Journeys of a Lifetime in January

Happy New Year! Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

The Orinoco River Cruise: The dry season in January lends to the viewing of more land mammals along this river cruise through Venezuela. Boy oh boy...the description of this places includes words such as: expedition, canoe, venture, wetland and steamy jungle. I'm there.

The Mekong River: Laos is on a ticking clock toward Vietnam status, and it's up to you to seize the opportunity to view this country's incredible landscapes before the authenticity becomes manufactured. Nat Geo claims this is the most scenic stretch of the massive river through the Southeast Asia region.

By Road

Historic Spain: There's no bad time to see the architecture of historic, central Spain. January will wash out the summer tourist crowd and give you snow capped mountains in your photograph backgrounds. Give yourself one week to drive along this ribbon of highway, and remember to ask in Segovia about the suckling pig.

Crossing the Sahara: Get your visas ready and your car rented. You're about to drive across Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania to see some cultures and barren landscapes that present an awesome challenge to the "bring it on" type of traveler.

By Rail

Bangkok-Kanchanaburi-Nam Tok Line: This time riding the rail will bring you closer to the gritty, not further away. Taking this infamous route, known as the "death railway" from WWII, will remind you of the many POWs and lives lost from building the bridge at the River Kwai. It's not all gruesome and heavy-hearted; the landscape is Thai-rific.

The Palace on Wheels: India's glitzy region of palaces and architectural masterpieces will give you plenty of eye candy and good photographs on this luxurious train ride. It's not my favorite side of India, but many find the old British and Raj culture appealing. The Golden Triangle along with Udaipur and Jaisalmer makes for an awesome itinerary, though!

On Foot

The Shackleton Crossing: South Georgia is a speck in the Southern Ocean and looks like a challenge for weathered climber types like Jon Krakauer and Bear Grylls. I pretty much guarantee no one reading this post will attempt this climb, but I thought I'd give you some dream material for tonight's slumber.

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Africa's tallest peak and the only 8,000+ meter mountain that one could ambulate - climbing Kilimanjaro seems to be an achievement worth going for. Those who have claimed the summit unanimously advise climbers to take the longer route (Machame) for better odds of success and greater views.

In Search of Culture

Japanese Kabuki Theater: With make-up that would spook the Joker and costumes that could presumably stand on their own, the men of Kabuki theater become household names for their dramatic and powerful performances. Brace yourself; these shows look lengthy but worth it for a one-time experience.

Earth Architecture of Yemen: High rise earth architecture makes Yemen look pretty darn cool. Perched at the heel of Asia's wee bootie are homes made of sun-dried mud bricks and a culture sure to intrigue. Nat Geo recommends going with a reputable tour company and taking caution with photographing people. Should make for an interesting trip!

In Gourmet Heaven

Eat Your Way Around Sydney: After you recover from a surely intense NYE celebration on the beach, enjoy Sydney's January Festival and a slew of culinary jackpots around Oz's biggest city. If you're into Euro-Asian fusion food with top notch seafood, I'm guessing there are few places in the world better than Sydney.

Malaysian Melting Pot: And we thought we were a melting pot…maybe next January you'll be traveling up the peninsula of Malaysia to sample the converging tastes of many prominent food traditions: Chinese, Indian, Arabic, etc. Thanks to all the hawkers and street food artists, some call this country a snacker's paradise.

Into the Action

Following Che Through South America: Cross the Andes on two screeching wheels in the footsteps of Che Guevara, but make sure you remember to ride something a little more reliable than "La Poderosa." Buenos Aires to Machu Pichu will take you across some varying landscapes and surely on a journey fit with ceaseless inspiration.

Cross-Country Skiing in Lillehammer: Check out this "premier cross-country location" if you want to make like a Scandinavian and glide. Easily accessible from Oslo, renting all your gear is possible on location, and going in January ensures a helluva daylight surplus!

Up and Away

The Nasca Lines: It is only from the sky where you can truly appreciate the diversity of Peru's terrain, as one ecosystem bleeds into the next. Also from this vantage point you can be slapped silly by the wonder of these earth drawings that were created with pre-historic tools by the Nasca people.

Alpine Baloon Festival: Arrive in Switzerland in late January for a display that surely inspires painters, children's book illustrators and surrealists worldwide. A sky of balloons decorate the invisible Christmas tree in the Swiss Alp valley. Inquire about the nighttime flight of illuminated balloons while you're there!

In Their Footsteps

Road to Enlightenment: Follow Buddha's journey to enlightenment from his birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal to Patna, India, past the third-generation descendant tree where he attained nirvana. Ahh, the ease of traveling in the moderate chill of February around the Subcontinent.

Tramping After Mark Twain: A boat trip down the Neckar River could inspire you to write a Huck Finn sequel, just as Twain was inspired to write the original on this journey. Tramp across Germany and Switzerland, enjoying the chill and scenery of winter, on a journey that the famed American author used to "improve himself."

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in February for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

The Beginnings of My'o'trip, Not Eurotrip. Well That, Too: Day 27

Proud of a successful trek

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.