Musings 3

“A beer” should be considered 12oz or more. Anything less is only “some beer.”

Don’t take the things you see everyday for granted. Even surrounded by natural beauty, many people of Iceland wish they only had trees.

If you say “hi” to someone you pass on the street, 95% of the time, they’ll reciprocate, and you’ll both walk away feeling just a little bit better. Forget that other 5% of people.

Only eat half of that space cake. Really.

If you don’t jump (off of a cliff in Greece, out of a plane in Switzerland, or a metaphor of your choosing), you’ll always wish you had.

No, the waiters in Greece don’t hate you. There’s just absolutely no rush whatsoever for them to serve you.

You make the most genuine friendships when you’re 100% vulnerable and honest about your insecurities, desires, and dreams.

We’re wired to crave and be chemically rewarded by human interaction, even in it’s smallest form. Then, we put on headphones, stare at our phones, and ignore humans.

The river that shares your last name (and you assume could only be described as “mighty”) may be more of a creek.

There’s a difference between “vacation” and “traveling.” One is a lot more work, a lot more stress, and a lot more rewarding than the other.

If you’re a single guy in search of a relationship with a woman who could be described as “beautiful” and “friendly,” move to Copenhagen immediately. Those are your best odds.

The reason you are where you are right now is because you choose to be, whether actively or passively.

Why don’t we let cashiers sit in the U.S.? That’s just cruel.

After everyone I met and all of the memories I made over 98 days of travel, what sticks with me most is the desire to be more like the everyday people I met who inspired me with their positivity, friendliness, and genuine desire to help other people.

Your musings will become a whole hell of a lot more pretentious after taking the cliche (but still romantic) 3-month backpacking trip through Europe. Oops.

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On Iceland

The final destination on my 14 week journey was Iceland, which I wanted to explore due to it’s spectacular landscape and geography. Luckily, Icelandair has a spectacular deal called the stopover, which essentially gives you a free flight to and from Iceland if you’re traveling between Europe and North America.  That said – don’t visit Iceland if you’re traveling on a budget. You’ll quickly find yourself sleeping in a Volkswagen Golf and eating pre-cooked pasta and rice for every meal.

My plan for Iceland was to rent a car and drive around Route 1, known as Ring Road, which encircles the Island, stopping at as many sights as I could. I had 4 full days to complete this trip and get back to Reykjavik, where I’d fly home to Chicago on Wednesday after 98 days of travel. When I picked up the rental car Saturday morning, the agent told me it was “crazy” to try to go so far in such a short amount of time. Well, this wasn’t the first time I’d been called crazy and I certainly hope it’s not the last.

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Route 1, AKA “Ring Road”

As I took off to find the the treasures that Iceland had in store for me, I had a massive realization. Not only was this the first time in 3.5 months that I was driving a car – it was the first time in 3.5 months that I was alone, in an environment that I controlled, without the possibility of someone else entering at any moment. As someone who lives alone in LA, it was quite an adaptation to live the hostel life, sharing bedrooms with 3-21 people each night, and never having any expectation of privacy. I had become much more extroverted and comfortable around strangers by this point, but I had to celebrate the return to solitude in the most appropriate way: windows down, blasting country music and singing along.

The scenery of Iceland feels otherworldly at times, such as this drive surrounded by geothermal vents and foot-thick moss covering a lava field.

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The most common sights in Iceland (besides sheep), are waterfalls. As spectacular as these are, a few locals said they’d gladly trade them for some trees.

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Skogafoss
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Skaftafell National Park

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Gullfoss

My favorite part of Iceland was the interactive part – geothermal pools called “hot pots” that people bathe in. These range from completely unregulated, free to use, natural holes in the ground, to resort spa-level amenities (and pricing). Seljavallalaug was the real highlight for me, a free hot spring pool built just a 10-minute walk into a small valley. I visited during the sunset and was rewarded generously with a beautiful view and a new friend, who stopped in Iceland before volunteering as a nurse on a Mercy Ship off of Africa for 3 months. It became clear why she initiated conversation with me after I learned of the name of her blog… www.beardedvision.com

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Seljavallalaug during sunset

The next three days were filled with adventure and lots of driving (I’d put on over 1,500 miles in 4 days). There were icebergs floating to sea, steep mountain climbs on gravel roads through thick fog, more hot pots, a German hitchhiker, a flat tire in the Westfjords, beautiful sunsets, and very few people.

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On my second to last night, I pulled over on the side of the road to sleep for the night and was treated to a meteor shower surrounded by thousands of pulsating stars. As I laid there – in the middle of nowhere, Iceland, watching the a meteor shower in the back of a rental car after 96 days of travel, I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotion. Sometimes we feel stuck or stranded in life – but at any moment, you have the power to make a decision that completely changes your situation. I don’t know if I ever thought I’d be where I was that night (along with many other places along this journey), but being open to new experiences and unafraid of the many things to be afraid of brought me there. At first I thought it was a shame that cameras (ok, my iPhone camera) couldn’t capture the beauty of being in that moment, because I wanted to share it with everyone. Now, I’m glad that’s the case. That moment was more than just something to see – it was something to experience – and I believe that is something one must earn.

On Amsterdam

Unlike many of the places I visited, I thought I knew what to expect in Amsterdam. In fact, my expectation (probably similar to yours, if you’ve never been) was close, but omitted a few factors. Yes, the Red Light District is peculiar and very overwhelming – walking through a narrow alley of one-room stalls with women behind the glass doors of each one trying to get your attention is not something that I was exactly comfortable with. Yes, there are plenty of Coffee Shops full of marijuana for sale (not as strange to us as it once was, thanks CO and WA!) and smoke exhaled from the many comfortable customers. Yes, the canals lined by trees and crooked buildings are beautiful.

I found a personal highlight in visiting the Anne Frank House. Growing up knowing the story, I had a particular idea about the famed attic and the conditions the families lived in. Perhaps because the conception of this idea was during an otherwise happy childhood, it was overly optimistic. Walking past the swinging bookcase and into the tiny, dark rooms was a somber moment when I questioned my own mental toughness. I’m not sure I could survive in such a space for so long, without knowing if it would ever end. The most heartbreaking moment of the tour was a video that featured Anne’s father years later, in which he essentially said that he had no idea that his daughter was capable of all of these complex thoughts. He followed this up with “I don’t think many parents truly know their children.” 

What I didn’t expect in Amsterdam was the massive population of tourists. On certain busy streets lined with fast food, shopping, and fanny-packed people, I felt like a visitor at an amusement park around consumerism. Unfortunately, the weather was disagreeable for most of my visit to Amsterdam, although I roughed it through some light-rain to take a bicycle tour of the city. There are certainly some worthwhile facets of a visit to Amsterdam, but for the most part, it seems that many people visit soley for its debaucherous reputation.

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Anne’s Bookcase-door

On Copenhagen

I fell in love in Copenhagen. More precisely, I fell in love with Copenhagen. All along my journey, people had asked me what my favorite city I’d visited was. Until this point, I didn’t have have a definitive answer: I loved the calm atmosphere of San Sebastian; Interlacken Switzerland was full of natural beauty and activity; and the western coast of Italy is simply breathtaking. Shortly after arriving in the charming capital of Denmark, I knew I had a new answer to this common question.

Before visiting, I had heard of Copenhagen mostly through different international city rankings, in which it regularly ranked near the top – quality of life, happiness, etc. As a sun-lover, I wondered what the secret this Nordic city with short winter days and an excess of overcast skies was hiding that made it’s residents so happy. It soon became clear that it was the people themselves that make this town so special. I was simply overwhelmed with how genuine, kind, and helpful everyone I met was.

I’d regularly get into lengthy conversations with cashiers, waitresses, and bartenders who had smiles on their faces and cheerful dispositions. It doesn’t hurt one bit that Danish people are generally beautiful. After only a day in the city, I found myself noticeably more chipper and friendly. It became clear to me that the attitude of any place is crafted by the attitudes of it’s residents; you have the power to influence how friendly those around you are by how friendly you choose to be to them.

Copenhagen’s visible beauty lies in the colorful buildings, blue canals, and plethora of bikers traversing the city streets. It has a distinct and pleasant small town vibe despite it’s considerable size, thanks once again to it’s considerate and friendly residents. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend visiting Copenhagen and surrendering yourself to it in order to let it change you, if only just a little bit, for the better.

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Just try to not be happy here
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Nyhavn