When you go outside your routine, you often expect to see new ways of doing things. However, when you embark on a journey to completely remove yourself from everything you’ve grown accustomed to, you learn that the standards which you’ve held to and which you have been held to, are just part of your environment.

Example:
To have a family and kids, you should get married.
4 weeks of vacation is a lot.
Racism is pervasive.
French are rude.
Hitchhiking is unsafe.
Planes rides are more expensive than trains.
Trains and buses are for low-class travel.
You can’t eat fried food every day and lose weight.
Arabs hate America.

These were all ideas and standards I had hardwired into my brain that I believed before I this trip. Everyone of them was proven wrong. While I’m willing to believe that meeting the hospitable Frenchies was a fluke, I don’t believe that any of these I listed are “exceptions that prove the rules”.

These are all ways we have grown up to believe, because America and it’s amazing citizens live in a bubble! It’s time to challenge that which we’ve always accepted to be true. I invite everyone to give up on the idea that it “HAS TO BE THIS WAY”. I believe that we think we know everything already and we’ve given up on one of the most important questions of our lives: Why?

May 16th, on my plane back to Dallas. Sad that my trip is over. Happy that my new life has begun.

After traveling from country to country, mostly staying in the same location for only 1 night, it’s amazing how peaceful familiarity can be. It doesn’t matter that you sleep on a leaky air-mattress, or that it’s with a cousin you haven’t seen in about 2 decades, and his wife and his good friend who you’ve never met before. It’s comforting because it’s family.

While working for his restaurant, I also had no problem pitching in every change I got. Assemble a grill. Make a peanut sauce for 150 people. Setup a room for a banquet. Come up with a Panini menu item (one of my favorites). Why? As I told Cousin Bill, “Because blood works harder than money.”

Lydia, Bill’s wife, wisked me around Stuttgart on my last day and we ran into one of her Louisiana friends. Not a Coonass, mind you, as she lived too far north, but still an interesting person nonetheless. I also found out that one of Lydia’s cousins is the lead singer of Pink Martini. And apparently, she is as beautiful as her voice; such that one of her German female friends is quoted as saying, “I think I’m turning Lesb-ish.”

For dinner, we were served by a Gay Asian waiter, speaking German. Swing Heil, indeed.

May 16th, in the Gatwick (London) Airport, realizing that I haven’t journaled in a while.

If you want to see a beautiful city with centuries of culture and history, Paris is your place. Last night, Kathy and I went to see the Eiffel Tower at night and were surprised with a colorful lights display of the tower as well. I even gave in and splurged on a French meal. It was actually good, but not as good as ours. We went to sleep, present to the undeniable romance of the city.

However, the next morning was filled with anxiety as we body-checked a local, jump turnstiles, and snook on the train because the line to get our free tickets to the airport was too long and only one person working the entire booth.

I finally saw Kathy to her flight out and even wept to myself after she was gone. (Go ahead…Say it. Awwwwwwwwwww.)

I then headed off to find a train to Stuttgart to meet up with my Cousin again. Even though my Eurorail book told me that there’s a train from Paris to Stuttart at 6PM, the French wouldn’t give me the tickets for it as they said the route wasn’t there. This was after getting passed around to 3 different booths. I then tried to tell my Cousin to tell him that I wouldn’t be getting there till midnight, but none of their Wireless Access Points would let me create a new account. So I tried the phone booth, but had so many problems dialing his number that my credit card got a “Denied” error.

I finally got on the train to Stuttgart, but I found out that the section of the train I was in wasn’t going where I wanted. I had to go about 10 cars up. Sometimes paranoia pays off, who knows where I’d be otherwise.

But please, don’t get me wrong. France is a great place, and the Paris Metro is one of the worlds most efficient. But the rest of it is like trying to get your Driver’s License at the DMV. “You’ve filled out the wrong paper. Go over there, fill out the Red form with the Blue top and then get in line D.” But in a foreign language I haven’t used in 5+ years.

May 5th, on a train from Paris to Stuttgart. I hope.

As they say, breaking up is hard to do. But one thing that’s worse than losing your significant other is losing your significant other in Paris. Thankfully, after checking my email at the airport and getting the correct airline, and therefore the correct Terminal, I found a very relived Kathy and all was well.

We then embarked on a whirlwind tour of Paris, where I introduced her to one of my favorite places and foods on the planet. Paul’s and their Tart Citron (lemon tart). We’ve also stopped for Croissants and Pain au Chocolates (like a croissant, but with chocolate inside. Don’t even bother trying to imagine how good it would taste, until you get to Paris. Our feeble minds can’t come close to it’s buttery, chocolate-y goodness.)

Brief Rant: Outside of their pastries, I can’t stand most French food. I think their meals are over-complicated and nothing on their menus are even remotely interesting to me. Paris was where I learned about the deliciousness of Indian food. And I think that’s more ironic than anything Alanis Morissette had to talk about.

Right as we got to the Eiffel Tower, it rained, so we went to the hotel and crashed. Next morning, more croissants, pain au chcolates, and Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the forethought for a corkscrew, so our Picnic had to wait.

We then did some train hopping and after changing my mind about 3 times we planted ourselves in the peaceful city of Portonson, 9km from Mont St. Michel. Due to some amazing luck, we found a small house in a camping grounds with a petting zoo, heated pool, wireless internet and a porch facing the sunset for an inexplicably low price. All this, and a bottle opener! So, we had our picnic while watching the sun set over the French countryside. C’est magnifique! After sunset, more rain.

The next morning we set off for Mont St. Michel au velo (on bikes). It was a superb journey that ended with sheep and the beautiful “island”. We explored it for a while and then decided to join the rest of the Frenchies and walk onto the sand during the low tide. We had a lot of fun getting our feet dirty in the quicksand. And then, more rain.

Another Brief Rant: The French take off for everything. They seem to love not working as much as their wine. The abbey of Mont. St. Michel was closed because the 1st of May is a bank holiday. To put it in perspective, the devout Catholic country takes off for May Day, originally a Pagan Holiday.

We then jumped off to Switzerland and as many times as I’ve been here, I always see something completely new. This time we spent some time in one of Europe’s largest Transport museums, were you got to explore the entire place on scooters. We then migrated to the land I plan to retire and die at, Interlaken, Switzerland. We went to the top of Schliterhorn, where there was a revolving restaurant featured in 007’s “Her Majesty’s Service”. We then came to some of the most amazing waterfalls I’ve ever witnessed. They’re glacial waterfalls that etched themselves through the caves of a mountain.

At night, there was a beautiful fireworks show that had something to do with the economy. It’s good to be Swiss. They seem to have it all. The beautiful landscapes, people, waterfalls, and the chocolate. Oh dear lord, the chocolate.

May 5th, on a train from Lausanne to Paris

Cinque Terra deserves all of the underground praise that it gets. It’s 5 coastal cities, originally settled by monks, which provide stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. And if you know anything about European monks, they were the original “Kings of the Hill”.

I got to Monterosso, the first of the Five Cities, and decided to do some exploring. And using my trusty axiom, “When in Europe, always go up.” I came across a very old cathedral and a spooky graveyard. Normally, I’m a huge fan of graveyards, but since it was close to midnight and I started reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” that day, I high-tailed it back to the main city.

You can jump across each of the cities by either train, boat, or a hefty hike. Being adventurous, I woke up the next morning ready to hike my way through this. 2 hours, over 400 vertical feet of staircases later, and only one trail completed, I committed the train schedules to memory.

Each of the towns retain their local dignity and charm, while the tourist become part of the backdrop, and just provide an excuse to open up more restaurants. It was intriguing to quickly notice the difference between the Italian and the American tourist. Even though they were hiking up a mountain, the Italians still maintained their dignity and fashion with their larger than Texas white belts and signature oversized sunglasses. They were hiking, and dammit, they were going to look good doing it too.

The Americans? We looked like Wizards trying to be muggles.

As I write this, my legs are weary, but they only have a short time to recuperate as I’m meeting up with Kathy in Paris tomorrow morning. I picked up a bottle of local white wine and we’re going to have a picnic near the Eiffel Tower. Who said Coonasses can’t be romantic?

April 28th, on a train from Genova to Milano.

I love Legos. I’ve never stopped loving Legos. On the hypothetical deserted island, I’d have a crate full of Legos. In fact, it’s pretty disappointing for me that on this trip yet, I haven’t been to LegoLand yet. But this story isn’t about Legos. It’s about how playing with Legos all the time inspired me to grow up into an Architect. But with one careful sentence, that dream bubble was popped as I was told, “You need to know how to draw.”

Trust me when I say that my camels resembled a bowl of asparagus more than any creature, that even might have ever lived. It was from this moment, that I gave up on becoming an architect. Besides, a software architect has just as much fun and it pays better.

However, my burning flame to create was never completely put out. Recently, with the help of Kathy, I’ve discovered my passion for food. I’ve even gone far enough to create dishes that have their own names like “Coonass Chicken and Taters”. So, when I found out that a cousin of mine, living in Stuttgart, Germany is opening up his own restaurant, I jumped on the opportunity to be put to work and learn some of the trade.

My cousin, Bill Butler is an outstanding person. While his presence can be intimidating at first (he served in Afghanistan, taller than me and strong build), he’s takes care of his employees and has earned the respect of everyone there. It’s a sizable kitchen on a military base. All of the customers are in the Service, or family of someone who is. So, of course, all of the bartenders are young, cute, buxom girls. I tell ya, the guy knows how to run a business.

He’s also supported by his great wife Lydia and his childhood buddy Brian who all live together in the same place who all put in a lot of effort into the business.

In the kitchen, I listened to about 50 different stories from the 76 year old black man, who’s only answers to 2 names. T and Mr. T. In the few hours I got to spend next to him, I learned enough about cooking to keep my brain full for days.

I worked for about 12 hours and loved it. I learned a lot, assembled a grill, made a Thai peanut sauce for 150 people, chatted with some great people, was in the company of Americans, and got paid with alcohol. Which made getting up the next morning all the harder to leave for Cinque Terra. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m thinking of coming back here once my rail pass ends. Although, the thought of working harder during my vacation, than I do back home does make it a tough decision. And the fact that you come home from the restaurant hungry, makes it even more confusing.

I think my friend’s Greg’s shirt sums it up the best: Indecision is the key to flexibility.

Back to Legos. As I matured and cooked more, I entertained the thought of opening my own restaurant. But after seeing everything that goes into it, I believe that bubble has popped once again. But that’s ok. I love what I do, and I now have developed an strong respect for those who chose that path.

And the path I choose for myself now leads me to Cinque Terra. And a Panini.

April 27th, on a train from Zurich, Switzerland to Milano, Italy.

As you can imagine, Germans are quite concerned with their image. Their BMW and Mercedes-Benz are beautiful pieces of machinery that are known for their style and precision. Many Germans are also frustrated with one of the typecasts. But it’s not what you’re thinking.

You can’t do a tour without here without touching some piece of Nazi, WWI or WWII past. Strangely enough, there are still some historic locations which has a Swastika-ish mark a door or someplace hidden. But even those are being removed as part of a strong image reconstruction by the gov’t and the people.

But no matter how much they work, they will never be able to get rid of the Bavarian stereotype of Leiderhosen, Bratwurst and Beer. It’s Munich, the capital of Bavaria, a South-East region, that has given Germany it’s festive spirit, world-renouned beer, and funky pants.

And as joyous as the people are, and as beautiful the beer gardens are (which don’t seem to be as much of a garden, but more of a huge picnic area to keep the drunks together), and as tasty the food is, if you talk to most Germans, and ask they why they don’t wear the funny clothing, they’ll roll their eyes and think to themselves, “Good Lord, not again”. Or whatever that would be in German.

It was here that Octoberbest was started as part of a wedding ceremony, which took on a life of it’s own as an anniversary party, and is now celebrated world-wide. I wonder if I can do the same with my Food and Spirits Party.

I was adventurous and determined enough to try a radler, a Bavarian concoction of beer and either soda or lemonade. But my efforts backfired as I think I offended the entire bar when I turned it down all 3 of the hefty samples that was poured for me. I’m not sure if they threw the rest away (which is a sacrilege) as I sunk my head in shame as one guy behind the bar shouted, “But Bavaria Beer is the best!” Yes, sir. Even I’m confused why this Texan just can’t get the taste of beer.

I’ve been Smirnoff Ice free for over 1 month. I thought that would help.

I also met up with a fellow Louisianian, who was one of the tour guides for Mike’s Bike Tour, which I highly recommend if you get the chance.