Posts Tagged ‘Driving’

Leaving Morocco

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

On June 24th we left Morocco. Our ferry trip was much calmer and nicer than the trip down, because we were allowed to wait to have our passports stamped until we got to Spain. We made it through customs after a nice drug-sniffing dog checked our car. Nice to know we didn’t accidentally pick up any drugs. Then we were back in Spain… for a few hours.

We stopped that late afternoon in Gibralter. Driving through the streets was a bit challenging, but I had been there before so at least we didn’t get horribly lost. We stopped at Europa point, a rather boring lighthouse, but the view is pretty neat. You can see the coast of Spain across the gulf and there, across the strait, the mountains of Morocco, garbed in mist, rising up in the fading sunlight.

At the point there was what must be the only open space in Gibralter (the entire area is mainly just a small mountain). In that area was a game of cricket! We were a bit excited because we had hoped to see some cricket in the British Isles, but had failed. So, we watched the game, were utterly confused, and after something undecipherable happened the game ended and we wandered away feeling as though we had witnessed an amazing event but had no idea what it was. Like looking at a piece of modern art and knowing that it means something, but you have no way of knowing what that is.

We headed up The Rock to try to find some Apes (Barbary Macaques, actually, but they’re called The Gibralter Apes). We did. About three quarters of the way up, we came around a sharp corner and there on the rock retaining wall were two Apes, sitting there looking mysterious. Just a bit further down the road was a pull-off point where even more Apes were cavorting about, eating the food the other tourists (there were about 5 of them) were feeding them illegally. We did not feed them illegally, although at one point I opened up the back of the car to get my hat out and a large, female Ape swung around the corner of our car, grabbed a black plastic bag and ripped it open. She seemed quite disappointed to find laundry detergent inside and was not hard to chase off with my flip-flop.

After hanging out with the Apes for a while, we descended the mountain. I spent the rest of my British Pounds (four of them) and we departed heading toward Granada.

We arrived at Granada late that evening, after having a bit of difficulty finding the right part of town using a map and a bit of dead-reckoning navigation on my part. Our time in Granada was short, but very nice. We hiked the second highest point in continental Spain with Kevin and Evan (who did quite well at a long and arduous hike). It was a lot of fun with spectacular views the entire way up.

Our second day, we visited the Alhambra (made better for me by the fact that I had been reading Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra on the trip) which was quite worth the visit, pictures will portray it better than I can, but if you ever get the chance, you must visit it and leave yourself plenty of time. If you can, have a picnic in the Generalife gardens. We didn’t, instead we had spectacular paella prepared by Wendy.

The entire time was flavored by our interaction with the Mayers who made us feel so welcomed and whose company we enjoyed greatly.

A Quick Update

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Hello everyone,
Just to let you know, we’ll be posting soon! We’re in Istanbul, Turkey at the moment getting ready for a push North to Riga, Latvia. It’s been a busy few weeks. Check back soon!

Four dudes and the food

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

This past week I (Seth) have had the joyous privilege of hanging out with Matt, David, and the Daniels (whom I will refer to as “the dudes”). It’s been a blast showing them some of the sites in Fes, and also making a memorable trip to the Sahara with them. I will recall some of the good times we had from my point of view.

About 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I answered the phone to the familiar sound of Matt’s voice and was informed that they were driving into Fes. I met them at McDonalds, the designated rendezvous point, and directed them to our house. After a rigorous game of Ultimate Frisbee, we spent the evening catching up on the details of their trip, swapping stories, and planning out their schedule for their week in Morocco.

Friday morning, my dad, Jesse, the dudes, and I set off for the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. It was a scorching day to be outside as demonstrated by the distinct sunburn lines displayed on Dan Shenk’s arms and neck by the end of the day. Despite the heat, we had an enjoyable time wandering through and clambering over the heaps of rock and marble. We also had the privilege of running into a professor of archeology at Oxford who was a bottomless pit of information about the ruins and the stories and traditions behind them. After leaving Volubilis we stopped in a small town on the way back to Fes where we ate a scrumptious lunch of sardine sandwiches and pop. We then returned home where we spread out to various couches and beds where we rested our tired bodies.

At 8:00 on Saturday morning Matt and Dan Shenk joined Joel and I and some other Fessie men in our weekly game of basketball. We had some intense games featuring old farts vs. young bucks until the beating sun stole all our energy and we were forced to retire to our house for a filling omelet meal.

On Sunday, which happened to be Father’s Day, we attended the International Church of Fes. Afterwards we drove up a mountain just outside of Fes, where we enjoyed a delicious Father’s Day picnic lunch. Following the picnic, we returned to the house and spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around and relaxing. That evening we took a walk along Hassan II, the name of the main street in Fes and also of the previous king of Morocco. There was a fun night atmosphere along the street which was packed with hundreds of people milling around and enjoying the cool night air. We enjoyed watching the two large fountains at either end of Hassan II, as well as playing with a bouncy blue balloon bought by my dad from a street vendor. After several hours of strolling along the street we returned home to get a good night of rest for the looming adventures of the next day.

We awoke on Monday morning, and after eating breakfast, all five of us piled into the dudes’ beast of a car and cavorted off towards the Sahara and the adventures it held. We made stellar time on our trip, making only a couple bathroom stops and also a quick dip in a gorgeous lake flanked by mountains. After 6 or 7 hours of driving, we arrived at the Casbah Tizimi Hotel where we left the car for the remainder of the trip out to the desert. We were picked up at the hotel by a 4X4 SUV which was our mode of transport through the rather rough terrain following the hotel. The 4X4 took us out to an Auberge (inn) that sits right on the edge of the swirling mass of sand dunes that is the desert. After a hot afternoon in the car we were all ready to cool off, so we jumped into the sparkling pool at the Auberge and splashed around to our heart’s content.

At six o’clock we were notified that our camels were ready for us, so we toweled off and hopped on our camels for the ride out the encampment where we stayed the night. A little while into the 1 ½ hour trek the wind began to pick up, and soon Matt and I were forced to put our shirts back on because of the vicious sand stinging our bare backs. We eventually reached the campsite, a large circle of cloth tents, in one piece and were escorted to a Berber tent where we were protected from the harsh weather and could sit around and relax while our supper was being prepared. In about an hour, our supper of vegetables and meat was served to us much to the delight of our hungry stomachs. After letting our food and the weather settle, Matt and I decided to try sand boarding using snowboards provided by the camp. We climbed partway up a dune, and started boarding down, but soon discovered that the boards were definitely only for use on snow, judging by the very un-exhilarating speeds at which we traveled down the dune. Tired out by our long day of driving and camel riding, we soon headed for bed. All of us, with the exception of Dan Ziegler, decided to spend to take our bed mats outside of the tent and sleep under the stars (all three that were visible that night) in the cool night air. After being briefly interrupted by a small bout of rain, we dozed off and slept peacefully through the night.

The next morning we were woken up at 6:30 and served a simple breakfast, and then it was back on the camel’s backs. We plodded back to the Auberge in beautiful weather, a contrast to the previous evening’s sandstorm. Matt and I enjoyed trying various stunts on the backs of our camels, including standing up in the saddle without any hands, and somehow managing to not fall off. After arriving back at the Auberge, we all jumped in the pool and then sat in or around the pool waiting for our ride back to the hotel where the car was waiting. At 11 o’clock our ride arrived, and we returned to the hotel, picked up the car, and were on our way back to Fes. We had a fairly uneventful ride home and made good time. We went straight to the Medina upon our arrival in Fes, where the dudes made some final purchases, and we enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors and Medina denizens. Following the Medina, we hit up a DVD store where nearly any DVD is available for 10 Dirhams ($1.24). We then returned home where we ate a late supper and sat around talking for the rest of the evening.

A Giant of a Bridge

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

We took a slight detour on our way south on Wednesday (12/6) to visit the world’s largest bridge, The Millau Viaduct. The bridge is spectacular, spanning the Tarn river valley in southwest France. It really looks as though the highway just took off and flew over this yawning valley supported by a few spindly pillars.

The bridge was designed by the British architect and Baron Norman Foster who also designed the “Gherkin” we saw in London, the new dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, the Hauptbahnhof roof and cupola in Dresden, all of which we have seen in the past few weeks. We hadn’t planned this to be a Norman Foster tour, but it’s turning in to one.

After observing the bridge for a while and experimenting with the durability of our Nalgenes (we weren’t able to throw them off the bridge so we soccer dribbled them down the hillside). Then, we crossed the amazing viaduct, arriving at the other side €6 poorer, but spiritually uplifted.

We then drove south through Clermont to the Mediterranean where, according to Matt, we passed “a foul bathroom and barbecuing locals, to stroll the shore. The Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean in 12 days. Whew.”

After an hour or so at the French Mediterranean beach, we headed west toward Andorra. After the highways petered out at the edge of the Pyrenees, we spent hours wending our ways through the mountains toward the tiny nation. Although none of us got sick and we enjoyed the views quite a bit–until it got dark–we did eventually tire of the switchbacks and their toll on our brakes.

We rolled into Andorra that night, stopped at a parking lot just outside of town and went to sleep.

The next morning (13/6) we awoke and I proposed that we do some work on the car. The rest agreed after a bit of democratic discussion and we set at it. Matt set to work figuring out our problems with the windshield-wiper-fluid system that caused our fluid to drain out under the bumper and caused an annoying warning light to reside constantly on our dashboard.

Dan and David took apart the passengers side rear door where the window hasn’t worked since we got the car. I went back and forth between the two projects offering advice, encouragements, and random statements. I also read the manual and our Haynes book comparing parts and instructions for all projects.

Matt fixed his problem first when he discovered a detached hose intended to lead to the headlight-cleaners–which have never worked. Our windshield-wiper-fuild was filled to the brim and it didn’t leak! Our rear and headlight sprayers still didn’t work, but those were not real problems.

The door was a bit trickier, but with the help of a zip-tie David had found on the sidewalk somewhere along the way they finished their job and everything seemed to be working!

Dan and I then set to trying to open the drivers-side rear door which had been irrevocably locked since before we got the car. While we slowly and painfully removed piece-by-piece the paneling of the door with the door closed, Matt and David collected some water from a local stream and made a soup (after boiling the water for 5 minutes, of course). Dan and I eventually deemed the door irreparable at least with the tools we had and went to get some cold cokes (it was getting quite warm) in a nearby restaurant filled with catalan-speakers and attached to a tennis court.

After enjoying one of David and Matt’s first soups (I had done most of the cooking except a few breakfasts and some couscous up until that point) we drove around Andorra la Villa, found it to be mainly a shopping mall and headed toward Barcelona.

On the way to Barcelona, we enjoyed the view from the Pyrenees once again, but had to stop at one point when our brakes began to smoke. They cooled and we took off again, even more gingerly this time. After a few hours we made it to the bottom and made our way into the city of Gaudi.

Daniel R. Ziegler

Little Liechtenstein and the Umlaut Invasion or How We Got from München to Zürich

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We took the highway south out of München (Munich) back to Austria (purchasing a valid highway pass for €7.70 as we entered instead of paying €120 at 0530 the next morning. It was Tuesday (9/6) and we were bound for Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small “independent principality” stuck between Switzerland and Austria. It has a population of under 50,000 and the capital, Vaduz, has less than 8,000 people in it. So, we thought, why hasn’t it ever been invaded by either Switzerland or Austria? It would be a nice, tasty morsel for even a small country. As we got closer, however, we realized why. The entire country is inside an Alpine valley, which would be pretty difficult to invade. Also, there wasn’t a whole lot there to covet. Plus, it has been independent since 1866, so why ruin its record?

We got some gas in Austria (which has pretty good prices on gas compared to other countries; around €1/liter instead of €1.10/liter) and reset our trip odometer. The border crossing went through without difficulty, although they did check our passports, and we were in the nation. A few miles later we were in Vaduz, parked in the middle of town by a cow pasture and headed for the main tourist drag. The main pedestrian area had an information center/stamp store/free candy spot, a museum, three or four restaurants, several neat fountains, a museum of philately (Liechtenstein is famous for its stamps, although we asked about two people at the info center and one at the museum and none of them knew why), and a path to the castle.

At one of the restaurants we spotted a small boy of about 12 enjoying a beer and were, in our American-ness, taken aback by the sight. We recovered and started up the path to the castle.

Just a short way up the path we stopped for some relief and, looking up, noticed delicious looking cherries hanging from the branches above our heads. We stayed at the cherry tree for almost half an hour picking and eating and spitting. There were no houses nearby and no indication that we were stealing someone’s cherries and the locals didn’t scold us this time, so we ate. I don’t know how much we all ate but I do know that we stripped three large branches of all the available cherries and, working together to pull the branches within reach, looked a lot like a quartet of apes.

After we had eaten our fill, we moved on, reading a number of plaques that lined the path to the castle. They contained information on Liechtenstein. The principality is ruled, obviously, by a prince, although he has abdicated many of his duties to his son, the crown prince who is an absolute ruler but with the input of a Diet of representatives. The crown prince’s modestly-sized castle (only 130 rooms) overlooks Vaduz and, in fact, almost the entire nation. We eventually reached the castle but weren’t allowed inside since the crown prince and his family live there.

Our descent was uneventful and, arriving at the car, we made ourselves some sandwiches for lunch and headed out of Vaduz and, just 5.9 miles after we had entered the nation we were in Switzerland.

We travelled northwest along Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to the city of Constance where the Council of Constance took place which abolished many of the popes ending the Great Schism and was a major point in the Roman Catholic conciliar movement. It was also when Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic. They also recondemned Wyclif, just in case it hadn’t taken the first time. Beyond all that, it is also a pretty little town at the tip of a lake on the German side of the border by the Rhine river. We saw the main square, the Rathouse, and the building where there Council of Constance took place. Then, we were on our way south to Zurich.

We arrived rather late in the evening and walked the city along the Limmat River (where several anabaptists where drowned) and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). We saw the Fraumünster with the headless saints of Zürich, Felix and Regula, and the Grossmünster–the mother church in the Swiss Reformation–but were unable to see either the über-statue of Charlamagne and his 12-foot sword or the Zwingli Bible inside because the church was closed. I had seen them the last time I was in Zürich, büt I was a bit disappointed for the other guys.

After a short trip to a lookout above the city where we just looked out (”the lights of the buildings and cars looked like reflections of the stars,” we thought), we were on our way and camped an hour or so outside of town.

Daniel R. Ziegler

West to Berlin

Friday, June 12th, 2009

It was a quiet trip for a few hours on that Tuesday (2/6) as we left Auschwitz behind us, we were all engrossed in our own thoughts. Soon, our life was back to normal. Polish music radio was blaring from the speakers, we were talking about what we were going to cook for lunch and what our plans were for picking Dan up in Berlin, etc., etc.

We slept that night in the car–it’s easier to sleep in a car with only 3 people we discovered–at a rest stop about 1 hour outside of Berlin. The next morning we were up and going pretty early, heading into Berlin where we parked across the street from the Deutsche Opera Berlin and began the walk down town. We had parked quite a distance from center city to save money–and we did! Parking for €1 an hour can’t be beat!

We stopped at a Kaiser and picked up some tomatoes and some cheap Gouda cheese. We were about to check out when Matt spotted some delicious-looking chocolate pudding cups for 19¢ each! We bought four and, later that day with some spoons we had requested at McDonalds (Thank you McDonalds!) enjoyed them immensely. They seemed to be made with real chocolate and real cream!

We left the store and, after another 20 minutes or so of walking, stopped at a Gravis/Apple store to get some internet to check for email from Dan giving his exact arrival time and also to check prices for a power cable for my Mac.

My power cable had exploded all over Matt the day before* leaving me with a computer that, no matter how cool it looks, how good its operating system, and how high its technical specs, did me no good. We checked power cables at the Gravis store. €89. Not gonna work. So we tried a last-ditch effort to get in touch with my family and Dan and get them to find my backup power cord (which I had unfortunately forgotten to bring with me).

I emailed my family with a plea and then called Dan who said he was about to leave but he would see what he could do. Then, we waited and, since there wasn’t anything else we could do, we went and explored Berlin. We walked through the main park south to see if we could find an Aldi somewhere. No one knew were one was and it took us about an hour and a half to find one. During that time we did find some free oranges and the world-famous Berlin Zoo (home of Knut, the captive-born polar bear!).

We ate lunch outside a convention center near the Zoo while the rain poured down for half an hour. We also saw “The Broken Tooth,” a church almost completely destroyed by the Allies during the bombing of Berlin, leaving only the church spire, broken off at the top.

Then we walked back into the park emerging at a Burger King right near the Column of Victory topped with a statue made with melted cannons of the defeated French after one of the Prussian victories during the Franco-Prussian wars. It had begun to rain and we holed up in one of the underground pedestrian tunnels that leads to the column where Matt and David had a jam session with their echoes.

When the rain let up a bit we left and headed east toward the Brandenburg Gate, walking again through the park. We popped out this time to be greeted by the muzzles of two large Russian tanks. Thankfully they were just part of the Russian Soldiers’ Memorial, remembering the thousands of Russian soldiers killed during their drive to Berlin. Oddly the day before we had followed much the same route the Russians had followed from Poland to Berlin, we just did it much faster and with fewer casualties.

We then walked to the Brandenburg Gate, followed the path of the Wall, and saw the Reichstag. Then we headed south through the park emerging at the Homosexual Memorial across from the Holocaust Memorial and headed south to Potsdam Platz where we saw the magnificent Sony Center. It was mostly closed except for the restaurants serving extremely expensive food, so we went back to our car and cooked some of our extremely inexpensive, and likely almost as delicious, food.

We slept that night at another rest stop about 15 minutes outside of Berlin in the direction of Leipzig.

The next day (3/6) we went back into town, found a parking spot for just as cheap but a bit further away from town this time, stopped at the Gravis store to check our email (nothing from Dan or my family about the power cord. We were hoping that meant it was on its way) and went to the Zoo. It was a bit expensive to get into the zoo (€12 pp) but for me at least it was worth it. They have the most species of animals of any zoon in the world and, while it is more cramped than the Columbus Zoo, being in the middle of the city, very good exhibits. We spent about 6 hours there and, as far as we knew, were the last ones out that evening.

We picked up Dan at 2115 that evening, walked the Wall, checked out the Brandeburg Gate all lit up and went and saw the Reichstag. Then, back to the same rest stop for the night.

Daniel R. Ziegler

* OK, so, the cord got frayed inside the sheath so it heated up and it broke through the plastic and ceased conducting power. Matt wasn’t even slightly burned or electrocuted. Boring. But it did look like it had exploded, and Matt was using it during the time that this all took place. Isn’t it more exciting to say it exploded all over Matt?

Norway and Early Mornings

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

We left Sunday evening (05/24) just around midnight and headed north along the coast. The sunlight glimmered in the sky until almost 0030 and by 0230 it was starting to get light. By the time we stopped at about 0330, it was almost full light. We slept at a nice little rest stop alongside the road and woke up the next morning sorted through all our stuff getting Dan S’s things packed and all the stuff the rest of us were sending back to our families and friends via his mail service.

We set off north again a few hours later and made it to Norway soon, passing the border with no problem and then began looking for the nearest train station so that we could get the schedule worked out for Dan’s train trip to Frankfurt connecting through Copenhagen. Pulling off the highway, Matt talked to the first group of people we saw. About 7 or 8 older men sitting around a round table enjoying a lunch and it just so happened that one of the men lived right near the train station and was leaving just then, so he offered to lead us there. We followed him into Halden and and found the station. Chalk up another friendly European.

After we worked out the details, we happened to notice a pretty neat castle/fort nearby called Fredriksten and went and explored it for free. It was huge, and pretty neat. Apparently the castle had been there for centuries protecting the town and port of Halden. We had lunch outside the fort and then kept pressing north. Just before we entered Oslo, we found a large sign with lots of writing on it that described a toll to be paid, but there were no toll booths! Apparently, after about 10 minutes of trying to figure out the sign we decided that there were 3 ways to pay: You could have a special transmitter with your billing information (which we didn’t have) or you could go to a special place and pay (which we didn’t want to do) or you could wait and they would mail the bill to you. So, we went for the last one. I expect to receive a bill from Oslo, but to tell you the truth I’m not sure what to do with it.

Anyway, we drove into the city without much traffic our trouble and parked near a gigantic stone wall. We had no idea what it was but after walking for several kilometers we eventually came to a small gate and walked inside. Apparently it was the fort built to protect the harbor of Oslo and is now a museum and park. After exploring it for a bit we went into the city center itself passing the harbor (well-protected by the fort) on the way along with significant amounts of electric car parking–complete with electric cars parked.

Oslo did not impress us much with its architecture or its sculptures–we decided that there must have been a period in Oslo’s history where no one wore clothes and that was when all the statues had been made–but it did impress us with its weather. Everyone was outside sunbathing and it was the warmest day we had experienced on our trip, despite being the farthest north we had been on our trip so far. Dan, David, and Matt went and saw the city cathedral and the palace which were nice, but we’ve become a bit jaded by palaces and cathedrals. Really kind of a disappointing thing, but in in Europe it seems that every city has a cathedral and every other city has a palace so it’s hard to not feel like you’ve seen them all once you’ve seen the first 100.

I saw the city hall which was nice and wandered the streets a bit enjoying the nice weather and checking out the cool Nordic sweaters, the cheapest of which cost the equivalent of $300. A short time later we met back at the car and, after snacking on some apples, headed back south. We got into Gothenburg–where we had enjoyed the internet and a wharf the day before–that evening and Dan and I went to purchase his train tickets.

The information center closed 5 minutes early and we were there 3 minutes before the time it was supposed to close, so we were sorely disappointed and on our own to try to buy his ticket from a little Swedish kiosk. We did succeed, however, the entire time being offered advice by Johan, a Swedish welder who had apparently enjoyed a few powerful beverages earlier in the evening. He offered us advice on everything from where to stay–”You can stay in my garage! It’s free!”–where we should be visiting–”You gotta stay down south, man. It’s ******* **** up here. You gotta go to Amsterdam. That place is ******* awesome”–and how we should be entertaining ourselves–Ladies and Drink. We turned him down on all of his information, but he didn’t really pose a threat and was quite a nice fellow. He smiled and waved rather tipsily as Dan and I (tickets in hand) left the station entreating him to be careful on his way home.

Meanwhile, Matt had gone to check out the local U21 football game where the locals beat the opponents soundly. After the game, the crowds flowed raucously out of the stadium carrying Matt with them in their joy. Dan, David, and I waited for Matt and eventually he arrived having enjoyed the experience greatly.

We went out of town that evening and slept in a forest near the airport; Dan and I in the car and David and Matt in the tent. The next morning at about 0430 Dan and I left for the train station and I successfully dropped him off about an hour later. He cut quite the striking figure in his lumberjack jacket, shaggy head, and with a large Viking sword slung across his back in a duct-tape scabbard. I returned to the campsite and a few hours later was woken to some delicious Scott’s porridge Matt and David had prepared.

Daniel Z