Bourdain…

The news hit hard this morning. “CNN reports Anthony Bourdain found dead this morning”…it was around noon here. The sun was bright, and we were planning to explore more of Valletta, the amazing capital of Malta.

See, I started traveling roughly 15 years ago, and over these years Bourdain, his show, his spoken word tours and especially his writing inspires me every step of the way.

He was the main motivation that pushed me to Vietnam. Then Cambodia, and to really rediscover south east Asia. I went to see him in Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Detroit Michigan. All at different periods of my life.

I can’t understand why he would do this, what demons he was facing, but I know we all have them. The New Yorker pieces and his own essays cast him as so completely driven and talented, he was the rockstar of more than just food, but of culture. He hit 60 and showed no real sign of slowing down.

I love his work, and over the years my favorite compliment anyone would post on my travel material was a mini comparison.

The front of this website adorns a few of his quotes. For so many of us, he had the dream life. He admitted he fucked everything up until 40, then landed the most amazing gig ever.

I’m so sad you’re gone, but I’m grateful we were all able to soak up some inspiration.

It’s never easy when you lose an idol.

Rest In Peace Tony.

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.

Road trip…euro style.

Well damn.

Sometimes a few amazing things come together. I’ve been slacking the last few days, and desperately needed to post an update.

There are times when things come together to truly make an impression on you.

If you recall, I was all set to hit Europe with a recently retired family friend. Here

We landed in Amsterdam for his very first trip to Europe.

It was coooold in the Dutch capital, but the three of us had an absolutley amazing time. Exploring tiny Dutch pubs and wandering through the red light district. Watching two people take it all in for the first time is fucking magic. I realized that this is my 13th time through Amsterdam (if I remember correctly) so viewing this magnificent city through fresh lenses made me continually smile.

From The Netherlands we planned to head to coastal France, so the next morning we grabbed our car to begin an epic 8 day road trip. Of course, my reservation was “not avail” so an optional upgrade was engaged.

Time to shred across Europe in this big diesel beast. Yes, Sixt gave me a brand new Jaguar with 1200 miles on it. 😈 I’ve never spent much seat time in a Jaguar, and now after logging 2,000 kilometers I can say…it’s rather fun!

To Normandy we headed where we spent the rest of the weekend. Coastal France is fucking gorgeous. Within moments one can slip into fantasy, imagining walking along small cobblestone streets clutching a baguette and enjoying a peaceful life.

For me it was my inevitable return after a decade long absence. Rediscovering this rolling countryside and shredding long car tours through the stunning land scapes has granted me a kind of serenity. There simply aren’t many places quite like this.

I’ve fallen into this routine of driving, talking, engaging these lifelong friends and showing them the amazing features of life here…touring all day, and then stupendous food in the evening, a few bottles of local product and chats long into the night.

Babies don’t sleep this good.

I’ve been completely immersed in the moment, on a different wave length altogether. I haven’t updated like I usually do, but you will have to forgive me.

Coming up next is the galvanizing trek out to the American cemetery in Normandy and Omaha beach. Then down south for a peek into a medieval abbey.

Ready for this??

Leave some love!

Just a stalker and his dog; Strays of…Chernobyl!

IMG_3509

I have been plotting and casually building my multi part Chernobyl/Ukraine piece for some time. Pripyat for me, is the original “bucket list” destination. My friends in Kiev recently had the opportunity to work with the Guardian UK on an interesting angle. At this point, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is essentially Europe’s largest nature preserve. Studies have been done on all manner of animals there. This time though the star of the story…the stray dogs of “the zone”.  I am thrilled to see this, and cant wait to dig into my notebooks and photos to build my Ukraine story.  See below for the article, with a few photos of my own thrown in. Just a teaser for a larger project coming soon.

 

IMG_3531

Please see the story here as well Chernobyl strays

 

Hundreds of stray dogs have learned to survive in the woods around the exclusion zone – mainly descendants of those left behind after the nuclear disaster, when residents were banned from taking their beloved pets to safety

by Julie McDowall

Igor, who, it turns out, is very familiar with the dog, throws a few snowballs, which it tries to catch and chew. “This is Tarzan,” says Igor. “He’s a stray who lives in the exclusion zone. His mum was killed by a wolf, so the guides look out for him, chuck a few sticks, play a few games. He’s only a baby, really …”

3072
Pinterest
 The abandoned dogs at Chernobyl endure harsh Ukrainian winters. Photograph: Courtesy of Solo East

Tarzan isn’t alone. There are approximately 300 stray dogs in the 2,600km² zone. They live among the moose and lynx, the hares and wolves that have also found a home here. But while the Mongolian horses and Belarusian bears were recently introduced to the area, and other animals have come in as opportunists, the dogs are native.

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Pripyat and the surrounding villages were abandoned, and residents were not allowed to take their pets to safety. Chernobyl Prayer, a devastating oral history of the period, tells of “dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Heartbroken families pinned notes to their doors: “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.” There was no mercy. Squads were sent in to shoot the animals. But some survived and it is mainly their descendants that populate the zone.

1711
Pinterest
 The dogs often carry increased levels of radiation in their fur and have a shortened life expectancy. Photograph: Courtesy of Solo East

Life is not easy for the Chernobyl strays. Not only must they endure harsh Ukrainian winters with no proper shelter, but they often carry increased levels of radiation in their fur and have a shortened life expectancy. Few live beyond the age of six.

But it’s not all bad news. The dogs that live near the zone’s checkpoints have little huts made for them by the guards, and some are wise enough to congregate near the local cafe, having learned that a human presence equals food. These canine gangs act as unofficial Chernobyl mascots, there to greet visitors who stop at Cafe Desyatka for some borscht.

Nadezhda Starodub, a guide with the Chernobyl tour specialist Solo East, says the visitors (there are no “tourists” in the zone) love the dogs. “Most of the time people find them cute, but some think they might be contaminated and so avoid touching the dogs.” There are no rules that forbid a visitor from handling them, but Nadezhda asks her charges to exercise the same common sense they would when approaching any stray. “Some guides are afraid of complaints,” she says, “so they try to avoid the dogs to stay on the safe side. But I love them.”

1280
Pinterest
 The strays are helped by the Clean Futures Fund, which has set up veterinary clinics in the area. Photograph: Courtesy of Solo East

While the dogs get some food and play from the visitors, their health needs are met by Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, which has set up three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. The clinics treat emergencies and issue vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. They are also neutering the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

The Chernobyl plant has recently been sealed under a new “sarcophagus” designed and built by a multinational group of experts, and similar cooperation can be seen with the dogs. In the woods behind Chernobyl I look again at yellow-eyed Tarzan and see, not a wild animal, but a playful example of global kindness and cooperation.

3599
Pinterest
 ‘We want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Solo East

Ive also added a few pics of my own from my dual trips into the Zone. IMG_3515The strays make up a vibrant element while exploring the abandoned city. IMG_3652The occasional fox is willing to be friends as well. IMG_3607Just a stalker and his dog.