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Friday, August 26, 2016

PICKPOCKETS, SOUKS AND MEDINAS

So, I wanted to avoid the icy touch of winter by going back to Morocco.

It may sound simple but if it involves Africa, it probably won't be.

Nothing is ever simple there.  I have no idea why that is.  If I believed in a god, I would say that 'Africa doesn't seem to be one of his favorite places'.  At all.  With just a touch of hate balm.  Not sure why that is.

Hell, I don't know why Africa is the way it is but I am not overly fond of it.  Sure I'd like it better than say Antarctica which to the best of my knowledge doesn't have a lot of internet access.  Which I need.

So, due to finances and not wanting a cold winter, I took my dumb ass back to Africa.  Naturally.

After bouncing from Romania (I miss it already) to Germany then to Spain I finally ended up in Tangiers Morocco.

That took two days of exhausting travel, to save about the amount of money I lost within an hour of being in Tangiers.

Romania had lulled me into a false sense of security - for the third world.  Within an hour or two in Tangiers, my dumb ass got my phone pick pocketed.  Sad how many times you keep looking where it should be thinking it will still be there.  Or searching somewhere you know it isn't but hoping.

Unbelievable.

After checking out eight places in Tangiers, I came to the opinion that all of the under $20 per night (all I can afford) places had dirty, dark and smelling like human and animal waste.  What the fuck.

Thinking back, I did even have some foreshadowing.  When I was in Tangiers, I met a couple tourists.  They asked what was north of us.  "Spain" I told them.  "Good" they replied.  "We want to get the fuck out of this country."  Hum.

Combine that with the loss of my smart phone and I said 'let's roll the dice again'.

I went to the bus station and got the first bus out.   Tetouan.  Never heard of that before.  Couple hours later and I was there.

Met a fixer, got a new phone (not sure if I like it or despise it yet) and found a so so place to stay.  It's about thirteen dollars a night and not really worth that.  Makes me miss Thailand.

All cheap Moroccan places are noisy.  This is because they have a central shaft down the middle for funneling air.  If you don't have your windows open, you cook.  No air conditioning, no fans.  The problem is that every noise in any of the rooms along that shaft is magnified.  Note, this is called a 'riad' - often a grand house converted into a hotel.  Which would make sense.  Being able to hear your family (who you presumably love enough not to axe murder for making so much damned racket) may be a good thing.

And no screens in the window.  So if anything gets in, you get a new room mate.

I'm seriously wondering about this town.

And Morocco.

But I'm not down yet.  The fixer I met offered to find me a place for 15% of the rent.  I told him my budget was 3000 dirham (about 300 USD) per month.  Honestly, the country isn't really worth more to me.

It goes back to my philosophy of why I dislike  a lot of Africa.  If stuff is dirty and squalid (see also India) it should be cheap.  Then, that's OK.  If it is shit and expensive, that's a problem for me.

So, we'll see what the fixer can do.  He asked for a day and I told him I'd stay for another after today.  He's going to check out some places and see if he can find anything decent.  If he can, I may rent a place.  If not, I might go back to a place I'm familiar with - like Marrakesh.

Another problem is that Logan was not the only one with the bright idea to come to Morocco during the summer.  This is their big tourist time.  Hence, prices go up and places to stay fill up.

Honestly, if I could afford an apartment somewhere warm in the USA (New Mexico, etc) I'd just go hang out there and wait for the warm weather to start LHI2 (the next tour of the states to visit people I know and people I've not yet met) but the rent in the USA is about more than I make per month.

So, I'll just wait and see what happens.

It's nice to have people out looking for stuff for me.



OR IS IT?

The next day (my third here, I think) I met up with Abdulla, my 'personal shopper', AKA fixer.  We went walking for a couple hours through souks and medinas.

Lots of walking.

There was a lot of stopping and chatting to this guy or that.  It is what one would expect from a fixer.  Plus, in Arabic influenced countries nothing happens fast.  You just have to accept that the whole process of ...well, pretty much anything, may take hours.  Life has a different pace here.

That's one of the funny things for people from 'first world' countries.  They always say they want the 'slower (or 'laid back') pace life'.  When they actually experience needing to wait for something that should be fast for hours, they lose their damned minds.  When most people say they want the 'slower pace lifestyle', they mean for them.  Not people they are paying for stuff.  They want them to hop the fuck to it.

The first place we visited was a riad in the medina.  It had been converted into a hotel.  Beautiful and build four hundred or so years ago.

Sorry the picture is crooked but I'm still trying to get use to my brand new phone/camera.

If you look closely at the floor, it is all done by hand.  Thousands of little pieces.  You don't find those in the newer riads because it is expensive as hell.

We had tea there and chatted for a bit.  I think my fixer was testing me to see if I was really serious about the 300 USD per month price.  This place cost 35 EUR per night for one person.  I didn't say that was my entire allotment of money for a day.  For two people, it is 40 EUR.  Pretty reasonable for them.

It is nice getting served tea everywhere.  Part of the tradition of hospitality (in Arabic 'de-aww-fa').  Nice.

After that, we went to another place.  It was really pleasant but there were a few warning signs.  There were no other people staying there.  The guy had the wifi off and needed to turn it on.  Always be wary of this as people have some odd beliefs about wifi such as 'it needs to rest'.  Or are too damned cheap to pay for electricity and will later object to having it on 'all the time'.  As it should be.  The price was right - 3000 dirham for the month.  I asked if it would be possible to pay 200 dirham to stay for two nights and then if I liked it just give him the rest of the money for the month.  No, it would cost 300 dirham per night and then on top of that pay for the month.  And he would have to talk first to his wife.

After we left, my fixer voiced his disgust.  "In Morocco, the women have no voice.  It was just a bargaining tactic."

Yes ladies.  I know.  You know me - I don't care if a human is male or female but in Arabic countries it is a whole different thing.  Apparently science saying we all started out as female (why men have nipples) is not something that is pondered.  Or it would be angrily shouted down and penises waved about.  Or something.

Despite it being a nice place that was just too many red flags waved about.

After walking around for a bit, Abdulla admitted he didn't have any place else to see right now.  I told him I'd stay for another night at the kind of shitty place I'm currently staying.

I remember playing the Cyberpunk tabletop RPG back in the 1980's.  That was my first introduction to 'fixers'.  It was surprisingly accurate.  I had no idea that decades later I would be employing them.

Cold showers and noisy with spotty wifi equal shitty for Logan.  Trudging my fat ass up four flights of stairs don't put me in a better mood either.

Maybe tomorrow he'll find a better place.  Though my needs are simple, he's working his ass off for that 15% - and if he could find a place I'd be happy to pay it.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - MOROCCO

French, Spanish and Arabic are keys to happiness here.


Check everything.  "This is the battery for your phone."  "Great!  Pop it in there and let's take a look."  "Oh - it's just a little too big."  Glad I didn't buy it.  In countries like this, consider all deals final.  Getting back your money is either impossible or often more trouble than it is worth.  Check everything first.  Negotiate everything first down to the dirham.




Monday, August 22, 2016

ROMANIA AND BEYOND!

PONDERING

Still trying to figure out where I should go.

Got some ideas from Adam LaContra.  He did tell me to stay the fuck out of Mexico right now.  Since he was right about Syria and has consistently given good advice, I think I'll listen.

Hope Mexico gets their shit together some day.  I'd really like to eat Mexican food for a few months.

But I'm still trying to figure out where to go.

Adam did suggest Turkey but they are also in the middle of a 'snit'.  By 'snit' I mean that the leader has decided to 'clean house'.  By 'clean house' that means imprisoning or killing off his rivals to power.  It might be a decent time to visit because less tourists (dead or fled) but honestly, I'm not that fond of Turkey.

He did also suggest Dominica.  This place has me worried for three reasons:  1) It's a fucking island.  That means shit is close to water.  Since it's a small island, that means everything is close to water.  When you get close to water, prices go up because people (for some reason) love being close to fucking water.  Probably because they're made up of so much of it they feel like they're coming home.  2) The wifi will be shit.  I love wifi and feel like I am missing a limb when I don't have it.  3) On pages like https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Dominica I can't find very many lodging prices.  The ones I can find seem to be in the hundred dollars a night range.  Way out of my budget.  By over four times.  Thinking that may not be a good way to save money for my trip to the states in 8 months.

He also mentioned Zambia and Madagascar.  Interesting places but getting there and back again will be a big hit to the wallet, again foiling my evil 'return to the USA for a visit' plans.

If I had a much larger budget, I wouldn't feel like I was running out of places to go.

Right now, I have eight months I need to soak up.  Even if I can find a cheap way to Morocco (it will be 300-400 USD probably) that will soak three months leaving me with five.

And I can't afford to stay in the (warm parts of the) USA, where visa issues wouldn't be a problem.

So I'm kind of stuck.

An alternative plan would be to suck up some of the cold and move south back into Bulgaria where I could hang out for three months.  It's an agreeable country other than it doesn't seem to have any airports that are going where I want to go.

So essentially, I'm still trying to figure out somewhere cheap and warm to just hang out until I can easily travel to the USA.  Fuck snow and cold.  I'm happy in a desert.

If anyone has clever ideas (or a friend who wants to rent a tiny apartment for 300-400 in Florida, New Mexico, Texas (yea, guns!) or anywhere in the very south of the country let me know.



PARTIAL RESOLUTION

Right - after a lot of thought and sweating it out, I've decided to at least sweat (literally) out the first three months (of 8) back in Morocco.  It took some indirect flying but rather than paying the 500-600 I found, I managed to find a flight going through Dusseldorf (yea Germany!  Wish I could afford to hang out there) and then to Tangier (ironically a close name to one of the three dishes served in Morocco).  Naturally, in saving some money, I've signed up for a three airplane trip that will last a couple of days.  Simply put, there is no easy way there from here.

Not a clue what I will do after Morocco.  I could go back to Tunisia but I fucking hate Tunisia.  Come to think of it, there are only two countries in Africa I don't mind and one of them is too dangerous even for Logan.  Especially since the current president was once my Facebook friend.

Sadly, the trip has a few 'moving parts'.  Train, plane, plane, plane, etc.

On the plus side, if things fall apart, I can blog about it!



THOUGHTS ON ROMANIA

I find it a very agreeable country.  The weather is good, the people are friendly, the prices are some what affordable.  Many people speak at least a few words of English.  If they don't, you do have a chance of figuring out what they are saying if you have some French, Latin and Italian.  As we all do.

Many of the words are close enough.  Also, since Romanian uses Latin characters (fuck Cyrillic) you can often make out what the stores are.  Easy stuff.

Also, Romanians saw fit to build a lot of benches for people to just sit down and hang out.  In many of the old USSR countries, this is not the case.  You should be working - not sitting, talking and fermenting a revolution against the glorious state!

The Romanians seem pretty relaxed and friendly.  For men, there are several attractive women here.  For my women readers, there seem to be a lot of men here.  I have no idea what you'd make of them.

Buy medicine here.  I take several different kinds and have found their prices - and stock - very reasonable.  In fact, normally hunting down all of the medicine I need is a two or three day process.  I found everything in the first store I went to.  Nice.

Trains seem easy - under five minutes to get a train ticket that I bought two fortnights in advance.  Some sort of personal record.  Some countries won't even sell you a train ticket more than a couple days ahead of time.


In the disadvantages column, they are pretty religious though not pushy about it and 'their gods are not noisy'.  Not a huge proliferation of noisy bells, announcements, etc.  So, it's ignorable.

Also, they have a lot of gypsies here.  Gypsies!  The Geordies of Romania!  Just like the Geordies of England, they tend to dress differently and are often loud, crass people.  There seem to be two different kinds of gyspies.  Rich and poor.  The rich ones - aside from spending a lot of time wandering around yelling at each other and geography - are not much of a problem.  The poor ones are the kind of beggars who will violate your personal space and follow you around.  Beware of pick pockets and such though I've not had any problems thus far.  Try to look menacing.  Since I don't really look that way, I try to look hungry and cannibalistic.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - ROMANIA

Zebra Crossings aka Crosswalks

In Romania, should a driver strike a pedestrian outside of a crosswalk, they are thrown a parade and given a large gold foil covered chocolate key.

Should they strike a pedestrian within the crosswalk, they and their family for three generations are beaten within the public square for two days.

Both of the above statements are false, but they drive as though they are true.  Be warned - use the crosswalks and signals within this country.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - LONGER TERM OCCUPANCY (1-3 months)

Plastic bags:  Aside from getting to occupy a landfill or parents who wish they weren't giving them to children to play with, most people don't think much about them.  Aside from those pricks who buy a permanent bag and attempt to guilt others into not destroying the planet.  Bastards.  But for you - the traveler - plastic bags are useful.  First - make sure they were not shoddily made or have holes to try to keep the kids alive and out of landfills.  If they don't leak, they are new very cheap waterproof containers.  Because they will begin to tear after a few months, you will constantly be replacing them.  In addition, dirty laundry can be put into them.  Save your 'good bags' (thick, large) and give the laundry people the more common, crappy bags you got from the grocery.  Often, the laundry people will 'accidentally' keep or 'lose' the good bags.  The best bags are clear - no guessing what is inside.  I never throw out any bags other than the one I daily remove the trash with.  A surprising amount often get used when packing stuff and the rest I just leave with the hotel.  They are often grateful to get them.

Toilet paper:  If you are staying at a place that gives free toilet paper (pension, hotel, etc) get several extra rolls.  Don't feel bad about this - better to have way too many than one too few and explosive diarrhea.   Believe me.  Also, when you leave, they will get back all of the unused rolls.  You can build them a decorative pyramid of them before checking out.  Or you can become some weird person who travels around with twenty rolls of TP.  Just tell people "I like to poop."  Be sure to take at least one roll in your train/bus bag.  Because you like to poop.  Or at least wipe.  We hope.

Water:  Stock the hell up on this.  You should always have an extra three liters just sitting around.  If you get sick or become dehydrated (see 'explosive diarrhea') you may go through them in a hurry.  In addition to the roll of toilet paper (above) you should take a liter or two of water in your train/bus bag.  If you don't have these, you will regret it later.  (See also Logan's Rules of Water, below).

Packaged snacks:  Have some sitting around.  You might be unable (if the revolution comes) to go out and buy food.  Put uneaten packaged snacks into your train/bus bag when you are ready to leave.



LOGAN'S RULES OF WATER

These rules exempt Western Europe, USA (well, most of it anyway) and possibly Australia - though I've not been there.

Always drink bottled water, regardless of what the locals tell you.  In Brasov, Romania (my current location) I have been told the quality of the water from the tap exceeds bottled water.  This may be true.  How are the pipes that bring it here?  How old is this building?  How much lead is in the pipes?  How often are they replaced or cleaned?  Usually the answers are: bad, ancient, plenty and never.

In Eastern Europe, I will have salads.

Asia and Africa, if it isn't pealed or cooked hell no.  You will probably (eventually) get sick.  Yes, there are a lot of "I've been drinking plenty of water here and never got sick" people out there but the question always is "How much of your vacation would you like to give up to save half a buck on a bottle of water?"



TRAVELER'S TIP - GENERAL

Bandannas:  At the time of writing, I honestly couldn't tell you how many I own.  Twenty?  More?

They are always useful and you should always have one on you.  Whether you are using it to keep sweat out of your eyes, wiping up spills or applying a tourniquet to someone's neck they come in super handy.

Remember to get colors and patterns that will not have you angrily brought before a gang banger asking why you are wearing his - or his rivals - colors in their territory.  I get pastels.  Most people don't have as much fear of gang bangers wearing gentle pastels.


BOOK REVIEWS

WARNING - LIGHT SPOILERS (for The Survivalist)

Seven (or more) book series - The Survivalist

It took a bit to get past the first book.

In all these prepper/survivalist series, it often seems that the first book is a lot of self congratulation on the part of the anti-social paranoid gun nut who spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on something that would have been a complete waste of money.

Unless the apocalypse actually happened.

Since these are works of fiction, hey, Armageddon is awesome for these guys.  Had it not come about they would just look like overly paranoid idiots.  But they showed them, didn't they?

Guessing a lot of fans of these sorts of books are those very individuals so it is a masturbatory self congratulation they can enjoy in their minds.

In the first book, the characters were a bit flat but by the time the second (etc) books rolled around they'd gotten interesting.  Essentially, there are two different groups.

The marshal and his dog.   Essentially a gun fighter and a dog who is smart enough that if he had vocal cords he could not only talk but be funny.

The old prisoner and the 11 year old girl.  There is some special name for this kind of relationship but Google goes to very dark places if you don't know what you're looking for.  They formed an odd family kind of like in Leon: The Professional movie ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110413/ ).  It works in the book and isn't creepy.

Both of these groups are interesting and have loads of interesting adventures.  It is odd with just how many people got wiped out (see also: Apocalypse) that they would meet as many people as they do.

Also, the Coincidence Fairy is on overtime.

But the books are interesting.  All the novels are essentially one long book, as is the custom of this day.

Series score (as well as each individual book score) 4/5.  Pretty decent and I may revisit them in the future - especially if a couple more books come out.

Currently out on audio are 1-7.  8 is out in non-audio format and fans are howling for 9.


THE BORROWED WORLD SERIES (book reviews)

Book 1
Book 2
Book 3



Friday, July 29, 2016

ALL HAIL THE GREY MARKET

BRASOV

After winning a game of hide and seek with the bus, I arrived in Brasov.  My buddy had made me a reservation at a very cheap hostel - $5 per night.  They wanted a phone call about an hour before I arrived to 'make sure someone was there'.

I convinced the taxi driver to contact them and let them know I was coming.  They'd never heard of me and the price was 18 Euros per night.  WTF.  "How many nights will you be staying?"  None, thanks, bye!

The taxi driver told me he'd never heard of a place that was that cheap.

He then spent about an hour surfing the internet (my phone was dead) and calling various places.  Eventually, we got it down to two different pensions.

Pensions are like normal hotels with two major differences.  They are cheaper and you have to pay for a much longer period of time.  The more  time, the less the price.

A normal hotel is about 120 lei or more.  If you are paying for an entire month (all at once, all up front) you can get a pension room for about half that.

The first pension had a little table and uncomfortable looking stools.  Their wifi would get mocked by Cambodians.

The second pension was much nicer and the lady who runs it speaks English.  Their wifi is fantastic.  And the desk is large and a chair with a back.  And she offered to do my laundry for free.

I decided to pull the ole 'do you believe in your product' thing and offered to pay her one night at the monthly rate to test out the room.  Some people say no.  That is a warning flag for sure.  She immediately agreed.  The room is just fine.

Oddly, she didn't want me to pay all at once.  Though she didn't come straight out and say it, she was hatching a new deal.  If I pay each day, for one day at a time and she doesn't make a receipt - would that be OK?

Romanians really hate paying the government any fucking money.

At all.

So basically, I now am getting a daily room at the monthly rate.  Grey market enterprise at its finest.  Go team go.

And if I need to leave, I can.

Great - I'm staying here.

The room was a bit more expensive than I wanted but I'm just not ready to leave Romania yet.

Note that the price I'm paying is about $3-4 above what it would cost to sleep in a room with a dozen other people.

I may be flying out from their airport located in Sibiu.  Couple hours from me.  Not sure where I will go from there.  Maybe back to Morocco, maybe say 'fuck it' and go to Mexico.  "DO YOU BOYS LIKE MEX-EEE-CO?"  Love that movie scene ("Super Troopers").  Want some Mexican food in my fat belly.

The problem isn't that they are killing people in some of the towns - I've been to lots of places like that.  The problem is that it looks a touch expensive.  More research (see below for the first toe dip) is required.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - ROMANIA

What follows are my accumulated tips for Romania.  Not sure if this is my second or third trip to this country but these tips should make any visit here easier.

Taxis:  On the door of every cab is written the initial KM price as well as the price for each KM thereafter.  At the time of this writing (2016), it's around 2-3 lei.  Be sure to use the meter.  Any excuses mean you need a different cab.

Lunch:  Monday through Friday noon till four is the time to go out seeking lunch.  In Romania, lunch specials are available.  They call them 'menu' but pronounce it with a harder 'u' than standard English.  These cost about 15-20 lei (under $5) and include soup, main course and desert.  Although Romanian food taste is somewhere in the middle of the planet ("meh") it is a good deal financially.  Drinks sold separately.

Bus stations:  Although they often have signs stating which bus goes to which 'gate' (or position) these signs are often more imaginative than informative.  Asking four different people gets four different answers including you need to take a taxi to a whole different bus station.  Walk around and keep walking around twenty minutes beforehand up till the time the bus actually goes looking for your bus.  Unlike other countries where the bus drivers apparently get paid for more people (hence having people trying to find more business) here they don't really care.



MEXICO RESEARCH (Warning - this is dull.  Put it in for purely educational purposes.  Most travel writers don't show this side of travel.  I do.  It may be of help to see my thought processes - even if they often turn out to be wrong.)

As time is relentlessly ticking by and buying air tickets betwixt the continents is best done at least a month before hand, now seemed a good time to start researching.

Needing answers -

Where is a good place to leave and arrive?  Since I'm flexible, I can move about a bit.

Which airline?  And on this I didn't want to deal with crappy airlines - generally a ticket like this we're looking at a fairly significant amount of money.  For me, anyway.  So I didn't want the airline to fuck it up.

Can I actually afford Mexico?  It should be pretty easy there to find a place to stay.  Spanish is a simple language to ruthlessly butcher!  But while most 'Mericans think of Mexico as an excessively poor place with dirt roads and dogs holding gnawed off appendages of people, it is actually more expensive than places I normally stay.  Which I suppose tells you something.

First step - what are the cheapest airports to arrive into Mexico?  Usually, these are the busiest.  Yes, someone may have found some wonderful deal where they ended up on a one prop (of two) plane that took them somewhere super for only a peso - but I'm going with the averages here.

According to one website, the cheapest airports were Mexico City, Cancun and the one that is a pain in the ass to spell, Guadalajara.  I like the name "Mexico City".  Kind of tells you where it is.  I don't like the kidnap rate there though so giving it a miss - not a problem.

My research started showing that Condor Airways has pretty impressive rates so I started checking around their route map and such.

Surprisingly, they have a place right here in Romania they use - Sibiu.  While it looks to be about $140 more than Berlin (or Frankfurt where the airline is actually based), I'm thinking even on a discount airline (extra pain with the bags) it would cost more to get there than to just head down to a different town in the country I'm already in.  Cool.

The only problem is that Cancun is the cheap place.  Much cheaper than the others.  And it is about as far from the USA as you can get.

Awkward.

While a nifty bus tour of Mexico may be neat, I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the buses there were not cheap.  Closer to prices in the USA.  Plus, I need to figure out if I am going to be cutting up through the USA overland or flying into it.  For that, I will have to reference the LHI2 stats.  That will tell me what states I'm going to be in.

For those who haven't been reading the blog long enough to know what LHI stands for, it is "Logan's Home Invasion".  Named by a clever friend.  It is where I go stay with someone anywhere from a couple days to a week then they pass me off to the next person.

It doesn't work if I - for example - only know one person in the state or something.  Traveling fast in the USA is not a good thing - just expensive.



SO WHO DO WE HAVE FOR LHI2 THUS FAR?

(LHI2 is "Logan's Home Invasion 2 - the Second Coming".  It is when I visit the states and stay with various people in different states.)

Noble, AZ

David, CA

Mira, CO
Seth, CO

Mahmood, DC

Mike, IL
DeAnna, IL
Joel, IL
Kevin, IL
Jason, IL
Carolyn, IL

Robert, OH

Conner, OR
Bert, OR
Erich, OR

John, MI
Jack, MI
Jennifer, MI
Brian, MI

Bill, MO

Travis, VA
Razvan, VA
Gilbert, VA

Three or more people on a team, pretty good.  Less means we need more people on the team.  Teams are by state.

I'm thinking to be able to visit the state (and keep down the freakishly high cost of travel within the USA) I need to be able to stay with three different people (ie a week each is three weeks to absorb travel costs) in the state.  Often the people I am staying with or will stay with meet up on the road to pass me like a football from car to car.

If you don't see your name listed, be sure to contact me if you want Logan to come stay with you for a few days or a week.



HOPPING VAMPIRES

Those familiar with Chinese mythology will know of these.  My buddy Derek found a good article as to why.



PRICES

Minivan - Targu Mures to Brasov, 35 lei.

Friday, July 1, 2016

WINTER IS COMING

WINTERING

Had the good fortune to get to chat with Sorin last night (one of my hosts here) and he suggested a clever bit of lateral thinking.

I wish I could take credit for it but honestly, I didn't even come close to thinking of it.

From about September or October until April (when I want to be back in the USA), Europe sucks for the cold. Unless you have plenty of money and want to go to some rich people hang out like the south of France or Greece.

He suggested that I leave Europe early for somewhere else in North America. Spend time in the southern part then move north when it is time.

Later, I'm going to have to do some research on Mexico.

What a great scene!

Aside from 'Fun with Kidnappers' I am not sure how much it would actually cost to do Mexico. I remember it is a bit more expensive than other places in Central (nope!) and South America but they are almost guaranteed to have Mexican food.



ENCOUNTER

Exploring a town within Romania, a mother waited awkwardly for her son. Half hidden in the brush on a hillside he squatted, his bowels having taken him by surprise.

Three strides past the mother, stopping, turning and returning. She watches nervously as my bag is opened. A plastic small bundle is offered. She shakes her head. I glance at the child and offer it again. She takes it, realizing it is toilet paper, smiles.


Careful not to add to the embarrassment of the child by glancing his direction, my journey resumed, thoughts of similar within my own past - both distant and recent.



BREXIT - what's Logan's opinion?

Yes, believe it or not, I have had some Romanians ask me this.  Like I even know what country I'm in half the time.

First point:  The day after Brexit was voted 'lets leave the EU', the second most popular Google search term in the UK was 'what is the EU'.   Hilarious.   That is one of the funny sad things - like a clown falling into a wood chipper and his monkey turns it on.


Second point:  Logan thinks (may or may not be right) that much of it (Brexit) was about racism, nationalism and possibly some other -ism's.  Logan doesn't think much of people who like -ism's.  When the BPS (their money) went down to the lowest rate since 1985, I'm thinking "I wish I had more money so I could buy some of theirs".

Third point:  If the BPS dropped down to where it was 1 to 1 with the USD (who knows - Logan could get lucky and the UK taken with 'surprise buttsex') it would make an affordable vacation there for Logan.  Hell, I could even afford to get Matthew drunk.


Fourth point:  Enough people are now whining that they didn't know what the vote was for, didn't realize that their vote counted and wishing they could go back in time that I wonder if they will have another vote.  Keep voting till you get the result you want?

Last point:  Will one country leaving the EU cause the rest of them to fall out?  I doubt it.  I know a lot of people seem really paranoid about that but it makes you wonder what kind of idiots think that things that are together will always stay together.  Just because the USA has been around for 200 years, do I think it will be around forever?  That is ignorant.  If it survives another hundred (less if Trump is elected) that would be impressive.  Things fall apart and become other things.  That's just how it seems to work.



GOSH LOGAN, WHY ARE SOME COUNTRIES POOR?

The sad thing is that the beggar in this pic is dressed better than I do.  I'll have to steal his clothing later...

When a country is poor, there are usually reasons.  Fairly obvious ones.

Most often it is high levels of corruption coupled with low levels of education.  Anyone thinking politicians want educated voters haven't really figured out that stupid people count the same.  Sadly.

When I was in the USA, I worked in purchasing/supply chain/logistics for about a dozen (?) years.  Here's roughly how it works in the USA.  When you buy something in a store, it gets scanned.  In most countries, this tells the person how much you owe and computes the change they should give you - as otherwise they'd have no clue.  In the USA, it goes a step further and marks off unit(s) sold into a data base.  This data base also has levels for reordering - often automated.  When they get down to five units left, reorder.  One unit left, emergency rush reorder.

Because in the USA, businesses want your damn money.  As much of it as they can get.

Sadly, the same thing doesn't take place in non 'westernized' countries in the rest of the world.  If stock gets sold, it seems to rely on them going completely out of stock and a manager to eventually wander out of their office - possibly lost and confused - to see the gaping hole in the inventory before maybe thinking they should reorder that shit some day.

A lot of the behaviors I've seen in retail around the world would get you instantly fired in the USA.  Horsewhipped too, if they could get away with it.


And that's why - despite the heat - three stores don't carry mutherfucking fans.  That's right.  I asked where they were and when they would have them in.  They explained it has been hot and they sold out a week or two ago and they didn't know when they'd get more in.

I'm always thinking "With their business practices, how in the fuck do these stores stay open?  They have to pay rent, employees, utilities and so on."  In the USA I know they'd have closed long ago and the owners would be sitting around wondering what happened.  In much of the world, I suspect leprechauns (like my buddy Matthew L. who is an evil one) of using magic to keep these places open somehow.

Fucking fans.  It is like having rain for the last few weeks and everyone having been sold out of umbrellas for the last few weeks.  Then bitching they are fucking poor.  Yeah.  It must just be one of those strange things.  You know any leprechauns?



I'M A FAN

But for me change it to "A fan at last, a fan at last - thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster I have a fan at last."  Not to take away from the great MLK but I am very thankful to have at last found a fan.

I had wandered over to the big mall (via bus) and was traipsing around there when I came across a fan.  It's 35 cm across - not huge but enough and a floor model for 'easy to trip over' features.  Immediately grabbing it, I glared about to make sure hordes of no central air peasants were about to mob me for my prize.

None were.

I scarpered.

After arriving home and removing it from the box I was sad to discover that some bright spark had chosen to save less than a dollar in packaging by making it 'some assembly required'.  I looked at the multi-lingual instructions.


Nine languages and you mutherfuckers can't be bothered to do the 'international language'?  Really?

OK.  Got to put it together in French.  Hint - I used the pictures.  Downside - not many pictures.

But fortunately only a couple of pieces to put together.  Cool.

When staying at a friends house, going through all their shit looking for tools is not cool so I gave my buddy Sorin a call.  No tools at this house.  Maybe the people at the tattoo shop downstairs.

Stunned, I hung up.

This was a huge culture shock.

In the USA, if you don't have tools and materials to make your own trebuchet (add that word to my dictionary online - why doesn't it have it?) then how will you defend yourself in the upcoming zombie apocalypse?

If you can't build one of these from things lying around your dwelling, you aren't even seen as human among zombie survivalists.

Also, pretty much every household in the USA has tools.  In some, they are the male equivalent of the little delicate china figurines that some women collect; in other homes they are penis replacements.

If you remember this, you are either an old fucker or watch too many reruns.

In homes of henpecked men they are the simple justification for having a workshop somewhere on the property they can retreat to, leaving their shrew behind.

For some law enforcement officers, they are used in the hobby that keeps them from just executing everyone.

The real mystery is always how he gets the boats OUT.  I suspect a huge secret door and tunnel.

For some men, they are not used - just bought for display in case anyone wants to see if they are real men.

Who the hell is this and why is he in my blog and what is up with his hair and crazy look?  His appearance does remind me of one of my friends though.

Some men just get tools just to masturbate over.

And I would like to point out that for LGBT people (as that is a hot topic these days) I do not believe that confines them to the Hello Kitty tool set.


Though honestly if they are decent tools (and I had a fixed abode) I'd accept them as gifts, sure.  I really don't care what the tools look like.

So...  No tools.

Screw going downstairs until I had to.  Roll your jury rig skill!  Success!  You have found things you can temporarily use as tools!

The fan was assembled.

I'm really happy about it partially because I have been keeping the place pretty closed up.  They don't  have screens (for some unknowable reason) in Europe and every time I open a window mosquitoes come to visit.

After nearly dying from one biting me, I am a bit on the paranoid side.

The fan will remain here after I leave.  Since I will be here for a month for sure (probably two - they keep urging me to stay any time I ask if they have a place in mind I can go rent) the fan will be a nice 'thanks for letting me squat at your house' gift.



BOOK REVIEW


Review on the book "1632".

The title is descriptive as it is the year the book is set in and honestly, much more creative than many of the titles I've seen. If you can search for your title on Goodreads and find it a half dozen times, here's a hint: Try harder.

Anyway, the good, bad and ugly format.

The good: I like the stories where a stalwart band of Yanks (it's always yanks - apparently other nations just don't have the gumption to get sucked back in time) get sucked back in time (like the "Islands in the Sea of Time" series  ) to 'show them how it's done'.

The bad: Unlike pretty much every other time travel book out there, nobody seems to either care or even mention (in the first book, later it's mentioned and dismissed) the whole 'might we start a really fucked up paradox by not only marrying the locals but killing several of them, starting revolutions and introducing tech a few hundred years early? Nope. Nobody even thinks about it. Mind you, I don't think it would have changed anything. Being told "You know, we should destroy all our stuff and kill ourselves so we don't potentially cause a paradox" is not something that is going to go over big with too many crowds. But you'd think someone would at least mention, speculate or possibly even fret a bit about it. For half a page even... Another problem - sometimes the book starts to sound like a dull history textbook. Once they move away from what I think the interesting part of history is (history is the stories of individual often interesting people) and onto more abstract stuff (here is a discussion of the strategic military hard points that only a history nerd with a map could follow and nobody will actually give a shit about it), you feel like you are just wading through crap to get to the interesting parts.

The ugly: Holy shit, it's like the Game of Thrones stuff. Sure, there are some people who can keep track of characters that appear every now and then but there are so many of them you end up fixating on your favorites and feeling like you're just wading through the rest. It makes me with they'd trimmed down the cast of who the story is actually told through.

In summation - I'm into the second book (strangely named 1633 - didn't see that one coming, can't wait to see what the third book is named) right now. Looking back on the first - there is some interesting stuff but you have to do some wading to get to it. Sometimes fairly deep wading. Is it historically accurate? Probably more than I care about.

5/10. Decent but not sure if I'd go back and re-read it.

Follow up - I made it up to the third book before giving up.  Some good parts but just too much bullshit to wade through to get there.



PRICES

750ml bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, 60 lei

35cm fan - about 30-40 USD - not sure.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

TRUDGING THROUGH THE CARPATHIANS

UKRAINE TO ROMANIA

Though Lviv is very close to Poland, I'd gotten a very attractive offer from a friend of mine named Diana who lives in Romania to stay at one of her properties free for a month.  After that, she would help me to find a different place to stay (we both assumed I'd be bored there after one month) that I could rent for a reasonable (to Logan) price.

Worth crossing Ukraine for.

Unfortunately, many of the places in Ukraine that have web pages may make you think you've slipped back into the 1990's.  Go 'MySpace'.  Also, a lot of the information you get will be found to be inaccurate.   Sometimes wildly so.  I'm sure that if you spoke Russian (or Ukrainian - very similar for those who care) and knew the web pages to go to that you could probably get what you want.  I have seen people do it - and had flashbacks of 'dial-up' for those who are old enough to know what that is.  Or a dial tone, for that matter.  If you are too young, put it under 'things pre-internet that are best forgotten'.

So, I'd researched a bunch (while sober, even) and the internet told me to cross the border at the town of Tyachiv.

This was what we in the border crossing business call 'a lie'.

You can't cross the border there.  You can cross it about an hour east at a town called Solotvino.

This picture has nothing to do with what is being talked about.  Please ignore it.

For those who want one of those '90's style web pages with information on where the actual border crossings are for Ukraine, I direct you to this.

Even if I have to get a taxi it won't be a bad cost considering going from Lviv to Tyachiv - crossing the  entire Ukraine north to south is under 4 USD (100 UAH).

Yeah, buddy.

Thinking moving around in Romania will cost more.

My research into how to get from Tyachiv to Solotvino is not going well.  It may be one of those 'jump and figure it out when I get there'.  [Edit:  It was.]  Because I suspect there may be a few of these moments, I'm leaving earlier than necessarily needed.  And it is long past time to get out of the steadily worsening situation at the house.

To clarify my position on living with other people:  If you go to live with some friend or friends for a week, that is often a magical situation.  Wonderful.  You get to hang out and do stuff.  Once you have hit the one month mark - even if you are paying rent - shit often starts to slide downhill after that.

It may just be me.  In some respects I am a pain in the ass to live with.  I do enjoy living alone.

But visiting with people for a week - so cool.  Even if as during LHI or the European tour I stayed with several different households for a week - still cool.

But for just living?  No - fuck that - alone for me is best.

Again, nothing to do with the blog but I did listen to Stewart's autobiography recently and thought I would distract you with this image for no good reason.  And make you read shit.  Which you fell for.


LEAVING LVIV

I nearly out waited my train.   Found out the advertised track number was incorrect.

Despite asking for 'just a seat, I don't want a bed', they naturally gave me a bed.  On the top bunk.

Really.

Just looking at it, I could tell there was even less stuff to get up there with than normal.  Fortunately, the girl who had the bottom was happy to switch with me.  Note that the various conductors and such will not help you with this sort of problem.  Their view seems to be 'if you didn't want the top, why did you book it' and 'if you don't like it, you can always book another train...eventually...'.  So it is best to just find someone yourself.

She immediately identified herself as a 'Jehovah's Witness'.

I was super happy for the language barrier.

Like this weird happy Batman is happy.

Especially when I had automatically responded "I'm sorry."  Looking at devout religion as a form of mental illness does not help one to get the bottom bunk!

The train bed itself - fairly torturous.  I thought that I didn't get the extra pad everyone else did.  Discovered at the end of the journey that they were stored above the top bunk.  Doh.

I do this a lot while traveling.


ONE TRAIN STATION TO ANOTHER

Talking to various people who had some English (about where my Spanish is I'm guessing) told me that the border was within walking distance.

Later, I discovered that talking to young, fit, healthy and relatively unencumbered people gives a different definition of 'walking distance'.

It was a couple clicks.

The only taxis?  At the train station.  And actually snapped up by the other train passengers.

So it was a walk.

Had I been going the other way (Romania to Ukraine) there would have been a big assed hill.

As it was, I was actually getting a bit dizzy and stuff as I was walking.  No where to sit down and often no side walks, I walked along looking for softer places to fall down.  My plan was to twist as I fell if I didn't just lose complete control of my body in order to spare the computer.  I may heal - the computer won't.

I just kept plodding along, one foot then the other and concentrated on breathing.

Yes.  Technically I was hiking through the Carpathian Mountains with literally everything I own.

Managed to not pass out (a couple times it was very close) or fall down all the way to the border.

Yea!

(Applause)

Pretty shagged out.  Were there any taxis?

Hell.

A box and a manually operated level crossing.  That's about it for this international border.

Sure, there were unmanned booths for little things like currency conversion and such, with the key word being 'unmanned'.

This is not a great place to cross for amenities.

One of the young guys asked me if I had any tobacco or alcohol.  I joked with him that I'd sure like it if he was offering those to me and began asking questions about where the train station was so I could get a ticket.  Played up the selfish tourist angle while being funny.

Didn't want him to look into my backpack.  Nothing serious - just personal use cigarettes and a whole bunch of pills.  My medicine.

But, anyone who has been reading this blog long enough knows my attitude toward authority figures.


I immediately set off toward the two (?) klicks away train station.  Hanging around - never a smart idea.

Eventually, I drug my ass into the train station.



SIDE RANT

One of the best things about 'not Ukraine' is we are back to the Latin alphabet.  A bit over a third of the people of the world use the Latin alphabet as opposed to four percent that use the Cyrillic one.  [Source]


This, in my mind, gives using the Cyrillic alphabet is about as smart as not being on the metric system.

The Latin letters make things so much easier.  Heck, both parties can even use the same phone with google translate!

There is a reason Logan has said "I don't care about learning the Cyrillic alphabet".  Yes, I have gone completely metric.  I'm about 1.8 meters tall and weigh under one metric ton.  But not enough under.  Good times.



THE TRAIN STATION

Scott: "Yeah... um, listen. We're trying to get to Berlin, Germany. Do you know if there's a train coming anytime soon?"
Tibor: "Oh yes! Very soon! They are building it now!"
     - Eurotrip

Felt this quote when I walked into the partial train station.  It was under construction.

Every experienced (and some inexperienced) travelers know that it is possible to buy a ticket on the train much of the time.  Knowing which train is yours is the problem.  They don't label them as clearly as I'd like.  Why that is, I do not know.  Later, it will lead to more butthurt.


At first, the lady was zero help.  No, she couldn't hold on to my bags so that I could do another two kilometer hike into town to get cash out of the ATM.  No, she could not make my cards work on her card scanner.  Did you know that whether you swipe the card along the side or stick it in the end, there are four different possible positions?  Only two of these eight total positions are incorrect.  I watched her try six different positions before putting the card reader aside and announcing it would no longer be used today.

Thinking she didn't get a lot of training on it.

Times like this require a lot of patience.  I've seen a lot (lot, lot) of tourists break down and start yelling, demanding to see managers and so on.  While this may work in some first world countries it means you are 'done' in most countries.  The item or service is no longer for sale and they don't care who you rant to.  You won't meet with the boss and there is no better business guide for people to complain to and the majority of people to ignore.

Honestly - it takes a special kind of person to read through their reviews and such on a regular basis and these people are rare.  If you are one of them and want to object and say you are not rare, you can reterm it as 'special'.  You have now moved into the 'special' category.

Right.

So - arguing doesn't work.  Unless you are Russell Crow.


Assuming you are not 'fighting round the world' (I try not to) just keep looking for new ways to go after the problem.

I got a taxi and paid him to take me into town to hit a bank, get a new sim card, some food (my last for about thirty hours as it turned out) and return me to the train station to wait for six or eight hours.  On food sellers - I'm thinking there must be a reason or law against people selling food near the train station or even on the trains the way they do in Asia.  It seems like there would be quite a market as a lot of these trains (even ones crossing countries) don't bother with the dining car.  But there isn't.

Lots of waiting.

After all of the walking and nearly passing out, even had I a place to store my luggage for a couple hours, touring the village wasn't a priority.  Possibly due to the hard rain which started after I got back and situated with a ticket.  It did look nice and picturesque.  This reinforces my opinion that - if one had the money and time - doing a summer time tour of Romania and staying in various nifty places would be fun.  Given the horrible time tables for the trains, probably a private motor car (I'm feeling British) would be the way to go.



WAITING IN DEDA

The last town before I finally got to my goal is a tiny (4000 people) town of Deda.  Easily memorable name, long four hour lay over.

Obviously, I was totally out of it by the time I'd reached here - between close to twenty hours of travel as well as hauling all my earthly possessions through the Carpathians.

And it got cold.

Like really cold.

I put on my sweater but unfortunately nodded off, thus lowering my body temperature even more.

Just sat there in the totally empty railway station having a good shake for a long, long time until my body warmed itself back up.  Not the coldest I've ever been (Korea, 1986 or so) but damned cold.


After boarding and crawling around the wrong train, I managed to find someone who got me onto the correct one.

Nearly got off at the wrong train station as well.  For some reason, just one Targu Mures train station is not enough.  They also have a 'Nord' (north) one.  The only interesting thing there was some old guy who was unloading bunches of meter long sharpened wooden stakes.  I remarked "All these crazy new fangled vampire hunting techniques these days!"  Some lady passing began to laugh hysterically.

I got back on the train and was met by my buddy Sorin.

As we partook of McDonald's (hey - not a lot of breakfast choices at 7AM on a Sunday in Eastern Europe), I remarked that it is rare for me to be able to hang out with people you've known for five or more years.

Simply because many of them are not motivated enough to travel.   Sad face.  But as Shadow said in "The Fifth Element", "I will be among you...soon."

For people in the USA - LHI2, The Second Coming.

Not as funny as Russells' Second Coming show but should be fun.

(If you missed LHI1 and would like more information about how to get involved, contact me on Facebook - Logan Horsford.  If you are not already a friend of mine, please mention you read the blog as I get a lot of spam friend requests and routinely block those bitches.)



SUMMARY

If you have your own vehicle, the Ukrainian to Romanian border crossing of Solotvino to Sihetu Marmatsiei is nice and quite.   Probably relaxing.  If you are on foot, avoid it if possible or allow for the fact you will probably be walking six kilometers, possibly up a decent (very long) hill.

This was not a happy forty eight hours for me in any way.  At all.  Even after being installed in the new place by kindly Sorin (no relation to the dark lord Sauron) I kept falling asleep - even after two (yes, two) different naps.

Avoid if possible.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

The platform they say the train will arrive on may be a lie.  Find some station attendants and double check - especially in the 'not first world' countries.  Sometimes, there will be multiple trains on the same track and at the same platform going wildly different places.

Going on a long train journey?  Don't plan on the station, anywhere near the station or the dining car (which will not exist) to feed you.  Pack a picnic.  An extensive one.


How often should you clean your backpack?  Never.  The more disgusting and ratty it appears, the better chance that would be thieves will look elsewhere for their 'phat l00t'.  If you like snazzy looking equipment, I recommend travel insurance!

Adjusting windows and such on transport.  I've watched this for years and honestly, it rarely goes well.  Want a little extra air and the window is up?  Once you lower it, it will magically say 'fuck you' and be broken forever in the down position.  Arctic winds will assail you.  Or the window will simply break off in your hand.  Or refuse to budge.  Or the glass will fall out.  Or have not been there for years.  Pretty much, trying to make any of the little comfort adjustments - really bad idea that often seems to make it worse.    Hell, even moving around the train with your over large backpack through doors that get stuck half way open, are inexplicably locked or only one door moves lead to a nightmarish feeling that only intensifies if you have to take a sudden, violent shit.  Instead, make the adjustments on yourself rather than the environment.  I carry coats and such in case it gets too cold, seat padding, etc.




COSTS

Taxi for a couple clicks and some waiting, 20 LEI

Sim card with a bunch of wifi, 25 LEI

Cigarettes, a bit over $3 per pack - about 3x Ukraine.  Welcome to the EU taxes, bitches!  Oh - wait - I have to pay it.  Shit.

Train from the border train station to Targu Mures (place I will be for a month), 66 LEI


Friday, June 3, 2016

BITS AND BOBS IN UKRAINE

FOLLOW UP ON LOOKING FOR A PLACE

I'd contacted six different places - three agencies and three private individuals.  Only one agency bothered to get back to me.

"Oh, we're poor!"

"How's your business professionalism?"


So in another little nip, the son of the lady I'd made the agreement with informed me that this house is neither his nor his mothers.  And, in an amazing bit of coincidence (since it is on the day my rent is due) his evil landlord has raised the rent and so he will raise mine.  He wanted $40 more, I negotiated it down to $30.  Not much of a haggle on my part.  It is annoying.  Not sure whose idea it was but I did e-mail his mom to let her know I'd be staying for another month despite the rent being raised.

Honestly, I really dislike business in Ukraine but the prices are the counterbalance to the shenanigans.

Fortunately, my old friends in Romania are going to make me feel very welcome there and so I've got that to look forward to.



MORE EASTERN EUROPEAN RESEARCH

The possibility - from Ukraine to Romania to Moldova back to Ukraine then on to Poland?

Not sure what to do after this.  Look for somewhere warm in Europe to hole up for the winter?  Because 'fuck the cold'.

Romania:  My friend Diana said she would take care of Romania so I'm skipping research on that.

Moldova:  I did the capital a few years ago and boy did it suck.  There was absolutely nothing there I wanted to see.  Going here would be a place to put between so I am just not going back and forth between Romania and Ukraine.

Note to self - might have to go through Transnistra.  Check to see if this can happen or not.  Train might be a way around it.

Another note - there seems to be absolutely nothing I am at all interested in within Moldova.  Been there, done that, didn't like it last time.  Figure out something else.  Croatia?  Bosnia?

Ukraine:  I'll have to look for somewhere else.  Between Moldova and Ukraine, I will need to burn a total of three months so that I can get back into the Schengen Area.  Then, I can get back in to visit...

Poland:  It's looking like I can stay in some really sexy cities for $300 per month rent.

After Poland, I'm really not sure where to go.   My goal is to be outside the Shengen area and somewhere warm.  My goal would be (after wintering) to head back to the USA in April (?).


Note to self - research how to get a Schengen extension.   It looks pretty rough.  Probably better to just duck out then back in later.

Later musings:  Europe during the six months of warm weather - nice.  The other six months - cold and sucky.  Right now, I'm trying to figure out a place to winter.  Not really thrilled about going back to Morocco and eating a bunch of 'tangine'.   Finding non-Schengen countries that are warm and not overly expensive to hang out in for half a year until it is time to go to the states - rough.  Especially since much of northern Africa either sucks or are busy squatting in burning villages polishing their AK-74's.   I'm not sure why the entire continent of Africa generally sucks so much - or if it is decent it's a bit pricy.




DAILY GRIND

By the gods I hate staying in a place more than a month. However, it is much easier on the pocket book. Since saving up for LHI2-TSC and a new computer that can play more than FV2 is important, I'm just sitting on my ass in Lviv.

It's weird but I find that I fall into a pattern depending on which part of the world I'm in. My pattern here is after my start up sequence (aka 'waking up') I will walk into Lviv (about 6KM) to a cafeteria restaurant. Honestly, the food is about the same quality as the other restaurants and about half the price. I can eat (with a drink) for under $4.

After that, I grab some supplies (diet soda, cookies to balance that diet shit and possibly alcohol. Note, I only drink on days ending with a 'Y'.) and get on the bus to get back. The bus costs .16 USD. Not a typo, it is sixteen cents. No idea why they bother to charge at all. Probably to get the bus driver to stop. I suspect they get the money or at least manage to shave off their cut.

After getting back, I will shower, mess about with the computer for awhile and possibly take a nap. You are suppose to sleep less as you get older. Still waiting for that part to kick in.

After waking up, I'll order pasta and a salad (note the health conscious thing there with the salad!) from a delivery place. The delivery guys seem to like me as I may be the only person in the country that tips them. I generally give them a dollar. Only the USA (due to Prohibition) is afflicted with the tipping BS. Dinner generally costs around six USD, including tip. Begin drinking when food is delivered.

Here, I am drinking wine mixed with diet soda. Considering a decent bottle is two USD, it's a treat. As my travel mentor once said 'When in Rome, drink what the Romans do'. IE drink what is cheap. Here and now, it's wine which is fine with me.

After consuming a bottle (or two if it is a special 'fuck the soda' night and I want a bit of a buzz) and stuffing my ever widening ass with sweets. They actually go into my mouth - though it would make a better story if I fed like a giant sea cucumber. Yeah. Take a moment to look it up to see how it feeds. Internet FTW.

After that, and watching a few movies (and possibly posting a bunch of stuff to the FB group 'Movie Geeks' if I am MST3000) I will go to sleep to start it all up the next day.

Note that my schedule (as well as what food I eat, etc) all might change depending on which country I am in.  Also note that I love my schedule and freedom.  If I were rich, I'd have even more freedom.  If I was really rich, I would begin distributing some of that freedom to my friends.



ON VENEZUELA

Thanks to David H for pointing out this excellent article on what's going on there now.

Best not to visit a country where the word 'bloodbath' is making it into articles.



TRAVELER'S TIP (UKRAINE)

Wheels on the bus go...

A lot of different backpacker sites are always talking about taking a bus (while loaded down with your gear) to get around the high cost of taxis.

Since I take one or more buses daily in Ukraine, here's the deal:

Don't.

When you get to a town, your best option is to call (or get someone to call) a taxi.  If you take the rip off artists on the street (independents) you will pay double, triple or as much as they think they can soak you for.  Don't fall for the 'let's use the meter' scam - they can set the meter for whatever the hell they want.  If you have to use one of these bastards, negotiate hard for a fixed price before you even step in.  Do NOT accept the meter unless you have lube.

As to the bus, if you have anything over a small bag of groceries - and sometimes even with just that - it is too crowded most of the time.  On about seventy percent or more of the buses it's standing room only and not much of that.

If you travel during a busy time (when people go or come from work or lunch) it is Japanese Pusher crowded.

This is Japan - not Ukraine.  But packed in like hot dogs kind of feels the same either way.  Your only hope is that you are gassy - because believe me, someone else will be.  It's a built in defense mechanism!

Getting on and off the bus will be hell and honestly, it's not fair to the other poor commuters.  Suck it up (Buttercup) and get a cab.



COMPUTER CLEANING

Been trying to play a bit of Skyrim and was stymied that my computer would sometimes shut itself off.  Searching the internet told me that the insides were probably dirty.

Of the computer.  I know my insides are no picnic.

Except to a cannibal.

Lots of people enjoy taking their fancy computer to a coffee shop and doing stuff there.  I don't.  Especially when the computer is about half a years wage to the locals.  For a black market resell.

So I stuffed it into a backpack and tried the closer of the two places I'd found which advertised they cleaned computers.  He quoted 350 UAH (about 14 USD).  I asked him if it would be possible to do it right the hell now and let me watch for 500 UAH.  "Impossible - I am very busy right now."

I pointedly looked around his abandoned, silent dusty shop.

"Riiiiight."  I responded.  "I might be back later."

I often feel like him when dealing with people.

I always like to say that I might come back later.  It is better than saying something you will be refused service for later.  Went to the other place on my list.  It was tricky to find, located within a courtyard of a building and the only signs in Cyrillic which I should learn but just can't work up the caring.

They only wanted 300 UAH, it would take an hour and I couldn't watch.  Offering a couple hundred bribe to watch didn't work though the guy did snap two pics of the dirt inside for me.  That was nice of him.

It's always good to watch when you can because they may take more care with your computer and I may learn something.

Got back the laptop.  Parts of the case still needed to be snapped together but the computer did actually start back up (yea!) so I am happy.  No water drained from it either.

Super.

Unfortunately, they also scrubbed the paint off the LED light which I had painted over meticulously.  Now, I have to find more paint or white out or something to cover it up.  It is annoying and distracting.  The LED is one that DELL felt necessary to have light up should you decide to disable your thumb pad.  Why is this necessary?  Because someone at Dell is a moron and morons up the chain decided to go with it.

Bernie Mac had a solution for those kind of people. 



ALTERWORLD


I would like to say that there are some disadvantages to the novel. While I love the concept (oh, if only in real life!) and enjoy the story...

Well, the author has what in the USA would be considered 'extremely sexist' views of women. Not having been to Russia, I don't know if this is a 'typically Russian' viewpoint. To me, it seems a lot like a USA 1970's viewpoint. "Oh, look - the little lady has a job! Isn't that cute!" type of crap.

And a bit of casual racism. Again, much like in the 1970's USA. If someone is a skinflint, he is 'jewing you' type of crap.

Again, if I'd ever been to Russia, I could always say it fits in with the Russian stereotype - but I haven't. No clue. It could be just the way this guy is and not even realize he's doing it.

It reminds me a bit of this.



PRICES

Getting the dust and grime of two years of road dust out of your laptop, 300-350 UAH.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

UKRAINIAN RAMBLINGS

WHAT TO DO WHAT TO DO

I suspect that through sheer laziness combined with the un-professionalism of those attempting to do business and desire to save money coupled with lack of funds, I will probably be remaining where I am (Lviv Ukraine for those who have lost track) for another month.

My time at the current lodgings started out well enough but 'the deal got changed' part way through.  And the deal never changes in a positive way.

Oh, if only...

When I first moved in, it was me and the guy who normally lives downstairs.  Great.  Aside from occassional overly emotional outbursts toward his long distance girlfriend on the phone, he's quiet.  After a week and a half, his cousin moves in.  Now don't get me wrong, his cousin is nice and all - but it's still another person.  Who likes to sometimes play loud music.  And we all know how I feel about loud music.

My chosen super power would be blowing up things that play music with lightning!  Probably invisible so I don't get beaten like a red headed step child.  (Note, if you are a red headed step child who got beaten by their foster parents and think that's insensitive - fuck you.   Get over yourself and make me a turkey pot pie before I shoot you with invisible lightning.)

So the place has moved down in comfort.

Logan gets on the internet and begins to research.

I'm not sure of the price in the USA for places that help people find places to stay (do we still have them?) but here they charge half the rent again for short term and a full month's rent for long term.  Not sure if it's just me or that price is on crack.  It does have the effect of turning a 'good deal' (say $200 per month rent) into a pretty 'standard deal' of $300 per month rent.  Which I can get in lots of different places, including 'not here'.

So that seems a bit high to me.  Fortunately, I can take consolation in two things.  First, I've only got another month or month and a half to go here.  Second, the internet should eventually completely decimate their business like Netflix did to Blockbuster.

Not that I'm vengeful or anything.


So anyway, I'm doing research, looking for a place rented by the owners themselves.  And this is where the lack of professionalism kicks in.  You see it a lot in businesses here (like in Asia) where they demand change from the customers because they didn't bother to stock up on any.  I'm beginning to think that for the poor people and poor countries - yeah.  There is usually a series of reasons.  Some are obvious enough that even I notice.

So I'm going through the ads and realizing that a lot of people (including on AirBnb - I did check) seem to have a very unrealistic view of how much their place is worth.

But keep in mind that I'm looking on the low end.  Charging more than a couple hundred bucks for some of the places I've seen moves into a different kind of robbery.

Sadly, a lot of the places listed don't have valid phone numbers, contact information, etc.  See also previously explained lack of professionalism.

Right now, my plan is to see if I can continue staying where I am.  If not, I may as well go to the next town to check that out.  Plus, it gets me a bit closer to Romania.  Sadly, the train schedules to that town seem to have been set up by sadists.  There are some ride sharing options I may explore as I've not done that before.

Update:  They wanted me to stay.  I expressed my only concern (the music) and was told that a set of earphones will be used.  While I have doubts this will actually be stuck to, I will (in the interest of attempting to save money and general laziness) stick around for another month.  Lviv is a good place to drop two months.

I'm going to also work on doing some research this month.  That is the one sucky thing about Europe - more research is needed.  It's not like you can just drop into a place and say "What do you have for $10?"  The answer might be 'nothing at all'.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

If you are going to a party, be sure to have an escape route planned.  After a couple hours of listening to a language you don't understand (nobody will translate for you - plan on that) it will be time to escape.


In doing my research on Romania (my possible next stop after Ukraine) it struck me that if someone had the money to drop $25-$35 per night for guest houses and such, it would be nifty to go on a train or car tour of the country for a couple months.



COSTS (Still in Lviv, Ukraine)

A $25 to $50 (anywhere sane) pair of sandals, $125.  Not kidding.  Pretty much anything imported (shoes, clothing, etc) is completely insane in the prices - but you can still get a nice $2 bottle of local wine.


Apartment agency:  For three months and shorter rental term, 50% of the price of the apartment.  For longer term, 100% the rental price.  In other words, if you want a $200 per month place for a month and they find you one, their fee is $100.  I found that on the WTF side of unacceptable.  In Bulgaria it was something like $30.  No clue what's up with the high price.

Friday, May 6, 2016

DRUG QUEST

DRUG QUEST

There is nothing so boring as long winded 'oh this is all the shit wrong with me'.  Honestly, nobody cares.  Not even your doctor and he is paid to care.   [Old people talk about this partially because it is on their minds a lot and partially because they have nothing else going on in their lives.  Pity them before you push them into oncoming traffic or pelt them with donuts.]

I'm not going to bother telling you what is wrong with me, just the medical story because it could help someone.

The other day I was in the rheumatology department of the 'railway hospital' (described in a previous blog).  The opthamologist who had seen me then took me through that huge maze of a building over to see the nice lady after the wait of an hour.  Not bad for no appointment.

She prescribed a new medicine for me.  I had specified that I wanted something easy to get.  The other medicine had the effect on pharmacists of saying I needed to get laid, do they have any rohypnol in large sizes I could get?  She assured me the new medicine would be easy to get.

So I went on what I think of as 'drug quest'.  Totally different than what most people think of as 'drug quest'.

What nice scenery!

It appears I had forgotten to specify 'cheap' within my criteria.  The pill comes out to a bit over $1 per dose.  Considering I take five different ones daily (read as 'cocktail' just for the romance of 'drug cocktail') this is freakishly high.

Especially in Ukraine.

But not for this drug and sex fiend!

Considering how little money I deal with, I needed to find something cheaper.

Back to the lovely internet to find out what the generic is.  Found it and the next day went back out on the streets.

Less of this drug than Charley Sheen's virtue.  Could not find any of it.  Was told that it didn't exist within Ukraine.  Possibly anywhere else for that matter.

Not good.

Back to the maze.  Hospital.  Maze hospital.  Surprised that I don't come across parties of survivors looking for the exit, lost for years within it.

You can now play your own game of 'find the doctor'.  Good luck!

Approaching it in typically Logan fashion, I just found someone in a white coat and showed them my phone saying I was looking for the rheumatology department.  Eventually, a native guide was provided and they took me up several floors so that we could go down several floors later.

They pointed it out and I burst in to the doctors' office playing the crazy photographer from the movie Apocalypse Now.

"I'm an American!"

The poor doctor was one third curious, one third taken aback and the rest wishing they had hospital security.

I never did convince him I wasn't insane but he did give me a new medicine name after several bad translations on the phone and even guided me back out of the building.

Of course, the next two pharmacies I hit only had one packet each of the tablets I need but it's down to about a dollar for ten doses.  I can live with that.

Tomorrow is 'drug quest' day!



ARTEMIS FOWL (audio book series)

This one kind of snuck up on me. It didn't seem like something I'd like but I kept finding reasons to keep listening.

Essentially, the plot boils down to a couple of things -

The protagonist is twelve years old. And an evil genius.

Also, fairies and such exist.

I'm not going to go into everything (no spoilers) but I've come to like the characters.

Also, unlike pretty much every book series out there, the main character is not purely reactionary until the wrap. This guy makes plans and carries them out. Good plans. Obviously, we the readers don't get to find out all of the plans until they happen in order to keep some suspense and such but it is refreshing not to have a protagonist that just reacts all the time to stimuli.

I'd put it down as a quirky, fun series. Currently, I'd rate this as a very strong 6/10 - possibly a weakish 7/10. I enjoyed books two and three more than the first.

Still listening to the series.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Due to it's connection with the old pagan religions and their moon cycles, Easter is celebrated on different dates in different years.  Also, Orthodox Christians seem to have a totally different Easter than their western counterparts.  Were one so inclined, Easter could be celebrated twice yearly.  For the traveler, this makes all the usual problems with transportation and finding cheap places to stay.  To compound the problem, Easter is two to three days (depending on the person and what kind of job they have) long.  This results in the usual shop closures and such.  Though many are still open, it would be wise to stock up and hunker down for a week before and after the three day long holiday and just observe the festivities.


On dealing with moms and such here:  It may often feel very uncomfortable having someone who will come in to your residence, clean it, cook for you and so on.  Be advised that there is nothing you can do to alter what will happen.  The best you can do is to thank them graciously.  Saying things like "that is not necessary" will be completely brushed aside.  Buy nice wine and share it with them - that is pretty much all you can do.  Trying to avoid a meal or cleaning will result in bafflement or their taking offence - and the end result will still be the same.  Trying to get out of being taken care of (hospitality) would violate local mores/folkways, hence should be avoided.  A good example (for men) is that the men typically go to a different location (outside, different room) to drink and chat while women do the dishes and clean up after a meal.  For a man to volunteer in such 'women's work' (NOT Logan's term) would be seen at the least as odd, at worse as believing them incapable of performing simple tasks.  Hence, it is just better to thank the women for the meal and head off with the men if you are male.  As a woman I am unsure if you would be allowed to clean but you could probably managed to at least sit in the 'women's room' and chat with them while they are doing it.  Offering to help as a woman might be appropriate but I am uncertain on this.  [Does Logan always approach other cultures like an anthropologist/sociologist/psychologist?  If it helps me to not stick out too badly, make too many blunders or insult/offend my hosts - yes.]



TEMPEST AND THE PLAGUE, A NERO STORY

(A short story in the NERO LARP)

Everyone sometimes has a 'John Wayne' day.

 Not sure why it's called that but every packet hits and the incants just flow.

Lumsie was traveling through some woods, got jumped by half a dozen ogres and shocked everyone (himself most of all) by having a John Wayne day. Taints for everyone. Taint's all around. A taint for yer taint - you get the idea.

The problem was that Lumsie only carried a dagger (the Squid of Horribleness) and beating down an ogre took longer than rubbing one out and is a lot less rewarding.

So a bunch of tainted ogres were wandering through the woods, throwing up.

At this point, Tempest the Dragon shows up and suspiciously asks his party necromancer (and healer) what happened.

"Plague!" Lumsie responded.

"Plague?" demanded Tempest.

"Oh, real sudden like! Best I should go before I catch it!" And Lumsie slowly hurried off leaving Tempest glaring.



COSTS

McDonald's - every now and then I need a jolt of moderately crappy food and nationalistic shame so I hit the local 'Micky D's'.  In Lviv Ukraine at the time of this writing (May 2, 2016) the price for a complete meal with extra burger is just under 100 UAH.  That's about $4.  Half or so of the usual price.  I suspect that due to the local currency taking a nose dive, they had to cut the price (or keep it the same in UAH) just to keep the doors open.  Cheapest meal I've had at McD's for years.


PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

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