Thursday, December 12, 2013
One of the greatest movies of all time, XXX was filmed in the location that I visited for the past days. All of my life I have wanted to walk the footsteps of where Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) saved the world from a nuclear war.
It all started when they were casting for an actor to play Xander Cage. This agency scoured the entire planet to find the best actor in the world, and they found Vin Diesel.
Then they used various parts of Prague to film the movie. Here's where Xander Cage eluded the snipers bullets when eating breakfast.
And here's where the boat raced to save the world from destruction.
And because Xander Cage saved Prague from destruction, I could take other cool photos and drink good beer.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
6 months ago before I booked my flight, I had no idea where Lithuania was on a map. I knew it was somewhere in Eastern Europe and that they have a good Olympic basketball team. What I didn't know was that they have a rich brewing tradition and an interesting history along with the other Baltic states for their fight for independence from the Germans and Soviets.
In World War II, Lithuania was home to many native Jews and displaced refugees from Poland. In 1941, the Soviets attacked the Baltic states to provide a better line for the defenses in Leningrad. The Soviets immediately stripped independence and created a division amongst the people at home. Jews were pro Soviet supporters for obvious reasons, but many of the native Lithuanians had a strong hatred for the Soviets after their previous occupation and mass murders of people of political influence. These competing interests unfortunately led to tensions amongst the Lithuanian people that fostered anti semistism and the incorrect assumption that the Germans were liberators, not conquerors. What followed the German the occupation was the execution of over 100,000 Lithuanian Jews and any communist supporters in the town of Paneriai just outside Vilnius.
The Soviets regained control of the Baltics in 1944 and continued to rule and impose communism over Lithuania until the fall of the Soviet Union. Currently there is an Eastern EU meeting taking place here in Vilnius, where Vladimir Putin is trying to bully the Eastern European states out of the EU and to be partners with Russia at the threat of trade embargoes. Ukraine has seen massive protests as their PM was seen as caving into the Russians. Despite their sovereign independence, these countries are still wrestling for control of economic independence from the Russians.
While I was in Vilnius, I didn't see any of the diplomats or any protests but I did go from pub to pub with a bit of sightseeing along the way.
I flew in from India with a layover in Helsinki. I had to pass through security in Helsinki and had left my iPod in my pocket while going through the metal detector. This triggered the detector and the guy standing next to me said "Welcome to Finland, we all carry AK47s." Even though my hostel was in Vilnius, his words were still true.
That's from behind the desk at the hostel I stayed at.
Thermos for warm Vodka... Check
AK 47... Check
Only thing missing is a rag for a Molotov cocktail.
My first beer at Babalyne, a place with an awesome beer selection.
My first sign of Christmas this season put a massive smile on my face.
IMO, the best time of year to visit Europe is over the holiday season. It's quite cool to see the Christmas markets, how each country has their own decorations for Christmas and you get a nice layer of snow that brings out the beauty of the city.
Here is the entrance for the Uzupio Republic. Notice how the sign has a picture of the Mona Lisa and a car driving off a bridge. This isn't an actual real country for 364 days of the year but on April 1st, this place becomes a massive party where their elected PM will make a guest appearance and you can get your passport stamped.
Further evidence of Uzupis humor.
And the beer in Lithuania was excellent. Not as good as the specialties you find in Belgium but still quite good none the least. I found their beers to be extremely sweet with many bread like flavors. Here's a draft list at the bar Alus Niamus.
And the very cool looking drafts at the bar too.
Here's a menu at the bar Snekuits that has a picture of this dude on every page.
I came for the beer but I leave with a great respect for the people. We met some locals randomly at a bar on Friday night and they were glad to show me every bar and club in the city until sun rise. I gave them American names and I told the local women that these are my American friends "Bobby, John and my other friend Bobby." Vilnius is one of my favorite spots that I have partied with great beer, awesome house music and gorgeous tall blonde Eastern European women. A return trip with a visit to its Baltic neighbors next time are on the to do list.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
I have spent exactly one month in the two neighboring countries. This one month has seemed like an eternity, especially when you're living without your typical comforts that a first world country can provide. Despite the lack of comforts and the countless "Hello my friend" or "namaste" greetings followed with an attempt to sell you something, these two countries easily go 1-2 as my favorite countries that I've visited.
Nepal has the most incredible landscapes you will see anywhere in this world with the friendliest people there to guide you. India has an anything goes craziness to it that includes cows grazing in the middle of urban streets, people driving on whatever side of the street they feel like and people hanging from buses or even tuk tuks on their way to work. After visiting and embracing these two countries, I've become greatful of the normalcy and standard of living in my daily life.
If you're looking for an awesome travel experience, and I emphasize experience come to either of these countries. A good travel experience should make you uncomfortable at times, make you scratch your head and ask WTF at other times but it should also leave you with moments that make you stop everything your doing and wonder with amazement.
I finished my trek and needed to escape the noise and fumes of Kathamndu after just 24 hours, so I hopped on a bus Pohkara. This bus ride lasted over 8 hours and is comparable in distance from Cincinnati to Columbus. So what is a 1 1/2hour drive in the US becomes 8 when you drive on only half paved roads full of tractors and have to make pit stops to pick up chickens, goats and furniture to deliver to the bus drivers pals along the way. I really wish I had a photo of the goat surfing on top of the bus.
The town of Pohkara is a quaint hippy town on a beautiful lake with plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops that reminded me a bit of Goa. I decided to do a Hatha yoga and meditation retreat on the outskirts of town. The yoga retreat had a set schedule where you woke up at 5:30 am to do some chanting meditation. This was followed by nasal flossing, where you poured salt water through your nose and snorted like a possessed dragon. Once your nose was clean, you performed morning yoga that was focused heavily on breathing. At night, you would do more meditation, a strenuous yoga session and candlelight meditation to clear your mind for sleep. After doing plenty of yoga in India and Nepal, I have to say there is a huge difference between eastern yoga that focuses more on breathing and stretching compared American yoga that revolves around exercise intensity.
The breakfast, lunches and dinners were included in the retreat and were absolutely superb. Before each meal we said a prayer to cleanse the food, the utensils and any negative energy from the cooks. Some people were fasting, where on the first day you get two apples per meal and honey water. Day two would be one apple per meal with honey water and day three would be no apples and salt water.
I was supposed to stay for three days, but the fixed schedule and my exhaustion from trekking we're draining on me and my energy and ended up staying only a day and a half.
Instead I went hiking up to the World Peace Pagoda and visited the local Tibetian refugee camp and it's monestary.
Breakfast at Mikes Restaurant on the lake with the stupa behind the clouds.
The steps of the stupa
The view from the Stupa.
The monastery at the Tibetian refugee camp.
After a return bus ride, I hung out in Kathmandu and befriended one of the local street food vendors who let us eat in his house while he made veggie momos.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
In Thailand, the streets are lined with people selling just about anything from peanuts to pad thai for any dollar they can get. In India, I saw entire communities share a tractor for their only mode of transportation. (Photos were lost with my phone :( )In Nepal, porters will carry twice their body weight on their backs up thousands of vertical feet to provide for their family.
Despite these difficulties, despite the lack of material wealth and despite the comforts that we take for granted, I've seen people improvise, find joys in the things that they're doing and rally around family everyday, just like we do for Thanksgiving.
Instead of using a boom box, I saw families use a pan for musical chairs. When the pot banging stopped, someone was left without a seat.
We take for granted the ease of using a washing machine, but spending half your day socializing with the other women and a smile on your face while doing the laundry makes the time pass faster.
You don't need the latest game counsel to have fun as kid. A bat and a ball is all that's needed for entertainment on the weekends.
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And you don't need the latest designer clothes when a John Cena T Shirt is way more badass anyways.
Material wealth is always relative but happiness is absolute
I'm thankful of the opportunity I have to travel and to have an awesome family and friends who support me. I'd love to be home and see them right now. I'm thankful to live in a country that provides me the freedoms that I have and the opportunities that countries around the world dream of.
When the little things go wrong like an over cooked turkey or the small problems we have like having Tony Romo throw picks on our fantasy team, they're problems that we can be thankful for. Looking at whatever problems we may have, we should focus on finding happiness with the present moment, make the most of the opportunities we have and most importantly stay close to your family and the people you love, no matter how far apart.
Stay safe this Thanksgiving and eat some turkey and watch some football for me!
Saturday, November 23, 2013
So I decided to take a shower at Namche Bazaar and it was the wrong choice. I had to go outside in freezing weather with nothing but my skivvies on and it led to a cold that lasted a couple of days. Moral of the story: showers are dangerous for your health.
We arrived to the town of Gokyo, which sits next to the beautiful Gokyo lake. 600 meters higher is the summet of Gokyo Ri. The summit is the hill cut off to the left.
View of Gokyo lake and Cho Oyu (8201m) in the background.
I got out of my sleeping bag early (I'd say I woke up early if I actually slept, the reason is at the end of the article) ate some porridge and started climbing up.
Here's some red stones that pointed to the sky on our path to the top.
It took us about 2 hours to reach the top but the views were incredible.
Nupse (7861m) above my right shoulder and Everest (8848m) and Lohtse (8516m) above my left shoulder.
Cholasche (6486m) above my right, left is Tabuche (6542m)
The far left is Pumori (7169m) Everest without me in the way. The peak to the right is Lohtse.
So I've handled the altitude quite well so far with the exception of my intestines. The altitude has caused extreme gas. My guide Jami has estimated over 1000 farts he's heard on the trail. It's also caused a traffic jam in the stomach if you know what I mean. I asked the the locals what's the best remedy. One said to pour powder milk in a cup of cold water and chug it. Another said I should eat raw pancake mix. I figured both of those could lead to food poisoning, so I went with my trusted remedy: coffee. I drank a liter of it and it worked... Only problem was that I couldn't get to sleep.
Still without coffee, sleeping at altitude is quite weird. You'll find very vivid dreams that you remember because your sleep cycle is much shorter. You'll also find yourself sometimes gasping for air at the middle of the night. Your body doesn't have a rhythmic cycle, where people can go without a breath for close to 30 seconds.
I have a difficult pass that I need to cross tomorrow, but after that, it's all downhill from there.