European Travel

A Christmas Gift & The Rules

This year my sister got me possibly the coolest gift that I have recieved in a long time. Those who know me understand how important maps are to my life. Along with a good photo, they are in my opinion a fanstistic form of art. So this past season my sister got me a map that allows you to scratch off the places you have been to.

Scratch Map gift from my sister! Best Gift Ever!

Now the question is, What determines where I have been? Some countries are small enough that visiting one or two major cities would be enough to say you have been there but in the large countries such as Canada this just is not the case. So in order to know where I should scratch there needs to be some rules.

In order to determine if I have visited a place I need to have spent a night there or have traveled through it via some land based transportation (on my motorbike trip to Alaska I rode across Manitoba twice without staying the night…. I think I can still count Manitoba on my list of visited places though!). For countries large enough to show up on a world map with separate provinces or states entire countries can not be crossed off. This means that while I have been to the USA many times there are still some states I need to go to still as well as some provinces and territories in Canada. The final rule in this process is that there is no time frame that restricts this, in other words my travels as a kid with my parents count.

And so, today I have spent an amazing time scratching off the places I have been. Each place has a story based on fond memories. And what have I learnt? Well beating my sister in our race to get to all 7 continents first will be a challenge and second is that for a person that some think travels a lot there is way too little of the world that I have been.

If you are interested in your own map check them out at scratchmap.com

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Carpe Diem

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I come to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

Seize the Day. Everyone does this in a way unique to them. Some have families, some dedicate themselves to sport and finally others travel. While I can’t say that I have always been the best user of my time I like to think that I make up for it when I am on the road. In 2010 before I blogged everything, I wrote a journal when I went to Tibet, Nepal and India and as I left each country I wrote a section titled Things Not To Forget, so as I sit in Heathrow waiting for my plane home I guess it is time to reflect.

Things Not to Forget

  • Amsterdam – The city really is one of the most multicultural parties I think I have ever witnessed. The number of languages you can hear in a small area is incredible, almost as incredible as the number of Stag and / or Doe parties that are happening in that same small area. The people who go to that city to celebrate their last nights of single life really do embrace the humour of the city and make me think that my friends got off relatively lightly.
  • Nurburgring – First riding and then being driven around this amazing place. I have never felt so lost on a racetrack as I did there as it is rare that you can see the corner you are about to enter as there is either a hill or other turn in the way. I am sure that it took me 15 – 20 minutes to get around and even then I almost rode right off it at least once. This is contrasted by what is possibly the most expensive and amazing 8 minutes of my life the next day. The ring taxi was a better way to cap off the visit as this guy has been driving the track for years and knew every inch of it. Click here to see a lap in a ring taxi!
  • Riding a Motorbike into Downtown Paris – Driving in Italy had been fun for the most part as I had missed most of the major cities and when I got tired of all the people I had escaped to the Autostrada but Paris was something else. I had no idea where I was going and was blindly following my GPS. As the crush of people and the size of buildings increased my GPS seemed to deliver directions much slower. Add to that a series of driving rules that don’t seem to match how everywhere else organizes their roads and you create chaos. In places you get a green light to turn only to get straight into the intersection only to be confronted by a red light which leaves you stopped directly in the middle. The traffic circles are also a mess as there are no lanes, many are cobblestones and there are endless numbers of streets coming onto or off of them. I am convinced that the best way to move through European City traffic is by motorbike but I don’t have the confidence to do it yet (see below).
  • Filtering – Or as we might say in Canada, lane splitting. I didn’t do it in the U.K. or Paris but I did for a while on the Autobahn (tagged onto the back of a passing bike), Lyon and for a time in Italy along the Mediterranean. The Italian trips were usually inspired after little scooters carrying 70 year old grannies came speeding by and I felt a little like a wimp.
  • Paris Itself – The city is everything that is described of it. They avoid grass so it is dusty, There seems to be a constant protest of some kind going on, people eat inches from cars whizzing by (at least when they can) and piles of people seem to be constantly smoking. I loved the madness of the place and for a person who generally does not like city life that is saying a bunch. What I didn’t experience was the stereotypical French indifference or snottiness. The people I met were wonderful as well as helpful.
  • Roads that never go straight – It was tiring and took entire days to go 250 km but amazing. They started in Germany and didn’t stop until I headed North to Paris. 5000 km later and I happy to say my riding experience has grown a lot this summer despite the addition of a couple of new scratches on the bike.
  • Family – The last few days after the Canal Boat (Part 3 of the trip) have been spent with people I rarely get the chance to see. It has been wonderful to meet up with my Auntie Gill, Jayne, Auntie Glenys, Uncle John and Cousins Mathew and Joanne. After constant movement for the last 5 weeks hanging out and chatting has been an amazing way to decompress and think about things. Hopefully it won’t be another 8 years before I see them again.

For all of my trips I always struggle to answer the question of my favourite experience as all of them add to the story but I am sure I will talk about riding around Europe for a long time to come.

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Bike just about ready to go home.

The Pub Social

Sometimes the best most random conversations happen in pubs.

Our Canal boat experience ended yesterday as we returned the Golden Meadow back to Anglo Welsh in Trevor. The last few days of the trip were primarily spent touring around the tourist town of Llangollen. It is very nice little town that reminds me very much of places within the Muskokas of Ontario. It is a town that leads to outdoor adventure. The last piece of civilization before going camping or the first as you come out of the bush. The place when you have been away from most creature comforts that you come to in order to get an ice cream and just enjoy the day. The other beauty about Llangollen is that it was open when we got there so we got to see it in all of its glory.

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Horse drawn canal boat at Llangollen

The canal starts at this point and water is fed into the canal from a source just about a mile west of the town from the River Dee. From the town to the source no canal boats are allowed and the only thing that travels along the water are kayakers and one horse drawn tourist boat. It is a throw back to the original boats for which the canals were built but unfortunately looks like a poor substitute for getting on a real boat I am afraid.

For our last night on the boat we headed back toward the town of Trevor. The distance really isn’t that long but there are some very thin parts of the canal that require one way traffic. Unfortunately there is no signal system at all on the canal so what is required is for someone on the boat to get out and walk ahead to see if the way is clear and to act as a stop if anyone comes up while you are coming through. It is fine if the thin areas are short but these were quite long and required fairly long walks by Sarah and Mom. It also means that the trip slows down as you wait for the go ahead signal to come back down the path.

Our final night was spent outside of the Sun Trevor pub. Mostly picked as a way of getting something to eat that would allow us to have an empty kitchen with nothing to clean as well as be close to Trevor to be able to deliver the boat by the 9 am drop off time the next morning. As it was such a short trip to the overnight stop we got there by 3 in the afternoon and as Sarah and mom read and showered Dad and I went up to the pub to make reservations for the evenings meal. Pubs in the U.K. are amazing places where a truly social atmosphere exists. Within seconds of our arrival at the bar we were entrenched in conversation with the local crowd and discussion quickly evolved into a wide variety of travel related stories. Everyone around started to jump in essentially centering around everyones love of New Zealand. As it seams I was the only one who either had not been there or did not have a ticket to go this year. People faded in and out of the conversation over the next 2 hours as it evolved from topic to topic very much as if we had all been friends for years. In the end as people had finished their meals or drinks we all said our good byes and headed our separate ways.

Pub lifestyle in the U.K. really does have the bar scene in North America beat in many ways. At home people tend to stick to themselves a lot more while here pubs really are the social hub of places and tend to be very vibrant places. Sooner or later North America will catch on… I have faith.