Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Last Stop

The quick trip to the County of Oranges proved to be one of my favorite trips to this area of California I've ever had. My supposedly few hour journey to the West Coast turned into the longest amount of time I've ever spent on an airplane. Heavy, gnarly thunder showers closed the airport in New York and I was stuck on an airplane sitting on the runway for over 4 hours until the pilot decided it was safe to take off. No food and they ran out of water to drink, it was a hot and sticky grounded airplane session. I had to go to Atlanta to change flights and once there I had to run to catch the last flight to the West coast. No time to get food. 5 hours to LA and once there it was almost 1 in the morning. No food and one little cup of water for 13 hours in an airplane. I was appalled. 18 flights in the past 9 months and I have not seen it this bad. Our domestic flights need some work.

Groggy and totally hypoglycemic from the days events, I was shocked to find that despite the presence of coin slots, the pay phones in the airport no longer accept coins. Frustrated, I put the receiver down about to seek out a random cell phone and I get a tap on my shoulder. Not only was it my cousin Heather, but her husband James and son Mikey. On a work night they drove an hour to pick me up and take me home at 1 in the morning. I was so thankful for their graciousness.

The next 5 days absolutely flew by. I spent my time being totally spoiled by my cousin, going to Mikey's football games and practices, watching movies and going surfing with my buddy Jason. This trip has definitely gave me a new sense of family and I have never before been able to hangout with my cousin and her family like this. It was more than awesome. I cherished every moment.

Going from New York to Southern California was a huge change for me. I'm slowly adjusting back into American life and feeling more comfortable each day. Right I'm now I'm sitting at the airport, enjoying one of the many luxuries we have in this country, free Internet, and awaiting to board my flight to Seattle. Every emotion possible has gone through me today and the last week. My anxiousness has been numbed by the reality of the day and this moment. I have one thing left to do on this trip. Go home.

Here's a link to my Orange County Picts:

For those of you still reading my blog, this is not my last post. In about a week or so I will post a massive conclusion along with some of my favorite picts from the past 9 months around the world. You will not be disappointed, I promise :)
For anyone wanting to get a hold of me, shoot me an email ryan.mceliece@gmail.com or call my folks place, where I'll be until the wedding and while I get stuff figured out. Ciao!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Almost There

It was supposed to be a significant moment. One that I have been thinking about for a long time. It was probably my last international flight for a while. A monuments moment after 9 months on the road. My taste buds craved of good coffee, beer, massive burgers and burritos. I could almost smell the Costco hotdogs teasing my appetite just before going shopping in a building the size of a small country with a cart bigger than most vehicles in Europe. It was the return to my country. America. U. S of A. Home of the free land of the….this was supposed to be my home.

It soon struck me that this is definitely not my home. New York is a foreign country in itself, but the only thing the familiar sights sounds from my home did, was overwhelm me. It’s as foreign a country to me as anywhere I’ve been. It’s a culture shock only because I expected something from it. Something that I was supposed to know and have figured out. I was looking for something familiar. A language and culture that I understand and am apart of. But it was different. I found myself feeling as out of place and like a foreigner as in any place I’ve been in this world.

My shock came first with the cars. The vehicles are all so big! Even the small ones that I’ve always thought of as small are huge. Walking down the a line of cars parked on the side of the road on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan I counted 9 out of 10 cars in a single row that was some kind of truck or S.U.V.

The shock continued as I was constantly blow away by the size of everything. Not only the cars but the freeways, the bridges, the shopping centers and the buildings. New York is definitely a huge city and everything around it appears to keep in sync with that fact.

Soon, I slowly found myself accepting where I’m at and where I’m from. I started to remember things I love about this place. My friends Brad and Silvia were right there making sure I got everything I desired. It started with a good micro called Sierra Nevada then continued to an even finer brew simply known as PBR. A massive proper burger was first on the menu. Good, free ketchup, mustard and all the toppings known to grow in this land, requiring the need to stretch your jaw before attempting to eat. Sedated and happy, day two brought on a massive, coma educing burrito from a real Mexican restaurant. Day three was good ol’ American Chinese food and last but not least, proper American Pizza. It’s nothing like the pizza in Italy, but the American version is still mouth watering. There is definitely some truth to be found in the statement “fat and happy”.

Day four, Brad and I found ourselves in the possession of free tickets to one of the most massive music festivals New York hosts all summer. It was on Liberty park, a short ferry ride from Manhattan. The moment I saw Ben Harper play, the realities of being back hit me. I turned around, looked back at all the skyscrapers of the city and still couldn’t believe this trip is coming to an end. Jack Johnson then finished the night jamming out with the lead singer of Phish. I felt truly welcomed home that evening, back to the country I’m from and the closest to home I’ve been in 9 months.

My journey is not yet complete though. I fly to LA on Thursday. I’ll hang out for a few days with my cousin Heather and my buddy Jason. Then...choke…gasp…cough… I’ll be home.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

2 days in Dublin

I think it was the dark grey sky's that blended into the old grey, grimy buildings that stick out most to me about Dublin. Walking through the streets of the capital city of the Republic of Ireland, it had a feeling of something that I haven't felt with any city I've been to in 5 weeks of traveling throughout Europe.
It was hard. Something rough about it's demeanor which emanated from it's brick buildings and old bridges. Nobody seemed to make eye contact with you. I didn't see a lot of smiles. If you were able to make eye contact with someone, it's almost like you were able to glimpse into their lives just a little bit and you could see that there was something tough about them. Their lives seemed rougher than any country or city I've been to. Their beards, heavy clothes and deep set eyes spoke to me of hard work and survival.

I don't know as much about Ireland as I would like. I don't know what the people have been through. The flight was a lot cheaper to fly back to the states from Dublin than it was from London. I thought it would at least be worth it to stop in and have a pint of Guinness. I was only there a couple days, but I was so fascinated by my first impressions that I was fully motivated to learn more.

My first stop was the National Museum of Ireland. When I wondered through the 200 year old building and browsed it's exhibits I saw a common theme forming. It seemed that the history of Ireland is full of two things. Invasion and emigration. Dating back over 2000 years ago it started with the Norms, then the Vikings, then the English. Fighting for what was theirs, the Irish have always has some sort of foreign aggression to deal with. Many of you know that still exists today in Northern Ireland. Then there has been the people fleeing the country. Either from war or famine or sometimes both. I read in the airport that almost half of the people ever born in Ireland have left the country. This is more emigration than any country in Europe has ever experienced.

I went back to the streets and watch the people walking around. The pubs the grey sky's and the decrepit buildings. I wanted to understand more. So I went to the place that has become synonymous with Ireland and Irish culture. The Guinness Brewery.

It was a self guided tour through one of the largest and most fascinating brewery's I've ever ventured to. I've been around the world. Literally. I've sampled beer in every country and have entertained claims to the "worlds best beer" everywhere I've been. I'll tell you right now that nothing comes close to the micro’s we have back home in the Northwest, but the one beer that is served everywhere and has huge respect on an international scale has been Guinness. I think Guinness has been the only beer I've seen served everywhere. It's a mind boggling dark brew that looks one way but throws your taste buds off with it's rich, smooth and creamy flavor. I will answer the myth right now for anyone who is curious. Yes, Guinness tastes distinctly better in Ireland than anywhere else. I had a many of conversations about this as I waited for the foamy “head” to slowly dissolve before returning the pint back to the tap to finish it’s age old ritual of a “perfect” pour.

My conclusion to Ireland was that I’m fascinated. Very fascinated and would love a return visit. This country deserves some exploring. I was only in Dublin and I loved my experiences there. I felt I could relate to the people here. I was fascinated to learn of a culture and land that has been through centuries of hard times but has remained intact and true to their traditions and beliefs. I only had two days, but it was enough to know that I will be back.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

London Calling

My time in the UK has seemed to come and gone faster than I could have imagined. Having no real expectations other than hanging out with Richard, I allowed myself to take in everything England had to offer. My first week was spent aimlessly wondering the streets of this giant city trying not to get lost. Never before have I spent so much time in a city, and never before have I found myself enjoying a city more with every day spent there.

My first impressions of London were that is was huge, massively old and super expensive. Everything here costs about twice as much than in America. After roaming the countryside, a short visit to Cambridge and a jaunt to Richards folks place just an hour outside London, I really couldn’t help but wonder what is was that made this place worth so much. Why was it so expensive? And why was the pound so strong? It really confused me cause I didn’t quite get what they had. Other than the massive city of London, England just seemed like a lot of old villages, rolling hills, a few pubs and loads of wheat fields.

It wasn’t until my day trip to Greenwich that I realized what it was. It was an hour boat ride on the Thames river to the village. I sat on the deck of the ferry in the 85 degree sunshine listening to my I-Pod and watched the old buildings of classical downtown London give way to old apartments and condos. The ferry captain who found enjoyment in describing in detail what every building and monument was we passed along the way soon said “from here until Greenwich, there are few areas of interest, so I will shut up and let you enjoy the ride.” Thankful of his generosity and my ability to totally tune out the rest of the ride to my music, I began to see giant skyscrapers appear on the horizon. Upon docking in Greenwich, I took another look at these massive buildings and saw that they were all very modern and all owned by giant, well known international corporations. Thinking nothing of it, I went exploring.

Greenwich is probably one of the most amazing places in all of London. The British Maritime Museum, the Queens Palace and the University of Greenwich were so impressive. Then there is this massive park which is so picture-perfect that it looks like some machine has been designed to manicure its gardens and lawns. In the middle of this park is a big hill which I started to climb. On top there is a place that is filled with tourists taking pictures of themselves standing over a line. Big deal, right? Upon further inspection it turns out that the line marks 0 degree longitude and the beginning of time. You can stand there with one foot in the West and one in the East.

While looking at all these people crowding this line and then looking out over the city and all it’s massive skyscrapers, it hit me. Time. England has time. Without any large-scale export, time is something they have that nowhere else in the world could possibly have. This is why it’s so expensive. Everyone knows you can’t really buy time. But England has come closer than any country in the world. GMT. Greenwich Mean Time. Ingenious.

With exactly a 5 hour difference from North America and a 5 hour difference from all the development in Asia, time 0 or London, is perfectly positioned to do business with the world. In a standard 8 hour work day, your business can coordinate with the industries of Asia in the morning and deal with the markets in Europe and North America in the afternoon. This mean business and not just business but big business. Ones that bring lots of money, enough money to make a small island nation very wealthy.

Originally Richard and I were to do a surf trip up into Ireland. However, he just changed jobs and was unable to get much time off. This actually turned out to be more than perfect because as my whole schedule freed up I was able to go meet some family in Cambridge I’ve never seen before. I called up my Grandma’s 87 year old sister and nervously explained who I was and asked if I could come meet them. “Of course dear.” was her reply. It was a two hour train ride from London and some of the most picture-perfect English countryside you could imagine. There is something about trains that is so peaceful and introspective as you listen to the wind rush past the window going 70 miles an hour, staring in awe at beautiful green pastures, duck ponds and old churches.

I had an amazing evening with my Great Aunt Irene and her husband Peter. We spent most of the night looking though thousands of family photos…always a necessity when you meet family for the first time. I found it awfully remarkable that there were people whom I’ve never met on the other side of the world in a country I’ve never been too that has photos of my family hanging up in their homes. The evening was topped for me when my Grandma back home, who I haven’t seen in about 9 months, called to say hi and I was there to talk to her. She had been battling cancer the whole time I’ve been away and it’s pained me to not be able to be there for any of it. Talking to her really was more than awesome.

In the morning, I was able to visit with Vicky (the grandchild of my great aunt, I‘m not sure what you call that in relation to myself, but she‘s some kind of cousin). She actually stayed with my family for a few weeks back in 1991. I was only 9 years old, but I vividly remember her and was really excited when she phoned up and wanted to meet. She was only 23 when I first met her and she’s now 40, married and has 3 kids. But her friendly smile, peaceable attitude and generous nature had remained unchanged. She has also become an incredible mother to three incredible kids, William, Phillip and George. Hanging out with her, her kids and her awesome husband Rolan, I instantly felt like I was family. I was able to meet her dad, Berry (my dad‘s cousin), briefly and really knew from there that we all really were related. My time with them was way too short. I really wish I could have stayed longer. Vicky and her kids William and Phillip walked me to the train station and watched me leave to go back to London. Sitting in my seat on the train and looking out the window waving goodbye to people I had just met, I really felt as though I’d known them for my whole life. It was more than bitter-sweet because I was so glad to have met them but also sad to say goodbye. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had on this trip.

I returned to London sometime after midnight, packed my bags, crashed for a few hours then Richard and I began the 4 hour drive to the beach. We were headed for the county of Devon to surf a beach set in front of a backdrop of beautiful rolling hills, steep cliffs and farm pastures. There was a word of a small swell hitting these beaches, and for this time of year, it’s a novelty to have much surf at all, so we were on it. We arrived to a beautiful sunny day with small, blown out surf. I hadn’t been in the water for almost a month since I was in Indonesia, and I have yet to surf the Atlantic ocean, so we ran down to the beach with our boards as soon as we parked the car. The water was cold but the thrill of just paddling into the ocean on a board again felt better than I could have imagined. We had about 3 really fun surfs in Devon, one sunset session which was more than magical. The sun poked through the clouds the last few moments it was above the horizon. It lit up the beach and it’s backdrop of bright green pastures dotted with grazing sheep. The sun gave off rays shooting in all directions as it snuck behind the clouds in it’s final bow to the finale of an amazing day. We camped for two nights out in Devon. Richard drove me to South Hampton where I caught a flight to Dublin. I only have two nights here as I see some sights and prepare for my flight back to the States but I can’t help but reflect on the last couple weeks spent in the UK.

England to me came as a bit of a huge surprise. I really came here with no expectations. London turned out to be one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever spent time in. I spent 8 days wondering it’s streets and everyday I found something new and mind-blowing. I’d go back in a heart beat. I found a family that I’ve never met in Cambridge, I felt warm and welcome and that I had a home. Cambridge itself was one of those perfect, postcard-like English towns that you imagine only in pretty picture books. And I found amazing times and awesome waves hanging out with a good buddy I haven’t seen in almost 5 years. It was all more than I could have asked for. I can’t wait to come back.

-Please note that this posting is linked with 3 different albums. The Greenwich and British Museum, the Cambridge and Family Album the Devon Surfing trip.