Adventure

Alicante, Spain 2019 by William Bryan

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After the success of our last trip to Rome Paolo, Jonas and I didn’t waste much time in planning a second outing. This time around we opted to fly to Alicante, Spain for some warm weather on the tail end of a dark European winter.

I invited my coworkers and one of them had the good sense to take me up on the offer—she was especially happy when she learned that round trip flights from Berlin were €14.50. The rental car for the weekend was only €13.68 (plus a €31 fee for being under 25). Being a weekend warrior is a lot easier when travel is affordable.

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After arriving in Spain Olena and I learned that we’d have to wait two hours for a pair of Jonas’ friends to arrive. Rather than sit in the airport we picked up the rental car and explored a nearby town. We stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall tapas restaurant and scarfed down some grilled octopus and fried cheese before rushing back to the airport to pick up the others.

During the hour drive up the coast we got to know each other before arriving in what can only be described as a villa. As I walked in the door Paolo handed me a Gin & Tonic and we got down to the serious business of celebrating Jonas’ birthday.

I woke up at 9 a.m. to an abandoned house. After making sure that the cars were still in the driveway and everyone hadn’t abandoned me I made myself some breakfast. Still no survivors. I figured I’d make the most of it and lay outside in the sun while I waited for the dead to rise.

One by one revelers made themselves known as they stared at me with squinty eyes in the bright Spanish sun. Two hours later everyone but Jonas was accounted for; we weren’t too worried because the only obligation that day was a reservation at a paella restaurant at 1:30 p.m.

Then another hour had passed still with no sight of Jonas.

Then 1 p.m. ticked by and Jonas finally showed himself, but there was no way he’d make it out to lunch. Jonas’ sister called the restaurant to cancel the reservation but they had a better idea: bring the paella to us. 30 minutes later Tara showed up with a meter wide paella dish filled with the traditional rice dish.

After picking at his paella for thirty minutes Jonas declared it was time for our hike.

As we drove to Moraira Tara got a call from her brother in the car ahead of us..

“Hey, so are we still doing the thing,” Tara asked.

Jonas said something on the other end of the phone.

“Ok, sweet, I’ll tell Will to follow you,” she replied.

I was just about as confused as you must be while reading this, so I asked Tara what was going on but all she would say was: you’ll see. And that’s when I saw it appear around the next turn: AV Karting.

“NIKI LAUDA,” I yelled in excitement.

We ripped a dozen laps around the go-kart track and fought for first place (shout out to Tara) before climbing back into the real cars and driving to our hike.

We stumbled our way up the mountain to a tower with a view of the Mediterranean before making our way down to the harbor and watching the sunset from Jonas and Tara’s sailboat.

The next morning we made sure to go back to Moraira for gelato before taking Paolo to the airport. Olena and I drove back to the coast one more time for a final Spanish meal before returning the rental car and flying back to Berlin ourselves.

London, England 2019 by William Bryan

My cousin Jared was set to graduate from the National Film and Television School at the end of March; so my dad and I planned on meeting in London to celebrate his graduation as well as recent engagement.

But life had other plans.

Less than a week before my dad was scheduled to fly to the UK his partner slipped on a pesky patch of ice in the Sierra Nevada mountains and broke his back. Logically, this meant that my dad needed to stay home in California and ensure that a drugged and mostly bed-ridden Vince made a speedy recovery.

So I was forced to tough-out London on my own.

OK, maybe tough-out isn't the right phrase. My aunt and uncle wine-and-dined me to the moon and back and it felt more like a luxury cruise than a struggle of any sort. From sun-up to sun-down on Saturday the five of us (Aunt Sandi, Uncle Jack, Jared and his fiancée) hopped from beer to beer with champagne in between.

We started the day by taking the train from Kings Cross to Cambridge where our first stop was lunch, of course. I excitedly stuffed fish and chips down my gullet and washed it all down with a pint of local ale.

From there we meandered (slowly, remember the pint of ale) through the charming old town before snagging a bottle of champagne for our punt ride on the River Cam—we were celebrating a master's degree and an engagement after all. I may have snuck a couple of cans of pre-made Pimm's Cup aboard also. After the leisure cruise we made the logical next stop—more beer—before walking back to the train for London.

As if all of that wasn't enough we decided we needed to go out with a bang at Le Relais de Venise, a French restaurant with no menu and only one delicious option: steak and fries. After plenty of beef and potatoes and three bottles of wine we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and made our way home.

The next morning I woke up with a headache (no idea why) and slowly made my way to the British Museum (to look at artifacts stolen from all around the world) and Hyde Park before taking the Heathrow Express to the airport.

And finally, as reconciliation for such a taxing weekend British Airways consoled me with a completely empty row of seats to spread out on for the short flight back to Berlin.

Costa Rica 2018 by William Bryan

The original inspiration for this trip was to get scuba certified. I’ve always wanted to explore beneath the waves that I’ve spent so much time in, and Costa Rica seemed like a great place to do it. Unfortunately, after arriving in Central America we started to drop like flies to an unknown sickness. A sickness that claimed five of the six of us, sparing only me.

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After arriving in San Jose late the night before on the tail end of a long travel day from Berlin, we woke up early for our bus ride to the mountains for white water rafting. Along the way our bus driver made sure to pull over and snag some fresh tamales from a woman standing at the kitchen window of her village home.

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After suiting up and getting on the water we got our asses kicked by a drill-sergeant of a raft guide on our way down the river. No matter how hard we paddled it was never hard enough in his eyes.

From the river, we made our way into the rainforest for a few days of hiking around volcano basins in search of birds, insects and monkeys.

As we chased monkeys through the trees by following the sounds of their screeches we were forced to dodge the water droplets falling from leaves above our heads. We couldn’t help but notice that the water always seemed to only drop where we were standing, as if the monkeys were waging war on us outsiders.

From the lush, wet forests we made our way to the coast for a few days of sun and sand before heading back to cold, dark Berlin. While at the coast the three of us that weren’t sick (yet) got our scuba certifications in murky water with hundreds of fish, eels and sharks. The two others that had just completed their certifications with me promptly fell ill the next day.

Surrounded by sickness on New Year’s Eve I walked to the beach alone and watched the sad fireworks show of the local sailing club by myself. The show—orchestrated by the sailing club owner with a barbecue lighter in his hand and 2019 glasses on his face—consisted of a few barrages and maybe two dozen roman candles bursting loudly over the bay.

After taking pictures I wandered back to the sleepy house we were staying at and promptly fell asleep, ten minutes after midnight.

Rome, Italy 2018 by William Bryan

Paolo shot me a message in early November asking when was a good weekend to visit Berlin.

"The weekend of December 7th should be good," I said.

Jonas shot me a message, also in early November, telling me (not asking) we were flying to either Amsterdam or hot springs outside of Rome on the weekend of December 7th.

I wasn't sure which direction to fly so I made a group chat with two people who had never met.

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Introducing two strangers…

"Paolo, meet Jonas. Jonas, meet Paolo," I typed.

"Where’s the location for this? Cuz if it’s near Rome, I have an apartment there we could stay in," Paolo messaged.

Rome it is, I thought. We booked our flights a week later along with a petite Fiat 500 for the two hour drive north of Rome to the hot springs.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I got off the plane to meet up with the other two who'd never met before—they both arrived a few hours before me and spent the afternoon together—but they bantered like old friends in the front seat while I squeezed into the cramped back seat of the Fiat. Apparently the trip was off to a good start.

I asked what we actually planned on doing over the next two days and this is what the fast-friends in the front seat responded with in a quick stream of ideas: pizza for dinner, hot springs in the morning, lunch in Tuscany on our way back, pasta dinner in Rome, and who knows for Sunday, maybe the Colosseum. There was a short silence in the car as we took it all in and then we laughed at how ridiculous it all sounded. But that didn't stop us from sticking to our imagined itinerary.

After stuffing our faces with local pizza that night (✓) we drove the Fiat 500 north to the hot springs the next morning (✓). After soaking in the warm waters for a couple of hours we headed back to Rome and ate lunch in a butcher shop in Manciano, Tuscany along the way (✓). Unplanned moments included accidentally passing some ancient Roman ruins and flying Jonas' drone over them while parked on the side of the freeway and joining in on Manciano's petite Christmas parade after lunch at the butcher shop.

Waking up the next morning the worse for wear from the evening's wine we slowly packed up our things and made our way into the city. Jonas and I explored the Colosseum and ate gelato outside it’s walls while Paolo met with family. Then the other two left for the airport, leaving me in the city with a few hours to kill before my own flight. In only three hours of solo wandering I saw the Altar de Patria, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Vatican City (including stumbling into St. Peter's Basilica just as the Sunday Evening Mass began).

I made my way to the airport after it got dark and taking photos got tough. As I sat on the train I stared out the window and thought in amazement at how much I'd managed to do in two days in Rome.

Iceland 2018 - Part 2 by William Bryan

“These renowned, dramatic cliffs on the headland beside Bjargtangar Lighthouse, extend for 12km. Ranging from 40m to 400m they're mobbed by nesting seabirds in early summer,” my dad read from the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m excited about, we get to take pictures of puffins! And not the nasty cereal,” I replied excitedly.

“No, you didn’t hear me. Nesting seabirds in the early summer,” my dad taunted.

And then it hit me. This 800-kilometer detour into Iceland’s west fjords was motivated, in large part, by a plethora of photogenic seabirds that nested on the westernmost part of the island. And they wouldn’t even be there.

We decided to press on and hope that, for some reason, there might be some stragglers in the puffin flock. As we drove further towards the cliffs my dad checked the weather and turned pale.

“You sure we want to make it all the way out to the cliffs? There’s a storm with 40 m.p.h. winds coming in tonight. Just after sundown,” my dad said.

I distractedly thought about how fast 40 miles per hour was as I slowly navigated the winding road that was carved out of a cliff’s edge.
“Oh we’ll be fine,” I mumbled as I eyed the front right tire, and the crumbled rock that ended just beyond it. I had other things on my mind than a little wind.

Both Lonely Planet and the weather app were spot on: no birds at the cliffs, and epic wind gusts and buckets of rain pelted the van and pop-top as we tried to sleep that night.

After the sleepless night, we were ecstatic at the site of our first geothermal hot spring on the side of the road. We gingerly inspected it, half expecting it to not be real, or warm. But when we found that it was both entirely real and hot enough for soaking—we rushed back to the car to change.

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After enjoying ourselves in the warm waters with some Dutch travelers for a while we noticed some ominous clouds sweeping towards us quickly.

“That’s my cue to leave, nice to meet you,” I yelled behind me as I sprinted up the stone steps.

As I slammed the sliding door to the van shut behind me I heard the rain bounce off the roof above me. I looked out the windshield for my dad and as he rounded the corner the rain turned to hail.

He yelped as he clambered into the van and said, “man, you’ve got great timing. I definitely don’t.”

We laughed at what we were certain would be the last misfortune on the trip.

Two hours later we meandered along more bumpy dirt roads, nearly out of the west fjords, when I felt like the car was sliding around on the mud more than before.

“Something feels off,” I told my dad.

“Yeah,” he said. “This whole Junker that we’ve been in for two weeks is off.”

“No, more than before,” I said as I pulled over. “Will you hop out and give everything a look?”

As soon as he hopped out of the passenger door he deflated.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he grumbled.

A flat.

A flat tire in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road in Iceland, only two days before the end of the trip. After assessing the damage, we climbed into the back of the van, donned our most wind-proof gear (thank god it wasn’t raining, also) and got to work. Soon after we started an Italian couple stopped and insisted on helping, and if not for them we wouldn’t have gotten any of the nuts loose from the bolts, our tools just weren’t good enough. They offered a helping hand and a rental car with a better tire-iron.

As we heaved, pulled, pushed and kicked we snapped two rusted bolts in half as we tried to loosen them. Unfortunately, a better tire-iron doesn’t mean good bolts. After an hour of struggling we had the spare tire on the car, with four out of six bolts left to hold it on.

We realized that we weren’t in any position to push the clunky van any further than we absolutely had to so we pushed on towards Reykjavík, passing by some of the most photographed parts of Iceland on the Snæfellsjökull peninsula. After stopping at three mechanics we finally found one who would repair our old tire and thought they could replace the broken bolts (they couldn’t), before we limped on towards the van rental office and the end of our trip in Iceland.

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Iceland 2018 - Part 1 by William Bryan

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The battery was dead. I had left the lights on.

Our hunky, (not so trusty), 10-year-old 4x4 camper van with 250 thousand kilometers on the odometer, wouldn’t start. It was only our second day on the road but we were already hours away from any gas station or mechanic that we might expect to have jumper cables.

“Someone around here has to have some jumper cables, right?” I asked my dad as we sat in the cab of the van with the pouring rain clanging on the roof.

“I’d hope so, but maybe the battery will have some juice left if we just give it some time. Let’s get a cup of coffee in that restaurant while we wait,” he replied.

We clambered out of the van and back into the rain that had soaked us to the bone as we had explored the Skógafoss Waterfall. As we walked through the busy parking lot packed full of cars and tour busses we hoped for the best with the van. But after 30 minutes of coffee, turning the key in the ignition still only granted us a few sad purrs from the starter motor before it fell silent. Exasperated, we were resolved to starting the search for jumper cables.

We asked the restaurant, no luck. We asked the drivers of the tour busses, the monster truck Jeep tours, and the other tourists in campers around us, still no luck. But when I walked into a tiny tourist shop hidden behind the restaurant the man at the counter was happy to go in the back and grab some jumper cables.

Before we knew it, the van’s engine was rumbling thanks to the help of some Swedes, and we were back on the road to the next waterfall.

After killing the battery, we decided to not use the van’s headlights during the day to avoid another mishap. But soon after we pulled out of the parking lot for Skógafoss a car flashed us with their headlights. We rumbled on, clueless as to why it had happened, assuming it was a coincidence. Not more than five minutes later it happened again.

After getting flashed half a dozen times we decided it wasn’t a coincidence, and a quick Google revealed that it was Icelandic law to have your headlights on, day and night. Naturally we decided that we’d have to turn the headlights on and just be extra careful about turning them off when we got out to explore.

So, we were extra surprised when a week later as we rumbled down a pock-marked dirt road on our way back from another waterfall—this time the largest in Iceland, Dettifoss—lights flashed in my face yet again.

“Dad, why are we getting flashed, now?” I asked.

And that’s when I noticed the driver of the car in question was frantically pointing his finger up, towards the roof. I glanced in the side mirror and noticed that the pop-up tent on the roof of our van had popped up because of the bumpy dirt road and a gale force wind blowing from behind us. I slammed on the breaks and we skidded to a stop as my dad looked at me in shock.

“What the hell is wrong,” he asked, surprised.

“The pop-up top popped up,” I yelled as I threw my door open and jumped into the rain and wind.

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My dad was quick to follow and we struggled to pull the top, which was acting like a sail in the wind, back down and lock it into place. After wiping the rain out of our faces, we sat in the warmth of the van and laughed about the struggle, before we continued (more slowly) down the dirt road and on with our adventure.

Reykjavík in a day