|Partying in Edinburgh with a kilt, a tweed vest and a fantastic hat|
And I'll start with doing something I should have done a long time ago - wrapping up my world trip adventure by sharing my favorites of anything and everything I did. And it was a pretty good time. It turns out that dropping everything and adventuring for half a year is actually as fun as it seems like it should be. Shocking, right?
Look for more from me sooner rather than later, and click through the jump to see that wrap up. Also, if you're interested in anything from my trip in specific, please ask me!
When I went traveling, it wasn't so I could basically experience the same life but in another country. I went to adventure! And adventure I did, but nowhere did that adventure feel more real than Japan. I'm not sure if it was the fact that almost no one spoke English, the sheer size and speed of everything, the completely different culture, the often impossible to figure out (but always delicious) food, or what, but Japan sated my needs to really get out there and try something new more than anywhere.
A lot of people were horrified that I was even going there because of the whole earthquake/tsunami deal, but in a lot of ways, that made the experience all the more memorable. Japanese people seem inherently kind and good natured, but with me being one of the sadly few tourists who was there in that time period, they seemed to respect me all the more. It's hard not to love people who love you back, and for those reasons and a million others, it was my favorite place.
Runners up: Thailand, Iceland
|In Back to the Future's Delorean in Melbourne|
My least favorite country features my favorite city. How weird is that?
Not that weird really, because Melbourne is freaking awesome.
Granted, I did get there during a perfect storm of fantastic (abnormally great weather for the season, Melbourne Comedy Festival, Supanova, general hysteria), but I can't imagine loving it any less for any reason. Melbourne is a place that is just straight up fun. I'd walk out the front of my hostel, hop on a train and go right and be on a beach with an amazing amusement park in five minutes or so. If I went left, I'd go to the city center and be in one of the most richly cultured cities I've ever been to, with stellar museums, delicious food and fun people at every turn.
It's a diverse and spectacular metropolis that still has a small town feel in a lot of ways. Here's how much I loved it: I was really, really sick for most of the time I was there, but my sheer elation (and coffee) kept me going throughout. That is saying something.
Runners up: Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, Hiroshima
You guys know Ramen? That stuff that poor college students eat when there is no other choice to be had really? That stuff is an art form in Japan. Cheap, spectacular, and hearty, for a traveler like myself it's an absolute godsend.
One time, I ordered some for about $7.50 and had a bowl that was roughly two pounds in weight, featuring copious ramen noodles in a miso soup based broth, filled with delicious veggies (leeks! bean sprouts!), high quality meats (chicken dumplings! braised pork!) and all kinds of other surprises (quail eggs!). It was one of the most epic and incredible foods I've ever eaten - AND THAT IS A LOW QUALITY FOOD IN JAPAN.
One of my favorite things about Japan's food though has to be the fact that I knew what I was eating roughly half the time. Getting Takoyaki (octopus dough balls) in Osaka, Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima (Japanese savory mega pancakes), god knows what the hell I was eating on a bullet train from Takayama to Tokyo and any number of other meals was an incredible highlight of my culinary experience. Plus, the sushi was pretty spectacular. Who would have seen that coming?
For people who fancy food, going to Japan should be like going to Graceland for Elvis fans. It's just something you have to do once in your life.
Runners up: Spain, Iceland
I'm not going to lie, I was pretty lucky in terms of going to see concerts on my trip. I saw Arcade Fire with Mumford & Sons and Beirut in London, a whole music festival in Barcelona (highlighted by The Flaming Lips, James Blake, The Walkmen, Caribou, and any number of other performances), Cut Copy in Reykjavik, and assuredly a few others I cannot remember, the world has a lot of options for the music fan in me.
The best had to be Sufjan Stevens though. Stevens was playing at Primavera Sound in Barcelona (the music festival I went to), but I wasn't guaranteed to be able to see him there. Knowing that and that his two London dates were sold out, I took a chance and went to the Royal Festival Hall in London shortly before the first night of his two performances there in hopes of magicking a ticket out of thin air. As I waited in line, I thought of what I could say that wouldn't sound stupid. "Does this completely sold out concert have any extra tickets for me, a wayward Alaskan?" "Please sir, may this poor lost hipster have a ticket to your indie music concert?"
I bumbled my delivery, but the message came out understandable. "Actually, the guy right in front of you just returned two tickets. Want one?"
I almost wept. Magical words, those were.
One ticket, two performances, and much dancing later, I came out having experienced the only show I would pair up with The Flaming Lips in matching the sheer euphoria and joy they inspire.
Twelve minutes into Sufjan's 26 minute epic "Impossible Soul," the best thing I've ever seen at a concert happened. Everyone was sitting in this classy joint, enjoying the music and taking in the experience but hardly moving. Then, as a dancy part starts, out of nowhere this muscle bound guy off to my right shouts out "YEAH!" and gets up and starts dancing in his seat. Then, all hell broke loose. Three girls to my left danced. Then a few more. Next thing you know I was out of my seat rushing to the front with a few others to dance at the front of the stage. Glorious pandemonium ensued, as Sufjan sang to us and we sang back to him. "It's a good life, better pinch yourself. Is it impossible? Is it impossible?"
Not to be cheesy, but man, that night, everything felt truly possible. During the encore and his performance of "Chicago," balloons rained down on us. I grabbed one and took it home with me, sitting on a train for a 45 minute ride back to Virginia Water. People looked at me like I was crazy, except one person who happened to be holding a balloon too. We looked at each other and nodded, sharing in the revelry that was this incredible show.
Runners up: The Flaming Lips at Primavera Sound, Arcade Fire at Hyde Park
|On Pegasus before my Vespa adventure began|
Let's start at dinner time. It's June in Siena, Italy, a cute little city in Tuscany. I head to a restaurant that I'd read good things about in good ol' Rick Steves' guidebook on my iPad, so I headed that way to grab a bite and hopefully have a good time.
In true random fashion, the night ended with all of us using what effectively was a stamp to put Italian flags all over our faces. So there we were, three Americans with a slew of Italian students, drinking booze and having faces covered with Italian flags. Not a bad night. Actually, a ridiculously amazing night.
Then, the next morning I woke up with a goal in mind: time to go live my dream and rent a Vespa to drive around wine country. And drive I did, as I picked up a Vespa and drove it all around the Chianti region of Tuscany for the whole day, sampling amazing food and wine while riding a scooter for the second time in my life. Did I look like a massive dork on this tiny motorbike? Assuredly. Was it a good time? Hell yes.
So in 24 hours, I had a slew of amazing meals, met a ton of awesome people, experienced wine country, and lived a dream. Pretty good day, if I do say so myself.
Runners up: Days One and Three of Primavera Sound, Day One in Thailand
|I had a good time|
What kid didn't enjoy water fights? I mean, you take buckets and fake guns and you fill them with water and then you blast the living hell out of each other. It's the most legal fun you can have shooting someone (pre zombie apocalypse, of course).
But then we grow up and water fights...well, they just don't work anymore really. We're adults, so we have to leave things like that behind, sadly.
Except in Thailand during the Songkran Festival.
The Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year and is also known as their Water Festival. It was started to highlight the spiritually cleansing powers of water, but it quickly became a day for anyone and everyone to hose down anyone who comes anywhere near you. And I don't mean this is just in one place (although Bangkok seemed to be a pretty good place to do that at), I mean everywhere in the country.
Maybe more so than anything I did on my trip, I wholeheartedly recommend trying out the Songkran Festival in Thailand. It's a wild, fun time, and it's completely unlike anything I have experienced before or likely ever will again.
Runners up: Riding a Vespa around wine country, jumping off the Kawarau Bridge in New Zealand, watching the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United in Barcelona (at Primavera Sound)
|Wayne Coyne and I at Parc Guell in Barcelona|
I met an oddly large amount of famous people on this adventure. The King of Mississippi from True Blood/Burnt Man from American Horror Story and his boyfriend (now husband) gave me money to buy a bus ticket to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia. Talked to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at Supanova in Melbourne, Australia. met Arcade Fire at Gare du Nord in Paris. But the best had to be meeting The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne.
I love The Flaming Lips, and a big reason why is because the sheer life affirming joy one stems from their live performances. If you haven't seen one of their shows, it's like happiness in concert form. A big reason why they are like that is because their lead singer Wayne Coyne seems to be the nicest and most gregarious guy on the planet. While in Barcelona in Gaudi's Parc Guell, I was chatting with my friend Amy when Coyne showed up right near me, eating a popsicle and picking up left behind litter (makes sense). I'm terrible at meeting people I admire, and my god, I was nervous beyond words. But I went up and introduced myself, took a picture with him and talked with him for a bit about their shows and Alaska.
Basically, we're best friends.
The only thing I regret from that experience is not asking if I could be one of the people who danced on stage during their shows. They always have people in costumes dancing up there, and I absolutely should have asked them if I could be one. But that's okay. It was still a thrill to meet him, and I was stoked to see them live the next day. Maybe next time...
Runners up: Meeting Arcade Fire in Paris, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Melbourne
|Soccer pool at a bar in Reykjavik|
Iceland is a really interesting place. It's a lot like Alaska in a lot of ways, but also completely not. It's like Alaska if fermented shark seemed like a good thing to eat and that there was a decent percentage of the population believed in magical things (with a significant amount of waterfalls thrown into the mix as well).
But one of the things that stood out the most had to be just how nice the people were in Iceland. Sure, the people in Japan and particularly New Zealand were crazy nice as well (CRAZY NICE in New Zealand), but the people in Iceland were just so damn interesting and fun and friendly. It was like a bohemian remix of Alaska, with everyone speaking in adorable accents and exhibiting a passion for life (and a fear of heat) that made them endlessly amusing.
Plus, their enthusiasm for nightlife even though their alcohol is outrageously expensive is awe inspiring. You get the feeling when you're out on the town in Reykjavik, in particular, that everyone knows everyone (besides you). But even that last tidbit is only a temporary impediment, as it is only a matter of time before you get to know them too over a shared beer or you getting obliterated by them in foosball.
Runners up: Japan, New Zealand
|Bungee Jumping in New Zealand|
Fun fact about doing this trip by myself: that was the best idea of the whole deal.
Some people fear experiencing things by themselves. Someone I know told me once that my generation's biggest problem is our fierce co-dependency issues, which I have never been able to disagree with. We're seriously co-dependent.
But I've never had a problem with that. I like seeing movies by myself. I like eating by myself. I like living by myself.
The good news about traveling by yourself is...well, there are a lot of good things about it. People by themselves are far easier for others to approach (I was told this over and over). Being by yourself means that if you want a day of hardcore tourism (power traveling, if you will), you can do that, or if you want a night on your iPad, you can do that, or if you want to spend the night drinking at a bar in Reykjavik until 6:30 AM, you can do that too. You can be with people. You can be by yourself. It doesn't matter.
Don't get me wrong, I love experiencing things with others too. But the thing about it is I could do that, but it became a choice for me, not a potential weight around me. Plus, if I was going to wait for someone to be able to travel around the world with me for five months, I probably would be waiting forever. I was not interested in that, and I have five months of memories that prove that going by myself wasn't a bad idea, but a great idea.
|My older lady pal Ryi asking if I can join a wedding party for a pic|
I'm not sure what a unifying factor for the senior citizens of the world should be, but I know what one is: myself.
No matter what country I was in or when it was or what I was doing, it seemed as if the older population of that locale went out of their way to help me no matter what I happened to be doing. Whether it was endless kiwis picking me up in their rickety old trucks to give me a ride (because I "looked like I was trying hard to get somewhere"), friendly town matriarchs who wanted to share her home's history with me, lovely older Japanese women who want to walk with me to practice their English and to share their country, or any number of other benevolent older person, I never had less than a glowing experience from the senior citizen crowd.
I have no idea if it was a me thing or if it was just because I happened to get lucky with who I met, but man, seniors of the world, I have this to say to you: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
|Believe it or not, the best hot dog I have ever had is in Reykjavik|
Anthony Bourdain called it the worst food he's ever eaten. Gordon Ramsay vomited after he ate it in a challenge with another famous person. It's Hákarl, also known as fermented shark, and it's, according to Wikipedia, "similar to very strong cheese slathered in ammonia."
When I suggested to native Icelandic folk that I was going to try it, they all just laughed. "You aren't going to like it," my driver into Reykjavik told me. "But if you try it, make sure to go to the flea market to do so, because then it will be free and the best." The Icelandic...always so caring.
So to the flea market I went, desperate to try this delicacy that at best would be "interesting" (never a word you want to hear about food on the upside) and at worst "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing," as Bourdain said.
I tried it, with an amused merchant looking on, and I actually really liked it! Sure, it was small enough to not get killed by it, but in small doses (it's served on a toothpick and is best paired with a popular Icelandic alcohol called Brennivin) it's oddly enjoyable.
Granted, I later went back with the Croatian Ken Jennings (aka my buddy Mislav) and the same merchant pulled a fast one on me by giving me an epic piece that nearly made me vomit, but the idea is still there. When in small doses, it's pretty good. I'm still glad I tried it.
Runners up: Fried Pig Ears in Madrid, nearly everything in Japan
|My old friend Amanda and I in Japan|
And by that, I mean anyone and everyone should go on a trip like this. I don't know why you wouldn't. It is literally the best thing I have ever done. I will always look back on it with great joy and happiness, and I think it changed me in very positive ways (or at least I hope it did). It was fun, exciting, educational, challenging and wonderful, and it really wasn't even that expensive.
If you have the opportunity to go and do something great, or to live your dream, you should do that. I don't know why a person wouldn't, but you absolutely should. What's the point of life if you don't do the things you desperately want to? I'm 27 and I've already lived my dream. But I have good news for everyone.
I can always get a new dream.