Exploring Stavanger, Norway

Three Girls - Stavanger, Norway

The city of Stavanger is an interesting one.  Located at nearly the same latitude as the Orkney Islands in Scotland, it’s situated on the inward side of a large peninsula on the southwestern coast of Norway.  The city is the third largest in Norway, though still serves as a home to fewer than 300,000 people and is home to a large portion of the country’s oil fleet.

Tall Ship - Stavanger, Norway

Most of the city’s old town sits on one of two small hills which partially surround the old harbor – a picturesque area full of small cafes, parked ferry boats, and a few masted sailing vessels.  In addition to the cafes the harbor opens up on a large  square (which is on a bit of a hill), a small 4 or 5 station fish market, and the entrance to an old shopping mall.  From the harbor it’s easy to see the large suspension bridge which connects the city of Stavanger proper with a series of small islands which serve as home to some of the city’s more affluent population.  You can see part of the bridge as well as the masts of small sailboats, and the warehouse-turned-residential buildings in the photo above.

International Volleyball Tournament - Stavanger, Norway

To my surprise it turned out that Stavanger was hosting the Conoco Phillips world beach volleyball championships.  They’d brought in tons of sand and set up six full-sized beach volleyball courts along one side of the harbor, in addition to constructing a small free standing stadium around a final match beach/field.   I’m not much of a beach volleyball fan, but was excited to have stumbled onto the event.  In sharing some of the names in attendance with friends who play, it turned out that the event was actually fairly major and had a lot of the most well known women’s international players/teams in attendance.  What made the event that much better was the open (free) access which was available to the six practice/elimination courts which almost all had games going constantly throughout the day.   The events drew huge crowds which filled the harbor area and added to the level and sense of energy in the air.  Not to mention the general appeal of a bunch of attractive international volleyball players wandering around the city.

The Harbor - Stavanger, Norway

A brief 5 minute walk from the old harbor, up a small hill, past a squat old cathedral and back down towards sea level takes you to a large pond which rests directly in front of the rail/bus station and is surrounded by a variety of shops, hotels, and other like-kind establishments. The pond is pretty, if not overly beautiful, and serves as a home to ducks, fountains and the occasional swan.

Street Scene - Stavanger, Norway

The city’s smaller side streets are typically beautiful cobblestone walkways lined by an odd assortment of heartily built structures.  The town’s wet climate is reflected in the green vegetation and moss which can be found everywhere – including growing between the cobblestones. I found myself pleasantly strolling through the city’s quiet side streets surrounded by flowers – some planted, some seemingly wild – which line the city’s streets and decorate the town’s residential buildings.

Main Bridge - Stavanger, Norway

From the rail/bus station I decided to brave one of the city’s hills.  While not a significant climb, I’ll confess to being a bit lazy. The walk left me somewhat winded and my shins burning as I wound up the steep cobblestone streets.  Despite a little huffing and puffing the climb was well worth it. When I finally reached the top I quickly found a small hole between two pitched slate rooftops and enjoyed the view: the bridge, bay and one of the nearby islands was about as picturesque as a highly urban landscape can be.

Downtown - Stavanger, Norway

As I meandered through the city streets I found myself continually drawn towards the bridge.  After all it was large, no doubt offered a unique view of the city and….well…it was there and let’s face it, that’s often more than enough reason in and of itself.  Before long my feet found their way to the ramp leading up to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge.  Dodging the occasional bicyclist I walked about 1/2 of the way out onto the bridge then paused and looked back at Stavanger.  The view was one of a prominent cathedral, pointy pitched roofs, a few converted warehouses, and brought to mind the mental image of an old city given life in an even older story – a city near slumber, late at night, lit by oil powered lamp light and echoing with the quiet rattle of wagon wheels bouncing across cobblestone streets.

An odd visual to have in the middle of the day on a bright sunny day?  Perhaps – but it brought a smile to my face and some how, some way, seemed to fit the city’s skyline.

Graffiti - Stavanger, Norway

From the bridge I continued my aimless meandering, wrapping back down towards the harbor, but not before winding my way through the city’s thriving shopping district which is full of middle-upper class shops and ritzy street cafes.  As I wound my way up side alleys and down main streets I was constantly entertained by the large number of odd murals that decorate walls and street corners throughout the city – most done in a graffiti style, but showing far more care, time, and artistry than random graffiti scribble.  Most were bizarre, but creative and fun in their quirkiness.

Tired, footsore, and feeling more than a little starved I eventually decided it was time to track down a supermarket, pick up some relatively cheap food (though still ridiculously priced) and then head home to the Hospihostelhotel.  Watch the clip above for a look at the meal (sorry about the image/color quality, I was having issues with a lens at the time).

Dinner: Crawfish, Caviar and Chicken - Stavanger, Norway

Let me just say, that shopping in foreign countries can be difficult.  Especially when you’re in a supermarket and the local language is anything but easily recognizable.  As I stood in front of the cooler I couldn’t help but shrug, sigh, and scratch my head as I grabbed what looked like pre-cooked and shelled shrimp tails and what I assumed was pre-cooked BBQ chicken.  The whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to poison myself by accidentally buying something that wasn’t completely cooked (like the chicken).  Luckily, the extent of my surprise came in the form of the “shrimp” I’d bought.  It was only after getting the container open, draining off the water and tasting a few that I google translated the words on the lid.  Shrimp?  Not so fast.  Turns out they were crawfish tails.  The good news was crawfish was equally acceptable and delicious as shrimp in my book.  Still, I couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh at myself.  It’s the little adventures that stick out…and this was no exception.

The final meal consisted of several small pieces of bread, a coke, diced barbecued chicken, arctic fish roe/caviar, and pre-cooked/salted crawfish tails. The end result was an odd, but strangely complimentary assortment of tastes that left me stuffed and content – even though I’d faced more than a few surprises.

With a full belly and tired legs I crawled into bed, checked my e-mail, and watched a bit of Norwegian TV which surprisingly was mostly in English with Norwegian subtitles.  The following day promised an adventure – it was time to say goodbye to Stavanger and hello to Bergen.

The Packing Video – Belize and Mexico in December

 

***Update as of 1/13/09 I have returned to the states and will be doing a re-cap. The above list needs significant commentary as I overpacked/packed for a climate that was far colder than what I encountered. Things like the polos and wool socks should be avoided***

My anticipation is palpable.  It’s been slowly building since September when I found a cheap ticket price, decided to leap at the opportunity and selected my destination. I’ve sent the past months fighting the urge to wander, dreaming of far off places and sorting through old travel photos from trips past.  Now I can finally embrace the energy and anticipation!  The raw nerves of a new experience in a new place, embraced on my own, in new territory and with new wonders yet undiscovered.  Each trip pushes me outside my comfort zone, each trip helps me learn more about who I am and who I may yet become. This trip is another large step forward.  I’m traveling solo for 20 days in a part of the world I’ve never experienced before.  I’m excited, i’m nervous…i’m anxious.

I’ll begin by confessing that I don’t know much about my destination.  I prefer it that way. In fact, though it embarrasses me to admit it – when I booked my ticket to Cancun, Mexico with the intent of then spending the lions share of my time in Belize I was under the impression that the natives spoke Spanish.  It was only in exploring the Wikipedia profile for Belize that I realized the country – formerly British Honduras – actually spoke English. You should have seen my face!  In the months since my original booking, I’ve done some minor research.  I’ve reached out to my friends and contacts for advice on what to see, and explored the country briefly via google maps.   That said, I’ve largely avoided organized guides. As I prepare to fly out tomorrow you’ll notice one rather obvious item missing from my packing list: A travel guide. Frankly, I don’t especially care for them.  Even those geared towards my travel style (like Lonely Planet) seem too polished…too – dare I say pigeonholed? I’ll travel based on word of mouth, booking my hostels a day or two ahead of time as I go. Over the years this approach has made for some interesting situations, especially since I refuse to travel with a cell phone – but all in all they’ve been well worth it!

The Packing List

I’ll let those of you curious about my itinerary and general trip information read my previous post on the subject [here].  For the rest of you – here’s a quick break down of what i’ll be taking – if you’re interested in more in depth explanations of the items, please check out my packing list site – The Ultimate Packing List.

Despite it being December temperatures are expected to be in the mid-high 70s and low 80s.  Water temperature should be about the same.  Despite that, I’ve made the decision to over pack slightly – just in case it gets colder.  I’ve also added several more shirts than I ordinarily would, and an extra pair of shoes to accommodate my Salsa dancing/night clubs.

What I’ve packed:

-1 Cheap Walmart school/sport backpack to serve as my daypack

-1 Cheap Walmart full sized backpack with hip and chest straps

-1 Dopkit bag

-1 Water proof rain jacket

-1 North Face wind blocking fleece vest

-1 Warm scarf (actually an old airline blanket)

-2 Polo t-shirts

-2 Graphic t-shirts (one from a Scottish tour company to serve as a conversation piece)

-2 Button up evening shirts (one of which will double as swimwear for snorkeling)

-5 Pair of cheap Walmart athletic hiking socks

-1 Pair of standard ankle high, light weight socks

-1 Swimsuit

-1 Pair of Shorts

-1 Pair of dark jeans

-1 Belt

-3 Pair of Ex-Officio Travel Boxers

-1 Black English Driving Cap

-1 Passport and Passport Carrier

-1 Inflatable neck pillow

-1 Sleeping mask

-1 3.75 inch collapsible tripod

-2 8 GB high performance memory cards

-1 Canon G11 Digital Camera and battery recharge station

-2 Lithium Ion batteries for Canon G11 Digital Cameras

-1 Old Nikon 6 MP point and shoot w/ 1gb card

-1 Flip Ultra HD 120 minute video camera

-1 Underwater housing for Flip Ultra HD model video cameras

-1 Mini USB cord to transfer files and recharge my mp3 player

-1 Converter plug for British Colonies

-1 4GB Sansa mp3 player with earbuds

-7 weeks of Malaria medication

-30 probiotic pills to improve digestion

-10+ sports powder packets high in B vitamins, C Vitamins, Potassium and Electrolytes

-1 Old pair of glasses

-2 Books to read

-1 Old pair of Skechers that I use as dance shoes

-1 Pair of Keen Targhee IIs

-1 Pair of Sandals

-1 Lock and key to be used to secure hostel lockers

Curious about what/why I packed one of these items?  Feel free to ask about it in the comment section below this post.  All of these items will be split between my two bags based on use/security/regularity of use. You’ll notice a guide book and pocket knife are missing from the list.   Most people will opt to add a guide book – I suggest going with Lonely Planet or a similar publication. For those checking their bag, I highly suggest a pocket knife.   I hate not having one on the road, but prefer the carry on approach which mandates that I leave mine behind.  I also suggesting putting the shoes you won’t be wearing in a plastic trash bag to keep things clean.  Also, consider taking a handful of plastic ziploc bags and a garbage bag if flying into a rainy destination.

Depending on what time permits, I hope to blog periodically from the road and will be providing a break down of how this packing list worked for Belize/Mexico upon my return.  Stay tuned!

Sevilla Part III and Cadiz Part I

After my little adventure in the local dive, I set out once again through the warren of twisting, winding streets.   My destination was south, past the Cathedral and into new territory marked on my map by large stretches of green park spaces.  As I wound through the streets I found it nearly impossible to keep my bearings.  Beyond a vague sense of direction the twisting, dead end nature of the streets left me more than a little confused and disoriented…no small feat. Eventually I found myself dumped out in the Cathedral plaza.  Re-oriented I made my way southeast into the heavily touristy downtown area.  Full of parks, tourists, trams and trinket shops the area was bustling with life.  After a brief break to pick up several mandarin oranges I continued south across a large, beautiful boulevard and into a major park.

Though heavily kissed by winters embrace the park was still sporting several blossoming flowers, an assortment of well-trimmed greens and several ponds.  Though fairly boring in and of itself, the park led me to a rather large beautiful building.  Curious I followed it around until eventually found a side entrance.  Exploring it, I quickly was dumped out into a beautiful plaza and one of Sevilla´s gems. I remembered it from my youth, but my memories were dwarfed by the sheer, real, beauty of the plaza.  Built for a worlds fair that never came to pass due to the outbreak of war in 1929, the Plaza de Espana is an expansive, beautiful piece of architecture that stretches around in slightly over a half circle.  In addition to the building´s structural beauty, it is ringed by a set of benches featuring tiled artwork scenes representing all of the major powers in Spain. The benches are built into one of the walls of the outer building´s first story providing an excellent spot to pause and rest, enjoy the sight of the plaza, and to take in the afternoon sun.  Inside the benches there´s a rather large walkway that wraps around the interior of the semi-circle.  The next layer, in what might be called an architectural onion, is a canal about 20 feet across which rings the square. Though drained, it hardly detracted from the ambiance of the location.  The canal is crossed by a number of arched bridges which provide an almost Venetian feel while the inner most ring is a large cobblestone area ringing a large, beautiful fountain.  With horse drawn carriages making their way around the inner circle, the experience as a whole is delightful.

After pausing in the sun for an hour or so and reading a bit of one of Dad´s books, I made my way back through the city streets before relaxing and refueling at the hostel.  As I relaxed, I bumped into two dutch girls I´d met the day before – Natalie and Linda.  They were about to set off to explore several tapas bars and after a brief exchange, invited me to join.  Out we went once more into the crowded Sevilla streets.  Dodging the astounding abundance of baby strollers and smoking Spaniards, we eventually arrived at a great little tapas bar just up the street. We all placed our orders, I ended up going with anchovies on lettuce hearts, and quail eggs on Spanish ham. A beer, some bread, and a few mouthfuls later we cycled through the usual dialog … where are you from, what do you do, where have you traveled, what´s your history, etc. and before long migrated to the second tapas bar.  A tiny corner construction with virtually no room and the size of most people´s bedrooms.  The place had a high ceiling, with walls heavily decorated with pigs legs, wine bottles, old objects, and the like.  The place was so small that when you turned around, somewhat hidden on a shelf next to the door, they had all of their cleaning supplies bottles and tools stashed away. I ordered a delicious spinach and Spanish salsa tapas, while the girls tried what was a local delicacy – some sort of flavorful paste in a bowl with diced ham on top.

After enjoying the atmosphere for a bit (the place was packed) we made our way out into the street, only to be greeted by a large crowd. The crowd filled a small square and overflowed well into the sidestreets.  Curious what the draw was, and hearing a bit of a ruckus, we made our way over using our height to look over the crowd. We realized that it was part of the pre-Christmas festivities.  This particular one had a giant virgin Mary on a silver dais being transported by 20 or so older Spanish polebearers.  In a centipede-like fashion the statue made it´s way down the street, then up through the double doors to the nearby church which had been thrown open.  The crowd burst out into song, then crowded into the small church behind the statue, before singing more songs.  The statue made its way in, paused, then began its gradual crawl back out.  After watching for a while, we split off from the crowd, made our way back to the hostel and picked up several of the others before setting back out to the bar and club district. There the usual night of hostel revelry and friend-making ensued.

CADIZ

Contrary to my best intentions, I failed to book my first night in the Cadiz hostel ahead of time, or for that matter, print out directions. My plan had been to wake up, walk over to the internet cafe down the street, reserve my spot, print directions, and then make one of the hourly regional trains which traveled between Sevilla and Cadiz. Murphys law prevailed, the internet cafe was closed. I decided to wing it and make the walk to the train station anyhow. Somehow the twisting, turning, Sevilla streets turned me around, causing me to drastically over shoot the rail station.  Before long I found myself staring at the Cathedral once again.  I´m willing to guess that the Cathedral serves as a central point – Sevilla´s Roman Colosseum if you will.  Annoyed, but dedicated to persevering I once again setout  into the spiders web of streets, this time continuing to overshoot the train station and ending up in a very rural, very rugged, and very industrial part of Sevilla well out of the tourist center.  A bit apprehensive about where I was and my safety, I continued to press on, adjusting my course, before eventually finding a street sign at a major intersection that pointed the way to the rail station. Knee killing me, back tired, footsore, but rather relieved I eventually found my way to the station.  The whole trek had taken about an hour and a half, backpack on and all.

Once at the station I had a slight adventure booking my ticket, ending up with with a ticket for a train that departed a full two hours later than I´d have liked. Annoyed, but eager to relax my throbbing leg I made my way outside, sat on the steps in the sun and ate sardines and bread rolls while washing it all down with a spot of water.  I read, napped, and listened to music, before boarding my train and making my way south. The ride was very pretty. Southern Spain is amazing in that most of the territory I´ve seen consists of well-tilled, organized, barren fields stretching over gently sloping hills as far as the eye can see.  Because of the season, most of the fields are just tilled dirt which adds to a beautiful uniform feeling.

When I finally arrived in Cadiz, the weather was much warmer than it had been in Sevilla. The train station was devoid of the tourist info stand I´d hoped for, but I did find a small map in front of the station which was a relief.  The station sits outside the city wall, which is raised and leaves one feeling like you´ve reached a beat up dead end, with an imposing castle wall stretching up before you in either direction.  After following the wall for a few hundred feet, the wall leveled out and I was offered an opportunity to make my way into the city toward the tourist information office marked on the map I´d seen back at the station.  I knew the hostel I wanted was in the heart of the city, but that was about it.  Luckily, I found an internet cafe, paid my 1 euro for a chunk of time, checked the hostel location (which read as booked for that night) and with a lump in my stomach made my way to the spot marked on the map.  When I eventually found the door in a tiny alleyway that was, perhaps, 2 shoulders across I was more than a little stressed to discover a ¨we´ll be back at 18:00″ on the door. With only one real hostel coming up for the town, I decided to wait it out at a wonderful little, bustling tapas bar located just around the corner.

As I settled in and ordered tapas from the display window (they usually stretch the length of the bar, full of pre-cooked tapas waiting to be warmed up and eaten) – I decided to try what looked like a mid-sized stuffed cuddlefish.  As I waited for what ended up being a delicious, tender piece of cuddlefish stuffed with chorizo like meats and sauce, served on french fries and with a side of bread and a beer – I started chatting with two guys who were grabbing a few drinks and watching the Spanish synchronized swimming team on TV.  We joked, commented, and generally sat in awe of the swimmers before one of the guys – who I later learned was the hostel´s owner –  asked if I was waiting to check in.  I told him yes, asked if they had any openings, and to my relief he smiled, shrugged, and said not to worry about it.  They headed back to the hostel, I finished off my cuddlefish and then followed suit.

The hostel – Casa Caracol had a great surf-meets-hostel feeling to it. The common area and first floor is an odd zigzag of space in a rough triangular shape with a table surrounded by benches, kitchen, wood burning fireplace and small open space all sandwiched together. The bedrooms were sandwiched on two oddly shaped floors and topped off by a fun rooftop garden.  The Hostelworld rating for the place had been a 70% with a wide mixture of comments.  Though slightly worried it was going to be a dump when I´d first decided to head to Cadiz, I quickly realized that the place had a fantastic personality to it.  The place was a party hostel.  It was loud, it was super social, the staff were friendly, animated, and a bit ridiculous. The place was clean but in a beach house sort of way.

Before long I´d met the owner Nick, a guy who was in effect the hostel´s social chairman, Rob, Yu-Mi a Japanese girl traveling on her own,  (spelled wrong no doubt), a flavorful Aussie guy – David, an east coaster who was also a professional cook – Aaron and a number of others. In a matter of hours we´d all bonded and after Yu-Mi showed up with the basics for Sushi, she and Aaron decided to expand it to a chip in opportunity.  I shelled in my 4 Euro and before long we were enjoying freshly prepared Sushi.  In addition to the Sushi I stepped next door for another go at what has thus far been my favorite tapas bar in Spain.  This time I ended up with a full sized cuddlefish cooked in a delicious wine sauce and covered in spices and chopped onions.  Stuffed, I returned to the hostel where we settled in for a night of wine, stories, bullshitting and cultural shenanigans.

More to come on Cadiz (which is where I spent Christmas) soon!

Sevilla – Part II

The following day I was up and ready to explore by noon.  After a quick errand on the computer I connected with a buddy I’d met in Madrid and ran into in Sevilla. We elected to set off together and explore the city. With no particular plan in mind we began our trip by heading south toward the river. I’d been told the previous day that there was some spectacular graffiti down along the river. As we made our way in that general direction we snagged a quick snack and coffee before meandering our way through the warren of bustling cobblestone streets.

Along the riverfront and the sides of one of the large bridges across the river that flows through town, I was delighted to find a wide assortment of well done, vibrant graffiti art. One depicted an old car and a giant shot of the Godfather, another an anti-war and pro-peace shot of ghostly figures walking, another was of a strange alien figure. All told there were easily 20-30 excellent pieces all done in vibrant colors in the small area I explored. The area they were in was industrial and heavily abused. The large square with a skate park next to it was littered dog feces, trash, empty beer bottles and even the remains of a small bonfire. On one side it had the river as a beautiful backdrop, on the other an old heavily damaged warehouse. It was the perfect spot for the graffiti making its contrast all that much more extreme, but, fitting.

As we continued down along the river, we gradually neared more modern and touristy areas. The parks were better kept, the trash less common. The graffiti bled away and was replaced by vibrant trees, people lazily relaxing along the riverfront parks and fisherman with their long river-fishing poles. The poles, unlike conventional American fishing rods, don´t have reels.  Instead, they are long collapsible things not unlike old branch/bamboo rods. The line is tied to the end and is usually only as long as the pole itself. Though not regularly used for mid to large-sized fish, they do catch the occasional one on them. We paused, feet dangling over the sides of the ancient stone walls lining the river and watched the fisherman fish for about 20 minutes, enjoying the warmth of a bright, sunny winter day.

After a rest, and feeling thoroughly recharged, we continued along the river until we reached an old Muslim tower. The tower, with old canons resting in front, was beautifully framed by palm trees, the river, and the bridge it overlooked. The building itself was made of large blocks of stone with middle-eastern and European influences visible – particularly in and around the windows and doorways.

At the tower we elected to begin cutting in to try and track down some grub. The city streets were overflowing with people, some tourists, mostly locals off work for Christmas or enjoying reduced hours. Before long we found our way through the busy streets dodging carriages, cars, mopeds and trams alike. With a quick turn down a side street we found ourselves dumped into the large area immediately surrounding Sevilla´s main cathedral. Beautifully lit by the golden rays of a 3:00 sun, the courtyard around the cathedral was decorated with 10 foot tall freestanding flower holders  covered in bright red Christmas flowers. Combined with the heavily-laden orange trees, tourist carriages and cobblestone streets, the sight was elegant, beautiful and the epitome of how the holiday season should be. After taking in the building´s exterior, I paid the 2 Euro to explore  inside. In classic form, the interior was massive. With spectacular stone arches gracefully stretching across to form the roof stories above our heads and the rainbow-hued light bouncing through the stained glass windows reflecting off the stone, gold and wood that decorated the Cathedral´s interior. The view was fantastic. After pausing to take in the stunning wooden and metal organ which stretched far above my head I found the ramp up the old Moor prayer tower, turned Christian bell tower, attached to the side of the cathedral. The tower was square, with each side having a sloping ramp. To reach the top you had to traverse some 30 plus levels and a small flight of stairs. Though a hearty hike to the top, the view was spectacular. Looking out from the tower the city stretched away in every direction, while beautiful old bells sat as silent guardians above our heads. From the top, I was able to look down into the interior courtyard in the cathedral – a large space with cobblestone and flagstone floors broken only by a small grove of orange trees. As I looked up and out, I could see over the entirety of the cathedral and down into the sprawling ramparts and minarets that decorated the building.

After making my voyage back down and out through the courtyard, I met up with Rick again and we continued our hunt for food. The venue we eventually found was a small tapas bar that had 3 different areas, each at a different level. Though all open to the others, two were half floors one above the entrance level where the main bar was located and the other below it. The place was a great dark drive and had delicious food. After scarfing down a plate of calamari, fried fish, and a delicious seafood salad, we set off back towards the hostel.

Once back at the hostel, and after a quick nap, we settled in and began the evening ritual … starting at the hostel bar, making new friends, exchanging new stories as well as the same old ones I tell to every new group I meet. Eventually 3 o’clock rolled around and we migrated out to the local park. There we spent another 2 hours relaxing, bullshitting, exchanging entertaining travel stories and generally enjoying the city, evening, and experience.

The following day I was dedicated to wandering at random and rounding out the rest of my brief, if spectacular exploration of Sevilla. With no specific direction in mind I set out eager to explore new streets, alleyways and tapas bars. Eventually I stumbled upon a small grungy dive. The place was small, smoky, dirty and had a good mix of old local men sitting around drinking beer. Ready for lunch I sat down and took in my surroundings.

The place was small. A room off of the bar was the kitchen, the area on and behind the bar itself was heavily laden with bottles of alcohol, breads, legs of ham and decorations. The chairs were all painted with small motifs  depicting the ocean, Spain, or other similar images. Due to the size and layout of the place, all of the plates and silverware were set up on a folding table in one corner. With another table supporting a cooler full of deserts. By the entrance there was a sign with the day’s specialties  and a large display cooler which had several large bowls of some sort of local food. Near the bar there were two large casks upended, one of which was set up as a table with a round glass top. The other had the glass removed and a large saucepan full of a steaming rice concoction resting on a bed of newspaper. The guys working the place would wander by periodically stirring the steaming plate and keeping the rice from burning.

The guy took my order, made a few strong recommendations and before long, grabbed a plate off the back wall, headed over to the steaming bowl and filled the plate with the rice, vegetables and large chunks of pork and ham. In retrospect, I think there was really only one option for that course of the meal, as everyone who came in seemed to end up with it. The bowl was excellent, though much to my chagrin, I found an eyelash about halfway through my plateful of goods. It´s my hope that it was mine! Eventually I finished off the plate -sans eyelash- and the second part of the meal arrived …  a large plate of fresh french fries with 4 little spicy sausage links. The fries were great, the sausage a bit too spicy-sour and pungent for my taste, though it was still tasty.

Times up, time to get back to exploring. I´ll pick up where I left off next time with the rest of my last day and evening in Sevilla and a taste of Cadiz soon!

Spainward Bound!

Hello friends!
It’s 1:05 AM Tuesday the 16th of December and a few brief hours from now another adventure is about to begin. My ticket is booked, my plans double checked, my bags packed, my shoes dusted off. Now all that is left is the open road, adventure and growth.

The sensation right before a trip is an amazing one. For me it is, in many ways, very similar to the sensation right before giving a big speech. Butterflies in your stomach, anticipation, the unknown, a little fear and an eagerness to undertake the experience. You wonder what you forgot, what you should have done differently and then ultimately commit to it 100%. Once your cross the threshold and the door is closed behind you, you’re off and running.

By the time I factor in the 3 hour lead time the airports require, flight time and layovers I’ll be looking at just under 20 hours of travel time….yikes. That said, the first leg of the trip will take me from Phoenix to Philadelphia. There, weather permitting, I’ll switch to a second US Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Madrid. My hostel is booked in the heart of old town and I’m ready to go.

First though, I recorded two quick videos as I packed this evening which outline what I’ve chosen to pack, why and how it all comes together. My goal for this trip is to avoid checking luggage, and with the shorter (16 day) duration, I’ve gone with a smaller pack. Without further adieu:

Part II:

Everything fit with loads of ample room.  Despite the extra room, I’m still nearly positive that I’ve over packed.  I’ll do a post mortem after the trip and share what should have made the list and what shouldn’t have.

Idle Feet

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin
-Tolkien

Listen to this post:

Audio: Idle Feet

The gift of travel is a wonderful thing. It expands the mind, liberates the heart, and refreshes the spirit. The opportunity to take in unimaginable beauty is an amazing gift. There are moments in our lives where we pause…Where we catch ourselves, breathless, in shock, reflecting that the experience, the moment in time we’re immersed in is something too good to be true…Something movie-like….Straight from fairytales and the depths of our creative imaginations.

Travel is that wonderful enabler…it’s the pixie dust of myth that enables the heart and mind to fly. It’s a blessing that far too few enjoy. It’s been 4 months since I returned from my European walkabout and I can already feel a yearning for the open road tugging at my heartstrings. I was watching several of the new videos posted on the TED (Technology. Entertainment. Design.) which is sponsored by BMW and after one of the videos an ad started running which caught my attention. You can view the ad here:

It’s for BMWs new hydrogen-powered car. In addition to being a beautiful ad, it has some amazing footage of waterfalls, fjords, and gorgeous natural spaces. Despite the fact that it’s an advertisement and I had no real incentive to watch it, I found myself glued to it…Sucked into the panoramic shots and the sheer beauty of the locale. It tapped into the roaring hunger for travel and new experiences raging just under my skin and held in place only by the knowledge that I have to be at work tomorrow at 9:00 and that cash doesn’t grow on trees.

The knowledge that there’s an amazing world out there, that’s nearly endless, with transformational adventures and opportunities but that I…like so many others…am shackled down by funds and responsibility…is frustrating. It is a frustration so tangible that I can almost feel it. It is something so powerful that it’s more a sensation than a feeling.

If everything goes according to plan and I’m able to make my work situation viable, I’m currently planning on spending a week or two in Japan with Lander sometime this fall. I’m praying the dollar has recovered a bit by then though I imagine that’s probably just silliness. I can’t wait to experience a new culture and for the opportunity to explore new places. The feeling of freedom that goes with being on the road and in amazing places is something else. The sense of independence…ahh, I don’t know how I’ll manage to wait.

I think a trip to the Rockies may be in order, sometime this summer. A small taste to keep me alive until I’m able to spread my wings again and fly.

Amsterdam – Updated

After evaluating my options I decided to book a flight from London to Amsterdam instead of trying to deal with the ferry/train situation or wasting days going by bus. With Easyjet, Bmi, and Ryanair it’s amazing how cheap flying can be. Think Southwest – but sometimes even better. I made it to the airport by tube, got through customs and check-in without any hiccups and then enjoyed the brief flight down to Amsterdam. There I was relieved to find that almost everything/everyone was in/spoke English. This let me navigate around and find my way into the city proper without too much trouble.

The entire city spans out from the central rail station in oddly shaped rings with canals making wide loops mirroring the streets. It’s a pretty incredible layout – but also very confusing for something that seems apparently straight forward and symmetrical. The architecture is incredible. For whatever reason a lot of the older buildings have settled which results in all sorts of oddly leaning buildings meanwhile the cobblestone streets are beautiful and the canals – every turn you find yourself in an even more picturesque setting. Also, the leaves on a lot of the trees are starting to turn -or perhaps are always colored- either way it adds to the feeling. The canals are usually fairly quiet, with boats moored all along them everywhere you look. The boats themselves are pretty amazing. Old barges, small pleasure craft, odd little skiffs, you never know what you’ll see… if it’ll be halfway under water, or how it will be colored.

My hostel was located about a 5 minute walk away from the central rail station right on the edge of the red light district. To be honest, I think the street in addition to being where most of the hostels were, also was the gay district. There were some really…different shops along it. The hostel opened up onto the small pedestrian/bike street and behind it there was a large circular courtyard with a church in it. My room on the 2nd floor -which i shared with 9 or so other beds-opened up onto the courtyard…which was great, but also a bit annoying at times… go figure…the church had bells =) The hostel itself was a bit of a dump. They allowed smoking in it, so the entire place smelled like weed and while the beds were decent and the sheets were clean the walls had writing written all over them/carved into the walls. Perhaps the most comical part was the Bathrooms. The compartments were so small that one almost needed to open the door to sit down or stand up before shutting the door again…that or become some sort of super human circus acrobat.

It was also interesting seeing an active mini-cathedral on the fringe of the red-light district. On that same square there were several “coffee” shops and if memory serves there may have been an adult store or two. Wild contrast – but then again, that’s Amsterdam.

I spent the first part of the day proper after arriving exploring the architectural elements of the city. I basically just wandered around – got lost and explored. It was great. The winding streets, packed with people, with new sites and scents etc. were all pretty fantastic. The swans, the trees, the bicycles – that’s the other thing – there are bikes EVERYWHERE. There is one bike parking station in front of the rail yard that is the size of a 2-3 story parking garage – all full of bikes and nothing but bikes. In fact, the most dangerous thing about Amsterdam I think is the bikes and mopeds. They all have bells and just go roaring down the streets ringing them. God help you if you don’t move.

The red light district was intense…especially at night. You always hear talk of the doors/windows etc. but it really surprised me how many there were once the sun set and the red lights went on. Normal buildings you walk past during the day suddenly transform into a veritable art gallery full of flesh in all different types, shapes, and sizes. Definitely a different experience walking down those streets. Sometimes I felt like I was the one on display, not vice versa. With the girls staring you up and down, trying to engage you, even had a few knock on the glass to get my attention trying to get me to come over. No worries though, I didn’t browse the wares. Though there were times I definitely felt like Odysseus tied to the mast, as he passed the Siren’s isles.

In addition to deciding against a hooker, I also decided mushrooms didn’t really have any appeal or draw. A fact I only mention, because I don’t even want to imagine what y’all might expect from a 22 year old male wandering Amsterdam on his own. Any how – After exploring the red light district a bit at night, getting some food, and grabbing a drink I headed back to the Hostel and called it a night.

The first day proper consisted of walking and exploring. The day itself was overcast and misted off and on throughout the day. Nothing to fret about, but still enough to keep things cooler and make taking photos a PIA. I woke up, pulled myself together and then before I left the hostel started chatting with an Israeli couple traveling together and an American-or was it Canadian? girl staying in the dorm below me. She was traveling on her own before heading to London to work in the Fashion industry. Both being on our own, we ended up hitting it off and elected to meet up later that day to explore the nightlife. Two other Canadian girls (hairdressers actually) traveling in Europe before a conference in Greece also joined us.

After meeting each other and socializing a bit i struck off to explore the city. I wandered until I found some food (Burger King of all things) then continued on until I meandered past a 3 story sex museum. Three stories for 3 Euro seemed like a fair trade so in I went. The museum itself was pretty fascinating. Chock full of erotic carvings, photos, video, etc. from across history. When you look at modern social perception of pornography – it’s often – in the states at least, treated like some new creation that stems from modern perversion and technology. It’s funny how different the reality of it all is. From ancient oriental wall hangings that had a secret pull away front end that revealed hand painted porn to authentic Greek plates and vases that depicted sexual acts. One of the more bizarre was a sword that King Leopold had commissioned which had a man sexually engaged with – if i remember right a lion on the pommel. Hows that for a firm grip on something? The Museum also had a number of mannikins some of which were animated. It was an odd experience to say the least.

From there I had something truly unusual happen. As i explored the city, map in hand I got lost. Occasionally, I’ll get a bit off from where I mean to be as I wander, but this time I was 100% confused. No idea which direction was north, or what would take me weird. To be honest, it’s one of the first times that’s happened to me in years. It was an odd and humbling feeling. It wasn’t so much scary – as i knew i could always ask directions – as it was just eye opening. It was a new feeling, a new sensation. Definitely different than what i was familiar with. I can’t imagine feeling that on a regular basis.

Eventually I continued to wander until I figured out where I was – which as it so happens wasn’t close to where I thought I was. Oops. The downside of my lost wanderings was that I missed my time-frame for the National Museum in Amsterdam. The upside was I got to see a lot of the city, wandered through the flower market, and a book flee market. The wandering was beautiful, and in many ways I think I got more out of it, than wandering through another museum – Berlin’s better for that anyhow right!

After my wandering, I returned to the hostel, took a quick nap then headed downstairs to the pub under the hostel for a discounted meal (hostel owned) where I bumped into the first Canadian girl from earlier. We ate, then headed upstairs to pick up the others who had gotten then hands on some mushrooms earlier and were sobering up. They all finished getting ready and we headed out to the pubs – where we poked around and explored a bit. Meeting some locals, as well as some other travelers while relaxing, unwinding, taking in the sites and partying a bit. The night for the most part was a fun blur as we wandered between 4 pubs and spent some time out by the canals.

Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time. So, that’s it for now. Time to switch to another hostel here in Berlin for a night and to hit up the city! Did the national art and Bode yesterday. I’ll try for the wall and some other sights today.