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Settling into Bristol

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 @ 07:46 pm from England England
Day 34

My trail didn't depart Birmingham until 11:45 this morning so I had plenty of time to eat, pack up and relax before heading to the train station. I still got to the station about 45 minutes early and ended up sitting around waiting.

Since I had properly booked my tickets ahead of time, I had a seat number and everything which made the boarding process much easier. I was able to find my seat and relax for the duration of the trip. There was some kind of congestion on the tracks so we ended up being about 20 minutes late but that didn't really matter much.

I wasn't able to actually check into my hostel until 3:00 so I had a couple hours to burn. First on the list was to find some food. I couldn't pass up a doner kebab when I saw a few people in the shop enjoying them. After eating and feeling nice and full I went to the Brew Dog pub and had a glass of beer.

Checking into my hostel was a breeze. I dropped off my pack and set out to explore. I've found out I like aimlessly walking around the first day I'm in a new city. It helps me get a feel for the town and helps me make a mental map of the town based on my random wanderings. I found myself in a huge pedestrian mall area and then in an open area called Castle Park. I took a few photos of St. Peter's Church in the park and then went to find a grocery store to get some food for dinner.

Hunger hadn't hit yet but I knew I'd be better off getting everything now rather than having to head back out in a couple hours. There was a Tesco I passed near the hostel earlier so I went in and got some pasta sauce (I still have some pasta left over from Birmingham), bread, bell peppers, some cheap wine and some mixed fruit.

Back at the hostel I ate some of the fruit while looking for somewhere to charge my computer and phone. All of the plugs are for un-grounded plugs and my adapter has a slot for the ground. I finally found a tiny computer area that had a few open slots so I plugged everything in and started to read and drink my wine. Eventually I got hungry and cut up some of the bell pepper and threw it in with my pasta.

I was planning on taking the old railway path down to Bath tomorrow but there's a 70% chance of rain all day. Instead, I'll save that for Thursday when there's 0% chance of rain and instead spend tomorrow here in Bristol. There's a lot of sights to see including a free museum/art gallery that features a lot of Banksy's work (it's also all over town too).

Reading, Rain Showers and Ale

Monday, July 29, 2013 @ 07:51 pm from England England
Day 33

It's been another day of taking it easy. With my ear plugs in and sleep mask on, I didn't wake up until about 9 this morning. I ate breakfast and then set out to buy my train tickets for tomorrow and do a little bit of grocery shopping.

I went down to the New Street train station and bought my train ticket for tomorrow. The train to Bristol was actually cheaper and it gets me there twice as fast as a bus would have. Taking the train was a no brainer. In order to avoid any ticket issues I wanted to have them purchased and ready to go before tomorrow.

After getting my ticket I went back to the Birmingham Cathedral park to read some more. The weather was still pretty nice so I spent about an hour and a half reading in the park. For lunch I went out and got a 99 pence baguette for lunch then read some more until the skies broke and it started pouring down rain.

I was quite a jog from the hostel so I dipped into a pub and had a couple pints while waiting for the rain to subside. When the rain looked like it was taking a break I left and got some soup and bread for tonight's dinner. When I was about 5 minutes away from the hostel it started pouring again. I ducked into a mall and waited a bit for it to let up again and then got back to the hostel.

Since I got back, I've just been reading, working and ate dinner a little bit ago. My train tomorrow doesn't leave until 11:45am so I can take it easy again in the morning. Bristol has a little more sights to see than Birmingham does so I'm sure I'll have some more photos to upload over the next few days.

Walking Around Birmingham

Sunday, July 28, 2013 @ 04:06 pm from England England
Day 32

I didn't even bother setting an alarm this morning. Can't remember the last time I didn't actually set one. Even without setting an alarm I was still up and out of bed by 8:30am. Not being in a hurry to do anything for once, I made my way down to eat breakfast, let my phone charge up for a bit and tried to catch up a bit on news.

By about 10:00 I was finally itching to go get some fresh air so I headed out to walk around the town. Everything opens late or not at all on Sunday so I was strolling through some of the main shopping areas without much action going on.

If shopping is your thing, Birmingham would be a great place to visit. They have some really nice areas outdoor areas and huge malls for shopping, eating and drinking along big pedestrian areas. I went down to the Town Hall and took some photos of some creepy looking statues then went over to the Birmingham Cathedral and read for a bit. The weather looked like it might rain so I walked around some of the indoor malls which were absolutely packed.

I found some nice benches in a relatively quiet area and read for a little longer before grabbing lunch. After lunch I went back to the hostel to shower and work on planning the next few days of my trip.

I don't really feel like messing with the hassle of packing up and dealing with traveling tomorrow so I think I'll stay here another day and then head down to Bristol on Tuesday. There are some nice walking and cycling paths around Bristol and it also gives me easy access to Southern Wales where I'll go after Bristol.

Wasting a Beautiful Day

Saturday, July 27, 2013 @ 06:10 pm from England England
Day 31

My plan yesterday was to stay at the hostel in Llanberis another couple nights so I could do more hiking and exploring in Snowdonia. Unfortunately when I inquired about vacancies at the hostel, they said they were completely booked. They called a few of the other hostels within bus distance and they were also all booked. Bummer.

Anything even remotely close to Snowdonia was completely booked (even the hostel I stayed at in Llandudno). I think everyone was taking advantage of the nice weather and heading to the parks. Lesson learned: If you're going somewhere awesome and it's near a weekend and you have nowhere else to be, book through the weekend!

What I had to do was head to Birmingham, England (the nearest biggest city within a day's travel). Since Llanberis was so remote, getting anywhere else on my prior list of destinations simply wasn't going to happen. I figured stationing myself in a large city will make it easier to plan my next move.

When I left Llanberis today, it was absolutely gorgeous outside! The weather was perfect for hiking, which made leaving even worse. I had to take two buses to get to Porthmadog, Wales and then I jumped on the train to Birmingham.

I bought my train ticket last night but there wasn't a ticket agent or ticket machine at the Porthmadog station, so not knowing what to do I got on the train. The ticket inspector on the train didn't know what to do with my confirmation number so he told me get off at a specific station where I could collect my ticket.

The train was hot and crowded. Eventually after 2 hours we made it to the station where I could get my ticket. I jumped off and got the ticket. When I got back on I actually had a seat I could sit at. Fortunately it was a little cooler where I sat down.

After another two and a half hours I made it to the bustling city of Birmingham. It's always quite the change going from a small rural town to a huge city. All the traffic and people and noise is not something I particularly enjoy.

I passed a huge open air market on my way to the hostel. I planned on getting something fresh there to cook with for dinner. After checking into the hostel, I went back to the market just in time for them to shut everything down. I was able to get some red peppers but that was it.

I just ran into two german guys who I hung out with for a night in Llanberis so we'll meet up for a few beers after we all eat. I think tomorrow I'll just hang out and get some work done. I've been needing to spend a day doing a real work session so this might be the time to do it.

Hiking/Climbing Crib Goch and Snowdon

Friday, July 26, 2013 @ 05:22 pm from Wales Wales
Day 30

What a day. When I left the hostel in the morning it was absolutely pouring down rain. I waited a few minutes for it to calm down and then made my way down to the bus stop. The plan was to catch the Snowdon Sherpa bus over to Pen-Y-Pass where I'd catch the Pyg Track trail. The Pyg Track would take me over Crig Goch and onto Snowdon.

I got into town (still in the rain) and picked up a sandwich and some fruit for lunch. I wasn't really sure what to do so I said "screw it" and hopped on the bus. I figured I'd head over to the trialhead and at least see if the weather would clear up.

Fortunately I made the right choice. By the time I got there the skies were clearing and I could actually see some peaks in the distance. When I was talking to the employee at the outdoor shop last night he mentioned taking the alternate track up the Crib Goch for some better views and a more intense hike. I didn't know quite what he meant until about 45 minutes into my hike.

The trail I was on basically ended and expected you to climb a few hundred feet up what were essentially vertical cliff faces. Flashbacks of climbing at the gym were flooding back. Make sure your feet are well planted. Lift with your feet. Balance with your hands. The only difference is I hadn't ever had to do that on wet rocks, with a backpack and without rope.

There was a group a few hundred feet ahead of me so I knew it could be done. I chugged along and finally made it to the peak! The next challenge? Hiking a long an extremely narrow ridge with several hundred foot dropoffs on either side. And when I say hiking a long the ridge, I'm using that term loosely. It was more of a straddle/climb/scramble over the ridge for a good mile.

Edmund Hillary used Snowdon as his training ground when preparing for his ascent of Everest. I kinda laughed at that fact yesterday when I read it but after hiking along the crazy ridges and scree fields, it seems like a very good place to do some intense training.

I got to one point where I lost the trail and rather than risk continuing along this relentless ridge I bushwhacked my way down a mile long scree/boulder/creek/sheep shit filled obstacle course until I caught back up with the original Pyg Track. When I started my abandonment of the ridge in favor of living a long life, there were two guys ahead of me that carried on along the ridge (more on that later).

Having my feet planted on solid ground and on an actual trail again, I made good time hiking up to the top. This trail is actually pretty busy and Snowdon is one of the most trafficked mountains in the UK with over 500,000 visitors a year. The views along the hike were absolutely incredible. Unfortunately the peak of Snowdon was in a giant cloudbank when I got there and I couldn't admire any of the views. On a clear day you're supposed to be able to see over 140 miles from the peak including several countries. I got to see fog.

I ate lunch near the summit and the clouds broke a few times so I could take some photos. For my descent I took a path directly back into the town I was staying in. It's a very steady and uneventful path with views that are good, but nothing like the ones from the Pyg Track. I made pretty fast time back into town and decided that my adventures for the day would be better with a few pints. I went to a pub and had a couple and relaxed on the patio for an hour or so.

I came back to the hostel, showered and started uploading photos. I'm going to have some more ravioli for dinner and probably pass out early. I'm also going to check and see if the hostel has availability for tomorrow night as well. I'd like to do a few of the other hikes around here since the scenery is so amazing.
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Crib Goch from the Pyg trail
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Climbing Crib Goch
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I'm supposed to hike along that?
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Amazing views

Getting to Snowdonia National Park

Thursday, July 25, 2013 @ 07:30 pm from Wales Wales
Day 29

Today was a pretty easy day of waiting around for public transportation. Llanberis, where I'm staying now, isn't very far from Llandudno and only required two local buses (totaling less than 2 hours of in-the-bus time). I took my time getting ready this morning, packed up and went on search of some sunscreen.

I only brought a tiny travel sized tube of sunscreen not expecting Ireland and the UK to be going through one of the biggest heat waves they've had in 7 years. I had about two squirts left so I set out trying to find some more. Unfortunately since Wales only gets a few weeks of sun a year, no where has sunscreen it seems. I went through several stores and struck out. I eventually decided I'd just find some later and hopped on the bus to Bangor.

On the bus to Bangor (the large city I needed to catch my connection to Llanberis) I saw that I couldn't check into my hostel until 5pm. It wasn't even 11am when I got into Bangor so I thought, what the heck, and walked around town for a bit. I went into a pharmacy and found some inexpensive SPF 50 sunscreen that should last me for quite some time. I had a quick bite to eat then walked down to the harbor area. I thought it would have been more situated for relaxing by the water but that wasn't the case. It was a ghost town there.

Since there wasn't really anywhere to hang out, I headed back to the city center and ran across an Aldi on my way. I knew I'd have access to a kitchen at this hostel so I bought some pesto filled ravioli, pasta sauce and some snacks for the hike tomorrow. I waited around a little longer but got bored and figured I'd just head to Llanberis on the next bus and find something to do there.

The 85 bus runs from Bangor to Llanberis every hour on the 45 minute mark and costs 3.10 pounds. The trip only takes 45 minutes which is nice. Once I got into town I hopped off and walked to a big lake to relax. Unfortunately some dark clouds were rolling in and I didn't want to get rained on so I went back into town. The clouds died out a bit so I went into some of the shops. I had been meaning to buy a hat since I didn't bring my own so I went into an outdoor shop and picked one up. It has a detachable flap on the back to cover your ears and neck which I thought was pretty neat. The guy working at the store was telling me about the Snowdon Sherpa bus service that takes you to some ascents up Snowdon than the ones from town. I'm going to do that tomorrow to get a much more scenic climb than if I left from the hostel.

I still had about 2.5 hours to kill so I went to a grocery and picked up some bread to go with dinner and a cider. I went back to the lake and found a secluded spot to enjoy my cider and an apple. I skipped a few rocks and sat around for a bit until it was time to head to the hostel and check in.

I walked the half mile up to the hostel and ended up waiting outside for about 15 minutes with a huge group of kids that looked like they'd just spent a few days backpacking in the forest. They finally opened up for checking in and I got my room. Instead of trying to shower right away with that big group in front of me, I went and cooked up my dinner (which tasted great) then got some of my gear situated for tomorrow.

The Sherpa bus leaves from town at 8:30am tomorrow morning and I want to make sure I eat breakfast and have a chance to run to the grocery to pick up a few more snacks for the hike. In order to do all that, I'll have to get up a little earlier than I have been, but it'll totally be worth it.
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Snowdonia National Park from Llanberis
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Snowdonia from view near hostel

Hiking Little Orme and Afternoon Tea

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 @ 06:32 pm from Wales Wales
Day 28

For my last full day in Llandudno I wanted to do another hike. Since I had already hiked the Great Orme, hiked to Conwy and walked the promenade countless times, all that was remaining was Little Orme. Little Orme is the mountain that rises 463ft from the east side of Llandudno and provides some great views of the surrounding area.

The day started off fine with a 2 mile walk to the start of the trail. I swung by the grocery to pick up some stuff for lunch before hand too. By the time I got to the start of the trail, it was warming up pretty quickly. I had to take my undershirt off so it wouldn't get drenched with sweat.

The hike to the peak only took a few minutes and when I got to the top it started pouring down rain for a good 5 minutes. Since there wasn't anywhere to get shelter, I just stood there waiting for it to end. I could see that the cloud wasn't very big and that it would pass soon. It did and when the rain stopped the views were incredible.

The rain shower had taken all of the haze out of the air and I was left with some outstanding views of the surrounding area. Soon after it stopped raining I was joined by 5 other people. They were staying down on the beach and made a phone call to some of their friends to come out and try to spot them at the top. I joined in waiving around and eventually they were found.

I sat down on some rocks and had lunch and then started talking with a husband and wife who were part of that group. We talked about where I'd been, where I was from and some areas they suggested visiting. When we left, they took one route and I took another. Apparently theirs was rather difficult and I ended up meeting them at the bottom. We got to talking some more and they invited me back to their place for some tea and biscuits (cookies). I couldn't decline so I followed them to the place they were staying at.

It was two families that were staying there, all friends who had rented the place out for the week. They made some tea and we all sat outside on the back yard overlooking both the Great and Little Orme as well as the beach and town of Llandudno. They had a killer view!

One of the guys was a motorcyclist and was blown away when I told him about how much sun we have in the southwest. They were also saying how much of a fluke this nice weather has been. When the tea and biscuits were done I thanked them and headed back to the hostel to plan the next few days.

After seeing the pictures of Snowdonia from a fellow traveler I knew I wanted to go see it for myself. I found a hostel at the base of some of the hiking trails and booked it for two nights. I'll take buses to get there tomorrow, relax, catch up on some work and get to bed early. Then on Friday I'll wake up bright and early and start hiking. If I take the trails I want to, I'm looking at about 17 miles of hiking so I want to start as early as possible.

Snowdon Peak in Snowdonia National Park is 1,084 meters (3,560ft) high and is the highest mountain in Wales. There's only a 20% chance of rain for Friday so I'll bring my jacket and some layers just to be on the safe side. It looks like there's a grocery in town too so I'll pack some snacks and lunch. If the weather holds out, the views will be incredible!
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Stones stacked on the beach
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Llandudno from Little Orme
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The family that invited me over for tea
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Some clouds rolling in

Mental Recharge Day on the Beach

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 @ 08:02 pm from Wales Wales
Day 27

I've found that throwing a "do nothing" day in every once in a while helps keep me sane. Constantly being in new places and exploring new sites and walking tens of miles all over cities can be exhausting both mentally and physically. I took advantage of the spotty weather today and walked around the beach, read on the beach and had lunch by the beach.

It rained a little bit which was fine since I was under a shelter. After the spots of rain would come through the sun would break out for a bit or some fog would roll in over the mountains and coast.

After lunch I went by Sainsbury's and got a couple cups of fresh fruit and some cider and made my way back to the beach. I was eating some pineapples when I got shit on by a bird. That stuff was impossible to get out. I ended up taking my shirt off and washing it in the ocean, but then I was left with a drenched cotton shirt in a super humid environment so I just carried it around the rest of the day.

I read by the beach until about 5:30 when I started to get hungry. I went to the grocery and got some tomato basil soup and some bread then came back to the hostel and ate that with a cider.

Since then I've done about an hour and a half of work and answering emails. I'll probably go take a shower in a little while and try to figure out what I'm going to do tomorrow. I think I might go hike the mountain on the east end of the beach if the weather holds out.

Coasts, Ski Hills, Summits and Castles

Monday, July 22, 2013 @ 08:28 pm from Wales Wales
Day 26

When I got into town yesterday and saw how amazing the scenery was, I knew I had to spend today covering as much of it on foot as possible. When I was checking it last night, the weather was looking pretty sketchy for today (70% chance of rain and thunderstorms) so I decided I'd get an early start and try to cover as much ground as possible before any rain hit.

I made a quick stop by Sainsbury's to pick up some bread and ham for lunch and then set out for the Great Orme mountain to the west side of Llandudno. There was a little confusion about where the trail actually started but eventually I figured it out. I worked my way up past a ski area (yes, they actually have a ski area here!) and up to some amazing views. Along the way I passed by St. Tudno's Church that has a huge cemetery overlooking the ocean.

From there, the summit of Great Orme was visible and a pretty dauntingly steep climb, but I powered through and went straight up the grassy side without relying on any switchbacks. The views from the top were great. Unfortunately it was rather hazy so I couldn't see too far, but on clear days you can see the Isle of Man 57 miles off the coast.

I'd take haze over rain though. It was about 9:45 now and the skies still looked pretty good. The storms they were calling for weren't making themselves apparent yet. Seeing Conwy in the distance got me thinking... It's only 4 miles (as the crow flies) to Conwy and the castle/city walls. Should I go for it?

Yes, the answer was yes. I could see a hike along the beach that would take me all the way to Conwy. That was reassuring since walking along the roads here seems like a death trap. There's no shoulder at all and what they have as a two lane road should really be a one-way. I'm still amazed at how there aren't more accidents.

While I was descending the mountain to the beach I passed a group of goats grazing along the cliff faces. I snapped some photos and carried on. When I made it to the beach I found some shaded benches and sat there for a bit to eat lunch and enjoy some views of the Wales coastline.

The walk from Llandudno to Conwy was nice. There was a nice path that switched between sand, pavement and gravel. It was about 5 miles along this path to Conwy. After rounding a bend along the path I could see Conwy across the harbor. The castle was on the left and the old town on the right. Surrounding Conwy are the old town walls that you can hike along.

There were some really great viewpoints of the castle from the path and road so I had fun taking some photos. I went up to see how much admission was and it was 5.60 pounds... a little more than I wanted to pay. Instead I found the city wall and hiked around that. I think the city wall offered better views than the crowded castle would have anyway.

By now I was probably about 8 or 9 miles into the hike and was feeling the heat and humidity from the day. I figured it was probably time to head back to Llandudno so I made my way along the beachfront path back to town. When I got back to town I bought some fresh fruit and enjoyed it by the beach. It was about 2:30 by now so I came back to the hostel to shower. Along the way I passed by a book shop offering some cheap books so I picked up a new book for 2 pounds. I figure that will give me something to do tomorrow when I'm bumming it around the beach.

The shower felt fantastic, especially since I had my hiking pants on since I thought it was supposed to be colder and rainy. Turns out the rain never came so I headed down to the beach to read and relax for a few hours until I was ready for dinner.

For dinner I picked up some chow mein noodles from the grocery and came back to the hostel to heat it up. I enjoyed it with a cider and some bread before sitting down to answer emails and work on this blog post.

If tomorrow is another day like today, I think I'm going to head down to the beach and relax there. My legs got a pretty good workout today so a relaxing day wouldn't be too bad.

I've been constantly amazed by Llandudno and how chill of a city it is. If the weather was consistently good like it has been lately, it would definitely be on the top of my places to recommend people visit on vacation.
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Hiking up the Great Orme
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St. Tudnos Church
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Hello Goats
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Conwy Castle

The Lovely Beach Town of Llandudno

Sunday, July 21, 2013 @ 09:37 pm from Wales Wales
Day 25

Today was another long travel day. Eric had to be on his train to London by 8:30am and my bus departed York at 10:30am. I had an exciting day of 7 hours on buses and two bus changes ahead of me. My first destination was Leeds where I changed buses to head to Manchester. Once in Manchester I jumped on the Bangor, Wales bus that ran by my destination of Llandudno.

I didn't really know too much about Llandudno before booking my hostel and bus tickets other than the fact that it was on the water, had some really good hiking areas and there was an old castle all within a few miles of town. When the bus rolled into town I was amazed. This seems like the place that all seaside resorts in the States were modeled after. You've got the huge promenade where people are strolling or sitting and eating ice cream, then you have the seaside resorts, B&B's and restaurants on the other side of the street.

There's also a big hill/mountain/cliff on the west end of town that has hotels and buildings climbing its face. This is going to be my destination for tomorrow (assuming the weather holds out. The weather is calling for 70% chance of rain unfortunately). The area is filled with hiking trails but there's also a tram and cable car for those less inclined to hiking.

Once I got into town I checked into my hostel (I'm the only one in an 8 person dorm tonight!) then set about finding some dinner and enjoying the awesome weather. I had a really filling meal of mashed potatoes, roast beef, carrots, peas, stuffing, fried potatoes and bread. All of that was only 6.99 which is amazingly cheap for the amount of food (and how good it tasted!).

Being sufficiently stuffed I thought it would be a good idea to walk it off. I started off toward the pier and walked to the end of it for some nice photos of the entire town's waterfront (check out some of the panoramas in the photo gallery linked below). I didn't feel like that was enough of a walk so I walked the entire length of the promenade, enjoying the people watching and great weather. At one point the Llandudno band was playing some tunes to a large crowd right on the promenade. It was a really nice sight.

Unfortunately most of my day was spent on the buses so I came back to the hostel around 8:45pm to answer some emails and write this blog post. I'm going to try to get an early start tomorrow to beat some of the rain and clouds. We'll see how that goes!
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Llandudno Promenade
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Llandudno pier
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Llandudno from Llandudno pier
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Llandudno Promenade
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Manarola from above. #5terre #europetrip2013 #manarola
I've seen bigger? Big Ben. #london #europetrip2013
Piazza del Popolo. #rome #europetrip2013
Arc de Triomf in Barcelona. #barcelona #europetrip2013
Florence. #florence #europetrip2013
Castel Sant'Elmo. Some fantastic views of Naples from here. #naples #europetrip2013
#seville #europetrip2013
The wine from one week in Paris. 11 bottles (one was drunk and trashed at the Eiffel tower). #paris #wine #europetrip2013
Thanksgiving dinner prepared by British guys in Seville Spain. Pretty good! #thanksgiving #seville #europetrip2013
Some of the best tea I've ever had. Mint tea. Its basically a mojito with tea instead of alcohol. #europetrip2013 #tea #tangier

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Where I've been:

Good Evening… Planet Earth
All the countries I visited on this trip (in yellow).

What's this about?

Traveling is something I've loved doing for as long as I can remember. I've been lucky enough to travel out of the US a few times but never longer than 2 weeks at a time. I decided that I should go see the world and experience all it has to offer. I booked a one-way ticket to Dublin, Ireland to depart on June 26, 2013. After I get to Europe I'll let serendipity take hold and see where I end up. No schedules and no itinerary… just go with the flow. That's as close to a plan as I'm making.

Who am I?

My name's Brandon O'Brien and I'm a travelholic. Before this journey I've been to 11 countries and put over 17,500 miles on various motorcycle trips through the USA and Canada. I'm a self-employed web developer so I'm fortunate enough to be able to work anywhere there's an internet connection. That's what truly made this experience possible.

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