In 2015 I posted a picture to Instagram taken at my old apartment on West 3rd Street in the village, affectionately known as the Blackhole for its ability to suck people into late night conversations or impromptu dance parties. My caption was “Farewell, Blackhole. Perhaps the most transformative place in my life.” The picture is of the four of us who were living there as we moved onto new phases of our lives.
I lived in that apartment for over five years. Sometimes with best friends, other times new friends, and a girlfriend. It was the apartment I lived in when I first moved to New York City and because of that, the apartment embodies all the experiences and challenges one goes through when moving to a new city: making a new life, working on a new career, and constantly meeting new people. I changed, I made mistakes, I grew, and with that, my goals in life evolved as well.
Those five years, the most transformative years in my life, are something I attach to that apartment. Some who lived there with me feel similarly about their experience and time there. This is not to say the Blackhole was a magical place, but more likely a function of our age and New York City itself. Sometimes it was rough, but in whole and in retrospect, incredibly positive.
Reflecting on 2017, but not yet removed enough from it, I am asking myself: Has this year been transformative?
Transformation only comes through challenge.
In the latter half of 2014, I started work at a new firm in a more senior position. Around this time I received a GMAT score I was finally pleased with, and I felt like new challenges were on the horizon. Something like a nice deep breath to me, I needed new challenges. The GMAT may have been challenging, but it was not rewarding unto itself. I left the Blackhole in 2015 to move into an apartment with my, then, girlfriend. I had recently submitted an application to Columbia Business School but did not yet know if I was to be invited for an interview.
A new apartment and living arrangements, a new job, and news on the line from a dream school (I hoped). So, where do 2015 and 2016 fit into this post about 2017?
They were total blurs, but more importantly, were years that compounded upon all the others.
Transformation didn’t stop with the Blackhole. Some days it felt as though it slowed, but in retrospect, there was no stopping the train. One sweltering morning in 2015 we were still unpacking the new apartment as I took the A Train to Morningside Heights to interview. I arrived in a sweat-soaked suit and left knowing I had my invitation. That is when the afterburners kicked on, late 2015. In 2016 I was quite unhelpful in planning a wedding, but that was going on too. It was a rewarding year, but a fast one. I am still in shock of my classmates who have children, gave birth, or had major structural changes to their employment during our time at Columbia, that is an entire dimension I did not have to grapple.
A long-held goal of furthering my education was finally realized as I graduated in May. One step along a path that I thought I had fairly well sorted out. It turned out to have taught me too much, and I have been flooded with ideas of what I wanted my next step to be. I was, however, quite certain I wanted a new step and totally new kind of challenge. With that, I resigned from a very good position with a very nice firm in New York. Shell and I had only one plan: to not renew our lease in order to go wander the world for a while. After graduation, we both knew some life upheaval was ahead of us as we contemplated a geographical change, and if we didn’t make time for an adventure now, it wouldn’t happen. We had the luxury of making a choice.
If the brain needs rest (diffuse mode vs focused mode) for information to be written to and analyzed by, the subconscious, then this might be my rest period. Perhaps through letting the mind escape from the routine I had been living it would work on the experiences of the past, and I might find some clarity for what I wanted in my future. I’m lucky, and quite grateful, for the opportunity to allow for such diffuse mode thinking, and having an amazing experience along the way. I wrestled with a deep fear that taking time off from the workforce would wither away at me personally, and trouble my future chances of employment and traditionally defined success. I continue to work on my irrational fears, and take solace in the many examples of successful people taking time off to regroup and reassess. Once you start looking, they are plentiful. Whether the time off was voluntary or involuntary, many will cite that time off as something of a game changer.
But with all my focus on the past and future, would we miss out on the most thrilling part of this year: the present? This is a tough discipline, and I also find it hard to explain. The vocabulary quickly moves towards the abstract, and it is not my mission to sell the present to you more than I already have in these two previousreflections. Suffice to say, I believe it is well worth your exploration. To solidify our own practice in the present we challenged ourselves with a ten-day course in Vipassana. If we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now: it’s a minute by minute, lifelong practice.
I think we all know that 2017 will be looked back at as yet another transformational year for both myself and Shell. But, I cannot yet put in concrete terms how 2017 has been transformative. Perhaps one cannot see until one has moved outside of the transformation process itself.
For myself, I wanted to review what has taken place.
Major pillars of my life have shifted and changed, mostly under my own direction. Some painful, some freeing, some very much to-be-determined.
At the turn or opening of the year, I married Shell. A huge step in anyone’s life, I gave myself to her, as she gave herself to me. To put it in those kinds of terms. We are one now.
Since we started traveling we’ve spent nearly every minute together, so the whole we are one thing is unusually true in our circumstance. It’s been married life on steroids. No job, office, car, or other room in the house to escape to or to blame. You might think the traveling life is stress-free and everything the Instagram Influencers make it out to be. But, the planning, budgeting, and being in some unknown or difficult places present plenty of stress and challenge. We are outside the comforting routine of life in the states, with a different set of challenges and therefore a different set of life and learning experiences. We may be in those sweet years of being newlyweds, but we are both also unabashedly creatures of routine. This experience has, no doubt, strengthened us. It’s precisely what we asked for.
The challenges have been plenty, but also give life to the adventure: The crowded and unforgiving onslaught of India. The bone-piercing cold of night at Annapurna Base Camp. The poorly represented AirBnB that reeked of stale cigarettes that seeped into everything we own in Croatia. Sleeping with beetles in the Sahara. Driving into a pedestrian square in Germany. A brush with authorities in Serbia. Driving in Bosnia, generally. And that somewhat too frequent challenge of staying and sleeping in a place that makes you just itch all over. A constant reminder of the control one’s mind has over one’s body.
It is not as if we are unremunerated for these challenges, quite the contrary.
We’ve enjoyed the ancient and charming cities of Europe. Cheap and plentiful Barolos. Dove deep into the expansive history of the continent, and drove across parts of the Balkans that only a few people I know have been to. Rafted in Montenegro and Bosnia through some of the most pristine fresh waters in the world, and bathed on some of the most gorgeous Adriatic seas and coastlines.
We rode dromedaries into the Sahara and were presented unforgettable scenery and got to know some exuberant Berbers. We’ve explored the tight and discombobulating medinas of Marrakech and Fes, and the large open squares filled with snake charmers and other exotic peoples.
In Portugal, we ate many more Pastel de Natas than would be normally advisable, and by evening washed it all down with exquisite full-bodied red wines that presented no challenge to our budget. We got trapped in Spain thanks to the French, only to have benefitted with an unforgettable light show and new friends in Bilbao, and an amazing wine tour through Rioja with old friends and new.
We felt at home in London for more than a week as some friends generously opened their home to us and we took joy in cooking, and some semblance of a routine. We loved spending a good amount of time with people other than just the two of us and had evening conversations to look forward to. We also found ourselves exploring a major global city, something I had missed.
In the Himalaya, we trekked through scenery that remains in my memory to be utterly shocking in beauty and expanse, and we made some new friends along the way. I took it in while consuming The Snow Leopard and Seven Years in Tibet.
We challenged ourselves through India, seeing as much as we could through Rajasthan. Taking in ancient cities, touring palaces still housing princes today, humbly exploring the Taj Mahal, meanwhile eating everything we could throughout the country.
Up to the dazzling Golden Temple and explored the Sikh city of Amritsar, and experienced the nearby Wagah Border ceremony. Explored the village of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, watched the monks debate in the open halls of the temple. And, helped Tibetan refugees and monks learn English through conversation.
We’ve felt the afterglow of ten days of silence and intense meditation training with S. N. Goenka. Many people pay thousands of dollars for a similar experience. Whereas, Goenka has designed a no-frills and strict experience based on donations available the world over, removed from dogma and religious doctrine. Essentially, leaving nothing more than science and ancient technique. Lifelong wisdom, for the price you’d like to pay.
We spent the holidays in Malaysia, where they do a spectacular job of celebrating a consumerist Christmas. If it weren’t for the tropical climate, I think I would have been spectacularly homesick at this season. Somehow, I did not feel in the holiday mood. My knee-jerk reaction is to blame the climate, but I do wonder if it is simply lack of family and friends. Lack of the familiar and traditional that I’ve been able to count on for 30+ years. Last year’s Christmas was a tropical Hawaiian Christmas, and it was every bit of holiday feel and celebration for which I could ask.
We shot quickly through Singapore where we celebrated my birthday and our anniversary by way of the Sundown Soiree at The Fullerton Bay, and we got some quality FaceTime in with both families in Hilo and Portland. We celebrated New Years with friends from school who topped off their epic trip through Australia and New Zealand with us in Bali. Where we enjoyed our own private pool, scootered around the area, and explored all the eating Canggu could throw at us. We also shot off very illegal fireworks right there on the beach.
As one looked down the beach as it wrapped up at the southern tip of the island, all one could see were fireworks for miles. At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks at the seaside resort we were at were so intense it rained packing gravel on us. Easily one of the best New Years we’ve ever had. That’s a tall order considering our wedding was last year. This was topped off with a hiking tour that took us into the crater of Kawah Ijen to see where the sulfur miners still work today on Java, a panoramic is pictured above. The pre-dawn hike allows one to see the burning blue flames produced by the volcano and burning sulfur. All in, an epic end to 2017.
This year leaves me with more questions than answers. I think I’d be naive in saying there have been no answers, I simply think my field of vision is continuing to grow so quickly that I am not certain where to place my focus. This is a good to have problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m looking forward to compiling a post of materials I’ve enjoyed most over these past few months, in the hopes it will provide growth and fulfillment to someone else and serve as a reminder to myself where to dig for the clarity and motivation that I feel right now.
I’m terribly excited for our future.
The immediate: Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The not so immediate: spending time with family and friends in Hawaii, Oregon, Indiana, and hopefully New York – Along with finding out just what we’ll do and where we’ll call home when we return stateside.
By the time we make it to Oregon, I’ll be an uncle x2. That’s pretty damn exciting.
While everyone back home takes time out for Thanksgiving and shows gratitude towards one another, Shell and I are in Dharamsala, India doing much the same. We spent the morning meditating at Tushita Center, and later in the afternoon volunteered by speaking English with Tibetan refugees at Lha Charitable Trust. A humbling experience, fitting for Thanksgiving.
While we were in Nepal we thought it might be possible to arrange a trip to Tibet, somewhere I’ve always wanted to experience. The Chinese bureaucracy required some 18 days of lead time to do all the paperwork, making it not fit into our schedule. This ended up being a bit of a blessing in some way because the little research I had done in previous years wasn’t enough. When truly considering a flight to Lhasa I dug in more and was able to see and read accounts of just how much the Chinese have attempted to destroy the Tibetan culture there.
The number of self-immolations across Tibet is alarming, and not publicized. A very disturbing form of protest. Along with other forms of suppression such as arrest, lack of free speech and political thought, as well as removing as much of the Tibetan language as possible. Kill the language and religion, you can kill the culture and identity that both local Tibetans hold dear, as well as the diaspora. This bit of research, and finding most the well-regarded tour companies one is required to travel with happen to be largely staffed with Chinese and not Tibetans was a turn-off.
Enter Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile reside. If Tibetan culture was what I wanted to experience, what better place than here? Yesterday we explored the main temple, walked amongst the monks, experienced them debating, all while the 14th Dalai Lama was traveling in eastern India. I’m hoping we’ll be here when he returns.
When we finish here in Dharamsala we fly to Mumbai and then take a train to Igatpuri. In Igatpuri we’ll be taking a 10 day Vipassana course. This is a strict and silent course that I refuse to call a retreat. Everyone I’ve spoken with about these courses, and those I’ve read as well, all report one thing in common: it’s a lot of work. Thankfully, they also all seem to regard it as one of the best things they’ve ever done for themselves. We’re not expecting some transformation, but we are hoping for a boot camp like experience to help instill a daily practice moving forward. My on and off again practice in New York did not stick once we hit the road. It’s time to change that.
Our connectivity has been horrendous in Nepal and India. Enough so, I cannot seem to successfully upload many pictures to the blog. For that, I apologize and hope to catch up on this and other projects once we get to Kuala Lumpur after the meditation course come mid-December. We’ll be in Malaysia for Christmas, which we’re very excited about. It seems Malaysia goes all out for Christmas and we have a little room booked in some sort of complex that has a gym. I’m very ready for some physical activity that isn’t walking/trekking.
Until then check out Instagram for the latest, and I’ll leave you with a few things I’ve been reading and listening to. As the weather turns colder for most of you, you can curl up with a warm beverage, a blanket, and a crackling fire with some of these reads and listens. Feel free to tell me about it and make me jealous as we sweat out our existence in Malaysia. The trip has reminded me just how much I love autumn and a nice (not too harsh) winter. People always got confused when I told them summer in New York was my least favorite time of year. What I think I really meant was those few weeks when it’s above 85.
Leadership and Being Human
(Listen) Capital Allocator’s Podcast – Thomas DeLong: http://capitalallocatorspodcast.com/delong/
Ted’s guest on this episode is Thomas DeLong. He teaches Organizational Leadership at HBS and is a Purdue graduate. He worked for Morgan Stanley for many years and has thought deeply about human relationships, interactions, and success and happiness. He admits to his own failures and shows vulnerability in the episode. Something I think we all could use a bit more of to strengthen ourselves and our sense of community.
(Read) Morgan Housel – We’re All Out Of Touch: http://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/were-all-out-of-touch/
You can’t go wrong reading some of Morgan’s posts. Since he’s joined Collaborative Fund I think I’ve read every post of his on their blog along with many of his partners’ posts. As community ties have weakened and polarization has strengthened I can’t help but think about how these tides can be reversed. Self-awareness and respect for one another rank high for me, as well as walking in another’s shoes. Morgan brings a humbling perspective.
(Read) Melting Asphalt – Professional Growth: http://www.meltingasphalt.com/professional-growth/
Kevin Simler is a great thinker, another blog where if you explore you might lose days of your life but gain much more. Here he essays on professional growth. I’ll leave it there.
(Read) Meaningness – Purpose: https://meaningness.com/an-appetizer-purpose
Meaningness shows up twice on this list, and with good reason. Professor Wadhwa at CBS told us: “If you don’t know your purpose, your purpose is to find your purpose.” As Shell and I explore the world, we also explore questions like this. So I invite you to explore David Chapman’s writings.
(Read) Ben Thompson’s Stratechery – Defining Aggregators: https://stratechery.com/2017/defining-aggregators/
If you want to get an MBA (or whatever you want to call it) in the tech business, you might as well just sign up for Stratechery and start reading. Ben’s thinking is that good, in my opinion. If you want more, he has a great podcast, which is free, where he hashes out ideas. It’s call Exponent.
(Read) Meaningness – Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution: https://meaningness.com/geeks-mops-sociopaths
A fascinating examination of how businesses/ideas go from underground to mainstream and the types of players involved. It makes sense to me. While you’re there, you should spend some time exploring Meaningness.
(Listen) Invest Like The Best – Hashpower: http://investorfieldguide.com/hashpower/
This three-part series gets you from 0 to ~7 with blockchain and crypto assets. I cannot recommend this enough. Not only is is entertaining and listenable, you’ll learn a ton along the way. Check out every episode he’s produced for even more great material in multiple disciplines.
With our home base in Wiesbaden, a small distance west of Frankfurt, we toured the Rheingau region. This part of our trip, along with our stay in Bruges, was highlighted for me by being in spaces that were conducive to us doing big family dinners. We cooked our own dinners in both Bruges and Wiesbaden.
The Rhein is littered with castles and is also a wine growing region. We spent our time taking the train to other villages for exploring, hiking, and the occasional lunch out. We also took a small boat tour down the river, which I would recommend. We had some beautiful breaks in the clouds tossing light in some beautiful ways.
As mentioned in a previous post, when we left Wiesbaden, it was time for the group to go separate ways and Shell and me to be on our own for the first time. We would leave Wiesbaden and pause to tour Köln before stopping in a small town called Ibbenbüren. There, we would be having dinner with family of mine.
The Dom, or cathedral, is as foreboding as pictures make it seem. It’s tall, thick, and dark. The interior has more than one organ, both of which seem like masterpieces to the layman (me). The remains of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men are said to be in the cathedral. The building sustained damage in WWII but was largely spared as it served the allies well for navigation. There were pictures outside of what it was like after the war. A tank battle took place just outside near the end of the war as the Allies advanced. Spend a bit of time with Wikipedia for more. But, we needed to move on.
We made it to Mutterbahr http://www.mutterbahr.de/home for a two-night stay. The country side is beautiful and vibrantly green. Shell and I took a run the morning after we arrived along a nearby river. Driving in and out of the area we would share the road with farmers moving their equipment from field to field. In some ways, it reminded me of home, but prettier, dare I say. The roads curved around ever so slightly, some lined with tall bushy trees creating a tunnel feeling zipping through the pastures.
We took a day trip to Tecklenburg after some quick Googling told us should be a cute town to wander around. I plugged it into Waze and off we went. The only problem with not having a destination or a particular parking facility picked out, is putting only a town name in will take you to the city center. In this case, a pedestrian only zone.
At this point, I was still very fresh with my European road signs, part of the problem. The other part is the sign was off on some side wall of the building, trust me, I walked back to check how badly was it my fault. Anyway, as you can tell, I drove our little diesel Citroen just a tad too far. I felt it, the feeling of the town suddenly change, and I knew what was up. But it was too late, we got into a tight spot and reversing would have been a real test.
At this point, Shell is outside the car trying to scope things out ahead of us to try and understand what exactly we should do. Meanwhile, the tiny diesel is doing its diesel rumblings, the loudest thing around in the pedestrian only zone. About that time, a parking officer appears out of nowhere. She starts attacking me in German, and I’m trying to reply with what little I know to explain I don’t fully understand and I just want to back up. My broken German + her broken English = we drive very, very slowly through the entirety of the pedestrian only city center to the other side. We made it, and we learned several lessons. Despite this, it was a beautiful little town and we had some good currywurst, and the parking officer was very nice to me. I’m sure she could have done much worse.
That evening we had dinner at the hotel restaurant with Manfred, Kerstin, Sandra, and Christian. I loved being able to reconnect with family separated by continents and years. I was too young the last time we met in the States to really remember much, so this is something I’ll cherish for a lifetime. They were also much too generous to Shell and me. We’re not exactly the most giving travelers since we’re not able to carry much in the way of gifts in our little backpacks, but Shell and I are looking forward to finding a way of showing our thanks in return. Also, I loved learning some of the history of our family in Germany. It was just a priceless experience. Manfred isn’t too dissimilar from my own father. A tough and rocklike figure through much of life, but down deep a heartfelt family man.
The next morning we packed up and drove to Hamburg for two nights before moving to Berlin for a full week. Partly because we wanted to allot that time to Berlin, partly because Hamburg is expensive, partly because we needed to sit down and plan what was up with this trip.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve been diving backwards into some tunes lately, here’s one from Stereolab. Have a listen.
Hamilton Crew – Black Black Pink Pink
Germany shines when you can see the infrastructure at work. Boats, cars, trains, all clocking along smoothly and shining.
Riding the lift up
Walking trails include ski lifts
We ate lunch at a fun little spot, upstairs was set and ready for dinner in very traditional decor
Wiesbaden was largely spared from the ravages of WWII, leaving beauty like this intact
Köln Dom – Three Kings remains
A little sausage shack where we had some delicious currrywurst
I drove right through here, very near where the invisible sign is, just outside our sausage shack – notice the other car, please
Greetings from Morocco! Couscous the turtle says hi from our riad in Marrakech. He’s a bit peevish and likes to stick his head under the couch for naps. Needless to say, Couscous and I have gotten along well.
Before we took the flight from JFK to Milan on July 3rd, I wrote a draft post rebutting why this next year was not a year-long vacation. That’s how most people reacted when telling them what we planned to do. While it was not at all how I was looking at the time ahead. However, the tone came out wrong. The draft didn’t successfully convey the message and feeling I was going for. Besides, most people were happy about it being a year long vacation. It wasn’t something that needed defending.
With time comes clarity.
I knew there would be an internal struggle for me that would show up at some point. The first wave was while we were in Berlin, and I thought to myself “I could go back to work.” As crazy as that may seem to you.
For years, I have idolized those who would take a year off to travel or had a gap year before or after college. They may have traveled differently than us and/or traveled at a different age that made it a different experience than the one we’re living. Doesn’t matter. Getting out there and seeing things on a long-term track and covering a lot of ground was what mattered to me. Also, getting to at least a few places that are hard to reach when you only have a week to holiday. Thankfully, I married right and have an adventurous girl by my side while we’re living out one of our dreams. We’re also surrounded by incredible (and helpful) friends who’ve been on similar journeys, here, here, and here.
Now, at more than two months in, we continue to go back and forth on the balance we’re striking with the frequency of moving and checking off the checkboxes versus settling in and living a little. In fact, I don’t think we have a balance, and I’ve written such here before. We’re off kilter and moving a mile a minute. Our average, as of July 4 through September 25, is moving to a new location every 2.26 nights. Fueled, in part, by my love for checking boxes.
We cannot keep this pace up. Mostly for our own sanity. Also, moving a lot comes with a lot of costs. Our planning has sketched out our rough path from Morocco to Spain and Portugal, and then London for almost two weeks. We have a flight booked from London to Nepal, a rough three-week plan for Nepal, and a rough idea for India ending in mid-December after a retreat. I think we’ll see our pace slow down some in India, and certainly afterward. We’re making plans with friends for New Years celebrations in Indonesia, and considering signing up for a race in Chang Mai in mid/late January. All this to show a few anchors that we are now using to ponder a two or three week let somewhere versus the usual two or three nights.
With the slowing pace, I think we need a project. This writing has been one to an extent and so has the photography. I’m looking forward to one day decorating our imaginary house with a couple big prints of the photos either of us falls in love with. However, thinking long-term, working on something that could provide some value-add or return later on, or providing some sort of part-time help or consulting could go a long way. Giving something, while we trek along and begin a more ‘living abroad’ type pace.
Thinking of projects made me reexamine my long-term goals, which we did a lot of in business school. Moreover, that made me think about goal setting in general and some of the goals I created for this trip before leaving. I came to the realization that I think we’ve been doing it wrong. Most my goals for this trip are about trying to make permanent changes in myself, but through lofty and sometimes abstract statements.
Don’t discount the need for achievement via long-term goals. That remains. But in trying to instill growth and change in myself, I think setting big far away goals isn’t the way to go alone. I’m taking this from Brad Stulburg’s research, where many of the performers and athletes he interviews reveal them pushing just one more inch forward each time. Knowing where their performance line is, and setting their mark just barely out in front of it. This method accepts and expects failure. For example, if you want to learn to ski, you will need to fall down many times to keep learning and get better. You only want to make sure your learning and risks don’t take you over the cliff. Further, if you never fall down, you’re not learning to ski.
Your knees should shake. You should fall down. You should fail. You should feel uncomfortable. You should go where you haven’t yet been.
Therefore, I’ve created a daily checklist that I have to mark off on my phone. Red or green on a list that regenerates daily. The only long-term aspect of the interface is creating streaks and knowing that by creating massive and consistent streaks I become closer to creating a habit.
My thinking here is around creating good habits and rituals. Ones that create a healthier and more resilient me, one that is more capable of attacking the long-term goals that inevitably still hang high on my mind. This year was not just meant for us to see the world, but for us to become better humans. Better at our relationship, better parents (one day), better friends, better employees, managers, mentors, business partners, and so on.
For now, I’ve started with a list comprised of:
100 push-ups (I’m still at 75 and working up)
run/exercise (we’ve been location dependent on this one, lots of ups and downs)
Bruges is a beautiful town, many of you reading will likely already be familiar with it or have been. While I had been warned Bruges is touristy, it was not at all off-putting. I hear touristy and I think one or both of two directions: overcrowded and miserable, shops selling soulless and unnecessary knick-knacks. Bruges was in festival and holiday mode, so it certainly was busy but not suffocating. It did have a lot of shopping, but there were plenty of cute and original shops and restaurants to visit.
Besides venturing out for a fun night with the local revelers for the Belgian holiday and listening to funny cover bands and their dedicated and emotive fans, we also met a Hamilton family friend, Lilly. Lilly had lived in Hawaii for some time with her late husband. They spent a lifetime sailing the world together and were in Hawaii until her husband’s declining health forced them to move back to Belgium for affordable healthcare.
I cannot recall the question now, but I do remember one of Lilly’s answers. I thought it wonderfully encapsulated the change, daring, risk, safety, unknown, and more that love and marriage can do to us. Her answer was in reflecting upon her life, and how it all took place, and some specific events she shared with us that now make me look at her as if she is a daredevil. Lilly remarked, rather plainly, “that’s what you get when you marry an adventurer.” Then she smiled.
Lilly took the train in from Brussels and brought us some of her favorite chocolates and treated us all to a dinner at a place she likes in Bruges, Bistro ‘t Minnewater. It was a delicious meal, and the charcoal fired grill is quite literally amongst the tables.
Cycling to Damme and Blankenburg
From Bruges, we rented bicycles to take for a ride out of town. First, we hit Damme, which is quaint and beautiful. There were lots of swallows, some with nests easily visible from the street. One photographer had a very intense lens to reach right up to the nest for pictures of the lighting fast birds.
We biked through fields, beautiful farmhouses, lots of modern windmills, and some new drawbridge construction that was really impressive. Then we reached Blankenberg. Back in Damme we had stopped for an espresso and asked our server some questions about where to go. He gave us two towns we could bike to, but Blankenberg put a funny quiver on his face. He used the word suburban, but it was clear he didn’t have the word he wanted in English. Our friends in Ghent would later find it hilarious that we went to Blankenberg, and I’d laugh if I were them too. Despite all this, it was a fine stop for us. We avoided a rain storm, got to touch the North Sea, and fill up on a needed lunch before we rode back to Bruges.
If you’re in the region, take the time to get out there and cycle the friendly and quiet paths through the countryside.
Thanks for reading.
Our street in Bruges
Intermission in the main square
After dinner group shot with Lilly
Farmers market was busy and abundant
From produce to baked goods to meats
My favorite breakfast
Get me a coffee and a book, I’ll be here until further notice
Where the Holy Grail is…
Our neighbor laughed, and said everyone does this
A Damme good time…..
Found in Damme
Still a sucker for cars, especially the old romantic ones
The beach was cold and harsh, the sand here causes some consternation to my shins as the exfoliation happens.
After Belgrade and spending a lot of time in cities Shell was aching to get out into the countryside, and now we had a car to do it with. She was able to find a great spot for us at the Drina Tara Rafting facility in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have a lot of little cabins available along with a lot of day excursions. We chose white water rafting on the Drina, which has brilliant aquamarine waters suitable for swimming and drinking. Then, a full day of hiking in Sutjeska National Park, which this site rightly called the Yosemite of the Balkans.
Our drive into the rafting place was our toughest yet. Road ways would give way to narrow mountain passes, then turn to dirt, and eventually would yield cows and sheep. All the while speed limits would rise and dip with little notice accompanied by police officers around random blind corners. As one other car and I negotiated a one lane pass I’m fairly certain one front wheel left the cliff edge. Thankfully, I still had enough traction to reverse a smidge in our front wheel drive. My nerves were a bit bent by the time we got to camp, but done once it’s quite easy to do again.
The camp is remarkably efficient for not having any sort of computers or point-of-sale solution. Guest itineraries and requests were all kept via paper records. Spread sheet like pages would track who was to be where and when. They would even group us up in our activities to best match people for a good time. For example, on our rafting day, they paired us with a pair of Brits – father and daughter, and a pair of Italian sisters with their husbands, one of which is from Portland, OR. Splendid group to go with and we all could communicate without issue.
The river was not as full as it had been in the past. The British father had been at this camp one other time and remarked that the rapids were Class 6. The same class of rapids I had done in Colorado, which could be harrowing at times. However, our white water excursion in Bosnia was rather tame and involved a lot of rowing. But the swims were refreshing if not bone piercingly cold. The scenery in the canyon is something else. The rock rises up with the colors and sheer rock faces of Yosemite, with what trees and greenery that can attach, and the waters are a purely clear and translucent aquamarine, something out of Alberta and Banff.
We negotiate all the rapids with ease guided by our guide, Dan, who also spins us around some and has some fun along the way. He didn’t speak much English, but our crew had a good time. Along the way, there are swimming stops and jumping points, you also break for a pit spot where there are cold beers available.
The camp fed us three square meals a day, usually too much food for the two of us on each meal. Mornings were a selection of fried or scrambled eggs with cured meats and a side of bread. Lunch depended on the day, but dinner was a big meal and varied each day. It clearly was pre-planned ahead of time as they take no orders just our reservation name. Food would be delivered shortly after. We would also order the house red which came out of a large, unlabeled jug maybe 5L large. Hey, it was good and what was available.
For our day of hiking, we met early and would be gone some 14 hours. Dragan, our guide, got us squared away and into the Land Rover Defenders for a ~2 hour drive into the park. Then I got to see how the locals negotiate these roads, albeit in a Defender. There’s some advantage to the machinery.
The park is enormous and both days we would cross back and forth across the untamed Bosnian and Montenegrin borders. Officially, this area of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Republika of Srpska, which in a previous post I go over what that means. This is before we take in everything Sarajevo gave to us, and the knowledge that was needed to really understand Bosnia. On the way, Dragan shows us where a mountain hospital was ambushed in WWI, where the Germans stationed their guns and artillery in WWII.
We start our hike not far from a lookout tower that was once used by the Montenegrins to watch for Austro-Hungarian invaders. The hike would take us down to a valley floor and back up again around a ridge that would open to Trnovačko Lake. The lake was pristine with clear, deep green waters surrounded by mountains, one of which, Maglić, is the tallest in Bosnia. These mountains are part of the Dinaric Alps. They’re big.
Dragan is also keen to show us wild native plants and their medicinal purposes during the hike. The area is one of the most biodiverse in Europe. In the Defender, we bond over hacking video games, and he shares his taste in music. Turns out, that is largely how he learned English. Learning the lyrics and translating them word by word. The type of studying clearly didn’t stop because it seems he has since studied books of puns. He has a whole library of them memorized. I played as if not understanding one, and he quickly explained. He gets both the language and logic in them. He was full of surprises.
After the main hike was done, we took in a small ridge with a view that my photographs do not capture. We hike 200m in on a small path to reach a ridge and vertigo inducing drop off, expanding out onto lush greens of mountain valleys. A persistent wind blows in and up right into your nose delivering a scent of pine, cedar, and rose. In the distance, a massive water fall sparkles. Our last stop before heading back to camp was the Tjentiste War Memorial. The pictures in that link are much better than anything I captured, along with some info about the memorial. It is stark, brutalist, and somehow beautiful.
Leaving the camp, we headed to the coast of southern Montenegro. The scenery after crossing the border into Montenegro was out of this world and the country would just keep surprising us. Makes sense why so many oligarchs hang here.
Thanks for reading.
Southern Serbia on our way to Bosnia
Tunnels ranged from modern LED lit and ventilated – to dark, rocky and calcium drip ceilinged tunnels of questionable safety
A rather tame road, but one commonly shared
Upon arrival to camp, were quick to commune with nature that surrounds us
Donning our wetsuits and safety gear
Shot on iPhone – Crystal waters of the Drina
Shot on iPhone – Beer here!
Sutjeska – Trailheads
Sutjeska – Pre-hike photo op
Sutjeska – Montenegrin lookout in the distance
Sutjeska – Near our trailhead
Sutjeska – Mountain pass
Sutjeska – Mountain homes
Sutjeska – Crossing into Montenegro – See the valley floor below, then we hike up thru the greenery into the bowl just past