<![CDATA[Second Star to the Right - Blog]]>Mon, 22 Feb 2016 12:31:49 -0600Weebly<![CDATA[Issue 25 - Alps]]>Mon, 22 Feb 2016 04:33:16 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-25-alps
From Germany, we continued into the south via train into Zurich. While we only stayed there for a night, I was surprised at how expensive it was there. It was a strange city that seemed alive and sterile at the same time. There were primarily businesses, but then in weird pockets there were nightclubs and plenty of people roaming the street even though it was well into the night. It was the first time we were biking in the dark since our 90 mile day in France, and I was surprised to see how many other people were out since most of Europe called it a night at 7 pm. 

The next morning we checked out of our extremely basic but still expensive hotel to bike back to the train station. While biking the alps might sound fun in theory, it wasn't an adventure we wanted to pursue. Our train was bright and shiny with huge picture windows and comfy seats. 

While we were eager to start the trip, we had to stop for some Swiss sweets. As amazing as they look, they tasted even better. 

By this point we've come quite far and seen an array of scenery, by far the most beautiful place on our expedition was the Alps. Our route went through the heart of the mountains, and was our transit down into Italy. 

Much like Norway, there's so little I can say with words when there's scenery like this to be seen. 

As we ascended into the mountains, the greenery slowly faded, but it was replaced by snow and some of the clearest water I've ever seen. There were several lakes along the way, each more inviting than the last. 

There were several times the train dipped into tunnels as it skirted along high cliffs. A few times we went through mountains, though the train primarily skirted dangerously along the edges. At the very top, the view was breathtaking. 

​The train began its descent, and the memory of sterile Zurich was replaced with picturesque little towns and rolling green hills. At the very bottom, the train tracks made a tight corkscrew turn because of how steep the descent was. As we went around the curve, I saw the sun beaming over the mountains. It was the most amazing volumetric lighting I had ever seen.  

We ended our ride in a small town in northern Itay named Tirano. At the end, as we settled into what was easily the nicest room of our trip, we agreed that if there was one place we could return to so far, it would be to take another trip through those amazing mountains. 

<![CDATA[Issue 24 - Germany]]>Fri, 04 Dec 2015 03:19:03 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-24-germany
​Initially we passed through Germany briefly, stopping in Hamburg on our way to Norway. There we enjoyed some delicious Hamburgers, which were named after the city. While there's a bunch of people who claim all sorts of things about where the Hamburger came from, the thing  was astounded by in Hamburg is the fact that they eat the delicious meal with a knife and fork. I let them marvel at our ability to eat them with our hands. I feel as though they never saw such a feat. 

When we got back to Germany, we stayed in Berlin for a few nights. One of our friends happened to be living in Berlin at the time and showed us around. Berlin was the first place I actually saw an American Consolate, thanks to him pointing it out. They're surprisingly indistinct. The thing I saw the most of, however, was what remained of the Berlin wall. Throughout the city you can find chunks erected as pieces of art, memorials, or bashed up into small souveniers. The largest part of the wall that still stands is at the East Side Gallery, which is a free outdoors museum. 

All through the city you can see other reminders of how things were divided, including a line of brick in the ground that marks where the wall once stood, and the differences in the walking signs. When the country was divided, West Germany was equipped with walking signals that had the American man anyone would recognize. East Germany, however, was given a man in a hat, which I thought was quite interesting. 

There were few times I had a heavier sense of history than in Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie is one of the few remaining locations that's recognized for what it is. There are so many amazing stories of people who made it from East to West, and there's no way I can tell them all here. There were a lot of heroes.

Our trip continued south to Bastei Bridge, which overlooks amazing rock formations in the valley below. We crossed the Elbe on a ferry that moved entirely with the help of the tide. No motor, only momentum. It was a remarkably steep climb into the mountains, and we ended up needing to walk it with our bags and leave the bikes in the town. Walking with heavy panier is not fun, and doing so up a mountain is even worse. The view was incredible, however, and we had a few days to rest up. 

Munich was next, and we reached it just in time for the world-famous Oktoberfest. The festival is held in Bavaria, which is home to pretty much anything and everything you can think of that's German (except for all those war related things). Bavaria is where much of the food, drink, and traditions Americans might recognize originate, and it was a great time. 

The city was packed with people, and honestly if you weren't in full Leinenhosen or Drindls, you stuck out. There was so much delicious food it was hard to know what to eat. However, the part everyone knows Oktoberfest for, was kept seperated from the rest of the booths. In order to drink, you had to find a seat at one of the large tents. Each one was dedicated to a specific Bavarian brewery, and the smallest size you could get was a liter. 

To finish our stay in Germany, we finished the trip with a ride down to Neuschwanstein Castle, which is also known as the castle to inspire the Disney Castle. It was built between 1868-1892, and has an amazing, unique look to it. The entire building has a fairy tale look to it because it was designed by famous set designers at the time. It was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who really built the castle as a way to get away from people. 

​Let me just build a castle super deep in the mountains so I can avoid awkwardly speaking to people. That, my friends, is how you introvert. The saddest part is the King died in 1886, before the castle was entirely finished. He used up his country's money to fuel his desire of solitude, and died under mysterious circumstances with a doctor who declared him to be insane. All the poor guy wanted was some damn peace and quiet. 
"I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others." 
- King Ludwig II of Bavaria

<![CDATA[Issue 23 - Denmark]]>Thu, 29 Oct 2015 14:58:50 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-23-denmark
I won't lie. As I sit here writing about Copenhagen, I find myself wishing I had taken more pictures. As the trip has progressed, picture taking has become progressively more of a chore than a pleasure, but that always seems to be the way. Copenhagen was one of the oldest cities we've been in, and it had a really nice feel to it. The internet warned that it was an expensive place, and they were not wrong. Even so, it had a good feel to it. Fall was just starting to come in, and Copenhagen had a really good fall feel to it. The air had the right smell, the tress were a mix of green and orange, and the airport had a Starbucks so you can bet I enjoyed some Pumpkin Spice. 

We stayed in a hotel that had rooms built like they were on a cruise ship, which was a bit weird but nice at the same time. I don't mind small rooms when they're made to be that way. Though the entire bathroom being a shower thing is something I won't ever be used to. 

The main thing we did in Copenhagen was visit the Tivoli, which was built in 1843, making it the world's second oldest amusement park. It was the inspiration for Disney Land, which after being there I can absolutely see. Since I know you're curious, the oldest amusement park is Dyrehavsbakken, and it too is in Denmark. It was built in 1583, which is just a fun thing to imagine. Medieval knights on rollar coasters. 

​Tivoli was really pretty. We didn't go on any rides, but I really liked how the rides were built into the park. The roller coasters ran directly over the paths you walked on, making the whole thing feel very connected and interwoven. There were also several peacocks roaming around, which according to the architecture they were the mascots of the gardens. 

​Down one of the tree-lined paths was a cluster of ponds swarming with ducks and massive koi. We realized quickly they were there, waiting for passersby to purchase a handful of chow. We did so, and a frenzy ensued. 

Copenhagen is also home to the Little Mermaid statue, which is a lifesize statue just off the coast. You wouldn't know it was near the shoreline given the sea of Asian tourists I had to swim through to get a picture. 

All told, Copenhagen had a really nice feel to it. Honestly, it was the first place we've been that had the feel I was expecting the rest of Europe to of captured. There was a nice blend of the old and the new, the grand and the simple. Disney Land took notes from the Trivoli, maybe the rest of Europe should take notes from Copenhagen.

<![CDATA[Issue 22 - Norway]]>Thu, 15 Oct 2015 23:55:02 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-22-norway

Norway was pretty cool. We arrived by ferry to Oslo, and were met with a remarkably clean and modern train station in an equally clean city. The modern part involved quite a bit of construction, but it was clear they were moving on up. But, frankly, Norway isn't about its cities. It's not about long write ups and words, it's about nature... and nature was amazing.
As you can see, Norway had a lot of scenery to offer. We saw a lot of amazing things, but they were all outdone by the Fjords at Preacher's Rock. We set out from Oslo to the north in Norway primarily to see the Troll Wall. We at first weren't going to visit Preacher's Rock because it was a bit of a hassle to get there and we had some pressing deadlines to deal with. But, in the end, we decided to forgo the work stress so a train and a 2 hour hike later we were rewarded with the best view on the trip thus far.

The view is hard to capture entirely in a picture. Everything seemed so large and small at the same time, and it was breathtaking. We climbed up still higher after reaching the rock, and while I took a rest there and made some "traditional" rock statues, Rob just kept on climbing. 

Once Rob was all climbed out, we began our return trip. I must say, Norway is a strong contender for my favorite country from our trip. It was clean, the people were polite, the hotels were consistently lovely, and transportation was never an issue. I feel like Norway is one of those places everyone should visit at some point in their life.

So thank you Norway, I won't soon forget you. 

<![CDATA[Issue 21 - The Netherlands]]>Thu, 24 Sep 2015 07:16:25 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-21-the-netherlands

After our detour at Downton, we hopped on another overnight ferry that dropped us off in Rotterdam, South Holland, within the Netherlands. I haven't made a point to mention the counties the cities are in until this particular place, because many people get what Holland and the Netherlands are. So, to clear that up, just take a quick watch of this video: Holland vs The Netherlands.

Rotterdam is the largest port city in Europe, and was a beautiful place especially at night when the lights were doubled by all the rivers. We did a lot of biking through the country, but were not able to see any of the famous tulips. We arrived just too late in the season for that, which was sad. Yet, within the Netherlands is the city of Gouda known for, you guessed it, gouda cheese. There were countless stores selling so many delicious and colorful cheeses, so that sort of took the place of colorful flowers. The one pictured to the side was even flavored with flowers (specifically lavender). It was delicious, though eating it all in one sitting was not the wisest choice I've made. 

Biking through the Netherlands was a welcome break from the mountains and roadside terrors that Great Britain offered us. Most people there rode bikes, and it's pretty apparent why. Everything is flat. So, so flat. I suppose being beneath the sea level will get you that sort of landscape, and it was perfect for riding around on a bike. Not only was the natural terrain amicable for bike riding, but the country has gone far out of its way to be sure that no matter where you want to go there's a paved bike path. We've had many issues with Google trying to send us down a horrible road in the past, and while it still tried its hardest to do that here, there were always paved options that made travel easy. Outside of the cities, we easily saw more bikers than people in cars, which was a strange sensation. 
We ended up staying a few days in Rotterdam, primarily because it had a wonderful market. The Market Hall, Rotterdam was finished in 2014 so it still had the nice feel of a brand new building. The two glass windows on its front and back are the two largest glass window structures in Europe. The graphic on its ceiling was a 36,000 square foot artwork by Arno Coenen called "Horn des Overvloeds". The work was made in 3D and it was a 1.5 Terabyte file. Just take a moment to think about that.. One file. 1.5 Terabytes. They needed special servers to render the image because of the size, and so they used the Pixar rendering farm. The image was then split into 4,000 pieces and printed onto iron to be shaped into the ceiling. 

Our next city was Gouda, home to the cheese and Stroopwafles. It was a quaint town. In the center by the main building they still have a weekly cheese market where there are just giant wheels of cheese rolled out for people to buy. 

Next, of course, was Amsterdam. The city was wildly busy with other tourists, and getting around started to become a nightmare. While so many other bicyclists make it so there's plenty of roads everywhere, in the city there just is never enough room, which is just aggravated when you don't know exactly where you're going. 

One thing we did (but couldn't take pictures of) was the Amsterdam Dungeon.  
It might look fairly cheesy, but it was a lot of fun. The actors were entertaining and were very good at getting the audience involved. They have these all over the place, so if you ever find yourself near one, I recommend it. 

Overall, I would say that our stay in the Netherlands was amazing. The cities were all pretty clean, public transportation was everywhere, and the locals were all very nice and helpful. It was the first time we were back in a country where we didn't speak the native language, and it was a nice, easy way to break ourselves back into the habit of needing to be sure you can communicate. 

<![CDATA[Issue 20  - Part 2, Detour]]>Thu, 17 Sep 2015 19:49:26 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-20-part-2-detour

Today's update is short, because the internet where I am is unreliable at best. So for that, I apologize. Regular updates will resume starting next week. There's a nice little backlog of countries once more so I'll be able to continue on. 

Our attempts to get out of the United Kingdom were fraught with obstacles. It's surprisingly expensive to leave that area, and finding a boat to take us over the channel took us all the way back south. So, Rob gave me a nice little surprise.

To those of you who don't instantly recognize this building, it's the Highcliffe Castle which is the set for Downton Abbey (one of my favorite shows). Visiting was amazing. The show explores a lot of the mansion and the surrounding grounds and I recognized a lot of it. The biggest letdown was that we weren't allowed to take photos inside of the manor. The surrounding grounds were beautiful though, so plenty of pictures of those!

As I said, this issue is very short. Uploading just these images took nearly all day. Before this trip, this graph just made me snicker. Now... Now I truly understand. 

<![CDATA[Issue 20 - A Very Special Game of Thrones]]>Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:28:47 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-20-a-very-special-game-of-thronesLet's just set the mood...
(Hey, psst... If it's over here it's our picture...
...and if it's over here, it's from the TV show.)

Now just to add a little fire...
Mood set? Excellent. 

Game of Thrones is awesome. I was dragged into the fandom by friends who I owe a debt of gratitude to for not letting me not watch this show (and subsequently start reading the books). 

Rob and I on our travels through Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, had the chance to run across some of the filming locations for the show. 

Our first stop was a little spit of beach in Ireland. It isn't exactly the most iconic location, but it was neat to see. In the show, it's quite dark and a bit fiery.
Stannis swore his allegiance to the Fire Lord here, and then a little ways off the beach Ser Davos awoke alive among the rocks. 

From there our journey took us to Lordsport, or rather, Ballintoy Harbor. 
(Let the records show they MAY have been some CG added in post on the show... maybe.)
Finding the exact shot of where Theon Greyjoy was baptized proved difficult primarily because there was no 3g out in this little harbor area so we could do no googling. I suppose the one cafe and a guy painting with his basic set of acrylics just wasn't enough to ensure good cell coverage. But this is still the harbor. Honestly I was pretty accurate given the circumstances. 

Next on the list was the King's Road. It's this crazy awesome road in Ireland known as the Dark Hedges, and honestly, they didn't need to do much to this place to make it look crazy cool and creepy. Just add a bit of dirt road in place of the asphalt and bam, you have a road fit for the medieval fantasy age. 

Castle Black is one of the few locations that was built out in the world for people to spy upon. The location is in an old, previously abandoned quarry. The sets for both Castle Black and Hardhome were built almost to their full extend here (meaning not many CG buildings were added in the end). 
Our pictures really don't look like much. We couldn't get close at all what with gates and security vehicles, but seeing it in person was awesome. If you want to see more behind the scenes pictures, check out this article. The title of it makes me snicker. The Wall in Game of Thrones was probably the "realest" thing we saw in this whole line (aside from the King's Road). 

The Godswood. Somewhere among these images I'm sure are some of the trees you may see in the show, but there were really no distinct images that led us to a proper place. ("Oh you know, just go find a bunch of trees!) The gardens here were dark and wild, however. I can see how it made the cut.

While in the show they're quite close, geographically we had to take a few hops and skips to get ourselves over to Winterfell. 
Castle Ward was home to many locations for Game of Thrones, and it was the location that played it up the most as well. There were many markers to let you know just where you were and what was filmed there, which I found very helpful since once more, no 3g coverage could be found. 

I was told that this window is the one that Bran is pushed from, since the real tower that he's shown climbing (the same one that's in all the main shots above) has a window far too small for a child to fit in. Honestly I don't think these windows could look more different, but it's what I was told by a man wearing a cape so it MUST be true. 

From Winterfell, our sightseeing turns to the obscure. Though honestly, in a way, that made it even more interesting to me. I remember wondering while looking around at all these sights where the little things were filmed, specifically like where Brienne finds the hanged women. To my surprise, that passing thought received an answer! Fewer bodies in my version, but otherwise pretty spot on. 
"Hey Steve, can you see a couple of people hanging dead off this tree?"
"Oh, yeah, totally."
- Average conversation between two GoT location scouts. 

Unless I was willing to walk aaaall the way around a lake, I couldn't get a shot of this tower like it's seen in the show. I wasn't willing to do that. These tower though is the base for the Twins.

Another surprise we came across in Northern Ireland, is the old homeless man they use whenever they need shots of George R.R. Martin!
And then, at the end of the article, while we're all having a little laugh and a jolly jape, 
in true Game of Thrones fashion...
... Rob died.

The Lannisters send their regards.

<![CDATA[Issue 19 - Scotland]]>Sat, 22 Aug 2015 15:40:51 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-19-scotland

Scotland was the last country on our United Kingdom tour. Interestingly enough, Scotland only has seven cities dotted across its landscape: Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Stirling, and Edinburgh. We traveled through every city in Scotland on our tour, even if it was just a little pass through.

The first stop was Glasgow. First impressions are important, and Glasgow's was pretty nice. It's a larger city with lots of shopping. It actually reminded me of a larger version of Galway in a lot of ways, so much so that in typing this I almost started describing that city instead. At some point, they do start to run together a bit. 

Glasgow reminded me a bit of Chicago, mostly because it's my main reference point, but also because I found a lot of things here that I would've found at home. There was a basement shop full of comics and nerds playing trading card games. They sold delicious smoothies and gave away a comic with each one. Now that's how you get my business. There was a hair salon where I got a much needed bit of pampering, and a Warhammer store where I could gaze longingly at all the models I couldn't buy or paint. 

The main stretch felt a lot like the modern version of a marketplace. There were no carts selling goods unfortunately, but there were some crazy shops and panhandlers competing for your pocket change using everything from bagpipes to puppets. 

(American Candy was basically a shop that sold cereal and Twinkies. Clearly the most candy things America has to offer. The bear is self-explanatory.)

From Glasgow we took the Western Highland train up to Mallaig which just happens to be the same rail line that the Harry Potter movies use for the Hogwarts Express. Does that mean Hogwarts is really in Scotland? I went looking for it but then I remembered I had to do some laundry. (Sorry Muggles, that joke was just for Harry Potter fans.)

The Highlands were just as majestic as you were always led to believe. The term refers to the upper half of Scotland, and if you want a more specific idea this map will help you out. 

Mallaig led to a ferry, which took us to the Isle of Skye. This we biked around, taking in almost more mountains than we though possible for such a tiny cluster of islands. Many of the little juts of lands were just all mountain, and also some rocks and sheep. 

Skye led to Kyle of Lochalsh, which led to another ferry (they're fairly popular when your land is broken up by so much water). We camped, biked, trained, and finally ended in Inverness.

BUT! Not before stopping at Eilean Donan. Eilean Donan is basically -the- castle. When you see photographs of castles from this era, this is probably the one you see. Its situated perfectly along the river, with a mountain backdrop and overall has been very well preserved. It was a beautiful way to start the morning bike. 

Inverness was the second stop on our seven city tour. It was your average city, which in the UK also includes old stone walls and a castle (of course). This castle, however, has been converted into the city hall and courthouse. 

From here we biked south down to Loch Ness, which is sort of on the border of the Highlands and the Lowlands. It's a weird, thin lake that was formed basically from the platonic plates splitting apart. It looks basically like a bumpy needle from overhead.

We biked and trained our way to Aberdeen, and spotted some Scottish Kelpies along the way. They are massive metal statues constructed along the river. While we ended up staying a while in Aberdeen, it was primarily to recoup and catch up on some work. It was the Granite City, every building was made of the same grey stone. Paired with a grey sky, it made pictures look... odd. So I left those out. 

Because Scotland is full of mountains which, frankly, I was sick of biking over, after we arrived in Aberdeen we took a train through Dundee, Perth, and Stirling to arrive in Edinburgh (Ed-in-burr-uh). 

Now this was a city you could take good pictures in. 

The main castle was located up on a hilly area, with the main thoroughfare, "The Royal Mile", leading elaborately up to it with old shops and eateries lining the way. The roads in this area were especially cool, though they were often hard to navigate because we just so happened to arrive in Edinburgh at the start of the Edinburgh Festival. 

Edinburgh was a cool place. There was Arthur's Seat located directly in the middle of the city, which was just a giant park with a mountain in the middle of it. For those who prefer the subterranean, there was a long tunnel known as the Innocent Railway. Its an abandoned mining tunnel called Innocent because in all the years of use, no one died. No ghosts here! We took some GoPro footage of that you should watch.

The festival was crazy, and brought what seemed like a billion people from all over to walk directly in front of us as we tried to look around. I did manage to find some Haggis, however, and I must say it isn't bad. The sheep stomach that it's cooked in isn't the part you eat, you eat all the insides in a mash that has oats and other spices. Quite good, and I'd recommend it. 

This entire trip we sort of played our nightly accommodations by ear, which totally backfired on us here. We lucked out the first two nights, but on the third there were no more rooms at any inns. So, we skipped town. 

We headed back to Glasgow, but before this, (technically while still staying in Edinburgh) we made a little detour to a little castle some of you may very well recognize. By day it is only the humble Doune Castle. By film, it's literally every castle and castle-like room in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (It's also part of Winterfell in Game of Thrones, but you'll be seeing more GoT locations in next week's special issue.) 

Doune was awesome. It wins the award for coolest castle, at least for me. It was surprisingly massive, and still very well preserved. It's honestly no wonder it worked so well for the film. The way they would re-engineer parts of rooms to work for entire rooms blew my mind. This, for example, is the fireplace in the kitchen. It's massive because they would cook an entire cow over a huge fire. But in the film, they use this area as its own little room.

And don't worry, if you forgot your coconuts, they were provided... for a price. Apparently inflation affects postage on sparrows as well. 

I'll leave you with this little film of our own. We had to shoot some footage for a friend who was doing a scavenger hunt at the time that included needing a video of someone frolicking in front of a castle. What better place than the castle with so many faces? 

<![CDATA[Issue 18 - Lessons]]>Sat, 15 Aug 2015 05:01:46 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-18-lessons
Note this is the trimmed version.... it still seems like so much.

I wanted to do a little post that's different from the others, and now with this break between Ireland and Scotland is as good of a place as any to put it. This post is called lessons, and that's just what you're getting: all the lessons I've learned so far on my travels.

Firstly, the practical things:

  • Don't overpack, underpack. You can always buy more clothing or a toothbrush, but you are going to pay an arm and a leg if you need to send your excess baggage home. I know from experience! 

  • The toilets are awful. I don't know what knob designed the system of toilets where to get rid of waste you just throw more water on it and HOPE it goes away, but they should be put down. The supposedly "green" toilets often end up costing more water than they're meant to save!
  • Elevators are a luxury. Most buildings don't have elevators, and the ones that do will have very small, slow things that are not meant to hoist you around with any great speed. 
  • Paying in Sterling sucks. Right now, one pound is one and a half american dollars, and prices are rarely lower in pounds. If you want to visit the UK, expect to be paying much more than you think you'll have to for things.
  • Have a chip and pin credit card! You'll be hard pressed to use your credit card with ease if you don't have a CC with a chip on it. We still need to sign for our purchases, but we're still able to use our card because it has a chip. Honestly, chip and pin is an amazing system. I would never be worried if someone stole my card if it was protected by digits and not my sloppy signature. In fact, cards with signatures are so rare (I think they're actually non-existent but I'm not positive) in Europe that many times the cashiers have had to go to the office to grab a pen for us to use. 
  • Speaking of payment, carry cash. Maybe not fat stacks of it, but carry enough to pay for your dinner at any given time. There are a few out of the way cities that will only accept cash and have no ATM's to offer. 
  • Beware of the shops that keep their merchendise outside. There are the shops that are run by people who only sell cheap off brand rip offs. If it was something of quality, they wouldn't put it on the sidewalk.
  • Europe closes early. In America you have your 24 hour everythings: diners, shopping centers, laundromats, take out. Even Hayward, WI has a 24-hour Wal-Mart. Here? Not so much. I've seen maybe five 24-hour "express" food stores, and that's it. Everything else? Well, I hope you didn't need to go there past 6pm! Even bars close up shop at midnight. 
  • People over here know how to handle being around bikes. Well, mostly. Some people still are crazy cautions, but for the most part cars and bikes are good friends. Buses, however, are a completely different story. Bikes and buses share the lane in most larger cities, and buses act as if bikes just aren't a thing. The three times I've nearly been hit on my bike are all at the fault of blind bus drivers who just cannot be asked to look and see if there's a bike in the lane.

  • No, really, beware the midges! You don't know what midges are? Have you ever imagined what might happen if there was a bug that bit like a mosquito, flew in a swarm like gnats, was smaller than dust, and was as common as flies? Well, wonder no longer! midges exist, and that is the perfect description of what they're like. Honestly, I cannot imagine an insect out there worse than this. 
  • Oh wait, I lied... England has one more offering that's far worse than midges: Giant House Spiders. Spiders in England are as common as rainy days, and far, far larger than they should be. We were terrified one morning to find one of these monsters come out from under our bed. It was at least the size of my hand, probably larger, and it wasn't just some one hit wonder, that's just the size they are. No wonder the pilgrims made a break for it. 

That point sort of leads into the biggest point. I think ultimately the most prevalent thing I've been confronted with on this trip is just how small the world is now. People always talk about America being this massive melting pot, but honestly, it's a melting pot in every other country we've been to too. When we step outside in London, or Glasgow, or Paris, or even a tiny little town in the Ring of Kerry, what are the options for dinner? Well there's this pub, or this Indian place, or Chinese takeout, and the list goes on. We actually had a hard time finding local food in some cities! 

It isn't only eateries that suffer from this, really its the disappointment that very little of the original picture of Europe still remains. After growing up in a giant melting pot, I was excited to go off and see "the real thing". I wanted to see where I came from, I expected to see a modern version of the medieval or Victorian. Instead, I've found that the rest of the world is just one giant melting pot. Perhaps I was naive, but I think it's more akin to a desire for things to just be rare or exotic again. 

Even when I was a kid, before the internet was really a huge deal, some things were still hard to come by. I remember my family had to drive to Chicago's Chinatown in order to buy a rice cooker and rice. Now I could go to literally any department store and pick both of those things up, probably on sale to boot. Sure, this is a good thing in that the whole world has access to all the rest of the world. 
There's still a part of me that wishes for things to be special. 

The most "exotic" thing I've had on this entire trip is a bag of Monster Munch. It's this crazy, puffed snack that's pickled onion flavor. Sounds weird, but I love it, and I've only seen it in the UK which is possibly part of why I love it so much. Imagine if that thing you collect, that one really rare piece? Well, when you collected it, it was hard to get. Now, everyone has one. Some people have five. It isn't unique, it isn't rare, we all have one Terry. 

Apart from the unique buildings, natural formations, and terrible toilets, there's very little so far that doesn't have the same feel to it that America has. There are nice people, and there are complete jackasses. There are nice parts of the city, and parts you just don't go to. Some cities you feel very safe and peaceful in, others you feel very on edge and keep looking over your shoulder. 

The trip has been a grand experience. We're both enjoying ourselves very much. We've found some great things and seen amazing sights that we wouldn't find anywhere else. When it comes down to it, I really couldn't expect any less of the world. Everything is always changing, everything is growing, and everything is updating. I will say though, that so far my favorite places have been the places just a bit out of the way. They're the towns and villages that haven't really caught up to the rest of the world, and still have the old world feel I was expecting. 

So good on you world for progressing. All that I secretly hope for is that the little burghs which have managed to maintain their unique charm stay that way long enough for more people to enjoy. 
<![CDATA[Issue 17 - Northern Ireland]]>Fri, 07 Aug 2015 00:04:29 GMThttp://likegypsies.weebly.com/blog/issue-17-northern-ireland

Northern Ireland is a different beast from its nearby neighbor. The history of why Northern Ireland is part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland is its own entity is lengthy. The results, however, have led to most of the native Roman Catholic Irish leaving while the Protestants have settled in. We arrived in Derry, knowing only a little of this history. The city of Derry, or Londonderry as it's officially named, is sort of the home base of the revolutionists who are not fans of England. It's the site of Bloody Sunday or the Bogside Massacre

Derry is also one of the few remaining cities that still has a wall encasing the center of it. It was cool to walk the length of the wall, and see the architecture that often involves buildings sharing their structure with part of the wall. 

None of these things were why we came to Northern Ireland. We came for the Giant's Causeway. If you want the scientific explanation of how this landscape was formed, well, here you go. Condensed, it was formed by a volcano that stopped being a volcano by exploding all over the place on some unique ground and it resulted in a very unique sight. 

But if you want to listen to legend, the Giant's Causeway is exactly that, the remains of a bridge built by a giant named Benandonner. 

As the legend goes, the giant Finn MacCool was living his life on the coast, when from across the North Channel came a boastful challenge to a duel from Benandonner. Not to be thought a coward, he accepted the challenge and so Benandonner began to construct his bridge across the Channel. Now, Finn MacCool was no small giant, he was nearly twelve feet tall. As he watched Benandonner build his way over, however, he realized that he was outmatched. Benandonner was at least twenty feet tall, and he was approaching fast. Fearing for his life, Finn MacCool ran away. He ran into his home, and tucked himself into his child's cradle just as Benandonner reached the shore. The challenger came after Finn MacCool, rushing into the house where he was met by Finn's wife. Thinking quickly, the giantess told Benandonner to be quiet, their child was sleeping. When Benandonner saw the size of "Finn's child" he turned right around and ran back the way he had come, tearing up the bridge as he went.

From there, we went to Belfast. Belfast didn't get a lot of pictures, mostly because it was an exercise in terror. After spending nearly a month with some of the nicest people we've met and seeing some of the most beautiful sights we could see in (the republic of) Ireland, we arrived on the day of North Ireland's biggest holidays,  "The Twelfth". On this day, North Irish celebrate the victory of the Protestant King William (of England) over the Catholic King James (of Ireland) thus securing English rule and supremacy in North Ireland. Celebration practices include miles long parades that march city to city, and massive bonfires where they burn things like the Irish flag and both Catholic and Polish effigies! When I say bonfire, I don't mean your grandpa's bonfire. The pyre of wood was at least four stories tall. We could literally see the flames over the rooftops as we cowered in our hotel room. The police were out in full force, but I only ever saw them inside their tank-like vehicles. They were probably just as afraid of the people as we were. This entire trip, I never really fell "unsafe" until we reached Belfast. The great dislike of the Polish immigrants and our name being recognizably Polish didn't help with that feeling either. 

We ended up leaving Belfast shortly after we arrived to get away from the marches and the drunks. We went to a small city about eight miles away that had a lovely little shop that looked oh so welcoming! Fun was in short supply, oddly enough.

But seriously, it wasn't all too bad. Nice bars and a castle where Rob made friends with the locals. Come to think of it, maybe we would've felt safer in Belfast if Rob hadn't danced mockingly in front of all the festivities there... 

As we settled in to do some work, we heard the sounds of trumpets and the stamp of feet. As it turns out the marches had found us, and continued right outside of our window at the new hotel as well. I guess they weren't going to let us escape so easily. 

Probably the most notable thing about Belfast is the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast, and the museum went from the ground up, telling the tale of what made Belfast such a good place to build ships of that size, how the Titanic was built, and her final outcome. The slab of concrete outside is what remains of the bay where it was constructed. 

All in all, Northern Ireland really doesn't seem to have very much Irish about it any more. What was Irish has been scrubbed away or scared off. If it wasn't for the Giant's Causeway, I'm not sure we would've visited it. So if you're planning a trip to Ireland, be sure to hit the places in previous posts. If you do wish to brave the northern version, just avoid it on the Twelfth.