The Things You Own, Own You

I’m upset about losing a jacket.

It was North Face and I loved it. It was orange and I bought it three days before I left the U.S. Orange brings out the green in my hazel eyes and makes me look like my complexion is darker than in reality. It was cozy.

It was meant for Peru. I’m in Czech. It’s April. In two weeks, I’ll be in Spain where it’s hotter than Hades. I’m upset about losing a jacket designed for hiking in jungles, in the rain, at high altitudes. In two weeks, it will be so hot that I should be walking around naked.

I’m upset about losing a jacket.

I shouldn’t allow it to affect me so much but it’s been on my mind all day. This is one of those moments where I am supposed to suck up the experience, right?

I know people who have traveled and been robbed, whose belongings have gone up in smoke. Shit, I know of people who did this same program and died from illness.

I’m upset about losing a jacket.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I accumulate clothes like crazy. I keep special items for years. I had, until recently, a wardrobe of clothing with some items that were purchased back in the 1990’s. I gave it all away. It felt great. I was finally liberated from all the clutter in my life. Right.

So why am I sitting in a bar in Prague obsessing about this ONE item? I’ll tell you why: I am freaked out by how little I own and I am having a hard time reconciling my past love affair with consumerism and my new reality of minimalism. Belongings = Happiness.

Almost every person with whom I have spoken has commented on how Americans LOVE to shop. I’m an American. I loved to buy everything I could with what little I earned. But, now, I’m a vagabond seeking something more profound than an extensive credit card bill and a huge pile of laundry. I’m spitting in the face of “the Joneses” to save my sanity, yet, I still fill a bit of pain and anxiety about losing a jacket.

How do I make sense of this new life?

In 2011, I sacrificed a testicle to save my life. Shouldn’t I be able to sacrifice a jacket to save my trip or at least accept that it’s just a part of life. We lose things.

A dollar.

A mobile phone.

A race.

A boyfriend.

A job.

A testicle.

How, or if, we choose to accept that loss is a part of the journey, is the real story. It’s the meat. It’s the point to be recorded. It’s the indicator of the kind of person one really is at their core.

In 2011, my car was broken into and I lost a bunch of meaningless yet important things. I told my friend Keoke that I felt violated but that I wasn’t going to mourn the things I lost because my happiness is not defined by material items. It isn’t. Well, it shouldn’t be.

I’m upset about losing a jacket.

I’m sitting in a bar in Prague. It’s 18:44 on April 11, 2013. I’ve been on the road for two weeks.

My bag is already too heavy. My soul is already too heavy. My past is already too heavy. I don’t need to replace something I will not need for 4 months because my life should already be filling up with the world.

What I need to do is fix the real problem which is that I’m scared to be out here on my own and missing my massive closet of clothes, my beautiful apartment with a view, my family, my friends, my bestie, and someone I just met who came out of nowhere.

I’m going to lose a lot of things on this trip. It’s part of being a first time traveller. It’s part of the sacrifice of acknowledging that I was miserable at home and my soul was slowly, painfully dying. More importantly, it’s also part of being a new traveler, of being frightened, of becoming wise, and of becoming tough.

I lost a jacket. At least I didn’t lose my other testicle or worse my life. I can replace a jacket. I can’t replace this experience or my soul.

Love Comes Quickly

I have a confession: I never made it to Berlin.

Initially, I was ashamed to admit this. I made an impulsive decision to stay in Amsterdam because I wasn’t ready to say “Goodbye” just yet. I had an open ticket so I wasn’t worried about the cost but I still felt anxious when I got out of the shower and asked him if I should just stay so we could spend more time together. I laid back down and fell fast asleep in his arms but I felt bad on Sunday (April 7th) when I woke up because I was scared that I had already lost my way and given into a drunken, lustful desire rather than continue on my path. Then I rolled over and looked at him and realized that I made the right choice. It might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done but it’s also the most romantic; I felt like I was experiencing one of those moments that only happen in the movies. “When you least expect it, waiting around the corner for you…”

On my first Friday night in Amsterdam, I headed out on my own after discovering that there was a gay bar right around the corner from my hostel. I was there for about an hour and decided that I was ready to leave. I turned a corner, expecting to exit the bar, and feeling a bit disconnected; I was tired, lonely, and afraid that the remainder of my trip would be a completely solitary experience. I know now, looking back, that this fear was completely unfounded. It was my first night in Amsterdam and I really had no business worrying about never meeting someone. Perhaps I had too much to drink or I’ve watched way too many romantic comedies. I stepped around the doorway, fumbling through my pocket to find my coat check ticket, and stumbled onto this beautiful smile. There was a warmth in his eyes that I had not seen in a very long time.

His name is Zarek and he is from Brazil. We began to chat and I explained to him that I was new to town. He very enthusiastically invited me to meet his friends and dance. Almost immediately, he abandoned me to chat with other people and after a short while, I decided that it really was time for me to leave. I told him I was heading out and he smiled, pulled me close, and whispered in my ear, “Don’t be so impatient, Americano. You are on holiday. You have nowhere to be tomorrow.”

3:00 am.

We are walking through the empty streets of Amsterdam, passing canals in the cold wind, holding each other close, and smiling, I realized that I was putting myself in danger. I’m impulsive and sometimes, I act without thinking.

“You know, you could take me home and kill me. I’m just a stupid American who is putting his faith in you. You better take good care of me. I have people that will come looking if I go missing”

“Aroncito, I won’t hurt you.”

That evening, he and I chatted for hours about our lives, the world, our ideologies, and our dreams. At one point he started laughing and asked me, “Where did you come from!?!”

When I arrived at my hostel the next afternoon, none of my new friends were around. I was a bit relieved. My bed was perfectly intact and I had to smile to myself. At least I had a place to store my belongings for the night. I promised him as I was leaving that I would call and keep in touch.

I left Amsterdam on Sunday (March 31st) to visit Melissa in Verghel. I realized that despite the fact that I wanted to see something outside of Amsterdam, I was longing to see him again. I knew that no matter what, I would be setting myself up to suffer as I would be leaving Amsterdam very soon but my soul was guiding me to reach out to him. I gave him a call and got his voicemail. It was Monday. I wasn’t going to leave Verghel until Thursday. Later that day, he texted me to say he was glad to hear from me and to finally have my phone number. I’m incapable of controlling my impulses.

I asked if I could come stay with him on Wednesday. I didn’t hear back from him for quite some time. I blew it. Sometimes, I wonder why I can’t just leave things alone and not force the situation?

Then, I got a friend request on Facebook. A series of messages arrived. He had emailed me earlier to say, “Yes, of course you can come stay with me.”

I met him at the tram stop by his apartment. We went grocery shopping and headed back to his place. Have you ever had that moment when time stands still but progresses in a blink of an eye? How can it already be 4:00 am? Why can’t I stop looking into his eyes? Why does my skin tingle every time he chuckles to himself and grins at me? He kept laughing to himself and saying “Beauty.”

On Thursday, he gave me his bus pass and sent me on my way to check in at my apartment. I texted him throughout the day but didn’t hear back until much later. He was kidnapped by his friends and was out late. I went out on my own that night and had a marvelous time chatting it up with people all over the place. When you tell people you are traveling around the world alone, they are suddenly very engaged and want to hear your story. I had no shortage of companions that night. I heart Amsterdam.

On Friday, he extended an invitation to hang out with him and his Brazilian friends. As the night progressed, his friends departed, and we found ourselves taking a tour of the Amsterdam gay scene. He walked me through several neighborhoods, took me to some clubs that he felt I should see, and after several hours, we decided to head home. As we were stepping out onto the street, I looked up, and discovered that two of my friends from the U.S. were passing. We came together and decided to go to Soho for drinks. We danced and laughed and rejoiced in the glory of being on vacation.

There’s no easy way to say the next thing. I failed miserably that night and I made a complete fool out of myself. Not to mention, I put him in a very awkward situation. The evening ended on a sour note and I was extremely upset by the time I arrived back at my apartment. For all of my wisdom, life experiences, and education, I’m also incredibly naive. I’m insecure and because I have a big heart and I bond to people very quickly. Sometimes this is to my benefit but sometimes it leads me to make assumptions about my relationships with people, both longterm and newly established, that are unrealistic. I woke up the next morning feeling like a complete idiot. I did my best to enjoy the day and I spent the time with my friends and even had a heart-to-heart with one of them with whom I was actually dating before I left the U.S. He provided me with some very profound insight and assured me that what happened the prior evening was not something I should spend my time worrying about and that I need to start getting used to the fact that the world is a crazy place and I need to let go of my American sensibilities if I really want to understand the places I am visiting. All this being said, my response to most anguish is to process the problem, ignite a fire within myself, and move on. By this, I mean retail therapy.

Later that day I received a text from him and he assured me that the previous night was a terrible misfortune and that he still wanted to see me that evening. I met with him again and he could sense the distance in me. I had agreed to go with him and his friends to “Pink Istanbul” at Paradiso. I was really unsure of this but I decided to give it another shot. If anything, I could hang out with the other Brazilians and dance the whole night away before heading out to Berlin in the morning. He and I ended up talking for about an hour and I was able to make some sense of how I was feeling and to acknowledge that my little heart was experiencing a lot more than just an infatuation with some gorgeous man. It was an emotional time in my life, I had a lot of excitement around me, I was meeting new people and seeing new places, and I was still thinking with a heart that was stationary. In many ways, emotionally, I had not completely transitioned to being on the road. He continued to tell me how much I am going to learn and how different a person I will be once I finish my trip. He’s very gracious and complimented me incessantly. If Zarek has anything, it is an amazing heart.

The evening was an incredible experience. He and I joined his friends for appetizers and drinks and then we met up with some of my friends at Paradiso. He and I danced until the party closed and then made our way back home. I always have so much to say and we chatted well into the morning. My intention, or course, was to wake up at 8:30, pack my things, and leave for my train to Berlin.

It’s now Wednesday (April 10th) and I am en route from Amsterdam to Prague via Duisberg and Berlin. I avoided the subject of Germany for most of the week because I didn’t want to be scolded by people for making such a capricious decision and for changing my plans for a guy. I’m on vacation. I chose to do what made my heart feel good. I had to do some juggling of ticket reservations but the choice to stay was completely worth it.

There’s so much that I can say about him but I’ll leave at this: I believe that there are people who come into our lives to guide us and reassure us. Some might call them angels. He could be called an angel. In the two weeks I have known him, he has gifted me with so much valuable knowledge that is going to inform my trip in a positive way and our conversations have inspired me to see the world from a much different perspective than I have been throughout my life.

Will I meet many other people along my journey? Yes. Will I feel like I am falling in love multiple times? Knowing myself, undoubtedly. Does this seem like a lot for someone I’ve only known for two weeks? Absolutely, but it doesn’t change the fact that I connected with this person very deeply. A lot can happen in one minute and yet there are people who go through their lives having never really felt passion for anything. I know I’ve only just started this trip and I have so much to see and learn but that doesn’t change the fact that it was agony to step out of his door this morning and look back to see tears in his eyes. I promised myself when I defeated cancer that I would live life to its fullest and with all the passion I can muster.

Before I left, he got up and made me coffee and pastries and told me what a wonderful man I am and how much he is going to miss me. He also packed me a snack pack and encouraged me to take my vitamins and eat a more healthy variety of foods. The previous night he looked into my eyes while holding my hand and said, without me uttering a word, “I feel the same.” Perhaps, I’m just a hopeless romantic who sets himself up for bittersweet heartache but I don’t care.

Life is riddled with tragic irony. I couldn’t find a right fit for me for years and now that I am on the road, the first guy I meet, steals my breath.

I fall fast, I fall hard, and I fall often. “Love comes quickly. Whatever you do, you can’t stop falling…”

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Amsterdam Round Two

I returned to Amsterdam on Wednesday to visit my new friend, Zsarek, who I met on my first night. I found my way to his tram stop very easily and was excited when I saw him walking up with a huge smile. We had a relaxing evening at his apartment and the next morning he gave me his tram pass and sent me off to arrive at my apartment. I promised to text him later and I headed out for the second leg of my Amsterdam trip. I arrived at my new apartment and was a bit shocked by how far away from the center it felt but delighted by how cute the place was. I got settled in and relaxed for a moment. I had been up late the previous night continuing my philosophical conversation with this incredibly handsome Brazilian who opened his home to me. We also started our game of music sharing which we have continued to this day. He has exposed me to so much music and opened in my eyes in an unfathomable amount of ways.

I decided that this day would be the perfect opportunity to soak up some history so I headed out to visit the Historic Museum. I studied my map closely and walked out onto the street, heading in what I thought was the right direction.

Circles.

Narrow alleys.

Frustration and laughter.

Getting lost in a foreign city is a humbling and hilarious experience. Fortunately, the Dutch are extremely helpful people who are always excited to guide visitors like myself and offer generous advice. I knew I was in the correct area but I found that I was orbiting the neighborhood with no success. My beacon was The University of Amsterdam. I stepped up to the information desk and shared a hearty laugh with the receptionist who informed me that the museum I was seeking was hidden in an alley right around the corner. After a moment’s discussion of how confusing the canal system is for a person who grew up in cities that are very clearly defined by square grids, I bolted for the museum. I was eager to learn about this beautiful city and better understand how this marvelous place developed.

The Historic Museum of Amsterdam is a small place but filled with tons of cool information about the design of the city, its role in the development of international trade routes, its distinguished claim to being the city with the first stock market, its decline, its infrastructure disasters, it’s notorious reputation and much more. I spent quite a bit of time checking out the Amsterdam DNA exhibit and was overwhelmed by all the paintings of people throughout the city’s history. To be honest, it doesn’t take long to get to a point where one has seen too many oil portraits! I spent about two hours in the museum and realized that I was starving.

I stepped out and wandered around. I decided it was time to taste the fabled “Pulp Fiction” fries with mayonnaise. They are greasy and fattening and fabulous in an international way. I love The Netherlands but I have to admit that the highlight of their cuisine is fried potatoes and mayonnaise. Thankfully, they have more to offer than food. After eating, I wandered to the Jewish Historical Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue. After visiting the Anne Frank House, it was interesting to learn about the settlement of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in Holland and how they influenced the development of the city. The Portuguese Synagogue is tremendously beautiful and I was particularly impressed by the Winter Synagogue. I’m not Jewish but I feel drawn toward their culture and I am fascinated by the history and plight of the Jewish people.

Later that night, I wandered out to do some solo bar hopping. I visited several spots but settled on my favorite, The Church, and had a great time hanging out with Ryan, an asian guy who speaks numerous languages. We had a full conversation in Spanish and danced the night away.

I slept very peacefully in my new apartment and got up the next day to meet some friends who arrived in Amsterdam from India. We spent the day touring the city and hanging out. We did a brief canal tour and had a nice meal then parted ways. We promised to meet up and I went home to freshen up for Friday night in Adam. I got home and received a text from my friend inviting me out for drinks. I met up with him and his friends from Brazil. We did a bar tour and then miraculously stumbled upon my American friends. We stopped by Soho and danced and partied until very late. It was a great night that ended on a sour note. Someday, maybe, I’ll explain that one.

The next day I hung out with my friends. We stopped by The Hermitage – line around the block – and decided to eat instead. We toured around the city, got something to eat, and decided to shop. Saturday night was assigned to “Pink Istanbul” at Paradiso. It’s a Middle East themed party for the queers. Needless to say, I bought lots of pink for that night. We parted ways and I ventured off to meet my friend, Zsarek, and his friends. PI was awesome and we danced the night away. The next morning, I was leaving Amsterdam for Berlin so I was going to make the best of my last night in Amsterdam. I had a fabulous time dancing with my friend and my friends from the US. It’s a highlight of the first leg of my tour. The next day I was supposed to leave for Berlin…

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Antwerp and Verghel: Stinky Smells, Small Town Life, and Kangaroo Steaks

On my first Sunday in Amsterdam, I hopped on a train for Verghel which is about an hour south of Amsterdam. My good friend from high school, LeAnn, introduced me to her friend, Melissa, who graciously offered to let me stay with her during my time in The Netherlands. Initially, I didn’t realize that she was outside of Amsterdam but after several days in “Adam”, I was looking forward to visiting small town life in The Netherlands. The train ride was easy enough to navigate and I was excited to meet Melissa. She and her boyfriend picked me up and we immediately bonded. She has such a kind, beautiful heart and was very obviously concerned about my well-being and comfort. We began driving to Verghel and along our drive she asked me if I would be visiting Belgium on my trip. I indicated that I would not and she offered to take me there for dinner. Growing up in the southwest of the USA, I was shocked to think that one could just drive for an hour and get to another country. Obviously, I was excited and confirmed that it would be a great experience.

We traveled to Antwerp and parked at the centrum. I hesitate to say this but I have to admit that my first thought of Antwerp was “What is that smell?!?” There was a horribly stinky fragrance that hung over the city center and it nearly knocked me off my feet. We visited the statue of the man throwing a hand in the river and then stopped to have dinner. I had a delicious toasty which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and then I had Belgian Waffles with whipped cream and strawberries for dessert. Melissa insisted on paying as she believes that none of her visitors pay for their first waffles or chocolates. Obviously, I was thrilled to no end. We left the restaurant and stopped by Deskalaides for chocolates. She bought me a dozen chocolates and I was literally a kid in a candy store. The warm smell was so intoxicating and I felt like I was wrapped in an envelope of sugary sweetness. Later, we visited The Cathedral of Our Lady at the Antwerp Centrum. It was beautiful and despite my atheistic leanings, I felt very comforted by the fact that I attended a mass albeit briefly on Easter Sunday.

We returned to Verghel, where Melissa lives, and settled in for the evening. Her boyfriend prepared some Polish food for us – he’s from Warsaw – and we relaxed in her apartment. The next day, Melissa went to work and I ventured out to explore Verghel. It’s an extremely quaint and quiet city and because I was there on “2nd Easter” most everything was closed. I ate at a small cafe, had some wine, read some Coelho, and decided to walk around in the sunny, wintery day. There is an amazing trail that cuts through the city with small animal farms along it and a small river. I got to stop and chat with some donkeys and I was thrilled to no end. I sent some texts to a friend in Amsterdam and had a wonderful time checking out the sites. There were few people on the streets but I was having so much fun window shopping and being in a new place. Sometimes, the quiet scares me but this time, I found it very soothing. At this moment in my life, I found solace in the stillness. I was in a new place, away from home, processing the last several months of my life, and I found the solitude to be very receptive to my mood and feelings.

That night, I received a text from a friend inviting me to come back to Amsterdam early and hang out. I told Melissa that night and she was so cool about it. She told me that she understood and that I should do what I want because I am on holiday and she wants me to have fun. We decided that the next night would be about me having kangaroo for dinner. She really is quite cool. That same afternoon, I met her housekeeper who is such a kind, loving person and who offered to connect me with her son to hang out. He and I connected immediately on WhatsApp and agreed to meet the next day for a drink. They are from Turkey and I wanted to chat with someone about my possible visit to there.

The next day, I slept in very late and got up to shop. I bought some post cards and some thank you cards. I walked around some more and then met Melissa. We stopped by an Australian BBQ for some Kangaroo steaks. Melissa loves it. I found it to be too gamey for me. I can say now that I have eaten Kangaroo although I felt like I had to chew for a century before I could swallow. I will be the first to admit that I have the very least refined palate in the world. I was grateful but also reminded of how much I need to learn about food. Melissa took me on a tour to see some real windmills and we had a nice drive through the countryside. Later, that evening, I had drinks in the freezing cold of Verghel with Redic and talked about Turkey, life as an immigrant, and our dreams for our futures. I’m not even gonna front; boy is HOT. He doesn’t bat for my team but I will admit that I wondered how he swings.

The next day, Melissa dropped me off at the station and I headed back to my beloved Amsterdam. I want to say this now: She was the second of many gracious and amazing people I have met in Europe. She opened her home to me, gave me some incredibly useful advice, and made sure at every single moment that I felt secure in my decision to embark on this journey. She was a piece of home away from home and reminded me of how proud I am to be not only an American but one who has the courage to embrace travel when one is privileged enough to do so. My hat is off to you, Melissa and LeAnn. You are beautiful women who I will count amongst my friends for the rest of my life. I boarded my train, headed for Amsterdam, and felt a warmth in my heart that has carried me through my journey in Europe to this day. I was sad to leave Melissa so quickly but excited to see my new friend in Amsterdam again.

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I AMsterdam

It was only Friday and I already felt as though I was finding my way in this new city. I did the walk of fame back to my hostel at midday and returned to find my new friends were all out carrying on with their business. I decided that I wanted to venture out into the unknown on my own. I packed my day bag, grabbed Pato, and left my room feeling invigorated and intimidated at the same time. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with my afternoon so I decided to just wander. I was feeling like I wanted to just walk around and people watch. I walked around for about 3 hours but it was cold and windy and I was starting to feel resentful for the fact that it wasn’t warm. I really just wanted to feel comfortable and the weather wasn’t helping. Also, I was starving and I couldn’t decide on what to eat.

I headed back to my hostel, got a donner kebab on which to snack and met my hostel mates. Friday was the night for some red lights! We headed out to find the Red Light District. Again, lots of wandering in circles. We literally walked around the RLD for an hour before we found it. I felt like such a fool.

So, the RLD wasn’t as crazy as I expected. Maybe that says more about me than it but I found it to be pretty mild. Once you get past the women in windows blowing kisses and beckoning you in, there’s not a whole lot to see. There were tons of drunken men cat calling the working women and something tells me that most of those ladies could put each of those guys in their places. Also, I have it on good word, fellas, that once you get inside, they stop mid transaction and make you pay more or get out. Apparently, 20 minutes in RLD time equals 5 minutes real time. Save your money and buy a drink at a bar!

My friends all headed back to the hostel and I decided to venture out on my own again. I managed to find an underwear party and initially was too scared to enter. Despite how mild I found the RLD, Amsterdam is pretty scandalous. I walked back to my hostel feeling a bit annoyed with myself. I was thinking about how I was too scared to go some place where I would need to take my shirt off because I have a massive scar on my chest from my cancer surgery. Soon, I would be on a beach somewhere and I don’t want to be that guy that is too self-conscious to enjoy himself. I know that going to an underwear party at a gay bar is not the most respectable thing in the world but I’ve always been an unabashedly wild child and part of this experience is to not only test the boundaries of my life but to also reclaim some of my youthful inhibition. I survived cancer; I can survive feeling uncomfortable for a moment at a party where everyone is half-naked if it means that I can check out something new. So, I returned to the club. The guy at the door smiled at me and handed me a bag for my clothes and smiled saying “Welcome to Amsterdam!”

It wasn’t too bad. Actually, it was a good experience for me because I was surrounded by people with all types of bodies at different points in their lives. It did wonders for my self-esteem and allowed me to progress a little further down the path towards acceptance of the fact that my body looks and functions differently than it once did. It helped me to understand more acutely a reality of life: All of our bodies change over time and it is nothing about which I should be ashamed. My buying into the idea that my scarred body is ugly is no different than buying into ageism or racism or sexism. My body is beautiful and for the first time in my life I am proud to celebrate it despite it’s flaws. I walked back to my hostel after dancing by myself for several hours and I had a huge smile on my face the whole time.

The next day, I tagged along with my hostel mates to The Albert Cuyp Market for breakfast. I had the best mini-pancakes and then some incredible waffles with the sweetest cherry jam I have ever tasted. Also, I had hot Chocomel! There’s so much to see at the market and to buy. It was snowing as well so everyone was bundled up and I imagine that it probably bothered some people but I was having a great time window shopping and hanging out with my friends. I didn’t buy anytrhing but I had lots of fun helping Kate pick out some clothes. It was such a pretty day despite the cold weather and the frenetic energy of the market was so invigorating. It was Easter weekend and everyone was in a great mood and excited for the holiday weekend. Easter is a three day weekend in the Netherlands. This would be my first exposure to a very different approach to life in Europe. People here seem to be more of the “work to live” variety than the “live to work.” It is one of the reasons that I would eventually come to realize how much I love Europe and how much I need to change my own approach to life. I worked two jobs for the last six years – with about a year off from one because I was sick – and attended graduate school for about two years of that time. I’m burned out in a way that a vacation will not remedy. If and/or when I return to the states, I will not be working two jobs. Work smarter, not harder.

Our next stop was the Anne Frank House. We waited in line for about an hour in the freezing wind. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I have to admit that there was a weird energy in the air. I felt like I was standing on very hallowed ground while waiting outside. With the exception of some additions like a cafe and a gift shop, the site has been preserved as it was after the Nazis raided the hidden annex. It’s a very small, very dark, and extremely claustrophobic space and it’s impossible to enter the annex and not reflect on how deliberate each person had to be with every single breath and every single step. From the warehouse below, you can hear every movement being made in the floors above. I wouldn’t be amazed if someone told me that some of the noise I heard was nothing more than a person breathing. The floors and walls are that delicate. It broke my heart when I realized how miserable this must have been and how hard it would be to go into hiding like these people were forced to do. As I passed through the entrance to the annex, and past the actual bookcase that was in place to hide the passageway, I actually felt a bit of sense of panic. I don’t know if it’s the dark walls, the yellowing wallpaper, the covered windows, or a combination of all three but there is definitely a sense of desperation and terror that permeates every inch of that annex and it’s impossible to walk out of that house and not have a greater sense of value for the privilege and security most of take for granted. The really sad thing that I would discover is that racism, fascism, and nationalism are still very much alive and in some places growing stronger in Europe. It is a tremendously complex place that one cannot really understand until they have been there. It’s one thing to read about it in Anne’s diary but it is something completely different to stand in this vacant space and realize that that emptiness represents the void Otto Frank felt for the rest of his life. It was heartbreaking and yes, I cried

After we left the annex, we met up with some of Kate’s friends from Macalaster College who are also studying in Europe. This would prove to be a blessing once I arrived in Prague and in Paris. We met up with them at the Great Dam and they wanted to go to the RLD because they were new to Amsterdam. It was great to meet Kate’s friends and I immediately bonded with Matthew. He reminds me so much of myself when I was younger and I didn’t hesitate to adopt him as an honorary little brother. I knew that we were going to be good friends when our conversation in a sex shop shifted from sex toys to queer theory, racism, and privilege. He also used the word “precipitously” correctly. It was also very nice to meet Manu who has this fun and hyperactive energy about him that I really enjoy.

This was my last day with my hostel mates so I promised them I would hang out that night and not go out to the gay bars. We ended up bar hopping that evening and having a great time. I was so fortunate to meet the people that I did during my first weekend in Amsterdam and I was extremely excited for the next day when I would finally meet Melissa – a friend of one of my good friends from high school – who offered to host me while I was in the Netherlands. That night I would also meet Sandy – another friend of Kate’s. I really liked her and she offered to meet up with me when I arrived in Paris. I woke up that morning to discover that Kate and McKenzie had already left. They were nice enough to not wake me up but I was also said for the fact I didn’t get to wish them all the very best. Thankfully, in this world of social media and technology, we don’t ever have to become disconnected from the friends we make unless we want to be. I’m pretty sure I will be keeping in touch with many of these people for years to come.

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This Wasn’t A Strange Place; It Was A New One

Amsterdam is a duplicitous lover. Since I have arrived, I have risen to spectacular highs but also had a few good cries. At one moment the city feels like a childhood playground and in a flash it becomes a scary, dark place for someone who has never really been anywhere much less travelled on his own.

Shrouded in debauchery, smoldering in sexual desire, and rife with open drug use, Amsterdam is also a beautiful city of amazing art, kind, generous people and a rich cultural background. The city center, built around a series of magnificent canals, has hidden treasures around every corner but is also a labyrinth where one can easily become disoriented and frustrated and lost for hours. Where are the street signs? Why am I walking in circles? Why can’t I find a landmark to use as compass point by which I can guide myself? Why do I feel like I want to rip my hair out and yet I feel like I am falling in love at the same time?

When I arrived at the Amsterdam Central Station, I was in awe. It seemed that there were trams and people and commotion in every direction with no discernible organization. I couldn’t make sense of what direction I was supposed to head or where I was going. I asked an employee how to find my tram and was directed to catch a #2 to Leidsplein. With my enormous backpack – which I was already beginning to regret – I clumsily made it on the tram. I sat down, feeling exhausted as I was unable to sleep on my flight, and thought to myself, “WTF!?!” I noticed an extremely handsome man next to me and decided to ask him for directions. He was incredibly kind and not only gave me directions but also walked me to my hostel. I felt like such a helpless child. I arrived at the Hostel Orfeo and was waiting at the door to get in when two young women walked up and opened the door. I followed them inside and while waiting at the registration desk, noticed they had American accents.

I introduced myself and it turned out that they are studying Spanish in Granada and so we began to chat in broken Spanish and in English. As luck would have it, they were staying in the same hostel room as me! Their names are Kate and Mackenzie and we bonded immediately. Mackenzie and I went out for food and walked along the canals chatting. Kate took a little nap. It was my first little stroll through Amsterdam and I was astonished by how gorgeous the city is. It was freezing cold and the wind was blowing so it felt like I was being cut by a knife.

We went back and picked up Kate and decided to continue our tour. We ended up stopping by a coffee shop called The Dolphin. It was a crazy place with a Little Mermaid decor that was a bit distracting but was nothing in comparison to the videos that were playing. It seemed like every cheesy 80’s pop song that you can find on YouTube was playing. And Ace of Bass. Apparently, the Dutch LOVE Ace of Bass. 🙂

Upon our return to the Hostel we met up with two more of our hostelmates: Ethan and Matt. They are from New Zealand but working in Qatar and UAE. We hung out at a place called “Easy Times” and then returned to Dolphin. I was already becoming incredibly bored with the coffee shop scene. I looked up some gay bars on my phone and asked the cashier how to find one that sounded really appealing to me, Church. He explained that it was very far away and offered to show me how to get there. We walked to the front and he was talking about how expensive it would be to get there. I was starting to feel a bit upset that I was going to be far away from the queers, and then he told me to turn around. It was right behind me. I booked a hostel in the center of the gayborhood and next to all the museums, trams, shopping, etc. Score. Beginner’s luck, I guess.

I told my friends I was going to wander out and the two guys wanted to come along. I laughed and explained to them where I was going is a gay bar. Matt responded, “Why do you want to go to a gay bar?!? I told him that I am gay and he just laughed. We went our separate ways and I walked over to Church. It’s pretty much the same everywhere you go; If you have seen one gay bar, you have seen them all.

I had a nice time dancing and chatted with a couple of people. After awhile I started to feel lonely and I turned a corner to exit the bar when I bumped into someone with a huge smile. We immediately started chatting and I felt so comfortable and at ease. Within a moment, the chaos of the day subsided. I felt like I had found my groove. We danced for hours and he introduced me to all of his friends. I had a wonderful time and as we walked out of Church, it occurred me to that I am finding my way. I had already made some new acquaintances, had some good laughs, and found my way to where I needed to be – with some generous support. Amsterdam, despite it’s crazy swag, really wasn’t a strange place. It’s just the first of many new places waiting to be discovered.

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Planes, Trains, and Extremely Confusing Terminals

On Wednesday, March 27th, I said “See you later!” to my life and my loved ones in Seattle in order to begin my time as a Bonderman Fellow. It was a bittersweet affair full of tears, sweat and exhaustion as I left the United States on Iceland Air for Amsterdam. To say I was terrified is a monumental understatement. When the flight supervisor spoke over the speaker in a language other than English, the reality set in that I would soon find my surroundings to be completely foreign.

It was the longest flight I had ever taken in my life and despite my exhaustion, I was completely unable to sleep. I pulled out my copy of “The Alchemist” and read for a bit and then spent some time gazing out the window. The seat next to me was the only one not occupied on the plane and initially I was pretty bummed by this as I was looking forward to chatting with someone, however, that subsided quickly as a realized that it just meant more room for me to spread out! There were free movies available so I decided to watch “The Return of the King” and eventually I dozed off. When I awoke, we were landing in Iceland. I was shocked to see how brown and muddy the land around the airport appeared. It’s a small airport and I had to switch planes with only 45 minutes to get through customs. The line was enormous and I was unable to log on to the wifi. Also, I was famished and had to find food. The ham and cheese sandwich they served on the plane and the snack pack that Ruthan made for me were already distant memories.

My three hour flight to Amsterdam was packed and I was seated next to a man with horrible gas. NOTHING more to say about that.

I found my way out of the terminal at Schiphol and to a Starbucks on the main platform. I was surprised to see how many American fast food companies were located there and a bit dismayed that Starbucks – as much as I love it – was the only coffee option I could find. I bought my coffee and proceeded toward the train terminal but wasn’t sure where to go! The most adorable young man saw me looking at the signs in confusion and offered to walk me to my train. This was the first sign of how kind and friendly the Dutch are to visitors and in general. As I boarded my train, I had no clue the kind of confusion that lie before me. Also, I could have never expected how amazing the beginning of my visit to Europe would be.

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