About Me

My photo
I am a new traveling fool. I've been a corporate travel junkie for one too many sales quarters and am ready to spend my hard earned cash... I'm taking a "sabbatical" for a while and hitting the road to travel. The trip should take me to six out of the seven continents if I don't run out of cash early.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stark Contrasts

Its truly scary to think I've been back in the USA for over fifty-five days.  Where has the time gone? 

I find myself in strangely familiar shoes.  Literally. Let me paint a picture for you. I'm sitting in a suit and tie with freshly shined black shoes on.  I'm flying thirty-five thousand feet above the ground in first class with heavy eyes and a full stomach.  The heavy eyes are from the meeting I have been attending which starts at 6:30am (right?!) and ends at 5pm everyday for the past week.  They are even heavier when you add in the fact that at this meeting I have been having conversations about subjects I am only barely beginning to understand.  Finally after mentally exhausting myself by trying to keep up with my knowledge gap at my new job I throw on a pair of jeans and head to my third meal of the day prepared for me by the American machine. Of course there wouldn't be anything on the menu that isn't carb laden and under one thousand calories.  Tack on a few beers after desert and I'm back in the glutony that is the American corporate machine.  

How's that for a picture?

I don't want you to think I'm complaining.  When I returned from this adventure my mind was purely focused upon finding my next career opportunity.  For the last three months of the journey overseas my mind drifted between hostel friendships and career networking.  I started to feel the inevitable pull back to career.  It was an interesting development in the evolution of so many feelings brought on by extended international travel.  So many people would say to me, "if I left to do what you're doing - I'd be afraid I'd never come back!"  I really struggled to relate to these sentiments.  

Lets just say I AM struggling right now.  The culture shock has been down right fascinating!  

Don't get me wrong... My international friends may be shocked to know I have always LOVED working.  If you need and confirmation just ask my father.  I started scooping ice cream when I was fifteen. After I realized my sticky forearms were not going to get me the money I need to buy my dream Jeep in high school, I joined a crew of friends with a part time job at American Eagle.  Yup, after my first introduction to a folding board I fell in love!?  How could someone not love the ability to organize all day?  Yup, I've taken my fair share of crap for my love of folding boards but anyone of my family members can attest to how I keep my own closet and why that role fit me for so long.  I moved up in the world in college when I moved from AE to J.Crew.  The 'crew introduced me to commission selling and basic consultative selling practices.  Fancy that, customers really DO NOT want to talk to you.  Slather that together with my folding board love and I was on quite the path.  

How did I get onto this tangent?  This is the moment where my friend Sameer closes the window and makes up his mind to tell me I need to shorten my blog posts! Thanks Sameer you're helping me stay focused here.  I'm thinking Sameer will LOVE my next blog - but more on that later... 

Work? Oh yeah.  Well I'm back to work.  I took a job back in the Medical Device field here in the US and officially started a week ago Tuesday.  What does this mean for Andrew? Well I'm back to hotels, trains, planes, automobiles and expense reports. 

So I did find it interesting this week as I was walking around the trade-show floor with flashes of Indonesian Beaches, South African Sharks and European castles pop in and out between pop-up displays about orthopedic instrumentation. 

What did it all mean?  I can't tell you today. I can't tell myself today.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to describe what this journey meant to me. I can say I feel stronger after doing it.  I feel more flexible.  I feel like I have more patience with people from other cultures. The world seems a whole lot more flat.  It feels quite small actually.  I now have friends all over the world who I hold very close to my heart.  The list of benefits could go on and on.  

When I pause to think about what negatives would parallel those negatives... I'm stumped.  I can't think of a single thing. I'm in a better place mentally, emotionally, physically, in my relationship and even with my family.  Funny how all of those fears about what you'll "miss out on" while traveling come to?  Did I miss anything?  Sure I missed some things but the trade off was so lopsided.  

The friends you meet while traveling are unique. They're special.  They get to know you on a different level than your friends from back home.  They're NOT your friends back home.  Its important to explain you'll be friends from your "moments together."  I hope to plan more of those moments with many of them.  They get 100% of you for better or for worse. The friendship has not time restraints other than when you both move on to the next thing.   Either it works quickly or it ends quickly.  When it DOES work you know the fit will last for a long time.  I never imagined I'd be inviting people to come visit me from so many other countries. 

I'm content with the experience.  Did I really just type that?  I'm eFFing ecstatic!! I got what I was looking for and so much more.   Safe to say the journey was more good than bad.  It had more ups than downs. 

And so life moves on.  It ebbs and flows like a stream. This past year felt more like a waterfall than the river bend I had imagined it to be.  I hope anyone who has read this blog has enjoyed following along.  The interactions the blogging tied with Facebook made me feel connected with home when I needed and disconnected likewise.  Thank you for following along on this journey. You all mean so much to me. 


Stay tuned... I have another blog idea and will be hopefully asking some of you to follow along on my next journey. It may not be as extravagant as world travel but hopefully it will keep you entertained. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

24 hours and counting

Its down to the wire here for the trip. Paul and I have just finished an amazing Sunday roast with Chris and Dawn here in Wigan, UK.  What an unforgettable experience. I'm excited to come home and start the next stage of my life. I'm excited to see friends and family. I'm just plain excited. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Denmark & Sweden

Its strange to think about it but it has been eleven years I last stepped foot in Denmark.  I had a friend in high school whose family was half Norwegian and half Danish. I was lucky his family invited me to stay with them at their summer home.  I headed off to the land of blonds and beers with wide eyes.  That summer was a blast! I was sixteen and although I could drive at home I wasn’t allowed to in Denmark.  I was however allowed to drink!  And drink we did!  We walked our high school butts to the small town center and hit a few local bars every other night or so.  Its funny thinking back on those times because those were probably some of the first times I really began to understand how much alcohol I could consume.  Like most American teenagers I was fascinated with alcohol.  All of my friends were.  We were however, unlucky that none of us received fake IDs from older brothers and we never figured out how to buy one.  So booze was in short supply back in Barrington for my group of friends.  I always wondered how many of the other kids at my high school in different social groups got their hands on it?  It always seemed like there was a party going on at someones house each weekend where there was going to be booze… in hindsight I realize a lot of that alcohol came from their parents. It was either stolen from them or given to them. 

So I spend a few weeks as a sixteen year old drinking in Denmark. What an experience.  I can say eleven years later it was a different experience.  After spending three weeks in Germany drinking amazing beer by the liter we decided to cleanse our bodies in Copenhagen.  We checked ourselves into the Generator Hostel and immediately headed out for a run through the public gardens in the center of town.  It became very apparent on that first run that Copenhagen has more bikes than it does cars!  They have their own ROADS for bikes.  We’re not talking bike lanes we’re talking bike ROADS! What a cool idea.  What do they do in the winter?

Side story on winter biking.  We met up with two dutch girls last night at our hostel and they told us how hilarious it is after the first snow in Holland every year.  Apparently most primary or elementary schools are within walking distance of most students in Holland.  When you go to high school most students begin biking to school.  Yup, they pony up their new found whips and head right out rain or shine.  So on that fated first snow of the winter season the older students get a huge kick out of watching all of the freshmen fall over in the snow.  They explained it always happens on major turns.  Boom… boom… BOOM!  One after another like little lemmings they all make the same rookie mistake and their wheel slides out from under them.  The rest of the students just bike on past as if nothing happened.  I guess this is a right of passage in Holland.  Perhaps on my European adventures in the future I’ll come back for one of those first snows. 

So we did the touristy things in Copenhagen.  We took a walking tour with a brand new tour guide.  She was good and we got to take in all of the sights.  We hit up the major churches, alleyways and canals.  The city is beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  The only problem is the cost of freaking EVERYTHING here!  After speaking with a few Danish people they explained most things are expensive but everything touristy like restaurants and bars are extremely expensive.  Alcohol has an extreme “sin” tax on it as well so we’re talking $12 a pint at the pub. 

The next segment of our journey took us across the bridge from Copenhagen to the Lund/Malmo southern Sweden area.  Paul had Swedish live-in opers (sp?) growing up and we were lucky enough to be put in touch with one of them, Marie.  Marie invited us to stay with her at her home in southern Sweden for a weekend.  We headed over to the Nestle office where she works a few days a week in Copenhagen and hitched a ride with her over the border. 

It was a much-needed R&R weekend.  We didn’t too a whole lot but that was just fine and dandy for Paul and I.  Marie has a daughter, Tilda, who is four and a half so we played live in American uncles for the weekend.  Although Tilda couldn’t speak any English and we couldn’t speak any Swedish we all got along just famously.  How hilarious to be playing super Mario brothers with a four-year-old Swedish girl and actually be able to communicate back and forth with pointing and smiles. 

She also schools both Paul and I in the game memory.  What is it about children and memory games? They’re so good at them!?

On Monday morning we were up early to catch our flight up to Stockholm.  When we landed the weather had cleared (it has rained the past few a weeks all over Europe). We headed out to walk around the city and get a feeling.  There were less bike lanes but lots and lots of canals.  As it turns out Stockholm is situated around a huge group of islands!?  I guess those Vikings needed easy access to the sea, huh? Monday was the “queens day” so we enjoyed a twenty-one cannon ball blast salute at noon.  The royal changing of the guards followed this.  We’ve seen so many “changing of the guards” now and I don’t know why we always flock to it?  Do we have anything like this in America?  Can you see the changing of the secret service at the white house?

We are running a bit low on extra cash so Stockholm was a visit full of long walks and hostel food.  We fell back into a bit of our Australian backpacking mentality while in Scandinavia.  The cost of living was so high for us that we ended up having lots of pic-nics, playing lots of Frisbee (free!) and walking all over town just “looking” at everything (also free…).  I think a lot of people would look at this and think we missed all sorts of activities and museums but after seeing museums, religious structures, castles and wildlife all over the world you get to a point where it all starts to blend together.

We’re on our way to London now.  We meet up with our old friends Shari & Te Anna (see Paris photos or Vietnam photos).  They’re hosting us for a few days until we head north of London to meet up with Dawn and Chris.  Dawn and Chris are giving us a true British holiday by showing us the non-London part of the country.  They’re also generous enough to help us getting to Edinburgh and Dublin! Its crazy to think I only have ten days until I head home.  This second part of the voyage has gone by so quickly!

Tour guide in Copenhagen

Famous canal

amazing views of copenhagen

Sweden public gardens in Stockholm

parking in Copenhagen

public bean bags!

yup, they really have them!

my new friend!

Marie, Tilda and Jonas

Changing of the guards on queens day in Stockholm

What? its a wagon, its a camper... wait... NO! Its a WAGON CAMPER!

love this

Pink sky at night, sailors delight

New dutch friends!

Munich, Prague, Berlin & Hamburg

Back before I headed down to Zimbabwe from San Francisco Paul got a call from his buddy Larry.  Larry explained his friend, Betsy, was going to be backpacking in Europe this summer and that he thought we’d all be good traveling partners.  Paul quickly reached out to Betsy to see what her schedule looked like.  It looked like we’d be able to meet up in Germany and Betsy followed up by inviting her friend Mary from Chicago to come along.

If I’ve learned anything about long term travel it helps to have a lot of people on the trip.  The more people you have the more options you can explore by splitting into different groups.  I guess that’s just my thought. 

So we met Betsy in Munich!  Unfortunately while we were in Munich it rained every day but one.  On our one nice day we headed out on a bicycle tour.  The tour helped us see the entire lay out of the city.  Munich was completely destroyed in WWII but they have done an unbelievably amazing job of recreating it to look like it did before the war.  All of the buildings are immaculately detailed.  Munich fulfilled all of my stereotypes for Germany.  I guess I should have realized that the stereotypes of Germany tend to be rooted in Bavaria.  We had sausage, beer by the litre, pork knuckle (don’t ask), potato everything! Also lots of pretzels with mustard and cheese! It was a carb filled few days and each night I swore I’d give up pretzels and beer… only to give in by noon the following day. 

Beer Gardens: seriously there are more beer gardens in Munich than there are restaurants!  I really think the beer garden business model would succeed in San Francisco!? Why don’t we have more of them? Or do we? Did I just never look?

We brought out or first Eurail pass for our trip to Prague where we’d be meeting up with Mary from Chicago.  The train trip was rather uneventful but it was nice to be taking a train to see some of the countryside.

Prague was beautiful.  In a nice contrast to Munich nothing was bombed in Prague in WWII.  I honestly felt like I was living in medieval days walking around Prague.  All of the streets are cobblestone. Yup. ALL of them!  This is a high heels wearing ankles worst nightmare!  We took another bicycle tour of the city and were introduced to all of the old architecture. The Prague castle dominates the cityscape from every city district. 

It was interesting seeing a former communist area in eastern Europe and being able to compare it to our Asian communist experiences in Vietnam.  How strikingly different the two cultures and countries are.  I could still feel some of the repression from those old communist days.  Don’t get me wrong the city is unbelievably cosmopolitan but when you get out of the castle district and on one of our over night stops in Karlovy Vary, Czech it became apparent more of what the country went through under communism.

We finally made it to Berlin after Eurail passing it over the border.  In Berlin Paul and I met up with my old Phi Psi brother, Rob Scheid.   It was so great meeting him and his girlfriend, Marianna for dinner! Rob speaks fluent Italian as Marianna is from Italy.  He works for a branch of the Germany government that helps bring green industry to the country.  We were able to stay with him for a night before we met back up with Betsy in our hotel.  If Munich was full of German stereotypes Berlin busted all of them apart.  I never thought there would be such a cool city like Berlin in Germany.  What do I mean by cool?  Berlin is clearly still evolving after WWII.  How can that be? Hasn’t it been so long?  Well the Berlin wall only came down in 1989 and its amazing how slowly a new culture can grow from 1989 until today.  I cannot express my feelings in words I have about Berlin.  The entire time I was in the city I was confronted with a mix of emotions from nazi experiences (we spent a day at the “model concentration camp”) but also the bohemian hipster young city feeling…  The city has such a complex history! Honestly my emotions ran high to low as I explored former Nazi historical sights and then spent time with a fellow Midwestern American who has made this eclectic city his home.  The beer was decent and the weather gave us a few rainy days and a few sunny ones.

Following Berlin we headed over to Hamburg.  I had no idea what to expect with Hamburg.  This seems to be a common theme from my blog posts… How could I know so LITTLE about all of these major European cities?  I guess you can only hear a name and ramble off historical facts about a place for so long before you realize you don’t know a thing about that place until you get there, put on your running shoes and head out to explore.  Hamburg was beautiful!!  Its one of the largest ports in the world (definitely one of the top three in Europe.)  The funny thing is the city is 100k away from the ocean!

We took a nice walking tour and met up with a Hamburgerian (ha!) Flo.  Paul met Flo in our hostel in Melbourne.  The two exchanged Facebook information and when Flo saw us post we had arrived in Hamburg he offered to take us around for the afternoon to show us the outskirts of Hamburg by car.  It was a generous offer and it was great to see the headquarters of Airbus as we cruised through the green outskirts of Hamburg.  I’m so glad Flo reached out to us because we were able to see a completely different part of the city.  I guess it would be as if someone visited San Francisco and didn’t get to see the Presidio or GG park?  One of my favorite parts of SF is the open space!?  I always take people who are visiting there so they can experience how amazing it can be to be in the heart of a bustling multi-cultural city and within a few minutes be deep in a forest with little signs of people or buildings.

So Hamburg was a good trip as well.  If I were working in Europe I’d hope to get to spend some times there. I’m not sure if I’d plan a vacation there in the future but I know I’d be comfortable living there if a company took me overseas for a few years. Now all I need to do is learn German!

Surfing in Munich on a RIVER!

Prague Cityscape

Prague Castle shot!

Prague Castle Shot pt 2

pt 3

The Beatles Wall!

Locks of LOVE


candles at the main prague church



Berlin monument to woman of war

Berlin Wall

Jewish Holocaust Memorial 

Pariser Platz

Patagonia in BERLIN!

Flo joined up in Hamburg!


Southern France

After departing Paris we joined up with my former boss, Bill, down in Le Bar Sur Loup.  Bill and his wife Paule were kind enough to let us stay at their vacation rental for five nights in a small town about an hour north east of Nice, France.  I was eager to spend some time with an old friend and mentor but also equally excited to spend time in the French countryside with people who truly know the language and culture.  Paule is 100% French but has also lived in Montreal and the USA.  Paul and I kept talking about how we had our typical touristy vacation in Paris and now we’re having more of an authentic experience.

We didn’t know until we finally arrived in Le Bar Sur Loup that two of Paule and Bills good friends from Arizona were taking a week vacation in the same region.  John & Brenda Steinsky live part of the year in Nova Scotia and the other part in Phoenix.  We were lucky to have another generous family welcome us to a part of the world they love so much. 

If we were looking for an authentic French experience, we GOT it!  Paule cooked for us and filled us with Frois Gras, every type of French cheese imaginable, baguette, jambon, Rose wine by the case and every other French delicacy we could have imagined.  Looking back on that week I cannot believe how well we ate.  Of all of the cuisines I enjoyed this past year I’d put French at the top of the list.  The funny thing is I wouldn’t have experienced it in France unless I spent time with Paule and Bill!

We took the opportunity to take a few days to relax.  We didn’t even get to the beach!  Of all of the beaches in the world I want to revisit the French Mediterranean is also #1.  Can you see where I’m going with this? Southern France was the best food and beaches? Am I biased yet?  One of the best things we did in Bar Sur Loup was go go-karting!  Yup, we went to the largest go-kart track in all of Europe.  Paul and I thought we’d look it up and John chimed in that he’d love to go.  It didn’t take much convincing for Bill to join in and before we knew it we headed out for a guys day while Paule and Brenda did some shopping and purfumerie touring.

This track was no ordinary track.  We realized our lives were slightly in danger when we showed up.  The racers who were training on the track were SPONSORED!  Yup, sponsored go-kart racers!  Hilarous.  We waited our turns and John translated we didn’t want to race while the sponsored hell-bat French drivers were on the track.  This (like anything else we conveyed in broken French) seemed to piss off the track owner.  Finally we got on the track and the four of us were racing on top of a mountain with views of the Mediterranean! The location we found on top of the mountain was literally a guys paradise!  There were paintballing places, go-karts and race bikes all in one location!  I think I know where I’d like to have my bachelor party if I’m ever a millionaire.

I’ll definitely find my way back to southern France in the future. I’m clearly hooked. 

Bill and Paule rented out a room in this castle!

Zach Delaney

Italian Coast

Italian Gelato

Outside of Monaco

John and Brenda

The Delaney Family (this is outside the front door of the apartment)

Go-Kart Racing!

Candy Shop!

Bill and myself on top of a mountain!