Saturday, January 31, 2009


I've been in Athens three days now. I usually don't stay in a city this long, but it is pretty nice knowing where everything is and having someplace to sleep at night. You know when you know kind of the way a building runs, the people in it and such? That's a big relief while traveling hostel-style.

Not that it's especially nice. You know those commercials in the US that are advertising some phone company? Something about dropped calls... anyway, there's one where there are the "techno twins" and the something about how a call was missed so they went to the wrong place. Basically, the message is that in hostels you run into the crazy European people who listen to techno all the time. I used to think that was ridiculous, because I'd never run into anything like that. Well... my neighbors are the techno twins. I woke up at 5AM this morning with blasting techno. That was fun.

Two nights I came back to someone sleeping in my bed. We still don't really know who it was. I ended up just asking for a different room for that night, just a bit worried about my things. I had a roommate today who was awesome. He came into the room and we just started talking about stuff. I think we talked for about three hours straight, and that was just the bulkiest part of the conversation. I don't think I've ever talked to someone so much in my life. The rest of the people in the hostel are... interesting. There's a Japanese roommate I have who's... odd. I think his friend was the one who took my bag. He's like, over-the-top friendly and doesn't really understand English well. There's also weird... noises I won't go into detail about, but ask me later if you're curious. Needless to say, I've never run into that in a hostel before.

Let's get on to the pictures.

Yesterday I walked around for a bit. It was raining, which was too bad, but I slept for a bit back at the hostel after getting drenched outside. (Why am I reading this in my head in an Aussie accent? hmm.... ) Anyway, the buildings look different here, at least in the nice parts of town. That's sort of a European thing I guess. I like it, but who wouldn't?

Two days ago I went to the seaside. At the time, I was having a hard time liking Athens and this cured it, for the most part. I like water a lot. I'm one of those people who just feels relaxed if around water. It wasn't even that nice of an area, but it I still had a good time. Don't mock me.

I also discovered how to use the remote on my camera my mom bought me for Christmas. Good work, Mom. I'll actually probably use this a lot. I may look a little silly, standing alone, smiling and posing several times, but whatever. I finally got a picture with me in it.

I like this one a bit better. Clearly by now I'm a bit more advanced in the technique of remote control picture composition.

If you look closely, there's a bird flying on the right side. That is no mistake. I waited for a long time to get a bird flying in the picture. There was also a couple standing on a rock just to the right of the frame. I had my camera pointed at them for quite awhile. They probably thought I was some creeper taking their picture. Oh well.

I took this while remembering that I wanted to get a picture of it to post on the blog, but I should get one that better exemplifies the graffiti in Athens. This city is a big coloring book. It's everywhere, on monuments, statues, parks, everything. I don't understand how more efforts aren't put up to stop this, but... what can you do, really? I guess it's not a big deal unless the images are obscene, which usually they're not. It just seems... I don't know.

I'm going here again in about an hour. I tried to go yesterday, but it was raining, and it wasn't free. I guess all the sites are free on Sundays. I learned this from my Aussie friend. I'm going to try to hit up all the sites that I missed, then go to Olympia tonight. I've heard really good things about Olympia. I guess we'll find out, though. If there's one thing I've learned about traveling like this, it's that nothing ever really goes as planned...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Athens Pictures!

The computers just cleared up at the hostel so I had a few minutes to upload these pictures. I didn't do much today, no sites. These were taken of stuff you can see from the side of the street. Sadly, my beautiful face graces none of them.

Attica - at a glance

I flew into Athens today... wow, this keyboard is horrible. The "shift" key actually requires physical strength to push down... anyway, I got in today and have been wandering around since.

Athens is much different than I was expecting. It's very strange walking around a city where everyone is white but speaking a different language. I also thought I'd be able to just figure out the writing because it's very close to Roman letters. That is not the case. I have no idea what's going on. Fortunately, I haven't run into anyone who doesn't speak English... yet. I've actually had two people come up to me already and ask me questions in Greek. I'm not sure why. I'm in full tourist mode with the bright red backpack, camera and map in hand... not to mention the fact that I don't look Greek. I might be able to pass, but really... they actually looked surprised when I gave them the helpless shrug and smile. For the most part, though, I still stick out when necessary. The man at this internet cafe talked to me in English before I even said anything. He may have done so because I sort of just stared at the prices for a bit before staring at him helplessly and not saying anything, but...

You know, I should really get off this thing. I stopped by really quick to find the address of a hostel/hotel. I still don't have a place to stay and it's getting dark. Note to self: simply the title of a cheap hostel is not sufficient. I must bring a street name, subway stop, or address next time. Silly me. Anyway, it was 2 euros for a half hour. That's crazy. They're going to charge me more if I don't get off now.

*added a few hours later*

I found a hostel! It wasn't the one I was looking for, but I jumped at it the first moment I saw the International Hostel logo.

Things in Athens are expensive. Well, maybe not for people who use the Euro, but I had a little meal in a small shop tonight for $7.50. The value meals at McDonalds were the US equivalent of about $7-8. I had a small sandwich. My hostel was about $20 and that was the cheapest around. They didn't even give me a key. ghetto...

I hope the rest of the country is a bit cheaper. I should have brought more than $200 with me. Eh... we'll see. I'll get a good night's sleep finally and see how I feel in the morning.

Right now I'm going to go for a walk around the area, free of my cumbersome backpack. It's a little shady around here. I may get mugged. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The City that Sleeps...

One of the things I've found strange about London is the time things close at night. Really, there isn't a convenience store or anything that is open 24 hours a day (or even past 11PM) around where I'm staying. All the coffee shops close at 6-8. I found one that was open 'til 9PM on Sundays and I'm remembering it for when I'm here on Sunday again in two weeks.

I stopped playing "tourist" for a bit to relax before Greece. It's so strange how fast one can get acclimated to a new environment. When I'm not going to museums or looking at churches with my chin to the sky, it really feels like normal life here. I've gotten used to the weather and complain it's cold, even though it's 30 degrees colder back at home. I even used the word "home" once when talking about the apartment in which I'm sleeping on the floor.

Oh man, though, these museums are amazing. One of the cool things about London is that they were an empire during the exploration age. They "collected" a massive amount of things from all over the world in their heyday and much of it is still here. I say "collected" because the boundary between "discovering" artifacts and "stealing" them is very slim.

The British Museum is amazing. Seriously, I didn't know that there existed Egyptian artifacts in such prime condition. You walk into this place and to the left you're greeted with the Rosetta Stone. If you don't know what that is, it's a really old slab of rock with three languages on it: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the common Egyptian script, and Greek. Because all three languages say the same thing, it opened the doors to the Egyptian hieroglyphic system and allowed the ancient script to be deciphered within thirty years, which before was a mystery. Anyway, this slab of rock is right in your way as you enter the Egyptian exhibit. Then things get interesting. Again, I had no idea that this stuff existed. Everything in that room was about four thousand years old and most of it was in exceptional quality. They didn't even have glass over a lot of it, with only a sign for protection against the human hand. After, we saw a really cool Assyrian exhibit followed by a Greek exhibit. Looking at a map afterwards, we realized that we only touched the surface of both areas and there was at least triple what we saw.

But my favorite is still the National History Museum. I stopped by again the other day, just to see another exhibit. It's easy to do that when it's free. Chicago, take notes.

Anyway, I'm leaving tomorrow for Greece. I actually have to get up in four hours from now, so I'm going to try to get some sleep. I have no idea what to expect there or really what I'm doing, so stay tuned. I'm not bringing my laptop, but I'll try to find an internet cafe or something to blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Diverse London

One of the things I've been most surprised with here in London (pleasantly) is the massive amount of diversity here. I was expecting to see English culture, but what I've been presented with is cultures from all over the world. Its a really cool city in that sense. While nothing is cheap, foreign food isn't any more expensive than "regular" food here, so you can literally eat a different culture's food every night.

This building was just across the river from Parliament. The sun was setting really nice so I took a bunch of pictures you'll see if you continue to read.

I'm not sure what this building is. We were just walking down the street, looking for a bus and ran into it. That's what's so cool about London. I heard most of Europe is like that, though.

Monday starts the Chinese New Year, so China Town in London is celebrating immensely (so I've heard). We went there yesterday and it was interesting. It's probably an area I would have completely missed if Adela hadn't told me about it. I've heard today that it's crazy. There's supposed to be over 50,000 people running about with tons of food. We'll see if it lives up to it's guidebook reputation, but that would be awesome.

This is one of the few places I've been outside of China that actually smells like China. Chinese food has a certain smell. It's not really bad, but I wouldn't say it's very appetizing either (for me at least, with Western taste buds). But I get really excited everytime I smell it because it reminds me of

Friday night we went to India Town, also known as "Brick Lane." Food was good, but the real reason I went was to see a Bollywood film. I re-watched the Bollywood film I had seen in India on the airplane on the way over (Bachna Ae Haseeno). I love that movie. Definitely, I would recommend it. So... I was on a little Bollywood fix and discovered that London had a Bollywood theater with tickets for only 5 pounds. I dragged Adela along and it ended up being at this little place in the boonies with three other people in the theater. Oh well. I really liked the movie. We saw Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. It wasn't as good as Bachna in my opinion, but its target was families and it didn't have quite the budget as the other one. Anyway, I'd still definitely reccomend either one to anyone who is interested in seeing a Bollywood movie.

Watch this movie.

Today I really wanted to go to a Catholic church (Adela's catholic and could show me the ropes), but not only are most of the churches out here Anglican, but I also realized that I don't have any nice clothes to wear. That's unfortunate, but I'm going to go to the St. Paul's area anyway and check out the cathedrals. London is so crazy with their cathedrals. These massive, beautiful buildings are just tossed around everywhere. You'll be walking and then just pass an amazing building and the people who live here don't blink or think it's remotely interesting at all. Craziness.

This is Adela and me in front of Parliament. She's the girl who actually lives here who I'm bumming off a bed and such from.

She got really excited here. I'm not sure why. I guess this stand was in some "Friends" episode. Joey allegedly did something with a hat and a map. Adela was ranting about it and I thought it'd calm her down to take her picture.

Westminster Cathedral (An Anglican Church) with the setting sun and Big Ben in the background. I thought this was a nice shot.

I finally got a picture of me in one of these pictures. See, when I wasn't in my right mind and was packing for this trip, I packed my big DSLR camera but left my little point-and-shoot at home. That makes it difficult to both ask people to take your picture and just hold out the camera in front of you.

On a last note, I bought a ticket for Athens yesterday. I'm leaving on Thursday and I'm pretty excited about it. I searched all over their cheap airfares and found a week-long, round trip ticket for US$126. Isn't that awesome? I'm not really sure what I'll do there. I already feel like I've done so much in London and I've only been here about four days. I might try and travel a bit while I'm there. If anyone has any suggestions / stories about their favorite things in Greece, I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A great way to cheer up a bad start!

Today I finally got to see the real London. I got a lot better feel of the city and am really enjoying myself here. There's so much to see, everywhere you go, and everyone speaks English so you can read and listen to directions. It's kind of weird, actually. I'm so used to being foreign in Asia and obviously not fitting in. Here, I fit in perfectly until I open my mouth. It actually makes me a bit hesitant to go places and talk to people because I know it will be odd for them to hear an American accent and there will probably be difficulties.

Today a local woman asked me for directions somewhere. I told her I was new around here, but I think I could have said anything. Once she heard my American "r" she laughed at the obvious and we parted ways. It says something, though, if I fit in enough to get asked directions. I was wearing my bright red backpack, too.

While on the topic, I have no idea what these people are saying out here. I'd say at any given part of a conversation I have with someone, be it telling me how much something costs or the normal small talk to tourists, I understand them about half of the time. Seriously, there was a long announcement on the train and I could understand about three words. Granted, I can't usually understand what train operators say in America, but it's so odd to hear English spoken so differently.

Also, the cockney accent isn't pretty. It's a bit startling and makes me wonder for a second if they realize that they're not sweeping chimneys and it's not a hundred years ago.

Anyway, I walked through Westminster today. For those who don't know, that's the stereotypical London area, right along the river with Big Ben, the House of Parliament, the Eye (the giant ferris wheel), and Westminster Abbey. The house of Parliament and the Westminster cathedral are so intricate. I'm not sure how they carved the outside, but the amount of work put into it is astounding. I personally think the ferris wheel is hideous and completely out of place in an otherwise beautiful area, but that's my opinion.

Later, I stopped by my new favorite building in England: The Natural History Museum. First off, it's free. Second, it's in an amazing old building. Third, they really put an emphasis on zoology and the natural world, not so much humanity's impact on it. If you don't know, I'm sort of a zoology nerd, especially mammals, cephalopods, and evolution. The Field Museum in Chicago satisfies many of these needs, and this museum is now second on my list, perhaps topping the Field just because it's free. I can go back again tomorrow, and perhaps several other times this trip. Today I read exhibits for hours and glossed over only a mild chunk of this museum's massive inventory. There will be more to hear about this museum soon.

Big Ben. Strangely, it's smaller than it looks like in most of the pictures, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. Seeing it close up, I have a hard time imagining it in an older time. It's such an impressive piece of architecture and it's so iconic.

Outside Westminster Cathedral. This looks like a really cool building, too. Unfortunately, admitance costs 12 pounds, roughly 18-20 dollars. That's obsene. I think I'll enjoy it from the outside.

Westminster Abbey through other buildings. It really was an impressive area.

A statue outside the house of Parliament

A little bit different perspective of the house of Parliament

A fish lightpost along the river. I believe it was called "Queen's Walk" or "Way" or something else British.

This isn't too far away from where I'm staying. This was just off London bridge, looking at Tower Bridge, which is ironically much more interesting to see.

This is inside the Museum of Natural History. Look at this place! Look at the building. Just walking around it was exciting. That, coupled with the zoology exhibits, completely made my day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Unfriendly Welcome

I've made it! I'm in London, which is awesome. I've literally only seen a few blocks of it, but from what I've seen, it's got a different look to it than any other city I've really been to (I haven't really been too many places in Europe yet, so that may be why). When I stepped out of the subway (or as they say, the "tube"), the sky was a beautiful overcast grey and the city seemed to have a very dark feel to it. Everyone was wearing black coats like in New York and the trees have a gnarly look to them with black bark. All that, topped with interesting, old European-looking buildings made me kind of excited I'm visiting, which was very necessary. Let me explain.

I have never in my travel experiences had such a weird "immigration experience" as I just had. It was seriously enough for me to almost turn around and go home. I was in line, watching all the people in front of me pass through with amazing ease. I smiled and thought for a moment I'd be out of the airport in five minutes. When I came up to the desk I smiled to the young woman and handed her my documents. It was there that I suddenly became her enemy who deserved neither respect, nor allowance into the country.

She interrogated me, right there at the counter, covering everything about my life. I sensed that her sanity wasn't complete within the first minute, so I played along. When she asked very directly if the girl I was seeing was my girlfriend or just a friend (scribbling it down on my immigration documents), I asked her (very politely) if that really mattered. She then informed me that it was her decision if I was allowed into the country or not and I'd better answer all of her questions and that she was going to call this girl and I'd better not be lying and if I was I needed to come clean right then or else there would be consequences. Okay, you have to understand that I was baffled at this point. She really had given me no indication as to why she was treating me so poorly and why I was being interrogated when clearly no one else was. I continued to answer her questions. Here's a few sample rounds: (remember, everything that woman said sounded like she was accusing me of something)

Crazy Woman: Why did you stop your job before you came here?
Me: Well, I was just substitute teaching and I wanted to travel...
Crazy Woman: Why are you coming for six weeks?
Me: ... what do you mean?
Crazy Woman: Why wouldn't you continue working and come here on a holiday for a week?
Me: ... umm... I'd like to see more of the country.

Crazy Woman: What sites are you planning on seeing here?
Me: (wondering if she wants a complete itinerary of my travel plans for the next six weeks) ... I'm not sure.
Crazy Woman: Why not?
Me: Well, I'll probably buy a guide book when I'm here.
Crazy Woman: Why didn't you get one before you came?
Me: I was busy working.
Crazy Woman: Exactly when did you stop working?

Crazy Woman: You only have seven hundred and fifty dollars with you?
Me: Yeah, but I probably won't convert it all.
Crazy Woman: Why not? That's not enough for six weeks.
Me: Um... I think I'll manage...

This is for real. I could not believe it. And I'm serious when I mean every single thing that came out of her mouth was as if I was a licensed criminal. Anyway, she decided to detain me for further questioning. As I waited, I tried to go over what it possibly could have been that triggered her insanity.

Another woman came and told me to follow her with my things. She wasn't friendly, but was clearly in her right mind. I told her I really didn't know what was going on and asked her if I did anything wrong. She said it was normal procedure. I mentioned that the other woman had seemed genuinely angry with me, to which the lady told me that she might have just had a bad morning.

She searched through every item I brought with my into this country, rifling through each pocket and reading the business cards I had in my wallet. Of course she didn't find anything, but decided to take my CTE website design plans and journal I wrote in India for further inspection. I was taken back to the detaining section where I waited for another long while. Finally the crazy woman told me I was done and could go. She told me that it was documented that I would be staying six weeks and something else angry. Trying to get some sort of explanation out of the mess, I asked her if that meant I had to leave in exactly six weeks or if I could go earlier or later. She somewhat sheepishly told me I could stay longer, but not longer than six months. Really? How do you say something like that to me after putting me through that mess? I can legally stay until June 21st. I asked her politely how I could avoid this next time and she told me to have a return ticket and to have all my money information or something more official. So... basically she was nervous I was going to try to get a job, even though I can't get a job without a worker's VISA or maybe she was nervous I was going to get involved in some illegal activity or something. Who knows? That woman was crazy.

Anyway... there's more. I guess she did call and wake up the poor girl I'm visiting, who had no idea what was going on or why she was seemingly being accused of something or why this crazy woman was interrogating her about our lives. Yes, she did ask Adela my home address, how long I'm staying here, exactly what sites am I going to be seeing, and other questions Adela didn't know the answers to. She also threatened her that she was going to ask me the same questions and if they didn't match up then there would be consequences.

Crazy Woman: Is he your boyfriend or your friend?
Adela: Um... he's just my friend I met in college.
Crazy Woman: You went to school with him?
Adela: Yeah.
Crazy Woman: Where?
Adela: Miami.
Crazy Woman: What university?
Adela: ... University of Miami.

And it continued. By this time, as you can imagine, I had a horrible first impression of London and coupled with only 4 hours of sleep I'd gotten cumulatively the last two nights, I just wanted to go home. Nevertheless, eventually she let me through, however begrudgingly, and things have been looking up since. The exchange rate right now is 1.377 US dollars to the British Pound, which is a lot better than it has been in years.

But beware, fellow travelers. I guess my little immigration incident is not a rare occurrence. Another friend of ours from Miami (also a man my age) was given near to the same treatment last September, also completely unprovoked. So if you decide to come to this unwelcoming land, be sure to know absolutely everything about who you are staying with as well as a complete itinerary of your plans, be they however long.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Back to Good Ol' Cockney I Go!*

I think I have a knack for traveling during important pivotal times in US politics. The inauguration is tomorrow, precisely the time I leave for the airport. I was driving around Utah during the elections, too, which is strange. Oh well.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for London. Of course I haven't packed a thing and am not planning on doing so until well-after midnight, but I'm pretty sure I'll probably go tomorrow.

Honestly, I really don't know what to expect out of London. Besides the faint recollections of my childhood in Cockney, I wonder what I'll find now two decades later*. I've heard wonderful things about the city, not so much the weather, but I usually like bleak, dismal weather so I think I'll be alright.

Has anyone been there? I'll be staying with a friend, so I'm covered for that. I also don't have a lot of money to spend, which is unfortunate, but usually manageable. If you have ideas or suggestions I'd love to hear them!

*Cockney is not a real place, nor is it where I grew up.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Christmas Song

This is a song I put together for the Christmas Eve service at my Dad's church. The two girls singing are... hmmm... maybe they don't want me putting their names up online. Anyway, I've known them forever and I convinced them to come sing this year.

I like the way it turned out.

I was going to leave it at that, but perhaps I should explain. My dad is a minister of a church out in the country about twenty minutes away from my house. Every Christmas Eve we have a service that is mostly based on songs and special performances (mostly from my family and cousins). For the past couple years, I've written a few things for it. I think it's fun. No matter the singer, it's awesome to have something sung by real people after you've just been plugging it away on the piano until then. Parts that you had no idea would sound great sound amazing and other parts you really were excited about sound... not so great. With these girls, though, it pretty much always sounds good.

Enjoy! And Merry Belated Christmas.