So I’ll admit that my last few posts have been different from what one would expect from a travel blog. Here, then, is a catch-up from my last few weeks.
I initially had a week in Ireland. I think I’ve spoken before for my love of that country. It’s likely a bit of wistfulness, as the last time I was there I had met heaps of incredible people. My grand return was marred by being constantly overtired, worried about money and things back home, and an impending ferry trip to the UK – explaining my mood from the post before last. As much as I love Ireland, the combination of all that – plus a constant job hunt – made it feel less than wonderful. In fact, as a follow-up to the depressing post, I’d like to make mention that I wasn’t relaxed in Europe until I was sat at a pub in Brighton with an old friend, pints in hand.
Ross, my friend in Brighton, is one of those people you’re lucky to know. Not just because he’s got a couch to sleep on (or, in my case, a bed, as he refused to let me sleep on the couch), but because he’s a friend. As in, he is one of those rare people who understands and personifies the word itself.
Let me put it this way: you likely have 500-600 or more friends on Facebook. Those people are not your friends. In the same way that TV and Valentines Day has removed meaning from the word “love,” Facebook has twisted and bent society’s definition of “friend” to ludicrous ends. I have maybe twenty people I would legitimately call friend. Folks I can trust and I hope they trust me in return, because trust is as a fragile concept as the word friend was. You know the kind of person you don’t see for two years, and then when you do it’s like no time has passed? Ross is literally that kind of friend.
After Ireland, Brighton was a breath of fresh, salty sea air. It’s got a relaxed atmosphere with a decidedly hipster-ish culture. A young population and strong LGBT community add to this comfortable city, and wandering around for hours while Ross was at work was hardly a stress for me. More than in any other city in the UK or Ireland, the people of Brighton were always ready to offer assistance – and, when jay-walking isn’t an illegal thing in your country, assistance is definitely appreciated. Holy hell, you guys will walk in front of anything.
Wandering in Brighton for two days gave me some time to regain the old travel chops. Things like just starting conversations with people, for example. I spoke with one barista for 20 minutes about the dog guide program and why I don’t have one, and how her grandmother has one up in Manchester. Or, while speaking with a German who ran a Cornish pasty shop we considered poutine and currywurst as potential pasty fillings. “These are not traditional,” said she. I told her neither was a girl from Hamburg selling meat pies from Cornwall. She agreed.
At one point I sat in the inevitably-named Jubilee Library. I suppose they take the term “library” lightly, because I think I personally own more books than they do. Maybe it’s British humour, I don’t know. Anyway, this place is a bright, modern glass and IKEA cube of a place, full of students and the tick-tack of MacBook keyboards and not a free outlet to be found. I could have gone early in the morning, camped out on an outlet, and sold it to the highest bidder. Hindsight. Oh well.
Oh, right, Ross. So I haven’t seen him in about two years, since my last trip away. He’s a brilliant and clever human being, with a side of cheeky evil. He’s the sort of person who maybe wishes to portray himself a hard and serious person, but he’s just so damnably charming you can’t help but like him. Have you seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog? He’s like Dr. Horrible in that respect. Yet…somehow Ross could still pull off a level of menace that Neil Patrick Harris can’t. Maybe he’s closer, then, to Bad Horse. I’m not sure if any of this sounds complimentary, but I assure you it’s the best I can do. You can’t really describe Ross with ease. We will leave it at him being one of the smartest and kindest people I know who would laugh a gentle laugh while a building burns down. I told you he’s hard to describe. But I’m very glad to know him.
After leaving Ross’ (whose roommates were also more than accommodating to a confused, wandering blind guy) I made my next connection at London’s Gatwick Airport. The last time I was at Gatwick it was under heavy construction for the 2012 London Olympics. Turns out they’ve gone ahead and put in a Harrod’s, a massive shopping area, and a caviar store. A fucking caviar store. The aiport in Toronto has a Tim Horton’s.
I flew to Athens, my next port of call. For me, Greece wasn’t really on the solo travel map, having the low vision and all. I based this thought on my experiences in Barcelona: loud, busy, and lacking in useful public infrastructure. By that, I mean that if you want to cross a street in Barcelona, you just go when you can. It’s not really a “wait for the light” sort of place. I assumed that Greece was the same way. Thus, I wrote it off. It, Turkey, and much of Eastern Europe in general. Not that I’m opposed to going to these places in gneeral, it’s just that I know they’d be incredibly tough on my own. So when I found out my friend Rochelle was to be in Greece while I was in Europe, I figured “why the hell not?”
Rochelle is another person I can legitimately call a friend. And while I’ve known her in person for about two months total, I still trust her with my life (and in some cases, I literally have to). We met on a bus tour of Scotland back in 2012. From the start she showed me great kindness and made an effort to describe or point sights out to me. And, somehow, she just got it. She has never been patronizing, nor have I felt a burden to her. I think that’s because she understands that I’m just another person, and not a disabled guy, you know? I’m an average person with shitty vision. After the bus tour, she introduced me to proper curry and we later went our separate ways. She’d booked a series of flights and short hops all over Europe. I continued on to Northern Ireland and that was that. We had become Facebook friends, but as it goes we fell out of touch. A few weeks later I was at the point of spontaneous human ignition in Barcelona and decided I needed to head back north to more temperate climes. My poor Canadian body can’t handle 35 degrees with 100% humidity. So, naturally, Amsterdam. Why not. One day I thought it was a fine idea to head to the Heineken factory. Never mind that it as about 11am, it was time for a pint, god damn it. Wandering through the museum was fine and all, but the part I remember the most and most fondly is the tasting room. I felt a tap on the shoulder, “Dan?” It was Rochelle. In all the wonderful weirdness that is travel, we both happened to be not only in the same country, city, or building, but the same room. We cheersed to our good fortune and hatched a plan to travel together for a while. Her next stop was to be Berlin, so I bought a ticket with EasyJet to join her. No worries, until I realized I bought it for the wrong day (thanks, Amsterdam). No amount of pleading, pretending to be SuperBlind (which I will make a video about…maybe), or explaining how angry my “girlfriend” was (poor Rochelle is a fantastic actor), EasyJet gave me no quarter. For a fee they’d let me on her plane, so I took the offer. I wasn’t willing to spend a few more nights in one of the worst hostels I’d stayed in to that point, so the flight change fee was reasonable (though unwelcome). In Berlin we walked the Wall museum and my travel partner refused to let me miss one placard or sign or description. If she was going to read it, I was going to hear it. And I never had to ask. In Vienna we got lost in gardens, ate and drank our fill of schnitzel and beer, and took a bus to (and a boat from) Slovakia. She never once outwardly complained and we just mentally jive. I feel I’m a good judge of when someone legitimately doesn’t want me around, and I never once got that from her. Rochelle just, in the way few other people do, gets it.
Plus she’s a badass Australian that can fit in with any social circle. A shotgun in a sundress, I’d call her. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds apt.
Anyway, she was going to Greece. So I figured I would go to Greece too. So I did. And I’ll put that in the next post.