Swoosh.

In February, I walked out of the Amazon offices and into unemployment.  It was uneventful for a last day: I’d turned in my badge, saved off documentation for the people taking over my role, and since most everyone I worked with was in California, I just kind of walked out the building and into the wet, gray Seattle evening.

seattle-rain

I was about to jettison everything in exchange for a backpack and a plane ticket.  I would give away most of what I owned so I wouldn’t feel shackled to coming back.  I would be free to choose any opportunity that came my way in my travels.

Homeless and unemployed.  And that would be my life for the next many months.

Fast forward to July: I felt I’d extracted what I needed from my traveling, and the urge to be part of creating something was growing again.  So I looked around the world at potential jobs.  If I took a broad left turn, I could do anything.  Serve beer in Amsterdam.  Write articles for web sites from a beach in Mexico.  Make modern art out of pigeon poop and sell it at street fairs.

However, if I wanted to again have full health benefits and build back some of the money I’d been spending for the past many months, perhaps it would behoove me to look for jobs that would make use of the past couple decades of experience I had built up.  The quandary: can I find a job that aligns well with my interests and passions?

It’s amazing how many more possibilities there are when you aren’t limited by geography.

In relatively short order, I had a collection of juicy alternatives: I could dive back into the video game business in a number of places: most of them Seattle, a couple of them in the UK, one even in California.  Or I could dive back into Amazon, this time down in the Bay Area, working with their hardware teams.  Then there were some rather unexpected opportunities: News Corp in London. Nike in Portland.  Skype in the UK.

From July through September, I narrowed things down.  Video games are still a super exciting, competitive and creative industry, but at the moment I’m craving a new challenge.  News Corp would be a new industry, but seemed to be ultimately a rather unsavory company in some ways.  Skype was interesting, but then that would be returning to Microsoft, which is again a known quantity.

And so it came down to two: I had a job offer from a small game company in Cambridge, UK which would be interesting and a new challenge in that it was such a small company, betting the farm on a new game.  But most important: I would get to live and work in the UK and experience all the challenges and learning experiences that would come with that.  Long weekends would see me hopping a flight to wherever seemed interesting.

Secondly, I had a job interview at Nike, which was super interesting due to my burgeoning interest in fitness (now that my foot has healed, I’m finally back to exercising.  Yay!)

As of last week I was all set to take the job in the UK.  I could continue my adventuring while earning a paycheck and having full health benefits, which would be good when I invariably damaged myself again.

But then came the Nike recruiting experience.  And the interviews.  And the campus visit.  And the offer letter with all the trappings of “an offer you can’t refuse“, without the mafia overtones.

So, after much deliberation, the next stage of my adventure will be at Nike, where a culture of fitness and a dedication to getting people active, moving, and healthy is part of the daily job.  Where making better athletes is what people think about in their daily work.

So I won’t be taking up residence in the foreign lands of the UK.

But I will still be living in fairly strange lands. portland

There is some symmetry to the fact that I’ll be landing in the town that was the first stop on my trip.

So if you ever want to come visit Portland, I’ll be sure to get familiar with all the local customs so I can show you around properly.  And if you need a hook up for some good shoes, I think I know a guy.

Bring on the next challenge:

nike_swoosh-1024x482

Recruiting done right.

I’ve interviewed at many companies in my career.  I’ve also done a lot of hiring and recruiting myself.  My recent experience with Nike has shown me how wrong everyone else is going about this.

Back in July I briefly talked to a friend at Nike about the fact that I was looking around for my next job. We talked a bit, then I talked to his boss, and when I advised that I wasn’t ready to take a job right then, but would be sometime around September / October, we arranged for me to come interview.

Now this is completely out of left field for me. I’ve spent my career in computers and video games. For this reason, most of my job search had been focused on these types of companies. The job offer I currently have in the UK is for a video game company. Nike? That’s a fitness and apparel company! What do I have to offer them?

Regardless, the job sounded intriguing, and the more I thought of what it would be like to work at a company who’s entire culture revolves around fitness and getting people to be active and become better athletes, the more I liked the idea.

So I arranged my interviews with Nike.  Here’s where recruiting takes a crazy turn for the awesome:

Nike flew me in for interviews. From Prague.

And bought me the return ticket as well.

At the airport I was greeted by a towncar which whisked me off to a hotel downtown. Since I’ve gotten used to getting myself around Europe, shuttling myself around by train and subway, this just feels oppulent.  Relaxing in a plush towncar, being chauffeured around after 14 hours of flying is something I highly recommend.

Upon entering the hotel, I was quickly checked into a room with a king sized bed, a separate living room, and a huge bathroom. Keep in mind, I’ve been living in hostels for the past seven months. This room is larger than any six- eight- or twelve-person dorm I have been in. I feel like I should invite every friend I’ve made in my hostel travels to come room with me here in Portland just to make more efficient use of the space.

To top it off, right inside the door I found this waiting for me:

WP_20130921_008
A present? For me???

Upon opening this, like a kid under the tree on December 25th, I discovered the contents were numerous and impressive:

WP_20130921_009
Loot. And lots of it.

The picture is a little inscrutable, so the contents of this packet are as follows:

  • Nike running shoes, which fit perfectly.
  • A Nike jacket, waterproof with hood, which I immediately put to use in the rain that greeted me in Portland.
  • 2 pairs of socks (black, white)
  • A Nike Fuelband
  • A Nike shirt
  • A notepad and pen
  • A printed itinerary of my interview days
  • And, of course, the duffel bag itself.

Needless to say, this is the fanciest I’ve ever been treated by any company I’ve interviewed for.  Well done, Nike.  You know how to do this right.

Prague part 2 – rolled by gypsies.

I decided to take the guided tour arranged at the hostel. Prague applauded my decision by ceasing the watery barrage for a while.  But not too long.  The weather in Prague seems a little psychotic.  In the space of 10 minutes you can go from sunny and beautiful to cloudy, cold and drizzly, and then back again.

First off, they took us to the center of “old town” to see a building with a balcony and an lovely picture of a woman hanging out in a field with trees and some other people gathered around.

Story has it, this woman had visions.  First she had a vision of her future husband, who she saw as a guy working the land.  So her people went out, found this guy working in a field and brought him to her.  Moral of the story: cupid.com is for chumps if you have people doing your work for you.  Her second vision was that there would be a grand city.  This would become Prague.  This girl really had some good people with her.  They got stuff done.

WP_20130919_003
Me, personally? I have a vision of gelato.

We then went to the busy town square. Here they have a cool astrological clock that all the tourists gather at since every hour there is an animatronic show where a skeleton on the side of the clock rings a bell and little windows open and twelve apostles rotate through.

It is the most underwhelming show you have ever seen. The clock is impressive though, and hundreds of years ago might have been quite cool. The neat part for me is that it all still works.

WP_20130919_017
A huge crowd gathers, then lets out a collective “er, that was it?” then wanders away with a vague sense of emptiness
WP_20130919_010
Town square. And blue sky. Yay!

We then wandered around town seeing many other impressive buildings and learning random facts along the way.

WP_20130919_002
Gate tower. Or something like that. Very gothic.
WP_20130919_020
Designs on the side of the building are done by building up layers of different colored material then scratching it away.
WP_20130919_018
Mozart debuted “Don Giovanni” here. It was too risqué for many Germans at the time, but he was quoted as saying “My Prague people understand me”
WP_20130919_013
It really was a pretty fabulous day. For about 10 minutes. Then it go cold and cloudy for 10 minutes. Then warm and sunny. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Eventually we wound up at a church, one of many in Prague, and heard a story that there was once a thief who got into the church to steal some of the riches there (churches back then controlled much of the wealth). He went to take the necklace from the statue of the virgin Mary, but the statue grabbed his hand and held him there until the next morning. When he was discovered, they severed his hand from the statue (I mean, you wouldn’t want to hurt the statue, right?) and left it there as a lesson to any other wrong-doers.

Here’s the thing: there is still a mummified hand hanging in the church. I know, right? Sadly I only have digital zoom on my camera so I didn’t get any good detail. Also: it’s not imbedded in any virgin Mary statue, so I’m not sure how it comes to be just hanging there. Regardless: I’ve never seen a mummified hand hanging in a church before.

WP_20130919_004
The (in)famous church.
WP_20130919_005
It has a lovely ceiling.
WP_20130919_006
The mummified hand. This might be the point where I decide I need a real camera.

Speaking of churches: apparently Prague isn’t a very religious place. Only 20% of people here say they are part of an organized religion. Old churches get repurposed. This one here was turned into a bar / strip joint last year.

WP_20130919_019
It appears God was not down with that plan as it went out of business shortly after.

All in all, the tour lasted about three hours and took us all over old town. Very cool.  Recommended.

So that’s all good. But what about Prague at night?

WP_20130919_046
Prague at night. It’ll do.

The food stalls in Wenceslas square (try to visit that every day and NOT get that damn “good king Wenceslas” song stuck in your head) are open at night. Sausages and other open-air cooked meat products are prevalent, along with many other options:

WP_20130920_004
Potato pancakes are a big thing here.
WP_20130920_002
Rings of coal-fired sweet and crusty sugary dough. I’m not sure there is a down side to this.

So, the old Museum was shut down for remodels, but it turns out that the week I was there they were doing one last thing: a nightly performance by the Czech strings orchestra being held inside, and this would be everyone’s last chance to see the original interior. Of course, I had to go.

WP_20130919_035
No DJs anywhere on the bill

This was one of the highlights of my visit. The interior was beautiful, sumptuous, and absolutely perfect for a small orchestra. The performance was intimate and stunning.

WP_20130919_026
Music too beautiful, I can’t generate any snark.

So, how do you follow something like that? Well, since I was staying at a hostel, pub crawls are kind of the order of the night. So, when in Rome (er, Prague)…

Several of the pubs look like a tiny, intimate affair from the front, but then you are led down flights of stairs into an underground maze of room after room.  I literally had trouble trying to find my way out of one of these.

WP_20130921_001
I don’t remember what that says, but should say “abandon hope, you are entering an underground labyrinth.”

Each place they take you has some claim to fame. Such as the Vodka Bar. Themed in cold war Russian style, I couldn’t help but think Dr. Strangelove would feel at home there. They have some crazy number of flavored vodkas. I tried “peanut butter and jelly” vodka. It is exactly as horrific as it sounds. They also had a room for live music with a giant Stalin statue dressed as the Joker hanging from the ceiling. I’m not sure why.

WP_20130921_002
Live band doing a pretty decent cover of Portishead.

In another room they just had random graffiti. Some of it was cool:

WP_20130919_048
Han shot first

By the end of the night they drop you off at a five story club and leave you to find your own way back to your hostel.

WP_20130921_005
Karlovy Lazne. Translation: leave your money with us.

luckily, everyone made it back okay, even without supervision, which I count as a big win after a pub crawl like this.  Unfortunately, an Aussie I met (let’s call him RacerX) didn’t make it back without incident.

RacerX wandered home alone after some time at the massive club, and on the way encountered some gypsies.  They befriended him briefly, and as he wandered away, thought to check his wallet, only to discover that his three hundred euros was now reduced to a mere fifty.

Yep, the gypsies took most of his money, but seemed to have a heart and left him enough to get by.  Unfortunately for Racer, he encountered a second set of gypsies.  Now, he was rather alcohol-addled, but still had presence of mind from his first encounter to sequester what was left inside his waistband.  This next set of gypsies also attempted to befriend him and dance with him a bit, but he quickly extricated himself.  Upon arriving back at the hostel though, he found he was now missing everything: cards, cash and phone.  So either the second set was very crafty and more heartless, or through some fumbling he just lost everything on the street.

So, if you wander Prague at night, perhaps keep your valuables somewhere more safe.  Like your shoe?  I don’t know, obviously I’m not good at securing my belongings.

A few more odds and ends from nights out in Prague:

WP_20130919_047
So, beer spa. It’s a thing.

Wandering around, especially on the weekend, you’ll encounter lots of street performers and buskers. I ran into this couple playing some really amazing violin music under the town gate.

WP_20130920_003
Much cheaper than the Museum show.

Many of the buildings are lit up at night, making a nighttime tour just as interesting (maybe even more-so) than a daytime tour.

WP_20130917_019 (1)
More Prague at night.

So: Prague. Really cool city. Lots to see and do. I will come back some day.

WP_20130917_018
The castle from afar. Yep, still need a better camera.

Paripetetic in Prague

Landing in Prague, I was greeted by blue skies and crisp air; a beautiful late summer day. I was tired from Paris, and promptly went to my hostel, got my bunk, and fell asleep. The following day I decided to take in the town by foot, and the town in turn decided that summer was over and dropped me straight into late autumn: a cold day with a light drizzle and chilling breeze. My first public markets were themed accordingly.

WP_20130918_006
Your summer is over. Deal with it.

Still, I’m from Seattle; this kind of rain is nothing new to me. In fact, this seemed exactly like the kind of thing Seattle would do. The rain there doesn’t ever muster enough gumption to give you a proper watery smiting, instead it just kind of hangs around, like a tiresome goth friend, painting its nails black and complaining about not having a girlfriend.

So: off I went to take in all that Prague has to offer. Such as meat cooking in the open air.

WP_20130918_005
Now that’s some impressive bbq

And unique art installations.

WP_20130918_004
Interesting business idea: sell blocks for $7.50, let people paint them and add to the sculpture. Lots of people have done it, apparently.

There’s a lot of history here.  ‘Cause they’ve been around a long time.

WP_20130918_001
Open market, established in the 1200’s. That’s quite old, that is.
WP_20130918_002
Just ’cause it’s autumn doesn’t mean one can’t have tasty, tasty things.

As I wandered through the old town, it seems there was a gathering of electric cars, which was a total contrast of old and new; cutting edge cars on cobblestone streets (though these were all being displayed on actual pavement). Regardless: good stuff.

WP_20130918_011
Cute little bugger.
WP_20130918_009
Europe: land of tiny cars.
WP_20130918_010
I could almost fit this one in my pocket. Just look how tiny it is!
WP_20130918_008
Fisker Karma: the exception to the rule.
WP_20130918_007
electric options abound.

Passing through the major shopping areas, I came upon this impressive building that anchors one end of the main thoroughfare through Old Town.

WP_20130918_013
The old museum. Closed for remodels, sadly.
WP_20130918_017
View from the museum front.

Moving on I discovered a lovely park, which is where my shoes began to get their first taste of getting somewhat wet since the grass was drenched from the drizzle. I found several of these structures in the park and had to wonder what the hell they could possibly be:

WP_20130918_019
Not sure what this is.
WP_20130918_021
Gah! Another one!
WP_20130918_020
Sheesh, there are quite a number of them.

I went close to one and it was blowing air out forcibly enough to dry all the grass in a wide perimeter around it. Discovering there was a major metro stop nearby, my best guess is these are exhausts for air interchange in the metro? Not sure, moving on.

I also discovered this lovely statue in one of the parks:

WP_20130918_022
Prague: a more accepting attitude towards men kissing.

After that park, I crossed the river that cuts the town in half:

WP_20130918_024
Locks. Not sure what all the little fiddly bits are as the water goes on. Seems excessive.
WP_20130918_025
Raaaain on the riiiiver.

Sculptures abound in Prague:

WP_20130918_027
Check it, that guy’s got a massive tetris piece!

Once on the other side of the river, it was pretty much impossible to avoid a gigantic park that runs along the river. I tried to get out of it multiple times, but paths kept pulling me back in. So, fine: the park it is. Due to the suddenly damp weather, the entire place was almost completely deserted.

WP_20130918_030
A watery walk but with good views.
WP_20130918_031
Prague in the rain.

About the center of the park, and overlooking Prague and the river, I discovered this massive, constantly moving contraption.

WP_20130918_034
World’s largest metronome.

I’m not sure what its significance is. If it is, indeed, supposed to be a metronome, you can’t really dance much to the tempo it sets, taking about 10 seconds per beat (which is actually pretty fast for how large this thing is).

Further on in the park, I ran into this lovely area:

WP_20130918_036
Even the statues take shelter from the rain

And continued on, running into very few people along the way.

WP_20130918_038
Deserted park

Until, that is, you get close to the castle:

WP_20130918_037
Look! Castle!
WP_20130918_040
It is large and impressive, this castle.
WP_20130918_043
Very gothic cathedral.
WP_20130918_045
A bridge over no water at all, nevermind whether it is troubled or not.
WP_20130918_044
See? No water under this bridge.

So, this is an impressive castle with a huge and intricate gothic cathedral. It’s free to go in and look around the cathedral, so that is of course what I did. Here, apparently, is where EVERYONE goes when it’s raining. The crowds were impressive, with hundreds of tour guides leading groups large and small through, shouting in Czech, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. It got a bit chaotic.

WP_20130918_046
Up close and personal with the cathedral in the castle.
WP_20130918_050
Well, it’s not the Sagrada Familia, but it’s still pretty impressive.
WP_20130918_052
Inside the cathedral.
WP_20130918_057
More cathedral.
WP_20130918_054
Pretty.
WP_20130918_049
Ceiling.

Other than the cathedral, they charge you to see many other things at the castle. So since money is a tight thing for me after loosing all ability to acquire more of it, I declined and opted to continue my ambulation.

WP_20130918_060
View from the top of the castle battlements
WP_20130918_061
Castle view of Prague.
WP_20130918_062
This “street statue” artist was amazing. I watched him for 2 hours, he didn’t move or anything. I think a bird even pooped in his mouth.
Note: not actually a street performer.

It should be noted that, while I’m dismayed every year at how early Christmas appears in stores back in the US, apparently we don’t have a monopoly on it. This store is inside the Prague castle:

WP_20130918_058
Prague: Christmas year-round.

By now it had been a good couple hours walking in the drizzly rain, and I was feeling a bit wet, so I headed for home. Here is where I discovered that Prague is nothing like Seattle: it gathered its dampness up and unleashed a deluge that sent everyone scrambling under bridges and awnings. Here I stopped worrying about my shoes getting damp, because they promptly got properly soaked through to my socks. I waited under a bridge for a while, but then seeing it might not let up, I decided to just push through the rain. What doesn’t kill you makes you wetter, after all. Or something like that.

On the way back home I ran into these guys and just had to pause in the rain to document them.

WP_20130918_064
Giant baby sculptures? ‘Cause why not?
WP_20130918_063
Hello, nightmares.
WP_20130918_065
Yes. You are creeping me right the hell out. Well done.

Back at the hostel, soaked to the bone, I decided to dry off by going on a pub crawl.  No pictures to document that madness, sadly.

And thus ended day one of meandering.  Lessons learned:

  • Prague rains don’t mess around.  If they seem like they are, it’s cause they are trying to lure you into complacency.
  • Outdoor markets run even in the rain
  • Prague pubs are often subterranean.  Neat!
  • There’s far too many beautiful buildings here to appreciate unless you have a few years.

Next up: an actual guided tour of Prague. Where one can learn actual facts and history. I know! Crazy!

Second honeymoon. In Paris.

Honeymoon!

The height of romantic dedication, a celebration of the joining of two souls together, a mark of the glorious beginning of two lives becoming one. And where more romantic to have a honeymoon than Paris?

WP_20130915_003
City of lights! Romance! J’adore!

Wait, what?  No, not MY honeymoon.  Silly, I didn’t get married on this trip.

Now, to be fair: I had a honeymoon once. I remember it fondly. But it wasn’t in Paris, it was in Ocean Shores, Washington. So when I got an invite to meet up with my friends Vegas and Microbe in Paris to help them kick off their honeymoon, I knew I had to postpone Prague for a couple days to help them do so properly.

So: back to Paris I went.

The first night did not disappoint. We met at Notre Dame at night.

WP_20130915_004
Impressive at night. And, honestly, completely crawling with rats.

We had fondue on a small cobblestone street. We sipped lovely red wine from a quaint table while Microbe and I fumbled through what little high school French each of us could dredge up.

Then the night started to slide as we ended up having drinks at this place:

600265_10201180636611277_484864633_n
This picture left intentionally blurry as we didn’t want to sit through the uncomfortableness of a second picture.

So, this was basically a themed bar that had hundreds of bras hanging from a chandelier outside, and on the inside all the waiters walked around in short black undies. We soon discovered that everyone else there was female, dressed up and having a grand old time dancing with the waiters. Drinks were tremendously expensive and light on booze. I think someone in France has found a golden formula for attracting women, and once men discover this, will appear here in droves, even if they have to deal with scantily-clad waiters.

The following day was more predictably touristy.  We agreed to meet up in Montmartre to see Sacre Cour and the Montmartre neighborhood.

WP_20130916_001
Even the subway stops are artistic and cool.
WP_20130916_004
Dude cooking corn in a shopping cart. Strangely a very common scene on the streets.

Once we met up, we braved the shops leading up to the Basilica. One chocolate shop proved too much to pass up.

WP_20130916_006
Sugar sugar sugar
WP_20130916_005
Tiny, dainty, macaroons. Basically bite-sized evil.

Eventually we made our way up though.

WP_20130916_007
Coming up from Montmarte

We went to Sacre Cour and got molested by guys trying to either sell us string wrist bands or steal stuff from us, not sure which.  But they were quite aggressive and attacked as a pack.  We escaped intact, however, and took in the sights:

WP_20130916_008
Seriously, Paris is simply bursting at the seams with these impressive buildings.
WP_20130916_011
Sacre Cour!
WP_20130916_010
View from the top. Paris threatens to rain on our parade. Or honeymoon. Whichever.
WP_20130916_009
Poor guy got tired of endlessly spitting water from his face. He’s on strike, now.

We wandered around Montmartre afterwards and took in lots of artistic displays and picturesque winding alleys with old stone buildings decorated with wrought iron railings and flowers spilling out of windows. Eventually the rain set in and we hid in a café to have a drink.

When the rain let up we got to see the Moulin Rouge.

WP_20130916_013
Little known fact: Moulin Rouge was the first DVD I ever bought.

And at night we had a stellar three hour meal at the famous Buddha Bar. Fabulous day.

The third day it was time for me to leave them, but first I demanded we go see a few hundred thousand dead people. Microbe was all about it. Vegas is usually up for anything, so the three of us got up far too early to wait in line at the Paris catacombs.

For those of you who don’t know: the cliff notes version is that there was a lot of mining for limestone under Paris a long time ago. This created a network of tunnels. Then that market dried up or shut down, and some officials decided to move all the dead bodies that were taking up precious real-estate up top, down into the catacombs. Then tourists wanted to see the dead bodies (’cause why wouldn’t you?). Now we have a brisk tourist business involving a large number of dead people.

WP_20130917_003
‘well this looks nice and cheerful. What could possibly go wrong?
529468_10201194006785523_2030843237_n
Stop, this is the empire of the dead. Sounds promising.
WP_20130917_002
Foot bath of the workers.
1239652_10201194006425514_892123692_n
One of the workers / captives carved this from memory.
553676_10201194006625519_630587739_n
Seriously: carved from memory. I’m impressed when I can remember to put pants on.
WP_20130917_012
Bones as far as the eye can see. Which, with the darkness, isn’t actually all that far.
WP_20130917_009
More bones. It just never ends.
WP_20130917_005
Yep, bones.
1234033_10201194006265510_420509291_n
Artistically arranged bones.

The catacombs is a pretty stark reminder that we are all just a pile of calcium and meat, in the end. And on that happy note, I left for Prague. But not without taking one more shot of some awesome street art:

WP_20130916_012
More awesome street art.

Adeui, Paris! Next: Prague

Ibiza, Eivissa, Eat Pizza.

You left your heart in San Francisco?
Well, I left my wallet in Ibiza.

But I get ahead of myself. Let’s start again:

Ibiza. When in Spain, this is pronounced “Ee-beetha”. In local Catalan it is spelled “Eivissa”. Most foreigners rhyme it with “pizza”. Regardless: world-over this is pretty much synonymous with clubs, the electronic music scene, and warm island party paradise.

It is all that and more.

When discussing my taste in music with actual musicians, I’m not sure I have a leg to stand on with Electronica. I think there is a lot of dismay and bitterness at how popular Elecronic Dance Music is, especially because these guys aren’t actually performingmusic. When it comes down to it, it’s just a bunch of guys playing pre-recorded music to a crowd of gyrating loonies.

Doesn’t matter; for me it gets at some part of my primitive brain and just makes me feel good . Also, the art of the thing for an electronica DJ is not the same as a musician skilled at playing and instrument (though there is a lot of skill and expertise needed to run a gig properly), it is that they are curators. The best DJ’s in my experience collect amazing tunes, arrange and blend them uniquely, and surprise their audience with their curated and set of music that they mix in real time, simultaneously driving and responding to the audience.

So for years I’ve been thinking of coming to the penultimate EDM scene: Ibiza. Back in May I had this all booked, and then I broke my foot. So now that I’m healed, this is a do-over of sorts.

First off, the island is everything you could want in a tropical paradise. Palm trees. Warmth, sun, sand and sea. A casual and laid-back atmosphere.  A great town for just walking around.

WP_20130914_005
This town was made for walking

It’s got a very active downtown, lots of shops and even a lovely little park at the center:

WP_20130914_001
Pleasant park is pleasant.

Moving on from the city, you’ve got a lovely coast line.

WP_20120831_001
The shore.
WP_20120831_002
The coast line just keeps going.
WP_20120831_003
Ibiza and a rocky outcropping from the beach.
WP_20120831_005
The beach. Not a lot of waves…

And even some unexpected things. I didn’t take the time to explore these, sadly.

WP_20130914_020
Caves!

While I walked around, the comparisons to Playa Del Carmen were inevitable. It’s a Spanish beach town, after all, with a very lively party scene. More: there is a huge disparity between those who have money and those who don’t. The very rich have amazing places.  The very poor live in squalor.  Ibiza seems to be much further developed than PDC though, which makes sense since this place has been a famous party place for many years. I imagine Ibiza is what Playa might become in a decade or so if development continues.

WP_20130914_007
Condos as far as the eye can see.
WP_20130914_006
This could be your home.
WP_20130914_002
the Marina
WP_20130914_004
The old town looms over the marina
WP_20130914_013
The view from the 1%
WP_20130914_015
Not a bad place to live, if you can manage it.
WP_20130914_014
Yep, doesn’t suck

So, one of the most unexpected things for me, was the old town. Also called “Dalt Vila”, and the center of which is ” Catedral de la Verge de les Neus”, or “Cathedral of our Lady of the Snows” (snow?  Ibiza?  Seems highly unlikely.).

Anyway, the old town is a huge fort type affair that looks over the rest of the island and protects the place with cannons pointing at the sea.

WP_20130914_010
The fortress walls around old town.
WP_20130914_009
Car entry to old town. I’d advise taking the walking entry instead. Much more interesting.
WP_20130914_022
Fort Houses
WP_20130914_031
Old town. Filled with old buildings.
WP_20130914_026
Cannons. And a guy dressed like a golden Jack Sparrow hanging out on one of them. Don’t ask.
WP_20130914_025
Boom.
WP_20130914_028
Good views from the battlements at the top.
WP_20130914_029
The view mentioned before
WP_20130914_027
Sunset from the top
WP_20130914_033
Night time approacheth
WP_20130914_032
Ibiza wakes up at nightfall
WP_20130914_030
The entry to the marina
WP_20130914_021
More sunset over the town.

But enough about the town. Most people come here for the clubs.  Here’s where things get expensive.  The first night I was here, David Guetta was headlining one of the main clubs (Pacha).  This was a little disappointing as I’d seen billboards for Paul Van Dyke.  But still, the kids these days seem to be all about Mr. Guetta, so while in Ibiza I figure it was mandatory I check it out.

Tickets: advertised at 90 euros.  Holy merde: no.

However, turns out you can get discount tickets from a number of places.  You find signs like this outside some of the major outlets:

WP_20130914_008
The daily club board.

So, along with a Canadian and a Brazilian that I met at the hostel, we shopped around for tickets.  Seems that every little clothes shop along the main streets has some sort of tickets connection.  However, Guetta turned out to be more popular than I thought: three shops were sold out, and the second only had two left.  Eventually we all got tickets for about 20% off.  Which if you do the calculation turns out to be “Still way too much”.  Regardless: gotta do it once, right?

At this point, I should re-assert what I learned about how the Spaniards conduct a night out.  You start with dinner around nine, followed by drinks from ten until midnight.  Between midnight and one o’clock you may go to your destination early, or you continue to have drinks and chat.  Some people don’t actually roll out until three.

The way this went down for us: we bought cheap libations from the market by the hostel, sat out in the warm air chatting about our various travels, then were pulled across the street to a rooftop where a guy from LA had a view of the harbor where we continued our drinking, mingling, and chatting with others from the hostel.  At around one, we hopped in cabs to go to the show.

The club itself is unlike anything outside of Vegas, and even those clubs are not the size of some of these monstrosities.  Pacha turns out to be not as large as something like Amnesia, which I would eventually attend as well.  Sadly my phone just doesn’t do well at night, so I have no pictures to provide.

The show itself?  Completely not worth the price of admission.  The club was packed to the gills, sweaty and a maze of rooms.  Drinks there are around 20 euros each (thus all the Spaniards drinking beforehand I guess).

The highlight of the show for me was when I discovered my wallet was missing.

Yep.  Wallet = gone.  Sadly I thought I’d learned a bit from my last brush with having no access to finances.  This time, I was out BOTH credit cards.  Also, my drivers license, an Oyster card, about 15 British pounds, and some other odds and ends I kept in my wallet.

The following day I searched my backpacks thoroughly, hoping I had actually just misplaced it.  When I came to grips with the fact I had been a victim of a pickpocket in a crowded club, I got to experience the joys of reporting a crime in a Spanish Police Office, purchasing a local sim for my phone so I could make all the necessary calls to cancel cards and dispute claims, as well as learn how to get cash when you don’t have a credit card any more.

The cliff notes advice to future travelers:

  • Split up your credit cards.  Keep one off your person at all times.
  • Keep a stash of emergency money in your packpack somewhere
  • If the worst happens, Visa has an “emergency cash advance” program where you can pick up money from any Western Union branch (luckily very numerous around the world).

So: more lessons learned.  After the day of scrambling and misery, the next few days were lovely in Ibiza.

So now I’ve had my Debit Card skimmed in Mexico, and my wallet stolen in Ibiza.  We’ll count the crime rate for both these places as pretty much on par then.  The beaches at Playa Del Carmen are unrivaled compared to Ibiza.  The club scene in Ibiza is pretty much the standard by which all others are judged.  So the deciding vote for which place is better?

Well, which place can you get tacos and guacamole any time of the day?

So there you have it.  PDC wins after fair and balanced research.  Still: Ibiza is lovely.  Come visit, but keep your cards and cash on lockdown.

WP_20130915_001
Street art = awesome.
WP_20130914_019
Farewell Ibiza! Enjoy my wallet!

Wandering around Paris

As mentioned previously, I’ve been to Paris. I did the Louvre. I saw the sights. But it was with my 13 year old son and we were both kind of full-up on history and art after spending time in Edinburgh and London, so neither of us really gave the city of Paris it’s proper due. Time for me to give it a second try.

So, TQ and I moseyed around town, doin’ the tourist thang. Since she had never been, the camera was ever-present for any and every place we went. I was more judicial with my images since I captured most of the big things I wanted last time I was here.

Still, I had to do SOME touristy shots. Like, for example, being up on top of “L’Arc De Triomphe”

WP_20130911_001
Paris. Not a quaint, quiet little village after all.
WP_20130911_002
After all the ancient architecture, I’m not more fascinated by modern stuff. Such as that cool looking rectangle thingy at the far end of the street.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Failed attempt to balance the tower. Instead it went right through my finger.

of course we had to go down to see the Louvre.

WP_20130911_006
No.
WP_20130911_010
The Louvre. Outside. What, go in? Pssssh, that’s for tourists.
WP_20130911_009
Paris has many “arc”s.

I, however, got far more joy out of the sculptures outside.

WP_20130911_004
My dear, we will rule this world with an iron- MY HAND! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY HAND??!
WP_20130911_005
Back in ancient times, tiny headless babies braided your hair. True story.

Having our fill of the The Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and the Champs-Elysee, we took to the Seine.  More specifically, just wandered around under the bridges.

WP_20130911_014
Taking this out on the water would be a great way of seeing Paris in style.
WP_20130911_015
The day threatened rain at us pretty much constantly, but turns out it was all bluster.
WP_20130911_019
The seedy underbelly of Paris. Well, underbridge, technically.
WP_20130911_017
Watch out folks, he’s trying to be all artsy with his shots now…

Eventually we went back up top to see all the other ornate sculptural parts to the bridges. You can easily fill many days in Paris just wandering around seeing all the cool stuff that’s just part of the city, no spending of money required.

WP_20130911_025
Dude isn’t too happy to be part of a bridge.
WP_20130911_030
I’m riding on a fish and very happy about getting ready to impale you on a trident.
WP_20130911_028
Can you hear me now? Can yo- waitaminit, this is a conch!

All good things must come to an end, though. TQ left by train to Amsterdam and I jetted off to Ibiza. Bon Soire, Paris!

WP_20130911_034
G’night, Paris. You are pretty.

Also, as you leave Paris, if you leave by the southern airport you are reminded of one of the early Internet memes. So that’s a bonus.

WP_20130912_001
I’m outta here! ORLY? Ya! Rly!

Alps! Hiking! Mountain Vistas! Dashed hopes and dreams.

Way back in Croatia, I met up with a fellow traveler at the hostel. Let’s call her Trauma Queen. Now TQ informed me she was off to Italy, then to the do some hiking in the alps.

Hiking in the alps. Come on, how awesome is that? I want.

Still, I had an interview in Cambridge to do. As fate would have it, I would be done with all that UK stuff around the time she was hitting the alps. Thus a plan was hatched to meet up and do some hiking, which given my potential for self-damage I figure it’s best to do that kind of thing with a partner.

So, from London I fly to Basel. Against my better judgment I rent a car (’cause we all know how well that has worked out in the past) figuring that I’ll need to drive to get to mountain areas worth hiking.  TQ has no working phone, so we decided to meet at the train station in Basel.  What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, this is the one thing that actually worked just fine.  We met up with no trouble.  Two foreigners in Switzerland, neither of us speaking the language, and we made it to the same spot at the same time.

Then we tried to find the place we had reserved to stay, and things started to go all pear-shaped.  Basel, it turns out, is hard to escape.  My abilities for piloting a car in Switzerland are no better than in Spain or Croatia.  So, what should have taken fifteen minutes took us about three hours and multiple stops to ask directions and find wifi signals.

The following morning we set out for Engleburg.  This was from a short bit of internet research that showed Engleburg to be at the foot of the alps and to have fabulous hiking excursions one could partake. I mean, just look at it:

Engelberg
Note: from the interwebs. My pictures tell a different story.

So, we take it easy, set out somewhat late, and drive a few hours across Switzerland. As we go, the clouds get steadily worse. Rain pelts down. Temperature drops. We cling to optimism like a life raft: this is just gonna blow over, right?

Arriving in Engleburg, it is apparent things have gone from bad to worse. We find one restaurant in the entire place. Nobody speaks any English, and neither of us speaks Swiss or German. We mime out our hope that there is a tourist info spot and the Italian purveyor of the restaurant laughs at us.

No bueno.

Also, the clouds are so low the town just looks like, well, a town. You can’t see mountains anywhere. So, we backtrack to a more major town and discuss options. Their tourist info advises we head up to another town and we’ll be able to hike around there. So we go.

Long story short: Beautiful countryside. No mountains visible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Look. Alps. Right there. Under that white thingy.

The town is ridiculously quaint. We get out and walk around to find the local tourist info, and find everyone standing on the side of one specific road, huddled under their umbrellas. Without warning, a massive clanging rings out from down the road. Turns out this clanging heralds one of the more unexpected events I’ve had in recent memory.

WP_20130910_001
clang. Clang. Clang Clang. CLANG CLANG GLANGALANGALANGALAAANG
WP_20130910_003
A parade of goats. ‘Cause why not?
WP_20130910_006
Quothe the cows: “Why me”
WP_20130910_005
Quothe the man: “Dude, at least you cows don’t have to wear lederhosen”
WP_20130910_004
Little Heidi brought a rain slicker. Not her first time to the rodeo.

So, I guess they drive the cows and goats and sheep and such through town a few times a day. Kinda cool, but completely wacky. Walking around town it’s pretty clear we are in the tourist section just by what is on display for purchase.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I, too, could walk through the streets, clanging.

So, by now it’s getting late in the day for a hike, so we decide to cut our losses and at least get up to a view point on the alps. We drive up a fabulously windy road dotted with picturesque houses and fields of cows and eventually end up at the base of a massive cable run that disappears up into the clouds. I dearly hope it can take us up through the cloud level and give us a view out.

Now, it’s not exactly warm, here. In the alps. Who knew?  We seem to be the only tourists around, since everyone else sensibly saw that the weather makes this day not ideal for sightseeing. The parking lot is empty. It’s like visiting a ski resort in the off season. We ride a cable car that could easily hold forty people, and we are the only ones. It climbs and climbs and climbs, walls of rock appearing out of the white mist, then disappearing below us again as we continue to climb.

And we get to the top. And it’s a complete white out. We can look over the sides of this massive base tower erected at the top and see… nothing but white. And it’s snowing on us. And we are still the only people around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We were literally the only people. Snow was beginning to accumulate. I pitched in to help out.

So, we dash around, freezing and trying to get what sights we can. Eventually the cold does us in and we head back down.

The day is over, and tomorrow’s weather looks like more of the same.  We decide that if the weather is going to be like this, we might as well make other plans. TQ has never been to Paris and dearly wants to. I went once, but with my son when he was 13. I think I should give it another try. So we book a train the following morning.

Next up: Paris.

Seen around London

What?  London again?  Easy folks, just a few things.  Headed in to London briefly after my Cambridge interviews to pick up stuff from Baylor’s house that I left there and to meet up with a friend I made on the Arctic cruise.

Getting around London is easy due to all the excellent transportation options. Busses and underground work seamlessly with one card, and they run so frequently you hardly need to plan ahead, just know where you are going. They even have digital reader boards telling you when the next bus / train / whatever is going to show up to whisk you off to your final destination.

Walking around one day I ran across one of the boards that was in the throes of reconfiguring itself. Surprisingly it displayed the IP information for the network it was running on. Since it is blocking out the first three octets of the connection info, I’ve got to assume this is some sort of “security by obscurity” move (always a bad idea). I sincerely hope this is not on a publicly accessible network, even if you have to do a bit of tricky route-hacking. Danger, Will Robinson.

WP_20130908_001
Hmm, what to do; dDos or man-in-the-middle attack? Either way: commuter horror.

I stayed at a hostel this time, which was near a handy underground station. It was the most cramped, packed-in room ever. Eight bunks crammed into a room the size of a long walk-in closet. However, it had two redeeming qualities:

  1. It’s built on top of a pub.
  2. My room had a balcony.

However, while they said “yes, of course, use the balcony all you want, enjoy”, they also put a sign on the door leading out to the balcony.

WP_20130828_001(1)
I DO WHAT I WANT! GOSH!

So, enjoy the balcony if you can either teleport or ninja your way up a sheer stone wall.  Regardless, there was a lovely picnic table out there where you could quaff a pint while watching the Thames.  Not bad.  However, weather in London during September can be rather… risky?  Got rained out frequently.  Still, sometimes the weather works out, as evidenced by this picture of a walk through a nearby park:

WP_20130908_003
London: rain, grey, cold, basically Seattle of Europe? Some days it all works out.

Incidentally, while walking through that park, I came across the largest, strangest ducks I’ve ever seen. Just kinda hanging out. Sweet.

WP_20130908_005
This man is trying to chat up a pelican. Seems legit.

However, one of the main goals here was to visit with someone I met on the arctic cruise. Since I’m in a habit of giving names to everyone, we’ll call her Physics.  So Physics learnt that I have never seen a rugby game, and since she plays rugby herself, intoned that it was imperative that I remedy this.  So I took advantage of having a local willing to show me the joys of this mysterious activity.

WP_20130907_001
A hooligan’s game for gentlemen.

Turns out rugby, in contrast to it’s inevitable comparison, American Football, is super-easy to understand.

  • Your team has the ball: run to the other side of the field.
  • If someone gets in your way: move briskly through them, or:
  • toss the ball to someone else on your team, but it has to be a backwards pass.

If your team gets the ball across the line (called a try, which seems odd as it should be called “a success”) you get points.  If the ball is ever in contest about who owns it, you have a scrum.  This is where both teams do some elaborate, flattened, human-pyramid type configuration where they are all linked together shoving at each other in basically reverse-tug-of-war style, then the ball is thrown in the middle of them and the team that extracts it gets it.

So, that’s the basics.  Pretty easy.  Of course there’s more to it (kicking rules, positions, etc), but try explaining NFL rules to a foreigner.  You’ll find yourself quickly reduced to drawing X’s and O’s on a chalkboard, flipping through playbooks, explaining play clocks and offside rules and what the hell a tight end is supposed to do, other than be the butt (snicker) of many puerile comments.

Also: my impression of rugby players is that they would be these massive meat-headed, cauliflower-eared, two-brain-cell organisms mostly good for swilling beer and pushing against something with a lot of force.  Turns out rugby players are gentlemen, as are the fans.  This is in direct contrast to “football hooligans” (soccer hooligans to us yanks) which are infamous.  Physics explained to me that football is basically a gentlemanly sport for hooligans, whereas rugby is a hooligan sport for gentlemen.  Succinctly put.

So: rugby?  Good times.  Next: a surprise deviation to try some hiking in the alps…

Cambridge delivers

Cambridge. One goes in with some expectations:

Old, serious college buildings. Grizzle-hair professors tooling around on bicycles, preferably in tweed jackets, pipe dangling from the corner of the mouth. Men in cricket-whites ambling on green grassy pitches.

One is not to be disappointed.

I arrived here for a job interview. The first of several that I’m doing now that I’m considering growing up and returning to the respectable life. I flew in from Zagreb, and was promptly set up in the Double Tree hotel, top floor, with a balcony looking over a park. Having come from many weeks of hostel living, this is not a bad situation:

WP_20130905_003
The view from my room.
WP_20130905_002
More view. Not too shabby.

After settling in, I quickly toddled off to my interview, which lasted up until dinner time, at which point we went to the local chop house for steaks and British ales, then out to a “members only” cocktail bar until midnight, which then necessitated each of us finding our respective ways back in the dark through a bit of an alcohol haze. All in all a successful interview process I think.

So the following day I wanted to walk around and see what sort of place this actually was. First off, there are a large number of bikes in the city, as can be attested by the gathering at the train station:

WP_20130905_023
Cambridge apparently thinks it is Amsterdam
WP_20130905_022
Bikes as far as the eyes can see.

In contrast to Amsterdam, however, there are quite a few less sex shops and marijuana houses in Cambridge. In fact, I dare say the thought of setting up either of these in stately Cambridge would be met with a great deal of huffing and garrumphing at whomever had the impropriety to suggest such a thing. I mean really. This is a place of learning, people.

So, the town proper is as one would expect:

WP_20130905_011
This is what you expect when you come to Cambridge. You will not be disappointed.
WP_20130905_014
Seems to be one of these around every corner.
WP_20130905_017
This is the kind of school building that demands to be taken seriously.
WP_20130905_020
Stately. Important. Impressive. And other such adjectives.
WP_20130905_018
I don’t think you go into these gates planning to give freshmen wedgies or making fart jokes.
WP_20130905_021
Town tower, with the clock set to the appropriate time.
WP_20130905_015
Serious building is serious.

There are, however, some surprises to be had! For example, walking into the town square, there is a market selling all sorts of wearables, comestibles, and readables.

WP_20130905_019
An open air market in the town square? How positively pedestrian!

In addition, there were even some buskers (two young girls belting out some rather respectable “roaring 20’s” era songs). I looked, but saw nobody scowling or looking down their noses at such boisterous behavior.

Moving on through the parks, which are lovely, I ran across a lady painting the scenery which seemed almost too perfect; I suspect she was planted there.

WP_20130905_012
Painting in the afternoon on a lovely sunny walk. Too quaint. I think she was hired to pose like this.

Further on, you will discover that tooling around the river / canal in boats (punts?) is a big thing, though this is done by stabbing a long pole into the depths to push yourself along.

WP_20130905_013
Boats steered by long poles? Is this Venice?

So I ambled through the parks trying to take it all in. It really is a marvelous town for doing exactly this sort of behavior.

WP_20130905_009
More beautiful than expected.
WP_20130905_007
Serious housing. With serious grounds.
WP_20130905_006
The sign on the side proclaims it’s age. Hint: it’s old.
WP_20130905_008
Parks and greenery abound.

And then, walking through one of the parks, I happened upon cows. A group of cows, just kind of taking in the shade. Not restricted by fences or pens or anything, just free to roam the park.

WP_20130905_004
Random town cows.

I wonder if dogs come by and harass them from time to time? I’ve honestly never seen a city center park that has a herd of cows living there, but it seems a great idea; they couldn’t be more docile, and they thrive on precisely the type of place a park is intended to be. Well done, Cambridge. The entrance and exits to the park have cattle guards, but why would they leave? They have everything they want right there, and it will be very difficult for a butcher to get proper access to them there.

So: Cambridge. Lovely town. Very calm and peaceful. Also: very, very WHITE. Like: it’s a white bread sandwich, only where the bologna and mayo is supposed to go, they just put another slice of white bread. The only non-white people I saw while walking around were obvious tourists (large cameras, travel in packs, pointing at things) or students (young Asian kids with backpacks). So perhaps diversity in Cambridge is not really a thing, yet?

Regardless: beautiful. One could do a lot worse than setting up living quarters there. And since the interview went very well, I suppose I now have that as one option. Let’s see how the next ones go.