May 13, 2009

I put my Eurail pass to the test yesterday, and zig-zagged through six countries, with no real destination in mind — I simply wanted to head north. I am going to do the same this morning — heading East! My ultimate goal is to arrive in Sweden on Friday. Also, I am compelled to spend Thursday evening in Copenhagen. I have no idea where in Germany I will sleep tonight!

May 8, 2009

Lisa and I have been exploring Vienna for the last 24 hours. There is a lot to see, but it is remarkable how much ground you can cover if you take the plunge to get out of bed, and then walk all day. Yesterday’s highlight was probably a painting titled: “Lago di Garda” in the Upper Belvedere Palace museum. I am having trouble finding the artist’s name!

We are about to continue our exploration of this marvelous city — possibly housing the most culture citizens I have ever encountered. We are taking an overnight train to Zurich this evening. We are excited for our fancy two-person cabin!

Also, I bought a $30 RyanAir ticket to Stockholm for May 14th! I am ecstatic to visit some of my amigos up there!

May 6, 2009

Lisa and I chose an excellent route for our adventure and have been upgrading our lifestyle with every passing kilometer! Sofia was charming, and Bulgaria had a beautiful country-side, but the hospitality we experienced left much to be desired. However, we did eat a couple spectacular meals in Sofia.

We essentially only transited Macedonia, and had a rough time at the border, but the experiences we did have were very positive. We had a three hour bus layover in Gostorov, and were spontaneously stopped by a few different locals who simply asked if they could help us with any information. All three times that we attempted to buy fruit from street vendors, our money was turned away and the fruit was given to us for free.

The hospitality in Macedonia was remarkable, but it was outdone in Albania. In particular, we had an incredible cab driver named Mark, who called upon his border patrol officer of a son, Edvin, to enable us to bypass the Montenegro border. This father-son duo had an amazing family history of persecution in the dark dictatorial years of decades past.

We have been enjoying a cultured lifestyle in Budapest. We visited the cities two major art museums yesterday. We  lounged and exfoliated in the Széchenyi baths this morning. Moved on to a cute cafe fora couple Cappuchinos and Machiatos. Bought $4 Opera tickets for tonight’s performace of Handel’s Serse (Xerxes) in Budapest’s ornate opera house. Walked to the train station and purchased a pair of tickets to Vienna. Currently, we are on our way to the great market here, to find some goodies for lunch, before the performance and on our train ride.  The rest of our afternoon will probably take us to castle hill on the Buda side of the Danube.

My brain is exploding with ideas relating to math, physics and businesses. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Sorry for such lackluster updates.

May 4, 2009

We made it to Budapest! Before arriving, we had a couple hour layover in Zagreb and made the most of our time. We will have more time on the internet tomorrow, and you can expect a more pronounced upate!

Shaun the Laggard.

May 3, 2009

Lisa and I have made major progress over the last couple days — we transited Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro at a pace that exhausted even myself! We took today off and splurged in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Yesterday, we walked approximately 18 miles and explored the beautiful walled city of Kotor, Montenegro. We stayed the night in a Tivat, Montenegro hostel that was a front for Kosovo’s independence movement. We met a beautiful family who was tragically touched by Albania’s previous socialist dictator — the grandfather was sentenced to 25 years in prison for leaving the country, and the father to hard labor unloading boulders. The hospitality in Albania rivaled that of Syria and the natural beauty was remarkable, but detrimentally affected by the mountains of rubbish that have accumulated on the roadside.  The fjords, castles and classic architecture in coastal Montenegro were inspiring, and we are both confident that this country is on the brink of a massive reputation boost — it is undoubtedly the region’s next ‘Croatia.’ Despite the cruise ships and mounds of tourists, Dubrovnik is charming and we ate one of the most spectacular meals of my life here this afternoon.Allegedly, the internet in Tivat was provided by Canada’s richest man, as he sweetens the city council in preparation for a wave of development. However, everyone uses it and it was extremely unreliable.

These are all things that I need to expound upon when I have more time and a reliable computer.  Jumping back to Croatia, we are about to jump on a night bus to Zagreb. I am under the impression that we briefly pass through Bosnia to do so. This is a fascinating region of the world that has seen many rough days and has a rich history. I owe you a massive update.

Lisa Leads!

April 30, 2009

Melnik didn’t live up to its reputation! We ventured down to that tiny village of ~300 people, found a cozy hotel, sampled about seven wines — and were blown away by the lack of hospitality and poor quality of Melnik’s famed reds! Yesterday, we woke early to hike to the Rozhen Monastery and decided that one night there was sufficient. We caught a bus back to Sofia, settled in at our previous hostel, and then whimsically decided to catch a midnight bus to Skopje, Macedonia. This was an idea I was incubating, but Lisa became adamant about the idea and the shock to our body that results from a six-hour middle-of-the-night ride. We are motivated to make it to the Adriatic coasts of Albania and Montenegro!

Lisa earned her stripes on the road last night when we had an interesting run-in with this illustrious swine flu “possible pandemic” at the Macedonian border! After arriving at the border at 2:30, they made a brit, Spaniard, Lisa and myself get off the bus. They questioned us in earnest, and then allowed us to get back on the bus without our passports. Eventually, they called us back and told us we had to wait for a doctor, to be tested. We tried to contain our laughter as we waited for an our in their little office until the doctor arrived. He basically asked us if we were feeling sick, and then let us go. By doing so, he acknowledged the joke that is swine flu and sent us on our merry way. However, we weren’t very popular on the bus after delaying the trip by two hours — in fact we felt quite intimidated.

We have a three-hour stop in Macedonia, and then we are jumping on a bus to Tirana, Albania. It’s time for the Adriatic!

The Most Diabolical Son in the World!

April 28, 2009

Lisa is an adventurous stud and the perfect travel companion! She is open-minded and didn’t necessitate any convincing about sleeping in a hostel DORMITORY last night! The ‘Hostel Mostel’ is an excellent backpacker’s hostel in Sofia, Bulgaria that had been highly recommended to me by a trusted source. I wanted Lisa to experience how incredible of an alternative these places can be, but Mostel’s suites were booked when we made our reservation, so we opted for the authentic dorm experience! As should be expected, Lisa was a bit insecure at first, but I think she grew to love the place! We are keeping things diverse, one night each at a: W, boutique hotel, on a train, and in a  hostel dormitory! Lisa’s Newport Beach friend’s probably think I am the cruelest son in the world — but I assure you that hostels can be an incredible and very European option granted you do research and find the cream-of-the-crop! We are heading to a tiny village of 240 people in south-western Bulgaria this morning. Melnik is 20 km north of Greece and produces much of Bulgaria’s most famous wine. I promise I won’t subject Lisa to dormitory style sleeping for at least a couple more nights — now we might try a homestay! I am evil — Lisa is tough!

Our fourteen-hour sleeper car journey from Istanbul was another perspective-broadening experience for the aforementioned dame. We rode in a dusty compartment on an old Russian hulk. We had to cross the tracks from our train to the Turkish passport control office at 3:00 a.m., queued in the chilled air for a couple minutes, got stamped out of Turkey, then shuffled back to our compartment. We dozed back to sleep and were awoken at the Bulgarian counterpart an hour later. We began the final leg of our trek in earnest at 5:30 a.m., and arrived in Bulgaria at noon. the experience wasn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds, and was a breeze by my standards, but I am very proud of how well my mom coped given her normally cushy lifestyle back home. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. I guess the same holds true for roughing it during sleepless nights in foreign lands!

Having said that, Bulgaria is beautiful. We passed through endless lush fields and medieval villages on our way to Sofia. This city is quaint compared to Istanbul, with only 1.1 million people, but exceeded both of our expectations. It is very walkable and is filled with an awakened air. The cafes and shopping districts were humming. However, we did meet one interesting reminder of Soviet stereotypes. We sat down at a very nice Italian-style cafe near Sofia University in between a couple interesting groups of people. There was a clan of leather-wearing, mob-vibe-oozing, bald forty-somethings, another clan of flamboyantly dressed mob-vibe-oozing bald forty-somethings, and a final table with a massive, monolithic, UFC-champ-of-a-man. The latter was named Charlie and he initiated a conversation with us. He was very nice, and continuously massive, as he shared with us information about Bulgaria and his children. It turns out he earned fourth place at the arm-wrestling world championships, twice! He had a massive slash along his bicep which he attributed to an “accident,” and he showed us photos of his smashed up BMW that was crushed in another “accident.” Brave and curious Lisa asked him what his profession was and he said: “I work for the guys at that other table.” A couple minutes later, in the middle of a sentence, when the flamboyantly dressed guys got up from their business meeting with the leather gang, he abruptly stood up and said he needed to leave. The men walked to the car and he was their driver and body guard. Black markets still thrive in the post-Soviet world!

Finally, we ate in incredible lunch yesterday with delicious dollar house-wine and massive platters of fresh vegetables, cheeses, bread and soup. The food and wine will undoubtably continue to flow in Melnik and as we make our way into Albania. I am cruel and Lisa is a stud.

April 26, 2009

Cruising Istanbul con mi madre! We are jumping on a night train this evening to Sofia, Bulgaria. I am expecting to have more time in the coming days to catch you up! Istanbul is beautiful, but much more expensive than I am accustomed to! Gone are the glorious dollar-a-day meals! Sorry for the bland nature of this post! I am protective of my mother — I cannot go as big as I have in the past!

Maguires In Istanbul!

April 24, 2009

I am sitting next to a beautiful woman in an Istanbul internet cafe. That lady is my mother! Lisa arrived and we are going to spend the next two and a half weeks making our way through Eastern Europe to Zurich, from where she will fly back to California. New cuisines will be sampled, architecture will inspire and wine *might* fuel the process!

With regards to the latest leg of my bus adventure, Turkey has an incredibly extensive route network, that is traversed by modern and expensive Mercedes buses — but they simply did not take the essentials into consideration! These buses do not have bathrooms, nor functionally reclining seats! Stopping for thirty minutes every two hours is not efficient and is not conducive to a proper nights sleep! Blasted fools!

With regards to sleeping in the meadow, I will now elaborate, but in a terse manner due to my respect for the sanctity of time. I arrived at the Antakya station at 4:15 and sought out a room in the hotel atop the station — the one I stayed at in my previous Antakya experience. The man only had significantly more expensive, or a much worse, yet similarly priced room available. He would not give me a discount for only staying a few hours, even though his hotel was empty, no one was going to come seeking a room between 4:15-noon, and that the room was much worse. He refused to negotiate and would only accept US dollars — a sacred currency to a backpacker. I was sick of his monopolistic refusal to bargain and decided to spend the early morning in a meadow I discovered on a run! I slept in a patch of olive trees dotting a meadow on the outskirts of Antakya! The only person I encountered was a sheep herder, who was keenly interested and respectful. He gestured that he would keep an eye out for me while I slept. I then proceeded to sneak into the hotel shower, and walked four miles for lunch out of protest against this man´s rough business tactics! I assure you, he was more of an asshole than myself. At least from my perspective. I also assure you that people the world over think I am insane — and I agree with them! 

Despite having a new companion, I promise I will not neglect my old friends (you!)

April 23, 2009

I made it back to Turkey and had a very interesting night on the bus. I am in the Antakya station and do not have time to elaborate, except to say that I slept in a meadownear the bus station — this was my own choice! Off to Istanbul to rendezvous with my mother!