Three more European pearls: Germany, Switzerland and Italy

Since October 10th 2013: 131 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
It's been hard - but worth it
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I left you last week while still in Theresa's bedroom in Berlin. If you don't know what that's about then I guess you better take a look at last week's entry ;)
While still in Germany I had one last thing to do. Parth Nilawar has been a part of the Saga's project group since before I left home: He's from India but lives and works in Germany. We originally met in Bangladesh back in 2011 but that's another story. What a wonderful man he is and although I was starting to catch a cold from the rapid change in temperatures I still went to visit him and his family. Parth and his wife Heicha have a beautiful 4 months old daughter. So the extended family was visiting for as long as their visas lasted. Parth warned that it might be a touch "Indian" in the apartment. Naturally I showed up anyway with all my belongings and I finally got to sit face to face with 4 months old Sarthi and her adorable observing eyes! I tried to explain the Saga to her but she seemed more interested in Danish rap songs? Women?!?
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She will be an amazing adventurer! :)

Parth has a wonderful family and his wife (with the strikingly beautiful face) is a spectacular cook. We weren't exactly chewing bratwurst. I love the Indian kitchen which can be a lot of different things depending on where you are in India. The entire family is lovely and Parth's mother even sketched a few drawings of me. Parth and I slept in the living room talking until 02:00am in the morning. It's great to see a familiar face and I've been fortunate to see a few lately. Now that Sarthi has been infected with the "travelers bug" I feel that my job is done and I can continue to Switzerland. Or will she grow up to be a Danish rapper?


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Amruta made this drawing of me :)

The following morning I boarded a train via Hannover to Zurich in Switzerland. I originally intended on going to Bern however hostel prices were sky high!! One "hostel" offered a night for usd 125?! Another could spare a bed in a 6 person dorm room for usd 40?!? As it turned out my friend Michele, who's Italian, lives in Zurich (and Italy). Really practical for me and he was texting me: "so when are you coming to Zurich?" If you've been following the Saga for a while, you might remember that Michele (Micky) and I met in Djibouti. The story is that we were both in the same Swiss newspaper. Me for the Saga and Micky for "selfie-filming" himself in his Italian village with a wild bear in the back!! Yup! Micky is kind of adventurous ;) He read about the Saga and contacted me since we both happened to be in Djibouti. Later on we met in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Micky was the one who inspired me to "take you all" to Danakil and see the incredible landscapes that northern Ethiopia features.


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Micky is also into drones. Drones are cool! :)

I warned Micky that I was getting sick and that I really needed to rest for a day or two. No problem! He made his home my home. It was great to see him again! Micky currently works as an electrician in Zurich but his true passion is travel. The money needs to come from somewhere. My health was rapidly deteriorating and I'm almost sure that it is entirely because I'm coming from several months of temperatures above 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) to a solid north European summer of 17 degrees (62 Fahrenheit) and rain. And possibly also for pushing myself too hard again.


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Michele "Micky" "Tourist? No! Traveler!" ;)

Micky's parents live nearby his apartment and dinner was waiting for us the night my train rolled into Zurich. He has really nice parents. His father is kind of quiet and makes great homemade pasta. His mother is a typical mother who was exited to have Micky and I at the table and enough was never enough, when it came to poring food on our plates. Lovely and very filling.


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Not exactly at the top of my game. It's worst at night when I cough so hard I get headaches.

Zurich became my base as I soon had to keep my appointment with the Swiss Red Cross in Bern. What a wonderful bunch of people! I had a good time although I was still struggling with a cough and a stuffed nose. At least my headache was gone. The Swiss Red Cross is (not unlike the Red Cross in many countries) very impressive. They do all the usual stuff you normally associate the Red Cross with but plenty of other things. As an example they educate and hand out certificates to teenage babysitters so the parents know that they can care for their children (change a diaper, first aid etc). In the other end of the scale the Swiss Red Cross also operates a fleet of search and rescue helicopters, airplanes and 35 highly professional search dog teams! Yup! That's the Red Cross too. And it's impressive. 


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Oh Swiss Alps!! :)

I had a chance to do an hour long presentation about the Saga which captivated about 25 employees/volunteers. It was a bit funny for me because I'm rarely asked to do so at the Red Cross. The last time was in Kenya. It was really nice but really stupid because it drained me from energy and I got a lot sicker after that. But first we went to visit a building in Bern where the Red Cross welcomes refugees for a 6 month transitional period in order to immigrating them well. I don't know if you think I'm tough or I'm weak? But the following literally makes me cry: the boys and girls were playing outside in the garden as children do. A beautiful young mother from Syria was cooking something smelling really nice. Her smiling husband appeared and insisted on us (I was guided by Alja from the Swiss RC) having tea. Together Alja, the wife, the husband, their two children and I had a good time in their room. We were translating our conversation through google translate and through whatever little Arabic I know. Most of it was lighthearted but we also spoke about how they fled their home in Syria. Literally running from the bombs with their little daughter and the wife who was still pregnant back then with the second one. That doesn't make me cry. I hear stories like that all the time.


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What does push my tears out comes now. They initially escaped through Jordan and Egypt to Libya. They were offered to cross the Mediterranean on a boat but opted out and returned (over several years) across Egypt and Jordan until they finally were granted asylum and flew to Switzerland. Do you remember my visit to Libya? I'll still spare you the graphic details of the 5 dead bodies I found on the beach. What makes my tears flow is that the horrendous image I still have in my head could have been this family. We were having tea...but it could have been them. Mother, father and two happy girls playing in the garden. They didn't get on that boat. It wasn't them. It could have been.


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Does that mean I'm not intelligent...or that intelligence is not seen as important? Oh! My head hurts ;)


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I had a great time presenting the Saga to the Maersk team in Switzerland. Just look at those smiles!

A few more days passed on with me in Zurich before I caught a train to Geneva (also Switzerland) where the International Federation of the Red Cross has its headquarters. The Red Cross was founded in Switzerland in 1863. I had a meeting with communication and coughed my way through most of it. At this point my health was improving but my cough was nasty. I probably scared them a bit :) 3 more trains for me to Milano in Italy. An overnight train got me back to Rome for the first time since 2013.


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Those Italians!!! This is just a train station!!! Come on!! ;)


Rome is a splendid city. Not like the rest! Rome stands out from other cities. It was once the seat of the Roman Empire. We all know that. However it kept developing and today it's home to more than 5 million people! Rome is more like a country than a city in terms of its diversity. 5 million people? That's nearly my entire country right there.


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I arrived early at Rome's train station and made my way to a hotel my friend Kuno has booked. He's arriving from Copenhagen (Denmark) tonight to spend a few days keeping me company. This is great as we have known each other for many years but haven't seen each other since I left home. It was nice to be able to check into the hotel early. A great hotel at a great location near the Vatican. I had a shower and really wanted to sleep.

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Sometime the cover doesn't match the all!! (the main entrance to Italian Red Cross HQ).

However I had an 11:30am appointment with the Italian Red Cross. Italy concludes the "revisit tour of Europe" which I will rate as successful. Especially the Red Cross, the Maersk Line and the seeing friends part of the tour. In terms of logistics I nailed it! I kept the exact schedule I had laid out and informed about. The Red Cross has been very accommodating throughout these 8 countries and it has restored my belief in that the Saga is actually achieving something important in that regard. I'm unsure if it's inappropriate to mention however I've had serious doubts about having the Red Cross as a part of this project. It's a lot of work on my part and I receive relatively little motivation to keep it going. The Red Cross has a complex structure which involves highly independent National Societies. It's not like Coca Cola or any other international cooperation which are streamlined to operate similarly. No the Red Cross and Red Crescent's across the world are perfectly adapted to their individual countries in regards to language, culture and customs. Naturally there are fundamental principles which are shared among all of them, and there is international cooperation where it counts. However if I visit the Red Cross in France and continue to Germany, there is very little chance that the Red Cross in Germany will know that I was in France. You'd think that once a man visits the Red Cross Red Crescent across more than a hundred countries, it would start to spread? It doesn't work like that. Every country is highly independent and crossing a border is mostly like hitting a reset button. It's like reliving the same day over and over again. Try doing that since 2013 across 131 countries and see how you feel? The point of telling you this is however uplifting! Because the Italian Red Cross brought it home today. What a wonderful engagement on their part. They may be best known for responding to recent earthquakes and the 181,436 refugees and migrants that made it across the Mediterranean last year. However as Pietro Concina (Italian Red Cross communication director) rightfully pointed out: "There's all the work they carry out in the spotlight and then all that goes on out of the spotlight". I really think this is what people fail to understand about the Red Cross. It's not just a humanitarian organization which has some humanitarian impact. It is the largest in the world and its reach and effect is unparalleled! I'm a capitalist. I've always been a capitalist and I'll be a capitalist when I go home. I usually gun for whichever job pays me the most and furthers my career. The Saga has had me rethink a lot of stuff. I'm not much of a humanitarian but I do believe in the Red Cross and I wouldn't want to live in a world without it. For better or for worse. 


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You can take a million pictures or more like this..."when in Rome".

That's where I'll end this one. In the land of pasta, fast cars, beautiful women, over-excessive amounts of culture, fidget spinners and Game of Thrones...and 156,000 Red Cross volunteers who spent 15 million hours in 2016 helping the vulnerable. Including those who made it across the Mediterranean and didn't wash up on the shores of Libya's perfect white sand beaches pushed by azure blue waves...




No way I'll leave you there!! I'll leave you here: I've seen a lot of this world!! I guarantee you that this world is a thousand times better than portrayed in the media and while imperfect it's mostly a place of good hearted, well meaning people. A stranger is a friend you've never met before! :)



My promised bed for a night in the Vatican has been ripped away beneath my feet just a few weeks ago. Change of policy. So if you have ANY connections which will get me 24 hours inside the Vatican: Don't be shy. Please let me know :).


Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - satisfied 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
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Friends, friendships and Europe - the tour continues.

 Since October 10th 2013: 131 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Everything has a price 
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It is hard for me to explain just how much it means for me to see someone I know. A familiar face holds enormous value to me - and I'm slightly blessed.
Right now the Saga is taking a detour trough 8 countries we already visited back in 2013. It's a chance for people around the world to see a little more of Europe. It's a chance for the Red Cross to gain more from nearly 4 years of work and experiences. It's a chance for me to thank Maersk Line for all the assistance I have received in East and Northern Africa. Last but not least it's a chance for friends and family to visit me without having to apply for visas, spend great sums and travel half the world. It has all been quite successful so far.
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Gauda (the Dutch town) knows what it is ;)
I'm trying to remember exactly why my head was spinning so fast last week that it nearly spun off!! I was desperately looking for the 25th hour within the day. Now most things have calmed down again. I'm probably down to 40-50 hours of work per week now so it's definitely manageable. In Portugal, Spain and France I had to make train reservations which took several hours of my time. Sure I could do it online but at a higher cost and with greater difficulty. So I needed to reach the stations a day or two in advance, line up behind teenage backpackers on the adventure of their lifetime and wait for hours. Meanwhile I was trying to arrange for dates and times where I could meet the Red Cross and Maersk. Also getting to the addresses at the right time, updating social media and being social with my hosts and my general environment. Don't forget that the crowdfunding campaign has been a struggle to build up and we are still not ready to launch it. It's getting close though and I hope you'll continue to show support. Thank you thus far.
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Perfect summer weather.
I've been away from home for a very long time. In October it will be 4 years and I'm in Germany now, which is so close to Denmark that it almost appears pointless not to go home. Throughout all of that time we have reached 131 countries, traveled more than 173,000 km (107,500 mi), grown the social media support exponentially and made me a lot wiser than when we started. I dearly hope you have been inspired, educated a bit or simply entertained throughout all of this. There is only 1 reason why I cannot go home before I reach the final country: there can be no doubt that this was a single journey! It's like having someone run a marathon but divide it into shorter distances over a couple of weeks. That runner didn't really complete a marathon although the distance was covered - what do you think? It may be semantics today but it will prove valuable some day that the Saga was done right. I never flew, I stayed more than 24 hours in each country and I didn't go home before the end.
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I may have lost a few friends in the process. I guess that's to be expected? People are not static. Everything changes even when it's just a tiny bit. I notice that some people have stopped writing me. I have noticed that I stopped writing some of them... It took roughly 2 years and 3 months to complete all of Africa. In that time my fiancée came to visit me 5 times and 1 of my sisters came to see me once. David (from and I met up 4 times in Africa including the time when we first met in Gabon back in 2015. I even had the chance to meet Per 2 times. Per is half Danish and half from the USA. He's been to more than 180 countries and we met for the first time in Congo Republic (Central Africa). The second time we met was in Sudan. I've made new friends across the world and I'm sure the balance is in my favor calculating from when I left Denmark in 2013. My point here is simply that there is great value in recognizing a face!
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As it turns out, I have some of the best family and friends I could ever hope for. I've been seeing and feeling that a lot lately! Not long ago there was the surprise party my fiancée arranged for in Madrid. It was great to see such familiar faces all in one place! Last week I stayed a few nights with Samira and Denis in Brussels (Belgium). Samira and I know each other from working in Bangladesh back in 2011. Then I reached Amsterdam (Netherlands) where Pernille, Soren and Helle came to support and cheer me on. They are friends from Denmark and go way back. You might notice Soren as a project member for the Saga: They arranged for a hotel stay (2 nights) for all of us, food and entertainment! They brought all sorts of things from Denmark such as my prized milk!!! I really miss Danish milk!! There's nothing wrong with your milk it's just that I've been drinking Danish milk most of my life and that's the taste I'm used to :)
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We had a great couple of days hanging out, talking, fooling about, being serious, remembering days past and looking at those to come. I also let them hear a thing or two which I wouldn't write here or on social media. They left last Sunday before noon and I went back to bringing emails down to a minimum. I had the hotel room until 6pm thanks to an arrangement made by Helle.
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You can't see it...but Kris is trying to hit my balls. 38 years and still children.
Around 6pm my childhood friend, Kris, showed up having driven 7 hours down from Denmark. Kris and I have know each other for about 30 years! Wow!! 30 years?!? We checked into something far cheaper and started sightseeing Amsterdam. Mostly from an outdoor cafe with a beer in front of us. Nah, we did other stuff too: I had a package I needed to send, Kris got a haircut, we managed to find a cinema and see a movie...but most of all we just talked and took care of each other. On our last night in Amsterdam, Kris pulled out a small table from the back of his car. Then 2 small chairs, a grill, a gas bottle, a fondue for boiling water for tea, plates, cutlery, wine and a CD player with "dinner jazz". Then we sat there "camping" on a parking lot in the center of Amsterdam :)
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The Netherland Red Cross is incredible. And sometimes a picture speaks more than words. This is 94 year old Job from The Hague. He has been a Red Cross volunteer for 60 years!!
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The spirited Maersk team in Rotterdam, NL. They laughed a lot! :)
The next morning we drove to The Hague and met with the Netherlands Red Cross, then we drove to Rotterdam where I did a presentation of the Saga and afterwards we rushed on to Hamburg in Germany where we met with my father, his wife AND MY FIANCÉE!!! Yes! They brought her with them :) Kris had a cup of coffee and continued north to Denmark. The rest of us stayed in Hamburg. My father had booked a hotel for us: 1 night for him and his wife and 2 night for me and my fiancée. 
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Next to me: my father, my fiancée, Kris and Lisbeth (my fathers wife).
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The day I left Denmark and the Saga began.
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The next morning we went for a walk in beautiful Hamburg and in the afternoon we all went to visit Maersk where I gave another presentation of the Saga. After the presentation my father and his wife drove back to Denmark and my fiancée and I had the rest of the time for ourselves.
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The Maersk team in Hamburg, DE. Great bunch of people who also laughed a lot :)
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The next morning we both went to the train station and as faith wanted it her train was directly next to mine. Only, they were leaving in opposite directions.
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I nearly forgot how great the German ICE trains are!
In Berlin I was supposed to meet the German Red Cross at noon. But I somehow ended up taking the metro in the wrong direction and delayed myself by 40 minutes! Even after more than 3 years and great distances of traveling with public transportation? There are some inaccurate cliches about a lot of countries but in terms of accuracy and efficiency Germany has more of it than most. It wasn't the right country to fumble the ball in!! However as you might expect; the German Red Cross was very understanding, very friendly and incredibly modest! I had a good chance to see how important they are within Germany and it is very impressive! In addition to that they are highly active in about 50 countries around the world. Germany really grows on me.
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At the German Red Cross HQ in Berlin.
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Dr. Dieter Schuetz, GRC Press Officer, Anne Wispler, GRC online editor
There is no such thing as a perfect country but Germany gets a lot closer than many others. Germans definitely complain about this and that, however the truth about Germany appears a lot kinder than what populistic media projects. Something I noticed was that in spite of Germany hosting more than 1 MILLION REFUGEES the attitude among people appears to be that it's fine. The refugees contribute to society and why not share the welfare? The Red Cross has naturally been highly active in this regard but it isn't at all what takes up most of their time. The management of blood donations, operating a nationwide ambulance service and disaster risk reduction takes up far more of their attention.
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The width of the Berlin Wall is seen in the background. Once we said "tear down that wall". Today the news across the pond screams something else.
Meanwhile most Germans are just going on about life. You do get a sense that Germans are just as occupied with fidget spinners and Game of Thrones as everyone else. Isn't that interesting how so many things just transcend society from the richest to the poorest countries? Family, music, sports, weather and Facebook. It has been everywhere so far.
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Tower cranes across the river Spree. 
I thanked the German Red Cross and called Theresa. Theresa is a friend of Mary and Sebastian who was going to host me in Hamburg. But that ended up being unnecessary when my father booked the hotel for us? It's a shame because I really wanted to meet them. I got something else instead! Mary hooked me up with Theresa who lives in Berlin. In her early teens she lived 4 years in South Africa and today she's coming to the end of her sociology studies at the university. Theresa was a lot of fun and wasn't shy of showing me Berlin and introducing me to a few of her friends. I indecently had Berlin's second best pizza, a couple of Berlin beers and she even let me have her bed and room while she slept in the common room. What amazing hospitality! :)
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I'm in fact sitting on her couch writing this while she left earlier today to go and visit friends and family in Hannover. It appears to me that people are just people and that if you treat them nice then you often get it back tenfold.
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And: laundry day.

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - still tired, but moving forward!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga 
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France is just frog legs & Belgium is beer

Since October 10th 2013: 131 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Stereotypes rule the world
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It was a great sendoff from Spain. I had the honor of meeting Ole Pedersen from the Danish Travelers club, who has settled down in Madrid a long time ago. There is nothing to complain about regarding atmosphere and food in Spain so we were all set up for a good night. Besides; Ole has been to 137 countries ;) The following day I boarded a train to Paris.
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Accommodation is expensive in Paris. I wasn't fortunate enough to have a host and booked myself into a slightly weird hostel were I shared my room with a big guy from the French Foreign Legion. He was nice enough and offered to help me if I one day would come by his country (Montenegro). People are just people.
Listen people, I'm really tired, stressed and in no mood to write a blog. So this is going to be minimalistic! I understand how many of you could question my fatigue as I'm "free as a bird" and "traveling the world". It's been a really long time since I left home. On average the Red Cross Red Crescent takes up 2 days of my time in each country. I'm working hard to make this project grow. I'm trying hard to keep up with the ever growing social media. I'm trying to understand a little bit of everything about every country I visit. I'm really not doing well financially. My health isn't great but it could be worse. I'm not sleeping well. I'm trying my best.
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I figure most people see the top of the iceberg and not the 90% below it. I fully understand how escapism through a dream of visiting the entire world can look like an easy alternative to normal life. The beaches, the smiles, the culture, the history and the kind people are real. There's just a lot more to it than that.
Okay, the short blog for a lot of content:
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France is amazing!!! It's among the oldest countries in Europe and it is the largest. France is the world's most popular tourist destination and not without reason. There is much to see and do and the country is beautiful. It was nice to see Paris again after all this time. I have seen my history with Paris. My fiancées and I had our last vacation together in Paris shortly before I left Denmark for completing the Saga. I hardly remember who I was back then? Anyway...I could write a small book about France but I'm definitely not going to. Because they would never thank me for it ;)
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The French Red Cross is old, professional and powerful.
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I had a chance to meet the Parisian volunteers at their first aid station for the final stage of the Tour de France.
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Adrian is my kind of crazy :) He's been a Red Cross volunteer for 7 years and guided me around Paris.
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Lotfi is Algerian but works and lives in Paris. He's been following the Saga and decided to show me some Algerian hospitality at a great restaurant!
After a few stressful days (in good company with many) it was time to reach Belgium again. Belgium was originally country number 4 in the beginning of the Saga (France was number 6).
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I worked in Bangladesh as a logistics manager back in 2011. From my expatriate circles of those golden days I know Samira from Germany. Today she is married to Denis from Belgium and live in Brussels with their clever little boy Ari. Samira offered me to come and stay at their place for a few nights.
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THIS WONDERFUL FAMILY will be missed! :)
Belgium is just good beer, right? Well if I were to paint a picture of the most Belgian thing I could think of right now, it would be Tintin sitting on a throne of diamonds and raw minced meat, eating french fries and waffles covered in mayonnaise and chocolate  while talking about Smurfs and cheese dipped in sennep. However I guess it would be ignorant.
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This raw meat tasted surprisingly well and is known as l' Americaine in Belgium.
Belgium is a great small country which has a long and interesting history, which has left a parade of amazing architecture behind. Castles, towers, cathedrals, warehouses, neighborhoods, city squares... it's great! Enjoy some of the famous mussels and wash it down with a world class beer. Belgium is a neat and bureaucratic country and the people sort of reflect that in a reserved, proud but friendly way. You will probably need to work a bit on breaking the ice with a lot of them but once it is done you have free access to all the kindness of the world. The world owes Belgium a great deal for various inventions, ideas and initiatives. All in all it's a fascinating country of 11 million people who always seem to find a way through a foundation of diversity. They used to be big players within textile and the automobile industry. Chocolate and diamonds go back as far as 1635 and 1447! The latter one respectively has Antwerp positioned as the world's diamond capital (eur 20 billion annually). Food's good, it's safe, it's clean, people are nice, there's lots to see and do and Belgians were responsible for the Big Bang Theory, the saxophone, the invention of plastic, the design of the euro coins, the Smurfs and eventually hosts of the battlefield where Napoleon met his demise. Just go and see for yourself.
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The Belgic Red Cross is full of good people and strong initiatives! :)
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The team in Flandern introduced me to their Centre for Evidence-Based Practice (CEBaP), their state of the art blood bank and their impressive library service for vulnerable citizens. It's rather mindblowing!
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Kimberly introduces me to CEBaP is looking for evidence to support standardized practices. It turns out a few things we run around thinking is right really isn't based in any evidence. This way a new best practice is quickly becoming the official guideline across the entire humanitarian field.
The Red Cross has been impressive in both France and Belgium. And that's good to see. I'm thinking about doing a short video where I talk a little about it for this upcoming RC Sunday on FB. Maersk has been kind and professional so that is completely unchanged since my first meeting with them in Madagascar back in 2016.
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The Maersk, Safmarine and Seago teams in Antwerp were quiet at first but quickly fired up!! Great people who work hard! :)
Maersk was kind enough to create this article about the Saga completing every country in Africa:
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I made it to Antwerp just in time for the mussel season.
Freelance journalist and friend, Florian, finally got his story about our meeting in Tunisia in the news. However this one is only for those who hold Danish among their superpowers:
The Saga is on schedule and that matters to me. However I haven't had enough time to breathe lately. These days I'm on 2 nights/country and soon the schedule will adjust to 3 nights/country which I look forward to. Especially since I'm not just trying to cross them as fast as possible.
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Samira and Denis made sure I didn't leave Belgium without tasting the beer. The beer is good! :)
That we keep on keeping on is still relevant and true. A stranger continues to be a friend you've never met before and people are just people. The main difference these days lies within my fatigue. However much like in a marathon my mind is stronger than my body and I still have my eyes on the ball. Perhaps I also feel slightly uneasy because Denmark is closer now than what it has been for years...

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - still Danish
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga 
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