I told a friend I had started this blog early mostly because when I get an idea I feel is clever (the title), my patience plummets and I can’t sit on it (literally: I couldn’t wait two months to tell a dumb joke). She asked what I would post in the intervening months before I go to Korea, and I responded in a bit of mush-mouth, remarking that I could write about teaching and life and other bloggish things. “Why don’t you write about your Eurotrip?” she asked. “You have lots of stupid stories from that.”
And indeed I do. Last year I took a whirlwind trip through Europe (8ish cities, 29 days), a time that proved fruitful for both anecdotes and amateurish photography. Of course I have stupid stories from that trip: the same stupid stories that every young adult who goes on a Eurotrip does. And now I’m going to share them with you, so that you can bask in the hilarities of international travel and dwell in a lot of “That’s familiar!” nostalgia. You’ll know these stories, they probably occurred basically to you or people you know. Let it be said that unoriginality never stopped me from prattling on.
The trip began in Dublin, Ireland, a city basically swimming in alcohol and incredibly friendly pedestrians. I was travelling with my cousin Zack and his friend Donny, and we arrived early in the morning, soaking in wanderlust and probably our own sweat from the long flight. I had never travelled on my own before (and I hadn’t left Canada for about four years), and more than that, this seemed like one of those coming-of-age type scenarios embedded into my subconscious by years of pop culture digestion. It’s hard not to nurse romantic notions about Europe the place or the cross-European trip as a concept, as they are pretty ingrained in our culture and our psyches as big moves towards independence (which is funny, since it’s basically an excuse to binge drink for a month and check out some museums).
I think the easy-going yet breakneck sort of sojourn in Europe as granter of adulthood is peculiarly North American. The Europeans we met on the road were freakishly well-adapted to inter-European travel, and what with their efficient train system and lack of need for transatlantic flights, no wonder. The people from Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, seemed there not for some childish fantasy of growing up, but rather to escape their desolate, Mad Maxian continent for as long as humanly possible (indeed, several of the Australians I encountered were still in Europe up to six months after I had returned home; I know of one that remains there as of this writing). The few Asian travellers met along the trip were either studying or so aloof that their motives became indecipherable. The North Americans, though, were coming for the Eurotrip.
Dublin is, if anything, an ideal city to begin the trip, especially if you are tentative towards international travel. They speak English (and Gaelic, though seemingly only in an ornamental way from what I experienced), the people are obscenely helpful, and their major airport at least served as a hilariously cheap transport hub for us. There were countless times when I would stand out on a corner, produce the map from my bag, and before I could unfurl it fully, some plucky Irish had already bounded up upon us and asked where we wanted to go.
It’s hard, really, to tease apart what Dublin is like from that first blush of ”Holy crap I’m in Europe!” Most of my recollection is steeped in a thick layer of naïve sepia, and divorcing the city itself from the gushy wonderment I experienced is nigh impossible. I remember the first evening there: we spent the whole day meandering around the downtown area, familiarizing ourselves with the environs, and sought out a pub in which to sup and down the first, and mandatory, pint of Guinness. While we drank, a group of musicians came in and began playing Irish music. Wow, I thought, we are so lucky! What a unique and exceptional experience we are having. I slurped down my beer like an excited college sophomore, and even asked the musicians for a picture. Of course, every fucking bar in Dublin has Irish musicians playing Irish music. This is as common as pool tables and dart boards. But I didn’t know it then, and now that I do I don’t really care. At the time, it was magic, and it just belonged to us, no matter how statistically common it was. And really, that’s what the Eurotrip is.
Anyway, Dublin. There’s a river, and a bunch of bridges, and a fashionably expensive part of town with lots of pedestrian walkways. There are, and here is my estimation, 83 million churches within city bounds. And there are pubs. Many, many pubs. Almost as many pubs as there are churches.
The main thing to bring across here is that Dublin set the tone for much of my trip, particularly for what became some of our more lingering observational jokes along the road.
For one: we began to discover what the common street jobs were in each city, the thing we would probably end up doing if we ran out of money or got stupidly brave and tried to make a go of sticking around. For Dublin, that job was the sign holder. The Irish, apparently, don’t stand for any of this sandwich board BS, rather they like their signage tall and erect, and held aloft by someone being paid the national minimum wage. People holding signs were everywhere, usually just down the street from the establishments they were promoting. The paragon that we held on in our minds was one woman, wearing a bulky parka, advertising a strip club in the Temple Bar area. She stood, solemn and isolated on the street, and slowly, deliberately pulled potato chips from her coat pocket to eat. She stood for hours outside of the bar we were in, and we, in turn, watched her for hours. Chip, chip, munch. Shift weight. Chip. Tilt sign in different direction. Chip. Greet another sign holder. Chip.
Another theme: local traffic and pedestrianism patterns. In Toronto, jay-walking is a mildly illicit art, a matter of delicately darting across a busy street or intersection at the right time, a balancing act of timing oncoming traffic in both directions. You feel a tiny thrill of exhilaration, of accomplishment for every successful crossing. In Dublin, jay-walking is necessary and expected. Standing politely and waiting for a green light marks you not only as a tourist but as an idiot. The pedestrians of Dublin own the sidewalk and the road, and they exercise their rights over that fiefdom. Once we saw a woman walking with a baby carriage direct herself onto the road at a red light, in front of oncoming traffic, infant-first. When a car came to a screeching stop to avoid creaming her, she became incensed, and proceeded to barrage him with delightful Irish obscenities. It was her right to cross whenever she pleased, and what kind of jackass would dare driving anywhere near her path? (For the record, she was one of three people we saw lead with a pram into a busy road during the Dublin leg.)
The last theme that really started strong from Dublin on was the mutating anecdote. Things would happen, and through false memory or jovial exaggeration, that thing would begin to grow and take on new details, ones grander and more entertaining than the likely truth. I often try, when I can, to tell my anecdotes with as much verity as possible, as I find weirder things tend to be funnier to me when they are ironclad in reality. But sometimes a story just takes on life of its own: like the Swedish and Serbian cemetary workers we met at a pub. They discussed the bank holiday approaching, and the Swede remarked to the Serbian that she would not be getting the time off. What, I wondered at the time, would be so urgent that this colourful expat would be needed on a holiday? Now, I wonder who they were, and what on Earth their real jobs are, because I am somewhat certain that I misheard “graveyard worker.” But really, it’s sort of more fun this way.