Author Archives: Matthew

The land where anything is possible – Dubai

We left Istanbul to go to Dubai.  But instead of flying southeast we flew northwest…to London.  Then from London to Dubai.  Apparently oneWorld thinks it is more profitable to send us on a 5 hour flight then a 7 hour flight, instead of one 2 hour flight.  All of which had empty seats, but no L class.  No wonder legacy airlines are having financial issues.
Dubai is just about the hottest and most humid place that we’ve been to on earth.  Granted it was in August, but still, you sweat within 15 seconds of being outside, and I don’t even sweat that much to begin with.  Not only is it hot and humid, the city is spread out along the coast, so it precludes anyone from walking around the city, except for us of course.

I had never really seen pictures of what Dubai looked like, so I always pictured something like Coruscant (a Star Wars city/planet covered with huge buildings), but this was not the case at all.  Dubai is still very much in its growth phase, with many buildings currently being constructed, including the Burj Dubai, soon to be the tallest free standing structure on the planet.  Outside of the business district, you’d be hard pressed to see a building taller than 10 stories.

Don’t get me wrong, Dubai’s exotic architecture and extravagance is an amazing sight to see and definitely well warrants a visit.  Although, we do not recommend going in August, it is just too unbearable to be outside, and the sky was fairly dusty (don’t know what causes that).

We hopped on a Big Bus city tour that took us to all the tourist hot spots, which in Dubai are basically the beach (which.. no), the 7 Star Hotel Burj al Arab (equipped with Helipad and costs $80 to see the lobby), the Mall of the Emirates with indoor skiing, another huge shopping complex, outdoor markets, and a couple museums.  Now that you have the gist, the only thing to do in August is to go shopping.

We went to go check out the Mall of the Emirates.  The indoor skiing is ridiculous.  Just about everyone in the ski area probably hasn’t seen snow in their lives and a majority of the people just wanted to throw snowballs at each other.

After that we had to catch the bus back before it stopped running.  And of course the last stop was another shopping center.  Here we needed a taxi to get back to the hotel.  If you look at the picture to the right, you can see just how many people use taxis as their primary mode of transport, a taxi drivers dream – drive up, pick up, and go all in less than 3 seconds.  Crazy business.

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Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Even old New York, was once New Amsterdam.  Traveling from Romania to Turkey was a 20 hour odyssey fromBucharest to Istanbul in a vintage 1950s train car with no air conditioning with the summer sun beating in to the window from noon until dusk.  We stayed not far from the famed Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Massive religious wonders.  We paid the entrance fee to Hagia Sophia to get in as it was a museum, however, the Blue Mosque is a working mosque and I couldn’t get in because I wore shorts.  So Jill made it in, and of course probably played up how good it was to make me jealous (just like when we were in Rome and she was wearing a tank top and couldn’t get into a Cathedral so she borrowed my shirt to get in).  The Hagia Sophia is a mosque converted from a Catholic structure built in the 500s.  Apparently the Turks plastered over the Christian mosaics, and have been partially uncovered recently.  So you have both Muslim and Christian relics in one place. 

So Jill needed new sunglasses and we were at the Grand Bazaar, the largest covered market in the world, a giant place to buy jewelry, chess sets, upholstery, leather jackets, and sunglasses.  Most of this stuff I would have to assume are knock offs.  Anyway, Jill went to like 8 shops and found the same pair and her highest quote was 100 bucks and she bought them for 10.  People are always trying to scam tourists.

Turkish Delights.  Yum!  We made our way to a spice market in Istanbul.  And they were selling tons and tons of freshly made Turkish Delights.  I had no idea what a Turkish Delight was.  After telling one of the store owners this, he offered us samples.  We then repeated this process until we felt sick.  It is a jelly type candy with nuts (usually).  They don’t taste sweet, but they are made of sugar, so it’s weird.  However, diagnosis…delicious.   

So we found out it is harder to get a Turkish Kebap in Turkey than it is in Germany.  If you do find one, they are 2-3 times more expensive, with less meat, and don’t taste as good. 

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Freiburg, Stuttgart, and Rothenburg

This one time in college, I wanted to go to Freiburg to study a semester abroad.  I got into the program, passed the German test (I don’t know how), went to a few classes for the 1 credit course to prepare me to go, and then bailed.  I figured it would be a great experience, but it would set me back one whole year in college due to all the sequence classes I was going to take, that is, if I didn’t take a class in the fall, which was a requirement for a winter class, I’d have to wait one year.  Anyway, after visiting Freiburg, I don’t regret my decision.  Sure, it was a nice place, great scenery, small town, within the “Schwarzwald”, but Germany in the last 3 months of the year probably is not a great time to travel. 

After we checked in, a Bavarian, complete with lederhosen and accordion, joined us in our room.  He was followed by one of the staff, a German.  They proceeded to speak to each other in English. Apparently, Bavarians speak such a different dialect that no one else in Germany can understand them.  From what we understand, the rest of Germany thinks Bavaria is a “country of its own”.

Amazingly, almost everyone in Freiburg (and the rest of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands) cruises around in bicycles.  Anybody know where we can find this in America?? 

There wasn’t much to do in Freiburg except enjoy the scenery.  It is a fairly hilly area of Germany, coated with trees, and has buildings spotted all over the valleys.  Climbing to the top of the Schlossberg spire and getting a view of the city was the highlight of Freiburg.

After Freiburg, we made our way to Stuttgart.  Home of Daimler-Benz.  There are actually a few signs leftover that say DaimlerChrysler”.  Daimler has installed a state-of-the-art history museum of its company on its campus in Stuttgart.  It was one of the best museums I have been to.  The audio guides used wi-fi sensors to detect where you were in the museum and would activate when you walked into a new room.  And if you wanted more information on a specific car or whatever, you pushed this little button, and it knew exactly where you are.  The audio guide wasn’t what made this place (although it was pretty sweet), it was the fact that it started at the very beginning, showed how both Daimler and Benz companies struggled in the early 1900s, how and what the Mercedes tag did for the company, how they made it through 2 wars, then recovered after every Daimler plant was destroyed in WWII, and then the “Merger of Equals”, and also the future of automobiles and Daimler. All this jam packed in an eight story building shaped like a helix.  Pretty impressive. 

Also in Stuttgart, we got an extensive private guided tour of the city from one of Jill’s former water polo players that was an exchange student; a knowledgeable guy who taught us the history of the city.  

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a small medieval walled city, was one of the coolest cities we’ve been to so far.  We saw brochures in the train station for a Christmas store, and Jill was getting worried that we made four train changes to go to a city she could’ve gone to 1 hour north of Troy, Michigan called Frankenmuth.  Thankfully, the city was nothing like Frankenmuth.  We stayed in a pension, above a gift shop on a cobble stone street.  You could walk perimeter of the city on the wall next to the ramparts, and view the city from above. Everything was so crammed in.  It is almost stereotypical Germany (excluding the Bavarian stereotypes).  There isn’t a whole lot to do here, except walk around and enjoy the city. Eat some currywurst, and these things called “Schneeballen” or snowballs that are very similar to elephant ears that you’d get at a carnival.

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Dresden, Hamburg, Köln

After we left Berlin, we spent 6 days in 4 cities throughout Germany.

Matt in DresdenFrom what I remebered in German class, East Germany (in 1998) was still living in the ’60s, kind of like Cuba, and many of the buildings had not been repaired since WWII.  Fortunately for Dresden, this was not true.  It has been rebuilt and to us, looked no different to any of the Western German cities that would follow.  When we were in New Zealand, we met some Germans who mentioned that most young people were fleeing East Germany to West Germany for a higher paying job and a higher standard of living.  As unfortante as this is, from what we could tell, East Germany seems to be headed in the right direction.  Germany is at the forefront of not only supplying loads of cash to East Germany, but also to the weaker countries of the European Union.

Massive statue of Otto von BismarckIn Hamburg, we went to Ballinstadt.  In the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, Hamburg was the world’s leading exporter of Homo sapiens (not only Germans, but mostly Polish under Russian oppression).  Ballinstadt (actually the person running the place) was where these people would go before headed to the New World.  Ballinstadt now is a museum that showed how people lived as they waited to go to the New World, explained the types of people, their origins, and what it took to leave Europe to the New World.  As a side bonus, you could use the ancestry.com resources for free while you were there.

 

Matt in front of the Rhein and Cathedral in Koln

Köln boasts the largest Cathedral in Germany.  After seeing St. Peters in the Vatican a few years ago, cathedrals really don’t impress me anymore.  Other than that, Köln is pretty much a missable city.

 

 

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Das alles ist Berlin

So who knew trains could go onto ferry boats?  So that is how we got to Germany from Copenhagen.  We made our way to Berlin after entering Germany.  Apparently Germany is very trusting when it comes to S-Bahn usage.  S-Bahn is the above ground urban railway system.  You can just jump on without going through a turn-style and in effect never have to purchase a ticket.  Of course, we didn’t do this, we were able to use our Eurail passes for free S-Bahn all throughout Germany. 

Anyhoo, Berlin.  We stayed in East Berlin very close to the longest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall.  This however, is basically the only remnants left of Soviet occupation (that we could see anyway).  Outside of this area, the wall or where it used to be anyway is symbolized with brick pavers along its entire perimeter.  There has been so much construction that it looks as modern as any major US city.  We were expecting big concrete lifeless buildings, but we saw modern buildings with modern architecture. 

One of the best things about East Berlin was the prices, which along with the rest of Eastern Germany is apparently still trying to catch up to the economic powerhouse of Western Germany.  We could get Doner Kebaps and pizzas for 2 Euros.  Anywhere else in Western Germany is almost double that. 

Outside of our budget crisis (OK not really, but Europe is expensive), Berlin is a fascinating city: Tons of museums, tons of history in the streets from Brandenburg the principality to Prussia to Otto von Bismarck’s and Kaiser Wilhelm’s unified German Reich to the Third Reich to behind the Iron Curtain to modern and free Berlin – You get it all.  We ended up going to the German Historical Museum, which apparently is pretty new, and encompasses German history from about 500 B.C. or so.  We spent the majority of the day there learning about the aforementioned societies of Germany.  We also hit up the main tourist spots like Checkpoint Charlie, the East/West Berlin checkpoint during Soviet Occupation, Babelplatz, the area of the infamous ‘30s book burning, and Brandenburg Gate, where Reagan demanded to Gorbachev to tear down the wall.  

Back to the budget crisis, our hostel we stayed at was running a promotion for Americans only called “ThxAmerica”. This meant that we paid US dollars instead of Euros, same number, switch the currency sign.  We immediately booked a few more nights in Berlin and our stays in Dresden and Hamburg with the same company to take advantage of what amounts to a 60% savings.  This allowed us to catch up from the “extravagant spending” in Scandinavia, London, and apparently Tanzania, which somehow cost us tons of money.  We still don’t know why our hostel was thanking America.

By the way, currywurst is the best, which is basically a bratwurst with a savory ketchup type sauce with sprinkled curry powder on top.  Yum yum.  And where are the Doner Kebap stands in the US, or at least in Michigan?  So good. But then again, nothing tops Qdoba. 

After 5 days in Berlin, we decided to move on to Dresden.

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Køpenhavn

After leaving gorgeous but expensive Sweden we landed in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is probably more expensive and less gorgeous.  Walking out of the central station you look upon the Tivoli Park walls, where you can see the some of the rides rise above them. This park has been the most popular tourist attraction in Copenhagen since basically the US Civil War.  Walter Elias Disney even came here before he built Disneyland in Anaheim to get ideas about what a theme park should really be.  Although Disney totally outdid Tivoli, it was still interesting to walk around the grounds, but not even dare going on the rides as they set you back about $4-12 per ride.  

According to Hostelworld, our hostel was supposed to be a “15 minute walk from Central Station”.  Yea right!  More like 40 minutes.  Jill was yelling at me the whole time for screwing up the booking as we’re carrying 30 kilos on our back and front.  It is high season right now and we booked late.  It was either that hostel for $45 per person per night with 2 beds in a room, or a bed in a room with 66 total beds for $35 to be a little closer, what would Brian Boitano have done?  

We only stayed in Denmark for 2 nights, mostly for budgetary reasons.  The tourist office had about a 6 mile walking tour or so hitting up all the major spots. Of which includes the Little Mermaid statue.  Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story (news to me), this was a hot spot for tourists, mostly popularized by the Disney movie, I would have to assume.  The changing of the guard seemed to be less disciplined than the UK or Sweden.  The guards were laughing and asking each other what they needed to do next. 

Oh my god the bugs!  They were everywhere, little gnats flying everywhere all over the city.  We had to peel them off our faces and brush them off our clothes so frequently. 

All in all, we didn’t experience Sweden and Denmark that much, but we definitely recommend if you could only go to one, go to Sweden.  No, I’m not saying this to get brownie points from Applied Value, the Swedish/American company I used to work for.

On to the fatherland!

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Sense of Adventure in Perfect Isolation – Ngorongoro Crater

After leaving THE Serengeti National Park, we backtracked to the Ngorongoro Crater.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s an onomatopoeia for the sound a cow bell makes (or at least that is what we were told, because I can’t see it).  Anyway, we camped at the top of the crater, and gee-whiz, it was cold.  We’re talking 5 degrees south of the equator; mind you Florida is about 27 degrees north.  It was probably the altitude, but still, we weren’t that high up, and anyway in the morning we descending into the crater and it was still an icebox. 

Our truck broke down in the morning before we left. Somehow we made it back without a problem, but then in the morning the clutch suddenly didn’t work.  Jill blames it on the driver’s late night rendezvous/joy ride. Anyway, this was half the fun.  We had 3 trucks for 20 people, 2 trucks with 6 people, and 1 truck with 8 people.  We had the truck that fit 8 people.  So because we didn’t want to waste any of our time in the crater, we packed ourselves into the other 2 trucks.  That means 10 people in a 6 person truck plus the driver.  At least we kept each other warm, sort of.

So this place just seems out of this world.  You descend about 200 meters into the caldera of about 100 square miles.  Visibility, even with an overcast sky (unfortunately), was immaculate.  You could see the rim of the crater in all directions.  In the middle of the crater is a fairly large size lake with thousands upon thousands of pink flamingos.  Since we came in winter time, the water levels were near their lowest, so they were pretty far, even with the “altered camera lens”.  It didn’t matter though, it was just a sea of pink (by the way, a flamingo’s call is pretty annoying, especially when there are thousands of them), a great view.  You have plains, hills, ponds, a forest, and mountain sides all in this tiny little area that is secluded basically from the rest of the world.

Somehow, tons of animals got down here and they don’t want to leave.  There is so much water from the high elevation, as it was so green, especially compared with the rest of Tanzania, which was basically brown all over this time of year. 

The pictures we have really don’t do this place justice due to the fog/overcast.  It was still a great experience; the cold weather, the open safari vehicle, the landscape, the animals.  Good stuff. 

We also managed to see 2 lions with their 5 cubs cruising around.  One of the lion’s attempted to hunt, but was spotted by a wildebeest who alerted the herd.  Shucks. 

Unfortunately, we were only here for 4 hours.  But it was definitely a great conclusion to a 41 day overland trip from South Africa to Tanzania/Kenya

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Serengeti National Park

The granddaddy of them all, the highlight of the Africa, the crème de la crème, THE Serengeti National Park.  The climax of the 41 day trip to Africa was the Serengeti National Park.  Sure you could say our expectations were high, but it didn’t matter.  This place was fantastic.  Even if the millions of wildebeest and zebra already migrated north to Masai Mara in Kenya.

On our way to the park, we stopped on the way to buy souvenirs, and there was a fruit stand that was selling red bananas.  The only other time I have heard someone mention red bananas was Mitch Hedberg.  He was a comedian who had a bit about comparing bananas to a traffic light.  “On a traffic light yellow means yield, and green means go. On a banana, it’s just the opposite, yellow means go ahead, green means hold on, and red means, where the “bleep” did you get that banana at?”  Now we know, Africa.

Our trek through Serengeti started with basically a one hour drive though what you would picture as the African Savannah, grasslands spotted with the occasional acacia tree.  The game drive started in the afternoon.  After making our way around pride rock, we managed to see a few lionesses sleeping.  Picture a cat lying on its back with its legs curled and in the air.  Picture the same image here, but a lioness, a 300-400 pound cat, wild, untamed, and only 40 feet from our vehicle.

Next was the Hippo pool.  Mind you this pool was no larger than a public pool.  We counted over 50 hippos just “chillin” in this pool, literally.  You could barely see anything besides hippo backs and the occasional yawn.  They act just like bobbers on a fishing line.

Next, we saw 3 cheetahs eating a kill.  Unfortunately, the kill was hidden below the grass, but the cheetahs were eating it.

So Jill and I figured out a way to extend the zoom on our camera, which is alter the camera lens by placing binoculars right on top of the lens.  This helped to improve our pictures without carrying around the large cargo of a giant “bazooka” looking camera lens.

The term “altered camera lens” was originally coined by Markus, a german fellow who was the murderer in a game we played on this trip and used an “altered camera lens” to kill someone.  Basically the phrase was overused by everyone, so I have to follow suit.  It’s like the movie “Super Troopers”, trying to fit a random phrase in somewhere.

Apparently, there is no such thing as an elephant graveyard.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing experience, but we had no idea what would come next…

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Catching Up

So as you can probably see, we are a little behind in writing our posts.  So now that internet is a more readily available and Jill has been hounding me, we are going to get out of Africa soon enough and on to Europe.  It’s just so hard to not be lazy, because not everything we do is that interesting to put on here.

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China

No, we didn’t go to China on this trip, but…

We heard that China has banned our website in the People’s Republic.  Apparently, it is a little too racy for the millions of people that want to view our site from China.  Crazy business.

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Survivor – The Game

Since we had 4 hours free time in the Okavango Delta when we arrived, our tour leader suggested we play a game to help pass the time.  The name of the game is Survivor, although others may know it as Assassins or a variation thereof.  The rules of the game are this:  you receive on paper a name, a weapon, and a location.  Kill or be killed. You must kill the person on your paper with the weapon in hand at the specified location.  When you kill, you receive the name, weapon, and location of the person you killed.  You become a survivor if the name you receive is your own. 

When the tour leader said, “Start!”, everyone became paranoid that where they were standing was the location their killer needed them to be.  My first task was to “kill” Dave with a toothbrush next to the fallen tree near the fire pit.  I waited there patiently until he passed by.  I told him I had an idea that would help him try to kill his victim, who unfortunately knew where she was to be killed and with what weapon due to his first failed attempt. So I killed Dave, but now my next victim, Louise, knew that I had to kill her with a chair by the mokoros. 

Meanwhile, Jill was tasked to kill Hanna with a rain fly while she was sitting in a chair.  Hanna was by far the most paranoid of any in the group.  About 30 minutes after the game started, she finally sat down.  Easy kill.  Her next task was to kill Carsten in his tent with a shoe.  Her patience would rule the day here.

Our tour leader offered for us to try our hand at powering a mokoro.  This prompted Louise to run down to the mokoros.  I immediately ran down there with a chair hoping for the kill.  She jumped in one of the mokoros, and I told her she was dead.  She thought she could get off on a technicality.  After she argued that “in a mokoro” is different than “by the mokoros”, I lifted her out of the mokoro and she met death.  Unfortunately, she already tried killing Heather in the kitchen with some grass reeds, but failed.  She was allied with the tour leader, and she was trying to kill me, unbeknownst to me at the time. 

During lunch, Heather would not go to the kitchen, because she was afraid that I’d eliminate her.  So she had other people grab lunch for her.  She was complaining that she needed some more snacks, but wasn’t able to go get them because I was on constant alert.

Later that day, after much of the initial killings had been done, I was playing a game of 500.  The tour leader said to the packing team, which included me, that we were to empty the water containers but not by the river, but behind the tents because we didn’t want to contaminate the river.  In any event, as I was walking behind the tents Heather came running up behind me with an empty wash basin trying to kill me behind the tents.  Fortunately for me, my ally, Cameron, held her back, which allowed me to get in front of the tent in order to survive. 

Nearing the end of the afternoon, it was time for swimming at the water hole.  Heather started walking towards the swimming area, which she needed to cross the kitchen to get to.  I sprinted over and hurdled a couple chairs then began “strangulation with grass reeds”.  I became a survivor.

Everybody went to the swimming hole.  Carsten raced back to his tent to change so he could get in the water.  Jill followed.  Carsten was killed in his own tent with Jill’s shoe.  Jill became a survivor, he never would have gotten her in a mokoro with a live insect anway.  The End.

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Okavango Delta

To get to the Okavango Delta, we took a mokoro (dugout wooden canoe) ride out to an uninhabited island.  It was basically like a Gondola right, but in the middle of Africa instead of Venice.  We arrived at our “embarking” station after a 2 hour bumpy ride and a “foot and mouth” check point.  As we arrived there were about 20 locals or so that started unloading the truck and grabbed our gear and put it in the mokoros.  The mokoro ride lasted about an hour and was as relaxing as can be, especially since we were woken 5:30 AM. 

As we landed on our island, the first thing we noticed was a buffalo skull in the firepit.  We immediately set up camp, and had about 4 hours to rest, eat, and play the game “Survivor”.  After that period, it was time for a game walk.  In theory this should have been awesome.  The Okavango Delta is one of the most densely populated areas of big game in Africa, if not the most.   During our one and a half hour game walk, guided by certified locals, we saw a pack of zebra (apparently the rest of the world pronounces it zeb-ruh, whereas Americans pronounce it zee-bruh, much like the letter z, zed versus zee).  Anyway, it was very disappointing, especially because this was the most expensive optional payment of our Safari trip.  At night, the locals performed sing and dance routines for us, which provided some entertainment.  As part of tradition, our group had to perform as well.  Needless to say, it was fun.

The next morning, we awoke very early for a morning game walk.  Again, we saw more zebra and not much else. Later that afternoon, after a mokoro ride back and a 2 hour bumpy ride and a “foot and mouth” checkpoint, 12 of us from our group went to the airport to fly over the Okavango Delta.  We sat in a 7 seater.  Before take-off, the pilot showed us on a map where we’d be flying, and it was so much further into the delta where we had been the previous night.  He said, “Where you were last night, really isn’t the delta, the delta doesn’t start until here”, as he pointed to a game reserve line about 20 kilometers north of where we had been.  The plane ride was pretty amazing.  We got to see herds of elephants and buffalo, a few giraffe, and just the vast size of the delta. Apparently, anything goes with aviation in Botswana, at one point in the flight, our altitude was at most 50 feet. We flew in tight formations with 2 other planes.  It was one of the highlights of the Safari trip. 

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Vacation from Vacation

Mauritius is a fair sized island in the Indian Ocean that is east and a couple clicks north of Madagascar.  Where the official language is English, yet everyone speaks French and hardly anyone speaks English.  Formerly part of the British Commonwealth, there doesn’t seem to be a lick of British culture left on the island save for some traffic circles, which by the way have traffic cops on the country’s only major highway.  Traffic circles apparently don’t work when you never have a break in traffic from one direction for an extended period of time.  According to our airport transfer driver, 10% of the Mauritius population commutes to the capital city of Port Louis on this major highway.  So basically, the highway is gridlock going south anytime after 12PM.  We stayed on the northern part of the island in the touristy area of Grand Bay.  Mauritius is like Hawaii divided by 100.  The major resorts are 2 or 3 stories, and there are only 5 of them in a row in the area we were.  There was one super market, a casino the size of a Rite Aid (that came equipped with dodge ‘em cars and bumper boats for the kids to play on, when combined was larger than the gaming room floor), a ton of restaurants and shops that sold Hollister paraphernalia at 5 times US prices. 

We stayed at a budget bungalow complex on the main road for a modest 25 Euro per night fee.  The airport transfer was more expensive.  The lovely lady who greeted us and showed us to the room went through the normal spiel and finally got to the “surrounding area” part of the routine.  All she said was, “the beach is that way, and the supermarket is the other way.”  Compared with everywhere else we’ve been, this was a delight.  It was nice not having to get a map and find directions everywhere we need to go.  Instead, we walk out of the hotel, turn left for 50 meters, and voila, we’re at the supermarket/casino/dodge ‘em cars.  The super market was not unlike any other. Except that the most popular item had to be the 400 gram, 11 Rupee freshly baked French bread (that’s just shy of a pound and less than 50 US cents and 4 adjectives).  We would see people carrying backpacks of the French bread rolls out of the store.  We purchased one daily. 

Our days were mostly lazy.  Explore a little the first few days, walk to the resorts and utilize their beaches and read or swim, hang out at the supermarket.  We wanted to try out our newly earned SCUBA licenses in Mauritius, but we succumbed to our frugality.  Anyway, we were bummed out about that.  So we just loafed some more. 

Our Doctor who administered our vaccines gave us a packet of weather reports for every country we were going. Mauritius in May was apparently a mild 26 degrees Celsius and only rained two days of the month.  We got three days in one week.  So that kind of spoiled the beach fun, which led us to watching the show Alias on the computer. 

The biggest challenge of all, which turned out to be fruitless, yet unnecessary was trying to pay for our hotel bill in Euros.  Our hotel owner insisted that we pay Euros for the weeklong stay.  She said that we could take Euros out of a nearby ATM or just exchange money.  The last thing we wanted was to pay huge premiums to exchange money.  So we searched for this elusive ATM, we saw one at the airport that had such a claim, but it was mislabeled, and it was already too late to go back.  The hotel owner had faulty intel on where the ATM machine was near us.  So we essentially put our ATM card into every machine in the area to no avail.  This whole operation was to save probably what amounted to 30 bucks.  We had not op tech to help us locate the cheapest Euros as the internet café was too pricey.  Our intelligence gathering was pretty weak as the banks barely spoke English and offered no help.  When we asked HSBC (who had the ATM at the airport with the supposed Euros), “Where do you have an ATM that dispenses Euros”, our response back was, “We sell Euros at 45 Rupees.”  So finally, we went back on the final day to pay and told her we’d like to pay in Rupees instead of Euros.  We were worried that she’d try to pull a fast one on us with a poor exchange rate, but she ended up giving us a more favorable exchange rate than the market.  High Five.   

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Tasmanian Devils

We left beautiful New Zealand behind and made our way to Australia.  We basically spent the entire day flying and relaxing at the airport.  We had a connection in Sydney with a gap of about 8 hours, this time without getting to stay in the first class lounge as we were not flying on the oneWorld alliance but flying Virgin Blue, Australia’s discount airliner.  Slumming it with the normal people was awful…we had to pay for our own food and drink, sit at a noisy gate in uncomfortable chairs with no internet.  Finally we made our way to Hobart in Tasmania. 

The next morning, we rented a car to make our way around Tasmania.  After traversing our way through the winding roads and stopping at every exotic fauna crossing sign for Jill to take a picture, we made it to our first stop, Port Arthur.  Port Arthur reminded us of Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village at first with its 19th century cityscape.  However, Port Arthur is actually real.  In fact, its initial use was a convict colony, where Great Britain sent its felons.  They were sentenced to “transportation”.  Basically, the convicts were slaves in Port Arthur as they supplied the labor of what became an export colony of manufactured items such as shoes and boats and of raw materials such as lumber.  Some of these convicts had ridiculous sentences for the crimes they committed; one in particular was “7 years transportation for stealing £2 of merchandise”.  On the downside of Port Arthur, it hasn’t aged very well, many of the buildings have lost their roofs and many of the buildings’ brick structure was dismantled for building materials in Hobart.  All in all it was fairly interesting. 

Next stop, Cole’s Bay.  There is a national park here with a bushwalk that leads you to the gorgeous Wineglass Bay.  Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, the bane of our existence, we were unable to make the trek. However, on the plus side, we got to stay in this “caravan”, which was a camper straight out of the 60s with its florescent blue upholstered seats and matching tables, and a change of pace from the normal hostels we have been living.

On that note, we made our way back to Hobart for a few days and stayed in the most despicable hostel we have stayed at in our lifetimes, which by now has totaled about 50 or so.  Lonely Planet claims that this hostel was “clean and quiet”.  On the contrary, the health department would have a field day with the kitchen.  The pots were disgusting, there were no scrubbers to clean them, and one of them had a fork for a handle.  The microwave was an ecosystem.  The bathrooms had no toilet paper.  The dining tables had a plastic liner that was probably 5 years old and had mold growing all over it.  The shower curtains hadn’t been cleaned in what seemed to be its entire existence.  The group of tourists was obnoxious until all hours of the night.  The other people in our room were rude, lascivious, outrageous.  We planned to get back at our roommates when we left for our early flight at 4AM, but to our surprise, they woke us up at 4AM when they came home.

Hobart is a fairly big city, about 200,000 people, or half the population of Tasmania.  It seemed so strange to us that everything in Hobart stops at 5PM every day, and often with shorter hours on the weekends.  Shops, restaurants, Starbucks all closed.  The only thing that was open late was Target on Friday night.  We just can’t understand for the life of us how shops and what not can stay in business if they’re only open during normal working hours, when do most people get to shop?

Anyway, we’re off to Melbourne, Australia now where we will drive our way to Sydney.

Categories: Oceana | Leave a comment

“I don’t want to go on a rant here”

Why do Americans complain about gas prices?  Everywhere we’ve been so far, gas has been far more expensive than in the US.  For example, here in New Zealand, gas is NZ$1.749 per liter, or approximately US$5.42 per gallon. Waaahh, my gas prices went up 33% in one year, I can no longer afford the “necessities” like an American SUV or a European car, high-speed internet, a cell phone with tons of minutes and a data plan, designer clothes, an expensive house (that is no longer expensive), a plasma TV, an iPod, and everything my neighbor has.  Try living in New Zealand for a little bit where bare essentials cost multiples more than they do in the US, and mind you New Zealand is a farming country.  Eggs are US$2.50 a dozen, Milk is US$4.60 a gallon, liquor/beer/wine is 100% more expensive than in the US (from excise taxes I assume, domestic stuff is just as expensive), Boneless/skinless chicken breast is US$8 a pound.  Shoes are twice the price as in the US.  Maybe this is because the dollar is weak or because New Zealand is an island, but I’ve talked to New Zealanders who have complained to me about their high prices.  “We’ll all go broke,” said one Kiwi. 

Why are eggs so expensive?  So we were in the library in Auckland and I picked up a magazine called “Organic NZ”. It is a periodical dedicated to the organic farmer in New Zealand.  There was an article in there that talked about how chicken batteries are essentially banned in New Zealand.  A chicken battery is where Napoleon Dynamite worked, where chickens are in a warehouse in tiny little cages (probably all over the US, not just Idaho).  If eggs are produced from chicken batteries they have to have a label on the egg carton that says “Caged Eggs”.  These eggs are hard to find, but are cheaper.  I would assume that this has to affect the price of chicken meat (chicken batteries can have an estimated 10,000-20,000 chickens per acre of warehouse stacked 5 high 1 foot apart in aisles 7 feet apart).  There are apparently a ton of government restrictions here that seem to raise prices on many things, not necessarily just because it’s an island.  We were watching one of the two TV stations we had in Oamaru on the South Island.  The show was like Animal Planet’s “Animal Precinct” but for farm animals.  The “detective” went out to a pig farm and warned the owner that his pig pen was “too muddy” and didn’t have enough clean water and shelter.  Just goes to show you what lengths New Zealand goes to protect its animal’s rights and prevent cruelty.

By the way, the best invention since [insert favorite lame invention, a good example would be sliced bread] is flavored tuna.  I used to hawk this stuff in college.  It was so cheap.  But I’d have to add mustard like crazy to it to make it taste good (not mayonnaise as I was actually trying to stay fit in college).  Anyway, in New Zealand, they have a ton of flavored tuna like “Mexican Salsa” and “Spicy Thai Pepper.”  It’s like candy.  They come in these cute little 100 gram containers for like NZ$1 each.  They don’t need to be refrigerated, nor do you need a can opener. Yum yum.  Jill for some crazy reason hates tuna and all fish for that matter.  She won’t let me in the same room as her when I eat it.  She said she had a bad experience with fish, just as with yogurt when her brother allegedly put a bagel lathered up with yogurt in his mouth and “made it talk” and the yogurt went all over the place.  Apparently she was unable to eat yogurt again for 12 years.  So maybe the tuna trauma will end soon.

Am I missing something?  Compared to South America (especially Rio), New Zealanders seem to be way more courteous.  I swear, anytime you’d look the other way while waiting in line in South America, someone would jump right in front of you.  In New Zealand, a Kiwi will approach you and ask, “Is this the end of the queue?  Cheers mate!”

 “What the hell does rant mean?”

Categories: Oceana | Leave a comment

“Paris of the South”- Buenos Aires

After basically killing time in Sao Paulo, we made our way to Buenos Aires, Argentina (Sorry Cristina Learman).

We basically went to Adelaide going to the Evita museum (thanks Tres).  “Don’t Cry for me Argentina…”   It was kind of a crappy Museum and everything was in Spanish but it only cost 3 bucks.  One of the comments in the guest book was “This museum was hard to follow and I don’t understand how Evita got famous”; at least we weren’t the least cultured ones there. 

The Recoleta Cemetery is where all the Argentinean Elite are buried.  It is a pretty amazing spectacle to see the above ground tombs, especially the enormity of some of them and of the cemetery in general.  Eva (Evita) Peron is buried here, there wasn’t anyone else that we had even heard of though.

 

We went to La Boca, a town of Buenos Aires, where the most popular futbol team in Argentina – Boca Juniors plays.  Maradona used to play for this club, who is arguably the best soccer player of all time (Pele from Brazil being the other).  We took a tour of the stadium, and we wanted so badly to go to a game.  Unfortunately, the Boca Juniors weren’t playing until after we leave, so we instead went to go see Lanus play their first game in the America’s Cup (basically all the countries in North and South America participate except for US and Canada), which is very similar to the UEFA league in Europe.  Lanus was last year’s Argentinean champion.  The crowd there was crazy; there is either a barbed wire fence or literally a moat separating the fans from the field.  The home team fans aren’t permitted to leave the stadium until the opposing fans leave the surrounding area – I think they should start implementing this at the Horseshoe at Ohio State.

 

We also tried to go to a theme park in Buenos Aires.  I felt like Clark Griswold from the National Lampoon’s movie “Vacation”.  In this case, we didn’t travel by station wagon halfway across the country to find out Wally’s World was closed; we traveled across the globe to go to a closed “Saint World,” themed after Jerusalem.  Instead of holding up the security guard to go on all the rides, we just went across the street and bought some ice cream and watched the ocean until we decided to go back to our hostel.  We heard about this park from the magazine “Budget Travel.”  Someone had sent in their story from the park.  See their story below. 

 

“Our Buenos Aires guidebook recommended Tierra Santa [Saint World], a religious theme park that resembles Jerusalem.  All we knew was that highlights were said to include a laser-light show of the creation story.  Upon entering the park, we heard a voice over the loudspeaker: ‘We regret to inform you that Christ will not be resurrected due to high winds.  We will resume the resurrection as soon as possible.’  Twenty minutes later the winds died down, and sure enough, an eight-foot-tall Jesus emerged from the mountain in the center of the park.”

 

 

Now Jill would like to add something before we make our way to Chile. 

Argentina is known for tango.  There are several opportunities for beginners to try and learn the art in Buenos Aires, but Matt would have absolutely nothing to do with lessons (though in the end, it’s probably better that way – it saved me from inevitably several broken toes).  We went to an Argentine restaurant, which happened to have a tango show.  After several glasses of wine, Matt agreed to at least watch the show.  So we had a steak dinner with drinks and a show for the same number of pesos as it would have cost dollars in the US for a night out in the “Paris of the South” – certainly not bad for a third of the price. 

Our hostel is just off of a road called 9 de Julio, which according to wikipedia is the widest street in the world.  It is at some parts 10 lanes wide (in each direction) plus a huge median. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: South America | Leave a comment

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