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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.



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

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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