Around the World: 6 Countries in 6 Months

Words, Pictures, & Video by Shaun Troke

Wow, this time 5 years ago I was racing against the clock to get to New York City in time for Christmas Eve…which can be concerning when you’re depending on over-packed  Greyhound buses!

How & why I was heading to New York City for Christmas in 2011 will be revealed later, but for now, let’s start at the place where we all prefer stories to begin: The Beginning.

Well, not exactly the beginning…

PROLOGUE

Today, as we approach the New Year of 2017, I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment.

For 5 years, it’s been niggling me that I needed to edit some footage that I’d shot on a small Kodak Zi8 HD Pocket Camera during a 6-month Around the World trip, from September 2011 to February 2012.

Usually while travelling, I would write a daily blog that would be posted on Facebook for family & friends to follow…

But, for a number of  reasons, I didn’t blog during this 6-month trip, mostly because I wanted some ‘me time’ without having to worry about the effort of blogging, as July 2009 to April 2011 had been a very intense 24 months in my life.

Looking back at the old pictures & video footage from 5 years ago, fond memories have come flooding back, and, I hope that I’m still able to share all of these experiences with you, like they were only yesterday.

NOW it’s time for the beginning!

CHAPTER ONE: THE DOING

With some money to spend, a few people were suggesting that I invest this money into property – or other grown-up things – but, I knew that if I didn’t use this money to visit all of the places in the world that I wanted to see, then there was a high chance that I’d never be able to do this again if I didn’t do it now…

What I’ve learned from life is that it’s never a good idea to put off too many things until a later date, because – without sounding morbid – who’s to say that we’ll make it to that later date. Plus, if you’re going to travel for a vast amount of time, I feel it’s best to do it at a younger age, where you can choose the lower-budget options that you probably wouldn’t want to do later in life – I know that looking back at the videos & pictures from this trip, the way that I was doing the trip back then I wouldn’t want to do it that way now…and, that was only 5 years ago!

Anyway…

In May 2011, the planning began for the imaginary Bucket List, where I looked into all of the places that I’d like to see: from The Great Wall of China, to Roswell in New Mexico, to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, to the technological skyscrapers in Japan, to name a few…

And, even though I had the money to fund the trip, I still had to budget well/low to make sure that I could see & do everything that was on that Bucket List list.

Eventually, I was booking flights to Canada & Japan, and, ordering visas for China, Russia, & Mongolia, in what would be – to me – a reward for those intense 24 months, from 2009 to 2011.

The point of writing this blog now, five years later , is to accompany the video from the trip, and to highlight what was at each place, and, what was still memorable five years later…

I guess I will need to apologise in advance for the lack of details about each visited destination, as there’s five years of memories to sift through, some a little more hazy than others…so, I hope that the pictures will fill in a lot of the gaps, as they’ll (apparently) speak the 1000 words that are absent from my memory…

CHAPTER TWO: THE BEING

It was Wednesday 7th September, 2011.

I’d never become emotional when starting a travel trip, but leaving my family & friends behind this time was tough.

Perhaps it had something to do with what had happened during those intense 24 months, as it was something that had hit my family & close friends pretty hard, too.

The goodbyes at the train station were the hardest, but once the train was on its way to Gatwick Airport, I suddenly began feeling like my old self again, ready for the adventure ahead…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

CANADA

TORONTO, ONTARIO

It was the month of the Toronto International Film Festival, so, as you can imagine, it was fairly busy around the city. There was a great movie vibe going on, and, it felt like the place you wanted to be if you were involved in the film industry.

Having visited Toronto once before – only for a day – I’d seen most of the major sights (the CN Tower, etc), and it’d been when the weather was a little colder (snowier, in fact!), which was in March 2009 (I remember even Niagara Falls was frozen!).

1928248_59620726735_7790061_n

In September 2011, though, it meant that beaches, BBQ’s, & Bicycle Hire would be on the agenda during this visit!

For the first few days, I’d used Couchsurfing to stay in the Cabbagetown area of the city, with a guy named Suhail, whose apartment had the most amazing rooftop view of the Toronto skyline!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

However, some of the best skylines can also be seen from the Toronto Islands…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’d met up with a Lithuanian girl – Laura – and we’d hired a couple of bikes before getting on the ferry to Centre Island, where we spent a day riding around the islands, and enjoying the views & beaches.

While in Toronto, it was also a good time to catch-up with an old friend…VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I’d met Tyler in Barcelona back in February 2009, and had caught up with him when visiting Toronto two month’s later, in April 2009. This time though, I’d be staying at his place – that she shared with his girlfriend (now wife) and another house-mate – for a couple of night’s, which I remember had a coolest balcony to hang out on.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

And, since Tyler was a bit of a hipster back then, he took me to places – and give tips – for the areas which showed off the artistic side of his Canadian city. These areas included Bloor-Yorkville & Kensington Market.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the final night of staying at Tyler’s place – and my final night in Toronto – aside from hosting his own BBQ party, he gave tuition about the Wizard Staff drinking game, which I brought back to the UK (much to my Mum’s disapproval, at her birthday party in 2013!).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With almost a week spent in Toronto, the next stop was only an hour away…

(See all Toronto pictures here)

GUELPH, ONTARIO (17-18th September, 2011)

This was a brief visit to another old friend: Karen.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I’d met Karen on the same European trip where I’d met Tyler, only I’d met her in Rome. We’d also travelled around the North East of the USA & Canada together in the early spring of 2009, visiting Toronto, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, New York City, Boston, & Montreal.

What I remember after that 2009 trip with Karen is I promise tp myself that, from that point onwards, I’d NEVER travel on Greyhound Buses again.

But, here I was, travelling almost 60 miles from Toronto to Guelph ON A GREYHOUND BUS to see the person who I thought I’d done the last Greyhound bus trips with.

After meeting Karen from work, we walked around for a Guelph a little bit, catching-up on the last two years…

Guelph itself seemed to be a small little city, that is quiet during the day, and then erupts at night, which is possibly to do with Guelph being a university city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following day, I was on my way back to Toronto…to catch another bus.

(See all Guelph pictures here)

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA

Before leaving the UK, I’d spent $250 Canadian Dollars on a 7-Day Discovery Pass from Greyhound, which Greyhound have now discontinued, unfortunately.

The Discovery Pass was valid from the 19th September…so, with a flight booked to Hong Kong from Vancouver in British Columbia, I had 7 days to travel across to the other side of Canada!

And, a huge chunk of this time was spent travelling from Toronto to Winnipeg – 36 hours in total!

(See pictures from the 36hr bus journey here)

The visit to Winnipeg would be another brief one.

Not even for a night this time! I do recall, though, that I had originally intended to stay overnight, but had to adjust travel plans to make room for an extra day in Calgary: my Couchsurfing host in Calgary had said I would need that extra day…

My Couchsurfing host in Winnipeg, though – Lindsay – picked me up from the Greyhound station, and our first port of call in Winnipeg was to be Gunn’s Bakery. Gunn’s had been reviewed as having the best bagels in Winnipeg…to be honest, after travelling approximately 1300 miles on a Greyhound bus for 36hrs, I’d have been happy to eat anything! Overall, it was a good bagel with cream cheese!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From here – as time was limited – we drove around the city a little, checking out some of the sights from the birthplace of Winnie The Pooh, before heading back to Lindsay’s place to catch up on some rest, and, catch up on emails etc, before it was once again time to head back to the bus station…

From memory, I recall security being very tight in the Winnipeg bus station. I’m guessing this had something to do with an event on Greyhound buses around that time (near the Winnipeg area) which involved human decapitation.

(See all Winnipeg pictures here)

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN

Once again, I was picked up by a Couchsufing host: Elise. We drove back to her apartment, where I ditched my backpacks; she went off to work; I went off to be a tourist.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Saskatoon, but I liked this city. The skies were blue, the area seemed peaceful & green, and, I remember walking for MILES…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

…and, I remember the day ending on a high note: and nope, it wasn’t the Steak Sandwich dinner with Elise & her friend (although that was a nice experience); it was on this night that I received the news that my feature film movie ‘untitled‘ had won a ‘Best Narrative Feature’ award…

…that’ll always be my fondest memory of Saskatoon.

(See all Saskatoon pictures here)

EDMONTON, ALBERTA (22nd-23rd September, 2011)

Back in Toronto, I’d been made aware of the Canadian movie “Fubar 2”, which was filmed in Edmonton, Alberta. This movie had also made me visually aware of the West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping centre in North America.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

And, sure enough, it’s a big f**kin’ Mall!

There’s shops, swimming pools, roller-coasters, a pirate ship…they even have their own Chinatown in the Mall!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Edmonton pictures here)

CALGARY, ALBERTA

Arrival into Calgary was at sunset.

And, Jay – the Couchsurfing host who’d said I’d need an extra day in Calgary – was there waiting at the Greyhound station, with her friend, Kelly…

This was to be the beginning of an adventurous couple of days.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

On the first day, Jay, her then boyfriend Travis, & their crew had decided to hire inflatable boats, to spend a relaxed afternoon drifting down the Bow River.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was such a lovely day…starting upstream as the current pulled us down towards Calgary’s skyscrapers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the second day, we were up before sunrise…but for good reason: we were heading to the Canadian Rockies.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once the sun was up, and, we had arrived in Banff National Park, we were greeted by Moraine Lake – a picturesque turquoise lake surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Not a terrible way to start the day!

From here, we hiked.

And, we hiked.

And, we hiked a LOT more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The hike up into Larch Valley was very scenic, yet a little tiring.

What was to happen when we reached the Sentinel Pass, though, was a new realisation that I may suffer from vertigo…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

At almost 725 feet above sea level, to reach Sentinel Pass you’d need to walk up & along narrow cross-paths (maybe only a foot wide in some places), where on one side of you is a sheer drop…

This was where I sh*t myself.

I even FROZE with fear at one point, unable to move forward OR turn around. It was a strange feeling.

I’m still not sure what pushed me to carry on, but I did…and, soon, I was at the top of the Sentinel Pass.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

We didn’t stay up here too long, as the temperature had dropped massively, and, most of us were in shorts…it was certainly cold & windy up there!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

After heading back down the mountain, Jay & Travis fixed it for me to see another beautiful lake in this National Park: Lake Louise: its water bluer & clearer than Moraine Lake’s!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

With my time in Calgary almost at an end, and, energy levels low after 4-5 hours of hiking, I’d really enjoyed my time in this part of Canada.

Calgary is a good-looking city, and, one I’d definitely go back to again, if there was ever a chance to.

But, for now, my 7-Day Greyhound was about the expire at midnight, and, I had to make sure that I boarded the bus before midnight – AND make sure that I reached my next destination without the driver realising he was carrying a passenger whose pass expired during the overnight journey…

(See all Calgary pictures here)

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

In Berlin, Germany – back in June 2011 – I’d met a Canadian fella named Kyle.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

One of the last thing’s he’d said was, “If you’re ever in Vancouver, let me know, and I’ll try to put you up”.

Well, that’s exactly what he did!

By now, Kyle had just started school at the University of British Columbia, so it looked as though my ‘home’ for the next few days was going to be on a university campus. The university location was interesting & lovely, located by water, as is Vancouver itself.

And, I absolutely adored the little cafe ‘The Beanery’ just a minute walk from Kyle’s gaff – great for free WiFi & Coffee!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Kyle introduced me to his room-mates (Ambre, Yulia, & Dom), and, then I was to spend the next few day’s walking around the city of Vancouver, the lovely Stanley park, and, Grenville Island…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Food-wise, it seems Taco’s were the most consumed: first there was a Chronic Taco, followed by a Salmon Taco. I do remember someone recommending having Sushi (as well as marijuana) while in Vancouver, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It seems I have a soft spot of cities on the West coast, as I’d fast become a fan of this city.

And, I’m certain there’s some rivalry between Vancouver and Canada’s East coast city of Toronto, as I was now feeling torn between which one I preferred (should I really reveal the answer in this blog???).

So, with Country No.1 all travelled across, it was now Saturday 1st October 2011, and it was time to head to Country No.2 via Country No.3.

PS – I preferred Vancouver 😉

(See all Vancouver pictures here & here)

HONG KONG, CHINA

Via Shanghai Airport.

Unfortunately, the via Shanghai Airport part meant having a 15hr OVERNIGHT layover in Shanghai Airport.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Ahhh, the things you do for low-budget travel.

On October 3rd, I officially arrived in Hong Kong.

118_0387

Upon first impressions, Hong Kong seemed very clean, with some interesting architecture that could’ve been built for a futuristic film set…

Even McDonald’s appeared sterile!

The first thing to do was to drop-off my backpack into a storage locker within the Elements Shopping Centre, and then walk through the Kowloon area to explore…

I was blown away by the skyline of Hong Kong Island from Victoria Harbour.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Being that I was due to stay in the suburban Wong Tai Sin district on this night, it’d have to be tomorrow when I’d venture across the water…after all, having spent last night in an airport without any sleep, rest was fully needed before exploring this great looking city.

The low-budget decision was:

 – to travel to Hong Kong Island by train (under the water)

 – travel back to Kowloon by boat

This seemed liked the best option to save some money, and, to be able to enjoy the views above the water as well.

Once over in the Central area of Hong Kong, the best panoramic views of Hong Kong would be had from The Peak.

With a tram that climbs the severely steep gradient to the top, this is one recommendation that I’d give to anyone visiting Hong Kong.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once you’re at the top, there’s plenty to do, as well as plenty to see – from walking in nature, to shopping, to having a coffee in one of the cafes…there’s even a Madame Tussauds up there!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Back down underneath the skyscrapers , it was a leisurely afternoon spent walking around the busy yet fascinating Central area, discovering more interesting architecture…and, a clothing outlet named ‘Wanko’ (this had me laughing inside).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, as planned, I jumped on the ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui, to spend the rest of the remaining daylight hours on the Avenue of Stars & walking around other parts of Kowloon.

When darkness fell, Hong Kong’s stunning nightly light display – A Symphony of Lights – entertained myself & other spectators with its 14min show.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I’d decided by this point that, when I return to Hong Kong in a month’s time, I’ll watch this multimedia building light display from the other side of the river…

(See all Hong Kong pictures here)

RUSSIA

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

Arriving in Russia came with a problem.

Having reached Saint Petersburg via a 2hr layover in Moscow, it wasn’t until I stepped out of Saint Petersburg’s airport that I’d really taken the English language for granted…

I supposed there’s that English arrogance where we almost always expect that, whichever country we visit, there will always be an English translation written underneath or beside the language that we don’t understand…

It’s not like this in Russia.

And, with their letters & symbols making words unrecognisable, getting onto a public bus to head to the city centre wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped it would be…

I was panicking. So, the only option was to phone the person I’d be staying with while in this alien city: Katie.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Over the expensive phone call, she’d helped (and translated) everything to help guide me onto the correct bus that would take me to the city centre to meet her.

And, after all of that language stress, I met Katie in the city centre, where she & I did a quick food-shop before heading back to her place to crash for the night…

From this point, everything did become a little easier, even though everything was feeling a little testing: Russian was a language that was certainly isolating me from people at this stage.

Over the next couple of days, there was the usual sightseeing of Saint Petersburg’s colourful buildings, hanging out with Katie’s friends Anna & Anna (I was to learn that Anna is a popular name in Russia), and, also hanging out with a girl named Karina, and, another girl named Anna (see!).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Russia was an interesting place, so unlike anywhere I’d been before…

And, it was in this city where I experienced Sushi with Cream Cheese for the first time, too!

(See all Saint Petersburg pictures here)

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (10th October, 2011 – 3 nights)

The train to Moscow was an overnight train, consisting of 15 carriages, with myself travelling in 3rd Class.

Yes, that’s right, you read correctly – I was travelling in THIRD CLASS!

Third class is basically travelling in an open cabin, sleeping opposite/below/above people you don’t know (and not able to talk to them because of the language barrier!)…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

It wasn’t terrible, but it’s also something I wouldn’t want to do again, either. Travelling Third Class was the best financial option if I was to do this World Trip, so that’s why I decided to travel this way.

Whereas in Saint Petersburg the people & the city felt friendly, it didn’t feel this way in Moscow. It felt a lot colder, in terms of how the location looked, and, the people were, too.

However, that wasn’t the case at the brilliant hostel I stayed at, which was run by a guy named Zaour. But, he did enlighten me to how it sometimes works in Moscow: that every now & then, Police Officers would show up at the hostel and demand money in exchange for leaving him & the hostel alone…corruption at its best, it seems.

I even remember speaking to some Chinese girls who were staying in the hostel – they said that they would always return to the hostel before sunset, as it was known that racists would often target Asians and assault them after dark.

Although I never felt threatened myself, as said before, Moscow did feel like a very cold place.

Yet, it was still visually impressive, particularly when reaching Red Square & Basil Cathedral.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I spent an afternoon with a new acquaintance, Irina, who also educated me about some of Russia’s ways, while we walked around Moscow’s shopping areas.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Moscow would grow on me the longer I was there. I think that, because Saint Petersburg and Moscow are so different from one another, you really felt that difference when travelling from one to the other.

(See all Moscow pictures here)

(Y)EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA

It takes 28 hours to travel from Moscow to Ekaterinburg by train.

This was 28 hours of silence, too.

On the train, with my own limited (meaning zero) Russian vocabulary, it was the same for Russian people speaking English. I spent this entire journey not saying a word.

This is one of those times when travelling alone comes with its setbacks.

It was a relief when I disembarked the train in Ekaterinburg, to be greeted by the brother of my Couchsurfing host: Anna.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Because Anna was working a shift in her family’s restaurant, her brother had offered to pick me up & drive me to her apartment, where I would wait for her to finish work.

Anna & I chatted into the night, and the next day, we explored her city together…a city that houses a Beatles mural, surprisingly!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the second day, Anna drove us to the outskirts of the city to where her Dad lives, which was followed by a much-needed walk in the country.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The fresh air was much-needed because, for the 75 hours / 3 days following Ekateringburg, I was going to be living on a train…

(See all Ekaterinburg pictures here)

THE TRANS-SIBERIAN JOURNEY – 20th Oct to 23rd Oct

I remember drinking with a friend in Camden (London) years ago, when he mentioned the Trans-Siberian train journey…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Ever since then, it’d been my aim to do this.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although I’d have preferred to travel First Class, I was only able to afford Third Class…

…this time, though, I had the top bunk…

…and, I’d stocked up on food to prepare for the 3-Day journey.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

The Trans-Siberian journey was an interesting experience: travelling through different climates, from the rain in the smaller remote areas, to snowy Siberia, to the sunshine in the countryside.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To purchase food & drinks, you had the option of a restaurant on the train, or, buying goods from food & drink stands/shops on the station platforms whenever we stopped.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s an experience that needs to be had rather than written about, and I hope that the pictures can convey how it felt (see all Trans-Siberian pictures here).

MONGOLIA

ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA

As we left Russia and entered Mongolia, you meet each country’s border officers…

The Russian guards were stern, serious, with faces that look like they’d break if they’d tried to force smile.

Then, enter the Mongolian Guards! Now, these were great: smiley, happy, and, just more relaxed!

A few more miles on, the train pulled into Ulaanbaaar close to midnight.

After you’ve been living on a train for 75 hours, once you step off the train, your body & mind still feels like it’s still in motion…it feels odd.

Eiggy – the Manager/Owner of my next accommodation – picked me up from the train, and drove us to her Mongolian Steppe Guesthouse.

By now, it’d been almost 2 months of travelling, so I needed my own space, which is why I’d booked my own room…and, this was the perfect place to stay.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Not only did I have my own room, but Eiggy was the best hostel host you could ever ask for. She organised a trip for 2 Danish girls & myself, and, even made sure that I got to ride a camel, something that I’d requested.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Ulaanbaatar was a refreshing place to visit after Russia….and, like Ekaterinburg, this city  has a Beatles mural in it, too!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

The people were nice, and, the Tour Guide who took us to viewpoints around the city, and, out into the Gobi Desert to see attractions such as the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the tour, the Tour Guide drove me to his own private house to have lunch with him & his daughter.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

And, in Ulaanbaatar, they serve pizza with an egg on it!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Mongolia is a place I’d like to go back to, to stay for longer, and, to spend a night or two in a Ger hut (a warm one, preferably).

There was a downside to this Mongolia pit-stop, though, which involved being ripped-off by a taxi driver …

To keep it short, Eiggy (the owner/manager of the hostel) had organised a taxi to take me back to the train station in the early hours of the morning. She’d told me how much it’d cost, as there was a flat fare. Upon arriving at the train station, when the driver asked for money, he asked for TRIPLE the amount of the flat fare. I tried to argue with him, but he wasn’t having any of it, so I ended up paying him three times as much as I’d like to.

A few days later, I’d emailed Eiggy to tell her of this incident, as I didn’t want the same to happen to another traveller, as this kind of behaviour can seriously affect your budget. Eiggy emailed back saying that the Taxi-Driver was new to the job, and that he’d now been suspended until I decided whether or not I’d want him to be fired.

Yep, it was down to me to decide if he should be allowed to keep his job!

As much as I don’t agree with ripping people off, it was coming up to Christmas, and I didn’t know if the Taxi Driver had a family etc…so, instead, I requested that his only punishment would be that with the money he stole from me, he gives the same amount to a charity of Eiggy’s choice.

So, back to the story…

After being ripped-off, it was time to jump back on the train to continue the Trans-Mongolian route…

(See all Ulaanbaatar pictures here)

THE TRANS-MONGOLIAN

Back into a cabin with three complete strangers, and, continuing across the Gobi Desert, night began to fall as we approached the border of China.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Not only were there visa & passport checks, but this time, they had to change the wheels on the f**king train itself!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

We could watch (on board) as the train carriage was lifted into the air, and the wheels were removed to be replaced by new wheels that would fit onto the train tracks in China.

(See all Trans-Mongolian pictures here)

CHINA

BEIJING

I remember seeing The Great Wall of China from the train window as we drew closer to Beijing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During the Trans-Mongolian stint, I met another British guy named Ben, who was also heading to Beijing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The reason for mentioning him is because I randomly bumped into him a couple of times while in this huge country #SmallWorld

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’d just been visiting the famous monument Tiananmen, and was on my way to Jingshan Park when I bumped into Ben, who was walking along the same pavement. We arranged to meet up & hang-out the following day, where we went to the Olympic Park region of Beijing…and, after this, he went his way, I went mine, not realising that this wouldn’t be last time that we’d be bumping into each other.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Visiting The Great Wall of China had been something I’d wanted to do for a long time…so, you can imagine the disappointment when, on the only day that I was able to visit, the Wall itself was smothered by heavy fog.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’d hoped to collect amazing photographs of the Great Wall climbing over the hills into the distance…instead, many Chinese families ended up with amazing photographs of, well, me.

It turns out that Chinese people like having their picture taken with those who don’t look like they’re from China, so it was on this Great Wall when I was approached by many families, all of whom just wanted to have their picture taken with me.

The weather didn’t improve, and, the fog didn’t lift, so I arrived back in to Beijing earlier than expected…and soon, it was time to embark on another train journey…

(See all Beijing pictures here)

XI’AN – 1st November, 2011 (3 nights)

So! There was me thinking that the Third Class Russian trains were hard-going…the Third Class carriages in China are just as hard-going…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Although they appeared cleaner, the cabins were 3-bunks high instead of 2, meaning that the fall to the floor was greater if you were to roll out of bed!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Also, the toilet on the train has pretty much just a hole in the floor to squat over.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I managed to put toilet duties on hold for the next 12 hours…

The main reason for visiting Xi’an was for the Terracotta Army. When you first see these, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by how many statues there are.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They’re located out of the city centre, so you’d need to make your own way there by car, or, there are comfortable buses that can take you, that run from near Xi’an train station.

In Xi’an itself, I discovered the really lovely Bell Tower Youth Hostel, not to stay in, but to eat & drink in, and, to use their wifi…they also had a resident kitten.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My own private hotel room was in the Starway Pacific Hotel, which was only £12.00 a night!VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Xi’an also has its own Great Wall that surrounds the city centre, as well as a Drum Tower, and, a good selection of street market stalls. I liked Xi’an because, away from the Terracotta Warrior site, it felt less touristy than Beijing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Until, it was, when boarding the next train in Xi’an train station, it felt like I could’ve been in music concert stadium – there were just too many people in this one building!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

(See all Xi’an pictures here)

SHANGHAI

From Xi’an to Shanghai, it takes 14 hours by train…and, this time, I was travelling Second Class instead of Third, meaning 2-storey bunks instead of 3.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

AND, there was a proper sit-down toilet on this train, too!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Due to stay in yet another private room, when I was checking-in to the hostel in Shanghai, I accidentally bumped into Ben again!

Ben & myself ventured around Shanghai for the next couple of days, checking out the main sights, and, catching-up on each other’s travel stories.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also recall Shanghai being the place where I had my very last cigarette. Ben had purchased some cheap cigarettes and offered me one. I’d accepted it, lit it, and it made me feel sick. That marked the end of the smoking days.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

This was also the last time that I saw Ben in person.

(See all Shanghai pictures here)

GUANGZHOU

Yep, I was back up on Bunk Level 3 again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m not actually sure why I chose to visit Guangzhou, to be honest. It was a very different city to the ones I’d seen in China so far, in that it felt like it didn’t have to cater for tourists, therefore it felt like an authentic Chinese city.

And, looking back at the pictures now, it did look/feel very raw.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I liked it!

My accommodation while here was at the V8 Zi Yuan Gang branch, which was a difficult one to start with…

The staff on reception didn’t speak English, and, since I don’t speak Chinese or Cantonese either, this all became problematic when the WiFi didn’t work. I think this problem was resolved, but I can’t remember for sure…

The rest of the two days here were spent traipsing around the city area, checking out the shopping districts, and, the peaceful gardens…and, I loved how the city was lit up at night (the Canton Tower area especially)…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, I loved the street food I had on the final night (which cost only 60p!).

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Only one more leg to go of this mainland train journey…

(See all Guangzhou pictures here)

HONG KONG (AGAIN)

I’d been travelling on trains, through Russia, Mongolia, & China, for over a month now…

…but, I knew that, in about a week’s time, I’d be spending around 2 months on buses, which would probably be a lot worse!

For now, though, I was back in Hong Kong again, having finished travelling  overland through Russia, Mongolia, & China.

What I’d enjoyed about travelling through China is that Facebook wasn’t available, which is great! Although, this did mean that I had a ton of pictures to upload once reaching Hong Kong, where Facebook IS still available.

After everything had been uploaded to Facebook, this meant I could head to the Hong Kong Island to watch A Symphony of Light show from that side of the water, and, then meet up with local girl Erika & her mates for a few drinks, followed by some Sushi & some Street Meat…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tomorrow night would be completely different kinda night…

(See all Hong Kong pictures here)

SUNDAY 13TH NOVEMBER, 2011

With Mongolia & China seen, there was one more country in Asia left to see: Japan.

But, before going there, this would mean another long overnight stay in an airport: this time, Hong Kong airport…

For 14 hours.

And, then after the plane leaves Hong Kong, there would be another transfer at Shanghai Airport.

Fortunately, the 14hr stay in Hong Kong airport was much better than the 15hr stay in Shanghai Airport, around 40 days ago.

Hong Kong airport has better WiFi, and, better food facilities, which does help with those long hours spent within the airport.

You might be asking why I’d do this…well, it’s because the plane to Shanghai/Tokyo was due to leave fairly early in the morning, and there were no trains running to the airport at that time, which would’ve meant paying full price for only half a night in a hotel/hostel. And THEN it would have to be a taxi to the airport, which wasn’t doable on the low-budget…so, staying at the airport overnight was much cheaper.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

JAPAN

KYOTO

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

When the plane touched down into Tokyo airport, I never saw daylight outside of the airport, as I needed to find the train platform that would speed me to Kyoto on a Bullet Train.

I’d purchased a 7-Day Japan Rail Pass for £218.00 when in the UK, which worked out the cheapest way to travel to Kyoto, and would then return to Tokyo. The Pass could also be used on most other train journey’s in Japan, too.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Japanese girl Manami met me at the train station, and we headed back to her place to relax – I’d not slept properly for 2 days, so I was quite tired by this point.

Recharged from sleep, the following day meant seeing Japan in daylight, and, having Sushi for lunch!

And, discovering that Converse All Stars are a LOT cheaper in Japan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the evening, Manami & her friends & I all went out for drinks, and, got one of those Manga-style Japanese pictures of the four of us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following evening, it was a home-cooked meal at Manami’s.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like I found with Hong Kong, Japan also seemed very ahead of its time with electronics…even their toilets look after you, by producing warmth through the seat!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I really enjoyed being in Kyoto, so by now, I was definitely excited about heading to Japan’s capital city…

(See all Kyoto pictures here)

TOYKO

The Bullet Train back to Tokyo was very comfortable.

And, because it was daylight this time, this meant having views of Mount Fuji on the way.

In Tokyo itself, one of the places I’d recommended for city views – as it’s free – is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. From the 45th floor, you’ll have remarkable views of the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What I liked about Tokyo is that it felt lively & energetic! If you visit the Shibuya district, their famous crossing shows exactly what I mean, as does this entire shopping area.

In contrast, you can also visit nearby parks too, as well as the dock areas, which is great to see, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, on the final night, I was invited to a party with a new friend, Izumi…

…but, we lost each other at the party, and then I got lost in Tokyo, which ended with me having to sleep for a couple of hours on the steps of a subway station, waiting for it to open!

Despite having uncomfortable subway stairs to sleep on, Japan is a fascinating, vibrant country.

I will go back to Japan again.

(See all Tokyo pictures here)

SUNDAY 20th NOVEMBER, 2011

As my final morning in Japan arrived, something wasn’t right in my stomach region…

I just felt very, very ill…and, that’s never a good feeling when you know you’re about to spend the next 48hrs on planes.

It felt like I’d gotten food-poisoning, which meant the next 48hrs were going to be a lot harder than I thought they would be…

Because I’d booked (cheaper) return flights, it wasn’t going to be a simple case of flying to the next location…

No, it meant having to fly like this:

Tokyo > Shanghai > Hong Kong > Shanghai > Vancouver

…that’s FOUR different airport transfers!

With food-poisoning!

It was hard-going: plane food would make me rush to the toilet; airport food would make me rush to the toilet; the not being able to relax was making the condition worse…

In the end, I just stopped eating, as I just couldn’t hold anything in for too long…

…and, because I’d stopped eating, my energy levels were dropping lower & lower.

On Monday 21st November, 2011, after travelling – and being sick – for two days, I finally arrived in Canada, feeling absolutely beaten.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA (AGAIN)

The original plan was to jump straight on to a Greyhound Bus and head down to Seattle – I’d purchased a 60 Day Discovery Pass from Greyhound for $560 (with unlimited travel during the 60 days), with the start date being the day that I arrived in Vancouver…

But, I had to remain in Vancouver for almost a week. To be fixed.

Because I needed some rest to recover, this meant needing my own private room, so I found a hostel where I could seclude myself, away from people & noise.

I also had to visit the doctors and have tests, on top of paying for medication…

All of this was going against the low budget.

And, I was losing travel days on the Greyhound Discovery Pass, too.

Fortunately, within a few days, the medical results came back sooner than expected, and, no permanent damage had been done to my insides…

And, while during the final stages of recovery, I managed to meet-up with Kyle & Ambre again, where we spent an evening at a Comedy venue, watching fantastic stand-up comedians, which was the medicine needed to launch me into the sixth & final country of this trip….

USA

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Feeling 100% better, I now felt ready to jump onto a Greyhound Bus, and, cross the border into the U.S of A.

Known for its coffee (and the TV sitcom ‘Frasier’), I’d always wanted to visit Seattle.

Once off the Greyhound bus, it was onto another local bus to head to the Shoreline area, to stay with my new hosts Karina & Kara.

I guess if you’re a coffee fan, purchasing a drink at the Original Starbucks is a must….but, do expect queues if you visit during the day. I went back at night, and only had a few people in front of me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’re looking for views over the city, then go to the Observation Deck in the Central Business District – it’s cheaper than the Space Needle!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For martial arts fans, Lake View Cemetery houses the graves of Bruce & Brandon Lee – I didn’t realise that it would’ve been Bruce Lee’s birthday on the day that I went to this cemetery, so fans had laid flowers there.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

And, being back on the West Coast of North America also meant witnessing brilliant sunsets again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Seattle pictures here)

MISSOULA, MONTANA

Getting to Missoula meant travelling through the States of Oregon & Idaho…

And, Montana itself is a beautiful State. As the sun came up through the bus window, I was enjoying the views of the greenery & mountains on this journey.

In 2011, there was only ONE hostel in Missoula – Hutchins Hostel – which is now permanently closed. And, luckily, there wasn’t many people staying there, only 3 people, including myself!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The owner of the hostel was a great guy, and he invited me along to a local quiz night (to join his quiz team), where we won the top prize = £100!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Aside from Pub Quiz’s, there’s some decent Dive Bars in this small city, and, if your legs are up to it, you can always climb to the top of Mount Sentinel (there’s a big ‘M’ at the top), for brilliant views of Missoula and Montana.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Missoula pictures here)

SPEARFISH, SOUTH DAKOTA / WYOMING, USA

Not many British people visit South Dakota, it seems, as I found out on my last night there…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

When in Zbar, a girl in there phoned her friend JUST so her friend could hear my accent! It was a very memorable experience, remembering the way that both girls freaked out when hearing the accent…

Before this last night – in fact, waaaaaay before this last night – I’d been conversing with Spearfish resident Janette through emails about how possible it’d be for her to drive me to both Mount Rushmore in South Dakota AND the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, if I was to cover petrol costs. She’d agreed to help with this, as well as letting me stay in her home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I did like Spearfish. I liked the small city feel it had to it, and, it was enjoyable (yet cold) spending a day walking around this snowy town.

It was great seeing Mount Rushmore, too…although, I’m sure most of us only remember these carvings from the 80’s movie ‘Superman 2’ rather than the actual history behind it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was on a movie location roll…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Seeing the Devil’s Tower coming out of the fog was definitely a highlight of the trip. Having grown up on 80’s movies like ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, it’s great when you’re able to visit the actual location 30 years later, and feel like a kid watching those movies again.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

(See all South Dakota pictures here & Wyoming pictures here)

DENVER, COLORADO

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

The first memory I have of Denver is how cold it was.

This is because Denver is exactly 1 mile above sea level, and this was the beginning of winter month December!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, it was quite a cold walk to where Rachel lived, who would be my Couchsurfing host for my time in Denver.

When I wasn’t exploring the city by myself, Rachel took me out eating & drinking with her friends, and, we randomly came across 3 Back to the Future DeLoreans parked outside one of the restaurants!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

(See all Denver pictures here)

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

This is was a little one-night pit-stop to break up the journey from Colorado to Tennessee…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are memories of really nice burgers 😉

(See all Oklahoma City pictures here)

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

The home of Elvis.

Not Costello; Presley.

By now, I’d hit the Bible Belt of America. And, at one point, as the bus drove through  empty country, there was a large religious cross towering at least three-stories high…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

And, religion was still obviously present in Memphis, too.

Although the main highlights of Memphis were Sun Studio & Graceland (where PLENTY of pictures were taken!, it was still a nice city to visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, it was also in this city where I met a Scandinavian guy named Vesa, who seemed to be heading in the same direction as me using Greyhound buses.

I remember introducing Vesa to Denny’s 😉

(See all Memphis pictures here)

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

There was only ONE reason why I wanted to visit Nashville: to visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery in nearby Lynchburg.

BUT, my laptop picked up a virus on the first day in Nashville, which meant it had to go in for repair for almost a week (more expense).

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Vesa & I were both heading to Nashville, so we’d gotten there on the same bus, and, stayed in the same Music City hostel, where I also met an Australian named Sam, who was in the same room. Also in the room was a guy named Angelo, who was from Philadelphia, who’d offered a place to stay if I was ever in Philly…

This was something to consider.

Vesa didn’t have a poorly laptop, so after a day or two, he’d departed Nashville…but, staying in Nashville, I feel, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I grew fonder of Nashville as the days went on…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I found a Hooters that had a daily Happy Hour, where I could have a $1.50 drink, and, it meant that I was able to relax a little, instead of jumping from bus to bus every couple of days…

It also meant that I was able to have the extra time to search for excellent Couchsurfing hosts in the next State: Alabama.

(See all Nashville pictures here)

HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA

Malette – and her dogs – collected me from the bus station in her awesome Mini, and drove me to the nearest woodland area, which was great after a bus journey!

This was my first ever time in Alabama, so I was curious about it…and, after checking-in to her apartment, we went out for a couple of drinks in the evening…

But, what followed over the next couple of days were absolutely amazing things…

On Day One, I visited the US Space & Rocket Center. Some of the movie ‘Space Camp’ was filmed here, and, it’s just a fun place to experience, with actual used spaceships on site, a G-Force simulator…if you’re into your Sci-Fi, this is the place to go!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Day Two, I got my Nashville wish: to visit the Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

Malette had very kindly offered to drive out of State to do this, past the cotton fields, all of the way to Lynchburg, Tennessee.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(see Jack Daniel’s pictures here)

…and then, on the way back to Alabama…

I shot my first gun!

Malette pulled up into a shooting range (to collect ammo for her own little handgun), and asked if wanted to give shooting a go. Since I’d never done this before, I really wanted to, and, I’m glad I took this opportunity.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

It was a blast of a day!

On my last night in Huntsville, I received an email that I’d be longing for…

“Dear Shaun, please can you look after my cats for 3 days, in exchange for having a Lower Manhattan apartment all to yourself over Christmas?”

Well, those weren’t the exact words used, but you get the gist.

To fill you in, around a month before this trip, I’d been trying to figure out a way to visit & stay in New York City over Christmas…and, this is DIFFICULT!

So, someone guy on Couchsurfing had noticed that I was looking for accommodation in NYC over Christmas, and, since he was going away with his girlfriend over Christmas, he needed someone suitable to look after his cats & apartment while he was away…

The catch?

I HAD to be at his apartment by 4pm on Christmas Eve to collect the keys, otherwise there’d be no apartment.

It was now December 21st.

And, NYC was 1,000 miles away.

AND, before that, I still had one more night in Alabama…in a different city.

(See all Huntsville pictures here)

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

Lorena picked me up from the bus station.

I was still buzzing from knowing that I would soon be in New York City, chilling in an apartment all to myself.

With only a day & night in Birmingham, I strolled around the city during the day, and, at night, Lorena introduced me to her friends, who I stayed out with long after Lorena had gone home to bed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Birmingham pictures here)

Then came the day when I had to get on the bus that would take me to New York for Christmas!

I can’t recall the exact problem, but the bus I needed to catch, which was heading to Atlanta (Georgia) first, was running late…

VERY late.

This was the start of a lot of worry…

THE RACE TO NYC

Eventually, the bus from Birmingham to Atlanta arrived…

…and, it arrived in Atlanta much later than expected.

And, then there was chaos at Atlanta Bus Station.

The station was swamped with people. It turned out that too many people were wanting to be somewhere for Christmas, and there weren’t enough buses to cope with this.

I watched as people were being refused travel, as there was just no room on the bus for them, which was ultimately increasing the capacity of people within the terminal building.

On the outside, I probably seemed calm…on the inside, many swear words were being bounced around my head.

When it came to forming a line for the NYC bus, I immediately joined the queue, regardless of how long I’d have to stand there.

The Greyhound staff soon began letting people onto the bus…

The queue decreased; was I going to make it?

And then, the Driver asked me: “Where are you going?”

I replied: “New York”.

“OK, as we’ve too many people catching buses, we’ve got an Express Bus that is going direct to Virginia, where you’ll have to change for New York. If you’ll just go that way to the bus…”

Woo-hoo!!!!

This meant that I’d be closer to New York a lot quicker…AND, I had a two seats all to myself for the whole journey!

The bus went through both South & North Carolina’s, and it reached Richmond, Virginia without a hitch in the very early hours of Christmas Eve…

And, then came another problem.

The Greyhound staff said that they couldn’t guarantee me a seat on the bus that I needed to get to New York before 4pm.

New York was still 6-7 hours away, so I needed to be on that 8am bus!

When it came to boarding the 8am bus, I watched as people joined the queue, and, watched as people boarded…

Finally, it was announced that they was space for me.

Phew!

So, with a huge weight lifted, I was due to arrive in NYC at 3:20pm, allowing 40mins to get to the apartment in Lower Manhattan…

I was literally praying that nothing else would go wrong now.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

I was going to be spending Christmas in New York City.

With an apartment all to myself.

Free of charge.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

This was my third visit to NYC, so, with no touristy Must-Do’s to do, on Christmas Eve evening I headed up to Greenwich Village, to hit a few (dive) bars, before befriending an Essex lad – Joe – & his missus (of the time).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Christmas Day, I was impressed at how NYC doesn’t shut down like the UK does, as I was still able to jump on the subway to travel up to Upper East Side, so celebrate Christmas Day with an old friend – Diana – and her friends.

Diana had travelled from Los Angeles to spend Christmas with them, and, when one of her friends found out that I’d been going to local dive bars, he gave me this book:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This meant that, now armed with my own Bible, I was ready to hit a few more dive bars in NYC…

But, not before having another ‘Christmas Dinner’.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

(See all New York City pictures here)

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Remember Angelo who I’d met in Nashville?

Well, I’d arrange to go an stay with him for a night, while I figured out where on Earth I was going to spend New Years Eve!

Philly is renowned for its Philly Cheese-steak, so this was top of my To-Do list while there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Philadelphia pictures here)

It was really tough to decide what to do for New Years, so I thought it’d be best to just head to where the sunshine is…

ORLANDO, FLORIDA

There was a second reason for visiting Orlando: I wanted to do a skydive there, as it supposedly has the highest free-fall drop in the world.

This didn’t happen.

Nor did any New Years celebrations.

Being 1,000 miles from Philadelphia, it took 23hrs to reach Orlando.

When I flagged a taxi to take me to the hotel, he didn’t know where he was going (he didn’t charge me any extra though)…and, upon reaching the hotel, there was nothing in the area that would provide entertainment on New Years Eve…

Except for a 7/11.

So, it was a quiet night in with a Slurpee & movie.

Happy New Year.

(See all Orlando pictures here)

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Having already travelled across the USA once, it was now time to head back in the other direction…

The first stop: New Orleans.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lorena (from Birmingham) had put me in touch with Matt, who’d offered to put me up.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I did like New Orleans. It certainly does have a mysterious quality about the place; Matt had even told me that New Orleans will always give you what it feels it should give you…kinda spooky, but completely understandable while you’re there.

And yes, of course I tried Gumbo!

(See all New Orleans pictures here)

HOUSTON, TEXAS

I came here for another Space Center. This one had a Mission Control, though. 😉

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

I didn’t particularly gel to the city of Houston, although I’m sure it’s lovely…but, my Couchsurfing host did take me out for a few drinks, and, showed me the Boneyard (now closed): a place where you can drink & bring your dog along!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Houston pictures here)

DALLAS, TEXAS

I found Dallas a little more enjoyable than Houston.

Chris – another Couchsurfing host – picked me up from the station, and instantly took me for a beer at a bar that overlooked the Dallas skyline, just as the sun was setting.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

We then went for some Tex-Mex…well, why not, we were in Texas!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

So far, this is what I was loving about Texas: the food. The State also reminded me a little of California, but without an ocean nearby.

The first day in Dallas was spent taking in the sights around the city centre…and, as we all know, Dallas is the place where JFK was assassinated, so dropping by this area was a must for me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The second day, I’d be going out of town a little…

(See all Dallas pictures here)

FORT WORTH, TEXAS

I was able to get to Fort Worth on a Greyhound Bus using the Greyhound Discovery Pass, so it didn’t cost any extra money to do this.

It was quite a walk from Fort Worth’s city centre to its Stock Yards, but the walk was worth it…

Here I was in proper Rodeo Town!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

And, this was also where I discovered Lone Star (a step up from Pabst Blue Ribbon).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Fort Worth pictures here)

And, Chris did the nicest thing, and, picked me up from Fort Worth to take me back to Dallas.

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Brittany met me in a cafe somewhere in the city of Austin…she would be letting me stay with her over the next few days.

It was strange what was happening in Texas – I was liking it more with each new city I went to: I thought Houston was OK; Dallas was good; Fort Worth was great fun; and now Austin was amazing!

I loved Austin.

Not only did it have excellent Tex-Mex, it has great views & outdoor activities within the city (kinda like Calgary back in Canada), it has the tiniest bar in Texas, and, you can get bike ride home after a few drinks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(See all Austin pictures here)

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

The last city to visit in Texas…and, it’d only be for a few hours…

I even had to carry my backpacks with me to The Alamo as I wasn’t staying long!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

By now, my Greyhound Discovery Pass was reaching expiry date (I felt like I was, too!)…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

(See all San Antonio pictures here)

ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO

The journey to Roswell was interesting in itself, in that you cruise alongside the border of Mexico, where there’s a REALLY high fence separating the countries.

NOW, as you may have guessed, I’m a bit of a Sci-Fi/Space Nut, so this is why I wanted to visit Roswell: for all of the alien sh*t.

The whole city has an alien theme, from its McDonald’s to its street lamps!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The UFO Museum is worth a look if you’re ever in this city…but, out of the city, I was lucky enough to see the Bottomless Lakes, too.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

One night just didn’t seem long enough, I thought as I sat in the tiny Roswell Bus Station, waiting to be taken to California…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

(See all Roswell pictures here)

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Another place I’d never been to, yet always wanted to: San Diego.

I was to be staying with a nice lady called Yvonne who, at the time, made a living formatting ebooks (we’ll cover more about this later)…

She also introduced me to Crazee Burger

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

…and, Lestats: a 24hr coffee shop, where we once sat until the early hours, just drinking coffee & onlining it.

Yvonne didn’t come with me to the zoo, though…mind you, San Diego Zoo is one of the biggest in the world, so it could be hard work doing it twice!

On my last night, I was to hang-out with a new acquaintance: Candis, who insisted that I try the Fish Taco’s while we loiter around the beach areas at sunset…

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

It was great being back in California.

(See all San Diego pictures here)

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

My second home.

Los Angeles is somewhere I’ve always loved. After visiting here 5 times before, it was the best place to spend two weeks before heading back to my first home.

For the entire 2 weeks here, I’d be staying at the Venice Beach Hostel, as Venice Beach is my favourite little suburb in Los Angeles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I didn’t really want to do much while here, except relax – I’d been travelling constantly for almost 6 months, and so it was nice to just spend time on the beach, and, taking everything at a leisurely pace.

However…

New friends & places were still made & seen – walking around the Venice suburbs with Alessia, Brennan’s Pub for Turtle Racing with Lauren, the loooooong bus journey’s to The McFly House on my own…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I even met up with Vesa again, as he’d gotten a Greyhound bus to LA!

Most importantly, I’d had the chance to grab some ‘me time’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, there was still ONE more obstacle ahead…

(See all Los Angeles pictures here)

GETTING HOME

This was how it was meant to go:

Catch American Airlines flights from Los Angeles to New York, and then transfer to another AA flight for Toronto Airport, where I’d catch another plane to London…

The first parts went according to plan.

The last part didn’t.

I arrived at Toronto Airport in good time to board the plane back to the UK…only I couldn’t see my flight listed on the Departure Screen.

What had happened is that, because I’d booked my flight through an agency, the agency had failed to let me know that there had been a flight cancellation…and now, there were no flights leaving from Toronto to Gatwick on this day!

The next available flight would be the next day, in 19hrs time.

Right. OK. What to do.

I’d no pocket change to pay for a bus to head to Toronto city centre in hope that someone might be able to put me up for the night, nor did I have the money to get a cab or pay for a hotel…

Financially, the only option was to just wait in the airport.

For 19hrs.

It all felt a bit Tom Hanks from ‘The Terminal’, literally living on Tim Horton products for almost a day!

It wasn’t the greatest 19hrs, but you can imagine the satisfaction of finally sitting in a soft plane seat after spending 19hrs sat on hard, plastic ones!

Soon, I was landing in Gatwick Airport, feeling like I should use the Toronto Airport dilemma as an excuse to go on another 6-month long vacation. 🙂

CONCLUSION

I’m sure that there’s a lot of things that I’ve forgotten write about, as well as many people that I’ve forgotten to mention…but hey, this was a last minute project, and if I’d had more hours to invest into this, I would’ve delved back into old emails to find out everything I’ve missed during writing this blog…

Two things I’ve learned from this, though:

  1. I will never again leave it five years to write or make a video about a trip somewhere…
  2. 2012 will be the very last time that I’ll travel on Greyhound Buses. Period.

It’s also made me want to travel more again…obviously not in the low-budget way like I did for these 6 months, but looking at the pictures, and then writing about it all really does make you realise that there’s just so much out there to see in this world that can’t be missed, including the experience that comes with it.

CHAPTER THREE: THE EDITING

Before I write about the making of the video, one thing I’d learned to do on this trip – from Yvonne in San Diego – was to learn how to format an ebook. And, this new skill allowed me to put together a few ebooks of previous blogs, selling them online on places like Amazon (see here)…

I felt it worth mentioning this, in case you thought I was a newbie to this blogging 😉

As said at the beginning, all of the video footage from this trip was shot on an HD pocket camera.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Whilst the Kodak Zi8 camera can capture great images when static with a lot of light present to enter the lens, using it as a travel camera means that, without a tripod & a lot of light, you’ll most probably end up with video with the ‘jelly effect‘ and/or grainy (or completely dark) footage.

What I shot during the 6-month trip were mostly quick clips, with no time to prep shots, or, find the most suitable angle…it was a case of just reaching into the pocket, pulling out the camera, getting the shot, and, then putting it back in the pocket again.

There were over 4 hours of video to go through…so, you can imagine the amount of effort & time that went in to viewing – then eliminating some of – the footage, selecting the best clips that would be short-listed to a 1 hour editing line, followed by a 36min editing line, which ultimately became a 9min edit.

It was a long process.

With the video finally complete almost 5 years after it was all filmed, I can finally put this piece of the past behind me, and, I can now look forward to filming more fresh travels in the New Year…

Have a great 2017, everybody!

Read more from Shaun Troke, available on our Merchandise page.

 


17 thoughts on “Around the World: 6 Countries in 6 Months

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s