russia’s national Dostoevsky Day on June 3. While we only have a couple days in Russia, I hope to see the beautiful unique architecture, and hear the husky accents en masse. That is, of course, if they let me in.

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From St. Petersburg, we’ll head back to Helsinki via train for one more night, and then the following day we’ll depart for Stockholm, Sweden (6) via ferry. It’s an overnight ferry, and in my imagination, it’s a giant Viking ship with a beautiful wooden mermaid at the front, which I’ll stand behind wearing Viking horns, pretending I’m flying on the Titanic. In the land of IKEA and meatballs, I hope to see much more beautiful architecture. We have nearly a full week there to let our hair down and experience the local flavors.

From Stockholm, we’ll take a train to Oslo, Norway (7). In Oslo, Auntie Chianti will go her separate way onto Budapest to visit family living near there, giving me a total of 2 weeks with my aunt abroad. The last time we travelled together internationally was over 10 years ago, to Mexico. For two people who enjoy it so, that is much too long. Hank Moody and I will enjoy a bit of Oslo and then depart for Berlin, Germany (8) for a brief weekend.

I’ve heard amazing things about Berlin, from people who’ve visited and even from someone raised there. The wall came down when I was only 8 years old, and I didn’t have an appreciation at the time what that meant. I learned about the Holocaust in history classes, which I admit to halfheartedly committing to memory, and have since read a couple great books and seen a couple great movies which depict stories about that time. I highly recommend the book “Not Me” and the film “The Book Thief”, if you haven’t seen them. Also a huge influencer in my life is Pink Floyd’s video for the entire “The Wall” album, which is artistically fashioned with Germanic references.

After experiencing what Berlin has to offer Hank and me, we’ll fly back to Oslo in time to catch a train to Bergen, Norway (9). The train from Oslo to Bergen, east to west, weaves throughout the fjords and offers amazing views. I’m more excited for the ride than the destination, if I’m honest. However, most of this trip’s accommodation will be spent in hostels and backpackers, which is also a first for me. The first hotel I’ll get to enjoy is a Best Western in Rome, Italy, and won’t enjoy those creature comforts again until 1 month later in Bergen. Hank and I splurged on a cozy bed and breakfast hotel with chunky wooden furniture and a very homey feel.

We waive bye-bye to Bergen on June 24, and jump half of the Atlantic to rest our laurels in Reykjavik, Iceland (10). I’m probably most excited for this locale. The inner geology rock nerd I let out every so often is going to have a field day there. Geysers, waterfalls, volcanoes, the Blue Lagoon, northern lights, glaciers, and a spa day at an eclectic and hip hostel in the center of the city. We plan on doing day trips and tours to see everything we can while on that tiny island.

From Reykjavik, I fly home to San Francisco on June 30, adding 9 new locations in 8 new countries to my travel experience. I want to learn how to train my dragon, possibly get a dragon tattoo (or maybe not), visit Rasputin with a cute little bat named Bartok, hopefully not fall on some ice, ride a pretend Viking ship/ferry, and take train rides through beautiful scenery, all while experiencing a backpacker lifestyle with friends and family.

What I started out planning, and what I ended up with all said and done, are two very different trips. I anticipated using the time to be with myself, think through things, rediscover what makes me happy, write some blogs, take some photos, and grow from the new experiences. While I won’t be as solitary as initially intended, I have a chance to make great new memories with people I truly care about. I can soul-search another time, sans Viking horn hat. After all, Nicaragua is calling… but I digress.