Interlaken seemed as though it was constructed by a toy maker, by Giapetto maybe; tiny little buildings neatly placed in between two teal lakes and amongst colossal mountains. Every man or woman over forty was walking around town with ultra-thick socks, large, weathered hiking boots, with two walking sticks swinging, even if they were on flat, paved ground. The sight was amusing every time. Caro met up with the three of us after her day trip to Rome and became the fourth in our hostel room. Good times ensued. I think it was a perfect coincidence that all of us had our own ideas of outdoor fun the next day. The other three rented bikes and charted different alpine routes, while I slowly rose in the morning and took to the mountains. I went for a two and a half hike up a very steep trail. As soon as I entered the mouth of the trail and became submerged in the wooded cool, I started thinking metaphorically, talking to myself, stopping at every turn to take pictures of a steadily improving view. It seemed I was intellectually uninspired when all I could think about was that this hike was all about the big picture, but the present conscious has only the individual steps and footing in focus. With every bend in the path, I stopped to observe the ever-improving view and take pictures of my accomplishments. As I went higher, things in the distance appeared minuscule, and I became more and more...smelly...just like life. What an effortless interpretation and a surface level introspection into my own life from day to day. Maybe just like those dreams I had that chew on my entire education, so I have to experience the most common thought in order to reach something more. Regardless of whatever plain-Jane hiking metaphors I developed, I certainly was reminded of my odd mind purely by the songs I began to sing to myself while running down the mountain. The wedding march? The theme to Pee Wee's Big Adventure? There's that insanity I'm used to.
We parted ways with Caro in Zurich, while we headed to Innsbruck, Austria. The train ride revealed an even more majestic landscape, one of more piled mountains set in between rolling green plains. I've always put Switzerland and Austria in the same category; they seemed synonymous. Once we hit Innsbruck, the ambiance and culture seemed vastly different. It appeared that we enjoyed our lunch of cheap kebabs in "Junkie Park." The usual aimless wandering, which always brings us to a sparkling part of town, just led us to a fast flowing river. We decided to sit on the boardwalk grass and enjoy water music and mountain air. Suddenly we saw a human in the river, bobbing around in his wet suit and flying by at a steady clip. Three more floated by. It made sense when a motor boat came zooming by to save all four from a freezing, bumpy ride. The local rescue team was training new recruits. After a half hour among the wildflowers and singing Sound of Music tunes, we googled "Innsbruck" in search of its gem, which is apparently the old town across the bridge. No matter where we were in this city, though, crossing a bridge, smashed in between old buildings, strolling in a garden, the mountains followed us and peered through tree branches from a distance. The Alps don't lose their grandeur over time nor after much exposure...I said "WOW" in a forced whisper every time I saw Europe's tallest mountain in Interlaken, and these mountains here that have sponsored innumerable sporting events over the years inspired similar awe.
One realization from SAS that continues to stick with me is the common denominator between my favorite port moments. Every time I, often along with my lumberjack roommate, parted from the norm to see the outdoors, the seldom discussed regions, NATURE...I always had the time of my life; driving across Mauritius with coral-like, bright-green mountains approaching, waking up among the grottos in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Nature's salient presence electrifies even the most frustrating, sleep-deprived, culturally-shocking moment. When traveling to the next city or across the globe, the metaphysical reality of the Earth and its most magnificent properties are floating along the surface of consciousness. How we inhabitants transform and connect to its terrain is astounding. Just goes to show there's more than one way to do something...there's your own way. And the existential traveler in me has finally reared its confused head on the Big Journey.
Jump on another train to the third country of the day, equipped with a warm local beer and a Toblerone, and we are off to Munich! Thanks to Caro's list of suggestions, we had a mission to find the most traditional, classic beer hall in the land, the Hofbrauhaus. Liter beers and soft pretzels swayed side to side with live Bavarian music...it was all so hilarious. And with probably hundreds upon hundreds of hungry and thirsty patrons requesting their preferred form of bread, we expected service to be equivalent to a Saturday night at the local Greek-hounded university town bar. Ah, but alas, the nearly 55 servers buzzing around the hall with fists full of six or seven steins worked at the speed of drunken light. The American southern boys were a dime a dozen, spotted from afar by their brightly-colored polos and Vineyard Vines sunglass bands. Two New Yorkers next to us realized we spoke the same mother tongue, and, a few hilarious observations later, we were acquainted and became travel friends. And so the night blurred on.
Daytime in Munich was charming, but the air was full of something unpleasant while we searched around for authentic culture...English. The aimless wandering this time took us to the English Gardens where, again, liter beers and pretzels were consumed in the second largest beer garden in the world. I think at this point I have yet to ingest a single vitamin or mineral in this country. After such strenuous exercise of lifting that heavy glass stein, a nap under a tree was required. Alexis and I rewrote the lyrics to "My Favorite Things" to correlate with our personal vices and interests, while Garrett read hid three inch thick soap opera novel. Delightful moments amongst nature yet again. We ran out of sights and things to do...so we went to happy hour...and again to the Hofbrauhaus, this time ordering scrumptuous meals and accidentally befriending a German student too sloppy to realize his pants weren't serving their purpose of covering his hairy buttocks. A chance encounter with Indy friends brought some smiles before we caught the train to Ljubljana...a city we will never know how to correctly pronounce.
"I see Bled!" We jump off around 6am and follow our noses to the Bledec Hostel, which sits just behind the iconic Bled Castle from every tourism brochure. A 4 hour nap, a jaunt to the cheapest supermarket yet, and we are off around the lake. The entire parameter spans 6 km, which gave us plenty of spots to stop for a shady picnic and a dip on a sand bar. Out from the shore, stretching towards the church on the island, was a stretch of clear, light blue that led us to believe we were in the vicinity of prime water fun. The nearby sign that forbade swimming only egged us on. A few other Slovene tourists with matching shirts and farmer's tans followed our lead, and we watched as massive fish swam away from their water commotion. We were a little fearful at first when the "moving boulders" came towards my feet in the water. They turned out to be scaredy fish, and we got in deep, as happy as can be. We did flips and launches, sunned again amongst the wildflowers, ate oranges, and pelted the peels at each other like Olympic beach volleyballers. Just as Cosmo Kramer wishes he could bottle his smell after a day at the beach, so I wish I could preserve or easily recreate the feeling of walking home from a day of sun and water. Lake or beach activities provide so much joy to those who partake in them, and that walk home with half-wet clothes, ratted hair, blanched and bronzed skin, squeaking flip flops and quiet smiles makes me happy to be alive. I'm not sure if Ralph Lauren would or could bottle that essence.
Another cheap market meal, chatting, music, and beers, and we are in bed by 10pm, exhausted. Hike to the castle and on to the swimming dock by noon. The water is cobalt blue, like the high seas on a cloudless day, but covering the reflection from the sun, I could see down to the bottom. The runoff from the Julian Alps is a crisp 74 degrees or so and perfect for jumping in to cool our burning backs. We heard a few English speakers, but largely everyone around us was either local or a speaker of some Slavic language. Why this spot is seldom traveled by Westerners is hard to tell. This fact only increases its value in our eyes; Bled is a gem.
Alexis and I were saddened to hear Garrett's plan of parting ways with us, even after our diamond-in-the-rough discovery in Slovenia. Swimming, tanning, storm watching, cheap prices, local pubs, free breakfasts, and a six person room to ourselves in one of Europes finest hostels. Nevertheless, Croatia pulled us south, while Vienna magnetized him north.