So much for promises! I sadly STILL haven’t updated this site since I last promised it waaaaay back in April 2009. I’ll blame it on the fact I’ve been a busy boy (as always), but I have to admit that I’ve become more likely to post photos on Facebook than here. I’ve now set things up so that any blogs published here will also be posted on Facebook, so that should incent me to continue my postings here.
Since I last wrote I’ve done a bunch more travel (again, as per usual), and hope to get some photos up from these adventures:
Afghanistan: Kabul city and surrounding area, Panjshir Valley, Salang Pass & Tunnel
I know, I know, I’ve been reaaaaaally bad at updating this site since I moved to Madrid back in October last year. I’ve been keeping myself busy through a LOT of travels on weekends, and that combined with management consulting hours doesn’t leave a lot of time to post photos up here! But keep reminding me to update it and I promise I’ll get to it soon!!
Here’s a taste of what’s coming:
Spain: Madrid, Ávila, Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial, Mallorca, Pedraza, Córdoba, Sierra Nevada, Sevilla, Pedriza and Manzanares el Real, Valencia
Switzerland: Basel, Baden, Elm, Zürich
Morocco: Marrakech, Fès, Merzouga and Erg Chebbi (Sahara dunes), Todra Gorge, Essaouira, Ameln Valley, Aït Benhaddou
India: Delhi, Agra, Taj Mahal, Milan and Christina’s Wedding
I recently celebrated a personal milestone of sorts that I wanted to share with each of you.
A couple of months ago I passed the ten year mark living and working overseas. It's an achievement I'm proud of, but it does leave me in a somewhat contemplative and reflective mood. When I left Australia young and naive back in late 1998, I never, ever thought that I'd still be going strong a decade later! In my wildest imagination I couldn't think that I'd live and work in six countries on four continents, pick up a couple of languages along the way, or that I'd travel through ~80 countries throughout this incredible planet. I've seen and done some amazing things that I'll treasure always. I've been, admittedly, incredibly fortunate.
And of course there are all of you who I've shared it with along the way! I'm thankful to each one of you for being part of my personal journey, and for letting me be a part of yours. For some that was nothing more than a fleeting and fun encounter in some far-flung corner of the globe. For others, at the other end of the spectrum, knowing you has been a deep and enriching experience that has influenced, affected, inspired and shaped me profoundly. Indeed, you have all left your mark on me in some way or another, and I'm enormously appreciative of that.
I can only wonder what lies in store for me in the next ten years on this path less traveled. I really have no idea as I'm still taking life as it comes, but I sure hope it's as wild a ride as the last decade! In case you haven't been able to keep track of my whereabouts, I'm now living in Madrid, Spain, where I transferred from San Francisco with my work (Bain & Company, a management consultancy) back in October last year. No complaints at all, life is good! And, as always, I have some more adventure tucked up my sleeve – in the next few months I will be riding a motorbike through the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, lazing on a beach in Cuba, and running with the bulls in Pamplona! Definitely the year for living dangerously!!
I hope you're happy and well, wherever you are in this amazing world and whatever you're doing. Until our paths cross again, and I hope they do, please always keep in touch! I'd love to hear from you.
Back in June of this year, Bain gave me the fantastic opportunity to apply for a transfer to the Madrid office. It was an opportunity I couldn't say no to – to get myself back to Europe, to get to know Spain as a resident and not a tourist, to continue to improve my Spanish, and to experience another part of the Bain network.
I've been waiting months for all the paperwork and authorization to come through, and have jumped through numerous hoops to get everything sorted. But, today, I've JUST got word that my visa has FINALLY come through, and I'll be leaving SF in a 2 weeks!!! Aaaargh! I'm super excited, but have so much to do before I can jet out!
So to all my friends in Europe – look out! I'm comin' back…
With everyone at work during the weekdays I decided to pull the boots on and go for a day hike. I originally planned to do a bunch of overnight hikes while I’m here but the weather has been absolutely shite. Appears I missed summer by a day and it’s been cool, cloudy and rainy every day since I’ve been back.
In a short break in the weather I headed down to Central Switzerland to the small village of Aldorf, near the southern end of Vierwaldstaettersee (Lake Luzern). My plan was to hike from there over the 2291m Surenenpass, one of the last major mountain passes in Switzerland without a road running through it.
To make it day-hikeable I caught a small cable car from the bottom of the valley to Bruestli. From there it was a three-hour walk west uphill along a mountain ridge to the pass. The views were outstanding – numerous 3000+m peaks and glaciers, rolling green fields, the lake below – and the scenery was topped off with the continuous tinkle of Swiss cow bells.
Once I reached the pass I stayed a while eating my lunch and enjoyed the views further west, towards gigantic 3228m Titlis, 3198m Gross Spannort and other mountains. The rest of the hike was a gradual descent down the valley to Engelberg, where I caught a train back to Luzern.
Back in Switzerland, I raced around Zurich and the capital city Bern (a 1.5 hour train journey away) for a couple of days to try and gather a few of the many visas I’ll need for my next "Silk Road" leg of the Grand Tour. While in Bern I decided to rattle off a few photos – here’s a taste of this quaint and very "Swiss" city:
And for good measure, a couple of beautiful Zurich:
My last destination in Eastern Europe! I’m here in Veliko Tarnovo, the old medieval capital of Bulgaria (before it moved to Sofia in the 19th Century). It’s in the green, forested mountains of the central north part of the country, and its setting is quite dramatic (and not dissimilar to Luxembourg City). The pretty old town hugs the steep side of the river valley, and there is a massive fortress called "Tsarevets" atop a hill on a 270-degree bend in the river below.
It’s pretty chilled here and there’s not much to do apart from relax at the hostel, eat at one of the few restaurants in town, hike to a nearby monastery or find one of the waterfalls around the place.
There’s a big event going on in town at the moment though: their annual International Culture Festival. It’s big in Bulgaria apparently. I went along with a group of guys from the hostel and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a pretty professional show. The town had invited artistic groups from all over the world to perform on stage for about 15 minutes each. The list of countries was pretty Eastern Europe centric (Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Georgia) but there were a couple of true surprises to be had. The Egyptians put on a great performance, the Scots showed up with a Pipes & Drums band (and I found out the Bulgarians have their own kind of bagpipe…) and there was even a group from Colombia! Now Adri you’ll have to validate whether they were really from Colombia or not, as they seemed more Panamanian to my rather untrained eye. The guys wore white pants and shirts with red bandanas tied around their necks and wide Panama hats. The women wore something akin to pink can-can dresses and the band over-used the pan pipes and the word "Colombiana!". It was entertaining…
So I’m leaving here tomorrow and returning to Sofia for just one night, and I fly back to Zurich on Sunday. I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone back there, chilling out by Zurichsee for a couple of days in the sun, and I’m planning a few hikes I’ve always wanted to do in the Alps nearby. It’s been a good trip over the past 1 1/2 months but I’m a bit Europed out right now – looking forward to moving on somewhere completely different. I’ve also had enough of dorm beds in hostels.
Crap name, cool city. Plovdiv is the city that Sofia isn’t – a manageable size, clean, green, and generally "nice". It’s a few hours east of the capital and I desperately needed to get out of Sofia so I made a beeline stright for it. I checked into a hostel and then went for lunch at a very cool restaurant – a converted Commie military bunker under the hill! I then wandered up into the Old Town to see what remains of the old Roman city that once stood there – not much these days, but the amphitheatre still stands and is quite impressive. They still hold performances there over the summer. The Old Town was pretty nice by Bulgarian standards with cobbled strees, some well-restored Renaissance architecture, antique shops etc. The view from one of the city’s seven hills was pretty impressive too.
The weather was stinking hot in Plovdiv and fairly humid as well, so on my second day there I decided to head to one of the "aqua parks" in town to chill and do sweet fuck all for the day. I’m making that a bit of a regular event these days in each place I go to, probably ‘cos I’m a bit citied out. Still, can’t ask for much more than a good swimming pool, lots of sun, a good book to read and some funky tunes to listen to. Just what the doctor ordered…
While Sofia can definitely be missed, Rila Monastery should not be! It would have to be one of my highlights of the trip thus far. Rila Monastery is a functioning Orthodox monastery tucked deep in the lush, green mountains a few hours south of Sofia (built there so that the Ottomans wouldn’t find it and destroy it).
The architecture of the place is fantastic: a plain stone-walled fortress on the outside with heaps of colour on the inside. All the buildings have open corridors which face the central square. The church in the middle of the square had some incredible murals covering every available surface inside and out. Unfortunately we weren’t able to look inside one of the 300 "cells" (the sleeping quarters) on the monastery – I was really curious to see how they lived!