I’m at the end of my travels. I only just arrived in Budapest for the last three days of my journey through Europe, but you always know when a trip is over, last day or not. How? Some of you are thinking: “you know it’s over when you’re ready to go home.” Others are waiting for me to say: “you know it’s over when your skin and the whites of your eyes are turning yellow from jaundice because you’ve been drinking too much.” Still, some of you out there are thinking: “it’s over when you’ve completed your traveling goals, be it lessons learned or wisdom gained. No! It’s over when your goddamn bank account has nothing in it anymore! That is when it’s over. Therefore, as I mentioned, I am nearing the end of my trip.
This, I guess, is the part where I pass on unsolicited wisdom. It’s not because I think I have become one with the world through my five weeks of mobile seclusion; not because I think this will enrich your life—it’s because, as I said, I have very little money, and it’s free to camp out in my hostel and entertain myself writing on this godforsaken blog of mine. So here it comes.
Over the past four or five weeks, I have traveled through six different countries in the UK and Europe. I have spent time sightseeing alone, meeting people along the way, and trying many different beers and regional dishes. I walked a lot. Not just a lot—like…Old Testament a lot—enough to wear out a pair of Toms to the nubbins and imbue them with the smell of rotting feet enough that washing them or whatever wouldn’t even be worth it. I kept one for posterity, but the other fell out of my bag somewhere along the way. And now that it’s all flip flops all the time, the front halves of my feet are like an American ass on a Brazilian vacation: tanned from pasty white to bronze with a thong line. And in the foot of life…no…don’t worry.
So, anyway, back to didacticism: during my sojourning, I’ve gotten stuck with a couple takeaways I’m not a fan of. One is that people are an important variable in experience, and the other is that America ain’t so bad after all. For most of you, these might be ideas you’ve accepted a while now or never even rejected at all. Some people appreciate both other people and the United States on purpose. For me, though—a self proclaimed misanthrope and hopeful future ex-pat, these epiphanies come as quite a shock to the system.
First, the people. This is sort of in two major categories: a) people are actually quite entertaining (easy to grasp) and b) if a tree falls and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound? (I’ll explain in a bit). So first, quite a bit of my trip has involved me running out of patience for my own stupid mind. It gets old, walking around touristy places thinking about such inappropriately timed ideas as “does any of this really exist?” or “is Europe magical, in fact, because failing to understand foreign languages protects me from passing derisive judgment on overheard conversations?”
Sometimes, it would really pay to walk around with a friend who could distract you by making a lewd comment about the abundant number of sausages sold in Eastern Europe or forcing you to take his or her picture with one of those creepy guys painted completely gold/silver. Therefore, I conclude that over a month of exile has caused me to go soft and has permanently damaged my misanthropy, forever dooming me to a fate of appreciating the people in my life. Mom, you’re welcome.
So now for the more wonky, metaphorical tree explanation. It may seem odd, but I feel like a lot of the activities I did didn’t actually occur, because I did them alone. Have you ever been dragged out to do something kind of pointless on a family vacation? Can’t think of one? Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon with family or friends? Have you ever been there alone?
If you go with family, you feel like you must appreciate the great abyss that is the Grand Canyon/gaping hole in the ground. Never have you been so pressured to appreciate a lack of something (here, land). However, you feel you must like it (sort of like in The Emperor’s New Clothes, when everyone pretends they can see his beautiful new robes, but the Emperor is actually naked). So you take a picture with your family, and you make it your fucking Christmas card, so all the other (Insert Your Town’s Name Here) families can say: “Wow! The (Insert Last Name Here)s went to the Grand Canyon! What a great picture!
So, yeah. I had a couple experiences that may as well have not happened because I was there on my own. In Brussels, I went to the famed statue of the Pissing Boy. That, I kind of don’t mind, because I stumbled upon it and didn’t go out of my way, but it would have been a waste, otherwise. It was very small, and I think the only right way to do it would be to go with a friend late at night and take rudely posed pictures with it. In Munich, I went to the Chinese Tower at the English Gardens by myself, which was pretty weird. It was just another beer garden, and there was this Chinese tower randomly in the middle of it…no real point there…In Copenhagen, I went to the Museum of Copenhagen and took funny pictures of all the captions of the pieces on display…I did sort of entertain myself, but I could think of a few people I would have wanted there to have a near-peeing experience.
Enough of this, though. Bottom line, travel three weeks alone at most, and if you want to travel with someone, take a friend who a) doesn’t suck b) isn’t related to you unless you fill out extensive paperwork beforehand citing acceptable behavior in case of disputes c) will more often than not almost make you piss yourself out of laughter d) is not the kind of person who will wander off or make you babysit them during a night out, and, most importantly, e) IS the kind of person who will find you and babysit you during an ill-fated night out. You will appreciate the travel buddy for more purposes than just holding your hair after too much palinka and helping you find the cheapest Kinder Eggs and Happy Hippos in town.
So now for this whole patriotism thing. It’s not that I miss the USA. It’s not. It’s just that I miss drinking in the USA and also having my groceries bagged. For starters, we know how to make a drink (depending on where you are, of course), and because of our short man complex, we tend to brew a danker beer. Secondly but no less importantly, we bag our damn groceries for the customer! Right now, these are the two redeeming US qualities I miss the most.
At the bar: in much of Europe, you go into a mediocre bar and order a gin and tonic and find yourself with a shot of gin in a glass, maybe with a lemon slice of sketchy provenance and a small bottle of barely cold tonic on the side. In the USA: you go to a mediocre bar and order a gin and tonic, and you get gin and tonic water on ice with a damn lime wedge, so help you god. I’m not kidding. Ice is a question around here, and it’s about a hundred degrees out. I got out of the shower today and immediately started sweating; I do not want to have to ask for ice in my damn cocktail. As for beer, the beer in Europe has been pretty great. Cask ale in London, strong ales in Belgium, Munich Helles and Dunkel, various indie-brand Danish offerings, Czech Pils—it’s all good. But the only thing that’s come close to the microbrews I miss from home has been those cool, indie, Danish beers.
It’s not fair, really, because a lot of the Euro styles are appreciable for their traditional roots. And we learn a lot about brewing from European base styles. But…I miss the feeling of hop resin on my teeth…I miss the lifting of a day’s stress you enjoy when you finish a 12-oz American Double IPA…I miss getting some convivial spirit out of a couple beers before getting full of carbs and carbonation. It’s the hardcoreness of it all…the USA takes the cake in the hardcoreness.
And then the grocery bags. I keep forgetting that not bringing a bag to the local supermarket in Europe means I’ll be walking down Googlymooglystrasse dropping loaves of bread, bottles of conditioner, Happy Hippos, and tampons all over the place. It’s a shame, really. Aside from “would you like another beer?” the only words I want to hear right now are “paper or plastic?”