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It's two montha out of date, but it seems accurate enough.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 <>
Date: Oct 31, 2007 8:22 PM
Subject: Re: Sup?
To: Gregg Ose <>

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.