Real Life On Hold - these are the adventures of California native Travis Emmel, as he takes time off from the rat race to travel and see the world.

Journal Entries

Man in the Window

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What the guy in the seat in front of me has up his nose, I'm not sure, but it must be something really good. Over the course of the last 35 minutes, he's been hard at work digging around both nostrils. Thumb, index finger, middle finger, pinky, they're all getting a thorough workout. My repeated efforts to look out the window of the bus on the green carpeted hills, dotted with miniature sheep-shaped cotton balls are rewarded with the overlayed reflection of the nasal miner as I make my way back to London after a full day of sight-seeing. Today, I've taken in Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and the Roman Baths.

The imagination takes quite a toll on days such as this, trying to imagine what life was like back when these monuments were created. How did all these people live? What did they value? How were these buildings created given their current technology? And, in the case of Stonehenge, why were they created? It makes me wonder what people 2000 years from now are going to think of our world. I fire up my iPod, clear my head and try to look past the man in the window.

How To Make 10lbs Disappear

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Seems that I'm carrying a few extra pounds around with me since I got to Europe or so was the case when I arrived at the airport in Rome and found my pack to be 4 kgs. (~10lbs) over Ryanair's imposed 15 kg. weight limit for checked baggage.  4 kilos is a lot of weight to drop, esp. when there is an equally restrictive 5 kg weight limit on carry-on baggage.  It took some effort, but here's how I made weight:

First thing was to move all of my books, umbrella, remaining Clif Bars and electronics to my messenger bag.  This left me with about 2kg to lose from my main pack but had the unfortunate consequence of putting my handbag .4kg over the limit.  Next, I threw out all of the miscellaneous brochures, city maps and train timetables that I happened to be carrying around with me.  Even though it was 85 degrees out, I grabbed my jacket with the intention of carrying it somewhere on my person.  Another reweigh and I found I still had about 1.5 kilos to lose.

Time to get creative.  I went to the bathroom, where I swapped the shorts I was wearing for my jeans.  On a side note, in the clothing race to disintegration, my jeans have outlasted my shorts whose zipper broke the night before departing Rome, providing me with quite a breezy walk to the train station.  Next up, I dumped out half the bottle of Febreeze I was carrying.  Looking around for something else, I remembered that the deodorant that I'd picked up a few days previous was extremely heavy...gone.  Now, some of you may think this move was olfactory suicide, but I had replacement deodorant coming from the States, courtesy of Sabina, so I only had to survive 12 hours of unprotected Eurofunk.  Last but not least, I put my camera in my pocket and headed back to the scale.  14.9 kg flashed up in red and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Just Don't Take Me To Starbucks

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What is the one food that everyone else really enjoys but you can't seem to get into? For me, it's coffee; my entire life, I have consumed but two cups. The first was about 14 years ago on a particularly hard to rise school day and, desperately seeking any sort of pick-me-up, I swigged some cold, leftover coffee that was in the fridge - not the world's most enjoyable cup of Joe. The second, came last night after a particularly satisfying Italian meal in Rome. Our meal prerequisite for the night was to come as close to a traditional Italian meal as possible; i.e. antipasti, primo, secondo, contorno, dessert, a digestif and of course, no Italian meal would be complete without wine and coffee. Here is what we ended up having:

Caprese salad
Beef carpaccio
Proscuitto e formagio

Rigatoni alla carbonara

Steak fillet with balsamic reduction, greens and parm. cheese (sorry, forgot the Italian words)


Grappa (the girls had limoncello)

After all that, how could one not finish with a coffee? And, if you know me, you know I have a tendency to overdo certain things, so I ordered up an espresso*. The verdict? Not half bad, actually. My first response was that it tasted a lot like chocolate covered espresso beans (duh), was quite palatable and I would not be opposed to ordering another one down the road (the thought of ordering another one at dinner crossed my mind, but so did the notion of sleeping sometime in the next 72 hours). Now, if I could just get into olives and mushrooms...

* - Evidently, an espresso is the de facto cup of coffee here

European Water Torture

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oh Europe, why must you torment me with your 'agua con gas', 'wasser mit gas' and so very incorrectly labeled 'natural mineral water'?  Are you totally unaware that drinking sparkling water tastes akin to licking a rock?  You certainly got the last laugh when I thought I could shake all of the carbonation out of that bottle of 'l'eau toujours' and was unpleasantly surprised to find that at the end of my efforts it still tasted like crap.  But, perhaps the cruelest trick of all came with that deceptively labeled bottle of very lightly carbonated water that would have been more aptly named crappy water lite.  Of course, there is plenty of still water over here - it's all falling from the sky everywhere we go.  I haven't caught a lot of the news lately, did Noah announce that he's got another ark in the works?
Let's cut a deal, Europe - I'll turn an anosmic nostril on the whole EuroFunk thing and you provide me a bottle of potable water.

Hell on Wheels

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Droplets of perspiration birth themselves onto my upper lip as our railbound sauna becomes increasingly heated and sticky en route to Berlin. My discomfort levels keep pace with the ever rising temperature and I decide that if I am to survive the next five hours, I have to change into something cooler. I grab a pair of shorts from my pack and begin to make my way to the bathroom at the end of the train car. Halfway to my destination, I am assaulted by a wall of BO simultaneously making its way to the other end; I stop breathing and walk with increased urgency.

A weary mother stands adjacent to the occupied bathroom, her son clinging tightly to her calf as she rocks a carriage complete with a heavily soiled diaper and baby, or so it would smell. Given the horrid olfactory conditions, an eternity seemingly passes before the bathroom door swings open and what must be the unfortunate father and tantrum-throwing fifth family member tumble out. Not wanting to subject my ears to the same ill-fate as my nose, I replace the WC's previous contents as quickly as I can.

Once inside, I am most displeased to discover the odors are equally putrid and the temperature is a good 10 degrees warmer. My motivation level reaches an all-time high. The limited space makes shoe removal an awkward affair, but I am hellbent on preventing any contact between my socks and the heavily soiled floor. Precariously balanced on top of my shoes, I remove my jeans. Ping A coin falls from somewhere within my jeans and somehow lands on the miniature counter. Plink-Plank Two more coins make their escape, ricochet off half the surfaces in the tiny room and come to rest in the puddle of tepid water at my feet.

"Dammit!" muttering various obscenities, I grab a paper towel and start to descend to rescue my drowning Euros; the train lurches and I confirm the solidity of the door handle with my forehead on the way down. The obscenities begin to escalate.

My germ-fearing neuroses won't allow me to merely return the change to my pocket, so instead I stand in my boxers and socks with sweat pouring off my brow, wiping each of the coins off. Someone decides to ignore the bathroom's status sign and rattles the door. "Occupied!" I growl back, pulling my shorts to my waist. I finish getting situated and exit back into the slightly more appealing train car. I have gained no immunity to the funk beset before me and instinctively hold my breath for the trip back to my seat. Kurt takes note of my approach, "what the hell took you so long? and why are you all wet?"

Additional Reading

Monday, July 16, 2007

If anyone is interested in getting an additional perspective (or two) on my current travels, you can read up on Kurt or Danette's blog:

Kurt's Blog

Danette's Blog

Also, if you'd like a postcard from overseas, drop me an email with your address. No promises, but I'll do my best to send one out to you. Incidentally, I've been carrying about 6 completely filled out cards but haven't found a post office in 3 countries, so if you're already expecting a card from me, it will be on its way soon!

Endangered Species

Friday, July 13, 2007

Across time, various mythical creatures have captured our attention: unicorns, centaurs, honest politicians and, of course, the knork. Yes, throughout the ages, many heated cafeteria debates have raged on over the spork's stunted lineage. Why is it that only the spoon and fork have been able to produce offspring? Are the spife and knork the jackasses of the utensil kingdom? Well, my friends, I'm happy to report that there is a colony of knork's that are alive and well in Brussels.

In the search to fulfill the sampling of Belgium's worldly contributions (beer had been consumed at dinner, leaving chocolate and waffles), I purposefully walked the streets, anticipating the completion of this culinary trifecta. The god of gastronomy must be a benevolent one because it was mere minutes before I found myself in a waffleria; a waffleria selling Belgian waffles covered in Belgian chocolate and, presumably, non-Belgian bananas - victory on all accounts!

To aid in the consumption of this delight of cocoa, fruit and batter, I couldn't help but wish I'd been supplied with a knife to accompany my lone fork. It was then that I looked down and noticed the serrated edge lining one of the outer tongs of my fork and I knew that Belgium now possessed not 3, but 4 worldly successes.

El Encierro

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I was told that the sound and thunderous vibration of the rapidly approaching hooves against the cobblestone street would reach me before seeing a glimpse of horn or the dark, looming hide of one of the massive beasts. My head floats amongst a hundreds of others on a sea of shoulders that has completely filled two city blocks. The biting chill of the early morning air is unable to reach the rest of my body which lies beneath the undulating surface. A man five feet away is so intoxicated that he falls limp and begins to sink below the surface; he is pulled out to safety by a passing policeman. The smell of stale sweat, cigarette smoke and revelry from the night previous intermix and fill my nostrils.

A shot rings out and a wave of human form surges forward; the natural stimulant from my adrenal glands leaks into my veins where it displaces the artificial one of Redbull and my heart continues its increased rhythm. The run begins slowly as people spill out and disperse through the old Spanish streets. An elbow finds its way to my right kidney and I am propelled into the mass of red and white that begins to part in front of me. There is no time to experience fear, only the excitement of the moment as survival instincts kick in and all of my senses are heightened.

Everyone hones in on the sense of panic and urgency that fills the air as the impending threat of the six-pack of bulls behind us has now reached our heels and sight and sound finally collide. Thunkity-thunk-thunkity-thunk A full sprint breaks out and I hole up in a doorway to allow the commotion of humans and animals to pass. A man trips and slides face first into the curb at my feet; he brings down a pair of adjacent runners whose focus had been directed solely towards the bulls.

I am now in the eye of the storm. The bulls have passed, but an impending set of Heifers with horns just as sharp and menacing stampedes through the streets of Pamplona, not far behind. I seize my moment and jump from the safe confines of the doorway and reenter the chaotic rush up the street towards the waiting bullring.

A short time after I enter the ring, a final report goes off to signal that all of the bulls and Heifers have reached the ring and have been safely herded into their respective pens. The doors are closed, locking us into the center of the ring and the final stage of the event's madness is upon us. A lone bull is released into the ring with us and for the next ten minutes, everyone ebbs and flows as a single mass in an effort to avoid its charge and entertain the crowd above. And then, as quickly as it all began, the Running of the Bulls has ended. Amidst the chaos, I find Kurt, who also wears a big, dirty grin upon his face, and we shake hands; we have survived.

While I didn't feel extremely endangered during the event, in retrospect it could have been a lot worse. However, having done the Run, I feel comfortable saying that the majority of the people that get injured while partaking (just like anything else in life) are probably A) heavily under the influence of something or B) doing something really stupid to a large animal that has no regard for their wellbeing or C) both.

Europe Sure is Drafty

Sunday, July 08, 2007

In other news, I´m about to tear the ass out of my jeans.  Overall, my clothing choices for this trip have worked out pretty well with a couple minor exceptions.  I brought four t-shirts with me, expecting to wear each one twice between laundry days; having not accounted for EuroFunk, that plan was thoroughly destroyed and I have since had to buy an extra couple of shirts.

Deciding between Tivas and traditional flip-flops, I opted to go with the former, my reasoning being that they would be a little better for extended walks and traversing uneven terrain.  All was well and good until their third outting when the footbed and straps completely separated from the outsole.  Those are now on permanent vacation in a Spanish landfill.

Convertible pants?  Great idea.  Convertible pants that don´t breathe?  Bad idea.  I have a pair of bad idea pants.

And, then there are my jeans.  Before leaving, I noted that the area in front of the pocket on the right thigh was starting to look a little worn and a small hole was starting to form.  No problem, I´m sure these babies have at least a couple more months in them and in the meantime, the worn look will fit in with the current fashion trends.  I hope the current fashion trends account for the gratuitous exposure of my underwear, because I failed to notice that the backside of my jeans has become completely threadbare and any extra tension is going to rip the whole thing wide open.  I am now very careful when ascending large stairs and doing my morning calisthenics; additionally, everyone in the group has been put on indecency watch.

Quatre Bouteilles de Vin et d'un Seau D'Escargots, Si Vous Plais

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Why is France the only country I'm apprehensive about landing in?  It isn't as though I speak German or Italian, yet the thought of negotiating those places does not have the negative knee-jerk reaction that I'm feeling right now as our train pulls into Paris.  As Americans, we're conditioned to believe that the French are a rude people, entirely unwilling to help, let alone communicate with us.  Is it that we have some weird inferiority complex towards the French?  It seems odd to me that we have to keep telling ourselves how much France needs us and how we've bailed them out on more than one occasion; but, when they don't cooporate with our wishes, we become childish and resort to ridiculous sandbox-level behavior (see: Freedom Fries).  The common reasoning is that it is because they dislike Americans, but who doesn't right now?  Everywhere I've been, the people have been very helpful and accepting and I hope that continues to be the case in during my stay here; I feel like a lot of that hospitality comes from making an effort to speak the local language and not be a self-righteous American like the story some of my hostelmates told me about the guy from Texas who chewed out the supermarket clerk for not offering him a bag in English.  I will continue trying to do my part to show respect to the locals and hope that they do the same for me.  And, if I end up accidentally ordering four bottles of wine and a bucket of snails for dinner and nobody corrects me, so be it.

Euro Funk says, "I'm at GUINNESS STOREHOUSE. Wish you were here..."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Kegs of GUINNESS(R) beer, a sprinkling of magic and a Gravity Bar with a 360? view of Dublin - your friend has seen it all here at the home of GUINNESS(R). They've experienced the unexpected and got to the heart of a world-famous beer.

And being such a caring, sharing person, they wanted to let you see what a fantastic time they're having. Just click on the link below and you'll be able to see a photo of your fun-loving friend!

Life In The Hostel

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wow, if London has a ghetto, this must surely be it, I thought to myself as I disembarked from the underground car and started heading towards the hostel in New Cross where I would soon meet up with Kurt, Danette and Nancy.  As I walked, averting eyecontact, I found plenty of reading material spray painted all around me and the air was filled with the constant wailing of nearby sirens.  Given the circumstances, however, I did not feel in any way threatened, as if even the crime in London were proper.  Soon, I rendezvoused with my fellow weary travelers and we made our way up to the room, which turned out to be a 12 bed dormroom.  When we entered, I noted that about a third of the beds currently had occupants and that the room offered no isolation from the noise outside and the table in the room was covered by a vast array of powertools.    Here aresome of the highlights of the next 24 hours:

Sometime in the afternoon, the four of us returned to the room to take a nap.  I was rudely awoken about 2 hours later by a German girl in the bunk next to mine who thought it would be perfectly acceptable to take a phone call at full volume while 7 other people around her tried to sleep.

Grungy guy, obviously living at the hostel, who sat down on Nancy's bed in his underwear to put on some clothes.

Some jerk who came into the room at 1:00AM, turned on the light and then left the room for the next 30 minutes with the light on.

Beds that were so noisy, anytime someone breathed funny a symphony of squeaking immediately followed.

The most disgusting (and hence, shortest) shower of my life.  In addition to the nasty environment, the water was regulated by one of those push valves that stayed on for all of 5 seconds washing my back was an exercise in futility as the water would shutoff right about the time I would turn around.

Good times...

Copyright 2007, Travis Emmel