Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Final Chapter of Frank's European Adventure

After 5 months, it was hard leaving Europe and my friends but part of me was ready to come back home. And there were subtle signs that my family was ready for me to come home as well. Just a couple weeks ago, my little niece was talking with her dad (my brother) and she said,” Dad, do you remember Frank? You know… the guy who lived downstairs.” When you go from Uncle Frank to the guy downstairs, it’s time to get back.

We experienced a little turbulence on the plane, but all in all, my flight back wasn’t too bad. I think it was 9 hours to Philadelphia and 2 hours to Nashville, a piece of cake. In the airport, it was odd to hear people speaking English. I was used to hearing different accents and got in a habit of trying to determine where people were from. In the airport, I kept telling myself, “They are American, they are American.” It took a while to break the habit.

It feels good being home but when I look back, it was an absolutely incredible ride. It’s hard to put in words. I owe some many people, (more than I can list here) so much. For some, I don’t know if I can possibly repay them for everything they’ve done for me. But I hope that they will give me the opportunity to return the favor some day and visit the big US of A and maybe, just maybe, my old Kentucky home. It’s really nothing like you see in the movies. I promise.

I’m Ron Burgundy. You stay classy, San Diego.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Germany - Sven & Johannes

(Me & Sven, having a dark German beer.)

(Johannes, he's holding a beer but I'm not sure what he has in his other hand.)

With just about a week and a half left, I flew to see my friends, Johannes (from the Camino de Santiago) in Lubeck, Germany and then to Berlin to meet my friend, Sven. It was really good seeing them both. I had a great time. We sampled some Germany beers, the Christmas markets, hot wine (that's right, hot wine) and some bratwursts. Not bad at all.

This is me standing on both sides of the former Berlin Wall. I’m trying to replicate a picture that I took 5 years ago only to find out that I wasn’t standing in the same place. Either way, it’s still cool photo.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gent, Belgium - Nele

Home sweet European home! After Berlin, I took an overnight 13 hour bus ride to Brussels and then a 1 hour train ride to Gent. (I think I set beside a girl who worshipped the devil but I can’t be certain.) Anyway, I stayed with my good friend, Nele. She’s all grown up now: married, running a successful clothing store and raising her beautiful daughter, Charlotte.

On a side, it was very interesting to see the language differences for children. I was very used to hearing different languages but to hear a mother tell her child, “Bravo”, “Pardon”, even Peek-a-boo is not Peek-a-boo. And animals sounds are different as well. I think they say a cow says “Boo”, not “Moo.” Just things you wouldn’t think about it.

Speaking of not thinking... Nele lives in Aalst, just outside of Gent. One morning, while she was at work, I borrowed their bike and rode into Gent to see the old stomping grounds. Well, I bundled up with 3 layers of shirts but I didn’t even think about my socks. I threw on a thin pair of running socks, slipped on my practically all mesh running shoes and set out on my 1 ½ hour bike ride in sub 30 degree weather. The first 20 minutes were fine, no problem. But after 30 minutes of riding through the brisk wind, my feet felt like they were going to fall off. Imagine the scene on Dumb & Dumber when they are riding to Vail on their motor scooter. When I got to Gent, I ran into the first modestly priced restaurant and ordered something just to warm my feet. (And, of course, I followed it up with a nice Belgian beer. I deserved it.)

I had a great time and I owe Nele & her husband, Dirk, many thanks for putting up with me for a couple of days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Barcelona, Spain

I almost didn’t go to Barcelona. But everytime I asked someone what they thought of the city, the first thing they would do is grin and then proceed to tell me how much they loved it. I didn’t understand how one place could be that great, but you just have to see it for yourself.

(The park in Barcelona.)

You have beautiful tropical weather, incredible architecture throughout the city including some of Gaudi’s masterpieces, beautiful parks and as if this wasn’t enough, you are on right on the beach, literally. Take all this and add it to the nightlife of Spain and you have a city like no other. A nightlife where they don't start going out until midnight or later and don't get home to 5 or 6:00am or later. (It’s no wonder they need to take a nap in the afternoon because they are partying most of the night.)

(Taking a Boyscout shot.)

If you are going out in Barcelona, I would recommend you stop off at a bar called “Chupiteria” which means “Shot Bar.” Guess what they specialized in. You got it. Shots! The menu consisted of about 400 different shots including one named “Kentucky.” I usually don’t take shots because I don’t find hard liquor necessarily “tasty” but what could I do? I’m in Spain, 4000 miles away from home and they named a shot after my good old Kentucky home. In case you’re wondering, it’s a real creative shot. One shot of whiskey and one shot of beer, that’s all. It made for a good picture anyway. But there was another shot that I thought was worthy of a try if nothing else, for a good story. They call this shot, “A Boyscout.” Essentially, they pour a shot (not sure what kind of liquor), set it on fire and give you a skewer and a miniature marshmallow (see the picture above.) You then roast the marshmallow over the shot’s flame, blow out the fire, dip the marshmallow in the shot, eat it and take the shot. I thought it was pretty creative and it turned out to be pretty tasty too.

(Casa Batlló)

This is just one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces called Casa Batlló. Of all the architecture I’ve seen in Europe, his work is by far, my favorite. He was a creative and playful architect; using curved lines, bright colors and shapes/images you would see in nature (the balconies above remind you of fish heads.) One of his most famed projects, which is still in progress today (Gaudi has passed away but they continue with his designs) is “La Sagrada Familia.” Take a Gothic cathedral and mix it with Disneyland and a touch of Gaudi’s own personal touch and you have it. It’s something you just have to see to believe.

If you get a chance or if you are anywhere near Spain, get yourself to Barcelona. It’s pricey like all major cities but its well worth it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Granada, Spain

(The city of Granada, the cathedral is in the center.)

I love to travel but I also wanted to continue studying Spanish so I went to Granada, Spain for 3 weeks to get a little of both. Granada is only 1 hour away from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and 1.5 hours from the beach. In spring, they say you can go skiing in the morning and can be lying on the beach in the afternoon. I skipped the beach and opted just to go skiing, twice!!! We went on the opening day. In the afternoon, it was so warm you could almost ski without a jacket. (I was wondering why it never got cloudy until I looked out and saw that we were above the clouds...) But most importantly, I didn't go flying into the woods, head first like I did in Vail, Colorado last year. I have to thank my English instructor, Jo, for that. Thanks Jo!

Like Salamanca, Granada is a beautiful city with a plethora of history, architecture and night life. (I love Kebabs!) But if you go to Granada, you have to see the Alhambra. It’s a huge Arabic castle (actually, a series of palaces and gardens; it takes about 3 hours just to walk through it all) filled with beautiful gardens, fountains, art & architecture. Check out some of the photos.

Our class went to a restaurant one morning for hot chocolate and churros. And notice I didn't say chocolate milk; I'm talking about a bar of hot chocolate melted down and poured into a cup. Thick enough to lay your spoon on without it sinking. Not that is hot chocolate!

(My Spanish class sitting down for a typical Spanish breakfast.)

¡Viva España!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lengua de Cerdo - Salamanca, Spain

(Lengua de cerdo)

After the Camino, I was anxious to start studying Spanish again. I enrolled in Colegio Delibes, an intensive immersion program in Salamanca and signed up to stay with a host family with full board (three meals a day included.) Spaniards eats a lot of pork and seafood. And nothing goes to waste; they eat it all: ears, face, feet, etc. My host mom had prepared pork chops for me several times before so it should have been a clue that something suspicious was going on when she asked me if I wanted to try "this pork." Another student from Germany was also staying with the host family and she had decided not to eat the "pork." I asked her why she didn't want the pork today because I had seen her eat pork before. She said that she didn't like pork in sauce. (Another, "wait, this isn't right" moment.) In reality, she had already spoken to my host mom and decided not to eat this "pork."

Well, the truth finally came out after and only after I cleaned my plate. As I'm chewing the last bite, my host mom asked me if I liked the pork. I said I did and asked her if she had any more. It really was good and I really could have eaten more. Then she asked me if I knew which part of the pig the meat was from. My mind started to race and to be honest, I was expecting a lot worse, (mountain oysters for example) when she uttered the word, "lengua." "Lengua de cerdo" is pig's tongue. Not exactly what I had thought but like I said, it was good. I had seconds.

While in Europe, I tried a lot of interesting food. Horsemeat in Holland, goat cheeses in France, and pig tongue, a part of the pig face, and a dish that looked like a black rice cake made of rice that has been soaked in pig's blood and barbequed. Mmm!

(Salamanca at night.)

Here is the city of Salamanca at night (from the bridge where you can see the cathedral). It is an incredibly beautiful city with so much medieval architecture: the cobblestone roads, 2 cathedrals, the main plaza, gardens and the University of Salamanca (one of the oldest universities in Europe.) And a lot of wild university students. Students didn't even go out until 1:00am and didn't finish until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. One club didn't even get started until 5:00am. Quite an experience...

I just loved this sign. I saw on a local shop door while walking down one of the main shopping streets. It reads "Cerrado por vacaciones hasta el dia 19 de noviembre. Disculpen las molestais." Essentially, "Closed for vacation until November 19th, sorry about the inconvenience." And I took this picture on November 4th! It's great! We are going on vacation for a couple weeks, see you later. It's a great to live. It's a different mentality from the commercial world we are used to here in the States. A majority of shops in Spain are locally owned and run in Spain. The owners open the shop in the morning and they close it at night. Except for "siesta" where they close from about 3:00pm to 5:00 or 6:00pm for lunch, they are there all day. Most of the shops are also closed all day on Sunday to give the owners at least one day of rest. It can be an "inconvenience" when we are used to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but you have to give it to them. Viva la Espana!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Holland (one last time) - And my modeling career.

(Me, after the Camino de Santiago)

Too funny! I went back to Groningen, Holland one last time. (I couldn´t get enough.) I had an incredible time as I did the month prior. And I had a lot of great moments but one in particular sticks out. And due to the artwork and raw unrestrained genius of my brother (Rights reserved, thanks Den!) I feel compelled to share it with you.

As you can see from the picture, I´ve trimmed up a little bit on the Camino de Santiago. And as I was walking through a clothing store (exploring the European fashion), someone approached me and asked if I had done any modeling before. I said that I hadn´t and he asked me if I would be interested. I didn´t say a word, just gave an expression of curiousity/contemplation and he said, "Come with me."

To cut a long story short, William is a very talented artist (nothing commercial) and he asked me to model for 2 hours or so. After some debate over a cup of tea, I finally agreed and we met the next day. Regardless of what you might think, it can be quite challenging.

Try doing this and really try it, "Smile, tense your stomach and arm muscles, turn your face slightly to the left, stand up straight, keep your arms to your side, don´t clench your fists, hold this for 1 or 2 minutes and now turn your head more to the right, look confident and after all of this, looked relaxed." Relaxed! How can someone possible look relaxed after all of that? That´s tough stuff for 2 hours.

And you have a wide range of "looks" or facial expressions. Look mad or angry, confident and my personal favorite, "sexy." I just laughed because I had no idea what a "sexy" look was. (but now I do so watch out.) I haven´t seen the pictures yet but it should be interesting.

Do this though. Get to a mirror right now and show yourself your "sexy" look. No, better yet, take a picture of it and send it to me. No, just look at a billboard or a magazine and everyone will have this look. It just seems funny at first but its very normal.

I joke, but William was very talented. He knew how to get the right lighting, the background, and even had me try on different clothes. We were walking down the street in Groningen and he just saw something he liked. We stopped right there and started taking pictures in the street as people passed by.

But the proof for me was when I had him take one picture of me with my digital camera. Just one. I was really surprised. Of all the pictures I´ve taken in my life, I think about 2 or 3 have been decent ("Good" would be a stretch). But the single photo he took in 5 seconds, seemingly without effort, I could imagine seeing it hanging on the wall at JCPenney´s. (at least Wal-mart) I couldn´t believe it. He was very good.

It was a great experience. Thanks William!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Camino de Santiago - Santiago and Finsterre!

Santiago de Compostella! - September 5 to October 6, 2007

Santiago de Compostella! Its a beautiful sight to see, especially if you just walked 500 miles to see it. What´s left to say.

And for me, the highlight of the Camino is Finsterre and watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. It´s really hard to describe in words. It´s breathtaking.

Its a ritual that at sunset, you burn an item of clothing that you wore on the Camino. Its actually not a bad idea because after 30 days of wearing only 2 changes of clothes, all of your clothes are completely ruined.

But maybe it symbolizes the old part of you that you let go. The part that the camino changed and replaced with something better. Who knows. But it made a nice ending to an incredible experience!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Camino de Santiago - Some Highlights

I´ve decided not to elaborate on every detail of my experiences and lessons learned on the Camino because, 1) there is just too much to say and ... 2) I´ve decided to write a book that details most of it.

But I do want to include some highlights and interesting points.

1. I walked over 500 miles straight! Over the Pyrenees mountains and the entire width of Spain.
2. I slept in a church (and the crucifix looks a little spooky at night.)
3. I slept in a corn field with nothing but a sleeping bag and a poncho (in October). There was so much fog that my sleeping bag was completely soaked when I woke up.
4. I attempted to walk 90 kilometers in 1 night. I would have had a better chance if I didn´t miss a waymarker at 12:00 midnight and get lost for 2 hours. When I finally found someone, they couldn´t point out where I was on my map.
5. I fasted for 3 days (drinking only bottled water) walking over 30 kilometers each day. I lost about 10 kilos or 20 pounds in the process.

Other random points of interest:

In Spain, when you order a hot chocolate, that´s exactly what you get. It´s a bar of chocolate melted down into a liquid. Its the real deal! If you let it set a while, it will actually start to harden. It´s the way hot chocolate should be done.

Hungry? Sometimes you got to do what you got to do. Life on the Camino is good but its not easy. :)

Zoom in and take a look. That´s 6 flies crawling around on his face. I know your thinking, ¨Yeah, what´s the big deal¨ but try it. It´s impossible.

This is my friend´s foot, not mine. Now those are real blisters.

Moral of the story? When you drink beer, please drink one at a time.

Any many many more...

Camino de Santiago - Don´t drink the water!

I´m on day 19 of the Camino de Santiago. My blisters have, for the most part, healed. My boots have broken in and my body has become accustomed to the daily grind of hiking each day. And even my mind, with occasional lapses, has becomes used to the slow pace of walking for hours and hours.

And when the day finally came that all of these things came together and I felt like I had finally mastered the Camino, I and several other pilgrims made the mistake of drinking the water. Drinking the tap water is the norm and I´ve been doing it from the start of the trip. In fact, Spain installed public water fountains along the trail so that pilgrims wouldn´t go thirsty. But the rumor is that some farmers (those bastards) because of a mild winter, had sprayed the crops to kill a rodent (mouse looking creatures) from destroying the crops. In doing so, it got into the water system, into the tap water, in the fountains and the taps, into my water bottle and into my stomach for the last couple of days.

Some people became sick immediately, diarrhea & vomiting that very night. But I was fine. The next day, we found out the water had been contaminated but it had only given me gas. I figured that whatever bacteria I got from drinking the water in Costa Rica was eating whatever pollutants they had here in Spain, mere child´s play.

And so I tracked on to the next town not giving it much thought. Well, at about 5:00pm that night, I started to feel really tired and decide to take a afternoon siesta (God bless Spain.) It was then and there that it hit me like a freight train. Fever, chills, upset stomach, etc. I was so exhausted, I didn´t want to get up to go to the bathroom. It was bad news. Luckily no diarrhea or vomiting though!

Fortunately, I felt better the next day, at least enough to walk about 10 miles to the next town to get some rest. I´ve been taking it easy since then. Each day gets a little better.

By tomorrow, I will be in Leon, Spain.

Camino De Santiago - First week

I am in Day 8 of the Camino de Santiago. Essentially, you wake up, walk 6,7,8 or more hours each day to the next town or city, wash your clothes, eat dinner, and go to bed. Or at least that is the way it has been for me for the last week. This will change though. The ¨Camino¨has a way of teaching you. (or ¨explaining it to you¨as my Dad liked to say). My backpack weighed about 18 kilograms or about 40 pounds because I had my tent inside. They advise you not to take more than 8 to 10 kilograms but I thought the extra weight would be good excercise and I liked being able to camp when I liked. Well, I had no troubles with breathing or muscle pain, but it will tear up your feet and your joints. My feet would be swollen, red and feeling like they were going to explode each night. I would sometimes loose feeling in my toes and it started to take a toll on my knees. Today, I found out you could mail the tent to Santiago (5 kilos) for about $10. ¡Hasta la vista!

Anyway, I learned an important lesson today and each day it teaches me another. It also gives me a pain in a different muscle, joint or just another blister.

And for all of this, I can easily say that this is going to be (and already has to a degree) one of the BEST experiences in my life and I would highly encourage (almost threaten) that everyone do it. It is absolutely amazing! The landscape, the terrain, the people, the camino, the way of life, the simplicity, the time to think, to breathe, the freedom, the pain, everything, its aboslutely INCREDIBLE! I can´t emphasize this enough.

You can walk many different paths and you can take as much or as little time as you like but I would encourage at least 30 days. I get the feeling and other people have said this as well, that the Camino has a way of breaking you down and rebuilding you. Right now, I´m in the breaking down process but somehow, I´m enjoying it. Crazy.

Buen Camino!

Camino de Santiago - Day 1

(Day 1 of the Camino at the train station in St. Jean Pied de Port, France)

The Camino De Santiago ("The Way of St. James" in English) is a pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compestella in the north of Spain. You can start wherever you like but the most traversed and the most famous route is the Camino Frances (from St. Jean Pied de Port in France). Basically, its a 764 kilometer (roughly 500 mile) hike across the north of Spain. You can walk another 90 km to the coast, Finsterre. ("Fin" meaning "end" and "terre" meaning "earth." Essentially, the Romans believed that this was the furthermost point on the globe and from here, you can watch the ocean swallow the sun each day. And it really does look like it.) Well, I could go on and on but there are a lot of websites that describe the origins and history of the pilgrimage. It´s worth taking a look.

Go to Wikipedia: or just do a Google search.

I hiked the entire way from St. Jean to Finsterre in about 31 days but I stopped in Santiago for 3 days for the celebration and to meet up with fellow pilgrims and friends. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Hands down.

Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain

The first day is one of the toughest. Its about 27 kilometers (about 17 miles) walk over the Pyrenees mountains. The views are spectacular but its physically challenging, cold and long. Within 4 hours, I already had a fresh new blister on my heel that stayed with me (with every step) for about a week. This was the first of many to come. I remember feeling a little soreness in my heel and thinking, ¨I will wait just a bit before I take my shoe off.¨ When I stopped 15 minutes later, the blister had already busted and continued to get bigger and bigger.

When I made it to Roncesvalles, I put up my tent, ate some cereal and just laid there. I couldn´t move.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Where have I been?

Well.... Europe.

I´ve been doing a little traveling all over. Some by train, some by plane and a lot on foot (a little over 500 miles). I´ve ditched the map because it took too long to load but I´ll try to add a link later.

Some of the noteworthy cities:

Belgium - Brussels and Gent
Holland - Groningen and Amsterdam
France - Marseille, La Ciotat, and Paris
Italy - Milan and Bergamo
Germany - Kassel, Munster and Hamburg (coming soon)
Spain - Camino de Santiage (Leon, Burgos, Santiago de Compestella, Finsterra), Madrid, Salamanca, Toleda, Granada and Barcelona!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Aurelie - Paris, France

(Aurelie & Me)

Next stop, Paris, France to visit my good friend, Aurelie a couple of days before I walked the Camino de Santiago. Again, her hospitality was limitless. She showed me around Paris, had me sample different kinds of French dishes (cheeses, breads, wines, crepes, etc. At my request, she even prepared ¨Ratatouille¨like the film. And...

And she even took me to a very nice Arabic/Morrocan restaurant. I was surprised at how great the music, food and drink were. I couldn´t even begin to tell you what I had but it was all great. It´s like nothing I´ve ever had before. And the treat came at the end of the meal. This bong looking contraption above is a Shi-Sha (I have no idea how to spell it.) Essentially, its a bong and you smoke... Tobacco! There are several types of flavored tobacco you can try. Its more flavor than tobacco but definitely worth trying one time.

I also continued my art education by revisiting The Louvre (looking for DaVinci Code clues and the Mona Lisa), the Orsay Museum, Pantheon, etc. Paris is an incredible city.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Annegreet! - Groningen, Holland

(Annegreet´s home in Een, Holland)

After two weeks in Italy, I flew to Holland to see Anne and her stomping grounds. It´s a shame that Holland gets Amsterdam´s reputation because the rest of the country is nothing like it. The north of Holland is extremely green, lush and beautiful. And because its so flat, you can see the countryside and farms for miles and miles.

Again, there is so much to say about my stay. It was absolutely incredible and one of the highlights of my trip. As you can see, Anne´s parents live in a very nice house in the countryside. (Yes, their house has a thatched roof as do most houses in the area.) And from the time I walked in the door, they treated me like family. Maybe better than. I told them that I liked to see and try different things and they did just that. I had horse meat (lekker!) several times, sampled countless beers, wines, cheeses and typical Dutch dishes (my personal favorite, Stoomport (?sp?), experienced a real Dutch BBQ and birthday party, went on beautiful bike rides and runs through the countryside, went to a horse show (I had to go to Holland to watch one of these...) and much much more. I can´t thank them enough.

(Annegreet´s dog, Fritz)

Fritz, Annegreet´s dog, was great. He absolutely loved to play, especially with his ball. I don´t think I´ve ever seen a dog with so much personality. Sometimes he fetched the ball and others, he made you fetch it from him. We had some good times. I came very close to tucking him away in my luggage and taking him with me. Part of me thinks I should have.

Regardless, when Annegreet´s father had his birthday party, we celebrated outside on the patio. Well, Fritz, thinking that since we were outside and someone would play with him, waited at the trunk of the tree you see above. (They sometimes keep the ball up there when they are finished playing with him.) What´s funny is that he waited there for over 4 hours! Poor Fritz. He didn´t budge an inch in that whole time. He just stared at the ball hoping and praying that someone would play. After it was dark, I went over and threw it a couple times just to reward him for his persistence. Fritz!

(Me, Annegreet, her brother and Mom after the 9K)

As luck would have it, I was able to run a 9K in Groningen with Annegreet´s brother, Henk. Although I don´t remember the time now, I finished in one of my times ever because the entire course was flat. (as is all of Holland)

Anne, her Mom, and our friend, Jolanda were waiting for me at the finish line. And Annegreet´s Mom bought me a bouquet of flowers congratulating me on the race.

I had such a great time and everyone was incredibly nice. It was really hard leaving.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Matteo! - Milan, Italy

(Matteo working on an art exhibition.)

Next, I went to Milan, Italy to visit my very good friend Matteo. Matteo is one of the most incredible people you will ever meet. He is second to none. He just has a zest for life and it energizes everyone around him. Its no wonder he is an artist (contemporary). While at his place, he & his family treated me like royalty. He gave me tours of Milan (including the Duomo), Bergamo, (his home town), and hiked in the Pre-Alps of North Italy.

(Hiking in the Pre-Alps)

Blowout! Matteo & I also went hiking for about 3 hours near Bergamo to get a nice view of the surrounding cities (you can see for miles). Well, just as we are about to reach the peak, one of Matteo´s boots completely blows out. It was like nothing I´d ever seen. As you can see, the entire sole just falls out. And before he reaches the bottom, he is walking with one foot in a boot and the other in a sock. Imagine walking on rocky, jagged terrain in socks for 3 hours. Incredible. I couldn´t help but laugh. I offered to trade boots but he wouldn´t have it. He handled it all in good spirits. It still makes me smile thinking about it.

Other interesing facts:

Matteo had to go to a couple of art exhibitions in Germany and he graciously rearranged his plans so I could tag along. Among others, we went to the Documenta Project in Kassel (only every 5 years) and the Sculpture Project in Munster (only every 10 years). I met so many great people, learned so much about art, especially contemporary art, and saw art I wouldn´t think humanly possible and had a great time.

Be careful when you stay with an Italian family. Especially if you are trying to watch your weight. Eating is quasi compulsary, although, I have to admit that I didn´t put up much of a fight. I don´t know where to start. I will say that the cuisine in the North of Italy is a little different from what you expect. But either way, it´s still great. And the ice cream, forget it. It should be illegal.

And in typical Frank style, the first time I drive in Europe (I helped drive back from the art exhibitions in Germany) I get pulled over by the police. Nice!

Friday, November 2, 2007

C´est la vie - Marseilles, France

(The moonlit beach at La Ciotat)

The days in Belgium starting getting colder so Anne and I decided to head somewhere warmer. We looked at the airport for last minute flights but didn´t have any luck. We checked the train station and the gentleman said there was an availability for Marseille, France. I only needed to know one thing, "Is it warm there?"

The next day, we took the train and headed to the south of France, which is incredibly beautiful by the way. Marseilles was a bigger city so we ended up setting up camp nearby in La Ciotat. We camped under an olive tree, soaked up the sun and enjoyed the beautiful weather on the Mediterranean beaches. It was just what we needed. We hung out at the beach, rented bikes and rode around town, and just relaxed. Also, you´d be surprised at the meals Anne can cook up with just a gas camp stove.

On one of the last days we were there, Anne took me out for my birthday to a nice French restaurant. We got all dressed up and made ourselves pretty. (At least Anne did, there´s no help for me.) Before this place, I didn´t understand cuisine, much less French cuisine, and what all the excitement was about. Let me tell you, its an incredible experience: the atmosphere, music, lighting, wine... I couldn´t even tell you, much less pronounce what I ordered but it was great! It wasn´t necessarily one thing that tasted great, the portions certainly weren´t big, nor overly salty or sweet. But it was all put together and orchestrated just right. It´s a must try.

(In France, swimming pools are boxers only)

One very funny story to leave you with (at least I thought it was funny.) At the campsite I'm staying, there is a swimming pool. I went to take a quick dip and right before I got in the water, the lifeguard instructed me that I couldn't wear my shorts. I showed him the fabric and the lining ensuring him that they were indeed swimming trunks but it wasn't acceptable. He said I needed boxers or briefs. He pointed to the pool and sure enough, there were only boxers or briefs (all of the very tight configuration). I couldn't believe what I heard. But then I thought, "When in Rome,...", France in my case. I changed into my tightest boxers and jumped right in. And I've posted the picture to prove it. The world is a great and interesting place.

Also, for some unknown reason, France doesn't believe in peanut butter. I can't find it in any grocery store anywhere. You can buy ground up duck, fish or pork but not peanuts.

C`est la vie!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Gentse Feesten - Gent, Belgium

I flew into Brussels, Belgium on July 17th, and went directly to my old 2002 stomping grounds in Gent. From July 14 to the 23rd, the people of Gent celebrate Gentse Feesten which essentially is a city wide 10 day non-stop party with great music, dancing, food and of course, beer and fries (They are Belgian, not French.)

(The city of Gent during the day)

Annegreet and I had a great time. We met up with some of her friends, danced, sampled the beer, the food (waffles, sausages, and of course, the fries) (Even the French will concede their Belgian.)

(Belgium waffle! LEKKER!)

(Annegreet with the fries drenched with mayonaise and curry ketchup!)

One last thing, I thoroughly enjoyed (and you won't find these in the States) the public urinals. (sorry ladies, men only) I know, I know. It's disgusting but there is something magical about it that I can't explain. You just have to experience it. It's peeing outside like men should. Its freedom. Not to mention, practical. During the festival, if public urinals weren't plentiful, men would be peeing everywhere. It would be a nightmare.

(Me, waiting in line for the public urinals.)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Adventures in Europe

Post #1. It's actually more difficult to find an internet cafe in Europe than in Costa Rica. Most people, like in the US, already have an internet connection so an internet cafe really isn't necessary.

Anyway, life here is good. I spent a week camping in Gent, Belgium and thoroughly enjoyed the Gentsefeesten festivities! Dancing, drinking and food (Belgian waffles, ice cream, ...) After a couple of rainy days though, I was ready for some warm weather.

I'm now in the south of France: La Ciotat (around Marseilles) camping under an olive tree, soaking up the sun and enjoying the beautiful weather on the Mediterranean beaches.

One very funny story to leave you with (at least I thought it was funny.) At the campsite I'm staying, there is a swimming pool. Yesterday, I went to take a quick dip and right before I got in the water, the lifeguard instructed me that I couldn't wear my shorts. I showed him the fabric and the lining ensuring him that they were indeed swimming trunks but it wasn't acceptable. He said I needed boxers or briefs. He pointed to the pool and sure enough, there were only boxers or briefs (all of the very tight configuration). I couldn't believe what I heard. But then I thought, "When in Rome,...", France in my case. I changed into my tightest boxers and jumped right in. I've got pictures to prove it. (I'll post them later.) The world is a great and interesting place.

Also, for some unknown reason, France doesn't believe in peanut butter. I can't find it in any grocery store anywhere. You can buy ground up duck, fish or pork but not peanuts.

C`est la vie

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The 4th of July Firecracker Run - 10K

Denny, my brother & I ran in the Firecracker Run 10K on the 4th of July in Sebree, Kentucky. As you can see, we sported the holiday colors: Red (bandanna), White (shirt) and Blue (shorts).

What's great about this picture is that it makes me look like a GIANT! My brother & I are about the same height and weight. But because he's standing further down the hill and turned to the side, it makes me look taller and broader. Don't forget it little bro!

We had a great time and had great finishing times as well. I was hoping that I would average around 10 minute miles. I couldn't believe it when they said I finished in 51:40, averaging 8:20 minute miles. It was a great ending to a great day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Looking Back, the True Beauty of Costa Rica

Before I wrap up the Costa Rica - 2007 blog, I wanted to mention the true beauty of Costa Rica. I don't think you can find any other place in the world with so much natural beauty. But even the most beautiful places can seem a little bit brighter with the right people. I want to take a second to mention some of my friends that I met along the way that made the trip so great.

Sharon, Myself (the Ligador), Laura & Marshal

My first week in Heredia was challenging and I don't know what I would have done without them. I'll never forget when Sharon looked up and saw me that first day of class. She screamed, ran over to me and gave me a jumping hug. (Sharon is a good friend from Raleigh but I didn't know she was going to be in Costa Rica at that time). It was great. We were the Cool Cuatro: in school, at lunch or our personal favorite, Karaoke bars, we were always there.

Me & Rachelle

Sarah, Me, Lindsay, Chio girl, & Kesha (aka Medecine Women)

Gavin, Me & Travis

In Playa Flamingo, I have to thank, Rachelle from Cali, " The Medicine women" as they were affectionately called (they were Med students in SC), Tim, Travis, Gavin & Michelle for the great laughs and incredible times. For the runs on the beach (pun intended), "En mi boca", "I like big butts and I can not lie", crazy dance skills, wonderful conversations on the beach, mud pies, and much much more.

Annegreet, Jolanda & Chris

Orosi was the only place in Costa Rica that felt like home. It was such a great place filled with so many wonderful people. The first week I was there, I ran into Chris, a good'ol country boy from the great city of Raleigh, North Carolina. I couldn't believe it.

I later met his roommates Annegreet and Jolanda from Holland. We had some great times, in the Hot Springs, watching some interesting TV shows at Nido's bar, and just hanging out at the hostel drinking tea, playing card games, Spoons (Anne wasn't really that good), and Jenga.

A couple of weeks later, Jolanda, Anne & I met up and traveled together to Monteverde, La Fortuna and even Nicaragua. We had some rough times: rainy weather, bloody noses, miserable heat, but not once did I have a bad time.

Jon, Adrian, Josue & Femke

At Montana Linda in Orosi, we're all drinking tea and playing Dominos. It's amazing how much fun Dominos and Jenga can be with the right people. And you will be surprised at some of the many different and interesting discussions you can get into.

Josue's Mother & Denny (my Brother)

Denny came down for a week to explore Costa Rica with me: waterfall jumping, surfing, coffee tours, and the scorching heat. It's just a small taste of what Costa Rica has to offer but we had a great time.

I want to thank Josue and his mother for welcoming me into their home and treating me like family. Since the first day I met Josue, he treated me like a good friend. Whenever he could, he offered to help me, whether it was helping me fix my camera or just showing me around San Jose. He & his mother offered me their home, a place at the dinner table and their friendship. (Not to mention some very funny stories) I always felt welcome. I can't thank you all enough!

I think that does it. My trip to Costa Rica was life altering and the memories I made will not be forgotten (especially with all the pictures I took). But like all things, it wouldn't have been half as good without the wonderful people and friends I made. Thank you all.