Ok, so I’ve been on the road for about 2 weeks now, more than enough time for me to pontificate definitively on the experience of traveling alone around Europe.
The first thing is the over-riding positive. This blog is named for a line in the Hayden song “I should have been watching you” and really references all the minor things in the world that we can get enjoyment from. But this trip has been a near constant encounter with beauty, in art, architecture, and nature – plus one or two people too. There has been more than one moment when I’ve been close to being overwhelmed by sensory pleasure.
A more mixed experience has been meeting other people. Hostels are now increasingly designed so as to ensure that even the most reserved and introverted person can’t fail to meet people. And so, I’ve met loads of cool people, including a handful with whom I’ve got on really well. The downside is that they are by definition transient places where you’ve no sooner met someone than they are on to the next city, or off to a different continent, whereupon the process begins all over again. At times the process is invigorating, you’re constantly meeting people from a variety of countries and backgrounds (though with a considerable bias towards people from the US/Australia/NZ/Canada in their early 20s), and there’s a lot that can be got out of that. At other times, it’s draining, all the effort going into creating a friendly relationship in 2 days, then seeing the other guy disappear out of your life. And at times it’s routine, the near inevitable conversational stand-bys of “where have you been”, “where are you going next”, “what do you do back home” that have to be struggled through before other conversational avenues open up.
The lifestyle also leaves little room for reflection or relaxation. There have been times when all I want to do is to read a book, but a good one is rarely available. There’s lots of music around, but it’s not my own choice. I went into a record store in Sevilla today and they were playing a DVD of Leonard Cohen’s concert in London last year and I had to spend 25 minutes pretending to be looking through flamenco CDs in order to listen to it. Sleep is also, understandably, at premium in shared dormitories and one snorer can make all the difference between 7 and 3 hours sleep. Seriously medical science, can you take a break from trying to cure cancer for a while and get on to the important issues. Even just sitting still can seem like an unwarranted luxury when there is so much unmissable culture to see in the once in a lifetime experience.
All these things combine together to create a situation where there a regular significant mental demands that have to be met on increasingly limited physical resources, and occasionally I get moments (well OK, significant proportions of days) when a huge lassitude strikes and its difficult to do anything. But then that can cycle back to the first point – even then there is usually somewhere beautiful I can sit for an hour or two until the batteries are partially recharged. But at the moment I feel I’m running on empty, and so after a quick trip to Cadiz, I’m heading for the Algarve and a couple of days on the beach.
One last, but really important thing. I know I’ve kind of spammed facebook with this blog, and bullied a couple of people into reading it, but its a really important conduit to back home for me and all your comments (and patience with me boasting/joking about my experiences) are really appreciated.