BootsnAll Travel Network



My Ultimate Flight(s) from Hell; Spring Break 2005

October 31st, 2011

The following is why I really hate British Airways

So I am flying back from Amsterdam through Heathrow to JFK. I take easyjet (my first mistake) to london then BA back to JFK. EasyJet is late so when I get to London i miss my flight back to New York. I’m standing online at BA trying to get another flight. Keeping in mind there are other flights, but since I don’t have a cell in london I have to stand in line and wait. The line is pretty long and I wait about 45 minutes to try and get on another flight. Every single person ahead of me gets on another flight, which was leaving pretty shortly. When they get to me they say “sorry there is nothing we can do,” to which I respond “what are you talking about, all these people ahead of me just got on ANY flight leaving today?” They continue to go “sorry sir,” and eventually are like “well we can get you on a flight leaving tomorrow morning early, and put you up at the heathrow hilton for a night plus vouchers for dinner and breakfast. I go fine. The Hilton Heathrow is really nice. I mean it was like over 100+ pounds a night, the dinner was expensive and the breakfast was over 30 USD so I was like fine.

So I wake up at around 5am to get ready and check in for my 830 flight. 3 hours before blah blah, I wasn’t taking any chances. So we board the plane a little late, which was fine but this is when it all went downhill. You know when you first get on the plane the electricity isn’t going, hence no A/C, just maybe a little fan coming through? Well that is what we got for over 5 hours. So after waiting like 45 minutes to an hour, the pilot gets on the loudspeaker and goes “sorry we are having technical problems with the jetway, the electricity has gone out and we can’t detach from it, but don’t worry we have people working on it.” Another hour goes by, the pilot gets on “ok we have detached and we are on our way down the tarmac and getting ready for takeoff.” Good, but nothing happened, we are still sitting on the tarmac. Another half hour, pilot gets on “Sorry about the delay but we are having problems with one of the engines, but don’t worry engineers and technicians are on their way.” Another hour plus goes by, still nothing, sitting there in the hot, no A/C nothing. This is like hour 3 or more of sitting there, people are starting to get restless, and stir comes over the passengers. It has now been like four hours, we are all hot, tired (cause the flight boarded at like 830 and many of us got up real early), and to top it off they haven’t served us an ounce of food, water, snacks, nothing! Even for me, who is patient in times like this, I had a breaking point and it was slowly approaching. So finally they get the engine fixed, and the pilot assures us we are taking off.

Well that didn’t happen either, the pilot once again gets on the loudspeaker and says something I have never heard in my life “Sorry ladies and gentlemen, because there were so many delays (over 5 hours sitting on the plane) I am not allowed to fly the plane, I have run out of hours for the week, so we need to bring in a new pilot to fly, but don’t worry he’ll be here in 45 minutes”. At this point I start to get a little crazy. “Were they kidding me? I thought to myself. Was this really happening. Did the pilot just say “I can’t believe I have to tell you guys this, but I can’t fly?” Many of these questions passed through my head, and at that point I got up out of my seat yet again, paced around the aisles and then when I got towards the front of the plane overheard a few british guys talking about getting off the plane. It was almost like a coup was brewing to get off. The british guys were planning how they would get off this plane, and get on another flight. They were on the phone calling BA about other flights, working travel agents, family friends etc…Eventually one of the guys was like “there is a flight coming up at 430, let’s get on that flight.” At that point I chimed in and told them that I was down to get off and do whatever was necessary. Eventually the new pilot came, it took well over an hour plus and when the new pilot got on this british guys went off. They demanded to be let off the plane, and their were yet again rumblings pouring down the aisles. “Did that guy just ask to get off, well heck I want to get off, this plane is cursed, too many problems” were many of the thoughts and murmurs coming from the crowd. So finally, I get up there with the guys and say to this guy in a purple shirt that I wanted off as well. This guy turned out to be the new pilot, who went back and forth with me for about five minutes, claiming that once he settled in the plane would be off and going in 45 minutes. I said I didn’t care, I had a bad feeling about this plane, too many things going wrong, we haven’t been fed, it is real hot in here so I want out! He gave in to my demands and said that there would be a bus who would take us back to the airport and back to the BA terminal. I said “thank you,” gathered up my stuff and was on my way. When I got off the plane, I got on that next flight, this time demanding to get on and not just letting the BA counter screw me over yet again. I figured out that the reason why I got screwed the first time was because my ticket was bought using some real cheap online discount site and I think they just didn’t want to acknowledge the pay grade of it, because like I said before every single person had gotten on a non-full flight the day before me, and people after me and they didn’t give me an answer as to why.

So now I’m off the plane, waiting for my new flight to leave. I think it was around 130 or 2pm and the flight was leaving like 3pm or something. So this plane arrived pretty much on time, in to JFK and I had found out that the plane that supposedly was going to leave “in only 45 minutes” according to the new pilot left at like 430pm! It took them 9 hours to get that plane off the ground! So I guess all in all I sat on the plane from about 830-130, and that is why I will NEVER fly BA again.

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 7, St. Maarten/St. Martin

May 26th, 2011

Today was our final full day on the fun ship. We started off the day with our usual quick breakfast in the main dining room, gathered up our stuff and headed off for what would hopefully be a funfilled day.

We got in a shared taxi (which is always a mad rush once we get off the ship) and managed to snap a few of the touristy (welcome to ____).

We decided to head for a beach on the french side of the island AKA St. Martin. For those who didn’t know St. Martin/St. Maarten is one of the only islands that have two countries associated with them (France and Netherlands). The ride to the far side of the island took quite a long time as we had to manuever our way through the mountainous and hilly island. Our driver was pretty funny and was speaking in as many languages to us as he knew. These included Dutch, French, English and a bunch of other ones. It was quite impressive to say the least, it also made our 45 minute journey far more pleasant.

Our first stop was Orient Beach. Orient beach is known for one thing and one thing only…a portion of it is completely NUDE! When you arrive you see a huge sign saying “Welcome to Orient beach” with a picture of naked butts. Also has a sign that says “no cameras” in several languages. I mean it would be almost criminal to not at least take a stroll down the nude side of the beach after traveling this long to get here.

The nude beach was extremely interesting to say the least. The beach seemed to be filled with middle aged Americans, who were yes, completely NUDE. After taking a stroll back and forth we decided to head to the normal, non nude side of the beach and find a place to plop down.

This side was much more entertaining and exciting. Basically the beach was divided up by vendor. Each vendor had a bar/restaurant and a whole host of chairs. Some had umbrellas some didn’t. Some offered free drinks with an umbrella chair combo others didn’t. We walked down until we came to one we liked. This one offered some free drinks with a chair/umbrella combo (of course still insanely priced), but this beach had what I would think would be a very european feel to it. Granted, I have never really been to a beach in Europe (Nice doesn’t count as it was the winter and it is all rocky), but maybe this is how the beaches in St. Tropez are in France.

Anyway, we settled in to our area, got our “free” drinks and just enjoyed the beautiful, sunny, yet extremely hot day in here in lovely St. Martin. The water was crystal clear, blue, very warm, but didn’t have much of a skyline. It wasn’t like some of the other beaches we had been too. It almost had waves like a bay, nothing major but overall a very nice beach with very fine sand. From time to time, people from the nude side would stroll across us, not completely nude, but generally topless, both men and women. It is incredible who will go topless these days!

After a few more drinks, and watching people have fun on the jet skiis, I convinced Nicole to take another run on them. Since the beach was crowded with Cruise tourists, we had to wait about 2 hours to get on them and we rented them for the standard 30 minutes.

When we got on this jet ski, it definitely felt much faster, lighter and shiftier than the one we rode in St. Looocia. I was whipping it around, hair blowing in the wind with Nicole screaming in the back. Unfortunately, this ride wouldn’t end the same way as the last ride. At one point, I slowed down signficantly, almost to a dead-stop. Apparently, that isn’t the best thing to do while riding a jet ski especially after traveling at a fast speed. To make a long story short, our jet ski tipped over and we ended up in the middle of the sea. Nicole was flipping out, I was trying to keep her calm and roll the jet ski back on. Thank G-d we were wearing life vests, because they definitely saved our lives.

Another thing was that we were pretty far out from shore and it was probably hard to see us from the shore, so the guy who ran these jet skiis definitely did not see us tip. Luckily, a guy who had rented one saw us, came over to us, took Nicole back to shore, and got the jet ski dude to come get me. Lets just say this big black guy was NOT happy that we tipped over. He was screaming at me the whole way back to shore. At one point he told me that we should have known how to ride the jet ski (even though it was only our second time) and that he didn’t feel it was his responsibility to teach us how to ride this jet ski, which turned out to be a racing jet ski (which makes sense as to why it was so damn fast). Then, the guy tried to tell me that I broke the Jet ski and/or that I needed to pay him $50 because now he couldn’t rent it out until it was dried or some BS. I gave me a paper I signed which he claimed made me liable for the $50. It obviously did not and he was just trying to muscle me. I told him “this can’t be the first time someone has tipped over a jet ski and I’m sure it doesn’t break them if it does.”

He basic point was that now he couldn’t immediately rent it out, but I told him tough luck. After I left him, Nicole asked me what happened and I quickly said “grab your stuff and lets go, I’ll explain later.” So Nicole and I quickly grabbed our stuff and found a taxi back to Philipsburg which is the capital of the Dutch side, St. Maarten.

Downtown St. Maarten was really nice. There were a strung of restaurants and hotels that lined the Marina. We ended up finding a really great tourist shop tucked away in a corner street. For the first time the chatchkas were relatively affordable and not ung-dly expensive like every other place. The guy who ran the shop was actually from Hong Kong and had been living in St. Maarten for a few years.

After leaving the shop, Nicole and I were both really hungry. We strolled around and came to a place that seemed fairly local, with a vibrant and exciting ambiance. We took a table and saw that they had a great menu. It has fresh “pub” style food. We got some nachos and ordered main meals. As it turns out a fairly famous TV show was filming there and was checking out the food. We didn’t know them, but looked them up when we got home and they were on some cable network. We spoke with the owners for a while and profusely complemented them on their delicious food.

We both really enjoyed St. Maarten/St. Martin even after we almost died in the middle of the caribbean sea. It has a nice laid back feel to it, seems more developed then some of the other islands we went too, cleaner and not as shady as say Barbados. There is a nice marina in Philipsburg, with hotels and restaurants, and it is a place we would definitely return back too.

After eating we walked around and did a little more shopping, including a walk through a very affordable duty free shop. We snapped some photos along the Marina (one that came out really well). The last shopping we did was when I stopped at a handmade local cigar shop (with the people actually rolling the cigars. The guy who owned the shop was really cool and was actually preparing to run the NYC marathon. He asked me if where he was staying was safe and I told him no. It was in East Harlem and pretty far up Lexington Avenue. We chatted it up a little, I bought a bunch of handrolled cigars, a t-shirt and was off.

The walk back to the ship was long. It was getting late and we didn’t have much time to get back to the ship. We had to walk probably a mile to get back in the blazing sun. But as most travel guidebooks will recommend, try and be one of the last people on the ship to maximize your day at a port (and by the last few days we certainly were!).

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 6 Basseterre, Saint Kitts

May 9th, 2011

By Day 6 Nicole and I were well versed in how things worked on these islands but that didn’t mean we were able to stop getting ripped off by the taxi drivers and vendors; now all we could do was try to limit the damage. Today, we were off to see the wonderful Saint Kitts. The official name of the country is Saint Kitts & Nevis. Saint Kitts is home to Ross University Caribbean Veterinary School. As usual, the night before I had read about Saint Kitts, focusing mainly on what beaches looked most appealing and which beaches were the most accessible and least touristy. The beach I settled on was located in South Friar’s Bay called Friar’s Beach. Since this stretch of the island was split between the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the South, the best beaches for swimming and relaxing where located on the Caribbean Sea side of the island. As is the case in most of these islands which are split between the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean side beaches of these islands have incredibly rough waters, rocky beaches, strong undercurrents to the point where even Fodor’s and most guidebooks will say that they are not swimmable (surfing is usually what occurs in the waters off these beaches).

When we got off the cruise ship, we told the taxi stand that we wanted to go to Friar’s Bay. We were immediately told to go to another beach. That this other beach was better. I was well versed in this song and dance. This “other beach” is probably near a major resort, heavily touristy and overrun with annoying vendors. I kindly told the woman that we were interested in Friar’s Bay. She told us to stand “over there” with the others who had obviously not bought what she was selling. After only a little while we were shuffled into a taxi that was full. Some of us were going to Friar’s Bay while others were going to other beaches. The ride to Friar’s Bay seemed longer than 30 minutes. The island was very hilly, roads were often windy and narrow. Also, the island seemed significantly more remote than the other islands we had been too. Unlike the other islands, St. Kitts did not have a lot of development. Later, we learned in the last few years the government had decided to change their economy from sugar cane to tourism. So I can imagine that in the next few years hotels and resorts will be popping up all over the island. The island also I’m sure receives a tremendous amount of money from Ross, not only from the taxes but from the money that is infused into their economy by the students that live there for 2.5-3 years at a time.

When we were close to Friar’s bay we were taken down some dirt roads, lined with trees and shrubbery. It was a little freaky because it looked like we were being taken into the woods to be killed. If this had been nighttime it would have been 100% pitch black, besides the headlights the taxi driver would have had on. Eventually, the road ended up a cul-de-sac and we were there. Since we had been one of the first taxis to leave the port, there were very few people on the beach and not that many taxis lined up. Again, we were greeted by a dude who appeared to be running the show. Due to the fact that Nicole and I were pretty burnt, we opted for lounge chairs with shade. The shade was produced by a 2 x 4 connected to another 2 x 4 with palm tree leaves constructed in a way to make it like a canopy. It was a really cool way to produce shade. The water was blue, clear and had a huge coral reef only meters from the shoreline. Another reason why I chose this beach over others was that it had off-shore snorkeling. While, I was unsure how much it would be rent the gear, I imagined it could not be a lot. Also, Fodor’s had mentioned that the beach had a really cool bar/restaurant. All-in-all this beach sounded like the place to be! After resting for a few minutes, I rented some snorkel gear, got the underwater camera and began exploring the reefs. The way the beach worked was that half the beach was the reef and the other half was for swimming. These reefs were incredibly close to the water and with the water being fairly shallow, lying completely flat on top of the water would be critical in avoiding the coral.

The water in Saint Kitts was the warmest water we had experienced so far in our trip. The water had to be in the 80s and with the weather being in the 90s, it was not much of the reprieve from the blistering sun. Saint Kitts was hot! Nicole also came into the water, but chose not to snorkel. I got some great underwater pictures with the camera. The beach also offered jet skiing. While we were hanging out in the water and on the beach, we noticed a lot of young people with dogs. I wondered to Nicole how they had dogs on the island (did they bring them with them on a trip?) Some of these dogs were pretty big. Nicole went over to pet some of them (the huge dog lover she is) and started chatting it up with some of these younger people. This is when we found out that Ross University’s Veterinary school was located in Saint Kitts. It turned out that these dogs were rescued and were part of Ross’ program that rescues stray dogs, treats them and tries to find them homes (mainly with students). Nicole was gaga over the veterinary students and was telling them all about the famous Jackson Brown aka Hairyman, Hairybaby, Jack, Jackie and Jackson. I could not help say that he may been the world’s biggest Shih Tzu weighing in at a cool 20 lbs. The students got a chuckle out it and so did I. I mean he gets fed boiled chicken, walked at least 3-4 times a day, pampered, cleaned and clipped. Who wouldn’t want to be him? I certainly would. It’s true I’m jealous of a 20 pound 16 month old Shih Tzu. There, I said it (he is also pretty darn cute).

We spent most of the day relaxing in our awesome chairs with great shade, location and as more and more people began to flood this beach (students and tourists), it became a little crowded, but because the beach was fairly long and spread out it wasn’t overly crowded. Another highlight of this beach was the aforementioned bar/restaurant. This bar served up plenty of options for frosty beers and beverages (like pina coladas and the like). I grabbed a few beers throughout the day and got Nicole a frozen beverage.

You know it wouldn’t be a trip without there being an issue at least once a day. Today, the issue came courtesy of a couple that we had come to the beach with in our taxi. The couple was from Queens and we had chatted with them for most of the journey to the beach from the port. They seemed pretty chilled, laid back people just enjoying their vacation. When we got to the beach we had to tell the driver what time to pick us up. They initially had said 3PM. Nicole and I thought that would be too much time at the beach. We eventually agreed on 2PM. By 1PM Nicole and I had agreed that we wanted to stay longer, grab some grub from the bar/restaurant and enjoy the beach a little more (we realized that with today being Good Friday, nothing in Basseterre would be open (this was confirmed by several of the students we spoke with). Therefore, instead of going back and hanging out at the shopping center at the port, we would hang out and enjoy this magnificent beach. I walked over to where this couple was sitting and told them we wanted to stay until 3PM. They said that sounded good and when the driver came I would tell him 3PM. Around this time, Nicole and I were hungry and decided to grab some food at the bar/restaurant. By this time the place was jumping and we were only able to get to bar stools on the side of the bar/restaurant. About thirty minutes later the driver came and I told him that we wanted to leave at 3PM. He said no problem. By this time Nicole and I had put our order in but I quickly realized that it may take some time. Now I understand “island time” and that things naturally take longer but this was pushing even my limits of patience (as well as Nicole’s). The food ended up taking about an hour and a half. The food took so long we just finished by the time the driver came for our 3PM pickup! We had sat down and ordered at about 130PM!

The food was freshly made and really good. It was definitely at tourist prices as the meal came to almost $40 with tip! So when the driver came looking for us, I said I would go find the couple coming back with us (it was important that they came back with since the price of our taxi depended on having more than 6 people). When I went over to them to tell them that the taxi driver was here and ready to go they said “Oh we’re good.” I was like “what does that mean?” “Listen man, we got this other couple that wants to go back at 4, why don’t you just come with us, we’re good here, we’re chillin,” the guy responded. I was like “Na, I think we are all set leaving. I’m tired and we want to do some shopping back at the port since most stores in Basseterre are closed.” He said “alright man.” I walked away pissed realizing that this couple had screwed us and if we didn’t find other people to fill the taxi that we would have to pay a lot more to get back. I was pissed off because we had accommodated this couple by staying longer (twice) and we were really friendly to them and then they pull this shit on us. I’m sure Karma would pay them back (if it hadn’t already). Luckily, as we going to our taxi, we noticed a couple that was looking for a taxi back, I told them that we had room and they quickly shuffled into ours and we were off! If we hadn’t found that couple it would have cost us at least $10 more to get back. This place was real far and unless you had a full taxi, it wasn’t cheap to get to from the port.

Upon being dropped off by the taxi, we began to walk around this makeshift shopping center. All the ports had them and whoever owned the land and the buildings made a fortune off them. Again, the center had clothing, souvenir and a ton of jewelry shops. We started walking around going from store to store. Our first priority was to get our shot glass and picture frame. We found a store where we got all of our stuff in one fell swoop. We also picked up some t-shirts to give as gifts for back home. I also managed to get a patch for my backpack (I had gotten one in Barbados and St. lucia and wanted one for St. Kitts. St. Kitts was country number 48 on my list!).

After spending ungodly amounts of money on things that should cost a fraction of what we paid, it was off to the jewelry shops. One of the shops was called EFFY. This is apparently a popular jewelry brand back home. Nicole was curious how much the stuff cost, so we went into the first one we saw and began to look around. Eventually, we found that they had men’s bracelets, pulled one out and looked at it. Upon turning it over, we noticed that the bracelet had a marking on it that wasn’t EFFY. It was another name. Nicole then says “what is this?” The guy proceeds to tell us that this is the men’s line of EFFY. Nicole was skeptical, which meant I was extremely skeptical, as Nicole knows her jewelry. I then said “well if this is EFFY where the EFFY stamp is?” The guy then looks at his boss with this bewildered, nervous look and then Nicole and I left. It was clear that either this bracelet was a fake or that it wasn’t EFFY but some other brand being pawned off as EFFY. Either way, this place was shady as hell and wasn’t the place for us. We had seen other shops advertising that they were an EFFY boutique. We went into another and were informed that this brand that the first store was trying to say was EFFY was in fact a completely other brand of jewelry that specialized in men’s titanium bracelets! This made me question whether any of the jewelry we had seen was in fact real. I mean how they could possibly sell this all this brand named jewelry at the prices they do!

Eventually we stumbled into a jewelry store which did not advertise a particular brand. The main dealer in the store was extremely friendly. We began chatting with him and were very pleased with his demeanor and what he was offering. Nicole was looking to buy me a men’s titanium bracelet. We had seen one previously in Barbados and since then she was hooked on getting me one. I was hesitant to let her get me one, but was very flattered at the same time. This guy showed us a bunch and then it came down to haggling. Since Nicole was making the purchase I let her do the bargaining. She ended up getting the guy to lower the original retail tag value 40%. I was ecstatic about the bracelet and really appreciative that Nicole had bought it for me. The bracelet was so nice, titanium, not too flashy and incredibly light. It fit me perfectly, did not need to be sized at all and overall was really moved by the fact that she bought it for me.

By this time, we were tired. The sun really drains you of your energy. We headed back to the ship, got some food, chatted with our Thai friend for a while and then hung out until dinner. Tonight we saw our second show. The show was really good. It was a Mexican juggler/comedian. He reminded of George Lopez because all he was doing was ripping on Mexican’s and Puerto Ricans. I found him to be funny, but since 90% of the crowd didn’t speak English, he wasn’t getting as many laughs as he should. When he really wanted a good laugh from the crowd, he told the joke in both English and Spanish and that worked well. After dinner we did some gambling and then headed up to sleep. Tomorrow was our last stop, Saint Martin/Maarten and we wanted to enjoy every minute of our last island!

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 5 Castries, St. Lucia (Loooosha)

May 6th, 2011

Besides being known for their beaches, shopping and great weather, St. Lucia is also known for 2600+ foot Twin Pitons which are part of an active volcano on the island of St. Lucia. These Pitons can be seen from many parts of the island as they tower of mostly everything. Today we happened to get up early than other days and in time to watch the ship cruise into the port in Castries (capital of St. Lucia). It was very nice to sit on our balcony and watch as the land rolled by. We also got a pretty good glance at the twin Pitons. I snapped a few photos and even got a photo of the Captain of the ship (I had to use digital zoom so it’s a bit blurry). The Captains Bridge was located in the front of the ship and offset to the right of the boat and built on an overhang. Not sure why it is designed this way. I just hope he can see the left side of the ship.

My immediate reaction as I stepped outside onto the balcony at 745AM was “boy it is hot out.” After laying in the sun the past three days, sun was not our friend. Sure we wanted to continue building up our amazing tans, but not at the expense of having our skin blister, boil and burn. I think it is fair to say that the best thing I brought along on the trip was the 16 fl.oz. bottle of aloe I got from target. I think we had used half the bottle already. We quickly got ready, packed up my backpack which again weighed 25 pounds (Nicole does NOT pack light), had a quick breakfast (thankfully alone) and we’re off to explore St. Lucia. In reading Fodor’s not many beaches that were accessible to use seemed appealing. Unfortunately, I went with one that was located near resorts and that meant touristy. Again, we were shoved into a taxi and whisked away 30 minutes to the other side of St. Lucia to a beach known as Reduit Beach. St. Lucian Hotel was located here among other small resorts. The beach stretched pretty long out pretty long. When we arrived it was somewhat of a madhouse. There were a million taxis dropping off hundreds of tourists and some guy who appeared to be running the show kept asking if we had a “ticket.” I had no idea what this ticket was, how it would help us, so I grabbed Nicole and walked past them, through the St. Lucian Hotel and onto the beach.

Like beaches of the past, we were greeted by some dude who was running the show for the chairs and umbrellas. We bargained (slightly for a set of chairs (no umbrellas), lotioned up and enjoyed the warm St. Lucian air and pretty spectacular beach (look for my rankings of the beaches we went too in my last blog entry of the trip). The worst part of being at such a touristy beach is the annoying vendors. Now I have been to my share of beaches and man these vendors ranked up there when it came to being annoying. I swear a vendor came up to us every five minutes trying to sell us something or some service (aloe massage, foot massage, back massage, drugs, you name it they’ll sell it to you). I understand that this country lives off of tourism, but seriously guys and girls back the hell off. You are ruining my relaxing vacation by asking me if I need something every 5 minutes. If I need something, I’ll find you! And g-d forbid you insinuate you are even remotely interested, these vendors will stalk you (Nicole learned that the hard way and got the business from me on that one).

When it was time to head into the water we quickly agreed that this was by far the warmest water we had had up to this point. I wouldn’t call it bath water, but it was certainly warm (maybe in the mid to upper 70s). Being from Long Island where the Atlantic Ocean is never warm, this was something that I had only experienced a few times in my life (Fiji the water was like bath water and actually not refreshing at all). Another annoying part of being at a touristy beach is that they offer watersports; i.e. banana boat and tubing rides, jet skiing, parasailing, which equates to me having less area to swim around. Due to all these watersports going on, I was confined to a small swim area. I also found that annoying. I was able to get Nicole into the wear, but only briefly. Nicole was too busy getting the sand off her legs, blanket and lounge chair. Nicole has to consistently clean the sand off everything. She prefers coarser sand to fine sand as it is much easier to clean. This girl just loves to clean and really hates sand. I think she may have spent more time cleaning off her chair and body parts of sand than actually sitting in the sun!

After watching several groups head out on jet skis I asked Nicole if she wanted to give it a try. I had only been on the back on one once in my life, but never had a chance to ride one. I always wanted too and figured what better place to do it than St. Lucia! I spoke to one of the guys offering up their jet ski for rental. He told me that a bunch of groups had already signed up but that we could have it at like 1230 (it was like 11AM at that time). I said no problem and we hung out and waited for our turn. We were given 30 minutes on the jet ski and given some BASIC instructions as how to ride it.

Before we knew it, it was 1230 and our time to jump on the jet ski. It took me a few minutes to get a handle for it. There was no brake, so essentially braking meant taking your hand off the throttle and it was a little sensitive. It was also hard to manage with Nicole saying every 2.5 seconds “Josh, you’re going too fast, slow down Josh, Josh you’re going to kill us, JOSH!” By the end of our ride Nicole was hooting and hollering when I accelerated, hair blowing in the wind, water smacking up in our face. She finally relaxed and enjoyed herself instead of worrying whether or not we were going to die in St. Lucia. If the speedometer was correct we got that bad boy up to 27 MPH which is pretty fast on water.

After returning back from jet skiing we hung out until about 2PM when we got a taxi back to downtown Castries. The driver dropped us off near a major market which ran along the water. The front of the market was lined with tourist crap and the prices reflected that this was the tourist portion. Now, anyone who knows me knows that on trips like this I find the real, local spots. I wander along until I run into something spectacular. Well, whether I’m in Hanoi, Vietnam, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, or Castries, St. Lucia I find the local hotspots. Behind the touristy part of the market was the local market where locals went to buy groceries such as fruit, vegetables, local spices, meats, fishes etc…This part of the market also had local vendors selling local dishes. This area reminded me of Vietnam in that these vendors or mini restaurants was run by a family, had a table outside their restaurant (which was basically a one room kitchen) and made great local cuisine. I could tell from Nicole’s face that she was NOT digging it. The area was a small alleyway, was very tight and we were getting bumped by passersby constantly. With my big backpack on, I was getting nailed left and right and Nicole was getting bumped a lot as well.

I had picked out three bags of spices; one filled with cayenne pepper, one meat and fish spice and one chicken spice. All three smelled amazing. Now I had read in Fodor’s that St. Lucia offered up a great collection of local, fresh spices at an affordable price (significantly lower than what spices sell for back in the USA). The price I had bargained down too was 3 bags for $5. The price seemed high and the lady knew I thought the price was too high. So what did I do? I waited around until a local came up to buy some spices. The lady caught on to what I was doing, smiled and said “you are waiting around to see how much THEY pay aren’t you,” I smiled back and said “you better believe it. I want to make sure I am not getting ripped off.” “LOOK at how much he is paying, see, it is the same as you!” she responded. It said “fair enough” and bought my three huge bags of local, fresh spices for $5 (upon return, I checked in the supermarket and I basically paid 10-20% of what it would cost for the quantity of spice I actually bought, so in hindsight, I was really happy with the purchase). However, this also led to my rip-off of the day brought to you by Castries, St. Lucia.

Along with the 3 bags of spices, and one bag of fresh nutmeg I bought (they gave me whole nutmegs which you grate to get the spice, so cool), I bought a bottle of banana ketchup. On our trip down to the Caribbean, a guy had told us to get a bottle of banana ketchup, that it was amazing and something not to be missed. So, me the schmuck, thinking that only local vendors would sell a sealed bottle of mass produced banana ketchup, I bought a small 5 oz bottle of it from the lady for $4. Later on, Nicole and I went into a supermarket and found the same stupid bottle for about 20% of the price. I think the bottle in the store was the equivalent of $1-2 USD. And that is my rip-off of the day brought to you by the woman in the local market in Castries, St. Lucia.

After buying the spices and banana ketchup, I was hungry and decided to get some food from one of these small, family run restaurants selling amazing local cuisine and for $5 what could be better! I threw back a bottle of beer and got a delicious cup of freshly squeezed passion fruit juice to go. Nicole got an order of fried plantains. From there we walked back through the market. In walking back through the market we stopped at a vendor in the touristy part selling all the crap we were collecting. We ended up bargaining pretty well and got all the stuff we wanted including some t-shirts, shot glass, picture frame and some other things. Anyway, after we bought some tourist crap, we decided to walk deeper into downtown Castries to see what they had to offer. I can honestly say that outside this huge market, it didn’t have much to offer. I ended up buying some stamps from the post office and we went to a local supermarket (where I found that small bottle of banana ketchup for really cheap). In the supermarket, we bought some ice cream pops and some other nosh foods, jumped in a taxi and headed back to the ship.

Once back on the ship, we got some food, talked with some of the crew members from Thailand (especially our one friend who worked in the same spot on the 9th deck buffet area). We really took a liking to her. She gave us a really good inside look into how the crew members are treated and what kind of hours they work. It is really a tough job. They don’t get paid a lot (and possibly paid in their local currency which blows) and work upwards of 16 hours a day (and on their feet). But like I told Nicole time and time again, for the vast majority, I’d say 98% or more of them, this job is better than any job they would have in their home country. The wages are higher for sure, they get treated pretty well (from what our Thai friend said), they get to leave the ship for a few hours twice every week) and get to live on a cruise ship! However, Nicole did wonder if the crew members were able to drive to work every day, instead of living on the ship (Oh Nicole!).

Dinner was typical, after dinner Nicole and I gambled then went to sleep pretty early. Tomorrow we were off to St. Kitts!

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 4 Bridgetown, Barbados

May 5th, 2011

After being stuck at sea all day yesterday, I think Nicole and I were extremely eager to get off the boat and do some exploring on our next island. I was unsure what to expect of Bridgetown and the surrounding areas of Barbados. After reading what Fodor’s had to offer on the island it sounded like an interesting place to say the least and I don’t think we were disappointed one bit. Every night our Steward left the schedule for the next day’s events, including what the time the ship would be docking at the port and what time it would be leaving. The informational packet also included guidelines or tips regarding the port. Barbados had a few interesting ones all based on the same premise; you are not allowed to wear anything camouflage while on the island of Barbados; this includes t-shirts, shorts, pants, skirts, backpacks, bags, bandanas and anything else you can imagine. Apparently, this government or “regime” has set this as a strict law that is enforced by the local authorities. While, Nicole and I did not plan on wearing our camo shorts or shirts, this was a little alarming to me. The first thing I thought about when I read this was that either the government has been or is oppressive, there was some sort of military coup in the past, or there has been issues with rebels or something like that. I have no idea if any of that is true regarding the politics and past history of Barbados, those are what I immediately began to think about.

For breakfast, we headed down to the Pacific Dining Room and this time opted to sit by ourselves for breakfast. This was Nicole’s initial suggestion the day before, but I thought after sitting at dinner alone we would try and sit with others and be social. I should have listened to her because it was painstakingly awful (Yes, I said I should have listened to her and it’s in print…good thing I have the ability to edit previous posts in case this becomes a trend in the future).

In terms of our itinerary for the day, after reading Fodor’s I decided that we would try a beach that seemed local, hidden and secluded from where others on the cruise ship would venture or where tourists would spend their days in Barbados. The beach was called Accra beach (it had another name but this is the one I remember from the book). When we got off the ship, it was the same song and dance as in St. Thomas; a million taxis all spitting out the same rates based on how many people we had in their taxis. When we mentioned we wanted to go to Accra beach we were shuffled like a herd of cattle to a taxi driver named Jenny. After waiting about 15 minutes, a couple sitting behind us became extremely agitated that we had waited so long to leave (apparently they had waited for about 15 minutes before we got into the cab, so roughly 30 minutes and there was minimal aircon running in the taxi so it was hot. I can understand the frustration, but these people were being real pains in the ass and just flat out rude to our driver Jenny. It seemed apparent that they had not traveled very often, if at all outside of the USA. People, who have, understand that island time is just a bit slower than life in the USA, plus our fare may be the only one this driver gets for the whole day. Her goal is to drop us off and hopefully pick us up from wherever we go to make a nice roundtrip fare. If everyone is paying $8-10 for a drop-off and a pickup and there are 8 people or more in a taxi that’s a good days work for someone like Jenny. Clearly this couple didn’t know that and more importantly didn’t care. It really took a lot for me to not just simply blast this couple for how ridiculous and inappropriate they were being. I would have loved to bitch slap them.

My only issue was how Nicole and I were seated. We were in the front seat with the driver. I had a middle seat (which had some sort of seatbelt, aka the suicide seat) and Nicole had what was a proper front seat for a passenger, except sitting on the right (because it was formerly a British colony, they drive on the left. One last thing about this couple, you could tell that they hadn’t gone anywhere because they were dropped off at some fancy Hilton resort for the day (schmucks), nothing says tourist like being dropped off from a cruise ship to a resort hotel. Could you experience any less culture? Come on. That’s certainly not how I roll and how Nicole was starting to roll.

The ride to Accra beach was roughly 20 minutes or so from the cruise terminal to the beach. Maybe 30 minutes. It seemed like every beach we went too took 30 minutes on our trip. Anyway, Jenny was a middle-aged, formerly in the military, vibrant, enthusiastic, rambunctious tour guide/taxi driver. During our ride to Accra beach which included dropping off 6 other people at other beaches we learned a plethora of information. She was pointing out landmarks, giving us the history of Bridgetown and the island in general. We loved her and she was so friendly. When we were dropped off at Accra she called for a local who was working in conjunction with the bar that was also on the beach to get us set up with some chairs and whatever we needed. We told her to come get us at around 1PM. This would give us enough time to soak up the sun, walk around a little and do some shopping at a makeshift market which ran parallel to the beaches.

This beach was pretty nice. It wasn’t 100% sunny, which I enjoyed since I was burnt from St. Thomas and yesterday, however, because the sun was poking through from time to time, it didn’t really show the true beauty of the beach. The water didn’t look as aqua blue and as crystal clear and it should have, however, it was certainly a unique beach. The beach had a reef which started on land and went into the water. Contained within this reef were crabs. These crabs ranged in size from very small to fairly large. The amazing thing about the crabs was that their shells blended in perfectly with the colors of the rocks and coral that made up this reef. We also saw some hermit crabs and some very small fish swimming in pools of water brought in by the waves but trapped by the rocks. This seemed like a spot to potentially go snorkeling but after my experience in St. Thomas, I think my back needed a break from the sun.

So the deal with this beach was that renting two chairs got you 2 drinks at the bar equivalent to what you paid in Bajan dollars. I believe the chairs were 10 USD for the pair, giving us 20 Bajan dollars to spend at the bar. This bar was pretty cool. It has all sorts of drinks, both alcoholic and non, it served food and had an open-aired, roofed seating area. It was also right on the beach and very convenient to where we were seated. I decided to head up with my receipt to see what drinks they had to and to inquire about possibly renting snorkeling gear. I really didn’t want the gear but I was curious to see how much they charged for the mask and breathing tube (which come strapped together). I approached the local, who appeared to be the barback/server/helper. The bar appeared to be owned and operated by white, female sisters. When I walked up to the dude, I asked “how much to rent a snorkel?” He looked around, looked at me, made an awkward facial expression and said “Uh $20 dollars.” I immediately said “20 Bajan dollars?” “No” he replied, “$20 USD.” I returned the awkward facial expression, except mine should have been interpreted that I was saying “get the hell out of here, do I look like an idiot?” It had become apparent to me as I walked back to my lounge chair that the dude had simply made up a price. Either they didn’t rent them, or he didn’t know how much they rented them for and was just going to charge me whatever he thought I may bite at and pocket the difference or pocket the entire amount.

Again, I felt like reaching across the bar and bitch slapping this guy. I mean I understand I’m a tourist and every local assumes in these sorts of countries that we are rich, stupid, white tourists and that will just accept whatever price is given to us because we do not know any better or are just so happy to see crystal blue water and some dudes with dread-locks playing Bob Marley that we will be suckered. Now, I am not saying I have not been suckered in the past. Anyone who has read my entries from previous trips knows that in every country there is a local price and a traveler/tourist price and everyone knows that I can easily recognize when I am getting ripped off and that I try to minimize how much I get ripped off per day. If I had accepted his offer of $20 USD or 40 Bajan dollars to rent a snorkel mask and attached breathing tube, this would have been the rip-off of rip-offs. Even more then the time I fell for the old “I ran your credit card a few times and it doesn’t seem to be working, can you just pay me cash instead,”(June, 2007 Bangkok) because this would have been such a blatant rip-off. Part of me wishes I had said “ok” and just seen how the guy would have reacted; would he have smiled and walked back to get me a snorkel set? Would he have said “hold on a sec let me check,” and found out the real price, or would he have been a real pro, been stone-faced taken my money and given me the snorkel set? I’ll never know, but next time I’m in a similar situation, maybe I’ll press the issue and see what happens.

The water in Barbados was a lot warmer than St. Thomas. This was expected as we had traveled considerably south of St. Thomas. This beach was also really nice because you could literally walk 250 feet or more off-shore and still be waste high. At a certain point the water level dropped dramatically and then out in the distance there appeared to be a sandbar. I didn’t swim out to it for obvious reasons (I’m a crappy swimmer). After Nicole had a few sips of her drink, a few beers for me, we took some pictures, and I actually got Nicole into the water. Getting her in the water is not easy. It’s almost like I have to dangle something in front of her to lead her in and as soon as the water hits her ankles and there is a hint of wave again I started to hear rumblings of what was becoming one of many Nicoleisms; “the water is too rough and too dirty, I have gone far enough.” “But Nicole the water is only at your ankles,” I replied, “that’s okay; I’m in far enough thanks.” At that point, I refused to hear it and demanded she grab my hand and we started to walk out into the water. I mean you are in Barbados, at a pretty amazing beach, suck it up and enjoy it! At one point, I pulled one of my oldest tricks (one that Jenny is very familiar with), and set her up for the take down. There are two strategies for the take down, either start to incessantly compliment or go for the “hey look over there” approach and boom go for the take down. I realized that going with the “hey look over there” approach probably wouldn’t go over well. Instead, I went with old reliable and started to incessantly compliment Nicole to the point where she was unaware of her surrounding and them boom! The take down! I made sure we were in deep enough water where neither of us would get hurt. The plan had worked! She was still ruminating over all the compliments that she didn’t care that I had just taken her down (yes her head actually went below the water). We spent some more time swimming around and enjoying the amazingly warm and crystal clear, blue water and then it was time to head out and move on from Accra beach. However, before we could go I had to fill up a bottle with sand (I used one of the beer bottles I had drank and filled it with lovely Bajan sand from the beach – I was trying to get sand from each beach we went too at the request of Momma Epstein).

Our first stop was this makeshift market. Nicole was interested in getting one of those multi-purpose and colorful sarongs that girls wear in the summertime. We went to one shop and the woman didn’t have very many but said that her friend might have some. So she brought us 5 feet to the next shop. Low and behold the woman had exactly what Nicole was looking for. Initially, I thought that the price seemed incredibly high for what she wanted. I mean the fabric definitely felt like cotton and was softer than that cheap fabric you often see these sorts of things made out of (it often feels like plastic). She definitely overpaid, but based on how much things seemed to cost at the other islands we would visit, it wasn’t too bad. My theory is simple, if you want it get it because otherwise you will go home with nothing and regret not buying the things you really wanted (unless what you want outrageously expensive and out of your budget. Budget, what the hell is a budget ).

After picking up a few other trinkets, we decided to head to I guess the equivalent of McDonalds in Barbados (And yes, Barbados does NOT have a McDonalds), called Chefette. It was the cleanest fast food joint I had ever been too. We had heard the food was really good, lots of locals go there and that it was something we had to try in Barbados. We ended up getting some chicken sandwiches (Nicole got a wrap, I got a chicken sandwich), fries and drinks. While Chefette had the look and feel of a fast food joint, it was anything but fast. The food seemed to take forever to come and there were barely any patrons! If this didn’t scream “island time”, I’m not sure what would. I figured that if any place would have fast service it would be Chefette. I mean even when I was at the McDonald’s in Fiji, where a simple pizza took an hour and a half to get, the food came fast. Anyway, I would recommend Chefette to any travelers/tourists looking for decent, unhealthy meal that wasn’t that cheap for fast food (about 15 bucks for both of us).

After our lovely, delicious meal at Chefette, it was time to walk back to Accra Beach and look for Jenny. As I expected Jenny was waiting for us. Nicole took a picture with Jenny and we piled back into the taxi and Jenny started to make her rounds picking up everyone EXCEPT that annoyingly, nasty couple from earlier. Good riddens to them! We told Jenny that we wanted to be dropped off at the famous Synagogue in Bridgetown. I had read in Fodor’s about an old Temple that was built in the mid 1600’s and was considered one of the oldest Jewish temples in the Western Hemisphere. This was a must-see and Nicole was excited as well to take a look. Jenny dropped us off around the corner and gave us some good directions to get to the temple and how to get back to the main strip of Bridgetown. We were dropped off in a fairly seedy looking area. Low concrete buildings, not much commercial business around and I could tell Nicole did not like Bridgetown very much. Unlike Charlotte Amalie (capital of St. Thomas), Bridgetown was more indicative and resembling of a third world country capital city. While this was nothing new for me, and to be perfectly honest not a bad looking city, I can imagine that the small alley ways and narrow streets and lack of street lights probably makes this area of Bridgetown, as well as others tough at night.

We found the Synagogue and it was fascinating. It was clear that it had been destroyed and it appeared that the area was in the process of being restored. There were a few structures on the plot of land including an extremely old Jewish cemetery. Cemeteries freak Nicole out so I didn’t walk down into the cemetery to take a look at the tombstones. They probably wouldn’t have told me very much considering I can only read Hebrew, but have no idea what the words mean (typical Jewish Reform education, sigh). I was hoping that the Rabbi would be around, but alas he wasn’t Nicole and I went into the rebuilt temple, took some photos and then it was off to explore the rest of downtown Bridgetown. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. We went into a few shops, walked around a small mall (mainly to cool off and to find some Tchotchkes). Nicole and I had decided to collect a shot glass and picture frame from every place we went too. I was also on a mission to get some Cuban cigars for the rest of the cruise. I enjoy a nice cigar from time to time and do not pass up opportunities to get REAL Cuban cigars. We ended up finding a shop that sold all the Tchotchkes we were looking for as well a cigar shop a few shops away. This took care of the purchasing portion of the day. Also, we found a guy selling freshly made snow cones in a cup and of course I had to get one. I love ice, I love colored, sugary fruit flavoring and therefore I love snow cones! Man, it hit the spot considering how hot it was out. Also, it looked like rain clouds were rolling in and I hoped it wouldn’t start to downpour right on us before we had a chance to get back onto the boat.

After we got our snow cone and our trinkets, we decided to try and use the phone card that Nicole bought for our trip. This was a small point of contention between us leading up to the trip. I didn’t think a phone card was really necessary but Nicole wanted the ability to call her parents when we were on the islands. This was our first and really only squabble of the trip. After repeated attempts to get the phone card to work which included me having to speak with ATT customer service in America and an operator in Barbados, I became really frustrated and blurted out “Man you really must love your mother and need to talk to her”; Immediately after saying that I had realized that it probably wasn’t the best choice of words. For those that know of the movie “A Christmas Story” shown every Christmas eve for 24 hours on TBS, I had a Ralphie moment here. In the movie, Ralphie is asked by his mother what he wants for Christmas. He immediately blurts out that he wants this red rider gun and then you hear the voice in his head go “ohhhh” because he knew that his mother would never get it for him and she proceeded to say “you’ll shoot your eye out Ralphie.” That is how I felt after I blurted those words out; (Also the part where he says the F-word after he knocks over the lugnuts from the tire when his dad is changing it on the side of the road). I should have been more considerate to Nicole’s feelings realizing that she hadn’t traveled as much as I have and wanted to speak to her mom. After, I got the look of death from her and the guilt trip (“Don’t worry Josh you don’t have to keep trying I’ll call her tomorrow,”), I got it to work and she was able to speak to her mother. I figured I would call my parents (and got the same treatment from her when she said “I guess you really love your dad,”) after I spoke to him on the phone. I said “touché” we said sorry and moved on. We can’t really fight, it’s too hard because we get along too well!

The rain clouds were becoming increasingly ominous and it was time to head back to the ship. We had been harassed for like 15 minutes by the same taxi driver who kept saying “Taxi! Need a ride back to the ship, ok do you need a ride now, ok how about now,” and finally when we were ready to head back we jumped in his cab, negotiated the price down slightly and got back onto the ship and not a moment too soon. As soon as we got back on it started to pour. This was the only time it rained during our entire time. We chilled out, got some food, hung out on the 9th deck until it stopped raining, then we sat outside as the ship sailed off to the next destination, St. Lucia (Loooosha). It had become a ritual to get food after a long day out and either sit inside on the 9th deck, on our balcony or outside as the ship sailed away. It was peaceful and a nice.

Dinner was uneventful as it was most nights. We conversed with Judy and Joe and mainly ignored the other couple. After dinner we did some gambling and walked around the ship. We headed up early in order to be rested for our day in St. Lucia.

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 3 Day At Sea

May 3rd, 2011

After going to bed fairly late the night before and knowing good well we had nothing to do today, I decided to sleep in. I think that it was a little later than Nicole had expected me to sleep and she was probably getting concerned with the fact that by 10AM I was still sleeping. While some people considering sleeping late to be 1, 2PM, for us, 10AM is really late. I’m up at 8AM every morning and Nicole is up at 610AM so getting up anytime between 730 and 830AM is considered sleeping in. 10AM for us is unheard-of. Be that as it may, I woke up groggy to Nicole stirring around like a dog that needed to be walked. She was probably hungry and wanting some breakfast. Unfortunately by 10AM we had missed the call to get breakfast in the main dining hall. Lucky for me, the buffet on the 9th deck was offering a breakfast for “late-risers” such as me. I thought this was perfect. Stroll out of bed, head to a nice buffet and enjoy the sunny day at sea.

My plan was immediately foiled once we stepped foot onto the 9th deck as the line for the buffet was down the block and around the corner. I guess I was not the only person out of the 3700 plus passengers to envision such a day as I had in mind. With Nicole’s hunger ever increasing and my frustration of standing in line waiting for food boiling over, I decided to get out of line and find another place serving breakfast. Nicole ended up finding the omelet station and I found a better buffet on the other end of the deck serving virtually the same food. Of course, just as we got our food and fought off others for seats, the line subsided and people were able to just stroll up and get food as they pleased.

After breakfast, we went back to the room to change, got our bathing suits on and decided to lay out. Unfortunately, after yesterday’s snorkeling and laying out all day at Coki Beach, Nicole and I were burnt. My back was absolutely roasted and she was pretty burnt on her shoulders, and her legs. It looked like she was wearing pink socks! I guess when she was applying her sun tan lotion throughout the day in her very cute, yet spastic ways she missed her ankles. My back was burnt from snorkeling and not putting enough lotion on my back. Man was the sun in St. Thomas strong and as we were now cruising several hundred miles south, I could only assume that the sun would get stronger and today was no exception.

Even though we were at sea and everyone was on the boat, the decks remained uncrowded. Maybe others were burnt as well or enjoying the cool air-conditioned areas inside the ship. One thing I can say for sure is that Carnival does not cheap out on the air-con. Man that casino was absolutely freezing last night and not just because I was burnt. At points throughout the night I was actually shivering it was so cold. I guess they want you awake and gambling!

Well anyway, Nicole and I found two nice lounges near the pools, lotioned up and enjoyed the warm sun in the Caribbean. A couple of frosty beverages and a drink of the day served in the shape of the Carnival Fin, it was time for some lunch. We opted to get lunch around the decks via the buffets and small eateries like the deli and grill shop. We had just ate and weren’t that hungry.

At around 4PM we had enough with the sun and decided to go back to the room and chill out. I changed and headed down to the casino while Nicole rested up in the room. After some misfortune the past two nights gambling it was time to turn my luck around. This time I decided to turn my luck to Roulette and it paid off. By the time Nicole came down to see how I was doing I was up enough to cover the last two nights of losses and then some. I was on a heater and there was no stopping me now. Eventually, I walked away up overall over the three days which was great considering the fact I was down quite a bit before.

I’d say the only other eventful part of the day was dinner. We arrived at dinner about 15 minutes early so we could speak to the Maître D in hopes of having our table switched to a table with 6 people, preferably two other couples. The Maître D obliged and granted our request and we were put at a table right next to the table we were at the night before. The table featured two couples; Judy and Joe, and the other couple (whose names I can’t remember). Judy and Joe were from Houston and the other couple currently lived in Connecticut but both of them individually had lived all over. The guy was a very mysterious dude. Often he would sit, twirling his moustache looking out in the distance, and then out of nowhere chime into the conversation with something completely ridiculous and/or unrelated. I mean we were talking about where we were all from and out of nowhere the guy goes “I was raised in France, came over here on a boat, I lived in Alaska for a while, Delaware, Texas, and now Connecticut.” The only thing French about him was the huge molely mole on his huge forehead. To be honest I’m not even sure what the guy did for a living. It was so hard to decipher what he was saying half the time and often it made no sense.

After dinner, it was back for a little more gambling and then to sleep. Tomorrow we were off to the beautiful island of Barbados!

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 2 St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (USVI)

May 2nd, 2011

The alarm went off at 730AM as Nicole and I had decided to get up early to try and maximize our day. We were both excited like little school children. I had never been to any of the USVIs, so it was a first for me as well. This trip would have a lot of firsts for the both of us. First cruise for Nicole, first time in the Southern Caribbean (maybe Caribbean in general) and first time for me stepping foot on any of the islands we were scheduled to stop at (which was the main reason I picked this cruise, also for the diversity in islands we were scheduled to visit).

Today, as my mom vehemently suggested, we ordered an early breakfast via room service so we could nosh a little before heading down to the main dining room for breakfast just in case we wouldn’t be given enough food. Well ordering room service was more for show than anything. I don’t think we touched any of the things we ordered, but it was cool to know this service existed and that it came fairly promptly to the time we had put on the slip we left outside the door the night before (basically you hang a slip on your door the night before informing the service what you want and what time you want it delivered. Note: This was a continental style breakfast with a limited selection and the portions were very small).

After we packed up my backpack (which felt like it weighed a ton) we headed down to the Pacific dining room in hopes of getting some breakfast. Instead of sitting alone, we asked to be placed at a table with other people. We were put at a table of six, with two other older couples; one from Canada, one from Puerto Rico. The couple from Canada was a mixed couple, the man was from Canadia, the woman most likely from England; they were very annoying. The guy acted like he was the cruising legend, the know-it-all, done-it-all and nobody likes that guy, especially us. The other couple was a very pleasant couple from Puerto Rico who also had been on a ton of cruises (9 maybe) but didn’t really come off like the other couple did. Breakfast was decent, but the portions were very small, which seemed to be the theme within the main dining rooms. I should have figured as much because after I ordered the waiter looked at me and said “that’s it?” At that point I should have realized I was going to get a kids sized meal and not a man meal. I didn’t remember the portions being so darn small. I guess that isn’t such a bad thing considering how much food is available on the ship.

After breakfast, we quickly gathered our stuff, said goodbye to the couple at our table and headed down to the gangway to get off the ship. I had read in my Fodor’s Caribbean 2011 that St. Thomas had some amazing beaches, but the best beach to do off-the-beach snorkeling was Coki beach. I had read about some other beaches which sounded uber commercial and Coki beach just sounded like what I was looking for. We got a taxi near the cruise ship. We really did have the opportunity to negotiate a price as the price seemed fixed by the “government.” We rode in an open-aired truck with railings on the sides similar to that of a cattle car. Also reminded me briefly of the truck I rode in Botswana on our way to the Okavango Delta, except this time we weren’t facing sideways and weren’t freezing and/or as hung over as I was that dreadful morning.

The ride seemed to take about thirty minutes as we made our way across the island and to the Caribbean side of the island. We were also in a truck with a bunch of Puerto Ricans who were often loud and rowdy as we passed other trucks and taxis. An expression that is often used in sports immediately came to mind “act as if you have been there before,” which clearly they hadn’t and neither had been Nicole, and you didn’t see her screaming every time we passed something of note. Instead her eyes were glued to the outside scenery and all things passing by as this was the first time she had experienced a place like St. Thomas; a place where poverty was right in front of your face and unavoidable. I think everyone needs to experience this at least once in their life, if not more. For me, this was nothing. I had seen things most people only read about in books, magazines, exposes and the like. For her, this was her first taste and I think St. Thomas was a good precursor as to what could come in the islands we would visit in the coming days.

When we arrived at Coki beach, we were immediately greeted by a Jamaican, Rastafarian, expat, Bruce. Bruce had a shop on the beach and said he would take care of anything we needed. He had chairs, umbrellas, snorkeling gear, and a lady who could braid our hair and/or bring us drinks. I had a good read on him and figured he was someone we could trust so we said sure lets go and he brought us to his spot. I immediately became entranced by the crystal clear blue water, powdery white sand, and the tranquility that Coki beach immediately brought me. It is not often I get time to sit back relax and enjoy myself, and this was certainly the start of a week where that is all I was going to do. After getting some chairs, snorkel gear for Nicole and I, it was time to lotion up and chill. Well, after some time relaxing, the sun was beating down on us and I had to get into this water. What better to do so then with some snorkeling? I love snorkeling. I have snorkeled in some amazing places; Great Barrier Reef (three times in 2004), Fiji, some places in the USA and now St. Thomas, often heralded as the best island to snorkel at, at one of the best beaches for off-the-beach snorkeling. Well this beach did not disappoint. The reefs were abundant with small fish and some larger parrot, tang and other types of fish.

I think the best part of snorkeling was watching Nicole attempt to get into the water. The smallest ripple in the water would lead to her immediately saying “It’s too rough, the water looks dirty, I don’t want to go in.” It was so cute and I just kept pushing her to go further and further in. I mean the water was so shallow that you could walk pretty far out before the water would even reach your chest. After getting the snorkel mask on Nicole and explained to her how it works, I got mine on and started to explore what the world under the water had to offer. It was fantastic. The visibility for off-the-beach snorkeling was unmatched anywhere I had been. It was crystal clear down to the coral. Heck, I could see 10, 15, 20 feet down without a problem. Nicole wasn’t exploring as far as I was and it was hilarious watching her try to snorkel. She would dip her head down under the water, flop around for a few seconds like rush up like she was running out of air. It is almost like she didn’t trust that the breathing tube would work. She claimed that water was getting into her mouth and I tried to tell her that she had to keep herself flat over the water and let the tube stand out of the water. If she stood up and tried to look down under the water of course the tube would fill up with water. Hey, I give her credit for trying and I did manage to get her under the water for a few minutes here and there and she did try and she did see some cool fish including the fish she called “the rainbow looking fish,” which we all heard about for at least a day (“we” being anyone who would listen). The underwater camera was also a big success. I had used these Kodak underwater cameras going all the way back to 2004 during my time in Australia. It hadn’t worked that well then and were very expensive (about 35$ AUD in 2004, now they are roughly $5-12 depending on if you buy online or in stores).

When I was taking pictures of the fish and coral reefs, I had a good feeling they were going to come out well based on the visibility, how much sunlight was shining down and how clear the water was in general. We also tried to take some photos of each other snorkeling and hoped that they came out well. Trying to take a picture of Nicole was also hilarious. Again she would go down and it looked like she was trying to hold her breath, but hey at least she tried.

Throughout the morning we were approached by only a few vendors and as the day went by more and more people made their way to this fabulous beach. When we arrived we were one of the first to get there and got a prime spot. Anyway, throughout the morning women offering cocktails, beers, sodas, smoothies came by every 15 minutes or so as well as women offering massages and hair braiding. Nicole decided to get two braids in her hair (one braid first and then a second afterwards). She immediately regretted getting her second braid and wanted to take it out. I insisted that she at least keep it in for a little while and I managed to get her to keep them in. They looked cute and she was able to tie them back across her hair. We were also approached by a woman allegedly named Sasha. Sasha said she originally was from the Bronx and that she moved to St. Thomas years back. She was going to be our drink lady for the day. Unreliable at times, she made some amazing frosty beverages. I initially got a Corona and Nicole got a frozen mango drink with some smooth rum. Sasha offered three ways for her alcohol to be served, “sitting up, leaning back and stretched out.” She also had some very funny one-liners and was quite entertaining. And again she made some amazing frosty beverages which we enjoyed throughout the day.

I think one of the many highlights of the day had to be meeting the family who was sitting next to us on the beach. It was a relatively young husband and wife (early 40s) with two young girls (12 and 6 or 7 maybe). Immediately the woman, whose named we found out hours later to be Marie Claire, approached us and started chatting to us. She was basically giving us her life story. She was very vibrant, enthusiastic and we found out why pretty quickly. For the past year and a half or so, she had lived along with her husband and kids in Caracas, Venezuela. Her husband is a fairly big honcho for Chevron and he has been stationed there to develop oil programs for Chevron. From what she was telling me it was a little hard living there. They had to have security follow them everywhere they go, had a driver take them anywhere, and could not just go out on their own pretty much ever. I guess the risk of kidnappings of foreigners, especially people working for the oil companies was a major risk. I mean for those who don’t know Caracas was recently voted a top 5 most dangerous city in the world. Anyway, she was so excited to speak to Americans and people who spoke English it’s almost like she vomited her entire life to us. Well, it was entertaining to the say the least. Their stories were fascinating and really made me want to live abroad, if only for a year or two, even more so than I had wanted to previously. We shared some drinks, some stories, Nicole and she had girl time and I spoke with the husband about things. It was a lot of fun and the kind of experiences that makes traveling fun.

At around 1-130PM Nicole and I were toasty and ready to leave. We decided to get a cab with Marie Claire and her family back to town. They were heading to the downtown area of Charlotte Amalie (the capital of St. Thomas). We found the driver that had brought them to the beach. All of us hopped in another open-aired cattle car and headed back to town. The breeze was lovely and the weather was perfect. Half way down the mountain we stopped for a picturesque scenic view, snapped a few photos, ignored the overpriced market selling crap and told the driver to continue on our way.

Once we got to town, it was flooded with cruise shippers. St. Thomas had two big ships in, ours and Princess, the ship that the family was on. Man was that a big ship and looked brand spanking new. Anyway, we said our goodbyes and decided to look around. For days leading up to the cruise, Nicole had “heard” and had “read” that St. Thomas was the place to buy jewelry. I had to make sure she had ample time to explore the jewelry shops of St. Thomas. We had like three hours to possibly grab a bite to eat and check out the plethora of jewelry stores in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Ironically enough one of our first stops was a Belgian Chocolate shop that immediately grabbed my eye. I love Belgian Chocolate. I picked out a nice 8 piece box to stuff our faces with later and Nicole found a hidden gem in their refrigerator; Chocolate covered Banana. I had never really had one and if I had, I don’t remember it being the caliber of this one. It was amazing. The chocolate was hard and the banana was cold yet smooth and soft. It was delightful and in the blazing heat was like a gift from the heavens.

After the first two streets which ran parallel to the water near where the cruise ships were docked, the rest of downtown appeared to be residential, food and some monuments and places of interest, I wouldn’t know because we didn’t get past the jewelry shops. Nicole was like a kid in a candy store. She walked from store to store consisted repeating “I don’t even know what I am looking for, but I have to look and see what they have.” I kept telling her I didn’t mind looking in each store. First of all they were air-conditioned and secondly, it got me out of the sun. Let me tell you folks, if you want get some diamonds, watches or fancy jewelry St. Thomas is the place to go. Hop on a plane, boat whatever, get to St. Thomas and bring your checkbook, credit card or cold hard greenbacks. This place offers deep discounts on jewelry, the ability to haggle down the price immensely and all duty and tax free! We must have gone into 20 stores. After the first ten or so, I noticed that Nicole really wanted something. So, I decided to buy her a pair of diamond earrings. After going into one place, we haggled the price down, but left because Nicole became frustrated that the lady did not have matching backs for the earrings. We then went to another store, then a third store where they actually brought us down an alley, up to another branch of their store hidden above, but both the second and third stores didn’t have the same type of earring that Nicole liked from the first store. So, we dragged ourselves back to the first store (for the 3rd time), inquired about the earrings, found matching backings and I bought her a pair of very nice diamond earrings (details are unnecessary and yes they are real!).

After that, we walked around to several more stores, took a little look around the downtown and then decided that we were going to collect a shot glass and a little bottle of sand from every place we visit. Well I had taken care of the sand at Coki beach and we found a shop that sold shot glasses among other things. After shopping we headed back to the ship via taxi, got back on board and relaxed. Tomorrow was the day at sea so we didn’t have to wake up early and this gave us time to relax. Since our dining time was 815PM we had plenty of time to relax, put on aloe, lay out on the deck of the ship to soak up some more sun, have some drinks and the like all of which happened after our wonderful day in St. Thomas. Dinner was the only other real interesting thing of note that happened. We were put at a table that normally sits 4, but we were alone. It was awkward, not because Nicole and I were sitting alone, but because the rest of the table was empty. After we left dinner we made sure that wouldn’t happen again and decided to say something the next night and get ourselves to a table with some English speaking individuals.

We also did some gambling in the casino as it was a good thing to kill some time, have some fun and enjoy each other’s company. They didn’t have baccarat which Nicole loves if only to be able to scream “Monkey!” when a picture card a 10 is needed to win. Also, at dinner we were introduced to our main waiter, Nimesh, from India and our drink waiter, Pat (a much longer Thai name). Nicole immediately became interested in learning Thai. We asked Pat how to say a few things in Pat, and every time we saw another crew member who was from Thailand, Nicole would take her shot at saying hello, goodbye (have great memories) or the difficult “Thank you.” As I said, tomorrow was our day at sea and I was looking forward to just relaxing and not having to wake up early. After Nicole went to sleep, I really couldn’t sleep. I decided to head up to the 9th deck and watch the late night movie which Carnival shows every night. Since this is an older ship, it doesn’t have an inside movie theater like some of their newer ships have. They do have a movie screen outside on the 9th deck. I grabbed some froyo and a comfy lounge chair and watched about an hour of Iron Man 2. It was so pleasant; the warm breeze, stars, moon shining down, quiet, no kids running around. The perfect end to a perfect day.

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Josh and Nicole’s Awesome Caribbean Adventure 2011: Day 1 New York City – San Juan, PR (Via Atl)

May 2nd, 2011

My alarm clock went off at 5:30AM, in preparation of our flights which would eventually land us in Puerto Rico hopefully around the 4PM hour. The cruise is scheduled to leave tonight at 10PM, giving us plenty of time to arrive in San Juan and make our way to the cruise terminal and on to the ship. Once I was up, I quickly went into the shower, and gathered up the last minute belongings that I left out and had to remember to make sure to pack. Now as everyone knows, that isn’t always the case and usually I leave things behind (i.e. iPhone charger going to Asia in 07). This time, it appears that everything made it into their appropriate spots in the appropriate bags. I was actually proud of myself this time managing to only take one suitcase and my blue and black Northface backpack on this trip. The trip consisted of a 7 night cruise on Carnival’s Victory Fun Ship, leaving from San Juan, Puerto Rico and visiting several magnificent islands of the Southern Caribbean.

Mom had been nice enough to take Nicole and I to the airport and we thanked her for that. This also enabled me to stop along the way for some breakfast and lunch to take along on our journey to the Caribbean. So, naturally we stopped at Best Bagels in Great Neck, NY. The name says it all as they easily have the best bagels I have ever had. I picked up some sandwiches for Nicole and I and we were on our way to grab Nicole. When we got to Nicole’s she came down with her ginormous tote carry-on bag that she was so adamant in wanting to take with her. When I grabbed it to put it in the trunk, I exclaimed “damn this thing is heavy,” she smiled and made a small hand gesture signaling for me to just put the bag in the car and shut up; while this carry-on was big and heavy my main concern all along with the size of her suitcase. For fear that she would be bringing all her belongings on this trip, I suggested that she drop it off the night before, allowing me to weigh in and measure it to make sure it was in compliance with AirTran baggage policies. Her bag weighed in at a cool 47-48 pounds, a mere 2-3 pounds under the 50 pound limit. Mine had weighed in at 42 pounds, which included my toiletry bag weighing an ung-dly 5 pounds! I also attempted to measure her suitcase using the dimensions according to AirTran, but I wasn’t quite sure if I had done it correct.

Upon arriving at New York’s LaGuardia airport, easily the most disgustingly looking airport I’ve ever seen, we were able to use the self check-in feature since we had checked in the night before, purchased our bags and gotten our boarding passes. It was going smooth until the girl checking us in thought out loud and said “I wonder if the bag is 62 inches.” I looked at Nicole and she knew this wasn’t going to be good. I had measured the bag last night but once the woman broke out her tape measure, I knew this wouldn’t be good. After adding up the dimensions she kind of hinted that it was a tad over, but made it seem like she would let it go. Then she got smart and said “let me have someone double check it.” I then said to her “it looks fine, you said its under, just let it through.” She said “I can’t we get audited and if they find out it was me who let it go I’ll get in trouble.” At this point I was getting annoyed. It appeared this woman was on her high horse and taking advantage of the small amount of power she bestowed over us. It was like she was the bag g-d holding Nicole’s in bag purgatory. As it turned out Nicole’s bag was 1 – 1.5 inches over AirTran baggage limits, costing us $49 in oversized baggage fees. As a note to people wondering how strict AirTran is. It appears they are sticklers for weight and size limits of your bags. They have expensive overage fees so be careful when packing. Make sure your bags are in full compliance and with some weight and room to spare.

After forking out the $49 dollars and wondering why the woman was being such a biatch, we proceeded to security and to the gate. Man, LaGuardia just flat out sucks. Not only is in aesthically unpleasing for both the inside and outside, but the shops are terrible, it is dirty, the gate areas are old and unpleasant and the people working there are equally unpleasant. Plain and simple, this airport sucks and it’s a shame that it is a major New York Area airport.

The highlight of this part of the day might have been right before boarding. Apparently, like many budget, low-fare airlines as well as some of the bigger ones, the flight was oversold. This means that AirTran actually sold more seats on the flight then the plane has. They gamble is simple; people will either miss the flight, not show up or rearrange their plans leaving enough seats on the plane. Well in this case AirTran lost. Not only was the plane oversold, but everyone and their mother showed up for the flight. The flight was sold oversold that the gate attendant working for AirTran had to offer one of the best compensation packages I had seen traveling. At first the guy started at $300 worth of AirTran flights. Nobody flinched. Then he went to $400 and a business class upgrade (not big whoopee). Then the guy went up to $500, a business class upgrade on the next flight and a business class flight on your rescheduled flight to Atlanta. Upon that offer, some dude jumped up and said I’ll take it! This was the third and final person AirTran needed to get bumped in order to have the flight go. I’m pretty sure they would have upped the offer more if no one budged because they had a few hundred people waiting to leave.

Once on the plane, Nicole and I grabbed our seats, two on the left side, near the front of plane. There was a good amount of leg space and foot space and our carry-ons fit nicely in the overhead compartments. One thing I didn’t know is that AirTran eliminates rows 4-9 on most of their planes so by being in row 14, we were pretty close to the front which is always nice for deplaning. This flight was scheduled to take about 2.15 hours and we managed to leave on time and arrive on time. Our second flight was scheduled to depart at 1215, giving us about an hour to get from one gate to another. Since Atlanta is a huge finger airport (meaning terminals are like fingers and getting from one to another can take time (even with the train running between them), I was a little nervous about how much time we would really have. Well, we didn’t have all that much because after being sent to the wrong gate/terminal by the AirTran employee directing people to connections, we were then shuffled to another one and only waited 10 minutes or so before the flight to Puerto Rico boarded. The plane on this flight was larger as it had three across for both rows. The last one was 2 and 3 and we were lucky enough to have the row with the 2s. This time we had aisle, middle with a random for the window. We were hoping, like most times that non-fat and smelly person was sitting in our row. As it turns out we got lucky, the woman sitting in the window seat was non-smelly and non-fat and did not say a word, nor did she get up for the entire flight. She did speak to us briefly after the flight was over to give us some tips in San Juan, none of which appeared to be true (mainly that the airport was 30 minutes from the cruise terminal, it actually took about 15 no traffic).

Our entire trip rode of these flights being on time from take off to landing. While we had given ourselves about a 7 hour window, even the slightest delay would cause me unnecessary odgeda (anxiety) and a rise in blood pressure. Today was no different from any other day of traveling where time is of the essence and problems happen. When we landed in San Juan the pilot got on the horn and informed us that there was a problem with the plane at our gate, there were no other gates available and that it could be “a while” before we could deplane. At that moment my heart began to race, blood pressure began to rise and my anxiety soared through the roof. The only thought on my mind was the thought of missing the cruise ship and our trip being ruined. Nicole knew it and opted wisely to get let me rant, rave and stew in my own anxiety. Luckily, the problem wasn’t mechanical or electrical like the time I was stuck in London for hours when the jetway lost power and they couldn’t detach the plane. Apparently, this time the flight crew was stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to the airport in time. They were waiting for the crew to arrive and to board the aircraft. Upon the arrival, boarding of the passengers would take place and we could get off this plane. Luckily the total delay was about 30 minutes, giving us plenty of time to get to the ship. Disaster averted.

After we got our bags, found the carnival team to transfer us to the cruise terminal and tagged our checked luggage, we were on our way to the cruise terminal. Now a note about the transfers. I think it is absolutely worth it to buy the transfer to and from the airport that the cruise offers. I think it was $25 round trip for both of us. We were greeted at baggage, taken directly to the ship in a nice airconditioned bus, no fuss, no mess no haggling with taxi drivers. It was fast, easy and efficient. While I am unsure how much a taxi is from San Juan Airport to the cruise terminal near old san juan I can imagine that it could end up being more than $25 each way, especially if there is traffic (which San Juan is known for), plus you have to find a taxi, and not get ripped off.

Once we were dropped off at the terminal it looked like mayhem. Thousands of people were lined up down the block from the ship just waiting to get into the cruise terminal. We got on line, threw our sun glasses on and stared at the Carnival Victory, a fun ship, snapped some photos and just couldn’t wait to get onboard. It was a line to a line to a line to a line to a line to a line to a line and about 12 hours until we stepped foot on the ship from when I picked up Nicole. Even on the ship there were lines and we decided to walk up the stairs to our room on the 7th floor, middle – back of the ship. Upon entry, we were both extremely happy with our room. King-sized bed, nice sized bathroom and shower, beautiful balcony with chairs, couch and ample closest and draw space. Yes this was my fourth cruise and besides the room my family had on our first one to Alaska this was by far the best yet. We did the tour, started unpacking our carry-on stuff, enjoyed the scenes from the balcony and I tried to calm Nicole down from worrying about when our luggage would be arriving. After relaxing for a bit we were both hungry. We weren’t sure if the dining room was open or what the deal was, so we decided to hit up the 9th floor buffet which ran alongside the ship near the pools.

We also picked up the unlimited soda package (which is highly worth it if you are a soda drinker. $42 each plus 15% gratuity and we drank our soda faces off during this trip). We got some food from the buffet, which turned out to be really good, some desert (froyo in a delicious sugar cone) and walked around the ship. We had a drink (or 2), and waited for the ship to leave the port. The ship ended up leaving the port a little late due to a major traffic jam which prevented some passengers from getting to the ship. Apparently what took us only 15 minutes, took some people over 2 hours to get from the airport to the cruise terminal. The cruise ship was nice enough to wait for these people. Even though we would be leaving late, they told us we weren’t going to arrive that late off the scheduled time to St. Thomas (USVI) our first stop on the cruise. After enjoying the warm breeze of the ship moving through the Caribbean sea and a little gambling at the casino (which wasn’t that small, had about 15 tables, one online poker table, 2 roulette, 2 craps, and ample slots), it was time to call it a night. We wanted to get up early and make sure we took advantage of our day in wonderful St. Thomas! As usual I had a great night sleep. Cruises and overnight trains rock me to sleep like a baby and this was no exception.

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200th Post!

October 2nd, 2010

In light of this being my 200th post, I would like to take a few moments to reflect on what has been a great ride so far. I started this blog in late 2006 with bathroom humor and random daily thoughts as I tried to survive what was year one of law school. Fast forward almost four years and my blog is still going strong. Yes it is true I haven’t made a post regarding a trip or something about a bowl movement, people continue to read about my trips from 2007-2009 which is very exciting to see.

For those devoted readers out there, I do plan on writing some entries regarding my February/March getaway to Bogota, Colombia. Normally I pass on short trips, but as this was my first trip to South America, I feel like I owe it to my readers. On another note, I am also considering writing more blog entries. Content is still to be decided, but if I decide on to do this a change in the title of my blog may be in order. I think my desire to write more entries has been spawned by all the people I follow on twitter. The more entries I read, the more I realize that I can certainly compete with this writers. Sure, I am no english major, have no idea what proper grammar is, my spelling often sucks (even with spell check), and I like to write really long run on sentences; all of this adds to the charm that is my blog. A calling card perhaps. People who want to read will read, people who don’t wont. I am just concerned that if I start to write about other travel related topics that the main purpose of my blog initially will be lost: blogging about trips. I don’t want posts to bury the true essence of my blog. Sure there is an archives section, but if a random person on bootsnall.com or facebook accesses my blog and sees random entries about travel and isn’t able to find the posts on past trips, I will be disappointed.

This will be a challenge for me. I will have to play around with the wordpress interface bootsnall uses in running their blogs. I am sure there will be a way for me to feature certain posts while keeping my past entries easily accessible. Only time will tell. Another issue I have is that every time I publish an entry, facebook seems to flood the news feed with every entry I have posted. This annoyed many of my friends of facebook and led to several comments on my wall. I am working to figure out how the heck I turned such a feature on and then turn it off. I vaguely remember that one day I was able to link my blog to facebook, but have no idea how I did it. Maybe a reader will help me and post a comment as to how I can keep my blog from sending a syndication feed to facebook.

So that is my “State of the Blog” address. Tune in for more entries in the near future. They come once a day, once a week, once a month, but they will come oh yes they will come.

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Great Circle Mapper

July 25th, 2009

Recently I came across this great website called The Great Circle Mapper.  I decided to spend a few minutes to try and think about all the flights I had taken since 2004 when I started to really travel extensively around the world.  I am sure I have missed a few flights but this is the result:<table border="

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 16 Barcelona, Spain to Great Neck, New York

April 17th, 2009

The alarm had been ringing for at least fifteen minutes as I was able to turn it off.  At first I had no idea how to make Jenny’s blackberry turn off so instead of throwing it against the wall like I wanted too I managed to turn it off.  I gathered up my stuff said goodbye to Jenny and was down the stairs and on my way to the airport bus.  Since I did not have that much money on me Jenny had to spot me 5 euros for the taxi that I needed to again take to the bus.

Once I got to the airport I was not feeling so good but managed to check in and get aisle seats for my first flight to Amsterdam and then for the long one to New York.  After checking in I got some Pans (a common fastfood type joint in Spain) and a drink.  After going through security and getting on the flight I was really feeling bad.  I could barely look at the food I had bought and was just trying to sleep.  Of course I was sitting next to the most impatient and fidgity person I had ever met.  This guy could not sit still.  He was constantly waking me up and it took everything I had not to yell at the guy.  I wanted to take his head and ram it into the seat in front of him, but I held back.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 15 Sugiez, Switzerland to Barcelona, Spain

April 16th, 2009

Today was my last day in Switzerland.  I woke up at around 830AM and packed up all of my stuff.  Since I had been here for several days now all of my stuff was sprawled out throughout my room.  I also had to balance the weight between my large backpack and my very small one to make sure I was under the weight allowed by Easyjet of 20 kilograms.

Linda decided that the gang, including Danny would head to Berne, the capital of Switzerland and then I would take the train from there to the Geneve airport.  The ride from Sugiez to Berne was about 45 minutes.  Once we got there we parked and walked into the train station in the center of the city.  Our first stop was at a restaurant in the train station for a bite to eat.  It was expensive.

From the restaurant we continued to walk through this very old city.  I think it was founded in the 1200’s.  Most of the buildings are old, cobblestone streets and plenty of shops mixed in.  Anyway we stopped at Switzerland’s parliament to say hello and then continued along.  We then stopped at several points along the wall that Berne was built behind.  Then we went to see the Berne bears.  There has been a Berne bear pit for hundreds of years.  When Napolean made his rein through Berne he raided the treasury and even took the Berne bears!

Then it was on to this tourist center where we watched a very inspirational movie about Berne.  For 3 francs we were able to watch a fifteen minute or so movie that was pretty good and worth it if you want to learn about Berne, its history and what the city has to offer.  After the movie and the tourist center we walked to get some food and then it was time to head back to the train station.  I got my ticket, the four of us walked around and then it was time to say goodbye.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 14 Sugiez, Switzerland

April 15th, 2009

Today during my last full day here in Switzerland Linda had some ideas as to what she could show Sarah and I.  After eating breakfast we all jumped into the mini and our first stop was where Linda grew up.  The drive was short but as it turned out her home lays on the border between two cantons; Fribourg and Vaud.  It is strange how the borders were created in Switzerland between the different cantons and if you blink for a second you miss crossing from one into the other.  Anyway Linda’s family moved from this home to her current home several years back but had a lot of fond memories of her old house.  It was a beautiful old house with a big backyard on the foothills of Mont Vully.  At the top of her property is where her family’s vineyard’s are that produces some great white wine.  After her family moved out her parents converted the house into 4 apartments.  One of the people who currently lives there is an old friend of Linda’s.  As we were leaving the gentlemen was outside enjoying the nice warm day.  We stopped to awkwardly say hello and then after a few minutes of Linda and this gentleman conversing it was back in the mini.

Our second stop was a very old town called Estavayer-Le-Lac.  Estavayer-le-Lac is a municipality of the canton of Fribourg, situated on the south shore of Lake Neuchâtel. Estavayer-le-Lac is located between Yverdon and Berne. It is the capital of the district of Broye.  When we first arrived in town Linda drove us to the lake.  We sat along the rocks staring at lake and enjoying a semi-cool refreshment.  It was really peaceful and warm.  I even think I was starting to get a tan!  At one point these pesky swans kept swimming over to us.  It is evident that the summer residents of this beach town feed the birds, which is a big no-no.  Now swans aren’t your garden variety bird.  They can be aggressive and how some serious chomping abilities.  Every time the swans would come over Linda would jump up immediately to run away while Sarah and I stayed calm and laughed.  To make Linda feel better and myself feel cooler I pulled out my Swiss Army Knife to try and scare the swans away but they really didn’t seem to care what I had in my hands.

From the lake we took a short drive through the gates of the town, which surrounds the entire city by high cement walls and found a parking space on a rather steep hill.  Once out we did a loop around this very lovely old town. .  Layered with cobblestone streets, a church in the center and castle towers surrounding it, Estavayer-le-Lac was a really cool place.  We got a pastry from the local shop.  Went inside the church which was also really cool and even bought some lottery tickets.  Sarah loves buying lottery tickets.  The ones she buys are only 2 francs each and she usually buys 5 of them.  She bought her 5 and didn’t win a thing.  I then bought 5 on our way back to the car and had some better luck.  The first one I scratched off I won 4 francs!  I was off to a good start.  I then handed Linda one to scratch off.  She goes “if I win you are going to kill me.”  “Well if you win the jackpot I’m taking the ticket and running” I responded.  She ends up winning 1 franc.  I scratch off the next one and win 2 francs.  My last ticket yielded only 1 franc giving me a grand total of 10 francs!  So I ended up breaking even since I spent 10 francs on the 5 card, but it still feels good to be a winner!

After piling back into the mini Linda had arranged to pick up her friend Christina who is also from Sugiez.  After stopping to pick up this lovely pastry which is basically dough and sugar we got Christina and started the journey to the city of Neuchâtel.  I was excited as I had heard great things about this city from a lot of people so far who kept saying I had to go here.  The journey would take another 20 mintues or so but was well worth it.  The sun was still shining and I was thoroughly enjoying the day so far.  After finding a parking spot the four of us walked to the lake to take it all in.  Unfortunately the sun couldn’t stop the haze from rolling in.  We weren’t able to see the snowcapped alps but were still able to enjoy the Lake Neuchâtel.

From the lake we took a stroll up the very hilly streets of the city to where we could get a much better view of it all.  The walk was trencherous as there were so many darn steps!  At the top it was worth it.  We got a great view of the lake and the red rooftops of all the shops and buildings of Neuchâtel.  That is one great thing about a lot of these older European cities, the buildings are not so big which make views like this possible.  After heading back down, Linda took us to her favorite brewery in Neuchâtel.  The four of us shared a sampler of the 4 beers this brewery makes.  We even did a blinded taste test of which I got 2 out of 3 right (the 3rd one being iced tea which threw me for a loop).

After enjoying some refreshing drinks and that lovely pastry we bought from the small shop in Sugiez, Sarah and I wanted to find a gift for Linda’s parents.  We ended up buying them potted white orchids, some of which had not bloomed yet.  If maintained correctly they could continue to grow back every year and who wouldn’t want lovely white orchids springing up in their garden every year?  I know I would.

From Neuchâtel the four of us headed back to Sugiez, but before going home we stopped at Linda’s elementary school which is located 2 minutes away by car from her home.  It is right on another smaller lake not Lake Neuchâtel.  When we got there we saw some kids playing beach volleyball and one of them turned out to be one of Linda’s friends, and one that I had met at the BBQ the day before.  After Linda and I kicked around the soccer ball for a bit I was invited to play in the next game of beach volleyball.  I rolled up my jeans, threw on my sunglasses and gave it a whirl.  It was time to rock and roll.

It was 3 v. 3 which is challenging but means that everyone sees a lot of action.  I ended up serving several nice balls and in the end my side won the game and Linda’s team lost.  From the beach volleyball court we headed back to Linda’s to change before dinner.  Tonight the three of us plus Danny, Linda’s parents and some family friends were eating at 6PM at the restaurant located inside of the hotel.

After changing quickly for dinner the three of us headed over to the restaurant and was greeted by the group waiting and a glass of wine.  I was handed a menu but it was in French and so Linda’s dad got me an English one which made picking my food a lot easier.  I first ordered asparagus with some other things on the dish.  It was really good.  Then for my main course I ordered sea bass with sweet potato puree and potato gnocchi and a sauce.  We sat down for dinner at 6PM and did not get up until 1030PM.  It was a fabulous dinner had by all.  Lots of wine was consumed from all over the world; California, South Africa, France, and Sugiez, Switzerland.

I also ordered a dessert as suggested by all and got probably the best creme bulee I have ever had (well maybe the one from Xavier’s was a little better but not much).  Then after trying to explain that coffee was not for me I was given a decaf Irish coffee which was also really good.  By the time we got up from dinner I was fully stuffed.  Linda, Sarah and I then went downstairs once in her house to play a little pool, listen to music and have a little night cap.  By 1130PM I was dead tired.  I was falling asleep in the chair while we were hanging out I needed to head to bed after a great day.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 13 Naters to Sugiez, Switzerland

April 14th, 2009

Since we had to wake up at like 845AM, my body did not let me sleep well at all for fear that we would all wake up at 12PM or later.  I ended up solidly sleeping until 630AM and then would wake up every five minutes it seemed until 845AM when I proceeded to wake up the girls.  This reminded me of the time I was in Seoul and had gone out with my two local friends, got home very late and needed to be up at 630AM.  That time too I was constantly waking up, making sure I hadn’t overslept.

After eating some breakfast we got into the car to head back to Sugiez.  Before we did so we picked up Yanick who would be joining us for the day.  The ride home was quite pleasant until we hit Montreux.  Once we hit this city along the lake the traffic was almost at a standstill.  Apparently construction had forced one of the lanes in the upcoming tunnel to be closed which led to this horrendous traffic.  Since we had to be back by 12PM, time was of the essence and at this point Linda was starting to get nervous that she wouldn’t be back in time to drop the car off for her mother.  This led to some serious road rage.

Before we could make it home we needed fuel.  Linda had gone way too far on empty and we were all starting to get rather nervous.  I thought for sure we were going to run out of gas as there was not a petrol station in sight.  Finally we came to one, filled up the tank and continued on our way to Sugiez.  All in all we ended up getting back to Linda’s home by 1215PM and her mother was not upset, which was a relief to us all.

Once back at home Linda cooked the five of us lunch (her brother Danny had just gotten home, good timing).  We had curry chicken with tomato sauce and a tomato risotto.  It was a delightful lunch and hit the spot.  Linda had decided she wanted to take us to some places around Le Vully since I had never really explored the area.  I had only been here for one or two nights when it was snowing.  Now the weather was warm, the grass was green and the flowers were in bloom.

Our first top was to the top of Mont Vully.  From there you could see all of the lakes that surround Sugiez and the Le Vully region.  We snapped a few photos and then got back into the cars. I was riding with Danny, Linda’s sister in his black PT Cruiser convertible.  With the weather being so nice it was fun to scoot around the area in such a car.  From the top of Mont Vully, we then went to a very interesting place.  Here the military created caves with installations used in preparation of a possible attack during WWI.  The caves were man-made but built into the side of a mountain.  This is now fully open to the public and for a while the five of us walked through these caves.  It was nice inside because of how cool the temperature was, it was a relief from the increasingly hot temperatures we were experiencing outside.
From this former military installation, we all drove along the lake until we got to this beach house type thing, it was closed so we decided to go to another part of the lake that Linda enjoys going too.  At this place we all grabbed some cooling drinks and sat in front of the very nice lake.  Then it was off to the supermarket.  Linda had arranged for some of her friends in Sugiez to come to a place along the lake about 2 minutes drive from her house.  In preparation of this BBQ the five of us had to pick up food for us to eat.

We ended up getting pretty much a smorgasbord of food.  Chicken, steak, sausages (beef and chicken) and several other things to eat.
After the supermarket it was time to say goodbye to Yanick.  He was off to take the train back to Naters.  Then it was off to the liquor store to get some charcoal for the grill, drinks and chocolate for me to take home for friends and family.  Like usual the chocolate here is very cheap, but very good.  It is all the brands back home but at rock bottom prices.  Switzerland loves their chocolate and actually consumes more than any other country relative to its population.  I bet the same can be said about their intake of cheese as well!
From there we went back to Linda’s to change for the BBQ and then it was off to the lake.  Danny and I started to gather some wood for the fire.  The others began preparing the food and setting up the table.  We would need quite a lot of wood since we were going to be here for a while.  It was tough to find quality wood that was dry and not so green.  We also needed to find sticks for our marshmallows.  After dinner Danny and I were planning to make smores for the gang.  Nothing is better than smores at a quality BBQ.  After finding sticks I took out my Swiss Army Knife and began shaping the sticks to be able to handle the marshmallows.
After gathering wood from down the road Danny and I began to create a nice fire.  The fire would burn basically the whole night and at times was very strong.  It cooked the meat well for us as well as everyone else who came.  In the end there at least 10-12 of us in total.  I got a chance to meet some of Linda’s friends (well I actually met all of them but some of them spoke more English than others).  It was a great night had by all.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 12 Sugiez to Zermatt to Naters, Switzerland

April 13th, 2009

Yesterday Linda had arranged with Sarah for us to go to the mountains to see her and what they had to offer. Since the weather was going to be absolutely superb in the south of Switzerland in the canton of Valais where Sarah lives, we decided to take a trip there. After breakfast we got into Linda’s mini cooper but it wouldn’t start. The battery had died again, just like the last time I was in Sugiez. After some discussion with her parents, her Dad decided that she should take her mother’s BMW station wagon for the night. This was much to her mother’s dismay as she needed the car by 12PM the next day. This meant that we would have to leave Sarah’s home in Naters by 930AM at the latest. Time was of the essence and Linda’s mom was not happy about the situation.

Linda and I made great time to the town of Visp where we would be meeting Sarah. Sarah was taking the train 10 minutes from Brig to Visp. We found Sarah, each gave her a hug and then got back into the car to head to Zermatt. To get to Zermatt though we needed to take the train from Tausch. Since Zermatt is a car-free village at the base of the Matterhorn, the only way up is by train. Once up in Zermatt after taking a very nice train we got tickets to take a rack railway built in 1898 up to a place on the mountain where you could see the Matterhorn very well. The weather was looking as good as advertised maybe even better. It was sunny, warm (at least 20 C at the top) and the Matterhorn was looking great. After this second train ride which was scenic to say the least (went up along the mountain with the snow around and everything), 40 minutes later we arrived. Linda, Sarah and I walked around and up to the tippy top where skiers were taking off down the mountain.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 11 Stockholm, Sweden to Sugiez, Switzerland

April 12th, 2009

We woke up at 930AM, a little earlier than we normally do. That was probably my fault as is usual for me on a travel day. I get a little excited/nervous and just want to make sure everything is good before we need to head to the airport. We went down for our final buffet breakfast of the trip. It was delightful as usual.

After making sure all the little things were packed, Jenny and I relaxed for the next two hours until we had to check out at 12PM. Once we were checked out, we waited another half hour to take the Arlanda Express train right to the airport. This train conveniently left from the station 15 seconds from the front door of the hotel. Even better was that on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays there is a special deal for the train; 2 rides for 250 SEK. Normally each ticket is 220 SEK, so here you are getting a real bargain. Jenny and I were very fortunate to have been leaving on a Sunday, and while I can’t say I planned it to be this way, we will take all the discounts we can get in this extremely expensive city.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 10 Stockholm, Sweden

April 11th, 2009

Today Jenny and I were going to go on the boat tour that we had arranged yesterday.  As I said before the boat tour is supposed to be a 2.5-3 hour guided tour of Sweden’s archipelago.  The boat was leaving at 130PM so this gave us time to do some other things on our last full day here in Stockholm.  We first had breakfast and got ready for the day as usual.
After breakfast we headed out of the hotel for the day.  Our first stop was a street near our hotel with a row of souvenir shops.  There were a few things that we each wanted to bring back home to New York.  I ended up getting a t-shirt and a country patch of Sweden to go on my backpack.  From the shops we walked down the street to a nearby pharmacy.  I needed a shaving razor and some bandaids.  Unfortunately the razors weren’t sold individually and so I ended up having to buy a pack of 10!  I wasn’t sure what the heck I was going to do with 10 razors but since I really needed to shave and had forgotten my razor at home, this was a small price to pay for a clean face.
From the pharmacy, Jenny and I continued walking towards where the boat would leave from which was down by the water where we were yesterday.  We then came across the Medieval Museum of Sweden.  I was interested in checking after my visit to cousin Leonard’s where he showed me and taught me lots about medieval Europe.  It also didn’t hurt that the museum was free.  This was a much smaller version of the museum since the other one was being fully renovated until next year.  This museum was the temporary home until about 2010.  When we walked in there weren’t that many exhibits.  Jenny and I did manage to find an old medieval map from the 1422 that was on loan from the Vatican.  A snapped a few photos of it to show Leonard when I returned home.
The medieval museum was pretty cool, but I bet the bigger version will be significantly better with tons of interesting exhibits.  Too bad I won’t be here to see it.  So, from the museum we continued our slow journey towards the pier.  Since we still had plenty of time, Jenny and I picked up some food to take with us on the boat.  Neither of us were hungry at the moment, but we knew come an hour or so into the boat journey we both would be hungry and in need of some food.
Jenny and I ended up at the pier with a lot of time to spare.  So to pass the time, after figuring our exactly where our boat left from, we sat on the steps in cove of the pier and relaxed.  The sun was shining and a lot of locals as well as tourists were just hanging out and soaking up a little bit of sun.  Today was unseasonably warm for Stockholm in April (15 degrees Celsius) so we again had gotten luck with the weather, which had been the trend for most of our trip so far.
115PM rolled around so Jenny and I decided to head to the boat.  When we got there a large majority of the patrons had already entered the boat, but lucky for us there were two seats open on one of the sides of the boat for us to look out on.  Basically both sides of the boat had long benches so all the people had a good view of the islands.
We left at around 130PM and would not return until approximately 4PM.  I snapped many photos and the boat ride was pleasant and we got to see several of the islands (from afar of course) of the Swedish Archipelago.  At one point the sun was tucked behind one of the few clouds in the sky.  This made the ride a little cold, but lucky for us we brought jackets just in case it got a little cooler.  Other than that jackets were not needed in Stockholm today.
Also on the ride back to Stockholm (the boat looped around one of the islands after about an hour and a half), Jenny and I had a quiet contest.  Jenny claimed I was talking too much so we decided to have a quiet contest.  This contest lasted from 3 or 315PM until about 415PM when we were off the boat and figuring out where to go next.  It was intense to say the least and formidably ended in a draw.
From the boat ride Jenny and I walked back to the hotel.  There wasn’t a whole lot we still wanted to see in Stockholm, and so we decided to head back to relax until we wanted to maybe head out and get some food.
830ish rolled around and we were getting hungry.  We left the hotel in search of some food but unfortunately most of the restaurants close by 9 and we did not arrive in time.  I find it strange that in the center of the capital city the restaurants close so early (especially on a Saturday night), but this just appears to be the culture in Sweden.  I guess it was shocking to Jenny and I since Jenny has been in Barcelona the past few months where people go out to dinner as late as 1130PM and the restaurants are still packed and serving plenty of food.
We finally settled on this kebab shop not too far from the hotel.  It was good, clean food and was enjoyed by both of us.  After dinner we headed back to the hotel for the remainder of the night.  We first grabbed a quick drink at the hotel bar (to help us get to bed a little earlier than usual), and we reflected on our time in Stockholm and Scandinavia in general.  Tomorrow we were leaving Stockholm.  I am off to Switzerland to visit Linda and Sarah and Jenny is heading back to Barcelona.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 9 Stockholm, Sweden

April 10th, 2009

After enjoying our included buffet breakfast at the Nordic Sea Hotel, Jenny and I decided to head off to another one of the islands in Stockholm called Djurgården.  This island is one of the larger 14 that make up the city of Stockholm.  On this island are many museums, walking paths, restaurants and other things to do.  We were going to Djurgården to go to The Vasa Museum.  The Vasa Museum is the most visited museum in Scandinavia and is home to the royal war ship called the Vasa.  Inside the museum is the ship itself, 95% in its original form from when it was shipwrecked in the early 1600’s.  It is the only ship in the world that is in this sort of shape dating back that long.
Since the weather was perfect out we decided to take a stroll down to the water and along it.  We took our time as we were in no rush to do anything;  stopping only to take photos and absorb the culture and the warm weather today in Stockholm.  After our 45 minute or so walk we finally arrived at the museum.  The museum proved to be well worth it even at its costly price of 95SEK each (50 SEK if you have a student ID which of course Jenny and I did not have on us).  Also a note about Stockholm, a lot of the museums offer student discounts as much as 50% off the regular price.  I also want to add that the price of admission for adults to the National Museum is 100SEK each but cheaper for students (I think 80SEK).
Anyway after The Vasa Museum Jenny and I continued our walk along Djurgården.  We walked as far as Grona Tivoli but it was closed.  We then thought we would go to Skansen, dubbed the oldest open air museum in the world.  When we got up to the ticket booth and finally figured out what the museum had to offer (a Nordic zoo, exhibits, lots of walking and other things) we decided that we were tired and wanted to head back to the hotel to relax a bit).  We decided to try our hand at the public bus system.  I had remembered that the bus we needed was the 47 and that it would take us close to the hotel.
The hard part was trying to buy the tickets.  The ticket booth was automated and since we did not have enough coins we had to try and use our credit cards.  With each try of the credit card another 47 bus was passing us by.  This was making us increasingly upset partly out of frustration but partly out of being so tired.  Finally we were able to get two single journey tickets for Zone A (30 SEK each) and got on a bus.  The single journey tickets are kind of misleading.  These tickets are in fact good for one hour within the zone, as many rides as you take.
Since the weather was so nice out Jenny had the thought of taking one of the many boat tours that are offered from the Nybrohamnen pier.  So we got off the 47 bus right at the pier and looked at the different options.  One option was to take a one hour boat ride around the city but another option was to take a 2.5-3 hour guided boat tour of the Swedish Archipelago.  We both decided that this would be the better option.  We hopped back on to a 47 bus and went back to the hotel.  Once at the hotel we went online and booked two tickets on tomorrow’s 130PM Archipelago tour for 210SEK each.
We went back to the room to relax for about two hours and then decided that we wanted to see a movie.  Everyone who reads my blog knows that I love to see movies while traveling.  I have no idea why but I feel like it is exotic in some way.  Anyway when we got to the theater there was slim pickings based on the time (we got there at like 545PM).  The only suitable movie Jenny and I could decide on was Confessions of a Shopaholic.  After we picked our seats and got two tickets (95SEK each), we walked around the streets for a little while until our 630PM movie.
Once we returned to the theater we split a popcorn and a drink for 47SEK (not bad considering what everything else costs).  When I got into the theater I quickly noticed I was the only male in the theater and all the other patrons were 14 year old Swedish girls.  At the end of the movie I did notice another gentleman but definitely felt less of a man after leaving that movie.
When we got back to the hotel we quickly got ready for our 9PM reservation at the Absolut Icebar Stockholm!  This was the first in a series of world famous Icebars.  The entrance fee was 150SEK each since we were staying at one of the Nordic Hotels (normal price is 180 SEK but includes your first drink.  Keep your glass and you can get additional drinks for 95SEK each).  Before we got inside we were given huge parkas with gloves.  I initially thought that being in 17 degree Fahrenheit weather for 45 minutes wouldn’t be bad, but I was wrong.  When I initially got in I wasn’t that bad but after a while my fingers began to get real cold (especially once I got my drink made out of an ice glass and began to hold it).
The first thing Jenny and I did when we got into this rather small icebar was to take photos.  I intelligently got my way into the front before the doors opened and walked in snapping photos like a banshee.  I wanted to get pictures of this icebar before the other 50 or more patrons entered as well.  We then took photos together, separate and so on.  Overall my icebar experience was fabulous.  It thought it was really cool, both literally and figuratively and an experience I will never forget.  Is it touristy?  Absolutely, but it is just one of those things I had to do.
After the icebar, we met some study abroad students from America traveling around Scandinavia just like us.  We ended up chatting with them for about an hour or so and then afterwards Jenny went up to go to sleep and I headed out to the International Casino in Stockholm.  I had to pay 30 SEK to get in and had my photo taken to security purposes.  Once inside I took out some SEK and began to walk around the main table room.  There were some tables that had blackjack, Caribbean poker, many roulette tables and lots of slot machines.  The roulette table minimums ranged from 20 SEK for inside bets which meant 100 SEK for outside bets all the way up to 100 SEK for inside bets and 500 SEK for the outside bets.
I had to walk around several times to get a feel for the lower limit tables to see who was playing, how the ball was spinning and if there were trends I could figure out.  I finally settle on one of the two 20 SEK tables, the two lowest limit roulette tables in the casino.  Both tables were packed but I tried to pick the lesser of the two packed tables.  I sat down and started making small bets.  At first I hit a bit of the cold streak and before I knew it I was down 300 SEK.  I walked away briefly, but returned and cashed in another 470 SEK, so I was 770 SEK in the hole.
I started to win a few bets here and there slowly building up my bankroll.  At one point I made a few bets and thought that I had won one of them.  So after the roll I looked down for a second, the numbered was called, I looked back up to reach for the chips and it was gone.  I immediately exclaimed “someone took my bet.  I bet the 1st 12 and it is gone.  I made that bet!”  The pit boss who was overseeing the table told me to calm down and that they would go to the videotape.  As it turned out a lurking asian woman also said she had allegedly made that bet but I was sure I had made it.  I know how much I am betting since my whole strategy for roulette is based on hedging my bets on every spin.  In the end the pit boss had told me that the Asian woman had in fact made the bet.  I was in immediate disbelief.  I was sure I had made that bet.  I then called the pit boss over to further discuss the issue.  He said that the person upstairs who reviewed the tape agreed with me in all the bets I thought I had made minus the 1st 12 bet.  I mean this bet was going to pay me out 300 SEK and I would have broken even on the bet.  Now I would be down double that.  He told me that there was nothing he could do and that the tape doesn’t lie.  The system can review who places the chip frame by frame.  I thought was just scammed and that the lurking Asian woman who had been starring at me and my bets the whole night had swapped my chips or had done something.
After losing out on the bet I had to back away from the tables to cool down.  Betting with emotional is a recipe for disaster and I was not prepared to lose my money based on emotion.  At this point I was up probably 200 SEK after being down 770, so I was fighting back strong.  I finally returned to the table and started to play my game.  I began winning smaller bets and then increased my bets progressively.  At one point I was betting as much as 1000 SEK when I put down a 1000 SEK chip on red after the dealer had spun more than 8 black spins in a row.  I was so sure red would come and so I took a chance and won!  I exclaimed “yes” clapped my hand and was feeling good about myself.
All in all I walked out of the casino with a smile ear to ear on my face and 4000 SEK in my pocket.  I had won roughly 3300 SEK or well over 400 USD.  These winnings would easily pay for the last few days of my trip if not most of my trip through Scandinavia.  Now I just had to get this money exchanged into US dollars without completely getting hosed at the exchange places, but that was for another day.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 8 Stockholm, Sweden

April 9th, 2009

After checking in at 6AM thanks to the very nice receptionist, Jenny and I finally got up at around 1130AM.  We set our plan for the day and embarked out of the hotel.  We started our walk meandering through the streets of central Stockholm.  We quickly noticed the plethora of malls and clothing stores in the immediate area.  We ended up walking all the way to the National Museum right on the water.  The weather wasn’t great, but wasn’t raining, just overcast and probably in the low 50’s.  Before we entered into the exhibit area of the museum we first stopped to get a quick bite to eat at the museum restaurant.
After we got our sugar levels up, we entered into the museum and started with the special exhibit called “Prerafaelities.”  These were a group of UK artists who drew their inspiration from pre Rafael.  They tried to give it their own spin and uniqueness.  From this special exhibit, Jenny and I walked through the rest of the museum.  It was very nice and had many different periods of art from all over Europe including Italy, UK, Denmark and Sweden of course.
After walking around the museum for about an hour and a half we left the museum and walked all the way back to the hotel to relax.  We were really tired after having a rough last night and an extremely early morning.  Once back at the hotel we relaxed for a little bit and then at around 8PM we decided to ask reception for a dining suggestion for dinner.  The lady at reception recommended a local Swedish restaurant in Gamla Stan (the old city) so we thought we would check it out.  Well finding this restaurant was not as easy as anticipated.  First we went to the metro to see if we could take the train there.  When we got to the ticket booth, the girl informed us it would cost 60Kr for the tickets for like 2 stops.  60Kr is like 7.50 which is a fortune for tickets on a metro.  We said “screw that,” and decided to make the journey via walking.  Walking has been our best mode of transportation all week and we continued that here in Stockholm.
When we got to Gamla Stan, I tried to follow the map the hotel had given us but unfortunately only the vertical streets were listed.  The smaller cross streets were not and of course we were looking for one of those smaller cross streets located off of one of the main squares in the old town.  After an hour and fifteen minutes, Jenny was able to navigate these small, yet hilly cobblestone layered streets we found the restaurant!  However, unbeknownst to us restaurants close early in Stockholm and by this time it was closed.  But I think it ended up being a blessing in disguise because the restaurant this girl had suggested was uber expensive and was way out of price range.
So from the restaurant we started to walk down one of the main streets going north to south along the island that had lots of restaurants.  I found a restaurant that looked good called “Sally’s.”  It wasn’t that expensive and Jenny and I ended up having wonderful dishes.  I had reindeer cooked medium rare and Jenny had entrecote (a good piece of meat I believe located in the stomach region).  Dinner lasted about 2 hours and by 1030 – 11PM we were unsure what to do.  Good thing that Jenny had two friends from Maryland visiting Stockholm at the same time as us.  Jenny contacted them and we found out where they were going for after dinner drinks.
Jenny and I continued our journey through the islands of Stockholm by then walking to the larger island in south Stockholm.  The walk was about twenty minutes and eventually we met Jenny’s friends in the street.  We all found a bar and hung out for a little having a drink.  Food, drinks and everything are so expensive in Stockholm.  By having this incredible socialist system comes a price in the form of extremely high taxes.  In Sweden  mostly everything purchased is taxed by 25% on top of the purchase price!  Jenny and I first found this out at dinner when our meal was more than we thought.  I took a look at the bill and noticed that there was something on the bill that said “moms 25%.”  At that point I quickly realized that the sales tax in Sweden was 25%! Ouch!
We ended up taxing a short taxi ride back to the hotel pretty early and were asleep within minutes of laying down.  This was another extremely long, yet exciting and adventurous day.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 7 Copenhagen, Denmark to Stockholm Sweden

April 8th, 2009

Today was our last semi-full day in Copenhagen.  We have our overnight train tonight from Copenhagen Central Station to Stockholm via Malmo, Sweden.  When we woke up we anticipated heavy rain, but were pleasantly surprised when we woke up to slightly overcast and no rain in sight.  We had to check out by 12PM and wanted to get to Tivoli Gardens (Copenhagen’s famous fairytale amusement park) by 11AM since this was the first day it was opened all season.  After we had our free buffet breakfast, we gathered up all of our remaining items made sure they were packed and went downstairs to checkout and store our luggage in the hotel’s luggage room in the basement.  To get into the luggage room you had to be buzzed in by reception so I felt extremely comfortable leaving my stuff in there for the day.
Checking out was a slight issue.  Our credit card wasn’t going through.  Jenny thought that the receptionist wasn’t entering the card details correctly and after I used skype on my iphone to call MasterCard, the lady from MasterCard figured out what the receptionist was doing wrong and we were all set.
We got to Tivoli just passed 11AM and surprisingly there wasn’t much of a line.  We bought an all-day multi-ride ticket which included admission to the park for a whopping 570kr for the pair of tickets!  We started to walk through the park and quickly noticed that a lot of the rides wouldn’t be open until 2PM.  The first ride we were able to go on was this swing that first launched us up very high into the air, giving us a great view of the city and then swung us around for a few minutes.  Jenny and I were laughing the entire time partly because it was a great ride but partly because it was freezing cold that high up in the air and Jenny was a little scared being so high up there.
After the ride was over we took a little break, walked around and then came across a smaller, wooden rollercoaster that was open.  It was situated inside a faux mountain and was really fun.  I enjoy old school wooden rollercoasters.  The best part was towards the end of the ride they took our picture which we didn’t know about and since our faces were so funny we bought the picture and will take it home to share with everyone.
At around 1230-1PM we wanted to leave the park.  We went to the ticket collectors and asked to have our hands stamped so we could gain re-admittance into the park.  The collectors said that starting this season they no longer stamp hands in such fashion.  Ironically yesterday as we were walking by we asked a worker of Tivoli if we could get our hands stamped to get back into the park and the guy said “sure.”  Yet today the collectors were telling us that we could  not get our hands stamped.  I wasn’t going to just leave the park, lose out on all that money and go away empty handed.  So I went to the customer service center and explained the situation.  EVEN THE CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE did not  know that the rule had been changed regarding the stamping of the hands.  After spending a few minutes on the phone the girl came back and said sorry the park no longer stamped hands.  I calmly explained to her if the workers of the park did not know that the rule was changed how is the public supposed to know?  She responded by saying “well I’m telling you now.”  Instead of getting angry and further pissed off, I stayed calm and asked the representative if there was anything else she could do for us?  After thinking for a few seconds the girl asked for my receipt that was used to purchase the tickets.  I handed the receipt to her and she said “I can give you back the entrance fee to the park, you can use your bracelets again when you return (the multi-ticket ride bracelets were good for the entire day regardless if you leave or not).  I said thank you and she handed me the 170KR needed to get back into the park.
I felt vindicated and left the building with a big smile on my face as Jenny and I left Tivoli to head to the Carlsberg brewery located a little outside of the city center.  We hopped on Bus 6A and when we got on we asked the bus driver if he could let us know what stop to get off at.  After around 30 minutes Jenny kept saying that the driver probably forgot about us and that we must have passed the stop.  Since I didn’t exactly know where the brewery was I wasn’t sure if we had in fact passed the stop or not.  Eventually I got up and asked the driver if we had passed the stop.  He made a bad face and said that he had forgotten and that we needed to have gotten off 5 stops ago!  He told us to get off and catch the same bus back in the other direction.
We just happened to catch bus 6A after crossing the street and getting to the bus stop.  Again we got on the bus and asked the driver to tell us when we needed to get off for the Carlsberg Brewery.  In case he forgot I asked him what the name of the stop was so when it came up on the monitor I could press the “stop” button and not miss the stop for the second time.  He gave me the name and when we got to it he announced that this was the stop for the Carlsberg Brewery.  As we were getting off he told us to make a right and walk down the street for two minutes or so.  When we got to the end of the street the building said “Carlsberg Museum,” but looked closed.  We then saw a sign “Carlsberg Visitor Centre 400m to the right.  We then walked to another street and made a left.  Saw another sign for the visitor’s centre and then found the entrance.  When we got inside the visitor’s centre we were caught a little off guard.  The reason why we left Tivoli, besides the fact that we needed to kill several hours until all the rides were opened and our train was leaving (1030PM), was that it was supposed to be free.  When we got there the lady at the desk explained to us that this was the visitor’s centre and that it wasn’t free but the museum (which said was crappy in so many words), was closed.  After we asked what was included in the price of admission she ended up saying “and you get 2 free beers or choices of soft drink at the end.”  That was enough for us and we decided to get two tickets.
The visitor’s centre was alright but basically you are paying 60KR each for 2 free beers at the end.  The bar had choices of several kinds of Carlsberg, including something of a micro beer called Jacobsen’s, named after the original founder of Carlsberg beer.  After we walked through the centre following the path provided for us in the pamphlet, we got to the bar.  Jenny and I ended up having two very nice beers.  We both got the same first one and then two different ones for our second choice, so we could try each others.
After leaving the bar and the brewery we got on bus 26, which we could have taken to the brewery from Tivoli and it would have dropped us off MUCH closer than 6A did and went back to Tivoli.  Again we expected there to be rain and long lines and instead it was partly sunny and no lines.
The rest of the day we spent going on all the rides at Tivoli.  The lines weren’t long and we definitely got our money’s worth.  We ended up leaving at 815PM and headed back to the hotel so we would have enough time to go to the supermarket to get some food and supplies for the train.  Before we could leave the hotel we needed to use our 100Kr voucher we received for choosing to not have our room cleaned which would help reduce CO2 emissions or something.  Anyway we didn’t know what to get and wasn’t so hungry, actually we were rather full after our late lunch so instead we got two bottles of fancy water; one bottle of Pellegrino (sparkling), Panna (still) and relaxed for a little bit.
After enjoying our free water we gathered up our stuff, rearranged some things and started our journey to Stockholm.  Our first stop was the supermarket which of course was closed.  Our backup plan was 7/11 which had a horrible selection of food.  We got some chips, a sandwich and a salad which all looked gross.  We also bought some bottles of water which we would need.  We then continued our journey to the train station.  When we finally figured out what the hell was going on we sat down and waited.  Since I kind of jumped the gun and got nervous that we wouldn’t have enough time to do everything we ended up at the train station way too early.  We decided to get some food at the train stain and wait.
Finally 1023PM rolled around and we got on our first of two trains.  We would ride this train for about 30 minutes and have roughly 8 minutes or less to find our next overnight train to Stockholm.  Right before we arrived in Malmo Central Station the conductor came through to collect our tickets.  Before I gave her our tickets I asked her what track the train to Stockholm was leaving from.  She told us the train would be leaving from track 7, I gave my thanks and handed her our tickets.
When we got off the train in Malmo, Jenny and I jogged to the train as we didn’t know how far it would be and we didn’t have much time to get on the train.  When we finally found track 7 I asked a nearby conductor where our carriage was.  He pointed us to the back of the train.  When we got to the carriage it was a little rough.  First, two drunks were passed out in our seats.  I didn’t know what to do so I told Jenny to sit in the next group of four seats next to the ones we were supposed to be sitting in figuring nobody would have reserved these.  Well I was wrong.  At the next stop tons of people got on and a couple said that we were sitting in their seats.  I explained that people were in ours and the guy kept saying “well we have these reserved.”  He said it over and over again I was getting agitated fast.  I was tired, hungry and just wanted to get situated for our upcoming 5-7 hour journey to Stockholm.
After lots of confusion and Jenny getting pushed around a little bit by the people trying to get into seats, I stormed out of the carriage and went looking for the conductor.  I explained to the conductor that the two drunks he had tried to collect tickets from before were passed out in our seats and there was no place for us to sleep.  He said “Ok, go get your stuff and your sister and come into this couchette.”  I said “thank you so much,” stormed back into the crappy carriage with seats only and no couchette’s and said to Jenny (making sure everyone else heard), “let’s go we are going to the other carriage.”  Everyone knew we had just been upgraded to the lap of luxury.  Well not quite, but we had a bed and a place to sleep vertical, as opposed to trying to sleep in a loud, smelly and bright carriage.  Jenny and I thanked the conductor numerous times and then immediately went into the berth.  I felt so good that we had been given two beds in a berth.  It looked clean, and the beds were pretty comfortable.  Definitely the nicest or second nicest (the Switzerland to Prague overnight train with Linda was pretty nice as we had the entire 6 person couchette to ourselves).
Anyway after we got into the couchette this drunk woman came in who had just bought a ticket for the bed.  Then an older couple came in and got the two top bunks.  There were five  of us in total, it wasn’t that bad since Jenny and I had a chance to get our stuff situated comfortably leaving the others to fight for the free luggage space.  The night would continue as a  rattling sound came from the top of the berth somewhere.  Throughout the night each of us had gotten up to see where the hell this rattling was coming from.  Also the air conditioning was not working and the berth was getting rather warm.  The rattling would persist until about 3AM when it suddenly stopped.  I had gotten a little sleep before it stopped and as soon as it permanently stopped I immediately passed out, this had been one hell of a day.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 6 Copenhagen, Denmark

April 7th, 2009

I woke up this  morning feeling pretty good after a night of fairly heavy drinking.  Jenny and I got up at 9 since the free buffet breakfast ran from 7-10AM and we definitely wanted to get some food before our long day ahead of sightseeing.  We got some breakfast and planned out the day.  I decided that we would take the public buses today around parts of the city to reduce the amount of walking we were doing.  Walking is fairly strenuous in this city since a lot of the roads are made of cobblestone which puts added pressure on the legs, especial the knees and also the back.
After we went back upstairs to change and get ready, we asked the receptionist how the buses ran.  She pointed out a black building across the street which happened to be the building of the bus company.  When we got to the bus company we went to the counter and the girl was extremely helpful and friendly.  I asked her how the system worked and she explained it to me in detail.  After figuring out we wouldn’t need to take nearly as many buses as I initially thought Jenny and I settled on just buying point to point individual bus tickets and not a 10 pass or an all day bus ticket.
Next was the bus stop for bus 1A which would take us to Amalienborg, which is where the Queen resides during the fall and winter months or when her presence is needed in Copenhagen.  On the way to the bus stop Jenny says “isn’t that the bus we need?”  I said “yes” and then said that at least we knew where to get the bus from.  Just as I said that I saw bus 1A turn the corner and I shouted “There is bus 1A lets go Jenny.”  I took off, running across the street and Jenny followed.  Just as I said that the light turned green and I heard Jenny shriek a little bit, thinking that she would get hit by a car.  I ended up flagging the bus down, and after some communication difficulties with the bus driver we bought two tickets and sat down.  Right before the stop we were trying to get too a very nice Danish girl said that Odd Fellow street would be the next stop and that once she got off the bus I should hit the stop button.  So I did and she was right.  Boy the people of Denmark are extremely friendly, patient people and they all speak English.  Apparently this is commonplace throughout Scandinavia since each of the country’s that make up this area of Europe speak such difficult languages they are all taught English in school at a fairly early age (grade 3 or 4).  So getting around and communicating has been fairly easy during our brief stay in Copenhagen.
When we got off of the bus we were headed to Amalienborg but before we turned down the street we noticed a beautiful marble church across the street.  The name of the church was Frederiks Church aka the Marble Church.  When we went inside it was dark but had a beautiful domed ceiling.  Yes everything was made out of marble as I said before and Jenny and I just walked around and absorbed all the history the church could give us.  Jenny and I have quickly realized that we both like old churches and cathedrals.  After spending a few minutes walking around the church we walked down Frederiksgade which took us to Amalienborg.  When we got into the square I immediately noticed a large group of people lined up in a row.  I then noticed several television trucks and cameras being set up.  At first Jenny and I didn’t think much of it and we walked around and saw the guards in front of a different building in the square.
As I looked up I noticed that the flag was raised in front of the building.  I then looked around to the other buildings and noticed that the flag was raised in front of the building where all the people were lined up.  The other two buildings in the square didn’t have a flag raised.  I then said to Jenny “I know that at Buckingham Palace another Palace’s around the world, when the flag is raised that usually means the King and/Queen are in residence.  I bet the Queen is here.”  We then walked over to the corner of the square where all the people were lined up.  When we got there this local woman asked us where we were from and what we were doing.  We told her we were visiting Copenhagen and then moving on Stockholm.  We then asked her why everyone was gathered.  She explained to us that the Queen was needed here in Copenhagen because three new ministers were elected into Parliament and so she would be leaving the Palace and going off to her spring/summer residence.  That meant that we would get to see the Queen of Denmark!!!
Now we weren’t sure if the Queen would be walking or driving, but approximately one minute after the lady was finished talking the gates opened and a caravan started towards us.  I immediately began snapping photos and the lady pointed out that the car with the crown next to the license plate was the Queen’s Car!  As soon as I looked up the car passed by and I caught a glimpse of the Queen.  Jenny and I both looked at each other and said “that was so cool!”
After the Queen left and the crowd subsided a bit, Jenny and I stayed at Amalienborg to watch the changing of the guards.  The precession would last about fifteen or twenty minutes and the police lined us up along the black cobblestones surrounding the square.  Jenny and I didn’t stay for the whole precession but we got the crux of what was happening.
From Amalienborg Jenny and I walked towards the water and sat down to relax for a bit.  We had been standing for a while and the cobblestone streets had started to take a toll on my back and legs.  Once we got to the water there was a nice park called Amalienhaven.  From there we took Larsens Plads along the marina until we got to St Alban Church which is a very old Angelican church located in front of Kastellet which is a very nice preserved fortress that is currently used as a military base.  Once we got to St. Albans church we kept walking through the grounds until we got to the entrance of the Castle.  Once through the Kastellet (which was really not worth it as there was not much to see), we headed up the road towards famous Little Mermaid, a sculpture commemorating Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale story.
Before we got to the sculpture in the water, Jenny and I stopped for a soft serve icec cream.  Since the wind was blowing so strongly, some of the soft serve ended up on jenny’s face and hair.  When we finally got up to where the Little Mermaid was located in the water there were so many tourists around we could barely get a photo of the Little Mermaid and/or ourselves in front of it.  By this time Jenny and I were tired.  We had been walking all day the past two days.  After the Little Mermaid we walked down Langelinie Alle to where the 26 bus would take us back to the hotel.  When we got to the bus stop we noticed that we would have to wait about twenty minutes until the next one would come.  Once on the 26, the twenty to twenty five minute journey would give us a nice view of a part of the city we hadn’t seen yet.  We got off at City Hall and then went to get a bite to eat.  We stopped at this Italian restaurant Vesuvio of Copenhagen.  This was just another overpriced restaurant in Copenhagen.  Jenny and I each ordered individual pizzas, large sodas and an appetizer and all for 65 USD!  Copenhagen has been pricey to say the least, but it is understood considering the standard of living, wages and income tax are all high.  All needed to support their socialist government, education, healthcare and welfare programs like mostly all if not all of the Scandinavians countries have in common.
After lunch, Jenny and I headed back to the hotel where I proceeded to take a two hour nap.  I hadn’t napped in years yet I had taken a nap twice since my trip to Europe began.  After my lovely two hour nap, Jenny and I got ready to go out again.  We decided to get some souvenirs from Stroget.  We walked up and down it several times and finally settled on a shop or two.  I picked up a few things, namely a country patch of Denmark to add to the collection on my bag.  Denmark is country 43 for those keeping track at home.  After shopping on Stroget, Jenny and I called it a night.  We were both knackered and wanted to get to bed early since we didn’t expect to sleep much tomorrow.  Tomorrow we would be taking a 1030PM train first to Malmo, Sweden connecting through to Stockholm where we should arrive roughly at 6AM.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 5 Barcelona, Spain to Copenhagen, Denmark

April 6th, 2009

The day started with me waking up at 8am and laying in bed for a few minutes as I tried to get my body up and running.  I then went to wake up Jenny and get the ball rolling.  We both had a quick bite to eat, made sure we had all of our stuff that we wanted to bring on the trip and then left for the airport.  Before we left the apartment Jenny handed me a few bags of garbage to throw out as well as the food bag we had packed from the day before.  When we got down the 110 stairs and then to the receptacle I threw everything away.   Unfortunately I also three the food bag out.  We then had to walk to the metro and take the metro in morning rush hour to where the airport bus left from.  I call it pigeon square because it is where we fed those crazy pigeons a few days ago.
The airport bus was packed and to make sure our stuff wouldn’t be stolen I used my cable lock to strap up mine and Jenny’s bag.  Once I locked it to the luggage rack we could sit in peace.  We got two seats together in the back of the bus and then I asked Jenny where the food bag was and Jenny goes “I told you to take it from the apartment.”  I told her that I remembered taking it from the apartment and then she goes “Oh know you threw it out didn’t you?”  I immediately said “yep.”  I guess in the rush of leaving and going to the airport I wasn’t thinking and mistakenly threw everything out in my hands and kept going.  Jenny was initially mad at me for the next few minutes mainly because she wanted a snack or a drink but eventually got over it.
We arrived at the airport at around 930AM and our flight was at 12PM.  When we got into terminal A we looked at the big board to see if our flight was on time and we couldn’t see our flight.  Jenny began to panic a little bit that we couldn’t find out flight but I calmly walked to the information booth and she told us that we had to check in from terminal B between check-in counters 67-68.  Too bad the lady failed to tell us what time the counters would open.  We walked to counters 67-68 and noticed that another flight was still being checked in at around 10AM for an 1115AM flight.  So we put our stuff down and waited until our airline began checking in.  Once our airline took over the check in counters we got in line and waited.  When we got to the check in counter we immediately asked the woman for two aisle seats across the row from each other but when we asked the lady checking us in if she had done it she gave us a nervous look and said that she did.  Jenny and I both looked at each other and said “no chance” referring the fact that there was no way the lady could have given us the right seats.
Before we went through security we had to get some food from the shop called “Pans” a popular fast food type restaurant in Spain.  We got some sandwiches for breakfast and then a sandwich each for the flight to Copenhagen.  Since we were flying Cimber Sterling, a Danish budget airline, we knew that we wouldn’t be getting anything for free on the plane and needed some food and drink for the flight.  After security we picked up some drinks for the flight and waited to check in.
We checked in pretty late and ended up taking off about an hour or so late but arrived only a half hour or so late.  Copenhagen airport was pretty small and we were able to pick up our luggage pretty quickly.  Once we gathered up our luggage and situated ourselves it was time to go through customs and figure out how to get to our hotel.  I had to see if the metro or the above ground train were better to take.  After confirming my suspicion that taking the S-Tog (above ground train) to Copenhagen Central Station, that is what we did.  But before leaving the information booth I asked the lady how to get to our hotel and for some maps.  She proceeded to hand us two great maps and marked our hotel on the map.  She said the city wasn’t that big and everything was easy to walk around, so it was up to us to find the hotel once we arrived in downtown Copenhagen.
After we were able to buy train tickets we brought our stuff to track two which was located in terminal 3 (where we landed) and we waited about 3 minutes for the train.  Unfortunately the train was so crowded that we were not able to get a seat for the first half of our 20 minute train ride to the central station.
Once at Copenhagen Central Station, I pulled out the map and directed Jenny and I to our hotel called the Hotel Alexandra.  The lady at the check in desk was extremely friendly and when we checked in we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the room.  It was MUCH bigger than we both had suspected, especially after reading about how small hotel rooms in Scandinavia were.  Also a funny note was that the flat screen television hung on the wall had “Welcome Jenny to Hotel Alexandra” in Danish, which made for a nice touch.
We both unpacked our stuff a little bit, relaxed and then figured out where we would go for the remaining part of the day.  We left around 4PM and since most of the museums and buildings would be closed, coupled with the fact that most museums and attractions are closed on Monday we decided to walk around and see the sites we could see from the outside and by foot.  A great thing about the map was that it had a 3 hour walking tour with numbered spots along the way of what to see.  I picked out a very distinct route that I thought would be good for us.
We started our walk by heading to the town hall located just down the street from our hotel.  We got a few photos looked around and then continued on.  The next part of our walking tour was the only blemish on an otherwise successful tour.  We walked in the wrong direction by taking the wrong street but then quickly recovered and arrived at Nytorv Square and the Court Building.  This was a small square but the area was really nice.  From Nytorv square we got to Kompagnistrade.  This is a pedestrian only street lined with intriguing shops.  Then we went to Gammel strand.  Gammel Strand marks the medieval coastline.  We then crossed the canal for a good view of Thorvaldsen’s Museum, the Palace Chapel, Christiansburg (Danish Parliament), and the Old Stock Exchange.  After walking around all these different places, taking photos along the way Jenny spotted a rather interesting sign along the canal; “Caution beware of underwater sculpture.”  I thought it was a joke but then as we continued along the canal Jenny happened to look down and see a sculpture in the water.  It was a sculpture of a dude and his 7 sons and it was definitely something off the beaten path that not everyone who comes to Copenhagen sees.
Then it was off to Hojbro Square overlooked by Copenhagen’s founder, Bishop Absalon.  From there we finally got to Stroget, one of Europe’s longest shopping streets.  Stroget actually starts at the Town Hall (City Hall Square) and runs until Nyhavn port.  We walked down Stroget for a little while until we got to Kongens Nytorv, a majestic square encircled by stately mansions.  Our final stop on our walking tour that took about 2 hours will all the stopping, photographing and strolling was Nyhavn port.  Nyhavn port is lined with quaint old houses and fishing boats.
By this time Jenny was delusional from walking so much and I was hungry.  Everything was so expensive, eventually we just settled on a place.  While we were sitting at an open aired restaurant I quickly made the decision to leave this place, take a taxi back to the hotel and ask the receptionist, who was extremely helpful before we left for our walking tour where locals eat.  I figured this would be a cheaper option and it would be better food.  So we found a taxi (which happened to be a Mercedes Benz) and took at taxi back to the hotel.  Once we got to the hotel we asked the receptionist where we should eat.  She suggested a place called Riz Raz which had a buffet as well as ala carte dishes.  She said it wouldn’t be too expensive and it was a place she eats at herself.  We then asked her for a place to grab a drink after dinner and she suggested a place called “The Scottish Pub.”  Not the most original name but got the message across.
On the way to the restaurant we got a little lost but getting lost usually ends up well while traveling, and this was certainly the case.  We came across a really beautiful church and some other buildings and streets that were really interesting.  We finally arrived at the restaurant and just in the nick of time.  Jenny was getting a little more cranky and we both just needed a solid meal.  We both ended up getting the buffet and had a good, hearty meal.
From the restaurant we walked back to the Hotel the correct way, which was significantly shorter than the previous way we had walked going to dinner.  After dinner we went back to the room to digest for a little while, I went downstairs to upload my blog and check the internet.  At this time I found out that I passed the MPRE which is the multi-state ethics portion of the bar.  To be admitted to practice in New York an individual’s scaled score must be at least 85 (the test ranges from 50-150.  Now most people I know have taken the test two or more times before they passed it.  On my first try, only studying for about 3 days (I had another test that was very important in school so had to balance my time accordingly), I received a 100 on the test!  As soon as I saw my score on the score report I jumped up in the lobby and exclaimed “Yes, I passed!”  All heads in the lobby turned my way, but I didn’t care because I had passed this exam on my first try.  Since I am not the best at taking standardized exams this was a big accomplishment for me, and the first step in the right direction to passing the New York State Bar Exam and being admitted to be a licensed attorney in the State of New York.
After I checked my score and took care of things on the internet, we headed back upstairs and got ready to head to The Scottish Pub.  Apparently Monday’s was backpacker night and pints of Carlsberg were heavily discounted.  Jenny stayed with me until about 12 when she headed back to the hotel (don’t worry dad it was one block away from the hotel), and I stayed for a few more hours as I had met some fellow travelers and wanted to continue the good night.
I ended up getting back home pretty late, after the bar had closed and fell asleep immediately.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 4 Barcelona, Spain

April 5th, 2009

I got up at 1015AM as I was startled by Jenny who was peering through the glass door that separates the living room from the kitchen.  She claims that she had just gotten to the door when I popped up but I have a feeling that she got to the door, saw me sleeping, and said to herself “lets see how long I can stare at him before he notices and wakes up!”
After we got ready for the day we met Stefan at 11AM at Hotel Casa Fuster.  From the hotel we explained to Stefan the day we had planned and he agreed to the plan.  Our first stop was Parc Guell.  Parc Guell was designed by Gaudi, one of the most famous artists from Spain.  He is known for breaking things apart and putting them back together in a unique way.  I would say he has a mosiac type style to his artwork.  Anyway we jumped on the 24 bus which was packed to the brim with tourists eager to see the same park we were.
On the bus Jenny was greeted by this older couple.  The guy had a rocking mullet with curly blonde hair.  It was definitely all business in the front and party in the back.  The guy started chatting with Jenny and I about things to see and do in Barcelona.  Basically we gave the couple the things we did yesterday because a lot of it is free and the weather was perfect today.  Sunny, not a cloud in the sky and at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
After we got off the bus the couple introduced themselves as Kent and Cindy from Hannibal, Missouri, formerly from Portland.  As soon as they said somewhere, Missouri immediately dueling banjos began to play in my head.  Kent was a funny guy and as we started walking down the path to where some of Gaudi’s sculptured buildings started Kent came right out and asked if we didn’t mind if he followed us around the park since Jenny clearly knew what she was doing and he was looking for a free tour.  We said that wouldn’t be a problem and Kent also said that if we wanted to ditch them if they fell behind.
Overall I thought the park was very cool.  I didn’t even know who Gaudi was (which is such a shame), but I quickly learned who he was (thanks to Jenny) and what he was all about.  I took many photos while walking around the park and even got a photo in front of the famous lizard at his park.  It was a struggle to get the photo and I had Stefan take it since he is like 6 foot 3 and could stand above the massive crowd who were all fighting to get their photo in front of this creepy lizard.
From Parc Guell we wanted to go to Sagrada Familia Barcelona’s most famous church which was designed by Gaudi.  To get to the church we decided to not take the bus again since it was so crowded that we would try the metro.  While the nearest metro stop seemed close on the maps it wasn’t.  The metro station was a little over a mile away, down pretty steep hills and several blocks over.  Anyway back to information about the church, according to the government and historical records Sagrada Familia has been under construction which includes restoring and building new parts of the church since 1909.  Apparently the church only moves forward on restoration, renovation and construction based on donations received by the church.  It is said that the whole process will be completed by approximately 2030 or over 121 years!  The backside of the church was much nicer than the front since the back is not under as much construction as the front and it is easier to snap photos.  Jenny took us to a cool park right behind the church where you get a much better view of the church.
After walking around the church and spending some time looking at all the cool designs Gaudi put along the church we were all hungry and in need of food, but didn’t know where to go.  Stefan said that he had been here several years ago when he was studying and remembered that in a particular direction there might be restaurants.  We ended up coming across a lovely little restaurant with seats outside that served tapas and other types of food.  Stefan ordered some tapas for the table and I ordered what I thought was a hamburger.  As it turned out I was given sausage in patty form and immediately spit it out, but did eat some of the French fries.
This was my first real Spanish tapas experience and I have to say the three types of tapas we got were all fantastic.  Even though I had been to a tapas restaurant in Berlin with Linda which was awesome this was the local version of tapas thought I enjoyed.  From the restaurant the three of us walked to the Monumental metro station and ended at the Gothic Quarter yet again.  This time we were brought to the Gothic Quarter to go to Museu Picasso.  I thought it would be a good time to head to the museum.  When we finally arrived at the museum the line to get in was down the block.  So we got on line and waited.  We decided that if by the time fifteen minutes had passed we hadn’t pass a certain spot on the line we would get off and leave.
Good thing for me the line only lasted ten minutes and we were in for free.  I have to say that I had never really looked at Picasso’s paintings but by the time I was done I really began to understand why he is so highly regarded.  I will say that my early impression of Picasso’s paintings are that I really enjoy his pre-1900 work.  I also liked some in the early 1900’s but really did not like his abstract period.  I found it too modern for my taste.
I enjoyed his paintings so much I bought two small reprints.  One from his pre-1900 period and the other from 1917 and I think the name of it was “Women in the shawl,” or something like that.  They weren’t that much money and I thought it would be cool to bring home and put up on my wall.
By the time we left the Picasso museum it was roughly 4PM and everyone was tired.  Jenny and I decided that it was time to head home and Stefan decided that he wanted to see one of the buildings that Gaudi designed in Barcelona near Jenny’s apartment so he took the metro back with us.  When we got out of the metro after transferring to the appropriate line, it was time to say bye to Stefan and then Jenny and I started towards the apartment.  But before we went home I wanted to head across the street to the small casino that Jenny had not been in since she came to Barcelona.
The only machine of interest for me was the electronic roulette machine.  This was the same type of machine that I had won money playing in Amsterdam during my last day.  I figured I would try my luck again.  I cashed in twenty euros while Jenny changed ten euros.  When you cash in your bills you get euro coins for the machine.  After the employee explained us how to work the machine in Spanish and by pointing Jenny and I started to get the hang of it.  I have to say since the buttons were in Spanish it was a little difficult to understand.
In the end I won 15 euros bringing my total to 35 euros!  I hit a few big bets and decided to walk away a winner.  Unfortunately Jenny was not so lucky but was a winner because I was a winner so we both left happy.  And finally before we went back up the apartment to call it a day we went to the supermarket located up the street from Jenny’s apartment to pick up some groceries for dinner and for our flight tomorrow.
We ended up getting chicken and tortellini.  We also got turkey, breakfast bars and some soda and a pastry for dinner.  When we returned home after again walking up the 110 steps we relaxed.  I watched a movie and Jenny took care of things for our trip to Scandinavia.  After the movie was over and Jenny had packed, started charged her necessary electronic devices we cooked dinner.  Well I cooked dinner and Jenny assisted me.  Jenny made the sandwiches to go in the food bag for our trip tomorrow.
By the end of the night we were both really tired and since we had to get up at 8AM to make sure we caught our flight at 12 from Barcelona’s main airport BCN, it was time to go to sleep.  I couldn’t get to sleep right away as the people living next door to Jenny were blasting their television so loud I had to wait for them to finish.  Eventually I dozed off at 1AM capping off a rather long day.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 3 Barcelona, Spain

April 4th, 2009

I woke up, looked at my watch, it said 1PM, I said “holy crap,” and went to see if Jenny was up.  She was half asleep but immediately popped up when I opened up her makeshift bedroom door.  We chatted for a few minutes to discuss the game plan for the day which immediately included me taking a shower and the three of us getting food.  So I got in the shower, and it was an excellent shower.  Solid water pressure and hot water, can’t ask for anything more.  After we all got dressed the three of us made our way day the 110 stairs and Jenny decided to take us to a place near her apartment called Buenos Migas.  It was like a café that sold flat bread pizza, quiches, coffee and other assorted things.  I decided on a slice of spinach and feta cheese quiche and a slice of the flat bread pizza and a fanta.  While the quiche was amazing the pizza was extremely disappointing.  I felt like it wasn’t cooked long enough, and was not heated in an oven but instead in a crappy microwave.

            After brunch, Mallory went back to the apartment to take care of some things and Jenny and I were off for the day.  Our first stop was to head to La Rambla and the wonderful food market to get some freshly squeezed fruit juice.  This juice wasn’t your garden variety fruit juice but the vendors produced extraordinary combinations of fruits together that produced excellent juice.  I ended up having mango/coconut and Jenny had strawberry/coconut.  Both were fantastic and all for 1 Euro each!  What a bargain.

            Once we were finished strolling around the market we left La Rambla and headed to the Gothic Quarter.  Even though we had briefly been there last night I wanted to walk around and see what it had to offer.  I am already drawn to Barcelona and its incredible architecture.  It is unlike anything I have seen before.  I mean sure most European cities have “old towns” but it seems like all of Barcelona is made up of old buildings.  In the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona are famous churches and cathedrals as well as the Jewish quarter.  The narrow side streets remind me of Venice except they are a little wider.  Also in the Gothic Quarter are a ton of art museums including the world famous Museu Picasso.  A museum dedicated to one of Spain’s most decorated artists, Pablo Picasso.

            Our first stop was the Jewish Quarter where we attempted to find this very old, underground temple found about twenty years ago when the landlord next door was trying to build a bar and discovered this temple.  Unfortunately the temple was closed as it was Saturday afternoon, but we snagged photos in front of the tiny wooden door.  It was one of those places that if you didn’t know it was there you would never find it as it has no signs. 

            After walking around the Jewish Quarter for a little while went to a square with two massive governmental buildings.  On one side is the building for Catalunya and the other was the building for Espana.  The guards were dressed differently and you can tell there is ongoing tension still between the Catalonians and the Spanish. 

            Our next stop was simply called Cathedral.  It was very disappointing since the front was being refurbished which meant it was draped in a fabric that had a picture of what the Cathedral would look like once it was finished.  There was so much construction around it, on it and in front of it I didn’t even bother to take a photo and was very disappointed.  However while walking around it before we got to the front we stopped in a small square and noticed the back of it.  It was really cool as it was not covered in any type of construction and you see the detail and amazing architecture that was Cathedral.

            Now one of the only places that sounded really interesting to me was the church of Santa Maria built in the 14th century.  I had mentioned it to Jenny and that the book said it was located in the Gothic Quarter.  Amazingly she had never heard of it but we were destined to find it.  After walking from the Gothic Quarter to El Born another neighborhood of Barcelona after turning down random streets we finally come to this old looking building and low and behold it was the Church of Santa Maria.  Even more amazing was that when we first arrived the doors were closed and I was upset as I knew inside would be really cool.  So unintentionally we hung out for a little while and then a few minutes later we noticed people walking in and started to run towards the entrance.  Not only was it open but entrance was free!

            Inside the Church was as amazing as I had imagined it would be.  Incredibly high ceilings, stained glass windows, it was breathtaking.  I really enjoy old churches and cathedrals.  If you just spend a minute to think how old it is, the history that it has been apart of, it really hits you.  From the Church of Santa Maria Jenny took me to this candy shop called Happy Pills.  It was a really cool shop where you got to make your own pill bottle of candy.  I grabbed the smallest one and crammed as much as I could in to it.  Since you did not pay based on weight, but rather a flat rate based on the size of the bottle I was free to jam as much as I could.

            It was time to get back on the metro and head to a new part of the city Montjuic or also known as the Mountain of the Jews.  This where they buried Jews during the many hundreds of years of persecution the Jews dealt with while living in Barcelona and much of Europe for that matter.  We took the metro to a furnicular (incline railway type thing).  From the furnicular we took a cable car up and then back down without getting off (so we didn’t have to pay for a roundtrip).  The views from the cable car were awe-inspiring to say the least.  It was 60 degrees Fahrenheit out, not a cloud in the sky and we got a view of the entire city; from the sea to the mountains.  From the cable car you could see the famous Sagrada Familia Church, the cruise ships in the marina and everything in between and around.  Jenny and I snapped a few photos and when we got off the cable car back where we started we began our journey up the mountain towards the Olympic Stadium.

            Barcelona hosted the 1992 summer Olympic games.  The main Olympic stadium which was originally built in 1932 in hopes of attracting the Olympic games for the mid 20th century failed and so when they were awarded the bid for the 1992 games they spruced up the stadium they had once built and erected other structures like the Olympic pool, Olympic park and of course the Olympic torch.  I really enjoy Olympic stadiums for some crazy reason, maybe it is just my affinity for the Olympics in and of itself so when I have a chance to see where games were played (especially ones I have watched), I get excited.  Well lucky for us there was a part of the Olympic stadium opened for tourists and locals to snap a photo and take in the scene and that is just what we did.  Unfortunately the space available was probably 20 feet long and didn’t provide much wiggle room.  Jenny and I had to fight to get photos from the very rude Spanish travelers who have invaded Barcelona during the Easter break.

            After snapping photos and walking around the Olympic stadium and Olympic park we decided it was time to head for the Magic Fountain.  The magic fountain which is situated at the bottom of the mountain in front of the National Art Museum (a really cool building) put on an automatic fountain show with lights and music.  However, the good part of the show occurs after sunset when the lights come on.  Before sunset there is music and the fountain shoots water in different directions, from different angles providing an interesting array of water being thrown around but not that exciting.

            Jenny and I got there around 630PM and had to wait about 30 minutes before the first show started at 7PM.  We situated ourselves on the top of a long set of stairs where many others were sitting.  We were also saving a seat for Mallory so for the next hour or so we had to stave off many tourists looking to sit in our prime seats, but we prevailed and Mallory had her seat waiting for her when she arrived.

            At around 730PM after watching the fountain do its thing Jenny turns to me and goes “uh-oh.”  I go “what?”  She responds by saying that daylight savings time was last week so it won’t get dark for another hour.  I was not happy.  This meant we would have to wait at least another hour before it got dark enough for the really good lights to go on.  So we ended up sitting there another hour or so until the deep red, purple, pink and orange lights came on like you see in the photos.  We went down close to the fountain to snap a few photos and then made our way back onto the metro and over to La Rambla for dinner.

            We decided to eat at a place called Attic.  It was a fairly fancy place on top of Nike Barcelona.  We ordered a few appetizers for the three of us, two bottles of water (we were very dehydrated and since water isn’t free and they were in small .5 litre bottles we had to get two), and a bottle of white wine that I picked out from the many listed in Spanish.  I had a good feeling about this one.  I ended up ordering duck again but this time as my main dish, with tarte tartin pear and a really tasty sauce.

            After our main course we ordered a few desserts (hey I’m on vacation).  I ordered a three chocolate mouse (white, milk, dark) while Jenny and Kwitter ordered something similar to the morton’s chocolate cake that oozes out chocolate from the middle except this one had chocolate ice cream not vanilla but was damn good.  Once dinner was over Mallory bid us adieu and went back to the apartment.  She had to wake up early since her mother and sister were coming from New York to spend the week in Barcelona and she had to pack up her stuff for the hotel the three of them would be staying in and take care of things.

            Jenny and I made one more stop; La Oveja Negre (The Black Sheep).  This was a very old styled bar with beer or sangria (both from the tap and delicious).  We ordered a small pitcher of Sangria, sat down on one of the long wooden benches and reflected on our long, yet very eventful and exciting day.  We ended up staying not too long as both of us were very full from dinner and tired from walking around all day.  We hopped in a cab back to Hotel Casa Fuster (this time got dropped off a little further down the road), and up the 110 stairs and directly into bed.  Tomorrow I was meeting up with my friend Stefan from Koln, Germany.  He is Juliane and Stefan, the couple I met on my Africa trip from Koln who we also surprised at the train station in Amsterdam during our mini reunion in January.  Anyway we arranged to meet at 11AM in front of Hotel Casa Fuster and go from there so I had to wake up early and was tired.

 

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009 – Day 2 Barcelona, Spain

April 3rd, 2009

After leaving an hour early, we actually arrived pretty close to being on time.  We must have picked up time in the air.  We landed in Schipol International Airport in Amsterdam at approximately 7AM.  Oh yea I didn’t have a direct flight, but a connecting one, even though I found my mother a direct flight on American ten days before she left in March for cheaper then what I had paid for my ticket in January, go figure.

Anyway, once we landed in Schipol (technically my fourth time in Amsterdam), I had about an hour and a half to kill but knew that I had to go through customs since this was my first port in the European Union, I needed to get stamped in.  I took my time walking through this massive airport.  An interesting note about Schipol is that the runways are extremely spread out that you actually taxi for as long as ten minutes.  There is something like an airplane highway that some planes have to maneuver along.  It is actually genius, because Amsterdam has now become a huge gateway to the rest of the world since it had the runway capacity to hold hundreds of flights per day.  I am guessing in terms of air traffic per day it is probably top five to ten in the world (Leonard will probably fact check this for me).

So after I hit up the duty free shop to pick up the essentials that I can’t get in America (Cuban cigars), I made my way to the gate.  It took about thirty minutes to walk to the gate including security.  Man this airport is so big and spread out.  You know when an airport is big when they approximate how long it will take to get to the gate next to the gate letters and numbers.  Mine said 13-21 minutes, but they sign lied!

Unfortunately on this flight I had a window seat.  Luckily the flight would only take about 1.5 hours.  Still I felt cramped, but I got to look out of the window and man it was a great view.  The weather was perfect and when we approached Barcelona over the ocean, I saw the entire city and it was fabulous.  Of course I didn’t have my camera with me but I took mental pictures instead.  When I landed in Barcelona I gathered my luggage which was like the tenth bag off the belt (great luck), I put my backpack covered in my protective bag on a FREE trolley (trolley’s are NEVER free in America and it pisses me off every time I come home since every single airport I have ever been too in the world provides FREE trolleys for your luggage except America.  When I got through customs, which was nothing more than a few police officers standing by the doors chatting with each other, paying no attention to who was walking through the doors I immediately scanned the people waiting in arrivals for Jenny.  She had told me that she would be meeting me at the airport.  I saw her before she saw me and once I got past the gated area I dropped my stuff and gave her a big hug.  After the salutations I stripped my backpack of my protective bag (used to protect the straps from getting ripped off), I put the backpack on and Jenny said we were going to take the airport bus home.

When we got to the A1 airport bus there was a massive queue (line).  We actually had to wait for the second bus to come and when we approached the extremely grumpy driver.  The driver asked us how many of us there were in Spanish.  Jenny and I responded with “dos,” but some other lady with her friends tried to big time us and say that they were “tres” and screw us over.  After the bus driver made some comments in Spanish that Jenny and I both could not understand we all stormed onto the bus and found seats.  The crazy thing is that the bus was like half full and for some strange reason the bus driver was trying to drive a half full bus.  I turned to Jenny in disgust and she simply said “Welcome to Spain, nothing makes sense.”  After this point I immediately learned that Spain is an extremely inefficient country.

The bus ride would take approximately forty minutes.  Longer than usual since the bus appeared to stop much longer than it normally did according to Jenny.  This would be the same bus system Jenny and I were going to take on Sunday when we fly to Copenhagen.  When we got off the bus Jenny said we needed to take a short taxi ride to the apartment.  She felt that since I had my backpack that we should take the taxi as opposed to walking even though we could have walked.  After taking two planes and a bus to get to this point I was all about taking a taxi for the few euros it would be.  So we did.  We arrived at the storied landmark of Hotel Casa Fuster.  It is the closest known landmark to where Jenny lives, so she just tells all of the taxi drivers to take her to Hotel Casa Fuster and then directs them a little bit further down the road closer to her street.

Jenny lives in a very nice building a few side streets away from where Hotel Casa Fuster is.  She lives on the fourth floor officially and the best part is that there is no elevator in this building and it is 110 steps up to her apartment.  When she first told me this before we got into the building I didn’t think it would be that hard but after carrying a pack on my back, walking up to her apartment was like my workout for the day.  Very grueling and not fun at all.  It is amazing she has not dropped dead yet from going up and down all of those stairs.

Her apartment is two bedrooms (2 people in each room), a huge living room/ dining room, full kitchen, 1.5 bathrooms, plenty of storage space, a balcony with a pretty good view, and a washer!  If you factor in how great her location is and the neighborhood she lives in, this was a rather remarkable apartment.

Once I threw my stuff down and was shown where I would be sleeping for the next three nights I chatted with Jenny and the only roommate left in the apartment (the other two were on spring break), I relaxed for a bit and then it was time to hit the street of Barcelona.  The weather was pretty good.  It was cool but there was a slight overcast.  I changed out of my sweater/underneath button down shirt look and went for the polo style shirt and light hooded jacket instead with jeans.  I put some things in a backpack and then Jenny, Mallory (her roommate and good friend from Maryland) were off.

Our first stop was this famous department store, where we ate from the top floor off in this nice restaurant/cafeteria type place.  I ordered some chicken fingers and a coke light (like diet coke).  I needed caffeine since I had virtually been up for a day and half, if you include the time difference I got no sleep on the plane.  After lunch Jenny took me to this pigeon park which immediately reminded me of San Marco square in Venice where hundreds of pigeons are fed by thousands of tourists everyday.  Even though it was absurdly overpriced (3 Euros), I had to buy a bag of bird seed to throw at the pigeons.  It made for great photos and videos and it was a wonderful time had by all, well maybe except for Mallory aka Mal aka Kwitter aka Kwit aka Kwitterstone.

From the Pigeon park we strolled down to La Rambla, probably the most famous street in all of Barcelona.  It is a pedestrian only street lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and street performers.  I have never seen so many street performers in my life.  These are the street performers that dress up and don’t move unless you put money in their box.  These are also the street performers that get very mad if you take a photo of them without putting money in their box.  Now some people would not care about taking a photo of them regardless of whether or not money was put in their box but for some reason I cannot bring myself to photograph them without putting money in their box and since I don’t want to put money in their box I don’t take photos of them, go figure.

La Rambla is also the street known for slashing of bags and pick pocketing.  Walking along this street people must be extremely careful as gypsies operate swiftly and stealthily.  Once you notice that your stuff is gone it is beyond too late.  While walking down La Rambla I noticed a covered side street with interesting colors and designs on the roof.  I asked Jenny what it was and she explained that it was this really cool indoor market of food.  The market had fresh vegetables, fish, squeezed juices, candy, dried fruits and everything else.  After meandering around for a little while we found our way back to La Rambla and continued walking down the street.

At the end of La Rambla is the marina.  Cruise ships and large yachts are docked in this area.  Also in this area is a very interesting draw bridge that the three of all walked across.  Once across and after snapping several photos I decided it was time to sit on a bench, on the water and enjoy the scenery, so I did.  We ended up sitting on this bench for about a half an hour.  During this time we people watched and also watched the street vendors run from place to place away from the police trying to catch them selling fake prada, Gucci and other designer bags and other merchandise.  These vendors have designed a very good system.  Basically they tie a sturdy rope to a bed sheet.  They then drape the rope around each of the items of merchandise and as soon as the spotter informs the group that the Policia are approaching the vendors lift up the rope and all of the bags come up with the rope and the sheet becomes a bundle that they swing on their backs and run like the wind.  We must have seen this happen at least five times in the half an hour we were sitting on this bench, quite humorous if you ask me.

After sitting on the bench we decided to walk back to the metro and go home.  I was really tired at this point and could not stay awake.  In fact after we walked over the draw bridge, which we got to see spin open for a boat to pass through.  It actually didn’t lift but spin on a massive swivel, I fell asleep on the metro.  Thank g-d I was with Jenny and Kwitter, otherwise I would have probably been pick pocketed of all of my stuff.

As soon as we got back to the apartment, within thirty seconds or less of me hitting the pillow I was asleep, and would not wake up for four hours.  For someone who never takes naps this was certainly an impressive nap for myself.  I napped from 4-8PM.  At that point we decided to get dressed and ready to go to dinner and out for the night.  We ended up taking the metro to the gothic quarter to a restaurant the girls had found during their three months in Barcelona.  It was a very nice Japanese restaurant.  One thing I noticed immediately is that locals eat extremely late in this city.  We got to the restaurant at around 930PM and it was barely half full.  By the time we left at around 11 or so it was completely full and more people were coming in every minute.  I was baffled by how late people were eating in Barcelona.  This reminded me of India and how late the locals ate in Mumbai and all of India really.

I got some rolls of sushi including a roasted duck breast roll and an amazing spicy tuna roll which included a slice of mango in each piece.  That was something I had never had before and wished that rolls back home included fruit.  The balance between the spiciness of the wasabi, the saltiness of the fish and soy sauce and the sweetness of the fruit made for an incredible combination of flavors that busted in your mouth in one delicious bite.  Dinner was capped off with a shared bowl of fried ice cream.  When Kwitter and Jenny both had mentioned that fried ice cream was on the menu I immediately had to get it since I had always wanted fried ice cream and believe it or not I had never had fried ice cream until this night.  Now either this particular fried ice cream was especially amazing or fried ice cream is just amazing in general but either way I thoroughly enjoyed the shared bowl and it was a great end to the dinner.

After dinner Jenny led the way to a place called Tree Bar where the bar basically had fake trees where the trunks were made out of unique faces and people similar to the tree people in Lord of the Rings.  It was a really cool bar with exceptional Sangria, but the only problem was that the place did not play music, which was very disappointing.  Once the jug of Sangria was consumed it was time to jump in a taxi for our final stop of the night, Pippermints.  This place is known by locals and study abroad students as the place with the gynourmous drinks.  They sell mixed drinks, beer or Sangria in 1, 2, 6 or 13 liter glasses.  I happen to see two different sets of people get the 13 liter glass of mixed drink and it was a sight to see.  I ended up getting a 1 liter glass of whiskey and coke light.  It took me at least an hour or more to consume this drink and after traveling and walking around all day, at around 2AM it was time to call it a night and so all three of us took a taxi back home.

Again, as soon as we got home, I got undressed and into my shorts I was asleep within thirty seconds of hitting the pillow.  It was a great first full day in Barcelona, I was excited to see what tomorrow would bring.

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Josh and Jenny’s European Adventure 2009; Day 1 – Great Neck, NY to Barcelona Spain

April 2nd, 2009

After getting a late start to the airport, I arrived at 3:45PM for my 5:30PM flight.  This is highly unusual for me as I ordinarily get to the airport with many hours to spare.  But now as a seasoned traveler I realized that as long as you have your seat you are fine.  When I approached the check in counter for Northwest the lady told me that I had to bring my checked luggage to the security station and then immediately proceed to security.  I said “are you sure, its only 345PM?”  “Yes, there is a long line” she replied.  I found this rather odd that I would have to go through security almost 2 hours prior to my flight.  So as I passed all of the new shops that I was tempted to stop in I went through the extremely annoying security checkpoint.

Once I was down to just my boxers they finally let me through…Oh I’m only kidding, well not really.  After I took off my jacket, my flip flops and my belt the security gate was still dinging.  At this point I was very frustrated but had to bite my tongue thanks to Uncle Sam and Homeland Security.  After taking off my watch and basically opening up my pants they let me through.  It took me about 5 minutes to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind and gather up all of my stuff.

Once through I immediately proceeded to the airport bar.  I needed some time to relax and with well over an hour to kill before my flight even began to board I figured it was time for cocktails.  I ordered a drink, put on my iphone and just relaxed while listening to a mix of music I had prepared before I left.  Another drink and a glass of water later it was time to head to the gate.  But before I could I promised I would call a friend to say goodbye.  But since I had left my SIM card with my mom (the card that operates your phone allowing one to make calls), I had to get 4 quarters and use the payphone.

Getting quarters was a challenge in itself.  Every stupid kiosk operator I would ask would say “Oh I can’t open up the register unless something is purchased.”  What bullshit, clearly they just don’t want to sit there and give change all day.  At one point I contemplated getting some chocolate or something just to get quarters, but I resisted since I am on this new semi-health kick.

So I finally got 4 quarters by going to one of the magazine shops near my gate and waited for someone to buy something.  As soon as the lady gave the money and the employee gave the change I swooped in and said “hey can I get 4 quarters please?”  You could see the pain in this person’s face as she accepted my dollar and handed me four quarters.  It felt good to finally beat them at their own system and now I had the quarters available to make the necessary phone calls.

At around 5:15PM the flight started to board.  I was in row 24 so I had to wait a while since mostly all planes board from the back first.  Once I got onto the plane I situated myself rather nicely and was in an aisle seat, just as I like it.  An aisle seat is crucial on long flights.  I like to get up, stretch, walk around, be able to go to the bathroom when necessary etc…So I always have to get an aisle seat.  That is usually why I arrive at the airport so early, to secure an aisle seat when the airline does not let me request a seat sooner.

Even though it was only 530PM I was tired.  I ended up falling asleep for about an hour, but when I awoke I noticed that we were still on the runway.  I turned to a Dutch woman sitting across the aisle from me and said “what’s going on?”  “We are in a massive line waiting to takeoff” she replied.

We ended up taking off at approximately 630PM or about an hour late.  The flight was supposed to be roughly six hours and thirty minutes.  During the flight I watched 3.5 movies and a one half hour television show.  There was no way I would be able to fall asleep, but the entertainment system was so good with a fabulous selection of movies that I was set for the entire flight.

One sour note was that at one point on the flight I was attempting to take off my ring and it fell to the ground but when I went to look for it I couldn’t find it.  I even got down on my hands and knees to look, but to no avail.  I had gotten this ring from a very special Tibetan clothing shop in Simla, India.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 23 – Berlin, Germany (Tegel Airport) to Newark, New Jersey

January 16th, 2009

I couldn’t sleep that well for the few hours that I tried.  I kept worrying that I wouldn’t wake up on time and miss the flight (it sucks but my internal alarm clock very rarely fails me).  Anyway before I knew it 615AM rolled around and Linda’s cell phone alarm clock rang.  I got up, packed up my stuff, gave Linda a big hug and a kiss on the forehead and said goodbye.  I was sad to leave her and say bye.  We really have become a lot closer as friends this trip.  I mean we traveled along with the rest of the group for almost a month in August and then 2.5 weeks now is a lot of time with people.  You are with them 24 hours a day and really get a great chance to get to know them.  I hope to see her soon, either if she comes with her family in April to New York or maybe a trip to Europe in the summer to see how great Switzerland is in the summer (she raves about it).

So after packing up my stuff, I schlepped it downstairs, argued with the guy at the front desk about my key and my booking.  After 5 minutes I was like “listen bro, I’m holding 30 kilos of stuff here, just let me go.”  Eventually he said OK when I told him that Linda was upstairs and she would take care of any problems.

I walked across the street to where the taxi stand was, and like everyone had told me plenty of taxis were waiting.  I got in to the first taxi and the female driver opened up the trunk for me.  The taxi, like many in Germany are Mercedes Benz and mine was a Benz and it was a station wagon with a huge trunk.  When the driver saw all my stuff she laughed and said something in Germany.  I replied using context clues and said “Yes, I know I have a lot of stuff.”  She nodded and I got in the car.  Oh before I did I told her I was going to Tegel, she said no problem and we were off.  From what I had heard, taxi drivers in Berlin are fair and this one seemed no different than what I had heard.  The ride would only cost 18 Euros and because she was so good I tipped her 4 Euros.  Now tipping really isn’t expected in Europe and Germany especially.  Normal tipping is 5-10% maybe, so when she saw I was giving her 22 Euros she said “Oh thank you.”  Now foreigners tipping more than they should is probably not a great thing.  The locals begin to expect it and rely on it and it creates issues, but this driver was honest, and got me to the airport quick, so I was happy to give it to her.

When I got the airport, I put the cover over my bags and checked in.  I made a mistake.  I ended up leaving my giant Swiss Army knife in my carry on.  It was a simple mistake and so I decided to go to the Check-in counter again and explain to them my problem.  At first they tried to tell me there was nothing I could do, I could either mail it or would have to throw it out.  I did not accept that as an option and continued to push the lady to do something.  Finally she asked me for my boarding card, called up someone, told the guy my luggage tag number and several minutes  later a baggage guy had my bag in hand and I slipped my knife right in.

I knew that since there was still plenty of time before the plane landed and they began to load the luggage on, that I knew for sure they would do this for me, and then I did.  After I little while I went through security.  I had to take off all my jackets, my belt, everything out of my pockets, so on and the guy did not seem very happy that I continued to throw stuff in the box, while another lady standing there smiled.

Once we boarded the plane I got seated in my comfy aisle seat.  The plane wasn’t full and the middle seat was open which gave me and the guy sitting on the other aisle some added bonus space.  The flight wasn’t terrible, wasn’t great either, but did seem to move rather quickly.  The entertainment system absolutely blew.  It did not have the new OnDemand system and basically looped the same programming on 9 channels.  I managed to watch a few movies, tv shows and I think I actually slept for more than 2 hours.  Oh and the food kind of sucked also, and since I was up so early I didn’t have a chance to bring food on the plane with me, so about half way through the flight I was rather hungry.  I managed to get three small bags of pretzels from one of the flight attendants which was nice of him.  He was nice while some of the other ladies were not friendly at all.

Overall the flight seemed to go pretty quick, definitely was not as board as the flight to London which was a newer plane and had the fancy OnDemand Entertainment system.  We arrived at Newark like 30 minutes early.  I raced as usual to passport control, got stamped in, then went to get my luggage.  That took at least 20 minutes and by the time I had gotten it all the line to go through customs was long.  At this point I was holding all my stuff and it was getting heavy.  When I got to the custom’s agent, he asked me to bring my stuff to the Agricultural X-ray scan which is never a good thing.  I mean I did not have any food with me just lots of alcohol as gifts and maybe a few Cuban Cohiba Ciggeralos 🙂

Nonetheless my bags scanned with no problems and I was on my way home.  I jumped on the Airtrain to the NJ Transit and then home sweet home!

I hope you all enjoyed reading Josh’s European Adventure.  I enjoyed writing it and living it.  As I said before it was a fantastic trip and will stay with me, just like all the others have before it for a long, long time.

– Josh

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 22 – Berlin, Germany

January 15th, 2009

Sadly this was my last full day in Berlin and in Europe for that matter.  My trip has come to an end.  Even though the total trip will be 23-24 days in total, it sure felt like a lot longer.  I reckon that is the result of the amount of places I saw, the things I did, people I met for the first time and met again (reunion).  Overall I think it was a great trip.  One that I won’t forget for a long time.  I made new friends, solidified friendships I made before and just had a great time.

After all that Linda and I had seen and done in Berlin and coupled with the fact that the weather did not look very favorable, we weren’t sure what to do on last full day together in Berlin.  We eventually decided on trying to go in a building equal to the White House in Washington, DC.  This building also housed the Parliament during session.  Linda was shocked at how few people were waiting on line and normally she said the line was easy a few hundred people maybe more long to enter without a reservation.  This time we waited maybe 5 minutes to go in and through security similar to an airport.  Linda had never been inside this building and was very excited to do so as she is very into politics and like I have mentioned before, contemporary history.

The building was really cool and Linda taught me about the different parties and their history once inside.  We also got the chance to walk around and up this glass dome.  Too bad the weather was so bad because the views would have been fantastic and free!

From this building whose name I cannot even attempt to spell or name, we decided that since the weather was so crappy and that we had done so much that we would walk to Potsdamer Platz and see another movie.  This time we chose Revolutionary Road starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  This was their first movie together since the very successful Titanic (how did he not win for that movie?  How has he never won an academy award are you kidding me?)  Anyway after the movie I could see how Kate Winslet won a Golden Globe award for the movie, and since I have been away for several weeks I am not sure if Leo won for it, but I think this movie will be nominated for Picture of the Year for sure.  It was a fantastic tale of how suburban life in the 50’s wasn’t all about the house, the job, the kids and the wife, that it was about more, and this story could easily apply to the present times.  Both were great.

After the movie we headed back to the hostel and relaxed until about 715PM when Linda decided to take me to this Vietnamese Restaurant she read about in the book her father gave her on Berlin which speaks of the best Bars and Restaurants in Berlin.  I was happy with that choice as I enjoy Vietnamese food.  The journey to the restaurant would take a little while as Linda was not completely sure where it was and it was slightly complicated since the Metro (or above ground Tram system) split the road in half and different streets were on different sides.  Eventually though Linda in her typical lucky fashion guessed right a few times and we ended up at the place called Sian.

I ended up ordering a Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with meat and great spices, one which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It was washed down by a nice cold Tiger Beer.  Tiger Beer is made in Singapore and is easily one of my favorite top 5 beers Internationally.  If I had to rank 5 beers I love the most it would probably be:  Singha (Thailand), Tiger Beer (Singapore), Staropramen (Czech Republic), Magic Hat #9 (USA), and Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic).  I definitely love other beers but these come to mind first.

After the delicious meal, Linda and I finally  headed to her favorite street in Berlin called Simon – Dach Strasse.  This is a long street located on the East Side of Berlin.  It houses many very interesting bars and restaurants, some of which are very clearly remnants of East Germany during the time of the Soviet Occupation.  The first bar we went too definitely had that feel.  In fact not only did the bar house old equipment from that time it also had drinks like “Apri Cola” (instead of Coca Cola) and other things.  Oh one more thing about this place.  It was very weird.  When I ordered the two drinks for Linda and I they told us that there was a 1 Euro deposit on each glass and charged me 2 Euros total and handed me two tokens which we would return along with the glasses to get our two Euros back.  Linda had never heard of this and neither had I.  I mean I could understand if they had really cool glasses maybe from the time of East Germany or something, but no, they were simple, tall glasses with no writing on them.  Nonetheless, it was a cool place and after a while we moved on to our second bar of the night where would we spend our remaining time.

This bar was called Palm Spring and it was really cool.  The floor was covered in sand like a beach, with cheap, very strong, very tall drinks.  The rest of the night Linda and I just chatted and reminisced on our trip together which started over two weeks ago in Amsterdam.

The way home would take us a little longer than expected as the U Bahn stopped at 1AM which Linda was not aware of.  Luckily there was a tram that would take us fairly close to our hotel.  Before going home for the night, we stopped at a Doner place and got some chicken doner in a wrap.  It was damn good, especially the garlic sauce that the guy threw on it.  This was even better than the doner I had in London with Harriet.

Finally it was time to go to sleep.  I had only a few hours left to sleep as the alarm was set for 615AM.  This would give me plenty of time to pack up the remaining few items left in the room, say goodbye to Linda and take the taxi to the airport.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 21 – Berlin, Germany

January 14th, 2009

We slept a little later than yesterday and Linda was feeling a little rough this morning, I could tell it in her face.  We went down for some breakfast and Linda couldn’t eat anything.  This was another indication that poor Linda might have been a little hung over, poor kid.  Anyway I had a full breakfast like usual and took two rolls for Linda incase she wanted them later on.  At around 1030AM we left the hostel and went towards Alexander Platz.  Today we wanted to do a Fat Tire Bike Tour of Berlin.  Unfortunately when we got to the square and the area where the guides were they told us that financially speaking they couldn’t run the tour with just the two of us.  Linda was quite disappointed and I thought that it was complete bullshit and that these guys just didn’t want to work today and that it was too cold for them.

Instead of doing the Fat Tire Bike Tour, we decided to go up the Berlin Tower.  This was something that Linda had never done in all her times to Berlin, and while I generally don’t do it I figured that since it as a semi sunny day that we should do it, and so we did.  The ride up the tower in the elevator was really quick.  It was approximately 6 meters per second (1 meter is approximately 3.33 feet).  At the top it was slightly cloudier than it appeared to be on the ground but I told Linda that I thought it was fine out and that the windows needed to be cleaned and that they looked a little dirty, she disagreed and said it was the clouds.

We ended up spending about a half hour or so at the top and then when we got back down we went to an internet café to check a few things that we might want to do today in Berlin since our plans were foiled by the dumb bike people.  We decided that we would go to the famous and slightly touristy Checkpoint Charlie Museum.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but after spending at least an hour in the museum, snapping photos and learning about the situation in Germany post World War II when France, USA, Soviet Union and the UK split Germany into four parts and how overnight East Germany was formed with a wall that would run through Germany and then through Berlin created West Germany and East Germany.  The wall would run approximately 1300 or something kilometers (1.6 kilometers to 1 mile).  Bottom line the wall was long but definitely a lot shorter than one would expect it to be.  I am sure when people think of the Berlin wall they think of this 20 foot wall, but in reality it is probably 9-10 feet high, maybe not that high.  Anyway I found the museum, the history and the surrounding area of Checkpoint Charlie to be very interesting, insightful and informative.

From Checkpoint Charlie Linda took me to this very nice square and along the way we stopped at Mini Berlin.  It was cool to see all the new Minis and what a place like this sells with the Mini logo; shirts, shoes, jackets, and anything that the Mini symbol can be put on.

From there we happen to stumble on this very fancy chocolate shop.  What drew us in where this huge sized replicas made of chocolate of famous landmark buildings in Berlin; Brandenburg Gate etc…I ended up buy two pieces of chocolate, one milk, one dark chocolate to give to people when I got home.

Now it was time to head into the East side of Berlin, formerly part of East Germany.  One can usually tell when one enters “East” Germany.  This buildings start to look all the same, the area is grittier and the prices for everything start to dramatically drop.  We took several trains and ended at a place called the East Side Gallery.  The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall remaining today.  It is approximately 1.3 Kilometers long (almost a mile) and it is called the East Side Gallery because over the years people have created very cool paintings on this part of the wall.  After snapping several great photos of each other, Linda and I walked down the entire part of the wall.  We stopped along the way to admire the wall, chat and look around.

And once again we saw the two Argentinean guys who were staying in our room.  We have see these dudes like everyday in the most random places, very weird.  From the East Side Gallery we walked to Berlin Ostbanhof Station and hopped on the “S Bahn to the U Bahn to the H Bahn,” which means that it took us several trains to get back to Rosenthal Platz.

When we got off our final train Linda and I were both hungry.  We settled on a Mexican Restaurant located across the street from the hostel.  It was around 4PM and even though this was way to late to eat lunch and way too early to eat dinner, Linda and I did not care.  I ended up ordering Chili Con Carne and a veggie burrito.  It was way too much food and I’m sure that I would pay the price for that meal, whether it was later in the night or the following day.

Today would be a very relaxed, chill day.  Once we got back to the hostel Linda passed out.  I worked on a few things for school (ugh school work sucks, one more semester!) and that was it.  We wouldn’t leave the room again.  I think we both needed a relaxing day/night before our final full day in Berlin.  I didn’t mind even though at one point I was pretty damn bored.  When the lights went out in the hostel dorm room, I through on a movie and watched it for about twenty minutes before I turned off and fell asleep.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 20 – Berlin, Germany

January 13th, 2009

I was woken up by another person in the room who was coughing constantly all during the early morning.  Eventually I was fed up with it, took my computer and left the room.  It was driving me nuts.  I took a shower and when I came back into the room Linda was awake and got ready to leave for the day.  We started out with a nice long walk around Berlin.  Since this was Linda’s 8th time to Berlin she was practically local and coupled with the fact that she is an extremely avid and passionate Contemporary History major at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland (Justice Scalia studied abroad here will at Georgetown University during his undergraduate days before Harvard Law School) I knew I would be in for a treat during my rather brief stay in Berlin.

All the stuff we did:  Basically I saw a lot of cool stuff with Linda.  She showed me so much of the city and was kind enough to write it all down, unfortunately the paper she gave me was lost in the shuffle of getting back to NY, so here is what I can remember:
Brandenberg Gate
Alexander Platz
Humboldt University
Famous TV Tower
Museum Island
World War Memorial
Potsdamer Platz
KaDeWe – largest department store in Europe.  Here is where I had the most expensive lunch of my life (it was 27 Euros!).
Tiergarden
Holocaust Memorial near Potsdamer Platz
Several other nice squares and buildings all by walking.  We did take the train a few places.

When we got back to the hostel we were both tired.  We had walked and walked and then walked some more.  I was also stuffed after my really damn expensive lunch, but hey it had a great view!  We relaxed for a few hours and then we were off again.  This time it was to the movies.  Everyone knows I love to see movies when I’m traveling, I find it fun and a nice way to relax while on the road.  Tonight at the theater happened to be Family Day so movies were 5 Euros all day.  But as it turned out there was a slight catch:  if you wanted to sit farther away and with better seats you had to pay a 1 Euro 50 cent surcharge.  Linda and I agreed to pay it and got great seats.  The theater was big, the screen was even bigger and the seats were very comfy.  Before the movie began we went to buy some sodas.  Linda ordered us two mediums and when the lady brought them over to us I was like “you have to be kidding me?”  These sodas were huge.  I even took a photo holding them both because of how big they were.  Once we got our sodas I wanted an alcoholic beverage.  Great thing about seeing a movie in Europe and other countries and continents is that often times alcohol is served like any other item at the theater.  Berlin was no different.  After my double of Jack on the rocks it was time for the movie to start.  The movie we chose was “Seven Pounds,” staring Will Smith.  In the end I actually enjoyed the movie but I do have a concern for Will Smith and the direction he is taking his acting.  His last few movies have been a far cry from his first several huge blockbusters.  These are more serious and the main character (usually Will Smith) has been dark, depressed or angry inside.  I guess he likes this better than comedy and maybe it is more challenging and fulfilling.  Anyway it was certainly a tough movie to follow and one with which you must be very patient when watching.  I could see that Linda was having a tough time following but she managed to stick it out and figure it all out in the end.

After the movie we decided to head to a very interesting area of Berlin, one which had loads of cafes and bars.  The area is called Hackersher Markt.  Once we got off the train we managed to find this Tapas bar.  We sat down ordered some Tapas and white wine and had a really nice evening.  I think this was our first real bonding experience one which I hope will solidify our friendship forever.

Once the tapas bar closed we decided to head back to the hostel for a nightcap at the bar downstairs.  Here we used our buy 1 get 1 free beer coupon which was given to us when we checked in.  After having a few sips of the .5 litre glass of Becks, I decided that I did not like it.  Linda insisted that I finish it and had the bartender throw some Sprite into the glass with the beer.  Yes it is a girly thing to do but it tastes better so why  not?  You didn’t see me doing that with all the Czech beer I drank now did you!

Down in the bar we met a very nice guy from Townsville, Australia which is about 5 minutes from the middle of nowhere on the northeast coast in Queensland.  I had visited there once and it was on a Sunday, nothing was open and the next morning I left very quickly for beautiful Magnetic Island.  I reminisced briefly with the dude about my time in Australia, he shared his current travels with us; where he had gone, what he had done and where he was going.  Typical backpacker talk over a beer or 3.

All in all the night was a lot of fun.  We got to bed a little late but nothing crazy.  I certainly got home later when I go out in New York City back home!

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 19 – Prague, Czech Republic to Berlin, Germany

January 12th, 2009

We had to leave the house by 930AM even though our train wasn’t supposed to leave untill 1030AM because that is when David’s dad could take us to the train station.  I quickly went upstairs to pack up my stuff and get down for a quick bite to eat.  We then said our final goodbyes took some photos and then crammed all of our stuff into their tiny car that they use when they drive around Prague.  The ride to the train station was short and when we arrived we both thanked David’s father and then went into the train station.  When we arrived at the train station we quickly realized that our train was 30 minutes delayed.  Linda could not understand how trains could be late 30 minutes.  She understood 5 minutes here or there, but 30 was like unheard of.  I told her that she wasn’t in Switzerland and things worked differently here.

To calm her down because she was cold (and gets cranky when cold), we walked to McDonald’s to stay warm and wait.  At around 1030AM we walked back to the station and now saw that the train would be 40 minutes late.  At that same moment I noticed a guy we had met at the Led Zeppelin concert a few days ago.  He was a student from Germany and a nice guy.  We said hello and started chatting.  At one point we bet how long the train would be delayed because as it turned out he was taking the same train we were for the first 2 hours.  The train to Berlin from Prague was supposed to take between 4.5 and 5 hours, not bad as I really enjoy train rides during the day where you can see some of the country pass you by.

I guessed 70-80 minutes late he said 40. I’m glad I was wrong.  The train would end up being 40 minutes late or so.  Before the train arrived I had loads of Czech Krona left so I decided to spend what was worth 25-30 euros on souvenirs from the shop at the train station.  I hadn’t bought much the whole trip and wanted to spend a little cash.  I ended up buying get chatchkas  to either give to people back home or keep for myself.

When the train was called the three of us rush on to the train to try and secure a berth for ourselves.  We were successful and the three of us sat in a very comfortable 6 person berth with a big window.  For the first hour or more we chatted and I worked on my blog.   I was a little behind and needed to catch up.  I hadn’t posted in a few days and I knew people back home were probably getting a little antsy.  After Michael got off the train for another train it was Linda and I.  We relaxed, ate some of the food David prepared for us and listened to some music.  With about 2 hours left I taught Linda how to play 7 card gin.  That killed basically the rest of the time on the train and before we knew it we were at the brand new Berlin central train station (not called that but these German names are impossible to spell!).

From there we took several trains and ended up at Rosenthal Platz.  Once upstairs our hostel was right across the street (crossed two tram tracks in the process).  I was relived when Linda said that our hostel was right across the street as my back and body was hurting from carrying all of my crap.  I yet again have brought way to much stuff with me, I am not sure when I learn to pack lighter, maybe on my next adventure.

Once we were all checked in the both of us relaxed a bit, went on the computer to check some things, and then it was off to explore some of Berlin.  Linda took  me to this really cool dive bar that was downstairs.  Inside was a really creepy bartender who almost choked to death when we lighted up some Cuban cigars.  I mean it was funny because the guy looked like he had smoked for 30 years but in German he told Linda that he could not breath around cigar smoke.  We obliged his request to end the cigars and saved them for later.

After three drinks each it was time for dinner.  Linda made a reservation at this Indian place she has been too before.  When we arrived it looked quite good.  I actually ordered and spoke to the waiter in Hindi!  I still got it!  Unfortunately though dinner would not be very long.  After eating so much in Prague with David and his family both of us were not that hungry, both of us had suffered from Big Eye Syndrome which is very common once alcohol is consumed.

I then politely called the waiter over and in Hindi asked if he could pack up our dinners to go.  Linda was astonished that I would even consider asking for the food to be packed up.  She claims that it is unheard of in Europe.  I explained to her that it was quite common in the USA and that in no way did I feel awkward asking them to do it for us.

From dinner both of us were absolutely destroyed from the long day and wanted to go to sleep.  We took the trains back home and went to bed before 1030PM.  An early night was exactly what we both needed to be fresh for Berlin.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 18 – Prague, Czech Republic

January 11th, 2009

Today was Sunday and that meant football.  The previous day I found an Irish pub near the Muzeum stop on the metro.  Today we also woke up early so we could get an earlier start to the day.  We left the house by 1030AM again after a big breakfast.  David’s mother said we had to be home by 1230PM for the big lunch she was preparing which included a homemade pumpkin soup.  According to his mother food is fairly cheap in Czech.  As she told us the government can raise the price of gas and other goods but if they touch the prices of food the people will get very angry.

David and Karolina decided they wanted to show us some of the countryside in Czech so we all jumped in the car and we stopped at a few very old towns near Prague over 1000 years old.  It was crazy to see such old towns, I have not seen many towns this old in my life.  We saw a few churches, some castles of course and even took a Czech Safari where we saw beavers, an antelope like animal, ducks and huge wild jack rabbit type animals.  Since David was driving a big 4X4 we even did a little off-road driving to get closer to the animals.  We also visited a cottage where David’s grandmother stays during the year.  David said he has spent many summers in this cottage and it looked very nice.

When we got back to the home the food was waiting.  I had two huge bowls of pumpkin soup.  Man was it good.  I love pumpkin and soup so this was perfect.  There were a lot of spices and it warmed me right up.  The second course was a huge plate of mash potatoes and corn beef.  Hmmm was that good also.  This time though I turned down the beer as I was so full and when I asked for water David’s mother said “Really?  Just water?”  I said “yes I just want some water,” and she obliged giving me a glass of water.

At around 2PM we were off again.  Again Karolina came with us while David stayed back to study his Monday afternoon final exam.  When Linda told him we were coming to Prague to visit he did not mention the fact he had several final exams this week.  Nonetheless he hung out with us when he could and studied when he needed too.  We got a ride to the Letnany metro station and took the train to the Franz Kafka Museum which Linda wanted to do, so I said “OK” because she said she would watch the Giants game at night for 3+ hours.  I  ended up learning about this very crazy man called Franz Kafka who was Jewish and died around 41 years of age from Tuberculosis.  I also got a present for someone back home.

From the museum it was getting dark out, but regardless once again we would see Prague at night.  This time we went to the Jewish Quarter where we saw from the outside the oldest Synagogue left in Europe.  Most of the places around this area were closed because it was Sunday and late.  I was a little disappointed but not terribly disappointed so I got over it.  The three of us then decided to go to a local café.  Karolina had a fruit tea, Linda hot chocolate, and for me a bitter lemon Schweppes.  It was good and cold.  From the café it was off to a supermarket called Testco.  Here would bought some small gifts for David’s mother.  Karolina said that his mother liked potted plants so we got her two cactus and a fichus.  Then it was off to the Irish pub to get ready for the game.  When we arrived the last 30 minutes of Chelsea v. Manchester United was playing, the bar was packed with supporters.

After Manchester United won 3-0 the place cleared out and it was time for real football.  Unfortunately the Giants would lose in a very disappointing fashion 23-11.  I want to move on so I will not go into detail regarding how terrible they played and how they had a great chance to get back to the Superbowl.  Luckily I had drank fairly well during the game so it was quickly forgotten.  From the Irish pub we took the train back to Letnany.  We said our final goodbye to Karolina at the station called Ladvi, and then David (who met us at the Irish pub after he studied most of the day), Linda and I continued to Letnany where we were supposed to take a bus back and then make that awful mile+ long walk but instead Linda and I decided we wanted to take a taxi and low and behold there was a lone taxi waiting at the station for a fare.

David got the driver to take us using the meter and even though David ended up paying the fare, I left him money on his desk the next morning before we said goodbye to his family and Prague.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 17 – Prague, Czech Republic

January 10th, 2009

Today we woke up and then David asked if we would like breakfast and lunch at the same time.  This meant that after his mom made us a huge breakfast a half hour later we had a huge lunch which included a beef soup, knudle made out of potato, and meat.  Linda and I were stuffed but David’s mother kept feeding us food like a Jewish mother or grandmother would.  At around 3PM Karolina took us to the famous Republika exhibit at the National Museum.  By the time we got there it was 415PM and we only had about 45 minutes to see the exhibit.  This exhibit featured the evolution of the Czech Republic.  I found it interesting.  After this museum Karolina took us to this special café which trains and employees individuals with special needs.  At this café I ordered a local Czech drink called Medovina aka Mead aka Honey wine.  It is alcohol made from honey and it was quite good but really, really sweet.  Afterwards Karolina took us to another Castle which had a really cool tower built in the 12th century.  Karolina liked it, especially at night and even though it was freezing out, we walked all around it and saw the sights.  So far Linda and I had only seen Prague at night.  Don’t get me wrong it is a really nice city, definitely one of my favorites in Europe so far, but I would have liked to see a little more during the day.  I also think it has made for a great visit so far because we are getting the real local experience, which as everyone knows (including Cousin Leonard) that is what I urn to have, the real local experience.

After Linda, Karolina and I froze walking around the castle, we walked and met up with David.  David wanted to take us to this special brewery that made local Czech beer but when we got there it was reservation only until at least 10PM.  We then walked to this wine bar and got a bottle of Czech wine.  Not terribly expensive and was not bad.  It was a white wine, and the more I drink it the more I am starting to like wine, especially white wine.  I also enjoy red wine but that usually puts me right to sleep.

David then wanted to take us to his student bar called the Dead Fish.  It was a really long walk to get there even though he said it would only take about 15 minutes, it took a lot longer.  Unfortunately when we arrived unbeknownst to David the bar was closed.  David and Karolina both said it was highly unusual for the bar to be closed especially on a Saturday night.  Nonetheless we got to see another part of the city and the university where David goes to school.  David is 20 and studies Environmental Studies.

From the Dead Fish we went right around the corner to this tea house.  Apparently tea houses are very popular in Prague, personally I had never really been to one, and it was very strange.  Before going in we had to ring this strange bell several times before someone came to the door and opened it.  At first we thought it was closed but after we peered through the window and saw that people were in the place we became persistent and refused to leave until we were let in.

Once in our shoes had to come off and we were led into a room with other tables and very comfortable chairs, dim lighting and soft music.  A relaxing place to say the least and one with hundreds of types of tea from all over the world.  I ordered a type of African tea called Rooibos.  Rooibos means red bush in Afrikans so it is not technically tea because it is not made from tea leaves but is made from a bush.  Anyway the tea was quite good and Linda and I each swapped a few cups from each others tea.  She got a type of Indian Chai which is probably my favorite type of tea.  Normally made with a ton of spices including masala and is made with milk.  Hmmm it was so good.

We ended up spending a few hours relaxing at the tea house.  This was definitely a different kind of experience and one which I will not forget.  From the tea house we walked back to a metro and hopped on a train back home.  From the station David drove us back to his house.  I was relieved that we didn’t have to walk back home again in the freezing cold.  Again I was quite tired as our days are fairly long, we walk a lot, eat a lot and it is freezing out.

When we got back David’s mother offered us some tea with rum in it and some food.  She said the rum would warm us up, but after I insisted I wasn’t cold and wasn’t hungry and I passed the test in which she touched my hands and nose she let me go up to sleep.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 16 – Prague, Czech Republic

January 9th, 2009

I woke up freezing cold in the train.  The air-conditioning system was broken and was stuck on cold and full blast the whole night.  Coupled with the fact that the bed was tiny even for me it was a very uncomfortable sleep to say the least.  We arrived in Prague at around 1140AM and was warmly greeted by Linda’s friend David.  Linda met David in Africa a year and a half ago on another Nomad trip through Mozambique.  David grabbed one of my backpacks and we were off.  We took two subways to get to his mother’s travel agency near a train station.  When we arrived at his mother’s travel agency we were warmly greeted by his mother.

She offered us a shot glass of Amarula and said that around lunch time it was customary to have a drink to stay warm.  I think she was joking but nonetheless I was two shots of Amarula deep before 1PM.  From the travel agency David drove us to his home.  The ride would only take about twenty minutes mainly because the speed limit was so low and the weather was bad.  The roads were filled with snow and it was very cold here in Prague.  A lot colder than Amsterdam and Switzerland.

David’s house was absolutely stunning.  Big rooms, including the one Linda and myself was staying in.  It was clear to me that by Czech standards his family was well off.  After relaxing and eating some nice fresh goulash that his mom made among other delicious eats, we had a bit of a rest and then we were off to see some of Prague.  First we drove back to where his mother parks her car near her office and then we hopped back on the metro.  After taking two trains and a tram we finally arrived at the famous Prague Castle.  By this time what was left of the sun was almost down and we were basically walking around in the dark.  The castle was well lit at night and also in this complex the President of the Czech Republic lived and Parliament also worked here.

After our short tour through the Prague Castle we walked down a long set of steps close to the a famous square in the Old Town.  I noticed walking around that most of the roads were cobblestone including the sidewalks.  I love cobblestone roads I think it just oozes history.  At the bottom after meandering our way through small streets we arrived at a place that was selling hot wine and an interesting form of sweet bread of which the name I cannot spell or pronounce.  Linda and I quickly realized that the Czech language was very hard and had no logic to it at all.  This language was unlike any other.  Anyway David said it was time to get some hot wine as it was very cold and Linda was very cold.  When she gets cold she gets a little cranky.  So we got some hot wine and this bread with sugar on it and before we knew it Karolina, David’s girlfriend was getting off the tram.  She warmly greeted us as well and we all chatted while standing drinking hot wine and eating some delicious home made bread.

From this square we walked across the famous Charles Bridge built hundreds of years ago.  Once across the bridge we walked up this huge tower in the center of the city.  It was many steps to the top but well worth the view.  From there went to the old town square to a nearby traditional pub.  All  beer in Czech is served in half litre glasses which are really big.  After two or three beers we moved on to a downstairs bar for a show.  The band was a Led Zeppelin revival band.  The show would last several hours and was very good.  The music was loud, the beer was cold and I was in great company, so it was a great time.

Soon though it was time to go if we wanted to make the last trains and bus back to David’s home.  We did and when we got off the train we had to walk at least a mile in the freezing cold.  This walk would also take us through woods and then we were at his home.  I was relieved to be at home, and before we knew it Linda and I were passed out.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 15 – belalp – Sugiez – Bern – Zurich – Prague, Czech Republic

January 8th, 2009

Today was an extremely long day.  We got up at 830AM and was skiing by 930AM.  We ended up having a great day of skiing even though the weather wasn’t so great.  It was mostly overcast but since it was during the week and there was no holiday the slopes were open and free.  It was fantastic, the snow was like baby powder and we all felt like we had the entire mountain to ourselves.

At around 1130AM it was time to say goodbye to Belalp, return the skis and head home.  Once we dropped off our skis Linda and I had to climb all the way up the mountain to Sarah’s Chalet.  When we finally got there I thought I was going to through up.  I could definitely feel the thin air on Belalp and it was affecting my breathing.  Our stuff was already packed so we gathered everything up, and headed back down the cable car to where we parked Linda’s Mini just a few days ago.  Luckily this time it started and we were ready to go.

We got to Naters and dropped Sarah off at home.  It was sad to see her go, but I am hoping that she will come to New York with her family and visit real soon!  She also owes me a CD of all the photos from skiing as she was too quick with her camera and snapped all the great photos.  Sarah’s mom again tried to get us to stay for lunch,  but we politely declined and instead she handed us both a bottle of water and a special desert made from nuts.

From Sarah’s house Linda and I drove back to Goppenstein and on to the car train.  I forgot to mention this before.  But basically going to Belalp we drove on to this train and basically it is like a cattle car where you drive right into a compartment, open air and get taken to another place through a very long tunnel (takes about 15-20 minutes) and to the other side.  So going back to Linda’s we did the same and it was fun.

Before arriving back in Sugiez, Linda decided that we should stop in Bern (Bernie) for a short visit to the train station where there are a lot of nice shops.  Here we exchanged money for Czech Kronas, got chocolate and pasteries for Linda’s mom as it was her birthday, some drinks for the train and snacks.  After about an hour and fifteen minutes it was back in the Mini for the rest of our journey to Sugiez.

We arrived in Sugiez in the early evening.  I immediately crawled into bed and relaxed.  We had several hours until our 840PM train left from Ins, Switzerland starting our long journey to Prague.  At around 630PM we headed over to the hotel attached to Linda’s home that her parents own for her mother’s birthday celebration.  I wasn’t dressed so nicely and was even wearing flip flops since my feet hurt from skiing and I was a little embarrassed compared to how everyone was dressed but after several glasses of nice champagne I was over it.

For the  next few hours I chatted mainly with Linda’s father, brother, mother and Linda herself.  The rest of the guests didn’t speak English and it was tough to have a conversation with Linda translating on both sides.  Her father is really cool and introduced me to two great bottles of wine.  One red and one white both seemed very nice and probably very expensive.  Linda’s family owns vineyards in Switzerland that produce anywhere from 500-600 bottles of wine.  They even make champagne.  As a parting gift her father gave me two huge bottles of champagne and a bottle of red wine from their collection.  Also downstairs in their home was a pretty extensive wine cellar and apparently Linda said that her father had much more in other cellars around.

Before we knew it, it was getting late and Linda’s brother driving very fast got us to the train station with one minute to spare.  We jumped out of the car grabbed all of our stuff and ran to the train.  This would happen again when we got to Bern as we only had a few minutes to catch the second train.  Catching the third train wasn’t so bad and then we were on the train in Zurich on the way to Prague, Czech Republic.

When we first got on the train the berth looked real small.  In fact it is supposed to fit 6 people and Linda and I could barely fit with 2.  I must admit I have a lot of crap with me, none of which I bought in Europe but all stuff I brought with me from back home to wear.  It has been very cold so far on my trip and I have worn it all.  What was weighing me down was all the alcohol in my second backpack!  After rearranging some things we finally got settled in the berth.  I hooked up my mini speaker to my mp3 player and started playing some tunes.  The rest of the night was very nice.  We chatted, had some drinks and listened to music.  Very relaxing

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 14 – Belalp, Switzerland (Swiss Alps)

January 7th, 2009

Last night the three of us decided to wake up at 9AM and get the day started.  I thought that we should have woken up earlier, but I wasn’t going to fight them on this one.  I got up around 830AM, took a nice hot shower, and then got dressed for skiing by putting on my special underarmor underwear and long johns.  I put on several tops including a sweater I had brought, my fleece jacket and then my heavy north face  I wasn’t about to mess around with the cold up on the top of the mountain.  Even though the forecast predicted only about 25-30F, I figured that I would rather be too warm than too cold, because being too cold sucks especially when you are skiing.

The girls and I headed out the door around 930AM and walked down the snow filled roads to the ski shop.  There Linda and I got some skis and I needed boats.  After the guy at the shop  made fun of me in German regarding my small feet, I got the boots and skis fit.  They felt fine and then afterwards it was time to ski.  We put our skis on and skied down to the chairlift to buy our lift ticket for the day.  Afterwards we backed up on our skis and headed up the mountain.  Sarah said that I needed to ride on the bunny slope at least once before we went to the big boy slopes.  I said “no problem” because I wanted to make sure I got my balance before heading up to the big stuff.

The first run went off without a hitch.  I was turning well and felt good.  Even though I haven’t skied a lot in my life, I am self-taught and have a pretty good idea of how to ski.  My form is not technically sound in any way, shape or form, but it gets the job done.  Once we got to the bottom of the bunny slope it was time to head all the way up the mountain.  We took one chairlift to another that looked like a bubble.  Once the restraint comes down an outside bubble comes down after.  It was a very unique chairlift and one I had never been on before.  It appears that the bubble is there to protect one from the wind and cold while traveling up the mountain.  From the bubble like chairlift we then had to continue up the mountain using another very unique device, but apparently common in Europe.  It is a rope attached to a piece of plastic.  You grab the rope and stick the plastic behind your butt and while standing up straight it pulls you up the mountain.  The first time I used such a thing I went with Linda and when she gave me the rope I tried to sit down and then she started to say “don’t sit, stand up.”  So I did and lucky for us just in the nick of time because any longer and I probably would have caused us both to fall.  See while on this ropey thing you are skiing up the mountain, being pulled by the rope so if you cross your skis and fall it is not good.

Once at the top we skied through a tunnel, which took us to another side of the mountain (really cool) and then snapped a few photos and headed down.  I ended up slightly falling once, but nothing like a wipeout (where your skis, polls and everything goes flying).  My edge simply caught and I kind of landed on my side, nothing serious.  The run was definitely challenging as we started at 3112 meters or about 10500+ feet high.  It was the highest mountain I had personally skied and it was crazy.

The rest of the day would go well.  I ended up falling like two more times but again it was my skis more than my ability to ski.  My left boot kept coming out of my binding and it would cause me to fall, but all in all was a great day.  After we got lunch and skied until about 330PM it was time for Apri Ski.  Apri Ski is translated from German to mean “party after ski.”  This is where you go to one of the many restaurants on the mountain and drinks.  So we did and had a great time until about 530PM when we had to ski down to the bread shop so we had bread for our dinner.  Dinner was going to be authentic Swiss Fondue.

The Swiss Fondue was very good but the cheese which includes wine is very strong and eventually I had to give up and then Sarah made me a sandwich.  The sandwich included very special dried Swiss meat which is approximately $40 per pound!  I was honored to eat the meat and it was damn good.

Since we skied all day I was very tired and after playing some Mario Kart and Golden Eye I passed out around 1130PM.  Tomorrow the plan was to ski half the day and then make our way back to Sugiez and then the night train to Prague.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 13 – Sugiez, Switzerland to Belalp, Switzerland (Swiss Alps)

January 6th, 2009

I woke up feeling refreshed after having a nice sleep in the guest bedroom on the top floor of Linda’s home.  I was really excited that I would have a chance to ski in the Swiss Alps.  Back home the concept of doing so always seems like a dream and was never a possibility, until today.  The three of us got somewhat of a late start and after breakfast we packed up the car and then Linda started the car.  She slowly backed it out of her snow-filled spot in the driveway and then turned it off so we could get in.  Unfortunately when she went to turn it back on the car wouldn’t start.  She tried and tried and then eventually we all realized that her battery might have died.  So she went inside to call her friend Loulou, who was like a father to her, and was this old Swiss dude who spoke French and walked to her car with a huge cigar in his mouth at like 10am.  After trying to push the car and start it Loulou realized that this would not work and so he decided to pull Linda’s tiny 98 blue MiniCooper, Montecarlo edition which meant that the car had two really cool white racing strips down the center of the hood.  So after about 15 minutes we heard Linda’s horn from down the block and we all cheered because it was time to head for the mountains.  I was nervous that the car would be dead and that we would have to take the train to the mountains.  But lucky for me Loulou got the job done and the Mini was ready to go.

The ride from Sugiez to Naters would take about 2.5 hours.  Naters, Switzerland was where Sarah lived and was her world famous village.  Her parents lived in marvelous home up on a hill with huge windows facing the incredible Swiss Alps.  After we meet her father and mother, her mother prepared some Raclette (cheese) with some other side dishes and we had a very nice lunch.

After lunch we got back in to the mini and headed for Belalp.  Since it was getting late we decided that skiing today would not be a possibility but that we could ski on the morning of the day we were heading back to Sugiez.  I was fine with that as long as I got my 1.5 days of skiing in.  Once we got to the base, we bought some groceries to bring up with us.  Sarah and Linda also picked out some chocolate that I had to buy and bring home with me, so I did.  After getting the groceries, it was time to put the Mini in the garage and head up to Belalp via the cable car.  The weather wasn’t so nice so you couldn’t see a lot but we were hoping that the weather for the next few days would be nicer.

Once at the top we had to climb up the snowy hills to Sarah’s Chalet.  It was really nice, made all out of wood with a really nice fireplace in the middle of the living room.  There was a bedroom for me and a bathroom, which is always good and once we got there and was settled in we just relaxed.  After a few hours around 430PM or so Sarah wanted to go sledding down the mountain back to the base where we got the cable car.  I said I would go with her and Linda stayed back in the Chalet and watched some TV.  Sledding was much more difficult then I remember it to be from when I did it down Mount Pilatus only a few years ago.  Maybe it is because I am getting older, who knows?  Anyway after several falls, none of which hurt we finally got to the bottom of the mountain, and then took the cable car back, schlepped the sleds back to the Chalet and then it was time for dinner.

Linda and Sarah prepared a Swiss feast that I watched being made and ate.  It was fantastic.  There was meat, vegetables, bread and wine.  Oh before that the three of us played Mario Kart on Nintendo 64, what a flashback that was.

We all ended up passing out on the couches around 930AM.  I was so tired and tomorrow it was time to ski!

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 12 – Amsterdam, The Nederlands to Sugiez, Switzerland

January 5th, 2009

Today was our final day in Amsterdam.  I was ready to move on.  Three times in 5 years is plenty in my mind as it is a very expensive place to visit and after you have seen the sights becomes kind of boring.  Again you all know I hate to go to places more than once since I have so many left on my list.  So for me to go to Amsterdam three times, it is a little much.  We had several hours to kill once we checked out and so we thought we would go to the cinema and see a movie.  When we got down there everything was closed.  Apparently on Mondays until 12 or 1230PM everything is closed.  So we walked around, got some food, got some coffee (not me of course) and then I convinced everyone to go to these electronic casinos.

Basically throughout Amsterdam they have like casinos where they have electronic slot machines, electronic roulette, poker and other types of games.  I initially thought that the electroinc roulette would be rigged (meaning that the ball would be magnetized or something), but as it turned out that wasn’t the case at all.  I sat down at one of the roulette tables with no one else playing.  I thought it would go quicker and I wanted to try my luck.  So I put in 10 Euros in 2 Euro coins and started to play.  It took some time to figure out and after I had lost all my 10 Euros I decided to play 4 Euros more.  Boy am I glad that I did, even after Sarah said to me “Josh that is your train money!”

Well within 4 or 5 spins of the wheel I had turned 4 Euros in to 24 Euros!  Now it wasn’t a tremendous amount of money but I walked away a winner, which I was very happy about.  Not as happy as when I won 330 Euros at the Monte Carlo in Monaco but it would do just fine for today and make for a nice story when I get home.  After the Casino the remaining  members of the tribe stopped quickly for some Febo (a very popular vending machine place in Amsterdam), and then back to the hostel.  Once back at the hostel, we relaxed for about an hour.

At around 145PM it was time to gather up our luggage from the luggage storage room and start walking to Central Station to take the train to Schipol Airport.  Henk came with us since he was taking a train back to get his car.  Before leaving we said goodbye to the rest of the group who weren’t leaving until tomorrow and that was that.

Once at Central Station we bought our tickets and waited for the train.  I had so much crap with me (even though surprisingly I have bought NOTHING the entire trip!) it was starting to weigh me down waiting for the train.  But the train arrived only 5 minutes late and before we knew it we were at Schipol.  Once at Schipol I had to check in with EasyJet since I was checking a piece of luggage.  I immediately found a trolley so I could push my stuff rather than carry it.  There are many trolleys around the airport so don’t worry when you get there.

The line to check in was horrible.  It was snaking around the airport and it took about 30 minutes to check in.  After checking in the three of us (Linda, Sarah and I) went to McDonalds.  Now I haven’t had McDonalds in a long time and it was just as nasty as I remember.  Even though it tastes so good it is so bad for you and with my tiny cholesterol problem (255 last time I got it checked) I’m sure it wouldn’t help, oh well.  Then it was time to head towards the gate.  When we got to the gate after going through security (no problems this time) I waited a long time for the gate to be called while the girls waited with the luggage.  Finally the gate was called, and we knew right away that the flight would be delayed.

The flight would take less than 1.5 hours to get to Genève but from the airport it was quite a trip to get to where Linda lived which was a small town calked Sugiez in the Le Vully region.  From the airport we took one train to Fribourg and then had 30 minutes to kill.  So we decided we would get some food.  We landed on some small Chinese place but after realizing that the food would take too long we got it to go and then went to catch our second train.  This was a local train that made several stops before her stop which was again Sugiez.  From the train station I schlepped all my stuff to her house.  Up a hill and down a hill, through the snow and in the freezing cold, but after a ten minute or so walk we arrived at her home.  Linda’s home was spectacular.  Very old from the outside and fairly modern within.  They even have a heated indoor pool, but there was no time to swim.  We arrived fairly late, I unpacked my stuff and then gathered up the necessary items for the next few days of skiing in the Swiss Alps!  See Sarah comes from a tiny village called Naters (population approximately 8,000), and her family has a Suisse Chalet in the mountains above her village called Belalp.  So we decided we would drive to the  mountains and spend a few days relaxing and skiing.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 11 – Amsterdam, The Nederlands

January 4th, 2009

Today I woke up and did not feel like doing anything.  So I didn’t.  I ended up going with Linda, Sarah and Liz to the Cinema so they could buy ticket to a movie.  I wanted to see a movie because everyone knows from reading my blogs that I love to go to the movies while traveling.  But today I was meeting up with an old friend Jannie.  I met Jannie when I was studying in Melbourne back in 2004, and had not seen her since.  A few weeks ago I got in contact with her and told her of my plans to come to Amsterdam.  She said that she would be around and able to meet me.  So I got her mobile number and gave her a rang when I arrived in Amsterdam.  We decided to meet today.  Originally she was supposed to come a lot earlier in the day, but she ended up coming at around 430PM, and so because of that I couldn’t go with my friends to the movies.  I was disappointed and bored.  Finally I got a call from Jannie who said she was coming from the carpark by tram to Central Station, so in the rain I walked to Central Station and found Jannie.  It was great to see her again.  I brought her back to the hostel and we chatted for the next few hours.  We then went out again in the rain to get some frites (French fries) for her and then went back to the hostel.

At around 7PM the rest of the group came down for pre-dinner drinks and I introduced her the group. Since she is from The Netherlands she was able to speak in Dutch to a few members of the gang and the rest in English.  Her English is really good for someone who did not learn it as a native speaker.

745PM rolled around it was time to head to the Mexican restaurant Ellen picked out for dinner.  I said my goodbyes to Jannie and then Ellen led us to the restaurant.  About 2/3’s of the way there, as we were at an ATM someone said “where is Carolina?”  Then quickly we realized that we had left her at the hostel!  Linda had remembered that Carolina had told her to tell the group to wait a minute as she went to drop off her sweater.  Linda felt horrible about that and so Liz and her went all the way back to the hostel to try and find Carolina.  I bet Liz was cursing in French the whole way back like she tends to do.

At dinner I finally had some sort of appetite as I hadn’t the past few days.  I ordered lamb chops and lamb fillets.  It was really good and came with a bunch of great side dishes.  After dinner I was really tired.  The past few days of going out and walking around all day was really catching up with me, but I tried to stick it out and walk with the group to the bar that Ellen took us too.  This time it was in a different area and kind of in the right direction towards the hostel.  The chairs on the top floor of the bar were really comfortable and basically put me to sleep.  Highlight of the night was at the end when Liz in her amazing French accent said “Ok let’s go, this one is sleeping, this one is sleeping, this one is weird, so time to go.”  It was hilarious but true, I was sleeping and so were others.  So we made our way back to the hostel, which took at least 15 minutes and after watching the Vikings Eagles game at the bar, I had to go to sleep.  Others stayed for a few drinks, but for me it was time to sleep.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 10 – Amsterdam, The Nederlands

January 3rd, 2009

Today many of my friends wanted to go to see Anne Frank’s house.  I had already been there three times before so I wasn’t very keen on it.  I decided to go to the Van Gogh Museum, because that was the only one that I would be interested in going to more than once.  I knew it was too far to walk so I went to Central Station to get on a tram.  When I got on the one that I thought was the right one, the conductor told me that I was on the wrong one and that I should get off at the next stop and goes “1.60 Euro please.”  I gave him a look like you are really going to make me pay for this one stop, but then he said “it is good for one hour,” and so I said OK and gave him the money.  I got off at the next stop and then got on another tram which would take me to the Van Gogh Museum.  The ride was short and didn’t take very long, and when I got off I started to walk towards the museum.  This area was familiar too me as I remember going to it twice before, on both visits to Amsterdam.

When I got to the museum the line was so long.  I didn’t remember it being that long, I guess more people are traveling to Amsterdam than before.  After quickly deciding I wasn’t going to wait on the line, I then had to think what I was going to do next.  I didn’t want to take the tram back because I would have nowhere to go, so I decided to walk around and eventually try and meet up with the rest of the group later on.

So I started to walk.  Luckily I had a map with me so I could have a general idea of where I was going.  Oh and I was in flipflops as usual, and it was pretty cold out.  People were giving me very strange looks as I walked around, but it didn’t bother me.  This is also the kid who climbed to the top of the Great Wall of China in flip flops so I could care less.

After about 2.5 hours and numerous texts/calls to Sarah, who didn’t call me back after she said she would, I miraculously found them in the restaurant where they got lunch.  At one point I found myself walking in circles, but I since you can’t really be lost when you have no place to go, I wasn’t bothered by it.  At around 3PM I stopped in a small shop for some falafel.  The place looked pretty good and was relatively cheap compared to the rest of the things in Amsterdam.  It had been pretty expensive so far, just as I remembered it going all the way back to my first trip there in 2004.

After the falafel, I finally got a text from Sarah who told me that the group was eating at a place that we had been before.  But since my sense of directions is really bad, I didn’t think I had a chance to find it.  Eventually I got to a point that looked very familiar and so I decided to turn right and low and behold there the place was!  After lunch the group broke up again and this time I was with Henk, Sarah, Hendrika.  We decided to go to a café and try a local liquor.  I can’t spell the name of it, but I can say that it was pretty good.  This was the kind of drink that came in a shot glass that you sipped similar to higher quality tequilla.  So the four of us chatted for a few hours and then made our way back to the hostel in time to shower up for pre-dinner drinks with the rest of the group.

At around 730PM the entire group (14 strong), made our way to this Afrikan restaurant called Tjing Tjing.  Linda had found it searching online and so we thought that since we all met in Afrika to begin with that we should try and go eat at one.  It was pretty funny seeing all of us try and get on a tram, get a ticket validated, and get off.  But we all made it on and off both ways, and the walk from the tram to the restaurant was short, which was good considering that it was pretty cold out.

When we got to the restaurant nobody was there but us.  It was the perfect kind of place for us since we get a little a rowdy with a few drinks in us.  The best part was that the restaurant had Savanna.  It was great to have them again, the golden goodness that flows like water.  All in all the meal was great, everyone had a great time and afterwards it was time for a night cap.

Ellen then took us to the same area as the night before, but this time we went to a different set of bars.  I got to bed relatively late, similar to the night before, but nothing crazy.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 9 – Amsterdam, The Nederlands

January 2nd, 2009

Today was my first full day in Amsterdam and when everyone I was meeting for this Nomad Tour Reunion was supposed to come.  After seeing Hannah and Alex who came real early, we all walked to Amsterdam Central to surprise Frank, Juliane and Stefan, which we did and it was nice to see them.

At around 1PM all who was here began a free walking tour of Amsterdam which started from the WWII Memorial Statute in the center of the Dam Square.  At first I was reluctant to go since it was cold and I had seen a lot of Amsterdam, but even after 3 hours of walking in sandals in the cold (but was wearing a heavy hat and jacket), I thought the tour was great and showed my appreciation by tipping the guide 5 euros.  Most of us seemed to tip him which I’m sure is always really appreciated.

From the walking tour a few of us went to a bagel and beans shop for some food and drink.  I wasn’t particularly hungry or thirsty so I sat and enjoyed the company while everyone ate.  After eating we all made our way back to the hostel finally to shower up and get ready for a big night out.  After I finally got to shower (I really needed one and think I was developing some sort of rash on my backside and every time I took a step in my jeans I felt it rub together and it burned, ouch), we all met for some drinks before it was time to go to the restaurant.  From the hostel bar we walked to the restaurant which was booked by Linda and was a surprise as to what kind of food it would be.  At this point we were rolling 13 deep (we were a group of 13 people), and it was a Thai restaurant.  Hmmmm I love Thai food.  After some finagling with management we eventually got them to make one long table.  The food was very good and came out relatively quick and wasn’t too expensive considering all we ate and some drank (not me was saving myself for later on).

Once dinner was finished Ellen, who was currently living in Amsterdam took us to a few bars and after we all sang Happy Birthday to Harriet at midnight, we went back to the hostel for a night cap.  We ended up going to our rooms around 2AM, and while I wasn’t tired I ended up falling asleep pretty fast, which was nice considering I hadn’t slept much the past few nights.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 8 – London, England to Amsterdam, The Nederlands

January 1st, 2009

I got up around 9AM just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything in my room or in the house.  Today Harriet and I were flying from London’s Gatwick Airport in the south of London via EasyJet.  So from Harriet’s place we took old reliable bus 91 to Kings Cross, then walked a long way with all my crap to St. Pancras International train station (where you can get the Eurostar from), and then got our tickets for the train to the airport.  The train was meant to leave at 1024AM and we got there with about 20 minutes to spare, plenty of time if you ask me.  Once we got down to the tracks we dumped our stuff down and waited, and once the train came we were lucky enough to get a set of 4 seats so I could make sure all my stuff was coming along for the journey as well.  Actually I chained my backpack to the place where luggage was supposed to go but since I had some much other crap, we needed a set of 4 seats.

When we got on the train I put my headphones on and listened to some music, and before I did I begged my pardon to Harriet in case she thought that was rude, which she didn’t.  For the first 20 minutes or more the train went really slow, but once we outside the main parts of the city and got into more of the countryside it picked up and before I knew it we were at the airport.  From the train station at the airport to the check-in counter was a little difficult.  Up stairs, elevators and down halls with all my crap, by the time I got to the check-in counter I plopped all my stuff down and quickly put the cover over my backpack as I did before every flight with my backpack to ensure the straps are not ripped off (which happens all too often).

Checking in was a little interesting as well.  When it was finally my turn to approach the check-in lady (and let me tell you EasyJet sure takes that damn sweet time checking people in), the lady told me to put my bag on the scale.  I was 5 kilos under, phew, so I decided to throw my heavy winter jacket in my bag as well which ended up weighing over 2 kilos, holy crap.  After though she asked me about my hand luggage.  Now EasyJet has a simply policy:  no weight limit for carry on hand luggage but it MUST fit in this metal box.  So she asks me about my hand luggage and I immediately say “it fit I tried before (which was a lie that she did not buy), and so smartly she responds “OK well show me.”  At that point I was thinking to myself, “oh boy,” because EasyJet also has another strict policy:  for every kilo over the weight limit you pay big bucks, especially for a second checked piece of luggage.  So I slowly turned and put my backpack into the metal box.  At first it didn’t go in but after another second it slipped right in “like a gloooooveeee,” and the lady then goes “sorry I have been corrected.”  Now she said that because she initially said to me that my backpack was too big to be a carry on and needed to be checked, which sparked the response from me “I already tried and it fit (that’s what she said, haha).  The funny part was that I couldn’t get the bag out of the open metal container, and after like 5 seconds of struggle I turn to her and go “the straps are caught,” and she smiles and says “don’t worry take your time,” which made me feel relieved considering that she could have been like “well your bag really doesn’t fit, blah blah,” but she didn’t and I was all good.

After Harriet checked in, it was time for security.  After I deposited all of my belongings in the box, when I went through the security thing beeped.  Now when I was younger I always tried to have it set off by hiding coins in my pocket but today it isn’t so cool.  So when it set off they asked me to dump everything out of my pockets, which I did and take a step forward.  From there I was given a pretty good pat down by some guy.  I mean he was feeling pretty firmly down my legs, across my back and chest, etc, normally you pay for that kind of service (see Bangkok Summer 2008), and after the pat down I got the wand.  I had to undue the buckle of my belt and apparently what set it off was my watch, necklace and belt.  Jesus the British are crazy with their security.

From security we went to get something to eat and eventually made our way to the departure gate (which by the way took forever to walk too, so as a heads up when it says leave 40 minutes from the check-in counter to departure gates they mean it).

The plane took off about 5 minutes late, but the flight was only supposed to take roughly 35 minutes.  Now when I took easy jet from Amsterdam to London back in 2004 I could have sworn it took like an hour and thirty minutes, but maybe the wind really helps going towards Amsterdam as opposed to the other way.  Since EasyJet was a first come first serve type seating like Southwest somehow I ended up pulling the first window seat on the whole plane.  Now normally I hate the window seats but when there is nothing in front of you, I don’t mind it at all.  Only drawback was that all of my stuff was about 5 rows back in the overhead since all the space above me was full.

Once we landed I had to wait until someone was nice enough to let me get my stuff, which eventually happened.  I got off the plane, walked down the steps on to the tarmac, got a quick photo and made my way into the airport in Amsterdam called Schippol.  I waited for Harriet to get off the plane and then we made our way to the baggage claim.  Now for those of your who have never been to the airport in Amsterdam, don’t know when I mean that you have to walk and I mean walk far to get to anything.  And getting to the baggage claim was no exception.  But naturally before getting luggage we made our friendly stop at customs.  I went through really quick which was different than the guy before me who clearly got ridiculed by the customs lady for whatever reason.  I got stamped and then went to the baggage claim and picked up a trolley along the way.

Our baggage came really quick and then it was time to exit arrivals and as soon as I pushed the door open I saw someone I recognized, it was Sarah and then I turn my head and see Linda and run up to them and give them both a big hug.  What a surprise!  Harriet and I would have never guessed that they would have come to meet us at the airport, it was so nice to see them both.

After taking the train to Amsterdam Central Station, we walked to the hostel (which is in the red light district, but seemed completely fine), checked in after being hassled by this old grizzly dude with no front teeth, dropped our stuff off in our room and then started to chat and catch up.  When I got down to the bar area I saw another friendly face, Carolina from Columbia who was doing an internship in Germany for the next few months.  After we chatted a while got some drinks we went out for dinner, then came back for some more drinks and then went to a bar for a nightcap.  All in all it was an extremely long day and it was good to finally get into bed, now if the damn Aussie kids would shut up maybe I could get some sleep.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 7 – London, England

December 31st, 2008

Day 7 – London – New Years Eve

After packing up all my stuff which had exploded from my bags once I arrived at Harriet’s I decided that it was imperative I get some fish and chips before I left London.  So I set off for the bus and headed down to Kings Cross Station.  Apparently fish and chips isn’t as common as everyone back home things it is.  Go figure.  Anyway, after I found a place that didn’t take credit card, I got out some money and went back.  The fish and chips was everything I expected them to be.  I chilled out there for a while and took it slow, tonight was New Year’s Eve!

Once I got back to Harriet’s, I showered up and got ready for tonight’s festivities which included some drinks at the Quigley residence before we all went our separate ways.  So we all had some bubbly, nibbles and at around 815PM, Harriet and I met her old friend Tom who would be joining us tonight.  Tonight we decided to try and see the fireworks down by the Thames River, which are set off from the London Eye along the Southbank.

So Tom, Harriet and I set off from the bus stop where we picked Tom up for the first pub of the night.  Even though the pub didn’t charge to get in, there was no place to sit inside the pub.  So we took our drinks outside the pub to their garden and sat in the freezing cold.  Since I was wearing a sweater, fleece and jacket I wasn’t that cold initially, but after a while my neck began to really get cold.  After a while we moved inside, finishing up our drinks and went to pub 2.  At pub 2, they weren’t charging for admittance and after a while we did get a seat.  It was also a more user friendly pub with younger adults there and good drinks on tap.  For some reason I had decided to make this a cyder night, go figure, that was probably a bad move considering how much sugar are in each of them and how much your stomach hurts at the end of the night, but that was the choice I made before I took the first sip.

From pub 2 at around 1030pm after having some real interesting debate about socialized medicine (which I am personally against in any country whose population is greater than 10 million), we attempted to get down to the river and see the fireworks at midnight.  Well apparently us 3 weren’t the only ones who had this idea.  There were about 500,000 other people who had the same one as us, who would have thought!

We decided that taking the tube would be best.  Once we got on the tube it became crowded and crowded fast. Well the first tube we took wasn’t but once we transferred to the line that was going to take us to Waterloo station (picadilly line from the northern line), it became very crowded.  That was the train to take since other stations were closed.  After getting out from Waterloo station the line began.  All three of us after going through the main line were all looking for shortcuts to get us to the Eye the quickest.  I eventually found a route that would take us pretty close and with thousands of others, we all rang in the new year!  It was awesome.

So all in all it took us about an hour and half to experience something that lasted 5 minutes, and I definitely thought it was worth it.  Getting home was a completely other story.  Since the police had closed off streets and created barracades so that the general public could only walk certain ways, our choices were quite limited and we ended up having to wait a really long time to get back to the tube station.  But on the way, we took a few seconds to absorb all that was going around us, including saying Happy New Year to the Constables and random people.  I got a few photos of myself in the crowd and even managed to let the security at Kings College of London to use their bathroom (boy was that clutch and just in the nick of time too).

Eventually Harriet and I got home around 2am.  It took us about 2 hours to do so, which included long waits, crowded tubes and a 25 minute walk back to her house from Euston underground station.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 6 – London, England

December 30th, 2008

Today for some strange reason I got up at 830AM.  Not sure why considering I went to bed late.  I guess the jetlag has worn off.  I really wanted to go back to sleep, but I just couldn’t manage to do so.  So I laid in bed, updated my blog, watched some movies and eventually made my way down to the kitchen for some breakfast.

Today was also the day I was meant to meet up with my long time friend John Messer.  John and I met in New Zealand, while I was studying abroad in Australia in 2004 and he was doing his gap year traveling around the world himself.  This was my third time visiting him in the UK and he has yet to come to New York.  He says when I get married he will come for the wedding, I am holding him to that promise.

After showering up and getting ready, I made my way down to Kings Cross Station to get on the tube.  John lived in Southeast London, directly diagonally from where I was staying so it was going to take some time to get to his flat.  He lives in the Hammersmith/Fulham area for those who are familiar with London.  After getting off the 91 bus, which has become a bus I am quite familiar with, I got off at Kings Cross and made my way to the Picadilly Line (dark blue).  I quickly realized that I did not have enough money on my oyster card (like a metro card) to get to John’s so I had to find a place to top up.  Well since this is probably the busiest train station in all of the UK, the line to top up was huge.  I am talking like a hundred people deep, and I was certainly not waiting on that line.

I had an idea to walk to another tube stop, top up there and then get transfer to the right tube line to get to John’s.  So after asking a Constable (police officer), where the next tube stop was, and after him telling me it was merely 5 minutes down the road, I thought about it for a second, but then realized there must be another place in the station to top up and surely there was.  This time the line was not nearly as long and I barely waited to top up my card, and even better I was able to go straight to John’s stop without transferring.
The ride on the tube took about 25 minutes, and then I had to walk about 15 minutes from the tube, to get to his apartment.  I got directions by using google maps (what a fantastic travel tool).  He lived on the third floor of a really old building with really old doors to each flat.  There was a place for the mail labeled “letters” and the door knob was at my waist.  He met me at the door and we embraced one another in a very manly way; hearty handshake.

He gave me the quick tour of his rather nice three bedroom flat.  Him and his roommates really weren’t paying a whole lot for the place and it had a really nice common area (which could have become a 4th bedroom and wireless internet).  After catching up for a bit, I tried to help John set up the wireless internet connection on his laptop but to no avail.  He needed a new usb connector for his rather old computer.

I also had the honor of meeting one of his roommates, Russell.  Russell went to Cambridge with John and was a little snobby, but very funny and animated at the same time.  I liked him and bet he would be fun to drink and go out with.  Tonight though would not be the night as John and his friends were taking a 7am train to Edinburgh tomorrow for New Year’s Eve, which should be a blast and since he had to get up real early, he wasn’t going out.

At around 6pm I decided to head back to Harriet’s.  It was freezing out and I didn’t have my winter coat, but did have my fleece, hat and gloves, which held me over on my journey back to the tube.  Once I got off the tube I was hungry and wasn’t sure if Harriet and the girls would be cooking, so I went to a rather nice and extremely Authentic Italian Restaurant.  It was reasonably priced and I enjoyed the meal.  As it turned out though the girls had cooked back home and I was persuaded to finish the last slice of this gourmet omelet that was absolutely delightful.

After dinner Harriet, I and the girls just chatted for a few hours until it was time to get to bed.  I stayed up to try and watch the Syracuse Men’s Basketball game against Seton Hall, and while I managed to stay awake, the feed that I use online wasn’t working!  I was so mad,  but luckily someone posted a link to a radio feed.  In the end I was able to listen to the game but was really tired and only managed to get through the first 8 minutes before I turned off my computer.  Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, not sure of my plans yet, Harriet and I discussed going down to the Thames to watch the fireworks, but it is supposed to be cloudy so we will see.

I want to wish all of my dedicated and not-so-dedicated readers a Happy and healthy New Year!

Talk to you in 2009!

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 5 – London, England

December 29th, 2008

The first half of today was a lazy day.  While Harriet was off getting her passport from her apartment in Newcastle, I chilled out and relaxed.  At about 2PM Martha (harriet’s youngest sister) and I went out for a walk around central London.  We took the tube from Kings Cross to Covent Garden and had a bit of a walk around just chatting and I snapped a few photos.  Covent Garden is one of the tourist centers of London.  The place was jammed pack.  Here you will find a lot of street performances and those creepy real life statutes that move or do something when people deposit money in the box or hat in front of them.  I still find them creepy.  Why someone would want to do that all day is beside me.

After about an hour plus of walking around, going into shops and enjoying some of the street performances, we both were hungry and fancied a bite to eat.  So eventually we stumbled upon this local bistro that looked promising to the both of us.  It ended up being really good.  I had spinach and gnocchi in a cream sauce and Martha had penne.  What is it with penne and women?  My sister’s favorite pasta dish growing up, penne ala vodka.  I don’t get it, maybe it is something in the flour they use to make it that attracts women.  Anyway the lunch was my treat as I felt like this family was becoming my own and she was a second or third younger sister (eva is second of course) and it was my pleasure to treat the young lady.

After lunch we walked around for a bit more, but then decided that we were tired and that it was time to head home.  So we shuffled through the ridiculously busy Covent Garden Underground Station where you can only go down by elevator.  I find this incredibly stupid considering it is one of the busiest, if not the busiest tube station in all of London!  Bloody hell, have stair or an escalator jesus!

Luckily we got a seat on the tube for the rather short ride back to Kings Cross.  From there we jumped on a bus and headed home.  Again waiting for the bus.  Man I seem to always just miss these damn things and end up waiting ages in the cold for the next one to come, not sure if that is my bad luck or the luck of the person I’m with?

Once we got home, I went upstairs to relax and put on a movie.  It is tiring doing nothing and then walking around.  Sheesh.  Anyway, Harriet eventually made it back to London, and we both changed, because it was time for the theater!  We were meeting Harriet’s oldest friend, Katie for her 21st birthday and to see the show “We Will Rock You” a tribute to Queen.  We left the house pretty early and after taking two buses arrived at the theater promptly at 7PM.  Harriet had told me that Katie had said the group would be there by 715PM, giving us enough time to make the 7:30PM show.  Well as it turned out they arrived just around 730PM and we were quickly shuffled down to the second row of the theater.  We had the entire row to ourselves.  Her and her friends had come to London from Kent via a nice stretch limo, compliments of her parents for Katie’s 21st birthday.  Nice gift if I may say so myself.  The seats were remarkable and the show was even better.  They played all the Queen songs I knew and many more.  It was interesting how they worked all the songs in and while the storyline was kind of cheesy, the actors and actresses had incredible voices followed up by an awesome band in the wings.

After the show, where the theater played host to a full house, we all made our way out and then it was time to find the restaurant where they had booked the late after theater dinner.  The place was called “Browns,” apparently famous for its burgers.  The funny thing was that you would figure that they would have had directions from the theater to the restaurant, but as it turned out, no one of the 13 other people I was with, including Harriet who has lived in London all her life knew how to get from where we were to Covent Garden!  That was amazing.  It ended up taking us quite a while to get there, but we eventually made it just in the nick of time and the restaurant allowed us to sit and order food even though the kitchen had technically closed (that’s probably because we were so many and the bill was going to be a fat one).  After a rushed dinner where I virtually invited everyone to come to NY and stay with me (come on parents you know it is Hostel Del Epstein), the group went back home in the limo, while Harriet and I took the bus home.  We wanted to find a nightcap but nothing was really open and she wasn’t really familiar with where we should go.

By the way, so far I have found that NOTHING is open past 12PM.  This is so unlike New York City, and it makes me realize how awesome the nightlife is in New York because no matter what day it is, or time, something will be open, whether it be a lounge, bar or club.  Here it seems like everything is closed so early, what the hell is going on here.  Am in in the twilight zone?  Is this all a big “ha ha?”  Has London planned a big joke against me?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that London is definitely NOT the city that never sleeps, in fact they like to go to bed early.

Before we got home though I had to get something to eat.  Now since my recent doctor’s visit where they informed me my cholesterol was at epic levels, I have been eating rather good and not late at night.  Tonight was different.  I needed food, so I got some lamb kebab and salad and devoured it once I got home.  I had only really eaten one meal today and it was much earlier in the day and I needed something to hold me over.

All in all it was another great day.  But at the end of the night Harriet and I both agreed that we were “cultured out,” for at least the next few years.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 4 – London, England

December 28th, 2008

I woke up at 1230PM after a night of tossing and turning.  The Sunday morning church bells from across the street woke me up briefly, but I found myself dozing off back to sleep shortly after they finished ringing.  Today was a bit of a lazy day until about 3PM when Harriet and I went off to Camden Market.  Camden is an area of all young people with great shops and a huge market in the middle.  Camden is also home to Camden Lock and has a Venice type feel to it with small alleys and local vendors selling great things.

The main goal of going to Camden Market was to find one of Harriet’s oldest friends, Katie a 21st birthday present.  Even though we were surrounding by tens of stalls and chathckas, Harriet was heart-pressed to find anything.  After about an hour and a half of walking around, she eventually found this really cool handmade clock that she felt would be perfect for her friend.  I actually ending up buying this skull knit hat from a very famous local shop called Cyberdog.  Even after that purchase I haven’t spent much money so far in London, which is great considering the rest of my trip will be quite pricey.

Also Harriet and I decided that I would not accompany her to Newcastle and that tomorrow she would go get her passport and return in the evening, saving me 84 pounds and giving me an opportunity to see a little bit more of the city.  After Camden Market we took the tube to Embankment which is right on the South bank (of the Thames river).  We grabbed a drink at this really, really old wine bar called Gordons Wine Bar.  The downstairs looked like an old dungeon or cellar, it was really cool, and the wine was quite good as well.  From there we made our way to the Royal Theatre for a quick stop at the lue and a quick drink for myself.

At around 6PM we made our way to a restaurant called Ping Pong, a Chinese dim sum place where we met her parents, sisters and two other families, totaling 18 of us in all!  We had two monster tables upstairs in the restaurant.  Apparently George, Harriet’s parents good friend knew the owner and got us the reservation.  So we all ordered a whole bunch of things ranging from rices, dumplings, buns, and other sorts of goodies.  I had a few beers and chatted with the family friend’s and the people around me.

Before we knew it though 715PM had rolled around and it was time to go to the theater.  Harriet’s parents had gotten us all tickets to see a show called “The Lost and Found Orchestra,” which was a spin off from the very famous show “Stomp.”  I thought it was a brilliant show, kept me interested during the entire performance, and during intermission Harriet’s father got us all ice cream, which was really nice.  They have been so great to me during my stay, and they are such a sweet family, I have had a great time so far in London.

After the show the kiddies and I decided to try and find a place to grab a drink, but as it turned out most places closed quite early during this holiday period and on Sundays especially so everything ended up being closed when we got back Camden.  From Camden, Martha, Harriet and I took the bus back home, I got a drink and some olives (becci I was craving them so bad), from a local shop and we headed back home.  Once we got home, we had some tea and chatted for a little while before we all retired to our rooms.  I felt bad for Harriet who after having a very intense 16 week semester (she is a medicine student), then came home and volunteered for 4 days at the shelters, and then now had to wake up to make an 830AM train.  I hope she will get some rest tomorrow before New Year’s Eve and our long anticipated trip to Amsterdam!

I ended up only watching half of Iron Man and getting to sleep at a decent hour (finally before 1AM)

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 3 – London, England

December 27th, 2008

Even though I retired to my living quarters at 10PM, I couldn’t fall asleep until about 1AM.  To pass the time I watched one and a half movies from the selection I brought with me.  I’m glad I brought them because otherwise I would have been left with nothing to do.  Harriet had gone to bed rather early since she had to get up at 6AM to help at the homeless shelter over this Christmas Holiday.So today I woke up around 1030AM, and headed downstairs to breakfast.  I had a quick bite and then took a quick shower.  I felt that I needed to get out and see the city today.  I bundled up, put everything I needed in my smaller backpack and went off.  I took the 91 bus two blocks away from where Harriet lived and headed down to the famous Trafalgar Square.  The bus took about 45 minutes since it seemed to stop every block.  I choose a seat on the second floor of the double decker bus to try and get a better view during my journey down to the square.  My plan would have worked if it wasn’t for all the moisture inside the bus.  There was so much the bloody windows were all fogged up and I found myself using the sleeve of my fleece jacket to wipe it all away.

Once I got to Trafalgar Square I snapped a few photos and made my way down the Royal Mall which culminates with the famous Buckingham Palace.  Since it was pretty cold I stopped at the free Institute of Contemporary Arts to grab some culture and then continued my journey to the Palace.  Once I got to the Palace I again snapped several photos and got some people to take a few photos of myself just to prove I was there.  The last time I had visited these places was way back in 2004 when I was visiting my friend John, who at the time went to Cambridge University.  Unfortunately the day we spent walking around the city, it was raining and the weather was quite bad.  This time, even though it was cold and I had a much better digital camera, the photos came out a lot better.  Oh before I got to Buckingham Palace gates I stopped at a crowd who was taking photos, but I couldn’t tell what they were taking pictures of.  When I arrived at the crowd I saw everyone was taking photos of these two British guards in full uniform standing still guarding the gates of one of the entrances of some government office.  After I was asked by two Italian girls to take a photo of them, they returned the favor and took a very serious picture of me standing next to one of the guards.  This was just like the photo I took next to the guard at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand back in 2007.
Just as I got my camera back from one of the Italian girls that snapped the photo for me the guards started this patrol.  It was really cool to see and I even videotaped one of them do a patrol back and forth one time.

From Buckingham Palace I walked all the way down to Westminster Cathedral.  I don’t know if I visited this back in ‘04 but again since it had been a rather long walk in the cold, I stopped inside to take a look around.  Entrance was free, and it was a really cool place.  You could just see how old it was and all the history it represented dating back hundreds of years.  This is why I love Europe and London especially.  History smacks you in the face on every corner.

After looking around the Cathedral I continued my journey to Westminster Abbey.  I didn’t go in because it was 12 pounds for the entrance fee, and I had already been there once before.  Instead I snapped some photos and got a lovely couple to take a photo of me standing in front, which was nice of them.  From there it was off to see Big Ben!  Oh how lovely it was, the sun had just come out so the gold around the clock was just glistening and it made for a great photo.  This time I asked some Japanese girl to take a photo of me with Big Ben in the background, a photo I didn’t manage to get either of the two past times I had visited London, so I was excited to get it this time.  You know what they say; third times the charm!

By this time I was tired and cold.  I had been walking around for over three hours, so I jumped on the Underground (subway), I went to the London Bridge.  Now the London Bridge is not what you are all thinking.  It is not fancy at all and in fact the original London Bridge is somewhere in Arizona.  The fancy bridge everyone is thinking of is the Tower Bridge which crosses the Thames starting in front of the Tower of London.  That bridge is real cool and I was able to walk across it back in ‘04.  Anyway from the London Bridge I took a bus down to Liverpool street station.  I was meant to meet Harriet at 330PM, which is when she got off from her shift at the shelter, but because I was there about an hour early I decided to go to a local pub, grab a pint, sit back and enjoy where I was.  So I did.  I found a nice little pub, got a pint of Extra Cold Strongbow (which is a cider, not a beer), and just relaxed for an hour until it was time to meet Harriet.

At around 3:20PM, I made my way to the McDonalds inside Liverpool Street Station which is where our meeting spot was.  I got a text from Harriet telling me she would be five minutes late, that wasn’t a problem as I waited inside the warm McDonalds.  Once we met up, Harriet suggested that we go to the Tate Modern, a famous Art Museum in London.  I said “sure,” and we began our walk down to the museum.  While Harriet initially said the walk would only take us five minutes, it ended up taking us about fifteen or twenty minutes.  I didn’t mind as I had a hat and gloves and had been walking all day anyway.  Once we got to the museum we both immediately proceeded to the loo (toliet), and then made our way to a famous exhibit being shown.  It was this Brazilian guy (don’t remember his name), and it was really cool.  Normally the Tate Modern is free, but for some special exhibits you have to pay to view them, but since Harriet’s mom Alice is a member, we both got in for free, which made it even better.

After we viewed the exhibit and actually stood on line for thirty minutes to see one particular room, Harriet and I were both ready to go home.  So we walked across the Millennium Bridge at night, which was really nice, past St. Paul’s Cathedral all lit up at night and hopped on the 17 bus back to her home.  We ended up having to wait like almost fifteen minutes and since we were both tired, cold and slightly hungry those fifteen minutes seemed like an hour.

Once we got home, we de-thawed and had some dinner.  After dinner we chatted for a while and then Harriet retired around 11PM, but I wasn’t tired, so I first went downstairs to watch some B movie with Harriet’s mom and then went upstairs to my room.  I ended up watching Indiana Jones 4 and getting to bed around 2AM.  The time difference is killing me early on in my trip, I hoping to get over it in a few days, if not sooner.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 2- London, England

December 26th, 2008

I awoke from my very uncomfortable nap to some useless public address announcement and was not happy.  We landed at approximately 630AM and I raced to the immigration line.  Since none of the workers there wanted to actually work, it took a damn long time to go through immigration.  Since I had to go to the bathroom (number 1), I was getting frustrated and fast.  After I passed through immigration with no problem, I went to collect my luggage.  I was hoping it would make it after I had to place my covered backpack in a special pile at Newark for “oversized luggage.”  I had never had that problem once before, but for some reason the dude who checked me in insisted that my luggage was not overweight but had to be put personally taken to the plane as it could jam up the conveyor belt.  Well it didn’t and my backpack arrived safely.  So along with my FREE trolley (I think the USA is the only damn country that doesn’t provide luggage trolley’s for free; also note that I have ranted about this several times in previous blog entries).
I then made my way out of the airport and into the arrivals hall.  I immediately proceeded to find an ATM and find out where the underground (subway) left from.  I had to go 22 stops to get to where Harriet told me to take a cab from.  I eventually found it, but it was closed until 735AM since it was Boxing Day in the UK (maybe holiday for day after Christmas).  Well nothing was open and nothing was running.  I got on the first underground, got two seats on the tube, one for me, one for my stuff and was on my way.  The journey would take about 1 hour and after watching the end of one movie and the start of another, I was at the tube stop called Kings Cross.  This is an extremely famous train station in London (as are most in central London).  Even though Harriet lived in walking distance to Kings Cross, she recommended I take a taxi considering all the crap I would be schlepping with me.  Now either the taxi driver wanted a few extra pounds or just didn’t know where I was going, but the bloody taxi was 10 pounds!  Welcome to the UK Josh.  Also the train ride from the airport to Kings Cross was only 4 pounds, much more reasonable.
Eventually the taxi driver found Harriet’s lovely home and her mom (alice) opened the door up for me.  We said our hellos and I brought all my stuff up five flights of stairs to my room.  I am currently on the top floor of the brownstone/townhouse type home with my own double bed and full bathroom!  It is quite nice.  After Harriet’s mum and I chatted for quite awhile, Harriet’s sister Emma invited me to the shops around town.  I said I would go just to get my bearings and see some of Islington, which is the area of central London they live in.  The walk was nice, but it was cold out and I hadn’t brought my hat with me which was stupid.  Well even though mostly all the shops were closed because it was boxing day, Emma and I got to know one another.
When I returned back from the walk, I briefly chatted with everyone (except Harriet who was still volunteering at the shelter), I decided that I had to take a nap, I was absolutely knackered from the traveling.  I slept till about five when I staggered downstairs and finally saw Harriet!  I hadn’t seen her since I left Africa and it was nice to catch up.  We chatted till about 730PM when dinner was ready, which I might add was prepared beautifully by Harriet’s mom and two sisters; Emma and Martha.  I also met Harriet’s dad who was a cool guy.
Dinner was great, lots of great food, and traditional English dishes, from the traditional cheeses, to the chicken pie and leftover Christmas deserts (hmmm).  All in all it was a great day and at around 10PM I was ready for bed.

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Josh’s European Adventure: Day 1- Great Neck, NY to London England

December 25th, 2008

My trip started just like any other in the past; screaming, shouting, running all around.  Even though I had packed two weeks in advance for this trip to Europe things always seem to go wrong at the last minute.  For example, for the past few days I have spent day and night putting together just the right music for my mp3 player.  It took a lot of time an patience.  Well like an hour before I was supposed to leave to catch the train to Penn Station in Manhattan, I decided that I would try to add a few more songs.  Well as it turns out, something went awry and I was left with an mp3 player that wasn’t working, thirty minutes before I had to leave to catch the train.  Now for those of you who know me, I started to freak out.  Running around the house exclaiming “this **** mp3 player won’t work.”  But for those of also know me, you know how great my luck is, and approximately 15 minutes before I had to catch the train it started to work!  This is where the panic kicked in.  “Oh my G-d, I only have ten minutes to catch the train, dad get this mom get that, Jenny just sit on the couch and do nothing as usual!”So Dad and I packed up the Jeep for the short ride to the LIRR train station.  This would take me to Penn Station in Manhattan, NY and from there I would have to take the New Jersey Transit two stops to Newark Airport.  We arrived at the LIRR station in Great Neck, NY with a few minutes to spare.  Dad and I unloaded the car with my backpacks and I got a round trip ticket to the city.  Dad helped me get my bags down to the platform, we said goodbye and then a few minutes later the train arrived.
Now I am generally a decent packer, meaning I don’t take THAT much, but this trip it just seems like I packed a ton of stuff.  The reality is that since it is winter in Europe and since I am going to places like the Czech Republic and the Swiss Alps, I need warm clothing; sweaters, jackets, etc… Anyway once I got onto the train I initially sat in a 4 seater, but once the conductor quickly came by to collect my ticket she said to me “you might as well go to the six-seater (which was right next to the 4-seater), and so I did.  I actually took up six seats, three facing each other.
The journey to Penn station seemed to go by quicker than normal, but maybe that was just the excitement and adrenaline kicking in that I was about to embark on yet another fantastic trip.  I arrived at Penn station with all my crap getting looks from everyone, found my way to NJ Transit, bought a ticket and then waited for about fifteen minutes until the train arrived.  While waiting in this open area where there are seats around the outside of the room, I noticed people were looking at me and my pack.  See my pack has patches from every country I have been too (40 and counting).  It can seem intimidating but often people just stare and wonder “what country is that,” since most of my patches do not have the country name on them, just the flag.  I find it humorous and often just play coy and continue to listening to my music.
The train arrived at approximately 255PM and as soon as the track number appeared I ran to the train; I need to solidify a seat or two for all my crap and since these trains tend to be crowded I needed to make sure I had enough room, otherwise I would find myself standing for the next twenty five minutes.  Anyway once I entered the train the most vile, horrid and putrid smell you could possibly imagine past through my nostrils.  It was a mix between urine and death.  It was horrible.  You know how normally your nose gets used to smells to the point where you don’t smell it anymore, well this wasn’t one of those smells, that’s how bad this train smelled.  So for the next twenty five minutes I battled with the stench that was the New Jersey Transit train to Newark Airport.
Once I got to Newark Airport which is in Newark, NJ, there was a rush for the elevators which takes you to the air train terminal.  The air train is like a monorail that takes you from various points to the airport terminals, parking garages, hotel etc.  I jumped on the first air train that came and was on my way to the terminal.  The Continental international terminal was not as crowded as I expected even with it being Christmas.  The domestic portion seemed to be buzzing especially after the storms that hit the  Midwest kept holiday travelers stranded for the last few days.
After getting on the wrong line for baggage check in, and getting yelled at by the airport worker, I stood on line for quite a while making usual chit-chat with people around me, mainly commenting on the ineptitude of the airline staff and how the checking in of baggage should be entirely automated.  I eventually got to the machine where the process is virtually automated except there is a member from the airline staff who has to validate your passport and travel documents.  After receiving my boarding pass I had several hours before my flight.  I proceeded through security which did not take long at all, much shorter than I thought, scoped out where my gate was and then went to the first bar I saw.  There was good NBA basketball on, so I pulled up to the bar, ordered a drink (thanks to mom’s money) and was all set.  I started to chat it up with two guys, one from Scotland and I think one from Ireland.  We had a nice chat about football (soccer) and just general stuff.  The Scotsman had lived in Detroit for the past twenty five years and had retail stores which focused on Irish and Scottish stuff.  I didn’t get specifics but he apparently lived in Auburn Hills, MI, where the Detroit Pistons NBA franchise plays.  I didn’t get any personal information from the Irishman except that he moved to the US in 1994.  After a few hours and a few drinks, I decided it was time to head to the gate.  I said my goodbyes and was off.  They were really nice dudes and definitely helped pass the time.
I waited at the gate for a little while and actually was able to plug in my iphone and watch a movie before the flight was called.  Once the flight was called, all hell broke out.  People were literally on top of the lady checking the passports, who comes before the lady who actually scans the eticket or paper ticket.  People were so antsy to get on the plane it was a mess.  Since I was sitting in row 22, I basically had to wait until everyone was on the plane and luckily there was room in the overhead compartment for my backpack.
After I put my backpack up top and took what I needed for down at my seat, I put the gift I brought for Harriet’s parents up in the overhead compartment.  Well apparently I didn’t secure the gifts well enough and as I went to get something from my backpack the gifts came crashing down on the passenger sitting I the seat in front of me.  All I hear is “Jesus Christ what was that!”  I apologized profusely to the rather large gentlemen who sounded like he was from Texas or somewhere in the south.
Once I sat down, the lady sitting in the window seat started chatting and all I have to say is that I hate French Canadians and that generalization will NOT change until I meet a nice one.  She was not nice at all, definitely spoke English but pretended to only speak French at opportune times.  The good news was that the middle seat was never taken so we had much more room than I expected.  Also a positive was that there was a power point below my seat, so I was able to charge my iphone the entire time.  The flight seemed to take forever.  The food was bad, I’m glad I brought my own sandwiches and while I tried to watch movies I really just wanted to sleep and I think I eventually got an hour or two in which was nice.  I also want to add that the flight attendants were loud, rude and appeared to be pissed off because they were working on Christmas.

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Official Countdown to Europa!

November 4th, 2008

Europe Here I Come!

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Europe Here I Come!

November 4th, 2008

Well I waited several months to make the official post, but in August I booked my next trip.  This time I am going to be spending my winter break in Europe.  I will be staying with Harriet my good friend from London that I met in Africa.  I am leaving December 25th from Newark and flying in to London’s Heathrow Airport early in the morning.  Then on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2009 Harriet and I will be flying to Amsterdam.  From Jan 1 to Jan 5 I will be staying in Amsterdam.  This will be my third time to London and Amsterdam tying Hong Kong for the most times I’ve been to one foreign city.  In Amsterdam I will be meeting up with lots of people from my Nomad Tours Africa trip!  I am very excited to see all of them.  On Jan 5 Sarah, Linda and I will be flying to Switzerland and spending some time in Switzerland.  Then we will be taking a train to prague, then taking a train or bus to Berlin.  In Berlin I might be seeing my sister Jenny who will have just left for her study abroad program to Barcelona and might come visit!  All in all I will be leaving Friday January 16th, 2009, giving myself two full days to recover before school starts on January 20th.

As usual I will be documenting my trip on my blog and this time I promise to finish the whole trip (sorry cousin Leonard I know how disappointed you were with my lack of updating at the end of my Africa trip).  I hope you enjoy reading about my trip to Europe as much I as I enjoy writing it for you all!

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August 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 2008 – Johannesburg, South Africa

November 4th, 2008

Since it was several months ago and I never fully finished I wanted to document a few things about my remaining three days in Africa.  In no particular order, Harriet and I made several trips to the supermarket and bottle shop about 35 minutes away by walk.  It was crazy how deserted these suburbs were in Jo’burg.  There weren’t many black people around and a lot of the houses had walls and electrified fences as did our hostel.  The joke was always asking someone to touch the fence to see if it was really electrified or not, but nobody was willing to do it!

The gang, including myself spent the day at the huge mall walking around.  We all got some crazy clothing from this one really cheap discount store, and I got a soccer jersey of a local Joburg team which was really cool.  We didn’t end up see a movie but had some lunch and got a ride back from Tenus on the Nomad truck which was nice.  The rest of the day we hung out, hit the mufasa bar at night, played pool and enjoyed ourselves.

My last day on August 5th was a really long day.  My flight was not until the night and I just needed to do things to absorb the time.  I packed up, said goodbye the night before to Linda and Sarah who headed back to Switzerland early and so it was just hannah, iain, harriet and I left the last day.  We decided to head to the bottle shop to get some things to bring home.  I got several savannah’s to try and smuggle back.  I ended up drinking a few during the day and packed up the remaining ones in my bag.  We also prepared a big feast the night before.  Iain and I cooked this huge dinner, which included an israeli style salad, fish, sauted and grilled veggies and apples and honey for desert.  We also had wine and appetizers.

During the last day we used our remaining food for lunch which included burgers and sauteed mushrooms and soda.  During my last day I played pool and chilled out.  I was sad to leave but also ready at the same time.  I was sad to leave my friends that I had traveled with for the last month.  You know you really get close to people when you live with them basically 24/7 for a month.  When it was time to leave I got the people at Mufasa to take me to the airport for a reasonable fee.  The dude was really cool and we had a nice chat.  Of course there was traffic going to the airport which gave me heart burn.  Oh also when we were heading down the street to head to the airport, I forgot my beloved food bag!  We turned around I went back in to the hostel and grabbed it.  Of course harriet and Hannah saw me come back and said “We knew you would forgot something!”  I laughed and then said goodbye again and along with my walking stick that I had gotten in Zimbabwe I was off to the airport for real.

When I got to the airport it was jam packed.  I was taking Qatar Airlines from Jo’burg and the line didn’t move.  I called mom and dad to say hi and tell them I was at the airport.  I think my flight was leaving 9, 10 or 11pm something like that.  I was there in plenty of time but just did not like standing online for 40 minutes.  I checked in and was able to get an aisle seat for all my flights.  See when I had to get a new ticket home I got the cheapest I could find.  This meant I had to go from Joburg to Qatar to Geneva to Newark!  It was a disaster.  Well the flight leaving Joburg was delayed and this was a problem because a lot of us had this connecting flight to Geneva from Qatar.  So after the 9 hour comfortable flight on Qatar airlines (they were great, I love all middle eastern lines, except for the fact they are muslim and hate jews), we were bused in special buses from the airplane, and then I started to run.  I ran to security and had to go through special security because Qatar was crazy about security, then I ran to the check in counter and got checked in for that flight.  Then I waited briefly for a moment, and was bused to the plane for Geneva.  That flight was again about 8 hours and it wasn’t as comfortable as the last one.  The plane was older and the personal tv screens really didn’t work as well as I would have hoped.  Once I landed in Geneva I had about an hour and a half.  I decided to get some chocolate for friends and family.  Swiss chocolate is the best.

This last flight from Geneva to New York was also really long about 7 or 8 hours.  So I took like 3, 8 hour flights to get home from South Africa.  When I arrived in Newark, I got my bags and then the time came to go through security.  I had a lot of wooden stuff from Africa and India and was nervous that it would be taken away.  When I got to the customs checkpoint they asked me where I had been.  I said I had come from South Africa and the guy was like “oh really, I think you need to go to this line.”  At that point my stomach dropped and I was like “oh crap.”  I had the same fear last year when I brought back 150 dvds from Asia.  Anyway when I got to the customs X ray scan they asked me if I had any food.  I immediately said “biltong.”  The customs agent looked funny and then I said “jerky.”  they asked me to take it out of my bag and run it through the machine.  Thank g-d I put the biltong I brought back from South Africa in my small backpack and not the big one otherwise I would have opened the big backpack and they would have seen a lot of other stuff.

When they took the jerky I thought they kept it.  But as I’m walking away I hear “sir,” and turn back and they said “here you go.”  Apparently they just needed to scan it and I got it back so my ostrich biltong made it from south africa!

When I arrived my parents and sister were waiting for me.  Jenny ducked under the barrier and gave me a huge hug.  It was great to see the family.  When we got outside to the car I noticed that the blue jeep wasn’t there.  I saw the “WERJE” license plate and said “we got a new car?”  They explained the story, we loaded up the car and I was on my way back home.

I felt anxiety being in the car knowing that I was back home to reality.  I always say the culture shock is worse going back home then when you get to a place.  This was certainly the case this time.

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Brief Recap from July 25- through august 2nd

September 12th, 2008

July 26th – Today we had to get up super early since the four people who wanted to do a game drive through Chobe National Park had to be there before 1230pm. 7 hours its long…get to camp site late, people go to nature walk…we go to town, running late, need to get back for sunset cruise through chobe park, didnt bring booze, it was a nice time…back by 7pm and right to bar…big night, great dinner, dancing, hookers, etc…

july 27th -border crossing, 7/11 – 11 dollar can of coke, adventure center, too expensive, vic falls, didnt go in, traded soap shampoo etc for stone hippo, hostel for a few hours, booze cruise till sunset private, it was fun, back to hostel, i had my own drinks, drinks were expensive, through jb in pool, he chased after me, messed up my foot, couldn’t find harriet anywhere, hannah flipping out…girls go in pool again, nice pictures…

july 28th up next morning, eva gets thrown in pool but takes like 4 of them, decent breakfast, walk with eva and renee to markets, on the way ask a guy for direction who tells two women to take us around, one is called simpo, once we get to market, simpo takes me to the banks to change money, introduces us to a guy named “smart,” and tells me how to get to vic falls. i meet the gang, two+ hours it is fantastic, watch the bungy jump, then get food at mama africa i have elephant steak, it tastes bad and really expensive, zim is expensive…after that we head to the markets where i spend hours trading things like my rain jacket, carabena clips off my bag, bandaids and anything else I was willing to part with down to a lighter…it took a lot out of me I bought a ton of wood stuff it was so much fun, met some locals took some pictures…took taxi back from some random guy for 5 bucks, tried to tell me 10 buck it was crap…back to hostel, chilled out, watch football, went on internet nothing too exciting, the tour was officially over and some people had left us but most were leaving…oh and we got our t shirts they were great!

july 29th – vic falls – transit to campsite in botswana near border between SA and botswana…get their late at night and go right to bar…it was a cool bar, good music, i didnt drink that much but hung out with the gang. oh and the drive was over 15 hours on the truck

july 30th – campsite to joburg – this ride was about 8 hours we get to joburg pretty late in the afternoon. I stay at fly in lodge with sarah and linda…it was expensive but nice and the front desk lady was nuts…we end up paying 350 rand return to go to mufasa where everyone else was staying to visit…i had to stay at fly inn because my trip to kruger was picking me up…we had a great night, lots of birthday shots, pool, nice music, meet iain for the first time…

july 31st – joburg to kruger – i get picked up at 10am by a mini bus, meet laura and ian from canada who are teaching in Korea. the ride was about 8 hours including stops to our campsite…we do a sunset drive didn’t see much, at night we stayed at a campsite where I stayed in a tree house really high up…dinner was ok and i was super tired going to sleep really early after a few long days of driving…oh and the ride back from vic falls was 1500 kilometers so my total amount of kilometers around africa was over 8000 kilometers…

august 1st – Kruger – today we spent over 12 hours looking at animals, see lion and leopard really far away, saw other animals really close, stopped for lunch…came back in the evening, had dinner and again an early night

august 2nd -kruger to joburg – i decide to leave early and head back to joburg to mufasa where everyone was staying to see sarah, linda, hannah and harriet. I didn’t want to sit in the truck for another 12 hours, so i took the minibus back with this family from australia traveling around for 6 months with their kids as well as laura and ian. i get back to mufasa in joburg and surprise everyone, well i thought i was but the lady who took my reservation at mufasa told them i was coming…they were happy to see me nonetheless i was happy to see them…we had a south african dinner cooked by the girls, while iain and i enjoyed…we had a big night at the hostel, with lots of birthday shots, dancing, pool and it was a great night

august 3rd – joburg

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July 25th, 2008 – Okavango Delta, Botswana to Gweta, Botswana

August 11th, 2008

Today there was an optional bush walk in the early morning.  I opted to pass on that bush walk and get a few more hours of sleep.  Even though I had my ear plugs in, I could still hear rob rummaging through the tent looking for things he needed for the walk.  I tried to go back to sleep, but got up probably some time after 7.  For days now I haven’t had a watch, which I don’t really mind, and we have anointed Sarah as the official time keeper as she is really only one of the few people who have watches on the trip.  After an early basic breakfast and a later brunch it was time to pack up the tents, cooking gear and everything else, load them back on the mocorro’s and head back to the site where the trucks dropped us off two days ago.  The ride back wasn’t as comfortable as our boat was real low to the water and our gear was tightly packed.  It also wasn’t as warm and I was pretty nervous that we were going to sink.  When we got back to the unloading site, it took a while to load the open aired 4X4 fitted truck and we also tipped the polers and guides which was nice.  On the way back to Maun I was starving.  Some people had nuts and we had a few beers for the ride back which took again about 3 hours.  When we got back to Maun we quickly unloaded the special truck and then loaded Marilyn, our truck and headed off for the scenic flight over the Okavango Delta.

I was really excited to do this flight, but when we got in to this tiny 5 seater Cessna I was a little nervous, and it didn’t help that Henk kept asking me if I was nervous.  I mean there is something about being in a tiny plane, but once we took off, my nerves went away and the amazing scenery began to fly by us.  We were only about 350 feet above the ground and over the next forty five minutes I took many pictures and saw so many great animals.  I mean elephants looks more like ants, but on this one flight we saw Elephants, Buffalo, Giraffes and many other animals.  Herds and herds of them just roaming.  At one point the pilot started screaming and pointing over his left shoulder.  At that point I thought we were going to die but after the flight, the pilot told us he was screaming to look at a lion killing and eating a hippo.  He said he was screaming because he was so excited and had never seen that before.  It all went down so fast that I had no idea what was going on and was upset to have missed it, but it didn’t bother me that much.  Before we landed Sarah began to feel sick.  The small plane went up and down quite a bit with the turbulence and you feel it a lot more in such a small plane.  Right before landing she threw up in the baggie they give you in front of your seat, and luckily we got out of the plane before it started to smell.  We all gave her crap about throwing up but she took it well and laughed and smiled.

When we got back from the flight, we had lunch in the parking lot and then it was off to Gweta for the night.  We arrived at night, set up our tents, and most people headed to the bar.  I made it an early night, since I was tired from the long day.

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July 24th Okavango Delta, Botswana

August 11th, 2008

Today I had to wake up super early for a sunrise bush walk.  The walk lasted about four hours, again I stupidly did it in flip flops even though I had my brand new new balance sneakers in my tent and completely ripped up my feet  The highlight of the walk was the extremely close encounter with elephants.  They were real close in the bush eating leaves off trees.  Our guide kept going closer and closer but knew exactly what he was doing.  He did tell us that if the wind had changed the elephants would have smelled us and possibly charged us.  I was confident in our guide Couks that he knew what he was doing.  He had told me earlier that this was his tenth year as a licensed guide which gave me even more confidence in his ability to not get us killed.

After the bush walk we came back, had a brunch, chilled out.  At around 100pm a bunch of us, both girls and guys went swimming.  It was a five minute walk and the water was cold and muddy.  Sarah didn’t get and took some great pictures using my camera of us swimming out to a shallow spot in the middle of the delta.  At 330pm the whole group took the mocorro’s to see the hippos.  They were in a place called the “hippo pool,” which was basically just a body of water where the hippos were likely to be since their homes on the ground were located on the shore.  These hippos were close, real close and there was nothing to protect us from them.  Hippos are the number one killer of humans in Africa after Malaria.  At one point the hippo appeared to be coming closer to our particular boat and Sarah got scared and made KC take us back closer to shore.  After observing the hippos we took a ride back during sunset.  It was nothing special considering our backs were to the sunset so I wasn’t really impressed.  When we got back we had dinner and after dinner the fun began.  After dinner, we built a large fire and the polers and guides who stayed with us for the past two nights sang songs for us.  These were traditional african songs and some of the popular african songs.  After they sang it was our turn to sing, and the songs had to be in our native tongue.  In front of everyone I did my national anthem, as well as take me out to the ball game, and row row the boat with the british and australian contingent.  I thought it was a great time, and most people did their national anthems and popular songs from their country.  After the singing, we all hung out around the campfire, listening to the animals in the wild cry at night.  The stars were out in full force and at this point my trip was satisfied.  I really wanted to see stars at night, listen to animals howl and camp in Africa and did all of those three things out in the Okavango delta in Botswana, how amazing.  I also tried to fix jin’s camera, who during the singing and dancing just left it in the sand behind the fire.  Eventually we got it fixed temporarily which was a miracle.  His camera is like Rasputin, it has been dropped in water, dropped in sand and just flat out dropped.

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July 23rd, 2008 – Maun, Botswana to Okavango Delta, Botswana

August 11th, 2008

I forgot to write in yesterday’s entry that I also signed up, along with 14 others to take a scenic flight over the Delta on the day we come out of the delta in three days time. It was pricey but I think it will be worth it.

This morning I woke up hurting. I was clearly hung over, and really did not feel well. It was hard getting the tent down and packing my stuff up to put on the truck. I needed a hug from my German mother Gaby who has a son a year younger than me and some more TLC from other members of the group. To get to the Delta we would have to take a 4X4 fitten for off-roading and bad roads. All of our stuff went underneath the seats then we had to put our feet up on the sides of the truck. The truck was open-aired and it was cold. I was wearing my heavy jacket and wool hat. The wind was whipping through the truck and thank g-d I had my tab soda as I needed it. The ride in the open aired truck took almost 3 hours! We had to go on regular roads, deep sanded roads and crossed two rivers. Cars in water is like my biggest fear, second to being locked in a small space. I always have dreams of me driving in to water, hence why I hate draw bridges. Anyway after the truck ride we got to the river where we would have to take mocorro’s down the delta to our campsite. Sarah and I got in to a Mocorro, but before we did it was chaos. 5 trucks filled with travellers needing mocorro’s to their campsite. Polers with 20 foot poles walking around, it was nuts. I took some photos and used the bush toliet and then we got in to the mocorro with all of our stuff and headed down the delta with our poler KC. The boats were really narrow, but long and when we were riding down the delta we were so close to the water it was crazy. I thought we were going to sink like several times. The ride was great though, I rolled up my sleeves, laid back and just enjoyed the ride which took about 1.5 hours. Once we got to our campsite, we unloaded the boats, set up our tents and then I took my mattress from my tent, laid it down on the ground and took a nap. We were all tired and the nap was much needed, it was also a great time to catch some color from the warm African sun.

At 300pm it was time to take our first walk through the bush.  It was six of us and I stupidly walked in flip flops might as well have gone barefoot.  I got cut up a lot, and saw a ton of animals including a herd of Zebras that ran right past us.  The walk was only two hours just in time for sunset and it was a great experience in walking in the wild seeing animals live in their natural habitat.  When I got back I had dinner, chilled out and went to sleep early.

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July 22nd – Ghanzi, Botswana to Maun, Botswana

July 28th, 2008

I woke up at 7am to go to the bathroom, but my body felt like it was 8am with the time difference so I was up and at it.  I got some breakfast and sat around the campfire with JB, Elizabeth and Gabby.  We were just chatting and passing the time and I asked JB a few questions about Zimbabwe to learn about the situation and how it really is there.  It was interesting to learn about it.  People started slowly waking up coming out of their tents, getting breakfast and then afterwards the people who went on the game drive came back.  I also made time to fix Harriet’s phone.  I have been  the master of fixing electronics on this trip.  The two things I couldn’t fix was Rob’s headlight and his camera, but I have fixed Alex’s camera twice, Hannah’s first camera, Harriet’s phone and other things.  Just call me Mcguiver.

 

Before I knew it, it was time to pack up the truck and get a move on.  We got on the truck and headed off for Maun which is near the Okavango Delta.  Before we ventured off we first took a decent walk to see some lions.  It was hard to see them as they were in their dens, but I got a glimpse of both the male and the female.  Then we ventured off and now we are on the road.  Since I don’t read the itinerary so I am surprised as to what will happen, I have no idea what we are doing today and I like it.  I do know we will be stopping at a bank in the afternoon as a lot of people need money including myself.  I am going to try hard to get as much US Dollars as I can.  I need them desperately for a lot of things.  I can use the Pulla which is Botswana’s currency in Zimbabwe but the dollar will go a lot further.  I also need the US Dollars for the Visa to Zimbabwe and maybe Zambia and I want to give the tip to JB and Mike in US Dollars but I think I will ask them up front what they prefer.  I don’t want them to have to get charged in exchanging the dollars to rand or whatever currency they need.  When we arrived in Maun we set up our tents, and then were briefed on our trip to the Okavango Delta.  The Delta is the largest in land delta in the world, with tons of wildlife.  This will be the wilderness with no holds bar between us and the animals.

 

After the briefing the guys and I played some football to pass the time before lunch.  After lunch we chilled out and took a ride in to town.  But before going to town I tried and swap currency with the dude who ran the campsite but he told me know.  When we got to Maun, there wasn’t much open.  It was the weekend but there was one atm, some supermarkets and other shops.  Before I left for town the guy who ran the place also told me to look for a shop called Open Door.  There I could possibly change Pulla to US dollars.  He said even though it was the weekend that it should still be open.  So I was on a mission to find that place as well as money.  When I first got off the truck I tried to go to a pawn shop, but after walking down a shady alleyway I took a detour in to town.  I went to the ATM machine, and once I realized I could take money out, so I ran and happen to find Open Door.  Even though the sign said it was closed, the security guard said I could come back and he would let me in.  So I had to run all the way back to the bank, had to wait online, kept it quiet so others wouldn’t run with me, then I ran all the way back to open door.  When I got to Open Door, the guard let me in but the lady at the first teller booth refused to do it for me claiming that her money was counted already.  The other lady overheard me and then I told her that I had no money left and was leaving for Zimbabwe and needed US Dollars.  She said ok and changed the money for me.  The rate was terrible and I think I lost about 25 US with the conversion but having US Dollars is crucial in Zimbabwe.

 

After I got my money I walked back and went to the Supermarket to buy water for the Delta.  I bought chips, booze and a 5 liter bottle of water.  When we got back to the campsite, we chilled out till dinner, had some pre-dinner drinks.  Dinner was great as usual and then it was time to head to the bar.  There were a lot of other trucks at the campsite and the bar was jumping.  I ended up having a great night with the gang that ended with me getting pushed in the pool and then Hannah and I danced around the campfire like tribespeople to stay warm.  Tomorrow would be an early morning as we were off to the Delta.

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July 21st – Windhoek, Namibia to Ghanzi, Botswana

July 28th, 2008

Today we ventured off nice and early from the hostel for our fairly long drive to Botswana.  We stopped in the morning to pick up some supplies and I wanted to change all of my Namibian dollars to rand or some other currency that would be accepted in the remaining countries I would visit.  When I went to the bank I took out 500 Namib dollars and then wanted to change it back Hannah and Harriet had beaten me to the punch and changed all of their Namib dollars and the bank had run out of rand.  Now I was on a mission to get creative and try to change my newly acquired 500 Namib dollars which would be virtually useless out of Namibia.  Hannah and Harriet had already gone to the second bank to try and change the rest of their money, so I had to look elsewhere.  I got creative and went to the Supermarket where I alot of tourists come through and often use rand.  So I asked a manager if she could chnage 500 namib dollars in to rand.  After some talking back and forth she handed me 400 rand and the rest in Namib dollars.  This was perfect since I still needed to buy some water and supplies.  For 3 days we would be in remote parts of Botswana away from society, cell phones, and everyone.  The Okavango Delta is one of the highlights of the trip where we chill out and enjoy the nature arround us.  I have already decided to save my money for Victoria falls and all the great activities they offer.

 

After I exchanged money the way it is done best in Africa, on the black market, I bought 10 bottles of 1.5 litre bottles of water, chips and two six packs of Savanna Dry my favorite.  We will need a lot of water since in the Delta will not have access to anything.  There I will have an opportunity to take some more bush BM’s and use my no rinse shampoo and soap, or just bath in the Delta and water around us.

 

We arrived at the Border a little before lunch time and both the departure from Namibia and the arrival in Botswana went very smooth and that is too much stamps in the passport.  Botswana is my 38th country!  Zimbabwe will be 39th, and depending on what I do and how I go home Zambia or Qatar or both will be 40 or 41.  Right now I am thinking about trying to refund my Safari to Kruger National Park in South Africa, try to refund my extra ticket back home and just use my original ticket home and get home 3 days earlier than I would have for the extra rest and work.  Since I am now going to California to visit Sarah I need to take care of some things back home before school, namely post graduate job applications and sending out resumes and getting transcripts and whatnot from UMass and probably Cooley.  I really hope that most jobs won’t require transcripts from Cooley.  I did so poorly there for my one year, that I would much rather have the transcript from UMass and Touro together as they would both be very nice to look at.  Both have high GPAs and rankings.

 

We arrived in Tautona Lodge in Ghanzi just after sunset so Rob and I quickly got the tent up, I did some unpacking of the truck as it was my turn to do so with Frank, the teacher from Germany and then I ran in to the shower.  When I shower I want to be first, so its hot and delightful.  My goodluck of taking warm showers continues and the streak has now reached 4 consecutive warm showers.  After my shower, I got dressed, took out my sleeping bag and pillow and stuck it in the tent, which I have to myself since Rob stays with Carolina in her tent with Alex and then went to the campfire.  We all sat along the campfire waiting for this tribal dance.  The dance was interesting but clearly geared at tourists and furthermore you could see them passing around a “peace pipe” to help them with the dancing.  I guess that is why the lead guy was in such a trance.  I took some good photos in the dark.  I have learned how to use this camera and it is a great camera.  I will buy canon’s the rest of my life.  They are amazing pieces of machinery, durable and work well, knock on wood.

 

I made it an early night since I would have the chance to sleep in a bit.  Since I wasn’t doing the game drive, I could wake up as late as 830am.  Oh we also lost an hour in Botswana as they turn the clocks up one hour.

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July 20th, 2008 – Etosha National Park to Windhoek, Namibia

July 28th, 2008

Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia and with only 2 million people the capital I believe has 200,000 people, where the rest of them are I have no idea I certainly haven’t seen that many during my many nights in Namibia.  I was up at 530am and it is really depressing to wake up when it is still dark out, when you went to bed when it was dark out.  I can now see why there is a drug problem in Alaska during the winter when some parts have 24 hours of straight darkness.  I gathered my things, took care of business in the bathroom, brushed my teeth and ate breakfast.  I also made a quick call to Sarah back home to say and we were off.  We would have 75 kilometers in Etosha to drive through before leaving the park and continuing the journey to Windhoek.  We are expected to arrive at roughly 430pm or 5pm depending on how long our stops go for and how fast we can drive.  In Etosha we can only drive 60 kilometers an hour which is roughly 30 miles per hour.  Today will be a long drive on the bus.  Lucky for me both sets of batteries are charged for my camera, my iphone is charged up and for the first time in a long time I am listening to music, enjoying the bus ride.

  

We stopped for lunch fairly close to Windhoek along the side of a road in a small railway town in Namibia.  Conveniently across the street was a nice sized local market.  All the people came from Zimbabwe with their stuff to sell.  Rusty, my friend who I met in Capetown was right, every place sold the same crap.  I decided to not wait for Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe where apparently all the stuff we have seen since South Africa came from.  I ended up bargaining real hard for a cool bone bottle opener with an elephant painted on it, a salad fork and spoon with a decorative bone handle, a  bracelet and necklace as gifts, and a very nice, hand carved salt and pepper shaker for when I finally move out of my house.

 

We arrived in Windhoek around 4 or 5pm.  I immediately jumped on the internet to take care of some business and check my email.  After getting some emails from law school I started to panic about having to apply for jobs and all that post graduate but that stress and anxiety was quickly cured by a few drinks.  Tonight, like in Swapkomund, we all went out for dinner.  Before we went out, we played some pool, had some pre dinner drinks and did whatever needed to be done.  We went to the most famous and probably most touristy restaurant called Joe’s Beerhouse.  Ironically enough, it was NOT famous for its beer, but for its exotic game meat.  I ended up getting a rather large skewer that had on it crocodile, ostrich, kudu, chicken, and zebra.  I got it rare and it was delightful.  This just adds to my list of exotic animals eaten.  In Australia back in 2004 my mother and I went up to the top of the Sydney tower and ate a really extravagent lunch that had camel, ostrich, emu, kangaroo, crocodile and other animals.

 

After dinner the truck drove us back to the hostel and then it was off to the bar, as usual.  The highlight of the night was that people would buy shots for everyone and then we would pretend it was their birthday and the whole place would sing happy birthday to them.  I of course had to do it, and was the last person to do so.  That night I also met these three guys from London, one of whomwas Jewish.  I am always taken back when I meet fellow Jews traveling from other countries besides America. 

 

I got one of their numbers and they me that if I was ever in London to call them, which of course I will do.  I am slowly building this great global network of contacts and people.  I should make a map and place pins in the countries and cities where I know people, I bet it would look cool. 

 

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July 19th, 2008 – Etosha National Park, Namibia

July 28th, 2008

Today we woke up early to eat a quick breakfast and load up the truck for morning game drive.  Truthfully it wasn’t all that good.  We saw a few new birds and some male versions of animals we had already seen but nothing great.  When we got back it was time to sit out in the sun, read a book, and relax before lunch.  After lunch we had another game drive and a lot of the group did not want to go.  I decided that I would go for fear that I would miss the black rhino or the lion up close and personal, well not that personal.  After lunch though I relaxed a bit more, read my book, which is excellent and I am more than half way through thet 585 page book about Bombay, India and how crazy the city really is.  I also took a much needed shower, which was very nice and hot, thats three hot showers in a row, my luck has been good with that lately.

 

The highlight of the afternoon game drive was playing with the mud in the Etosha Pen or plain not sure the exact name.  Basically at one point in history, Etosha had a huge lake, but over time with the lack of water and extreme heat in the summers, it dried up and what was left was about 4 feet of mud, mixed with a very high concentration of salt.  We took the truck almost to the end of the road, got out and since we couldn’t stand in the mud even though Frank did by accident, we through rocks as high as wel could in to this seemingly perfect mud bath waiting on happen.  When a rock hit the mud, big or small it would splatter and thick pools of mud would fly in the air and make a really cool noise, things like this never get old.  I really wanted to stick my feet in the mud, but there would have been no way of getting it off, plus my skin was dry and chalky enough.  Being in the desert for the past number of days has really taken a toll on my body.  My skin has never been drier and coarser.  The water from the showers are so soft that it is impossible to get soap and shampoo off your body so when I come out of the shower I am never fully clean. 

 

Another highlight of the afternoon game drive was seeing the curry bastard, which is slowly becoming my favorite bird ever, soley because of the name.  I know I have misspelled the first name it might be curi or corrie, but nonetheless I love it for the second part of the name.  It happens to be a rather big bird.  We also saw a male impala with about 20 female impalas and it usually how the breeding happens with them, lucky guy!  Also we saw a Giraffe really close which was cool, but besides that no lions or leopards which everyone on the truck was desperate to see.  When we got back I went to the tourist shop to pick up this thin pamphlet type book about Etosha.  It should pictures of all the animals and birds in the park as well as a map and some history.  I also picked up a six pack of some Hunters Cider.  It wasn’t Savanna but it would do.  I had some Savanna in the truck cooler, but they were warm and I wanted a cold refreshing drink after the long day of driving through the park on terrible gravel and bump-filled roads.

 

When I returned to camp it was just in time for the sunset.  I brought two Hunter’s with me and went with some of the gang to watch the sunset at the watering hole and too if there were any animals there.  There were a few zebras but not much was going on.  The sunset was nice and the weather was even nicer, another great African Sunset!  After the sunset I went  back to camp and Sarah tought us a really cool card game to play, but I am unsure of the name in English.  Basically you played with a partner and each team has a secret signal.  We deal out all the picture cards and aces in the deck and one six.  Everyone is dealt four cards and one person is dealt five.  The one with five starts and passes a card to their left.  The object of the game is to get four of a kind in your hand.  If you get a six at any point you can’t pass it for one full turn.  When you or your partner gets four of a kind the secret signal must be relayed and then the opposite team player must slap their hand down, then your partners who made the signal must come after.  If the other team gets their in between the other’s teams they get the point, if your team gets both hands in on time you get the point.  You can get points for correctly guessing the other team’s signal, but if you are wrong, you lose a point for guessing.

 

The game was so much fun and extremely anxious at times.  Hannah and I had to change signals a few times but we held our own for most of the game.  In the end we lost in Sudden death 14-12 after I blew an easy point and jumped the gun going for my hand slap.  Also before dinner we played hearts but that only lasted for one round.  Then after dinner we played the game Sarah taught us.  After the game several of us went to the watering to see what was going on.  We saw a family of three Rhinos drinking and had just missed a pack of Hyienas!  Damn, but it was cool to see rhinos even though I still haven’t seen them during the day which would give me a chance at a decent photo of them.

 

Since we had been warned that day about making too much noise and Nomad, the company had been fined a steep 1600 rand for four of us sleeping outside the night before, everyone was in their tent at 10pm.  Since Rob was sleeping in Carolina’s tent, I got the tent to myself, which I was happy about.  Tonight the only snoring that would be occuring would be coming from me and not Rob.

 

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July 18th, 2008 – Himba Tribes to Etosha Nature Reserve

July 28th, 2008

We got up at a reasonable time and it was time to head to Etosha Nature Reserve the second largest reserve in Africa only to Serengeti in Tanzania.  We first stopped in a town called Outijo to get some supplies for the day and take care of business.  It was a pretty developed town for Namibia.  Becca asked me to go with her to the bank in case she got lost and it turned in to an adventure.  First we walked all the way to the bank that she thought she could use.  It didn’t work, then we tried another bank and then afterwards we went back to the bus to get her other card.  I had an interest in her getting money as I had lent her 600 rand or about 76 USD back in Swakopmund so she could do the combo quadbike sandboard that I did.  Luckily 45 minutes later, and two cards, three banks later it worked and I got my money, but it was in Namibian dollars.  I wanted rand, and luckily the Bank of Windhoek changed the money in to rand without a fee and without hassle at one to one.  After I went to the supermarket, picked up some bread and chicken roll, went to the bottle shop for another 6 pack of Savanna, and some recharge for my phone.  Hank also paid me my 300 rand I won in poker so I used the proceeds for all my necessities of the day and so on.

 

The ride wasn’t that bad and when we got to Etosha we hopped out at the entrance and I picked up a typical touristy “Etosha Game park, Namibia shirt,” or whatever it said, got a small present for mom and a postcard to send to a friend when I had a chance.  I realized that if I went cheap and didn’t buy things, I would regret it later on and I thought the shirt was cool.  We got back on the bus and were off 17 kilometers to where we would stop for lunch and where we could see our first wild animals of the trip.  Within five minutes we saw a pack of Zebras along the road, Springbok’s.  After lunch we saw many more animals like Giraffe’s, elephants, jackals, red hearted beast, blue wildebeast, elephants, antelope’s etc…We even saw a Giraffe at the watering hole and was able to watch it sit in its awkward manner to drink water and get back up and do it again.  The position of a Giraffe drinking is it’s most vulnerable and how they get killed by lions.

 

Within two hours we had seen over 15 different animals and birds and we still had a whole day tomorrow to see animals, but this was just the main course, dessert was yet to be served.  After lunch this drive was 75 kilometers to the campsite where we would be spending two nights.  This was great since we wouldn’t have to take down our tents and move, so we had a chance to have a good night and relax.  But there would be no relaxing as tonight was Jin’s birthday.  This meant party time.  At our stop in the town earlier we bought jin two cakes, party favor’s and other party things which made it fun.  Anyway when we got to the campsite, Rob and I put up the tent and then headed after I did a few things, someone came running back saying that there were elephants at the watering hole near the campsite.  Oh that reminds me where we had lunch there was a watering hole and at this watering hole we saw like 70 zebras in the watering hole, that was really cool.  So back to later that night.  I grabbed my camera and my extra lense and ran to the watering hole.  It was about 500 meters so I walked some of it.  When I got there I saw about 17 elephants in the watering hole at night with a little baby rhino in the distance hiding out.  Eventually the baby rhino came out to scope out the situation but was kept at a safe distance from the herd of elephants.  At one point I thought the Rhino and the elephants would have it out, but it really didn’t happen.  180 pictures later in the dark trying all settings and positions to try and get a few great photos, a family of Rhinos came to the watering hole.  The whole things was amazing.  The whole day from start to finish is definitely one of the highlights of my life, but I have a feeling that over my final two weeks of my trip this summer of 2008, with two more Nature parks and other places left to see that I will be saying that again.  Thats ok, that is what life and traveling is all about.  OK party time,  I am being very anti social!

 

When I returned to the group I became DJ Josh mixing music between my palm pilot and my cell phone.  I used the little speaker mom gave me and attached it to the palm.  Everyone is amazed at all the electronics I have with me.  It is a shame that I left the power adapter of my Iriver MP3 player at home otherwise my selection would have been quite extensive.  People for the most part seemed to enjoy my choice of songs and it was better than talking in silence.  Heck this was Jin’s birthday afterall and we needed some music.  I spent the rest of the night drinking the special birthday punch made for Jin’s birthday and chatted with my friends of this trip.  Tomorrow we would be waking up early for sunrise game drive through Etosha National Park, but luckily the tents would remain standing for one more night.

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July 17th, 2008 – Spitzkoppe to Himba Tribes

July 28th, 2008

Today the drive was a little long and we got to the campsite near where the Himba tribes live around lunch time.  Hank, Jele, Rob and I played a version of handball, but using a soccerball against a part of the mountain near where our tents were.  That was a lot of fun and killed time before lunch.  After lunch two local guides took us to see these himba tribes persons.  It felt like a zoo to me.  We were taken around seeing these men and women topless, covered in ocra, living the lifestyle that they have for centuries.  I personally feel this is a set up for tourists to see these people when in reality this place is nothing more than a farm where they have animals including Himba tribesman.  This lasted a few hours and in the end I bought several extremely priced and overly priced bracelet, anklet and necklace.  I probably put one of their kids through college.

 

I left the farm early, in disgust as I felt that these people were being exploited and were fake and just doing this for money from tourists.  Anyway after a brief talk with Jabu and Mike, we all killed time before dinner by playing different types of card games.  I played BS, speed and then a few of us decided to play some Texas Holdem No-Limit Poker.  I came in late and played a few hands before dinner.  After dinner Jin, Hannah, Hank, Jele, Liz and I went back to playing.  At one point I was down 84 rand or a little more than 10 USD, but after being patient and catching some good cards I ended up plus 400, but because Linda and Sarah who were trying to keep score of who was up and down, messed it up, Hank proposed that we all settle on certain amounts. I agreed to take 300 rand or a little more than 40 USD.  Not bad for a few hours of playing.  After poker, Hannah told us all speed which is a two person game.  She beat me the first game, I beat her the second and she beat me the third.  After that Jin and Hank learned how to play and became addicted and the three of them played several games throughout the night.  I was having several drinks, and walking back between the firepit and where people were talking and chatting to be social and work the room.

 

Once again a few of us decided to sleep outside which was really nice.  It was a little colder than the night before, but less windy which I was OK with.  Oh I totally forgot to tell a story, the night before in Spitzkoppe where there were no real toliets, just disgusting longdrop toliets, I decided to use the bush as my toliet.  I went out a few hundred meters dug a ditch similar to the shape of a hotdog and did my business.  Afterwards I wiped using my biodegradable toliet paper I brought special for this trip and then buried the ditch with the sand surrounding the my homemade toliet. 

 

When I went back to the truck and was about to leave, I remembered that I had left my camera next to the bush.  I started to panic, running around looking for the camera.  Of course every bush looked the same and luckily I remembered the general facility of where I did my business and of course found my camera!

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July 16th – Spitzkoppe, Namibia

July 28th, 2008

Spitzkoppe is a rather large mountain in Namibia but not the tallest. Our first stop was the supermarket for an hour.  I decided to head to the internet shop to get my last licks in sending emails and checking up on things.  I saw a friend that we all had met the night before at the hostel called Dunes backpackers and said our goodbyes again, after I added her on facebook.  After the internet shop it was time to get back on the bus.  Before I did so I ran around looking for the shop where I could get a local Namibian SIM card for my cell phone.  After trying a few places and getting directions, I eventually found the shop.  I got a decent SIM card but got ripped off for the third time of my trip.  The guy told me it would be really cheap to call a cell phone back in America.  As it turned out the amount would be 12 times what he told me it would be.  I found this out on the bus after I called mom to say hi and saw that my balance shrunk worse than swimming in a cold pool in the summer.

 

Spitzkoppe was not that far away and when we got there we sent up our tents, relaxed for a bit and then went on a few hour desert hike around the area.  The highlights were seeing 4000 year old bushman paintings and poisonous snakes and cactus that the bushman used to put on their arrows.  After the desert hike, I chilled out and a bunch of us ending up sleeping outside under the stars.  It was really nice, but since the moon was almost a full moon a lot of the stars were hidden by the all powerful moon.  This was also the first night where we had no facilities but the bush.  There were no showers and longdrop toliets.  This was also the first night I didn’t have alcohol the whole day, what an accomplishment!  I didn’t stay up that late and wanted to get two decent night’s sleep in a row to fully recharge the batteries.

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July 15th – Swakopmund, Namibia

July 28th, 2008

I woke up at like 8am after being woken up mainly times throughout the night apparently because I was snoring so much.  Oh well, thanks mom and dad for that one.  I had a quick bite to eat and then we all piled in to the minibus to head out to the Desert Explorer, which is the name of the company we were using for the quadbiking and sandboarding.  I decided to take a semi-automatic quadbike and I got a sweet helmet.  It took me a little while to get used to how to apply the gears and which gears worked the best climbing up the dunes and working around and through them.  I got stuck several times at the tops of dunes but after about half an hour I had worked out all the kinks of my quadbike and I was doing just fine.  One issue was how cold it was in the morning.  The desert was quite cold as the clouds were rolling in from the sea and my hands were frozen.  I didn’t have gloves, nor did I think to wear gloves.  My right thumb became so stiff, numb and swollen that I forgot about it and just pushed on.  See the issue was in order to work the throttle you had to push the lever forward on the right handle bar.  Since my hands are not that big, this required me to use a lot of muscle strength in my hand and thumb.  After an hour we got to a tall dune and we all hopped off, snapped a few photos and it was time to sandboard.  Basically they gave us a quarter inch thick piece of cardboard.  One side is rough, the other is waxed down and sand is rubbed on it, to give you a nice glide down the steep dune.  My first run was down the smaller of the two dunes in the area we were going down.  I went pretty fast and only hit a few bumps, it was awesome.  After riding the smaller dune we had to climb all the way up to the upper dune and go for a ride.  When it was my time I was pushed over the edge but didn’t really go that fast.  I thought I heard the guide tell me not to stop and keep going but afterwards he told me that he was screaming to stop and walk back up so that he could try it again.  When I got about two thirds of the way down, everyone was laughing.  I went real slow and barely went.  It turned out that my board was ripped on two sides which is probably why I didn’t go anywhere.

 

Hannah and I decided to race twice down the smaller dune.  I won both times and she was a graceful loser.  It was cute how she tried to rationalize her losses but in the end I was the better sandboarder.  After our hour of sandboarding and relaxing it was time to get back on the bikes for the second half of our run.  This run would take us back to the company and back towards the sea.  I thought that there were better chances to jump and there were more bumps on the second run, but the first run had better rollercoasters and more chances to really test the speed and durability of the quadbike.

 

We got back to the desert explorer and I bought a shirt that said “quadbiking namibia.”  It is black with a cool design on both sides, it is a sweet shirt.  We piled back in the minibus and then headed back to the hostel.  When we got back to the hostel we were able to get our laundry that we had dropped off the day before.  Then we returned to the hostel where Hannah, Harriet and Linda decided to go swimming or take a dip in the freezing Atlantic Ocean.  The ocean here is so cold because the jet stream comes from Antartica, hence the water is really cold.   Sarah and I took a bunch of photos and the girls basically ran in screaming and ran out screaming.  Harriet on her way in took a decent fall as she got knocked over by this huge wave.  She cut her upper right thigh and her ankle.  She seems to slip and almost fall a lot.

 

After the girls attempted to swim in the Atlantic Ocean, Sarah and I headed to the internet cafe in town.  I desperately needed to pay my credit card bill as it would be due in August, but I needed to transfer money in time and my internet access would be severely limited between now and when the bill would be due.  When we got to the internet cafe we ran in to Geyhart who had finished the tour here in Swapokmund but was spending one more night there.  Sarah, Geyhart and I went to a local pub had a drink and we played some pool.  An hour or so later, Hannah, Harriet and Linda joined us.  When they arrived I decided I would venture off to try and buy an adapter for all my electronics.  I had bought 4 adapters for India and either someone told me the plugs were the same or I completely forgot to buy them for South Africa.  As it turned out the same plug worked in South Africa and Namibia, but not sure about Botswana but I bet they are the same.  Anyway earlier I had noticed that the internet shop had an american adapter but the male plug was european.  In order for this to work I would have to buy another plug adapter which had a female european plug and a male south african.  The day before Renee had told me that she bought a european adapter at the supermarket, so I left the local pub and went across the street to the supermarket.  When I got there I noticed that they had a lot of european adapters but that the plugs were guarded by a surrounding of plastic.  After I spent 30 rand on the adapter from the internet shop and after I ran back and forth 4 times between the internet shop and supermarket tgrying to figure out what to do I realized that I would find the plug that fit my USA adapter that I had just bought the best and take my swiss knife and cut the plastic that was preventing me from sticking in my adapter to the south african one and that is just what I did.  I also bought a much needed headlamp from the supermarket as well as soap and shampoo.  I couldn’t seem to find my soap and shampoo and desperately needed a shower.

 

I then brought back my plugs and explained my story.  Everyone was busting my balls as to how nuts the whole thing was, but in the end using the american plug from the internet shop and the one from the supermarket gave me the ability to charge my electronics!  Also it should be noted that cutting the plastic guard around the european part of the adapter I bought worked, I felt like a genius.  Eventually the group left after a few drinks, and headed across the street to the supermarket.  We all wondered whether or not they would stop the next day to get supplies, but personally I was not willing to take my chance on that one.  So we all went across the street to the market.  I picked up a lot of water, bread, cheese, chips etc…All the essentials necessary for long bus rides and time between set meals.

 

It was getting late and almost time for dinner so we headed back to the hostel.  When we got back we saw all the kids that had just gone skydiving, including 14 year old Eva.  They were all raving about it and it triggered my memories of the time I went skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand.  Part of me wanted to go again and part of me wants this to be, for now a one-time experience.  We watched several of their videos, had some drinks and suddenly I got really tired.  I fell asleep after dinner at the daily meeting and went to bed before 10pm.  Apparently I snored pretty bad because I was woken up numerous times again for snoring.  Nonetheless I got a great night’s worth of sleep

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July 14th, 2008 Solitaire, Namibia to Swakopmund, Namibia

July 28th, 2008

Rob didn’t really snore that much and before I knew it I was being kicked in the head by Mike along the outside of the tent to “wakie wakie.”  Today we had our journey from Soitaire to Swapkomund one of the larger cities in Namibia.  Here we would spend 2 nights and three days which is a great change of pace from having to wake up early every morning, pack up the tent and move on.  During our journey to Swakopmund we stopped at several places to take some photos.  The first place we stopped was at the Tropic of Capricorn.  Since I had missed the opportunity to take a picture at the line when I was in Australia, on this trip I knew I would have that chance.  Since I didn’t really know the itinerary all that well, I wasn’t sure when we would get to the line.  Well today was the day.  I got someone to take a few photos of me by myself at the sign that said “Tropic of Capricorn,” and then we all took a great group photo.  It was really funny because Mike and JB had to take 24 photos and they had them all on their arms and hands.  The second place was something called the “moon” landscape.”  All around us were hills that represented what people think the topography of the moon to be.  There were some great quartz crystals which I took back with me and then it was back on the bus.  The last stop was Welvis Bay where we stopped about 45 kilometers before reaching Swapkomund.  This is where we were meant to see Flamingos on the coast, but during the winter they are in warmer climates for the breeding season.  Unfortunately there were no flamingos and the Atlantic Ocean smelled just like it did back home during the summer, like crap.

 

We arrived in Swakopund in the early afternoon and for two nights we would be staying at a hostel.  I got stuck in the 10 person dorm bed with frank and then 7 girls.  There were two showers, two toliets.  Once we arrived, Hannah, Harriet, Sarah, LInda and I went to the laundry mat to get our laundry done.  The laundry service at the hostel was really expensive and I didn’t trust it.  We found our way eventually and then came back for lunch.  After lunch and lounging around, the girls and I made our way to the local street market at the end of the road near this lighthouse on the coast.  This was a really a ghost town in the winter.  It was a beach town and a place for German’s and South Africans to go in the summer,  Namibia was one of the only German colonies in Africa and was only there for 15 years until WWI but their influence seems to be longlasting in Swakopmund. According to the Germans on the trip only this town has the German influence in Namibia. 

 

Anyway once we got to the market, we walked around and noticed quickly that everyone was selling the same crap.  We weren’t bombarded as bad as thought we would have been, but the girls felt uncomfortable with the guys standing around them while we looked at their stuff.  I ended up buying a bracelet for 20 rand which was way too much but I wanted something and was itching to buy some african crap.  We spent like a half an hour at the market and then Sarah and I headed in to town to check the internet.  I had the first opportunity to upload my blog and pay some bills, check some emails.  The time was brief but the internet was quite fast.  Before we knew it, it was time to go back and get ready for dinner.  Tonight Jabu and Mike were off from cooking as we were staying at this hostel and it was their night off.  They arranged for the entire group to go to this Italian place Nepolitana.  The seats were long benches and it was a little cramped.  Before I got to the restaurant, a bunch of us grabbed a pre dinner drink along the pool and then at around 620pm I headed back to my room to go to get ready to go out and change my clothes.  I went in to the small side bathroom in our hostel room.  I closed the door and suddenly the handle fell off!  I tried to put it back on and then the metal piece that connected both parties of the door knob move slightly back and I was unable to make the connection.  Like in the movies it was “one, two, three, panic time.”  I started banging on the door and then started to kick the door by sitting on the toliet seat with both feet.  When that didn’t work, realizing that the door was a push and it would be impossible to break it down.  Then I started banging and screaming on the door.  For those of you who don’t know I am extremely claustrophobic.  I really didn’t regularly go in to elevators until recently and still get anxious when they pause or take time for the door to open.  Anyway at this point I was really freaking out.  Everyone was in the bar, the music was blasting and what if they just went off for dinner and forgot about me?  Also it should be noted that the bathroom was a mere 3 feet by 3 feet, tall ceiling, no window, so it was tiny to say the least.  Finally after a few minutes of kicking and screaming for help from the bathroom which was tucked away in my 10 person room, Mike the adventure overland trip driver and cook heard me and I told him to open the door.  Once he did, I collapsed on the floor and laid there for several minutes.  I explained to him what had happened and how sensitive I was too small, enclosed spaces.  Afterwards I changed and met the group in time for dinner.

 

The walk to dinner was five to ten minutes, not long and it was a nice restaurant.  They barely had enough seats for us and it was slightly cramped and uncomfortable in that the seats were long wooden benches.  I drank Savanna Dry Cider’s all night and ordered some great food.  I had chicken livers to start and a 500 gram beef rump steak, served on a cold platter, rare.  It was magnificient.  Unfortunately I was so full that I had to save a serious portion of the steak for breakfast as it was a lot bigger that I expected it to be.  After we settled the bill in which someone definitely screwed the group over and the restaurant refused to split the bill up even by groups of four, Jabu took us to another bar close to the restaurant.  It was playing really strange music, through all decades, old and knew.  It had a dance floor and a nice bar.  They had really cheap shots and I took a few of those, as well as some more savannas.  After there a bunch of us went to another smaller bar while the majority of the group went back to the hostel.  I only stayed like another hour or so at this bar and then went back to the hostel with some people in the group.  Tomorrow would be an early morning as I had signed up quadbiking and sandboarding through the dunes around Swakopmund.

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July 13th 2008 – Namibia

July 15th, 2008

Today we got up extremely early yet again.  This was the earliest morning yet.  5am.  We had to get up so early because we were going to hike up Dune 45 about 45 kilometers away in the Namib desert.  I didn’t know what to expect but about 15 minutes before we got there, I turned to Hannah who was sitting behind me and went “holy crap, we are going to climb a sand dune,this is going to be hard.”  She agreed and before we knew it we had reached Dune 45.  Hannah is 20, a medical student from the UK.  She studies at the University of Newcastle.  In England the system is different.  Right from their version of high school, called college they apply to the program they want to do.  So if you want medicine you apply to the medicine program which is 5 years, then two years of rotations.  The total program lasts 7 years which is only one year less than america.  I’m sure they have less bullshit required courses and stuff so the program can be a year quicker.

 

Anyway when we got there, I put my bandana on my face and my hood over my head and my sunglasses on.  I thought I was ready to bear the wind and sand but boy was I wrong.  We started climbing up this monstreous sand dune.  i think it was approximately 400 feet tall, but when you are climbing a 400 foot sand dune, it is quite diffiicult.  You would literally take one step and often times, take a step or two back.  It was absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.  After stopping numerous times, with Sarah and I helping Hannah get to the top of the duned, we arrived just as the sun broke over the top of the mountain.  It was a glorious scene and well worth the strenuous hike up the sand dune.  Hannah kept stopping because she was nervous that nothing was on either side of her to help her.  Basically we walked on the pseudo flat part of the done along its back, but with the extreme winds and sand blowing it was quite difficult at times.

 

We sat up at the top of the moutain for a little while, snapping photos and enjoying the magnificent view atop dune 45 in the Namib desert in Namibia.  Also I apologize for Namibia lovers as I have spelled the country about 5 differnet ways, and I think the way I spelled it in this entry is correct, the others times I have spelled it, it was completely wrong, I think.  I’m sure cousin Leonard has taken notice of my numerous spelling and gramatical errors, just kidding.

 

Once we got to the top of the dune we had to get down and the only way to do so was to run down.  I was able to put my camera and stuff in a bag that Frank had.  Frank is a teacher from Germany.  Sarah, Eva, Hannah and I said “one, two, three,” and then I took off like a bat out of hell running and jumping down the side of this huge sand dune.  It was so much fun.  You could run and jump so high because the sand broke your fall and absorbed the damage.  I was screaming and shouting in exhiliration after I just made this hike up the side of the mountain.

W

When we got to the bottom we were all laughing and we took some great photos along the way, and not at the bottom including one photo which Nomad, the tour company must put on their brochure.  It is a picture of six of us all jumping in the air on the side of this dune.  Frank took the picture with my great camera, which appeared to have survived the sand dune and didnt not get ruined.  I used shutter speed priority to make the shutter go quicker and capture this mometnt.  Everyone was completely in the air when the photo was taken and only Harriet’s face was covered by her arm.  Harriet is Hannah’s friend from the UK, same age as Hannah and is a medicine student as well.  When I first met them on day one or so.  I asked where they were from and stuff and they said they did medicine, to which I said “oh you must be smart.”  They laughed and I felt that was a good way to break the ice.  I mean in reality what are they supposed to say.  So far the overland adventure as Jabu puts it, has been fantastic, and I am having the time of my life, camping in Africa!  When we returned back to the jeeps after taking numerous photos along the way, Jabu, Mike and Narissa prepared us a proper english breakfsat, excpet with beef sausages just for me.  Every meal except for one has had beef instead of pork to accommodate me and have even made separate side salads for me when meat is being served that didn’t have milk in it.  I think these guys will be getting a very nice tip from me, for all the great work they have done so far.  Of course at this point the overland adventure is only at its infantile stage and there is a long way to go, as of right now I am quite pleased.

 

After enjoying the breakfst, our day was long from being over..  From Dune 45 we drove another 15 kilometers further in to the desert. From there we were herded like cow again on the back of a truck 5 more kilometers deep in to the Namib desert where would we go on a three hour desert hike.  The hike was led by a tall local man who called himself “bushman,” but that had to be a joke or something.  Bushman took us all around this part of the desert to teach us about plant life, wildlife, and about the people called “bushman” who were like 4 feet tall or shorter and who lived in this desert.  I tried one particular plant called a salt salad, and it was so salty that as soon as I bit down on it and the influx of salt rushed in to my mouth I spit it out just as fast.  It was terrible but something that of course I had to try.  We went up smaller dune and down in to this lake, well it used to be a lake which had 6-900 year old dead trees still standing.  Ironically enough this dried up is the cover of the Lonely Planet Namibia and Botswana book.  Also the first page when you open the book is a picture of a tree which  I took myself, not knowing that either were in the book, especially not on the cover!

 

When we were hanging out walking around the dried up lake I decided I wanted to make a foot print in the mud after seeing one just before.  I left my water at the top of the dune before I walked down in to the lake, so my being so brilliant, decided to pee and then take my foot and make a footprint using the liquid that I had just produced from my urine.  When I got back I told the girls who were with me and they were abolsutely disgusted.  I told them if they thought that was bad then I should tell them some of my other stories, but I didn’t.

 

After the desert hike was over, we drove back to the campsite where we had a few hours to chill out, and do whatever we wanted.  This was the first time in our first few days we had free time to sit back, relax and reflect.  I took down the tent with Rob, and then broke out my book and read.  I played some music using the little battery life left in my iphone and really enjoyed the beautiful desert weather.  There was a mild wind, not a cloud in the sky and comfortable temperature.  Before we left, Sarah and I went to get water and essentials in case we didn’t stop on our way to the next camp site.  Of course before we left the truck made a stop at the campsite shop and Sarah went to me “told you so.”  She had questioned whether it would stop at the store and I brushed off the idea of the truck doing so.  The walk was far and I wasn’t happy when we made the stop before leaving.  Anyway we left around 3pm and had to drive 100 kilometers to the next place which was called Solitaire.  This was just another stop before heading to one of the two major cities in Namibia called Swakomund.  It has about 200,000 people in it which is huge considering the country only had 2 million and most of them are in the capital called WIndhoek.  For hundreds of miles we see nothing but the scenery and ocassionally animals.  It is mostly just desert, mountains and open land.  The air is fresh, warm, and the wind has appeared to die down significantly after the first few days.

 

When we arrived at this campsite, Frank help me set up the tent which Rob was taking a coffee at the bar.  When we got to the campsite I had some of their famous apple pie.  It was good, not great and could have used some vanilla ice cream on top, but it was definitely worth trying.  Then I set the tent up and chilled out.  Dinner was really good and I make it an early night.  I only had one homemade drink and one cider when we first arrived.  I wanted to be well rested for the next few days which could include some adventure sports like quadbiking on sand dune and potentially sky diving, but I doubt it.  I once went skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand where the air was crisp, the mountains were snowy and it was awesome, and I don’t want to lose that feeling.  Even though I don’t have visual proof of this sky dive, since at the time I was too cheap to get the video and I lost the picture of me sitting on the wing of the plane in Australia on the home computer of my apartment in the International House, it would be nice to have some visual proof, but I think i’ll pass and go quadbiking which should be great.

 

I climbed in to my tent I guess before 10 and was really knackered and wanted some sleep.

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July 12th, 2008 – Fish River Canyon to Sesriem, Namibia

July 15th, 2008

Today it was a real long drive.  The drive would take us over 10 hours and was approximately 600 kilometers from Fish River Canyon to Sesriem.  I got to sit in the front, which is the best place to sit on the bus and the most fun.  We broke out the first beers at approximately 11am.  I had one and that was it.  I already had biltong which is Africa’s version of jerky.  We stopped at a small town to get some supplies and I picked up a few things, including Biltong.  So by the end of that first beer my stomach was not feeling great but I loved being in the front of the bus.  We just joked around for most of the trip and I got a chance to know Hank a lot better.  Hank is one of the young Dutchmen who is a real jokster and funny.  His english isn’t great, but it is getting better I think everyday.  Anyway at one point he looks at me and says with beer in hand “this is the best part of the trip,” and he was right.  Sitting on the bus bullshitting really makes the trip.

 

Our next stop before settling in to the campsite was going to a canyon which wasn’t fish river canyon but a baby canyon formed millions of years ago.  I took my flipflops and camera along because I wasn’t sure if this waqs a point and shoot stop or a hike.  It turned out to be a hike.  The canyon was really cfool.  We were able to walk down in to the depths of the canyon where the air was substantrially cooler than at ground level.  The formations of the rocks were cool, as were the trees that were at the bottom of the canyon.  Some years there is more water than others at the bottom and this year there was just a little pool of water half way around the canyon.  The water was nothing special but the hike was cool and a got a lot of great photos, including one of myself in a cave like structure.

 

After we hiked but up and out of the canyon we proceeded to the campsite where it was time to set up shop.  At this point I wasn’t feeling that great,and it was really, really cold out.  After dinner we all squatted around the campfire and then I went off to the bar after having a few homemade drinks myself.  A bunch of us were there including Sarah, a 21 year old Swiss girl.  I started chatting with her about where she was from and getting to know her better.  Her english isn’t great, but isn’t bad and she doesn’t really speak it much in Switzerland.  She lives up in the mountains near Matterhorn and told me I should come skiing there.  Sure, I should just go to the most expensive place in the world to ski in Switzerland and ski 10000 foot mountains when I’m used to 3000 footers at Stratton in Vermont.  She said there are plenty of baby slopes but I reckon those beginner slopes are pretty challenging.  We will see you never know.  If I can get my pro bono requirement done before the semester maybe i’ll flight over there and hit up the slopes, one never knows with me!

 

The wind was really blowing and I walked back to the tents with Sarah and Linda.  Linda is also from Switzerland, the same age as Sarah.  They met in University two years ago and have become good friends since.  They called each other “new” best friends since they just met and clicked pretty well.  The night was really miserable.  The tents were blowing all over the place, in fact when I got back to my tent, it was half collapsed on the floor becuase the wind was blowing so strong.  I was really miserable, with all the dirt and dust blowing all over the place that I actually just slept on the mattress in all of my clothing including my sneakers and sucked it up.  I wasn’t feeling too hot and must have been worn down from the extremely early mornings and lack of sleep.

 

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July 11th, 2008 – Orange River to Fish River Canyon

July 15th, 2008

Today was first started our day with a nice canoe trip down the orange river.  We had to hop on the back of a truck like cattle and were driven 8 kilometers away to the drop off site.  The river looked really calm so this would require a lot of paddling.  The night before I took Ellen, one of the older Dutch women that I wanted to be her partner, she laughed, but I was serious so she agreed.  I sat in the front because the front does all the paddling, according to Ellen.  In reality the heavier person sits in the back and she is quite tall, I think over 6 feet so it made sense for her to be in the back.  The canoe trip was fun, it was really nice out, the water was cold and I didn’t go swimming.  There were several groups mixed together and a lot of partnered canoes so we had to stop several times to wait for the others.  We also stopped several times to just enjoy the sun and scenery.  I didn’t take my camera for fear that it would be ruined but I have mental photos.  After the canoe trip, my lower back was killing me as I sat up the whole time paddling.  My feet were also freezing because there was about one inch of water in the canoe at all times and my feet were in it.  My ankles were so stiff, it took an hour for them to thaw out.

 

After lunch we packed up the truck and headed for fish river canyon.  To get to fish river canyon we had to cross in to Namibia and this would mean that I would be going to country number 37.  I was very excited.  We first had to go to the departure point in South Africa, made sure we got stamped out and then proceeded to the Namibia border.  When we got to the Namibia border, Jabu our guide made it seem like they would be so strict.  I was willing to take my chance and I wore my bauge and multi brown colored lungi, which looks like a dress.  I got my stamp and stared at it for a few moments. Every time I get a new stamp I get a real sense of accomplishment.   Even when I don’t get a stamp like Kuwait, but get to go a country even for a few hours, I still love it, I don’t care if I don’t get out of the airport.  My rule is simple.  If you touch ground you are there and it is checked off!

 

We stopped along the side of the road to see a few animals, our first animals traveling.  We saw a weaver bird make a huge nest in the tree, ostriches, and sprinboks.  Later on we stopped for  lunch along the side of the road with pretty scenery.  We broke out the football and kicked it around for a while.  Lunch was sandwiches and the weather wasn’t that bad.  The ride continued and we finally arrived at Fish River Canyon and we had to race to see the sunset.  The sunset was alright, I felt it was a little overrated and I couldn’t get decent photos of the canyon.  We then got back in the bus, arrived at the campsite, put up our tents in the freezing cold and all huddled around the campfire hanging out.

 

Becca started a game where you have to remember a poem using hand gestures.  For example “one brown hen,” and the gestures was flapping your wings like a hen, or “two running bears,” etc…That killed time before dinner which was a great meal.  The food has been great so far and I have been very surprised.  Don’t worry dad there have been plenty of greens to eat.  Lots of salad and some meals are just veggies prepared in different ways.

 

I retired early this night and it was a damn cold night.  Thank g-d my sleeping tent is warm, which allows me to enjoy the night.

 

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July 10th, 2008 – Cederberg Mountains to Near border between SA and Namibia

July 15th, 2008

I got officially was up at 4am but got out of the tent around 545am to get some food and wake up.  I gathered up my limited belongings and headed inside. Because everyone was showering and stuff I was relegated to urinate outside, which I had plenty of practice doing in India.  We are in the bush and I’m sure it won’t be the last time this happens.  After about 30 minutes it was time to take down the tent.  It was a struggle getting Rob out of the tent as he had drank quite a bit the night before, but eventually Jelle and I got him out.  Jelle is a 23 year old Dutchman, from Holland, studying in Utrecht.  Anyway we kept kicking a soccer ball at my tent to get Rob out.

 

Mike showed us how to pack up the tent, but I when I was taking out the poles to keep the raincover down, I wasn’t thinking and just pulled them out, then pulled the raincover off leaving the poles to not be found.  I had already lost something even after Jabu told us that whatever we lose comes out of his salary.  I actually think that is a tactic to make us feel guilty, to take care of the things, and not lose them.  But if it is really the case then I will be compensating him for the 40 centimeter, 90 degree angle poles.  Oh one more thing, last night we had like an hour or more orientation meeting where Jabu explained the whole trip to us, and everyone gave a brief introduction.

 

Anyway so after breakfast, and packing up the trunk it was time to start our 600 kilometer journey , well maybe 500 kilometers to our next stop.  The ride was long and we stopped at several shops along the way.  When we arrived at the camp site we set up our tent and headed straight to the bar.  The campsite was located on the orange river, and I snapped a few photos of the sunset and then went to the bar.  Tonight was a really fun night.  We took a lot of shots as a group, had drinks and got to know one another.  The bar was outside, and it was a little cold but not that bad.  Again Rob snored real loud and I think many other people in other tents heard him.

 

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July 9th, 2008 – Cape town, South Africa

July 15th, 2008

Today I woke up nice and early as it was time to get to the departure point for my tour the second time around.  I got up at 7am and most of my stuff was already packed.  I was in room two with all my friends who I had made throughout my time at the hostel, minus a few.  I went downstairs with my stuff and for some reason the taxi driver arrived like twenty minutes too early and was not happy.  He wanted to go right now, but the awesome manager of big blue, Guido told him to get his ass back in the car and wait till 730 when we had orderd the taxi for.

 

Stephen and Juliana were splitting the taxi with me which made the cost of it extremely low.  We arrived at Nomad, which was the company running the tour in plenty of time.  This time when I arrived there were two trips leaving that day, one that was all accommodation based, and ours which would be camping for the three weeks.  I was a little nervous at first that there were no young adults on the trip, but after the accommodated tour left, the majority of the kids were around my age give or take 3 years.  I was MUCH happier with my decision to change the tour even though it basically cost me 900 bucks.

 

After I gave them my health insurance and paid the extremely hefty fuel surcharge which was more than I expected it to be, we had a little meeting with the tours and then grabbed our bags and set off on our journey.  Our guide’s name is Uncle JB.  He has a really long African name, and his father gave him another name and the initials are JB so it is much easier to pronounce.  He is also our cook, guide, father, mother, brother, sister, he can be whoever we want him to be.  He is 27 I believe and has been on the road with Nomad for 7 years.

 

Our driver’s name is Mike.  He is from Zimbabwe, but says he is from Jamaica.  It is a running joke and it is pretty funny to hear him put on a Jamaican accent.  We also have a guide in training on our trip, which is an extra helping hand but I cannot spell or even pronounce her name.  Our first stop would be the tableview mall.  I think that was it’s name.  Basically we had 1.5 hours to shop around, get some supplies, like food, water and money.  I picked up all three.  I got bandaids, water, food and money.  I also tried to find a pair of sweatpants around but no store seemed to have them.

 

We ended up waiting about an hour after most of the chores didn’t take much time.  That was quite boring, and we definitely did not need 1.5 hours at this mall.  My seat was in the front sitting sideways along with three other people.  In the middle was a metal table attached to the truck and a cooler which was tied down to the floor of the truck but not bolted.  Uncle JB has a very interesting rule while on the overland trip.  Every time someone calls Marilyn, a bus and not a truck or Marilyn, they pay 1 US dollar.  That is pretty steep and in the end I think we use the money for a little party.

 

I had already called it a bus twice I think but that was before the groundrules were laid down.  Our ride to the first campsite would be roughly 3 hours or so.  Tonight we were stopping at the Cederberg Mountains.  This is about 600 kilometers from the Namibia border.  We stopped twice for the bathroom and petrol and for most of the trip, six of us played cards on the metal table.  This was a great way to get to know some of the people on the bus.  When we arrived at the campsite it began to rain.  Before we disembarked off the bus, Jabu asked us who wanted to camp.  Of course I was the only person who raised his hand, and everyone gave “ohhhhs and ahhhhs” because it was quite cold out and at the time it was raining.  Jabu asked me if I was sure about the camping and I told him “I came to Africa to camp, if I didn’t want to camp, I’d be sleeping in a hotel right now.”  He said “ok” and later in the day showed me how to put up the tent.

 

Once we all got settled and had a drink from the campsite’s bar, which was also a small hostel called Gekko Backpacker, seven of us decided to play monopoly.  I ended up lasting a while, but only had one monopoly and no money so I didn’t last that long.  The game ended up taking almost 4.5 hours and Christian from Austria won.  After meeting everyone I think I counted 24 people from 10 different countries.  This is by far and away the most diverse tour I have been on.  Usually it is either all British, Australian, German, Kiwi.  This time we have people from, Australia, Columbia, Germany, Austria, Switerland, England, Ireland, Holland, France, and I am the sole American, which I highly prefer, and the guides are from South Africa and Zimbabwe.

 

After our late lunch which included chicken hotdogs, Mike and Jabu showed me how to put up the tent and in no time it was up.  It was raining, but the tent was properly sealed with an additional rain cover on top. I hoped that this would be the first and last night that I slept outside in the cold and rain.  The rest of the night was spent getting to know everyone.  I had a few more drinks, played some darts with Stephen, and just hung out.  At the end of the night, I was avoiding heading in to the tent, I played some pool with my would-be roommate Rob, and then sat at the bar talking with the bartender Wilhelm.  Wilhelm had spent 13 months based in Kentucky training horses.  He said he got to travel to 48 states in America, which is more than I.  I was quite impressed and he said that if his visa had not run out he would have done it longer.

 

Well it was getting late and I had to wake up early, so it was time to venture off in to the tent.  It ended up not being as cold as I thought it would be.  I was able to sleep in my underpants, but was woken up by a drunken Rob, and then he kept me up from 4am on because he is an incredible snorer.  I even had my earplugs in but his snoring pushed right through them like Mom and Dad snoring.  I realized that I would probably be tentmates with him for the next three weeks and would have to suck it up.  He’s a real cool kid and I think the next three weeks will be awesome.

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July 8th, 2008 – Cape Town, South Africa

July 8th, 2008

Today is officially my last full day in Cape Town, South Africa.  The night before I had to switch rooms since a large group of Americans were coming to invade on our peaceful hostel.  Sophia and I moved in to room 2 which is normally a double private room made for 2.  Tonight it would be a room for 6.  One double bed, and two sets of bunk beds.  It is really tight and I feel bad for the people who will be probably woken up by me at 7am to leave for my overland trip.  Anyway Sophia woke up at 830am and I happen to wake up as well.  I am a real light sleeper in the mornings so it was no surprise I was woken up.  Basically I did nothing until 2pm when Rusty, Helen, Helen’s friend Helen and along with Stephen and Juliana the German couple ironically on my overland trip as well walked down to the Marina to head to the mall.  Table mountain was closed yet again, as was Robben Island making it a solid week straight of being closed.  According to locals I have endured the worst weather in ten years Cape Town has seen! Yay!  So we got to the mall and Stephen and Juliana decided to head to the aquarium, but the rest of us wanted some food.  I got mashed potato’s from KFC then some frozen yogurt hmmmm.

After food we all walked around the mall.  I ended up buying two really cool shirts, one from billabong that says “billabong Capetown” and the other from Element that says “cape town, south africa element.”  I also bought a really sweet pair of flip flops from a company called Kustom.  I had a pair of those when I went to Australia, but they wore down to nothing several years later and my feet were never blessed with those luscious soles again until now.  Rusty and I initially wanted to see a movie, but the times and what were playing did not work out, so we bid adieu to Helen and Helen and took a taxi to Long Street to check it out.  We walked up it a bit in to a surf shop with a heavy discount on a large selection of their inventory but I didn’t buy anything.  We then stopped and both got nice haircuts.  I am quite pleased with mine and it was not that much money and the lady who cut it was nice.  We then went in to another surf shop where I bought Haviana’s that are green and say “South Africa” down them.  Next to a brand called “Rainbow’s”, this brand Haviana is my second favorite flip flop to wear.  I also had bought a pair from Australia, but in college when we stormed the basketball court after beating UCONN my senior year, I lost them in the mess of it all.

After the surf shop Rusty and I grabbed a pint of Peroni at the Dubliner where a bunch of us went several nights ago.  After the pint we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.  I hung out for a bit, had a few hard cider’s, cooked my leftover lamb chops and mushrooms.  This time I used worcestershire sauce instead of the balsamic and it was quite good, but I think I used just a little bit too much garlic.  After dinner I played one game of pool, took a quick power nap, because I didn’t want to go to sleep at 930pm and have just bummed around the hostel enjoying my final night here.  Very rarely in my travels over the past 5 years have I spent this much time in place and one hostel.  I enjoyed it, and got a chance to meet people for more than one night and really bond and connect with them.  Now I have more people to stay with and meet again in the future.

Tomorrow I have to get up bright and early at 7am, make sure everything is packed up, that I haven’t left anything behind and take a cab with Stephen and Juliana to the departure point for the second time in 4 days.  This time I will be leaving for sure don’t you worry!

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July 7th, 2008 – Cape town, South Africa

July 8th, 2008

Today I had to wake up early yet again for a tour.  I decided to do a Township tour which is basically a tour around the poorer and segregated areas of Cape Town.  The tour picked us up at half past eight in the morning and Rusty, Helen and I went along for the ride.  The first stop on the tour was the District Six Museum.  District Six was an area of Cape Town that was heavily populated with Blacks up until the 1950’s when the government basically ordered them all out.  They demolished virtually all of District Six and put up some new structures, but this was basically a way to get all the blacks out of the city and away from the whites and others.

We spent about twenty five minutes in the museum and our second stop was our first township called Langha.  Here we visited a local illegal beer shop in the alleyway’s of the township.  It was dark, smoky and these women make this low yielding alcohol to sustain their livelihood in the township.  The original purpose was not to make this beer commercially but with the unemployment rate of the township at over 50% what choice do they have.  They poured the beer in to this metal bucket and we all took a taste.  To tell you the truth it tasted horrible.  I took a very little sip and did not enjoy it one bit.  From the beer shop we made our way on wooden planks above dark, black sludge that is supposed to be a road of some sort through the township and in to someone’s home.  Basically in this hostel type living accommodations, it is three family per room.  One family per bed, three to four beds per tiny room.  Some families can be up to eight people and our guide Djonga basically said that it is about 30 rand per month per family plus how much electricity they want to pay for.  He also said that these are popular with single males, as it is cheap, space is tight, but they get a bed for 30 rand a month which is roughly $3.35 per month.  Djonga also told us that a lot of these shared rooms are being converted in to slightly more expensive one family apartments.

After that we went to a local craft shop in the township where I purchased a bracelet made out of Elephant’s hair (don’t worry no animals were harmed in the making of this blog).  We got back in the van and were then taken to a children’s center that was built by the tour operators and others.  There we played with young kids and it was so much fun.  They were jumping on us, I was picking them up, sometimes two of them at a time. They were so happy to see us it was one of the best experiences of my entire trip hands down.  They didn’t speak a word of english, but that wasn’t necessary, since our actions spoke louder than our words.  Our next stop was to see this local medicine man.  The store had no lights, one area had candle light and basically this guy makes herbal local remedies using plants, roots, and animal skin.  He learned the trade through the spirits of his grandfather.  Apparently the ability to learn through spirits skips a generation and therefore skipped his father and went to him.  Truthfully it was nothing special and then it was back in the van for our final stop.  We went to a cooperative shop where local women have the ability to make crafts like handwoven rugs, mats and other sorts of things.  They are given 75% of the money made off of each item they make and 25% goes back to the NGO for supplies and other expenses they have.  It is a great system and here I bought a cool guitar made out of a recycled 7up soda can.  I doubt it will make it home as it is quite fragile but I will try my best to do so.  It went to a good cause so I didn’t mind how bad I was ripped off by it.

The rest of the tour was just driving by the rest of the townships and then we went home.  All of the townships are near the airport in the outskirts of Cape Town, just what the government and the white people wanted.  The government is trying to knock all the shanty’s and slums down and put up low income housing so your first impression of Cape town aren’t these townships.  It is really hard to describe with words these townships.  It is clear what has happened and how segregation between blacks, whites and coloured still very much exists in South Africa.  Oh “coloured” is a term which describes offspring from a white european and a black individual.  They are classified differently from whites, and blacks.  There were separate areas and there still are separate areas for coloureds, whites, and blacks.

I was dropped off on Long Street at my travel agency.  They told me the day before I could come and set up shop to try and get a plane ticket home.  After about two hours on the phone with Etihad airways and another travel agency I was able to secure a ticket home.  Unfortunately I was NOT able to get a refund on my previous ticket for some reason, and was forced to buy a one way ticket home for 6950 rand.  It is too painful to say in US dollars so you can convert it if you like.  To finalize the ticket I had to go to Flight Centre the travel agency and fill out some forms.  Of course it started to rain which made my life that much harder.  It ended up being about a fifteen minute walk since I wasn’t quite sure where to go and where I was.  I hadn’t spent much time in the centre of Cape Town so I had to do my best to find the place.  At around 315pm I got a taxi, who ripped me off, because I didn’t use a metered taxi, back to the hostel just in time to say goodbye to my new friend Nicola Day from the UK!

After she left, I basically bummed around the hostel the rest of the night.  Had a few drinks, played some ping pong, watched “I am Legend” which a bunch of people from the hostel and went to sleep.

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July 6th, 2008 – Cape Town, South Africa

July 7th, 2008

I woke up today after only a few hours sleep, gathered the rest of my stuff I hadn’t packed up the day before and went downstairs and talked to this guy who worked at the hostel.  He got me a taxi to downtown and at around 747am I was on my way.  Time was important as I had to be at the departure point at 8am.  I made it just in time, dropped off my bags, was greeted by a South African gentlemen named Tenus and made my way upstairs.  When I got upstairs I noticed that everyone was speaking German.  I didn’t see many young faces, actually none at all and I started to panic.  For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember last summer I did a last minute tour through South East Asia and was on a trip with all old people.  Maury my roommate was 64 and the rest of the people were in their 40’s and 50’s.  There were only 6 of us total and at times I had issues with that.  So when I got upstairs and saw all older people and no one speaking English I panicked.  I called dad even though it was early in the morning and really went off.  It was either him taking it or one of the people in the shop, so I picked dad and he had to hear me rant for about 4 minutes.

When I got off the phone with him, I went back upstairs and pulled the lady who was in charge aside and explained to her my situation.  I came up with the idea of trying to get on another tour that was not specifically for german translation and family tour which is the one I was booked on.  This time I don’t blame the tour company at all, Detour which is a fantastic travel company located on Long Street in Cape town, because it was just a big miscommunication among everyone.  After some talking, negotiating and moving things around Nomad, the tour operator was able to book me on a tour leaving July 9th, instead of today July 6th.  This meant though that I needed to get a flight home.  Last summer the same thing happened but this time it would come at a much greater price.  I had mom get on the horn with my airline Etihad and basically there were no flights the month of August back to New York at my economy level ticket.  The prices are really inexpensive so they are hard to come by and sell out quick.  Anyway as long as I was on a better tour I was fine and would work out getting a ticket back home tomorrow.

I took a taxi in the pouring rain with all my stuff back to Big Blue and when I returned I said “I’m baaaackk.”  Guido the manager was able to give me my same lower bunk in room 5 and I made myself right back at home.  I like this place, its really homey and cool.  Plus most of my friends here would still be here for a few days so I could enjoy it with them.  After I told about three people my story I got over it and went to this special African Market with David and his girlfriend (who’s name I keep forgetting sorry).  It was only a few minutes away down the hill and make a left near the 2010 Greenpoint World Cup Stadium.  There wasn’t anything that really peeked my interest, especially after Rusty told me that in other countries I will find the same stuff and at cheaper prices.  Funny thing was that we saw our driver that takes people to and from the hostel Peter at the market.  On Sundays when he isn’t driving he has his own stalls.  We looked at them but I didn’t buy much.  I haven’t bought as much as last summer and I am saving it up for the rest of Africa!  After the market we were all hungry so we went across the street because we saw a couple of decent looking restaurants.  We first went to this nice restaurant that was grille and steak place.  I hadn’t had a nice steak in ages so I didn’t mind spending a little for a nice piece of meat.  When we got in the restaurant it was a nice place, white table cloth the whole nine.  We asked to see the menu and then said that we wanted a table for the three.  The host/waiter came back and said “sorry there are no tables available today, maybe tomorrow.”  Clearly we had just been rejected from this restaurant because two thirds of the place was empty!  When we left I went to David and his girlfriend “did we just get rejected from that place?”  I think we were all in awe as to what had happened.  I mean we weren’t dressed to impress but it was early in the day like lunch time 1230 or 1PM and they basically told us to get lost.  We started laughing about it after a few minutes and then found a completely empty Japanese restaurant that looked really good.  It had a solid menu and I ordered some chicken dumplings and a combination of Tuna and Salmon sushi.  Since we are on the coast and the restaurant looked pretty local in terms of who was running it, I was willing to trust the sushi.  I was very happy with my meal and afterwards I picked up some water and soda and made my way back to the hostel.

The rest of the day was really quiet.  I watched some tv, a movie or two and then in the evening Rusty and I went to pick up groceries.  I wanted to get some bread, peanut butter, cheese, juice and whatever else.  You know the basic essentials you need while traveling, stuff that was not easy to find in India.  I ended up getting some lamb chops, fresh mushrooms, gouda cheese, loaf of really good hearty grain whole wheat bread, and a cartoon of apple juice.  When I got back home I made my chops, seasoned them and then used balsamic vinegar to get up all the lamb juices and sauteed my mushrooms in that base, oh and added a little water.  It was delicious!  Gourmet meal.  Afterwards I watched parts of the Wimbledon Tennis Final between Federer and Nadal.  In the end I fell asleep at the rain delay and ended up going to sleep before 10pm.  I had been up so early and up late the night before that I couldn’t make it any longer.  It was nice to get to bed early but yet again I would have to be up early as I was going on a Township tour of Cape Town, South Afrika

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July 5th – Cape town, South Africa

July 5th, 2008

Today was my last full day in Cape town. My stay would be short and sweet, and I wish I had more time, better weather and more nights to experience the great night life that Cape Town has to offer. Anyway I got up to my wrist watch alarm at 730am, and called the Robben Island place. I didn’t get through for about 20 minutes and then was told to call back at 815am to see what the situation was. When I called back I was informed that the trips were canceled due to the wind and weather. Oh well. I won’t get to see where Nelson Mandela was kept in jail, I was upset for a brief moment and then thought to myself, “I get to drink wine all day, yay.” I took a long awaited shower after picking up supplies with Rusty at the mall. I was currently out of a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and deodorant so I was smelling grrrrreat. I jumped in the shower, woke up Dana and Rusty to tell them that the wine tour was on and got ready to go.

We left at 915am and picked up a bunch of people. I think the tour had 16 total. It was us five from the hostel, 6 irish kids traveling together and two other couples from random hostels. Our driver and guide was named Stephen and he was cool. When we got to our first winery it was before 11am and I had six tastings! He gave us a mini crash course in tasting wine and the basics, which I found really helpful and then we were on our own. I am not going to go through all the wines I had, but after the wine tasting this particular winery had amazing cheese. Soft cheese, gouda (goat cheese?), and cheese with cranberries mixed in and all this wonderful cheese. Now I’m by no means a huge cheese fan, but it was darn good.

Overall the wineries were great. We went to five in all, and in one of them stopped to eat a decent lunch. I was craving food by the time lunch rolled around so I was thankful for the food. The last winery we went to called Spier had a cheetah rehabilitation center as well as an eagle one. I paid to get in to both and actually had the chance to hold a huge live eagle! It was great. I snapped several photos and then went to the place to have my final wine tasting. I think in all I had roughly 25 tastings. They glasses were small so it wasn’t that much alcohol don’t worry gang. During the trips to the different wineries our driver played like dance music and music to keep us awake and having a good time, which we all had. We got back to Cape Town at around 5pm or later. I played some pool with Gile and then Rusty and I went to a sandwich shop for dinner. I had a tuna melt and he had a soup and sandwich combo. It was a healthy, organic type food shop and it was good. We came back and then I started to update my blog which is what I am doing now. I will probably play some more pool, pack up my stuff and then maybe go out for a big night. I can always try to sleep on the bus tomorrow and anyway I haven’t had a big night out since Mumbai. Also I want to tell everyone that updating my blog will probably be very scarce the rest of my trip. I will be keeping a journal by hand that my mom scrapbooked for me and will update it when I can. Realistically when I get back to Jo’burg and have sometime there I’ll find an internet shop and try to update the camping trip in groups of 4-5 days at a time. As everyone knows these entries take my awhile so hang in there and at the very least it will be updated when I get back home in August.

Anyway after I relaxed a bit from the wine tour, a bunch of us hung out at the Hostel bar.  I played ping pong with David, Pedro and then Gyle.  I beat them all of course.  My game with Pedro was intense.  Pedro is awesome, he is 26 and from Rio de Janiero, Brasil and plays poker for a living.  He basically can travel wherever he wants and as long as he can find wireless internet for his laptop he is set.   We all had a few drinks, I didn’t really have much myself as I was really full from the tour.  I gathered everyone and convinced a bunch of us to head out to the famous Long Street.  Long Street in Cape town is basically like a Bourbon street in New Orleans (from what I hear, never been there) or other big cities with a strip of clubs, bars and hostels.  That is what long street here is.  We started at an Irish pub called Dubliner’s and I had to catch up with my drinking from everyone else.  I had a beer, then started drinking a hard cider called Savanna.  It is native to South Africa and basically I used to drink it in college until they stopped importing it to America.  When I saw it for the first time I had to email my friend Grossman to find out if this was one, which in fact it was!  I was in heaven as it is so good and I love it.  Dubliner’s was nice but really crowded and not really my scene.  It had a decent live band and husband and wife duo that sang pretty famous songs ranging in year and genre.

At around 130am or so, we left Dubliner’s and headed to a “club” called Jo’burg that was suggested by Pedro.  Being from Rio I figured I would trust his judgment in picking a club, since there are so many in Cape Town.  Well his judgment sucked, the place wasn’t very nice and at around 330am I left with Rusty.  We went next door to a place that had Mediterranean food.  I got a beef sharwarma in a pita.  It was NOT as good as the Middle East I can tell you that, and the next morning I was definitely feeling it.  After we scarfed down our food we had to bargain for a taxi which I managed to do a little bit.  Since it is late it is hard to get a driver to turn on the meter.  Lots of people, late at night, equals a bad combo for us.  I definitely could have harassed several more drivers but Rusty wanted to get home so I settled on one of the first driver’s we bargained with.

We got back pretty late, and I had to wake up at 7am to leave the hostel and head to the departure point for my overland tour…or so I thought?

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July 4th – Cape Town, South Africa

July 5th, 2008

I woke up bright and early at 815am because I really had to go to the bathroom and I had to find out when my tour to the famous Robben Island was.  Since I couldn’t find any of my important papers I had to wake up and call them.  After it rang for a while, they told me that my booking was for tomorrow.  So now I was up at 815am, with nothing much to do and I just got out of my really comfortable hostel bed.  I had a lower bunk, which I prefer and the beds and the comforter were nice and soft.  I then updated my blog, had breakfast and chatted with a girl from holland named Renatta.  After breakfast and chatting Rusty and I ventured off to see some of the city.  We walked about ten minutes to the waterfront.  It was raining and cold but I managed to snap a few photos and then we ran in to the huge mall.  We walked around and found an Italian place to eat.  It was quite good I had gnocchi which is slowly becoming my favorite italian dish.  The restaurant was nice and the waiters were really friendly, actually they were over friendly in a scary way.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such friendly wait staff in my life.  After lunch, Rusty and I decided to see a movie.  We bought tickets for the 230pm show to see Hancock, the new Will Smith blockbuster film.  To kill time we walked around the mall and hit up a few shops.  I was debating whether or not to buy this really nice South African Rugby shirt but I didn’t.  I actually might regret not buying it.  I mean they won the world cup in Rugby which is huge but nobody in America really cares and knows about it.

The movie was decent.  I enjoy big action blockbuster movies and Will Smith is the man.  After the movie I tried to find our way out of the mall and after 15 minutes we ended up back at the movie theater!  I had taken us in a circle.  Before I led us on this journey I warned him that my sense of direction was terrible.  After I failed in the attempt to get us out of the mall he took over and we eventually found our way out and back to the hostel.  When we got back to the hostel we wanted to see what people were doing.  Since Dana, Renatta, Sophia, Rusty and I decided to do the famous Stollenbosch wine tour tomorrow, we all thought that we should stay in and not have a big night.  I was perfectly fine with that.  The rest of the night we played pool, and hung out in the bar with some light drinking.  I went to bed again quite early because either way I had to get up early tomorrow.  Either was going to Robben Island (which I highly doubted because of the wind and weather), or at 915am I was going on the wine tour with the gang.  Inside I hoped that the Robben Island tours would be canceled and that I could do the wine tour instead.

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July 3rd- Cape Town, South Africa

July 5th, 2008

At the airport it was all hustle and bustle.  People were running around, trying to checkin and in the midst of it all i managed to lose my second item, my walking stick!  I think I lost it from the initial security check in point to when I was standing in line waiting forever to check in.  While standing online I met this really friendly couple originally for South Africa who were now expats in Abu Dhabi.  Mohamed worked as a school psychologist at Abu Dhabi University and Faheema worked as a teacher in another school.  While we were waiting on this line to check in which was not moving at all, the three of us decided to use the family check in line.  I said that Mohamed was my uncle (he is black and from south africa).  After I checked in, got my tickets and checked my backpack I went downstairs to their very nice cigar shop. I bought some nice cuban cigars and mini nargile’s, one for me, one for my friend setton.  I didn’t want to get a proper one as they seemed expensive and these were cool and the lady who sold it to me claimed that they would work.  After I was done with all of that I happen to find Faheema and Mohammed talking at the coffee shop waiting to leave as well.  We chatted about about working in abu dhabi and I got their cards.

255am rolled around before I knew it and it was time to board the plane.  I obviously had a window seat as I arranged for those in January when I booked my ticket online.  I sat next to a girl from Swaziland, who lived in DC, Canada and now lives in London as a nursery nurse, but goes back to Swaziland every summer for 2 months. The flight wasn’t too bad, I couldn’t sleep which was typical for me on buses, trains, and planes. The food on the plane was not that great and gave me an upset stomach.  Instead of sleeping I watched several movies and ate my sharwama on the plane that I picked up in Abu Dhabi the night before.

I got off the plane in Joburg, South Africa, went through immigration and customs which were much easier than in Abu Dhabi.  I waited a little while to get luggage my, I said goodbye to faheema and mohammed and went on my way to the domestic airport.  I had to catch a flight on British Airways to Cape town, South Africa.  I would be spending a few nights there.  So I walked pretty far to the domestic terminal, checked in with British Airways which was a breeze and then headed off to the gate.  Right in front of the gate was an Irish pub so I grabbed a beer at this irish pub even though it was 1030am, my saying is that it is 5pm somewhere in the world, therefore it’s never too early to start.  While I was sitting at the bar, I took out my palm pilot to try and get internet, it really didn’t work but the workers took a liking to it so I showed it off to them.

I had to wait until 1215pm to board the plane, and passed the time by reading my book and listening to music.  When I got on the smaller plane, I sat in the aisle and for some stupid reason did not have the aisle.  I didn’t even bother to look at my ticket and just assumed I had one since I always get one.  But since I was half asleep at check in for British Airways I think I asked for a window, go figure.  I met this guy Aidan from Cape town, whose brother-in-law is Trevor Immelman, who won the very famous golf tournament this year called The Masters.  He invited me to Stollenbosch if I found my way out there.  Stollenbosch is the wine country and there are hundreds of wineries out there.  Overall I had a nice chat with him.  I got off the plane in the tiny domestic airport in cape town, got my luggage, and said to myself “where is my free shuttle to the hostel I arranged for months ago?” I called up Big Blue Hostel and they told me that the guy was coming to get me.  I ended up waiting 2.5 hours in this fucking tiny airport and was not happy when he arrived.  I should have just gotten a taxi but it was based on principle that part of the deal for getting a dorm room for 3 nights or more was a free shuttle pick up from the airport!  While I was waiting I got a new local sim card for my cell phone which ended up being a huge ripoff!  Never get anything from the airport.  Anyway the reason why I waited so long was this guy who works with the hostel picking people up didn’t want to drive back and forth to and from the airport so he waited for the other couple to arrive two hours after me and then came and got us.  I was really pissed off.

So I finally get to the hostel, and its really nice.  I met dana, rusty, Jaime and some of the people here.  The hostel is NOT crowded at all.  I guess since it’s the winter, and the weather in Cape Town in the winter is terrible that people don’t really come here as much as in the summer when apparently the hostel is full every night.  So it’s raining and cold and I really was not prepared for cold and rain so I had to break out my really warm tibetan handmade wool, fleece lined jacket. Later in the evening Dana, Jamie and I went to long street the famous street in cape town with clubs, bars and good food. We went to a place called Mama Africa’s where I ordered crocodile to share as an appetizer and ostrich fillet for my main meal, which was really good. I also get a robben island ice tea, which was cheap and strong.  I haven’t had a proper drink in days.

We ended up taking a taxi back. I played some pool with Rusty and this kid Gile from Durban, who was working in a clothing factory living in the hostel.  I ended up falling asleep quite early as it was a real long day.

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July 2nd, 2008 Abu Dhabi, UAE

July 4th, 2008

I woke up at 1035 am still feeling tired.  I had probably overslept and was feeling drowsy and groggy from the benedryl I took last night.  I hung out in my room for a little while and then decided to head off with the hotel’s free shuttle to Marina mall.  Apparently this was the tourist mall, but I was burnt, hot and wanted just to be inside and kept cool.  The mall was really nice, brand new, and had a ton of shops.  I was really hungry since I hadn’t really ate much the past few days.  I have lost approximately 15 pounds since I have left, which just tells everyone how much weight I gained this past year in law school.  I have about 10-15 pounds left which I expect to lose over the next 6 months hopefully.

Anyway after hitting up Burger King which wasn’t that cheap, I then bought a movie ticket for a 1pm movie to see Incredible Hulk.  I love seeing movies when I travel.  I find it exotic watching movies in other countries.  Generally the theaters are quite nice, the one in Bangkok is still the nicest theater I have been too probably period.  I walked around, updated my paper journal to keep my memories in order for the next time I had a chance to update my blog.  I got some candy at a stand and went to the movie.  It was open I got a great seat and was able to put my feet up.  The movie was a little long, but action packed and I enjoyed it.

The movie got out at around 3pm and now I had to decide what I wanted to do.  I jumped on a free government bus and luckily it took me back to the side entrance of my hotel!  Before I took the free shuttle to the mall a worker there told me about this free government bus that had just started several days prior to my arrival, so I took advantage of it considering this country and city is so damn expensive!

I got back to the hotel and immediately grabbed a cab to the downtown area.  I picked a random place on the map that was suggested to me.  The cab dropped me off basically near nothing so I took the liberty upon myself to walk around and see what I could find.  I eventually stumbled across an internet cafe and spent an hour there emailing and stuff.  I couldn’t update my blog as for some reason it was blocked just like how it was blocked using my friend’s internet in Mumbai.  Anyway at around 425pm I left the internet cafe and just started walking around.  I was in the mood for two things.  Shawarma and Shisha both native to the Middle East.  It was really hot out and I had my back pack with me and I walked around for about an hour or so and actually picked up a nice nike watch along the way.  It was only 10 dhirams.  The guy wanted 20 and I got him down to 10 probably should have paid 5-7 but I needed a watch.  The watch I had traveled with since last year broke in the pool.  It was supposed to be water resistant for several meters but not the case.  It was a good watch and will be missed.  After walking around, and basically seeing that there was nothing to do in downtown Abu Dhabi I got a cab and told him I wanted to go to a cafe that had Shisha.  He took me to this place called “Special Cafe.”  The guy kept saying that the place was a “special cafe,” which could imply that it had marajuana or something.  I kept saying “I don’t want a special cafe,” and the guy finally said “no that is the name,” I responded with “oh ok thanks.”  He dropped me off and it was perfect.  It was airconditioned, I got some water and a sprite with ice, and a mixed cocktail of Shisha.  I sat, updated my blog, then read my book and smoked some shisha.  It is just something you have to do in the Middle East.  It is thousands of years old and was a must.

After about 2 hours or so I left the cafe and found myself along the beach.  I noticed that there were a lot of people hanging along the boundary of the beach so I went to check it out.  Apparently this was the inagural day of the Abu Dhabi Beach.  They produced the world’s longest ribbon banner ceremony which I was apart of technically.  I touched it and it went passed me!  I walked up the beach, I got handed a nice small wooden flag of the UAE and some drink.  I snapped several photos and just enjoyed the sunset overlooking the breakwater of Abu Dhabi.

I had to be at the airport for my 255am flight about 3 hours before, so I only had time to do a little bit more.  I went back to the hotel and hung out for about 1.5 hours and at around 9pm or so I took a taxi to this place called Lebonese Flower.  I wanted some local food that had sharwama and other local dishes.  It was recommended to me by the hotel and it actually turned out to be quite expensive but really good.  I got a grilled kebab and then took a hummos and meat sharwama plate back with me to take on the plane.  The flight from Abu Dhabi to Jo’burg south africa would be about 8.5 hours so I wanted some decent food on the plane.

I left the restaurant and was back home around 10pm.  I watched a movie till my watch alarm struck 11pm.  This was time to tie up loose ends and make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything around the room.  I brought my stuff down to the reception area, paid for my incidentals which was basically one drink at the pool and lunch, and it was certainly not cheap.  I think I was ripped off but I didn’t have receipts and didn’t have time to argue so I paid it.  All in all in one sleepnig night and two travel nights I spent quite a bit in this city.  It is definitely made for people who work there similar to how expensive sweden and the scandanavian countries are for tourists vs. how affordable it is for locals.

I got a taxi to the airport and had a little issue.  I forgot to make sure he would turn the meter on and as we pull away I said put the meter on.  He said no meter and then I said well how much will it be.  He said however much you like.  That is a basic trap and a scheme to guilt someone into paying a lot. Eventually he said 75 dhirams which is more than I paid coming.  He said 75 plus my tips you know for cigarettes and sharwama and stuff.  I was not happy, but had no choice.  I also only had about 110 dhirams on me so money was getting tight and was not about to take out more money.  When we got to the airport I tipped him 10 which was fine considering the bastard deserved nothing for ripping me off.  Using the meter it should be less I think for the ride.  It is decently far but not that far.

I arrived at the airport just before midnight and it was straight up pandamonium.

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July 1st, 2008 – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

July 4th, 2008

I arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates at approximately 12am or a little after so technically July 1st, 2008.  I had no hotel reservation and hence no where to go so I was taking it easy.  I walked around the departures area looking to check my internet, but it was all busy and people were waiting.  The airport in Abu Dhabi is pretty small.  It circular and doesn’t have that many shops, but there is plenty to shop for.  I eventually made my way to immigration and had a little trouble.  When I got to the immigration counter I handed my passport to the gentlemen and just stood there and waited.  I waited and waited and waited.  Only once had I even had a sniff of trouble with immigration which was in Thailand leaving last year when the lady didn’t think my passport photo was me.  Eventually she let me go and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.  This time though I was scared.  The guy after ten minutes of not doing a whole lot with the computer he was sitting in front of, got up and went to an office right near the immigration counter and was there for about ten minutes.  He came back, sat down and started looking at his computer entering in something or typing something.  He reached over to the guy sitting next to him and said something in Arabic, clearly he knew I wouldn’t understand.  He then asked me “are you ok?”  I said yes, but my knee hurt from standing up.  I had a cane with me.  The reason why I had a wooden cane was because it was my monkey stick from Shimla.  If you remember I bought one to fend off the monkeys when I climbed up to the monkey temple.  Well the only way I could get it through security was to say it was my walking cane.  Anyway eventually the guy handed me the passport and said I could go.

In the end I think the whole mess was because he saw my Israel stamp.  Before I left I called the consulate who said that I would not have a problem with entry in to UAE with the stamp.  Well even if the country says you have to let a person in who has been to Israel does not mean that individuals agree, and clearly this guy didn’t.  I was definitely nervous about having to be detained or put through questioning or something.  Apparently they should have given me an eye scan and finger printed me but luckily I was not subject to that level of strict scrutiny.

After I got my luggage I picked up some nice cuban cigars.  One pack of mini cohibas, the best and moved on through customs.  Oh I also bought a bottle of Jameson in Mumbai before going to Delhi because I heard that alcohol was only served in hotels and it was quite expensive. The huge bottle of Jameson Whiskey was cheap and its good.  So it is now like 130am and I have no where to go.  I haven’t had a good night sleep since the 27th of June and I am real tired.  I have been able to doze off here and there but nothing substantial.  I end up picking up free wireless on my iphone and am able to check something and send out an email.  At around 2am I was fed up and decided to take a taxi to my hotel that I would be checking in to later that day. 

The prepaid taxi cost 70 Dhirams which is about 18 bucks, not cheap considering the hotel wasn’t that far away, maybe 20 kilometers or less.  After stopping to get money for my time in Abu Dhabi and to pay the taxi driver I arrived at the fabulous five star Hilton Abu Dhabi and went to the reception area.  This very nice asian man named Argy told me that the earliest I could check in would be 730 am when their system restarted.  My alternative was to pay for a room for the next 5 hours which I was certainly not willing to do.  See I got a really cheap deal for this hotel, at about 130 USD per night.  Since it is the low season and middle of their summer it was cheap, the same seaview room I got would normally go for about 500 USD per night!  This hotel was nice, but expensive.  So I took my stuff to the lobby, broke out my little palm and started updating my blog on the word file.  Shortly after I got tired so I broke out my small travel pillow, put the two chairs together and tried to sleep. 

I kept waking up thinking that people were staring at me and stuff.  I felt like a homeless person in a five star hotel.  A few hours later I moved to a more secluded part of the hotel with a couch, near the back entrance.  I got a little shuteye there but not much again thinking that I was being laughed at or watched by the cleaners and workers and whoever.  I thought that I would wake up at like 10am with people standing around me thinking I was a drunk who passed out on the couch.

730am rolled around and the new person at the counter checked me in.  Argy was in the back and totally hooked me up.  I got a nice seaview room 7th floor but there were double beds.  Apparently I had booked a room with a King size bed, but I really didn’t care I just wanted a room, shower, toliet and bed.  I got all four!  The bellhop brought my passport and my luggage to my room.  I relaxed on the very comfortable bed and watched some english movie on the movie channel the hotel had.  I was loving life.  I finally had a bed, my privacy, a warm shower and was living the lap of luxury.  After the movie I took a shower, and headed down across the street to the Hiltonia Beach club.  This was free for people staying at the hotel and locals and others could pay to use the facilities.  It was a gorgeous place.  Two pools, one for adults one for kids.  The kids one had a waterslide (which I totally forgot to go down), and it was right on the Arabian sea!  It had beach chairs, umbrellas, watersports the whole nine yards a full service beach club.  I found my spot at the adult pool and jumped right in.  I only had shorts as I sent my other sporty mesh shorts home since they smelled so bad.  The pool was so refreshing and even though it was 11am, the sun was beating down on me.  I had no sunscreen (sorry dad) and I was out till about 4pm with one quick stop in my room for a drink (nothing out of control Leonard I promise).

A group of local kids sat down around me and I struck up a conversation with them.  They were living in the UAE and most were actually born in other countries.  After I went back to my room and returned I grabbed lunch with them and again continued to chat.  At one point though one of the three guys who were with these four girls brought me to the side for a little shake down.  He was getting the impression that I was constantly hitting on the girls and chasing them around when in reality I was merely being friendly and going along with the group.  I think he was just jealous they were interested in talking to me and meeting me and wanted more time with them.  One of the girls was his cousin another a close family friend or something and another girl had a boyfriend who was also there.  Personally I didn’t want trouble but this did was a grade A loser.  Personally I thought he was a homosexual myself and I’m sure that it not highly regarded or accepted at all in a Muslim country like the UAE but I wasn’t about to call him out and start trouble.  I said no problem I’ll do my own thing, so I went to my lounge chair, broke out my book and read for a little while.

Eventually I was so burnt, tired and dehydrated from being in the sun and went back to my room.  I was still running on fumes with the lack of sleep I had the past few days.  I ended up passing out from 430pm till about 11pm.  At that point I got up, got changed and went downstairs to see what the nightlife of the hotel had to offer.  When I got to the main bar called Hemmingways I was declined entry since I was wearing “slippers.”  So  went back to my room, put on my black new balance sneakers and went back down.  This time I was allowed in.  I didn’t get a drink, my stomach was not feeling great and I was still so tired but wanted to at least see what I was missing.  I hung out for a little while then went back up to my room, took two benedryl and watched about half of this italian drama with subtitles.  It was quite good but I couldn’t stay up much longer I was down for the count and loving the bed.

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June 30th, 2008 – Last Official Day in India, Delhi to Mumabi to Abu Dhabi, UAE

July 4th, 2008

Sarah’s flight was at 5am, mine at 1155am, but since I am such a mench I said I would go with her to the airport and just wait for my flight.  When we got to the airport at around 4am, we had emotional goodbyes.  We definitely had this connection throughout the trip.  Even though there are some forces pulling us apart, you never know.  I couldn’t bare to see her go.  She is everything I want in a woman.  Better yet, she is exactly the opposite from all my past girlfriends, which makes it even more unbelievable that I met someone in India, on a Law School Summer Abroad Program like that.  Deep down, I had this scary feeling before I left in May that something like this would happen.  I mean it was bound to happen.  When you travel as much as I have since 2004, I think the odds are in your favor to meet someone perfect, but you know the circumstance will not be.  Sarah is from California for starters, so that puts us at opposite ends of the country, and even more challenging is that we need to take separate Bar exams to be licensed in our respective states.  Even more unbelieveable is that we both have to take arguably the two hardest bar exams in the country and having to take both and pass both would be a miracle of biblical proportions, meaning I don’t see it happening on the first or second try.  Maybe I could pass one of them, most likely NY, but passing the California State Bar would be so hard.

 

Anyway, it is just ironic that I met someone on my travels, when back home I couldn’t find someone who even came close to Sarah.  After she left and walked through the security gate, I went outside and sat on the ground for a while.  I couldn’t get up, I was too sad to see her go.  I actually went back in to the airport to try and catch a glimpse of her one more time.  Even though I didn’t think this would be the last time I would ever see Sarah, you never know.  The last time I had been this upset and emotional was probably when grandma estelle passed away when I was in 7th grade.  She was like a mother to me, and when she passed away a part of me went with her.  At that point in my life, I had seen way too many close relatives pass away, more than people experience  in 50 years, I had seen in my short 12 years on this planet.

 

I tried to settle down, but I couldn’t, but I didn’t want to sit at this terminal any longer.  As it turned out I had to go to the other domestic terminal, which meant I had to bargain with an autorickshaw driver at this great moment of weakness.  I still bargained and got a decent price, still got ripped off and even got help from the airport security guard to get me a decent fare which he did.  I arrived at Indira Gandi International Airport, which houses both of the domestic terminals, which are completely separate from the international terminals and the domestic terminals, and waited from 5am till 1155am till my flight to Mumbai left.  I called Sarah on her American cell phone to leave her a message and hear her voice, it calmed me down and then I called Jenny to talk to her.  She could clearly her the sadness in my voice, but I swallowed the tears and she really helped calm me down (Mom make sure Jenny reads this post, if she reads one the entire summer).

 

So I finally got on the place on time and arrived at Mumbai domestic airport at 2pm give or take.  I was at the wrong airport.  I had to get to the international terminal for my flight to Abu Dhabi, UAE which left at 1100pm.  My original plan was to leave the airport, visit Rahul my friend who I stayed with my first week in Mumbai, but the weather did not agree.  It was pouring, monsoon type rain and Rahul and I both agreed that leaving the airport was taking a major risk of getting stuck in the shithole that is Mumbai.  Anyway, before we get to that, to get from one airport to the other I wanted to take the free shuttle, since my cash flow was low in rupees and I really did not want to take out more cash.  So I proceeded to the free shuttle and this lady guard asked me for my ticket.  I said I had an eticket and she said I needed to show her proof of my ticket.  Now before I left I very neatly organized and printed out everything I would possibly need on my trip, but when I left Shimla I think I threw out the papers along with junk I didn’t need so I had nothing with me.  No flights, hotel and hostel bookings, absolutely nothing.  She said there was a place I could check the internet and print out my ticket.  I took all my crap in the trolley and ran around looking for it.  I eventually find it and say I need to use the internet and print.  I print two pages my entire etihad ebooking and go to the lady.  When I get to the lady, I realized that the first page had my flight today on it and it had not printed correctly!  So I had to go back to the people, print 2 pages again, repay the amount (what assholes, they could have let that go and just hooked a brother from another mother up, but no they made me pay), fixed government rate my ass.

 

So I run back to the guard again, but now I have missed the bus to the international terminal, so I wait, and wait and wait some more and finally the bus arrives again.  This time I get on the bus and wave my ticket in front her face for literally two seconds and that was it.  What crap that was.  The bus ride took about 30 minutes give or take.  I got to the international terminal at around 330pm which gave me about 7.5 hours to wait for this flight.  My total wait time in airports on June 30th, 2008 would be about 14-15 hours!  What a great way to spend my last day in India, frustrated.  So now when I got to the international terminal, I schelpped my stuff down to arrivals and stored my luggage until the perceived notion I would leave the airport and hang out with Rahul or someone for a few hours.  Then we decided the weather was too bad so I had paid to store my luggage and really didn’t need to do so.

 

Then I needed money for food at the airport and to pay the luggage people.  So I had to argue my way in to arrivals.  Normally only people getting off the planes can use the services, but the guard looked at my passport and said I could go.  He first tried to tell me that my visa had expired, and kept asking for my passport but in the end he wanted a bribe to let me go and change money.  When I changed money, I asked him if there was an internet cafe or something.  I figured I would pass the time online, he said there was in another part of the airport and then asked me for my passport yet again.  This time I laughed and said “you just asked me for it,” and he responded “why don’t you put some rupees in the passport, for me, for helping you change money.”  I said “nehe” which is no in Hindi, he didn’t give me any trouble and let me go.  My first attempted bribe of a government official during my time traveling.  Wow. Leave it to my last day in India for that to happen, it’s alright.

After I change my money, I tried to get a recharge for my phone.  That was unsuccessful as they initially told me they could not do so, I don’t think they understood me properly.  From there I went upstairs to the departure check in and met these three kids from Reno, Nevada and we started playing cards.  They were here basically on a christian mission teaching english and stuff in southern India.  After about two hours I decided to get some food from the only restaurant suitable for eating in the airport, coffee cafe day.  I initially got a muffin and a tuna sandwich.  When I got back to my seat and took the tinest bite of the tuna I immediately threw it out as it tasted horrible and I certainly did not want to get sick.

After finishing my muffin I went back and got a chicken tikka sandwich, it tasted good, but my stomach was destroyed the next day, oh well.  At around 730pm I walked all the way back to the luggage storage place and picked up my luggage.  8pm rolled around and it was finally time to check in after getting in to Delhi at 230pm.  I had to get my bags screened first, and then checked in.  Instead of going through immigration I started talking to this girl who I had passed many times walking back and forth.  Her name was Nisha, she was 18 and doing a 2 month internship working in the airport.  She found the job quite boring, but we had interesting conversation in both Hindi and English.  She got yelled at for talking to me so her bossed moved her to an area with less traffic, as a punishment.  Here she would really have nothing to do.  When I walked with her to her new location I met another kid working there called Mahesh.  He claimed that if I stayed with him in Mumbai he would teach me hindi within a week, I said look at for my phone call as one day I might take you up on that.

After chatting with Nisha and Mahesh, I said goodbye and went through immigration.  Now I had about an hour and a half till my flight.  I made several phone calls back home wasting my minutes.  This is because I had finally got a recharge from airtel so I had something to do before my flight.  The flight would only be about 2.5 hours, so nothing substantial and it was later at night.  Oh a funny side story.  So one of my first times walking back and forth an armed guard asked me what I was doing.  I told him “I love walking around,” he laughed and I responded by saying “I have 8 hours here, and nothing to do, you will see me doing this a lot.”  I found this to be funny because later on the armed guard with the huge machine gun asked me “so how many times have you walked back and forth I see you every 5 minutes.”  I laughed and responded with “a lot of times, but it’s almost time to check in.”

Anyway I boarded the plane at 1025pm and found my seat.  I was next to this taller gentlemen who was dominating the armrest and it was quite annoying.

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June 29th, 2008 – Delhi, India

July 4th, 2008

I got woken up by Vikash, our trusty tour guide from day 1 at around 450am.  He wanted us up and at em before the train got to delhi, ready to go.  The train wouldn’t be getting to Old Delhi Station probably for another 30 minutes but this is a classic tactic but him and train conductors who typically do the same thing to the passengers in their car.  I woke up, feeling very unsatisfied from the train ride.  I love train rides.  I normally sleep like babies on them, but this time it was not the case.  It was disappointing to say the least.  We rolled in to the station probably 520am or so.  I got all my crap together, and tried hard not to have a repeat performance in Vietnam last year when I forgot my money belt, ran back on the train and had to jump off like I was a stuntman in the movies, rolling several times on the concrete.

 

It was hot out even for 530am, which was just a precursor for things to come during the day in Delhi.  We all dumped our stuff with Vikash who arranged for porters to take our stuff to the bus.  I left my giant pack, and took my smaller stuff including my backpack with most of my expensive stuff in it.  My big backpack just really has clothing and tolietries, not nearly as important as my hard drive with my photos on it and other electronics I carry.  We were being shuffled by one of the professors who at one point told us to turn left out of the train station.  See there are two entrances at most train stations in India, especially the big ones in Delhi.  Well this professor who seemed so sure at the time, pointed us in the wrong direction!  So we walked all the way to the exit of the station, waited for a while in the heat, tired and hungry because she really didn’t have a clue.  At one point she went off to look for a student who got lost in the shuffle and she ended up in the bus, nice and comfortable with the A/C blasting, are you shitting me?  Eventually Vikash told us we had to go back up the long flight of stairs and over to the other side of the train station.  How ironic that the professors were resting comfortably in the bus while we were sweating, tired and hot.

 

Once we loaded the bus we headed off to the hotel.  Apparently this hotel was one of the nicest and oldest hotels in all of delhi.  It was spread out on 7 precious acres of land.  7 acres of land for a hotel where there are probably 20 million people crowded as hell in a city like Delhi is real valuable and special.  As we pulled in to the hotel, I think everyone gasped for air.  It was magnificient.  By far the nicest architecture and infrastructure I had seen in India, besides the Taj in Agra and the Taj Mahal itself.  This place was great.  But of course there was a catch, which just highlighted even more so, how the entire trip had been run from start to finish, classic Touro Rag-tag.

 

The rooms weren’t ready.  Well to be specific none of the student rooms were ready except for Becky and Rachel, but rest assured the professor’s had their rooms, ready to go, again how convenient for them!  I went in to becky and rachel’s room, read for a little bit, then passed out on the floor.  Oh this was after breakfast, in which I felt really naseous.  It turned out I was a little backed up, which was really the first time, making a BM had been a real problem.  After I chugged water, and got the system rebooted, I had some breakfast, then fell asleep on their floor.

 

After that, I went out to the main lobby and there were a bunch of people trying to plan their day.  We had one full day in Delhi with lots to see and do, but it would be hot, so that was a real consideration to factor in to our plans.  I decided that I wanted to see Gandi’s memorial, called Raj Ghat, the famous Red Fort, and Jama Masjid which is the largest Muslim Mosque in India.  Sarah and I jumped in to a rickshaw who I bargained with in Hindi and headed off for Gandi’s Memorial.  We picked this one first simply because it was the farthest away from the three so we would work our way back to the hotel.

 

When we got there, it was really basic.  It had some nice gardens and the tomb itself was all black with his name written in hindi, I think.  We snapped some photos, took it in and then left for the next spot, Red fort.  I had to bargain hard for a reasonable rickshaw.  Sarah was a little cranky so eventually I gave in a paid about 10 rupees more than I should have but at 30 rups it was still very reasonable.  As we were getting out of the rickshaw to go to the red fort, I see this really interesting looking temple right in front of this.  I exclaimed to Sarah “let’s check this out.”  It turned out to be Jain Temple.  Jainism is apparently a sect or spinoff of Hinduism.  It seemed like a cult to me, but I just kept saying that to piss Sarah off and it was funny.  When we got there first, there was this guy who took us in to this meditation center in the bottom of the temple.  After that we had to go one by one into the temple itself.  The reason was because they wanted us to leave our bag with this security guard, who was basically some dude just sitting there with a ripped white button down collared shirt who looked a little retarded to me.  I said “hell no,” so another guy suggested we each go separately and I agreed to that.

 

The temple was really cool, definitely one of the cooler temples I had been too.  They had a lot of g-ds and g-desses.  From the temple we walked across the hectic intersection in Delhi to the Red fort.  It was glorious.  I started to snap away.  I made Sarah take one of me, then I took one of her, and then the guy who we asked to take our picture, got his son in the picture, and I picked him up.  We tried to pick the son up so the guy would get the hint to pan up and get the red fort in the background.  That plan failed, the dude literally got everything except the Red Fort, ahhh go figure.

 

We took a few more pictures and then got one picture and two copies from a “professional photographer.”  He really wasn’t anything special, but they printed in like 2 minutes.  When we walked over with him to get the prints a cop walked over to him and started talking to him in Hindi, I didn’t know what they were conversing about.  I told Sarah quietly to walk away, and we did.  Once the cop left we went back collected each of our copies of the photo and went on our way.  Sarah did not like her photo, most women don’t.  I looked good in it and was quite satisfied as to how it turned out.

 

Since it was so hot out, we decided to NOT go in to the Red Fort but just look from the outside.  I was fine with that, its another fort and after Agra Fort it was just a little bigger and better, nothing to really cry over from missing.  Once we left the Red Fort and attempted to walk to Jama Masjid we were swarmed with hawkers and vendors selling all sorts of random crap.  Sarah bought a sikh mustache for her brother and law.  I bought some postcards, and wish I had bought that Sikh mustache, it was hilarious.  We finally gave up since we realized that it was actually farther than we had anticipated.  This is when we met our bicycle rickshaw driver.  I never got his name, but he peddled us in his rickshaw to the temple.  When we got there, we got ripped off and scammed in to paying 200 rupees to take photographs.  I was warned about this from the Indians, but it looked official and was written on the wall.  All I remember Abira saying was if it is written on the wall it is legit.  If it was legit, I probably directly funded terrorism, go me!

 

We snapped a few photos with the walls of the mosque.  This mosque was built by the same dude who built the Taj Mahal and it was clear, because within the walls of the mosque everything was symetrical, which is this dude’s trademark.  It was getting hotter and hotter and Sarah was getting more cranky.  She wanted to get back so she could rest before her spa appointment at 4pm.  I said I would do my best.  We were running a little behind.  At one point at the mosque these muslim kids came up to me and wanted a photo, I agreed and then they started to get a little physical, joking around with me or making fun of me and got a little physical.  I got a little angry and just said that is enough in Hindi and they got the hint.  My next step was to say “go away” in hindi which is the next level due to how firm you say it and people usually get the hint.

 

When we left the mosque our same peddler was waiting for us trying to get another fare.  Eventually we gave in to him, I assured Sarah we weren’t that far away, she was skeptical.  I told him to take us to Kashmieri Gate because at the hotel that is what they told me to tell the Rickshaw drivers and they would know where to go.  There was one problem with that plan.  I didn’t know where the hotel was from this metro stop, DOH!  This dude was peddling his heart out in the blazing heat of Delhi.  Sarah was getting agitated after every block.  She felt this was demeaning and she was real tired and wanted to get back quicker.  Eventually I told the peddler to stop and he pulled over near the station.  We paid him his fare and Sarah gave him a generous tip for his efforts.  He was clearly happy about the tip and the total amount of money he got from us.  I thought it was definitely an experience, at least he wasn’t pulling the rickshaw manually and running with it!  Apparently that still happens in parts of India.  We stopped at a familiar sighting “The Golden Arches of Heaven,” or better known as McDonald’s.  Since it was 1250PM we both agreed it was time for lunch.  I definitely needed a dose of western food even though I had been eating heathier as of late and had lost a few pounds nothing crazy.

 

We got some food and then ice cream fudge sundaes to go.  While Sarah was getting the ice cream I got a rickshaw who insisted he knew where the hotel was.  I gave in to his crazy price for the rickshaw since we both wanted to get back to the hotel and finally get our room!  When we got back, we certainly got our room and it was so nice.  When you walked in there was a huge flat screen samsung HDTV with couches and then a door to our bedroom with a full walk in closet and exquiste bathroom with a marble glass enclosed shower and then a bathtub with that silver tray thing that goes on top to keep your stuff in it.  Very old school, reminds me of the end of the movie Maverick it was just like that (booo that Anti-semite Mel Gibson though).

 

Anyway the room was great, except for the construction right above us!  It’s like every time I got a little ahead throughout the program, I was shot back down by something.  We both thought to ourselves “did Anne (the coordinator of rooms and logistics of the program, know about this construction and screw us with the room anyway?)  Only G-d would know the answer to that question.  Regardless if it was done on purpose it was still right above our heads and it was loud, and we couldn’t sleep, it was so annoying.  When I got back I relaxed till about 530pm.  I took a shower, watched some soccer on the big screen, smoked a cuban cigar and this was after Sarah left for her appointment.  I was living large.  Nice robe that smelled real nice, air conditioning, cold drink ahhhh.

 

At around 530PM, I was down in the lobby just trying to move around and saw Arindum.  He asked me if I wanted to play some tennis.  I said sure, I hadn’t done any sort of exercise, minus walking in months.  I went upstairs, laced up the kicks, put on my yanks hat backwards and was ready to go.  Unfortunately my only pair of shorts were my nice jcrew ones, but with how hot it was out even at 530pm, I had no choice.  I had sent back my two mesh sporty shorts since they smelled so bad from Shimla and after they were washed in Dharamsala.  We got down to the courts and there were two young kids playing.  We jumped right in and started playing with them.  Arindum was horrible at first and got better as we played on.  Eventually the short fat kid left and then the better of the two kids was left.  Since I had popped the string on the racquet.  Hit it on the top of the racquet going for a slam, Arindum and I switched off rallying with this 12 year old kid.  He was good, considering and he had a coach which meant that he must have been privileged individual in Delhi, which is fine.  We played for about an hour and fifteen minutes.  By the end of it, Arindum and I were sweating, I was personally covered in sweat from head to toe.  Even my hat was soaked.

 

When I got back to my room, I relaxed for a while and eventually took a shower.  The plan was to go to this very famous indian restaurant in Delhi that was voted the best restaurant in India not five star.  It was 730pm and Sarah was still not back, she was supposed to be back by 7pm.  I was getting nervous.  When I got in the shower, she arrived and then I took a quick one to rinse off the sweat and dirt from the clay tennis court and then we all went downstairs to try and arrange this dinner.  There were initially 12 of us, and we were all a little frustrated by the lack of mobility of the group.  Since Heidi had to leave that night she didn’t have enough time, so then 5 others joined them.  We were down to 7.  Arindum got us two rickshaws at reasonable prices to this place.  I was in the rickshaw with 4 people which meant I had to sit up front with the driver.

 

I could barely get my right ass cheek on the seat.  The driver was giving me absolutely no love.  I was basically hanging of the side of the rickshaw, using all my strength and upper arm to hold on for dear life and try to keep my extremites within the rickshaw.  At any moment something could come zooming by and take off a limb.  I was very uncomfortable.  When we arrived at the general location of the restaurant, it was bustling with Muslims and locals.  The restaurant was right near the mosque so it was packed.  I think the girls found the right restaurant and got us a table of 7.  When we walked up stairs, who do we see by the professors, Ann and one of the professor’s wives.  Of course they had gone to this place, why not.  Well we only had to wait a little while before a table opened up. 

 

At first we left the ordering to Arindum since he been to this place several times and knew what htey were famous for and what was good.  After a little while people started to chime in about what they individuall wanted to order yet share with the group.  So to not be left out of this process I told Arindum I wanted a mutton dish (goat), and got it.  It was damn spicy but so good that Sarah and I decided to split another half order (as well as whoever else wanted some).  By the end of the ordering we had so many dishes it was insane, but the meal would be cheap since we had 7 and nothing was really that expensive.  The meal was hearty to say the least and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Now this wasn’t typical Indian food, but was Mughal food which is spicer and the Mughal’s ruled in India for a long time early on (I’m thinking like 400 years or something, but not sure, I know I have been told when we visited Mughal sites).  Anyway the meal was great, cheap and then it was time to say our goodbyes.  Some of the kiddos were going out for a nightcap drink, but Sarah and I had to wake up at 3am to get ready to head to the airport. 

 

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June 28th, 2008 – Dharamsala to Delhi, India

July 4th, 2008

I stayed at Sarah’s the previous night and got out of bed at 10am.  It was a good feeling to have nothing to do, with school being over.  To kill the time before our departure for the train, I went to the internet for cafe for about 2 hours to update my blog.  I want to print a retraction from my previous blog entry regarding some poor language and choice of words.  I guess I left my palm pilot in the classroom at the hotel and someone must have saw my blog opened and write some words, and I clearly did not see that, so I apologize to who was offended and I will delete it.

 

Anyway after the internet cafe I went to the store and picked up some snacks for the ride and for the train.  The snacks included chips ahoy, olives, cup o noodles, fanta and water, ahhhh can’t get much better than that.

 

When I got back to the hotel I saw Arrindum who wanted to get something before we left as well, so yet again I made the journey down the hill, around the corner and to the local bodega type stores near our hotel.  He picked up a cup o noodle also, after I assured him we could get hot water on the train, I mean I know I was able to on my train ride from Mumbai to Delhi.  After I went up to my room and brought my bags down, a bunch of us were just sitting around in the classroom reminicing about the time we had on the trip.  We also included some of the gripes about the trip, but those were kept to a minimum for the most part.

 

Ann came in and informed us that we were now departing 115pm instead of 1245pm, due to a malfunction with one of the jeeps.  No problem here, better safe than sorry.  This gave people some additional time to pack up and enjoy their last few moments in Dharamsala.  I have to say that I definitely enjoyed Dharamsala a lot more than Shimla.  It just had a better overall feel to it and had more to explore and do I feel.

 

When the jeeps came, I carried my stuff down to the jeeps.  I don’t know why I did that considering my knee was still a little stuffed, but I did it anyway.  Getting everyone in the jeeps was straight pandamonium.  It was hard because we all had so much luggage, and space was tight.  We even had a jeep just for luggage and we will had to pack each individual jeep up with luggage to make it fit. 

 

Before we left I decided to go to the bathroom one more time just to make sure I wouldn’t have problems a long the way.  They told us that stopping would be an issue so I wanted to make sure I could survive the three hours of so it would take to get to the train station in Pathankot.  See the train station wasn’t just simply in Dharamsala, we had to trek all the way to the next major citiy in order to catch the train, what a pain in the ass I know.

 

When I got back from the bathroom, Rachel, Sarah and Becky saved me a spot in their jeep which was nice, considering I really wouldn’t have wanted to travel in some of the other jeeps anyway.  On the way we noticed that most jeeps had 3 people in them, one other had 4 and so did ours.  This imbalance was caused by the fact that one of the professors and his wife inexcusably had a jeep to themselves.  We all found that to be ludacris and was not happy about it.

 

After moaning and groaning about us getting stuck in the jeep with 4, we put that aside and made the driver turn up his Punjabi music.  I love punjabi music.  The beat is always the same, but it never gets old.  People dance the bangra to punjabi music, it is just how it is.  Once the driver blasted the music we all started dancing a version of the bangra that felt comfortable for us.

 

I have a patented move.  Pointer finger in each had pointing up, shoulders moving up and down, and when your standing you do this sort of Elaine from Seinfeld leg kick, but not quite.  Unfortunately that trip really didn’t go as smooth as we all would have hoped.  For some reason we kept stopping along side of the road.  I would continually ask the driver why are we stopping in  Hindi, and each time he would get out of the jeep and ask the other drivers, he definitely didn’t need to stop and wanted to know what was going on.  Several times we stopped to let the rest of the jeeps catch up to us, and other times we stopped randomly and really short together because people had to pee.  At one random stop along side of the road, Rachel spotted this man weaving his own rugs and low and behold she bought one of the rugs for really cheap like 120 rupees or something and Sarah bought a cheap blanket for 150 rupees, thanks to my bargaining and conversing in Hindi.  It definitely pays off to speak hindi to the locals, I think you get respect and they know that you know what they are saying to a certain extent, enough to bargain with.

 

After almost 4 hours we arrived in Panthankot.  This place is on the way to Amritsar which is where the same 4 of us in the jeep went the following weekend to see the Golden Temple.  Anyway when we got to the station it was stiffling out.  So hot, humid as heck, and the sun was blazing.  We were used to milder temperatures and rain everyday for a month, so this weather was certainly a shock to my body, not sure about the others.  I refused to get a porter and instead carried my stuff in to the train station, plopped it down and really couldn’t sit still.  We had just been in a car for a while and I didn’t want to sit any longer.  After a little while I saw the chai guy rolling his cart down to us.  I got the best chai of my life right then and there and for a measely 3 rupees for a 4 oz cup i believe, maybe 6 oz not sure.  Anyway it was darn good. 

 

After that I picked up a refreshing pepsi, and then Arrindum and I went out to find some shirts.  Apparently he had seen an army detail store, so we decided to go check it out.  He was all giddy for the chance to buy some alleged authentic indian army paraphenalia.  I was skeptical that it was real until I bought a shirt myself.  Arrindum paid 120 rupees, while I paid only 80 rupees.  When Arrindum went back to make his case for being ripped off the vendor simply stated that  you had cotton and that I had gotten something of lesser quality.  I don’t know my shirt feels pretty darn nice.  Anyway we were both happy about the purchase and by this point we only had another hour until the train was supposed to arrive in the station.

 

When we got back to the station we were informed that the train was late by 30 minutes.  Ok, not so bad considering it could be delayed hours, you just never know.  This gave me more time to get some more chai.  But before I did from the same vendor I got some local food served in some shell of either a plant, fruit or vegetable, I’m not really sure.  After walking around with it, I decided if it was best not to eat it and get sick so close to the end of my time in india.

 

I walked around for a little while longer and before we knew it, it was time to board the train.  I gathered up my stuff and helped the group local our car which was Second Class AC A1.  Only three kids were stuck in A3, but truthfully they weren’t my concern.  I was looking for A1, greatest good for the greatest number I suppose, call me selfish but that’s how I role.

 

Sarah and I boarded the train along with the rest of the gang in A1 and looked for our beds.  They should be closed together as we were 14 and 16 respectively, and they were.  Both top bunks in the same berth.  There was one major issue though, the people below us had dominated the floor space which is where our bags were supposed to go.  I tried to remain calm, as I was really hot, tired and not happy about the situation.  The people below us kept trying to tell us that we would work it out, well we really never did.  I ended up sleeping with two of my bags and really didn’t sleep much.  The rest of the night Sarah and I chatted.  Thank g-d I brought snacks and drinks as the food on the train was not appeitizing at the present moment, but definitely eatable. 

 

At around 130am I tried to doze off, but with two bags with me on a tiny bed, it was so hard to get comfortable, and everyone knows how particular I am with my sleeping arrangments.

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June 27th, 2008 – Dharamsala, India

June 28th, 2008

Today would be my last full day in Dharamsala, India and there was still plenty to do.  I first want to say hi to my cousin Judy, what’s up?  She is a very loyal reader and I had previously left her out of my shout outs from a few days ago.  So here, you get almost a full paragraph of your own shout out!

I woke up today and decided I was NOT going to my first class.  We already had the exam in that class and I had too much to do.  I woke up feeling not so good and I thought that my sickness had passed but I guess I was wrong.  So of course it was raining, but at around 825am I walked up the road in to town and stopped at the internet cafe to kill some time.  The post office and the Tibetan co-op both told me to come at around 9am, so instead of waiting till after the test I tried to go before class.  This was a mistake.  I walking in the pouring rain with my trusty, rainbow colored umbrella that just about every tourist has walking around and made by way to the shop.  At around 9am I went to the post office and they told me that they would not be open till 930am!  Those bastards lied to me.  I had wasted an hour of possibly studying for the International Human Rights exam.  I had not studied one iota yet and the test was at 2PM.  Now I was frustrated, wet, cold, and feeling like crap as I was walking to the hotel unaccomplished with plenty to do.

I got back and really felt sick.  I went to the bathroom which helped and told Sarah I didn’t feel good.  She came in to my room and took care of me.  She gave me some of her medicinal herbal crap and told me to drink water.  At this point it was time to break out my oral hydration tablets.  I had brought these just in case I got sick or couldn’t properly rehydrate on my trip and today they paid off.  I dropped one of the tablets in my bottle of water and drank it pretty steadily.  I guess since I had been going to the bathroom so often, and with my lack of drinking water, that I had been pretty dehydrated.  The tablets are basically super gatorades and fill your body with a lot of electrolytes.  After drinking the water I felt substantially better and was able to sit through my last International Human Rights test.

After class it was time to study, but before doing so I went back to the tibetan co-op to pick up my boxes and then bring them to the post office.  I had to get back to the hotel with enough time to study for the exam.  So I walked back up the hill, seeing all my homeless lepers, and vendors and tried to send my stuff back to the USA for the second time in as many hours.  The packages were wrapped in cloth and ready to go.  One of the two guys I had met the previous day helped me carry the boxes to the post office.

Oh I first went to the ATM and took out enough cash for my remaining time in India and enough to send the package home, I hope.  Then I went to the Co-op.  Oh I also took a taxi to the ATM.  I didn’t walk my fault, and I paid the 60 rupees for the short ride that I refused to pay the day before.  I was short on time and needed to get a lot done.  OK, so ATM, then Co-op, then Post office.  When I got to the post office the line was out the door.  Indian post office’s are notorious for being slow, worse than in America and quite frankly they really don’t care.  Mcleod Ganj post office is a small post office, but since it is located in such a touristy city, it has to be efficient.  I got to the post office and this monk helped me put my boxes on the seat.  I told the worker behind the counter in Hindi I wanted to send two packages, to the USA.  He asked me the weight and I responded in English.  This was classic Hinglish.  He handed me two forms, I borrowed a pen from a local and filled out the forms.  While waiting in line for about 35 minutes I struck out a conversation with this dude from Kentucky who had been traveling around the world with a buddy of his for a total of a year when the trip would be finished.  He had already been to South America and Africa and after India would maybe head elsewhere, I forget.

We had good conversation and it killed the time waiting on this painfully slow line.  At around 1225pm, the guy behind the counter told another guy standing on line to lock the door.  Even though they officially closed at 1 for lunch, they did not let anyone in past 1230pm I guess and would just finish the business in front of them.  I had no problem with that.  10 minutes later one of my professors banging on the window to be let in.  He argued that it was open till 1pm, and eventually they let him in.

For 5650 rupees I was able to send two packages, totaling almost 14 kilograms in weight, by air to America.  I really hope they get there.  I sent a lot of clothing that I initially brought with me, 10 pairs of sandals and shoes, and lots of things I bought.

After the post office I walked quickly back to the hotel to study for my test.  I had about an hour or so to study as the time at the post office took a lot longer than I had anticipated it would.   I did some high quality cramming and then it was time to take the test.  The test was 2 hours and was by far the most serious and real deal law school exam.  I wrote a lot, used my notes efficiently, and I think I did pretty well.  I mean granted it was not perfect by any means, considering I had no prior knowledge of international law or international human rights, I think I did pretty well.

After the test I was feeling pretty good.  My real vacation was starting as I had another 5 weeks or so left of freedom before it was time to head back to America.  So here is the rest of the plan:

Overnight train to Delhi on June 28th with the law group.  One full day in Delhi on Sunday, monday morning I fly back to Mumbai.  I have a layover of about 6-9 hours depending on when I get in, how long it takes to get my baggage etc…I plan on meeting some of my friends from Mumbai when I get there to kill the time, but we will see.  Traffic in Mumbai is crazy and everywhere takes a long time to get too.  Plus if it is  raining it will be impossible to go anywhere.  Monday night I fly to Abu Dhabi.  I plan on sleeping in the airport monday night in to tuesday morning.  Early in the morning I will take a cab to the 5 star Hilton Abu Dhabi were I will be spending two nights enjoying myself.  I might do a day trip to Dubai if it is affordable and then on wednesday night, I have to go back to the airport for my 3am flight on thursday to Joburg, South Africa.  When I get to Joburg hopefully on time, I will have to quickly grab my stuff, hopefully just be able to transfer, but if not go through customs and make my 1245pm flight on British Airways to Capetown, South Africa.  I will then take a cab to my hostel in Ctown and enjoy the next few days there.  I will be spending 3 nights in Capetown and then start my 26 day trip through Southern Africa.  I get back to Joburg July 31st I believe and will be spending a few nights with this lady I met on couchsurfing.com

So the next few days will be extremely hectic, but hopefully fun filled and exciting.

So after the test I really didn’t do much.  I went on the internet, and packed up my stuff.  At 8pm we were having a farewell party at a restaurant called Ashoka which I had been too twice already.  The party was fun.  The teachers and Ann bought us the food, water and most importantly beer!  Massive amounts of pictures were being taken at this shindig and aftewards, Becky, Sarah, Rachel, Martine and I went to the bottle shop to pick up a night cap.  When I got back to the hotel I was so tired.  I couldn’t do anything let alone drink another beer.  Since I have not eaten as much the second half of India, my appetite has been suppressed significantly.  I get full really quick and last night I just ate way too much.

I went to bed at around 130am, and tomorrow we would be leaving for the train station at approximately 1pm, for a 3 hour jeep ride to the train station in the next major city called Pathankot.  The train to Delhi leaves at 7pm and missing it is not an option!

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june 26th, 2008 – Dharamsala, India

June 27th, 2008

Today I rolled out of bed for the Tibetan class. Today was the day that Cait and I had to present on the Tibetan Government in Exile. I forgot to mention that yesterday. I did the preparation from 8-9 and studied afterwards for several hours until I could not look at the list of vocab and my class notes anymore. The presentation went fairly well, people were listening because Professor had told us that our presentation would be on the exam, and as it turned out she was right. Our next class only had 4 kids in it. I felt bad for this professor as that was probably a little rude on everyone’s behalf, but they were all studying for our Tibetan final that was later today, even though our Professor assured us that it would be easy. After our last class, and before the final exam then before final exam, I shoved all the stuff that I needed to be sent home in to my large backpack and ran with it down the roa, up the hill the to Tibetan Cooperative. Basically in order to send a package from India via the mail the box or items you are sending must be stitched and sealed by wax on the part of a tailor. This was such a pain in the ass, as you have to find a good tailor, that won’t rip you off and that can do a good job. This place seemed nice and they were not going to charge me all that much and it would be done after my exam.

From the co-op I came back, took the exam which was really easy. I had to guess on my last two questions, but as it turned out I could have gotten at least 1.5 of the 2 right, which I was happy about. After the exam I went scrounging around for a box large enough to fit all my stuff. Even though you could send your stuff in the cloth, as the tailor wraps it in plastic first, I felt more comfortable putting it all in a box. So I ran around the took looking for one and even after I begged a local shop owner for his box, offering him as much as 500 rupees for it (almost 12 USD), I found one that was being used for garbage, that another story owner let me use. After bringing the box back to the hotel, I loaded up the rest of the stuff I wanted to send back that I had forgotten to bring to the co-op in the first place. I tried to get a taxi at first to bring me up the hill as I really did not want to carry it back and forth yet again. The taxi driver, clearly saw how desperate I was and tried to gauged me on the price, I said hell no and decided to walk with the huge box myself.

As I was walking back and forth, first with my huge backpack and then with the huge box, the local vendors clearly remembered me as they were laughing at me, running back and forth, commenting about my huge backpack. I embraced it all, smiled back at them and kept chugging along. I was on a mission to eventually send all this crap home. So I eventually got to the co-op with the rest of my stuff. They told me that I would have to pick up both wrapped boxes tomorrow as they were about to close for the day. I said no problem, and was very happy to have this get done, fast, and cheap.

A side story. When I first arrived at the Tibetan Co-op, two of the guys there were really admiring my backpack. They asked me about my patches. For those of you who don’t know, every country I have been too I have a patch on my backpack, signifying the achievement. They asked me if I had really been to all the places on my bag, to which I very proudly responded “absolutely.” One of the Tibetan worker’s there actually took a picture of my backpack with all the patches, with his camera phone. It made me feel proud to have people appreciate such an accomplishment. They asked me how I did it and I just told them that I traveled whenever I had free time and that I have still managed to almost finish becoming a lawyer.

When I got back to the hotel, it was getting kind of late. Sarah and I went to dinner at this Italian place. I initially wanted to go to another Italian place called Jimmy’s, which is where Sarah, Grady and I had gone in week one, but this time Sarah wanted to check out another place. The food here was not that good. I wish I remembered the name so people in the future could use this as a reference, but basically if you ever find yourself in Dharamsala, India and are looking for Italian food, if you walk and see the downstairs version of Jimmy’s keep walking, and the next Italian place you come too is the one I ate at and it really wasn’t that good. I think Sarah and I both had a stomach ache leaving that place. After dinner Sarah and I did a little shopping. I picked up a black jacket, with the Tibetan flag sewn on, and on the back it says “Save Tibet.” It is a standard price and usually goes to the Tibetan cause. I really wanted the jacket that said “Team Tibet” but I couldn’t find it around the city, as so many tourists and travelers by it and my time in this place was running short. After shopping I went to the ATM to get some cash, then we went to the internet cafe. It was getting late and I had still not began studying for my International Human Rights exam which was from 2-4 on the 27th, but since it was open notes, and I felt confident in my notes and what I knew, I wasn’t worried. At the internet cafe I actually printed out my notes so that I could use them efficiently during the exam the following day. It cost me 10 rupees a page, and 250 rupees in total! That is exorbitant considering what I have bought for that much and how much food you can buy with that money. After Sarah and I got back from the internet cafe and our little mini excursion in to town, we attempted to watch a movie, but after a while I got tired and wanted to get to sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day and I had lots of things to do.

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June 25th, 2008 – Dharamsala, India

June 27th, 2008

Today we didn’t have any tests but I had my Tibetan Buddhism test the next day.  This was the only exam we had that would be closed exam, meaning no notes or anything.  Lucky for me it was in a subject I had no prior knowledge about before I came, so I was a little nervous.  I mean every credit and test counts towards my gpa, so I take the tests extremely serious.

After class we had to meet at 105pm to head to the 17th Kalampa Lama.  He is the head of another one of the Tibetan Buddhist sects.  The Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelupa sect while this other lama is the head of another.  Janeen and I crammed in to the back in the jeep for what was going to be a very bumpy ride.  I was under the impression that the ride would only be 15 minutes, but as I have learned in India, nothing takes 15 minutes.  The ride was well over 30 minutes and sitting sideways in seats in the trunk of a jeep is not very comfortable and by the end of the ride I was actually feeling a little queezy which doesn’t happen to me often.  When we arrived at this Lama’s complex it was quite nice.  There was housing for many monks, I snapped a few photos by myself and with some others and we waited for the rest of the jeeps to arrive.

The place was pandemonium.  There were many people trying to get blessed by this famous lama and we were just one of the groups of people there.  We all had to have a white scarf, as that is what the lama will customarily bless.  Karma our guide from the Chonor House Hotel, who was tibetan, was having trouble getting us all scarf, and our professors were getting a little nervous.  In the end we all got our white scarfs, but we stood in line waiting for this dude for quite a while and it was hot.  I was dressed in my fancy indian attire from head to toe and was sweating bullets.  I mean this guy did not want to be standing there waiting to bless all these people, as much as I didn’t want to be standing their either.

In the end we were shuffled in, I briefly glanced up at the 17th Kalampa Lama as he put the white scarf around my neck and handed me a piece of blessed red string.  I left the room feeling very inadequate about the situation.  Not only had we driven all this way, but we got to see the guy for about 1 second, a small consolation for our school not getting us an appointment with the His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

After getting the scarves, we went back in to the room to take a group photo with the lama.  I have yet to see the picture that our professor has on CD, and I doubt I will.

From the Kalampa Lama’s complex (I am definitely spelling his name wrong and will correct it when I return to the states), we headed to this Tibetan preservation institute called the Norbulinka Institite.  This was set up by the Tibetan government in exile as one of the ways they have tried to help the Tibetan Refugees maintain their religion and culture, and oh by the way they also sell lots of expensive Tibetan handmade crafts.

We got a brief tour which took us around the complex seeing how different things were made and then we were shuffled in to the store, but of course.  I ended up buying a few things, mostly for myself, adding to the amount of crap I have bought so far on this trip and then a bunch of us heading for the cafe.  It was so hot, and I needed a drink and a little pick-me-up, so I grabbed a pepsi, recycled glass bottle, as usual and we waited for the rest of the group to be done.

A bunch of us were getting really antsy because we wanted to get back to do all the reading and studying that had to be done before tomorrow.  Not only did we have our Tibetan Buddhism class, we also had to do reading for our International Human Rights class.  We eventually left at around 5pm and got back home whenever after.  I studied briefly for the exam, mostly just messing around and wasting time.  After studying I hit the hay and was ready to go for the test tomorrow.

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June 24th, 2008 – Dharamsala, India

June 26th, 2008

I woke up feeling a little bit better but not great by any means.  Today we had our second final, which was in the class of comparative race and gender led by my professor from Touro.  I went to all my classes today but everyone was buzzing with the anticipation of our final.  Immediately after class, the entire group minus the students who were not enrolled in the Tibetan Buddhism class, who were not mandated to go on this field trip, went to the relatively famous Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharmasala, India.   When we got there we saw kids ranging in age from 6 months old to 14 years old.  The person we met took us around the entire village, from a classroom for kindergartners, where we sat with them, took pictures with them and played with them.  We then went to where the very young children lived.  There were these little tibetan refugees running up to us, hugging us, and playing with us.  Again I walked around and snapped a few photos.  We then went to where the older children lived.  Basically each home housed 35-40 kids where an older and younger kid each shared a bed.  The last stop was going up to the temple. Cait was feeling sick so I stayed back with her, and then it started raining so I stayed under cover and waited for the rest of the group to get back.  On the way back, Ben and I get dropped off in town so we could grab some food at the Snowy Lion where Grady was staying.  After we got there, Abira, Haarsh, Grady and his wife, Arrindum, Martine and Michelle all coincidentally came as well.  Apparently this tiny restaurant at the bottom of a small hotel was the place to eat. Ben, Arrindum and I shared some fried mutton momos.  I ordered mutton Thanktuk which is basically mutton, and huge, broad almost wonton style noodles in a broth with spices, chillis and vegetables.  It was very good.  For dessert I had a piece of lemon curd pie, which put me in a food como. It again started to pour and this time I was far away from the hotel with no cover and no umbrella.  A funny side note.  As I was trying to wait out the rain with Arrindum at the entrance to this restaurant, these two old tibetan women started looking at me.  I had just put my money belt underneath my shorts, as I usually do to hide it and quite frankly its the most comfortable, secret place I can hide it.  One of the lady’s standing next to me taking cover as I was from the rain started poking me in my crotch with the metal tip of her umbrella.  Every time she did it, her and the other lady started to laugh.  Arrindum and I were looking at each other saying “what the hell is she doing?”  I will leave what she was doing to your imagination. Eventually Arrindum and I just decided to make a run for it.  We had to be back before 3pm as we were having a guest speaker who works for the tibetan center for human rights  After buying an umbrella for 180 rups, I made it back just in time for class.  We had about 20 minutes of class before the speaker came.  He gave a brief introduction and basically just opened up the floor to questions.  I had several questions and the best part was when the speaker gave him his own opinion about the Dalai Lama and the status in Tibet. 

After the speaker we all waited around for our final exam in our race and gender class.  We got it around 630pm, and I got to work after a few hours of eating, and procrastinating.  We had three hours to complete it from when we read it, I started working on it around 10pm and finished before 1am.  It was a damn hard test!

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June 23rd 2008 – Dharamasala, India

June 26th, 2008

Today was monday and the weekend was over and I woke up feeling like crap. The night before I went to sleep with a feeling in my throat that I could not swallow, this meant that I might be getting sick. So I woke up with this same feeling in my throat, my head and body ached. I rolled out of bed for my first class, which is the tibetan buddhism law and philosophy class. I would have skipped them but I couldn’t afford to miss the notes from it and since I know nothing about this subject, I had to go. After class, I said thats enough and went upstairs and laid in bed missing my final two classes for the day. Neither of the classes would be on those final exams, so I could afford to miss them. I ended up sleeping until about 1pm when Cait came in the room. At this point I took some daytime medicine to help with the sickness. Sarah also came in earlier and force fed me all these herbal and holistic medicinal crap that tasted terrible. Later on I made my way downstairs, looking like crap but regardless Sarah wanted to go in to town and get some food. It didn’t look like it would start raining but as we made our way to lunch it started pouring. Of course I didn’t have a raincoat or umbrella, so now I was sick and getting rained on. We ran in to a restaurant called Ashoka where Sarah, Arrindum and I went to a few days earlier. I got a pot of chai tea and a bowl of banana porridge. It was good, we sat, chatted and then read for class. After a few hours we left and made our made to the internet cafe. We went to my favorite internet cafe, and spent about 2 hours hanging out there. After the internet cafe Sarah said she wanted me to meet this guy who she met at a shop near our hotel who said he would take her up to this place in the Himalayas called Ladak. We went to his shop and then he said he was going home for the night so we walked with him back to his house at the bottom of Mcleod Ganj. On the way I happen to stumble across the bakery that Ben took me too last week. I got some rough muffins and scarfed them down on the way down to John’s apartment. We spent about an hour or more at John’s apartment. He made us special Kasmirie tea that you can’t buy, which we enjoyed and Sarah and I asked him several questions regarding her potential trip. After a while said thanks and goodbye, and by this time it was dark out, and since there were no lights. It was steep up a hill but sarah and I managed and made our way. By the time I got back to the hotel, my daytime cold medicine had worn off and I felt like crap again. I sat with Sarah as she ate dinner and then after dinner did some reading, took two benedryl and tried to get to sleep

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June 22nd, 2008 – Dharamsala, India

June 26th, 2008

I woke up at 130pm after going to bed late…I wanted to get some work done but also wanted to do some exploring so I took a taxi back to bagsu, the place where i got a falafel with ben, arrindum and angela.  I bypassed the shop this time on my way to Bagsu because my objective was to look at the temples of the area and hike up to the waterfall.  I slowly made my way through the area of Bagsu, going in to the two temples, getting the bindi on my head.  After visiting the temples, and snapping photos, I began my hike up the side of the mountain to the waterfall.  I stopped a long the way, due to being tired and because I wanted to snap some photos.  The waterfall was really great.  It spilled down into a creek like river where people swam in when the water pooled up among the rocks. At the top where the waterfall was, I asked this western girl to take my photo and then returned the favor for her and her partner.  After dipping my feet in the freezing cold water, I found a nice slate of rock right next to the waterfall, pulled out my book on the autobiography of the his holiness the dalai lama.  After two cups of chai (indian tea), and a few hours of reading I left the waterfall and made my way back down.  On my way down I encountered several different groups of locals who took my photo with them, I took one with my camera, and I had a nice opportunity to practice my hindi.  I also spoke to some of the locals and tourists visiting at the waterfall just like me, engaged to practice my hindi. On the way down I met a rather large group of kids who asked me several things like usual, I spoke in hindi and they spoke in English which was typical.  They also wanted to take a photo with me.  Once I got back down to the town of Bagsu, the main road, I again had to stop at the falafel stand to get a full falafel and a full pita of nutella and banana with an israeli chocolate version of nutella, it was damn good.  I also read my book across from the stand, ate my falafel and dessert and enjoyed the nice, warm, rainful evening in Bagsu. Eventually it got dark, as it does every day when the sun sets, I didn’t have proper light to read, so I found an autorickshaw back to a part of Mcleod Ganj called “times square.”  This is basically just the main junction of the town where the rickshaws start from and usually drop you off at when you return back to Mcleod Ganj.  I paid the 30 rupees, which is about 75 cents, very cheap. When I got back to the main part of town, I started to wander back towards the hotel, and of course bought a few things, as I usually do when I’m walking around town, don’t worry mom its cheap!  Also on the way back I stopped at a male hair dresser place I asked if they could give me a shave.  I just wanted my neck to be shaven, because the neck beard or the “neard” is really a gross look and I hate it.  The guy said sure, and most importantly told me he was using a new blade and showed me changing the blade.  If he wasn’t willing to change the blade I obviously would have left, for fear of getting any number of dangerous diseases and infections. It was a great shave, he used a straight blade, old school, like from the 1800’s or something and didn’t even use shaving cream.  I asked him if he would use shaving cream and he said “no need,” instead he just rubbed water in to my neck and went at it.  His first attempt at shaving my neck, he didn’t take off enough, I tried to tell him where to make the line, and another gentlemen in the tiny place helped me out to explain to him that I wanted it a little bit below my jawline, the natural cut for a beard. After the second time, he had done a great job, in the end he put on some alcohol based aftershave and when he put it on my face I wanted to scream like McCauley Caulkin in Home Alone 1.  If you remember the scene McCauley tries to shave when his parents are gone and puts on his father’s aftershave and when he slaps it on his face he lets out a very loud scream.  That is what I was feeling, but I sucked it up like a man and said thank you. The shave only cost 20 rupees, or about 50 cents (a little less), I gave him 10 rupee tip to make the entire shave just about 72 cents or a little more.  After my shave I was in much need of my very expensive and precious neutrogena after shave, with bump protection.  When I got back, it was a great day.  Anyone who has read my blog over the past two years, knows that when I am on my own even for a few hours I always have fantastic local experiences, with local natives and fellow travelers, and today is just another example of this. 

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June 21st, 2008 – Amritsar, India

June 23rd, 2008

Amritsar is a holy city in the state of Punjab which is a neighboring state to Himachal Pradesh which is the state that Dharmasala and Shimla are in.  Eight of us including myself loaded up in to two large taxis along with six israeli’s that Rachel met several days ago and we headed off for Amritsar which was about five hours away.  Cait and I got up at five am to get ready, I had packed my bag the night before so I wouldn’t leave anything behind.  I initially packed a very small overnight bag with the intention of staying overnight.  The initial inclination among the group was to sleep at the Golden Temple and leave on sunday morning.

We ended up leaving Dharmasala at approximately 7am an hour later than expected.  Rachel and I accidentally miscounted the number of people going on this trip, we thought we had seven when in reality we had eight.  This meant that Rachel would have to ride the whole with the Israelis and we stuffed seven in to the van.  I sat in the very back with Mandy and Arrindum as we were the ones that got the least bus sick.  I knock on wood never get car sick or bus sick or boat sick.  The only time I get car sick is sitting in the back our my family’s 2006 Grand Cherokee, go figure.

Before I go any farther with my day I want to through some shout outs to people on my blog.  This is a monumental occasion as I rarely do this, if ever. I first want to give a shout out to my cousin Leonard.  A few days ago I got an email, which I just checked today, which was sent to myself as well as my cousin Jonathan and his mother my cousin Lita.  It was a wonderfully written email regarding my travels the past two years, which was summed up so eloquently.  So Leonard thank you, if I ever make my blog into a book that will certainly be in my introduction, to which you will be quoted.

I would next like to give a shout out to my parents, Janet and Joel as well as my sister Jenny (yes we all have J’s for those who don’t know me).  I know my parents read every word of my blog, and Jenny hears the highlights from my parents as she is way too lazy to read anything more than 50 words (you know it’s true).

Next I want to say hi to my cousins down in Florida, Betty, Jay, Bonnie, John, Jessica, Ginny, Mike, Brian and Melissa.   As well as the cousins from Columbia and now Annapolis I guess, Julie, Brian, Susan, Jack and Steven who is in Hawaii.

I doubt any of my friends read this from back home so I’ll hold off on those except to give ones to “everyone I see is Asian, what’s up Kat” and Jessica (this is two years late?).

Of course who can forget Jordan, Toby, Fran, Aaron, Jeff, Melinda and the kids, Bobbi, Uncle Danny, Erin, Rick and Marilyn.  To any of my cousins who reads this that I left off the list I apologize as well to any friends who read this blog as well, hellooooo!

Ok so back to my story:  So we left Dharmasala packed tight in to this van like sardines or a clown car where 12 pop out of the tiny car.  We first stopped after about 2 hours.  The Israeli’s wanted to get some food or drinks.  I personally would have kept going as I hate to stop but I had no say in the matter.  After about an hour delay (the restaurant took forever), I picked up some warm fanta soda and some Lays Magic Masala chips I was content.

Our next stop was a quick urine break and gas break about two hours after that.  At this point we were really close to Amritsar according to our driver.  Our driver’s name was Ringcon, he was awesome, I forgot to get a picture of him and I, shoot!  Before we got to Amritsar we all decided to get food before our day as we would probably have been cranky otherwise (thanks becky!).  The driver took us to a place called “The Brothers,” and apparently was the number one restaurant in the city according to the driver.  What was funny was Becky kept asking him the name and she turns around and goes to me “apparently the name of the place is blabbababalgkaga,” basically indicating she had absolutely no idea what the heck he was saying, I started laughing because it was really cute the way she was trying to say the name of the restaurant.

So Ringcon took us to the restaurant and low and behold on the huge banner it said “The Brothers, #1 in Amritsar,” haha, I guess the driver wasn’t lying.  I ended up splitting a pizza with Cait, I wasn’t in the mood for authentic Indian food at that point.  By the time we left the restaurant and got close to the Golden Temple it was approximately 245PM.  Cars could not get close to the Golden Temple till after 8PM because of the amount of traffic it would cause so we had to walk about 500 meters maybe a little more to the Temple itself.  It was a brutal walk due to how hot it was out.  Man it was as hot and humid as the days in Mumbai if you remember reading about those days, it was hot!  Before I got to the Temple I needed to find something to cover my head, so right near the Temple I found this Sikh man who had a shop which sold Turbins.  I always wanted to buy a turbin and wear one so I did.  Janeen told me, who is Sikh herself that orange was the color of the warriors so I got orange.  The guy who I bought it from wrapped the turbin for me and told me that I was his first Sikh friend, that was nice.  I explained to Janeen and others that I was not trying to mock the religion but embrace it.  The Golden Temple is the most sacred place for Sikh’s.  It is like Mecca for Muslims.

When we got to the Temple we first had to deposit our footwear at the booth, cover our heads and then we were allowed in to the temple.  It was sorching out and my feet were burning.  Luckily there was a huge lake like structure to dip in and to be poured on the marble to keep it cool.  We all took a bunch of pictures and walked around.  It was definitely rushed as we didn’t have that much.  We needed to be back at the Taxi no later than 430PM to drive about 45 minutes to see the changing of the guards at the Pakistan/India border which is supposed to be very cool and famous.  Anyway before we left, we first had to check out staying at the Golden Temple.  Apparently there was a place for foreigners only which was guarded from the rest of the public to stay for free, and one would just give a donation after they left.  The maximum stay was three days according to Lonely Planet.  After walking around and asking people as well as I could in Hindi where this place was, this man from Delhi came up to me and asked what I was looking for.  I told him I was looking for where foreigners stay, and he said I needed to talk to the manager downstairs and that he would talk to him for us.  The old manager took us to a place with some rooms and beds in the main room.  I tried to ask him in Hindi to reserve 5 beds for us, he said he would, but I was extremely skeptical that he had no idea what I was saying and since Arrindum, who is Indian was not with me, the communication was lacking.

After speaking with the manager we all had to walk quickly back to the taxi to ensure we would get to the border crossing on time.  Since Rachel wanted to be with us, we squeezed 8 in to the taxi and headed off to the border crossing.  I had heard through the grapevine that at the crossing there was a special portion of the stadium seating that was reserved for only for foreigners, known as the VIP section, and I was eager to find this section.  When we got to where the taxi dropped us off thousands of people we walking to the stadium where you sit and watch the proceedings, there were also thousands already there, I became nervous that we wouldn’t have a place to sit and would be stuck standing somewhere off in the distance.

At this point I made Arrindum talk to the guards we saw in Hindi as to where this alleged VIP section was located.  One guard pointed us in the direction across the street from where we were already standing, so we went across the street and again Arrindum spoke to the guards and they let us right in.  At that point I was gleaming, I had found the VIP section and hooked everyone up who was with me.  Even though it was so hot, I ignored the heat and anxiously walked to the next check point.  Here we were padded down, bags searched, nothing out of the ordinary for a religious site in India.  When we got to the special seating of the stadium we had a choice of the whole section.  We picked a place about half way up so we were high enough to see everything, but not too far back, just right.  Arrindum then asked me if I wanted to try and run with the flag of India to the border, which was a custom done at this changing of the guards procession.  I said sure so we went down to the crowd, tried to pump them up with the India pride and run with the flag.  We didn’t get to run with the flag but we did get to run to the gate or as close as we could get before the guard stopped us.  Apparently it as getting close to the start of the procession so they told us to go back to our seats.  I was a little bummed about not being able to grab the flag and run, but I took what I could get.

We had to sit in the scorching heat for a while until the procession started.  Before it all started the MC got the crowd going with chants in Hindi, Sanskrit and one more language I’m forgetting.  It was cool and eventually I knew how to say them and Arrindum translated them for us all.

We were so close to the border you could clearly see the Pakistani side and hear their chanting which was similar to ours, but instead of Hindustan (India) they would say (Pakistan).  It was also easy to see that the men and women were separated and were sitting on opposite bleachers.

I was so close to Pakistan I could have run up and spit on it, or touch it but I would have first had to get past the guards with guns and the several feet of no man’s land which separated the two countries.  This “no man’s land” was formed according to international law, similar to the DMZ which separates North and South Korea (which I have been too, and is much scarier).

Once the procession started there was a lot of feet stomping and basically both countries would try to antagonize and show up the other side with how high they could kick their legs up and stamp their feet.  It was really intense.  At two different points the gates opened and the guards were basically toe to toe like a heavy weight battle, and shook hands, but then became extremely aggressive.  They never crossed the line but stayed either on their side or within No Man’s land.  Don’t worry both sides had guards with big guns watching the whole thing.  If they crossed the border it would be a violation of international law and we don’t want that between two countries with nuclear weapons and a quick trigger finger, now do we?

After the procession was over, we were all dying from the heat.  I was sweating profusely and needed water asap.  Becky had instituted a buddy system after we almost left her at the Golden Temple, my buddy was Becky and the person responsible for me was Sarah.  The system worked for the most part, and we needed it as there were thousands of people in the streets trying to get to their, bus or whatever.

Once we got near the taxi we bought some water and tried to get beers, but the vendor I wanted to go to was out of them.  On the way to the border ceremony I promised I would come back so I tried to be loyal.  From the border ceremony we told Ringcon we needed to be taken to a travel agency or someone who could arrange another car for us.  Janeen, Rachel and Mandy wanted to go back.  This kind of screwed the rest of us out of about 400 rupees each as now the second leg would only be split 5 ways instead of 7, what can you do right?

Ringcon told us to sit in the car and let him do the talking as he could get a better price, since if the guy saw white people he would try to rip us off.  Ringcon came back and got a good price, we said goodbye to the others and Ringcon took us to a hotel that was actually the pick in the Lonely planet.  There we had some food, which I didn’t like that much and several well earned Kingfisher draught beers.  When we were done with the beers and food we decided to head back instead of staying at the golden temple.  I was skeptical that our beds were not secured and that we would have no place to stay.  The hotel we were at was offering us a good deal for a rooms, which would set us back 400 rupees, but I was concerned that Arrindum would not feel comfortable that much money.  400 rupees is really not that much (less than 10 dollars), but it is a lot by Indian standard.  Anyway after some discussion among the group, and assurance by Ringcon that he could drive us back we decided to see the Golden Temple at night and head home.  Ringcon also told us about his family and showed us a picture of his wife which was nice.  Apparently he was 28, Nepalese, born in India but parents were from Nepal, he looked about 40 and had a 1.5 year old daughter.  What was shocking was that he only made 3000 rupees a month or about 75 dollars and paid 1000 rupees for rent.  This was a real shock to us considering we were paying the agency that arranged our car 5500 rupees.  This meant that Ringcon saw none of that fee and basically relied on tips.

After seeing the G0lden Temple at night, which was so beautiful considering it was lit by lights all around, Sarah and Arrindum got some Sikh swords (i regret not getting one, I was just too darn tired), we got back in to the taxi, now only five of us, which was much more comfortable and headed back to Dharmasala.

Since there was no traffic, we got back at 415am, paid and thanked Ringcon for a great trip, tipped him extremely well and walked up the steep hill in front of our hotel.  I passed out when I got back to the room, Cait took a quick shower, but I was so tired.  I took a benedryl before we left from Amritsar to try and sleep in the taxi, this meant when I woke up though, I would be so groggy and I was when I got back to the room.

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June 20th, 2008 – Dharmasala, India

June 22nd, 2008

After class today, Sarah, Arrindum and I went to go out for some lunch.  Originally we were with a larger group but after they took much longer than expected we decided to just go on our own, so we did.  We weren’t sure what we wanted, I pesronally didn’t care but Sarah and Arrindum were deciding between each other what to get.  After spending some time walking around we settled on a place called Ashoka.  Apparently Arrindum had heard from someone else that the place was good.  We decided to try it out.  The place offered a lot of different types food.  Sarah and Arrindum wanted to split dishes and share and I hate doing that so I told them that I was not interested in doing that and I just wanted to order my own thing.  Eventually I gave in and we split three dishes, one of which I really could eat.

After waiting about 45 minutes for food, it came, first my pineapple lassi and then the food.  For some reason I guess we all misread the menu but ended up ordered two of the same types of dishes!  Oh well when can never go wrong with schnitzel!  After lunch, Sarah had to go off to meet Becky for a massage, arrindum went back to the hotel and I stopped at a coffee shop to get some reading done.  Even though I was full I felt obligated to get some tea since I would be using their establishment for the next couple of hours.  So I ordered some Assam tea, which is very good tea, which always comes with milk and sugar unless its a special kind of local tea which does not take milk.

I really didn’t want it but again felt obligated so I had a little bit.  I ended up reading for the next few hours.  I had to be back at the hotel before 6pm ready to go because tonight a bunch of us would be going to Shabbat dinner at the Chabad house in Dharmasala, India.  Now I’m sure your asking yourself “why the hell is there a chabad house in Dharmasala, india?”  Well my friends according to reports 3 out of every 4 tourists/travelers here is Israeli!  I have no idea why, I guess since it is cheap, relaxing and full of fellow Israeli’s word has spread and Israeli’s are flooding South East Asia and India like crazy. 

After reading and tea I saw Michelle walking up the hill and we decided to do some walking around/shopping.  I first had to stop at an ATM to get money and ended up seeing a British guy and telling him about the shabbat dinner.  I ended up becoming friendly with him later on, so I think he already knew about this service and dinner and planned on going anyway.

So Michelle and I shopped around, I ended up getting a Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel and Michelle picked up a necklace for her mom or someone.  At around 545PM I got back to the hotel, jumped in the shower quickly and a bunch of us headed off via taxi to an area called Dharmkot.  This was where the Chabad house was and the area seemed chill and was swarming with Israeli’s.  After saying hi to the Rabbi at the Chabad house and individually lighting candles, we decided to explore and come back when it was time to start the services.  I ended up buying a really nice blue cloth bag that goes over the shoulder that I had been searching for since I arrived in Dharmasala and I was happy to find one here.  Before I headed back to Chabad I saw that British guy, Lee and his girlfriend and we began to chat.  They had met a few years ago in Israel when Lee was living there doing Ulpan.  Even after doing Ulpan intensively for 9 months his hebrew was not that good and he seemed to understand a little and speak back a little less.  Anyway, we had a great convo and then walked over to Chabad just in time for services.  Only Sarah ended up coming with me to services, but like any orthodox service she sat with the women and the men sat with the men.

This friday night service was my first in months.  I had gone just about every friday for well over a year but just before the new year I stopped going because I was unhappy with my Temple and wanted to go to a new one.  It is hard to switch especially since I have gone to Beth-el since I was born.  I expect to go to another one in the fall and continue going to friday night services.  I love going because it is a great end to the week, giving one time to reflect and pray.

After services many more people came just in time for the free dinner (of course).  Since the rabbi and mostly everyone was only speaking hebrew, after the blessing over the wine and bread and after we had some soup we decided to leave and go to a restaurant on our own.  At one point, Cait took a picture at dinner when the Rabbi was speaking and I personally felt embarassed, how gauche!

We ended up going to this restaurant with israeli food as well as other types.  I wasn’t that hungry but got a crepe with nutella and banana.  Again it was so good and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

After dinner it was getting late and since some of us were going to Amritsar including myself to see the Golden Temple, which meant wakign up at 5am, we wanted to get back asap and get some sleep.  Unfortunately since it was so late and night and Dharmkot is up on the mountain outside of Mcleod Ganj, getting a rickshaw hope would not happen.  We got one for three of the girls which left Sarah, Rachel and I by ourselves walking!  Luckily Rachel had brought a flashlight and luckily we met this Israeli couple who also had a flashlight to walk with because we basically walked several miles in the pitch black along the side of the mountain.  It was a beautiful night to walk though, probably the best night we had so far in India.  The moon was out and so bright that it lit up the path we were walking on, the temperature was down, and the view of the city below was magnificient.  It ended up taking us a little while to get home, but was worth the walk.

Tomorrow 8 of us would be getting up to leave hopefully by 6am for a 5-6 hour journey to the state of Punjab and the city of Amritsar home of the Holy City and Golden Temple.

Stay tuned for more!

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June 19th

June 22nd, 2008

Thursday, June 19th –

I didn’t mention this yesterday but as I was walking back up the hill at night from wherever I was coming from my knee started to hurt, and hurt a lot.  I wasn’t sure what it was from, but I knew that it wasn’t good.  It seemed as though whenever I walked up hill or down hill, the extra pressure aggrevated a muscle or tendit in my knee.  When I got back up to the room the night before I iced it heavily, took some ib profen and put some tiger balm on it to try and keep the muscles loose so they wouldn’t stiffen up and hurt even more.  I knew I had to keep weight off it which would be hard.  Anyway today I was quite frustrated throughout most of the day.  It is really annoying to sit in class with so many females and so few males and discuss women’s rights issues and other issues affecting women.  This is not to say I’m sexist, but it’s hard to voice your opinion.  If you say something negative they call you a sexist and if you just sit there you have to eat your thoughts, which internally maks you angry.

Too much of our classes has dealt with women’s rights and has not even mentioned any issues dealing with men or gender neutral issues for that matter.  Anyway, my frustration really boiled up after today’s classes in particular based on the issues being discussed and how stupid some of the girl’s responses were.  Any time someone makes a hypo I have to hear girls say “well this hypo is too narrow, is not reflective of our it really is, blah blah blah.”  They take everything as a direct attack and its so annoying.

Anyway immediately after class ben, arrindum, angela, Grady and I decided to go off and try some israeli food in an area of town called Bagsu.  It was a backpacker area that had some cheap, quality food.  Ben said the walk wasn’t that far, but as it turned out it was well over 2 miles and none of us were all that happy.  Fortunately the weather was holding up so the rain wasn’t an issue.  Again it rains most days and is always slightly overcast or fully overcast which is quite depressing but I suppose you get used to it after a month of it straight.  Anyway when we got there the place was basically a food stand.  Grady immediately gave ben crap that there was really no place to formally sit besides a few cushions in front of the shop.  Anyway after we all gave him crap for the length of the walk and the lack of seating we all ordered food.  All of us got a falafel sandwhich and Arrindum got a half and a half of a sabich.  The food took a long time as must do here but the wait was well worth it.  It tasted great and after the sandwhich and glass bottle of fanta I had a half of a nutella with banana on a pita sandwich.  Man those are so good!  

After lunch, Ben, Angela and Arrindum went up to see the waterfall.  Grady and I took a rickshaw back to town.  I wasn’t interested today in seeing the waterfall and alot of work had yet to be done.  When I got to town, I said bye to Grady and walked back towards the hotel.  I was looking for a place to read and relax, instead I got caught up in the internet cafe.  I ended up spending almost two hours updating my blog.  After the internet cafe I decided to head back to the hotel.  Not only had I not done any work, but I really had to go to the bathroom.  Lunch had hit the gut and I was ready to blow.

At the hotel I tried to get to work done but it was tough.  A bunch of us were upstairs chatting away, which I enjoy, but this also meant that not much work would get done.  Anyway after a while Sarah came by asking if I wanted to get some dinner with Grady.  I said sure but I wanted to at least get the framework of my essay down.

I quickly wrote it on my palm pilot and said “lets go.”  Grady took us up some crazy short cut which consisted of a muddy hill that was steep with rocks.  I got my shoes a little muddy and Sarah was certainly not happy about this route.  Apparently this route was faster, so I took his word for it and tried it out.  When we got up to the top, we weren’t sure what we wanted but came across a place called “Jimmy’s” that served Italian food.  We decided to try this place out and it was nice.  Candle lit dining room with a fantastic italian style menu.  I ordered some tomato basil soup which was really nice and some penne with oil, garlic and chilli.  Sarah had brought a bottle of redwine which they said we could crack open, so we did.  We ended up having a really nice dinner which was a nice way to change the day I had been having.  Great conversation about California and other things that I found interesting.   Apparently Grady’s wife comes from a city in California which Sarah really loves so Grady and Sarah chatted about it for a while.  They also taught me about wine country and the different areas of wine country in California which I really wanted to go to.  I think I will try and get to the wine country out on eastern long island first to wet my appettite for any cross country journey to California’s wine country first.

After dinner the three of us headed back to the hotel taking the longer but less muddy way.  When we got back a bunch of us went up to the second floor balcony to hang out which was also fun.  Not every night do people hang out and just chill, most people are usually sleeping early or doing their own thing.  I am still shocked at how little the indian students interact with us, besides arrindum.  At this point them being on the program was a failure.  They barely contribute in class, again the lone exception being arrindum and aren’t that friendly.  I will be informing my professors from back home about this issue and my overall experience on the program, the good and the bad.

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June 18th – Dharmasala, India

June 19th, 2008

Today was our first full day in Dharmasala.  I woke up to a large monkey staring in to my window.  I jumped back a little bit and it was a great way to start my day.  I then had some breakfast with Sarah who happened to be down there after I went on the internet.  After breakfast I went upstairs to get my books and then downstairs to where our mock classroom would be.  As it turned out we didn’t have any chairs so for 3+ hours I sat on a mat on the floor typing on my lap.  That was not fun at all and I was so stiff afterwards.  After class 8 of us walked in the rain to some little cafe Ben had suggested that when he came last year was owned by a Belgium guy.  We said lets try it out and I was glad we did.  We ended up ordering mutton momos (which I had been craving), Mutton Shako which is a ceramic pot of soup with veggies and mutton which was damn good and some belgium fries with this amazing garlic mayo dip.  The meal came to be 110 rupees each but took about 3 hours in total.  2 hours to get the food and an hour to eat and enjoy it.  It took definitely longer than we all thought it would take, but was great nonetheless.

After leaving the restaurant Ben, Angela and I broke away from the others and started to walk around and shop.  It was great to have Angela with us as she speaks perfect hindi and is a great bargainer.  She is a quality bargainer because she knows exactly what the prices should be.  Since I had given all my clothing in to the hotel for laundry, I needed to get some pants and stuff.  I ended up picking up two indian style pants/shorts made out of cotton really loose fitting almost like a Doti.  I also bought ready made full doti, and a tan tie died lungi to go with my white more formal one, and some pastries from a bakery.  Ben and Angela both bought stuff as well.

When we got back to the hotel we all tried to do work but that didn’t happen.  We all sat up on the third floor and just chatted away.  At one point Ben and I danced some Bangra while we tried to get Angela and Addidity to show us how to do it.  Instead Janeen, the Panjabi herself, showed us how to do it.  Eventually I got hungry and ate with angela and others in the hotel.  After that meal I really wasn’t that hungry and just got a tomato and cheese grilled sandwich and a soda.  After dinner I basically just hung out and got to bed at a reasonable hour

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June 17th – Shimla to Dharmasala, India

June 19th, 2008

As already mentioned before Dharmasala is where the Tibetan government is in exile and where the Dalai Lama lives.  Today we got up at 5am, had breakfast and left by 630am.  Now because we got a new hotel in Delhi after everyone complained including the professors and since touro had to eat the money for that night, Professor Artusio said that we were cutting costs on porters and we were carrying our own luggage to the bus.  I was furious as I had sealed up my bag and put my cover on thinking someone else would be taking it down the hills.  As it turns out I was wrong, and I had to carry my huge bag with everything I had bought and two other backpacks.  The walk would be long and treacherous for me down steep hills approximating .6 of one mile, which is long with 100 pounds of stuff on you.  I struggled to get my stuff to the bus stopping frequently.  I didn’t feel anything in my knees at the time but as it would turn out later, I felt the effects of carrying all that stuff in my left knee.  I am hoping it is nothing severe but we will get to that later.

The ride would take almost 12 hours as expected and it would only be about 300 kms.  We stopped several time to pee in the bushes and had this awful boxed lunch also along the side of the road.  For the first few hours Sarah and I chatted to kill time and eventually I said that I needed quiet time to study and listen to my music.  She fell asleep and I read the rest of the time.  I needed to catch up on some of my work as I had been slacking a bit.

We arrived in lower Dharmasala at around 530PM and then took jeeps up to Mcleod Ganj which was about 9 kilometers up the mountain.  Apparently that is the nicer part of the area.  Angela and I were in a jeep to ourselves, I think mainly because of all the luggage we had and how it was the last jeep in the lot.  We took the guy who arranged the jeeps for us along for the ride as well.  We arrived at the hotel which was up a steep hill, an offshoot the main road in town.

When we got to the hotel, Cait was not happy.  The room was very tiny and we already had a crappy room at the last place.  After raising a huge stink about it, going to all the professors about it, we eventually switched rooms with two other people and had a bigger room.  I backed her up on this one as we really did get shafted, and since everyone was paying the same amount why shouldn’t we have a nice room for at least half of the time.  Furthermore, I definitely don’t agree with professors or administrators getting the best rooms in the hotel.  They are paid to be here, and we pay a fortune to be here.  I took out a loan for this program, I mean come on.  I think it is preposterous that professors get fantastic rooms.  Sure they are professors but they get paid for this.

Once we settled in to the room, Cait and I tried to get dinner outside the hotel since it was not covered but that didn’t work out as it began to rain like crazy once we got down to the bottom of the hill of course.  We had some tea at a shop, waited the rain out a little and went back to the hotel and had dinner.  Sarah, Cait and I split a bottle of red vino, and called it a night after dinner

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June 16th, 2008- Last day in Shimla, India

June 19th, 2008

Of course me being me I left everything that I wanted to do in Shimla till the last day which meant that it would be a long day but hopefully exciting. After class Michelle, Ben and I went to the High Court of Himachal Pradesh which is the state Shimla is in and since Shimla is the capital they have their high court within the city. Ben and I were dressed like shlumps, I had no choice as all my stuff was packed away in my bags since we were leaving the next day for Dharmasala. When we got to the High Court, I went to the front desk to ask if we could enter. The lady was extremely friendly and told us that we could and that the Chief Justice’s court was on the 7th floor. She also said that the court is in session from 2-4pm. Since we had gotten there at like 130PM by the time we had spoken to the lady it was closer to 140PM. We decided to just go upstairs and wait for the 2 O’clock hour to roll around. When we approached the elevators we were stopped by a guard who said we could not enter. I told him that the lady two seconds ago had said that we could go up to the courtroom.

This is where the communication barrier came in to effect.  He didn’t understand what we were saying and we didn’t understand what he was saying.  In the end only advocates and judges were permitted to go up in the elevator so we were left with walking up 7 flights to get to the courtroom where the Chief Justice presides.

The three of us made our way up to the 7th floor and wandered around a bit until we saw a familiar face.  It was the guy who came to visit our class when Raj Kumar gave his lecture on the new law school in Delhi.  This guy’s name is Mr. Sharma and he is the registrar general of the high court in Shimla.  Shimla is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, so he is definitely someone important.  He greeted us warmly, well at least Ben and I, and really didn’t even look at Michelle, much to her dismay.  He told us to come find him after we were done watching the court proceedings, and we told him we would.

He along with a guard brought us in to the courtroom through the special side entrance which was for authorized personnel only, that was cool.  The guard brought us two thirds of the way to the back and pointed out seats for us.  We said thanks and immediately noticed that all the rows ahead of us were for advocates only.  At that point we had about fifteen minutes until the judges would enter the courtroom, maybe more since it is India.

Eventually the judges entered the courtroom and we all got up the judges nodded their heads at us and we reciprocated the nod to him with a slight bow of the head.  We watched several different cases with the same defense female advocate.  It was really hard to hear them and coupled with the imperfection of their english, it was really difficult.  We did watch one male advocate get ripped apart by the Chief Justice himself and saw a female advocate really go at it with the Judges in trying to prove her point, that was certainly interesting.

After about a half of an hour I looked at Michelle and we both said “lets get out of here,” I then turned to Ben and told him lets go, so we all got up, nodded at the judge with our heads, with a slight bow of the head and then did the same before we left the courtroom.  I want to note that there were about 7-8 percent female advocate and I really did not like the fact that when you are getting reamed by the judges, that you bow your head and agree.  I’m certainly not bowing my head for anyone, definitely not if I am a lawyer and he is the judge.  We are both doing our jobs and he is not a g-d by any standards.

After we left the courtroom the three of us went to the Registrar General Office where he greeted us again with a firm handshake, not Michelle, again and we sat down and had a nice talk.  He offered us some tea and biscuits and to turn down tea and or biscuits in India is a huge insult so no matter what you accept.  I happened to be in the mood for a little chai (tea).  Mr. Sharma basically gave us the run down on the Indian Judicial system and I asked him several questions like what his impressions were on the success of the Lok Adalat’s.  The Lok Adalat’s are India’s version of Alternative Dispute Resolution.  It doesn’t really work, but he thought that it did work in a few circumstances but still had many loopholes that needed to be tied up as I believe as well.

At one point I asked him how many cases the High Court had per year, and he didn’t know, so he picked up the phone and called someone and I could understand his Hindi, he basically said hello, this is the registrar general calling, how are you, I was wondering how many cases blah blah blah.  So once he got off the phone he told us that they have over 27,000 cases per year.  I exclaimed “wow, thats a lot!”  He questioned if that was really a lot and I said that for a population of 7 million that is quite a few cases per year at the highest court available in the state.

The clock was past 3PM and I was supposed to be at the clothing shop at 230PM so we needed a way out of this meeting.  Eventually Ben pushed the envelope and said we had to go pack and take care of things before we left for Dhamasala before tomorrow and then Michelle and I chimed in with “yea, we gotta go.”

When we left Mr. Sharma gave his salutation goodbye he at that point acknowledged Michelle and shook her hand goodbye.  I could tell Michelle was a bit angry.  She is somewhat of an active feminist so things like this probably drive her nuts.  Sure enough, as we left the courtroom she expressed her sentiments about Mr. Sharma and how she felt about what had happened back at the courtroom.  Personally, and Ben agreed that she might have overreacted a bit.  I definitely thinks he overreacted, not taking in to consideration the different cultures and ways of thought throughout the world.  I mean Orthodox Jewish men don’t touch women who aren’t their daughters or wives is that sexist?  I don’t think so.

After the courtroom I arranged to meet Ben and whoever to go up to the Monkey Temple but told them first I had to get my camera and get up to the shop to try my suit on and to make any of the necessary corrections needed for it.  So I ran back to the hotel, quickly grabbed my camera and hoofed it to the shop.  When I got there I apologized for being late and they told me no problem.  They called the tailor who came with my suit.  I tried it on and basically had to just take in the jacket and pants just a little bit.  No big deal.  Since Cat had a lot of changes that needed to be made he said to come back at 815PM and we would see where the tailor was and it might take longer, I said no problem and told them I would see them later.

From the shop I wandered up to the church and where the beginning of the hike to the monkey temple began.  I definitely had no idea what I was getting myself in to as I had homemade crappy flip flops on which were susceptible to rain and breaking down on me.  I didn’t think it would rain in Shimla that day which was my first mistake as it had rained everyday since we had been there, over two weeks.  But I decided to just suck it up and give it a shot.  At around 345PM it started to rain hard, and I didn’t think Ben would come, so after the rain subsided briefly I started to make my way up the mountain.  After the first few hundred meters I stopped and went to an internet cafe, which for Shimla was surprisingly fast.  Most of the internet places were brutally slow so this was a slight relief.  At that point I really had to go to the bathroom, but had no toliet paper so when the guys at the shop told me where the toliet was and I saw that there was no toliet paper, I refused to use my hand and just clenched my ass cheeks and said i’ll hold it.

From the internet cafe I proceeded up to the monkey temple.  At one point the road was so wet from the days of raining that I took off my sandals and went all naturale.  I had no choice as my sandals could not handle the wet surface and the water.  After about 30 minutes of huffing and puffing and stopping I made it up to the top, and ironically enough I saw Ben.  He asked me what had happened to me, and I told him that I thought he wouldn’t come because of the rain so I just went without him, and apologized for doing so.  Once we got there we walked to the lower temple, took a few photos, admired the crazy monkeys running around, and then proceeded up to THE Monkey Temple.  It was a little scary as there were many monkeys jumping around and staring at us as we were walking up to the temple and plenty when we got to the top.  I am glad I bought a monkey stick, which is basically a piece of wood, like a cane that you use to walk up hills, and is used to scare away monkey and hit them if they try to attack you.

After my monkey incidents of the past in Cambodia and the other day, a monkey stick was an absolute must.  Ben and I stayed around a while snapping photos and just hanging out, unfortunately just before we began to head down the mountain it began to rain, not just little bit of rain but monsoon type rains.  Before we made our journey down the mountain a group of guys that had followed Ben kept following us and talking to us to the point where we had to engage with them.  I generally don’t mind but sometimes these locals can be annoying.

One of the three guys could speak english the other two only hindi or Punjab so we spoke a lot with the english speaker.  These were three guys from Punjab.  I practice my hindi which worked to a certain extent but could only go so far.  I can pick up on context clues but even I know what they are saying its hard to respond sometimes.

They ran with us down the mountain to a place along side of the road where we could get shelter from the rain.  We ended up spending a little over an hour at this hut with a lot of other Indians who were waiting out the rain.  One Indian kid sent me some good Punjabi music through bluetooth to my cell phone as well as a photo as us that he took with his Nokia.  They also taught me how to dance Bangra, which is how you dance to Punjabi music.  It is really fun to do.  At one point we had this inclination to try and get a cab from a place a few hundred feet down the mountain, so I gave Ben all of my stuff and rain barefoot in the pouring rain to this shack and asked in Hindi about cabs, the lady said “no cab, no cab, you can wait here.”  I told her no thanks and then ran all the way back up the hill in the pouring rain barefoot.

I told the guys that we were out of luck and that no cabs were around here.  Then suddenly one guy appeared and said he could get us a cab, but wanted like 400 rupees or something nuts.  We were all like thats absolutely crazy, and were like forget it we’ll walk.  When the rain subsided slightly we took off for the hotel and the bottom of the hill.  We all ran, I did so barefoot for the bottom.  Once we got to the bottom the rain wasn’t that bad, Ben went to the internet cafe that I had gone to on my way up, I walked the rest of the way dancing Bangra style randomly.  It was so funny because every time I did the kids would laugh and go crazy.  At one point they videotaped me doing it, I’m sure that will be on the internet somewhere, sometime.  Anyway, I went one direction, said goodbye to the kids and they went another.  I definitely did not want them knowing where I was staying, for purely safety reasons.

On the way down to my hotel, a little boy came up to me and starting talking.  I thought he was a beggar so I didn’t pay much attention, but then he got real close to me, and asked me if he could take my photo.  Now this has been very common during my time in India, they love taking pictures of White Westerners, guy or girl.  I thought it would just be with him but as it turns out he wanted a photo with his entire family of their 9.  It was hilarious and I got a photo of us all with my camera, but the kid took a blury one, damn image stabilization not working when I needed it too!

I finally got back to the hotel, changed, saw everyone and told them of my experience, and then Professor Subotnik and I engaged in our long awaited championship ping pong battle.  He had been talking a lot of smack about his ping pong abilities so we set up this little match.  2 out of 3 to 21, winner take all, of what, well to be decided later.  He won the first game, as I was warming up, I won the second game after being down 19-15 playing to 21, and 20-19 with him serving, I stayed tough, fought back and won 22-20.  I was pumped up.  Then the third game went status quo as I beat him pretty handily 21-16 or 17, I forget.  I immediately rolled up my shirt and made a muscle with my right bicep and kissed it.  Thank g-d for anonymous grading.

This was a long day, similar to last summer right…well anyway after ping pong, I changed and Cait, Arrindum and I went to the shop to get our suits.  When we arrived on time the owner told us that the tailor needed 30 more minutes, we took down the guys number just in case we had problems and then walked around killing time.  After about 30 minutes or less, we arrived at the tailorshop, low and behold the suits were ready.  I gave the tailor an extra 300 rupees or less than 8 dollars as a tip for rushing our suits and mine look sweet.  From the tailorshop the three of us agreed to go to this place called Footloose, or the only listed form of nightlife in Lonely planet.  This was also the place that Arrindum and I had checked out a few days earlier.  We didn’t go to the disco portion but sat down and had a few drinks.  I had a shot of Whiskey with Cait and arrindum had some mocktail.  I then had the most disgusting Whiskey sour of my life.  I barely drank it.  From there we went back to the hotel, had dinner and reminisced about our day.

After dinner I just hung out with some peoples, and then got to bed.  It would be an early rise as we would be getting up at 5am to get the ball rolling on heading to Dharmasala by bus.

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June 15th

June 16th, 2008

Even G-d rested on the 7th day and so did I.  I had work to do and did some of it, but I managed to get side tracked with packing up my stuff in my final days in Shimla as well as bsing around the hotel and outside.  Most things are closed on sunday but I did manage to find one internet shop open which was nice to check my stuff out.  Again not a very exciting day, but did a few things here and there.

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June 11th, 12th, 13th, 2008 – Shimla, India

June 13th, 2008

This last few days really haven’t been exciting.  What do you expect when you are staying in a small hill station at the foothills of the Himalayas.  So with that said I am skipping to

June 12th –

Today there was a mandatory trip to a Tibetan Monastery about 25 minutes from our Hotel or about 5 kilometers.  We were led by Tensen who runs the Tibetan shop I bought all my goodies from last week.  The purpose was to get acquainted with Buddhism before going to Dharmasala which is like little tibet and where the tibetan government sits in exile.

So when we got there we saw the monks practicing for the big dance that was going to take place the next day.  We walked around the temple, and it was fantastic.  You know, I love Buddhism for the bright colors and presentation.  Every buddhist temple I have been too has been so colorful and has yet to disappoint and this one was no different. 

After touring one temple we went to another part of the monastery to see other parts.  There were younger monks practicing for the big suare in this room as well, and as Tensen boringly explained what some of the buddha’s represented I was snapping away with my camera.

After the monastery and taking numerous pictures of the monks doing a practice rendition of the dance, minus the colorful outfits and presentations, Tensen took us to the carpet factory where they make tibetan carpets using old wooden handlooms.  aaaachuu sweatshop echem.  Nonetheless it didn’t stop me from buying a small little rug for my room or bathroom as well as a handwoven tibetan flay which explains in both tibetan and english the different parts of the tibetan flag.

When we got back to the hotel, Cait and I quickly changed in to more appropriate outfits as Professor Krishnan’s friend would be arriving.  I put on my local attire from head to toe and was looking sharp.  When we got in to the lounge area of the hotel we introduced ourselves to Raj and started chatting.  After a few minutes Professor Krishnan asked us if we wanted something to drink.  Now I didn’t want to drink because Cait and I had our International Law presentation the next day and wanted to do some preparation.  I looked at Cait she said “i’m getting a beer” so envitably this meant I was getting a beer myself, and then the night began.  Cait, I, Professor Krishnan and Raj sat in the lounge area from roughly 5pm till we all went to dinner which was roughly 9pm.  Throughout the time in the lounge, many drinks were consumed by all and by the end of our time in the lounge just about the whole group had visited and was in the lounge chatting it up and having a good time.  This was the first time during the whole trip everyone was being social, hanging out and having a good time!  It was a great night had by all.

June 13th –

Today I woke up early as Cait got up early to prepare for the presentation.  I was like screw it, I prepare after I wake up and take a shower.  I was real tired after a long but extremely fun night.  I eventually got up, took a shower and started to put together my portion of the presentation. 

During my first class I couldn’t really prepare as Raj was giving his presentation about the new Global Law School he was starting with the help of 100 million dollars from steel Mogul O.P. Jindal.  Don’t feel bad for Mr. Jindal, he has over 10 billion dollars, and yes he only donated 1% of his total wealth, that’s like me throwing you five bucks!

Anyway I was able to put together a successful presentation which Cait and I did a fantastic job according to Professor Blumenson.  Apparently at lunch he was raving to Cait about it, and we felt awesome as we hadn’t really put that much time in, and nonetheless it totally rocked!

So after our last class I had to start to put together and write my final exam for one of my one credit classes which ended today.  It took me only a few hours to prepare and seventy minutes to write (within the prescribed time allotted of course).  So I am extremely happy to be done with that class, yet said as Jay Krishnan is probably one of the best professors I have ever had.  You know you get that one great professor it seems once throughout each level of education and right now Jay Krishnan is fighting with Eileen Kaufman for top honors in my law school career.

So here I am like most days, typing away from Cyberia, the same slow ass internet cafe I go to virtually everyday.  I like the guy so I keep coming back even though there are other places which has substantially faster internet connections.

Tonight I think most people are going to celebrate the culmination of one class and the freedom of the weekend.  Unfortunately it won’t be all fun and games this weekend as our last class begins monday or wednesday and there is a lot of reading to do!

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June 10th, 2008 – Shimla, India

June 11th, 2008

Today there was a mandatory trip to the University Law School in the state we are staying in India.  Basically from what we were told some professors were going to speak briefly on a topic of Indian law that we would find interesting.  I was highly skeptical of going in the first place, but it was mandatory and I no choice.  When we got there we were greeted, we took our seats and this lady Trishe addressed us.  She presented the professors, we introduced ours and the professors began to lecture.  The first professor lectured on basic intellectual property rights and really did not say much and it was really a huge waste of time.  He was also incredibly hard to understand and quite boring.

Then based on some of the questions from us another professor chimed in for another ten minutes again on the boring introductory topic of intellectual property rights and patent law in India.  The next speakers including our professor were a little better but the topics were nontestamentary dispositions in India, Rights of Succession and Inheritance in America and the Death Penalty in India to which we could not really understand the guy speaker.

The last speaker was by far the most controversial of the day and I found quite insulting.  He basically said that his goal as a professor was to be provocative and spurn provocation among his students and he was trying to do it today.  To cut the whole, long, drawn out, propaganda bullshit short he basically stood up in front of us and bashed capitalism, and I thought the American way of life.  He inferred that all American Law Students are highly unprofessional, which he based that on one occurrence he had with some law student in Chicago (which I actually don’t believe) and tried to convince us that Communism and Socialsim was the way to go these days.  He did not provide one iota of empirical evidence, case law, studies nothing.  It was awful to listen to and at one point one of the professors stood up and said “your delusional” communism and socialism is wonderful on paper and it does not work.  Then other students tried to get at the professor and he basically just pushed us all away and continued with his marxist bullshit.  It was terrible to listen too and I was getting all fired up.

But, it got worse.  The last speaker was Trishe.  This lady for the past thirteen years has basically been our contact and host in Shimla during the Touro Law Program so what happened next came to as a shock to us all.  She started off by saying that over the past thirteen years it has been wonderful to have students come from America blah blah but every year it seems as the students have come with an increasing amount of baggage and preconceived notions.  She then went on to say that India has surpassed America as a Superpower and is a new superpower of the world and that soon the rest of the superpowers and the world will have to answer to India.  She then went on to say that America is extremely discriminatory to women, in that how have not elected a female President when India elected one extremely early on in their history (who was shot and killed by her body guards after she committed a form of genocide at a muslim place of worship in India), but nonetheless.  She continued on and on bashing us personally and America, and eventually I shouted out “this isn’t a method to provoke us you are just bashing us and our country!”  I was so heated that I eventually got up and left during her speech because what she was blurting was probably the most offensive things I have ever personally been witness too.  It is one thing to have a debate about issues of countries, but when you are unwilling to provide statistical data to any of your comments, and refuse to recognize the problems of you country and rebut our questions with exemplifying our problems is terrible.  One american student was in tears, another two students left after me.

Even though there was a form of a debate which from what I heard was just us trying to defend our country and us as people and them not willing to answer any of our questions, I could not stay there any longer.  I think that we should never associate with this lady Trishe again.  She is condescending, ignorant, hurtful and quite frankly a piece of shit.  I personally never want to speak to her again or her smirkly, smiling fat face.

On the way back and at dinner everyone was talking about what had happened.  Most people recognized what had happened as being awful but some had opinions as to the real meaning and some of the Indian-American students even tried to defend this lady and the socialist psycho.

Anyway that experience was horrible, the professors were embarassed, the indian students who are studying with us were embarassed for us and themselves for being subject to this type of bashing.

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June 9th, 2008 – Shimla, India

June 11th, 2008

Today was just like any other monday, back to school and back to work.  This will certainly be my shortest post probably of my trip since nothing really happened worth noting.  I bummed around, did work and went to bed. 

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June 8th, 2008 – Shimla, India

June 9th, 2008

So the rafting trip was rescheduled for today and the weather appeared to be cooperating with us so far.  I got up at around 715pm, got ready for the rafting, packed the necessities and went down for some breakfast.  We were supposed to leave by 8am, but everyone was late including the tour company who arranged the jeeps for us to take.

Once we were all situated and ready to go, we headed down the ridge to where cars are allowed and typically the meeting spot for our jeep pickup spot.  We piled in to two jeeps and space was tight.  Two of us had to sit in the way back of the jeep facing sideways, that would not be I.

The ride would take approximately 2 hours or more, it took forever since we had to get all the way down the mountain and to where the river was located.  Also as I have said before roads are extremely narrow and hard to navigate.  Often a supposed two lane road looks like a one lane road so space is tight and what makes it even worse is that often there is not a protective barrier to guard cars from getting knocked off the road.  Also I should add that probably 85% of all curves and bends are complete blind curves so the drivers honk excessively to make sure the oncoming drivers are aware that you are coming around the bend.

One of the girls on the trip Heidi, who is from the University of Denver was scared shitless the whole time and was severely anxious.  At one point we got really close to hitting a huge trunk she started screaming a little bit and the driver clearly was upset because he turned around and gave her a death look like if you scream again I’m throwing you out of the jeep.  When driver is this intense, drivers need quiet not screaming.  This reminded me of all the times Dad would be driving and mom would say “oh my g-d!” which would make Dad flinch and she would be listening to her radio or would be reading something, haha.

When we got real close to the river the only way down was on this pure dirt road.  It was real intense and luckily we were in a jeep that could handle the bumpiness and off road terrain that this road was.  We eventually got to the bottom, unloaded the stuff, I loaded up my bag, made sure my waterproof bags were sealed, and left my camera on the jeep.  I was not going to risk something happening with the rafting guide’s waterproof bag and mine was not big enough to fit my camera and other necessities I wanted to take along with me.

I went shirtless since I didn’t need to have another shirt wet and smelling of mildue.  I got my helmet, my life jacket and my paddle and made my way down to the river, after a few photos was snapped of my hot looking self.  Once we got down to the river, the guide gave us some safety instructions.  Many people had not previously gone white water rafting and while I am no expert I have been several times dating back to sleep away camp down the Delaware, which could be the most calm river in the world.  Next we loaded up the rafts, I was in the front since I was a “strong looking paddler.”  The strongest paddlers are typically in the front when the raft is controlled by oars.  If the boat is not controlled by oars the strongest paddler is in the way back to help steer the boat and propel it when need be.

It was disappointing that the trip only took 50 minutes.  I didn’t care how tame it was because I just enjoy being out on the boat rafting, but 50 minutes blew.  After the rafting we got dried off, took some photos, I got some really nice stones from the edge of the river and headed up for lunch.  I also want to mention that we had some pretty nice rapids but nothing major and it was fun to paddle through them and I was really paddling hard, great workout.

The boxed lunch we got from the tour company was absolutely awful, a hardboiled egg, a disgusting sandwich on white bread, a nasty warm juice and awful fries.  Needless to say the others were not pleased either and I had to get a cold fanta softdrink, glass bottle of couse, and a bag of chips that I wouldn’t eat till I got back to my room at the hotel.

After lunch the group had to decide who wanted to continue to hike to the Shiva Temple and who wanted to go back.  Of course the majority of the Indian students wanted to go back, why would they want some extra social interaction with the rest of the non-indian students?  They never do and that has been quite disappointing, but I’ll leave that rant for another post.  So along with myself, five others including professor subotnik wanted to hike to the Shiva Temple which was about 10 kilometers in the wrong direction.  Since 7 of us wanted to go, this meant three people would have to squoosh in to the back of the jeep and so the others needless to say really screwed us on that one.  After some negotiation with the driver who wanted more money we agreed to pay the driver 400 extra rupees (a little less than 10 dollars) for the extra ride.  I personally thought it was included but I guess not.  When I first asked the driver about the Shiva Temple he pretended not to know where it was, I guess money talks and helps remember.  So we all piled in to the jeep to head off to the Shiva Temple.
When we got there it said 700 meters to the temple.  Apparently it was a difficult hike according to one of the professors, it turned out to be quite easy.  It was up and down mountains, but nothing crazy and I was able to pick up a walking/monkey stick and make my way out to the temple cave.  Once we got to the temple cave high up on the banks of the river, we were greeted by some guy who gave us this red dye bindi between our eyes and we proceeded in to the temple cave.  The temple cave was quite small but powerful.  Arrindum explained to us that Shiva was the goddess of destruction, which made sense considering a lot of the stones were covered in red and some had pitchforks next to them pointing up.  After absorbing the culture of the Shiva Temple Cave, I gave the religious dude an offering from us all, some others gave a little, snapped some photos and we hiked back down to the jeep.

The ride back was tiring and I had to sit in the middle since both girls on my sides needed the window to help mitigate their degree of being car sick.  I had no problem with it, I don’t tend to turn down cosy seats between two lovely ladies 🙂  On this ride home I fell asleep briefly, chatted a little with a girl on my trip who I hadn’t really talked much with and we got back around 530PM.  Dinner wasn’t till 8PM so I decided to relax, Cait took a shower, then I did, and then I did a little reading and walked around the hotel chatting with random students in the program I could find.  I had class tomorrow so I wanted an early night and got it as I went to bed probably around 1130PM.  It was a real long day, great day, I got some sun and some burn, but overall the tan is looking nice.

Josh

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June 7th, 2008 – Shimla, India

June 9th, 2008

I awoke at 7am and started to get ready for whitewater rafting or at least I thought.  From the bathroom I hear the phone ring and Cait get up to answer it.  30 seconds later she informs me through a shout that rafting was cancelled due to bad weather.  I was pissed since I had gotten up real early in anticipation of an 8am departure for the rafting and hiking trip.  Cait was lucky to be able to fall back asleep but I had already had my morning bathroom engagement and was awake.  I decided to put on a movie from my little movie player and try and enjoy the Saturday morning.

Today really wasn’t all that exciting as I basically bummed around for most of the day until 2pm when Cait and I went to the internet cafe, from there I went to a local restaurant to do some reading which I accomplished.  In the evening I just vegged out and took it easy.  This was my first weekend with school and I wanted it to be enjoyable, also the rain and bad weather didn’t make the decision that hard either.

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June 6th, 2008 – Shimla, India

June 7th, 2008

At 2:30PM today I have arranged to meet my local friends.  They arranged a car to take me and whoever I bring to a city near Shimla called Kurfi.  Apparently they had some nice scenic spots to hang out and whatnot.  So after class I spent some time trying to recruit people to come with me.  We had room for 8 so I had to get at least two more people to come with me.  I asked Sarah but she said she wanted to head up to the Monkey Temple.  I then asked Caitlin who said she would come if I could find another girl to go with her.  Finally after asking quite a few I asked Pooja who the night before said she was interested in coming with.  She was a little nervous to meet this guys, but Cait reassured her that they were cool and not going to take us in to the woods chop us up and bury us.

 

After my stint at the internet café, which has become a daily activity after classes, I realized I didn’t have my cell phone on me, so I hustled back to the hotel to get it and then Cait, Pooja and I walked to the elevator that would take us down to the lower area of Shimla where cars are allowed.  This was the same road that I walked down to and walked up to the hotel from several days earlier.  We met the guys down at the bottom and loaded up the big jeep.  Apparently I thought that Kurfi was 5 kilometers away but as it turned out it was about 17 km away which would take about an hour, since it is one lane roads, moving slow up and around the mountains, which are the Himalayas.

 

We stopped to pick up some water, soft drinks and whiskey.  These guys love their whiskey and it is local so it is cheap and not bad.  After a while in the car we stopped at a place passed the touristy part of Kurfi.  We hiked up the mountain through an old rusty gate, and found a nice place to sit and chill out.  We filled our glasses, I used my portable 3 oz cup that I schlepped with me on my travels and it was cool to use it.  For the next two hours of so we just chit chatted took some photos, played some music and chilled out.  It was an awesome time, but eventually we all got really hungry and we were out of whiskey, oh no!  We got back in to the jeep and told the driver that we wanted to get some snacks and more whiskey!  He stopped on the way to another place close to Shimla called Helipad.  It was just another really nice scenic spot where we could snap some photos and chill out in the woods to drink a little more whiskey.  I got some calls from Mom, Dad, and Jenny separately on skype which was nice and I called my friend Setton to check up on the big guy.

 

Eventually the driver of the jeep was getting antsy and wanted to take us back to Shimla, which was no problem.  He dropped us off at the bottom of the ridge which meant we had to walk all the way up.  Now when I say this walked was long and steep just remember I took an elevator to get down that I had to pay for!  It was a long and awful walk, but I knew once I got to the top I could get my long awaited Dominos!  How I had craved pizza since I left New York and what better pizza to get in India then hot, steamy and awesome pizza that is Dominos.  I find it absolutely hilarious that in all places to have Dominos, a hilltop station that is Shimla, India would have one! 

 

Once Cait got the top we ordered two large pies with extra cheese and garlic cheesy bread.  It was awesome and we took one pie back to the hotel, put on Superbad a very funny and relatively new comedy and went to sleep.  The perfect end to another classic “Josh day” traveling.

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June 5th – Shimla, India

June 6th, 2008

Today would be a special day in that the group would be visiting a girl’s ashram.  An ashram is like an orphange where caretakers provide for girls.  This particular one had 46 girls ranging from 2-3 all the way up to 13.  After 13 they are placed in homes, hopefully or in other types of half way houses.  Now before we came to India, the program director told us to bring some stuff for the girls of this Ashram, so when I was in Mumbai I bought 30 cute hair clips for the girls, which I thought was nice and a sufficient gift for them.  So after lunch at around 230PM we all started to fill the bags like a ford motor company old school conveyor belt.  Each person had their own job and mine was to distribute my gifts and fill bags.

At around 4PM all of us got in to jeeps and smaller cars and started our journey to the Ashram.  Now I wasn’t aware but the ride was approximately 21 kilometers away which doesn’t seem that far (about 12 miles I think), but since you drive slow along the mountain, winding left and right, it took 1.5 hours to get there.  Once we arrived we were warmly greeted by the girls, the indian students made themselves useful to introduce us as a group and we started to hand out the presents.  The look on the girls faces was worth every penny and the 1.5 hour journey to the Ashram.  Every single girls absolutely loved their bag of goodies.  We spent the remaining time taking pictures with the girls, playing with them with the toys we had just given them and then we exchanged dances and songs.  We decided to show them the Hokey Pokey and the second time the girls joined us.  Many of them could follow along while I helped a 3 year old girl do it, it was really cute to see.

After that the oldest girl in the Ashram sang a beautiful song with I recorded, did a Bollywood dance from a famous movie, along with songs and then another group did a little dance, all of which I videotaped.  After that we started to say our goodbyes which was emotional for some of the girls in the touro program.  They felt a connection to these girls and it was hard to say goodbye.

The way home definitely felt like it took a lot shorter, maybe only 45 minutes, as we didn’t really stop much and the cars infront of us were going a lot faster.  Once I got back,  I went to dinner, tried to do some reading, but just ended up hanging out with people around the hotel.

Tomorrow, weather permitting I am supposed to hang out with those four local boys again who are supposed to take me to another hill station for some food, drink and good time, that is what I’m talking about!

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June 4th – Shimla, India

June 6th, 2008

Today it rained virtually the whole day.  Since I had a lot of reading to do, I had to get to work after class, put some time in and hope it cleared up.  After lunch I headed off to the internet cafe and even before I got to the coffee shop to study I had several bags of goodies with me.  I first stopped at the local refugee tibetean shop.  There I bought some shirts supporting the freedom of tibet from china, a tibetean flag and a cool silver ring that has a rotating ring in the center.

After that shop I went to a shoe store after the internet cafe, and picked up two pair of Batas which is a local shoe company that makes really cool leather sandals.  I also managed to get another bracelet to go on my ankle.  I decided to take the others off as they really weren’t that comfortable.  After studying on the way back from the coffee shop I managed to buy two local shirts that go with pajama pants.  It is a type of indian men’s wear, really loose and comfortable that I will probably wear in Abu Dhabi, when it is like 125 degrees in that desert.

After all that shopping I went back to the hotel, showed Sarah what I had bought, ate dinner and stayed up late doing my reading.  I have not fell behind yet and have pretty much done my work throughout the first week of class.  Oh I also played some really intense ping pong with one of my professors, an indian student arrindum who plays with me quite often and a girl named Angela who is an american student part of the program.  Then we had dinner, and a pre dinner drink and then I got down to studying.

Not a very exciting day, but this was basically the first day I did any type of substantial shopping and Mom it felt great!

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June 3rd Shimla, India

June 6th, 2008

Today it rained as usual, same time as it does every day.  After doing some work I decided I needed a Josh day of wondering around and hopefully having some good local experiences.  I decided to venture off the beaten path of the main Shimla Mall.  The Shimla Mall is where most of the people walk along and eat, drink and shop.  For most of the time I was just wondering down random alley ways throughout the lower bazaar mainly perusing and not really buying much of anything.  I have bought several little things but nothing major.  Anyway it was really cool to see where the real locals venture off too and not just the indian and foreign tourists hang out.  Anyway eventually I found myself pretty far down the mountain which Shimla is built upon, really not knowing where I wanted to go next.  I had of course been snapping photos along the way, as I have definitely been neglecting the picture taking.  It is hard living in a place for two weeks, you begin to settle in, and really try to immerse yourself in the culture and way of life that is Shimla, India.

As I walking down the road back towards my hotel but on the lower ridge pretty far down, I noticed a kid with a charcoal pit and corn.  Now I had seen this a lot throughout India so far, but I was a little hungry and feeling adventerous so I decided to get one corn.  The kid told me it would be two minutes and I said no problem.  Basically he had to wave like a fan type contraption back and forth, back and forth until the corn cooked.  The air would help the coal stay hot and cook the corn eventually.  He then put lime and salt on the corn and it was damn good!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

As I was strolling along eating my corn these kids from the rooftop of a building started too look at me.  Now even though Shimla is a tourist hill top station, it is mainly for Indian tourists, not so much for western tourists.  I think I caught their eye because I was snapping photos of the sun setting and the misty air surrounding the mountains and neighboring parts of Shimla and other cities in the distance.  I said hello to them in Hindi and asked them how they were doing.  Immediately they were interested in the fact that I could speak a little conversational Hindi, more than they certainly expected I could.

They eventually came up to the road and introduced themselves.  We chatted for about 20 minutes just shooting the shit, and then one of them asked me what I was doing later.  Now of course I was skeptical but I feel that during my traveling experiences I have a good judge of character of locals and who is trying to scam me and what not.  It is important to know that I started to engage them, they didn’t approach me.  Anyway I said I wasn’t doing that much and they said  I should come out with them all.  I happily agreed just dying to have some local experience and not the force fed crap through the school program. 

We agreed to meet at 9pm sharp at this landmark near my hotel.  After saying goodbye I snapped a few photos and began my journey back to the hotel.  Along the way I met an Irish girl who had just come from teaching english in Korea and was traveling through India for 6 months or until the money ran out.  She bought me a cookie after I helped her not get ripped off from a local vendor, of course I spoke in Hindi.  We chatted for about 20 minutes until I got up to the top of the hill, we parted ways and I went back to the hotel.

Once I got back to the hotel, it was time to try and recruit people to come out with me.  This would be hard as many of us are skeptical and there really wasn’t that much time to get ready.  I managed to get Cait and Sarah to come with me.  We met my friends at the place at 9pm sharp.  They were waiting for us which was nice, and at this point the girls were a little skeptical about hanging out with locals.  It is so annoying that some of the staff on the trip has been so conservative abou t meeting locals and having a local experience, I am certainly cautious myself, but reasonable and open-minded at the same time.

Now to test if they were going to kill me or not, I asked one of them “hey are you going to kill us?”  He and the others started laughing and they kept reassuring us they came from reputable families in Shimla and even pointed out the police station when we passed it.  The guys took us to a local near the top of the ridge, near this old church at the top of the mountain.  Apparently since it was a very local bar, and we had girls with us, that we had to sit in the back of the  bar which was really interesting and a very obvious cultural difference between the USA and India.  Throughout our two hours at the bar or so, we had several drinks, chatted, got to know one another, made some cheers with our glasses and laughed.

Tonight was probably my first real typical “Josh night” traveling and it has been something I had been lacking, a feel of emptiness not experiencing the local culture.  If anyone read my blog last summer I had days filled with days just like this.  I hope I have many more on the rest of my journey around the world.

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June 2nd continued – Shimla, India

June 3rd, 2008

After leaving the internet cafe Sarah and I headed to my secret coffee shop all the way up the mountain in Shimla.  This is where I will do the majority of my studying I think.  It appears many of the students are studying at the hotel so this should be perfect.  It’s hard when the classes count for me and two others and nobody else.  People constantly are asking why I’m taking this so seriously, well I took out a 7000 dollar loan for the program plus the flight etc and the grades count, which can effect my ranking and placement post graduation, which I explain to them all the time.

Anyway I got a nice lemon ice tea with ICE!  Oh how I have missed ice in my drink.  We spent about two hours reading, and then headed back to the hotel.  Once I got back to the hotel, Arrindum one of the indian students and I decided to play some table tennis ping pong.  We had an intense first game but it was great to play some ping pong, because I love ping pong.  Ater I beat him one of the professors of the program who insists I call him Jay wanted to get winners.  I asked him before we started playing if he would be grading anonymously to which he chuckled and said no, but we are playing anyway. I said fine, well this day I only lost one game to arrindum, because I started to play down in my ability and destroyed the professor both games we played to the point where he doesn’t want to play with us again!

Oh well, I hope he still grades me well.  Anyway after ping pong I needed to shower, I was dripping with sweat and felt gross.  I also picked up some shaving cream on the way back from the coffee shop so I could now shave my neck for the first time in weeks, and it felt great!  The beard is looking very nice.

After showering, Cait and I headed down to the lounge area to have some pre-dinner drinks.  We originally planned to head out afterwards to find a bar but that didn’t end up happening.  Dinner was good this night, and Sarah and I ended up heading out, but didnt get to a bar and just hung out after we got back for a little bit.

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June 2nd – Shimla, India

June 3rd, 2008

Today was the first day of classes.  I got up at 7am so I could shower up, get some food and get ready to do work, be on the ball.  I did all of that and then got my palm and books and went to our makeshift classroom.  There weren’t any tables so I propped up two of my big coursebooks on my lap and slapped my palm with the small keyboard on it.  This is how I would take notes for the next three weeks.  It seemed to work fine and the classes went pretty well.  It was tough to sit for 3.5 hours with small breaks in between but all in all they went alright.  I got in to some debate with student about various issues some of which I have never thought about and never formulated an opinion with.

Right now it is raining out and I am about to head to a coffee shop and get my work done for tomorrow or maybe the day after depending on how much I get through.  Some of the reading is quite thick and dense and takes time to get through.

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June 1st – Shimla, India Continued

June 3rd, 2008

The reception with the governor was a tad boring as I really couldn’t understand him that well but the guys standing at the entrance way to the reception hall made the point for him.  It last about two hours and aftewards I got some dinner and finished up some last minute work I needed to get done before our first day of classes.  Instead of working of course I decided to chat with people and avoid doing work at all costs.  At one point I went outside where it was dark but the street was lighted just to read in a different environment.  It will be crucial for me to find a solid study location because otherwise I will have a real tough time getting my work done, especially in a place like Shimla where I could spend hours walking around and exploring.

At around 930PM I was outside reading when one of my professors saw me outside and asked if I wanted to take a walk.  I said sure so we went walking all the way up to the upper mall area of Shimla and had some nice conversation.  On the way back I bought three bracelets, one of which went on my ankle, so like last summer and most places I go my chatchka collection is slowly starting to increase and I very excited.  I really haven’t spent that much money so far in India and I know that a lot of great excurisions will be offered in Africa and I certainly want to have the cash flow available to do the things I want without being financially constrained.

Once I returned from our walk I went to my room and packed it in for the night. 

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June 1st 2008 – Shimla, India

June 3rd, 2008

Today was my day to sleep a little bit, or as much as I could as I did NOT have to get up at 5am or anything crazy, it was a day to move at your our leisure which is very nice.  Today I woke up at 830am which was late considering how early I had previously been getting up.  I had a nice casual breakfast which was prepared lovely and then took a walk with Sarah, one of my friends in the group.  Initially we were looking for a place to study outside of the hotel and away from the other students, but after walking for about 10 minutes we really didn’t find much. so we turned back and decided to just start reading in the hotel.  So now it is 203PM and I am about to grab some lunch and get dressed for our 330pm meeting.  We are having the pleasure of meeting the governor of the Indian state which we are in which includes him giving us a speech and having a nice reception.  So for now goodbye and speak to you all tomorrow.

 

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May 31st Delhi – Shimla

June 3rd, 2008

Today was our 13 hour bus ride to Shimla, which included bathroom stops, lunch stop and a late snack/bathroom stop.  The bus would be long and since I had forgotten my cell phone under the bus which had my only source of music for the trip and my MP3 player plug at home I was at the mercy of who was awake and able to chat.  I chatted with many people throughout the trip and we left at 6am and arrived at shimla at around 715pm!  It was a hell of a long bus ride.  At one point we were stopped at the entrance way to the highway which leads up to the mountains, and basically they made us wait an hour until we provided them with enough paperwork and bribe money, which was complete bullshit.  See Shimla is one of the most famous british hill stations.  It is at a pretty high elevation, maybe over 10000 feet and now basically indians retreat up here to get away from the blistering sun and heat of the cities to the south and east.  When we arrived we had to gather our stuff off the bus as we would be bidding it adieu and then traveled only several kilometers by jeep which were narrow enough to make it to the stairs near our hotel.  Since Shimla is located on a mountain it is extremely hilly and have many steep roads.  With that said we had to climb up stairs with all our crap to our hotel where we were going to spending the next two weeks.  Classes would begin in two days so it was quickly back to work.  I was very much not looking forward to getting back to reading and doing work as I have only finished my finals a few weeks ago.  Still waiting on two grades by the way.  Anyway the hotel we are staying is at is quite nice, but many others got rooms significantly bigger than mine, and my roommate and I were not happy about the room we were given, but I told her we just had to eat it and move on.  I mean we are all paying the same amount and some people have rooms which are probably a lot more money than ours, so I could definitely understand her point in that respect.  The rest of the night, I basically got some dinner which is provided for us in a buffet style as are all meals while in Shimla, had a drink with some classmates and called it a night.  Tomorrow was sunday and this was the day to do work and get my shit straight. 

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May 30th – Agra to Delhi

June 3rd, 2008

 

Today we woke up at 445am and started what would be a long journey to delhi.  The bus was a long ride and we arrived in Delhi after stopping several times for the food and bathroom at around 1145 am.  I decided to update my blog on my palm pilot and chill out.  Others went off exploring delhi but I wasn’t really keen on it.  But today would also be exciting as we would have a chance to tour parliment and have a meeting with government officials.  We arrived at the hotel in Delhi and had time to change and relax.  We had to be down at 1245pm so we would have enough time to get to parliament.  Since traffic is horrific in Delhi you always have to leave extra time.

 

I initially thought the experience would be terribly boring, but I would be pleasantly surprised as to how it went.  When we arrived we were brought in to an international conference room with microphones and headsets for different languages.  The secretary who is like an administrator to the parliament, not a member of parliament himself introduced himself and each person sitting on the opposite side of the table introduced themselves as well.  There were many people in the room, as well as an official photographer to capture this event.  After introducing themselves, we introduced ourselves, professor artusio said a nice greeting and then the secretary began to speak.  He introduced the system of government in India which was quite interesting and some of the issues and guidelines and how the system basically works.  After that we had a chance to ask questions.  I tried to ask a question but I got a little nervous and thrown off by another student who by pure coincidence had asked my exact question moments earlier.  Anyway I got a nice response to the question and my mess up was quickly forgotten.

 

After the question and answer reception we had a really nice reception with coffee, tea and some pastries and food.  I had the opportunity to speak with one of the members at the meeting for about 20 minutes and it was really interesting to discuss the issues of India, and how we have some issues comparatively in America and some staunch differences.  For example in terms of election procedures, India votes electronically.  Its amazing considering america with 1/3 the population votes the old fashioned way.  This guy assured me that their system has not had problems with fraud and is extremely efficient and easy to use.  I expressed my concern as to why the USA has not adopted a similar election procedure especially after the mess with bush v. gore in 2000 (thats you uncle jay and aunt betty!)

 

After the reception we were given a tour of the houses of parliament and actually had an opportunity to vote like the members would do on a bill up for vote.  It was really exciting and interesting and I’m glad I had this really special opportunity.  Unlike America, Indian Parliament is NOT open to the public, and security is tight after there was an attempted bombing on the gates of the Parliament last year.  Once we left Parliament we briefly stopped at the famous India Gate, I snapped a few photos and we headed back to the hotel.

 

At around 530PM I arrived back at the Jukaso Inn, threw my stuff down and decided to chill out and update my blog on my palm.  At around 730pm several of us including one of the female indian students ventured off to an area of Delhi called CP to look for some good cheap local food.  We ended up packing 5 of us in to a rickshaw which was tight and there were people on laps.  We ended up going to a very lovely and relatively inexpensive chinese restaurant.  The food I ordered was so spicy I had instant heart burn and could only eat about half my meal.  The hot and sour soup was also soooo good, I really love Indian chinese food, much better than China.

 

After dinner we haggled for a rickshaw home and I went to bed after updating my blog a little bit and hanging out with some people in the group.  I wanted to get some sleep as we would again have to wait up before 5am for the third day in a row, this was really getting ridiculous!

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May 29th 2008 – Agra, India

June 2nd, 2008

Today was a day that was long awaited in my life.  I have always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.  It seemed so grand in the pictures and for many years I thought it was made of all these bright colors and what not.  Sorry to burst all your bubbles but the Taj Mahal is made out of white marble with colored small designs carved in.  It is completely symmetrical including the buildings on the sides of it.  It was a beautiful site and I just snapped so many incredible photos that I hope they come out.  The one problem is that we got there too late.  Instead of waking up at 545 am we should have woken up at 445am and gotten their earlier.  Instead we got there when the sun had already risen a lot, unlike last year at Angkor Wat where I had 1000 pictures every minutes of the sunrise, and it was perfect.  I dealt with it and just enjoyed the view.  I actually got a tout to take my picture professionally and it came out quite well.  We had several hours at the Taj Mahal and every minute was spectacular.  Seeing the tomb inside to the detail artistry on the outside walls was all very good. After visiting the Taj we took our electric bus back to where our tour bus was and then back to the Taj Hotel.  At this point, the sun was blazing and the pool was looking great.  After relaxing for a few minutes, I slipped on some shorts and made my way to the pool for some fun in the sun.  Several others also went to the pool so it was nice.  At one point four of us played Badminton and to cut this short, my shoulders are burnt, but I have a nice tan otherwise, thanks doxycycline (my malaria medication which makes you sensitive to the sun). After swimming, we all changed and showered up.  Several of us were to meet downstairs to head in to town and explore.  We took some autos to this first market but it was like a real market with hardware supplies, definitely not what we expected, thanks lonely planet india!  We then went to another market area where I bought a few cheap t shirts because I was sick of wearing the same nasty clothing every day.  I got a good price and then we walked around and I eventually bought a lungi which is like a male skirt that men wear in southern india because of the heat.  My friend’s dad used to always wear one and I love them. As we were leaving the lungi shop the wind started to blow, but not just a gust this was like mega gusts where the dirt and crap from the ground wisked up and started to fly everywhere.  I couldn’t see, and was just getting covered in a lot of dirt and dust, and I had just showered dammit!  At this point we all found shelter in a store where some of us bought umbrellas for a future time when we needed them, and it also bought time to get out of this ridiculous dust storm.  I think I can say with confidence that this is my first dust storm ever and they are nasty.  My eyes are burning even thinking about it as I write this entry.   Finally we hailed down a taxi and squeezed five of us in to one.  Two of us hung off the side of the auto, me being one of them obviously, and the three others sat in the back.  It started to rain which meant I was getting rained on which is never fun.  When we got back to the hotel, I changed in to my lungi and chatted with others in the lobby of the hotel, and also walked around the hotel checking out the shops.  730PM rolled around and it was time for dinner.  I decided to get the buffet dinner which was pricey but very good.  I have been ok with buying stuff and spending money so far, but most of my money is going to food.  I mean this part of the trip we have already paid for, and most meals are included with the exception of a few.  Once we get to Shimla I am under the impression that all meals will be included at the hotel which will be nice. After dinner I got a drink with Caitlin and we started chatting.  Then I took a walk with Natalie to the ATM as I needed some rupees desperately.  After I got back from there I went to hang out by the pool area with the indian students.  I am trying to spread the Josh love around and I think I have been doing a fine job so far! At around 1030pm I made the call to hit the hay and the others followed.  The indian students tend to eat dinner late and stay up late, but when you are waking up at 445am for a really long bus ride, you want to have a little sleep.  Everyone and their mom knows I can’t sleep on buses, trains, and automobiles so any sleep is appreciated.

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May 28th Overland from Delhi to Agra

June 2nd, 2008

May 28th Overland from Delhi to Agra I was supposed to get up at 645am to get down to breakfast before our long drive to agra.  Instead I was up at 445am because I felt like I was being bitten by bugs constantly.  I went to bed at 1am after chatting with ben for several hours.  It was fun, but waking up that early was not.  I went downstairs and brought my palm but Pooja another student on the program shortly joined me, then Ben and before you knew it others did as well. 7am rolled around and breakfast was ready.  It was outside but in an air conditioned sun room/greenhouse type place with a nice buffet style spread.  I wasn’t that hungry in that my stomach was bothering me from dinner the night before.  I had some fruit and cereal with milk and a lot of juice.  We packed up the tourist bus, which was nice, most of our luggage went ahead of us to Shimla while a daypack, stuffed with 4 days worth of clothing and stuff went with us to Agra and Delhi.  The drive would be long but it was our first bus ride and a chance to meet people in the group.  I sat with several people, including Pooja.  We had a great long conversation which are always great on this types of journey’s. We made one important stop which was at Achbar’s tomb.  This dude achbar’s grandfather built the taj mahal and I forgot what he did, maybe was a ruler at one time of india, but he got a magnificient tomb and some other things on this vast land in honor of himself.  He actually built it before he died, so now im positive he was a past ruler, king perhaps. We shuffled back on the bus, and continued our journey to Agra.  We got to Agra a little late, dropped our stuff off and a bunch of us went to dinner at a local restaurant.  There were 8 of us in total which required 3 auto’s.  This also required some good haggling.  I mean Agra is a huge tourist town which most tourists come to first as this is where the Taj Mahal is.  They fly to Delhi and then take a really nice express train to Agra.  Everyone knows its a tourist town where whites and westerners have money to spend, I’m sure australians and others come also but when I saw westerners I really mean non locals with money. We first walked to this really nice sheraton hotel, but it was too expensive so thats when we negotiated the price for the autos and went to this south indian restaurant.  I ordered a Mango Lassi, mexican pizza, which was basically veggies, with indian spices and flavors.  Both were damn good!  After dinner we got autos back and it was right to bed.  I was asleep by 930pm as we had to get up 545am to see the sunrise of the Taj Mahal. 

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May 27th 2008 – Train to Delhi

June 2nd, 2008

 I awoke really early in the morning to blaring music and people telling us to get up to eat breakfast.  Apparently indians wake up early, but I’m not sure why they would want too on a train.  It took me about a solid 2 hours to get up, I was real tired and they gave me breakfast in my bed, how sweet.  Throughout the rest of the ride, I attempted to do some law school reading for class but I kept getting interrupted by the little kids of Akilesh’s family and Vikas.  Eventually I put it away and just played with them and continued to practice my hindi. We arrived at New Delhi Train Station at approximately 530PM, give or take.  This would be a real challenge as I had a lot of stuff, it was a far walk to where the taxis were located and it would be damn hot in Delhi.  If you didn’t know Delhi is the capital of India.  Anyway I tried to walk with Vikas and I managed to avoid most touts until he had to part ways with me.  They told me how much I should probably pay and to just bargain hard.  When I got to the taxi area I called the hotel to ask them to tell the driver where to take me and how much I should pay.  He told me to pay 150 max, but then realized it was rush hour and 200 was more reasonable.  After about 10 minutes of trying to find someone to take me for 200 I did and was off to the hotel to meet my school and start my summer abroad program. The area immediately surrounding the New Delhi train station was a dump.  It was so dirty and nasty just like some parts of Mumbai.  Delhi according to websites is the largest city in the world, based on metropolitian area with upwards of 18 million people.  That’s a lot.  I actually think there is more than 20 million, but who really knows. I arrived at the Jukaso Inn in a very nice part of Delhi where all the tourists apparently stay.  It was fully enclosed area that is guarded at each entrance.  People don’t have guns, but there are security gates at all the entrances.  I got out of the taxi, got my stuff and moved it to the entrance of the hotel.  I immediately saw professor subotnik, my trusts and estates teacher during the past semester and this lady Ann who was friend’s with my constitutional law professor from school, who would be acting as our administrator on the trip. I began chatting with them about where I had gone, what I had been up too, and both offered me a glass of cold beer which I accepted gratefully.  I ended up sitting in the lobby for a while, until Caitlin my friend from Touro came and said hello.  I was so dirty, it was gross.  I hadn’t showered in days, was sweating, and everything I owned just stunk.  I was actually embarassed and had to take a shower as soon as possible.  I excused myself from the lobby and went up to take a shower.  When I opened up the door to the room I exclaimed “holy shit.”  The room was probably the biggest hotel room I’ve personally stayed in, in my life.  I will discount the apartment style 2 bedroom room when the family went to Cairns, Australia, as that was a family room, not my own.  I quickly took of my clothing, threw it to the side and jumped in the shower.  I saw a big bucket and a small bucket and went “hell no!”  I actually thought about using a bucket, but then quickly realized that I should probably reward myself with a regular western style shower.  I look to the right, there is a western toliet with pressure to flush it normally, woohoo! After I got out of the shower, someone opened the door.  It was my roommate Ben Gerber who lives in Michigan and according to Jewish geography knew several people in common.  He knew an old friend of mine Andrea Friedel whose father delivered me.  Small world, even smaller when your jewish though. We began chatting, and then I eventually went downstairs and met caitlin for dinner.  We first walked around the corner where Professor Artusio recommended but we both wanted a better meal so we got an auto to a place on the map that Cait had with her.  We bargained heavily for our price and went on our way.  We ended up stopping at a random place, walked around and found this continental type restaurant that we both found things on the menu to eat.  It ended up being really expensive, really smoky, but as usual Cait and I had good conversation and a good time.  We did get ripped off by ordering some drinks.  They thought we said we wanted a double drink on the rocks, but in reality we only ordered one and the drinks were really expensive. We got an auto back to our hotel.  I had to calm down cait as she was heated about what had happened.  It was funny, at one point she was trying to tell the waiter that she would pay for the double drink but that what they were doing by ripping us off was bad business practice.  I was trying not to laugh and back her up.  I got fired up but it was to no avail, we had to pay the bill which was pricey. Anyway once we got back to the hotel, we said our goodbye and it was time to go to sleep.  We would have to wake up at 645am and eat breakfast by 7am.  Tomorrow would be a long driving day to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal.

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May 26th continued

June 2nd, 2008

 After leaving the internet cafe it was time to head back to the apartment and make sure I hadn’t forgotten to pack anything to take with me on my journey.  During this frantic state I usually end up leaving chargers and small items behind to never be seen again.  This time though I was methodical and made sure nothing was missing.  At around 145PM Rageev and Vikas took me to get some lunch before my journey, since I was nervous about traveling on the train I wasn’t hungry and asked them to get me my dali to go. At around 215PM, Rageev and I carried my stuff to get a taxi.  I wanted to make sure the taxi driver knew exactly where I was going which was Bombay Central.  The whole time I thought it was Mumbai Central Station which is much different.  I am glad that Rahul’s father had told me otherwise. I loaded up all my stuff and was on the way.  It was so hot in the non airconditioned cab I was sweating profusely.  When I arrived with all of my stuff including 20 pounds of books, the station was crazy.  People all over the place, scam artists running rampid I had to be on alert.  Immediately as I got out of the cab I had one sketchy guy come up to me and was starting to talk with the cab driver.  Who knew what he wanted but they all want something.  Once I entered the train station this old homeless looking man came up to me asking about my ticket, this and that clearly looking for money for his help.  I was very brash with him and even though he found out my seat number and carriage number I gave him nothing as I kept telling him to give me back my train ticket and leave me alone!  Eventually another younger kid who was standing in front of me in the line for inquiring about your train ticket, asked me which train I was going on.  I told him I was taking train 2951 to Delhi and he said that upstairs there was a upper class waiting room.  I told him thanks and schleped all my stuff up two flights of steep stairs, but it was worth it as the waiting was fully air conditioned which was a nice relief from the heat of the first floor of the station.  Once I entered the waiting it seemed as time had stopped as everyone dropped what they were doing to stare at the sweaty, bandana wearing grimy white kid with the chelsea soccer jersey on.  I dropped all my stuff on the floor and just laid out to take a deep breathe.  It is very stressful to make sure all your stuff is ok, keep your bearing and your sanity. After putting my stuff down I asked the guy next to me how to find out about what time the train arrives and what platform to go to.  He told me that on the first floor there was a booth for that and that I should just go ask.  I asked him to watch my stuff which he said he would do.  I ran downstairs and pushed my way to the front of the line and asked the people about my train.  They said the train would arrive at 415PM, 445PM departure and it was on platform 1.  This gave me like 20 minutes to chill out, and cool down in the waiting room.  When I got back to the waiting room, the local guy who watched my stuff said that I shouldn’t trust many people in India, I said normally I didn’t but I saw you sitting with your mother and figured you wouldn’t steal my stuff.  He really didn’t respond and I just laid down on my backpack. 415PM rolled around and I picked up all my stuff and moved to the train.  I had to go to car A4 located in the 2nd class AC carriage, seat 36.  I found my seat eventually and it turned out that I had a crappy side berth.  I said berth is not the proper seat in a 4 bed berth.  It is like pushed to the side and there is not any room to walk around.  In the proper 4 bed berth you normally have plenty of room to move around and it is quite comfortable.  I think that since my initial reservation was booked on the waiting list and then moved to RAC which is like one step before getting a seat, I was damn lucky to get my seat in 2nd class full AC, otherwise I would have had to fly and lose out on a lot of money. When I got on the train it was all middle class indians.  I was probably the only white person on the entire train, which is cool and where you have the best experiences.  Immediately I was greeted by some guy who spoke good english.  He wanted to say hi and to inform me that his son would be sitting on the lower bed of our side berth.  He was a little kid so I knew I would be able to dominate the limited space we had for our bags and stuff.  At first I tried to put all my stuff on my bed in a way that I could lock it all and watch it.  But then I quickly realized I would have no place to sleep and no place to move around.  I then realized that I had one of the seats down below on the lower area of the side berth and that all my stuff could go under the seats.  Since this was the son of the family, all his stuff was with the family meaning I could have all the lower space to myself. After locking up all my bags with the cable locks and bike locks I sat down and just relaxed.  The carriage was actually cold and as you know I had dearly missed air conditioning.  The little boy came and sat down and I asked him in Hindi what his name was.  I had learned a little hindi from rahul, rageev etc…He told me his name was Akilesh and then I asked how old he was to which he responded, but I forgot how old he was. Eventually I just sat, got my journal and started to write old school style.  Even though I have this journal, I also like to jot down notes in a journal I bought that Mom scrapbooked for me.  As soon as I wrote like a page, Akilesh came back and started to ask me what I was writing and what not.  Eventually he asked me if he could write in my book to which I responded sure.  He wrote his name in English and we both compared how messy our handwriting was, it was funny and he was a cute kid. Once the train started moving, more people began saying hello.  I was practicing my beginner hindi basically saying hello how are you where are you from and telling them about me as well.  The train was supposed to take approximately 16 hours but later on we would find out about riots in one of the states we would be traveling through and how the locals were uprooting the tracks in protest.  The meant that we would have to travel on a different route, through other states and that the trip would now take approximately 25 hours!  At first I was really pissed but eventually I got over it and made the most of my time on the train and the air conditioning. Across from my side berth was a family of 3.  One of the people was this 18 year old guy named Vikas.  This was the second Vikas I had met in as many days and I began to think about how common the name must be.  I asked him and he said the name was in fact quite a common indian name.  We began chatting about each other and then I asked him if he could teach me basic hindi.  He did and to make the story a little shorter than usual throughout the entire train ride up to about 1130PM, Vikas taught me conversational hindi.  Each word or phrase we went over I would write phonetically in my book that mom made for me and write the meaning in english of course.  We went over many phrases and words and I just sat saying them over and over again.  More people would come over to me after hearing me practice and trying to converse in hindi.  They found it most interesting that I was really interested in learning their language and was actually not bad at the pronounciation.  I found it in some ways very similar to spanish, which I think might come from the arabic influence in both languages. At around 1130PM I called it a night.  We had meals provided for us, and I was just tired.  People began to close their curtains in front of their bed, so I got out my little movie player and my headphones and watched super troopers.  Eventually I passed out and was just happy to have air conditioning and a bed thicker than a quarter of an inch.  I put in my ear plugs after I heard a snorer eerly close to my bed.  I’m glad I brought these bad boys as they would come in handy in the days to come. 

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May 26th Mumbai to Delhi India

May 26th, 2008

Today I am off to Delhi.  I will be taking the best train to Delhi which will take approximately 16 hours.  I am in second class AC which is the second best class.  I did not want to take first class because I wanted to be more social.  I will either have a lower or upper bed and I am just thankful that it will be full A/C.  Oh how I miss air conditioning.  I am always sweating, it just feels like a layer of sweat 24/7 all over my body, so gross.

 The only bad thing is that right now it is 12pm and my train leaves at 4 and I still do not have a confirmed seat.  Basically in the next few hours if 2 people or 3 don’t cancel out then I will have to share a bed with someone!  I will be so pissed and will refuse to do so.  I will complain like a loud, obnoxious american until I get my way.  Sometimes you just have to pull out that card.  I mean how ridiculous is that they let you make the booking, I thought they said it would be confirmed and then find out that you can board the train but that they allot two people per seat!  Anyway, before I head off to the station at around 2pm, since it will take 1 hour to get there I want to leave enough time just in case something happens.  I still need to get some snacks and drinks.  Apparently everyone at the apartment said that there is unlimited soft drinks and food with the purchase of the ticket!  I hope the drinks part is true as that would be very nice.  I am excited for this train ride, especially since everyone seems to say it is a very good train.

Sorry for the late updates to my friends and family who are reading this somewhat daily.  I have had trouble logging in to the site that I blog from so I have been writing my updates in my email and having to copy and paste them in when I can.  I will not be updating until I arrive in Delhi on the 27th but have made three posts today to catch everyone up.

I know it hasn’t sounded so eventful but this place is so hard to describe in words.  I mean I have only taken a few hundred photos but I stopped walking around with my camera because it was attracting attention and I also really wanted to immerse myself in the culture and I think I have.  I have learned some basic words and have used them successfully, and I feel that it is degrading to take pictures of poor people and the garbage and the hundreds of people I see sleeping on the streets, literally.  I mean Rahul’s brother made a comment about me taking a photo to show my friends back home the poor indians and that really made me feel bad.  I wasn’t trying to do that, but I was trying to capture the country in its element.  Anyway, I stopped taking so many photos but have taken enough to show people what Mumbai has to offer, the good and the bad.  So goodbye for now, and see you all in Delhi!

Josh

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May 25th, 2008 Mumbai, India

May 26th, 2008

May 25th, 2008 – Mumbai, India Today is my last full day in India and boy did I wake up with a mega hangover. I actually felt like death. I slept till 11 something and basically just tried to sleep the hangover away. It wasn’t until 130pm or so that I was ready to go out and get some food. It was time for some good old fashion western food, and what better than McDonalds! I first grabbed a soda to ease my stomach which worked, and got a rickshaw down to Mcdonalds. I ordered a McChicken sandwich and my drink was a fountain soda that came with ice. Unfortunately they gave me coke instead of fanta, and I never even got a chance to order my choice of drink, they just assumed I wanted coke. I didn’t care, the drink was cold by the standards here with ice! After eating the food rather quickly, I left and bought some things for the girls in the all girls school we visit in shimla or dharmasala with the school. Our professor/program director emailed us to pick some stuff up for them to put in a goody bag. I bought 30 cute hair clips which I think they will like. But this brings me to the ripoff of the day. Yesterday’s rip off which I failed to mention was paying so much to get in to the clubs. Today’s ripoff was paying 500 rupees for 30 hair clips. I think I overpaid by easily 4-5 times more than I should have. Whatever its going to a good cause and I need all the good karma I can get. After I made my purchase and started walking away my stomach started to really hurt. I ran back to Mcdonalds and had to hit up a bathroom. Thank g-d it was a western style bathroom with toliet paper or the water hose if you choose to clean up that way. I went for the tpee and left. Of course I left my hair clips in the bathroom so I had to run back in to McDonalds and wait for the guy to leave the crapper to get my bag, which I did. After McDonalds I strolled down Lincoln road. Known for its nice shops and abundance of clothing markets. Clothing markets are extremely common here, but I am waiting for smaller markets outside Mumbai to make my purchases. Showing restraint has been hard but I realize that I have 70 days left and will have tons of opportunities to buy things in all the places I am going. I really haven’t bought much in Mumbai, but I’m sure I’ll find something before I leave. I decided to walk back to the part of Bandra west I was staying in, and remembered that walking straight down a certain road should get me back home and impressively enough it did! I was really looking for an internet cafe I could have sworn was on that road, but it wasn’t. So when I reached globus mall yet again, I got a rickshaw to Bandra train station where nearby I knew there was a cheap internet cafe, which is where I am now. It is so hot and the place has already crashed all the computers twice. They don’t work so well, so I have had to go fast. My stomach is really hurting so now I am nervous that I have some stomach problem and just in time for my 16 hour train journey up to delhi, great. I think for the rest of the day I will chill out with Rahul, enjoy my last day in Mumbai, spend some time packing up my stuff, which I brought too much of and make sure I don’t lose anything. I originally wanted to go with Piya to this small fishing village and Bycula where there are supposedly jewish temples but its just too damn hot. I know normally I am running around these cities trying to see everything, but I am learning that these trips aren’t sprints they are marathons and I have a long way to go. Also my classes will be starting soon and I am definitely not ready to start reading again. Plus I am still waiting for two grades to come in, and I just hope they are decent so I can complete a very good semester of law school. It was getting late and I couldn’t bear to wait till 10pm or later when Rahul and his family likes to it.  So I insisted that someone take me to get some food.  Vikas and Rageev took me to this small chinese restaurant in the area and it was good.  They left me though to go meet their parents and Rahul to go to Banstan, so I sat there and ate my food peacefully.  I actually ordered my drinks in Hindi!  Everyone has been teaching me bits and pieces of common phrases and words that I will need for ordering food and stuff.  It has been very successful.

 After dinner I caught an auto to banstan to meet the rest of the gang, and it was a very interesting journey.  I had done this journey several times during my stay in Mumbai but none of them came close to this one.  At one point my rickshaw became stuck in one of the most ridiculous traffic jams I have ever seen.  Five or more minutes nobody could move.  They really don’t believe in lanes here either.  At one point to avoid traffic my driver was on the sidewalk avoiding people left and right.  Anyway the traffic jam started when my driver as well as others tried to turn right across traffic coming in both directions.  Well this really jammed things up.  Nobody could move, nobody could turn around and everyone is honking like crazy.  Man do they enjoy honking their horns.  They honk like every two seconds, since the drivers always appear to be in a rush, are uber aggressive they  just honk when traffic lets up just a second. 

Anyway when I finally got to banstan I called Rahul and then he informed me that his mother did not want to go out and they had not made the journey to banstan.  I was a little pissed off after having spent some time getting a rickshaw and getting over here.  Instead of going back home I sat down on a cement block facing the water and just enjoyed the surroundings and the cool air blowing off the arabian sea.  I made a few phone calls to some friends, and after about an hour or so made the journey back home.

We ended up watching some cricket and usual and chatting like most nights and then at around 1am attempted to go to sleep.  Rahul had work the next day so he had to get to sleep.

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May 24th, 2008 Mumbai, India

May 26th, 2008

May 24th – 2008

Today I really didn’t do a whole lot. Unfortunately I was up bright and early since Rahul’s mom awoke at like 730am, and since we all sleep in the same room, that meant I was up that early as well. She naturally gets up early because of her job. She is the principal of a government school in her hometown in eastern india. Apparently she explained to me it is a school for bad children, she has 600 in total so it is hard at times to manage. Anyway, for most of the day we all just tried to stay cool in the apartment, watched a lot of tv and cricket, chatted. At one point we all left to get lunch from the place I ate dinner at the first night in Mumbai. It is a thali style place which basically means all you can eat of whatever they serve. They provide bread, dali, rice and a dish. Again the food was very nice, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

After lunch it was back to the apartment. At this point Rahul’s parents were getting restless and wanted to go out and see some stuff in Bombay. I didn’t blame them if I had sat on a train for 30 hours i’d want to do something also. But Rahul explained to them that it was very hot out and that the heat would bother them a lot. They are not used to this heat as their hometown is slightly cooler but significantly less humid. Also in their nice home they have air conditioning, refrigeration and other amenities Rahul’s apartment does not.

At around 630pm after watching the Chennai Super Kings almost come back from an impossible 212 run target set by the Royals we all went to Juhu beach. It was about a 30 minute ride in the rickshaw and by the time we got there it was nice and cool and dark. Thousands of people were out on the beach enjoying the summer night. We walked around, took some quality photos and I walked in to the water ankle deep. This water is the Arabian Sea. I know I said the other day that the body of water was the Indian ocean but I think that is on another side of the country, east coast of india perhaps. Anyway at one point Rahul’s mom wanted to go in the water, nobody else wanted to go with her so I said that I would accompany her to the water. As it turns out she had not been in a sea, ocean whatever since 1978! Back then she was on a geological tour and had the opportunity then to do so. I told her it would be my pleasure. We didn’t hold hands or anything but it was something nice to do.

On the way home Rahul stopped at Globus mall to meet his friend. I went back to the apartment to change before going out. This would be my first night out in Mumbai and I was very excited. Since Rahul’s parents were here he couldn’t really go out with me so I was on my own to make the night something special and boy was it ever. After he took me in to this bar called Temptation both he and his friend left. His friend had to do some work and Rahul was nervous his parents were getting angry with him, so he went back to the apartment. I got a big bottle of Kingfisher beer, sat at the end of the bar and watched Mumbai play Delhi in cricket. This was a much anticipated match where if Mumbai would win they would go on to the semi final of the season tournament. Unfortunately they lost at the very end but only a few runs. The crowd was disappointed as this rivalry is huge in India.

Eventually the person sitting next to me struck up a conversation with me. His name was Sahir and I cannot pronounce or spell his girlfriend’s name. After two more big bottles of beer he asked if I wanted to go out with them to other places in Mumbai. I said absolutely, and then he informed me that I would probably have to pay an entrance fee to get in since I was a single. They charge stags more than couples for whatever reason I am not sure. The first place we went too was nearby the first bar. It was pretty cool, we got some drink tickets with our entrance fee that I paid for. I hadn’t spent a lot of money yet in India and since I was staying for free at the apartment I figured a one night splurge would be fine and boy was it ever. After another beer, a whiskey and a tequilla shot, Sahir asked if I wanted to go somewhere else. I said fine lets hit it. This place was back at Juhu beach at the uber exclusive club at the JW Marriot. This time I paid a much steeper entrance fee and even the asshole at the door would not drop the price, even though I told him I had traveled thousands of miles just to go to this club. We again got some drink tickets equivalent to the entrance fee, the only problem is that the drinks are so expensive you really don’t get much. One weird thing happened. I noticed that Sahir immediately grabbed my drink card worth 1000 rupees more than his. At this moment I felt like I had been suckered in some way. I did notice them ordering more beers than I was drinking. I switched over to whiskey and coke for the rest of the night but Rahul explained to me later on that night that mine drinks were probably much more expensive than his.

At the end of the night I stumbled back home. They dropped me off at Globus mall, I called Rahul who luckily found me wondering around the wrong direction from his apartment. It was around 330am and there were so many rats around eating up the garbage it was so gross. They were not your garden variety rat but huge suckers. Once I got home I tried to be as quiet as possible since everyone was sleeping, I said a quick prayer to the porcelain g-ds and passed out.

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May 23rd, 2008 continued – Mumbai, India

May 25th, 2008

Well after I left the internet cafe, I got a rickshaw back to the apartment.  When I got back Rahul had informed me that his parents were coming to stay with him for a few days.  This meant space would be tight.  There would be six of us now in the small 500 square foot, one bedroom apartment.  I still had a place to sleep so I wasn’t bothered by it and was actually excited to have a chance to meet his parents.  Basically for the rest of the day we waited for his parents to arrive.  They were traveling by train from eastern india and it took them more than 30 hours to get to Bombay!

We ended up watching lots of cricket, I am really in to cricket now.  I know most of the rules for 20/20 and 50/50 but still have to learn about test cricket.  I think it is just the same but it goes for 5 days and there is no limit on overs like there is in one day cricket.  The IPL or Indian Premiership League for Cricket uses the 20/20 format.  This means that each team gets 120 balls thrown to them by the opposing team and whoever has the most runs accumulated wins.

Once his parents arrived, we all greeted each other, they unpacked and relaxed.  We began to chat to get to know one another and at around 11pm we ordered dinner.  Indians eat dinner really late.  It is almost absurd how late they eat.  Getting the chance to live with Rahul and his parents and the other guys has been really special.  Sure anyone can stay at a hostel, but I am so glad that I met him on couchsurfing and will definitely use the website again to hopefully have more rewarding experiences like this one.

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May 23rd – Mumbai, India

May 23rd, 2008

At around 230AM I awoke itching my pointer finger and my inner thigh.  I first thought that I had contracted bed bugs for the third time in as many months, but quickly counted and did not have three dots in a row.  If you are itchy and have patches of bites in groups of three, chances are you have bed bugs or something like it.  I was itching like crazy so I decided, being half asleep and all to take two benedryl to make the itching stop.  This is why I brought a small pharmacy with me, to prevent and treat random things like this from happening.  I took the two pills with some water I had left over from the day before, and tried to go back to sleep.  It was so hot, but I crawled in to my silk sleep sac, to try and prevent further bites from occuring.  Eventually I felt the bumps subside and I dozed off to sleep.

I awoke every few hours but I finally got up at like 11am and had to get my day going.  At this point V and Rageev were still in the apartment, and Rahul had already departed for work.  I thought it would be a good time to take a shower, using the buckets of course, so I did and it was really refreshing.  The water is not too hot or too cold but just right.  I put my linen beige pants on, and a polo top and then got on the laptop to check some things.  Of course I checked my grades and got another one back, which I was very, very pleased about and then I was off to start my day.  I originally wanted to get some of that Indian bread I had on my first night in Mumbai, but I reached in to my pocket and only found about 40 rupees which was really enough for a two bottle of water costing 20 rupees.  I certainly did not want to give the vendor a 500 dollar note or larger.  So after getting water I started to walk.  I must have appeared lost because a local gentlemen came up to me asking where I wanted to go.  I told him the main road and he pointed me in the direction.  It was quite close but unfortunately not the road I was looking for.  It was on the other side of where Globus mall is and where I am accustomed to being.  No worries I thought I’ll just walk around Bandra and see how it is.  Bandra west really is a posh area of Mumbai.  After seeing several areas of Mumbai I would have to say it is the nicest.  There are actual apartments and houses, cars and it is enclosed with trees and parks, really nice.  Boy was it hot though.  I was sweating like crazy, but I pushed on.  After walking probably 3 miles I decided to get an autorickshaw and head to bandra banstan.  This was where Rahul took me with Tony on my first night.  I wanted to see how it looked during the day.  This is when I got ripped off for the first time today.  When you get in to an auto, the driver is supposed to reset the meter to 10 rupees.  Well when I got in the meter read 16.  Also when you start at ten you usually get your first few meters at ten and then it goes up after that quite fast.  Well I ended up paying 21 rupees so today I got ripped off for about 8 rupees.  The ride should have cost no more than 13-14 rupees.  But hey 8 rupees is only about 20 cents, no big deal and my motto is that I am going to get ripped off at least once a day, lets try and keep it under a dollar!

So the driver dropped me off at the end of banstan and I was like this is fine so I got out and started walking.  I got to the end of the road and I saw a sign that read “Bandra Fort.”  I thought to myself, thats pretty cool.  So I went inside and there was the remains of the old bandra fort built like 150 years ago by the british.  Not much was left but enough to walk around and get great views of the Indian Ocean and South Mumbai.  Also in front of me was this giant bridge that the Indians are constructing to connect Bandra to South Mumbai.  It easily looks several miles long and definitely a big project for them to construct and complete.

I walked around took some photos, enjoyed the scenary but in the end it was just too damn hot.  I left Bandra fort and picked up some soda, which I will not be drinking again unless its cold.  I can’t stand non-diet hot soda.  Everyone knows I love ice.  Well ice is definitely something I miss about not being back home.  That is sad but true.  Anyway I remember Rahul telling me that there was a nice coffee shop around this area and after walking a few hundred meters I found it.  There were two small coffee shops connected and I walked in to the first one.  It was air conditioned, thank the good, sweet lord.  I sat down, got a menu and ordered a sandwich and some cold ice tea with ice!  Both were nice and then I topped it off with some vanilla ice cream.  I could have done without the ice cream considering I should have remembered that in this part of the world vanilla ice cream is probably some form of coolwip.  Well I ate it anyway but realized that in this heat, eating milk products like vanilla ice cream would not be very smart.

After I enjoyed cooling down in the cafe I asked one of the people working in the shop if they could tell the autorickshaw to take me to globus mall.  He did and the guy agreed to take me.  I only had a 100 rupee note and knew this would be a problem.  When I got to the mall the fare was only 14 rupees.  I gave him the hundred and he handed me back 80 rupees.  I said thats fine so this time I got ripped off by 6 rupees or about 18 cents or less.  Not bad and again under the dollar.  But when I say I want to get ripped off by less than a dollar that’s total per day!

When I got to globus I walked up and down the main drag near where I was staying in hopes of buying some cheap local clothing.  I found one shop, but they didn’t have normal human sized shorts.  Only indian sizes which I could have worn when I was 6.  Then I decided to go to Globus mall itself, it had air conditioning and I figured I could cool down, so I did.  After only ten minutes I was on my way and called Rahul to ask him where the closest internet cafe was.  He asked me why I wasn’t checking the internet at his place to which I responded I usually would but I tried this morning and the site was blocked for some reason.  He understood and told me to take an auto to Bandra station and ask someone around where an internet cafe was and someone would direct me.  I didn’t want to ask anyone so I just walked a few minutes down the road and found one!  He said it was near, so I figured it would be straight past the station near the other shops and it turned out I was right.

So now its 333PM, May 23rd, day 4 officially including my flight, and I am sweating my nuts off in an internet cafe with only fans, but only paying 15 rupees per hour!  Yesterday I paid 40 which is just about a dollar today I’m paying about 27 cents for the hour!  That is cheap!

I am not sure what I will be doing the rest of the day, but tune in tomorrow to see what happens next

Thanks

Josh

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May 22nd – Mumbai, India

May 23rd, 2008

Today I woke up not really refreshed.  I am sleeping on a bed per se, but it is really just a thin mat on a steel mattress, not much give so my back and neck hurts quite a bit.  I decided though to go with Rahul my couchsurfing host to his job in South Mumbai.  We took an autorickshaw to Bandra train station and hopped on a local train to Mumbai Central Station (CST).  The local trains are open-aired and open doored so when the train gets full people basically hold on to the railing and hang out the side of the train.

It was nine stops to Mumbai Central Station, and the ride was definitely an eye opener.  On my journey I saw so many slums, people walking on the tracks, going to the bathroom outside in public, and it was awful to see how poor some of these people really are.  Also the trains are not air conditioned so I was sweating profusely as well.  It is really hot here, but not dry heat like in Arizona, but so hot and humid it makes Florida in the summer feel dry.

After our thirty minute ride to Mumbai Central, Rahul and I walked to his office which was only five minutes away.  We said goodbye and he told me he would call me in 1.5 hours to get some lunch.  This gave me some time to finally get to an internet cafe and get some blogging in.  Rahul and his roommates have a communal laptop but for some reason the website I use for my blog is blocked.  Go figure.  I know there is a way to blog via email, but I never looked in to it and don’t have the time now.

So after spending about one hour at the cool, air conditioned internet cafe I still had about an hour to kill.  At this point I didn’t really know where I was or where I was going, so I basically just wondered around snapping some photos, picked up some water and soda and just observed the way of life here in South Mumbai.  At one point I tried to take a picture of some lady on the sidewalk across the street, but I was spotted by someone nearby and he jumped in front of her waving his hands.  I knew I shouldn’t have tried to take a picture of this lady and was a little nervous as to what this guy might do.  Luckily he stayed on his side of the street and I continued walking.

Finally after about an hour, I was really hot, tired and hungry, the fearsome threesome.  I called Rahul and told him that I wanted to get some food, he said no problem and met me downstairs outside his office.  He took me to this corner shop, and luckily it had an air conditioned upstairs.  I guess its quite common for places to have AC and non AC halls.  I ordered some rice and curry and he got egg fried rice.  One thing I will say about the Chinese food in India is that it is wayyyyy better than the food in China!  I don’t know why but it rivals Chinese food anywhere in the world that is for sure.

After lunch I said goodbye once again to Rahul I decided I would check out my first real tourist attraction, the Gateway to India.  This is a structure on the coast that was constructed in honor of the King and Queen of England on their arrival I believe to India.  It was a real tourist trap.  I had kids, adults and whoever asking me for money or the best scam is the anti-scam scam.  One girl came up to me said hello and told me that she didn’t want money.  She asked me where I was from and I was doing my best to make it clear I didn’t want to talk to her.  She followed me around as I took some photos, and continued trying to work me for money.  You know every great scam starts out with “Hi, what’s your name?  Followed by:  “Where are you from?”  This gets them talking to you and working you for whatever they want.  Eventually she said “I don’t want money, but can you buy me milk for my baby?”  So there you have it, she did want some form of money but she just framed it in another way.

I walked around the Gateway for a little bit, but then something happened.  This really little girl started laughing and pointing to my shoulder on the back on my shirt.  I had no idea what she was saying but then I pulled my shirt around and saw some beige milky chunky substance all over my shoulder and backpack.  Some bird had shitted all over me!  Now I know this is supposed to be good luck, but I already have natural good luck and I certainly don’t need a bird shitting on me for more luck.

I took off my shirt in front of everyone, and rubbed some dirt on the shirt to absorb the poop.  Lucky for me the very famous Taj Mahal Hotel was right across the street so I figured that since I was white and this was an expensive hotel, they wouldn’t stop me and they didn’t.  I walked in and found the restroom which was a lovely bathroom might I add, took off my soccer jersey yet again and started to clean it with soap and water.  Unfortunately the jersey is white with black lettering, but after using hot water and some soap the shit came right out!  I guess the material the jersey is made out of did not absorb the mess so it was good as new.

Once I left the hotel I just started to walk.  I didn’t have my lonely planet and I wasn’t supposed to meet Piya another couchsurfing friend till five pm and it was only like 130pm!  Well I walked and walked and walked until I got to a bus station.  Now at this point I was really hot and tired, so I actually wanted to go back home and get the bus to Mumbai Central to take the train back.  So I got on the bus, it cost me 4 rupees which is like 4 cents and I told the ticket collector I wanted to go to Mumbai Central or CST.  Eventually the collector told me to get off at the next stop, I thanked him and was on my way.  Well unfortunately the dude assumed I knew where I was going.  I thought I would get off the bus and the train station would be in front of me, oh no, I didnt see the station anywhere and really could find someone to ask.

I decided to just walk down the street I was on to hopefully see the station anywhere.  But I did not.  I believe that everything happens for a reason because I finally stopped and took a deep breath and what did I see across the street, the 35th criminal court a remand court in Esplanade South Mumbai.  Now one of the things I wanted to do when I was here was see a court and maybe some proceedings.  Well I first walked up to this little booth and asked if I could go in.  After some broken english back and forth he said “go go.”  So I did.  I went upstairs this old building, probably built in the  mid-late 1800’s and walked in to the court room.  The police on guard there said I could sit down and watch.  So I sat and waited for something to happen.  After about twenty minutes, I noticed one of the clerks look to the rightside entrance in to the courtroom, at that point I knew that the judge was on his/her way in.  As it turns out that judge was a female, I rose as did everyone else and the proceedings began.  Unfortunately the proceedings were not in English, but I still enjoyed observing how the system worked.  I did find the listing of cases on the docket which was in English and just about all of them involved some criminal incident with police.  So the clerk would call out the parties charged they would come up assisted by the police, and the officer who arrested the person or who witnessed it pled his case, and the attorney representing the charged party would say something in response.  They did seem to have their version of a public defender because I noticed the same attorney standing beside each charged individual.  After four or five different cases I got up and left.  It was nearly 4PM and while Piya said she would call me at 3PM to arrange a meet-up I figured I would leave the courthouse, give her a call, and see where she wanted to meet.

I got in touch with Piya and she said 5:30PM at Churchgate station.  She told me to just ask anyone around where the Churchgate station was and that someone would direct me.  I told her, no worries and would see her at 530PM.  Great, so now I had another hour and a half to kill, didn’t know where I was or where I was going and it was really hot out.  Again I wondered around the streets, looked in to some cricket fields and watched locals playing their much beloved sport and continued walking.

I eventually got to a street with tons of shops selling clothing.  Anything from pants, jeans, shorts, tshirts, footwear, you name it they were selling it.  Now something interesting I have seen so far here in Mumbai is that some vendors have a sign that says “125r, fixed price.”  This means that bargaining is not allowed but the price will be good.  The ones that don’t have the signs are basically looking to bargain and rip you off.  I found this out by trying to buy a pair of cotton, thin 3/4 shorts.  When I asked the guy how much he whispered to me “750.”  750 I exclaimed are you serious?  750 Rupees is almost 20 bucks which is a lot of money for anything in india and a lot even in a place like Mumbai where most things are about 4-5 times more than any other place in India.  I told the guy forget it, he said how much I told him 100 he laughed, he said ok ok how much you want to pay, I said I didn’t know but 750 was way too much.  I walked away, he yelled at me to comeback and I clearly knew he saw a white tourist and wanted to cash in.  Just to give you an idea of how much 750 Rupees is, in a nice mall you can buy nice button down shirts, pants etc for less than 750 Rupees, so 750 for a 3/4 shitty pair of cotton cargo shorts is such a rip off it is not even funny.

I walked basically the entire road and saw that it was M. Ghandi Road.  I took my camera out and snapped a photo of it as this road is naturally quite famous.  When I got to the end of the road it was close to 500PM and I didn’t know how to get to Churchgate station, so as it turns out there was a bus station and the first place listed was churchgate station!  How lucky of me!  I guess the bird poop worked.  I got on the bus and asked some guy where Churchgate station was.  He responded with very little english, speaking mostly in Hindi, but by his hand gestures it appeared that the station was like a few blocks straight down the road I happened to turn right on.  So after getting off a bus in the middle of South Mumbai, I saw a famous road, the criminal court and somehow found my way to the station with no map and no sense of direction!  I still had about twenty minutes to kill before Piya would meet me, so I walked in to a mall type building and found a pharmacy in the back.  I needed a toothbrush since I happened to leave mine at home.  I also picked up cream for my athletes foot that I somehow got the first day of traveling and some real tigerbalm from Thailand.  It all came out to be like less than 4 dollars and this had been my big splurge of the day so far.

After leaving the mall I got a call from Piya who asked me where I was.  She told me to meet her at this famous movie theater called Eros.  It was shaped like a wedding cake and was the oldest and most famous movie theater in Mumbai.  Piya was a tad late meeting me, but I was sitting down, in the shade of the movie theater steps so I was fine.

After meeting Piya she asked me if I wanted to sit down to chat and rest for a little.  I said that would be perfect so we found like a beer bar type shop, I had my first taste of local indian beer, Kingfisher and Piya had water.  Piya explained to me that me paying 45r for the glass of beer was such a ripoff.  She said in many places outside this city that glass would only be 8 or 10r.  That is when she explained to me that Mumbai is extremely overpriced and sine housing is so expensive, that is why you see many slums.  People may not be as poor as their shanty house appears to be, they might have a nice TV inside, air conditioned etc, but because the housing is so expensive relative to the standard of living in India that people must live this way.

After about thirty minute or more, Piya and I were more acquainted with one another so she said lets go, and she wanted to take me on a walking tour of the area.  I said thats great lets go.  Piya took me to a bunch of great places.  A building that looked just like Big Ben in England, which was modeled after it.  It had some really long indian name so I just referred to it as Big Ben 2.  We also went to the prestigious University of Mumbai, and walked right in to the library.  It had really nice stain glass windows throughout and the school itself was built in the late 1800’s.  By this time it was getting dark so Piya decided to end the tour.  She asked where I wanted to go now, and if I was up to the challenge.  She clearly saw the degree of my tiredness in my eyes, but I said lets go.  We walked towards Marine Drive which is on the coast right along the Arabian Sea.  It was nice to sit on the concrete wall and chat.

After relaxing, with the warm summer breeze on our backs, Piya took me to this incredible ice cream shop.  It was natural ice cream made from fruits.  I got tender coconut and Mango.  It was probably the best ice cream i’ve ever had.  She got Lychee and I picked up the bill for the both of us.  Her ice cream was only about 25 rupees or like 50 cents, no big deal.  I insisted to pay and she finally relented and said fine. 

Oh but before we got ice cream and got to the water, we stopped at this famous revolving restaurant in this swanky hotel.  Piya was a little reluctant to walk in, but we both agreed that the worst that could happen was that they would kick us out.  We walked right in, right into the elevator and up to the 12th floor.  When we got up there the host greeted us warmly, and I just leveled with the guy and said “listen we just want to look at the view.”  He said no problem and I thanked him.  Piya herself had neven been up to the top of this hotel so it felt good to experience something new with her in the place where she lives.

So after the hotel that’s when we got to the water, then had ice cream, and then she asked if I wanted to get some dinner.  Now I really wasn’t that hungry, but to say no would have been rude.  Also since it is so hot, I really have not had the biggest appetite.  She took me to this really good Iranian restaurant.  There I ordered Kheema Gotala.  This was minced meet and some other things mixed in.  It was served with two huge pieces of white bread, but I forgot the Indian name for it.

I was so tired at this point I almost fell asleep in my food, but it was good, and after that I told her I was down for the count and wanted to take a cab back home.  The ride would be quite far, but how much could it cost really?  The most it was going to be was five whole dollars which I actually had no spent in total up to that point for the day.  Even though things are overpriced here in Mumbai, things are still pretty cheap with the exchange rate at 43 to 1.  At one point it had been above 50 to 1, but i’ll take 43 to 1 of any currency this day in age.

Piya came with me since she did not live that far from Rahul’s place in Bandra West.  She told the cab driver what the deal was, he agreed and we were on our way.  On our way home something weird happened.  We stopped randomly due to traffic ahead and watched some guy get out of the back of a taxi and start punching the driver of another taxi in the head through the open window.  At that point our driver took off, and I looked back and saw some other guy get out of the cab who’s driver was getting hit and he started to push and punch the first guy who hit the cab driver.  Piya asked the driver in Hindi what was going on and he explained that this sort of thing happens all the time and it was basically a form of road rage or something.

I was like sweet, fight, fight, fight!  On the way home, before I passed out, Piya pointed out some things to me and we also saw one of the larger slums in Mumbai.  It was crazy to see, again how the lack of money and being poor just hits you right in the face here in India.  She also pointed out a place called Bycula which she claims has Jewish synagogues within its walls.  It looked like some enclosed village and I told her we should check it out before I leave.  She agreed and told me that she is currently writing an article on the Jewish culture here in Mumbai, to which I responded that I would be very interested in reading it when she was finished.  She said she would send it to me.

After that exchange I passed out in the cab until Piya woke me up when it was her time to get out of the cab.  Before getting out she gave me some money and said to call her to meet up again.  She offered to take me to a small fishing village near where she lives and I said I definitely wanted to check that out.  This next part of the day starts a chapter in which I call “How did I get ripped off today?”  Well I got ripped off this day by the cab driver.  When I got back home, the driver said 200 rupees.  I told him I wanted to see his card.  So taxi drivers have a card which calculates the taxi fare amount.  I’m guessing that since the meters are so old they don’t really calculate the fare in present day.  He pretended to look around for it, then I told him to turn his light on so I could look at the meter.  It was really hard to see, so I had no choice but to hand him 200 rupees and get out.  I think I was supposed to pay 160.  So I got ripped off by a dollar, not bad could have been worse.

Rahul’s brother picked me up from Globus Mall which is where I usually get dropped off because drivers know this place.  I got back to the apartment and crashed on the bed.  The three amigos were all in the bedroom, Rahul checking the internet and Rageev and V where on their phones futzing around.  I asked Rahul if I could use the laptop after him, to which he said fine, but I never made it that far.  I passed out and that was it.

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May 21st – Abu Dhabi, UAE to Mumbai, India

May 22nd, 2008

I arrived at Abu Dhabi international airport around 730 am on May 21st.  I was really anxious as I had just sat for many hours on a plane.  The airport was really small and I must have walked around it about ten times easily before my next flight.  I went to the bathroom a few times, exchanged some money and bought a few things.  I had left hand sanitizer at home and chapstick so I picked those up at the airport pharmacy for not that many Dhirams, the local currency in the UAE.  My flight to Mumbai was leaving at 1010am, so I chilled out and at around 925am went down for boarding.  I have learned that with these international flights, they board super early because people always tend to be late and futzing around.

As it turned out we had to board a bus and was taken to another terminal on the otherside of the airport.  This airport is being heavily renovated and will be probably state of the art and very big when it is done.  This time though the plane we got on was quite old.  I was really tired and crashing from being up for so many consecutive hours, plus the time difference of eight hours.  I sat down next to this guy from Texas who was very interesting.  He had previously been in the Navy and now worked for some big time shipbuilding company that was affiliated with the government of the UAE.  He lived in Abu Dhabi now, after living in Dubai for the past thirteen years.  He explained to me how expensive land in Dubai was and how relatively inexpensive land outside the downtown area of Abu Dhabi was.  We bullshitted for quite awhile but shortly after takeoff, I moved to an open seat to have a few too myself.  This flight was not very full so I took advantage of the empty space.  I put my music on because the movie screen really didnt work in front of me.  Somehow I dosed off for a while on the flight, which was nice.

I finally arrived in Mumbai (Bombay) for the older folk, around 210PM May 21st.  I breezed through customs, got my luggage and then the real experience began.  I didn’t have any rupees (the currency in India), and of course the only ATM in this small international airport did not have a working one.  There were several money changers, but I quickly shuffled my stuff past them because I knew they would be a rip off.  After leaving the airport with all my stuff and coming back and forth eventually I had no choice but to change money with them.  I changed the rest of the money I had gotten from my dad (thanks dad), and then proceeded to the only cell phone company in the airport, airtel, to get a SIM card for my phone.  After lots of hassle from them, meaning they wanted a passport size photo (thanks mom), my passport, and some other things, they got the SIM card to work and I was off.

The next thing was that I needed to get a taxi to where I was meeting this guy Rahul.  Rahul was someone I met on the site called couchsurfing.com.  Briefly, this is a website that was started several years ago by two guys from New Hampshire who thought it would be cool to set up a network where people could offer up their couch to people in the area who were traveling by.

Well I signed up for it originally in 2005, but was never active on it till a few months ago.  I found Rahul after much searching for a bed in Mumbai.  I figured that this local experience would be worth it, and it would save me a few bucks.  Well I called Rahul who was at work, but he arranged for me to meet one of his roommates at some shopping mall in a placed called Bandra west.  So I got a prepaid taxi from the airport and got in a really tiny, stripped down, non-airconditioned taxi.  Boy was it hot in India and in the taxi.  Within five minutes of leaving the airport, I knew something was wrong with the taxi.  It was going really slow and the guy was struggling to switch gears.  Oh we also almost hit a cow walking down the main road.  Cows in the street, only in India.  Well after about 15 minutes of putt-putting down the road, getting honked out relentlessly because of how slow he was going, the taxis shit the bed.  The dude pulled over, I got out of the taxi, he couldn’t start it up, and in the middle of traffic I helped him push the taxi to the side of the road!

Eventually the driver flagged down this three wheeled auto ricksaw, similar to a tuk tuk from Thailand from those who remember those from last year.  For those of you who don’t an auto rickshaw is a three wheeled tiny covered vehicle that zips around the suburbs of Mumbai only.  Before I got in to this autoricksaw my taxi driver got in to a fight with the this driver over how much he would pay to take me to Bandra.  The driver of the autorickshaw yelled at me “how much did you pay the taxi,” several times, and then I finally responded in a heightened voice “250!”  He was stunned it was that cheap and said ok lets go.

I was dropped off in Bandra at the Globus Mall, and called Rahul’s roommate, who’s name I can’t spell nor pronounce so we will call him “V.”  V picked me up on foot and said lets go.  We schleped all my stuff through side streets, through markets till we got to a building with no lights in the entrance way, up to flights of stairs.  The airport is quite nice for Mumbai.  It is 500 square feet with a shower and toliet, a living room and a bedroom.  The three-four guys all sleep in the bedroom becauseit is cooler there in the nightime.  They have several fans, but in the middle of the summer, it is really hot.  I was sweating within minutes.  After chatting with V and Rahul’s brother Rageev, who also lives there, we watched some cricket and I passed out for two hours in the other room.  At this point I was really, really tired and needed a nap.  After my nap I took a dump and then a shower.

Showering was an experience in itself.  The pressure didn’t really work coming out of the nozzle and I think both the guys knew it but entertained me and tried to fix it.  Eventually V said just use the bucket here and fill it up with the water coming out of the pipe.  So I did, and showered using a bucket, a smaller one to pour the water on me and went to business.  The water felt so nice on my heated body, and while it took me a little while to get the hang out it, I got myself all cleaned up. 

After my shower I decided I wanted to walk around and explore.  The guys were extremely hesitant to let me walk around as they thought I would get lost, so did I, but it didn’t stop me from trying.  It was so interesting walking around the small side streets, people scurrying, motorbikes and push pedal bikes fighting with the people walking for a clear path onwards.  At one point I almost picked up the phone to call V to come find me, but I used landmarks (thanks mom) and remembered where their apartment was located.  I did have to call V, but told him forget it, I can figure it out and did!

Once I returned to the apartment I finally met Rahul.  He is a really nice kid, I think 24 as well and works as a software engineer in south Mumbai.  We chatted all together for several hours and at around 1030PM we went to dinner.  Apparently eating this late is customary in Mumbai.  We went to a place that did not look like a restaurant, and it really isn’t.  It is a place for people in the immediate local area to eat.  Most pay 1500 rupees per month for two meals everyday.  That is much less than one dollar per day for both meals!  We sat down and I met one of Rahul’s good friends Tony.  Well they call him tony as a nickname but his real name is Vaket, I think.  I called him tony because that was much easier. 

Eating was interesting.  I was given a metal plate/bowl shaped dish, a little tiny bowl and some onion, lime and pickeled pepper to start.  This was to be used to mix in with the food to come.  Truthfully I have no idea what the main dish consisted off, but I was given “nan” or indian bread, some main dishes, dali and rice.  I used one hand like everyone else to eat.  They were impressed that A. I could do it, and B. I knew it was traditional to eat with one hand only.  I learned in High School from Suri’s parents when I used to see them do it.

After Dinner I was full and Rahul wanted to take me to Bandra Banstan, which was like a boardwalk along the Indian Ocean on the coast of Western Bandra.  Tony came along and we took an autorickshaw there.

It was dark when we got there, but really nice to walk, a little cooler as the wind was blowing off the water, and it gave me a chance to get to know Tony and Rahul better.

Tony was quite the character, who was very sarcastic.  It was hard to tell at first if he was joking around with me, but eventually Rahul got so mad at him for what he was telling me, that Tony finally leveled with me about who he really was.  I told him I knew he was joking (at least I was hoping) and that it was interesting to see how sarcasm is portrayed in another culture.

After going to this place on the ocean, we took an autoricksaw to basically the side of the road somewhere.  Rahul told the driver to stop because I needed some soda and water for the night.  It is really humid here and drinking is definitely a priority and I only can drink bottled water.  After picking up the drinks, Rahul and Tony enjoyed some local coffee and I lit up one of my cuban cigars I picked up from the duty free shop in Abu dhabi.  My first wow moment of the trip and it was only day two.  After we finished, we walked the rest of the way home, it was really peaceful, slightly cooler and we had a great time chatting among the three of us.

We finally got back to Rahul’s apartment, said goodbye to Tony and went upstairs.  The boys were watching the Champions League final, I had wanted to watch it very much so, and it was cool that it was on the TV and live as well!  I was rooting for Chelsea, but only made it to half time.  After that I passed out on the floor, and had to call it a day.  It was 130AM and my journey to India was long.  So far so good though, this place seems really amazing and I’m sure I will thoroughly enjoy my time here!

Josh

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May 20th – And We’re off

May 22nd, 2008

Well today was the day where I would venture off to India.  I woke up bright and early tuesday morning, around 630AM.  I had to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything important for my trip.  We loaded up the car, and headed to JFK.  When I arrived at the airport, the line was very long for Etihad Airways.  This is the national airline of the UAE.  Apparently their boarding pass printers had broken so we just stood in line waiting for them to be fixed.  After about a half of an hour I got my boarding pass and proceeded to take all my luggage to a separate security station.  Apparently that was also broken, nice start to the trip.  While I was at the security station I asked one of the TSA agents if he had the key to the special TSA locks.  He looked at me like I was from planet mars and eventually said “yes I do.”  I explained to him that I had one of those locks and for some reason it was not opening and I wanted it off my mini backpack so I could lock it up with another lock.  After a few minutes he did so, and I was off to get some food.  Even though I had several sandwiches and some goodies, it has almost become customary to eat some sort of fast food early in the morning on the brink of a flight.  McDonalds it was, figured some western style food couldn’t hurt before I went to a country where the stands for food preparation were quite low.

I ordered some breakfast style food, thoroughly enjoyed it but then I remembered that I had forgotten the charged and USB cable for my iPhone.  Doooohhh!  I called my mom to ask her if it was in my room, she told me it was, and she even offered to bring it to me from home.  I told her that shit happens, not a big deal and luckily enough I found a shop in the airport selling overpriced bootlegged chinese iphone chargers, good enough for me!

After getting the iphone charger, I decided to head through security.  Again the line was quite long, and they built an amusement park style dividers, so I felt like I was being herded like cattle through the line.  I went through with a breeze and was off to the gate.

At the gate, I had about 2 hours to kill before boarding, well maybe an hour and a half.  I sat down, put my music on and chilled out for a bit.  Eventually I got restless so I decided to walk around the area near the gate.  I played some video games, pacman and another old school game, just one each and returned to my seat.  I started to briefly chat with the girl sitting next me.  The only reason why we started talking was because while sitting at the gate, I happen to check one of my grades for law school, was extremely happy at the result and exclaimed “yes!” with my headphones on, and it turned out to be quite loud.  I noticed that the girl next to me looked at me and smiled, so I told her why I was so jubilant.

As it turned out she was in graduate school at a small school in Minnesota and was traveling to Nepal herself.  She was on my flight to Abu dhabi and was connecting to kathmandu from there.

Once again I got stuck next to a really large person on the plane.  Luckily I had an aisle seat as I was fortunate to be able to pick all of my seats when I initially booked my ticket through the Etihad website.  The flight took off thirty minutes late as we were waiting for the final few passengers to arrive.  The airline seemed fine.  The plane was pretty new and I had a large personal video screen in front of me.  Initially the on demand movie feature did not work, but luckily after a while it did. 

After getting my really gross asian vegetarian food, I put on my first movie, national treasure two.   I love this movie and loved the first one.  I ended up watching several movies and about 6 episodes of King of Queens.  I was only able to sleep to sleep maybe an hour total on a twelve hour and twenty one minute flight, usual, the seats were really comfortable, but I think I was just too anxious. 

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May 19th, 2008 – Great Neck, New York

May 19th, 2008

Well it is 1010PM the night before I leave.  My excitement is not the usual excitement I get before a big trip.  I am not sure if this has just become a run of the mill feeling and something not as special as before.  Even though every year I say this will be my last hurrah, besides smaller trips and maybe one post-bar next summer, this will be it for awhile.  But this trip will not only be for fun and pleasure like last summer.  During this trip I will be taking four classes through Touro Law Center, my law school.  This program is the only ABA approved India program in the country so it will bring guys and girls (mainly girls) from all law schools across the country.  I very much look forward to meeting them, getting to  know them all and seeing the differences between law schools from different parts of the countries.  Last I checked there were four guys and sixteen girls total on the program, not bad odds at all!

I am also hoping to keep this blog going daily as I did last year.  It will be challenging when I am in Africa, but for the first 6 or so weeks it should be pretty constant, so tune in to see what Josh is up to next!

Thanks,

Josh

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Countdown continues

May 1st, 2008

Well after my last trip to Beijing and Hong Kong, I have come home, recharged and am in the midst of making my final push towards my second year law school finals. I have a final next week and then three the following one. It will be stressful but then three days after my last final I am off to India to start my summer 2008 trip! Now most people say I’m stupid for going away instead of working and being part of the bullshit that goes along with law school and getting a job. I say to the hell with them. I do it on my own terms, have been doing so for the past twenty four years and it was worked for the most part, so why change now? I worked this semester, will work the next two semesters, I’m networking and feel like when I graduate something will happen.

Anyway the countdown to my trip continues and sits at 19 days till take off from today…

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Link Travel Consulting Goes Up!

March 31st, 2008

Well I have taken my first step to starting my own travel consulting business.  My goal is to be more active with it after I get back to my trip.  I will be having a friend help create the website and make it look more official.  I have also submitted the website to google for the googlebots to pick it up and make it a searchable website.

Basically my goal is to help people plan their trips.  I know it sounds like a travel agency, but it is not.  It will be a full service, one stop shop firm where I will help people create a plan for their travels, based on goals the individual of the client i.e. what they want to see, do, and what their objectives are on their travels.

Since I have started traveling I have noticed many people who ask what to expect, where to go, what to see, how to get around, what visas do I need, etc and I figured that I would start a company which helps potential clients answer all these questions.  As I said based on some of those answers we would work to create a plan, and go from there.

This company will also have the capability to make flight arrangements, hostel and hotel arrangements, book tours, and possibly obtain visas (through a third-party company).

So check out my site when you get a chance, it is very bare, with just a name and mission statement, but nonetheless check it out!

www.linktravelconsulting.info

if you are interested in a free consultation contact me at

linktravelconsulting@gmail.com, I promise my fees will not be excessive and I can probably find you cheaper prices than you have searched yourself!

Thanks.

Josh

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The Return of “My Daily Thoughts on Life”

March 17th, 2008

After a long hiatus my daily thoughts on life are back!  For those of you out there that go to school or work in a corporate environment with a floor bathroom will absolutely relate to this thought.

Anyone and everyone knows how crucial it is to time when you have to go number 2 at work or school.  At school you try to go during classes where traffic into and out of the bathrooms is signficantly reduced, except for the ocassional straggler that can’t hold it during class.  You try to go on an weird floor, in the basement or some handicapped bathroom which is like a suite in a hotel, so spacious and private.  For me my morning number 2 takes place at work three days a week.  I generally try for the early morning (I arrive at 830am) and hope that nobody has soiled that all important “first number 2 of the day.”  When I walk in to the bathroom and push open the stall I creep past the barrier and look to see, I pray and hope that the toilet seat is up.  See everyone knows that when the cleaning staff is done cleaning the bathrooms they always leave the seat up.  I think it might be the universal sign that “this toliet has officially been cleaned.”

To have the first number 2 of the day either at school or at work is important.  It provides that care and comfort that usually only my bathroom at home provides for me, when you know that the toilet is clean and ready to go.

So my daily thought of life is to get to the bathroom early in the morning or late in the afternoon (depending on when staff cleans them), to ensure you get the first number 2 of the day, this will provide the comfort and care we all look for in a toliet, and it is great to get to it before anyone else does!

Thanks.

Josh

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My Spring Break Trip!

March 8th, 2008

Before my mega summer trip I decided to wet the apetite and do a little traveling during my passover/spring break.  On April 18th, 2008 I will be flying direct to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (HK’s national airline and a top 3 airline worldwide).  I arrive at approximately 205PM April 19th.  When I arrive in the airport I will have approximately 2.5 before my connecting flight leaves from Beijing, China!  I will be going to Beijing with my friend Raymond.  For those of you who didn’t read my blog detailing my experience in Hong Kong, Raymond was one of my roommates at Deakin when I studied in Melbourne in 2004.  We have stayed in contact throughout the years and last year when I went to Asia I visited him and spent a lot of time in Hong Kong.

So we are taking Dragon Air (subsidiary of Cathay Pacific) to Beijing.  The flight takes 3 hours and it is direct.  The great part of the trip and reason why I am going to Beijing is that Raymond has a friend Benny who has a nice sized apartment in Beijing.  This will save us money on a hotel or hostel for 4 nights!  I am sleeping on a couch, but I am bringing some sleep enhancers if you know what I mean!

Also many of you are probably thinking to yourself “How the hell are you flying 15.5 hours direct to hong kong, getting off the plane and then another 3 hours to Beijing?”  Well the answer is simple, I am a seasoned traveler, and by doing it this way, I am maximizing my time in Beijing with Raymond.  Raymond has asked to take leave for a holiday to go with me, and instead of having Monday and Tuesday and coming back wednesday, now we will have a full day on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday.  I will be jet lagged anyway, up early in the morning ready to go so it will be fine.  When I return to Hong Kong and wednesday I’ll relax check out some sights I haven’t seen yet, revisit a few (like victoria peak and the star ferry at night) and chill out…

The goal which I have to accomplish is to have my outlines done and already read over several times before I leave.  Starting April 5th all of my legal process crap is finished giving me about 2 weeks to complete my outlines.  I have started a few of them, and have to start from scratch on others, but over two weeks I should get it done.  I will probably dedicate an entire week to just doing outlines, study them the second week and so on.

So that is my Spring Break 2008 Trip!

Thanks.

Josh

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The New York Football Giants win Superbowl 42!

February 4th, 2008

As a long time New York Giants fan, technically alive for all three Superbowl victories, 2008 will always be remembered by me, as the greatest sports victory these eyes have ever seen. In 1986 I was 3, so that didn’t count and in 1991, I fell asleep before “wide right” but do remember the Giants beating the 49ers in the NFC Championship game to make the dance.

But last night, as the cliche goes, on “any given sunday” my New York Football Giants pulled off the greatest upset in Superbowl history, football history and New York sports history. This game will be remembered with the likes of Broadway Joe and the Jets in Superbowl 3, Willis Reed walking into Madison Square Garden during the NBA Finals, and Mark Messier’s natural hat trick in game 6 of Eastern Conference Finals.

Other cities have had their day the past few years, but Sunday night showed the world why New York is the greatest sports city of them all.

Giants Win!

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Countdown to India, UAE and Africa begins

January 28th, 2008

Well after saying “this is my last summer of traveling” for the past four summers, I have lied yet again. Starting May 20th, 2008 I will fly to Mumbai via Abu Dhabi and start my summer traveling. This time around I will spend approximately 3-4 days in Mumbai, then take an overnight train to Delhi. When I arrive in Delhi I will meet up with my law school and start my summer abroad program with Touro Law.

On June 30th, 2008 I will fly from Delhi via Kingfisher air to Mumbai and catch my fligth to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways. I will be spending approximately 3-4 days in Abu Dhabi at the luxurious 5 star Hilton Abu Dhabi. Since I am going during the middle of their summer, hotels are about 50-70% off their normal price. Unfortunately since I am going during the middle of their summer it will surely be hot (41C or 115F) wow!

On July 3rd early morning I will be flying from Abu Dhabi to johannesburg enroute to my final destination of Capetown, South Africa. I decided to pass on Jo’burg for various reasons, but mainly to explore Capetown and the surrounding coastal region. Thanks to Jordan I have booked up with Big Blue Backpackers and will be spending 3 nights on C’Town.

On July 6th, 2008 I will meet up with my camping trip booked through Detour Travel (at a very affordable price, mention my name for a discount), but the actual company running the trip is Nomadtours.

This 26 day, 25 night camping trip will take me through western South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Official Countdown


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Previous posts

August 27th, 2007

Now that it has been a few months since my trip to Asia this summer, a great way to view my previous posts is to go to the archives portion of the blog and click on April, May or June.  If you start with April you will start from the beginning of my trip.  Hope you enjoy

Thanks

Josh

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Last day in Asia :-(

June 22nd, 2007

June 22nd, 2007

Even though my flight leaves at 3am on the 23rd I have to go to the airport before on the 22nd to check in and stuff.  Today is my final day in Asia.  It is bitter sweet.  I would love to continue to travel, but part of me is very excited to go home.  After more than 60 days of traveling straight, it really begins to take a toll on your body, mind and soul.  You hate your pack and all the stuff in it.  You hate having to repack and unpack and all that crap.  You start to miss your own bed, home, shower, and most important toliet!  So I am happy to go home, but sad to leave Asia.

My next entry will be from home:  good ole’ Great Neck, NY, USA.  I think I will continue to blog my life.  I will be going to California for 3 weeks with this traveling camp for kids, so I think I will write a bit about that.  If there is a way to split my blog between Asia and then post-asia life I will have to figure that out, because that would be the easiest so people can read about my journey through Asia.  Maybe I will just create another blog.

Ok that is enough rambling.  I have officially checked out of the D&D, my bags are stored and I think I will just sit at the pool for most of the day, get a tan and head to the airport when I feel like it.

Thanks for taking this incredible journey with me, more of my thoughts and reflections on my trip will come after I get home, relax and chill out.  Oh and look for my long awaited awards!

Thanks,

Josh

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Bangkok, Thailand

June 22nd, 2007

June 21, 2007

Believe it or not, this was my LAST full day in Asia 🙁  and I had nothing planned.  The only thing I had to do was to go downstairs around 10ish to see if I could switch to another cheaper room for the last night.  That didn’t happen so I had to fork out a little more than I thought, which was really fine.  All my crap was all over the place and there was no way I would be bothered by moving to another room.  I got some breakfast, and headed to the pool.  I wanted to get a little tan action going on.  I laid out at the pool for about 2 hours.  Did a little swimming, and a little reading of my Angkor Wat book that I bought for 5 bucks and was retail for about 30.  It was real and not photocopied like the last book I bought.  Great coffee table and conversation book.  I also read more of my book about the Cambodian Genocide “First they killed my father.”  I got bored after a while and wanted to go off and do something.  I headed across town to Suk area and got a 2 hour oil massage (legit of course).  It was cheaper than usual and was very nice.  After that I had to bargain like crazy to get back and ended up paying less than what the meter was reading “score!”  That is what the cab driver gets for trying to exploit me and not use the meter!  Bastardo!  I got back to the hotel and was tired.  I did a little more shopping, then went back to the room to watch whatever movie was on.  I chilled out for a bit and then around 730 or so decided to walk the street and go out.  Khao San Road is fabulous at night.  So many touts, shops, street vendors, hawkers, you name it, it comes to KSR at night.  Oh and there are hundreds if not thousands roaming the street.  I can only imagine what it is like during the high season, because it is pretty darn crowded during the night now.

The night was a crazy one and let me sum it up for you like this:

I was drunk at 930pm, I woke up naked, still drunk and with a new piercing (yet to be revealed).

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Coming Around Full Circle – Bangkok, Thailand

June 22nd, 2007

Well I had finally come around full circle and made it back to bangkok in more or less one piece.  It was 7am and I was up early.  The tour was officially over and all that was covered was breakfast.  Today I had to find a place to sleep for the next two nights and had an idea where I wanted to go; Khao San Road.  KSR is where all the backpackers go.  It is touristy, but has everything you need, and if your bargaining skills are up to par you will get the same deals here that you could get in other markets.  Last time I was in Bangkok Minette took me to D&D where she was staying and it was pretty nice.  Rooftop pool open late, internet that was competitive if not cheaper than the surrounding area, and a great atmosphere with loads of backpackers.  Definitely a different atmosphere than Suk 11 which I personally thought was a little overrated from what others had told me.

So after packing up all my stuff, which consisted of now three huge bags, including my duffel that I normally used to protect the straps on my big rucksack, that was full.  It would be a pain in the butt getting to wherever I needed to go and then have to carry it to the place, but I was up to the challenge.  I decided to leave as close to 12pm as possible, since that is when we had to check out and that is the time that D&D had told me to come back to see if they had rooms available (you know who checked in and out).  So that is what I did.  I waited till 12pm, split a cab with Elizabeth who was also on a mission to find a place to sleep and that was that.  The cab was really full, and luckily everything fit.

When we arrived at D&D, we each got a room, which was nice, and then spent the day kind of just going around Bangkok.  I wanted vegemite, and some more clothing and things to buy (naturally of course), so that is what we were off to do.  Unfortunately the vegemite was all the way across town at the supermarket right near Suk 11.  So we first hopped in a tuk tuk that said 1 stop only, we agreed and the price was cheap.  We were a bit worried about where he might REALLY take us and if he would just leave us someplace random after getting his gas coupon.  He brought us to a tailor shop called Manhattan.  SO MUCH more expensive than Hoi An.  To anyone going to Hoi An, Vietnam, BUY ALL YOUR CLOTHING THERE.  Thailand is a HUGE rip off compared to Hoi An, and I would venture to guess that the quality is better in Vietnam.  So after spending 10 minutes which we agreed to with the driver, we were off, or so we thought.  Eventually the tuk tuk driver dropped us off at the BTS Skyrail station, and was like get out.  I was like “what do you mean get out?”  He basically was telling us that he didn’t want to take us any farther and that he really didn’t care if we paid or not because he got his coupon from the tailor shop.  After I started to get a little angry, Elizabeth took over, and I just said “fuck it, let’s get out.”  We didn’t even pay, but he knew that it would cost us the same to get to where we wanted to go by the skyrail, then for him to take us, which is was, ironically enough.  What a bastard, I was steaming from that.  I knew where we were and how to get to where we were going, but it was just annoying to have to deal with that type of shit, you know?

So we hopped on the skyrail, transferred at Siam station and headed to Nana station which was right in front of Suk Soi 11.  We walked to the supermarket and found the vegemite.  It was really expensive, but worth it considering they were taken off the shelves in America, something about one of the ingredients, screw the FDA I love yeast and beef extract!  I also got some water and crackers, so I had something to spread the vegemite with.

After going to the supermarket I had the idea of going to see a movie.  Mom had told me that Oceans 13 was great when I phoned her last, so I was keen on seeing that.  Elizabeth agreed and went in to Suk 11 to use the internet and find out where the heck the movie theater was.  It was convienently located only a few stops away by the skyrail, on the same line and you could walk from the station in to the shopping center; and what a shopping center this was.  There must have been like 10 stories to it and it had everything.  It was called “The Emporium” for anyone going to Bangkok and it had probably the nicest movie theater I have ever seen, and cheap.  We ended up paying 160 baht each, more than usual because it was in the new Digital 2.0K theater.  No more reel to reel, this scene projected digital quality movies, and it was spectacular.  Between the sound and picture the movie looked awesome and the seats where so comfortable.  Also fyi, if you go to the theater AFTER 830pm it is only 80 baht for a movie, which is like 2.50!  This just shows me how much we get ripped off back in America!

We also had Burger King before the movie.  I hadn’t had fast food in ages, and probably won’t have it much when I go home.  I am done with fast food.  I want to become part of the “Slow food” movement happening in Italy and other parts of the world.

There were a ton of previews and the movie was good, over 2 hours so when we got out it was now the evening.  The night was rather quiet.  I stayed in and just enjoyed the big bed, tv, and walked a bit around KSR.

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Siem Reap

June 20th, 2007

Monday June 18th, 2007

Today was our last full day in Siem Reap.  Our meeting time was 830am, not bad considering the day before was at 430am.  We were going to see a few more temples located about 50 minutes outside of the main Siem Reap area.  One of the temples was the famous temple from Tomb Raider the movie.  It was located in a jungle and was really cool.

Again basically until midday we basically just took a lot of photos and we listen to Ly spout of so much quality information about the temples it really made the tour of these temples worth it.  Personally I thought he was our best tour guide of the whole trip and as a result I tipped him the best.  We were done at 12pm and were dropped off in town.  I was hot and sweaty, but there were some things I wanted to buy and I wanted to see the town during the day.  There was a good day market from what I had heard and figured I could get some stuff there.

I walked around the market and finally was able to get my hands on a hammock.  I was dying for a hammock the whole trip, they had such comfortable ones, and I could basically hang it where ever I wanted.  At first I went to a few shops who didn’t have what I was looking for.  Finally I went to one shop, the kid kind of understood what I was asking for and he basically just brought me to all these different shops showing me different types of hammocks, but they weren’t what I was looking for.  Eventually the guy brought me back to his shop in this covered day market and I just settled for buying what he had.  The material was right but the holes were a little big.  I figured I could just cover them up with a sheet anyway, so I wasn’t worried.  I ended up buying a few more things in the market and then it was time for food.

I walked down to pub street to temple club and decided on getting some pizza.  I had been craving pizza and this place was affordable enough and you got a free soft drink with lunch, I was sold!  Standing next to me was this girl.  After I sat down she asked me if I wanted company, I said “sure,” and we started chatting.  Her name was Chloe, she was from London, and had been living abroad and traveling for several years now.  I never got her age, but I am thinking she was in her late, late twenties just based on all the traveling she had done.  She had just spent a month in the south of Cambodia volunteering at local schools and staying with a local family.  She had picked up some Khmer (local language) which was impressive and was able to order and get the waiter’s attention.  We each ordered some soda, split a bottle of water and split a large greek pizza.  All very good.  The food took a long time which was typical for Cambodia and that just gave us some more time to chat.

After lunch we said goodbye and I had to get back to the hotel.  We had to meet at 6pm for our last night our and pre dinner drinks.

I went back, took a shower, walked around the markets a little more and just chilled out before 6pm.  At 6 Andy had already planned out where we were going for drinks and dinner.  The place for drinks was called FCC and was really sheik.  It was half price drinks during happy hour, hence why we were going there.  The place also had a pool table indoors, which was air conditioned so that was also good.  But after being there for about 30 minutes it started to rain like hell.  One of those typical flooding passing showers, where it rained like hell for a little while then stopped, but left the flooding behind.

Our tuk tuk drivers were getting soaked and wanted us to make moves, so we decided to head off to dinner and leave the FCC.  Dinner was at temple club!  I had already eaten there for lunch, but as luck would have it, would have to eat there for dinner as well.  Andy took us to this particular restaurant because from 730 to 930 there was traditional Khmer dancing.  I videotaped two full dances and watched the rest.  I ordered spring rolls and a bucket of redbull and vodka.  Since I already had a few drinks before I was in the mood to continue.  I could not finish the whole bucket.  I mean there was probably 64 ounces of redbull and vodka and I almost finished but decided to pass.  From upstairs temple club we went downstairs where it was more of a bar/club type atmosphere.  Elizabeth and I split a jug of Long Island Ice Tea and were set.  We sat outside chatting it up, Deb was drunk and decided to dance in the middle of the street like usual, making a fool out of herself, but it was funny and I got some good photos of that.  From temple club we moved across the street to the “Angkor What?” Bar.  It had such a great name because supposedly it was the first establishment in these developed areas of Siem Reap.  They had good music as well, but it was a little on the empty side.

Again I ordered a Long Island Ice Tea jug and was set.  I split it again with Elizabeth and bought an “Angkor What?” T-shirt.  It was too hard to pass up.  We would stay out till about 2am and had to be up and ready to leave by 730am to head back to Bangkok from Siem Reap.

I passed out and was up at 7am when Morrie’s ridiculous alarm clock went off again…

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Siem Reap

June 20th, 2007

Morrie’s alarm clock rings at 430AM and I pop up out of bed like a bottle rocket.  I had my ear plugs in, and the alarm was still incredibly loud.  Today we were going off to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat.  I have recently googled about Angkor Wat, and it is not one of the 7 Wonders of the World, but were listed as one of the 7 Forgotten Wonders of the World.  That is a shame considering the beauty this temple and the others possess here in Siem Reap.  I quickly did my bathroom thing, gathered some clothing up, and since my bag was already packed I was ready with my camera and 8 fully charged batteries and my laptop so I could transfer pictures over throughout the day if needed.  I was planning on taking a ton of photos in Siem Reap and of these extraordinary temples I was about to see.  Our bus was waiting for us as we all met in the foyer of the Angkor Way Hotel located about 6 kilometers from Ankgor Wat.  We were lucky this was the low season as our guide Ly had told us that during the high season thousands of people go to see the sunrise every day.  When we got there, there were not that many people there.  A few hundred tops, very surprising considering all of the hoopla Andy had given us about how many people will be there.  I often wondered if she hyped up certain things, so when they weren’t true it would make her look better to us.  This would be a perfect example of that, for days she would tell us how many people we would see at Angkor Wat and the temples, and overall during the three days, there weren’t that many.

Ly took us to a spot directly in front of the main temple.  I could tell this would be an excellent sunrise, even though there were clouds right over where the sun would initially creep up from over the horizon, I wasn’t worried.  It was around 5am and there was not enough light to take photos yet.  Since I don’t have a great lens or zoom on the camera, I would need more light.  I also did not have a tripod, so using the night scene mode on my camera was also out.  In order to use that feature you need a tripod or a ridiculously steady hand, neither of which I had.

After a few more minutes, there was more and more light.  We were approaching the summer solstice so the days were getting longer and longer, which meant the sun would rise earlier and earlier.  When there was just enough light I ran down to the moat in front of the temples to try and get some good shots.  I rested my camera on a rock right in front of my shot, lined up my frame and just started shooting away.  I took many, many, many photos of similar shots, hoping that I would get one great one to blow up and put on my wall.  I would rotate between panoramic and regular shots, again just trying to get the perfect shot.  We were going to start the tour of the temple at Angkor Wat at 6am, so we would be able to go off and do our own thing till then.  I basically held my perfect spot in front of the temples till we had to leave.  I got a few people standing around me to take photos of me, and most of them came out great.  There became more and more light, which meant the shots would become easier and easier to take, and with all the different lighting and how it reflected off of the buildings, I was getting some great shots.

To pass the time in between shots and lighting possibilities, I began to chat with two guys standing next to me.  They were both working in Hong Kong in virology, basically working with Bird Flu and other Asian viruses.  I initially thought they were French Canadians, but luckily they were not.  Even the French get insulted when you think they are French Canadian, that I found hilarious.

So 6am rolled around and Ly took us off to start our tour.  He was 26, had gone to university which is unique for young Cambodians.  Most can’t afford to go to university even though it only costs 120 US Dollars for the whole year for a basic course at university!  That is so little, and the fact that kids cannot afford it is shocking and a stark reality.

Ly would give us an excellent tour that would last till around 8am.  He knew all of the spots where he could take us with not that many other tourists around.  We saw some incredible carvings, stone statutes, and it was all made from lovely sandstone.  Others think it is clay or concrete but it is really sandstone that has withstood the test of time dating back to the early 9th century.  After the tour the bus took us to get some breakfast at a local stop.  There were maybe 10 shops or more selling exactly the same thing.  Ly and Andy knew which restaurant to go to, which was located in the far corner.  To get to the restaurant we would have to run the gauntlet.  A little background first.  In the main cities of Cambodia there are many children that are used by their parents to beg for money and to sell small items.  I am not completely sure if they even go to school, my inclination is that they don’t, but some go to school either in the morning or afternoon and sell on their off time.  There is a debate as to whether it is good or not to buy stuff from local kids selling.  The argument is that if you buy they won’t go to school because their parents will force them to continue to sell, but the other side is well if you buy at least the family is getting money to survive.  My philosophy on this is if I buy something that I like, I don’t matter where it is coming from and I know that in a way I am helping out the family, even though the parents may be exploiting the kids.

So the gauntlet was basically having to get through all the kids selling you stuff in this open field and as soon as you step foot off of the bus they all rush you putting post cards, bracelets, books and other junk in your face asking you to buy.  They always ask you where you are from and when you say a country they spout off the capital, population and anything else they have learned, then they go “ok you buy from me now?”  I usually just say no and keep walking, or “no thank you,” stuff like that.  This running of the gauntlet was like nothing I have ever experienced before.  There must have been 50 kids trying to sell stuff, and each of us would attract like 10, trying to get to the restaurant.  After about 15 minutes of walking through, we finally got to the restaurant which was only about 100 meters away from the bus!

I was hungry considering we had gotten up really early and done a lot all before 830am.  I ordered an American breakfast which was lovely, some soda and water, and after breakfast it was back through the gauntlet.  It was crazier than the first time, a little later in the day, more kids woke up I guess and got their stuff.  This time I was surrounded by 20 kids and could not even move.  I could not see over their hands in my face, and was starting to get annoyed.  Eventually I just went “hey, look over there,” they all looked of course since they were all young kids and I started to run for the bus.  Once they turned around realizing it was a big joke, they saw me running and started running after me laughing and screaming “hey you buy from me now, from me now,” and so on.  It was hilarious and I actually have a video of me running!  It was classic.

The rest of the day was basically looking at more temples.  We saw quite a few that first full day in Siem Reap.  Nothing major of note, I took like 1500 pictures during that day, filled up all the memory cards and had to upload them back on to the computer and on to the backup external hard drive.  When we got back from the temples we had some down time to relax after the long day.  We all headed to the pool, swam for a bit and others went off to see some concert at this hospital that I was not interested in.  I walked and met the group at 815PM and then we caught a ride with another Intrepid tour in to town for a late dinner.  At this point I was a little hungry, but mainly just really tired and out of it.  We had been up for many hours, and coupled with the heat and walking around ALL day long, I was just ready to go to bed.

After dinner, I headed straight home, and Morrie and I were asleep before 11am.

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Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Cambodia

June 16th, 2007

Saturday June 16, 2007

Today we had our flight from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Siem Reap, Cambodia home to the Angkor Wat complex and all those pesky famous temples surrounding Siem Reap.  There are something like 168 temples in all, and would probably be quite difficult to do them all in the three days we have, but I will definitely try to visit as many as I can without really missing out on the experience.

We had to be downstairs by 8am, not too bad.  Since our earlier flight was cancelled, we were able to get on a later flight which meant more sleep, woohoo.  I packed up all my stuff, schlepped it down stairs and to the bus.  The bus ride to the airport wasn’t bad at all, the airport was actually larger than most of the ones we had been too.  Ho Chi Minh City’s airport was quite large, but this airport just had a bunch of airlines fly here because of the Angkor Wat complex being so close.  We had to board the plane from the tarmac and again had to take a propeller plane.  That would be two on this trip, two more than I had taken in about 13 years, since I was ten in Tennessee.  The plane ride would only be 45 minutes and went fairly quickly.  I made Elizabeth take a few quick photos of me on the tarmac and in front of the plane and we were off.  Lucky for me (of course) I got an aisle seat and was all straight.  I was sitting next to Penny, who remained fairly quiet during the flight.  I couldn’t tell if that was just her personality to be quiet like that, or was just taking sides in the ongoing scuffle between Deb and me?  I think it is probably the latter of the two.

When we landed we landed and we at another teeny tiny airport.  This airport was so small that there was no baggage conveyor belt.  It was simple a few guys actually delivering the luggage and putting them on this metal platform!  It was really cool.  But I was too lazy to take a photo and I think Morrie got one.  My plan is to just upload all of his photos from the trip on to my external hard drive and should be set with photos from the trip.  I think my total has now eclipsed the 7000 picture mark and after these next three days, if I don’t take 2000 photos or more I will be upset with myself.

When we arrived at the hotel we had a bit of a break.  People went swimming I relaxed and walked around a bit.  The hotel had a pool which was kept secret from us by Andy until last night.  People were excited to have a chance to swim, but personally I was here to see some temples.  At around 12pm I rounded up the troops and said lets go see some temples!  People wanted to stay in the pool but kept at it and got people to go.  While I wanted to initially go by myself, going with the group would be easier and cheaper when hiring the tuk tuk.  The group of temples we were off to see were the Roulos Group.  They were considered “major ruins,” but not “must sees,” which is the highest rating given in the local Siem Reap guidebook.  The temples were about 12 kilometers away from our hotel so we had to bargain with the two tuk tuk driver.  Eventually we agreed on 2 dollars each back and forth and to all three temples and back home.  Not too bad, Andy had done well for us.  The temples were really cool.  These group of temples were one of the oldest, dating back to about the 8th or 9th century!  I ended up taking about 300 photos just at these three temples and they were not even the big ones!  I expect to take loads more and will fire up the batteries tonight and download the photos to make sure I am good to go for the big day tomorrow.  Tomorrow we are off at 430am to see sunrise over the famous Angkor Wat Complex and temples.  It should be good.  Who knows at this point, because right now it is lighting and thundering out?  I hope it just passes and is not raining tomorrow.  I don’t care if it is sunny or not, just not raining would be nice.  I have waited the whole month for this part of the trip and too rain at the end would really suck considering the pictures would be crap and it would be hard to photograph with your camera getting soaked.

After seeing the temples, Meredith, Elizabeth and I bought some crap from the local girls selling.  I bought a scarf which I am using as a head wrap the next few days to absorb the sweat.  It is a really thin synthetic fibered scarf, so it should be fine.  I also bought this bag for someone in the family (not to be revealed till I return home).  We told the driver we wanted food and negotiated a price to do so.  It would add an extra dollar for him to take us to get food and wait.  A dollar each that is.  We ended up eating at a really good Indian restaurant that made north Indian style food.  Basically the guy told us that North Indian food is different from South Indian in that it is no where near as spicy as the South Indians eat there food.  Also some of the local dishes are cooked differently.  The food was fantastic but did take a while to come.  I was thirsty and hungry and again was getting a bit cranky.

From the restaurant located in the town of Siem Reap we had the tuk tuk driver take us back to the hotel, I changed in to my boxers to go for a swim (I left my bathing suit in Saigon), and enjoyed the pool.  The temperature of the water was like bath water and really did not cool me down, but I have been on a bit of a swimming binge lately and have really enjoyed it the whole trip.  Also it helps working on my tan!

In the evening the rest of the gang went off to see some concert put on at a children’s hospital.  I really was not interested in being put in a really awkward situation of having to donate or buy something I really didn’t want, and then feel guilty about not buying it, so I chose not to go.  Instead I just chilled out in the hotel room, with my air conditioning of full blast, writing in my blog.  At around 745 I attempted to use the hotel computers downstairs to try and upload my blog, but that didn’t work so I took my hard drive and my bag and walked down the road about 1 kilometer to meet the gang for dinner after their concert.  I arrived a little early and had to just sit outside with lots of local young adults till eventually I went in to the hospital and waited for the gang there.  I had thought Andy said it was over at 815 but I think she said 830PM so I had a little while to wait.  I was getting tired of waiting but just as I was about to throw in the towel and walk back to the hotel they appeared and it was all good.  From the hospital we got a minibus to the restaurant in the center of Siem Rep town and had some food.  I just ordered some small appetizer type dishes and an Asahi Super Dry in the bottle; hmmm lovely. 

So here I am up to date finally with the blog.  Sorry for the delay but as you can see I have been

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

June 16th, 2007

Friday

June 15, 2007

There was nothing on the docket for the morning, so we all set off on our own and did whatever we wanted.  I thoroughly enjoyed a bit of free time alone, as I have passionately mentioned in this blog.  I was a little tired and didn’t feel like getting up at 6am to go to the Russian market or anything so I took the day at my own pace.  I ended up getting up fairly early though (again before 8am) because Morrie got up, woke me up and then I was up.  I got dressed, got my headset to make calls through skype and was off.  I decided to try and find another internet place than the one I used the night before.  The one the night before was extremely slow and once you opened up multiple programs the darn thing just froze right up.  Eventually after walking a good distance down the river I found a small place that was open.  It was before 8am so not everything was open, but by this time, many vendors were unlocking their chained doors, opening up the shops, putting out chairs, and just preparing for another day in the life.

This internet place was a makeshift one in between a restaurant and a pharmacy.  I had no issues as it was relatively fast (for Cambodia) and I had the ability to use skype.  I called Mom and Dad back home to say hi.  They were happy to hear from me as I hadn’t called home in about a week or so.  I also called Jenny who of course was on the go to meet her friends in the city.  Calling her is like calling the pope.  It is either “oh sorry my phone was turned off,” or “oh I didn’t have service,” or “oh I was on the train,” yea, yea, if your brother is calling from Southeast Asia, pick up the damn phone girl!  Ha, ha, anyway, it was nice chatting with her briefly and she told me that she would come with mom to pick me up from the airport on June 23rd at night.  I’m sure she will have to cancel dinner plans or something to do it, but that’s all right, she did miss my college graduation J

I was at the internet place for about an hour and a half.  It was hot out, the café was fairly cool, and I really did not have much to do.  After the internet place, I had a bit of a wonder back towards the hotel and passed it.  Familiar territory as I had commonly walked passed several of the same shops on the same blocks for the past day or so.  I stopped at a DVD/CD shop and had a bit of a look inside.  They had everything.  From dvd movies, to TV shows, to all types of music, and software.  I was interested in purchasing some software to take back home with me, so I picked out two such dvds and paid 9 dollars for them.  It was a little steep but if it worked, I would have gotten thousands of dollars worth of software for only 9, look how much money I am saving!  Well when I got back to my hotel room and popped them in, they didn’t seem to work.  It is not that they didn’t load up, but it wasn’t the software as advertised on the box.  After fiddling with it for a while, I eventually just brought them pack in the original packaging to the store and told the girl at the desk that I wanted to exchange them for some movies.  She asked me why they didn’t work and I told her that it didn’t give me the software on the box.  She smiled/smirked and told me to pick out some movies in exchange for the software.  She would even through in one for free.  Well unfortunately I did not stop at only 5 movies.  When it was all said and done I had bought, including the 5 I got initially, 64 movies/tv shows and 7 new music cds.  The movies ranged from all the Rocky’s, to all the Star Wars/Die Hard/Mission Impossible movies, to seasons I and II of Weeds a show on showtime to the first two seasons of Entourage and My name is Earl.  It was fantastic.  In the end I did not end up paying as much as you probably think, but I do think I should have bargained more.  I ended up paying 1.50 each, they wanted 3 for each movie, so getting half price isn’t so bad.  So far the cheapest I have paid for a movie that actually worked was in Hanoi I ended up paying about 80 cents a movie.  The most I have paid was in Bangkok paying about 2.30 a movie.  While I haven’t tested all the ones from Bangkok, I know some will not work, the quality won’t be great on all of them, but I do know that the others I have bought work perfectly.  In total after figuring out how many movies/tv shows/and music cds I purchased.  The grand total for this trip is 120!  All that cost me roughly 168 dollars or about 1.40 a movie/tv show/music cd.  Not too shabby.  I would have like to pay a little less, but at least I know that about 110 will work perfectly and the other 10 are touch and go.

So after I bought all these movies and such I had to bring them back to the hotel room and hide them.  I didn’t exactly want to be walking around with 70 cds in a bag.  On the way back to the DVD place the second time when I returned the software, I ran in to a tuk tuk driver who offered me a ride.  He seemed nice, so I threw him a bone.  I negotiated a price to take me to several key landmarks for a small fare.  When I got back to the hotel to drop off my stuff, the tuk tuk driver was waiting for me and that was when I found out that some of the places I wanted to go were closed.  The Royal Palace was closed for lunch but Wat Phnom and the National Museum were opened.  Because the driver would only take me to two places, we had to re-negotiate the price down a little bit.  So the first stop was Wat Phnom.  This Wat or temple was responsible for the name Phnom Penh.   It is a famous Wat in Phnom Penh and quite beautiful.  It sits in the middle of a big park, which is rare for a city like this.  Normally there isn’t space or the ability to upkeep such a park.  I walked around for a bit, explored the grounds, snapped photos, went inside and saw the Buddha (leaving a little offering for good luck), and then something remarkable happened.  Like I said this Wat Phnom sat in a park.  Well behind the temple I saw these things running around from a distance.  I thought to myself “what the hell are they?”  As I got closer I realized that they were wild monkeys!  I quickly scurried down the steep, stone, makeshift steps, slipping a little bit along the way and down to their level.  There were monkeys in the trees, on the pavement, in the grass, there were so many.  Of course where there are monkeys in a public park there is food.  There were ladies throughout the park selling bananas and lotus seeds to feed the monkeys with.  I decided to buy lotus seeds, and now I must interject another story.  About once a day I got ripped off big time as a tourist.  It normally only happens once, usually my first purchase or so, because I am not on my game and ready to get down and dirty with the bargaining.  So I walk up to this old lady at her little stand at the park and basically gesture that I want to buy lotus seeds.  These seeds come in a bushel of three and they are inside this plant like structure.  She said “1 dollar.”  I thought that was a little pricey for lotus seeds!  In the end she wouldn’t budge and I had to pay a dollar for 3 lotus plants which had X number of seeds in them.  I went up to my first monkey, pulled out some seeds and handed it him.  As I handed it to the monkey, with his other hand he quickly pulled the whole bushel out of my hand and ran up a tree!  The locals around me were laughing and I was out of my lotus seeds to feed the monkeys with, and I had paid a dollar.  So here comes the punch line.  Next to me was this girl holding her daughter.  In broken English she asked me how much did I pay for the seeds?  I told her a dollar and she started laughing, asking me “isn’t that expensive?”  I said “yes extremely expensive, I got ripped off, but she would not lower her price.”  She asked me if I wanted more seeds to feed the monkeys I said yes.  She said “give me 1000 riel and I will buy more for you.”  At that point I knew that I had been severely ripped off.  The old lady charged me 4 times more because I was a tourist then what a local would know to pay and be able to pay.  So I handed her the 1000 Riel and she slyly handed me the bushel of lotus seeds without the old lady seeing.  I was back baby and ready to feed some monkeys.

In the end I was able to feed the monkeys and video tape it at the same time.  I ended up spending like an hour feeding the monkeys in the park.  Don’t worry they were extremely docile with the humans, only fierce between each other.  I was also able to see monkeys doing it like monkeys (if you know what I mean).  They were basically just living their life in this park and that was extremely cool to watch, photograph and videotape.  After I was done with all my lotus seeds, I started chatting with this weird fellow who lived in Cambodia, was married to a Thai woman and was originally for California.  He reminded me of the guy from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.  You know that crazy hick who finds Harold and Kumar and says that he can fix their car with that pickup.  Then his wife is like really hot and that whole seen.  Well this dude kind of looked and spoke like that guy, minus the boils on his face, but didn’t have teeth either.  We had a nice chat and eventually I said I had to go.  Time was running out before I had to meet the group for the included afternoon activities.

My next stop was the National Museum.  It was 3 dollars to enter and 1 dollar to take photos.  I refused to pay the extra dollar to take photos inside the place.  I mean why the hell am I paying 3 dollars to enter in the first place, if you are going to hit me up for more money?  After going back and forth with the dude from the museum, at one point I said to him “Do you work for the museum?  Well I don’t believe you so show me.”  He pulled out his badge and I just hissed at him and walked away.  The museum was really cool.  It had artifacts from as early as the 7th and 8th centuries.  A lot of their artifacts come from the Angkor Archaeological Site, in Siem Riep, Cambodia.  You know the famous Angkor Wat temple.  The Angkor Wat temples are one of the 7 Wonders of the World (either Ancient or regular I still have googled that one yet, anyone know?)

Anyway after the museum, I jumped in the tuk tuk, the driver took me home and I was back with plenty of time before we had to meet at 130.  I decided it was a good time to back up my photos on to my external hard drive that I bought in Hong Kong.  No matter what happens to this computer, if my photos are safe, who cares right?  I sure don’t its only a computer, it is not “just only photos!”  130 rolled around and I had forgotten to shower.  It was fine it was looking like rain so I didn’t bother.  This afternoon was going to be an extremely confronting and emotional one.  This afternoon we were set to visit the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh as well as the Killing Fields of Cambodia.  I had always joked that I wanted to see the Killing Fields of Cambodia to my dad, but never realized what they really were.  For those who don’t know about the genocide of Cambodia during the 1970’s just google Pol Pot, look on Wikipedia and read about it.  It has the potential, if the numbers are correct to be the second worst genocide since the holocaust.  Granted I have no idea how many died between the Hutu and the Tutsi, or with Darfur, but a rough estimate has about 3,000,000 Cambodians being killed during the Pol Pot regime.  He basically killed every Cambodian who was educated, wore glasses, or who’s skin was not darn.  If you were educated you were killed because Pol Pot didn’t want the educated to try and rise up with the local people to overthrow him, so they killed every doctor, teacher, lawyer, anyone they could find they killed.  If you wore glasses again educated so he killed anyone who wore glasses.  Finally if you got passed the first two, if your skin wasn’t dark, you were never a farmer, therefore educated (probably worked in an office or school or whatever) and you were killed.

Very tragic stuff that most of the world at least my generation and younger has absolutely no clue about.  You ask anyone 21 or younger who Pol Pot was, do they know about the Cambodian Genocide or the what the Killing Fields were, they were just look at you dumbfounded.  It is a shame we do not teach our children about such a travesty.  The sad part is the that world knew about and did not do anything about it.  Pol Pot regime ended when the Vietnamese eventually invaded Cambodia and overthrew Pol Pot who ran away to the jungle and eventually died of Malaria from being in the jungle for so long.  He was never tried for any murder and all of his soldiers and high ranking officials were either given amnesty by the King afterwards or were defected in to the current government and most still even work in the government today!

So our first stop was the genocide museum where basically during Pol Pot he turned most schools in to prisons.  We got to see one of the prisons.  It was horrific to see the pictures and the stories from our guide Ron.  He was my personal favorite out of the entire trip and knew everything about Pol Pot and the genocide.  He had personally lived through it, so that added a bit to it.  He lost basically his entire family; 5 brothers and sisters, father, aunts, uncles, the whole lot.  He was only 5 at the time and still he told us he had to work in a teenage camp working the fields all day, no food, minimal water, many starved to death.  I can go on and on but the only reason why I stop now and mention this in the first place is that I hope that even if one person who reads this entry goes and googles Pol Pot and reads about what happened, that I have been successful in trying to spread the word of these events.

Our second stop were the Killing Fields; again very confronting.  We were shown the mass graves that the people had to dig before they were killed and thrown in, or just thrown in anyway and buried alive.  There were so many in just one field, and Ron told us that there were about 43 mass graves still kept in the ground and that they would never be excavated.  All in all I think there were approximately 19,000 dead in the killing field I went too and Ron said this was just one of hundreds.  There are hundreds of such killing fields in Cambodia and a few sites that have been dug up and dedicated to the dead and murder with a stupor or some monument.  Another quick story.  The way Pol Pot kept the Cambodians from going in to Thailand was that he buried millions of landmines along the border.  While many have been dug up and defused, Ron said about 600 people a year are killed from stepping on landmines still in the ground.  Ron told us that the soldiers would not just bury one in one spot, but would pile 6 or 7 vertical in a row, making for a massive explosion.  Another reason why there are still mines in Cambodia is that it is really expensive to defuse them.  I think the expression is something like “it takes 3-4 dollars to plant a landmine and a 1000 dollars to defuse it.”  That is the main reason why there are still landmines.  Another reason is that Pol Pot used plastics a lot and machines cannot find the plastics, well maybe today they can, but Cambodia just does not have the resources for such equipment and etc…

While we were leaving the Killing Fields it started to rain.  It rained like I have never seen before.  I know I have wrote that before on this blog, but this was some serious rain.  It was completely dark out, rain clouds like I have never seen and it was down pouring.  The roads immediately began to flood with water.  You did not see any drains in the street and I wondered where all the water went?  When we got closer to town traffic was seriously gridlocked.  Oh yea Cambodia really doesn’t have traffic lights so that is a problem when you have many lanes trying to get through, some going straight across, some making turns, usually there is traffic police to help direct, but in this rain there weren’t any to be found.  It took us quite a while to get close to the hotel and when we were finally pretty close the bus driver did not think he could get through to the hotel.  The roads were so flooded and the water was so high, kids were swimming in the streets, the waves from the buses looked like tidal waves and would crash in to open shops, and on to people.  The motorbikes were still trying to make their way through and most were able too.  These damn motorbikes are like wonder bikes.  They can do it all and survive anything, even torrential rain storms.  The bus driver decided to give it a shot and try and make it through.  We were all ready to get out and walk, even though the water looked gross and the amount of bacteria in the water was probably enough to kill us all, we were ready for the challenge.  Before we got that chance, the bus driver decided to give it a shot.  We made it back to the hotel, but it took awhile.  Of course this was the one day I decided not to eat breakfast and did not have time for lunch so I was pretty hungry and a little crabby.  When the bus stopped I immediately ran to the restaurant next to the hotel which remarkably had not flooded at all.  Come to think of it, none of the roads near the river and around the hotel were flooded at all.  Boy they were lucky.  I ended up ordering spaghetti with meat sauce, some French fries, two beers and water.  I needed it all, and was quite satisfied after dinner.

I elected not to join the group for dinner since I had already eaten dinner, and apparently that was a good choice.  Morrie had said getting to and from dinner was a whole project and that they had to take a tuk tuk through the murky and diseased water.  Score for me.  I ended up staying up, relaxing and testing all the movies/shows/music cds I had purchased earlier in the day.  All of them worked except for three.  I had to get up, put clothing on and run to the shop in the pouring ran to exchange them.  It was no problem and the girl apologized and handed me three new ones.  She tested them for me and they worked.  I have a inclination that it is my dvd player in my computer and not the dvds or music cds.  Just like when I tried to use my new SD memory cards in my slot and they didn’t work, but in a newer computer they did; probably the same thing; the dvd player is a little old and the technology on the dvds is probably new, so I think they will definitely work great on my small dvd player at home.  I can’t wait to get home, lay in bed, in my cool air conditioned room and just watch movies and tv shows all day and all night.  Ahhhh the life.  As Uncle Jay says “I hope I can grow up to live like you.”

That was basically my night.  I also opened up my music cds and put them on to my computer and then on to my IRIVER.  I still have to put a few more on, but was happy to get those on as well.  I also figured out finally after a few years how to maneuver my way through the IRIVER, which was nice and was able to delete some music and clear the way for some new stuff.

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Saigon, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

June 16th, 2007

Thursday June 14th, 2007

Today was a traveling day which meant we would have to wake up early.  Today we got up at 620 and I was hurting.  I hadn’t gone to bed till 3am as I was up chatting with friends from back home on the free wireless (yes you Brittni) so I was tired when Morrie got up at 620.  I also had forgotten to pack the night before, so all my shit was lying all over the floor, and I had to get it all in to the two bags.  This was not fun and I was nervous I would leave something behind.  I managed to change clothes, pack up my stuff and even make it down to breakfast, albeit half asleep.  Morrie handed me the Vegemite, I got my pinwheel cheese, and toasted bread and enjoyed the breakfast.  Vegemite has so much Vitamin B that it cures a hangover within minutes.  Granted it is an acquired taste, I thoroughly enjoy it and hope to get it in the USA, or maybe have it sent to me from overseas.

Today we were also going to experience something new on our trip, taking a public bus to Cambodia.  We jumped on to our tuks tuks that Andy had arranged for us, with my new backpack and the guys took us to our bus.  The bus was a regular coach bus, with the all important air conditioning.  After going to the bathroom across the street at our travel agency who arranged the tickets we were all set.  The bus was not completely full so I was able to get two seats to myself, which was lovely considering the bus ride would take hours (7-8) till we got to Cambodia.  This also included the two border stops, the currency exchange and lunch.  Andy had told us that the guy on the bus takes care of the visas and the stamps out of Vietnam and in to Cambodia.  “Don’t ask questions, just hand the dude your passport, and you will be straight.”  Sounded good to me, all this meant was another country under the belt and another two stamps and a visa too boot.  The journey would be long and interesting with all the locals and people not in the tour group on the bus.

The border/immigration stop was pretty interesting as well.  Andy had told us about the currency exchange women that would run up to you either on the bus or once you got out, to exchange your dong into Riel or US Dollars.  She told us to be careful and really wanted to work with us one at a time so that the ladies did not try to rip us off.  The current rate was 4000 Riel to 1 US Dollar.  I was the first to try it with Andy and boy did the lady try to fuck us.  At first she wanted to give me like 3.2 or some ridiculously low rate.  Andy said no no, we want 40,000 for 170,000 Dong.  The lady then started to hand us money.  She would give us 500 and 100 dollar bills in Riel, the local currency of Cambodia to which Andy would respond “Stop handing us this bullshit money, give us real money, give us though 5000 Riel notes!”  It was pretty hilarious to watch how Andy dealt with these women, but she had every right too.  I would get my 40,000 or almost the rate I was looking for but not before the woman tried to hand me a bill that read “0000,” basically being a fake note, that was worthless.  The way that the ladies got you was that you would hand them Dong or US dollars and they would hand you a wad of what looks like good money.  Most of the time the wad has lots of 500 and 100 dollar notes, which are basically worthless or worth very little compared to the 10000 and 5000 dollar notes.  Also be on the look out for those blue 0000 notes.  While one side may appear to say “0000,” before you flip out, turn over the note to see if it has a proper currency amount. 

Anyway after the lady tried to hand us a “0000” note, Andy goes “what the fuck is this?” and throws the bill at the lady, the lady doesn’t even appear to care and we continue to bargain hard for the currency rate we want.  You even have to bargain for currency in South East Asia, man I love this shit.

After the currency exchange we proceeded to the immigration booth to wait till the people called us up to collect our passport and head to the bus.  In Vietnam it was simple, in Cambodia it took a lot longer, all Andy said was “Welcome to Cambodia,” I laughed and just enjoyed the show.  Eventually I was called up, grabbed my passport and headed to the bus.  Before we got on the bus another immigration officer counted up all of our passports to make sure everyone was accounted for and nobody was trying to do anything funny.  The immigration officer eventually called one dude and when the guy came up to take it the immigration officer kept double clutching looking between him and the passport, talking to the guy in some language.  Basically the immigration officer did not think the picture on the passport looked like the guy in person.  He really was busting his balls about it, but let him go on the bus after some interrogation.  He did the same with a few others, but let me go straight away.  It was back on the bus and to lunch.  Lunch would be had at this rest stop along the half dirt half paved road.  The food was surprisingly good and I had chicken curry.  I had forgotten how chicken curry was normally served; on the bone with not much meat.  The rice held me over, and then after the meal I ordered steamed rice.  When it came to paying the lady tried to rip me off by trying to overcharge me by a few thousand Riel.  We had to go back and forth several times before she believed me and what I was saying.  Again back on the bus, we were in Cambodia and not that far from Phnom Penh (maybe 3 hours).  While we were on the ferry boat crossing the once forgotten Mekong River, a certain individual on the bus caught my eye.  I saw he was smoking a cigarette and by himself on the bus.  I went up to him and introduced myself and asked him where he was from.  He said “I am from Nigeria, my name is Dominic.”  I said “Nice to meet you Dominic, I am from New York.”  From there our friendship was born.  We ended up chatting the remaining three hours about Nigeria, America, the world, traveling and other interesting topics.  I asked him many questions about Nigeria and told him that I would come visit him one day.  He said “you must come to Nigeria even for a little while.” I said “no problem.”  And for anyone who knows me, knows I will go to Nigeria and visit my friend Dominic.

Dominic said he would be in Bangkok around the same time I would be there, so I he gave me his email address and his brothers cell phone number in Thailand.  I gave him my email address and said I would email him first so that he would have my address, no problem.  He said “great, I hope to hear from you soon Josh,” to which I responded “no problem, you definitely will,” and he did.  I emailed him some information he would need to get to Bangkok and he responded.  I hope to meet Dominic in Thailand just to say hi and make sure everything is ok with him.  This is his first time traveling and while he can speak English, he is from Africa, and a little naïve.  I gave him some tips about Thailand and Southeast Asia to which I hoped he listened and will remember.  Only about taxis and steering clear of locals who randomly come up and talk to you.

Once we arrived in Phnom Penh it was pandemonium.  There were hundreds of tuk tuk and motorbike drivers trying to recruit you to take you to your hotel/guesthouse or wherever you wanted to go.  Even if they knew that you were with a tour group, they didn’t care.  They would ask you where you were from, when you responded they would be like “you need tuk tuk?”  No matter what your answer was to their question they would always follow it up with theirs.  We had to shove our way to our bags and basically throw people around to get to our bags and then to find our bus.  We eventually found our bus and it took a little while to get to our hotel as there was a tremendous amount of traffic.  Our hotel was called Indochine 2 and was located very close to the main strip along the river also referred to as the “Riviera,” according to Andy.  We had a few hours of free time so I decided to walk around the area, get a feel for Phnom Penh, check my internet and have some more quality interaction with locals.  My first interaction was meeting this girl next to me at the internet place.  We exchange hellos when I sat down and it would be the first of many times I would run in to this girl.  I ended up seeing her randomly like four or five times and the fourth time she was standing at this computer stand so I had to say hello and talk to her.  She was from Cambodia and worked at the bakery at the corner of my hotel, how ironic!  We had a good chat and she suggested I not walk around the side streets at night by myself and stick to the main strip near my hotel and along the river.  I thanked her for the advice, and told her that maybe I would run in to her again, and I did.  On my way back to my hotel, a bunch of local boys were playing that shuttlecock game again with their feet.  I gave them a look and then jumped right in.  They were all laughing and loved that I got in to their game.  I was getting better and was able to hold my own, relatively well.  I ended up playing with them for about 2 hours until it got dark and with only 15 minutes to spare before I had to meet the group for dinner.  At one point during the game I cut the top of my foot pretty well by trying to stab the shuttlecock and scraped my foot along the ground.  I continued to play, with not even a flinch and I think it showed them how tough I was and I gained even more respect from them than I already had from merely interacting and playing with them.  I think they find it interesting to see westerners, let alone interacting with them and playing a local game.  I love it and I hope they do as well.
When I got back to the hotel I was soaking wet with sweat.  I quickly ran upstairs, took a shower and made it downstairs for dinner.  Tonight Andy would take us to this restaurant that is a non-profit restaurant which uses the money to fund an orphanage that has about 25 kids.  We all had no problem going to it because it would support this local orphanage and help the kids out.  I ordered beef curry with rice and an appetizer.  I had started to order salads with my dinner as it helped the “ebb and flow,” of my internal organs and also because the main dishes really did not consist of enough food to be satisfied after the meal.  Dinner was good, I got my food first and scarfed it down pretty quick.  I would then have to sit and wait for everyone else to eat theirs, which was fine and I didn’t mind.

Half way through the meal I got in to a little bit of a blowout with Deb.  She is impossible to deal with and really just not a fun person.  She is always condescending, negative, contrary and just really annoying to be around sometimes.  So I decided to put her in her place and take care of business.  She wanted to through some of it back to which I responded “I’m not your son, say what you want, I can go all day with this,” she just turned her face, rolled her eyes, and I had to get control of myself.  This stuff had been bottling up inside of me for a while now and I wish we weren’t in public otherwise I would have loved to rip her a new asshole.  She was so negative about everything it drove me nuts.  If you think the beer is too warm, don’t drink it.  If you think it is too hot, stay home and inside, but don’t constantly bitch about it on my vacation Jesus Christ!

After that I remained quiet the rest of the night and just watched the television at the restaurant.  I had eaten, was full, and feeling fine.  Just something that needed to be done in my mind.  After dinner everyone headed back to the hotel, but I wasn’t really tired.  So I went back to the internet café to check on a few things, and then just walked around a bit.  While heading back I again ran into my friend from the internet café.  This time we exchange emails and she gave me her phone number in Cambodia.  I told her I would call her through skype so she could practice her English no problem.  Unfortunately I cannot pronounce her name, or remember really what it was, so when I email her for the first time I will just have to come out and ask her for what her name is, haha, oh well.  After our chat, I was then attacked by two little boys who wanted me to buy a book from them.  After being stalked by kids all night at dinner I finally gave in and started to negotiate.  Oh and I was bargaining with a nine year boy.  They may say they are nine but they look like they are 40 and I really had to treat them like anyone else because they are ruthless.  I picked up the book I was looking for “First they Killed my Father,” which is the most famous book about the Cambodian Genocide of the mid 70’s.  The boy said 8 dollars I laughed and said 3.  He tried to bring up the price, but I held to 3 dollars until the end.  He finally gave in.  At this point the security guards from the bakery came over and one of them asked me how much the boy wanted, I said three dollars and he laughed saying that I should pay 4000 riel or 1 dollar.  The boys starting yelling at them and at that point I got mad and ripped my money out of the boys hand and said no deal.  The boy started to yell at me and started to hysterically cry.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  Normally I don’t buy their fake puppy dog faces or their bullshit but this little boy started to cry and while I had the sudden urge to shake the kid because he was so young bartering on the street, I said “fine, fine, I will give you three dollars,” and the tears suddenly stopped.  I knew I was getting ripped off and while there is a whole debate as to if you should buy from kids like this on the street, I am in favor of it for my own personal reasons, which I will refrain from going in to.  I handed him the money he handed me the book then the other boy wanted me to buy from him.  We exchanged some words and then the boy got violent.  He picked up a rock with a sharp edge and started hitting me with it on my arm.  Andy had warned us about their tendency to get violent if you didn’t buy from them and while Andy told us to just throw them away, I noticed a police officer across the street watching us.  And even though this little boy was in the wrong, he was still a little boy, so I just had to make sure I was safe and that he wasn’t really hurting me and just walked away.  We started to joke back and forth I ran away as a joke to go to the police to tell him that they were hitting me, but it was all fun and games.  I went back to the hotel, read a few pages of the book and called it a night.

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Wedneday June 14th, Saigon, Vietnam continued

June 16th, 2007

When I arrived at the Xa Li Pagoda I was approached by a girl who was selling Buddha incense to use at the Buddha statues.  I decided to buy one and do what Mrs. Chiang in Taipei had taught me several weeks before.  As soon I walked through the gate some little woman about 3 feet tall was shoeing me out of the place pointing to her wrist saying “2, 2, 2,” indicating that the place was closed and that the pagoda would reopen at two.  I gave her some crap indicating I didn’t understand, but she kept saying “2, 2, 2,” pointing to her wrist.  Eventually she pushed me out and I was pissed.  My next step was to get my money back for the incense I had bought from this girl who passed the money to the old lady in the chair.  At first she refused to give me back my money and at one point after the girl and I went back and forth my cyclo driver handed me the 5000 dong more she owed me.  At first I took it and was like, “no way, she is not getting away with this,” and handed him back the 5000 dong coin and stuck it in his pocket.  Eventually the girl gave in and the old lady took out the money.  She was reluctant to hand it to me so I ripped it out of her hands, put my headphones on and walked away.  I left the cyclo driver and the street vendors just standing there, probably wondering “what the hell just happened.”  I was all charged up too, I was first screwed by the cyclo driver, then the girl then by the old lady.  Some would call that a movie waiting to happen, I just wanted my money back.

 

So as I walked down the street listening to music and steaming, I then had to figure out where to go.  I decided that I would walk to the next site on my list; the war museum.  It was really hot out, but I wanted to see the city on foot and was not keen on taking a cyclo or motorbike just yet.  So I pulled out my map and figured out the best route.  The streets in HCMC are very easily marked in both directions unlike some of the other Asian cities I have been too, so I did not have a problem getting the War Museum the problem was getting in.  Again the site was closed, as were most tourist sites in SEA during the hours of 1130 and 2pm.  From the War Remnants Museum I decided to walk to the Reunification Palace which was surrounded by walls on all sides, and a garden.  The Palace sat in the middle of it all.  On my way to the palace I saw a bunch of kids playing that badminton type game using a shuttle cock with weight attached, in which people kick it around.  Since there is a weight attached to it, you have to wait for the thing to drop then you can kick it.  I decided to join in with the local kids standing outside their school and they loved it.  I did the best I could, and while I am not a pro at it, I gave it my all.  We all kicked it around until one of them kicked it over the high fence of the school.  When the kid tried to retrieve it by climbing over he knocked a shingle off the fence and it broke.  At that point I decided it was time for me to leave, I didn’t know what would happen and figured this would be a good time to go.  I said goodbye and thanked all the local kids for letting me play.  They all spoke English so that was nice that they understood my sincere “thank you,” and then I was off.

 

So now I had to find my way to the Reunification Palace.  Once I got there it was also closed, as was Notre Dame.  Eventually I ended up at the post office that I had seen the night before, but this time it was in the daytime.  I snapped a few more photos, took out some money and decided to write and send a few photos (to the family and Jenny, surprise!).  The post office is really nice and looks like a darn train station, but isn’t.  Once I left the post office I was really, really, really sweaty, so sweaty to the point where people were staring at me and just looking at my chest and body, because my Vietnam futbol jersey was soaked in sweat.  I would notice them looking at my chest and the sweat and just go “I know it is disgusting, sorry,” regardless if they understood or not.  I was also tired and wanted to go back and change my clothing from head to toe and regroup, figure out what to do, and kill sometime.  Because I had walked basically all around the Central District during midday I was tired and all the places I wanted to go were closed, I needed to kill time so I headed home.  I jumped on a motorbike and headed back to the Hotel.  I quickly changed and then found another mode of transportation.  This time I worked out a deal where this motorbike would take me to several attractions to save me the trouble of walking the same route twice to see all the places that were initially closed the first time I went to them.

 

So if you didn’t realize what I am talking about, I went to all the places I wanted to see were closed, I decided to go back when they were open and do it all again, so I did.  My first stop was this Indian Temple which the motorbike took me too.  I walked around, snapped several photos and were off to that stupid Xa Li pagoda.  This time it was semi opened enough to where I could take some photos of it and walk around a bit.  I didn’t want to spend much time there because of what had happened this morning so I moved on.

 

After that it was on to the War Remnants museum.  This place had a lot of US Army paraphernalia from the Vietnam War.  Helicopters, planes, tanks, weapons etc…It was rather small, but interesting and I took many photos of the guns and some of the old equipment on display.  I got some people to take my photo in front of a helicopter and plane which was cool and at that point said good bye to my motorbike driver and was off to my next place; Reunification Palace.  On my way to the Palace I came across this western style restaurant.  After my stomach incident the night before, I was keen to have some western food which I knew would be relatively safe with my stomach.  I ordered some spaghetti and meatballs and was very happy.  It went down nice, and since there was nothing left in my stomach from the night before, I was pretty hungry.  From the restaurant I made my way to the palace.  I spent quite a while walking around.  The interior design was very 60’s Deco.  From the chairs, carpets, furniture, it screamed 60’s Art Deco.  The outside building was fairly modern so the inside was quite funny.  At one point I joined up with this Asian tour group and got to go to the basement of the Palace where they had all the bunkers and basically could run the army or whoever from the bunkers.

 

After the Palace I was starting to get tired but had more to see.  I wanted to see Notre Dame Cathedral.  I was interested to see what it looked like being in HCMC.  This time it was opened and much to my delight.  Inside looked like any other type of church, and had beautiful stained glass windows.  I spent some time walking around, snapping a few photos and just looking at the interior design and architecture of the cathedral.  After the Palace it was on to City Hall and the famous Rex Hotel.  The Rex hotel is famous because during the Vietnam war the journalists would go there at 5pm, get all liquored up and exchange their war stories.  It was called “The 5 o’clock frollie.”  I had to go up there and have a drink and check out the hotel.  It was really nice and the rooftop bar did not disappoint.  The drink was a little expensive, but well worth it.  I got a Saigon Beauty, and just relaxed and watched the world go by.  It was 430pm, not quite 5pm, but was good enough. 

 

I think the day was one of the best of the trip because I was alone in the city, walking around, I had a lot of local interaction, from the touts, and hawkers to the school boys, to the old lady, to bargaining for shirts and pens and bags.  From walking around the entire Central District basically twice seeing everything I wanted to see was perfect.  I try not to be a tourist, but I try to be a traveler and observe the local culture the best I can.  So far I have done pretty well doing so, talking with many locals along my way through Asia and it has been awesome.

 

From the Rex Hotel I bought to knock off Mont Blanc pens; one fountain, one ballpoint.  At first she wanted 1 for 10 bucks.  I ended up getting 2 for 10.  Next I bought two more bracelets; One for the ankle, one for the wrist.  This time she wanted a dollar for one. I got a 1.50 for 2.  Then I bought 2 more beer t-shirts.  I got them for about 3 dollars for 2, when she wanted like 2 dollars for 1.  I was doing pretty well with my bargaining and have gotten much better. I just pick a price about 50% or more from what they are offering and just stick with it until they won’t budge and then I will go up a little and if I want it will buy it if not will walk away and see who gives in first.  Again usually they do, but if your price is outrageously low, they won’t give in and you must go to another shop to find what you want.

 

The last thing I bought before I went back to the hotel was a backpack.  I needed another one to shift some of the weight out of my abnormally large and heavy one.  I walked passed a shop initially, inquired about the price of the one that immediately caught my eye and then walked on.  In the end I went back and accepted the price she had offered; $10.  It was a 45L pack supposedly, with a detaching smaller day pack, exactly what I was looking for as a second pack.  I put my pens, shirts, and whatever else I bought in the bag and went home.  This was the fun part, crossing the street.  Crossing the street in Saigon has been compared to that scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy in the end just has to take that leap of faith to get to the holy grail.  In Saigon, you must take that leap of faith, don’t look back.  To get to my hotel you needed to cross a huge roundabout where many lanes of traffic come together and just make for one giant mess.  There are no traffic lights, and you are more or less on your own.  There are pedestrian cross walks but again they are at your risk.  After spending 7 weeks in Asia you just become accustom to crossing the street in this fashion.  Others in the group were much more hesitant when crossing the street, but I had the same faith that Indy had.  I was able to get across the street, barely, weaving in between motorbikes, tuk tuks and cars hoping they would swerve around me like they are supposed to do.

 

When I got back to the hotel, Morrie was in the room and he informed me that we were meeting up for dinner at the usual time of 7pm.  This gave me time to wind down, check out my new bag, take a shower and get ready for dinner.  Tonight Andy wanted to take us to the backpacker region of Saigon.  It was only 10 minutes from our place and literally had tens of guesthouses and cheap forms of accommodation for the backpacker.  It also had many, many restaurants and bars.  Andy had taken several groups to the same restaurant so again, they were extremely friendly to us and served us well.  I had pizza, which I considered to be safe, water and soda.  I did not want to take any chances tonight after last night.  Dinner was good, but took a while to come.  We could see the kitchen across the small street, out in the open and they were working feverishly to get our food out as well as food for the other customers in the restaurant.

 

After dinner, Andy wanted to show us where the bars in the area were.  She didn’t want to pick one, and told us that we should go to the first place that caught our eye.  Eventually we got to one place where they had free pool on the first floor, with a nice bar and good music and then upstairs was more of a louder club type scene with again a bar.  We were immediately grabbed out of the street and the guy told Andy that he had a “happy hour,” type deal for us.  This gave me flashbacks of Kuala Lumpur when Clara, Laura and I were victim to the “bait and switch,” when they tried to charge us a crazy amount of money for drinks that we thought would be free.  I was skeptical, but when we got upstairs it was legit.  Beers were buy 2 get 1 free, but not cheap.  I decided to stay away from the beer and go for alcohol.  I got the local Vietnamese rum and cokes all night long.  They were fairly affordable for a bar and going out, and so I was content.  After a few of those drinks I decided to walk around and ventured downstairs.  There were a lot of younger people around, and I wanted to try and get on the pool table.  I put my name on the list and watched for a while.  There were some good games and quality players.  After waiting for a little while finally I was up.  My first games are always rusty, and I lost by one ball, and should have won, but because so many were waiting I did not want to wait around for another game.  At this point some of the other ladies in the group were intoxicated, to the point where they were dancing around just talking to random people and making a little ruckus.  Deb introduced to three girls traveling together, so I sat down and had a bit of a chat.  The girls were from London, had graduated from Uni this year and took a year off to travel around the world.  It was again good to meet some new people and people that were under 26.  It was not everyday I met people my age.  After chatting with them for awhile, it was suddenly 130am and Elizabeth wanted to go home.  I said I would go back with her, so we grabbed two motorbikes and headed back to the hotel after arranging the price.  It was fairly close, but it was late I was tired and just wanted to get back.

 

All in all the day was really good.  I did not mention every single interaction I had with locals because many of them are just in passing for a few minutes to a few seconds, but they make me smile, it makes my day and it was just an overall quality day for such a hectic place.

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Wednesday June 13th Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

June 14th, 2007

Today was a free day as all of our time in HCMC would be.  I had decided not to go to the CuChi tunnels and go off on my own.  As anyone who had read any of my blog entries before my tour started I love being off on my own.  This will probably be my last tour, minus Africa, if it happens in the next few years.  There were several attractions and buildings I wanted to see; Xa Li Pagoda, War Museum, Reunification Palace, Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, City Hall, the famous Rex Hotel and other sites.

After trying to get my stomach well enough so that I wouldn’t have to try and find a decent toliet every 10 minutes I had some included free breakfast ( 4 pieces of toast, I was staying safe) and was off.  this would start an extremely interesting day for me and one of the best I have had on this tour and in SEA.  It wasnt one particular thing just the combination of everything that I did and was able to experience.  I decided to take a cyclo to the farthest place first and just walk from there.  After being flooded with motorbikes and cyclos I finally found one I would give some business too.  He took me to the Xa Li Pagoda which was a nice ride away for pretty cheap.  The time was roughly 1130 when we got there and low and behold it was closed!  The bastard had lied to me telling me it was still opened and g-d knows why I would even listen to him in the first place.  Had i learned nothing from Bangkok during that day with Rickke?  I guess not.  This would be a common theme of my morning which made it all the more interesting.

Ok well I am going to go for now, leave you with a little bit of a cliff hanger.  I have to start my day, but will be back to update the next few days for everyone.

Hope all is well.

thanks,

 

Josh

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Tuesday June 12th Hoi An to Saigon

June 14th, 2007

today was my last day in Hoi an, no more clothing to be made, and like i said we had a two pm flight to saigon or now referred to as ho chi minh city.  We were going to be spending two night in HCMC and it was supposed to be a very full on city.  The main issue today was trying to pack up all my stuff.  I had accumulated so much stuff in Hoi An mainly clothing that my pack might not fit it all.  i woke up early along with morrie after a quality night sleep took a shower and started to pack.  sorry for the grammar but the keyboard i am on here is very bad and I cant really hit the shift button for apostrophes or to uppercase letters.  I had 11 new dress shirts, a new suit, two new pants, and a new pair of shorts.  There was a lot of stuff.  luckily my bag was huge and coupled with my extroadinary packing skills after two hours of stuffing, rolling, folding and frustration, I managed to get it all in the bag!  It weighed a ton, literally and now we had a weight issue.  Airplanes generally have a limit especially the airlines we would be taking through asia.  Andy said it shouldnt be a problem and in her experience nobody had been stopped for having an overweight bag.  I was confident everything would be ok, but still a little skeptical as usual.

After packing I had some down time before the bus came to get us and bring us to the airport in Denang.  Denang is a neighboring city along the coast as well.  I decided to just chill out, lay by the pool and continue to work on my tan.  After doing that i got some food at the hotel and before we knew it 123ish had rolled around and the bus was not here.  Andy began to panic because the airport was 30 minutes away and we couldnt be late!  eventually she said that she would give it a few more minutes and if she came back from the bathroom and the bus wasnt here she would arrange taxis to the airport for us.  Well low and behold as she came out of the bathroom the bus had rolled up.  I was outside ala grandpa bob waiting for the bus to come and when i heard the rumblings exclaimed “the bus is outside!”  Everyone shot up, gathered their bags, and we started to pack the bus right up. 

the bus driver drove like a maniac to get us to the airport in time.  He knew he was rather late and that we were in a rush.  When we got there, there was no line.  We were flying Pacific Airlines from Hoi An to HCMC.  the flight would take about an hour and i just decided to watch a movie on my laptop since everything electronic I owned had run out of batteries except my computer.  I put on da vinci code fresh from vietnam and was all set.

Oh also to board the plane we had to get on a bus who shuttled us out to the plane and then we had to walk up the stairs directly to the plane on the tarmac.  That was pretty cool, never took a bus to the plane before, except for that dreaded time in London which I prefer not to remember.

So when we arrived it was pouring, I guess the weather in the south was different that in the north.  We had basically flown from one end of the “S” to the other.  For those who never realized it, vietnam is shaped like an “s.”  anyway when we got there we got off the plane and on to another bus which took us to the gate entrance.  From the looks of it, it appeared that Vietnam had rebuilt in a much newer fashion HCMC international airport, but wasn’t fully functional.  There were so many people scurrying around the airport it was tough to make moves and more importantly find our bus to the hotel. 

We all gathered to get our bags off of the belt but we were getting elbowed and pushed out of the way.  These other people there mainly asians, were really pushing their way through and being extremely rude.  At one point a lady cut right in front of me to get to the very, very front of the belt, so close she might as well have been sitting on the damn thing.  I said to her “Hey why dont you just tell me when my bag comes and get it for me!”  She must have understoo what I meant because after that she backed away a bit and let me see the belt as well.  (hi jenny).

Eventually ANdy left us to fnd the bus which we managed to do but let me tell you HCMC is absolutely nuts.  So many motorbikes the traffic is insane and it is so hard to walk around let alone drive a bus.  Kudos to the bus driver on that one.

the hotel was pretty nice, it was heavily used by Intrepid, one of their main hotels in HCMC and since so many tours go through here they accomodate us pretty well.  There was free wireless in the whole building, which made it two hotels in a row, woohoo!  that is always nice to be able to be connected a little bit while on the road.  Unfortunately like the hotels and internet cafes in vietnam before HCMC, Skype was blocked so no calling anyone (sorry).

We had a little time before we were all meeting for our cyclo ride (actually only about 20 minutes, since our plane was delayed and we had to circle around in the air for a little while as well).  Oh quick funny story.  While up in the plane, the pilot gets on and goes “Hello from the cockpit, this is is your Pilot X.  We have just been informed from air traffic control that we must hold before landing, but dont worry we still have fuel left so we should be fine!  I’m like oh gee thanks and what if we didnt have enough fuel left!  Apparently there was really bad weather on the ground, and yes when we landed it was pretty bad, so thank you air traffic for holding us a little longer.

Before the cyclo tour of HCMC i got a fruit shake from this stand next to the hotel, recommended by Andy.  It was real good.  The lady used mango-steen, sugar, creme and custard with ice, hmmm delicious and cheap only 7000 dong, after bargaining of course.

It had stopped raining so our cyclo tour would still be on, people were nervous because if it was going to be downpouring who wanted to be in a cyclo in traffic in the rain?  i certainly did not, but before you knew it the rain had passed and we were off.  The cyclo tour was comprehensive in that we had a guide and made various stops around HCMC.  We saw city hall, opera house, reunification palace as well as other city sights.  By the time we were done it was pretty dark out so photos really were not happening, but the tour did give me a nice introduction to the city.

The cyclos finally dropped us off at the famous night market in the center of the central district of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC for the slow ones).  The market had food, shops and other good things.  we all sat down at a restaurant andy frequently took groups too and for good reason, the food was good, or so I thought.  After dinner I felt a little weird.  My stomach felt full, and I wasn’t feeling so great.  I had safe food, but something must have been off.  After bargaining for a vietnam national futbol jersey, I had the sudden sensation that i needed a toliet.  Luckily the market was close to the hotel and I basically ran back, ran up to the room, Morrie was still out, had to take the elevator down 6 flights again and then back up.  At one point I thought i was going to crap my pants, it was ready to blow.

I finally got in to the room, ripped my shorts off, and ran to the toliet.  “There she bloooooowwwsss.”  It was not nasty and really the first time I have had this problem in all my time in Asia.  Just another reason I hate the food in vietnam.

The rest of the night I was in the toliet and walking around outside to try and get better, but to no avail.  Eventually i was able to get to bed at like 1am after sitting outside of the room on the computer trying to get over this sickness.

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Monday June 11th, 2007; Hoi An, Vietnam

June 12th, 2007

Today I wasn’t really feeling the beach.  I wanted to do something adventurous, plus the burns on my shoulders were telling me to keep them covered.  I agreed to do so, and decided that I would yet again rent a motorbike and drive around.  The traffic in Hoi An was really minimal compared to the other cities in Vietnam we had been too.  It was similar to Vientiane, which was the last place I rented a motorbike.  I figured it would not be too hard to ride around and since I was familiar this time with how to put the kickstand down and start the damn thing, that I would be fine.  My first plan was to find a place to rent one, luckily the hotel offered a service, well they told you to go to the lady standing outside to rent one, so I did.  She was friendly and her son helped her during the day with the operations.  She told me that it would be five USD for the day.  Seemed a little steep, but I agreed to do it for 5 and she even let me pay her after I brought the bike back.  That was perfect considering I did not have enough Dong on me to pay her right then and there.  So I gathered up all the stuff I could potentially need for my journey; Towel, Bathing suit, camera, water, extra batteries and I was off!

I really had no idea where I wanted to go but the sun was shining, it was hot, but instead of walking I was riding on a motorbike.  The wind kept me somewhat cooler, I was getting a nice tan and my shoulders were protected by my shirt.  Of course my luck the only shirt left that was clean was my Luang Prabang shirt from Lao, which was black.  The material wasn’t cotton, so it didn’t breathe as well as it could have, and yes the sun was pouring down on it.

I decided to first pick up all my clothing that I had ordered the previous day.  I had to go to two shops, one for the pj pants and the other for all the shirts, suit and tie.  When I got to the first shop the suit fit nice, like a glove, but the area around the thighs was a little too tight for my liking.  Why settle when they can’t fix anything and everything in a jiffy.  I told her everything was great and that I would be by later to pick them up.  The second store, a similar issue, except this time the pants were not long enough.  They crept up to my ankles which I didn’t like, so I told her to make them a little longer and again I would be by to pick them up later.

After going to the shops and coming back empty handed I could now start my journey around Hoi An and the surrounding areas of Vietnam.  I decided to head down to the beach to see how far along the coastline I could go.  I first went right when I got to the beach.  I was able to go down about 3-4 kilometers or more before the road ran out and there was nothing my gravel, trees and sand.  I turned back and then just went straight (which would have been a left if I was coming towards the beach).  This time the road went a lot longer.  Before I knew it I had done about 25+ kilometers and had ended up in a place called My Son.  Once I entered here there was no turning back.  My thought was to head to Denang and check out the beaches there.  They are supposed to be just as beautiful as the ones near Hoi An.  Fortunately that would not happen.  As I was driving along, mountains appeared in front of me.  As I got closer I began to pick up something on the radar.  I noticed a giant Pagoda and some stone statute in the distance.  I got more and more interested in what they could be, so when I got really close I pulled in to the neighboring town at the base of the mountain and stopped by.  The security officer told me this was Marble Mountain or Son Mountain.  Basically the entire mountain is made of marble and the structures or ruins remaining in the caves and outside along the rim were also made of marble.  Well I had come this far and even though it was so hot out, I could not keep the sweat from running from my brow I decided to check it out.  The guard also told me I had to park my motorbike across the street.  I was skeptical at first to leave my motorbike with people I didn’t know, who could clearly do whatever they wanted with it.  It seemed pretty legit, so I pulled in across the street, parked, paid the 2000 Dong and was off.

The entrance fee to the mountain was a mere 15000 Dong, not bad considering all I was about to encounter and see.  I climbed up the numerous amount of stairs in front of me which were rather steep and proceeded to check out some of the highlights of Marble Mountain.  I first came to a smaller pagoda which looked nice, it was colorful as most were, but the handwork was really remarkable considering it was made out of marble.  For the next hour or so I climbed around the mountain up and down steep rocks, did a little “off the beaten path” type stuff and just checked out all that was to be seen.  At one point I ended up in a little corner of the mountain surrounded by like five small pagodas which lead to a bigger one at the end.  Again all made of marble.  When I turned around to check out the view it was awesome.  Ocean on your right, mountains to your left and the city/town in front of you.  I took some great photos on this day.

After I saw all the pagodas, it was on to the temples that were on the mountain.  They were similar to many other Buddha temples I had seen during my trip.  Colorful, quiet, clean and tranquil.  You get that same smell no matter where you go that just draws you in where you have to look around and admire.  I wasn’t sure how old these temples were, as I didn’t have a pamphlet or anything to go along with my entrance fee ticket.  After cruising around the temples it was time to see the caves.  This was the best part of Marble Mountain.  The first cave was really cool.  It had a huge Buddha carved in to the cave and the ceiling of the cave was at least 100 feet high.  There were some other structures, smaller Buddha’s and just random things carved in to the cave.  It was nice to be in the cave because it was cooler.  No sun, and you got a little reprieve from the heat each time you went in to one.  At this point I was sweating so much I really didn’t care, but had to be careful about being too dehydrated.  I did pick up a bottle of water which I had to bargain really hard for, so I had some fluids in me.

Eventually I got to a second cave where a lady who was cleaning with really nasty redish teeth took me around the cave.  I knew I would have to tip her as nobody in Vietnam does anything out of the goodness of their heart, actually make that most of Southeast Asia.  Everyone tries to nickel and dime you anyway they can!  She did show me some cool things in the cave that I’m sure others would not see.  This is because some of the structures could not be seen by light and were behind other structures that again were hard to see because of the lack of light.  The best thing she showed me was the lying buddha.  It was completely hidden and she even took a picture of me at the foot of it!

After her mini tour, she rubbed her fingers together asking for a tip.  I really wanted to say no, but was feeling good, and needed some good karma, being on the motorbike without a helmet and all.  I gave her a little money, she smiled exposing her nasty teeth.  I would have almost preferred her not to smile, just to avoid looking at that gross monstrosity of a mouth.

Before going to this cave down near the lower portion of the mountain, some guys and I followed this boy up and around rocks and go to the top of the mountain.  This was definitely a place where nobody had been.  It was literally at the very top of the mountain, no handrails, no paths nothing.  Of course after looking around, the little boy wanted us to give him a “little boy guide tip,” he kept asking us to stop and give him some money.  The guys and I just said let us get down first then we will see.  Clearly we were going to just keep walking and eventually they left.  We then had to maneuver ourselves back down the other side of this mountain till we got to flat ground.  I didn’t know I would be hiking today so I was wearing flip flops, and good thing the rocks were marble which are slippery as hell!  I eventually got down but not before running a little too fast and having to have my legs split by a tree on a slant, which actually saved me from snowballing down to the bottom.

Then I hit the lady with the teeth and after that was really hot, tired, and extremely sweaty.  I got myself down to the very bottom of the mountain, to the base, but was on a different side from where I had gone up.  I had to figure out where I had parked my bike and find the entrance to the mountain.  After walking a few blocks down the street I originally came too and found my motorbike place.

This is where the fun stuff comes in.  I got back and was really tired, hot and sweaty like I mentioned.  I could barely walk and the people around me were just bothering the shit out of me constantly hawking me to buy stuff from that I just exclaimed “I don’t want anything from anyone!”  I was about to pick up my bike and drive home when I got this feeling to do something crazy.  I turned back around from my bike out of the shop and starting hawking people in to this family’s shop myself.  I would try and wave down any car or bike I saw to come and park at this family’s shop and/or buy something.  Locals around the street and across the street noticed me doing so emphatically and starting laughing hysterically.  People could not believe I was doing this and quite frankly neither could I.  I think part of me just cracked from being hassled and hawked for the last seven weeks in Asia.  I was having a blast though.  After about ten minutes of intense hawking, waving and shouting a guy pulled in to the shop and bought a bottle of water!  Everyone starting yelling and laughing that I actually got someone to come in!  The dude paid his 5000 dong and was off.  I had made my first sale!  The longer I did it, and the more bikes came in to park and buy waters, the more the locals would laugh, cheer and shout.  At one point the security guard across the street tried to recruit me to come work for this other local shop.

After a while of being in the hot sun standing one of the people in my shop gave me a chair in the shade and some water.  I had earned a small gulp of water but that was it.  I was so drenched in sweat, wiping off excess sweat from my brow would just result in even more sweat on my face.  At one point the lady saw me sweating so much she gave me one of those funny green hard hats the Vietnamese wear during the day and out in the rice patty fields.  The crowd of locals around the shops went nuts again.  Pointing at me, talking to their friends, all in fun.  At one point I was rolling, bikes were coming in left and right, large and small bottles of water were being sold, I was making some good money for these people and it felt great to do so.

The only weird part of the whole experience of me working in this shop was this old lady who strolled over from the other side of the street and started yelling at me, clearly in frustration in Vietnamese.  I had no idea what she was saying and at one point just said “What the hell is your problem lady, go away,” now she either understood me or just turned and glared at me because I had said anything back to her.  She was old and crabby and I just wanted to throw her out of the shop like in the movies because she was hurting business and not allowing me to get up and wave people in.  People would drive by as I tried to wave them in, some would smile or laugh and others would give blank stares or glare.

All in all I probably ended up making the lady about 100000 Dong in about 1.5 – 2 hours.  Yes that is right I did this for a really long time in the hot sun.  Part of me wanted to see how hard it really was and how little you really made and the other part just thought it would be funny.  In the end I was basically dizzy and completely dehydrated.  I had sweat everything out of my body and had no fluids left.  I went to the guy standing there and said I wanted to buy some water and a 7up to replenish the fluids.  I took out money and after some discussion with the younger lady with her baby sitting in her lap, he turned and said to me “Souvenir,” and handed me the giant bottle of water and 7up.  I had earned that much by working for two hours in 90+ degree heat with high humidity for the family.  I said thank you a few times, made a warming gesture, got on my bike and rode off in to the distance, honking my horn and waving from the bike as I did so.

The time was about 330ish and I had to get back to Hoi An to pick up my clothing from the various shops.  It was a long ride back, but I was so charged up from the experience I had just had that it didn’t matter how hot or sweaty I was.  I think this experience was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my whole life, let alone while traveling.  To be able to work like that, have fun and actually make a little money for a family that clearly needed it, there is nothing better in the world than that.

I got back to town with enough time to get all my stuff.  Everything was ready for me, but when I got to the place where I had my suit and shirts made, I was once again conned by the girl, shop assistant number 3 to buy more clothing!  This time she offered me 6 shirts for the price of 5.  That would be less than 8 dollars a shirt, for good quality, hand made dress shirts!  I could not say no, they were so good at getting me to buy stuff.  They assured me that it would be ready by 9pm that night, because I was leaving the next day and did not want to mess with not having my stuff in time.  I picked out 6 more shirts bringing my grand total to 11 from that store alone and was on my way to the second store.

I picked up my satin pj bottoms and took everything back to the hotel.  At this point I was in my room just looking around at all my stuff thinking to myself “How the hell am I going to fit this all in?”  I didn’t really know at that point and decided to just forget about it.  I immediately changed in to my bathing suit and jumped right in to the pool.  My arms were red, but not burnt and after cooling down in the pool turned a nice shade of brown.  My face and body had been tanned nicely from this bike tour, and was looking good.  I swam for a while cooling down and then got up and went back to the room and crashed.  I put on a movie, fiddled around with the internet and hung out.  After a little while I had a bright idea to order room service and watch a movie.  Perfect ending to the day.  So I ordered a delicious salad with some fried rice with a chilled can of 7up lots of ice and was in heaven.  The air conditioning was on full blast; 17 degrees C and I was kicking back reflecting on the day I just had.  After a shower, movie and late lunch it was time to pay the lady for the motorbike and head back in to town to pick up the last of my clothing from my favorite ladies at the tailor shop.  I must have misunderstood the girl because when I got there at 8pm she said, “no, no niiiine pm,” I was like “I thought you said 8pm, but no problem I will come back.”  I headed off to the place where the gang had gone for dinner to see if they were still there, which they were.  They had done one of their banquet dinners probably at the request of Morrie and had ordered lots of seafood.  I told them I wasn’t interested and just ordered a few beers and fried vegetable spring rolls.  They asked me about my day so I told them the story of the hawking, and Marble Mountain etc.  They got a nice kick out of it but by the end only Meredith was listening.  They were too busy trying to screw the next person out of the dish of food that was in front of them.  That is the problem with these banquet dinners, everyone gets screwed, you order plenty of food, none of which you enjoy because they person before you took too much and you end up not eating enough.  I was plenty satisfied with my spring rolls and sweet chili sauce with my beers thank you very much.  I knew exactly how much I was going to eat that night.  I also ordered some dessert, which I hadn’t had in many weeks, probably going back to Japan.

After I was finished it was about 9pm I had to say goodbye so I could pick up my clothing and got back to the shop.  My remaining six shirts were all ready, felt great, fit great, I said my goodbyes, got a picture with my favorite sales assistant number 3 and was off.  Man if I had more money, a bigger bag and more time, I would have bought the world out of that shop.  It is so hard to resist when the quality is that good, the shirts are that nice and it is so damn cheap!

The rest of the night was a quiet one.  I walked back to the hotel, dropped my stuff down and basically plopped down on the bed.  I was so tired from the whole day I just wanted to sleep.  Tomorrow was our last day in Hoi An and from there we would be flying at 2pm to Ho Chi Minh City or also referred to as Saigon, in the southern part of Vietnam

Tags:

Hoi An, Vietnam

June 11th, 2007

Sunday June 10th, 2007

After a late night for Morrie and I, we had a bit of a sleep in.  We both popped up at nine am which was a record for both of us together on this trip.  We went down for breakfast; both brought our computers and had a little bite to eat.  Today was all about going to the beach.  Craig, Booby and I had planned to meet at 10am to head to the beach.  They were going to rent some push bikes and I said “not for me, and I will just catch a motorbike down,” and that is what I did.  When we all got to the beach and picked out our section we rented chairs for a reasonable price, sat down and enjoyed the magnificent scenery of the beach in Hoi An.

 

The water was colder than in Lang Co, but refreshing.  It was one of the hottest days yet, perfect weather for the beach.  Of course I was stubborn, didn’t put sunscreen on my body, only my cheeks and nose since I was looking for the ultimate tan.  I spent most of the day body surfing on small waves, enjoying the water, and the weather.  I laid out, we all got some lunch, went back in to the water and before you knew it, it was 330pm and time to leave.  I was clearly burnt and needed to get back to town to get my clothing that I had made up the previous day.  After picking up some clothing I went to another few shops and looked around.  Before I even made it to the hotel I had tailored a pair of pajama pants, a pinstripe suit, and five dress shirts!  It was too hard to resist considering how inexpensive it all was for high quality tailoring.  Now I was beginning to get nervous as to how all this new stuff would fit in my already busting-at-the-seam backpack.  I got back to the hotel and was tired.  The sun, heat, swimming and shopping had tired me out.  I was really hot so I jumped in to the pool for a quick swim and had a nice cool down swim with a few locals.  It was cool to be interacting with some kids and locals who had come to visit Hoi An just like anyone else.

After swimming I jumped in to the cold shower, put Aloe on and got dressed for dinner.  Dinner would be at seven downstairs and the other Intrepid leader would take us to the restaurant called Banana Leaf.  Again the food was good, didn’t take as long but was extremely overpriced for Vietnam.  That had seemed to be the trend here.  Either the food is really bad and really cheap, or very good but really overpriced; there are few “ok” meals, which are reasonably priced that won’t ruin your stomach.  It has been unfortunate, but the food won’t be fantastic everywhere you go, and that is just something I have had to accept here in Vietnam.

 

After dinner, some went home; Craig, Minz and I went to the place with Deb and Penny where we had gone the night before.  Minz was this British guy we had met at the beach and had invited to dinner with us.  He arrived late, but was able to get his food rather quick and caught up to us.  The three of us went out for a quite drink, had a really good chat about life and politics and stuff.  On my trip to Asia I have gotten much more interested in politics of the world, not just of the USA and fucking Bush.  I am hoping to watch a lot more world news either online or listen on the radio.  It is really interesting to hear about things outside of the USA.

 

After splitting with Minz, Craig and I found our way home.  It wasn’t too late, but Craig, Bobby and Joanne had to catch a 10am train with their leader to head south in Vietnam, so he wanted to get home at a reasonable hour, I had no problem after the night before and spending all day at the beach.

 

Morrie was still up, chatting with his wife on Skype and updating his “diary.”  I got online and started chatting with Mom and a few friends.  It was morning so some people were on.  It was nice to chat with friends I hadn’t spoken with for several weeks.

Tags:

Hoi An, Vietnam

June 11th, 2007

Saturday June 9th, 2007

 

The next morning we left at nine and headed to Hoi An.  It would take four hours straight but Andy had a few stops in mind along the way.  It actually could have taken three hours if we took the tunnel through the mountain, but Andy had said that the views from going up and around the mountain were breathtaking and worth going the extra hour for.  Well she was definitely right, driving along the coast was spectacular and I hope that the pictures came out as well as it looked.   Our first stop was a beach called Lang Co.  We could only see the water from a distance but up close it was remarkable.  The water was crystal clear, there were mountains to our left, and just stretch of beach with nobody around, tranquility at it’s best.  I snapped a few quick photos, changed in to my bathers and jumped right in.  Expecting the water to be cold, even though it was extremely hot out yet again, I was mistaken.  The water was like bath water almost.  It was incredibly warm.  Almost as warm at the water in Fiji, which was bath water.  We got to swim around for about thirty to forty minutes.  I was the first to get out and get some food.  This was also our food stop and we only had about an hour before we had to set off again.  I ordered some food and others followed.  The food was overpriced like usual at the beach or some hotel/tourist place.  Nonetheless I was hungry and forked out the extra cash.  I had just enough for the meal and the beer and got a “soda” for the road.  The rest of the drive was amazing.  Through the mountains, to the top, we stopped for some photos and to look around.  We were immediately bombarded by vendors and hawkers trying to sell us anything including their children.  We got back in to the van and continued our journey to Hoi An.  We arrived in Hoi An in the afternoon, to our hotel called Hai Au.  It looked nice and the best part was that it had a pool!  We hadn’t had a pool in one of our guesthouses/hotels yet.  Well the Grand Ville in Bangkok doesn’t count because it wasn’t really available when we got there and it cost 150 Baht to use!  This one was free and pretty nice.  When we arrived I decided to just hang out, go for a swim, enjoy the free wireless internet and meet the group at seven at the restaurant we had decided on.  Apparently Hoi An is quite strict with having a “Tour Leader” vs. a “Tour guide.”  It usually gets lost in translation and it is illegal to be a tour guide if you are not a national of Vietnam.  Andy told us because of this she would rarely be able to be seen with us in public for fear that she would be arrested for being a “tour guide,” and not a “tour leader,” which is what her job really is.

 

At around five pm I decided to take a walk around Hoi An.  For those who don’t know Hoi An, Vietnam is known for clothing.  Not off the rack stuff, by tailor made clothing, anything and everything you could possibly imagine they can make, and it is extremely cheap!  Quality varies depending on where you go, and unless you have a real good tip or recommendation as to where to go you just have to feel it out.  Along the way to the restaurant I had a notion of where to go.  It seemed pretty straight forward looking at the map and didn’t seem that confusing to get too.  Initially I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy any clothing or accessories when I was in Hoi An but that would quickly change.  I walked in to a few shops and did not like what I saw, they weren’t pressing me to shop, so they must have sized me up as not someone who wanted to buy anything.  I went in to one store and liked what I saw.  I asked the lady what they could do, how long it would take and how much.  The usual response was “Depends on how much you buy, when are you leaving and the more you buy the more cheap it is.”  I wanted some linen drawstring pants; crème colored and a shade of blue.  After bargaining the girl down to $9 for each pair, she measured me right up in like a minute and that was it.  She told me to come back the next day in the afternoon to pick them up and that was that.  While I was in the first shop where I bought the pants from I asked the lady if she had silk.  She showed me some fabric so I said “OK, burn it for me, let me see if it is real.”  Well she cut a piece off and started to burn it, the fabric melted.  If the fabric melts its fake!  Deb had taught me that a few days before this because I had brought up on the bus one day how to test if silk is fake after hearing about Hoi An.  She said that if the fabric melts its fake because silk is a natural fiber and because of that there is no chemical in the silk and it should burn and ash, not melt!  Well after the fabric melted I told her that this stuff was fake, she tried to convince me otherwise but all I said was “you just tested it for me and the fabric melted, come on now!”  Since I had already put the deposit down for the pants I couldn’t do much, but had faith that the pants would come out fine.

 

Before getting to the restaurant about two blocks away I walked in to another shop.  This time I was looking some type of shorts.  I was tired of the same old style so was interested in possibly getting a pair of ¾ length shorts made.  After flipping through a few catalogs I found one that I liked with the matching fabric, which was cotton.  We discussed how she was going to make them up, and then we settled the price.  I think I paid ten bucks or something, pretty inexpensive considering she was going to make them from scratch!

 

So after buying three pieces of clothing before even getting to the restaurant I had worked up an appetite and decided to make my way to the restaurant with a few minutes to spare.  I did not remember the name of the restaurant but just used my map and assumed that I would see someone in a restaurant and find the right one.  After making a few turns, walking for a while, I finally came to a restaurant and said to myself “This is probably it, it looks like a place that Andy would take us too,” and low and behold Andy was sitting right outside drinking a beer.  I was like “sweet,” she saw me, ordered me a beer and we started chatting and waited for the others.  The others arrived after a little while, then more people came who Deb and the girls had met and before you knew it there were like ten of us eating at this place.  Dinner took forever, the food was good, the beer was flowing, but the food took forever.  I ordered an appetizer, ate that quickly and waited for the main meal.  I waited and waited and waited, and finally it came.

After dinner was over and we settled the half a million dollar dong dinner, Andy had another place in mind.  The place offered half price cocktails till midnight.  At dinner we met three people on another Intrepid tour doing a fifteen day tour of Vietnam.  Their names were Joanne, Craig and Bobby.  Craig and Bobby (a girl) had come together and were boyfriend and girlfriend.  Joanne was an older lady who was traveling herself.  I started chatting it up with Bobby and Craig.  It is not everyday I get to chat with people under 30.  They were from Edmonton, Canada, Bobby was a nurse, Craig was in research and computer science.  The place Andy had taken us too was cool.  Nice bar, good music and the drinks were pretty cheap and good!  I started doing the two for ones with Elizabeth drinking Mojito’s.  They were freshly made the whole way through.  The juice was squeezed, the mint was freshly picked and the alcohol was local.  I had a few with Elizabeth and then apparently I wasn’t drinking fast enough because she started going 2 for 1 with Joanne.  So Bobby and I decided to do the 2 for 1 special on Mojito’s and we had a few rounds.  After that bar, the girls wanted to go dancing so Andy took us to a Salsa place a few blocks away over the river.

On the way I really had to go to the bathroom.  I asked Andy how far and she pointed to the building with all the lights, I said that’s pretty far, I’m going to go in the river, she was like just wait.  We stopped for a few minutes to wait for the others to catch up, apparently a few of the girls had been in the bathroom when we decided to leave.  I was like screw this, I gotta go, so I went in the perfectly good river.  Mid-urination this motorbike appears, I got a little nervous, and pinched it off (which is never good mid-urination) and then four guys on a motorbike appeared and said in English “Hey, you can’t pee in the river!”  I thought it was hilarious considering there were four of them on the motorbike telling me I couldn’t pee in the river!

 

We finally arrived at this pseudo Salsa club and nobody was there except two local girls sitting in the corner in a booth.  We decided to jazz the place up a bit, get some overpriced cocktails and beers (I had a corona), and got the DJ to put on some dance music and stop with the Salsa stuff.  We got some good tunes going and everyone started dancing.  We ended up partying it up at the bar/club till about 2am when Bobby, Craig and I said we wanted to go home.  Meredith followed us, she was miserable because she had wanted to go home at nine but we didn’t let her leave.  She always wants to go home early, big party pooper.

 

The next day like all the days in Hoi An would be free days, which I was looking forward too.  It would give me a chance to walk around on my own and do my own thing, explore Hoi An at my own pace and stuff.

Tags:

Hue, Vietnam to Hoi An, Vietnam

June 11th, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

While I was uploading my blog at the really cheap internet place near my hotel a really sketchy dude stood over me smoking a cigarette and did not say a word.  A girl was sitting next to me doing her thing, but I noticed the guy in the reflection of the monitor and noticed that the light around me had subsided.  I turned around once to see who it was, noticed this guy and immediately turned back around.  He did not blink, twitch or move one bit.  He stood over me for about five to ten minutes then walked away.

The girl got up next to me and this sketchy dude sat down next to me.  He was sitting sideways facing me directly two feet from my face as I typed away.  He was still smoking a cigarette, now he was starting to make me nervous.  He started to blow smoke in my face.  Eventually as I turned to see who was next to me a few times, the guy who owned the internet café came over to this guy and said a few words to him in Vietnamese.  The guy didn’t move, then the dude said some more things and the guy got him, but was still staring right at me as he was being spoken to by the owner.  Finally the guy left, my heart was beating really fast.  This guy was probably some drug addict who was looking for money and wanted to rob me as I left the shop or maybe in the shop, who knew.  I had decided that I wasn’t going to leave the internet café until this guy left, no matter how much time or money it cost.  I figured this guy wanted me to get up and leave so he could follow me or something and have his friends waiting to jump me.  Granted it was the middle of the day, I had no idea what Hue was about, nor how safe it was, day or night.

Within five minutes of the guy leaving, I got up, paid my tab and walked quickly back to the hotel.  If the guy emerged from some alley I would run like I had run to catch the train.  I had no qualms doing so and had nothing with me to hold me back.

Once I got back to the hotel I had a little while before we were supposed to meet up to head to dinner.  I relaxed and didn’t do a whole lot.  Seven O’clock rolled around before I knew it and surprisingly Cyclos were waiting for us to take us around Hue at night and end at the restaurant where Andy had decided to take us.  The ride around Hue was awesome.  A lot of buildings were lit up, the bridge in the center of town was lit up as well.  It changed colors between purple, blue, yellow, red.  Going to the restaurant we didn’t have a chance to cross it but passed it.  We got to the restaurant and it was a place that Intrepid seemed to go to quite often.  It was a quirky little place where most of the people were deaf mutes.  They were all related either brother/sister or cousins.  One of the guys had this contraption where he would take a piece of wood, drill a hole in it, and then attach a screw with a lugnut.  This device would be used to open up beers or bottles of soda.  The guy at one point laid out four of them at once and cracked them all open at once.  It was pretty cool and I got a video of the whole process!

The great part was that he made one of them for all of us.  He showed us a book of pictures from people who had visited the restaurant in the past.  Each of them had a picture of themselves with a bottle of beer opened with this wooden bottle opener in the picture as well.  They were from all over the world, shots of people in their houses, in famous landmarks around the world, etc.  Dinner was good, it was fun, and after we got a Cyclo back to the hotel.  Others went out for a nightcap, but for some reason I was really tired and wanted to go back, so I did.

 

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June 8th; Hue, Vietnam

June 8th, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

Hue, Vietnam

We were woken up bright and early before 7am, I fell back to sleep till about 745am and did not want to get up. But I had to pack my shit up and used the free time left on the train to start this update to the blog. After a little while the conductor came in and told us that Hue was only five minutes away. This sent everyone in to a mini panic to get everything in order before we had to disembark. These are always the worst times for me. I will almost always forget something in a scurry such as this. I tried to be methodical and look everywhere and try really hard not to forget anything and it worked, but barely. We got off the train with all of our stuff and made our way to the exit. Some ladies at the exit were asking for our tickets, but Andy and I were both like “they took our ticket, we don’t have tickets.” I tried to get by but she didn’t let me. Then it happened. I looked down for my money belt with all my money, cards, passport in it and it was gone! I had left it beneath my pillow on the train. “Oh shit not again” I thought to myself. I immediately exclaimed to anyone around me “my money belt it’s on the train, shit, I need to go get it,” and before any response I took off. The train started to move slowly so I only had a few moments before it took off and my choice was either to watch my stuff go bye, bye or do something about it. I started to sprint, we were at like car 3 and I needed to get to car ten. Time was against me and the train started to pick up some speed. I kicked off my flip flops and turned on the juice like back in the day kind of speed. I finally got to car ten, jumped on the slowly moving train, and started yelling “I forget something, I forgot something,” I ran past my carriage in the panic, stopped went back, through the door open, someone was sitting on my bed. I looked around, didn’t see it, then remembered it was beneath my pillow, grabbed it and ran out. At this point the train was moving fairly quickly, but I didn’t care so I jumped out of the moving train. I didn’t even think. I had no choice, the mentality was “kill or be killed” and I wasn’t going to die in this situation. I needed my passport, money and credit/debit cards. So I jumped off from the open door of the number ten train car, my feet hit the ground, got taken out from underneath me due to the speed of the train, I rolled over a few times just like in the movies and popped right up. There were many people on the platform still waiting for people to get off, watching people go, so I had a bit of an audience during all of this. As I got up people were yelling things around me or at me in Vietnamese, but I was fine. I got right up, yelled a few expletives to no one just reacting to the moment, and walked back to the exit and said “let’s do it.” Some people from the group had watched this extremely intense chain of events, and others we had met as well. There were probably a few hundred people this happened in front of and it was definitely one of the most extreme and intense moments of my life. I mean I have been skydiving, bungy jumping and have done other extreme adventure type things, but to jump out of a moving train at probably 10-20 MPH just because I had to, definitely tops the list.

I did not have one scratch, scar nothing. The big guy in the sky was looking after me on this one.

So we gathered up our bags. I explained to the people who didn’t see the whole thing go down what had happened and why I needed to run back. I got some slack for yet again leaving my important valuables in a place, and taking them off me yet again, but I didn’t care, I was so charged up with adrenaline, nothing was phasing me. We found our driver who took us to our hotel in Hue, the Gold Hotel. It was nice, had air conditioning and a refrigerator that actually produced cold air and just wasn’t for show like other ones we have had in our rooms appeared to be. Today we had an included and an optional activity. After some confusion I informed Andy that I was only interested in the included activity of going to see the famous Citadel in Hue. Hue had previously been a capital of Vietnam for many years and huge Citadel and Royal Palace was built in the early 1800’s. We all jumped on a motorbike and took a ride over to the Palace and Citadel. We had a local guide called Tam which means the number eight in Vietnamese. Basically since he was the eighth child in his family he was named “number eight” or Tam. Tam took us all around the complex, spoke very good English and had a few funny jokes to boot. After walking around the really beautiful complex, in the blistering heat that was Southern Vietnam, for about an hour and a half, I said goodbye to the group. I elected to just see the included activity of the Citadel and take the rest of the day off. The rest of the gang forked out about 12 bucks to take a motorbike around the rest of the city and countryside for the day. It was too hot, and truthfully I wasn’t interesting on dishing out 12 bucks to ride on the back of a motorbike being taken to places that might not interest me. I also figured that since I would be very interested and probably going to rent a motorbike in Hoi An for at least one of the days, for probably less than a third of the price I would be fine. I appeared to have seen the big “Must-see,” of Hue, and I’m sure I missed a few things but I have no problem with that.

So when I got back, I took a couple drinks from my slightly chilled bottle of 7-up I had purchased from the train station back in Hanoi, popped in a new movie “Smokin Aces,” I bought in Hanoi that I had previously seen with Elise back at school and relaxed. I am definitely still dehydrated and have to now get to the internet café to upload all this great information, drink some serious fluid, maybe get a little nosh and continue to relax.

I think my motivation for traveling is starting to slightly decline. It is probably a good thing that I have decided not to further extend my trip. I think nine weeks is long enough this time. I mean since Australia where I was studying, this is my longest trip traveling. Last year I did about seven weeks, and I think it will be good to get home, of course going back to more heat, sleep in my own bed and relax. I mean I went right from Lansing to Cleveland to back home for like a night or two and then off to Asia. I have covered some miles so far and my traveling is really just starting to heat up with going to California and Vegas for three weeks with the camp.

OK well I am off for now, hope everyone is well at home.

Thanks,
Josh

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June 7th: Hanoi

June 8th, 2007

I laughed as I woke up and asked Morrie what time it was. He responded by saying “Half past seven.” I thought it was funny considering I had begged him to sleep in a bit, and after all of that I was the one who woke up early.

I did not have much planned today before our over night trip to Hue. The train would take approximately 14 hours, which was longer than our previous overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but I was excited. I had enjoyed my two previous overnight train rides, both shorter. Today I was interested in seeing the Hanoi Hilton which was a former POW jail that the French first used and then after the French were run out of Vietnam, the Vietnamese used it as an American POW jail during the Vietnam War. Elizabeth and Meredith were both keen as going as well, so after I got and early breakfast with Morrie and spent two hours packing up my bag and checking out, I met the girls downstairs to go. Elizabeth insisted that she knew where she was going and Meredith wanted to walk so we were off. At a certain point both the girls wanted to turn one way while I wanted to go another. I was right. We should have gone straight a few blocks then made a right. But instead we went the back asswards way, it took a little longer, and even though it was sweltering as usual out, we got there. The entrance fee was a mere 5,000 dong or less than 45 US cents. It was pretty interesting. I mean I did not enjoy being in a place where Americans were probably tortured, killed and whatever else went on, but when looking at it historically, it was interesting. The highlight of the jail was getting a photo behind a closed jail cell and seeing John McCain’s gear from when his plane crashed during the Vietnam War and where he stayed. We didn’t get to see the actual cell, but this was the jail where he was kept as a POW. They had everything of his. His parachute, his helmet, air tube, clothing, everything that was on him, now became property of this jail and now this museum.

Eventually I lost Elizabeth and Meredith who were just walking too damn slow. I wondered around the rest of the museum and eventually just decided since I couldn’t find them to go off and do my own thing. I wanted to head back to the old quarter and try to find Bia Hoi corner again. That was the place with the really cheap local beer (2000 Dong per glass). I got on a motorbike, had to bargain heavily, but got my price and was taken to the old quarter. Instead of finding Bia Hoi corner I was side tracked by internet café’s and buying movies and other things. This time I ended up buying three seasons of House, and a few movies. And this time the girl was able to check each one of them and they all worked perfectly, including the tv show, which was not handheld. I did get two handheld movies, but that is because they are brand spanking new! After that, I wondered to the internet café where I killed time and spent a while just perusing the internet, making some calls on Skype back home and chilling out. I didn’t have much I wanted to see besides just walking around the city and absorbing the local culture. At the internet café I initially sat down next to this girl Amy who was from England and was doing several intrepid tours through Asia. We chatted for a while at the internet café but when I left we parted ways, at least for the time being.

After the internet café I walked around some more, just enjoying the sights of the old quarter. The streets are really cool. But I was still on a mission to find Bia Hoi Corner. And of course as I turned out of the internet café, two blocks down was Bia Hoi Corner! I had found it. I immediately put down my bags, and got a frosty brew from the lady. It came right out of a massive keg and was the coldest and freshest beer I had enjoyed in a long time. Ironically after speaking to two Japanese travelers at the same shop, Amy came strolling by. I said “what’s up,” she sat down we grabbed a few beers and chatted some more. I was back in my element and it felt good. I loved just talking to random travelers, having beers, enjoying the local culture etc…That is one thing that this tour had prevented me from doing, and while it is not a regret of doing the tour, because again I would never have had the chance to see the places I saw without it, it has definitely given me somewhat of a limiting experience. But Amy and I chatted for a while, we got some food, some beers and then before I knew it, it was 430 and I had to head back to the hotel to finish up packing my belongings and get ready for the train at 6pm. 6pm was when we were meeting to head to the train station. I was unsure about our mode of transportation there so I had to make sure I was there down in the foyer of the lobby in time. All of our stuff was in the day room, which is the room we put stuff in during the day when all of the other rooms are checked out of the hotel. I said goodbye to Amy and the others I had been chatting with, wished her good luck on her trip to China and on to Australia and other parts of the world and that was that. I caught another motorbike back to the hotel, went to the dayroom and gathered my belongings.

I still did not have any food for the train ride. I had not ordered through that breakfast place we went too Koto’s the day before because I thought it was overpriced, so I was on my own. It turned out to be a huge mistake. After wondering around for about an hour plus trying to ask people if they did “takeway,” nobody understood and nobody had takeaway cartons. When it was all said and done I had two rolls of long French style bread, two pastries, one whole dragon fruit, a bottle of whiskey and that was it. I was not happy, but could do nothing about it. I did it too myself, being stubborn and cheap to not order with the rest of the group when I had the chance. 6pm rolled around, the bags went in to a taxi with Elizabeth and the rest of us made the short walk to the Hanoi Train station. When I got the train station, Andy had been informed that I did not have much food, so she insisted I walk around the vendors to find some stuff. She claimed I would be hungry, I thought I would be fine with what I had, but anyway I went to look for food. The first thing I bought was a glass bottle of 7up. Man do they taste good. I know my soda binge has been awful, but I spent a year drinking water at Law School, I could have some soda. When I return home, I will go back to water so that is fine. After downing that I needed to find some real food. In the end I had to bargain heavy and still got ripped off for a package of Ritz crackers and some laughing cow cheese. Laughing Cow cheese is the best cheese I have had in a while. It is creamy, not too strong and just good. Goes on anything and I was introduced to it initially at breakfast in Vientiane I think.

So I had a few things, nothing substantial, but enough to get me through the train ride. I mean I figure that I would head to bed relatively early, since I didn’t plan on drinking much, and lunch I had from a local with Amy was not agreeing so well with my stomach. We all boarded the train and settled in to our tiny 4 person carriage and we were off. The room consisted of Morrie, Andy and I, along with a local teenage boy. He ended up switching with me to the top bunk so he could lay down and sleep, since we had been previously occupying his bed while chatting and whatnot. Morrie updated his journal; I just walked around the train, ate some food and just killed time. The girls were drinking, but I really wasn’t so keen on it. The train was really hot, even with the A/C going and I was sweating like crazy. I have sweat more on this trip to Asia then I can remember. I mean everyday I sweat going to the bathroom. I sweat coming out of the shower. I sweat during breakfast, while I’m taking a dump; I just sweat all the time. I am sweating a little sitting here in my hotel in Hue writing this blog entry! Sweating sucks, boo sweating. OK enough of a sweat rant. Right before I went to sleep I noticed a cockroach looking bug near where my pillow would have been. I tried to get it but it jumped on my hand and I kind of swung it off. This was after I had already killed one in Meredith’s carriage with my bear hands. I was just reading one of those gaudy British magazines when one popped up from the side of the bed, and I just went splat with my hand and killed it. Meredith looked up and went “did you just kill that with your hand?” I was like “yes and I have no idea why, I just saw it and reacted.”

We both had a chuckle about that. So anyway before I went to sleep one popped up and then for some reason I decided to lift the bed up and saw so many bugs of the same type underneath. Holding back my puke from the sight of so many bugs beneath the bed I was about to sleep on, I quickly put it back down. Andy noticing what I was doing exclaimed “why would you look? You know looking is never good, you don’t look when going to the bathroom in a squatter and you don’t look underneath a bed on a train!” I was like “sorry I forgot, and then she took out her sun tan lotion spray and sprayed a good portion of my bed all along the cracks. She claimed that might keep them from coming up from underneath the bed, I was skeptical, so I threw back two Nyquil and tried the medical approach to sleeping.

It was a tough sleep. This time unlike the previous two times I was on a train, we were laying across the train, not in the direction the train was moving. I thought it rocked way too much and if we had been lying in a different position, with the direction of the train, I don’t think I would have felt as much rocking. I was also a little nervous about all those bugs beneath me, disgusting.

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June 6th: Hanoi

June 8th, 2007

Wednesday June 6th, 2007

Hanoi Vietnam

Today there were a few included activities as part of the tour but after them, the rest of our time in Hanoi (approximately 1.5 days) was “free time.” Before out first stop, we had an included breakfast on the docket. This breakfast was at a place called Koto’s. Basically it was set up by a Vietnamese Australian who wanted to help disadvantaged and trouble youths and give them a chance to make something of themselves in a not so forgiving society. So he opened up two restaurants in Vietnam and employed kids such as these. The breakfast was delicious. It was a buffet style breakfast with baked beans, eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit and other good things. It is not everyday I get to eat such foods, so I have to take advantage of it when the chance comes my way, and it was free, which meant it tasted even better.

After breakfast the gang was off to our first stop. Our first stop was seeing Uncle Ho or Ho Chi Minh. He lays to rest in a huge mausoleum here in Hanoi. When we got to the place it was really hot and there was a long queue (line) of people waiting to get in to see him. There was one line for the Vietnamese and one line for foreigners. Apparently the Vietnamese wait longer to get in then the foreigners, but I was never told why that is, only that they do. Even though the line appeared to be quite long, it was constantly moving as there were guards pushing everyone along. Eventually we made out way in to the mausoleum, walked up the stairs and around and in to the room where Buck Ho laid to rest. It was a sober room, dim lighting with four soldiers standing guard around him. They stood below us, and Buck Ho himself was more or less at our eye level. I walked as slow as I could to observe him from every angle I could but eventually guards would just move you along to get out of the room and out of the mausoleum. That is how they kept the line moving, even though it was quite long. At one point I thought to myself “he doesn’t look real, he looks like wax.” I came out thinking that Buck Ho was fake, but when I asked Andy she kind of shushed me and said “not around here.” Andy quietly asked Quang our tour guide and then Andy said “Ask Quang what you just asked me.” So I did and he told me in a quiet voice that Buck Ho was in fact made out of WAX! I was right, which made me really excited for a split second, then I thought to myself “Oh man, he was fake, I thought I was seeing the real Ho Chi Minh.” “Oh well,” I thought to myself, and moved on. From seeing Uncle Ho, we took a few group photos in front of the huge mausoleum.

The next stop was going to the Royal Palace Complex. This is where Ho Chi Minh lived for several years while he was in Vietnam. For a long time Uncle Ho was abroad, but returned after 20 years to opened up the Socialist party that remains today. The complex was really nice. We got to see Buck Ho’s house, garage, and then we went to a museum dedicated to his life. After a while I began tired of walking through the museum and stuff and I had other plans that I needed to take care of on my free afternoon. Today I was on a mission to get glasses made. Apparently in Hanoi in the old quarter there are 36 small streets. Back in the day each street specialized in a certain trade; silk, tailors, food, clothing, and glasses. While its purpose is not to serve certain individual specialized needs, it seems to remain similar to its function in the past. So I jumped in a cab that Quang was able to hail for me and he negotiated the price. In Hanoi it is best to negotiate and pay first otherwise you run the risk that the motorbike driver, cab driver or whoever will increase the price when you arrive and give you a huge hassle. At first the taxi driver did not want to accept my price, so I said “Ok, I’ll just go to the next cab behind you,” and all I heard was “ok, ok, ok,” which usually happens. It is either take my money or someone else will. Harsh reality, but so is life.

I told Quang to tell the taxi driver I wanted to go to the street that he (Quang, my local tour guide recommended). He did so, and we were off. Traffic was light and the drive did not take that long. The driver asked me what number, but I just told him to drop me off at the corner of the street and I will find my way, and so he did. Before I could go to the glasses street which was called Luang Van Can, I had to find an internet place to get the prescription that Mom had gotten for me from my eye doctor. After wondering around towards the general direction of the glasses street, hoping to find some internet place close, I did. It was shady as hell. There was a guy standing in front of a sign that said internet and when I said “you have internet,” some lady came running out and took me through a series of hallways, upstairs and it appeared that I ended up in their house. They had one computer and during the entire time the daughter of the lady was staring at me, it was kind of creepy. Of course she overcharged me, but I was eventually able to get the prescription (thanks mom!).

Getting the prescription was the easy part. The hard part was trying to get the glasses people to understand what it meant since it was English. I had the bright idea of going to a hotel in the area and maybe having the people translate the prescription for me in to Vietnamese. I tried one hotel but after a few minutes of them talking amongst themselves, they could not translate it. I appeared to be stuck, but was like “I have come this far I might as well see what I can do.

So I walked down the “glasses” street and there so many shops on this small street it was incredible. I went to a few to show them my prescription but most either gave me a blank stare, a response in Vietnamese or pretended to understand, when in reality they really did not. After walking down almost the entire street I found one guy who appeared to understand me, or so I thought. After a while of us going back and forth, he took my English prescription to another guy at the corner, and after a little while, the other dude appeared to understand the prescription. He re-wrote it for me in the local language for the guy to make my glasses from the other shop. They even took out a whole silver briefcase filled with lenses and tested my eyes quickly. I put the tested lenses on and it was perfect! After we negotiated the price for the frames and labor, it would come out to be $18 USD for a pair of glasses! Ready in less than an hour! How incredible is that. They were nice Italian frames too, probably costing boat loads back in America. How the hell can this guy produce glasses in less than an hour and have it take like two weeks in America? They probably send my frames to Vietnam for them to be made and then shipped back!

I was really happy that I would be getting glasses. I had not had them for a few weeks now and was really starting to be bothered by the blurriness produced by my stigmatism. I could not just stop there. I figured that in the next few months I would probably lose this new pair and be forced to dish out a lot of money for another pair. So I decided to look for another pair. I took my prescription back from the guy, as he did not need it anymore and walked around. I came to this shop where some lady was watching television and the glasses maker was cleaning up his shop. Again after negotiation I got the price down to $15 USD for a nice pair of Rayban frames and this time it would only take 30 minutes or less! At this point my high could not get any higher. I would have two pair of glasses, both made in less than an hour, for less than what I paid with my insurance for one pair of glasses! Truly remarkable and I suppose a little lucky on my part.

After getting both my glasses, finding an ATM machine to pay both shops, I had new glasses and had worked up quite a bit of an appetite. I found the nearest café and went in. My decision was also made based on the nearest bathroom as I had to go number 2 and quickly. The café was nice, a tad expensive but not too bad and the food was great. I got a classic burger and fries with a bottle of water for like 4 bucks. After I digested my food and wrote a postcard, I then wanted to take stroll along the lake. It is a really nice lake, with plenty of places to sit and relax. This seemed perfect after a nice meal. Oh also before that I bought a t-shirt and some other things, it is so hard to keep myself from buying little things here and there, but I love it and have a lot of great stuff. I really regret not buying many things last year in Europe, but it was so expensive, choices were limited and my bargaining skills were no where close to what they are now. After spending numerous weeks all throughout Asia, I have become quite the bargainer. You have to be; otherwise you will be eaten up alive by the pesky vendors.

Anyway after lunch I walked along the lake until I found a good spot to sit and relax. I took out my little MP4 player, minus the memory card (darn!), and just relaxed. I snapped a few photos as well. After about 10 minutes this girl walked over to me and started talking to me. Now Andy had told us before that if people randomly come up to you, especially younger individuals, they are not trying to scam you like in Thailand or other places, they truly just want to practice their English and talk to you. So I took off my headphones and threw her a bone. I can’t spell or pronounce her name, but the girl was a student studying tourism at a university in Hanoi. Her family lived like four hours away on a farm, but she lived in a flat in Hanoi to do her studies. She had completed two years of university and had two left. Her English was not bad, but she had a tough time understanding what I was saying. I would try to say the same thing in a few different ways, but eventually she would understand, I think. We chatted for a while until her “classmate,” had walked away, she left and went off to find them, and that was my cue to leave. I packed up my backpack, put my stuff away and left the lakeside. My relaxation had lasted approximately five minutes. Not bad for Hanoi, five more minutes than I thought I would get here in this bustling city.

At this point I was getting a little tired, the heat kills me. It just drains the life out of you, and since I don’t drink enough water, because that would then require me to have to go to the bathroom a lot, which are not readily available I end up feeling like crap and dehydrated. I am trying to work on that drinking water thing, I am getting better at it. I took out my business card of the hotel and found a motorbike home. I negotiated a price as usual, and the driver took me and acted like I had stolen his child or killed his dog. They try to rip me off, so I will return the favor, and in the end I will usually prevail because I need to get somewhere and they need money. And that is the way the world works. Money talks, otherwise I’ll walk.

I got back to the Victory Hotel and went up to my room. I just needed some time to relax and that is exactly what I did. I put the tv on for a little while, caught up on some things, I enjoyed the air conditioned room. Oh and I had another massage. It is so hard to resist when it is cheap and they are great for relaxation! After that, I came back to the room, Morrie had returned from his free half day, we chatted and then he told me the rest of the gang was meeting at 630ish to head to dinner. I said perfect, took a quick shower and got ready to go out.

630 turned in to 7 but eventually we were off. Elizabeth and I each got motorbikes and the rest jumped in to a taxi. Elizabeth wanted to head to this Italian restaurant she read about in her Lonely Planet Guide. I cautioned her that it would be significantly more expensive then places we have been going too, but she insisted it would be fine “how much more could it be,” she said, and I said “ok, we’ll see.” Well I was right. The place was called Al Fresco’s and people if you are in Hanoi, don’t go, it is expensive. The food is good, at least the pizza is and the daiquiris aren’t bad either, but man is it expensive. All the prices seemed to be at least triple of what the local street price was. I mean really expensive for Hanoi and Vietnam. 125,000 Dong for a medium pizza, I mean come on people! Well after I got my “I told you so,” out of the way, we just decided to bite the bullet and stay since we had all paid to get to the restaurant. I had a medium pizza and a liter strawberry daiquiri. I was feeling like a bit of a splurge after my fantastic afternoon; glasses, good food, great local interaction with people and the massage! The food was good and the drink was equally as good, but again just a little out of the price range. I think I ended up paying 18.50 for the meal. That is the third most expensive meal of my trip; the first two are both in Hong Kong, which will be part of my awards at the end of the trip. I had been brainstorming possible categories and have come up with some traditional and non-traditional ones. I am just hoping I can remember them all, I guess I should start to make a list.

After dinner I was really tired for downing the daiquiri really quick. I have not drank that much on my trip. While I might write about drinking a few beers here and there I have only had a few big nights out, less than five, which is fine. Plus being around people twice and triple your age I’m sure does not help with the motivation to go out. I mean my roommate goes to bed before 10, 11 at the latest! I had a decent night sleep. When we got home the end of the Vietnam Indonesia Olympic Qualifying game was finishing up and what a shocker it was. Vietnam was up 1-0 virtually the whole game dominating the Indonesians and in the end Indonesia scored in the 88th minute to tie the game, silencing the Vietnam fans in Hanoi and reviving the faithful traveling Indonesian fans who had made the trip to Hanoi. In extra time, already 15 seconds past the initial 3 minutes given, Vietnam made one more push towards the goal and suddenly there was a kick. A kick made by a forward or midfielder (I really don’t know) from about 35-40 yards away, definitely way outside the 18 yard box. The kick took a skipping bounce right in front of the goalie, over his shoulder and in to the back of the net! Vietnam had scored with virtually no time left on the clock in extra time sending the team and fans in to a pandemonium. The announcers were screaming in Vietnamese, and the stadium was rocking. It was one of the best finishes to a game I have ever watched in my soccer history. Morrie and I were even going a little nuts in the room. We were both shocked. So after that and being a little charged up, I passed out and had a pretty good night sleep. Since the following day was our last day in Hanoi, and being a free day, neither of us were in a rush to get up. I tried to get Morrie to get up past 730, but in the end after going to bed at least for me, before 11 I was up before 730 anyway.

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June 5th: Hanoi, Vietnam

June 8th, 2007

When I left you yesterday I was typing up a storm catching up on the past few days. After I was done typing up my updated blog I had to go back to the internet café but this time I came back with my mini hard drive. I figured it would save time and money to type the blog offline and then just upload it to the computer and copy and paste it in to an entry.

So I walked back to the same internet café and showed them my hard drive. They signaled me to use one computer but it didn’t work. The guy who worked the shop tried a few things and a few computers and finally gave me one that apparently was fast enough or had USB 2.0, either way I was good. I loaded up my blog and started to copy and paste each entry. I decided this time to break the entries down a little, and not have one really, really, really long entry. Instead you got a few really, really long entries, haha.

I also checked a few websites and was on my way back to the hotel. I only had a few minutes to get back so I had to rush. Oh quick side story. On my way to the internet café the second time I randomly stopped and looked down on the ground, and what was staring me in the face, but my fourth extra battery! I didn’t even know that I had lost it, but it must have fallen out of my pocket as I was going back to my hotel the first time. I was real happy, and realized once again that everything happens for a reason, good karma.

So while I was walking back at a swift pace to Victory Hotel I took a misstep into the famous “Hanoi sludge,” and ripped the skin off the front of my toe. I exclaimed “Ohhhhhh,” and just kept walking, I had to keep up with the pace of the motorbikes, people and traffic. But now I was walking swiftly but with a limp. My foot was covered with an unknown black substance, I could see my toe was bleeding, but since I only had a few minutes to get back to the hotel to meet the gang, I had to hurry. As soon as I got in to the hotel, everyone was waiting I said that I had fucked up my toe and needed the nurses (the three woman on the tour) to help me out. I dropped my hard drive on the table and hobbled upstairs. Penny told me to soak my toe in the bathtub and try to clean it off. I hobbled up the stairs, pain was rushing through my toe with each step. Of course I was on the fourth floor with no elevator! I had about three minutes to get upstairs, clean off the toe, change, and get back downstairs before our trip to the famous Water Puppets. By the time I got my shorts off, turned the water on and put my toe in, Penny had come in to my room. She told me to try and get as much of the sludge off my toe as possible, dry it off, put some antiseptic hand gel it to sanitize the toe, put some medical powder on it to heal the cut and keep it dry and stick two band aids on it. I did all of that and was still in a lot of pain. Then Andy came to the room to see how I was doing. I was fine, but that initial shock and rush of pain through the toe from ripping off fresh skin had passed and I was alright. It was definitely stinging quite a bit with each step, but I was fine and toughed it out.

I hobbled back down the stairs and was quickly directed in to a cyclo! I cyclo is like a rickshaw expect no one is pulling you but instead someone is pushing you on a bicycle. It was really cool. We got a tour of the old city and around Hanoi for about 30 minutes and the final destination was the Water Puppet Theater. I videotaped the tour for about 10 minutes on a few clips. I filled up a memory card with the video, but it was something that could not be missed. We were weaving in traffic, along people, cars, bikes, push bikes everything. At one point the driver of my cyclo decided to just head straight in to oncoming traffic to make a turn. I was like “ohhhh baby,” and the driver laughed.

Hanoi traffic is ridiculous. I mean everyone is going in every direction, road rules really don’t apply and there appears to be an unofficial guide to the road rules. People just seem to know what everyone else is going to do, and everyone stays calm and just makes their way through the streets. Tourists don’t have a clue, like myself, but to observe it in action with a ton of traffic is a sight to see. I tried to take some more pictures, changing memory cards, but was down to my last one, and it was my smallest one (1 gb). I had to save some space for the water puppets and the rest of the night. For the last few minutes I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. It was slow paced, but extremely fast paced around me.
We finally arrived at the water puppet theater, got our tickets from Morrie, found our seats and sat back and were ready. It seemed to be a traditional Chinese Water Puppet Theater/Show. There was a traditional live band, with traditional Chinese instruments. There was a brief English introduction, but the rest of the show was in Vietnamese/French. Again, there is still a ton of French influence in Hanoi. Restaurants, cafes, the food, menus are in French, signs etc…Definitely not what I was expecting at all.

The show lasted about an hour, and seemed like the perfect amount of time. Since the show was not in English it is hard to stay focused for much longer than that. I mean the music was good, the puppets were fantastic, but again, it is hard to focus when you don’t know the story or what is going on. Throughout the show Deb and I were going back and forth questioning how the puppets were being moved. At the end they revealed the puppet masters, and I won’t ruin the surprise for anyone who might check at a water puppet show in the future!

After the show, Andy had a local restaurant picked out for us which was close, and she said seemed alright. We walked in, went upstairs and ended up on a balcony overlooking the street below. Just as we got to the restaurant it began to pour. One of those typical rain storms we have seen throughout our time in SEA.

The food was cheap and plentiful. There was a lot to choose from. I decided to go with some rice and beef, a common dish for me to get. I could not have pork or shellfish and generally did not like to have chicken (depending on the place), so I settled for that. I was sick of drinking beer so I decided to get a cocktail, a long island ice tea. Elizabeth ordered the same. When it came we both took a swig from it and both looked at each and said “there is no alcohol in this drink.” We immediately got our waiter and in broken English told him “no alcohol, put more alcohol in drink.” He looked at us and stared for a second, let it sink in and said “ok, ok. The drink I was brought was much better than the first one. It actually had some remnants of alcohol in it. I tasted it a little, but for 2.50 it wasn’t terrible.

The rain continued to pour down as we sat and enjoyed the meal and the drinks. Next to us was a group of Spaniards and we started chatting with them. They were ripping on the Australians, as they should, and I laughed. Once they asked me where I was from and I said “New York,” I gained immediate respect. It seems like if you are from America you usually get shit, but saying you are from “New York,” kind of gives you some “street credit,” among other travelers. I mean they assume I am from the city, but I usually say I am from right outside the city, but still “New York” is “New York.”

After a few more drinks and hoping the rain would stop, we eventually just decided to move on to another place Andy knew about. This place wasn’t really a place it was more of a set of street corners which came together to form “Bia Hoi Corner.” “Bia Hoi” or “Fresh Beer,” translated from Vietnamese basically is what it says. It is beer that is locally made, out of a keg like contraption and is really cheap. Now when I mean cheap, I mean cheap. We are talking about 2000 dong here, or about 8 US cents for a glass! The beer is not incredibly strong, but after a couple you are feeling alright. We decided to go there even though it was still drizzling a bit, just to see what it was all about. When we got there we picked our place (there are several on the corners to choose from all selling at 2000 dong a glass). We sat in our little preschool chairs and ordered a few Bia Hoi’s. We again saw our Spanish friends across the street. See at the bar one of them had come up to us and asked us where they should go. They claimed it was too early to go to sleep so they wanted to continue to drink beer. Ironically enough Andy knew of a us, which was Bia Hoi corner, a beer drinkers paradise and explained to them how to get there, and that is why we saw them when we got there. I had several of these beers, which were rather tasty. Unfortunately like most drinks in Southeast Asia the beer was not that cold. I managed, while others continued to winge(complain) about how warm the drinks were. Some of them constantly complain about how warm the beers are, the water, the soda, and I’m thinking to myself “Jesus just drink it, we are in Southeast Asia not Sydney or Melbourne or New York!” But I just continue to let it go, and enjoy watching them suffer through the warmness of the beer.

It wasn’t that late, but not that early and people were ready to go home. The rain had stopped but the ground was wet and as we started to walk back instead of taking some sort of local transportation (again due to the cheapness of some of the gang) Penny forgot her bag with the dragon in it she had bought from the water puppet theater. At that point we said “alright time to hop on a motorbike and get home.” I negotiated with one of the drivers who were constantly barraging us with “Moto, Moto, you want Moto,” like every five seconds. And the thing about these moto drivers is that they don’t just bother you from the sidewalk, at night they literally drive right up to you like less than a foot away, get in your face and then ask you “you want moto?” At first I thought they were just passing by like any ordinary motorbike on the street, but then I realized after the first one that they were looking for a fare.

Eventually I was able to talk him down to only 10,000 Dong for the ride, but when I got to the hotel Deb stuffed it up and was just like in her drunken state “just give him a dollar, we paid much more than you anyway.” I was like “thanks DEB, I already told him 10,000, but since you insist I’ll pay him more!” That got me pissed because my negotiating was none of her business. So I begrudgingly took out my US Dollar and handed it to the guy for the fare. Deb really didn’t think it was such a big deal, which is funny considering how cheap of a person she really is. I moved on, went upstairs and packed it in for the night.

Tags:

Halong Bay, Vietnam to Hanoi (Captial city), Vietnam

June 5th, 2007

After breakfast, Andy told us the schedule for the day, I went down to finish packing up, put my rain cover on my pack (so happy I bought that in Bangkok before I came on the tour) and before we knew it we were back in to the hectic and crazy halong bay docks. There were hundreds of boats jockeying for position closest to the actual docks so they would have the best chance of getting business for the day and/or night. At first it appeared that we would have to climb up, down and around several boats to get to shore, but after some crazy maneuvering of the boat, and the pushing away of other boats, our boat just parted the sea like Moses and we got dropped off right in the middle, front of the dock and our driver “the hero,” was waiting for us, like it was fate. We went from boat, to minibus really fast and before we knew it, we were off saying goodbye to Halong Bay. While I would have loved to spend two nights on the boat, only if the weather was good, given the circumstances of the current weather situation, this was perfect. We could also see in the distance that the weather was clearing up in the direction we were going, could it get any better?

An hour and a half later we stopped at a ceramics and pottery factory where they made from scratch ceramic vases, cups, saucers, tea pots, etc… I was a little bummed because I had bought a set in Hong Kong, which probably wasn’t hand made and really should have waited, but as they say hindsight 20/20 is a bitch. We walked around, and observed the men and women drawing on the pieces of ceramic, how they made the pieces of ceramic and all that stuff. Basically the process went accordingly. The clay was mixed with water and then poured in to a mold. When the mold dried it was brought to the forming station where the clay was cleaned up and a dude fixed any problems with the shaping. After shaping it was brought to the drawing station to be designed. After that it was taken to the kiln to be glazed over or not, but to be hardened then off the factory store right next door.

I walked in to the factory store with Andy, well she was behind me but stayed outside the store. One particular tea set caught my eye and before I knew it about three people came up to me asking if I needed help, which one I wanted to buy, was this one and this one and this one OK, and OK lets buy it and all this crap. I was like back off I am just looking around give me a second, holy crap. They backed off a bit, but as I walked around the store more kept popping up like freaking lemmings I swear its nuts over here.

Eventually I had to decide between two sets, a green one without a design or a blue one with designs on all the pieces. After consulting with Elizabeth and really looking at them both I decided on the blue hued one with the design on all the pieces. The set came with a nice large tea pot, six cups, with cute bamboo handles, and a bamboo/wooden tray for the set so that it would be easy to carry to the table and back. I was happy with it, and then I picked out a wooden toothpick holder which I thought was really cool and then along with Deb got an embroidered picture of a sunset in Vietnam. All of this stuff was handmade. It really didn’t cost that much, and since I was really looking for handmade stuff throughout my whole trip when I got to this place I went a little nuts. It’s ok, every once and awhile that is fine, but the real issue is how the hell am I going to get all this stuff home. My next step is to find out what my baggage requirements are for my airline rides home. I have two legs home, and my understanding is that the first leg I can have 70 kilos but the second I can only have 20 or 25 or something really low because my final destination is the USA, but I am not sure if that applies if you check it all the way through from Bangkok or not, if I have to get my luggage again, the visa situation all that stuff I will have to figure out when I get back to Bangkok. I am dreading having to ship more stuff home, I would rather buy a really cheap suitcase and just have two bags since this is my last flights back home, if they allowed it. Ideally I would want them to let me take two bags of 20 kilos or more, not total and then I would be fine. I would definitely be able to find a cheap suitcase for 10-15 bucks or maybe a little more, but it sure beats sending all my valuables home by boat or by air which would cost an arm, a leg and another elbow!

So here I am in my hotel room in Hanoi, we arrived on time, more or less as scheduled. The hotel is called Victory Hotel and Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam not Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), which people often confuse. There is a lot to do here; it is a bustling city of about 4 million, with not a whole lot of space to be spared. After eating a late lunch with the gang I checked my email for a while, but had to run back to the hotel as my stomach was about to explode. It was like those scenes from the movies where they show a volcano exploding, that is how I felt (is that graphic enough), but as they say “better out than in!” My plan is to quickly save this entry to my hard drive, run back to the internet place, upload this entry to my blog and meet the gang at 545PM for the famous water puppet show, view a cyclo and then off to dinner and fun afterwards.

My plan tomorrow is to visit the Hilton Hanoi which is the old POW war prison during the Vietnam (often referred to as the American) War, walk around the old quarter, the French quarter and we will see how far I get after that. I am also trying to get glasses made here, but unfortunately Dr. M was not in the office yesterday and since I waited till the last minute to get the prescription for my eyes I might not have time tomorrow, but we will see I will try, if not oh well.

Also in the morning as an included activity we are going to see Uncle Ho (Buck Ho) or the preserved and embalmed Ho Chi Minh himself in his gynormous mosoleum and complex. Apparently it is a very sober place and one of only a few really famous people to be preserved in this way (Lenin I know is another one). I am surprised Uncle Ho was preserved because he really wanted to be cremated and they did not honor his wishes.

So just like Hanoi I will be very busy the next 2+ days. After Hanoi we are taking an overnight train to Hue, and I have no idea what we are doing there.

Thanks for hanging in with me. Sorry I took a while to update these past few days, but as you can see things have been crazy and not that much time to sit and update the blog.

These 18 typed pages on Word took me about two hours, so I am working hard to keep you all in the loop.

Thanks,

Josh

Tags:

Ninh Binh to Halong Bay, Vietnam

June 5th, 2007

Ninh Binh to Halong Bay

Today’s drive would be about 4 hours depending on traffic and stuff. We left promptly at 7am after negotiating with the driver and our new local guide Quang as to when we wanted to leave. The driver agreed and we were off bright and early. We wanted as much time as possible in beautiful Halong Bay, Vietnam. For this leg of the drive I demanded to move back a row and not sit behind the driver. It was uncomfortable because you didn’t have anyplace to really put your feet, I mean you couldn’t rest them on the back of the driver’s seat because you didn’t want to constantly be nudging the driver who had to drive all this way. Again the distance between these places was less than 250 miles yet took forever due to the incredibly slow speed limit.

After a while we stopped for Happy House and for some snacks. When we walked in we saw these huge glass jars filled with alcohol and dead snakes, scorpions and other things. The alcohol was bottled together with these creatures for g-d knows how long. To the left I noticed smaller bottles and was really interested on buying them. Not even to drink, but more to put on a mantle or coffee table as a conversation piece and for something cool. I asked Quang which one I should get and he suggested this oddly shaped bottle with a smaller Tiger snake (big puffed out neck) with a scopion and ginger mixed in. The cool thing was that the scorpion’s tail was in the mouth of the snake, it was very tastefully done.

I asked Quang to ask the lady selling them how much, he responded by saying “250,000,” I said that was too much and asked him to counter with “200,000 Dong.” After some bitching and moaning which was typical when bartering, she gave in and I got the bottle of alcohol with the snake and scorpion, score! I showed the rest of the gang who “oohed and ahhed,” and then it was back on the bus.

We arrived in Halong Bay around 1130ish, great timing, weather looked incredible; blue skies, sun out, warm, perfect weather for boating, bathing and swimming. When we got the pier it was mayhem. I can only imagine how it is during the high season. People were all over the place, hundreds of boats packed their way in to the harbour, shuffling for position so they could recruit people for a day, night or two night+ trip through Halong Bay and to the islands that are part of it.

Halong Bay for ones who don’t know are 1,900+ Limestone islands, with caves, places to swim, beaches, and places to sleep. Some of them are really tall, often oddly shaped due to the fact they are limestone which seem to take unusual formations over time. We got on to our boat, which was huge for only seven of us plus Quang. Morrie and I got our room, which was number three and we were off. I immediately put my bathing suit on, changed shirts, got my music out and headed to the top deck for some quality lounging. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to just lounge in the sun because it was so hard not to take hundreds of photos. I think after it was all said and done in less than a full day I took about 550 photos of Halong Bay, the caves and the surrounding scenery. It was so gorgeous it was so hard not to keep snapping away. My photo has probably eclipsed the 5,000 photo mark and will probably be at 7-8000 or more when it is all said and done (I plan on taking at least 1500 photos at Ankor Wat, which is one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World).

I finally said I am lounging enough with the pictures, put my music on and just relaxed. The sun was beating down on me and everyone knows I am too cool for sun tan lotion (you can never be too cool for a jacket and a backpack but the rules never said anything about sun tan lotion!)so of course I got burnt after about an hour of laying in the sun, who cares though cause I’m tan, I look good and I feel great with a tan!

We all went down for lunch before lounging and lunch was probably a top five meal of my entire trip through Asia. So many courses I could not even keep count. Andy had mentioned no pork or fish for me so it was all about beef and chicken and variations. There was rice, greens, I split a bottle of wine with Elizabeth, a white Vietnamese wine which wasn’t bad at all, and it was a lovely lunch. Then after lunch we went up to the top deck, took the photos, lounged and before we knew it, it was time to check out one of the famous caves of Halong Bay. Quang took us around the caves (mom it was limestone and fantastic, you would have loved it, don’t worry I took a million pictures of the stalactites and mites!) and pointed out various animals, creatures and other funny looking things the rocks appeared to have formed with a little imagination. The caves were also fun because I was bombarded by like six Vietnamese women who wanted me to take a photo with them and of them. First I took one with one lady, then another, then I took one of two of the ladies, and then of the whole group. They kept following me around, giggling and finally one of them said “You are handsome man,” I said “Thanks,” smiled and continued walking through the caves. Could my head get any bigger? Not sure, but I will continue to push the envelope.

After the caves, the gang got some ice cream pops being sold at the end of the caves, good thing because it was so damn hot out and humid that I was dying for something cold. Elizabeth snapped a few quality photos of me with a great background (yes dad you will get see some of them) and we were back on the boat. The time was about 5PM and it was time for a swim! We all decided to pass up on Tito Island and just told Quang we wanted to moor up somewhere and swim off the boat. Time was running out and we all wanted to swim. I told Andy I would feel more comfortable with a life jacket, as I wasn’t the best swimmer, and if we had been snorkeling it would have been fine with the floating and the mask on, but this was straight up treading of water and swimming, both of which I am g-d awful at. She laughed, then I told her I was serious and she got me one. We all jumped off the back of the boat, one after another, making various hoots and hollers as we did it. It was a lot of fun. We swam around for awhile, I finally got back to the boat’s ladder, climbed up it and jumped off a higher level of the boat. Unfortunately one of the feet slipped off and I kind of did a belly flop in to the water from probably 9 feet up. It hurt a little but I came up fine, little red belly, nothing major and continued to swim with my really embarrassing life jacket.

After swimming we all went up to the top deck to watch the remarkable sunset. Clear blue skies, perfect sun, temperature was cooling down, everything seemed perfect until Andy got us some Halida beers, and now it was perfect. I had a few beers, relaxed in the chair, snapped some photos of the sunset and just enjoyed it all.

After the beers and the sunset we all decided to get back in to the water and swim to the other boat that had moored on the same line as us about 150 meters away. I joined in but quickly regretted it realizing that A. I hated to swim and B. that I was carrying a ridiculous life jacket and that was so embarrassing in itself. But I did it anyway and when I finally made it to the other boat, feeling like I wanted to die, I had to tell all the people on the boat that I was the life guard taking the life jacket just in case, haha, well better than nothing. Andy tried to blow up my spot but I just kept avoiding it and deflecting my humility back to her, it was a funny back and forth. After chatting with the people on the other boat, who were similar to my age, we had to swim back to the other boat. At this point I told Andy to just leave me and let me float away, I was dead tired, didn’t want to swim back. She kept with me the whole way, I swam a bit on my back, on my front and finally after what seemed like an eternity got back to the boat. It was time for dinner but I wasn’t hungry. I was really dehydrated from not drinking enough water, being in the sun, sweating, mixed with the salt water from the bay and swimming I needed some high quality H2O. I grabbed a 7up (which is so good in Asia) and a bottle of water and first chugged the H2O then the 7up, had some quality burps which opened up everything for dinner and was all set. I changed, took a shower quickly, then made it for dinner.

Dinner was another fantastic meal. Not as many courses as lunch, but had a ton of variety and greens. Elizabeth told me to eat all the greens so that I could get back on track with my bowel movements. I said ok and just ate all the string beans. Thank g-d I listened to her because after a few minutes I ran to the toilet and had a nice release and ever since my system has been back on track, all systems are a go!

After dinner we all scurried to the top deck to relax under the stars and enjoy the little cove we had parked in for the night. It was the same place as we had swam but now all the boats had their little lights on, the deck was dark for a bit which made for great ambience, but after a while the light was turned on and that was ruined. The ladies decided to drape a sarong around the light, and it worked creating an even better ambience on the top deck. I chatted with Morrie and Andy down below, then with Andy on the top deck, and relaxed. Mixed in with calling mom for a phone number and too say and ask her about pearls the night was pretty good. I then brought my laptop which had been charging up to the top deck after writing a little for my blog, played some music, which was enjoyed by all and before I knew it, it was like 12am and time for bed. I found myself on the top deck alone writing for my blog and it was really peaceful. Great breeze, temperature had gone down a little bit and in the distance was an awesome light show (lightening storm) in the distance.

I eventually decided to pack it in and get to bed as we had to wake up early yet again 630-7am and breakfast would be 730am. When I woke up I heard lots of noise, turns out it was pouring outside. The storm I had seen from the distance had made its way to us and it was nuts out. The waves had not picked up but the rain was pouring down on us. I changed, made my way up to breakfast where everyone appeared to be wet from having to climb up one floor outside to get to the main deck for food. Breakfast was extremely light; toast, one egg, jam, pineapple and that was it. It seems like the order went lunch, dinner, breakfast in terms of the order of meals from best to worst, which was fine considering I would have preferred a fantastic lunch and dinner to a great breakfast and a crappy lunch and/or dinner.

Tags:

Local Village (homestay), Laos to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

June 5th, 2007

This journey would be 12 hours in the car, hopefully, and as Andy said “if we get there before 7pm, after leaving at 7am, we will be doing very well.” A large part of this trip was the fact that today was the day we were crossing in to Vietnam, my 30th country! I was really excited to head to Vietnam and finally get to the big 3-0. So we all got back on the bus, with our daypacks, I was bumped to the front seat behind the driver so Meredith could take the back and be able to lounge out with her bug bitten body. That was fine, change of pace, new seat, its all good. After about an hour and a half we got to the Lao border. Ky got our passports, departure cards and got us stamped. I took all my Lao Kip 257,000 and exchanged it for Dong, which yielded me over 450,000 Dong. This currency thing was getting out of control. So far on this trip alone I must have 10 currencies on me at any given time, it is nuts. Coupled with the fact that I keep small amounts of currency from each country to bring home (don’t worry Mom, it is worthless back home and not very much), it is out of control. Half the time I’m pulling out Kip, Baht, Dong, Dollars, Ringdits, etc…The Lao border went fairly smooth, and now the hard one; the Vietnam border. Andy had built it up to be this incredibly annoying, slow paced and bureaucratic mess of a place, but when we got there, it went really smooth. She said under an hour would be impressive and I reckon we were only there about 30 minutes tops. We all filled out our cards, gave in our passports, got stamped, paid the bullshit weekend 1USD surcharge and were on our way. We said goodbye to Mr. Pa and Ky and met our new driver Mr. Hoome or “Hero” translated from Vietnamese. This dude would be responsible for driving us 12 hours to Halong Bay and then 4 hours to Hanoi a few days after that, definitely a lot of driving.

Vietnam

My first impression of Vietnam was that it kind of looked like Lao, but more green. I mean it was so green and lush with trees, bush, it was remarkable to see. After we got through the mountains it became incredibly flat, definitely much more flat than Lao, you can clearly see why they are the second largest exporter of rice to the world behind Thailand. I mean for miles you just see rice patty fields all around. After a few hours we stopped at some shady place to eat and go to the Happy House. Andy was dreading eating here, as she said that every time she has to do this leg of the journey it sucks because there is no good place to stop between Lao border and Halong Bay. Our stop tonight before going to Halong Bay would be Ninh Binh. I’m sorry it was 12 hours to Ninh Binh, then about four hours to Halong Bay and then the following day another 4 hours to Hanoi, getting all my days mixed up here.

The drive was long and incredibly slow. The speed limit for most of the trip was about 50 kilometers and hour or about 35 mph. I mean even on highways, but if you have ever been Vietnam you know exactly why it is so slow, these drivers are nuts. Most of the time the road is one way in each direction, but not for the Vietnamese. They make it 2,3,4 lanes sometimes, by passing on both sides, criss crossing inches from each other, and all this crazy stuff. It is really hard to explain, pictures can only tell a small portion of the tale, and you really have to be there to experience it yourself.

After it was all said and done we finally arrived in Ninh Binh, earlier than expected, about 530PM. Not bad considering we thought it would take about two hours more. We checked in to our lovely hotel, dropped our stuff and I proceeded to hit up the internet place around the corner. I didn’t update my blog because I didn’t have enough time to catch up, but just played around, checked out the money situation, emails, fantasy teams etc…It was nice and the internet was fairly cheap, 10,000 Dong for the hour and surprisingly faster than I had thought. Faster than Lao which was as slow as the people moved and cooked food.

After my time on the internet it was time to meet for dinner back at the hotel. First I got money from the ATM which had no lights, but really did after Deb, Penny and I had left, some guy walked in turned the light on and laughed as he must of saw us struggle to hold up Deb’s flash from her cell phone camera. This reminds me of a story from the village in Lao that I forgot to tell.

So our sleeping arrangements in Lao were as followed. We had two houses for us which the family we stayed with lived in as well. They set up mattresses for us in the main room with mosquito nets around them; This was my first encounter with mosquito nets in my life and thank g-d for them. I was concerned about being eaten alive by mosquitoes all night long, but when Andy said they were setting up nets, I was quickly relieved. Anyway so Andy, Morrie and I had one house and Deb, Penny, Meredith and Elizabeth had another. Before I went to sleep I asked Andy how to turn off the lights, she told me it was the bottom right switch, I flicked it off and was off to bed for a few hours. The reason why this story is so funny is because Andy had previously told us that the lights went off automatically when they turned off the generators that supposedly powered the village. The ironic thing is when I walked around the village I didn’t hear any generators and saw massive electrical poles and wires going to all the houses and huts. I was thinking to myself, “Andy said there were generators, but I don’t hear or see any, that’s odd?” She must have been confused with another village or something, but anyway back to the story. So after a difficult night sleep, under the mosquito nets, still being bit, where it was really hot, the fans were doing nothing, I got woken up at like 4am by the roosters. Many, many, many roosters crowing really early and all throughout the morning. I had my earplugs in, had taken my second to last half the ambient I found in my bag, and still could not sleep through it. Now anyone who knows me, knows I hate being A. woken up and B. hate that constant noise that doesn’t stop especially when trying to sleep. It drives me off the wall insane. After sticking it out for another hours dozing in and out of sleep I just said screw it and got up at 5am. We were getting up at 6am anyway and breakfast was at 630am so it wasn’t that bed, also I knew we had a whole day of being on the bus.

It starts to rain, really hard, and I am enjoying the rain. I decided to walk around and noticed that the girl’s house’s lights were still on. I sat down in their comfy leather chairs, and after about five minutes Elizabeth comes strolling out clearly having to go to the outhouse/toilet. I asked her as she came out “Elizabeth why are your lights on?” She responded “I don’t know, we thought they would just turn off and didn’t know we could turn them off.” I started hysterically laughing by saying, “didn’t you see those massive light switches right in front of your bed?” She goes “hmmm,” and after returning from the toilet, I heard her flick about four switches till I saw her lights go out and all of the girls started laughing.

The really funny part was that the locals slept with them as well and as we were leaving they asked Ky if the girls were afraid of the dark because the lights were on the whole night? He started laughing, told the girls what the grandmother had asked and said, and we all started laughing and it has become a huge joke throughout the trip. I drop it once and a while.

A second story I forgot to tell was that this village was finally the place where I used a squatting toilet for a number 2! Man it took a lot of leg power. There was nothing to hold on too and it was all about your thigh muscles (I think I am still feeling that). I was quick, painless, smelled a bit and was fine. Basically you do your business in the little ceramic toilet, use the water from the barrel to flush and put your soiled toilet paper in a bag which they burn. Since the pipes are thin and extremely narrow, paper would just immediately clog them up.

Ok so back to Ninh Binh, Vietnam. We arrived and I was talking about dinner. I met the gang for dinner after getting my money out. Oh yea for about 12 hours I was a multimillionaire, in Dong that is. I took out 2,000,000 Dong which was the limit at the ATM and equaled roughly 125 USD, yea that’s right, how cool is that? (Nate, just continuing to rub it in).

Also want to give a little shout out to my family. Sorry I missed you all this past week, heard it was amazing, Aunt Betty and Uncle Jay (The Big Kahuna) I will try and call you guys this week, so if you see a funny phone number pick it up!

Julie, hope the new house is going well, congrats Brian again, Hey Susan and Jack, oh and Hi mom, Dad and Jenny [who I doubt still reads this cause she is lazy :-)]

I wasn’t feeling so hungry and my stomach was a tad upset from that really sketchy lunch place where I had spring rolls and rice, so I just ordered plain rice and some French fries. I was eating way too much rice and basically feeling like I did after eating matzo during Passover this past year, and anytime I eat it, all backed up, with a cement wall.

I had a Tiger beer with dinner, and a soda. As I have mentioned before Tiger beer is one of my favorite beers of Asia, along with Asahi Super Dry and Chiang (my awards to come at the end of the trip).

After dinner we all went upstairs to the rooftop bar and the ladies had a beer. I was full and not really feeling beer. I missed drinking whisky and alcohol and ever since my Bangkok experience when I lost my glasses, was still craving some!

I hung out with the ladies for a bit, Morrie was at the internet place doing his thing, and I decided to walk around a little bit more to check out Ninh Binh at night. Apparently from what Andy had told us when you see a sign for