Mobile Meteor

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best Sensory Items of 2007

With all the "best of" lists floating around, I figured I would put together a little list of my own.

Best Taste:
Kangaroo. I miss that bouncy meat. Low in fat, high in protein and Iron, and environmentally friendly! We used it for everything from burritos to spaghetti Bolognese.

Best Smell:
Gorilla Coffee. Roasted right here in Brooklyn and making it easier for me to adjust from the excellent Aussie coffees, a bag of this powdered gold sends me to heaven without ever leaving the borough.

Best Sight:
Sydney Harbour - Opera House, Harbour Bridge and all - from Kirribilli as the sun set on the day Dana and I got engaged.

Best Feeling:
Being attacked by mosquitoes in Florence. Possibly the most fun miserable night.

Best Sound:
LCD Soundsystem or Talk of the Nation - from my nano.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pet Warfare

"An absurd future civilization, where the human capacity to empathize has been eliminated because of the absence of all household pets, reinvents creativity through massive infusions of crayons, puppets, pendulums and TV programs."

That concise description accompanied "Pet Warfare" during its release at the Notre Dame Student Film Festival in 1998. I made the short with Brian Fremeau and the help of many fellow students. Thanks to Ted Mandell at the Department of Film, Television & Theater, I have a copy of this film today! I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to leave a comment here.

To view a higher quality version of this, click here. It works if you have QuickTime installed. I'll get other versions up after the holidays.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Break For My Lead Arms

I have not been posting much because I have been so busy with the new apartment. Every day for weeks I've had to lift, pull, drill, hammer, pack, push, work! Don't get me wrong, it's very rewarding to see the place come together, but my arms feel like lead. So yesterday was going to be the one day I wouldn't do any physical labor. I decided to give my arms a day's rest. In the late afternoon, I was heading out to meet some friends and passed an older woman in the lobby. She had one of those large carts, packed with laundry, and she was getting into the elevator. I said hello, continued outside and didn't make it too far before I realized I forgot my phone. When I went back into the building, the woman was pulling her cart up the first step in the stairwell.
"You don't want to use the elevator?" I asked.
"It's not working," she replied.
Obviously I offered to carry it up for her. "What floor?"
I needed the exercise.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

U is for Uncompetent and also it's for Uncomparablefriends

We're in!

Saturday was the busy day, after the many busy days before it. Ben & Beth came out to South Orange on Friday night so that we could get an early start in the morning. I picked up bagels before 7AM from Sonny's, where they assured me that I would still be able to get good bagels in Brooklyn. In fact, good ole Bergen Bagel's is only a five-minute walk from our new place... I was there first thing on Sunday, at 10AM.

We also hired two professional movers we know, Edwin and Marlon, and this made the move run even smoother. Loading started at 8:20 and finished at 10:20. The result was a 17 foot U-Haul jam-packed with everything except the stuff we forgot. Not bad for only 6 pairs of hands.

My folks came and drove Dana and Beth to Brooklyn, along with some other stuff that had to get there one way or another. Ben and I took the truck. There to meet us at the new place at around noon were seven more: Cristi, Jay, Jon, Ken, Nate, Pierre and Randy. Thanks to these great friends, we were able to get the truck back to U-Haul at 2PM. It didn't stop there! As soon as all of our stuff was in the apartment, our mover/friends founds things to do: putting together the bed or the couch or the overcomplicated thing that goes over the toilet. Good friends.

We ordered Cherry Tree pizza, which was not closed, as Phil had reported, and which was excellent. The moving party turned into a regular party!

Since then, we've had the phone, Internet & cable installed. A burglar alarm, and C02 and smoke detectors. We've installed shelving and have been unpacking and organizing like mad... but the place is still not presentable. Until it is, all we have are the moving photos. I couldn't whip out the camera at the most interesting moments, like trying to get the 500lb armoire out of the truck and up four flights... if I had done that, I would have smacked myself.

*U is for Uncompetent refers to U-Haul. I suggest you never use them, even if it's cheaper.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Moving Madness!

I'll be going offline for a little bit, after we leave South Orange and before TimeWarner gets our connection running in Brooklyn. I checked out the apartment earlier this week, and it's coming along beauticiously. Magnificious. Check out the cherry wood floors and great lighting:
The kitchen and bath might be a bit tight, but they're lined with brand new tiles and even backsplash tiles above the counters:

The fact that the place looks so good is making it a lot easier to deal with the knuckleheads I've had to deal with to move. The landlord has been OK, and the super has been great... but U-Haul? Well, at one point I had to ask a customer service representative if the 'U' stands for 'Useless.' Later on, when someone who works at my pick-up location called me to say he was concerned because he was located so far from South Orange, I called customer service again. I was explaining the situation, stopping because the woman on the other end was talking to someone else. Then she would say, "Go ahead, I'm listening." I would continue. She, too, would continue... talking with her coworker about lunch.

The last thing I said was, "And so can you tell me if there is a closer location where I can pick up the truck?"
A moment later she stopped talking and said, "Go ahead, I'm listening."
"I'm done," I responded.
"Well I don't know what you want me to do."
I replied, "I just asked you a direct question. Can you answer it?"
"I'm... What do you want me to do?"
"Do you want me to repeat what I was saying?"
"No, I was listening."
Finally, she asks, "What did you say?"

I love these people. Really, I'm just amused at this point.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007


From the people who brought you "bush tucka," "gimme a bell this arvo" and "she'll be right, mate," we now have "Movember".

That's right, what was once left to Roman emperors such as Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, has fallen into the hand of the Australians. They have invented a month. Do not despair! I see that look of panic at the thought of a month of eating roo, grilling prawns on the barbie and stacking pineapple and beetroot on your hamburgers, but this has nothing to do with food. It's about mustaches (moustaches). "Mo" is Aussie for hair grown on the upper lip. "Vember" was an incomplete name of a month.

As the official site explains, the month-long event is meant to raise awareness about men's health, specifically prostate cancer and depression. I can't think of a more noble reason to grow a 'stache... except maybe becoming a cop. Or joining the Village People.

The fund raising event has expanded outside of Australia, but it has not yet taken off here in the US as it has in Oz. Back in Sydney, mos were seen sprouting and growing throughout the month. Several friend of mine are participating, and if you would like to donate, click on the post-pubescent human of choice:
Ben - pictured top left looking like James Hetfield.
Cory - pictured to the right in a tough-guy/nostril-exposing pose.
Ian - not pictured because he needs as much time as possible to grow convincing facial hair.

These famous examples of moustaches are not participating:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thoughts on Boerum Hill

Soon I will be a Boerum Hillite. Or is it just Boerumite? Or Boerumian. One sounds like a mineral, the other like a type of protohuman who lives in caves of boerumite. Whichever.

We will be moving to the neighborhood, so I decided to look into what "Boerum Hill" is, geographically speaking. I think it's a real estate term, with little historical importance... a word or phrase emphasized to encourage people to move in. For example, attaching "Park Slope" to an apartment helps it move in the market, so "Park Slope" has grown into surrounding areas seen to be not as cool as Park Slope.

"Boerum Hill" is a different sort of neighborhood. For a long time, it carried the connotation of a dangerous place to live. As time has passed, just as gentrification flipped Alphabet City, so has Boerum Hill found itself in the process of flipping.

What does this mess mean for finding a proper map? Well, I wanted to find some sort of online map. Preferably one that was updated daily to reflect Park Slope's expansion and Sunset Park's withdrawal to the south. No luck.

I did find some maps from the New York City Department of City Planning that clearly defined some zones. However, it was brought to my attention that some residents of a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn have created their own SuperSexyHood called BoCoCa. Obviously these people couldn't find the time to Google where they lived, panicked and created a new alliance of Brooklyn city-states: Boerum Hill + Cobble Hill + Carroll Gardens.

It's certainly catchy, but I'm wary about aligning ourselves too closely with those neighborhoods, thereby distancing ourselves from other, more powerful neighbors. ProFoPa (Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Park Slope) would make a pretty hefty alliance, leaving those of us exposed at the eastern edge of BoCoCa in Boerum Hill particularly vulnerable. I think we should stay neutral and remember to maintain friendly relations with Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, ensuring access to the water as well as serious clout if we ever need it. And we can look into invading Red Hook if we need art, drugs, Swedish furniture or a distraction.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Landerpalooza 2007 or The Malt Assault Birthday Hop II

Saturday would have been the date of Landerpalooza 07, but it was bagged and replaced with The Malt Assault Birthday Hop II. Huh? Landerpalooza was once a time to celebrate all things Lander. The Malt Assault Birthday Hop II was a pub crawl through Brooklyn to celebrate all things Lander and DJ Gonzalez and anyone else whose birthday is around this time of year. Well, anyone who could make it out to Brooklyn. And who we knew.

It was a mega-crawl, starting at The Gutter for some beers and bowling in Greenpoint. We were there early enough to bowl, unlike last time, but I skipped it in favor of taking time to snap shots of the retro decor.

Second stop was The Diamond, a newish joint also in Brooklyn. For entertainment, these guys have indoor shuffleboard, which was good because we didn't have to start talking to each other until the third stop: The Brooklyn Brewery. Brooklyn Local One and homemade beef jerky (thanks Jon) - a perfect match!

The beef jerky put us in the mood for more meat, so it was a good thing the next stop was Fette Sau, the awesomest BBQ place in New York. I was happily stuffed with beef cheeks, sausages, pulled pork shoulder, baked beans and German potato salad. Fette Sau is built into an old garage and food is ordered by weight. Funky. Spuyten Duyvil, across the street, followed. Same owners, similar funkiness. SD has been a beer destination for years. A Williamsburg gem. With trucker hats and extremely rare beers.

The last stop for me was Barcade, also one of my favorite pubs. It's a cavernous bar with dozens of classic arcade games - games still cost a quarter. Unfortunately, Rampage was on the fritz, so I dropped a few into Dig Dug. The crawl continued to Wells Ales & Lagers, but I began the trek back to New Jersey. Thus ended a great Brooklyn Pub Walking Upright. Thanks Steve!

View it in stereoscope here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Big Trip Summary - It's Over (Links To All Posts)

That's it. The trip has been over for quite some time now. All of the photos have been posted, and some of the stories have been written down here. Below are links to all Big Trip blog entries and photos from the journey. If you're planning a trip to any of these countries, I hope my blog will help you. If you have any questions about accommodation in any of these locations, please leave a comment and I will get back to you. It's just a bit to much to do an entry on all the wonderful and mediocre places we stayed. I will say that our most uncomfortable nights were in 1-star and a 4-star hotels (three nights in the former, one night in the latter) while the 2-star and 3-star joints were fantastic, almost without exception.

That's it for the Big Trip. 98 links below.

The Big Trip
Singapore Locked In
Queensland Locked In
(Then Dana told me it would be overkill to write before the trip even started.)

Queensland, Australia
We Found Internet Access
Writing in Cape Tribulation
Mt Sorrow
*Cape Tribulation photos
Poolside Extravaganza
The Great Barrier Reef
*Great Barrier Reef photos
Wild Queensland
Found: Previously Unblogged Photos from Queensland
*Queensland photos

Sydney Airport
Aiport photos

We Sail Tonight For Singapore
*Singapore photos

Rest in Tuscany
La Guerra a Firenze (The War in Florence)
*Rome photos
Posting from Florence
*Cortona photos
*Siena photos
*Assisi photos
*Montepulciano photos
Firenze!!! (Florence.)
*Florence photos
The Villa in Cortona
*Villa photos

Nice Post
The Greatest Toilet in the World
Yes, It's Nice
*Nice photos
Monaco & Monte Carlo
*Monaco & Monte Carlo photos
Avignon - Dance!
*Avignon photos
Bridges & Cheese
*Roquefort photos
A Stop in Orange
*Orange photos
Lyon, Lyons, Lions
*Lyons photos
Lyons at Night
*Lyons at Night photos
Lunch in Annecy
*Annecy photos

Greetings from Switzerland
Montreux & Château de Chillon
*Montreux photos
I'm Going to Beat You With a Pig Bladder!
*Interlaken photos

Getting Slap Happy
German Sing-A-Long
A Week and a Half Left
My Last Night as a 20-Something
My Special Day
Deine Karte Bitte Nehmen!
Bier Hall in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
*Garmisch-Partenkirchen photos
Videos from Gasthof Fraundorfer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
*Munich/München photos
Bamberg, Germany
*Bamberg photos
Stop at the Würzburg Hospital/Winery
*Würzburg photos
Koblenz - Bikes, Castles & Fickle Weather
*Koblenz photos
Saddle Up, Boys, It's Time for Düsseldorf!
*Düsseldorf photos
Farewell Germany, Heading to Belgium!
*Aachen photos

Bye Bye Holiday
In Leuven with Jan & Maxine
*Leuven photos
Big Time in Brussels
*Brussels photos
Brussels Grote Markt/Grand Place
*Grote Markt photos
In Bruges/In Brugge
*Brugge photos
*Antwerpen photos
The Big Trip Ends

The Big Trip Ends (OG style)
Big Trip Photos Mapped
Pigeons Rule the World
*Pigeons Ruling the World photos
Faces in Stone (an other matter)
*Faces in Stone photos
The Big Trip Summary - Food & Drink

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Big Trip Summary - Food & Drink

The food in the tropics of Queensland surprised us. This was the one destination where I did not expect to find fantastic meals and drink - and there it was, right in front of me! The dishes we enjoyed in Cape Tribulation were mostly "New Australian" takes on traditional Australian fare, like barramundi. The wine lists were solid, but the beer was lacking outside of Cairns, where we found a better than average hole in the wall at which to avoid returning to our hostel. Similarly, the food we ate at the Great Barrier Reef on the live aboard scuba dive boat operated by Prodive was also wonderful. I did try to tackle the cassowary to taste, but no luck.

Singapore was a culinary destination for us, even before reading Calvin Trillin's article "Three Chopsticks" in the most recent food issue of The New Yorker. We quickly learned that plenty of good, inexpensive food can be found in markets, like shopping malls. Dana and I tried everything we could, but we left with dozens of intriguing menu options untasted. Some day we will get back to eat as much as humanly possible.

I don't usually seek out Italian food and, honestly, I think the cuisine is too heavily relied upon by those nervous to branch out. The freshness and simplicity of the food we ate in Italy was astounding. I could not get enough. I've never eaten so much pasta in my life! Well, since college, at least. We learned a lot of the essentials in Assisi during a cooking class. From our eating experiences in Italy, the two ingredients I will remember most will be the truffles I ate throughout the peninsula and the chicken neck I ate in Florence. Most Italian restaurants won't risk their reputation by serving a bad house wine, so the appropriate liquid accompaniment to these fantastic plates were both tasty and inexpensive... €5 for a liter at one restaurant in Rome. Of course, we had even better wines in Montepulciano.

Of course France is known for its culinary delights, and we sought out one of my favorite cheeses, made in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Lyons had plenty to offer, including the famous Le Sud, but our best meal in the country was lunch on our last day, in Annecy. Here we dined on the traditional alpine meal of raclette cheese melted over bread, potatoes and other equally healthy foodstuffs.
"What about the wine?"
Oh yes, the wine was great, but we didn't venture into too many wine regions and did not get to do any tasting. I can say that the French wine was much better than the French beer.

Switzerland offered some very good food, but it was by far the worst value during our trip. The Swiss franc had about the same exchange rate as the Australian dollar, but the costs were much higher. What's more, when we ordered a bottle of wine, it was 500ml instead of the usual 750ml. The travel books and Web sites mentioned Switzerland's secret: fantastic wine that was not exported. The impression was that these wines are SO GOOD that the Swiss don't want to share it with the rest of the world. Well, we tried a few, and they can keep it. The vineyards do make for beautiful scenery.

These Germans are great eaters and great drinkers! Large portions of flavorful meals served with expectedly good beer or unexpectedly good wine. Sure, I knew they make some great riesling and gewurztraminer, but the range was broader than that. Würzburg surprised us with their winery/hospital. With beer specialties such as altbier and rauchbier, Düsseldorf from and Bamberg, respectively, and impressive bier halls across the land, it's a true beer destination. Dana and I were even a bit overwhelmed early on, and we picked up sushi for lunch in München. Heresy!

But we saved the best for last, didn't we? There's not much I can add on the quality of Belgian beer that I have not already posted, but I will reemphasize the quality of the food, in terms of taste, presentation and service. I can think of no other place where people genuinely seem to care so much about your culinary experience. Not because they want to impress you, but because they want you enjoy your meal. Then again, I guess they really have to do that if they're going to serve you horse.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Setting Up the New Apartment

I've put together a layout of the new apartment to figure out what we can put where. I'm worried that we won't be able to get our couches through that hallway and around the corner. The diagram is to scale, and I've decided to put it, as well as the measurements, on the series of tubes to ask you, The Internet, if you think it will fit. So what do you think? I'm nice to you, can you help a guy out here?

The hallway is 34 inches wide, but the doorwar is just about 30. The ceiling is roughly 109 inches, or nine feet, high. The distance between where the wall against the kitchen is and the other wall is 44 inches. The bigger couch is 30 inches high, 39 inches deep and 79 inches wide. So it seems like the couch will just barely fit. Do you agree, The Internet, or am I a fool?

By the way, sorry about the mess, we're still trying to figure out where to put things. Why yes, those are cherry wood floors.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sydney at Night

Sydney at night. I took this photo a few years ago from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I sent it to Sydney's free weekly newspaper, City Weekly, and it was published. I also won 100 free digital prints! The warm color of Rocks is a nice contrast to the cool blues of company logos on the buildings.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Empire State Building

Last night I snapped a couple of interesting shots of the Empire State Building. It was a wet, chilly night, and the clouds clung to the top of the city's skyscrapers. The architectural icon was illuminated yellow in honor of the 10th anniversary of "The Lion King" on Broadway. While that's kind of lame, the building looked beautiful. The lighting changes frequently, for holidays, special events or seasons. While on the topic, I'll add another photo of the Empire State Building. This is in my banner above. I took it back in August.

A few interesting facts about the top of the skyscraper:

  • It was completed in 1931.
  • It's height is 381m (1,250 ft).
  • The dome on which the antennas now stand was meant to be a docking station for zeppelins. Unfortunately, the updraft through the building was too great and each attempt at docking resulted in a near-crash.
  • The broadcasting antennas were added in 1951.
Obviously, there are a lot more interesting facts about the Empire State Building, but I decided to limit myself to facts about the very top.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Guy Fawkes Night at Pacific Standard

The guys at Pacific Standard threw a Guy Fawkes Night party last night, the 5th of November, of course. Remember, remember? The 5th of November? Jeez, I could have sworn I told you about it. Most Americans don't know who Guy Fawkes is and only recognize the mask from V for Vendetta. This is understandable because we're no longer a colony. They still celebrate it in the colonies of Canada, New Zealand and Australia, to some degree. And I think they still pay tax on tea.

So who is Guy Fawkes? He's the guy from the famous Gunpowder Plot in 1605. He tried to blow up Parliament and kill the king of England. They caught him with loads of explosives and gave him a a bit more than a slap on the wrist. They tortured him, hung him and then did it again once a year for four hundred years. The holiday is also known as Bonfire Day or Fireworks Day. Setting off explosives seems like a funny way to celebrate his failed attempt, but it is less violent than burning him in effigy.

"Are you setting him on fire?" an early visitor to Pacific Standard inquired of the dummy-in-the-making. "No," John, one of the owners, replied, "Not allowed to, but he's actually a piñata."

Ah, Guy Fawkes makes it to the New World as a piñata. Perhaps one day we can see his face on a totem pole! I did not stick around long enough to see the destruction of Guy "Guillermo" Fawkes, but I stayed long enough to have a great time. This bar is a gem, and, with 4th Avenue Pub a few doors down and Cherry Tree right across the street, the block might be the best beer bar block in the world. I'm moving into an apartment two blocks away! Seriously, I am.

Monday, November 05, 2007

New Apartment in Development

Last week I popped into our new apartment to take some measurements for furniture. They were redoing the entire place! It was great to see the new tile in the kitchen and the rewiring in the bedrooms was a nice bonus. It turns out that dealing with an idiot broker has its upsides, like the broker neglecting to mention that the management company intends to renovate the entire apartment. We lucked out because we loved the location and went for the apartment despite the flooring and wiring, which have now been redone. That's a photo of me and the bathroom. Thankfully the water had not been turned off. Next time I should think twice about drinking a large coffee and a sport bottle of water while en route to Brooklyn from Jersey.

Work in progress.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pigeons Rule the World

Humans create statues of heroes and gods. Pigeons stand on their heads and defecate. I don't think there's any question who's in charge here. More pigeons being pigeons.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Faces in Stone (and other matter)

Shortly into our trip, I began to notice a common visual element to locations we were visiting: freaky faces. Usually in the form of a sculpture and frequently the part of a fountain, they were carvings in wood, granite or other material of mythical, historical or fictional characters. As we distanced ourselves from Rome and grew closer to Brussels, the medium and the message both became more bizarre. From Bacchus in Florence to an overwhelmed tourist in Wurzburg to a mouth-bleeding piece of graffiti in Antwerpen. Here's a little collection of some photos I snapped of faces during our trip.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallow's Eve 2007

For the first time in many years, I'm living in the suburbs during Halloween. Satan's holiday certainly has a different feel here than in a city. In Brooklyn, people used to dress up, but I wouldn't see too many kids around. In Sydney, most Australians refused to dress up for Halloween. "That's silly stuff." Instead, they would go to a "fancy dress" party on any other night of the year and put on a costume as if it were Halloween.

A couple of months ago, I looked out of a window and into the backyard of the folks who live next door. "Dana?" I called. "Why is Steve building an electric chair?" Dana explained that Halloween is Steve's holiday, so when I saw a dummy hanging from a noose a few weeks later, I thought nothing of it. Steve's creations make their way to his front lawn (with Steve's help) throughout the month of October. With the strobe lights and fog machines working, the front of their house is convincingly creepy. The tree of heads is the freakiest.

Steve & Maureen also host a Halloween party for adults. This party was last Friday night. Costumes are mandatory. Dana went as Sexy Thomas the Tank Engine, Alexis as a leopard-cat, Tom as [thisisafamilyshow]-in-a-box, and I as Amazing Man. The inside of their house was as well-decorated as the outside, and food & drink was plentiful. Once a second tequila shot guy came to the party, things got crazy.

Halloweeriffic photos. There's also a shot of the tap handles at the BBQ gem Fette Sau, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They're all made out of butcher's tools, so it's Halloweeish enough. Hope everyone had a nauseatingly scary night.


randyhate [ran-dee-heyt] verb, rand·y·hat·ed, rand·y·hat·ing, noun
–verb (used with object) dislike intensely or passionately beyond reason; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward something that is really just a little annoying to most people: to randyhate PDF menus; to randyhate hipster music. be unwilling; dislike common things: I randyhate to wear shorts.
–verb (used without object) feel intense dislike that others might be dismayed by, or extreme aversion or hostility to all things non-plaid.
4.intense dislike; extreme aversion or hostility.
5.the object of extreme aversion or hostility, with the desire to destroy.

[Origin: bef. 2003; ME randyhat(i)en, OE randyhatian (v.); c. D randyhaten, ON randyhata, Goth randyhatan, G randyhassen]

randyhater, noun

1. [none, I randyhate synonyms. Thesauruses are for stupid, lazy people who can't think of the proper word on their own. All thesauruses should be confiscated and burned in a public display of just how stupid they are, and their owners should be beaten. A boosh-bah-gooshgah. {two thumbs down}]
1. picklelove.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Found: Previously Unblogged Photos from Queensland

In the process of summarizing the Big Trip, I came across of cache of pictures from Tropical North Queensland. There are some shots from Port Douglas, the Daintree River, a night walk through the rain forest and the beach of Cape Tribulation. Spiders, frogs, water dragons, walking fish and even a cassowary. Enjoy the lost photos!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Photo from Sydney Farewell

My friend from Sydney, Sam, known for dancing hip-hop, sent me this photo from our farewell party. From left to right (we're all over the place, but I'm going based on the spot right between the eyes): Anna, Fiona, Glenn, Aaron, Glenn, Denis, Dana, Alexis, Sam, Lana and Ben. There are a lot of 'a's and 'n's in those names, aren't there. 11 a's and 12 n's. The n's win! I'm happy because I didn't bet on n. We didn't have a black and white theme to the party, but for some reason we wound up dressed that way.

There we go. Now it looks like it's from a long time ago. And the black and white makes more sense. Thanks for the photo Sam.

The Big Trip Summary - Getting Around

We made our roundabout way from Sydney to New York on a combinations of planes, trains, boats and cars. Frequent flier miles covered a fair bit of it. Multiple treks between New York & Sydney had its perks!

Queensland, Australia
We flew from Sydney to Cairns on Jetstar. Since it was a domestic flight on a budget airline, the baggage limit was 20kg (44lbs) per person. We had packed our luggage based on international travel, since we were, after all, flying back to New York. We packed those bags to the max, full of clothes to last us for 50 days of traveling in a wide variety of climates, plus the stuff we forgot to ship back to the States. According to Jetstar policy, we were fined for each kilogram extra, which amounted to roughly the cost of two Qantas flights to Singapore. Slight exaggeration, but whatever we saved was canceled out. Oh well. We were still in a daze from our fun-filled farewells, so we hardly noticed the absence of entertainment, food and leg space. When Dana and I were confronted with the huge fine from Jetstar at 6AM the day we were leaving Sydney, still reeling from saying farewell to dozens of great friends, we reminded ourselves that there would likely be many more instances of unexpected charges, and we would have to roll with it. Thankfully, it started and ended with Jetstar.

The car we used in Cairns was obtained on miles from Velocity, accumulated by Dana's numerous Virgin Blue flights to Melbourne. There were not many hidden fees for the Europcar we picked up at the airport in Cairns, and it was a piece of cake. That little white car fared better than I did in the Queensland rain forest.

There was a scheduled layover in Sydney during our flight from Cairns to Singapore: 7 hours. But that was OK, because we booked the flight on Qantas with miles. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed 3 hours, and we were not allowed to leave the airport for security reasons. Sydney Airport has shockingly little to do and very few places to eat. Dana and I passed the time watching movies on the iBook and reading. I also squeezed a meal voucher from Qantas, which we used to purchase a salad and a bottle of wine. For about ten hours, we sat in that airport cafe and watched the sun and clouds play above the beautiful city that we were leaving. Blades of Glory was showing on the flight, so that was funny.

Qantas was decent, as usual, but we were really looking forward to the flight from Singapore to Rome: Emirates. I had booked the flight through Expedia, and we actually had to pay for it, so we couldn't wait to experience this airline that everyone said was so good. It Sucked. That wasn't a typo, it sucked with a capital S. The seats were tiny, the food was absurdly small, and the mediocre films being shown were worse than they would have been on a Qantas flight. And the flight attendants were rude. Worse than the in-flight experience was the pre-flight experience. Due to our delay on arriving in Singapore, we did not get to our hotel until 2AM. Our Emirates flight was set to depart the following morning at 3AM. The visit was an enjoyable whirlwind, like riding on Space Mountain for 24 hours, but getting back to the airport was like getting back in line for another ride when you really have to vomit. Security screening led us into a tiny waiting room about half the size of the plane. As we sat, drained from the hectic stopover, we were forced to watch Ellen Degeneres dance in a raincoat to a Justin Timberlake song as a bunch of uncoordinated audience members danced along, wearing much cheaper raincoats. Plastic garbage bags, really. The flight was delayed, but they didn't announce that until 4AM, after I had confronted the service desk. We were freed to urinate before being cattle-prodded back into the holding pen.

The layover in Dubai was a feast for the senses. We landed at about 6AM local time. A shuttle bus picked us up at the plane and drove us past the airport expansion to our arrival gate. It took about 25 minutes. Someday soon, this will be the biggest and busiest airport in the world... or is it already? It seemed to be, with the massive shopping centers built into this timeless alcove. At 6:45AM Dubai time I was being offered samples of liquor. Instead I bought the most expensive face lotion I have ever purchased. I still have plenty left. I'm savoring it.

Our first European train experience was in Italy. I understand why they fired Mussolini, but do they keep the trains running poorly just to spite his ghost? I mean, they hung him upside-down and skinned him, isn't that enough? Do they need to make innocent American tourists suffer? Perhaps. Perhaps. Anyway, we were at Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport (Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino), waiting for the Leonardo Express, for over 20 minutes before it arrived. It arrived empty, so I'm not sure where the delay could have been. Next, only half of the doors opened, and they quickly began closing on the humans boarding. Here's a train that is meant to carry passengers from an airport that only has narrow doorways and steep steps up into the carriage. I lost a thong, or flip-flop, climbing in. Those behind me watched the piece of rubber footwear do a Slinky act down the steps and onto the tracks before continuing their rush on board. That thong meant a lot to me, and I mourn its early separation. It was replaced by a pair of Italian leather sandals in Florence, but I still have the lost shoe's twin. I shall keep it forever.

For us, Italy was all about the train. We had been warned about driving in Italy, and I thought being a pedestrian was enough of a risk. We caught the train from Rome to Cortona, but, of course, we got off at the wrong Cortona stop. Cortona-Camucia, not Cortona-Perugia! Dummy! We hitched rides around Tuscany, noting the frustration in our American family members that each intersection merely tells you which direction to turn for the next intersection. Driving in Italy seemed to be like finding your way through a cornfield maze, at best, like playing QBert at worst.

We took a sleeper car from Florenze to Nice, as has been blog-noted. That was a great experience. More details here.

In Nice, we picked up our Peugeot, the car that would take us north to Belgium. A fella on VirtualTourist clued me into their Open Europe plan. It was essentially a leased car, which provided huge savings over car rental. If you are an American citizen and need a car for an extended period of time, check it out. The car didn't give us any problems, but 24 hour roadside assistance was included. The only problem was that they could not grasp the fact that I was not flying to Nice. In countless emails and phone conversations, I stressed that I would be arriving by try and will be traveling for weeks before I get there. For weeks before I got there, their office made frantic attempts to get in touch with me to find out what airline and flight I would be arriving on. Still, everyone I dealt with was helpful and friendly, even if a little deaf.

Now we got to drive! Our first European road trip was to Monaco & Monte Carlo. I still don't get which which one is which, but it was a bit of a let-down. The drive was nice! Speaking of nice, it was tough to find a place to park in Nice. Things got a lot easier once we left the Mediterranean Coast. French people are anal drivers, though. On a three lane highway, with no other vehicles in sight, I was in the middle lane when a car came up behind me in the right lane. He crossed to the middle lane, tailgated for a moment, then flashed me. I moved to the right, he passed me, and moved back into the right lane. I gave a puzzled look that he could not see.

Our biggest road trip was in France, when we drove from Avignon to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Our decision to take small roads caused us to spend a good ten hours in the car, but the views were amazing. Most of the time we were behind a truck, but left and right were gorgeous.

Those sticklers for independence in Switzerland charged 30 Swiss francs to drive in their country, but besides that, driving was free. Gas wasn't cheap, but not a lot of tolls. Somehow we made our way around without a map in countries where we could not speak the language. I developed a special skill that enabled me to magically find every hotel without getting lost. When that failed, I would run into the closest hotel and ask for directions to the hotel we were staying at. Those guys love to use the little maps they keep behind the counter.

Driving gave us some freedom to see some of the smaller towns and less-traveled roads. Avoiding the highways in Switzerland enabled us to see far more of the countryside, but probably doubled the travel time. As we made our way north, it was interesting to see the change in crops, such as large expanses of vineyards giving way to hop fields. Sunflowers stood like waiting armies in every country we visited in Europe, seeming only to grow shorter as we climbed up to the Low Countries.

Once we dropped off the car in Brussels, and Jan made his way out of the one-way dead-end at the airport, we were back on the trains. A much more relaxing and Earth-friendly way to travel, I would try to take more trains when we get back to Europe.

Back to New York
I've already double blogged this leg of the journey, so I don't have much to add. This British Airways flight was booked through Qantas on miles, so we had a very long layover. The flight itself was pleasant, and would have to take first place in comparison to other airlines of the trip. It was a pleasant and comfortable way to spend a few hours thinking about the incredible trip we had just finished.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Shiny Head

I had an Oops Moment yesterday, electric razor in hand. There are two times you don't want to have an Oops Moment: when when cutting your hair and when performing a circumcision. I don't perform circumcisions, so, thankfully, my Oops Moment only trimmed my hair too short. I picked up a razor a couple of months ago and knew that someday I would forget to reset the setting. Instead of different clips, it has a dial. Whenever you take the clip off to shake out the hair, it resets to 1. That's 1 millimeter. Bzzz.