09.12.13

Off to the Boonies

Posted in Travel at 1:04 pm by Administrator

I’ve been radio silent because we’ve been on a frenzied dash to buy all the crap ( another technical trekking term) to head out to the weeds. Tomorrow we go, and when and if we see a WiFi signal before our return is a subject of much speculation. Today there is a general strike in Kathmandu so we had to contend with closed shops on strangely empty streets – so recently the locus of such mayhem.

Yesterday, we found ourselves in the maelstrom of a Ganesh ( the elephant god – remover of obstacles) festival which involved women and girls dressed in fine blood-red Sarees as some sort of tribute (or perhaps rebuke) to their husbands. We were swept up into a fulminating sea of humanity pushing along into a narrow pathway by Durbar Square and under a 4 foot high tunnel with the doors to restaurants branching off into the darkness. The weirdness, we-aren’t in Kansas Toto factor was cranked to 11.

This burgh is off-the-scale cool, put it on the bucket list stat!

Hopefully, more soon.

Fred

09.10.13

We’re in K k k k k Kathmandu

Posted in Travel at 4:18 am by Administrator

We’re in k k k k k Kathmandu
Kathmandu Nepal, nirvana Hotel, Sept 10, 2013

Yesterday we landed in Kathmandu. It was partly cloudy and hot. The 3rd World Hustle started right away. A porter hefted our luggage onto a cart and rolled us out. HE was searched on the way out as we were waved through with a smile! This porter wanted $10 US to roll the bags 50 feet! I gave him $2. We found our guy with a sign with our names – he took us to the van. He too wanted $10, I gave him $2. The cabbies mobbed us, not taking “no” for an answer. We escaped in a Munchkinville tiny white beat up van. What followed was a long dirt road, pot holed, bouncing ride past Indiana Jones quality crowds. There were cows in the street, construction by hand, rubble, children, families on mopeds, bicycles groaning with goods, women of all ages with umbrellas against the sun in cheerfully bright Salvar Kameez, brown skinned beautiful calmly about their business in the noisy chaos.

After the clutter, constant honking, death defying right hand drive traffic in narrow pedestrian crammed “streets” (really alley sized) the Hotel Nirvana was an oasis of cool tranquility with a smiling clerk who promptly installed us in a charming, if a bit ramshackle room. There was a balcony overlooking a large calming garden.

More later,

Fred

09.09.13

Temple to Duty Free

Posted in Travel at 1:13 pm by Administrator

Bangkok’s Temple to Duty Free

Emerging from a Thai Airline’s 777-200 like weasels fleeing a flooded den, we emerged blinking, insensate, with only one goal defined with flawless diamond clarity – find “Louis’ Tavern Dayrooms Hotel” and lapse into a death-like fatigue coma. We had been brutally whipsawed by time such that neither my irritable wife or I were even sure what the date was. Having crossed the International Date Line, today became tomorrow, I think, and yesterday became what was once obviously today. Jet lag and trying to sleep curled up on three seats with a seatbelt anchor jabbing me in the kidneys did nothing to facilitate my understanding of the current time save that it was definitely night outside.

Bangkok’s Airport is of a size that brings to mind North Korean synchronized pagents to the Dear Leader plazas, it has literally miles of identical shopping mall meets Blade Runner blindingly lit hallways. Where O where to find our day room oasis and collapse? Nothing to do but head for the attractive young ladies in severe tightly bunned hair styles and uniforms under the big question mark sign.

The differences between the Thai Language and English is a vast gulf. The first booth lady seemed to think we needed to go to Concourse C but she might have said D or E or even G. With her accent I couldn’t be sure, and it was clear from her helpless non-sequester responses that she didn’t really understand us either. Ever resourceful, we marched in the direction she had been waving resolved to interrogate each information booth lady we encountered and average out the results. How could that fail? The initial results were promising, with two consecutive info ladies waving us in the same direction. But at the third booth we hit a snag and the lady insisted we had to go back the way we came! I began to sweat heavily. Dutifully we retraced the quarter mile back through the throngs of bag rolling travelers and glittering Duty Free shops to info lady number two. She, as expected, waved us back the way we had retraced. In desperation we tried to find the hotel phone number but there was a “free WiFi” procedure we needed to follow which in our fatigue was at the boundaries of our mental abilities. After 15 infuriating minutes I got the WiFi up and running only to discover the response time was in the 300 baud dial up range. My sweaty foul clothing felt like it was going to disintegrate off my unwashed carcass. Info lady two called the hotel and again after a rapid-fire Thai consult reiterated that we had to go back. “through security”.

Staggered to my knees with fatigue about ready to stroke out with piss off I told info lady 2 that I had been lead to believe that the day hotel was INSIDE the secure zone. To make a long story tedious this confusion resulted from the fact that we did NOT have to clear customs and enter the Kingdom, but inexplicably we DID have to go through a security checkpoint, just because.

To my extreme annoyance the security checkpoint was directly behind info lady number THREE whom you recall had us (unnecessarily) go back to info lady TWO.

Feeling like hammered shit and looking worse we staggered into the day room hotel. Fortunately it was worth the trouble to find the place. Instead of trying to nod out on seats in a glorified shopping mall we instead showered, brushed our teeth, plugged in our depleted electronic devices and slipped between clean sheets for 5 hours of comfy oblivion. I awoke refreshed and as an added bonus had a nice Contental Breakfast which bucked me up so I could worship at the Temple of Duty Free Shopping which is the Bangkok Airport.

As I write this we are spiraling down in a widening gyre to the Kathmandu Valley and I can see Mt. Everest so I will sign off for now.

Fred

09.07.13

Aggregation of my fecal material

Posted in Travel at 7:08 pm by Administrator

We hugged everyone good-bye and got a lift from Richie to SFO. Isn’t that the airline that just crashed here? Why, yes, it is! Disrobe for security, get X-rayed, prodded, poked, and eye-balled by TSA. Grab a bite to eat while CNN rolls appalling video of nerve gas victims over and over. Try to keep lunch down. Cruise the Duty Free and book stores. Get stuffed into a tube and sit for 12 hours. Emerge in Korea. Wait 5 hours. Get crammed into another cylinder for 6 hours. Emerge in Bangkok. Wait 10 hours. Get into yet another plane and sit for 3 hours. Emerge in Kathmandu. That’s all you gotta do and you’re there!

And yes, we are singing ” We’re going to Kathmandu, we’re really really going to, we’re going to Kathmandu” . . . Repeat as needed.

Later,

Fred

09.04.13

Ass Kicking Contest

Posted in Travel at 1:48 am by Administrator

Ass Kicking Contest – Off to Nepal

I am the proverbial one-legged man in the ass kicking contest! Getting ready to travel overseas involves a shitload (that’s a technical term we travelers use) of organization. But nooooo, my life is more complicated. There is construction going on at the house, we have friends staying at the house because their attempt to move to North Carolina has gone sideways and they have no furniture, and we have friends from Montreal coming to stay with a 9 month old baby!

Not content with this, I decided to get an iPad Mini (upon which I type at this moment) to take with me to Nepal. It’s light, I can read e-books, I can do my e-mail and besides I just wanted one. But, the new device requires some significant effort to setup, with apps to download, e-mail to test, blog entries to test, and so forth. I confess, some naughty words were uttered as I struggled through this.

Anyhow, I’ve got a pile of gear ready to go and soon we’ll pile into a United Airlines (shudder) aircraft and turn our lives over to their tender mercies for 36 hours. I’d rather poke my eardrums out with a rusty knitting needle – but I digress.

Stay tuned to find out what happens next.

Fred

08.29.11

Under My Tuscan Sun

Posted in Travel at 5:47 pm by Administrator

Hello,

We’ve had the most incredible three days in recent memory!  Our friend and host Gerard not only lives in the most mellow place I’ve ever been, but he also loves to cook and bake and eat in the Tuscan style.  We’ve sucked down life-changing wines, packed away cheese, prochuttio, wild boar and a memorable thin crust fungi pizza that made we want to sink to my knees and weep with gratitude!  As I write this the kitchen is animated with the sounds and smells of the preparation of bistecka Florentina to go with freshly-baked bread.  Two bottles of local white wine are nestled in ice.

Earlier, in the cooler morning air we ambled down the dirt road with a cheerful little fluffy white dog named “Attila” to the earth-toned medieval village nesting on the hilltop over the valley.  We joined the locals sitting at the outdoor cafe in the cobblestoned piazza and lingered over our €1 capuchinni. Back at the villa, during the hottest part of the day we cooled off in the pool, dried ourselves in the sun then read in the shade.

A restored stone Tuscan farm house, the villa sits on a hillside surrounded by heart-breakingly stunning rolling wheat fields with patches of woods full of a very tasty variety of wild boar.  There is a deep quiet here and warmth that makes one want to walk about naked.  A wooden table outside is where we dine in the warm night by candle light. We enjoy those long rambling wine-fueled discussions under the brilliant constellations.

The culture here is about living well; things should be beautiful, food must be excellent and everyone seems happy.  What’s more Gerard and his wife Heddy have designed the place to be rented out, which means that anyone can come here. In my opinion this is what an enlightened Renaissance society engineered as proper living.  Who are we to argue?

08.23.11

Vesuvius burps and you’re fried

Posted in Travel at 3:18 pm by Administrator

Hello,

We are sitting by the pool with Mt. Vesuvius (of Pompeii fame) glowering at us with dark menace just across the Bay of Naples. One burp and it would fry us where we sit, although I’m not sure the oily tourists grilling nearby in the brutal sun would even notice.

Whoever said “It’s the journey, not the destination”, has clearly never flown Iberia Airlines. I’ve registered a few complaints with various airlines over the years, but this was the nadir of the genre.  I’d rather pull out my molars with a pair of rusty pliers then ever put myself at their mercy again. Things went right to hell starting with the checkin – where an angry clerk took our bags and only once they were safely out of our reach, announced with undisguised glee that we were 17 kilos over some limit specified in the fine print and at 10 € per Kilo that would cost us the equivalent of almost $250 –  And “no” we couldn’t have the bags back and in fact she was “doing us a favor by not charging us more”! After a few moments of distress where I almost blacked out with rage, I got the supervisor who dismissed our petty complaint with the infamous Gallic “fuck you” shrug of the shoulders.

Once aboard, the duct tape holding together parts of the interior did nothing to improve my mood (yes I have photos). With our knees up near our chins, as if preparing to give birth, we sweltered in the un-airconditioned craft while the Spanish speaking crew tried to communicate with the French tourists heading to Italy. The drink cart flashed by without stopping which was a small kindness considering the bloated prices. 

Short of crashing I can’t imagine a worse flight. But I digress.

Once we made good our escape from Iberia we proceeded on the next leg of our Batan Death March to Sorrento. Without boring you with the hideous details, we wound up pulling our (overweighted) suitcases down the dark cobblestone streets of Sorrento, sweating like marathon runners, as we plaintively begged people (none of whom seemed to speak English like God intended) on the street if they knew where our hotel was.

Even though we finally arrived we’ll need years of intensive psychiatric therapy to be fit for public society.

08.17.11

Paris smokers

Posted in Travel at 7:51 pm by Administrator

Hello,

Its a miracle that French people aren’t keeling over dead in the streets from lung cancer! If a French person isn’t smoking, (s)he is either tossing a smoldering butt into the street, stylishly poking a coffin nail into his or her mouth, blowing smoke into someone’s face (preferably a non-smoking foreigner, but anyone will do in a pinch) or hand rolling another death stick. Naturally, the best seats at the numerous Parisian Cafes, namely the ones outside in the sun and fresh air, allow nicotine addicts to blanket the area with the foul cancerous stench of tobacco as one attempts to tuck into his gourmet meal and delicate wine. But, we are visitors in a strange land so we say nothing, smother our hacking and dab at our watering eyes to be polite.  Which begs the question; why exactly does French cigarette smoke unerringly make a twisting blueish thread directly to my nose? I just chalk it up to one of life’s unanswerable deep mysteries.

And speaking of mysteries, who are these tourists dumb enough to play three card montey with greasy-haired hulking scar-faced men working off the top of a cardboard box? This laughably transparent sleight of hand scam draw clouds of out of towners here in Paris, even taking into account the “shills” acting as accomplises who disguise themselves as players who win.  I thought anyone with the IQ greater than that of a flush toilet would know to avoid such rank knavery.

Well, thats the news from Paris.  Oh yeah, we saw some museums (they seem to have an awful lot of pictures of Jesus), old churches (I mean, come on, can’t they afford some new churches?) and had some good meals too.

Cheers,

Fred

08.11.11

A wee dram for Mary Queen of The Scots

Posted in Travel at 6:49 pm by Administrator

Hi,

Edinburgh, Scotland is a beautiful city with much of its medieval architecture intact.  We arrived to celebrate our 25th anniversary of wedded bliss – for you see we were married in Edinburgh and haven’t been back since.  By coincidence we were there for The Military Tattoo (a bunch of marching bands as far as I could tell). Imagine our joy when we found out that at the same time the far more to our taste Fringe Festival was being held. The latter we had never heard of and were charmed to find Operas, plays (over 2 thousand of them!), symphony performances (including one by San Francisco conductor Runnicles), jazz, comedy, and street performances – all on an “open source” basis!

Every night the castle on the hill had torches flickering ‘or its parapets, with the plaintive humming wail of bag pipies drifting on the breeze.  Then, explosions and fireworks – but we barely noticed as we wandered the dark rain-slicked cobblestones led about by Adam Lyle (deceased) looking very much dead as he showed us the places witches were burned, bodies dug up from fresh graves for the medical school, and the ever popular hangings.  The Scots, polite to a fault, would allow the condemned a final fortifying drink at the “The Last Drop” Pub before the neck stretching, which was a popular form of entertainment in the “good old days”.

At the-still operational Palace of Holyrood, we saw the exact spot where the hapless Mary Queen of The Scots found her closest advisor stabbed 52 times by her new husband (one Lord Darnly).  She returned the favor by blowing up a house with her husband in it, but when that proved insufficient to dispatch the poor fellow he found himself mysteriously strangled in the smoldering wreckage (talk about your marital spats!).  Enraged, the good citizens of Edinburgh ran her out of town (she 9 months along with the fetus of the future James 1st) on horseback. She escaped to England where Queen Elizabeth had her head chopped off!  Who says they didn’t know how to show a lady a good time back then?

On to England!

Cheers,

Fred

08.06.11

London Calling

Posted in Travel at 8:14 pm by Administrator

Hello again,

In the pouring English rain we tramped to the British Museum.  I had a mental image of myself quietly posing before The Rosetta Stone as my lovely wife took a snap.  The reality was closer to being stomped to death in a mosh pit during a Sex Pistols concert.  My arms were pinned harshly at my side by pushy tourists bellowing in rapid-fire dialects from all over “The Continent”. Collectively they all seem to exude a sweaty beery sort of garlic miasma, and each one comes equiped with a sniveling toddler and a sullen teenager. Finally I caught a brief glimpse of the fabled rock before being ejected from the scrum like a seed out of a stomped grape.

Pushing through the throng, I was squirted out into the magnificent presence of the famed Elgin Marbles, pried off the Parthenon by the eponymos Sir Elgin in the early 1800s.  Carefully, I framed a camera shot of an exquisite horse carved into the sugar-like marble. In the brief moment I let my attention focus on the camera, I was swept up into a rushing torrent of stampeding Asian tourists charging after a guide with a flag. Ten meters downstream my finger was shoved against the button providing me with an excellent image of the floor.  On my next attempt a sturdy woman wearing a festive Mumu stepped into my carefully composed shot, her back to the Elgin Marbles, staring off into space with bovine stupidity.

There was nothing to do but muscle our way out of the museum – our targeted destination being Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub -recently rebuilt in 1667 after a spot of bother when London burned to the ground. There I enjoyed a pint of bitter ale (or two) in the same spot frequented by Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Dickens, and lots of other dead guys. In fact it looks like they just left, as the furniture and such haven’t been upgraded in several hundred years.

London is full of Europeans off on holiday.  I mean really full, swinging from the chandeliers full!  And when it rains apparently all of them go to The British Museum.  As one woman succiently put it when asked where all the museum visitors came from, “It was the rain what done it”.

Cheers,

Fred

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