Sunday, April 1, 2012

The most difficult and most beautiful part of my journey

I arrived late at night in Switzerland after the most beautiful train ride from the Czech Republic through Munich, north western Austria, and Zurich. I stayed at "backpackers heaven" called Backpackers Lucerne. I was literally skipping with my backpack down the street singing "Where am I? In Switzerland! In Switzerland!" (pronounced Svitsserlaaand) Once I was settled in the hostel around midnight, I checked my email and found that my Dad had written me about Gigi. I called and talked to my parents, had a good talk with my brother, and then just sat stunned with the sweet, compassionate receptionist in the closed lobby with mascara every-which-place on my cheeks. I truly thought Gigi would be there when I got back home. When I awoke in the morning, I saw the scene in the picture below. My raw red swollen eyes saw exactly what Gigi and I had imagined while we sat in her hospital room planning my hobo trip on my laptop. We talked about all of the beautiful and amazing things I would see. I thought, "Dammit, she planned this didn't she? How could I be sad in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet?? Well played, Gigi. Well played :)"
My sweet Korean roommate Ffany Lee from Seoul, South Korea was another gift of the hostel experience. She was also a solo euro hobo. Her parents were very worried about her traveling alone because she was unmarried, and she told me that none of her friends had even considered taking such a trip. She is quite the individual! She was so sweet and we blasted through the language barrier discussing family and dream travel adventures. (Don't get jealous, Jennie. You are still my #1 Asian!)
We walked together along the lake to drop her off at the ferry to go to Riga I thought about accompanying her, but it would've cost 90 euros or 35 euros plus a subtraction of one day from my eurail train pass. I decided I needed to get lost in the city, find a boat or canoe, and picnic on the water with a private bottle of wine. Bad news, hobo readers...they don't rent any boats until about April because if you fall in the wintry lake, you may not make it back out. Poop. I settled for a bike rental instead. I was pretty irritable, sad, and exhausted already...and I was not ready for any turbulence. I headed down the lake-side south. After about 2 miles, the chain and derailleur completely snapped and broke. After I carried that mother of a mountain bike with the long greasy chain tail all the way back to the hostel, the owner asked me if I wanted to take out another bike for free. I thought, "What I really wanted to do is curl up in bed with a bottle of wine and call my family...But I am in Switzerland!" My father's motto "you can sleep when you die" rang through my foggy brain. I told the owner, "What the hell! If I am not back in 3 hours, go south along the lake to find me...bring a six pack and a first aid kit." :)
I peddled along the most amazing view I have ever seen. It was so clear and crisp outside. I have attached some videos in the blog for you to get the idea. The pictures, as per usual, do not do it justice.
I peddled like a crazy person up each hill, and coasted down the other side as fast as I could without losing control. I biked through spells of severe stage five smile fits and spells of explosive crying flurries. It was immensely cathartic. Biking in Switzerland = best medicine for loss and grief.
After an hour or so, I was in a different village near Lucerne. It was quiet, sparsely populated, and perfectly serene. I looked up and saw this twisted tree on the bank of the clear lake. I sat and watched the see-through micro waves lap against the black and white rocks on land.
Anecdote: The night before I moved away to college in Norman, OK. I was restless and couldn't sleep. I woke my parents mid-panic attack and climbed into bed with them to vomit my "worst-case-scenario" fears. We stayed up almost all night talking and laughing. We ended up getting in the car to go see the sunrise in an uninhabited part of Ransom Canyon. We found this perfectly weathered and sculpted perch alongside the road. A perfect viewing spot to watch the sun wake up and go to sleep. This has long since been our happy place that we visit when life throws way too many lemons our way and inhibits subsequent lemonade production. In the past 12 years since we found that happy place...we would've benefited from buying some serious stock in lemons :)
 Videos above and below of my bike ride scenery.
Point of anecdote: Switzerland delivered me a satellite happy place. Since I could not go to Ransom Canyon with my family to see the sunrise. I watched the sunset from my new happy place and tried to run through as many memories of Gigi and Pa Pa that my little brain could summon. Startled, I found a small black and white cat claiming me with her tail. She climbed in my lap demanding love and head-rubs, then scurried to the rocks beside me for some sunset hunting. Between my new cat, the ducks and swans, the micro waves lapping, and the Alps. I was soothed.
Hidden church below a bridge among thick trees. Wish I could have found a way down there.
This is the all-wooden Chapel Bridge (Kapelbrucke) that runs across the Reuss River in Lucerne
I did not know about the fire until I saw the picture in the link listed above. This made me even MORE impressed with the restoration project. It's beautiful. I found many excuses to keep crossing the bridge. "Oops! I read the map wrong. I need to cross back over the bridge because...there may not be any coffee shops on this side...maybe..."

There are tiny cars all over Europe...but this one takes the crumpet! It's basically a covered bike-car that can be parked next to all of the other bicycles. I want one...but with Delorian wing doors like in Back to the Future.

Commute to work, next to the Alps. Life is hard for the Swiss.

I couldn't stop taking pictures of the Alps. Even though they are not as tall as my beloved Rockies. They mesmerize me. They are just RIGHT THERE! Alllll the time. Awesome. Almost a fake backdrop.
Right next to this elaborate fountain, I made friends with a Swiss toddler. I have successfully befriended children all over Europe without speaking their native language. Turns out that all toddlers think the same games are fun and the same crazy faces are hilarious. Universal language. Possibly a solution for world peace. Discuss.
I spent my last evening in Lucerne with a fabulous couch surfing host named Regula. She and her boyfriend Andi are possibly the most life-grasping, adventurous couple I have met. Regula grew up working on her family's vineyard in a small town in northern Switzerland. I replied "Really? That's insane. Like straight-out-of-a-movie, insane." Regula and Andi met through girl/boy scouts jamborees and are both avid travelers. They have big plans to backpack from Russia to China. It was so inspiring to talk to them. I hope to be like them one day soon!
I spent a whole day traveling by train from Lucerne to Zurich, Zurich to Geneva (amazing view ) Geneva to Lyon, Lyon to Aix en Provence, bus from Aix en Provence to Clarita's new fabulous couch surfing host! Upon arrival, we were instant friends and we made our own miniature pizzas (pictured above).
This is the view from Clarita's apartment. Fabulous!
For my second night in Provence, Clarita organized a couch surfing party called a Raclette (French cheese party It's like backwards fondue. You heat up slices of cheese in a cute teeny skillet and then pour it over your plate of ham, potatoes, and broccoli. She invited couch surfers from the area that we did not know. From the beginning of the night, we were all fast friends and were planning the activities for the next few days. They completely took me in and took over my trip. I was not a part of the is how it went down "Laurent, you host her tomorrow night, and we will take her to the sea tomorrow during the day." They planned everything for me, which was amazingly nice considering I have been team captain of my own hobo itinerary (hobo-erary) for too long. It was such a comfortable and loving environment. The big hit at the party was my Rick Steve's phrase book. It encompasses everything a traveler needs from basic phrases, travel talk, and menu decoding to...chatting people up. Everyone had a fun time reading Rick's suggested phrases for telling people that you are rich, available, and disease-free. I read the french translations in my poor broken accent, while Sebastian (new to English) sounded out the English translation. Hilarious. Yet another hobo trick of breaking the language barrier.
Clarita set out place cards with our names on them...I drew the Texas flag. When people ask me where I am from, I promptly reply "Texas." before I say "America." I mean this in the least Rick-Perry way possible. As all of us Texans agree, we are a different breed. I am a proud Texan...even when crazy people like Perry represent it governmental-y.
My "Provencial" family :) (Laurent, Me, Cedric, Clarita, Johanna, Angelique, Sebastian)
The next day they took me to the sea, as promised. My first time on the Mediterranean!!


And it just keeps going, and going, and going, and in the Truman Show until you hit the wall.

I'm so freakin' happy I could burst!
We were able to boulder around down to the water. I got to climb around like a monkey AND see the waves. Double whammy.
Sebastian being very pensive near the sea.

Clarita :)
The clan
Not kidding. THAT is how clear the water is.

We hiked up to a hidden crag facing the sea and had a French picnic. Angelique and I believe that every adventure should be beer-in-hand :)
Sebastian played some beautiful picnic music for us.
It is hard to tell how high up we were. Just know that right past where Clarita was sitting, it goes straight down. We sat on this flat enviro-porch, napped in the sun, and soaked in the sea air.

The most beautiful day.
You can't tell from this picture, but I was following fish with my camera.
It was cold but glorious. I did not realize how stressed and crazed I was before I left for this trip (much less for the past 4 years). It was in Provence that I was able to start taking full deep breaths and quiet my mind.
STILL can't believe how clear it was. I will keep repeating throughout the remainder of my trip "My Mom would love this! She would swim in this because she can see all the way down." Mom has a complex about oceans brought on by Monstro the whale in Pinocchio.
DAMMMMM! That's big! The next day, Laurent took me on a beautiful hike where Cezanne used to paint. Judging from the following pictures, you'll see why.

Very old castle with vineyard in the "backyard" surrounded by zero neighbors. Yeah, I could live there. If I had to :)
We hiked off-trail to pick fresh rosemary and thyme that runs rampant in these parts!! Crazy. I still can't believe how amazing this was.
We cooked a fabulous dinner that night for our CS (couch surfing) friends with our fresh-picked herbs. We were staying in an old stone house outside of Provence where Laurent was house sitting. The picture above is to show how gigantic this bell pepper was. Produce there is out of this world!
The magical stone house in the morning. I walked around, fed the chickens our left over bread, and slowly looked up and saw....
THIS!!! A Texas flag whipping in the wind! I felt immediately at home, even more so than I did before if you can imagine. What are the chances that out in the middle of nowhere, in France, next to the house where I am staying...there is a Texas flag. I met the neighbor and he told me that once a month he and his friends get together, sit in tee pees, talk Texas stuff, and bring their antique guns. LOVE IT! Even when I am away, I am home.
The inside of the house. The woman that lives here is a very spiritual massage therapist. She has strategically placed treasures all over the house. She has Christian figurines, Buddhist paintings, Islamic scripture, and more...a little bit of everything that is sacred and holy. I loved it. It felt like all the world religions could coexist here peacefully and productively.
A view upstairs.

Fresh rosemary in her garden.
Sorry for the sunburned close-up...I was not made for the silver screen. But I love the brand of this spice. It's cheesy but true, La Vie Claire is in full force and gathering rich spice from all over Europe!

We sat outside in the sun each morning. The peaceful sounds of the branches above us were sometimes interrupted with one of us singing a song lyric, making a stupid joke, or revealing a new realization about life's mysteries and paradoxes. You know, usual French vacation stuff. I have deemed Laurent my "French Yoda"...if you ever need to go soul searching in France, I recommend a few days with him. He is so introspective. He takes the time to observe everything around him. At first it is intimidating to meet someone so at peace with himself. It made me feel so vapid and superficial at first. Then we watched the movie Up together, laughed a lot, and listened to the soundtrack. Becoming enlightened seems to be letting your mind be free and silly sometimes. I learned so much from him. Thanks, Yoda Laurent! Post-Provence Claire is a much more balanced hobo.
I boarded a bus to NICE! One of the first things I saw were these plaques on a building. There is a great reason why all of these amazing artists flocked here. Its awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, and freeing!

Funny cartoon statue of Sarkozy. The French people are not fans. Similar to how some people feel about Bush Jr.
I walked up the "Lombard Street" of Nice in the heat of the day with my back-a-ma-sack getting heavier by the second, and just when I was about to give up and roll down hill...I found my hostel oasis!
View from my dorm room. Breathtaking! This hostel is amazing. It's embedded in a beautiful exotique garden (jardin), with amazing seasonal hobo staff. Almost every employee is a traveler from another country working different seasons in several hostels. What a life adventure! How come they don't teach you this in high school?? "Don't know what you want to major in at college? Don't waste your parents money! Go travel! Figure out who you are, what you are good at, and what fascinates you! Then come back and spend the Department of Education's funds wisely!"
The receptionist at the front desk of my hostel planned my entire day for me, for free. I would take the bus to Eze Village and eat lunch, get back on the bus and head to Monaco, then round down to Ville Franche-sur-Mer. Sounds like a nice little Thursday to me!

Before I boarded the bus, I walked around Nice a bit...seen below and above.

It was the most beautiful morning in Nice, but as the bus climbed up the road to the top of the hills. Fog and cold set in. Good news = less tourists, bad news = no panoramic views. For the following pictures, please imagine the Mediterranean coast behind the fog...because it's there. The fog does make for some cool photos. Grumpy hobo.
I thought about my pregnant "Wifey" Tess as I looked at this statue. I am promised to baste her growing belly this summer in the sweltering Austin heat. Maybe I will just bring her to Nice?
Look beyond the fog, my hobo-ians.
The jardin exotique was gorgeous. I can only imagine what it would look like sans fog, sans freeze warming blankets...don't worry, they still charged me 4 euros ($5.33). Robbers, all of them.
View of the village. This is what I was supposed to see
and this...

Not only is graffiti universal in every freakin' country...but when they don't have walls....they use aloe plants. OBviously?!?!
Worth 4 euros: Down one of the paths, you find this small stone terrace (P.S. everything is stone in the Mediterranean) with wooden lounge chairs. Is our hobo hero still upset about the fog?? NO! Making the best of situations and finding the beauty in every-damn-thing is what hobos do BEST!
Thick fog may never clear up, but put on a happy face! You are in France so cheer up, put on a happy face! AAAaaaand spread sunshine, alll over France. And put on your happy paaaants!! (The fact that France rhymes with pants really makes my daily song creations easier.)
Below are the German friends I made. Not knowing if they spoke English, I signed the international sign for "Want me to take your picture?" I smiled and waved good bye with my best "Auf widersehen!" and they shrilled with glee. They rushed over to me and started speaking English in my favorite German accent. They are a mother-daughter travel team from Hanover and Berlin. Since they no longer live in the same city, they take trips together twice a year. We talked about Germany, France, and other places they have visited. Above is a picture of this fabulous family duo making the most of the day and their time together!
It is truly a beautiful medieval city with stone passageways and hobbit-esque cut out shops and old apartments. It is a must-see if you are in southern France.

I had some time before my bus to Monaco, so I pulled up some terrace at a nearby restaurant and people watched with pinot-in-hand. I had a lovely time getting to know my older waiter, Pierre (of course), while discussing traveling. I truly cherish all of the wonderful cameos of characters that I have encountered on my trip. We swap stories, share anecdotes - it's fine fun. Unless, it was this particular situation in Eze where at the end of the chat the older man asks if you would like to stay at his house that night. That is when spirited hobos give sleazebags a piece of their American mind. My southern grandparents raised me better than to put up with that filth. No merci and no tip, ass!
Bus to Monaco! C'est paradis! I found a fellow hobo from South Carolina named Eileen. She and I banded together to conquer the teeniest, most expensive nation...or at least that I have visited.
Monte Carlo. Extravagant, beautiful, and 10 euros just to WATCH people gamble. We swiftly moved on to the palace.
The only photo we were "allowed" to take of the casino.
Casino Monte Carlo
Why do the Royals always live up hills? At least Buckingham palace was on a flat street.
Super giant expensive yachts
Sans fog
If those yachts are that big this far away, they must be spaceships. By the way, I add all of these links to wikipedia for my Dad and brother. It makes it easier for them to read my blogs. We are very alike in the sense that when someone tells about something new that we know nothing about....we wikipedia it to death for future reference in conversations and trivia competitions. Strange, strange family we are.
Teenage guard, it seems. Someone get this kid a lolly and some longer pants.
Where the Monacan royals live. P.S. Does anyone know what they are called? Monegasque? Monaco-ans? Monacans? Monoco-ians? People of the place we call Monaco?
Beautiful picture-esque streets. I really wish I would've purchased the leather Montecarlo racing one-sies for my nephews Harrison and Logan...but unfortunately, it was not in the hobo budget. Really, nothing in Montecarlo is in the hobo budget. Instead, I will make them racing one-sies out of household materials when I visit them soon! Get ready, Kristin! Please save all recyclable material and any velcro you might have :)

This is the cathedral where Princess Grace Kelly was married. FAB!

Good lighting. Two enthusiastic thumbs up, Monaco.

Stone. Everything.
There she is!
Front of said cathedral.
Monegasque Aquarium! I wanted to go in, but I assume it is similar to a lot of aquariums, and yet again...NOT in the hobo budget.
A real live teeny submarine that was used for ocean floor exploration! I WANNA GOOOO!!
Gray but glorious. If I am in cloudy conditions, I am in cloudy conditions in the most beautiful, exotic, second-smallest country on the planet!! Pretty neato, folks.

GIGANTIC! I thought it was monstrous until I saw someone step out of one of the doors...he looked like an ANT! Eileen and I were tempted to go down there, flirt with some crew members and get a tour of the inside. Alas, our Monacan dogs were tired and it was beer-thirty.
I now know why I see foreigners taking pictures of seemingly uninteresting sights in the US. Things are funnier and more interesting in other languages. Especially when they include cartoon depictions of said signs. I apologize to any Asian tourist I have ever made fun of. I am no better.

This is a video of the day on the Mediterranean with my CS friends in Provence. Just to help you feel like you were standing on the rocks with me. I carry you all with me everywhere I go!

Well, I am actually finishing this blog in New York. I will not apologize for the delay because as most of you instructed me, fun before blogging. And that I DID! Coming up next, most likely written from Lubbock, TX will be Italy and my beloved Turkey. Thanks for sticking with me and sending sunshine and light my way! As always, hope you are planning an adventure for yourself whether it's near or far from your home!

Much hobo love,

Clairebo Baggins, the Euro Hobo