It wasn’t easy to walk the same grounds of millions who have also perished on the grounds of Auschwitz Concentration Camp in the 1940s due to ungodly events that took place there.
I was somewhat prepared for the emotions that I would be faced with when visiting a concentration camp, since I have been to Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany, however, no place compares to Auschwitz – the headquarters of all evil during World War II.
As I walk the grounds and come across signs that read that in this spot executions took place or that in between certain bunkers was a place infamous for thousands upon thousands of deaths – it’s sickening, it really is.
And yet the oh so simple and oh so complex question going through my mind the entire time: why?…Why?
To go into the museum and read the names of those taken to Auschwitz and to never return home and then to keep reading and see their age – that’s what made me the most heartbroken. Seeing a name and then seeing 2 months old, 14 months old or 2 years old next to their name – that’s just disgusting.
Going to Auschwitz – or any concentration camp for that matter – is powerful and moving in ways that cannot be taught to one in school, in a book or any other way.
It’s a disgusting part about traveling to be able to see a place like Auschwitz, but it’s also something that needs to be seen to not only realize and be blessed for the life you live, but also to get the most hands-on feel that you possibly can to what life was like for the four or so years where children would arrive at Auschwitz and be taken to have a “shower,” when really they were being sent straight to the gas chambers to die immediately.
From the bar-wired fences lining the camp, to the 28 bunkers that housed and toured more than one million people, to the gas chambers and to the areas where “doctors” would perform experiments on people as if they are rats, which would either result in death or life-long injuries – which may just be worse than death – it all was a whirlwind of emotions to experience, but something I’m happy to have done.
It gives you a wider, more diverse lookout on life and on the ruthlessness of the 1940s in Europe with concentration camps.
Be thankfully and appreciative for the life you live, because experiences such as visiting Auschwitz puts life in a completely different perspective.
ISTANBUL, Turkey – I’m four weeks into my 65-day, 12 country journey and the first thing that comes to mind about each place more than anything else when I begin to think back on the first seven countries I’ve been in are the people I’ve met along the way.There’s been days on my trek that I have only said a few words the entire day, and it’s been when ordering food and a beer – and that’s okay.
Then, there’s been other days where I’ve talked more than usual – and that’s saying a lot. I like to talk. A lot.
Each city has provided me with a huge difference in who I’ve been meeting and in some cases, not meeting.
I’m currently in the third of four phases of my trip and that means I’m back with being with someone, my friend Chris Badenhoop for the next couple of weeks and it’s been quite refreshing.
But there’s something special about also being completely alone for a couple of weeks at a time, all in countries that you do not speak or understand a word of.
It makes you think. And think a lot.
For instance, in Copenhagen and Oslo, there wasn’t a single person that I became friends with and I did everything on my own. Just like everything in life, that was good and bad. But there’s no denying that it gets lonely and at times, that makes my drive of indulging myself into each place goes down just a little less because travel isn’t always pretty, as Anthony Bourdain has said, but the good and the bad of traveling is what changes you and makes you a better person.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
And I believe that in places where I’ve left with memories of the places and not so much with people that I still have left my mark, but not as large of a mark as in others, such as Latvia.
Because then after going to the Scandinavia region, I moved on to Riga where I became friends with countless people and there was always a conversation to be had – and that’s where Chris met up with me, so talking was something I was doing constantly.
As I said earlier, this is the third phase of my trip. However, the fourth and final one will be the longest and I’ll be back riding solo for the entirety of those 25 days until I return to New York at the end of September.
Sitting down at a bar and not knowing if you’ll just been looking around the whole time and doing some thinking, which has happened to me quite a bit, or if you sit down a conversation starts that leads to going out with a few strangers for the next 10 hours, because that has also happened.
I guess at the end of the day what I’m trying to say is that this whole adventure is a mystery. A mystery of who will come into my life next and may just become a friend with for a long time. You just never know, but you can never find out without first taking the ride and see what the world has to offer.
Apologies for the delay in blogs, things have been busy in my neck of the woods,
Freetown Christiania is an abandoned military area in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen that was taken over by hippies in the 1970s. The approximate 850 people that reside in Christiania claim the area as a free city, free of taxes and run by their own laws.
And so, there I was, in a place that doesn’t aloud cameras of any sort, let alone even phones being seen just strolling around figuring out where in the world I just entered.
I wanted to feel safe at first because all I heard was how it is indeed very safe, but it’s a little hard when men and women are walking around in full face masks and you’re thinking “where the hell am I?”
However, you quickly realize there’s nothing to be afraid of, everybody there – infants with their parents to people such as myself to elderly couples – is there just to have a good time, really, that’s it.
Freetown Christiania has just a few simple rules: have fun, don’t run and no photos – simple enough to follow.
So, what’s the big attraction anyways of this place you ask… marijuana would be the answer. Marijuana is illegal in the country of Denmark and in the city of Copenhagen, but that hasn’t stopped Christiania from creating an attraction for nearly anyone living or visiting the area, after all it is located in the heart of Copenhagen, far from the outskirts of the city.
Whether getting high, indulging on a 10 a.m. beer or enjoying a 5 p.m. bottle of wine, these are all scenes to be found at Christiania and the last thing this place does is discriminate – and I’d say that is something great for the world we live in.
How what Freetown Christiania does I may never understand, and have been doing for 30+ years, we’ll know you really got me.
But it’s magical and a must-do if you’re even the slightest bit curious to see life from just a different perspective.
I can’t get enough of this place. If your heart is beating and you can walk, then it’s a place for you – regardless your views on an alternative lifestyle and marijuana.
You walk the dirt roads of this self-governed city with garbage lined along the sides of streets and graffiti filled walls and trees in every direction.
To call Christiana a maze would be an understatement, and that only adds to the nostalgia of the place.
You take a left, you take a right – either way you’re bound to stumble upon something unique with people always to be found indulging in life in some form.
I may never experience something such as Christiania, which is sad, in one way, and amazing in another. Christiania, like many other places I find along my journey, is a one-hit wonder that I’ll never come across again.
But that’s not what’s important. The fact, that at the age of 22, I am giving myself the opportunity to explore a part of life that I guarantee no book, job, show or movie could ever provide is something priceless in my mind.
The difference between watching the best documentary about a place and actually being there is as large as the distance from your couch to that place. Move, as Anthony Bourdain would say. “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch. Move.”
See what’s out there because sites like Christiania are places that needs to be seen and appreciated for what it is and how well-run a place that is doing everything on its own operates and lives life on the daily.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – 11:42 a.m. Monday, August 3 until 11:42 a.m. Tuesday, August 4 – that was perhaps the craziest, most adrenaline rushing 24-hour period that I’ve had in my life.I landed in Prague at about 11:15 a.m. Monday, two days later than I thought due to the mind boggling flight cancellation with no notice and the flight not even existing – still something that puzzles me beyond belief.
Anyways, after going through passport control, to the luggage claim I go – even though the backpack I brought with me for my trip is carry-on regulation, according to the airline, the bag weighed too much and thus it had to be checked – something I was hesitant about from the get-go, but also something that I had no say in.
So, as I wait and wait and wait for the luggages to go around, there is no sign of mine, and then there were no more luggage bags coming from the plane: problem #1.
So, to the baggage claim help desk I go.
Though very helpful, my backpack was still nowhere to be found in the Czech Republic.
Problem #2: I’m only in Prague for one day and then heading to Budapest, where – if found – will my backpack be sent there?
After understanding my situation, I left the airport to enjoy my one and only day in Prague… just me and nothing else.
Problems puts aside for the time being, it was time to take Prague by storm, and boy oh boy did I!
Prague is without question on the top three most beautiful cities I have ever been in.
Aspects of the city had me mixing Munich, Barcelona and Naples together – and only the best from each of those cities, I really was blown away.
I really got the most of the day largely in part due to someone I met while on my walking tour, Brad Sisneros.
During our break from the 3-hour tour, we all went to a pub where I had the pleasure to be joined by Mr. Sisernos, a successful man in many ways, if I do say so myself.
He resides in St. Thomas and owns a booming traveling company – pretty cool if you ask me.
So we clicked right away and after the tour was over, Brad became my tour guide for the rest of the day since he had already been in Prague for 5 or so days.
That has to be one of my favorite parts of traveling – the unexpected people you meet and become friends with and I’m not talking about having a conversation with them and that’s it. No, I mean become good friends quick because – in my opinion – you both already share something that cannot be taught – the beauty of what the world has to offer by wandering the streets of cities where you don’t speak a word of their language and relishing every moment of it.
It felt like I was on my own private tour, Brad had Prague down like the back of his hand, and with him being one of the most social people I have ever met, him finding the best place for dinner was not a problem at all.
And what a dinner it was. I had pork neck with fried onions on top all complimented with an onion gravy – so so tender that the pork literally melted in your mouth. With a hefty portion of bread dumpling on the side and 2 or 3 or how many beers it was later, I felt like a million bucks and ready to see what the Prague nightlife had to offer. Oh, and the entire meal cost $10, when converted back to U.S. currency.
Let’s give an inside to my mindset at the point: I’m blown away by Prague, Brad is on his A game and making sure that for the 20 hours I’m in Prague, I use every moment to my advantage. However, the labor backpack is still looming in the back of my mind knowing how detrimental this is could mean for the rest of the trip.
Well, after not going to bed until 6 a.m., only to wake up an hour later to catch my train to Budapest, which I ended up missing by a few minutes and then had to wait two more hours for the next train, which was at 11:42, I’m proud to say my backpack arrived late Tuesday night and I am back in business!
If you haven’t got the point by now: Prague was amazing. Every building has detail and perfection of the Sistine Chapel – and I’m talking every building. It really is some place and beyond cheap.
So, as always, no blog would be complete without an Anthony Bourdain portion of the blog and this quote by the Great Bourdain I believe describes my Prague experience, because most of it was unexpected, surprising and in all the most perfect of ways.
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
And that could not be more true. The Czech Republic was only the second of 12 countries on this journey I’m taking and every day it feels as if there becomes more and more to see even though I’m seeing more and more – the list just keeps growing and that is a beautiful thing, in my opinion.
Now, let’s see what Budapest, the city called the “Capital of Freedom,” has to offer me.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Two days later than expected and I have arrived in the Czech Republic. But that is all okay because Israel impressed, surprised and exceeded my expectations in every way possible.
I felt very safe and always felt protected, in largely due to having my best friend – a 4-year vet of Tel Aviv – being there to drive me up, down and all around Israel, showing me the best places to eat and welcoming me to his entire family two times for mouth-watering dinners.
Being in such an area of the world where war is happening as we speak just a couple of hours away is frightening, obviously, and especially when you take a trip near the Syrian border and you can literally hear bombs and gun shots constantly.
But still, even with the danger that is always prevalent, there were no problems and only amazing times had.
The food… wow, the food was something else. The single best thing I consumed while in Israel, which was not easy to come up with a winner, was up north near the Lebanon border. It was labane, a thick yogurt-based cheese, fruity olive oil, and za’atar – the essential Israeli herb.
Then, about 10 minutes after finishing the breathtaking labane, we ventured right next door from the Lebanese restaurant to have kunafa, which is like the Middle East’s version of a cheese danish. Its base is mild, stretchy white cheese – very like fresh mozzarella – with a topping of rich semolina pastry, all of it soaked in sweet rosewater syrup. It’s amazing, but only when served correctly with the cheese still warm and string-like.
And then on what I thought was originally going to be my final night in Israel and with a flight looming in the early hours of the next day, it all ended oh so perfectly.
It started with yet another amazing dinner made by Ron’s family and while little English was being spoken and I wasn’t physically involved in many conversations, that was not a problem at all – because as the great Anthony Bourdain would say, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
I felt my inner Bourdain come out at these dinners: understanding nothing being said, while still feeling like I was in the middle of every conversation. You don’t have to understand the language or why things are the way they are in a particular place to still fully enjoy every aspect of what you are experiencing – and eating.
Then, after dinner, Ron and I went to his aunt’s house down the street from his grandparents where there was nothing but relaxation in the air. Though only 15 minutes from the heart of Tel Aviv, there is a very peaceful aroma with palm trees in her yard and some great talks that were had, all accompanied with some wonderful wine.
Tel Aviv is interesting. Amazing, though. There will be three skyscrapers in a row and then some ruins and then more skyscrapers. But the beauty of this city is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The endless palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea just steps away from where I’ve staying gives all the aspects of a resort-like place. But at the same time, the constant war thoughts are on your mind solely due to Israel’s location in the world.
Now, time to see what the city nicknamed the “Amsterdam of the east” has to offer in Prague.
TEL AVIV, Israel – after an amazing 10 days exploring all parts of Israel, early Saturday morning came, while many were still enjoying the nightlife scene, as Ron and I made our way to the airport at 4:00 a.m. for my 5:45 a.m. flight to Prague.All was fine, except for my flight.
My flight didn’t exist.
There I was: Ron already was heading back to his apartment and I stood in the Ben Gurion Airport searching for a 5:45 a.m. flight that, well, just wasn’t going to be there.
After confirming with airport workers about my flight not actually existing, I faced reality that I wasn’t leaving Tel Aviv just yet.
With Ron back on his way to pick me up, it was time to put the thinking cap on and figure out what went wrong and how to now get me to Prague at some point in the next three days, before I depart for Budapest on Tuesday.
After my mother stepped up as she always does and helped her son, she called the booking agency that I booked this flight through and according to them, my flight was simply canceled.
Cancelled? This isn’t a college class that you just cancel and put a note on the door – and this cancellation didn’t even come with a notice.
I was challenged, and I’m happy about that.
Everything happens for a reason… everything. I’ll believe that until the day I die and although I have no idea right now why this happened and why now I have to wait till Monday to fly to Prague, leaving me just 23 hours in that city, it’s all part of this game we play: life.
I’m a planner and this trip so far is teaching me that life isn’t here to follow my plan and I’m okay with that. This whole adventure is a learning process and a challenge that I have never been more excited to be a part of.
So, at the end of the day, although I may not be in the Czech Republic for as long as I would like, I am still in Tel Aviv, a magical place in countless ways, so who am I to complain.
Life is great.
Hope you are all doing well and thanks for reading,