Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Planning Stages: Places to Go and Things to Do

When it comes to vacations, I'm not usually a very well thought out person. Especially if I'm visiting people I know in a new place. I typically have a general idea of something I might want to do, but for the most part, I rely on the people I'm visiting knowing "what's good in the hood." Since I don't really know anyone in Europe, I'm having to take a slightly different approach. And by slightly different approach, I mean I have to make a list of things I want to see and do in a place other than my head. While I wouldn't mind hitting up your regular touristy attractions like the Eifel Tower and the Coliseum, I feel like I might prefer to just hop on over to a city and see what the locals tell me about where to go and what to see. It might take a game of charades, but that's all part of the experience, right? I could be completely wrong with the way I'm going about all of this, but I guess I'll find that out when I get there. Until then, I've made a short, tentative list of places I would most like to see and a couple things I would like to do on my trip. Here they are:

Valencia, Spain
     - For some reason, the thought of Valencia encapsulates me. I think I've probably only seen a dozen pictures of the place, but every time I do, I catch myself thinking, I have to go there. If I do nothing but stand in the square for half an hour, I need to see that place. 

Bike across Portugal
     - I'm not sure where this idea came from, but it popped into my head and stuck.. The fact that I will be able to say, "I biked across a country" is probably part of the reason I'm set on it. My plan is to buy a bicycle in Badajoz, Spain, and bike to Lisbon using side roads. If I have to camp in the middle of a field of llamas, so be it. I just hope they don't spit at me.

Walk across Andorra
     - Again, I'm not sure where exactly this idea came from, but much like with Portugal, the bragging rights of saying "I walked across a country once.." are just too much to turn down... Especially when said country is in the Pyrenees Mountains and google says it should only take about 10 hours. Mind you, I don't plan on doing this in a straight shot. I'd like to walk in and grab a place to stay for a day to experience the culture, then trek out the other side. Probably from Spain to France, since my journey is beginning in Spain. 

Interlaken, Switzerland
      - If there is even a question as to why this is on my list, you haven't seen photos of this place. It's on my bucket list to skydive over every continent, and this seems like the perfect place to do that. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, but it's a haven for base jumpers. A friend of mine went a couple years back and said every time they looked outside they saw someone falling from the sky. Sounds like my kind of place. 

Prague, Czech Republic
     - Yet another of those places I've always wanted to just go to. I love old architecture, and for some reason, Prague, over other cities I've explored via pinterest and the interwebs, seems to have a very unique character about it that just leaves me enamored. 

Venice and Trieste, Italy
     - Personally, Venice - all of Italy, really - seems more romantic than anything else. Probably because of the Renaissance, but who cares. While I would like to sneak foam swords into the Coliseum and have a duel in the middle of a tour, there's not much else in Rome that entices me when someone mentions the city. I have to say that there's not a whole lot I necessarily want to see in Venice, either. The idea of a floating city is just enticing... Also, if you've ever seen The Italian Job, the scene where Jason Statham is navigating the boat through the canals is just awesome. I have unreasonably high hopes of witnessing a high speed boat chase. I'm certain it won't happen, but a girl can dream. Trieste... Well, I've been told that Trieste has the world's best sunsets.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
     - I mostly want to see this place to see what all the hub-ub is about. I can assure you, I have no interest in the red light district other than to say I've been there (without "renting" anything/anyone). The blue lights on the other hand... Haha. Just kidding. 

Bergen, Norway
     - I've been fascinated with the idea of the Norwegian Fjords for years. I love mountains, and seas, the edges of cliffs, and all things green. This is one place I absolutely must see. Whatever happens, I will make it to that place one of these days. 

Kristianstund - Molde, Norway
     - For those of you that know what these two cities are connected by, you know where I'm going with this. The Atlantic Ocean Road is 5.2 miles of danger, wonder, and amazing, all rolled into one. Or so the pictures and writings seem to think. I'll find out for myself. I would most like to ride this road on a motorcycle, but we'll see what the weather is doing when I'm there. I'm not exactly experienced on two motorized wheels, and I would prefer not to be blown into the tumultuous ocean by a 30 knot gust. I mean, that would be a pretty good story, considering I survived it, but not one I would want to tell time and time again.

Lovrecina Bay, Brac Island, Croatia
     - I really have no other reason for this than the fact that I want to see a beach in Croatia, and this one seems pretty secluded with amazing sandy beaches. 

     - Because London. I also know a guy there, and it would be nice to reconnect.

My trip to Europe, while I do plan on seeing some cool sights, is less about the sights and more about the experience. I may make it to a museum or two (if they're free, cause I'm cheap like that), but I would most like to experience the cultures and learn the histories (not just of Europe, but of the world, Europe is just my destination this time around). Language is another of my great loves, and if I come away knowing a few random words in several languages, I'll be more than happy. Above all, I just want to learn about the cultures. In a place like Europe, with the Schengen Agreement and all, how does each culture maintain its individuality while also integrating in a way that appears seamless from afar? Perhaps it's not seamless at all. I'll never know until I go. 

(There's also a list of the world's most dangerous hikes, some of which are in Europe. I would like to hit some of those up while I'm there, but that may be a whole different post altogether. )

Saturday, February 7, 2015


So, I've been back home from Leo and I's road trip a couple of weeks now. Once I got back I had some sort of upper respiratory infection for about a week. Physically, I am better; mentally, I am as homesick as they come. The problem is, I am home. With the exception of a couple of short stints in Alabama and Pittsburgh, I've lived here my entire life. I shouldn't feel homesick here (I could do with moving back to Pittsburgh, but Hellabama... No.). I'm not homesick for any place I am familiar with, I am homesick for the places I've never been. I'm homesick to see Igazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina, for the Petra in Jordan, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, the fjords of Norway, Angel Falls in Venezuela, the Matterhorn in Switzerland, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and the Great Wall of China. I am homesick for the world. I live in it, and yet I haven't seen it.

So I'm going to.

A while back I had planned to take a couple of months leave of absence from work to go backpack through Europe. That plan fell through when my leave wasn't approved, and I resigned to take a week long road trip in the US. The road trip only exacerbated the issue. I've never wanted to come home from vacation and return to work, but this time was different. Not only did I not want to come home and go to work, I didn't want to come home period. I didn't want to drive my own car, use my own shower, or sleep in my own bed. These are all things I always look forward to when coming home. Especially sleeping in my own bed. I am in love with my bed, we have a special bond. If I'm gone and someone else sleeps in it, I get jealous. It's bad. But this time all the usual comforts of home tasted like dirt. Since coming home, it's just felt like I've had the worst case of cotton mouth in the history of man. So I did the only logical thing I could do. I put in my notice at work and booked a one-way flight to Spain. I leave in six weeks.

While this sounds like a spur of the moment type of decision, it's actually been brewing for a long time. And by a long time, I mean that pretty much for as long as I can remember it's been my dream to just quit life and disappear to travel the world. Ideally, I would leave without telling anyone, and just share my stories upon my return. Seeing as how my family and a few friends would probably be worried about me, I decided to share my plan with them. I've been obsessed with this idea to the point that I literally carried my passport and $2,000 in my school bag throughout most of my college career. Nothing made me want to run away more than college did. Especially after I returned from Pittsburgh. The night that I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I told my best friend Juli that I was about to turn it on. She must have set an alarm for the length of the movie, because as soon as it was over, she called me. I was on my laptop, credit card in hand, looking for the cheapest international flight I could find. She knows me too well. It took her a little while, but she finally convinced me that it would be foolish for me to quit college in my last semester, and that it was about to be cold in Europe anyway (but it would have been warm in the Southern Hemisphere!!!). So I finished school. Probably a smart move.. Thanks for that, Juli.

But now here I am, a college graduate who has yet to move out of her parents house. I've become increasingly annoyed with my job. I love what I do, but it was only ever meant to be a stepping stone, and I've been firmly standing on it with both feet. That hasn't been sitting well with me. My options were to look for a real job and start my career, or follow what I've always wanted to do and travel the world. So, I bought a backpack and a couple other essentials. I've sold all of my big ticket items except for my bed (I just can't let it go!) and my car. I sent the final payment for my car and the title should be here next week. Once I get it, I'm going to sell my car as well. Then it'll be off to Europe!

***** Update *****
The Havok Journal was kind enough to feature this blog post on their website this past Tuesday. They are part of an up and coming company called Blackside Concepts that is dedicated to veterans issues, and they have some incredible and eclectic reading material on their site. They have started a "Travel Tuesday" portion to the Havok that will feature Leo's trip through South America. Check them out!