Navyo takes us on a journey across Europe – this is part 1
Trusting the Unseen
I’m on a train bound for London. It was hard to leave my dear daughter Phoebe and my granddaughter Ava May at the station after a month with them, and I have so many mixed emotions running. Such fear arises about going on this adventure to Europe. I’m petrified, yet I know I can’t back down now. It’s so important that I go for my own growth, stepping out of my comfort zone, out of my familiar habitat of Northern California, and into a deeper, stronger trust of the Universe. A completely new environment, a new language, just the entire experience of living in trust. It’s huge for me and I’m terrified. What an adventure!
I feel somewhat numb, focused on the journey at hand – so many plans to arrange, so many people to contact, securing places to stay, integrating with the CouchSurfing community which is enabling my trip through Europe, and navigating new countries with new languages. I’m open to see how this all transpires, and I know that the Universe is listening, watching my every move.
I’ve been working through some deeper issues about survival, about trusting life, about experiencing my place in the world, navigating it from the realms of the Unseen and witnessing it take form. It’s utterly mindblowing and it’s pure magic.
Pulling into Paddington, I’m on my way to see my dear brother Joff. Another step into more family. Another experience of life presenting.
So grounded, dense and full of itself, I go deep into the City where all the money gets moved around. London is the world financial capital and it shows. There’s so much money here and you can feel it. Unbeliveably expensive, although that is a very relative term. I head for Joff’s office on Eastcheap. Everyone is leaving work so it’s rush hour and throngs of suits and heels and focus charge my way along the street almost bowling me over. I have to push forward and take a few bumps but I find my destination and land with my dear brother two stories up in a little quiet haven.
Connecting, opening, we take a magic hour stroll alongside the Thames, crossing one of the many bridges and find a Greek restaurant for dinner. So good to meet Joff again after the four and a half years since dad died. So much to share. After dinner, we stroll into the evening along the South Bank, taking in the hive of life. There’s so much great music being played on the street, it’s remarkable. Professional grade musicians playing for change. You don’t see this in America. They’d just get moved on and we’d have either road noise or the canned music of the mall. That’s one of the many differences between the US and Europe – culture readily available.
Ending up in Milennium Park, we check out the Eye. Awesome! But it’s just closing, so no go. Pity. Get some good snaps, though. Onward passed the Queen’s barge and 5 million pound flats to Hermitage Moorings where we will bunk for the night on a proper boat. This is such a great experience, to sleep on a sailboat and have the tide come in in the middle of the night, waking to the lapping of water, the motion, the whole maritime thing.
It’s off to Paris on the Eurostar. St. Pancras is a wonderfully renovated Victorian station with hi-speed trains bound for Europe. I take in some breakfast then it’s off to the races. Such a smooth ride you wouldn’t believe you’re on a train. Highly recommended as the alternative to flying. And next thing you know, it’s Bienvenue en France!
As soon as I get out the train there’s the sense of a new country – of course, but still, it’s a rush. I navigate the station and find the Métro. Ticket machine. Touch screen. Buy ticket. Voilà! Down the stairs, put ticket in the turnstile and I’m in. Line 4 direction Port d’Orléans, get off at Denfert Rochereau. Easy. Climb the steps and – I’m on the streets of Paris.
What a city! So different from London. Not as dense. I get my bearings and turn right along Rue Daguerre towards Laurence’s place. Outdoor markets. Cafés. Smoking, lots of smoking. Three blocks later, Chocolatitude. Laurence is wrapping chocolates with her friend Sylvie and we share some laughs on our first meeting. She has chocolates from around the world in her shop – organic, raw, fairtrade, it’s a great mix of edible delights. But it’s the shot of raw hot chocolate in an espresso cup that pushes me into Hello!
She drives me back to her apartment in the 14th Arrondissement and I finally land. She makes a raw green soup and a big salad with some raw cured salmon. Delicious. It’s so great to be here, and it’s definitely a city. Having been a month in the country with Phoebe and family, London and Paris are full on and I’m adjusting.
In the morning, Laurence is off to work and I spend the day wandering. I take the Métro to the Bastille, then mosey towards the Marais. Very nice district. Postcard Paris. Making my way through the tourists, of which I am one, I take in the Nôtre Dame. There’s so much mysticism in this city, I remember the Rose Line and the freemasons and the Sangreal. I look at the street vendors peddling their baguettes and I realise I’m completely dehydrated. No water for 5 hours. Bad. I have a headache and I’m exhausted. I cross the Seine and end up in the St. Germain at a café for water and a chicken sandwich.
After this late lunch, I stroll to the Jardins du Luxembourg, a huge palatial office with a wonderful landscaped garden, park size. The sun is starting to get low, so I take a nap. Nap. That’s better. Just what I needed. I call Phoebe on my mobile but she’s in the thick of it, cooking dinner and getting Ava ready for bed. What a mum! We chat for a few minutes and it’s so good to connect again after leaving.
Walking by the Sorbonne, I undestand the mythic reputation not only of Paris, but of les femmes parisiennes – mon Dieu! Such refined beauty, it takes my breath away.
Lost in reverie, I live another life for a few blocks.
I take le Métro back to Laurence’s. I’m tired. I let myself into the apartment and she arrives shortly after. We chat, connect about life. She’s very sweet and alive. After another raw dinner (yum!) she has a surprise for me – we get in the car around 9:30pm and she drives me around Paris for two and a half hours! Now, compared to America or London, driving in Paris is another story. It’s a race track and you’d better watch out. Fun, though.
The big surprise is the Eiffel Tower at night. Racing to get there by 10pm and there it is! The lights are sparkling and it’s like Xmas! What a structure. Amazing! Onward, we take a tour down the Champs Elysées, zoom round l’Arc du Triomphe, and end up at l’Opéra. We park and take a walk around, check out a very fancy hotel, and then it’s off to the Louvre. This is the such a powerful moment. We stop, illegally. Take photos of the pyramid. Talk about power. The Da Vinci Code comes flooding back to me and I see it first hand, this glass structure embodying the masculine and feminine in an architectural hieros gamos.
We end up back at the apartment around midnight and crash.
Early the next morning, Laurence drives me to the Gare de Lyon for the TGV to Milan. We’re late. I rush through the station, departure screen, Paris – Milan platform 18, there it is, right in front of me. I get to my coach, find my seat and breathe. I’ve treated myself to a first class ticket as it was only £20 more. For almost 9 hours on the train, it’s worth it. We’re off, and I’m taking in the sights as we head towards Geneva and the Swiss Alps.
Riding through the Alps, I am struck by the sheer power and majesty of the peaks. They are big. Alps big. Makes me feel so small. They are humbling.
Coming into Italy, I am struck by the poverty I see. Maybe it’s just the villages close to the train tracks, but I don’t think so. The scenery is still stunning. I slowly absorb the feeling of being here, the famous and much desired Italia. We stop in Torino, our first port since Paris.
Finally, we rumble to a halt in Milano. I’m here. This is not France. The difference between the two is tangible. I disembark and find a metro. Fumbling with la bigliettieria, I eventually get a ticket and hop on the green line to the Abbiategrasso stop to meet my host Vincenzo.
This is the first host I am staying with on the CouchSurfing circuit. What an awesome idea. Such a great service, website and iPhone app (of course!). But more than that, it’s a global network of travelers and hosts that build community worldwide. It’s beyond borders and an incredible way to travel for free, meet new people and make new friends. I can’t recommend this enough. It’s made my whole trip possible.
Vincenzo picks me up from the station in his blue Citroên and we go to his apartment. I have my own room and settle in before we go out for dinner. He has two adorable cats, Matilde and Leno. We go out for a walk and some food. It gets more romantic at night, but I’m noticing how much urban decay is here in Milano. There is a canal and some night life going on, and it feels like Italy, but not the Italy I’m expecting. We stop at a trattoria for some pasta. I’m glad to eat but underwhelmed by the food. My first meal in Italy gets 1 star. Oh well.
Vincenzo is a gracious host and takes me to the mall to buy an Italian SIM card for my iPhone. At last! I so want to get this thing to work. It’s been over a month now and it’s been one thing after another to get the SIM cards working in England, France and now Italy. The customer service of the UK phone companies is despicably bad. I live in hope.
The next day, Vincenzo takes me on a tour of central Milano. We hit the Castello Sforzesco as a posse of segways comes riding out, tour guide in the lead. It’s Milan Fashion Week inside. There are a lot important people standing around in black, a herd of Mercedes out front, and photographers shooting women who are pouting in strange outfits that make the whole charade look so absurd to me.
We move on downtown to a car-free zone (love that!) and there is a carpet across the street with more women who have just walked out of an issue of Vogue. Madonna! No, not Madonna, ma-DO-nna! Parisian women may have taken my breath away, but these Italian women just put it back! They are almost as tall as me and I keep walking.
The centerpiece is il Duomo di Milano, a magnificent erection that is a sight to behold. Absolutely incredible feat of architecture. But it’s when we go inside I see the devotion involved and the structure of worshipping to the Catholic politic. I say politic because I’ve always seen religion as more about politics than anything else. Whatever, this church is remarkable in the extent people went at the time it was built. So powerful and seductive, you can’t help but believe.
We go into an ornate shopping mall and there on the floor is the image of a bull. By turning round with your heel on the bull’s testicles, it will bring you luck. Poor bull.
In general, Milano didn’t impress me except for il Duomo and le donne. Ha ha. That was worth it enough!
Feeling the excitement of my adventure, I get on the Metro to la Stazione Garibaldi – next stop, Genova.
These original posts have been edited and expanded for the book series, ‘Soul Traveler’.
Navyo grew up to 6 foot 5 in England, studied music in London before traveling to Pune to meet Osho in 1979. He has been the co-ordinator of the music department in Pune Two for several years and has participated in a number of CDs of Music from the World of Osho. After a decade or so in California, he now travels the world housesitting in wonderful locations, working as a graphic designer by day and writer by night. facebook.com/navyoericsen – conscioushousesitting.com