Three friends set out on an adventure to enjoy the culture of Madrid, Spain, run with the bulls in Pamplona, enjoy the beach in San Sebastian, see the sights of Barcelona, enjoy the beer of Berlin, Germany and see the ‘sleaze’ of Amsterdam, Netherlands. All of this in only a couple days. We never would’ve expected the adventure and roller coaster that would be hands down the most memorable ‘vacation’ ever.
Day 0 – Packing and preparing for the trip
So I told myself I’d write and keep track of my travels. Although it might seem very ranty and pointless, I’m sure I’m going to want to read this in the future. You hear that Future Ryan? ENJOY THIS!
I got all my stuff packed and I’m sure I’m probably forgetting something. I hate that feeling! Well not sure what else to say other than I better stop blogging and get back to getting ready for this trip!
UPDATE: I ended up throwing half the stuff I packed in my bag in the trunk as I felt I overpacked. In hindsight I could’ve used some of it, but I definitely could and did get away with living without it. Moral is, pack well, take half.
Day 1 – We Are In Madrid, Spain!
I couldn’t believe I’m going to all these destinations. This was going to be one heck of a trip and I’m going to capture every moment! Tim, Jason and myself caught an early morning flight via continental airlines out of sunny San Diego and head to Madrid, Spain. The flight starts off with a 6 hour trip to New Jersey then to our destination, Madrid. We arrived and went through the security checkpoint no problem. Oh except Jason who was frisked down immediately. We board the plane to set off for our new adventure through Europe.
The skies looked so peaceful and calm like little puffs of icecream or cotton. I can certaily understand the idea of a castle in the cloud. The whole flight over I was thinking how beautiful it was to be so high up in the sky.
When I first got off the plane, I could not believe that I was in a whole new country. I’m in Spain! It was a warm 76 degrees and an obviously beautiful day. We grab the metro and head to our hostel, HostelOne Centro.
The hostel was quaint and homey. The walls were of earthy tone and felt right at home. The staff was friendly and I was excited to stay at my first hostel. Hopefully it will be a good first impression.
We settled in and packed our valuables in the locker and head out to get some errands done.
Afterwords we grab some bites to eat and take a cruise over to Tolbert to see the ancient castle. It was a nice little day trip and very relaxing. It’s funny being with two other photographers as we spent the day taking beautiful photos and capturing some great film rather than going on site seeing tours.
The streets were small and deserted. Small birds and what we thought were day bats were flying overhead. We’d turn a corner to find a small dog staring at us from the windowsill.
Sometimes I think it’s better to just get lost and explore wherever your heart tells you to go. You might end up with quite a journey!
Finishing our day, we decide to head back to the hostel and head out into the town. We grab some pizza and sangria at a local restaurant by our hostel and talked about how crazy it is to be in Spain. One thing I noticed is that customer services in Spain wasn’t very good. We always had to ask how or where to do something (such as paying) and it took forever to get anything.
I can’t believe we will be running with bulls in a couple days.
We head back to our hostel and deposit all our valuables in a locker and decide to head out and meet some locals.
We head out and visit some local bars in which we meet some cool locals and foreigners and of course I try my hand at speaking french again. We met some nice individuals from all around the world. Everywhere from Iraq, Portugal, Brazil and France. One guy even said he worked for Bin Ladin’s brother.
I must say it is a nice change of pace being in a different country where there are a lot of different cultures. It’s always fascinating hearing the cultural differences and similarities. Whatever the case may be, I didn’t expect the bar to be playing a song from Grease.
After a great night, we head back to our hostel and rest for the night.
Day 2 – Sh*t hits the fan…and it smells!
Now the fun part. I wake up in the morning and head over to the locker to grab my computer. I’m excited and want to get my day going early and explore the city. But wait… something is wrong here. Our locker was open. In the locker was only three things. Tim’s GoPro camera, an electric razor and Jason’s passport. Well at least the robber allowed us to be well groomed this trip.
I quickly turned to Jason and woke him up.
“Dude, where’s our stuff?”
He glared at me thinking this was a terrible joke. After going back and forth, he gets up and checks out the locker. He was just as confused as I was. Not good.
I turn around and wake up Tim who was sleeping in the bunk across from the lockers.
“Do you see anything missing here?”
Tim woke up from a daze, smiled, shrugged and went back to sleep.
Tim then woke up a second time and realized the situation.
We got robbed during the night. The culprit made out with my brand new apple macbook pro, my nikon d70 digital SLR, my smaller digital camera, camcorder, cellphone, passport, wallet with all my credit cards and identification, and about 400 euro. That was just my stuff. They also took my both my friends cameras, one of my friends laptops and ended up racking over 4,000 dollars in credit card charges. They are both professional photographers so the hit would be enormous.
This hit us pretty hard and we were at a loss for words. We tried to find the humor in it in that they left an electric razor and other smaller items. This was of course after our frustration was taken accounted for.
To spare you the details, we spent the rest of our time in Madrid trying to track down and make sense of what happened. We had our locker key in Jason’s pants by his bed so the thief must’ve stolen it and opened our locker. What was even more frustrating was that it was just our stuff in that room. Other backpackers had cellphones and laptops just laying on the ground.
P.S. Dear Thief, if you read this. Please return my stuff no questions asked. Thanks (yea.. doubtful. Sometimes I expect the best of people though)
What pained me the most was having to write my parents of what happened:
Hi Mom and Dad,
Just wanted to let you know I´m ok, but encountered a very unfortunate event. Most of our stuff was stolen from our locker last night.
What was taken:
– my nikon d70 and other small camera
– my camcorder
– my laptop
– my cellphone
– my wallet, all my money, drivers license, passport and everything.
What I have:
– my larger bag with clothes
Both Jason and Tim also had stuff stolen from the same locker. We are going to head out and get some food. Tim has his card still so we should be able to grab money but might need some money wired to me or something if possible. It really pained me to write this email because I know you both were worried about my trip. We still have our heads high and are looking at the brighter side that we had an amazing first night in Toledo and got some good shots that Tim has on his computer (which wasn´t stolen). Our plan is to try to continue the trip as we still have out train tickets. I´m going to try to get a rush passport and we are headed to the police station to report everything as well.
Hopefully when all is said and done, it will have only been a setback but I´d hate for the person to have robbed my trip as well as my stuff. It´s very unfortunate but im trying to look at the brightside of being in a wonderful country with some good friends and of course learn from this experience.
Im sure you´re worried and I´m very sorry and never want to put you through this stuff. Im heading out to grab food and run those errands and will be back in a couple hours to check my email should you want to get in contact.
Love and best wishes with head held high,
Anyways, would this get in our way of having a good time? No way! We still had our train tickets and would head out to Pamplona to meet a fellow photographer, Adina. This would be a challenge as we had only facebook to communicate with her.
We try to get some stuff in order such as going to the police station and such. Our train was scheduled to head to Pamplona later that evening. Tim and I run around trying to get a new temporary passport so I can leave Europe after the trip while Jason waited patiently at the hostel while updating friends and family of what was going on. Tim and I arrive to meet Jason only minutes before we had to head out to catch out train. Another close call!
We get into Pamplona later that evening at about 10pm to find that although our huge bump in the road, Adina decided to hope for the best and waited for us at the train station! Awesome! After connection and chatting, we make our way to our hotel, Hotel Blanca de Navarra.
Walking the streets you could smell the spirit of San Fermin. People walking the streets of Pamplona in the required attire, all white and a red sash and bandana. You could smell the fresh sangria from the stains from their shirts and pants. It was crazy to see that pretty much the whole town was wearing the San Fermin festival attire. Adina also clued us in on a couple tips on how to survive the running of the bulls:
Adina’s How To Survive the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona:
- Leave Your Man Behind – Unlike the common attitude of leave no man behind. Leave them behind. If your mate falls, keep running. You will not be able to help him as hundreds are running away from bulls while you’d be running towards bulls. No Bueno.
- Dress Appropriate – Don’t wear anything that might get caught. Besides, you should be wearing the proper all white and red attire. Wear good running shoes.
- Don’t taunt the bulls – Basically, don’t be stupid and try your luck.
- No cameras/video – Hide all cameras or camcorders prior to the run. Police walk through and really regulate. If they catch you with a camera/camcorder, they will probably kick you out.
- Don’t be drunk or an idiot – Doesn’t need explanation. Again, they will kick you out.
- Fireworks 1,2,3 – First fireworks means the first bull is out of the cage. Second firework means the last bull is out of the cage. The third firework means all bulls have made it into the arena (i.e. get your butt into the arena before they lock you out).
- Play Dead – Contrary to popular belief, bulls are color-blind. They respond to movement (Jurassic Park Much?). This means, if you fall, stay down and move away when the bull isn’t looking (in the arena). If you fall during the run, stay down and try to roll off to the side (so you don’t get trampled on).
Day 3 – Run for your life!
A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” -Bob Dylan
I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach. This is why we were here. We quickly got ready as it was about 5am and needed to get a good spot to run. We haven’t really eaten anything since about 6pm the day before. It rained the night before so the roads were slick. I was nervous that with all that has happened, something bad would happen today. I was nervous that all of this was an omen to come. Regardless, we all got ready and headed out into the morning. I kept my mind positive…I would not die today. Rather, this would be one of the best moments of my life.
How often do you honestly think that?
The smell of vomit, the bathroom and an all-night party filled my nostrils as we got closer and started walking deep into the streets if Pamplona. Everyone looked very drunk as it was 5am and people were still partying and celebrating this unique festival. I still can’t get over the fact that people risk their lives to run from bulls and celebrate by drinking sangria all throughout the night. It’s such a strange and unique tradition and well known event. I’m not sure I get it.
As we pushed our way through the drunken crowd, we made our way to the most dangerous part of the run, the very beginning. As you get closer, the bells of the bulls ring and another wave of butterflies fill the stomach. Inside the cage, we saw the beasts. Five pretty big bulls with huge bells around their neck. It was fairly empty right by the starting area, which wasn’t a surprise. The bulls smelled of a unique musk yet seemed quite calm. Maybe I should take the hint.
After grabbing a couple pictures, we went to get some coffee and wake up for what was about to happen.
While drinking out hot coffee, we find a location where Adina could take photos (and a place to duck and cover). We found a place right after the initial first uphill stretch. We set our meeting point and the three of us walk back a little while to our starting area.
It was strange that it seemed most of the people running were foreigners like us. We met several people from the States, some from Australia and some locals. Yea, we were in a crowd of crazy people.
As we stood there, Tim got his camera ready. This is why we were here and we have got to get footage! As he prepared his camera, Jason and I noticed some police officers walking our way. Uh oh, no bueno. The officers were going through the crowd trying to find people to kick out (for filming or being intoxicated). We quickly stow away the camera and get past this first wave.
A little while later we notice that a line of police officers were moving in. They were pushing people out of the run. We realized we went too far and would be kicked out. Runners need to be in a certain area that is close to the starting cage or else you will get kicked out just like us. We decide to get out of there and we start sprinting to the starting area. No way we would be kicked out. This is why we were here and we WILL do the run.
After circling the running area, we finally find a spot to settle. We’re back in the game.
We are standing next to a crazy Australian who is jumping up and down and stretching. We start up a casual conversation and find out that this is his second time doing the run and he was back to actually touch the bull this time.
Knocking off one of those todo’s from the bucket list I see.
He reinforces a couple key tips. Firework 1 means first bull is out. Firework 2 means last bull is out. Firework 3 means all bulls are in the arena and get your butt in there before you get locked out. Also, don’t jog, sprint. Bulls will catch up to you.
Then it all sank in.
“Olé Olé Olé…Olé…Olé” rang through the streets of Pamplona. I felt the fire ignite inside my body. It’s going to start.
A huge firework is sent up into the morning sky and explodes with a huge bang. The first bull has been released!
I turn to see the Australian, who was already sprinting down to the arena. We start to jog with the rest of the group. I find that I’m constantly looking back to see when I should be sprinting. All of a sudden you see a MASSIVE crowd running for their lives. No, this is no cross country meet. People are literally running for their life. Oh Sh*t. The second firework goes off.
I start sprinting through the crowd. I immediately lose both Jason and Tim…but at this point it doesn’t matter. Remember the rule of the running of the bulls, just run. I take one look back and see a horn of a bull. They are closing in. You can’t outrun a bull and now is no time to be a hero. I quickly dart to the side and find a small gap between two walls.
I watch as the massive crowd passes me by and the bulls are continuing to charge full force, not stopping for anything or anybody.
As soon as the last bull passes with the herders, I jump back out and sprint as fast as I could. I need to get into the arena. The bulls move quickly and I hear the third firework go off. That was quick! RUN FASTER!
But it was too late. Up ahead a gate was closing and all of us were trapped outside the arena. I hear cheers from the people in the stands. I’m too late. Or so I thought.
All of a sudden, the gate is released and all of us push through. We’d make it into the arena! Running as fast as I could I see it. Your feet soon switch from cobblestone to sand. The light hits your face and you are soon standing in the middle of a large coliseum with I assume thousands of onlookers cheering you on. Boy it was a sight to see. Thinking only those who run with the bulls have the opportunity to stand in the center of the stadium. Looking around you’d see other runners giving each other high-fives, celebrating the feat they just accomplished.
We made it.
Click Here to See more photos courtesy of Adina Noel
Day 3.5 – Ran with the Bulls, Off to the Beach
All of a sudden Jason and I notice a group of people crowding near a corner of the arena. Curiosity got the better of us and we decide to get a closer look. It is until then Jason reminds us that people duck down and ‘block’ the entrance of the arena so the bull has to jump over everyone laying down to get inside. Knowing this, we instantly rush to the side just as a bull hurdles over the mass of people into the center of the ring. It’s on.
Jason and I quickly jump over the railing of the arena. It’s utter chaos as people hop over the edge. The ring is surrounded by people trying to watch. Inside the ring, individuals taunt the bull and run around. A couple people got hit by the bull and only one looked seriously injured.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and the memories will last a lifetime.
Photo Credit: Adina Noel
Photo Credit: Adina Noel
Photo Credit: Adina Noel
After all the festivities were over, Jason and I run back to our meeting spot in which we were glad to see Adina and Tim waiting. After taking some celebratory photos and sharing stories, we make our way back to the hotel.
After a quick rest, we shuffle off to grab our bus to San Sebastian. After only a couple small complications, we finally board the bus.
Then it started. You know how we all hate crying babies of the airplane, snoring at night and the annoying heckler at the baseball stadium? Well consider that combined wrapped in barbed wire, a megaphone, and 1000 times more of that person.
If you looked up drunkard in the dictionary, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found this guy. Not only was he chanting the exact same song, “Something Something Arsenal” at the top of his voice THE ENTIRE TRIP, he’d also be drinking and smoking on the bus. Just when we thought he’d blow out his voice box and we can rest, out comes another scream for attention. Like watching a scary movie scene where everyone jumps back in their chairs, this guy was able to wake and steal any sort of relaxation and rest from the entire bus.
I’ve been reading “The Art of Happiness” by the Dali Lama, but this was one time I actually felt…well.. not so peaceful minded.
“Torro, Torro, Torro” he chanted at the top of his lungs. He also saw Adina had a camera and kept pestering her to take their picture. No way buddy.
Anyways, I’ll save you the details of this bus ride.
Finally we all hurry to get off the bus and head to our next hotel. One thing learned from this trip was that Google Maps doesn’t show elevation. Yikes! Although our hotel seemed close, it was all uphill. We finally arrive at Hotel Palacio del Aiete. The hotel was beautifully modern and seemed very upscale from first glance. We settle in and do a quick load of laundry in the sink and then take a bus out to the beach. With the lack of luck we’ve been having, I’d image my wet clothes would fly off the balcony in a fit of rage and I would be left with nothing. Oh well, c’est la vie.
We take a nearby bus to the beach area. At a quick glance, the area reminded me of Catalina Island. Boats floated just off the shore and people were resting on the beach in full clothes (as it wasn’t the warmest of days). Of course, what European beach wouldn’t be complete with the man speedos and the naked people.
Nearby a man was playing with his dog, throwing pitches into the water hoping his dog would bring it back. Somehow I got the feeling the dog was completely over it.
Children would jump off a wall into the water, egging each other on to see who could make the biggest splash.
After a couple of hours relaxing on the beach, Adina leaves to go home back to Bilbao, Spain and we continue our journey.
Photo Credit: Adina Noel
Photo Credit: Adina Noel
The three of us make a trip to the top of this ancient castle which we sat on the castle wall and observed the many canons. On a nearby bench, “Stop Tortuga” was spray painted. It seemed very fitting.
After spending several hours, we wander around where we watched the many waves crash into the castle walls. Individuals had huge fishing poles and were trying to catch some sea-life. The wind was blowing very hard and the sun was just about done. We make our way back to the hotel and get ready to go out. Little did we know, San Sebastian is a ghost city at night.
We ended up wandering the streets of San Sebastian completely alone. If there was a zombie apocalypse, this is what it would look like. Dead silent. No one around. We ended up running into a couple of people, had some fun, and then turned in for the night.
We stay up till about 4am as we are to take a train to Barcelona, Spain early in the morning.
Click Here to See more photos courtesy of Adina Noel
Day 4 – The Window of Hope
We make it to the train station no problem and grab our seats. Days are starting to mix together. We’ve had very little sleep this whole trip so all of us are trying to grab sleep whenever it becomes available. After sitting down, all of us catch some sleep instantly. Next thing we know, we are in Barcelona.
We arrive with hopes I can get a replacement passport. It was now or never (or at least it felt like it). If I didn’t get my replacement passport here, I’d be stuck in Spain until I would be able to do so. The comforting thing was that I was with friends and regardless we’d make it a good trip. I also realized I shouldn’t have ditched learning Spanish for French.
As soon as we get off the train, we found a Go Green Taxis waiting line, which we queued up for to take us to the hostel that Jason will be staying at. Barcelona seemed a bit more fashionable and I was eager to get out and explore (with the little time I had). We finally arrive at the hostel and quickly jump on a computer to check mail, facebook and find out the details for the US Consolate.
After getting settled in, we quickly grab a bite to eat at a local shop around the corner and print a couple key documents for the flight to Germany. Afterwards we all hail another cab and head to the US Consolate.
Upon arrival, we all commented on how nice it was to see the American flag again. Hopefully our security and safety net would not let us down. The door was heavy and we were greeted by a middle aged man behind a glass window. This was not what I expected. I quickly told him of my situation and received and answer I did not want to hear.
“The office closes at 1pm. It’s not possible.”
On the website it said it closed at 5pm and it was around 2pm. We all exchanged glances and wondered what our next step would be. It looks like I’ll be staying in Barcelona for awhile.
Now I’m not sure if it was the look on our faces or perhaps he understood the dire situation, be he told us to wait there for a second as perhaps we would be able to get it done today. After waiting for about 45 minutes in the smallest room without chairs, we were finally let inside. They only allowed Tim and myself to go in so Jason decided to take a cab back to the hostel to figure out his money situation.
After going through the various checkpoints, I was soon faced with a stern woman who asked me why I was here. She asked if I had any copies, credit cards, etc. I obviously replied that it was all stolen. Instead of being understanding, she was shaking her head saying I need certain documents.
Not comforting at all.
I was finally greeted by a young woman who spoke perfect english. It was very comforting at this point to hear I would get a temporary passport in the next 30 minutes. After waiting and jotting down all the stuff I’d need to replace when I’m back in the States, I’m finally called up to the counter after about an hour. A middle aged man greeted me and hands me my passport. YES! We’re back in business baby!
I wake up Tim (who always seemed to fall asleep whenever he could) and we catch a cab back to Jason’s hostel to say our parting words. After exchanging a few words, we all wished for safe travels and parted ways.
Tim and I quickly take a metro to the airport and got ready for our next flight to Berlin, Germany.
Day 4.5 – Sprechen Sie Englisch?
We catch our EasyJet flight from Barcelona to Berlin no problem. It’s strange to see an aerial view of each city. They all look so different!
We arrive in Berlin at about 12am and quickly grab some refreshments at one of the airport stores. Then it’s off to figure out how to get to our hostel. Good thing the airport information desk is still open and they speak english!
We head off to the metro station and quickly figure out where we need to go. I really liked that the Berlin metro made sense and was easy to navigate. The only problem was that since it was so late, we could only go about 3/4 the distance we needed to go.
Tim and I end up hopping off at the last stop for the train and head outside into the darkness. We spend about 10 minutes trying to get a cab and we finally grab one that takes us to our hostel,Pfefferbett Hostel. We arrive on the scene at about 1:20am or so and we are instantly greeted by a drunk staff member.
“Welcome!” she said in a very enthusiastic voice while bumping into the desk counter.
She quickly grabs one of her other co-workers who has not had as much to drink. This place was a party. People were playing pool, the music was blasting house and there were probably about 30 people in the lobby chatting it up and drinking. This is NOT what I expected! However, it was a nice change of pace and was a very fun environment.
As we try to cash in our reservation, we are told that it was scheduled for the next day at 3pm. Hm. What day is it? The three of us go back and forth and try to figure out what day it is and all the details. We are told by the lady behind the counter that we could store our stuff at the hostel and party all night and check in later that day at 3pm. We contemplate the idea so we store our stuff and decide to try to figure out other options.
We walk up and down the street to find that a lot of the nearby hostels are completely booked and it looked like we were out of luck. That was until we stumbled across Wombats. We are relieved to find out we can stay at this hostel for the night. Want to know the catcher?
They only had a 40 euro a night apartment! Oh well, we needed our rest and we both didn’t want to try to stay up all night till 3pm. We book the room and are pleasantly surprised at how amazing this apartment was.
We instantly decided that no way we’d let this apartment go to waste so we end up getting ready to go out and socialize. We head back down to the lobby and ask the front desk of some good places to go.
We end up walking out the door where a young woman was in tears and had obviously been drinking. Man this was a party city. We head around the corner where we find 8MM Bar. We quickly head up to the bar and grab two rockstar vodkas.
“Cheers to Berlin!”
The staff spoke perfect english and looked like they just got off stage from performing their favorite 80′s rock song. Long hair, cut off sleeves, tight jeans and tattoos. They were very friendly and helpful and recommended checking out ‘Cookies‘, a popular nightclub for house music.
We decided to stay for awhile as the ambiance was unique. They had a projector showing old 80′s rock music videos. People were lounging around drinking and having a good time. It seemed like the perfect hole in the wall bar that had great character. Touché Berlin. Off to a good start.
After finishing our drink, we decide to head back to our old hostel and move our stuff into our apartment. When going up to our apartment, we find an extremely drunk girl sleeping just outside the elevator. Well that’s strange.
We go back outside and the girl is still outside the door crying, now talking to a somewhat creepy older male. As we walked away, it dawned on me that perhaps these instances could be related. We double back and ask if the young woman is looking for a friend. She instantly replies and releases a sigh of relief. I’m assuming she has been looking for about 40 minutes. We go back upstairs and try to wake the passed out lady. Boy she was drunk.
We bring ‘Christy’ downstairs and make sure both her and her sister are ok before we head off to our next destination.
We take a cab to the club and were happy to see it was still crowded. Upon entering the first room, we are engulfed by older pop and hip-hop music. We make our way through the crowd and head to the bigger room that was playing purely house. We end up staying for several hours till about 5am having the time of our lives and take a cab back to our apartment to rest.
We are awoken at 11am by a woman entering the door telling us that we need to check out. Well, that was fast.
After waking up from our brief nap, we checkout and go back to the Pfefferbett Hostel in which we check in our luggage and decide to head out and grab some lunch and explore.
Day 5 – A Street Artist’s Dream
We end up finding a professional camera store in which we can rent a digital camera. We are excited as it puts us back on track and we are now able to start capturing photographs and videos again.
The professional camera store staff was very friendly by suggesting some good places to visit and get some good shops. Not only did he mark them all on a map for us, but he also added a little bonus by suggesting some good bars to get some beer. I mean come on, we are in Germany!
After finishing up at the camera shop, we decide to take the advice and seek out some cool locations to take photographs. Little did we know, everywhere we went, we would find some really cool backdrop of graffiti or something unique. Along the way, Tim manages to ask several people where he could find a ‘big bench’. Of course, they all thought we were crazy and had no idea what we were talking about.
Our first stop we find an area of Berlin that was well known for having a lot of graffiti. We end up just wandering around thinking we’ve gone in circles because each street corner is similar in that it is littered with graffiti and shops.
We finally make our way to the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, and I was not prepared for what I was about to see.
Each wall was a huge mural for one artist. Each unique. Each beautifully done. Tim and I stroll down the East Side Gallery and thwarted our previous thoughts of cutting out early and checking out other spots of Berlin. We end up walking the entire gallery and are extremely happy we did. After about an hour of taking photos in front of different wall murals, we decide to take the tram to find this ‘big bench’.
We end up walking to a russian memorial instead. We end up running into some folks from Spain in which we ask them what song the drunk from the Pamplona -> San Sebastian bus was singing. I try my best impression of the “Troll lol lol lol Arsenal” chant, but I fail as I blocked it out of my mind..for a reason. After walking around for about an hour, we exit the memorial and run into a girl and finally get directions to this bench. We walk with her and carry a wonderful conversation about traveling and exploring. Then we finally see it. Grunge. Massive Graffiti. A BIG BENCH!
After exploring and relaxing for awhile on the bench, swing and grass covered cars, we decide to head off to our next adventure. We end up stumbling across a really cool playground which was obviously designed for children, but today…it was for us. It was a strange park. There were women in a chair that all it did was swivel. They had a rope line, a makeshift trampoline and some other random activities. Let me take all that back. It was the coolest park ever.
Now we’ve been walking for quite some time so we decide to head back to the hostel to recuperate. We take some time to relax and end up going out for a little bit to get some pizza and drink some beer. After much exploring, we decide to take it easy as we have to catch a flight to Amsterdam in the morning time and want to be fresh and ready for our next upcoming adventure!
Day 6 – Missed Departure
We wake up in the morning and are excited to start our day. In the morning we head down and check out of our hostel and decide to take a load off and surf the internet and catch up on what we’ve been missing. The Pfefferbett hostel also offers an all-you-can-eat breakfast for about 5 euro. The breakfast consisted of coffee, bread, cheeses, spreads, cold-cuts and cereal. Since we haven’t really eaten too much this whole trip, it was nice to eat as much as you want and what you want (Truly an American thing, huh?).
Afterwards we decide to visit the Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe off Cora-Berliner-Strasse street. I was excited that the sun decided to come out and allowed us to get some cool photos. We play around and enjoy the memorial. We end up getting some really cool shots but are soon told by the security guard to get down. I guess you’re not supposed to jump on the blocks (although we saw multiple people doing the same thing).
A couple things came to mind when walking through this memorial:
- This would be an awesome place to play hide and seek.
- This would be a bad place for someone who gets scared easily.
- If you ever needed to lose someone who was chasing you, this is the perfect place.
Speaking of #3, we ended up attracting the attention of the security guard another time as we wanted to get one last shot on one of the blocks. Of course we had to play with the idea of playing hide and seek with the guard.
After playing hide and seek, it took about 10 minutes just to find each other again, we head back to the train station to return the camera.
It is at this time we realize that our flight is coming up. We hurry back to the hostel to check out and head back to the metro station to catch our flight to Amsterdam. Little did we know, we’d be going back and forth with trains shutting down and going in reverse. We burn a lot of time trying to use the metro and finally decide we need to take a taxi in order to make our flight on time.
It then takes us about 30 minutes to get a taxi to take us to the airport. The kicker? We find out it will take 45-50 minutes to drive to the airport and about 40 euro to get there. We are cutting it EXTREMELY close as we need to be at the gate in 50 minutes. Not good.
Of course the taxi driver almost gets into an accident trying to get us to the airport quickly in which both of us realize we didn’t have our seat belts on. We didn’t need to be told twice and we quickly buckle up in fear of dying.
Bitting our nails along the way, we finally make it to the airport with 5 minutes to ‘spare’. We hustle to the security checkpoint and OF COURSE, I get stopped for having liquids outside a bag. Just our luck. The person checking our tickets give us a ‘look’ that screamed “good luck buddy”. Tim rushes to the gate to try to tell the guard that I will be coming shortly.
Now I find myself fast walking to the gate (which was like 10 minutes away). It didn’t help that this airport was build like a shopping center and I find myself walking straight through ‘Duty Free’ and all the people stopping to smell perfume.
I arrive at the gate with no one to be found. Tim is in the distance giving me the signal that we are out of luck. We were 10 minutes late. What killed us was that only the gates closed 30 minutes prior and the passengers were just on the other side of the door waiting to board the plane. Bummer.
We head back out into the lobby to try to find internet. We spot a lounge and head upstairs to find the premier flyers club. It was so packed you could hear a pin drop. Yea, pretty busy up in that premier club. We explain the situation and ask if we could quickly log in to find another flight our weigh our options. No dice. Well, at least we got Haribos.
After waiting around and trying to figure things out, we find out we are out of luck. The next flight and train to Amsterdam is not until tomorrow afternoon at around 5pm. We quickly book another hostel in Berlin before Tim’s laptop battery dies. Well, it looks like another night in Berlin! I have no problem with that.
We head back out and take a metro to our next hostel, U Inn Berlin Hostel. After walking around for quite some time to try to find this hostel, we finally find it on a small street just off the main street. The staff was friendly although the hostel reminded me of our first hostel in Spain. It was smaller and seemed a little less secure. We head up to our room and greet the backpackers. Since it has been a long day, we decide to take a quick nap.
What seemed like a nap quickly turned into about a 5 hour sleep. We must’ve been exhausted! We wake up and start some conversation with two girls from Amsterdam who thought we were practically dead. I mean we slept for quite some time in the middle of the day. We also chat it up with another backpacker from San Francisco.
We decide to take it easy for the rest of the night and end up just chatting with some other travelers and discuss our adventure. We turn in early for the night as we have practically a whole day tomorrow to explore more of Berlin and head to Amsterdam.
Day 7 – Red Lights and Window Tapping
We wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for the day. We head out to get breakfast at a nearby bakery. I must say that chocolate pastries got the better of me this trip and I order two. Just as we head out to explore and find a thrift store to buy a camera, we run into one of the backpackers in our dorm, Theo.
We end up chatting for a bit and all decide to head to the thrift market.
I was amazed at some of the really cool stuff they had at this thrift market. Unlike our markets in the States, this market had nothing but antiques and vintage gadgets and apparel. It was amazing! I really enjoyed the vintage army supply that had everything from old trench coats to gas masks. I contemplated buying a gas mask but decided against it for a couple reasons:
- When would I actually use it? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even work.
- Would this look strange when airport security scanned my bag? I’m already traveling without proper documentation.
- It truly smelled… vintage.
Tim stops at an antique camera table and talks with the person for quite some time. After working out a deal, he finally buys a ‘new camera’.
We end up walking around and check out several other local thrift stores until we stumble across what appeared to be an abandoned…well..frame of a building. I was instantly drawn to it and we end up finding our way past the gate and end up getting inside. Let me tell you that it was completely worth the journey.
The building was littered with interesting street art and little nooks. I was a little put off yet intrigued by a small room in this building that had a couch. I could only imagine what kind of interesting stories and people would come here to this abandoned building. I could only imagine what happens here at night because it was obvious that we were not the only ones to discover the hole in the gate that allowed us to climb inside and see the building.
After exploring the building we decide to walk around the area for a bit taking pictures.
It then becomes time where we need to part ways and we say bye to our new friend and head back to the hostel. After checking out and getting our affairs in order, we head to the metro several hours early.
This time we WILL NOT miss our flight! We leave early and get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight was a quick hour or so and the next thing we know, we are in Amsterdam.
Upon stepping off the airplane, I get a whiff of ‘fresh air’ laced with the smell of weed. Wow, I thought they were kidding! Unlike most airports where you exit the airplane in a single filed line into a hallway, EasyJet is a massive free for all to get off and you exit onto the ground.
We enter the airport and I find that’s it’s pretty clean. Tim and I find a seat and get onto the internet to find hostel. We end up finding Hotel Flipper. We then struggle for a good hour trying to figure out how to get out of this airport and are told we need to take a train to the Central Station. We get lost again due to the fact this airport is like a huge shopping center with confusing directions. Finally we find the train and head off to the Central Station.
We get off after a good 35 minute train ride and again are left to find our barrings. This place is CONFUSING! We walk around in circles, go up and down stairs, ask multiple people and finally find our way to the bus station tram 4.
We ask for directions and information all along the way, but we finally arrive at our hotel. The hotel seemed more like a hostel…actually worst. They had one computer in the ‘lobby’ that was in some asian language (I thought we were in Amsterdam) and the room itself was as wide as a hallway. Tim and I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation.
After settling in, we decide to head out and get some food at a local italian restaurant. To be honest, it took us another 30 or so minutes to find a place close to our hotel. It took quite some time to find an ATM on the way and it seemed as if everything was either closed or we were in a residential district.
After getting a delicious bite to eat, we head back to the hotel for some quick R&R. Of course the trip would not be the same if it wasn’t a roller coaster. It starts to rain.
I fortunately have a poncho (Thanks Stuart), but Tim is left hanging. We decide to go to the front desk and ask for a trashbag. Money. This thing not only fit like a charm, but it had profound style that could only be paralleled by fanny packs and comb overs. Regardless, we head to the bus station and head toward the Red Light district.
We get off at our stop and walk around trying to discover this section of the city. We finally see several red lit windows in the distance. As we got closer, we saw them.
There were beautiful women (and some not so beautiful…and some neither man or woman) standing in windows. It was such a strange sight to see women standing in a window…just standing there. As we walked by, you’d hear tapping on the window. It was one of the women trying to get you to come over and talk.
The street was littered with men strolling the streets and taking a look. I don’t blame them. It was a very bizarre sight to see! Sometimes a man would walk out of the door with a smile on his face. Other times you’d see a man walking up to the door and starting a conversation. One man even ran out of a door screaming, “Let me go..Let me go”. I think he was on drugs.
After walking around for awhile, we decide to call it a night. We end up taking a taxi back to our place. Tomorrow I leave for home.
Day 8 – Leaving on a Jetplane
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins
I wake up this morning anxious. It’s the moment of truth. Will I be able to get back into the United States? Hopefully I’ll make my flight. With all these anxieties in place, I decide to wake up at 9am to make my 12pm flight from Amsterdam to Newark, New Jersey.
I quickly pack up my bag as I’d rather be too early than rushing for time. I have a brief wave of sadness as this adventure will soon come to an end; however, I stop reminiscing about my trip as it’s not quite over yet! I say my goodbyes to Tim who is barely awake and head out into the streets. It looks like rain. Perfect.
I wander around the streets for awhile trying to get my barring. Amsterdam is confusing as it has a bunch of small streets that are not shown on the map I have. I finally decide to lose some man points and ask a local bar where the bus station tram 4 is. Little did I know, it was right across the street.
I catch the tram 4 bus to Station Rai in which I take the train to the airport. Upon arrival, I find I still have several hours left. I decide to grab some food for the long 16 trip back.
The smell of fresh baked chocolate pastries fills my nostrils and I’m drawn to the grocery store nearby. I found it strange that the Amsterdam airport is more like a huge shopping center in which it has groceries, clothing stores, electronics and so forth.
Since I don’t want to be late and miss my flight, I decide to go through security and end up getting the full body scan. It’s not as bad as you’d think; however, it’s a little strange standing there with your hands up in the air like you just don’t care.
Fast forwarding this story because it was mainly spent sleeping; however, I get on the airplanes just fine and spend it watching inflight movies/sleeping/eating. Boring stuff, I know. This brings me to my arrival in the United States.
I’m standing in the U.S. Customs line with my temporary passport and bag of dirty clothes when the guy in front of me gets pulled aside and is brought into a mysterious room. I get called up to the counter and show my documentation. Of course I get asked what happened, so I explain how all my stuff was stolen. The man behind the counter seemed sympathetic.
“Oh man that’s shitty,” he said.
Cool. Hopefully he’ll understand.
The man tells me to go follow this other guy (who at this point now has my passport in hand). Guess who else is following this guy? The other man that got pulled aside before me. Great. Looks like i’ll be seeing the ‘potential terrorist’ room of the airport.
I walk into a room that looks like decor was the last on the list of todos. The walls were barely painted, the tv was of the 1980′s era and everyone in the room looked extremely unhappy. I end up waiting watching the ancient television for a good 20 minutes and am finally called up to the desk.
“Did you lose your passport?” the man at the desk said.
“No. Stolen,” I replied.
“Ok, well this is your one pass. You’re going to need a new passport,” he said.
Well, no sh*t sherlock. I thank him for his time and he sends me on my way. Whew, I made the cut and I’ll be able to go home after this WILD adventure.
After traveling 9034 kilometers or 5614 miles or 4878 nautical miles, I get home safe and sound after about 16 hours of travel.
After all is said and done, I must say that this whole trip was certainly, a sticky situation (inside joke…video to come).
Day 9 – Recovering
Pretty much my day started by waking up at 7pm. Wait, what?
Yea. I slept from 2am to 7pm. I slept for 17 hours.
So obviously this took ruined my plans of getting any sort of work and recovery done. This whole week I’ll spend catching up on work and getting all those errands done such as getting a new driver’s license, credit cards, insurance and etc.
Well, not much to say about today as I spent most of it asleep. All I have to say is.
Thank you for joining me on this CRAZY adventure. Also special thanks goes out to all of those who supported me during the time of crisis. It really meant a lot to me to hear from all of you and the support! Of course many thanks to both my friends Tim King and Jason Kirby for a very memorable trip. Until next time…
Gracias y adiós a mis amigos!
Vielen Dank und auf Wiedersehen meine Freunde!
Dank u en tot ziens mijn vrienden!
Photo credits and special thanks to: Jason Kirby, Tim King, Adina Noel, Theo Tom