My current part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage ends in Burgos, Spain. I’ve had many grand human encounters along the way. I recommend attempting the trek just for this reason. Talking to people from every conceivable part of the world, and listening to their stories, reaffirms your faith in the human condition. And after all, isn’t that what it’s really all about.
I confess, I’m stopping at this current point due to an extreme apathy. I just don’t know why I’m really doing it or what I thought I was going to get out of it. Even in this short run, I’m absolutely sure that I got more than I thought I would. There’s a truth in walking that you find along the way.
(A half-dozen other pilgrims waiting on a train out of Burgos. Doing a section of the Camino is quite fashionable.)
Now, In all practicality, I made a bunch of miss-steps. I hadn’t planned on the trails being what they were. When the guide books showed nice smooth gravel paths they were being overly kind. There are large section (especially downhill) where the trails is a loose scree of sharp gravel rock more akin to a outback mountain trail. The section of old Román road is particularly daunting! The percentage of paved path is optimistically high, and mainly applies to through-town section. The trail is legit.
I came equipped with a pair of Columbia walking shoes/trekking shoes. These were not the right choice. With the sharp gravel, you want something with a sturdy sole on it. Otherwise, the rocks start to push through, which they did. Also, I literally started to walk the stitching out of them. Tip …. don’t short your footwear!
My next major miss-step was weight. My pack was much too heavy for an extended excursion like the Camino. You definitely want your weight at the absolute minimum. I need to cut my weight by a good 5 pounds or more. That being said, I saw many people suffering along with packs obviously heavier than mine. I wish them Buen Camino!
On this baggage front, there are numerous companies that will transport your bags from town to town. And many pilgrims utilize this service. This seems (to me) missing the point of the Camino. If you want a leisurely walk through the country, there are other numerous options in both Europe and America. That’s just my opinion.
So, I sit at the train station. Sore feet on both sides. Right foot tore up from wearing my Tevas instead of my shoes. Left foot tore up from a blister in the middle of the ball of my foot (which I walked on for several days). My shoulder bones are sore from the pack (not the muscle, the bones), and I am running on low ambition.
Safe to say, I have learned a great deal about what not to do. These lessons were hard won, and won’t be dismissed any time soon.
I don’t think the Camino is done with me yet? I had trouble not putting my pack on and walking this morning. Still, I plan on waiting out any further attempt until I have better feet to carry me.
Lesson. Know when to concede. There is no shame in stopping. There is shame in injuring yourself being stupid. As I have said before; if James had of found a horse, he would have rode it!
Since I came up with the idea of becoming a pilgrim, and maybe finding out something new about myself in the process, the idea of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage has changed and shifted in my mind. A simple walk across Spain, to potentially learn/experience something new. A chance to . . . Encounter faith. A way to experience new people and points of view. Exercise.
Where I have found every one of those things over the previous days, I have also learned some things about the Camino itself. Trust me when I say, the undertaking isn’t what you think it is.
(The parapet wall behind the cathedral in Pamplona. Tye architecture of the city is still amazing.)
If all you’ve seen about the undertaking has come from YouTube, I can say that’s those portrayals are all pretty accurate. They’re all a little tainted by personal opinion, as is mine, but their accurate enough.
I think the thing that’s most shocking about the whole affair is the lack of actual pilgrims. There are a lot of people walking along a path that is surprisingly well marked and vendor-laden, but I don’t think any of them are out looking for much more than a stamp in a booklet and a bed for the night.
(A realistic picture of the modern pilgrimage.)
To be fair, I’m one of those people. I’m not overflowing with spirituality. I assume this is because I understand too much about people and their motivations. Still, an actual pilgrim, now and again, that would add so much more to the experience.
The initial days under foot have all been ones of decision. The decision: to continue this craziness or stop and go to the beach? Everyday I quit. I’m going no farther. This was a bad idea. And everyday I end up having a conversation with someone I never expected to have which continues my persistence. I still want to quit. Right now. As I type this. But, I’ll get up in the morning and continue on toward Logroño, My pack on my sore shoulders.
(The alter area of Santa Maria, in Los Arcos. A reason, in-and-Of-itself, to walk the path.)
I may have another conversation there that will continue to push me on. I hope I do. That would be great! We’ll all just have to wait and see.
(Your pilgrim’s credential. Your access card to cheap rooms and cheap meals.)
On another note, some logistics. I flew into Pamplona from London, in Iberia. Got the one-way ticket off Expedia for a reasonable price. I stayed at the Hotel Castillo de Javier. Booked it on booking.com. It was centrally located in town, and quite accommodating, though a bit loud.
Since I stated my Camino in Pamplona, I picked up my pilgrim’s credential at the Bishop’s office next to the cathedral. It was either one or two euro. I honestly don’t remember.
More to follow, if my feet hold up.
(I don’t know what the flower is, but their everywhere along the way.)
One of my two main goals when I departed Kuwait last year was to spend the summer in Europe. The other was to write a new book (which has already been accomplished), but is unimportant to this blog post.
As with the passing of the clock hands, time has cruised by, and it’s almost time to head out for a summer of backpacking and picture taking. The plan (which is rough at best) is to start by undertaking the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage across Spain. After that’s either accomplished or not, I’m going to be on a backpacking train/plane trip across Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Near East. I say it a little tongue-in-cheek because I’ve changed the route about a dozen times, so far. I have absolutely no doubt that it will also change while I’m doing it. The area has so many options that I’m sure I will get distracted. (Hence the title of this blog. HAHAHAHAHA!)
I’m going to start this “series” of post with some logistical information. First will be on plane tickets. I bought my intercontinental plane ticket in advance. I used Kayak.com to scan ticket prices for all airports in Europe, and purchased when I found a ticket that fit my needs. I am flying into London, England, because it was the first ticket that met my pricing requirements. From there, I’ll connect to the mainland by either train or plane.
The ticket search engines of choice for my trips are as follows: Kayak.com, Expedia.com, and Easyjet.com. I find that I like the kayak search engine, and that easyjet and expedia include the majority of low cost ticket options. I plan to use one-way plane flights to connect disparate parts of Europe, without wasting multiple days on the train. This concession to speedy travel is important, because an American tourist is only allowed 90 total days in the EU Zone within any 180 day period. To fit in maximum travel, I need to limit my wasted travel days. That’s why the internal flights are necessary.
Second is the necessity for general getting around. For this I use the train. The continent of Europe has a magnificent rail system. The different country rail systems are all interconnected, and laced together in the different rail timetables. I use EURail.com to purchase multi-country rail passes before I depart America. You’ll get a significantly better rate using a rail pass, as opposed to buying tickets one-at-a-time. I prefer trains to renting cars in Europe as it’s just more convenient. Once you’re in most European cities and towns, you really don’t need a car. I’ve used several different websites to purchase rail tickets over the years. I happen to like EURail.com best. They have good prices, a website that is easy to navigate, and an excellent mobile app to keep up with the train schedules.
Third is hotels and such. Normally I use hotels when in Europe. Mid-range hotels are realistically priced and clean. I use Booking.com for my hotel reservations planet-wide. I like the way the website is laid-out, and I find the mobile app works without issue everywhere I go. If I can book before departing, I do. With the unknown path and timing of this trip, I will be doing a lot of booking on-the-fly.
The initial part of the trip (the Camino pilgrimage) I’ll be utilizing Albergues and Pensiones, which are basically pilgrims hostels. The state-run units are first come, first served. So, it will all be a day-to-day hunt for a bed. (That should work out well.) For the city traveling that comes after that, I am going to try my hand at renting through Airbnb.com. It’s my first time utilizing them, and I’m excited to see how it turns out. If it’s a good experience I’ll definitely continue, as the prices are well-below hotel rates.
Fourth major task is packing. When going to Europe, I normally pack for a European Holiday. On this occasion, the bag will be somewhat different. With the pilgrimage planned for the beginning of my excursions, I’m packing specifically for the Camino. With the addition of a GoPro and some swim trunks, the packing list is Camino specific. When I’m done, I can change out the pack (Send home stuff I no longer need, and add stuff I find while traveling). I’ll be adding a complete list of my Camino packing in an upcoming post, as soon as I know what it’s finally going to be.
Right now, The planned country list goes something like; England, Spain (multiple stops), Holland, Germany (Multiple stops), Austria (Grand Prix weekend), Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland (multiple stops), Croatia (Ultra Europe weekend), Greece (multiple stops), Turkey, Israel (Multiple stops), Romania (multiple stops), Hungary, Switzerland, and then back to England. I’m sure that It’ll change along the way.
That’s the current plan. The next series of post will be coming from this summer’s European and Near Eastern (Turkey, Israel, maybe Lebanon) experiences. I hope you’ll enjoy the notes-from-the-road.
That’s the basic logistics of the beginning. It should be a crazy trip. I hope you find some useful information that you can use in your own travels. If you have any ideas/suggestions, definitely let me know in the comments.
Now get out there! Go travel somewhere.
This post isn’t so much about grand adventures or optimistic locations, as recent one’s have been, but more one of prudent advice. To sum it all up, double-check your plans before you leave on your adventure.
When I was younger, the term seat-of-your-pants was an apt description for my travel style. And, while I attempt to continue that trend as I age, I find it necessary to be slightly more on-point regarding travel plans. I offer two reason why, as I have had two major screwups in the recent past.
Screwup Number One: Assuming I understand Visa Requirements For Europe.
I have been to Europe over numerous decades, and always had an excellent travel experience. It has become so casual that I look at Europe as a comfortable and welcoming place. Kind of a go-to locational area when I’m tired of working my way through South America or the Middle East.
I have become so comfortable with traveling in-and-around Europe that I hardly think about the logistics of it any more. With it mindset in my planning, I somehow missed the fact that a person can only be in the Schengen Zone of Europe for a total of 90 days in any 180 day period of time. This bit of information put a serious change in my upcoming trip plans. I have done several multination trips, but have never been in the area long enough to run up against this requirement before. And, with the continuous swelling of the Schengen Zone, the ability to travel Europe without dealing in this requirement is becoming harder and harder. Where I had planned on an ample amount of time in Eastern Europe, I now find that many of those countries are in the zone too.
This issue has complicated upcoming plans, but not derailed them. It hasn’t derailed them because I learned this before leaving. If I had encountered this after travelling for a couple months, it definitely would have been problematic. Definitely check your immigration requirements before traveling.
Screwup Number Two: Using The Wrong Information To Plan With.
Over the last weekend I made an excursion across Texas to the Guadeloupe Mountain National Park, so that I might climb the peak. In planning for this weekend adventure I used the closest google maps town to figure out the local weather. The weather was supposed to be excellent, so I packed accordingly. I learned when I arrived that the weather wasn’t as grand as I supposed that it would be. Apparently, I used a town down on the mesa bottom, not up by the mountain base. It was a good thirty degrees cooler, with much more wind.
Needless to say, I froze all the time I was there. It ruined camping out, and it ruined climbing the peak the next day. The whole weekend was a bust. If I had of planned for the appropriate weather, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad. You live and learn.
So, before wandering off on your next adventure, I suggest that you check your travel plans one more time. It’s a good idea to make the most of your travels, and will help you have memorable trips (not good bar stories). Where I did less of it earlier on, I do more of it now. And, Where I still leave my itineraries loose so that they’re flexible to new plans, I will be checking the big stuff one more time, before getting on the plane this summer.
Check your stuff, and then get out there. Have a great travel experience.
With all of the Spring Break action cascading across my social media feed over the last couple weeks, I have been thinking about time spent at the beach. I like a good beach. The beach, and the ocean with it, have a different vibe than the hills and valleys that I’m naturally used to.
As I considered my different beach experiences, I came to a small realization. In the truest spirit of the blog’s long-off introduction, my favorite beach experiences as a working adult are different than the social media beach splash I’ve been passing through. When I was younger, I was content to party any place that there was beer and girls in bathing suits. As an adult-ish adventurer I find that I still enjoy a bikini-clad beach, yet I also enjoy more intellectual beach pursuits.
So, what follows is a collection of a few of my favorite beach distractions. Some beaches are good for drinking. Some beaches are good for history. Some of them have sport. All of them have something to offer.
Number One: Rincon, Puerto Rico.
If you need a place to escape the northern winter weather, you can do a lot worse than the beaches on the western coast of Puerto Rico. Even with North American tourists wandering about, you can find a quiet stretch of beach to kick back on, and drink a beer or two. (It should be noted that the Rincon beaches are magnet of the surf scene. Yes, I went to surf classes. No, I did not master the surfing.) This picture was taken just off the steps of my hotel. I wandered through in January, and it was hot and sunny. Hotels along the beach are easy to kind, and a rental car is almost a prerequisite for getting around.
Number Two: Seven Mile Beach, Australia.
As one would expect, January along the Australian coast is sun-filled and beautiful. I made my way down to Seven Mile Beach to attend the surfing school located there. A younger, hosteling affair, Surf Camp was a great experience. I didn’t master the surfing (or even really minimize it much. But, I had a great time.), but the beach scene was excellent. The beach is a long, shallow affair with a gentle break. There are a lot of camping option in the area, but not necessary a lot of hotel options to be seen. Once again, it’s a location where a rental car is valuable.
Number Three: Cocoa Beach, Florida.
(SORRY NO PHOTO.)
With Florida being almost entirely known for beaches, Cocoa Beach seems an out of the way choice. But, as an old dude, I love an old dude beach. Cocoa Beach is just that, an excellent old dude beach.
Known to most people as the stop for the cruise port or as a family option for a stop at Kennedy Space Center, the beach has a plethora of hotel options and several decent places to get a beer and casually drink away the day. The beach is easily accessible from multiple point along the strand, and the small town of Cocoa is easy to find from almost anywhere in Florida (Thanks to Kennedy Space Center).
Number Four: Omaha Beach, Normandy, France.
It’s hard to justifiably describe the impact that a blank stretch of beach can have on you when you know its history. Omaha Beach is one of those places. I can’t describe the awe felt in seeing the distance men had to run on D-Day, to get from the waterline to the start of the bluffs at the end to the sand. The distance isn’t done justice in any movie I have seen, and is almost impossible to adequately describe. You have to see it.
There are a number of day tours run out of the town of Bayeux, France. Think Bayeux Tapestry (it’s housed in the local church). The town is easy to get to by train, and has numerous hotel options. The center of town is also small enough that you can walk around easily. The different D-Day beaches however, are spread out across the shoreline of the Normandy coast, and will require a rental car or day tour. Whatever path you take to get there, I recommend that you get there.
Number Five: Thong Saia Beach, Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand.
If you need a place to sit and drink beer, there aren’t a lot of options better than the islands of Thailand. The islands still have that something that is/was indicative of the seventies backpacker-hippy culture. wandering, day drinking, cheap eating, scooter driving, and washing in the ocean are the primary options for the average day here. Low cost beer and food make it an instant draw for a cheap travel option. I drank a lot of beer there.
There are multiple hotel and hostel options on the island, but no airport. You will need to fly into Koh Samui, and then take the high-speed ferry from one island to another. The ferry is cheap, and the scooter rentals on the island are literally everywhere. Because there’s no airport, getting to and from the island takes a bit of preplanning, if you don’t have a lot of time to waste waiting around.
well, that’s my take on the beach scene. I love a good beach. Most times, I just love hanging out at the beach, drinking, scuba diving, or whatever. if you love the sand and the surf, I suggest that you put a beach on your travel list. I find them a requisite part of any coastal adventure.
Hope you found something useful. Now, get out there. Go to the beach.
Before I start, I want to say that I love the word kit. Sometimes, the British just have better words for stuff than us Americans do. Okay, moving on . . . I think it’s a natural tendency of older travelers to already have gear to travel with. As people mature, the majority of them, tend to acquire good, solid travel gear and hold onto it.
most people just starting to travel tend to acquire whatever gear is A) available, and B) will do the job at the time. It’s cool to start this way. pretty much everybody starts this way. I started this way. You grab stuff from friends, go to yard sales, shop at the Army Navy Store, and the like. Now-a-days, you search the deals on Amazon.com and find stuff on eBay. Whatever works for you, it the same process whether it’s brick-and-mortar or virtual low-cost shopping. Granted, most everyone starting out is usually strapped for cash to begin with, that’s why their travelling on the cheap.
But at some point, all that stuff your acquired got swapped out for better stuff. This usually happens when you start making real money at a job, and can afford to buy brand name gear. You’re all excited by it. You bought the new North Face backpack or the best Hiking shoes on the market. You’re a proper traveler now.
Most older traveler have, by some point, collected a whole assortment of dependable travel gear. Let’s face it, the pictures in the magazines of the top gear for this season are great to look at, but not too many people use them as actual shopping ideas. They look at them and then go back to the spare room and pull out the same stuff they used last year. It was good last year, it will be good this year.
There is a point in your life where you see things as an investment. And with the price of good travel gear, this is one of those places normal people don’t want to be reinvesting cash every year. I’m the same way. I’ve collected great pieces of gear over the years, and I go back to those items year-after-year, because I know I can.
That being said, older travelers tend to be busier individuals. They have jobs, maybe kids, and responsibilities of all varieties. Using the random hour of free time to go through your stuff probably isn’t appealing. It never is for me.
If you’re looking at heading out someplace for more than a few days, I suggest that you give your gear a thorough shakedown and make sure that it’s still serviceable. When you’re twenty, if you loose a strap off your pack it’s an inconvenience. If you’re forty-five and you do that, it can be back straining and trip destroying. Let’s face it, sometimes we can’t just power through like we used to.
Now that I’ve spent forever on the setup, here we go with a story. I may have mentioned this before (I honestly didn’t go back through the recent posts to check) but I’m headed out this spring to hike the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain. I’ve been several years, and a couple jobs, talking myself into doing it. I’ve finally hit the point where; okay it’s time to get it done or forget about it. I’m not really getting any younger, you know?
As a guy who travels a lot, I naturally went to the gear storage and pulled out all my old kit. I took an inventory of things that were location specific (things I would need to buy for this trip), but was otherwise fully ready. Well, kind of. I found my expensive Petzl headlamp oozing battery corrosion because I forgot to take the batteries out of it. It’s probably junk. And, I grabbed my trusty Merrill hiking boots to start training for the big adventure. They are great boots. Well, they WERE great boots. I bought them in like 2002 when I went to Costa Rica to wander in the cloud forests. Apparently, seventeen years was enough for them. I wore them for about two weeks of heavy walking and they basically started coming apart at all the dry-rotted points. And, they made my feet hurt really bad!
I would suggest, that if you plan to head out soon, go check the status of your gear. Checking your gear in advance will lower your pre-trip stress level greatly. You can find the weak points in your stuff and get it fixed before you need to start worrying about important things like plane tickets and hotels. I’m super bad about just grabbing it when I need it, and assuming it will be fine. Sometime this is the case, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I think it’s fine, and it breaks when I get wherever I’m going. I adapt pretty well, but I wouldn’t need to do so much of it if I checked my gear better before hand.
As a side note: If you are a younger traveler or you’re just starting out with the adventurous lifestyle, Congratulations. I hope you have great travel experiences. Don’t be afraid of getting second-hand gear for your first trip. Your buddy’s backpack or your friends sleeping bag and mat will usually get you through one trip fine, and let you know if it’s something you want to keep doing. I used all of my old army field gear for a couple of trips, when I first started. Whatever works, well . . . it works. I would say though, if you’re going to grab gear off of eBay or from a sale somewhere, check around and make sure that you’re getting the best gear you can get for your dollar. Then, take a good hard look at it and make sure that it’s serviceable.
Okay, Now everybody go check your gear! So, you’re not carrying a backpack with a broken strap on it! (It just looks sad.)
After I posted the previous article regarding my favorite stops around the globe, my friend Jayne hit me up on Facebook and ask me what my top spots in the United States were. This led to a great deal of thinking. I slowly came to realize that I couldn’t answer the question in the same fashion as I had addressed the previous one. Every time that I sat down and tried to come up with a short list, it turned out to be a long list. When I attempted to delete places from the list I only ended up adding more places to the list.
I’m not attempting to say that America somehow has a great many more spectacular places than the remainder of the planet. I think we would all come to see that as ridiculous. I’m saying that it’s harder to narrow down that field because I’ve spent more time at so many more places in America. The more time you spend in a place, the more it gets rooted into you (Like the Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London have for me internationally.) Because I’m American, I have spent more time travelling around America. In this case, decades more time. So, simply saying to someone that may not know as much about America has to visit this place and that, I think would be disingenuous.
Alright, with that out, what did I end up deciding to do with this? Within this article is a list of places that I think anyone would enjoy immensely. They are not the top items, nor are they in any particular order. They are simply ones that have floated to the top of a very long list.
#1 Chicago, Illinois
Where I’m not a natural fan of U.S. cities, I do have a great affinity for the city of Chicago. Though I hail from New York (not the city), I have spent nearly a decade of my life wandering in and out of Chicago. This city, pressed tightly against the side of Lake Michigan, has everything one could want from a city. World class museums, great theater, all the major sports teams, and excellent concerts. It has a major airport system at it center, so getting in and getting out are not a problem. (I have flown from Chicago directly to both Hong Kong and Rome, so they have adequate air service.) Also, where I think that there is a case to be made for Chicago living up it its reputation for horrendous winters, they also have excellent summer. Catching concerts at night on the lake front is one of the joys of summer in Chi-Town.
#2 The Adirondacks and ST. Lawrence River Valley of Upstate New York
Second disclaimer, I grew up in the ST. Lawrence River Valley. It was, and will probably always continue to be, my home. The rivers and woodland, dotted with dairy farms and rolling field are beautiful in their splendor, year round, only giving way to the majesty of the Adirondack Mountains to the south. There is a peacefulness in the Adirondacks that I have experienced in few other settings.
There are some regional airports, but the most realistic way to get there is to fly into Syracuse, New York, and then rent a car. Though the Adirondacks occupy a state park big enough to be an actual state, they are surprisingly accessible. Where most tourists venture no farther than Lake Placid, I would suggest taking the time to explore.
3# Las Vegas, Nevada
Okay, I admit it. It may be cliché, but I love Las Vegas. It’s the quintessential American Weekend City! And, if you’ve ever watched the traffic coming into town from the interstate out of Las Angeles on Friday, you know that statement is true. Admittedly, three days in Sin City can feel like a week, but that’s also part of its charm.
I have been to Vegas many times over the years. These days gambling and all-night drinking as been (mostly) replaced by golfing with my good friends Vicky and Frank. I suck at golf, but we still have a great time.
Over the years I have been to the city for many reasons. I have rented motorcycles from the Harley Dealer and road around the southwest with my friends (Billy, Leonard, and The Puma). I have spent nights in the trance of the Electric Daisy Carnival. I have been in the arena with the screaming masses for the UFC fights. And yes, I wandered The Strip semi-intoxicated, looking for a slot machine that liked me. I day tripped to Hoover dam, and used it as a convenient airport for canyoneering in Utah. If you can think of it, Vegas can accommodate you.
There’s no real reason to explain how to get there. Every airline knows how to find it. And, if you’re driving in, you can’t miss the signs!
#4 The Four-Corners Region, Southwestern United States
Okay, sorry about the picture quality above. I took the picture with a disposable camera, and then forgot to get it developed for like five years. It happens with travel pictures sometimes. I could tell you stories!
Nevertheless, The four corners area of the southwest is my favorite area of the United States, after the Adirondacks. The sandstone formations of monument valley and the surrounding area have to be seen to be truly appreciated. The majority of my explorations in the area have been on motorcycle. I would submit that this is the best way to see the landscapes of the region. An iron horse is as close to the old west of the movies that any of us are like to get these days. And, the area is also purpose built for riding. It has a lot of wide-open and magnificent. It also has fairly good infrastructure scattered around for the wayward motorcycling enthusiast. A car works equally well, though it is one of the places on earth where I would recommend a convertible.
I used Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Las Vegas, Nevada as good entry points to the area. I have also utilized Reno, Nevada and a Phoenix, Arizona, though they aren’t necessarily as convenient. You can fly into Salt lake City as well (Which I have also done), if you choose. However you get there, you enjoy it.
#5 Yosemite Valley, California
The first time I went to Yosemite, I was just looking for somewhere new to go. I was looking to climb something about the height of Half Dome, and it seemed like a good a place as any. I didn’t end up summiting the monolithic piece of granite, as you have to scale exposed rock at the top and I am scared of heights. (Sad, but true.) I did however, fall in love with the place. It was entitled as America’s third National Park for a reason. (I haven’t been to Yellowstone NP yet. When I do, I’m sure that you’ll hear about it.)
Even today, with paved roads and Park’s Services Buildings occupying the valley floor, the natural beauty of the place is in no way diminished. Looking skyward in amidst the giant sequoia and towering granite, you get a sense for why John Muir lobbied congress relentlessly. It is awe-inspiring.
I tend to fly into San Francisco, California, when I go out. It a big airport, with good rental car options, and isn’t terribly far away. The drive out of the bay area, and up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains is also quite enjoyable. there aren’t a lot of hotel options around Yosemite, so plan ahead. The park books up all but completely during the good summer months.
Okay, so that’s my say on the Good Ol’ USA. It is mostly an overview of great places. There were some others I wanted to add, but it seemed fair to keep this list the same length as the international list.
I hope that you found something interesting in this. I certainly enjoyed going back through travel pictures to find the photos for it.
Now get out there. Go explore someplace new!
All week long I’ve been walking around with little smile on my face thanks to last week’s post about drinking beer with the locals of the world. In the search for pictures to go with that post, I came across a picture of O’Neill’s, King’s Cross, London. I love that place!
Now, right now, you’re thinking that this is going to be a blog post about drinking beer, and people and an original place that I somehow embraced in a foreign country? No. Well, not exactly. All of those are true, to a point. Whenever I’m in London, I attempt to make a trip across town to O’Neill’s. I also admit that I have a beer (or two) while I’m there. To be honest, I don’t usually talk much while there. And, to be honest, it’s kinda like most of the corner joints in the city. So, why bother? Well, let me tell you a story.
Back in the day, summer of 2004, I was scouting around the internet and looking for things to do that might be considered cool, when I stumbled across a backpacking company out of London that put together trips for the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. (www.backpacker.co.uk Honestly, I don’t know if their still in business or not, but they were an outstanding group to travel with.) A quick shuffle around their website and an international phone later, and I was in, headed for London so I could go do crazy things in Pamplona.
Back in the day, there wasn’t a plethora of website and internet outlets for finding cheap hotels. Today I tend toward booking.com. They work well and give me what I’m looking for. (I’m too old to hostel, and too poor to Five-Star it like everyone you see on the travel shows.) In 2004, I used my handy-dandy Lonely Planet Guide. I used the London City guide, specifically. I still have it. It came with good maps and lots of extra what-not. It was also the best place, most important at the time, to find reasonable hotel options. The guide broke the hotels of the city down by high priced, medium priced, and cheap. (The newest copy of a Lonely Planet Guide that I bought lately didn’t even have a hotel listing section. Another concession to the world of the internet, I guess.) The guide actually only gave you contact information. You had to contact them individually to see if they had rooms, and if the prices quoted were correct. It was a more interesting time to travel.
But, I’m sliding off-topic. After looking around, I ended up finding a nice little hotel up in the King’s Cross section of London, for the week before the bus for the bull runs left. It was my first time to London and I want to see one of the four World-Class cities in Europe. (Incase you’re curious, the four cities are London, Paris, Rome, and Istanbul. That’s not my opinion, it other people’s. Though after seeing three of the four, I think their right.) Like everyone else going to London for the first time, I was shocked by how expensive a city it can be. Take your Visa card, you’re gonna need it. So, in an effort to be as sensible as possible, I ended up in Kings Cross. This area was ( and I believe still is) know internationally as the backpacker’s go-to spot. It was the section hosting most of the hostels and cheap hotels.
I love Kings Cross. It’s what you expect to find, after you’re done looking for museums and galleries. I wandered all over, ending most of my scouting trips at a pub around the corner and down the street from my hotel. Yup, it was O’Neill’s.
At the time of this journey, I was just solidly formulating the characters and landscape for my first novel. I knew it was going to be about vampires, and I knew the vampire the story centered around was going to be female and slightly tomboy-ish. (Who doesn’t like a female protagonist???) As I sat at the outside tables of O’Neill’s drinking my pints of whatever looked pleasing that day, I watched London pass me by and listened to its rhythms. It was there, at O’Neill’s that I decided Sara Anne Grey would be an English girl, and hail from London. It was an excellent choice, as it gave her a further depth of spirit imbued upon her by the city.
I took a lot of notes and pictures sitting outside that pub, drinking and watching the city go by. A picture of the new London Library sitting across the street from old ST Pancras Train Station stayed with my writing materials and kept reminding me that the city, like my character, was both old and new. (I’m pretty sure that the photo is now in a file folder with other stuff from the writing of those books.)
Flash forward to 2015. I had been to London a couple time since 2004, and always enjoyed being back in the city. In January of 2015, I went to London to accept the Grand Prize at the 2014 London Book Festival, for the third Sara Grey novel, Progression. The novel that actually had all the O’Neill’s pub scenes in it. As I walked out the London Library, where that gala was hosted, I walked over and took the above picture of O’Neill’s. The place where it all started.
I didn’t cross the street and go in. It seemed wrong somehow, like it would break the crazy spell I was caught up in. I did, however, go over the next day and have a couple, still being quite full of myself.
This story is told to illustrate the context of the statement forwarding the last post. Travel is about making experiences that you take away with you when you leave. It’s the collection of memories that allow you to have the depth of knowledge necessary to accurately interpret the world around you. Or, that’s my opinion on the matter.
A. I hope you enjoyed me shamelessly wandering down memory lane.
B. I hope that it also gave you some push to want to get out and make your own memories.
C. if you’re in London, head up to Kings Cross and have a pint at O’Neill’s.
I plan on being back in London, in May. I’m just passing through on my way to the continent. (It was the cheapest point to fly to from Texas.) I don’t know if I’m going to have time to get up to King’s Cross, but if I do, I’m headed to O’Neill’s for a pint.
Now, get out there and make your own memories.
Before I get into this one, I want to make a statement. Travel isn’t about places or things. Travel isn’t about crap you read in guide books and magazines. or, on blogs on the internet, for that matter. travel is about experiences that stay with you, after you leave a place. It’s about understanding the way people in other places understand things. Okay, that being said, go …
I was sitting on the couch the other day, thinking about stuff that should end up on Pinterest. Somewhere in looking through external hard drives, USB drives, and random flash cards at pictures from the various travels, I noticed that I have taken a pile of pictures of beer. Most of the beer seemed to be Guinness. I think this is because the brand is so widely dispersed. In countries that have regional beers, I will go out of my way to drink those beers. For example, in Thailand I drank a lot of Chang. But, it seemed to keep coming up Guinness, so I decided to build a Pinterest board of the different Guinness pints I’ve ingested around the world.
Let face it, if you’re from the United States or Western Europe, you like a glass of beer. (For the purposes of this blog post we will forgo the wine and whiskey categories.) I certainly like several glasses of beer at any one sitting, but that might be one of the things that explain my current western-sized BMI. So I decided to put up a blog post a couple of my favorite pints from here-and-there. These are all Guinness stops, because I was collecting photos for the Pinterest board. I think they are accurate representations of one of the small pieces of travel that adult travelers enjoy so much. I hope this at least makes you chuckle.
Number One, Drinking in Dublin, Ireland, 2009.
Part One, The Sky Bar.
When you make it to Dublin, Ireland, one of the things you are going to want to do is take the tour of the Guinness Brewery, at ST. James’ Gate. The brewery tour is quite enjoyable, and the gift shop on the third floor is HUGE! (I even came out with golf tees.)After your tour of the brewery and its beer-making process, but before your attack on the gift shop, you are ushered up to The Sky Bar, Located above the brewery, for a free pint of beer. The Sky Bar only gives out Guinness Draught, but that’s quite alright.
The barmen and women at The Sky Bar pour soo-many pints a day, that it’s all but guaranteed you will get a quality draft. The draft tastes excellent and the views from the high elevation above the city are outstanding. take the time to take the tour. It really is worth your time.
Part Two, the Brazen Head.
The Brazen Head is a nice little bar, in Central Dublin, just south side of the river. Dating back to somewhere around 1198, it is officially recognized as the oldest pub in the country of Ireland.
Now, because the pub is a landmark, and because the pub is totally stamped on the tourist map, and because the pub is easy to get to with a quiet walk through the city, it can be a disappointment if you go at it the wrong way. It is a major tourist draw. Most tourists looking to get a picture and a story will make it no farther than the hostess person standing at the little front door stand. The tourists are shown to a seat, normally outside because the place isn’t very big, and provided with a perfectly adequate time. If you require a more-genuine experience, smile and push past the hostess and grab a seat at the bar with the locals. They are quite welcoming, and you can have great conversations while you enjoy a pint.
If you’re looking at adding a stop at the Brazen Head while you’re in Dublin, do yourself a favor and make it to a barstool where the locals hangout. You will remember the conversation long after you leave.
The Irish Village, Dubai, UAE, 2018.
If you work in the Middle East for any amount of time, you WILL end up in Dubai. It’s almost a Guarantee. If you work in a dry country, like I did in Kuwait, A stop in Dubai will probably be one of your first forays out of the country. Why? Simple, they have beer. Not only do they have beer, but they require you to walk through the duty free shop when exiting customs at the airport. They know why you’re there.
Just south of the airport, between the airport and the river that separates the north older part of Dubai from the south newer sections of the city, sits the Dubai Tennis Stadium. All along one side of the stadium is The Irish Village. trust me when I say, these people know why they’re there. It’s a wonderful place to sit, listen to a little music, and drink several pints. I stopped there everyday that I was in Dubai.
The Irish Village is easy to find on Google maps while you are there, and easy to get to. There is a metro stop several blocks to the north and a following easy walk from the metro to the village. The people are friendly, and the food-drink is quite good. I was really there for the beer. Dubai has a fairly large British ex-pat community, and the locals are quite comfortable with the consumption of alcohol. That being said, you can’t drink while in public (unless you are at a restaurant or other business that serves alcohol), and they DO NOT appreciate westerners being drunk in public.
Number Three, U2 360 Tour, Chicago, Illinois, 2009.
Back in 2009, when U2 brought the 360 Tour through Chicago, Illinois, for the first time (The tour went on for so long that they came two years in a row. I went both years.), they brought an inflatable Irish Pub with them. I believe the tour was at least partially underwritten by Guinness, though I don’t know this to be fact.
Out on the lawn section of Soldier Field, A full-sized inflatable Irish Pub was installed to serve Guinness 250th Anniversary beer to the concert goers. This stop is being added specifically because of the beer. The 250th Anniversary special was one of the best pints of beer that I’ve had. It was creamy and smooth, yet thick and filling. They produced it for a short time and then stopped. I was somewhat upset when I couldn’t get it anymore. Oh, the concert was outstanding as well.
One Honorable Mention. Mainly, because I don’t have or couldn’t find a picture of it.
The Green Dragon, Boston, Massachusetts.
In the middle of Boston, directly across the street from the oldest bar known in the United States, The Bell in Hand Tavern, is an absolute Historical Landmark, The Green Dragon. The Green Dragon is the place where the revolution was said to have been planned. And, if you’ve been there, you believe it. It has been kept as accurate as time will allow, and you can literally picture Ben Franklin passing out at the bar.
I stop at The Green Dragon every time I’m in Boston, and time will allow. The beer is always good, the food is very good, and the company is excellent. If you can make a trip in the summer, when the doors are open and the streets are full of people, you’ll enjoy it that much more. And yes, when at The Green Dragon, I drink Guinness.
I really wrote this post because It made me happy to do it. It’s the interactions with people and places that stick in your mind the longest. It’s why we travel. So, next time you’re out exploring, stop at a good looking establishment and have a beer with the locals. It will be worth your time, and produce memories that will last. Now that I’ve just written that last statement, I have an odd sensation there will be an upcoming post specifically about time spend at O’Neill’s in Kings cross, London.
Now get out there. Enjoy your travels.