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Hi! I’m Michal. I’ve been programming and running UNIX servers my whole life. Now I’m running a business. I’m the maker behind Syften and Code Dog.

My Trip Around Europe

Posted at — Dec 29, 2019

After I quit my job I started reading books on entrepreneurship. One of the first one I’ve read was Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. Having experienced the reality of entrepreneurship I now believe the main premise of the book is bullshit - it’s neither possible nor desirable to run a business with just four hours a week while adventuring around the world. Nevertheless, at the time the idealistic me enjoyed the book thoroughly.

There is one concept from the book that has helped me develop my life plan though - the necessity of mini retirements.

The author argues that you cannot plan for retirement if you’ve never been retired. How can you make an accurate prediction on how you’ll enjoy spending months of uninterrupted vacation time if you’ve never done it? Before I read the book I imagined myself traveling around Europe with nothing but a suitcase, hopping to a new city every week. Urged by the author’s observation I decided to test how it would feel.

I packed a backpack and booked my first flight.

My entire luggage

Italy

I already visited parts of Liguria before and developed a taste for it, and I felt it pulling me back. I set a goal of drinking an espresso in every town I visited and started my journey.

Portofino

Ah Portofino, a town famous and fashionable among the rich. So famous in fact that Tom Ford named two of his perfumes after it - Fleur de Portofino and Neroli Portofino.

I arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure, took a bus to Portofino, hiked to Abbazia di San Fruttuoso, and then took a boat to Camogli. A path I recommend, though if you have more time it’s possible to hike to Camogli as well.

It was a very profound day trip and the area is just as beautiful as the much more famous and crowded Cinque Terre, though the only value the town offers is a cup of espresso.

Portofino - a small but beautiful town.

Turin

The home to much of the Italian automotive industry, with the headquarters of Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo. After you’ve seen a few big cities it’s hard to be impressed by new ones. Although I am now able to say I’ve seen the Shroud of Turin, and I do always enjoy witnessing Roman remains, I cannot say that Turin has left me with a lasting impression.

Dolceacqua, Apricale

Traveling towards France I visited two small towns - Dolceacqua and Apricale.

They’re both villages-perche, or perched villages - a type of defensive settlement common in this region. Built primarily to defend against pirates, their main characteristics are:

These days, after the decline of piracy, their main function is to sell tacky souvenirs to tourists.

Apricale

France

Menton

A century ago Menton was a popular destination for ailing Polish szlachta. Its a town known for its large population of centenarians, healthy climate and lemons. Plus, I had friends there.

Inquiring why there seem to be a large number of young Americans walking around the town I learned that the town has a renowned university.

The most memorable part of the city for me was the cemetery. It was both eery and pleasant to see that around a tenth of the graves belonged to my compatriots from a time long gone.

Entrance to Menton

Menton served as a nice excursion base for seeing the region, so I stayed there for a few days.

Monaco

I went to Monaco to see rich people doing rich-people stuff. Albert II, the Prince of Monaco is unpopular and seen as greedy.

A big percentage of the population are filthy rich people who wish to avoid taxation. One prerequisite to obtaining citizenship is actually living in the country. To enable that the prince is constantly engaging in land reclamation, turning sea into land and building new appartments. Subsequently new citizens buy them but never actually live there, as there is not much to do in Monaco. It’s thus becoming a country of empty, ugly appartment buildings built on sea.

Monaco is a small country divided into districts. One of them is Monte Carlo - famous for the Grand Prix and the Casino. The casino was founded when the country was on the brink of bancrupcy and took advantage of more strict French gambling laws.

The district that enchanted me was Monaco Ville, or the old town. Given the exorbitant prices and the simple village feeling it exerts, I’m unsure who lives there.

Watching rich people doing rich-people stuff

Other attractions

Nice is a popular tourist destination, though I cannot see the attraction myself. The cities are crowded and a simple stroll around town is as mentally demanding as getting to your London office during rush hour. To make it worse armed military troops patrol the streets giving you a constant sense of unease. The city does have a great flea market where I purchased A Seafood Celebration and two crystal glasses.

Nice flea market

Having watched my fair share of Louis de Funes movies in my youth I naturally associate France with nudism. As luck would have it Plage des Pissarelles, a nudist beach, was nearby. It’s an extremely liberating feeling to swim butt-naked in the sea, though after arriving a few creepy old fat dudes suddenly felt a need to stroll past me making me reluctant to recommend it to others.

Being a natural habitat to many flowers and herbs used in perfumes the region played a key role in the history and development of the fragrance industry. “Fragrance tourists”, if there is such a thing, are lured to Grasse and Eze. Perfume producers Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard still operate their plants there, and offer tours. Being a fragrance amateur myself I explored what the towns have to offer but was left disappointed.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a large villa that once belonged to Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschil. A bit unhappy and a little crazy (in 1896 she organized the first dog wedding in France between two poodles) she built a remarkable house. Due to its large size it’s a time consuming visit. I recommend allocating an hour or two in your trip to visiting the nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer and it’s Rue Obscure.

My most memorable experience was joining my friend in a hunt for breakfast. We woke up around 6:00, drove to the nearby Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and armed with diving goggles and fishing knifes we let our primal instincts loose. After two hours of exhausting work we got some ricci di mare (sea urchins), patella vulgata and lumache di mare (sea snails). After returning home we spent a subsequent hour or two preparing the meal. We ate it within 10 minutes and it was the best breakfast in my life.

Me any my friend hunting for breakfast
Our yield
Nearly ready

Barcelona

I visited Spain with my mom when I was a teenager and I wanted to revisit it. I had a convenient flight from Nice to Barcelona, so there I went.

It was completely unlike France or Italy and I didn’t like it. The city was dirty and seemed like it was in a state of disarray. All the top tourist attractions turned out to be exorbitantly priced tourist traps. There were two types of people - vulgar-looking locals and obvious-looking tourists. But at least now I understand why Spanish girls are said to be hot - a brassiere store in Barcelona would not fair well.

The only thing I liked about the city was the Blai9 Pintxos restaurant.

Me enjoying some pintxos

Switzerland

During my travels Google contacted me and asked if I wouldn’t want to come in over to Zurich for an interview. I had two friends there, so I welcomed the opportunity. Google paid from my flight from Barcelona, and I arrived in Zurich a few days after the invitation.

I did my interview, spent the night at the hotel, and then asked one of my friends to host me for the next few days. I’ve already visited Zurich before so this time I wanted to see other Swiss-German towns. I went to Lucerne and Bern.

Everything is in perfect order

One thing to note about Switerland is that everything is perfect. If you look around you’ll find nothing that needs fixing and there is a lingering feeling that everything is sterile.

It’s expensive as well. I have a Swiss friend who is quite the spendthrift and the one advice he gave me was to never take a taxi.

I’m told that’s common

And everything seems to be regulated. The friend whose appartment I stayed at complained how he cannot flush the toilet at night or take out the trash during weekends. The Swiss consider that to be too noisy.

After returning to my friend’s appartment from Lucerne the exhaustion of my experience finally got to me. At that point I was traveling for a month and started yearning for my own bed, my bathtub and for a less eventful day. I booked a flight back to Krakow.

Back Home

This was a remarkable, character-defining trip for me. I did and saw things that will stay with me and define me forever. Nevertheless I realised that for me to value a trip it needs to break my routine and subsequently enhance it, not become it. Moreover, subconsciously I developed an algorithm for exploring new cities which took part of the magic away - each new town was new, but in an old and predictable way.

I concluded that I don’t, in fact, wish to become a vagabonder when I retire. I wish to visit a new place occasionally but I want the majority of my time to be spent doing what I enjoy most right now - tackling difficult new challenges.

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