Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SARANDA, ALBANIA

APARTMENT RENTAL STORY

Went out wandering around for a couple hours and happened upon a 'tourist information' store.

Although these are actually usually places to get gullible tourists to just buy whatever is on their shelves, I said 'what the heck'.

Sadly, I had a question that was outside their norm (as Logan often does) and wanted to know where I could find rental property or a real estate agent.  Surprisingly, they knew of one and sent me there.

After the guy had made a few calls, he announced he could not find anything in the 250 euro range I had asked for, 300 euros is the absolute minimum.

I bid him good day and went back to my hotel room.  It is ten euros per night and includes wifi and even a little refrigerator.  Now, I have complete flexibility.

The only small warning light is the lady won't give a receipt for the money.  Doesn't the government make you?  This inquiry caused her to give me the 'what the government doesn't know won't hurt me' look so I just told her that I would be paying every day.

When I asked about laundry, I was told it would be free.

In my opinion, free laundry is not only a very cool thing to do for the guests, but it encourages them to stay longer.  Since I've rarely traveled to places which use mechanical clothes dryers, the clothing is sun dried.  This takes time and gets another day (or more) of people staying.



MUSINGS

Coming into a new town in a new country is often an unusual situation.

One of the first things I try to do is set up some sort of routine for myself.  For people looking at my lifestyle, this might seem to be an unusual thing.  How can someone who is constantly on the move have any sort of routine.

Perhaps routines lend some sort of internal stability.  Certain routines also aid with personal and gear safety.

Many of my personal routines are often the same everywhere I go.  Always take my day bag out with me.  Always wear my money pouch under my clothing.  Always make sure my day wallet has money for just the day in it.  Make sure my gear is locked up as well as the security - or lack thereof where I am staying seems to demand.

Other routines change wildly.  Where, what and how often I eat - for example.  In warmer climates, one meal may suffice.  Perhaps just some sort of bread (or cheesy bread, tag Travis Powell - yeah, that gag never gets old) for breakfast then a late meal then some sort of late night snack may suffice.  In colder climates, I've found I (unfortunately) tend to eat more.  Perhaps my body thinks it is time to hibernate.

In this latest town, I'm still working on finding my new routines.

Not sure how long I will be here.  I spoke to the landlady asking if I rented for a longer time if the price could come down.  She spoke of how much electricity costs for a month.  Apparently, not having a renter at all might be cheaper.  I don't know much about business but that sounds odd to me.

The place I'm staying in now is $450 per month.  It's a bit above what I normally try to get - $300 per month but it is very comfortable.  With the exception of the bathroom (Eastern Europe doesn't really get plumbing) it is a pretty professional hotel room.   My current plan is to try to stay here at least a month.

Although Corfu (Greece) is really close it looks like it would be a pretty expensive day trip for me, probably needing to drop $100 per day there.

I'm still working on making loose plans for heading back up the twisting winding bumpy roads back up north to take a ferry (ug) to Italy.  My guess is that I would need to just cut through it but if I can find a place in Naples cheap enough to rent, that is a possibility.  After that, onward to Tunisia.

My guess is that Tunisia is much like Albania in that while the internet shows nothing cheap, cheap places can be found once I get there.



THOUGHTS ON SARANDA

I'm in a weird part of town.

The bus (read as painfully cramped mini-van) dropped me off across the street from where I'm staying.  There isn't a real 'bus station' here.

The hotel doesn't really look like a hotel from the outside.  In fact, it looks like a cafe.

A cafe where at least half the people aren't sitting at the tables.  They were lounging around stairs and such.  There was even a dice game going on.

From what I've been able to gather, this is where the 'day laborers' of the town wait for jobs.

Not sure what made me pick this place - it was just a hunch, intuition or something.  Glad I got it as inside the room itself it is nice.

As many of the places I've stayed, this place probably isn't appropriate for a pretty girl to stay but being the polar opposite, I'm fine.

In the previous town, the kids of the owner (and nieces, nephews and such) were instrumental in translating.  Here, I don't have that.  My landlady speaks extremely basic English and less if I want to negotiate a lower room rate.

The only person yet found here who speaks decent English is one of the day laborers.  His English rapidly deteriorated to "I love America" and requests for a cigarette as he became staggeringly drunk off a single two liter of beer.

You can tell a lot about the people you are talking to if you pay attention to other natives microexpressions when they look at the person.  Their expressions told me pity and 'gosh we're sorry he's the only person who speaks English'.

Overall, I'm having less fun here than in the previous town (Berat) because I've not yet found anyone cool who wants to hang out and talk in a language I understand yet.  Perhaps later.  Note that I don't think it is their responsibility to speak English (or German) - it is my fault I don't speak Albanian.

But I am a bit surprised that in the main tourist town in a country I've been told the number two language is English not to find more people who actually speak English.



OTHER PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS ON LOGAN'S VOYAGE

"I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined!" - Lord John Worfin.



VIDEO

Albania, Berat



Saturday, September 13, 2014

BERAT, ALBANIA

ALBANIA THE LOGAN INTRODUCTION

Before arriving here, I knew only two things about Albania.  One was they had mentioned it in the movie "Wag the Dog".  The other was they might have 'cheap Italian food' here.

That's about it.

As long time readers know, I scoff at studying a country before I arrive, preferring to learn as I go.  For the people who can rattle off lots of facts about places and listen endlessly to tour guides, lets give them a written test in six months to see how much of that they've retained.  Although there will be some freaks who actually remember it the words 'fleeting entertainment' apply to most.

Hence, I prefer just to show up and shamble around the country to get a feel for it.  Make some friends, have some drinks, smoke some cigarettes.  It's a good time that others.  Sadly, I often forget what city I'm in.  Sometimes I forget what country I'm in.  I may have Alzheimer's - don't remember.

So, unlike other travel blogs, I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of facts and dates you'll forget right away.  Lets just say that like lots of other countries (maybe all) in Europe, Albania is built on the ruins of 'excessively old' civilizations.  There is a 'crap ton' of history here.

They use to be in the USSR and have lots of the old fashioned USSR housing around.  I refer to that sort of architecture as 'shit box'.  Although the insides may be elaborate and beautiful, the outsides always look...  Well...

I'd heard the concrete prefab apartments the USSR littered (and I do mean littered) Europe with were meant to be temporary until they could figure out how to build something that sucked less.

Of course, this brings to mind the immortal words of Milton Friedman who said "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program."

Sadly, over fifty years of keeping people in the country they wanted them in just wasn't enough time to build more attractive buildings hence today, people still live in the old ones.


From a short time here, I am discovering a very warm giving people.

The host of the guesthouse I am staying at brought out the rakia (alcohol) and we did several shots and chatted with the translation help from his teenage daughter.

The next night, I retaliated by purchasing a couple bottles of wine, so that the owner's wife could also drink with us as she doesn't like rakia.  So, it became a full fledged party with him, his wife, his mother, his daughter, her friend and cousin.

Then the cousin (who became the new translator) the owner and I moved down to the bar.  Many bottles of wine were consumed.

It was an extraordinary fun experience I felt grateful to have.



HOW TO SPEAK ENGLISH TO PEOPLE WHO DON'T SPEAK IT WELL

A lot of these things will sound very obvious but after listening to hundreds of tourists attempting to communicate with locals, it is obvious that they are not.



HOW TO SPEAK ENGLISH TO PEOPLE WHO DON'T SPEAK IT WELL

A lot of these things will sound very obvious but after listening to hundreds of tourists attempting to communicate with locals, it is obvious that they are not. Remember that even in countries where English is taught to kids, the kids don't get to practice with locals and are often taught by locals.

I've spoken to a few 'English teachers' that I had difficulty communicating with due to their strong accents and misuse of words. Hiring locals is cheaper than native speakers.

 Of course, learning the local language or hiring a guide is better but if you are lazy and poor like me, there are some easy workarounds.

1. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)  Don't use more words than needed. Use simple words. Instead of 'Excuse me sir, where is the main bus station?' a small bow and smile with "Bus station?" works better.

2. Simple mime is your friend. Shading your eyes and extravagantly looking around is easier than attempting to explain 'seeking', even if you think you are Harry Potter.

3. Avoid slang and colloquialisms. "Hey, how you doin'? OK?" is likely to result in confusion. "Hello! Good?" is a better.

4. Avoid swearing. "That was a fucking good meal!" will likely result in insult or confusion. Telling someone "That is great shit!" means you are saying whatever it was is poop. If the person is young and has seen enough movies from the USA, they may realize that the words are merely intensifiers.

5. Make it fun. Remember, it is your fault you don't speak the language of whatever country you are in. Make people interested in helping you by doing some fun pantomime. For example, if I want cow, I always make horns with my fingers and make a loud 'mooo!' noise. If you can pull a silly facial expression while doing it, that's extra points. This is often the difference between people wanting to help you and admitting defeat by shutting down, becoming disinterested and muttering "No English."

If you follow these simple guidelines, speaking with the locals will be more fun and informative for both of you.



COSTS

Room in guesthouse with own bathroom, $15
Espresso (the further you move from the pedestrian zone, the larger the cups), .50
Average meal with drinks, $6
Bottle of pretty darned good wine, $4

Thursday, September 11, 2014

ALBANIAN SYNCHRONICITY

Warning:  There is a picture of a cock in this blog.  If it offends you, think of it as less offensive because a douche is holding it.  If that still offends you, why the fuck do you read my blog?  I mean, seriously - there was an article called 'Africa and the dead hooker problem'.  Also, if you are under eighteen and reading this, your parents are either unaware you are reading it or they are bad parents.



EXPECTATIONS VS REALITY

Walked my fat ass over to "Panorama", possibly one of the most famous restaurants in Ohrid.  A couple guys at a nearby table were giving me the 'WTF' look as a series of waiters came to greet me topped off by the acting manager.

In Macedonia, you get a warm welcome.

(Note, the above phrase is copyrighted by Logan so the Macedonian tourist association can just figure out how to get me a 'show up whenever you want and stay for as long as you wish' visa in trade for it.)

As the lunch progresses, I ask Risto (the brother of the manager who is currently running the place) if I get a bus from the station a couple blocks away from the restaurant to Albania.  Of course - and here is the head of the bus stations in Ohrid!

Cool.  The head honcho makes a couple phone calls to where I do not know and information is given.

Double checking the information you've been given often prevents the 'Dildo of Disappointment' from taking you up the 'ole chocolate whizway of sadness' later.

The bus station employees told me, no.  You can't get to there from here.  You have to take a ($1) bus to a different town (Struga) further around the lake toward Albania.  Yes, they did indeed recognize the guy's name but gave me the 'Regardless of who you are or know, you can't get to there from here.'

From there, it should be possible to get a bus to Albania.

Within the next couple days, I'm going to get a bus to go into Struga for lunch and have a chat with the folks at their bus station.


The next day I indeed went to Struga.  To get there you can either take a bus at 50d (40d to get back - why?  Who the hell knows) or a shared taxi for 50d each (must have five people) or rent your own taxi for 500d.  Yes, it should be 250d but the guy thought "This person dressed in ill fitting odd clothing must be rich!"

When I was going up there I ended up taking the front seat away from some thin girl who was pretty huffy about it.  I can't do back seats well.  She seemed embarrassed about being huffy when I paid for her ride when we got there.  It's not about the money - it's about fitting into the damned vehicle.

Struga was a slightly less pretty version of Ohrid.  Not bad, still had the beach setting but nothing to really write home about.  Or you guys.

Found out the bus was far from the '20 euros' I had been told at Panorama.  To get to Durres (obviously a Klingon city) would cost me either 650d if I leave early (9:30a) in the morning or 800d if I go a bit after noon.  Different companies, different prices.  Buying on the day of the trip is not a problem.  Since I'm going to be passing on from Durres to Berat getting up early in the morning (groan) is probably a better idea.

Arriving after nightfall sucks.



LEG DAY

Was chatting with one of the young (16 year old) guys who works at a restaurant I frequent named Petar.

Told him about the extremely muscular guy with the toothpick legs I saw.

Logan:  "You can't miss 'leg day'!"
Petar:  "You can't have 'legendary' without the 'leg'!"

Wow!  That would be excellent if English was his first language!



ALBANIA PLANS

After more research Albania is starting to look like this:

Struga (Macedonia) to Durres (Albaia).   Should be 2.5 hours + the border.

Since Durres doesn't seem to have any cheap places to stay, immediately hop the bus to Berat.  This will be the first place I can stay.  It looks to be a bit more expensive in Berat than the next two places (why?) but doable.

Berat to Gjirokaster to Sarande to Unknown.



AFTER ALBANIA PLANS

Hum.  Trying to figure out where to flee to and hide for a few months during the winter.

My guess is that I will be in Albania during September and October.  After that, it will probably get cold.  And, fuck cold.  Had enough cold in my life.  Happy to sweat instead.

November, December, January and February.  These are the four months I'd like to hide out.

It is tempting to go back to northern Africa.  Morocco was so so hence not in a hurry to go back there.  According to Wikitravel, Tunisia is very cheap but all of the computer literate people who advertise on Hostelbookers (etc) have expensive rooms.   I'd like to do Egypt but they are...having issues there.  Not sure when the region will stabilize.

Not sure if it would work but something beginning to percolate through my mind is a 'Mediterranean Caper' where instead of flying I take ferries.  Albania to Italy.  Italy to Malta.  Malta to Tunisia.  The only thing I'm not sure on is the cost.  Clearly, more research will need to be done.  If I can find a way to do it (possibly along with renting a cheap place in southern Italy for a month or two) that would be super.  This would leave me in Europe for another season.



And now, we take a brief intermission to bash on Justin Bieber, completely unnecessarily.  



JUSTIN BIEBER

Fortunately, I've never heard any of his music.  Having left the USA a few years ago and not watching TV or listening to radio have protected me from this trauma.

But I do enjoy viewing some of the evil memes people have put up about him.  Here they are...






Hell, they even form a story!  Amazing.


If you think my blog is 'safe for work', you've probably got a good job.  Enjoy!



And now, through the magic of the internet (not porn) we take you live (live-ish) to Albania!



ALBANIAN SYNCHRONICITY

If you are tired at reading about the strange lucky things that happen to Logan, just click on the word 'Synchronicity' above for an outstanding song by the Police.

After saying sad goodbyes to Spase, I got a cab to Struga (350d).  From there, the bus (650d) eventually arrived a bit over a half hour late.  A student from Japan thought it was very amusing the locals showed up late to get the bus.  Everyone knew it would show up late.  In his home country, transport is on time...

Nobody came out to check the passengers of the bus as we crossed the border out of Macedonia.  Entering Albania, a border guard was on the bus just long enough to assure himself that nobody was disguised as Fidel Castro holding a rocket launcher.

Sadly, I couldn't find a picture of Fidel holding a rocket launcher.

Fortunately, I did find this toy that looks a lot like him and comes with it's own rocket launcher.

Inexplicably, the bus decided to stop just inside the Albanian border.  Because I am freakishly outgoing, I struck up a conversation with a young Albanian woman who discovered I was headed to Berat.  "That's my town!"  Turns out she was headed that way too.  Rather than going the way I thought I needed to, she invited me to 'follow her' and get a more direct route.

Synchronicity.

We got off the bus in pretty much the middle of nowhere (some village) and waited for the Albanian equivalent of a 'marshrutka' - a van that gets packed with people.

She turned down several people who offered cab rides because she didn't trust them.  I was grateful she decided to trust me so quickly.

After reaching Berat, she left the vehicle.  I continued on to a random location within the town then disembarked.  Within one minute I had found a place to stay (10 euro, my own room) with a market across the street, a restaurant next door and a quiet bar downstairs.

Synchronicity.

Hell, even the internet I am making this blog on is part of the great luck streak.  Someone has some unsecured wifi I am piggybacking in on.

Even though I don't like the room much (nobody outside of westernized countries really has figured out the bathroom, it seems) I may stay here for a few more days.  The owners are super nice people and I've already been invited to drink half a dozen shots of rakia with them.  It freaks out the locals just how much of this stuff I can actually put away.  After that much, they were done.  I thought "Good start but I want to go make my blog now."

Today it is rainy and I am pretty exhausted.  Rather than go out tonight (nighttime is when the CHUD's come out) I will go explore tomorrow.

Here's hoping everyone who reads this experiences some positive synchronicity in their lives!



VIDEO

Brief look at a back road in Macedonia.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BESTIALITY

STORY TIME

The tribesman sat and listened to the Outsider through the translator.  Bright eyes shown out through faces darkened like the nuts of the Coula tree by the harsh suns.

"We take water, clean water." said the Outsider through the translator.  "So clean that it would taste odd to you but it would be safe for even your babies or old men to drink.  We place it into the vessel.  The vessel is more white than the most white clouds in the sky."

The outsider gestured upward but the sky was pale blue, an unrelenting sun have burned off the clouds soon after rising.

Fascinated, the tribesmen leaned forward.  The bravest of them all, the chief asked "And what do you do?"

"We shit in it."

After a stunned silence, the chief leaned toward his brother and muttered, "What an asshole."


Except from "The Book of Logan", volume 8, Logan describes flush toilets to tribesmen.



A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BESTIALITY

And now from the guys who are copying the "Time Life" book idea despite the internet, a new book series -

Coffee Table Books

Every month, you'll receive a new book including such titles as:

"A Beginners Guide To Bestiality"
"Necrophilia - How Old Is Too Old?"
"How To Cook Meth" combined with "Rebuilding Your Home After An Explosion"
"How To Dispose of a Fresh Corpse"
"How To Hotwire the Space Shuttle"
"How To Host A Tailgating Party From the Space Shuttle"
"How To Avoid the USA Government - The Snowden Way"
"Stealing Cattle For Fun And Profit" combined with "Chop Shops For Cattle - How To Find Them"
"Satan Lives In The Toilet" - a young children's guide to getting them to poop.
"It Scares The Shit Out Of Them!" - adult's guide to SLITT.
"Moist And Other Words Women Love"
"Committing Suicide - The Robin Williams Way!"
"Eat A Dick" - By Chris C.  (This is his followup to the book "Women Are Junk")
"How To Not Stress Out Before Giving A Panel On Writing" - By Jim G.
"A Is For Assrape - A Guide To The American Penal System"

If you choose to keep the volume, enclose just $19.95 in the return envelope.  Should you choose to return the volume, you pay only the shipping and handling of $19.95.



GOODBYE ROBIN
On a completely unrelated note, rest in peace, Robin Williams.



FAIRY TALE

Once upon a time, a wicked witch put a curse on a young princess.

"She shall lie as though dead until a prince shall come and kiss her."

Unfortunately, the only kind of princes that go around kissing women who look dead are 'princes of necrophilia'.

Ladies, men who molest corpses they find in the woods do not good husbands make.

Especially, if like the prince who found the young princess, they carry a gimp mask.

She was never...well...kissed, at any rate.



ALBANIA - FIRST GLANCE

Because there are people who are interested in such things, I'm putting my rough research notes here on research into Albania.

As usual, my first stop is Wikitravel.  Unless otherwise noted, any quote is from there.


For citizens of the USA, no visa is required for 90 days.  I'll probably be there two months (possibly a tick more) because
And,

Since I'm neither rich nor cool enough to do winter in Hawaii, I will have to find somewhere closer - and cheaper to 'do winter'.   Going to stay in either southern Europe or perhaps northern Africa.


Back to Albania...

Pretty much everyone I've spoken to on Albania agrees that the south is nice, the north is bad - and potentially dangerous.  Because of my current location and potential next locations, south works out.

"There is a €1 road tax for the first 60 days of your stay. For every additional day it is €1 per day. Be sure to receive a receipt and keep it with you, as guards may request it upon exiting the country as proof of payment. The former €10 entrance fee per person has been abolished. The Albania guards are very nice and do their best to help out and will, on occasion, allow fees to be paid in dollars or will forget to charge you. It's worth making sure you've got the Euros on you..."

Logan:  OK.  Get a receipt and be sure to keep it.  Note that in some countries, if you don't pay something (ludicrous) like the 'road tax' and have the receipt, you get charged the 'per day'.  Hence it could go up from 1€ to 60€ quick.  That is a receipt that goes into my passport and stays there until I leave the country.  This is one of those 'taxes' I'd personally abolish for tourists.  "KISS" as they say.

They also have additional 'taxes' for using the airport, going into the city center and presumably the bathroom.  Since I'm going to be going in from the Macedonian border, I should be able to avoid that crap.

Looking at the map,
I do see that I am tantalizingly close to both Greece and the boot of Italy.
Unfortunately, I know the answer to the above question and that may just keep me out of both.

Judging by the bus prices they list for other destinations on Wikitravel, it should cost me under $10 to get from Ohrid into Albania and less than six hours.  Which is one of the reasons I decided to stay in this area - easy egress.


Where to hang out?

This statement caught my eye:

"In Gjirokaster you can buy a bus ticket to Athens, Greece or anywhere in between. The buses are new, cheap, air conditioned, and stop along the way at some service stations."

This might mean that the town - which I have no clue how to pronounce might be a good place for me to spend some time.  Maybe a quick in and out field trip into Greece.  Not sure.  Something to consider.

Another statement: "Ferries from Corfu to Saranda every day."

Note that Sarandra and the town I will never be able to spell, Gjirokaster, seem to be pretty close together.

Skipping over to the entry on Sarandra, I read the depressing statement "Saranda is characterized by a Mediterranean climate and warm sea waters. Saranda typically has over 300 sunny days a year. Due to its location and warm weather Saranda is one of the most attractive tourist towns on the Albanian Riviera, where honeymooners traditionally spend their holidays."  Read as "This is probably the expensive bit."  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by reading of some 10 euro dorm accommodations.  Possibly cheaper as I'll be going in the off season.  I hope.  When staying in a hostel, I will again be looking for my next apartment.

It also mentions that to go to the Greek island of Corfu it is about $50 round trip.  Prices seem to be about double there but it might be good to go for a couple days, not sure.  Would have to do more research.

[Yeah, I know if I was a productive member of society money would not be such a limiting factor but since I am essentially a vagrant, it is.  I'm ok with that.]

A quick read through of some of the towns gave me this information:
The stuff with '?' seemed to be of limited interest.  Not a lot of places to stay, not a lot of tourist stuff listed, that sort of thing.  The places underlined seemed of more interest.

Given how I live however, it seems that anywhere with wifi would be just fine for me.

There could be a problem with getting to see Berat - if the map above is at all accurate, it's a lot of long looping roads (many of which I've read are unpaved) to get there.  Given that wikitravel says "In 2008 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. It is one of the country's most beautiful towns, and is known as the 'town of a thousand windows.'", it sounds as though it may be a shame to miss it.  Hence, I'll have to do more research.

The route may end up going something like this:

The problem (again) is that the areas I want to possibly stay in are near the end of the route.  This presents the possible problem of needing to backtrack if I find an area I like better along the way.  Fortunately, Albania is not a huge country.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EUROPE AND USA

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EUROPE AND USA

There are a lot of differences between Europe and the USA. For example Americans pay ten to twenty percent less in taxes than other developed countries.  Of course, you don't see that in your bank account but you will be crippled financially for decades due to student loan payments and medical bills.  But best not to talk about that...
...and move on to something lighter.



INSECTS

There seem to be a lot less of them in Europe.  The average European doesn't have - nor need - screens on their windows and doors.  This is slowly changing as screens are making their way into Europe.

To give an example, in the USA if you look at any random street light at night, you will find insects teeming around it.  Not so in Europe.

My personal belief is possibly the slaying of the indigenous population left us with some sort of curse.

Not sure what more we can do for the survivors - we have named several sports teams after them...

...And even gave them casinos...

I mean, what more could people want?  Well, other than not being slaughtered.

My god, this gif can get annoying.  On to the next thing...



ELECTRIC KETTLE

Believe it or not, I had to go to England to see one of these.  Really.

They just don't have them in America.  Instead, we have
Yep.  This blurry shitty picture is the best I could find.  'Merica!  And Logan's laziness.  Laziness is indeed a stereotype of Americans.

It seems to baffle Europeans that people in the USA don't own electric kettles.  "How do you heat water?" I have been asked on numerous occasions.

When I moved in to my apartment in Macedonia, the kind people I rented it from made sure the apartment had a comfortable rolling chair for my ever widening ass and...and electric kettle.  I'd asked for a microwave which baffled them.  I was warned that I would become sick (and possibly die) if I used it overly much.  "If that were true, most of America would have already died." I retorted.

After having lived in Europe for a year or two (?) I would say that if you drink instant coffee or tea, an electric kettle is indispensable.   It heats up water faster than the stove will and I've heard that some advanced models even have a 'keep the water warm' setting.  Honestly though it heats up fast enough you really don't need that.



PHARMACIES
In the USA, especially if you have medical insurance, you go to the doctor if you think something is wrong.  Within Europe you go to the doctor if you think something is severely wrong or you are dying.

Instead of going to the doctor, you go to the pharmacy.   In the USA, it seems you need a prescription for almost everything.  For example, I take medicine for high blood pressure, muscle relaxants and for my ankylosing spondylitis.  A prescription is needed for all five medicines, which entails an expensive and time consuming doctor visit.  Every other country I've been to - including all the European nations I have visited - all these drugs are over the counter.  Although I've chosen to go to a doctor to have the prescriptions verified from time to time, it is not obligatory.



WASHING MACHINES

Coming from the land of top loading washing machines, the front loader is one of the most baffling things about Europe.

These are a huge pain in the ass.

When the machine is running, the door automatically locks to keep you from opening it and spilling a couple of liters of hot, soapy water onto your floor.

While this may sound reasonable in principle, it is one of the worst designs I've ever seen.

Often the door decides to stay locked until it feels like opening.  If ever.

With the top loader, you can open it whenever you want without the risk of a foot bath and burn.  The machine merely stops whatever it was doing.

Forget to add some socks?  No problem with a top loader - just open it up and toss them in there.  Front loader?  Too bad.  Maybe you can get it open but you feel a bit like...
...you're trying to crack a safe.  In fact, I've had an easier time getting into a couple of safes than some of these front loaders.

So why do Europeans use them?  According to some sources, they do a better job, use less water and detract less from counter space when installed in the kitchen and are more gentle on clothing.

From my perspective, using the top loader is much easier, therefore better.  See American stereotypes above.



PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Having lived in five different states within the USA (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska and Virginia) I would have to say "Public transportation in the USA sucks donkey cock."

Within Europe, public transportation is easy to use.  Buses, streetcars, subways, bike paths and so on.

America, not so much.   Women see men who don't own a car as a loser.  Corporations also want you to drive and are not above evil means to make that happen.  Lots of places in the USA don't have adequate public transportation and unless you own a car, keeping a job won't happen.

Don't get me wrong, plenty of people in Europe own cars but public transportation is a viable option.  Heck, you can even travel across Europe using public transportation.



FURTHER READING

I thought this article was an interesting read.  Disclaimer:  No, I am not trying to get anyone to move anywhere.  Honestly, I don't care where you live.  It would make me happy if more people from the USA left it to travel extensively and see some of the world.  It opens doors in your mind you did not know were there.



FOR PEOPLE NOT FROM AMERICA

Do not be discouraged by my views on the differences.  Although Winston Churchill said “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule to never criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home.”, I am not planning on living in the USA any more so have to do it from abroad.


For Europeans planning on visiting the USA, here are five recommendations.

First - unless you are wealthy, you'll want to travel in a group of two to four people to reduce costs.  I recommend renting a vehicle large enough to sleep in as most of America hasn't really figured out the whole 'hostel' thing yet.  Hotels are freakishly expensive.  They have showers at some rest stops and you can get your own camp showers.
Yeah, it sucks but it beats blowing a hundred dollars a night for a hotel.



Second - when you go to a restaurant, have only one person order food and the other share with them.  Seriously - you will get at least double the portions and can feed two, maybe three people from one order.  This will help you save money.  Remember, unless you tip at least 15% to 25% or make sure you never go to that restaurant again.  Unless you like steak seasoned with ass.  The movie Waiting will show some of the dreadful things that can happen should you run afoul the staff of a restaurant.



Third - be sure to visit the 'hick'/'redneck' states.  I did a search on the internet to try to get a good map of which states are included in this.  The best I could find was this map:
I have no idea why the 'most religious states' are those most closely associated with hick/redneck culture.

But if you want to watch people race lawnmowers (yes), go noodling, attend tailgating parties, get to see an individual's closet full of guns and meet some really unique people...
...you owe it to yourself to go there.



Fourth, the USA is frigging huge.
While you don't need to plan out how long to spend at each location (don't recommend it either) I do recommend coming up with some sort of route.  This can make it much more probable you will hit all of the things you want to see.



Lastly, be sure to speak with people outside your group.  If you are looking for...intimate companionship, know that Americans love foreign accents.  Except Mexican.  There we have a bit of racism.  But if you are from Europe especially countries Americans get excited about the thought of visiting (not actually visiting, just the thought of it) such as France, Switzerland, etc you will find 'picking someone up' (ie one night stands aka quick sex aka bonk bonk vroom vroom...  Hopefully, you get the idea) much easier than a local.  Play up on your 'being exotic'.  Enjoy.



WEIRD SHIT AND MEMES

Be careful what you type in.  Notice that 'lobbyists' fails to appear?  Was Google bribed by one?  If only the aliens had paid up!


Know your Gods!

What an amazing sight to come home to every day.


There is some of that in this fucking blog.

Because 'Merican!

Wish I'd found this for my previous blog.  It could have used more casual racism.

But not this much.  Way over the line here.  Note, if I still have any fans of Asian ancestry, be sure to write in and tell me how much you love this blog.  Despite me.

Lastly, this reminds me of my good friend Chris C.  He use to have a profound skill in projectile vomiting.  Also, this blog may cause some people to do this.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GLAD MY SHOWS PRODUCER WASN'T AROUND

ABSENT PRODUCER

Today was one of the few days I was happy my shows' producer wasn't around.  If I had a show, or a producer it would have gotten awkward.

Producers like to put all sorts of stuff on the air.  Especially if it is awkward.  Especially if it is a rotund man in his underwear doing laundry.

Note that 'rotund' in this case is an American word meaning 'rounded' or 'fat'.  The rest of the world would have seen the show and said "Let me guess - there were co-stars but he ate them?"  In 'Merica we have a different set of values.

As they do in the rest of the world with regards to fixing things.

Anything dealing with water - right or wrong - in most of the world comes within the purview of the plumber.  Including washing machines.

If there are any actual professional plumbers within Eastern Europe, I have neither seen nor heard of them within the two years of living there.  It is always 'the guy'.  An acquaintance or friend who knows something about it and has a toolbox dating back to the Hittites.

The repairmen are always 'motivated amateurs'.  Their amount of motivation depends solely upon how well they know the person the repairs are being done for.

There are no professional plumbers because nobody pays for them - possibly due to having no money.

As a result, the house may be immaculate but the water works in the bathroom are always suspicious at best, a ticking time bomb at worst.

Because of this, one needs to have the skills to be able to clean their clothing while the washing machine is broken.  As it often will be.

Which brings me back to washing clothing in my underwear.

Because this is an ancient and secret skill I wanted to share it with you.



PREPARATION

Lock up your dwelling tight.  Draw curtains over the windows.  As you will be doing this naked or nearly naked, it is best not to give the neighbors too much of a peep show.  Unless that is your thing.

Turn off or disconnect all phones.  If you are the type of person who cannot live with their cell phone on at all times, put one kilogram of uncooked white rice into a large, covered container.  Place well out of the way.

At minimum, you will need one large bowl capable of holding all of your clothing.  Additional bowls of the same size makes the procedure easier.

Have a drying rack set up.  Note that at minimum you will have three hundred milliliters of water drip onto the area under the drying rack.  Placing the drying rack over carpeted area or baby's crib is not recommended.

Carefully fill one container with water and a little laundry soap.  Since your washing machine is quite obviously broken, you should have plenty of laundry soap sitting around not doing anything.

Get naked.

Carefully wash the clothing in the container with the soap.  Toss wet clothing in the sink.  Curse at Logan for being a slob and having a dirty sink.

Note how much water splashes over your naked body.

Good.

Yes.  Just like that.

....

After washing all of the clothing, transfer the wet garments into the now empty bowl.  Begin rincing the clothing.

Wring it out as well as you can.

Note, it will never be good enough.

Think of the wringing out as strength training for your hands and arms.

Note, if you are Arnold Schwarzenegger, be careful when you wring out your clothing you don't accidentally shred it.
Whoops!  There goes another shirt!

After wringing out your clothing, transfer it to the drying rack.

If suffering from addiction to your cellphone and your dumbass dropped it into the water (or toilet) place the cellphone into the bin of rice.  Cover it with rice.  Cover the bin and keep it away from your clumsy ass.

If you didn't drop the phone into the water, look smug and have the rice for dinner tonight.

Special note:  If you did drop the cellphone into the water and are using the rice to suck the moisture from the phone, do not cook and eat the rice before removing the cellphone.

Wait for the clothing to dry.  This will take hours.

Pose naked in the mirror.  Do not feel bad you are not attractive.  If you are attractive, feel bad for Logan.

And you're done!

Monday, July 21, 2014

DON'T MISS LEG DAY

DAILY SCHEDULE

I've not been doing a lot recently that warrants a lot of blog posts.

Going on long sweaty and often painful walks, eating, drinking, playing my video games.  This is not newsworthy stuff, though I'm guessing Fox News could still make it fill several hours.  "And is there a chance he is talking with aliens?  Does he know where the Malaysian plane could be?  Was he some sort of "Jame Bond-esque" super villain who stole it?"



THE OTHER OTHER WHITE MEAT

Tam is one of my friends from Macedonia.  With her permission, here is one of her statements:

"I, for example don`t eat meat, and am born here, raised here, forced to eat meat when I was small and refused it as I got older and older.

I never understood why people in Macedonia in Serbia also eat that amount of meat. I don`t have anything against it, I just cant discover why.

And not that I don`t eat meat, I don`t eat fish (which is considered as sin especially in Ohrid), and don`t eat food that is touched or prepared together with meat.

The most common question that I get here is "what do you live from?"

At first, I tried to explain that you can eat pasta and a lot of vegetables and fruits + mushrooms.

They looked at me and asked me again "what do you live from?"

Now I just answer "I am a cannibal".

Usually, they go away."



FEELING EUROPEAN

Order some olives (not pitted) and a beer.  Sit around eating and drinking those and watching the people.

Note, in the states they may yell "Wot chew lookin' at?"  Followed by gunfire.



DANGER IN BEING NICE

When I've been to a restaurant more than once, there is a huge danger of them sometimes being too nice.  Extra food, special dishes and all of that.  I don't get charged for them but it does cause some guilt which I try to absolve through tipping.  This creates a dangerous cycle.



LEG TIME

Some people were asking about my legs.  Apparently, them being big through edema and now trying to shrink has caused me to begin to turn in to a lizard.

They are very dry and as painful as if I'd gotten very stupid with too much sun.

The following pictures may horrify and mortify you.  This is to be expected.

Before anyone asks, yes I am consulting a very nice doctor about it and she has prescribed medicine and such.






Someone asked "How does it feel?"  Answer, no where as bad as


Saturday, July 12, 2014

THE GREAT FLOOD

[Author's note:  The blog was named after the video at the bottom of this blog.  See link below.]


PANORAMA RESTAURANT

The Panorama is a famous restaurant in Ohrid.  The prices are cheap, the food is good, the portions are big and the staff is friendly.

I've made friends with the wait staff and current manager, Risto.  He is working there while his brother the owner is tending to his broken leg.

Risto is quite an interesting fellow and we've had some good conversations.  Here's one:


Risto:  "Where are you from?  Which ethnic background?"
Logan:  "Don't know.  Adopted."
Risto:  "Your name?  Where is 'Horsford' from?
Logan:  "Might be Norwegian, not sure."
Risto:  "You don't know your family history?"
Logan:  "In America, most people don't.  They might have some memories of their grandparents, but usually..."  (shrug)
Risto:  "I know eight generations back!"
Logan:  "Most people in the USA would find that surprising.  We have no sense of history."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that when people outlive their perceived usefulness, we like to stick them in old people's homes and usually they have little to do with the families.  Here, the grandparents always live with the family and help raise the kids.

It's a different culture.

(Disclaimer:  Yes, I know of at least one person who has traced their family back to the Mayflower but that is - in the USA - an anomaly.)

As a side note, I think the culture of the USA may be slowly changing within my own lifetime.  Because of the poverty induced by the corporations.  Kids now have to live with their parents much longer (often into their 30's).  Poverty will continue to change things.  Whether this is better or worse, I cannot say.


Some cooks and wait staff freak out if you try this but it worked here:  I told them "I don't want anything that has ever lived in the water and keep the bill under 500d ($10).  Bring whatever."

Rather than doing the cowardly thing of thinking "What if he doesn't like it!" they just brought food.

Some of the best meals I've had in Macedonia.

If you visit Ohrid, Panorama is a must go to restaurant.  It will be about 120d (less than $3) by taxi to get there from the tourist area.



ALCOHOL

Somewhere, I'd made a comment that "in Macedonia I hadn't been drinking".  This isn't quite true.  Meals generally have a beer or two with them.

While in the 'we were founded by Puritans (later muddled by 'Victorian thinking') and still have all that baggage" USA, it might be seen as alcoholism, here it is 'just another drink'.

When I get beer with my food is is generally because:
a) only an idiot would drink tap water of a different country (even if it is deemed 'safe')
b) you get a half liter for the same price as you get a quarter liter of soda.  I've no idea why.



MACEDONIAN CUSTOM

"Let's go for coffee" could mean any kind of drink, including alcohol.

It is probable it will involve sitting around a cafe for a long time.



DAILY SCHEDULE

There may be a couple people who are curious as to what my daily schedule looks like.  For them as well as posterity I have taken the time to write it down.  In several hundred years, my hope is that a teacher will come across it and force their students to learn it in order to bore the shit out of them.  This, teachers, is your payback.  Note, if apes have mastered the world by then, be sure to put in several 'groom myself and others' parts.


7:00-10:00 Depending on the amount of pain I am in, I wake up somewhere between these times.

10:00-11:00  Play my video games until somewhere within these times.  In most of the world, there is really no point to go out before this time unless you like looking at closed shops.  If a male asks another male to 'wake up early to see the sunrise', he should expect to be punched in the nose.  If a boy asks a girl to 'wake up early to see the sunrise', it is a seduction thing.  If a girl asks a boy, it's because  she doesn't want to go by herself.  If the boy accepts, it is because he wants to sleep with her.  If he responds "Are you fucking nuts?" it means he thinks he has no chance of having sex with the female.  Just so you know.

10:00-14:00  Wander around for one to three hours.  The actual length of time is heightened by interest and decreased by pain and or hunger.  Or diarrhea.   The last will cut the time way down.  Leaving a brown trail around the city is not generally smiled upon by the people living in that city.

12:00-14:00  Stagger back to flat and shower.  Possibly take a nap ranging from :15 to 2:00.  The time is dependent upon the amount of fatigue vs the amount of pain I'm in.  After this, it is a combination of wandering around the flat muttering to myself (I talk to myself when I require an expert opinion), playing video games and writing blogs.

22:00-02:00  Bed time for Bonzo.  The actual bed time depends on the amount of pain, fatigue, insomnia or drunkenness.



VIDEOS

Hills of Macedonia
The Great Flood

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

MACEDONIA, A FRIENDLY NATION

This blog is dedicated to Robert Price who gently reminded me that people want me to write more stuff.  (Disclaimer:  Please note that I only make these when something is happening but in this case, I am moving around a bit...)



FRIENDLY FOLK

I have met pretty much nothing except friendly people here.  I wanted to illustrate that with a story.

Trying to find an apartment to stay in Bitola, I'd gone down to the real estate office.  There was a guy in his thirties with an elderly couple I judged to be his parents.

Because I'm a foreigner, the man working there wanted to know what I needed.

Honestly, this always is a bit awkward.  I really don't mind waiting my turn - but in this case it turned out to be fortuitous.   I explained I was looking for a place to stay long term.  The other customer in his thirties kindly helped translate.

After awhile, the elderly couple took off and the broker discovered he had nothing for me.  I thanked them both and left.

The guy in his thirties (Nikola) caught up with me after I'd gone a block or two and offered to take me to a different real estate agent.  Thinking it would just be a block or two I accepted his generous offer.  It was - to his car.  Then, we drove to the other real estate agent.  Who also didn't have anything.

But this story illustrates just how kind the Macedonian people really are.  Heck, if he'd just tracked me down to give me the name of a different real estate agent and vague directions to it, that would have been really nice of him - but to drive me there?

I offered (repeatedly, just in case any Islamic custom had taken root here) to buy him breakfast but he steadfastly refused as he had other stuff to do.  Stuff he put off doing to try to help me out.  In addition, he even reached out to his contacts.  Though they came up dry, it was extremely friendly and I felt very good about having come to Macedonia.

Whether they know it or not, people like Nikola are ambassadors for their nation - and they are doing a great job of it.

A side note for my American readers:  I'm sure many of you read that I got into a strangers car and went with him through parts unknown.  Yeah.  I do that quite a bit.  Given that I've an excellent sense for people and a pretty decent ability to read faces, my chances of getting hurt doing that are about half what I judge getting run over on the sidewalk.  Regardless, people are generally neutral with more being friendly than out to hurt someone.  Here in Macedonia, they seem to lean heavily toward the friendly side of the scale.  In fact, if you were to say "American people are paranoid" you could say "Macedonian people are friendly" and it would be at least as true.  Turn off the news - you are only hurting yourself by 'trying to keep informed'.



MACEDONIAN CLIMATE

I've lived in at least five different deserts.  Honestly, I've lost count at this point.  But the heat is between 30 and 40 degrees (C.  If stuck on an antiquated system the rest of the world has abandoned, please read as 'damned hot').

Why anyone would choose to come here on vacation during this degree of heat - other than to go to say a beach - is a mystery.

Starting to form the belief that south eastern Europe is best during the 'shoulder seasons' - spring and fall.  You don't want to be here during winter.  Apparently, it use to be much more mild but for no apparent reason (read as 'global warming') the temperatures have plummeted.



COFFEE

Macedonian.  Greek.  Turkish.  They all taste pretty much the same to me.  I asked someone about it and the difference turns out to be the way it is prepared - not the ingredients.  One you heat the coffee first, then add water.  Different  one you heat the water then add the coffee.  Third one you...  I'm not sure.  Blow a squirrel, toss everything into the pot and boil it?  I can't remember but you get the point.



WAITERS

Most people complain they have trouble with waiters, especially in countries where if you don't tip them they don't get paid.

Try being funny, outrageous, shameless and over the top.  I've never had bad service.  Oh, and treating them like humans who are stuck doing a kind of shitty job doesn't hurt either.   But they shall be freed from their shitty jobs when we build small robots to do this work (or trained pigeons) and then they shall have no jobs and rejoice!



BITOLA

Not sure why Bitola has only one decent/affordable hostel.  It's OK, but nothing I'd travel there to stay in.  For tourists, I'd recommend staying in Ohrid and making Bitola a day trip.  You can see all the major sites in a day.

One odd thing they have is a kilometer or two (or more?) of nothing but restaurants and cafes.  No clue why it is set up like that but they're all along the same street, pretty much in a straight line.

Skip the 'bazaar'.  It's not.  Nothing but a bunch of small huts selling stuff, closed on Sundays.  None of the wonder, romance and chaos of an actual bazaar.

It's a nice town but not really that noteworthy to tourists.



OHRID

Though I was told there would be 'lots', there was only one woman waiting around at the bus station hoping to rent out a room in her house to tourists.  She was kind enough to point out I'd left my plastic bag with my water behind.

If you're wanting a 'home' experience, go with one of these women but as always make sure to first take a look at the place then find out what is actually included.  If they have noisy pets and noisy kids, find that out.  Food may or may not be included.  Haggle!

After lying to the nice lady and telling her I already had a reservation, I walked the kilometer to the place I'm staying.  It's called "Valentin Hostel".  It's extremely basic and not all that clean.

The owner is one of those 'really happy to help you initially' kind of people but by my fourth request he was losing steam fast.

He strongly cautioned me to turn off the boiler before having a shower so that I don't die.  Really.  I missed seeing his copy of "So your hostel's a death trap" book lying around but got the hint anyway.  Since I'm use to some element of danger (though usually self inflicted) this doesn't bother me overly much.



GOOD MACEDONIAN QUOTE

"You are a vegetarian?  What the hell are you doing in the Balkans?" - unknown.

Good food here begins and ends with meat.



LOGAN EXCHANGES

Personally, I think a lot of them are funnier than the stuff in "An Idiot Abroad", but I don't have famous friends who make movies.

Logan:  "The chicken ceasar salad please."
Waiter:  (pause)  "That is all?"
Logan:  "Your salads here are big, right?"
Waiter:  (eyeing me dubiously) "For one person."
Logan:  (patting belly) "I know I am two people but..."


Logan:  "Cheeseburger, please."
Waitress:  "You should try the double cheeseburger - it's very big!"
Logan:  "I don't need very big - besides, I just woke up!"
Waitress:  (looking pointedly at Logan's huge belly)  "For you, I think it's OK."

I managed to resist.  Doing the 'just eat when you're hungry' crap doesn't work when you've been raised to 'clean your plate!'.  Fucking starving children in China.  Later, having the "Eat fast, we may be attacked at any second!" training from the military doesn't help.  Parents, if you want your kid to be chubby (ie fat) remind them to always 'clean your plate, there are starving children in China!'  Of course, you could have said "There are starving children down the street" but that might give the kids ideas about just bringing them the unwanted portion and we don't want that kind of social responsibility cropping up.



TRAVEL SKILL

It would be nice to say that after several years of travel, I've gotten slick at it.  The truth, however, is that I am still fumbling around letting luck sort out several important details.

A friend of mine (the evil TJ) put up this video of Indian Jones explaining how Logan thinks he is (Marcus Brody) vs reality.

Fortunately, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Probably way toward the last part of the video, but still.



QUEEN'S PUB

I ate breakfast (well, OK a shitty cheeseburger) at 'The Queen's Pub'.  This brought up images of the Queen of England.  Then, my friend Matt Lunn, who is British.  Then, Matt Lunn dressed as the Queen.  Then, Matt dressed as the Queen being forced by his nation to knight me.

Then, my brain put him into this video.  Matt is the guy in gold wings, and calls me 'Gordon'.

For those that know both Matt and I, that is fucking hilarious.  If I had 'big money', I'd do a video of it.  Which a couple dozen people would think is great.  Everyone else would be confused.



PRICES

'Deniro' salad (fucking big) and two Turkish coffees, 220d

Cheap meal (generally, with a couple beers), 300-500d

Friday, July 4, 2014

MACEDONIA, INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

FROM BULGARIA TO MACEDONIA


Despite "Hostel Mostel" being the 'top rated hostel in Bulgaria', I only got a couple hours of alcohol induced sleep there.  The hostel qualifies as what I term a 'high density feedlot' type of place.  Lots of tourists in and out.
A great place to meet up with other travelers, not so much for languid relaxing.

I'd gone with some nice people I'd met to the first bar on their nightly pub crawl and ended up hanging out with three Bulgarians discussing the history of the region as well as Macedonia.

Every patron was outside of the bar - whether they smoked or not.  Due to the rather silly law of 'no smoking inside buildings'.  This is a law which has failed.  How would Logan do it?  Every bar would get to choose whether they wanted to be a smoking or non-smoking bar.  This must be advertised large outside of the bar.  If a bar wanted to change from smoking to non-smoking, a group of non-smokers would be sent in to make sure it smelled fine.  A bar could change only every set period of time (quarterly, bi-yearly, yearly, whatever).  This would allow both groups to get their way.  As the laws now stand they do not seem to have the interest of the actual patrons in mind.

Despite sleeping in my clothing, I nearly left my security pouch behind.  Better to be lucky than good, as they say.

The person who checked me in to the room forgot to mark me as paid so the person checking me out wanted more money.  Fortunately, my fanatical devotion toward getting a receipt any time I hand over money paid off.

Since their wifi was out (at the 'top rated hostel in Bulgaria') I went to the bus station a couple hours early.  Not a recommended hostel for more than a night unless you are wanting to party.



SKOPJE

This is one of those countries where the capital city is more expensive than the villages.  Rather than competition driving down the prices, they charge more.  Why, I cannot say.

After my usual period of bumbling around, I lucked out and found a nice private room for 15 euros per night (Lounge Hostel).  Even more luckily, I made friends with the owners.  In the 'bonus round' of luck, the owners mother has some property I will rent out on a later part of my journey through Macedonia.

Unfortunately, I had to hike 5.5 KM with everything I own to get there.  Well, that's stubbornness for you.  It nearly killed me but I made it.

Skopje seemed find but was more expensive than I'd thought it would be.

On the city itself; a lot of people are making fun of it saying they are trying to make it into a sort of 'Disneyland for tourists' by putting up a lot of statues and other tourist crack.  Personally, I think they are 'making an effort' as the British would say.  It will look great in a hundred years when everything has gotten to age some.

I liked Skopje just fine.  Considering it is the largest city in Macedonia, it really didn't feel that crowded.



COFFEE?

Like much of the Eastern Europe, it is a 'cafe culture' here.  People enjoy sitting around outdoors under umbrellas, sipping drinks and discussing things.  Much as many Americans believe it is.

It was time for coffee.  Because they are large, I ordered a coffee 'Americano'.

Owner:  "No Americano!  This is Macedonia!"
Logan:  "Ah.  What kind of coffee do you have?"
Owner:  "Turkish!"
Logan:  "...okie dokie then..."

A quick note on coffees.  If you stir the coffee for any reason, don't get close to the bottom at all.  There is a layer of sediment you don't want.  If you stir it into your coffee, it will be gross.  Leave it alone.

Within Eastern Europe, I've seen people having beer and wine (though not at the same time) for breakfast.  Without the Puritanical views America got stuck with, these are seen as just something different to drink.



SKOPJE TO BITOLA

Because I wanted the romance of the train...  I screwed myself.  (Yes, I was warned but I'd already bought the train tickets).

You would think a metal tube with open windows would get some air.  You would be wrong.  Sweated all the way here.

Rather than the compartments it was one long seating thing.  Blerg.  Nothing I'd want to repeat.  Take the bus instead.  Trust me on this.

Because the train had stopped for awhile and I decided to risk a cigarette outside, I discovered I'd reached my destination.  There were no announcements.



BITOLA

My first impressions were very positive.  The narrow, medieval streets (known as 'crack for tourists') called to me as did the crumbling buildings.  It looks like quite an interesting place to explore.

Unfortunately, the prices are such that I'm eating once or twice in a day and sitting around sucking on a warm two liter of cola the rest of the time.



MACEDONIA

Some extremely friendly people here.  These are the "I will drive you to somewhere you need to be" or "I will walk with you to your destination".  Not because they want anything from you - they are just that damned nice.  

Less German is spoken here than Bulgaria but about the same amount of English in the couple towns I've been thus far.



LIST OF PLACES TO CHECK IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A LONG TERM RENTAL

For folks who ask 'where do you even get started finding a place', here are some suggestions:

1)  The hostel/hotel you are staying at.  They may know someone or they may offer you a lower extended rate on a room.  If no luck there, all other hostels/hotels/guest houses.

2)  Real estate agencies.  These places often rent property.

3)  Travel agencies.  Bit more of a long shot here.

4)  Other.  You don't have to directly ask your waiter if he knows of anyone renting a room but you can mention to him that you are looking for a place to rent long term and are not sure where to start.  Shrug and go back to doing something else like looking at the menu or smoking.  (If you don't smoke, this is a great time to start a new hobby!)  Don't just stare at him like you want him to suddenly solve your problems - but he might.



'MERICA?

Like much of the rest of the world, people want to know where you are from.  If you tell them America (I always do now) they will always ask where.

The reason why is they have relatives in America and or have visited.



COSTS

Excellent salad and two Turkish coffees, 220 dinars.
Private room, 900 dinars.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

LOCK ON SHOPPING

SHOPPING

My friend who owns the grocery store I always go to had a bunch of ice cream stolen out of his external locked cooler.

Since the only locks protecting it are the usual cheap 'outside of westernized country piece of shit locks a grade schooler can defeat with a screwdriver' variety, he wanted new locks.

Since I know a little about locks, I went with him back to "Praktisch".  Translated from German, the store name is 'Practical'.  Think 'Home Depot'.

Since one of my particular beliefs/stereotypes/prejudices toward Germans is that they can build great stuff, we agreed that any German made locks would be much better than the OOWCPOSLAGSCDWAS variety most people get.

Like most shoppers, the store owner wanted to roam the vast wilderness of crap you don't need in hopes you stumble across what you came for before finding something you didn't  know you can't live without.

Because I am the kind of person I am (a Logan) I headed for the information desk.  Over riding his objections of "I don't think they can speak English" with "I am Logan!", I went and consulted the girls.

When you first start to talk with people in English, you can run into the "Oh, you expect everyone to speak English but you won't learn our language?" thing.  This is to be avoided as it goes nowhere good.

I do this by asking my question then immediately miming what I need in as funny of manner as possible.

If you come across as funny, friendly and maybe a bit insane, indignity comes hard.  Soon, friendly smiles and helpful directions were given.

They even sent a service guy to help us who spoke excellent English.  I complimented him a couple times on it and thanked him for his help.

The equipment was bought.  On the way out, I again thanked the information desk ladies and bid them adieu.



IS THERE A POINT?

Perhaps the biggest difference is that I'm thinking about how they must perceive me rather than paying attention to my internal monologue.  This could be because I don't find myself particularly important to listen to all the time.

Other people are very interesting to me.  I've always said I already know what I am thinking and feeling.  Hence, I try to be more outward looking.  If I'm mad or flustered this comes harder but when other people can tell you are actually paying attention to them and interested in them, they are happy to at least give you directions.

This did backfire a bit at the cafeteria I normally eat at.  Because I've taken the time to learn the girls names who work there and am always asking how they are and such, they tend to pile on my food a bit much.

And I've not the willpower to resist food...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

MMORPG OVERVIEW

AND NOW, A NOTE FROM THE WRITER

Some of you are thinking "I thought this guy was traveling?"

Well, it can't all be poling down a jungle river.  Sometimes, it's just sitting around a city in Bulgaria for a couple months playing video games.

Fear not, in two weeks I will be again changing where I'm at.  I've no idea where I will be or what dates but I do know my destination is Mesopotamia and I'll have a month left in Bulgaria and the EU in general.

When I travel, I will write about travel.  In the meantime, you have the opportunity to learn about...



MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER GAMES (MMO)


What is an MMO?

This is a game which can support hundreds of people playing simultaneously within the same world.  The world is usually persistent - in other words, when you log off, it is still going.  If you don't have an internet connection, you can't play them.  Or read this blog.  Best to have an internet connection.


A short history of MMO's.

I'd like to note that this is in no way intended to be a complete or even factual history of MMO's.  This is what I saw happen and have interviewed more people who have made the games than I can actually remember.

Back before some of my readers were born, in 1997, a game called Ultima Online came out.  It had a lot of good things that were oddly missing from later MMO's such as the ability to dye gear, build castles, etc.  Sadly, it was most famous for the horrible people who played it.  Because UO was PVP (player vs player) pretty much everywhere, murder ran rampant.  Had there been a command to sexually violate your corpse after killing you, players would have demanded it be scripted in to make it automatic.  Within UO the most atrocities of any game I've heard of were committed.  Fortunately, just two years later something that sucked less in some ways - and more in others was released.

Everquest was released in 1999.  I have vivid memories of playing it on the last day of the year wondering if the Y2K bug would interrupt the game and send me out to loot and pillage with everyone else.   Sadly, the Y2K bug failed to shut down the world and allow us to slide violently back into the middle ages.  Fortunately, this allowed me to keep playing the game.  For another decade.  One of the things which thrilled many people about Everquest was that only a few servers were PVP - the majority were PVE (player vs environment).  On these servers, you couldn't kill the other players but instead concentrate on the monsters.  Well, that was the theory anyway, but the violent sociopaths who chose to spend time playing while planning their next killing spree found ways to kill other players anyway.  But it was still better than UO.

After Everquest briefly held a monopoly on MMO's, other ones such as Dark Age of Camelot came out.  People either left Everquest completely or tried these new games then returned to EQ.  And so it went until just a couple years later when the new gorilla on the block came out.

World of Warcraft (WOW) launched in 2004 and pretty much killed creativity for the next decade.  Because WOW was so overwhelmingly successful, every game wanted to be just like them.  These games became known as 'WOW clones'.  WOW did pretty much everything right and remains an addictive game to this day for millions of people.


What is going on today?

Currently, in 2014, people are beginning to think "If we make a WOW clone, we will be competing with lots of other WOW clones - and WOW itself.  We need to do something different."

Just three years ago (2011) Minecraft was released.  This game can either be played as a single player game (no internet required) or as a MMO.  What the game does right, and perhaps makes it the first well known 'sandbox game'.  Within 'sandbox games' the user decides where to go and what to do.  The opposite to this are the so called 'theme park' games - an example being World of Warcraft.  You go to this zone for these levels then get to upgrade to this zone for the next few levels and so on.

It is my belief that we will see a lot more sandbox games come out in the future.  This is heading toward what developers seem to have had a long held fear of - player made content within a persistent world.  While it would not surprise me to see more pornographic buildings and such, most player made stuff seems to tend toward the very interesting.


Cash Shop Games

Free game with a cash shop.  Because there are a limited number of potential customers out there and most of them are playing WOW, developers had to come up with another way to pay for the game.  There are many different styles of cash shops.  The least hated are those that offer only cosmetic changes to the character or gear.  The middle ranking ones give things which could be normally tediously earned within the game as soon as payment is made.  The most despised offer things which could not be gotten at all within the game but only with cash.

I'm a big fan of the cash shop.  The game needs to be paid for.  When computer games first came out, people would rush out to the stores and buy computer games.  They would take them home and install them to discover the games were buggy pieces of shit which were no fun and sometimes even broke the computer.  Upon returning to the store, they would discover there were no returns on open software.  This gave rise to the sale of personal shrink wrap machines.  With no charge for the game, buggy inferior products can be deleted without expending funds.


Platforms

Platforms are programs you load in to get games.  These usually tend to be crap bearing bloatware intent on smuggling bad shit onto my computer, like Steam.  I've yet to have any of the computer experts I know tell me platforms are benign.   This is a pity because the majority of games downloaded now come through platforms.   Until told otherwise, I will view them with the same suspicion as Skynet.


Graphics

Personally, I prefer realistic as opposed to 'cartoony' graphics.   Despise anime.  But this comes down to personal preference.


Complexity

The game complexity ranges from amazingly simple to Eve Online - a space game which has its own stock market.  The best MMO's tend to start simply and layer in more complexity as the game goes along.  Learn as you play.  The worst ones leave the user so frustrated and confused at the beginning they soon quit.


Point of View (POV)

Games are either first or third person point of view.  Although the majority of people seem to prefer third person, where you look down upon your character as they make their way through the world, I don't find it as immersive as looking through the characters eyes.



MMO'S LOGAN HAS PLAYED AND HIS THOUGHTS

Note that the years listed are publish dates.

Everquest 1 (1999):  Played for about a decade.  It's extra torture!  Tried going back to just take a look around the old worlds and get a bit of nostalgia.  Apparently, they didn't think it was complicated and fucked up enough - they've added new layers of pain and suffering.  At the time, it was the best available.  I'm just convinced the company who made it kills puppies for Satan.

Dark Age of Camelot (2001):  Played this back in the old days, it was fine for awhile and when it first came out gave people one of the first options other than the evil of Everquest.  Got old within a couple months.  Many people praised it for the three realm PVP (also now found in ESO) but I still remember people being 'one shotted' (killed in one hit, very unusual for normal MMO's) by rogues with bows.  Fortunately, the PVE and PVP areas were separate.

Anarchy Online (2001):  At first, I was excited about a science fiction release.  However, my suspension of disbelief didn't hold up with the combat.  For some odd reason, it seems totally reasonable that people can cast a lot of spells at a foe or bang them with swords and such before they die.  This is completely untrue at least with the swords.  Pretty much if someone gets hit with one they're going to either die or be in the hospital.  However, people can accept someone getting beaten several times with a sword - especially if their opponent is armored.  This doesn't work with guns.  If I shoot a squirrel with a shotgun, there will be blood and bits of fur left.  I certainly won't need to hit it with five to twenty shotgun blasts to dispatch it.  You do in AO!

World War 2 Online (2001):  The developers said "It's not ready to release."  The publishers said "Release it.  Fuck you, we want our money."  All MMO's have bugs, gliches and problems when they are released.  This game had them in epic proportions.  Not only was it horribly buggy, nearly impossible to get on to play, several hours to patch, etc - but it was poorly thought out.   My memories of this game involve sitting in a truck getting driven to a battle.  For over half an hour.  Seriously.  Imagine sitting in a truck for half an hour just waiting.  In real life, not a big thing but for a video game?  When we got to the battle area, I caught a bullet while getting off the truck and died screaming.  Realistic?  Sure.  Fun?  Hell no.  Even uninstalling this game was hazardous.  This may have been one of the games that screwed up your computer.  I remember thinking "Why did we ever do away with public hangings?"

Asheron's Call 2 (2002):  This one actually got me kicked off of writing for some of the publications on the internet.  I proclaimed the game a big steaming pile of shit.  Microsoft (the publisher) freaked out.  Time proved me correct.  Fuck the weak spines that stopped publishing me.  Besides, they didn't pay me.

Final Fantasy IX (2002):  Levels 1-10, kind and sweet.  Then you found out that if you didn't group, you wouldn't be getting any XP.  Really stupid looking monsters to kill that made me doubt the sanity of the artists.

World of Warcraft (2004):  Mentioned above, this is the standard by which all others are judged.  Not by me, I weigh them mostly against Everquest but this is the big daddy MMO.  I thought it was fine but pretty standardized.  Played it up to what at that time was max level then moved on.

Everquest 2 (2004):  This was a whole lot of 'what the fuck is this shit'.  Think I had that going for an hour or two before uninstall.  Considering it came out the same year  WOW did, I'm guessing some of the people who made it thought things like "So this is the taste of 'fail'..."

Dungeons and Dragons Online (2006):  This game did one thing very right and many other things poorly.  Their huge bright spark was a built in voice communication combined with a good looking for group tool.  If you wanted to find someone for the group, you'd just ask if they had a mic.  This allowed you to disregard all of the children and wildly inept people.  For a time, I had the largest guild in the game.  Eventually, I got bored of it.  Everything is instanced and they didn't have nearly enough 'viable' dungeons to keep people busy for all that long.

Wurm Online (2006):  Danger of installing this game is you have to manually uninstall it.  It just doesn't want to let go.  How this piece of crap has a couple hundred people playing it is a mystery to Logan.  Didn't last on my computer for an entire hour.  Horribly crude and user unfriendly.
Lord of the Rings Online (2007):  A rather bland WOW clone.  Played through it until they ran out of content.

Face of Mankind (2009):  Don't remember much about this other than it didn't stay on the computer for long.

Runes of Magic (2009):  Decent theme park game.  Smallish world.  The best thing about this game was they had interesting daily quests.  At one time, they allowed people to sell the currency bought with real money on the auction house to get gold.  Everyone was happy.  Unfortunately, people with fake credit cards were also happy.  This caused them to stop allowing this.  Their cash shop was a combination cosmetic and things needed to do well in the game.  Hence, Logan gave up playing.  It's basically another WOW clone but it gave me some fun while I was playing and has kept some people playing to this date - five years later.

Star Wars, The Old Republic (2011):  Honestly, if it didn't have the Star Wars logo and story on it, I'm not sure people would stand for the clunky 'what kind of crap is this' interface.  Hell, the Unreal controls (released over a decade earlier) were a lot more smooth and customizable.  This didn't last long on my computer.  It's hard to believe this only came out three years ago - I'd expect better programming.

Star Trek Online (2011):  In my view, an amazingly lame game.  Rather than being able to wander around and explore a working spaceship, you and everyone else become the spaceships.  Also, clunky controls for those rare times you are on foot.  Didn't last on my computer long which is a pity because I've been a big fan of Star Trek for most of my life.

Elder Scrolls Online (2014):  Most MMO's, you have to stand still and slug it out with your opponents.  This is one of the first games where movement is actually encouraged.  They have a decent crafting system.  Sadly, it is a theme park style game.  Due to incompetence, they didn't start with the programming to prevent bots (the computer playing with itself) and gold farmers (people who illegally sell in game gold for real money) so they've tried to implement preventatives post release.  Because these preventative programs are badly written, they often flag people who play legally as cheats and automatically ban them.  In over a decade of playing MMO's, this is the only game I've ever been banned from.  Twice.  Because I am currently banned I spent some time writing a MMO article. 

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 Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje Bitola Ohrid Struga | Albania: Berat Sarande


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