What if the world never fully recovers from COVID-19?

I’m not trying to scare anyone here – but it’s something that we should think about. What if the world we knew a month ago never comes back? The world of seniors on cruises and millennials doing the digital nomad thing – the world of cheap travel, open borders, and easy access….

The truth is – all of that might be gone forever. We might now be living in a world now where you have to provide a reason for wanting to go somewhere, you have to quarantine for weeks when you get there, and the cost goes up exponentially.

I don’t think we are all going to die (but we might) and I don’t think that our entire civilization is going to crumble into some mash-up of Mad Max and Bladerunner (but it might) however, I do think it is likely that there will never be a return to January of 2020.

At the minimum, the next two months are going to re-arrange supply lines, change the habits of a majority of humans, force the adoption of digital socialization and digital work, and destroy the travel and hospitality industry as we knew it. Honestly, this has already happened.

I think the days of Spring Break and Gap Year Travel and Backpacker Trails are done. We are moving into something else at warp speed – but I’m not sure what form it will take. The days of Baby Boomers selling their house and starting a blog were already done, the days of millennials buying a van and driving around the country are now done, and my Gen X generations days of riding local transport to couch surfing hosts – well, those days were already done too. Hopefully, this will also be the end of the mega-rich doing whatever they want, wherever they want – but judging from this story, that is probably too optimistic.

Here we are folks. Something new is about to be born.

I don’t have a fucking clue what it is. We’ve got a whole lot of pain ahead of us – that’s for certain. If we are among the grieving instead of among the dead – we can figure it all out…I think it’s time we started thinking about the world we want to live in, instead of the world we were born into – because while we still have the limitations of the world we live in – we don’t have the world that came before us dictating how we move forward any longer

Namaste friends. Live long and prosper.

Day Trip from Sydney, Australia – The Blue Mountains on a Rainy Day

cassarowy bird Australia This was the only organized tour I did – and I made sure that it was an active tour so I wouldn’t be trapped in a bus with the cruise ship / baby boomer crowd.

The tour was good – our guide, Gaz was a cool guy and had a good tour with equal parts beauty, history, culture, and message – but the downside (just for the tour, not for Australia) was that it rained all day and the fog obstructed most of the views. Our stop at the wildlife refuge was interesting but wet and most of the animals were huddling away from the rain. There were some nice waterfalls and some great views of cloud filled valleys below us (but obstructed) along with lots of information about aboriginal culture and a lot of wet hiking Lots and lots of steps, muddy trails, and elevation ascent and descent.

It was about 8 miles total with the equivalent of about 65 floors climbed. So, elevation wise it was a better workout than I’ve been getting but not quite as much as I’ve been averaging in terms of distance.

I’m glad it rained – it put out the last of the bush fires – but if you can avoid doing this particular trip in the rain and fog – it’s probably better.

Tasmania – Part 2 – Cradle Mountain, Tasmanian Honey, Beauty Point

Tasmania AustraliaMy initial thought on Tasmania and Australia since I have just a short amount of time here was to walk as much as possible and stick pretty close to where I was staying – my explorations would be as far as walking would carry me.

The only problem with that method was that Launceston isn’t that big of a place and I’d already walked the riverfront, walked the Gorge, explored the museums, gone on a brewery tour, and generally seen what I wanted to see. There were attractions I didn’t hit – like a pretty cool looking amusement park called Penny Royal which seemed like a sort of zipline pirates adventure park, there were wine tours and wine cruises on the river, there were monkeys in enclosures in the park – but none of that really hit me where I wanted. My flight didn’t leave from the Launceston airport until 8pm which meant that I had a full day of exploration and I had to arrange getting to the airport. Just about every tour/experience was in the 80-90 Aussie dollar range. It would cost me $15 to get to the airport.

Tasmania AustraliaI knew I should rent a car – but I’ll be honest, I was terrified of driving on the other side of the car and the other side of the road – but finally, I realized it was the most fun, coolest, most exciting, and least expensive way to spend my day. A full day car rental cost me $74, I bought lunch at a grocery store for $5, and filling up the tank at the end cost me another $30.

Getting in the car and driving was akin to the time I went skydiving  or my first bungee jump – a total sense of panic. Within a minute I had made a tight right turn into the oncoming lane – which was mostly empty with a distant police car coming at me – I changed lanes and he gave me a wave. It wasn’t as hard as I had feared, but odd – the oddest part being that the turn signals were where the wipers usually are and vice versa – so every time I signaled, I turned on the wipers.

Tasmanian VagobondI did a lot of driving. I drove to Mole Creek and the Tasmanian devil wildlife sanctuary there – I spent another $30 AUD to meet the devils, scratch a wombat, and feed and get nuzzled by a kangaroo – they are so soft!

Next I went to a honey farm with a glass beehive where the queen died because of the climate change and fires this year. Still, the honey was amazing and the ice cream delicious. I drove the long, treacherous and windy road to Cradle Mountain – and when I got there realized I didn’t really want to go for a hike, so I drove back down. I made my way to Devonport where I sat by the beach and then drove to Beauty Point where I had a little picnic and called my family. Tazzies and Aussies know how to make bread, by the way, the rolls and loafs are crusty and perfect. I had a little cheese, a roll, some Vegemite, and ginger beer.

Tasmania AustraliaAnd that was about all the time I had – I drove back up the Esk River to Launceston and thence to Launceston Airport which has one of the more beautiful and affordable airport restaurants I’ve been in. I had a Wizard Smith’s Beer (James Boag) and a Tasmanian sampler plate with smoked salmon, blue cheese, brie, pickles, and a jelly I can’t remember…

After that I boarded the plane where I was sandwiched between a husband and wife – she likes the window and he likes the aisle – and I was between them as he helped her get Netflix on her tablet etc, but they barely talked to each other and were quite nice.

Cradle Mountain, TasmaniaAfter my day of driving around, I was able to confirm my suspicion that Northern Tasmania (and possibly all of Taz) is the Australian version of Oregon. Great rivers, farms, logging, sheep, cows, farming, mining, great beer, honey, and more. I was just glad that I didn’t see any chainsaw carved statues of Donald Trump during my day.

If I were to compare Launceston to any city it would probably be either to Coos Bay. I’m guessing that Hobart would be more like Astoria or a smaller version of Portland.

Launceston, Tasmania, Australia – Part 1

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaJetstar, which is the airline I’ve been using to get around Australia runs these cheap Friday Fare Frenzy sales – you have to be able to match the times they offer for, but my trip to Tasmania only cost me $39 Australian – and I had two nights in a different Pod Inn booked in the town of Launceston. My seat mate on the plane provided me with plenty of recommendations of what to see and do while I was there.

One of the key things he let me know was that everything closes at 3pm in Launceston on a Sunday. After catching a hotel shuttle from the airport, I confirmed this. It felt like a ghost town. The Pod Inn in Launceston was an upgrade from the Space Q pods in Sydney, but I think I will avoid pods in the future none the less – I’ll write about that in my ‘Aussie Pod Review’ though.

In any event, my arrival in Launceston was easy – although there was a Launceston, Tasmania, Australiamoment of panic when just after I filled up my water bottle in the airport, the flight attendants came around weighing bags – I abandoned my water bottle for a bit and came in under the 7 kg after putting on my coat and putting everything heavy into my pockets like chargers licorice, and spare battery.

The weather was cold-ish upon arrival. My walk around the town showed me plenty of empty streets and with the weather grey, a sort of depressing but pretty town with everything closed and no one out of doors. I went back to the pod and went to bed – more than 15 miles walked and feeling a little bit tired.

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaThe next day, I woke up to grey and a light rain – I hiked a loop up the streets and through neighborhoods and then to the beautiful Cascade Gorge where I saw my first wild wallaby and a whole bunch of pademelons – and maybe a wombat, but I’m not sure of that one. The sun came out and the day turned glorious. My hike down through the gorge was beautiful. Next a walk along the riverfront and then a trip to the Victoria Art Museum – which was free and very cool. Next a walk through town and a cheap sandwich.

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaTrying to figure out what to do with my day, I stopped in the tourist info spot and the very nice hostess suggested I go to the James Boag Brewery Tour. It was a good idea. The tour didn’t start until 3pm so I had some time to kill so I went to the other Queen Victoria museum where I was surprised to find a lot of dinosaur skeletons as well as one of only a few stuffed Tasmanian tigers and a very descriptive display about the loss of the Tasmanian tiger.

Jame Boag & Son The brewery tour was a sort of typical such thing with mostly boomer age Aussies. We walked through the brewery and then drank a few very nice beers accompanied by some very nice Tasmanian cheeses. After this, I was hungry and not feeling cheap due to the alcohol so I decided I would take myself out for a nice seafood meal. I found a beautiful hipster restaurant called Cataract on Paterson which sounds like a medical problem in American English but in Australian means more of a cascade. I had a Waldorf salad and a whole Australian Snapper in a spicy Asian sauce – which came with another salad that I will eat for breakfast tomorrow. Delicious meal – grand total $63 AUS – which seems pretty reasonable for a nice seafood dinner with a beer (about $43 US)

I was curious about the fish and googled it and found the following – according to wikipedia, it isn’t a member of the snapper family at all. One thing for sure – this was one delicious fish!

Australasian snapper (Pagrus auratus) or silver seabream, is a species of porgie found in coastal waters of Australia.

My friend Gaye had told me there was a casino here and I was surprised to realize I didn’t have much interest. I used to love gambling – but I seem to have lost my taste for it. Just to make sure I popped into a game room and played $5 AUD until I lost it – I just really didn’t have much desire to do it. Which is pretty cool, actually – but surprising that something like that could change.

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaLaunceston is a nice place when the sun is shining. Tazzies are a friendly people – although, perhaps like a lot of small American townspeople – they tend to be pretty chatty and seem willing to engage you in conversation until you break it off – no matter where you go – shop, restaurant, on the street, in a cafe. When I left the casino, I happened upon a group of Launceston poets doing an open mic reading. I was at the tail end of it, but it was cool – really gave me an insight into the inner nature of these folks.

Sydney, Australia Part 3

Glebe, Sydney, AustraliaI suppose my travel mantra has become ‘wake early and walk a lot.’ In some cases I’m strolling 16 miles per day – which means that I am seeing a lot that others are missing, not spending a lot, and generally feeling pretty good and seeing attractions, neighborhoods, and sites before most people wake up or get out of the house on their way to work!

Yesterday, my day in Sydney was a travel day, so I didn’t really expect to do or see much – but in Sydney, that’s a lot no matter what you do.

My first walk was across the Sydney Harbor Bridge – so, I left Chinatown and began moving towards the bridge. My wanders the day before had brought me to the other side of the Sydney Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. Now I went into the neighborhood called ‘The Rocks’ – which is Sydney’s oldest. I wasn’t there to stroll the markets, have a meal, drink coffee, or have a beer though, I was there to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Sydney, AustraliaA walk up a hill and then three flights of old brick and stone stairs and I was on the causeway.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a heritage-listed steel through arch bridge across Sydney Harbour that carries rail, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic between the Sydney central business district (CBD) and the North Shore. The view of the bridge, the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera House is widely regarded as an iconic image of Sydney, and of Australia itself. The bridge is nicknamed “The Coathanger” because of its arch-based design.
It is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 m (440 ft) from top to water level.[6] It was also the world’s widest long-span bridge, at 48.8 m (160 ft) wide, until construction of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver was completed in 2012.

The views were magnificent. With my morning exercise done, I set out on my next task – Exploring a bit of The Rocks. There was a weekend street market where I bought licorice from a gentleman who has been making and selling licorice in Sydney for 40 years! Licorice is one of my favorite sweets and I thought Dutch Licorice was my favorite, but his blew the Dutch stuff out of the water. Another win for Australia!

In The Rocks, I browsed the bakeries until I found  the one that appealed to me and bought a sausage roll to go- then I went and sat on the rocks looking at the famed Circlular Quay and enjoyed my budget brekkie. It was nearly time to check out which meant it was nearly time for lunch so I figured getting a small gelato wasn’t going to do any harm – plus, it was starting to get hot.

I got back to my pod just in time to check out. Then I faced a dilemma – should I push the limits of airport check in time and try to see a little more or should I be my usual very early check-in guy. This time I threw caution to the winds – I checked out and grabbed my 7 kilo pack and set off for Circular Quay again. Once there I caught a ferry across Sydney Harbor to Luna Park – which is a magnificent art-deco themed amusement park. Sort of like the pier at Santa Cruz.

I was really pushing it but I caught the ferry back, caught a train to the airport, and actually made it on time. The only thing I missed was my usual sitting in the airport for three hours – which, to be honest, is usually time I enjoy and use well – but in this case, I was happy to have had a nice ferry trip and some site seeing instead.

 

Sydney, Australia Part 2 – Sydney Eye, Glebe, and LGBTQ Mardi Gras Sydney

Sydney, AustraliaMy flight from Melbourne was a little bit delayed but I got back just before sunset. It was nice that I had the capsule hotel waiting for me – and it was worth the roughly $30 to have had it the night I was in Melbourne.

I met a new friend, Sally from Waga Waga – a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and we joined forces to go to dinner in Chinatown. Like me, it was her first time staying in a capsule hotel and we both laughed about how strange it was. Dinner was great conversation and an okay meal of Chinese food and then back to our capsules for what turned out to be a not very comfortable night of sleep for me – someone in my capsule room had gotten cold and turned off the air conditioning by unplugging it – this person more or less was just thinking of themselves since the AC is shared by all. When I complained about the temperature in the morning the desk person complained about people unplugging it.

Anyway, up early for another 15000 step walk. As usual, I set off in a random direction with no plan. After a long time of wandering up and down byways, I ended up in what is now my favorite neighborhood anywhere – Glebe. Mellow, leafy, lots of cafes and restaurants – and lots of super yachts parked nearby in Blackwattle Bay.

I walked to the Fisherman’s Wharf, checked out the fish markets, then crossed a crazy pedestrian bridge to Darling Harbor before crossing a more tourist oriented bridge back to downtown where I went straight to the Sydney Eye tower and paid too much to go to the observation deck – it was cool, but even though it is the tallest building in Sydney – it’s like the 35th tallest in the world – so I’m not sure it was worth $29 to go up there and take a few photos – but I think I would have regretted not going – so, I suppose it was worth it.

Sydney, AustraliaMy old iPhone 6s is ready to be upgraded. The batteries die far too quickly and it is getting harder to charge. Since the battery was at 1%, I went back to the old capsule and plugged in for an hour or so to charge up. My plan for the rest of the day is to head down to the Rocks, maybe book a show at the Sydney Opera House for Tuesday night when I get back from Tasmania, and then head to the big LGBTQ Mardi Gras Parade. Everyone tells me it’s going to be an amazing parade and show – since I’m here, there is no way I’m going to miss it.

Tomorrow I fly out to Tazzy for a couple of days – then back here where I’ll most likely catch an opera house show, take a day trip to the Blue Mountains, and then head back to Honolulu. Time is going far too fast here.

Sydney Eye Just after I finished writing the above, a bizarre old American woman in her 70s walked into the common areas of the hostel and started tearing through her bags. She said she had been arrested after being falsely accused of stealing some Englishman’s Nike pants – and now she had to move to another accommodation. It was her who was being arrested when the police woke me up the other morning.I tried to ignore her. She went behind me and said loudly, “I’m going to dress up as a dominatrix and go to the parade, do you wanna be my dog?” I declined the offer. The she came over and began giving me a head massage – which I resisted but then said “Fuck it, this feels pretty good” She had been a masseuse at some point, and a slumlord landlord, and a Santa Clara train operator and now her kids had moved in with her so she was on her way around the world. She noticed an odd bump on my head that I noticed recently as well and said – “You might want to get the doctor to check that out – it could  be a tumor.”

Maybe it is, I hope not, but I will get it checked out.

I saved my work and went on my way.

Mardi Gras Sydney LGBTQThe Sydney LGBTQ Mardi Gras was a huge parade and party – without a doubt the biggest party I’ve ever been to. I bought a $10 stool to stand on and watched with a group around me that quickly became a sort of street family as we were all pushed and shoved by the massive crowds struggling to get from one point to another. There was a sweet couple of Persian girls, a bunch of binary locals, and a couple of middle aged gay dudes in our ‘fam’ and it was cool how we all took care to watch out for one another. Crowds like that, not my favorite. It was my first time at a Gay Pride event and I have to admit, LGBTQ people know how to have fun and enjoy life much more than most people. I’m glad that our world is changing and becoming more acceptable of people being and loving whomever they choose. It was inspiring to see the surviving marchers from the first parade in Sydney back in 1978 – they were met by police back then, beaten, and arrested. Today, the Sydney police had a section in the parade as well – there were gay and lesbian cops, footballers, rugby players, firefighters, and lots of unicorns, rainbows, fairies, and leather/bondage men as well. I don’t know what percentage of the tens of thousands in the crowd were LGBTQ, my guess is that most of them were not, but it was amazing to see the support, the spirit of fun, and the camaraderie of the event. I feel very fortunate to have been here during this event. It must be interesting to be coming of age during this time of greater acceptance – when I was in my teens and twenties there Mardi Gras Sydney LGBTQ was no acceptance, in fact, a person coming out was more likely to be beaten or fired or mocked or even killed for their sexual or gender identity choices if they didn’t conform to the binary ‘norm’. Then being in the hyper-macho Marine Corps during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period – there were no gay people around me. I’m sure some of my friends and colleagues must have been queer through the years, but I was never aware of it because it was a hazardous time for anyone brave enough to come out. Add to that the stigma of AIDS/HIV in the 80s and 90s and it’s no surprise that the first gay men or lesbian women I met were after I got out of the Marine Corps. I worked as a waiter and bartender at a hotel bar in Raleigh, North Carolina that was notorious for queer clientele – and a strange cross category – conservative southern politicians. This was where I made my first gay friends, but I never let them become close friends because 20+ years of anti-gay indoctrination had made me Mardi Gras Sydney LGBTQ
prejudiced and scared. I look back now and I realize how terribly brave they all were and recognize how much I lost by not having them in my life. By the time I left that job, I was somewhat comfortable with gay culture but I still recognize that there is some part of me that retains those old learned fears – which is so silly. Last night was a great step towards actually getting over it.

I didn’t party the night away like many did – once the walkway was navigable, I walked back to Chinatown, grabbed a beer in Charlie Chan’s Bar, watched the fascinating crowds, and then made my way back to my pod.

Pernik, Bulgaria with Borislav the Moroccan Idol

World travel can bring you face to face with round the world adventures or people from your home town. Pernik, Bulgaria is a place I wouldn’t have experienced without running into someone I already knew.

It’s always fun to run into people you know when you are traveling. I was looking at facebook and saw that my wife’s friend Borislav was posting pictures of Sofia as I was there!

Bulgarian home foodThrough the magic of Facebook we managed to connect and I learned that he was spending some time there with his Bulgarian grandparents. He’s half Moroccan and half Bulgarian, but when we’d met before I had thought he was half Ukranian!

Borislav was a contestant on the Moroccan version of American Idol and has had his face plastered on billboards in Morocco. I was incredibly surprised to find him in Sofia but it was a great chance for us to hang out.

He invited me to come up to Pernik, a cold war era industrial town which sits to the north of Sofia as a relic of a time when communists worked side by side in the coal mines and factories of Pernik. These days, with it’s broken factories, abandoned nuclear power plant, and aging black lung population, Pernik is more like visiting Mordor.
Borislav’s grandparents were amazingly wonderful people and from the time I got there we ate delicious homecooked Bulgarian food, drank homemade wine, homemade rakia, and tried to have conversations.

Bulgarian dinnerI thanked them for their hospitality when I got there and Borislav’s grandfather told me that I hadn’t experienced Bulgarian hospitality until I was drunk from Rakia and homemade wine! By the end of the night, I was the recipient of full Bulgarian hospitality.

Borislav was left in the difficult position of translating as his grandfather and I discussed the glory days of communism and the downfalls of capitalism. Thanks again for that buddy! It was my first time to ever speak with a communist worker who had taken part in everything from the revolution to the collapse. His reminiscence of the days when workers walked and worked in equality were only as powerful as his stories of the days when the communist bosses began to flaunt their wealth and power.
Bulgarian nuclear plant, Pernik

For him and for many other older Bulgarians, the early communist era is remembered as a golden age. Meanwhile, Borislav’s sweet grandmother showered me with smiles and kisses of the kind that I haven’t experienced since my own grandmother passed away. I’ve always suspected though, that under all that old lady affection lies the remains of the smoking hot young flirtatious women they used to be. Seeing her picture in the flower of her youth, I can only imagine what it was like to get such kisses then.

Finally, after finishing the bottle of homemade wine and the homemade rakia we all went to sleep but not before Borislav’s grandfather had offered to take me and Borislav hiking the next day and show me his summer house where he makes the homemade booze. Of course, I was glad to accept. Borislav later told me that he’d been avoiding the trip since he arrived since the weather was icy cold, but I was glad to have the opportunity to see a bit of country life.coal miners communist

The Liberation of Bulgaria turned Pernik from a small stock breeding village into a 20th century powerhouse with the development of the rich coal-beds of the area though the locals had been gathering the coal since the 10th century with shovels and picks. but more about that in my next post.

World’s Strangest Hotels

Exploring the world’s strangest hotels is certainly a fun thing to do, given the extremes hotels have gone to, just in the name of being “strange”. And strange they are, too, by the looks of them. Ask anyone who’s been to a hotel from the list below, and he’ll tell you first-hand the experience that comes in staying there. Here is a list of the top 5 strangest hotels in the world. There are lots more, but only these five have made it to this list, based largely on popularity, service, and my own personal experiences.

5. The  UFO Capsule Hotel, Tokyo  Japan
stange hotelsCertainly one of the strangest concepts ever for a hotel, The UFO Capsule Hotel is a chain of “capsule hotels” across Japan that has been around for quite some time and has gained immense popularity as well. The concept of the capsule hotel may as well have been derived from the Japanese mind, given the way it uses space so efficiently. The Capsule Hotel consists of small “capsules”, which in turn have two sections: one, a public lounge space, and the second, a private sleeping space. Less space doesn’t mean throwing away amenities: TV, adjustable lighting, radio, all are present. A must-stay for those seeking the “strange”!

4. IceHotel, Sweden

Do not get surprised: the name of this hotel is exactly what the hotel is made of: ice. strange hotelsOpen only in the winter, Ice Hotel is unique: it stands as a hotel in the winter, and melts to become a free-flowing river after the cold is gone. So that means the hotel is essentially built every year, and then it melts away after the sun comes out, only to be rebuilt the next year. Located just 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, IceHotel is built by artists who come from all around the world, and by using only frozen water (ice) from the Torne River. Furniture made of ice is present, and beds are made of ice too, and covered in reindeer skins.

3. Hotel Fox, Denmark

strange hotels of the worldHotel Fox is one of a kind, and you certainly have not seen anything like it, that’s for sure. The hotel has 61 rooms, and each room is an exquisite piece of art. Combining the brilliance of 21 artists drawn from all over the world, and after studying close to a thousand different ideas, Hotel Fox was transformed with themes in each room as unique as possible, ranging from flowered themes to friendly monster themes to fairytale themes! The food at Hotel Fox is always being innovated, by inviting the best students from the best European cooking schools to prepare food under the supervision of experienced chefs.

 

2. StayOrange Hotel, Malaysia
strange world hotelsI know, the name sounds strange, but then this is a list of the strangest hotels in the world! StayOrange.com Hotel is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is inspired from the capsule hotels from Japan. The Hotel features three kinds of rooms – Double EnSuite, Single EnSuite and 2-Bed Bunk Rooms. The Hotel aims to provide functionality in terms of both facilities and prices. The pricing is very affordable, and the facilities are not compromised upon. All facilities like free Wi-Fi internet access, hot water showers, exclusive mattresses from Dreamland, LCD TVs are provided, with branded toiletries and DVD players being optional.

1. Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germanyworld's strangest hotel

This hotel makes it to the top position with ease, just with the variety of rooms it providesJust picture: flying beds, upside-down rooms, circular beds, prison-style rooms – this hotel has got them all. And more. With 35 rooms of pure artistic indulgence, . the hotel will certainly make you come back for more. Certainly one of the most creative hotels of all time, the Propeller Island City Lodge has extremely courteous staff, which takes care of the minutest details. The hotel is very clean, and is a must visit.

Eating Horse Flesh in Chiasso Switzerland

Ah yes, Switzerland. A day of banking, Swiss cheese, chocolate, yogurt, smoked meat, and a bit of yodeling. I did it all in Chiasso. Cliche, yes – but oddly enjoyable.

My first pic of SwitzerlandThe day trip from Bergamo to Lake Como had cost me just a few hours and 6.25 Euro so I decided to splurge and take a trip across the border to Chiasso, Switzerland.

The train fare was 1.30 Euro and the trip took less than ten minutes as we slowly went under a mountain. I’m told that the Swiss love to make tunnels every bit as much as Koreans like digging. Anyway, it was a nice tunnel and then we were in Switzerland!

I set off on a whirlwind tour. I visited a shop that sold Swiss Army Knives and Swiss Watches but didn’t buy one because I don’t wear a watch and I only carry a carry on bag and so a knife would have been confiscated. After that I walked through the streets breathing the fresh Swiss air.

Swiss International Air Lines
Since I was in Switzerland, it seemed appropriate that I do some banking so I visited the ATM and got 50 Swiss Francs which I wasn’t entirely sure was enough to buy anything but wondered if it was a lousy conversion rate…didn’t know. But, I did some Swiss banking.

Chiasso Shopping CenterNext stop was the grocery store, because even though there were restaurants, I wanted to eat real Swiss products for lunch and I needed to see how much the beautiful Swiss currency would buy…so, I grabbed a Swiss shopping basket and walked through the Swiss aisles getting Swiss products – and by the way, I was hungry – but managed to control myself.

I bought some Swiss yogurt, some smoked Swiss horse meat, a big block of Swiss cheese, and three bars of Swiss chocolate (but no Swiss Miss).

I walked through the streets which were filled with now mostly closed shops since (and I never knew this) apparently the Siesta is a big deal in Switzerland. I decided not to visit the big International Duty Free Shopping Center but instead sat in a very green and clean little park eating my yogurt, cheese, horsemeat, and a bit of the chocolate.

Discover the joys of smoked horse!

Park in Chiasso, SwitzerlandI have to admit, I’d never eaten horse before but this particular cheval fume seche coupe was incredibly delicious. The Swiss yogurt may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The Swiss cheese was ever so good and then the chocolate – my goodness. I was so overwhelmed with the very Swiss-ness of the situation that I did a little bit of yodeling (after looking to see that there was no one else in the park).

Finally, I decided to end the day in Switzerland in a spectacular fashion by walking to Italy. No border check, no nada nothing. I was afraid my Swiss Chocolate and Cheese would be confiscated, but all was well. By the way, the price for my groceries was 8.75 Swiss Franks which ended up being about 6 Euro – amazingly affordable!

If you would rather spend more time in Switzerland, here is a list of Chiasso Hotels or you can take the train a bit further to Lugano.

The walk back to Lake Como took a bit longer than I expected (since I had to go over the mountain the train had gone under) but I still had time to enjoy the beautiful place while munching on a bit of horseflesh before I had to catch the train back to Bergamo.

5 adventurous destinations around the world

Adventurous destinations are the stuff of travel dreams.There is plenty to imagine, work for, and dream of with these five adventure trips from around the world.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Mount Everest is known by all as the highest peak in the world, it is known by climbers and adventurers however as an immense challenge that is best left to the professionals. A classic Himalayan trek with incredible views and rewards that can be enjoyed by all adventure enthusiasts is a trek to Everest Base Camp. Trek takes you through an exciting forest and over mountains giving you stunning views of the surrounding peaks whilst the dramatic landscape around you changes as you continue to climb higher and higher up the Khumbu Valley.

Grand Canyon, Colorado
For adventurers, the most exciting way to appreciate the Grand Canyon’s natural capacity and power is to raft through it; the Colorado River through canyon is one of the wildest stretches of white water in the United States. 5 travel adventuresThe full journey through the canyon (from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead) is 275 miles in length and makes for a challenging, fun adventure with some staggering scenery, white-water thrills, and magical hikes.

Masai Mara Safari, Kenya
For a safari with real-life, thrilling adventure try a Masai Mara Safari. The Masai Mara reserve is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat and offers plenty to see. During the winter months, it’s easy to assume that all will be quiet on the reserve however you couldn’t be more wrong. Many tourists aim to target their trip to coincide with the migration season but there is life to be seen throughout the year. Between August and November, you can spot the two million wildebeest charge across the green-land as they migrate from the Serengeti in search of water, or in spring, experience the first sightings of new-born life. For frightening thrills, predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards can be spotted prowling the terrain whilst graceful giraffes can be found flaunting their astonishing stature.

Inca Trail, Peru
Being the best-known and most popular hike on the South-American continent, the Inca Trail is an exhilarating, challenging and unforgettable experience. The journey starts in the village of Qorihuayrachina and takes three or four days of strenuous walking to complete. The trail is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, crossing the Andes mountain range and sections of the Peruvian jungle and rain forest  Ending at the old citadel of Machu Picchu provides a rewarding finale and time to discover the ancient citadel. Together, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu make up one of the wonders of the world.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, covering over 350,000 square kilometers of the sea and is the only living collection of organisms that are visible from Earth’s orbit. Most of the Reef’s diversity occurs in the top 4 meters of water and the best way to experience this is by snorkeling  The reef is believed to be the densest assemblage of living organisms to be found in any comparable area in the world thus the thousands of beautiful coral gardens and abundant marine life will leave you mesmerized.

World Travel Diarrhea – An Ugly Topic – Some Simple Cures

Montezuma’s revenge, Delhi belly, Hong Kong dog, Tiki trots, Casablanca crud, Katmandu quickstep. But travelers from Mexico, India, Nepal, Morocco, and other places might call it the ‘Lincoln’s Loose Logs’ or ‘Shock and Awe’, because they can get it when they visit the United States too.

One of the likely challenges a traveler may face as he embarks on either business or leisure travel pertains to his health. A major occurrence is diarrhea. Traveler diarrheaThis is the passage of semi-formed or watery stool. Most times, it calls for urgency and the affected person may not be able to hold it for sometime as may be done for a normal pooping. At times it happens amidst vomiting, flatulence and abdominal pain which may last for 3 to 4 days. Hence, it is necessary for travelers to ensure that this ugly experience does not occur during traveling.

Bacteria are the most common microbe that cause diarrhea. However, it may also be caused by other parasites and viruses.

The destination actually is also a major factor on which contracting the runs depends. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30 to 50% of travelers will contract diarrhea during a stay of 1 to 2 weeks in some areas of high risk. The risk also varies from time to time in temperate climates.

Places of low risk

Truly, there are some countries of the world with very low prevalence of diarrhea. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and countries in northern and western Europe fall under this category.This doesn’t mean people don’t poop their pants in these countries though.

Places of intermediate risk

Some of the places where risk of diarrhea is average are places like Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. Chances are that you will just have average amounts of flatulence in these places too.

Places of high risk

Areas in the world with high risk of diarrhea are Africa, Asia, Middle East, also Central and South America. This isn’t because of the people in these countries it’s because the rich countries of the world have generally treated these countries like shit thus leading to the current loose stools in these places.

Causes of the runs:

The chief cause of diarrhea is intake of contaminated food and this is because of the presence of bacteria. Some of the bacteria that may cause this ailment are:

Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC) requires large inoculum to get the disease. This is common in developing countries due to low sanitation efforts. It is characterized by frequent stooling, abdominal pain and low-grade fever.

Another bacterium is the Entroaggregative E.coli (EAEC) which is rated as the cause of over 25 per cent of diarrhea experienced by travelers.

Its symptoms are similar to that of Enterotoxigenic E. coli. Campylobacter jejuni, a causative microrganism common in developed countries, though risk of contacting it is more prevalent in the developing world. The diarrhea caused by this bacterium is characterized by blood stools.

Salmonella spp is associated with food borne epidemics in developed countries. Shigella spp is also a cause of traveler’s diarrhea which may also be bloody and accompanied by cramps in the abdomen and fever.
As for Vibrio spp, it is linked with intake of partially cooked seafood. Also, Giardia lamblia is an intestinal flagellate that is associated with intake of polluted surface water in poor sanitary environments.

The list of pathogens continues. Therefore, travelers, in order to have poopie-pants-free vacations must endeavor to take necessary health measures and exercise some caution.

How to Avoid the trots:

* Avoid uncooked vegetables, especially salads, fruits you can’t peel, undercooked meat, raw shellfish, ice cubes, and drinks made from impure water.
* Try to make sure the dishes and silverware you use have been cleaned in purified water.
* Drink only water that has been carbonated and sealed in bottles or cans. Clean the part of the container that touches your mouth and purified water. Boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes purifies it, as does iodine liquid or tablets.
* Drink acidic drinks like colas and orange juice when possible. They help keep down the E. coli count, the bacteria most responsible for digestive distress.
* Drink acidophilus milk or eat yogurt before your trip. The bacterial colonies established in your digestive system before your trip and maintained during it, reduce the chance of a loose stools catching you by surprise.

Cures on the road:

Here are two possible ‘cocktails’ that might help reduce your diarrhea once you have it.

1) In a glass, put 8 ounces of fruit juice; 1/2 teaspoon of honey, corn syrup, or sugar; and a pinch of salt. In another glass, put 8 ounces of purified water and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Drink a couple of swallows alternately from each glass until finished.

2) Here’s the second formula: glucose, 20 grams; salt, 3.5 grams; baking soda, 2.5 grams; and potassium chloride, 20 grams. Just add to a quart or liter of purified water and drink.

Other options? What if you are stuck and you don’t have any of the above? Easy. Just eat clay or ashes. Or you could eat blueberries, plantains, blackberry roots, or Acorns. All of these have properties that will cause your diarrhea to disappear.

Thankfully, we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

The Fully Integrated Backpacker Treehouse Resort – Kadir’s Treehouses

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposThe most surprising thing about Olympos is the huge volume of choice when it comes to places to stay. Since Thailand, I haven’t seen this many bungalows, backpackers, or pancake stands – perhaps the hardest part of coming to Olympos is picking where to stay.

Since we wanted to come here for four days, we opted to split our time between two of the most famous tree house resorts. The first, Bayram’s tree houses, I should point out that this is the off season, so it was pretty calm and quiet, but even so there were some serious drinking sessions around the nightly campfire.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposAfter two very fun days there, we moved up the road to Kadir’s Treehouses.  While there are tree houses and bungalows here – it would be more appropriate to call it Kadir’s fully integrated backpacker tree house resort and bungalow complex and village – but that might be too much of a mouthful. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with Kadir himself and to explore the property –

Kadir came here 25 years ago when there was nothing in Olympos but farmhouses and shepherd camps. He left a career in economics in Ankara behind to tune in, turn on and drop out – well after the hippies of the 60’s but well before the hippies of the now. His parents and friends told him he was crazy but he bought a piece of land next to a stream in Olympos, built a tree house, and carried what he needed from up the mountain or bought it from the nearby farms.

At this point, a few backpackers started coming to see the ruins at Olympos and a couple of them asked if they could rent his tree house for the night. Then it happened again. And again. So he built a second tree house – but more backpackers came. So he built more. And within a couple of years he had tree houses, bungalows, and even a couple of bars to satisfy the thirst of the the backpackers.

Turkey Treehouse HostelThe nearby farms saw his success and they copied the model. Now, while I didn’t hear anyone say this overtly, there seems to be some bad blood between the farmers and Kadir these days – on the one hand, Kadir is the stranger in a valley filled with family – and on the other, people stole his business model and then – according to one source – when his property caught on fire while he was away – just let it burn and didn’t notify anyone until it was too late. Kadir says that when he arrived his tree houses, bungalows, bars, and even the trees were completely gone. I’m assuming that no one was here when it happened since Kadir said that nothing was saved.

So Kadir built again. Today, his sprawling complex still has a few tree houses – including one built on a huge 750 year old cedar stump that Kadir bought from the government and then trucked down here! It’s his log-o now.

During peak times, Kadir hosts as many as 350 backpackers! His complex has a nightclub (The Bull Bar), a Pizza House, The Hanger Bar, an activity center, a volleyball court, a huge fire pit, and the downstairs restaurant/bar where dinner and breakfast are served which feels like it could have been imported directly from Alaska. This is even including the bartender Simon who wears a red plaid lumberjack shirt and even though his English is very good always replies “Thank you very much!” even when it doesn’t fit. (As in Alaska – the odds are good but the goods are odd)

Kadir is usually playing backgammon, snapping photos on his Galaxy Note, or wandering around. The bungalows and treehouses are colorfully painted and built in a haphazard, Tom Sawyer treehouse way which includes half bent rusty nails and railings that feel as if they might break under your hand. If there is a downside to Kadir’s – it is that the size and numbers create a sort of junkyard feel to parts of the complex with disused furniture being piled in unused corners and piles of broken plumbing or wood scraps tumbled around devil may care – but then, that adds to the overall feel of the place. Sanford and Son meets Tom Sawyer. Kadir’s is about a 20 minute walk from the beach but the stream and mountain views make that a pleasant journey.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposWe stayed in a deluxe bungalow facing a gorgeous rock face and the beautiful clear water stream. It was big, clean, had AC and heat, hot water and was comfortable. We found the included breakfast and dinner to be tasty and filling. All of this for about 25 Euro per night, is a steal and one of the best deals going in Turkey, if you ask me. If you want to go even cheaper – you can rough it in the treehouses or sleep in the dorms, but honestly – the lack of comfort and privacy wouldn’t be worth it for me. Still, the backpackers we spoke with who were doing that, loved it.

What’s next for Kadir? He told me he has found a new location where no one goes yet and this time he is going to open an eco-resort. It will be his fourth property – he now has a family resort, Kadir’s Garden, Kadir’s treehouses and then Kadir’s Eco-Resort – the moral of the story? Sometimes it pays to drop out and go live in a treehouse!

Gypsies in Granada – Surreal Real Unreal

This was a post I wrote back in early 2009 – right on the cusp of my life taking a dramatically different turn. This was one of those points where life is giving you many roads you can follow – and the one you choose will determine your entire future. I considered staying in Granada….and there were many paths I could have followed from there. I wonder where the many roads from Granada might have led – but as I sit here in 2020, living in Hawaii with my  Moroccan wife and our beautiful daughter, I can only tell you where this one led.

Ernest Hemingway wrote “How lazily the sun goes down in Granada, it hides beneath the water, it conceals in the Alhambra!” and he is not the only artist to note the beauty and wonder that surrounds this place. Shakespeare said “Every inquisitive traveler keeps Granada in his heart, without having even visited it.” Chateaubriand said “Granada is like the crystal bride of our dreams, whoever beholds it has the illusion of visiting it again.” And perhaps that is the case for me, but I only know that this city, the energy that exists here, and the people that inhabit it are a wonder worthy of noting. Granada is one of those places that stays with you, whether you go there by plan or simply as one of those last minute holidays that fate pulls from nowhere and springs on you like a wondrous surprise.

Here are a few of the moments and people that have made the past few days so wondrous.

This is Lisa, an English girl with whom I ate delicious meal, drank coffee in a magic coffeehouse, and rambled through a dusty used bookstore with. I loved her adventurous and literary spirit. And these are the eyes of Nieves, Susana, and Constantina…three of my many companions today as we strolled through the gypsy parts of Granada exploring the caves that the gypsies live in, seeking flamenco, braving the rain, eating paella, and visiting the homes of friends.





Along the way we visited a crowded patisserie and got coffee in a dark sheesha bar.
We found the king of the Barrio Abayzin at the highest point he could find.



Alhambra is beautiful. Together, with these new friends, how can there be anything as enjoyable to the soul.

Perhaps I will run out of money, come back to Granada, move into a cave like the one below, clean it and then get evicted by the gypsies who own it when the work is done, this, I am told, is what happens. I could enjoy a cave like this, do you think it has internet access?

The weather here has changed a bit and rain and thunder come down. The hardest part of travel is to leave friends behind and as I move along, I too, find this difficult. Here in Granada, as in Barcelona, I have made friends that I don’t want to leave. It’s the same in Hawaii, Salt Lake City, and everywhere I have found new and wonderful people. When I find them, I don’t want to leave.

Tomorrow though I will head to La Linea and Gibraltar and then on to Morocco. Before I leave Spain though, I should note a few things. In The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Thereaux noted that the Mediterranean coast cities are filled with dog shit. It’s an offensive description, but no one here will deny it is true. Three out of five of us today stepped in dog shit at different points. Susana said that here they say that when you step in shit, it is good luck and people go to buy lottery tickets. We agreed however that we don’t need shit.

Also two innovations that I can’t believe don’t exist in the USA. First of all, when you wash the dishes here, there is no dish rack, the rack is actually the cupboard where you keep the dishes, right above the sink. Also, here there are variable flush toilets that allow to use less water for #1 and more water for #2.
Fucking brilliant.

Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey

Camel WrestlingCamel Wrestling. Sounds dangerous. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I saw it on Couchsurfing as a group activity for those near Izmir in the town of Selcuk, Turkey.

While it is a little hard to understand the excitement that one feels in the crowd, it is motivated by the thing that Turks love and get the most excited about. Money. It’s the bets that make the sport worth while and if you aren’t betting, chances are that you aren’t really enjoying things to the fullest. Still, it is important to understand what is happening if you are going to be a spectator. I was going to write an article about the intricacies of this amazing sport, but it turns out that someone has already done that:

Burak H. Sansal over at 2Camels.com writes: While the Spanish have bullfights, and the Italians cockfights, and the English go hunting with hounds, the Turks have camel wrestling. Camel wrestling is now mostly restricted to the Aegean region though it was once more widespread in Anatolia. In the winter you will see elaborately saddled camels being paraded through the villages with the owner extolling just how his camel is going to make mince-meat of anyone rash enough to challenge his beast. The camels are all fully grown bulls specially fed to increase their bulk further, and the sight of them wrestling one another would seem to promise some spectacular action.

In reality it doesn’t happen and camel wrestling is more akin to comedy than to blood- sport. Bull camels normally wrestle and butt one another in a knock- out contest for precedence in a herd, and more importantly, precedence in mating. In the arena two bulls are led out and then a young cow is paraded around to get them excited. It’s very easy to know when a bull is excited as streams of viscous milky saliva issue from his mouth and nostrils. Mostly the two bulls will half-heartedly butt each other and lean on the other until one of them gives in and runs away. This is the really exciting bit as the bull will often charge off towards the crowd, with the conquering bull in pursuit, and the spectators must scramble hurriedly out of the way.

And that’s about the size of it, but the real interesting part is in the crowds. Horns, drums, and the smoke of a thousand cooking fires as the spectators, mostly men, barbecue camel, sheep, and chicken – drink raka and beer – and place huge wagers on which camels will win. While I wasn’t exactly sure how the events themselves work, watching the camel spit fly was entertaining (from a distance) and weaving through the elbows only crowd to see the various fires, tables, and sweet spots that were set up was exotic as hell.

Camel WrestlingThe strange thing for me was just how much camel meat was actually consumed at this event which was in a way, honoring camels. And yeah, in case you are wondering, I got a camel sausage sandwich and it was delicious! Spicy, not as hairy as sheep sausage and was the perfect thing to watch the camels wrestle by. That and some raka.

To be honest, two hours of the camel wrestling was enough for me. I took a lot of exotic camel pictures, but since I wasn’t getting drunk or betting on the camels, or having a barbecue with friends – it was actually pretty boring once the medieval festival aspect of it wore off.

It really was like being in a time long long ago with the drums, the smoke, the sounds of the camels grunting and fighting, and the sound of the nasal ne floating on the sausage smoke breeze.

 

Cappadocia – Goreme – Fairy Chimneys and Rock Cut Churches

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyIn Central Anatolia lies a land that looks like it comes from The Lord of the Rings- Cappadocia. Even the name has the ring of a fairy tale Kingdom.

“I, Sir Vago of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, do ride forth to seek out new lands and great fortunes.” – or something like that, though Cappadocia was never a kingdom of its own and in fact was a place of troglodyte refuge for Christian outcasts and societal misfits.

The landscape of massive stone chimneys (wistfully called fairy chimneys) and dream like rock formations are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. From the 4th to the 11th Century a community of Christian refugees carved an unbelievable number of churches from the stones. Houses were also carved and the traditional livelihood was agriculture until the 1980’s when a tourist boom started.

A new friend we met in Goreme, Cemil, has lived there since that time and he remembers when there were only three hotels in Goreme. Now there are hundreds and  when we arrived, they were almost all full. No need to tell you what the number one industry is now. Many people come to Goreme just so they can enjoy Cappadocia Balloon Tours. There is nothing quite like floating over the fairy chimneys as the sun comes up.

Goreme is a magical place and filled with charm. An interesting fact  is that in Goreme, it used to be that if a man didn’t own a pigeon house, he wouldn’t be able to get married. These days there must not be many marriages, though more likely is that that particular tradition was tossed aside with agriculture when tourism became so lucrative.

Virtually everything in Goreme is directed at tourists from the hot air balloons to the travel companies, tour companies, restaurants, and tourist shops. Unlike other tourism hot spots though, the prices seem reasonable and the people don’t seem so hungry for the hunt.
Goreme Cappadocia Turkey
It’s one of the things that really makes me sick about tourist places is that the people who work in tourism tend to forget that the clients or customers are real people, instead they become prey. It’s the same for criminals, people become prey and they are something to be hunted. I went through it myself as a tout and as a stock broker, if people simply become a means to an ends, life becomes much less magical and satisfying. While we did encounter quite a few people who were on the hunt in Goreme, it was less than r Fez and the hunt itself was less in your face than either place as well.

We had a very nice breakfast with our friend Cemil at the Blue Moon Hotel before heading out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. this is an astounding place, though no more so than Goreme itself. The big draw at the Open Air Museum are the rock cut Byzantine churches and the painting and frescoes they contain. Admission was 15 lira each.

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyFlash photos weren’t allowed and several guides told us not to take photos at all which was a bit extreme(they say the flash destroys the color of the old paintings). And in fact, everyone was doing it.

The rock cut churches had interesting pews and tables carved in them, graves which had been robbed or excavated in the floors, and of course the paintings. This was a monastic community and then became a pilgrimage site for Christians in the 17th Century.

Hanane was not overly impressed with the paintings, in particular the Red Ochre made very little impression on her. “I could get up there and paint the same thing right now. They’re fake.” By this point, we were laughing each time she called something fake but I still think she was partly serious. Once again we opted to skip the extra fee, this time 8 lira each to see the frescoes in the Karanlik Kilise. I feel no regrets over that. I really hate to pay an entrance fee only to be faced with another entrance fee.

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyWe exited feeling that we had both seen enough churches. While we didn’t have the time this visit to go to the underground cities, it was a nice thing to whet our appetite with the rural charms and comedic tourist hunting that takes place there. As examples of how the hunt is conducted in Goreme you can look at the names of the Pensions. Flintstones Pension, Bedrock Cave Hostel, Ufuk Pension, Shoestring Cave Pension and more. We were recommended to try the Peri Cave Hotel, though as I wrote previously, we were very fortunate to be staying in the Moonlight Cave Suites.

We strolled through the Rose Valley and then went back to Goreme village where we had a bad dinner, at Cappadocia Pide Salonu. Not recommended. Awful.

From there we hiked up to the highest point in Goreme and watched the sun go down and the lights of the fairy chimneys flicker on in Goreme. A bottle of wine would have made it perfect.

From there it was back to our cave to enjoy the hot tub, king size bed, and overall luxury of the Moonlight Cave Suites. Warning – don’t scroll down or you will see more of me than you want to.

too much exposure

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