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But This Is Rome!

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May 11, 2011

I woke up this morning hungry for adventure.  Today was my first day in Rome.  I had seen Roman and Romanesque statues, plazas, and architecture throughout Europe.  Croatia was home to an impressive Roman palace.  The ruins of a Roman Amphitheater in Ancona, Italy gave me a glimpse into public life in first century central Italy but this was Rome.  This was where The Empire began. My morning began with a quick metro trip from my campground on the Tiber River to Piazza de Popolo.  I stepped out of the station and Rome towered before me…

This is the northern gate of The Aurelian Wall, which stands at the entrance of Piazza de Popolo.

Inside the Piazza de Popolo a stage was being erected for use at a voting rally later that evening.  I was walking to the opposite side of the open plaza to admire Giovanni Ceccarini’s Fountain of Neptune when I heard a loud thud and a squeal.  Behind me the rally’s sound man was starting a mic check.  Italian words crashed against the marble walls across the plaza and came racing back at the God of the Sea and I.  Then the echos increased in frequency as they bombarded us from all directions.

Behind me is the Piazza de Popolo.

The Fountain of Neptune

As I neared the southern end of the piazza I had to make a decision:  Which street do I take?  I had never been to Rome but I had a general idea of where the Pantheon was located so I headed down the Via del Corso.  Many hours later I realized just how general of an idea I had about the location of the ancient Roman temple. As I wandered the unfamiliar streets I came upon a familiar sound.  It was the buzz of activity that accompanies street performers and artists across Europe.  It was the salesman and the tourists who followed them everywhere.  It was the sound that becomes comforting to adventurers like myself.  It meant that I was almost guaranteed to see something unique and unforgettable.  When I walked into Piazza Navona I got all of those things…

In the foreground is an ancient Egyptian obelisk atop The Fountain of the Four Rivers. In the background is the Church of Saint Agnes.

Ganges, the River God, on The Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The base of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona.

I left Piazza Navona having forgotten what I was looking for.  I wandered the streets until they turned into tiny alleys that hid from the buzz of Rome.  One path ended abruptly so I turned around and headed right.  I was poured out of the cramped alley into another plaza.  This plaza seemed more familiar than the others.  At the far end of it there was a dome.  I had seen this dome many times before.  It was in every book that I had ever read about Rome and appeared on half of the covers.  This was The Pantheon.

I circled the temple twice, respecting the ruins and revering the renovations.  Then I stood inside the portico.  I looked up at the massive slabs of granite and out at the piazza.  I thought about how many times I had seen The Pantheon.  It was probably in the thousands.  I had seen every angle of the exterior.  I had even seen some of the artworks that decorate the interior but I had never imagined seeing it like this, on the inside looking out.  After savoring that thought for a moment I stepped inside.  This is what I saw…

EPIC.

The natural light beaming from The Pantheon’s open dome gives life to the statues below.

One of the lively statues.

Two of the most abundant resources Rome has to offer: marble statues and oil paintings.

Here lies Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known to the world simply as “Raphael.”

I left The Pantheon and thought, “now what?”  I had seen one of the most famous historical monuments in the world after wandering through a town made of marble and gold.  All this and it was barely noon.  I thought about what I had gone through to get here; the work, the research, the sleepless nights on buses, the terror that occasionally struck when I was in the streets of a new city after dark with no hope of a warm bed.  I thought about how great it was to be here and how I would do it all again just for a chance to see my next “Pantheon.”  I smirked at the world as I reentered the narrow alleys that had brought me to this place.  I headed east and hoped to find The Vatican before sundown.

Well, this was my first Roman adventure.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I will share the rest of this day, and the weeks that followed, in the near future.  Until then…

The Street Art of Krakow, Poland

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Nearly half a year ago I was sitting in a small but lively hostel in Krakow, Poland when I made a promise to you, my readers.  I said that I was going to give you a virtual tour of the street art of Krakow.  I had not expected it to take me so long but the minute I left Poland I was logging adventures in Madrid and beyond.  Now, as I sit on my back porch on a sweltering summer day in Michigan, I am overjoyed to revisit the snowy streets of Krakow and share them with you.

“Street Art” is a common sight in many major European cities.  So is “tagging.”  Whereas street art draws parallels with great paintings and sculptures through its creativity and execution, tagging is most often analogous to a poorly written signature.  I will be devoting this post to works of art.  “Who decides what is art and what is not?” you may be thinking.  Well, that is a good question.  The answer is, “I do.”  So enjoy the street art of Krakow, Poland…

  I do not do this.  So I bring you this…

A piece with some of the many symbols of Poland (The eagle. The cross).

Just off the expressway, near the Communist block, there were some housing projects. Many of the buildings were adorned with art like this…

…and this.

Much of the art in the streets of Krakow has a strong sociopolitical message…

This is a stencil depicting the recently deceased Polish social activist Rafal Gorski. Krakow has a highly active political scene that is reflected in the street art.

This unhappy bunny is recognized as a symbol of opposition to the police force in Krakow.

Even bunnies against police can like carrots.

Anti-fascism is alive and well in Krakow, especially among anarchist artists.

Some artists use a positive message to inspire hope for the future.

The Guilded Arches

And some things are just for fun…

A young Audrey Hepburn.

Score. 1 UP!

Stencil of “Machete” star Danny Trejo.

In the future we will all wear haz-mat suits. We will also begin carrying boom boxes again. I can hardly wait.

Another bunny. This one does not have a strong opinion about police.

I would explain the symbolism here but it is pretty obvious. I don’t want to insult your intelligence.

Massive street art project near the outer edge of town.

And finally, my favorite piece…

The bionic, rocket launching deer.

Well, these photographs were gathered over a span of three weeks in Krakow.  They reminded me that I have at least a dozen more exciting adventures to share with you from my time the royal Polish capital.  I will tell you all about them soon.  Until then…

Upward Over the Mountain

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6/7/2011

The woman who owned the hostel was very sorry.  She apologized many times and when she stopped I asked her what was wrong.  Her body language and a few English phrases eventually made it clear that my bed at the Hostel Antonio had been double-booked and I did not have a room here.  I packed my bags and wondered if I would find accommodations for the night.

The hostel owner’s daughter, who spoke better English than her mother, came into my room as I finished packing.  She handed me a set of keys and told me that her mother was very sorry but a large party of backpackers had reserved the entire dorm I was hoping to sleep in that night.  The young woman and her mother both hoped that allowing me to occupy a private apartment inside the palace walls for the rest of my stay would make up for the inconvenience.  They were right.

Here is me in the window of my apartment in Split.

On my final morning in Split I prepared for departure.  I gathered my things.  I cleaned.  I stuffed my pack.  I thought about the meal I was able to cook in my own private kitchen last night.  This was my first time with such a luxury since Germany and the first time on this trip with my own private room.

Cevapcici seasoned chicken and sauteed tomato/pepper medley with a fresh croissant.

After I was certain that I had packed everything and the apartment was left as I had found it I grabbed my keys and walked out the door.  Across the hall there was an old woman pounding on the apartment door.  When she heard my door open she swung towards me, still waving her fist.  I headed for the stairs, followed by the woman’s eyes and her shaking fist.

As I entered the palatial path outside of the apartment building I realized I still had an entire day in Split.  I was limited by my bulbous backpack but I had everything I needed to go to the beach for a relaxing afternoon.  So after I dropped off my keys I was off to the beach, I thought.

I handed the keys to the owner and she asked when I would be leaving Split.  I told her about my night cruise to Ancona and she insisted that I leave my pack with her until the evening so that I could enjoy Split unburdened.  This opened up possibilities.  I like possibilities so I headed for the door with my camera and a few dollars.

I walked down to the portside promenade, known as The Riva.

The Riva

The ferries flowed in and out of the port.  I sat near the sailor’s bar, watched the boats, and listened to the sailors sing their Croatian sailing songs.

This concrete box is the sailor’s bar. There are two benches and a table inside, as well as riotous sailors with a passion for singing and drinking.

The sea chants worked me into an adventurous state of mind and I decided to go for a walk to see what I could find.  As I started down the sidewalk I came upon the owner of The Antonio Hostel and her pug.  She asked if I was headed to the beach.  I told her that I did not know where I was going.  We were at a crossroads.  I pointed at the path that led away from the beach and asked her if there was anything up there.  She laughed a little and said “take the stairs, love.”  Later, I would understand why she laughed.

I climbed up the stairs until I reached a platform.  I stopped to get a picture, thinking this would be the best view in all of Split.

I would soon find out how wrong I was.  I kept on past where the stairs turned into a concrete path, and the path became a gravel trail.  After twenty minutes the trail widened and I was faced with a one-room stone church.

I stood looking at this simple, yet imposing structure, on the side of the mountain.  I continued down the trail until it forked.  There were paths taking off up and down the mountain.  A pole with numerous signs pointing in all directions acted as a tour guide… if you spoke Croatian.  I did not so for the next two hours I hiked each path on that mountain side.  Here are some of the highlights…

This trail shrunk until it almost threw me off the mountain cliff.

Then the trail opened up and revealed this view of the homes of Split on The Adriatic Sea.

This church was built near the mountain side.

This church was built in the mountain side.

A commune that thrives on the outskirts of Split.

As I rounded the bend I saw what was clearly the highest point on this mountain….

I knew I had to be on it but one thing stood in my way.  It was not the distance or the time.  It was the guardian of the peak….

As the “guardian” sauntered over to me with his head down looking for some attention I knew that nothing stood between me and the top of the rock.

After a vigorous scratch behind the guardian’s  ear I departed up the hill with his blessing.  The wind blew furiously.  I began to feel rain but I reached the top.  I snapped what pictures I could without getting my camera wet.  This is the only one that turned out….

Then I ran to a trash container and grabbed out a plastic bag.  I wrapped up my camera and wallet before hustling back down the hill.

Before long the rain stopped and the sun came back.  I stopped hustling and took my time wandering down the mountain.  By the time I was back at The Riva my hunger had grown enormous so I went to the little food truck just outside the other end of town.  I filled up on an extra veliki senvic budola with everything and headed to the promenade for a jagoda (strawberry) gelato and much deserved rest before shipping out to Italy.

This is the extra veliki senvic budola, loosely translated as “huge, delicious grilled sandwich (I assume).”

Well, the evening brought an entirely new adventure and I look forward to sharing it with you soon.  Until then…

Action Jack, What Should I Pack? #1

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I was once told that an electric curling iron was a travel necessity.  I was also once informed by a man who swam in the sewers to “bathe and disinfect”  that there is no need to carry basic first aid equipment.  Much of what is necessary depends on your skills and abilities, where you are going, and what you are doing there.  This means that there are as many opinions on what to pack when traveling as there are travelers who are packing.  This is mine…

In May 2011 I prepared for a 75 day trip to Europe.  This is the backpack I brought and everything that was packed in it.

I brought about 50 items with me on this adventure, many of which I never used and did not bring on subsequent adventures.  However, some things made my life easier and I never leave without them.  This post will be about 5 of those items.  In the future I will be posting my thoughts on more items that should or should not be taking up space in your pack.  In no particular order, here are 5 things you should pack.

#1-  A Hat

Pack a hat.  The photo above is some of the last remaining evidence of my favorite travel hat.  It is important that a travel hat is flexible and broad-brimmed.  This makes the hat easy to pack away when it is not in use and an effective sun blocker when it is in use.  This hat had all of that.  An additional feature that made this particular hat so dear to me is the black pull cord that you see coming out of the right side of the ill-fated headpiece.  This cord could be tightened in high winds so that you would never lose it.  Well, almost never.

After staying in the Croatian capital of Zagreb for a few hours of a five day stay I decided to leave.  I went to the bus station and watched the names of cities on the blue departures screen: Karlovac, Novo Mesto, Ogulin, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik, and more.  I went to the counter and asked when the next bus left for the beach.  I got the ticket and spent the next four days in Split, the retirement home of Roman Emperor Diocletian.  His palace still remains and after spending my final two nights in an apartment in the palace I went to the docks to find my way to the next adventure.

There was a night ferry that left for Ancona that evening.  I went up to the ticket counter and asked if Ancona was in Italy.  The woman laughed and told me that it was.  I got the ticket and went out for one final adventure in Split.  Here are a few of the highlights…

This is the final picture of me and my hat.

After all of that happened I got in line to get my baggage and passport checked before boarding the international ferry.  I took off my hat as I neared the front of the line.  Five minutes later I was on the fourth deck of the ship, rustling through my backpack.  My hat was not in there.  My hat was gone.  My first thought was that it probably fell out of my pocket or pack and someone picked it up as they boarded.  The BlueLine was not the only ship boarding that evening so there is a chance that my hat ended up in Greece or Sicily.  Then I was struck by another possibility.  My hat may have blown into the port and sunk to the bottom of the Adriatic.  Either way one thing was clear:  I needed a new hat.

A hat is a necessary item.  They are the simple solution to keeping the sun out of your eyes and off of your face while you are out adventuring.  Always have a lightweight, flexible, broad-brimmed hat with you when traveling.  And if you find one that matches that description and is bright red please tell me where you saw it.  I have been questing after that hat for many miles.

#2- Underwear (Enough Underwear)

Underwear (plural) are a must.  The minimum number allowed for any trip is two (one for wearing, one for washing.  Rotate.  Repeat.).  I recommend more.  I am not saying that you must always wear underwear.  That is for you to decide but there will come a time when underwear will be a must.  These are the times that you prepare for.  Besides, underwear are light and when rolled properly can be shoved into otherwise useless corner space in your backpack.

#3- Passport Holder

Theft and loss are two of many people’s biggest fears while traveling.  These two things even cause some people to stop traveling before they begin.  A simple passport holder can reduce your chances of being the victim of a professional thief or your own forgetfulness.

I carry the pictured passport holder with me any time I travel.  It hangs around my neck.  The holder and the strap are concealed under my shirt and my valuables are in my sight at all times.  Passport holders like mine also have zipper pockets for cash, credit cards, and important documents like boarding passes.  If a pickpocket gets my wallet he will be lucky to walk away with a fiver and since I started carrying my passport holder I spend much less time going through my pockets in line to board a bus or a plane and I like to think that the passengers behind me appreciate that.

So take a passport holder.  Keep your important things in it and keep it attached to you when traveling.  It will give you additional security and help you make friends.

#4- A Blanket

A fleece blanket is a great multipurpose piece of traveling equipment.  The size of the blanket will vary greatly depending on what kind of traveling you are doing and how much space you have in your backpack.  Even when folded and rolled this blanket, which was a standard 6′ x 4′ blanket cut in half, took up nearly half of the large compartment in my backpack.

It was worth its space in gold when I arrived at a Dublin hostel that only had light weight summer sheets left for a January night.  Take a blanket, especially if you are traveling in the winter.  It can also be rolled up and used like a pillow on buses and trains or make any midday snack into a picnic.

To make a blanket travel more efficiently roll it up then take the extra set of shoe laces that you are carrying with you and tie them around the blanket to hold it together.  Maybe I should have mentioned this first but carry an extra set of shoelaces with you when traveling.

#5- Fork and Spoon.

Take a fork or a spoon.  It takes up very little room and just might come in handy like my fork did for me the day I arrived in Montforte, Spain.  That morning I woke up early in a dorm in Santiago de Compostela.  As I packed I began to think about what the Catedral de Santiago might look like in the sunrise.  I had never seen it before noon and I was leaving in a couple hours.  The only reasonable thing to do was pack my stuff, run to the Cathedral, and hope I could still make my train.

  Well, I made the train and it was totally worth it.

So back to the fork and spoon.  After arriving in Montforte I wandered the village for a while.  I passed a couple shops and a bakery.  I had been in such a hurry that I had not eaten all day.  I tried to walk into a shop and the owner pulled down the gate in front of me.  I turned around and saw all the gates closing on all the shops, the bakery, the restaurant on the corner.

The streets cleared and I found a spot on a bench in an empty plaza.  I heaved my oversized, military issue backpack onto the bench and dug through the side pocket.  I pulled out a sealed tin of fish and set it on the bench.  Then I reached back into my pack and got out a white plastic fork.  I cracked open the canned fish and had a picnic in the plaza.

The main advantage of having my fork was that I did not have to get the food dirty with my hands or my hands dirty with the food.  Aside from the obvious convenience of not having fishy smelling hands it is also important to watch what you eat for the sake of your health.  How many things do my hands touch in a day of riding the bus?  A LOT.  I would not want to have most of the things I touch with my hands in my mouth.  So I bring a plastic fork to eat with and when I am finished I wash it and put it back for next time.

Well, those are 5 things that are always with me when I travel.  Look for the next edition of “Action Jack, What Should I Pack?” soon.  In the meantime, let me know what you travel with in the comments section.  Until next time…

My First Night in Dublin

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Hey friends,

I am about to share with you my first travel experience.  This is my adventure from Dublin, Ireland on May 11, 2011.  It was the first time I had ever traveled outside the United States and it was the first time I ever wrote about traveling.  It was great looking back at this and I hope that my regular readers can appreciate the humor in this story.  Just think about the adventures I have had.  This is where they started.

-Jack

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05/11/2011

The sun was about to set on my first night in Dublin.  I walked up Talbot Street looking for a bite to eat.

There was a storefront for a One Euro Store, which is like an American Dollar Store.  Two bald men with wires running down the inside of their suit collars stood watch in front of a casino.  One store promised the “world’s lightest luggage.”    The window that I was interested in promised pizzas, burgers, and kebabs.  I ordered a slice of the meat special pizza and took a seat at the four person dine-in counter.  I started to think about what could happen over the next couple months but there were more possibilities than I had time for.  After all, the sun was about to set on my first night in Dublin.

So as I ate I thought about what had happened since I arrived in Dublin this morning.  After passing through customs and circling the airport parking lot twice I got on a bus.  The driver asked me what I was looking for and I was not sure what to tell him.  I knew the name of my hostel but that was probably not what he was looking for.  I remembered that the street started with a “G” and was in City Center.  I decided to leave off the first part.  “City Center,” I replied.

I sat in the back of the double decker bus waiting for our departure.  Two fellow American travelers boarded and sat next to me on the long bench seats.  The man had auburn dreadlocks and was either tan or dirty.  His clothes were tattered and layered.  He unloaded the small backpack off his chest and then heaved the much larger travel pack onto the seat.  I thought about how much more difficult it would be to travel with so much gear.

The woman had long brown hair atop a tiny frame.  She had her nose pierced on one side and her skin had the same oversunned or underkept look as the man.  Her hoodie hung over the top of her eyes and sagged from her bony shoulders.  They were both from San Francisco and had spent the winter traveling through Spain.  They had spent the previous summer traveling in northern Europe.  Dublin was their last stop before going home to California.

The couple was staying at a hostel on Gardiner Street.  I was also staying at a hostel on Gardiner Street.  We both got off the bus at The Spire.  I stayed with them until we got to Gardiner.  When I found my hostel  I checked in, dropped my bags, and went out onto the sidewalk.

I followed the buzz of activity to a mostly pedestrian road made of asphalt and red brick called Talbot Street.  I walked up the street and stopped where it crossed Gloucester Place.  With my back firmly against the wall I began opening my map of Dublin.  Before I had one fold unfolded a voice stopped me…

“What are ya lookin’ for?” the age-worn Irishman asked.

Once again this question had me stumped.  So I started talking with the old man.  He asked me if I ever boxed.  He thought I might be a relative of a fighter known as Kid Douglass.  “Aaaah! It’s the dimple.  You look just like him,” he insisted as he shadow boxed with me on the corner.  Suddenly he stopped his fists.  His back straightened.  His smile flattened.

Seconds later he was singing about me, my dimple, and Kid Douglass while waving his fists in the air again.  When he stopped again I asked where I could find something good to eat.  He motioned towards the building we were leaning against with his arm.  He took a few sideways steps towards the door while beckoning unsteadily with his head.

I followed my new friend, Noel, into Mother Kelly’s.  I took a seat at the counter near the front door.  I ordered at the bar and when the waitress brought out my meal she also brought out a complimentary pint of Guinness, which comes with lunch at Mother Kelly’s.  I sat eating my vegetable lo mein and trying to get Noel’s attention.  I looked across the room and he was sitting on the arm of a chair with one of his arms wrapped around a man seated in the chair and the other one waving furiously in the air.  He bawled and gyrated before finally hopping to his feet and circling back around the bar, stopping at each table.  When he reached me Noel burst into another round of “The Kid.”  I thanked him for his company and for helping me find good lo mein.  I gave him a pint of Guinness, which he carried from table to table, toasting,  until long after it was empty.

  Artist’s rendering of Noel.

After meeting Noel I walked back to my hostel to shower and get ready for my first night in Dublin.  The sun was about to set and I had just finished eating a slice of pizza in a kebab house on Talbot Street.  As I turned the first corner I entered an alley.  I came out on a street similar to Talbot on the other side of the alley.  I turned right towards The Spire and enjoyed the final seconds before the sunset.

Then I looked down onto the sidewalk.  The first thing I noticed was the blood.  There was a man in it.  He was holding a towel over his head.  He laid on the sidewalk, trying to hold himself upright with the aid of a garda officer.  A few witnesses stood around the man.  The rest of us walked around the garda’s car as we were instructed.  As I walked away I heard one of the witnesses say “I don’t know who he is but he’s been hanging out around this neighborhood all day.  I’ve seen him five or six times.”

I kept walking but suddenly the darkness and that street seemed threatening, intense, and violent.  Every step that I took away from my hostel took me further adrift in a dark, unknown place.  I needed to gather my thoughts and decide what to do.

I went back to my hostel.  The man at the desk was holding up a paper.  The headline read, “We’re Not Gay.”  This was the statement issued by the Irish pop duo that consists of identical twins named John and Edward.  The band’s name is Jedward.  The man at the front desk was furious about the article.  He did not care one bit about whether or not the twins in Jedward were gay.  That is what he was furious about.  The front page of the paper was entirely devoted to these two pop stars and, as he explained to me in full detail, they are “dreadful.”  I agreed politely and climbed the stairs back to my room.

Action Jack Is Back!!!

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Hey friends!  I hope you didn’t think I had given up on the adventure business.  Since returning to The United States of America a few months ago I have been dividing my time between exploring what Grand Rapids, Michigan has to offer and developing my next adventure abroad.

There seems to be endless excitement here in Grand Rapids.  There are daily free concerts and classes in the plaza at Rosa Parks circle, which becomes an ice-skating rink in the winter.

  This is the plaza.  Rosa Parks Circle is on the left.

The B.O.B. (Big Old Building) is a 70,000 square foot, four story nightclub/comedy club/lounge/fine dining establishment that stays up late 7 nights a week.

  This is The B.O.B. on the right.  The building on the left is the home of the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team, The Van Andel Arena.

Or for something different go to the neighborhood pub and music venue, The Pyramid Scheme.  Located in the Heartside District, they bring out the Grand Rapids night life like no other place in town by keeping the atmosphere of a local bar at a 425 person capacity live music venue that regularly hosts great local acts like Sailor Kicks and, as owner Jeff Vandeberg puts it, “fill(s) that mid-size national gap” for indie rock groups and regional acts.  The city is also gearing up for ArtPrize 2012, which runs from September 19 to October 7.  ArtPrize is the world’s largest art competition.  It encompasses more than 150 art venues scattered around the city and over half a million dollars is given away.  The contest is judged by the public and the winning artist receives a $200,000 top prize.  So all the nonstop buzz around the city should keep me plenty entertained until I leave for my next adventure, which brings me to my other purpose in writing today’s blog…

Action Jack’s Next Adventure!!!

Preparations for my next trip began as I headed down the highway in a Greyhound Bus bound for Detroit.  A little less than ten hours earlier I had landed at JFK Airport in New York City.  I was back in The United States of America for the first time in a few months.  I had missed many things about the U.S. while I was traveling Europe.  Most of all I missed my family and friends.  I kept thinking about how exciting it would be to see my parents again and watch my months-old nephew wave and giggle and grow without the aid of Skype or Facebook.

  This is my nephew.  He is shy.

A few hours into the ride I got out my computer and connected to the Greyhound’s traveling wifi network.  After I checked my emails and checked in on Facebook I closed up my big black laptop and set it on the empty seat next to me.  Now my thoughts shifted from what was ahead of me to what had happened in the last few months:  Darting through the mountains of Galicia with Mike and John on the way to Santa Cristina;

  These are the mountains.

  This is Santa Cristina.

Living in a communal society in the mountains of southern Spain;

  This is Beneficio, the “city centre” of the commune.  If you look close you can see dwellings all over the mountainside.

Receiving a Brazilian Real coin as a gift after sharing a dorm with my Brazilian friends in Dublin for a couple weeks;

  This is my Real (“ray-ol”).

And learning to play the cajon while being accompanied by Paulo on a didgeridoo in a hostel decorated entirely of pandas.

  OK.  It was not all pandas.  The decor was also inspired by a weird panda/cow hybrid that is a result of… well, it is a really long story that I asked about one long, cold night in Poland and I will spare you the details.

As I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the rattling bus window I thought about when the next time I would travel might be.  That thought, and the chatter of the window against the left side of my head, promised me that I would not be sleeping right now.  I soon realized that I had never even considered IF I would travel again.  It was just a question of WHEN.  I got out my notebook and began jotting down ideas on what this next adventure might look like.  When would I leave?  How long would I be gone?  Where would I go?  What would be some of my goals for the trip?  How can I better share my next adventure?

Now it has been four months since that first scribbled page.  I have continued answering those questions and many more that have sprung up since then.  Since any comprehensive explanation of all that I have done and will do in preparation of this trip is impossible I will give you some of the general ideas and try to fill in the details once the trip commences.

This Trip Will:  (all bullet points subject to change at any time)

– Be at least one year long

– Begin as soon as I have saved the amount of money I need to sustain myself for one year.  I am aiming for April 2013.

– Consist of work exchanges and Couch Surfing when possible.

– Be as thoroughly documented as possible through journals, photos, videos, art and any other available medium.

– Take place, at least in part, on a bicycle.

– Utilize any available opportunities to have unique/interesting experiences.

– Make it a virtue to interact with locals.

– Make it a virtue to interact with travelers.

So that really is about the best I can do to sum up what this trip will be at the moment.  In the meantime, I will continue to update Action Jack’s Adventures.  However, the format will be changing slightly.  OK, it will be changing quite a bit but I hope it will provide my readers with some entertainment and information until the live traveling format of Action Jack may resume.

This blog will still be updated with past stories that were written during traveling but for one reason or another were never posted.  I will be doing the same with photographs. This part of the blog will seem exactly the same to any past Action Jack readers.  In addition to these stories I will also be using my blog to address topics related to traveling.  I have had many experiences while traveling that I believe to be quite common among travelers.  Some were great.  Some were not.  The good ones I can recommend. The other ones I may have a solution for.  I would like to offer my experience and solicit the experience of others in the comments section as a way for travelers to help travelers.

Well, I hope this gives you some idea of what is coming up here at Action Jack’s Adventures.  I will begin posting again in the next few days.  Until then…

Ambling in Amsterdam

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I sat up in my bed and looked around the room.  After emptying both of my backpacks, cleaning them, and refilling them I was getting hungry.  I grabbed an apple and headed through the pumpkin orange lobby to the hallway.  The sun was shining all the way down the brown-painted hallway.  I stood on the sidewalk outside the hostel and ate my apple.  I waited for clouds or rain but nothing came.

I threw my apple core in the rubbish bin and headed east.  I decided to follow the canals from the center out until I reached Vondelpark.  Looking at Amsterdam on a map this looks like a very simple task.  The city is shaped kind of like a horseshoe with a rectangle at the top.  The rectangle at the top is Centraal Station.  The horseshoe underneath is a series of canals that are formed by progressively larger horseshoes.  When walking them it is a tangled web of alleys and one lane, one way streets shared by bicycles, pedestrians and automobiles.  Here are some pics from my wanderings in the sun…

 When you come into Amsterdam this is where everyone starts.  This is Centraal Station Amsterdam.  From here you can take buses, trains, metros, or trams to the airport, Moscow or just about anywhere in between.

 This is an inset of the right tower of Centraal Station.

 At the corner of Nieuwe Brugsteeg in the tight streets of Amsterdam.

So finally I reached Vondelpark.  It was nice to see people seated on the grass instead of hiding under trees from the rain.  The lawns were filled despite being two months before the high tourist season here in Amsterdam.  Here are a few things I saw in Vondelpark before reaching my destination…

I was near the middle of the park and I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my way.  With one sudden scent I knew I was close.  In the center of Vondelpark is a garden with dozens of flowerbeds.  On my first trip to Amsterdam there was not a single flower.  I had hoped that this time would be different and the lingering, sweet smell assured me that it would be.  Here are a few of my favorites from the gardens in Vondelpark…

I spent the afternoon in Vondelpark and by evening made my way back to Dam Square for the carnival celebration.  I have more pics and stories but this is my last night in Europe for a while so I am going to get out and enjoy it.  Until our next adventure…

 

 

 

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