Kyrgyzstan Classic: My day with the Eagle Master

I started reading, Apples are from Kyrgyzstan, before departing on my world adventure. Since it was a library book, I only got a few chapters in. It was all I needed to be excited about travelling to Central Asia. A bucket list was made in my head and I was not going to leave Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan without meeting with an eagle master. There has been a long tradition that people use eagles to hunt prey! Before winter arrived, I wanted to go around the magnificent Lake Issyk-Kul. My last stop before Bishkek was Bokonbayevo. According to many locals, this was where I could meet an eagle master. After a missed opportunity at the World Nomad Games, this was my last chance to organize this excursion.

That morning I left the homestay in Tamga and hitchhiked to Bokonbayevo. Once in town, the CBT (Community Based Tourism) was closed for lunch. Therefore I had lunch and met two travelers from California. They did not know much about the area but I convinced them to join me to see the eagle master. (The more the people the less the cost too!) After lunch we organized to see the eagle master the next day and stay in a yurt. **

By far this was the fanciest yurt stay I had been in. This one has flush toilets and electricity. It felt like a yurt camp resort. They even had a traditional Kyrgyz swing and play area. Granted, most yurt stays are img_6809in the wilderness which is part of the experience. *** That evening I took a swim in Lake Issyk-Kul. This was probably be my last  since winter looked to be on the way. Evening involved a great meal and enjoyed great conversation.

The next day was THE BIG DAY! The day I was hoping for and probably annoying travelers talking about this day! Meeting the eagle master! We drove about 20 minutes out of town to a valley. There there was a few more tourists from Germany to see the demonstration.

Urslan, the eagle master, was 31 years old and was said to be one of the eagle men around. In the Bokonbayevo region there are 20 eagle men and he is  3rd generation eagle man. He brought two of his img_6791three eagles for the demonstration. One was 5 years old and the other 8 years old. Both were golden eagles. The eagles that are trained to hunt must be females. This is because the male eagles are smaller and can only catch small prey. In general, males are not as good. Normally Urslan catches the eagles when they are 2 years old. He said that if they are caught when they are in the nest, they are apt to attack humans when they are older. The first year, the eagle is kept close where they learn the owners voice. Much of the training is building each other’s trust.

Hunting season runs from September to January. They don’t hunt in the summer because the prey is young and too small. during the summers they take out each eagle three to four times a week to train. Our first demonstration was where they had a fox skin. Urslan went to the top of the hill with the eagle and the man below moving kgz-490the fox skin on the ground. While hunting, the eagle has a cool hat that also covers its eyes. . This keeps the eagle calm. An eagle can spot its prey from 3 km away! Once the cap was off, the eagle searched and found the fox skin and attacked it within 30 seconds! I knew that hunting with eagles was going to be impressive but they were way more talented than I expected. These eagles are able to fly 35 meters per second. Not only can they attack quickly, they can take down animals much bigger than they are. Other animals include; jackals, foxes and marmots. They are able to do this because their back talon is extremely powerful. When the eagles attack, one talon goes in the throat and they other in the face.

Our second demonstration was with a rabbit. Urslan told us that eagles can eat up to 3-4 kg of meat and then not need to eat for about a week. We asked if any rabbit had outrun or tricked the eagle. He said, ‘No’ As we hoped the rabbit might survive, we knew it was kgz-495not going to be as lucky. The older of the two eagles is able to hunt alongside a dog as well. Plus, when the eagle attacks, it comes from above and attacks on a quick turn to the side. Its a surprise attack that works every time. As expected, there was no Cinderella story and the rabbit became lunch. It was like watch a nature documentary in real life. The eagle quickly ate the rabbit even eating the rabbit’s foot whole!

The third demonstration was having the eagle fly to Urslan who was holding a piece of meat. That offered for a great video! It was just img_6803amazing to see the amazing animals up close flying and doing what they do best! After it all, we were able to hold and take pictures with the eagle.

This day exceeded my already high expectations! Everyone in the world needs to eat. Just like with many things in life, we just get to the final answer in different ways. I get in my car and go to Pick’N’Save and pick up some meat.**** Urslan and a few otherw use skills passed down for centuries to train an eagle to put food on the table. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of these amazing animals. A day with an eagle master is an experience to be had in Central Asia.

Here’s a clip of the Eagle flying (Hopefully it works!):

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** I had done a couple things organizing with CBT. The office in Bokonbayevo had the most honest prices. Be aware when organizing with tour guides. Shop around and make sure you get the best price and know what you are getting. Word from other travelers say that like to over charge.

*** Remember in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, if you have to use a squat toilet, you will also be having the best view while going to the bathroom.

**** Which now is Metro Market in Shorewood. There I can also try a craft beer while I purchase my groceries for the week.

Also a great thanks to the Sheboygan and Manitowoc Libraries for having such amazing collections of books and magazines! It kept the spark of travelling going and helped me learn so much!

 

Moscow Metro: Palaces for the People

Metro systems in the United States tend to be usually outdated, inconvenient and too expensive. (Plus, U.S. cities are quite spread out) Hence, that is why metro systems are not used very much. Moscow is quite a different story. The Moscow metro system is the 5th busiest in the world and has the most frequent service. For IMG_2843example, during rush hour, there is a train every minute. Any other time it is 3 minutes. Around 7 million people use the metro system everyday. This June, I was one of those passengers for a month and loved it!! Practically every station is amazing and different in its own way.

Why are the stations so grand in Moscow? Well the answers are rooted in Communist ideals. Before the Communist Revolution, the royal family would enjoy the palaces and finest things leaving the workers with nothing. The best way was to give the palaces to the people. Since Moscow was the capital and everyday people would use the metro, the stations would serve as palaces.

If you want to divide the stations in two styles; 1930s and 1950s. (Let’s not explain why stations were not built in the 1940s) In the 1930s stations were built with an Art Deco Style. The 1950s were created in more classical style. Those stations are larger and feel more open.

During WWII, the metro stations played a much different role. As Moscow was the target of many Soviet attacks, Moscow moved underground. Each station had a different purpose. For example, the Kurskaya station was used as a library. Other stations had hair dressers, hospitals, playgrounds, etc. After the war, they were used as bomb shelters.

Sometimes the trains have themes. Some have art and others showcase classic Soviet movies.

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MOSCOW METRO LOGISTICS:

Cost: One Trip: 50 rubles (~85 cents) However if you get a ‘Troika’ card you can top off your card as much as you need. Also, each ride is 32 rubles (~50 cents). Also, a good working knowledge of the Cyrillic IMG_3358alphabet is helpful when riding. Not to be too worried, there will be a Latin alphabet station translation nearby.

If you want to know more about specific stations than just its beauty, I suggest looking into taking a metro tour.

Here are my Top Ten stations with honorable mentions. DISCLAIMER: You may disagree with my choices. Then again I can probably see why. My favorite Eurovision songs do horribly, I enjoy plaid and find a way to add cabbage to all my meals

  1. Ploshad Revolutsii Площадь Революции

This is by far my most favorite station. It is located right by Red Square. Sometimes I would get off a station early just to see it. Russians can be quite superstitous and this station is no exception. This station showcases statues of the most important people in Communist society; the farmer, soldier, student and athlete. You will notice that some statues have been touched many times. Looking for love? Touch one of the student’s shoes. Looking to get good grades without studying? Rub the dogs nose. Money problems? Rub the rooster.

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Looking for love in the metro? Hope it all works out!

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I guess one guy on our tour group doesn’t need to study.

2. Kievskaya Киевская

Kieveskaya is the metro station that takes you to the Kiev Vozkal (Train station) which is the station for trains heading towards Ukraine. It is not on metro tours but I love the mosaics and was one of the first stations that I was immediately awed by. I was not expecting anything but right away I needed to take time to took around.

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I am glad they appreciated the farmer. However some agricultural practices during Soviet times were quite short-sighted. (We’ll cover this once I get to Kazakhstan)

3. Novoslobodskaya Новослободская

If stained glass windows are your thing? This will be obviously number one for you. I enjoyed  each of the 32 panels. Every massive stained glass window is different. Of course it promoting and giving praise to good jobs in a Soviet society. Notice that they nicely changed the mural in this station. It used to suggest Stalin was peace. This was quickly changed after his death.

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I am glad they loved the factory workers! I do as well since I am quite biased. 

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Making hay for little pay. I am sure that was said by both under communist and capitalist systems. However one system allows you to sing about it in a country song. 

4. Arbatskaya Арбатская

This my station for my language school. It is named after Arbat Street which was home to some of the best writers in Russian literature. We timed it one day, it took 2 minutes for the escalator to go from top to bottom. This station was quite deep which also was used as a bomb shelter. This is one of the deepest stations in the system. The deepest is Park Peobody. The deepest in the world goes to the Arsenal Station in Kiev, Ukraine.

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Yeah I didn’t have the patience so I usually walked up and down. 

5. Komsomolskaya Комсомольская (Brown Line)

There are two stations but make sure you see the one on the Brown (Circle) Line. This is the biggest station in term of size. On the ceilings are painting of major points in Russian history.

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6. Elektrozavodskaya Электрозаводская

A little out of the way but I do enjoy the design of the station.

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7. Mayakovskaya Маяковская

This is usually both locals and tourist’s favorite station. What makes it unique is that the arches are supporting the weight of the ceiling of the station. Many architects thought the design of the station was impossible and it would collapse from the weight above. The paintings on the ceiling get deeper as you walk across the station. During WWII, they held sessions of the Duma (Congress).

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8. Maryina Roshcha Марьина роща

Intricate mosaics of different seasons are what makes it quite a nice station.

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9. Belorusskaya Белорусская

This station is in honor of the Belorussian Soviet state. It has a lot of painting of life in Belarus. This metro station also is for the train station for trains heading to Minsk, Belarus.

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Yes, they have cow in Belarus too! 

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10. Mendelevskaya Менделеевская

This made the list for my science friends. Many in Russia believe that Mendel also invented vodka but we know for sure he was the Father of Modern Genetics. So here are some gene designs in the station.

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Honorable Mentions:

Partizanskaya  Партизанская- This station is in honour of the Partisans who fought during WWII. A partisan was someone who could not be part of the army but wanted to fight. Most of the time it was women, injured soldiers, older men and sometimes children.

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Park Pobedy Парк Победы– This is the deepest station. It leads you to Victory Park and the WWII museum

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Cyrillic and Russian Language

Let’s start by stating that learning Russian is difficult! Many say it takes about 4-5 years to become fluent. However, it is essential when travelling to Central Asia and Trans-Siberian to have some working knowledge of the language. Also, I enjoy learning new languages. So I am ready for the challenge.  I found a language school in Moscow and signed up for four weeks. (http://ruslanguage.ru/) It was a great program where the school was on Arbat Street which was the home to many famous Russian poets. In the four weeks, I learned a lot but it was much more difficult than I previously thought. Russian language is complex especially when it comes to the different cases with nouns. Even with its complexities, I am determined to continue learning Russian and become the rare and illusive American polyglot.

When travelling, many people to do not have the time or desire to puck up a new language. Even so, travelling to countries that use the Cyrillic script, it is imperative to learn the alphabet. Knowing the Cyrillic will allow to read a menu or know which bus to go on. Before my lessons in Moscow, I learned the Cyrillic which was a great help when travelling in Bulgaria and Macedonia.  Also remember to learn cursive as well. This threw me through a loop. Most letters are similar but some are not. Here are some links that will help you know the Cyrillic Script:

http://www.friends-partners.org/oldfriends/language/russian-alphabet.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_cursive

Below are some pictures and words using the Cyrillic script. Use the links and see if you can understand the words! (And yes, fast food menus do not convert menu items to the local language)

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Here are a list of cities. See if you can figure them out!

  1. Скопје (J in slavic languages makes a ‘y’ sound)

2. Чикаго

3. Казахстан

4. Шанхай

5. Эдинбург

6. Лондон

7. Франкфурт

8. Сидней

9. Кыргыстан

10. Хельсинки

11. Женева

 

 

 

Ohrid, Macedonia: Crash course on Eastern Orthodox Churches.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Macedonia.” Dragan responded.

“Oh, so do you live in Skopje?”

Astounded he replied, “What!?! How do you know the capital?”

I then drew Dragan the flag of the Macedonian flag. He said I was crazy and we have been friends ever since. Crazy has been an adjective to describe me in middle school and high school. This is quite fitting because my last name sounds very similiar to the word for ‘crazy’ in Macedonia (луди loo-di).

Dragan and kept in touch after we stopped working at Napa in Williston, ND. About four years later, I needed to visit him in Macedonia. Other than locating it on a map and realizing it has the coolest flag. I was not too sure where I should visit. To my surprise, IMG_2278the country is quite mountainous and has great scenery all around. Since he works during the week I planned on spending sometime in Ohrid before the weekend.

I flew in from London Luton to Ohrid. Expecting a small plane due to the town’s smaller size, it was actually quite big. From what it looked like was many people travelling to visit family in Macedonia or Albania. Ohrid is right on the border with Albania due to their past history, there is not too many affordable options to fly in and out. (Wait until later this summer to find out.) After three hours on the plane, we landed in Ohrid. On the plane, I practiced Macedonian phrases for Border Control. This was for sure not America. I walked up, showed her my passport and we looked at eachother. Then she stamped my passport no questions asked! Canada has fully searched my car and the United States gives me the full questionaire!!

Once I gained entry, it was apparent that my favorite part of Macedonia was Macedonians.  Everyone was very friendly and helpful. If you look somewhat lost, someone will be willing to help. The lady next to me on the plane offered me a ride into town from her nephew. This was wonderful because I did not change my money IMG_2225to dinars yet.

In Ohrid, the main attraction is the lakes and all the churches. As in many old cities it was part of a trade route. What made Ohrid important during the Byzantine Empire was that it was a center for education and theological study. This is represented by having 365 churches in the Ohrid area. I was unable to see them all but I went to the major ones.

Photography is not allowed in most monastaries and churches. However, many Eastern orthodox churches have much of the same themes. One of major things that struck me was the amount of icons and the amount of murals seen throughout the church. For me, it was hard to focus and take in becuase there was sooo much coming at you at once. Icons are pictures of various saints and Bible Characters. During the Byzantine Empire, the use of Icons was controversial and at one point there was an order to destroy them all. However Icons were reinstated and it is actually very hard to find icons from earlier than the 8th Century. At the front altar there is usally a row of icons and large icon of Jesus Christ or Mary. I am not sure if its true, but the use of domes are common as well. On these domes there is either a Biblical scene made or a painting of IMG_2223Jesus Christ.

The two main churches of Ohrid are Sveti Jovan at Kaneo (as seen on National Geographics magazine) and the St. Naum monastary. Sveti Jovan at Kaneo was built in the 13th Century and was a place
for student of theology to study. Much of the church is original but I am guessing the real attaraction is its location on Lake Ohrid. Perfect to watch a sunrise or sunset.

St. Naum (Nahum) Monastary was not in Ohrid but was a good afternoon trip across the lake. I went along with my hostel roommate from Australia. It was a nice boat ride with explinations in both Macedonian and English. We were on the front of the boat so I missed which apostle was killed near Ohrid. (From research, I think it might have been Andrew.) The way there we stopped at a recreation if a Bronze Age civilization. It was not worth the entry IMG_2256price. but it was only $2. It was interesting beause it is rare to know for certain that a community was there. During the Bronze Age, many communities were built over water. This allowed them to have prime fishing locations and protection from the wildlife in the forests. The location of this village was right over where the trout spawn in Lake Ohrid. Trout from the lake is actually a specialty served at many of the restaurants.

After 2 hours on the boat, we made it to St. Naum. The monastary was first started in the 900s when a poor farmer lost his cow. The priest told him to pray about it and he would too. By the time he got back home, the cow was there. The grounds of the monastary were IMG_2261wonderful and it seemed like the tourists were more interested in taking pictures of the peacocks rather than the church. This monastary was also an educational center as well. The church also pointed out that if I put my head on the grave of St. Naum, I could hear his heartbeat. Well, no such luck. Alistair and decided to enjoy the views and have a Turkish coffee. (Turkish coffee has been my obsession as of late.)

The boat ride was faster on the way back but we got there just in time for dinner. Where we had some grilled meats and potatoes. It was quite affordable. For a decent meal it was only $4. For dinner we IMG_2277splurged and had the ‘Sexy Salad’ for desert with a Dutch couple that Alistair met the other day. We tried the sexy salad because a lot of the restaurants were serving it. It was chopped walnuts, pineapple, mango and papaya with honey and chocalate drizzle. Decent but should have been served with ice cream.

After staying two nights in Ohrid, it was time for me to meet up with Dragan in Kocani. Ohrid was an amazing place where the people made the place special and joy to visit.

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This the iconic photo of Sveti Naum. As seen on National Geographic.

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As a heads up no dogs and don’t dress like a floozy when going to an Orthodox church. In general have your shoulders covered, no shorts and women should have something to cover your head.

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Entrance to St. Naum

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St. Naum church

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Roman ampitheater.

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Did I mention the flag was cool?

 

 

Ironbridge: Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution with a side of Traditional English Breakfast

The United Kingdom is known for being the birthplace of the Industrial  Revolution. However my original plans to visit Liverpool and Manchester were quickly changed before I booked my trip. Just so happens at the Grand Trunk Pub in downtown Detroit. There was an Englishman. We made conversation because the hipster girl next to me that tried to put a fork in my pocket was going to get none. (Seriously who does that!) Anyways, I was explaining that I love industrial history and the itinerary that I had planned. He suggested that I should check out Ironbridge because that was the true birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Although out of the way, the area was filled with great museums (right up my alley) and quintessential English countryside.

One month later, I took a bus from London to Telford. After landing IMG_1864in Ironbridge, it did not seem that the start of the Industrial Revolution started here. It would take some museum going to figure how it happened here. That would be for the next day, I needed to find my accomodation; a Bed and Breakfast. I was not planning to spend the money but all the hostels were booked for school groups. However, I did get a good price at the Shakespeare Inn and it’s something you should try while in the UK. A typical B&B in the Ironbridge area usually is a few rooms above a pub. It was a great nights sleep, there was no worry that you will loose some sleep IMG_1745being above a pub. For me the bed was comfortable, friendly service and the food was excellent. Of course, a full English breakfast could be ordered. It consists of eggs, sausage, mushrooms. tomatoes, ham, baked beans and toast. Black pudding can be served but it seems like many people don’t enjoy it anyways. It was the perfect start to a day. I needed a lot of energy to get a few museums done in one day.

The first museum I went to was the Coalbrookdale Iron Museum. In it told the story of Aberaham Darby. Darby was a Quaker and an industrialist that worked in brass and beer. At both jobs, coke was used in the furnaces. Making iron has been around since the Roman times was not able to be done on a large scale. In the 17th IMG_1870Century, charcoal was being used to smelt iron but this was cauing mass deforestation. The other alternative was coal but this would add sulfur to the iron. This would make the iron brittle and weak. Abraham Darby went to Coalbrookdale to test his idea. The area was rich in iron, coke and limestone. It was huge success in many areas. His first patent in 1707 was an iron pot that used half the iron. Half the iron means half the price, it sold great. Also using coke allowed to cast iron at a larger scale. This innovation allowed for larger buildings and structures to be made with iron. For the neighboring town of Ironbridge (about 1/2 km away) they built the world’s first iron bridge.

Business was booming in the area until the Napoleonic wars. You see, the Darby’s and many industrialists of the day were Quakers. Quakers, being pacifists, were ethically opposed to making weapons for the wars. That along with the iron industry booming in larger cities England, production in the area began to decline. Like everything, you need to IMG_1776adapt and change for the new situation. Luckily the Great Exhibition of 1851 was right around the corner. The Darby’s then decided it was not going to make large chunks of iron. Rather, they were going to make ornamental cast iron. The molding process was detailled but was possible as a smaller scale. The new products were a success at the Great Exhibition. Business picked back up again at Coalbrookdale. In the 20th Century, they switched to applicances.

After visiting the Iron Museum and the Darby house, I headed over to Blist’s Hill Victorian Town. After learning about the area, I was able to see how locals would have lived during the Victorian Era. Not the fancy homes of the rich and famous, actual working class people. This seems to be forgotten when remembering Victorian times. Blist’s Hill was quite a big complex with all the workers dressed to the times and were able to ask many questions. My favorite person to talk to was the blacksmith and see how things were made. From a general store to inside of a doctors house you could get a glimpse of how life was in many different facets. Overall, this was place I would love to see again especailly in the busier times. During my time there, I learned plenty of fun facts:

  •  Fish and Chips were invented because if you deep fry the fish, it disguised that the fish were already going bad.
  • A letter to the USA costs the same as in the 19th Century.
  • Houses for the poor had basements to provide a place to store meats and other foods that shouldn’t stay in the heat. Also the kitchens always faced north.
  • Squatters rights allowed someone to keep the house they built if it was lived in for 60 years.
  • Toll house workers got paid well and got perks like a nicer home and free coal and oil. This made them more honest.
  • It took 20 people to make one page of newspaper.
  • Sheep’s fat was used for making candles.
  • Today, you can still be a blacksmith and it takes three years of school/appenticeship to complete
  • On Sunday’s it was illegal to work (even in the coal mines.
  • From the Darby House: Quakers could not sign contracts, therefore they could not be doctors or go to university. That is why many Quakers were successful industrialists.

After all that learning, it was necessary to have a pint. Luckily, right outside Blist’s Hill was a pub that many people suggested. At the All Nations Inn, I ordered one pint and immediately started a IMG_1855conversation with the locals. One of my favorite things about English pubs is how friendly people are and the banter between friends. It was great. The pub felt like an extended living room and you can really get the feel of the area. By far, I was one the youngest patrons of the bar on a Thursday night. However, I enjoy that better. Ironbridge was great time. Granted you can say that there are museums like that in your neighborhood but nothing can match the endless smiles and great hospitalilty I recieved while visiting Ironbridge. Hope to visit again but I got a few other places to explore!

Logisitics of Visiting:

In the Ironbridge area there are ten musuems. Some that take 20 minutes to go through and others you could spend the whole day. If you ever go, buy the pass to all the museums. This allows you to get into each place during the entire year. Things are spread out so unless you want to figure out the bus or walk, it is best to rent a car. As a warning Americans: Europeans do NOT make automatic cars. So unless you want to pay extra for automatic, learn stick shift. I did not learn stick shift before I left. This means I will be walking/using public transport and saving more money. (Yes, I did not learn stick shift, don’t hate on me too much.)

Here are few more pictures:

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This is the blacksmith making bottle openers!

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Where they used to make iron bars.

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Ironbridge with top notch views all around.

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Recreation of posters from the Victorian Era.

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Outside of the Coal Museum

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The view from my room at the Shakespeare Inn. The roads were a little smaller so you can’t always notice that they drive the opposite way.

 

Belfast: Two sides to every story

Our Black cab tour guide said it best, “There is two sides of the story and they are both wrong”. I absolutely loved my time in Northern Ireland and Belfast but the reason I was visiting was because of “The Troubles” If you are over the age of 40, Belfast is not a UK

IMG_1952destination because the town evokes memories of car bombs, violence and general instability. Both sides feel very strongly about the situation and tell their version.

Northern Ireland is the northern six counties on the island of Ireland that did not join the Republic of Ireland when they gained Independence in 1920. This was due to many Protestants living in those counties. Many of them can trace their roots to Scotland when the British wanted more influence when they ruled over Ireland. For a short history from the 18th Century to 1968, we can say British did not treat Irish Catholics well but the same can be said for Protestants living in area of Ireland.

The Troubles started in 1968 when their was a growing fervor again by Catholics (Republicans) to create a unified Ireland again. This was due because many Catholics were discriminated against in Northern Ireland. A protest that turned violent, which everyone knows as Bloody Sunday, turned long standing hostilities into violence from IMG_1918both ends. The main cities where the violence occurred was in Belfast and Londonderry (Derry). Both cities were divided into two. For Belfast, Protestants (Loyalists) lived around Shankill Road. These area you will see the flags of the UK and Northern Ireland because they want to stay with the UK. Catholics (Republicans) live along Falls Road. Between both communities there are walls. This keeps the communities separate and still breeds hostility today. Gates between the two sides are closed each night. If its too late, you much drive all the way around the city to get to the other side. Each side has murals and memorials. Beautiful and powerful yet give each side justification for their hate for each other. In the Loyalist communities their will be a mural glorifying someone who had fought bravely defending BIMG_1938elfast from the IRA. While on the other side there will be a memorial for those he had killed. This goes the same way in Republican areas. Murals show the glorification of the IRA but you will see memorials of the indiscriminate bombings done in Loyalist neighborhoods.

Neither side won, it was a truce with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Things were still tense and the last British troops left Belfast in 2007. Tensions are still there. Our tour guide did have some bias but I thought he did great showing both sides of the story. Its hard not to have bias when you have people close to you die or get hurt. He told about his change of hearts to those who fought against him. So I would have considered him unbiased.

Overall, the Black Cab Tours are a must-see to a trip in Belfast. It is also a must see in life because it puts in perspective in which we see history and watch media. There are a lot of videos on YouTube or articles that can be found about the Troubles. This is how you can have a one-sided view to the conflict which is seen in each community of Northern Ireland. In reality, tear fell for a life lost where as hero was raised up for the same death.

Whenever you take in information, you must ask; Who is writing the information?, Why are they writing this? and How do they want you to act with this information?. This is important when reading our news today. Fear and ratings seem to be the name of the game in the United States. It is surprising to hear how foreigners see our news and shake their head.

The Troubles has simmered down for a while and city is seeing a renaissance. With a Titanic museum and improved downtown, people from the even the UK are visiting Belfast for the first time. My hope is that when tourists take the Black Cab Tours, they remind both sides of how quickly their differences can turn into a pointless battle.

Disclaimer: Its hard to put the situation in Northern Ireland into perspective. If you feel one-sided and I left a part of the story, my apologies but I’m not that free to make a dissertation. If you want to learn more, there is a wealth of information on the internet. 

Information: Tours are booked by calling them up like a cab service. They will pick you up at your accommodation. These are actual cab drivers and do tours on the side. The more in your group, the less it is individually.

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This was a mural for peace made. The old mural was of Republican’s names on grave stones. The difference was that those people had not died yet. (Get the message the Loyalists were trying to send)

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Shankill Road: Loyalist neighborhood.

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This the most heavily fortified non-government building in the world. This is headquarters of the Sinn Fein Party. Above is a memorial for the three men who were shot to death by a loyalist.

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Here is a memorial for civilians who died by IRA attacks in Loyalist neighborhoods.

DOG SLEDDING IN SASKATCHEWAN

As soon as I knew I could dog sled in my Saskatchewan, it was something I had to do this winter. The only downside was that I had to find someone to go with since it was a two person minimum. Luckily, with a crazy twist of events, I was able to go dog sledding with an avid dog lover. This allowed for better questions about the dogs rather than my usual questions about politics and foreign policy.

We wedscn1273nt dog sledding just south of where Prince Albert National Park begins. As we drove the seven hours north we were at the edge of the Canadian Shield (aka the taiga which is vocabulary word you had in geography class) and were in the midst of beautiful forest. Scenery that is not what you think Saskatchewan would be like. We eventually made it to Sundog Excursions and we were kindly greeted by our guides. They explained the area which I learned that the taiga is the largest biome in the world. As soon as we got situated, we met the dogs. Not every dog was coming along, so the guides figured out the line ups. It was much like how a teacher figures out a seating chart; who can be sat next to who and which students are best suited for the front or the back of the room. The lead dogs are the most experienced and are able to run with other dogs right behind.

During our excursion, we were able to be as interactive with the dogs throughout the trip. My friend was a natural putting the harnesses on the dogs and getting to know their names. It was amazing how much the dogs were barking before the run. However, when the run started all barking immediately stopped. The trails were very nice but they explained that normally would have about two feet morIMG_1472e snow. This won’t be a good thing because the area was already dry and suffered major forest fires last year.

After dog sledding for the day. We settled in more to our camp for the night. And yes, I do like winter and the idea of sleeping outdoors sounds like a great plan. Also, they explained that during the summer they cannot get to that camp because the ground is so soggy.  It was a canvas tent with a nice oven inside. Before, we had our phenomenal dinner we had to feed the dogs and get water. The dogs eat a diet with more protein and fat since they burn off so many calories. For our water, it wdscn1253as coming from the lake. We walked out and chipped chunk of ice out of the lake. It was a good workout but the ice was totally clear an
d could see right through it.  If I did not mention it before, we had a great dinner. It was another great opportunity to learn about Canadian view of what they see in the United States. They recently elected Trudeau and Trump was gaining steam. This was comical because many Canadians voted Stephen Harper out of office because their politics were becoming ‘too American’. After dinner, we went looking for some Labrador tea and rose hips it was time for bed. The dogs for sure helped us by all their singing.

After a good night sleep, we woke up and got the dogs ready to go. It was quite a warm day so we did not go out on as long of a run. Normally in the summer when they go on runs, the dogs wear a special coat so the heat does not effect them as much. We went around Anglin Lake which is one of the best loon nesting areas in Canada. Whether I was mushing or riding on the sled, the dog IMG_1567sledding was extremely relaxing. It was just was what I needed after working in North Dakota. It is something I would do again but I at least want to visit that area in the summer for hiking, canoeing and fishing. It is a gem of Canada that does get overlooked by places like the Canadian Rockies. But in my experience, all the places that have been overlooked have friendly, hospitable people ready to show you around. Can’t wait to return!

(Stayed tuned for a post on the Roughriders and the CFL)

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For the love of the Hi-Line

The disdain for long highways with little topography, no major cities or curves have made Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska not top choices for American travelers. Its always a place one rushes through to get where they are going. US Highway 2 in Montana (known as the Hi-Line) is out of the way for everyone and not considered worth going out of their way for.

Why travel the Hi-Line? Small towns that the world forgot and an open road where you can see for miles. In a fast paced world, you don’t get the time to calm down and think. Process your thoughts on IMG_0133[2] the open road. Before I left North Dakota, I HAD to drive the Hi-Line one last time. I wasn’t the same person that arrived in Williston in 2012. I was not sure it was a good or bad thing. Was spending almost four years of my 20’s in a boomtown worth the sacrifice. A nine-hour drive on the Hi-Line could put those last few years into perspective.

Nine-hours later (add in extra time for small town museums and coffee) it was evident that I needed to go to North Dakota to confirm that I could anything that I wanted and succeed. The only question left was, what? After nine hours, the answer could only be answered once I traveled the world.

 

Personal highlights of the Hi-Line.

SMALL TOWN DINERS – Cheap coffee and pie. Need I say more? I have always loved saddling up along the counter and talking with the locals. They are wonderful and excited to find out why someone is actually visiting. If I wasn’t in a slight time crunch (aka 15 hours max) These stops would turn my trip into three days!

FORT PECK DAM – The massive dam was not made by concrete but rather by dirt. It is a massive and it took me about five minutes that I was not going to see a structure similar to the Hoover dam. The dam was built under the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression. (Aka PWA, you know one of those acronyms you had to learn in US History) There is a little wildlife museum near the dam showcasing some of the fish found in Fort Peck dam along with details about the construction. In the summer, there is a theater group that performs plays at the Fort Peck theater. Below is a panorama from the top of Fort Peck Dam along with the memorials of the men who died while making the dam.

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BEAR PAW MOUNTAINS (Chinook) – This area was the location of the last battle of the Nez Perce War. This was the location where Chief Joseph surrendered. Take time to visit the battlefields or visit the Blaine County Museum for some great information.  And yes the high school mascot is the Beeters. The image is a half sugar beet- half egg beater.

HAVRE, MONTANA – This is the largest city along the Hi-Line until you get to the Flathead Valley. This town was originally started as a railroad hub along the Great Northern RR. This town wIMG_1519[1]as also a hub for some classic vices that we still see today. After a fire in 1904, the entire downtown was completely ran underground. Today, you can take the Underground Tour of Havre. It is a great showcase old machinery and artifacts used during the turn of the 20th Century. Havre, had its IMG_1523[1]vices and you get to see the opium dens and prostitution house. I have suggested this a place to visit for anyone traveling the Hi-Line. Being a good midway point, it has plenty of places for lunch.

(Left: This is the Madam’s room)

SHELBY – As you head towards town, look north to see the Sweet Grass Hills. There some good places for coffee and its your last chance to see a Interstate until Spokane or Grand Forks. I got pulled over here once so I usually don’t stop.

CUT BANK – It is home to a massive penguin to remind us that it was the coldest place in the continental US. Just outside the city, is the river that gives its name. I visited Montana mostly in the winter and spring so its a reminder to always pack a hat.

GLACIER NATIONAdscn1288L PARK – This will start off your trip or end it. The place speaks for itself. It is amazing that the majority of your trip is so flat and then all of a sudden you are in the mountains. I have
been through Glacier by train and by car. Both ways are phenomenal. When you drive outside the summer, the road is mainly all yours.

ABOUT THE WANDERING BADGER

IMG_1372Short Story: Born and raised Wisconsinite (hence Badger) that can be best described as a responsible free spirit with the most varied work history you’ll ever see.

Long story: I grew up in a small village* just north of Sheboygan and south of Manitowoc. Its the home of Johnsonville Brats, Kohler toilets, Bemis toilet seat, Sargento cheese, Manitowoc Ice machines and cranes in case you did not know. Pretty much, my family has made something in your house. It was a great childhood where I had all the cheese, brats and hard rolls a kid ever wanted. However, jobs were slowly leaving town and I saw family members get laid off or had fear of loosing their job. It was evident that I would have to leave town to get a job. Through working at the gas station and late night studying I left the village to go to college. My major was education with History and Spanish. Teaching could allow me the freedom to travel in the summer and I could share my love of Spanish and Social Studies to everyone.

The warning signs of the plan not working were there. After arriving back from two months in Bolivia, my fellow staff were telling me that it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. I dismissed the reality of that statement until I graduated college. With $35,000 in loans and only hopes of making $30,000 a year, my 20s were destined to paying off loans and no big trips.

My hatred of debt and skimping by landed me on a glorious YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8Qyyx6MTcc There were homeless people living in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Williston, North Dakota and making good money. I thought, “I can be homeless in a Wal-Mart parking lot!” After watching the video, I tried to convince my friends to come along on a crazy adventure. However, no one wanted to live in car with me. This was something I would have to do by myself. So in July 2012, I left my three jobs to try my luck in NortIMG_0376h Dakota.

Thus began 3.5 years of living the life of a boomtown. It was for sure a love-hate relationship the entire time. If I worked less, it could have been more manageable but that is not why I was there. The wages were good all around, even at Taco Johns! For the majority of my time in North Dakota, I worked at a rail yard where I learned a lot about oil, geology and trains. My loans were paid off in a year and I stayed for the pay and schedule. Working two weeks on and one week off allowed me to go home often and travel around the USA. It was an opportunity, I did not see happening at home and that kind of money would not be forever.

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end. The price of oil was in free fall in 2015. Things were not looking good as everyone was being laid and leaving town. Therefore I had plans A, B, C, and D which were:

A – Stay working at the rail yard, they seem to like me and my underground cheese business.

B- Try some new job in the Bakken,  a new schedule was what I needed and could add more to my resume.

C- Work back in Wisconsin, it is filled with lots of beer, cheese and brats and all my old employers would like me back.

D- Use all my ‘useless’ Geography knowledge and go on an epic journey across the world.

D is an obvious choice but it made no money. I like to make money however, I don’t like spending it. I am a responsible free spirit who was diligent and smarter than most 20-somethings with money. After talking with the close friends, I could take some time off of work. Heck, I was 27  and was always working since I was 16. A chance was taken in going to North Dakota, I’m going to take another.

With my job behind me, I am now the wandering Badger. I hope you enjoy my blog!

 

*In Wisconsin, we call them villages. Its not a town because that is something different. It’s not a township because we don’t have those in WI.