Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Lightning and common misconceptions

It is a piece of random folky sort of wisdom that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Obviously, this makes no sense. If you look even briefly at the factors that make a lightning strike a statistically higher probability they are all pretty static. Location, material present, height etc. Even in kids cartoons the mad scientist rolls out a giant metal conductor during a thunder storm when he wants to harness a forked lightning strike and make some crazy science magic happen. Not that its so simple in real life or anything, but when I was a kid my dad had to go deal with the IT aftermath of a lightning strike at one of his customer sites not just twice but 3 times in a 2 year period and that wasn’t the Eiffel tower, it was a fish farm on the west coast of Ireland. Lightning strikes all the fucking time.

So I probably shouldn’t be all that shocked that it just struck the plane I was meant to be getting on for my flight to Las Vegas. This is actually a new one. The girls in the lounge tell me it happens all the time though. In any case, routine or not some electrics got frazzled and I am now sitting on my arse waiting for a new plane to appear. On the plus side my arse is currently located in the American Airlines lounge, which while pretty shitty compared to many of the other airline lounges it has been my pleasure to inhabit for a while is nonetheless infinitely better than the main terminal area. At least there are cookies.

I haven’t been in the mood to write for a while, but I’m hoping to drift casually back into it without really noticing. Lets see how that goes…

Even more Australia

I’ve been in Sydney for 3 weeks now. I can’t really count the number of beautiful things I’ve seen, or how many moments have just involved taking a breath and savouring the warm clean air and the sight in front of me. People have been exceptional – friendly, outgoing and inclusive. I have had the good fortune to be here during Sydney festival, a series of events that lasts all of January and includes free outdoor operas and symphonies.  I’ve fallen a little bit in love with this place after an initially fairly cold assessment of it, though maybe I’ve just really come here at the right time. The weather has been perfect for weeks with only a few extra hot days scattered around.

I’ve made random friends, met Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, gone to a ninja gig in the suburbs, been to the Sydney Opera House to see Madame Butterfly, walked along the harbor at night, gotten the ferry to Manly. I’ve gone to the beach and gotten sunburnt, rained on, salt water up my nose and surfboard burned arms from being quite frankly shit at surfing. I have gone swimming in the middle of the night with a group of gorgeous gay men, and running at 6am alone. I have eaten breakfast every damn day, and it’s been delicious.

I’ve been happy a lot, sad a little and kind of lonely at various points but never bored, and until today never wished I was anywhere else. Today I experienced one of the problems with international travel that you never really think about until they happen. On Saturday there was a death in my family back in Ireland, and I am as my father put it “as far away as anyone could be without leaving the planet”. I can’t get home to be with my family, even if I left now I would not be back before the funeral even aside from the fact that it would cost me a fortune and work would be deeply unimpressed.

I know they do not need me there, but frankly I do so little for them that I regard providing support, an extra pair of hands or anything at all really at times like this as one of the few familial duties I can actually fulfill. I love my life, I love my freedom, and I love that I spend half my time flitting around the damn world. But sometimes being a very long way away from home can have repercussions like this, the ones you never envision when you are seeing yourself on a new adventure.

I realized the other day that I started to feel at home here in Sydney, and then I realized why. 3 weeks is the longest I have been in one city every night for at least a year. The last 5 and a bit years have been crazy enough, but it seems like the first 4 were just training for this past 15 months or so. The shape of my brain seems to have changed, the way I think about travel has gradually altered until I no longer see anywhere as being too far away to go.  I used to think London to New York was a big trip, now I think of it the way I used to think of the bus from Limerick to Dublin.

Kavanagh once wrote “Through a chink too wide there comes no wonder”, and I think he had a point. The experiences I’ve had have been amazing, but that travel knowledge and experience detracts from the sheer fantasticness of some of the things I get to do as a matter of course. I believe that when I travel for myself again and not for a company that feeling will come back, I hope that is true.

But there is only one way to find out.

Australia

It’s actually not that often any more I feel the thrill of going somewhere new, or the thrill of travel in general. I guess the past 5 years of airport hopping and working on the move has inured me to the sheer excitement of going somewhere you don’t live, and that actually kind of sucks. I think part of it is that I haven’t felt as free as I used to lately, but for a variety of reasons (to possibly be explained later) I hope that is changing. In any case, leaving for Australia for the first time was thrilling. Yes I was going for work, but its so damn far away and I have never seen it and have heard an awful lot about it and it was a beautiful day… whatever the subconscious or conscious set of reason I was literally singing to myself in the airport. I have an embarrassing tendency to sing “I’m leeeeaaving, on a jet plane, don’t know…etc” whenever I am about to go on a big trip (Yes, I know I am a corny loser) and it was stuck firmly in my head that day.

It was a long journey, but pleasantly punctuated by free wine, champagne and a meal that did not at all make me want to projectile vomit hard enough to shatter a plane window. I had a flat bed and had a most enjoyable sleep, did a little work, and was feeling rested and quite excited to touch down in Sydney. So I was mildly disappointed when in the middle of an Australian summer it turned out to be overcast and raining steadily if unenthusiastically.  My first impression of Australia went something along the lines of “what the fuck is this shit? Its like landing in Ireland”. In a way, this was a fair assessment at the time, excepting the fact that Sydney airport is like walking through a giant industrial tourist manufacturing facility.

First impressions – For a country founded by convicts and crazy people Australia is pretty damned expensive. I do not just mean there are not enough asian immigrants to lower the price of dry-cleaning either (there are tons), I mean a 3 person round exceeds $20 and apartment rental cost is worse than Manhattan.  One of my biggest gripes with Ireland is that you pay so much for bloody everything and get so little for your money, and I thought Oz must have a similar problem. I spent my first 2 days wondering what the bloody point of it all was. Ok, its far away, but ten thousand miles for a country like home but with more poisonous indigenous wildlife? What the hell has everyone been thinking? What is so goddamn great about this place? Ok, there are some parks and Sydney is on a harbor but the TV is almost as bad as America, the food is expensive and after my first day I could pretty much sum up my feelings with the sentence  “It is raining, and I see not a single kangaroo”

Then the sun came out.

I claim not to be affected by the seasonal depression shit everyone in the world now seems to use as an excuse not to get out of bed in the winter (I don’t need an excuse not to get out of bed). But there is no denying that sunlight makes pretty much anything beautiful even when it doesn’t have much to work with, and in Sydney it turns out that it has quite a lot. For not only does the city with its semi-tropical plant life start to look stunning as soon as those rays hit, but as soon as a hint of warmth is in the air all the incredibly attractive people suddenly materialize from every direction in constant waves of envy-inducing perfection.

Let me not be misunderstood here, there are ugly people in sydney, as everywhere. But the beautiful people are distinctly emphasized by the weather, because their perfectly muscled torsos tend to be uncovered and their fabulous tans are really showing.  My standard mental image of Australians is not necessarily all that flattering (as a former Londoner, they are the international equivalent of a football team at a frat party) but it always includes a degree of physical fitness presumably because in my head sheer proximity to beaches automatically creates individuals who swim like fish and windsurf every afternoon. So far Sydney hasn’t really been disappointing me in this respect.  People just seem to be healthier here.

I am astonished to discover that I like it here. The harbor sparkles, the countryside is stunning, the city itself is beautiful and clean. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, but since I am working in the Central Business District and staying in a swish hotel I can’t really judge that one particularly well.  I’ve also been told that Melbourne is the cool young city and that Sydney is a kind of staid banker hangout.

The fact that the country largely consists of a giant wilderness has a lot of appeal too. A few hours outside any major population centre will see you in the middle of bloody nowhere. I have a love of cities that means I will probably never live outside of one long-term, but the sheer freedom of seeing the world rolling out in front of you for as far as you can perceive is an amazing feeling. It’s part of what brings me back to the desert every year, and it definitely exists here too.

Sydney isn’t perfect. Cost of living is sky high, and the population in general has a reputation for nationalism and casual racism that is distinctly off-putting. Not to mention that it is a million miles from the rest of the world and in one of the most inconvenient time-zones possible for communication with Europe and the US. But walking along the waterfront of a beautiful city in the sun with a cool breeze blowing and the beach a half hour away can kind of make you forget about all that.  So much as I was not expecting it, Sydney makes the list of places I want to live, though probably the 6 months or less version.

Italy and the joy of other people’s weddings. Seriously, there is free food.

I can never live in Italy*. Which is a source of some regret for me, because I absolutely love Italy. I think it’s fascinating, and it both looks and feels ancient and beautiful. The weather is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but without the severe humidity or blasting freeze of New York. Even in early February Italy was crisp and refreshing, with occasional bursts of warm sunlight.

I was in a small town called Orvieto (about an hour and a half outside Rome) for the wedding of a friend of mine, which was the entire reason for being in Italy in the first place. This friend is Irish as is her now-husband, but they had been to Italy on holiday, loved it, and decided to get married there. I thought this was a perfectly brilliant idea for the following reasons:

If I have to fly thousands of miles to attend a wedding, I am delighted when that wedding is actually somewhere interesting rather than the charming Irish countryside. I go to lots of weddings in the charming Irish countryside not to mention having lived there for quite some years, and having maintained a fairly low level of enthusiasm for either fields or sheep and a distinct dislike of cows (things that big should not be able to walk up behind you so silently), I see no need to go there unless pressed.

The plusses of a foreign wedding are obvious. For a start the food is better, quite frankly taking Ireland generally as a whole it would be fairly difficult for it to be worse. It is almost inevitably cheaper than the Irish alternative, and perhaps the best reason of all, only the people who actually give a shit will bother to fly there. All the hassle of politically correct guest selection is reduced dramatically. Our friends make it, your distant family members who are only attending to cash in on a free dinner and some wine are immediately out of the running.

Orvieto was perfect. I did the things I do in Italy, namely eat pasta, buy the same pair of fingerless leather driving gloves I keep bloody well losing and never find for sale anywhere else,  drink excellent wine that costs very little, and overall just enjoy the feeling of being back in Europe. I enjoy the certainty that everything I just walked past is at least a hundred years old, that the hot chocolate I order in this coffee shop will be a molten cup of thick chocolatey goodness instead of flavoured milk, and that no matter how terrible I look some man will at some point try to talk to me (I look about as Italian as a baked potato, so I am clearly a tourist and therefore according to all men in Italy officially easy. I think they assume I am American and that some “in my country, we write poetry for eyes like yours” is going to actually work).

It felt good to be in Europe, I’ve missed it. The occasional visits to Ireland and England were always amazing, but not quite the same. I have really missed being able to fly to another country in a couple of hours (Canada doesn’t count). Now that I’m finally back 3 months feels like a blip on the radar and I can’t imagine how I will have time to do all the things I want to do. Then again I am not dying, presumably I will be back after the crazy adventure of this summer.

Though right now, I like the thought that I really do not know.

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*there are two reasons for this. Firstly that I cannot imagine being able to find any sort of job there, I do not even speak enough Italian for the crappy kind. The other reason is that I would eat myself stupid on amazing pasta every day and soon be so fat I could not fit through doors or get up stairs without one of those chair lift things. Which I couldn’t use, because I wouldn’t fit into it.

Zurich

I’m going to do this in reverse order, mostly because I took enough notes in Australia to merit several posts and that will take more time to organize.

When I was in Sydney I was horrified by the price of everything. Then I went to Zurich and had my view of global economics readjusted with the mental equivalent of a large mallet. New rule for happiness: Never offer to buy anyone dinner in Switzerland unless you have already had the loan approved.

Switzerland is weird. To a certain extent everywhere that is not the place I grew up in and am entirely used to the particular customs of is weird, and yet I continue saying things like this. But Switzerland is unique in its eccentricities. It is renowned for neutrality, impartiality and its extraordinary independence. I was broadly aware that it is one of the few countries that could survive without importing food/fuel/pretty much anything really necessary for human survival. I was less aware how much effort the Swiss put into this. It’s a rich country, so I suppose it can afford to maintain crop growth and production at a loss solely for the purpose of ensuring a consistent internal supply should imports become unavailable.  Switzerland refuses to weaken itself for cheaper foodstuffs, and to be honest I find this kind of laudable. It is determinedly independent regardless of convenience, and I have to admire it. New rule for happiness: When the zombie apocalypse comes, be visiting Switzerland.

Public transport is incredibly efficient in Zurich. If the tram says it is coming at 17.23 then goddammit, that tram will surely arrive before the digital clock readout on every station reaches 17.24. The convenience offset to this amazing accuracy is that trams have right of way. Over cars, buses and most definitely humans. If you are hit by a tram in Switzerland it is your fault. You are liable for all damage to the tram and yourself as a result of the accident, and not only that but you are also liable for all associated costs. So for example the cost of re-routing other trams, clearing away your severed limbs, calling in the police to redirect traffic. It can run to literally millions, with the result that every Swiss resident is legally obliged to take out full personal liability insurance (EDIT: Lies! I misinterpreted a conversation. Personal liability insurance is not mandatory, merely very sensible and rather widespread). New rule for happiness: Do not get hit by a tram in Switzerland. Or anywhere, really. But especially Switzerland.

Zurich is clean, it is beautiful. It has mountains and a huge lake. It has sailboats on the lake that move at a rate of about .002 knots because it has no fucking wind. Which actually makes the city brisk and refreshing in February as opposed to vein-chillingly freezing. Taxes are low, wages are very high. The cost of living is also very high, but quality of life is frankly impressive. It is a city, in short, in which you could settle down, get married, and raise healthy Swiss children, who will at the age of 18 will be up for their mandatory military service to Switzerland’s standing army. Unfortunately I tend to find that when looking at cities, standard of living is inversely proportional to entertainment value. The streets of Zurich are spotless, the quality of food is excellent, but a drink in a club is US$20 and everything closes on Sundays.

Zurich is filled with attractive, fit-looking central Europeans and has some incredibly good cheese-based food, which I can only approve of. But it is essentially a bit too bloody boring. You get the vague feeling walking around that doing anything significantly weird on the street might land you in a nice brightly lit room where they kindly and patiently explain to you how vee do sings here. But thats probably just my basic paranoia kicking in. As an Irish person places with an infrastructure that actually functions make me suspect the Borg have infiltrated earth.

Semi-tropical Police states are more fun when the booze is cheap

Singapore was once described to me as being a bit like a small version of London, but really fucking hot. I can now with some actual basis state that this is absolute and total bollocks. Singapore is what you would get if you reduced the size and population of Hong Kong by factors of respectively 4 and 40, taught everyone slightly better English, and did a really really thorough cleaning job. And by cleaning job I mean also getting rid of most of the more crammed in and unsightly buildings filled with live chickens and frogs, and somehow making the streets stop smelling like fried rice soaked in soy sauce. Into this new city you would drop a load more white people, 80% of whom work in banks, and a bunch of spacious apartment buildings with pools in order to accommodate said white people, whom you would then proceed to pay too much. And there, aside from the occasional monsoon and drug-trafficking related execution, you have Singapore.

Things to do in Singapore include sweating profusely and developing acute paranoia. Most of the cops are plain clothes, and instantly converge on law breakers with the fiery righteousness of a thousand suns, so you really don’t want to jaywalk, accidentally litter, or illegally import chewing gum. You cannot bring duty free cigarettes into Singapore, and should you by caught smoking said cigarettes the Singapore police can fine you not by the carton or packet, but by the individual stick. They can tell too, by the fact that every stick is stamped as duty free individually. Common sentences for a legal infraction in Singapore read like “30 days in jail and 10 lashes of the whip”. Which I am guessing at least intimidates the natives and puts the slightly incredulous fear of God into the westerners.

The city Is spotlessly clean, presumably due to fear. The crime rate is apparently very low, presumably due to abject terror. From what I have heard from the inhabitants though, the Singaporean government (in case this was not already glaringly obvious) are a rather scary bunch of sociopathic opportunists who have no qualms about obstructing the freedom of the press. So anything reported on to indicate Singapore might not be an oasis of harmonious crime-free living does not get reported on for long.

Of any Asian city, Singapore is the most westernized and the easiest, as it is quite evidently designed to be. The standard of living is very high if you can afford it, for the amount I pay to live in my apartment in NY you could share a bigger newer apartment complete with washer/dryer and outdoor pool. But you would be living in bloody Singapore, a city the size of an enthusiastic fart. Don’t even get me started on the weather. From what I can tell, Singapore has two settings for climate: extremely hot and humid, or extremely hot and humid in the pouring torrential rain.

Poor people exist here, but you can’t really tell from the outside.  Local wages are a fraction of expat wages, but there are so many expats that the downtown areas cater to them almost exclusively. Personally I find any country where a wage like mine enables you to afford a live-in maid mildly worrying, and this is definitely one of them. Not that I can even imagine creating enough personal domestic mess to ever justify a maid.

I definitely don’t hate it here, in fact its rather an interesting place. But I can’t imagine living here for more than a few months. I think on the whole while I like Asia in general as a holiday destination I can’t imagine it as a home. Then again, you never know until you try.

Singapore from inside a hotel room at 4am. Fucking jetlag

Walking outside of Singapore airport was like walking into a New York august afternoon. With respect to heat and humidity anyway, I can’t say with any degree of accuracy that Singapore looks anything like NY except in the standard way that all airports look like all other airports. This is a problem. Because I still after 2 years have not acclimatized to being baked alive during the summer? No, actually I have gradually been working my way to finding it almost pleasant most of the time. It is a problem because this New York summer afternoon temperature is in fact a cool Singapore 2am. Oh how I fear the dawn.

Things I have observed about Singapore since my arrival about an hour ago include a complete lack of any buildings under 30 stories high, and an absolutely astonishing caliber of hotels. I am staying in the Hilton Conrad Centennial, and good god it is fantastic. I think perhaps the fact that people rarely travel to Singapore on anything but business has definitely had an effect. The logic runs something like this: All of the people who stay at our hotels are staying there on the company dime. Therefore, we will make the room exorbitantly expensive (because they are not paying and don’t care) and just provide lots of complimentary perks so that they will stay at our ludicrously expensive hotel instead of one of the other ludicrously expensive hotels available. It is a giant conspiracy to get big companies to spend a fortune, but it is from my perspective totally ok because it means I get free stuff. I may not have particularly elevated moral ground here, but I do have complimentary dry cleaning and a fruit basket. It’s the little things.

Things that have impressed me about this hotel include:

  1. When you walk in the sound system is playing classical music at a pleasant but unobtrusive volume, it kind of makes you feel like you just walked into a state room in the Titanic.
  2. Free food – Not just a mint, but a box of Godiva chocolates and selection of fruit
  3. Doorbells. Yes, when the dude came to pick up clothes for my free dry cleaning, he rang the pleasantly melodic doorbell. Brilliant
  4. All of the light switches are labeled. Why the hell does no-one else do this?
  5. Toothbrushes! Hotels tend to provide absolutely everything necessary to clean oneself in small pre-packaged form except fucking toothbrushes, the one thing I will almost certainly forget if I am to forget any toiletry.
  6. A fucking laser printer. How incredibly useful.
  7. Universal sockets. No bullshit fiddling around with adaptors, the sockets themselves actually accept a variety of plugs.

And of course there are a couple of features that just made me laugh a bit. They provide you a knife, fork and napkin for consuming fruit (we are talking apples here, not sliced grapefruit or anything). The remote control comes in a leather case which you do not even have to extract it from to use it through the protective layer of plastic. I am not certain if they are protecting me or the remote. There is a small leaflet offering me my selection of 16 different types of pillow, delivered to my room with compliments should I desire one (when I was a kid I used to think “with compliments” meant that when they gave it to you they would tell you your hair looked great).  And finally my absolute favourite thing in any hotel ever – The Conrad Centennial provide their guests with that most essential of bathroom amenities, a small yellow rubber duck. It squeaks.

It is astonishing how much joy an adult human can derive from the presence of a squeaky bath toy.

Rules for happiness – Long Haul Flight Survival

My company, for various reasons which presumably seemed like good ideas at the time, decided to send me to a client in Singapore this week. Now, it is my general policy when presented with the option of going somewhere I have never been to immediately accept and possibly jump up and down a bit depending on the destination. This one was slightly controversial however, because there was a bit of back and forth on how long I could stay, what kind of flights I could get etc. The trip being on very short notice, even when this was all decided finding a flight and accommodation proved slightly challenging. Upshot – no direct flights, and I have to change hotels once and rooms once in the second hotel. My life is a cornucopia of mild inconvenience.

I have just finished the epic 23 hour journey required to arrive here from NY, and my sleep pattern is how shall I put this… royally buggered? It is 3am and I am catching up on my blog entries because I am apparently wide awake. So I guess I may as well try to make some relevant observations while I am at it. Business class travel rocks. Ok, that was fairly obvious and probably did not require stating. However I am currently evaluating in terms of the relative shittiness of flying economy, because I am going to be doing pretty much the same trip to get my butt to Thailand for Christmas this year and you can bet your left leg I didn’t fork out for a business class seat.

I am pretty good at planes. By which I mean I am pretty good at suspending my consciousness for long stretches enabling me to sleep/fall into a trance-like state, ignore everyone around me, read a book etc, for time periods of anything up to 12 hours or more. However it’s a hell of a lot easier to do this when your personal space consists of a surface you can stretch full length on rather than 2 square feet of noisy cramped horribleness. So my 14 hour flight to Tokyo followed by a 7 hour flight to Singapore was from my point of view a fucking dream. The food was good, the booze was free, the blankets were warm, overall in comparison to my standard flying experience it was approximately king size bed compared to hammock which breaks occasionally. What I am trying to convey here is that it was really fucking easy. I hope I don’t get used to this or I will go soft. Anyway, here follows my list of recommendations for long haul flight survival, none of which I have had to use today:

  1. Do not drink excessively in order to fall asleep. Classic rookie mistake. There are worse things than being exhausted after a flight and one of them is being exhausted and dehydrated with a headache after a flight. You’ll sleep eventually. Or you won’t, live with it.
  2. If you can’t sleep, stop trying. You will just get annoyed. If you are tired and find it restful to lie back with your eyes closed then do that, sometimes you drift off without realizing and actually pack in some shut-eye without even being aware.
  3. Sleep if you are tired. People sometimes try to adjust their sleep patterns en route to maximize enjoyment of their destination. This just leads to excessive grouchiness and misery, you re-adjust a lot better when sunrises and sunsets are involved again.
  4. You do not have to use the inflight entertainment system. Sometimes its really great, sometimes its absolutely shit. Sometimes the unit for your seat breaks inexplicably, evoking zero sympathy from anyone. Do not rely on the plane to entertain you. Bring books, bring a DS, bring music. Try to bring things which have a battery life beyond the flight.
  5. You do not have to be doing anything. I have spent 4 hour flights just thinking, processing. Its not a waste of time, plane time is dead time.
  6. Do not plan to do anything on the flight. Whether its planning the trip or some work, you will probably not feel like it. Its important to just do what you feel like doing. Read when you feel like reading, sleep when you feel like sleeping.
  7. Do not eat the food. Seriously. Bring your own. I have brought boiled eggs, chopped mushrooms and peppers, sliced cheese and prosciutto onto planes. Or gotten quesadillas in the airport just prior to boarding. Strictly speaking you are not meant to do this but no-one has ever complained.  This only applies to economy, business class food is great.
  8. Wear comfortable clothing, wear your hair down. It really does not matter at all what you look like when you get on or off the plane, everyone will be a damn zombie anyway. Anything that hinders sleeping at all is a bad thing.
  9. I assume everyone in the universe knows this, but take off your shoes
  10. Do not encroach on another person’s personal space, wear headphones that enable everyone around you to hear your horrible RnB music, bring a baby, have a loud conversation, or smell bad.  All of these deserve the death penalty.
  11. You do not have to be buddies with your neighbor. If they are disinclined to talk, shut the hell up. Not everyone wants a single serving friend.
  12. It is ok to hate flying, it is not ok to whine about it. If its so goddamn awful don’t go, or take a boat/train/car/mule to wherever the fuck you are going. Don’t bitch about the food, the price of drinks, or the lack of available legroom. You have gotten what you bloody well paid for.

Air travel is conceptually an amazing, excellent thing. The implementation of air travel is a tad painful for those of us too cheap to fly anything but livestock class, but this does not make the speed and ease of flying any less amazing. 24 hours will get you round the damn world when one hour of walking only gets you a few miles. Marvel at it, appreciate it, and maybe it will see you through the agonizing ordeal that is long-haul flying.

Or hell, just take the sleeping pills. Let me know how that goes.

Texas y’all

At the end of the road trip of incredible length and foolish decisions (well one foolish decision, namely Shreveport. All other decisions were of practically genius level excellence) we finally arrived in Austin. Austin is like San Francisco, but in Texas. So its filled with hippies and vegan ice cream parlours, but also with people in cowboy hats wearing blue jeans and covered in tattoos. Personally, I find the combination most refreshing. Perhaps as a result of living in the wanky part of Brooklyn, which is filled with the kind of hippies that spend an hour on their hair to make it look suitably messy and live in dread of breaking a nail, and that’s just the men.

I have been informed by pretty much everyone who has spent time in Texas that Austin is the cool bit, and by all accounts resembles the rest of Texas about as much as Milton Keynes resembles a real city. I don’t know how true this is, as so far that is the limit of my Texas experience. But though I was in hippy central Texas-wise I still felt a very strong vibe, Texans are very proud of their state and definitely have their own idea about affiliation. As I was informed by multiple people, Texas used to be a country, and while in Austin there might be a lot more liberals that is still a popular statement.

I found people here absolutely amazing. Adjectives that come to mind include polite, hospitable, helpful and just generally incredibly friendly and considerate. These appear to be generally southern traits in any case, but frankly I just found everyone on the whole damn trip so charming I nearly puked. Contented charmed puke made of rainbows, naturally.

Mostly the GG and I just chilled here. We hung out, we ate, we went to bars, we ate more, went to more bars. The weather was mild but warm, the city was awesome, and personally I did not want to go home. We got the dueling piano dudes to play Bohemian Rhapsody, the German got hit on by a multitude of people she found unattractive (though I think this happens every day – why do I have so many attractive female friends?  Couldn’t just one of them be less attractive than me?? Alas, my tastes in women are too discriminating for my own good), and we had great Mexican food and amazing Brazilian barbecue.

On my last night my traveling companion had already departed, and so I decided to venture out alone. My general policy of finding the dirtiest bar available and talking to random people until I get bored paid off handsomely, and I ended up drinking with a metal band, their girlfriends, and the Austin 6th street sex shop employees. I also ended up with a rather compromised liver, as it was one of those nights when you just forget there is a tomorrow, that hangovers exist, or that you have a plane to catch. Some hours later these 3 forgotten pieces of data combined in a crashing symphony of suffering and despair – never have I been so close to fainting while standing in line to check my bag in. I vowed never to drink again, which lasted the 5 hours til I arrived back at home and found a branch of the Cuban’s extended family partying in my living room, which is not a recipe for abstinence.

Someday I will take a holiday from which I do not feel like I need to recover using another holiday.

The Road Trip Awards

I should mention first of all, that the adventure I and the German girl had in the south was overall pretty damn excellent. Many beautiful and fascinating things were seen and done, much excellent alcohol was consumed, many foolish and amusing conversations were had, and it was generally an experience most certainly worth repeating. However, there was one possible exception, and that is driving. Which since it was a road trip might well have been considered problematic.

Road trips in theory hold a huge fascination for me. The idea of just setting out and driving wherever you feel like going, travelling where the wind takes you etc sounds romantic, adventurous and intrepid. The actual execution of the driving part however is less romantic and exciting and more along the lines of mind-numbingly dull. Then you add to this the fact that I can’t actually drive and have a tendency to fall asleep in warm cars, thus effectively making me the worst travel companion imaginable – a set of facts I had not really considered beforehand due to my head being filled with images of singing Journey in a convertible for the approximately 5 minutes I mentally allotted to the process of driving from Louisiana to Texas. Yeah. It’s been said before, but I should probably reiterate it – I’m a fucking idiot.

Because of course the drive, even spaced out over two days of stopping off at a couple of potentially interesting places along the way, took approximately 8 million years. It should be noted for future reference that despite much of the American south consisting of stunning scenery, said scenery is best viewed from not-the-interstate. Agonizing stints in the car notwithstanding we had a pretty cool adventure which I am way too fucking lazy to recount at this point. So here are the highlights, which I hereby dub the Road Trip Awards for 2010. Enjoy.

Longest stretch of drive – Shreveport to Austin

Hottest day – 95 F

Most boring place – Shreveport

Stupidest part of plan – Shreveport

Most foolish assumption – There will surely be something to do in Shreveport

Most atrociously rendered musical number – That Prince song that goes “You don’t have be rich to be my girl” *shudder* No one can sing Prince, we are not an exception.

Most pointless detour – Driving 30 mins back to the plantation to retrieve the german’s smelly running gear.

Largest insect slaughtered – Some sort of giant flying thing on the porch in Fairfield. I courageously squished it with my foot.

Largest alligator seen – 8 feet (apparently they like marshmallows and speak French.  Skepticism)

Largest alligator prodded – 4 feet (I am foolish, not suicidal)

Most ludicrously phallic hotel sign – Austin Motel (Check it out)

Most addictive food – Fresh chocolate fudge. Food of the gods.

Most ludicrous food – Deep fried corn on the cob.

Most physical effort exerted – Running 2 miles at 7am in southern Louisiana in a vain attempt not to feel like the disgusting slobs we had become after 4 days of dedicated eating.

Most clearly insane individual – Brian the bus driver. Best friends with Mike Bloomberg and a list of other celebrities I cannot recall. This man drove a bus like he was playing Grand Theft Auto and laughed like a hyena on cocaine. On the whole, I kind of liked him.

Highest concentration of corpses in immediate vicinity – New Orleans. It is apparently impossible to be more specific, this is merely based on the sheer volume of dead people buried absolutely everywhere there over the last 400 years. If there is a single New Orleans story or historical account of _anything_ that does not involve a dead body or twenty I have yet to hear it.

Oldest building – Some French thing.

Oldest interesting building – Haunted pirate bar.

Loudest air-conditioning – Austin Motel, aircon would have sounded like a plane taking off if planes continuously took off for 5 fucking hours.

Stupidest flight delay – Parking brake stuck on plane. Really.

Silliest item purchased – Giant Ascot worthy hat. It is 22 inches wide and has ribbons. It rocks.

Silliest service purchased – Having my fortune told in a bowl of water. Details upon request but at least one unrealistic prediction turned out to be correct.

Best meal – Brazilian barbecue place in Austin. One of the ones where they walk around with meat on skewers, fantastic.

On the whole, I have to come down in favour of road trips. But perhaps next time I can somehow eliminate the driving part.

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