Back on the Grid

Well, I’ve now been back in Ohio for a couple days, but I wanted to wrap up the last few days of the trip which were in Puerto Rico. Now some may say, why did I even go to Puerto Rico? The reason I went was because it was a group of my good buddies celebrating our 30th birthdays and we never see each other together. It didn’t hurt that I ended up saving money on the flight by going through Puerto Rico instead of going back from to Columbus from Puerto Rico.

 

As one would expect, the travel plan to get from Barcelona to Puerto Rico was crazy. Consider this: I left my room in Barcelona at 5:15am, took a 2 hour flight to Munich, waited for 6 hours, took an 8 hour flight to Newark, had 3 hours before my flight left for Puerto Rico, and had 4 more hours in the air before I finally arrived at 1:45am. Customs at Newark was a mess. For some reason, there was no line for foreigners to get in, but the line for nationals was crazy long. After finally making it through, they made me leave the secured area to switch terminals and then had to go back through security again. I have no idea why this was the case, but oh well.

 

As I waited in baggage claim, my buddies were already waiting outside for me and took me back to the hotel. When I arrived, I was pretty jet lagged, but this group was an early rising one. On the first day, we just hung out at the beach and took on the waves which were pretty big. I would speculate that they were up to 8 feet high. As we went out to dinner that night (we were east of San Juan, in Luquillo), we got to experience a bit of the local culture. In speaking with our waiter, we talked about his interpretations of the general Puerto Rican view of the relationship with the US. The summary that we heard was that Puerto Rico needs the relationship with the US and they wouldn’t want to jeopardize it, but he didn’t think the people wanted to be a state. They want to maintain their own identity. Interesting perspective since each state and region of the US still has a proud history, just integrated into one nation. As this was going on, people on horseback rode by the bar. Also, all of the traffic signs and all of the advertisements are in Spanish. It’s like being in another country and in many ways, you are.

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The next day, Joe and I went into the Yunque National Forest, which is a rainforest. It was about 10 minutes to get to the entrance and then we drove around for a while until we found a couple trails. It was great.

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After our visit to the rainforest, we went back to the hotel and back to the beach. It was just a relaxing segment of the trip.

 

On Sunday, travel day, the guys took me to the airport, which was a disaster. I ended up just barely making it onto my flight, but right after I made it through security I ran into one of my classmates at Ohio State. Small world. And with that, the trip was over.

 

Since I’ve had a couple days to reflect on the trip, it truly was the experience of a lifetime. When is the next time I’ll have 6 weeks to go and do something like that? I was able to work in another country, make friends with classmates I hadn’t had much exposure to, hang out with my girlfriend and friends in Barcelona, make new friends across Europe, navigate Europe on my own and get to see old friends in Puerto Rico.

 

After touching 4 (maybe 5 if you consider Puerto Rico part of South America, just kidding) continents, traveling more than 21,000 miles (see the map below for details) and doing many things I never thought I’d do, I know turn my sights back to finding a job. I’ve now wrapped up my MBA and am ready for the next steps in my career.

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I did want to quickly list the things I never thought I’d do, that I did on this trip:

1) fly over Baghdad

2) be in an Arab nation, actually two

3) eat lamb brain

4) enter Oman – I mean seriously, Oman?!?

5) see Iranian smugglers right in front of my eyes

6) swim in the Strait of Hormuz

7) travel across Europe without a suitcase or backpack

 

To all of you that have followed along with the blog, I am back on the grid, and really appreciate your interest. The page ended up being much more popular than I ever would have imagined (especially since I only decided to do the blog the day before I left), ending up with over 1,500 hits since it first started on April 29th. I had a ton of fun putting it together and hopefully you enjoyed sharing in the journey.

 

Until next time, cheers and thank you!

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Rome, the ups and downs

To head off to Rome, things started early – I had to leave my place by 3am. Checking into the airport and getting into Rome’s Termini station where no problem at all. However, within 5 minutes of getting on their Metro, there was an attempted robbery 5 feet away. I had no idea what was going on in the moment though. A girl, between 18 and 24, was yelling and screaming, hitting and kicking. I thought she was being assaulted. However, it turned out she put on a show after she was caught trying to rob an older gentleman. Unfortunately, after getting crushed in the door and being pulled on the train momentarily, her and her accomplice friend got away before the police were able to get there. While I’m sure this stuff happens across Europe, and at times in the US, this was a terrible first impression of Rome. And unfortunately, it was an indicator of how I would feel about Rome.

 

On the positive side, the flat that I stayed at had a perfect location just outside the Vatican walls. The entrance to the Vatican Museum was only 200 yards away. One of the most impressive things for me in Rome was walking through St. Peter’s Square. The first time I walked through it was Sunday at 11:30am. Since I’ve been traveling for a while and doing all of it on my own the last week or so, I had no idea what day it was and took a minute to figure out why it was so packed – Sunday mass. It was almost unbearably crowded and I decided to get as far away from it as possible. Seemingly I was the only one headed the opposite direction. Regardless of how packed it was, it was awesome to see how excited people were to see the Pope and to see St. Peter’s Square.

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However, when I went back to the Vatican for the museum tour, I was completely turned off by it. The place was so insanely crowded that you literally could not move in most areas of the museum. It was impossible to read any of the placards with information about what you were looking at because of it. The true problem was that there were possibly hundreds of tour groups that would stop in the worst places. But, even without the tour groups, it would have been very very crowded. However, given the mass of people, I tried to move as quickly as possible through the museum – a major challenge. This ended up taking almost 2 hours to do. When I got to the last part of the tour, the Sistine Chapel, I slowed down and really tried to enjoy it as much as possible. I could barely get into the chapel due to the crowds, and once in, you were being horded out by the security guards, but I found a seat on the side and took it all in. What Michelangelo did in their is incredible. It was difficult to tell the difference between the actual features of the roof and his paintings in parts, because he framed them to look like additional dimensions of the ceiling. Again, this was a true highlight. But overall, and I hate to say this because I was very excited about going into the Vatican, the museum was downright terrible and impossible to enjoy (outside of the Sistine Chapel) due to the crowds.

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I did get into St. Peter’s Basilica later in the trip, and found that to be incredible as well.

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I next went over to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and the crowds were exactly the same – absolutely ridiculous. Trevi Fountain was hard for me to understand. It’s a small (albeit cool looking) fountain, and there were possibly 1,000 people around it. I mean, it was 10 people deep all the way around. I have no idea why it was so crowded. All of these experiences led to a couple things, one, I was revolted by most of Rome, two, I started taking pictures of the crowds, and three, I was going to avoid going in other major attractions, ie. the Colosseum and the Forum.

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While I didn’t go into the Colosseum or the Forum, I did walk around them and sat and took in the whole thing. It was awesome to sit there and think of the importance of it, the architecture and how it could possibly still be standing. I really enjoyed this, plus it was shaded.

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Two other highlights from Rome were going on a run – yes, I actually went on a run, it’s shocking I know – to the Olympic Stadium (Rome hosted the 1960 Olympics). There was a great trail along the river and it was cool to see the Olympic Park.

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The other highlight was on a walk home from one of the sites, I noticed a bus stopped at an intersection and the driver and all the passengers were in the street in front of it. At first, I thought the bus hit something, but it turned out the bus couldn’t make a right hand turn because a car had parked illegally (see the red car in the picture, before it was moved), it was blocked. Behind that bus were probably 10 others and a bunch of cars. All of the locals were out inspecting the car and trying to figure out what could be done or who’s car it was. I didn’t understand any of this, but I really enjoyed being there. Finally, a couple locals decided to try and move the car – that’s when I got involved. Four of us ended up lifting and moving the car a couple feet, and a few minutes later all of the traffic cleared. I felt like a community hero, well, not really, but it was a fun story and I got to breath in the moment with all the locals. It truly was a hilarious situation. There were a lot of people trying to figure out what to do and people hanging out of windows of the nearby apartments trying to see how the situation would be fixed.

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Overall though, it was my least favorite place I have visited in Europe and I won’t be running back. There are other areas of Italy that I’d love to see or get back to. Rome was just way too crowded.

 

On the way back to Barcelona, it was another crazy early morning but I spent the day at the beach to relax before heading back to The Box one last time to say farewell to my friends, the owners (see picture). I’m currently in Munich writing this post and the European portion of the trip has come to a close. However, I have learned a few things about Europe and myself, especially after traveling 8 days on my own.

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1) While I had no problems traveling on my own, I probably wouldn’t do it again – if you’re not staying in hostels, it is challenging to meet people and you realize it’s more fun to share the experience with others.

 

2) You don’t always have to do the things everyone else would do, and you don’t have to do them the same way as everyone else either. Some of my best experiences came this way.

 

3) I’m proud of my Spanish skills, which had not been used since high school. I used these frequently, especially in Madrid and Italy. Some of the Italians didn’t speak English, so I’d ask in Spanish if they understood Spanish. This actually worked.

 

4) I need to go back and re-learn Spanish – everyone around the world speaks more than one language, why don’t I? My Spanish was passable, especially considering how long it had been since I used it, but I should go back and re-learn it. I’m not sure this will happen, but I plan to try and take steps in this direction.

 

5) I stepped out of my element and tried to become the master of starting random conversations. As a result, I met people from Egypt, Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Ireland, Chile (conversation occurred in Spanish), Germany, Namibia, and all over the US. Striking up random conversations was not easy for me, but it was a good challenge and it was essential since I was by myself.

 

6) Europeans are very cheap and charge for EVERYTHING: bathrooms, water, sitting on a patio, Wifi at airports, etc. – we may charge for more than I think in the US, but at least we do a pretty good job in these areas. On the bright side, or confusing side, wine or beer was usually cheaper than water or Coke. Strange.

 

Anyway, that’s all for now, I still have 20 hours of travel time left to get to Puerto Rico, but look out for one last post in a couple days to put a bow on the entire trip.