In this introduction:
- another delve into the void;
- hello darkness, my old friend;
- running away from the inevitable.
- Bold ones are the highlights of this trip
- Introduction (this journal)
My Travel Black Hole
Okay, even I have no idea why I embarked on this trip. It is as much of a mystery as how I managed to gain 20 kilograms in the past 2 years without noticing, or how no female likes me. Oh, wait, hold on a second…
I was quite lost, and was supposed to figure my life out as I drifted across the time-space continuum. However, here I am, pouting about not being able to go visit some of my good ol’travel companions. A few messages later, I was on my way around Europe once again for the holiday season, 5th year in a row.
I now have realized, this lifestyle on the road is a black hole. Once you have lost your willpower to get out of it, you are doomed, eternally being sucked into the void by something unobservable, an imaginary final point that leads to a world unknown. Once you reach a certain threshold, there is no going back, then you might as well accelerate, and reach places where no one has gone before.
I have accepted my fate. Have you?
Our story begins at Barcelona, after my brief visit last time, I decided to travel to the other side of Iberian Peninsula, back to visit an old pal who I cannot miss, or cannot miss even more, Beatriz. A familiar bus ride brought me to the small Portuguese fishing village of Sesimbra, where I had the pleasure to inhale the traditional seafood meal made by Beatriz’s grandma, something that I had been drooling over in my sleep ever since my last time in town.
The next stop was Rome. This is a city that I had not been in over a decade, and I had one unexpected friend waiting for me. Anna, who was featured in Lyon last time, left the comfort of her Lyonnais adobe and was studying at this capital of food at my time of visit. We met up for some nice strolls at night next to the colosseum, and ended up stuffing ourselves with huge plates of pasta. This is how a day in Rome is supposed to go. No regrets!
Finally, the highlight of the trip comes with my arrival in Dubrovnik, a small coastal town next to the smooth undulations of Adriadic Sea. This is the most medieval place I have ever seen, and staying in the middle of the old city with the company of my local contact, Ana, was definitely a plus. Large seawalls, compact quarters, Christmas concerts, cats roaming the old cobbled streets, delicious Dalmantian food, these are just things to come.
A quick flight to London gave me a chance to have a nice British meal in a pub with my friend Benita, and after admiring the Shard and the Tower Bridge for a bit, I continued onto Dortmund as Christmas approached. Luckily, this Germany city prides itself in having the largest Christmas tree made of actual organic material in the entire world. Nothing was spared during the construction of this annual monstrocity. Contrary to those rich Middle Eastern malls’ plastic tree bullshit, this towering behemoth is made of thousands of real little Christmas trees, overlooking the blocks upon blocks of genuine German Christmas markets.
Then, I met up with my old friend Ulrike. It is our yearly tradition to meet up at Cologne and talk about our lives. She had it all figured out, of course, knitting, pottery, group of friends to play games with, and promotions in career, while I am still as aimless as we first met 5 years ago. But worry not! I have a plan, which involves us going for some nice walks first! After bidding Ulrike farewell, I continued to Vlissingen, Netherlands, where I again met with my good pal from Shanghai, Kelly. This time, I got the honor to walk her boyfriend’s dog, world’s best doggo award winner 3 years running, Dino! The entire family also celebrated Christmas in Kelly’s mother’s house, where I got to observe some rather strange traditions, such as Christmas-themed gambling and the festival-special food “THE GOURMET.”
After gaining 10 kilograms, I resumed the path at the southern capital of Dutch kingdom, Rotterdam. It is full of quirky buildings and historical canals, not to mention the sweeping view along Erasmus Bridge. A flight from Amsterdam then took me to Copenhagen, where I crossed the strait to meet Anna, my good Swedish friend. No, not the French Anna, the Swedish one. Why do all western cultures have the same names! After binging Netflix while forgetting it was already New Year’s Eve, I bid her farewell and landed in Berlin, the city of unspeakable past and unfathomable future. 2020, here I come!
Believe it or not, even after so many times in Germany, this was my first time in its capital. Shocker, right? Almost all of my friends I have in Germany are from the west and south, so I never had the reason or motivation to come to the east side. Berlin had so many stories to tell, and I listened to them all, from its Roman past to the Nazi regime, and its recent reform. It is one of those places that you cannot take it all in one sitting or one journey, but I damn as well tried. From Berlin, I flew into Zurich, where I got to visit an old friend long overdue for a big hug. Fabienne is the very first Swiss I got to know so many years ago in my first trip ever, and she had paid me a few visits before I managed to get to her little village just outside Zurich. With her house as a base, I took a few day trips into the heart of the Alps, after discovering how bizarre and incomprehensible fondue is.
After soaking the snowy sky all in from the vantage points around the Alps, I continued with a train ride up to Stuttgart airport, so I could end my trip there before arriving back in Shanghai. However, per typical German fashion, the Swiss train was stuck in the middle of the woods by the border as Germany had a power outage. Unspeakable doom had fallen upon me. I almost missed my flight after having to transfer to another train to a bus to another 3 different trains, arriving literally 2 minutes before the gates of my flight closed. But wait! There’s more! The gate agents were so lazy that they had already stopped boarding, so I had to watch my plane depart. Perfect! Just another day in the travels of the most unlucky man in the entire multiverse. After being stuck in Stuttgart for a solid 4 days, I was eventually shuttled back to China, in economy instead of the originally-booked business class. However, I was still very grateful. The world is truly a merciful place, with so much experience to embark on and so many good people to interact with, so there was nothing to be bitter about. I am so glad that this trip brought out the best in me!
EXCEPT IT WAS NOT THE END.
Just a mere week after my return to China, something seemed…strange. A series of reports from Wuhan seemed to point towards a new contagious disease spreading inside the city, and just as my family devoured our Chinese New Year’s Eve meal, some form of lockdown was issued for the megapolis. A thousand kilometers away, in Shanghai, I noticed something awry in the atmosphere. Sensing a potential lockdown in the coming days, I promptly decided to push up my next flight to that very day: I had to get out of China. Guess what? It brought me back to Stuttgart, so I might as well explore its majestic plazas and car culture.
After admiring the best Porsche and Mercedez had to offer, and touring the actual assembly line of Porsche factory, I slowly made my way west towards Heidelberg, one of the most scenic cities in the entire country.
Besides a daunting castle and a historical bridge, Heidelberg is also famous for its long line of university heritage, being the first city in west Germany to ever have a college. Finishing up busking in the studious atmosphere, I continued on Bergstrasse, a region known for its numerous castles dotting along the rolling hills. This is when I found the charming little village of Heppenheim, and I settled down for a nice walk, and a good view.
A few train rides later down the romantic route alone, I eventually reached the center of European economy, the pumping city of Frankfurt am Main. Probably the heart of the entire continent, this city boasts an equally impressive historical center, as well as a food scene unrivaled by any other, barring London probably. A few days of discovery later, I was on my flight to Canada, thinking that I safely escaped the onslaught of virus. Well, eventually this pesky little thing managed to shut down the entire world and crumbled global economy, but that is the story of another time on another blog.
What you may find different in this series of journal is that the quality of my photos have improved significantly, as I have adopted a new cellphone with cutting-edge camera, as the previous crappy quality really does not give you, my dear reader, justice. As a result, you may find more portraits of all my compatriats I journeyed with, and more wide-angle shots. Additionally, base on feedbacks, I have decided to cut these journals further down, so expect shorter lengths and easier reads. Please enjoy!
Now you have it, one of the busiest EuroHops I have ever taken in my life so far, complicated by the fact that I was running away from the inevitable coronavirus on the latter half of the trip. It is an interesting trip for sure, and you can definitely find a lot of hidden gems as I detail my hectic itinerary trying to see as many friends as physically possible in one month. Welcome to the addiction of travels. Welcome to the black hole of my life. Welcome to singularity.
Other EuroHop trips in the past: