Audra and I just spent 5 months travelling through parts of Europe. We ate, drank, and learned a TON along the way. We even wrote about what we learned. But Thailand… a whole different magical beast. In our month so far, we’ve experienced a completely new culture, foods to die for, amazing animals, indescribably beautiful beaches and scenery, memories with friends old and new, and had learning experiences the whole way!
Audra and I left the United States on July 4th. It's now 4 and a half months later and we're headed back to the US before we embark on the second part of our trip. Time has both flown and crawled. We were talking the other night, "Wow Budapest was so long ago! Wait, wasn't that just a month an a half ago?" ... "Yeah, but if you think about it, we've lived in 12 different places since then."
Along with the amazing memories, there have been more than a few hiccups along the way. Each new challenge was a growing experience though, and we're compiling a short list to share with you (and our future selves) about what we learned in the first leg of our journey. We'll share it with you in our next post - The Nomad Life: Lessons Learned.
But first, let's wrap up Europe with our last two countries: Serbia and Bulgaria.
St. Louis, Missouri has a special claim to fame that not many people know about.
Nope, not that we’re the home to the most World Series Championships in the National League (GO Cards!).
What’s that? Toasted Raviolis are the shiznit and should be on every appetizer menu everywhere? True … but no.
I’m talking about the fact that we host the highest concentration of Bosnians outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the true name of the country most people call Bosnia). We welcomed more than 20,000 refugees in the early 90’s and they settled in south Saint Louis, mainly the Bevo Mill neighborhood. Today, more than 70,000 Bosnians live in St. Louis. (Learn more about the Bosnian population in this story done back in 2013.) Recently, Bosnian restaurants like Grbic have been gaining popularity and attention.
So, as St. Louisans, we knew we had to spend some time in Bosnia learning about their history, culture, food, and coffee!
But why did the Bosnians come to the USA in the first place? To answer that question, I’m going to take you on a crash course through Bosnian history. Buckle up!
Audra and I took a life changing trip 3 years ago. We wanted to challenge the way we traveled, so we bought a flight to Amsterdam through Iceland, booked our stay in Iceland and our initial hostel in Amsterdam, and left EVERYTHING else unplanned. We didn't even have a flight home. Yes, we did some research: "Europe through the Backdoor" by Rick Steves and Nomadic Matt's Blog. We also had a vague idea of countries we wanted to visit, but that changed through the trip.
We learned a TON from this trip!
1) If you are doing an unplanned trip where you want to go to lots of places, get a Eurail pass.
2) In Brussels, we booked a train to "a random city in Germany" and received a ticket to Koln. We got off the train and recognized the Cologne cathedral immediately. Yes, cities have different names in English.
3) Don't wait until the last minute to book flights (usually).
4) The infrastructure exists all through Europe for this kind of travel. You can get off the train, find wifi somewhere, book a hostel, and start exploring.
5) The world was HUGE!!! We visited 10 cities in 6 countries and the world only seemed bigger after that.
Foreward: A major reason for our travel is to learn history. The city of Gdańsk, Poland gave us so much more than we asked for. The following is Audra's reaction. We'll give you an update of the day to day life in Poland in our next post.
I will admit that I didn’t know what to expect when visiting the country of Poland. But, I can tell you pulling back the layers of this country has been incredible. Right now, I want to focus on the historic aspects of Poland based on our visit to the incredible Polish WWII museum.
People always say that understanding history is a chance to learn and not make the mistakes from the past. I agree partially but, I’m not sure if it is physically possible to truly understand all factors at play since there are so many underlying components to world events, with so many different perspectives. World War 2 history evokes so many emotions in me – horror, pride, disgust, intrigue. But, exploring the past raises a continuous stream of questions, helps one draw comparison with modern times, forms opinions and honestly elicits a surge of gratitude. In my blog post below, you will see how these factors come into play when learning about the anguish and tenacity of the Polish people from 1939-1989.
Our previous blog was hosted on Wix. This website proved troublesome to work with. Our blog posts are still available there from August 2016-September 2017. The following are clickable links to them.
- The Right Attitude (Aug 2016)
- Our Panama Adventure Continues - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Sept 2016)
- An Epic Adventure: Bouldering and Bushwhacking (Oct 2016)
- Scuba Diving (Nov 2016)
- Taking in the Beauty of Pachamama - Mother Earth (March 2017)
- Author Change, Panama Reflection, a month at home, and the beginning of the Journey (July 2017)
- Paris and our first Workaway - Normandy (July 2017)
- Lyon, Marseille, and "Living" Abroad (July 2017)
- La Entrada de Espana (Aug 2017)
- Granada, Madrid, Berlin (Sept 2017)
First, Author change. Audra has written the majority of our posts up to this point, but we've had a drought. Maybe we felt like we had to put too much thought into each post, or maybe we had grandiose plans of the blog gaining traction and monetizing it (like other travel bloggers), but mainly, we just got busier and put this blog on the back burner. Also, Audra will be working online much of the time, and by necessity, I've become the only available person left able to document the experiences. So, I've made a decision to change the direction of our blog. Note: I've always been a stream of consciousness writer, so there may be errors (and there are often many sets of parentheses).
The blog will have two purposes:
1) Mainly, just a journal for self reflection and posterity. My first time out of the country by myself was in small town Honduras. I kept a journal, and it has become one of my most prized possessions. I can read it and reflect accurately on my mindset and feelings at that time. Audra and I know that this year will be a very formative time in our life so we want to be able to look back on it much the same way we all watch home videos of ourselves when we were kids.
2) To keep family and friends informed about what we are doing. We LOVE all of you. We wish to have meaningful conversation with you when we see you again. A lot will happen between now and when we see a lot of you again, so you can stay informed here and skip a large chunk of "catching up".
Second, Panama reflection. Holy crap. In a good way! Experiences since the last blog post: Scuba diving with tons of sharks, sailing with friends, beach relaxation, a wedding party, hosting friends and family, and more. I can write a lot here, but it's been over a month since being here and writing an accurate description might be a bit hard. Long story short, Panama taught me how to relax and focus on things that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. I already miss the beach, our friends, our tiny house, the fruits, the Spanish, and the weather.
Third, a month at home. Did I mention that we LOVE you (our family and friends). When we decided to start this journey, we knew that being away from everyone would be a major hardship, and it was. It was amazing to see everyone back home! We wish we could have spent even more quality time with you all, but the journey was calling. Thank you Forrest and Cathy (Audra's parents) for allowing us to crash in your basement. Thanks to everyone else who allowed us to stay over on their couches and in their guest bedrooms. We wanted to see everyone so bad that we may have slightly overbooked ourselves (did I mention that we came from a very slow paced life in Panama [told you there would be parentheses (just like math, but the opposite: pay attention to outermost parentheses first!)]). Sorry if we seemed tired or antisocial. Nonetheless, we are SOO glad we did it the way we did.
A few (okay maybe more than a few) amazing memories:
- Lunch in Chicago with Julie Beck and Ryan (Man we missed american food and beer!)
- Getting picked up by Stokes and Ang. Thanks so much for letting me stay with you guys a few nights!
- Lunch with Hess (finally an amazing salad at a restaurant) and walking in Tower Grove Park.
- Impromptu birthday celebration for my brother Danny with almost all of my siblings at Mcnair.
- Meeting my new Nephew Malakai, and also seeing Mackenzie, Landon, Carter, Auriel, Layla, and Joanna (our nieces and nephews).
- Great conversations with my dad on his balcony (In the words of the great author from Missouri, Mark Twain: "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."). Not only did my dad teach me this quote, but I owe a lot of who I am to him. Thanks dad.
- Happy hour with Audra's coworkers followed by shots with Adam and Alex followed by spinning rooms followed by morning vomit on Soulard sidewalks.
- An evening of hanging out, an AMAZING dinner, and the Grove with Matty and Sergio (they came to Panama to see us!).
- Hosting a get together at 21st Street Brewers Bar so we could see everyone. There had to have been 30+ people there! We have such a varied and cool group of friends!
- Breakfast and a morning walk with Allison and Ryan at First Watch! Thanks for driving in from COMO just for this!
- Family reunion with the Hertenstein side (my mother's side).
- A few nights at Tubie, Suthoff, and Bill's place! I love you guys!
- An amazing night of convos, pizza, music videos, whiskey, beer, and midnight walks with Julie, Sean, and Ben.
- Catching up with Sextro at GCB!
- Taking our beautiful goddaughter, Joanna, to the arch for her first time!
- Disc Golf with Tom and Jake. Holy crap I miss this stuff!
- Muse and Thirty Seconds to Mars with Audra and her little brother Clinton.
- Taking Denali to a cabin on a Wednesday. No one was there, so he got to be off leash the whole time! Mainly, we caught up on sleep here!
- Bachelor party for my great friend Mike Smith (also meeting his wife to be, Stephanie).
- Diaper Kegger at Stokes' house! John smoked an incredible turkey accompanied by Matt's amazing chorizo stuffing! We successfully floated the keg (we still got it!).
- Family pictures and Father's day bbq with my family at Brian's.
- Chillin with Brian and seeing Wonder Woman.
- An amazing dinner at Mom and Pat's!
- Winery day with Audra's family. Good food, Great wine, and a cool concert!
After being home, we traveled to Columbia to visit Mark and Bree and some other friends. Next stop KC: Aunt Trish and Uncle Les, Mick and Kim (who hiked with us in Peru!), Uncle Lou, and Audra's Grandma. Last US stop was Denver to visit Pat (thanks a TON for letting us crash with you!), Rob, and Mark and Linda (friends from Panama who took us hiking and to Breckenridge brewery!).
Finally, the beginning of the Journey. It's 3:00 AM at this point (I took some time to update site details) and I'm getting a bit tired, but this has been an incredible 48+ hours worth documenting! (Note: something I noticed when I journaled in Honduras was that writing about the meals I had helped bring the memories to life when I looked back on them).
We flew from Denver to Iceland on July 4th. Despite being incredibly last minute, I managed to book a car rental (a tiny, sporty Hyundai i10 - manual) and tickets to the blue lagoon (which we had visited before, but knew we had to get back to). The blue lagoon was so relaxing! We spent 3 hours here soaking and just letting our minds relax seeing as the flight skipped 6 hours and we had no sleep that night. We drove to the town of Grindavik on the southern coast and had crazy awesome fish soup, followed by not one, but two servings of fish and chips. We need to get better about how we order food. Many things get lost in translation... After, we drove east through the coolest, must awe inspiring terrain I've ever seen until I got too tired and we turned around. We had to make many stops on the way back along the southern coast so I could stay awake (the brisk wind coupled with flip flops and a light shirt does wonders for this). Eventually we stopped off at the abandoned Nato base town near Keflavik to sleep for 2 hours in the car. After, we settled at a lighthouse and had another bowl of soup (mushroom) before heading to the airport for our next leg.
We both slept 2 hours of our 3 hour flight to Paris, which arrived on July 6th at 6 AM (if you're doing the math, that's 4 hours of sleep and we jumped 2 days up). We found our hotel/hostel and had to wait 4 hours or so until our room was ready. Speaking of food ordering issues: i got an overpriced ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast when I really wanted a reasonably priced Croque Monsieur. Audra's computer stopped working (turned out the backup battery was dead and it switched some settings. A quick call to Tom Brown and our issue was fixed). We got into our room, showered, and slept from 1pm - 8pm (straight through our 5pm alarm!). Did some grocery shopping, made dinner in our full shared kitchen (this place is awesome: Melon District hotel-Paris). That brings us to now.
We are out of wine, Audra just fell asleep, and I'm getting tired. Until next time! Life is still good!