Round-The-World

Note to New Readers: This is the collected writings from my Round-The-World without flying adventure from 2007. Enjoy!

To Understand The Scale Of The Earth

Writing by Brad on Friday, 17 of February , 2006 at 5:36 pm

Originally posted 02/17/06 on Blogger

I haven’t posted here in a very long time. Many things have changed but one thing has not, my desire to travel around the world by surface transportation (Cargo ship, train, camel, truck, etc…)

To that end i thought I would document my research and general plans on the off chance that someone else is doing the same thing and happens to search and find these pages.

To begin, the goal is to circumnavigate the planet by surface transportation. No flights.

Everything else until i buy my tickets is speculative.

The Plan:

I will be quitting my job, selling most of my crap, and packing the rest for storage at my parents home in Iowa.

The journey will begin in Portland, Oregon. From there i will drive to Sioux City, Iowa and drop off the car, the stuff worth keeping (or selling later), my Last Will and Testament, and a power of Attorney to be put in my parent’s names.

From there I will travel to the East coast of the U.S. possibly stopping to visit friends on the way stopping finally in Philidelphia.

In Philidelphia I will board a Cargo ship bound for Europe. From there I will use a 90 day Eurail pass to bounce around 18 countries in Europe and as many Eastern European countries as I can reach from those 18.

From there I will either go to Russia and board the Trans-Siberian railroad to Bejing or choose some Silk Road route to China.

Everything past that point is foggy…

Current Budgeting list is showing about $6000-$8000US for transportation, meaning i’m going to need a lot more than that to survive…

1. Drive from PDX to SUX = at 23mpg x 2.60 per gallon = $338.00 (not accounting for a trailor) + $100 lodging + $100 food

2. Unknown cost from SUX to PHL = $???

3. Freighter from PHL to Antwerp = $2000 ($1469 transport + $313 insurance and tax + $incidentals)

4. 90 day Eurail pass = $1700

5. Trans-Siberian Rail pass = $????

6. Ship travel to LA = $???

7. Train to PDX = $???

Current Resources are:

Practical Nomad by Edward Hasbrouck

Europe by Eurail by LaVerne Ferguson-Kosinski

Freighter Resources:

GoNomad’s Freighter Travel Mini-Guide: http://www.gonomad.com/transports/0011/miniguide_freighter_voyage.html

Freighter World Cruises:
http://www.freighterworld.com/
All for now, I’ll be back later to correct myself I’m sure…

1 Year from Today

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 13 of July , 2006 at 6:01 pm

One Year from today I will be departing for my journey around the world. The plan is still to travel without the aid of air power. Many things will have to happen between now and that day. Tickets need to be purchased, belongings need to be sold, and much reading needs to be done. I am comfortable with the idea that not much of my journey is planned out but what I am not comfortable with is my grasp of history. I feel like I will be missing out on much of the wonder of the world if I am not able to put it into context.

So my goal from here on out is to begin publishing the research and reading I’m doing to prepare for this adventure. Deep down I feel that no matter how much time I spend focusing on the things I think I need to know or things I think I need to bring with me, I will find myself wondering what the hell I spent so much time doing. Especially when I should have been getting ready for (fill in the situational blank).

I’ve recently come across a Yahoo Group of people who have traveled around the world, are traveling, or are strongly interested in it. Already the members have pointed me to some new locations for information and people to talk to. I’m sure there are many thousands of miles of collective road amongst this group and I’m looking forward to learning about it.

Yahoo RTWers: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RTWers/

Cargo Travel

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 5 of October , 2006 at 8:34 am

I spoke with Joycene (sp?) from Freighter World Cruises again yesterday regarding my passage across the Atlantic next year. You see, I spoke with her about 2 months ago and she sent me all the information needed to book my room on the ship. Then I promptly lost it.

On my second call to Freighter World Cruises� I was informed that she would not be sending me the information a third time (I’m pretty sure she was kidding, maybe…).

The packet includes information on the ship� I will be travelling on, which will be the NSB Ibn Sina� (ignore the India part), from Savannah, Georgia to Valencia, Spain in Single Cabin #303.

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The packet also includes the requirements for travel, such as, Travel Insurance, Clean Bill of Health, all necessary vaccinations, Visas, Proof of Passage out of Spain, etc…

To book the cabin a down payment of 25% is required. For my segment of the journey this will be about $329US.

The total, after conversion, deviation� insurance, and fees is $1559US. Substantially more expensive than a flight across the pond but for 13 days of an experience I can get nowhere else I’ll happily write the check.

More to come, I’ll be calling the Iranian Consulate today to find out how difficult it will be to get a visa to cross their country overland.

Heres the route for the NSB Ibn Sina:

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Visa Required

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 1 of November , 2006 at 1:05 am

I’m still trying to determine which path I’m going to take across Asia. I wanted a big picture view of the world where I could easily see which countries required an American citizen to get a visa. So I built a map to display� a visual representation of what I had to look forward to. It isn’t finished quite yet. I plan to include links in each country to direct you to that specific embassy so you can grab the documents you need. Click away, it’s pretty fun.

I haven’t been able to get it to present correctly inside WordPress yet. So click Here to see the map (Note: Only works in Internet Explorer… arg…).

And so it goes…

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 1 of November , 2006 at 1:04 pm

I just spoke with a woman at Visas A.S.A.P in Burbank, CA about the Visas I would need for my trip. After describing what I am attempting to do there was a sigh on the other end of the phone. Let’s just say she wasn’t optimistic about my chances of getting many, in any, of my Visas before I leave.

According to her, Iran is not an option, not safe, and I shouldn’t go there because there is a country warning on the State.gov website. Also, as an Isreali, she knows something about this. While I believe she has valid reason to dislike any country that has publicly announced they wish the destruction of her country, I sincerely doubt she has traveled there. Iran, by as many reports as I can find, is full of very friendly and intelligent people that can tell the difference between a person and their government. Iran is even offering a cash incentive to tour organizers to bring Americans to their country as reported by CNN here: “Iran offers cash to U.S. tourists”

Aside from Iran she advised that I get my Visas while traveling, noting that most of them require itinerary and proof of onward passage. I have neither. Many of the Visa applications I have looked at also require specific entry and exit dates, which I only have a rough idea of regarding the month of the year. I imagine I will be spending quite a bit of time in Turkey or Syria trying to get my passage through the rest of Asia figured out.

If you have a glass handy, raise it with me, to the long road ahead.

Pre-trip planning…

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 30 of January , 2007 at 11:40 pm

I feel like the most complicated part of planning a trip like this is the process of putting your life in suspended animation. Most of my planning has been for what to do before I leave and while I’m gone from my home country.

What to do with my belongings?

Pack it all, distribute storage amongst friends, sell, and donate.

What to do with my car?

Originally I had thought to keep it, because I really really like it, but as I get closer to the departure date I realize it makes no financial sense to keep making loan payments and insurance payments on a vehicle that no one would be driving. So I have decided to sell it. When I bought it, I had this trip in mind, so I put the loan together in such a way that I could get out from under it without much difficulty. That pre-planning was worth it. Based on the current status of my loan I should be able to sell it and save myself the cost of upkeep and add all that to the bottom line of my trip. With the difference I’m thinking I will buy an old used Conversion Van so that I have a big comfy road couch to drive across the US in, and most likely sleep in.

This also solves the problem of getting my father back home after he joins me for the drive from Sioux City, Iowa to Savannah, Georgia. I’ll just drive the Van onto a car lot and take whatever they’ll give me for it and Dad can fly home. That is, of course, assuming it survives the trip and doesn’t leave us stranded in Tennessee…

Insurance?

Due to the way the US insurance system works, a gap in coverage, especially while traveling overseas, would look very bad to insurance companies upon my return. So I need to buy a special travel policy that will cover me for the duration of my travels and be renewable from the road. You would be surprised how difficult this is to find. Most policies are for no longer than 6 months and a few max out at 12 with no way to continue coverage if you aren’t done with your trip. The one I’ve found and plan to use is from Global Underwriters and is called the Diplomat – LT. This policy will allow you to renew from the road for up to 3 years and has all the other goodies like Medical Evacuation, Emergency Dental (see below), repatriation of remains (God forbid) and $500,000 to $1,000,000 worth of medical coverage. Toss on the Hazardous Activities Rider and you’re all set.

Dental care?

I realized, thanks to a chipped tooth, that I should deal with any emergent dental situations prior to departure. This lead to me maxing out my dental insurance in December of 06 and I should be maxed out again before the end of Feb. In all 7 cavities and 3 crowns. I decided that it was better money spent now then dealing with an abscess or severe toothache in a developing nation. I’ve heard some horror stories about dental work in developed countries (Taiwan) and a lack of anesthesia. I’m not interested in that particular experience thank you very much.

Vaccinations?

By the time I leave I will have spent nearly $1000 maybe more on vaccinations. So far I’ve been vaccinated for Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and a Flu shot for good measure. I still have the Japanese Influenza and Rabies Vaccinations to look forward to. In the end I will have had on the order of 20 shots. I’ve been advised that I can probably do without a few of them, but really, have you been violently ill in a place 5000 miles from your home? I’ve had some pretty severe hangovers while traveling and let me tell you… Plus I would rather avoid picking up anything life threatening or permanently damaging as a consequence of this adventure.

After all these considerations have been dealt with I still haven’t left the country and I still haven’t found a place to sleep when I arrive in Spain… That will be the focus of my next post. Until then…

I own a van.

Writing by Brad on Sunday, 4 of February , 2007 at 9:58 pm

I chuckle every time I look at it. It’s huge. Driving it feels like I’m rolling down the street in a school bus. But it does run well and has all the pieces parts I was looking for in a cross country vehicle. Now to begin the sad process of getting the Subaru ready for sale…

The Road Ahead

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 12 of April , 2007 at 8:56 pm

The van has received its check up and some new tires. All signs point to it being a very reliable cross country vehicle. While I miss the WRX I’ve really started to like the van. I still catch a huge amount of flack about owning a “Van.” Lots of jokes and comments, but then everyone says “I used to own one like this” or “My family had one like this.” Yeah they did, and they dug it.

The gas mileage is absolute garbage and I imagine flowers wilting as I cruise by but it is a means to an end. I’m really looking forward to piling six other people in it and heading off to the Redwood National Forest then to Vegas. That will be a hell of a road trip and only the beginning of my cross-country, round-the-world adventure.

There is a little concern about heading East alone after 2 full days of Vegas-ing. I’m not sure how far I’ll make it before I decide to pull over and curl up at a rest stop with a large bottle of water and sleep.

There is something about driving a vehicle that is meant for long road trips. Every time I get in it I envision the 7000 mile route I plan to take. There is something about a vehicle that large that just feels like freedom. I haven’t even taken the sleeping bag, camping stove, dehydrated camp food, or fishing pole out of it since the time Summer and I took it camping. I guess I still like the feeling that if I wanted to I could take a turn somewhere, head off in a direction, and have everything I need.

Except maybe enough gas…

Accomodations

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 26 of April , 2007 at 5:06 pm

As I’m sketching out some of the sites I would like to see on this adventure I’ve come across some amazing hotels. Some of the locations are seasonal so it might depend on my ability to be in a certain part of the world at a certain time. Like the Ice Hotel in Sweden which is only open from November through April because that is the only time of the year when it is structurally sound. The hotel is made entirely of ice and reconstructed each year out of over 3000 tons of ice and 30000 cubic meters of snow. You sleep comfortably on a bed of ice, snow, and reindeer pelts in a brisk -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees F).

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Then on the opposite end of the continent there are the Fairy Chimneys of Turkey. A 1500 year old complex of caves that were once used for wine making as part of an early Byzantine monastery.

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All points in between… Unusual Hotels of the World is a semi-comprehensive collection of the eccentric to the truly bizarre where lodgings are concerned. I’ve found a great many hotels I’d love to stay at here in the United States if I had the time and the money (most are expensive, in the $250-$350 range).

Regardless, any of these places will be an experience and a nice change from the multi-person dorms I will likely spend most of my nights in.

Points Of Interest

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 7 of June , 2007 at 2:25 pm

I have lots of maps and lots of guidebooks. They are all very good at what they were designed for but also very specific. Trying to tie multiple regions together without flights on a grand scale, in a way that makes sense, is not easy. I’ve been looking for a way to map out potential routes without much luck. Many mapping sites become useless when you start looking at locations overseas and I’ve found that many of the “Web 2.0″ travel sites have mapping and route planning, but none of them work like I would like them to, yet.

Google Earth has been invaluable in trying to understand the relative placement of cities, countries, etc… and until recently Google Maps (just the site, not the many one-off hacks) would only let you do single destination driving directions. That has changed with a recent update and now Google Maps will let you have as many destinations as you want in the US (however, add in something like “Grand Canyon” and it will break down). I’ve been playing with the “My Maps” function of Google Maps a lot in the past couple days and have added in most of the places I hope to visit and a rough route has taken shape. Right now anything past the USA is uncertain, so there aren’t any route lines to any of the locations.

The list of locations will probably grow and I hope to adjust the map with real travel information as I go, so take a look and let me know if there are some places I should plan to visit that I don’t have flagged yet.

Google Map: RTW Rough Pre-Plan 1

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Day 1

Writing by Brad on Monday, 25 of June , 2007 at 7:55 pm

I’ve got a few days of notes and pictures to put together. While I’ve been in Las Vegas I haven’t had much time to put my thoughts together or go through the pictures, also I didn’t feel like paying the $13 to get internet access from the hotel. clip_image008

I’m in a Starbucks parking lot right now about to make my way towards Monument Valley, Utah. More to come, but here is the first post of the adventure.

Day 1

The party started early. At 6am after a couple nights of very limited sleep. I’d spent the last couple days frantically packing and trying to get everything that I had left where it needed to go. (For as long as I’ve spent planning and packing and staging and prepping for departure it still ended up that I could have spent a little more time getting ready. I got 99% done at that would have to do.)

We headed south with half a tank of gas and a destination of The Redwood National Forest as our first official stop. The van was plastered with the magnetics for the site and the (mostly) well wishes from my going away party. (In order of appearance) Eric, Myself, Chanti, and Erik were on the road.

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We arrived in the Redwood Forest at about 2pm and marveled at the size of these ancient giants. Oh yeah, then we tried to drive the van through one. If you notice the dark shape on top of the van in the picture, that’s me. I was able to see just how close we were to grinding our way through the tree. Everything was going well until we were about to exit the tree and it looked like we would loose our mirrors. Since I still need them until Georgia, I called it off.

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We also stopped by the Tree’s of Mystery to visit the largest Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox statues in existence. The Paul statue is wired to a man-behind-a-curtain that speaks to the many children climbing over the statue. Seems the jaw was supposed to move in unison with the voice but had broken down. The hand still waved at a random interval.
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Then off to Reno which was a little further away than I’d thought it was. By the end of the day we’d put in about 1100 miles.

Leaving Las Vegas

Writing by Brad on Friday, 29 of June , 2007 at 11:41 am

From Reno it was on to Las Vegas, with a detour. On the way we saw the signs for Death Valley and decided we had enough gas to give try and make our way through.

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Death Valley is hot on a whole different level than anywhere I’ve been in the United States before. When we got to the bottom of the valley and hopped out to see what it was like, we were surprised. I mean, you know it’s going to be hot, but wow, my eyelids actually hurt.

Back on the road to Vegas we ended up arriving at about 10pm. Two hours later than anticipated. We met up with the rest of the Vegas crew and began Vegas-ing. This was a much different trip to Vegas for me. For one, I was looking down the barrel of a fixed budget for the next year or so while standing in one of the most potentially expensive places on earth. But we made it work. I didn’t gamble (although there was this great craps game I really should have hopped in on) and we bought liquor in volume and premixed our drinks on the strong side in Gatorade bottles. That achieved the goal very nicely. Beyond that it was walking around and looking at stuff, eating at cheap buffets, and tossing the occasional $20 at a “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine.

Summer was able to fly in on Saturday night which was an incredible treat! Having her in Vegas with me made it all that much better. We’d had a hard goodbye-for-now a not even a week before when she had left for work a few days prior to my departure from Oregon. We’ve put rough plans into play about where and when we will be able to meet up on the trip but nothing is concrete. It was nice to see our first attempt work out so well.

The crew started departing on the 24th and dwindled to just me in Vegas on the 25th. About 8pm I started heading out of town. It was too dark to drive to the glass bridge overlooking the Grand Canyon so I decided to make a run for Monument Valley in Utah.

I ended up driving through Zion National Park at about 11pm. I would love to drive through that area again during the day. Based on the silhouettes alone it was a beautiful place.

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I made it as far as Page, Arizona where I slept in a Denny’s parking lot for a few hours.

Day 6

Writing by Brad on Monday, 2 of July , 2007 at 10:19 pm

I’m still catching up here so hold on.

Day 6

I woke up at 5:30am to the sound of trucks starting up. I decided since the sun was up as well I should start driving. On the way I figured out that the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was still available to me, and probably only 20 miles out of my way. Wrong. 150 miles later I’m at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Impressive, but the awe was diminished by my miscalculation and the $25 I was required to pay to look at this scar in the earth. By the price of admission, you’d think the US Government dug the canyon themselves and were trying to recover the cost.

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From there I was off to Monument Valley, Utah. While I appreciated the part of the Grand Canyon that I was able to see, Monument Valley was more beautiful to me. Maybe it was because the scale was smaller and I could take it in from the ground. While an aerial view would be a better way to take in the full grandeur of the Grand Canyon.

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After Monument valley I pushed on to Socorro, NM to visit the Very Large Array. It was a 400 mile push that left me exhausted. In the end I’d put in about a thousand miles on three hours of sleep and decided I needed a real bed that night to catch up on some restful sleep. So I found a cheap Motel 6 in Socorro to get a hot shower and some real pillows. I found out what their slogan means that night. “We’ll leave a light on for you” yeah, at least in the case of my room the light was left on to spook the roaches away.

“Be Flexible”

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 3 of July , 2007 at 9:47 am

So the motto for freighter travel is “Be Flexible” and I have already learned what that means.

Last Friday, shortly after I arrived in Sioux City, I received a call from Joycene at Freighter World Cruises. She was calling to inform me that the cargo ship I had booked for my transatlantic passage had broken down and was canceling all it’s North American stops. This was a bit of a shock. I had expected a day or two of delay due to loading problems or customs concerns, but not a full cancellation. She told me there might be some options available but due to the short notice she couldn’t promise me anything. There was also nothing further she could find out until Monday as the German offices for the shipping company were closed for the weekend.

Over the past few days I’ve been scouring the Internet looking for any other ship passage that could get me to Europe in a similar time frame to what I had anticipated. Last minute booking for transatlantic passage? Not advisable.

I found a cruse ship that would take me in half the time for the same price (effectively double the price) but it wouldn’t be leaving from New York until August 31st. I found a couple other freighter booking companies, but they seemed to operate the same lines that Freighter World does, and Freighter World has the best reputation from all the sources I’ve been able to review. I started considering changing the path of my trip by heading back to the West coast and going the transpacific route, but this would have created significant issues with all the Visas I would need to gather before my departure.

Finally I was starting to come to grips with the possibility that i might have to fly to get to Europe before the whole place turned into a rainy snowy mess.

About 20 minutes ago I received another call from Joycene and she had some good news and some options. There were two lines that had cabins available and one of those was run by the same company that had the money from my last ticket. Feeling that sticking with the same company and not having refunds, checks, and multiple Germany – United States FedEx deliveries was the way to go, I decided to stick with them. I’ll still be leaving from Savannah, but now on August 12th instead of July 21st., and arriving in Antwerp instead of Valencia. It’s a 10 day cruise instead of a 12 day so I’ll make up a little time there. The question is… will I still be able to make it to La Tomatina in Spain?

This sets my departure back by nearly 22 days. Luckily I’m at my parents house in Iowa figuring all this out instead of on a pier in Savannah, Van-less, and having to figure out where to sleep. But this is the game, this is exactly what I signed up for and I knew it going in. Specific expectations will get you in trouble on the road, you must “be flexible”.

VLA, Royal Gorge, Pike’s Peak

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 4 of July , 2007 at 1:50 pm

Days 7 – 8 6/27-28

The Very Large Array in New Mexico is the world’s largest radio telescope. After seeing the movie “Contact” many years ago, I knew it was something I wanted to see. Driving out to the Plains of San Augustin I started seeing the dishes dotting the landscape from about 5 miles away. When you see them in the movies they all look very close together, that is thanks to some crafty computer graphics. They can be positioned all together to get a tighter “focus” on whatever they are looking at but it is no small feat. A double set of railroad tracks and a custom vehicle would have to pick up each dish and move them closer together. I didn’t ask, but I’m betting they weren’t going to reposition them to give me a better photo op.

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The scale if each individual dish is massive and since they are all connected, the further they are set apart the bigger the collective instrument is as a whole.

After leaving the VLA I decided to start using my video camera to record the drive. Thanks to a “gorillapod” camera tripod and a power inverter I was able to record every mile of road. I thought it might make an interesting time-lapse project. We’ll see what I do with it… better to have the footage than wished I’d done it.

Day 7 included a scenic drive through Taos, NM on my sister’s recommendation. It was a beautiful drive and I came across some great weather to take pictures of. I’ll put a link up to the gallery when I get them all sorted out. 550 miles after I started I found a rest stop just outside of Pueblo, CO. It was a low mileage day so I sat in the rest stop and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while watching South Park on some station the TV in the van picked up.

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After a reasonable 6 hours of sleep I was awake and ready for the sights of Colorado. Directly across from the rest stop was a restaurant called Max’s Place. I thought it a fine spot to get some real breakfast. With a parking lot full of pickup trucks and a jeans and baseball cap clad clientele, I figured I’d fit right in (except for the laptop). The Max’s special was exactly what I was hoping for. Ham, 2 eggs, hash, biscuit w/gravy & coffee = Perfect

After dropping another $100 into the gas tank I was off to see the Royal Gorge and its famous “World’s Highest Suspension Bridge”. The bridge is 880 feet long but only 18 feet wide, with a wooden walkway with over 1000 planks. The bridge is suspended from towers that are 150 feet high. When I bought my ticket ($16 – early bird special) I was told by the seller that I could drive over the bridge and back. I asked what the weight limit was and was told “aw, couple million pounds I guess”. While I think his estimate was much exaggerated I was still ok with the attempt.

While walking on the bridge I became a little less confidant as I noticed how much the bridge shook with even the motorcycle and golf cart sized utility vehicles driving across it. Was this enough to dissuade me? Nope.

I drove across the bridge very slowly and heard the tap of every wooden plank as my 4ton van made its way across. The expressions on the faces of the other tourists on the bridge as I approached were, I have to say, priceless. I’ve got video of the crossing; maybe I’ll be able to take a few stills of the wide eyed pedestrians.

After that little adventure I was off to Pike’s Peak. My father has told me for years that if I ever find that I have itchy feet it’s because it’s in the blood. The blood connection is due to being a direct descendant of Zebulon Montgomery Pike.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike was a US Army Captain that was ordered to explore the South and West of the Louisiana Purchase. This expedition was about the same time as the Lewis and Clark Expedition but far less famous. After reading about his expedition a little I discovered that the anniversary of the end of his journey was 200 years ago last Sunday (July 1st 1807). Seems quite fortuitous to be on my trip and find this out.

It is a long drive up to the top of Pike’s Peak, sitting at 14,110 feet of elevation. (Mt. Hood in Oregon sits at 11,249). It is also a beautiful drive – totally without guardrails. Getting out at the top was a chilling experience, both in terms of temperature and my reaction to the altitude. The air was so thin at the top that I was wobbly and a little dizzy. I think my mountain climbing aspirations had a serious reality check that day. It was fun to realize that in the previous 7 days I had been to the lowest point in the United States at -282 ft. in Death Valley where it was 121degrees, crossed the continental divide, and was then standing on top of a 14,110 foot peak where it was snowing. Not bad for the first week

Wanna Go For A Ride?

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 5 of July , 2007 at 10:57 pm

Starting in Albuquerque I filmed every mile of the drive to Sioux City in hopes of compiling it into a time lapse display of the drive. Well, here is my first shot at it. I had to cut out the night driving to make it fit, but you couldn’t see that much in the dark anyway.

You might notice: The Royal Gorge, Pike’s Peak, Cows, Parking under a bridge to avoid hail, me taking pictures, etc…

Here you go, hold on to something.

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Friday the 13th

Writing by Brad on Friday, 13 of July , 2007 at 2:32 pm

Today was supposed to be my ceremonial departure date. Originally it was supposed to be Friday the 13th of April, but I needed to be around to be the Best Man for my oldest friend who was getting married on 7/7/7 in Sioux City so I pushed it back, luckily there was a Friday the 13th in July as well.

You see, many significant things have happened for me on Friday the 13th: Graduation from High School, first overseas trip, and a few other things that have become foggy with time. I also kind of like bucking the unluckiness of the number but maybe that trend is drawing to a close as I will have seen both Friday the 13th’s pass without significance this year.

I’ve had a little trouble getting my head back into the trip since Summer went back to Portland. I miss her, a lot. This stop on the trip will be the single longest period of time I’m in one place for the duration of this journey – probably the longest time I’ve been in one place for a number of years – and it’s in a place full of memories that I don’t remember. I’ve been away for 10 years and have had an entirely different life during that time. I may have grown up here, but I feel the seeds that were planted grew into who I am because of my life in Portland.

I’m turning that lack of focus around now. I’m fighting my mind from becoming idle and spinning off down dark roads. I’ve got my maps back out, I’m consuming gallons of coffee in my old Sioux City haunts, and I’m adapting to the new initial European destination. I need to turn this time into opportunity, study my Russian language materials, fight my way through more European history, catch up with old friends, hang out with family, interview my grandparents, sleep…

So where do I go?

Since my original plan of Spain/Morocco/Portugal/France/Germany has been dashed and I’ve lost a full 30 days of summer weather I’ve been trying to reorient my path through Europe. Do I try like crazy to make it down to Spain to participate in La Tomatina, then run back up to Paris to see my Fiancé? Do I skip Spain until the winter months and explore Northern Europe before the snows come? Spain and Italy would have the best weather in the winter months; also they have a Carnival season that I just found out about. I’d only known about it in connection with Brazil. It isn’t something we celebrate in the United States but has a long history throughout Europe.

Tidbit: One theory on the origin of Carnival comes from the Latin “carne” (meat) and “vale” (farewell) as it is usually the last time of feasting prior to the fasting season of Lent.
No matter what I do, I will miss the International Regatta of Bathtubs in Belgium. (No, I wasn’t planning on attending, but after I found it I thought it would be fun.)

From worldeventsguide.com:

“More of a lark than a serious competition, this event is open to seaworthy bath tubs of all classes, from all nations. The exact rules are vague, but vessels can be of any design – seemingly the more bizarre the better – and there must be at least one bath tub providing buoyancy. Motors are strictly forbidden, so is the deliberate sinking of a fellow competitor. Prizes are awarded by an impartial panel of judges for speed, technical endeavour, beauty, novelty, and representation of the town. Even for non-boating visitors, Dinant, with its onion dome tower wedged between the river and a cliff, is sufficiently picturesque to be worth a visit. The annual “La Regate des Baignoires” makes it doubly so”

Ideas are welcome, I just booked my Hostel for Antwerp, so I at least have a place to get my land legs back for a few days, and then it’s off to explore the continent.

Anyway, happy Friday the 13th! I hope it is lucky for you.

Small town USA

Writing by Brad on Saturday, 14 of July , 2007 at 1:04 am

Open letter to middle America:

Acting tough is not the same as being tough. I was out with some friends tonight for a few beers. We talked of interesting things and mild Sioux City drama. Luckily the people I was drinking with didn’t care much for the local pastime of gossip and intrigue. Last call comes and we make out way out to the van. What do we find? Some woman has been stabbed by another woman, and the crowds are circling to see the auxiliary fights that have broken out. Three to my count until the police show up and the dogs come out. My friend says to me “Welcome to 4th street”. 4th Street is the place where the popular bars are in Sioux City. There are other bars in town, but this is where the weekend warriors come out to play. By weekend warriors I mean college kids and people who don’t show up on a weekday because the odds of them finding a drunk member of the opposite sex willing to go home with them are so much lower. But this is Sioux City…I’ll never understand the mentality that goes into a bar fight or sidewalk stabbing.So kids. Guys and Girls. It’s simple, really it is. Be aware of your surroundings and try not to overstep your bounds. Know when an apology is the right thing to do. Respect women or men as the case may be, and know that whatever happened is an opportunity for you to exit. Exit the drama, exit the people who can’t control themselves, exit the ego driven situation where the person offended is so sensitive that they have to hurt someone else.Those aren’t good people, however noble their intentions sound, those are small people, with fragile egos. Those are dangerous people who will find themselves in jail eventually. And I can’t think of a better place for them. But then again, I’ve had my drinks tonight, I’m upset, and I think someone got blood on my van.This is Sioux City, Iowa where the population is under 100K, and everyone has to be tough. Cause it matters… Whatever…

Bugs

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 17 of July , 2007 at 10:57 pm

There are an incredible amount of bugs in the Midwest, I’d say half of them are visiting my laptop right now. I’m on the back patio of a bar in Sioux City, alone, with a $5 pitcher of Bud, trying to control my urges to knock the bugs off my person and laptop. It does no good… they come back. At least if I leave them alone, maybe they won’t tell their friends, so they can have that eerie glow all to themselves.I can hear the stray bugs from the nearby safety light bouncing off the Coors umbrella attached to my table. It’s like a sporadic bit of insect rain.The sounds around me are pretty impressive too, there is the machine gun fire of some, the long creaking Morse code of others, and the deafening noise that the Cicadas make. If you’ve never seen a Cicada they are an incredibly ugly bug.Once while I was working in Maryland I found an intact molting of a Cicada laying in the grass. I was working with a couple of guys that were from India and hadn’t spent that much time in the US. Thinking I was funny I grabbed the shell, took it into the server room, and placed in on the keyboard of one of their laptops. From somewhere I could see I called out “hey, could you get me the password for this router?” Unsuspectingly he walked over to his laptop, poised his hands for typing, gasped, and promptly fell backward. He didn’t say anything or call out; instead he grabbed a pen and started poking at it. That was when I couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing. Busted…

RAGBRAI 2007

Writing by Brad on Friday, 27 of July , 2007 at 9:28 am

10 days since my last post. I’ve been keeping pretty busy, busy enough that it now feels like I have a very short time left here in Sioux City, and so much left to do.Earlier this week I headed off to see what RAGBRAI was all about. RAGBRAI stands for: Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. This year it is a 477 mile ride across Northern Iowa comprised of some 10000+ riders from all over the world. They start by dipping their tires in a river on the Western side of Iowa, ride for 5 days, and then dip their tires in an Eastern river to finish.Sunday I arrived in Rock Rapids around 8am and the majority of riders had already set off on that day’s 77 mile leg. I drove back home for a few hours sleep and then set back out to see what the nightlife of a RAGBRAI stop was like. So back on the road to Spencer, I arrived about 7pm and saw fields and fields of tents and more bikes than I’d ever seen in one place.tents_sm.jpgThe population of Spencer, IA had literally doubled that day. The evening’s festivities were held at the Fairgrounds – although I doubt there was a single parking lot or side street that wasn’t active – I ended up spending the night drinking and people-watching in the Fairground’s beer garden until it closed at 12:30am. I made my way back to the van in a nearby parking lot and passed out.I awoke about 5:30am to find that everyone else was already up and on the move. I wiped the sleep from my eyes, hopped in the driver’s seat, and headed off for a vantage point to get some pictures. I followed the route of the bikers, which meant I was driving with the tide. Literally it was like a stream of bikers flowing past me. I was the huge obstruction on their street and once I was in the path there was little to be done about getting out of it. I was surrounded on all sides and turning off to a side street just wasn’t an option. I didn’t get out of the mass until the route turned right and I was able to continue straight. I considered following the event to the next city but decided to drive back home instead.bikers_sm.jpgI had a lot of fun that night and riding RAGBRAI is now something that is definitely on my list. I will really have to train up though, I’m nowhere near the physical shape I’d need to be to finish the ride, but hey, goals are good.

Weird Chickens

Writing by Brad on Saturday, 28 of July , 2007 at 10:44 am

I drove up to Le Mars, Iowa on Wednesday to visit the Plymouth County Fair. I’ve never, to my recollection, been to a County Fair. After being to a County Fair, I think I’d remember if I had.It was the first day of the Fair and the middle of the day on Wednesday so there were not too many people there. Mostly just the people that had brought animals to be judged, or sold, or, I’m guessing, eaten. There was a barn for each of your standard farm animals: sheep, goats, horses, pigs, chickens and other birds all classified by the sign “Poultry”, and of course beef (cows). I did expect to see llamas and emus but maybe that’s more of an Oregon thing.The chickens though… I have never seen such a variety of chickens in my life. There were some weird chickens, very colorful, stylish, and yes weird, chickens.bird_dew.jpgpolish_sm.jpgAlso, I’d hoped to find some 500 pound pig that I could hitch a ride on, but no, no such pig ride was available. Now I should visit a State Fair, maybe they’ll have a pig for me to ride.chip_bingo.jpg

Time to go…

Writing by Brad on Friday, 3 of August , 2007 at 8:34 pm

Well, tomorrow morning my father and I head off for the East coast. Several things have changed in the past few days that make this a little more exciting than it was before. My cargo departure has changed yet again. Now instead of leaving from Savannah, GA on the 12th I’m leaving from Charleston, SC on the 10th, at 10am. This creates a few wrinkles…We are now going to have to compress our leisurely stroll across the American Southeast from nine days to six. Originally I had budgeted two days to find a buyer for the van in Savannah, now I’m going to have to pull it off in one day in Charleston. Plus, I have yet to receive any information on where I’m to meet my ship.I’ve spent the past two days doing all the things I should have been doing for the past several weeks. I got pretty complacent in my time here, but I think I’ll be ok. I’ve been packing and unpacking my bag trying to make everything fit. I didn’t realize how much I’d relied on the van for the extra goodies that are now making my bag weak in the seams. I’m wondering now how much of this stuff I’ll actually need. Odds are I’ll be getting rid of some of the more useless items during my first real month on the road. Either that or I’ll get a lot more efficient at packing them.I’ll try and weigh my pack at some point to give you an idea how much all this adds up to. I’m pretty curious myself. One thing is for sure, I’m going to be in a lot better shape by the time I’m done.In all I’ve had a lot of fun while I’ve been here in Iowa. I’ve met some great people and really caught up with some old friends. This is the single greatest amount of time I’ve spent in my hometown since I moved away 10 years ago. Any time before this was long enough to go out for drinks and thats about it. This time I got to really spend some time with friends and family. One night on my oldest friends porch he said to me “It’s been nice getting to know you again.” It’s rare to have friends that are willing to change with you and give you the chance to be different than when you used to spend all that time together. Those are the friends you need to make sure you know for the rest of your life. I’m very fortunate to have many of those friends.I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone I’ve talked to about the trip over the past six weeks. Your continued support is very important to me. It has helped nudge me through my doubts and worries. I’d like to thank my parents for basically letting me move back in and feeding me. I’m thankful I got to spend the time with you that I did. And there is one person in particular I have to thank above all others. Summer, I couldn’t do this without your support, I’m very lucky to have you in my life. I love you very much.I’m on the move again…

Brief Update

Writing by Brad on Friday, 10 of August , 2007 at 1:20 pm

It’s been 7 days and 1700 miles since my last post and lots of things have happened. My father and I left Sioux City on the 4th and arrived here in Charleston on the 8th. Stay tuned for notes on our stop by Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal Missouri, our visit to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace distilleries in Lexington, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green Kentucky, and various locations around Charleston.

This is just a quick update since I haven’t had time to compose my thoughts with all the driving and administrative this-n-that.

THE VAN HAS BEEN SOLD!!!! I posted the ad on Craigslist upon our arrival and within an hour I was talking to the guy who would eventually buy it from me the next morning. I had about seven other calls and emails the same day. My concerns about being able to move it quickly had disappeared.

With that hurdle cleared, the next was to find out when and where I would board my ship. This is still a moving target. While I know where I will board – Port Wondo – I still am trying to get a solid when. I’ve called several times in the past several days and the time has changed with each call. As of right now I will be boarding some time on Sunday the 12th…

Freighter Travel is not for everyone. I’m still waiting to find out if it’s for me. After talking with my grandfather, during my time in Sioux City, I’m thinking it may be a bumpier ride than I expected. I’ve got some expired Dramamine patches but hopefully I won’t need them.

So for now I’m in Charleston, and it’s hot, stupid hot, and humid, like heat index of 119 degrees. We’re keeping busy visiting WWII Aircraft Carriers and gazing at the Atlantic ocean.

Stay tuned for more… soon…

Boat day

Writing by Brad on Sunday, 12 of August , 2007 at 5:13 am

I’ve called the cab to take me to “Port Wondo”, it should be here in a few minutes. I’m packed and have expanded my spare duffel to hold provisions for the voyage, Cliff Bars, Peanut Butter Crackers, Liter of Grey Goose, you know, the essentials.

I thought about it last night, and I’ve been on the road for 51 days as of today and part of me feels like when I get on that ship is when it really starts

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Thanks for everyone’s calls of support last night, they meant a lot.

Boat day: Part 2

Writing by Brad on Sunday, 12 of August , 2007 at 6:26 am

There may be a lot of posts today.

Brad Pierce: Current Address: Starbucks

The cab ride was fairly short and getting any conversation out of the cabbie, who appeared to have actually fused with the seat, was difficult at best. So we arrived silently at the Wando Terminal security checkpoint where the nice lady informed me that the ship was not in and would not be in until 6pm. 8 hours from now. This was contrary to the information I received yesterday from the Agent for the ship. Yesterday’s update was with a high degree of confidence. But things change, and in the freighter travel world, you don’t get a call or a convenient text message with an update.

I asked the cabbie to drop me at a Starbucks nearby. And here I am with all my bags and a hot coffee in the corner of a smallish Starbucks. And here I will remain, probably until the sun goes down.

This is my first real exposure to the homeless-backpacker-with-all-his-stuff experience. I’ve tugged around my overstuffed pack for a while in other countries but more often than not, from train to bed was the extent of my lugging.

Now I must defend this piece of rented real estate for the rest of the day. On the bright side, there is internet, power, coffee, and a steady stream of people to watch. Actually it’s pretty much ideal as far as I’m concerned.

UPDATE (11:30am): I just called the Agent to see if I could get some more detail about the 6pm arrival and he told me the ship had arrived and just finished tying up. I’m calling for another cab and will be aboard soon. This will likely be my last post until Belgium, but you never know…

Across the Atlantic

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 21 of August , 2007 at 3:40 pm

Nine days at Sea… There is an immense amount of water out there. You see it from the beach and think, “Wow, I feel so small compared to its vastness.” Well that feeling is only intensified when your entire field of view, in every direction, for nine days, is ocean.

I’d anticipated twelve days, but am happy with nine. It is a unique experience especially on a nine hundred foot ship manned by only twenty three people, and one passenger, but it is a long slow ride and the novelty of the water wears off by about day four, so you focus on the people. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to travel by cargo ship, I thought it would be a far more intimate and interesting travel experience.

Beware: long post, some profanity, tense confusion

Day 1 – Getting on the ship:

After sitting at Starbucks for an hour and a half I decided to call the dock agent to see if he had better information about the arrival of the ship. He answered and told me that the ship had docked and that I could come aboard. It took me another 30 minutes to get a cab to this uncharted Starbucks and then to the boat. We returned to the security checkpoint where the guard shrugged her shoulders and said “I don’t know why it’s here so early.”

Driving down the line of massive container ships while looking for MSC painted on the side seemed to take quite a while. But finally we found it. I unloaded my bags from the cab, hefted them up onto me, and walked up the bouncy gangway to sign in and have my ID checked. From there it was a series of narrow hallways and stairs to get to the lift that would take me to my room. I had just enough time to drop my bags and glance at my accommodations before heading down to the Officer’s mess for lunch. This was to be my first “foreign” experience of the trip so far. I sat with the Officers and stared off into space while they spoke German to each other. The food was good and served with a sugary orangeish juice that would make its appearance at every meal after that.

I also made my first serious etiquette mistake of the trip. I haven’t had a hair cut in a couple months and didn’t feel like dealing with it so I had a hat on. In the hurry to get me to my room and down to the mess I didn’t consider taking it off. A short time after I was seated I considered the fact that no one else was wearing a hat, including the Captain. I considered that, at that point, the potential situation was too far gone and left the hat where it was. Some time later when everyone had left the room the Captain turned to me and politely asked “Does your head have a cold?” Being a bit slow I said “I’m sorry?” and he repeated. After the second run through he plainly asked if I would remove my hat, which I did immediately, and apologized repeatedly. (I didn’t wear the hat again for the duration of the voyage, bad hair day or not…)

I learned that we would be in port for the night as they readjusted some containers for more efficient weight distribution. I still had phone reception so I badgered Summer all night, full of anxiety about my pending departure. I’ve always thought she was an amazing woman for putting up with the idea of this trip, I feel it even more so now that she has had to deal with all my neuroses from having started it.

Dinner was interesting tonight; apparently it is some kind of German tradition to have cold cuts for dinner on Sundays. I was the first one into the officer’s mess and wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Usually I like to arrive later, that way I can follow the cues of others. I started out like I was making a sandwich and decided based on the number of bread slices that I should take only one, but I took three slices of different meat. There was some ham and mayonnaise looking concoction in a bowl so I took a scoop of that as well. The salad was self explanatory.

After others arrived and I watched them put their dinner together I realized several things. The ham and mayo was actually a sandwich topping. The other diners spread it on the toasted baguette whereas I ate mine like some kind of potato salad.

The cold cut stack I put together was far larger than anyone else’s. The two men sitting on either side of me took only one piece of meat and applied it to the heavily buttered bread.

I attempted as much as possible to eat like they did cutting the cold cut stack instead of instinctively picking it up with my hands.

After dinner I left with the 4th Mate to do some paperwork, sign off that I understood the security concerns, and knew the general and abandon ship alarms.

After that was a quick tour of C deck where the gym, pool, and sauna are located. The gym is far more outfitted than the ship I was supposed to be on. The pictures of that one showed only a ping pong table and a stationary bike. Here we have 3 bikes, free weights, a dartboard, a ping pong table, and a heavy bag. The pool is saltwater and appears to be about 8 feet deep. Swimming in a saltwater pool will be a new experience for me.

The ship’s steward stopped by to see if I needed anything from the on-board store. I asked for some sprite as the water is drinkable from the faucet. That was when I found out that you can only buy things by the case. So now I have 24 cans of sprite for the next seven days of travel. There is no way I will drink all of it, but I will experiment with combining sprite and vodka…

Day 2 – Sailing away

Strangely, it is the 13th and it is also the day I set off for Europe on this cargo ship. I believe they prefer “Container Ship”. I woke about 6:30am this morning. Sleep was spotty last night; I remember waking up many times but nothing was serious enough to keep me up for long. Before going to bed I watched the cranes moving containers around on the ship. They seemed to focus on the stack of containers just outside the tower, and thus, my room. I went to bed about Midnight and they were all on break. There was no clanking or shaking or crazy buzzing alarm for at least 30 minutes.

In that time I fell asleep in my king bed with a comforter for my sheets and blanket.

This morning we got underway at about 7:40 am. I decided to go breakfast late so that I could observe and mimic if necessary. When I opened the door to the Officer’s mess, I was the first and only one there. The cook asked me if I wanted eggs with tomatoes and onions! How did he know? And the other main course was Melba Toast. I’d never had Melba Toast before so I said I’d like to try it. Melba Toast in case you’re curious, is bread, a thin slice of meat, some type of fruit (mandarin oranges in this case), and cheese, then baked.

Before the breakfast had a chance to make it to me there was a call from the bridge. The Captain wanted me upstairs. I jogged up the seven decks to the bridge and walked out to where the captain was. He smiled and said “Make your fucking breakfast later! We are Sailing!!” He was under the impression that none of this is very interesting. And that watching us turn and head out to sea would be the only slightly exciting thing that would happen for the next six days.

At 10:00 am there is a coffee break for the Officers in the ship’s office. I felt like I was intruding as everyone got quiet for a while after I arrived and poured my coffee. Slowly, conversation started back up in German. I busied myself with all the signs and computers in the room. Eventually the captain arrived and sat at the head of the table. More conversation but now some in English. He told me stories of cargo arriving at one port and being relabeled and picked up at another. That there are clever men that out there just sitting back waiting for their money, and apparently it happens all over the place.

Then we got into a discussion about German football (soccer) and whether or not I’d like to be in the betting pool. Cost to enter: 1 Euro, just pick the winners and the one with the most points gets a case of beer. He said that usually the people who know the least about the teams end up winning, or he’s just saying that so I’ll play. Either way, it’s something to pass the time… Totto they call it, instead of Lotto.

Notes from after dinner conversation with the Captain:

The ship is worth 70billion (seems like a lot, maybe he meant million)
It burns 240 tons of fuel a day. It can hold 5000 tons of fuel.
The engine is 75000 hp and can do 25knots
It currently has 4500 containers on board.
It is 300 meters long and 54 meters wide.

The phrase “You don’t believe” is interchangeable with “I can’t believe” When I figured this out I stopped saying “Yes I do!” Example: Captain “You don’t believe how poor Americans are!” Me “Yes I do!” Let me clarify what he meant by this statement. He and the dock agent couldn’t find a Karaoke machine or a 220 to 110 volt converter while out shopping. When he asked for the 220 to 110 converter he couldn’t find anyone that knew what he was talking about. Personally I fault the dock agent more than the “poor” retail person tasked with finding things not many people in the US ever ask for.

At about midnight after several Vodka-Sprites, I put on my headphones and ventured out to the portside D deck which extends closer to the water than any other deck. The night wind was cool and strong and the sky had more stars in it than I’ve ever been able to see before. With nearly all the ship’s lights off it was black one hundred feet in every direction. The Milky Way ran parallel to the ghostly white exhaust from the ships engines and the whitecaps made by the wake of the ship glowed under the few lights that were on.

Day 3 – BBQ night

The social lubricant of the evening was “Gustav’s Special” (aka. German Jungle Juice)

The captain has been taking me to the holds below the galley for the past two days to sample his concoction. Today 3 bottles of champagne were added.

The recipe is thus:

Coniac ( in unknown quantity), Fruit (mostly fruit cocktail style: pinapple, cherry, grapes, etc…), 3 cases of wine, and 3 bottles of champagne. I believe I paid for one of those cases based on a discussion I had with the captain at lunch but we’ll see when the tally rounds up.

I had the rawest steak I’ve ever had tonight. Now, you must understand, I’m not prone to hyperbole, best and worst are wasted on me, so if I ever say anything ending in “–est” that isn’t a German word, know that I’ve put some thought into it. So when I say “rawest” I mean the edges were brown and the middle was nearly beating. Yet I put it down, as well as some of the spit roasted pig and the shrimp that I believe I improperly peeled.

Then we drank the “Gustav’s Special”. By we I mean the captain, officers, and crew. There was one crew member that I never got the name of that continued to steal my glass and fill it whenever I wasn’t looking… He took it when I was watching as well.

Somewhere in the middle, I grabbed the bottle of Grey Goose from my fridge and offered it up to everyone. The Germans laughed at me. Real Vodka comes from Poland or Russia, not France, according to them.

The Philippinos had no issue with the country of origin once the Captain left. They added it to Gustav’s Special while I held court with the 4th mate and Cadet. We mostly talked about missing our loves. I’ve talked with these men about home and they refer to it in terms of where their loves are. The steward talks of his wife and his1 year old child. The cadet talks of his girlfriend and speaks of the passion that lives in one day in port. The fourth mate talks of starting a family and ending his career as a Seaman. At 24 he knows that his life is best lived in port with his heart a suburb away. I miss my fiancé, my love, and I tell them all about it. I pull out the Archos, and smile proudly as I flip through the pictures.

I miss my girl… My future wife…

It’s 2am again… Breakfast tomorrow is optional…

Day 4 – The sun and the sea

I finally timed the sun correctly so that I could lay out on deck and try to add some color to my skin as I’m easily the whitest person aboard the ship. I’ll probably be the whitest person I Europe until I venture up North, and I mean really north. If I wanted to blend a bit more I’m sure I could venture over to the UK and find some other pale peoples.

So the color of the day is red which will hopefully fade into the tan of my forearms which, while hanging out the windows of the van over 7000 miles, have given up their pastiness. I’ve got a wedding to look good for and that certainly won’t happen if I consume every hearty German meal offered on board. Yesterday I skipped breakfast and still wasn’t hungry by lunch but figured I’d better show up so they didn’t think I was clutching my head in agony all day. I sat down and was served some mystery of burnt meat covered in what tasted like a sweet and sour sauce. As usual I just started eating; now using my fork in my left hand for the duration of the meal. Sorry mom and dad, the manners you taught me have served me well, but this one had to go. The Captain commented the other day about how I ate my steak, cutting pieces then putting down the knife and switching the fork to my right hand. As I’m sure I argued when I was a child “But that’s not how the Europeans do it!” When in Rome…

Day 5 – Keeping Busy-ish

I’ve been reading my books on Europe but can only do that for so long. They are the collections on the whole of Europe so contain mostly tidbits and reference material. I couldn’t bring all my books as the weight of just the things I did bring seems excessive.

I did bring a couple fiction books but feel like reading them would be a waste of the time I could spend working on photos, training on Photoshop, or writing.

Last night the ship really started to roll. I’ve learned what the locks are for on all the drawers. Even with the help of an Ambien I found myself unable to sleep. It was a slow but serious roll from one side to the next. Happily, I’m not seasick, actually I quite enjoy the ride, however, my body isn’t quite sure what’s going on. Maybe it thinks an invisible hand is trying to roll me over so that I’ll stop snoring. Since the Chief Officer’s cabin is just down the hall, maybe he requested this sneaky maneuver. Regardless I found myself awake and gathered up all the loose items in the room, some of which had already made their way to the floor. At one point my full Nalgene of water made a shot for my head. Luckily the pillows stopped it before it made contact with my nose.

I discovered that if I lay in the same direction as the pitching of the ship I sleep much better. I’m very happy at this point that the bed in my cabin is so large. My feet hang off the end when I sleep with my head to port but at least I don’t wake up every few minutes. Finally after sitting up writing for an hour or so and taking a melatonin, I was able to get back to sleep, which I did successfully until about 9am.

5:07pm

No sunshine today and the temperature has dropped about 20 degrees. They’ve taken the water out of the pool due to the rocking of the ship. The captain says we are riding against 12ft. swells, nothing serious, just enough to rock the boat.

I was just out on D deck with my face into the wind and decided shorts are not an option for the next couple of days. There are still no dolphins to escort us.

I’ve been getting homesick in waves lately, wondering if all this was a good idea. I miss Summer terribly and find that I spend most of my time thinking about her and wishing she were here with me or I was there with her. 4 days to go until I can talk to her again. All this time just being “away” is starting to really take its toll.

Somewhere on the E deck I’ve found that the ship sings. There is some kind of harmonic resonance there that always makes me look for a radio that’s on. I don’t know how else to explain it.

I’m skipping dinner tonight in favor of a bunch of fruit I grabbed at lunch, but I think I’ll head up to the bridge later on and pester whomever is on duty to teach me a thing or two about sailing.

7:48pm
N.44. W.44. In the middle of the Atlantic.

Well I never made it to the bridge but the Cadet stopped in to teach me some seaman’s knots. Some of the knots I remembered from the Mountaineering classes I took a few years back but I was rusty and his knots were far more elaborate. The Diamond knot in particular was ornate and functional but was used back in the 1800s. During our discussion I found out that the German Navy has over 500 knots, and doesn’t use them all. Even most of the knots he showed me aren’t used on this ship. They use about four main knots here.

I now know how to tie barrels, splice both nylon and steel braided wires, and make pretty knots for the ladies.

Tomorrow night he’ll test my memory and show me some videos of dolphins chasing the ship.

It’s 1:30 and the Ambien yet again fails to do the job.

Day 6 – A Seaman’s Life

Worked on photos, watched West Wing, and listened to a lot of German “Future Trance” from Sebastian (aka. The Cadet). Spent some time in the gym and running the stairs between decks.

I stopped up on the bridge to see if my GPS readings were accurate for our position and… They were! We’re just past the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The clouds are a constant low mass at this point, the sun above them just lights up the sky with a ghostly dull grey florescence.

Fire drill today… the Steward came to find me at about 3:50pm to tell me about it and get me suited up and ready for the run. I took my camera but discovered once we had all gathered that I’d left the memory card in the cabin… Oh well, you’ll just have to imagine me in a goofy orange hard hat and life preserver.

People keep asking me if I’m bored yet and when I say “nah” they shrug and say “It’s a Seaman’s life.”

I spent more time with Sebastian tonight learning about what is involved in the Seaman’s school he attends. I saw lots of pictures of immersion suits, fire fighting, classrooms, and an interesting party game played with ceramic and metal capped beer bottles.

Day 7 – Birthday Party

It’s colder today for sure. As we creep up the Northern Latitudes we’ve met a low pressure system that is batting the ship around a bit, 10-12 degrees. The elevator (lift) stops working at 15 degrees. I’ve only been attending one or two meals a day lately so the crew has been concerned about me being seasick. I haven’t felt at all seasick yet despite the rolling of the ship. I just haven’t been that hungry and the meals are substantial enough to last me through the day.

We’ve added a day to our journey. What was going to be the 20th in the morning is now the 21st in the morning. Actually we should arrive in port about 11:30pm on the 20th but I will not disembark until the afternoon of the 21st. The Captain says he will arrange for a car to take me to Antwerp Central where I can call my contact, or just hang out until he gets off work.

At night, while taking some dishes back to the galley I came across a flyer for a Birthday party in the Crew Bar so I decided to stop in. I talked at length with several of the crew about the different ports and types of ships they’d worked on and about which islands in the Philippines would be best for a honeymoon. I learned some new phrases in Tagalog. Just the basics: Good Morning (Magandan Omaga) Good evening (Magandang gabi), thank you (Salamat), I’m sorry (Pasensya Ka Na).

Then some time later I found myself in conversation with an older German engineer. Our topics criss-crossed the superficial and somehow we ended up talking about War. He was born and raised in East Germany nearly ten years after the end of the World War II. He had seen Vietnam from the East German side. I could see him holding back memories with everything he had, but the tears came anyway. Although I’ve had no personal involvement in war and I’m thankful to whatever power there is on high that my father wasn’t directed to Vietnam, I still felt every tear this man shed and wished away his pain. He was struggling through broken English and Russian to explain to me how bad it was. The frustration from not being able to find the words and reliving the memories eventually became too much so we switched to lighter topics and he invited me to his cabin tomorrow as a new friend, so that he could show me pictures of his family.

Some truths are learned only from those who have been on the other side….

3am… time for sleep…

Day 8 – English Channel

I finished processing the bulk of the photos from Sioux City through the Atlantic today; I also fixed the DVD player that the Captain lost a disc in. As soon as people found out that I’m a computer guy the questions always start. I’ve helped with several problems that have been nagging the crew, mostly office related stuff, and the occasional “should I have done this?” It felt good to help out with something instead of just being “The Passenger”.

My new friend from last night and the Cadet stopped by my cabin this afternoon and invited me down to look through photos with them. We talked a lot about where they are from and where I am from. We drank some Becks and I showed them some of the pictures from my trip. They liked the time-lapse from New Mexico to Iowa and were surprised at how many miles, and hours, I took to get from Portland to Charleston.

It was a good afternoon.

Tonight we’ve entered the English Channel which is wide enough that we still can’t see much. I’ve seen what appeared to be a ferry cross on the horizon and I’ve been able to see the flashing lights from the lighthouses on the English side. Birds have started to take up positions on the containers outside my window. Sometime tomorrow night we will be with the Pilot that will guide us into the Antwerp port.

We’ve successfully crossed the Atlantic.

Day 9 – Laundry day

I found my way to the ship’s laundry and washed what I had worn, watched more West Wing and found out that I hadn’t won the Totto. No worries, the steward had and he was sharing his beer with the crew regardless. I’ve really begun to like these guys. I can see where this kind of camaraderie could beat back the boredom of months at sea.

Now that we’re so close to land I’m eager to start exploring Europe, the time seems to stretch again as the anticipation grows.

We dropped anchor at 11pm to wait for the tide to come in and didn’t get moving again until about 3am.

I didn’t get much sleep, either the anticipation or the jarring of the ship as we got underway again, kept me from it.

Day 10 – Belguim

I see land. Lots of smaller ships have taken up positions alongside us and are headed in the same direction.

After we made it through the locks it was only a short time before we made it to the dock. The Antwerp port was absolutely buzzing with activity. The tall yellow container crane-trucks looked like hungry ants carrying food to their queens. Everything seemed to move at a pace twice that of Charleston.

I was on the ship until 4pm so I crammed all my junk into my bag and waited for immigration to clear me. After putting on my pack this time I had the serious realization that I’ll be reevaluating its contents. There is no need for half this weight. I’m loaded up for too many scenarios and what will probably happen is that I’ll end up tweaking my back and not being able to carry any of it. House cleaning time is coming.

I was able to talk with Summer for a while today and get caught up on her life and vice versa. It was incredibly refreshing and felt great just to hear her voice. Nine days is too long. I’m ready for Europe now…

Beer, Chocolate, and Waffles

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 23 of August , 2007 at 12:39 am

60 days… 11,000 miles… I am finally in Europe. I love Europe. For its small cars, its strange boxed fluids, for the myriad of languages (that I do not understand) heard in every corner and many, many other things.

We arrived in port on the 21st at about 1pm. I spent the morning consolidating the contents of the small duffel into the big backpack. After visiting with the immigration officers that came aboard around and showing them my passport, Eurail pass, and proof that I wasn’t broke, I was welcomed to Belgium.

I was able to call Yves, my host, from the ship and arrange for a time to meet at the Antwerp Central station.

30 minutes by cab and 41Euro later I was at the station. The timing was great and Yves walked up just a few minutes after I arrived.

Yves is an amazing and generous host, I can’t imagine a luckier turn of events than those that put me into contact with him. The first night he made me a traditional Belgian dinner complete with Belgian beer and then took me on a walking tour of the city center. Along the way we stopped into several pubs to sample more of the tasty famous ales.

There is no better way to see a place, especially a very old place, than with a local that truly enjoys it.

The next day I ventured out on my own. When exploring a city for the first time I tend to walk more than anything else. It gives you a street level view of many things and situations you would never see if you hopped on the underground and went directly to your destination. By virtue of my uncanny ability to head in the wrong direction I completely botched the directions Yves gave me and went for a very long walk. Instead of the 20 minutes it should have taken me to get to the Central Station I discovered a route that took me a little over 2 hours, which is absolutely fine by me! We figured out later that night that I probably logged somewhere in the range of 5 or 6 miles for the day.

Even though the weather has been overcast and wet, it is still a beautiful place. I’m incredibly happy to not be able to read the signs or the menus or understand what anyone says to me – until I make my quizzical “I’m sorry?” at which point they deftly switch languages to English.

Pictures so far – Part II

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 23 of August , 2007 at 4:36 pm

Sorry for the delay in getting this second batch of pictures up. I’m always looking to improve so any critiques are welcome.

All pictures are posted on my flicker page:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/digiboom

United States:

Saturday In The Park 2007 – Sioux City, Iowa

RAGBRAI 2007

Plymouth County Fair

Hannibal, Missouri

Wild Turkey Distillery – Lexington, Kentucky

Buffalo Trace Distillery – Lexington, Kentucky

National Corvette Museum – Bowling Green, Kentucky

Charleston, South Carolina

Across the Atlantic:

Freighter Travel

Europe:

Belgium – Antwerp (partial)

I’m off to Essen, Germany in the morning. Gonna give this Eurail thing a go.

Learning Curve

Writing by Brad on Friday, 24 of August , 2007 at 1:58 pm

You must understand by now that my misadventures are my adventures. Ending up in the wrong place is often as interesting as ending up in the right place. Sometimes more.

So with that said… I find myself at an AOL Kiosk in an American themed bar/resturant next to my indoor soccerplex-hostel. Country music on the stereo and belt buckles and cowboy hats on the staff, including a giant backdrop of Monument Valley behind what I imagine would be the dancefloor on a busier night….

But getting here is the story.

Leaving Antwerp was my first use of the Eurail pass I bought. 3 months unlimited rail travel throughout 18 countries in Europe. After validating the ticket at Antwerp Central I recieved an itinnerary consisting of 4 train changes to get to Essen Germany. It should have taken about 4 hours… There was another option that would have arrived there later but with less train changes (and the insidious “suppliment”: extra money for better trains)

In the end both would have arrived about the same time.

I was dozing in and out of conciousness on the first 45 minute leg and phazed in at one point right around the time that we stopped at a station. We’d been traveling about 40 minutes at the time and other people were getting off so I switched into lemming-mode and got off as well.

After the train pulled away the sign on the station was revealed. At that point I realized I had made a mistake. The sign read “Essen.” There is an Essen in Belgium also, just before the stop I wanted.

An agent happened to be standing on the opposite side of the tracks facing me. “Rosendaal?” I said, pointing in the direction the train had just gone. He nodded in reply.
“Oops.” I said with a smile. He was able to print me another series of connections to get to Essen (Germany) and I went back to the platform to wait the 50 minutes for the next train.

Mistake #2

So after the first goof I had an hour to study the train schedule and, although it was in Dutch, it was making sense. My guesses prooved correct for the next two changes.
Until Venlo.

Upon arriving at Venlo I turtled my way over to platform 3b where the train was waiting (changing platforms requires that you go down a flight of stairs, through a tunnel and up a flight of stairs). It was early and the doors were open so I got on board.

The train started moving early. “Do they leave early?” I thought to myself as we pulled away from the station. As we passed the first stop I recognized the name.

Getting all my gear together and through the doors in my way didn’t happen in time and I was still heading in the direction I’d just come from. Oops.

I was able to hop the next Eastbound at the following stop and get back to Venlo, where I waited for the next version of the train I’d missed. During this time I realized I had entered a new country. Not because of any change in the people or architecture, but because the sound of the dominant language had changed. The more gutteral sounds of German were everywhere.

Dutch and German sound similar. I’m told by a Belgian that when the English came to Belgium they heard the language and thought it was German (or Deütch) which was then softened in the telling to “Dutch.” Also now with the announcement there was a very helpful English translation which was never present in Belgium.

Arriving in Essen (the right one) I was tired, hungry, and done with hefting my bags around. I hunted for the busses the info booth told me would be needed to get to my destination. After walking around for a little while I decided on a cab with a very nice Iranian exile for the driver. All the streets are closed for the Love Parade tomorrow so we had to take the long way…

Love Parade = up to 1,000,000 people filling the streets to enjoy dance music from DJs on floats. Google it. It should be interesting.

Love Parade 2007

Writing by Brad on Monday, 27 of August , 2007 at 9:01 am

What do you get when you combine 1.2million people crowding a city of 500,000 to dance and party? Well in Germany it’s called the Love Parade and it is truly something to behold.

clip_image022

I woke around 9:30 am to get some breakfast and noticed that another of the bunks in the 5-bed dorm I was staying in was filled. Sometime after breakfast we introduced ourselves, his name was Juan Jose (Juan-Jo for short) and he had come in from Madrid for the Parade with a couple of friends. Later he invited me to join the three of them and get some lunch before heading down to the parade. They wore matching red shirts with a white bull on the front, representing the part of Spain they were from, and all three were incredibly nice guys.

We drank a little before heading down to the parade. Some whiskey and coke and a Corona with a Doner Kebab. We didn’t see throngs of people heading for the stations so we thought maybe it was slow to start. This is the first year the Love Parade has been anywhere outside of Berlin since it began in the 90’s.

After boarding the U-bahn towards BerlinerPlatz we discovered that we were just further out than the rest of the party goers. The next stop on the line opened to the cheers of people packed into the terminal and 30seconds later the train was overflowing. Two stops further and the cheering crowd poured out of the train and we followed. Exiting the station we could hear the music and the horizon was full of people as far as you could see.

We wandered about, taking in the spectacle and then dived in to the center. I started taking pictures and people started jumping in front of the camera and grabbing their friends. What’s funny is almost always after they asked for a card showing where they could see the picture. It’s funny because a few years back I ran a nightlife website for Portland clubs (R.I.P. PDXCLUBPIX) and that’s exactly what we’d do. Snap a picture and hand out a card. I had cards printed up for an easy way to point people to this site before I left so I handed some of those out. To those of you that thought I was shooting for a magazine or online publication, sorry, I’m just a traveler, but like I promised you can see your pictures by clicking HERE.

Everyone I talked to that day was friendly and happy to be there. We stayed and danced and drank until the wee hours and then headed back to the hostel for some short sleep before our respective departures the next morning. Thanks again to my new Spanish friends for letting a goofy American tag along!

Pictures: Love Parade 2007 set on Flickr.com

Walls

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 28 of August , 2007 at 10:44 am

“Ich bin ein Berliner” [I am a citizen of Berlin] was said by John F. Kennedy in 1963 as a moral boost to the West Berliners and as an affront to the Soviets who had just constructed the Berlin wall. Separating East from West.

From his speech:
“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’…All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”

Then after September 11th, 2001 the French newspaper “Le Monde” echoed that sentiment. Their headline on September 12th read “Nous sommes tous Américains” [We are all Americans].

I’ve made my way from Essen to Berlin to find an amazing city. With a population of roughly 4 Million people and who knows how many tourists it never feels crowded here. I’d read reports of rudeness like you’d find in New York, and have seen none. Absolutely everyone I’ve dealt with here has been helpful and, at the very least, pleasant. From the DMV-like attendants at the Die Bahn information stations to the little old lady that picked up the jacket I dropped while walking through a park in Potsdam. I believe she was telling me I would be very cold soon if I didn’t have that jacket, or something else. It went on for a little while. I just waited for the pause and said “danke schon” smiling back.

After arriving at my hotel and venturing out on a walk the next day I realized I was staying in East Berlin. I had no idea. I just followed the instructions to get to my hostel and didn’t give it a second thought. Other than a line in every bit of pavement that used to be home to the wall and some other memorials there is no sign that this city was divided for 28 years.

There is bustling commerce everywhere, U-bahn and S-bahn to everywhere, tourists, everywhere…

I noted those two quotes at the beginning of this post for a reason. While I found no Berlin wall, I found another wall.

I lost my passport at the Love Parade a few days back. Don’t freak out, I’ve got a backup. I know this about myself, I lose things. So I do my best to have a backup plan or an idea of what would be involved in replacing them. There are many reasons for having a second passport: having a real passport in your pocket when a Hostel asks to hold one during your stay, visiting Israel and being able to then visit Syria, or, you know, dropping it somewhere amidst a mass of people.

I waited to deal with it until I got to Berlin because I knew we had a full embassy here. So I went to visit my embassy and found giant concrete barricades blocking all the streets approaching it. I walked up to the guard booth and when I attempted to open the door the guard made a signal as if he wanted me to show him a pass. Eventually another guard came to the door and asked what I wanted. “American Citizen, lost passport” I said. To which he responded by handing me a small white piece of paper with an address and an underground stop on it. It was the address for the US Consulate somewhere else in Berlin. I thanked him and walked away. I walked past the walls blocking anything bigger than a pedestrian or a bicycle from approaching and made my way to the train station.

I’m pointing out the barricades because I’ve passed a number of other embassies during my walks. They don’t have them and I really don’t like that my country needs them.

To summarize… I found the consulate about 12:30 and they were closed (8:30am-12pm) so I had to come back this morning. This time I knew the way and was happy to have another cold-fried-egg-with-ham-on-baguette thingy at the stop for the consulate. I entered, filled out paperwork, took pictures, paid money, and will have my passport in about 10 days. I just have to be back here in Berlin to pick it up at some point. Not a problem, it’s centrally located. Now I’m working on what to do with the time in between.

Berlin

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 30 of August , 2007 at 6:09 am

First a note on the Hostel I was staying at. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Citystay Berlin Mitte. It is very reasonably priced, has a great central location, friendly staff, and clean facilities. The prices in the 23hr bar/lounge attached are pretty good and they play hip music. By “hip music” of course I mean the music I listen to. The only drawback is that while they have a wonderful courtyard, they fail to enforce the 10pm quiet-time and you occasionally get drunken French girls grunting out classical music until 2am. (name this tune: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah-blah-blah blah) Still, I’ll be staying here when I come back through Berlin.

A note on prices in Berlin. I’ve been comfortably getting by on 5 euro a day for food and drinks if I choose not to have a beer. That will blow the budget. For about 5 Euro you can stop by a grocery store get some fruit and yogurt and a bottle of water for breakfast (1.5eur), stop at a food stand for some kind of “wurst” – try the Currywurst – (1-2eur) for lunch and then find a hearty Doner Kebap (2.5eur) for dinner. There is no reason anyone should go broke or hungry while you’re here. Of course, you can spend as much as you’d like on food and drinks. I’ve chosen the budget route which allows me to spend some money on the sights.

I’ve chosen to skip some of the major ones. The TV tower just a few blocks away is 8.5eur for a ride to the top. That, in my opinion, is too much for an elevator ride. I’m sure the view is great but I’ll check a postcard for that. The museums on Museuminsel (Museum Island) just down the street are well worth the money if you are interested in Greek or Egyptian antiquity. Although I have no capacity to remember the names or dates of the major figures in any civilization I do enjoy seeing the progression of art and skill through the ages. They have an English audio tour available, which is helpful since nearly all the placards are only in German. However this does mean that you are subject to the artistic interpretation of the narrator. I found her descriptions of some of the sculptures to be way over the top. Such as “you’ll find this figure with her attentive eyes and regal posture absolutely straining against her robes as if poised for action!” Maybe I punched in the wrong number, but the sculpture I saw was a figure, sitting, hands over closed robe, open eyed, and calm. It was an excellent piece, but I was under no impression it was about to hop up and order a pyramid built.

With its great art and antiques Berlin also has its past to consider. It does so tastefully and with humility. I visited the “Topography of Terror” memorial which chronicles the Nazi reign of atrocities from 1933 when Hitler sized power to the eventual prosecution or execution of their many officers. There are many lessons here for citizens of any country. Get the audio tour and listen to the whole thing.

Like I’d mentioned in the last post the wall is down but not forgotten. There are several memorials: Checkpoint Charlie (the American checkpoint in West Berlin), A section of wall near the Brandenburg Gate, another section of the wall at Potzdamer Platz, and finally all the concrete, asphalt, brickwork, etc. that the wall used to live on has been replaced with memorial markers so that as you’re walking you know where it stood for those 28 years.

There are many more exhibits, memorials, museums, and attractions that I had neither time nor money to see. Plan to spend at least a week there to appreciate it.

I’m off to Paris now and will actually (hopefully) be there at the time of this post. My friend Thibault has offered me a place to stay and is willing to show me a French time. I seriously doubt that my high school French will do me any good. I’ve got the basics, but anything more advanced than “may I use the bathroom” will get me in trouble. There’s universal sign language for that anyway (enter: “the pee-pee dance”). So it will be great to have a guide.

Update on the Paris journey: I went to the ticket office in Berlin’s main station to get my reservations for the trains to Paris. Yes, you need reservations and they cost money. During the journey from Essen to Berlin I was playing a bit of musical chairs as people with actual assigned seats showed up at the different stops. I only had to move twice but I was always waiting for someone to tap me. Like when you “upgrade” your own seats at a concert, hoping the people that actually paid for those front row seats aren’t just stuck in traffic.

Anyway, so the ticket lady gives me a reservation for the first train Berlin to Koln (pronounced like cologne) and tells me that she can’t make me a reservation on the Koln to Paris leg. “Just talk to the conductor” she says. “OK, I’ll do that” and everything is great. Nice train, first class, little monitors, and food service. When I get to Koln I find the ticket director and show him my Eurail pass and tell him what I was told. “This pass is only valid with reservation, and this train is full, go talk to the ticket center” he says. “OK, I’ll do that”

I got the last reservation in the class for my pass… I’m still going to Paris today I’ll just arrive a little later.

Late Arrival in Paris

Writing by Brad on Saturday, 1 of September , 2007 at 12:56 am

The train arrived in Paris – Nord about 9:15pm and I reassembled my belongings. There was nowhere to put everything in one place so I’d had to spread it out in the entrance and above my seat. The train stopped outside the station so it was a fairly long walk to the main terminal. By the end of a day of standing in lines for tickets and running around terminals the pack really starts to destroy my shoulders. In Paris I will be getting rid of nearly all my books, about half my clothes, and whatever else I can live without.

After arriving I tried to make a call to Thibault but was unable to because most of the phones were calling card-only phones and the one local coin-op phone I found was out of service. I knew the train stop and the address, I’d looked it up on Google Earth and it was only about .6km away from the subway stop. And it really was, that’s just not the route I went.

Somehow I got turned around, not hard to do when you’re in a city that was settled somewhere around 250BC, growth happened, central planning came later, and there may not be a straight street in the city. After stomping around for a little while I started asking people if they knew the street I was looking for. Unfortunately no one did. I made my way back to the metro stop and found a taxi. Even he thought it should be around there somewhere but put it into the navigation system anyway.

The taxi lets me out at the address and I pushed what I thought was the bell. Nothing happened, I push some other buttons, nothing happened. After a little bit I ask a man walking in my direction if he has a cell phone and if I could give him some money to make a call. He kindly agrees, puts in the number and hands me the phone. I get voicemail. Just in case he is screening I say “Thibault, It’s Brad, I’m outside your address if you get this” and hand the nice man his phone back. He accepted no money.

About 30 seconds later as I’m considering my options the large front door heaves open and an exasperated Thibault flies out. Many hugs were exchanged and lots of “how, where, when” questions were asked. We collected all my gear and headed upstairs where I found that there were a few people waiting for me. His girlfriend and his roommate and her boyfriend we’re all in the apartment and there was an intricately set dinner table where it looked like nothing had been eaten. It was now 11pm.

They had prepared a full French meal, with French wines and cheeses, and even French apple pie (no top crust)! I felt terrible that they had gone to all this effort and then I show up some 4 hours after anticipated. The reception was fantastic and I was incredibly happy to be there. We sat down to eat at about midnight and everything was excellent. We all started to fade about 2am and retired shortly after.

Paris

Writing by Brad on Friday, 7 of September , 2007 at 7:35 am

Playing a little catch-up here…

8/30/07

Funny thing about the train, toss on some headphones, play some music from home, and look around. You could be in any major US city. Remove the language and the architecture and it’s the same diversity of peoples. I’m sure this will change the further I get from the core of Europe and into the fringes where mobility is more restricted but for now I can believe I’m not that far away.

When I crossed into France several things became apparent. The weather I’d happily left in Antwerp was over France as well. Another thing I noticed was the graffiti had improved dramatically. Sorry Germany but your delinquents are still playing with finger-paints by comparison. The French appear to have the whole box of crayons.

I’m not sure if features of the landscape make it feel as if we’re going faster or we really are going faster. The German ICE was going 200kmh, but that felt pedestrian to the French Thaleys. The ICE also didn’t bank with the turns. I’ve heard the French TGV will do over 300kmh! I’m going to have to try that…

I sat across from a mother with twin boys for 4 hours. You could see the exhaustion in her eyes. She alternated from playing with them to reprimanding them. She was outnumbered but you could tell she really loved these boys whether they listened to her or not. By the end of the trip the man that was sitting across from them, who was rolling his eyes and their energy, was playing with them and even got hugs and kisses from the little boys. I’m sure the mother was also happy to have a little help.

9/2/07

Funny thing about Paris, in pictures all you see is the Eiffel Tower, but when you’re on the street walking around you almost never see it. I’ve seen the majority of sights at this point. The Arc de Triamphe, Notre Dame, Saint Sulpice, the obelisk, the Moulan Rouge, the Basilica Montmarte, of course the Eiffel Tower, and many others.

However, none of these famous and beautiful sights compare to the awe inspiring Louvre. The Louvre is the largest and most amazing museum I’ve ever seen. The collections are awesome, from Italian painters, to French sculptures, to Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Persian antiquities. Stunning. The British museum in London pales by comparison.

I walked for hours and the only reference I had for where I was in the building was too look out the windows and use the courtyards and streets for reference. I’d guess, but I’d usually be wrong. I would say that in the first 4 hours I covered maybe a third of the total collection and that was without aid of an English audio guide.

This is where you study art history, where the art and history live. Where you can see the chisel lines and the brush strokes.

It’s hard to describe Paris. It’s big, busy, old, dirty, friendly, imposing, helpful, beautiful, etc… It is awash in contradiction. The stereotypes are mostly false as with all stereotypes. The rudeness I was told to expect hasn’t shown itself – except for a gruff café operator. Everyone in every part of the city has been accommodating. Several times I’ve stood at a corner trying to get my bearings and someone has asked me if I needed help finding something.

I’ve found many straight streets since my first night wandering around in the dark. The streets start to make sense when you understand the landmarks and that the street names change when a building gets in the way. It also seems the further south I go the more loosely the traffic laws are interpreted. The walk/don’t walk signals are for tourists and the lines on the street are mostly decoration.

Everything is expensive here. Restaurant food and drinks are the most expensive I’ve found in Europe so far, but the groceries are the cheapest. All that taken into consideration, my benefactors have made Paris extremely affordable and friendly. They have gone out of their way to guide me and make Paris feel welcoming. I’ve taken every form of public transport and other than the man on the bus who chastised me for not covering my mouth while yawning, then threw up a few minutes later, everything has been smooth sailing.

Overnight to Rome

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 11 of September , 2007 at 2:30 am

After a relaxing nine days in Paris I’d seen the sights, hung out with friends, experienced some real French cuisine, and minus the having-to-be-somewhere, I have some idea what it would be like to live in the city. Having the opportunity to stay with someone gives you a more intimate view.

Until last Friday I had been planning on continuing my adventures through Northern Europe then the overwhelming desire to spend time with Summer won me over. It’s been two months since we’ve seen each other and although we talk regularly I really wanted to actually spend time with her. We’d talked about her joining me in Paris but that wasn’t going to happen so I had to find another way. The last few days of my stay in Paris I spent a lot of time on the internet scouring every possible combination of flights, trains, busses, and ferries to get Summer to Europe – I’d even looked at flying back to Portland for a little while. The end result – mission accomplished! She will be joining me in Italy for a couple weeks and I can’t describe how happy that makes me. I’m looking forward to sharing the experience of looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, taking a gondola ride in Venice and possibly taking in a performance of Mozart in Vienna. I’m a romantic, deal with it.

She flies in on Thursday so I arrived early to figure out the transportation systems and locate the places we’ll be staying, that way she doesn’t have to suffer through my inevitable wrong turns and confusion. She’ll see enough of that while she’s here; there is no reason to expose her to it right off the plane.

I took the night train to Rome from Paris, a 14 hour journey and my first experience in a sleeper car. I have a first class railpass but there were no more first class berths available so I booked for second. It was cheaper and I have no frame of reference so it was as comfortable as I could expect. Called a “couchette” it was a room no larger than most of your bathrooms and smaller than some. Upon first glance there were two beds, two bench seats, and a Vietnamese couple in the cabin. After a little investigation we discovered that the backs of the bench seats folded down to create a total of 6 beds each with a little less than two feet of clearance above the other. Shortly after that a Korean couple and their 3 year old child arrived. It was quite a switch to go from hearing the romance languages to Asian dialects.

I had the one of the top bunks and after a couple hours of sitting between the two couples I ascended to my perch and read there for a while before falling asleep. I woke up at about midnight and found that the Vietnamese couple had folded out their beds, the Korean father had taken the other top bunk, and the mother and child were cuddled up on the bottom bunk. With no windows open the cabin had started to heat up and I had no control over ventilation so I decided to go explore the train a bit. I tried as quietly as I could to exit the cabin, but then couldn’t get the door open. Someone woke up after a moment and showed me how to unlock the door.

The train had stopped and when I exited the cabin I walked straight into two police officers. Apparently we were at the border city of Velbon and the passenger’s passports were being checked before we crossed into Italy. I stepped off the train and chatted with another passenger named Vincent for a little while; he is an Amateur Photographer and was on his way to a holiday in Rome to take some fresh pictures as his eye had tired of Paris. We talked cameras and lenses and the benefits of this and that for a short while before the train doors tried to close.

The night passed uneventfully but was an interesting experience. I passed in and out of sleep. The jerking of the train was a big departure from the slow methodical rocking of the cargo ship. Several things you learn quickly when budget traveling are that you need to abandon any concepts of personal space, you can get by on little food, and that your body will find sleep where it can no matter what the conditions.

We arrived in Rome about 20 minutes behind schedule and, following the directions to my hostel that I’d written down, I found it without a single wrong turn. I walked into the check-in to hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting and the excited staff buzzing around speaking perfect English. Check in isn’t until 1:30pm so I locked up my luggage and made my way to the bar for a coffee and some free Wi-Fi. After check-in I’m looking forward to a hot shower and a change of clothes, and then I’m off to explore this already amazing city in the sunshine that I’ve been missing.

I’ll try to get some photos processed and up in the next day or two. I’ve got tons from Berlin and Paris that are in RAW format and I need to convert them before I can post them.

Photos: Berlin and Paris

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 12 of September , 2007 at 10:16 am

Here are some of the photos from my time in Berlin and Paris. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to label all of them so for now I hope you enjoy them out of context.

Berlin

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Paris

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Photos: Rome and Venice

Writing by Brad on Saturday, 22 of September , 2007 at 9:15 am

Sorry for the long silence, Summer and I have been very busy. Also, the Internet access here in Italy has been either sketchy or expensive, or both. I haven’t been doing too much writing in the past week but I have been taking loads of pictures and have them up on Flickr now. Expect a flurry of posts in the coming week to catch up on observations, travel mishaps, and essential Italian experiences.

First was Rome

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Then was Venice

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And we’re off to Vienna in the morning!

When in Rome…

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 26 of September , 2007 at 12:58 am

I arrived in Rome on 9/11. For some reason I seem to be frequently out of the country on 9/11 at least 3 of the last 5 years anyway.

I found my hostel quickly and got setup in my 6 bed dorm. All the other beds were in various states of made-ness so I knew I had roommates. You never know what you’re going to get in a hostel. Some have gender specific dorms but more and more are mixed. Still, the hostels do a good job of managing the loads to accommodate the comfort of their guests. You get options of bathrooms in-room (ensuite), separate stand alone showers and toilettes with closable doors, or gender specific group bathroom/shower facilities. Although Goalfever, the hostel I stayed at in Essen, didn’t quite have enough facilities for the ladies, either that or they just felt more comfortable brushing their teeth with their boyfriends in the men’s room. Whatever the reason, when I came out of the shower area I had to question if I was actually in the right place.

My hostel in Rome, The Yellow, was a very well appointed hostel with a full bar next to the lobby, a basement outfitted for beer-pong, and some fun custom drinks like the “Chuck-Norris-Roundhouse-Kick-To-The-Head”.

I met the bulk of my roommates around 5:30am the first morning (no worries guys). There was a burst of laughter and four of them came stumbling in. They’d been out and had found that elusive state of drunkenness where everything is funny. From my top bunk I watched through sleepy unfocused eyes. A strange Canadian woman named Fern noticed I was awake and decided to strike up a conversation with me.
“Are you awake?”
“yes”
“Oh, sorry. This is what happens when bars close.” As if I was new to the phenomenon, and then she shuffled off.
A short time later I was asleep again…

For my first day in Rome I decided to play with the public transportation system. While efficient, the underground in Rome is very very dirty. Actually quite a bit of Rome is dirty. Take that many people in that size of space and add a casual disregard for cigarette butts and small garbage and you get a mess. At least around the main train station I saw staff dedicated to sweeping and wiping up after the throngs of people, but not many other places.

I found the B&B where Summer and I would be staying for a few days without too much difficulty (about 30minutes of wandering and looking at maps). All around the location were signs to St. Peters and the Vatican Museum so I decided to follow them and get my first taste of the amazing architecture of Rome.

The first thing I saw was the wall surrounding Vatican City, the smallest country in the world. It’s an imposing wall about 40 feet tall and just went on and on. I kept walking in the direction I’d started and as I walked I noticed it was not the way that the incredibly long line of people was headed.

I eventually walked through the north entrance of St. Peter’s square. You can tell you are entering something significant because the food carts start to get closer and closer together and the street merchants selling their brand name knockoffs are wandering through the crowds saying “Nice Lady, I give you best price” to every woman who turns their head for a moment.

All that chaos aside, when you step into the center of that imposing square you realize how effective Bernini was at his task. In 1656 he was commissioned to create the square such that all who entered it were humbled. Circling the edges are towering columns with what appear to be small sculptures adorning their tops. These sculptures are actually life-sized but due to the scale of everything in the square their actual size and detail are almost lost in the grandeur of the whole.

Then of course you have St. Peter’s Basilica, the masterpiece of Michelangelo, a truly massive structure designed to be greatest church in Christendom. I actually thought it would be bigger. Not that it isn’t a truly massive basilica but based on descriptions I’ve read I expected it to be at least half again bigger. Maybe these people I’ve read are just much shorter than I am. Regardless, this is the trouble that expectations can get you into.

I began walking from the square in a direction that seemed to make sense; I wandered off in back alleys for a couple hours watching the chaos of the people and cars. There are very few bicycles in Rome or in Italy for that matter. I think they must just be too slow for the Italians. All the rumors in that regard are true. Italians drive like maniacs. There are no lines on the streets and there is a kind of eat or be eaten mentality to traffic. The pedestrians are just as crazy, I don’t know if there is some type of state mandated break check or reaction time minimum associated with acquiring an Italian driver’s license but people would just walk in into active intersections with the faith that traffic would see them and not turn them into whatever keeps the cobblestones in place.

Back to my meanderings… I walked for several hours just trying to get a feel for the city. I would occasionally blend into a tour group (which there was no shortage of) assuming they were off to somewhere interesting and if they didn’t find it by the time I became bored with the collective I’d veer off in another direction.

With this method I found my way to the Pantheon, the oldest Church in Rome. Also, the oldest Christian church in Rome, but only because by order of Pope Boniface IV in 609AD it was reconsecrated and all the statues of Pagan gods were removed to be replaced with statues of Christian Martyred Saints. It is an ancient and imposing structure. The columns that support the entryway dwarf the masses of people gathered there. And when you enter through the massive entryway you see the magnificent dome with its giant open top. According to a discovery special I watched it is believed that the oculus was a design consideration for the unsupported dome to reduce the total weight and keep it from collapsing in on itself. This engineering marvel stood as the largest unsupported dome until until we started building domed stadiums nearly 1800 years later.

I ended up walking across Rome from the Vatican to the Coliseum, which when you first walk up on it you have to remind yourself that you are present, in Rome, standing before one of the single greatest achievements of man, however horrible its purpose by today’s standards.

The next couple days I spent close to the Hostel, re-reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and tending to my largely stinky wardrobe. I didn’t want to see too many of the sights before Summer arrived. The nights were spent drinking with my Argentinean and Swiss dorm mates while wandering around the Trevasteria neighborhood of Rome. This is supposedly where the “Locals” hang out, but you really can’t go anywhere in Rome that isn’t overrun with Tourists (like ourselves).

Early early the morning of the 14th Summer flew into Leonardo Da Vinci airport. I waited by what I thought was the right arrival door. Constantly checking the “Arrivals” board, wondering why there was nobody coming out the door I realized that the door I really wanted was 300ft further down the terminal so, fearing I had missed her exit, I jogged to the customs door in the C terminal (same building) and stood anxiously waiting for her to appear. About 30 minutes passed and I was shooed away from peering around the corner at least twice by a large disgruntled Italian woman. Still no Summer. I feared that she was wandering around the terminal wondering why I wasn’t there to meet her. Eventually she appeared through the door and we were both incredibly relieved and incredibly happy to see each other. (insert lots of hugging here).

The next day we began our exploration of Rome with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Castel Sant’Angelo which were both just down the way from our B&B. We took it easy the first couple days mostly because we were happier to be hanging out with each other than to be tourists in Italy.

After our couple days at the B&B we switched to more budget accommodations. I’d booked a “cabin” at a camping site outside of Rome. Note: Italy and moreover Europe in general is very expensive. After a confusing journey and several trains we found our way to the spot where the bus for our facility was to pick us up. We met a group of other confused backpack toting travelers and communed about how none of us knew where we were supposed to be. Luckily someone had a cell phone and was able to contact the campsite and find the correct location for pickup.

We got settled in our “cabin”, basically a 300sq ft room with a bathroom and paper thin walls, Rome was quite hot so we paid for the AC option and began cooling our room to somewhere just above freezing and set back out toward Rome in pursuit of the Coliseum.
On the way we met Dave and Nikki, a couple on break from Oxford, who became our travel and drinking buddies for the next several nights. We all made our way through the Forum ruins together and into the Coliseum at the last possible entry time.

If you have the opportunity in your life to stand in that structure and consider its history take it. If you don’t feel you have the opportunity, make it. It is an awesome feeling. Not only is it a wonder of ancient engineering but to stand there and consider the realities of the Emperors that presided over the games, the sheer volume of lives lost, the fact that entire species were made extinct to entertain the masses in this same space is quite a experience even though you are looking at it through the lens of history.

We talked about how it must have been for the attendees to watch real blood being shed for entertainment and I was forced to consider the correlation to our entertainment today. We no longer lose real lives in our day to day entertainment but we have become expert at simulating it. The difference for me became more subtle that day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to stop watching action movies or boycott video games or any other form of entertainment. I love watching stuff explode and shooting the virtual bad guys. I don’t think this makes me a bad person. I just don’t feel we’ve changed that much as a species. We’ve actually gotten better at the spectacle, we are no longer limited by the real world or its consequences, we are only limited by our imaginations, bolstered by the safe distance of fantasy.

Life as we know it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the impact this culture had on the world. For better or worse this was a part of it.

We took a day off of Rome to hang out by the pool at the campsite and relax. We met up with Dave and Nikki at the bar and drank too much; eventually getting beers to go and trying to continue conversations in front of our cabin but we were repeatedly visited by a security guard on a bike and eventually had to end the night. As we said our goodbyes Summer and I were adopted by a stray kitten that snuck in the door as we were shutting it. There was talk about whether or not it might fit into carry on luggage but even in our inebriated state we were able to consider how unfortunate quarantine might be. Regardless it kept us company until the morning and then went about finding another foster family.

Our last must-do for Rome was the Vatican Museum. So on our last day we went to the main train station, got tickets for Venice and made our way to Vatican City. I’m not exaggerating when I say the line was a quarter mile long. While standing in line I started to envision the flat escalators from airports guiding people through the museum. That was the only way I could imagine why the line was moving as fast as it was. The reality wasn’t much different. The Vatican Museum supposedly has the largest private collection of art in the world at over 60,000 pieces. While I don’t doubt it, I can say I didn’t see it. So much art and so many people are crammed into that museum that the whole experience is a waste in my opinion. Huge tour groups overrun the entire museum. All trying to get to the Sistine Chapel. There are literally thousands of people walking in packs with little regard to others in the relatively narrow halls of the museum. If you didn’t get a good enough look at something, forget about it, trying to go back to investigate a piece after you’ve passed it is like salmon swimming upstream. I would not be surprised if people have died in some type of stampede in those halls. Fire codes and good sense seem to be suspended in the country of Vatican City. The whole experience would be vastly improved if there were specific times or days that were dedicated to tour groups and other times dedicated to independent visitors.

Beyond all that, when you finally make it into the Sistine Chapel, it’s worth it. It is such a stunning work of art that you can almost forget the two thousand other people staring up at it. The frescoes are bright and brilliant and huge. The detail is so amazing that no picture or reproduction does it justice, there is just no way to represent the feeling of turning your head and in every direction being in awe of it. I’ll save my diatribe on the need for tourists to understand how to use their cameras for another time.

Sufficed to say, if there are two things to do in Rome, they are the Coliseum and the Sistine Chapel, everything else is amazing, but those two left a lasting impression.

And we were off to Venice in the morning.

Venice

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 27 of September , 2007 at 11:39 pm

Summer and I had a pleasant trip in first class to Venice. Only about 4 hours. We’d rested the night before so there wasn’t too much stress involved in getting to the train. However, upon arriving in Venice my directions to the campsite (sister facility to the “campsite” in Rome) weren’t accurate. They were based on a different train station. But we tried to adapt them to our current location.

Venice was already beautiful as we walked out of the train station to see the Grand Canal. Summer and I are both water people so seeing a transportation system based on little ferries was a comforting sight. The weather was cooler but still sunny and there was none of the odor associated with rivers. It was very, very nice.

We turtled our way over bridges and through alleys following the directions given to us by an info booth so that we might find our bus. After a longer distance than we anticipated we found the main bus terminal. We were given some directions, “Take the #2 to the Mestere Station and then take the #11”

Ok, we can do that.

We hopped on the #2 and started riding. It was a very crowded bus and with our packs we took up more room than the average passenger. I took up more room than several average passengers. We rode the #2 for quite a while. I kept expecting to see a stop for “Mestere Station” but this was folly. As I would find out later Mestere is the area and the station is named “Station”. We were told by the driver to get off the bus and catch the #2 in the opposite direction then find a stop with the #11 and get on there. I’m paraphrasing because it was all in Italian and largely consisted of hand gestures pointing at me to get off the bus and stand somewhere on the other side of the street.

So, yeah, we did that.

The #2 showed up after a little while and we got on at the appointed entry point. Italian buses are screwy. They want you to get on in the front or the back and get off in the middle forcing you to part the sea of people already there. Summer being much more narrow than I was able to enter at the back and make her way to the middle. She told me to get near the exit and I tried but by the time we made it to a stop that had the #11 I was only half way there. I nodded to her that we wanted to get off and she did. I however, despite my best efforts, was blocked by the mass of people protecting a man with a cane that had positioned himself in front of the exit. After the doors shut and the very loud stream of profanity escaped me the crowd in front of me appeared much more pliable. I turned to look for Summer and made eye contact. The realization that I was still on the bus was a shock for both of us as I was rolling away. I mashed the stop request button as if the more I pressed it the sooner the bus would stop, it did not, and I ended up jogging the 4 blocks back to Summer with full pack. Needless to say she wasn’t happy. Another aggravating factor for this part of the journey was that nowhere in our directions did it indicate that the #11 that we wanted (there were 2) ran only once per hour and apparently we had just missed it, because we waited another hour at that stop before our bus came.

Finally three hours after we arrived in Venice we were checking in at our campsite. I was able to upgrade us to a cabin with a bathroom and this time the heater/AC was included, although it would be a day before we figured out how to use it. Oh, and the hot water wasn’t working. Venice was off to a bumpy start.

The next morning we figured out the ferry system that would take us into Venice. This was much better than a crowded muti-hour bus trip and as soon as we arrived in the city the romance of Venice was back upon us. The narrow winding streets, the many small canals, the boats for taxis, the lack of garbage, this was a step up from Rome.

We talked to a couple of Gondoliers before making our choice and were very happy with the result. The slow, incredibly skilled, navigation of our Gondolier through the Grand Canal and smaller side canals was, in my opinion, the best way to see Venice. They have their reputation for a reason, it was incredibly romantic and we enjoyed every minute of it.

We filled the rest of our day with window shopping and snacking on bruchetta ending with our ferry ride back to the campsite where we would be introduced to Contiki.

Contiki is a tour company that has been around for quite a while and specializes in tours designed for 18-35 year olds, but in our experience it is only advertised in Australia. We returned to find 6 Contiki busses near our cabin and a bar full of drunken 18 to 22 year old Australians.

We ate, went to the market, bought some beers, and returned to our cabin, hoping to avoid the chaos. But the chaos still found us. The bar was raging and we could hear the bass until 2-something a.m. That was when our paper thin walls began to speak as if we were in someone else’s room our doorknob started moving, persistently.

I called out that we were in the room. Then I banged on the inside of the door, but the knob still moved. It wasn’t until I appeared in the window in my underwear that the girl trying to get into, hopefully, what she thought was her room, realized she had the wrong place. This type of noise and drunken Australian chaos, would persist the rest of the time we were at this campsite. We ended up having to wear earplugs as we could hear people partying until 5am like they were in our room. I wouldn’t recommend it to others…

We spent a day on the beach of the Adriatic and several nights in watching movies in the quiet early hours of the night. Overall it was a very pleasant experience, minus the fact that we were always aware of the number of Aussie youths arriving or departing at any given time. Venice was a fantastic and romantic place for us to spend some time together in the middle of our long times apart.

Then we were off to Austria

Vienna

Writing by Brad on Sunday, 30 of September , 2007 at 3:29 am

About 6am we woke to prepare for the trip to Vienna it would be a 7 hour trip and we would get in at around 5pm. We boarded our train and found ourselves between 2 older Australian couples who weren’t traveling together. Everyone was friendly and talkative. I learned more about Australian history and politics in those first few hours than I’d known before. It was an interesting dynamic. Across me on my left was Phil, the retired socialist oil man, and across me on my right was Mike, “the employer”, a businessman and conservative, but arguably more open than Phil on most topics.

They debated the use of Australia as a resource factory for other countries. Going on about how they had everything they needed to make whatever they needed but their country only bothered to export the raw materials to other countries for manufacturing.

Oh, and Phil wanted to nationalize McDonalds, but that was just that he could wipe its scourge from fair Australia’s landscape.

After about 3 hours Mike and his wife, who had a dutch name I cannot remember, exited the cabin to catch their next train to Salzburg. So Summer and I were left with Phil and his significant other who had finished their second bottle of wine and were soon to pick up a couple small bottles from the passing beverage cart. They were both very nice and funny but Phil got increasingly random as his buzz wore on. Every so often while talking about something fairly banal he would say “I hope you’re not poor, because we don’t care” which I found an interesting comment from a self-proclaimed socialist.

Luckily we were able to change the conversation frequently to the stunning Austrian landscape. Everything you’ve seen in movies is true. You picture someone running up a hill in a puffy dress singing and spinning. Heidi is now on my list of films to watch sometime, to see if the Aussies were correct in their repeated “Yep, this is Heidi country.”

We arrived and found our tram, our stop, and our hostel. We were getting much better at this. Our accommodation was a college dorm room and we were directly across from the University of Vienna. There was no elevator and four floors of very steep spiral stairs to get to our room, our shower was halfway down the hall and the toilet was a few doors down. Still, all things considered, it was a comfortable enough room.

We only really had one day in Vienna so we headed towards the Hapsburgs palace but didn’t go in. The Hapsburgs fortune is secure with what they were charging to look at their very valuable belongings. We ran into several classically clad gents outside the archway selling tickets to a concert that evening. Hearing Mozart in Vienna seemed like a must and I’m very happy we did it. Neither of us was dressed for a classical concert in one of the most famous venues for such a thing but we were assured it was a casual event. Undoubtedly catering to tourists like ourselves.

The concert was held in the Musikverein Golden Hall, considered to be one of the three finest concert halls in the world. Why? I’m not sure. It just is. The players were all dressed in classical knickers and powdered wigs. Well, maybe not actually powdered, but they were white. The first hour was dedicated to Mozart and several operatic arias and the second hour introduced another of Vienna’s favorite sons, namely Johann Strauss. It was a very nice night and would become a very long night.

Summer’s flight left at 7am and with a 40+ minute ride to the airport by cab we had to be up very early. So instead of turning in and getting some rest we went to a college pub nearby and decided to have some drinks and enjoy our time together until she had to leave. When I was younger I could stay up for days, 6 was my record, but that ability has faded with age. We both started out with the goal of staying up all night and failed. I decided to stand watch but still fell asleep for short periods of time always waking up with a jolt thrusting my watch into my fuzzy field of vision.

We made it with time to spare to the airport and had time to drink a ridiculously expensive cappuccino in the airport café before Summer needed to proceed through security and onto her plane. It was another hard goodbye-for-now, unsure when our next meet up on this adventure will be. Regardless it was fantastic to have her with me for as long as we could manage and I’m looking forward to the next time whenever that is, at home or overseas.

I stumbled off, needing a nap, to the train station to get my ticket for Budapest.

Pictures: Vienna and Budapest

Writing by Brad on Monday, 1 of October , 2007 at 12:54 pm

Here are some pictures from Vienna and Budapest. I’ve had a cold so the photography has been suffering in new places.Here’s some fun highlights…

Vienna

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No, not getting arrested, just finding out what it would take…

Budapest

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I didn’t get his name but he seemed friendly enough…

While we were sleeping…

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 3 of October , 2007 at 1:00 pm

Admittedly this is more immediately relevant to me than to most of the people reading this I thought I might make a note of it.My money is disappearing. No, I’m not spending it willy-nilly on trinkets or booze or lush accommodations – trust me there. But every day my bank account holds less value. The invisible hand of the currency markets is reaching in and snatching my dollars and cents.I haven’t watched or read much news in the past couple months but every time I walk past a currency exchange I notice the difference between the Dollar and the Euro and the fact that it is slowly growing. Slowly because I see it nearly every day. In the aggregate the Euro is moving quite quickly North of the Dollar.After a conversation with a Canadian in my hostel in Belgrade, where I was informed the Canadian Dollar had reached parity with the US Dollar (1=1), I decided to look into it a little further. Sad thoughts of all the cheap sushi I’d had in Vancouver, BC flashed in my mind. Ahh, the good old days.

I’m not an Economist so my description of things will be sketchy at best so let’s get out the charts and graphs…

Here is the 5 year performance of the dollar to the Euro

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Look closer, this is what it feels like in my bank account…

1 year USD to EUR performance…

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And here is the Canadian “Looney” to US Dollar over the past 5 years.

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All of this is great news for other countries that want to buy US goods but bad for countries that want to sell us things. It’s also bad for us if we want to buy things from other places. Which, with a nearly $800 Billion dollar trade deficit, we do A LOT of.

I won’t attempt to discuss the finer points of monetary policy, as I would have to do a lot more reading to teach myself enough to scratch the surface of that, but I will say that the US Dollar slipping nearly 40% to the Euro and finding parity with the “Northern Peso” is bad for all of us.

Here is The Economist magazine’s take on the Canadian situation.

Budapest

Writing by Brad on Thursday, 4 of October , 2007 at 12:49 am

My 7 hour train ride to Budapest was fairly uneventful aside from being sold a reservation for a seat that didn’t exist. At this point I always get a reservation even if I’m told I don’t need one. In at least one case (Budapest to Belgrade) I think the combination of Reservation + Eurail pass kept me from having to buy a ticket in a non-Eurail supported country.

I must have walked the length of the train three times – “408, 409, 410, 411, 413” – as if I’d just overlooked the 40ft steel box labeled “412” and it would be there on the third go-round. Anyway, I spoke to the conductor after looking fruitlessly for my missing train car, and was told that it was out of service and he unlocked a second class cabin that I could have all to myself, for a while…

I watched a man carrying a laptop head towards the bathroom at the end of my car. He shot a glance my direction as he passed. I waited my turn and, after what seemed like a very long time, he eventually exited and looked my way again. I took my opportunity and in what I felt was a short amount of time returned to my cabin to find the grumpy looking German all set up in the seat across from where I’d been sitting. I’d had little to no sleep the night before and wasn’t feeling social. The sum total of words exchanged in the 5 hours he sat across from me was a “hello” from each of us.

Upon arriving in Budapest-Keleti station I was set upon by several large matrons wondering if I needed a room for the night. They had their three ring binders ready and open to show me pictures of the rooms they had available. I declined, as I already had some portion of a room reserved somewhere at a hostel.

After Vienna, Budapest was certainly a different tempo. The blockish Soviet buldings and aged uncared-for paintwork let me know I’d entered “Eastern Europe.” I wandered around for a little while looking for an ATM as the currency had changed at the border and then found the signs to the subway for the train I needed to take. I walked out of the grey stone and dirty floors of the train station to find a shiny white new underground with fancy turnstiles and escalators. I was a little surprised but then decided it was probably a fairly recent addition. When the subway car arrived I realized they had only partially invested in new toys for the underground. It looked like an old over-ground tram retrofitted to operate on these new tracks.

I got to my hostel, was assigned a bed number in the 12 bunk dorm, and tossed my things into a locker. Surprisingly I felt like I had more privacy in this long large room than any other multi-bed dorm so far because there were curtains at the end of each set of bunks. You knew there were 11 other people sleeping in the room but you couldn’t see them.

Most of my stay in Budapest was to be in this bunk or in a coffee shop. I’d developed a fairly nasty head cold and couldn’t go too far from a tissue source. You see, my face was leaking and before I left I probably sawed off a good ¼ inch of nose using the single serving TP that was readily available.

I did get one good day of walking in and one good night of drinking before I decided I needed to just take it easy. In that day I saw most of the sights and learned a few things about Budapest. Like, did you know, Budapest is actually Buda and Pest? One on each side of the river Danube. There’s also o’Buda but nobody goes there so it was vetoed in the name combo. Plus how silly does O’BudaBudaPest sound? Or PestO’BudaBuda? I could go on. Thankfully at whatever committee meeting there was to name the place they erred on the side of brevity.

The Buda side seems far less cared for than the Pest side. Graffiti is on pretty much everything below 6ft. and many of the more interesting buildings are boarded up. The Pest side is where the wonderful Parliament building is along with most of the shopping and restaurants. I didn’t get to visit any of the famous bath houses, which apparently are quite wonderful, but I’m sure I’ll have time for that when I get to Turkey.

Next stop, Belgrade, Serbia.

Belgrade, Serbia

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 10 of October , 2007 at 3:28 pm

“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” -Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

How different is that from today?

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“Didn’t we bomb this place?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we did.”

Actually NATO did.

From Wikipedia:

The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (code-named Operation Allied Force by NATO) was NATO’s military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that lasted from 24 March to 10 June 1999 and is considered a major part of the Kosovo War. It was only the second major combat operation in NATO’s history, following the September 1995 Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO’s proclaimed goal was to force the Serbian government to end the civil war in Kosovo between the military of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbian paramilitary police forces on the one hand and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK) on the other. The Yugoslav Government claimed that it was protecting the minority Serbian population of Kosovo against attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The US State Department previously had classified the KLA as a terrorist organization.[6][7]

And here I am less than 10 years later looking at a city absolutely thriving! The streets are alive with people; the cafes are full of youth and laughter. It’s an old city, but a very clean city. You look down the alleys and you don’t see garbage, you see garbage trucks. Everything could use a coat of paint and some plaster but this city is on its way to recovery after decades of economic strife. (in 1993 inflation ran away at about 300,000% causing currency to be printed in values of up to 500,000,000,000 Dinar notes. Which were worth, at their height, equal to 6 US Dollars)

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To be honest the fact that I knew there had been a war here in my adult lifetime was a big reason I wanted to visit. At the time of the war I’m sure I couldn’t have picked it out on a map. Also, it being a place nestled in Europe that is effectively off the lists of tourists held great attraction for me. I’m sure it will get much harder than this but for now this is the top. Available English is dramatically reduced and Serbian is a combination of Cyrillic and Roman alphabets. NOTE: I can’t read Cyrillic.

Very lucky for me I ran into an American named Matt after getting off the train in Belgrade. It was night and while I had the directions written down I had no idea how useless they would be. Like I said, luckily there was Matt, he speaks some Russian and can read Cyrillic. He didn’t have a hostel so he decided to see if the one I was booked at had any beds. The directions I had to my hostel were transliterated so showing them to the Serbian/Russian speaking cab driver did very little good. What would have been even more challenging without Matt would have been deciphering the street signs, which of course didn’t match my written names at all.

Example: Cika Lubjana

Street Sign: цика лубйиана

We arrived to find basically a two bedroom apartment converted into a hostel. There were six beds in one room and four in another. The “funky room” pictured on their web site was basically a small dining area with a picnic table in it where the staff, and occasionally the guests, would sit together. I’ll say they really did a good job with their advertising here. The pictures looked much better than the real thing. There was one bathroom and the shower was a bathtub with one of those hand held nozzles, no curtain. The finishing touch had to be the transparent acrylic toilet seat inset with coiled barbed wire. Those quirky Serbs…

It took a while for the staff to warm up, so I mostly avoided them. The restaurants and cafes were very cheap and I would visit a different one for each meal. This also gave me an excellent view on the unending stream of humanity flowing up and down the pedestrian mall.

I just walked most of the time. My head cold had made its way to my chest and I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I very effectively got lost trying to find the Tesla museum but by the time I found it, it was closed and would be closed the following day as well. I kept walking and people watching. Eventually finding myself at the two buildings that Belgrade has apparently not chosen to rebuild after the bombings and it’s hard to imagine what it was like here when that happened, maybe these shelled out carcasses serve as a reminder.

I hope to visit this place again in 10 years to see how much further it has come. With 30% growth for the past several years and a hope to join the European Union… I can only imagine what it will be like.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Sofia, Bulgaria

Writing by Brad on Saturday, 13 of October , 2007 at 12:20 am

Honestly I didn’t know what to expect from Sarajevo. I only knew a few general things about Sarajevo or Bosnia as a whole for that matter.

About Sarajevo:

In 1914 someone shot Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, and as a result started World War I.

In 1984 it was the site for the summer Olympic games.

In 1992 war broke out Sarajevo was the site of the longest arterial bombardments in recent history. Reports of genocide and ethnic cleansing prompted an international response. NATO forces intervened.

There was a movie called “Welcome to Sarajevo” in 1995 which attempted to deal with the war here and its atrocities. I recommend the movie but will warn you, it’s pretty heavy if I remember correctly.

Tensions have not altogether gone away and there is still a small NATO presence. I saw a green NATO bus running up and down the streets. I also saw a Landmine Action Service truck outfitted for off-road travel driving through downtown at one point. Hiking and wandering off sealed surfaces is not advised. They have yet to clear all the landmines from the war.

All of this being said, Sarajevo is still one of my favorite destinations of the trip so far.

I was put at ease just entering the country. At the Bosnian border crossing the officials boarded and requested my passport. The official was joking and smiling with me and even made me laugh. This would be the first and probably last time a border official would have this effect. They, at least in my experience, are a bunch of stoic purpose-driven employees of the state. The Bosnian guard was a refreshing exception.

Instead of the usual hostel accommodation I decided to splurge a little and get my very own hotel room. For the 1984 Olympics a Holiday Inn was built, subsequently this Holiday Inn served as the base for the international journalists during the war. I used some accumulated hotel points from my business travel to get a room there for a couple nights. It was like a vacation from hostel travel. I had my own room, with a lock on the door, my own bathroom/shower and little soaps. Never have I thought of the Holiday Inn as luxurious before.

I walked out to explore the city and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I what I didn’t find was a place that looked like it had been under siege. Apparently reconstruction began as soon as the war ended. I walked through the new city into the old city and the transformation was dramatic. Like walking into the past, I crossed from the new tall concrete buildings and walkways to cobblestones and short buildings crammed with shops. The wonderful smell of grilled meats from the many little restaurants hit me like a wall when I entered the old section.

The many shops contained a wide verity of crafts that appeared far more Arab influenced than European and in several alleys you could hear the copper pots being banged into shape. There were mosques directly across from Christian churches and the mosques, due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, were always full.

One of my favorite experiences was wandering through a public park to find a gathering of old men circled around a two foot tall chess set. The two men playing were thoughtfully walking through the pieces choosing their next move while the spectators watched intently sometimes pointing at the pieces and talking to each other, sometimes groaning at the choice the players made. I thought it was fantastic and it is something I would love to see in the parks and open spaces of Portland.

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I stayed for three days, each day making my way into the old city to eat and wander through the shops, always stopping by to watch the men playing chess. I don’t know what I expected to find in Sarajevo but what I did find was a very comfortable community rebuilding itself with few tourists and a sense of history. I would recommend it to anyone and don’t forget to try the ćevapčića… tasty.

Sofia, Bulgaraia

From Sarajevo it was a 26 hour series of trains to Bulgaria. I’m sure there are more picturesque parts of Bulgaria, unfortunately I didn’t see them. Sofia was more or less a stop on the way to Istanbul. Even the staff at the hostel seemed rather unimpressed with the available sites. And the majority of city was blockish and in desperate need of repair. Most of the buildings were falling apart, literally, one guy I met told me pieces of a plaster wall came down near him as he passed. The sidewalks were octagonal stone and didn’t seem to be set on anything substantial. Many many of them were unstable and shifted as you stepped on them. I was fairly concerned a few times that I would step on the wrong thing and disappear into the underground.

The hostel was certainly one of the high points of my time in Sofia. It was roomy and clean and very comfortable. The staff was very friendly and there was a huge common area stocked with DVDs and the walls were lined with couches. Breakfast was free and in the evenings there was a complimentary bowl of spaghetti with a glass of beer. I met some very cool people at the hostel, many of whom were long term travelers, ranging from 3 months to 3 years on the road. The further east I get the more serious the traveler I seem to find.

I did make my way to an 1100 year old monastery. The Rila Monastery is located on a mountain about 2 hours outside of Sofia and is an impressive compound. There is an Orthodox church in the center different from any I’ve seen so far. The icons are painted on the walls and set with raised silver halos and hands. Instead of the traditional pews the seats are all set against the walls. Hanging lamps provided the little light available in the church. Unfortunately they didn’t allow pictures.

Although I enjoyed the hostel and the people I met there, I was happy to move on to Istanbul.

Photos: Belgrade and Sarajevo

Writing by Brad on Saturday, 13 of October , 2007 at 4:10 am

Belgrade, Serbia

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Sarajevo, Bosnia

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Photos: Sofia, Bulgaria

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 16 of October , 2007 at 7:37 am

Thanks for the requests and suggestions. You’ll notice more pictures of people near the end of the set. I prefer to take pictures of people, however I still need to get over the awkwardness of just asking if I can take the picture, or just taking the picture and being unapologetic about it.

As to video, I’ve been working on that as well. I’ve got some short videos that I’ve taken over the course of the journey that I’ll put up. As soon as I can get them converted into something small enough to upload. As for the video blog, I’ll do my best. I’ve been over thinking the whole thing. what shots, what order, what to say, narrative, etc… I’ll try and stop that and see what happens.

For now… Sofia

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Istanbul, Turkey

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 16 of October , 2007 at 8:20 am

It was 13 hours overnight from Sofia to Istanbul and I had a sleeper car all to myself. I’m getting better at sleeping on trains despite the noise, the shaking, the frequent jerky stops, and the repeated visits by border guards and ticket agents.

Turkey requires a visa for Americans to enter but it can be obtained at the border. The night train from Sofia arrives at the Turkish border around 3am. Unfortunately the knock on my door from the steward did not translate to “Time to get up. Please get off the train and go to the visa window. Pay them for the visa stamp and then get in the second unmarked line to have your passport validated.” So I stayed tucked in my bunk.

About 30 minutes later a border guard opened my door and asked for my passport. I handed it to him and he flipped through it, obviously not finding what he was looking for. “Stamp, Stamp!” he said. Groggy from the couple hours of sleep I’d been able to catch I looked at him probably much like someone on drugs. Sensing this he told me to follow him and rushed me out to the visa window. I presented the passport, paid for the visa sticker, and then he grabbed the passport and walked away calling “Bradley! Quickly!” as he walked. So I followed. He jumped to the front of the second line and handed the passport to the man behind the window. What happened next is kind of a blur. A few one word questions were asked and apparently I provided the right one word answers as he stamped my passport and handed it back to me. I walked back to the train and a very few moments later we were underway. I’m not really sure how close I came to watching my luggage make its way to Istanbul without me.

Rolling into Istanbul at 8am the sun had risen a little. Enough to cast angular morning light on everything below it. I could already tell I wasn’t in “Europe” any more. The minarets from the Mosques stood tall and foreign in the post-dawn and the many domes stood in sharp contrast to the square ugliness of the post-Soviet architecture. Istanbul has some 3000 mosques and nowhere near as many churches. At this point I’m a little churched-out to be honest. I’ve been looking forward to this. Something more “foreign” less “European” for a little while. American culture has borrowed so heavily from Western European cultures and vice versa that, while each country is unique and has its own long heritage, there is some sameness to them after two months. This is something even more apparent by traveling overland. You are able to see the gradual blending of cultures. The architecture and infrastructure make a slow transition from one dominance to another around the borders. You can even hear a slow change in the language as passengers get off and on at the stops around a border. The language, or dialect, as I have no idea what anyone is saying, changes as well. The sounds are different.

Turkey is different. Built on a different set of cultures (Greek/Arab/Persian) and being located more in Asia than Europe it has proved culturally more resistant to choosing a side and has built a unique blend of the two, a wonderfully tolerant and secular blend of the two. Thanks to Ataturk (president from 1923-1938) and his sweeping reforms Turkey has grown into a politically stable, economically viable, better educated state.

I got to my hostel run by a group of Kurdish brothers and dropped off my bags and wandered map-less out into the streets. I walked the narrow cobblestone streets taking no particular route, maybe following foot traffic in hopes they knew where they were going, and found my way to what I thought was a magnificent set of mosques. I would later find out that one of them was actually formerly a Christian church and the other is the famous Blue Mosque. Getting directions to an ATM later I would be told “It’s up by the Blue Mosque” and would have to display my ignorance by asking “Which one is the Blue Mosque?” Here’s why. The Blue Mosque isn’t blue on the outside; it’s blue on the inside!

I did no sight seeing that day other than what I saw on my walk. I just took in the hundreds of shops and cafes and restaurants. All so very different from anywhere I’d been this far. In the restaurants I found something I’d been missing on this travel… SPICE! The majority of European food I’ve sampled thus far has been terribly bland. Here everything is punched up with a healthy dose of spice and sauce and flavor! I’ve sampled a wide variety of Turkish staples and have been pleasantly impressed each time. The shops offered a wonderful variety of crafts. Carpets, ceramics, instruments, clothes, hats, and much more. Of course, with no prices. I’ve bought very few souvenirs on this trip so far and I immediately thought “Turkey is going to be expensive!”

And it would be…

The next day I took more time than I should have getting out of bed. I had a singular goal of the day. Get to the Syrian Consulate and apply for a visa. It was the last day of Ramadan and the next 3 days would be the holiday of Ede meaning there would be no chance for me to apply again if I didn’t make it in time.

Something the taxi driver decided to tell me on the ride to the consulate: Ramadan ends and thus Ede begins, at noon on the last day. Thus it would probably be closed. He was right. All the doors were shut and I’d missed my opportunity to apply until Ede was over 3 days later. He patiently waited for me to come back out of the building and then took me back to nearly where I’d begun. This being my first taxi ride in haggle-land I did a poor job of setting expectations and this round trip ended up costing me about $60.

I had him drop me off at the Grand Bazaar, handed over my poorly negotiated pound of flesh, and walked into the fray.

The Grand Bazaar is a spectacular bit of chaos. It is the largest covered bazaar in the world and is full to overflowing with shops, products, and people. The Turkish salespeople are incredibly persistent and crafty. They know your language, your country, state, city, weather, and will use all of it to get you into a conversation, once they’ve got you on the hook they use that to ply on your sense of respect, manners, and emotions. Not all mind you, but the vast majority I’ve come into contact with. Carpet salesmen are the most persistent. I’ll admit I’m vulnerable to respect-tactics. “Please, sit with me, drink my apple tea, won’t you be polite?” I didn’t buy anything, but I did get sucked into a long uncomfortable discussion in the back of a carpet shop.

It took only once. Now I lie. I got enough information from that one meeting, and a little internet research later on, to put together a convincing enough set of stories to diffuse most attempts.

“Would you look at my carpets sir?”

“I’ve already got two”

“But you don’t have a , I’m sure!”

“Yes, sorry, I have that and a ”

“Well then you need a leather jacket!” (this is always the fall back position.)

“Sorry, it is against my beliefs to wear leather”

Or avoid the whole transaction by smiling, putting up my hand and ignoring the five or six more “Excuse me” attempts. That does not always work.

I also got burned early on with what I saw as a simple transaction. I wanted to get a beard trimmer to keep the bristles under control so I found a shop outside the bazaar and chose a clipper package, negotiated a price, and made my way back to the hostel only to discover that I had indeed purchased the clippers, but had not received the power adaptor or any of the accessories… and so it grows.

How it is that the marketplace works with this open knowledge that they are going to try and take advantage of you, either on price or quality, is still lost on me. I can only think that you must also come to the table ready to do so, thus creating a level playing field. Honor among thieves and all that… In the end it may actually be more “honest” with this knowledge. Compared to the ubiquitous “sale” signs in western retail shops where they take some percentage off their heavily marked up prices to move product. Here everything is on sale depending on how good you are at the game.

The next few days the weather I’d been running away from caught up with me. I’d seen the trees changing color from the train windows and had some vague notion that autumn was chasing me but I had yet to feel the bite. It rained for 3 days and temperatures dropped to the mid 50’s. Other than a few outings to eat or drink, I stayed close to the hostel and read or played on the Internet.

Monday I was able to try again for my Syrian visa. Everyone from the hostel was wishing me luck as they’d all heard the same things I had. Americans will have a rough time of it.

I arrived at the small room in the Syrian Consulate for visa applications and filled out the English form, got my photo ready, and walked up to the window. The woman behind the counter smiled pleasantly and said hello. I said hello and pushed my completed paperwork through the small hole in the window and smiled. She looked down at the cover of the passport and her smile faded. “Ahh, American…” It was a tone of concern. “I’m very sorry, we cannot issue you a visa from here. You must get it from Washington DC.”

“Really? Is there nothing we can do?” I said, conjuring my best lost-puppy look.

“I could send this to Syria, but it could stay there for a month and still be declined” she offered.

“What about the border? Could I try there?”

“Impossible… sorry”

And do it goes. No Syria for me, and thus no Jordan or Lebanon. While I’m sure it is some slight relief to Summer and my Parents that I won’t be crossing Syria, and I knew this could happen, it’s still a bummer. I’m still investigating other routes, and while they might be off the table for this trip, I will visit this region, for me it’s a necessity.

After the answer from the Syrian Consulate, I moved forward booking the rest of my Turkey tour. I’m headed to the middle of the country to explore the Cappadocian region and then to the South to hang out on the Mediterranean Coast for a week, where I will hopefully be able to hide from winter a little longer.

More on Istanbul and Turkey to come…

Pictures: Istanbul

Writing by Brad on Tuesday, 23 of October , 2007 at 2:39 pm

Here are the pictures from Istanbul. More Turkey pictures coming soon! Such an amazing place.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Writing by Brad on Monday, 29 of October , 2007 at 7:27 pm

I booked a 2 day tour package to Cappadocia in Central Turkey. It’s the first “package” tour option I’ve booked since I began this trip and it was worth every penny. Cappadocia is so old and remote that without a tour I fear I would have missed the vast majority of what I’ve experienced without it.

I found a travel agent on the main street next to my hostel. There is no shortage of travel agents so the way I fount this one was totally out of convenience. It was on the corner and hand a friendly looking guy staffing the office 17 hours a day. The people in the shops, restaurants, and hostels in Istanbul work hard for your money.

So it was an overnight bus to get to Cappadocia, actually Urgup, and actually it was four busses. This was my first bus travel during the trip and I’ve never done any kind of long distance bus travel in the US before so this was a new experience. I’ll say I much prefer train travel. You can get up, move around, and take a bathroom break when the need arises. These options are not available on the bus, or the Turkish busses at any rate. I met up with a group of Canadians that would make the long travel more interesting. Two nurses living in Switzerland, an artist from Vancouver and a student from Montreal. We banded together to form an English (and French) speaking team to attempt to decipher the Turkish bus system.

The busses stop about every 3-5 hours for a bathroom and snack break. I’d brought a 1.5 liter bottle of water and some crackers to get me through the night. After finding out about the stop schedule, which was more like “some time in 3-5 hours we’ll stop” I decided not to hydrate too liberally.

We arrived in Urgup about 8:30am after changing busses around 7am. The others shuffled off to their respective hotels and I to mine. They all had tours starting immediately at 9am whereas I had the day off to sleep and walk around the town. I was staying in the hotel owned by the family of the travel agent that booked my tour. For a little while I thought I was the only one staying at the hotel but later I would see proof of other life. On all the brochures they heavily featured the pool in the pictures. Unfortunately, due to the time of year I would be visiting, the pool was off limits except for the Polar Bear Club.

I got situated and took a nap to try and build on the sleep I’d managed on the bus. I wouldn’t call what happened “sleeping” and might have been better off without it. I eventually got up and ventured into town to see what there was to see.

The whole region of Cappadocia is wonderful. Cappadocia was settled some 4000 years ago by the Hittites. They used the soft pumice stone that defines the region to build cave housing. Some 2200 years later (250-ish AD) Christians in the region would use this same tactic to build houses, churches, and even underground cities. During the 8th century ,when the Muslims would dominate the area, the Christians would create massive underground cities supporting up to 5000 people. I’ve been in the largest of these cities and it is truly amazing what they accomplished. We could only go five levels deep, there are 12. The bottom few are currently underwater. Imagine a giant human ant colony. Tunnels and rooms shot off in every direction. Some of the level-to-level tunnels were so tight my knees were touching my chin. Apparently it wasn’t designed for Iowan corn-and-beef fed humans.

Day one of the tour I was introduced to our tour leader. A woman whose name in Arabic means “Thank You”. Her mother had given birth to five boys and when she was born she was named as a gesture of gratitude. She led us though the myriad shelter houses and Fairy Chimneys in the region close to Urgup. They are called Fairy Chimneys because, prior to the advent of geological knowledge, they were thought to have been built, and inhabited, by Fairies. To give you an idea what it looks like watch Star Wars Episode I. It was largely filmed in this area.

We went to a ceramic shop and saw demonstrations about how the products were made and how to tell the difference between a hand made piece and a factory made piece (Hint: price is a big tip-off)

We visited the open air museum, which is actually an old Christian cave city in various states of preservation. From a distance everything looks like little bird holes in the rock. These are actually shelter homes built in the second century. However, there really are a huge number of bird holes in the houses themselves. The Christians would use pigeons as messengers to communicate between these rock cities. I’m thinking they ate the pigeons as well, possibly as a form of evolutionary training. If the pigeon came back with the original message, obviously it wasn’t very good at its job, maybe it would be better at being soup?

Like I said the entire landscape is littered with these cave houses and all the present day cities that surround the area have leveraged the soft stone to build hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops in the same fashion as these ancient settlers. It’s a pretty cool tourism trick as well. I originally wanted to stay in a cave room but was convinced that the Ottoman style room would be warmer as Cappadocia was quite cold this time of year. Unfortunately the heat in my Ottoman style room was out so I got to experience the cave room temp without the actual cave room.

Then there was “Turkish Night” I met up with team-Canada and we all boarded a bus out to a cave restaurant somewhere about 20 miles outside of town. Turkish Night is a for-tourists exposition of traditional dances, whirling dervishes, belly dancers, and the like. All the food is included and all the beer/wine/raki as well. Raki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raki_%28alcoholic_beverage%29) is medicinal tasting liquor made from musk pomice (grape juice, skins, stems, seeds, etc…) It also may have been a leading factor in my willingness to accept the belly dancer’s request that I join her and several other men grabbed from the crowd to make her dancing skills look that much better.

Once I was out on the floor with the other men we realized the gravity of our situation. This was no American ethnic restaurant evening entertainment. We were instructed to take off our shirts. I went from terrified to “What the hell, I’ll never see you people again” pretty quickly and tried to make a good effort. After the fact I would be complimented on that effort by several people when I was exiting the restaurant and later the bus. Either I actually had done ok, or they understood, and were coming to the aid of a man who had just taken his shirt off and wiggled about in front of 300 people. Either way, it’s a good story.

The end of the beginning…

Writing by Brad on Wednesday, 31 of October , 2007 at 3:40 pm

I actually started writing this three weeks ago, not long after I’d arrived in Istanbul. While I was excited to be in such a diverse and active place I noticed that my sense of awe and enthusiasm were not where they should have been. I found I spent more and more time in the hostel or the nearby restaurant reading or talking to people I’d met. My drive to go walk for six to eight hours a day was gone. I was only six blocks from the Blue Mosque and Hava Sophia and it took me three days before I bothered to go check them out. I was awash in an amazing culture and I was, I can’t say bored, I was tired.

Back at the very beginning of this trip I talked to my friend Candice, who was very excited for my trip and the route I was taking. She had done a year around the world with someone and gave me some sage advice. “From one traveler to another, don’t drink the water, use hand sanitizer a lot, and don’t be afraid to stop if you get tired.”

In Sofia I met a man from Hong Kong named Kerry Pan. Kerry was on an overland journey from Hong Kong to the Middle East. He’d spent the last few years traveling all over the world. South America, Asia, Japan, etc… He would always return home to regroup after a period of time.

In Istanbul I met a German man named Johan (I think I’m spelling that correctly). He had been traveling regularly for 20+ years, all on his motorcycle. He has logged nearly 1,000,000 kilometers and was presently on a journey from Germany to South Africa. We talked about my concerns and lack of enthusiasm and he told me that his limit was six months. He’d taken longer trips but hadn’t enjoyed them as much. He found that after six months for him it just became living. “What pub am I going to hang out in?” “Where am I going to eat?” that kind of thing. The thrill started to wane.

I’d planned the trip, saved enough to get me through a year or more, studied the routes, bought the gear, sold my car, and put my life on hold. It wasn’t until I’d spent months on the road that I realized I might have an upper limit on my attention span for this kind of thing. You can’t know unless you try. No matter what, I know that I tried, and that I’m not done.

I’m glad I had these conversations, and many others, with fellow travelers. When I first started to feel it, I was concerned, and it was nice to have others with a long term trip under their belt let me know they’d felt the same way.

I know there will be some that are disappointed in my decision to stop early. For them, know that it was not an easy decision. I spent several weeks, and countless hours, weighing everything. Was I wasting this opportunity I’d created? Was I stopping too easily? Could I just push past it? In the end I knew that this wasn’t the end, just the end of the beginning. Anyone who thought this trip would “get it out of my system” or “settle me down” doesn’t know me very well. This trip, as long as it lasted, has only opened the door for bigger, more difficult, travel and challenges. So as to not become jaded to future adventures it’s better I stop now and regroup.

Maybe it would be different if I didn’t have my future wife waiting patiently for me at home. She has never pressured me into any decisions about this trip. Still, being away from Summer has been the single most challenging aspect of this whole adventure. Thanks to technology and the availability of the Internet I’ve been able to talk with her often but it’s not the same. I’m sure you can ask anyone posted overseas or in another city about that. There’s also the “Damn, I wish she could see this” factor.

I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the world over the past six months. You can’t not with this kind of experience. You learn what you can and can’t live without, there are more extreme lessons in the world I’m sure, but this has been mine. You learn what is important to you. You learn about the insignificance of so many things you worry about every day. Similar I think to when you age, you realize how to be comfortable in your own skin, and how all that self-conscious crap while you were young, was crap. You realize how everyone is just a person like you. Loves the same, needs the same, lives the same, just differently.

So, with all that said, sorry for the seemingly abrupt end to the adventure. It really isn’t the end. I will spend the rest of my life reaching this goal. I’m more interested in enjoying the ride than unenthusiastically accomplishing a task. Life is too short.

Pacific Northwesterners! I’m back! and unemployed! anybody want to buy me a drink?