Vietnam, Ho!

July 31, 2011

I’m apparently not good at signing off posts when I do my journeys. The last day of the Broken Hill trip was fairly ordinary, I’d gotten into a bit of a grump and was fairly jack of it by the end. I do remember driving through some bushfire regrowth area, which was an interesting concatenation of green and black colourings.

But that’s neither here nor there. Time instead now for a few intermittent blog posts from my seemingly annual tripification – this time it’s to Vietnam!

I tired of the Melbourne winter and decided to visit somewhere warm, and Vietnam stuck out a mile. Never having travelled in a country where I couldn’t speak the language (or had a grownup guiding me…), I decided to softcock it and go for the tour to break myself in. Accommodation and plenty of activities organised, but also plenty of free time for wandering (which involves being hassled by touts, it appears)

The adventure started before Vietnam on the flight over with Thai Airlines. I’ve decided I don’t like flying. It’s not the flying per se, but being an enormous lummox I have to get to the airport early in order to have a crack at getting an exit row seat (I physically do not fit in normal economy seats). I then get to sit around in an airport for several hours (what fun) and then get to sit in a damned narrow seat (exit row seats are narrower than normal seats – I won’t bore you with why). So narrow the my narrowish hips are touching both sides – I guess you’re stuffed if you’re a tall woman. I then get to do things like have Dad bring Toddler to my spot as the place to calm toddler down. Yes, I like being the fence-post for a daycare for grumpy toddlers. But that didn’t last long – Dad was replaced with Oldfella, some poor geezer who knocked my out of my dozing when he struck my foot with his shoulder. It’s a little disconcerting to wake up to some old guy flat on his back staring blankly. At first I wondered if he was seizing (I can help there!) but it was clear he wasn’t – and I wondered if he was stroking, in which case he’s kinda fucked since we’re in the air. Very thankfully it was just a hypoglycaemic attack and he woke and was able to tell the staff that, though he did spend the rest of the flight on the floor, poor bugger (we were shuffled off elsewhere). Add to that the point that being in an exit row seat means you don’t have a proper table and the swing-out movie screen isn’t angle right so you can’t see it properly, and add again that being in an overwing seat means you have a door with a tiny porthole overlooking a wing rather than a proper window of some kind… and yes, I’ve decided that flying is being bored and uncomfortable and I don’t like it.

Vietnam, on the other hand, I’m still coming to grips with. Landing in at Ho Cho Minh City was a rough affair, so much so that it was rather obvious what the intent was of the sudden soothing jazz music over the PA. Landed, changed some dollars, and pre-booked a cab from the airport. Herein lay the first challenge – the receipt had the wrong hotel address. I’d showed the driver the right hotel in my documentation. He’d looked agitated, but we couldn’t communicate, so off we set into the crazy HCMC traffic, him at home and knowing where we’re going and a little ticked off – the receipt was for the wrong amount to my hotel, I gathered – and me unable to tell where we were, crazy traffic going everywhere, not thinking straight due to sleep deprivation, and wondering where the hell I would actually end up. I couldn’t even tell if the receipt was too high or too low…

The hotel is nice enough, if a bit oddly appointed. Everything is cheek-by-jowl here, and I’ve had a fairly solid introduction to the ways of SE Asian cities. I went wandering for a bit, got fleeced at the market for a couple of things as I can’t barter to save myself, and went for a walk whereupon the heavens burst. My usual trick of ‘meh, I’m a bit wet, may as well keep going, it’ll dry soon enough’ does not work in the humid tropics – eight hours later, clothes are still damp (more than just sweat damp) lesson learned, but may not be avoidable. It seems too that the greatest invention the Vietnamese have gained is the raincoat – they pop up everywhere when the heavens open, and pillion passengers just huddle under the rider’s coat.

Back to the hotel and meet the guy sharing my twin-share room. Turns out he lives in the next suburb. Turns out he works for a company that is a client of my company. Neither of us are heavily involved in the intersective areas of our respective companies, but damn, that’s weird. We also have in common a complete lack of ability with language, and have each spent much time trying to digest phrase book info and having none of it stick. By the way, Lonely Planet Vietnamese Phrase Book – when you give the ‘english-speaker phonetic approximation’ of how to pronounce a vietnamese word, do not – I repeat, do not – use two new accents that you don’t describe anywhere in the book. Besides, if the sound is ‘k’, then use a damn ‘k’, don’t use an accented ‘g’ with no description. Yes, LPVPB, I’m talking to you.

Not many/any photos for this post, unfortunately. As I was wandering around, I was very conscious of the fact I was sleep dep’d, and given warnings about the touristy areas of HCMC and camera snatchers. I erred on the side of caution since my antennae were in.

Similarly, the sleep dep has disjointed the above narrative a fair bit. So much has happened in 24h (like, for instance, meeting the whole tour group and guide and they seem like a good crew) but I’ve begged off drinking tonight to catch up on sleep so I better hop to it. Off to do boating in the Mekong tomorrow, and I’m not sure when I’ll be posting – it will be spotty. No photos this time around – I need to trim the couple I had down. Next time, I promise.

Nighty-night.

Scrubbing up

January 17, 2010

Today was a travelling day, Broken Hill to Deniliquin. The driving day was broken into two halves: To Ivanhoe and From Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe is a mere spit of a town and doesn’t have much worth mentioning on a Sunday arvo.

To Ivanhoe:

A nice, clean bit of the unsealed road. No emus.

This was the unsealed road that I was concerned about yesterday. The first bit of the drive was an hour or so on sealed roads to Menindee, a nice little town that’s far larger than you’d expect for having only one sealed road into it. The bloke at the servo gave yet more advice for the unsealed road and added to the mixed commentary I’d received on it. Some say it’s the best unsealed road, some say it’s middling, this guy had a bunch of warnings. There was only one way to check it – see for myself. It actually wasn’t too bad and I got some experience driving in soft sand and small rock fields. It’s actually quite meditative as you have to keep your mind on the road at all times and move across the whole surface looking for the best route. The first hundred kilometers had a lot of areas where I had to slow down, but the second hundred kilometers was good enough to stay at 80 or 90 km/h. Curiously we had some emus try to escape us by running in the same direction as us rather than away from the road. But then again, emus aren’t famed for their intellect.

The Tourist Information Tank at Menindee

There were no fences out here, which reminded me of a story from yesterday: a flock combined of goats and sheep ran away from a car towards a standard three-wire fence. The goats, being goats and awesome, all slipped through the fence and made their getaway. The sheep, being sheep and the dumbest thing on four legs, were stymied and mulled about panicked at the fence.

After starting out apprehensive about the unsealed road, I was disappointed when it ended. I’d probably given the car a knock or two that I shouldn’t have, but it carried on like a trooper. I can see why people get excited about outback driving, though I might need a little more instruction before I tackle those roads that require you to bring winches and ropes.

From Ivanhoe:

The Long Paddock was full of dust storms and dust devils, but sadly they're not particularly interesting to drive through

From Ivanhoe to Deniliquin (actually a bit further on both sides) is an area known as The Long Paddock. It’s aptly named. There’s fucking nothing. We drove past featureless flat (as in FLAT flat to both horizons) scrubland for about 350 kilometers. It was so featureless that we’d point out things to each other, things like a single windmill. It really is like a single, enormous paddock – and WINDY to boot. But the road was good (and sealed) and the day was mild, and towards the end we started to break the monotony with odd sightings here and there.

In Hay we stopped off for some suprisingly good Thai food at a shop that does Thai, pizza, fish’n’chips and hamburgers. It’s funny how you see Aussie men above a certain age with a South-East Asian wife and immediately think ‘mail-order bride’. Maybe that’s just me. It’s probably a bit defamatory as they were both warm, kind people. In any case, the Thai food was pretty good for a fast food shop. Mum spent some time looking at real estate and it’s apparent that if you want a cheap place to live, move to a dying town. Big houses going for $100-200k. It was the same situation in Mildura.

Deniliquin is our final resting spot, a place I’ve always wanted to go to simply because I like the name. It’s bigger than I thought. But a rest after a ten-hour drive calls to me – though tomorrow is easy mode, only about four to five hours total with a break in the middle. So, as promised, not much plot, but some extra photos…


Photo that didn't quite work out. The sign in front says 'Nut bar under surveillance' and there are three policemen a little behind it.


Weird Bouncy-Castle-like thing at a caravan park in Deniliquin. I wanted a go...


One of the scrubby bushes that populate the Long Paddock is the *cough* 'Hairy Panic'. I would have thought that name would only be appropriate for either a band or a venereal disease.


This experience was not unlike the biblical story where Moses slowly drove forward and parted the sea of skinny cattle. It's in the back of the book somewhere.


This was the highlight of the second part of the trip. Usually when you see a sign like this, there's a long windy road to some special attraction somewhere...


... but not always. There's the sign in the background. Yes, this is the Sunset Viewing Area, pointed at the western horizon of the Long Paddock with a wire fence about ten meters in front. It's about 10km north of Hay, but you'll want to bring cushions. If you bring food for the wire table, make sure it's nice and heavy as there is something of a rather stiff breeze...

It’s been a surprisingly long day, and I’m buggered, so it’ll be a short one plus a bunch of photos.

About three and a half hours drive took us up the Silver City highway to the Silver City itself, Broken Hill, the town that made BHP the behemoth that it is (Broken Hill Proprietary). The town sits astride a giant lode that is still being mined today, though it’s nearly out, and the place is defined around mining. Quite humourously all the street names are named things like Bromide, Argent, Chloride, Thalidomide†, and Calcite. The hotel we’re staying at is on Mica St. The streets themselves are made haphazardly and are the result of what must be the laziest roadbuilders in Australia. Instead of having a pipe go under a crossroad like everywhere else, they’ll just dip the street instead. There are dips everywhere. In one case the slope was just a bit too steep to build up, so instead of raising the road a bit, they just gave up. It’s a bit weird driving around here.

Now, from memory, wordpress doesn’t like image-heavy posts, but let’s see how we go. I’m not cogent enough to write a narrative at the moment, too knackered. Part of being knackered is also being a bit stressed out at doing 200km of unexpected unsealed road tomorrow. It could take two hours, it could take five.


Found this fridge mailbox on the way to Broken Hill. Bonus points for the Footrot Flats cartoon.


This is Bromide St, at one point one of the main roads of the city centre. But this far north they just gave up building it up the steep part of the hill rather than raise the road a bit. Note that the road starts again further up the hill.


I've never seen chimneys not made of brick or stone before. Corrugated iron? Really, fellas, try a bit harder.


The moneyshot. Like a slingshot, but with money. Pull the handle and the rubber band is released, shooting the parcel out along the wire. This was an old way of getting money to and from the back room


The guarantee for the car wash is missing an all-too-important hyphen.


Inside the Pro Hart gallery. The guy loved doing dragonflies. I can run with that. Yes, that dragonfly is on carpet.


One of the galleries had an exhibition of VCE student's stuff and most of it was pretty good. I fell in love with the abstract on the left and if I had money I would see if I could have bought it.


The christmas displays are still up, including this particularly Australian one.


Drove out to Silverton which isn't too far away. It proudly proclaims that it's not a ghost town yet as it still has a population of between 10 and 100. The world needs heros, Max.


Desert + Radio = Scary Christian Evangelism? On the side trip out to Silverton the landscape was reminding me of the drive through the Mojave Desert in the US. I put the radio on auto-search and it landed on a glassy-eyed christian evangelist station. The program was about stepping up your evangelism because 'what if your friends weren't converted and they died in a car accident tonight - they'd spend eternity in hell'. I actually find listening to these stations sort of amusing as you can pick out various different methods of autohypnosis.


The One


Finished off the day by driving to a local hilltop where there are a dozen or so sculptures of varying quality. A couple are great, most are meh. This is the piece I called “The One” because it’s the one that’s always going to be in photos and brochures. In the right time of year I would guess that the sun can be seen through the hole at sunset. We waited for sunset and were finally rewarded with one of the most gloriousless sunsets ever. Stunning lack of colour. The sun didn’t set so much as the horizon rose – a dust storm was inbound, and it was bloody windy too.

Time for bed now, tomorrow promises to be a Big Day.


† Okay, I lied about this one

Slight return.

January 15, 2010

Yes, it’s been a long time. I never did sign off when coming home. After a monstrous flight back I was so exhausted from the flight and travel that I basically fell asleep for a week and couldn’t bring myself to write the closing page. Weeks turned into months and it never got written. Now I’m on another road trip and I thought I’d tack it on to the blog.

The last day in the US deserves a nutshell, though most of the story is the flight. Didn’t get up to much new, just went out and wandered the streets of NY to say farewell to the grand city. Actually being able to sleep in a queen-size bed was a godsend. In the early afternoon I scoffed the last of my cheap street food, grabbed my sports-bag-cum-backpack, and wended my way out to JFK airport. The subway takes you out to an airport train that’s entirely automated – you can sit up the front and watch the train take you places. A bit weird. But I got the flight desk and had already booked for an exit-row seat for my rather lengthy legs. No trace in the system. Eh? Turns out Qantas had just instituted a policy saying that you can reserve exit row seats… if you pay $160 for them. How new was this policy? I was the first person to have to cough up the dough. I wasn’t in the mood for screaming and yelling – I’d even been pulled out of the queue to be individually attended to at a different counter before finding this out – so I just decided to not make a scene and cough up the money. It took a total of six staff and hour to process the payment. That’s not “it must have been an hour”, the grand colloquial hour that’s more like 17 minutes. That’s an hour of me being genial and polite, watching the clock, watching the next and the next person join in. At least the flight left on time, 7pm. So I’ve been up all day from the crack of dawn, and now starting the flight to LA and then to Melbourne in the evening.

The flight to LA was uneventful, bar for a chatty flight attendant who was a bit intrusive at first but I warmed to him. Landed at LA in the early hours of the morning and paid a “ha ha, you’re captive” $9 for a soggy salad roll. The plane we were to fly to Melbourne on was one of those cool new A380s, the grand new additions to the Qantas fleet. About to leave US soil, I was saying my mental formal goodbyes… when the pilot took us out of the queue at the runway as the #3 engine wouldn’t start. He went through a number of processes including rebooting the plane (now there’s a weird phrase) and if that didn’t work, he said we’d need a spare part that would only be available in Sydney (Australia, Qantas depot) or Toulouse (France, Airbus folks). It didn’t work. During all this I couldn’t recline my seat due to safety rules, and therefore couldn’t even doze. Those seats are not made for 6’6” fellas. Anyway, turns out there was a spare at LAX, engineers came out and installed it, and we were on our way three and a half hours later. 16 hours in the sky home made the total of me sitting in a not-quite-right size seat come in at around 25 hours – which of course started at my body clock time of 7pm. I arrived home, was greeted by my sterling housemates who presented me with a proper coke, and we then went to a driving range and played golf in an attempt to keep me awake until dusk. It sorta worked. I then slept for about a week.

It was worth it.

Since then I’ve been a mix of mostly unemployed and now slightly employed. Couple of days a week. Not great, but at least I can make the rent. But I did get the urge to go on another road trip.

And where was a decent drive away from my hometown Melbourne? Why, Broken Hill. In the middle of the NSW desert. It was just a destination, a good long drive away. Turns out it’s full of artists because of all the wild colours and grand views. There may be something to do there after all, though won’t be there for more than half a day. I just wanted to get some driving done and I’ve got a four-day round trip. Mum was missing me and wanted to come along so she’s been riding shotgun and continuously feeding me while I drive.

Sometimes you need balls to make a good window display

So today, my birthday, the 15th, I set out for Mildura, in the far northwestern corner of my state. The day started at 4am. It was supposed to start around 7:30, but my phone on the charger in the kitchen somehow re-enabled its alarms and set off an alarm set to wake me at 4am – not sure when I used this last, may have been my trip to the US. I have no idea why the alarms re-enabled, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. By the time Mum got up and we were set and ready to go, it’d just passed 9… and we still had fuel to fill, coffee to buy (yes, she’s an addict) and food to grab. We got onto the Calder freeway in Melbourne at 9:40, and this road would take us all the way.

Salt, salt everywhere and not a drop to drink

Much of the land was a dry summer yellow, all vestiges of green from the recent rain long gone. It reminded me of southern Colorado where I could have sworn I was driving at home if it weren’t for being on the wrong side of the road. We sailed through a number of stock standard Australian hamlets, tired and baked from the sun, stopping for small breaks and food here and there. It was a largely unsurprising trip. Well, until we hit a little place called Sea Lake. After the mocking of a far inland town called Sea Lake (it’s on a salt lake) we wandered into the newsagent for the ATM. In one nook of the place there were a couple of hundred oddly bell-shaped bottles with greenery that looked like terrariums. Not the normal thing you carry in a newsagent. Turns out that they were orchids, and orchids by the bucketload in tonnes of variety. Turns out that after newsagenting for 38 years, the proprietor has made a little hobby for himself in importing these sealed little bottles.

Water under the salt surface while collecting

On leaving Sea Lake we spied a little road to a viewing platform over the salt lake and decided a little side-trip was due. The viewing platform was a weird sheep-run that raised you all of a meter and a half to look out over the salt lake. In the distance there were tailings heaps visible from where salt is mined from the lake. Mum wanted some of the salt (pink salt), so we kept on down the road and went out on the salt pan to make it to the next jut of land where the tailings heap was…

The remnants of my car's sinking feeling just on entering the salt flat

… and we reversed back off the salt pan as the car began to sink. Probably not a good idea to get your car bogged on the pan. There’s a lot of water just under the surface, and a great way to find that moisture is to press a set of tires into it. We found another way around to the tailings heap as the salt pan near the start was quite black and dirty, then wandered to the salt pan with the weirdly crunchy salt beneath us. Mum made her collection of pink salt, we took a lot of photos, got mildly sunburnt, and wandered on.

Don't mess with Big Lizzie. Yes, those are the original wheels - they're meant to look like that.

The rest of the trip to Mildura was fairly mundane, with the exception of the ‘award-winning’ vanilla slices of Ouyen actually being rather nice. There was also a behemoth of a mechanical vehicle at Red Cliffs called Big Lizzie, but description won’t do her justice, you’ll need to see the photo, even if only to check out her wheels. She was supposed to haul wool on the other side of the river, but never crossed it, so ended up hauling grain on this side.

Mildura itself is a medium country town. Had decent grub at the ‘Worker’s club’ and cruised the streets a bit. We wandered on down to the ‘lock and weir’ and I learned something about locks and weirs. There is an island in the middle of the river. The lock is on one side and allows boats to raise or lower to the water level up/downstream. The weir is on the other side of the island and acts as overflow to ensure the water level never gets too high for the lock. Learn something new every day.

So the dark horse of the day was the little town known as Sea Lake. Surprised me, anyway. I don’t expect much for the next few days in terms of exciting adventures – this was always going to be a ‘point that way and drive’ expedition – but you never know what might crop up.

Oh… and Mildura has active fountains! Hooray for fountains…


†Remember that you can click on thumbnails for a bigger look at Big Lizzie

Toodles, poodles

July 15, 2009

It’s so unfair that I have to leave both NY and the US at the same time.

These cute things help hold the Hilton steady

These cute things help hold the Hilton steady

When I first started the blog, I mostly saw it as a way to keep people informed of where I was and what I was doing. I thought I’d update it every few days with an ‘I’m at -foo- doing -bar-‘ and not much else, since the few travel blogs I’ve looked at are much the same: here I am at A, met person B, look at panoramic vista photo C. It turned out for me that the blog was a way to distill the stuff that happened during the day, in effect, to help me memorise it, to remember the stuff that happened earlier in the day. It hasn’t worked perfectly, but there was so much happening on most days that sitting down and thinking about it really helped. And like I said earlier, for every thing in the blog there’s two or three that I encounter during the day. At least.

Spraypaint artist. Big on the west coast, not so common on the east

Spraypaint artist. Big on the west coast, not so common on the east

The other big advantage for me was having various people suggest random cool things to do, which is a decent feat given the breadth of the travels.

Anyway, I’ve got to get out of the room as sign-out is approaching. I’ve repacked everything and have a couple of hours walking around time before heading off to JFK.

Think I might get me some Korean dumplings…

In the thick of it

July 15, 2009

New Yorkers love public chess more than most Americans

New Yorkers love public chess more than most Americans

When they say NY is a city that never sleeps, I think they mean that it won’t let you sleep. So last night I’m in a dorm of 12. No worries, I’ve never had a problem in a large dorm before. Calling it an early night at 11, I wander in and the light’s already off. Creep in to bed with eyes almost cramping shut. Some guy then comes in, turns lights on, rustles around, mostly closes the windows and turns off the AC before getting into bed. Fine. Let’s try to sleep now. Nope, there’s a truck reversing outside that sounds a lot like my alarm back home. Normally I’m fine with traffic sounds and sirens, but it’s dead quiet except for this single reversing truck. It finally stops reversing. Next port of call, the couple come into the dorm and spend 20-30 minutes giggling, surreptitiously drinking, and taking flash photos. Gave them the benefit of the doubt at first for settling in time, but eventually cracked it and politely told them to shut the fuck up. Right. Time for sleep? Nope, I’ve got my second wind now and can’t shut my eyes. Fuck. And woken before 7 in the morning by another cretin who can’t even try to be quiet.

Some people like their bikes extra-fresh!

Some people like their bikes extra-fresh!

Wander out into the upper west side for a last explore before heading to the other hostel, generally to eat up time, but also a bit of a farewell to the area. Went a bit further north and ran into Columbia University with it’s stock assortment of stately university buildings. Not much else exciting on that trip, so came back, got my heavy bags, and headed downtown to the Chelsea Star Ho[s]tel. I only have two more carries of my heavy bags, once to JFK, and once home. Trust me, they’re heavy and unwieldy enough that I’ve been counting.
New York has a surprising amount of green space

New York has a surprising amount of green space

Anyway, arrived at the Chelsea and no, they don’t book in until 3pm. Fuck, that’s when I’ll be in queue at Jon Stewart. But they will hold the bags, though I’m a bit loathe to leave my laptop + passport backpack in plain view at reception, I figure fuck it, it’s survived 88 days so far, and I’m fooling myself if I think I’m going to carry it around for the next half a day. The guy on the desk was one of these fellows who answers every question with “um, just give me a minute”. I departed asking “do you have a water fountain?” and he replied as above. Not giving him a minute, I proffered the position of myself removing my entity from reception and finding perhaps some merchant of quenching liquids elsewhere. He was happy with this suggestion.

Seats you can swivel around next to the Hudson

Seats you can swivel around next to the Hudson

Wandered up the mile and a half to the converted warehouse that is the Daily Show studio, and the area is sort of a light industrial backwater of Manhattan. Well, I say backwater, but it still has things like twin 40-storey towers and whatnot. But little interesting to discuss. Still far too early to queue, I headed along to the Hudson river and wandered for a while up the shoreline. I lay for possibly the last time in soft, thick, green grass. Yes, it exists. It doesn’t have to be harsh, yellow, and interspersed with dirt patched. Soft green grass. It’s actually springy. It’s like walking on sponges instead of hay bales. Passed a few burned-out piers that the residents seem to love having around before heading back for an early spot in the queue.

Righto, will do!

Righto, will do!

So with about two and a half hours before doors open for the Daily Show audience, there was already about thirty people in line. By the time the suggested arrival time came along, the queue was completely full. I might add that two and a half hours is a long time to be standing in the one spot, especially when you’re tired of your ipod and you’ve finished chatting to the person next to you. Eventually the doors opened and yes, another airport-style security point. This time, however, I found a new trick – my baseball hat makes a nice cup shape that holds all the metal shit in my pockets and on my belt, allowing me to deconstellate well before reaching the scanner. If only I’d found this trick earlier! Still, I can use it once more tomorrow.
Burnt-out docks on the Hudson

Burnt-out docks on the Hudson

But into the set of the Daily Show where the wait continued and finally the comedian came out around 6pm to get us riled up. Can’t remember his name, but he was very quick and great off the cuff. Good stuff. Then Stewart came out, fielded a few questions to build rapport, and it was on with the show (July 14 episode if you must know). It was a good show, though the guest was a bit ‘filler’, and it’s pretty clear Stewart adores his job. Halfway through the episode I realised that I should have asked in question time for Stewart to do his GW Bush impression. Dammit, now I have to come back to NY to ask him next time…

Inside a giant wine bottle sculpture

Inside a giant wine bottle sculpture

So remember what I said about NY not letting you sleep? Well fuggedaboutit. I reached the Chelsea Star to book in and the guy on the desk was cluey and alert to the fact I’m enormous and had real problems with the idea of me fitting in their dorm beds. From the sounds of it, they also have 6′ beds. I knew that this might be a possibility, and didn’t really have an alternative at this late stage, so I was ready to grin and bear it. He started pushing a suite, usually for $289 but he could give me a massive discount. No can do, haven’t the money, I’ll just grin and bear it. Out of interest, how much could I have the room for? $55 plus taxes. Ya feckin’ what? Um… I might just do that. Win-win. They have an empty suite and will get some more dollars, and I get to sleep. So here I am in a suite with three queen size beds (plus a foldaway!) and an airconditioner that no-one else will turn off, in the heart of downtown (30th & 8th). I get to sleep. On the last night in NY, I finally get to sleep. Finally. I love you New York, it’s like a goodbye kiss.

My stalwart companions throughout the trip

My stalwart companions throughout the trip

A final note. The photo here shows the companions that have been with me pretty much every step of the way. The shoes were my backup shoes, but I learned in SF that my Converse All-Stars were not made for walking around for seven hours. The baseball cap was from Perth back home, and has been with me every day except the first day I got horribly sunburned. It was a solid blue when I started, and sweat and the desert sun faded it that way. When not in use it gets tucked into the belt at the small of my back. The sunnies were the best of a bad bunch from Venice Beach, though I’ve grown to love them. The phone was a shitty phone, really shitty, from a T-Mobile store next to UCLA. The case to the left of it is the camera case, the camera being with me every day but of course not in shot. The ipod wasn’t with me all the time – when I had the car it was replaced by the set of keys. The wallet is obvious. The belt was from Mexico to replace the belt that was too big for my thinning waistline, which is now thickening from all the guzzling I’ve been doing in New York. There’s scorpion patterns woven into it, because I’m classy that way. This is the stuff that would be with me every day, my standard loadout. My travelling kit. The bonus is that everything is on the belt or in pockets – my hands are free and I don’t have to juggle anything.

I suppose I should wander out one last time into the New York night. Tomorrow night at this time I’ll be halfway to my LA stopover.

It's awfully dark down there...

It's awfully dark down there...

… I wanna be sedated. Seriously. I’ve regained my mental acuity and emotional stability from a few nights in a bed of reasonable size, but the sleep quality still wasn’t enough for refreshment. Physical tiredness looks to be the go for the remainder of the trip. Offset that against this current hostel being the biggest I’ve seen to date and it’s full of teenagers. Seriously. Some are early teenagers. There’s some teen event on or something. And they’re running around playing tag and shit. I’m in a dorm of 12, but the bed is of a decent size and there’s a little more space between bunks and the aircon isn’t spraying directly across someone’s bed so it’s likely to be left on overnight. I may get a reasonable sleep. Sorry if I’m boring you all with this, but sleep figures very strongly in my Maslow at the moment.

They've invented the artificial lap!

They've invented the artificial lap!

Since the last post I’ve not done much but wander out, eat, wander back, and cringe at all the pounding of little feet in the hostel. There was a comedy show in the lounge below this one which was very iffy. More painful race-based stuff in lieu of talent. Another guy who’d ripped off old 60s single-panel comics for his material. I don’t mind people who reuse stuff as long as they let you know that they’re not being original with the relevant material. Of the people who aren’t teens in the hostel, we seem to be having a British Invasion, though there’s still the ever-present smattering of French, German and Australian tongues spread about.

...and the solar-powered trashcan!

...and the solar-powered trashcan!

So, the real reason I’m posting again is to provide some odd info about the blog. In the admin pages it tells me what people searched for in google to find the page. Here is a selection of the search terms, in the order they appear in the list:

  • encaustic sculpture
  • marbeling and the uncanny valley
  • shoe foot paws costume
  • austin luxury homes
  • yellow girder
  • how big is a 6 man tent
  • small town police vehicles
  • dick wolf
  • where to find gold teeth in winston sale
  • “best restaurant in fort stockton”
  • hand shower pipe
  • dull penis
  • naked “women’s bath”
  • balloon clown cleveland

Tomorrow I’m juggling hostels so I can’t do anything big in the morning, and in the afternoon it’s (hopefully) off to Jon Stewart for my last night in the US. Here’s hoping he punctuates my trip well…

Hrm... so... you want some money?

Hrm... so... you want some money?

You think I’d’ve learned by now: never assume your internet access will last when travelling. Last night the hostel’s internet failed (not assigning IP addresses) and so I thought that the bus has wifi because it’s so cool, and sure enough I get on the bus and it fails (bus uplink not working). Lucky for me I had a vague idea of where hostel #1 was, around the corner from the hell hostel I stayed in previously. Now I’m here and on the internet again, but it only seems to be stable if I’m constantly pinging an external site.

Essentially yesterday was a long arvo at a science museum. Yes, I know I said that I was into credit now and only free things count, but I claim the $30 expenditure was on science, which feels like home to me, so therefore counts as ‘accommodation’! Yes, that’ll do.

Boats in the evening

Boats in the evening

So a nice sunny walk along the river was in order with a shirt concealing my sunburned shoulders, watching people sun themselves and boat about and a windsurfer looking frustrated in the still conditions. The walk was so picturesque that I had to repeat it in the evening on the way back, trying not to get hit by the joggers and bikers that claim that path for themselves. I’ll never understand jogging, pounding your knees until you’re sweaty in an attempt to be unable to hear your ipod properly. Weirdos.

The arteries of a dog

The arteries of a dog

I’d selected the museum of science as there was no modern art museum on offer in Boston. While musing what to do, the hostel had a mural of various things around town and I saw the museum listed there. Fondly remembering the Exploratorium back in SF (where fondly remembering = barring up over), I set out with far more time available. The Museum of Science in Boston was a bit weird. It was part museum exhibits and part hands-on exhibits, whereas the Exploratorium was all hands-on.

Petrified lightning. Hardcore.

Petrified lightning. Hardcore.

There was still lots of cool stuff to see and do, with the exception that once again there were too many kiddliewinks in the way. Damn things. Someone should create some kind of playground with lots of hands-on things to do to keep them out of the way. Saw a 3-D show on bugs narrated by Judi Dench where the heroine gets eaten by the hero. I’ve never really understood getting famous actors to voice-act. “Shall we see the 20 minute featurette ‘Bugs!‘?” -> “Nah, not really interested” -> “Judi Dench is narrating. She’s a Dame, you know?” -> “Fukken SIGN ME UP! In like FLYNN!”

It takes balls to work with electricity

It takes balls to work with electricity

Also saw a show in the planetarium on the Mars rovers that NASA sent up and performed beyond expectations, but the show that really took the cake was the electric show. The bloke running it had his little red lab coat and went through the usual ain’t-it-cool stuff with small Van der Graaf generators and volunteer’s hair, but he inexpertly built the show up through using the Jacob’s ladder and Tesla coils to using one of the largest Van der Graaf generators in the world†. Big, loud zaps. He got into a birdcage and raised it up so it was being zapped so as to demonstrate the skin effect, the generator zapping the cage with 500kV with him putting his hands on the inside of the metal. For dramatic effect he licked his finger and put it opposite the spot on the bar the zaps were striking.

A little bit of me for everyone!

A little bit of me for everyone!

Apart from the shows there were a great variety of themes on display and it took a while to try everything. Favourites were the perceptual illusions and the light benches. Perception and attention have always been a favourite of mine, though my theory is rusty, because I’m always interested in seeing how we perceive the stuff that’s out there, and how we can fool our detectoring devices, not to mention seeing just how many clauses a sentence can hold. But there was stuff on birds, gears, mathematical modelling, playground physics, weather, reproduction and genetics, computer history, desert life, looking for clues like an archaeoligist, music, fluid dynamics, and a passel of stuff that I can’t bring to mind just now. Probably have photos, though.
I want one of these tornado machines

I want one of these tornado machines

Effect of loud sound on fluid

Effect of loud sound on fluid

The evening was spent choring after a brief mental debate of going out drinking with no money and very tired versus smelling like a back-country bull for the next few days. Fought with the crappy internet connection and called it a night. Today has mostly been a travelling day after scoffing a last-minute cup of clam chowder. Nummy. I never did find Gareth’s much-promoted bucket of battered hotdogs. Managed to get the front seat up the top of the bus and I can tell you that it’s kinda scary when you see a low bridge approaching. Add that to the interstate being tree-lined all the way and it wasn’t the most interesting of trips.
So I can be a sneaky bastard if I put my mind to it!

So I can be a sneaky bastard if I put my mind to it!

Now I’m ensconced in the HI hostel in NY and am about to head out for food. It’s huge. And like the one in Boston, I’m on the bloody top floor with no elevator, heavy bags and slightly stuffed knees. Tomorrow is my last full day in the US and unfortunately I’ve got to swap hostels in the middle of it. Weird to think that after all this time I’ll be boarding a plane in 48 hours.

No worries.


† When Americans say ‘the world’, you never know if they mean ‘the Earth’ or ‘the USA’

I found a new way to be woken today, and it didn’t involve any of the other five guys in the room. The trick is to have your chest heated by the sun streaming in through the closed window†. So wakeup time was around 7:15 and I’ve learned to close the shades. Out of the tiny room into the tiny shower, but at least they all work.

An awesome fountain

An awesome fountain

Just out and about exploring Boston today. The first thing that strikes you is that it’s a wealthy city. Everything is so well kept, but it’s allowed to look natural rather than clipped to hell as per LA greenery. The other thing that strikes you is how small it is. There’s a wall map of it in the hostel kitchen and eight miles will take you from the docks to the outer suburbs. The hostel is all of a mile and a half from the centre of town and it’s a lazy walk through avenues to get there. The avenue I walked down had two statues per block and most of them were literary or civil rights figures with a small smattering of military. A curious reversal of the usual mix. This avenue opened out into Boston Common, full of people soaking in the gentle summer sun, eating expensive snack food.

Given my previous mixup of John Thomas and John Hancock, it's curious to note Hancock's rather phallic monument

Given my previous mixup of John Thomas and John Hancock, it's curious to note Hancock's rather phallic monument

There’s all sorts of historical markers and they’re very proud of their activities in the 17th and 18th century. There’s a few ‘burying grounds’ around, not cemeteries, not graveyards, but ‘burying ground’. The paths made for the tourists go willy-nilly over the graves and it’s kind of weird. Blokes in period costume wander around waxing lyrical about the denizens of the burying grounds, which is just as well since the headstones are worn to indecipherability.

I wandered through the streets a bit more and ran into a most bizarre protest. A few blokes spruiking for Lyndon LaRouche. I normally leave these folks alone, but as I passed their sandwich board I couldn’t help but double over laughing. “Britain gave you Hitler” it proclaimed, and then a line about Obama’s healthcare plan. One of the blokes came over and asked why I was laughing and I explained, asking him how Britain gave us Hitler – his answer was that it was British Imperialism that bankrolled him.

Little cushions to aid you sitting on the steps

Little cushions to aid you sitting on the steps

I asked how on earth could he distill decades of european politics into ‘britain gave you hitler’ and how on earth this is related to the british healthcare system they were reviling and he gave me some literature – LaRouche’s recent webcast transcript. I read it on and off throughout the day with just a critical eye, not a political one. It’s so full of misdirections, misrepresentions and outright lies I’m amazed he has followers. In the speech he mentions Britain as the enemy a lot (he occasionally says he means the style of economics, but keeps attacking the people with a particular penchant for Prince Philip like he’s some kind of nefarious mastermind), and says that Obama’s healthcare plan is exactly the same as the events of the holocaust. Not ‘will lead to’ or a bit of hyperbole, but actually specifies it’s exactly the same.
I'm a bit scared to contemplate just what these guys do

I'm a bit scared to contemplate just what these guys do

Not knowing the details of Obama’s healthcare plan I can’t defend or attack it, but the LaRouche literature can only be considered slanderous. Hell, he calls Obama, Blair, Prince Phil and Her Madge all to be Nazis. And he means it. The guy is a total loon. I did try to find the spruikers later in the day because I just wanted to point out that character assassination was not the same as addressing the issue, but I couldn’t find them.

The Tea Party museum is, ah, under renovations

The Tea Party museum is, ah, under renovations

Much of the rest of the day was just wandering through the streets, through the thronging central market and out along the harbourfront. There’s a Tall Ships race that’s in port at the moment, and droves of people crowding around to see them. I went to the site of the Tea Party museum, but it was out of commission. There were a few tall ships around that were sorta fun to look at, but just sitting by the harbour watching boats in general was kinda meditative. Reminded me of Sydney a bit, without the bluffs.
Americans love their big flags

Americans love their big flags

I ended up wandering back through town and had dinner at a rather average Chinese place and found that wandering around for six hours in the gentle Boston sun had given me mild sunburn on my shoulders. Damn. The other thing I realised was that I am now out of money. I have enough for food and accommodation, but I’m working on credit now. Damn. Only four more days to go, I guess. The other, other thing I realised is that the two alternate hostels I was trying to book when I’m back in NY don’t have vacancies. I may have to return to a Jazz hostel, of which there are several. Damn.

ADDENDUM: Hahahahah! I found that I could do one night at one alternate hostel, and the other night at the other! I’d rather take the risk on two new hostels than go back to the jazz hostels and sleep on their crappy short mattresses again.


† ‘closed window’ doesn’t sound so poetic, does it?

Shipping up to Boston

July 11, 2009

Golly, that really is the short bus

Golly, that really is the short bus

After leaving the hostel of nice staff but nasty facilities it was off to find the bus to Boston. The company called Megabus runs buses every 15 minutes going to cities around New York. You’d think they’d have a terminal or at least a cutting or something. No, they have a small tin sign and several guys in high visibility vests. Still, can’t argue – for $14 I get a four and a half hour busride in a doubledecker bus with wifi web access and mains power. Not full internet (for the sysadmins out there) but web only (which is all everyone else cares about). Tired of seeing trees by the side of the road, my entertainment was in my lap.

gawd...

gawd...

Getting in to Boston I once again had that wonderful moment where you’ve just walked out of your transport hub and have no idea whatsoever of how the city fits around it. I knew where I had to walk, and headed off to the hostel a mile away leaving mental breadcrumbs behind me. One thing I love about getting to a new city is the feeling of it’s grid forming around you as you explore it. It was at this point I realised that my sullen funk of the past few days wasn’t from living out of a bag, it was from the lack of sleep.
They made a statue of me in my younger days, but they screwed up the nose...

They made a statue of me in my younger days, but they screwed up the nose...

Admittedly, I am tired of constantly having to hunt accommodation (though internet really helps) but I’m not tired of living out of a bag or of travelling. Looking back on the days in the Jazz hostel, I saw how the sleep debt I had accumulated slowly enough to not be noticed easily until the last days, how insidious it was at masking it’s own effects. Here I was exploring a new city, and a fucking awesome one at that. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I don’t like looking for accommodation. But no, I could keep on visiting new cities. There’s something really special about watching a new city unfold before your explorations of it.

Tiny room... but the BED FITS

Tiny room... but the BED FITS

So I booked into the hostel, made it up through the veritable maze of passageways to the tiny room. Three bunks. The remaining floorspace was about the same as the space of two bunks, if that. Clambered up onto my bunk and yes, it’s long enough. The room will be hot, but I won’t be pinioned by the bunk and I won’t have to keep juggling a doubled-up thin pillow. Wandered out for food and a bit more exploring, ate at a thai place thirty yards away (meh, student cafeteria style food) and went window shopping in a nearby shopping centre. And bought more books, including a copy of The Princess Bride for myself. Hey, these books were half the price that they’d be back home.

I never thought I'd see allotment gardens in the US

I never thought I'd see allotment gardens in the US

When I signed in, the guy at the desk told me about a drinking group heading out to drink at the tall ships that are in dock at the moment. Despite being tired as hell, I thought I better get some socialising done because I did woefully little of it in New York due to mental fatigue. When I came back there was half an hour before departure so I lay down to rest my eyes for a few minutes… and missed the group by a few minutes. Having no idea where they went or how to get there, I figured I needed to stay awake a bit longer – it was 8pm and I tend to sleep for at most seven hours. So I headed out again in search of a movie theatre and found a few interesting things along the way.

Fenway Park in the middle of a (yawn) baseball game

Fenway Park in the middle of a (yawn) baseball game

I ended up seeing Pixar’s Up! which started a little late for me, and it’s another feather in their cap. It’s a very sweet story that’s based around exploring the theme of realising your dreams. It doesn’t have as much raw comedy as other Pixar films but it’s still very much worth watching, and probably on the big screen. It had extra poign† for me since Boston is the last stop of my travels across the US and I’ve been wanting to cross the US on and off for the past fifteen years. Anyway, it’s getting close to 2 am so I’d better sign off and go find adventure in a bed that fits…


† If something is poignant, it stands to reason that it must contain some poign. Mind you, I heard a curator on the radio pronounce the ‘g’. Ouch.

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