Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Happenings

So... it has been a while, and I have an hour to kill before my train leaves, which leads to the conclusion that I will end up with a poorly edited and hoaribally spilled blog post. Or a really short one that is spelled correctly.

Lessee...

Too Cold for Ice?

In Salzburg, Austria, I decided to go see this great wonderful "largest accessible ice cave in the world" one day. I looked up which town it was in, got a train ticket, road that for an hour, hopped out into middle of nowheresville in the snow (both ground cover and air filling), followed some obscure signs and about one mile into the five-to-six mile walk, found a sign that said the ice cave is closed for the winter. October to April, closed. The Ice Cave. What the hell, Ice Cave People? Too cold for you to keep the thing open? :( So, walk a mile back to the train station (Pausing to discover that the only other thing in Werfen, a castle with an occasional falconry show, is also closed for the winter), get another ticket, and ride back to Salzburg. Later, disgustedly look up that ice cave in the Lonely Planet Western Europe book again, and discover that they had actually printed the months it was closed, so the whole excursion was due to my inability to read properly. Oh well, it was an experience.

Pardon me, can you break a $2000 bill?

Upon arrival in Prague, I went to an ATM to get some local currency (as they do not take Euros). Figuring petty cash for food and such for a four night stay, and doing the conversion into Czech Crowns, I selected the option for 2000 crowns. The machine gave me a single 2000 crown note. Now, really, that is not a great deal of money (around $100 I think), but it is still enough to cause most cafes or retailers to choke and say "we cannot break this", kinda like that freakin' Swiss ATM that gave me a single huge Swiss Franc note (500 I think? Been a while, memory is unclear) and caused a Starbucks barista to soil herself. Whatever happened to ATMs spitting out yuppie food stamps like good little machines? When your bank is dinging you $5 per transaction regardless of volume, you kinda want to avoid doing multiple little transactions just to get usable bills.

"Sign so I can buy drugs?"

Actually they ask if you will "sign against drugs." And they specifically target foreigners, often near train stations or touristy areas. I am speaking, of course, of what seems to be a profitable scam running all around Italy.

Drugs are bad, right? Of course you'd sign something that is against drugs! I was instantly reminded, however, of some show that was out to prove how stupid the average American is by setting up elaborate tables with little flags and clipboards and asking people to sign against women's suffrage. Suffering is bad, right? Of course you'd sign against women suffering! At least, if you had a poor vocabulary, you might.

The fourth man to ask me to do this was actually clever enough to try to strike up a conversation about something else first, so I would not just say 'no' as I kept walking. So I looked at his little piece of paper. Up until this point, I actually was not 100% certain that it was a scam, but his table full of papers and clipboards was not very convincing of legitimacy. Should you wish to make money hand over fist, simply go to Italy, print out a piece of paper with 3 color pictures of a large house on it, and many lines for people to sign. Title your columns with Name, Country, Profession, and of course, Donation. Tell people you are running a rehab house for people who got diseases from using drugs. If his paper was any indication, he had already sucked in a couple hundred euros that day... of course, he could have just signed a bunch of fake names (kinda like I did.. Bob Henry, Canadian Traveller, $0 donation because Bob is a broke traveller!) and written in the 20 to 40 euro donation amounts so that people who did get sucked in would feel obliged to chip in similar amounts rather than just 5 euro or so.

There is probably a 0.05% chance that this guy was actually legit. If so, guy, I'm sorry for dissing you here =p. But when the same thing happens in 3 different cities all with the asked phrase "Do you speak English? Would you sign against drugs?" it doesn't really match up with your single rehab house idea.

Das Dae'Mar

The Great Game. The Game of Foraging for Pizza. While I was in Lucca, this was my most common method of eating. The rules are as follows:
  1. Walk around until you either find the perfect pizza-by-the-slice place, or are too hungry to care anymore.
  2. Enter, and through a combination of pointing and gestures, indication how many slices of which pizza you would like, for take-away. Only get one slice.
  3. Continue walking as you eat. It helps if you are walking down a dark street if you are eating a type of pizza you have never eaten before, as some things that look horrifying in the light are actually tasty, so when you cannot see what you are eating you may enjoy it more. (Artichoke hearts, anyone?). Your goal here is to find another pizza place around the time you finish your first slice.
  4. Keep in mind that you should not eat from the same pizza place twice, even across multiple days. You are not likely to run out of options.
  5. Repeat from step 1 until you are done eating. This typically takes 2-3 slices. Slices are big, here.

Sometimes you run across pizza surprises. For example, my first day in Rome I walked into a random pizza place and saw what looked like a ham and pineapple pizza. Yay! I had not yet encountered pineapple on any pizza in this country, and was drooling at the thought of the typical high quality pizza combined with my favorite pizza topping in all the world. Excitedly, I fumbled for cash, yanked my pizza out of the proprietor's hand, growling like an angry bear and huddling it to my coat as I darted out into the street to consume it while walking. Biting into that sweet, succulent... wait.. what the HELL? That was not pineapple! It had the yellow color, and the size and shape of pineapple chunks, but... well, near as I can tell, it was some close relation to a potato or a squash. Whatever it was, it has NO business being on a pizza. Still edible, but not as good as the hype.

By the time I get home, I may never be able to eat pizza again. Two reasons: one, the pizza here is very good, which will make the pizza back home pale in comparison. Two, just count how many times the word 'pizza' has appeared in this post. That is probably a lot fewer times than I have actually eaten pizza in the last two weeks. I believe the technical term is 'overdose.'

Some other random fun things that have happened in the last month or so:

  • Arrived in Bern, Switzerland just in time to see all these marching bands going around the olde towne in crazy costumes playing bombastic music. Apparently, it is the inauguration of their festival which takes place in February. What happens between November 11 and February regarding the festival? Nothing, according to the person I was asking. Go figure! Still, the bands were neat. I got a short recording of some of the music, too.
  • For 2 euros, got a place in the "stands" for a performance at an opera in Vienna. The stands being the back of the very top balcony, aka the nosebleeds, but it was still neat. The opera in question was Romeo et Juliette, a French musical version of Shakespeare, and there were little LCD screens on the roof that translated the lyrics into English and German (And French too, I think, though mostly everyone there spoke English or German so few if any screens were set to French for very long)
  • Saw the Red Bull Hangar 7 at the Salzburg airport. Cool, but not as cool as I had hoped after spending 2 hours finding the place on foot...
  • Encountered a zombie hobo in Rome. Shuffling down an old style cobblestone alley, feet twisted inwards as if from broken bones, hands stretched out towards the nearest warm body (me), moaning something incomprehensible or Italian (likely both), face invisible beneath a low hat and layers of grime... I escaped with my brain still inside my skull, though.
  • Free salt at the bar? This hostel gives stacks of free pizza slices away every night at their bar. I think the components, in order of volume, are crust, tomato sauce, salt, cheese... must help their drink sales for those who drink more than tap water =P
  • Ruined Ruins. In the park at the Schonbrunn palace grounds in Vienna, there are some Roman ruins. Not that the Romans ever built anything there, but at some point in the 1800s it was fashinable to have ruins, so the rulers commissioned an architect to build some Roman Ruins on their grounds. The best part is that these fabricated ruins later fell into disrepair, and in the not too distant past (see how vagueness covers up the fact that I don't know the details? woo!) they had to be restored to a proper ruined state. Regardless, they looked really cool. After all, who would fabricate crappy ruins?
  • Angry Violin Lady. On the main pedestrian route in Lucca, there was a lady playing the violin for the coins people would toss into her case. I walked by her a few times that night, and at one point the music had a decidedly unpleasant twang. I can only assume that she was punishing the passers-by for not giving enough money. Later it was pleasant once more.
  • Dachau. After visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, one of my roommates at the hostel asked if it was enjoyable. No, it is not. But it is an effective monument.
  • Sistine Chapel, next 4 miles. Pretty much right from the first steps inside the Vatican Museum they have signs and arrows in four or five languages pointing the direction to the Sistine Chapel, given that it is probably the most famous thing there. However, they have been clever enough to make those arrows point down an incredibly winding route that takes you through almost the entire museum first (I wasn't following the arrows until I finished seeing everything else I wanted to see, but it was still a long slog even then!). After all the build-up, the actual chapel was kind of a let down :p

Ok.. train leaves in 25 minutes, so I must depart. Without proofreading. Sorry for all the typos and grammatical errors in the above.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

74 Days

74 days. A mere 74 days, and it's all over. We were fools to think it could possibly last, but curse it, we were happy fools! Is it better to be happy in ignorance or to see the end approaching, as inevitable as winter follows summer, night follows day?

In the beginning, everyone was happy and carefree; we were in a new era of glorious opportunity! All ties to the Old Ways had been left behind, no one could possibly imagine how rapidly they would return, not just to haunt, but to physically force their will upon not only our until-recently-merry band, but upon all those around us. Those who had offered us shelter, those who had sold us coffee, those who passed us in the streets with secret envy in their hearts - all of them have now fallen under the horror that has been merely biding its time while we scurried through the sunlight of our lives, unaware. I think, nay, I am certain, that it would be easier to accept these events without the accompanying knowledge of having doomed so many innocents to suffer through them needlessly.

The 74th day out of Canada, and today all of Zürich has been snowed on along with me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Excess Baggage leads to...

This is mostly to test whether attaching images to email works for blog posts... If it does, the first pic (assuming they come through in order, if not, you'll figure it out) is of most of the books I was carrying through France :)

Tip: don't carry that many books at once.

Missing from the picture, which was taken in mid October, is a small French phrasebook which was probably in my pocket at the time, and The Eye of the World, another 850ish page paperback. Happily, last night I gave up on finding a secondhand bookstore that wants English books, pulled all the Tad Williams, the Ireland, and the non pictured phrasebook out and told my roommates to help themselves because they weren't going back in the bag. Nobody seems to want the Williams though, and who can blame them since Book One isn't there, having been traded in for Book Two way back in Dublin?

Oh well, guess the extra books get abandonned at this hostel =)

The other pic is a beverage I found in a grocery store in Carcasonne, and just had to fall to. [muwhahahaa]. It tastes kinda like Cherry Dr. Pepper, but better. Normally I do not drink soda anymore but with a name like that it was just so... tempting.

Anyway, the reason these are all the pics you get right now is that every expletiving net cafe seems to ... Eh, it does not really matter. Someday I swear I'll catch up on photo uploads, and YES I know that I'm 6 weeks behind after only 9+ weeks of travel.

(aside: I mourn for my camera's recently broken LCD screen. Still takes pics, but cannot review them or change settings. Fixing it costs more than a new camera, too, so you can see where this is heading)

Welcome to [place], here's your [thing]!

In ages past, I read a Gary Larson cartoon in which one half showed an angel at the pearly gates telling a person "Welcome to heaven, here's your harp" while the other half was a devil saying to someone "Welcome to hell, here's your accordian." Despite not being the main intent of the comic, the phrase stuck with me. Usually it just gets me questionning glances though, except from other 'Far Side' fans with good memories (hi, immediate family!). Which likely describes all three of the people who read this =P

With that in mind, here are a few initial experiences from various places I have been over the last while:

Welcome to France, here's your complimentary bottle of wine from a friendly stranger!

I could not possibly have wished for a better welcome to France. The story goes... After two full days of travel [three busses, a ferry, a shuttle bus, and three trains!] from Kilkenny, Ireland, with naught to sleep on but an uncomfortable chair on the ferry, I had arrived in Dieppe at around 2015h on a Thursday. Accompanying me was Jessica, who was travelling the same general direction as me, so we pooled our French language skills for a couple days to make initial survival in France easier.

There was nobody on the streets and we had no map, so we just started walking, hoping to see a sign for a hostel. Eventually we did, so we walked in the indicated direction for a while. The signs for the hostel stopped, but we saw the first signs of life: there was a couple out walking their dog. So, we stopped them to ask for directions, in French. After a bit, it became clear that the hostel was 'trop loin', but there was a very cheap hotel just around the corner. We thanked them and turned to go there, but they insisted on coming to make sure we got settled.

The hotel was completely booked. This couple insisted on driving us to the hostel since it was so far away, so we waited with madame et le chien while monsieur went to get the car. [Never did find out their names]. Backpacks in the trunk, we piled in the back seat and set off. Upon arrival at the hostel, we all discovered that it was closed down! Arg! M.+Mme. again insisted on driving us around to find a hotel.

Well, after driving a bit and declining one offer to stop for pizza (our need for rest outweighing hunger for the moment) we finally found another reasonably priced hotel a few kms from town center, and it had a twin room available. Mme. waited while Jessica and I checked in, meanwhile M. Snuck in behind us with our backpacks. Then, he brought us a bottle of wine (!!) before departing with Mme, safe in the knowledge that we were okay. We were floored. These were the friendliest people *ever*! Later, we both agreed that it was good that this hotel was not full, as we both suspected that they might offer us their couch or floor next, and we weren't sure how to deal with that.


Welcome to Paris, here's some poodle crap for your boot!

1.5 tonnes per day deposited on the sidewalks. Parisiens love their dogs, they just hate cleaning up after them. Really that covers all of France. In Avignon, a man turned to me after his dog stopped just beside me, and said by way of explanation "she needs to shit." ( in English. Maybe due to the obviously Australian hat? ) I kept walking, but looked back to see that once the dog was finished, they went on their merry way, leaving the steaming pile *in the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes.* Just... Wow.

Welcome to the Mediterannean coast, here's your cold, wet afternoon!

At least subsequent days were warmer, by my standards. Of course, while 20° weather made me wear shorts and sandals to the beach, most everyone else walking along there was still in their late-October fluffy overcoats with scarves and fur lined boots. Ladies fashion particularly boggles my mind: They wear the aforementioned heavy clothing over a short skirt and bare knees or nylons only. Make up your mind, are you warm or cold? *Tok-tok-tok* these Romans (Marseilleans, actually) are crazy!

Welcome to Switzerland, here's your spurting headwound!

It was more of a 'damn, now my hair is all sticky and I have to clean this up before I can eat, so would it just stop bleeding already? I'm hungry' than a pain. And who the hell puts sharp edged power transformers or whatever less than six feet above the sidewalk? At least it didn't reopen during the night or in the shower. Oh well, that's what you get for leaving your hat in your room and talking to someone while you walk!

Some random notes on France:

  • Coffee does not come in cups or mugs. It comes in teaspoons or bowls. Originally I had made this note to mock both the tiny expresso [they spell it with an x here] cups and the contrasting large diameter, shallow depth, high volume mugs that are in use in Paris. However! The next place I stayed at literally used cereal bowls for coffee; you take two bowls and head over to the cereal dispenser and the cappucino machine... Other places since then have also used bowls.
  • The French phrase for "non smoking" roughly translates to "we do not understand this concept." On a windy day there is still a haze of cigarette smoke over the children's play area.
  • After the U.K. And Ireland, it is different again to have cars on the right hand side of the road. Then you realize that really, they use all sides of the road and also the sidewalks, so be careful!

Switzerland:

"Wow, you sell chocolate by the kilo at the front desk of the hostel."

"Well of course. We are Swiss."

Actually I am fairly certain that fully half of the shops within a km of the train station sell watches, knives, chocolate, or some combination thereof. This hostel actually sells all three.


RIP, RJ

After carrying it around for two weeks, I finally started reading The Eye of the World on the train to Switzerland. I had been avoiding starting it until I could find out whether or not the 11 books of the series (The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan) was complete or whether I'd get to the end and have to wait for more books, but it was a boring train so I said "hell with it" and started anyway. Two chapters in, I was liking it, but then in Switzerland I finally had net access so could check if the series was complete... No, indeed the author has apparently long maintained that the upcoming but as-yet incompleted twelfth book will finish the series. Then he died two months ago. Dammit. Apparently it wasn't sudden, though, so he had time to make arrangements for the book to be finished the way he wanted it if he died before being able to do so himself, so maybe it will eventually see the light of day anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

This is a test of the emergency broadcast system

... and it will be deleted if possible :p

[edits below]

... ok, cannot seem to decipher enough French (damn you, blogspot, for detecting that I am in France and translating your entire UI!) to find a way to delete, so might as well explain why this post exists in the first place.

I picked up an HTC Touch so I could take advantage of all the free wifi hotspots, figuring the 200-300 euros it will save me on net cafes makes the price bearable. However, PocketIE (the web browser on it) doesn' let me sign in to blogger or facebook. Ergo, here I am paying for net access on a PC just to set up the blog to accept posts via email (which I *can* send and receive on the HTC). This post exists to make sure that works :p Looks like I will still have to pay for access any time I need to upload photos, too. Ah well.

Side note: I bought this thing in Paris. The operating system on it is Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional, and it is locked to French because of some stupid licensing issues =(. Can set regional settings for currency/date/phone number formatting, but cannot change the language of the OS itself. So I went and bought a French-English dictionary just so I could find out what all the menus and dialog boxes are saying =P heh.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I will be checking facebook less often than I was (like, once a month instead of once a week), but email more often (at least at hostels with free wi-fi, which is common but not universal, and is not present where I am staying here in Marseilles for the next 5 nights). So don't message me on facebook if you want any kind of timely reply!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Funny!

Never let me hold your children.

L'Angleterre

Il y a des photos d'Angleterre ici. Merde! Cette ordinateur fran├žais traduit tout le texte!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kilkenny, Ireland

Mystery Explained!

Why does the the teacher ask little Johnny in the classroom if he has to go "number one" or "number two" when deciding if he will be allowed to go now, or wait until recess?

All the toilets here have flush buttons on top rather than levers on the front. Buttons, plural. They are each roughly half of a circle, and are labeled with a single bump on one, and a double bump on the other (blind people use toilets too! but they probably don't read this particular blog, so if that seemed insensitive they won't care). Pressing the number two button also brings down the number one button, for a "large" flush, pressing the number one button just does a "small" flush.

Of course, maybe they label them that way just because of little Johnny in the classroom. Perhaps this is just a "chicken or the egg" scenario!


Blog Comments

Thank you to everyone who has left comments on various posts here. It is nice to know that my friends occasionally drop by to read what's up and let me know they are still alive too :) Since Mom asked, yes, I do read all the comments that everyone posts here, even if I don't respond with another comment. I did post a comment-response a couple times, then it occurred to me that likely people do not come back to check the comments thread once they have left their comment, and thus the replies would never be read by their intended recipient :p so.. not so many more of those in the future, methinks. If you absolutely must have a reply to something, email me! I won't guarantee instant, or even timely, replies, but I do generally reply to the vast majority of my email :)


Postcards!

I actually have in my possession two postcards. They both have the same picture on them, but that is alright because I will not send them both to the same person... I picked them up at a theater in Dublin for three reasons:
1) They were free
2) The picture is awesome
3) They were free

However! I did not bring anyone's address. The only addresses I know by heart are those of you who I have known since I was a child and you have never moved.. so... Dad, that's you. The rest of you, if you ever want to receive a postcard from me on this trip, need to email me your postal address! Of course, this does not guarantee a deluge of postcards, but I will send out some now and then if there are willing recipients. Please only use my gmail or hotmail addresses, as those are the only ones I am checking on this trip (mostly that's all any of you have anyway, but just being thorough).

I will not be like Lucy's dad though... Lucy is this Englishwoman I met in Killarney, and she claims that every time her dad goes as far away as the next town for a day trip, she gets at least one postcard, and if he is gone for a month or more, her mailbox explodes. EXPLODES! I promise not to do that. Ever.


The Bard's Puppy

Today I went for a very long walk, intending to reach the Dunmore Caves (about 10km out of town). I turned around about 4km into the journey since I wasn't keen on pneumonia, was already soaked, and the roads here.. even the national routes [ie, highways] like what I was walking on, have NO SHOULDERS. For the most part I'd just hop up into the flora whenever a line of vehicles came by [happily there was a one-lane closure for a construction site on edge of town, so all the vehicles came in spurts], but some parts of the road have not only no shoulder, but rising immediately from the edge of the pavement (about 3cm clearance from a bus mirror), 6 feet of ground topped by a thick hedge. So, as they say here, "no fecking way". I would have taken a picture of the hedge-tunnel-highway but the rain would have probably destroyed ye olde camerae.eea.a.e. (I think the reason they did not invent cameras in the middle ages is that they did not have a way to spell it)

Anyway.. the reason for the title of this section: near the beginning of the trip, this little white and brown puppy was standing, looking quite beleaguered, near the sidewalk. He came up to me as I walked by, so I scratched his ears and went on my way. After this, he followed me for about a quarter mile... I felt rather like The Bard, and had to send the puppy away lest a huge pterodactyl lunge out of the sky and flatten him like a pancake. (Which is what happened to the Bard's dog, whom he befriended in much the same way, and who looked almost identical, in case you have never played the game). It took some urging, but eventually he went.. home? Dunno. Back down the road at any rate.


More Pictures?

Not today.. this net cafe does not have accessible USB ports. Hopefully within the next few weeks I will get some of the backlog posted! Tomorrow I am going to France, and I do not know what the net cafe situation will be like there just yet. If you never hear from me again, it is because I fell in the ocean :p [taking the ferry from Rosslare, Ireland to Cherbourg, France]

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More photos on Facebook

As it turns out, Facebook has a much nicer upload applet. Ergo, there's a whole lot more pictures there. You can see a bunch more pics from the Cheddar caves here

Not a thousand words.


Inside Gough's Cave, in Cheddar, England. I took about 300MB of pictures/movies here, someday when I am either at home, or find a net cafe that lets me run an FTP program, I will put them up somewhere. Blogspot's browser-based image upload program isn't friendly -- doesn't tell me how fast it is going or any sort of progress indicator :p


Some actual Cheddar cheese. Not orange. Eat me now! NOW!!11!!! There really was no choice.


My favorite thing about Dublin, Ireland


Sitting at the edge of the cliff [87m above ocean] Dun Aonghasa [Dun Angus] on Inishmor. ... or, no wait, IT'S NOT! omfg. Uploaded the wrong picture by mistake :P oh well, I'm leaving it up since I already spent the time to get it here... this is looking across one of the two or three beaches on Inishmor, for no good reason at all.


The fort of Dun Aonghasa from a half mile or so away down the coast [taken a few days later, when I went to find the Wormhole. Which does not go to another galaxy.]
Also, there are a lot of rocks on this island :p Not so much with the trees, though.


To make up for the Dun Aonghasa photo slip-up, here's one of St. Mary's Cathedral in Killarney, Ireland. :p ... I swear they all look great in the little screen on the back of my camera.. so hard to tell which ones are just blurry messes until you get them on a computer. Alas! This one isn't too bad if you don't view it full size though...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Slowing down is good for the wallet... err.. soul.

Up to now, the longest I had stayed in any one location was in Bath, for 4 nights, which I was regretting because, really, unless you are a member of Jane Austen Addicts Anonymous (JAAA), there isn't much to do there. I took a day trip from there to the Cheddar caves & gorge, which was great, just because Bath was getting boring :p Anyway, the point of the diatribe thus far is that I eventually realized that the 1-2 night stays in places were getting ridiculous. The pace is unsustainable for a couple reasons:
  • Buying a bus or train ticket every 2 days hurts the wallet
  • I'm not traveling to stress out about where I'm going to be sleeping every night
  • likewise, unpacking and repacking a backpack every day sucks


So, on that note, I looked at a map and said "hey, there's some little tiny islands off the coast of Ireland, and there's a hostel there!" (turns out there is a couple). So I took a bus to Galway (I had been in Athlone at the time, at another really-overpriced hotel), then booked 6 nights at Mainistr House hostel here on Inishmor, hopped on a ferry and got here just after dark. Figured I could read a book after spending a day or two seeing everything there is to see.

Almost everything here is made out of stone. At first this seems to be a neat gimmick, but then you quickly realize that it is out of necessity. I think there are two (maybe three) trees on the island, one is on the eastern side and is worshiped as some sort of strange deity, the one on the west side was burned at the stake (stone stake) as a heretical non-rock, and rumour has it that he may have had a brother who is still in hiding. Unconfirmed.

There are miles and miles of stone fences. No mortar or anything, just rocks piled into lines of stone, 1 to 4 feet high. Everywhere. Stone forts made in the same way, although their walls are more like 5-15 feet high and 10 feet thick. The cliffs along the coastline are amazing. Also, it is hilarious to watch some tourists peek over the edge -- they will get down on their stomachs and inch their way up. Almost silly.. I mean, really, the ground right by the edge is just as solid as the ground 10 feet back, why be scared? .. oh right, the wind shifts every 3 seconds :p still, I did walk right up to the edge and look over. 87 meters down to the ocean. Made the stomach spin a bit, so it was well worth it :)

The second day here (yesterday), I walked out to Dun Duchathair, another cliff-top fort. This one differed from Dun Aonghasa in a few respects: No admission fee, no trail to follow, and no other tourists. Seriously, for the last mile or so up to this thing I was just roaming free form around the landscape, then down the coast. There was a small plaque on one end of it denoting it as a national monument, and otherwise not a soul for 2 miles in any direction. Lovely! I sat and read my book for a couple hours, had a nap, got an even worse sunburn on my face than the day before [egads, time to start wearing a hat.. or at least lose the sunglasses, the raccoon burn is getting serious]. During the time I was there maybe three or four other people wandered through. After my nap it started to get crowded (there was another person there plus two more on the horizon incoming) so I wandered away to find a quieter place to read. Ended up taking a much rougher route over many of the ineffable stone fences and learned an important lesson: Never assume at what height the solid ground begins under the foilage. Ever.

And that is all there was to see. Actually, if it stops raining tomorrow, I will go to see this thing called the "serpent's hole", otherwise I am just gonna sit and read all day :p This novel is a thousand pages long and requires some peace and quiet :)

My current travel plans after leaving here is to spend a week or two going down the western then across the southern coasts of Ireland, then take a ferry from Rosslare harbour to France in early October. Not sure how long I will stay in France, as that will be a balancing act between various factors:
  • how expensive it is to stay there
  • how much I really want to brush up on my French
  • how friendly the people are
  • what there is to see

At the moment it seems likely that I will spend a couple nights in Paris, and then head for the Mediterranean coast for two or three weeks, then on to Italy.

I mention the above so that those of you (*cough*Talena*cough*) who insist on recommending people to see (not that I have seen any of them yet) can do so before I get to a place rather than after I have left. Of course, all plans are subject to change.

Flipping through my journal, I must post this Random Moment of Hilarity:

2009.09.14 - entry made at Bath, England after returning from the Cheddar caves & gorge

...then at the end of Cox's [cave] is the "Crystal Quest Cavern" or some such. Mostly they just had a lot of fake goblins, wizards, etc (life size) and of course the dragon at the end. However, as I was in the third-to-last room taking pictures, I kept hearing people screaming in the room ahead of me. When I went through, it was nothing special - a fake castle wall with a [recorded] voice and some soldiers [statues], then at the end, an employee dressed as a wizard or something who pulled back the curtain into the final room. However, later (atop Jacob's Ladder), I met some of the screamers and inquired whether my theory was correct regarding the cause of the fright. Indeed it was, and this couple had played right into it:

The wizard-employee would stay very still as they entered the castle room, and the husband re-assured his wife that it was just another statue. She got right up close to examine it when he turned and opened the curtain for them. Based on how many women (and pansy-men!) I heard scream, I must assume that the wizard-employee has taken the raw materials of the dim lighting, dull clothing, rather thankless job and the customer expectation of "just another statue," and he has crafted something unique: hilarity in a cave.


More fun journal fragments (since at the moment I have some extended internet time, I figure it is a good time to post backlogs of stuff!).

2007.09.14 - Bath, England, just before bed.
"Bizarre Bath" [an evening street theater thing] was good. Probably more worth the admission than the "Bourne Ultimatum." Where else do you get to see a grown man wrap a stuffed rabbit in chains, padlocks and a postal mail bag, and throw it in the Avon (river)? Then bring it back all dry, later, after it has been dried by his assistant. Using a hare-dryer.


On the note of Bath, upon arrival I found it very unsettling. It did not seem to fit in with the rest of England. Soon I realized what was giving this impression: The trim on all of their architecture is Roman, from the stone columns, to the triangular stone decorative bits above all the doors and windows. This, juxtaposed over the typical English "smash all the buildings together without spaces because our real estate is limited" style gives an odd impression.

On the note of other places I've been: I really cannot recommend a single thing about Holyhead, and Chester is just barely better :p Athlone was neat but the accommodation scene is abysmal (hi, $189 hotel room. you are the last hotel I ever want to stay in!).

2007.09.16 - Holyhead, Wales
...met a couple stereotypical Irish guys around 1015. They were quite friendly, but totally drunk and getting drunker fast (Their wine bottle did run empty though). While it was hard to understand them at first, they [...]

... first, of course, they needed more liquor. I told them I don't drink [much] but they wanted to seek out a pub anyway. Of course, it was 1030 on a Sunday morning, nothing was open....

...In a moment of what was, for me, pure hilarity, one of them was asking a Welsh train police officer where a pub was, and mocking the replies. "Ya ask these English anything, and its just one quick bzbzbzbzbzz. Ya canna unnerstan a thin they say!" At least, I think that's what he said, since I could say the same thing about the drunk Irish.


As an addendum, I should say that most of the Irish people I have met here in Ireland are perfectly easy to understand, and rarely drunk :p just figures that the first ones I encountered were inebriated and incomprehensible, heh.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A thousand words.

Wasn't fast enough to capture it with my camera so I will just describe [and hopefully manage to get a picture later], but a few hours after arriving here yesterday, I saw a tanker truck (we're talking tractor trailer here, not just a 1-ton or something) of the sort that back home would be carrying propane, gasoline, or perhaps milk. This one was carrying Guiness. Guess where I am!

On a side note, the ferry ride was great fun. The captain kept apologizing for the awful weather, but I rather enjoyed the pitching and rolling. First time at sea, but not the last!

Oh, in addition to being fast enough with the camera, it would also help if any of these stupid net cafe computers actually recognized a USB port from a hole in the wall. Alas. Just in case anyone was wondering why I haven't actually posted any pictures: yes, I've been taking them. I call it 'raising my tourist flag'. Managed to fill up about 1.5gb of memory card thus far, and basically it will be cheaper to just keep buying memory cards than to pay for internet time to upload all the pictures, but hopefully at least a few will find their way here soon. Most will have to wait until I either find unlimited free internet access, or arrive at home sometime next year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Got pens? I need to write something.

him: hey there
me: what's up?
him: [stares off into distance]
me: [waits a while, waves, starts to walk away]
him: I hate to ask.
me: [waits]
him: I hate to ask.
me: ask what?
him: I hate to ask... me bein' on the street and all.
me: ask *what*? [thinking: clearly going to ask for money]
him: 'could I get a couple pens?
me: pens?! [pens? wtf? he needs to write a letter maybe?]
him: yah, pehns.
me: oh, pounds? [I had left all my change in my room, and wasn't about to give him a £20 note]. No, I don't have any change on me.
him: just a couple pens.
me: [bright idea!] well, here, I've got this €5 bill :p
him: wot?
me: 5 euros. it's worth about three and a half pounds.
him: no, I see the 5 printed in the corner, but what is it?
[he has *no* clue what this thing is...]
me: I spent one in London and the guy treated it as £3.55, you can have that if you want [also, the guy in London almost didn't take it. Apparently Euros are not well liked in England].
him: eh. [holds out his hand, vertically.
me: [shakes his hand]
him and me: [repeats the last conversation trying to decide what a 5 euro bill is. I offer to take it back if he doesn't want it, and now and then he holds out his hand again so I shake it again. I don't think this is what he was after :p]

him: do you smoke?
me: no
him: do you drink?
me: no
him: [walks away with €5 bill].

Friday, September 7, 2007

Culture shock + sticker shock = ??

hey, just a quick update since they charge like $8/hour for net time :p
got to london on tuesday morning, walked around a *lot*, saw a play (Avenue Q, which was awesome. if you ever saw that wow video with the song "the internet is for porn", it is from this musical originally), saw a couple movies (dear god, they charged £12.50 to see one at this theater on liecester square... admittedly it was a really swanky theater, but jeezus, thats like $25), and this morning i headed for salisbury. sadly the hostel is full tonight :( so i may have to drop £90 on a hotel room. egads! england is expensive! also, their keyboards are *weird*!! all the punctuation marks are in different places, so are the shift keys, which is why i am generally not capitalizing :p no time to figure them out. or i am just lazy. or something. at least colon and period are in the right place, and parenthesis, or smileys would be impossible. anyway, gonna stay here a few days, see stonehenge and whatever else is worth seeing, then move on, probably north to either scotland or ireland.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Attention Thieves: I am not worth robbing.

How far can one get around the world with 4 pairs of socks and a toothbrush? We shall find out! I managed to trim down my bag so that there is less weight to carry ;)

Here's the final moment at home with Dad... just to have something to compare to next year :P



And now, off to the airport. Will check back from London when I can :)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...

...don't know when I'll be back again... . Now just imagine that song running through your head for 3 days. Arg!!

Anyhoo... 48 hours from now I will be arriving at the Calgary airport to leave the country. It has almost (but not quite) gotten through my thick skull that yes, I will actually be leaving the continent for the first time ever, for much more than the usual week or two vacation. Most likely the full impact of this will make itself clear to me in about.. oh.. 2 months.

Today is a good day I think, for.... packing! Last week I test-packed everything into the backpack, and it came out to 22 lbs. Since then I've picked up a bunch of items that were on my list (journal, sports towel, a shirt, random stuff, mp3 player... ok, yes, I caved on that one! sue me) so I'm curious to see what it weighs now, and more importantly, if there is still extra room to pick up the occasional souvenir or store some food/water as I go.

Also, as noted above, I capitulated to the desire to listen to music at some point during the next year, and picked up a Sansa e280 8gb mp3 player. Then there was an unenviable task: Given a 22gb music library, all of "stuff I like to listen to", pick only 7.7gb to have the option of listening to during the next year! Arg. Arg arg arg. That was really hard. Pray that you never need to do it!

There may be one more post before departure, but if not then let us hereby consign this post to the annals of history as "last post made in Canada in 2007 by a 27 year old in a parking lot of a hotel, on a laptop with 69% battery capacity remaining" ... think you can get in the Guinness book for that?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Random Mews

Reunion

Saturday, August 25: the first time I've seen 99% of my high school graduating class since June, 1997. While I specifically delayed my trip until after this date, in retrospect, I think the best reason for doing so is to make sure I do not regret not going... confusing, but true :p Turns out that the people who I actually knew fairly well in high school did not show up. Rob, Nolan, Ian, David - yes, this means you. Oh well. Everyone else I at least rememebered, and a few probably spoke more to me in that one day than they did during 12 years of school...

At the 'mixer' event in the evening, everyone got up and gave a little speech about what they've been doing for the past 10 years. To summarize: 94% of them have kids, most of them multiple kids, and most of those are daughters. About a third have a kid that is older than their marriage, I think only one has offspring and no spouse or fiance. 90% have worked in the oil and gas industry here in Alberta. All of their children are "beautiful" of course.

I stood up and did a little John Cusack quoting ("flipped out, joined the army, now I'm a professional killer"), but either nobody got the reference, or I had a catastrophic microphone mismanagement episode and nobody could hear me. I suspect the former. ... or maybe they thought I was serious and if they laughed I would shoot them? Who knows, who cares. Anyway, the upshot of the day seems to be that 10 years out of contact has not brought me any closer to being the same as them. What a surprise!


Trip

On the travelling front, things are shaping up. Only a few items remain: I need to get a power adapter for charging my camera in Europe, a watertight container for my med kit supplies, a paper journal, and then pack it all. Last week I went to MEC in Calgary and spent 3 hours (Thanks, patient MEC staff!) picking out a backpack and a few other items. I went with a 50L pack, which is small compared to most 'travel' packs, and is actually designed for mountain climbing.. I probably could have gone with something even smaller (say, down around 40L), but this one will do. There was a really nice one that was 65L, but ultimately I decided that no matter how large or small the pack, it was going to get filled to capacity. And carried for a year. With a smaller pack, there is less room for unnecessary crap that weighs too much.

There was also the fun experience of going through the pharmacy section and getting most of the items that my guidebook recommends for a first aid kit. It was at least worth a couple curious looks from the staff and the cashier :p everything from a tensor bandage to diahrreah pills. Wheee! So after I get all this home I think: In nearly 28 years of life I have never once used most of these things. What are the odds that I will need them within the next year? Well, I will be exposed to more new foods, environments and activities in one year than in the last 28 combined, so there is a chance. Given that the combined weight of all the stuff is under a pound, I might as well take it all...

WoW

Also, going through WoW withdrawal. Still. After 7 months. Arg! Having just finished playing through the entire single player campaigns of WC3 and TFT, and finding myself with a week left before travelling, I went and finally took the shrink-wrap off of the DVDs that came in the collectors editions of various Blizzard games (WC3, WoW, WoW:BC) and watched all the special features n' stuff. Think of it like a nicotine patch for Warcraft... although I must say that it did seriously tempt me to pack along a laptop, hole up in a motel with a wireless connection somewhere in France, and play WoW for a few months.... but, NO, I MUST RESIST! No laptop carrying for me. (Besides, the damn thing weighs 15 pounds when you pack in the power supply, a mouse pad, mouse, headphones, carrying case, etc etc). I'm still debating whether or not to even bring an IPod... and if so, should it be my current one (which has a broken screen so unless you know what is on it, is somewhat useless. Perfect?) or a new one that I could actually see... eh, will probably just skip it. Putting in headphones is a good way to make people not want to talk to you, and I'm not travelling the world to listen to the same music as the last 10 years, but to see new things and new people. The occasional long plane/train/automobile ride is not a good enough reason to forego that.

Eclipse!

Last night, there was a total lunar eclipse here (on my very doorstep, something that only happens a few times in a lifetime) from around 3 to 6 in the morning. I actually was awake for all of it, and took a bunch of pictures. Sadly, I have no tripod, and it wasn't until the second half that I actually started wedging my camera in a partially open door to avoid hand tremors. Even then, it kept telling me pictures were under-exposed unless I used at least a 20 second exposure -- sadly, today when I copied them all to my computer and looked at them at full size, it turns out that in most the moon is just a big white blob (It's like the sun! You look, you look away!) because of overexposure :p There are a few decent ones, as at a couple points I snapped pictures with every exposure time between 1/1600th of a second and 1 minute. I took a few series' of shots with 20 and 30 second exposure times, which are kind of neat because all the stars are small lines (and the moon therefore a bit blurred) due to the rotation of the Earth.


All that said, I'm only going to put the one picture up here, because if you *really* wanted to see pictures of the elipse, you could find tons of them all over the internet that were taken with much better equipment than my pocket camera :P

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Another way to use AMA.

Woo! I am now a proud holder of a plane ticket to London, to leave 2007.09.03. Also, travel insurance (so when I end up in a coma in Mozambique they can fly me home or something), and 'parking insurance' ($3 a month) for my car.. and it was all done under one roof! Yay for that AAA membership I bought to get free towing last December.

So. Officially leaving now! Right around when I wanted to, so I guess I didn't do my planning too late after all. Even managed to get a round trip ticket for right around $1000, which is cool, it just means I will have to return to London to fly home... or I could just skip out on that and buy another ticket home from wherever I am when I decide to come... given that my round trip ticket was less than a one way ticket, I wouldn't feel too bad about that at all.

Also, today was the day of The Shot... they warn you that you'll have a sore shoulder for a while, but ow. Holy crap, I am just glad they did it to the left arm, I need my right arm to shift gears :p

On a random unrelated note, my computer suffered a catastrophe yesterday. It was supposed to live until after my trip, at which point I am planning to build a new one then transfer all my data from the current one... so yesterday the power went out in a weird slow-motion sort of way, and my computer wouldn't start afterwards...

After doing some disassembly and tweaking I managed to get it to start up and run for a few minutes before the blue screen of DOOM but I fear that it is on it's last legs. The only hope is that it will run long enough at a stretch to burn all my important crap (oxymoron. who cares?) to DVD or transfer to the laptop before it dies completely :p I don't want to lose the data (Data: saved games and... um... hey, those are important!), but I also don't want to put any money into this thing either. Given the nature of the problem it is likely the graphics card or RAM that got zapped so hopefully removing one of the RAM sticks or swapping to my backup or the onboard AGP card will fix... will see soon enough.

The moral of the story is: Get and use a UPS. (Uninterruptible Power Supply). When I get back from ye olde travels, I will be having to replace an xbox 360, HD projector, and computer that have all melted due to power outages and spikes within the last 6 months.... you can be damn sure that none of them are going to be plugged into anything less than a really good UPS.

Friday, August 3, 2007

They do go in the arm, right?

A tip for prospective travellers: Prepare earlier than you thought you might need to!

There are things that hadn't even occurred to me until recently, that really need to get done before one travels to any foreign country. I have been apparently spoiled by the ease of travel from my home country of Canada to the United States - just show up at the border and have ID. For travel to Europe, Africa, or pretty much anywhere else in the world, one thing that caught me by surprise is vaccinations.

Vaccination against hepatitis A is an absolute requirement for most of the world, as are a few others, plus some "recommended but optional" ones. I don't recall the whole list (which varies depending on which countries you are planning to visit) right at the moment, but they include such appealing afflictions as Hep A/B, tetanus/diptheria, measles, typhoid, rabies, etc etc. As it turns out, some of these vaccinations must be administered in multiple stages over the course of a period of time, so this is really something that one should look into months in advance of travel... me? I realize this one month away from when I'd like to be leaving. Doh. Oh well, next Wednesday I get the wonderful pleasure of having a bunch of sharp metal things stuck into my arm.

At least I hope they go in the arm :p

Monday, April 23, 2007

Simply oscillatin' one unit of feline at this location...

Yes, that was almost the url for this blog... http://simplyoscillatinoneunitoffelineatthislocation.blogger.com ! ... It turns out that people keep taking the simple ones like "swingcat" or "catswing" etc etc, probably for some goofy musical or dancing references. Maybe they're all jazz saxophone players, in which case they are excused. One of these days I will visit their URLs and find out :)

Anyway, this is basically a placeholder post... In the coming weeks/months I will finesse the layout and begin to post pictures and descriptions of my travels. Of course, it would help if I had any travels first, too. Details!

Also, this blog will be home to any random ravings I decide to write... after all, I'm just swingin' a cat here. [Thanks to Coop for introducing me to that phrase, it will never be forgotten].