Avoid Wrecking Your Study Abroad Experience

Mickey_Mouse_Graffiti_War

The bartender leaned across the dark stained wood that marked a bar that had heard and seen the drunken adventures of revelry makers for decades.  In a thick Irish accent he rambled off, “What’ll ya’ take darlin?” with the practiced look that demands a quick and well-organized response.  The young American girl – in her late teens or early twenties  – quickly shot back, “Two Guinness and two Irish Car Bombs”.   The bartender paused and a quick shadow of annoyance swept across his face.   My brother and I, both leaning lazily against the bar a few steps away watched in silent amusement.  We were in a well-known tourist watering hole in the Temple Bar district of Dublin with a reputation for sassy staff.  The crowd was starting to thicken and the din of drunken antics was loud, but not so loud that we couldn’t overhear the conversation.  Earlier we’d had a good laugh with the bartender exchanging friendly jabs and stories and now we found ourselves trading a small smirk with him.  This promised to be interesting.

He leaned in to the girl willing to give her a chance to reconsider and catch her mistake, “What?”  She pressed on blissfully unaware of the nasty faux pas she’d just committed. Annoyance scrunched her face as she re-stated her order, only this time in an even louder, sharper, and somewhat slower American accent, “T-W-O Guinness and T-W-O Irish Car Bombs”. Obviously not impressed he frowned, stood up straight and in one motion rolled his eyes in our general direction. He shook his head and pointed at the next person waiting to place their drink order.  My brother and I shot each other knowing looks.  We were tempted to jump in and explain the situation to the girl but were curious to see if she’d piece it together herself. We decided to wait a bit longer.

Her face contorted in a mixture of frustration and casual rage. From her point of view the bartender was being an ass and no doubt hated her because she was an American.   To make it worse you could see she’d already concluded that part of the problem was that he must not understand her sharp “American” accent.  She fidgeted for a minute or two and then pulled out a 20 euro note which she prominently displayed on the bar while the bartender filled a few more orders.

Now some of you may have already identified what’s wrong in this story.  For those that have not, the Irish Car Bomb is a type of American drink that consists of a half pint of Guinness, and then a shot mixed with Baileys Irish cream and Irish whiskey.  The shot gets dropped into the Guinness and quickly “explodes” or at the very least begins to curdle while you quickly guzzle it down.  By itself a somewhat harsh but not overly offensive drink.  The trick comes in the name.  As those familiar with Irish history might recall, they’ve dealt with decades of violent conflict which in many ways tore areas of Ireland and Northern Ireland apart.  If wikipedia is to be believed “The Troubles” as they’re modestly referred to left 3,529 dead and more than 45,000 injured – many by way of brutal car bombings. To this end, walking into an Irish Bar and ordering an Irish Car Bomb is similar to ordering a Black and Tan in other parts of Ireland and tends to be poorly received and in culturally insensitive.

Eventually our very Irish bartender decided to give her another chance and returned to her place at the bar.  He leaned in and said, “Try again. What’ll it be?”.  Now thoroughly annoyed and convinced he was picking on her for being American she repeated her order. This time even slower and louder than before making the mistake many travelers make. Let’s face it, speaking louder and treating the other person like they’re stupid isn’t going to help them understand you one bit…especially when they very likely already understand you perfectly.

He paused. We waited. He sighed. Then leaned in and said, “Deary, we don’t sell those here but tell you what. I can whip you up two 9/11s”.  Very different types of shock blossomed across our collective faces.  It was obvious she was about to burst into tears. The look on her face said it all – now she knew the Irish hated Americans.  Not only was it confirmed, but apparently he was reveling in one of the worst disasters to strike America.  We erupted into laughter. Not because making light of Sept. 11th is any laughing matter, but because of how brilliantly it turned the situation around. Ordering a “9/11” in parts of the US would likely get you sent to the hospital.  Yet, that’s essentially what thousands of young Americans on study abroad do on a regular basis in Dublin. If we’d left it there she would have no doubt gone back to her friends in tears, shared the story of how the Irish hate Americans, how they joke about American’s darkest moments, and then carried those stories on to Facebook and back to the US with her. Not only might it have ruined her night, but in many ways it likely would have flavored her entire stay in Europe. It’s something I’ve seen countless times and for a variety of reasons.

Still obvious that she had not, and now clear that she would not make the connection between Irish Car Bombs and September 11th, we decided to intervene. We tapped her on the shoulder, and quickly explained what some might consider a mild, and others a rather grave cultural misstep she had just made.  As we explained the connection recognition blossomed across her face. Offended rage transitioned quickly to embarrassed annoyance. Collectively we all had a good chuckle about it, she got her drinks, and we learned a valuable lesson.  Now, to be fair, the bar tender WAS being a bit of an ass about the whole thing and the vast majority find it more amusing than offensive. Still, to this day it stands out in my memory as a powerful illustration of how easily things can go wrong when you’re operating on a limited set of assumptions.

I see things like this happen all the time.  That one experience might have been enough to poison her experience both that evening and during the rest of her stay.  But it likely would not have ended there. The story would have spilled back to the US, and been repeated to every student she talked to who was considering studying in Europe. Why?  All because she was blissfully unaware she was making a culturally offensive error and couldn’t be bothered to connect ordering an “Irish Car Bomb” in a country wracked by terrorist attacks with the situation she found herself in.

Now, as a traveler or study abroad study consider how often you may have had negative experiences that were similar in substance to my Irish Car Bomb story.  Consider how those experiences may have shaped your views on people, your experiences, and how you enjoy your over all program.

Error #2 – Creating Bad Luck By Being Stupid

In addition to blogging about topics related to travel and study abroad here on VirtualWayfarer, I’m also active across the web in a number of forums where I try and respond to people’s questions about travel, study abroad, solo travel, and expat life.  Over the years I’ve observed a lot of travelers and a lot of students.  I’ve seen them make mistakes and I’ve made more than my fair share in the process.   As a new semester starts up here in Copenhagen, a small army of new students has descended on Denmark eager to kick off what for many is their first study/living abroad experience. For many it is also likely their first time in Europe and/or abroad in any way/shape/form.  It’s a process being duplicated in cities around the world and it really is a wonderful thing.  Especially for young American students since we typically don’t partake in the traditional gap year that many other western countries view as a natural part of the learning process.

I see and respond to a lot of threads on basic (and not-so-basic) concerns.  Most of these are great questions and relate to concerns and frustrations that go with the territory.  They’re the fabric that makes travel, study abroad, and life abroad such an incredible growth and learning experience. I enjoy joking about the times I’ve been lost, felt overwhelmed, or in over my head. The little moments – like when I bought a 2kg bag of beets thinking they were sweet potatoes – are humbling, frustrating, humiliating, and deeply beneficial all at once.  However, I also see other stories and types of students on a semi-regular basis that I have learned to avoid. These are the individuals that will either have a grand epiphany somewhere during their trip, or – far more likely – will return home with stories of their nightmare experiences that intimidate and discourage other potential travelers from taking the road.

I recently found myself reading through a posting by one of these individuals on a popular discussion board.  While I won’t pretend to know the exact specifics of her experience, it became apparent that she was the type of individual that subconsciously did absolutely everything in her power to sabotage herself while being completely oblivious to what she was doing and blaming everyone else in the process.  You know the annoying blond girl at the start of the movie “Taken” that gets them both abducted?  Yeah. That type of person.

I find this bothersome and unless they’re in desperate need of immediate help, I refuse to engage. In fact, it can actually be somewhat dangerous to do so as these individuals quite often manage to bring all their bad behavior and bridge-burning with them.  However, while I opted out of responding there were many others who did with a wealth of help and advice. They were being polite, friendly, and sympathetic.  This is a wonderful, beautiful thing and really embodies the warm nature of the international community.  However, experience has also shown me that this will do very little to help her change her behavior. Unfortunately, it likely just reinforces and reaffirms it.

For the sake of this post though, let’s all be honest with each other:  If you find that you’re “disaster prone” or have “terrible luck”, there’s a good chance that you’re at least partially responsible.  You’re likely putting yourself in situations that are conducive to bad things happening, sabotaging your relationships, failing to take accountability for your actions, being mind-numbingly culturally insensitive and/or just generally being a putz.

If you find that your purse, phone, wallet, or passport repeatedly gets stolen or lost, it’s time to grow up and accept the truth of things.  It’s not because you have bad luck. It’s because you are being a moron. In addition, if you don’t know how to handle alcohol, then either stop drinking in public or do what the rest of us do and stop behaving like a drunken buffoon.

Similarly, if you find that “everyone hates you and you just don’t know why” it’s probably because you’re an asshole. Well, that’s unfair.  You and I both know that you’re probably not an asshole at heart (after all, you were cool enough to decide to study abroad!) but chances are some of your behaviors are driving other people away.

So, if you find yourself preparing to embark on a study abroad trip, traveling abroad, or as an exchange student I encourage you to be extremely mindful of where you are, of how you engage and interact with people, and above all that you not only take accountability for your actions but also for your own behavior and the ramifications of that behavior.  At the end of the day you are not helpless.  You are not abandoned. The system is not out to get you. The locals are not at war with you.  You WILL face challenges and setbacks…but how you respond to those when they do occur will shape the nature of your experience and the willingness of people to help you.

Let me be clear: YOU are the greatest threat out there to having a safe, enjoyable, social, and wonderful learning experience.

I encourage you all to enjoy every moment of your trips and hope that moving forward we’ll see fewer and fewer people sabotaging themselves and their experiences.  It’s the little things that add up. Change those, re-frame them, and push yourself to be more than you were yesterday and you’ll do great.

Have fun and safe travels!

Hopefully this post was something you knew already, but perhaps you know someone who needs to read it.  If you do, send it on to them and let’s all push for the best, most enjoyable study abroad experience possible!

Oh, and for the love of all things decent. Please, please, please remember that most people DO understand English and likely CAN understand you and they probably DO hear you.  It’s amazing how many people seem to think its acceptable to comment about people sitting right in front of them (often in less then complimentary terms) simply because they’re not in a native English speaking country.

7 Super Shots Photo Game

I recently had the pleasure of contributing a photo to the launch of Hostel Booker’s fun travel photo game which showcased 7 exciting travel photos across 7 categories from 7 different travel bloggers. Now, it’s time for me to dive into my archives and to pull out 7 photos before nominating 5 of my fellow bloggers!  Please enjoy, and let me know which is your personal favorite?

A photo that…takes my breath away

 

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Located about halfway between Croatia’s Capital, Zagreb and the coastal town of Split is Plitvice Lakes National Park. I had the opportunity to visit the day before first snowfall and quickly fell in love. A UNESCO world heritage site, the area is easily one of Europe’s most beautiful national parks. While the main waterfall featured above was impressive, the 6-8 hour hike along the river as a whole was filled with incredible beauty.

A photo that…makes me laugh or smile

 

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

I find penguins hilarious.  They’re odd, inquisitive, horribly awkward on land and generally fairly adorable.  Which is why  I can’t help but grin and chuckle every time I see this photo from a small island in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  Located just a few hundred miles north of Antarctica and in the world’s most southern continental region, Tierra del Fuego is a fascinating land full of amazing wonders and highly entertaining inhabitants.

A photo that…makes me dream

 

A Dog Resting Atop Sharkstooth

Taken in the summer of 2011 this shot is from the back side of Shark’s Tooth Pass in southwestern Colorado deep within the San Juan Mountain Range. Every time I see this photo i’m reminded to dream of new adventures, of new accomplishments, and to close my eyes and remember the wonderful adventures already experienced.

A photo that…makes me think

 

Cherry Blossoms & the Tidal Basin - Washington D.C.

The FDR monument in Washington, DC is one of my favorite monuments in the world. It is powerful, compelling and offers amazing quotes based in great wisdom. I snapped this shot of a random woman in front of one of the quotes during a visit in April 2011.  It always causes me to pause and ask myself – what have I done to help those who need it today?

A photo that…makes my mouth water

Outdoor Market in Dublin - Food

Outdoor markets are one of the things I love most about traveling outside of the US. During a recent visit to Dublin I swung by a wonderful little market square located just outside the heart of Temple Bar. Once I stumbled upon this booth I couldn’t help by sample several of the wildly different offerings – each of which had a strong, delightful taste the memory of which makes my mouth water to this day.

A photo that…tells a story

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

One of the things I love about travel is the opportunity to stumble upon delightful moments that capture the imagination and tie into our inner self. It can be a reminder of our childhood curiosity, simple delight in every-day things, or a sense of wonder at things we would otherwise be blind to. During a trip to Bergen, Norway I was lucky enough to have my camera out during one of these moments as a young boy wandered away from his parents to boldly march up to a doorway that had piqued his curiosity. For me, this shot embodies my perpetual re-connection with my inner child while on the road.

A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

There’s something about this photo that just moves me. It is of a random photographer in-front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia region of Argentina after an all-day glacier trek. Despite being snowed and rained upon for most of the trek the clouds lifted and the rains paused long enough for me to capture this special moment. In particular I like how it conveys that sense of wonder that strikes from time to time – causing even the most committed photographer to lower their camera, pause, and take in the wonderful beauty that surrounds them.

Join the Game

1. Choose 7 of your own photos, one for each of the following categories:

  • A photo that…takes my breath away
  • A photo that…makes me laugh or smile
  • A photo that…makes me dream
  • A photo that…makes me think
  • A photo that…makes my mouth water
  • A photo that…tells a story
  • A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

2. Write a short description for each image.
3. Write somewhere in your blog post: ‘I am taking part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots‘.
4. Tell us you have participated and tweet the hashtag #7SuperShots
5. Nominate 5 other bloggers by including a link to their blog in your post.
We will be retweeting and sharing the best posts from participating bloggers.

Nominations

I would love to see the fantastic photos the following bloggers come up with, so to each of the following I nominate YOU to post your own 7 Super Shots.

Head on over and see the 7 Super Shots guidelines post which features a number of fantastic photos.

Oslo Norway – Vikings, Embassies and Old Friends

Viking Ship Museum - Oslo, Norway

The ride to the airport was uneventful. For 6 Euro, a shuttle service picked me up at my hostel proving the anxiety that I’d had over catching an early morning bus on a quiet Sunday unnecessary.

As the shuttle meandered its way through Dublin I noted how empty the streets were.  After a full weekend the city was finally at rest, recuperating and preparing for a new week.  The airport itself was fairly quiet, which was a relief.

The line to check my bag was short, as was the line through security, which left me ample time to find a bite of food before winding my way towards my gate.

The flight to Oslo was brief.  To be honest, I slept most of it – between jetlag and the late night I’d had the previous evening, I was in desperate need of a nap!

Rygge Airport is located some 40 km south of Oslo.  A small airport, we were the only plane present.  This was convenient given the size of the airport’s one runway, which we had to taxi back up after landing before we were able to get to the gates.

From there a bus shuttled us all to Oslo, where we went our separate ways.   After a quick pause to get my bearings, I set to the task of finding my way to Hildur’s place.  She’d given me an address and general directions, but getting oriented, judging landmarks, and weighing distances is never an easy thing when experiencing a new city/culture for the first time.

In short order I found the subway, figured out what ticket I needed and after a few missteps was headed in the right direction.  Before long I reached the National Theater stop and headed toward the surface.  Candidly, as the escalator dragged me towards the surface, I felt a bit like a groundhog leaving its hole.

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

I emerged in the middle of a beautiful greenbelt surrounded by old buildings that borrowed from French and German architecture – creating a unique mixture of the two. Then, with map in hand, I slowly spun about before guessing which direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it ended up being up hill…toward a large palatial building in the midst of a giant park.  It was, as I would later learn, the royal residence.

The day was beautiful; warm with a few clouds in the sky.  Needless to say it was anything but what I’d expected.  In typical European form a lot of the locals were out enjoying the weather.  Most stripped down to swimming suits, sprawled out in the park, sunbathing, picnicking or barbecuing. It made for a welcome sight.

Feeling fairly confident that I was following my directions correctly, I wound through the park and up a side street before turning onto the street where I hoped to Hildur’s apartment.  To my surprise, I quickly realized I was walking down Ambassadorial Row.  Most of the buildings had unique architecture representing their home country and a diverse mixture of national flags flying from beautifully manicured front lawns.  Thrown into the mix were a few private residences, coffee shops, and B&Bs.

Ambassador's Row - Oslo, Norway

Before long I found the right address and tentatively made my way to the door. There I was stumped.  Unfortunately, while I had her number, I didn’t have a phone or her apartment number.  This was even more challenging because the buzzer had some 8+ last names, none of which I recognized.  Torn between randomly hitting the buzzer’s until I got the right one or backtracking and finding a phone – I made one attempt, then opted for the latter…Which came in the form of a small Korean convenience store where I borrowed the phone and picked up what turned out to be orange-flavored water.

A few rings and a quick conversation later, I was back on my way down Ambassadorial Row.   This time, with the right last name in hand I was quickly buzzed in and made my way up the winding staircase.  Reaching the top I re-connected with Hildur, an old college friend who I’d met a few years earlier while she studied as ASU.  We quickly caught up before striking out for a quick bite to eat and tour of the immediate area.

She explained, to my surprise, that one of the cheaper local foods was Sushi of all things and promised we’d try it at some point during my stay.  For the sake of convenience and price, however, we made a quick pause at McDonalds before heading to the park where I met up with one of her best friends/roommates and another mutual friend who was visiting from the west coast.

We spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun, enjoying the park, catching up, and getting to know each other before heading back to the apartment for a beer and to watch the evening’s world cup match.

After the game it was nap time.  Still fighting jet lag, I crashed out for an hour or two before waking up in time for a delicious home cooked meal.  Shortly after dinner Hildur’s boyfriend Sten got in. He had volunteered to give me a grand tour of Oslo the following morning.  We all spent the rest of the evening catching up, getting acquainted and sharing stories before turning in early – the following day promised to be a full one.

With the sun still up, I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head and slipped into delightful dreams of new adventures and far off lands.  It was 1 am.

24 Hours in Dublin

Dublin - Near Temple bar

My adventure began at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.  I arrived a few hours early preparing for the possibility of long lines and delays.  I shouldn’t have worried.  The Phoenix Airport is not only one of the friendliest, but also one of the most convenient I’ve ever flown through.  It took me less than 20 minutes to find my way from curb to gate leaving me with a 2 hour wait before my flight.  I didn’t mind, the extra peace of mind was worth a few extra minutes in the terminal.

I settled in, pulled out my netbook, and streamed an episode or two via Hulu using the Airport’s complimentary wifi service.  Another benefit to flying out of Sky Harbor.

Before long my flight began to board.  We piled on and quickly sandwiched ourselves into our seats.  Unfortunately, mine was the middle seat.  Luckily both of the gentlemen I was sitting next to were of a reasonable weight and friendly.

Then something odd happened.  I’ve heard of and been in all sorts of weather delays.  I’ve had mechanical delays, and scheduling delays…but I’d never had a weather delay on a bright, sunny, Phoenix afternoon.  As it turned out, our flight was delayed by just under an hour – the captain informed us that we were too heavy.  The sweltering Phoenix heat had increased just as the wind shifted which meant we had to drop several thousand pounds before we’d be able to take off.  I guess there’s a first for everything.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. Though initially expecting the delay to be problematic, I made my connection to Ireland without difficulty.  Sleep was more wishful thinking than reality, but that’s par for the course. Some day I’ll learn how to sleep sitting up.  Until then….well, I’ll be thankful for movies on my netbook and a good book.

Dublin

I arrived in Dublin just after 9am.  My lack of sleep was offset by adrenaline and excitement. I seemed to draw new energy from the very ground I was walking upon.  The adventure was finally real.  I’d made it! There was no going back, no chance of cancellations or obstacles.

City Streets - Dublin

I hit the ATM first, then found my way to the tourist center where I bought my bus pass and broke a 50.  There’s nothing quite as obnoxious as having to break large ATM bills while traveling. Why they don’t have a “small bills” option is beyond me. Too inconvenient for the bank no doubt.

The air was crisp and warm, the sky sunny and bright. It would be a beautiful day.

Kinlay Hostel Dublin - Mural

The bus ride lasted about 30 minutes and deposited me on Dublin’s main drag, next to their millennial spire – a gargantuan steel spire that pierces the heavens.  A grin on my face I set off towards Temple Bar and my hostel, all the while retracing old steps from previous visits. Over the river, up past the bar district, past Dublin Castle and then around one last corner before I arrived at Kinlay House, Dublin.

Outdoor Market in Dublin - Food

I checked in, but had to wait until 2 before my bed would be ready which was expected. My main pack in a luggage locker at the hostel I set out to poke around town and quickly tracked down the small out door market I’d discovered on a previous trip.

Outdoor Market - Dublin

A few Euro later found me with a delicious Bratwurst and several small bags filled with fresh goodies — rice wrapped in olive leaves, green olives, and fresh anchovies.  Treats in hand, I made my way across the river to a wooden boardwalk where I settled in and enjoyed my small, savory feast.

Temple Bar District - Dublin

With a full belly I was off to poke around town: A quick stop at Trinity College for some video; a quick hello at the statue of Molly Malone; a pleasant stroll through central park, where I paused and watched a grandfather and his granddaughter feeding the ducks;  a few moments spent on the main market street watching street performers; then a final stroll back through Temple Bar to the hostel.

Little Girl Feeding Ducks and Swans - Dublin

Once back at the hostel I found my way to my room, crawled into my bunk bed and crashed, only to be greeted by strange dreams.

Dublin Pride Festival - June 2010

I dreamed of a parade, of huge crowds, loud music and chanting.  It was odd. I never dream of parades. Why would I?  ….and then I started to slip towards consciousness.  As I drifted up and out of my slumber, the music and chanting remained. It turns out the dreams were a reflection of reality.  The noise was coming through my open 3rd story window from the street below where thousands, if not tens of thousands, people marched along the street celebrating Ireland’s Pride Day.  I’d noticed an abundance of rainbow flags earlier in the day, but hadn’t thought much of it. As it turns out, it was a huge festival filled with color, music, and thousands of people marching for equality.

Dublin Pride Festival - June 2010

I settled in and enjoyed my birds-eye view as cars, buses, and people strolled by chanting, smiling, and singing. A convertible with 5 drag queens preceded the YouTube bus, which was followed by a semi pulling a flatbed trailer which announced the world’s first LGTB circus.  The whole spectacle was a welcome surprise.

Dublin Pride Festival - June 2010

I crawled back into bed and stole another few hours of sleep before finding my way to the common room where I made a few new friends, as we watched the USA’s exit from the world cup.  Starving, I split off and wandered through Temple Bar which had turned into a madhouse.  Streets near gay-friendly bars (most of Temple Bar) were packed with people who had spilled out of the bars, live music, and general revelry.  In more than a few areas the streets were so busy that the crowd was shoulder to shoulder.  The sheer level of positive energy was delightful and the variety of outfits was quite often quite comical.

Dublin Pride Festival - June 2010

After tracking down a bite to eat and a few beers I found my way back to the hostel where, to my delight, I recognized the guy working the front desk.  Hostel workers are typically fairly temporary in nature, so it was with some surprise I recognized a guy from Belgium, also named Alex, who I’d gotten to know during my previous stay in July 2009.  We caught up and bullshitted a bit before I re-joined the rest of the party I’d met earlier, while adding a few new friends. We drank our beers and set out for a night on the town. A few pubs later, we found ourselves deep underground in an old wine cellar-converted into a night club where we danced a decent portion of the night away.

Dublin Pride Festival - June 2010

Jet lagged and tired, I wound down around 1:30amand made my way back to the hostel.  I had a 6am wake-up call for my flight to Norway.  The previous 48 hours had been intense.  The following 24 promised not to disappoint.

Scandinavia Bound – Packing and Trip Prep

Hello friends!

As I gear up and prepare to start my next adventure later today, I’ve assembled a few tips and tricks for those of you who may be considering making a similar trip.  I’ll be spending the next 18 days traveling through Norway, Denmark and Germany, with a brief overnight stop in Dublin.

As i’ll be taking the trip between June 25th and July 13th daylight is not an issue (the equinox was on the 21st).  Temperature, however, will be. I’ll be leaving 110+ degree temperatures for the 50s and 60s which are the status quo this time of the year in central Norway.

I’ve recorded and included my latest packing video above. My key considerations have been layers, technology, and dealing with the high probability that I’ll end up drenched a few times.  The video is self explanatory, but if you have any questions on specifics, please don’t hesitate to ask!  I’ll be shooting photos/video on my Canon G11 and my Vixia HF200. Both of which I’ve been really happy with.

Transportation

When I initially purchased my ticket, I had tentatively planned to visit Central Europe. As a result I picked an airport schedule that allowed me to fly into Dublin, Ireland (RyanAir’s main hub/cheapest airport in Europe, Madrid being the 2nd), and fly out of Nuremberg, Germany.  As I watched for airfare specials, it quickly became apparent that there’s some sort of pricing tiff going on between RyanAir and Central European airports, which drove me to choose a 5 Euro ticket (total cost, 25 Euro w/ 1 checked bag/taxes/fees) from Dublin to Oslo, Norway.  Combined with the recent economic woes which have crippled the Euro/Euro area countries, it seemed like there probably wouldn’t be a better  or cheaper time to visit Scandinavia, which is notorious for its high prices.

By the time I worked in my 1 day layover in Dublin, timezone changes, and travel time I have about 15 days of actual travel time.  Which, while longer than some trips, really only gives me 5 days per country.  This forced me to scrap my initial plans of doing Sweden, in addition to Norway, Denmark and Germany as it just didn’t make sense from a travel time cost.  Unfortunately, I only realized that I wouldn’t be able to do Sweden AFTER purchasing a 4 country, 8 day Eurail pass.  In retrospect, a 3 country, 8 day pass would have been a far better choice.  That said, the price difference was fairly negligible (some $70) compared to what the cost would have been for 8 individual train trips, which removed some of the sting from the mistake.  The final price for the pass was $390 which wile a decent expense, is far cheaper than the $80-$170 price on most medium-long leg train tickets in Scandinavia and Germany.  In addition to the base $390 fee, there will be several smaller reservation fees to reserve my actual seat, but these fees should be small.

I’ve booked two other major legs ahead of time.  These are a ferry trip from Stavanger to Bergen in Norway and a budget flight from Bergen to Copenhagen, Denmark.  While I prefer to travel on a more flexible schedule, research indicated that Stavanger and Bergen are only connected by Rail through a round about route which loops back through Oslo adding 6+ hours on to any tentative trip.  A ferry ride provides the opportunity to travel through the Fjords by boat, while traveling straight north along the coast directly to Bergen.  Additionally, by booking online through Flaggruten, a Norwegian ferry company, I was able to knock the price from 750 NOK, to 250 NOK or $38.50 USD. A hard price/special to beat.

The second challenge was getting from Bergen to Copenhagen, without having to re-trace ground through Oslo and Sweden.  What would have been a 10-15 hour train ride ends up being a mere 1 hour direct flight.  By experimenting with different budget airports, airlines and destinations, I was able to find a flight for 693 NOK which is about $107 USD.  This cut hours and hours of travel time out of my schedule, was reasonable, and allowed me to spend an extra day exploring the cities I wanted to spend time in. I found the ticket through Wideroe, which seems to be the best priced discount Scandinavia airline (they also have an amazing all you can fly pass – similar to a Eurail pass).  Unlike a number of their competitors Wideroe offers a youth (under 25) ticket, which knocked the price down substantially.  By choosing a flexible departure time, and booking a youth ticket I was able to save $50-100+ off the price of the next cheapest competitor.

The rest of my travel and transport will be done via my Eurail pass or local day tour groups.

For now, I’ve gotta run.  My flight and a new part of the world awaits!

Next Adventure Booked: Central and Eastern Europe

Prague at Sunset

Hello readers!  I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just booked my next adventure!  Where to this time?  Well, I’m not EXACTLY sure where just yet.  What I can share is that most of my airfare is booked and the trip is starting to take form.

I’ve booked a ticket from Phoenix to Dublin on Friday June 25th.  Once in Dublin, I’ll be arriving early in the morning on Saturday – which should give me time to find my way back to one of my favorite hostels in the Isles: Kinlay Hostel.

My stay in Dublin will be brief.  By Monday the 28th I plan to be on a budget flight to Central Europe.  There is a strong probability that I’ll be flying into Budapest, Hungary.  From there I’ll be making a large loop (The loop may include Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic, Germany) before flying out of Nuremberg, Germany on July 13th.

For those curious, I’ve added the Dublin portion as a way to cut costs.  Airfare this summer is ridiculously high during the late June->August period. Fortunately, it should give me a quick opportunity to re-visit the Cliffs of Moher which I love. Unfortunately, I’ll also be flying US Airways to cut costs (can we PLEASE get more airlines to open hubs in Phoenix?). To say that I’m not thrilled about that fact is a gross understatement.  Their track record thus far has been miserable, but the price was right – and I guess at this point I know what I’m getting myself into..

I’ve visited Prague and Dublin previously, the rest of the cities and most of the countries will be new.  I can’t wait to explore the Czech countryside in greater depth and am really looking forward to getting back into Bavaria (Munich on previous trips).  I’ve heard nothing but praise about Budapest and am very curious to see what incredible cultural, physical, culinary and natural beauty the region has to offer.

Have must see/stay places along the route?  Post them in a comment! I’d love to hear your tips and suggestions!

Scotland Part I – Edinburgh’s Streets

Alex infront of Edinburgh Cathedral

After spending our evening in Dublin out and about, enjoying the area and local nightlife, Nate and I spent the morning getting caught up and preparing for our flight to Scotland. We printed our boarding passes and figured out where to catch the city bus back out to the Dublin Airport – a 45 minute bus ride – before passing through security and hoofing it down to the RyanAir terminal.

We spent an hour or so waiting in the sparsely furnished terminal and then lined up for the boarding free for all. It really is more bus than airline. With first come first served seating, you hop on and hope you get a viable seat. Nate and I made the trip through the gate, then down onto the tarmac where we walked to the plane before boarding, and found two decent seats next to each other. Not bad for the lightning quick, 45 minute hop over to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Once in Scotland, we re-traced the steps we’d both taken on previous trips, bought bus tickets to the city center, and quickly made our way into town. Unfortunately, most of our preferred hostels were booked, which forced us to book into the Caledonia Hostel. With a fun ambiance and interesting atmosphere it offered a good location, and more importantly a respite from the rain.

In a twist of bad luck, our only roommate was an old Australian who looked straight out of Boondock Saints, slow moving, odd smelling, with a giant chain supporting a silver dollar sized crucifix. We learned he was a former Justice of the Peace/Prison Director. Despite being a bit odd he was friendly enough.

Edinburgh Museum Columns at Night

We tossed our bags down and set off to catch a bite to eat. On a tip from the front desk, we found a nice looking pub which was running a great 2 for 5 pound special. Refreshed after a hearty burger and “chips” we set out to explore the city – time was ticking and it was already dark.

Edinburgh Cathedral at Night

An ancient city, Edinburgh is spectacular in the light of day, but its’ dark alleyways, beautifully lit stonework and ghostly cathedrals is equally amazing at night.

Statue with street cone in Edinburgh

The sights ranged from spectacular and beautiful in a Gothic sort of way, to more comical, like the statue of Hume that someone had – somehow – climbed up and crowned with a traffic cone.

Telephone and Edinburgh Castle at Night

From the statue of Hume we walked towards the castle, which was obscured by a set of large festival scaffolding. One of the really interesting things about Edinburgh, is that it’s a festival city. They’ve invested in stadium like seating which is regularly erected during the summer in the car/bus park that sits directly in the only approach (via the Royal Mile) to the castle. The downside of this is that it also tends to obscure any type of close up/non modern photos of the castle, unless they’re shot from below – looking up.

Street at night in Edinburgh

I’ve mentioned the amazing way in which streets dive off of the Royal Mile careening down the hillside via a warren of small alleyways, tiny, steep steps and small cloisters. At night these small paths come to life with mystery and intrigue. It’s easy to see how the city has served as a muse for so many writers and poets over the years.

Edinburgh Cathedral Red Lights at Night

Our walk took us up along Princes Street, then across what was once an old Loch to the Royal Mile where we worked our way up to the ancient castle. We wound down the back side and around through back streets before coming full circle and arriving back at our hostel.

Exhausted, we settled in for a quick drink, bit of socializing and then turned in for the evening.

Dublin Part III

Still slightly drowsy, we rubbed sleep from our eyes and made our way downstairs. Tossed a few hamburger-like patties in the microwave for breakfast and said our good-mornings.

After recharging cameras, writing a few blog posts, and socializing for a bit David and I met up with three English girls – two of whom we’d met briefly the evening before. After chatting for a while the five of us set off to meander through the city…we made our way down across Temple Bar, past vibrantly colored pubs and wound towards Trinity College and it’s gorgeous campus, situated in the very heart of Dublin. Passing through the huge outer doors/compound walls, the campus opened up before us with large greens, beautiful trees and historic buildings. Pausing periodically for pictures we wound our way through the campus before striking out and heading north towards the bronze statue of Molly Malone – famous fishmonger by day and immortalized lady of the night. You’ll find her name affectionately referenced in a number of Irish songs and as the namesake of a similar number of Irish pubs.

We paused with Molly to take a quick photo, while Lizzie leaned in for a quick squeeze, before cutting across to the Dublin tourist center. The center, like a number of other buildings in the Isles, is in an old converted cathedral. Large, spacious and beautiful, the interior is jam-packed with booths, fliers, and tourist gear.

From the tourist center we found a small bridge across the Lithie River and down along O’Connell Street. Pausing so our English companions could grab a cup of tea, we braved intermittent raindrops and soon found ourselves wandering through a slightly more rugged section of the city. The industrial feel quickly gave way to office buildings and a beautiful river walk. We spotted a 3-masted schooner tied up about a quarter of a mile down the river.

We wound down past a rather powerful monument commemorating the potato famine with gaunt, holocaust-esque bronze figures, before getting a good look at the ship from a narrow walking bridge that crossed the river.

Tired and footsore we climbed up the opposite side of the river-walk and back across Temple bar. Pausing to pick up cooking supplies for dinner at a small market, we found our way home and set to the task of a nap and preparing dinner.

By the time we set to cooking dinner, things were bustling. As we all piled into the kitchen, ducking and dodging each other we made new friends, shared food and stories. Eventually, eyes glazing over with full stomachs we settled in for another round of Kaste Gris. With the Danes laughing along joyfully we butchered the pronunciation, took our turns throwing the small pig-like dice, shouting, hollering and applauding good rolls.

As the evening progressed, we rounded up a good group of Brits, Danes, Austrians and a few others and then set off to the Porter House. There we listened to live music until close, before heading across the street to the Turks Head – a small club/bar which was offering Salsa. A few dances later, they called it a night, leaving us to start our own dance party – congo line included – in the bar/nightclub part of the venue. Eager for new surroundings, we migrated back to the Czech Bar shortly thereafter where we continued to dance, drink, and mingle well into the evening.

Not to be outdone by the previous evening, by the time we finally returned to the hostel, we quickly settled into the common room where Rasmus played a few songs as we sang and wound down.