Monday, April 26, 2010

40,000 miles

I am now sitting back on the east coast of the United States and starting to add up all of those whacky cab rides, rough flights, wet boat trips, and long treks.  31,000 miles by plane, 5,000 miles by car and bus, 3,000 miles on trains, 500 miles by boat, and at least 500 miles by foot.  By my math that puts us at about 40,000 miles travelled over the last seven months.  Not too shabby.  A lot of this trip was up in the air when we took off on that first flight.  Our original around-the-world tickets only had about a dozen stops.  Most of those stops ended up being hubs for other trips and exploration.  In the end the basic route ended up something like:

New York, USA > Chicago, USA > Tokyo, Japan > Nara, Japan > Osaka, Japan > Kyoto, Japan > Tokyo, Japan > Bangkok, Thailand > Surat Thani, Thailand > Koh Phangan, Thailand > Koh Tao, Thailand > Surat Thani, Thailand > Bangkok, Thailand > Siem Reape, Cambodia > Phnom Penh, Cambodia > Pakse, Laos > Vientiane, Laos > Vang Vienne, Laos > Vientiane, Laos > Bangkok, Thailand > Singapore > Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia > Bali, Indonesia > Jakarta, Indonesia > Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Maylasia > Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia > Bangkok, Thailand > Kolkota, India > Kathmandu, Nepal > Lukla, Nepal > Kathmandu, Nepal > New Delhi, India > London, England > Paris, France > Lyon, France > Milan, Italy > Venice, Italy > Rome, Italy > Naples, Italy > Palermo, Sicily, Italy > Scaccia, Sicily, Italy > London, England > Oxford, England > Guitting Power, England > London England > Reykjavik, Iceland > New York, USA

There were plenty of side trips along the way that I can not even come close to nailing down in any sort of coherent list here.  But the basic map of the trip looks something like this...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If I knew it was gonna be this kind of party...

Iceland is the only place on land where the tectonic plate on which Europe and Africa lie meet the one that North and South America lie.  The friction between these two plates has produced an island littered with volcanos.  It is also littered with geothermal vents and much of the island is heated and powered from geothermal energy.  A trip to the center of the island and you can find Geysir, the original geyser and the one from which all other geysers are named.  It is frigidly cold here and you can see the eruptions and associated steam rise up from the horizon six miles away from this angry little cauldron. However, on the more pleasant side of things you can find hot springs all over that despite the 20f air remain at a nice and inviting temp of around 110f. The most famous spring on the island, and possibly the world, being the Blue Lagoon.  It is an amazing little spot, a huge pool of warm and toasty water, a refuge from the frosty air, a fountain of youth coated with silica mud to rejuvenate the skin, and a memorable end to our trip.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lights in the sky

There are a few things I have left on my list of things to do before I die.  Only a few of those things have been on the list since I first started to think about things such as this.  But fortunately, the timing worked out and I have knocked off one of those things I wanted to do.  We headed out around 9pm as the late sun was setting and headed east from Reykjavik over the hills and into the tundra.  We waited outside in the cold, the frosty dry cold, under a full moon.  We were worried we would get skunked due to the full moon and time of year. See, the day gets longer by more than 10 minutes per day this time of year in Iceland and we were just nearing the cusp where nightfall fades away into eternal daylight and the nights were no longer as dark as you would expect. But we waited and were rewarded.  The northern lights, aurora borealis, started to appear as a faint light on the horizon and then quickly fired up and blasted its way above our heads and all around us.  Amazing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ice and fire

As soon as we landed in Iceland we started to hear rumors of the possibility of a volcanic eruption. Lucky for us the top popped two days latter.  We jumped into the Toyota Yaris and joined the convoy of monster vans that had taken the opportunity to launch tour trips out to the national park where the big guy was spitting fire and ash.  We made it pretty far into the national park until we came upon a river crossing, and this I am sad to say is where the Yaris finally failed us. We ditched the car and started trekking, but after throwing up our thumbs we were picked up by the first Icelanders passing by.  So we jumped into the lifted SUV and chatted up the locals and their two dogs along for the ride. We finally got out about as close as we could to the volcano on its second day of its eruption. It was not much of a spectacle, but it was definitely starting to get angry.  Of course the Icelanders were all concerned since the eruption of the little volcano Eyjafjallajokull which is currently erupting has preceded the eruption of the much bigger and meaner Katla every time in recorded history.  Well, no Katla eruption yet.  In the pic below you can see in the upper left the beginning of the eruption that soon will follow.

Fat man on a little horse

For the life of me I could not imagine a viking riding one of these petite little guys that roam all over the tundra of Iceland.

The land that stole my automotive heart

Reykjavik is a really cool city, where about 70% of Iceland's population lives, but if you really want to see some interesting things you need to get out and do some exploring.  There is a pretty robust tour industry here, but I have always been a champion of the good ol' rental car to find some real adventure.  It seems other than one or two main cross island byways there is not much in the way of paved roads on the island.  I guess it makes sense being that whatever surface it may be is actually covered by snow and ice (or ash in recent weeks) for 80% of the year.  To my amazement, the daily driver out here for many Icelanders is a lifted SUV with 44" tires (some even much bigger).  Hell, even the ambulances and school buses have 44" tires to plough through all of that pure white powder in the depths of winter. That practically qualifies as a monster truck.  So I knew I would be at a disadvantage renting a Toyota Yaris, but I have more than my fare share of off-roading experience and I know most of what it takes is skill not size.  If only it were an option to rent myself a Wrangler lifted into the skies I would have jumped at the chance, but I had no luck finding anything of the sort.  Anyway... the Yaris did just fine as we covered nearly half of this frostbitten land.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Waterfalls everywhere

Iceland is a great spot for waterfall hunting. Although the air is frigid in the spring around 20f and the wind whipping across the barren landscape it is really amazing. Even though the spray coats and freezes every inch of your body, including your eyeballs, within five minutes of checking one of these bad boys out. The Gullfoss is one of the most popular sites in Iceland and pretty impressive. Lucky for us we ended befriending some local Icelanders after a hitch-hiking adventure out to Eyjafjallajökull and found a real hidden treat.  The last picture is of a waterfall which has been buried since the eruption.  These pictures were taken just the second day after the volcano began erupting.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Warwick Castle

Warwick castle is a near millennium old pile of stone built by William the Conqueror. It is a pretty amazing site situated atop a hill overlooking a very nice creek on some very well maintained grounds with the mega moat making it all official. The 60ft tall trebuchet is the pièce de résistance. Unfortunately we arrived bit too late to witness this magnificent accomplishment of human engineering launch some flaming balls of fiery fire across the grounds, but my trip here was made by a more unexpected find within the state rooms of the castle. For some reason one of previous residents of the castle (perhaps King Henry II or King Edward IV) put on display a horn of the unicorn of the sea. Not only was it a narwhal horn, but apparently it was a single horn from a rare dual horned narwhal... I am left in awe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Market fresh

A major revelation for me after all of this travelling has been in the differences in eating habits across the world. In many parts of the world you can't find a supermarket because there are none, in large part because people are only interested in fresh foods not processed foods. And if you are going after fresh foods, large supermarket chains will not cut the mustard so the day markets are where people pick up the goods for dinner. Sicily is no exception. More fresh veggies, fruit, fish (including monster swordfish layed up on the butcher's block), cheese and breads than you can shake an olive branch at. Jammed packed with shoppers and noisy from the competing yells offering rock bottom deals on olives, spices, and artichokes it is not just a shopping trip but a life experience.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The motherland

Not satisfied being limited by train travel, a car rental was in order to get ourselves around the island of Sicily.  A night or two in Palermo on the north coast gave us a chance to fill our bellies before heading south through the mountains to the south coast.  Yeah sure, the Sicilian cities of Palermo and Sciacca are nice but the real beauty of the land lines in the rolling hills covered in olive, orange, and lemon trees as well as the obligatory vineyards.  The small villages perched atop magnificent granite peaks overlooking the valley and farmlands you pass through while cutting through the center of this beautiful island are really the heart of Sicily.  Many of them well known such as Corleone and Caltabellotta as birthplace and home to infamous mafioso families.  You might even be able to gauge the likelihood of crooked noses in each village by the number of bullet holes and shotgun spray blasts in the signs 'welcoming' you to each village... some of them hardly legible from all of the scars.  Despite, or possibly because of, our collision with a white-out blizzard crossing the mountains and a forced crossing of a roadway washed out by a major landslide I recommend a road trip as the necessary way to travel Sicily to get the most accurate flavor of this land... ahhhh adventure...