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To be or not to be.. (1)

Posted 15 February 2008 - Taranto (IT):

Some people think that I left home to find some amazing ideas, some deep philosophical insights or simply to run away from obligations and commitment. Don`t think any of those are particularly true, but I do have plenty of time to think about myself. And about others surrounding me and about how those two entities interact or should interact. Let me start by saying that it`s not always easy to do things in a way different from everybody else. Witnesses will be too happy to tell you that you are doing things in the wrong way, have no respect for reality or for other people. I don`t know which exact words Nelson Mandela used during his inauguration speech, but I will look those up and post them during the next day. Here`s some reflection about what it`s like if you people can`t put one simple label on who you are and what you do. Today`s edition: to be or not to be… a traveler.

When I meet fellow travelers, they are either very impressed by what I do, or they don`t understand it at all. How can I not go see this and this monument and why would I waste my time behind the computer if there is so much to see outside. How can I write about a place if I hardly ever take the time to get to know local night life? How can I not join them when they go to a restaurant if I am rich enough to pay for a year of traveling? How can I not get bored if I do the same thing every day for one year? How can I say that I will be happy to be home again and live in The Netherlands when I reach the end of the trip?

Travelers are supposed to always have itchy feet, wanting to travel here and there, find jobs as they go, not know when they will be where. They are supposed to laugh about having missed a bus and ending up somewhere completely different from where they intended to go. Which are all things I don`t do. No, I won`t get stuck in one place and no, I won`t see how long the budget lasts. No, I don`t like to sleep under bridges. No, I don`t make shortlists of what I want to see. No, I don`t take open-air buses around the city and no, I don`t feel the need to buy souvenirs wherever I go. And I do care about what I eat, even if that doesn`t mean I can eat something sophisticated every day.

Non-travelers are either very impressed with my way of traveling, very jealous or they don`t see the use of it. If they are impressed, they have usually done something similar themselves, and they know the risks and rewards of being on the road. Out of those who are jealous, most have probably not done anything similar because if they had, they would know the downsides of it as well. Hopefully, some of the ones who are jealous can turn that into something useful by believing that everything is possible as long as you want it, and are willing to do what it takes to get it.

Non-travelers who do not see the use of it probably feel comfortable in their own environment, which may make them suspect that I do not. They may think of people who travel as if travelers are not able to feel at home anywhere. I prefer to turn that around and say that I would like to feel at home in as many different places as I can. I think of home as the inner part of your comfort zone, much more than a pile of bricks with a roof on top. The Hague in The Netherlands is home to me. Paris feels like a second home. I think I could feel at home in Sweden, and for most other countries I would like to take the parts I like and incorporate them in what I call home.

For the countries I have visited on this trip so far, I will try and take the following wisdom home:

* Ireland – the ability to always see sunshine through the clouds;
* Lithuania – the belief that you need to be smart and modest to get what you want;
* Latvia – compromise can give advantages to all parties involved;
* Estonia – you can make quick progress if you throw off legacy that keeps you back;
* Finland – humans are part of nature and nature is to be respected;
* Sweden – being smart and organised helps you make your life easier, and that of others as well;
* UK – unlimited choice can be a curse rather than a blessing;
* Portugal – it takes more than just technical skills to get somewhere, social skills are just as important;
* Spain – you don`t need to travel far if you are happy where you are;
* France – combining opposing extremes is an art and art shall be expressed and discussed;
* Luxemburg – learning foreign languages is a matter of motivation and exposure rather than a talent;
* Belgium – beer and wine are mutually interchangeable as long as the beer is good enough;
* The Netherlands – being and staying tolerant and open-minded requires consciousness and effort;
* Cyprus – if you organise things properly, you don`t have to do anything yourself;
* Malta – you haven`t lost until the war is over;
* Italy – a hectic life needs slow moments.

I will continue some of these reflections during the upcoming days. Stay tuned if you find it interesting.

(© Victoria - MT, February 2008)
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Happy to be back in Sicily

Posted 13 February 2008 - Catania (IT):

I had a hectic morning this morning. The ferry to Sicily was planned to leave at 7, I had to be at the terminal one hour in advance, estimated walking time from the youth hostel 45 minutes and half an hour for taking a shower and packing my bag in the morning. Consequent waking time: 4h30 in the morning. Everything ran according to schedule until 10 minutes before the imposed arrival time at the ferry. My map showed a street down from Valetta to the waterfront, but in fact there was none. Two men who has woken up about as early as I had were laughing when they told me it would take a huge detour and about 20 minutes to get there.

Well, Malta was certainly interesting but I was really looking forward to get back to mainland Europe again. Sicily is not exactly mainland yet either, but it comes a lot closer than the pile of yellow rocks in the middle of the sea that makes up Malta. So, there I found myself running around Valetta at six in the morning in a desperate attempt to avoid having to stay on Malta for another few days and having to pay for another ferry crossing on top of that. Long story short, I did make it in time and instantly fell asleep when I sat down.

When I arrived in Pozzallo, the bus for Catania had left 5 minutes before and the next one wouldn`t depart before three hours afterwards. But the sun was out and I was still sleepy, so didn`t have much trouble lazying around in the village a little. The bus ride was a sleepy one as well.

I got back in Catania at three in the afternoon and then tried to sort out what to do next: trying to get to my next destination Cosenza by night train? Taking a bus to Taranto (my planned destination after Cosenza)? Sticking around in Catania for one day in order not to arrive in Taranto one day earlier than expected, which could possibly cause inconvenience to the person hosting me there. Etc.. etc also taking the cost of all alternatives in consideration, because after the ferry to Malta vv and one night sleeping in a hotel, the pressure on the budget is becoming more intense than it has been since I left Holland in August.

Final decision: stay in Catania for one night, taking the night bus to Taranto tomorrow evening. Ended up cooking a nice dinner with Australian/Italian fellow traveler Matthew and a Dutch couple who have lived in England for the last 20 years.

And that`s all for now. Photo still from Gozo. If you watch carefully, you can tell that it was taken from the exact same location as yesterday`s photo.

(© Victoria - MT, February 2008)
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Posted 12 February 2008 - Sliema (MT):

I haven`t been able to enjoy my freshly cleaned CCD-chip for a long time. The one main thick spot is not there anymore, but there is many smaller ones instead now. As long as I don`t take photos of clear skies, it doesn`t really show so I guess I`ll choose to live with it. What else is new? Today was my last entire day in Malta and I do not regret too much leaving the place again. People have been extremely friendly and helpful, that`s for sure. Their melodious way of speaking English is a pleasure to listen to and almost all of them took ample time to talk to me. But I feel far away from home, I am not too impressed by the scenery (except Gozo, photo), and cannot deny the impression that overall life in Malta must be quite boring. If you like partying and beaches, those will keep you busy for a while. For everything else, I`m not convinced.

So, back to Italy tomorrow and I hope to move up to the middle part of the foot. I will get to Brindisi in a week from now, then cross to Patras and slowly head for Athens. Once I make it there, I will pick up Sanne from the airport on the 23rd. She will join me for a week, just like she did in Stockholm in October. Then a few months later, my brother will hopefully make it to Slovenia to pay me a visit. He dooie als je dit leest, laat dan ff weten of je al een vlucht hebt geboekt.

Everything else is fine. Bedtime now, tomorrow will start very early.

(© Victoria - MT, February 2008)
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Sunny days ahead

Posted 11 February 2008 - Sliema (MT):

Yej! My camera is fixed. It ended up costing some phone calls, a bus ticket and 2 euros – and a lot of white hairs. It also looks like the South of Italy is sorting itself out. After a rainy and quite miserable start of today, things are starting to look sunnier again. I did some interesting interviews about the Maltese school system that by the way still separates boys and girls during secondary school. I also met up with the press officer for the Maltese representation of the European Parliament, which may help me get some publicity for `Us Europeans` in the Maltese press.

I have also been finding out that walking from one place to the other is almost impossible in Malta. My first impression when I arrived was that it was like a maze and I can only confirm that after three more days of Malta. Many, many dead end streets that run in all directions and there`s sea around everywhere. See it like a spread-out hand. Then think of how you get from one finger tip of your hand to the other without jumping over. That`s how most of the coastline of Malta works. And if there`s no coastline, it`s a major road that cuts off the ends because it is not meant to be used by pedestrians. Or a valley, or a hill top. And if that`s not the case, then some roads are blocked by rain that all gutters into the lowest point of the road. And it was raining lots in the morning, so it was almost impossible to get anywhere.

Anyway, that`s all past now, I`m preparing for some nicer days in the near future. Other piece of good news: I completed today`s Us Europeans article in barely one hour. It usually takes me up to 2-2.5h so I`m quite satisfied. Looking forward to some sunnier days in the near future.

(© Gzira - MT, February 2008)
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Serious or not?

Posted 10 February 2008 - Sliema (MT):

Malta day 3, or in entire days number 2. I have not worried too much today about the Malta-Italy-Greece challenge and now just hope and trust it will sort itself out somehow. At least, I am good where I am in Malta. The place is horrible and at times slightly frightening but it`s very cheap so I`ll live with it. Malta is small enough to discover using my current accommodation as a basis.

What I did get upset about today is how some people are happy to blame me of being naοve, ignorant and stupid for undertaking this project. I am a bit tired of people telling me that fun and work can never be one and the same. I used to believe that during my first two full-time jobs but I sort of grew over it.

Some people I meet on the way clearly did not and they are happy to tell me that what I do is useless, senseless, a waste of time and a waste of energy – but worth laughing in case I might seriously think I get anything done by doing this. Some other people occasionally ask me whether I ever feel lonely on this trip. Well, on average I don`t, but meeting people who are cynical, sarcastic, pessimistic and contagious do indeed make me feel lonely, yes. But they also strengthen me in thinking that I am working on something that exceeds the ordinary. And so, the story continues…

Photo: Fishermen`s boats in Marsaxlokk

(© Marsaxlokk - MT, Feb 2008)
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Getting nervous

Posted 9 February 2008 - Sliema (MT):

Malta reporting for duty. Looks like the weeks ahead may be a bit tough. Today, I have tried to find the best way to make it to Greece by sometime next week and the results have so far been largely unsatisfactory. I have not yet succeeded in finding places to stay anywhere between here and Patras, even though I should be spending at least four more days in Italy.

There are very few youth hostels on the way and CouchSurfing is barely useful because most Italian profiles are very gender-specific. Female hosts prefer female guests because they do not want to be harassed by visitors, while male hosts often mark a clear preference for female guests. Can`t blame them for that preference, but it`s not very helpful for a tall, hairy, Dutch backpacker.

Fortunately, I can count on some support from a guy at whose place I stayed in Catania. Livio, also featured in the Us Europeans article about Santa Agatha, is trying to consult members of Hospitality Club to help me out. Life may be a bit stressful at the moment, but it should get better soon. And hopefully I will get my camera fixed too.

Photo: Unlike Cyprus, Malta does have public transportation. And their buses are actually quite cool!

(© Sliema - MT, February 2008)
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Rainy Malta

Posted 8 February 2008 - Sliema (MT):

I just completed my first entire day in/on Malta. I`m happy to be able to get proper answers in English again, which was not very easy in Italy. Some Italians wanted to send me to the library when I told them I was working on a book about the European Union. Others were very helpful in giving me directions, but I needed those as little as I needed a library.

Anyway, after spending the most expensive day in 6 months of traveling so far, things settled down a bit. I am now in a very shitty youth hostel which only costs 4 euros per night. It`s not the greatest in terms of comfort and cleanliness. There are no fellow backpackers, just some immigrant workers. But it does allow me to catch up with the budget and at least buy and prepare some nice food.

The weather is pretty awful. Raining, windy and temperatures just over 10 degrees. There`s no improvement on the way until Tuesday and I hope the ferry back to Sicily on Wednesday will not be cancelled. We`ll see. It`s good to be able to properly talk to people in the streets again so workwise, the coming days should be relatively easy.

Photo: mobile supermarket.

(© Sliema - MT, February 2008)
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