35 Days of Exploring Unfamiliarity and Conquering Fears. / by Shaun Ventulan

Growing up, I've always considered myself a paradoxical introvert. I keep to myself, yet I am surrounded by friends. I suppose an isolationist with a sense of being a social butterfly and explorer. Prior to my departure, I was fueled with anxiety as to how I'll manage in ten countries, fourteen cities, and a total of 36 nights. The fear of getting lost knowing no one in a city far away from home ruminated. For 36 nights, I'll be alone and every decision I make will be a leap of faith. Realistically, travel is filled with healthy anxieties and elation - humanity. 

Paella, tapas, and cigarettes. I vividly remember my arrival to Barcelona - over encumbered by an overpacked backpack looking for the nearest foreign exchange booth. The signage, announcements, and people all speaking Spanish or Catalan. At that point, it sunk in that I'm on this journey on my own. I questioned my bravery, because the realization that the next 35 nights will be how I make it. The first two days was true exploration. Jet lag and sleep deprivation did not stop me from getting lost. I wandered. I walked the streets of Barcelona in awe that I am thousands of miles away from home. My first four days wasn't flawless. At some point, the lack of sleep made me anxious, which was remedied with cigarettes. Sleep was futile, as 50mg of Unisom backfired. Despite some turbulence, I did enjoy Barcelona. I loved every single step of my journey in the smoldering heat. I also met a life long friend who I met up again in several of my travels across Europe.

Carbonara, lasagna, and gelato. Confidence and acclimation. I fell in love with Italy. I felt a connection with the cities. The cobblestones, humidity, and bustling streets gave a welcoming allure. The Italian streets felt like a veins and arteries leading to and from the heart, as every turn lead you to something of significance. I walked around Florence as if I've been there before. I guided a friend to the Vatican and around Rome with ease. I navigated through the Venetian labyrinth without maps as if I was a Venetian myself. The Vatican reinvigorated my respect for the Catholic faith. Although I loosely follow my religion, the second I walked in the Sistine Chapel, I lost it. I stared at the ceiling in shock. Everything felt surreal. The images felt as if I wore some sort of 3D glasses. My eyes were infused with warmth. I shed a few tears in admiration for Michelangelo and his devotion to his art. Italy was a much needed reinforcement to my ability to navigate and explore. It challenged my doubts and hesitations, and molded an explorer with emotions. 

Escargot, creme brûlée, and macarons. Paris is truly a romantic city. The morale behind my trip to Paris was to relive scenes from Midnight in Paris. I walked in the rain, I crossed the same bridge Gil stood on, and I pondered over Monet's Water Lilies. It all felt surreal. I kindly asked a Parisian exploring the L'Orangerie if she could kindly take a photo of me looking at the lilies. She nodded, took a picture, and handed me my phone. I proceeded with a merci. The photograph that she took brought the feeling of deep appreciation, which was enough to trigger an autoimmune response - my lacrimal glands shed a few tears. I sat back down with a realization that I am in Paris. The last time I shed tears was in the Sistine Chapel. Paris made me embrace the fact that despite being in a city notorious for romance, I am content with being alone. As dangerous as that may sound, I'm sure someone specially will come along. Most importantly, it is important to show humanity by expressing ones appreciation of art, nature, or life. 

Moules-frites, frites avec andalouse, and Mary's Chocolate. I arrived in a bit of a shock. The streets filled with tagging as if I was driving through Boyle Heights. Most stores were closed and Arabic signages were dominant. I expected a homogenous population. I had been warned several times to avoid Brussels. I'm glad I didn't listen to anyone and ventured to Brussels. I enjoyed every second of Brussels. The food was amazing, the beer was strong, and the people are genuine. During my time in Brussels, I decided to do a day trip to Bruges. As much as I enjoyed Paris, I found Bruges to be far more romantic. The narrow cobble stoned streets, overgrowth, archaic bridges, and the Lover's Lake is the perfect for a romantic novel with an ambiguous ending. First impressions are important, but never base your entire assessment on one scenario. I think the best part of travel is the surprises you encounter along the way. 

Cheese, hamburger, and joints. Amsterdam is unique. The red lights illuminate the doors, which cast a rather intriguing hue on the rivers that breathe throughout the city is a sight to see. The smell of marijuana wafts through the bustling coffee shop. My first two days in Amsterdam was rather fun and insightful, but I decided to spend the remaining days in Vondelpark. I walked a few kilometers away to escape the city scene. I brought my compact towel, journal, and a pen with me. I was laying on the grass, looking at the greenery, and contemplated. I did this for two days. Remember, it's totally acceptable to do something outside the norm. 

Kebab, Curry Wurst, and Jägermeister. Berlin. During World War II, this was the breeding ground for extremism. I saw the Reichstag, the bunker, the wall, and the many memorials. Despite the atrocities during the war, one can't help but appreciate how far they've come in terms of acceptance. The German children have their history lessons based on the atrocities in a way to deter sympathy for the Nazi party and acknowledge the violence perpetrated by the old regime. One must remember that half of the citizens during the time did not believe in the Nazi ideology. It's a stark reminder of how things are going on back home: politics and racial tension. 

Surströmming, ham, and bread. Copenhagen is a rather small city with gorgeous architecture. Bikes outnumber cars and the sidewalks are mostly ankle breakers. The parks are scenic. I've never seen so much greenery and wild flowers. Beauty surrounds Copenhagen. There's a taboo free city, which is a sight to see. Copenhagen was memorable for several reasons, but it was also the first time I spent a day out of my 36 nights, to lay in bed all day. I needed that rest. When traveling, listen to your body. Rest is essential. You never really lose a day when traveling. You may lose opportunities, but ones health is far more essential. 

Strömming, Satay, and Carlsberg. Stockholm is one my favorite cities in Europe. It's laid back, shy, yet welcoming. Biking through the streets made me feel like a child again. I memorized my way throughout the city with ease as if I've lived there for decades. I met up with an old friend, and explored the city with a new friend. Stockholm is the perfect place to unwind, although finding things to do after midnight is a rather challenging one. We did find a club that closed at 03:00.  Galma Stan is beautiful, especially around 04:00. The empty streets, closed shops, and the early morning breeze is perfection. Ending the day 5:00AM staring at the Baltic Sea, with feet dangling on the pier cannot be matched. Stockholm will forever be with me. Stockholm made me appreciate that not all sleepless nights are bad nights, and the best things in life are free.

Hotdog, chicken, and oranges. Oslo reminded me of Brussels at first. Our hostel is located in a rather underdeveloped part of town. I felt a deep feeling of regret at first and wished I had chosen Bergen instead. I was wrong. I explored almost the entirety of Oslo today and I fell in love with the city. The architecture is perfection. The infusion of nature in the city and appreciation for the ocean speaks to me. The more I walked, the more I enjoyed my time here in Oslo. The City Hall is my favorite monument in the city as it is the epitome of equality between classes. Oslo taught me to be patient. Good things do come if you wait a bit. 

Traveling has really taught me to manage my anxiety and overcome my fears. Each day is a progression to become a better person and new realizations. In actually, I never really traveled alone. No one ever does. Friends will come your way, and when they do, they'll be your friends forever. I am beyond thankful to be able to embark on such a life changing experience. I feel like this will be a good lesson to my transition into "adulthood". Cheers! 

P.S. 

Thank you, parents!