Summary and Best Of: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

If you’ve ever had a peak at my Summary/Best-Of posts for my travels through Asia, Australia and NZ or South America and Antarctica, you know what’s coming.

This is a summary of Part 3 of my world tour:  314 days (a little over 10 months) of travel through Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  I love writing these summaries, it gives me an excuse to go through all my pictures and reminisce.

For those who love country (and pseudo-country) names, I visited 30:  Spain, France, Andorra, Portugal, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, The West Bank, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Burkina Faso, and Mali.

What did I do in these countries?  What did I experience?  Here is just a taste…

I cycled 1000km through France with some good friends of mine, eating cheese and drinking wine as we went.  I had such a blast touring around on a bicycle, I continued solo through the Spanish Pyrenees, sleeping in fields along the way.  During this time I stumbled into Andorra the one night of the year they light the place on fire! In a moment of craziness, I tried to outrun some bulls in Spain (oh shit!).  I hiked through the Scottish Highlands, played lawn games while drinking Pimm’s in the English countryside, and had my fair share of Guinness in Ireland.  I tasted Belgium’s finest beer and saw red lights in Amsterdam.  In Germany, I walked along the wall in Berlin and hit the beer gardens; in Switzerland I hiked in the stunning Swiss Alps.  I’ve partied in Poznan and trekked the Tatras in Poland, and then got destroyed by the hinderbana in Stockholm.  Europe was all about visiting friends I had met around the world.  I love familiar faces in foreign places.  I felt like a million bucks after a Turkish bath in Instanbul.  I paraglided over the Mediterranean Coast at my first Air Party.  I ate a lot of kebabs and fruit juices in Iraq (that’s right, Iraq).  I saw bullet-hole-ridden buildings in Lebanon and finally got into Syria after been rejected the first time.  I’ve floated in the Dead Sea.  I’ve wandered through the Old City in Jerusalem and trekked below sea level in the Negev Desert.  In Egypt, I’ve seen The Great Pyramids.  I spent New Year’s Eve on the banks of the Nile in The Sudan.  I travelled through one of the world’s strangest collection of landscapes:  The Danakil Depression.  I drank too much tej.  Some random guy asked me if I was a spy in Somaliland.  I understood the meaning of “13 months of sunshine” in Ethiopia.  I learned how to pronounce Ouagadougou, and finally, travelled 5 days down the Niger River in a pinasse, all the way to Timbuktu.

Once again, I will attempt the impossible:  I will pick a few of my favourite places and experiences.  This is all very unscientific, as how a place strikes you is always a function of a bunch of random factors, such as, but not limited to:  the existence (or lack) of a little sunshine, the company I am rolling with, my particular state of mind at that moment, the hand that fate has dealt me that day.  Besides all this, I need to have paper and pen nearby to make it note of it before I forget :)  Despite all these difficulties, it is great fun to make these lists anyway.  In no particular order:

Adventure

1.  Hiking the Swiss Alps
2.  A multi-day trek through the Tatra Mountains, Poland
3.  Walking along the escarpment and sleeping on roofs in animist villages in Dogon Country, Mali
4.  Trekking the Simiens Mountains amongst endemic baboons, Ethiopia
5.  Attending a Turkish bath (some might think this wouldn’t qualify as an adventure; I assure you it does)
6.  Diving the infamous Blue Hole, Egypt
7.  Paragliding over the Mediterreanan Coast in Turkey

Memorable Journeys

1.  Cycling 1700km through France, Spain, and Andorra
2.  5-day 4WD trip through the bizarre Danakil Depression
3.  The overnight ferry from Egypt to Sudan, sleeping on the deck under the stars
4.  5-day trip down the Niger River in a pinasse, all the way to Timbuktu


Food

I ate a lot good food in Europe and the Middle East, so this list is really long.  What can I say, these guys are good at it.

1.  Everything in France.  The bread, the cheese, the wine, escargot, crepes, etc.  Even when some of it was not to my taste, I could feel/sense/taste the quality/goodness of it all.
2.  Tapas in San Sebastian.  They are tasty, you can eat all kinds of interesting stuff (octopus?), and it is really fun to just sample a few snacks (no commitment of ordering a whole meal), then just move on to the next place!
3.  Anything Steve cooked for us during our France cycling trip.  What this man can do with a backcountry stove is incredible and would blow your mind.
4.  Asado in Germany, if you can believe it.  My friend Manja invited me to one hosted by some Argentinians living in Germany.
5.  Thuringia sausages, Germany
6.  Zapiekanka, Poland.  A toasted bread snack served with your choice of sauces, cheese, vegetables, and a slew of other options.  Best eaten on your way from the bar.
7.  The Full English
8.  Shawarma, served all over the Middle East.  Honestly, I have an addiction.  I want to start a group for others with this addiction.  I’m going to call it Shawarma Anonymous.  The location of the best shwarma in the world is a hot topic of debate in traveller circles.  Having tasted them in every country in the Middle East, you can trust me when I say the answer is Syria (although it’s a tough call; I imagine it would be like trying to choose your favourite child).


9.  A curry house my friends Andy & Lydia brought me to in London.  I can’t remember the name, but I remember the curry and the lamb
10.  Thanksgiving at the Horesh household in Israel:  turkey, pies, and Dalia’s irresistible date cookies
11.  Hummus with Israeli salad
12.  Nubian Tagen, a kind of hot, delicious stew in Upper Egypt
13.  Nile perch, available in many countries in Africa, I had it in Burkina Faso
14.  Kedjenou, a chicken/veggie stew I had in Burkina Faso
15.  Grilled goat, Somaliland
16.  Turkish pizza
17.  Bedouin food in the desert of Wadi Musa, Jordan
18.  Kushari, Egypt.  A simple dish of pasta, rice, lentils and tomato sauce
19.  Oysters and white wine with my fellow cyclists in Cap Ferret, France

Beer

1.  Leffe 9:  A Belgium beer I first tried in some rural town in France.
2.  Vol Damm, Doble Malta, Barcelona
3.  Superbock Stout, Portugal
4.  Actually, I love all the Belgium beers, especially Kwak and Tripel Karmeliet


5.  Old Speckled Hen, England
6.  The local bitter I had a party in Farnham, Dorset
7.  Guinness, Ireland.  Especially while enjoying the 360 degree view of Dubland from the top of the brewery
8.  Efes dark, Turkey  (“Thirsting for life”)
9.  Golden Star, Israel
10.  Dashen, Ethiopia
11.  Lech, Poland, because I had so many good times drinking it in Poznan :)

Other drinks

1.  Pomegranate juice, Turkey
2.  Milk Banana shake, Damascus, Syria
3.  Bedouin tea, Jordan
4.  Zubrowka vodka and apple juice, Poland
5.  Fruit juice stands, Iraq
6.  Drinking cognac in Cognac, France.  OK, I don’t really like cognac, but I felt pretty cool drinking it there.
6.  Tej, Ethiopia.  A local honey wine.

Scariest Moments

1.  Hearing the sound of hooves of the oncoming bulls on the road in Spain and realizing that I have nowhere to hide…
2.  Looking over the edge of the cliff above the Turkish Mediterranean Coast just before I walk off it to go paragliding
3.  On my bicycle, looking up at the never-ending switchbacks of a road that climbs over a 1700m pass in the Spanish Pyrenees.  Shit.
4.  A large Turkish man with a hairy chest, wearing only a small cloth, speaks no English, indicates that I should lay down on a marble slab.  Oh god, what is going to happen to me…
5.  Standing on a crack on the edge the Erta’ Ale volcano and peaking in at the bubbling lava
6.  Being caught in a sandstorm, in the Danakil, one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, with no visibility, realizing we are lost.
7.  I’m minding my own business in Andorra when I hear drumming approaching and then, out of nowhere, hooded pyromaniacs push through the people slinging blazing fires at the end of chains, holy shit!


Places to party

Answer:  with good friends all over Europe.  I had a great time.  A few off the top of my head

1.  Dancing on tables in Brussels, Belgium
2.  San Sebastien, Spain, after the local football team won a big game

(pic from BK)

3.  Poznan, Poland, which a friend of mine calls “The paradise”, and rightly so
4.  Andorra, the one night the year when they light the whole place on fire
5.  With the cool, fun expats in Erbil, Iraq.  I shit you not, this was a great party
6.  In the English countryside, playing lawn games (croquet!) and drinking Pimm’s
7.  San Fermin Festival (aka, The Running of the Bulls), Spain.  People partying like it’s their last, sangria flying everywhere

Jaw-dropping Landscapes and Views

The things these eyes have seen, oh my

1.  Rolling green hills in France
2.  Erta’ Ale Volcano and Dallol Sulfur Springs in the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
3.  The Tatra mountains, Poland, especially from one of those well-placed alpine huts, beer in hand, in the late afternoon sun
4.  Cappadocia, fairy chimneys in Turkey
6.  Mediterreanan Coast in Turkey from 2000m up while paragliding
7.  The old squares in Poland.  Especially at night.  Gorgeous.
8.  The green hills of the Scottish Highlands
9.  Petra, Jordan.  It is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and for good reason
10.  Pyramids of Egypt.  The last survivng Ancient Wonder of the World is everything you thought it might be when you were growing up.
10.  The Negev Desert, Israel, at sunset
11.  Great Sand Sea, Egypt
12.  The Swiss Alps are everything you’ve heard them to be:  postcard perfect villages in green valleys below glacier-topped peaks

There you have it.  That’s the kind of trip it was through Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

It’s possible these fingers have one last post in them:  some famous last words, if you will.

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3 Responses to Summary and Best Of: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

  1. Anonymous says:

    Breathtaking view !

  2. laaganyola says:

    This is Trek, Walk, Travel, Eat, and all the that.. What about the Love? was their room for love? hehe just a crazy question…. Great Blog!

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