AND THE CIRCLE IS COMPLETE

6 10 2010

Well we are back, we have gone completely around the world. Although that may have been the original premise of the trip and what sparked our desire to take a long journey it became somewhat irrelevant once we got under way. Well I will quickly recap where we have been since my last real post. First off, the pictures I had posted recently where from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Morocco, Spain and the UK territory of Gibraltar. After arriving in Munich we spent a day touring the city followed by a day trip to Austria to visit Salzburg and Innsbruck. We then left Munich and headed to Switzerland more specifically Grindelwald via Zürich and Berne. We had originally planned on staying in Interlaken but upon arrival we discovered that the rack railway train bound for Grindelwald was about to leave and decided to jump on it. I had visited the same town about four years earlier in the winter and I was very anxious to show Justyna this beautiful mountain village situated right below the infamous North Face of the Eiger. We arrived in town about an hour later and set out to find a hostel. I could have probably spent weeks there exploring the mountains but the prices of even the cheapest lodging quickly reduced that idea to two days. But what a wonderful couple of days they where. We spent most of the time hiking up in the mountains above the village and visiting the towns below. After two good days in the mountains we finally caught one of the last trains from Grindelwald to Spiez from where we had to catch another train to Milan in Italy. We unfortunately did not arrive at our hotel in Milan until close to midnight and with our flight to Morocco leaving at 10am we really did not see any of the city (although we heard from others that we did not miss much). So we caught our flight and off we went to Africa. It was at this point that I realized how far we have come as travellers. We where not only flying to another country but another continent and a place vastly different from any where we have been to before with nothing other than our back packs and a one way ticket to Marrakech. We had no hotel booked or even a good map, other than a two page excerpt in a lonely planet guide-book we where going in a bit blind. But as usual everything turned out OK. Morocco was an amazing place. It is interesting, colorful and full of energy. The people surprised us and where nearly always pleasant and often times fun to deal with. We spent a day around Marrakech before hiring a driver for a tour over the Atlas Mountains and finally to the Sahara Desert. We visited a Casbah and several Berber villages and took in some amazing views along the way. We spent a night  in a nice hotel in a massive gorge before finally venturing out into the Sahara. This was one of the highlights of our entire trip. We arrived around sunset and mounted up on some camels. We rode for nearly two hours while the sun set and lit up the endless dunes with the most amazing light. We eventually arrived at a camp well after dark. At this point we where with a group of approximately 16 people and there where 5 or so guys who prepared us dinner before playing drums and getting us all to dance late into the evening. Around midnight our entire group decided to climb to the top of the highest dune around. We all ditched our shoes and began climbing. It was a difficult hike to the top but it had its rewards. There was something really special about being up there in the nearly pitch black night. With thunderstorms rolling across the sky to the North and the incredible spread of stars above I couldn’t think of anyplace I would rather be than there. We eventually decided to head back down so we just started running down the steep face of the dune jumping ten feet or more at a time. Someone had lit a few of the dead bushes on the dune on fire which lit up the whole hill side adding to the surreal nature of the evening. When we got back to camp around 2am we set up some mattresses under the stars and tried to get a little sleep. We where abruptly woken up around 4:45am. We had a quick bite to eat before setting out on our camels to return to our trucks. This time we got to ride while the sun rose which was equally as splendid as the night before. This was scenery I had only dreamt about and had only hoped to visit one day so I was beyond thrilled to happen upon it on a little side trip we had just decided to take at the last minute. We eventually made it back out of the desert where we met back up with our driver. The ride back to Marrakech took nearly 12 hours but was made a little more pleasant by the overcast skys and the occasional rain shower which was a welcome relief from the intense sun and usually oppressive heat. Once back in Marrakech we caught a night train to the northern port town of Tangiers where we picked up the ferry to Tarifa,Spain. Tarifa was a nice little coastal town with a few interesting sights but we decided we liked it and booked a hostel for a couple of nights. We spent our time there at the beach and walking around the town. We also took a little excursion to the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is interesting and I remember wanting to visit since I was little boy and learned about it in school. The entire place is only 8 square kilometers and you actually have to walk across the runway at the airport to get into it. It seems as if every square inch is covered by some sort of either past or present piece of military equipment. The whole place is built on a rock jutting out of the sea which has been turned into swiss cheese by being perforated with hundreds of tunnels. As small as it is we still managed to get lost at one point (due to an inaccurate map) but we eventually climbed to just about the highest point of the rock proper. We also met the local primate population which resides among the upper reaches of the mountain. They where all a bit sedate and overweight compared to the once we had come across in Bali but still interesting to watch. We made our way back to Tarifa where the next day we caught a bus to the Andelucian city of Seville. The city was pleasant enough but a bit to touristy for my taste. After arriving we discovered that the only bus to Portugal left around midnight so we stowed our bags in some lockers and set out to tour the city. As usual we spent most of the day just wandering around occasionally stopping a cafe here or there. One thing Seville is famous for is Flamenco Dancing but after we found out the prices for what are most likely shows put on solely for tourists we decided that we would likely skip it. We then discovered that there was a month-long festival occurring at the moment with nightly shows put on by various performers from throughout the region. fortunately tickets where a bit cheaper so we bought a couple and went to the show. I am by no means knowledgeable about Flamenco but I do know what we saw was a very modern interpretation of the dance. It was very artistic, well done and even though completely in spanish very entertaining.  We where very fortunate to have stumbled upon a performance that was put on with such intensity rather than a lesser show by a troupe that performs the same show several times a day and in all likely hood lacks much passion. After the show we caught our bus to Lisbon and what a bus ride it was. Words cannot describe how cramped and miserable the conditions where on the bus but somehow we managed to get a few minutes of sleep before arriving around 7 am in Lisbon. We had pre booked a hostel and set out to find it. We made it to the neighborhood where it was located and I began to get a bit worried. There where people sleeping on the ground and bottles everywhere. We finally located the building which had no sign and rang a couple of door bells which received no response. Just as I began to think we got ripped off someone opened the door and welcomed us in. The place turned out to be quite nice. The owner was a lawyer with some sort of noble blood line and the building was his and was furnished with all sorts of beautiful dark wood furniture. Once again we settled in and got cleaned up after that terrible bus ride before venturing out to see the city. Lisbon again was a nice place but I think at this point in our trip we where pretty burnt out on sight-seeing. So we visited a few key areas before we had a nice lunch and walked up to the top of one of the hills overlooking the city where we just relaxed and enjoyed a couple of beers at a cafe while taking in the view. The next day we visited another area of the city famous for its museums and of course leave it up to me to find the geekiest one of them all the Museo Electricidad. Again what a cool place it was an entire power plant that has been decommissioned, refurbished and turned into a huge interactive museum, I mean you could even walk through one of the huge 4 story high pressure steam boilers. The signage must have been written by engineers or former employees because it was quite technical so I was loving it because I actually learned  a lot but I am not sure Justyna found it as interesting. Also did I mention that it was free, how much better does it get. Well also free was the modern art museum which had a couple of interesting installations open. We also discovered that there would be a classical concert being performed that evening so we bought tickets for that. With six hours to kill before the show we for some reason decided to make a four-hour round trip detour  to the town of Sintra. So again when we got there our desire to sight see just wasn’t there so we just grabbed a drink and watched the people walk by for a little while before heading back. We returned to Lisbon and went to the concert which we both enjoyed before heading back to the hostel. The next morning we grabbed a cab to the airport where we needed to catch a flight to London. We met up with our friends Paul and Jen that we had met while travelling through Laos. They showed us around Paul’s home town where we spent the evening visiting some of the local pubs and catching up on remainder of our journeys. The next day we visited the city of London proper. The infamous weather of London did not disappoint and we got rained on pretty heavily for most of the morning. We still managed to take in some of the sights including London Bridge, The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. London is so packed with history, it is really hard to take it all in, every where you look there is some sort of historic structure or a monument dedicated to some famous event or figure. We finally settled in a pub for lunch and to get out of the rain and after that we visited the Tate Modern Museum where once again we saw some strange yet interesting works. Later that afternoon we walked around the Houses of Parliament and of course the home of Big Ben. We also saw the London Eye. We finished out the day by visiting Piccadilly Circus (London’s Times Square) where we had dinner and made our way around to a couple more pubs. We then took a train back to our hotel and called it a night. The next day, our last day, we got our morning flight back to the States. The flight was uneventful and after a brief layover in Iceland we arrived to meet my parents in Boston around 6pm. I think I was avoiding having the trip come to an end so we spent two days around Boston with my Mom and Dad. They had never been there before so we brought them around to some of our favorite places  that we regularly visit when we are out there. We visited Harvard, the MIT museum and walk quite a bit of the Freedom Trail. We eventually finished up the day with dinner at Legal Seafood near the Aquarium a restaurant Justyna and I had gone to on our honeymoon over 8 years earlier. We finally made the last three-hour drive back to our house thus completing a full circumnavigation of the world. As further proof that I really did not want the trip to come to an end we stayed one more night away from home at my parents house before reluctantly returning and settling in at home and finally admitting that the trip was over. I feel at this point that I should sum up our journey in some way but in all honesty  I just don’t feel I can do it at this time. As it is I am just now remembering little bits and pieces of the trip throughout the day or as I review some of the pictures we took. I have tried to relay this feeling to others by describing it as if you are trying to see the entire Great Wall Of China while standing at the base of one of its walls, in other words you can see plenty of detail in that one section of wall but it is obviously impossible to take it all in at one time. Others have asked what have I learned on the trip. Well the short answer is a lot and in reality it is really not possible to say how much I have learned and how it has all impacted and changed the way I think. One thing I have learned for sure is that the world is a truly amazing place. With such diversity in culture, people, geography and climate it is astounding how we as humans have all figured out somewhat unique ways of doing the same thing, surviving. Yet for all of its uniqueness there is still a sort of common bond linking everything making it a very accessible place. We could all learn from the world around us, not only about ourselves but how everything the we and others do affect to some degree the small planet we call home. So get out there and see for your self don’t just take my word for it or my pictures for that matter go take your own! And by the way have fun because that is what it is all really about in the end.

I hope everyone has enjoyed travelling with us. Above all my true desire is that I inspired at least a few of you to get out there and explore a bit more your selves. Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time with any comments or especially if you need some help or advise in planning your on journey be it a day or a year.You can reach me at andrewewelch@wildblue.net  Thanks again to everyone who has left comments and supported me in writing this blog. I especially want to thank my wife Justyna for not only coming with me and making the trip that much more exciting but for also encouraging me to keep on writing. Well I think that might be it for me, but who knows I may eventually decide to add to this blog at some point in the future but until the next great adventure so long and happy trails.





PICTURES FROM THE FINAL LEG

6 10 2010

Bull Fighting Ring In Seville

 

The Cathederal In Seville

 

Justyna At The Plaza Espana

 

Trolley In Lisbon

 

Statue In Commerce Square, Lisbon

 

Another Trolley In Lisbon

 

Cat In A Window, Lisbon

 

Overlooking Lisbon

 

Me At The Museo Electricidad

 

Along The Water Front In Lisbon

 

Church Steeples In Sintra, Portugal

 

Over Looking Sintra

 

Train Station In Lisbon

 

Lift In Lisbon

 

Hanging Out In A Pub With Jen And Paul

 

The Tube

 

London Rain

 

Tower Bridge

 

The Iconic London Double Decker Bus

 

Big Ben

 

Us With The London Eye In The Background

 

Piccadilly Circus

 

A Hall At Harvard

 

On The MIT Campus

 

The Charles River, Boston

 

Paul Revere Monument, Boston

 

Sunset From Home (Our First Night Back)





GUESS WHERE?

20 09 2010

Well I do not have too much time but I wanted to post some pictures from the past week or so. There are no captions because I would like you all out there to try and guess where we have been. I will buy you a beer if you can guess all six countries shown and maybe a second one if you can tell me where the last location is. I will fill in all the details when I get to post again which will likely be from home.





BACK WHERE IT ALL STARTED

10 09 2010

Well I have a little free time for once and a reliable internet connection so I figured I would write a quick post. We are in Munich, Germany which is where my passion for travel really began. Nine years ago a friend of mine had invited me on a trip to Germany to pick up a car. It was the first time I had left the continent. Everything felt so new and interesting and I really fell in love with the place and began to wonder what else was out there. So that trip wound up changing my life. Up until that point I really believed that material wealth was the most important thing in life as experiences where non-tangible and only remained in your mind as memories. But since then I have become to believe that there is nothing more valuable than the experiences you have in life. In the end all of the things you acquire do nothing more than prevent you from really enjoying the world around you. I am not saying that we should get rid of everything we own and become vagabonds but that typically we have gone too far in acquiring a whole lot of things that we don’t really need. Do not get me wrong I like nice things too but I also like to weigh the potential gain of buying something new versus the experiences I may be able too have for the same financial outlay. For example for with what many people would pay for a new car we have been able to use to take a trip around the world which in the end will surly be one of the greatest periods of our lives. And although we may remember the new Honda Accord we may have opted to buy in ten or twenty years, we will more likely share memories of our amazing journey until the day we die, as well as hopefully pass some of the spirit of adventure on to others. Well enough about that. As I said earlier I came here nine years ago and the whole trip changed my life not only because it sparked my interest in travel but I also proposed to Justyna on my way out the door and as you I hope all figured out by now she said yes. And to top it all off it was Valentines Day! How could I not marry her after that? Well I always wanted to bring her back here to hopefully share a bit of my first real foreign adventure with her. Munich is everything I remember and more, I remember really liking the city and now even with a fairly large portfolio of cities to compare it to I still love it. I mean what is there not to like, great beer, sausage, nice cars and beautiful parks. Also it has the worlds largest technical museum which, if you haven’t guessed, wound up being one of my very favorite museums. On my first trip we had also visited Salzburg and Innsbruck, both in Austria which I found both equally as interesting with the additional benefit of being located in the mountains (always a plus in my book). So today we got up early and took a train to Salzburg and after visiting the castle and old town for a little while we continued on to Innsbruck where we explored for a while before having dinner and returning to Munich. So all in all it has been a great couple of days. So I have just a couple of things I need to say to a couple of people out there reading this. First off, thank you Jim, really. I think you forgot to mention when you invited me on that trip that travel can be addictive and before long I would be quitting job after job trying to spend every dollar I have ever earned to visit some unknown village as far away from where I live as possible. No seriously thank you for opening my eyes to the world we live in and in many ways inspiring this journey we are now on. And secondly I need to thank Justyna for not only saying yes on that Valantines Day morning back in 2001 but for also sharing this incredible endeavour we have undertaken. I love you and have honestly had the best time of my life with you on this trip.





THE GRAND TOUR OF EASTERN EUROPE

7 09 2010

Well once again I must try to excuse myself for not posting but as usual we have been on the go since my last post and have not actually had any time to stop and get something written. The last time I posted was from Poland so that is where I will start with this post. Overall we spent a little more than a week at Justyna’s Mothers house where we spent the vast majority of the day working around the farm. In preparation for the upcoming harvest she was having a new storage container built out of reinforced concrete to hold and ferment the corn to be used later for feed. Over all the structure required tons of rebar and four truckloads of concrete which had to be poured using the aid of a 35 meter boom on a pump truck. In addition to rebar tying, form work building, post hole digging and  concrete pouring I managed to find time to fit in several other chores around the farm like milling 500 lbs of grain for feed, collecting fresh grass and unloading a dump truck load of hot fermenting spent grains from a brewery also to be used for feed. I must say it is truly amazing how much 50 cows can eat. Although it was tough at times, it was a nice change of pace and I really did enjoy getting down to work and having something to show at the end of the day. I also enjoyed working with the crew of Polish guys, even though there a major language barrier with hardly a common word between us I still managed to figure out what needed to be done and got to it. So overall my time in Poland which I had originally planned on being our break from travelling for a week turned out to be quite the opposite but it also turned out to be one of the more rewarding times of our trip. After that and before heading out on our rail tour of Europe we spent a few more days in Poland. First we spent a day in Krakow touring some of the major sites. After that we met up with our friends from Warsaw and drove to a beautiful cabin on a lake near a town called Nowy Scaz. There we spent the weekend playing games and just having fun. From there we headed back to Krakow where we caught the train to Prague in the Czech Republic. I had visited this city a few years ago on my own and I always wanted to bring Justyna back as it was one of my favorites in all of Europe. Instead of boring you with all of the minute details of each and every day I will again just briefly sum up the route we have taken over the past week or so and attach some picture hoping that they will again be able to convey the beauty of these cities in a way that my words simply cannot. So once in Prague we activated our rail pass so I usually take this as a challenge to see how many miles I can get out of it before it expires. So after a day in Prague we took a night train to Budapest,  Hungary where unfortunately we had a miserable day of weather which limited us on some of the sights but did allow us to spend some more time in some of the museums. We went to the Terror Museum which covered in great detail the occupation of the country by both the Nazis and the Communists. We also spent a bit of time in the National Gallery which housed a nice collection of paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. From Budapest we again took another night train to a town in the Transylvanian area of Romania called Brasov. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the old town and hiking on the near by mountain overlooking the valley below. We spent the night at a great little hostel where the owner shared what he called a traditional Romanian drink consisting of red wine and Pepsi (try it, it is not half bad). The next day we had the hostel owners father drive us to a few of the area’s famous castles. Bran Castle is the most famous of the ones we saw and is usually mistakenly refered to as the home of Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. Although neither the character nor the persona he was likely based on had much to do with the castle it was still quite interesting. After visiting a few more castles we were dropped off in another town called Sinaia which also had a spectacular castle. We then caught a train to Bucharest the capital of Romania where we took a couple of hours to hastily walk around the city before catching another night train to Belgrade in Serbia. In Belgrade we had a wonderful day visiting some museums including one that I was very excited about called the Tesla Museum. Nicoli Tesla was born in Serbia and was in my eyes one of the greatest men to have ever lived and it does not require you to look to far to see some of his inventions around you. If you are reading this on a computer it is probably plugged in and if it is not you will have to plug it in to charge it well Tesla was the creator AC or alternating current system we use for the distribution of electricity through out the world. Also he was instrumental in the creation of radio transmitters and receivers as well as the ac electric motor which is used in everything from your washing machine to 6000 HP locomotives. It is fairly safe to say the life for us would be different if Tesla had never walked the earth. After the museum we visited another castle complex and a military museum which outlined some of the conflicts in the area over the past several centuries. From Belgrade we took another night train to a town called Bar on the coast of the Adriatic sea in Montenegro (if you haven’t figured it out by now we like to take night trains because you not only save on the cost of lodging but you do not waste your days travelling between cities). After what turned out to be one of the most incredible train rides of my life we took a bus to the amazing old fortified  town called Kotor. We found ourselves a room in a nice little old Grandmothers apartment right in the middle of the old town before exploring the old streets and castle. The Castle was really something you could spend days there just wandering through the hundreds of passages and along the walls that stretched for well over a thousand vertical feet up the mountain behind the town. That evening enjoyed a nice dinner in one of the squares along with some very good Montenegrin wine. From Kotor we took a bus across the border and up the coast to the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. We again found a great place to stay in an apartment in the heart of the old town and set out to explore. We finished off the day with some pizza and wine out on some rocks right at the foot of the water below the castle walls. The next day we walked the entire 2km perimeter of the castle before hiking up the hill overlooking the city to Fort Imperial which now houses a museum dedicated to the war from 1991 to 1992. Later we took another bus to the town called Split about four hours up the coast where we visited some huge basement tunnels built during Roman times. We also got to hear some live music along the water front before we had to head back to the train station to catch another train this time to Zagreb. We unfortunately where not able to book a sleeper berth on that train so we had to get some seats which turned out to be a complete mess. The first hour was fine but then two large old women came barging in around one in the morning turning on lights, talking and adjusting and readjusting baggage for what seemed like forever. The two of them managed to take up most of the six person compartment. It was incredibly hot and every time we opened the window she would slam it shut and huff and puff for a while. To top it all off every fifteen minutes of so someone would open the door and whip open the curtain on the compartment and look inside and then just walk away leaving it open. Needless to say we where not very rested this morning. Well we got in around 7am and took a walk around the old town in what turned out to be another wet and cold day. We then made our way to the Technical Museum (yeah it was my idea) which was really great it was filled with tons of big old engines, electrical equipment, machinery, mining tools and fire fighting equipment which was right up my alley. I think Justyna may have even enjoyed it a little bit too. After that we grabbed a quick bite to eat and took another train to Ljubljana in Slovenia where we are staying now. After getting a room at a hostel we took a funicular up to the Castle overlooking the city. At the castle they where having a huge party for the opening of a new restaurant. I am not sure if we were sapposed to be there or not but we managed to stick around and sample just about everything they where offering which included an entire cow roasted over a fire as well as five roasted pigs we also enjoyed several glasses of good Slovenian red wine. So now we are just resting in the hostel trying to digest some of the food we just had and planning what little is eft of our trip. Tomorrow we will be visiting a mountainous region of Slovenia called Bled before returning in the evening to catch another night train to Munich. Our original plan had been to spend some time in the Alps in Switzerland and Austria but the weather has been bad for a while and does not show many signs of improving so as usual I think things again will be day by day. I am not sure If I will be able to post agin before I return so at the very latest look for another one around the 26th when we get back to the States.

PICTURES TO FOLLOW…





PICS FROM EASTERN EUROPE PT.1

6 09 2010

Pumping Concrete On The Farm

 

Hanging Out With The Polish Work Crew

 

Tractor Fun

 

Justyna Hanging Out On Top Of The Silo

 

This Is Who All The Work Was For

 

St Mary's Church In Krakow

 

Playing Risk At The Cabin In Nowy Sacz

 

Me, Justyna, Hania and Maciek At The Cabin

 

Prague, Czech Republic

 

Overlooking Prague

 

Another View Of Prague

 

Prague Castle At Night

 

Victim's Pictures At The Terror Museum In Budapest, Hungary

 

Parliament In Budapest

 

The Old Town Of Brasov Romania

 

Hiking On The Mountain Above Brasov

 

Bran Castle

 

Inside The Castle At Rasnov





PICS FROM EASTERN EUROPE PT.2

5 09 2010

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania

A Church In Bucharest, Romania

Making Dinner On The Train

The Bomb Damaged Ministry Of Defense In Belgrade, Serbia

The Worlds Largest Orthodox Church Belgrade, Serbia

Checking Out A Cannon At The Military Museum In Belgrade

Hanging Out At The Castle In Belgrade

Justyna Using Her Special Powers To Stop A Tank

Where To Go Next???

Sunset From Belgrade

On The Night Train Again

The Train Ride In Montenegro

View From The Train

At The Castle Above Kotor, Montenegro

The Castle At Kotor

Exploring The Castle Ruins At Kotor

Justyna and "Grandma" At The Apartment In Kotor

Outside The Castle In Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik At Night

Along The Fortification Walls Around Dubrovnik

Looking Down On Dubrvnik From Fort Imperial

The Roman Era Tunnels Under The Palace In Split, Croatia

St. Marks Church In Zagreb, Croatia

At The Technical Museum In Zagreb

A Cow Roast At The Party In Ljubljana

Free Food And Wine At The Party In Ljubljana, Slovenia








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