There And Back Again

May 24, 2007

Hello again for the last time my dear friends,

I am back in Canada. I have been back in Canada for about 3 weeks. Sometimes it is still just sinking in, but I think I have re-adjusted to ‘normal’ life. I apologize for taking so long to post this final entry, but this was the way it had to be. Let me continue from where I left off, and I hope that my memory will serve me well enough to accurately chronicle the events. Of course, my journals can take over where my memory fails. Anway…

After writing my last blog post, I went to bed and got a good sleep. All of my blog entry had been accidentally deleted, and I was very scared, since I had spent the better part of a day writing it, but after about 10 minutes, I was able to miraculously get it back, and needless to say, I was very grateful. That would’ve been irreplaceable. Anyway, I got up Tuesday morning, had the usual free breakfast(s), did a little e-mailing and hung out, then walked to the British Museum, where I spent a couple hours walking around and beholding one of the most famous museums in the world, then took the tube to the famous Museum of Natural History. In the tube station tunnel there was a guy playing guitar and singing (there almost always is), but this guy was exceptional, and I ended up basically stopping in mid-stride and just listening. He was probably the best musician that I have heard in Europe, and he sang with so much passion that I couldn’t help but be caught up in it. I just leaned against the opposite wall, listening with my eyes closed as crowds of people passed by with seldom more than a glance. After listening for a bit, I talked with him, and it was awesome to just talk music. I eventually left him down there though, had a picnic alone in front of the Museum, and then went inside. I believe I can safely say that I enjoyed the Museum of Natural History more than any other museum that I had visited in Europe. I lost track of time and simply reveled in the wonder of our world. I learned so much about everything, and would gladly go back there many a time. My imagination was re-awakened in a way that it hadn’t been for a long time, and I felt like a kid in a candy store of interactive knowledge – amazing, fascinating, and awesome! When closing time came around, I left and headed to Piccadilly Circus, where I walked around briefly, then headed back to the hostel, where I did some writing, hung out in the lounge and listened to music with a couple of my ‘Beatles jam session’ friends, got some more food from Mickey (the hostel chef – he insisted on feeding me, saying he didn’t want anyone starving while he was in charge), shared my food with Chris, (one of my long-haired hippie friends – he looked almost exactly like John Lennon) and had an amazing conversation. I love being able to get really deep with people, and I was able to do that with him. Within a few minutes we were sharing our deepest dreams with each other and sharing our ‘mission statements’, and I was amazed at how much we had in common. He had basically decided to travel for many of the same reasons that I did, had been traveling for about a month, was in very much the same situation that I had been for most of my trip, and honestly reminded me very much of myself a couple months ago, in the Belfast hostel where I met Fraser, and in a way, I kind of felt like Fraser. Back then I had very little experience with traveling, and was on the brink of a new adventure, and I tried to glean all the wisdom that I could from Fraser, and listened gratefully as he shared his experiences. He had been finishing his adventure, and I had been beginning mine. Now I was in Fraser’s postion, and Chris in mine, and he just started asking me questions and asking me to share the wisdom that I had gained. As we talked, I felt that I was passing the torch on to him, and I was glad to be able to do so. Somewhere out there, right now, he is spreading love to the people around him, making music, reading books, living out of a backpack, writing poetry, thinking deep and great thoughts, and growing into the man he was destined to be. The circle continues.

After going to sleep that night, I got up the next morning, ate breakfast, and took the tube to Victoria Station, from where I then took a bus to Oxford. The bus ride took about 2 hours, but the English countryside was beautiful and I enjoyed it very much. It was something indeed to disembark in Oxford though, since it the most famous university in the world, and I have often talked of going there myself. I waited at the bus stop for about half an hour, and was eventually met by David, the homeschooler whom I had met at the hostel in Barcelona, who also happened to be going to Oxford, and we proceeded to spend the next few hours together seeing Trinity College (the most famous of the many colleges that make up Oxford University) and the surrounding area, discussing things, hanging out, going out for some lunch, etc., and he was a very good tour guide. I saw the largest library in the world, that is entitled (by law) to a copy of every book printed, (at least by any major/semi-major publishers) I saw the world’s largest bookstore, I saw places where men like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien used to hang out, I wandered under the trees where great minds had pondered, along the streams that had provided inspiration and refreshment for hundreds of years, and simply took in the majesty that is Oxford University. Eventually David left me, since he had to study for some exams, and I spent the next few hours delightfully discovering some of the bookstores in the area, including the official Oxford University Press bookstore, and I found a few treasures in one of the used bookstores there. Anyway, I eventually had to make my way back to London, and the bus ride took a little longer this time. Once I reached Victoria Station in London, I bought a ticket for the train to Gatwick South Airport for the next day, then headed back to the hostel. The news of the Virginia Tech Killer was all over the front pages of the major newspapers, and had been for the past few days – the whole world felt that tragedy. Back at the hostel, the kind chef gave me the leftovers yet again, which I was so grateful for, then I hung out with Chis and my New Zealander friend, listening to music together and talking. I then realized that I had accidentally been issued a ticket for today to Gatwick Airport, and, a bit worried, I headed back to Victoria Station (about a half hour ride on the tube, including the switchovers – London is quite a big city), but, after waiting in line for a while, they told me that they couldn’t do anything about it that night, and that I would have to come back tomorrow to see if they would switch it for tomorrow. A little frustrated at a ‘wasted’ trip, I headed back to the hostel, but I quickly decided to change my perspective. This was far from a wasted trip. Here I was, riding the tube in London itself, and I had the opportunity to reach out in love to so many people in so many ways. This was not a wasted trip, but instead, the opportunity of a lifetime. This is something that I often have to remind myself of, because I find it so easy to be negative and focus on what’s not going as I planned, when in fact there’s usually a better plan out there that I am not even aware of. Anyway, the ride back was much more enjoyable after that, but I still just really wanted the worry to be over, and to be on my way home. Back at the hostel, I talked a bit with a couple of my roomates (one was a guy from Spain, and we had talked quite a bit over the past couple nights), finished packing, and slept my last night in Europe. So many things ran through my head that night, and my sleep wasn’t quite as deep as it could’ve been.

The next morning I got up about 5 am, quickly got ready, grabbed my last hostel breakfast, said a couple goodbyes, walked to the tube station, took the tube to Victoria Station, managed to exchange my train ticket for that day (I was grateful), took the train to Gatwick Airport, spent a couple hours going through lineups, security checks, etc., and eventually made it to the waiting room, where I scrounged around underneath seats, finding enough money to buy a couple cds – ‘Number Ones’ by the Beatles (these songs were played all over Europe, and I thought it would be really special to buy a Beatles cd in England), and ‘Stop The Clocks’ by Oasis (another British group, whose song ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ I had fallen in love with on my trip). I then headed down the corridors to my plane, but encountered a problem. There had been a misunderstanding of which gate my plane was departing from, and I only realized this when I had reached the wrong gate. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but the airport was so huge that it took about 20 minutes of walking to reach most gates from the waiting room, so I had to run to get to the right gate on time (other side of the airport), but I made it, and was soon on board the plane. We stopped in Birmingham, and then travelled all the way to Calgary. I can’t explain the relief and gratitude that washed over me when that plane took off. I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to eat anymore, I wouldn’t have to worry about being alone anymore, I wouldn’t need to worry about whether or not I would wake up alive the next morning, I wouldn’t need to worry about being an outsider, a foreigner, a stranger, anymore, I wouldn’t need to worry about borders, about wearing the same clothes every day, about catching trains, finding a place to sleep at night, calculating currency exchange rates, etc. I would soon be home, where I would be loved. That is what I missed most of all. I missed being loved. I missed being face to face with another human being whom I loved and whom I knew loved me. I looked forward to that so much. On that plane ride I did a lot of thinking. They played 4 movies, of which I watched 3, so I got the necessary dose of cultural re-indoctrination, but it was such a neat experience. The plane ride was nearly 12 hours, but we were travelling backwards in time the whole way, so it was almost as if it never happened. Almost no time officially passed during the entire trip, so it was like being suspended for a day above time, above reality, on the brink of the rest of my life. I wrote a poem, and spent a while thinking about things I had learned and ways in which I had grown. As Ralph Waldo Emerson explains in his essay/speech ‘The American Scholar’, there are 3 means by which an education is obtained. The first is through nature – by observing and learning from the world around you. The second is by history (the past) – by studying what has already happened, and what others have shared, whether it be through books, talking with others, etc. The third is through experience – by analyzing personal experiences that you have had and drawing lessons from them. I realized that I had received a massive dose of education from all three of those sources over the past few months. I was able to observe a plethora of different environments and learn from them, I was able to learn from so many people and do a ton of studying, and I had gained an incomprehensibly priceless wealth of experience from which to draw and learn for the rest of my life. I had left a boy, and was coming back a man. I knew it. It’s hard to pinpoint when and where, and I don’t believe that it was just one instant, but instead a steady progression of experiences, choices, etc., but either way, something had changed, and I knew it. I had undergone my own sort of ‘manhood ritual’, and I had passed. I had gained a confidence that I had never known before, I had conquered many fears, I had gained a new respect for the sacredness of character and integrity, I had developed skills and abilities that I had always dreamed of developing, I had grown much closer to God, I had seen what the world was like, and I had fulfilled so many dreams. I had come over with a limited understanding, and was leaving with a still limited, but greatly expanded understanding. I now had friends scattered across the globe as well, and cherised a storehouse of wonderful memories. I developed an enormous sense of gratitude throughout my adventure, and have a new understanding and appreciation for all of the wonderful blessings in my life. Perhaps most importantly, I came a lot closer to knowing myself – who I am and what I am here for. Now it may sound like I am saying that I now know everything. That is horrendously far from the truth. For every question answered, ten new questions arose, and I would probably be most accurate in saying that I feel almost as if I ‘know’ less than I did before my adventure. I have learned that such is the case with learning, so it doesn’t worry me a bit.

Anyway, the plane eventually landed in Calgary, and the security people were so friendly – I just knew that I was home. There is truly no other place on earth like Canada. As I collected my luggage and passed through a couple different security points, excitement and anticipation built within me at the prospect of seeing my family in a few moments, and, needless to say, there were big hugs and tears of joy when we were reunited. As soon as we were outside I fell to my knees and kissed the ground. There was a big snowstorm happening in Calgary that day, but I didn’t mind at all – cold doesn’t matter when you’re with people you love. We went out for supper in Red Deer, and it was so nice to eat a good meal. It was funny though, because the adventure wasn’t quite over. Tofield (my hometown) had been experiencing such extreme weather that a state of emergency had been declared and power was out for a few days, so had to rough it for a while, but it was fun. I spent the next week or so going through pictures and stuff with my family, hanging out at home, trying to recover from jet lag (it screwed me up for about a week, and I got sick from the lack of sleep), visiting friends (some of friends had a ‘Jonapalooza’ party for me, which was really cool), and getting ready for the rest of the summer, where I was planning on working as an door to door security systems salesman in Calgary. Anyway, just to catch all of my readers up to date, I worked that for a couple weeks, and was the top salesman in my office, making quite a bit of money, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t like the person that I was becoming, I felt like I was having to compromise my integrity and beliefs, and I felt pretty strongly that I just wasn’t supposed to be there, so, after thinking and praying on it for a bit, talking with a few people, etc., I walked away from that job, and I walked away with my head held high. That was one week ago, and I know that I did the right thing. A lot has happened in the past week, and I know that I am right where I am supposed to be. Anyway, it is late, and I can only hope that I have written all that I intended to write (I have written this entry in segments over the past week or so), but if not, I can always post another entry sometime. Thank-you so much for sticking with me throughout my adventures – those of you who read my postings, I count you my dearest and best friends, and I am so grateful that you were willing to take some of your valuable time and share these experiences with me. I cannot thank you enough. Thanks. This blog has been such a blessing and an opportunity for me, and has been one of the neatest things of the whole adventure. Life is back to ‘normal’ now, and I am enjoying every moment, as usual. I am so blessed! We all are. My shoes have walked thousands of miles, but there are many thousands still to come, and I eagerly tred onward. Let us all embrace what has been, what is, and what is yet to come. Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

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“If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run, then yours is the earth, and everything that’s in it. And which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.” (Rudyard Kipling, from his poem ‘If’, my favorite poem of all time, and part of my personal mission statement)

April 17, 2007

Hello again dear friends,

Wow! Yet another incredible couple weeks have passed since I last wrote. I have made it to London, and will be going home in only a few days, but I will try and catch you up to date on my latest adventures now, since I don’t know how much time I’ll have when I get back home. Thanks again for your inspiring comments – they are often just what I need to hear. Thank-you so much for taking the time to share a few words with me. I appreciate it.

When last I wrote, it was about 2:30 am in the early morning hours of Monday, April 2nd. I got a few hours of sleep after writing, then spent the morning hanging out with Nathalie (my Swiss exchange student friend whose family I was staying with), and we listened to a bunch of country music together, singing along to most of it, and I also wrote down the song titles and artists for her, as I had started doing the previous night. It was so much fun to just croon out some great music with an old friend. She had to go to school after lunch though, (there are 13 grades in Switzerland, and she had missed a year when she came and studied in Canada on an exchange program, so she still went to school) and I planned on going in to Zurich with Chris (the New Zealand exchange student who was staying with their family), but I found that it would cost me about 50 Swiss Francs just to get there and back, and I didn’t really want to use a day on my Eurail pass, since I was planning on using one the next day to get to Barcelona from Zurich anyway, so I checked out a couple options and decided to leave Monday instead. Nathalie and I checked out train times, and found a night train that went to Barcelona that day, so I decided to have a quick lunch, head to Zurich and spend the day exploring with Chris, and then leave. Chris had been thinking of coming to Barcelona with me, since he had some time off, but it didn’t end up working out. I only decided to leave about an hour before I actually did, so I quickly threw my stuff together, said goodbye, and went to the train station with Chris. I felt bad for leaving in such a rush, but that was the way it worked best. I was so grateful for all the kindness and hospitality that the Schenk family had shown me though, and I had a great time with them. Anyway, Chis and I arrived in Zurich at about 2 pm, and we spent a few hours just walking around, talking, playing a game of giant chess in the park, which he won, (it had been a long time since I had lost a game of chess, but it was fun, and I find that you learn more from losing than from winning) and then we went and sat by the lakeside and just watched the birds in the water for about an hour. Words are cheap, and fail to capture the beauty of such moments. It was an absolutely beautiful day, there were crowds of cheerful people outside, it was a lovely city, there were the famous Swiss Alps in the background, the water was picture perfect and caught the sun’s reflection marvelously, and it was so peaceful and relaxing to just watch the ducks and swans drifting lazily on the water. I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to just watch the birds, and I am so glad that I did. But, as George Strait once said, ‘All good things must end, all rivers have to bend’ (fortunately they are replaced by more good things, and often better ones at that), and I had to catch my train. I found that all the seats were full though, and I would need to pay almost 100 Euros to get a compartment, so I was a bit disappointed, but the Swiss staff was very helpful and we managed to find a way that I could get to Barcelona the next evening by switching trains a bunch of times, and this only cost me 10 Swiss Francs. (I almost always have to pay a supplement in addition to my Eurail Pass) The train didn’t leave until about 11 pm, though, and since Chris left me at about 5:45 pm, I had a few hours to wait. I muched a little food that I had bought (even little groceries were very expensive, and I was extremely fortunate that I didn’t have to pay for a place to stay in Switzerland, because even a cheap hostel would’ve cost a lot – Switzerland is very expensive), read nearly the first half of the Biblical book of Job, watched people going about their business and did a lot of thinking, wrote a poem about my wanderings, napped for a bit, then wrote out the lyrics to one of my favorite songs over the past 5 years, and they hit me in a whole new way. The song is called ‘Gratitude’, and is by Christian artist Nicole Nordeman. I will share the lyrics here:

Send some rain, would You send some rain?

‘Cause the earth is dry and need to drink again,

And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade.

Would You send a cloud? Thunder long and loud.

Let the sky grow black, and send some mercy down.

Surely You can see that we are thirsty and afraid.

But maybe not, not today, maybe You’ll provide in other ways.

And if that’s the case,

We’ll give thanks to You, with gratitude,

For lessons learned in how to thirst for You.

How to bless the very sun that warms our face,

If You never send us rain.

Daily bread, give us daily bread.

Bless our bodies, keep our children fed.

Fill our cups, and fill them up again tonight.

Oh wrap us up, and warm us through.

Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs,

Let us slumber safe from danger through this time.

But maybe not, not today, maybe You’ll provide in other ways.

And if that’s the case,

We’ll give thanks to You, with gratitude,

For lessons learned to hunger after You.

That a starry sky offers a better view if no roof is overhead,

And if we never taste that bread.

Oh the differences that often are between,

Everything we want, and what we really need.

So grant us peace, Jesus grant us peace.

Move our hearts to hear a single beat,

Between alibis and enemies tonight.

But maybe not, not today, peace might be another world away.

And if that’s the case,

We’ll give thanks to You, with gratitude,

For lessons learned in how to trust in You.

That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream,

In abundance, or in need.

And if You never grant us peace.

But Jesus, would You please?

Anyway, as I said, that has been a very meaningfull song to me for the past few years, but it hit me in a new way in that Zurich train station. We are blessed beyond what we could ever dream, in abundance or in need. We always have so much to be thankful for. Gratitude is so vital to happiness – I don’t think we as human beings can be truly happy without it. I’m not sure if I’ve shared this before, but I believe the basic keys to human fulfillment/happiness are acheivement, service (which includes love, and which includes serving God, your fellow man, etc.), and gratitude. The person who consistently does those things cannot help but feel happy and fulfilled, in my current opinion at least. Anyway, after pondering those lyrics for a while I just started singing to myself, which is something I do quite a lot. I sang songs that I hadn’t heard or sang in a long time, and took many a happy trip down memory lane while doing so. I then caught the train, which went to Paris overnight, then transferred through France a few times, and eventually got to Barcelona. I got a compartment, and as there was only one other person in there, we each laid out across 3 seats and got a decent sleep (even a decent train sleep is still not too good though). We also talked a bit, and I found that she was just starting a big trip that would take her across several continents, and this was her first night on the road. It was cool. I met a bunch of other neat people in the course of my journey, and eventually made it to Barcelona in the evening, although the train was about an hour or so late. Honestly, each train ride is an adventure in itself, but I don’t have the time to chronicle it here. It was just before Easter weekend in Spain, and there was almost no availability, but I managed to find a bed in a hostel. I have no credit card and therefore cannot book ahead, so I just show up at destinations, find a hostel, and hope that there is an availability somewhere. Anyway, after checking in to my hostel I found a cheap call center and called my family, wishing my little brother Jesse a happy birthday (April 3rd he turned 13!) and talking briefly with my family, had a little food, and went to bed. The next morning I got up and had the free hostel breakfast, (bread, which is the usual fare at hostels) and basically spent the day just walking around the city. I didn’t really use a map or anything – I just let myself get lost in the city, and then eventually made my way back. It was so cool to be in Barcelona, although the weather wasn’t what I was expecting – it was a bit cool and rainy. I had an awesome day though, and just couldn’t help being happy. I was in Spain, and was walking the beaches and the streets of this beautiful land. Many great country songs came to mind, especially George Strait’s ‘Seashores of Old Mexico’ (in a way, Spain is ‘old mexico’, and that song is definitly one of my favorite country songs of all time. I have sang it in the shower nearly every morning for the past year. It’s a tale of adventure, romance, and sunshine, all set to a lilting country beat – perfect!), and I sang and laughed as I walked the streets of Barcelona. I saw beautiful parks, cathedrals (including Goudi’s famous one), beaches, etc., and fell in love with the city. Too many adventures to describe here, as usual. I also went to the train station and bought a ticket to Algeciras in a couple days (the usual supplement in addition to my pass), but had to wait in line 3 hours to get it. Back at the hostel I finished reading Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’, and was quite happy with the ending, and I also made some food (most of the hostels I have stayed at have no kitchens, so I have to improvise – I had pitas, beans, salsa, and lettuce this time, which was a nice treat), then met a few really neat people, including some room-mates from Finland and Thailand, and some American girls studying in Milan. (there seems to be a ton of American girls studying here in Europe and traveling on the weekends and on holidays) I got a pretty good sleep that night, and then spent a couple hours wandering down ‘La Rambla’ and looking through the markets the next day, but it was quite rainy and wasn’t the greatest day for exploring. It was the most old-fashioned market that I have seen in Europe, and very bloody, with basically anything available there (the Spanish eat quite a few different types of meat), but I won’t go into details. What was really amazing was that I met Genevieve there! I have met a few people multiple times on my trip, but this was pretty crazy indeed! We caught up on things, talked for a bit, etc., but she was with a friend and we both had things to do, so we split up again after about 20 minutes. I had a couple coupons for McDonalds, so I decided to get some food there, but the lineup was the biggest I have ever seen. McDonalds in Europe are quite big, usually with multiple floors, etc., but this one had a lineup stretching into the street, in addition to a lobby packed like a sardine can. I managed to get some food though, and ate it back at the hostel, where I spent the afternoon doing some ‘sharpening the saw’ type stuff. Every now and then I need to take time to just re-connect with God (in a deeper way than I do everyday), with myself, with my values, etc., and that’s what I did that afternoon. I met a few really cool people that evening, including a French-Canadian speed skater (who is one of the top competitors in Canada and will probably be at the Olympics in 2010), a couple American girls backbackping across Europe (just started their trip together about a week earlier), and an American homeschooler going to Oxford University in England, and we played cards together and talked for a few hours, then walked along the water at night. We almost went swimming in the Mediterannean in our clothes that night, but I couldn’t convince all of them to come with me, so we didn’t. It was a great night though, and we all had a ton of fun together!

The next day (Friday, April 6), after breakfast, shower, etc., I left my luggage in storage at the hostel for the day (they charged me 3 Euros, since I had to check out that morning), and then spent the day with the two American girls – Lindsay and Amy – that I had met the previous day, as well as the American Oxford student – Dave. We took the metro and walked to Guell Park, where we walked the hills, etc., talking and enjoying each other’s company, (I saw a really funny sign that I must share here. It said ‘Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?’, and we had a good laugh over that.) then we wandered across the city through a bunch of neat side streets and eventually took a cheap tram up a huge hill with a gigantic cathedral and a theme park atop it, and we walked around up there for a bit. The cathedral also housed one of the original ‘Holy grails’ of the Catholic Church, and it was neat to see that. Spending ‘Good Friday’ in a place like that is great for having meaningful conversation and discussion. Anyway, we eventually went back down, had some pizza together, walked around the city for a couple more hours, including browsing through some really neat markets, sat on the docks, took our shoes off, and just enjoyed each other’s company in silence for a while. Silence should never be ackward – some of the best times I’ve had with people have been spent in silence. The day had gotten progressively warmer, and we just laid back and soaked up the sunshine while watching the fish. It was so beautiful there – the water was clear and didn’t smell bad, and it was probably the nicest seaside city that I have seen. Someone tried to steal my bag, but I managed to grab it from him before he got away with it (I purposely sat on one of the straps when I took it off so that I would feel it if someone tried to grab it), and it was really interesting to see the look on his face when I turned around. He tried to look as though nothing had happened, and I didn’t try to get anyone’s attention – we just looked into each other’s eyes briefly. I can’t explain what that was like, but he had been caught in the act, and we both knew it. He just let go and disappeared into the crowd. Anyway, after spending an hour or so on the docks in the sinking sunshine we headed back to the hostel, watched part of an Easter parade, and I bid them goodbye and went to the train station. I had bought a metro pass, and it still had a couple uses left on it, but I gave it away after I was finished with it rather than use it for a souvenir. There are arguments for both sides, but is there really a good reason to pile up ‘junk’ when it could be useful to somebody? I was a little worried, because I had tried to withdraw some money from my bank account at a bank machine, but found that it was empty. I had run out of money quite a while ago, but my parents had put some into my account so that I wouldn’t have to come home early (I had planned on working a bit, and also traveling a bit cheaper, but things of course changed, as I have already shared), but despite the fact that I was trying hard to live cheaply, Europe was still costing me more money than I had planned. I e-mailed my parents to let them know the situation, but I still had some money in my pocket and figured I would be okay until they could put a little more into my account to hold me over. I was a bit worried about going to the far south of Spain (and Morocco) without too much money, and where anything could happen, but I decided to venture forth anyway. Anyway, when I reached the train station I discovered that my train was leaving an hour earlier than I had been told, and I was very grateful that I had come early. I caught it in time, and ended up sitting next to an African man in full Muslim garb, with whom I soon initiated a conversation. We ended up talking for several hours, and he was one of the most fascinating people I have met on my trip. He spoke good English, since he was from Cameroon, and we talked about a ton of things. He shared his life story with me, and it was phenomenal. He had left his wife and baby child 8 years earlier to try and get to Europe, where he could make some money and free them from abject poverty, and had spent nearly half a dozen years journeying across Africa, working, fighting, being detained in refugee camps, suffering, overcoming, learning, and eventually reaching Spain, where he managed to enter as an illegal immigrant and eventually acheive legal status, and he know works as a construction worker in the north. He had travelled back to Cameroon a year earlier to visit his wife and child, whom he hadn’t seen in 7 years, but still was unable to bring them to Spain. It was so amazing and inspiring to talk to him. He asked me several times to tell him about Canada, and each time that I did his eyes moistened just a little, and then he closed them and smiled a deep smile as I described the beauty of my home country. I have had the opportunity to share what Canada is like with quite a few people, and each time I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the life that I lead and the place that I call home. Canada is probably the most loved and respected country in the entire world. Many of the Americans I have met in Europe, as well as many Europeans, nearly every Asian, and also nearly every African, all want to come to Canada. People see Canada as a friendly, peaceful, safe, respectful, open, and prosperous haven of freedom. I am proud to be a Canadian man. Of course, the rest of the world has many amazing things to offer as well, and I have learned so much from what I have seen. There are far more ways of doing things than we dream of in our narrow philosophies, and our way is not necessarily the best way at all. We get stuck thinking that ‘this is the way it is’, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all. The Canadian public school system, for example, which many Canadians think is simply the only way to get a real education, is very far from being the only or the best way to get an education. Of course I am biased as a homeschooler, but growing up I often thought that I was missing out and getting a second-rate education by not attending school like my friends. I eventually realized that this is far from the case (I’m not saying that my public school friends didn’t get a great education, because many of them did), and after seeing many other ways of doing things I have received even more assurance of this fact. To quote Shakespeare, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.

Anyway, after talking with my African friend until late into the night, I got a little sleep, then switched trains in Cordoba, where I waited for a couple hours and then took a train to Algeciras. I arrived in the early afternoon and quickly purchased a ferry ticket to Morocco, then tried tried to work out a train out of Algeciras a couple days later, but all the trains in the next few days were totally full and the staff wasn’t helpful at all. I think they would rather cater to Spanish speakers in suits than a Canadian backpacker, and that’s understandable, but I left feeling a bit frustrated and not sure what I would do. I managed to find a hostel that had an opening, which was a big relief, then I walked around the city for a while. My dad had done the same thing about 30 years ago – came down to Algeciras and then took the ferry to Morocco, (he travelled for two and a half months in Europe when he was younger) so it was cool to sort of ‘follow in his footsteps’, although a lot has changed and our methods of travel are quite different in a few ways. I was hungry, since I hadn’t eaten much in the past few days, and was delighted when the hostel owner told me there was a kitchen I could use (he spoke no English, but that was the understanding I got), so I went and bought some frozen groceries, but when I got back they said I couldn’t use the kitchen, and I got a bit angry. The lady that was now there also didn’t speak English, and seemed to have something against me from the start. There had been a lot of frustrating things that had happened over the past few days (I haven’t bothered to share it all, since I don’t want to come across as complaining nor focus on the negative), and it all came to a bit of a head there. Nearly every Spanish person that I had met had treated me like crap, and it was starting to get really frustrating. They didn’t want to help me, they were rude and disrespectful, they made mean comments, etc., and although I was trying hard to be proactive, have a great time and be kind anyway, it was starting to get to me, and I wasn’t having the greatest time in Spain. Anyway, I managed to return most of the food that I had bought at the nearby store, and, since my temper had cooled down, I apologized for my behavior to the hostel owner that I had gotten mad at, and I think she understood, although I couldn’t be sure. I just knew that I had to apologize, because I always strive to live by the principle of never letting the sun set on an argument, and I know I would feel awful if I didn’t. I don’t lose my temper very often, and even when I do I don’t scream or yell or anything – I just get frustrated, raise my voice a bit, and mutter angry words under my breath – and I try to always apologize within a couple minutes of losing my temper. Anyway, once I had made things right between us, I went up to my room and had a can of cold beans, and got some sleep, which was really nice. The next day I was up pretty early, and after a cold shower (I had grown accustomed to minor inconveniences like that) I headed to the harbor, where I caught a bus to Tarifa, and then a ferry to Tangiers, Morocco. I met an American who I hung out with on the bus and ferry ride, but I didn’t enjoy his company too much. He was a middle-aged lawyer with a lot of money, but he enjoyed travelling really cheap anyway. I know several good lawyers, but he wasn’t one of them. He was pretty slimy and tried to use everybody he met, and I was very disgusted at his behavior within 15 minutes. He seemed to have no morals at all, and his manners and his conversation were quite lewd. He loved to brag about the awful things that he had done in his life and describe them as well (don’t get me wrong – I have grown used to people talking proudly about bad things that they have done, etc., and have heard a lot of garbage over the course of my lifetime, but this was a whole new level), and he didn’t stop despite all the hints that I gave him. I think he had also spent too much time travelling alone, because he was also a bit crazy and unintelligible. Anyway, when we reached Tangiers, we accidentally got split up, and I was quite grateful. He was going to Casablanca anyway, so it would’ve happened sooner or later. I was now in Africa, and it was Africa indeed. It was hot, smelly, poor, there were lots of flies, and I was mobbed by desperate people offering me a wide range of services. I think that Morocco is one of the more ‘civilized’ parts of Africa though, and most people spoke English and all were accustomed to foreigners (boatloads of them come through every day), but it was still a vastly different culture from anything I had previously experienced. Turkey was the closest that I could compare it to, but Turkey was still much wealthier and more developed – much more. I will not even attempt to explain all of my adventures in Tangiers that day, but I will share a few basic details. I wore my cowboy hat, since it was a scorching hot day, and got the usual comments, which I didn’t mind. After walking through the narrow streets and markets (it was Sunday, which is market day in Muslim culture – Friday is their holy day), I decided to trust one guy, who brought me to a couple restaurants where I could get some good Moroccan food, but then I changed my mind and wandered around some more, eventually running into him again. I decided to trust him a second time after this little test, and he was a bit more helpful the second time, offering better prices, etc. It’s difficult to explain how the culture works, but there is basically a huge unseen network that connects the markets and everything together, and they know the ins and outs of it. My African friend whom I had met on the train had given me some good pointers for Morocco, since he had spent some time there, working the black market, etc. Anyway, my ‘guide’ (there are many such people who run the streets and bring business to certain shops, and the system is similar in Turkey) talked with the restaurant owner and got me a good price on some couscous, vegetables, and chicken, and I enjoyed a nice meal. One of the employees then took me to a spice shop that his brother ran, and learned about all kinds of spices, sampled a few, and eventually bought some moroccan tea leaves. After that, he took me to a carpet shop that another one of his brothers ran, and I spent a while there, bartering, talking, looking around, etc. I didn’t plan on buying anything, and had managed to walk out of many a carpet shop without buying anything (anyone who has done it will know how difficult an ordeal it actually is – I think Arabs are probably the best salesmen around), but I found a deal that I couldn’t pass up. I was attracted to one carpet (a kilim), and was told that it started at over 550 Euros (thousands of Moroccan dirhams), but because I had already bought a few things in the family network, he was willing to sell it to me for about 250 Euros. I knew that there was still a long ways to go though, so I twisted, turned, bluffed, and bartered my way down to 23 Euros, at which price we settled, satisfied. I have met people who have paid full price for carpets, etc., and I feel bad for them. The Arab culture is all about bartering – it is a game that that you must learn to play if you want to get around within the culture. Anyway, I now had a beautiful little rug (it was small, and I was near the end of my trip, so I could fit it into my bag, and although I knew it wasn’t too wise to spend the money when I didn’t know if I would have enough to get me by for the next week, but I also knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to buy a genuine hand-woven Arabian rug anytime soon, so I went for it, and couldn’t complain at getting it for less than one twentieth of the original asking price. I then went to a dessert shop that were also connected to, and bought several kinds of desserts (they cost almost nothing over there – an elaborate delicacy for 10 – 20 cents), which they let me eat in the restaurant. While there I met an American family that I had met on the ferry, and they invited me to eat with them – they were just sitting down for some lunch. I accepted their invitation, and spent about half an hour talking with them. They had 3 children, and the husband was a lawyer from Minnesota who was taking his family around Europe to show them the world. They were a really nice family, and I really enjoyed swapping stories with them, etc. I couldn’t stay forever, and still had a lot that I wanted to do and see, although I didn’t know what it was yet. I made no plans and really had no idea what I was doing – I was just putting myself in the position to have an adventure, as well as see a very foreign city and experience African culture. I checked my e-mail at an internet point and found my parents would put some more money in my account, but wouldn’t be able to do it for a day or two since the banks were closed on the weekend. I knew that I would be fine until then, but I also knew that sometimes it takes up to 5 business days before I can access funds that have been deposited in my account, and I was worried that such would be the case. I put it from my mind for the time being though, and set out to explore the city some more. I had several adventures, and at one point I decided to follow a little boy and a man who offered to show me around, saying that they didn’t want any money, and I offered to buy them a dessert, but after they showed me around some of the inner parts of the city, where I probably would’ve gotten lost without a guide (the authorities said that I shouldn’t try to venture into the inner city without a guide, because a lot of things could, and probably would, happen, and I would almost certainly be lost), they took me into a tunnel and demanded a fairly large sum of money. I offered them a little out of gratitude for showing me around, but they wanted a lot more. We argued for nearly 10 minutes, since I knew they had me in a bit of a tight spot, and eventually settled for what I was willing to give them, although they left me in the middle of the city in disgust that I would not give them what they wanted. I now had to find my way back through tiny alleys, backstreets, tunnels, up and down hills, dead ends, walls, mazes, etc., so I set to it. Occasionally someone would offer to point me in the right direction, and sometimes it actually was the right direction, and everybody wanted money, which I couldn’t afford to give them. I have given to a lot of people on my trip, but there is a point where one simply cannot, or perhaps should not give any more. I need to stay alive too. I wasn’t scared or worried at all though, and was enjoying myself and the experiences that I was having. At one point though, a friendly man offered to show me a couple places, including his leather shop, and after talking with him a bit, I decided to trust him and go with him for a few minutes, but right away I didn’t feel good about it and decided to head back, so after arguing a bit he said he’d show me the way back to the port, but he led me to a dark alley and demanded money. This was different though. He shoved me up against the wall and threatened to kill me if I didn’t do what he wanted. I don’t know if I can really paint the right picture of what it was like, but he told me to give him my money or he would beat me, smash my face, kill me, and take my bag as well. He was shoving and hitting me and yelling obscenities, nasty curses, and threats at me, and I knew he meant business. To be honest though, it was all happening so fast that I wasn’t actually worried, although I probably should’ve been. I was calm and able to keep my head about me, and knew that I could fight him if I had to. I would have desperation on my side. The only problem was that I was holding my camera in one hand and he could easily smash it, plus it was my right hand, which is my strong hand. I wasn’t about to risk it and all the priceless pictures on it, and even if I did end up fighting him, I was pretty sure that he had some buddies hiding in the nearby doorways, so I turned to diplomacy instead. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand how I got out of that situation alive and unscathed, but I managed to gradually manouver myself back into a slightly busier street by bluffing, shoving, making excuses, diplomacy, luck, and some help from above as well. Once I was back in a slightly more public area, he knew his game was up and left me alone. As I was walking up the street, one old lady threatened to throw eggs at me if I kept going that way, so I turned back, but she was just joking, and the whole street burst out laughing, and I laughed too, which was nice to break the tension of 5 minutes before. I walked around a bit more, and then had some supper – I was able to get 3 plates of food for just over 1 Euro, including 3 whole fried fish (basically the only thing I didn’t eat was the bony part of the head – I was hungry), a plate of rice, some fries, and a loaf of bread with soup to dip it in. I then got a little more dessert and walked to the beach, which was the nicest I have seen in all of my travels. While there, one older Moroccan man who was walking by offered to wrap up a piece of cake that I was carrying in a paper so that it wouldn’t get sand in it, and then he walked away and told me to have a nice day. I almost cried out of happiness. All day, and all of the past few days, people had been pretty mean and rude, and not one person was genuinely trying to be nice. Dozens of people had tried to do things for me, but they all wanted something in return – it was conditional kindness, and whenever I tried to repay it they only wanted more. I can understand, because many of them live in poverty, but I am also hungry, my clothes are also dirty and don’t smell too nice, and I don’t always have a safe place to sleep either. I try to focus on others, because one of the surest ways to be miserable is to get caught up in yourself (I sometimes feel bad because writing this blog sort of requires me to focus on myself, but I am not writing it to pat myself on the back or anything, my purpose is to share my experiences and hopefully a little wisdom and inspiration as well, within the limits that I am under. Anyway…), but it meant the world to me when that man did a small kindness for me just for kindness’ sake. He didn’t ask anything in return – it was unconditional. He just wrapped up my little piece of cake and walked away. He restored my faith in the goodness of humanity, which had been diminishing over the past few days. I really hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining or anything, because I’m sure there is a tendency to do so when I sit down and write about myself for a few hours. Anyway, that man’s tiny act pierced my heart with its purity and sincerity, and left me feeling touched, loved, and full of hope. That is how you change the world. Wrap someone’s cake for them, wish them a nice day, and walk away. Wrap someone’s cake. It doesn’t matter how many problems you have or how busy you are, anyone can spare that much effort and kindness, and all it takes is a tiny act like that to make a difference in someone’s life. Someone had threatened to kill me, and would’ve done it too, only a short while before, which shook me up (it’s one of those things that only really hits you a little while after it happens), and I really needed that little act of kindness. I would like to share a little story that illustrates this point even better than I can, and which is an inspiration to me:

An old man was walking along the beach. In the distance he saw someone who seemed to be dancing along the waves. As he got closer, he saw a young man picking up starfish and tossing them back into the ocean.

“What are you doing?” the old man asked.

“The sun is coming up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in they will die.”

“But young man, there are miles and miles of beach with starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The young man bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it back past the breaking waves. “It made a difference to that one.”

This story has changed my life, and inspires me every time that I read it. I will never cease to be an idealist, because even if I can never acheive my ideals, even if I never reach the unreachable star or dream the impossible dream, I can do something – I can make a difference to ‘that one’, and that is worth it all. I can never throw all the starfish back in the water, but I can throw some of them back in, and I will do that much, and if we all work together, we can indeed throw them all back in. That is how you make a difference. That is what that old Morroccan man was doing. In his own way, he was walking the beach throwing starfish back into the water. Anyway…I left that beach and went back to the port after touching the water, and there waited in lineups, etc., for a couple hours or so, meeting lots of neat people and dealing with the usual grasping, begging types. I could only afford to offer them a little, and many of them thought it beneath their dignity to accept such an amount, so I knew that they weren’t that desperate. It was interesting, because Morroccan time was 2 hours behind Spanish time, even though they were only separated by a 35 minute ferry ride. Anyway, we eventually got going, and I think the ride took a lot longer than the company claimed. That was something I had gotten used to in Spain and Morrocco – things usually took an hour or two longer than they were supposed to, which was in stark contrast to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. People also weren’t nearly as professional and didn’t really care about their customers as much. Staff would often just walk away from the customers in front of them, talk and laugh with friends on their cell phones, eat a little food, etc., all the while ignoring the customer who was patiently waiting. It was definitely a different sort of experience. Anyway, I did a lot of thinking on that ferry ride, and took a nice trip down memory lane. The smells, the salt water spraying my face and body, my state of mind, etc., all seemed to remind me of when I used to clean chicken barns for neighboring farmers, and the memories brought a smile to my face. I used to dread getting up at 5 am and working for 12-14 hours in the miserable conditions. As I stood at the railing of the ferry, I was particularly reminded of spraying the barns down with disinfectant in the wintertime. I was soaking wet, but my clothing was frozen, since it was 20-30 degrees celsius below zero, and as I walked through the leftover chicken feces I had to wear an oxygen mask to keep from inhaling the corrosive chemicals, but the masks were full of chicken lice, and they would crawl all over my face as I sprayed the barns down, and I was powerless to do anything. I couldn’t scratch my face, because I couldn’t take off the mask, and even if I could, my hands were covered with feces. It was filthy, stinky, disgusting, and exhausting work, and I would collapse into bed when I got home, only to wake up and do it again the next day. The skin on my hands would also peel off for the next week or two because of the chemicals, and my eyes would be swollen and bleary from all the feces and other junk that had gotten inside them. I worked this and a couple other part time jobs as I studied for the Andau Character Prize, and it taught me a lot. I gained a lot of muscle from the long days of shovelling, I did a lot of thinking, and I learned about toughness and about getting the job done even when it is really nasty and you hate it. I learned what it was like to earn money the hard way, and I learned a lot about character. I learned so many things and gained so much, and really grew up a lot during the 2 years that I cleaned chicken barns. As my friend Daniel likes to say, the way to grow is to do hard things. And as great men and women have echoed throughout history, the way to acheive success is to work hard. If you do hard things and work hard to get them done, the world is yours. Anyway, the way I felt on that ferry reminded me of those ‘good ‘ole days’, and how they had shaped me, and I was grateful for those opportunities and experiences, even though I didn’t really enjoy them at the time. Anyway, it was really nice to stroll down memory lane, and I have done a lot of that on my trip. I have had it so good. Anyway…It was also Easter Sunday, so I did a little Bible reading and sang worship into the night sky as we crossed the Mediterranean. I knew that is probably the last time I will see the Mediterranean for a long time, and I really soaked up the moment. It was beautiful. Anyway, from Tarifa, where the ferry landed, I caught the last bus to Algeciras, which I was grateful for, and then walked from the Algeciras harbor back to my hostel, which was still open at midnight, and which I was also very grateful for. I had a short sleep, then went to the train station to check again if there was any way back up north, but there was nothing, so I went to the bus station and managed to find a spot on a bus to Seville, which had a much bigger train station, and I was pretty sure that I would be able to find a train out of Spain from there. The bus ride took a couple hours longer than it was supposed to, but I didn’t mind, since it was such a beautiful ride. It was like the quintessential Spanish experience. I bounced along in a bus full of Spanish people through the Andalusian countryside, with Spanish music blaring in the bus, and saw southern Spain. Lots of quaint little towns, haciendas, bars, etc., and lots of farms. For all you horse lovers, there were also plenty of the famed Andalusian stallions prancing freely in the pastures. Anyway, once I reached Seville I had to walk about half an hour through the city to get to the train station, but it was beautiful, and I saw the classic side of Seville, which was neat. I waited an hour or two at the train station in line, but the staff seemed to have no desire to help me, so, frustrated, I went back in line, and the second time I went through they got the point and actually made an effort, which was nice, but there was no availabilities on trains leaving from Seville that day either. Fortunately there was something early the next morning, and although the only way that it would work for me to get to Paris would be to leave at 6:30 am and switch trains a few times, I was grateful for it. The supplement was also quite low by the standards I had come to expect, and I was able to afford it. I was exhausted though, and was not able to withdraw any money yet, so I assumed that I would not be able to access the new funds in my account for at least 5 business days. I was a bit worried about how I would get by for the next week, and knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford hostels if I wanted to eat, so I gritted my teeth and prepared to sleep on the street. I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in several nights, I was worn out by the hours upon hours of hassle and frustration at trying to get trains and buses, I had been a bit overwhelmed by worries of how I would survive for the next few days, I was lonely, I was tired of dealing with people (who I was paying hard-earned money to help me) who didn’t want to help me at all, I was drained from always having to be on my guard, I was hungry, and I honestly was not in the best state of mind, so the prospect of sleeping on the street in Spain overwhelmed me, and I had to just go outside and cry. I sobbed quite a few deep sobs, crying out my frustration and fear, and I read through Tennyson’s poem ‘Ulysses’ (thank-you so much Josh Burton for sharing that with me – it has given me so much inspiration and strength) in a shaky and halting voice with tears running down my face. I also read some of my Bible, and although I was still scared to death, I wiped my tears, got up, and prepared for whatever would come. I went to the grocery store and bought a couple things, including a 2 litre bottle of pepsi to keep me awake while on the street. I then went back to the train station and sat down, trying to get a little rest while the station was still open and I was somewhat safe. One man, who I noticed had been watching me for some time, eventually approached me, and we had a very broken conversation, since he didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak Spanish, but it was really nice to have someone who seemed to care, and it meant a lot to me. He asked me how old I was, as well as a couple other things, and I felt like I could trust him, but I soon discovered that his intentions were not as good as I had thought. He offered to let me sleep at his place when found that I was planning on sleeping at the station and on the street, but I quickly got the impression that he didn’t just want me to sleep at his place. Perhaps it was just a mistake due to our language barrier, but from the way he kept trying to touch and grab me, and by the motions he was making, it was pretty evident that he was homosexual and wanted me to sleep with him, and I turned down all his offers. I guess I kind of stand out, being a tall blonde guy in a sea of dark, black-haired people. I was even a little more worried now, because he hung around and continued watching me even after I broke off communication with him, and the security guards didn’t speak English. Not even the customer service people seemed to. I was a bit afraid that he would be waiting for me when they kicked me out of the station and onto the street, and I prepared to face the worst. I had survived the streets of Italy at night, but Italy seemed to be a little more developed than south Spain, and I tried to prepare for a long and difficult night. I had had a lot of rather bad experiences in Spain (many of which I haven’t bothered to share), and I was worried about my prospects. I tried to get some rest again, sitting on a plastic seat in the rather crowded station with my bags strapped around me (Easter weekend – everyone traveling), but I was unable to sleep. I tried to read and I tried to write, but couldn’t really find the heart to do either, and I waited in silence and thought as midnight rolled ever closer. Suddenly I remembered how it all started a few months ago, and how I called Brad up and said, ‘hey, you still up for going to Europe?’, and he said ‘sure, let’s do it’, and how we just bought tickets, bought a few things, and landed in Frankfurt with no real plan, and I just started laughing. I laughed about all the silly things that I had done, I laughed about how funny and ironic so many things had been, and I just laughed at myself and where I was. It was so great to put it all into perspective, and my worries just seemed to melt away. I thought about all the things I had survived so far, and I knew that no matter what happened, I would be okay – I had survived worse and was still breathing air. It didn’t matter anymore, and I simply thought ‘do your worst’ – I’ll be fine. I know God gave me strength, and my heartfelt prayers were being answered. I knew that no matter where I spent the night or what happened, I would be okay. When midnight came and the guards came to kick me out, I asked them (with hand motions, since they didn’t speak English) if there was any way that I could stay in the station for the night, and they said no, but after I got up to leave they turned around and said that I could. I can’t explain how relieved I was. I was so, so, so grateful. I knew I would live through the night. I still wasn’t able to sleep that night, because my mind was racing, but I knew that I was safe, and that was enough. 5 am came and they opened up the station again, and then I just fell asleep. I (miraculously) woke up just before 6:30 am when my train was supposed to leave, and in a panic I ran to the train and managed to catch it. I had survived the night in Seville. We rode to Madrid in the early morning fog, and it was indescribably beautiful. I couldn’t get a good picture, and can’t really describe it, but it was possibly the most beautiful scenery I had seen on my trip, and I had never seen anything like it before. I was also given headphones and was able to listen to some excellent classical music, and that helped to perfect the experience. In additon I watched ‘Flight Plan’ in Spanish, which was playing on the train. (it was a bit of a luxury train, which was cool) At Madrid I had to switch train stations in a short period of time, and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it in the confused mental state that I was in, but I pulled myself together and after a little confusion I made it to right connecting train and eventually to the other station, where I caught another train to a city on the north Spanish/French border. I was able to get some sleep on this train and do a little writing, but I was still exhausted (train sleep only seems to give me a fraction of the rest that normal sleep gives me) and spent a lot of time staring out the windows. After I switched trains again at the border I started worrying about what I would do when I got to Paris. I had survived Spain, but I would be arriving at midnight and would not be able to get a hostel, so I faced the prospect of once again sleeping in a train station/street, and I started to worry again. I knew I could make it through the night in Paris, but if I didn’t get any money for a few more days I would have to face several more nights on the street, and I was a bit worried about how I would do after 2 or 3 more nights without sleep. I didn’t think I had any energy for reading, but I needed something to distract my mind, which was in a bit of a shattered state, so I turned to philosophy, picking up Thoreau’s ‘Walden’, and it helped tremendously to think about the great principles of life instead of my immediate (and ultimately, insignificant) problems. After reading for a couple hours, my mind was active, and I was able to do some really good thinking. It was a really unique state that I was in. I was almost completely exhausted and was basically running on ‘autopilot’, and was therefore consciously living my unconscious self, if that makes sense. I struggle with the right words to explain it, but basically I was not in my normal conscious state of mind where I have the presence of mind and energy to make decisions and act, etc., – my regular conscious self had essentially shut down, and I was observing my unconscious self in action. I was able (and required) to think of the things which I don’t normally think of – things that I normally do automatically without any thought, and so when I retreated into philosophy, I was able to ask myself questions that I would never normally think to ask, and to receive and come to answers and conclusions that I would not normally come to, and it was really cool. Anyway…I tried to decide whether or not to hope for the best – that somehow there would be money in my account when I got to Montparnasse train station in Paris – and run the risk of being disappointed, which I was not sure how well I could handle in my very delicate state of mind (I really don’t think I can explain what it was like to someone who hasn’t experienced it, and even I have difficulty understanding it from the more secure, rested, and comfortable position that I am now in), or whether I should just expect the worst and quite possibly be very pleasantly surprised, and at least not be disappointed. It is a question that I would normally never think to ask, becuase the answer was such a natural one to me, but I was in such a fragile state of mind and had faced so many disappointments over the past few days that I had to ask myself if it was worth the pain and frustration. It still didn’t take long for me to come to my conclusion. If no one hopes, then all hope is truly lost, and I resolved that no matter what, I will strive to be that one person who hopes, and thus keeps hope alive. Even if there seems to be no hope left, and if no one else in the world is hoping, I will hope, and thus there will always be at least a flicker of hope on this earth while I am alive. I also remembered things that I have learned about life is what we make of it, and how our thoughts dictate our reality, and I realized that the only way to have a hopeful future is to be hopeful in the present. This is one of those things that I ‘knew’, but learned in a whole new way. I thought about so many things that I will simply not try and describe them here. Anyway, when we finally did reach Paris (my 4th time in the city – all roads no longer seem to lead to Rome; they lead to Paris instead), I made a beeline for the bank machine, and cannot explain the enormous flood of relief that washed over me when I was able to withdraw some money. I guess that my parents had simply not deposited it yet when I had last checked, but it was all fine now. I am so grateful that my family has money to spare, which I can pay back over the summer. Anyway, the next thing I did was to promptly call my family, (I still had some time left on the calling card that I had purchased my second time in Paris after I chose to let the bike trip fall apart) and I just talked to my mom until the time expired. It was nearly 1 am, I was completely exhausted and looked like a bit of a mess, but I just stood in that phone booth and talked to my mom, and it was awesome! I have the best family in the world, and couldn’t have picked them better if I had tried. It felt so great, and I felt huge loads just melting away. Anyway, after talking with my mom I headed to the waiting room, and since it was not feasible to get a hostel that night, I decided to sleep in the waiting room. The French are much more developed than the Spanish, and they had a waiting room open all night for customers, with guards making sure that it stayed safe. After they checked my Eurail pass to make sure that I was legitimate, they let me unroll my sleeping bag on the floor and sleep until 6 am. I had to sleep on the seats in Seville, so this was a nice luxury, and I enjoyed it, getting an awesome rest in those 4 hours. I then packed it up and headed to Gare de Nord, (the train station in the north of Paris) where I caught a train to Arras (I had decided to go to Vimy Ridge shortly before – I had originally planned on going there, but had given up on it, then I read Kathleen’s comment on my last blog posting where she suggested that I go, and I decided to go for it. Believe me, my friends, your comments have had a very big impact on me. Thank-you – you have played an important part in my trip.) at 7:22 am, arriving at about 8 am. I then tried to catch a bus to Vimy Ridge, but the nearest that the bus would go to was a little town called Neuville St. Vast, which was nearly 3 kms from the Ridge, and that bus didn’t even left until 12:15 from Arras, and didn’t return until after 6 pm. I wasn’t sure if I would still be able to catch a train back to Paris, and then from Paris to Amsterdam like I was hoping to do yet that day, but after a bit of running back and forth between the train and bus stations I was able to get a ticket for a train that would actually pass through Arras on its way to Amsterdam, which would save me a couple hours, and I would be able to catch it shortly after my bus got back to Arras, so I was very happy and grateful. Once that was all taken care of and my day already made, I walked around Arras, buying some food (I was so happy at having money that I bought a bag of chips to celebrate, and I had some bread, cheese, chips, and leftover pepsi while sitting on the steps of a church in Arras.), eating it on the steps of a church in Arras, then I walked around some more. There were a lot of Canadian flags and some evidence of the 90th anniversary ceremonies honoring the battle of Arras, which included the battle of Vimy Ridge, which ceremonies had taken place only a couple days earlier, on Monday. I think it was pretty evident that I was a Canadian, and I could feel a lot of respect from the people of Arras. It was now a big city of thousands of people, but they had not forgotten the sacrifice which had been made for their freedom. For those of you who are not familiar with the Battle of Arras and Vimy Ridge, it was one of the most important battles and turning points of World War I. It was one of the key points in the Allied offensive that led to Germany’s surrender, and it also gave Canada a place on the world stage. It was considered a nearly impossible task, and Vimy Ridge itself was considered practically impregnable, and the job of taking it was given to the Canadians, who had gradually established themselves as the shock troops of the Allied army over the course of the war. They were consistently given the hardest objectives and placed at the front of the lines, and although the cost in Canadian lives was frightful, they always achieved their goals and were universally respected. The case was the same with Arras and Vimy Ridge. Thousands upon thousands of Canadian boys were killed in the ferocious fighting, but inch by inch, mile by mile, the Canadian troops completed their objective and eventually cracked the fortified German line, leading to an enormous breakthrough in the war. It has been often said that Canada truly became a nation during the battle of Vimy Ridge and Arras. People began to distinguish between Canada and Great Britain after the glorious deeds of the Canadian soldiers during these battles, even though Canada had officially acheived independence 50 years earlier. The cost was high – entire regiments of 1000 soldiers each were nearly obliterated, but Canada earned its place on the world stage. I was now able to stand at the ‘birthplace’ of my nation, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder to be Canadian. My ‘brothers’ had died here to make people free – to make me free, to keep Canada free, and to make the French people and the people of Europe free, and they had succeeded. Of course, Canada’s contribution was small in comparison to Great Britain or France, but they had a little to give, and they gave that which they had – their ‘widow’s mite’. People looked at me with respect, and I held my head high that day. Anyway, after wandering the streets and an outdoor market for a while, I waited at the bus station and wrote a poem from the perspective of a fallen Canadian soldier, then took the bus to Neuville St. Vast (about a 25 minute ride), from which I then hiked out to the Canadian memorial. It was a hot day, and I was carrying both of my heavy backpacks (I ended up taking the legs of one of my ripped pairs of pants and wrapping them around my shoulder straps to ease the pain – my big backpack was cheap, had no padding, and dug into my shoulders badly, leaving them sore for a couple days afterwards and also leaving marks, but my improvisation, which I held together with hockey tape, worked quite well and made it a much easier burden to bear), but I eventually made it there, and there were good directions. A section of land had been set apart by the French and given to Canada, and so I was essentially back in Canada once I entered the Memorial Park area, and man was it ever good to be home! At the visitors center I was allowed to leave my backpack and go exploring, and people were really friendly (and Canadian, of course, which was nice), and I went on to have a powerful afternoon. I walked through some restored trenches, and was shocked to see how close the opposing front lines were to each other. The entire landscape of the area was pockmarked with craters made by thousands of artillery shells, and most of the area was fenced off with signs warning of how there were still active explosives in the area – people were still occasionally getting killed by accidentally stumbling upon leftover explosives. It was amazing! I eventually made my way to the giant Vimy Ridge Memorial Monument, which was Canada’s official monument to the Canadians killed in World War I, and it was amazing! One of the most powerful works of art that I have ever seen, and I spent quite a bit of time walking around, thinking, and reading some of the thousands of names engraved upon it. I had the experience of standing on Vimy Ridge itself as well. I also met a lot of other Canadians there, and it was cool to talk with them about Vimy Ridge, etc. I then went to the cemeteries, where I spent nearly 2 hours. There were rows upon rows of graves for unknown soldiers, as well as graves for soldiers whose names were known. I paid my respects, and just wandered among the headstones, reading the messages engraved upon them, and it was very touching and inspiring. These men were heroes. I recited the famous Canadian poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’, as well as a few other poems and lines, etc., and also proudly sang the Canadian national anthem, which I will share here:

Oh Canada,

Our home and native land.

True patriot love, in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The true north strong and free.

From far and wide, Oh Canada,

We stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land,

Glorious and free.

Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Anyway, it was really awesome and powerful, and I shed quite a few tears. I then walked back, talked with some of the staff in the visitors center, had a deep and heartfelt prayer, (I have had many such prayers throughout my adventure) and walked back to Neuville St. Vast, where I waited in the sunshine, singing happy country songs until the bus came. It was a really nice bus ride, and I was the only passenger. Once back in Arras, I ran to the train station and caught my train to Amsterdam. It transferred in Brussels, and I met a couple really neat people on the train, and it was nice to just talk with other people who spoke English. (nearly everyone speaks English in northern Europe) I was still very tired though, and had had an exhausting day, both physically and emotionally (it was also very inspiring though), and didn’t have much to give, so it was a bit of a relief to be left alone as well. I did learn a lot about Belgium by talking to a couple people who lived there though, and that was cool. As I neared Amsterdam I started talking with a fashion writer who lived there, and he gave me some helpful pointers. I didn’t figure it would be too busy on a Wednesday night in April, but it was. After I left the train station I walked around and tried to find a hostel, but everywhere I checked was full. It was after midnight, but I kept trying different places and following up leads, and eventually I found a place called Bob’s Hostel that had a bed available, so I jumped on the opportunity. It was an enormous relief to be able to fall into a soft bed that night, and I am really glad that I didn’t have to sleep on the streets in Amsterdam. I wasn’t even in the infamous ‘red light district’, but there were still women without clothes standing in the windows and trying to entice people inside. Even the hostel was pretty crazy. There seemed to be nudity everywhere – all over the walls, etc., and when Iwalked in to the hostel there were people laying around like zombies all over the place, all stoned on weed. It was sad to see. In my room I talked with an Israeli traveller for a while, then went to sleep at about about 2 am. I slept until about 9 am, had some breakfast (during which everyone was smoking weed – I had never known what weed/marijuana smelled like, but I recognized the smell as soon as I smelled it here, and was then able to place it – it is more common than I had thought. I have had several ‘druggie’ friends, but only know did I realize what weed smelled like. Anyway…), and then went back to bed until about 2 pm. It was really nice to get a good rest. I then went and explored the city for a few hours, checking into trains to London, but there was nothing reasonably priced available for the next couple days, (they are also not covered by my Eurail pass) so I wasn’t too sure what I would do, but I accidentally stumbled upon a EuroLines bus station and was able to get a bus ticket to London for 42 Euros. I still had 3 unused days on my Eurail pass, and looking back, there were a few times when I could’ve used them but chose to save them in case a greater need arose, but I still got my money’s worth out of the pass. I saw the Anne Frank house, although the lineup was so big that I decided not to go inside, and I just walked around the city for a few hours. I decided not to go to the Red Light District, even though people kept saying that I had to see it – I wasn’t interested, and it wasn’t worth it to me. I didn’t even need to go there to find immorality though – it was everywhere. There were porn shops proudly displaying their wares all over the place and on the street, there were people stumbling across the sidwalks, high on drugs, and as I have already shared, the prostitutes were in the windows. The city was beautiful itself, but I couldn’t take the atmosphere there. Probably the best way to describe how I felt would be like an ice cube in a bowl of hot soup – every moment that I spent there was gradually melting me, and I knew if I stayed there too long I would crack and melt. No matter how hard I try to live with integrity, moral excellence, and high standards of character, etc., I am still human and subject to the same temptations that other human beings are subject to, and I knew that it was not a good environment for me to be in. Everybody seemed to be ‘doing it’, and kept offering me the opportunity to ‘do it’, and the constant temptation to indulge in any way I wanted was a steady struggle, but I knew I would pull through, because I had already decided that I would, and I had God helping me out. I met a really neat lady preaching on a street corner in Amsterdam, and I talked with her for a bit and we encouraged each other, and it was evident it meant the world to her – I am pretty sure that she doesn’t get too much encouragement in what she does. I was so proud of her for being a light in a dark place. Anyway, I eventually went back to the hostel and got to bed early. I was sick and overwhelmed by the smell of weed/marijuana – which seemed to be everywhere – and I was very glad that it wasn’t allowed in the rooms, for fire safety reasons. I was up before 6 am the next morning, got ready quickly, and eventually managed to get out of the hostel, walk to the train station, take the metro to another train station, and then walk to the bus station from there. I met a German girl who was studying in England while I waited to board the bus, and we got to know each other pretty well both there and during the course of the bus ride. The bus left at about 8 am, and passed through much of the Netherlands, Belgium, and some of Northern France, eventually boarding a ferry at Calais and crossing over to Dover, in England. I was grateful to be out of Amsterdam. I slept a bit, did some writing, talked a lot with Hannah (the girl I had met), watched the scenery, and listened to the music playing in the bus. During the course of that long bus ride I think I heard just about every sappy old love song and sad song ever written, but I loved it – it was such a cool feel. Hannah nearly went insane though, and couldn’t stand the music. They also played a movie on the bus – Blood Diamond – and it was very powerful. It definitely took my mind off of myself, and it was quite inspiring, although also a bit on the violent and gory side. I was glad that someone had taken the time and made the effort to make such a movie though. It was created to make a difference, and that is a noble aim which I support wholeheartedly. Anyway, the ferry ride was really nice, and it was so awesome when I first beheld the famed ‘white cliffs of Dover’. The bus arrived in London over 2 hours later than I was told, but it did get there, and I was so grateful to finally be here – my final stop before going home. I had worried that I would not be able to get here when I was stuck in south Spain, and had come closer to losing my mind than I ever have, but I finally made it. I was able to check into hostels at the train station, but the one I had originally wanted was full, so I had to book a more expensive one – nearly twice as expensive, but I wasn’t willing to spend 6 nights on the street in London (I have been told that it is the most crime-ridden city in all of Europe, where people will rob you with a knife in broad daylight, and where 1 in every 3 people has been the victim of crime), so I went for it. I also bought an ‘oyster card’ (a one week pass on the tube/metro, and on the buses within London), then took the tube to Russell Square and walked to my hostel – the Generator, which is an enormous hostel and can house up to 800 guests. After getting moved in, I hung out in the lounge room and talked with people, and a guy from Brazil asked if I would be a part of an amateur documentary film that he was making about people around the world, so he spent 5-10 minutes interviewing me, and it was really cool. I will be representing Canada to everyone who sees that film, and that was a pretty neat thought. I was tired though, and soon headed up to bed, where I talked with one of my room-mates for a bit, then got some sleep. The next day, Saturday, I got up, had some of the free hostel breakfast, got ready, had a second breakfast and met an African guy who was living in Germany, and we decided to spend the day exploring London together. We walked to Waterloo Bridge, all along the south bank of the Thames river, crossed London Bridge, walked around in the city, bought a few groceries for lunch, visited Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and eventually walked back to Russell Square. We passed a girl wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey on the street, and I stopped her and we talked for a while. She invited me to go out with her Sunday night, but I didn’t really feel like blowing all of my money at a pub, etc., so we just exchanged e-mails and chatted for a bit. Leo (my African friend) and I split up at Russell Park, and I sat there and did some writing and ate some food for a couple hours, while he went to some events that night. I then came back to the hostel, got some rest and ate some food, and then went down to the hostel bar for ‘salsa night’, and I met an Australian backpacker while I waited for the events to begin. My name was drawn for a salsa dancing competition, and although I know I’m not the greatest dancer out there, to put it very nicely, I decided to go ahead with it (a can’t miss opportunity!), and I was selected to go to the next round, and eventually me and my partner (a very cute Irish girl) made second place in the competition, which was pretty cool indeed, as far as I was concerned. Things started to heat up a bit after that though, and it was evident where the night was headed, so I left (I think my dancing partner was a little disappointed, but I wasn’t into getting drunk and having sex) and hung out in the lounge room instead, and ended up having a phenomenal evening. There were a few guys jamming on a guitar, a melodophone (a little jazz piano), and a ukulele (badly spelled, I’m quite sure), and singing old rock songs, and I joined in, picking up a small wooden bench and playing the ‘drums’. We played for hours, until about 2 am, and it was like the hippie era had been resurrected. We had long hair, everyone except me was smoking and drinking, and we just sang a ton of good ole’ happy music. There was an old guy or two with a tear in his eye as well as we crooned out classic Beatles tunes in the city they were written, and it was just a great evening – about a dozen people from all around the world joined together in song – it was definitely one of my most memorable experiences from my trip. Anyway, I eventually got to sleep that night, and after my two breakfasts the next morning I took the tube to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where I attended church. It was beautiful, and was a continuation of the Easter Service, so I really enjoyed the message. We also had communion/sacrament, which was neat as well. After church (I hadn’t been to church in months, so it was really nice) I took the tube to Hyde Park, where I walked around, and eventually spent some time at the Speaker’s Corner, which I loved. For those who do not know, it is a place where anyone can just come and start speaking, and at any given time you will have a wide variety of people making a wide variety of speeches on a wide variety of topics. I had thought about getting up and speaking myself, but there is place for listening while others speak, just as importantly as getting up and speaking yourself. There were black people speaking about how white people were not human, there were scientists trying to disprove Christianity, there were Christians trying to convert people, there were people preaching anti-Americanism, there were Muslims trying to explain misconceptions that people have of the Islamic religion, there were people giving away free cake, there was a guy giving free hugs (perhaps he was doing the most useful thing there), and much more. I exchanged some dialogue with a few of the speakers, but after spending a while there I found a nice tree to sit under, and then had some food and wrote some poetry. After this I walked around the park for nearly another hour, just enjoying the beautiful day (London has had absolutely marvelous weather in the time that I have been here) and watching people. I felt right at home here, and am already in love with London. I listened to a new age band for a bit and got a free snack, and eventually made my way out of Hyde Park. That has got to be one of the coolest places that I have encountered on my travels, and I am sure many a great debate has been decided there, many a family picnic or lover’s outing been held, many a sport been played and perhaps even invented, etc., and it is simply one of the neatest ‘cradles of civilization’ that I have seen. There were many thousands of people there, and it is a huge park. I could spend days there. Anyway, I then spent the rest of the afternoon visiting most of the ‘sights’ in London, including Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Wellington’s Arch, 10 Downing Street (the home of the British Prime Minister), and many other places, and I got quite sunburnt. After a full day of exploring, I headed back to the hostel for the evening. I looked into getting some of the hostel supper, but it was a bit more than I was willing to pay, and I decided not to. The chef understood that I was a backpacker on a really tight budget though, and he offered to put a little food aside for me to eat after everyone else was done, and I was very grateful. It had been a long time since I had had a real supper. After eating I read Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in the lounge, and then went to bed. I got up this morning (Monday, April 16) at about 8 am, had breakfast, got ready, had my second breakfast, and basically spent the day writing this blog entry, hanging out a little, and watching ‘Blade Trinity’, which played at the hostel in the late afternoon. The chef saved some supper for me again, for which I was once again very grateful, and I am now writing this at about 12:45 am. I am planning on going to see some museums tomorrow, and then touring Oxford University with Dave (my homeschooling American friend who studies there) on Wednesday, and finally, flying home on Thursday. Let’s hope it all works out, and I’m sure it will – probably better than I could plan. Shortly after I return home I will head down to Calgary, where I will spend the summer working as a door-to-door alarm system salesman. I plan on writing one more blog entry after I get back, and also including some pictures, so please check back in a week or two.

Well, my journey is nearly at an end. I am in London, and it is one of my favorite places that I have been to so far. It’s so easy to feel at home here. It is so nice to not have to worry anymore about whether I’ll have food to eat or a place to sleep in safety and comfort, and to be with people who speak my language – whom I can understand and who understand me, and it all just seems to be coming to a beautiful close. A very happy and fitting ending. We shall yet see though. I would like to leave you with a little thought and a challenge that my friend Rob once shared with me. Joan of Arc once said, “Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, nevertheless they give up their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe. And life without belief is more terrible than dying young.”

Every day, as we go about our lives, we are unconcsiously living and dying for our beliefs, whether we realize it or like it. Whether you die like Joan of Arc, burned at the stake, or whether you simply die a little every day until you finally pass away at 100 years, you are giving your life for your beliefs. Are they worth living for? Are they worth dying for? This is something I have thought quite a bit about on this adventure. What is my dream? What am I willing to give my life for? What am I willing to die for? I have ended up with more questions than answers, which is a good sign, but the important thing is the process – the fact that we are going through the difficulty of asking ourselves these questions. We all have absolutely incredible potential to make an impact for good in this world. We are all geniuses in our own way, and it is important that we live worthy of our calling/mission/purpose. We must let the change start with us as well. We can’t expect others to change unless we have started with ourselves first. Anyway, I’d just like to encourage you to examine what you are living and dying for, and to make sure that you feel it is worthy. You are the greatest! Thanks from the bottom of my heart to all you guys for sharing this trip with me – for your comments which have deeply impacted me, for your e-mails, for your thoughts and prayers, and for all the memories I have made with you that have encouraged and inspired me, and brightened my days and nights with happiness and laughter. I am truly blessed. We all are. I love you all so much and am so grateful for you! I look forward to seeing you again! Remember to check back for a final posting and some pictures. Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

A Thousand Miles In My Shoes (poem)

April 17, 2007

Hello my friends,

This is a poem that I have written over the course of my trip – the first half on a train in Greece, and the second half while sitting under a tree in Hyde Park in London, and then a couple touch-ups here.  I had originally intended for it to be much longer, but I like it as it is, and feel ready to share it.  It is sort of the title poem for my adventure – A Thousand Miles In My Shoes:

A thousand observations made,

A thousand philosophies pondered.

A thousand different people met,

A thousand miles wandered.

A thousand happy hours passed,

A thousand moments savored.

A thousand fears overcome,

A thousand heartfelt prayers.

A thousand tears of joy and pain,

A thousand precious memories.

A thousand lost, a million gained,

A thousand friends, no enemies.

A thousand paths, crossed, then turned,

A thousand kindnesses given.

A thousand bridges crossed, then burned,

A thousand mistakes forgiven.

A thousand dreams have been fulfilled,

A thousand gladly broken.

A thousand words have passed my lips,

A thousand, never spoken.

A thousand times fierce winds have blown,

A thousand raindrops fell.

A thousand times warm sun has shone,

A thousand tales to tell.

A thousand streets that I have walked,

A thousand church bells rung.

A thousand lines my hands have written,

A thousand songs I’ve sung.

A thousand rivers and oceans swam,

A thousand crosses and trials.

A thousand hills and mountains climbed,

A thousand laughs and smiles.

A thousand treasures I did find,

A thousand monuments of history.

A thousand friends I left behind,

A thousand travelled with me.

A thousand places I’ve laid my head,

A thousand meals I’ve eaten.

A thousand times was nearly dead,

A thousand dangers beaten.

A thousand choices I have faced,

A thousand lessons learned.

A thousand races I have raced,

A thousand evils spurned.

A thousand times I’ve turned to God,

A thousand graces shown.

A thousand miles my shoes have trod,

And never one alone.

And there you have it.  It is very meaningful to me, but you are welcome to make it your own as well, since I think it can describe many a person’s life story in addition to my adventure.  That is one of the really neat things about principles – they are applicable in so many ways and on so many levels.  Anyway, enjoy, thanks for reading and sticking with me, and I love you all.  You guys are priceless to me.  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

“I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)

April 2, 2007

Hello again my friends!

     

(by the way, something happened that made the body of the text italic, and as I can’t currently figure out how to change, it, that’s how it shall stay.  Just wanted to let you know)     When I last posted, it was very late at night in a small 2nd storey hostel in Budapest, Hungary.  After I finished my blog, I listened to a little music online, and that was really nice and encouraging.  It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to go for months without listening to much familiar music (especially not Christian or country music, which I listen to a lot of back home), especially when music becomes such a part of who you are.  In a way, listening to a song is like talking to a friend, since the artist is sharing some feeling or message that you can identify with, and I have missed those ‘friends’ many times, although it has encouraged me to embrace other types of music and also to create more of my own.  Anyway, after a decent sleep I got up and got ready, eating some oatmeal musli, which I had bought a couple days before, then heading to the train station and buying a ticket to Vienna.  The train didn’t leave for a couple hours though, so I did some reading and writing on the train platform, then treated myself to a couple really cheap burgers at Burger King, (as I’ve said previously, things are quite cheap in Hungary) watching Hungarian soccer, hockey, and speed skating highlights on the tv in the restaurant, and then heading back to the train station, where I was a little confused by the train times, and I soon found that time had jumped forward an hour the night before (unbeknownst to me), and I had missed my train by just a few minutes, and I was a bit frustrated for a few reasons.  I had hoped to be in Vienna already, and I was also still really tired from the long train ride, the past few weeks, a lot of walking, and very little sleep, and so I think it bothered me a little more than it should’ve.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at how funny it was, or cry at how frustrated I was, so I didn’t really do either – I walked outside, found a statue in the sunshine (it was actually a nice day in Budapest – it had been very cold and pouring rain the last 2 days) behind the train station, and just started writing my feelings into a song.  I felt like I should do it, and it really helped calm me down almost instantly, plus I now had a song with a lot of feeling behind it.  My mind was very troubled though, and I think it was from a variety of things, but largely because of a comment that my good friend Raine Silito had made on my blog, asking me if I still had a dream, and I had been thinking a lot about it over the past few days.  As I did so, I came to the realization that I had lost or forgotten my dream somewhere along the way, and I just knew that I needed to get it back. (I was still trying to make a difference for good, and I generally try to help out wherever I can.  I talk to people, and listen even more, compliment people a lot, offer a hand if I see people working on the street, be a gentleman, offer to share whatever food I have with whoever I may be with at the time, etc., but I knew that I was missing a guiding dream, and I was feeling a bit aimless and lost.)  I had been using a lot of band-aid solutions, but they didn’t solve the root of the problem, and I knew that I needed some direction to be as effective as possible.  There is a point for just being open to go wherever you are led, but there’s also a point where you need to have a basic reason for doing what you’re doing, or you will simply wonder why you are doing it.  Viktor Frankl said that ‘he who knows the ‘why’ of his existence can bear any ‘how’ ‘, and I had been going through the ‘hows’ without the ‘why’, or at least with only a small part of it.  Anyway, with tears in my eyes and a choking voice I recited what I could remember of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech (my favorite speech), then my own dream just started coming back to me, and in a more powerful and clear way than it ever had before.  With a voice still shaky from deep passion and emotion, I shared my dream (for the world and for my life) with myself, God, and whoever wanted to listen as I sat beneath a small Hungarian freedom statue on that sunny afternoon.  It was so powerful, and I wrote it down after I had shared it aloud.  I finally began to remember why I was doing this trip and what it felt like to be motivated with a purpose, and I was so excited.  I had been feeling quite drained for weeks, and I almost instantly regained my former energy and zest.  Having a ‘why’ is so vital to making anything of your life, or at least to making the impact that you have the potential to make.  Anyway, almost instantly things began to click for me and fall into place.  Things had been going amazing – don’t get me wrong – but there’s a difference between good and great.  Simply to be alive and breathing is phenomenal, but there’s a difference between living and living well.  I could almost instantly sense the difference, and it was so neat!  I then did a little ‘street preaching’, sitting underneath that statue and basically reading the last 10 chapters of Psalms loud enough that anyone nearby could hear me.  I didn’t do it with the intention of ‘preaching’, but I was just so excited and passionate that I didn’t care who heard me and/or what they thought.  It had been such a crazy and amazing day, and to try and describe it wouldn’t really be possible, as I have shared many times.  A person goes through over 80,000 seconds in the course of 24 hours, and most of those moments (at least for me) are filled with amazing thoughts, experiences, conversations, writing, etc., and although I know it might be worthwhile and valuable to share it all, (and it has been a vital part of my trip) it is simply not feasible.  I have so many natural limitations by writing, and these are only multiplied by writing only late at night, many days after the experiences and thoughts have occured, and in a rush, without any second reading, etc.  What I intend to say will probably be interpreted differently by every reader, and even I cannot say even a fraction of what I intend to say, or even necessarily in the way that I want to say it, so I guess that is just chasing the wind and dreaming the impossible dream, but hey, why not do your best anyway?  Even if I am only able to share 10% of what it is like to travel Europe in my shoes, that is better than 5%, or nothing at all, but ultimately the only person who will ever really understand it is myself.  It is not really possible to explain what it’s like to sleep on the street with people who look like they want to kill you, or even to share all the feelings and little experiences in the course of a night like that, and likewise it is not possible to explain what it feels like to find a purpose again after a 37 hour train ride and not getting much rest for days in a rainy city after missing a train.  (I’m sure my readers will have somewhat of an idea of what it feels like from similar experiences that they’ve had though) I write pages upon pages in my journal and am utterly unable to capture my feelings and thoughts, let alone all the experiences of just one day, and this blog is only a fraction of that.  Then again, I don’t think that this blog is intended to share everything, only to give a taste of what it is like to have an adventure in Europe from my perspective, and if I can acheive that, (and hopefully impact a couple people in some way) it will have been successful.  Anyway, those are just some disclaimers and ramblings of a wandering man.  I did find what I was looking for in Budapest though, which was understanding and vision.  I had studied a lot about the 1956 revolution against Soviet Russia, and how little Hungarian girls would run up and throw ‘molotov cocktails’ into the little front windows of the Russian tanks as they drove down the streets, and how eventually the Russians would simply machine gun every doorway as they passed, killing countless little girls who were giving their lives for freedom.  I have studied and heard about how little boys would strap bombs to themselves and throw themselves under Soviet tanks with the sole purpose of wrecking the treads and buying time for other resistance fighters.  I have read and studied about how Hungarian freedom fighters who surrendered under guarantee of amnesty were simply shot after they had put down their weapons, etc.  I felt this pain like a heavy burden for much of my time in Budapest.  A large part of why I am traveling is to understand other cultures, and I really tried to understand the Hungarian people, which exhausted me.  I think that I had spent so much time tring to understand their past, however, that I neglected to appreciate who they are now, but that day underneath that little freedom statue, I just enjoyed who they are, etc., and I knew I had found what I had wanted to find in Budapest.

     Anyway, after reading some Psalms and finding the ‘why’ again, I caught a later train at about 4:10 pm to Vienna, and it was really nice train ride.  I arrived at about 7 pm or so after riding for 3 hours with a couple of Romanian truckers, briefly talked with a Brazilian backpacker (who I actually met again by chance the next day – that has happened a couple times – meeting some again who I had met earlier in Europe), got some hostel info, and took a couple different metros to near the outskirts of the city, where I then found my way to a hostel that looked pretty good.  I was in love with Vienna right away, and it felt like coming home.  Perhaps it was just because I had started in Germany, and so it was familiar to hear the German language again, but the countryside is also very similar to where I’m from.  Either way it was really nice though.  Anyway, the hostel clerk was really friendly and we chatted for quite a bit, then I had some beans for supper up in the hostel room and talked with one of my German room-mates.  I shared some food with him, then checked my e-mail, hung out a bit, did some writing, and went to bed.  There was a guy who was a bit crazy staying in the room though (he appeared to be a very drunk 60 year old Chinese guy who stumbled around the hostel making loud and incoherent noises), but I didn’t let it bother me.  The next morning, I got up and had breakfast, then set out to explore Vienna after deciding to stay for another night.  I just started from Karlsplatz in the downtown and allowed myself to get lost from there, following whatever street seemed to interest me, etc.  I almost burst with joy as I came across statues of Brahms and other famous composers.  Thanks to my mom, who did an amazing job of teaching me piano, music theory, and music history (and everything else that she did) for many years, I felt I knew these composers, and it was so cool to finally ‘meet’ them.  I had played their music and studied their lives, and now I was in their city.  The rich culture was simply everywhere, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city with more culture.  Vienna is the cultural capital of the world. (at least the western world)  In Beethoven Square I asked an older Japanese man to take my picture in front of Beethoven’s statue, and after he did, we exchanged greetings (we didn’t speak each other’s languages) and he offered me a vitamin c candy, but I said no thanks.  We then went back and sat on our benches on opposite sides of the square, but a couple minutes later he came and offered me a cigarrette, which I of course declined, and I then offered him an orange, which he accepted, and we sat back down again.  Another minute later he came and offered me a roll of Japanese chewing candy, which I accepted, and we parted after saying goodbye.  That is just a sample of some of the experiences that I am having – a random gift exchange with someone from across the world.  Anyway, as I was walking through Stadt Park I was approached by a man dressed in traditional Austrian clothing, and I found that he was selling tickets to a Mozart/Strauss concert that night in one of the same concert halls where they had been performed over 150 years ago.  I didn’t plan on buying a ticket, since they were too expensive, but I managed to bargain him down and get a ticket for 28 Euros, which were normally much more expensive.  I was SO excited!  I was going to hear some of the most amazing music in the world performed by some of the finest performers in the world, in the classical music capital of the world!  I simply let myself wander around for a couple more hours, and I came across so many neat experiences.  I saw the most beautiful cathedral that I had seen in all of Europe, where I sat down and just listened to a choir sing beautiful music for about half an hour (could’ve been longer, I just lost track of time in there), then stopped at another amazing church, where I just sat in adoration and prayer for a while, and eventually found my way into a free art gallery, where I was introduced to the art of Adolf Frankl, a survivor of the Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp.  He was a distant relative of Viktor Frankl, but his experience led him on quite a different path.  He was tormented for the rest of his life, and expressed his pain through art.  I have never seen art so broken in all of my life.  It is all about death and suffering, and hideous faces that he could never drive from his mind.  I had seen the beauty of Austria in the cathedrals, and I was now able to see the dark side.  The man in charge was an excellent guide, and I learned so much.  He also showed me an anti-semitic plaque still displayed above the door, etc.  I had been so captivated by the good in people, and had been really open, friendly, and trusting after re-discovering my dream in Budapest, but this brought me back down to earth and I realized again what man was capable of, but that just gave me more drive and conviction, and I didn’t let it keep me from loving and trusting people.  I then stopped into a grocery store and bought 4 huge bars of Austrian chocolate for a really cheap discounted price, then headed down to the famous Danube River, along which I walked for a couple hours, just enjoying the amazing scenery, watching people, soaking up the sunshine, and sitting down and relaxing for a little while.  Vienna actually reminded me a lot of Edmonton, especially the Edmonton River Valley, which was quite similar to the Danube.  Then again, all river valleys generally have quite a few basic characteristics in common.  Anyway, I eventually headed back to the hostel, cleaned myself up, put on my nicest clothes, and headed to the concert hall, where I settled in for one of my life’s most amazing experiences.  I muched some Austrian chocolate and then just allowed myself to be swept away, and that was indeed what happened.  It was a simple group of 10 musicians, but they were probably the best musicians that I have ever heard in my life. (I have been to several orchestral performances around North America)  It was perfection incarnate, and they made it look absolutely effortless, and enjoyed themselves tremendously.  I was also familiar with much of the music, which made it that much better.  I wore an ear-to-ear grin for about 2 hours, and during the break I talked with a Swiss lady that looked like Julie Andrews.  I could write about the concert for hours, and I filled 7 pages of my journal trying hopelessly to capture it, but I will just say that it is one of my life’s most memorable and prized experiences, and one of the greatest moments of my entire life was when they struck up Strauss’ famous ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ with the Danube in the background.  I had so many memories of that song (many from old loony tunes cartoons), and knew the melody inside and out (it was also one of the earlier pieces that I learned on the piano), and I was in raptures of ecstasy as it was performed with professional ballet dancers dancing along on stage.  Anyway, after that incredible time, I headed back to the hostel, dancing and conducting an imaginary orchestra much of the way, then did some e-mailing and went to bed after writing in my journal until 2 am. 

     The next morning I got ready and then headed to the metro station, stopping at the Schonnbrunn Palace and walking through the park area nearby, and I did a lot of deep thinking.  I then switched between a couple different trains (a couple kind people helped me out), and eventually made my way to the Vienna South Train Station, where I bought a ticket to St. Andra and then waited on the platform and wrote a poem.  My purpose in going to St. Andra was to catch a bus south from there to a small town near the Hungarian border simply called Andau.  The story of why I wanted to go to Andau is a long one, and I was looking forward to seeing that little town and a small bridge nearby more than almost anything else on my adventure.  I will try and explain a little of the significance. 

     George Wythe College, the college that I am currently studying with, offers several scholarships to students and prospective students, but by far the most prestigious and rewarding is ‘The Andau Character Prize’, and it is also the most challenging.  After I graguated from high school at the age of 16, I decided that I would take a year to just study, and so I found myself a mentor from GWC and began an intense yearlong study program, and she eventually convinced me to try out for the Andau Character Prize, which I didn’t think I even had a chance of winning, but I wanted the experience of trying anyway.  Long story short, I had to study a ton of books and subjects, do a lot of writing and even get some work published, submit an essay, then go down to a leadership camp in the mountains of Utah and go through an interview and character evaluation process, etc., then got selected along with 2 others, out of all the applicants, to go on to oral exams, which were in a big conference hall in Cedar City in front of an audience of several hundred people.  I can remember it all as vividly as if it were yesterday, and I remember Dr. Brooks, one of the head faculty at GWC and one of our oral examiners, basically telling us that he had the power to crucify us in front of hundreds of people, and that if he felt like it he would not hesitate to use it.  He is a great guy, and can be really funny, but he can also be really hard and intense, as he served on a submarine in the navy for a while.  Anyway, we were examined on a wide assortment of topics, from history, current events, geography, constitutional structure, mathematics, science, etc., and it was an amazing experience!  Winning didn’t even matter anymore, but long story short, I ended up winning, which I had thought was impossible, and that was one of the most rewarding moments of my entire life.  I sincerely hope that all of my readers know what it feels like to pour your heart and soul and countless hundreds and thousands of hours of time into something, and then to acheive it, because there are few things more rewarding than that.  Anyway, being one of only a small number of Andau Character Prize winners (some years it just isn’t awarded if they feel that no one deserves it) has meant a lot to me, and I have long wanted to make a ‘pilgrimage’ to the place from whence the scholarship derives its name.  It is called the Andau Character Prize because of the events of the 1956 Hungarian revolution against the Soviet Union, a revolution that was brutally crushed after 13 days of freedom.  The Bridge of Andau is located about 10 kilometers outside of the town, and about 70,000 Hungarian refugees escaped across this bridge into safety in Austria, in the midst of so many examples of heroism by both Hungarians and Austrians.  The GWC faculty only award the Andau Character Prize to someone that they feel has not only a great deal of knowledge and speaking ability, etc., but also the character to stand up for freedom in the face of impossible odds, simply because it is right, or to risk his/her life to bring refugees across a river to safety in the midst of patrols, etc., and for some reason they saw fit to award me with this honor, and I really wanted to see Andau and do some soul-searching, vision-questing, etc.  Anyway, this is an extremely brief summary of why Andau is important to me.

     The train ride to St. Andra was really nice, and when I reached the town I just sat back against the a pole and watched people in the sunshine while waiting for the bus, which didn’t come, and eventually a guy who was putting up signs gave me a ride to a different place, and from there I waited for nearly an hour and then caught the bus to Andau.  It was a beautiful day in the sunshine, and I just walked around smelling the flowers, paying my respects to a war memorial, singing, and thinking.  My heart was so full of happiness, and I felt like I was home.  It was a lazy little small town with good friendly people and the nicest feeling in the air, and it was just perfect.  Anzway, I can’t even explain how important Andau is to me, and how I felt when I first saw that bus with Andau displayed on the front, but it was amazing.  It was a short ride, and it was surreal for me to finally be there.  I walked almost in a daze, and after being helped by some really nice ladies in a grocery store, I found my way to the nearest accomodation, but everything was closed, so I wasn’t sure what I would do.  Eventually I found an information office, and met the lady, Andrea Wahrman, who I had been in contact with in my attempt to find out how to reach Andau (I had discovered her by chance in some research online), and she helped me to find a place, which ended up being the nicest place that I had stayed at in my entire trip thus far.  It was slightly more expensive, but well worth it, as I had my own room, with a soft bed, free breakfast, free laundry service, and free use of a bicycle to go to the bridge the next day.  After getting settled in I picked up some groceries, (everyone was so friendly, and spoke surprisingly good English, and I got the impression that I was one of their first visitors this year, which was really nice.  Honestly, Andau was probably the nicest and friendliest place that I been to over here, and it was so cool to just rest in a place of peace.  I then wandered the streets and one little road that led out of town, and I eventually just laid down beside the road and looked up at the clear blue sky with only the gentle of noise of birds singing in the background, thinking about what Andau meant, and I came to some amazing conclusions that had me bursting with excitement.  I would love to share them here, but I don’t have time, so I won’t, but I did write a little about them.  There were soldiers passing by, since it was near the border, and I think they thought that I was a little crazy, so they asked for my passport, but it was all fine, and after a couple hours I walked back to the ‘bed and breakfast’, waving and talking to people, and offering a hand when I saw people working.  Back at the place I made some supper, then read some of ‘The Federalist Papers’, did a bunch of writing, and went to bed.  I was up early the next morning for breakfast, then went to an empty little church in the middle of town, where I just sat alone for a while (I had went there the day before as well), sang worship and prayed, etc.  It was such a neat little church, and there was so much peace there.  I then biked to the Andau bridge, and there were sculptures and artwork lining the road at intervals the whole way, as well as several people bird-watching, since apparently it is a great place to see some rare birds.  When I reached the bridge, however, there was a small barrier and a sign saying that the bridge was closed until April 1, so I walked back about a hundred yards to a guard tower with some soldiers and asked if they could make an exception and just let me touch the bridge for a moment, but they said no.  I asked if they could come with me, if I could touch the water, or if one of them could at least go over and get me a pebble from the river, etc., but the answer was no every time.  The bridge was the border with Hungary, and they simply would not allow me to cross.  I had dreamed of this moment for a couple years, and had traveled across Europe to come here, and now my dream was dashed 20 feet in front of the bridge.  The tears ran down my face as I walked back to the picnic table beside the boundary, and I decided that I would bike out of sight of the guard tower and then sneak down to the river, so I biked a little ways, but I never stopped to go down to the river.  I could think of a dozen ways to justify it, but deep down it just didn’t feel right and I couldn’t quite reconcile it with my conscience, so I biked back to the picnic table, and as I did it hit me.  This was my test – this was where I would prove that I had earned the Andau Character Prize.  I had come so far, the bridge would be open in a couple days anyway, I could reach the river without being seen, and a million other things all cried out ‘Yes!  Do it!’, but one little voice simply said ‘no’, and I decided to follow that voice.  The end does not justify the means – the end is the means, and if I sacrified just a little bit of my integrity to reach the bridge, I would be compromising the very thing that makes that little bridge so important to me.  Thus, in the shadow of the bridge of Andau itself, I was forced to choose either my dream, (I don’t mean my life’s dream, but simply a dream that I had long had) or my integrity, and after a bit of an inner struggle, I chose my integrity.  I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln, who had once accidentally over-charged some customers by a couple pennies when he worked as a clerk in a store, and that night he had walked 15 miles into the back-country simply to give them back a couple pennies.  That and several other instances had earned him the nickname ‘Honest Abe’.  I want to be like that.  I want people to call me ‘Honest Jon’, and ultimately, I just wanted to be able to look myself in the eye every morning with my head held high.  Colin Raye has a song called ‘Ain’t Nobody Gonna Take That From Me’, and the words to that song really inspired me there.  I will share one of the verses here:

I was 19, it was a good job.  Moving tv’s off the loading dock, ’til the boss said “Son, try to lose every seventh one.  I’ve got it worked out with a good friend – keep your mouth shut, and we’ll cut you in.  Now what do you say?  Don’t you wanna be rich one day?”

I lost a real good job that night, but I kept my pride.

And there ain’t nobody gonna take that from me, as long as I’m holding on.  Heaven wouldn’t ask it of me, the devil on a good day ain’t that strong.  I’m keeping it here inside me, as long as I live and breathe.  I said goodbye with my head held high and there ain’t nobody gonna take that from me.

     I thought of that song when I decided choose my integrity over my dream, and I knew that there was no way I would cross the boundary.  The fence only ran for a few feet and it would be no problem to get behind it, but I simply would not do it.  I sat there the rest of that morning and most of the afternoon, and I watched a dozen people come by and simply walk behind the fence and on and around the bridge with no problem at all, despite the fact that they knew it wasn’t allowed.  Several of them tried to convince me to come, and at one point there was a group of about 10 people that I talked to for a bit, and they all crowded around me trying to get me to come, especially when they found that I was all the way from Canada.  They saw the sign saying that it wasn’t allowed, and they knew that the guards said no, but they kept saying that it didn’t matter.  It was fine, the guards wouldn’t do anything about it, since they really didn’t care, there was no visible consequence for breaking the law and crossing the bridge, etc., but I held firm.  It doesn’t matter if a thousand people are doing the wrong thing – it is still the wrong thing.  In the whole day that I sat there, thinking, writing, reading, etc., the guards only came twice to tell people that they shouldn’t be on the bridge.  I don’t know what went through those peoples’ minds, but they all seemed to have no problem repressing their conscience and compromising their integrity.  It wasn’t my place to judge though, since I am far from perfect myself, but I knew that I could never trample on the Andau ideal, and although it was so hard to say no a couple times, I ultimately passed the peer pressure test.  I was also reminded quite strongly of a poem called ‘The Man In The Glass’, and I will take a moment to share it here:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day,

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself

And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, your mother, or wife

Whose judgment upon you must pass;

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one staring back from the glass.

Some people may think you a straight-shootin’ chum

And think you’re a wonderful guy;

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest;

For he’s with you clear to the end.

And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test

If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass;

But your final reward will be heartaches and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

     That little poem is by Dale Wimbrow, and it hit me good and hard.  Anyway, I had an amazing day sitting in front of the bridge, and I did a lot of writing, talked with several people, read my Bible, recited Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ (my favorite poem ever written, and part of my life’s mission statement), and also Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’, and spent a good deal of time thinking about who I am and what is important to me, etc.  I also purposly ran my knuckle through some of the barbed wire of the fence and left my blood there along with the heroes who had died in the cause of freedom.  It was a very powerful time.  It had hurt bad at first when I saw my dream dashed to pieces, but it ended up being far greater than I had ever expected – I had faced my Andau, and I had conquered it.  I had shown to myself that I had character and integrity, and had faced many tests that day, (I have only shared here a little of all that happened over the course of that day) all of which I passed.  I hope I don’t sound too high on myself, because anyone who knows me knows that I am far from perfect, and I will be the first to admit it, but I am just trying to share a little of what happened there.  Before I left as I said a heartfelt prayer and made a few commitments, the saluted, turned, got on my bike, and left.  Anyway, when all was said and done, I walked away from that bridge that had seen so much heroism and character, and I walked away with my head held high and my character and resolve tried, tested, and true.  I had not fallen 20 feet short of my dream, but had instead measured right up, and I left a satisfied man.  It no longer mattered to me if I touched the bridge or the water, because the things that make Andau important do not consits of wood or water, but of character, of choices, of integrity, and of heroism.  Sure, I only made a few simple choices over the course of that day, and I am quite confident that most of the people I am privileged to call my friends would probably have done the same, but the most powerful acts in life consist of just a few simple choices.  As the saying goes, ‘Sow a choice, reap an act.  Sow an act, reap a habit.  Sow a habit, reap a character.  Sow a character, reap a destiny.’  I have chosen the direction that my destiny will go.  I then biked back to Andau, called my family from the post office there and sang happy birthday to my youngest sister Rachelle, who had just turned 10 on March 28, then talked with my family for a bit, which was really nice.  I then went to the church in Andau again, where I poured out my heart and did some soul-searching, then back to the bed and breakfast, where I made supper, did a bunch more writing, packed up, read a bunch of inspirational stories from a little book that I had brought with me, and went to bed.

     The next morning, March 29, I was up early, had breakfast, left a little note for a person that I had met who reminded me of an old friend that had been killed in a car accident, along with a Canadian quarter (I had brought one Canadian loonie/dollar, and one Canadian quarter.  I had left the loonie at Meteora, and I now left the quarter in Andau.), went back to the church for a while, then waited for the bus.  I had been told that it wouldn’t come for hours, but it came exactly when I had hoped.  That day everything seemed to go smoothly and perfectly, and I caught the next bus from St. Andra to Nieusidl Am See with perfect timing, then the train from there to Vienna, and then the tram from Vienna South to Vienna West.  The scenery was beautiful, but it was a rather cold and rainy day.  From Vienna I caught a train to Salzburg, and I met a really interesting lady on the way, who was in her 50’s, but had done what I am doing back when she was younger.  She knew what it was like to sleep on the street, to eat whatever food you could get, etc., had spent nearly 15 years roaming the world, and had never really been able to settle back into society again.  She was into astrology, and taught me a lot about that, and I was able to just connect with someone else who had been there, which was neat.  She was a bit lost and confused though, so I shared with her the hope that I had, and I could see things making sense to her as we talked, which was so neat.  She spent her days trying to help other people make sense of their lives, but her own life was a bit of a mess, and it was the coolest thing to just be able to help her a little.  I’m sure that my readers have also found that as you share your own beliefs and convictions with others, they become clearer and more meaningfull to you as well.  Anyway, we had a great discussion, and it was also so beautiful to pass through the Austrian mountains.  It’s interesting, because nearly every person I meet thinks that I am between 25 and 30 years old, and treats me as such, and they are usually quite shocked when they find that I am only 19.  I have even had to show my passport so that people will believe me.  People have always thought that I am a couple years older than I really am, but I suppose I have aged a few years phyically on this trip in addition to the mental, emotional, and spiritual aging that I have underwent.  From Salzburg, I took a bus across the German border to a city called Bad Reichenhall, which was only about 20 kms away, and from there I was met by some relatives I had never met before.  My grandma had e-mailed me letting me know that they existed about a week before, and I had exchanged a couple e-mails with them and decided to visit, and so we met there on at the ‘bahnhof’ in Bad Reichenhall.  I found that they were my second cousins and second uncle/aunt, and my second aunt (a Polish lady named Alexandra) picked me up and brought me to a church, where my second uncle (A Canadian named David) was teaching a class with a bunch of small German children and also my two second cousins (a couple of little girls named Sarahya and Sofia), and after we met he gathered his class around, they all introduced themselves (some in English, as that was one of the things that they were learning), then he gave them a chance to ask me (the ‘English-speaking Canadian’) any questions they wanted.  I had been there for about 5 minutes, but it was so neat, and I was surprised by their questions.  They were almost all about dinosaurs, so I spent a little while just telling the kids about dinosaurs, doing impressions, etc., and they watched with open mouths and wide eyes the whole time.  I had gotten so wrapped up in complicated things like business, college, work, changing the world, etc., but they didn’t care about all that – they just wanted to know what I knew about dinosaurs.  I had forgotten how cool dinosaurs were, and it brought back memories of how I used to sit in my bed for hours and read books about dinosaurs when I was little, and I still remembered some of the things that I had learned.  Anyway, after answering their questions about cool things like Roman soldiers and dinosaurs, we went sightseeing a little in the area, then headed back to their place and had some supper, and I was able to get to know them a bit.  As I did, I was amazed!  Both Alexandra and David had studied leadership for much of their lives, and had read many of the same things as I had read – books such as Covey’s ‘7 Habits’ and even Demille’s ‘Thomas Jefferson Education’!  These were relatives that I had never met or even known about, they were living on the other side of the world, and they were practicing and studying the same ideals that I have been studying and trying to practice for the past few years.  Because we had so much background instantly in common we were able to carry on as if we had known each other for years, and we were soon having deep and intimate conversations and discussions.  It was so amazing, and I had been longing for an opportunity to connect with other human beings in that way – we could understand each other very well almost instantly, and that was so nice.  The supper was amazing, and after that we stayed up until after 1 am talking and sharing a container of ice cream.  I learned so much about my family history, and was amazed at the character of my ancestors and the example that they were of heroism.  My ancestors, as I have long known, are Russian Mennonites on both sides, and about 200 years before that, they were German, then quite a few years before that, Dutch, and before that, Belgian.  They fled Russia during the Communist revolution of 1917 and in the time period following, and I had grown up hearing many stories of their heroism, but I heard even more that night, and I am as proud of where I came from as ever a man could be.  It is exciting to know that the blood that flows in my veins has been the fuel for greatness throughout history, and I think that everybody can say that in their own way, which is an inspiring thought.  Anyway, I gained a ton of respect for my newfound second aunt and uncle, and I found that they have been doing quite similar things to what I have been doing.  They are living by faith and striving to make the world a better place know matter where they are, and they have made sacrifices to do what they believe is right, which I have a ton of respect for.  Anyway, I felt right at home right away, and was able to just rest and be at peace.  The next morning David took Sofia (she is 5) and I out for a drive around the area, and we saw one of Adolf Hitler’s mountaintop fortresses, the highest school in Germany, and a beautiful lake up in the mountains.  The scenery was breathtaking the whole way, (I did manage to breathe though, thankfully. lol) and we drove through hills, mountains, forests, etc., for a few hours.  It was so nice to be in a vehicle again, and we listened to German children’s worship music the whole way, which was neat, especially with my little second cousin singing along.  We also just stopped to play tag for 15 minutes, and I had so much fun and laughed like I hadn’t laughed since I don’t know when.  It was awesome!  Back at their place we hung out for a few hours, and an amazing Polish violinst who was their friend stopped by and visited for a bit, and offered to get me a half-price ticket for a Wagner/Chopin/Brahms concert that night with members of some of the world’s finest orchestras playing in the Bad Reichenhall Orchestra that night.  I also had a chance to play some guitar and sing, and that was really nice – it is such a great feeling to express myself musically.  Anyway, after lunch Dave and Alexandra took me and the girls to Salzburg, where we toured around for a few hours, seeing several of the places from ‘The Sound Of Music’, and also walking through the old town (no vehicles), where I saw the house where Mozart was born and many other cool things.  They were so kind, and constantly went out of their way for me, which I appreciated so much and couldn’t express enough.  I also loved justs playing and talking with my second cousins, and Sarahya, who was 9 years old, reminded me quite a bit of my sister Rachelle.  We wrestled and tickled and laughed together, I gave them ‘airplane rides’, piggyback rides, flipped them around, they played music for me, and we just talked and had fun together, and I was able to be a sort of ‘big brother’, which I loved!  Anyway, we eventually dropped David off for a meeting, spent nearly an hour trying to find someone’s place in the Salzburg area, and made it to the concert hall just in time to get my ticket (It sure didn’t seem like it was going to work out, but somehow it did) and get in my seat as the conductor entered the stage.  I was dressed in quite casual backpacker clothing, as I hadn’t had time to change into something even a little nicer, and almost everyone else had suits (I was by far the worst dressed person there), but it didn’t matter to me, because I was still able to enjoy the beautiful music just as much as anyone else in the room, and it was amazing indeed.  This time it was a full orchestra with over 60 members, and I was blown away by their skill and perfection, and how they were still able to almost just play up there like they were kids in a candy store.  The pianist for the Chopin works (the only ones which used a piano) was a Russian girl named Tatiana, and she was the best pianist that I believe I have ever heard in my life.  Her skill was quite staggering.  Anyway, words once again do not suffice to describe the experience.  The music was as light as a feather on the breeze, as heavy as a thousand worlds on your back, as elusive as the wind itself, as full as a bright and starry sky, as beautiful as a single dew-covered rose, and as glorious and majestic as a sunny meadow filled with a thousand bright yellow flowers in full bloom.  It was awesome, and I was so inspired.  My thoughts have lifted to such beauty, power, and nobility as I have experienced these two concerts over the past week, and I have felt like I could do absolutely anything.  Music can be a powerful tool for greatness.   Anyway, after the concert, the Polish violinist, named Roman, took me backstage where I was able to just watch the performers as they relaxed, talked, laughed, etc., and it was neat to see that they were just people too, despite the polished perfection of their art.  I am sure they were not perfect, but I have heard several orchestra concerts in my life, and they were the best.  Roman gave me a ride back to the Rempels’ house afterwards, and we had a chance to just talk music, etc., and I learned a bit, as he has traveled all over the world performing.  Back ‘home’, I had some supper (some of my friends call it dinner) and then talked with Dave and Alexandra again for a few hours, and he taught me some fascinating things that he had learned at the workshop he had just been to.  It was mostly about general paths and trends that people follow in the course of their lifetimes, and it really clicked with me and helped me to understand the stages of life that I am going through and the best direction that I can go from here.  They were a really good couple, and I really admired the kind of husband that David was, and made a few mental notes of things that I will strive to do.  I am blessed with so many amazing examples and mentors.  Anyway, after getting to bed really late again I got a few hours of sleep, then woke up, got ready, and was given a ride to Salzburg with Alexandra and Sarahya.  We sang along to one of Michael W. Smith’s worship cd’s on the drive there, and it was so cool to just sing great music that I had grown up with, along with other people that also loved the music.  I caught the train at about 10:30 am, and settled in for a nice 6 hour ride.  I was fortunate to find a seat.  Anyway, it was a beautiful ride, and I met many kind people, did some reading and writing, napped a little (I still hadn’t slept much over the past while), and enjoyed the amazing scenery of basically all of northern Austria.  We passed through a few long tunnels through the mountains as well, and one seemed to last about 10-15 minutes – I was quite amazed!  Once I arrived in Zurich I took another train to Aarau, where I was met by my friend Nathalie Schenk.  I had gotten to know her when she was a Swiss exchange student in my home town of Tofield a couple years ago, and we had played baseball together, etc.  I had contacted her while in Europe, and it had ended up working out for me to come and visit her for a few days, which was awesome!  Anyway, her and a guy from New Zealand namded Chris (he is a 17 year old exchange student from New Zealand who is living with Nathalie’s family) met me at the train station and drove me to her place in Schoftland, which is a small town about 10 minutes from Aarau, which is in turn about half an hour from Zurich.  She had a school ball to go to that night, so Chris and I talked and hung out for a while, then had an amazing supper with Nathalie’s parents, Harry and Evangeline, and we talked and laughed for a few hours.  Harry reminded me so much of my dad, and his sense of humor really brought out my own, so we joked and laughed a lot.  I instantly felt at home here as well, in this nice little house with great people, surrounded by the Swiss Alps.  After supper we cleaned up, then Chris and I took a train to Aarau and walked around for a few hours, buying the most expensive french fries I have ever eaten at a McDonald’s there (Switzerland is a very expensive country, so I was very blessed to be able to stay and eat for free at the Schenk family house), and just really getting to know each other.  He is an awesome guy, and I have learned so much about New Zealand, etc. from him.  He reminds me a bit of myself a few years ago, and even before I left on this adventure, and I was amazed to see how much I have grown, matured, and changed.  I was once the wide-eyed boy listening excitedly to tales of adventure and wanting to experience them for myself, and to some degree I am now in the position of one who has ‘been there’ and can share what it is like, which I have been able to do a lot of.  Anyway, we had a great time, and I’ve got a lot of respect for Chris.  He’s really easygoing and cool.  We got back at about 11:30 pm, and after doing some blog writing (I had started writing at the Rempels’ place) I went to bed at about 12:45 am.  I got up today at about 9 am, got ready, had some breakfast, spent the morning writing in my blog and listening to music online, had a quick lunch, went out for a beautiful walk in the hazy Swiss sunshine with Nathalie and Chris, and since they live in a more rural area we were able to walk in the hills and forests, and just sit on the grassy slopes and view the world.  It was awesome!  We also had a great time talking together and getting to know each other better, and it was so neat to just talk about Tofield with Nathalie.  Here, in the middle the mountains in Switzerland, I am able to talk about old times in my hometown of Tofield, and that was so cool.  It was just like being home.  Nathalie is an awesome girl as well, and it was a blast to be able to hang out with both her and Chris.  Anyway, back at their place I played their piano, and it was so wonderful to be able to sit down and play after not playing for months, and it really helps me to collect myself, both consciously and unconsciously.  It was a beautiful way to spend Sunday.  I then did some reading (Bible) and writing, talked with Chris, watched funny clips and music videos online with Nathalie and Chris, had some amazing Swiss supper for a couple hours, and then listened to country music with Nathalie for an hour or so.  I was so proud of her for ‘keeping the faith’ and staying true to country music even back in Switzerland, and we had a great time singing along to some of the greatest music in the world.  I was born and raised on dirt roads and country music, and I just about burst with happiness when I hear a country song – I am happy from the inside out and really come alive, and just start singing along, which is easy for me because I am familiar with much of the country music from the past 15 years.  Anyway, I think I was about the happiest ‘ole country boy on this side of the Atlantic as we crooned out those great tunes, and it was just awesome.  She just had a few country mix cd’s that had been given to her, so I wrote down the artists and song titles for her.  After that, Chris and I watched ‘Terminator 2’, which I had only previously seen part of, and I really enjoyed it.  It was great to just sit back on a bean bag and watch a good movie, and I think I have been a bit spoiled the past week, eating really good food, having a soft place to sleep, being accepted into great families and feeling like I belong, meeting great new people and old friends, and being shown around some amazing places.  Anyway, I believe that I am now quite caught up.  There is so much to say that hasn’t been said, and I think I have only really given the frame of the puzzle, but I honestly feel peace about just leaving it as it is.  Even if everything could be said, I don’t think everything needs to be said, and David taught me a bit about just letting go, which is what I have just naturally started doing.  As fellow human beings that know me, that have had many experiences, and that also have emotions and deep convictions, etc., all of you, my dear readers, should be able to do a good job of filling in all the pieces that I haven’t shared, whether from poor memory, lack of time, imperfect capability, or simply not feeling a necessity to do so.  It is not perfect, but it is what it is, and I am happy with that.

     I would like to thank all of you for being such amazing examples for me, for whether by your dedication, integrity, love, joy, loyalty, discipline, friendliness, service, etc., and by just being who you are, you have inspired me and helped me to become who I am.  I owe a part of who I am to each of you and your influence in my life, for whether big or small, you have all played an important part in my life, and I thank-you from the bottom of my heart for that.  I am so grateful for all of you.  In fact, I don’t even think I need to explain every little detail to you, because you will understand.  Well, thus another chapter of my story passes from my hands to the world.  Enjoy, and thank-you for following me in my adventures and caring as well.  You guys are amazing, and each of you (that means every person that I know, even if I hardly know you, and also people I have never met, if you happen to be reading this) have qualities that I notice and try to emulate.  You are all my heroes, and I know that you are heroes to a lot of others as well.  You are changing the world by your every choice and action.  Keep on making it count, and enjoy every beautiful breath you take – life is so amazing!  It is about 2:23 am on Monday, April 2, 2007, and I plan to head to Barcelona on Tuesday, but we’ll see how it all goes and what new adventures I have in store.  I praise God for all my many blessings, both thus far and in each new day!  This is Jon signing off.  I love you guys!  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

                      Your friend,

                                         Jonathan Dueck

The New Day (a poem)

March 25, 2007

Hey friends!

I had a moment this morning, and as it is such a beautiful morning here in Budapest, I thought that I would share a ‘poem’ that I had written a few weeks ago on this very topic.

Springing to life, the new day dawns.

Bright and wonderful; full of promise.

Is there anything so great that it cannot be conquered?

Not on this hopeful morn’.

Fresh blood fills our veins, fresh air our lungs.

Our eyes open and behold all that is beautiful.

Simply to be alive!  What a joy, what a wondrous blessing!

Sins forgiven, troubles past.

Wealth and poverty matter none – all greet the sun alike,

And feel its rays shine warmly upon their face.

Its glow fills the heart with serene happiness.

Let only tears of joy be shed on this day.

Joy so intense that it can be described in no other way.

Happy thoughts of memories past and still to come,

Overflowing gratitude.

Dance a thousand dances, sing a thousand songs.

Stand upon the earth,

Stand with all of humanity,

And praise the Maker of the heavens.

Love, and be loved.

Let us take all that we have been given,

And make the world glad to have known us.

The new day is dawning,

And there are trails to be blazed.

Anyway, that is a small sample of all the writing that I have done over here on my adventure thus far.  I’ve probably broken most of the conventional rules of poetry, but it doesn’t matter much to me.  Hopefully you find it enjoyable, and maybe even a little inspiring.  In fact, while I’m at it I’ll share another one, which I haven’t found a title for, and which I’m not even sure I’ve finished yet, but which has already inspired me a lot.  Here goes:

A gentle breeze breaks the mellow silence,

The rustle of leaves on the air;

As I stand at the crossroads with my fate spread open,

I run my fingers through my hair.

Perhaps ’tis a blessing man cannot see the future,

To know his own fate would drive man mad.

The adventure of life is to face the unknown,

And hold steady, come good or come bad.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me – I appreciate you all and hope I will get the opportunity to get to know you like are getting to know me.  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

“Every mile a memory…” – Dirks Bentley

March 24, 2007

Hello everyone,

I hope that you are all well – amazing in fact. Thanks again for all of your amazing comments – they mean a ton, as always. You are probably surprised that I didn’t wait a month to create my next posting, but I had an opportunity and decided to take it. Anyway, when I last wrote it was Friday, March 16, and I had just finished my blog posting in the late afternoon. After writing my blog I went out for a walk in Athens and just observed the life of the city. I also had a couple gyros while sitting on the sidewalk, then found an internet cafe with the intent of buying a plane ticket home, but all the tickets I had looked into before were no longer available (there are definitely a few negatives to not having a credit card), and it was looking like I would have to pay over a thousand US dollars for my ticket, and I almost went ahead and got it, but something told me not to, and I eventually headed back to the hostel, where I talked with Liz, one of my room-mates who was from Washington, and had a good conversation. I was liking her more the more I got to know her. I am sure that my readers can identify with that as well – the more you get to know people, the more you love them. After talking with her I remembered an airline – ZoomAir – that some other travelers had recommended, and I decided to check it out. While waiting to use the computer I met an old lady from New Zealand and told me about a place called Meteora which she was planning on visiting in a day or two. My eyes went wide and my heart started racing as she told me about this place, because I had seen it in my dreams and hadn’t even known that it existed. It is basically an area at the end of the line in the heart of Greece, in the depths of the mountains, and consists of 13 monasteries built high atop cliffs many years ago as an isolated refuge for monks. I knew that I had to go there. When I got a chance to use the computer I got together a few details for Meteora, and also looked into getting a ticket with Zoom, which I was able to find for under $600.00 Canadian – I was so happy and grateful! I basically spent the rest of the evening until about 1:30 am talking with Jenna and the other ‘Jersey girls’ again, and I even met another one who I really clicked with. I guess when it rains, it pours. I really enjoyed my stay in that hostel – I met great people, had great food, got a really good deal in general, and the owners even took into their inner circle within my first day of being there, giving me special privileges and making me feel like part of their family, in a way. Anyway, the next day, after having the usual big breakfast (when it’s cheap/free, I eat a lot) and talking with Liz while eating, I headed to the train station and caught a train that was leaving in a couple minutes to Thessaloníki (the officials rushed me to the front of a big queue lineup), and had an amazing 7 hour trip. I had planned on going to Meteora, but I figured that I would just take a train from Thessaloníki to Meteora instead. The scenery was mostly breathtaking mountain passes, whereas the south from Patras to Athens had been lemon trees in all directions for most of the ride. I was really loving the Greek people, and I looked a couple people in the eyes and realized that I was looking at the descendants of some of history’s heroes. I could see the fire in their eyes and their carved features, and it was pretty amazing indeed. I also spent some of the ride watching a little girl and her dad. She was so adorable, and it evident how much she loved him and how safe and comfortable she felt in his presence (as is usual, but it hit me really hard at that time and I spent quite a while thinking about it), and I envied him for having someone who loved him and whom he loved with him all the time, especially when she fell asleep in his arms. Perhaps envy is the wrong word – I dreamed of the day when I will be a daddy and when I will have my own little child fall asleep in my arms, and it touched me very deeply. Maybe I was just feeling a bit lonely, but I had never felt those fatherly feelings so strongly before. Anyway, I was going to take a picture of them because they were so beautiful together, but I didn’t feel right about it – that moment belonged to them. It was not for me to capture. Someday that will be me, but not now – I have many other adventures and experiences of a different nature before me yet. Anyway… I sat next to an old man most of the way, and although we could not speak each other’s languages, we each offered the offer some food, shook hands, and exchanged names, and left, however tiny and minuscule, a mark on each other’s lives. I have had many experiences of that nature. As we neared Thessaloníki, I met a student who lived there, and we got to know each other a bit. He was really kind, and when we arrived, he got a taxi for me, helped me to find the address of the hostel that I wanted to stay at, and when I was hesitant to take the taxi (they’re usually a bit too expensive for me), he paid for it. I was stunned by the kindness of this practical stranger, and it completely made my day. As the taxi neared the address, I was very doubtful that the hostel actually existed, as I found found it the same way as the non-existent hostel in Corinth, but this one did actually exist. I checked in (actually, there was no one there, but a sign said to leave my things, as the owner would be back later), then set out to explore the city. Thessaloníki was immediately different from any other city that I had been to, and almost right outside the hostel was a little prayer booth, where I lit a candle and thanked God for all the kindness that had been shown me that day. I am not used to seeing those, but they seemed to be everywhere in Thessaloníki and Northern Greece. I then made my way to the seaside, where I sat on some steps with the sea splashing me and read the books of First and Second Thessalonians in the Bible, then talked a while with a guy from Bulgaria. I then wandered around the city a bit, looking at bookstores, talking with people, and walking around the ruins of the Roman Emperor Galerius’ palace. As it got dark I headed back to the hostel, paid the owner, and sat down for some food. I also got some info from him about Meteora, and decided to go there the next day. I got to bed early, and was up about at about 6 am the next morning, but I was a bit surprised when I wanted to take a shower. I had to walk down a bunch of stairs to the dark basement of the building that the hostel was in, then use a key to open a locked gate, then venture down a dark and smelly stone corridor, and when I finally reached the showers, I was a bit amazed at how nasty they were. It was a concrete room with no windows, strewn with broken glass, cigarettes, slime, spiderwebs, mud, broken shower heads, etc., but I decided that I would shower anyway. The water was freezing cold though, so it was a very quick shower. I took a bus to the train station, and then took a train to Kalambaka, which was the chief town in Meteora. I only had to change trains once, which was nice. The scenery was beautiful, and I almost felt like I was going home. Small towns, farmers, country roads, etc., and I was falling more and more in love with Greece. It was nearly a 4 hour ride, and I got the ticket with the return for less than 15 Euros in total, which was a steal of a deal in my opinion. I arrived in Kalambaka at about 11:30 am, with no idea what I was really doing, but excited about the adventures that I knew were in store. It was a hot day, and after finding that the nearest monastery was about 6 kms walk uphill from the town, I just started walking in the general direction. The cliffs were steep and I didn’t know how I would get to the monastery on the top, but I just knew that I would get up there somehow. As I walked the dusty streets of Kalambaka I met up with a group of travelers, and after finding that they had the same plans as I did, they invited me to travel with them, which I accepted. There were 3 girls and 1 guy, and they were from all over Europe doing a volunteer program in Greece. We hit it off right away and had a great time hanging out. We kept asking locals how to get up to the monasteries, and kept getting dead ends. After one of the little roads turned into bush we hiked a ways, though, and ended up having some food in the Greek wilderness, and we even found a turtle. Anyway, after about two hours of just wandering around Kalambaka we got some good directions, and Thomas (the guy, who was from Germany), and I decided to follow them, while the girls wanted to try another obscure path. We walked quite a ways outside of the town, because the road cut a fair distance around and then up the mountains. It was definitely more than 6 kms, and the sun was blazing hot. We walked a long ways, first around, then uphill, and started trying to hitch-hike, although we had no luck there. I soon found that Thomas had asthma, and was having trouble breathing, so we had to stop for frequent breaks. Eventually he just said he could go no further, and so we came to a bit of an impasse, because there was no way that I was going to leave without seeing the monasteries, but I also didn’t want to just abandon him, especially in the condition that he was in. Fortunately I didn’t have to make that decision though, because at almost that exact moment a Greek family with a pickup truck offered us a ride in the back, which we eagerly took them up on. We rode the next several kilometers through the winding mountain road with the wind blowing our hair in the back of a pickup truck, and it was awesome! Eventually there was a fork in the road though, and the truck was going in the opposite direction that we wanted, so we started walking again. Eventually we reached the Church of the Holy Trinity, which was built onto a rock column off to the side of the mountain that we climbing, so we had to cross a bridge and then walk up some stairs cut into the side of the rock to reach the monastery. It was simply amazing. I have far less time to write this posting than the last couple, so it may seem even more rushed than usual, and with far less detail. I will simply that this monastery was amazing, and I found that it had even been in a James Bond movie. There was a very small admission fee (it was a little more ‘touristy’ than I had expected, but it was still awesome! There was a neat little garden behind the monastery where you could see for miles in all directions (we were very high up on a narrow rock column), and I found a small patch of grass in a crevice where I was sure that monks had prayed for years, and I knelt there as well, which was really cool, and I could really feel the Spirit there. It was so rich, amazing, and inspiring. It almost seemed unnecessary in my opinion to have spent so much effort in building such a place to worship and serve God, since a straw hut in the middle of a city will serve the purpose just as well, but the monks went to great effort to build it anyway, and every detail is living evidence of their devotion, dedication, and love. After spending some time there I figured that I would have to head back (I had to catch a train at 5:30 pm, which made me a bit rushed that day), and Thomas was tired, even though there was another monastery nearby, so we started walking back, but after we had went a few hundred meters I was feeling very strongly that I would regret it if we didn’t go to the other monastery, so I told Thomas and we decided to turn back. We didn’t know how far the other monastery was, but we were determined to reach it. Fortunately it was much closer than we thought, and we paid the admission fee to enter. This one, which was called the Church of Saint Steven, was much more popular, and was also much larger. There was even a really neat museum, where I was able to see actual manuscripts from nearly 2000 years ago, ancient handwritten copies of the Bible, of the works of Aristotle, etc, and a ton of other amazing things. The artwork inside the chapel was breathtaking and priceless, and the garden was amazing as well. I had made a custom of lighting a candle and saying a prayer at every little prayer booth that I came across, (I still don’t know if that’s considered proper, but it doesn’t matter too much to me) and these were definitely amazing places to do that. As I said before, I just can’t describe what it was like to be thousands of feet above the rest of the world in a remote monastery built by hand, where people had worshiped God and devoted their entire lives to Him. It was simply amazing, and I have filled pages of my journal with description of that day. We had to start heading back though, as it was getting late and I didn’t want to miss my train, so we began walking down the road again, but on the way we met a couple from Utah who had a map of the area, and apparently there was a path directly down to the town from the mountain, so we decided to give it a go after finding what appeared to be the start of the path. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to walk back down the road in time to catch the train, and there was no guarantee that we could hitch-hike, so we had to gamble on this path. It was pretty self-evident at first, but I think we either lost it or else it just deteriorated, because it started to get pretty crazy. We just kept going though, and it was an amazing adventure. There were a couple times where we had to actually slide down sheer smooth (approximately 50 degree angle) rock faces for about 50 feet (we had to just throw our backpacks down ahead of us because they could put us off balance), lower ourselves by hanging onto leaning trees, drop a fair distance to the ground below, and even inch slowly down a steep narrow space by bracing our shoulders on one side and our legs on the other, just like it’s done in the movies. Looking back I think we were a bit crazy and could’ve easily died a dozen times (actually, probably many more), but it was an amazing rush at the time, and we were both willing to try just about anything, as long as it was in a downward direction. I think we definitely strayed off the path, because I highly doubt that the average person could make the descent that we did – it was probably a bit of a miracle that we even made it. Needless to say though, we got down much faster than we got up, and that was definitely a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. We were both a little cut, scratched-up, and dirty, but we had done it, and it was really cool to have another person in the world to have shared that adventure with, since it can’t really be explained unless you were there. As we walked back down the path into the town (we hooked onto the path by the place where we had eaten earlier in the day), we came across 3 turtles crossing the path and mating, and we just watched them for a while. That was also incredible, and I got a little footage with my camera. We were having the kind of day that you dream about for years, and were laughing and talking like old friends. Then we came upon a baby kitten that had been abandoned by a trash can, and we both knew that we had to put it out of its misery, since we couldn’t keep it, but Thomas simply couldn’t stomach the thought of doing it, even though he knew it had to be done. He was a bit of an animal activist. I was raised in a farming area though, and it was just part of life – pets breed very quickly, and unless you want to spend a thousand dollars a month feeding your pets, you either have to give them away or kill them. You never abandon a baby animal to die though – that is sick and cruel. You either make sure the job is done quickly and humanely, or you take care of the animal. Anyway, Thomas went off out of sight, and I did what I had to. I’ll spare the details. Maybe I’m callous, but I didn’t let it bother me – I just put it out of my mind as something that needed to be done. (don’t get me wrong – I love animals just as much as the next guy, and have a dog and a cat back home that I care about a lot, but killing this baby kitten was the kindest thing that I could do for it, and I knew that) Thomas was a wreck though, and his day was definitely ruined. He was almost walking around in a daze. He wants to spend his life taking care of abandoned dogs in Greece, of which there are plenty. You can hear stray dogs and cats fighting and killing each other quite often in the big cities. Anyway, we hung out a bit, but he was a bit of a zombie after the kitten incident, and I had to catch my train soon anyway. I never saw the girls again, but I assume that Thomas met up with them.

The train was very full, but I got a seat for most of the trip, then gave it up (the system is a bit disorganized over there, but I didn’t really mind) and stood towards the end. When we switched trains it was packed, and there was hardly even room to stand. Eventually it started to empty and I was able to get a seat, but I only had it for a minute or two when my conscience told me there was no way I could sit (even though I had been walking all day) while there were women standing, so I gave my seat to an old lady, and she was very appreciative. There was a pretty Greek girl standing nearby that also noticed, and we started talking. She was very kind and friendly, and although she had a slightly more complicated name she let me call her Peggy. It was funny, because the old lady that I had given up my seat for kept trying to ‘hook us up’. (actually, quite a few Greek people seemed to be trying to hook me up with a girl they knew – I guess they assumed that I was rich and would be a good match) Peggy was a bit embarrassed, but I just smiled. The three of us talked about a bunch of things for the next 3 hours, during which Peggy and I stood the whole time, and we all just really enjoyed each other’s company, making the time pass very quickly. To make a long story short, Peggy offered to show me around the city the next day, and was just really sweet and helpful in general. Back at the hostel I did a lot of journal writing about the day, had some food, and ended up talking a long time with an English room-mate named Martin who seemed to have some psychological problems. He claimed that he knew some things that the English government didn’t want him to know and had tortured him and tried to kill him several times, and that he was on the run right now. He had a very negative worldview, and spent his days mindlessly walking around and doing nothing. He almost seemed like a shell of a person, and his logic kept repeating itself. I tried to just listen and understand him, and also to share my philosophy of life with him, and when I shared with him how amazing life is, what really matters, how he could be happy, and how much incredible potential he had, I could see a glimmer of hope in his eyes for just a moment, but then he relapsed again, and after a long time of this I eventually had to go to sleep. That was easily one of the best days of my adventure and of my life.

The next morning I ventured into the hideous showers again to ‘clean’ myself up for my day of exploring the city (one of my room-mates had taken one look down there and decided he didn’t need a shower that badly in the next few days, and another one had heard such awful stories that he had never even ventured down there, despite the fact that he had been to this hostel several times, so I counted it a bit of an accomplishment to have showered there, in freezing water, twice.), and I met Peggy outside in front of the hostel at 11 am. She showed me around for a couple hours, we talked about our respective countries, etc., and I learned so much about Greece from an insider perspective. She was an excellent ‘tour guide’ as well. She then took me to her university for a meeting to vote on some pressing issues that had to do with the education bill the government was trying to pass (the same reason that there had been massive protests in Athens), and I met some of her friends there. There wasn’t a quorum at the meeting though, so we left, although I did get a chance to see what Greek universities were like. We all walked around together for a while, seeing more sights, visiting people they knew, and talking, and then we went to the university cafeteria for a free lunch. Shortly afterwards we had to split up though, because Peggy was a volunteer teacher and had a class to teach, so we said goodbye at a bus stop, and I then walked back to the hostel. I hung out there for a bit (by the way, when I say ‘hung out’, I don’t mean that I sat and stared at the wall and did nothing, but I did take it easy), packed up, then set out to walk across the city to the train station, which took me over an hour. I then asked around to make sure that I would have no problem as a Canadian citizen getting into Turkey, and I was assured that I would be find with my passport by the Greek authorities, so I bought a ticket to Istanbul. I had not been planning on going there, but a few days before I had thought that I might as well stop in, since I was in the neighborhood, and it was a city that had basically been the center of the world for a thousand years. I was going to Istanbul! As I sat in the train station for a couple hours waiting though, I felt a little lost and empty. Things had been going so well that I was feeling pretty confident and felt like I could do my own thing, but I had to step back and remind myself of what really mattered and where my help comes from. I don’t know if anyone else ever feels like that, but I often go through phases where I am really close to God, then get a little cocky and independent and lose the fire in my spiritual life, (even though I try to read my Bible daily and continually remind myself to be thankful for all of my blessings) and then have to go back to the basics and get back in touch with God. It’s like bouncing between dependence and independence in the search for interdependence. Granted, I spend progressively more and more time in ‘interdependence’ the more I learn and grow, but I still lose the balance sometimes. This trip I have been heavily dependent on God, but once I started to ‘find my traveling groove’ I went for a swing in the opposite direction and got a bit independent, and was now having to find the balance again. Anyway, I sure hope that I don’t come across as a know it all or as having it all together, because neither of those are the case. I still have a ton of questions and doubts, and am just another person trying his best to do what he has found to be true and right, and I probably do a poorer job than most, but I am trying. Anyway, I read my Bible, and also read over some letters that my family and friends had given to me before I left, and that really encouraged me and helped me to remember who I am and what is really important. The power kept going out in the train station though, and when it came back on all the alarms would go off, and after this happened 5 times I went and sat outside. I had to plug my ears because the shrill sirens were so loud. Anyway, I eventually got on the train, and I found that my cabin-mate (it was an overnight train) was an American named Joshua who was living in Turkey. He had actually done a trip like mine a few years prior, but could never get used to a normal life at home again and so decided to move to Europe. His trip had been much less adventurous than mine though, and as we exchanged stories he thought that I was a hero, which I thought was a little funny, because I certainly didn’t see it that way. He was a bit drunk though, and staggered in and out of the cabin with a beer in his hand a couple times, so I didn’t take him too seriously. It was a very bumpy ride, as the trains were very old, and so I couldn’t write too well. We talked for a bit, then went to sleep, but were woken up at about 3 am by Turkish border guards. They took me off the train and brought me to a little station (it was little more than a wooden shack with a wood stove in the corner), where they told me that I needed a Visa to enter Turkey, and that it would cost me 45 Euros to get it. There were a couple others that also needed Visas, but they were only charged 15 Euros, so I tried to argue with the guards a bit, but they didn’t speak much English and just ignored me. Every now and then they would say ‘Canadian citizen. 45 Euro.’ I wasn’t prepared to pay that much money, but I didn’t have much choice, as it was dark and seemed to be a little remote, and I had already come so far, so I payed it, although I grumbled a bit. I was a bit groggy at just having woken up, so it bothered me more than I normally would’ve let it. I let off a little steam when I was back with Joshua, but apologized for my attitude 5 minutes later when I was feeling a little more reasonable. Anyway, we slept most of the rest of the way, only waking up as we entered the city. It has about 15 million people though, so there was quite a bit of city to drive through. It was amazing! We passed Byzantine walls, churches, ghettos, etc., and eventually reached the train station in Sultanahmet, which is the part of the city that most people visit. We split up there, and I set out to find a hostel. It was almost surreal to actually be in the Middle East. There were Mosques everywhere, there were loudspeakers through which you could hear the Muslim prayers 5 times a day no matter where you were in the city, and the culture was all around me. The Turkish people where very helpful, and I eventually found a good and cheap hostel, where I showered, then left my big backpack and set out exploring. (it was so nice to only have to worry about 2 backpacks, rather than a bike, saddlebags, etc. Backpacking is much more doable in many ways, and certainly more flexible. I am so grateful that Jeff was willing to take care of my bike, although I feel bad for all of the trouble that I’m sure it has caused him.) It was a hot day and I wore my cowboy hat (I generally only wear it when my hair is a mess from not having showered, or when it is really sunny outside), but that passed me off for a tourist right away and I got a ton of comments. Most people thought I was a cowboy from Texas and made jokes about how I was missing my horse, but I just laughed with them. The people were so open and friendly. I’m going to have to spare most of the details at this point, but I spent the day wandering through shops and bazaars, haggling over prices with anyone from old shopkeepers to young boys, buying a couple things (generally for less than a third of the original price, as I had gotten used to bartering), including a new pair of pants (my others were falling apart), observing people, eating lots of cheap Turkish kebaps (their currency was the Lira, and it was about half the value of the Euro), and just soaking up the life of Turkey. I loved it, and had never been a city that was so alive. Everywhere I went people would just stop me on the street, introduce themselves, and talk with me for a while. It is a friendly culture, and they do the same with each other. Often they just wanted to sell me something, but sometimes it was just genuine interest, and I enjoyed the attention and excitement either way. If I had just arrived I probably would’ve found it a bit overwhelming, but I had been traveling a long time already and had seen and done a lot, and so I was able to take it in stride. I had a pretty good idea of people’s intentions, and generally knew when to stay and when to say no and walk away, and how to do so as well. Experience definitely came in handy, and I was able to enjoy Istanbul so much more because of it. It was almost instantly one of my favorite cities in the world, and I completely forgot about the events of the night before, which had left an initial bad taste in my mouth regarding Turkey. Just to be able to walk the streets with the monuments of history all around me was amazing, and I could fill pages with the things I saw. My hostel was almost right next to the Hagia Sophia. It was simply amazing, and was different that any other place in the world. I walked a long ways to Taksim Square, crossing the Bosporous strait on a bridge and walking through some of the more Turkish areas of Istanbul, where I was even more noticeable. I watched children playing soccer in alleys, families eating together, etc., and I sat underneath a monument in Taksim Square eating Turkish Delight. I then walked back to the hostel, relaxed for a little while there, and went out wandering again. I stopped a little shop and got my camera memory cards put onto cds, but it was a bit old fashioned and took a long time. (a good hour or two) I had a chance to talk with the shop owner though, and I learned a lot about Turkey. He even served me some Turkish tea, which I had been wanting to try. I didn’t hesitate to share my positive opinion of Turkey with the people, and that generally made them quite favorably disposed towards me. I have found that many people in many countries will put themselves at my service if I say a good word about their country. Anyway, after the cds were finished I walked back along the old Byzantine wall to a pillar in a square, and there I was convinced to come see a Persian rug sales presentation. I joined a few others in the basement of a big rug shop, and we were given Turkish headware, Turkish tea, and learned a lot about rugs, but I didn’t buy. I then went and sat on top of the former hippodrome (it had been filled with 23,000 bodies and then covered up with dirt, so you couldn’t actually see the hippodrome), in front of the famous Blue Mosque, and watched Turkish boys play ‘keep-away’ with a soccer ball. I was eventually joined by a Turkish guy who was learning English and wanted to practice a bit, since he was planning on coming to America in the near future. He was really nice, and I learned so much from him. He was a former soldier, and was just really friendly, and we spent a lot of time just laughing together. He bought me some fried corn, as well as some Turkish tea (he insisted on paying), and hung on every word I said. He shared with me some of his dreams about his future in America, and I was touched at the way he described how he saw it in his dreams. I realized how much I take my blessings for granted. It didn’t matter to him if he was rich or poor, he just wanted to be able to live and raise his family in America, where he and his family could become anything that they dreamed. We talked and hung out for a couple hours, and he showed me around a bit. (the Hagia Sofia is SO beautiful at night!) I now had a good friend in Turkey, and we exchanged e-mails, etc. Back at the hostel I did some internet research, did a lot of writing, and went to bed after 1 am. The next day I wandered around the Hagia Sofia, then the Blue Mosque, where I went inside, although I had to take my shoes off first. It was amazing, and there was a deep feeling of reverence, awe, peace, and sanctification within, and it was beautiful as well. After spending a fair bit of time there I found a bookstore where I bought a copy of ‘The Glorious Quaran’ (Koran) that was in both Arabic and English. I ate a lot of Turkish food as well, because it was so cheap for so much. I could get a kebap pita full of meat, vegetables, and sauce for 1 Turkish Lira. I then headed down to the docks where I took a cheap ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul (Uskudar), since the city is partly in Europe and partly in Asia, and once there I walked quite a ways inland. I have now been to Asia! I had some Turkish dessert, sat on a gazebo bench and talked with a Turkish guy who worked for Dominoes Pizza, watched part of a Turkish funeral, sat in the sun by a fountain and watched a Turkish couple, and eventually made my way back to the docks and took the ferry back to the European side. It was so perfect. The sun was shining warmly, I was gliding over some of the most famous and important waters in the world and feeling the spray on my face, I had a stomach full of good food, I was healthy, and a million other amazing blessings. In fact, it was almost too perfect for me to take, and so I sang a couple sad country songs to bring myself back down to earth, but I had so many happy memories associated with these songs that it just made things more perfect. Back on shore I walked to the Grand Bazaar, where I browsed around for a bit, but I was exhausted and needed to sit down. Istanbul is the kind of city that requires you to be fully alive all of the time, and it can be a difficult pace to keep, or at least I found it so. I sat on a bench just outside the back entrance with a slight wind blowing (it was getting colder) in my face, and I was eventually joined by an older Turkish man. We sat together in silence for a long time, just enjoying the day, thinking, and resting, and it was nice to be able to do that – to just soak up the moment with another human being, no words being necessary. I had a couple apples with me, so I ate one and shared one with him, and we then talked for a while. I have seen firsthand that most Muslims (at least the ones that I have met) are not extremists. In fact, they are like most Christians, who only attend church sometimes, and don’t necessarily even live their beliefs for the rest of the week. Anyway, he was in the leather and jewelry business, and he told me about what it was like from his point of view, having so many tourists every day. After a while we left and I went to a book bazaar, picking up a book of some Shakespeare plays, then made my way back to the hostel as it was getting dark. I met a really friendly guy on the way, and he started showing me around. He was a history teacher and was able to give me a ton of background on things. We visited some Sultan graves, as well as the main square with the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, hippodrome, and a few pillars, and he shared a lot of information with me. I had a sneaking suspicion that he wanted something from me, but I decided to just trust him, since I had met so many good and trustworthy people here, but eventually he asked for money. I gave him a little, since I now felt obligated to do so, but I was a bit disgusted that he had not shared his real intentions at the beginning. I don’t usually trust people very quickly over here, since I can’t afford the risk of being wrong, and I have heard a lot of bad stories from a lot of other travelers. My life depends on being a bit guarded. That’s not to say that I don’t trust people to some degree though, and I certainly try to be loving and kind to everyone. I used to be a major idealist and trust everyone, but now I have gained a lot of realism. I used to generally just see things the way I thought that they should be, but I have now seen things the way that they are as well. Don’t get me wrong – I am still just as idealistic as ever, but in a much more realistic way. I still believe that this world can and will be a lot more loving, etc., but I now understand that it will take even more work than I previously thought, and I have gained a ton of new insight. Sometimes I have had to slip into ‘realist mode’ in order to survive, and the ‘Aragorn’ description of myself that I gave in my last blog posting is basically me in realist mode, where I buckle down and face the ugly side of human nature, because that side certainly does exist. Most of the time I am much more open and friendly though, because people are generally good and trustworthy, and it’s hard to make a positive difference when I am always locked up inside. Anyway, I don’t know if I even made any sense there, but you’ll have to bear with me, as it is late and I am very tired, so I don’t have it all together in my head right now. I am just writing and hoping that it comes out in a comprehensible form.

Back at the hostel I gathered my things and headed to the train station, where I waited for a couple hours, reading and writing, etc., and eventually boarded the train to Budapest. I was happy because it was much less than I thought, and I was able to use my Eurail pass for most of the trip. I also got a cabin all to myself, which was really nice, because I needed a place where I could just let down my guard for a bit. That is probably the most exhausting thing about adventure traveling – almost never being able to let down your guard and really relax. The man in charge of the train car gave me a chain and lock, saying that there would be bandits in the areas that we would be driving through, and he told me to keep my cabin locked. It ended up being about a 37 hour train ride, and I spent most of it sleeping, reading Shakespeare, writing poetry, thinking about who I am, etc., and observing the countryside, as we passed through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Bulgaria was absolutely beautiful, and Romania and Hungary were really rainy. The border crossings usually took an hour or so, but I was used to it. I saw little gypsy villages, and so many scenes of life, etc., that I simply can’t go into describing it right now. I arrived in Budapest yesterday (Friday, March 23) at about noon, and almost as soon as I got off the train I was swarmed by people trying to get me to stay at their hostels (there are usually a couple people doing that at train stations, but not like this, or at least not in my experience), and I eventually went with one that seemed like a good deal. I have never trusted these types of people before, but I did this time, and it paid off. After getting settled in, one of the hostel managers told me some really good things about the thermal baths and hot springs in Budapest (I later found that they are the most famous in Europe), and so I decided to visit them. It was so amazing to be in Budapest, and I kept imagining what it would’ve been like 50 years ago during the 1956 ’13 Day Revolution’, which is the period that I have studied the most. I could imagine the Soviet tanks rolling down the streets and gunning down civilians – armed and unarmed, men, women, and children, and I was a bit lost in thought as I walked down the streets of Budapest to the baths. It was really rainy, so I was wet and cold by the time I reached the thermal baths, but they were very nice and relaxing. I spent 2 hours there, and there were so many different types of pools, saunas, showers, baths, hot springs, etc. My favorite was being outside with cold rain falling on my head and having my body submerged in the beautiful hot springs. Anyway, after I left I allowed myself to get a little lost in the streets, had some really cheap food (Hungary is another really cheap country), bought some groceries, and headed back to the hostel, where I hung out a bit, did some writing, and went to bed early. Today I got up late, took it easy in the morning, and then went exploring. I walked the streets towards the Danube River, checking out a couple little Hungarian festivals and having some genuine Hungarian food, walked along the riverfront, crossed the river and walked to Buda Castle (the city on one side of the river is called Buda, and the city on the other is called Pest), then to the Museum of Military History, where I spent a few very enjoyable hours immersing myself in Hungarian history and acquiring a lot of new knowledge, understanding, and empathy for the people. There was even a little exhibit on the 1956 Revolution, but the main one was closed for a couple weeks. I will explain in my next blog entry why that is so significant for me. It was so amazing to be able to look at the pictures of heroes who died fighting for their country’s freedom, and I discovered how much suffering the Hungarian people have endured in their history – more than most, it seems. I had come to Budapest trying to have an experience that I had sort of planned out before, but I was finally just letting go and learning and experiencing. Anyway, I then walked down the famed Andrassy Avenue, stopped in a cafe and had some ridiculously cheap desserts, and walked back to the hostel in the pouring rain, where I have spent the evening hanging out with a German traveler and some of my hostel-mates and just learning their stories, and then writing this blog posting. As I said, I have very limited time here, and can only use the computer when others are not, so most of the details, emotions, etc., are not as present as they have been in past postings, and it is also very late, so it may sound a bit confused, and I haven’t endeavored to do much philosophizing or background explaining, since it probably would not come out as intended. I hope to do more of that at a later date. Anyway, thank-you all again so much for your comments, encouragement, advice, love, prayers, etc. I couldn’t ask for better friends. Keep on rocking the free world! I love you all a ton, and am so grateful that you are willing to share this adventure with me. Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

“I’ve got no money in the pockets. I’ve got a hole in my jeans. I had a job and I lost it, but it won’t get to me…The sun is shining, and this road keeps winding…I’m alive and I’m free – who wouldn’t wanna be me?” – Keith Urban

March 16, 2007

Howdy there friends!

I’m back, and have had so many amazing adventures since I last wrote. I’m in Athens right now, and will try and get a new posting together before I leave. First I would just like to say thank-you so much for your comments. They were so encouraging and inspiring that I printed them off in Pisa and read them when I am feeling overwhelmed, etc. Thank-you so much – they mean a lot, and I definitely appreciate them. Please keep on posting.

I last posted at about 2 am on the morning of Monday, February 19, 2007. After a good sleep I spent the next day in meetings at Corrymeela learning more about what they do and how they do it, and I am impressed at the dedication of the staff there. I also got my Eurail pass in the mail, and decided to leave on Wednesday. That afternoon, I decided to go for a hike. When I first arrived in Ballycastle on the coast of Northern Ireland, I set my eyes on the highest, farthest place that I could see and determined that I would stand on top of it, and I decided to do it this day. It was mid-afternoon by the time I started, so I jogged much of the way, jumping from rock to rock, getting wet and dirty in mud puddles, scaling hills, navigating the coastline, running along with grazing sheep, and singing songs all the while. As I got nearer I realized that I would have to do quite a bit of climbing, but I was not deterred, and began making my way up the ascent. It was beautiful, but it was extremely windy and rainy – furiously so, as well as quite cold, and I could barely hear my own voice. I eventually reached the top of a massive plateau, and discovered a beautiful lake (a loch) nestled on the top of the big hills. It was amazing, and I spent a little time just sitting beside it in and running my hands through the water. I had to keep going if I wanted to make it back before it got completely dark, so I continued jogging upward, until I reached the highest summit my eyes had seen. I had done it in about an hour and a half, and was pleasantly surprised. I had been thinking on the way up about how the wind and rain grew fiercer as I neared my goal, and I wondered if that was also true in life. Some would say that constant resistance is a means of hinting that you should turn back, and is a sign that you are traveling in the wrong direction, but others would say it is only a test before acheiving your goals, and is a sign that you are traveling in the right direction I am not sure. Anyway, when I reached the top the wind was so fierce that I had to hold tightly to my backpack to keep it from blowing over the edge of the cliffs, and I had to lay down behind a rock to keep from losing my balance and being blown over the cliff as well. The rain soaked me to the bone, but I didn’t care. I looked down hundreds of feet into the crashing waves, and then stood up and sang ‘How Great Thou Art’ at the top of my lungs, as well as several other songs. I also did some thinking, and just took it all in for a bit. It was amazing. I was one man, towering above all that I could see, standing alone in the midst of the raging elements, and worshiping the Creator of it all. It was quite an experience. I couldn’t spend much time up there since it would soon be dark, and it wasn’t really feasible to do any writing (my journal would’ve either been soaked or blown away), so I started jogging it back down after about 15-20 minutes on top. I did some happy daydreaming as I headed down, such as I had not done in a while. Dreams that all people probably have deep inside – about being a hero, saving the world, getting the girl, etc., and it was really neat. I later learned the summit I had climbed was called Fairhead, and an Irishman later told me that it was very dangerous to climb it alone and that several people had lost their lives doing it, even just falling into crevaces on the way up. I hadn’t really talked to anyone about doing it, and had no idea of the danger. No one ever told me that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done, or that I stood a chance of losing my life doing it, so I just set my mind to do it and did it. It reminds me of a quote – ‘Those who are saying it can’t be done are constantly being surpassed by those who are doing it.’ Anyway, I spent the evening talking with Jason and reading a science fiction book that I saw and was attracted to (I hadn’t just picked up a book for fun in quite a long time, and I really enjoyed losing myself in a story), and then we had an amazing evening worship session led by Jason’s wife Nikki, and Jason, Nikki, and I had a really deep and personal discussion for a while afterwards. I think we all have a deep and desperate craving to connect with other people on a very personal level, and it is so fulfilling to be able to do so. That was one of the neatest things about my experience at Corrymeela – the ability to do that. The next day I spent the morning scrubbing walls with Jason (I had mostly been doing work of this nature at Corrymeela, since I couldn’t get a criminal records check done in time, and that was necessary to be a part of the real work that Corrymeela does – working with groups to bring about peace and understanding in Ireland – but I was still having a great time. There is something really rewarding about just doing simple service and being the guy behind the scenes who sweeps the floors, washes the windows, scrubs the walls, does the dishes, helps make the food, etc., and it had been a long time since I had been able to just do simple manual labor. I enjoyed it a lot, and had the time of my life just daydreaming, singing, thinking, and working.), and we had a great time talking, etc. After lunch I sat on one of the couches there and spent part of the afternoon just sitting there with Kai’s 3 year old son Gabriel (Kai is one of the main people at Corrymeela) and reading stories together and talking. He had the cutest little Irish accent, and I got to feel like a big brother as we just hung out together – buddies. It reminded me of some of my most special memories when my grandparents used to read to me. I don’t think we often realize how much of a difference we make in someone’s life by just giving them a little of our undivided attention and genuinely caring. It has changed my life, and I hope I can do the same for others. After spending the early afternoon reading with Gabriel, Jason and I went hiking to a little town called Ballyvoy, and as we walked down a little Irish country road we stopped to visit someone Jason knew, and ended up spending a couple hours just visiting with him. His name was Peter, and he was renovating an old and rundown house that he had bought awhile ago, and it was easy to tell how much it meant to him. He proudly showed us around his house and his yard, and told us all about what he had done with it, the history of the land, his plans, etc., and I learned so much. I had never thought much about building a house, making my yard, and essentially carving out my own little piece of the earth, but this experience awakened in me a desire to do so. There is something truly great about a man building a dwelling place for himself with his own two hands, tirelessly engaged day after day in a labor of love, placing stones on top of each other, planting trees and flowers, nailing boards together, etc. (it’s easy to tell that I’ve been reading Thoreaus’s ‘Walden’) It was really the quintessential Irish experience for me, and I was so happy from the inside out. The sun was shining, there were flowers on the side of the road, I was with a good friend, and I was listening to a simple Irish man sharing from his heart about something he had devoted himself to and loved. The house and yard were the perfect little Irish dwelling – right out of a dream – and I too fell in love with the place. We left him eventually though, and continued our walk through the quaint Irish countryside (it reminded me of The Shire from the Lord of The Rings) to Ballyvoy and then back. I then spent some time alone and in silence (sometimes you can say more with silence than with words) atop the green cliffs near Corrymeela doing some thinking. I was warm and happy, but I was toying with the idea of going for a swim in the freezing North Irish Sea. I had said I would do it when I first got to Corrymeela, but all the people I mentioned it to said it was a crazy idea, and even the hardy Irish people wouldn’t do it, but things like that don’t usually deter me – they just make me want to do it even more. My good friend Daniel Eriksson likes to quote Benjamin Franklin – ‘Never pass up an experience for the sake of nerves or a nap’, and I decided that I had to be able to say I had swam the North Atlantic in the winter in Ireland, so I put on my swim shorts, Jason came along with the camera, we hiked down the cliffs to the sea, and I took a quick dip. Needless to say, it was very cold, and I was only in for a minute, but I did it, and it was great! I was a little cold walking back up, but I had a nice warm shower and a nice meal, and it was all very nice and rewarding.

At the evening worship session we were each asked to share about an inspiring person/mentor in our lives, and I got up in that room with people from around the world and told them about my dad. He is my hero, and is the best dad that any guy could ask for. He is steady and honest, has a ton of integrity, and always took the time be there for me and the rest of my family. I know he passed up lots of other opportunities so that he could be at home with his family more, and I am so glad he did. He always put the food on the table, kept a roof over our heads, dedicated himself to making our lives as good as they could be, took us on vacations and trips with him, and was there 24/7 if we ever wanted to talk with him or just hang out with him. He made his family priority number one, taught us about God and right and wrong, disciplined us well, gave us a lot of freedom, trust, and responsibility, listened whenever we wanted to talk with him, always kept us laughing, and just set a great example of what it means to be a man. I could write for days and not do justice to the kind of man that he is, but I shared with everyone how he inspired and continues to inspire me, and how he is simply a good man. In my mind my dad is the greatest man walking this earth. A country group called Emerson Drive wrote a song called ‘A Good Man’, and I will share the chorus here:

I wanna be the one, when all is said and done, who lived a good life, loved a good wife, always helped someone in trouble. On the day they lay me down, I want everyone to gather ’round, and say – ‘he was a father, brother, neighbor, and a friend – he was a good man.’

That’s my dad. My dad is a good man, and if I can be even close to the kind of man that he is, then I’ll know that I accomplished something worthwhile with my life. My mom is also amazing, and no amount of words could describe the sacrifices she has made for myself and the rest of my family. Simply put, she is an absolutely amazing woman, and another one of my greatest heroes. I want to marry a girl like her someday. If I can do that, I know I’ll be fine.

Anyway, after that really cool, intimate, and inspiring little meeting I set to work doing some paperwork for the job I want to do in the summer, and after some confusion with the contracts and frustration with the fax machine/scanner, I was feeling a bit down. I then got an e-mail from Genevieve, who I was going to travel Italy with, saying that some things had fallen through, and we wouldn’t have a free place to stay, and that also frustrated me a bit, since I had been planning around that. I then looked at my blog though, and there were already a couple comments on there that brought tears to my eyes and reminded me why I am doing what I am doing. I believe the purpose of life is to love, and that the greatest manifestation of that is in service. I am a Christian (although I don’t think you could categorize my specific beliefs), and I believe in the 2 great commandments that Jesus gave – ‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength’, and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. Both of those are accomplished by serving one’s fellow man, because in my mind, the best way to serve God is to serve His children/creation, which are our fellow men/women, and the second one is self explanatory. Even if you are not Christian, etc., I am sure you can identify with the deeply fulfilling feeling that comes with serving someone else, and service comes in many different forms. I’m not sure if I’ve shared this already, but I feel that the three keys to living a ‘successful’, meaningful, and fulfilling life are service, acheivement, and gratitude. There is a lot of background to that hypothesis, which I won’t share now, but I just thought I’d throw that in. Anyway, reading the comments that had been posted on my blog made me realize that I was unconsciously serving others right now simply by writing this blog, and I realized that that is the ultimate reason for this whole adventure anyway – to enable me to better serve others, and, as I am discovering, to serve others through my experiences right now also. If I inspire even one person just a little bit, then it has all been worthwhile. I felt so fulfilled and happy to find that it has already been worth everything. Victor Frankl talks about how man simply needs to find meaning in what he does and he can then endure anything, and I found new meaning in what I was doing. That was awesome, moving, and incredibly inspiring! I then talked with my mom for a bit, which was really nice, and also with one of my friends back home, which gave me new energy and inspiration. Later that night I got an e-mail from Genevieve letting me know that even though our original plans for Italy had fallen through, some even better opportunities had arisen, and I was definitely getting excited. I had a good sleep that night, and spent the next morning getting ready to go, etc., and also a couple more frustrating hours trying to get the fax machine/scanner working to send some paperwork to the US, but I eventually got it working. It caused me to leave a bit later than I had planned though, (mid-afternoon) but after some goodbyes I biked to the bus station in Ballycastle, waited an hour or so, and ended up taking the long scenic bus ride, since the direct route had finished running for the day. The bus ride was really nice, and I had an opportunity to observe the beautiful countryside and talk with locals traveling their daily routes. For the last couple hours I was the only person on the bus and it was dark outside, so I just lost myself in thought staring out the window at the dark ocean. Jason and Nikki had given me a few small parting gifts, including a chocolate bar (it was a ‘fair trade’ chocolate bar with orange flavor, and it was delicious), which I slowly nibbled for most of the trip, and it was the most enjoyable chocolate bar I have ever eaten. I did a lot of thinking about the times I had had so far, and was so grateful for everything. My heart was full. I had many good memories behind me, I had new friends, I had people who loved me and whom I loved, I was full of good food from my time at Corrymeela, I was well rested, I was excited about the many new adventures still to be had, I was taking in beautiful new experiences every moment, I was warm and clean, I was healthy, I was filled with peace inside, I had fulfilled some of my dreams, I had been able to make a difference at Corrymeela (it was probably so tiny that it could hardly even be called a ‘widow’s mite’, but I had done what I could, and it felt good), and I had carved out a little niche for myself in Ireland. I have only shared a fraction of the experiences I had in Ireland, but hopefully I have been able to convey a little of how great it was. I had come to Ballycastle feeling quite lost, alone, empty, and overwhelmed, and I had left with a ‘full tank of gas’. Jason especially had been a friend to me when I needed one really badly, and I learned so much from him. I had many great discussions with him, and he really opened my mind in a lot of good ways, helping me to become more socially and environmentally conscious, among other things. He also lives what he believes, and that was one way in which he really inspired me. Anyway…Ballycastle was just an amazing experience in general, and the people at Corrymeela had such a heart for service and for making a difference for good in the world. The atmosphere was the ‘small town – everybody waves and says hi to everybody else, even if they don’t know them’ kind of place, and it was just down home good.

The bus got to Belfast a bit later that evening, and I biked to the hostel I had stayed at when I was there about a week and a half before, and once I got settled in some girls from Sweden and England invited me to go to the pub with them, and I thought it would be a cool way to see another side of Irish culture. Those who know me know that I am not the drinking/partying type, but after talking with a lot of people I found that the pubs in Ireland aren’t like the ones in North America. For us it’s more of a wild party scene, but for the Irish it’s a way of life – it’s a place where you take your family and friends and spend the evening talking together and enjoying each other’s company. Therefore I decided I would go, and we had a great evening getting to know each other, talking, laughing, and as I said, just enjoying each other’s company. I decided to sample a couple genuine Irish beverages as well. I had a decent sleep, and the next day was woken up by an Irish guy and an Australian talking in our 17 person dorm. It turned out that the Irish guy was an old sea captain who had been all over the world, had a high rank in the Irish navy, and was now working on passenger ships. His name was Martin, and he invited the Australian (Axel) and I to go to a couple pubs with him and hang out. I though that it was an experience too good to miss, and so we took him up on it. He showed us things and told us things as we walked that I never would’ve noticed, and I began to realize how tense the situation in Ireland still is. He showed us places where he (a Catholic from the south) would be shot and killed if he walked into, and showed us how even the curbs of the streets were painted with the colors of the respective sides. He took us (walking and by taxi) into the Catholic part of town, down the infamous Falls Road, and then to a secret little pub in an alley there. He went around to a side door, used a secret knock, and the door was carefully opened by one of the bartenders. The pub didn’t actually open to the public for a couple more hours, but he had friends in high places and knew how to get around Belfast. We were able to spend a couple hours there talking with the locals, and Martin told us many an old sea dog’s tale. It was an unforgettable experience. We left the pub when it opened, and he took us back to the Northern Protestant part of town and we visited a couple more pubs there. He had to tread much more lightly there, even though he had friends on both sides. He was starting to get a bit drunk though, and had been drinking all the day before (he had had about $300.00 worth of alcohol the previous day, drinking the entire day away, and he had planned to do the same thing that day as well.), and I didn’t like the way things were going, (he was getting pretty perverse, and I had had enough of listening to garbage) so I tried to get him off of his wild tales of adventure and onto something more serious. We started talking about life philosophies, and he told us why he lives the way he does (it is very deep and personal, and I don’t feel right sharing it, so I won’t), and it succeeded in changing his state of mind. I talked to him about living every moment for all that it’s worth, etc., and he ended up walking away from his beer and deciding to not get drunk that day. Axel and I were definitely the wrong companions for a drinking spree, but hopefully we were able to do some good. We split up with Martin for the day, and I had a nap for most of the afternoon, then went out and bought some groceries with Axel and we made a meal back at the hostel kitchen. He was feeling really sick, and had been so for nearly 2 weeks, so he was a bit grumpy and didn’t like the way I made the food, despite the fact that he didn’t help too much, and he got a bit mad at me. We worked it out though, and I did some deep thinking and writing that evening. I really don’t think I had been my best self that day, and I was determined to do better. I could’ve done so much more good than I did. I didn’t really do bad, but I didn’t really do good either. I was learning a lot though. Martin bought me a kebap (not a shishkebab, but a Turkish kebap, which is basically a pita full of meat), and we watched some tv together, and then a movie called ‘Sniper’. A lot happened that day that made me draw within myself a bit, so I was much more guarded during the evening, and I think I came across as being a bit cold, but I was trying to find a balance. I am learning that there is a line where you must put up some barriers or you will be taken advantage of. You must set a standard or you will be blown about by the wind. You can’t be selfish, but you can’t be a doormat either. I wanted to have a genuine and amazing Irish experience that day, and I did, but I was trying so hard to be nice and friendly that I hung out with Martin even after his conversation got really nasty and he started mistreating the people around him. I eventually put a stop to it, but I should’ve done it sooner. Oh well, lessons learned. I met a really neat guy named Fraser that evening, and he was a fellow Canadian who had been backpacking and Eurailing around Europe for a few months, and we instantly clicked. Just the fact that we were both Canadian gave us a huge pool of common knowledge and conversation, and we were instant friends. After a good sleep that night I went exploring in Belfast, wandering through old bookshops, sitting in a BBC exhibit at the Queen’s University and reading the ‘Federalist Papers’, etc., and it was really cool. Fraser and I spent the late afternoon talking about our experiences in Europe, and I learned a lot of useful things from him. We then made supper together (I had been eating rice for the past couple days. I would have rice with sugar sprinkled on it for breakfast, and rice with artificial chicken ‘gravy’ for lunch and supper), and spent the evening walking around Belfast some more. We saw so many neat things, including a bunch of young boys having their own little political activist rally in a back alley, singing patriotic songs together to rouse their countrymen and drive out their opponents. These boys were probably 10 years old, but prejudice had already set in deeply. The wounds between North and South will still take time to heal. We found a pub where they were playing some music that we both knew, and we stood in a corner watching things and just rocking out and singing along to the songs, and it was a great time. You don’t need to be drunk to have fun, even though most travelers seem to think that you do. Back at the hostel we met a group of 4 American girls, and we played a game called ‘Catchphrase’ with them for a few hours, having many good laughs. We were going to go visit Belfast Castle with them the next day, but we had a mix-up and we didn’t meet up with each other, so Fraser and I walked a couple hours to the Castle (it was on the edge of the city on a hill called Napoleon’s Nose, and we spent some time there wandering around the grounds and exploring the inside), then took a bus and walked back to the hostel. He had to catch a plane to England that afternoon, so we walked to the bus station and played some guitar (he was traveling with a guitar), then he took the bus to the airport. I bought a couple books – ‘Dubliners’, and ‘The Old Man And The Sea’, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading Dubliners and talking with Axel. I had found him hard to be around because he seemed to be so depressed, but I finally decided to stop being selfish and try to cheer him up, which I think I accomplished. He was traveling the world, but a lot of things had gone ‘wrong’, and he was taking it hard. I had been there though, and we connected, and it was rewarding. I spent the evening reading the entire first book of ‘The Brittanica Great Books Of The Western World Set’, called ‘The Great Conversation’, and it was absolutely amazing! I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in what it means to have an education. I thought it was so cool that they had the Great Books Set in the hostel library. I was really inspired after reading it, and learned so much.
The next day I slept in, packed up, and caught a bus to Dublin, where I biked around for a bit, checked out a few different hostels, and found the cheapest one, where I decided to spend the night. I then walked around Dublin for a bit, and went back to the hostel after it had gotten dark. In my room there were people from Croatia, Bulgaria, France, etc., and we had some interesting conversation. I had some food (bread from Corrymeela that was getting a bit moldy, pitas – which I had found abandoned at the previous hostel, chocolate spread – makes anything into a delicious dessert, bananas, carrots, and pizza spices. Usually people leave free food at hostels if they can’t finish it, so I had been eating that, and Jason had given me some food from the Corrymeela stockpile), read the entire ‘The Old Man And The Sea’, and had to leave the room because a few of the people were smoking – even though it was a non-smoking room – (I have gotten used to breathing second hand smoke in Europe, but this was the worst yet) and I wasn’t able to breathe too well, and I then hung out in the lounge, watched a movie, talked with some of the people who lived at the hostel, and did some writing. I have given up on trying to tell the stories of the people I meet, because it is too exhaustive for my present means, but I have definitely met some neat people. The next morning I got up and left the hostel (I didn’t bother showering because the bathrooms were pretty nasty, even by my standards, which have gotten pretty low during my time in Europe), and after finding out that it would cost 7 Euros to take a bus to the Dublin Airport, I decided to bike there. I had plenty of time, and I really didn’t want to spend the money, so I figured I could find my way there – it was only around 15 kms or less. I was okay for about half of the way, but then I got onto the major highways, and it got very dangerous. Lots of vehicles were honking at me, even though I was hugging the shoulder of the highway as tightly as I could. It had rained the night before and there was some mud puddles, and at one point I had to cross a merging lane, but there was a mud puddle near the shoulder, and my bike (with it’s smooth tires) lost control and I had a nasty wipeout, sliding across the pavement on my side. I had been going fairly fast, and I tore up my left side pretty good. I also bent up my bike, and that was the most frustrating part. I was lucky that I didn’t get run over, but as soon as I could collect myself I got up and pulled my bike to the ditch, where I assessed the damage. I had bent the whole handlebar inwards, had messed up something with the brakes, and had bent the back tire out of shape. I was really angry and frustrated, because things had been going so well and now they were a mess, and I wasn’t in the best state of mind. I tried to keep on pedaling, but the back tire wouldn’t move. I stood on the side of the highway helpless for a few minutes, hoping desperately that someone would slow down and help me, but everyone just drove on past, staring at me, pointing, or honking. I realized that no one was going to help me, so I swallowed my frustration, bit my lip and held back the tears, and determined to get myself out of this mess. I was bleeding pretty good and had ripped another pair of pants, as well as gotten quite dirty, so I set about cleaning the cuts and then putting on band-aids. They wouldn’t stay on because the blood was flowing too freely, so I took some hockey tape that I had brought with me and wrapped it around my arm to hold the band-aids on and act as a sort of band-aid itself. The pain didn’t bother me – physical pain doesn’t really bother me anymore – it was just annoying. After I had cleaned myself up enough to work, I sat down and started taking things on my bike apart, trying to make it work. I knew that I wouldn’t be biking to the airport. Eventually I discovered the problem, and after disconnecting the brakes and a couple other things, I began trying to bend the bike tire into shape. I cut myself a couple times and didn’t even notice it until I started getting blood on stuff again, so I had to clean myself up some more. It was hard work, and seemed impossible and overwhelming at the time, but I kept trying, praying for God’s help, and eventually I was able to get the wheel to the point where it would turn, even though there was still some friction. I wished I had taken the bus and just paid the 7 Euros, because I had now done much more than 7 Euros worth of damage to my bicycle, clothes, and person, and had wasted over an hour of time as well. After being angry for a little while though, I realized that this wasn’t even about the 7 Euros. It was about something far more priceless – character. I was reminded of ‘The Old Man And The Sea’, which I had read the evening before. In that book, an old man goes way out to sea, farther than he knows he should, all in an effort to catch the biggest fish he has ever caught, since he hadn’t caught anything for weeks and was starting to starve. He eventually hooks it, but it drags him and his little boat for days before he is finally able to kill it, and he is nearly dead from dehydration, starvation, exhaustion, and wounds sustained in the process, and he is also now much further out to see. He lashes the fish to the side of his boat (he can’t put inside because it is bigger than the boat), and begins the journey home. The blood from the fish in the water begins to attract sharks however, and although he is able to kill several sharks with harpoons, paddles, etc., he soon exhausts his supply of weapons and the sharks enjoy their feast, eating the entire fish on the way back to the harbor. All that is left is the skeleton. He comes back nearly dead several days later, with nothing to show for all of his efforts. Actually, though, he has gained something far more valuable than any fish – character. He gambled, won, and lost it all, but he made a decision to never give up, no matter how hard it got, and even though his very best efforts were unsuccessful in the end, that was not the important part. The important part was that he chose to give it all he had and never give up – to strive with his last ounce of courage, and when all was lost, to get up and keep going. Thinking about that inspired me. I had ‘went to far out to sea’ in an effort to save money, and I ended up losing more than I gained by my efforts. I wrecked my bike, my clothes, and myself, but I decided that I would not give up. I would brace myself like a man and keep going. I would just pick myself right back up again. Nothing else mattered but making the decision and seeing it through. I got my bike into decent shape so that it would move, got everything together, and began walking the last few kilometers to the airport. I knew that I would be okay, and had learned a valuable lesson. I had actually gained far more than I had lost out of the whole experience, and I sang happy songs with a smile on my face as I walked, and my heart was full of gratitude for all of the blessings in my life. I try to remind myself several times every day how blessed I am to simply be able to breathe, to think, to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, to smell, to feel, to walk, to be healthy, to have blood flowing through my veins, etc., but I don’t think you can ever be too grateful, and just reminding myself of my many blessings brought a big ole’ smile to my face. I was living the dream, and I was free. Life was great! I made it to the airport awhile later, walking my bike on the side of the highway, and I made quite a sight when I got there. I was walking a bike loaded down with luggage, the tire rubbed on the frame a little every time it turned, my arm was taped up, I had blood on my clothes, I was covered with dirt and bike grease, and my pants were torn, but I didn’t care. I went into a bathroom and cleaned myself up, making a bit of a mess in the bathroom, but that couldn’t be helped. I then ended up waiting for a couple hours, eating the last of my food. When it came time to go through all the security, etc., I had to take my bike apart, but they had no box for it, so it would have to go the way it was. I hoped for the best, but it wasn’t in the greatest shape anyway, so I wasn’t too worried. I also found that my luggage was several kilos overweight (I had bought my ticket with RyanAir, and although the ticket was only 5 Euros plus tax, there were a lot of other restrictions to squeeze the money out of the customer) and they wanted to charge me a lot of money, so I took it out and repacked it, and put on several layers of clothing, as well as carrying a bunch of stuff on my person and transferring as much as I could to my carry-on bag. It still ended up being a few kilos over, so I bargained with the lady in charge for a while and got them to knock off a few kilos, but I still ended up having to pay 24 Euros for overweight fees. I then waited in line for an hour or so, talked with a nice Italian couple, and eventually we were able to board the plane. The plane was originally going to leave in the early morning, so I would have time to get to Bologna and meet up with Genevieve before it got too late, but a bunch of stuff happened with the airline and they delayed the flight by about 10 hours, so we got going at about 6 pm or so. It was too dark to see much, and I was exhausted already, so I slept a bit, then read a travel guidebook that I had, which got me all excited again. I knew that it would be late by the time we landed, and there was a bit of traveling to be done before I would reach Bologna, so I debated sleeping at the airport and then going to the city in the morning (I wasn’t sure how bad it would be at night), but I decided to go for it anyway. One thing I was learning that was proving very effective was to spend even a few moments making a backup plan or two. I usually just go into things and figure them out as I go, but I was having to make so many ‘blind faith’ decisions every day that it helped if I at least thought of a plan B and/or C beforehand so that I was ready to take action if my first plan didn’t work out, otherwise I would get overwhelmed too easily. It’s probably not something that most people need to do, and I’ve never needed to do it previously, but the kind of trip that I’m doing requires it for sanity’s sake. Therefore, I had my backup plans ready if I couldn’t make it to Bologna that night. Anyway, once we landed at about 9:30 pm I collected my things and made straight for the bus station, but they had changed the schedule from what I had looked at online, so there was no bus going to Bologna that night. I asked around and was able to discover (from conversation in broken English) that there was a bus going to the train staion in Forli (the town about an hour outside of Bologna that I had flown into), and a train that left from Forli to Bologna that night. It would be the last bus and the last train, so the timing would have to be perfect, but I decided to go for it. I waited for awhile and tried to call Genevieve, but the phone wouldn’t work. I met an Italian girl (a student in Bologna) who spoke English and was waiting for the bus as well, and we talked for a bit. A couple of the airport employees who had just gotten off work offered to give us a ride to the train station, saying that the bus probably wasn’t going to come, but they couldn’t take my bike, so I stayed and prayed that the bus would come, while Veronica (that was the Italian girl’s name) went with them. It was looking like the bus might not show up, but my heart leaped at the last moment when the bus came rolling in. I was a grateful man as I rode to the train station, and I met Veronica again there. We talked about a bunch of stuff, and she taught me some Italian as well. We then rode the train together to Bologna, and she was extremely helpful. She was a bit of a punk girl with all the piercings, etc., but she was really nice, and we had some great conversation as well. I don’t know how things would’ve turned out if she hadn’t been there to help me out. I was loving Italy already. Once we got to Bologna at about 11:30 pm, Veronica let me use her cell phone to call the woman who owned the apartment that Genevieve was staying at, and that I would be able to stay at for the night, and she gave me directions to get there. I walked the streets of a foreign city in a foreign land at night, but I was feeling great and unafraid (Veronica had familiarized me a bit with the city, so I felt decently comfortable, and I knew I was tough if it came down to a fight), and after about 15 minutes of walking I made it to the apartment and Genevieve let me in. She had just been to Greece and brought some food back with her, so she let me help myself, and we ended up talking until about 2:30 am, getting to know each other, etc., since we had only talked for about 15 minutes on the Eiffel Tower before that. I discovered that she was about 10 years older than me, but we had a lot in common and we were able to connect intellectually as well, although we had rather different opinions on a lot of things. She wrote curriculum for non-profit organizations, and had done a lot of work on writing courses on AIDS. The apartment was really nice and I had my own big room, so I had a good sleep until about 10 am the next morning, then had a shower and cleaned myself up some more, repacked all of my stuff, helped Genevieve clean up the apartment, listened to music the whole time on Genevieve’s computer (good ole’ Johnny Cash), and got all ready to go. I had started feeling sick the day before, and was definitely feeling the cold coming on now. Anyway…We had hoped to base ourselves out of this apartment while we traveled Italy, but it had been rented out and we had to leave that day. I was hoping to at least leave my bike there while we traveled Italy though, and Laurel (the girl who owned the apartment) had offered to let me leave it, but we couldn’t open the place that I was supposed to store it (we didn’t have the keys), so I had to take it with me to Florence. Genevieve took a taxi to the train station, while I walked my bike, but once we got there they wouldn’t let me take my bike on the train. We talked to a few different people, and paid a few extra fees, and they eventually let me bring it. The train ride to Florence was amazing, and the scenery was right out of a storybook. It was a beautiful day, and we passed rolling hills, quaint little towns with clothes hanging out on the balconies to dry, vineyards, and so much that it would take far too much time to describe it all. I was quite enraptured. Once we reached Florence, we were met at the train station by a friend of one of Genevieve’s friends, a guy whom she had never met before, but who had offered to let us stay with him after some negotiating between friends. His name was Jeff, and I liked him instantly. We tried to put my bike on the bus to get to his place, but there was no room, so we walked to another bus stop nearby, and had the same thing happen. We tried this a few times, but when we finally did manage to get it on, the driver came and told me to take it off. His place was a bit of walk, because it was actually just outside the Florence city limits, but we had no other alternative than to walk it, so we set out. It was dark by this time, but the city was beautiful, and it was nice to get to know Jeff. He had a doctorate in astronomy, and was working on building a telescope in Florence to be used in an American observatory. He bought us some Italian treats as we walked, but eventually they decided to get a taxi. I was used to roughing it, and wouldn’t have minded if we had to walk 10 miles, but I think Jeff just wanted to get us home, so we got a taxi that would take my bike, and it was surprisingly cheap. Once at his place, (it was a nice house with a porch and a beautiful view of the city) I locked up my bike, we got settled in (Genevieve would sleep upstairs, and Jeff and I would sleep downstairs – Jeff even insisted on taking the couch, while we pulled his bed apart and each took half), and Jeff made us supper as we got to know each other. We ended up having a great political discussion, and then, after eating leek soup for supper, we went for a walk in some nearby gardens, talking about books and a ton of other things as we went. I really enjoyed being able to interact on a deep level with so many people, and it was a nice island in the midst of a foreing culture. We got to bed late that night, and I felt my sickness getting worse. I was blowing my nose and coughing much of the night, and I ended up being sick for the next week. The next day Genevieve and I went out exploring in Florence, and stopped at a little Italian coffee shop in a back alley, drinking the coffee and taking in the life of the city. We waited in a square there to meet up with one of her friends who was traveling Italy, and a guy who was traveling with this friend. We met them at about 11 am that morning (Wednesday) – the girl, Genevieve’s friend from Canada, was named Sheryl, and the guy, a native Italian who was showing Sheryl around, was named Martino. We walked around Florence for a couple hours with them, and the girls were busy catching up on things, so I was able to get to know Martino and learn about Italy from an Italian perspective, and that was really neat. He showed us many of his favorite things in Florence, and we eventually decided to go to the Uffizzi Art Gallery, where we split up and I spent about 2 1/2 hours. There were a couple paintings so beautiful that they made me cry – I could identify so strongly with the emotions protrayed by the characters represented. They were both paintings of the birth of Christ, and in one of them the chief wise man was kneeling in deepest humility and kissing the feet of the baby Jesus, and in the other there was a girl standing off to the side with the most grateful look on her face, as if she had been rejected all her life and was now finding acceptance. I can’t put into words how they made me felt, or accurately describe them, but suffice it to say that they were amazing. After leaving the museum I waited outside for the others and began honing my bartering skills with some vendors outside, getting them to bring a picture of the Sistine Chapel from 10 Euros down to 3, but I didn’t end up taking it. There were people standing outside the museum that painted themselves from head to toe and stood in poses looking like statues for money, and it was quite entertaining to watch them at their antics. I really don’t think I can accurately capture how different Italian culture is from North American culture – it simply needs to be experienced. Everything is tightly packed together, people make up the rules of the road as they go (you have to simply step out onto the street and force the drivers to stop for you, because they won’t stop otherwise, and traffic signals are often ignored), the streets are covered with vendors grabbing at you and trying to sell you things, there are many street performers trying to get money from tourists (and this is the off-season), there are no big grocery stores (only tiny shops where you can buy a few items, so you have to do a lot of shopping to get all that you need), there are monuments, statues, and cathedrals almost everywhere you look, the people are a bit pushy and buses are packed like sardine cans, and there are so many other things. I know that I am writing quickly and not taking the time to give much background, but I simply don’t have time right now to explain everything and make it all perfect. You’ll just have to bear with me and my imperfection.

Once the girls came out of the museum we waited for Martino for a while and tried to contact him (they all had cell phones and did a lot of text messaging), but he wouldn’t respond, so we eventually left and had some cheap Italian pizza. I liked it, but the girls didn’t like it too much. I was beginning to discover that they (especially Sheryl) were quite picky and whiny. I had stopped caring about having things always go my way a long time ago already, and I was just grateful to have food. I will admit that the pizza didn’t stack up too well against pizzas that I had later though. Martino eventually joined us, and we waited while he ate, then continued exploring the city. We visited the Duomo, the Baptistry, some government buildings, a bunch of statues (including a very accurate imitation of Michelangelo’s ‘David’), and many other things, and Genevieve and I also bought some groceries, but when the others wanted to go to a nice restaurant and a bar for supper, I headed back to Jeff’s place. We made supper together and hung out for the evening, and he took me to his observatory to use the internet there. On the way there he pointed out to me the house where Galileo had lived in exile after renouncing his works, showed me the valley where he had done many of his experiments, and also showed me a tree that was so old it had stood even in Galileo’s time, and so I was able to look at the same tree that the famous astronomer had once looked at and sat under. Later that night, when Genevieve came back, we had some Chai tea, and I wasn’t able to sleep that night, which I later realized was due to the caffeine in the tea. My body is not used to caffeine after all my traveling without it. I was absolutely exhausted the next morning – no sleep combined with a cold, plus Jeff had a cat that lived in his house, and I’m not used to indoor pets, so I didn’t feel like going out, but Martino had offered to take us into the countryside of Tuscany in his car, and I didn’t feel like passing up the opportunity, so I joined Genevieve, Sheryl, and Martino and we drove for about an hour to Sienna, taking in amazing scenery on a beautiful day. We passed castles, villages, vineyards, rolling hills and mountains, and eventually reached Sienna – a little walled city built upon a steep hill. We weren’t able to take Martino’s car too far inside the city because the streets were so narrow and steep, so we abandoned it and walked around for a few hours. It was so picturesque! What a beautiful and amazing little city! After some exploring, Genevieve and I sat down in a square and had our packed lunches while the others went out for lunch. I could tell that Genevieve wasn’t used to my cheap backpacking ways (she traveled in a bit more comfort), and I think she was a bit embarrassed by me. Anyway, we lost Martino again (he was out practicing his lines for a play that he was doing that weekend – he was a performer), but eventually met up with him, and we then went back to the car and drove around some more. The girls were talking behind his back constantly, and were complaining a lot, and I was frustrated at how selfish they were being. Everything seemed to be about them and how their lives were so hard, etc., and they had to make sure the entire world knew about it every time something bothered them. Sheryl seemed to be quite spoiled, and since she was pretty and quite wealthy, she was used to having everything her way and couldn’t understand why it didn’t always work out like that. Life is not about us – it’s about others, and it frustrates me when people are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t notice the people around them, and the fact that they have needs and feelings too. I felt bad for poor Martino, and for everyone and everything else that Sheryl was bashing. Perhaps I am being too judgmental though, and I’m definitely not perfect either. Simply the fact that I say it annoyed me is evidence of the fact that I am more concerned about the way other’s actions make me feel than actually stepping out and trying to help them. I am trying though, and realizing something is one of the first steps to improving it. I was also feeling miserable because of no sleep and feeling really stuffed up with a sore throat, runny nose, and coughing. Apparently Martino had been making some sexual advances on Sheryl though, which she didn’t welcome, as she already had a boyfriend, and that was probably making her a bit frazzled. I really liked Martino, since he was a nice and easygoing guy, but I didn’t want him messing around with Sheryl against her will, so I essentially put myself between the two of them and told Sheryl that I was at her service should she ever request it. A lady is still a lady and a princess, no matter how whiny, spoiled, or annoying she is. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned country boy, but that’s the way I see it. Guys take care of girls.

Anyway, we drove around the Tuscan countryside for a few hours, but I could hardly keep my eyes open, so I had to nap a fair bit of the time. We eventually stopped at a vineyard and walked around, also taking a look at all of the wine-making equipment, and one of the staff there let us do some free tasting of a selection of different wines, and we bought a bottle of the best one for Jeff as a thank-you. (we had also bought groceries for him and a few other things, but it was small compensation for his kindness at letting some strangers stay with him) We also visited an olive press in the same area, and were able to sample some fresh olive oil. After more wandering around in the area, we drove to a few small towns and just observed Italian life, walking into little shops (butchers, dessert shops, etc.), and taking it in, but Sheryl didn’t really want to be doing any of it – she had just wanted to do wine-tasting all day and made sure we all knew it, so she and Genevieve sat in the car much of the time while Martino and I walked around, and Martino even treated me to some nice dessert. After visiting several small towns we found a really nice and quaint little Italian restaurant, and I decided to treat myself to some good Italian food, since we were in Italy after all. There was a 5 Euro fee per person simply to sit down, (almost every place in Italy charges quite a fee just to sit down) and I ordered one of the cheapest pastas on the menu, but it was really good, and I ate what the others couldn’t finish of their food. (yes, I know that it isn’t evidence of the best manners, but I have put aside cultural refinement for the duration of my trip in order to survive) We even split a couple desserts, which were excellent as well. That finished, we drove back to Florence and went back to our respective places. I had a much better sleep that night, but I was still coughing much of the night and blowing my nose, and I could tell that I was starting to make both Jeff and Genevieve sick as well, which made me feel bad. Jeff was so kind, and did everything to make us feel as welcome as possible, and he was so enjoyable to talk to. Just a middle-aged single Canadian astronomer, and he was such a neat guy. He even offered to take care of my bike for me while I traveled Europe, but then figured that it would be better if we simply shipped it home from Florence, but the cost was going to be quite high, and since he was flying to Vancouver in a couple weeks, he offered to take it on the plane with him and ship it home to my place in Alberta from there. He would have to stop over for a couple days in both Frankfurt and Hawaii, but was completely willing to drag the bike and stuff around with him. When I started looking into getting all boxed up, etc., he just said to enjoy my trip and he would take care of all that – what an incredible guy! He had known us for just a few short days and hadn’t even seen us much in that span, but he had already let us know that he considered us good friends and that friends of ours (mine and Genevieve’s) were friends of his. I can’t even begin to describe how kind and accommodating he was, and even though he had no religious beliefs, he was more ‘Christian’ than almost any Christian I have ever met. God bless that guy!

The next morning Sheryl came over (Jeff had agreed to let her stay with him as well, even though he didn’t know her either) because she was tired of staying with Martino and dealing with his advances. I didn’t really notice any advances, but apparently they were occurring, and so she decided to ditch Martino and all of the planning they had done for their trip together, spend a couple days with us, and then go home to Switzerland, where she was working as a dental hygienist. Martino was a real gentleman and even drove her to Jeff’s place despite the fact that she chewed him out and ditched him, and he was the picture of politeness. I actually think that he was glad to be rid of her, as there had seemed to be a bit of tension between them. Once we got her settled in we split up to go exploring, and I wandered out into Florence, sitting on the steps of a couple beautiful cathedrals and doing some writing, etc., and just having a nice day. I also wandered around the street vendor stalls and did some bartering (I had started developing some skill with it), getting a nice traveling backpack for only 10 Euros. I also bought some gifts for my family. I didn’t buy any souvenirs for myself – I figure that my shoes will be my best souvenir, and of course I’ve got my pictures and journals as well. I allowed myself to just get lost in Florence, and that was cool. I can’t even begin to describe all that I did and saw, but I’ll just say that I was able to taste what Florence was like, and it was quite a city. That evening, after our exploring, Jeff and I made togas for ourselves out of bedsheets, (the girls didn’t dress up) and we went to a Roman toga party at one of his friends’ apartments. It was packed with people in togas from all over the world, and we had a great time talking, eating Italian food, rocking out to great music, and just enjoying ourselves the good ole’ fashioned Roman way. We left at about 2:30 am, taking a taxi, which we had also done on the way there, since it was quite a distance, and once we got back we talked for another hour. Didn’t get too much sleep that night, but oh well, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to go to a Roman toga party in Italy. The next day was Saturday, but Jeff had to work again – he worked a lot. Anyway, the girls and I got ready quickly and then took a train to Pisa, but I was feeling so sick and ‘out of it’ that I wasn’t sociable at all, and I had unfortunately been that way for the past week. I was definitely not my ‘best self’ in Florence, but I tried hard. Once we reached Pisa we wandered the streets and met up at the tower. It is honestly beyond words to describe what it felt like when the leaning tower first came into view above the rooftops of the houses. It was simply amazing, and was definitely worth seeing. We took a ton of pictures there, and then split up. I wandered around some more and did some more bartering, etc., and also stopped at an internet cafe to print off the comments on my blog. I was feeling really tired, frustrated by the people around me, sick, and a bit overwhelmed by the pace of things – no time to slow down, and it was so nice to have the reassuring words of friends to give me courage and cheer me up. I really hope that I am not coming across as depressed or self-absorbed, etc., in this blog, because there were a hundred good times for every bad one, and I was having the time of my life, but I guess human have a tendency to naturally want to describe the bad. I apologize for this tendency if it is evident in my writing, and once again ask my readers to bear with me. Anyway, I left Pisa at about 5:30 pm or so, took the train back to Florence, and then took the bus and walked back to Jeff’s place, where we made some supper (Jeff is a great cook!), and then met up with some of his work colleagues at the observatory to drive to a big hill outside of Florence and observe a full lunar eclipse. I figured that this was another opportunity I could not pass up – experts in astronomy from around the world who all worked at the Galileo Institute for Astronomy in Florence going to observe a lunar eclipse at an observatory outside of Florence. They brought some high-tech equipment with them, and after a half hour drive we were there. I got to know some of them really well, and they were so nice and fascinating. We watched a presentation about eclipses given first in English and then in Italian, and I was able to understand the substance of the Italian part because of some excellent diagrams. We then wandered around this fascinating place where they had gathered and took pictures, looked through telescopes, talked, etc. for a couple hours. Unfortunately it was a completely cloudy night and we could see nothing in the sky – no stars, no eclipse, no nothing, but oh well, it was still an amazing time. At about 1 am we all went into an inflatable planetarium, and a couple of the astronomers gave us an on-the-spot presentation about the stars, orbits, eclipses, seasons, etc., and it was just amazing. I could only sit back and try to take it all in – I was in the company of giants. They made me feel like part of a family though, and I was really starting to feel at home in Florence and with Jeff and his friends. It was so neat. We drove back at about 1:45 am, Jeff and I had supper and talked with the girls a bit, then went to sleep. I had given Sheryl the half of Jeff’s bed that I was using, and now slept on the floor, but I had my little inflatable mattress, so I slept fine, although my cold still kept me up much of the night. The next day, Sunday, Sheryl left, and I decided to take a train to Venice, but Genevieve just wanted to relax back at Jeff’s place. I wouldn’t have minded doing that, but we were planning on going to Rome on Monday and I really wanted to see Venice, so this was the day to do it. I met a really cool American couple and we talked about Italy, etc., for much of the ride. It was about a 4 hour ride. (I have given up trying to mention all of the amazing people that I meet, because I meet several every day) I had dreamed all my life of seeing Venice, and I almost lost my breath when the city first came into view through the train windows. The sun was so bright that it was blinding, and its warmth on my shoulders brought me so much joy and peace. One of my favorite songs is John Denver’s ‘Sunshine On My Shoulders’, and it has gained so much new meaning for me during my time in Europe. I just break out singing it every time I feel the warm sun on my shoulders, and I sing quite a bit in general. Anyway, once I stepped out of the train station tears welled up in my eyes. It was possibly the most beautiful sight that I had ever beheld. Canals, people casually walking about the narrow streets, little shops, small and elaborate houses, gondolas lazily drifting about, and sunshine soaking it all, etc. Once again, words are simply not enough. I turned on the video mode on my camera and simply recorded myself saying ‘I am the luckiest man alive’. That was one of the best days of my life, and I just walked the streets of Venice, stopping in shops, meeting people, walking over ancient bridges, losing myself in little side streets, etc. I eventually made my way to Saint Mark’s Cathedral and sat in the square eating some bread and apples with chocolate spread and watching people, pigeons, etc. Then I walked over to the water, which was just off to the side of Saint Mark’s, and I sat down there on the side of the sea on some small stone steps leading into the water with Saint Mark’s just beside me, and I watched gondola drivers hopping along the side of parked gondolas as they parked their own and came ashore, etc. I also just looked out across the water and pondered. Then I decided that it would be really neat to read the entire gospel of Mark in the Bible, so I did. Sunshine on my face, Saint Mark’s in the background, and a lovely Sunday afternoon, and I lost myself in reading about Jesus in the book of Mark. It was so awesome, and I gained quite a bit of insight. Just really amazing. I then walked back, visiting the Rialto Bridge, etc., eating a great gelato (the Italian ice cream, which is better than North American ice cream, and the Venetian gelato was better than that in Florence), and just wandering through the city again, this time in the dark. I also decided to visit the Jewish quarter of the city, which I had been able to read about in Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’, and it was pretty cool. I was followed around for awhile by a stray dog, but eventually he left, and I just observed people living their lives as I walked. Back at the train station I sat by the water and just talked to God, and also had a nice little meal (Jeff had bought me some nice Italian food, because he knew I wouldn’t spend the money to buy it for myself, and I really enjoyed it), then took the train back to Florence, spending most of the ride catching up on my journal, because it’s hard to write every night when you’re so busy – other things just keep coming up that you don’t want to miss out on. I also got a little rest. It was about midnight when I got back to Florence, and all the buses had stopped running, so I walked the entire way back to Jeff’s place, all through the city at night. I had gotten quite familiar with the city, and so it was no problem, and it was such a beautiful city. I sang worship as I walked the streets, and it was awesome! I eventually made it back and got a good sleep. The whole day had been pretty much a dream come true. I had been so sick and tired, but I completely forgot about it all during the day and simply lost myself in what I consider the most beautiful city in Europe, and possibly in the world.

I got a good sleep that night and was starting to feel a bit better, but it would be a couple more days before I was completely over it. Anyway, I took my bike apart, separated the stuff that I would need for the rest of my trip and the stuff that I could afford to leave, and then of that, the stuff that I wanted back in Canada and the stuff that I could just give to Jeff. Genevieve and I left Jeff some money, got all ready, had a little lunch with him, and then left. Florence had become like a home to me, and I realized that I was carving out little niches for myself all over the world. We took the train to Rome, and she did a bunch of planning while I slept and looked at the countryside. She likes to know what she is doing before she goes somewhere, while I have been much more spontaneous this trip. She is a really great girl, and is really nice, but we definitely have some major differences. She is bi-sexual, which made things a little awkward, and I think that I was unconsciously judging her, no matter how hard I tried not to. I have several good friends that are homosexual and I don’t mind being around them, so I don’t think it was that so much as a combination of things. On the train ride I lost myself in daydreaming about Roman, barbarian, and Carthaginian armies marching on the same hills and valleys that I was now seeing, about water flowing through the aqueducts to bring life to some of history’s greatest cities, and about poor Roman farmer boys dreaming about carving out a name and a place in the world for themselves on distant frontiers. Anyway, it was dark when we reached Rome, and we had heard a lot of bad stuff about the city, so I was really guarded and protective of myself and Genevieve, and we wandered down some side streets until we found our hostel, but I found an even better one just next door, which I decided to stay at instead. Genevieve still stayed at the original one, but we walked around for a few hours that night, passing walls, tunnels, etc., and eventually found a little pizza shop in a non-tourist part of the city, and we stopped there for some supper at about 10 pm. (Italy has a very different schedule than we do – they take siestas at mid-day, and eat their suppers later in the evening) It was really good, but I was still hungry (as usual), and when I noticed that the people next to us had ordered a cake that was still partly untouched when they left, I asked the waiter if I could just have some. He said yes, and I enjoyed a couple bites of it, but Genevieve was so embarrassed, and she let me know it. I am not normally a really cheap guy, and will treat others to meals, etc., and live by the rules of etiquette, but it is a different world when you are backpacking, and I honestly can’t explain it – it needs to be experienced, and on the rugged level. When having an adventure like I am doing, the ‘superfluous’ rules of society simply don’t matter and you take what you can get when you can get it, within the bounds of integrity of course. I am certainly not suggesting stealing. Anyway, it was evident that Genevieve and I definitely had different budgets and modes of traveling and living, and that was causing some tension. I could not afford to live like she did, and she was embarrassed to live like I did. I felt a little hurt by her comments, but what could I say – I had lost my sense of shame at such things quite a while ago, and was only now realizing how much of a ‘savage’ I had become. I knew that I would have some re-adjusting to do when I got back home. We walked back together, but there was starting to be a bit of a distance between us as we got to know each other better. I wanted to have some deep conversation, but she felt that it was too personal to talk about the meaning of life, etc. I really think I was just tired and sick, because it usually takes a LOT to bother me, and I’m generally proactive (I simply choose to just let things slide rather than let them affect me and the way I feel), but I wasn’t in the best state of mind and found myself just going with the flow of my feelings and being reactive. I was probably more of the problem than anything, but we don’t usually see that at the time. Anyway, back at the hostel I used the free internet, and also got to know some people, then went to bed. They were co-ed dorms, but everyone was very decent and respectful. The next day Genevieve and I split up to do some exploring, and I had an absolutely amazing day. I had found myself really wanting to be alone (I think I get overwhelmed easily when I am feeling sick, and am slightly inverted anyway – I am definitely learning a ton about myself.), and so it was nice to just do things at my own pace. I don’t like to rush around from monument to monument, but like to sit down and write and think, and just experience the ‘spirit’ of a place. I took a metro (the most packed metro I have ever been on – you are pressed almost cheek to cheek with other people, and there is a lot of pushing, shoving, and some name-calling as well) to the Vatican, got free tickets to hear the Pope speak the next day, walked along the side of the Tiber River in the sunshine, passing castles, cathedrals, statues, monuments, bridges, etc., and eventually crossing over to the other side and making my way to the Spanish Steps. I found myself getting very adept at navigating European cities, and perhaps I just looked like a man who knew where he was going, but several tourists stopped and asked me for directions, and it was almost as if I had been to Rome before, because I was able to help them out. If I saw people that looked confused I even walked up to them and helped them out. That was one of the nice things about having no itinerary – I could just take time to help people find where they wanted to get to. I still don’t understand how I was able to find my way around Rome so easily after never having been there before, but I was. I waited in the sunshine on the Spanish Steps for a while (I was hoping to meet up with Brad, because I found that he had ended up deciding to stay in Europe for a few more weeks, and was in Rome at the same time as I was. I had also tried to meet up with him in Venice, but we were unsuccessful. I think he had just had a bout of homesickness in France. He had spent a couple more weeks in Munich, then got an Eurail pass for a month, and was traveling to a few places until mid-March. I was a little angry at first when I found that he had ditched me and then decided to stay, but we e-mailed back and forth and set everything right between us. Anyway, he didn’t end up showing up at the Spanish Steps, so we didn’t end up meeting again.) and had some lunch there, then went exploring again. I visited a few fountains and monuments, including the famous Trevi Fountain, and it was beautiful. I then made my way down to the old Roman ruins of the Colosseum, temples, walls, forum, etc. I watched the filming of a McDonald’s commercial for a bit, wandered through the ruins, and paid the admission fee to get into the Colosseum. The Colosseum and the things it represented were one of the key reasons for the downfall of Rome, in my mind at least, and I was now walking the walls of this tool of destiny. I was really lost in thought and had to sit down and write some things out. I kept thinking about how even the greatest empire that the world had ever known was now nothing but crumbling rocks and dust, and was struck by feelings of meaninglessness, but after sitting down and just writing my thought down into poetry/prose, I was reminded of what was really important, and how a legacy does not consist of piled rocks, but of something far deeper, and that was a reassuring thought. After spending awhile in the Colosseum I walked down to the Circus Maximus, and didn’t even realize I had reached it until I had been there a little while. I thought it would be all walled off with admission fees, but it was basically a public park in the shape of a racetrack, with some ancient buildings off to one side. I laid down in the center of it where Roman chariots used to rumble past, ate some food, took a nap, and wrote part of a song, and it was really nice. I then walked back to the hostel, hung out there for a bit, and got to know one of my new room-mates, a guy from Minnesota who was crazy about hockey, and we clicked right away, talking about the great frozen game for a couple hours. It was like a little piece of home. Genevieve and I met up for a bit and bought some groceries, but she was generally a bit late every time we met up, and I was getting tired of waiting for her. She also constantly stopped and asked people a lot of questions that I thought were pretty self-explanatory, and that took quite a bit of time as well. After hanging out with her a bit I went back to the hostel and spent some time meeting new room-mates and hanging out, and then went to bed. The next day we got up before 6 am, got ready quickly, and, with a couple new friends in tow, (including my buddy from Minnesota and 3 girls) took the metro to the Vatican and waited in a huge line, eventually getting into Saint Peter’s Basilica to hear the Pope speak in Italian, but there was a nearby building where he was going to speak in English afterwards, so we went there instead and waited for a couple hours (we had to be really early to get a place), and I took a nap but started feeling really dizzy and sick during and afterwards. I don’t know what it was, but the world was spinning and out of focus, I felt like throwing up, I was really tired, and I still had my cold and was coughing. I survived though, and it was quite an experience! Everybody in the massive building crowded around the center aisle, where it was expected that the pope would walk down (there were people standing on chairs with people on their shoulders, and we were all squished like sardines in an effort to see the Pope up close, get a really good picture, or even touch him. He didn’t end up coming down the aisle though. Every group visiting the Vatican was recognized and introduced by a Cardinal in their native tongue, and many sang songs or delivered short performances for the Pope – many of these people had traveled great distances and waited much of their lives for this moment, but this took a very long time. The Pope raised his hand in benediction to every one of them. The Pope then delivered a short message on unity, but he had to deliver it in about 7 or 8 different languages, so it also took quite a while, but it was worth it. At the end, he blessed everyone and every holy object in the room. I was sitting just across the room from one of the most powerful and influential men in the world, seeing him with my own two eyes, and hearing his voice in person with my own two ears. It was definitely pretty cool, but it was easy to see that he had an incredibly demanding job, and he was doing an amazing job of it, despite the fact that he was in his eighties. He has certainly led an accomplished life.

After hearing the Pope speak, we split up, and Genevieve and I had lunch together under one of the pillars of the Vatican. We then decided to visit the Vatican Museum, but as we walked there we had a bit of a disagreement. There was a little problem that we couldn’t do anything about, and she swore a bit over it. Now I don’t mind if every now and then someone says a swear word in anger or frustration, but she was swore quite a bit by my standards, and after over a week together it was starting to wear on me a bit, and I simply told her that it wasn’t worth swearing over. I don’t think a foul mouth is necessary, and it’s really sad to see a lady with a foul mouth. (Sheryl had one also) Anyway, she got defensive right away and said that I had no right to ask her to stop swearing or change the way she behaves. She said that she was a grown woman and had much more wisdom and experience than I did (which is probably true, as she is 10 years older than me), that she wouldn’t change the way she was just because something that she did bothered me, and she told me that if I didn’t the way she acted that I should just not hang around with her anymore. She said that she felt really judged by me, and that I was a bit of an embarrassment. I was really hurt by that, because I had been trying really hard to be nice and had put up with a lot that I didn’t agree with simply to be agreeable. I couldn’t understand why she thought I was an embarrassment (just because of my backpacking ways) when she was the lesbian who swore and complained a lot. I think our society is really screwed up if a person is accepted for swearing and complaining and doing whatever they feel like with their sexuality, and another person is rejected for wearing somewhat dirty and ripped clothes because that is all they have, and for eating food whenever they can get it because they are really hungry. We’re allowing the root of the plant to die for lack of nourishment because we’re too busy trying to polish the leaves. Anyway, I told her that if she felt I was being judgmental it was because I was trying to understand where I stood. I am really trying to find where to draw the line between just accepting a person for whoever they are and whatever they do, and setting a standard that you will not back down from. I had grown tired of continually relaxing my standards for Genevieve’s sake, and had basically told her where I drew the line. She felt judged, and I felt bad for making her feel that way, so I apologized. I was feeling really drained by her company though, and knew that something would have to change. It is difficult to be proactive around really reactive people, it is difficult to be happy around people who are complaining about how bad things are, and it is difficult to feel good in your conscience when you are around people who are swearing and talking about things that you believe to be inappropriate and won’t stop even when you politely ask them to. I hope I am not coming off as sounding self-righteous and arrogant, etc., because anyone who knows me knows that I am far from perfect myself, and have no right to ‘cast stones’ at anyone else, but I do try to surround myself with people who make me want to be a better person, etc. I know the valuable of good company, and I know the danger of bad company. I am not saying that Genevieve was necessarily bad company, but we were just two people going different directions. Anyway, we walked through the Vatican Museum together for a while, and we spent about an hour in the Sistine Chapel (it wasn’t allowed to take any pictures, so I didn’t), and since she had never read the Bible, I spent most of the hour explaining to her the stories behind the paintings and telling her about God and Jesus, etc. It was really cool, and gave the Chapel added meaning to me. As it is, the simple picture of God and Adam reaching towards each other across time and space is probably my favorite scene in all of art, and it was so cool to behold it with my own eyes. Great times! We then split up though, and I could hardly walk straight because I was still feeling so sick, so I rushed through the museum, spent a little time in front of ‘The School Of Athens’, and then left, and then took the metro back to the hostel. A few things happened on the way back that were really frustrating, and I was simply a man on a mission to get back before I lost it. I realized that no matter how awful I was feeling, I would still only pass this way but once, and should make the most of it, so I made every effort that I could to be kind and smile at the people I saw, even though they were pushing, shoving, and hurling mean words on the subway, etc. After stumbling my way back to the hostel I napped and unwound myself for a couple hours, letting out my frustrations from the past couple weeks in a deep and personal talk between myself and God, and I did a lot of thinking as. I made a few decisions about what I would do, and was able to start feeling a bit better. My friend from Minnesota (his name was Allen) came back after a while and we talked some more about hockey, cheering my Canadian soul. I have rarely met other people who have studied hockey at the level that I have. Back in my late adolescent/early teenage years, I used to do weekly graphs of the stats of my favorite hockey players, I would spend hours memorizing the weekly and yearly stats of all the players on all of the teams, I spent my money collecting hockey cards, and I spent my spare time reading hockey encyclopedias, playing hockey, watching hockey, and talking hockey. I haven’t done much of that in the past 5 years, but it is still one of my favorite pastimes and ‘weaknesses’, and I still retain and maintain much of the knowledge, and keep myself up to date. Anyway, Allen also ‘bled hockey’, and we got along great, bouncing history and stats off of each other, making predictions, and talking about the ins and outs of ‘the great frozen game’. Like I said, I felt right at home and in my element. I also met some Colombians who were living and studying in London and traveling around, and they shared some food with me as we talked and hung out for a while, and then I did a bunch of hostel research online. I am not able to book anything ahead of time because I don’t have a credit card, so I have to just show up and hope that there is a spot available for me (I have been very fortunate thus far), but I do check ahead of time to research names, addresses, prices, etc. if I can, because I quickly got tired of starting completely from scratch when I got to a place, especially if I got there late. The hostel that I was staying at – The Roma Inn – was a bit messy and disorganized, but it was a really easygoing, friendly, and trusting place, and I liked it there. I met with Genevieve that evening (she came about an hour later than she said she would meet me, but I was used to it already), and she told me that she had decided to probably spend another night in Rome, while I was feeling ready to move on, so we decided to split up the next day. I wasn’t really enjoying myself being around her, and I don’t think she was really enjoying herself being around me either, so I think it was for the best. I felt a little bad for leaving her alone in Rome (she hadn’t done any real backpacking before and was a little nervous), but you have to learn somehow, and I felt that she would be better off just feeling free to do as she pleased without feeling judged by me, even though I wasn’t intending to be judgmental. The Bible even says that ‘it isn’t wise for two oxen to be unequally yoked’, and that’s what we were. It was probably mostly my fault, because I know I wasn’t my best self. (being really sick and tired can contribute to making anyone feel a bit ‘down’, and it’s never really fun to be around a person who is sick) I hope that it doesn’t sound like I am bashing Genevieve, because she is a great girl and I learned a lot of good things from her that I am applying in my own life right now, and she was very kind to let me travel with her and stay with her friends, but I am just trying to tell the story ‘in my shoes’ as I saw things at the time. I also don’t have time to be really politically correct, since I am rushing to get the blog posting finished before I leave Athens. I apologize if I offend anyone or if I seem disorganized and unclear, but as I said, I must sacrifice several things in order to tell at least part of my story within the constraints that I have. Thank-you so much for bearing with me, dear reader, and hopefully reading this is valuable to you in some way.

Anyway, I got a good sleep, and, feeling a bit better the next morning, I packed up and headed to the train station, got a ticket to Naples, and then walked the streets of Rome one last time while I waited for my train to leave. It was a beautiful ride to Naples, and I marveled at the extremes of sea, city, farm, hill, and mountain all juxtaposed beside each other. Once reaching Naples (formerly the Roman city of Neapolis) I took the metro to the far side of the city and walked to a hostel sort of built into a cliff. I had noticed lots of little children staring at me everywhere with a sort of far-off look in their eyes, and it seemed to me as if they were dreaming of the day when they too would be wandering adventurers trekking across the globe and leaving their mark on distant places. It was cool to see things in perspective that way. Anyway, once I got settled in at the hostel I asked where I could find the best pizza in Italy (Naples claims to have it, since Naples is the birthplace of pizza), and I was given vague directions to little shop in a back alley in the center of the city, so I set out to find it and taste the best pizza in Italy, which is assumed to be the best pizza in the world. I was amazed at the things that the vendors were selling in the streets, but since Naples is renowned for its crime, I guess it’s not surprising. I was offered a very nice laptop computer with bag and accessories for 200 Euros, (I checked it for a bit, and it sure seemed like a good machine) and managed to barter it down to 50 Euros, which was sorely tempting, but I was almost completely sure that it was stolen, and didn’t feel right about buying it, so I didn’t. Anyway, after asking several people along the way, I managed to find the place, and it was definitely the best pizza I had had in all of Italy. It was huge, had great toppings, and tasted excellent, and it was just over 4 Euros. It was all baked right in front of my eyes as well, and the atmosphere in the place was really neat. After polishing it off I headed back to the hostel, wandering through side streets at night and talking with shopkeepers. Once back at the hostel I watched some soccer (I finally had the chance to watch the famous ‘Manchester United’, and they won), and I also met an Australian and a French-Canadian, and after discovering that we were all going to Pompeii, we decided to travel together for a couple days. We hit it off right away and went walking around a bit together. I was beginning to discover how much Naples and all of southern Italy were controlled by the Italian Mafia, and I was shocked to realize how dangerous it actually was there. After hearing just a few stories, I figured it would be a good idea to get out of Naples. I had planned to stay there longer, but decided to go to Pompeii the next day with the other two. We played cards for a couple hours that night with two American sisters, had a good sleep, bought a pass that gave us free transportation and archaeological site/museum access in the area for 3 days, (Pompeii was included in the area) took a short train ride to Pompeii, found the hostel there (it was one of the nicest I had yet seen, and it was cheap as well), and, as it was a beautiful day, we decided to go see the mostly excavated ruins of the old Roman city of Pompeii, which had been buried by the eruption of the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in 79 AD. We spent about 3 1/2 hours there in awe and wonder, and saw some amazing things indeed. There were human bodies in a variety of positions preserved by the quickly hardened lava for 2000 years, and so we were able to see the bodies of people encapsuled forever the way they were they day they lost their lives. We saw exactly what a Roman city looked like in the most glorious period of the Empire. We walked the streets, saw the temples, viewed the art, sat in the theatres, etc. It was an experience indeed, and it was great to share it with a couple of really great people who were easy to get along with – I loved my two new traveling companions, and we had some great conversation. After the ruins we bought some groceries, and then the two of them (the Australian was a fun and crazy guy named Barak, and the French-Canadian was a cool but ‘interesting’ fellow named Simon) went out for supper while I made myself something cheaper to eat. (I had a huge bun – about 2 feet long and quite thick – and I stuffed it with a can of cold lentils, a can of cold corn, some tomato/bologna sauce, and sprinkled it with spices, and I was so full that I wasn’t even able to finish it) I then hung out, did some reading and writing, watched some music videos on tv (Linkin Park and Evanescence, which brought back memories, since I listened to them a lot about 2-3 years ago), met some new people, and played cards with Barak and couple new American girls until midnight, then went to bed. The next morning, Barak, Simon, and I got up and took a train to a city near Mount Vesuvius, then waited for while until we were able to take a van part of the way up. It was an 8 person van, but we stuffed in with 14 people, and we bounced down narrow side streets, huge bumps and potholes, and tight mountain corners, getting to know each other, and eventually making it as far as the van could go. We then got out and began the trek to the top of the volcano. It was a cold, rainy, and ferociously windy day, but we plodded onward until we reached the summit and gazed into the pit of a volcano that destroyed a couple mighty ancient cities in only a matter of minutes. It was quite the experience. We then had an Italian lunch that we had made for ourselves under the cover of a small shelter. As I said, it was very cold though, and definitely not wise to stay up there too long, so we made our way back down after about 30-45 minutes on top. We had to be quite careful on the way down because of the fierce wind, but we all made it safely, and had a great ride back to the train station, having some intense political discussion with other people in the van and swapping adventure stories. I have found that I am consistently able to ‘take the prize’ wherever I am with my stories, which is cool, but I have definitely heard some great adventures. Back at the station, Barak and I decided to go to an archaeological museum in Naples, while Simon went to science museum (he is a physics teacher). We took a bus through the streets of Naples, seeing a bit more of the city, and wandered through the museum for a couple hours, seeing actual Egyptian mummies (real preserved feet showing through the sarcophagus – coffin), as well as treasures from Pompeii and Herculaneum. (the other Roman city that Vesuvius buried) Once finished in the museum we headed back to the hostel, and a big group of Italian youths started talking to me. I think they liked my blonde hair, and at least one of the girls was trying to make it clear that she liked me. (this wasn’t the first time it had happened in Italy) I enjoyed the attention, and got to know them a bit, which was cool. Back at the hostel, Barak and I talked for a bit, I watched some more tv (much of it was in Italian, and I was really starting to like some of the Italian music – very beautiful, and the Italian language was just very nice in general. It was one of my instant attractions to Italy when I arrived. It is very similar to Spanish.), and then had supper by myself when Barak and Simon went out again (they had a much larger budget than I, which put some distance between us, and at least Barak liked to go out partying at night – something most of the fellow travelers I had met liked to do, and so it was hard to find a fellow traveler with a budget and interests similar to mine. They were all nice, though. Anyway…), but Barak took me out to play pool with him when he came back. Him and I got along especially well together. We got an early sleep that night, and I got up really early in the morning, caught a train to Naples, and from there, caught a train to Bari on the east coast of Italy. It was 4 hour ride across central Italy, and during a 2 hour stop in a train station on the way I had a great time writing poetry. I was now feeling basically completely recovered from my cold and everything else, and was feeling great! I think everyone can identify with that feeling you get when you wake up and know that you are better, and you are so happy that you just can’t describe it, but you jump out of bed singing a happy tune, and the sky is bluer than it has been in days, etc., and you can’t help bursting with joy inside. Anyway, I was definitely feeling good. Once I reached Bari I took a bus to the port (I was planning on taking a ferry from Bari to Patras, Greece that night – it was free with my Eurail pass), but discovered that, contrary to their internet advertising and the schedules that came with my pass, there was no ferry running that evening (Sunday), so I was suddenly without a place to stay for the night. It was a little annoying, but I knew that it was all part of an exciting adventure, and it was hard to break my spirits, so I set out to find a place for the night, walking around the city and talking to people. There was no hostels in Bari though, and the best deal I could find for a pension (a cheap hotel) was between 35 and 45 Euros per night, so I decided I would see if I could find a floor somewhere to sleep on. There were some people at a Turkish Kebap restaurant that were really helpful, but after asking around, I found that the train station was supposed to be open all night, so I decided to sleep with my sleeping bag in the sitting room. I had some food at the Turkish Kebap shop (kebaps are basically pitas filled with vegetables and meat shaved off of a huge spinning stick of meat), and talked with owners about Italy and Turkey, as well as several other things (it was a family run shop, and it was really neat), and then went back to the train station. Since it was open all night, it appeared to also be the sleeping place for the homeless people and prostitutes of the city, and I knew that I would be in for a bit of a rough night. The people from the street that were making their way in there were filthy and suspicious looking (there were scantily clad, ugly-looking, and mean old ladies coughing up phlegm on the floor, there were rough-looking men flirting with the prostitutes, and of course, there were prostitutes. A couple of them attempted to get friendly with me, but I was very guarded. I did share my food and talked with one older one who looked a bit lonely – then again, they all looked a bit hurting and lonely.), but, since the water hadn’t worked in the Pompeii hostel, I was looking a bit disheveled and dirty myself. I did some writing, and then decided, for safety’s sake, to put all of my valuable things into one of my bags and to pay a few Euros to put it in safety storage for the night. By the looks of the crowd in the station, I figured that someone would probably attempt to rob and/or fight me at some point during the night, and in case they won, I didn’t want to end up losing anything dear to me. I wasn’t worried – I had come to expect the unexpected and knew I could handle myself. I had definitely gained a lot of confidence so far, and had really began to find my groove. I was learning how to survive as a backpacker, and it required caution, calm, courage, confidence, and patience – being casual, silent, and guarded while waiting for others to make the first move. I had to be much less friendly and open than I usually am, and I put up a ‘rough cowboy’ image, but people still seemed to find me very likable, and I was able to almost instantly click with any traveler or local I came across. The best way I could probably describe what I am like right now (at least in risky and/or new situations) would be Aragorn from ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’, when he is sitting at a table in a dark corner of the bar in Bree, with long hair, weatherbeaten and unshaven face, sword at his side, and cloak pulled high covering his face with shadow. He’s a bit mysterious, but is good and safe to trust, and knows how to handle himself. Perhaps that is a slightly too idealist and romantic portrayal of myself, but I am now generally quite guarded, tough and hesitant to fully trust others, confident but careful, loyal and trustworthy to a proven friend, rather long hair, weatherbeaten and whiskered face, lean and muscular body, a slow and somewhat drawling voice, rugged but gentlemanly manner, hardened nature (I have seen a LOT, much of which might make most people shudder, and most of which I haven’t mentioned and probably won’t) with my black leather cowboy hat, my jacket pulled high up to my face, hiking boots, worn clothes, calm, take-it-in-stride attitude, keen and searching eyes, and knife at my side. It’s hard to say how much I have changed, and in what ways, until I come back home and try to adjust to life as it is in a comfortable place, but I know I have definitely matured a lot (I haven’t even shared half of my stories of daring and adventure, and lessons learned along the way) and gained a lot of new experience and depth of character, and in many ways left a boy, and will come back a man. Ultimately, I’m still Jonathan Dueck, and my faith in God has helped me a lot. There is nothing like the comfort, peace, and hope that reading the Bible and talking with God gives, and He has blessed me so much. Because of Him, I know that I have changed for the better, and not for the worse. Anyway, I then laid out my sleeping bag on few seats, and with a couple layers of clothes for warmth on the cool night, a little money and my passport inside my sock on the bottom of my shoes, and my swiss army knife close at hand in my pocket, I cautiously laid down to sleep for a few hours. I was awoken by some train station guards at about 1 am and we were all told to leave for 2 hours while they cleaned the station. I wasn’t expecting this, so I went out onto the street and sat on a bench to take a careful nap, but was joined by the prostitute (at least I felt safe in assuming that she was a prostitute) who I had shared my food with, and we carried on a very broken conversation in Italian and English. I don’t think that she ‘had it all together in her head’, but she was a bit old and looked like she needed someone to protect her that night, so I decided to take her under my wing. A lady is a lady and should be protected and respected by any decent man, no matter what state she is in. I let her sit beside me, and we kept each other company, trying to each catch a little sleep. We were joined by a drunk man who seemed to have just gotten himself wasted at a bar, and he talked to me in his drunken manner (he actually spoke a bit of English, which I found rare in Bari), but it was pretty confused conversation. Eventually he left, but it was getting quite cold, so my prostitute friend and I went into a different part of the train station which we found unlocked, and sat on some steps, leaning against the wall in relative warmth. When it was about 3 am we went back to the sitting room, but it was now so full that there wasn’t really room for both of us, so I let her have a seat there while I went and slept on the floor in front of a magazine stand until about 5:30 am, then got up and sat in the sitting room for about an hour and a half, collected my luggage from the safety storage, and walked to the port, singing happy songs (I was so grateful to have safely made it through the night and into this beautiful day), sitting down in a park to read my Bible, walking some more, sitting down next to a really neat castle and reading some more, reaching the port and cleaning myself up (brushing my teeth, combing my greasy and messy hair, etc.) in the bathroom at the port office, waiting for an hour or so until the office opened up and reading Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ while I waited, getting a deck passage ticket on the ferry at 8 pm that evening from Bari to Patras (It would normally have cost about 150 Euros, but because I had an Eurail Pass, I only needed to pay 10 Euros for port taxes, so that alone was basically a third of what I paid for the pass, and I still got 15 days of train riding in addition to the ferry and other bonuses – definitely worth it, although my second-class ticket only got me deck passage on the ferry, so I would have another interesting night, but hey, it’s all part of an amazing and unforgettable adventure! I’m loving every minute of it!), then I went out and sat on a bench while watching the waves of the mighty Meditteranean wash over the rocks of the shoreline, and I pondered and napped for a while in the sunshine. I then walked through the old and genuine Italian area of Bari, and that was one of the neatest experiences that I had in all of Italy. I talked with friendly shop owners and bought some fruit, etc., and out of kindness they gave me more than I payed for (all the world was right, and everyone seemed to be good and happy, and it was a just plain great day to be alive, as usual.), and I also wandered down side streets with families talking in their doorways, beautiful Italian girls hanging out the morning’s wash to dry on the balconies of tall houses and singing along to their old Italian radios, etc. It was such a neat experience, and I could’ve spent weeks there. I treated myself to a gelato and a little pudding dessert that morning, and also stopped into a nice little pizzeria for lunch, where I had by far the best pizza I’ve eaten in all of Italy (just a simply pizza with spices, a very nice thin crust, sauce, cheese, and spicy sausages, but somehow it was just amazing), and definitely one of the best in my life. I then checked my e-mail in a little internet cafe, and found that a bunch of complications had occured with seemed to throw all of my plans for the summer out of the window, and that came as a bucket of cold water to the face, but I decided to just take it in stride and not let it ruin the beautiful day, so I left and went for a stroll, eventually sitting down in a park and writing some letters to my family, and just doing some thinking. I realized that there was a reason my plans had gone up in smoke, and I was confident that somehow there was a better option in store – I just needed to be patient and wait for it. As I thought I remembered some other options that I already had, and I started to get excited about the summer again – it was going to be great no matter what happened, and I was really grateful that I had been able to step away from my plans and look at things in perspective again, and I realized I had been getting a bit selfish, greedy, and high on myself because of the opportunity I had landed, so it was a real blessing to be humbled again, and to realize that money wasn’t the important thing. Anyway, after doing some thinking and writing, I went through a big process to mail an envelope and some postcards back home, (by the way, I’m really sorry to everyone that I had hoped to write a lot of letters to – I just haven’t gotten around to it, and have only got a few postcards together, so hopefully you’ll understand and not be too disappointed) and had to wait in line at a ticketed queu in the post office, then spend a fair bit of time walking around to find a place that sold letters since the post office didn’t, then wait in line again, (I don’t mind waiting in line – I’m just sharing the story) then they wanted to charge me about 30 Euros to send one small letter to Canada, but I worked with them and they were helpful, so that I ended up paying less than 5 Euros. I then bought a few groceries, went back to the internet cafe but the computers wouldn’t work (they had trouble the first time too), had a gelato that ended up being the best gelato I had had in all of Italy (I guess Bari makes great food) made my way to the ferry and boarded, and instantly made friends with a guy from Argentina named Ignatio, as well as an American named Rob (I had actually helped him out at the train station the night before when he ran into the same ferry misunderstanding as I had), and we spent several hours talking together, and then hung out with an older American guy and his sister Jackie. He had a first class Eurail pass, which allowed him to sleep inside in the warm dorms in a bed with a shower, etc., and since the ship was pretty empty, he offered to let us come and sleep inside the dorm in a bed, since the ship staff would never know the difference, etc. I thanked him for his offer, but told him straight up that I wouldn’t feel right using something that I hadn’t technically paid for and had to turn him down for integrity’s sake, and besides, how could I pass up the opportunity to sleep outside on a ship crossing the Meditteranean at night – that is priceless! (now I certainly don’t have perfect integrity, and will be the first to admit it, but I am trying) Rob took him up on the offer and spent a night in comfort, but Ignatio decided to sleep out on the deck with me. We watched the ship leave port a bit behind schedule, and then watched as we glided through the ocean for a bit. The ferry was quite empty, which I am sure was due mostly to the time of year, but I was kind of glad for the peace and quiet. I went to the front of the ship and lost myself in thought as the cold night wind beat against my face. I thought about all the lives that had been lost in the mysterious depths of the Meditteranean, all the battles that had been won and lost, all the fates and empires that had been decided there, all the heroes that had been made and unmade, all the kindness that had been shown, all the life that had been provided, and all that still remained to be done, and how I was now able to stare at those same dark waters that nurtured the western world. It was a neat experience. I dropped a Euro penny into the water as a sort of tribute, and I watched the stars, which could be seen so clearly with no light around and the wind keeping the sky free of clouds, and there on the deck of the ferry I sang worship to God, as I love to do. I had some catching up on my journals to do, but my hands were too cold to write, so once it got too late to do much else, I bundled up with 4 shirts, a jacket, a toque (a beanie for all of my American friends), 2 pants, etc., and my sleeping bag, and I slept on a bench on the deck until about 4 am, when one of the staff took pity on us, woke us up, and let us come and sleep in the warm hallway, where I slept until about 7:30 am. I then spent the morning watching the Greek Islands gleaming in the sun as we passed them, thinking in silence, writing, talking with my friends on the ship, walking around the deck, and eventually landing in Patras at about noon. Once there we found our way to the train station and got tickets (they got tickets to Athens, and I, to Corinth), and then walked around the city until we found a square with a bench to sit down. We sat there for about an hour in the warmest sunshine I have felt yet in Europe, and we watched people (I really enjoyed their company), rested, and just took it easy, talking casually and soaking things in. It was really nice. We then made our way back to the train station and took the train for a couple hours to Corinth, where I got off and started looking around for a hostel that I had found online. I walked the streets of infamous Corinth, talking to people as I went (the Greek people spoke some of the best English in all of Europe, or so I have found, and everyone seems to know at least some, unlike most other European countries), and eventually finding where the hostel was supposed to be, but no matter how hard I searched the area, I couldn’t find it. Some kind people in a business even did some phoning around for me, and apparently the hostel didn’t exist. I hadn’t found it on a trusted website anyway, so it made sense. I checked out a couple other places for accomodation, but they were out of my budget, so I decided to take the train to Athens for the night. I waited a while at the train station, but fortunately there was a train going to Athens in the near future, so I took that to another station in Corinth, and then took a train from there to Athens. On the ride I met a couple people, and one guy was really helpful, offering to go with me part of the way to my hostel, since it would be dark when we arrived in Athens and several people had warned me about the city at night. He seemed on the level, although I don’t think he quite understood what I wanted to do. Like I said though, he was nice, and gave me a phone card, got off with me at the stop I needed, helped me get a metro ticket (I could’ve done this on my own, as I’ve gotten used to figuring out places fairly quickly, but it was still nice to have that much less to worry about, and I had been feeling a bit sick and dizzy all day anyway – not too much good sleep in the past couple nights, so I wasn’t in the best state of mind), told me where to go, and made me promise to remember him (his name was Leonidas) and help him if he was ever in Canada, we talked a bit, he gave me some advice about the city, and we parted. I then rode the metro (it was much better than the metro in Rome) to Ommonia Square (a rather infamous place), where I walked around a bit but couldn’t find much help (I couldn’t make out the Greek characters, so I couldn’t tell which street the hostel I wanted was on, and no one there knew, so I eventually took the metro to Larissa station, (the main station in Athens) and after talking with the station master, found where the hostels were, so I took another metro to the station he told me to go to, and with help from some kind locals, started asking around at different hostels until I found what seemed to be the best deal. I settled in, then walked around until I found a genuine Greek restaurant, where I had the classic Greek ‘gyro’ which I had heard a fair bit about. It was very similar to a Turkish kebap, and was very good. I then went back to the hostel and got to know my room-mates. There was a traveling musician/photographer from France named Ghirlain, who had also split up with his original traveling companion, a guy from China studying in America and traveling in Greece named Yang, and a girl from Germany whose name I don’t remember. I instantly hit it off with the Chinese guy, and he spoke excellent English. He was very energetic and easy to be around, and very friendly and intelligent as well. We talked a lot about China and I learned so much from his insider perspective, and we also talked about travels, etc. I have rarely met someone so nice or genuinely interested in what I had to say (at least on my travels), and he was a breath of fresh air. Both him and Ghirlain traveled the same way as me also, living cheap and making their own food, and neither of them did the partying/drinking thing which was so prevalent among almost every traveler I had met, so I really enjoyed their company and felt a bit of a bond with them. I had a good sleep that night after using the free internet, and the next morning went to the hostel cafe next door for a 4 Euro all-you-can-eat breakfast, and was pretty much in heaven for 2 hours. (I hadn’t eaten much of anything the previous day, and I had 3 or 4 full plates of food for breakfast – all kinds of food, both American and Greek, and easily the best breakfast that I have eaten in Europe) I spent most of the day writing this blog at the hostel and just relaxing, but staring at a screen all day got to me a bit and I had to stop, so I hung out in my room, and when Ghirlain got back he shared some supper that he had made with me, and we talked about travels. He had been all over Spain, Africa, and Turkey playing music for money, etc., and had some really cool stories. He pulled out his guitar and played for me, and then I took a turn, and he enjoyed the stuff I had written so much that he asked me to just keep on playing, and eventually pulled out some bongos, and we just jammed together. We were joined by Yang partway through, and he got right in the thick of it as well. He was giving background vocals, (I also played some popular songs) and taking turns with Ghirlain on the bongos, and it was the most fun I could remember having in a while. We were all laughing and having a great experience making music together, representing the styles of 3 different continents. It was awesome! Ghirlain then played some music on his guitar (the guy is an incredible soloist, and had me rocking out on the floor with a tin pot and a spoon in no time while Yang played the bongos – it was so much fun!), and we were blown away by how good he was. We all talked for a while afterwards, and I had regained so much zest and excitement by being around the two of them – it was great, and they were such a blessing in my life. We were eventually joined by a new room-mate, a girl from Japan, and she was pretty rude, but I suppose it would be a little frightening for her to be in a foreign country in a room with 3 guys who she had no idea if she could trust, so it was fine. I had a good sleep that night, and Yang and Ghirlain left in the morning while I ate another big breakfast and worked some more on my blog, but the ferry Yang was going to take to the Greek islands didn’t work out and so he came back, and we decided to go exploring Athens together. We took a metro to Acropolis, and while walking to the hill we met up with Ignatio from the ferry, so I introduced the two of them and we walked together for a while, but he had already been this way, so he left us to do some other exploring. It cost me 12 Euros to get in, but it was amazing! Yang and I were completely blown away, and walked around the top of the small hill quite spellbound for an hour. I met some rockstars from a group called ‘Trail of Dead’, and talked with them for a bit. They were doing a big European tour and invited me to come to their show at a club the next night, (and basically get a little VIP treatment on the side) but I didn’t think it would be the most wholesome atmosphere (they were already surrounded by a few ‘roadie’ girls, and their name suggested music that would attract a very violent and dangerous crowd, most likely with drugs and weapons, etc.), and so I didn’t plan on going. Yang and I were almost like two people with one mind (or so it seemed to me), because he kept suggesting just what I was thinking, and vice versa, and we ended up sitting in front of the Parthenon for a while and just thinking and talking, and eventually, singing. I sang a couple John Denver songs, he sang a couple Asian songs and couple popular songs, and together we sang ‘What A Wonderful World’ and ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles. It was one of the neatest and coolest experiences of my life – a short guy from China and a tall guy from Canada, standing on top of the Acropolis hill, staring at the Parthenon, surrounded by the gleaming white city of Athens in all directions, hearts and minds full of wonder and deep thoughts, with mountains and sea in all directions, tourists all around, and sun shining on it all, and together singing ‘What A Wonderful World’ and ‘Hey Jude’. I loved it, and it was awesome! We then made our way down and climbed Mars Hill, also known as the Aereopagus, where the Apostle Paul in the Bible had delivered his ‘Altar to The Unknown God’ address to the Athenian people. (found in Acts 17:16-34) If you guessed that I decided to do the same thing, you would be right. I busted out my Bible and read those verses aloud atop Mars Hill (it was also the place where capital punishment cases used to be tried. Anyway…), and Yang enjoyed it, as he hadn’t read the Bible. (most of you probably know that religion is discouraged in China) We then wandered down a beautiful slope lined covered with trees, rocks, grass, and flowers, and the way the sun shone on it was picture perfect. After walking around a bit more, we took a metro to the Parliament Building and grounds, arriving just in time to watch the famous changing of the guard. The costumes were a little funny-looking, especially the shoes, but it was cool. There was a massive protest being staged when we got there though, and that was the really impressive thing. Thousands of people (mostly students) were marching down the streets with signs, flags, drums, and loudspeakers, and all chanting and shouting, and the military was out, surrounding the Parliament with soldiers armed with shields, guns, batons, and some sort of grenades. (I assumed it was tear gas, but they were holding them at the ready) I learned from some bystanders that the people were protesting a government bill that was in the process of turning the country’s free public universities into private ones in an effort to improve quality. Apparently they were staging protests at least a couple times a week, and last week there had been some violence when they stormed the Parliament, fighting guards and setting some things on fire, so there was extra caution right now. It was quite the experience, and it was evident that we were on the cusp of a possible storm. The protest passed by harmlessly however, with only a bit of shouting at each other between the sides. Yang and I then went out for some Greek food (more gyros and a Greek salad), and, after that, took the metro (it took us a little while to find our way) to Lycabettus Hill, (as close as we could get) where we walked through the dark streets until we reached some stairs, and we took these up for quite a ways, and then zigzagged on a path up the hill (there were trees and a lot of suspicious areas, as well as quite a few stray cats, and Yang was a little afraid, but I was used to this sort of thing and did my best to set his mind at ease. I knew I would do my best to take care of us if we were jumped, and if it wasn’t enough, then there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I didn’t worry), eventually making it up, quite sweaty, but successful after a good climb. It was a good opportunity to talk about what matters in life, and Yang was brilliant, (he as only 20, but had won an EXTREMELY difficult scholarship to a very good east coast University, as well as many national intellectual competitions, and was probably one of the brighter young minds in China) so we had great discussions.  On top of the hill we had the opportunity to see Athens at night, and spent a while just taking it in.  There was a Chapel just behind us as well, which was pretty nice, and we also saw some soldiers taking down a Greek flag.  We then walked back down and took the metro to the hostel area, did some grocery shopping, and split up. (he had to get a room at a different hostel for that night)  Back at the hostel, I found that my two new dorm-mates were an American girl and a Chinese girl, so I talked with them for a bit, and then went upstairs to the lounge area to check my e-mail and do some hostel research.  I wasn’t sure if I would be staying another night, so I wanted to be prepared for my next city.  I wrote some poetry for a while, did my work on the internet, and met some really nice girls while I was up there (all American – one from Washington state, and 3 from New Jersey, although none of them previously knew each other.  I had met a lot of Minnesotans in Rome, and had now met an lot of Jersey girls in Athens.  Anyway…), and we had some of the best discussion that I had had in a while about a bunch of different things.   One thing that I end up talking a lot about here is American politics, notably the upcoming election.  We also talked a lot about the gay marraige issue, religion, travels, life, etc., and there was one girl that I found myself seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of important things with.  Her views on religion, morality, etc., were nearly identical to my own, she was really nice, had been going through some hard times after being ditched by some mean ‘friends’ (rich Enlish girls who were embarrassed by her company, etc.), and she was pretty in a ‘down home cute’ sort of way.  She was basically the first girl that I had met on my adventure who I was actually attracted to, and, it therefore pretty much goes without saying, the coolest girl I had met on my trip as well.  There have been a lot of physically pretty girls, but that isn’t what really gets me about a girl (physical beauty is important to me as well though) – it’s much deeper than that, and this girl (her name was Jenna, and she was just under a year older than me) had it.  We talked until about 2 am in the hostel lounge, and it was pretty much a perfect evening, leaving me feeling quite fulfilled.  One really cool thing was the way that Jenna and I set the tone for the conversation that the 5 of us were having.  Our views on morality were very similar, as I have said, (she doesn’t do the drinking/partying thing, etc.) and when a couple of the girls tried to tip the conversation in the direction of swearing, drinking, etc., Jenna and I didn’t really follow along, so it was unconsciously felt that such topics weren’t cool, and it all stayed clean.  Instead, it was unconsciously recognized that it was cool to stay home and talk rather than to drink, to watch clean movies about the beauty of life and living in the moment rather than crude garbage, etc.  I am sure that I had a lot of influence in the room, being the only guy among 4 girls, but I don’t think I even did it intentionally – I just stuck with my standards, and since everyone has a natural desire to be accepted, they almost unconsciously shifted what they said so that it would be acceptable.  I don’t think I am doing a very good job of explaining of what I mean, but I am just trying to say that we have increbible power in a very subtle way to shape the direction of a conversation almost unconsciously, and that was something I did a bit of thinking about.   Anyway…I had a good sleep, had another huge and awesome breakfast, and basically spent most of today writing on my blog as well.  While here in Athens I discovered that indeed a better opportunity for the summer did come up – along the same lines but better, and it looks like things will work out better than I had expected.  We’ll see how it all goes, but I know that things will work out – they always do, and better than we could ever imagine, although it can be difficult to see it at the time.  I think that human beings have a bit of a tendency to be near-sighted (I don’t mean physically), which can get a lot of us in trouble sometimes, but it also has tremendous potential to be a great blessing to us, since it gives us an opportunity to develop faith, hope, and trust.  Our ‘weaknesses’ also have the potential to be our strengths.

Anyway, I am so grateful to you, dear reader, for sticking with me on this adventure.  I know that it probably requires a bit of effort for you to sit down and read what I have written in the midst of your busy life with so many things to do, but I am so grateful that you have taken the time to do so.  I am sure that there will be punctuation and spelling errors, that I may have said some things without thinking them through very well, that there are few proper paragraphs, that I haven’t said everything quite the way I wanted it to be said, etc., but I ask you to forgive me – necessity drove me such that I haven’t able to make this ‘polished’ (I haven’t even read over it myself – just wrote it out), and it is probably evident when I have stopped and started again, and it is also probably evident that it was written over a span of 3 days and seems to speed up and taper off at points.  It is the way it is though, and this is the way it happened as best as I can describe it for the time being.  The fact that I am posting it is evidence enough that I stick by it.  This is a taste of what it feels like to walk in my shoes, through good and bad.  I am not perfect, I don’t always make the wisest choices, I am not always proactive, I get sick and annoying too, and I am ultimately human, but I am growing and learning a ton, and God has blessed me with some amazing experiences, as well as some great opportunities to serve, and I am indeed grateful.  Life is so good and amazing!  It is a great day to be alive – let’s go out and make the most of it!  I am so grateful for all of your prayers, comments, inspiration, and all of the happy memories I have with each and every one of you – I have recalled many of them on this adventure, and am grateful for the joy that they bring to me.  I appreciate you all so much, and have realized in a new way how important you all are to me since I have been without you.  I look forward to seeing you again (as many of you as I can, hopefully) in just over a month.  I am planning on being back in Edmonton on April 18th.  We’ll see how it all goes though.  Today is Friday, March 16, 2007.  Tomorrow I am planning on going to Thessaloniki, and in another day or two, to Istanbul, and we’ll see what happens from there.  I have a basic plan, but those often change, as I have learned.  Anyway, thank-you all again for everything that you do, and keep on being your amazing selves.  Keep on learning and growing, and making the world a better place, as you all do so well – you are amazing!  It doesn’t matter how slowly you are moving so much as the fact that you are moving forward, and helping each other to move forward as well.  We are all in this life together, and I think I can safely say that we are, in our own ways, fighting for the same cause, no matter where on this earth we are.  Thanks again for everything.  This is Jon signing off.  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

“The road goes ever on…” – J.R.R. Tolkien

February 19, 2007

Hello once again my friends.

I am not dead, although there have been several times when I probably could’ve been. I am afraid that I will not be able to fully capture my adventures in this blog, or even capture them very well at all – there have been so many. Many details shall die, at least in this posting.

When I last posted, it was a Saturday afternoon, and myself and Brad were preparing to leave for Paris. I have had a veritable smorgasborg of adventures since then. The Gan family came back from a trip to Greece that afternoon, and we spent the evening talking about Greece and sampling some of the food that they brought back. A good night’s sleep followed, and on Sunday, Brad and I had an amazing Bible study, and then Brad went out to Munich for the day. We missed the service at the local church. I hung out, playing guitar, reading, finishing my laundry in their bathtub, doing some e-mailing, etc. It was a nice and relaxing day. On Monday we went with Mr. Gan in to Munich, bringing our bikes with us. We left our bikes in his office for the day and went exploring, hanging out at Konigsplatz (a bunch of Greek style monuments built by a Bavarian king – there’s even a giant wooden trojan horse), and then taking the train to a suburb, where we walked around and played a game of giant chess in a park there. It was really fun. After that last day of adventuring in Munich, we picked up our bikes, said goodbye to Mr. Gan (he even sent us off with some extra food – they have been so kind to us), and rode to the train station, where we waited for a while playing cards, then boarded the overnight train to Paris. We were in a cabin with a couple other people, but one of them, a kind old man whose company I enjoyed, moved to a different cabin so that there would be more room to sleep. We basically spent the entire 10 hour trip sleeping/trying to sleep. It was just seats, but we managed to make ourselves relatively comfortable. I was very excited to see Paris. This was one of history’s great cities.

We got there at about 7 am, and after getting a map from some officials who played a joke on us, almost making us pay them 10 Euros for it, we began exploring the city and trying to find our way to a hostel that we had looked at online. The city’s street system was a bit confusing at first, but we soon figured it out. We walked the same streets that the French revolutionaries had walked over 200 years ago, as well as a plethora of ‘heroes’, and after a couple hours of searching and backtracking, we found the Paris d’Artagnan hostel, where we booked rooms for the next 3 nights. With our belongings safely stored, we set out to explore Paris for the day. We passed a square where an action scene for a French tv show was being filmed, so we stood and watched along with about 100 other people for a little while, then had some lunch in a small nearby park. We then continued walking, trying to find the Bastille, and a kind old lady asked us if we were lost. We figured we would be okay, and told her so. She must’ve been following us or something, because a few minutes later we bumped into her again, and she said that she felt compelled to help us. We chatted for a while, and she gave us directions. We got there, and apparently the actual Bastille no longer existed, but there was a ‘place de la bastille’ to commemorate it. After wandering around that area for a while, we found a little walled garden and sat down to read for a bit. The walls were covered with birds, and it was a beautiful little retreat from the busy city. We then walked to Notre Dame Cathedral, and separated for a bit to wander around the area. It was amazing, and was covered with gargoyles. The architecture consisted of a wide variety of domes, spires, etc., and was quite a sight to see, and it was located on an island in the middle of the Seine River. I sat down in the gardens around it and thought and prayed for a while, and it was a really neat experience. After spending some time there, we walked back to the hostel, and met another Canadian on our way. We walked with him for a while, but he was only briefly passing through. Once back at the hostel, we met our room-mate, a guy named Boris who was looking for a more permanent residence in Paris. I wrote a poem about Notre Dame Cathedral, and we went to bed early that night. On Wednesday, January 31, we had the complimentary breakfast that the hostel provided, then split up to explore Paris. I took my bike and ventured south of the Seine River, eventually losing myself in the back streets looking for a used English bookstore. By accident I stumbled upon the Pantheon, which I had previously been looking for (we only had one map, and I let Brad use it, so the new one I got from a subway station was much poorer and didn’t show landmarks), and of course decided to go inside. It was just over 4 Euros, and was incredible. I saw amazing art and statues, including an entire wall of Joan of Arc murals, as well as inspiring statues of the revolution of 1789. In the crypt I saw where Marie Curie was buried, as well as her husband Henri, and also Jean Jacques Rousseau, etc. I also had one of the most powerful moments of the entire trip for me. It came when I reached Victor Hugo’s grave, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. This was a man, who, even though he lived over 200 years ago, has changed my life. He has been one of my most powerful mentors over the last 5 years through his book, Les Miserables, and he continues to inspire me. I know him as a friend, and I was now a few feet from his body’s resting place. He was a man who accomplished what he was supposed to with his life, and is still changing lives because of it, and I was humbled, broken, and inspired. I had a ‘conversation’ with him, a heartfelt prayer, saluted him, and then continued on. I saw the grave of Alexander Dumas, as well as Voltaire, and after wandering the halls of history for a while longer, I exited through the giant stone pillars. I then began heading in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. On the way I came upon a quaint little French dessert shop that I couldn’t resist, and bought myself a lovely piece of pie with layers of icing, nuts, etc. It was 2.60 Euros, and was huge. I sat on the sidewalk with my back against the building – everything right in the world – eating this delectable dessert, which filled me right up. I then continued on, passing through huge crowds, walking my bike along the Champs d’Elysses, passing the Arc d’Triomphe, passing the Louvre gardens and nearly getting conned, but turning the tables at the last minute by pulling a simple trick, getting my picture taken by some Australians by a statue of Pallas Athene, and eventually reaching the Eiffel Tower, which I decided to climb at least partway. It cost about 4 Euros to simply walk up the stairs to the second level. While there, I met a couple other Canadians – a girl named Genevieve and her mom, and we hit it off right away. We walked up the rest of the way to the second level together, and ended up chatting for about half an hour, taking pictures, etc., exchaning e-mails, etc. Brad and I had agreed to meet back at the hostel by 7 pm, so I didn’t have to go all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but it would’ve cost about another 4 Euros anyway. Once down, I raced with my bike, weaving in and out of traffic on the streets, dodging pedestrians on the sidewalks, and blazing my way across Paris. Providentially I managed to take nearly all the right streets. I passed a girl that bumped into an old black man, and he turned around and opened up a lashing of profanity on her, then turned to me and did the same. I told him that I only understood english, so he used some English expletives. He was the first really mean French person that I had met. Otherwise they were quite nice, although the girls in Germany were prettier. I made it back to the hostel about 5 minutes after 7 pm, panting my way in the door. Brad and I spent the evening hanging out in the bar lounge playing cards, hoping to meet up with some other travellers, but we didn’t. The next day Brad and I headed to the Louvre, and we made a beeline for the Mona Lisa. Once we had seen that with our own eyes, (and yes, it does seem as if she follows your eyes with her gaze) we split up to explore the museum. I saw so much beautiful art that I nearly went numb to it. I sat down, and was moved by the simple beauty of a painting depicting ships arriving in a bay, a small outpost, and settlers disembarking upon a new land. I found myself really attracted to paintings of ships on the sea. After walking through the ancient Egyptian relics I found myself getting disillusioned and wondering why these relics even mattered. After all, what is truly important is to spend our lives serving and loving others and making a difference now. Therefore, I decided to sit down and write myself a letter as if I was the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III speaking across time, and tell myself why it mattered that I understand the ancient relics in the Louvre. It took me about 45 minutes, but it was worth it, and I got a lot more out of the museum from that point on. I saw so much that I can’t even begin to describe it, but it was really neat to see the busts and statues of the Greeks and Romans, and I really like the statues by Michaelangelo contained in the Louvre. I met up with Brad there, and we discussed the expression that Michaelangelo’s statue ‘The Dying Slave’ was showing, and to me it seemed that he was somewhat peaceful, yet slightly disturbed, as if having a bad dream, and Brad thought that he was in contorted agony. Quite different perceptions. I could honestly spend days in the Louvre and not feel that I was even coming close to rightfully appreciating the works within, but that was not to be. It was nearing closing time, so Brad and I had some fast food (it was a nice change from cold canned beans), then walked for about an hour, talking about a bunch of stuff, and it was just a good time. We then took a city train the rest of the way, spent the later evening hanging out at the bar lounge in the hostel playing cards again, and went to bed a bit earlier than the night before. Those last 2 nights we had rather poor sleeps, because we got 3 German room-mates, and they snored pretty bad – even ear plugs didn’t completely drown out the sound. We survived though, and it didn’t actually bother me too much. The next morning we set out early on the train to look for a used English bookstore by the river, but it wasn’t open yet, so we headed back. We then got our bikes ready, but Brad’s tire got wrecked, so we had to replace it. There was a leak in the new tire that we put on his bike though, so we had to patch that. We had to figure it all out as we went, because neither of us had any experience with this sort of thing. We ended up leaving a couple hours later than we were expecting, and took a couple hours getting out of Paris. Once out, we began making our way through the numerous cities that make up the Paris metro area. We reached a wooded path by the Seine River around 5 pm, and after a bit of discussion, decided to camp there for the night. It was a few hundred feet from a huge industrial zone, there was an airport nearby, and it was evident that hobos lived there at least sometimes, but it was getting dark and we felt that it would be a good idea to have a place to stay rather than try wandering through cities in the dark. We had our cold canned beans for supper, and I had some bread and chocolate hazelnut spread (not Nutella, because it’s too expensive, but I have become somewhat addicted to chocolate spread), and then we set up our tent for the first time. After only a few minutes in the tent, Brad hit me with a bombshell. He basically told me that he didn’t feel he was supposed to be doing this, and had been wrestling with it since even before we left. We discussed it for a couple hours, and I was in a bit of a state of shock, but I didn’t want him to being doing something that he didn’t feel was right for him, and that was even more important than him being on the trip with me. I didn’t really know what to think or feel, but said he was going through some intense emotional turmoil, and that when he finally decided not to continue the bike trip, he started feeling much better. Once the decision was made, we talked a bit more, then went to bed. We slept with our knives ready, and were startled a few times by noises nearby, but we were okay. After a not-so-great sleep that night, we got up and had some bread and chocolate spread, got everything packed up, Brad had more tire troubles, so we changed the tire again, then biked back to the train station in Paris, where I waited outside for a couple hours while Brad did some phoning and waited in line until he got a ticket for that night. I really enjoyed that time, and was so intensely happy that there were tears in my eyes. I just sat with my back against a brick wall on that beautiful day, with sunshine pouring out on me, I was wearing my Australian leather cowboy hat, and singing John Denver tunes into the Paris street. I had a great opportunity to observe people as well. I wrote Brad a brief note thanking him for sharing the trip with me up to that point and wishing him all the best, and when he came back with his ticket we said our goodbyes and I drove off. It was already a bit late in the afternoon, so I biked hard and reached the same spot where we had camped the night before, and decided to camp there again. I set up camp, had my can of beans, did some thinking, and then went to bed. It was finally starting to hit me how alone I was. I wasn’t angry with Brad – I actually respected him for his decision, because we both knew that he would have to face the music because of it, and yet he was still willing to do what he felt he was supposed to do. My sleeping bag was a cheap and compact one that was only good until about 10 degrees celsius, and I had no pajamas, so I could feel the cold very easily. That night it froze, and I woke up to frost on the ground. I spent the night shivering in my sleeping bag and trying to sleep, and I was only able to get some rest after I put on a couple layers of clothing. When I awoke I was unable to feel my hands or feet – they had frozen numb. I eventually got up and got feeling back, and once I was ready to go, I started following the Seine River out of Paris, but after a lot of backtracking when I was no longer able to stay beside the river, I just began heading in the direction that I thought was south, using the sun as my guide. My only map was not very detailed at all, and I was soon quite lost. I stopped and watched a soccer match in the early afternoon, sitting on the grass and eating some lunch (canned vegetables – a treat), then continued on. I stopped at a gas station and tried to figure out where I was. The attendent didn’t speak English, but she pulled out an atlas and showed me exactly where I was. I decided to buy an atlas, and although it cost me 27 Euros, it was well worth it. I continued biking, and although I was constantly referring to the atlas, it was such a relief to know where I was going. I decided that that was a luxury I would definitely allow myself, even if I only knew the next few streets. I was a happy man when I finally made it out of the city, and I was quite overwhelmed by the beauty of the French countryside as I caught my first glimpse of it and was soon enveloped in its splendor. I rode my bike on the side of the highway, and most vehicles moved over a bit for a me, which was nice. There was also a very small shoulder, and it wasn’t one of the major national highways – just a regional highway, so the traffic wasn’t too bad and neither were the speeds. I stopped for the night at a national park and just pulled my bike off the highway and walked it a ways into the trees. I explored the area for about 15 minutes, then set up camp. There didn’t seem to be anyone anywhere nearby, so I wouldn’t have to worry about people bothering me, etc. I had my can of beans, then began studying the atlas and planning out my route for tomorrow. I began feeling a bit lonely, but I still wasn’t doing too bad. After writing in my journal, as usual, I went to bed at about 9 pm, which was about when I was starting to go to bed. I began hearing vicious howling and barking noises soon after, however, and they continually seemed to get closer. I took out my 2 knives, but I knew they wouldn’t help me much, so I pulled out my pedal wrench from one of my paniers and had that ready to be used if necessary. It was about a foot long and metal, and I knew that with it I could bash to death anything that came tearing into my tent. I didn’t dare to go outside at all, so I laid awake through the night as the sounds continued. I was pretty sure that it was wolves, as I know quite well what dogs and coyotes sound like, and I’m quite sure that it was neither of them. I eventually got to sleep, knowing that I would do what it took to survive if it came down to it. It froze again, and I was once again unable to feel my hands and feet when I awoke. When morning came I found that it had rained a lot, and it was still drizzling. I had my bread and chocolate spread, loaded everything up, (I cut my hands on the poles when taking down the tent, so they were a bit bloody as well) and continued south. I stayed on the regional roads again, but right from the start it was a miserable day. I had been trying really hard to stay positive, but I was starting to really feel lousy. I was already soaking wet, I hadn’t had much sleep in the past few nights, I had been living in uncertainty for a few days now, not knowing where I was really going or where I would sleep, etc., and I had also been alone for 2 days with no one to talk to but myself and God. It was rainy and windy and I biked. I had a wipeout soon after I started, because vehicles didn’t move over much and the shoulder was a bit steep and narrow. I scratched up my bike a bit, and ripped a small tear in one of my paniers, but fortunatley nothing was able to fall out. I really can’t even describe right now what I felt like, because I don’t think I can do it justice. Brad and I had been talking about and planning this trip for years, and all the plans that we had made were gone now, and everything just seemed to be going wrong. I sure wasn’t having fun anymore. You know those times in life when trying to be positive just doesn’t cut it, when it just doesn’t solve the problem, and when all that you have left to do is either walk away and quit, or grit your teeth and keep going anyway. I’m sure we all feel like that sometimes. Maybe you’re married, and you find that the feeling of love is no longer there, or you’re depressed and you’re just not finding any joy in life anymore, or a thousand other scenarios. I encourage you to grit your teeth and keep going. Things will get better, and you will be glad you stuck it out. It’s those times that separate the boys from the men. I decided that come hell or high water, I would just grit my teeth and keep going. The words to the song ‘Stand’ by Rascal Flatts really epitomized what I was feeling, and were really inspiring to me, and I will quote them here.

You feel like a candle in a hurricane, just like a picture with a broken frame,

Alone and helpless, like you’ve lost your fight, but you’ll be alright, you’ll be alright,

‘Cause when push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of,

You might bend ’till you break, ’cause it’s all you can take,

On your knees you look up, decide you’ve had enough,

You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off,

Then you stand, then you stand.

Life’s like a novel with the end ripped out, the edge of a canyon with only one way down,

Take what you’re given, before it’s gone, and start holding on, keep holding on,

‘Cause when push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of,

You might bend ’till you break, ’cause it’s all you can take,

On your knees you look up, decide you’ve had enough,

You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off,

Then you stand, then you stand.

Every time you get up and get back in the race,

One more small piece of you starts to fall into place,

‘Cause when push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of,

You might bend ’till you break, ’cause it’s all you can take,

On your knees you look up, decide you’ve had enough,

You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off,

Then you stand, then you stand.

I told myself that I was Jonathan Dueck, and that Duecks don’t quit when times get hard – that’s when they excel. And so I biked. Hill after hill, in the pouring rain, mile after mile. It didn’t matter. I just kept going. I had another accident (the highway was very slippery and my tires weren’t particularly made for those conditions) and ripped my pants and my left leg up pretty good, as well as more scratches on the bike and a tear in my other panier. I also bent the left pedal a bit. My gloves saved my hands, which was definitely nice. I kept going, and my mind was racing the whole time. My thoughts were the thoughts of a desperate captain who is nevertheless ready to go down with the ship. As I biked I looked for a suitable place to pitch a tent for the night, but waited a while before I found anything that would work. I saw a patch of thick bush and thorns down an abandoned driveway in a field that I figured would do the job, so I cleared a way in and set up my tent, then basically fell into bed. I was spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was physically sore, and had been driving myself on mental energy almost all day. I noticed some holes that looked like badger dens about 10 feet from my tent, but I was too exhausted to keep going and find a different spot. I had my supper, and began noticing scratching sounds outside the tent. I kept expecting some badger to rush inside and corner me in the tent. It perhaps seems a little silly now, but I have a theory that we have emotional immune systems, just like physical immune systems. We live daily with the bacteria that could make us sick, but when our physical immune systems are strong, it doesn’t affect us. However, when our immune systems are down, we get sick very easily. I think that it is the same emotionally and mentally. I had sustained a huge blow in both those categories when Brad decided to leave, and was now totally alone, with no friends and no one to talk to, unfamiliar with the customs, etc. I was also exhausted from the biking I had done in the past 4 days, the lack of sleep, and feeling a bit miserable in general. My emotional and mental immune systems were down. I was so scared. I’m not sure if I have ever been that scared in all of my life. I can’t even expect any of my readers to understand, and it will probably just seem weird. It almost feels futile trying to explain what I felt, because it almost feels foreign to me already. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a wimp, and that I have iron will when things get tough, but the courage was gone. As I wrote in my journal that night tears streamed down my face from the intense pain that I was feeling inside, and my hands shook from fear. I had bought a sheet to wrap myself in, and I was wearing a couple layers, but I was wet, and my body shook from the cold. I was about as warm as I could be with what I had, and it still wasn’t warm enough. I can rarely remember feeling so sure that I was going to die, and the thought chilled me, because I wasn’t ready yet. I had far too many hopes and dreams. I lay in bed awake for a long time that night, with my knives and pedal wrench at the ready, and had one of the most personal talks that I have ever had with God. As I did, I felt the weight of everything begin to lift away. My jaw almost dropped at how complete the effect was. I wasn’t scared anymore, and despite the scratching and everything else, I knew that I would be okay – it may seem weird, but I just knew that God would not let anything evil through the tent that night – and I was able to sleep in peace. I needed it so badly, and felt much better the next morning. I got up, and was getting used to the cold and numbness by now, had my bread, packed up, and got started. Less than a minute after leaving my camping spot, a couple of authorities came by and checked it out, so I know that Someone up there was watching out for me. It was really foggy, and I worried a bit about vehicles not being able to see me, so I decided to take small back-country roads instead. There was almost no traffic on them, and the routes were beautiful, although they were far less direct. That day I experienced the sheer beauty of the French countryside. I biked in the mist through countryside dotted with houses and farms, and through villages with the indescribably lovely, gentle honey-smell of chimney smoke wafting through the air. There was only a slight breeze, and occasionally the sun would peep out for a couple seconds and fill my mind with hope and my heart with joy. (it is truly amazing how powerful a little sunshine can be, especially when you have very few other things to cling to. I almost broke into tears of joy every time it appeared, which was very rare.) There were a lot of big hills however, and that made biking difficult. They got bigger as the day went on. After biking about 100 kms that day, I was so exhausted that my legs were practically lead blocks and I was panting very hard. I had been setting a good pace all day, and all of the past few days, and I had no energy left. It was all I could do just to walk my bike up each huge new hill. I did it anyway. When I had nothing left to give, I went another 30 kilometers. It might have just been muscle spasms that kept me going, but I have consistently found that when I have nothing left I am somehow able to kick things into high gear. I don’t know if others feel it, but when I am running and I have no energy left, that’s when I am able to really start sprinting. It is just a matter of getting over the hump. I rode my bike into the city of Auxerre just as it was getting dark, and spent a good hour or two trying to find a hostel or cheap hotel, asking around, etc., but the best price I could find was 50 Euros per night, and there was no way I was going to pay that. I was told directions to one for about 32 Euros per night, and I was at the point where I would do just about anything for a shower and soft bed to sleep on (I hadn’t had either for over 5 days), so I decided to go for it. I started in the direction I was told, but I had to take a major highway, so I ended up walking in the ditch, but it was pitch black outside already, and there was a lot of trees and other stuff in the ditch, so I wasn’t able to keep going, and I just pulled my bike off into the trees and set up my tent in the dark. It was very noisy because I was so close to the city and right by a major highway, but I was extremely tired and got a pretty good sleep. It poured rain all night.

The next morning I awoke to a lot of rain inside the tent, and a lot of my stuff was very wet. I guess there was some mesh open to the rain (I hadn’t bothered to tie down the rain-cover, since it was really dark.), and a bunch got inside. I hung out for a little while and read ‘Walden’ for about an hour, (in addition to my dailyBible reading) which helped me to feel much better, since I was able to see my ‘trials’ in a more romantic light and connect with someone who done similar things. I then left my tent set up and walked into Auxerre, determined to find a cheap hotel or hostel, and also an internet cafe. I walked around the city all day, and eventually decided that I wouldn’t need a hotel or hostel because I couldn’t afford it. I was really tired though, and decided to treat myself to genuine French fast food (they had a place called ‘Quick’ that was kind of like their version of McDonald’s), and as I waited for it to open I met a couple of French ‘punks’ (really hip clothes, spikey hair, etc.), and they were really friendly. We had a broken conversation – them in their broken english, and me in my extremely broken French (I kept looking up words in a little Enlish-French dictionary that I had picked up), and we were able to have some form of communication. We talked about sports, girls, family, school, work, etc., and it was nice to feel somewhat normal again. I looked like a bit of a mess, and I know I didn’t smell too great, but they were still really nice. I guess they must’ve noticed how hungry I was, because they ordered a lot of food and then said that they were both too full to finish theirs, and let me have it all, and they did it in a way that didn’t make me feel like a beggar. They were honestly like a couple of angels to me, even though they looked like very unlikely candidates. Their names were Theo and Roma. I had been dying inside for someone to talk to and treat me like a human being, and they did both and more. They were my friends. When they left I washed my hair in the bathroom sink and was surprised how much of it was faling out. As I ran my fingers through it, they would come out full of loose hair. I guess I’m going bald in my old age. It was probably just because I hadn’t showered in a while. Anyway…I was just about the happiest boy in the world as I left that restaurant and continued walking. I had a full stomach, I had friends, and my hair was somewhat clean. Life was good. I wandered into the inner city area, and asked around for an internet cafe. I was sent all over the place, and finally one kind bartender woman came out and led me to the one that I had been trying to find, only to discover that it was closed. I was directed to another one, but that one was undergoing repairs. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I felt bad because I had told one of my really good friends that I would send her an e-card or something on her birthday. I didn’t realize it until later, but I had been thinking that it was a day later than it actually was, and I continued in this fallacy for nearly 2 weeks. I bought a few groceries, then walked back to my tent. I was offered a ride, but I didn’t want to give away my camping spot, so I said no. It was raining, so I decide to take a ‘shower’ in the rain, using some camp soap, a bottle of cold water, a scrub sponge that I had just picked up, and the rain itself. Lots more hair came out, and I didn’t get too clean, but it was much better. The rain seemed to almost stop as soon as I started ‘showering’. I’m sure someone could’ve seen me from the highway if they had really been looking, but I didn’t care that much. I then had my supper, and went to bed. (It’s a given that I write in my journal every night) The next morning more rain got inside the tent, but I hung my clothes out to dry outside for the day, then read some more Walden and walked back into Auxerre. I bought a couple more groceries, as well as some cotton pajamas (I was still suffering quite a bit from the cold nights, and it’s no fun being numb and losing sleep, and I figured that adding another layer would help) and some sandals (which have been very useful), and also checked the internet cafe that was closed the day before, but it was closed again. I then walked back, but as I did, I began to feel a lot of things coming to a head that I had been pushing down for the last week. The loneliness had never hit me as acutely as it then began hitting me, and I realized that there are so many people in this world who feel lonely like that a lot of the time, and it just becomes a way of life for them. My heart broke for those people. I am usually a bit of a loner, and like to bury myself in my books for most of the day, but it’s always nice to even be able to have a 5 minute conversation with someone who cares about me, and whom I care about. I have always taken things like that for granted, but there is almost nothing that I wouldn’t have given to have a little conversation like that at that point. It started raining, so I ran back (I was camping about 4 kms out of Auxerre, and it was a pretty big city) and put my clothes back in the tent before they got too wet. I was really starting to feel the heartsickness now, and I knew that I couldn’t put it off any longer – I had to deal with it. Once again, I don’t even think anyone will be able to understand what I was feeling, mostly because even I am having trouble understanding it already, but I will try and explain a little anyway. I have never been more broken in all of my life, or at least not in the last 5 years. I was in absolute inner agony. I had been fighting it for days, but I couldn’t fight it anymore. I usually go weeks or months without crying, but I was choking in my tears and heaving with sobs so deep that it felt like I was crying my very soul out through my eyes. Physical pain doesn’t really bother me, (at least not after I’ve scraped my cornea twice – I have never felt physical pain like the pain I felt in my eyes for about 5 days there, and nothing else even comes remotely close since – pain is more annoying than painful now) and I can usually deal quietly with my emotional pain inside myself, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I was blinded by tears, and I just started screaming out into the darkness. I didn’t understand why I was feeling the way I was. I still don’t quite understand. Then it hit me that maybe there was a reason I was feeling like I was. After a lot of thinking and praying, I got the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to continue biking France. I felt really awful inside when I thought about continuing, and as soon as I decided that I would hitch-hike back to Paris the next day, an incredible peace settled over me. I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do next, but I knew I needed to at least get back to Paris where I could talk to my family, etc. I needed some sort of a safe zone, because I hadn’t been able to let down my guard at all for a long time, and I was wearing myself out functioning in emergency mode. I’m not even going to attempt to explain everything that I went through, and everything that went through my mind that night, because I just don’t think anyone will understand. I don’t even understand yet, and maybe I never will. Long story short, I just decided to go back to Paris.  I got a much better sleep that night, and the next day began to think that I was just feeling homesick or something like that, but I still decided that it would be wisest to head back to Paris anyway, because the weather was cold and rainy and didn’t seem to be changing anytime soon, I would have to take some more major highways, etc., and I still had a bad feeling about heading south, an instinct which I decided to follow.  It just did not seem smart or right to continue.  I have second-guessed myself since then a few times, but after giving it good thought, I agree with my decision.  I packed up, and only had to wait a few minutes until I was offered a ride by a younger guy for about 10 kms. I took him up on it. I had to turn someone else down because he had no room for my bike. Once this guy dropped me off, I only had to wait about 2 minutes until a middle-aged trucker offered me a ride. We put my bike in the back of his semi, and I settled in for the drive to Paris. It stank a bit inside the truck, and he smoked (then again, a lot of people smoke over here, and I’ve gotten used to breathing second-hand smoke), but I didn’t care. It was warm and comfortable, and there was even music. (it alternated between english and french songs on the radio, and even though I only recognized one song – Bohemian Raphsody – I didn’t care, because it was music other than my own voice) The driver didn’t really speak any english, so any conversation that we had was basically one word and gestures, but he was nice and friendly. I found out that his name was Sil, that he was from Morocco, and that he drove trucks between Paris, France, and Milan, Italy. It was much more direct taking the main highway, and the semi definitely moved a lot faster than my bike. He dropped me off in one of the suburb cities of Paris, almost in the exact spot where I had purchased my French road atlas. I then biked the 40 kms to Paris through the city, asking people for help when I had lost my way. I had stop and do some bike repairs on the way, but otherwise I was fine. I made it back to the Paris d’Artagnan Hostel at about 5:30 pm, and was so happy when I was able to crash into bed. I had a long shower, and then washed my clothes in the sink. It was funny, because even though I had a different room, I still had Boris as a room-mate. (I guess he had been moved as well) He stuttered really badly, so it was hard to carry on much of a conversation, but he was friendly, and he was a familiar face. I also got a couple new room-mates – two long haired guys from Argentina traveling Europe for a month or so. They spoke pretty good english, and we hit it off right away. One was named Nicolas, the other was Nazareno.  We hung out and just made small talk for a few hours that night, getting to know each other and each other’s countries, etc.  It was really cool.  I also did a lot of thinking about what I would do next, and I got a chance to check my e-mail.  Miraculously, I had a couple of doors open up already.  One of my old friends, and my former CIT director at Camp Valaqua when I worked there for the summer a few years ago, Jason Fehr, had e-mailed me letting me know that he was doing volunteer work with a reconciliation organization called Corrymeela in Northern Ireland, and he had invited me to come up and spend some time with him and his wife Nikki, whom I also knew from camp, and possibly to volunteer if I wanted to and it worked out.  I also got an e-mail from Genevieve, whom I had met on the Eiffel Tower, and she said that she had an aunt in Bologna, Italy, who was letting her use a 4 bedroom apartment for free, and so she invited me and a couple other people to come and stay with her for a few days/weeks at no charge and use it as a base to travel in Italy.  It wouldn’t be available until about February 26, however, but I really liked the sound of it.  I decided to take the quickest plane I could find to Ireland and spend a couple weeks there, then head down to Italy and travel around there, then continue from there.  I also decided, for a variety of reasons, that I would only stay in Europe until the end of April.  I felt that I would be able to experience what I needed to experience and learn what I needed to learn here in 4 months, rather than in a year, and I could honestly spend a year in just one country and still feel like I hardly understood it.  I also heard some e-mail rumors about big things happening in the fall with the college I had been working to found in Alberta, and I felt that it was important for me to be a part of that.  To do that, I would need money, and also if I wanted to go down to George Wythe College in the winter semester.  Plus, I was very short on money as it already was, and there was no way that I could afford to spend much longer in Europe, unless I started working, but I knew that that would only cover my expenses here, and not give me enough to study in the fall.  In addition, I had been offered a really good sales job in Florida starting the beginning of May, and that tipped the scales for my decision.  There were quite a few reasons, actually.  Before I had left I had told myself that I would take anywhere from a few months to a few years for this trip, and I now decided on a few months.  I had been doing a lot of thinking and praying about this, and I felt good about it.  I would still be able to do all the things I had dreamed of, and would have tons of adventures, plus I would be able to make a lot of money in a foreign place and even have a few adventures in the summer, and then have all my options open for college in the fall and winter.  I’m starting to see my place in this world a little clearer, and a few of the things I need to do to fulfill that.  Just a little, but it’s something.  I am so grateful for all the thinking that I have been able to do.  I got to bed at about midnight, and had a really good sleep.

The next day, Saturday, I slept in a bit, which was nice, had the free hostel breakfast, which was delicious, even though it was simple – I didn’t care, then took a bus to the Charles de Gaulle Airport, where I spent a few hours checking back and forth for cheap tickets to Ireland, and ended up getting one to Dublin for about 100 Euros with Air France.  Unfortunately, it was going to cost about another 45 Euros to bring my bike along.  I would also have to take a train from Paris to the airport because of my bicycle.  I went with it though, and then headed back.  I ended up waiting for the bus for a good hour and a half, because it was delayed.  I spent the whole time singing worship songs on a windy day in a French airport, and also continuing to work on another song that I had started writing that morning while waiting at a different bus stop.  It was about an hour bus ride from the airport to Paris.  You could drive for probably about 80 kms or so and still not leave the Paris metro area.  I think there’s about 20 million people in the metro area, and the city is really sprawled out (there’s not many tall apartment buildings or anything like that), plus there’s all the industry, etc.  It’s way too much city for me.  It’s nice to spend a few days there, but I wouldn’t want to live there and feel choked by concrete all of my life.  The whole bus ride back I read from a book called ‘The Missionary’s Little Book of Inspirational Stories’, which I had read through many times already this trip.  There is one short poem that has provided a huge source of encouragement every time I read it, especially as I have struggled with the question of why I am doing this.  It is called ‘Upon Leaving Home’, and is by a girl named Steffanie Russell.  Here it is:

I left a quiet harbor

in favor of another, I know not where.

But first there are seas to cross

And storms to brave.

How could I prefer the foreign deeps

to the encircling arms of my bay?

Because some things

Can only be learned at sea.

Yes, my craft is watertight,

I can navigate the unknown,

And Lo, the winds that fill my sails

Blow from home.

I have gotten into the habit of reminding myself when things are difficult that ‘some things can only be learned at sea’.

Once back at the hostel, I had some supper (I was starting to get tired of the cold canned beans), talked with my family for quite a while on the phone and was really, really encouraged, hung out some more with Nicolas and Nazareno, and they were also really supportive and encouraging (they came along just when I needed them), and then I did some e-mail research. (I decided that it would be a good idea to at least have some sort of plan and to at least know if there is a hostel in the next city I am going to, and where it is, rather than having an ‘Auxerre’ scenario again, although it was good to do that at least once.)  Anyway, after a good sleep I got up, got my stuff ready, biked to the train station, took the train to the airport, got my bike packed up into a box, (the guards were really accomodating) and then they said not to worry about paying the bike fee – they said it was like a late Christmas present.  I was shocked by this huge random act of kindness, and it was a gift that I really appreciated.  There are definitely some very nice people in this world.  The flight was nice, and I was really grateful for the onboard food.  There was snow in England as we flew over, and I crossed my fingers hoping that Ireland would be green.  It was.  I was bubbly with happiness as we landed in Dublin, and I fell in love with the accent immediately.  In fact, as I was passing through customs, the border guard looked at my passport and then basically told me that he was suspicious because I had an Irish, not a Canadian accent, so I just told him that I must’ve picked up the Irish accent already.  He let me through, and it was kind of funny.  My bike was in good shape, so I went out and waited for a bus to Belfast.  The system in Ireland is much less organized than in Canada, and instead of buying a ticket, you just pay the driver as you get on, even for a long trip.  The people were extremely friendly, and it was so nice to be able to just have a casual conversation in my own language.  I talked with a couple people for a while, then rode the bus to Belfast, sitting by some punks with piercings, tattoos, etc., who were also really nice and friendly, but I had to turn them down when they casually offered me free pornography.  The countryside was gorgeous as we passed by, and it became common for me to see an old stone watchtower on a green hill surrounded by walls, etc.  It was also really rainy.  When I got to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, I found that there were no buses going to Ballycastle, where Jason was, that night, but I was directed to a nearby hostel.  It was surprisingly cheap, so I booked a room, got settled in, then checked my e-mail, where I found that Jason had arranged to have someone pick me up and bring me to Ballycastle that night.  The hostel receptionist was kind and let me have my money back for the room, (the French hostel that I stayed at was non-refundable once I gave them any money) and then walked my bike (I had to take it somewhat apart to get it on the plane, and I hadn’t put it back together yet) to the meeting place, picking up a sub for a special price on the way, but when they arrived we found that they wouldn’t be able to fit my bike in the car, so they went back to Ballycastle, and I went back to the hostel, where I checked in again.  I looked at a bunch of tourist info stuff, and the receptionist even gave me a free copy of the $15.00 Hosteling International Hostel Guide, which was really nice.  A good night’s sleep, and I took the earliest bus to Ballycastle.  There was a connection at Ballymena, but I got to Ballycastle at about 10:45 am.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I stepped off of the bus and onto the street.  I had found paradise.  I was surrounded by a quaint little town, which in turn was surrounded by green hills as far as the eye could see, and then, the ocean.  The sun was shining, and it warmed from me from the outside in.  I sang happy songs as I waited for Jason, but an hour went by without him showing up.  I found a pay phone and called him, and he showed up about 45 minutes later on a small bicycle.  I didn’t really mind waiting – it was so beautiful outside.  It was sure good to see him when he arrived though – my first friend in a while – and we talked the entire 45 minute walk back to Corrymeela.  It was located outside of town atop some beautiful rugged cliffs along the ocean, and on our way up there we walked along a sandy beach, rocks, etc.  It was the first time I had seen the Atlantic Ocean, and the first time I had seen any ocean in over 5 years.  Simply the location of the place was a dream come true for me.  There was plenty of food waiting for me when I arrived, and I ate like there was no tomorrow.  Everyone was really welcoming and friendly, and I learned about what Corrymeela does and how it has grown.  It basically provides a place of refuge for victims of the Irish civil conflict, and is a neutral ground where people of all nations, backgrounds, races, and beliefs come together to understand each other.  There was a really good spirit about the place as soon as I arrived, and I really wanted to stay for a while.  As John Denver said, it was like ‘coming home to a place I’d never been before’.  I went to a meeting, then went with a bunch of the volunteer staff on a bus to Bushmills, where we were going to tour the world’s oldest licensed liquor distillery, but it was closed, so we went to Port Rush, and then Port Stuart, walking around, playing on the beach, talking and hanging out, and then getting iced cream.  I was really enjoying myself, getting to know Jason and Nikki again (I hadn’t seen them in a while), and making new friends.  When we got back we had a delicious supper, and I ate a lot.  In fact, ever since I have been here, I have eaten an average of 2 heaping plates of food each meal – breakfast, lunch, and supper, as well as a lot of snacking in between.  I just got used to not really eating much, and so now having a smorgasborg of great food is too much to resist.  Even I didn’t think I could eat as much food as I am eating, but I guess my mind is telling my body to stock up for when I won’t have as much.  Anyway…  During supper I also had a great discussion on political economics and the place of the individual and the organization within government with a French Jesuit named Claude, and that was neat – an experience I won’t soon forget.  I was only able to stay as a visitor for a couple days, so I decided to try and volunteer for a few days.  I spent the evening laughing and joking around with the other volunteers like we were old friends, and snacking, had a great sleep in a nice bed in my own room, and got up the next morning feeling great.  I couldn’t get my criminal records check all worked out in time, so they couldn’t legally let me work with groups, which is their main purpose, but they would let me do behind the scenes work like housekeeping, kitchen, maintenance, etc., and I figured I would give my ‘widow’s mite’ and help in any way I could, so I jumped on board.  Jason and I decided to go hiking that day, so we took a bus to Giant’s Causeway, and hiked along the cliffs in what is considered one of the world’s top 5 most beautiful places (even ranking ahead of the Grand Canyon, which is breathtakingly gorgeous) for a few hours, losing ourselves in its splendor.  The path was closed because it was considered too dangerous, but we climbed over the fence and went anyway.  There were a couple points where the path was only a few inches wide and a fall would’ve been fatal, but we were careful, and we were fine, and we inched our ways along the rock faces of the cliffs.  I could spend pages just attempting to describe the beauty of the coastline, but I’ll just say that it was easily the most beautiful place I had seen in Europe, and that it was phenomenal and breathtaking.  Once we had hiked the Giant’s Causeway, we hiked through farmer’s fields among the sheep, in windblown valleys, through old harbors, along a beach that stretched far into the distance, past the ruins of an old castle, up winding roads, and eventually made it to  Ballintoy about 6 hours after we started, (exhausted but satisfied and grateful) where we waited and then took a bus to Ballycastle, then walked to Corrymeela.  I spent the next few days washing houses, making food, cleaning windows, sweeping and mopping floors, doing laundry, (the laundry didn’t dry in time, so I ended up wearing wet clothes, but they soon dried in the sunshine) and just enjoying it all.  The weather has been really nice – even the locals have been surprised by it, and I’ve had several opportunities to just sit on the rugged cliffs looking down at the coastline with the ocean waves crashing onto the rocks, surrounded by green hills and grazing sheep, with a breeze blowing my hair and ‘sunshine on my shoulders’, and just sing worship music and write poetry.  The volunteer coordinator, Robert, let me borrow his guitar for a couple days, so I even did a little songwriting.  On Thursday evening a bunch of us went to a meeting of the Corrymeela sponsors, and I had a chance to speak to them and encourage them to continue supporting Corrymeela, and on the bus ride back I busted out the guitar and Robert and I took turns entertaining them the whole way.  We had people from a variety of countries on the bus – Nigeria, El Salvador, France, Ireland, Canada, etc., and they were all just clapping along and enjoying the music.  It was really neat, and I even played some music that I had written, which they liked.  Great times, and great memories!  I’ve had the opportunity to hear an Irish children’s choir perform a bunch of traditional songs, to see a Swedish group also perform a bunch of traditional music, as well as plays, etc., I’ve wandered the streets of Ballycastle, I’ve eaten a lot and gained a few pounds, I’ve made new friends and contacts in countries around the world, I’ve been able to be a part of an organization that has played a major part in the peace the Ireland has experienced over the past year, and in the peace that they are still experiencing, I’ve had a chance to see things in hindsight, to recharge my batteries in a place that feels like home, I’ve been able to let down my guard and rest, I’ve been able to find myself again after about a week and a half of being lost inside, I’ve been able to talk with my family a few times, I’ve been able to do some correspondence and make some plans for the rest of my trip, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself so far.  Ireland is my favorite place in Europe.  I have dreamed about it all my life, and it has met my expectations and exceeded them.  I have been able to do a lot of thinking, and have bought a plane ticket to Bologna, Italy for February 26.  In the meantime I am waiting for my EuRail pass, which I ordered, to arrive.  It should be here in the next day or two.  I figure that my best option is to use the train to get between major locations, and then bike around within those areas.  I can afford to do this since I’ll only be here about another 2 1/2 months and I’ll be making money over the summer.  I am really excited for the future, and for all of the exciting adventures that I have to yet to experience.  My growth curve is amazing right now, and I am out of ‘dissatisfaction phase’ and into ‘production phase’, or so it feels.  I hope that this blog posting doesn’t seem too confused or rambling, because I have been writing late during the nights.  You’ll have to just bear with me if there are any missed words or spelling mistakes, etc. – it is 1:40 am and I really want to get this posted.  I will trust that it says what it should.  Any questions or comments, please continues to post them – they warm my heart every time I read them.  I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do on the internet once I leave Corrymeela, but I’ll try.  Even if this time at Corrymeela was the only thing I did in my entire trip, it was worth it, but I’ve already done so much, and still have so much more to do.  Life is great!  Thanks to all of you for all of your thoughts and prayers.  You are in mine as well, and I hope that you are all well, and that each new day is an exciting miracle for you.  God has really helped to carry me a lot already during this trip, and I know that all your prayers have helped.  I just wanted to share a few of the words to a very powerful song that I stumbled upon as encouragement.  It’s by a great group called ‘Five For Fighting’, and the song is called ‘The World’.

What kind of world do you want?

Think anything.

What kind of world do you want?

Paint a masterpiece.

But be careful what you wish for.

History starts now.

Remember that – history starts now.  We are creating the world at this very moment, so let us make sure that we are creating the kind of world that we want.  History starts now.  Thanks for sticking with me.  Soon it’s on to Italy, and then all over Europe!  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

Your friend,

Jonathan Dueck

Rivendell

January 27, 2007

Hello again, my friends.

     Wow!  I’ve only been in Europe for about a week and a half, and I’m already feeling quite comfortable.  I’m sure part of that is due to the fact that we’ve been able to use the Gans’ apartment as a home for the past week.  Let me start where I left off last time.

      After a good sleep last Saturday night, we went to a little Baptist church in Munich with the Gan family.  There was probably a total of about 25 people in the church, and about 15 of them were black.  The preacher was a fiery old white man who said ‘amen’ almost every second word.  I pictured myself up there once or twice as he spoke.  It was a cool experience, and I had an opportunity to talk with some of the members afterwards about their faith and their experiences in Germany.  The Gan family then went to a Chinese church, so Brad and I decided to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. 

     After getting to the train station, we had to walk for about 45 minutes through Dachau to reach the concentration camp.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  My good friend Rob Burton had described it as ‘a place where the birds don’t sing’.  He was right.  As soon as we passed through the gate with the inscription ‘work is freedom’, both Brad and I felt a deep heaviness.  We could feel it inside us, and we could feel it in the air around us.  It was evident that much evil had been done in that place.  We walked around the camp, and then visited the museum.  Neither Brad nor I took any pictures in that museum.  What we saw in that place does not need to leave that place.  There were instruments of death and torture on display, and many grotesque pictures of faces and bodies contorted in agony and death.  Several of those pictures are burned into my memory.  We walked through the showers where thousands of human beings were gassed, we walked through interrogation rooms, etc.  I was on the verge of tears much of the time.  Once outside the museum, we took some pictures.  Near the famous piece of art depicting people caught in a barbed wire fence, there was a small memorial to the unknown cremated dead, and near that, a placque with the simple words – Never Again.  The meaning behind those words is far from simple, however.  That is a life’s work.  I bowed my head in prayer, commited myself to the cause of ‘never again’, and walked out of one of the most awful places I have ever seen.  I am sure that there was good in the midst of all the evil,  however, and I am sure that every camp had prisoners like Victor Frankl who found meaning and hope in the suffering.  I am sure there were people who made sacrifices for each other, who shone a light in that dark place, and who gave a beautiful example of selfless love.  Even though we may not know their names, I am sure they were there, and that is a comforting thought.  There is no night too dark, no situation too hopeless, no evil too oppressive, that the light of goodness and love cannot shine through and create hope.  God is always there, and we never need fear of being alone.  Let us all stand with the survivors, and let us join them in their vow – NEVER AGAIN!

     We took a bus back to the train station, and then took a train to Marienplatz (downtown Munich), where we attended mass at Saint Peter’s Cathedral.  I couldn’t really understand anything but the words ‘Jesu Christus’, (the sermon and the music was in German) but it was beautiful, and it gave me chills.  The art was amazing, and I think I could stare at the paintings on the ceiling for hours.  After the one hour mass was over, Brad and I had some food and wandered around the Glockenspiel square for a little while, then went back to Hohenkirchen.  We walked around the station for about 15 minutes waiting for Mr. Gan to pick us up, and Brad and I were shocked to see actual pornography for display in the vending machines on the side of the street.  Little children walk by that every day.  You wouldn’t see anything close to that in Canada, and it was clear evidence of how liberal Germany really is.  It was kind of sad to see people opening their hearts in a beautiful cathedral, and then shortly after, to see people’s bodies being exploited for the entire public to see.  That Sunday I think I witnessed some of humanity’s greatest highs and lowest lows, and it was quite a day indeed.

     After a relaxing evening talking with the Gan family and playing more UNO with the children, we went to bed, but neither of us got much sleep that night.  I woke up the next morning feeling really ‘out of it’, and Brad was also exhausted from doing a lot of thinking that night.  We went to work with Mr. Gan, and got a chance to talk to him about his work.  He is a water engineer, and so we were able to learn a bit about the world’s water situation.  He also told us about the German educational system, and I was shocked to learn how much control the government has.  All the children enter common elementary schools for their first few grades, and at the conclusion of (I’m pretty sure) the first 5 grades, the teachers/government basically separate the leaders from the followers.  They judge whether each child should be able to go to university or not, etc., and then basically hand them their future.  I was disgusted at how much this violates individual rights.  It should be an individual’s own choice whether he decides to become a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, a plumber, or a mechanic, not the government’s choice.  Every person should have a right to determine how he spends his life.  Indeed, perhaps the German system is more efficient and effictive, but what good are efficiency and effectiveness if they violate basic human rights?  I am reminded of Plato’s famous classic ‘The Republic’, where he describes an educational system that separates people into three categories – gold, silver, and brass, and fashions their life paths accordingly.  That was a socialism, and so is this.  We don’t often realize how blessed we are in Canada (or America) to be able to choose what we do with our lives, and to choose how much education we want to give ourselves.  Let us jealously guard this blessing.  At his office we took our bicycles out of the boxes we had been transporting them in, and set to work building them.  We encountered a few problems, and had to wander the streets of Munich until we found a bike shop and bought some extra brake wire.  It was much later than we had anticipated by the time we had finally constructed our bikes, and when we got to the train station, they wouldn’t let us on with our bikes, since it was too close to rush hour.  We had planned to get our bikes to Hohenkirchen and then bike the 15 kms to Glonn before it got dark, but now we wouldn’t even be able to leave Munich until after 6 pm.  We decided that Brad would go downtown and try to find a map of the bike trails in Europe, and I would stay with the bikes.  I soon realized that I had forgotten to bring any books or notepad with me, so I settled myself on the pavement and watched people.  I had the opportunity to observe a beggar for nearly an hour, and that was a really interesting study in human nature.  I noticed that only about 1 in 50-100 people gave him anything, and occasionally someone would unleash an angry outburst on him.  After watching him for a bit, I started talking with him.  He knew only a little english, and I knew very little german, but we managed to make some conversational progress, however slowly, and taught each other some new words along the way as well.  It was one of those times when I didn’t have anything else to do or anywhere else to be, so as he told me a bit of his life story, I was able to simply listen and understand.  It was also getting really cold, so he showed me a small alley where I could at least stay out of the wind, even though it stank very strongly of stale urine.  I gave him all the change that I had on me, which didn’t amount to much, and tried my best to encourage him.  He was getting really cold, and soon went back inside the train station.  I stood in alley for about half an hour or so waiting for Brad, and had the opportunity to do some good thinking.  I had been pretty frustrated all day, partly because I hadn’t had a good sleep, and partly because things just hadn’t been running smoothly that day, and so it was really nice to just be alone for a bit and put things in perspective.  I realized that in my life I sometimes get so caught up in acheivement that I neglect people.  I have high standards of excellence for myself, and I tend to unconsciously apply those to the people around me as well, and that can cause me to get easily impatient with others, although I try not to show it.  Ultimately, people are more important than acheivement.  On the same token, however, there is definitely a place for setting a standard and holding people to that.  It helps you know where you stand, and also pushes you and the people around you to better yourselves.  Perhaps the question is this – Should you try to understand and appreciate people/things subjectively as they relate to you and your mission/purpose in life, or should you try to understand and appreciate them objectively for exactly what they are, regardless of how they relate to you?  I think the answer is probably some of both, and it changes in different situations.  When talking with your brother, for example, you should try and understand what he’s saying and where he’s coming from, regardless of how it relates to you, but when talking with a business associate, I think you have to draw a line at some point and think about how it relates to you.  Granted, some level of genuine interest is definitely a good thing, but you do need to draw a line.  Anyway, I realized that I need to be more patient and understanding with people, and instead of judging them if they refuse to follow my standards, I need to just love them anyway.  You know how you realize something, then sort of forget it, and then it hits you again?  It was like that for me.  I think that’s something that everybodys ‘knows’, they just forget it sometimes.  Anyway…

      Brad came back at about 6:15 pm, having had no luck.  We took a train to Hohenkirchen and arrived at about 7 pm, but it was already really cold and dark and we didn’t think it would be wise to bike on the highway, so we decided to lock up our bikes and leave them there, and then catch a ride with Mr. Gan back to Glonn.  He ended up staying late to work that night, however, and so Brad and I sat in a doorway for about 2 hours, shivering in the cold.  We were dressed for 10 above, but with windchill, it was probably 10 below.  It started snowing, and there was a good inch on the ground when Mr. Gan arrived.  I ran to a grocery store just before they closed, and so Brad and I devoured a jar of pickled wieners and a couple big baguette buns.  We were cold, wet, and tired, but I was feeling pretty happy go lucky.  This was part of what I went over to Europe to experience, and sure enough, I was experiencing it.  It was great!  Those are times you tell your kids about someday.  It was definitely nice when Mr. Gan showed up and brought us back to their apartment, however.  We played one last game of UNO with the kids, had yet another amazing supper made for us by Mrs. Gan (they have been so generous, and it almost feels like we never left home) and went to bed early that night. 

     The Gans all left early the next morning to spend a week in Greece, so Brad and I had the place to ourselves when we got up.  We went to the store and bought some European food, and I then spend the day reading, taking a long bath (I hadn’t had a bath since early in the summer), eating good food, daydreaming, playing their acoustic guitar, and listening to a lot of country music on the internet.  It was a really nice day.  Later that night, I got the inspiration to write a song on the guitar, so I just sat down and started writing.  It practically wrote itself, and I thought it sounded pretty good too.  I haven’t written more than a few songs before, and I rarely feel the inspiration to write songs, so it was pretty cool to get it.  The next day (Wednesday) was pretty much more of the same.  It had been snowing quite steadily since Monday, and it was looking like we would have to take a train to a slightly warmer area, but Brad wanted to talk with his family before we left, and since they were going to call on Wednesday afternoon, we decided to go and buy train tickets on Thursday.  I spent Wednesday pretty much lounging around and writing songs on the guitar all day.  I usually always have some place to be or some thing to do, and in the rush of studying, assignments, work, conferences, life, etc., I don’t take the time to just sit down and write music.  I felt like a hopeless romantic, with ‘no shoes, no shirt, and no problems’, writing songs about girls, life, and God, and I really enjoyed it.

     On Thursday I got up early, did some e-mailing, we missed the early bus to Hohenkirchen and had to wait a few more hours, so I wrote a couple more songs, Brad and I went to Munich in the afternoon, did a bit of exploring, and bought train tickets to Paris.  We found that we could get a really good deal if we waited a couple days and left Monday evening on the overnight train, so we decided to do that.  We wandered around the city some more, came back to Glonn in the evening, and had an intense discussion while we made some supper.  We basically discussed the ideal government, which led us to a discussion on the purpose of life, since the role of government is to facilitate the fulfillment of that purpose.  We both have fairly different opinions, and we were shouting at each other by time we were finished, but it was all in good fun.  We didn’t solve anything, only gained more questions, but I guess that’s how we know it was a good discussion.  After a delicious supper, we both went to bed early.

     The next morning I though it would be cool to take the guitar and sing my songs in the train station, but I wanted to make sure it was legal first, so I headed to Munich again.  I wrote another song on the ride there, staring out the window of the bus/train at the German countryside and cityscape.  In the train station I met a couple of Catholic missionaries – an older white lady and a middle-aged black lady, and they spoke english, so we talked about our beliefs, and they also talked to some of the station staff and found out for me that I would need a permit from the city to be able to play guitar in the train station.  They were very kind and helpful, and just two very sweet people in general.  When we parted, the older white lady, whose name was Maria, said ‘well, if we don’t see you again over here, we’ll see you in heaven’, and I couldn’t help but think about how cool that is – even though we have fairly different beliefs and live on opposite sides of the world, we all worship the same God, and we’ll all see each other again someday.  We really just said hello, not goodbye.  We’ll see each other again on the other side in a few years.  I decided to spend the day wandering Munich some more, and allowed myself to get ‘lost’ in the city.  I sampled the local foods, which were very good, daydreamed about what the city would’ve been like 500 years ago, and enjoyed a day with only my thoughts to keep me company.  I’m definitely a bit of an introvert – I love being around people, but I recharge my batteries when I’m alone, and it was good to do some of that.  It was another very cold day (it seems like we brought the cold weather with us, because Europe was having their warmest winter in over a thousand years, and Canada was having one of its coldest winters on record, and when we came here, much of Europe had their biggest storm in 20 years and practically a week of snowfall and cold temperatures, while Canada is now having beautiful weather, comfortably above zero), but there were a lot of people out.  I was about as happy as could be, and I walked the streets smiling, with my hands in my pockets, singing all the optimistic songs I could think of.  Another great day! 

   Today (Saturday) I got up at about 11 am, and spent the day hanging out, writing another song, (my favorite one so far -it’s called ‘Be The Change’, and it came to me at night, so I got up, wrote it, and then went back to sleep) doing some map research for our trip, talking with Brad, tidying up the place here a bit, and am now writing this.  In a couple days we will be leaving for Paris, and starting a host of new adventures, including getting our bike trip on the road.  This last week has been a sort of ‘Rivendell’, where we have had a chance to relax after a wild journey, and to prepare ourselves for an incredible adventure.  The Gans have been very generous.  I am not sure when I will be able to write next, but thank-you for continuing to follow our travels.  Thank-you all for your comments – they mean a lot, and I really appreciate them.  Always good to hear from my friends and family.  Happy birthday to everyone with birthdays, happy anniversary to everyone with anniversaries, and happiness in general to everyone.  I wish you guys all the best in whatever causes you are engaged in.  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

                                  Your friend,

                                                   Jonathan Dueck

“The Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With The First Step” – Confucius

January 20, 2007

Hello my friends!

      Thank-you so much for all of your posts – they warm my heart.  I love you all so much, and am praying.. for you and appreciating all that you do.  Thank-you all for being who you are, and for striving to be your best selves – your true selves – every day.

     Wow!  So much has happened in the past few days!  I feel that I have already had the adventure of a lifetime, and have already filled many pages of my journal.  I will attempt to write some of my adventures here.

     Right from when we arrived at the airport on Tuesday morning, the trip was an adventure.  It turned out that the plane we were supposed to take from Calgary to New York City was delayed by a couple hours, and so we would be unable to make our connection from New York City to Frankfurt that evening.  The airport officials explained all of the complications to us, and said that we probably wouldn’t be able to fly out for a few days, but we continued talking to them, and one lady named Marnee spent about an hour phoning and researching until she was able to switch our flight from JFK airport in New York City to Frankfurt for the next day, and we would then still take the same flight from Calgary to NYC.  More complications arose with our one way ticket to Germany, and we had to purchase a ‘fake’ flight out of Germany, which we could redeem once we passed customs.  It was looking like we would be going, so we got our baggage taken care of (more complications, but we managed to eventually work it all out), had lunch with our families, said goodbyes, and were soon in the air.  The flight to New York was nice, and I had some deep thoughts and ponderings on the way, but when we got there, all the Air Canada employees had gone home.  We had been given a note to be redeemed for a hotel voucher, since we would have to spend an additional day in New York City, but there was no one there to sign the voucher, so after dragging our huge and heavy bike boxes and all of our stuff aroudn the airport and on trains, we ended up spending the night in terminal 4 of the JFK airport, taking turns ‘sleeping’ on concrete slabs.  We knew that this was what we were getting ourselves into, so we didn’t really mind at all.  There was no complaining, just excitement and understanding.  Early the next morning we went back to Air Canada’s office and they redeemed our voucher, (we actually lost the voucher, and it was looking like we wouldn’t be getting the hotel room after all, but right as we were about to head back to the airport, one of the employees ran up with the voucher.  We had looked all over for it and hadn’t been able to find it, so we were very grateful when he found it) so we spent most of the morning and afternoon sleeping and lounging in the hotel room, and we watched a sort of American Idol for white rappers, which I thought was pretty cool, since I used to dream of being a white rapper/street preacher.  We then walked the streets of New York for a bit, eating donuts as we did. 

     Back at the airport we spent a couple hours getting our stuff through customs again, and then waited to board the plane.  While waiting, we met a fairly young German girl who had been traveling the world doing ‘freelance’ missionary work for about 10 years.  She told us how one day she had felt God calling her to go to and preach to the nations and serve, and with no money in her pocket, she had traveled to many of the countries of the world spreading the good news.  She belonged to no particular church – she just wanted to share the message of God’s love.  That was cool and inspiring.  The flight on Singapore Airlines was amazing.  State of the art technology and service.  Each passenger had a personal computer built into the back of the seat in front of them, from which they could watch a selection of about 100 of the latest and greatest movies, and also a wide variety of tv shows, music, etc.  We could also order as much food as we wanted, and Brad and I definitely took them up on that.  I watched a movie called ‘Accepted’, and although it was quite crude and I would recommend an edited version, the concept was amazing!  It was about people realizing that education is their responsibility, and then doing something about it.  A kid just out of high school starts his own college, where the students are the faculty.  There is quite a bit of swearing though.  Anyway.

     Our flight landed in Frankfurt at about 10:30 am, Frankfurt time, which is 8 hours ahead of mountain time (the time in Alberta, Utah, etc.), and we experienced quite a bit of turbulence towards the end.  There was also a lot of fog, and with the combination of everything, the pilot had to circle for about 25 minutes before he could land, and we all applauded when he landed it successfully.  Once inside the airport, everything went smoothly, and we had no problems getting through customs.  When we tried to redeem our ‘fake’ ticket out of Germany, however, we were bounced between offices, and were not able to get it refunded.  That is a work in progress.  We manouvered our way around the airport, and were very grateful that most of the signs were in English as well as German.  I was even interviewed by a television station in the airport about flying in the storm, but I don’t think it made it on the air, since I had already finished my flight, and they wanted to hear from prospective fliers.  After purchasing our tickets, we took the ‘ICE’ train from Frankfurt to Munich, and slept most of the way.  This train reached speeds of nearly 200 kms per hour.  After we arrived at the hauptbahnhof (train station) in Munich, we bought tickets to the Theresienstrasse station.  It was a bit confusing, but most people knew at least some English, and so we were able to get around.  We made it to the station and waited for some friends of ours to pick us up.  We called them and they assured us that they were coming, but little did we know that Germany (and several areas of Europe) were right then experiencing what we have been told was the worst storm in 20 years, and that the trains were shut down.  We waited for a couple hours for our friends, and then called again.  That was when we discovered that they wouldn’t be able to get to us, and that we would have to find other lodging for the night.  Hearing rumors of a nearby hotel, I roamed the streets of Munich for about 2 hours that night (it was already about 8:30 pm, and quite dark) trying to find a hotel.  I finally found one, but they had no rooms available.  They called around, but apparently there was a festival in Munich, and none of the hotels had any rooms available.  I found my way back to Brad, who had been waiting in the train station for about 5 hours by then, and we figured that we would be spending the night in the train station.  We found out that the station closed for a few hours during the night, however, and so we prepared ourselves for spending the night on the street with our luggage.  Once again, there was no panic or fear.  Maybe it’s just that we were too exhausted to care, but I wasn’t at all worried about sleeping on the street next to the bars.  I was actually surprised at how calm and collected I was.  I think it was partly because I had prepared myself mentally for situations like this, and mostly because God gave us peace and confidence.  I knew that we could negotiate if we had to, fight if we had to, go without sleep or food if we had to, (I hadn’t eaten all day) and we both simply knew that we would be fine no matter what happened.  We decided that we would try one more option first, however.  I walked to a nearby university in the hope of finding some space available in a dorm room, but the university was closed.  As I was walking by though, I saw a person standing inside a doorway.  To my surprise, the door was unlocked.  To my further surprise, he spoke english.  To my even further surprise and gratitude, he was a student, and he introduced me to some of his friends, who were preparing for an enormous party of a couple thousand people the next night.  After getting to know them a bit, they offered me a place to stay, so I walked back to the train station and told Brad.  We then began the process of bringing our boxes over there.  I carried the 2 smaller ones with our paniers (bike saddlebags) to our lodging first, while Brad waited with our other stuff.  I then went back to him and we carried our bike boxes over.  This was a bit of an ordeal.  First of all, it was a fairly good distance to walk.  Secondly, it was very, very windy.  The storm was blowing over a lot of stuff, and I saw bikers being blown across the road (not being thrown across, but, for example, they would be driving in one lane, then a gust of strong wind would blow them across the road and they would almost hit the parked cars).  Thirdly, our bike boxes were big, ackward, and quite heavy.  They were about a foot thick, about 5 feet long, and about 3 feet wide, and so we hefted them on our backs over our backpacks, braced ourselves into the wind, and plodded forward.  Once there, we spent an hour or so talking with the engineering students there and learning about college life in Germany.  They were very friendly, and one guy with a complicated German name basically took us under his wing, and let us call him Hogi.  We slept the night in an equipment room, and I alternated between a hammock about 6 feet above the ground, and swinging over some sharp equipment, and a couch out in the hall.  It was a decent sleep, and in the morning we wandered the streets and bought some groceries. (we were able to get enough groceries for about 3 meals for both of us for about 3 Euros, and I was definitely pleased with that) It was raining a bit, but the weather was much nicer.  Our friends came and met us at about 11:30 am that morning (Friday), and we brought our bike boxes and stuff into the father’s office.  We then had lunch with him, did some more shopping, and went sightseeing in downtown Munich.  We saw the most amazing buildings that I have ever seen, and Brad and I had a little devotional while sitting by a river overlooking some amazing cathedrals.  We then took a train to Hohenkirchen, where we were met by our friends again.  We almost didn’t make it though.   I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the train, and Brad was deeply absorbed in a book, and if they hadn’t banged on the windows, opened the doors, and roused us, we would’ve ended up somewhere quite different.  As it was though, we got our safely, got a ride to their apartment in Glonn, had a quick supper, and went right to bed.  We slept for about 12 hours, but I was very restless.  I was thinking about a lot of heavy questions and struggling to answer them in my head.  I felt like I often do the night before an exam, where I can’t seem to shut off my mind.  I did come to some important resolutions though, and I did get a really good sleep. 

     We woke up today and had a really nice breakfast, I caught up on my journal, and then Brad and I hiked out into the countryside.  We walked down narrow cobblestone streets, passing terraced houses, quaint rivers, townsfolk, and eventually, fields, hills, trees, and farmhouses.  Along the road we passed a couple places where Shrines had once stood, and we stopped to pay our respects.  It was a beautiful day outside, and must’ve been around 15 degrees celcius.  We eventually made our way to a grove of trees facing the sun, still high in the sky, and sat on tree stumps apart from each other.  I lost track of time, and the bliss of this moment in nature caused the wonders of the city to pale in comparison.  I read my Bible for at least an hour, reading the last 2 chapters of Acts, John chapter 3, and Psalms 92 and 93, read some of Thoreau’s ‘Walden’, prayed and sang some of my favorite hymns, and just soaked in the beauty of it all.  My soul felt restored after the craziness of the past few weeks.  We talked about old times, about our childhoods, and about hockey on the way back, and shared a few good laughs about when I got kicked out of an extremely important hockey game for checking from behind, etc. (yeah, I used to be quite a goon in my younger days – actually it was not an intentionally illegal hit, and we both knew it.)  It is amazing how easy it would be to fall into a negative lifestyle here.  There are cigarette machines on the streets corners, and you could buy a pack of cigarettes (a choice of about 20 different brands) for 1 Euro.  A lot of people smoke over here.  You could also buy a 6 pack of beer for about 1.5 Euros.  A bottle of wine is about 1 Euro.  Relatively obscene advertising is much more common than in Canada.  There is a lot of good here as well, however, and the people are very nice.  We had a very good supper with the Gans, (the family that we are staying with for the next few days) and spent the evening playing UNO with their 3 children, (Kai-Lynn, Kai-Ern, and Kai-Ei) learning some German from them, playing guitar and piano for each other, researching for our trip, and just enjoying each other’s company.  The trip has been amazing so far, and there is one quote from Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ that I feel describes it already.  “I can remember that I was all alive, and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction; both its weariness and its refreshment were sweet to me.”

     Thank-you for sharing this trip with me in a way, and never forget how amazing all of you are.  Take care, God bless, rock on, and be the change…

 

                               Your friend,

                                               Jonathan Dueck