Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The End of the Beginning

I've been finding it difficult to write a concluding post to our trip around the world. Conclusions are tricky. Though I felt that "Poor Career Moves" was a solid entry, I still need a true ending. Which brings me back to here.

Erik and I returned from England the first week of November. Staying in Leeds with our friend Tara was a good change of pace...and easier on our already barren wallets (actually, my wallet was lost in a river in Laos, so lets just say barren debit card).
We flew from London to Newark, NJ (aka Americas punch-line) and stayed a few days with our friends Nick and Sarah in Brooklyn. Hopefully, my near future will find me living in Brooklyn, so this stop was a good provocation to find a job.

After 14 weeks of traveling we caught our last flight from La Guardia to Charlotte. We made it home. We successfully adventured around the globe (distant cheers across the stadium).


Throughout our trip Erik and I often talked about what we missed most back home.
As with many items, I kept a running list of "Things America Does Best." These are the things that either can only be found in (North) America, or that America has just figured out the best way to do....most of these are food free drink refills. Now I don't have the time to write about every thing I came up with (nor do you have the time to read such a post) but continually, one name kept popping up on the list so I feel an obligation to mention it:

Taco Bell.

If fast food was a religion, Mecca would be a Taco Bell. Between the baja chalupa combo, the grilled stuffed burrito, and the colossal grande meal (with 10 tacos), Taco Bell is in a league of its own.
As many of you know, or maybe don't know, Mexican food is rare outside of the Americas (North and South). Europeans eat Chinese and Indian food like we eat Mexican food, which is to say, a lot. In Asia English food is their Mexican food...which also is why no one eats anything other than Asian food in Asia. In India, well, they generally just stick to Indian food as well.
The point I'm trying to make is Erik and I went without a single taco for 14 weeks...and from the standpoint that we probably ate Mexican food on average 3 nights a week prior to our trip, thats a long time to go without anything containing salsa.

Now you may be wondering, "I get the mexican food thing, but why Taco Bell?" And my answer is two-fold:
A.) Because I like how it tastes.
B.) Confidence. Taco Bell is not trying to be real Mexican food. They're not dressing up their tacos to be passed off as authentic, there's no Dijorno's syndrome. No, they are confident to be cheap and simple. If I want pico de gallo stuffed tamales covered in rice I'll go elsewhere. However, when I need sixteen poorly wrapped soft taco supremes (which really just means 'with tomatoes') and a packet of sauce so honestly hot it can only be labeled 'hot,' I know what bell to ring.

As expected, within the first 48 hours of being home I made a (3) trek(s) to the local Taco Bell...and it was everything I hoped it could be.

Creating a concluding statement on our trip has proved tough. Many people ask questions like, "what was your favorite place you visited?" or "how was the trip?" And I never know how to respond. The trip was unforgettable. I loved something about every place we visited. But within the 14 weeks I have already forgotten things that happened, and in every place we visited there were certain moments that were far from enjoyable.
But I think that's what made this such an interesting experience for me. I let myself go. This trip was an adventure, so I experienced the bad as well as the good. I never expected anything to change me and I think by not expecting and just allowing things to happen, I was ultimately changed. But now I'm focusing on the future. It's time to start the next journey and see where it takes me.
So in conclusion I'm hoping that this won't be my story of a lifetime, just one chapter.

Thanks so much to everyone who followed us through our journaling.
The comments were fun to hear and exciting to know people were reading.
Take care.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Poor Career Moves

I’ve noticed a trend in the last 97 days. People are naturally weird. I would like to think that we each have a peculiar uniqueness, a fingerprint characteristic if you will. However, I’ve realized that there are the chosen few who truly try to bend the boundaries of social normality. The Jackson Pollock’s to our Thomas Kinkaid’s. I would like to dedicate this following list to my top three personal favorites we’ve encountered on this trip.

1. Bush Man: San Francisco-
Here’s a guy who spends his afternoons hiding in front of a trash bin holding two branches of foliage over his face…imitating a bush. Then, as an unsuspecting pedestrian crosses the sidewalk, bush man jumps up with the fury of Mother Nature scaring the poor little nine year old girl on her way to see the sea lions at Fisherman’s Warf.

2. Elephant Man: Bangkok-
On our first night in Thailand, Erik and I took a walk through the streets of Bangkok. Two blocks past our hostel we noticed something in the corner of our eye. A real elephant…standing in the alley. This was the first elephant we encountered on our trip; needless to say we were awestruck.

Now you may say, “but Nick, you’re in Thailand, what did you expect…polar bears?” And my response is, “Relax, I’m getting to my point.”
Bangkok is the Manhattan of South East Asia, the central hub. Now imagine seeing an elephant rolling down Wall Street. Pretty strange (although, unlike NY, the elephant wasn’t followed by a PETA protest).

Now, this elephant wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by his banana sandwich toting friend…let’s call him Steve. Steve’s pastime is walking his pet elephant through Bangkok convincing people how much fun it would be to buy his banana sandwiches and feed it to his elephant. I mean who can say no to an elephant? Genius.

3. The 40 Year Old Subway Rapper: Paris-
After spending the first hours of the morning (the ones usually reserved for deep sleeping) snaking through the endless labyrinth that is the Paris Metro system, I finally arrived on the last train home. As soon as I leaned back against my sterile, pleather seat, I noticed an older gentleman wheeling a speaker through the door in front of me. Before I realized what was happening the doors shut. I was too late.

Old Man: “LE LE LE LE LE (crazy French yelling)”
Suddenly, the speakers lit up. Our car was bumping whether we liked it or not. This man, who looked like a guy that sold insurance and drove a Prius, was now introducing me to the new wave of French Hip-Hop, subway style.

(Un)Fortunately, my metro stop was far enough to experience the ill styles of ‘Le Petite Technique’ through the entirety of two original songs (actually, I’m pretty sure his second tune was just him rapping over an old Gloria Estefan song). Thank you Paris Metro.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So Euro

Erik and I are currently in England. Leeds to be exact. For the last five weeks we have been traveling through Europe. In those five weeks I've noticed a visual trend in my European peers. A peculiar visual genre or look. A cross between Emo and Metro. Something I'd like to call 'Euro.'

Here are three main characteristics of the 'Euro' trend. The keystone pieces of the Euro culture.

1. The Euro Scarf.
Throughout history few men have successfully donned the commonly feminine winter-ware known as the scarf.

Steven Tyler
(Rock god), Snoopy (a beagle), and maybe Luke Skywalker (from the beginning of 'Empire Strikes Back') are in a rare class of male scarf advocates. A dedicated few who live by their own rules and rock the demasculine neck sleeve (though one could argue Luke Skywalker should be exempt because a). he's from another galaxy and b.) he's a bit of a whiny queen throughout the whole Star Wars saga).
For the rest of the male population, scarves have always been a no-go, like easy bake ovens...and jellies.
Or so I thought.

Europeans embrace the scarf. Like tea and techno, they can't have enough scarves. Winter scarves, summer scarves, Barmitzvah scarves, you name it, they'll wear a scarf to it.
However, unlike a regular scarf, the Euro Scarf is popular with both the female and male population.

2. The Euro Mullet.
All trends fade, but only a few completely die. The mullet should be one of the latter.
After David Bowie introduced us to Ziggy Stardust and 'Labyrinth' humanity was lulled into a mullet frenzy. Everyone and their children had mullets (yes, I too was once a five year old sporting the latest mullett fashion..thanks mom and dad). It wasn't until the early 90's when Billy Ray Cyrus's Achy Breaky Heart convinced us how 'uncool' mullets actually were.

No one thought the mullet would make a comeback. But thanks to Euro technology, it's back and longer than ever. There are two new models. The first mullet is a sleeker, more airstreamed design. Hair dye is commonly used to destract the eyes, but don't be's still a mullet.

The second is a by-product of the faux-hawk...a by-product of the mohawk. After the slow demise of the faux-hawk, some Europeans let their hawks grow wider and wider until suddenly it transformed into a neo-mullet.

Thankfully, these new mullets have yet to make their trip overseas. Hopefully, if we work together we can keep this trend to the 80's and gun shows.

3. The V-Neck.
What once was thought of as a clothing item saved for clevage and sailors, V-necks are now attracting a larger audience. They are the staple of any Euro style.Vintage band v-necks are regarded especially high in most Euro circles. Nothing says "I'm hardcore" like a pale skinny white guy wearing tight pants and a Wu-Tang v-neck shirt...highlighting an erratic patch of chest hair.

Euro Scarves are a usual companion to any v-neck tshirt. Further proof that style is decided not by weather or comon sense, but by d-bags like this:

Like the Euro Scarf and the Neo-Mullet, V-Neck's are cornerstone to current Euro style, and should be regarded as strictly European. So, let's keep our shirts high and our necks cold or someday our children will be asking us why they look like Captain Planet in their 2nd grade class photos...and no one deserves that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Seventh Inning Stretch

We’ve made it through Asia (Southeast and Original flavor), India (spicy Asia), and most of mainland Europe. We left Paris yesterday morning, arriving in Ireland for our final 12 day trek through the United Kingdom. The end is near.

People like to talk about how expensive Europe is. Before leaving on this trip the most common phrase I heard was, “oh, you’re spending 6 weeks in Europe? Do you know how expensive that is?” Even people that I’m pretty sure have never been to Europe seem to know how much it costs. It’s like there was a class everyone took in college about the fiscal demands of European travel. I must have skipped that one.

Europe isn’t expensive. Paris is expensive. If Europe is a 3-series BMW, Paris is a Leer Jet. Seriously.

On our arrival, I bought my first cup of coffee costing north of 5 euros (about $7.50). Holy crap. And it didn’t even come with a prize or anything.

Our first day in Paris (and Sarah’s last day) began rainy and cold, but later turned out sunny…and still cold. We hit all the major Paris postcard locations….the Arc de Triumph, Champs De Elyssee, Notre Dame, some whole in the wall bookshop (that was all in English!), and ended the day on the Eiffel Tower at sunset. We also went to the Musee D’Orsay in the afternoon; an impressionism museum with a lot of Monet’s, Van Gogh’s, Renoir’s, etc. It was pretty impressive. They had a cool display of Picasso paintings interpreting a famous Manet.

Okay enough art. Tara arrived the first night and Sarah left the next morning. We spent the next two days exploring the rest of Paris. We spent a morning in the Louve (with Tara’s art history tour), an afternoon in a famous graveyard, we saw another cathedral (that I can’t pronounce), and found some good food for less than the rest of Paris.

Getting out of Paris was a bit tougher than getting in. After a two hour trip from the hotel to the airport at 6am, we took a discount airline into Dublin. Probably the roughest flight we’ve taken yet. Before landing I felt like I was on a ride at Carrowinds. I’ve never had to brace myself with the armrests until yesterday. A guy my age began losing his breakfast all over the floor two seats in front of me (apparently RyanAir doesn’t shell out the extra 10 cents for throw up bags). Our landing felt like sledding over a rockslide. It was awesome. Landing planes must be unusual for RyanAir because as soon as we stopped everyone began clapping. Interesting. Glad I didn’t get to see what they do when the plane doesn’t land.

Well now we are in Dublin, Ireland and I freakin love it. It’s cold and windy, but we are going to visit the Guinness brewery and eat some good food (that doesn’t cost my soul or first born). Dublin reminds me of Rochester…if Rochester had sweet Irish accents. We went to our first true Irish pub last night. Oh, and here’s a fun fact. Everyone in Europe seems to really love the Kid Rock song that rips off Sweet Home Alabama and Werewolves of London. Besides Oasis, it was the only song sung at the top of every ones lungs at about 2 am in the bar. WTF…Kid Rock? I guess I have yet to get a handle on the European taste in pop music.

We fly back on November 1st. 12 more days until we successfully make it around the world. Now, its time to get off the internet and enjoy Ireland, England, and Scotland. Cheers.

One last thing. For the last few months we have been honing our skills at the ‘Action Shot.’ I think we have finally perfected the technique. I’d like to call this series “Face Kick: Paris


Face Kick: Under the Eiffel Tower

Face Kick: Louve

Arc de Face Kick

Face Kick: At Night

Saturday, October 11, 2008

When in Rome

So we arrived in Pisa and stayed at a nice bed and breakfast. The place had a guitar! It was amazing. we stayed in that night and just played guitar. We hadn't played any music since being in a bamboo hut in Thailand. We started to write a song and talked about playing out again when we got home- "chasing steve" is back. you might want to reserve tickets in advance. Anyway, Pisa has this big tower and it leans. That, about it.

Rome was crazy. Everything there is historical. We walked all day long and around every corner there was some famous church or monument, or tower, or basilica. you name it. We saw all the big stuff- the coloseum and the ruins of ancient rome, the vatican, Treve fountain, Spanish steps, the Pantheon. It was all very cool. The Basilca della Santo Pedro (St. Peter's Basilica for those of you who don't parle italiano) was the most amazing thing. The size of it alone was humbling- as crowded as it was you could find yourself feeling alone in the huge space. Then we went up to the top of the basilica and saw an amazing view of the city.

I could go on and on about St. Peter's alone, not to mention the rest of Rome, but I won't. There are some highlights though. For one, Nick's cousin Sarah and his sister Angela (not to be confused with his other sister) met us here. It was nice to travel with other people again. Especially people who hadn't been worn out from travelling for two and half months. It was refreshing to see how amazed they were at all the sights. I'm afraid the power of some of the things me and Nick have seen has been slightly lost simply because of the amount of amazing things. Toward the end of our trip we are so "efficient" at seeing sights that sometimes we don't let them really sink in... so it is really nice having Angela and Sarah here to remind us.

Second highlight- "the path of illumination." I picked up a copy of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons in Cinque Terre- I had read the book before but forgot what it was about, picking it out simply because the only books in English at the store were that and some Nicholas Sparks garbage. For those of you not familiar with the book, it follows Robert Langdon and a beautiful Italian scientist as they decipher the labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome to the long forgotten Illuminati lair- a secret refuge wherein lies the only hope for the Vatican! (i know that was some amazing diction, but i copied it from the back of the book.) Anyway, we followed the path of illumination to the illuminati lair- nobody answered when we knocked. the book provided some fun facts about the city (fact or fiction) and higlighted some of its less known sites.

Third highlight- actually more of a dissapointment for me. but at the same time it made me realize how lucky I am! Sarah has never seen the movie "GLADIATOR." We took a guided tour of the coloseum- full of references to the famous film that everyone in the group was totally on top of. Except for Sarah. In some way I feel she shouldn't have been allowed in the ruins. But she flew below the radar and didn't admit her lameness until later that night. I know I'm overreacting, but at the same time... COME ON! (By the way, she hasn't seen "Saving Private Ryan," "The Godfather," "Indiana Jones," or "Rocky")

All in all, Rome was too amazing to really describe in full. The best city for me so far on this trip. Now we are in Florence- home of Michalengelo's "David," Da Vinci's "Last Supper" and really cheap wine! I just hope I remember the art.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Eastside and Italy (a very small country)

We left Germany refreshed. A package had arrived from home with our new bank cards (lost is Laos, seems like forever ago), halloween candy, and some winter clothes- we asked for about 6 articles between the two of us and recieved 15. We had to buy another bag to carry it all. Oh well, our moms love us.

So off to the near east, Prague. Neither of us knew much about Prague before going there. We had heard that it was the true "old Europe" or where the "East meets the West." Whatever it was, "old" was definitely a good way to describe it. The architecture was unbelievable. There were times, especially at night, you felt that you had gone back in time- exploring the narrow streets of the old town. That is until you passed a shop selling pieces of "crystal" with your picture engraved in it and hearing the sounds of "I kissed a girl and I liked it." For me, Prague was a little bitter sweet becuase of all the touristy ridiculousness. They had a ton of those little egg-shaped dolls that have the exact same doll inside it- very Russian, pretty cool. But then the next shop had even more dolls but they had the faces of Ronaldinho and Pavel Nedved. (famous soccer players, for the uneducated). Escaping these saturated areas and finding yourself lost in narrow, ancient streets was a much better Prague experience for me.

Next stop, Vienna. Vienna was a lot like Prague but much more extravagant. It was like a really rich Prague. Prague had a castle, but Vienna had Palaces. Apparently Vienna was the center of one of the largest empires in history- the Hapsburgs? I don't know, you check the history yourself. The only part I remember from all the signs I read (yes Dad I read the signs) was that they made a huge deal out of the last empress, Sisi. They claimed she was so beautiful and so kind and it was such a tragedy that she died. I can't personally reflect on Sisi's character but I can say that judging by the pictures of her, she wasn't anything special. At least not the most beautiful empress ever. The Viennians (?) may not have beautiful women, but the city they built was absolutely amazing. And it wasn't swarming with tourists and t-shirt shops, another plus for me.

On our second day in Vienna I had what you could call a "quarter-life crises." That is all the details you need to know. But I decided I wanted to go skiing in the Alps and that I wanted to go alone. So we parted ways- I headed west and Nick went south towards Venice. We decided we would meet in Rome on the 10th.

So I skied on the Hintertuxer Glacier- Austria's one and only year-round ski facility. The skiing wasn't bad. Not that many trails were open, but I didn't expect much- I was skiing in October. The day I left I woke up to the first snowfall of the season. It was about 6 inches high and by the time I walked to the bus station it was about 8 inches. It was coming down fast. After a day of travelling, the next morning I arrived in Cinque Terre Italy. This is an amazing place on the west coast of Italy that consists of 5 small towns built right along the cliffs to the sea. Probably one of the most romantic places on Earth! Too bad I was alone- that would soon change though... There are hiking trails between each of the towns, and the trails have some amazing views as they cling to the cliffs as well. It was on one of these trails that some strange fate distrupted my loneliness. As I was coming down the trail to the third town I turned a narrow corner and stood face to face with Nick. It was really weird. Of all the places in Europe, in Italy! It was hilarious. Niether of us really knew how to react or whether or not we were dreaming. Anyway, we are back together again. Today we leave for Pisa and then to Rome.

Monday, October 6, 2008

sprechen Sie Englisch?

I apologize if some of you were dissapointed with Nick's last post- explaining his problems with post cards. I just read it and feel like I need to do some updating on where we are.

We arrived in Germany with no problems. And we soon learned the harsh reality of the western world... everything is expensive. We took a train from Frankfurt to Bielefeld for about 150 US dollars. ouch. Luckily we got to stay with my childhood friend Matt. Matt is playing professional soccer at Bundisliga side Arminia Bielefeld. Not bad. His apartment was very nice and we took full advantage of it. We played a lot of playstation, did laundry, watched movies, slept in, and ate meals that actaully satisfied our appetites. We also bought some new clothes- we weren't at all prepared for the 50 degree climate change from India to Germany. Basically we recharged our batteries and planned out the next and last phase of our journey.

Bielefeld was a really cool town. But in about half a day we had seen all there was to it. This wasn't at all dissapointing to us as the point of staying there was to relax and prepare for the rest of the trip. For the touristy stuff we went to Berlin. Matt hooked us up with his Mom's friend Jim who lives in Berlin. Jim's penthouse apartment downtown was amazing. Jim's hospitality plus his partner Frank's travel stories definitely enhanced our Berlin experience. They let us borrow thier bikes for the day so we could get around the city. Probably the coolest thing about Berlin is how new it is. During the war it was practically reduced to rubble by the allies (YEAH!), and once the Berlin wall came down and the city was completely capitalist (HELL YEAH!) it was open season for all the best architechs in the world to create anything they could imagine. And they did. There are some amazing buildings all over the city. There are still glimpses of Berlin's crazy history around the city. For instance, in the middle of the biggest shopping district a church was left standing as a memorial to the war. Only half the church was actually standing as the rest of it had been destroyed, as the evidence is still very clear. Parts of the Berlin wall are still standing, as well as the original "Checkpoint Charlie" the gate between east and west in the american sector.

It was all cool stuff. The best part of Germany was probably the wieght i was finally able to gain back after our journey through Asia. And not having to haggle with someone any time you want to buy something! It has been a good change of pace. Stay tuned for stories from Prague, Austria, and Italian miracles.