One year of teaching in China and two years of Peace Corps in Malawi later, my dear friends from Semester at Sea and I finally reunited. Alexis and I flew to Burlington, Vermont within 20 hours of Garrett's homecoming, and these are the good times we enjoyed. When I'm not at work, I don't want to be continuously documenting my life in high def. That's why I played with Instagram this time around (click on the images to view in lightbox).Read More
Q: I am from Birmingham, AL this is going to be way out of my comfort zone do you recommend finding a friend or just going alone. Is their a good floor to be on and does the inside/outside room make a difference? How many classes did you take while you were there and did studying abroad put you behind in your studies when you got back to school?Read More
I finally dipped into the world of webcam, vlog-style videos, for both the sake of practicality/timing and in order to stay current with my website postings. As I embark on this trip to Mexico with ProjectExplorer, I am telling myself, "Stay current and create dynamic content with timing." Also, I wanted to thank the awesome tweeters this week that have offered their great encouragement and stellar commentary.
Therefore, enjoy the first webcam special, in all it's shotty, pixelated glory, followed by some lovely tweets!
@backpackingmatt After dinner check out Jimmy's Corner! Epic pub! 44th ann broadway...Tweet a photo if you get there. And do. Go there. Cheapest pint in NYC I reckon! Hopefully Jimmy is there!
@nfisher01: Are you still in NYC? If so, head over to Brooklyn to Dumont burgers. Sooo good! Get the mac&cheese if you go. Happy travels!
@mytravelogue good luck in Mexico! Can't wait to read all about it!
@justinspired ProjectExplorer.org -- look forward to seeing more videos from them around the world (via @nomadderwhere)
@rtwdave steak au poivre + fries [in response to asking for suggestions at Les Halles]
Also thank you, tweeters, for your input on an impromptu poll: Does briefly visiting an airport en route to a new state qualify being in that state? Same with countries. What qualifies visiting?
@LandLopers It counts for state IMHO, countries eh, I usually go with passport stamp
@janelleeagle I've often wondered that. I don't think it counts technically unless you leave an airport (a la Tom Hanks in "The Terminal")
@MattBoggie yes, at least how the Century Club counts ur first 100 countries. Remind me to tell u story of 4 us time zones in 1 day.
@justinspired POLL Response: I wouldn't count it if I stayed inside but a quick layover out&about 2 get a feel for the place then why not?
@a_rachel I only count a visit as leaving the airport, either state-wise, or internationally.
I'll admit this off the bat: this week's video post is all over the place. Yes, it's dedicated to the betterment of the self-taught skills, just like last week's. Yes, it covers material from last year, this year, and calls for agency in yourselves! And yes, there are three videos this week. Just roll with it.
My Thought Process
Recently, I answered a question on how to best groom yourself for the World Traveler Internship, and since a huge part of the job is video editing, I thought it wise to encourage some exercises that will only improve our skills in videography, yours and mine. Unless you take formal classes or have a mentor, you have to push your own development in order to make travel videos people want to watch.
Last week's video showed a lengthy experience squeezed into something compact with a bit of flare, and I called for suggestions on how I could have made the piece more dynamic with different techniques or styles all possible with a simple point-and-shoot and Windows Movie Maker. Many people don't create travel videos because they don't have the top gear, like HD camcorders and Final Cut Pro, but that shouldn't stop anyone from having an expressive final piece that stretches the abilities of that gear.
Video #1: Self-Teaching the Analysis of Theme
I created the following a year ago, while taking a trip to Iowa with friends. I wanted to show unexceptional and mildly inappropriate subject matter submerged into an unlikely theme, to hopefully enhance whatever charm can be extracted from a party bus situation.
Please don't judge.
Did this technique of pairing old and new, classy and not classy, work in your opinion? How would you have captured the same subject matter with a different angle, using the same tools of a point-and-shoot and a simple editing program? Comment below, and let's move on.
Video #2: Self-Teaching New Accessible Techniques
I am a MatadorTV intern (did you know?), and this week, I've been on the lookout for interesting videos under the theme of photography or photo-centric. This brought my attention to a technique called photomotion, which I love. I decided to give it a go this week, with the help of a Matador tutorial.
Give it a try yourself. If you have a DSLR, keep your finger on the shutter button for some rapid succession shots of something that moves. Also check the continuous shooting options on your camera and see if you can't make it do the work itself, possibly resulting in 9 frames per second if you're lucky.
If you have a point-and-shoot, I think the fastest you'll be able to capture is a photo a second, and it may help to turn the photo review off. You may not be able to capture enough frames to make it seamlessly animated, but it's a great technique to try out!
Bottomline: Don't not create because you don't like your subject matter or don't have the perfect gear. No doubt my subject matter would be cute no madder how I captured her. Great topic to start with.
Video #3: Self-Teaching How to Hunt Inspiration
And finally, today's last video is about finding new inspiration. Did you already know about photomotion? How can you learn other techniques without waiting for someone else to tell you about them? I found an easy way for anyone to come up with new methods.
I have twelve days until I take off for NYC and Mexico on my first business trip as producer and editor for Project Explorer. With this fourth series coming up, we want to get really creative with our filming techniques, in order to make learning all the more entertaining for students. Also, some archaeological/historical/cultural sites don't allow filming, so how are we to deal with these barriers?
By getting creative.
If you're finding it difficult to diversify your storytelling abilities, not sure how to capture certain subject matter in a new and compelling way, or just want to try something new, check out Vimeos channels!
Did any of this widespread content help you in conceptualizing better travel videos? Any other ideas to share? New techniques to try out? Fill me in, because I get further direction knowing what you, the reader, thinks!
This week's video post is dedicated to the betterment of the self-taught skills. Recently, I answered a question on how to best groom yourself for the World Traveler Internship, and since a huge part of the job is video editing, I thought it wise to encourage an exercise that will only improve our skills in videography, your's and mine. Unless you take formal classes or have a mentor, you have to push your own development in order to make travel videos people want to watch.
Along with the next video of the week, I'll be displaying some work I created almost a year ago exactly, while taking a trip to Iowa with friends. How do think I could have captured this moment better? Any techniques I could have used? Photo motion? Visual effects? Let's stretch our minds and see how many ways this experience could have been documented, using reasonably accessible gear like point-and-shoot cameras and Windows Movie Maker (what I used for this video).
Leave your suggestion or technique in the comments below, and let me know what you think of this exercise!
Aside from decapitation and/or childbirth sans-Epideral, I'm guessing nothing hurts as badly as putting aloe vera on freshly exposed burned skin. I nearly passed out from a woozy rush after an invigorating shower than revealed to me I hadn't just crisped one layer of skin but many. Regardless, I threw on some make-up for the first time in a month and joined Garrett at the bar to commence our celebration of a new decade in the first time zone of the world.
It being Fiji, a place that brings out the friendly in most everyone, we soon joined a group of tourists from Europe who were circumnavigating Viti Levu with the Fiji Experience bus. We met Queenie, an employee of The Uprising whose job it was to entertain tour groups, and latched onto some other friends with whom we could relate our travel highs and woes. Dinner got lost in a sea of beers and traditional Fijian songs before the live band got started by the beach, playing Bob Marley to Black Eyed Peas.
New Year's and No Ball
The moon rose higher, revealing its complete circumference and eerie glow, and the band announced its last song of 2010. They called the five minute warning, played a two minute song, and started counting from ten. The arbitrary count down had me laughing until fireworks exploded from the beach.
We were among the first bunch of world citizens to see the second zero melt from our annual status.
It seemed only proper to mark this remarkable occasion with an act of stupidity, so we stripped down to our underwear and jumped into the Pacific Ocean, which is regularly filled with unhappy creatures ready to snap or sting. Thankfully, the only sting I experienced was when the salt water hit my bright pink skin.
It felt like one of those movie moments, a baptism of sorts.
We made drinks disappear, and Garrett twirled fire-tipped sticks until he nearly singed the label off his jeans. It was the first New Year's I didn't spend watching Dick Clark sprinkle one ton of confetti on Times Square. It was a night I enjoyed presently and knew for sure I would cherish from the future.
Dragging Our Feet
The next morning marked one week away from the village. It seemed about time to return and commence with Phase 2 of The Nakavika Project, one that reflected the observed needs and wants of the village. During our quick layover in Suva before heading to The Uprising, we stopped by a wholesale bookstore to purchase some additional supplies for our classes and the youth library we wanted to create.
Our bodies were slowly returning to normal, and our longing to see the kids set in. If only we could drag ourselves away from the excellent food we found in town at The Water's Edge and toward more weeks of sleeping on the wooden floor. Adventure vs. luxury...we were pulled on both sides.
Looking back in hindsight, it was at this point that we felt most optimistic about our project and its potential for success (in our terms). With loaded lists of supplies to complement our honorable budget and new ideas to satiate the emerging desires of the villagers to learn, it felt as though we were transporting an extra school three hours inland.
We knew our intentions would be appreciated, and the 45 days that stretched ahead of us held an enormous amount of potential for reasonable and universally acknowledged change.
Now if only we could pull ourselves away from the Coral Coast.
Tracking Down Our Host
We booked three more nights in comfort and called Fane to inform her, for the first time since we parted, we were in Pacific Harbour on our way soon to Nakavika. She showed no signs of wanting to be there soon after us. Family time in Vanua Levu was treating her well.
Garrett and I earned the designation of "Man and Woman of the Household" and gained the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and functioning in a patriarchal society, which we planned to rebel against a wee bit. Packing up two weeks worth of peanut butter and lentils, we met the carrier at the base of the junction and enjoyed the best ride of the trip, one which involved a happy hour/century club feel and immediate camaraderie with the other few passengers.
We returned to a different atmosphere, what would soon become our most thrilling, proud, action-packed portion of the trip. Though, had we known what was ahead of us, I wonder if we would have returned.
Have any questions thus far about vacationing on Viti Levu or about certain aspects of Fijian culture? We certainly have a lot to say on all topics Fiji-related. Leave a comment, and be sure to share this with your friends and readers!
He's conquered the slopes of Vermont and explored 23 countries across the globe. He's got the amazing ability to befriend anyone and has committed the next three years of his life to working for others. Let's check him out.
Garrett Russell is one of my favorite travel buddies and my partner on the Nakavika Project. Once again, this series of Interview a Traveler is not just an outlet for me to gab about my best friends; these people are my favorite and worth mentioning because of their amazing character and ambition that spans continents for the purpose of learning and doing something they can stand behind.
His Bio: Garrett Russell hadn't left the country until he boarded the MV Explorer and embarked for a 100-day, 11 country journey with Semester at Sea. Since then he has had the opportunity to visit Europe twice and can now reminisce about his adventures in 23 countries on 4 continents.
Currently residing in Vermont, Garrett is an avid skiier and hiker with a passion for outdoor adventure. With the upcoming winter season biting at his heels, a call to service has changed his mindset and brought his attention toward Fiji.
In the very near future, Mr. Russell will be joining the Peace Corps to teach Secondary Science Education. But before this big leap, he's leaving December 1st to coordinate the Nakavika Project and immerse himself in a Fijian village for 2.5 months.
Why on Earth do you travel?
When I step onto a plane or hop in my car for a long distance trip, I feel a sense of independence and courage. A lot of trips I take are low budget, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, flip a coin to find the next location type trips. Traveling like this gives me a thrill and scares the crap out of my mom.
When you click the "submit" button for that next flight to wherever, how do you justify spending your hard-earned money to see the world?
I work in an environment where people are stuck in one mindset. The monotony of everyday life can suck you in and but also give you the comfort of stability. I want to stimulate my mind and mix things up. My entire senior year of college I saved for my trip to Europe, and everyday I think back to the crazy things I did and the knowledge that I gathered and feel proud. Being young and having a flexible (and seasonal) job is a plus. So spending my money on travel is why it's there.
What are some of your travel goals or "bucket list" entries (if you make such lists or goals)?
I have started making a bucket list, but as the years pass, things change. There are a lot of things I want to do and my mind flies a mile a minute. Most of my bucket list contains things like having a cabin in the mountains, owning a dog...more permanent things.
What was your initial motivation to study science, and what are you reasons now for pursuing this area of study?
I was exposed to the sciences my whole life and proved to be a natural. My junior year of college was a huge turning point where I had no idea what my goals were or why I was a Biology major. I really had to find out who I was first, and travel helped me to do so. Life has a way of choosing your path for you. I never thought I would be a teacher, but in the upcoming fall I will be a science teacher in East Africa. Ask me this question again in 3 years.
Tell us a little bit about the process of applying to the Peace Corps. How did you make the final decision to join, and what did you have to do in order to complete this process?
The Peace Corp was a huge defining decision for me that started out as an excuse to not continue on to grad school and for a lack of knowing what I wanted to do. It took me a year to complete the application, not because its long but because I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing. I feel that I made the decision because I wanted an experience to work independently and make a difference. I finished my application in February 2009 and was accepted in April. After you are accepted you are put on a list for available positions. I had to wait until July 30th to be nominated, which happened to be my birthday. I have finished my medical evaluation and am waiting to hear back. The Peace Corps involves a lot of patience and time. It will be a year and a half or more from the date I sent in my application to the day I leave for training. I hope it's worth the wait.
Where did this Nakavika Project come from? And why do you stand behind it?
This project was thrown into my lap, and within 24 hours I had bought a ticket. Whoa! I know now that I have [an affinity] for traveling and an education, so I have to be productive. This project will give me the chance to work toward a goal, to help people and to learn more about myself and my future. Am I capable of giving up my current life for others in a far off place? The Nakavika project will test me, and I believe in it 100%. It is something that anyone with an idea, a place and the means to accomplish can create for themselves. I hope that people are inspired by our trip and have the courage to travel themselves.
When you consider your future life in the Fijian village, what are you most excited about?
I'm really excited to get to know the people of the village. To play games with the kids, learn to cook and do things their way. When I have traveled before, I have not been able to immerse myself into another culture. I'm pumped!
You're going to miss being home for the holidays for the first time. Why did you allow yourself to miss out, and how do you hope to spend this time abroad?
This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and missing Christmas is not a problem. My family is super supportive and as long as I make intelligent decisions, I have their support...except for last Easter when I ditched the family to climb and ski down Mt Washington in New Hampshire, my brother was quite upset.
I thank my family, roomates and especially Lindsay for supporting me and introducing this opportunity to me.
Do you have any questions for Garrett about the Peace Corps, the Nakavika Project, or skiing? Leave a comment, and I'll have him respond!
The STA World Traveler Internship is becoming a dot on my horizon now, within viewing range and getting bigger and more omnipresent in my daily life with each globe rotation. And if you've been wondering how I am preparing for this experience, I guess you haven't been following my blog. Wa waaaaaaa...sad. Well, I've been building my domain from its humble roots at blogspot to where it is now, a whole lotta pages of stuff. And with my previous trip still hovering in a cloud above my head like unprocessed thought bubbles, I've been busy putting that experience in an oak barrel for further fermentation before its eventual publication (in book form, baby!).
In the last couple weeks, I've had some thrilling moments, all in the name of travel and enjoying the Motherland. With this focus on "being where I'm not", I often shrink out of the social picture or adopt the ways of penny-pinchers to increase my spendings for future trips abroad. Oh, but not this time.
Road Trip to Des Moines
Two weekends ago, I decided to honor a promise I made to a certain sorority house in Des Moines, Iowa, one which graciously offered incredible support for a girl they didn't know in a contest that thrived on public outreach. I called up my travel buddy, Garrett, a Semester at Sea friend, and asked him if he was doing anything that weekend and wanted to fly to Indy for a road trip. Within hours he was booked, and within a week we sat in Broad Ripple (a neighborhood/the Indy Mecca of all things party-like) at a dimly-lit Egyptian restaurant talking strategies for shocking our friend, Alexis, tomorrow in Des Moines. Alexis is another Semester at Sea friend, my potluck roommate, and my ultimate travel companion. She knew I was coming but didn't know about the impromptu Flight of the Garrett.
The drive across three "I" states went from flat to flowing and chatty to hilarious. Needless to spell out in eloquent script, she was happy with the Garrett surprise hidden in the truck under my Dora the Explorer pinata and then immediately led us to our afternoon activities of outdoor paint fights and formal affairs (yes, it was a quick turnaround of cleanliness and demeanor, but we're professionals).
Day #2 in Des Moines consisted of finding Garrett's pants, eating excellent BBQ, and loading into a purple party bus with $250 worth of canned, bubbly goodness. These Drake University sorority girls put on quite a show in the middle of the bus, bringing along stuffed squirrels, skis, and funnels galore, and I couldn't help thinking how interesting American undergraduate culture would seem to anthropologists from foreign lands and times. We laugh at the cows on the streets in India thinking, "Why is that necessary?" I wondered the same thing while rolling through downtown in a crammed bus, sipping chilled beverages, watching others drink and high velocity and volume, and listening to Flo-rida's obsession with boots and fur. What a weird world we live in.
The World's Greatest College Weekend. I challenge all to refute this statement. And though I will consider the point that it's delusional to believe without a doubt your college traditions are superior to others, I will speak firmly for myself and say I truly had my greatest Little 5 experience this time around.
Indiana University holds a bike race every spring where Greek and independent teams compete for pure glory and risk the bones in their body for our awe of the athletic spectacle. This time-honored tradition had apparently been in my blood for years prior to my actual attendance, as my father was on the steering committee for the events in his stint as a Hoosier. Of course, I don't bike, and neither does my dad, but we sure do enjoy watching things go in circles; and by things, I mean finely-tuned human machines on Schwinn bicycles.
As evolution would have it, the athletic event named Little 500 (standing in the shadow of the Indy 500 motor race 60 miles away) quickly transformed itself into a week-plus of gluttonous binge drinking and the active pursuit of making this guzzling action creative with varied activities (e.g. Greek events, massive themed house parties, strategic bar hopping, outdoor games, personal challenges, and the "early bird gets the tequila worm" mentality). Once again, the sight is one that simultaneously inspires awe, disgust, belly laughs, amazement, and disbelief.
This year was possibly the best because of my mastery in selecting venues and juggling my circles of friends. I had no idea I would could enjoy the bars on the busiest nights of the year (GO TOWNIE BARS!), hang with my favorite people (thanks to an unexpected, melodious blending of high school and college pals), experience new sides of my four-year home (Hello, Bloomington breakfasts), and all the while feel generally pleasant (life hasn't been the same since I found the "turn-off switch" for imbibing). I'm growing up and learning the tricks, learning who I like to be surrounded by, and understanding my own familiarities with new eyes.
On top of the weekend's perfection, I reaped once again the wonderful benefits of being an applicant in the STA pool. I got to meet up with a fellow Top Ten'er, Bob Fawcett, and boy did we have a good time. Friday night we met and exchanged a good amount of chatter at my new favorite townie bar, The Vid, discussing videos, potential life plans, experiences at IU, and all things deliciously travel related. Saturday night, however, brought on a whole new range of excitement with new townie bars, traditional Bloomington cocktails, night rides in pizza delivery trucks and a pre-dawn hang session in what most Hoosier students would entitle "Hippy/Creeper's/Skater/Don't-go-there-ever Park."
The most notable perk of this awesome encounter happened with our lingering stance on the curb outside the bars, where we conjured plans to ride in a very rumbly, intimidating truck parked nearby. Item #1 on my Life List keeps me always searching for the ultimate truck bed experience, but unfortunately Bloomington on race night is no place to challenge the laws of the State of Indiana. Instead, we asked the pizza delivery guy who owned the fantastic truck to take us along for his next delivery in the truck cab.
"We just want to see the town and go on a little adventure."
After showing us his teeth could pop out of his mouth (wow, they were in his mouth, and then all of a sudden they weren't!), he offered us a ride. We then proceeded to get our brains scrambled with the sudden acceleration of his loud engine and exchange looks in the backseat that screamed "Ridiculous!" in polite silence. It was a short adventure, but it left us laughing for a while as we eventually wandered towards People's Park for a chat that led into Sunday's sunrise.
I have finally found people that do what I do, share my oddball passion, and I thank STA once more for creating a venue for travelers to find each other and share what gets them going. Which leads me to my next pre-departure activity...
Lunching with a fellow Applicant
I'm not the only one who loves Yat's, Indianapolis, and traveling. After watching Jackie Knowles' application video for STA WTI, I thought "Yikes!"...I've got intense competition in my own 'hood! Though we don't share picket fences, Jackie and I share a side of Indianapolis, and we became in contact thanks to our Youtube videos.
We met up this week on an awesome weather day for an outdoor dining experience at our favorite eatery and exchanged travel stories that thrilled us. Jackie has had a slew of ballin opportunities, and lunching with this girl solidified my goal of reaching as many of those like-minded travel enthusiasts (applicants or otherwise) to contribute to the journey ahead.
It's really occurred to me now that the Youtube responses for the Internship are a coagulation of amazing minds that could make the trip mind-boggling in reach, motivation, and coverage. Just as I encouraged Jackie, I want to reiterate to anyone reading, "COLLABORATE!"
Wow. And that was just a week and a half in the Midwest. Not too shabby of a place, my friends, not too shabby at all.
One train. L'viv to Krakow. Perfect. No crazy town of Chop in which to disembark with fear. No hidden fees or problems foreseen. Or so we believed until the conductors and engineers started a pick-up game of bumper trains. I awoke and momentarily thought I was in a suspended metal ball, hanging at the end of one of those Issac Newton action/reaction demonstrators. This continued for about two hours at the border, as the train workers lifted and suspended train cars for examination and repairs. I'm glad they waited until there were people on the train to do this essential task. With the beautiful day outside and all the winking engineers, I could have enjoyed this time to relax, except for the fact that they locked the bathrooms to avoid workers getting a dirty shower below.
At this point in our travels, it doesn't even matter to me where we are. All I need is to feel safe, clean, settled and well-nourished. There's only so much bread and corn nuts a person can eat before they start loathing the stuff. As we stepped off the train, a hostel ad magically appeared in front of us, soliciting all the essentials we need and all the free additions we salivate for. It was called Hocus Pocus (the pun was intended). It was here that we nested in bliss for two days with bellies full of perogis and bigosz, minds enriched by local scenery and life, eyes entertained by nightly Euro Cup matches from the comforts of our personal living room.
Garrett's departure date from the continent was veering closer, and unfortunately our last shared day together was on that of our most intense and depressing experience. Let me begin this excerpt by saying how much I find Hitler repulsive. It's difficult to grasp your own dislike of a past figure, such as Saddam or Mussolini, until you are in the presence of their work.
I'd rather not describe in too much detail how I felt touring Auschwitz, because I am beginning to re-experience the depression and sickness I felt that day. With our tour guide narrating the dreaded details at each turn, my skin began feeling foreign to me, like it could do nothing and I was completely helpless and feeble. I realized my view on the human condition was limited to all but utter evil, and I suddenly lost all hope of the human race. It was a gorgeous day outside, which molded the thought of the hell hole these people knew into a hard glob I was trying to swallow. I will never return to this or any other concentration camp, because I have fully received the message and learned from the history of others.
Fun fact: Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian out of disgust for the cruel ways they cage and slaughter animals? What a fatally confused man.
We walked slowly and thoughtfully the rest of the day. It was like we attended a mass funeral we were still paying our thoughts and respects to, and, in a way, it was true. Once again, we sought the gastro-delights of Poland to nurse our souls before Garrett loaded his back with gear and left us, for good this time. Later on, we made a toast to the cyanide, bullet, and syphillis that were Hitler's demise. It's grotesque, yes, but some people unravel beyond repair. Cheers.
We arrive, and we still can't read a darn thing. Our tiny street map is written in Roman characters, so every street sign we see must be translated.
Alright, what does B - Pi symbol - H - R - Airplane beverage cart - V - backwards N spell?
But, hark! Aimless wandering led us to a woman with a visor, a fanny pack and a camera...an American!
Do you know where we are?
I haven't a clue, but our driver will...though he only speaks Polish...let's give him a try.
The following scene would have fit really well in an Audrey Hepburn movie. The tour group surrounded us on all sides, asking how they could help, where we were trying to go, where we had already traveled, if we spoke Polish, the works. When they realized how aimless we actually were, Roger, the self-proclaimed group leader, invited us to come along with them to see the sights, have some lunch, and represent our generation among his posse of WWII Polish refuges. This wasn't just some Contiki bus tour.
Each one of those 70+ year old tourists were displaced from their homes in Poland during WWII, their houses bombed or seized by the Nazis during their invasion, some even in L'viv. They were shipped away either to Siberia or eventually to London, where they all met. No one had a local friend or contact nor a £1 in their pockets, but they attended school and university in England, building their life foundations from there.
When all had finished schooling, the English government offered them to choose a new home of either the USA, Canada, Australia or Europe, since the UK was off the table. After they parted ways across the globe, they had no contact between each other until fifty years later when an effort was made to have a reunion back in their home country.
For the last couple years, they join together for moral support and socializing as they reexperience the mixed feelings of their childhood. Some of these trips prove to be intensely emotional as they are reminded of the travesties they experienced. The man who asked me, having seen the patch on my backpack, if I had been to Malaysia, was a young messenger boy during the Warsaw Uprising. When they toured Warsaw a few days prior to our meeting, he set his eyes for the first time on a sculpture of a young boy wearing an oversized German uniform. It was the monument for the Warsaw Uprising. He cried on the spot, seeing himself 70 years earlier in the statue.
Our conversations with each person were soaked in history and drama. They were eager to teach us from their personal experience, and we felt quite honored to be on the receiving end. They left us with full bellies at the town center where we found a hostel for less than $15 a night. Our luck left us astounded as the day ended. We surely could have hated our day in L'viv - the hot, complicated city of L'viv - but instead we witnessed such heartfelt hospitality from people who were busy reliving their mixed and painful memories of the past. We left first thing the following morning, knowing we already experienced the highlight and magic of that destination.
Game plan review: we want to go to Krakow. We've got gobs of time. It's hard to go direct from Eger. Where should we go en route? More mountains? Ukraine? ...wait...the Ukraine?!? Where did this choice come from? We first move closer to both options in Kosice, Slovakia, where we stop to make some Slovakian memories. We were not expecting such a darling town with an impressive church at its heart and a musical fountain nearby with "local color." Little boys dared each other to stand in the middle of shooting water jets, fully clothed and toting their backpacks-o-fun. Music blared through surrounding boulders or from a bell sculpture, all synced to the visual orchestra of gravity-defying H2O. A flutter of white out of the corner of my eye and there goes a wedding party, taking pictures of the new couple in front of city monuments. And another bride...and, yup, one more. I was a witness to multiple nuptials except the one I should have been at in Terre Haute, Indiana. The universe kept rubbing it in my face. It sort of made the 7th of June a hard day to enjoy with the constant reminder of my two polar lives. It's amazing how much of a stronghold time and money have on my present condition. Ah, semi-deep thoughts flow in and out...
Flip a coin. Heads is L'viv, Ukraine. Tails is the Tatra mountains because these here on the back of the €1 look like hills. ¤clink clink cla-clink¤ the Ukraine it is! Oh boy. We better bring some vodka.
Normally our limited knowledge of local public transportation gets us by as we traverse the globe, but there are the few instances when we fail to ask little questions that later are pivotal OR we rely far too much on the sometimes faulty word of our friends at Lonely Planet. Our 'sleeper bus' across China is an example. These moments when we expect one thing and experience something quite different often present more difficulties and ALWAYS produce fantastic stories. In this instance, we thought we were taking a night train to the Ukraine. Let's see how this goes...
We board train #1...it's not too shabby, standard for Eastern Europe. Two people can sleep on the benches and one on a mat across the floor. Perfect! Now we can let loose. Ah, but no...our new conductor friend informs us to pack it up because this isn't our only train this evening. Oh crap.
Already becoming sleepy, we left our 'sleeper train' around 11pm only to wait in the rain for the next one. All conductors left for the night, and our stop didn't have a sign or a nearby city. Our only instructions were to follow three other people waiting at the stop. We followed without question, even after we watched them load at least twenty bicycles onto the train, this most pitiful excuse of a train. And I'm not kidding, this train could have killed us Final Destination style. If someone sat down on the holed leather seat, the entire bench would fall to the floor, causing the cabin walls to shake down the asbestos in the broken ceiling. Exposed insulation would rain down from above and cover said unsuspecting victim with bits of itchy fiber, which they would immediately attempt to avoid by jumping up and grabbing the non-existent table, then the rusty trash bin, and finally the exposed electrical wiring, shocking them senseless and sending their wrecked body out the crooked window to the unknown world outside. At least it made a fun setting for a few documentary videos. And to top off all this fun, I sat in gum.
Accepting our fate, Garrett took to the restrooms only to return smellier than when he left, while Alexis and I tried to sleep on the tottering benches. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived in Chop, Ukraine for immigration. The power blondes were out this midnight hour, and they meant some business. Half-awake and draped with our sleep bags, we attempted to face the bereted blondes with purpose and wobbled into the main station area, where we suddenly stepped into an old propaganda film. The large open room was made of imposing stone, blocky and plain as can be, except for a massive mural depicting hard working civilians under the hammer and sickle regime. We had definitely crossed over.
This is where we could have panicked. We couldn't read the time table, which was written in Russian alphabet. Our tickets could no longer take us to L'viv, and the unhappy ticket clerk didn't appreciate my attempts to speak in Russian. Ukrainians are quite proud and not so much hospitable. A night chocked full of dilemmas; we could have lost our lids. Instead, we got excited...OUR FIRST ADVENTURE!!! Garrett and I ventured downstairs, past the old bomb shelter/raccoon den and bonded with the baggage holder, who was surprisingly nice for living in a room with no windows that hadn't been dusted since the birth of Communism. As he stuffed our bags in the corner of an empty room big enough for a thousand bags, my favorite song came on the radio, and this recognition and subsequent sing-a-long was a bonding moment between all of us. Our new friend, What's-his-whatever, held our bags for three hours as we went into Chop for the cheapest beers to date. How does $2 a liter sound to you. Sounds like great success to me. After we had to peel Alexis away from a homeless, blind puppy wandering around town, we booked it to our 3:30am train to L'viv, at last!
Don't sigh yet; more from the Ukrainian urban jungle to come.
There are very few places on this Earth more beautiful Croatia's islands, particularly that of Brac. Thanks to Stjepan's suggestions, we knew exactly how to maximize our time in this wonderland: with scooters! Driving along the coast, we felt waves of heat in the sun and refreshing cool under the trees. Bugs slapped our arms, helmets, chests, and faces with thuds probably audible meters away. We felt like singing along to the hum of the little motor, but the thought of a June bug explosion in the mouth stopped us from acting on those thoughts. None of the many white craggy beaches on our way seemed good enough for this island excursion, so we booked it across the island, 30km away to the city of Bol. The last 9km were magnificent; streets winding down the coast with steep, craggy hills off the road's shoulder. A wrong turn could have sent me on a fun, but fatal, fall to the sea. I loved it.
The beach in Bol had an ambiance worthy of bottling, and I felt I was finally detached from my familiar world. Alexis and I relaxed in peace on the smooth pebbled beach, swam in the crystal clear water, and sat with smiles feeling like we truly got somewhere we will forever remember. After that, the rest of the night was just a happy blur of beautiful scenery, ice cream and ferry beers, Cankles and Saddlebags, and a flavorful homemade stew in the garden. Stjepan, Mr. Lino, Brac, Split and Croatia treated us very well, to say the leastest.
Eleven hours in a train from Split to Budapest; we got serious cabin fever. We walked it out soon after the train pulled into the station when we made the thirty minute jaunt to a very hidden hostel. The street ambiance was a little worrisome, but all the women walking around at midnight displayed the safety of the city - either that or showed there was a nice 'after hours street walking' biz around these parts. Either way, I had a twelve kilo pack and a 7'13" companion for protection.
At this point, it seems like the time to reflect on our day in Budapest, starting from our reunion with Garrett, continuing with our handball games by the Danube, and concluding with a thermal bath scene; however, because I am so backlogged on all this writing, it is only the matters of the day that come to mind and not the mess of thoughts that pulse through my head with each giggle, step, and turn of the corner. I know I'm not completely amused with this sort of documentation and find the act of reading it more of a chore than a pleasure. So it may be now that I cut to my lasting impressions of Hungary.
A city is a city. There's so much to see that is uniquely local and telling of its residents, but when you hop from country to country in search of wide-ranging joys and unique memories, each place turns into the next location to take a shower, rest your legs, and find a way to do your laundry with a little sight-seeing on the side. All this jumping caught up with me.
I tried to order a pickle and received two chicken sandwiches instead. I tried purchasing a ticket for a cheap little train, but thanks to a woman in front of me in need of every train time table that week, I had to use a valuable day on my rail pass. Hungary got to me. And it wasn't for the mere fact that I was in this country - it was my 17th destination (at least) on the trip - in one month! It was another Malaysia; I couldn't quite appreciate it while there. My frazzled brain caused incidents only to be blamed by my ignorance. My legs hurt, my journal was blank, and I just left the mystical, therapeutic ocean. Good thing Eger was all about wine tasting. Eger was laying in a camper in the rain, tasting wine and the occasional thermal bath, but my gratitude to the country was missing. One of the greatest travel travesties...
Yeah, I know. Suck it up. Look where you are. I needed a jolt. I had slowly fallen asleep. And a jolt we received a few borders away.
Interlaken seemed as though it was constructed by a toy maker, by Giapetto maybe; tiny little buildings neatly placed in between two teal lakes and amongst colossal mountains. Every man or woman over forty was walking around town with ultra-thick socks, large, weathered hiking boots, with two walking sticks swinging, even if they were on flat, paved ground. The sight was amusing every time. Caro met up with the three of us after her day trip to Rome and became the fourth in our hostel room. Good times ensued. I think it was a perfect coincidence that all of us had our own ideas of outdoor fun the next day. The other three rented bikes and charted different alpine routes, while I slowly rose in the morning and took to the mountains. I went for a two and a half hike up a very steep trail. As soon as I entered the mouth of the trail and became submerged in the wooded cool, I started thinking metaphorically, talking to myself, stopping at every turn to take pictures of a steadily improving view. It seemed I was intellectually uninspired when all I could think about was that this hike was all about the big picture, but the present conscious has only the individual steps and footing in focus. With every bend in the path, I stopped to observe the ever-improving view and take pictures of my accomplishments. As I went higher, things in the distance appeared minuscule, and I became more and more...smelly...just like life. What an effortless interpretation and a surface level introspection into my own life from day to day. Maybe just like those dreams I had that chew on my entire education, so I have to experience the most common thought in order to reach something more. Regardless of whatever plain-Jane hiking metaphors I developed, I certainly was reminded of my odd mind purely by the songs I began to sing to myself while running down the mountain. The wedding march? The theme to Pee Wee's Big Adventure? There's that insanity I'm used to.
We parted ways with Caro in Zurich, while we headed to Innsbruck, Austria. The train ride revealed an even more majestic landscape, one of more piled mountains set in between rolling green plains. I've always put Switzerland and Austria in the same category; they seemed synonymous. Once we hit Innsbruck, the ambiance and culture seemed vastly different. It appeared that we enjoyed our lunch of cheap kebabs in "Junkie Park." The usual aimless wandering, which always brings us to a sparkling part of town, just led us to a fast flowing river. We decided to sit on the boardwalk grass and enjoy water music and mountain air. Suddenly we saw a human in the river, bobbing around in his wet suit and flying by at a steady clip. Three more floated by. It made sense when a motor boat came zooming by to save all four from a freezing, bumpy ride. The local rescue team was training new recruits. After a half hour among the wildflowers and singing Sound of Music tunes, we googled "Innsbruck" in search of its gem, which is apparently the old town across the bridge. No matter where we were in this city, though, crossing a bridge, smashed in between old buildings, strolling in a garden, the mountains followed us and peered through tree branches from a distance. The Alps don't lose their grandeur over time nor after much exposure...I said "WOW" in a forced whisper every time I saw Europe's tallest mountain in Interlaken, and these mountains here that have sponsored innumerable sporting events over the years inspired similar awe.
One realization from SAS that continues to stick with me is the common denominator between my favorite port moments. Every time I, often along with my lumberjack roommate, parted from the norm to see the outdoors, the seldom discussed regions, NATURE...I always had the time of my life; driving across Mauritius with coral-like, bright-green mountains approaching, waking up among the grottos in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Nature's salient presence electrifies even the most frustrating, sleep-deprived, culturally-shocking moment. When traveling to the next city or across the globe, the metaphysical reality of the Earth and its most magnificent properties are floating along the surface of consciousness. How we inhabitants transform and connect to its terrain is astounding. Just goes to show there's more than one way to do something...there's your own way. And the existential traveler in me has finally reared its confused head on the Big Journey.
Jump on another train to the third country of the day, equipped with a warm local beer and a Toblerone, and we are off to Munich! Thanks to Caro's list of suggestions, we had a mission to find the most traditional, classic beer hall in the land, the Hofbrauhaus. Liter beers and soft pretzels swayed side to side with live Bavarian music...it was all so hilarious. And with probably hundreds upon hundreds of hungry and thirsty patrons requesting their preferred form of bread, we expected service to be equivalent to a Saturday night at the local Greek-hounded university town bar. Ah, but alas, the nearly 55 servers buzzing around the hall with fists full of six or seven steins worked at the speed of drunken light. The American southern boys were a dime a dozen, spotted from afar by their brightly-colored polos and Vineyard Vines sunglass bands. Two New Yorkers next to us realized we spoke the same mother tongue, and, a few hilarious observations later, we were acquainted and became travel friends. And so the night blurred on.
Daytime in Munich was charming, but the air was full of something unpleasant while we searched around for authentic culture...English. The aimless wandering this time took us to the English Gardens where, again, liter beers and pretzels were consumed in the second largest beer garden in the world. I think at this point I have yet to ingest a single vitamin or mineral in this country. After such strenuous exercise of lifting that heavy glass stein, a nap under a tree was required. Alexis and I rewrote the lyrics to "My Favorite Things" to correlate with our personal vices and interests, while Garrett read hid three inch thick soap opera novel. Delightful moments amongst nature yet again. We ran out of sights and things to do...so we went to happy hour...and again to the Hofbrauhaus, this time ordering scrumptuous meals and accidentally befriending a German student too sloppy to realize his pants weren't serving their purpose of covering his hairy buttocks. A chance encounter with Indy friends brought some smiles before we caught the train to Ljubljana...a city we will never know how to correctly pronounce.
"I see Bled!" We jump off around 6am and follow our noses to the Bledec Hostel, which sits just behind the iconic Bled Castle from every tourism brochure. A 4 hour nap, a jaunt to the cheapest supermarket yet, and we are off around the lake. The entire parameter spans 6 km, which gave us plenty of spots to stop for a shady picnic and a dip on a sand bar. Out from the shore, stretching towards the church on the island, was a stretch of clear, light blue that led us to believe we were in the vicinity of prime water fun. The nearby sign that forbade swimming only egged us on. A few other Slovene tourists with matching shirts and farmer's tans followed our lead, and we watched as massive fish swam away from their water commotion. We were a little fearful at first when the "moving boulders" came towards my feet in the water. They turned out to be scaredy fish, and we got in deep, as happy as can be. We did flips and launches, sunned again amongst the wildflowers, ate oranges, and pelted the peels at each other like Olympic beach volleyballers. Just as Cosmo Kramer wishes he could bottle his smell after a day at the beach, so I wish I could preserve or easily recreate the feeling of walking home from a day of sun and water. Lake or beach activities provide so much joy to those who partake in them, and that walk home with half-wet clothes, ratted hair, blanched and bronzed skin, squeaking flip flops and quiet smiles makes me happy to be alive. I'm not sure if Ralph Lauren would or could bottle that essence.
Another cheap market meal, chatting, music, and beers, and we are in bed by 10pm, exhausted. Hike to the castle and on to the swimming dock by noon. The water is cobalt blue, like the high seas on a cloudless day, but covering the reflection from the sun, I could see down to the bottom. The runoff from the Julian Alps is a crisp 74 degrees or so and perfect for jumping in to cool our burning backs. We heard a few English speakers, but largely everyone around us was either local or a speaker of some Slavic language. Why this spot is seldom traveled by Westerners is hard to tell. This fact only increases its value in our eyes; Bled is a gem.
Alexis and I were saddened to hear Garrett's plan of parting ways with us, even after our diamond-in-the-rough discovery in Slovenia. Swimming, tanning, storm watching, cheap prices, local pubs, free breakfasts, and a six person room to ourselves in one of Europes finest hostels. Nevertheless, Croatia pulled us south, while Vienna magnetized him north.
Four hours after a late, post-clubbing bedtime, poor Garrett and Alexis were summoned to rise for Cinque Terre with my parents. A gorgeous four more hours later, Caro and I awoke, sparkling, to a room filled with golden light and wandered down to the pool. A hectic day of sunning and lounging was to begin. We floated, read, enjoyed Italian coffee, lunched for hours on the patio, and slept on our pool chairs, covered in towels, feeling the occasional trickle of rain on an exposed toe. Every activity was blanched with the warmth of satisfaction. The Burgassi family came during the afternoon to prepare the exterior of the villa for the next tenants. I took this opportunity to accept their offer for housing in July. I made an effort to delay my affirmation prior to this, thinking I was being responsible to think of all sides of the spectrum. They must have thought I was crazy not to consider this option as divine intervention. Caro and I spent the rest of our lazy afternoon inside, drinking wine and playing gin until the entire Burgassi family (Otto included) stuck their heads in the door "Brady Bunch-style" to say they were so excited I was coming to live with them. It was a moment for the scrapbook.
Around 9pm, I heard the four Cinque Terre goers approaching from outside, and immediately we became cooking machines for dinner. Oven on, pop in the rolls, chop every vegetable and meat product sitting around, open loads of beans and, well, what do we make with beans and chicken and cheese and veggies? Chicken surprise and garlic fritattas! And be sure to drink up the wine, so it all tastes somewhat edible! Genius ideas went hand in hand with dancing around the kitchen to Earth, Wind and Fire, loud enough to hear from the next hilltop town. It was a memorable last supper.
The next morning we squeezed five large pieces of luggage and five travelers into the car, all bound for Milano; the end resulting feeling being a universal one of stress and sleeping keisters. The city of Milan didn't meet my expectations coming in, as its ugly webbing of streets seemed to lack history, tradition, or that Italian charm. However, with only a few hours to spend in the fashion industry capital, our time was spent wonderfully with Alexis' childhood friend, Katie, who had been studying there for the past semester. She showed us a good time with cheap pizza, castles and parks, the Milan metro, the majestic Duomo and Galleria, our last gelatos, and revealed to us the perspective of an American in Milano. We returned to a hotel room with two sleeping parents and camped on the floor.
The next morning was quiet. Showers, packing, sitting, reading...we waited for time to arrive at 10:40am, when we left to board our train to Interlaken. The moment of embarkation was reminiscent of February 4th, 2007, the departure date for SAS S'07 - blubbering. 178 days until I reconnect with my family in Hawai'i. Until then, I think the Dead would agree: it's gonna be a long, strange trip.