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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Welcome to Colombia!

Say what?!

Yes dear readers, we braved Iceland to tell you all about WOW air and glaciers in the previous piece, and now we have arrived in warmer climates.

Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia!

The Kelty bag and I are once again on the road. This time for the first flight on Jet Blue. The process was solid, staff friendly, and the cabins kept extra chilly…which I love! Over all thumbs up to the team at Jet Blue oh this initial run.

Colombia has long been on my list, and I’m super stoked to be here. I want to present this country over the next few weeks outside of the single story we in the USA have heard over and over again. The single story of cocaine and violence. This place is so much more than that, and I want to share all of it with you. Now, I’ve been in country a whole twelve hours, and already I need to tell you a few things. First and foremost, this, (and you) are absolute bullshit if you travel to a place and don’t make any attempt at the language. You can try to at least master “Thank you”. If I can stutter through a few failed sentences, so can you. Assuming everyone speaks English, everywhere and at all times belongs in the depths of wankerdom. The practice immediately builds walls between you and what could be a kick ass local/authentic experience.

The second is another gleaned from my personal arsenal. Airline food sucks. Duh. No point complaining about it, as it’s not getting better. What I want you to do on your next flight is decline that shit. Have some snacks so you’re not all wienery and hangry to those around you. Then when you arrive, arrive famished. Arrive famished, interested and ready. Drop your bag at your accommodation of choice, embrace that hunger, and set out on foot.

What you find, might just change your fucking life. (And no, kick literal rocks Mr. Hard Rock Cafe) get out there and take a chance. There is no better way to begin to understand a place and a culture than its food. Today, after two bags of pretzels and a sneaky Kind bar, I found this.

Absolute Caribbean glory. I chatted in broken Spanish about the menu, and the area. The owner happened to be there. There are a few options I’m stoked to try in the coming days. Carpe that fucking diem. I’m happy to report that after an early morning Detroit departure and being heinously crop dusted in Fort Lauderdale by an evil old woman, I have arrived. Logged a few miles on the shoe lace express, chatted with some locals, and now completely ceviche drunk and content I will wander this city by the moon. Painting a picture of this “gem of the Caribbean”, I hope you’re ready for more.

Doing it Dirty in Bangkok

When we last spoke I was looking forward to the long haul from Chicago, connecting through Shanghai and then finally onto Thailand. This was my first time flying China Eastern Air, and don’t worry, I jumped on this grenade for you…it wasn’t as bad as expected.

Now I don’t typically fly Skyteam, but when I do it’s a sub 340$ fare round trip to South East Asia. Like many of you, I would see these dirty cheap flights and be rightfully wary, but it all depends on how bad you want it.

How long was that flight?

Enough for a solid nap, 3 meals, and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Not the extended editions)

What happens when you wrap up final exams, race to Chicago to snag your ass numbing yet fantastically cheap holiday flight to Asia?

You take a bit of a beating, but on a warm inviting weeknight in December, you find yourself dropped into the sheer assault on the senses that is Bangkok; Gateway to Southeast Asia.

No more Kansas Billy. Time to cut those ropes, abandon the safety of the harbor and prepare for a bit of the exotic.

Bangkok is big. Bangkok is loud. Bangkok is pulsing. Alive with people, traffic, aromas and tastes the city itself is damn near a living thing. The heat mixes with exhaust and street food vendors, music and hawkers, go go girls and cafe owners all of which paints such an incredible contrast to the serenity of the many awe-inspiring Buddhist temples that dot this balmy metropolis.

I get it, it’s overwhelming. For an initial run, take it easy. Breathe. Be patient. Open your mind, and embrace all the craziness you can.

And promptly take a mid day nap. (Seriously. Drink water, and nap. This will save your life)

Today found the perfect mix for me, I chose a dingy cheap spot in an outlying neighborhood with a good shower and cold AC.

My goal? Street food and the river.

meats on sticks makes the world a better place.

It’s been ten years since I last visited the Thai capitol. When I showed up here the first time, a undergraduate student with a small group, it was my very first time in Asia. I was intimidated by street food.

Let me tell you, once you take the plunge, there is no turning back. You cone to realize that with the more human the desire, the less tolerance for boredom there is. In short, life is far too short for boring food. (That goes for conversation, sex, and travels)

Abandon the Applebee’s, never look back, and thank me later.

Protein!

Open your mind and especially your tastebuds to the unknown. If anything, it at least makes for a cool party story.

Somehow it took less than 24 hours before I was back on the river

The best part about the Chao Phraya river as it’s the heart of the city is witnessing the clash of classic Thai style with the more modern developments of recent times. Of course I found a twisted yet engaging tuk tuk driver to get me there, our 20 minute voyage including pitches for “tailored suites, happy endings, and happy hours” from various local bars.

That’s life in the big city. There will many people offering suits, drinks, and hand jobs. Certainly far worse trifectas can be found.

Post river I end up among many a golden Buddha…the serenity of the city restored before back to the night markets.

Kick ass first day. I’ve landed, I’m alive and I even scored a victory or two along the way. As always, there is more to come. Thank you for all of the positive feedback thus far!

Comments are always welcome.

cheers!!

To the wilds of Borneo

Remember the “wild man of Borneo”? The kind of urban legend muttered in casual jokes? He must have been best buds with “Nanook of the North” and other such sordid characters. (Or maybe just two really old movies)

This image evokes a certain connotation of Conrad esque jungle. Deep, brutal and unforgiving. Think of Predator. (The film) when Jesse Ventura’s character remarks “you lose it out here, you’re in a world of hurt”. Borneo has long fascinated my imagination. Headhunters, cannibals, etc…how could I not want to go here?!

I loved Singapore. As in I enjoyed the shit out of exploring the cultural whirlwind incased in modernity that is the premier “Asian tiger”. I could not have switched it up more than leaving for Sarawak aboard a dirt cheap Air Asia flight for the long weekend. (Which by the way, SIN is by far my new favorite airport the world over. Changi deserves its own post)

I arrived in Sarawak a bit late, and made my way into the city, having little expectation for this bustling city of Malaysian Borneo. Things are CHEAP here compared to Singapore. My 25 minute uber ride from the airport was 6$ US. Kuching is busy, but reserved and a bit understated. I started my trek, umbrella in hand the next morning. Stumbling across the layers of weekend life typical to this city.

Making my way to the riverfront I noticed a few key things. First and foremost, people notice me. I’m broad shouldered, tall (ish) and glow in the dark white. Everywhere I went people notice me. They will smile eventually, and say “hello”, sometimes nodding, or waving. So far I have yet to encounter another American here, which is tremendously rare these days. My Uber driver let me know I was his first American passenger, before informing me that our last presidential election was “big disaster”. Which at this point has become a conversation starter for me all over the world.

Thanks Obama.

Sarawak hints of the wild elements close by. The mountains in the distance and the heat. I have finally in my years of reading and traveling come to fully understand the concept of the term “wet season”. Often times thought of as “rainy season”…which has little to do with it. It rains sure, in short bursts a few times a day, but that’s nothing. The true nature of this beast is in the title. “Wet”. Everything is wet. All the fucking time. For these months, it never truly dries out. The street is wet, the buildings are wet, YOU are wet. Your shirt is stuck to your body every moment you are outside sucking in wet heavy air. “Slay your ass hot” is an understatement. Hailing from the midwestern US, we can’t know this kind of heat without being literally submerged in it.

As counterbalance to being soaked, and then frozen by blessed AC, the people here are insanely friendly. Kuching may be a stopping point for the wilds of Sarawak, but don’t overlook this wee spot on the river. The markets are cool, the people inviting, and the authenticity is high.

What about the food? Oh baby. There are hawker cafes around everywhere, and the best part is, you have no true idea what you are getting, because it’s whatever they have that day. Like a Michelin Star tasting menu, but from a plastic table. See that chili sauce in that bowl? Treat it with respect. These good size dishes are around a dollar and blast anything from a value menu to Hell. McDonald’s and such here come in at roughly 5x the price of a local dish. Kiss my sweet ass Ronald.

There it is, in all it’s uncontested barbecued glory. Kolo mee! Bow before greatness.

Of course the nature is what draws most (including me here) time for a run through the jungle and see what we can see. Thought we might need an update. The next two days will be dedicated to orangutans and Bako National park. Get stoked on it!!

Drop me a comment with reactions or questions.

Thanksgiving 10k

I finally hit my proverbial stride here in Singapore on my second day. Exploring the river and the marina is fun, and engaging. On a bright day the heat drains you quick, so prepare for that as you build your day. Today included a renewed run to the hawker markets and China town. The first order of business was breakfast and a post office. I ended up with great success on both counts.

I have a game I play. Everywhere I go I send a few post cards. (my mom loves them) I always send one to myself. I’ve taken to asking people in cafes, restaurants, shit, at bus stops etc, if they will write a brief message in the native tongue. I make sure to insist they don’t tell me what it says, then try to find someone to translate once I arrive back in the mitten. Today’s first and foremost excursion/adventure was to find a post office. It’s akin to an international scavenger hunt. Some places, super easy…other places, might as well try to find a carrier pigeon to bring it over.

After success with the stamps it was time to see what China town had to offer.

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As evidence of the swirl of culture here, all of the countries languages are represented on proper signage. Exploring China town is a blast, from the street scenes to the large temples and the formerly seedy red light turned gentrified hipster haven district.

I had a promise to fulfill, as I had joked about, upon finding that there existed a Buddhist temple with one of the Buddha’s teeth as a holy relic I vowed to hit the donation box if my flight over wasn’t hellacious.

Well, Buddha tooth showed up, and I survived in tact with an empty row one leg, and an exit row the next.

Thus the dollars flowed.

So today begins thanksgiving, a holiday I haven’t been home for now 4 years running. I dig turkey and family and all that, but one must satiate the wanderlust. I’m in the search for authenticity here, no bollocks or bullshit. I knew I was plotting for an epic feast of some kind… I just wasn’t sure exactly what, or where.

China town is fucking ideal for this. Layers of options from the expected to the extreme.

Enter the pepper crab. I end up locked in a death struggle with one of Singapore’s best known dishes. Little did I know this kraken of the deep is served mostly whole.

2.2 Lbs of clawed glory…I attacked him with hands, fork, and chopsticks. I made quite the mess while doing do.

I did everything I could, but in the end, the crab won. Call it a TK0. I can’t forget one of my favorite shots of the day, my turkey day lunch buddy:

I absolutley love China town, the hawker centers and getting lost there today before the rain. I hope everyone has an awesome holiday. Happy thanksgiving everyone!

I leave for Borneo tomorrow, so stay tuned!more to come!

Welcome to the lion city

Okay, I mostly survived the long haul trek from Chicago. Remember from the last post I asked “what happens when you grab an error fare to Singapore for $326”? Well first, no advanced seat assignment. Just had to roll the dice in the name of adventure.

Ended up lucky on both legs by some kind of miracle. Empty row on the way over to Tokyo , and exit row goodness to Singapore. 26 hours of travel time.

I arrived in Singapore last night around 1 am. Cleared customs with the quickness and grabbed an Uber to my hotel. Only in Asia do rooms come this size. I love boutique hotels, and I knew it was 100sqft before I booked it, it’s clean, with a great location…good WiFi and quiet.

Grabbed some quick shut eye and ventured out into the city this morning. Singapore is the ultimate culinary mashup. The flavor profiles that collide here prove the super strains of the gastro world. Everyday you are faced with the pressing question of stomach real estate vs desire and adventure. The hawker centers here are famous the world over, and for good reason. Today was a chance to wander the lion city, and nibble its edges.

A nibble (or two) was had, and the appetite for more is there!

But…

This jet lag is catching up with me, I have so much to post. I hope everyone keeps up with the positive feedback, adventures from the food stalls tomorrow!