Tag Archives: Travel

BAVARIA. Get Lost!

Schloss Neuschwanstein - Bavarian Alps, Germany - May 2011

In Texas, we have something called “Texas Pride”. Now, I’m not saying that Mozambique, Estonia, Arkansas, Hungary, or The Philippines don’t have pride. I’m merely saying that no where else in the world will you find “Texas Pride”. Or so I thought. To steal a line from ESPN’s (Coach) Lee Corso… “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!”.

The charming and unspoiled town of Fussen, Bavaria - Germany - May 2011

So, what IS “Texas Pride”? In my opinion, it’s when you’re in Queenstown, New Zealand; Barcelona, Spain; London, England; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Guanacaste, Costa Rica; or more recently, Lake Bled, Slovenia, and somebody asks you… “Where are you from?” and you simply smile and say “TEXAS”. I’ve heard the same question asked to others, and I’ve heard “Switzerland”, or “Sao Paulo, Brazil”. But most commonly, you’ll hear “we’re from the US”. Then they might mention their city and state (i.e. Little Rock, Arkansas).

Munchen - Hoffbrau Haus - May 2011

You’re probably scratching your head wondering “what’s the difference?” and “why does he keep mentioning Arkansas?“. I’ll tell you. My Alma Mater – Texas A&M is playing Arkansas this weekend in Dallas, Texas. I’ve been distracted by college football all week! Oh, and so the difference is… Texans are Texans first. Americans second. It’s not arrogance. It’s just “Texas Pride”. Sorry. The Bavarians proved to me that they have that same bloodline of pride. Bavarians first. Germans second. And after spending some time in Bavaria… I understand.

Traditional Bavarian Beer Garden - Munich's Viktualienmarkt - Germany 2011
Munchen, Germany - They don't know Tex Mex food; But... The Bavarians KNOW beer!

Small confession. It took my wife (Anna) and I over 10 hours to get from Munich, Germany to Salzburg, Austria. If you live in Texas… that’s about the same distance from Austin to San Antonio. In other words… well under 100 miles.  115km to be exact. If you look at a map of Germany, it’s quite easy to see why Munich is considered The Gateway to Bavaria; so, as bad ass as it is to travel mach 5 with your hair on fire at 200km/h on the Autobahn… we wanted to take “the road less traveled” and visit Schloss Neuschwanstein – The Walt Disney looking castle. It’s common sense that if you want to find a castle on a mountain, you have to drive to the mountains. Our first stop… The Bavarian Alps.

The picturesque town center of Fussen, Bavaria - Germany

Now before I get too far into my wordy story, I want to share some insight about our general attitude when we travel. As a rule of thumb, we only truly care about TWO things:

1. Enjoying and appreciating our destination.

2. Knowing where we’re sleeping each night.

Other than that… NOTHING is set in stone when we travel.

Ratskellar - Munich, Germany - May 2011

Looking like a couple of Cheshire Cats, we grinned from ear to ear in anticipation of our visit to Schloss Neuschwanstein. Two Texans in Munich, Germany, driving a Swedish Volvo V60 D5 with a British navigation system we called “Margaret”. I quite fancied her; however, I’ve been fooled by a pretty voice before. Let’s not bother with that story. Anyway, moving on. We made the decision to stop at the 700 year old Bavarian town of Füssen. What I’ve discovered about travel is… The greatest surprises in life are the adventures never expected. Situated at the southern end of the Romantic Road, Füssen is an absolutely charming and well preserved Medieval town. It was quite easy to see why it is considered the romantic soul of Bavaria.

Fussen - "The Romantic Soul of Bavaria"

Arriving early that morning, we leisurely strolled along the town center’s uncrowded pedestrian streets and narrow lanes. One charming vision of art and beautiful architecture after another. From the base of the town center, we embarked on what I can honestly say, without hesitation was the BEST cafe mocha I have ever had in my life. Served at a small cafe in Füssen Bavaria by an Italian man. Could have just been the atmosphere. Or perhaps it was his meticulous preparation and care he put into making each of us a glorious cup of coffee. Sure, he was Italian; but, he showed us Bavarian Pride! I think one of the things I most admire about practically ALL Bavarian cities, towns and villages (correct me if I’m wrong), is the architectural and religious presence of a church. Religious or not, it is hard to deny the beauty and historical value this presence serves in Bavarian society. I, myself made it a point to say a prayer for friends, families, and those who came before me to the Basilica, as part of my appreciation for my destination. As if you couldn’t already tell… I’m a fan of Füssen.

"Fresh Bread" - Fussen, Bavaria - May 2011

After a slow and pleasant walk back to the car, I programmed Margaret for our key tourist destination… Falkenstein Castle. Pulling out of Fussen and making our way around a few roundabouts, something felt a bit off. Or as my Cousin Roger from England would say… “well dodgy!”. Nevertheless, I’d like to believe that Margaret was smarter than I am; however, when she had me pull off the main road up a mountain path that looked like somebody’s driveway, we decided it was best to pull over and see where the heck she was taking us.

The Bavarian Alps - Germany - May 2011

I vaguely recall Anna asking me to check the map again. Yeah, “Falkenstein Castle”. It was showing the destination was only a couple kilometers away. Anna being the smart person she is, quickly identified that you can see Neuschwanstein Castle from miles away. Like a fool… I had typed in FALKENSTEIN CASTLE, located in the Texas Hill Country – built by Texas businessman, Terry Young and his wife, Kim. The irony of it all… there really IS a Falkenstein Castle in Bavaria. The highest castle ruin of Germany.

LOST in Bavaria - somewhere between Fussen and Schloss Neuchenwanstein

WE WERE LOST! Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit here. You’re never truly lost if you have a physical map and a car with a navigation system. Overall, probably the best mistake we made during our vacation, because we found our way through a portion of Bavaria that we may never have seen. We discovered pristine alpine lakes and views, and in all reality, we weren’t that far away from Neuschwanstein Castle after all. Once again… The greatest surprises in life are the adventures never expected.

Anna - Lost in The Bavarian Alps, Germany - May 2011

Walking up to Neuschwanstein Castle has got to be one of the most awe inspiring feats of architecture I have ever seen in my life. Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is truly impressive. So is St. Mark’s in Venice, Italy; however, Schloss Neuschwanstein poised amongst the Bavarian Alps was absolutely incredible. It was obvious that King Ludwig II was clearly off his rocker when he had this place constructed. I’ve got some more architectural wonders to check out during my lifetime that I’m sure will surpass this experience – The Vatican, Taj Majal, and Taktsang Palphug Monastery (“Tiger’s Nest”) in Bhutan; but, for now… Neuschwanstein was fantastic!

The hike up to Neuschwanstein Castle - May 2011
Schloss Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

I don’t recall how many hours we spent at Neuschwanstein. The day was getting long, so we called our residence for the evening at Hotel & Villa Auersperg in Salzburg, to inform them… we’d be a little bit late. If you’re ever visiting Salzburg, I highly recommend Hotel & Villa Auersperg. Warm, friendly, and attentive staff. CLEAN rooms. Sure, air conditioning is absent; but, it’s Europe. I live in Texas. No Austrian heat can phase me. Plus, even in May, the nights were cool with an awesome breeze, so we slept with the windows open. Care to learn more about my thoughts on Austria, you can check out one of my previous blogs: Austria! Well, then… G’day mate!

Austria Lake District - Mondsee on the way to St. Gilgen, Austria - May 2011

Although time was irrelevant, we started feeling a bit like the cast of Gilligan’s Island. Just a bit off the map. A few jaunts through some beautiful winding Bavarian roads along the Deutsche Alpenstraße and we found ourselves in Bad Tölz – another unspoiled village that drew us with its amazing charm.

Bad Tolz, Bavaria - May 2011
The unspoiled charm of Bad Tolz
Anna - "window shopping" in Bad Tolz, Bavaria - Germany 2011

I’m not Bavarian. I don’t live in Germany. But, in my opinion, and from my short stay in Bavaria… I would define “Bavarian Pride” as “An unbelievable preservation of culture, history, architecture, cuisine, sociability and hospitality within a magically picturesque region of Germany”. Bavarians first. Germans second. In summary, and my recommendation if you should find yourself in Bavaria… Take your time. Get lost!

The charming town of Fussen, Bavaria - May 2011


You might be Jamaican if…

1978. Leicester, England. I was 8 years old. A generous sized group of loud, fast talking people you have observantly identified as your family members and their friends dominate the room. A lot of laughing, dancing, and oversized afros occupy the space; but, that is irrelevant. You’re 8! All you, your 6 year old sister, and your cousins about the same age care about is the wicked cool turntable located in the corner of the room with a 33 1/3 rpm vinyl album pumping out reggae riddims from the likes of Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Desmond Dekker, U-Roy, and of course, Bob Marley & the Wailers. No tapes. No CDs. No iPods. Just 33 1/3 rpm vinyl stored in a cardboard sleeve against a set of speakers the size of a small Honda. If this was your childhood… or lifestyle in the 70’s…  You might be Jamaican.


The number one question I get when I travel… “Where are you from?”. Sounds like a simple enough question; but, the answer tends to be a bit more complicated. I was born in Leicester, England. I moved to Amarillo, Texas in 1981 when I was 11 years old. Please. Don’t judge. At age 11, you go where the food, shelter and family goes. For me, that place was the Texas Panhandle. As for my current situation, I call Austin, Texas my hometown. Primarily because my parents have lived here since 1993, and I have lived in Austin since 2000. Typically, I get the “oh, military kid?”. Nope. Jamaican parents. Born in Jamaica, moved to England in the late 60’s.They met. Got married. I was born. Ironically, my accent is neither British nor Jamaican, and barely Texan/American.


Over my years, I’ve discovered that there are 3 types of Jamaicans –

1) ROOTS Jamaican – Born, raised and never left the island of Jamaica. EVER. They are rooted and there is no where in the world better than Jamaica.That would be my Uncle Glenn.

2) TRAVELER Jamaican – Born and raised in Jamaica; but, have left Jamaica to live elsewhere. Canada, United Kingdom, or USA seem to be the dominant destinations. That would be my parents, and a LOT of my aunts, uncles and cousins. The amazing thing about the TRAVELER Jamaican… they ALWAYS go back to Jamaica. In fact, they often have a home back in JA, or plan on building a home to retire back to Jamaica.Loyal. True. Jamaicans.

3) DASH Jamaican – We weren’t born in Jamaica. We’ve never even lived in Jamaica. But, our parents are Jamaican, and Jamaica was a prevalent theme song in our home. We’re DASH Jamaicans, because we were born and raised overseas; Therefore, British-Jamaican. Canadian-Jamaican. American-Jamaican. Texas-British-Jamaican. Ohhhhh… I like that one! Book it Dan-O!


In my 41 years, I’ve been to Jamaica anywhere from 10-12 times. When I go… I’m not staying at a resort, laying out on the beach, drinking Red Stripe while talking to Tiffany and Blake from Michigan, and climbing Dunn’s River Falls (highly recommended I might add). That’s for tourists. Although, I hear the Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa Resort in Westmoreland is spectacular! Same goes for Round Hill Hotel & Spa on the West Coast between Montego Bay and Negril. Everywhere you look, that place is like a postcard just waiting to be mailed. My cousin Martin is a chef over there, so probably should pop in, say hello, and stay awhile next time I’m in Jamaica. Nope. I stay with family. Either in Montego Bay, Mandeville, Kingston, or out in the country – St. Anne’s Parish. No air-conditioning. No hot water. No butler, or maid service to clean the room. No bartender to make your drink of choice, and the food comes from somebody’s kitchen. Good old-fashioned Jamaican cookin’! Home style!

To this day… the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life that I don’t remember – meeting Bob Marley in London and sitting on his lap when I was a toddler (1972-73 time frame). WHAT? Yeah. Sad. But, when you think that my Dad grew up and was friends with Bob Marley in St. Anne’s Parrish – 9-mile, Caldewood District, and they went to school together with Teacher James a Stepney School… mind blowin’. Dad’s about to be 67 in September 2011, which means Bob Marley would have been 66, turning 67 in Feb 2012. They were less than 6 months apart. I’ve been to where they are from. To think that Marley came out of that small region of Jamaica as one of the most influential artists of this century… Remarkable. He died in 1981 when I was 11. But he left his mark. Like Picasso, or Michelangelo. A staple in creating, molding, and dominating an entire genre of music – reggae. Debate it if you will. Bob Marley, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Rolling Stones, and U2 are the only other artists I can think of on that magnitude – globally. OK, maybe Lady Ga-Ga.


Sometimes it sucks not being a tourist. Like I said… next time, I’m staying in a resort. Just so I can experience the other side of “island life”. It could not have been more prevalent than in my most recent trip to Jamaica. Unfortunately, it was for the passing of my Uncle – The late great George Johnson. 97 years old! We weren’t there to mourn his life. We were there to celebrate it! Why? Because that’s what Jamaicans do. We comfortably landed at Montego Bay Sangster International Airport, and made our way to the baggage claim and flawlessly breezed through customs. As I gazed around the airport, I couldn’t help but partake in my favorite hobby – people watching! Oh yeah – dude in Tommy Bahama hat, shirt, shorts and shoes… he’s a tourist. 20-something’s holding hands and kissing in the passport line – on their honeymoon. Family of  what looks like anywhere from 15-20 people with TEAM WATSON on their shirts – Really? Really? Rest of the scene – Jamaicans. Or at least 2 out of 3 of the categories I mentioned – TRAVELER, or DASH Jamaicans. Other than exploring new landscapes and cities, discovering fascinating cultures, indulging in delightful cuisine, and enticing beverages, I think my sole reason for travel is to people watch. Hey, it’s the best thing you can do for free. Well… 2nd best. I’ll leave that one alone.


Our family friend – Richard came to pick us up. Now, THIS is where you separate the tourist from the Jamaican. 3 hours through the mountains and windy roads from Montego Bay to Mandeville. A pleasant drive, if you like pot-holes and NASCAR. Yeah… they drive cray-zee over there. And they drive on the left hand side of the road, so that in itself is an adjustment that you better make quickly. I kept looking for the steering wheel in front of me. It wasn’t there. Silly rabbit!

The 1st night was primarily catching up, telling stories and reminiscing about the past. The 2nd night, we went to Grey Grounds on the outskirts of Mandeville for the wake. More like a party than a wake. Music, celebration, drinking, laughing, story telling, and a night full of who’s who. There’s a comfort in discomfort. What the? What I mean is this… I was concerned everything was a bit too foreign for me; but, when it’s your family, you just talk. The rest takes care of itself. You learn who is in New York, New Jersey, England, Canada, and/or still living right there in Jamaica. You find yourself walking  your own footsteps. I still remember walking up the hill to Uncle George’s house. There, I saw my Cousins Raymond and Patsy. The twins – Sonny and Brother (his real name is Cedric), and I was 3, then 8, then 12, then 14, then 19, etc. That hill looked a LOT bigger when I was a little kid. Same hill. Same home. Same people. It felt good. Drink some beer and mannish water (goat head soup). This is the non-tourist route.


3rd day. The funeral. The beautiful thing about Jamaica is that church is a whole different ball game than anywhere else I have ever been in the world. It’s like you can feel their spirit and love filling the church. It’s quite the experience. Could just be a lack of air conditioning and 100% humidity; but, hey… I am always moved. Uncle George was honored well. I don’t want to get into the specifics of the service; however, when you look at where you come from – your roots – and you get an opportunity to experience that history lesson first hand – that’s a blessing. What the previous generations did for us is unfathomable. From the Jamaican farm exchange programs with the USA, to the building of the Panama Canal, to England, and back to Jamaica. Unbelievable. And to think that sometimes I complain about having to load the dishwasher, or because there’s nothing good on the 400+ tv channels, or because my computer doesn’t have enough memory and the screen loads slower than I want it to at work. Sometimes you have to simplify your life to appreciate life. Clear out some of the unnecessary mental and emotional road blocks, and just live life. Enjoy and learn who your family is, because it tells a lot about who YOU are. Oh, and if you’re watching the Olympics track events – 100m, 200m, or relay, and you find yourself cheering for the green, black and gold instead of the red, white and blue… You might be Jamaican!


Scotland: Do yer drink scotch?

Every once in awhile, quite often, almost daily, more times than necessary, all the time… I have flashbacks of places I’ve been around the globe. To the point that… I believe I’m actually there. Personally, I’m blaming it on the Texas heat. 107 F (41.7 C) today to be exact. Is it just me… or, is that TOO HOT? Right now, even people in Saudi Arabia are agreeing “Man! That’s pretty hot!” and they live in the desert. Of course, I live in Austin, Texas, so that’s my fault. That’s like living in Bora Bora and complaining about the sand. Although, what mad man would do that? Yeah, I need to go there. Soon. Fiji, Hawaii, or Maldives would be quite nice too. Anyway, so my most recent flashback interruption occurred while I was attending an important corporate meeting this afternoon.

The Old Man of Storr – Isle of Skye – Scotland, UK – November 2004

**FLASH!!! BOOM!!! KA-POWWW!!!** I don’t have any fancy James Cameron Avatar like graphics, so just imagine that’s me taking you back in time.

Bunchrew House – November 2004 – Inverness, Scotland

The year was 2004, on a cold November evening in the Highlands of Scotland. Our destination – Bunchrew House – a 17th Century Scottish mansion, located on the outskirts of Inverness along the banks of the Beauly Firth. (Shhh… my wife still thinks it’s an old haunted castle). After a delightful 5-Star culinary experience in the main dining room, we adjourned to the library where we were warmly welcomed by a jovial bartender. As I semi-surveyed the bar menu for my favorite Scottish ales, we couldn’t help but be in awe, as we absorbed the history throughout the room. A crackling fire was the dominating statement of the room, surrounded by authentic antique furniture and masonry. It was as if we had gone back in time. As we turned towards the bartender, two small whiskey glasses were placed in front of us. Then we heard a voice I’ll never forget… “Do yer drink scotch?”. I think I might have said “Huh?”; but, for journalistic interpretation, let’s pretend I said “I beg your pardon sir?”. Across the room, an old man with his wife sat comfortably in a tartan driving cap. “Do yer drink scotch?” he kindly repeated in an accent that was the Scottish of all Scottish accents. Hey, I’m in The Highlands of Scotland, just outside Inverness – down the road from the ever fabled Loch Ness. Hell yeah I drink scotch! For the record, I’d never had scotch, and neither had Anna. He politely nodded in acceptance, and before we could say the words “Thank” and “You”, the bartender went to the TOP of the bar and removed an old bottle that looked as though William Wallace himself had purchased it. That’s the dude Mel Gibson played in Braveheart – in case you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.

The Highlands – Scotland, UK
The Highlands of Scotland – Nov 2004

We grasped the glasses and headed over to their table. Introduced ourselves and began to talk. Turns out that they were from The Outer Hebrides – located on the outer edge of Europe in the far North West of Scotland. Also known as The Western Isles. It’s the kind of stuff I used to read about in old leather bound encyclopedias, before the Internet was invented by Al Gore. You wonder if these places are real, and then you meet people that blow you away with unparalleled generosity, warmth and character. They were on their 50th Wedding Anniversary. WOW! If that’s not enough… they spent their honeymoon at Bunchrew House. DOUBLE WOW! But wait… there’s more! In fact, they’ve spent every single anniversary – #1 to #50 at Bunchrew House. Triple Wow? Nope. That deserves double dream hands!

Loch Ness – Scotland, UK
The ruins of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland

I know it sounds like I’m making fun of the situation. Trust me… I’m NOT. We truly were blown away. They were probably two of the nicest people we had ever met in our lives. After about 30mins of conversation, they called it a night. Before leaving, they wished us the best of luck and predicted that although we were just boyfriend and girlfriend at the time, they said we had “the stuff that love is made of” and knew for a fact that we would be married before long. Sometimes people just have genuine hearts. That was this couple that had lasted together in The Outer Hebrides for 50 years of marriage. They were right. About 18mos later, we got married – May 2006. That’s still not the most fascinating part of the story. After they left, the bartender came over and told us that the gentleman had received that bottle of scotch as a wedding gift. When he got it… it was already 200 years old. He keeps it at the bar. So, I know most of us failed nonlinear optics of nanostructures and photonic physics; but, if my 2nd grade math still serves me well, that would put the bottle of scotch at 250 years old! That’s crazy talk! True story!

Eilean Donan Castle – The Highlands, Scotland

I don’t know what made me think of that couple today; but, I’m glad I did. Oh, now I remember… the 107 F (41.7 C) Texas heat. Sometimes, you just have to go to a place that provides fond memories, or creates new adventures. To stand on the shores of Loch Ness (no, we didn’t see the monster) and explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle, or walk through the historic Eilean Donan Castle is something special you can only appreciate once you are in The Highlands. To gaze upon Ben Nevis – Britain’s highest mountain, and hike along its Glen is something straight out of Braveheart. Literally. If you prefer to trek in remote locations, I highly recommend you consider the Isle of Skye. A remote and beautiful landscape that beckons you to make your own path amongst the jagged Cuillins Mountain ridge ( (Scottish Gaelic: An Cuilthionn).

Ben Nevis – The Highlands, Scotland

The pastel colored homes in the village of Portree (had a great cup of hot chocolate in that place! – Just sayin’). We had another great cup of hot chocolate at The Scots Kitchen in Fort Augustus – a small village at the southern end of Loch Ness on the Caledonian Canal. What can I say… we love hot chocolate, and let’s be honest… it was C-O-L-D in Scotland. Heck, it was November!  There’s about a 97.345% chance I probably was complaining about the cold weather (at the time). Oh, how I would welcome that cold air right now during our Texas heatwave of 60+ days over 100 F. This really is madness. Bring on the Fall!

The Scots Kitchen – Fort Augustus, Scotland – GREAT hot chocolate on a cold day!
Fort Augustus, Scotland – Nov 2004

Other than the scotch story at Bunchrew House,  one of my fondest memories of Scotland was watching daylight diminish at 2:30pm on The Isle of Skye, while gazing upon the glorious mirror image of The Old Man of Storr. Legend says that long ago giants lived on Skye and when the Old Man died he was covered up by the earth with only his thumb left sticking out. Makes you wonder if 800 years ago, tartan kilted clansmen had the same vision. Beautiful landscape. Everlasting memories.

The Old Man of Storr – November 2004

Scotland – The Highlands and Isle of Skye is the quintessential Bed & Breakfast destination. Filled with unbelievable history, natural beauty, fascinating people, great beverages, and fine cuisine. What more could you ask for? I’m smiling right now, just thinking about our trip in 2004. If you’re interested in planning a trip to The Highlands, I highly recommend you get you in touch with our Scottish tour guide (and friend), Nicola Fraser at Highland Journeys. I promise you, Nicola will create an experience you will never forget. Bottomline… she knows her Scottish history, and is an absolute pleasure and joy to be around.

The Cuillens Mountain ridge – Isle of Skye, Scotland
Our Scottish tour guide – Nicola Fraser from Highland Journeys – http://www.highlandjourneys.com/

That’s what travel is all about. Taking that plunge. Exploring the unknown. Learning a new culture. Making new friends. Sharing stories. Imagining the next trip. Get out there! Even if your camera sucks – like mine did back in 2004 when I took these pictures in Scotland – Who cares! I captured the moment and now I’m able to share them (almost 7yrs later). Join the conversation!


Urquhart Castle – Nov 2004

VENICE 72 – “perfect weather day”

Many years ago… In a galaxy far far away… Just kidding. But seriously. Many years ago I created a self-inflected rule to “NEVER live anywhere that gets colder than your age”. An absolutely brilliant theory if you’re 12. I’m 41, which pretty much means by the time I’m 60… I’ll be living down in Boca Raton, Florida playing bocce ball with Frank and Estelle Costanza.

Venice, Italy - "perfect weather day" - 72F - May 16, 2011

I’m really working hard (not really) to achieve a “glass is half-full” mentality; but, when it’s 8:30am on a Sunday morning in Austin, TX, with a projected high for the day of 103F (40C), and you find yourself saying (to yourself) “it’s too bloody hot to drink coffee!” then that’s a problem. For 2 reasons:

  1. You’re talking to yourself. Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
  2. It’s never too early, never too late, and there’s ALWAYS time for coffee in my world, so it sure as hell should NEVER be “too bloody hot to drink coffee”.
"perfect weather day"
VENICE, ITALY - "perfect weather day" - 72F
"The Gondolier" - Venice, Italy

If I can be random for a minute… I’ve never been a fan of bumper stickers. Just not my gig. Sure, I’ve got my Texas A&M University – Association of Former Students sticker on my back windshield; but, that’s a sticker. Plus, it looks decent. Go ahead and roundhouse kick me in the head if I ever put a “my child is better than your child” type sticker on my car, and I certainly don’t ever have the time (or energy) to advertise how much a political leader stinks. Now, after saying all that, I had to laugh out loud (LOL as the kids say) at my friend Janeen’s current Facebook profile picture. It’s the bumper sticker of my life! “DRINK COFFEE. Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy”. Yeah, that’s me.

DRINK COFFEE: Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy

So now that we’ve gone around the block to go next door… IT’S HOT! Not Africa hot. TEXAS hot. We’re talkin’ 103F! That’s about 40C for my friends around the world on the metric system. I could easily go off on another tangent about “why America isn’t on the metric system with the other 95% of the world” but, I’ll spare you the boredom. Plus, that would mean I’d have to actually know the answer. Which I don’t.Wait… yes I do. MONEY. Costs too much to change everything out for 300 million people. Done.

Venice Italy - "original Venice walking tour"

Getting back to the “glass is half-full” conversation… I tried to look at the positive side of life. Unlike the temporary coma conversation with the Canadians (see Archived blog entry – AUSTIN: Hometown Cravings!), this time… I was fully aware of my surroundings. Primarily due to a 3.5yr old asking me “Daddy why don’t you have hair?” and whether or not he could have pancakes for breakfast. So as I’m “listening” to the boy discuss why he’s the fastest runner in his school, and how he doesn’t care too much for the way that research is currently being conducted on sub-atomic particles, I went to a place called VENEZIA. For my fellow English speaking brothers and sisters… VENICE, ITALY.

"Blue Skies... Nothin' But Blue Skies" - St Mark's Square - Venice, Italy

May 16th, 2011. The day after our 5yr Wedding Anniversary. My wife and I drove from Lake Bled, Slovenia to Villach, Austria. 3hrs later via first class coach bus… Venezia, Italia! If you ask me – What does a “perfect weather day” look like? Without hesitation… my first answer will now always be – Venice, Italy – 72F (22C) – May 16th, 2011. Perfetto!

Anna in Venice, Italy

This is typically where I try to think of something witty and intelligent to say. I’ve got nothin’, so I’ll just shut my mouth, stop blogging, and let you enjoy the photos of what I consider my “perfect weather day” in Venice, Italy. Or as I like to call it my… “glass is half-full” Significant Achievement Award. Austin 103 – Venezia 72.  Score may not reflect it; But, today… Venice wins!

Life on the Grand Canal - Venice, Italy
Gondolas on The Grand Canal - Venice, Italy

What does a “perfect weather day” look like for you?

Check out more photos on my Flickr page – VENICE ITALY May 2011

Until then… Join the Conversation! I would LOVE to get your feedback!


The Rialto - Venice, Italy - "perfetto!"
View of Grand Canal from The Rialto Bridge - Venice, Italy
Afternoon by The Rialto - Venice, Italy
"Hidden Canals" - Venice, Italy
St Mark's Cathedral - Venice, Italy
Late Afternoon on the Grand Canal - Venice, Italy
Leaving San Marco - Venezia, Italia
Venice, Italy - May 2011
"Laundry Day" - Venice, Italy
Pasta Anyone? - Venice, Italy
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) - Venice, Italy
Venezia, Italia - "perfect weather day"
Venice, Italy - MAY 2011


AUSTIN: Hometown Cravings!

Texas State Capitol Building – Austin, Texas USA – “Don’t Mess With Texas!”

The name of my TRAVEL blog is Austin GlobeTrekker; yet, all I’ve blogged about so far in my one month of existence is the “GlobeTrekker” portion. Time to get LOCAL and talk about AUSTIN! This might very well be one of the most conceited and arrogant statements I’ve made in the past 24-36hrs; however, I must say… I live in a BAD ASS city! Austin, Texas might very well be one of the coolest places to call your home. And I rightfully call Austin my hometown, because even though I was born in Leicester, England, I’ve lived in Austin for over 30% of my life; Texas for over 70%. As much as I love to travel… Texas IS home. Don’t worry… I’m still going to ramble on about other countries too.

Texas State Capitol - Austin, Texas USA

I recently met some folks from Canada during a training session in Round Rock, Texas for my “real” job that I actually get paid to do. You’ll rarely hear me talk about “work” on this blog, because… we’re here to share stories and experiences about TRAVEL. Things I like to do when I’m NOT working. Sure, I’ve been to British Columbia (Vancouver, Whistler) and Alberta (Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper) and met hundreds of Canadians (ok, like 10); But, it’s not so often that you meet them right here in your hometown and hear them say “I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit Austin!”.  That TEXAS PRIDE kicks in, and an uncontrollable Southern grin crosses your face, and all you can think to say is “WELCOME TO TEXAS!”.

The Lone Star Flag
The Lone Star Flag - Welcome to Texas!

Like most tourists (including myself), you do your research and have your rough itinerary of things you want to see in the city your visiting. About halfway through our conversation about the downtown Austin live music scene, the bats under the Congress Bridge, partying at the bars on 6th Street, eating real Texas BBQ (his words, not mine) and indulging in some authentic Mexican food (her words, not mine), I drifted off into a coma and started talking to myself about the things that I like to do in Austin. I started to tell them that if they REALLY want to see some live music… come back in September (16-18) for ACL – Austin City Limits Festival 2011 at Zilker Park. Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of watching one of my legendary favorites – Pearl Jam put on a spectacular show. This year promises to be incredible too. Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Coldplay, and so on and so on. Skipped it last year… but, I digress.

Austin City Limits Festival 2009 - Pearl Jam on the Livestrong Stage

Unfortunately for them, they were staying at The Marriott – La Frontera, in Round Rock, Texas. I had to gingerly explain that this is NOT Austin. Saying you’re “staying in Austin” when you’re really in Round Rock, is kinda like the time one of my managers told us we were “staying in Manhattan, New York” when our hotel was really in Secaucus, New Jersey. True story. Similar… but different. It’s close enough that you can get there. But don’t fool yourself thinking it’s a 10min walk. More like an expensive cab ride. In honor of my new Canadian colleagues, I’ve added a photo of one of my favorite hotels in the world – The Fairmont Banff Springs HotelAlberta, Canada. Once again – Similar… but different to Round Rock, Texas. I’m just sayin’.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - Alberta, Canada - Canadian Rockies

Naturally, it wasn’t long before I realized… our “Austin Agendas” are just a tad different. In a traveler’s defense… It’s hard to know a place in 2 days. God bless ’em for tryin’ though. For example… The best bars in Austin (in my opinion mind you) are DIVE BARS. I’m embarrassed on the borderline of sheer pride that MOST of the Dive Bars in (and around) Austin, Texas know me and my group of idiot friends we like to call “The Dive Bar Crew”. For the past 10-12yrs, we’ve frequented some spectacular joints like Ginny’s Little Longhorn, Lustre Pearl Bar, Poodle Dog Lounge, Buddy’s, La-La’s, C-Hunt’s, G&S Lounge, Dry Bean Saloon, Horseshoe Lounge, The Hideout, Deep Eddy Cabaret, Shoal Creek Saloon, The Water Tank, Dog & Duck, Posse East, Nasty’s, Crown & Anchor, Shannanigan’s, Draught House, Canary Hut, The PLT (Parmer Lane Tavern) Carousel Lounge, and my favorite dive bar in Austin, Texas… Donn’s Depot – just to name a few! Oh, and if you’ve got the time… and the courage… take a short trip just outside of Austin to an old biker bar in the Texas Hill Country called The Devil’s Backbone . CLASSIC!

"The Dive Bar Crew" at The Devil's Backbone - Texas USA

I then started to get thirsty. Then I just got flat out hungry after drinking all that cheap ice cold beer (in my mind), and could NOT get BOMB TACOS out of my mind! It was driving me crazy! So, I mentioned Lustre Pearl Bar. It’s a really cool laid back Texas style beer garden at 97 Rainey Street over by the Austin Convention Center. BOMB TACOS is a camper. No lying. It’s not a building establishment. It pulls up to the side of the beer garden in the back of Lustre Pearl Bar, and serves a Bad Ass Burrito. LITERALLY. It’s called the “Bad Ass Burrito”. Check the sign and menu. All Tacos – $3. All Burritos – $6. All Quesadillas – $6. And it’s fresh-cooked, TexMex heavenly cuisine when accompanied by an ice-cold cerveza! I recently got my Bomb Taco fix on my birthday party weekend (May 7th) before heading to Europe (May 9th) – Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Sometimes… you’ve just gotta have it!

BOMB TACOS - Lustre Pearl Bar - Austin, Texas - "Home of the Bad Ass Burrito!"

Which leads me to another quick story (not really). My friend Sal lives in Munich, Germany. LOVES it there, and I can clearly see why. FANTASTIC city, culture, people, food, beer and overall scene. BUT… Sal told me how he was craving Mexican food like a banshee! Not really sure how a banshee craves food; however, dude was clearly desperate enough to get into an altercation with a Bavarian over the definition of Mexican food. Sal ordered a quesadilla. Dude gave him a burrito. Similar… but different. Sal’s response – “Hey man! I’m FROM Texas… I know Mexican food!”. So I said, “Sorry you didn’t get your Mexican fix! I wish I could package some TexMex and send it over for you.” His response… “Oh, I ate the burrito! And it was damn good too!”. Hmmm… me thinks NOT! He’s been away from Texas too long. They don’t know TexMex food; But… The Bavarians KNOW beer! PROST!

Bavarian Beer Garden - Munich, Germany - May 2011 - PROST!

So, I’m still stuck in this freaky coma of complexity, dreaming about my local palette, and it leads me to ice cream. While we were recently in Venice, Italy, I think I may have had the BEST mint chocolate chip ice cream in the world! Seriously. No exaggeration! OK… maybe a 3.742% exaggeration. Sometimes, food is just about location. location. location. Ice cream in The Rialto Market on a warm sunny May day in Venice, Italy… that’s almost perfection for location. It was sooooo good, that after completing the generously portioned scoop… I wanted to go back and get another one. If you’ve been to Venice before – good luck getting back to where you were in The Rialto if you never knew where the hell you were in the first place.

"The Rialto" - Venezia, Italia! - BEST mint chocolate chip ice cream in the world!

But, back to local. As great as that ice cream was in Venice… there is almost nothing like a true frozen dessert experience at Amy’s Ice Cream here in Austin, Texas. These artisans are like Wizards of Dessert. I remember a few years back when my cousins Roger, Amanda, Polly and Ella came over from England. Music blaring, “Keep Austin Weird” signs around the place, college students on their laptops (pretending to study), and an ice cream server who looked like his beard should have had a hair net on it for health code reasons. BUT, that’s Austin my friends! After getting all kinds of candy bars and fruit crushed up in her ice cream, my cousin Polly was shocked, yet excited like a cast member of GLEE, when they threw her ice cream over the counter for her to catch in a bowl. Like I said… it’s a true frozen dessert experience.

Amy's Ice Cream - Austin, Texas - "A True Frozen Dessert Experience!"
Amy's Ice Cream - Austin, Texas - Cousin Polly catching ice cream from "The Wizards of Dessert"

By now, I’m starting to come out of the coma, and I realize that the Canadians are still talking. Probably something about hockey and asking “why is it so bloody hot down here in Texas!” 103F today. Well, I’ve been drinking beers at dive bars, eating bad ass burritos at Bomb Tacos, and eating Amy’s Ice Cream. It’s like I was in The Matrix. Plugged in… but, more like a robot of “yeah”, “sure!”, “oh definitely”, “you don’t say?”, “uh huh”, “you go girl!”. I’m just ready to go to bed by this point; but in “coma land”, it’s late night 2am in Austin, Texas, so I started thinking about blueberry pancakes at Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Blvd. This place is so good! And it’s a true local Austin diner. Like they say… Everybody Knows – Everybody Goes! I had a ridiculously fantastic strawberry syrup with ice cream pancake at The Pancake Bakery in Amsterdam, The Netherlands a few years ago; but, it still wasn’t the same nostalgic experience as a late night closer, or morning hangover remedy at Magnolia Cafe. Ironically, less than half a mile down the road from my favorite dive bar – Donn’s Depot, and across the street from yet another one of my favorites – Deep Eddy Cabaret.

Magnolia Cafe - Austin, TX - late night with my friends Robyn & Jaime

As I’m now fat, full and drunk… I join reality once again, only to hear the Canadians closing comments: “THANK YOU! So I guess we’ll see you tomorrow night!”. As of right now, I have absolutely no idea what I signed myself up for (or THEM for that matter). I guess we’ll find out tomorrow now, won’t we! If they truly want to hit 6th Street… I’ll take them to WEST 6th Street. Who knows… maybe we can grab a slice of good ol’ late night pizza from Roppolo’s Pizzeria!

Late Night Pizza from Roppolo's Pizzeria - W. 6th St - Austin, TX - my friends Cooksey and Maui Meg

OK… I’m done rambling. Stay Tuned for more adventures of Austin GlobeTrekker. Until then… Join the Conversation!


sLOVEnia: the little things we remember

I remember somebody once telling me… “Sometimes it’s good to be alone. As long as you never feel lonely.” I’ve been alone for the past few days. Home sick with bronchitis and a nasty sinus infection. Sorry for the ugly visual. But that leads me to my point. At no point do I ever feel lonely, and yeah… it has been good to be alone. No wife. No kids. No work. Very little stress (other than being ill). It has allowed me to contemplate on the importance of life. Love, family, friends, health (not so good right now), a place to call home, a job, and no matter what… you’ve GOT to have a hobby. Me? I have three hobbies. Dreaming of the next travel destination (if you haven’t guessed this by now), pretending to be a writer, and attempting to be an amateur photographer. A valiant effort on all three, because I’ve done what I’ve always set out to accomplish… I’ve joined the conversation. That’s how you start.

Lake Bled Slovenia 2011
Lake Bled Slovenia 2011

So, as I lay there alone, contemplating the world… actually just trying to figure out if I wanted a cinnamon raisin bagel, or a bowl of frosted flakes for breakfast (I went with the bagel), I thought about my recent travels through Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy for my 5yr wedding anniversary with my wife (Anna). I couldn’t help but laugh to myself about “the little things we remember”.

"Schnauzer vs Swan 2011"
“Schnauzer vs Swan 2011” – View of Castle Bled from Lake Bled Slovenia

Our first night in Slovenia, we took a walk around Lake Bled before dinner. The sun wasn’t even close to setting; but, it had this magical glare across the lake. The Pletna boats had docked for the evening, the wind was calm, the clouds mysteriously eerie, and the waterfront was an evening stroller’s paradise. I took my camera out to capture the lake and Bled Castle (Blejski Grad) perched upon a cliff’s edge in the background, and that’s when it happened – My favorite moment“Schnauzer vs. Swan”. A Slovenian man, walking his miniature German Schnauzer was dragged into my frame. No worries… I have an 18-250mm lens, I can just zoom past him. A swan calmly approached the bank, then ding! ding! the match was on! Yeah, I’ve gotta get a picture of this! What you see above this text is the before shot. I didn’t feel like shooting pictures of an undersized dog picking a fight with an over sized white bird. Plus, sometimes you have to come out from behind the camera lens and enjoy the reality of the time and space you are within. SO, that’s what I did.

View from Belvedere Pavillion of Church on Bled Island, Lake Bled, Slovenia with Mala Osojinica Forest Behind

In my previous blog, I wrote about the morning I woke up entirely too early, and watched the Sunrise on Lake Bled. I completely forgot that I had my old beat up Canon Elf digital camera lodged in my pocket, and actually captured 30secs or so of that incredible moment – alone down by the Pletna boat dock. Like I said, the great thing about TRAVEL… “the little things we remember”.

The thing about SLOVENIA… It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world that most people don’t even think about… or even know about. Each year, we try to find a travel destination that makes our friends and family say “Where?” or “Why?”. The kind of  backdrop that tells me, Jason… you’re not in Austin, Texas anymore. May 2011 – Slovenia was that destination.

Bled Island (Blejski otok), the only natural island in Slovenia.

We learned about this fascinating small country in Central Europe through National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Bordering Austria, Italy, Croatia, and Hungary, this small country is packed with unbelievable beauty, incredible people and culture, captivating history, and a surprisingly amazing cuisine.

Ljubljana – Capital City of Slovenia

Mountains, lakes, wine country, farmland, rivers, coastline, forests, and caves. Slovenia has it all. There’s a reason the word LOVE is in the middle of sLOVEnia! Truly a place to be discovered.

view of Church of St. John the Baptist
Lake Bohinj (Bohinjsko jezero) and view of Church of St. John the Baptist – Triglav Lakes Valley

I’ve also uploaded all the photos from our Europe – May 2011 – 5yr Anniversary trip to Germany (Bavaria), Austria, Slovenia, and Venice, Italy on my Flicker page. If you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with, or your stuck in a waiting room at a Dr.’s office or the DMV, then check it out: Europe 2011 – Austin Globetrekker

Cloudy Day in the city of Piran, Slovenia – Karst & Coast Region on the Adriatic Sea

I’m sure I’ll have more MUREMindless Useless Random Entertainment about my travels for you soon. Stay Tuned! Until then… TRAVEL| EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER

“The Path” – Villa Bled on Lake Bled, Slovenia

The Everest thing…

“Two asthmatics are on a mountain…” It almost sounds like the beginning of a bad joke you’d hear in an English pub, or down at Ginny’s Little Longhorn – one of my favorite dive bars right here in Austin, Texas. But, that’s how TRAVEL starts out… Right? Storytelling. Reading a blog (like this… hopefully), spotting an exotic location in a magazine, seeing some beautiful backdrop in a movie, talking to somebody about their vacation, watching a TV show that inspires you to seek life’s adventures – The Amazing Race, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Dhani Tackles the Globe, or my personal travel inspiration – Globe Trekker w/Ian Wright and Megan McCormick  (Pilot Company). No matter what the medium… Find your Everest thing…

Oxbow Bend
Oxbow Bend - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming USA

I’m an enthusiastic fool when it comes to TRAVEL. Add a sucker who is willing to be a partner in crime and help me push beyond my physical limitations as an asthmatic, and you’ve got my fellow asthmatic buddy Nickerson. We were working together for a large technical corporation named after the owner. No… there’s no Mr. Google, Mrs. Apple, or Sir Facebook, so you’ll figure it out (if you don’t already know). He moved from Chicago to Texas, then realized that wasn’t a drastic enough culture shock for him, so he and his wife moved to Singapore. He even found time to start up his own TRAVEL company – Beyond Travel. After what seems like 5 or more years, they’re are moving back to Texas in June 2011. As a proud Texan (more specifically… Austinite), I understand; however, I’m incredibly annoyed with myself for never making the trek East to visit them and explore Asia (one of the continents I MUST see!).

Sunset - Gulfo de Papagayo - Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Everest thing… So, how did the conversation start? I don’t remember. Wait… sure I do. I was running my mouth on Facebook, because my wife was away on business in Costa Rica. LOVE that place! Spent a week there for our honeymoon up in Guanacaste, Costa Rica – Gulfo de Papagayo (May 2006). That has absolutely nothing to do with this story. Anyway, I was looking after my sons (Cameron and Jordan). A little adventure I like to call… KIDWATCH 2011. Somewhere between Day 3 and Day 9, I finally lost all rationale and sanity and blurted out that the 17mo old was conspiring with the 3.5yr old, and swore the cat was in on it. It led me to this now famous statement…. “I think I might move to Nepal and train with the Sherpas. Everest 2020 baby! Who’s in?”

The rest of the exchange went something like this…

  • Mark NickersonCount me in! Trying to find time to get out to Kathmandu this spring

    February 25 at 9:43am ·
  • Jason CookeCrazy or not… I’m really serious about Everest. If I get this bronchiothermoplasty surgery for my lungs this year (or next) then I want to set a goal to reach Everest Base Camp @ 17,000ft before I turn 50 in 2020. Nickerson… let’s do it! Going to test myself in Bavarian / Austrian Alps (Austria/Germany) and Julian Alps (Slovenia) this May.

    February 25 at 9:56am ·
  • Mark NickersonI also have a goal of getting to base camp! Yea we WILL do this! Two asthmatic old wheezing fools risking an embolism just to go sit halfway up a mountain. Sounds about right!

    February 25 at 10:00am ·

Nickerson has it all planned out for 2020 (or sooner so it seems). In his words, the biggest expense is the flights – getting to/from Beijing. From there, taking the train down through Xi’an and on to Lhasa in Tibet. The nice thing about the train is that you start off at sea level and at its highest point reach about 16,600 feet above sea level. The journey takes about 3 days. Should help with altitude adjustments necessary for the trip. From Lhasa, we would then want to fly to Kathmandu, then hire a truck to drive us BACK to Lhasa; but, with stops along the way at monasteries, and of course, Everest Base Camp (17,000ft).  Factoring in time for sightseeing in China, Tibet and Nepal, plus, the fact you have to apply for special overland permits in Kathmandu (which takes a couple of days) and the transit time itself, the estimate is a solid two weeks round trip from Beijing to Beijing. Then he finished up his statements by saying “much jealous of your trip to Slovenia. I’ve been wanting to get there for donkeys ages. See you guys soon!”. Really? Really? See… Nickerson inspires me! You never know who you will meet that could change your life… for the better.

The Lone Star Flag
TEXAS! The Lone Star Flag - OX Ranch

In reality, that’s what this blog is all about. TRAVEL| EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER. Sharing stories, meeting crazy cool and interesting people, building relationships, and in the process… hopefully learning a thing (or two) about the world we live in and the amazing cultures that make up this smorgasbord /ˈsmôrgəsˌbôrd/ we call Planet Earth. It’s a fascinating place! We’ve sent people to the moon… Doesn’t it only seem fair we discover a bit more of what’s in front, behind, next to, and all around us?

Join the Conversation! What’s your “Everest thing…”?