Posted by: rngerlach | July 23, 2007

My Final Message from Europe: Live YOUR Life

I warn you this is a long blog posting pretty much summing up some of my thoughts from the last eight weeks. Enjoy…

Many will ask upon my return, “what was Europe like?” or “how was Europe?” I must be honest, I can not sum up complete reply to those questions. It is truly something that must be experienced to fully understand, just like anything else in life. I will have too many stories to share, just pick a city or a country you would like to hear about and I will be off and running with stories, but you just will not comprehend unless you have travelled for any extensive time. I will do my best to sum up Europe and my newly gained perspective on this world and the people who inhabit it. In one sentence, the last two months in Europe was the most adventurous and educational two months of my life thus far. It wasn´t so much the tangibles that I gained, its the intangibles. I learned the most about myself, other people, other cultures, and gained a better understanding of how this world works.

Travelling Europe is not for everyone, though I do think everyone should experience it. So just some snapshots of what our Europe experience was: Its waking up not knowing who you might meet or what you will see; its playing hopscotch in the shower because the water turns from hot to cold and cold to hot in the blink of an eye; its sitting in a train station at 2am in delerium waiting for that morning train to arrive; its meeting the coolest Australian ever, only to meet a cooler Aussie two days later; its sitting on a beach in Greece wondering why you should ever leave; its walking through Rome with a bad fever just to see the colosseum; its sitting on another beach in Spain wondering again why you should ever leave; its sitting in anticipation overlooking the cliff into the river where you are about to freefall 200 feet before swinging through the canyon; its running through a narrow street with bulls at the same time wondering what the hell am I doing?; its walking European city after city seeing incredible sculptures, arwork, and history; its going four days in Amsterdam only to wonder where the past four days have gone; and finally its waking up the last day of the trip contemplating on the last two months and thinking “damn, its been one hell of a ride.”

Historical Perspective:

We were lucky enough to see some of the great historical sights on this journey including the Acropolis, Colosseum, the David by Michelangelo, the Van Gogh Museum, Eiffel Tower and much much more.  However, when I look at where the world is today with technology increasing the speed and change ever so rapidly, I must pause and think how this all came about.  Many things have contributed to it including the rise of the internet created by Berners Lee, the rise of software through Microsoft, and of course Google.  Yet, lets think on a global perspective of how this was made possible.  Many companies today are outsourcing to India or China to do the backoffice work while they can concentrate on the service side of their jobs in the states.  Where am I going with this?  I feel none of the outsourcing and rapid rate of globalization would be occurring as quickly without one historical landmark date.  November 9 of 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell and thus disintegrated the barrier between the Eastern and Western world.  I won´t get into detail about what caused the wall to go down, it is actually a comical story to hear about the day the wall came down, please ask me about it in person.  Since that day, the socialist and communist way of life in the Eastern world has slowly but surely turned to capitalism joining the rest of the world in this rapid rate of change and globalization.  And who has benefited the most? China and India now have hope in this capitalist world since they have the wealth of knowledge.  Again, this is a tangent I have started but I look at all of the historical sights we have seen and have to think that the Berlin Wall has cause the most impact on where we stand today in a fast-changing global economy and society.

This all brings me to my next point about change.  One thing is for certain in this world that humankind has always struggled with and that is change.  I just touched on a little bit of how the world is changing so rapidly but think about people.  Relationships change because people change and only those relationships that last through the change show a form of compatability to the change.  Do not resist the change in your personal lives it will only slow your growth down in a world of rapid change.  Travelling through Europe, something was new everyday, things were continuosly changing.  Friends would come and go, times would be good and they would be bad.  It seemed like a microcosm of life.  We saw so much and met so many people yet we are only hitting the tip of the iceberg on world travels.  Anthony Keidis, vocalist for Red Hot Chilli Peppers, summed up this trip with the lyrics “the more I see, the less I know, so I just have to let it go.”  It was so overwhelming at times how much change was happening and it hurt when I resisted until I realized we are only seeing a very small part of the world and there is so much more to it, so I just had to let it go.

Live Your Life:

My true final message is to Live YOUR life.  It is such a simple phrase but it is a phrase that I think has a liberating ring to it.  Don´t try to live the life your parents wanted to or be in the shoes of your favorite athlete, rockstar, or actor.  They are all just people like you and I.  I do not think comparisons do any good in this world either.  “The grass is always greener on the other side.”  Living a life through comparison to others will only make you live their life.  Instead of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ perspective, try landscaping your perspective and live through your heart by being uniquely yourself.  I am one who compares many things in this world and to be honest it was never really productive. Never be too foolish to put others above you (millionaires, rockstars, athletes, government, your managers or bosses), yet never be too arrogant to put yourself above those who are less fortunate than you (the bum on the corner, mentally challenged, physically challenged, etc.)  Because the reality is we all have the same bloodflow with similar desires and similar struggles.  The us vs. them attitude will only take you to the land of comparisons.  I think once you see the world as one whole community, you see the proverbial ‘light’.

I have done my absolute best on this blog to help you share the European experience with me but the truth of the matter is literature or pictures just don´t do it any justice.  You really cannot feel the experiences I have endured the last two months and I cannot feel what you have gone through in the past two months or even a lifetime. The best we can do is share them with each other and let the imagination wonder.  In retrospect, our life is only a speck in the line of history on this earth so all you can ever do is live your life.  Inherit the change that is inherent in you;  Read a new book, try a new cuisine, meet a new person no matter how weird you perceive them to be, sing a new song, dance a new dance, etc.  Whatever it is, make sure you are living the way you want to live.    Because one day, this earth is still in rotation and you are not here anymore, but until that day LIVE YOUR LIFE!

Acknowledgements:

I have several thanks to give, big thanks to:

Nick Urbani for encouraging me to do this travel blog, I truly hope it has only opened up your minds as much as the experience did for me.  Great idea Nick!

Josh Ragland, Cando, and Pappa Green for always being the firsts to leave awesome comments on the blog, I never really knew if people were actually reading it but you three were always on top of it.  Also big thanks to Ragland for the map of Amsterdam, that map is legendary!  And big thanks to Cando for encouraging us to run with the bulls, so many stories to share.

Tyana for being great company in Greece and sharing all to good spots to visit in Barcelona and Paris

And of course I have to thank my parents for supporting this trip as it has changed my life in so many ways, it would not have been possible without their support.

Finally, a big thank you to the one person who experienced this continent minute by minute with me, for putting up with my funky yoga stretches after long days of walking, keeping my attitude in check when it went sour, and for being an incredible brother. Thanks Dana!

56 days, 13 countries, 26 cities, 22 hostels, 3 night trains, 2 travellers, and 1 unforgettable journey to last a lifetime!

Signing off from Europe, see you all very soon!

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Posted by: rngerlach | July 23, 2007

Travelling Europe on a Budget

If you are like me and lacking a continuous source of income right now, but you have saved money for a travel fund, a well-planned budget must be prepared.  I just hope to provide some helpful tips for saving money through European travels.  Europe is not like South or Central America or even Southeast Asia where the US dollar carries a lot of weight.  Sure it costs more to catch a flight to those countries, but once you are there living is very cheap. Most European countries have the Euro (€) as their form of currency.  Do not and I repeat do not underestimate the power of the exchange rate.

The Euro is around 1.36 to the US dollar.  For instance, every time I withdraw 100€ from the bancomat, ATM, I check my bank account which shows that I withdrew 136 US dollars plus the banking fees which are about 8 dollars. So spending 100€ is the same as spending roughly 145 dollars.  My best advice is to prepare your travel budget with the exchange rates included. Just to review the power of 1.36 to 1.  I brought a little over 4,000 US dollars for two months, yet I only could spend 3,000 of it because 1,000 went to just covering the exchange rate, yes it is powerful.

Some countries don´t use the Euro such as Sweden (Krona), Denmark (Danish Krona), Czech Republic (Krown), and Switzerland (Franc).  I made the mistake of not researching the exchange rates on these currencies and paid heavily since I never really knew exactly how much to withdraw.  In Czech Republic, I withdrew cash four times in three days since I never really could get the exchange rate clicking in my head.  Had we prepared our budget around how many Krown we could spend instead of US dollars, the bank account would have been much more pleasant to see.

The more preparation you do beforehand on the exchange rates, the absolute better you will be with your travel fund.  Some other tips on travelling with a budget:

Choose your meals wisely: Unless you have tons of cash to spend for your travels, you will not be eating like you do in the US.  You want to get the fine local cuisine in every country you visit but you do not want to break you wallet in the process, so find the balance.  We would visit a local supermarket whenever we needed to and buy granola bars, bread, and nutella or peanut butter.  Most European countries don´t sell peanut butter but nutella which is like chocolate butter.  I am a huge peanut butter fanatic so this was hard to handle at first.  Fortunately, when we arrived in Switzerland, the first market we hit had peanut butter.  Yes, we stocked up on the jars of peanut butter to last us the rest of the trip.  We would just use the food from the markets to get us by during the long days on trains or walking 5-10 miles through the European cities.  Then you want that fine local cuisine, so allow yourself one or two good meals to splurge on to get a taste of that fine local food.  Depending on how long you are in each city of course because it is all relative.  The average time we spent in each city was 3-4 days, so base it on that scale.

Validate Your Metro Tickets: Never think that you can get away on a metro without validating the ticket.  We saw two girls in Prague who were on our metro car and they hadn´t validated their ticket.  It was not pretty seeing a pissed off Czech officer charge these two girls the equivalent of 80 US dollars each.

Know the Train is Booked Before the Hostel: This is somewhat harder to do, but if you are travelling Europe by train with a Eurail pass, some trains require you to make a reservation.  The trains that require reservation charge supplement fees as well.  The Eurail doesn´t cover everything unfortunately.  We probably paid about 400 dollars just in supplement fees for trains.  There is always alternate routes that may take longer but will save you money.  We ran into a situation where we had a hostel booked in Barcelona but the train was all full from Bern and Geneva, Switzerland to Barcelona.  So we paid for a night in Barcelona while sleeping in a train station.  Now this rarely happens but it can so always be aware of what trains you can take, and book ahead of time.  Important to note is that you can only book a train from that actual station, there are no online bookings for Eurail.  Thus, it is sometimes harder to book trains if you will not be in that city until the day of departure, which does happen often.

Always Be Aware: One thing about travelling anywhere is you have to know when you are in the area of a pickpocketer or gypsie.  They are very sligh with this too.  I was never pickpocketed or robbed by a gypsie, knock on wood, but I had encounters.  One lady was trying to act as a prostitute in Prague and kept reaching into our pockets and we knew immediately what she was after.  In Napoli, Italy, three kids tried distracting me and picking my pockets but the best defense is acting crazy.  It helped in this situation that I was feeling crazy from lack of sleep so my temper allowed me to flip a switch and make the kids run away with empty hands.  In Barcelona, we were in a bar on Las Ramblas chatting with some guys from America, one was boasting how he had not been picked yet. No sooner after we left that bar, two prostitutes ganged up on him and he thought he had defended them until he checked his pockets and all 50€ of his cash was no longer there.  I am telling you they do this for a living, so always be aware.  Your best bet, is to put everything in your front pockets and when on metros put your own hands in your pockets, this was my best defense mechanism.  Regardless, do not let this scare you from travelling, it is just part of the game and you always have to be smart and alert.

These are just a few tips I could share for travelling Europe with Eurail.  I think it is the only way to travel Europe. There are so many more tricks of the trade when travelling anywhere, so feel free to ask for more. Either way I hope this helps if you ever decide to take that adventure and if so, safe travels!

Posted by: rngerlach | July 21, 2007

Simple Life in Belgium

Brugge, Belgium has the typical European small-town vibe to it.  It is the perfect city for a come down from the Amsterdam hangover.  Belgium, like Germany and Czech Republic, takes much pride in their beer.  They all claim being ‘beer capital of the world’.  The people are very pleasant here and just whistle their way through the streets. I’ve never seen so many people whistle in one community.  Music is in the air here, as we walk down little cobblestone streets here along the canal, speakers are attached to the buildings with the sound of Belgian classical music.  No doubt, a much different vibe from Amsterdam.  The Dutch people were a trip, very tall and in your face when they talk to you.  It was almost as if they were yelling, but that’s just who they are. Yet, the Belgian people are a bit more reserved and mind their own.  Seeing the small differences in cultural communication has been so entertaining and educational. 

The very first bar we visited happened to be in our hostel, St. Christopher’s Bauhaus.  The locals sitting at the bar greeted us and gave us a short explanation of what they do in Brugge, Belgium.  “We drink beer, eat good food, and go fishing,” exclaimed the local middle-aged man.  Sounds like a nice place to be I thought to myself. There really is not much to do here in Belgium, but eat good waffles and drink good beer.  It is the perfect final country to visit on the mainland.  Much reflection has been done here on the last two months of our lives.  Mixed emotions are setting in at this point as I know only four more days are left to be spent in Europe. How I will miss this day-to-day adventure of new people, new culture, new food, new challenges, and new perspective.  Yet, the comfort of home awaits in the US of A.  One thing about being in new countries all of the time is the personal guard is always up.  You truly have to be alert of pickpocketers, thieves, and gypsies at all times, a guard is always up.  Yet another paradox, because you have to let some guard down just to enjoy and immerse into the culture.  Just having simple survival tactics, I suppose, is what can be overlooked by travellers at times.  It will be one awesome feeling to let that guard down in sunny San Diego.  So what’s next? Look for one final blog to come in the next day or two wrapping up the European adventure with simple travel tips, budgeting tips, and the new perspective gained in the last two months.  One thing is for sure, I am not the same person I was in May. But then again, neither are you. Change is inevitable.  To be continued….

Posted by: rngerlach | July 20, 2007

Gone Dutch

“Jesus Loves You”  is the sign we read every time we enter our hostel.  Four days and four nights booked up at Shelter City Christian hostel which is located where in Amsterdam? Located in the heart of the Red Light District, kind of ironical indeed. We were invited to many bible sessions after every encounter with the front desk, yet we politely declined as we had other things to tend to.

The four days and four nights spent in the Dam became a blur after day two, just too much going on here to remember all of the minute details.  Our second day, we started out at Popeye’s coffee shop to prepare for a long day, then ventured over to get in touch with our artistic side by visiting the Van Gogh Museum.  After seeing so many of Vincent Van Gogh’s best artworks from the short ten year artist career he had, we were seeing everything in brush strokes.  Van Gogh was a masterful brush stroke artist, so much so that every scene after the museum felt as if we were in the picture.  Day three of our Amsterdam experience would prove to be a long one.  We started at the Heineken Brewery learning how Heineken has come to be the marketing superpower they are.  Little did we know that Heineken owns a ton of brands such as Killian’s Red, Amstel and many more.  Then we visited which ended up being our favorite coffee shop “Free Adam” just because it had the reggae vibe with Bob Marley and Damien Marley lighting up the speakers, we jammin’ now!  Most other coffee shops we visited had the fast house music which wasn’t feeding the moment right.  We ended up at the Doors coffee shop that night talking to a guy from Dubai and Kingston, Jamaica.  The curfew at our Christian hostel was 2am and doesn’t open back up until 7am. Well this night in the Doors’ coffee shop, time didn’t find us until 4am when they closed it down on us.  The Jamaican guy disappeared along with his buddy from Dubai.  I must admit, I missed their funky accent.  Yet, time was on our side as we had three hours to kill. We spent this time in a city plaza feeding pigeons watching the sunset.  The last day spent in Amsterdam was another blur spent at Vondel Park watching the many musical performers just performing their heart out to get by with a few Euro cents.

We saw some of the best street performers in Amsterdam who do it for living.  I think sometimes that these guys should be on television, like the African group doing a tribal dance on the street near Vondel Park or the one guy making his own beats on his occopello (spelling) machine.  I do have to say one thing about the bums in Amsterdam, they have creative ways of earning your money. We’ve seen it all, one guy juggled chain saws on the street just for a couple cents.  One guy told us his life story and how he is immortal because he has been given the holy spirit which he then supposedly passed to me, then followed by asking for a couple cents to spare.  I guess even the immortal need money too.  The banjo player was the best as he followed us for ten minutes playing Johnny Cash and songs about how annoying he was to travelers.   I figured, at least they are earning the money and not just panhandling, pure form of capitalism. My final comment on the Dutch is how tall they are.  I am short dude, but I felt discriminated against.  I had to stand on my tip toes to use one of the urinals.  The people are just real tall here, making me feel quite challenged.  Their accent is incredible too as it sounds like they are trying to hack out a spit when they say something, anything.  Overall, the Dam experience is one every person should try!

See you in Belgium with the waffles!

Posted by: rngerlach | July 16, 2007

A Toast from Paris to the Naysayers

Many travellers that we have run into along the way have told us Paris cannot be done in only one day.  Dana and I had only one day in Paris, so we set out to prove them wrong.  We started at the St. Michel/Notre Dame Cathedral around noon time.  Circling the cathedral observing it from every angle along with the statue of Charlemagne, we next ventured west along the river.  Our next stop was at the world famous art museum in Paris, the Louvre.  Fortunately the line was not too long, we paid our 9€ and set foot for the massive Louvre museum at 1pm.  We got to see Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa among many other great works of art from Francisco de Goya, Monet, and Donatello.  My personal favorite parts were Napolean’s Apartments, which showed where the ruler used to reside and Hamurabi’s Code, a legendary Mesopotamian sculpture.  In all, the Louvre took us nearly 4 hours as we did not step foot outside until 5pm.  Anyone who has ever been to the Louvre knows that it could easily be an all day visit, but we had little time to waste with more to see.

Westward we continued along the river bank down the Avenue des Champs Elysees, which is about a 2 mile stretch, to the Arc de Triomphe Etiole.  The Avenue des Champs Elysees is the final leg to the finish line every year for the Tour de France.  Speaking of the Tour de France, Paris is currently preparing for that final leg of the race which takes place at the end of the month.  I also like to refer to the Avenue and the Arc de Triomphe as the location where my hero, Lance Armstrong, won 7 consecutive tours from 1999-2005.  I still think they should call it the Tour de Lance.  France would never let that slide however.

The clock striking 8pm and the sun beginning to set, we ventured towards our last stop, the Eiffel Tower.  We arrived at the tower and set up shop in the park next to the tower, Champs de Mars.  The cork was popped on the bottle of champagne we bought as we watched the sun set on the tower just to see it light up at night, which is what the naysayers said we should do.  It was quite a spectacle to see, the Tour Eiffel lit up at night.  However, next time I make that visit I hope it to be with a female companion.  No offense to my brother but Paris is the romance capital of the world so in both our minds we were wondering where that Juliet was for this sight.  We topped the night off by giving a toast to the naysayers and of course Lance Armstrong for defying the odds of his own set of naysayers 7 straight times.  Yes our accomplishment greatly pales in comparison to his feat, yet it was worth a toast.

Granted, Paris is a very large city and there is so much more to see but we covered all that we had wished to see.  To our surprise, the people were actually very nice to us.  Maybe because we had expected them to be just rude Frenchies or maybe because we are de-sensitized to rude people from our seven weeks of travels.  Either way, Paris is a beautiful city that everyone should see sometime with a lively culture and great cuisine that we did not get to sample because of our active itinerary.  Yet, let us give one more toast to Lance!

What is next?  We get ready to board the train to Amsterdam where we will live from the 16-20th, followed by Brugge, Belgium 20-21st then Brussels 22-23rd.  We then finish our 2 month journey in London on the 24th in preparation of flying out at 10am on the 25th to arrive in sunny San Diego at 4:30pm.  It is hard to fathom we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel on this incredible journey.  We look forward to seeing the Van Gogh Museum, Vondel Park, Rembrandt Park, the Red Light District, and the many coffee shops where we can relax, reflect on the journey and taste Amsterdam’s finest….. coffee that is!

Posted by: rngerlach | July 13, 2007

Laid Back Life in Barcelona

Barcelona is well known for its beautiful architecture, tapas bars, discotecas, and the beautiful beaches.  We were lucky enough to experience a little of all Barcelona has to offer.  Let me first begin with the architecture.  For anyone who does not know who Antoni Gaudi is, I suggest you Google him and check out his architecture.  Much of Barcelona´s beautiful and unique element is under the influence of Gaudi.  He is one of the most original and creative architects in my opinion after this visit to this city.  I have never witnessed any work like this before.  We started at Parc Guell which is a sight overlooking Barcelona, quite a panoramic it was.  Then we walked down 50 meters to Gaudi Parc and El Musei de Gaudi which shows the house he lived in and the park he built. He not only built his own house but his own furniture and everything that the house encompasses.  Gaudi Parc displays just some of his unique style.  His architecture all flows and has no sharp edges, it is all rounded and almost appears as if the building is made of liquid.  The roofs of his buildings are all topped with fruitful colors that look like scales of a reptile.  Supposedly, he was very into nature and his architecture illustrates just that.  Our second day in Bacelona, we toured the church he designed, La Segrada Familia, which like every other historically significant building in Europe we have witnessed was surrounded by scaffolding from the continuous construction.  As I stated earlier, I recommend anyone who knows nothing or little of Antoni Gaudi to research the work he has done, or better yet visit Barcelona to witness it personally.

We captured the incredible food and culture of Spain in Barcelona by visiting some great tapas bars, drinking sangria, and listening to beautiful Spanish flamenco music.  For anyone who ever visits Spain, it is a must to order Paella, which is a seafood dish with rice and silantro. The heart of Spanish food lies in tapas, paella, and sangria.  The Spanish nightlife begins around 11pm and goes until the sun comes up.  Our hostel was just two blocks from Placa Catalunya and Las Ramblas where many of the bars and discotecas are located so we were delighted to many late night discotecas, tapas bars, and enough sangria to last me a lifetime. The beach life in Spain was also a trip.  Everywhere you look, topless women, every heterosexual man´s dream. After two days being spent at the beaches in Barcelona, it felt weird to see women with the top half of the bikini on.  Bars are lined up on the beach about every 200 meters blasting everything from Bob Marley to Spanish techno out of the large outdoor speakers.  Life on the beach in Barcelona consisted of many topless women, hearing the funky vibes of techno beating from behind while staring out at the beautiful Mediterranen water flow peacefully to the shore.

Before we took this journey, I liked the Italian culture and food more than that of Spain.  However, this trip has been incredibly eye-opening and I now must admit that the Italian culture pales in comparison to the Spanish. Of course it is all subjective to my opinion from a week spent in each country.  Only three more countries to visit and I feel that we have done all of the extreme activities we can do in a lifetime in the last six weeks; cliff jumpin in batcaves, canyoning, canyon jumping, and running with bulls.  It is now time to use the last leg of this trip through Paris, Amsterdam, and Belgium as some relaxation, reflection, and soaking up every last minute of this continent.

Posted by: rngerlach | July 13, 2007

The Day We Ran With Bulls

“Trenta minutos a Pamplona, trenta minutos,” the train attendant yelled into our sleeper couchette of the night train from Barcelona to Pamplona. The time read 5:05am as our train that left Barcelona at 10pm was due to arrive in Pamplona at 5:30am. Thus the beginning of one of the longest, most culturally-filled days of my life. We arrived with a little over 2 hours before the guns shot for the Running of the Bulls. Enough time to shake out the cobwebs, buy our red and white outfits for the day to celebrate the San Fermin festivities, and to store our luggage. Walking through the streets at 6am, people were still stumbling out of the bars from a long night of drinking and the putrid scent of vaumit laced the streets. At this point, I knew we were in for a long day. Fortunately, we lined up in front of the pack for the actual running and we met four American guys from Chicago, three of whom are professors at Northwestern Universtity while the other is a professor at UCLA. This was the fourth time they had participated in the event so they were giving us a coaching and pre-run pep talk on how not to fall down and avoid being severely inured. Apparently, if you happen to fall in the running, you are supposed to stay down and tuck into a ball as then the bulls will avoid you. Yet if you try to raise back up and keep running, you put yourself in immediate danger since that is when bulls lay their force into you which usually ends in severe inury or even death.

BAM! The first gun shot fires and we begin running, the first gun shot signals for those who want a head start to begin running, you better believe Dana and I were in that crowd. Then the second shot fired which means the bulls have been released. We slowed down near just past “Dead man´s corner” which is the halfway point of the 0.5 mile run. It is a 90 degree turn that the bulls always take with a wide turn into the walls because of their mass momentum. The mass of people are coming our way quickly, which is when I took off running like Forrest Gump, I didn´t look back. Fortunately, I beat the bulls into the arena. As I ran through the corridor to the arena pumping adrenaline, I took a sharp cut left into the arena and posted against the wall. A mere 5-7 seconds later the crowd roared and I saw two guys being trampled through the opening and the herd of massive raging bulls came storming through. I completely underestimated the size of the bulls. I became even more terrified once I saw their size. The bulls ran through as the steers followed them to the closing doors of the arena. Then little did we know the fun was just beginning.

The let a smaller bull into the arena without letting you know and the mass of people are left to defend themselves against these fearful bulls. Even these bulls are nothing to mess with, however some of the people must have grown up on farms since they were taking on the bull without any fear and trying to wrestle with it. With little surprise, the bull won every time. I got close enough to touch it as it went by me as I did my best shuck and jive to avoid it. That was enough for me as I hopped out of the arena immediately and watched the bull endlessly up end human beings left and right. I had never been so awake for 9am in my life, blood pumping and fear still running through my mind from the massive size of the bulls I had just ran in front of.

The rest of the day consisted of celebrating with many bottles of 3€ Sangria, watching bull fights, parades, music festivals, and celebrating everything the way the Spanish do. It was by far the most culturally filled day I have ever experienced. A long day it was as we continued all the way until our train left Pamplona at 1am back to Barcelona. My only regret is that we did not stay to party the night through. It seemed as if the party was just beginning when we were leaving. However, I am not sure if my body could have handled any more of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona. Exhausted and delirious on the train back to Barcelona, I passed out with one of the best days in my life coming to an end. There was no way I ran with bulls is the only thing that kept passing through my mind until the REM sleep took over and we were back in Barcelona the next morning at 9am.

I must thank Mikey for urging us to run with the bulls. I would have never considered it before in my life until he put it in our minds. The San Fermin festival granted us one of the best days of the trip and of our lives in general. All I have to say is Viva San Fermin and Respect the Bulls!

Posted by: rngerlach | July 6, 2007

Swiss Tales Volume II

One day you live like kings, the next you are in the gutter. That is one sentence that can summarize this Euro tour 2007.  Last night I was enjoying great conversations with Samantha from Maryland at our cabin resort hostel in Interlaken.  Talking about the ups and downs of travelling, yet not expecting we would hit another downer today.  Our train to Barcelona was en route to connect in Geneve, Switzerland.  Reservations were to be made for the train from Geneve to Barcelona.  Surprise!  Both trains going to Barcelona today are fully booked and reserved both 1st and 2nd class.  So our next step was to go to the airport to try and find a cheap flight to Barcelona.  “One Sousand Ninety Eight Francs” the French speaking clerk mutters at the airport.  Yeah that is not in our budget, looks like we are staying a night in Geneve. Even more frustrating is the fact that we are paying for our hostel in Barcelona tonight since we could not cancel at least 24 hours ahead of time. 

We then did what we do best and walk aimlessly in the European city with our packs on.  There are two hostels in the city of Geneve.  It gets better, they are both booked for the night.  Our only other option was to look for hotels which the cheapest hotels go for at least 100 Francs (85 US dollars).  Not in the budget either since we are already paying for a hostel in Spain that we should have arrived at last night.  So you got it, we are staying the night here in the Geneve train station.  The veins still cold from the icy river water and body still sore from a day of canyoning in the cold rain.  My only mind escape at this point is the recollection of my canyon jump just two days ago.  We now sit here in the internet cafe of the train station after seeing all there is to see in Geneve, waiting for our comfortable bed time on the sexy ground here in the station.  Departure time for our train tomorrow is 7am which will not arrive in Barcelona until 9pm. 

Life is sweet, sometimes bitter sweet, but sweet nonetheless!

Sleep Tight…..

Posted by: rngerlach | July 5, 2007

Pure Oxygen and Extreme Adventure in the Alps

Do not look down, just jump out! Those were the last words I heard in a New Zealand accent from the instructor as I ran jumped from a 250 ft. platform over the river. I have never in my life felt such a feeling of free fall. The wind passed by my face faster and faster as I first squeeze everything in my body and then for about a second the free fall almost felt peaceful like a floating bird in the canyon. The river approached quickly as I was in a swan dive head first for the rapids, then the rope catches and I swing through the canyon over the river at about 70mph. At this point, extreme exhiliration and adrenaline is flowing through the veins. This was my 4th of July experience called canyon jumping which was just one of the great opportunities in the beautiful Alps in Switzerland.

Balmers was the hostel we stayed at in Interlaken Switzerland. Interlaken is a beautiful small mountain town nestled between two lakes which gave us a feeling of being home. Balmers is the hostel of choice since we have heard so much about it from other travellers on our adventure. It is like a cabin with a backyard, barbecues and bars. The feeling of summer camp was in the atmosphere only with beer being served. The best bar and nighclub in town rocks every night downstairs from the hostel. We had originally planned to stay only three nights, which turned into five nights. Not so much for the fresh mountain air but because our first two canyoning trips were cancelled from rain. Steady rainfall took place much of the five days here in the mountains. Our first day, the canyoning trip was cancelled so we volunteered to help clean up after the Outdoor games that had just taken place in Interlaken. It actually felt good to do some labor, our payoff was free high ropes course and a free day of canyoning, perfect! The ropes course was the most challenging course I have done as we ziplined through the forest at heights of 40-80 feet above ground. The second day we took a hike on some trails into the Alps with two girls from Mississippi, random. Some of the most enchanting views of the the mountain peaks occurred on this hike.

Since we were given the canyoning trip for free, we had to redeem it which then allowed us to afford the canyon jump which was described above. So the big question, what the hell is canyoning?

Canyoning is only done in New Zealand and Switzerland, and since New Zealand is not in my travel itinerary any time soon we had to do it right now. Once in a life time opportunity. We suited up in a wet suit, two neoprene jackets, strapped on a lifejacket and a helmet in attempt to keep us warm in the cold mountain rivers. It involves sliding down rocks into pools of water, natures waterslides. Jumping off cliffs in between 3 meters of rock on each side of you. Ziplining for 10 feet then letting go falling into more pools of cold river water and of course sliding down more rocks is what canyoning includes in a nutshell explanation. Canyoning is by no means safe but nothing in Switzerland is safe. The word extreme has a new meaning here, they live by it daily, it is in their blood.

The five days spent in Switzerland provided that mountian fresh air that I so frequently miss from Colorado. The extreme events also gave me a new appreciation for life. I almost felt reborn after the canyon jump. Trust was the one endearing quality that I gained most in Switzerland since you really have to trust the instructors and guides with your life. Would I do it all over again? Oh hell yeah I would!

So what is next? Spain will be our new home for the next six or seven days as we will take the all day train ride to Barcelona and spend four days there followed by Pamplona. Unfortunately, we will not catch the opening ceremony of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona which has the famous running of the bulls every morning from July 7th-14th. We plan to arrive in Pamplona early morning on the 11th from a night train. Will we be crazy enough to run with the bulls? The way this trip is going, that is most likely a big YES!

See you in Espana!

Posted by: rngerlach | June 30, 2007

Recapturing Italian Lifestyle in Milano

I’ll be completely honest, I did not expect much from the city of Milan but the fashion capital of the world. The fashion capital of the world lived up to its name as we saw most of the population walking around during the day as if they were preparing for a night at a posh club. We started by meeting up with our friend Tatiana as she took us to a local Aperitivo, Mas, near her apartment which is a great deal on food and drinks. We bought a huge drink (fishbowl size) and then had the buffet for an hour of some great Italian cuisine. The Milano nightlife awaited as we ventured into the metro to another part of the city to meet up with our other friend from San Diego Anna, who actually used to be our neighbor in the Promenade Mission Valley. We lived up the nightlife until our eyelids got heavy and our stomachs turned enough to know it was time to meet our newest beds in Hotel Diablo.

The last day in the month of June greeted us with a nice rich industrial air full of smog. Tatiana took us to the best parts of this city where we climbed yet another historic church, the Duomo, which was so full of detailed sculptures that I really struggled leaving the vicinity. Until she took us down the street to get some of the best lunch food in Italy at Luini’s in the shopping district where we ate Panzerottis, which if introduced in America could make millions for that special individual. Then we ventured the shopping district where I tested my discipline in spending money as we saw some of the best shirts, pants, shoes, and all designers in this trendy location of Europe. Our final night in Milan and Italy in general called for a great dinner with the best pasta e vino. Da Willy was the gracious local ristorante that provided us the best plate of Italian food and vino to top off Italia. Yet this was not about the food, we witnessed something special you can’t get in America. As we sat in the nice ristorante, we sipped our beautiful red house wine with candor. Then we saw a group of four young (10-12yrs old) girls come in and engage in a meal full of pizzas. The four girls acted as if they were ten years elder, yet with such a blissful youth that you would never witness in America. I can never recall being in a nice restaurant in America where four young children sat in our presence in such a polite manner, by themselves with little to no parental supervision needed. It must be a societal difference. How could the parents in America even imagine letting their children venture off on their own to engage in a rich meal without acting their supposed age. Perhaps it is because most parents in our luxurious society treat their children as only ‘children’ who can’t function on their own, instead of people like us who will need to grow up someday soon. This took me by such awe how we witnessed four very young children act more maturely in public than some 20 year old people back in the states. Long live America!

In review, Italy posed many difficult challenges for us, especially southern Italy. From what we witnessed, the further north in Italy you travel, the better off you are. I was almost pick-pocketed in Napoli, Southern Italy but you really have to have your guard up anywhere in Europe, especially in Southern Italy where kids make their living off of naive tourists. The Italian language was very rhythmic. Where witnessing two people engaging in a good conversation is almost as if they are serenading each other. Every other syllable is a rise in tone and it makes for a beautiful sounding language, which may make up for their cocky attitude. Italians are also very much about clothing and jewelry. We just so happened to hit Milan on the week of Male Fashion Week. Imagine being a backpacker with limited clothes in a place where fashion is the number one priority, its pretty comical.

Either way, we leave Italy with a greater appreciation for their food and their great language. We thank Tatiana for being such a great hostess for us. I only hope Mikey and I can return the favor for her shall she ever visit Buenos Aires in the next year as she promised to. We’ll be great hosts for anyone willing to visit right Mikey? Viva Argentina! Well, life is good in Europe as we get ready to board yet another train, headed for Switzerland tomorrow to live the high life in the Alps. I truly am starting to believe that trains are my new home. I find comfort and confide in them, call me weird if you must but they have finally found a way into my heart after so many trips in five weeks. Thus the beauty of the rapid rate of travel.

See you in the Alps!

Ciao ci vediamo presto!!

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