Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Occasional Travel Blogger

When I told family and friends about my idea to finish out the year in Europe many of them asked if I’d be starting up my blog again. My stock answer was “If I feel inspired to write then I’ll write.” I enjoyed blogging during my last trip, but I quickly realized after returning home that I wasn’t interested in being a “lifestyle blogger”. I’m a dude, and I don’t think any other dudes care to read about the cute boots I bought or see selfies of my new hair color. If you kept up with my previous blogging attempts then you may have noticed that I’ve been a lot less prolific this go-round. In my downtime I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Here are a few reasons why this trip hasn’t been quite as inspiring as my last.

I bit off more than I could chew

I don’t like planning things. Call it procrastination or laziness but I prefer the positive spin of calling it spontaneity. I like to plan trips in a big-picture style. So with two things in mind: 1) my cousin is in Rome and 2) “it’d be cool to see friends in England”, I booked an outbound flight 1500 miles from my inbound flight, with two months for the journey. That was dumb. Now a month in I feel less like a traveler and more like a tourist, checking off cities like to-do list items. I hop off a train in a city, spend two days taking photos of all the sights, hop on another train, repeat. The fact that I locked myself into a far-away departure point means I can’t be very spontaneous (multiple travelers have told me not to miss Berlin and Prague, for instance).


  • Plan your trips to allow for getting the feel of a place. Two months in the UK would have made more sense.
  • I don’t travel to shop

    Most of the cities I’ve been through are all about two things: museums and shopping. I don’t mind a bit of shopping—I feel good in new clothes just like anyone else—but I’m willfully unemployed and there’s room in neither the budget nor the backpack for more clothes. I’ve walked the streets of shopping districts in Florence, Cologne, and Amsterdam that would make a fashionista’s heart skip a beat but I’d prefer to be hiking up a mountain. I do like architecture, however, and you can’t beat European cities for stunning cathedrals and top-notch museums (save these for the rainy days).


  • Plan your trips around activities that excite you. I like a mix of cultural exploring and wilderness exploring.
  • I picked the wrong time of year

    Related to the above; I like to be outside. I don’t mind being in the cold, preferably in the snow, but I like trips that allow me to hike, explore an area by bike, take a surfing lesson, go caving, swim in the ocean. It’s tough to lazily stroll around a city or read under a tree when temps are 0C (that’s 32F for the Americans). Thankfully Italy was warmer than expected but it’s getting colder as I head north later in the year (funny how that works).


  • Plan your trips so the weather cooperates.
  • And finally, not really a lesson here, but blogging takes time. If I’m blogging a lot then I’m probably in a boring place or not being very social with my fellow travelers. I’ve met some great people on this trip: a couple from Barcelona with whom I shared two dinners, wine, and gelato in Florence, traveling duos from Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and some new mates from the UK who I’ll see again in about a week.

    I regret not having done any work exchange on this trip (HelpX, WWOOFing). I tried in Switzerland but the guy got back to me after I had already hopped a train to Germany. It’s a great way to meet locals, get out of the tourist grind, and save a few bucks, or euros, or swiss francs, or pounds.

    Some absolutely inspiring moments while biking around Lake Brienz, a surprise waterfall, and a few shots from the hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland…

    Making Lemonade

    Back home in Kentucky, as I began to plan my trip to Europe, I decided that “Ski the Swiss Alps” was definitely a bucket list item. Now I’ve never really been one to have a bucket list; in fact, I can’t even think of another item on it. I did my homework and learned that three mountains would be open around the time I’d arrive in early November. Sure, there’d be limited lifts open and the conditions wouldn’t be ideal but I’d take what I could get. It’s the Swiss Alps! After my surprisingly warm visit to Italy I chose Lucerne as my jump off point because it’s a short train ride to the Engelberg Titlis ski resort, and they were open for business. I got super psyched because they also have the highest suspension bridge in Europe at 1500 feet (you’re already in the mountains upwards of 10,000 feet) AND they have a rotating gondola! With my train to Lucerne booked, five-night hostel stay squared away, and ski resort determined, I was set. Except for a little detail that Engeblerg shuts down for maintenance the first two weeks of November. There will be no skiing the Alps on this trip.


    Surprises will come up when traveling without much of an itinerary and you just have to roll with it. You’ll pick a boring city or hostel full of teenagers or miss your train. Don’t sweat it. You’re still doing what many people only dream of.

    So now I find myself in Lucerne with a little more time to kill than I expected. It’s a nice city centered around a beautiful lake, reliable public transport, and incredible, beckoning mountains within sight. This is Switzerland, don’t forget, so things can be a bit pricey. A Burger King Whopper meal will set you back nearly $15 USD. The pace of the city is nothing like Rome or Florence. Hardly any scooters and very few honking horns; I’d feel comfortable driving here. Bicycles are everywhere and it’s quite a sight to see hundreds of them lined up in custom bike parking corrals.

    Day one I just strolled around the city, which is what I pretty much do in every new city. I don’t like to have a set itinerary on the first day. I prefer to get the feel of the place at my own pace. My favorite way to explore a city is by bike but I’ve found it difficult to find a place to rent one. I guess everyone has theirs already. The city reminds me a bit of Queenstown, as both are on a beautiful lake with mountains in the distance, though Lucerne is much bigger.

    One of Lucerne’s most popular sights is the “Lion of Lucerne”, carved in 1820 to commemorate the massacre of Swiss Guards during the French Revolution.

    After confirming with a staff member at the hostel that I wouldn’t be able to reach Engelberg he suggested that I check out Pilatus Klum, which is a mountain just a $10 train ride away. The draw to this place, besides the incredible views, is that you can go up the mountain via something called a cogwheel train, which was new to me. It kind of looks like a regular train car set at an angle, and it rides along tracks with gears that grab a toothed track in the center. Google it. 🙂 The end result of all this is that you can go up crazy steep grades, the Pilatus Klum journey being the steepest cogwheel track in the world.

    The train and the view from near the bottom (sunny and green):

    Ascending through low-lying clouds and starting to see snow on the mountain:

    The payoff… spectacular views from around 7000 feet:

    I almost forgot to mention the couple I met on the train ride from Lucerne. She was a Doctor in Dentistry, he was a lawyer, both from India and living in Dubai, practicing Muslims and as warm and friendly as could be. We marveled at the mountains on the cogwheel train ride up, took photos for one another up top, snacked on dried fruit they had brought and just had a really good time.

    If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know that my favorite aspect of travel is probably the people I meet. My own stereotypes get challenged, my world expands, and (hopefully) I represent my country in a humble and respectable way.

    On to Interlaken next!

    Guten Tag

    What a day I had yesterday.

    It began at 9:00 AM with a shuttle to the La Spezia train station in Italy and ended around 10:00 PM at my hostel in Lucerne, Switzerland. The first leg of the trip- a train ride to Milan- went smoothly enough but I had only 20 minutes after arriving to catch the 2nd leg to Arth-Goldau in Switzerland, and I hadn’t pre-booked my ticket for fear of arriving late. As it turns out, my 2nd leg is a pretty popular route and both the next departure and the one after that were fully booked. Great. Now I have a 3+ hour layover and I get to pay 50 extra dollars for the privilege. Overall I spent more than $160 USD on the trip by train so I’ll check cheap flights next time. Luckily the Milano Centrale train station is an incredible structure so I killed some time just walking around admiring this monstrosity.

    It’s interesting to travel between countries by rail; a first for me. In Italy you hear Italian and in Switzerland it’s all German, but on inter-country journeys you hear mixtures of both, sometimes from the same person.

    But I digress. As the train for my 2nd leg pulled into the Arth-Goldau station there was an announcement that a train waiting at Track 5 was bound for Lucerne, my final destination. Now, when you arrive in a new country, whether by bus, train, or airplane, it takes a bit to get your bearings. People are pouring out of the train and rushing every which way, you can’t read the signs, and you don’t yet know how to purchase tickets. Time was of the essence though, so I hurried around a corner and spotted the train on Track 5. Great! Now how the hell do I get a ticket?!? Ah, there’s a self-service kiosk (these were so easy in Italy). It’s all in German! Where is the little British flag for me to click!?! Hurry! A couple of young guys come up behind me and I let them go ahead because they appear to need the same ticket and I’m clueless. I try following the blur of the guy’s fingers but there is no hope. I don’t recall what I said but he offered to help even though I could see the apprehension on his face as the train will pull away in a matter of seconds (Swiss and German transportation doesn’t mess around). He guides me until the payment section and then runs off toward the train. Hurry up machine! Print the ticket! I grab my ticket and lumber toward the train, as fast as my back and frontpacks will allow. The attendant is yelling something in German to my blonde-haired savior as he is fighting against the train door, looking at me, preventing it from closing. I board the train and thank him profusely.


    If only that were the end of my day. I had printed walking directions from the Lucerne train station to my hostel and it looked like a pretty easy mile or so. Near the hostel I heard a live band playing from behind a wall, crowd cheering, Eddie Van Halen-like guitar solo. “This’ll be a cool area”, I thought to myself. I arrived at the hostel, thrilled to drop my pack on the floor and ready for a hot shower after a long day. The receptionist had no record of my reservation and we soon figured out that I had walked to the wrong hostel; mine was across town. She became my second angel of the evening by going out of her way to give me bus info and solace as I donned my packs once again and headed back to the train station. This time the band was playing a cover of AC/DCs Highway to Hell, which seemed appropriate and put a smile on my face.

    Finally reaching the correct hostel by bus from the train station, I checked in 10 minutes before reception closed for the evening. I have no idea what plan B would have been had I shown up late.

    So that was yesterday. I still haven’t told you about Florence and how I liked it better than Rome, nor about the nearly vertical hiking trails in Cinque Terre that are to blame for my sore calves two days later. Hopefully I’ll get time to put up some images instead of all these words!

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