Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Start of Trip - Toronto and Philadelphia

June 3, 2007. After saying good-bye to my parents and a round of hugs and photos, I finally walk through the US customs door at the Toronto Pearson International Airport. The automatic door closing behind me, I step in line at the US customs. Again, I was jittery with excitement. Although not my first backpacking trip, this would be my first long-term backpacking trip, scheduled for almost two and a half months. Looking around me, I see families, loving couples, and other backpackers with their gear in line, some looking fresh and excited, some looking worn and tired.

Clearing customs with no problems, I found my way to the gate. I was very early, just like my first backpacking . In fact, I was at the same gate I used when flying out for my very first backpacking trip just a few months before. I had brought my entire 60 litre pack with me, causing many people to scan me with curious eyes. But I was in good company. I see other people with similar packs, waiting impatiently for their flights. I had refused to check my bags in with US Airways and they had lost my bags too many times when I was flying through Philadelphia. I walk to a pay phone, and with my pack beside me, I have a long conversation with my parents before I leave.

Finally, after what seemed to be forever, my flight was called. Walking out of the terminal, I see the jet in front of me. After detaching the small upper portion of my pack, I place the larger, bulky section on the luggage rack, walk to the plane and up the steps. I pause briefly before the steps to feel the ground of my home before setting off. I knew that I would not be back on this continent for a long time. It is difficult to describe the feeling at the start of what you know is going to be an adventure far away from home, so I won't even try it. Just know that the entire first day is always such a wonderful experience, the excitement and anticipation reaching a climax, knowing that you'll soon be in a new land with new cultures to explore, where the rules are different, and where you will meet many very interesting people with very interesting views and experiences to share.

During the approach to Philadelphia, I hear the announcements of which gates the connecting flights are. Since this is a small plane, the list only contains connections for present passengers. When they announced Madrid, I suddenly feel another surge in excitement, as I knew that announcement was for me. Suddenly, everything seems to real. I thought about all of the interesting places I will soon be in - Madrid, Morocco, Southern Spain.... Arriving at Philadelphia International Airport, I immediately find a pay phone to update my parents on my progress. I end up in a long conversation, as I had four hours to kill before my next flight. I had booked an early flight into Philadelphia since I didn't want to be late for my flight to Madrid, else I would have to wait another day before the next flight to Madrid.

In the next couple of hours, I purchase some food, and sit at the food court I am now so familiar with from my interview flights and my trip during the summer. It feels good to be back in the airport not on the way to a stressful interview with homework piling up. While enjoying my food, I continue to fill out a "cheat sheet" I'm making that contains important vocabulary for the different languages that I will encounter - Spanish, Arabic, French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Portuguese. I also include some information on social habits, etiquette, safety and common scam information, as well as special foods and drinks for each country and area I will be visiting - Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal. I had brought a stack of printed pages from Wikipedia, and went to work transferring the important information to my two cheat sheets.

Finally, after a lot of studying, including a crash course in reading Greek, Cyrillic, and special Turkish and Romanian characters, I finish my cheat sheet. There are some holes in my language cheat sheet, but figure I can fill those holes up later on during the trip. It had been getting closer to my flight, and I was glad I had something to pass the time with, else the anticipation would have made me mad. Taking the shuttle, I walk over to the international terminal, which was now familiar to me since my last backpacking trip, brining back memories of my excitement during my first ever trip without my family.

After a final call to my parents to tell them I've made it onto my flight to Madrid, I board the plane and find my seat. There is ample storage to place my giant bag in, which was a huge relief to me.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Prologue

I've been looking forward to finally returning home from university for a long time. I graduated from Cornell University, with a double major in Computer Science and Engineering Physics, magna cum laude, and with honours. It has been a tough four years, and coming home for good from school was a great relief. At the same time, I feel saddened that I've grown up and have to start facing the real world soon. But before that, I have one more big adventure ahead of me. You see, I had gone on a three week backpacking trip across Northern Europe and Scandinavia in the winter, and was very much changed by that experience. Wanting to relive my days of wandering around, meeting interesting people and learning to see the world in different ways, I decided to take a long, two and a half month trip to some more exotic destinations. So although I was ecstatic to be finally coming home, I only had a few short days to savour my success at home, as I needed to prepare for my long journey ahead.

June 3, 2007. Once again, I had my parents drive me to the airport. Although we had done this once in the winter, there was still an air of excitement, anticipation, and sadness that I will be leaving for so long. My parents and I knew that we would see each other for a long time. My parents were especially worried since they knew that I would be in a foreign country, with no way to locate me if our lines of communications were cut. This is why they "decided" that I should carry a GSM phone so that I would be able to contact my parents from time to time. After a few photos, I walked through the door to enter US customs on my way to Madrid through Philadelphia.

Months of planning had gone into this trip. It had taken months for me to finally decide on where I wanted to go for my big post-graduation adventure. I had applied for English teaching jobs in Mongolia and Myanmar, a volunteering program in Cambodia, a English Wilderness camp instructor position in Siberia, and had considered wandering around South Asia. But since I am moving to the San Fransisco Bay Area after summer, I decided to leave Asia for the future, and take advantage of being close to Europe while still on the East Coast.

After coming up with the idea of a Mediterranean trip, I had been spending my time researching places to go and planning a route. That was the easy part. The hard part was that a few of my friends, with some encouragement from me, had also decided to join me for parts of my trip. It took a lot of negotiations to decide on mutually agreed upon routes and dates. The cumulation of the negotiations resulted in a slightly changed route than what I had originally planned. Instead of visiting Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Sicily, Malta, Tunisia, and Algeria, I was going to visit (re-visit) Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania.

Side story: After agreeing to go to Greece, I had been looking for cheap tickets from Eastern Europe to Lisbon, where I had an inexpensive flight home. I found a ticket for $12, including taxes, from Bucharest, but after all of the negotiations with my friends were done, it had jumped to $200! Just shows that you have to book a ticket well in advance! Anyway, because of this, I'll have an excuse to visit Romania, a country I have been curious about but never had a good reason to visit.

More amazingly, the negotiations resulted in having me arrive in Madrid, spending the first day by myself, then meeting up with a friend of mine. Throughout the trip, I will be meeting up and parting ways with 4 of my friends. I would have a guaranteed travel buddy all of way up to Sofia, Bulgaria, from where I would be on my own to explore Romania and Portugal. After many changes in the timing and route, my friends and I finally agreed upon the following way points:

June 3: Fly out of Toronto, Canada to Madrid, Spain. Start Trip!
June 5: Meet up with Felix in Madrid, Spain.
June 7: Flight from Madrid to Ouarzazate, Morocco.
June 11: Meet up with Lori in Marrakesh, Morocco.
June 23: See Lori off on her flight home from Barcelona, Spain.
June 27: Meet up with Andre in Nice, France.
Depart with Felix around Nice so that he can visit Florence before returning to Munich.
July 12: Meet up with David in Athens, Greece.
Visit the Greek islands during this time.
July 21: Send off Andre on his flight home from Athens, Greece
July 29: Send off David from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Aug. 7: Fly out from Bucharest, Romania to Lisbon, Portugal.
Aug. 10: Fly out from Lisbon, Portugal to Toronto, Canada. End Trip!

While I was excited for the upcoming trip, at the same time, I wished my departure day would never come. I loved the anticipation, as I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime experience, my last real adventure before entering "the real world." Once my departure date comes, I will never experience the anticipation of waiting for the start of my very first long-term backpacking trip, with no responsibilities and nothing to worry about except for me, my friends, and my well being for the sake of my family.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Start (Update)

Alright, it's 8:45 in the morning, and I'm leaving my house at 9 for a flight departing just before 12. Making some last minute preparations, I'm checking the weather and some last bits of information before I leave. I'm excited to go, but it still hasn't hit me what I am doing yet. At the same time, the lengthy trip makes leaving home difficult as well. But, I'll be in Madrid soon, and I plan on studying some more about the different countries and make my "cheat sheets" on the flights. I have a 5 hr layover at Philly, but I thought it would be better the make sure I do not miss my connecting flight to Madrid. Also, the weather in Morocco looks scarily hot! 30s to 40s for the long term forecast! If I decide to go on a one day expedition to the Sahara there, it's going to be some interesting weather! Well, see you for now. I must leave to catch my flight out!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Amsterdam - First Backpacking Trip - Day 2

I drifted in and out of a shallow sleep for the rest of the night. Being right next to the bar, my head was filled with reggae and R&B for the entire night, interspersed with the sounds of muted conversation and laughter coming through the walls. I felt close to the action. It seemed that the fun continued 24/7, that someone was having fun at all hours of the night. I was also awakened by my roommates returning late from the bars, and we exchanged greetings as people came in the room.

I woke the next morning just in time to catch the end of breakfast. Walking out, I saw one of my roommates and decided to sit with him. Groggy from the jet lag, we talked about what to expect while backpacking and some of his adventures. He was a very interesting person, an Indian who went to school in England. He told me his stories of horseback riding in Northern India, near the base of the Himalayas. He told me about how riding through the forests, he would not see anyone for days at a time. I was entranced by his stories of adventure and exploration. He was very mature and seemed to have experienced a lot. His stories roused my sense of adventure, and I realized that I would be unhappy with my life unless I have some of my own adventures in the future.

By 2pm, Soutrik and Barro were finally ready. I noticed that whenever I go on trips, I seem to always be the one with the most energy, always ready to go and explore. I seem to have a lot of energy while travelling, and can never wait to explore new places. Following a suggestion from Alma, our Canadian roommate, we headed off to the Twin Dolphins coffeeshop for their tea. Now, for the ones who are unfamiliar with the terms, a cafe in Amsterdam is a bar, and a coffeeshop is an establishment that deals solely in marijuana. Seeing that I am in Amsterdam, and that I had never been high before, I figure I'd go for it since I believe that people should experience as much as they can in their lives, as long as it is safe and does not harm others. On the way over, we explored the market and stopped off for some lunch, where I tried a kroket sandwich.

Entering the twin dolphins, we ordered their tea, a hot chocolate served with a tea ball filled with tea and marijuana leaves. We sat downstairs in their lounge, which was very well decorated with ocean themes. There were great murals and aquariums on the wall. The downstairs was extremely thick with smoke, and even if you didn't have anything yourself, the smoke was thick enough to relax you after a few minutes down there. Soutrik and I sat down there, sipping on our tea and chatting with our friends for a hour or so. The tea tasted like skunky hot chocolate.

After an hour, with the tea gone, and still not feeling anything other than begin somewhat relaxed, we wondered if we were doing something wrong. I had been warned that the effects were slower to start when eating marijuana, but after over an hour and still not feeling anything, we weren't sure if we didn't have enough since we had shared one tea between the two of us, as suggested. To try the get the maximum effect, we tried to shake some of the strands our of the metal tea ball and drink them with the tea. Soutrik decided to have another, but I convinced him that we probably should take it slow, and maybe we just needed to build it up in our systems over a few days.

Arriving back in our room, Soutrik and I sat down to chat, while Barro decided to go take a nap in his room, where he was forced to move due to the amount of people staying at the hostel. About about five minutes of sitting around, it suddenly hit us like us running in to a brick wall. It was amazing how fast the effect came! It is very difficult to describe what it feels like, but everything that people say about being high is true! Everything starts taking on extra significance, and you can see strange, very fluid visualizations everywhere. Soutrik and I talked very fast for a while, and then I found it very enjoyable just to sit quietly with your eyes closed, where you can see colourful shapes all around. I wondered if this was why meditation was so popular with the group of people who often used marijuana.

The experience was very interesting. I had visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. I can even see whatever I talked about, even if it was an abstract idea! Very strange! But is was very different from being drunk in the fact that you can control all of it. I found this to be the most interesting part of the experience. Especially when the effects were starting to ware off, I'd get lost in my thoughts, but as soon as I realized that I was high, everything became crystal clear, as if I was under no influence at all. At the same time, everything in the past would seem as if it was a dream, so I would never be sure if I said what I said, even if I had stopped talking just a second ago! All in all, a very interesting experience.

After about two hours, two new roommates came in our room to settle down. Thinking back, they were both extremely high themselves, but of course, we didn't realize it at the time as we were trying to hide the fact that we were high. I'm not sure why we needed to hide it since everyone else around us was high, but the paranoia from the marijuana probably had something to do with it. We started talking to the two who had just come in and started introducing ourselves. Suddenly, Soutrik, visibly distraught, said to me very urgently "Let's go. Let's go for a walk." Thinking that Soutrik just didn't want them to know we were high, we decided to leave the room and take a walk in the dark of the Voldelpark beside the hostel. As soon as we stepped out, Soutrik said to me "Dude, you know why I wanted to get out of there? I-I think they were trying to rob us! They were asking all of these questions like 'what's your name' and 'where are you from.' I think they're trying to get our information so they can rob our homes while we're not there!" At that point, I started getting worried, but just to reassure Soutrik, I responded "You know, I think you're just thinking that because of the pot. It makes you paranoid." As soon as I said that, Soutrik stopped, looked at me, and said "You're absolutely right!" And that's when we both cracked up as we realized they they weren't trying to rob us after all.

For the next hour, we walked around the Voldelpark and up to Lidesplein. Finding ourselves somewhat hungry, we bought some warm, freshly made oliebollen from a stall. We scarfed it down, thinking that it was the best pastry we had ever ate! I still remember how absolutely delicious the oliebollens were! Unfortunately, after that day, we were never able to find oliebollen, or really, any food, nearly as delicious as the ones we had that night.

For the rest of the night, we just hung around the bar and kitchen, chatting with the other guests. We also saw a cat asleep in the basket of free bread, which we thought to be very cute. Just chilling out and enjoying the music and company of other backpackers, and taking an occasional puff from a blunt being passed around, we had a very relaxing and social night. That night, I finally recovered from my jet lag, and had a very good 7 hours of sleep, maybe partially thank for the marijuana that was still sure to be in my system.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Amsterdam - First Backpacking Trip - Day 1

During the train ride, the three of us were staring out the window at the landscape we were rolling by. We were all visibly excited even after a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. We continually remarked how amazing it is that we are now in Europe about to start a long backpacking trip! It just seemed so surreal, as we've never really travelled without our parents before. It felt so liberating, but also quite scary as we didn't know what to expect. We were all by ourselves in unfamiliar territory, half way around the world from home.

Pulling into the station, we jumped off of the train and walked outside in front of the Amsterdam Station Centraal. We immediately gave our camera to someone and took our first photo of us on our first backpacking trip! After that, we visited a tourist information centre across the road, but they didn't have much free information. Too excited to wait in line, we decided to walk toward the hostel we were staying at, the Flying Pig Uptown.

On the entire way over, we frequently stopped to take photos. Ok, maybe a bit too much, but what can you expect? It was the first hour of our first ever trip with friends, and it was in Europe! I also felt very strange since my family had just taken our first trip to Europe the summer before, so everything in Amsterdam was strangely familiar to me. During my trip with my family, I had never even though there would be the day when I would be wandering these streets with friends, without my parents anywhere near. Amsterdam is very different without your parents. Well, it's not nearly as awkward for sure!

After a long walk through a very indirect route due to some confusion, we finally saw the large yellow sign with the "Flying Pig" name and logo on it. Walking down the quiet street right by Voldelpark, we were all very anxious to see what a hostel looked like from the inside. I was very nervous since I had never shared a room so with so many strange and unfamiliar people. It made me quite homesick thinking about the idea.

After checking in, we made our way down a small cramped staircase. At the bottom was a hallway, somewhat dimly lit with some bulbs with a yellowish tinge. The air was thick with the smell of marijuana smoke. There was the sound of reggae coming from the bar, and the walls and doors were covered with strange paintings of drug use, pigs with propeller hats, and marijuana related things. Walking past the thick smoke, we came to our room.

When we arrived, everyone else was out of the room. With the aid of a single dim light bulb and the dim, gloomy light coming in the windows from the perpetually overcast Amsterdam skies, we examined the room. There was room for 10 or 12 people. Some stuff was lying on other beds, and a bottom bunk that was sheltered by a sarong wrap. The walls were light green, with dark green stencilled giant marijuana leaves in a neat pattern. It was obvious that we had arrived in Amsterdam, the centre of the Western pot world. The cramped, damp washrooms located by the bar where you can hear the music and talking from inside also contributed to the ambiance. We decided to take a short break to recover from our flight. Deciding that we needed to force out the jet lag, I dragged both of my fellow travellers out after a long struggle lasting a couple of hours.

We took a walk to a nearly supermarket, the large Albert Haijns chain. We bought shampoo, toothpaste, some food, and three bottles of wine at 1.5 Euros apiece. You know you are in Europe when wine is just as cheap as water! Arriving back at the hostel, we made some pasta, and met many of the others who were staying there as we were lounging around the kitchen and sharing our wine. Before going out for the night to check out the nightlife, we sat at the bar surrounded by marijuana smoke, and had a Bailey's hot chocolate (quite tasty!) while chatting to a Canadian girl who was also staying in our room.

Finally, after a while, we headed out after somehow spontaneously gathering 8 of our roommates. Since our hostel was close to Leidseplein, we ended up at the Bulldog, which I now know to be the "tourist" hangout spot. Soutrik and I split a special brownie, although we didn't feel any effect at all, while our new Canadian friend bought a few blunts for the night. I ended up trying a puff, my first puff of pot in Amsterdam, sitting in the corner couches behind the busy dance floor. It was also the first time I had heard techno, and I had enjoyed it a lot. The ambiance was great, the dimly lit Christmas decorations hanging above the dance floor, the dim red lights everywhere, and the trance-inducing techno music which was just loud enough to remove your from reality while not being uncomfortable. Everyone around us seemed to be enjoying themselves, relaxed under the influence of numerous substances.

Retiring for the night, not at all tired thanks to the time difference, we tried to go to sleep. This had been a great first day in Europe, and we can't help but feel that we were going to have the time of our lives even if the rest of our trip was like our first day, being jet lagged and uncomfortable with our new surroundings. As we laid in bed trying to sleep, the rest of our roommates who had returned early with us dozed off straight away, under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and who knows what else.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Plans Nearly Finalized - Morocco Still on List!

Alright, my travel plans are nearly finalized! And I've decided to still visit Morocco. Although terrorism is a concern, it can happen anywhere and one shouldn't let them keep you from learning about the world.

The current plan for me is to fly into Madrid to meet up with Felix. We then fly to Ouarzazate, a southern city in Morocco. Meeting with with my long-time family friend Lori in Marrakech, we continue up through Gibraltar and along the southern coast of Spain and France. Lori will leave us from Barcelona while Felix will leave after meeting up with Andre in Nice, France. Andre and I will travel across the southern coast of France and down Italy, meeting up with David in Greece. After Andre leaves, David and I continue the trip. Although our original plans was to visit Turkey, David seems to be worried about the terrorism in Turkey and the current political instability, so it looks like we may end up not visiting Turkey. We continue up north to Sofia, where David departs. I continue to Romania, and am considering spending less time in the Romanian Alps to take a quick trip to Moldova since this is their first year with the relaxed visa policies. I would like a chance to visit the country before it becomes overfilled with tourists. I then fly out from Bucharest to Lisbon, where I will spend the last few days of my trip before flying back home.

All in all, a very busy plan, but there is just so much to see in this world! I see these types of travelling-backpacking trips as almost like scouting missions. I want as much exposure to different places as possible, and in the future I can return to the places that I find most interesting. The world is just too big, so unfortunately, you have to choose between knowing a few places well and knowing a lot of places in a very shallow manner. Although I would hate to leave with a shallow and incomplete view of the local cultures, I believe that knowing about more cultures is more important to develop a more complete view of this world. Besides, I absolutely do plan on returning to the more interesting and mysterious places in the future to get a deeper sense of their cultures.

I am also trying to learn the basic words needed for travel in the different languages I will experience: Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, (brushing up on my French), and Romanian. I am focusing mainly on Romanian at this time since that is the leg of the trip that I will travelling without a travel buddy.

I'm very much looking forward to this trip, but as of now, I still can't envision myself on it because I am so overloaded with end-of-the-semester project for my last week in University! I'll be sure to provide more details when I get some more time to.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Major Change in Travel Plans?

Today, I found out that there had been two terrorist incidents in Casablanca within the past month or so. I am extremely disappointed at this news since this means I may have to re-think my travel plans to Morocco. I had been very much looking forward to seeing what life was like in Morocco, learning about their culture, trying their food, and maybe even learning some Arabic. In fact, I saw Morocco as the highlight of the trip. But, due to terrorism concerns, I am seriously reconsidering Morocco. I will continue to monitor the situation, but since I have to buy my tickets within a week or two, it is looking doubtful I will end up travelling there this summer.

In a related note, during my search for more information, I have also noticed that Turkey also had a few recent terrorist incidents. Because of this, I am also reconsidering my plans to travel to Istanbul, which I saw as another highlight of the trip.

Today had been an extremely disappointing day for travel plans, as it looks like I may end up not being able to explore Arabic culture this summer, and may end up shaving up to three weeks off of my original travel plans. But life and safety are ultimately the most important things to consider, as well as how my actions will impact the people who care about me. If you have any suggestions or more information I should know, please post a comment or e-mail me.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

First Backpacking Trip - Start of Trip

At the time of the writing, I have been back from the backpacking trip for 4 months already, so some memories are already starting to fade. Luckily, I've made some notes on my travels to remind me of the times I have had there. I figure I should write about my trip as soon as possible so that I won't forget more of it in the future. Since my notes were made during the experience, most of it were written in the moment. I am going to stick with that spirit and just expand on my notes, writing as if I am actually there, so that I can re-experience the moment and remember everything freshly.

So here I am, arriving in the parking lot at the Toronto Pearson International Airport being sent off by my parents, ready to leave for my first backpacking trip. Although I have travelled internationally alone for short periods alone before and had lived alone in Seattle during the summer for an internship, I was still a little apprehensive about the adventures I would be about to have in Europe. After all, this was the first time I'd be carrying everything I needed to live a nomadic life in Europe for a few weeks on my back. I was glad that I only had three weeks to travel before I had to return to classes. I viewed this as an introduction to backpacking, a soft learning experience to prepare me for longer backpacking trips in the future to more difficult destinations.

As nervous as my parents and I were, the excitement of all of us overwhelmed all other emotions. My parents were extremely proud that their son was old enough to be able to take care of himself enough to go on a backpacking trip across Europe. I was proud that I have finally matured enough to attempt something like this without worrying too much about being homesick or the fact that I would not have my parents to rely on to bail me out of situations in other countries. I was also very, very excited for the adventure I was about to have. I would be transferring flights at Philadelphia, meeting up with Soutrik, a very good University friend of mine who just graduated this winter, and then meeting up with one of his high school friends, who had also just graduated, in Amsterdam.

I still very clearly remember the moment we stepped out of the car and pulled the backpack from out the the trunk. I equipped the pack for the first time for the purposes of travel. Just two weeks ago, I had no idea how to equip an expedition pack. I was standing in the MEC in downtown Toronto, having a very nice and helpful store clerk fit me with different packs and explaining to me how to equip it. This was also a moment I clearly remember, as it was the first time I had ever been equipped with a travel pack. Back in the dark but busy garage, I pulled all the straps in the correct sequence, and indicated my approval to my parents at how well the pack fit. The walk to the terminal was a memorable one. At the same time I wanted to speed up from my excitement, I also wanted to slow down because I wanted to spend more time in the comfortable presence of my parents. We ended up walking at a regular pace, and we were all acting clearly excited.

After taking a few pictures of my with my parents and my pack, I checked in. My parents walked me to the door, had a few final hugs, and watched me walk into the passenger only section with huge grins, but with a slight tinge of sadness because this also signalled I had matured enough to travel without them. I also had a huge, somewhat sad, and what must have been an almost silly looking grin for them as well.

After passing through security and arriving at my gate, I called my parents on their cell phone using a pay phone and had a long conversation before the boarding call. Walking up the stairs to the plane, it finally hits me what a significant step this was for me. Just three years ago, I had been extremely attached to my parents. I'd come close to crying every time I left then for even a day, and felt very uncomfortable if they were not around. I had also been very meek and scared of getting into uncomfortable situations, especially if my parents were not around. In fact, even in high school, I hated overnight class trips as it would mean leaving the comfort of my parents. It's difficult to describe the intense homesickness I used to feel, but I am sure most people have been homesick when they were young. I didn't even have many friends in school because I hated to be away from my parents. For me, I was not independent at all up to my first, even second year in University.

But going to university had made me mature quickly. I developed social skills, I was comfortable being away from my parents, and I enjoyed getting into situations and solving problems for myself (as long as the situations did not involve bodily harm or too much money loss). I reflected on all of this on my flight to Philadelphia.

I had taken a slightly early flight to Philadelphia, as I did not want to risk losing my connection to Amsterdam, knowing how horribly congested Philadelphia airport is. I walked around for a bit, and bought some fast food to eat as it was dinner time. My friend Soutrik was scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia from Detroit about an hour and a half before our flight to Amsterdam. About 15 minutes before he was scheduled to arrive, I walked over to his gate to wait for him. Then, in true Philadelphia style, the plane was delayed. I repeatedly asked the gate attendant on the status of the flight, and was repeatedly told that the flight was "waiting for it's turn to land." Finally, about half an hour before the flight to Amsterdam was to depart, I decided to go over to the gate. At this time, his plane had landed, but was talking a very long time to taxi to the gate.

I arrived at the gate just a few minutes before they started to board. I was starting to think that Soutrik would not make his flight after all. But just as they called for zone three, I saw Soutrik sprinting down the hallway toward the gate. After a quick man-hug and a washroom break for Soutrik, we changed our tickets so that we'd sit next to each other on the flight. We were one of the last ten people to board the plane.

The red-eye flight over was exciting. We looked over maps, his tour book, and talked for the entire night. Finally, just as we were about to go to sleep, the lights came on in the cabin, and it was announced that breakfast was being served. After breakfast, just prior to landing, we noticed two seats open by the window near the back of the plane, and decided to grab them. At this point, we were well into the descent. We chatted with a flight attendant who had lived for a few years in the Netherlands during the landing. Looking down, we can see a solid, billowy layer of clouds, glistening orange, and then blue in the morning sun.

As we descended through the clouds, everything suddenly turned grey, and we can see the green landscape below us in the rain. We had in fact expected this, as we've been told that Amsterdam was know for it's grey weather. We met up with Soutrik's friend Chenbarro (sorry about the spelling, I'm not sure how to spell his name. I'll refer to him as Barro from now on as Soutrik seems to do that) in the airport. After they exchanged some currency, we walked around to pass through customs. We ended getting lost in the airport, and ended up in a deserted section. After eating and disposing of our meat products (Soutrik had a bag of rice and lamb from his mother), we passed through customs.

Taking an IC train to Amsterdam Centraal, we started our three weeks (or their two months) in Europe!

New Trip Planned - Mediterranean Summer 2007

Good news! I'm just about to finalize my plans for this summer's travel! Since I'm graduating, and not starting work until early September, I've decided to go travelling again!

The current plan is to start off in Morocco, meet up with my friend Andre in Portugal, travel across southern Spain and France, down Italy, then meet my friend David in Greece. Andre will return from Athens, and David and I will continue to Istanbul and Sofia, where David will leave. I will then continue to Bucharest, Romania and fly out from there.

I'm still looking for travel buddies for the Morocco and Romania legs of the trip so that I will not have to travel alone.

I'm looking forward to the trip already that I can barely focus on homework. Hopefully everything will work out well!

Introduction and Key

Since I have started travelling, I noticed that I nearly always forget my expriences. So to prevent that from happening again, I've decided to start this blog for two purposes:

1) So that my friends and family can track where I am when I am travelling so they do not worry too much about me.

2) So that I can record my adventures so that I do not forget them. This also includes tips for future trips.

Hopefully this will be an interesting read and can inspire and aid whoever else reads this to plan their own trips!

Since I may end up not writing about trips in a chronological manner, I decided to label each trip with a unique ID so that all postings related to a certain trip can be searched for easily.


BAK1 - December 2006, January 2007 - Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City.

CHI3 - (Insert Date) - China

IND1 - (Insert Date) - India

MED1 - June, July, August 2007 - Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Andorra, France, Monaco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania.

OTH - Any trips not relating to any of the other labels here.