This would be my fourth trip overseas, and the second one by myself. I had a healthy bit nervousness even planning the trip, but I was mostly excited. I’d been craving some solitude during that time of my life—something that my soul always seems to need—and, as such, was really looking forward to having some time to myself. Even the eight-hour flight across the Atlantic with only strangers around seemed appealing.
After talking to my friend about the situation, I was a little bit nervous about getting phone service in Tanzania. I was trying to keep my expenses on this trip to a minimum. As such, I decided that I wasn’t going to bring a cellular device on this trip. I had a not-so-old iPod Touch that I used for iOS development purposes, which I could use mostly for everything I would need a smartphone for. I purchased a Bluetooth GPS device that gave the iPod its missing antennae. I downloaded the maps for the various cities I’d be visiting, along with waypoints for the apartments I was renting and hotels I was staying at. This worked reasonably well, and I often still use the GPS device when traveling to get more accurate GPS data.
In addition to the data stored on my iPad, I created small envelopes for each city, that contained the information I needed to get to my lodging. This included things like addresses, confirmation receipts, subway routes, turn-by-turn walking directions, and small maps. If I’m traveling somewhere that I don’t know the language very well, I like to write my destination’s address on a note card, whether it be an apartment, hotel, or train station. This way, if I get completely lost, I can hand the card to a cab driver and, potentially, buy my way out of the situation.
I used a Mission Workshop R6 Arkiv Field Pack to haul my stuff. Don’t let my one-bag travel set up fool you, I brought way too many needless, heavy things on this trip. I brought three real-paper books, a leather journal, both an iPad and a MacBook Pro, and a fairly large Fuji X100S camera. These days I travel much lighter.
Getting to Tanzania
I left Springfield on an evening flight to Atlanta on the first of December, 2014, and from there, took an Air France flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport. The first evening I was in France, drunk off of jetlag, I entered the pin of my debit card incorrectly too many times at an ATM and locked myself out of the account. I had to wait until the next afternoon, when the US banks had opened, to call and have the card unlocked.
I spent two nights in Paris, eating foie gras, crepes with delicious mystery meat, cassoulet, and gratin with a cheese I’d never heard of before. I stayed in an apartment near Les Halles on the top floor of a building that was also apparently some sort of brothel. The women who congregated outside of the building were all amiable middle-aged women who would greet me with warm smiles as I came to and from the apartment. Perhaps their smiles were just them smirking at my very broken French.
The morning upon leaving Paris, I went to a café and ordered a caffè creme and a croissant. I was so pleased with myself that I could carry on the entire transaction using only the limited French that I knew that I left the Moleskine journal that had my backup debit card stashed in its back pocket on the table.
I left Paris through Gare du Nord on a train to Amsterdam. An older couple argued softly in French while staring out the window at the Belgian countryside. It’s funny how, when you’re traveling, mundane scenes like people whispering in a language that you can’t understand can end up being pleasant white-noise. I had been on my feet non-stop exploring Paris for the past day and a half and was still jet-lagged, so it felt nice to sit down and do nothing for a few hours.
At one of the train stops along the way, perhaps Brussels or Antwerp, I noticed a sign with a broad red heading with lots of exclamation marks on it. Even though it was in French, I was able to decipher that this sign includes a date span that included my return trip on this same train that I’d be taking to get to Bruges. I pulled out my phone but quickly remembered that it wasn’t a real phone and was, instead, only an iPod Touch.
I arrived in Amsterdam, bought a city pass for the trolley, and found the hotel I was staying in. I had been rationing my meals a bit, with all my debit card mishaps, and had only had a croissant all day. Needless to say, I was hungry. I found a divey-little place in an alley near the city center and impressed—or, more likely, disgusted—the bartender by eating an entire lamb shank. After washing down the meat with two bock beers, I made it back to my hotel and fell asleep almost immediately.
I spent the next day exploring Amsterdam. In the early morning hours, I visited in De Wallen to see clean up crews taking care of things from the night before—a pretty strange commentary on humanity. I followed each canal as far as possible and ducked into warm places for coffee, beer, pea soup, and fries. After another day on my feet, dodging bikes and tourists, I started to look forward to the next day when I’d be seated down all day on a plane.
I left Europe on a KLM flight just before noon from Schiphol. The flight attendant kept mistaking me for a Dutch person. Perhaps it was my blonde hair that fooled her. She offered me a Heineken almost as soon as we got to cruising altitude, which I happily accepted. Then asked if I’d like wine with lunch, which I did, and then a bit later, she topped off my glass too. And finally, she offered coffee and brandy, which I accepted. As you might imagine, I was a little light-in-the-head at this point, and I was thankful that I had the next six hours to get my head straight before landing in Tanzania.
Exploring a Different World
To be written…