Norman's Travel Adventures
Thursday, September 14, 2017
  Back from Burning Man
So . . . I'm back from Burning Man.

I'm very glad I went. Will I go again? I think I will one day. Probably not next year. Maybe not for many years. It's really cool. It's also a major pain in the ass. That bears repeating, with emphasis. Going to Burning Man is a royal pain in the ass.

Things I liked the most
The art was amazing and creative and interactive. Burning Man is lots of things, but perhaps foremost an arts festival.
Lots of attractive and scantily clad or naked people.
The overall bizarreness of the experience, a temporary city built in a ridiculously inhospitable environment and fully occupied for only a week (though the preparation and cleanup take months). And when I say city, I mean 70,000 people, and more of some types of infrastructure than many cities that size in the developing world -- an airport, a gas station, a post office, law enforcement . . .
That I got lots of exercise -- I probably biked for like 5 hours a day on average.
The sense of exploring said city and discovering all kinds of cool stuff.
Some of the particular events and workshops that I attended.
The sense of escape from everyday life. I was inside the USA, but I felt like I was far away from any country or culture I had ever visited.

Things I hated
The heat
The dust
Everything is hard to do. Everything.
No running water or air conditioning.
No garbage service. Pack in, pack out.
No capitalism.

Hated here is a bit of an exaggeration. All the things I hated contributed to the bizarreness of the experience, which I appreciated. I thought it was fun that due to all the dust and lack of running water, there was no social norm against dirtiness. But overall these things were very annoying.

Things I learned
A new and deeper appreciation for capitalism. Because there is almost no opportunity to buy, sell, or trade things in Black Rock City (it's against the Burning Man principles), there are instead long lines that you wait in when people give things away for free and weird social dynamics. Gave me a bit of a feel of what it would be like to live in a corrupt socialist country.

A new and deeper appreciation for garbage. Seriously, I don't usually stop to reflect on how wonderful and amazing it is that I can take any item that I no longer want to have in my possession, throw it in a bin, and no longer have to worry about it.

That I still have it in me to do plan and prepare serious adventures like this. After years without a serious international backpacking trip, I was beginning to doubt I was up to such a thing. In many ways, preparing for Burning Man was more difficult than preparing for my lengthy international trips discussed elsewhere in this blog.

One of the first things I did when I got back to Reno was go to the mall, eat at the food court (where I chose an eatery with a short line) and delight in the fact that anything I spilled on the floor, somebody else had the job of cleaning up, and anything I didn't want to eat, I could throw away.

Most interesting people I met
Rick Doblin, Founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and philanthropist. They both gave very interesting talks that finished off a weeklong series of talks on psychedelics and related topics which I wish I'd attended more of.

So what is Burning Man?
It's a city. It's big. If you want to spend all week just dancing or just looking at art or just attending intellectual talks, or just going to kink or sex events, you can do it. And lots of other possibilities besides. It's not one thing. It's a city.

And that's enough writing for now.

Monday, July 17, 2017
  Burning Man Preparations
Burning Man has been on my bucket list for years. Finally, this year, life circumstances are such that I can go. I'm so excited. But . . . the preparation is horrendous.

I've got to say, I'm enough of a capitalist, that Burning Man's anti-commerce culture doesn't really appeal to me. Markets are good because they allocate goods and services efficiently. If everybody brings enough to be radically self-reliant AND everybody brings enough to gift to others, then an excess will be brought, so there will necessarily be waste. And all this energy and money that is spent on bringing a wasteful amount of resources could instead be spent on making more art for more Radical Self Expression. Or on doing a better job of Leaving No Trace. And so on.

I'd like to take the Burner Bus, but for some reason they only allow a limited amount of luggage, and a limited size of luggage, which will make it hard to take -- I'll have to search hard to find a suitable tent to actually fit on the bus. Why is it considered better in Burner culture to rent a car and bring all your own stuff than to do what's better for the environment, take the bus and pay somebody else to set up a camp for you?

An ordinary tent won't do. You need to withstand 100 degree heat and freezing cold and be dustproof and windproof. You really would think they would allow larger carry-on items on the bus.

I suppose the whole festival is more convenient when you have a group you're going with. But that doesn't seem much like radical self-reliance. More like radical group-reliance. Why is relying on friends different from relying on a normal economy? The latter is just more efficient, it extends your friend circle.

So with all this frustration, why am I going at all? It's an experience like no other. The art is amazing. The ability to just wander and see crazy stuff will put even The City of New York to shame I expect. I'll have stories to tell for years. And if I find I like it, then going back next year will be easier.

But damn it would be easier if there were a straightforward way to pay $500 or $1000 to rent a decent shelter on the playa. I mean, that's about the cost of a rental car for the event, not to mention the possible rental car cleaning fees. Why is the rental car not frowned upon and easy to obtain while the structure of the event makes it almost impossible to rent accommodations? Perhaps they should turn around anybody at the gate unless they hiked in through the desert or built their own car from raw materials. Just sayin'.
Tuesday, July 04, 2017
  European Travelogues from 2003
[A blast from the past!! Going through my old computer files, I have found my travelogues from my first international adventure, my trip to Europe the summer after I graduated high school.

My current job does not allow for such lengthy adventures. I do hope to at least have an international adventure of a couple weeks in the next year or two. These travelogues were originally sent out as a series of emails to family and friends.

Comments from the current day are in square brackets. My present self does not necessarily endorse all the values and beliefs stated below.]

6/23/03 8:13 AM
Family and friends: 
This is the first edition of my European Travelogue, which I will
send you by email at an uncertain frequency over the next two months.
I sent it to everyone who´s email I had on me or could think of,
which excludes many more people than it includes. Feel free to
forward this and subsequent editions to whomever you want.
Specifically, I left Mrs. Myers´ email at my host´s house, and the
only family emails I knew off the top of my head were mom and dad,
but I did have an eclectic couple of email addresses in my wallet,
so, that´s that.
Anyway, I arrived in Madrid the morning of the 18th at 9 A.M. (3 A.M.
in the U.S.) After a couple of hours wandering around trying to find
my host´s house, I finally resigned to take a cab. I hadn´t slept all
night on the plane, but I was determined to stay awake all day in
order to overcome jetlag, which I did successfully.  I saw the Prado
(Madrid´s main art museum) that day. 
The next day, Angel, my host, drove me out to Salamanca, a college
town about 200 km west of Madrid, which seemed to me to be straight
out of Harry Potter. The drive to and from Salamanca was beautiful,
mountains and wheatfields. And there were all these little red roofed
medeival villages nestled in the hills. In Salamanca, we saw a car
museum with a special exhibit on the history of automobiles. On the
way back, we stopped in the walled town of Avila for a bathroom stop.
That night, I saw a bullfight, so it was quite a full day. The next
day, I went to Toledo by train, and found my Pension (cheap hotel)
very easily. Toledo Spain is nothing like Toledo, OH. It is on the
side of a hill, and all the streets are very narrow and made of
cobblestone and have a large inclination, so it´s uphill both ways
wherever you go. Fortunately, I bought a good map at the train
station. It served me well. Unfortunately, I lost my compass in
Toledo, and I have yet to find another, but I found my way around OK
anyway. I have yet to find another compass.
The main sites proved a bit disappointing, but it was incredibly fun
just to wander around. There´s tons of neat little shops and tapas
bars and streets and plazas, and every time a car came down one of
the narrow, inclined streets, it amazed me. Plus, there were great
views of the surrounding countryside from the high places. 
After two nights in Toledo, I came here to Sevilla (Seville). I
stopped in Cordoba to see the famous Mezquita, but, unfortunately, it
had closed early for the Corpus Christi festival, so, instead, I got
to see a parade, a procession of Christian paraphernalia coming out
of the mosque (which is now a cathedral) made me a bit unhappy it
seems the spirit of the reconquista lives on, although maybe that´s
not fair, maybe I was just disappointed not to get to see the inside
of the Mezquita. Well, I finally got here to Sevilla at 10 P.M. (I
had gotten confused with trains at the beginning of my journey, hence
the lateness.) I took a cab to my host´s house since I couldn´t quite
figure out his directions. The Cabby didn´t know where the street
was!! But eventually he found it. 7.50 Euros. 
My host, Javier, didn´t get home till midnight, so I had to wait for
him, but he´d left a note on the door.
Anyway, here I am now in Sevilla in an internet cafe, and this
morning I washed my clothes because they were all filthy, and I have
10 minutes left on the internet and I want to do some other stuff, so
this is the end of the next message.
Hasta luego (that means see you later in Spanish)
Norman Perlmutter

P.S. If you don´t want to be included in future emails, let me know.
If you know someone who does, let me know their address.
P.P.S. Mom and dad, please save the travelogue emails, so I can keep
them when I get home to supplement my journal which is also being
well used. 

6/29/03 4:06PM
This is the second installment of my European travelogue. If you
didn´t get the first part, email my dad,[email address redacted], or my
mom, [email address redacted], to have them forward it to you.    
Sevilla (or Seville for Spanish illiterate people)

I stayed in Sevilla for four nights. The first day, I found my way
around, got a map, and took a ride on a boat along the Rio
Guadilquivir. I had "lunch" with my host, Javier (the Spanish eat
lunch at around 3 p.m.) he is a great cook. He made pasta with tomato
sauce with tuna and hard boiled egg mixed in, and it was great. Then,
in the evening, I went on the boat ride. The next day, I saw the
Reales Alcazares (royal fortresses/castles). It´s commonly known as
the Alcazar, but its official name is in the plural because it´s
really several castles, Muslim and Christian, built on top of, and/or
around each other. It was my favorite site so far in my entire trip,
incredibly ornate. That same day, I also saw the Plaza de Espana, a
semicircular plaza with a big ornate building on the border which
contains tiled artwork depicting each of the states of Spain. Also, I
wandered around the bario de Santa Cruz (the Jewish quarter). That
night, I had dinner with Javier, and he invited about 6 or 7 friends,
also, his wife Rosa came home from her travels. We had a great time.
Every one ate off of the same serving plates; no individual plates.
Finally, a bit after midnight, I figured I´d better get going to the
next house, so I did. It was a very short walk. I was a bit later
than they would have preferred, but it was OK. The next day, I went
to see the Cathedral, and that evening I went to an expensive (27
euro), but good, flamenco show. I also had lunch with my hosts,
Magdalena and Manuel. Finally, my last day in Sevilla, I packed up
and went down to the bus station, where I caught the bus to La Linea,
the Spanish town on the border with Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is a small British selfgoverning territory in the south of
The bus left Sevilla at 3 p.m. and travelled four hours, at least one
hour longer than I´d expected. Then I walked into Gibraltar and
wandered around awhile rather than go straight to the hostel.
Finally, I made had to ask directions to the hostel, although if I´d
gone there straight away it would have been easy to find. That night,
I could have sworn that the streets of Gibraltar were even more
confusing than the streets of Toledo, Spain, although they aren´t
really. The hostel was interesting. My roommates were a Californian
backpacker eurailpasser named Steve, who had a terrible cold, an old
(about 60) Brit named John, who was travelling mostly by bike, and a
British woman whose name I forget, about 30, who´d been staying in
the hostel for 2 weeks. John was an amusing character. Steve seemed
to think he knew more than he actually did, but he was friendly. The
next day, I went up the rock by the cable car, and saw all the sites
there, including the macaques, which I thought were cute, The cave,
which had really cool rock formations, and the seige tunnels. I could
see Africa across the strait. At one point, when I was going up a
path at the top of the rock, there was this huge flight of birds that
kept swooping down over my head, within a foot or so, and cawing
loudly. I stood there for about  15 minutes, enjoying the
performance. Luckily, I didn´t get pooped on. Gibraltar was
expensive, since the pound is so strong, and a bit of a shlep away
from the rest of Spain, but it was fun. Oh, by the way, the first
night in Gib, I felt sort of homesick, because the English reminded
me of home, but it wasn´t home. At first I thought it was a obnoxious
that I had to walk all the way to Spain to use my Spanish phone card,
but the second time around, I thought, hey, how many times in your
life do you get to walk to Spain, and I enjoyed it after that.
Anyway, after I got down from the rock, I wanted to go on a dolphin
boat, but it was all booked up already, so I went to the Gibraltar
museum instead, which had historical displays and taxidermied
wildlife. Not incredibly interesting, but it passed the time. The
next morning, I woke up incredibly early to catch the 7 A.M. train
back to Sevilla. From Sevilla, I travelled to Madrid, and then San
Sebastian, by train. Fortunately, I was able to make all my
connections, otherwise I wouldn´t have gotten to San Sebastian at all
that night.

San Sebastian is a city in the Basque country, in northern Spain.
The train got to San Sebastian at 10, and I should have taken a taxi
to my host´s house, but for some stupid reason, I walked instead. I
finally got there after midnight, very tired. Oh, well, live and
learn. In the future, I´ll try to get into destinations earlier, and
I´ll take a cab if I arrive late. The next day, today, I spent in San
Sebastian. My host showed me around the city a bit, with his shy cute
5 year old daughter who clung to Papa and refused to talk to me.
After that, I went to the beach, which was very nice. It was very
warm this morning, a perfect beach day. Later in the day was cooler.
I went up to the top of one of the hills, where they have a little
amusement park, and a historic tower, which I went up. Then I came
here. Now, I´m going to get something to eat, and then back to my
host´s house for the night. 
Hasta Luego  

P.S. Feel free to forward this to whoever you want. If you don´t want
to receive future travelogues, let me know.

P.P.S. Loren, you backpack is incredibly comfortable. Thank you so
much for loaning it to me.

7/5/03 1:25 PM

The last day in San Sebastian, I went to a park which was sort of
nice, but too distant to be worth the schlep. Next, I went to hang
out on the beach, but my swimsuit was in a locker in the train
station, so I sat on the edge of the water, reading, figuring I could
let the waves tickle my feet and gradually move up the beach as the
tide came in. Unfortunately, waves come in a large range of sizes,
and I eventually got soaked, me, my daypack, and my guidebook, soaked
and sandy. Fortunately, I had about 6 or 7 hours until I had to catch
my train. I went back to the train station to get my main bag,
changed into my swimsuit and a cleaner tshirt in the bathroom, went
to a laundry place, and washed all my stuff. Then I made my way back
to the station. I met many friendly people waiting for the train and
walking to the station, fellow travellers . . . It´s always nice to
have a chance to talk some English, although such opportunities will
become more frequent, as I´ll be staying mostly in hostels, rather
than with SERVAS, for the next segment of my trip. 
So, anyway, I took the night train to Barcelona. I didn´t get much
sleep on the train because it was a compartment of 6, and the seats
reclined into each other, so you could only really sleep well if
there were only 3 people. For part of the trip there were four, but
then 2 more got on ... full house  
Upon arriving in Barcelona, I found my host´s house very easily, for
a change. She is a Dutch college student, who is a SERVAS host in the
Netherlands, and she was renting the apartment from the dude who owns
it, who´s also a SERVAS host and was on vacation for 3 months,
corresponding with her vacation from school.
Anyway, I stayed in Barcelona for 4 nights and 5 days, and this is
the fifth day right now. The first 2 days, I saw the Erotica museum,
the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, and the aquarium, none of which
greatly impressed me, and they were all a bit overpriced, and two of
them wouldn´t accept my youth card, only another brand. I´ll tell you
more about Barcelona in the next installment. The next three days
were much better, but I have to send this email now, because my
internet time is running out. 


7/11/03 3:16 PM
So, as previously stated, the first two days in Barcelona were not
all that great, but after that, I got into the groove of things and
started having a good time. The third day, I saw the Picasso museum,
which was nice. I particularly enjoyed a ceramic plate with a bull
chasing its tail around the outside and a sun in the center.
That evening, I went to see the modernist Park Guell, but, by the
time I got there, I realized I did not have time to fully appreciate
it, so I resolved to return later. 
Then, I went to see the light show in the Placa de Espanya, which
Analika's friend Morije (pronounced Mariah) had recommended to me.
I'm quite glad that I saw it because it was possibly the most
beautiful thing I've seen so far on my trip, though the
Michaelangelo's David, which I saw today, comes very close.
Anyway, the light show: there was this huge fountain, and it was all
lit up with different colors of lights. The lights kept changing
colors, and the fountain waters were changing shape, and the number
of spouts, and the height, and sometimes it was just one big foamy
mass, sometimes a whole bunch of spouts. There was also music, and
the lights and water were choreographed to the music; it was sort of
like Fantasia, except with a fountain. During the intervals in the
music, performers juggled flaming batons. The show went on for 2 and
a half hours.
After the show I caught the last subway train back to my hostel and
went to bed.
My fourth day in Barcelona, I took a daytrip to the nearby town of
Figueres, where I saw the Salvador Dali museum, which was the best
art museum I have seen so far on this trip. (The famed Uffizi, which
I saw today, was terrible, as far as I'm concerned. WAY too much
Christian stuff, don't they EVER get tired of painting the Madonna
and child? And the lines . . . UGH. But I digress.) 
Anyway, the Dali museum was awesome, and Figueres was a neat town,
much quiter than Barcelona  I wish I could have spent a night
there, because there were some more Dali museums in the vicinity. 

The fifth day in Barcelona, I went to the train station to reserve my
ticket, only to be confronted by a wait of an hour and a half
(fortunately, I didn't actually have to wait in line all that time,
it's take a number.) Finally, when I got my turn, I went to buy my
ticket to Bern (where I was going instead of Nice because I couldn't
find any reasonably priced accomodations in Nice) only to find that
it was a hotel train, and there weren't any cheap seats left, so I
had to pay €63 even with my Eurail pass. Well, I decided to go for it
anyway, rather than find a different way to get to Bern, cuz at least
I could get a good night's sleep, and I didn't feel like spending the
whole day hashing out logistics.
Next, I found a place that sold the Spanish specialty, Churros con
Chocolate, which I hadn't managed to eat in my entire 2 weeks + in
Spain, so I got them. That left me only about 5 hours to catch my
train, but I really wanted to see Park Guell, (Which was a 45 minute
walk and metro (European word for subway) ride away. Well, I did it
anyway, and I'm glad I did because it was beautiful. Then I came back
to the internet cafe, where I typed out a quick email (travelogue
number 3), and finally I got my backpack from the hostel and went to
the trainstation. My busy day came with a price, though. On the way
to the train station I realized I'd left behind my travel towel in
the hostel, and I didn't have time to go back for it. Oh, well. And
I'd thought it would be cheaper to go to Bern . . . how ironic! 
The hotel train was comfy, though I was bothered to learn that the
guy next to me, who didn't even have a Eurailpass, had payed only 110
euros for his ticket. Oh, well.
Upon arriving in Bern the next morning, I found my place easily. It's
really a hotel, rather than a hostel, but it had some dorm rooms.
Each bunk bed was walled off with walls that went almost to the
ceiling, and no one was in my top bunk, so it was a great deal for
just 35 Swiss francs (about 23 euros, or 26 dollars), especially
considering how expensive Switzerland is.
Bern, the capital of Switzerland, has a beautiful, blue rushing
river. It is a cute little town, and it was quite a relief after the
craziness of Barcelona. 
(Side note: I really enjoyed all the street performers in Barcelona)
Anyway, Bern was neat, but everything closed at 5 PM, and everything
was closed on Sundays, and a McDonald's meal cost 10 francs. I did
finally find a grocery that was open that Sunday that I'd arrived,
but not till after I'd spent 12 francs on a salty tortellini dish for
lunch. By the way, bills in Switzerland are beautiful. Also, I've
noticed that in Europe, unlike the U.S., the more valuable bills are
bigger. In Switzerland, the coins went all the way up to 5 francs,
and the smallest coin was 5 cents. I hardly saw anything selling for
less than 1 franc in Switzerland, even in the cheapest grocery stores
nothing but a single yogurt or water bottle.
The first day in Bern, I saw the audio visual show at the tourist
center, which was the highlight of Bern. The next day, I travelled
around the area near Bern. A 30 minute train ride, and they speak
French instead of German, wow! By the way, the Swiss chocolate was
Also, at the hotel, I met a guy from Oregon State, the first 18 year
old I'd met on my travels (most of the people at hostels are college
grads and older). He had a friend from Oregon who will be a freshman
at Grinnell next fall, (who's name I wrote down)!
My last day in Switzerland, I stopped at a travel store on the way to
the train station, where I replaced my missing travel towel (they
sold the same brand) and compass for 40 francs, not a bad deal. Also
I bought some fresh caramel fudge from a street vendor, YUM.
Then I took the train to Milan (2 leg journey, switching in Brig),
and from Milan, back north to Como, and from Como a bus around the
lake to Menaggio. I found La Primula hostel easily in Menaggio (on
lake Como in very northern Italy).
La Primula hostel serves a great family style Italian dinner every
night, 10 euros for a two course meal, plus dessert, bread, and wine.
The next day in Menaggio, I rented a kayak. I got homesick, because
it was a gorgeous lake, but I couldn't go waterskiing like I do at
home. Overall, Menaggio was nice, but I think I could have skipped it.
The second night in Menaggio, I studied a teach yourself Italian book
for a few hours and managed to pick up a bit, it's very similar to
After two nights in Menaggio, I came to Florence. AT ten o'clock I
first took a ferry (10 minutes) across the lake to Varenna, where I
waited 2 hours for a train connection to Milan. From Milan, I needed
to get a reservation for Firenze (Florence) but I couldn't tell which
window to go to. All the main windows had advertisements for the
Milan to Venezia line, so I thought they were only selling tickets
for that line. Finally, I realized that this was not the case, after
missing two trains to Firenze. I payed 8 euros for a reservation on a
so called high speed train, which covered the 300 or so kilometers
from Milan to Firenze in 2 hours and 45 minutes, high speed my ass.
Anyway, I finally arrived in Florence at 5:45 P.M., and found my
campground without too much trouble, taking the bus since it was sort
of late. The campground has an awesome view of the city from above,
but is only a fifteen or twenty minute walk from the center. I almost
got a big tent to myself, but at 11 oclock a girl from Ohio arrived
to claim the second bed. 
The next day was today. I went first to the Uffizi gallery, which I
told you about above. The painting of the birth of Venus was nice,
though, and the admission included a special exhibit on the evolution
of the Italian language, which only came into being as the common
spoken language of the peninsula 100 years ago, although it had been
the official literary language since the 1400s or so.
After that, I went to see the sinagogue and Jewish museum, but it was
closed early for Shabbat, oops. Then I went to the Gallery of the
Academy, which housed Michaelangelo's David. As an added bonus, it
also had a collection of antique musical instruments, including a
couple of Stradivaris, plus a weird one string instrument that made a
sound like a trumpet. You could listen to the sounds of all the
instruments from PC terminals. David itself was awesome, particularly
since it looked great from all angles. The detail and size were
amazing. I did notice one inaccuracy. David was uncircumsized, which
is wrong, since he was Jewish! The statue was so amazing that I
returned to look at it several times before finally leaving. 
After that, I came here. On the way, I saw the outside of the Palazzo
Pitti, which was closed for the night. I think I'll see it tomorrow
morning, thought that means I'll have to get in to Rome somewhat
late. Oh, well. Anyway, I'm running out of internet time, so goodbye
for now.
P.S. to Dad: I think the reason you missed my previous email is that
it didn't have a subject line, so your computer thought it was spam.
Anyway, goodbye, all.
Warm regards.


The final day in Florence, I saw the Palazzo Pitti as planned. It was
nice. It contained several art galleries and a garden. In the art
galleries, the ceilings were more impressive than the paintings on
the walls for the most part, but I almost missed some of them.
I got to Rome late that evening, but managed to find my hostel with
only a little bit of trouble (I went three stops in the wrong
direction on the metro, then corrected this mistake.) I arrived at
the hostel at 10 pm.
Besides the initial awe of seeing the Colosseum, Roma did not impress
me much. It was terribly crowded, and the traffic was terrible, and
the metro was worst of all. It was almost always packed as full as
possible, so I was literally squeezed against my fellow sweaty public
transportees. The ticket machines were worst of all. A single ticket
costs 77 cents, but they only give change in multiples of 5 cents or
less, which would not be so bad, except that THEY WON'T LET YOU BUY A
you don't have a two cent piece or two pennies, you can't buy a
ticket at all, even if you're perfectly willing to forfeit the 3
cents i.n change. Anyway, I eventually got around these problems by
buying daypasses which were better value anyway, but it was a PAIN.
On the plus side, I ran into my Spanish teacher, Sra. Myers, and her
husband in the Vatican! She had told me she'd be in Rome then, but I
hadn't thought there was a chance in hell that I'd actually come
across her. I followed her tour group around for a while, but then
lagged behind to look at some stuff that the guide was breezing past,
and when I looked for her again, I'd lost her. Oh, well, easy come
easy go!
Also, in Rome, I met some friendly kids in the hostel with whom I
went around for a couple days. This gave me a much greater
appreciation for the for the advantages of travelling alone, such as
being able to go at your own pace where you want when you want.
Anyway, there were ruins like crazy all over the place in Roma, and
for a while they were interesting, but then it got to be like, oh,
MAN, ANOTHER ruin? So what's so special about it? It's friggin
falling apart. Apart from that, I ended up spending a
disproportionately long time in Rome making bookings for my future
travels, including advance bookings for the ferry to Greece, which,
in retrospect, I think were not necessary. 
Well, anyway, after 4 nights, I finally left Roma for Sorrento, a
small tourist town a bit south of Napoli (Naples) which isn't much in
and of itself but is great for exploring the surrounding region,
which is called Campania. I spent three days and four nights in
Campania, and they were my favorite part of Italy so far, or at least
tied with Florence. 
In Sorrento, I stayed at a campground a half hour walk or short
busride outside of town, where I rented a bed in a trailer. Each
trailer had two rooms, with two beds each. I ended up with a room to
myself all four nights. It even had an electric light, which is
luxurious for a campground. It took me a while to figure out how to
operate it, though, because the button you had to press had slipped
inside the fixture, so I had to detach the fixture from the ceiling.
Also, the window had lost the thing to prop it open, so I used an
empty water bottle, a trick copied from a neighbor. I met a lot of
great people at the campground. In general, I find that the people I
meet in campgrounds are more interesting than those whom I meet at
hostels. One was an oldish lady, (about 60?) named Eleanore, who sort
of reminded me of my neighbor Eleanor from home becuase she was about
the same age and just as friendly. There was also a French girl, who
spoke very good English. Since we had both finished reading our
fiction books, I traded my copy of The Hobbit with her for The Bone
People, a prize winning love story/mystery set in New Zealand, which
I have been greatly enjoying so far. Then there was Monica, from
Australia, whom I got to know when she started complaining about what
a bad day she'd had: she was hit by a motor bike! The medical care in
southern italy was very bad, and they had told her that "if she could
walk she was OK", but she was worried that she might have had some
sort of internal concussion and wanted an Xray, which they refused,
and they wouldn't accept her insurance, which was supposedly valid in
Italy, because it had phone numbers for several different countries,
not including Italy, and then a number for "all other countries."
Wow, l'm glad I haven't gotten into medical trouble in Southern
Italy. (Dad, don't worry, in the North, where I'm heading next, it's
known to be much better)
Well, anyway, I went on one daytrip each day from Sorrento. The first
day, I went to the Isle of Capri by ferry. I took a bus across the
Island to see the famous blue grotto. The busride was an adventure in
and of itself. The road was winding and graded, and not really wide
enough for two busses and/or trucks to pass each other, so whenever
two of them met on a narrow stretch, they had to maneuver and
sometimes go in reverse for significant distances until they could
pass each other. The blue grotto was pretty. It is a cave cut into
the side of the island, and an effect of the sunlight makes the water
inside a beautiful shade of turquoise blue. After going in the blue
grotto (by rowboat tour) I went for a short swim in the nearby
"beach" (more of a rocky cliff with access to the sea) and then went
back across the island to catch my ferry back. Waiting for the ferry,
I ran into a somewhat drunk Brit named Steven at an outdoor cafe. He
asked me for a drink from my water bottle, then said he was only
joking. He asked me where I was from. "Toledo, I hate that place!"
but it turned out he was joking again. He bought me a drink, and we
had a lovely conversation, me and him and his travel companions, he
was on a cruise. He was really a friendly guy, oops, internet time
almost out. Bye, Norman

[I think I'm missing an entry here regarding Napoli and a Greek island . . . ]

8/2/03 5:42PM
I didn't actually manage to encounter any Spaghetti Bolognese in
Bologna, and in fact, I ended up skipping lunch so I wouldn't have to
wait another hour for the next train. So, I went to Venezia (Venice),
and, with the help of a map, found the place where I was staying all
right. It was not quite a hostel, actually a bit nicer; I was only
sharing a room with three people, and the bed was very soft and
Venezia was lots of fun. I didn't go in any museums, but just
wandered around most of the time, enjoying the ambience. I tried to
get in contact with some SERVAS day hosts, but they were not
available to hang out with me. I'd known that they had canals instead
of streets in Venezia, but it was still awesome to see it in person.
Also, the main square (Piazza di San Marco) with its ornate
Cathedral, was quite a sight. It was full of birds, and I bought a
pack of bird seed and held it on my hands and they flew right up and
perched on my arms to eat it.
Venice is a great place to just walk around, because it is relatively
small, and it is flat (except for the bridges).
The one small problem was that there was virtually no cheap food,
except grocery stores, which were neither easy to locate nor open
long hours. So, I ended up eating at expensive restaurants, but the
quality was pretty good. The first night, I ate at a Chinese place,
because it was close to where I was staying. The second night, I
found a nice restaurant, with the complete menu, including service
charge, for 14 Euro. But it didn't include a beverage, and a  can of
coke was 4.50 euro, and a bottle of mineral water was was something
like 3 bucks. I asked for tap water, but the waitress refused. So I
said I wouldn't have anything to drink, and planned to drink
discreetly from the water bottle in my backpack. But then when she
brought the first course, she brought me some tap water after all. HA!
The main course was a Venetian specialty: was cuddlefish (which I
think is the same as or similar to squid) cooked in its own ink. The
ink was black, so it looked sort of ugly, but it tasted good,
although I wouldn't exactly want to eat it every day. Like the pizza
in Napoli, I could appreciate it aesthetically from a higher level of
thought, without entirely liking it at the most basic level. 
Anyway, from Venice, I took a night train to Munich, and from Munich
I took a day train to Berlin.
On the train to Berlin, the conductress, who spoke no English, took a
look at my railpass, and then took it away from me. When she came
back a half hour or so later, she insisted that I had to pay the full
fare of 120 euro. I couldn't quite understand why, because she didn't
speak English, but she wouldn't take no as an answer, so I whipped
out my credit card and paid it. After doing some deep breathing
exercises to get over my anger, I went to search for an English
speaking rail worker on the train. I found one, and explained my
problem, and she took a look at my pass, and told me it was invalid
because it didn't have a cover. Now, I had been using this pass for
nearly 6 weeks, and had not had any problem with not having a cover
before, but when I looked at the rules in my handbook, sure enough,
it was invalid without the cover. I think I threw out the cover
shortly after the pass came in the mail. Uncharacteristically, I had
failed to read the directions carefully. 
When I got to Berlin, I went to the Eurail pass aid office, and the
guy said, sure enough, the pass is invalid without a cover, and he
was not authorized to refund my 120 euro, nor did I deserve to have
it refunded. He did, however, give me a new cover for free! The cover
did not look at all like any sort of official document. I don't think
the cover rule served any purpose except to allow the rail companies
to make more money by taking advantage of people who fail to follow
the rules to the letter. When I get back home, I'll complain to
Eurail, and maybe I can get my money back. If not, "those who don't
know to shvim . . . " (If you haven't heard the joke, don't ask)
Anyway, Berlin was quite an interesting city. I stayed with SERVAS
for 2 nights, and at a nice hostel for two nights. The first full
day, I saw the Checkpoint Charlie museum, which detailed all the
different ways people had escaped from East to West Berlin. It was
quite interesting. That same day, I also visited the Reichstag
(capital building), where you could go up in the newly constructed
glass dome for free, and I saw the Brandenburg Gate, and I walked
around in the Tiegarten park (Berlin has more trees than Paris and
more bridges than Venice, according to my guidebook). The second day,
I went to see the Jewish museum. The architecture very modern. It had
two empty tall enclosed spaces, which were supposed to represent the
emptiness of Germany after the holocaust. It was bigger than I'd
realized, and when it closed, I had not even gotten through half of
it, I think. It wasn't particularly designed for Jews to visit any
more than gentiles: it had explanations of customs that most Jews
would already be familiar with, and it also had computer terminals
where you could type your name in English or German and see it in
Hebrew letters, which was rather weird since Jews generally have a
separate Hebrew name. It also had lots of interactive displays that
seemed to be designed for young children. Nonetheless, it was
reasonably interesting. After the Jewish museum, I saw the East Side
Gallery, the largest standing section of the wall, which has been
decorated by artists.
The third day, I visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was, of
course, very sad, but it was good that I visited, because it is
important not to forget the details of the holocaust. Like the Jewish
museum, it was very large; it had an audioguide and many museums
within the camp, and after 6 and a half hours, when it closed, I
could have easily stayed for another couple hours.
In the hostel, I met a law student from Hungary, with whom I greatly
enjoyed visiting.
Some general comments on Berlin: It was, as I had been told, a great
time to visit because they are in the process of rebuilding the city,
so there's new buildings and construction sites all over the place.
My SERVAS host said that he likes this because it the dynamicism of
the city allows him to be dynamic too. The food was very inexpensive,
especially coming from Venice, and the sausages were great. They
don't care much for buns. You order a huge bratwurst, and you get a
tiny roll with a slit in it, about a fourth the lenght of the wurst.
The public transit was the most extensive of any city I've visited,
something like 9 lines of underground, and nine more lines of above
ground trains (sort of like the L in Chicago), except they were
called U-bahn and S-bahn, respectively. There was also a tram system,
and, of course, buses. It was also the most expensive: more than 2
euro for a two hour trip with unlimited transfers, or 6 euro for a
day pass. 
After staying four nights in Berlin, I came today to the Netherlands.
I am staying in Utrecht because there were no beds available in
Amsterdam at a reasonable price when I went to book. But Utrecht is
only a half hour from Amsterdam by train. The place is very
inexpensive at 12 euro per night. It has FREE internet (a first for
places where I've stayed, and it's high speed, too.), and a kitchen
stocked with cereal, bread and pasta, which you can eat in unlimited
quantities for free. It is a little bit grungy, and the staff is not
exactly professional, but with the other excellent features, I'm
definitely not complaining. It's run by a nonprofit organization with
goals similar to SERVAS, that's why it's so cheap. 
Well, that's all for now. Goodbye.
Norman L. Perlmutter   

[Missing an entry or never wrote an entry regarding Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris]

8/26/03 6:14PM
Greetings to all of you from Grinnell College, where I arrived last
Here is the long-awaited European Reflections section of the

On my travels I learned a lot of things about a lot of things and was
able to gain many new perspectives, specifically in the categories


Many people told me that going on this trip would make me more
confident than ever that the USA is the best country in the world,
but this is not really the case. Instead, I gained a greater
understanding of our fair nations flaws as well as its strengths. The
balance of the evidence makes me feel, if anything, less patriotic
than before.
I've always known that some people in other countries are a bit
unhappy with American economic attitudes, but this was really brought
home to me by several discussions I had. 

One of the most memorable was with a Danish guy I met on a train. I
was telling him about where I come from, and about Cedar Point, which
has the tallest roller coaster in the world, and how almost every
year they build a new roller coaster.
HIM: But, why do they build a new roller coaster every year?
ME: Because they want to be the biggest in the world
HIM (with a sort of derisive snort): Typical American!
This sort of surprised me, I guess, because it seemed obvious to me
why Cedar point kept building new coasters. I'd already told him they
had the tallest in the world, so it seemed perfectly obvious to me
that the reason why they would continue building new ones was to
maintain that status. But to the Danish dude, it just didn't seem
obvious at all why anyone would WANT to be the biggest ANYTHING in
the world.

I also had several conversations with people from the former Eastern
Bloc. They were young, so they did not really remember anything
before the 80s, when communism was already dying. Nonetheless, they
all told me that socialism was "not so bad." A Hungarian guy said
that Socialism was a corrupt system, but they were able to live with
it in relative comfort. And he added nostalgically that there were no
homeless people on the streets, and that the restaurants served good,
cheap food.

I still think that the U.S. about the right mix of capitalism and
Socialism (Social Security, minimum wage, Welfare, etc.), and I still
personally think it's great that my home town is 100 miles from the
tallest roller coaster in the world, and, but hearing different
perspectives just a tiny bit less secure in my convictions.

On the other hand, though, other things I saw made me happier with
the U.S. economic system. In many European countries the sales tax is
15 or 20 per cent, and I certainly wouldn't want that in the U.S.
Often, as I rode on Europe's excellent rail system I reflected on
how, as nice as it was, it probably wasn't worth whatever the
taxpayers were paying for it.
   And we Americans buy our soda pop in 12 ounce cans and 20 ounce or
two liter bottles, as opposed to buying it in 33 centileter cans (11
ounce) and 50 centileter (16.66 ounce) and 1.5 liter bottles and
paying more than for the corresponding larger American sizes, even if
the dollar were to be on par with the Euro.
   I had been against the war in Iraq before, but talking with
Europeans strengthened that conviction. I had been against Bush
before, but seeing f*ck Bush grafiti all over Europe strengthened
that conviction.
   Most of all, a visit to Europe convinced me that America's
policies towards sex and drugs are terribly Puritan. 
   In almost all the parts of Europe I visited, women who want to go
topless on beaches. In almost all, if not all, the parts of Europe I
visited, magazines with pictures of female breasts on the covers are
for sale in newsstands on the street. In some places, street vendors
even sold what would be relegated to "adult book stores" in the USA.
   According to American political theory, all the children in Europe
are corrupted by this vulgar display of nudity. But no one I ran into
seemed to have been corrupted by it.
   In Europe, drinking laws allow people aged 18, and even younger in
many countries, to buy and consume alcohol. Where I stayed in Greece,
the 15 year old daughter of the proprietor sometimes minded the bar
and herself drank in moderation. Wow! American theory says she must
be in a terrible state. Actually, she was very happy and was part of
a happy and loving family.
   In Amsterdam (and the rest of the Netherlands), the sale of
cannabis and the possession of it for personal use is fully
decriminalized. The only reason it is not absolutely legal is
pressure from the international community. Licensed "coffee shops"
openly sell cannabis in public. I walked down the streets of
Amsterdam and saw people happily smoking it on the outdoor terraces
of the coffee shops. Wow, Amsterdam must have a terrible drug
problem! But in reality, statistics show that in spite of our
draconian measures, more Americans than Netherlanders use cannabis!!
    Think of all those jail cells, holding drug criminals while
rapists roam free on the streets of America. Think of all the people
with cancer and other serious ailments being denied cannabis even for
medicinal purposes by the federal government. 
    Before I went to Europe, I was against the War on Drugs, but only
after my trip did I realize the full stupidity and futility of this
second Prohibition.
     On the balance, I would still say that the USA is probably the
best country in the world to be a citizen of. But just probably.
Whereas before my trip I considered any objections I might have to
this idea to be somewhat esoteric, I am no longer secure in its
    Upon returning to the states, particularly large American flags
and other displays of patriotism honestly made me feel a bit sick to
my stomach. It wasn't until I arrived here in Iowa and saw the stars
and stripes flying in Grinnell, 500 miles from Toledo, OH, and still
well within the borders of our country, that the flag once again
wakened feelings of patriotism in me. In Europe, I would probably be
in another country after travelling that far, and I hadn't even made
it out of the Midwest. A line from a song played in my head: "And
crown thy good with brotherhood FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA" Perhaps one
of the best things about the USA is just its size, how such a large
number of people over such a large area of land are dedicated to the
political ideals expressed in the Constitution.
   Well, moving on to a somewhat less heavy topic . . .

    Note: art terms used below are not meant to necessarily be the
correct scholarly historic terms, but rather terms describing my
viewpoint, so forgive me if, for instance, the term photorealist
actually only applies to a small specific school of artists, as I
think it technically might, rather than being a general term for art
that looks as close as possible to a photo, which is how I use it
    Throughout my travels, I visited many, many art museums and other
beautiful things. These experiences helped me to develop a personal
philosophy of aesthetics, that is, what exactly makes things
beautiful, or at least what makes them beautiful to me.
     One thing I noticed was that the more senses something involves,
the more beautiful it is. For instance, the fountain show in
Barcelona, which strongly involved the senses of sound, sight, and
touch, was one of the most beautiful things I saw.
    While I'm still talking about the fountain show, I will also note
that I think water in general is very beautiful. Not only fountains,
but also the ocean, or even some Sprite shimmering in a plastic
bottle as it catches the light at an enticing angle.
    I think one major insight was that for me, beauty has little to
do with the how something came to be, and much more with what it
communicates or how it looks. For instance, in art museums, I
generally found ancient art to be rather boring, unless it had a
detailed explanation to tell me about how it was made and what was
special about it, in which it was the explanation, in conjunction
witht the item, that was beautiful. Perhaps if I were an archaeolgist
the ancient art would have been more beautiful to me, but as a layman
it was not particulary beautiful. Pompeii, on the other hand, was one
of my favorite parts of my trip because it was so large and complete,
and the audioguide was so good, that I really gained a deeper
understanding of how the ancient Romans lived their daily lives.
   The art I usually liked the most was modern art. I did not find
photorealistic art to be much more pleasing than photos of the same
things would have been. Yes, I know they didn't have photos back
then, but still, this knowledge didn't make the paintings any more
   I generally found 20th modernish art to be the most beautiful. It
was not usually entirely realistic, but rather used artistic license
to convey the artists' ideas. However, when things got as modern as
fome of the minimalist ultramodern art I saw in Amsterdam. This art
was so minimal that it did not communicate much and therefore was not
particularly beautiful.
   A further example of communication making things beautiful is some
of Salvador Dali's work. I actually enjoyed some of his smallish
black and white drawings as much as or more than some of his big
colorful murals because the pencil drawings were so thought provoking
and rich in detail. 
   A further aesthetic lesson from my trip was that beauty and
pleasure are generally related to cost. Some of my favorite parts of
my trip, such as the fountain show in Barcelona and the sea gulls in
Gibraltar, were free to me.

My favorite foods in Europe were The meal cooked by my host Javier in
Sevilla for dinner, Spanish Bocadillos, German sausages, Greek Gyros,
Belgian chocolate, waffles and "French" Fries. (Venetian cuddlefish
cooked in black ink and Neapolitan pizza were some of my favorite
foods to try, but I would not want to eat them on a regular basis.)

My favorite cities overall were:
First place: Amsterdam
Second Place: Sevilla
Tied for third place: Toledo, Venice, Florence
, Berlin, Barcelona, Gibraltar

My least favorite city was Rome, although I'm glad I can say I was

This reflects only my personal experiences in the cities and is not
necessarily a value judgement of which cities are best. For instance,
I did not really spend enough time in Paris to make it one of my
favorites, which it potentially could have been. 
It does not mean these were my favorite places, but only my favorite
cities. I excluded, for instance, Pompeii, which is not a city
anymore because it is dead, and Capri, which was a great island as a
whole, but did not have wonderful cities.

My favorite SERVAS host: Javier in Sevilla

Some of my favorite non-SERVAS people I met (this does not mean they
are all good people, but none were malicious and all were memorable.
I do not include Mr. and Mrs. Myers because I already knew them,
although seeing them was a major highlight) : The old British
cyclist, John in the hostel in Gibraltar; Steven the merrily drunken
Brit in Capri; Eleanor, the old American woman at the campsite in
Sorrento; the Australian girl I met on the train from Madrid to San
Sebastian; The dude I met in the hotel in Bern, although it turns out
his friend is not attending Grinnell, although she was accepted here;
The two guys from Grand Rapids whom I met in Rome; The family running
Sunrock Resort on Pelekas Beach, Corfu; the Hungarian dude in the
hostel in Beriln; The young American couple in Venice in the Plaza di
San Marco; The bum who comforted me in Brindisi; The little kid who
didn't speak English, with whom I played a video game in a travel
agency in Rome; and even more than I can't even remember right now

My favorite castle: Los Reales Alcazares in Sevilla

That's all the favorites I can think of right now, but if there are
any more you'd like to know, send me an email and I'll tell you.


Everywhere, people are different. But everywhere, people are the
same, because no matter how different our cultures are, we are all
human beings, and we all have many needs and behaviors in common.

I will probably think of more reflections later, which I will
probably send to you some time, but that's all I can think of for
now, and this is the longest email I've ever written in my life, and
I want to do something else now.

If you have any comments, they are welcome. If you have any
criticisms or would like to start a friendly debate on any of my
ideas above, that is also very welcome, but please read the section
carefully first.

You can now reach me at as well as this
address, but I will check both addresses with about equal frequency a
almost every day and often several times a day. For email regarding
my travelogue I would prefer for you to continue using [The email addresses above have not been valid for many years.]

Kind Regards,
Norman Perlmutter

Sunday, November 18, 2012
  Toronto -- not foreign enough to be exotic
I'm in Toronto for a week, leaving tomorrow. I was here for a set theory conference. It was a great conference. I met some famous set theorists whom I'd never met before and even worked with one of them. I also saw some friends and acquaintances whom I knew from other set theory conferences, and my friend Brent, who studied with me at CUNY and is not a postdoc at Toronto.

The conference is at the Fields Institute. They are the ones who give out the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. Apparently, that's a separate budget from their budget for computers -- they still have dinosaur CRT monitors for some of their computers. The institute itself is a nice building with a spiral staircase ascending a two stories through an atrium.

The first night, I stayed at a hostel, but had trouble sleeping and wanted a bit more privacy and comfort, so I moved to a hotel that Brent had recommended a block away from the hostel. (Oy, am I becoming an old man? I used to have no problem sleeping at hostels!) Both are within a 5 or 10 minute walk from the Fields Institute. My hotel is called the Kaisar Guest House. The bedrooms are private, but the bathrooms are mostly shared. The ceilings are low, and there are narrow hallways and lots of short flights of stairs, and you have to take off your shoes in the entry hall, and there is a kitchen and laundry facilities. In other words, it has character :-) I think in some ways I prefer it to ie the Holiday Inn, and it's half the price. Well, if somebody else were paying, I'd probably stay at the Holiday Inn, but still . . .

Toronto is foreign enough to be slightly disconcerting, but not foreign enough to be exotic or exciting. Oh, well.

Slightly disconcerting in that lots of stuff closes early for a city this size, even in hip shopping districts where I'd expect them to be open later. i.e. lots of the restaurants near the university close around 9 or 10, even though I'd imagine there are plenty of hungry students up later than that. There are few if any 24 hour pharmacies, though there are a few 24 hour convenience stores, and Tim Horton's is usually open 24 hours.

At first I thought there was no cheap food in the city. Then I found some in China Town. There, the Vietnamese sandwiches are ridonculously cheap, like $2 or $2.50. Not really much cheaper than the $4.25 one at Banh Mi Saigon in NYC, because that is an enormous sandwich. But still, cheap. Also, in Toronto Chinatown, there's a Thai place with a 5 dollar lunch special (Thai Country Kitchen, 412 Spadina. Spadina rhymes with Vagina, LOL). You can get curry with rice or curry with Pad Thai. I think it's cool that you can substitute Pad Thai for rice, because usually at Thai places, rice is cheap/comes with everything, whereas Pad Thai is its own dish and is usually expensive. So it's like getting two meals in one :-) I think I'll go there again tomorrow.

The public transit here reminds me of San Francisco. Very limited subway service but buses and/or streetcars on almost every major street. It's slow and confusing, often it's almost as fast to walk. So I've been doing a ton of walking.  Tonight, I walked about 10 kilometers according to Google maps.

My approximate walking route tonight. (I took the streetcar to the start point. The end point is my hotel.)

For dinner, I went to a fast food restaurant that specialized in grilled cheese and got pulled barbecue pork and macaroni & cheese with goat cheese on whole wheat bread :-) I had a nice little visit with the guy who worked there. He lived in Flushing, Queens for part of his life, and he thinks Toronto is pretty lame compared to NYC. He also agreed with me that Montreal has better nightlife than Toronto.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012
  Last night in France
The Ambassade de Bretagne restaurant, 43 Rue Ste Marie, gets my top recommendation. Crepes and food from Brittany. I went there for lunch yesterday and again for dinner today. Yesterday I got a three course meal for 14 euro. Tonight I got a duck dish, duck cooked with tart cherries and apples and caramel sauce with salad and thin sliced creamy potatoes on the side. A delicious stout called 11.1, brewed only on the day after Halloween every year, and with 11.1% alcohol by volume. Then after dinner, the proprietor informed me that they had a promotion -- free sugar crepes for dessert. I ate two and was stuffed.

At French restaurants in the US, I often leave feeling like the portions have been too small, but in France this has never been the case, and I`ve eaten at several restaurants. I`ll reserve my opinions on the Asians, but nobody in the Western world can do food like the French.  Furthermore, at the restaurants I`ve been to (with the exception of the one at the University!), they have spoken some English and not treated me badly for speaking English.

After dinner, I wandered about by the port, gazed at the old stone fortress all lit up and the buildings of the city, ancient and modern. I felt like I was on the verge of a relevation, but I wasn`t sure what it was. I think the dinner was just that good.

I am starting to understand why Aunt Nimmy wanted her grandchildren to learn French, even though Spanish is a much more practical language.  Not knowing the language, I feel like I am only grazing the surface of the place, but it is a delicious surface indeed.

I began this trip feeling that I was tiring of travel, but now I remember why I travel. But it`s hard to put my finger on. It`s for the sake of nights like this one, among other reasons. 
Monday, May 07, 2012
  Socialist victory
Hollande, the socialist candidate, won the French presidential election yesterday, ousting the incumbent Sarcozy. Here in the old port district of Marseille, people were dancing in the street, and cars were honking their horns all over the place. I`ve never seen that level of political celebration in the USA.

The Young Set Theory Conference was excellent. However, I caught a virus, and so I have been staying in Marseille, rather than traveling around the south of France or to Barcelona, as I had planned. Word to the wise: 24 hour pharmacies are not as common in France as in the US; many pharmacies aren`t even open Saturday afternoons. But I managed to get the meds I needed after some searching, and now I`m just hanging out and recovering and going out to eat. The illness is pretty much down to a headache today and some mild congestion now.

I stayed an extra night at the conference site and got to spend more time with the conference attendees. On Saturday, we played Bocce Ball.

It`s nice to just relax and appreciate being somewhere different, eat fancy cheeses, walk around the port district, talk to the Afghan family in the hostel . . .

I started out this trip feeling stressed out, now I feel more relaxed. I had hoped to make the trip go easily by flying in and out of the same city and not moving around too much, but I made a lot of bookings last minute, which added to the stress level -- something to keep in mind for next trip. But . . . next year, I would like to go visit Kostas in Barcelona for a few days before attending Young Set Theory in Turino, Italia. Barcelona is such a great city . . . I almost went there this week, but that got derailed by my illness.

Sunday, April 29, 2012
  Krantzing about the South of France
Greetings from Marseille, France.

I'm in France for the Young Set Theory 2012 conference which starts tomorrow and goes through Friday at Luminy, on the outskirts of Marseille on the scenic and rocky south coast of France. Last year, I went to the 2011 version of this conference in Bonn and had a blast. I took a few days on either end for some additional travel. I have been hanging out in Marseilles the last few days. It took me a day or two to get into "travel mode" -- I was feeling kind of uptight but now I'm feeling more relaxed. I feel like my travel style has changed over the years. When I went on my grand tour of Europe when I was 18, I wanted to move around a lot and see all the sights. Now I'd just as soon relax and stay in fewer places and just soak up the ambiance. A big part of travel is just changing up my ordinary routine, meeting new people, trying new foods, etc. But the more I travel, the less I enjoy the planning and organizing aspects. I also always am surprised at just how much free time I have when I travel. Somehow when I'm planning the trip it feels to me like the whole time while I'm away will be a black box full of mysterious activity, and then I get there and realize I have just as much free time as before, or even more, because I'm taking a break from my usual activities. Plenty of free time to shop for essential items, take care of business I didn't get to before I left, etc.

I was in Paris for a couple days before, but other than that, this is my first time in France.
The most striking thing about France is how they kiss on both cheeks when greeting friends. It seems especially incongruous when tough looking guys do it. Actually it's more like they rub cheeks and make kissy noises and kissy faces, but still . . .

Yesterday, I took a day trip up to Aix-en-Provence with a woman named Bonny from Hong Kong whom I met at the hostel, who is working and traveling in France. It's a beautiful town with lots of great restaurants, pastry shops, cheese shops, etc. We wandered the streets for many hours. The most amusing part of the walk for me was when we emerged from a meandering alley full of the aforementioned pastry, wine, cheese, etc. shops and "Frenchy" architecture to a more modern and utilitarian-looking intersection. Across the intersection was a German store called "Shleckers", similar to a CVS or Rite Aid in the US. The contrast between the utilitarian-ness and very German-sounding name of Schleckers vs. the smelly cheese and ostentatious macaron stores was to me quite amusing. We went in and shopped for travel tissue packets. Trust the Germans to provide utilitarian stuff to the French :-) Not sure if it sounds as striking in writing as it was in person.

We also had a nice meal at an Italian restaurant, and I got a nice pastry for dessert from a pastry shop.

The hostel in Marseille was booked up for last night, so Bonny and I got a hotel room together (with two beds) and had some interesting conversations. But we come back to the hostel to use the kitchen and internet. Later today, I'm heading out to Luminy, and after the conference, I'm probably going to Nice, where I'm hoping to meet up with some Mensa hosts.

In Marseille, African fast food (similar to that sold in street stands in New York -- donner kebab, etc.) is more common than French food. One can get varying types of sandwich for about 3 euro. Many of the streets are continuous with the sidewalks, except that there are metal barriers to keep the cars from going on the proper sidewalk part. Still, I've wandered into the street unknowingly a few times.

I wish I knew how to speak French better. But I do think Spanish is a more practical language to know.

I'm not as easily wowed by foreign-ness, now that I'm a more seasoned traveler, and now that I live in New York City, which is more like Europe than is most of the rest of the USA. When I first came to Europe almost 10 years ago, it seemed so exciting. Now it seems a lot more like the US than like India or Peru . . . just more historic architecture/city planning than the US and a more relaxed pace of life. But still nice to visit.

On this trip, I brough (horror of horrors!) two bags -- my small rolling airplane bag and my school backpack (plus my mini backpack inside my school backpack). I wouldn't want to bring quite so much stuff for a very long trip to many locations, but for a two week with just three destinations, it's manageable and allows me to worry less about laundry and pack up more easily. The rolly bag is pretty light -- mostly just clothing. I also brought (GASP!) two paper books and left my kindle behind in New York. Maybe I'll finally convince myself to read Anathem now -- people say it's great, but it's hard to get into. So far, I've just been working my way through Elementary Go Problems volume 3 (of 4), when I get back home I should be ready for volume 4, which I recently ordered. It makes up for the go playing withdrawal.

That's all for now.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
  Was it worth it?
After the last two summers, I'm comparatively burned out on travel. I once had a fantasy to take a year off to travel. I'm not so sure anymore that's something I want to do. I have a lot of the world left to see, but I don't have to do it all at once. I think I'd rather get a job abroad for a year than just travel around.

I'm glad I have my experience with international travel. It keeps my mind nimble, and broadens my horizons. In the case of my most recent trip, I probably spent more time interacting one on one with Leah than in the previous eight years combined. But travel also involves a ridiculous amount of time (both planning and executing), money, and hassle, and sometimes even some physical discomfort. Of course, with experience, I will be able to spend less time planning and achieve the same level of comfort with less money. But still . . . think of all the other things I could of done for a month this summer. Well, meh, I probably would have played computer games for a month or something.

I worked on my thesis for an hour and a half today. I'm feeling refreshed from my trip, and excited for a whole year without teaching to really focus on my thesis. That's a big improvement over last summer, when I felt dejected and discouraged about my research. I think I've been through enough ups and downs with my research now, and at the same time seen enough progress over the last couple of years, that I'm less phased by the challenge than I was before, and I'm confident I'll be able to herald the energy to continue making progress and eventually finish.

I've gotten back on my usual sleep schedule (4AM to noon) over the course of just a few days. I did it by going to bed earlier, not later. The 31st, I slept from 11 AM to 8:30 PM. Then I slept from 6 AM to 1 PM the next day, and today from 4:30 AM to 11:30 AM.

I lost five pounds since I left New York! This is thanks to my large amount of physical activity on the trip with Leah, combined with moderating my consumption of the unlimited candy and beer at the mensa convention. I now weight 162, 7 pounds above my weight goal. Around the end of March, I was about 180. I'm now lighter than I have ever been in my adult life. I think I'll do fine getting back into my diet and exercise routine.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
  I'm back
Returning to New York after travelling is refreshing, just as it was last summer. It gives me a new perspective on my home city and helps me to appreciate things I took for granted. Tonight, I wandered around my neighborhood a bit and spent about an hour browsing through a little organic foods market. I bought a ginger beer and a mango. I really like little stores like that. You don't find them so much in other cities.

The things I like best now about New York are in some ways different from the things that originally attracted me to the city. I don't go to nearly as much theater stuff as I used to, though I'm planning to see a dance performance soon. I really love the diversity of the people in New York. It's refreshing to hear so many different languages and to run into people with diverse lifestyles and interests and perspectives.

My digestive tract is healthy again. My face is full of peeling sunburns, but none particularly severe.

The flight back was kind of a pain because I had to change planes twice and go through security five times (Cuzco airport security, Lima airport security, Security upon entering Bogota airport (metal detector, bag scan), security upon flying out of Bogota (manual bag search), and US customs.) I took the subway home from JFK, enjoying being among New York people. Then I had a bagel from my favorite neighborhood bagel place and slept all day. So now my sleep schedule is almost perfectly inverted. I slept from 10 AM til 8:30 PM roughly. But I'll get it back on track in a couple of days.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
I don´t have energy for the blow by blow format, so some highlights, mostly.

We had a great rafting trip with our two Peruvian guides, Frank and Segundo. On the way to the put in site, we had to go over a 4316 meter pass. That was kind of fun but also made us feel really weird.

Highlights of the rafting trip:

Some local boys hitched a ride with us after lunch. After riding for a few minutes, one of them dove headfirst into the water and swam around, then caught onto the kayak, then swam ashore. He had to really know the river or he could have banged his head on a rock.

At the end of the trip, we were sharing a liter of beer waiting to be picked up. Segundo filled his cup on the ground and then spilled a bit on the ground as a blessing to Pachamama, the earth goddess. I told him I thought he was Catholic. He said he believes in Pachamama more than Catholicism. Frank agreed, even though he had earlier told us he was a religious Catholic. We also had a nice chat with a local guy who had worked many years helping with the development of genetically enhanced crops, if I remember right.

The rafting itself was nice too. Very pretty and good exercise. It was rainforest, but not deep jungle. Some day, I´ll have to go on an expedition deep in the Amazon . . .

My Spanish has gotten substantially better, I think?

Santa Teresa was great. The zipline was a real highlight of the trip. 6 lengths of zipline a total of two kilometers long between the mountains! Santa Teresa also had a great natural hot springs, which was open 24 hours!

Machu Picchu was pretty but overpriced.

On the train from Machu Picchu to Cusco, I was sitting next to chess grandmaster David Smerdon from Australia. We had a nice conversation.

Leah and I are both a bit ill now. I have some diarrhea. I didn´t manage to avoid it after all. Oh well.

I´m looking forward to coming back to the US soon.
  Back in Cusco
Very tired, but happy.

More later.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
  Trekking Colca Canyon
We headed for the Arequipa bus station around noon. We had to wait until 3:30 PM for a bus to Cabanaconde, the starting point for treks in Colca Canyon. The bus trip was almost six hours and passed some beautiful mountainous scenery. On the bus, we had a great conversation in Spanish with some of the other passengers. We told some jokes, among other things. It was hard to come up with jokes that weren´t wordplay, and therefore translated well. I also made up some Spanish wordplay jokes on the spot. For instance, there were many pink mammals living on a hill, and then they all died. What is it called now? Answer: El Cerro de cero cerdos (the hill of zero pigs).

We finally arrived in Cabanaconde, where we stayed at the Pachamama lodge. Pachamama is the earth goddess, I think. For dinner, we had a delicious wood oven pizza with veggies and alpaca meat. The hostel also gave us some advice about trekking, and a tiny map. We thought, we already have two bigger maps, we don´t need it. It turned out that the bigger maps were mostly useless, and the tiny one was very useful and the primary one that we made use of on our trek.

This map will help you to make sense of the following.

The region where we trekked is only accessible by foot and pack animal (mule and donkey). They are gradually building more roads, and there is a possible project in the works to build a 4 kilometer cable car (i.e. sky ride) route across the canyon from Cabanaconde (which is accessible by road) to Tapay .

We trekked for three days and two nights and then got back to Cabanaconde on the third night. The first day, we hiked from Cabanaconde to San Juan. This took us all the way from the top of the canyon to the bottom, an elevation drop of over a kilometer! This part was tough on my knees. We later figured out that I am better at uphill, and Leah is better at downhill. That is because I have stronger leg muscles and lungs, but Leah has better hiking boots and agility and knees. By the third day, we were switching off items from the packs, with me carrying more going uphill and Leah carrying more going downhill.

Anyway, the first day, by the time we finished planning logistics, we started hiking around 10:30. We finally got to the bottom of the canyon, crossed the Colca river on a nice modern bridge, and headed down up the last half hour stretch to San Juan, exhausted. The trip was supposed to take 3 and a half hours at a gentle pace, but it took us 5. San Juan is more a scattering of buildings than a town, but there is one group of buldings larger than the others, which we dubbed the "real San Juan". However, a lodge was set up to intercept travelers before they got there. We never found the way to the real San Juan, though we saw it from a distance. We think the people running the lodge intentionally made it hard to find, to avoid competition on water, or maybe even from other lodges. Anyway, Posada del Roy in San Juan provided adequate lodging, though the bamboo wall was so thin we could easily hear the people in the next room over. There was no electricity. At night, the stars were amazing. Throughout the region, it is really warm in the day and cold at night, like 80 or so in the day and 50 or lower at night. There is no heat, so all the beds have lots of heavy blankets.

The second day, we did a short hike uphill to Tapay, which had been our original destination for the first night. It was supposed to take two hours, but it took us three. There, we stayed at Hostal Maruja. We had a nice lunch of vegetable soup with quinoa, grilled chicken, rice, and lemondade. The hostal had a pen of guinea pigs, a traditional food in Peru. They made cute chirping sounds. Tapay is mostly small buildings constructed of rock, bamboo0-like plants, and tin roofs, connected by footpaths. It had a central plaza which seemed incongrous, with lots of cement, park benches, and flowers.

The next day, we started very early, because we had to make it all the way back to Cabanaconde by dark. We knew that we had the option of hiring mules if we couldn´t make it on foot, but we hoped to make it on foot. We woke up at 5:30, about a half hour earlier than the previous day, and headed out at 7:45.

The first stretch that day, from Tapay downhill to Cosnirhua, turned out to be the most dangerous stretch of trail either of us had hiked, but it was beautiful. It was a very narrow path going downhill, with no sort of wall or guardrail in many places. The ground was full of loose stones, making it slippery. To our right was a dropoff. To our left was a cliff. The cliff had rocks jutting out of it, but we had to be careful about holding them for support because some of them were loose. After going downhill awhile, we saw a part of the trail ahead that was brown colored instead of grey, and we guessed that the trail got easier there. It turned out we were wrong, and that was the start of the really hard part. The brown colored part was where a shallow stream (less than a centimeter deep) ran directly over the trail! After successfully getting past the stream, we got to a part where the color of the rock changed dramatically from grey to yellow. Here, all the rock was crumbling -- the walls and the part underfoot. After navigating this section, we were almost to a bridge. Just before the bridge was a very short stretch where the trail was almost nonexistent, crumbling away off the edge of the cliff. We got across by holding onto tree roots for support. Finally, we made it to the bridge! This bouncy hanging bridge crossed a tributary of the Colca. We crossed the bridge, and were soon in Cosnirhua.

In Cosnirhua, we had one of the most memorable parts of the trip, a nice conversation with a guy who was selling food and drink to travellers at a stand at the side of the trail. We tried two new fruits. One of them was the texture of yogurt and had seeds that you swallow rather than chew because they´re spicy.We asked him all kinds of things about the culture of the area. We had seen very few teenagers or people our age. It turned out that this was because there are no high schools or colleges in the area, so everyone goes away to school. We learned that to build the bridges, 15 to 20 men had to carry one bridge cable down the winding track! Electricity and cell phone service just came to the area a few years ago. We learned the difference between donkeys and mules, too. Mules are a cross between a donkey and a horse. A mule is stronger than a donkey, but a donkey is faster. The man also told us about the plan to build a cable car or a road to connect Cosnirhua to the outside world. The closest road has only a few kilometers to go.

In the next town, Malata, we saw a small museum of local culture. Then we started the hike back to Cabanaconde. We got down and across the the Colca River around 2 PM. There, we stopped at an overly touristy inn with swimming pools and palm trees to buy more water. (Overall, in the region, we spent more money on bottled water than on lodging!) We started uphill at 2:40, with me carrying most of the load, since Leah had carried most of the load downhill. The 1200 meter ascent to Cabanaconde was strenuous, but the trail was much safer than the trail we had hiked earlier that day. We got to the top just as it got dark, and made our way back to Pachamama inn, exhausted but very satisfied.

The next day (yesterday), we took a bus back to Arequipa. This bus was delayed somewhat because it was overloaded on the uphills, and because we had to wait for an oversized load to pass. In Arequipa, we had just enough time to collect the things we´d left behind, do laundry, try unsuccessfully to recover Leah´s bank card, and have a bite to eat before heading to the bus station to catch an overnight bus to Cuzco.

We had booked a luxury bus to Cuzco, so we had high expectations. The line advertised seats that reclined 160 degrees. The experience turned out to be similar to riding an airplane, in both the good and the bad ways. At the beginning of the ride, there was an hour of announcements and commercials on the tv screens that we had to listen to. They told us repeatedly that it was the law that we had to keep our seatbelts fastened. I thought this was funny, because the other buses we´d taken didn´t even have seatbelts. They also told us the locations of the emergency exits, served a small supper, made us go through security, had an in flight magazine -- seriously, just like flying in a plane. The seats turned out not to recline quite as far as we´d expected. To make matters worse, Leah´s seat would not stay reclined unless she kept leaning back into it, so I switched seats with her. With my larger body weight, it wasn´t much of a hassle for me. We couldn´t recline quite all the way without bothering the people behind us. Around 9PM, they finally turned off the lights and the sound on the movie, and we tried to sleep. I got some sleep a few hours anyway. Leah got even less and is sleeping now in our hostel.

In the morning, the flight attendant came around and asked us to return our pillows, blankets, and magazines. We couldn´t find both magazines right away. She insisted that we MUST return them. Later, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that if we didn´t return the magazine, we would have to pay for it! What bullshit -- we didn´t want it in the first place. But we found it and returned it.

Well, now we are in Cuzco at the Ecopackers hostel. Tomorrow, we head out for our three day rafting trip. Then we will hang out for a bit in Santa Teresa, then visit Macchu Picchu, and get back to Cuzco the 28th, when we will be staying at El Tuco hostel. We will again be in remote areas and might not be in touch until at least the 26th, maybe the 28th. Then again, we might find that, like in the Colca Canyon area, the jungle towns along the Urubamba river might have cell phone service.

Leah and I have made good travel companions, much better than I´d expected. Our skills go together well. Between the two of us, we don´t get lost, though either one of us alone would. Her Spanish skills are very helpful, and she knew more about hiking than me. My experience travelling and ability to take things in stride and play the big brother role at times is helpful. Leah sometimes gets very frustrated or hungry and loses her temper, but she is usually able to recover pretty quickly. Of course, I sometimes get crabby or grumpy too, but I don´t lose my temper in the same way as easily. We have not been talking Spanish much between the two of us because it got to be too stressful, but we speak a lot of Spanish with the Peruvians we meet. We are really enjoying each other´s company, and I feel we are growing closer. We had not spent much time together in the last few years, so I wasn´t sure how our interactions would go, but I feel we´ve gotten along very well. We have been playing go on my phone and telling lots of jokes.

Our stomachs are still doing great, and the altitude has not been a problem. So far, it´s really been an excellent trip.
Friday, July 15, 2011
  In Peru
Leah and I arrived in Peru yesterday.

The plane made two stops between Santiago and Arequipa, in Iquique, Chile and Arica, Chile. In Arica, we had to get out and go through customs. We got to the Santiago airport at 5AM, a comfortable two and a half hours before our flight time and very short on sleep. However, we accidentally got in the line for security for international flights. We needed the domestic line because we weren't going through customs until Arica. We waited close to an hour in line then went up to separate windows at the end of the line. At my window, they caught my mistake and told me to go to the national line. But at Leah's window, they didn't catch it. She got all the way through customs and into the international wing of the airport before she realized and turned her phone on and called me. Then she went back to customs to get her exit card back, went out of the international wing, in through the security line for domestic flights, and got to the gate with about a half hour to spare.

My favorite thing about the flights was that when we got off the planes, we walked from the plane into the airport, and it wasn't highly regimented. We could hang out and meander outside for a bit rather than being shepherded carefully. My second favorite thing was the mountainous scenery on the final leg of the trip. The last flight leg was a half hour, but the equivalent bus ride is something like seven hours, and we could tell why. We were playing a game of go on the plane, and Leah wanted me to make my move, but I was too engrossed in the scenery. The window seat was wasted on her :-P

Arequipa is a beautiful city. It is at an altitude of 7500 feet, but the altitude didn't give us any trouble. The architectural style is a mix between Greco-Roman and Incan, I think. The ratio of taxis to nontaxi cars in the street is even higher than in Manhattan -- apparently most Peruvians don't own cars.

The cuisine is a refreshing change from the bland fare of Chile. My most memorable meal so far consisted of three dishes: thinly sliced potatoes in a rectangular casserole type slice with egg, fatty grilled pork, and a hot pepper stuffed with ground beef, peanuts, and some kind of sweet fruit, I think. The stuffed pepper was my favorite of the three by far, and the peanut wasn't enough to aggravate Leah's allergies from across the table. At lunchtime today, Leah got hungry rather abruptly, and we stopped at the first restaurant we found. It was a chain grilled chicken place called Chicken Palace (the name was English, not Spanish) with decorations about like a fast food place, so we weren't expecting much, but we were pleasantly surprised. It turned out to greatly exceed our expectations. The chicken was delicious, and there was an unlimited salad bar included featuring cooked beets, carrots, brocoli, and spinach. I also had chicha, a mildly fermented corn beverage. It was made from purple corn, surprisingly -- I was expecting it to be yellow but it was deep purple. It was very tasty and kind of sweet. Leah and I have been eating so many purple foods lately that our poop has been beet colored. (We had a lot of beets in Chile one day, plus some fresh raspberry juice.)

This morning, Leah and I split a mate de coca (coca leaf tea), which is legal and commonly available here. I think I noticed mild effects, similar to those of coffee, but I can't say for sure.

Leah lost her ATM card today. An ATM machine ate it because she was taking too long supposedly, though we think it malfunctioned. We contacted her bank and had them freeze it until she recovers it, and talked to the bank that owns the ATM. It's not certain that they'll be able to recover it, but in case they can't, I still have an ATM card and a credit card, and Leah has another debit card in Santiago.

Today, we also did laundry and finished the business of getting SIM cards for our cell phones.

The weather here has been gorgeous. Temperature in the 60s most of the day, and not a cloud in the sky. We had been thinking of going to the Lake Titicaca area for a while, but we decided to instead spend more time closer to Arequipa where it will be warmer, and we won't have to deal with a large change in altitude. Tomorrow, we are leaving Arequipa proper on a six hour bus ride to Cabanaconde, where we will begin our exploration of the Cañon de Colca area. At 3300 meters (compared to over 4000 for Lake Titicaca), it is the highest elevation we will encounter in this region, except maybe on the bus ride. This is the second deepest canyon in the Americas, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon if I remember right. (The largest is in the Americas is in this same region, too.) We will be hiking around the region, staying in small towns at night. We may not have access to phone and internet for part of the time. Today, we purchased a topographic map and a compass in preparation, and went to the bank to change our large bills for smaller ones since they can't always make change in the small towns. The woman at the map store was very helpful in suggesting a good route for us.

We will get back to Arequipa around the 19th and then take the bus to Cusco on the 20th, though these plans are not completely firm. We just have to get to Cusco by about midday on the 21st so we can touch base with our rafting company and leave for our rafting trip the morning of the 22nd.

Our stomachs have been holding out great so far. We have been avoiding raw fruits and vegetables unless we wash or peel them ourselves, and we have also been avoiding shelfish and undercooked meat. For water we have been consuming bottled water and well boiled tap water. (I follow Lonely Planet's recommendation to boil for at least three minutes at this altitude.) The small towns in the Colca Canyon region will have bottled water available and will also have facilities for boiling water.

There are a few people trying to sell us stuff, especially in the main square, but not very aggressively. This is a great improvement over my experience in India and Egypt. Prices for food, transit, and accomodations are substantially cheaper than in the US, but not nearly as cheap as in India. There are few animals in the streets besides a couple stray dogs (fewer than in Santiago), and the vast majority of the vehicles are ordinary cars, vans, and buses -- no three wheelers. Almost every corner has street signs, and the traffic flows in a a fairly orderly fashion, staying between the lines, although the intersections without traffic lights are a bit chaotic, since there are no stop signs, and it's kind of a chicken match to see which car gets to go.

We are staying in a private room with its own bathroom. The room is very comfortable, except for the fact that it is near a road, and so there is lots of traffic noise. It even has plenty of hot water for both of us to take hot showers consecutively, an enormous improvement over the place I stayed in Santiago, where I never had enough hot water for a comfortable shower.

Okay, that's all for now. I hope this long post satisfied those of you who sent me emails asking for longer posts ;-). I look forward to your comments.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Right after yesterday´s post, I had a nice conversation with one of my roommates in Spanish, a college teacher from Colombia named Paula. We talked about what it´s like to live in different cities, our work, music, and politics.

Once again, I have confirmed that having a long conversation in Spanish is an entirely different skill from understanding spoken spanish easily.

Tonight, I´m going to Leah´s host family´s house for dinner. Today, Leah and Terry and I walked around the central part of the city.
Monday, July 11, 2011
  Cajón del Maipo
Today, I went to a town in the mountains in the outskirts of Santiago, called Cajón del Maipo. It was pretty, and the air smelled good. Leah did not come along. She was busy preparing for our Peru trip. I walked around some and then came back to Santiago.

On the bus ride out, the scenery began to resemble India a bit more. In that the buildings were more ramshackle and such.

I haven´t been very social at the hostel. Probably because I´m kind of exhausted from the long flight still? Or maybe because I feel like I ought to talk to people in Spanish but it´s kind of intimidating.

I forgot to mention that Leah´s boyfriend Terry had his home broken into. His laptop was robbed. This happened my second day in Chile. I hope the police manage to recover it. The crime was perpetrated by twelve year olds.´

I was very tired when I got back to the hostel today around 6 PM. I started reading the Windup Bird Chronicles. Kindle sure is great for travelling.
  First few days in Santiago
The flight from Seattle was three legs -- Seattle to Miami, Miami to Bógota, Bógota to Santiago. The plane was the same for the second and third legs, but everybody had to get off in Bógota, travel through the airport to another gate, and get back on the plane. So I´ve kind of been to Colombia. Woo. I didn´t buy anything in the Bógita airport because I figured it wouldn´t be very representative of Colombian food anyway. On the last leg, I got three consecutive seats to sleep on. The plane was half empty. One of the flight attendants offered me the three seats in exchange for my seat so that two other flight attendants could sleep sitting up on my seat and the adjacent seat, with a curtain around them for darkness. I´m not sure why the flight attendants didn´t sleep on the three consecutive seats. I can´t sleep sitting up, so it was a major boon for me.

So far, we have hung out in Santiago for a couple days, and we took a day trip to Valparaiso with a group of students in Leah´s program (actually, the summer program students from the same school) another day.

I have not found Chile particularly striking. I have never encountered a Chilean restaurant in NYC or anywhere else, and I think it´s because Chilean food is largely unremarkable and bland (there´s hot sauce available, but the food itself is not particularly flavorful.) and excessively fatty. The signature dish in Valparaiso was an enormous plate of soggy french fries topped with scrambled egg and beef and dripping in oil. On the bright side, there are a few interesting exotic fruits to try.

Santiago seems more like the US or Europe than like India or Egypt or China in terms of the level of economic development (Okay, Shanghai was futuristic looking in some ways, but this was a sort of facade for the "real" China. Actually, I wonder how much wealthier Santiago is than the rest of Chile.). But that similarity means that the differences are more surprising because I don´t expect them. The most striking is the many dogs roaming the streets. They are more aggressive than any of the street animals I encountered in India. In India, you keep your distance and they keep theirs, for the most part. My first or second night in Santiago, I saw street dogs chasing cars in the street. The Chilenos really like their dogs, though. In Valparaiso, they even built a house for the street dogs.

The second most striking thing about Chile is the artistic quality of the graffiti. This was especially the case in Valparaiso, but also in Santiago.

One of the small differences between Chile and the USA is that in the USA, after the crosswalk turns red, the the traffic light in the same direction turns yellow, and you still have a few seconds to cross the street. In Chile, the light in the same direction turns red at the exact same time as the crosswalk turns red. I came close to being run over for not knowing this one time. So prima facie, it´s more dangerous to cross a busy street in India, where there are no traffic signals in most places. But I don´t think I ever had such a close call in India.

Tonight, Leah and I ate at a really nice restaurant featuring food from Argentinian Patagonia. I had a steak with quail eggs. We had chocolate fondue for dessert. Earlier today, we walked up a hill park for a view of the city, the smaller of the two hill parks in the city but the one with the nicer view.

Santiago also has very polluted air. Visibly so.

Tomorrow we´re going for a walk in a park on the outskirts of the city.

I´ve been speaking Spanish about half the time with Leah, but not very much or very well with the Chileans. Having the ability to carry on a conversation with someone patient versus having good pronunciation and listening abilities are two very different skills.

I met Leah´s boyfriend Terry Wang. His name is pronounced like ¨Wong,¨ so if I pronounced it like ¨Wang,¨ I´d be pronouncing it the wong way. She and he kiss all over the place :-). In Valparaiso, they were making out like crazy in the graveyard. It´s nice to see her with a boyfriend.

In Valparaiso, we also visited one of the houses of the famous poet Pablo Neruda. It was nice.

On Tuesday night, I will go to Leah´s host family´s house for dinner. That´s the only time I will meet them. Leah said they are very formal about guests and wouldn´t want me to come over informally. I find that disappointing -- I was hoping to spend a lot of time with them.

I can´t understand Spanish too well, but I have still been able to make some puns in Spanish. For instance, upon pulling a grape out of the chocolate fondue: oooo, va la uva.

I'm using this blog to tell family and friends about my travels, primarily my international travels. The earliest posts describe my first summer spent in New York City (before I moved here permanently) -- but I called the blog Norman's Travel Adventures to encourage myself to travel more in the future. Trips blogged about: Summer 2003 (posted in 2017): Western Europe Summer 2010 -- Israel, Egypt, India, China. Summer 2011: Chile, Peru Spring 2012: France

June 2006 / July 2006 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / February 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / April 2012 / May 2012 / November 2012 / July 2017 / September 2017 /

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