I found it in Sicily.

I ended up in Palermo almost by accident. If you are familiar with my style at all, I rarely book anything beforehand. August was a strange month this year. I had wrapped up my summer classes, and I was feeling rather restless. I had tracked down a stupendously cheap flight to Barcelona in the spring, and after booking it had almost forgot about it. After grading all of the exams and submitting final grades on a warm Sunday afternoon I headed to Chicago for the evening haul to Barcelona. I have written before, that while truly a great city, Barcelona is not my favorite. ( Barcelona is easy to love)

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Still, I wanted to vacate the states for a bit, I needed a fresh view, to chew on some things in my mind and “get it sorted” as the Brits say. 2019 had been full throttle, and yet I was a bit pensive about the near future. I didnt want to push this 20 day trek to the limit. I wanted to take it easy. Lets be honest here, few places are more conducive to idyllic relaxation than the south of Spain. Catalan or otherwise.  Boundaries had been rocked so far for the year. Costa Rica, The Phillipines, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Colombia…I had made sweet love to the travel ambitions that I so adore.  IMG_3529

 

Mountains, landscapes, sea side glory, all of the good stuff. Now I was going to take it easy, unplug, and wander a bit. I landed in BCN on an easy morning. Quickly passed through customs, and grabbed a taxi to the center. One cannot have a bad time in Spain. I’m convinced of this. Unless you have the personality of a banana slug. With this is mind…Barcelona, after the first night I found myself content…but still restless. I wanted to hit a kind of travel stride. the addiction that I must feed. I gave Barcelona one more more day to wander the old city, walk the public beaches and gorge on pinchos and tapas. img_7271

During the evening, however, I began to wander on various flight apps looking at the possibilities of further escape. Wizz air threw some enticing flirtation my way. They recently began  flying to the republic of Georgia. Georgia has been high on my list for years. I have gotten close…but not quite close enough. I worked on the Georgia  logistics for a few hours, and felt mostly set on that idea.  It would be Georgia, and maybe even a push into Azerbaijan to see a dear graduate school friend in Baku. The next morning, I wake up, find a suitable breakfast, and scope my carefully laid plans… Surprise! Tickets double, tickets sell out, “this flight is no longer avail on this day” etc.

 

well shit.

 

Time for an alternate plan. This is really where serendipity comes to play. I cast my fortunes to the wind, and obviously Georgia was not meant to be (this time).  Now I need to load the flight map and see where I will land. (figuratively as well as literally)  The matrix gods give me a few easy options. Dubrovnik, Bilbao, and Porto all offer up amazing options, as well as access to the sea, culinary genius, and local charm. Plus, there are  cheap direct flights, budget airline style. Then I see it. Fuckin Palermo, Sicily.

Lets do it. book it. Leaves tonight.  Sicily greeted me like a long lost lover, quick to a new yet familiar embrace. I was smitten.

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Sicily has it. I can’t exactly define it. From the chaotic airport to the goofy bus that takes you to the center. I arrived late at night, ventured to my hotel, and then walked a bit. I’ve said it before numerous times. There is no better way to learn a new place than night steps. Bright and early I hit the streets of this old world place and instantly felt it.  This wasn’t anything like fuckin Disneyland. Old world authenticity and killer gelato will forever be a favorite combination of mine. IMG_7399

From the a few of the dusty neglected churches, and the tiny side streets where they are located to the intense local markets where the term “organic” need not apply, I absolutely loved Sicily. I averaged 10 miles a day on foot.  This is a place where I will spend considerably more time in the future. I’m always hunting. In these now 79 countries, some places have it. The magic . Other places, not so much. This is a fluid concept, some places lose it, and others gain it. A kind of Travelers currency, certain places are simply well stocked with a kind of grit that I find irresistible. This is one of the reasons you will most likely never see my ass on a cruise. I don’t want to knock them, as they are loved by millions, but for me there is an essential missing element.

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I can walk these streets for months and feel good. There are enough subtle differences here , especially with the American Midwest that we find it altogether charming. Off the popular tourist track as it were, but with all the significant draws of “Europe”. Like the food. Dear sweet baby Jesus the food. Italy as a whole is one of those places where gluttony surely cannot be a sin. Walking multiple miles per day is the only way to begin to fight the pasta demons that entice you at every meal.

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Even then, Palermo is the birthplace of the Cannoli, and if you’ve never had a real one, lose your dessert virginity here. Only after, then you (like me) can die happy.  I plan to write more about Sicily. This place has that magic that I search the globe for. I ended up here almost on accident, and I could not have enjoyed it more.  Sicily has the magic in abundance. For that I am eternally  grateful. I spent 10 days exploring this coast, IMG_7430

and I smiled the entire time.  Exactly what I needed to work some things over in the rock tumbler that is the human brain. The sun, salt water and proper pasta can combat near any evil. My first few days in Palermo floated by, as this place quickly became one of my favorite “accidents.”

 

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Barcelona is easy to love

Ah Barcelona. Bright, beautiful and exotic to the American mind. The home of Gaudi, the stunning architectural master that adds yet another flavorful layer to the Catalan city by the sea.

I visited Barcelona in the early summer 3 yers ago. It was my first time in Spain (A country I have come to love the fuck out of). I had spent the majority of my travel time off the beaten path as it were. Trekking through the rapidly changing regions of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Friends and colleagues, fellow travelers and Instagram alike had hyped Barcelona to impossible heights. “The absolute best city in the world”.

I had to go right?

And thus I did.

And I get it. I truly do. Barcelona is the topless beach, where someone passes you a joint and invites you to hacky sack. Barcelona is all night sangria. Barcelona is shockingly gorgeous people of damn near every stripe. (Seriously though, where did all of you beautiful people come from??) It’s mostly safe and enchanting enough.

But therein lies the rub. Not to sound like a wanker, but I’ve been at this for a bit. I thrive on finding that travel magic and at this point I gotta dig for it. Barcelona…is like Disney world. Barcelona is a dream, an idea. This City is the myth that keeps you working over time to be able to pay for that vacation. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that It’s a place SATURATED with tourists. Now, I recognize that I am one of those tourists. Albeit not in a backward ball cap and flip flops getting blind wasted in the afternoon and cat calling passing ladies.

I had an idea that since the world and everything in it changes so damn fast (who’s getting old?!) that perhaps Barcelona would be different 3 years later. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not overtly hating. Every place has elements of awesome. Barcelona certainly has more than its fair share. If you go, and if you most certainly should, stay outside the Las Ramblas area. When you venture near grace yourself for heat, crowds, that overpowering scent of urine and airport style prices.

Stay anywhere else, and try to at least make an effort to engage some aspects of Catalan culture. Don’t be a sack of asses and enjoy your holiday.

This August Barcelona was under 300$ RT from the midwestern US. The best option on the continent and a great hub to explore the Mediterranean regions I am keen on.

Did I enjoy it? Abso-fucking-Lutley. Barcelona just doesn’t have that magic for me. The primary industry is tourists, who flock to its sunny shores and bars like a European Cancun…only without the resort culture.

Loads and loads of people love Cancun, and even more love Barcelona I’m sure. It’s a personal preference thing. I don’t really dig cruises or theme parks. I’ve always been on the hunt for something more…visceral. For a first trip to Europe, I would still go with Barcelona over London/Paris. I would land in Barcelona, then head elsewhere in Spain or the region. Which is exactly what I did.

More on that next post!

New Adventures

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Hi!

2019 has been been chocked fucking full of it. Made it to Boston, The Philippines, Europe, the Middle East, back to Colombia…and its been absolutely amazing. All kinds of transition happening, but also all kinds of adventure! Tomorrow we head to Chicago, then onto Spain for Monday morning. From there…who knows?!?

 

Excited for a new piece? Anywhere you would like to see me hit and report back on?

Let me know!

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Europe, on sweet training wheels.

You know I’m all for savage adventure. After Colombia and a brief respite back in the mitten, through chance and a bit of luck I’ve found myself back on the road. An easy flight to Amsterdam, and a few days on the canals turned into a run to Brussels and the push down to the Mediterranean. I’ll start by saying I love the Netherlands. I’ve used Amsterdam well over a dozen times to base invasions or departures from Europe. Winter, summer, spring…never a bad time here. Stroll the Red Light district, have a waffle, enjoy the people watching and the canals. Take it all in and relax. You’ve arrived! This is the perfect starting point. I’ve come to look at Amsterdam a bit as the perfect beginners gateway to Europe. Or, as the title suggests, Europe with training wheels. Let’s start with the airport. It’s big, sure, but easy to navigate. Make your way through customs and viola, the train station is in the basement of the airport. 25 min and 6$ and you are now in the city center.

How easy was that?!

Arriving in the morning is cool as the city is disarmingly quiet. Make your way to your accommodation, drop your stuff, grab a shower/charge your things and get out there! The people here are used to tourists. Don’t worry too much, if you’re confused about something, ask. There are tons of foreigners here, especially in the center. Find a cafe, grab a coffee and start your exploration. I’m a total sucker for canal shots as you can tell. These make for the ideal morning wander as they have a tendency to get jammed packed as the day goes on. You will log serious miles marveling at the old world architecture, waterways, and other sordid attractions. As this is the red light district, you will walk past people engaging in the time honored wake and bake, hitting it hard in the various coffee shops as well as on the street.

Yes. Weed is legal, taxed, and regulated. Enjoy that shit. Just don’t be a wanker about it.

One of the other big taboos for Americans is legalized prostitution. Get over it. Also, respect the ladies. Don’t try to take their picture or waste their time. Smile and walk by. Enjoy the ambiance. How many places like this exist in the world?!

Enjoy the European cafe culture, walk this city, and see how much different things can be. The Dutch are awesome, and as an American they may just ask you why everyone in the States is so sensitive. Grab a beer at one of the dozens of eclectic bars and think about this question. Hang around for the night life, and soon you will be with people from 10 different countries, sampling beer and snacks that simply don’t exist at home, expanding your mind with conversations you never thought you’d have.

A mind stretched by new experiences has a terrible time being closed again. Instead, it will leave you hungry for more.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, and let the good times roll. Amen.

A Note on Spontaneity

Just fucking go.

 

Seriously.

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There will always be a thousand excuses not to. Some more pliable than others.  Is it the perfect time? Probably not. Do you have wads of disposable income with no other designated purpose than making you smile? Probably not. On the flip side, however, do you need to eat out 3~ days a week? Probably not.  Lease and drive a new wanker mobile? Most likely not.  Do you really need that 5$ a day latte habit? Certainly not. Do any of these things actually make your life better?

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Find a way, buy the ticket, take the ride.  adventure is the one purchase that will always make you richer. Set the goal, embrace the unknown, and love taking the plunge. Love yourself enough to say “Lets do this”!  Even if this means finding yourself post leap, hurdling toward certain disaster, then at the last minute  building your wings on the way down, and coasting into bliss. I’ve never encountered anyone, late in life that said “I wish I didn’t adventure as much” or “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”…because that shit simply does not exist.  This is your life, and its ending one minute at a time. Why are you wasting these precious minutes on shit relationships, craptastic jobs, or toxic friendships?  There is a freaking world out there to discover. Literally billions of people, crazy flavors, insanely great cultures, traditions, and collective experiences.

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I want to help you. In fact, I am dedicated to helping you. In this vein, I want you to maximize those travel dollars and inspire you to get up, get moving, and get into having your mind blown.  I have posted about some crazy airfare deals in the past, its one of the main pillars for cheap travel. In recent years there’s been a monsoon of activity for the LCC (Low Cost Carrier) segment.  What is this all about?

 

Funny you should ask.

 

I will take the plunge for you. I’ve just booked 200$ (USD) roundtrip flights to Iceland…for a weekend…Two weeks from now. This is exam season, and I don’t have a ton of time. Who goes to Iceland for a weekend?! Who books transatlantic travel less than two weeks out!?

The GypsyProfessor, that’s who. I’m going to detail the experience, and let you know how twisted it gets, and how bare bones it can be. Savage plastic lawn chairs aboard an airbus for 6 hours. Will it prove worth it?

This way when the next dirt cheap fare pops, you will have all the info you need to pull the trigger. Just a mini weekend run before we prep for a run through the jungle after the semester finishes!

Reykjavik! Prepare for my triumphant return!

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Wish me luck, and leave some love!

Normandy Under Foot

Beloved followers, I have fallen behind!

My routine has been rocked a bit, and a few significant changes have surfaced, and my goals for publishing suffered a bit.

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If we remember from way back when (a few weeks ago) I wrote to you about an epic euro road trip. Here;  Road trip…euro style.  Traveling with dear family friends, Sixt bestowed upon us a new minty champagne gold Jaguar in which to dominate the French countryside.

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After the spirited slog to Normandy (destination Bayeux), we settled into what I can only describe as coastal French greatness. The small cafes, the cozy atmosphere, the overcast weather, red wine, and a tremendous apartment made for an excellent overall ambiance.  For those dead set on Paris, do take a multi day trip to Normandy, or scrap Paris altogether and swap the bustle for this overlooked slice of authenticity.

Secretly, everyone loves some aspect of France. No matter what they say. The quaint small towns, the endearing landscapes, and especially the food…for the love of all things holy, take a trip to small town France for the food alone. Thank me later. (Most likely when proper cheese drunk)

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Inevitably, coming from the United States, one can simply not separate this  region from it’s prominent role in the Second World War. These beaches hosted the D-Day invasion  on Tuesday, 6 June 1944. These events would eventually free Western Europe from the Nazi Jackboot, and hasten the collapse of the Third Reich.  Allied causalities topped 10,000 troops in this gigantic effort.  The cemeteries and memorials  are somber if not inspiring monuments to those fallen. When you take a day trip there, don’t plan anything significant afterwards. Walk the beaches, be with those close to you, and think about what happened here. IMG_2601

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.

We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

—Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, 6 June 1944.

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Few other experiences force you to gain a certain kind of necessary perspective.  When I initially imagined this run, I crafted it as a kind of therapy. I wrote about that here            7 more days…Travel to soothe the soul . Walking this cemetery, dwelling on the sacrifice, suddenly I wasn’t thinking about office politics back home. I wasn’t thinking about the stock market, our loony president, or grading exams.  I was thinking about the people with me, however, how much they meant to me, and how I would remember this time for decades to come. Perhaps part of that is why I initially shied away from writing about this for a public audience. Felt too real, I had to sit with it for a bit. Delve back into “daily life” and remember that day.

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A day spent on the north coast of France is fraught with feeling and realization. I am a firm believer that we all need this. A reminder that we only have so many “fucks” throughout the course of our day, and how we prioritize these fucks is of key importance. Don’t waste your fucks, because they are finite, and needed for the actually important aspects, people, and passions in your life.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou

 

Next up, Its time for Mt Saint Michelle, and a twisted trip through Champagne country.

Let the good times roll, Amen!