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18-06-97 Kyongju, Korea
Today we went to Kyongju, which was an ancient capitol of one of the Korean kingdoms and has a lot of historic sites, similar perhaps to Nara in Japan. We stayed there on the eighteenth and nineteenth and on the twentieth went to Seoul. Kyongju is a pretty small town, not much to do there, but there were tons of hills all over the place that are burial mounds for former kings. They're all over the city, and there were about ten of them in a park next to our hotel. The kids playing on the sides of it made me think of playing on our neighbor's hilly lawn in the fall, when there were lots of leaves to jump in and the time just before it got dark was the funnest time for everybody since we all knew we'd have to go in for dinner soon. I was tempted to run up the side of one of the burial mounds like the kids were doing, but I suppose that a foreigner running up one would be disrespectful? We also saw a bunch of parks, a beautiful temple, a cave-Buddha temple, Asia's oldest observatory, which is maybe years old, and we got a take-out dinner at the Kyongju McDonalds, at Miki's insistence. Every couple of days she'd get sick of eating kimchi-like foods. I drank beer at night and wrote postcards. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. We saw a few Japanese walking around town. They stick out like sore thumbs, of course. Nice clothes, pale skin, backpacks, base-ball caps, confused looks on their faces. Miki ignored her fellow-countrymen. Funny girl.
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6-7-97 Beijing, China
Wow - are we ever pooped today. It was the day of our Great Wall trip and we woke up early and walked the kilometer from our hotel to the other hotel where we were to meet up with our tour. We found out at that time that the other hotel is quite happening - not at all worse than the one we're staying at, in fact quite a bit more interesting and with cooler travelers lounging about and having a laugh. We were deceived by our travel agency again, we're also paying more, although it may be true that our area is more "local." Tried to find breakfast somewhere, but it was difficult, eventually got something crappy on the street. What did everybody else eat?
We spent six hours in a bus (three there and three back) and four hours hiking around the Great Wall. The trip out was beautiful, although I guess I slept part of the way. Once we got there, the first thing that we did was find a place to eat lunch and drink some water, some local beer. It was really amazing. The view from the parking lot was fantastic, we saw everything that we were going to be hiking on from right there. It's built on a jagged mountain rising like a knife from the dry hilly region. The river to the left, some of the wall going off to the left, the main thing going off to the right, and a chair lift on the right to take people up directly to the best part. After we ate brunch and began hiking - from four hundred meters above sea level to a thousand meters above. These mendicants from the local village were sprawled all over the wall selling all sorts of foods, water, coca cola, etc. Nobody selling acid or quaaludes though. I was chatting with some ladies who told me that living in their village is real hard - not so much work, rain, or food. At least their village has a way to feed off of tourists. You'd be hiking up the wall and you'd pick up a stray local who'd follow you hiking up up up all around until you finally buy a fifty cent bottle of water off of them. One of the women told us they can let us stay overnight in their village for four dollars a night, about one sixth of what we pay in Beijing. The wall itself was so amazing though. It was like a man-made adventure trail that just keeps going up and up into these scary areas. At the higher points I had to crawl hand over food up sixty to seventy degrees like a ladder. I almost got to the highest spot, the sixteenth station from the start, but I was running a bit late - Miki was waiting for me halfway and the bus was going to be leaving soon. It was great up there, but more than a little scary. Twice my feet slipped out but I was saved by my handhold. One of those times I almost bowled over a woman who was on her way up - scared the shit right out of her! The whole place was just so incredible - I bought a set of postcards and snapped about twenty pictures. We met some nice people on the wall besides the local people. There was a French family who will be on our trans-Siberia train (a couple with three kids, three to seven years old) and another French family who live in Quebec (a couple with two sexy teenage daughters), and Jens, a long hair East German guy. He seemed pretty cool at first, but unfortunately he turned out to be quite uptight "how styupeed to comm all thees way to China, and thenn reesk your leiff climbing up some tower to take a picture... for what?" Sorry, dude, I really thought that you were as cool as you looked but I guess I'm wrong. Finally there was Robert from Vermont, who looks just like harry Dean Stanton, and a cool Swede whose name I forget. Funny people. The long ride back through the countryside was so beautiful, we were stopped once by the police for speeding, and we passed a truck on the highway that had big bags of cement in the bed and one guy sleeping on top of them. Nerves of steel, obviously. Fantasized that I was in a developing country with nuclear weapons on the way back home, then realized that I was in one. People everywhere, innocuous fields of rice and beautiful sunsets among the crusty hills, I was so alone in the world, alone with all these people and my thoughts. Once we got back to the hotel, I took a poo and found the strangest graffiti on the stall walls, something about how great it is to have your dick sucked after so many months of abstinence, even if it is by a Chinese. What is that supposed to mean? Saw the coolest freak in the lobby, actually, the first one since we got here. He had the longest white cheek beard I've ever seen, fluffy and whiter than any one I've ever seen before, with a really cool hat on. Looked like the oldest Deadhead/Grizzly Addams around. Both of us wanted to talk with him but he was sitting with people he knew and we had no pretext to talk with him...
That's about it for today unless I can think of anything else. Saw the X-Files tonight - oooh, aaaah. What a boring, over-rated show.
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29/30-07-97 by train through Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Byeloruss, Poland, into Germany
Next morn, July twenty-ninth, we wandered around taking care of things like getting passport photos out of our stored luggage, talking to people, eating breakfast and went to the Latvian embassy. Allison and Louise were going to be taking the same train as us with the same route so they were with us too and we stood in a queue with a guy who looks like Boris Yeltsin, then when we finally got in, got to the counter, and located someone who can speak English, we found out that honestly and well and truly none of us need a transit visa to pass through these tiny countries. Great!!! So we went back downtown and bought a ticket, a train ticket to replace the perfectly good one that we had given up for no good reason except panic. They were sold out of second class seats, so we took a first class ticket for a hundred dollars more each. So we lost over two hundred dollars together, but at least we get to travel first class for the first time in our lives!! A private cabin. Great. We dicked around all afternoon, bought some foodstuffs, searched desperately for an adequate cafe to hang out at since the literary cafe looked pretentious and expensive, ducked into a building to avoid the rain, found out that it was a music conservatory, probably a famous one. There were some trendy music students dressed in trendy/horny clothes, guys with pony-tails, everything, hanging out in the lobby, we were eying them as we rested. Real horror show.
At six thirty we met the Francophones again, and told them that nobody needs a visa, they had been doubly screwed over: they got visas that they (as French and Canadians) weren't required to get for a trip that wouldn't pass through that country anyway. Crazy. We went to eat in a restaurant that had waitresses who only spoke Russian, they had a crap keyboard band, but at least the decor was very nice. We ate some nice food, drank some beer, met some Russian chaps who would only take group pictures for us if they could be in the pictures too. We got a little drunk, said our good-byes, and ran to catch our train at ten forty-five. We bought a bunch of beer, gin and grapefruit, and other munchies to use up our money. We still had thirty-three thousand rubles that we couldn't spend, though. Oh well.
So, I guess we're finally leaving Mother Russia, the country I've been to and read about, but is too huge to really know. Who are the wild men who live in those Siberian forests who have never emerged? This country is another mind-bender like China and Mongolia before it, so distant yet so familiar. Russia is like China in one way, it's one country, yet it is it's own immigration/multicultural society. How can these countries exist without fragmenting? Integration is so complete perhaps? If it didn't happen before, why would it happen now? I don't know. We saw so much of Russia, but it was only on both sides of this thin strip of land that cuts through it all called the Trans-Siberian railway. How many comedies and tragedies did we drift by at high speed? The Siberian cities were poor and ugly, I wonder what the joys of those people is? Getting some new kind of food, something different in the existence? Or do they live like we do with simpler means? Russia produces a different feeling than other countries, it is lively, yet somber. I wonder if this is a Slavic thing. People seem content, maybe they're all drunk and out of their minds.
The train ride was pretty cool. We rode from Tuesday July
twenty-ninth, ten forty-five, until Thursday July thirty-first, seven thirty;
from St. Petersburg to Berlin through two time zones and five border
crossings, showed out passports about fifteen times at all times of the
day and night since it was only a thirty-six hour train ride or so.
The knock on the door in the middle of the night. Nightmare.
We had a private cabin though, so lots of room to spread our stuff around,
privacy, plus a sink. I took the top bunk, Miki the bottom.
Privacy, but no common bed. Still. Shit. At least we
had two friends on the same train. Allison and Louise, who were going
to Berlin the same day. They were in second class, stuck with all
sorts of different cellmates. We watched the scenery change, checked
out the villages, forests, rivers, hills, towns, etc. For the first
time on the trip I listened to local radio stations on my walkman a bit
to hear what Lithuanian radio was like, it came in the clearest as we passed
the capitol of Lithuania, Vilnius. Mostly Western hits: Scorpions,
Madonna, etc. When we went from Byelorussia to Poland, we had to
change the wheels again since the gauge of the rails in Europe is different
from that in Russia. Amazing. They separated all the train
cars, loosened the front and back wheel chassises of each car, lifted up
the whole train car on a winch, wheeled away the chassis, wheeled in new
ones, lowered us down onto them, re-attached the train-cars, then made
us wait in the Polish border town for a while where we had no local money
to buy stuff with and left. They wouldn't accept rubles.
Later we went to see Allison and Louise, they'd gotten to know the Russian guys in their cabin - three Byelorussians, two of whom were brothers, and one other horny dude. They seemed to be on their way to Germany to buy cars to drive back to their countries, and fed us lots of bullshit as well as some vodka, ham, and bread. The one brother spoke passable German. The big guy called Jura, his brother and the other guy were both drunk and horny, so Jura was always trying to bully them into not raping Allison and Louise. He was very concerned and stuck around to make a thousand percent sure that everybody was fine, then went to sleep. Apparently he was more of a nuisance than anybody since he was always coming over in the middle of the night, growling, shaking his fist at his brother, things like that. Luckily nothing happened, and we got to Berlin in one piece at six-thirty, somehow passing the swollen Oder river which was flooding at the time from Poland into Germany. The first class cars were eerie, since they had been full in St. Petersburg but once in Germany most of the section was deserted.
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28-10-97 Pecs (a.k.a. Funfkirchen), Hungary
This morning I woke up at seven, it was a beautiful sunny day, we ate and got out of the room by eight fifteen, walked to the pier and looked onto the lake, found the statue dedicated to the Indian poet Tagore with one of his beautiful poems in English and Hungarian on a plaque under it. Apparently he once took a cure in Balaton? Found the cinema, and Irish pub, which were just around the corner from the hotel. Left the hotel area and went shopping. Bought toothpaste, buns, salami, cheez, etc. Drank coffee by the pier at a stand-up bar, saw that local people were drinking white wine already at eight thirty in the morning! Hit the road and drove to Tihany, a small peninsular area on the flat, placid Lake Balaton, a.k.a. Plattensee. We parked in the village and walked down to the lake, called the Canadian embassy, got their travel report fax - finally! It didn't have much to say, but was nice to have to set our minds at ease. Mailed lots of postcards too! Went down to see the marshy lake, then went up to see the church - great, beautiful alter, beautiful organ, the eye of God behind it, eleventh century crypt underneath, a wing with cool paintings, another with cool photos, another with wild sculptures - especially crazy glass sculptures. The view of the peninsula from up there was awesome! As we left we remarked the horrible tourist shops that gave an inflated exchange (106) for Deutschmark, and a deflated (175) for U.S. dollars, and sold stuffed rabbits rigged into hunters' poses, boar heads, mounted rabbit heads with antlers, baby foxes, stuffed birds, etc. We drove to the pier, saw the stewing gulyas (goulash) but didn't buy any because it was overpriced. Instead we had langos with garlic, and with garlic and sour cream and cheese, also two glasses of red wine. The langos took some time, but they were huge and packed with stuff. A bit gross, but made an economical lunch. The girl who made them was so humorous, so cheerful and used such funny English. We took the ferry over and it was a great ten minute ride. We drove, and two hours later were in Pecs, a cool town. Found a great room on a hilly San Francisco style street. The Frau speaks crazy German, but has a nice newly-renovated house, definitely set to German standards. We tried to find Miki's friend, whose last address is on a street around here... maybe. We went to number ten first, talked to an old lady through the door and asked her about the people we're looking for. The house was crumbling - slightly. It was right out of a Kafka novel. She finally let us in and talked to us in German, seems like her grandson had been sleeping at first. Then we went to number twenty-nine, nobody around. We've now finally given up looking. Bought some groceries and had dinner. It's now six thirty, I think we'll go look around the town. Now it's nine. We walked around, gotten oriented, found out which movies are playing, found the bars, bought a bottle of red wine and came back to our cool room. There are only dubbed American programs on TV, the Hungarian/Croat/Serb/Romanian radio is playing either spastic dance shit, classic rock, or classical. I guess it's a strange place? Hungary is known as being a very flat country, but we've been traveling through the hilliest parts, I guess. Pecs looks great at night too, all lit up.
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03-11-97 Brasov, Romania, a.k.a. Kronstadt or Brasso, Monday
Today we woke up, fooled around some more, ate breakfast, packed, drove on and got to Brasov town, oriented ourselves, bought gas from a young German-speaking Romanian who was admiring my VW, found the Aro Sport hotel, took a room, walked all over the place. Saw the "black church", the gate, the heroes cemetery for the many people who were shot at by the security forces of the old regime during demonstrations in 1989... That was a very sad moment, because we saw that some of the dead were under ten years old. What were they doing in such a dangerous place? Brasnov has the air of a resort town, we like it here. Bought lots of food and wine, ate cheaply. Walked around looking to see what movies were playing in the different theaters around town. Rode in the front seat of a bus to the theater and talked to the friendly crazy driver, he helped us find the place because we couldn't find it earlier in the afternoon when we walked around that area. I thought it would be cool to see "Event Horizon", starring Lawrence Fishbourne and Sam Neill, since it seemed like it would be a creepy science fiction movie. I realized too late that we were watching a cheap, creepy space-horror movie. So many thoughts about why it was a junk movie, despite the grain of Star Trek-like complexity. Horror flicks aren't usually that bad, are they? Strange how we went to a horror movie by accident in Transylvania, my first in a theater actually. Today I didn't write in my travel diary. After we saw the movie I didn't really feel like writing, so I just kind of passed out...
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06-11-97 Into Yugoslavia to Belgrade, a.k.a. Beograd or Nandorfehervar
Woke up, ate, got buns and changed money since we were running low, ten dollars ought to do the trick. Mailed letters and bought a Battlestar Galactica book, drove away from Timisoara. The road was flat and boring, but we got to the border without incident. Romania is another Eastern European country that I like a lot, this country seems to have suffered a lot under Communism, perhaps less than Bulgaria or the Ukraine or Chechen or other Russian areas, but it also has that aura of faded grandeur - imperial grandeur and also Stalinist pomp, it also has that secluded feeling, Romanian being a Latin language unlike Hungarian or the surrounding Slavic languages. What a majestic country, with its squalor and its incredible mountains and forests, I wish we could have seen much more like the mouth of the Danube, the painted churches, anything. What we did see was pretty interesting, though, and it was a lot of fun exploring those city streets in those very civilized towns. I was expecting something more raw and savage, like representatives of those unstable years after World War One. We did find the poverty in some places, I wonder how these people suffer in the winter. Romania was once the granary of Europe, I wonder if it will ever see that prosperity again. This country has seen a lot of turbulence, at the hands of the Turks and the Hungarians and the Soviets, maybe now they'll be okay again, who knows. It will take a long time, but these noble people seem to live like West Europeans even if their currency doesn't reflect the dignity with which they live. There's nothing wrong with Eastern Europe at first glance, people seem to own their houses and aren't loitering about, the young are frivolous and vain as anywhere else and you do see people holding hands or embracing. I hope all will be well.
On the Romanian side the place looked like a ghost town. After some time, somebody finally came and checked us out, then the border guard raised the bar and let us pass. On the Yugoslav side the guards were more efficient. We had to pay fifty Deutschmark at the border for the privilege of having a year of worthless Yugoslavian auto insurance for our day in Yugoslavia. The whole road system in Yugoslavia is set up and run by extortionists. Drove through villages and a long straight roads following an ambulance until we got to Belgrade. We got confounded by this crazy city - cars everywhere, everyone going insane. We got stopped by a cop as we made an illegal right turn, but he let us go. Checked out two hotels, took the one that was cheaper for two, had a nice room with a shower, then strolled around the town. Called mom, no answer, went to a cafe and bookstore, looked at CDs that a guy with a scary voice was selling, then went to eat in a restaurant called "?." Talked to a Serbian anthropologist who introduced some dishes, then met Richard, a Canadian traveling on the same Lonely Planet guide we are. Cool guy, even if he does seem a little anal about America. Hope we hear from him some time soon, especially if he goes to work in Beirut! Saw a silver-haired dude necking with an aging prostitute with huge black hair in the lobby. "Ping Flamingos" was playing late in a local theater, we didn't try to go see it though. Strange!
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10-11-97 Ohrid, Macedonia. Monday
I was lazy all morning but we got out of the apartment by ten thirty, went to the market where we saw the old split olive tree, bought greasy goat cheese burec - the only food to eat in Slavic countries - then visited the market. Great place, cool vibes, lots of vegetables, countryside obasans in traditional clothes, people selling every imaginable thing, toothless guys loitering about everywhere. Had lunch in a small joint run by a guy who spent twenty-seven years in Baltimore. Went to the gorgeous lake for a look, the sun reflecting off of its ancient plane like emeralds, the Lac Leman-like fountain sending a spray up into the air. Drove through the beautiful country to Sveti Naum monastery where we saw the beautiful church, the Macedonian border dude, etc. Nice view of the Albanian coast, this is maybe the closest we'll get for a while, since the border was just a bit past the monastery - we could see the border guard from where we were. Investigated the lagoon where in the summer tourists can rent boats and eat in the cafe, now boarded up. Looks like a beautiful place to drink beer in all afternoon, then drive home drunk. Walked around and drove back. Back in town, we went back to the room and both had perfect unkos!! Walked into town past all the churches and museums that we can't see because they're all closed on Mondays. Climbed up to the castle and got its excellent view of the full moon rising into the twilit sky from the mountains on our side of the lake, the sunset producing a pink glow over the mountains behind the towns on the far side of the lake, towns we passed through last night. Took a picture that will hopefully show the moon, being there in the ruins gave us a strange druidic ruins of Camelot/Stonehenge feeling. Clambered down, bought a bottle of wine from a small convenience store and drank it on the cliff by the church Sveti Jovan Kanes, an awesome place where we were further intoxicated by the romantic moonlight, starlight, the flickering light of the lake towns, the sound of fishing boats going by, and the church in shadows. Back in town , now feeling quite drunk, we bought nine tapes, a Prodigy CD for Ralph's Christmas present, and a hand-carved fish. High on emotion, we went for a relatively expensive lake-trout dinner in a gorgeous restaurant with immaculate service, very excellent for twenty-two dollars. Since then we've been reading and writing and listening to our new tapes: the music of "the Godfather", Anastasia's "Before the Rain" soundtrack, Nick Cave, the Big Blue, songs of Edith Piaf, the "Beavis and Butthead Do America" soundtrack, others.
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21-11-97 Goreme, Turkey
Woke up, changed our room from the fairy chimney to the room with shower. Had our most classic Turkish breakfast on the roof of the hostel in view of the fairy chimney we had just slept/froze our butts off in. It was a breakfast of freshly bought bread with olives and Turkish cheese, with instant coffee that had probably been bought in Romania or something. It was all very beautiful, so was our room. Met a funky hippie van couple who told us about the Olimpos tree houses, I think we'll go there. Drove off and went to another area. We parked our car at the side of the street and walked down an alley where we saw dark-clad Turkish women wandering about with children. Walked a little further and found the underground city of Kaymakli, which we saw with a guide. The underground city is an incredible work of human civilization, unknown to most people. It was build in medieval times when some Europeans feared Turkish invasion, and when maybe the Turks and other Middle-Easterners feared Christian invasion, but it was also a time when Anatolian Christians feared Muslim invasion so they used their underground cities as places of retreat and holed up there to wait out sieges. This city had nine underground levels, absolutely incredible, with traps to destroy invaders that were let into the trap in small numbers. All the amenities for long-term survival, very cleverly designed. Were very satisfied with our tour and our maze-like experience, were also satisfied that we avoided paying for parking and our car wasn't harmed either. Drove even further to the canyon and hiked around it, it is here that we saw churches there, like "Serpent Church." Drove to Selime where we played with the kids, tried to speculate which part of Star Wars might have been filmed here, took pictures, and saw their school. Drove home, cooked dinner, ate.
Funny. I can't seem to write diaries, anymore. I'm five days behind. Tonight I wrote for five minutes, then somebody began talking to me. We had an awesome dinner tonight, though, the result of our long shopping trip: home-made dinner of ?N??, vegetables, rice, tomato soup. Went to Flintstones bar with the traveling Australians, the two Simons and three Johns. Jon and I talked about music, movies, books and travel, he introduced me to Pavement and Built To Spill, cool musician dude from New York.
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16-12-97 Venice, Italy
Yesterday was a crazy driving day. We woke up in Rimini and drove around the city, tried to see the Augutus gate but it was covered with renovation tarp? There doesn't appear to be much to see in this town actually. Drove up, up, up to San Marino and had a fun time there. We shopped duty-free, sent postcards, saw the Cathedral of San Marino, looked at knives and switchblades for sale, bought gloves for Haruhito, tried to go up to the castle, had a snowball fight, it was snowing quite hard, till we saw a group of Japanese tourists up there! The drive down was very frightening. The road was slick, we crawled down at the lowest possible speed, but we still drifted down the humped surface twice and smunched the front right corner into a wall at the side. We were scared and charged and didn't quite know if we'd make it. We drove five kilometers per hour, pumped the brakes and didn't slide too much going down those hairpin turns, until we got lower and the snow turned to rain and the slush on the road turned to water, and the road itself turned from stone to asphalt and straightened out... Not too much damage although the steering wheel was a bit skewed. I hope it won't give us too many problems driving until we get a chance to have it checked out, in Diesdorf maybe, two thousand kilometers from here. Drove through the rainy gloom into Ravenna and went to the information lady and got maps and posters. Walked to St. Lucia Basilica and tomb and saw the beautiful mosaics, but they were largely under restoration. They turned the lights on in the crypt for us to see the three sarcophagi and ceiling mosaics - beautiful. Tried to find another church and walked around Ravenna's lovely streets until we found it, but there was a very small service taking place so we didn't look around, just left. Drove for two hours in the dark until we got to Mestre, the town closest to Venice. We parked the car in a lot, took the train to Venice, had an instant dinner there, checked into the hotel, went for a walk, then came back and went to sleep.
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31-12-97 Berlin, Germany
We had a lovely loving morning in our bleak but cozy hotel room, then ate breakfast, went to the Egyptian Museum. Closed on New Year's Eve, open New Year's Day. Shit! Does that make any sense at all? Went to Zoo Station area to look at the Gedachtniskirche and walk around. Took the one hundred bus again to the victory monument, then took it to the Brandenburger Tor. Joe Hick from Alabama and his inbred family were sitting behind us making stupid comments about what they were seeing. Marveled at the Patsdamerplatz, Europe's biggest construction site, maybe the world. Will be the site of the new seat of government stating in the new millennium, the propaganda-and-frantic-excitement machine was chugging away in the form of posters and huge "about the new Potsdamerplatz exhibition in a redesigned construction trailer unit that we didn't see. Poster of a very old couple: "Sie haben zum ersten Mal im Kino im Potsdamerplatz gekuesst, jetzt koennen sie es endlich wieder machen." Saw the Siegessaeule victory monument that the angels from "Wings of Desire" were sitting on in the traffic circle as well, the lift up there was also closed unfortunately. Took some nice pictures of it glinting in the sun. Overheard Russian tourists having a lovers quarrel on the steps outside. Walked around that area to Alexanderplatz again, admired the ruined Reichstag, saw all of the big preparations for the big Eve, walked along the main street. So interesting, good hot dogs to buy and eat. Went by subway back to the hotel, in the Alexanderplatz subway station we passed these country yokels carrying a case of beer, drunk and making noise, I'm not going to tangle with these losers for any reason. Read and slept, had snacks for dinner, then left late to go to the house on Checkpoint Charlie. There was a drunken buzz in the air, I think this area is in the old East Berlin, so it's a bit tense and disadvantaged and crazy. In the square and in the subway station in general there are all sorts of hard types hanging around, scowls, not good vibes at all. From the bus we saw some sort of a scuffle, Miki says that she saw somebody was holding a gun. They're open every day of the year until ten, but that night they were closing at nine and it was ten to nine!! Shit! Missed two museums in the same day. Walked up to the Tor, saw the section of the Wall, ate Chinese food, drank a beer, saw many bad hair people, heard horrible lip-syncing, then a great Fifties revival band, a bunch of old guys that played the Peter Gunn theme live, God bless them. The only good music I'd heard for a very long time. Left to go home because the fireworks and firecrackers were becoming oppressive - people were setting them off all over the place, and the crowds were also getting on our nerves. Went to sleep after two thirty after fooling around again, woke up at nine o'clock on New Year's Day.
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07-01-98 Paris, France
After a quick breakfast and lots of black coffee and cigarettes with Helene, we left and went to a cafe for North African tea, it got us out of the rain. Good vibe in that wonderful place. It stopped raining and got sunny, so we walked around the famous cemetery of Paris, which is just down the road from Helene's house. It's a gorgeous place, lots of trees and crowded with wonderful stonework and magnificent towering grave markers and crypts. There were free tourist maps for people who wanted to pay homage. Saw the graves of Pissarro, Balzak, Edith Piaf, and Eugene Delacroix. Jim Morrisson's grave was all cleaned up, all of the hippie and black mass evidence had been removed and there was just a simple stone with his name on it. A security guard was there and we saw at least one security camera. The security guard stopped some Japanese guys from taking video footage of it, they seemed to be making some kind of road movie. It seems like Jim Morrisson's estate asked that no videos be taken at the grave, although still photography was allowed. Oscar Wilde's grave was a huge, ornate, modernist mythological thing, seemingly constructed and donated by a rich admirer. I wonder how many famous people's graves we just wandered past. There were large monuments to the French holocaust victims of Buchenwald and Ausschwitz and others, large frightening grisly monuments to the great horror of our plagued century. Said good-bye for the day to Helen at the modernist subway entrance, then took the tube to see the Notre Dame and to change money at a good rate. Strolled around the cathedral, then along the Seine, bought a French copy of les Fleurs du Mal from the early Seventies from one of the stalls that lined the Seine, a mini Eiffel Tower, a reprint of a famous black cat poster, and postcards. Ate falafels at a Lebanese place next to the Seine, we were so hungry and that was our late lunch. Walked across Pont Neuf toward the Louvre and bumped into Fanny and Michael, the other long vacation honeymooners in Europe with car. We talked rapidly for five minutes, then split with their card. They want to meet us tomorrow for coffee, but I don't think we'll phone them, they're kind of annoying, especially Fanny who has a stupid laugh and nothing important to say. At twilight we finally got to the Louvre, the object of this Parisian pilgrimage finally achieved. This was the first time I've seen the "new" I.M. Pei-designed lobby, it's huge and full of shops, information, etc. The security guards are striking and protesting in the lobby, making a lot of noise and banging on bongos, pretty funky actually. Went into the museum, but we were too tired to see more than two and a half hours worth. I was desperate to see more and more significant European and world art, but we were too tired. Miki had to take five on a bench, she had almost no energy left at all. Still saw many important masterpieces. Left there and went back. Bought groceries, cooked dinner, hung out with Helen, listened to the Verve and the "Wings of Desire" soundtrack, slept.
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13-01-98 San Sebastian, the Basque region of Spain
Today we spent the whole day in San Sebastian, which was very nice. We woke up in the morning, were lazy. I moved the car from its spot on the street to the parking garage. Went out around eleven, bought scary postcards. We went to the harbor and looked at the rustic boats, walked along the road, found ourselves past the bay and walking around the peninsula. We climbed up to the castle with its large Christ and castle ruins. I looked, but didn't see. The sky was so large, it just went up and up forever, the day was sunny and incredibly beautiful, we really were of the world here in the Pays Basques. Went down and saw the cathedral, very nice. Bought groceries, went back to the hostel, ate lunch, read and snoozed, the car came into the room, her name is Pichichi, she's a very ugly puffy white cat, but very friendly. Four o'clock we woke up, went out for a walk along the shore of the wavy bay, saw the locked cathedral, wandered around the streets, went to two different places for tapas and wine. Hung out in the record/book stores for some time. Went back to the room, read and hung out with the cat, then went out for another walked around, went to one place for more tapas and wine, some guy who looked like Joe Pesci served us, another guy who looked like Serge Gainsbourg or Bongo Dave was at the bar too. Next found the crazy place that played good music: Hi-Standard, Breeders, Pixies, etc. Bartender had Nick Cave hair. Some guy with Ralph's face and my hair walked in and smoked some dope. Later we went back and slept.
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22-01-98 Lisbon, Portugal
Today we woke up and slowly got ready to go. Drove to the mountain fortified village of Obidos for a walk about. It sure was hot. Parked behind the castle, walked down the middle of the town road, bought film, climbed the castle walls, took some pictures, watched a cat climb up the chimneys, saw that a house was for sale, thought about buying it. Went down some twisty, empty lanes, saw a white cat, looked at the castle, ate lunch among the leaves and grasses. Obidos is another amazing town similar to San Gimignano in Tuscany province in Italy, this town is fortified also and very quiet. Local people still live here, yet the whole place exudes a rustic aesthetic and it's a glorious place to be on a beautiful sunny January day. The people around us seemed somehow joyful, we love being here and like breathing the air and walking through arches, looking at people's doorways on the side alleys, looking at how they've arranged their flowerpots, anything. Drove on, the highway route was very picturesque. Paid a toll, drove into Lisbao. After getting a little lost, we found our accommodation in a Penzion run by an Indian family, our room has a view of the castle, it looks fine sitting like a fat cat in the sun all the way across town by the sea. I wonder if we'll go there, we sure have seen a lot of castles recently. Found an Amalia poster on the wall near our pension, I like this place already! Walked to the Praca do Comercio and saw the fatty Botero statues that are here for the Expo '98, it was getting dark so we couldn't take any pictures, the sun looked real nice going down over the Atlantic. Walked around the lanes, saw Bennetton, went for a beer and soup. Walked up the hill, very nice. Went looking for a restaurant to have dinner in, it was too early though. Had a salad and walked back to our area, passed the tourist info first. Found a restaurant that was described in our guide book, the African family next to us had a sweet boy; the waiter was very friendly too. He's a soccer player who does Tai Kwon-do. Funny guy. The food in this place is great, I think we'll have to come back again. Found the movie theater, "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Titanic" are playing. Maybe we'll see one of them tomorrow.
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07-02-98 les Saintes Maries de la Mer, southern France
A bad luck day again, one of the worst actually, but we're holding tough. The day started off okay, we left Perpignan, drove and drove along the ugly highway littered with white trash stops and drove through lots of little towns and traffic circles, bought some groceries for a great lunch like great cheese and crispy bread, then got to the lovely little town of St. Maries de la Mer after a short drive through the desolate bog of the Carmarque where apparently they still have wild horses and wild cattle. Went to the info to get some info, then went to the beach again to eat our lunch at around three. Saw the sea and sun, saw white horses and pigeons, went back to the car and saw our beautiful car had his back window smashed in. Poor Rudy! We didn't know what to do at first, we actually thought that nothing had been stolen. Knocked on the door of a beach house to try to use a phone, but the old geezer didn't really seem very helpful... went to the gendarmerie, reported the shit. Feeling shitty. Second bad luck in two days. Each time we try to go somewhere we get it in our faces and its never any good for anybody, least of all us. At first we didn't find what had been stolen, so we told the Gendarme that nothing had been stolen, but then I remembered our black shoulder bag and I reported. I told the cop that something indeed had been stolen and he whined and told me that if I was going to report a theft he'd have to change everything in the report. A quiet job and eating too many donuts in this one-horse town has made this chap rather lazy it seems. The first thing we did was go back to the beach and look around for our stuff, thinking that perhaps the thieves had thrown it away after they found that there was no cash or anything of value among it. I tried to remember what was in that bag - our guidebook, Miki's beret, some tapes, the Salamanca silver skull and frog key chains, some mixed tapes... Couldn't find it so we went to the information to ask what we should do. Looked around for a shop or garage where we could get this gash fixed quick quickly. Trying to weigh our options, but we don't have many. We could either stay in town or go to Arles real quick because shops are closing soon, it being a Saturday. Found a place in town, Olivier the mechanic/owner/single employee will keep our car until Monday and fix it, he also found us some accommodation. He has two big ugly dogs, Miki was freaked out by the big ugly bloodhound he kept there, his place was an ugly smudge on the neat little French community that they had there, it sure was an odd place to be on this beautiful sunny afternoon. "An animal would never screw somebody up just to steal stupid stuff," he told me, "he'd steal food." Deal with theft. All we do is spend money for food and accommodation. We don't need a holiday anymore. Still, if we have to be stuck somewhere, this is a most idyllic place to be for a few days despite our desperately hurried schedule in our eleventh hour of our long trip. It's a flat town under a perfect blue sky by the sea, quiet, with its share of fine people and old buildings, there aren't many tourists about but its the weekend and there's some life along the sea-walk in the harbor, many of the rich, beautiful people are gracing us with their presence, as are the gypsies up the road. I wonder if its they who attacked our Rudy, or if it was someone who disliked Germans/German cars? "There'll be a noise like no other noise if they can put a puck in the net," is what the Olympic announcer tells us from Nagano. Checked into a nice two star place, we'll be here until Monday in spite of our plans. Watched Olympics all day... all night... not in a very good mood, but trying to stay cheerful...
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01-03-98 Hong Kong, China
Woke up late and met Francoise for a dim-sum lunch. I paid for it, it was too cheap though so I almost lost face by treating Francoise. Went to Tiger Balm gardens after looking through our photos in the restaurant with Francoise, but they closed just before we got there. Shit, we should have looked at the photos in the Gardens instead of the restaurant, if only we'd known. This will require another trip to Hong Kong since Miki hasn't seen the place, but has read a book about it recently!! Another missed chance, since we were leaving tomorrow! Went looking for bird cages with Francoise, whose bird cage we really like, then went to a hotel bar for quite some time to drink beer and smoke cigars, there we met Pascale who wants to come to Japan and was picking our minds for information. I think we don't really have the info she wants and needs. I guess Yvan paid for us, thanks man! After we said good-bye to everybody, we went with Pascale to eat some late-nite noodles, they were quite good. Pascale might seem a little creepy, but she's the only Francais who bothered to learn any Cantonese and seemed to like the local food. She also wasn't a big spender like the rest. Went back to the apartment, Zaza was already sleeping which was a change. She seems to have suffered more than anyone else from the cigars, quite strange. We tried to be quiet, and soon went to sleep. I slept well, Naoko poorly...
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18-12-98 Seoul, Korea. Into India by air to Mumbai, a.k.a. Bombay
Got woken up at six o'clock by the night man, no problem. Got some 7-11 food and coffee since Dunkin' Donuts not open yet. Took the subway to th airport, sat between an R.O.K. army guy and some toe-tapper listening to "disco greats." The R.O.K. army sarge looked so mean. He probably knew ten to twenty ways to kill me with his bare hands. I'd have liked to have talked to him, but if he had been an N.K. commando on infiltration he wouldn't have known English and if I blew his cover that way he might have panicked and that wouldn't have been very good for me... The line-up at the airport was pretty slow, but I got there fine. Saw Chinese athletes in line at Immigration, talked briefly with a Korean-American, on his way to Hong Kong, saw the Adidas JET from Nova Scotia at the airport, talked to him for a while. Great, so now I'm up-to-date with my journal and ready for India, here listening to ??? on the walkman. Been looking at pictures o Miki and drinking beer and writing this. Maybe I'll pack up, take a leak, and go talk to N.S. Oops, he's sleeping. Maybe I'll just veg and concentrate on turning my watch back three hours to India time...
Finished my flight and landed with no problems, many beers later, after having seen "the Parent Trap" and "Armageddon" on a teeny-weeny little screen ten meters away. It was not the right way to see "Armageddon" and the only redeeming value of the whole movie, the special effects, could not even be enjoyed - gosh, was that ever a crap movie. I talked to Christina from Belleville and Clair from New Zealand and Anosha from England, some other English teachers who'll be on the flight from Bombay back to Osaka on the ninth of January. Got to the airport and wandered out of the arrival area a little drunk, a little tired, a little disoriented and confused, when just over my shoulder I suddenly saw a sign with my name misspelled on it, PETER HOLFICH, "hey that's me!" It was held by Tony Kotril, the retired Air India pilot who'd come to pick me up. We made quick introductions, he explained who he was and why he was there and he drove me into town in his ancient motor vehicle. He fed me, gave me beer and a place to sleep and nice conversation. He's such a gentleman. The warm evening is so lovely, there's a little jungle just next to the building and there's a beautiful view of it from his balcony. The night was warm and I talked a lot to his niece and nephew Anil and Anita, two young university students. They're pretty nice and had so many questions for me. Funny people. I was given a place to sleep on the dining room floor, it was comfortable and I had not problem sleeping.
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21-12-98 Aurangabad, India
Later in the day I find myself in the Punjab Hotel here in Aranghabad, where they let me sit around and drink Knock Out high punch strong beer - the magician can pour vodka into a glass and turn it into beer. Mom and dad's wedding anniversary today. Been in India three nites by now and am starting to get the hang of it. Hmmm... 21-12... "2112", my favorite Rush album. NOT!! Earlier in the day... I remember I remember...
So this morning - I was in the Bhavnani ranch in Poona!!! I was
keeping my hands clean, but I was a little tired. I had tea and omelette
and toast. Ravi called and I sent emails to mom and dad, also Ralph,
tried to read something or something. Got in the van, got to a bank,
got to a bus, I SAT on that bus for many hours... We stopped for
food somewhere, I paid a pittance. Covering distance is so incredibly
slow in India, all of the roads are country roads I guess, it's like fifty
years ago in Japan, or like present-day Portugal and Spain? But why
just a hundred kilometers in five hours? Incredible. I had
some dhal and some curry - good stuff, a little fiery. The waiter
asked me for a pen, so I gave him one. Why not? We kept on
bussing along. Illish, the young Indian man sitting next to me, spoke
up... and kept on speaking up, asking me all of the million questions he
had in mind. Passed some nice scenery, took some pictures too, he
asked me about dating in Canada, if I married my girlfriend or some other
lady. Poor guy, he arranged a weekend in Pune so that he could meet
up with his girlfriend. Spent twenty-eight hours in a bus so that
he could see her for one hour. She was waiting at four, he got there
at six thirty, she only had 'till seven thirty, his bus back home left
again at ten. Poor lad. Got to Aurangabad, Illish had originally
promised to help me find accomodation, but when he saw how late he was
he asked if I'd be okay on my own, some auto rickshaw guy quoted me a price
and took me to a hotel, I got a room, checked in, I let him take me downtown
and got him to drop me off at the MTDC office so I could get tickets for
the tour the next day to Ajanata and inquired about further transportation
to Bombay so I can get there on the twenty-fourth to pick up Ravi and Michelle.
Seems like I can't take a day train like I wanted to, so I might have to
take a night bus and have a whole day in Bombay alone, that's okay too
and has its own advantages and disadvantages. My autorickshaw driver
is trying to get me agree to take his autorickshaw tour around town and
to Ellora for tomorrow, I don't really want to go. I don't think
I can take a whole day in an autorick, especially with this shady character.
I don't want to get in a position where I feel obliged to him, and am keeping
my distance and not being too friendly. I want to go to Ellora on
my own by local bus if possible,I've read about people doing it, why not,
it's close by. That way I can do it at my own pace. He says
he'll be waiting for me when my tour gets in the next night to find out
my decision, but I'm not making any commitments. Ate in the Punjab
Hotel, spilled on myself, etc. Terrible. This restaurant has
a lot of character, the men around me seem Muslim, they are drinking water,
eating away at small dishes. There are small boothes on both sides,
men who look like gangsters are going in to them for their meals, for meetings
too? This place reminds me of the Middle East. I feel like
the only white guy in this town. Lots of people loitering around.
The sure sign of low employment? Went to a travel agent and got my
tour for tomorrow to Aurangabad, found out about further transportation,
it was all too easy. I don't feel like I'm in India, since all I've
ever heard about travelling here is that things are a hassle and people
are difficult to deal with, but check this out: within half an hour of
getting to this town, I'd already gotten myself a room, booked a good tour
for the whole of the next day, found out about travel information, and
found a good place to eat dinner. It's taking me longer to complete
this journal entry than it did to look after my necessities all over this
small town. That's unprecedented, even in Europe. Came back
to my hotel area and wandered about, but there's nothing worth exploring
around this dismal area. The station area is more interesting, so
I'll check it out more tomorrow. It's only nine thirty, but I'm tired,
like last night too. I'll try to sleep soon. I have to wake
up at seven thirty or so. There's a cricket in my room, the street
outside is so noisy, people sometimes talk right outside the door.
Paid for three nites in this shitty place, even though it looks like I'll
spend the third nite in a bus, not here at all... Drats. No,
a good plan, actually!!
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