I'd forgotten how much I disliked Hanoi. It's loud and perpetually busy, nearly 7 million buzzing scooters, a honking, beeping cacophony. But it has been a few years and the past always looks good through rose-colored glasses, so I agreed to spend another few days here. Surprisingly, August isn't any hotter than May. It's still ball-drippingly hot, just not worse than in the spring. If anything, as the rainy season winds down there are lots of cloudy days and short showers that suggest a pleasant day here is possible. Not today, of course, but maybe tomorrow. Always tomorrow. Something else to remember, if you decide to come, is that there are really only about 7 words in the Vietnamese language. They are each pronounced in a couple hundred ways, with inflections imperceptible to the non-native speaker, however, so whatever you say will be misunderstood. Unlike French though, nobody really cares if you butcher the language, and the taxi driver was going to take you the long way anyway.
View from my hotel window
t.p. Hai Ðuong, Vietnam, hazy August morning, here for neither business nor pleasure
8 pictures of Prague
Obviously I can't tell you about my latest, most awesome fantastical trip ever until I finish telling you about the previous one. And I'm already getting ready for the next one which would put me 2 behind as far as blogging goes...
Prague has been on my to-do list for as long as I can remember wanting to travel. The trip was supposed to be Prague-Vienna-Budapest and it was supposed to be with my wife, but she made other plans and that was 10 years ago. (10 years which coincide with me creating this blog in the first place) So the trip was Cologne-Munich-Prague instead. People rave about Prague. It's affordable, the food is good, the beer is better, and it's got an interesting history that includes emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. But after dropping off the car and taking a taxi back to the hotel, past graffiti-tagged walls, my first experience was of street hawkers:
Hello, my friend, come into my shop and buy something.
No. I don't respond well to that kind of pressure. I prefer to lazily browse online (usually at work) then take months literally agonizing over a $5 decision. I cannot just pop into your shop and pick out a tacky magnet for my friend back home at the drop of a hat. Ooh look, you have hats! Which one looks best on me?
But if you manage to block all that out, Prague is a very nice city that still manages to retain a bit of its old, quaint charm. I could not keep my eyes off the castle atop the hill, and it was equally difficult to tear myself away from sitting atop a wall at the castle staring down at the city below, the Moldau/Vlatava forever flowing past. Climbing the hill is thirsty work, and fortunately there are many excellent pivovary to quench that thirst. There's a beautiful art-deco church amid the cemetery at the old castle and an art museum or two worth seeing. I had a nice time in Prague, and the astronomical clock gave me a huge nerd-boner (sorry Czech people!), but I can't really say that I loved it. I think I just heard one too many people raving about it. It was dirtier (graffiti) and pushier (hawkers) than I expected, and this was not even peak tourist season. Or maybe I was just dreading coming home. Still, I'm happy to have been.
Just because I found a signed first edition at a fraction of the new list price, the fact that I had to replace a book that I lent you means that I will never lend you or anyone else another book. I finished renovating my library with new hardwood floors, new bookshelves, and an extremely comfortable reupholstered chair so you can come over and read a book, but you are not taking it with you.
View from my latest hotel room
Hey, they can't all be castles or former palaces-turned-into-museums. Sometimes you gotta be up at sunrise in some cowturd of a town in Oklahoma to pay the bills.
Catchy sayings that never caught on - #17
"I like my teas like the eyes of my peas: Black."
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh!
Blurry cellphone pic (from lower 5th Ave.) of the Empire State Building lit up green, white, and orange for St. Patty's. For the record, I too was blurry.
4 pictures of Cesky Krumlov
As much as I love Bavaria, it's time to move on. From the far south of Germany, one has a couple of options: The Black Forest to the West, with France beyond; Switzerland is nearby to the Southwest; Austria is South and Southeast, with Italy beyond. I chose the E53 to the Northwest, taking me across the border into the Czech Republic. The border is in the middle of nowhere, barely marked by little more than a reset mile marker. If the little villages along the way didn't switch their signs from German to Czech you almost wouldn't know. The drive is a little harrowing, through the forest on a narrow 2-lane highway up and down and around. But you're virtually guaranteed to be the only one on the road for most of the drive, so drop the hammer on your cheap Opel rental and go nuts. The end of your drive today is a tiny little town hugging a horseshoe of the Vltava river. Inside the bend of the river is the old town and the cathedral. Above town, looking down from the hilltop, is the castle. There aren't really any museums here and the cathedral isn't much to see, so stroll the cobblestone streets (there are only about 3 of 'em) down to the market square, perfect in its simplicity, and then across the little footbridge to the gingerbread shop. (Czech gingerbread is hard as rock, but you can suck on a little piece for hours...) Stop into any restaurace for some of the best pivo on the planet and remember that you're just down the road from Plzen, which gave its name to an entire style of beer, and Budweis, only the most recognizable name in the world of beer. But even if your itinerary doesn't leave you hoarse from hours of 'na zdravy!' with your new best friends, you might be lucky enough to have dinner with the two guys that I ran into there. I should have learned their names, but I was completely overwhelmed by two local men who looked like they worked in the Skoda factory by day and played the most beautiful classical guitar duets by night. I'm not normally one to linger over dinner, but I ordered appetizers, mains, more appetizers, double desserts, and more becherovkas than I can remember just to stay and listen.
Sala kakuhle, tata
While it's not difficult to find personal flaws, which one can find in any other man with a little digging (some deeper than others), I think it's wonderful that Nelson Mandela was so widely loved. There aren't too many people like that left, at least not people who are loved for the reasons we loved Mandela, Gandhi, MLK, and others. Fortunately, he (and they) are easy inspiration to draw on for my book. I never met Madiba, but I have a connection to Africa that I'll eventually share with you.
8 pictures of Munich
I rented a car in Cologne from a local European firm and drove down the autobahn. It's not that big of a deal, but some people act like I walked on the moon. What's it like, you ask? Imagine a road without potholes where all the other drivers are courteous and try to stay out of each others' way. And Porsches (not Ferraris) come flying by at 250 km/h (160 mph). The road south of Cologne to Coblenz following the Rhine is EXACTLY like the river road in New Braunfels, TX. It's easy to see why the Germans settled in that part of the hill country. I stopped in Bamberg on my way South and I really wanted to love it, but I got lost in all the tiny, twisting medieval cobblestone roads and my GPS died. Instead of staying in Bamberg, I got back in the car and off the main roads into the countryside, looking for the grave of an ancestor. I found the towns in which he was said to have been born and died, but couldn't find his final resting place in either town. It's also said that he disowned his son, also in my ancestral line, so perhaps this was some way of sticking it to us, that we couldn't come back to visit. Mean old man.
But Munich was very warm & welcoming. I don't have anything particularly profound to say about Munich. I didn't get to spend enough time here, so I'd like to come back some time. I still listen to their radio station over the web and sometimes pretend I'm anywhere other than where I am.
I noticed a change after my most recent birthday. I no longer get spam advertising for penile enhancement & viagra. All of my spam is now for discount printer ink and fake rolex watches. Damn.
Job interview observation
I don't get asked about my Mario Kart skills as much as I'd like, so I usually have to bring it up without sounding like I'm bragging.
The Innocents Abroad
We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can "show off" and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can't shake off. All our passengers are paying strict attention to this thing, with the end in view which I have mentioned. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I shall have finished my travels.
8 pictures of Cologne
I feel like I'm perpetually on vacation. Maybe it's because that's the only time I post to the blog anymore. Maybe it's because I've cultivated a state of mind that transcends space and time. That second one sounds awesome, so let's go with that.
This time, Colonia Agrippina, the ancient name of Cologne, a city in the northwest of Germany originally founded by one of Caesar Augustus' generals. Founding a city, of course, is the Roman practice of slaughtering a bunch of Germanic tribesmen and slapping your name on their village. Cologne is closer, both geographically and culturally, to Belgium and The Netherlands than it is to Berlin or Munich. Thus, I love it. Not that there isn't a lot to love about the rest of Germany. It's a beautiful country of rolling hills and verdant meadows. Seriously pastoral shit and the people are very cool. They don't care if you don't speak German or if you speak German badly. They will happily bring you a ginormous beer, some tiny sausages, and have a laugh with you. In Cologne, by contrast, they bring you dozens of tiny beers, a ginormous pig knuckle, and have a laugh with you.
So go to Cologne. Drink the local Kolsch (beer) and put a lock on the bridge with your lover. Check out one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world, climb the tower, and see the "authentic" shrine of the Three Kings. If you're there in the Spring, have white asparagus (pee still stinks) and ride the skytram across the river to the waterpark. Join a pick-up soccer game with college students in the marketplatz and marvel again at the cathedral at night.
And bring home lots of little bottles of toilet water, because everyone's going to ask you if that's where perfume comes from. And it does.
Jury Duty (live)
Today marks the third year in a row that I've been summoned for jury duty. Two years ago, I got in trouble for being too chatty with the girl next to me. (Point of fact, she's the one that was too chatty; I was being too noddy
, encouraging her by listening to every boring story.) I got out of serving on a jury that time by telling the judge that the cop in the case had once pulled me over and I knew him to be a cock.
Last year, I got called for District court jury duty. That was slightly more interesting, potentially serving on a Federal court case. Instead, it was a woman suing Wal-Mart for arresting her for passing counterfeit bills. I didn't actually get picked for that jury either, so back into the pool I go.
Which brings me to today, at Municipal court. These are going to be small-claims cases and traffic violations, which seems like a perfectly reasonable use of my higher education and astronomical intellect. I'm sitting behind an honest-to-god pimp, decked out in Sean John and a leather hat. I just tried to make a suicide pact with him, testifying to each others lack of sound mind/moral character, but I don't think I explained myself clearly and he just sneered at me. Guess I'm stuck here for now. Fortunately, there's plenty to keep me entertained: two old copies of "Texas Highways" and one copy of "Jet" magazine which, the woman who grabbed it ahead of me, assures me is not about aircraft.
Update: We're back from lunch now, loaded back into our pews like the civic-minded cattle we are. Everyone is seated more or less exactly where they were before, including the pimp and Ms. Jet. The morning was excruciating on my back. After the video about how rewarding this experience is (not monetarily, of course, it's $6 for a day of my life) and then a swearing-in (I elected to affirm instead) there was nothing. No talking, no muzak. Just the drone of a 50 year-old air conditioning system, cooling and recycling every cough and sneeze of my 75 compatriots. I'm SO looking forward to the rest of the afternoon.
This year, Santa was my bitch
Unfortunately, Christmas is often a disappointment for me. Somewhere in my early teens I became "too old" for toys, so I started getting sweaters and socks for Christmas. So it went for roughly a quarter century. But this year the curse was broken. New smartphone, bluetooth headset, bluetooth transmitter for the TV, HD clock radio, a ginormous atlas of antique maps, a new sander...
And cash, glorious cash. Yeah, it's kinda gross and passé, but I made it rain then rolled around in it. Grandma is kind of senile, so she didn't mind. My sister's kids just laughed. My sister says I'm a bad influence, but I don't see it.
Aaanndd I got a bonus at work, which is practically unheard of at my company. But I'm awesome, true story. Bonus, plus the ultimate stocking stuffer (pronounced 'Kay-sh') makes me a happy Christmas boy.
Here's another view from my latest hotel window...
View from my hotel window
Rather than cling to anachronistic conventions, I've taken a look at the facts:
- Modern technology makes formerly-laborious tasks both routine and simple;
- Plenty of scientific research confirms the importance of a good night's sleep.
- I am a middle-aged man whose biological functions have changed over the years;
- I no longer sleep soundly all night and usually have to get up to pee;
- Refraining from drinking anything after a certain hour has no effect on the above.
Therefore, I've decided to un-train myself not to wet the bed. It's better for me to sleep through until morning and do laundry the next day.
Why I hate summer
11 o'clock at night and the thermometer on the wall still reads 90 degF outside.
The "F" in case you were wondering, is an abbreviation of Fuckmeit'sfuckinghotoutsidegoddammit.
My experience gleaned from watching kung-fu movies
The fat guy who knows karate is always the bad guy.
Thought of the Day
Coming home from vacation is like a failed organ transplant. My body is rejecting going back to work.
8 pictures of Brussels
When in Brussels, find a corner bar near the Groote Markt and drink Tripel Karmeliet, Duvel, Leffe, or Maredsous all day people-watching. Shit, drink a Stella Artois if you can't remember any of those. Do not, as I spied one fellow traveler do, ask for a Corona. Fucking Aggies.
3 things better in Europe, 1 thing better in USA
Which is to say that's where I am now, not a treatise on the subject. Nobody seems to care anyway, so I'll post pictures when I get back and maybe then you'll care a little.
Guten tag aus Frankfurt
Or more appropriately, guten morgen. It's about 11am here, making it about 4am back home. I just flew in and boy are my arms tired! I've got a temporary layover here in Frankfurt for another hour, so I thought I'd give ya'll one more chance to guess where I'm headed.
The flight here was Lufthansa, which I thought would be nice, but it sucked ass. It was hot and crowded. The woman next to me had not yet become acquainted with modern dentistry. I didn't sleep at all and found myself praying for one of those bloodclot things that kills you instantly. More later, with pictures of course.
7 pictures of Bruges
Bruges is the kind of town where I could take a thousand pictures and wish I'd taken a thousand more. I've been to other little towns that claim to be "The Venice of ___" with a couple of pitiful canals and some tour boats, though they're usually little more than drainage ditches. (Hello Suzhou, I'm looking at you)
But Bruges lives up to the hype, and probably even more so than Venice, which I'm told smells of sewage half the time. This place is like stepping back in time, and history and charm ooze from every orifice. As does chocolate, wonderful chocolate. The people are friendly, happily speak English, and the beer is cheap and excellent. If you're not a big beer drinker, ask for a lambic
(framboise, peche, kriek, or my favorite, faro) and you won't be sorry. I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure my ancestor(s) passed through here. This town is currently #1 on my "retire early and open a little café" list.
Go here. Go here now.
About to take wing
I'm preparing for another trip abroad with a broad next month. Tickets are purchased, rooms are reserved. Not much left to do but charge up the camera batteries and pack. Last year I got my passport stamped in 4 countries: France, Belgium, Mexico, and England. (Lifetime total: 9, not including duplicates.)
In another month, I'll have 2 more stamps, but I'm not telling you where I'm going. If I tell you that I'm going to have to convert my dollars into crowns, you'll probably have a pretty good idea, but it's still vague enough that you should doubt whether you guessed correctly. And I already have a pretty good idea about next year's trip ...
I'm a little
concerned about my health though. I have had a headache, the same headache, since early-mid January. I'm no stranger to headaches, but they usually go away after at most 2-3 weeks. My neck & shoulders have been jacked-up too, although that's probably the stress. Work has been kicking my butt, but I'm doing well and am expecting a promotion soon. I bought a new pillow. It hasn't helped. According to WebMD, the possible side effects from the medication I'm on include headaches, muscle aches, and both constipation and diarrhea. Either the guys who invented this stuff are full of shit or they're talking out of their ass. WebMD also mentioned the possibility of limpdickedness (forgot the technical term)
which I DON'T HAVE
, though I would naturally prefer the high-cholesterol and early death to that. Maybe I should try going to bed at a reasonable hour.
More than 4% improvement over last time
Maddest of mad props to anyone who knows what the title of this post means.
Totally unrelated, 3 more deceased and, as before, 2 painlessly and 1 not so much. Still not feeling too badly about it.
I noticed that a lot of so-called designers on HGTV say that a particular style is "shabby chic." There's nothing chic about a beat up piece of furniture falling apart in my living room. And you can't just dress something up by adding 'chic' at the end. If you could, I think you'd see a lot of designers from Alabama bringing "trailer-park chic" to trendy boutiques. And the upper midwest would be the epicenter of "racist chic." I still hate Illinois nazis.
I think it's unfair that women can fart from their vagine but guys can't do the same from their genitalia. If I could, I'd use it to blow up balloons.
Of the winter solstice
I hadn't thought about the connection to today, the shortest day/longest night of our northern hemisphere world, until literally a moment ago. The ancients celebrated it as the death of the sun, followed by the birth of a new sun, so it makes sense. What I did think about was how, after leaving the church, I thought buddhism was the answer for me. They both say don't kill, but I killed. Thrice in two days. It didn't bring me any pleasure to kill them but I consoled myself with necessity and how it was self-defense, in a way. Obi-Wan said that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. The trilogy is full of buddhist concepts. But buddhism, like the trilogy, is also full of supernatural fantasy, which I eventually decided didn't fit me either. Two of them died quickly, as far as I could tell, and without any additional effort on my part. The other did not, as Dylan Thomas would have you, go gentle into that good night. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
By my hand that light was snuffed.
Song on my mind, aboard a southwest train 5300 miles from home
When the rain is blowing in your face,
And the whole world is on your case,
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.
When the evening shadows and the stars appear,
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.
I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong.
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong.
I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue,
I’d go crawling down the avenue.
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.
The storms are raging on the rollin’ sea,
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free.
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet.
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true.
Nothing that I wouldn’t do.
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love.