Friends You've Yet To Meet

Besides the thrill of sightseeing and the adventure of being in a foreign land, the joy of traveling, for me, lies in the interactions you have with the many people you meet along the way. During my time in Europe, I met so many different people from all over the world and from different walks of life. And, however brief the encounter, I had the pleasure of getting to know them on some genuine level and share some truly incredible moments...

I once sat on a park bench for hours in front of Lake Thun, one of the bluest lakes you'll ever see, talking about politics and literature with a friend I made while hiking up the Harder Kulm. I explored a mediocre city in a setting that just oozed with romance with someone who just oozed with charm (I guess it goes without saying that I didn't think it to be so mediocre afterward). Stayed up til 5AM at our hostel common area just shooting the shit with one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, talking about anything, everything, nothing. Smoked a joint with a Texan and deconstructed the reasons why women have always been so severely disadvantaged in society and why most men thrive despite (or is it because of?) their douchebaggery. Spent an early morning breakfast talking with a musician about our families, our parents, their failed relationship, our failed relationships. Watched a sunset with a panaromic view of Firenze, got pissed drunk and obnoxiously sang 90s hits with new friends we met at our hostel (video evidence below, I have no shame). Ate cheese, drank wine, and awkwardly fidgeted on the Ponte Vecchio as a friend and our newly made friend constantly made passes at each other (oh to be the third wheel!). Danced the night away to some seriously bass-heavy dubstep (the best kind) with some randoms at an obscure Berlin club. Listened with awe as an NGO worker told me about his time in India, which subsequently prompted my quarter life crisis as I began to fiercely question what path I want to take in the future.

Every experience different and each person a unique character with his or her own little nugget of wisdom to share. Every moment ephemeral but every memory enduring.

It's amazing how much you can reveal about yourself and how deeply you can connect with a complete stranger. You're from opposite sides of the world, can sometimes barely even speak the same language, and yet somehow you find some common ground. Is it easier to connect with those you meet on your travels? The ones you share but a fleeting moment with? Because with no history and possibly no future, you can leave all your pretensions behind and just say what you want to say and just be?

"Without a wrinkle in today, cuz there is no tomorrow. Just a picture perfect day to last a whole lifetime".

In any case, meeting fellow wanderers and the conversations I had with them has added even more color to the video reel I have constantly playing in my head as I reminisce about this trip. I appreciate all of our differences but it is our similarities that I rejoice in.

And so, whether by chance or by design, I welcome and look forward to the friends I've yet to meet on my future's to more conversations, serious or not, and to more dancing, more laughing, more drinking, more singing.

...May you and I always have room for one more friend in our lives : )

Soundtrack to a day, every day

What did people do before iPods or mp3 players? How did people survive the lulls of every day life without music to fill the gap?

I was sitting on the train from Dordrecht to Amsterdam today listening to my iPod and let me tell you, it is such a joy to listen to the perfect song that matches your exact mood at the very moment (it was one by Florence and the Machine in this case). Looking out the window seeing all sorts of landscapes. Watching the world quite literally pass before your eyes. Hills, plains, rivers, and homes. Being in transit with a song to celebrate where you've come from, where you're going, and the journey that lay in between...whether it's going from one city to another or something as simple as the commute from home to work. It's bliss being in the moment with a song to serve as your soundtrack.

Sometimes I stare out the window and step outside of my body for a short while. Watching this person watch the green pastures speed past her. I hear the music she's listening to and it's like I'm watching my favourite film about a young woman (someone I've gotten to know intimately) on the road to self-discovery. Don't quite know how the movie ends but hell, it's a sure great way to pass the time.

Like a Tide

Now I've been travelling around Europe for nearly two months now as part of my hiatus--my planned transition from studies to "real life" (what ever that's supposed to mean). And with my return to Toronto just around the corner, I'm beginning to panic. I've got just a little over a week left and the thought of normalcy and the routinary is freaking me out a bit.

I took a day trip out to Aachen, Germany yesterday and among other cultural sights, I visited their St. Mary's Cathedral. Mediocre and pretty standard (at least from a non-architectural eye) from the outside, I was completely taken aback by the interior. Literally jaw-droppingly breathtaking. With stained glass windows that seemed to stretch for miles above me and ceilings decorated so tastefully, it was like no other I'd seen before. Glittering with gold, a style I usually despise, it was not a pompous show of wealth but rather, an artistic statement of the time. I don't do it justice with my words, but you'd understand had you seen it with your own eyes.

But anyway, while I was in the Cathedral today, I thought of how much I would miss that unmistakeable feeling of awe and wonderment every time I see or learn something new about a particular site. The unadulterated amazement I had as I walked through the streets of Luxembourg during the Grand Duke's party...of being in and above the clouds at Mount Pilatus...of feeling the vibrance and continued post-liberation spirit of Berlin...of being faced with the cruelty in Dachau...of meeting new people from around the world from different walks of life with their own stories to I first set eyes on the ruins of the ampitheater, the sight of that little bridge between the Gruuthuis and the Church of Our Lady, the view from St. Mike's Bridge in Ghent, the grandeur of the David, the unbelievably blue lakes of Interlaken, and now, the beauty of St. Mary's. That feeling of being connected...however briefly, however  the immense history of man...grand, tragic, joyous. That feeling of connection with the many people I've met along my travels, almost strangers really but with whom I'll always share a moment.

Amazement, gratitude, pride, excitement, and disbelief all mashed together in a violent wave of emotion. Is there a single word to describe that feeling? Like a tide...rising and falling always.

Whatever it is...I'm sure to long for these moments when I return home, however sweet home may be. How many times will I replay these moments in my mind?...trying to pick up the remnants, recapture glimpses...however small, however brief. Oh le sigh!

On Churches

Traveling through Europe, you can't avoid entering the many churches that are the centerpieces of many of its cities. Now I'm not a practicing Catholic and I haven't been for years now, but somehow I'm compelled to visit almost every church that I come across here...even if it is just for a quick prayer. Maybe it's out of habit...I am Filipino after all. And for those of you who don't know, the Catholic faith runs deep in our fact, you could say that it is part and parcel of the Philippines.

Needless to say, during my travels, I've been to more churches than I could possibly count. I've seen all kinds of shapes, sizes, and styles -- Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque, neo-Classical (not that I know my architecture well enough to ever really distinguish the differences). But none have ever really moved me. Or made me feel like I was in a truly holy place. Quite opposite in fact. Usually the churches in Europe are of such grandeur and opulence that I feel rather uncomfortable. Just too much of everything that it's hard to find any kind of peace. Sure, they're impressive for their architecture, paintings, and decor, but that's not really what it's supposed to be about, is it? I'll never forget the St. Peter's Church in Vienna, a church so shockingly gold that I left with a nasty taste in my mouth. Instead of feeling God's presence or whatever or whoever it is I'm supposed to feel when I'm in there, I just saw a pompous display of wealth.

But this post isn't supposed to be about those churches. It's really about the one church out of the multitudes that actually made me feel something...the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges.

I walked into that little chapel that had nothing but a few sculptures and maybe one or two paintings hanging on its stone walls, and instantly, I felt a it really was the house of God.

I walked around this humble and solemn place to find a sculpture of Jesus with his crown of thorns looking down in thought. I sat down in front of him and before I knew it, I was crying. The statue just oozed so much sorrow, I couldn't help the tears. I distinctly remember thinking, could this be how he looks down on us on Earth? With so much sadness in his eyes? I couldn't distinguish if it was disappointment or just pure sorrow that I saw. And if it were one or the other, what would it mean and would any one option be better?

Thinking of all those suffering today (every day) and all our wrongdoings that make such suffering possible, I just kept thinking what He, She, It, or whatever name or pronoun you want to use, thought about us. I don't know the word to describe what I felt in that exact moment...maybe sorrow, maybe compassion, maybe a little guilt? I don't know. But whatever it was, I felt...and it's a feeling I won't ever forget.