The unbearable lightness of travelling

24 November 2009

I apologize in advance for the biased and uninformed nature of this post. I’ve been reading Kerouac’s “Lonely Traveller” on the road, and it really is a piece of disconnected, confused, fibreless crap. The worst part of reading Kerouac is the realization that you could have spend your time much better re-reading Thompson, but then again, your books are at least 300 km away. To make a long story short, and progress to the actual topic of this post, I think Hunter Thompson is one of the best thing that happened in literature in the 20th century, and he has been a great inspiration to me. I also think Kerouac owes me 8 euros, because he just stole a whole day off of my gypsy intermezzo with his crap.

  • France I have to say I love France, and maybe I’m obligated because I don’t really like Germany. I speak the language better, and I want to perfect it. The culture seems to be more different than where I grew up in, and the different regions appeal to me more on a per-case basis. And going there leads South!

** Paris I went to Paris mainly to visit my good friend P, and also to meet my host, a friend of a friend I met hosting her in Berlin. He showed us the unofficial catacombs, about 300 km of tunnels ready to be explored. The people down there are an organized community, of course. They clean the halls every week. It’s the nicest (although dirtiest) places in Paris, because everyone says hello to each other. I think I would never have been to that place if I wasn’t sleeping with a random person. On the other hand, I was very happy to see my old French friends A, N and of course I. I finally have had some authentic borscht.

Paris is a problem. The city is quite perfect: museums are incredibly good, every single building is perfect. There is nothing for me to do in Paris. And I believe it’s the same for the people living there too, they seem quite unhappy and I think I understand why. I sit down on the stairs where everyone else is sitting. I have an unhealthy obsessions with finding benches in any city I visit, as an indicator for quality of life. I haven’t seen one yet. I think I only want to live in Paris when somebody pays me to do it.

** Marseille Marseille is almost exactly what you would expect a poor port city to be like: busy, difficult, and a lot of raw fun. People warned me about the high level of crime, but I didn’t notice any of that.  I found myself wandering random (in hindsight bad) neighbourhoods at 4am, alone, talking to random youngsters. They told me that Marseille has an interesting position in the immigration debate, as it has a strong city nationality the immigrants subscribe to, rather than the national one. They also talked local

** Mistral My backpack caught the enough wind to make me feel like I was on a sailboat. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to go to the coast. I was continually sandblasted, with only sporadic ocean drops provided some relief for my skin. I found sand in my nose and salt on my lips for hours afterwards.

The Mistral is a cold wind that hits all of SE France en Sardinia. It can cause sudden storms, and reaches speeds up to 120 km/hour.

** Aix en Provence It’s as if all the kind of people I don’t like moved out of Marseille and founded their own town. It’s a pretty typical “bigger” town of France where everyone (French and tourists)  form the small towns come in the weekend, and try and spend their money. The one word description everyone gives is “nice”. It seems all people fall in 2 categories: Aix people, and Marseille people. Count me in the Marseille camp. My opinion on the bourgeoisie is the same as Brel’s.

So I’d rather just show you small town Provence, St Zacharie :)

** Lyon I have nothing interesting to say about Lyon.

** Toulon Miami of the Provence. Horrible avenues, artificial looking palm trees and people, great scenery. Too close to Cannes and Nice for comfort.

** La Redorte aka Petit France La Redorte is a small town in the Languedoc, between Narbonne and Carcassone.  It’s population barely passes a thousand. The reason it’s not considered a tiny town in France, is by virtue of it’s supermarket. If you are a tiny town in France, you have the baker come by in his van 3 times a week. I spend 6 days with T there, cut off from civilization by lack of internet and motorized transport. And it was great. We were sick back to back, so we spend most of the time around the flat, taking walks to the canal, cooking, and discussing art. A great commune of 2.

The Languedoc is a very interesting region in general. The regional language is Occitan, close relative to Catalan, but you’ll be hard pressed to find it spoke anymore nowadays. It’s also the region of the Kathars, a form of Christianity that has a duality at it’s core. They where also ascetics, and this is why they ran afoul of the pope. The region was the battleground for the first crusade on European soil. The region is full of impressive fortresses, and terrible history. Just make sure you have motorized transport when you’re there.

  • Greece Is actually quite cheap to get to. Make sure you stay well away from tourist season (April-October, although especially July-September), but close enough that stuff isn’t closed. Although I was there in November, I think the best time to go would be very early in spring. Nature is blooming. People aren’t burned out from tourist any more. Every year, more people visit Greece than live there, to a factor of 1.6.

** Athens Great place to visit, terrible place to live. This is probably worded too strongly, although I do believe it after a 6 day introduction.  I’m very enthusiastic about the attitude of the people living there, as they are very open and friendly for the size of the city ( 3 million, 30 percent of the population). The quality of museums is, of course excellent. On the other hand, it suffers from some mayor problems for inhabitants: almost complete lack of parks, big unemployment numbers for all levels of education, pollution, and bad traffic situation (although nowhere near Rome or Istanbul). I’ll love to be back, but I won’t stay.

** Crete A short history of Crete:

  • Minoans/Cretans* Dorians/Greeks* Pirates* Romans* Byzantine Empire* Muslims* Byzantine Empire* Venetians* Ottomans/Turks* Greek/Cretan rebels* Egyptians* Greeks* Germans* Allies* GreeksCrete is quite beautiful, mainly because of the nature. It also has a very distinct culture and local flavour, mainly due to the countless invasions, rebellions and massacres. I loved Sfakia, a tiny town on the south coast know for it’s role in resisting, as well as Iraklion, known for it’s haphazard reconstruction after 39-45, with meandering roads cutting through ancient fortifications.

Due to unfortunate timing, I was unable to visit the famous Samaria gorge, and had to settle for Himbros. I did have the rare luck of meeting the Kri Kri. I also hitchhiked back home from the gorge, and it works in Greece ;)

** Greeks All you have heard about Greek hospitality is true, or an understatement. They speak English, and they will be very friendly as long as they are in the majority. In short, they’re the bee’s knees. I love them and their country.