Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Asante Rafiki

Asante, Rafiki!
(For those of you who forgot your language lesson from acouple months ago, that’s Swahili for “Thanks Friend”)

From the Chicken bus to the Ryndam...

From ABC to the top of Kili...

From the landing the perfect jumping picture to simply finding someone who could take a nice picture...

The never ending bracelet collection...

The disturbingly great number of "romantic" dinners...

Or pondering the thoughts of how amazing our trip has been - often not much spoken, but so much said...

Whether climbing one more mountain just to keep it interesting...

Or testing the limits of our friendship in a rental car on the "wrong" side of the road...

Dear Michelle,

Just over a year ago I told you I was quitting my job and moving back to Minnesota.  When you asked why, I told you of my “yet-to-be-determined, hope to go for longer than three weeks” travel plans.  You had a better idea… “How about I quit my job, too, and we can travel together.  We can go around the whole world!”

It’s impossible to believe that in less than a week our trip around the world will find us back in the United States, soon in new apartments and returning to work and once more becoming contributing members of society.

As I sit here, at our hostel in Akureyri, you’re on the other side of the table from me, furiously working on a blog post about “How to maintain a 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week friendship.”  I’m not surprised we’ve managed to stay friends all this time. Though sometimes I’m not certain how we did it, I do have a few ideas:

One of us always manages to remain the optimist.  Neither of us is any good at holding a grudge.  If someone chooses to be a jerk you let it go, get over it, and we talk about it later.  And we’re both funny.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this unforgettable experience wouldn’t have been anywhere near as awesome as it was without you, on both ends and in the middle of it.  Your endless confidence in our ability to navigate new countries and unknown cities within, to understand bus schedules in foreign languages and to climb mountains in soaking wet gym shoes are just some of the reasons behind some of the best memories of this trip.

We’ve done so many things together, things that have already become stories I will tell for the rest of my life: Surviving the Chicken Bus, surviving Asian food poisoning, completing Annapurna Base Camp, fending off mean monkeys in India, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, racing around Santorini on four wheelers, chasing a departing cruise ship, driving in the UK and snorkeling between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are just a few.

Thank you, Michelle.

You are my friend forever.

You are my sister. 

Where should we go next?


Final map update

So I believe that map is as accurate as I can make it.  It's a summary, at best.

14 countries
65+ stops along the way
32,000 miles around the globe

Saturday, July 14, 2012

When the travel bug bites

So when does the Travel Bug Bite?  

It's different for everyone. Some fall victim to this wonderful disease as adults only following the first big trip out of their home town.  Others are first afflicted as as children on road trips with their families.  For me, it happened while I was studying abroad in college, a wonderful semester in Dalkeith Scotland, a small town just outside of Edinburgh.

It was here that I had the opportunity to live in a castle, visit seven European countries and begin to appreciate how much I love to travel.  I left Scotland on Dec 6, 2000. I knew that day I would return though it wasn't to happen for 11 and a half years.

Dalkeith House - The place I called home during the Fall of 2000.

Our Norway cruise ended in Dover where we picked up a rental car that took us through much of the UK over the next ten days.  Driving on the "other" side of the road is very tricky.  Not only are you on what seems like the "wrong" side of the road, but also all of your driving instincts are backwards, as well.  In the UK you cannot drive a manual transmission unless you have passed your driver's test using one and hold such a license.  Why they allow us to drive a car with the wheel on the right when my drivers's license is issued in country where they test you on the left is beyond me.  The good news... we managed to return the car at the conclusion of the rental period with no dents, scratches or tickets.  The bad news, I believe we both had dangerously elevated blood pressures the entire time.  We're still not sure which is more scary: driving with everything backwards or being the frightened passenger with no control. 

The first moments in the car on the "wrong" side of the road.

The first stop on our UK road trip was a visit to our friend Brandon in his home town of Bromsgrove.  We had so much fun with him while in London that we decided to return for more local fun.

On our way there we stopped in Stratford Upon Avon to visit Shakespeare's birthplace.
Not certain what was happening,
but there were larpers all over the place

Shakespeare's birthplace. No photography permitted inside.

On Sunday morning the Olympic Torch was on it's way through Worcestershire so we went to find it and have a look. Just as we arrived in Alcester, and almost unbelievably, the torch did too!

And there it goes!
After the torch Brandon took us to Jinneyring, a spot where he meets with his hometown friends on occasion.  Here we had "cream teas" and watched a fellow make a glass-blown vase in the workshop.

We couldn't leave Bromsgrove without a picture with Brandon's family.

After Bromsgrove we headed northwest to Snowdonia National Park in Wales.  We picked this spot because it, was sort of, in the general direction of, on the way toward Scotland.  Our intention was to be lazy, and take the tourist route to the top of Snowden, the mountain in the middle of the park.  Unfortunately, the weather was not the best for a viewing landscapes.  So we took a walk in Coed y Brenin, a small section of Snowdonia.


Smile, I'm framing your picture!

The bunkhouse Brandon found for us in Snowdonia...

After Snowdonia we headed toward Scotland.  The distance from Snowdonia to Oban is nearly 400 miles.  We didn't realize this at the beginning of our day.  After a rather leisurely morning and a long stop in Liverpool to check out some of their free museums, we went 6.5 hours further to Oban where we arrived at midnight, having still not crashed the car!

Albert dock in Liverpool.
I'm not a huge museum person, but the variety of displays this place had to offer could entertain me for  hours.

Waiting for our leisurely late lunch, in Liverpool,
still unaware of how  many  hours we have left in the car this evening

And I'm finally back in Scotland!

Michelle took this picture of me on our way out of a gas station in Scotland.  Dinner in hand, mission accomplished.  Last fall, on our trip to Patagonia, we attempted "three meals in three countries (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay) in one day."  It is a challenge easier made than met -until now when we had breakfast in Wales, lunch in England and dinner in Scotland.  Though the border crossings between countries are about as exciting as crossing from one state to another in the USA, we were still pretty happy to have done it.

Driving past Scotland's famous Loch Lomond just before it got dark,
and a couple hours before we arrived in Oban.

While in Oban we set out on a boat trip with Bowman's tours to visit Isle of Mull, Staffa and Iona (in that order.)  These are islands of the Inner Hebrides Islands.  While I was living in Scotland, the Isle of Staffa found itself on the list of top five places visited.  Geologically, it's fascinating and oddly beautiful, very similar to the famed Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.   

The city of Oban from the ferry to Mull

Isle of Mull...

Isle of Staffa...
I took over 100 pictures in the 65 minutes we had to wander the small island.  
Here are just a few too many of my favorites.

Look closely, that's Michelle out there
She took this picture while standing there

Basalt columns of Staffa...


     Fingal's cave...

More Columns...

Isle of Iona...
The historic Iona Abbey

Enjoying some cider with our lunch on Iona

We tried to go out and celebrate Fourth Of July that evening.

There was not a whole lot of excitement that evening

The next morning we set out to take in the beauty of Scotland's highlands: 250 miles from Oban to Elgol, on Isle of Skye to Inverness.  We started the day with the sun trying hard to peak through the clouds and soon found ourselves in bright sunshine only to be followed by more clouds on the way to Skye.  Then, a sunshine capable of burning while in Elgol followed by a bit more rain on the way to Inverness.

Early on our way out of Oban

Ben Nevis - Great Britain's highest peak

We're getting better at driving at this point, but  sometimes it's still pretty frightening!

If you look carefully, this lake appears to be in the shape of Scotland.  I stopped here with my class 12 years ago.  The trees were a bit shorter.

Trying to capture Scotland's beauty from the passenger seat, these pictures are nice, but are nothing compared to what it really looks like.

One cannot visit Scotland without a stop at the famed Eilean Donan castle. Many believe it to be the most beautiful castle in all of Scotland.

After visiting Eilean Donan we continued North and then west over to the Isle of Skye.  Scotland's highlands are among some of the most beautiful places to be found on our planet.  Ask anyone who has visited, "What is the most beautiful part of the Highlands?" The answer is often Skye. I agree.

After hours of clear skies and sunshine, thick fog rolled in as we approached the most beautiful spot in Scotland...
Approaching the bridge

crossing the bridge
Michelle not liking the foggy crossing

The fog cleared faster than it had rolled in as we made our way down to Elgol.  Elgol is small fishing village at the end of a 15 mile long, single track highway at the south end of Skye.  I stayed here, in a B&B with my parents in 2000. Not a whole lot has changed.
clearing skies

single track roads

Small church ruin along the way to Elgol

View from the cafe where were enjoyed the scenery

We spent the evening in Inverness.  Inverness does not have a whole lot going for it other than it is the biggest town near two popular tourist destinations, Urquhart Castle and The Nessie Exhibition center.  I'm pretty sure Urquhart is my favorite castle. It was when I lived there, anyway, and very little about it has changed. The beautiful ruin, which has been built and destroyed several times throughout Scotland's past, sits on the shores of Loch Ness - Great Britain's largest and deepest body of water and home to the infamous Loch Ness Monster.

The castle, as viewed from the visitor center

Michelle, having a little too much fun at the site

After wandering around the ruins and learning that Loch Ness monster is all in our heads, we headed toward the place I called home 12 years ago, Dalkeith Palace.

It's just down this road

And I'm back!

Our first full day in Dalkeith was also our first full day of crummy weather.  So we stayed at the house and watched movies all day.  The following day we finally ventured out to one of my favorite cities in the world, Edinburgh...
Waverly station - The main train station
(viewed from Scott Monument)
Edinburgh Castle (viewed from Scott Monument)

High Street Edinburgh, The Royal Mile
Edinburgh Castle as viewed from the Esplanade 

Instead of paying 20-some US dollars to go inside Edinburgh Castle, 
we opted for the whiskey tour instead, and we paid the reduced student rate!
The world's largest whiskey collection

We finished our day in Edinburgh at my favorite spot, Calton Hill

The main road in Dalkeith is still a rather familiar place.

As a student in Scotland in 2000, a favorite pastime was to walk down the road and on to Mayson's for a pint or nine.  Most any night of the week the bartender, Gavin, would greet you with a smile and make certain you felt welcome.  I found the only thing to have changed about Mayson's was the color of the walls. Happily, Gavin is still there and Mayson's is just as warm and inviting a place as I remember so fondly.  I certainly didn't expect Gavin to remember me. After all, hundreds of students have passed through the doors over the years.  I was mistaken. He did recognize me, he just couldn't place me.  When I told who I was and what class I was from, he knew exactly who I was!  In fact, he thought I was from just a few years ago.  You would think I had never left.
You only get to take a picture with Gavin on your last night in Dalkeith .

And the house...
    Some parts of it have not changed a bit, while others are not quite the same.

The front of the house:   The stone is the same and paint job has not changed, but the residents and visitors now use the black front door.  When I lived there, we used the little white door on the side of the house. The Wisconsin In Scotland plaque has been removed from the white door and placed on the front door.

Inside the front door, the floor has not changed, but that desk is new, probably has something to do with the frequent use of the front door.

The room with the grand stairway:
   Same marble, same statue, new paint on the walls, new carpet and new piano.

The servery: Nothing has changed here, not even a little bit.

The dining room:  Nothing new here either.

And the ballroom has not changed a bit.

Wille's cafe: Same furniture, new television

And the same goes for the movie room downstairs...


My room:  The door now has a lock on it, and the beds looks a little more comfortable.

The computer lab used to have 12 computers for 80 people.  Now there are two computers, used primarily to print things. Now everybody brings a laptop and uses the house wide wi-fi.

Nobody uses the pay phone anymore.  Students now receive pre-paid cell phones when they arrive.  I can remember when there would a line to use this phone.  I also remember that whenever it rang if the recipient of the call was not within an earshot, they likely did not receive their call.

I noted this photograph on the wall at Dalkeith. I can only assume it has been in the same place, quite undisturbed for nearly 12 years.  While the picture has not changed, I'm uncertain whether the same can be said of everyone in it.  I have changed - for the better I hope and believe.  The place means a lot to me.  This brief return to Dalkeith taught me it means more than I may have previously thought.  The visit was one of the most important highlights of our trip.

Dalkeith - Class of Fall 2000.