“A human being that was given to fly…”

Before 2014, the only times I had ever left the United States was for a boozy weekend trip to Thunder Bay, Canada, when I was still in college, and a boozy spring break trip to Puerto Rico in 2002.  I didn’t even have a a passport until my mid-30s, but when Pearl Jam announced their 2014 Europe Tour, I decided it was time to get some international stamps.

Asking my girlfriend Jaime to go with me to Europe made the most sense, but I wasn’t exactly sure how keen she was going to be about following the same band around Europe for two weeks.  I wouldn’t say she’s a fan of Pearl Jam (she likes to say she “accidentally” went to a Pearl Jam/Tom Petty concert in 2006), but she’s also not opposed to travel and adventure.  So when I received the 10 Club email announcing the European tour dates, I popped the question:

“Hey, do you want to go to Europe for about two weeks this summer?” I asked.

“Sure, that sounds like a lot of fun!”

“Okay, here’s the thing…”

I laid out the trip details and our tentative itinerary: fly in to Amsterdam for two shows in two days;  then catch a flight to Milan and spend three days there while rocking out at another show; then take a train across northern Italy for a show in Trieste (as well as an eight-hour pit-stop in Verona so I can nerd out on Shakespeare for an afternoon);  then venture over to Venice for 24 hours before heading north to Vienna; hop on the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus in Vienna for some afternoon sightseeing before our fifth Pearl Jam show of the trip; then fly over to Berlin for three days, see our sixth and final show in the middle of a forest; then jettison back to Amsterdam for two more days so we can take a stroll around the Red Light District after watching the Holland national fútbol team play Mexico in the World Cup.

A whirlwind of a trip, for sure, but one I was ready to embark upon.  I just needed Jaime’s blessing; the fate of my summer vacation lay in her hands.

“Sure, that sounds like a lot of fun!”


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“Please, please, please…don’t go on me!”  

When we landed in Amsterdam on June 16th, 2014, we were jet-lagged and emotionally exhausted due to a flight that almost didn’t happen thanks to an Icelandic Air employee strike that cancelled our connecting flight out of Reykjavik (thank you to the kind Icelandic Air customer service rep who put us on a direct overnight Delta flight so we could get to Amsterdam in time for the show!).  Our quaint hotel was located in the south-central neighborhood of De Pijp.  When we got there, we thought about taking a nap, but when I went to the bathroom, the bathroom door came unhinged and fell on top of the bed.  We decided it was best to just leave the room and walk around the city at that point…

During our short first stint in Amsterdam, we made a point to see as much as we could.  Our first stop was the Anne Frank House (Travel Tip: get your tickets ahead of time and cut the quarter-mile long line).  Having conducted lessons on the Holocaust over my 18 years in education, I have recently made it a priority to visit the places I’ve taught to my students so I can take back my experiences and share them with my classes.  Walking around Anne Frank’s actual home and reading through her diaries–her handwriting neat and precise from the pain-staking revisions she made over and over again because she was such a perfectionist–hit me hard, and the time Jaime and I spent there was mostly in reflective silence.

Because the Anne Frank House was such a sobering experience, we countered that visit with a trip to the Heineken brewery.  I strongly encourage people to take this tour because when they say it’s an experience, it really is!  At one point, you’re led into a room with a large television screen and a three-tiered lift.  The next thing you know, you’re taken through the process used to make Heineken beer–heat lamps simulate the boiling process, mists of water sprinkle down on you from the ceiling to simulate the cooling process, the lift moves up and down to simulate the mashing and separation process…like I said, it’s an experience!

Once you’ve been figuratively brewed, you then slip into another room where you can actually sample Heineken beer and take home your sample glass.  Finally, if you gravitate towards water like I do, here’s a travel tip for you: instead of paying for a canal boat ride, simply catch the Heineken canal boat that travels from the brewery to the gift shop on the other end of of the city every hour on the hour after your brewery tour!  It’s a fun little bonus at the end of your experience!

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As far as the shows, Amsterdam proved to be gold mines for me.  Night 1 added “Swallowed Whole”, “Evacuation” (played because of all the bridges in Amsterdam), and “Sleeping by Myself” to the list of songs I’ve now seen live.  Not only that, but the run of “Jeremy”–“Better Man”–“Rearviewmirror”–“Go”–“Why Go” solidified the encores as one of the most energetic and powerful I’ve ever seen.  Night 2 delivered “My Father’s Son” as well as one of my favorite sleeper tracks, “All or None”.  I was also thrilled to hear “Hard to Imagine” open a show again because it had been seven years since I’d last seen one of my favorite songs performed live!

Of course, almost all of these songs were new to Jaime, but when I looked over at her from time to time during the show to see her singing along to the hits, I knew she was enjoying herself as well!

Our next stop was Milan, Italy.  From June 18th-June 21st, we packed in a half-day tour of the spectacular Duomo Cathedral and the Last Supper, took Rick Steves’ advice and walked around Monumental Cemetery (strongly recommended!) and hopped on a train for a day-trip to Lake Como, and stuffed our faces with gelato and the most amazing Panini sandwiches on the face of this earth!

Throughout the days leading up to the show, we found ourselves running into Pearl Jam fans from all over the United States who had traveled to Milan–some even with their families!  Meeting these fans opened up Jaime’s eyes to the insanity that is being a Pearl Jam fan.  One guy we met was getting ready to attend his 84th show.  Another guy we met on the train out to the venue was traveling with his wife and kids, and he told us that this was his fourteen year-old son’s twelfth Pearl Jam show!   Also, by some strange stroke of luck, we sat right next to Dave and Katy from Ohio, who just so happened to be sitting directly behind me on Mike’s side a year earlier at Wrigley Field!  Meeting these fans helped Jaime understand that this obsession isn’t just mine–there are crazy Pearl Jam fans everywhere in the world!

And the craziest Pearl Jam fans of them all live in Italy!

The Italians love Pearl Jam!  I’ve never seen so many vibrant, good-natured concert goers in my entire life!  The concert was held at Stadio San Siro, a soccer stadium that houses nearly 75,000 people, and they needed every available seat and then some!  When I panned around the stadium at the beginning of the show, I could not believe how high people were sitting!  I estimated that nearly 50,000 people packed San Siro for Pearl Jam that night, and the energy in that building was electric!

Not only that, but law and order at Italian concerts must be non-existent because people stood everywhere in the aisles, people hopped over the railing to get to general admission without a care in the world, and some dude started a bonfire in the middle of the stadium floor which nobody appeared to be in any rush to put it out!

The set was a perfect blend of rockers, sing-alongs, and “I haven’t heard this one in a while!” jams.  The night started with a powerful version of “Release” that to this day is my favorite recorded version (a smile just crept across my face as I watched the video of this performance).  This spirited group of fans helped ring out those magical moments in songs like “She once believed/In every story he had to tell” from “Nothingman”.  Their voices echoed throughout the stadium walls, soaring through the night sky and infusing so much of the Italian zest for life in me that I couldn’t help but feel emotionally charged throughout the show.


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Amore Milano

On June 21st, we boarded a train and traveled west to the city of Verona, where Shakespeare laid the scene of a pair of star-crossed lovers who took their own lives.  This was a novelty stop for me so I could geek out for a day and see where the Montagues and Capulets staged their fictional hatred for each other.  As we made our way down the quiet boulevard from the train station, we passed under a large city arch with a clock telling us we had arrived at the town square, where I imagined Tybalt and Mercutio dueling in front of eyes that were made to watch.

The streets, lined with houses and shops every color of the rainbow, open up into grassy parks and wide roundabouts and flocks of pedestrians.  In the middle of it all stands Arena di Verona, where Pearl Jam spilled their blood in 2006.  After a quick tour of the arena, we made our way through the city in search of Juliet’s statue, located in a courtyard outside of Casa de Giulietta.  I stepped up to the statue and followed through with the tradition of rubbing Juliet’s breast, which allegedly promises you good luck in love (but apparently too many people have copped a feel, though, so I guess you’re shit out of luck if you’re not already in love).  After taking a few balcony pictures where I leaned my cheek upon my hand and Jaime wished she were a glove upon that hand, we hopped on another train and rode the rails into Trieste.

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“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…”–Prologue to Romeo and Juliet

We knew next to nothing about Trieste when we arrived.  The only thing we really knew was that it borders the Adriatic Sea and is about 29 miles from the country of Slovenia.  When I researched things to do in Trieste, I was referred to the Castello di Miramare.  but when I asked Jaime if she wanted to go visit the castle, she said, “I don’t know.  I’m kind of castled out at this point.  Is it really that big of a deal?”  I didn’t have a response to that, so I told her to look up some information on it.

Rather quickly, she changed her tune: “Okay, yeah, we’re going.  This was once the home of Ferdinand Maximilian.”

Don’t know who that is?  Yeah, me neither.

Jaime sure does, though.  You see, Jaime has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Beatles, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Coco Chanel, and the Hapsburg Empire.

Yes, I’m serious.

So to answer the question, “Who the fuck is Ferdinand Maximilian?”, the answer I’m going to give you is quite simple: he was a member of the Hapsburg family.  If you want to learn more, ask Google or Jaime.

(Travel Tip: when someone in Trieste tells you the castle is five kilometers away, they really mean it’s seven miles.  And when they tell you something is too far away to walk to it, LISTEN TO THEM!)

As you make your way to the castle, the Adriatic Sea hugs a shoreline of large jagged rocks that make up one of the beaches in Trieste.  This was new to me–I had never seen beaches like this before.  All I had ever known of beaches was sand, sand, sand–but the beach-goers in Trieste simply lay down a towel on the cobblestone boardwalk and soak up the sun.  Some sit on top of one of the large geological wonders stationed several feet into the water like a small ocean-cruiser docked in the bay.  We took about an hour to dip our toes into the remarkably clear water and splash around before continuing our journey towards the castle.

As you can imagine, Jaime has been to both the Hapsburg summer home and the winter home in Vienna as well as the grand-daddy of them all–the Palace of Versailles just outside of Paris.  As we walked around Miramare Castle, she pointed out the symbolism in the images and the decor of the castle.  So much for wasting five euros on a headset!

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As far as the show, it was the most pedestrian of the six shows we saw on this trip.  I’ll be honest–I don’t love every Pearl Jam show I’ve ever seen (especially when Neil Young shows up and hijacks the entire second half of the show like he did in Toledo–2004!  Damn you, Neil Young!), which I know makes me sound like one of those ungrateful Pearl Jam snobs, but I like what I like, and this show–well, it was just alright.  It came dangerously close to being a shut-out for me, but luckily “Infallible” kept my streak alive, and it also capped off the Lightning Bolt album for me (so there’s the silver lining from the Trieste show).

The next morning–June 23rd–we took a train from Trieste to spend 24 hours in Venice, the most unique city in the world! (Travel Tip:  Venice has two train stations: you want the Venezia Santa Lucia train station, NOT Venezia Mestre train station.  Stupid suburbs…)  When they say it’s easy to get lost in Venice, they’re not kidding–we spent over an hour looking for our bed and breakfast, and when you’re in tight alleyways with tall buildings, you’re not going to get good enough cell service to access Google Maps.  Jaime, being the more rational and logical thinker, was able to successfully navigate the labyrinth of side streets and canals so we could finally check in and exhale the frustration away.

(Travel Tip: We’re going back to Venice on June 22nd before the Padua show on June 24th, and we’re definitely doing some things differently this time around.  We have a tour of Venice planned so we can skip the lines at places like St. Mark’s Church and the Doge’s Palace, but after that, we are getting the hell out of tourist zones.  You see, from about 9:00 to 17:00, the cruise ships drop off thousands upon thousands of tourists who clog the narrow Venice streets, and it just becomes an all-out clusterfuck.  Instead, we will make our way to the Jewish quarter–Cannaregio–on the north end of the island for part of the day, and we’ll also hop on a vaporetto for an afternoon trip over to San Giorgio to take pictures of Venice from across the canal in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower.  Once those cruise ships head back out to sea, we’ll enjoy Venice on our own terms without so many people clogging up the alleyways.)

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Flying out of Venice’s airport was significantly cheaper than Trieste’s airport, but in hindsight, I wish we would’ve taken an overnight train from Venice to Vienna (Travel Tip: use The Man in Seat 61‘s web site for all of your European train adventures!).  When we arrived in Vienna in the early evening of June 24th, we quickly settled in to our hotel and made our way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

St. Stephen’s was a spiritual experience that I’ve never felt before.  In no way, shape, or form am I religious, but when I walked into St. Stephen’s, I felt a presence of some spiritual higher power, which was surprisingly humbling.  After taking the lift to the towers–where we could see the scorched roof tiles that still remain from the bombings during World War II–I made an offering and lit a candle.  The church sat quietly in the evening hours, and as I watched the flame from my candle, I embraced the divinity around me in that moment.

The next day, we made good use of the Vienna Hop-on/Hop-off buses, making our way around the city to check out the exteriors of the Hapsburg winter and summer homes, the Vienna Opera House, and Vienna’s Parliament building.  One tidbit provided on the bus tour that struck me as fascinating was when the guide explained that at one time Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Leon Trotsky all attended school in Vienna at the same time.  He then painted the picture of the three of them sitting at the same coffee shop at the same time, going over their studies, but completely oblivious of one another. That image made my jaw drop!

We unfortunately didn’t have a lot of time to spend learning about Vienna’s vast history before the show (but I’d definitely go back!), so when the time came to rock ‘n’ roll, we took the metro transit down to Stadhalle for our fifth show of the tour.

This show was memorable in a multitude of ways: for starters, the first three songs of the night slowly built up the momentum for the next seven face-melters that blew my hair back!  Second, I finally got to see “Can’t Keep”, which completed Riot Act for me; third, they played “Speed of Sound” during the first encore, adding another new song to my list.  Finally, the show was a mix of outstanding originals and five cover songs–“Rain” by the Beatles, “Public Image” by Public Image LTD, “Baba O’Riley” by The Who (a standard cover that rambunctiously closes out many PJ shows), and two songs by Neil Young, who was performing at Stadhalle just a few days later.  I also remember Eddie saying how nervous they were because when they did their soundcheck, the acoustics were so terrible that they were dreading the show, but with all the bodies in the seats and on the floor, the acoustics actually sounded amazing!

You’re welcome, Ed!

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There wasn’t a day between the Vienna show and the Berlin show, so the next morning, we had to hop a flight (along with what seemed like 100 other Pearl Jam fans!) for the capital of Germany.  After a harrowing taxi ride from the airport to our hotel where our lives flashed before our eyes multiple times, we dropped off our bags, made our way to the train station, and followed the crowd into the woods at Wuhlheide.

This venue was far and away the most memorable of our trip, and to be honest, it is a close third to the Gorge and Red Rocks.  When we got off the train, we marched about a mile along a mulch path that was hugged by trees stretching high into the blue skies above.  When we finally got to the end of the path, there were little pop-up bars with TVs broadcasting the Germany/U.S. World Cup soccer match.  Jaime and I indulged in a few of Germany’s greatest exports–beer and brats–and caught up with some of the travelers we had met on our journey who were still lapping up the miles and the songs.

(Side note: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–the Pearl Jam fan community is so wonderfully accepting and caring.  For Pearl Jam fans, a ticket to a show might as well be a ticket to a family reunion–just with better music.)

Without a doubt, this show was the crown jewel of them all.  The first set was filled with many of my favorites (“Why Go” into “Go”; “In My Tree”; “Comatose”; “Immortality”).  Once again, the first ten songs set the tone for the rest of the show, which mixed in rarely played songs like “Hold On” and “Bee Girl”, the latter being dedicated to a little girl braving the railing near the front.

But what made the show for me was finally–FINALLY–seeing “All Those Yesterdays” for the first time, putting a long-awaited ribbon around my favorite gift of an album, Yield.  The grin on my face once Stone plucked away at those opening notes stretched from ear to ear, and I oddly felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment–like I had finally received some sort of lifetime achievement award given to those fans committed to seeking out and conquering their white whales.

The next day, Jaime and I were still feeling the exhilaration of the entire Wuhlheide experience, so we took to the streets and explored Berlin.  First, we went on a Sandeman walking tour that showcased the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  Later that afternoon, we took the metro to Charlottenburg, but when we arrived at the palace, we saw vendors setting up for a German beer festival, so instead of touring another castle, we put the “ass” in “class” and sipped on a couple of biers.  With a little liquid courage running through my veins, I decided to try out my two years of high school German with the locals, much to their amusement.  Overall, I think we made the right decision!

The next day, we boarded a train heading an hour west of Berlin to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.  This was our first experience with a concentration camp, so all of the books and material I had taught my students over my teaching career came to life right in front of my eyes.  The horror of these death camps–from the crematoriums to the “inspection room” where prisoners were shot through the back of the neck to the gallows in the back of the Appellplatz–reminded me of the atrocities that have taken place in our modern history and current day, so I took a moment to reflect on my purpose in life and extend my gratitude to the privileges and experiences that have been and continue to be afforded to me.

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We had one last stop on our trip:  Amsterdam, Round 2.  We stayed in the Damrak neighborhood, right in the heart of the city’s action.  Our main priority this time around was to find the best local spot to watch the Holland national team play Mexico in the World Cup, so we asked our hotel concierge where we should go.  Her suggestion: head on down to Museumplein and watch the game on 75-foot big screens with 100,000 of your newest Dutch friends!

The scene near the Van Gogh and Rijks Museum was a madhouse.  Oranj was everywhere–shirts, pants, flags, shoes, bandanas–one could not escape the barrage of Oranj! The party atmosphere carried through every moment of the tense action of the game.  Mexico jumped on top first with a goal in the 48th minute, but Holland scored late in the 88th minute to tie the game at 1-1.  Then, in extra time, 100,000 people collectively held their breath as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar lined up for a penalty kick.  As he readied himself for the kick, the crowd roared in unison, hoping their cheers would guide the ball passed the goal keeper.

The referee spotted the ball and Huntelaar took his position.  The referee blew the whistle, and Huntelaar stared down his target.  With ice in his veins, he ran forward, planted his left foot, struck the ball with his right–and then…


Having ended the trip on a series of high notes, we felt good about flying back to Minnesota the next day.  We had come to Europe for some Pearl Jam shows, but we ended up making a lifetime of memories that I’m proud to share with anyone willing to listen to or read about them.

The fast-paced nature of this trip has been a staple in planning our travel adventures the last four years, and I’ve continued to use Pearl Jam (and baseball) as an excuse to hop in planes, trains, and automobiles to places like Moline, Mountain View, New York City, and Chicago with Brandon and Boston, Toronto, and Washington D.C. with Jaime to see what else the world has in store for us.  I’m happy to have shared some of my fan experiences with you, and I’m looking forward to continuing on this “all-encompassing trip” with you.

Jaime and I will once again make our way back to Europe for #PJEurotrip2018, covering 8 concerts in 11 cities over the course of 28 days.  Then in August, my friend Kelly and I will look for my PJ fan-family at Safeco Field in Seattle before Brandon and I join you all at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  I’m looking forward to spending my summer vacation with the best band (and the best fans!) in the world!

If you’re traveling to see Pearl Jam this summer, stay safe and enjoy your adventures!  It really is hard to imagine a better way to spend your time!

It’s hard to imagine

Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly” off the album Yield,
released in 1998.  

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Play the PJ song-board game and post your choices below!
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