World Travels, Sensational Adventures and Thoughts on Living Well
Created by jpmorganjr on Aug 6, 2008
Last updated: 11/13/09 at 02:21 PM
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Following is the introduction to the book "Burton Holmes Travelogues: The Greatest Traveler of His Time". Holmes lived from 1870-1958, visited nearly every country on the planet, and shot over 30,000 photographs. His description of a life of world travel speaks volumes to me.
These words I have set down in many an autograph collector's book.
They are, I think, true words. I know that through travel I have possessed the world more completely, more satisfyingly than if I had acquired the whole earth by purchase of by conquest. There is no implication of selfishness in the kind of possession of which I speak. Whoever possesses the world through travel takes nought from any man. No one is the poorer because you have made the whole world yours.
You have gained everything, but you are no monopolist. The wealth is there for all to share. It is not yours alone. You may invite all men and women to travel with you in imagination and they too may feel that they, like you, are rich in vivid mental pictures of places worth going to, of people worth knowing, of things that are world famous.
I have tried to convey to others with the spoken word the enthusiasm for travel that has been mine. I have done my best to make my hearers SEE the things that have thrilled me in the course of my more than sixty years of travel.
Now I am asked to do this without the aid of pictures glowing on a screen, without the help of the spoken words which can be made to mean as much by a shading of a tone or the stress of an inflection. Now I am at work with nothing but a sheet of paper and a pen to help me re-create the atmosphere of "otherwhere," to help me make real to those who have not seen, the things which I have seen and can still see so vividly with the mind's eye.
Word pictures are hard to paint. We are told that "words are the only things that last forever." Therefore words should be the most durable pigments with which to paint pictures of the things that have seemed worthwhile, the things that have become one's property, in the sense in which travel endows one with a title deed to the entire world.
One great advantage of possessing the world through travel is that one may enjoy all the satisfaction of possession without the responsibilities of ownership. Now, in days when our most valuable assets become or threaten to become our most crushing liabilities, it is good to contemplate property which cannot depreciate but must increase in value, property which cannot be taxed by federal government, or state or city authorities, property which calls for no repairs or alterations.
Everything from real estate to diamond tiaras has had its vaunted worth reduces to pitiful and sometimes complete inconsequence. Stocks, bonds, and all manner of gilt-edged, beautifully engraved certificated of value, to secure which we have slaved and saved and denied ourselves the joys of travel, may sink in worth to such a point that it will seem absurd to pay the rental charges on a safe deposit box.
The only things which are still worth what they have cost me are my travel memories, the mind-pictures of places which I have been hoarding like a happy miser for more than half a century.
I have done my best to convey with "word pictures" the things I have seen and can still see. I have been aided by all the increasing wonders and beauties of photography. I still recall with pleasure my first camera, a heavy clumsy box with six double holders for 4x5 glass plates purchased in 1883 with my life savings of $10.00.
In the past I have reproached myself for my extravagance, my lack of foresight, for my disregard of proper provision for the future. My wise friends saved and economised, went without things they wanted, denied themselves the costlier pleasures of the table, the bouquet of vintage wines and the, to me, supreme joy of going places and seeing things.
And now where are we? We, they and I, are all at the same dead-end of life's highway. They are weighted down by all the leaden burdens of their golden hopes gone wrong. They have their memories, but these are memories of wise, dull and frugal days of piling up with hard earned dollars in safe places where those dollars would increase and multiply and be there to console for all the pleasures that their owners had denied themselves and all the fun that they had missed.
I, too, have nothing but my memories but I would not exchange my memories for theirs. I have a secret treasure upon which I can draw at will. I can bring forth, on the darkest day, bright diamonds of remembered joys, diamonds whose many facets reflect some happy dream come true, a small ambition gratified, a long-sought sensation, caught and savoured to the full, a little journey made, an expedition carried to success, several circumnavigations of the world accomplished.
Yes, it has been a good life. And it is good to rest, with nearly all of one's dreams realized. Dreams of going, seeing and doing most of the things that seemed worthwhile - good to know that I have, in my own way, possessed the world.
- Burton Holmes 1953
This is a guest post by my good friend and adventure travel partner Luis Omar Lopez. Please read and consider supporting him!
My name is Luis Lopez, on June 6, 2009, I will climb to the summit of Long's Peak (14,255 ft.) in the Colorado Rockies to raise money that will benefit at-risk teens nationwide. I am participating in a Summit for Someone climb as part of a benefit climbing series supporting Big City Mountaineers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit recreational mentoring program for at-risk teens. Big City Mountaineers provides urban teenage youth in need of positive adult mentoring with a challenging and safe wilderness experience led by qualified adult volunteer guides.
I am summiting for youth that I feel a genuine understanding for. My experiences with the wilderness during my youth were few and far between, I realize now that they were among the most important factors of making me who I am. The truth is, all it really takes is a few genuine experiences for a profound positive impact to grow out of. My own experiences were so powerful just the few of them were enough to ignite the desire inside of me to constantly challenge myself, the physical challenge of climbing a real mountain makes you want to take on all the rest of life's mental, emotional and financial challenges. For the at-risk teens who will participate in Big City Mountaineer's programs, the feeling they will have at the top of a mountain is what will empower them to strive for the excellence they otherwise won't aim for. These kids can grow up to do great things, but they need a taste of greatness to inspire them first.
For those of you who have been following my travels on and off for the past few years, enjoying my writing and photography, sending me flattering comments and emails... Thank you! I am glad to have been able to inspire and entertain many of you.
I have another story for you... and this time I am asking for a favor in return.
Please continue to travel with me by supporting my project. It will be VERY much appreciated.
Even a little bit will help...
CLICK HERE -> OneOldPen.org
As for upcoming travel adventures...a friend and I are seriously considering a month-long rowing journey down the Guadalquivir River in Spain this spring...
Lived and written by Luis Omar Lopez & John P Morgan Jr
DAY 1 - San Diego to just south of Temecula (71 miles)
Written by Omar:
We didn’t start on our bikes until late around 10 or 11 our first day and soon as the noon heat began to hit we began the hundred turns and out of the way miles of straight-up straight-down hills it takes to get out of the city and towards the desert while avoiding major freeways. I saw a homeless man carrying his sleeping bag 10 miles into the ride and realized I’d forgot to pack mine. I decided not to turn back and instead hoped some cheap solution would pop up. We felt our first pains early and stretched ass-to-ass like turtles on our backs on the sidewalk for the benefit of everyone else stuck in traffic. We got a few happy honks and then kept going, stopping at every McDonald’s on the way to steal free Powerade, we moved inland then backtracked towards the coast across Del Mar, then back inland again for good, climbing a long uphill through Escondido to Old Highway 395 that runs along the side of the 15 North. John began breathing hard and soon couldn’t swallow any water so we stopped at a 7-11 for a break and using webMD via his iPhone John self-diagnosed himself with EIA (exercise induced asthma). In the parking lot two girls ran into a car backwards pulling out of their spot. The stout troll in the hit car got out in a rage, cursing the world first for his bad haircut, his shitty flat-top that made him shorter and fatter, and then for the 3 inch smear on his maroon 1995 Saturn. It was good theater and we rode off again until after dark trying to reach Temecula but ended setting up camp in a burnt out patch of dirt between the freeway and some golf course and all night the semis croaked their Jake brakes over our tent and down the hill to Temecula. I wore all of my clothes and borrowed John’s silk liner bag and was warm enough.
On an Oregon State Park beach after watching the Pacific sun dim to a bearable brightness and then slide behind dark gray clouds coating the horizon a Canadian kid came over to me and said hello. Comeau was too touring by bike. He'd been on the road over a month cycling from Edmonton, Canada to Vancouver and then down the coast. He carried a fraction of the gear I had and barely enough cash to buy a bus ticket home.
Comeau showed me some of his low-budget travel maneuvers. We walked into Best Western's along the coast, filled our stomachs with eggs, waffles and pastries and our pockets with fruits and granola bars for the questionable price of a confident posture and coy smile.
Most of the Oregon coast was a beautifully scenic ride along ocean cliffs and through forests as we traveled from small surf town to small industry town.
In a particularly unaccommodating community characterized by the logging industry and dune buggy rental shops, my Canadian friend and I visited a small diner called the "Cozy Kitchen".
Comeau asked our waitress Lisa for some hot water with which to mix his oatmeal. Despite my concern with asking a business to supply hot water so he could eat for free at their table, she kindly brought a steaming kettle along with honey and brown sugar on a glimmering silver platter.
Considering the sun was setting and the ugly little town didn't have much to offer for a place to setup our tents, I wondered how far Lisa's kindness might go.
"Maybe she'll let us camp in her yard?" I posed to Comeau.
Next time you're down or even just in a less than spectacular mood, go ahead and try this...
Grab your headphones and find that one song that gets you feeling positive and full of energy more than any other. You might want to find a reasonably private spot, where you can at least close your eyes comfortably.
If you're sitting, stand up.
Put the headphones on, start the song and close your eyes. Breath slowly and deeply through your nose.
Clasp both of your hands into light fists and now as the song picks up, pump your fists with each beat. Just a quick clench and release.
As you feel those small surges of energy jolt from your pumping fists through your arms, let it flow up your back, straightening your posture. Let it flow up into your head, raising your chin a bit higher each time. Let that energy spread through your lips and into your cheeks, while on it's way pulling up and back the corners of your mouth, spreading a wide smile across your face.
In a few weeks time I'll embark on a new adventure. This one will be somewhat of a different flavor. Instead of travelling by motored transport as usual, I'll be pedaling a bicycle!
Start Date: Early August
End Date: Unknown
Departure: Portland, Oregon
For the past two weeks I've been daydreaming about pedaling through Central and South America. Daydreaming about travel is normal, but to daydream about the same place and specific travel very unusual for me. So I decided to do it.
A louds bank rocks me from sleep and as ithen left with my breath iand hartbeat i listen to the trailing stomp of feet down the stairs. It's the heavyset hairdresser nexxt door. The austrailan who i only talked to once when she let her self into my room to sit on my bed and tell me about f#*ked up on coke she was all weekend and how she didn't sleep a wink in about 50 hous. Why are you sitting here talking to me, I wondered while staring blankly through her face and imagining how much better I liked my little box without her in it..
She's gone now and it's quiet again, except for the pigeons I can hear talking on the roof outside of my window. I strettch my arms out to the sides, my head touching the wall and my toes sticking out the end of my blanket off the edge of my tiny mattress. , my feet stick reach I always wonder what time it is, before realizing that it never matters. Time has meant little since I started travelling and working for myself via the web. I reach up and grab my phone anyway to turn it on. Curious as to long I slept. 6 horus? Strange, ysestereday I slept ten and felt the same.
I stand from bed, feeling the thing unadded carpet below my feet and take a single step towards my makeshift desk, a piece of dismanteled shelving atop a small desk which holds my laptop and somebusienss cards of people i've met and haven't been meanign to follow up with. I flick the powerof my latptop on and turn to open the window. Pulling the chade, the pully squeaks as it rollws I thrust the window open for an explosion of cool grey air and sky,. The piegons explode infrom the roof and spread through my view, giving the day a lively start. They find order and swoop aroudn to a new roof. ThI do this every morning, SOmething about it. Justa standing there awtching them fly. I knownit scares them, but efverything scares them. MI'm standing at th edge of the bed as i regain my consciousness at the window. A slighalf turn to my left and i turn on the water at my little sink. There's two facuets. One hot and one cold, so warm isntn't an option, i have to choose. Today i choose cold and splashing ater on my face. Rub the corners of my eyes, thinking did I really sleep enough? no matter, I'm not going back to bed now. looking in the mirror, checking my age, noticing it's crooked again and moving it straight with a slight lift, taiing it's weight off the thin thread and tipping it to the side. I wonder if it's the autrailans foot steps anthat keeps moving it. antoer step back towards my desk and i sit down. from the old office chair, i can reach the mini fridge to my right and the shelf behind me which holds my single bwol, glass and spoon. i pour myself some wheatabix and csyoymilk to eat while checking my email. some work stuff, a hello from an old friend. More than an hour passes and I've done little. I'm still weraing my jogging pants and tshirt from the night before, so i grab my ipod and tie on my sneakers and head out for a run. The door leaving my building empties straight onto a busysidewalk., so i can never walk straight out it. I need to turn the small steel knob and pull the heavy glass towards me and poke my head out looking both ways, like when pulling out into a street between two close buildings. Clear so i start my jog from my doorwary, striaght across the street and int through the entrance into a park. It's sa sall park. I'm at the Thames in 3 minues. I pass Mom's taking their kids to kindergarten or walking their babies in carriages. Few men out during the day as it's a pretty expensive neighborhood. They must be all working. I think. I jog along the river, trading lanes with people, still unsure if pedestrian traffic works the same as auto traffic. Over the Thames and along the riverbank, about ten feet up from the level of water. There boardwalk is covered in mud It had hardly rained, the river must have overflowed I thought. Hard to blieve, i'd never seen it highgh than it was now. Being careful not to slip, feeling mynervous ankle, still weak from it's sprain aover a eyar ago. My sneakers getting wet with river mud.The squish of each step. The pant of my breath inside my headphones between songstracks. By the tie i return my feet have dried and the mud is cacked on the sneakers. Some guys yell semthign at me. There's always a drunk or two on the bench overlooking the river. It sends me off into thought about my quest for understanding the differences between the subjective experiences of a monk and a drunk. when i realize i'm back at my doorpulling the key frommy poclent and pushing the heavy glass. noticing my arms feel weaker, or is the door just extremely heavey. is it ebcause i haven't been eating meat or because the door is heavy or that i just ran for 40 minutes. my walk bathe small in the halway is stale. i walk slowly up the stairs, one at a time, feeling tthe worn blue carpet thin. past the sharedkitchen i share with everyon when i d o use it. but the only one othe than me is the indian girl who wants to be friendly, but is incredibly shy and unsureof her self, that she hunches forward when she talks and cuts her senetences off in the middle and speaks with a surprising very english accent. i guess i assumed her to sound more indian, but she was proabl y born here. not like my indian friend who works at th e convenient store downstairs @Many Thanks@. OrHe's my friend as long as things aren't busy, then he's got little time for a hello. He asked me whey i knew he was from india and i ust rocked my head to the side saying, it's obvious. he smiled and we've been friends since. eveidently such good friends, that he could take all the change from my hand because he needed pennies even though it was more than the bill. I didn't want to keep them anyway. Lots of the stuff in the store is dusty, but i buy it anywyy because it's cheap wnad right downstairs. Back in my little room, i kick off my shoes and spray them with foot spray. i do my best to keep them fresh as their my only pair, still trying to live light as possible soii can pick up and move at any time. i should have bought a second pair of sneakers awhile ago, but.. i can feel the dry mud on my finger tips while looking at my sneakers. i'll have to wash the, i think.
no new emails since the run, everyone at home is still sleeping. Showered and dressed in fresh clothes, i'm readyto work. Hours past quicklyas i write code, adjusting my positioninnthe cheap chair, daydreaming about a nicer one, but not wanting to spend the money as i'm unsure how long I'll be here still, listening to the talking and exploding outside my window, doors in my building opening and slamming. If everyone just got together and agreed not to slam them anymore, It would probably stop, but we're all out to get each other back for being rocked from sleep, i'm convinced. of it. Hours past and the sun has spun to the backside of my building. I rstand and reurun to the window with those two short strides.I look at all the roofs behind me, like childrens blocks, staggered in height . Brown and grey, brick, and tar, orange ceramic smoekstacks, antennas and mini dishes, exterior plumbing and a few trees between them all. just pigeons and rooftops until the grey and a muffled sun. the air is still cool. the busses and aplanes in the distance cars passing by distant sounds people chatting by an open window i can't see.i clap shut my laptop screen and puttie on m dirty sneakers. on my wya back out to the street i think about walking to the tube station as it's quicker and cheaper way to the center, but as i open my door, the double decker £14 is stopping outside my door. so i hop on and take my place with my book. reading and lookingup at all the interesting accents and to check if i've reached my stop. the elondon is so incredibly diverse. over 300 languages are spoken here i think about threading that. it's still a treat to hear a real london accent. it's usually the older folk. most londoners have a fairly watered down international english. i change from the bus to the tube at fulham broadway and take the first train to earls court. then for steep decent into the earth to catch the picadilily line to leicester square or cvent garden maybe. we'll see wher ei get off.
"Have fun. Don't forget my postcard. Drive safe. Buckle up. Stay awake. Pass on the left. Green means go. Full throttle. Open road. Live. Love. Learn."
That's the SMS I received from my friend Eric this morning. I read it aloud to Desiree as we pulled away from our temporary home in Providence. Since mid February we'd been staying in a spare room at my friend's place. Today when we moved out of that room and into a Thrifty rental car, we were departing on a loosely planned zig zag road trip across America.
The winter in RI was cold and grey and it took a toll on my spirits. I have vowed never again to return to the northeast during winter months. However, it wasn't all bad.
Re-entry to American life has been an interesting experience. At first it was a breeze; much like my short visit home in June. Then as the fresh voices and faces faded back to familiarity, that thing they call reverse culture shock began to set in.
It is the shock of my own culture, what it is but which I never realized, that has startled me.
It is the frustrating disappointment in the involuntary lethargy of American life. Millions of minute conveniences fill every gap of motion and exercise we might reap some small benefit from and the food we consume satisfies our desires first and our health somewhere later.
In many ways the past year came and went incredibly quickly, yet it feels like I have been traveling forever. And at this point I feel as if thats exactly what Ill do.
There have been times when I tired of moving around. I will probably never spend a single year traveling so many different places again. It wears me down and the best experiences came when I got to know a place and the people.
Yes, traveling forever, in some form or another, I believe to be my likely destiny.
Maybe Im still young with the Maybe it will fizzle out. Maybe I will soon find my way back onto the straight rails of life.
God, I hope not.
After finding a sweet deal due to off season prices, we checked into a hotel in the center of Amsterdam. We ate stir fry and then popped in and out of coffee shops (marijuana bars) and cafés (pubs). The smell of weed hangs pours from coffee shops. The clang of glasses filled with dark Dutch and German beer sounds from the doors of cafés. Even in the frigid winter air, there is a steady stream of locals on bicycles.
I walked into a couple of tourist shops selling neck ties and wooden clogs, hoping to find some last minute Christmas gifts, but was quickly bewildered by the monotony of junk and gave up. Then for the first time, I ventured into the red light district.
From Switzerland, we drove through Germany, making a stop in Munich to walk the silent grounds of Dachau. After the Killing Fields in Cambodia, I had little interest in visiting a concentration camp, but Mike was anxious to see some WWII history. Although emotionally strained and left disillusioned with my existence, I am glad to have gone.
Theres not much to say about the Holocaust that hasnt been said already and honestly, I dont have much to say about it. Thinking about genocide leaves me feeling lost. All I manage to do is let the sit helplessly inside of me.
From Munich, we drove to Bochum before our departure in Amsterdam. It was a long drive. The stick seemed to be getting harder to shift and suddenly the overheat warning light came on. Putting the van in neutral and coasting through the cold air got it to turn off. I played that game with the light for an hour of so and then at a gas station, I poured half a bottle of coolant into the radiator. It didnt help, but we made it to Bochum without any smoke.
Michel, Myriam and their roommate Julian offered up their hospitality once again, feeding Mike and I amazing food and giving us separate beds, fresh towels and our own key. They worked late while Mike and I explored Zurich and did some Christmas shopping. In the evenings we cooked and ate great foods, including nearly two gallons of Swiss cheese Fondue.
When I saw the Alps for the second time, I knew I wasnt going to make it through Switzerland without paragliding again. I was disappointed at first when Michel told me the school was closed for December, but I sent the instructor an email anyway. Thomas replied promptly informing me that yes, they were indeed closed, but offered to take Mike and me flying anyway; and at a reduced price.
I came up with an of a way to give back to the world after my travels this year, but after I built the website I thought it might have been too late in the season to get the word out.
Then all of a sudden it started to work. Over $300 in purchases have already been made through my new website SHOPandCHANGE.org.
If you could be so kind as to do your Amazon.com holiday shopping through SHOPandCHANGE.org and send a quick email to some people who trust you telling them to do the same, there might still be time to raise a bunch of money for charity.
Remember to include a link to http://shopandchange.org and tell them they can donate without without having to spend anything extra!
Thank you so much and enjoy the holidays!
Moving fast has its long list of drawbacks. I always enjoy a place most when I can slow to the pace of life there, meet locals and get a feel for the culture. However, I am finding it can also be exhilarating to move quickly.
On Sunday morning, I woke up in Venice and ate breakfast sitting on the stone walkway along the Grand Canal. Then Mike and drove Northwest. The sky was blue and made for a clear cut, jagged horizon at the peaks of snow covered Alps. By afternoon, we were crossing the Italian Alps, watching the snow get closer and by sundown, crossing into Switzerland, the weather had gone from mild in Venice, to the dead of winter. The road was covered in patches snow and mountains we rode through already preparing for avalanches. Id never seen so much snow in my life. Entire mountains, over 10,000 feet high, were completely blanketed so that not a single rock or tree was visible. All the white made size and distance difficult to estimate.
After two days in Athens getting settled back into the van and touring the Acropolis again, Mike and I began our road trip to Amsterdam. From there we will fly home in time for the holidays; Christmas, New Years and my 28th birthday! :-O
Were only half way as of now. It has been a fast paced tour. In five days we drove from Athens to Venice, with stops in Albania, Serbia & Montenegro and Croatia.
Albania is a poor country, but one that looks to be making fast progress. Driving through the countryside we spotted only a handful of females. Islamic conservatism is supposedly on the rise there, so we figured all the ladies were probably hiding indoors. Then we came to the capital city of Tirana and found thats where they all were. We spent two days gazing at the fashionable girls with platinum black hair and dont-you-dare-ask-me-for-directions LA attitude.
Id asked around.
Are the pyramids as amazing as they seem in pictures?
I was told I wouldnt be disappointed and I wasnt. Not even close.
Desiree, Mike and I spent an entire day wandering around the Pyramids of Giza, taking in their massiveness and wonder. We crawled on hands and feet inside the steep, Indiana Jones tunnel into the tomb of the largest pyramid. Having run ahead, winded, I came alone into a small dark room.
Two weeks in Egypt passed in a heartbeat. My friend Mike had joined me partway through. We stayed with Desiree and her American friend Sara at their new apartment on the cusp of downtown Cairo. It was an old, dusty place, with oversized rooms that came halfway to life after much sweeping and scrubbing. We woke early to sounds of car horns and street peddlers climbing through our grand, but thin 4th floor windows. We cooked big feasts for ourselves and for local Egyptian friends of Sara. The shower head was fat and hung straight over a ceramic bath tub. The water fluctuated between scolding, frigid and at times turned from a plentiful flow to popping gasps of air and a drip.
Id heard the name before, but I didnt really know what the Acropolis was until reading Sophies World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy; a phenomenal introduction to the subject and one of my favorite books this year. If you are interested in Philosophy, then definitely pick up a copy.
Acropolis means citadel or city on the hill. People have lived in the Acropolis in Athens since the Stone Age. Thats 9000 years of history on one hill!
Video footage from the October 23, 2006 protest in Budapest, Hungary. Shot and edited by my new friend William, an independent animator from NYC who is currently residing in Budapest.
I spent my last Bulgarian Leva on the way through de-immigration, customs and taxes, and then learned I needed to pay $20 for a Turkish visa. I hadnt thought about a visa since arriving in Europe, so it caught me off guard. Also, since finding and changing money hadnt been a challenge, I was surprised to find there was no ATM at the Turkish border and that the exchange office would not purchase the only money I had; Lei from Romanian, a country only four hours away.
From the bridge at sunset, men throw lines towards small fish riding the tide out of the Black Sea, through the center of Istanbul and into the open Aegean. Some get caught on hooks and are carried straight upwards like a spider climbing its string, then get tossed into a white pail, which when full the fisherman carries down concrete stairs to where he can sell his heaving pail of silver slime and gasping gills to fine restaurants lining the lower level of the bridge.
Sufis are Islams mystics. They have a beautiful music and spin themselves in circles to educe a meditative state that connects them to their God.
Removing their black robes, the young men expose gleaming white, full length dresses made of a heavy cloth synched tight at the waist. With their arms folded close to their chest they begin to twirl and then extend their arms outwards as they gain momentum. One hand faces upward to receive God and the other downward so that the spirit can flow through them and into humanity. Their head and its giant can-shaped hat, tips towards one shoulder as yours might from the dizzying spin of an amusement park ride. The Sufis eyes rolled back in their heads and I watched the white dresses float from the whirling.
This is the sound that echoes through Istanbul, Cairo and cities in other Islamic countries five times a day; the first of which starts just before sunrise while most of the city is still asleep. From the high pointed columns of each mosque the prayer blares on, praising Allah for about fifteen minutes. Im not sure if it is a recording or not, but the mosques seem to sing to each other. In the mornings, the empty streets and giant buildings make for a wonderful reverb that adds to the giant and beautiful song sure to lift even a non-believers spiritual heart.
As we turned south in the morning from Thessalonica, the Aegean Sea came into view.
I had to swing my head from shoulder to shoulder to take it all in. The ocean is so massive, more massive than I can ever remember or imagine and it takes my breath away, no matter how long its been, every time I see it.
I had been land locked in foreign places for about two months and even though I was just as far away now then, seeing the big blue made me feel closer to home.
One of the nicest things about growing up in the Ocean State was the ocean. No matter where I have gone and what I have seen, nothing I have found has ever rivaled the simplicity and immensity of it.
I had no Istanbul was so clean and modern and so heavily traveled by westerners. If it werent for the magnificent mosques, hoards of delectable Middle Eastern food, bustling street markets, polite, yet eastern touts and sung Islamic prayer bursting city wide from loudspeakers five times a day, one might think they were in Paris or Rome. Like the fully western cities, Istanbul is loaded with fine dining, first-rate cafés, high hotels and fashionable shopping. It has a meticulous city center, attractive cobblestone walkways and plenty high-priced religious dwellings and ancient ruins to gasp and awe at.
I try not to form opinions about a whole country, especially on a short visit, but my overwhelming experience was that people in Eastern European, especially Romania, were quite hard. By hard I mean tough - tough to talk to, tough to interact with, tough to get a smile out of.
Not every one of them of course. We met plenty of people who were friendly and outgoing; offering to help us with directions or give us information with a smile. But the large majority of interactions, most specifically with people in the customer and public service realm was a bit frustrating. Again, I dont like to form opinions.
As you drive East from Budapest, cars get older and louder and blow grey smoke. You see farmers guide horses pulling wagons of hay. You see old man wearing big hats and darker, aged clothing. You see roofs on houses sag, cement facades chip away to red brick beneath. You see sidewalks crack, heave and then disappear. You see more and more people on dusty bicycles and boney mopeds.
As you drive East you find road signs to be hidden by trees or missing completely. The smooth pavement gives ways to splotches of cement and asphalt. Then holes in the road get bigger and bigger, some large enough to swallow your car. The guardrails and street lights disappear and you drive along in a pitch black, flat, foreign land. Everywhere you look is a mysterious abyss except for the thirty feet of broken road ahead, light dimly by the weak headlights on your early 80s Volkswagen.
Your bare feet on the cold cement make you walk quickly towards the first three massive steaming public pools. With your towel draped over your shoulders and arms wrapped round you tight, you dip your foot in and sense the warmth of the water wrap through your toes and envelope your flesh. It feels great, but youre not done exploring yet.
Looking up and around, you see the bright yellow walls stretching around the large courtyard and splitting the blue of the pools from the blue of the sky over downtown Budapest, reminding you of the burnt corn fields that rolled with you all the way from Vienna. You marvel at the bleach white stone statues and fountains spitting warm water. Looking at all the people bathing and walking, you guess the number of them to be over a thousand.
I have mentioned a few times how traveling throughout the world often feels like time-travel. Some places in India and Thailand had little to no signs of the modern world where they work and farm using the same tools and living in the same shelters as they have for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
Even in Europe, I sometimes feel as if Ive traveled back in time. Most often its a trip to the early 1980s, when I was almost too young to remember what it was like sitting in a smoky restaurant or in a cloudy waiting room.
Fifty years ago, on October 23, students in Budapest, Hungary protested against the Soviet takeover. The country had gotten itself in that position after siding and losing with Nazi Germany in WWII. The Soviets responded with violence and a couple thousand people died. Even though they lost and Hungary stayed communist until a peaceful turnover in 1989, Hungarians still celebrate October 23rd as a day of revolution.
Theres a hard divide between the right and left in Hungary. In September, the right party illegally recorded a private conversation between the Prime Minister and his cabinet in which he stated that he did nothing for the economy. This, however, was not what he had said to get elected. Doh!
Its damn cold in Europe right now. Having been following summer weather since January, it really caught me by surprise. Weve been boiling water on the stove in the van for heat, but the damp air is starting to warp all my books. Our hopes are that as we make our way south, things will warm up again.
The rest of my travels this year are somewhat planned out. Desiree and I are making our way through Eastern Europe to Istanbul and then finally Greece where Ill put the VW in long term parking at Athens International and well fly together to Egypt. A week later, my good friend Mike will be meeting us in Cairo.
Vienna was expensive. It felt like Zurich and like home. High fashion, high paced, business first, art second and then everything else. We saw lots of fancy chocolate shops and bought some Mozart balls, a special treat Austria has to celebrate their claim to fame in the composer.
At an open market, we picked up some fresh vegetables and dried fruits and talked with the vendors. Some exploring on foot led us to a bookstore called Shakespeare & Co, like the one I stayed at in Paris except it wasnt nearly as and the man working there was far from friendly, but I did find a new book. The rest of our time in Vienna was spent reading and chatting in different cafés. Austria is known for its coffee, but I drank fruit tea.
On Sunday I joined Desiree and her Austrian friends Anne, Bianca and Lunas the half black lab half greyhound on a one hour ride out of the city. Bianca drove my bus over rolling hills of tall autumn grass and blooming yellow rapseed to a farm where an annual authentic Austrian festival was being held. We ate bread on a stick and some tasty mashed potatoes and drank spicey lemonade. We watched little kids play on bails of hay and older kids shoot arrows at a stuffed fox whose head was strategically faced away from them. There were big sweaty people in medievil dress singing old Austrian song and blowing fire too. It was a good time.
After filling the tank with petrol on Saturday, I paid the fifty cent toilet fee and gave a pursed lip nod to the uniformed man standing guard at the rotating gate. There was high traffic at this autobahn rest stop, but the chrome piping and white ceramic shined sterile.
I took the first stall. The knob and lock were unusually hefty stainless steel fixtures, the door was heavy and shut smooth with a thud. What a place, I thought! Well worth the fifty cents.
Having never met anyone whos contracted anything from a public toilet, Ive pretty much shook the fear of sitting directly on them, yet I still made a quick inspection for miss fires. The coast was clear, but I noticed a picture of a hand next to a red LED. Impulsively, I waved my fingers over the little graphic to see if I could get the light to do anything.
As part of my efforts to seek exposure for writing and photography, I spent the last week tuning this website up. It should load faster and have less distracting stale information now. There are more posts on the homepage now too.
All the fun stuff on the map is still there and I added some one sentence stories for each location. Go click "Where Else Have I Been" and explore around a bit. Make sure to note the controls that show up beneath the map.
My mom will surely be letting me know about all the typos, but if you find anything else amuck..please let me know!
Today we went for a walk in the forest, a few square miles of well spaced oaks and maples on the edge of Bochum.
Massive grey trunks, hundreds of years old, reach strong from a clean, soft brown earth. In the lush cover far above, there is a constant swirl from the autumn winds that came earlier this week. The large open space between all the trees gives this place such an open feeling. Its easy to breath here.
I wear a few layers to keep warm in the new, light air. Except for when raising my sleeve to wipe small drips from my nose, my hands stay wrapped to fists in my pockets. Giant gusts come, moving my hair and filling my coat. A welcome break, my feet enjoy the padded ground while we climb one small hill after another.
Most Germans dont graduate university until their mid to late twenties. I was surprised to learn this at first, but it made some sense of how Ive always met so many Germans while traveling. They are encouraged to do other things besides study. Guys have to spend a year doing military or social service. Girls dont have to do anything like that. I wonder if there exists any German men-groups claiming sexism.
Under the cushioned bench seat of that folds into my bed every night, is a box where things I dont use very often are stored. I sorted through a pile of handy hardware type items that were in the van when I bought it and found the spool of blue twine I was looking for.
It wasnt long before I had driver Bs bumper secured and the slack cut with the new Swiss-Army knife I had received as a gift from one of the hospitable couples I met in Switzerland, Barbara and Randy. Driver B shook my hand and thanked me enthusiastically.
Maitenant on va a boir quelque chose dans ce restaurant la? he said
Desiree, laughing and smiling, looked over at me.
I was remarkably calm. Probably because I knew the insurance would fix the wagon and my van had no damage. The only thing I dreaded were the hours of reporting and dealing with a likely enraged driver.
What are they saying? I asked Desiree.
I dont know. She went over, spoke some in French and came back.
Are they pissed? I asked.
There is a district north of the old, romantic Paris you know from postcards and movies. Neon lights fronting two story sex-show theatres, pornography shops and dingy bars light up Boulevard de Sebastopol. Subway trains having sprung from the ground line the street inside a corrugated metal tunnel a few meters overheard. A thick mess of people mill below all the bright colors. Some move quickly, spitting out between long lines of parked cars. Men yell to girls passing by and dine together at small sandwich shops.
Further north the street changes to Boulevard de Strasbourg. The metro above disappears. The fluorescent blaze softens to a familiar warm glow of fine dining and cafes. Then standing in the middle of the road, the giant main station, with its big clock and smooth new façade, splits traffic West and East.
First off, thanks for following along with my travel stories and photography for so long. Dont worry, its not over yet!
I thought it well to let you know I am taking a short break here in Germany before another stint of moving around this fall. Sometime in October Ill be heading again by VW bus through Eastern Europe down to Athens, Greece. I may also spend a couple of weeks backpacking through Egypt before going home for the holidays. Although I wont be moving around as much, I will still be traveling, writing and taking photos come 2007; possibly beginning with a relatively long term move to Thailand.
A fictional day comprised from parts of many non-fictional days while I was backpacking in Europe
Golden arches appear as I round a corner. Although I dont eat the food at McDonalds, I cant deny there is something warm and comforting about the place. Somehow it reminds of home. There is a comfort in knowing my expectations could be full filled. I realize that at a very young age a piece of me was taken hostage by their marketing, just like it was by Coke and countless others. I ponder my love and my loath for the manipulative power of marketing as I pass a smiling statue of Ronald and enter in search of a toilet.
There is a line and a short woman is taking payment. I wait with my cards, shuffling and spreading them at my waist as we patient men inch our way forward. I place thirty cents into the small plate on her small table and she raises her arm as if welcoming be aboard.
A fictional day comprised from parts of many non-fictional days while I was backpacking in Europe
I move slowly from the train, letting everyone ahead of me. There are plenty of times Im in a hurry and its an unbelievably good feeling to move slowly where everyone else is rushing about. Climbing the stopped escalator, I feel a sharp pain in my knee, which leads me to think about my health. Besides all the walking around, traveling can get to be a pretty lethargic thing. Ive found it difficult to exercise being in a new place every few days. I wonder if the pain is a sign of ageing, picture my bones and ligaments growing frail and shudder at the thought of passing time.