Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lithuania the Beautiful, Belarus the Bad...

Vilnius was an incredible city with tons to offer tourists. It was great that we had already booked a room in advance so we did not have to worry about it upon arrival. The road to Vilnius was beautiful, but very similar to several other countries that we had travelled through, rolling hills of farmland. Vilnius itself was a war torn city much farther along the way to being rebuilt than the Ukranian city of L’viv. During this trip we have been sight-seeing quite a bit more than I had imagined possible. Fortunate or not, Vilnius did not offer much in our Lonely Planet guide that we wanted to see. So our first destination upon arrival was a local restaurant the guide suggested for local cuisine. We all decided to order a skillet of various potato dishes that are unique to Lithuania. After sampling a few of the different selections, it became apparent that they were not going a selection my mouth would hold in high regard for taste. We left the restaurant still hungry and decided to find a local site and tile with a legend of granting wishes to anyone who turns around once while standing on the tile. I will not reveal the wish I made, but it was made!

From there we headed to the hotel room to get set up for the night. It was in an alley with a locked gate and we ended up in a renovated building surrounded by structurally unsound counterparts all around. It was a great find inside and we decided to play a game of monopoly to determine who would get the bed. I went out second in the game with Stanton being the eventual winner of a very coveted prize. To those who have not experienced a game of monopoly with our group of friends, I will suffice it to say that they get pretty heated and are a ton of fun. The next morning found us off to Belarus and what would become possibly the most interesting day of our trip through border crossings at both the Lithuanian and Russian Borders.

Stay tuned for more and congrats to Matt Dearing and Aubree Dearing in welcoming their new son Jackson to the world!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

First Time for everything....

The Hungarian Bath was one on a list of firsts that I have identified from this trip.
1. First stay at a Hostel
2. First time driving on a cobblestone road.
3. First official meal of fish and chips, Belgian Waffles, Swedish Pancakes, and more to come.
4. First visit to Europe.
5. First time camping illegally in someone’s forest and again in a corn field.
6. First time ordering or asking for something to someone I couldn’t communicate verbally with.
7. First time having three or more mosquito bites within a one inch region of my body.
8. First time holding a hedgehog.
9. First visit to a castle that once housed royalty.
10. First time being in four countries within one day and over 13 new countries in total.
11. First time driving on the left side of the road legally.
12. First time ordering food and not knowing what I was getting.
13. First time getting passed by a semi carrying vehicles and passing with oncoming traffic screaming by!
14. First time getting rejected at a border crossing. (Belarus)

There have been a ton of firsts on this trip. The last few days have been very interesting. We arrived at the car after blogging and found that some boots had been placed on the vehicles after two hours away. I was surprised to find that it had happened as we didn’t see any sort of signage talking about needing a parking ticket. We immediately called the number and about 20 minutes, 100 Euro later, we were on our way. We stopped out of town towards the Ukraine and stayed in a campground right next to a local zoo. The gentleman attending the gate made it difficult to get in, but after some basic signaling and grunts we were in like Flynn. It was a nice campground and I was grateful to get in a good night sleep when we had been out and about all day. I met a few interesting folks, including a man from England that was a member of the Rainbow Tribe of the Light. To my understanding, this is a group of people dedicated to living ‘light’ on the land and having enlightenment in their soul. The cool thing is that they are totally drug free and promote peace around the world through good example. He was on his way to a gathering in the Ukraine and invited us to join him if we were able. The other highlight of this night was the conversation that took place between Bryan, Ken, Sean and I. We stayed up discussing various thoughts on philosophy and life, carrying on into the light hours of the night.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Belarus and Beyond

This won't be a long post, we are in Warsaw and don't have much time. I will try to write more and post it tomorrow,

Happy Anniversary Marv!

Love Geoff

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hungary or bust...

I am amazed about how many things I have seen in the last few days and how fast it has happened. The last number of days I have been in Bratislava, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, all of which are among the oldest cities in Eastern Europe and the World. The streets are paved with cobblestones and are warped from the wheel of time. History has a funny way of telling you what you are doing right and wrong with your own life. I have been contemplating where to head when I get back from this adventure as I will have completed both my school career and a large goal of travelling around the world in less than a month. What I have decided is that I need to work harder and apply the things that I have already learned in order to reach that next tier of success that I desire within my life.
I am actually sitting in a McDonald’s and it feels more like a Starbuck’s as they have wireless internet and there are a ton of locals sharing stories over their cafĂ©. It has become the place to hang out here in Europe apparently. The Hungarians all speak English very well, but you will never catch them speaking out of their native tongue unless you address them directly. It is amazing how fast the cultures change here as well; the distance between nations is often smaller than the travel between states in the US.

We were in Vienna long enough to see some of the amazing buildings, including the amazing cathedrals in the center of town. We decided to continue along the road, however, in order to make sure we will have plenty of time to get through the Siberian part of Russia and Mongolia’s western border. We were able to see a local dance crew ‘serve’ us with a few moves, do some shopping around town, and then see the majority of the older, more significant sites during the drive out of town. I will definitely have to get back to Vienna in the near future as there is plenty more to see.

I am now in Budapest waiting to go to our appointed treat of the day, a Hungarian bath to sooth our sore bodies. Travel is difficult when you are packing in 7000 miles in three weeks!

I will post again as soon as I am able, until then, Cheers from Eastern Europe!

Prague in less than 24 hours

As I promised, I am going to fill in the last couple of days here in Europe. For starters, the U2 concert was a 'brilliant' performance by Bono, The Edge, and the other members of the band. They played many of their most well known songs and rocked the house for over two hours. My feet were so tired from the last two days of walking, making it difficult for me to stand the whole time, but I did my best.

We ended up camping in a small, but popular camp site just outside of town called Gasper Camping. It was great to get some sleep after a long night, but difficult to concentrate with all the hashish smoke eminating from all around. We spent the rest of the next day on our drive to Prague in order to catch up on our schedule. Some of the highlights were the beautiful German countryside, the McDonald's New York Classic burger for lunch (not available in the states, mind you) and then the arrival in Prague after 9 hours in the car. Prague is such a beautiful city, full of old buildings and interesting people.

The first thing we did upon arrival was jump on the internet to check messages. After following up with a few, we decided to grab some Mexican food at a local restaurant called The Cantina. It was nice eating some tacos, I hate saying it, but it reminded me of home. From there we decided to take a walk through the streets of Prague. We wandered into a park district surrounded by large buildings including Prague castle. After a tiring hike and my first hedgehog holding experience, we arrived at Prague Castle and perhaps the most amazing cathedral that I have ever had chance to visit. It was amazing seeing it lit up at night against the skyline and the many spires, statues, and gargoyles attached to the facade. We spent a good amount of time in wandering around the cobblestones surrounding the edifice and then decided to go back the vehicles and set off for our hotel. We soon realized that the two star hotel that we had booked was likely a one or even one-half star hotel in all reality. The place looked like a dump and smelled like one from the get go. The exterior was a worn green color and the interior smelled terrible. We made the best of it and I was pleasantly surprised to see clean sheets and towels in the greasy room. The nights' rest was amazing and we were glad to be back on the road the next day on our way to Bratislava, Vienna, and eventually Budapest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In Prague, catching up...

I made it to Prague today and it is an awesome city. I will be posting more updates soon!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The tragedy of World War 2 and Anne Frank...

Day two in Amsterdam has been just as exciting as day one. We started the day in anticipation of the upcoming concert and have spent most of the day relaxing. The two highlights so far have been the Anne Frank Huis (home in Flemish ) and our Italian meal at a local cafe. The Anne Frank story is familiar to anyone who has been through middle school in the US. It pertains to a little girl who lived in Amsterdam during the Second World War, during which Jews were heavily tormented by the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s. I have always wondered what it would be like to travel into the home and actually walk through the home where she and seven other people lay hidden for over two years. Her story is even more dramatic based on the fact that they were discovered and she was killed in the concentration camp at Bergen Belsen. When we arrived at the site, I was told that the wait would be considerable. Everyone was hungry, but being determined as I was to see this historic venue, I decided to wait and allow everyone else to venture off to find food.

Fast forward to what is likely to be the most solemn experience of the rally: Walking through the warehouse and realizing the size were very eye opening. The ‘home’ was actually a business warehouse where Mr. Frank, Anne’s father, conducting his business. When the Nazi invasion took place, he was forced to sign over ownership, as Jews were not allowed to own any private property including businesses. When families began being taken away, he decided to convert the upper three floors of the building into a makeshift apartment in order to hide from the Nazi’s. It was interesting that a bookcase was constructed in front of the entrance. The reason I found this interesting was because the only way they would ever be found would have been from betrayal, hence someone tipped off the Nazi’s, but no one knows who to this day who it was. I will suffice it to say that I was not able to think of anything else but the sure tragedy of the holocaust and what it represents. I recently learned that over 20 million Russians died in defense of their country during World War 2, on top of the 9+ million Jews that were eradicated as well. I realize this is a very sensitive subject and I will tread lightly here, but I am very moved to see and feel this type of location that brings such a massacre/tragedy to reality. The two great eye openers in the museum are the actual diary Anne kept during here incarceration and the stickers she placed on the walls in order to make here 8 x 8 room she shared with a man more cheerful. Both are still on site and are encased in glass. I cannot fathom the amount of sorrow felt by the families of these many victims and I will always be grateful that I live in a nation where such actions are not tolerated!

Well I am running out of time and need to get to the U2 concert on the right night this time, so I will update this again as soon as I am able!



Today has been a beacon of realization of just how large of an undertaking that I have begun here in Europe. I started the day after 11 hours of sleep feeling pretty good, the muscles ached a bit, but I was ready for the challenges ahead. After a relaxing shower and a hearty breakfast in the hotel lobby, it was time to truly hit the road for the first time. The Mongol rally is officially underway. It wasn’t clear at first who would end up in which vehicle, but it was realized to be just as we registered. Bryan, Stanton, and I piled into the purple Tracker, while Sean and Ken jumped into the silver model, we were off. The first stop on our journey took us to Goodwood and the well known speed track located there.

The official launch party for the Mongol rally took place in the parking lot and on site were nearly two hundred vehicles, many of which were not even going to the final destination of Mongolia. It was a colorful crowd featuring many interesting characters, the highlight however, were the myriad of different cars that were there for the undertaking. In many ways I was extremely excited to see the many teams in the foray, but I have to admit that I was disappointed at how big of a spectacle it was in many ways. The biggest disappointment was that it seemed more like a rock concert than like the launch of a multi-continental rally taking us through some of the most desolate parts of the world. Don’t get me wrong, this is very exciting, but I guess my expectations were misplaced as this has become a fairly large event throughout the United Kingdom. With the rally opener out of the way, we were able to get to the reason we actually came, the longest road trip in the world. We spent the best part of the day travelling the back roads of south England on our way to the ferry at Dover. The journey was a little over a hundred miles but took several hours to complete as we were off the main highways. There are several advantages to being the only passenger to be the only passenger in the back seat of a Tracker, sleeping being the greatest among them. I took the chance to further catch up and much needed shuteye, possibly missing some similar English countryside, but I regret nothing. After the long back roads, we finally reached the destination at the white cliffs of Dover. I was able to see the famous spires from many angles, including the castle that was erected at the very top of the hill to ward of invasions from outside forces. This was my first visit to a castle outside the United States, needless to say they are much more daunting and the age shows clearly in the obsidian based mortar and moss covered stones holding the walls together. After our short visit to Dover Castle, we travelled to the port to get tickets for the ferry, while asking the clerk where a good place to get fish and chips was. It should be understood that Sean Fleming, aka ‘Red Goat’ had been talking about wanting to get this meal during our whole time in England, a sentiment that we all shared. We were told that the only place in town was at a little shop on Castle Street. After arriving and finding we needed British Pounds in order to buy the prize, we quickly withdrew money from the ATM and fed the hunger with the best fish and chips I have ever had! Nothing beats authenticity. We made it back in time to board the ferry and parked.

It quickly became apparent that the ferry would was filled to the brim with prepubescent children on various excursions to France. This is my way of saying that I had to fight to read a book for the next hour and a half by squelching out their screams that came from all over the ship. You will be happy to know that I did survive the encounter, even having my seat stolen by a man who looked like a French Gypsy, two earrings in one ear and one in the other. Apparently he had no qualms about sitting next to my sleeping friend Bryan, while sitting less than six inches from him and our gear. After de-barking the ship, we began our quick journey through France. We decided not to bother staying in France as it was dark, rainy, and not a major stop on our itinerary. Thus we are currently on our way to Brugge in Belgium, promising to be an exciting second day on this incredible journey!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Chevy Trackers...

The arrival to our starting destination was a success of sorts. We hurdled many obstacles and traveled for 32 hours straight to arrive, but were able to do so successfully.

The first leg of our journey started and the Salt Lake International Airport at 630 in the morning. Our flight to New York City was delayed by what was deemed as 'weather issues.' After waiting for over an hour to board, we were on our way. This was to be the first of several delays, however, all attributed to our new president, Mr. Obama! It was frustrating to have to sit for two extra hours on the tarmac waiting for all the backup to filter through the system at JFK. Consequently, we missed our connecting flight and were scrambling to make sure we wouldn't be stuck in NYC before our trip truly began. Upon arriving at the Aer Lingus counter, we were told that we would be able to get onto a plane leaving an hour later, this was a relief to say the least!

By this point I had not eaten anything substantial in almost 20 hours and we all decided to buy a pizza from Sbarro! I never knew pizza tasted so good. We then boarded a plane at 8pm EST to London, England via Dublin Ireland. The plan ride was not much better than before as I was not able to get much rest and ended up watching a few movies on the in flight entertainment monitor. They did serve a decent dinner of chicken and rice, but still did not seem like enough to fulfill the voracious hunger that we all shared from lugging 100 pounds of luggage around JFK. The nice thing about landing in Dublin was that we did not have to recheck luggage and our layover was only an hour.

We soon arrived in London where more fun travel came about. I was able to get my luggage just fine and get to the subway system. About half way through the tunnel to the subway, we had to start lugging 100 lbs. of baggage each to the actual train. Going up stairs and down long hallways proved how out of shape I really am! We did make it to the first subway and while in route to our first stop we met a nice gentlemen and his wife who funny enough had lived in Mongolia for several years. He shared several of his experiences and suggestions about what to do and what to take on our little adventure. The most note worthy of his suggestions was to clearly pronounce to the local Mongolians who our leader was. They would then likely present that person with a local delicacy, a horses' eyeball, to be consumed to promote inner strength and wisdom! Needless to say, I am not looking forward to being leader at this point.

After four more hours of train travel, being rejected at Burger King for not having a credit card with the new pin/chip system here in the UK, and a taxi ride to the hotel, we were finally all together with our cars and as a team. We spent the next several hours finding food at a local Indian restaurant, prepping the gear for our set off this morning, and finally getting some much needed rest!

I am not feeling much better after sleeping for 11 hours and look forward to taking off towards Mongolia from Goodwood, England this afternoon. I am not sure when I will be able to post again, but I will keep good notes on what takes place in order to post them as soon as I gain internet connection along route!



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bags are packed, stomach in throat...less than 24 hours to go:

I am obviously nervous about leaving for almost a month and traveling areas most people would never fathom. Everything is ready as best as it can be, but the thought of spending 20 hours on planes/in airports is not sounding so excited right now. After months of planning, it has finally hit me that I am driving 8000 miles with four other guys, two of which I barely know! I will be planning on taking several photos and video, will do my best to post them as I go.

Thanks for following!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Less than 48 hours to go...

I am getting final details ready for our trip Thursday, we will be flying into NYC, then on to London via Dublin Ireland. Then begins the adventure that I have been planning for several months now. I will hopefully be able to keep up to date on this blog with where we are and what is happening. Check back often to hear about our many misadventures in Europe, Russia, and Eastern Asia!