An “around the world” trip has been more than a fanciful notion of mine for years now. Each time I hop on an aircraft the desire to take the reins and pilot the thing to Mongolia becomes so strong I have to physically restrain myself in my bonded leather window seat. There is something about flying the circumference of the globe that makes me stand at attention. Something deep down in my conscience that lusts for a full and complete itinerary transporting me around the world. What is it that makes me feel this way?
Second to air travel is my interest in psychology. Everything I do is questioned by my inner self. What are the motives that drive decision making? What economical advantage does one choice have over another? Why do I, myself, want to join Dennis Rodman on a trip to North Korea? What is the ROI of said DPRK visit? Why do I want to fly all the way around the world? What will I gain from this? The answer to the last two are simple. In the pyramid of commercial air travel, an around the world journey sits at the pinnacle. There is nothing more prestigious than flying in a plane around the planet on which we live. Of course doing it three times, or even four, or five is better than one but there is nothing that tastes as sweet as the first time one experiences a dream which has been so fervently longed for. I doubt Greg Louganis’ second gold in ’88 carried the same amount of luster as his first in ’84. Just ask him. He’d love to stop by and chat over an appletini.
Through all the lusting(not for Greg), wondering and mental images of me piloting a jet to Mongolia I finally got the chance to do what I have aspired to for so long: circumnavigate the globe. A 23,000 mile voyage spanning 10 different countries over 14 days. 10 flights accounting for 50 hours of total flight time on 7 different airlines.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing about Michael and I’s experience in each different country, the different flights we took and airports we visited in transit. These writings will be interlaced with photos I capture at each destination.
Segment 1: Montreal, Canada(YUL) – London, England(LHR) – Istandbul, Turkey(IST)
Segment 2: Istanbul, Turkey(IST) – Singapore, Singapore(SIN)
Segment 3: Singapore, Singapore(SIN) – Bangkok, Thailand(BKK)
Segment 4: Bangkok, Thailand(BKK) – Hong Kong, Hong Kong(HKG)
Segment 5: Hong Kong, Hong Kong(HKG) – Taipei, Taiwan(TPE)
Segment 6: Taipei, Taiwan(TPE) – Tokyo, Japan(NRT)
Segment 7: Tokyo, Japan(NRT) – Seoul, South Korea(ICN)
Segment 8: Seoul, South Korea(ICN) – San Francisco, United States(SFO) – Montreal, Canada(YUL)
Who in the hell views Amtrak as a viable source of transportation anymore? Isn’t that so 19th century? Why would the logical traveler opt for an 8hr journey by train that would take less than 2 hrs by air? Only the elderly who have a half days work of crossword puzzles and criminals who exude a moderate level of risk to the public opt for the train. Why these folks? Yes, its a rather odd bunch, but these are just the people that travel by train. I’ve seen ‘em with my own eyes.
I decided to position myself right in the dam middle of the docile seniors and the petty jewel thieves by hoping on one of their trains from Manhattan to Montreal. This service wound its way through the Adirondacks, shouldered the Hudson, stopped at every mid-size town on the list, and culminated in Montreal. It was a fine trip I must say. Vast landscapes yet having felt the harsh punishment of mans hammer and sickle. Raw & untouched. I like to think of this as the real America.
These are some images I found striking. The Hudson River. The Adirondacks.
After being invited up to Nashua, NH to test an indoor wave machine designed by American Wave Machines(more on that in a later post), Mike and I decided to make the most of a trip to New England. Meeting up with a companion, we imposed ourselves on him, hulling up at his bachelor pad for the night right in the heart of Boston University. Wanting to enlighten ourselves on the expanse of the city we made use of multitude of the city’s transportation systems. Including: Hubway, the city bike system; the antiquated subway/trolly lines; and Lyft, a new-school, smart-phone-spawned social network of entrepreneurial cab drivers. The latter is something I must elaborate on furthermore.
Capitol Hill stood strong yesterday as sentiments were shaken by armed gunmen. We arrived in the city about two hours after the event. Security levels were increased. Civilians staying perceptive. Aside from the chaos, a short visit to some of the museums and a walk to the Capitol building highlighted our trip. An evening beer quelled emotions.
A quick visit to the “land of the rising sun” for an Asp
Wqs event led me to the megalopolis of Tokyo. A city I am now enamored of.
For the duration of the contest I was blessed to stay with an elderly japanese family. I would convene with them upon their woven bamboo floor for breakfast and dinner. Eating with chopsticks, attempting to communicate by way of the lady’s dictionary and my phone dictionary. He (husband) and I would sit and watch tv/eat, she would cook and bring out and keep cooking and bringing out dishes that were foreign to my palate. Although I was eating 50% more than what they would eat combined they insisted I consume any new items presented. Slippers were required in the walking areas of the home (hallways, stairs, kitchen) another set for the toilet (labeled on the slippers) and either socks of bare feet for sleeping or eating areas. This rule is strictly enforced.
On to Tokyo. Although I did not step aboard the well known Shinkansen (bullet-train) I did use the elaborate system of rail ranging from train, metro/subway and monorail to get from the beach town of Ihcinomiya into Tokyo proper. Also used this highly clouted rail system to transport around, under, above and through the city.
In Tokyo I sampled the districts of Shinjuku, Roppongi, Sibuya, Asakusa, Ueno, Tsukiji, Shinbashi and Ginza.
The underground shopping centers, elaborate but efficient still have me awed. Concentrating on the edible areas of these markets. Elegant vendor after vender consisting of gourmet desserts to raw meat/fish had their products on display in the most appealing of ways.
The Tsukiji fish market (most active in the world) was quite an experience. Bustling with fresh sea-death (dead sea life) I have and have not seen. The speed at which everything happened inside the market is inspiring. If not attentive it is easy to be over run by a reverse three wheeled carts carrying precious commodities.
Funky foodie findings, a bit partial due to time constraint but I was able to pop my cherry with pig ears, pig tongue sashimi, dried crickets and cow guts. All were interesting and quite lovely excluding the pig ears, which had the consistency of a human ear and lacked a distinct flavor.
The effects of losing in a foreign land are tough but the feelings I have for Tokyo offset the emptiness of the competitive loss.
Thankfully I departed the chaotic Egyptian hub of Cairo without any major altercations. The staff at CAI gave me the run around (literally) quite a few times. I will spare you the details. The quick jaunt over to Istanbul was accompanied by a delightful meal served by a Turkish Air in flying chef. On arrival I strolled over to the Turkish Lounge to organize the airline sponsored tour of Istanbul. I was not aware that the timing of my arrival and departure flights did not meet the minimum requirements for the “Istanbul in Hours” tour. This forced me to spend a solid 2 hours with a ground agent changing my departure flight to make the tour to happen.
After purchasing a visa and clearing immigration I was hit by beauty and weather that far exceeded expectations. The sites visited were in an extremely confined area, the Sarayburnu or “historical district,” so we arrived by van and walked around and between the individual attractions for 7 hours then cruised alongside the Miramar Sea back to IST.
The tour was headed off by a “traditional” Turkish breakfast sited with the original walls of Byzantanium. This traditional breakfast consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cold meat?, cheese, bread and a hard boiled egg. Needless to say it was as flavorless as it comes across in this text. Following this Denny’s grand slam-esque breakfast we spent time at the “Blue Mosque.” Proper name; Sultan Ahmed Mosque as it was constructed during Ahmed I’s rule between the years 1609-1616. The sultan’s plan to top the neighboring Hagia Sophia (discussed later) were not fulfilled. The dome size when finally completed (1000 years after Hagia Sophia) is smaller and required support pillars which handicap the architectural prowess of the structure. The mosque is still used for Islamic prayer five times daily. The chants for Allah are thundering. Almost frightening if not aware of the purpose.
Next stop; Basilica Cistern. An underground “box” created to retain water for the city. This is the largest and most prestigious of the hundreds beneath the city. Supported by 336 marble columns. Two columns have Medusa sculpted head as the base. The cistern still has touch of water, enough for fish to still live in, but only used for a tourist attraction.
The rivaling Hagia Sophia originally built as an Othodox church then converted to a mosque in 1453 when Sultan Mehmed overtook the city and fortified the Ottoman Empire, now serves as a museum. It holds collections of original holy relics from Christ and Islam. The overall architecture doesn’t have the zeal of the Blue Mosque but the central dome is far superior.
To conclude the tour of Sarayburnu we visited the pinnacle of the promontory. Here sits the Topkapı Palace. Residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman Empire’s power centuries. Situated between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Straight the palace looks over the remainder of the city in all directions. I sat stationary at an overlook for nearly an hour observing the city, port and the terrain which created the strongest civilization in history. I held my breath for an hour.
Back at Atatürk International Airport where Turkish Air’s flagship lounge is located, I spent the remaining hours of my layover utilizing its exuberant amenities. I dabbled in the library’s collection of historical accounts pertaining to Istanbul. Knocked some balls in on the billiards table. In short order, stopped in for a movie at the theatre, and continued on for more. I rummaged through the near endless options for nourishment. Three kitchens serving eats of wide variety. Pastry stations, coffee/tea lounge, self serve hard liqour bar, vitamin/fruit stand and the list goes on. I sampled, but restrained myself from digging in. Before departure I refreshed with a quick neck/shoulder massage and a nice shower.
IST>JFK would be the premier flight of my 8 connections from Bali back home. Again on a 777w seat 1A. Just after takeoff the meal service presented by two “flying chefs” began and lasted for nearly 2 hours. After indulging in the assorted canapés, potato leek soup, lamb chops, cheese/fruit platter with a glass of red from Argentina and a few desserts (chocolate soufflé, marinated berries and coconut ice cream) I hit that flat bed like Rip Van Winkle and missed the other meals as he did the American Revolution. The 11 hour flight passed by far too quickly. When riding up front it feels as your desire for the plane to keep flying is more important than reaching the planned destination. The level of service, comfort and cuisine is all in a category I have never experienced.
Forever jaded my future air-travels will be.
From Singapore I had a 30 minute flight to Kuala Lumpur on Singapore Air. Spent 1 hour in KUL then boarded Egypt Air’s 777 bird to Cairo. I utilized the lay flat bed function of this seat as the exhaustion from being awake and excited for over 36 hours was beginning to take its toll. On board I questioned the egyptian flight crew about checking out Cairo during my 15 hour layover. All 5 crew members I questioned were absolutely sure that I should not leave the airport due to violent outbreaks the current revolution has caused.
Upon arrival I inquired more about the current situation and decided I should not heed caution, but capitalize on the opportunity to experience the place I made plans to see. I was a bit timid after embarking on the tour I set up on arrival. No others took part. The driver, the guide, the vehicle and myself. I became more comfortable throughout the 6 hour adventure and was satisfied with the decision that was made.
To reach the Great Pyramids of Giza required crossing the Great Nile River. In my eyes it wasn’t so “great,” at least from my vantage point it wasn’t. The craziest part of the Nile in my experience was the plush greenness that spread 2 kilometers on either side of the river. Then abruptly it turns to a dusty, sandy, barren desert, which is known as the Sahara. The pyramids, (that I visited) on the other hand were great. The Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure all towered above the modern living structures that stood in front of them en route to their site. After learning about these great structures I made a whopping 30 second (I regret this; I am stupid) stop by the Sphinx to snap a photo and continued to the area of Tahrir square. Location of the Egyptian Musuem; also location of current protest and violent outbreaks fueled by the revolution. Approaching the area I notice large high rise structures that had been set ablaze and spray painted statements in english damning the current leader. Luckily we made it to the museum without any problems and the guide walked and talked me through King Tut’s treasures and other artifacts until it was time to depart.
The area of Egypt I visited was extremely dry. The traffic is terrible and pedestrians scurry across 12 lanes of traffic frequently. The pyramid scheme is also used to stack fruits and vegetables that are of a spherical shape. I really enjoyed the experience. Highly recommended.