Saturday, December 11, 2010


We took the night train to Paris from Barcelona. I slept some, but after lugging all my stuff on the metro and getting a bit lost, by the time I arrived at my host's house I was dog tired. When I got there, Sannita and Alice were there to greet me. Sannita got me tucked into Dom's bed so that I could catch up on some rest while everyone was out or working for the day. I stayed in bed until 5 and then found myself motivated to get up. It was my first night in Paris after all!

Alice showed me on the map how to get to the Eifel tower, only a short 20 minute walk, so I set out in the cold with Steggy in tow. Walking down commerce street, I was surrounded by shops and shoppers. Christmas lights hung in the street and everyone seemed busily buzzing around in preparation for dinners, meetings, parties and other nightly activities. Still a bit groggy from my nap I seemed to slip silently through their world, taking in the buzz without really being awakened by it or the cold. As Commerce turned into Motte-Piquet and I rounded the corner, there it was. The Eifel, in all her beauty rose above me. Awake with excitement I hurried into the park to get a view of her entirety. The base, strong and beautiful, held her perfectly straight and upright in to the Paris sky. The lit monument nearly brought me to my knees. After all these years of dreaming about world travel, seeing pictures of Paris and this tower, only to have them represent dots on the map. Now here I was, standing under her circling beacon of light. I suddenly had a flashback of my mother making buiscuts when I was very little. I was sitting at the counter playing with the dough scraps and my mother was speaking to me in french. “Ma petite cherie. Ma belle enfant.” She had taken french in high school.

I smiled, staring up at it, accepting the reality that I was both much later in time and across the world from that counter, those buiscuts, and my mother. Just then it turned 6oclock and the tower began to sparkle with crazy lights, going off like a sparkler on 4th of July in the shape of the Eifel Tower. In that moment, I smiled, eyes glazed and happy, so immensely happy to be living this life.

The next 6 days in Paris are a blur of good food, fun shows, art museums, and great new friends.

Friday I met up with another couch surfer named Rafael, he showed me the main sights on Champ De Ellyse. We started at the Arch and worked our way down, seeing The Concorde, Opera, ( ) Garden, The Louvre, and finally Notre Dame. We walked around inside the cathedral. I must admit, I'm a bit partial to Guadi's Cathedral in Barcelona, but the outside architecture of Notre Dame is very beautiful and impressive. Raf and I split up and I walked on to see the Pantheon, then walked the very long walk home. Friday night Dom had a small party at the flat and I helped cook with Sannita. We all drank wine and even small shots of absinthe, passing the guitar around and singing together.

Saturday I took it a bit easier. I got started on my book report for class, and met up with Jack at his host's place for lunch. His host Macsha is really nice. She's from Germany but lives in Paris, studying.

That night was our first show held at Tania and Francis' place. They have a huge art space/living loft that really blew us away. The food spread and atmosphere was quite superb that night. We sang to a crowd of about 70 people. Fun night for sure.

Sunday was free museum day, so I got up at 8 and got out the door. I did one wing of the Louvre and all of both The Orsay Museum and The Orangerie Museum. Saw works by Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Renoir and so many more. Really packed, but awesome day. I went straight from running around museums to go play our second show. Luckily it was a laid back couch surfing crowd and a surfer named Matt's house. Everyone was really excited about the show, most of them having never had a house concert experience before. Jack and I put on a good show and I believe we both gained some new real fans.

Monday I took it very easy and finished my book report. Didn't really leave the house until Jack and I met up with Matt for dinner. He took us out to Indian as a thanks for the show. What a guy!

Tuesday was my last day in town and it was snowing very hard. I bundled up and went walking around Luxembourg Garden. That was a hoot. It was quiet and surreal in there. All the statues looked frozen and abandoned. There was one covered spot where a few old men were playing chess. Apparently snow doesn't bother them. I spent the rest of the day wandering, grabbed a takeaway lunch, then stopped at the market for that night's dinner. I was cooking for the whole flat as my thanks for their great hospitality. I made a big veggie thai curry, with carrot-zuchini salad, and garlic broccoli. They were quite happy about the meal, and so was I. Jack and Mascha joined us. We had a few drinks, passed the guitar again. Sannita and I sang some Anna Nalick at the top of our lungs. Everyone went off to bed and she and I stayed up late into the night swapping life stories. She's a great gal and I hope I've convinced her to go to Alaska. I think she'd fit in great there. She's from Latvia and has a lot of gusto.

Today I trudged through hellish weather to get to the metro and train station where Jack and I were supposed to meet. He texted me that he couldn't get to the station soon enough so I got a train ticket and he'll meet me here in Brussels tonight or in the morning. After getting a little lost, asking for a lot of help, I've found my address and was saved by two sweet french ladies in this warm and cozy African restaurant I'm waiting in. Best meal I've had yet in Europe and super cheap! Hopefully my host will be home soon and I can explain about Jack being later.

Hello Belgium!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have to say it, I love Spain. The food, the people, the scenery, the trains, all of it impressed me. Our first night we pulled into port in Barcelona after riding the ferry from Civitiviche for 20 hours. Jack and I split up, he rode his bike to meet me after getting off the metro on Fontana street. We walked the few blocks to the apartment where we were staying. Aleix is an old friend of Jack's from their Amsterdam days. He is a choir conductor and lives in an apartment building his mother owns. Upstairs from him is his wonderful girlfriend Monica and their little baby, Sammy. I fell in love with Sammy. What a cutie! We had some time to rest that evening but later we were called down to an apartment on the first floor where Aleix's cousin Ernie lives. His flatmates are Enric and Israel. What a great bunch of people! Their friend Serena was over and we shared wine and stories, and best of all, songs. Jack and I did a few of our own and then the group showed us their version of a spanish classic, the name of which is escaping me. I posted a video of it on my youtube though (channel-emmahillband.) That was a really special night.

The next night we had a show at Monasterio which was a really cool club. There was no one there since we aren't known in Barcelona and it was a Monday night. (Apparently monday night USED to be songwriters night, but a month back that stopped being a thing.) We started playing a song to an empty room and in walked Serena, our new friend from the night before, followed shortly after by the whole gang! They had come down to our show and man did it turn the night around. We made it feel like a small party. Every now and then people would drift in and out. I think we may have entertained a guy from Germany and his girlfriend for a short bit. I had written a song called “Full Moon in Barcelona” that evening and luckily had already memorized it. It was about the night before so, as you can imagine, our new friends were very excited to hear themselves mentioned in a song. They were singing along by the end, which is always a nice feeling.

We had the next day off, which I spent resting up. I was still quite tired from lack of sleep, long ferries, and well, Italy.

On Wednesday we caught the train to Madrid. There we stayed with an even older friend of Jack's, Pablo. Pablo is one great guy! He treated us so well and it was great to see he and Jack catching up, you can tell how close they are. It was the day before Thanksgiving and because we had a show the next night, I decided to cook a big meal that night with the two of them to help me honor it. I made a vegan, gluten-free feast of candied yams, eggplant tien, pasta salad (with rice instead of pasta,) and veggie ceviche. The boys were quite pleased, and it helped me survive my first Thanksgiving away from loved ones. It was a very nice night. Jack and I sang to Pablo a few of our new duets and we drank a bit of wine.

Then next night we played at The Wurlitzer. It's a pretty hip spot, but maybe a little too rock and roll as the bathrooms were scary and there were little cockroaches randomly crawling on the bar. We had a local opener that night and between his few fans, and Pablo's little gang we had a small, but kind crowd. The bar treated us well with free drinks all night and they paid for our dinner. Pablo's friend Juan was leaving the next day to serve in Afghanistan, (he's a lawyer for the Spanish army,) so they were celebrating extra that night. I got sucked into the fun and after our set, we split off with Jack who was good and went home and went to bed. I on the other hand, stayed out all night with Pablo and friends, dancing our butts off at an awesome club playing Spanish and American hits from the 80's and 90's. Good times! I paid dearly the next morning with a killer hangover.

We got on a train that afternoon to Seville. There we walked about 30 minutes until we were in old town walking down narrow roads inside of castle like city walls. Hiding in a little nook behind the oldest church in Seville was Nick and Pilar's adorable flat. Pilar welcomed us in where it was warm and inviting out of the rain. (Apparently it never rains in Seville.) She fed us an amazing lunch of hot bean soup, fresh tomatoes and spiced olives. I was in heaven. After Jack and I both rested for a short bit, Nick got home and we started preparing the house for that night's show and party. Around 9 people started trickling in and soon the whole house was quite full and the tables were covered in yummy food. I drank only tea that night as I was still nursing my almost gone hangover. That was a really great show. Everyone sat quietly for my set and seemed very impressed with the songs. After my set we took a break to eat and socialize and then got settled back down for Jack's set. We ended the concert with our duets and everyone loved those.

In the morning Jack and I parted ways. He went on to Portugal, which I decided to skip as busses ended up being involved that were not covered my my Eurorail, and I had been invited back to Barcelona to hang more with Aleix and friends, and to really get to see the city. Boy am I glad I did. I had received an email the night before from Aleix telling me not to eat anything all day until I got back to Barcelona because he and the gang were planning a special seafood Thanksgiving lunch for me. I didn't eat a thing and it's good too, because they were not kidding around with that lunch. There were all kinds of clams and mussels is various sauces, with bread and olives. I stuffed my face having NO idea that there was an entree yet to come. Aleix had made a big seafood and potato stew which was delicious. We had tiramisu and champagne for dessert. These people are some of the most hospitable I've ever met. It's times like these that my faith in humanity is restored. Over the next couple of days I got to spend more time with each of them. One day Enric took me out walking all over the city showing me both the royal palace overlooking the city, as well as Gaudi's cathedral and the gothic quarter, all of which are breathtakingly beautiful. We had Indian for lunch which was a really nice treat for me. The restaurant he took me to was delicious.

The next day I explored some myself, went shopping in the open market. I also found a specialty shop that sold gluten-free bread and other yummy organics. Went home and made a snack and found myself invited to lunch with Aleix and Monica. They made yummy pizza and a side dish that I can't pronounce or spell, but involves asparagus and is really delicious.

After that I walked about 40 minutes across town to find a theater playing the original version of the new Harry Potter. It was very funny trying to explain to everyone why I wanted to see it, and no I wasn't claiming it was of great merit or had morals, but that it was merely entertaining. I guess I don't seem like the Harry Potter type. They have no idea, haha. That night I ended up heading down to the neighborhood pub with Ernie and Israel to watch the Barcelona/Madrid futbol match. That was fun. The place was rowdy and with good reason, everyone was excited to see Barcelona slaughter Madrid 5-0. I do have to say, that Madrid's big player, Rinaldo, I think is his name, is one sexy man.

Last night, my last night in town, I met up with Ernie at 6 to go to a nearby gallery where Israel was having an exhibition. He's a great photographer and is in a collective that works with tin-type photography. I enjoyed the art show very much and took some pictures of the work. I also plan on finding the collectives website and sharing that at a later date. Afterwards, we went to the market to get some food, as that night they were holding me a goodbye party, but I wanted to cook some things. I made stuffed mushrooms, padron peppers, and guacamole. Enric made more mussels, this time with a curry/ raisin sauce that was to DIE for. There were olives of course, which always makes my day. I think when I get home I'm going to start incorporating spiced olives into at least one meal a day. These people know what's up. I taught them how to play rummy and egyptian rat screw. The latter had us going for quite some time. I think it was a hit. I wrote a new song yesterday called “A Hundred Homes.” I played that for them and bid them farewell with one more round of “Full Moon in Barcelona.” Everyone sang along. Hugs all around and I went off to bed.

Jack and I shared one more lunch with Aleix today before we left for the station. He really is quite a character and such a fun guy to be around. I can't thank him enough for putting me up in his spare room for a total of 6 nights!

Now I'm sitting on the night train to Paris. I'm really looking forward to the city of lights. I'll be doing my first proper couchsurfing experience. Jack has a spot lined up and I'll be staying with a kind seeming fellow named Dominique from Quebec, now working in Paris. We've got two house concerts lined up, one of which already has 60 confirmed guests. Should be quite spectacular.

That's all for now. Xo