Thursday, May 28, 2009

Welcome To Amsterdam!

Hey Everyone!
I am currently in Amsterdam after a quick 10 hr train ride from Chur, Switzerland. I've spent the past 5 days with friends of the family in Switzerland and had the best time. In Zurich, I stayed with the Riet and Johanna Theus for the weekend and went on a day trip to Mt. Rigi in the Alps and then explored Zurich and the lake on Sunday. I then took the train to Chur, where I stayed with Riet's sister Ursina and her family. Chur is a small town of about 30,000 people and is about 1.5 hours south of Zurich by train. Once again, the Theus family went above and beyond to accomodate me. Thank you. Ursina and I took a day trip through the alps to a spa/bath located in Scoul on tuesday and it was AMAZING! I was relaxing in the heated pools looking at the alps and basking in the sun for an afternoon thinking to myself, "it doesn't get much better than this!" Driving there was also an experience where I was glad to be the passenger, not the driver. Talk about steep and windy roads! Overall, my experiences in Switzerland were amazing and I would gladly go back at any time. It has been my favorite spot so far.
As previously mentioned, I am now in Amsterdam and it is cold and rainy. I feel as if I am going to be repeating the weather that Jonathan and Diana had on their trip to the Netherlands! I am staying at a campground about 30 minutes outside of the city called Lucky Lake. It is definitely going to be one of the more different places I will stay at. There are these huge Dr. Seus-like animal statues around and you sleep in either campers or in a "dorm," which more or less reminds me of my camp days as a young kid. Outhouses for bathrooms and an outdoor kitchen surrounded by hammocks and a lake. It almost looks like a gypsie village. It's quirky, but looks like a fun place to spend three nights.
Well, I will write more after I have explored the city for a bit, but wanted to give everyone a quick update while I have the chance. Take care,

More Swiss photos!

Greetings from Switzerland!

23 May 2009
Hey All,
Well, I finally was able to make it to Zurich after a 23-hour train adventure across Spain, France, and Switzerland. The original train that I was supposed to take to Zurich was apparently cancelled due to a strike or something silly like that in France. That being said, I was rerouted to the Spainsh/French border where I was to take a train to Strasbourg overnight and then catch a morning train to Zurich. Pretty simple, except for the fact that in the middle of the night my train in France split in half and I was on the wrong half. I had no idea this was going to happen and was quite surprised when the conductor told me I had to get off of the train because we were at our final destination- not Strasbourg. I had absolutely no idea where I was. I could have been on the western coast of France for all I knew. It turns out I was in this town called Metz near Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium. My next problem was how I was going to get to Zurich where family friends were supposed to be picking me up in a few hours! I once again ran into a language barrier problem, but was able to find a German girl to assist me in getting onto the right train this time and making sure that it was DIRECT to Zurich.
Switzerand is absolutely stunning. I am staying with the Theus family, friends of my grandfather's from his college days. They couldn't be more hospitable. Today we went hiking in the Alps at Mt. Rigi. We went with their daughter and her family and had a wonderful afternoon. It was like being on a film set sponsored by Deuter! It apperead that if you were not carrying a Deuter pack, you were clearly not in style! We ended up riding a train to the top and then walked around for a while appreciating the great views surrounding us. There were lakes everywhere and snow-covered peaks beyond those. We had a picnic lunch and lounged around listening to the many cows and their bells that dotted the mountains. Tonight we are grilling out with the entire family and then tomorrow I am going to explore downtown Zurich. The Swiss definitely know how to eat right, that's for sure. I love the sausages, the yogurtish things with berries that I just can't get enough of and of course the chocolate! Don't worry Scott, I will ship yours home so that it doesn't melt, and so that I don't eat it myself. :)
Gear Review:
Good news, the Chaco Entradas are not the source of my sore feet which makes them once again my favorite shoe of the trip! I am also extremely grateful for all of the Outdoor Research mesh stuff sacks, they have made finding my clothes much easier and have helped to keep the smell out. The Patagonia underwear is also a great treasure for walking around in all day and staying comfortable. I would definitly recommend them to any female traveler. They dry super-quick after washing too!
Well, that's all for now, I am going to go and enjoy my view of the alps and eat some sausages!

Spain continued. . .

18 May 2009

Hey Everyone,
Today is my last day/morning in Madrid and I am off to Barcelona. So far my experience here in Spain has been great. I have met many fellow friendly travelers who are more than willing to let me tour around with them for a few hours during the day or at night. The hostel has been lovely; it is a great place to meet other people and have some down time. (I must confess that eating Cornflakes out of a coffee mug with warm milk has been a new experience for me though.)
Yesterday, I took a day trip to Toledo, Spain, which is about a 30 minute bus ride south of Madrid. Toledo was beautiful, and with so much character and charm; I instantly fell in love with it. Toledo is a small city on the Tajo river that sits up on a hill. I ended up meeting a couple on the bus, Sandra King and Carlos Fernandez, and they let me explore the city with them. Both of them spoke fluent Spanish, which was a must, and were great company. Toledo is full of tiny cobblestone streets that wind upwards at extreme inclines. There are cathedrals everywhere and the entire city is enclosed by walls. When you reach the top of the city, the views are amazing and well worth the effort. Toledo is located in La Mancha, or as I like to refer to it, "Don Quijote Land".
Last night, I went to a drum circle in Retiro park with a fellow traveler from Duke University who happened to live in Madrid about a year ago. It was an experience to say the least. There must have been at least 150 people or more accuratley Spanish hippies all dancing around to the beat of drums and cow bells and shakers on this national monument. I can´t say that that would fly too well in the states. Vendors were also selling beer out of trash cans and folks were smoking a lot of hash (Iguess that hippies will be hippies!). We did some serious "people-watching" for a bit and then decided to grab a quick meal and call it a night. Don´t be fooled by that though, calling it a night does not mean you'll be tucked-in by 10 pm, I find it difficult to get to bed by 12:30 because they don´t do dinner here until 10ish at the earliest!

Overall, my experience in Toledo was wonderful, and I really feel as if I have gotten to know the city in the brief time I was here. Walking the city (and getting lost multiple times) is a great way to get the feel for a place!
Now for my gear review:
I have been wearing the Chaco Entrada shoes around since I left home, and hands down love them! They are super-comfortable to walk in all day, whether it is on cobblestones, gravel, or pavement. Wearing them while carrying my Granite Gear backpack (weighing 30lbs full) has not been a problem either. I love being able to get into it like a suitcase and not have to take everything out of the top when I need to get to something. It sits well on my hips and hasn´t been a pain to carry around, thanks Jonathan!
Well that is all for now. I hope everyone is doing well and had a great weekend!

20 May 2009
Greetings from Barcelona!
I have been hanging out in Barcelona since Monday and am really enjoying my time here. I´m staying at an awesome hostel (Yellow Nest) that is in a quiter district in the city. The hostel iself is a really social place where I have been able to meet many travelers my age from around the world. On Tuesday, I took a bus tour to three destinations outside of Barcelona. The first stop was at the Torres winery, an hour west of the city. It was absolutely beautiful with vineyards everywhere and charming staff. We were given a tour of the property and a free wine tasting at the end. The next stop on our trip was at Montserrat. Montserrat is located about 40 K outside of Barcelona and is known for the thousand-year old monastery located there. This was probably my favorite stop along the trip because it allowed for me to do some hiking and exploring in the park. The rock formations were like nothing I have ever seen before. The rocks are almost bubbly looking and take on the most unique shapes. Our last stop was at Sitges. Sitges is a former fishing village that has turned into a popular beach destination along the mediterranean. We had an english speaking guide who took us on a walking tour of the old part of town for a while and filled us in on the history and architecture of the town. We were then turned loose to do as we pleased for a bit. That being said, I ended up kicking off my shoes on the beach and getting some sun. I ended up meeting this really nice father and son from Kansas on the tour and joined them for dinner in downtown Barcelona later that night. It was a great way to end my day.
Today, Wednesday, I met up with this guy named Duncan that I met at the Barcelona airport on Monday. He´s from the UK and teaches english here in Barcelona while he moonlights as a DJ at a few of the local clubs. He took me on a tour of the city, mainly Montjuic. There we climbed over 1000m to the top of this hill (neither of us were expecting that intense of a climb) where there were breath taking views of the city, the port, and the mountains. there was this really neat castle at the top too. He filled me in on the history of Barcelona and what it´s like to live here. I then ended up doing some touring on my own and just enjoying the city from various cafes and parks. Tomorrow I am going to be doing some more exploring and then hopefully going to Bern or Zurich Switzerland on an overnight train.
Gear Review:
The Mountain Hardware peddle pusher capri´s are AMAZING! you can change how they fit on your waist for an ideal fit and they have a little bit of stretch to them which makes them perfect for traveling and hiking around. The Chaco entradas are still my favorite shoe of the trip, however, my heels are starting to hurt a bit in them. I don´`t know if this is from the hours of walking in them for the past week and not resting or the shoe itself. I´m going to try my sneakers for a bit this week and see if there is a difference.

I hope everyone is doing well, sorry I haven´t been responding to personal emails, the internet is not cheap in Barcelona and my time is limited.
Have a great evening,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Follow Kate's European Adventure!

For those of you who are too busy to travel yourselves (Diana and I often include ourselves in that category), you can follow one of Appalachian Outfitters' employees as she explores Europe. Kate Lasier just graduated from Clemson and she off to see the sights on the continent. Follow her adventures here.

Here are her first few entries:
Day 1 (Departure)
Hey Guys,
Well, I am all packed up and ready for my flight and surprisingly my pack only weighs 24.5 lbs! I'm leaving Greenville tonight at 7 pm and am flying to Atlanta. I then leave Atlanta at 10 pm and, if all goes according to plan, arrive in London tomorrow at noon. For those of you who are interested, you can follow me through Europe by going to About half way down on the right hand side of the web page there is an icon that looks like a map and says "track me live," by choosing this option you will then be able to see where I currently am and have been. It uploads to a satellite every 10 minutes. You can also read my blog and see a few pictures on the main website too.
Enjoy your week and I will share more information soon,

Day 2 (London)
Hey everyone,
Today was my first day in London and I had a blast. The flight over last night went really well and I was able to sleep the entire way, that being said, I haven't felt jet-lagged at all yet! I did your tipical exploring of London at first and then ran into three other backpackers from Clemson and ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the day. We rode the double decker buses and walked ALL over the place.

They were really fun to hang out with and I hope to see them again soon on this trip. I believe they were taking the bus to Scotland tonight. Carrying my pack around all day got old really fast and makes me rethink what I really need/want :). I am looking forward to being able to ditch my bag tomorrow in Madrid and go solo without it. So far everyone has been really nice and helpful and I'm looking forward to a hot shower and a bed in about an hour. I hope everyone's having fun in sunny South Carolina. I'll write more later.
Day 3 (Madrid)
Well yesterday was my first day in Madrid and it was a blast. I arrived shortly after 1:00 and after taking 2 trains and getting lost several times, I eventually found my hostel. Who would have thought to look for street signs on tiles on the sides of buildings? Knowing some Spanish would be a plus because not that many people speak English over here and getting directions is really quite difficult. The hostel I am staying at is very clean with 6 beds in a room, 1 shower, free internet, and free breakfast. It´s very modern looking with black and red walls everywhere. At the hostel, I met a fellow solo traveler from London and we decided to travel together for the day. Her name is Julia and she works for the Museum of Design. The two of us grabbed our metro tickets and went to enjoy the beautiful day and explore the city. Madrid was celebrating San Isidaro day, the patron saint of Madrid, so there were street parades and vendors everywhere. People were dressed up in costumes and there were tons of free events to go and see. Julia and I ended up walking the city and seeing the Palacio Real, which is this HUGE palace with amazing gardens and views of Madrid and the mountains. We then made our way through several plazas, cathedrals, and parks. We stopped at the Templo de Debod, which is a 2nd century BC egyptian temple that Egypt gave to Madrid for their help in archeological digs. It was pretty cool. We ended up kicking off our shoes their and taking a siesta in true Spanish style.
Later that night I met up with Miriam´s friend Flo and we went for tapas and beer. The two of us seemed to walk the entire city plus some, but it was well worth it. We started around 8 pm, but I have to say that the Spainards didn´t even show up until about 11 pm. We called it a night around 12:30 and took the metro back to the hostel.
Ok, so here is my gear review so far. I ended up wearing the Patagonia Duway skirt all day in Madrid and LOVED it. It was perfect for traveling around and staying dry in the heat. The Outdoor Research shirts I have been wearing are also an important item that I am glad to have with me. After wearing my pack around all day, I tend to work up quite a good sweat, but once I take my pack off, my shirt is dry within 2-3 minutes! It´s amazing. I also am using a pack towel by MSR and am really enjoying it. It is quick to dry and folds up really small. It definitely beats having to carry a wet moldy towel around all day! More to come on gear later.
As luck would have it, I am currently stranded in Madrid with no way out, but by plane-that won´t be happening. traveling wouldn´t be traveling without some MAJOR problem right? It turns out that you cannot buy a EuroRail pass in Europe unless you are from the EU, so for you future travelers, make sure you buy it before you come over here. This ranks in my top 5 stupidest mistakes ever! Oh well, I guess I will be getting really personal with this country for a while. I am trying to have my ticket shipped to Barcelona, where Miriam has a friend who I am going to meet up with. I have no idea how to get to Barcelona at this point or when my ticket will be there, but it will be interesting for sure.
I´ll keep you all posted on that front when I know more.
Adios for now,
Madrid (cont.)

Behind Palacio Real. This huge palace. I loved wearing the Patagonia Duway skirt and Outdoor Research wicking shirts because it was a hot and sweaty day, but I stayed dry all day and no chafing or under-arm sweat!

In front of Templo de Debod.
Templo de Debod. Brought over stone by stone to madrid from egypt as a thanks for their archaeological help.

In "Parque del Buen Retiro". It was a beautiful park; huge. . . reminds me of Central Park, but better-landscaped and cleaner. Went here with 3 other travelers from Phoenix.
Other assorted photos!

Stay tuned for more from Europe!