Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Comin' on Home

The Dubai airport is half shopping mall, half hotel, and half airport.

Thanks to the miracle of aviation, I'll be getting in to Seattle in
about 26 hours. That includes a seven hour layover in London (anyone
interested in a morning pint?). I've never been one to sleep on
planes, but this will have to be an exception. At least it's not

I'm not sure how I feel about my trip coming to an end. On one hand,
I won't have the same feeling of personal freedom and self-reliance,
or the excitement of seeing new places and cultures on a daily basis.
On the other hand, I can buy Reces' Peanut Butter Cups whenever I want.

So it's absolutely time to come home for a while.

Once I get home, I'll make some longer posts and draw some conclusions
and post pictures and all that. After I sleep for two days straight,
of course. I have tons to write about Dubai (about my final day in
particular), so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

National Day

I took the bus to Abu Dhabi today (only 15 dirhams for a slightly
unconfortable 2-hour drive). My plan was to get in at noon and spend
some time at the beach-- after Dubai traffic/bus overhead, I didn't
end up leaving until noon.

But it all worker out fine. I got in with enough time to walk around
the city and eat some delicious curry. For low-end restaurants, Abu
Dhabi is about half the price of Dubai. An entree, naan, and a lassi
came to around five dollars.

It's National Day in the UAE, which is a sort of fourth-of-july-on-
crack style celebration in all seven emirates. Everyone has the day
off (the weekend here is typically Friday-Saturday), and there are
various state sponsored festivites and marriment across the land.

It's a lot like the fourth actually, with the same kind of crazy flag-
waving and music-blasting that is probably confusing to foreigners.
Except instead of sharing the American obsession with fireworks, the
Emiratis decorate their cars in UAE colors and cruise back and forth
revving their engines and honking their horns. There's so much
revving at times that people's cars either backfire or erupt in a
cloud of black smoke. I saw a guy in an old Golf throw a rod while
barely moving. His hood was exploded out as if an angry bear were
trying to escape from the inside of his engine compartment.

So aside from that puzzling display of national pride, I'm a big fan.
More reasonable people take the day just to sit around, barbeque, and
smoke shisha in the park.

Whoa, I just saw someone wearing a burqa made out of a UAE flag.
That's a first (for me, anyway).

Also, it's pretty cool when two (or more) cars join forces and play a
song with their differently tuned horns. I've been hearing it off and
on all day, and I think I may have managed to grab a recording of it.

It's about 7:30 now, and I'm drinking coffee in the Marina Mall. I
walked all the way from the Al Wadi mall, mostly because the girl at
the Indian restaurant said it couldn't be done. Now I have to figure
out whether I'm going to try to stay in the Abu Dhabi hostel or take a
late bus back to Dubai.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Internet blogosphere update


I'm writing this from the Rugby Sevens, a rugby tournament that Dubai
hosts every year. It's seven-man rugby, so it's not quite as
prestigious as the more traditional 15-man version (think Arena
Football versus NFL). It still draws a huge crowd, though-- mostly
expatriates who come to cheer for their home team. Scotland is very
well represented.

I've left the Hillards' house after my extended stay (thank you both
so much!). Now I'm staying with Jan in his apartment near Festival
City. So far, there haven't been any festivals. Unless you call
another massive, brand-new shopping center a "festival", in which case
there's one. I spent the day there yesterday.

I finally got my hands on a real Dubai bus map-- evidently a rarity
since I had to ask about five different offices before I found one.
It's two montha out of date, but it seems accurate enough. Either
way, it should ease my problems with limited mobility like an electric

I've spent the majority of my free time just walking around the older
parts of the city. I've been amazed by how segregated it is.
Obviously, it's along economic lines, but since there are no
westerners in the lower classes, I can walk around some of these
neighboorhoods and not see another white guy. And now that I'm at this
rugby game, I can _only_ see white guys.

Since I've been here, I've seen exactly one white person on the bus
besides me, and I think he may have been an official for RTA.

Underlying it all, though, is that with a few exceptions everyone is
making more money than they're used to making. There's very little
structural violence (anthro alert) because the structure is relatively
generous versus the global market.

Anyway, I figure I have 5 more nights in Dubai before I leave for
Seattle. Any suggestions of what to do?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gold Souk

I adventured down to the Gold Souk area today.  It's the older part of town where every other store is selling gold and silver jewelry.   It's neat to see some real stores, though, especially ones that could have been there for more than 5 years.

Right now I'm at an Internet Cafe that's a subsidiary of the restaurant I ate at called GOLDEN BURGER.  It's not the best quality, but for 80 cents an hour, who can complain?  On that note, the space bar is not workingverywellso I'mgoingtohave to finish thisuplater.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


That was a very nice Thanksgiving.  If not a little different than most years.

I woke up on the late side (as usual), and had breakfast outside with Mike and Elaine.  We talked about the Thanksgiving party they'd planned (catered and with hired help-- whew), how many guests were going to show (25), and how late people normally stay (late).  Now that I had finally rested up, I decided to take a little adventure down to the Mall of the Emirates before the party started.  From here I wrote a short blog post about indoor skiing.  No, I haven't been yet.

Getting back proved to be challenging.  The buses are not quite as reliable as they claim to be, and with the added bonus of bumper-to-bumper traffic and 45+ asian workers trying to get on the same bus at every stop, it makes it almost impossible to catch a bus during rush hour.  Like I'm sure most tourists do, I ended up buying my way out of it.  After waiting for about two hours, I got a taxi home (which was quite reasonable in US terms...6 dollars or so), which put me back at around 7:00pm.  A bit late to the party, but nobody seemed to mind.

The guests were an eclectic mix of Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and a few Middle Easterners.  It actually reminded me of being back in a hostel, except obviously that everyone spoke English and were all a bit older.  It was interesting to see the sorts of careers people had in Dubai-- Most of the people there were friends of the Hillards through Emirates, so there were a lot of engineers and pilots.  Some were entrepreneurs, some worked in H.R., one was a professional horse breeder.  It seemed like everyone had been there for at least three years.  One person had lived in Dubai for 14 years--  A "permanent expatriate".  Interestingly, it didn't seem like anyone really was ready to call it home.  Most of the people I talked to planned to stay for another year or two before moving somewhere else.  Even the people that had been in Dubai for a long time agreed.

Mike and Elaine put on a great party.  Like any proper Thanksgiving, there was too much food and drink per the number of guests.  We shared some good conversations and some good jokes (remind me to tell you the one about the rabbit on drugs), made a few new friends, and eventually got too tired to keep eating.  The last person left at about 1:30, which I consider a success.


I haven't written much recently due to a combination of no Internet/computer/battery life/time, but I promise to catch up on my missed entries.

Right now I'm sitting in one of the restaurants overlooking Ski Dubai. There are people sliding down the hill on long, flat appendages attached to their feet. There are actually quite a few good skiers out there, considering it's in the desert.

Ski Dubai is just part of the massive shopping mall that is Mall of the Emirates. It's about four times the size of Bellevue Square by the looks of things.

Getting here via public transportation is interesting. A bus drops you on the opposite side of a 6-lane freeway, which doesn't have an overpass for miles. So, apparently you have to either jaywalk or take a taxi to the other side. I don't really recommend jaywalking across 6 lanes of Dubai traffic, but it can be done.

I've never seen a city that's less friendly to pedestrians than Dubai.

Istanbul: The Funicular

I came across a type of transportation I'd never seen before in Istanbul called a funicular.  The concept is simple:  It's basically an elevator with a counterweight, except that instead of an elevator with a counterweight it's two equally sized cars on rails going up/down a steep hill.  The cars are connected by a single cable, and at the top of the hill there's a very large wheel that hoists them back and forth.  It's not used in many places, since you can only have two cars (one up, one down) and that usually only means two stops.  Moreover, it's only efficient on very steep hills, so they don't show up in many large cities.

That being said, the funicular in Istanbul was by far the best part of their public transit system.  It cost about $1.30 to ride it one stop, and it was worth every penny.

Comic Signs

You know that whimsical, curvy, sans-serif font that's just perfect for captioning photos of your cats? The one that distinguishes between team-building exercises and items of import? I'm sure you've seen it-- The font called Comic Sans. Like influenza, Comic Sans is ubiquitously common and despised. Some have even gone as far as to call for its complete banishment from planet Earth.

Fortunately, in North America, Comic Sans' popularity has faded along with Windows 95. Of course, the high standard of living that we enjoy in the US and Canada does not exist everywhere on earth. For example, I'd estimate that Dubai is about 10 years behind in Roman font technology.

On that note, please enjoy these shining examples of Comic Sans usage and hilarious English:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Istanbul: Scams

It's no secret that Istanbul is full of scam artists, especially in
the old town/museum districts. It's a city of 16 million people with
huge wage discrepancies and an endless supply of naive tourists-- and
while the police do their best to keep things orderly, there just
aren't enough of them to babysit every visitor. So while I loved
seeing Istanbul, it's not a good place to just sit around and relax.
It's very difficult to blend in with the locals, so you're constantly
a walking target.

Mostly, Turkish vendors will be unusually forceful in trying to sell
you their goods. They realize that tourists are easily intimidated
into spending money, and are polite enough to easily keep on the line.
If you seem particularly naive, you'll be hassled even more. The
best way to avoid this is as follows:

-If you want to just look at something, don't stop. If you stop, the
storekeeper will come out and hassle you.
-Don't point at anything. If you point, the storekeeper will come out
and hassle you.
-If someone shouts at you, don't acknowledge them.
-If someone asks you a question, don't answer them.
-If someone grabs your arm, shake them off and keep walking.
-If something doesn't add up, just keep walking.
-Don't be afraid of hurting anyone's feelings.

I was physically pulled into booths several times before I realized
how obvious of a target I was, with my backpack, sunglasses, stopping
and looking at everything. Once I wizened up a little bit, going to
the markets was much more pleasant.

But the vendors are only part of the problem. The most famous and
well-orchestrated scams have to do with price disputes. For example,
a girl (or sometimes a couple) will take up a conversation with you,
pretending to be tourists. They'll go to great lengths to show you
that they're "authentic", including taking you out to dinner or buying
you a drink somewhere. At some point, they'll suggest that you go to
this cool local club they found, which will be a ways out of the main
drag (away from the police), and unusually empty inside. You'll buy
one or two drinks, and the bill will come back with something like a
two thousand dollar sum. When you complain, they'll force you to the
nearest ATM to withdraw as much money as you can so you can pay their

Why not just straight up kidnap you? Because this way, it can go down
on paper as being a pricing dispute, which I guess is a lot easier to
defend than a kidnapping.

Some people from my hostel were involved in a similar scam, but they
were able to recognize what was going on before it was too late, so
they escaped on foot back to a more crowded area.

I was fortunate enough not to end up in the middle of any scams. The
nearest I came was when a food vendor offered to give me my sandwich
for free if I came back and bought another one tomorrow. It seems
reasonable enough, since the sandwich was only like 50 cents anyway--
but when it's the only place open in a 100 yard radius, you have to
wonder. I didn't accept (I was leaving the next day anyway), but what
I assume would have happened would be that I'd take the free sandwich,
and as soon as I walked around the corner a "police officer" would
have demanded that I pay a fine of some arbitrary amount because I
stole from the restaurant.

It's really not as bad as I'm making it out to be. The vast majority
of tourists don't end up getting scammed. Nevertheless, you will
enjoy Istanbul a lot more if you can avoid these situations.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I just noticed that I never wrote about Bucharest.

Bucharest is a big, gross, soviet-looking city with a lot of stray dogs. There's something charming about it, though. Maybe it's the fact that they don't seem to have any regulations for anything. Or that they sell 2.5 liter bottles of beer at the grocery store for $1.50.

All the Romanians I met were really funny and sarcastic. You'd expect a city made of grey and brown to be full of sad, quiet people, but that's not the case at all.

The hostel I was at was full of Americans. The two brothers from Utah I met on the train decided to stay there for a night as well. They actually are brothers-- 25 and 28-- who decided to travel together for two weeks because they have a friend that works for Delta. There were also a group of about 8 guys from Missouri that included a Mississipi transplant who had his house destroyed during Katrina, and one of Billy Idol's road managers.

I didn't end up seeing much of the city, because the one sunny day I ended up getting horribly lost and climbing on a random tram line (the 44) that took me into who-knows-where before I gave up and took it all the way back to the city center.


One interesting thing about the night train to Istanbul is that it gets to Turkish customs at about 4:00am. Even if you're capable of getting a good night's sleep, it's impossible-- by law. You have to get off the train, wait outside in the cold, spend 15 euro for a tourist visa, then wait in line before they stamp your visa.

On the plus side, I have some really cool stamps now.

I got into the main station at around 10:00, parted ways with my travel partners, and struck out to find the hostel. Sultanahmet, the old part of town, is relatively small, so the hostel would be been about 20 minutes by foot. I got a little bit sidetracked, though. I ended up going through the Grand Bazaar, seeing some cool mosques, and going through some weird old neighborhoods.

I think Istanbul has an unfairly bad reputation for being dirty. From what I've seen so far, the city's totally immaculate.

Night train part 5

I've experienced a strong regression towards the mean with the last two night trains. After tonight, my overall experience might actually be _above_ average.

Since I was late to the station, I didn't have enough time to stop at the grocery store (travel essentials #4: always carry food and water with you) and ended up getting on the train with nothing to eat. There's no restaurant on the train itself-- it's just a bunch of sleeper cars and an engine-- so buying food on the train isn't an option. Combined with skipping breakfast, it could have very easily turned into an unintentional hunger strike.

Fortunately, my roommates on the train (two Romanian-speaking French girls, a Bulgarian woman, and an actual Romanian woman) had planned ahead much more effectively and ended up making me an awesome sandwich, giving me water, and translating all of the conductor's
announcements. All this happened as if it were totally normal. They were just happy they could help. Meanwhile, I was so astonished that a random group of strangers would go out of their way to help me (without even having to ask) that I was trying to think of ways to repay them. They didn't listen, though.

I've accepted a fair bit of charity in the last few weeks. It's never a good feeling to be in some stranger's debt, but it's very cool to know that even if you find yourself in a bad situation in another country, there are people that will help you unconditionally.

Anyhoo, the train I'm on reminds me of a large, wheeled tin can. From the top bunk, I can actually hear the rain against the roof. Also, I'm not completely sure about this, but I think the WC just empties directly onto the tracks below.

The good news is, there's only about a dozen people on the whole train. I have a room to myself that I've taken over. The door even locks from the inside. I'm leaving it unlocked though because I don't want a confrontation with the border patrol.

I'm starting to see things written in Cyrillic, which means I must be in Bulgaria. I'll write more later!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blogger in Training

I'm writing this from my comfy, 5-foot-long couchette on the 371 Ister.  It's about 7:30 AM Romanian time.  I slept pretty well considering what I was up against--  Well enough anyway to reverse my position on night trains for the time being.

I shared a room with five Romanian teachers who were coming back from a  conference in Budapest.  So I can cross that off my list.  

Fortunately for me, one of them was an English teacher, who despite never living in the US or the UK spoke perfectly with a slight trace of a british accent.  I asked her about Romanian (it's a romance language, very closely related to Italian), and it turned out that her daughter had worked in Dubai for about three years, so we talked about that.  Anyway, it was really nice to finally get to talk to a local in depth about something.  She was probably a little too old for me (60?), but...

There are a couple of American bros (literally brothers) who have friends in the airlines so they're taking a two-week backpacking trip through Hungary and Romania.  They work in a resort town in Utah as airport shuttle drivers, I think.  They're a little older than me, but very similar in their motivations for getting travelling.

Their room only has one other person in it, but I actually got the better end of the deal because that one person happens to be a Romanian guy that can't stop talking about religion.  I actually had to bail out of that room after about thirty minutes, even though the brothers seemed cool.

Anyway, It's been a much better experience than my previous three train rides.  

The Romanian countryside is lurching past at 30 miles per hour or so.  We're starting to come out of the mountains now, so the snow is starting to give way to that wonderful eastern Europe brown.  It looks a little like Borat's village, but raining.

If you catch my [genetic] drift

One thing I noticed about Hungary: Cleft chins are very popular
here. Definitely in style.

With how many humans there are in the world these days, It's weird to
think of a time where little unadaptive traits like that could
randomly show up. Why wasn't it something else? Like cleft lips?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Last day in Budapest!

I went to the train station today at around noon and bought a ticket
for Bucharest. It's another long train ride tonight, but at least
this time I'm confident I know what I'm doing. I'm looking forward to
getting into Bucharest. It's supposed to still have a lot of Soviet
influence. Also, I've got a nice hostel booked. And I'm just that
much closer to Dubai.

My Australian friends, Hugh and Lucy, left for Vienna, so I'll have to
find some other englIsh-speakers to harass. Maybe I'll find some on
the train! Who knows.

After they left, I went around the city and took pictures of
buildings. As far as buildings go, Budapest has some pretty amazing
ones. The parlament buildings make the ones in London look silly by

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Amerilounge (tm)

For some reason, everyone either went to sleep or left the hostel.
It's about 9:30 PM, and Monday Night Football is on television for
some reason. I'm watching the Seahawks steamroll the 49ers. It's
dubbed in Hungarian, but that doesn't matter-- the game speaks the
international language of "zero first downs in the first half".

Too bad the other Seattlites are out, they might like to see this.


I took a walk up "Castle Hill" today. It's either taller than it
looks, or I am not in very good shape. Getting to the top was worth
the effort, though-- There's lots of ridiculous statues wrestling
dragons and showing off their new crosses to the whole city. The very
tippy-top has a castle on it. Except, it's a fake castle that's never
had any royalty living in it. Presumably it was used for defensive
purposes but I think they might have just made that up so it wouldn't
seem so fake.

I think I managed to be outside in the only two cloudy hours of the
whole day. It also managed to snow on my a little bit.

As for now, I'm back in the hostel getting warm and contemplating a nap.

Tired in Hungary: Part 2: A Photojournal

Getting from the train station to the hostel was another unwelcome
adventure. This time, I think, it is probably best explained through

It took me over three hours to find the entrance to the hostel even
though I'd found the cross streets in less than ten minutes. It
didn't help that the written directions ended at "Walk five minutes
towards the river," and didn't include a photo of the building, or
that the borderline microscopic sign they had posted was only visible
from three feet away. Once inside the main courtyard, there's another
small sign (not visible in the dark) that points you to the "second"
floor, which apparently means the "fourth" floor, up a dark staircase.

I'm not bitter, I swear.

Tired in Hungary: Part 1

Travel essentials #3:  When something looks too cheap to be true, it is*.
*Unless you're talking about kebabs.
The 14 dollar ticket I bought wasn't actually a ticket at all, but a reservation for a couchette.  I realized this at the last possible second when my Yugoslavian train-friend pointed it out after a long discussion about President Bush and Michael Moore.  I'm glad I got the political discourse in, but I'm not sure it was worth the 14 dollars I spent for the useless reservation and the stress of what followed.
I packed up all my things and jumped off the train a few seconds before the doors closed, back into another snowy Prague midnight with no real ideas for what to do next.  I thought about going back to the information desk to complain about being sold a reservation with no ticket, but I wasn't too keen on looking any stupider.  Fortunately, it's still possible to buy tickets at the counter as long as there are trains leaving, and the night train to Bratislava had been delayed an hour.  I bought a ticket (a more reasonable 50 dollars) that would eventually connect me to Budapest.
This time, however, I didn't get a reservation for a couchette, even though I asked for one.  I guess I'm still not sure how the system works.  Certainly none of the "english-speaking" customer service employees could explain how.  Each time I'd ask, I'd receive a grammarless volley of english words and a smug smile as if to tell me, "Hell yeah, I just answered your question so perfectly that I won't even attempt to clarify." 
That's a danger of Central Europe.  While there are lots of English speakers, their confidence belies their ability. 
I made friends with a couple of Brazilian Londoners who were in a similar situation.  These guys were really, really awesome.  They were studying in London to improve their English (which was already very good) and had decided to spend a few weeks to check out Central Europe.  Even though we were all stuck in the cold waiting for trails, they were still somehow having a good time.  Maybe it was because it was the first time they'd seen snow, but it helped my mood out a lot.
Anyway, they only rode the train part of the way (they were going to Vienna), but I got to enjoy the full eight hours to Bratislava.  The connecting train was also delayed about two and a half hours.  But hey, I made it.
So to conclude, I would compare yesterday's train ride to the Patriots/Colts game this year.  No matter what-- even if it lasted 14 hours and was painfully boring-- it was going to have a lasting impact on the rest of the season.  For Peyton Manning, this means throwing six interceptions.  For me, I think it means Dubai is going to be my final stop. 
There are some logistical reasons behind this, too, including the fact that I don't have the right immunizations for Southeast Asia, but it mostly comes down to a newfound joy in not having to ride trains or buses every few days.  So, I'm going to have to save that leg of travel for next time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Czeching out

My train for Budapest leaves at 11:00 tonight.  I was smart enough to reserve a couchette this time.  It came to 300 KC, which is around 14 dollars.  Very nice!
We had a good time last night sitting around a square table and trading travel stories.  There's the two Australians who I'm meeting tomorrow in Budapest, some canadians, and an American expatriot.  Also Lou, an English dude, who appears to be some sort of bizarro me.  He's into cars from the 60's and 70's, Elliott Smith, dislikes clubs, and is vegetarian.  Ok, that last part isn't completely similar but you get the idea.  Actually, I'm supposed to be meeting him and his girlfriend Louise for dinner, but I don't know where either of them are. That's fine, though, I just bought some more lentils.  Oh, another english guy named Adam (from Manchester) is a guitarist trying to make it big in an acoustic rock group. 
Today I walked around the city for about 6 hours in the rain.  It was worth it, though, because I ended up seeing some really cool things.  Prague is the first European city I've been to so far that isn't totally flat-- And hiking up some of the surrounding hills makes for awesome views of the city.  I saw most of the tourist things before it got dark and I decided to call it quits and ride the metro (ticketless) back to the hostel, where I'm at now.
Anyway, I'll post again once again to Budapest.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I'm great at hearing accents

To the English girls: "So, you're Australian?"
To the Argentinian guy who looks just like Justin Timberlake: "So, you're French?"
If that's not embarassing, I don't know what is.
I met up with some more Australians tonight who happen to be going to Budapest at the same time I am.  One of them's a semi-pro cricket player (I think?), the other is a semi-pro waitress.  Being the social predator that I am, I booked two nights at the same hostel they're at. 
One of my roommates is a Tufts graduate who grew up in Boston.
That's all!


I see why people love this city.
I went on a short adventure today to try to find a cheap microphone to use with Skype.  Unfortunately, I didn't come across any electronics stores, but I happened upon a cheap Supermarket called Norma.  Norma is the perfect name for this place, in that it's not quite "Normal".
The weirdest part was just the pace of the store.  Everyone seemed to be in slow motion.  I supposed I'm used to the frantic style of grocery shopping that happens at home, but really, I think the people I saw must all still studying the labels on soup cans.  Curiously, most of the people there were only buying one or two items, but they were using jumbo-sized shopping carts to wheel them around in.  Also inexplicable was that I didn't see anyone in the store under 50, except for the employees. 
I ended up buying 5 bottles of Czech beer and enough good food (including an avocado and some nice cheese) to last me for the next few days, which cost me around six dollars.
That's not to say that everything here is ridiculously cheap-- If you buy the brands you're familiar with, you end up spending about the same as you would in the US of A (I think Coca Cola is a good metric- A two liter bottle costs about a dollar and half, roughly the same as the states).  It's just that the cheap alternatives are very cheap.
As I was walking back to the hostel, I saw that there was a small cliff on the other side of the river, overlooking the northern part of the city.  I put my food in the fridge and decided to trek up it.  I had to illegally cross a trains-only bridge on foot, but nobody said anything so I assume that sort of thing is common.  Also, there was no path up to the top-- I just scrambled up the side as best I could.  I'm so glad I made it to the top, though.  Right as I got there, the clouds broke for about 10 minutes.  I could see all of Prague (including the Prague Castle, my hostel, and that weird monument that I don't understand yet) from where I was standing. 
Then I went back and made myself lunch and drank a 20-cent beer.
What's not to like?

Thursday, November 08, 2007



I'm so happy to finally be here. I got in at about 9:30 and walked
around the city in a train-induced stupor. The sun was out in
defiance of the crummy weather forecast, and it was a pleasant 45
degrees. I had a rough idea of where the hostel was, but decided to
take the scenic route instead:

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures because my phone was nearly
out of batteries. But I'll get a few tomorrow.

I'm also happy that I had the foresight to book three nights at the
Plus Prague hostel. Out of the 500+ beds, it seems like there are
only about 100 people here at the very most. This means I have the
sauna and the pool to myself most of the time. Also free internet and
wifi. I haven't attempted to socialize, since I'm still under the
weather, but it seems like it's mostly North Americans and
Australians, with a smattering of French and Czech.

I'm going to bed a little early tonight. I don't think this cold is
anything 12 hours of sleep can't beat.

Amsterdam: The Dutch

I'm usually not one to make generalizations about groups of people.

Except for the Dutch.

Before I spent time in Holland, I had an opinion of Dutch people being extremely forward-thinking owing to their tolerant social policies. This would seem logical, given that Amsterdam is, well, Amsterdam. But things are not quite what they seem. The Dutch themselves are actually very conservative, libertarian-type thinkers. Most tellingly, although Amsterdam is famous for its drug tourism, only 9% of the Dutch natives admit to having used Marijuana. Compared to the 33% of Americans that have In fact, it's actually "illegal", but tolerated through local law. There are plenty of restrictions, of course-- Shops aren't technically allowed to advertise cannabis (which is why they're all called "coffeeshops"), and they're only allowed to have a certain amount in the store.

The Dutch have a long history of this. It used to be that when Catholics were persecuted in Europe, the Dutch would again turn a blind eye. Catholics built "secret" churches in the top stories of residential buildings-- often very elaborate with organs and enough space for 200 people or more. Although the law required Amsterdam to close down known Catholic churches, the police would just sort of pretend it didn't happen.

But this tolerance wasn't / isn't born of a desire to improve people's lives. Rather, many of the Dutch Catholics were powerful businessmen, and were sometimes very wealthy. It just so happened that their economic impact held much more sway than the opinion of their European neighbors. Such is the case with any questionable-yet-profitable industry in Holland. Money always seems to have the final say.

You'll notice that helping mankind isn't part of the Dutch credo. In fact, they seem to harbor a lot of resentment for fellow man. Like any large city, Amsterdam has the rather unsavory problem of dealing with public urination. Whereas many cities have installed public toilets that are open at night, Amsterdam's approach is to place small urine-deflecting plates in certain dark corners that will angle a purpetrator's leavings back towards his pant legs. Annoying, yes, but certainly not a deal-breaker. Except that until very recently, many of these were also electrified.

Public accomidations in general are in short supply. Benches are rare, even in parks. Most of the comfortable places to sit (ledges, windowsills, etc) have a row of spikes that would cause the gluteal equivalent of "severe tire damage" if someone were unfortunate enough not to see them. If you try to sit in some cafe's unused outdoor seating, the employees will come out and bother you.

So, in conclusion, the Dutch aren't actually very tolerant. Tall, yes. Tolerant, no.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Forever 18

The "Forever 21" brand of girls clothing is called "Forever 18" here.
That got me wondering about age as a social construct. An 18 year old
in the States is in no way qualified to be a spokesperson for hip,
young, budget conscious fashion- So why is she here?

I wonder if other parts of the world have also changed the name
accordingly. Is it called "Forever 43" in France? "Forever 10" in
Japan? Clearly, further studies are needed.

(Did you hear that, Carson Grant people?)


Ok, I had a beer and some tea and m feeling better about Munich.

I moved into the corner of the Wombat Hostel without anyone saying anything. I even slept there for two hours! All things considered, this could have turned out a lot worse.

I found a winco-esque supermarket called Albi that sells good German beer for 25 cents. I also hooked myself up with a massive baguette and cheese. And salami. I am a bad vegetarian :(

Now that I'm not I'm such a bad mood I've been able to take in some things about the city that are kind of interesting. Munichers (muenchkins?) consider it the real capitol city, and also think it has the best art and culture. Unlike Berlin, it was rebuilt almost exactly like it was after it blew up during WWII.

People here also seem to identify with Bavaria more than Germany. This would make sense aftet hearing the german guy on the train to Amsterdam straight up say "I'm from Bavaria". You'd be surprised how different all the brands are and everything-- different beers, different chips, different detergent.

Today I ordered an espresso that came with Bavarian whipped cream. It's not overrated.

Ok, gonna cross post this one, too.




Don't go to Munich unless it's Oktoberfest.

Helltrain 2000

I figured out why my train tickets were only 29 euro! Let's just say there is a crucial difference between a "couchette" and a "sleeperette". It's going to be an interesting 36 hours, to say the least.

I'm hanging out in the dining car in my best effort to socialize, but everyone here is speaking German. I mean, I'm sure they speak English also but I don't want to get in their way. Hopefully someone will decide that I look interesting and come talk to me. If this doesn't happen I will just keep saying "Du ist ein kindergarten, ja?" and other conversational phrases.

At least I've still got an iphone to keep me company. Nobody stole it from me in Amsterdam.

To be honest, it's hard to be excited about the next couple weeks because of how much effort it will take to see everything in such a short time. As you know, I am debilitatingly lazy. The good news is that you'll have a lot more boring pictures of buildings to look at.

Oh, that reminds me! I tried to get a picture of a Dutch person riding a bike with no hands down a busy street while texting, but it was too dark to really see what was going on. It's very common, though, so you'll be able to see it for yourself if you come to Holland.

I am writing a short essay on the Dutch that I'll post sometime soon. To generalize, they are a silly people, and not only because of their hilarious wooden shoes.

I'm going to crosspost this to my blog, because, why not? Also I don't feel like retyping everything.

Ok, time to see what kind of sleep I can pilfer out of this trip.

Write back soon!
Alex "Tired Thumbs" Ose

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Off to Munich

I stayed at Dave's place last night and got my first full night's sleep in almost a week.  That (and a couple more gallons of green tea) will definitely help fend off cold #2.  Supposedly, it's going to snow while I'm either in Munich or Prague.  I'm looking forward to getting on the road, though, even if it means a slightly compromised immune system.
I'll have plenty of time to write while I'm on the train, so expect some decent updates over the next few days.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Sorry for the lack of updates, everyone.  I haven't really gotten much quality computer time until today.
Amsterdam is an amazing city.  The last few days I've been totally content just walking around and looking at the architecture.  One of the things that sticks out is the forward-leaning buildings.  They're actually designed that way-- It's so they can more easily hoist large objects up the front wall without it swinging back and forth and breaking the windows.  Because everything is so narrow and vertical, it's the only way people move in and out of their apartments.  I took a free walking tour with Sam the Australian two days ago, so I'm basically an expert in the city.
I can't really recommend The Flying Pig Hostel.  While it's located right in the middle of the city, there are certain things about it that make it  undesirable for backpackers.  Number one, of course, is the price.  It's almost more than twice as much per night as the hostel I was at in Berlin (besides a few basic amenities like wifi) is much less comfortable.  There's a ton of security in the front entrance (two locked doors and a turnstile) and a strict "no guests" policy.  This ends up leading to people only hanging out with other people at the hostel-- No locals, other backpackets, etc.  Plus, people usually book the place over a month in advance.  Plus, it's Amsterdam, so it's kind of full of Frat Bros looking to have a good time.
Among the cool people I've met, though, are another group of Australians (from Sydney, this time), a dreadlocked Brazilian who was deported from his home in Florida because he was caught growing cannabis, a recent high-school graduate from Montana who had been travelling by himself for two months (he tracked down some long-lost family in a remote part of Norway), a French lady looking for an apartment in Amsterdam. 
Right now I'm about to head out of this hostel for good and spend the night at Dave's apartment.  He's bailing me out big time, since there are no other available rooms in the city.
Tomorrow:  Munich.


I've figured out my plans for at least the next four weeks:
Nov 6th - Night train to Munich
Nov 7th-  Night train to Prague
Nov 11th - (night?) Train to Vienna
Nov 13th - Zagreb
Nov 15th - Budapest
Nov 16th - Bucharest
Nov 17th - Istanbul
Nov 20th - Dubai
Dec 5th - Bangkok?
These plans will probably change somewhat, but that's the intended path.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Jacob and I made it into Amsterdam last night at about 7, but didn't make it to the Flying Pig until 8.  It's only a 5 minute walk from the train station so this is not something to be particularly proud of.
During the 55 minutes when we were not walking to the hostel, we were wandering around the Red Light district with no map or directions other than a vague idea of where it was supposed to be.  Things got more complicated when we asked some random homeless guy where it was, and he pointed us down a fairly unsavory alleyway.
Of course, travelling around with enormous backpacks and suitcases after dark in Amsterdam is never a good idea, but we took it to a new level by looking obviously lost on a random street two blocks from the center of the Red Light district.  A Columbian guy attempted to pickpocket us by trying to start a fight, so we ducked into a clothing store that was technically closed.  Fortunately they let us stay there until the guy went away, and I got to speak more French with the employees.
Anyway, we made it to the hostel, dumped our stuff in the room, then met up with Travis and Dave at the University (about a 20 minute tram ride) where we went to a halloween party.  Halloween is less of a children's holiday in Europe.  Almost all the students at the bar had elaborate costumes, face paint, etc.  It's good to see young people actually making an effort towards something.
Dave and Travis are doing well.  They love the city and (aside from a little problem with bedbugs) their accomidations at school.  Like most European countries, there are laws about student housing standards.  Pretty cool.
Jacob and I missed the last tram back to the hostel, so we caught a (three euro!) night bus back to the city center, and called it a night around 2:30.  I got up this morning and had a very dry breakfast, met some other hostel dwellers, and hung out in the lobby.  Oh, the lobby is by far the best of the hostels I've stayed at.  There's a little raised area where you have to take off your shoes and sit on these big cushions overlooking the street and the rest of the entrance.  It's impossible not to meet people here.  And aside from all the bros, the people make good conversation.
So, today:  Make the largest possible quantity of soup with the resources at hand.
I'm just feeling no real need to be ambitious after last night.

Fwd: Sup?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Alex <alexander.ose@gmail.com>
Date: Oct 31, 2007 8:22 PM
Subject: Re: Sup?
To: Gregg Ose <greggose@mac.com>

Hey bro.  I'm on the train to 'sterdam right now (that's the cool thing to call it according to me).  Did you know that the trains don't have drinking water available?  Only mineral water that costs 2.80 euro.  Sure, they say the faucets are non-potable, but do they mean that?

"Rolling the dice" as I like to call it.

Jacob and I met up with an Australian guy that's also on his way to Amsterdam.  Very cool.  He's doing the opposite of my trip- going west instead of east.  He said a lot of good things about southeast Asia.  It looks like I might have to go to Viet Nam.

It's great how friendly and open everyone is when they're travelling. In fact last night I went out to a bar with a lot of people of different nationalities-  Swedish, French, Italian, Finnish.  I got to
speak a lot of French to the French twins.  They were very understanding about how bad I am.

Sadly we're leaving today right when we're getting to know folks.  Our roommate in Berlin was this totally rad German guy that decided to move to east Berlin by himself just to live the life.  Reminds me of what Amanda is doing in San Francisco.  Well, a little different.

So now I'm just watching the German countryside whizz by.  It's a change of pace from the Cascades Amtrak line.  It looks a lot different than Kelso, for instance.

Too bad to hear about the Huskies being crap this season.  I thought they might have had something going there.  Fortunately,  I don't have to be around it for a while.  Looks like I'm the real winner here!

This email is actually turning into a pretty promising blog post.  I'm just going to CC it in the reply.

I just passed what I think must be the main VW factory.  There are a startlingly large number of toyotas parked out front.  Uh oh.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Today in Berlin

Jacob and I attempted a self-guided tour of West Berlin, but we only
made it a far as the Reichtag before it started pouring rain.
Overall, not extremely sucessful.

We took took the S-Bahn back (do they ever check for tickets?) to
Warschauer and hit up our new favorite doner restaurant before we
retreated to the hostel to dry off.

The only thing I'm hoping to achieve tonight is to pick up our train
reservations and finally book tickets for Dubai.

The thing about getting to Dubai is that flying out of different
cities effects wildly varying prices (Istanbul is over five times as
much as Beirut, for example)... but I have a feeling the cost includes
how likely you are to receive bodily harm. So maybe it's worth it to
pay extra.

I will be online all night so feel free to email!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hello everyone

Welcome to all the new readers out there.  I'll try my best to write about more interesting things from now on!

More Berlin

Sunday, so everything is closed. I really wish the optimitrist would open so I could buy Renu. I haven't worn my contacts since the airlines confiscated my solution for the second time.

Travel essentials #2: Put contact solution in your pocket instead of your toiletries bag because it's impossible to find a small enough bottle to take on board.

Anyway, we checked out the remaining Berlin wall today and took some band photos. It's funny what people decide to graffiti on there.

And to answer your question, Amanda, they're not skinny jeans, but they're the untreated kind of denim that you have to break in yourself.


Loaded like a freight train
Flying like a aeroplane

Jacob and I just chilled out today. As cool as the night train is, you end up getting into Berlin at 7:00 am with no sleep. So that's actually not cool.

The hostel we're staying in (the Sunflower) is surprisingly livable for 14 euro a night. We met a few other people from the hostel who seemed cool enough. .

East Berlin is kind of the counterculture Mecca of Europe. In a city of 7 million people, that means a huge amount of alternative-type bars and venues geared towards young people. They're very reasonably priced (for Americans even) and open late.

Right now we're waiting for a show to start at a venue called
"Bastard". Despite the name, it's a nice place. A few of the walls
are covered with soviet-era televisions. The performer (goes by the
stage name "Blow") is from Portland. Go figure.

The openng act was a local guy called Noisy Pig that was reminded me of a childrens show gone horribly, horribly wrong. He wore a pig- shaped bicycle helmet and sunglasses on stage.


Blow had been sick recently was losing her voice (just like me two weeks ago! I wonder if she had the same thing) but she managed to put on a great set. Jacob talked to her after about Portland and things. I made friends with a dude from Long Island named RJ.

We made it home by about 2:30 and spent a few blissful minutes on the Internet before it stopped working again.


I might be having some issues in getting the order of my blog posts correct. This is because they tend to come up in reverse chronological order when I write multiple posts with no Internet access.

So if you see something that doesn't make sense, just try to switch the order of the posts around and maybe it will.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Berlin night train

I thought I'd write a few words while I'm on the train. Here they are:

This is awesome.


I got in at about 7:00 last night, and through a very complicated series of events met up with Jacob around 9:00.

We saw a great band playing at the local Student bar. They're calledPacific. I'm not sure if they tour outside of Sweden but if they did they could easily be headliners anywhere in the US. Another example of Swedish excellence.

Now I'm watching Married with Children on Swedish television. Earlier they were airing American Gladiators. More Swedish excellence.

Doing laundry and things in preparation for the next couple weeks. Free laundry facilities for students!


One thing that's hard to get to get a feel for in the states is the way people of different languages interact. As Americans, we're used to only hearing either English or languages that are strongly related to ethnicity (i.e. Spanish, Japanese, Chinese). Tourists are obvious and rarely speak only English anyway.

Europeans can't rely on appearance to distinguish native tongues (to the same degree). Therefore it isn't particularly surprising if someone doesn't speak your language. You just communicate the best you can and move on as quickly as possible. No offense taken.

This must be why Americans annoy people overseas.

Chili nuts- Best snack ever?

All signs point to yes.


So far, so good. Vasteras is a city about the size (and skin color) of Bellevue. It too is centered around a shopping mall and is home to many stylishly dressed young folks. Unlike Bellevue, everyone rides bikes.

There are fields of them. Endless fields.

Right now I'm chillin' with an espresso at a Wayne's Coffee. It's kind of a Starbucks ripoff, right down to the logo.

I've got a train to catch to Stockholm in 30 minutes. That will make the third type I vehicle I've ridden on today (bus, plane, train, and I might sleep in a boat tonight).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stockholm (cont.)

I bought some jeans, even though I don't really have room for them. Hmm.

On the way back to the city center, I stumbled across some interesting sights, like the Royal Palace and some really cool, old streets filled with antique shops. Stockholm, as you know, came out of WWII unscathed and as such is full of well preserved old buildings.

The shopping here is excellent and full of great winter clothes. Mom, you would like Stockholm a lot.

I'm leaving here on the 4:40 train to Linkoping, then I meet up with Jacob.


And I thought London was expensive!

So happy to be here. Stockholm is absolutely beautiful at this time of year (and others, probably). The autumn colors with patches of fog blowing through. Wow. It's also one of the greenest (as in Eco- friendly) cities on earth, and it shows in its cleanliness. Even the subway tunnels are immaculate.

It's a very stylish city, I reckon moreso than even New York. There's no shortage of tight jeans, anyway, nor square glasses. Also, everyone is crushingly attractive.

I like the culture here, at least, what I've seen of it. The Swedish
expect more from people. For example, the escalators here go like
2,000 miles per hour. There's very little room for error.

Everyone is fluent in English, and is quick to respond to my token swedish phrases in my native tongue. I can see why not many people end up learning Swedish later in life.

Right now I'm in a cafe called String in Sodermalm, which just happens to be across the street from Nudie Jeans. Whoops!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


A lot of people have askes about my travel schedule. So to save myself
some time Ill post it here.

I can't figure out a better way of posting an itinerary, so Ill just
type it out:

Oct 24 - Vasteras, Stockholm
Oct 25 - Linkoping
Oct 26 - Malmo
Oct 27 - Berlin
Oct 31 - Amsterdam
(the rest is tenative)
Nov 5 - Frankfurt
Nov 6 - Munich
Nov 8 - Vienna
Nov 9 - Prague
Nov 14 - Budapest
Nov 17 - Istanbul
Nov 20 - Dubai
Dec 5 - ???

Museums and such.

I've fallen behind in the last few days. I'll try to summarize.

Mans had the last couple days off. We elected to "violently chill
out" and visit a few pubs and museums. A good way to spend my last
two days here.

Monday, we spent most of the day indoors either in the apartment or at
a sleazy (by London standards) pub in the city center. I had really
nice night just hanging out with the French guys and the new Polish
roommate. Great people, great conversation. I said reminded me of
L'Auberge Espangnole.

The next day we went to the imperial war museum (so many exhibits!)
and I made some farewell Gumbo for my roommates.

I'm definitely going to miss that place. It's time to move on,
though-- On to Vasteras!

I sure hope these Ryanair jets are airworthy.


30 pounds to fly to Stockholm? I'd fly on an early 90s 737 for that!

Conclusion: Aer Lingus is much better.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I just realized that I was out of space on my flickr account, so all of my most recent photos haven't been showing up.  It should be fixed now-- Everything from the huge metal spider onwards is new.


Ok, so Lee is a stand up guy with a knack for getting into trouble. Multiply this by six and you can start to imagine the house he lives in. His housemates (the louts, as they self depricatingly call themselves) remind me a lot of some of my friends from Willamette. They're great kids- all really friendly and happy to offer me a place to stay- with no real drive to accumulate a lot of posessions or money.

Which might explain why they didn't get their damage deposits back for their last house. Apparently it was nearly destroyed during a party in which one of them yelled "Hezbollah" and broke everything.

They're also fans of Loutball, a game of their design that basically no-holds-barred indoor soccer in their halls and rooms.

Aside from a few destructive streaks, they're really easygoing and have a lot of varied interests. At least three of them (guy, Paul, and another) are dedicated surfers (dedicated because you'd have to be to surf in water that cold).

Anyway, awesome people to enjoy a traditional English breakfast with (bacon, eggs, hash browns, sausage, mushrooms, beans, and bread, all fried. Yes, including the bread) and to have around in general. It'd be great to spend more time with them, but something tells me that this is unlikely in the forseeable future.

Now Departing Plymouth

It's been a busy weekend.

I sort of forget where I left off. I think it was at the buses. Yeah.

Plymouth, like Southampton, is a beautiful coastal town that was leveled during world war two. Being a large naval base, however, Plymouth was bombed even more thoroughly. Only small sections of the old city still exists. The majority of it was rebuilt with victorian
style architecture, so it might not be obvious at first to see how hard it was hit.

Plymouth is the southernmost port city in the UK, so many expeditions to the new world (and elsewhere) made it their final stop before embarking. In 1620, the Mayflower left Plymouth with a bunch of Puritans on it, who I understand were on their way to Daytona Beach
for spring break.

The coastal part of town (the "hoe foreshore") is a nice park full of monuments and museums and things. Also, a famous picture of the beatles was taken on the lawn to the side of the big red and white lighthouse.

The city also has a fake cliff that the navy uses to use as a secret hideout for large ships. Its made of wood.

The tour of the city was only a small part of my two days. I'll add more in my next update.

British Transportation

Geographically, Plymouth isn't more than a two hour car trip from Southampton. Once you factor in the circuitous route that buses take in order to stay on the freeways, it's a little more than 5 hours. Add a dollop of ineptitude and a dash of traffic and- oh boy!- I've been on the bus for 9 hours today.

That's actually fine by me. I've started to look forward to long bus rides because it gives me a chance to just sit around and relax (I finally have time to listen to my Learn Swedish program).

The only real problem is that Mike was supposed to catch this bus with me, but he missed it because his connecting bus was about 3 minutes too late.

Anyway, God bless the highway lobby and America's prodigious fuel consumption. If we all had own own cars none of this would be a problem.

Wait, I'm not sure if I mean that.


This is a bit of a retrospective, since I didn't really have time to write yesterday. I'm on the bus back to London now (about 6 hours total) so i have ample time to write.

Mike and I met up in Plymouth at about 11:30. He came in via train and I was on a bus, so we met in the middle of thr two stations. Fortunately for me, Mike had gone to Plymouth U for two years so he knew the city well. The only problem was finding Lee, who wasn't answering his phone or replying to text messages. We checked out a few bars, but there was no sign of him. Mike called one of his friends to see if he could track him down. He invited us over to his place- a smoky college house with some guys spinning drum and bass vinyls- and told us that Lee had actually been arrested earlier, so he'd be spending the night in jail.

It sounds bad, but it really wasn't his fault- he just ended up witnessing a bar fight at the wrong place and time. And it's Lee- who's such a nice guy that arresting him for anything just seems insane.

Anyway, we made it back to his house at around 1 but were too tired to do anything. A short nap on the couch later we went out with the housemates to try to retrieve Lee from the Plymouth police station.

The conversation was something like, "You've got our friend. Can we
have him back?"
"The wheels of justice are slowly turning. Check back in the afternoon."

Mike took the opportunity to show me around the city (awesome, by the way. Definitely my favorite of the three cities I've been to in England). We got pints at a local chill pub called Ride and waited around until Lee finally called.

He was happily out of prison and he came up to meet us at Ride. Poor kid, they'd only given him a rice krispy square and a Cornish pasty during his jail time.

So maybe it wasnt the ideal reunion, but it turned out great. Its funny how you can pick up right where you left off sometimes after a year and a half.

We just sort of sat around and played Virtua Tennis until the rugby game came on. England lost, which was a shame. The rest of the night was spent coping via Indian food and lager, then watching British comedy until it was no longer physically possible.

Ok, I see the brown cloud of pollution that is London approaching. Gotta run.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Hello everyone. I took the National Express to visit Mike today. I got into Southampton a little early, so I did a little exploring.

I'm glad I did, because its an interesting place. It's sort of a university town, with a lot of funky shopping (like the udistrict) punctuated by Medival and Roman ruins. It's not really situated on the coast, but in a little protected sound at the mouth of a river.

Much of the city was destroyed during world war two. So aside from the ruins, it's very modern by European standards. Even the city center looks like it might be out of the West coast US.

I have more exploring to do now. I'll write more when im all finished.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wha happen?

I'm on the tube right now. I think I might have hit the last train. Or second to last.

I met up with Mans and his American friends at around 5:00pm. Yes, another group of Americans. We met at Occo- the restaurant that Mans bartends at- for cocktails and appetizers. Delicious, fried, Moroccan food with confusingly assembled cocktails.

The Americans study at an exchange-only university in north London. There's about 10 in total... Most of them are from the Midwest and the South. They're a nice group, even if I can't seem to remember their names.

We took a bus to The Castle, A traditional english pub that Mans frequents. The bartender, Mike, refused payment (apprently this is common between bartenders) and we
ended up having a rather inexpensive night out.

We made friends with (yet) another American from Florida. He explained that he was in London with his dad for his 20th birthday. The weird part was that his dad was there. Sitting with him. And all of us. For like 3 hours.

It's not extremely late, but I decided to head home since I'm leaving early for Southampton tomorrow morning. Also, I could use my NHS- supplied inhaler. Yes, I am a nerd who needs an inhaler.


I was just noticing how bland most of these entries are getting.  First of all, I have to apologize for not really doing anything for the past week.  It certainly hasn't helped.  But aside from that, are there any things you folks in particular want me to write about?


Voice is finally coming back. As long as I take it easy I think it'll be ok by Thursday (when I travel to Southampton).

Mans and I went to the Tate Modern museum and saw all kinds of good modern art for free. London is great place for that sort of thing.

I'm looking forward to getting out and seeing the countryside.

Monday, October 15, 2007

NHS (continued)

I went in, told the doctor what the deal was, and he put a prescription in my hand. For free*. This is how medicine needs to work in first world countries.

I'm going to try my best to see the changing of the guard today. Also the national gallery.

*Actually, I have to pay the flat prescription fee of 6 pounds. But I can handle that. Fo sho.


I've been sick for the last several days. Normally this wouldn't be a huge problem for me, but I lost my voice two days ago and it hasn't really come back.

So, swallowing my (American) pride, I checked myself into the nearest walk in clinic. I'm waiting in the lobby now. Except for the guy with the cane, I think I am the most sympathy-worthy patient here. Really, I bet theres nothing wrong with most of these people.

I think they're going to call my name next. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Going out

I'm on my way out to watch the England vs. France rugby quarterfinals tonight.  I'll be meeting Mike (bigenglishmike) and a few of his friends.  I'll write something when I get back, hopefully.

Also, I need to remind myself to tell the story of the French roommate/World of Warcraft addict that quit his job this morning.  Pretty funny.

Travel essentials #1:

-Wash your hands.  Stay away from people with coughs.  Be a huge germaphobe, especially around public transit.  Wear a sealed biohazard suit at all times.  Getting sick can really mess things ups.


I've seen some odd things since I've been here, but nothing as weird as what I saw on the tube last night.  I won't be able to do it justice, but I'll give my best effort.

I was taking the District line at an ungodly hour to meet up with Mans after his shift was over.  The trains were mostly empty at this point in the night; there were about five of us total in the car, two nightclub-destined women, a man reading the newspaper, a nicely dressed young englishman, and myself.   Everyone was keeping to himself, mostly, until about halfway through the trip when I all of a sudden hear,


I look over, and it's the nicely dressed young man standing up, his 3/4 coat falling back on his shoulders.


At this point, he started sprinting up and down the car, simulating sword strikes and the apparent slaughter of his persian adversaries.  Nobody dared make eye contact with the guy (really, who would want to risk the wrath of a spartan warrior), much less make any comments about his behavior.  The rest of the passengers acted as if what he was doing was not really outside of established social boundaries.


He then did a number of pull-ups on the bars until he got too tired.  The train stopped, and he ran off the car, up the stairs, out of sight.

I dunno.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Off day

Today saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment.  Then I bought groceries and made myself dinner.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Phone Number

My phone works now.  If you want to call, my number is +44 79 42 46 40 07.  Make sure you don't have to pay huge international fees before you call.

Sweet Home Alabama

So happy to be in a room that I can just leave my stuff in for a couple weeks.

I'm using today as my first "do absolutely nothing day" in two weeks. I still haven't completely recovered from my rough living in Ireland. The night in the hotel helped, as did last night on Mans' floor, but I'm not quite there yet.

Speaking of Mans, it's great to see him again. I forgot that it's been four months since we graduated*. He's working odd hours at a Moroccan restaurant, which should turn out nicely because I always feel bad if people spend too much time trying to entertain me.

Oh- and Mans' roommates are awesome. So far, there are three French guys who like reggae, a French girl that doesn't speak much English, and two other guys (Danes?) that I haven't met yet. We spent a long time talking to Ben about world affairs, France, and the U.S. (he lived in San Diego for a few years as a kid). I'm actually kind of worried that I'm going to have to speak French around them full time.

I think I got off to a good start with them because after I mentioned that I wanted to work in IT, Ben asked if I could fix his email (he could receive messages but couldn't send). It took me a while, but I managed to make it work after struggling with his French version of windows and AZERTY keyboard. But anyway, yeah. Everywhere I go.

At least I'm good for something?

I'm going to be proofing some of my old blog entries, and I might retroactively add a few things that I meant to write about but didn't have time to. I'm not much for trying to rewrite history, but it'll make it easier to follow if I make it chronological.

*yes, I know

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Interesting day yesterday. The high point was certainly the tour of the Old Jameson distillery (not because it was interesting, but because they let you relax with a glass of whiskey at the end of the tour).

And relaxation has been in short supply. I found out last afternoon that I'd already missed my flight to London- it was booked for Monday. I also hadn't slept well for a while and was starting to get a cold.

I made it to London, but I couldn't get in touch with Mans (actually, I did make it to his room- but his roommate evidently didn't know who Mans was) so I walked around until I found a cheap hotel- and when I say "around" I mean "several miles"- but it all turned out fine.

I found a place to stay and the hotel managers were very understanding. The rooms were cheap by American standards, and not well furnished, but I slept for about 11 hours and am feeling
much better already.

Right now, Im relaxing with a falafel and a Lebanese coffee in some hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Wonderful.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

London Underground

Only a £20 fine if you're caught wihout a ticket! That's almost less than the fare...

I got into Heathrow (at some expense) at about 9:25. I found the Underground at 10:30. So that wasn't too slick.

I dont have Mans' phone number so warning him about my arrival might not be possible. I really hope he's home.

Where did I leave off?

I went to Howth yesterday, which is about a 30 train ride from Dublin's city center. It was nice to get into the countryside for a while, even if it was a bit windy (you wouldnt have liked it, mom). The trails around the peninsula are amazing. There's an old lighthouse at the very tip with a vicious guard dog keeping watch. Not actually that viscious.

We came back to UCD and went to Traditional Music Night at the campus venue. Pretty funny stuff. It was packed, first of all, and there was a band of about 8 students playing traditional Irish instruments. Since the drinking age is 18, the school can actually serve alcohol, and the students actually want to go to school sponsored events instead of trying to have their own private house parties. Novel idea!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back in Dublin

Dont expect much from me over the next 24 hours. I will be asleep.


I thought my American accent would make me some kind of celebrity in Ireland. The only people who ever care are other Americans.


Ive done a good job so far avoiding ripoffs, except for one thing- I fell victim to the Irish Railway's insane pricing scheme.

The website lists €18 return trips to Belfast, which seems more than reasonable. Of course, I am staying for a night so I didn't want a return ticket, but I figure the one way price is somewhere around 10-15 euro.

But it was actually 34.50. Almost twice the amount of a return ticket. How did this happen? It was some sort of strange combination of "sorry, online fare only" and a thick Irish accent.

So when I try to point this out at the Belfast central station, I encounter another thick Irish accent, and somehow end up buying a ticket for the way back for the low price of £11.


Ulster Transport Museum

Sadly, I couldn't figure out where the DeLorean factory was. Even the people at the Belfast Office of Tourism didn't know. So I did the next best thing and visited a museum that had an exhibit about it.

Other exhibits include the world's most hilarious bicycles, mopeds, and buses. It's definitely worth it, especially if you sneak in for free like I did.

West Belfast

For anyone thinking of going to Ireland, you -must- take a tour of west Belfast. Most people go via "black taxi", but I walked it instead.

Along one strech of road about 3 miles long, you can see many of the most important figures and locations of "The Troubles" that supposedly came to and end a decade ago. The surprising part, though, is that it's still very current and relevant to what's happening in Belfast today.

For example, the first large building you come across is called the Divis tower. In the early 80s, the military took over the top two floors in order to spy on people passing between east and west Belfast-- and it's still in use.

Also along the path are dozens of murals about both current Irish affairs and things happening overseas. Belfastians are very politically minded, and they're die-hard activists.

In front of the city cemetery, I ran into a few dozen locals who were protesting conflicts in Africa that I'd never even heard of.

I also saw the Queen Victoria hospital, which according to my guidebook is the best in the world at treating gunshot wounds. The gates out front are quite cool- they are (intentionally) twisted like a DNA helix.

West Belfast

For anyone thinking of going to Ireland, you -must- take a tour of
west belfast. Most people go via "black taxi", but I walked it instead.

Along one strech of road about 3 miles
long, you can see many of the most important figures and locations of
"The Troubles" that supposedly came to and end a decade ago. The
surprising part, though, is that it's still very current and relevant
to what's happening in Belfast today.

For example, the first large building you come across is called the
Divis tower. In the early 80s, the military took over the top two
floors in order to spy on people passing between east and west
Belfast-- and it's still in use.

Also along the path are dozens of murals about both current Irish
affairs and things happening overseas. Belfastians are very politically
minded, and they're die-hard activists.

In front of the city cemetary, I ran into a few dozen locals who were
protesting conflicts in Africa that I'd never even heard of.

I also saw the Queen Victoria hospital, which according to my
guidebook is the best in the world at treating gunshot wounds. The
gates out front are quite cool- they are (intentionally) twisted like
a DNA helix.

Belfast part 2: Neds

Ned (n): Irish chav.

I'm not even sure how anyone can be drunk at 10:30 on a Sunday
morning, much less a 15 year old.


I told myself that I wouldn't hang out with Americans, but it sort of
got away from me last night. I went out with an awesome group of
students (studying abroad in Glascow, on vacation in Belfast) to a few
nearby bars.

The bar nearest the hostel ("the tavern") had a huge, locking, metal
cage in front of the door. There two security cameras pointing down
both adjacent alleyways. Apparently this security system was in
place because a bombing killed some people in the 80s, and they still
won't take it down.

The other bar had a tradtional Irish band covering Achey Breaky
Heart. Id never been more excited to hear that song, I think.

I opted out of the Giant's causeway/Bushmill's distillery tour today
because (for some reason) Whiskey in the middle of the day didn't
sound good to me. Instead I took a train to the Ulster Transport
Museum to learn more about DeLoreans.

Oh, and Im pretty sure a bomb went off when I was looking for wifi in
south Belfast. I guess I should have expected it considering the
mural of a guy holding an AK 47 I passed.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Apologies for my lack of updates recently-- it's unusually hard to
find wireless around here.

I got into Belfast after dark at about 7:30- it's a beautiful 3 hour
train ride from Dublin- and walked around the city for about an hour
trying to replicate my sucess in finding a hostel. Eventually, with
help, I found the Linen House hostel, which is the closest hostel to
the city center and supposedly one of the cheapest in Europe.

At 10, I tried to find something to eat. but the only thing open was
mcdonalds. Embarassingly I ate there among about a dozen drunk 15
year olds (are they called chavs in Ireland?). One thing I miss about
the US already: sober 15 year olds. apparently there are none to be
found here.

My knowledge of Ireland is so limited that I only just now figured out
that it is considered the UK, and that they use pounds instead of
euro. Most places look like they will (unhappily) accept euro.

In the hostel, I met a few english speakers from Canada and austrailia
but couldn't convince anyone to go out for a pint. This is becoming
a familiar theme in my travels...

I ended up sleeping in a dorm-style room with a bunch of spaniards.
Now I am planning a walking tour at the nearest cafe.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Science of Sleep

Sleep schedule:  2:30pm to 11:30pm.  1:30am to 8:00am.  I read Neuromancer for the two hours in between.

I have a theory that it's much easier to acclimate to a different sleep schedule than it is to acclimate to a longer/shorter sleep period.  That is to say, as long as the number of hours you sleep at any given time stays the same, it's possible to shift the schedule back an arbitrary amount without ill effect  (shifting forward is much harder, but that's a different story).  I had two sleep periods of roughly 8 hours each, and I'm feeling perfectly adjusted today

This is why naps tend to ruin a full night's sleep-- Sleeping for two hours upsets the regular 8 hour sleep period.  Either you follow a strict polyphasic sleep schedule (e.g. Uberman's) or a strict monophasic sleep schedule.  Anything in between is really hard to do consistently.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sleep deprivation

I'm trying to keep myself awake until my room is ready. They don't
let me check in until 2:00pm.

I'm a little too tired to come up with anything interesting to say.

Dublin (deux)

I've been here for four hours and I'm already adventured-out.  Fortunately, I've made it through the adversity and ended up at a hostel-- not the one I intended to end up at, but a hostel nonetheless.

It started with my flawed (but very sincere) desire to take the city bus into downtown Dublin.  With the way that airports are privatized here, there are about half a dozen airport shuttles that run (at the least) 6 euro per trip.  After the currency conversion, this ends up evening out to about 310 dollars.  The airport's signs are very misleading.  I found myself literally walking towards what looked like a city center when I saw other backpackers getting on a double-decker bus.  So, I followed them into what seemed to be some sort of two-story, dystopian nightmare on wheels, which somehow dropped me off right in the middle of Dublin.


But, I still had no idea where I was going.  And it was 6:00 in the morning. Also raining.  I stumbled around looking for something to do and eventually found a 24hour coffee shop full of Americans.  Like most places in the city, though, there was no wireless.  So I stumbled around the city looking for a connection.  I finally managed to get a signal on a weird industrial street corner where I put my bag down and sat homelessly underneath an awning.

Out of sheer luck, I walked pasted the Avalon hostel, which is the place I thought about staying once I heard that the Ashfield was full.  Assuming providence, I booked a single room for the night at the cool price of 30 euro (5882 dollars).

More to come.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I made it into the city ok.

This plane runs Linux

Less than two hours until I touch down in Dublin. It'll be 5am local
time. What a thought!

Aer Lingus is a fantasic airline. Im on a brand new Airbus A330 with
screens in all the seats. It's a big, quiet plane with cool space-age
cabin lights and a startlingly attractive Irish crew. It's about 1/3
capacity, so I have plenty of room. The pinnacle of the experience,
though, was that I sat down to a Linux boot screen embedded in the
seat in front of me.

It's not all perfect-- The kernel runs a bunch of proprietary
modules. *sigh*

Just kidding. It's great. The only thing that might improve my
flight would be if the electronics store I tried to buy headphones
from wasn't closed for Yom Kippur. Only New York!

There is a man whistling

The Canadian anthem next to me in the airport. Either he's a real Canadian patriot, or he's getting ready to fake being Canadian for his vacation abroad.

I am apparently travelling so light that I have to get special approval from the airline. Go me.

Quick update

Im on my way out to get a train to JFK, but I figured Id check in
before I left in case the airport doesn't do wireless.

I'm in what is very likely the worst diner in new York-- the Galaxy
Diner. It's very reminicent of the Night Lite in Seattle but with
more haphazard space themes decorations.

Monday, October 01, 2007

By the way

I forgot to publicly thank Mako and Mika for being amazing hosts and for surrounding themselves with fascinating people.  I had a fantastic time in Boston, and I can't wait to be back.  Thanks!

New York Minute

It'll be hard to do today justice just by typing an ordered list of everything I did.  But here goes.

I woke up to an empty Acetarium (the coffee was still hot.  I think I just missed you, Mika/Mako!  sorry), packed my belongings (minus one.  Sorry, Cutie), and went out the door (I left it unlocked.  triple sorry).  I got on the red line subway (my CharlieCard was 20 cents short?  what even is that?) and got off at South Station.

The South Station has separate Train and Bus terminals which nicely segregate the bourgeois and proletariat into their respective modes of transport.  The Bus terminal is then further divided between the recognizable bus lines and the "Chinatown" buses.  Catering to an even lower transportation underclass, the "Chinatown" buses will take you from Boston to New York for 15 dollars-- and one of them (either the Fung Wah or the Lucky Star) leaves every half hour from 8am to 11pm.

I left Boston at 10:30, watched Star Wars IV, read some things about New York on wikitravel.org, and at 3:00 pm I was (once again) wandering around Chinatown looking for a subway terminal.  After a considerable time, I found one, and took the R train to Times Square.  Stand clear of the closing doors, please!

I'm not sure what to make of Times Square.  The first time I was there, I loved it.  Now, I'm not sure what it's trying to prove.  I suppose it proves that even bright lights can't make multinational corporations seem fresh and exciting.  I'm not sure why they feel the need to compete with each other in creating the brightest advertisement.  I think the most eye-catching ad in Times Square would be a plain black rectangle with nothing on it.  Then when you got up close to it, a man dressed in all black handed you printed instructions on how to leave Times Square.

I also went to the top (not really) of the Empire State Building.  It's very tall.  The observation desk is over 80 miles from the ground.

At some point after a walk around midtown and a cup of coffee, I met up with Micah and Biella at their apartment near NYU.  Even though they were busy (they'd warned me ahead of time), they gave me a very warm welcome to their home and their neighborhood.  Micah and I went out for okonomiyaki (okonomy god-i), sake, and (whoops!) falafel.  We cooled off with a walk around the roof of their building.  Then blogging.  Then bedtime.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Parrot Mimosas

The local brunch joint of choice, Johnny D's, offers a free, handmade, ceramic, parrot-shaped mug to anyone that drinks two mimosas out of one during the course of their meal.  I'm not sure how I keep getting talked into these things... but the Acetarium has a new drinking vessel.

The Boston Heymarket

Imagine the bustling atmosphere of a farmer's market combined with the grime of a dumpster, and you have the Boston Heymarket.  One dollar buys you two pounds of tomatoes, three pounds of plums, or five pounds of onions.  Between the tents there are a variety of meats and cheeses offered for similarly head-scratching prices.  Mako, Mika, Eric, and his girlfriend Joan ended up hauling about ten pounds of produce for not much more than 15 dollars. 

There are precious few circumstances where it's just not worth it to ask yourself "why".  This is one of them.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Too tired for details.  Met up with Ari, Greg, and others, which was rad, at a Malaysian restaurant (should be called Euaysian because it was neither bad nor evil).  Ice cream at Toscaninis, omg, turkish mocha ice cream.  I get why people are so obsessed with ice cream over here.

Alex's travel advice tip #1: While it may at first seem an appropriate substitute, you can't make a white russian with soy milk.


Im like a little kid when it comes to trains. What is it about railed
transport that just screams "fun"?

I was hoping to see the Red sox play tonight , but standing room
tickets are going for upwards of 80 dollars.

which reminds me of an ad I just saw...

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I accomplished very little today.  I happily blame this on the either jet lag, humidity, or the fact that the new iPhone firmware came in the early afternoon.  One of the three.

I did take a quick stroll around the Tufts campus, though.  It's a nice campus-- A mix of old and new Harvard Brick buildings surrounded by old, well-kept townhouses.

I met up with Mika at Porter Square for bubble tea at the Japanese mall and (eventually) dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant.  I know there's nothing more touristy than complaining about slow service, but just don't go there if you're in a hurry, or even if you have any obligations whatsoever for the next several weeks.

After:  Ice cream in the rain from Emack's.  Apparently it's the origin of Emacs' unusual name.  RMS enjoys their ice cream.

It's nice to have a few days like this to remind yourself why obligations aren't always bad things.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Following the conclusion of my self-guided tour of MIT, I met up with Mako in the Media Lab.  For any moderately nerdy person, the MIT Media Lab is like an amusement park-- except that instead of being staffed by haggard, underpaid immigrants, it's staffed by nerdy types who seem to love their jobs.  I, for one, would much rather pay for a tour of the Media Lab than the MIT Museum.  And, of course, admission to Disneyland, but that goes without saying.

It wasn't all good, though, as I sat in for an unenlightening talk about online social networking.  I honestly can't remember anything from the lecture (except for "don't tase me bro"), but I'm willing to bet it wasn't one of the better ones.

Mako and I walked across the street to the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Lab, where I met many of the previously faceless handles I know from IRC.  Dozens (hundreds?) of green XO laptops occupied the desks, walls, and ceilings (suspended by hooks). Again, everyone seemed to have legitimate interest in their jobs.  As well they should-- The OLPC is one of the most compelling tech projects out there.

Several of the developers, Mako, Mika, and myself went out to Grasshopper,a vegan Chinese restaurant that I can't possibly recommend highly enough.  Similar to Bhudda's Delight in that they served familiar dishes with vegan "meat", it had a more contemporary flare that might remind Seattle readers of a Chinese-themed Araya's.  I suggest the orange "chicken" called No Name.

We finished the night off with a beer and a strawberry shortcake at the nearby Deep Ellum, then took the bus/subway back home.

Oh my god I cant believe I missed this

This is why waking up early can actually be a good thing:



Long day at the MIT museum. I learned a lot, though. The first thing
I learned: How painfully inadequate I am compared to the average MIT

Check out all the pictures I took.

Too hot

Why didn't anyone tell me about this?  So much for packing long underwear...

I'm off to check out the MIT museum today.  Pictures forthcoming.  Also, if anyone in the greater Boston area is interested in beer, let me know.  I think there might have to be a Sam Adams brewery tour in the future.

I'll be staying at The Acetarium for the next several days.  Thanks to Mako and Mika for being great hosts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The miracle of flight

Switching planes is overrated. This MD-88 is noisy, smelly, and shakey. I guess it's mostly because im sitting near the engines (and therefore the lavatories), but it seems like the plane itself just isnt as nice as the last one. For example, there's no entertainment, and there's a bit less legroom. Also, the windows have some condensation on them, which (for a nervous passenger like myself) doesn't inspire confidence. Finally, and perhaps most shockingly, the wings are being held on by scotch tape and a bit of wood glue. Instead of engines, there are a series of helium balloons tied to the fuselage. The craft is drifting aimlessly along the prevailing wind currents into the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

One thing I like about it though is that its not full-- I have two seats to myself.


For 20 minutes.  Why does jfk have to be so popular today???


I'm flyiing over Helena Montana right now. how do I know this, you ask? Delta's new 757s have a very nice entertainment center in the back of every seat. For the curious, the flight indormation program displays stats (in Spanish, for some reason) including airspeed, altitude, outside air twperature, wind, and estimated arrival time. it switches between this and a gps map that updates every 16 seconds or so.

ok, back to watching espn. if the satelite works.


7:00 is too early to fly. there's no reason to be up right now.

Sea tac still does not have free wifi- they do however have a deal with tully's to secure their normally free network. How convenient!

flight leaves in 50 minutes. Maybe I'll rearrange my bag or something.

Rollin' Eurostyle with Alex "Money" Ose: A Guide for the Travling PUA

According to my latest degree audit, I've officially completed all my college courses-- Just three months late! That's something I feel I can be tremendously proud of. Oh, that magic feeling.

My next step is to backpack through Europe. Here is a rough outline for those of you who want to follow my progress over the coming weeks.

On September 25, I'll be taking off from Sea-Tac towards Boston. After a short layover in New York, I'll be arriving at Logan Airport around 6:00pm.

After about a week in Boston, I will be bussing to New York to catch a dubious dublin-bound value flight scheduled for October 2nd.

I'm spending at least one night in Dublin, then boarding a € 0.01 (!) flight to Heathrow. I hope to stay in London for about two weeks.

From London, I'll be flying to Stockholm, then travelling through Linkoping en route to Berlin, Hamburg, and (ultimately) Amsterdam.

From here, my plans are up in the air, but probably will include eastern Europe and Dubai.

During my travels I hope to write prodigiously. Expect frequent updates at this address and wikitravel.org. I'm also experiementing with ways for the public to track my location (probably via GPS). Overall, you're going to be so entertained that you'll almost forget that you're sitting unkemptly at your computer wearing a bathrobe, wolfing down all of the miniature packages of bugles you took from the office breakroom before you were laid off five months ago.


My daily photos can now be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/91386309@N00/ . Thanks to Chris Lee's fabulous MobilePushr, I will be able to update my photos very frequently.