I worked in an office for nearly two months in Venice, helping a company with some consulting, social media and SEO work. I knew it would be a unique experience to work overseas, but what I wasn’t counting on was the great friends I would make in such a short time. I walked into the office knowing only one person, someone who has been a dear friend of mine this past year, and I left, continuing my travels counting everyone in the office as a friend, with a close knit group being among the most special and close to my heart. After work, a couple of times a week, we would all gather at our local watering hole, where we would chitchat about the latest happenings and goof off about this and that – I will always miss these times, for even though they were comfortable and easy, they were the best of times.
Originally, I didn’t think I would be able to make the conference this year, but with the influence of others, and the changing of my travel schedule, I was able to circle back through to Dublin from Northern Ireland. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the conference and the people – but I was (beyond) pleasantly and delightfully surprised at how NICE everyone was. Where I thought would be selfish, boastful, greedy, and pretentious behavior, I was greeted with compassion, interest, and support. (Travel) Bloggers are some of the best people to know, for I believe they will honor friendships forever. The conference was fantastic, unique, with seminars and interesting events, where the country of Ireland truly knew how to treat a group of budding freelancers to a great time – but overall, the people were the stars.
After my tourist visa expired for the Schengen region of Europe, I snagged the first Ryanair flight to Dublin, where I roamed around Ireland in a sort of figure-eight routing for the following two months. I was invited to be one of the top-20 photographers to check out Olympus’s new camera system first, prior to its release. The gig was an all-expenses paid 24-hour experience at the lovely Castle Leslie, which is located northwest of Dublin, where each photographer was to be exposed to different shooting environments, allowing them to check out the different aspects and settings of their new camera. Lunch and dinner, and drinks were all complimentary, and so was the night’s stay in my very own dungeon room of the castle. Now, that’s pretty cool. It was a great time hanging with some of the most talented photographer’s in the world, from all different styles possible, and just like the TBEX conference, there was (little to) no pretentiousness, just simple interest in each other – what a wonderful time!
When I thought Iceland couldn’t get more beautiful, and more mesmerizing, the Land of Ice and Fire continued to surprise and impress. It seemed as though every 15-minutes, there was a new and exciting landscape, completely different than the last, welcoming me, and luring me in further and further along. I will never forget the mountains, the lava fields, the cliffs, the horses, the rivers, and lakes – I will never forget the beauty and the mood, and the eye opening scenery I was blessed to be able to experience.
I left Sevilla by plane, spontaneously choosing to give Morocco a try on for size. I didn’t know much about the country at all, and I didn’t plan a thing ahead of time. I spent my time hanging with my band of misfits instead, simply choosing to book last minute flights at the end of my month wandering around Spain. I was off the plane, through the border control lines, and on a taxi to the Jemaa el-Fnaa marketplace square in the middle of the old town of Marrakech by 8 AM on a Sunday. The square was empty and the paths leading from it were nearly deserted – no orange carts, no booths, and no travelers were to be seen. It was eerie as hell, nearly terrifying, to be honest, as I had no idea what to expect, and without really knowing any better, I sort of figured this was how the entire experience would be. Silly me, though – I ended up finding my accommodations down a back alley after an hour of searching. By the time I settled in and had a conversation with my new roommate, it was around noon, and the sun was blazing hot and the streets were clambering with people, shops, and travelers. The first day was quite a large surprise for me, but it wasn’t a negative one, it was a lovely realization of how life outside of my typical Westernized world is – and I can say that I learned a lot about the culture, as well as, about myself. I spent five days wandering around the Souk, simply watching and interacting with local people, and I can say that I loved every minute of it.
There are moments in life that really take your breath away. They change your heart, and your mind, bringing forth emotion you may not have known lay underneath the skin. Few people in the world explore the world outside, as well as within themselves, but for those who do sometimes experience moments that feel as though God is much closer than any other time – or perhaps that God is speaking directly to them, at that very moment. For me, throughout my travels, I’ve had two experiences like this; once prior while hiking to the summit of Mt. Van Hoevenberg in the Adirondack. A similar moment of enlightenment happened to me during this past year, while I was hiking around above the Grindelwald Ridge region, where the Alps looked as though they were so close to touch, paramount, and all around me. Everything was quiet, I was alone, and it was only me and an immense power. The bigger picture seemed clear to me, for once, and all other worries no longer mattered, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be at the exact right moment.
I had no idea when I was driving the A82 in the Scottish Highlands that I would come to an area like that of Glencoe, but when I rounded the bend heading west, my jaw dropped and my eyes burst fully open, and I stared in complete wonderment. The day was moody and grey, with intriguing fog hovering at the tips of the peaks, and a profound sorrow loomed around the entire area. I don’t know if the mood was mercurial for that day only, due to the Glencoe Massacre or if this scene has always been so despairing, but I pulled my car over to the side of the road and I just took it all in. I let myself feel what the landscape felt, and my eyes teared and my heart filled, and I left an hour or so later feeling for the lives lost and the generations of sorrow felt, but I also took hope with me – for something else stirred within me as well, a sort of understanding, or acceptance.
Throughout my travels, it’s not uncommon for me to be offered complimentary accommodations (in exchange for reviews, or something, or other), and thus was what had happened at a hostel in Sevilla, Spain. I arrived after getting super lost in the old part of town, before arriving to the place I was to stay for five nights. Walking in, I was instantly greeted by a group of perfect misfits – they were day drinking and wanted me to immediately join them on the terrace on the top floor. I dropped off my bags in my room and I climbed the stairs, where I heard some of the happiest conversation I’ve heard on my travels – nothing was complicated, everything was simple and empathy was felt all around. Within seconds of sitting down, I was introduced to the group of WorkAway helpers who have bonded over the previous weeks. I was accepted unceremoniously, as if I had been there the whole time as well. For those five days, we were all inseparable, going out to eat, taking walks, exploring the city, going out at nights, making ‘family’ dinners and huge vats of sangria. For each and every one of those misfits, I can say for that short moment that I fell in love with who they were, and I will forever feel close, wishing bright futures for them all. Since I left, everyone has scattered – with some furthering their travels, and others settling down to new lives forever changed.
I took a short ten day trip through Austria, southern Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland before my Schengen visa expired, because I was rather NOT-okay with the prospect of another year or more going by, without me visiting them – especially since I was so close in Venice, Italy. One of the more particularly interesting towns I visited was in southern Germany, just over the border from Austria. The town of Füssen is known for its close proximity to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in the neighboring village of Hohenschwangau. I arrived in Füssen by jumping from one bus to the next, which took me to the castle – and while the castle was interesting, and quite beautiful, I found that I loved the town so much more. There’s just something about Bavaria that entrances me – maybe it’s the people, the food, the tradition, the culture, or simply just the beer, but either way, I was hooked. I was staying the night in the town with a CouchSurfing host, and he was working late, so after my tour of the castle and jaunt around the town, I settled in for an entertaining night at a local bier hall. It offered traditional live music, large traditional meals of meat and potatoes, and massive liter-sized beer steins – can you describe anything else in the world that can make a man happier? Perhaps, a few cute waitresses dressed in traditional Bavarian Dirndls!
Speaking of beer, I have to say that while German beer is among my top three favorite countries for my favorite golden elixir, the Belgians take home the winning trophy. Within an hour of my flight landing, I found myself wandering around Brussels, and I had one mission in mind – I required a beer, a waffle, and a bag of chocolates. It wasn’t the season for their famous Moules-frites (fresh mussels and fries), so I settled for a belly full of MANY beers, and a few hot waffles, and I can’t tell you of a happier drunk feeling that I’ve ever had. I toured a few of the more famous watering holes, as well as a few of the sketchier-down-an-alley type of facilities, and no matter where I went or what I ordered, there was no disappointing me. A few hours and several beers later, I was one goofy, happy-go-lucky tourist!