Saturday, July 21, 2012

"All's well that ends well, that's what I say, Gromit."

I've been back in the US for about two weeks now. Maybe I'll post again next time I do some traveling, but I have no plans to leave the country in the near future. If you're interested, I'm still blogging over at my regular blog, but that's less about exciting travel things and more about just some things I'm thinking. If you're just happening on this page and are interested in doing a big gap-year trip (or just want to talk travel), feel free to drop me a line; my email address is my name (first and last) at gmail.

Thanks for reading! This has been fun.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What was your favorite place?

I have a lot. Here are four.

Dharamsala (by which I, like most white people, mean McLeod Ganj), because it's really pleasant. The Tibetan government and Dalai Lama live there, the climate is nice, and I found it easy to meet other travelers that I really got along well with. You can take classes in anything, do yoga, whatever; in another universe I just zoned out there for a couple months. I'm not sure if that would have been better or worse than the constant traveling that I did.

Ladakh, because it is really something else. Beautiful gompas, rugged mountains, usually-freezing weather. I am still a little frustrated I was sick my whole time here. If I had to make one trip back to India, I would take a friend or three and go hiking in Ladakh.

Switzerland, because it's all it's cracked up to be. Everything is clean and nice, first of all. The Alps, like the Himalayas, are cold and crisp and awesome.

Bosnia, because it's not. Great roads for motorbiking, rocky hills (or small mountains, if you will), great weather in spring, and super friendly people who gave me hours of their time even though I'm just some guy wandering through. Great food (if a bit heavy).

Other places I really like but didn't quite make this list: Bhutan, Darjeeling, small cities in the Czech Republic

Some other favorites (feel free to ask me about any of these if you're interested):
Favorite small city: Wellington, NZ
Favorite big city: Amsterdam or Munich but probably Amsterdam (this surprises me, as I used to think Amsterdam was kind of dirty)
Favorite artists: Frantisek Skala, Czech Republic; Amerigo Tot, Hungary
Favorite food: Bengal, Kerala, Nepal, and Bulgaria
Country I would most like to move to, if I had to move to somewhere: the Netherlands (although this is a cop out, because it's really just the country most like home)
Favorite beer: Germany. I can't count Belgium because I didn't go there, and I got to really like German beers this time. I think I prefer German beers if I'm going to be having a few.
Favorite language: Dutch (still, yes)
Favorite script: Tibetan. Because come on, this is the kind of script that wizards write in: 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Music to travel the world to

Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact- lying in bed in Leh, Ladakh, altitude sick, sleeping for 20 hours, in one of the more remote parts of one of the more foreign countries in the world, reliving the past day of driving on the friggin' moon and sucking down Maggi noodles in parachute dhabas, listening to this bizarre record and wondering where the hell am I, and why?

The Police, Synchronicity- on my next long long distance bus ride, from Leh to Srinagar in the middle of the night, getting again a little freaked out by "Mother" and then just enjoying the slightly-adventure-spooky "Synchronicity II" paired with reading Lovecraft. Picking it up again months later humming "Tea in the Sahara" while drinking tea in the Thar.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM- same as above. Leh to Srinagar by the full moon and songs about lobotomies or electroshock or something. Geez, couldn't I have picked something a little more uplifting for my first month diving into the deep end?

Cults, s/t- ah, but here's where things start to get a bit nicer, on somewhat-more-sane buses around the somewhat-more-sane roads of Himachal Pradesh to easy places like Dharamsala. This is fuzzed out pop rock, 3 minute tasty morsels that remind me that my college-radio life exists somewhere.

Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty- and let me tell you, there is nothing like stopping overnight in the dark and, well, very dark border town of Mahendranagar, Nepal, rousing yourself at the crack of 4am, drinking some weird bitter lime tea and slamming into the front seat of a bus that you know will take 12 hours, wishing for something to be a little easier, and then this record starts off with "it is on!" and you can just tune out everything else and thump along to this super fun slick rocking hip hop. Maybe the best album I've heard in the last year.

Friendly Fires, s/t- in Wellington, New Zealand, I had a week to indulge things that I enjoy: drinking coffee, underground theater shows, working on easy coding projects, and hipster indie music like this. Of those four, listening to this record had the least staying power.

Bill Callahan, Apocalypse- On a late 28x bus in Pittsburgh, listening to a rambling yet surprisingly sticky poem called "America!", not being able to decide whether it's praising or criticizing. Feeling about the same way about this country. It's complicated.

Bot'ox, Babylon by Car- Back to disorienting, this one had me mentally wandering while I was physically wandering the streets of Ascoli Piceno, Italy. Tracks like "Tout Passe, Tout Lasse, Tout Casse" served as a safeguard against getting too positive, I guess, while reminding me that I don't know languages.

Orbital, Wonky- techno, but... sometimes very human and optimistic? Meaning that "one big moment" is still good music to catch the sunrise on the ferry from Italy to Croatia.

Daedelus, Bespoke- not only is this the first Daedelus record that I would recommend to just anyone, it's the soundtrack to my putzing around Lublin, Poland. It's great beats and guest vocals, but a little eclectic and queasy. Kind of like I felt in this foreign place, with a few welcoming friends, but still wondering how to plan a trip around an indefinitely broken motorcycle.

Justice; Audio, Video, Disco- freezing through Alps and Poland on a motorcycle is made a lot easier if you've got something this pounding to be singing.

Yeasayer, Odd Blood- sitting in a tower on the old city wall of Pecs, Hungary, realizing that I've just been sightseeing for a month and a half and will probably continue to do so, but now I've got a day to myself to just wander around and this is fine; in fact I can just sit here and listen to this record for a bit and not keep moving and that is also fine; actually it doesn't matter whether I'm sitting or moving because this thing is so damn good. Please hurry up and listen the heck out of this. You can start here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Costs figured out

I've updated the Costs page with more info about Europe. It's tricky to figure out, especially with 2 credit cards and 1 debit card, but I've got at least rough estimates. Since I spent such a short time in many countries, I've broken it up into just Western Europe and Eastern Europe.

Also, finally got the number for how much the whole trip has cost: about $17300, for 10 months. So I guess if I had spent the whole year, it'd be around $20 grand. Still, I'm under budget, even with a motorcycle and 3 months in Europe. (It's a little shorter than I thought I'd travel, too.)

I won't argue that everyone can travel the world for a year. However, I will argue that everyone who can save up $20 grand (or maybe $15 grand if you spend less time in Europe) can do it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back in the States, somewhat indefinitely

It's true, and only a little bit weird. Heading straight into the DC suburbs and a rental car, from the train-and-bike paradise that is the Netherlands, is a little depressing.

Travels continue for a week, but they're a little less interesting to you, dear reader, as they consist of DC and Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Some of the best coffee I've had over a year in India, Aus/NZ, US, and Europe

This guide is for you if you'd rather seek out a cafe than a museum, if you care about quality of coffee first and foremost (but you're also excited about a place that has good style), and if you like good drip coffee.

Cafe Coffee Day Square, Bangalore, India
CCD is India's Starbucks. Most of them are diabetes-inducingly awful. But in this cafe (maybe their flagship?) they're actually serving single-origin beans from around the world, including some from India.

People's Coffee and Brewtown, Wellington, New Zealand
Especially Brewtown. Run by a real coffee enthusiast. I think they lacked wifi, but they have all kind of stylish magazines and stuff.

Lamason, Wellington, New Zealand
Siphon/vacuum pots! Neat. They let me use the wifi after I asked nicely.

Victrola, Seattle
I mean, of course. My home base. If you're headed to Seattle, other A+ names include Vivace, Stumptown, Zoka, and Trabant. But Victrola is for me tops.

Miedzy Slowami, Lublin, Poland
The Polish cafe scene is in a sad state. So I was pretty stoked to find this one, complete with a wide array of Turkish coffees and shelves of books.

Kaaba, Prague
I walked in and saw a customer writing something with a fountain pen and a set of different-colored inks. Yes, this is the place for me. Actually good Americanos!

Karma, Krakow
A bit outside the tourist center, but probably in the student quarter. Solid espresso, aeropress, and scones.

Screaming Beans, Amsterdam
They offer barista workshops, which is a good sign. A half dozen single origin beans on V60, Chemex, Aeropress, or French Press. Note that asking people for a good coffeeshop in Amsterdam might not get you what you want.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

This shebang is winding down. Instead of real insight, I'll share some facts about houses in Europe.

Hey! In Europe things are like this, and in America things are like this. Let's take a moment to focus on really quite minute differences. And then let's compare things and say who's better. Culture!

- smaller fridges. Point: Europe.
- no garbage disposals. Point: USA.
- European windows. They have a handle and if you turn it down, it opens like a door, but if you turn it up, the top of the window leans into the room. These are great. Point: Europe.
- often the toilet and the sink/shower are in different rooms. Point: Europe, I guess?
- sometimes the toilet has a shelf. Stuff lands on the shelf, then the water flushes it down into the hole. Still don't get this. Point: USA.
- sometimes the shower is on the same level as the rest of the floor. Like in India. The whole floor gets wet. This is silly. Point: USA.
- usually there's a hand-held shower head. This looks useful but is actually inconvenient. I need one hand to hold the shampoo bottle, one hand to put the shampoo into, and one to hold the shower head. Point: USA.
- sometimes there is no shower curtain. What the hell! Do you sit down to take a shower? Point: USA.
- sometimes there is a water heater. This can be kind of neat, in that you actually hear when the gas starts, so you get a little feedback that maybe makes you use less hot water. One guy I stayed with, though, he had to make sure not to ever turn the heater on while the shower isn't on, or it could start a fire. Usually you don't even notice.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Well, so much for no-internet.

Here's the thing: it's hard to do an intense retreat in a city. It's harder when the retreat is pretty casual, everyone is all friendly and welcoming, it ends at 5:30 every day, I have three roommates in my hostel, my hostel is halfway across town, and that town is Amsterdam.

So I kicked the intensity down a notch and enjoyed it as a pretty relaxed retreat for a few days. Here's the schedule:
9:30-11:00 zazen
11:00-11:10 chanting
11:10-12:00 chores (if you volunteer to do something)
12:00-12:30 zazen
12:30-1:00 lunch
1:00-2:15 chores (again, if you volunteer)
2:15-2:45 zazen
2:45-3:30 dharma talk (in Dutch; no, I couldn't understand this)
3:30-4:00 tea
4:00-5:30 zazen
By "zazen", I mean "sitting meditation for 25 minutes, then walking meditation for 5 minutes." So we meditated about 4 hours each day. Which sounds like a lot, but it was interspersed with other stuff, so it wasn't really so hard.

The people were nice. There was more ritual than I'm used to, but not a lot more, and they were pretty cool with me just joining in, so that was fine too.

Next up: visit my friend Ross (from when I was studying in Maastricht) in Eindhoven, then back to Maastricht to see Michael and Daniel (again, though Michael wasn't around the first time), then up to near Utrecht to meet some... cousins' cousins? Whatever, it's all cousins.