Transition Day...we are off to?

Dateline: On a Flight between Barcelona and Bogota – April 28 – Day 19 

As mentioned im my last post, today is a transition day for us as we are moving between Europe and South America! No easy feat I might add. We will endure our longest flight of this year’s adventure at 11 hours and 24 minute flight across the Iberian Peninsula, the Atlantic Ocean and most of the Caribbean Sea before we reach our final destination much later tonight (but it will be tomorrow for us) in Cartagena, Colombia. 
 
Thrilled that no member of any team has been there before, making it a great Global Scavenger Hunt destination. And yes, all the teams checked in at 11:00AM…got late check outs and are now enjoying a few hours shopping and eating in Barcelona. 
 
Onward…and we will have more tomorrow morning after teams get their Colombian books. 
 

Another Day in Paradise

Dateline: Barcelona – April 27 – Day 18 of The Global Scavenger Hunt

 
Barcelona is my kind of city. No one gets going until around 10:00AM. Don’t even think about lunch until 2ish…and from 4-6ish nothing is happening because it is family time or siesta time. And dinner begins no earlier than a respectable 9ish…
 
It is also my kind of city because unlike the soulless sky scrappers that are popping up all over the world, the architecture of Barcelona has soul…and creativity and charm. You can take a drive anywhere it seems and Barcelona jumps out at those curious enough to look. It is a Peter Max-like kaleidoscope of avant-garde Modernism, gothic, historic and traditional charm…and most noticeably, exuberant functionality. Barcelona, a city of 5 million+ Catalonians works—not literally mind you, but functionally. It is a vibrant city that seems to think outside the box along with eating well and playing hard. 
 
It is no wonder that this city always rates high on travelers to do lists…there is indeed a lot to see and do. But after you check off the notable sites, it is mostly the creativity and exuberance of the people and their culture that grabs you tight. And there is a lot to do too. From wandering the old port area and tiny streets of the Gothic Quarter (aka Barri Gotic), to checking out the dynamic arts scene in the funky Poble Sec. You can sip a coffee and day dream about the fantastic whimsy, that surly must be the worlds favorite unfinished public building—Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. Where else but Barcelona could that building be. No where else. Or wander down the tree-lined and people-filled Las Ramblas noshing from block to block. How about art. Chose your poison: the Picasso museum, Joan Miro’s greatest hits, Gaudi’s Parc Guell and Salvador Dali creations abound. For an overview of the city you have two choices, either climb up Montjuic or look down on the city from Tibidabo. I prefer gorging myself endlessly at Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (aka Boqueria Market) tasting endless temptations. And that is touching on the well-trodden treasures of Barcelona. There is no end to the delights of Barcelona.
 
And so here we are ending the 5-day Euro leg of The Global Scavenger Hunt here in Barcelona, a truly world-class and global city that has something for everyone. We just had an informal check-in this evening about an hour ago--the official check-in is tomorrow morning at 11:00AM. And we are happy to report that everyone did check-in…so all is good. 
 
Tomorrow will be a repositioning day after the official check-in. We still have five days left of the 2015 event and we still have another continent to touch and couple countries to visit. Stay tuned…
 
Maybe not the Observation of the Day, but surly a main occurrence we have noticed during this turn around the globe…is the prevalence of selfie-sticks. Now I am no Luddite and completely embrace and accept that both digital photography and the introduction of Smartphones has changed everything. Selfie’s per se get a bad rap. Because people have always taken self portraits when they travel (aka trelfies). It is just so democratized now that everyone can do it—not just the precious few with expensive Nikon 35mm’s. It is considered somewhat low culture by some (not me). But what I abhor is the so-called “chimping” that takes place after a selfie is taken…the gathering around and viewing of the photo taken followed by the “ooh, ooh, ooh  and ahhing” over it…versus the actual looking at the real thing that lies before you. Selfie takers seem to always  turn away and stop watching the sunrise, or the Taj or the movement of animals before them (the why of the why they are actually there)—too look at themselves. Like a chimp with a mirror. You have to ask yourself: what is your intention: To look inward or outward? So, note to all you modern day photographers—just take a lot of photos and sort out the best one’s when you get home; it is not like the old days when you would just take a couple rolls of film on a trip because of developing costs. There are no costs now…it is digital and memory is cheap. Or, maybe not. (BTW: Some recent studies suggest that taking photos may actually hurt our ability to remember what we have seen.)
 
Back to the ubiquitous selfie sticks. You see them everywhere now…mosques, museums, at the beach, markets and just walking down the street. All I am saying is that they can be dangerous in the wrong hands. I am not judging anyone. Just be freaking more careful and courteous using them.
 
Okay, it is after midnight and I must keep further rants to myself…there will be a book one day I promise. It will tell all that commercially I am unable to say now. So, till tomorrow after the official check-in when we are en route to someplace else…
 
A few more photos…







 
 
 

Day 17: Italy to Bracelona

Dateline: Barcelona, SPAIN - April 26

Some random thoughts to wile away the time as the teams are scattered across France and Spain by now…
 
Today was a fun day. Not to often do you have cancelled bus, ferry boat, train, subway  and plane tickets in your breast pocket. Check, check, check, check and check! Now throw in a few silly taxi fares and you have a full travel day; from breakfast in Santa Margherita and lunch in Portofino (two drop-dead gorgeous Italian villages) to a late night tapa run in fast-paced Barcelona. 
 
Sundays…what did your’s look like? It is funny when you think back over the last three Sundays for us traveling the globe: Sunday #1 had us snorkeling in the crystal blue waters of Fiji; Sunday #2 had us taking part in a pilgrimage at sacred Hindu temple on a high holy day in Bali; and today, Sunday #3 had us playing the part of just being a tourist in a couple of great destinations wine ‘n’ dinning—and using a slew of miscellaneous modes of transportation. Next Sunday #4 will have us hanging in the Keys south of Miami following the conclusion of the 2015 around the world travel adventure competition. The next Sunday we will all be back to our normal Sunday routines…New York Times with bagel lox and cream cheese.  
 
BTW: The global weather has been kind to us throughout the adventure so far…it has only really rained that one morning in Fiji two weeks ago after the conclusion of that leg. Since then it has been great…just a few drops found us today and that quickly subsided. Indeed, it has been nice but on the hot side (humid in Bali but dry in Abu Dhabi) but really mild in Melbourne and here in Europe so far. 
 
It always occurs somewhere…a taxi driver flare up. Sometimes they are tragedies, sometimes comedies. Today it was a comedy. Of course we have nothing against gainfully employed taxi cab drivers, travel destination touts or creative folks just trying to make a buck off us walking ATM machines (aka travelers). Isn’t that the point of capitalism—to take someone else’s money in some type of mutual exchange? Anyway, what sucks sometimes is when geographic terrain collides with the unknown and unsuspecting. 
 
For instance, you get off the train in Santa Margherita Ligure and you find yourself high on a hill overlooking the town below and the Mediterranean Sea in the not too distance…combined with the fact that you don’t know how far away your hotel is. You assume it is a taxi ride away. Now in our case we have three roller bags and three backpacks. So we opt to get a cab to take us to our hotel that no one we asked had volunteered to tell us how far or close it might be from were we stand looking down a big hill at the train station. Well, three, maybe even two minutes later, we are at our hotel and out a handsome 15 Euro set price. (Yes, clearly it is a case of let the buyer beware price fixing…as you must recognize that you are on their home turf and they did make the rules in their favor naturally…but they of course don’t tell you their set price until you are well on the way and quickly  notice that the meter is not running.) 400 meters as the crow flies…but down a steep hill I do stipulate. Okay, so we accept that one begrudgingly. Lesson learned, it happens.
 
But then leaving was when today’s comedy begins. We decide to again throw 15 Euros at the cause of getting our bags back up the 400 meter steep hill…but this time we find ourselves somehow with two drivers employed for the same three, no four minute uphill drive—one, the desk clerk from the hotel’s nephew with a new Mercedes, and one an official town taxi car. Here is were things got funny…ha ha. You see, one taxi was fetched by the hotel, but since we were a tad impatient and it was taking a little too long for them to arrive (no doubt because he had to hurry from home when he got the call from his aunt at the hotel about an easy 15 Euro fare for a three, no four minute, 400 meter fare)…so I walked across the street to hail one of the three cabs in line to come over to our hotel--about 20 meters away--to take us up that steep 400 meter hill. And wouldn’t you know it, at that exact moment between the hailed taxi drivers acknowledgement that the first taxi arrives to fetch us. Yep, we now have two taxi’s in our employ for a quick New York minute. What to do? What is right? 
 
Well…we just as quickly disengaged the hailed cab who had by now moved out of three cab queue and started loading our bags into the aunts nephew’s cab…to the complete disapproval of the hailed cab driver who had by now felt that he was now fully employed by us. He started out his window as crowds stared. I smiled, threw up my hands, shrugged my shoulders and appealed to his higher self. He didn’t seem to have a higher self and like that he quickly confronted us. I said I was sorry but…. He said I owed him 15 Euros. I said I don’t think so, now thinking that maybe handing him a 5’er would surely assuage his painful expressions, hurt feelings and economic setback. No such luck. I quickly suggest a powwow with a nearby policeman orchestrating Chinese tour buses to adjudicate the situation. As the two of us, each righteous in our positions, march over to the said policeman, two other municipal officers arrive on the scene. Now we quickly have three local policemen, a screaming taxi driver and me smiling. Now I don’t speak much Italian—ordering a beer and getting kissed are always assured. But I basically appeal to all their higher selves and I ask what is fair? Well, they all conduct a rather brief frank and not so cordial discussion between themselves with me clearly being left in the dark…as I quickly come to realize that I am of course the visiting rival team playing in a hostile home field game…I pay the taxi driver 15 Euros to the nodding heads of the three policemen saying, “Really guys, really!” But it does not stop there. 
 
No…the taxi driver now feeling extremely righteous and well protected does not let it go at that friendly robbery and continues to swear at me up and down (taunting the losing visiting team). And I do know a few choice Italian phrases and can simply state that he was using all the one’s I knew?! As I retreat and walked over to our other driver who has by now loaded all the luggage and my family members into the his cab, the other driver keeps screaming at me. I finally have enough and turn around to appeal to the three policemen who are obviously also all hearing this swearing…and they too agree that they too feel that he has finally gone too far. They have had enough of the well-paid taxi driver continually berating a harmless fleeced tourists. They head over towards him. 
 
The last thing I see as I am driving up the 400 meter hill to the train station is the well-compensated taxi driver getting a ticket from the stern policeman. Karma is a bitch. But in the end, this comedy simply wasn’t worth the 15 Euros. Tsk tsk. …and to think all this took place inside 3-4 minutes—the time it takes to get a cab up that hill.
Okay, this is an late/early posting and we will have more when the teams checkin in Barcelona. 
 
A few European photos…
 
 
 
 
 
 
Please friend/like us on Facebook... and YouTube. 
 
Finally, The Global Scavenger Hunt is not just about a great international travel adventure that ultimately crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers in the annual world travel championship, it is also about helping others help themselves. As avid passionate travelers we see the true plight of most of the people in the world and this event was created in the spirit of giving back through the GreatEscape Foundation’s work. This year, to celebrate the 11th edition of our event, our goal is to fund 11 schools in places that really need them. Co-ed elementary schools at that— empowering both girls and boys. So, if you have it in your heart to not eat a lunch out this week and make a small secure online PayPal donation during the course of the 2015 event, we know that a lot of kids needing a basic education that would thank you. And we will thank you too…with a tax receipt. 
 ___________________________________________________
The 2015 Teams competing for The World’s Greatest Travelers™ trophy in the 11th edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition:
 
Lawyers without Borders (Zoe & Rainey): 
Buns & Bird (Tania & Mickey): 
Savvy Scavengers! (Tamyra & Kate):
½ of the Odd Couple (Erik): 
Captain Marvel & PI Baby (Michael & Nita): 
Sydney Sisters (Fiona & Katrina): 
Tatakau Brothers (Ben & Jordan): 
NOLA Second Line (Betty & Jim): 
Hello World (Alan & Michael):
 

Day 16: Somewhere in Europe

Dateline: Santa Margherita Ligure - April 25

Saw a few teams in the last 24 hours…some in the lobby of the hotel heading out to parts unknown, some to nearby eateries, some to train station. Saw one team disembark train in Genoa to complete a few scavenges. We know a few teams are headed to Geneva and a few were in Nice already last night. Basically, teams are scattered between here and there—the there being Barcelona.  
 
First off…a point of personal pride and privilege: a BIG congrats to my daughter Petra who was accepted as a Junior transfer to UC Berkeley! We are all thrilled and happy that out of 96,100 fellow students attempting entry there—she was one of a few. Happy, happy…

Secondly…our hearts go out to the people of Nepal (we visited the warm wonderful place in 2008 and 2013) who have suffered a great loss in a 7.8 earthquake that will sadly probably get a lot worse once the rubble is cleared…we will be making donations through our Great Escape Foundation to help…we should all do what we can to help these poor people. Thank you!
 
Okay...Every year on the Euro leg we get to have some fun and sometimes hang with folks we know. Happened in Iceland a few years ago and I spent a great day a few years ago on the back of a motorcycle in Roma with our good friend Valentina…well last year during the 2014 event we Road Officials left Budapest for a little town 45 minutes southwest of Vienna called Krems an der Donau (aka Krems), Austria to stay with friends in their winery along the Danube River. It was in a word: wonderful. We almost called the movers…
 
This year, we grabbed a morning train from Milano Centrale for Genoa along the Mediterranean in the Italian Riviera known as Ligure…but we did not stop there, we went 30 minutes south to a town called Santa Margherita Ligure. I had visions of moving here back in 1999 when life as I knew it changed…and save for a small daughter (said Berkeley gal) who I could not be physically separated from…I would have. Santa Margherita is nestled in along the coast between over-the-top-picture-perfect Portofino and what is known as Cinque Terre—a string of five centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline that are complete with working ancient terraced vineyards, bobbing fishing boats and family run trattorias specializing in octopus and pesto. Yes blissful… But they are all missing a key element—population weight. You need a certain amount of population to have the energy, synergies and amenities required to have a full and rich life. That Goldilocks’s number in my mind lies between 75,000 and 150,000—not too small and not too big, just right for a diversity of art, schools, sports, restaurants and citizens. Santa Margherita is close to that number and just a great place to be with great local produce, good energy vibe, the nurturing smell of sea in the air and an easy walking place. We are there now spending the weekend with balcony on the beach and corniche…eating a lot and laughing too.
A few Italian photos…
 
Please friend/like us on Facebook... and YouTube. 
 
Finally, The Global Scavenger Hunt is not just about a great international travel adventure that ultimately crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers in the annual world travel championship, it is also about helping others help themselves. As avid passionate travelers we see the true plight of most of the people in the world and this event was created in the spirit of giving back through the GreatEscape Foundation’s work. This year, to celebrate the 11th edition of our event, our goal is to fund 11 schools in places that really need them. Co-ed elementary schools at that— empowering both girls and boys. So, if you have it in your heart to not eat a lunch out this week and make a small secure online PayPal donation during the course of the 2015 event, we know that a lot of kids needing a basic education that would thank you. And we will thank you too…with a tax receipt. 
 ___________________________________________________
The 2015 Teams competing for The World’s Greatest Travelers™ trophy in the 11th edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition:
 
Lawyers without Borders (Zoe & Rainey): 
Buns & Bird (Tania & Mickey): 
Savvy Scavengers! (Tamyra & Kate):
½ of the Odd Couple (Erik): 
Captain Marvel & PI Baby (Michael & Nita): 
Sydney Sisters (Fiona & Katrina): 
Tatakau Brothers (Ben & Jordan): 
NOLA Second Line (Betty & Jim): 
Hello World (Alan & Michael):
 

The European Leg Has Begun...

Dateline: April 24 – Milano, Italy

Bongiorno from Milano…
 
Hello all, we arrived in Milan after our rather odd flight path from Abu Dhabi yesterday afternoon. Teams were given the day off even though we arrived mid-afternoon at our hotel the Westin Palace here in Italy. (BTW: Despite our 5-star digs, both the understated rustic beauty of our boutique hotel in Bali and the nouveau riche opulence of our Emirates hotel, has quickly dissolved into global corporate branding and faded old world glory—read small rooms in old buildings.)  We all met on the hotel’s 8th floor terrace last night for adult beverages and appies to finish up the Middle Eastern leg and discuss the coming Euro leg while  watching the sun slowly fade into the nearby Alps…the city of Milan laid out before us and majestic Duomo dominating the Italian cityscape. 
 
Here is the latest news form the 11th edition of our little annual around the world circus we call The Global Scavenger Hunt (aka the world travel championship) (aka A Blind Date with the World) (aka the international travel adventure). 
 
We departed AUH international airport at 8:45AM local time yesterday headed for Milan. Normally a straight quick 5-hour flight heading northwest as the crow flies across Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, over southern Iraq and then Syria over the Mediterranean Sea the Greek Isles, Adriatic and then Italy into Malpensa International Airport. What we got for those that noticed was a not so straight flight that first took us east into the Persian Gulf and Iranian airspace then due north to Iran proper and a sharp left (east) over northern Iraq (read Kurdistan) into Turkey across Bulgaria and Croatia into northern Italy. By my estimation an extra 1200 kilometer flight adding about 75-90 minutes to our flight time. Why you ask? Good question. Well, it seems that both Saudi Arabia and UAE are conducting bombing runs on two of their Arab brothers and neighbors—Yemen and Syria—and they have closed their airspace to flights to avoid issues. It is the classic Shia-Sunni civil war taking place around these parts where the Machiavellian mindsets of: the enemy of your enemy is your friend and the friend of friend is you enemy or there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns (aka the Middle East)…Now you know. 
 
Upon arrival at the Milan's Malpensa (MXP) airport, awkwardly located 30+ miles away from the city center, we boarded a couple of waiting vans for our transfer to the Westin Palace Milan hotel on the perfectly located Piazza della Republica. (BTW: Immigration and Customs formalities took seconds…unlike some other countries that will go nameless in North America!) Teams headed out for lunch or naps…some happily accomplished both. 
 
We had business to tend to, peer reviews to arbitrate and scores to tally. 
 
The urban Par 3 Abu Dhabi leg ended as the others have to date with the Sydney Sisters simply dominating the field that was left vulnerable with defending champs Lawyers without Borders not handing in a score sheet due to Rainey’s painful hip issues. In the end, the Sydney Sisters completed 50 scavenges (and 2 Bonuses) to earn a remarkable 2,050 points. Great job ladies and you have now completed five clean par legs in a row in the 2015 world travel championship—I think that is a record but I will have to confirm that!? It is a true testament to how keen these two are to avenge their 2013 bridesmaid roles and win this event with hard work, dedication and a great travel spirit.
 
The rest of the field had Buns & Bird showing signs of trying to keep up with the Sisters, also completing 2 Bonuses and earning 1,740 points. They were followed by the energized and happy Savvy Scavengers with 1,370 points in 3rd place followed closely by Tatakau Brothers with 1,330 points, Hello World with 895 points, and NOLA Second line…two teams did not submit leg score sheets: Lawyers without Borders (for the first time ever in 8 events that cover over 60 legs in 45 countries!) and Captain Marvel and PI Baby.
 
So, after five complete legs and 14 of 22 Par points earned, the top three teams in the 2015 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt are: 
In 3rd place: Lawyers without Borders with 52 leg points (remember lower is better);
In 2nd place: Buns & Bird with 33 leg points;
In 1st place: Sydney Sisters with a perfect score over 5 legs…14 leg points out of 14 possible. (Kind of excellent!)

So, we close the books on Leg 5 and move onto a rather challenging Leg 6 – Europe! It is challenging not because of true difficulty—let’s face it, Europe works! The transportation systems (city, inter-city and inter-country) here are all top notch and reliable. No, the real challenging aspect of the European leg is the human part—the expectations of our travelers and their desire to fulfill them: what will they do and where will they do it?! They have so many choices and options here, that some could become overly ambitious in their endeavors to win this critical leg that they make some strategic errors—take in one too many cities; try to complete one too many bonuses; take in one too many late night scavenges; get too tired in their frenzy of site-doing activities to make a simple miscalculation of their time. In a word: get too greedy!
 
The 2015 edition of our annual hard Par 5 Euro leg has our travelers beginning this morning at 8:00AM (it is Friday here) in Milan. All they have to do is get to Barcelona by Tuesday at 11:00AM. They have four full days to take what could be a simple 13-hour high-speed rail ride to the Spanish seaside… But of course that is not what will take place as they have over 200 scavenges scattered across six countries including 14 high value Bonus scavenges! They have choices…climb an Alp, open a Swiss bank account, crash a yacht party in Saint Tropez, visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, obtain a casino chip from Monte Carlo, get a visa stamp in Andorra, take in a FC Barcelona futbol game, picnic in Provence and a hundred others in between.  Yes they have options…for many, too many options. And as we all know, too much analysis leads to paralysis. They will have to choose wisely. 
 
We shall see who prevails…and we will be off Tuesday to another continent before our final touch down in Miami next Friday evening. A week to go on the 2015 around the world travel adventure. It should be fun. 
 
We are off to try to resolve a existential question: Is it wrong to have a buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto sandwich for breakfast before a mid-morning gelato followed by a pasta lunch….? 
 
 
The Canals of Milano
 
Old School Religious Art


New Street...literally sidewalk art...


The Classic Duomo view...


Teatro Alla Scala...the home of rock n' roll...I mean Opera!
 
Later from somewhere else in Italy!