Archive for April, 2008

Sheesh… you would think I killed a cow in India!

Friday, April 25th, 2008

So, first things first. I’m not planning on buying a computer over here. I need to get one for school when I start in September, so I am putting off getting one until before I start Law school. Add to that fact that the Euro here makes buying anything about twice as much, and you can pretty much plan on me only getting souvenirs and such. So far, not that much has been bought. I did manage to pick up a nice bottle of vodka in St. Petersburg that is apparently the royal blend for the Tsar’s and came in a Faberge designed bottle. Pretty excited about that is I can ever find a way to get it shipped back. The military doesn’t like taking alcohol on its planes so I couldn’t send it through the mail back home. So, what else was there. Oh yeah, the conservative lean of the EU. I am not too sure about that. I know that a lot of people are watching our Democratic Primary and thinking this is the election. I don’t know how many times I have been asked who I think is going to win: Hillary or Obama. I then have to explain that there is a third candidate who either Hillary or Obama have to run against in November. They tend to get a little confused here, and I have to explain that what is going on is only the selection process for the Democratic candidate and we are not holding the actual election for President until November, and then he/she (God no!) won’t take office until January of next year. At this point, there is normally a comment about having that much time left with Bush, and I have to explain why I actually like him. Really, I just need to write it all down in several different languages, and just hand it to them to read when I get asked the question from now on. I will say, however, that the only people I am finding are unanimously hated through-out the world are the Muslims. I think they have effectively declared Jihad on everyone, and the rest of the world pretty much is giving them the big middle finger right back. Illegal immigration is a problem with a lot of countries over here too. Russia is very concerned about it, but mostly those from China/Mongolia and the Cossacks. (I think that is what they are called to us anyway. The just call them Caucasians which confused me for a while.) Overall I don’t think that anyone really faults us for Afghanistan, but they all think we went into Iraq for the oil, and some say Imperial Destiny. I have to tell them if that was the case, then we would have just made them a colony and demanded taxation in the form of oil/etc… for all the infrastructure we are building there. Not to mention keeping Kuwait under our heel. I then reference the British colonial raping of the natural resources in Africa up until about 20 years ago, and they normally back down a bit.

 Anyway, I am getting a little tired of the church thing, to be honest. It is kind of like once you have seen 50 or so, you have seen them all. I am having to actually make myself slow down and take a look at them, but I think that the trip to Africa should give me a nice breather to head back to Europe for more sight-seeing. Plus, I am really looking forward to seeing the Pyramids and the Sphinx, not to mention the Valley of the Kings outside of Luxor, and diving in the Red Sea. I am trying to get on another live aboard dive cruise, and planning on taking a camel ride around the pyramids. Also thinking of taking a Nile river cruise from around Luxor up to Cairo, but not sure if that one is going to work out yet. It would be really awesome if it did, but I am not sure I can swing it as a single traveler. They seem to want groups of 6 to 8, so hopefully I can tack on with some other group.

So that is pretty much everything for now. I hope that everyone is doing well. I managed to get skype up and running so I have a phone number now and international calling via WiFi at like 2 cents a minute. So, if you see a phone call that comes up “Unknown” it may be me.

The actual number is 202-905-0544, but I am not logged on all that often so I am not sure if you call that it will go through. I do think that I have voicemail though. Let me know if anyone calls it.

Lastly, here are the photos of Germany so far.

-JC

Gotta Love the Hostels!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

After a hectic day yesterday heading to Ramstein AFB to unload the contents of my pack that I no longer need (mostly cold weather stuff and a bunch of photo negatives that I finally got developed in Germany), I dropped off my stuff at the Frankfurt Hostel, made my bed, and took off for some exploring/photo hunting because I was feeling guilty about my lack of pictures over the last week or so. (How’s that for a run-on?) Anyway, I came back in around 1:00 in the morning expecting to take a shower and hop right into bed. Already made and all that jazz. Anyway, took the shower, and went to sit down in the bunk (there are 6 in the room by the way which isn’t too bad as long as you have ear plugs), and sat on someone. Just about jumped out of my skin, and I am sure he was not really pleasantly suprised to have a 230 pound guy sitting on him. I was a little peeved and promptly kicked his butt out and had him re-make my bed from the clean sheets that were on the bed he was supposed to be using. He said he came in and didn’t realize the bed wasn’t taken, but considering the fact that it was already made up (they don’t do that for you) and that a book and my sleeping shorts were on it, I found that a little had to believe. So, considering that I was only going to be here for a night, I caused a rucus. When I woke up in the morning, come to find out he was Canadian. Go figure. Blame Canada! The moral of the story: Don’t trust Canadians, they will steal your bed.

Anyway, I’m waiting for my train to leave Frankfurt to Munich in about 30 minutes or so, and have been looking for a place to upload some photo’s and download the latest episodes of Lost. Yep, that’s right. I have been saving the first 8 episodes on my IPOD for about a month now, because I knew when I started to watch them agian, I was going to be jonezing for some more. I went and did it. But, come to find out that there have been no more new ones yet, and the first is set to start tomorrow. Great timing!!! That has been my biggest problem with leaving for 5+ months: can’t watch my TV shows. Darn you DVR! It has gotten me hooked all over again. Anyway, as I continue my search for a computer around here that will let me log onto ITunes, burn DVD’s so I can back up my pictures, and upload photo’s, I’m kicking myself for not bringing my computer. Oh well, hind sight is 20/20, right?

Other than that, I think I have some great pictures of the Frankfurt sky line, and some ones from the country side that Taylor was asking for. (Dangling participle?) Hopefully, the hostel in Munich will have a computer that I can upload them on, but Germany is a pain for finding a computer that you can actually plug something into. Most of the places I find have the computer locked up in a box somewhere, and no way to access the USB connection. Fortunately, all of the hostels have offered free WiFi……. … … …

Here are some photo’s from St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg I forgot to upload.

-JC

Jimmy and Maggie are the Bomb!!!

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I just checked out of the Marriott Hotel in Frankfurt and stopped by the internet cafe before I head off to pick up my rental car at the airport, but I have to give a huge “Thank you!” to Jimmy and Maggie. Totally unexpectedly, they booked a room for me at the Marriott here in Frankfurt which is pretty much located right downtown. I used the time to recuperate from my two months+ of travel so far, so not a whole lot to say about Frankfurt right now. I am heading off to Ramstein AFB this afternoon to spend the night and unload some stuff, as well as re-stock on the important things: deodorant, toothpaste, etc… But, a lot of questions last time so I will finish elaborating. The toilets: I did not really see too much different there. I think that may be because they now charge westerners on average about 75 cents each time you use them, so I think we westerners keep them pretty well stocked with toilet paper. I have been carrying around a bag of wet wipes that I have yet to open because I head about this before I left as well. I will, however, say that two-ply has yet to reach Europe that I have found. Enough of that, though. The visa situation in Russia was a bit more interesting. When you get to Russia you have 24 hours to register your visa. Normally the hotels take care of this, but depending on where you stay, they can see this as a chance to milk foreigners for a bit of unexpected cash. It cost me $40 and $5 in Moscow and St. Petersburg, respectively, to get mine registered. Despite this, the local police can and will ask to see your papers anytime, and if they have the inkling haul you off to question you or demand exorbitant fees. One particular scam is where supposed “Mafia” members (actually police members who are out to supplement their income) will as to see your papers and then demand a bribe to get your passport back. I was repeatedly told to only hand over a photocopy of my passport, visa, immigration card, and visa registration and to keep my passport hidden on me, never handing it over. I didn’t have too much of a problem, but I repeatedly saw people stopped by the cops on the street, hand over their papers, and end up in the back of a police van. I generally crossed the street or went into a shop instead of going near those police members, and always there was a bit of a flutter in my stomach. Luckily I escaped Russia with no hiccups.

The train ride to Frankfurt, however, was a bit interesting. I decided not to fly from Russia as I have been getting increasingly more friction on trying to get my film hand checked as I go through airport security, and decided not to risk Russia’s hospitality on this. The US, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand.. no problem getting my film hand checked. However, Austria put up a stink about it and figured that Russia would be a little less accommodating than them, so train it was. I have to say, though, it took a bit longer than I was thinking it would. On the map it looks like a pretty short distance from St. Petersburg to Berlin, but in reality it took about 24 hours of travel.  However, unlike on an airplane when you travel that long, on these trains I had a cabin with a bunk that I could lay down and go to sleep on. So, not that bad, but I forgot about that whole 24 hours without showering thing, so I resorted to a washcloth bath after I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Originally I had planned on going from St. Petersburg straight through to Warsaw, Poland, but it turns out that route goes through Belarus, which I would need a transit visa for, and the only place to get a transit visa at is your embassy (five day wait), or in Minsk in the center of Belarus. No possible way to get one at the border, you know which makes excellent sense, right??? It turns out that after the fall of Communism on the USSR, Belarus thought it needed to carry on as many sense-less traditions as it could, so that route was out. Instead, I did a little research on the internet, and found a relatively uncomplicated route with some good scenery along the way of St. Petersburg – Vilnius – Warsaw – Berlin – Frankfurt. It was supposed to be only 3 trains (so switching twice along the way) and all were pretty long distance so you could sack out if you wanted. Yeah, right! Turns out that a bridge was out in Latvia somewhere, so I got dropped off in the middle of no-where without anyone to speak English to point me in the right direction. I thought I was done. Luckily, though, there was a German guy who spoke a bit of English with a Lonely Planet – Europe guide which I used to speak Rus-lish-atvian with some locals to figure out where the heck we were, and needed to go to continue the journey. Easy: catch bus #5 to the stotis (station) and get the train to Sethosis (three changes) than walk a bit to catch the train to Warsaw. Fun, fun, fun! I managed, however, to find my way along and ended up in Warsaw at about 8:00 at night. The train to Frankfurt, via Berlin, was not scheduled to leave until 11:24 that night, or I would have been absolutely screwed! Turns out that even fewer people in Poland speak English than in Russia, and they speak about as good of Russian as I do. Add to that their train system requires you to know the exact trains you need to catch and their numbers and times (there is apparently no way of looking this up at the ticket counter), and it makes for one hell of a mess for me. Again fate intervened, however, and a Guardian Angel in the form of a physics professor from the University of Poland saved my skin by acting as a translator for me. I was expecting to be asked for something (cash) in return, but when I offered to buy him dinner or at least a cup of coffee, he declined. I was stunned, but I guess you can never really count out people totally. I am not sure that a visitor in New York, not speaking English, would have been able to get the same help I did, but maybe I am wrong on that. Anyway, I finally arrived in Frankfurt and have spent the last couple day lazing about pretty much doing nothing, and it was awesome. I did, however, manage to post a couple more pictures from Russia and here are the links:

St. Petersburg Photos                                                          Kremlin Photos

– JC

By popular demand!

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I am not sure you all know what it takes to find a place that allows you to plug in a harddrive in Russia. Lets just say there is a hole in my left shoe from walking all over Saint Petersburg trying to find one. However, persistance does pay, and I managed to find one at the mere expense of 90 Rubles (about $4.00) for an hour while allowed me to upload a couple pictures. However, there was no way to upload as a batch and I had to add each individually to O-foto for this. The pains I go through for you all. Anyway, an update. So Moscow. Well, let’s just say that I am EXTREMELY glad I listened to those Pimsleur Russian lessons. English is not really the most spoken thing here, and I think most people take pride in the fact they can shake their head and tell me “Nyet!” in a defining voice when I asked (in Russian) if they knew any English. So, that aside, this has been a very interesting portion of my trip. Growing up with the cold war still on everyone’s mind, seeing the collapse of the Soviet Union into Russia,and now it’s re-emergence into a world power, this is really a place I never thought I would be able to walk around. Even before I took off in Feburary there was a special on TV about the anti-American feelings in Moscow and the Putin Youth Gangs. I haven’t really seen any overt anti-American feelings, and talked with quite a few locals about the current situation and how things have changed from the good old USSR (CCCP for those in the know) days. Moscow was a lot different from what I was expecting. Really, from the way things are played out on television this is kind of a place of outward appearing opulance to me. However, it is a thin vanier which you can see past, and the disrepair that happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are doing a lot of reconstruction in Moscow and in Saint Petersburg now that they have a good deal of money flowing in from the oil finds in Syberia, but you can still see how bad it was. You walk into any apartment building and the stairwell looks like something out of a bad 1980’s slasher movie. I’m expecting someone to jump out of the shadows at me at any time, but that is just the way it is. No one really takes care of the “common areas” so to speak, so they have fallen into a massive state of disrepair. Saying that, when I walked into my hostel it was like night and day. Freshly painted walls, IKEA furniture, and wood floors. The kitchens are still a little lacking with only a microwave, fridge, and hotplate for a stove, but you can’t have everything. Anyway, I digress. So the first day in Moscow was pretty much spent moving in, getting my Visa registered (more on this), and getting to know the other people staying at my hostel. Not really that exciting. The next day, however, I walked down Tverskaya Ulitsa (a main street in Moscow) taking in the sights and bee-lining it to Red Square with the Kremlin and St Peters Basilica. I am not sure if I can really relate how it felt to be a member of the United States Navy (did I say for only a month or so more now…) and standing in Red Square. I mean on one side was St. Peter’s Basilica and GUM (the old standing Soviet supply department store where people had to line up and wait for food), and on the other Lenin’s tomb and the Kremlin. How weird and cool! I walked around taking pictures and checking out the area for bit, then tried to get in to see Lenin. Unfortunately his tomb was closed for renovation and wasn’t going to re-open until May. Crap! On to the Kremlin…. closed for the day. Crap, Crap!!! So I walked around circling the Kremlin’s walls and say this really cool church in the distance:

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow

Anyway, I spent the next couple hours checking it out and that pretty much took up the rest of the day along with me finding my way back to the hostel and actually figuring out how to navigate the Moscow subway system. (I only went the wrong way once my entire time in Moscow! Damn was I proud!)

So the next day I used my newfound knowledge of the transit system to head straight to the Kremlin and took a tour around. Really kind of anti-climatic to be honest. I mean it was cool being in there, and the feeling of it all. Some neat sights, and just the fact that it was “The Kremlin,” but other than that… eh…. so-so. I toured the Armoury, where you are not allowed to take any pictures inside, and the churches (again no pictures inside), and then it was 5:00 and I was asked to leave. (“Kremlin.. closed…”) On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 6.5. Other than that, I spent the rest of the time kinda wandering around old Arbat Street, and standing in line to make sure I had my ticket to St Petersburg ahead of time. That only took like 3 hours. There is this weird thing about the lines for tickets at the train station. I think that I stood in line about five times, each time getting to the front and then being told to go to a different one. There was nothing posted telling me one way or another (at least that I could decipher), and I am still not sure of the method behind the madness, but it was accomplished. A heck of a lot easier than getting tickets in St Petersburg, by the way.

The next day it was off to the train station for my first ever train ride! My ticket put me in a sleeper berthing with three other people. This translates into 2nd class travel in Russia, and cost me about $50 for an 8 hour ride from Moscow to St Petersburg. I got a chance to practice my Russian in excruciating detail getting to know my berth-mates(?). Got some, what I figure, was great information about where to go and what to see in St. Petersburg, but I will be darned if I caught 1/3 of it. I did, however, manage to make a friend named Serge who offered me a ride to my hostel and to take me out in St. Petersburg. He is a DJ here, and knew the club scene pretty well. I went out with him a couple times, but the clubs here don’t even open until midnight, if not later, so after Saturday and Sunday nights I begged off on the premise of having to actually get up before 2:00 in the afternoon to see the sights. He was cool with that as I guess the scene drops off pretty heavily during the week. Go figure. Anyway, Saint Petersburg has been very similar to Moscow, but more of a pastel feel to it. Everything here is either pastel yellow, blue, or pink, but with that dirty feel to it. Even the major attractions are kinda gritty feeling. Maybe that is a product of the winter and how snow/cold makes everything more drab, but I can’t help but attribute it to past Soviet times. Tomorrow I am planning on heading out to St Isaac’s Cathedral for some sight seeing. Apparently you can climb up to the dome and check out the city from there. I was there a couple days ago, but due to Serge’s friendlyness, only got there about 20 minutes after it closed down. Again, go figure. I will update more when I get the chance, and hopefully get to upload some more photos when I find a place that lets me install that darn active-X component for O-foto. Hope everyone is doing well.

 -JC

I keep forgetting to post the photo’s. Here!

Vienna a bit late.

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Iam lagging a bit behind on my posts so I am trying to catch up here. I was only in Vienna for three days, and I am not sure that was enough time. Really, I am finding out that it takes a day to kind of get settled, and explore the immediate area to make sure I know where exactly I am and that I can get back. I figure these are pretty good things to know, and normally I am not really up for anything that first day other than maybe going out and grabbing a meal and maybe a beer or two. After that, I can normally range out pretty well, but I am not doing a whole lot of the culture stuff that I think I should be. I mean there are a huge amount of Museums in Vienna, not to mention the opera (not sure I can make myself go to that) and 5 symphonies. (I know there are five because my roommate at the hostel was a professional musician trying out for one of them while he was there.) I didn’t go to any of them, but I feel that I still had a good time, and experienced a bit of Vienna. The first night was pretty much shot, like I said. I got in around 4:00pm and took a nap. One of the guys in my room was a teacher from Namibia currently teaching in Leicester England, and was in Vienna to talk about the cultural bias they are executing with their immigration policies. (Go figure, it isn’t just the US.) Anyway, I ended up heading out that night to a club in downtown Vienna called Volksgarten. Awesome club, but nothing gets going until after midnight there, and they don’t close down until like 7:00 in the morning. Needless to say, I was not up for all that, and ended up coming back at around 3:30 with a Serbian cab driver. I talked to him about Yugoslavia (when it was that) and what had happened since, and he ended up charging us like half the meter fare to get back. Awesome! I realize all of you are questioning if it was me or “Mo” from Namibia with the stunning personality making new friends, but Yes! it was me! The next two days walked all over Vienna from about 12:00 to a little past midnight taking pictures and taking in the sights. Really I think that the highlight was Stephansdom Church and the Belvedere. It wasn’t the “actual” Belvedere (that’s in Poland, and I am planning on taking a picture in front of it!), but I was sooo close to finding a bottle of the good stuff and taking a picture of me drinking it with the house in the background anyway. However, here is the picture minus the vodka addition:

The Belvedere, Vienna

So, I basically have been walking all over God’s creation taking pictures left and right (my digital is at over 2500 and film at about 500). I am still “technically” in the Navy until the end of May, which is a good thing, because the way things are going now, I am going to have to buy new jeans, and new shoes as I am wearing mine out from so much walking around and carrying a backpack. Anyway, I am going to try and write about Moscow tomorrow, and hopefully post some pictures of there, but I need to find a place to upload them. The hostel here in St Petersburg does not let you connect anything to the computers here.

Thanks for all the comments and I miss you all, but still not ready to leave yet!

Oh, and here are the pictures 

-JC

Alright Already!!!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Seriously people. You all know me and my eating habits, so you know Japan and Thailand were not exactly a nutritious mecca for me. McDonalds, Subway, Ramen, and Peanutbutter and Jelly Sandwiches do not a good diet make. However, Prague hwas better to me. At least for me eating local cuisine. I had roasted duck with dumplings (miraculously pretty much bread slices or potato slices), along with Wienersnitzel in Vienna (pictures to follow on that one).  However, I don’t think that either is going to help me drop that “pudgy look” Taylor so helpfully pointed out. (There will be payback for that.) Anyway, I really enjoyed Prague. The city is great, if a little cold. It seems like it snowed every time I stepped out doors, but once I was inside looking out the windows it was sunny and blue. I think that someone was playing a trick on me. Anyway, there is a great tradition here in Prague that I am anxious to get started in the States when I return. Apparently, on the Monday after Easter (ironically named Easter Monday here), all the boys in the town go out and get a nice stick, tie a sting to the end, and then proceed to switch all the girls on the rump for the day. The girls then are required to reward the switchee with a nice hand painted Easter Egg. I mean seriously! Who doesn’t like this tradition??? I, for one, and a little peeved that previous travelers to Prague from the States have not brought this one back already. Anyway, here’s fair warning for all the women back in the States: Watch out for Easter Monday Switch Day!!!!

More to follow on Vienna when I get time to upload the pictures.

 -JC

 Oh, and here are some of the pictures of Prague