"The European Tour" has begun and a surprise party! (Portugal/Spain)
Since October 10th 2013: 131 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
It's good to be back in Europe, but...
Let's do this in chronological order. In last weeks blog I was with my fiancée and we had been to Alhambra near Granada (in Spain). We then headed to Madrid because she would be flying home from there. My fiancée had arranged for our accommodation somewhere in downtown Madrid. It's a great city by the way! She originally had a restaurant booking for us at a fancy place. So fancy that I couldn't wear my own clothes and needed shoes, shirt and pants. We abandoned that reservation - because frankly I wasn't too keen on it...
She told me she had another idea but it would be a surprise?! Okay then, let's go with that. The night we reached Madrid I was feeling rather average. I had some nausea and a beginning headache so I wasn't up for much. However my fiancée insisted that we headed out for the surprise and I manned up, swallowed a few painkillers and had a long warm shower. Then we headed out. I wasn't in control. I hadn't been in control since we reached Madrid. She was in control. She knew where our accommodation was, she knew where the surprise was and what it was...I was just zombie'ing around. We walked for about 20 minutes before we reached the Plaza de España and walked across it. Towards the center there was a huge monument which is known as the 'Monumento a Cervantes' and for whatever reason my fiancée insisted that we would head towards the statue which I found a little odd? She had been rushing me as we clearly had an appointment which we were late for. I may not have been in control but I could certainly see that the path leading left of the monument was much more efficient than crossing in front of the monument which even had some construction work at its base and the path near the monument might be cut off for passage! This was not optimal but I followed her anyway and as I turned around a big granite block MY SISTER SUDDENLY APPEARED!! SURPRISE!!! My mother was standing behind her: SURPRISE!!! My fiancée's sister, Pil, was there, too...and two of my mates from back home, Lars and Jesper, Jesper's girlfriend Marianne was there, too, and so was my fiancées longtime friend Käthe!! THAT WAS CERTAINLY A SURPRISE!!
The greatest gift of all! :)
Also it was a weird combination of people? Apart from my sister, who visited a year ago when I was in Tanzania, I hadn't seen any of these people since 2013! And I had never seen this particular constellation of friends and family together before?! Weird and wonderful all at once :) We headed out for tapas together as it slowly dawned on me that I wasn't dreaming. Then we had a fair amount of alcohol because we were all Vikings from the North! Later on we had more drinks and then that night ended. Crazy??
My mom and my youngest sister :)
The next morning I met up with Lars as my fiancée headed out with the girls. My 69 year old mother did a solo speed tour of Madrid. Jesper and Marianne were on their own and had a more relaxing approach to enjoying Madrid in the 46 degrees Celsius heat (114.8 Fahrenheit)! In the evening we met up again and had more tapas and alcohol. Because we were still all Vikings from the North!
My friend for 20 years: Lars! :)
The next day Pil, Käthe and my sister left early so I saw them off the night before. The rest of us met for lunch and a last conversation in Danish. I tell you; I could see the streets back home, I could feel the red brick walls, I could smell the freshly cut grass and taste the salt of the Danish waves crashing in on the green flat wonder which is Denmark. That's The Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe! After lunch we called a taxi and Lars, Jesper, Marianne and my beautiful fiancée left for the airport. I was left alone once again while the busy city life of Madrid continued uninterrupted.
It was behind this monument the surprise party began!
That night I boarded a bus to Lisbon in Portugal and set out to start "The European Tour", where we will revisit 8 European countries. That was by the way a horrible bus ride with no legroom for a real man and due to that you could hardly lean the seat back. I hardly slept that night and the guy beside me was loud and moved around a lot. However I must stress that there were no checkpoints, there was no passport control and absolutely no visa requirements! I didn't even notice when we crossed the border that night. Back in beautiful Europe! My sweet lady Europe! :)
Attention to detail! Thank you very much :)
We rolled into Lisbon around 05:00am. Pretty tired but that's really not news during the Saga. I found wifi and had a look at my messages: no invites to stay with anyone. I then booked a dorm room bed for two night at a $14/night hostel. I left my bag there and proceeded straight to the Danish embassy as I have filled up yet another passport. They were friendly but asked me to return the following day. We agreed I would mail them the letter which explains why I need an extra passport.
The Portuguese Red Cross HQ is inside an elegant 18th century palace (since 1924).
Later on I had a breakfast sandwich and a cold chocolate milk in a beautiful park. Lisbon is known as the "city of the 7 hills" and that's no joke. The weather was much cooler but I got a good workout from walking around town. Basically I could have used the tram or the metro, however I was trying to save money. After my sandwich I found my way to the Portuguese Red Cross just to say hello and see if they were ready for me. They are a lovely bunch of people and their activities cover broad and deep within the humanitarian field. The Portuguese Red Cross has one of this planets most elegant buildings. It was donated to the Red Cross long ago and will take your breath away. We agreed to meet up again 2 days later. That kind of concluded that day.
New meets old in Lisbon.
I don't know if I have changed or if Lisbon has changed? Probably both. I was quite taken by the city and its magical charm. What an incredible city? The more I saw the more taken I was. Perhaps it's the time of the year? When I visited Portugal in October 2013 it originally became country no 13. I had a look at my short entry from the less developed blog back then. It was by no means a great reference of the city nor country. Back then I was asked a thousand times if I wanted any drugs. There was none of that this time. Maybe I have begun to look like someone who can't afford them? ;) Also I spotted many cranes and construction work this time. No, I wasn't the only one who had changed since 2013. Lisbon had changed too and had become more dynamic.
The wonderful Maersk Team of Lisbon :)
The following day I headed out to Maersk's Portuguese headquarters. I was asked to do two talks which each ran about an hour. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy these Maersk visits. There is a great atmosphere almost every time and a real authentic team spirit. If you've been following the media lately then you might already know that Maersk was amongst the companies that suffered a cyber attack. That's no joke as it can freeze and paralyze a company in seconds. A great strength at Maersk is that they are the largest player on the global market when it comes to containerized cargo. I believe that Maersk alone covers 25% of the world trade! Cyber attacks are probably going to be more common in the future. What will suffer next? Police, military, healthcare? I can hardly remember a single phone number today. Not since I got my first mobile phone. It makes you think. Maersk is more than capable to get back on top and personally I believe that an "exercise" as this one builds the team even stronger: "remember that time we got attacked?" That's how it will be some day. Especially after having worked long nights together, weekends and innovating new ways of delivering service to clients without having a tool as simple as an address book. That's the stuff that builds character.
My first fidget spinner :)
In the afternoon I met up with Diogo. Diogo is a great ambassador for Portuguese hospitality. He's been following the Saga since the Caribbean and knows all about the "African adventures". He picked me up and showed me all sorts of interesting places I would never have seen without him. Then we ended up in a park full of students with 3 beers each. They quickly disappeared and that called for a fat 200g hamburger at a fancy cafe. Diogo then dropped me off at my hostel and I was well done. Those Maersk talks really drain me for energy. I'm not sure that I always succeed but at least I try to be funny, interesting and inspirational. I usually wing my talks although they contain a certain amount of structure.
I went to bed that night knowing that the Danish police had denied me my new passport for some strange reason which no one really understood? The Danish embassy was great and did all the could to help. Even the Danish Red Cross assisted which provided some hope that in not completely forgotten. Yeah, I sometimes write these small provocations towards the Danish Red Cross but in reality they do a phenomenal job on the humanitarian front. Denmark is a small country and taken that into consideration the Danish Red Cross really has a powerful impact. I simply just never hear from them.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos (monument of the discoveries).
I woke up the following day hoping to generate some interest with the press in Portugal. After all Portugal is the country which gave the world such adventurers as Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Bartholomew Diaz and Álavares Cabral. You should at least know one of them and hopefully two? I was keeping NS of laughed at by a journalist in Portugal when I said I was a "modern day adventurer". Needless to say there was no media attention in Portugal and the revisit of 8 European countries was on that front off to a bad start. The Portuguese Red Cross was however lovely although really busy. My exit from Africa and reentry to Europe clashes with the industrial holidays and the offices are not fully manned. Throw in the launch of a new webpage and some ravaging forest fires and then my arrival becomes quite untimely. They were great though and we had a good talk before I continued back to the Danish Embassy. The Danish Embassy was really nice about the mystery denial of my new passport by the Danish police. The denial comically arrived along with a well written article in Danish national news about the completion of Africa:
These wonderful (and hardworking) women made my visit to the Portuguese Red Cross special.
I mean, if the man who visits every country in the world can't have a new passport... then who can? It's never really straight forward with the Saga. There's always something stealing my time. However as I already mentioned, the Danish embassy in Portugal was really understanding about it all and processed all my paperwork anyway so I wouldn't have to do it anywhere else. Then we waited for the Danish police to confirm that everything was okay so I could proceed with the payment of €128.
I'm really trying to stay humble with the African achievement. Meanwhile I strongly believe it is a big thing. We didn't "just complete" a visit to every African nation. We did it without flying at any point. We did it without having me return home at at any point. Well heck...let's make it more interesting: it was done without bribing anyone at any point and it was even done without having any travel insurance. Oh yeah, that's right: I visited 131 countries without flying (including all of Africa) without having any travel insurance. Meanwhile the Saga went slightly viral (as clickbait earlier on) because someone found out I had been traveling on containerships during this project. Sometimes I feel like giving up on the media? I'm quite confident that I am the first person in known history to have done it and meanwhile Guinness World Records is arrogantly stating that it isn't interesting because it can be done faster with an airplane? Oh well...
The Belém Tower was constructed between 1515-1519.
I have a new Interrail pass which is valid for a month. It's out of my own pocket even though I had high hopes to have it sponsored by Interrail. On their webpage they wrote: "We are happy to consider requests from journalists and travel bloggers who want to experience rail travel with a complimentary pass, and who will share those experiences with their audience. We prefer to sponsor journalists who have a passion for travel and write stories about their travel experiences that are relevant for our target audience." I thought that would be a perfect match with the Saga? But I never heard from them. Nevermind. I still believe the Interrail pass is the best and most economical option for getting around a lot of Europe. The timing is a little worse than last though: July and August is high season for backpackers and there is a lot of competition for seats along with dorm room beds. I bet completion will be a lot less as soon as we reach the Middle East ;)
Oriente trainstation, Lisbon.
It was a comfortable train ride from Lisbon's beautiful train terminal to Madrid's beautiful train terminal. These countries know something about architecture and environment.
Atocha trainstation, Madrid.
The train was a little late so Maersk sent a driver to fetch me from the train station and bring me straight to their office a bit outside of Madrid. The Madrid office is huge and perhaps the largest I have visited so far? I did two talks which each lasted about an hour and then we had lunch. I really enjoy the cooperation with Maersk as they make it all so seamless and professional. Furthermore I really feel the appreciation before, during and after a visit.
From Maersk I headed straight out to the train station again along with Tatiana from Maersk. The aim was to secure a reservation for my seat on the train to Paris. Usually reservations are not required for Interrail pass holders. The exception is however traveling through Portugal, Spain and France. The queue to get the confirmation took TWO HOURS to get through!! Tatiana kept me company for more than and hour but eventually had to leave. We did try to do it online first but apart from being far more expensive we couldn't do the French side of the booking without waiting 7 days for the confirmation to arrive by post? Yes I know...it doesn't seem right but we tried several times and finally quit. Oh well, I got the confirmation done and raced off to check into my $14 hostel in Madrid. 14 dollars will buy you a bed in a 12 person dorm room, a wifi connection and a simple breakfast. It also comes with a lot of door slamming and some hard core snoring. I'm getting to old for this s...
Dinner with Yudith and her parents :)
As soon as I had dropped by luggage off I was out the door again and back in Madrid's superb metro system. This time heading out to have dinner with Yudith (also Maersk) and her lovely parents. Yudith was crazy enough to marry a Danish man although she is from Venezuela. Her husband wasn't home though so there was an extra seat at the table for me. While I feel quite unfortunate about the development of some countries prior to my visiting them, I find that my timing was good for Venezuela. My blog about visiting Venezuela back in 2014 might be a bit of a "Disney story" but it was like that for me at the time. I had a chance to dive into the genuine hospitality of the people which was still so prevailing back then. People are just people and life goes on. However visiting Venezuela today sounds like something completely different. It's trying times for them and quite selfishly I'm happy that it's not ahead of me. We talked about what's going on in Venezuela while enjoying some arepas and Danish Lurpak butter. That's the good stuff.
While Venezuelas population is being severely tested I personally believe it's important to ton loose touch about reality. People are still falling in love, getting married, listening to music and living life. Because life goes on even while it's hard. People remain people and that's why we should help when we get the chance. After all they are not much different than us and they once treated me with a lot of love.
That night ended quite late and I didn't get much sleep before my morning appointment with the Spanish Red Cross. Now believe me when I say that I've seen a lot of Red Cross! And although the Red Cross Red Crescent has the same fundamental background all around the world it's easy to observe differences across various countries. The Spanish Red Cross are among my favorites if I get to have favorites at all? While the Red Cross might be a background accessory in some countries I find that the Red Cross is a fundamental building block of Spanish society. I couldn't imagine Spain with the Red Cross in it.
Ferran Cobertera (red/white shirt) was my personal guide all day. An amazing spirit exists within the Spanish Red Cross!
It was a full day with the Spanish Red Cross but it was really inspirational to see how professionally and how efficiently they operate. I couldn't help think that if the Red Cross all around the world would be like it is in Spain then the would might just run out of problems some day. At the very least I would have it a lot easier within the Saga.
Not just one...but a bag of Spanish Red Cross pins!! I guess they liked me :)
That's it for this one. Well nearly...because it's Friday and I'm still far from getting the blog online. I fear that my schedule is either to tight or that I'm trying to do to much these days. An email came through stating that the Danish police approved the new passport. So that's one less thing ;)
Tonight I'm meeting up with a Danish member of the Danish Travelers Club. We've never met each other before but he just landed in Madrid and I can't say no to that? So this blog will get online sometime tonight while these teenage backpackers are out dancing and being innocent on a Friday night in Europe's 3rd largest city.
Right...by the time you read this I might be in Paris, on my way or beyond :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - moving fast
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga