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August 2006 Archives

August 1, 2006

houston, we have landed in moscow

after an epic 88-hour journey in 3rd-class on the trans-siberian railway, i have now arrived in moscow.

i stumbled off the train at 4am with a wicked vodka hangover, courtesy of the english backpackers that i met on the train, and watched some truly shifty activities at the moscow train station waiting room as we napped for a few hours and waited for dawn to arrive so we could call up the hostel and get directions.

after tromping through the moscow metro system and roaming around until we found our hostel (and then discovering the 8 flights of stairs involved in getting there... next time i'll take the elevator), dropped off our luggage, and went around moscow to explore all day. standing in red square less than a month after arriving standing tiennamen square was surreal.

things here feel much closer to europe than anywhere i've been in months. there's a lot of energy (and money) in this city, and i'm really enjoying the capitalist wild west feeling that is here. definitely a major lifestyle change from mongolia!

August 2, 2006

chance card

i've found that given the length of time that i'm travelling for, and the fact that i'm making up my itinerary as i go, there are a fairly large number of random surprises that occur along the way.

today's Chance card from the game of Gone Living:

Surprise Tax. Belarus and the United States are having diplomatic tensions, so the cost of a transit visa for US citizens has increased from US $40 to $180. Deduct $140 from your travel budget.


August 5, 2006

a lazy russian afternoon

today the sunshine broke through several days of overcast skies, and was cheery enough to even stir my hungover self (beer and vodka and backpackers are always a rough mix) out of bed and into the warm, sunny streets of st. petersburg.

i am proud to announce that i did almost nothing of any value whatsoever today, just uploading all of my pictures to flickr (finally caught up on the 100s of photos i hadn't uloaded yet), roaming in and out of churches and historic-looking buildings, and wandering around the streets of st petersburg. all of the energy and "big cityness" of moscow has evaporated here, so the people move slowly through the streets and they actually smile now and then.

this afternoon i was also happy to find the fastest internet access i've come across since i left on my trip, and had some pepperoni pizza at pizza.ru which was so perfectly like the pizza i grew up on in the 80s that i couldn't help but look around for a can of hansen's soda and a cocktail-table game of galaga or crazy climber to complete the scene.

it's summer and life is good.

August 6, 2006

spontaneous chorus

while sitting in a sidewalk cafe in st. petersburg, a chorus of russian girls showed up to serenade our tables. i think this is related to a chorus contest currently going on in a nearby church, but we never did find out what the story was behind this event.

packing list, reading list, and faq added!

for those of you who are interested in how much stuff it takes to go around the world (at least, in the manner that i wanted to do it -- i could definitely be getting by with FAR less stuff than i'm schlepping around), i've now posted the gone living packing list along with sites where you can buy the same gear if you so desire.

i've created a reading list on the site that covers a lot of the books i read before leaving, as well as books i've been reading on the road, guidebooks i've used, and travel humor books that i've read over the years and still enjoy.

and finally, to answer some of the questions people have had about me and my trip, i've added a short faq as well.

i've also upgraded the blog site to movable type 3.31, which means that the site now has support for features like listing tags for each post (you'll see them at the bottom of each post), improved site search functionality, and spruced-up page templates.

i'm also experimenting with some limited advertising on the site to see if it gets any clicks, to supplement the income from my amazon affiliate program. let me know if this drives you crazy, or if you have any thoughts on better ways to generate a little bit of revenue from the site without damaging the user experience.

thanks to jeremy zawodny for the link in his linkblog -- evidently he liked my statement that "i am proud to announce that i did almost nothing of any value whatsoever today" from my earlier post a lazy russian afternoon.

August 10, 2006

overland to prague

after one last Very Long Train Ride (a day and a half this time), i arrived at Prague at 5:30am local time yesterday morning.

the train ride itself was the last leg of my quest to travel from China to Europe entirely by train, which meant going from St. Petersburg to Prague via Belarus and Poland. while my ticket listed the 15 cities that i'd be passing through (in case i had a sudden hankering to hop off in minsk, i suppose), it didn't list one major item that it turned out on our itinerary: having our train car sit abandoned (literally connected to nothing) for two hours in a field somewhere in belarus.

after we stopped at the belarus/russian border for the train's wheels to get changed (i got to watch the procedure, which involves the entire train car being lifted up by giant winches and then the wheels slid out from underneath the train, and then replaced with a different set), our train was towed out of the shed onto some disused, grass-covered train tracks, and then left to wait for a few hours. despite our remote location, a belarussian woman with a bag full of tasty treats sold us lunch and beer to help us survive the wait.

as for prague itself? i'm going through "popular country culture shock" as flocks of backpackers crowd the streets. it's been 8 years since i was last here, and the prices have changed, as well the addition of "stag and hen" parties (bachelor and bachelorette parties) throng the streets at evening time, adding a very touristy vibe to things. i love prague, but i'm already missing the feeling of being just on the tipping point of popular tourist destinations that i had in russia.

pig knees and trilobites

after i checked in at the "party hostel" (i think i'm through with staying at those at last after dealing with one drunken idiot in my dorm room at 4am) the clown and bard and met up there with my good friend mike from san francisco, we decided to actually allow for some cultural education and visited prague's national museum.

inside the national museum, which mike described quite accurately as a "museum of museums", we found palatial marble halls with giant murals, room after room of dusty glass-topped display cases last refreshed decades ago, and the delightful detritus of a museum whose own history spans centuries. in other words, it was exactly the kind of museum that i'm quite content to lose a day wandering around, viewing exhibit after exhibit that has been meticulously prepared by PhDs, and absorbing absolutely no information at all.

the real treasure we discovered was the trilobite room featured joachim barrande whose oil portrait watched over the contents of the room. besides the bizarre appearance of the many forms of trilobites, the room's shrine to barrande himself had us become fervent trilobite and barrande fans by the end of our time in the trilobite room.

after a full afternoon of exploring the museum (how can i ever forget such curiosities as the malay mouse deer?), we headed out to dinner with a czech friend of a friend, george, who took us out to an amazing czech restaurant where we indulged our inner carnivores by having a dinner of pork knees.

the knees themselves were delicious -- crispy skin, and inside was the most delicious pork which had liberal amounts of fat clinging to it. after the amounts of fat i'd been consuming in mongolian cuisine, where fat is considered as essential part of a well-prepared meat dish, i didn't blink an eye at the pig knees and began immediately to extract the tasty meat off the bone. and of course, the meal was washed down with liberal amounts of pilsner urquell. "i think the review 'a good time was had by ALL' speaks for itself."

August 16, 2006

morning on the canals

i woke up late this morning on my friend jeremy's sofa, listening to the sounds of the street outside and watching the sun filter through the drapes.

i arrived in amsterdam yesterday afternoon on a flight from hungary (which turned out to be 30 hours shorter, and US$100 less than taking the train from budapest) and quickly met up with jeremy for my initial orientation around the city.

this morning i was quickly issued a bicycle from a local bicycle-rental program, and were off shopping in outdoor markets for food and other necessities.

the bicycle facilities in this city are AMAZING, and far superior to those of any other country. i thought san francisco had great support for bicyclists, but it's a pale shadow of the bike lanes and ease of use in amsterdam. it reminds me a lot of the quote purportedly from steve jobs that cities would be designed around the segway. Amsterdam has done this, it's just for the much-more-affordable and healthy bicycle instead.

August 17, 2006

off to lowlands

dear reader, i'm afraid you'll have to wait a few days for my action-packed on-the-scene reports from prague, budapest, and amsterdam. you see, i have a 3-day ticket for the sold-out lowlands festival here in holland, and i'm running out the door with a backpack filled with some clothes, a toothbrush, 12 half-liter cans of grolsch beer, and a hat.

my excellent host here in amsterdam, jeremy, is to blame for all of this. it should be three days of non-stop bands, music fans from across europe, and the madness of music festival camping. ok, gotta run now or i'll miss my train!

August 21, 2006

lowlands wrapup

after my hasty journey to the lowlands festival with jeremy on thursday evening, with my 40 euros of camping equipment (not bad for a new tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress!) in hand, i traded in my euros for plastic "tokens", we spent 3 nights and 3 days of camping in the densely packed campground, meeting random festival neighbors, and seeing lots of bands (along with the occasional side trip to neighboring walibi world to ride roller coasters between seeing bands at lowlands). i hadn't been to a european music festival since roskilde several years ago, and was definitely looking forward to lowlands. for those of you who haven't been to one, there is no experience like a european music festival, and i highly recommend going to one.

one thing to know about lowlands is that's it's a very dutch festival (at least until it was featured in a recent copy of the NME. because it's not absolutely saturated with people visiting from other countries on the festival circuit (oh wait, i'm from another country too -- ah, the contradictions of independent travelling!), it's also just a good chance to see how the youth of the netherlands enjoy themselves.

the one thing that truly shocked me at the festival was how well behaved people were. the minimum festival entrance age was 16, which is also the age when you can buy alcohol and do just about anything else permissible in holland, and yet there were no kids passed out, no dangerously out-of-control behavior (at least none that i saw). i've seen more antisocial behavior in one day of daily life in some other countries than i saw in the entire lowlands festival.

zero 7, dj shadow, placebo, and the various DJs present (including the mystery mashup dj who also was cooking a traditional dutch dish while playing music) all put on great performances. however, my absolute favorite of the show was seeing massive attack perform live, complete with liz fraser of the cocteau twins to do the vocals for teardrop (arguably their best song). fantastic lighting, artists in peak shape, and just a sublime experience overall.

after this musical feast, the arrival of rain on the 3rd day was pretty unwelcome, especially when tents began to collapse into the mud. so we packed up our gear and hightailed it back to amsterdam before all the bands had finished playing and enjoyed the comfort of having a roof over our heads and not having to pay for everything in small pieces of plastic. and that's the story of my lowlands festival experience!

August 23, 2006

a day in amsterdam

after enjoying my friend jeremy's hospitality for the last week, i'm packing up to leave the netherlands and move on to visit jason and azure in cambridge, england. but before i leave, i wanted to document what a typical day in amsterdam has been for me.

waking up in sunlight on the sofa late in the day (the distinctions between weekday versus weekend days are irrelevant for both of us at this point in time, since jeremy's on vacation during the summer), and then the delicious smells of freshly-made cappuccinos and jeremy's dutch breakfasts, each day being a different breakfast (the american/dutch/mexican crossover huevos rancheros being my personal favorite).

afternoons are spent walking (or better yet, bicycling) around the canals and streets of the city (jeremy issued me a city rental bike almost immediately after i arrived), picking up necessities at the outdoor market or at albert heijn,
just cruising around town to see the sights, meeting new friends, or having lengthy chats over delicious dinners (i recommend the crispy duck quite highly), and staying out late enjoying the nightlife.

visiting a city where a can stay with friends makes such a difference -- it's a total contrast to the usual "tourist" itinerary, and i can't say i've seen any historic sights or museums, but i've gotten a small taste of what it's like to live in amsterdam, and i have to say my visit here and to the lowlands festival has been one of the best parts of the trip. it's hard to contemplate leaving here today for england, but luckily i've got good friends i'll be staying with there as well, and change is good, so off i go to england.

August 26, 2006

sofa surfing in london

after a truly excellent time in cambridge catching up with some great friends, i headed down to london today with a 1-way ticket to kings cross and a travelcard.

thanks to my friends and their generosity helping me with contacts when i give 24 hours notice that i'm arriving in a scandalously expensive city without a place to stay, i ended up landing at a friend of a friend's house, where i'm currently taking up temporary residence for a few days until i head out to paris on monday afternoon. my sincere thanks to danny for letting me stay at his flat with only one day's notice and never having met me before, and supplying us with leone 70 rum and coffees, which are a powerful way to begin the way. now i'm off for a night of powerful bank holiday weekend drinking around london with danny, his brother dan, and their friends.

oh, and hello to the UK branch of the suicide girls -- somehow 5% of my traffic is currently being driven from a message board on the suicide girls UK website! since i'm not a member of the site, i can't read the message, but the attention is flattering nonetheless. hi girls!

August 28, 2006

south london days

i've now spent several days in the south london apartment of my two english/italian hosts, where life is a series of delicious homemade meals, drinks, watching movies (including dave gorman's excellent googlewhack adventure and national lampoon's european vacation), going out to pubs, and sleeping in. the hedonism of it all has been simply delightful -- while i've only managed to see one museum, i've had a great time.

the one museum i did make it over to was the tate modern, who have an absolutely stunning collection of modern art. most of my favorite artists (including electronic sign artist Jenny Holzer) were represented, along with several new artists whose work i hadn't seen before. all this and it's free!

in addition, we checked out the notting hill carnival, a cacophonous event complete with ridiculous amounts of drinking... i hadn't seen a block party on that level since halloween in san francsico.

and finally i checked out a play at london's rebuilt globe theater, where i saw the comedy of errors in standing room, where a mere £5 buys you a ticket where you stand directly in front of the stage. you can't beat it for entertainment value, especially if you're an english major who always was a shakespeare fan.

next stop, paris!

About August 2006

This page contains all entries posted to gone living in August 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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