Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Taking Lumps in Kuala Lumpur

I can finally say that I've worked for Donald Trump! No, I didn't get a job working for the Trump organization or for the US Government - I've just had a boss who is equally as narcissistic and attention deficit. I should back up, I suppose.

This is not going to be a happy post.

In order to change up my little travel routine, I decided to sign up for Workaway while in Bangkok. I found a person in Kuala Lumpur who was willing to host me in exchange for twenty hours of my labor a week. Since it was physical stuff (painting, scraping, assembly), I figured I could work two tens or three sevens and have the rest of a week to go and explore - what's it matter when I work, as long as I get the jobs done? I also hoped that it would give me a different perspective, closer to staying with a friend and doing their dishes than staying in a hostel or hotel.

I'll note here that Workaway has all sorts of different arrangements - the standard trade seems to be twenty hours for a bed and one meal. I suspect when people get more reviews / have talents that are deemed more "valuable" they can ask for different deals. Similarly, hosts can change what they're offering depending on how well they're reviewed and how sought-after the position seems. One of the ones I was hoping for was filling sandbags on a beach - as long as X number were filled, I could stay in their beach bungalow and get a meal with the family.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

By George! It's Georgetown

Atop the KOMTAR Tower

Well, this certainly isn't being posted a month after the fact...

If you recall from the last installment, I endured an absolutely confusing bus ride getting to Georgetown (including an open-air installment pictured below). That being said, I arrived safely and in one piece at the hostel I picked out the day before (despite a trek down a dim alley that dropped straight into a sewer ditch).

After check-in, I hit the ATM and got myself some ringgits, then proceeded to grab a little dinner at an open-air cafeteria that had a live musical show on for some reason. I forget what I ate, but it was really tasty, which is the basic theme of Malaysia so far.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Go Go Koh Lanta!

After enduring the Phuket Trap, I mini-bused my way to Koh Lanta to join up with a new friend (Alia) I met in Bangkok. While it took several hours longer than advertised, the trip was pretty easy going - much in contrast to the ones before and after. After arriving at the Hub of Joys Hostel and checking in (on the 25th?), I crossed the road, found a beer, and watched the sun set from the beach.

Minibus on a Ferry
After city living in Bangkok and feeling tied down in Phuket, it was a nice change to have little to no obligations and be able to walk to the beach and drink a beer. That being said, there were a few excursions as urged by my more outgoing new friends. My first night, after the relaxing beach sunset, turned into a small group of us going to a blacklight "paint" party filled with EDM and a special brew put together by the "Mushroom Bar" - I was super tired, so only drank beer, but I did help a few folks work through their first times. We ended up nearly overloading a motorcycle+sidecar style taxi (not-a-tuk tuk?) when we headed home only minutes before the police came to shut down the party.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Phuket, I'll go

When I asked a couple folks where to go in Thailand, one said "avoid the Phuket Trap." I'm here to tell you to do the same.

First and foremost, I made the mistake of taking an overnight bus from Bangkok. An absolutely dumb idea - every time the bus jolted my mind started a new adventure of thoughts. Then I had to transfer buses at some out of the way bus station early in the morning. The people took my ticket, then drove off on a motorbike. Everyone else either had a ticket or a sticker. Everything worked out well enough, though I certainly got on the wrong bus for the second leg of the trip. It got me where I needed to be, I suppose.

I didn't really do anything exciting while in Phuket (which, by the way, is "Poo-ket" - apologies for ruining all your jokes). It was expensive and difficult to get around - a $2 trip in Bangkok cost $7 in Phuket. I did my best to wander around Phuket Town, but sidewalk coverage is spotty and I was preparing myself to get hit by a car on a dark road, which didn't add a warm feeling to the first day.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Bye bye Bangkok!

Tomorrow I depart Bangkok after three weeks. I've had an amazing time here and would gladly stay longer, but there's more to explore in the world - hell, there's more to explore in Thailand! That being said, I did a fair amount of exploring in Bangkok, which, I suppose, I should write down here.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

I walked through a door sideways (Bangkok)

Hey! I'm finally caught up to where I am. That being said, I'm scheduling this post for ten days in the future, so who knows what I'm actually doing.

I arrived in Bangkok on October 1 around noon. The flight, having been delayed from around six at night to seven in the morning due to Typhoon Trami was okay enough - I finished Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles on the way. Going through immigration was a bit different, but easy enough and I'd arranged with my hotel (technically a guest house - I don't know the difference) to have a taxi waiting for me. Sure, it cost extra, but I wasn't super ready to start my Bangkok adventure with a taxi driver who didn't understand me (Anchorage was enough of a headache).

In a room that had its own bathroom for the first time, I was feeling pretty well set to go and explore. After a nap, of course.

For the most part, I've just been exploring the mile or so radius around Bangkok's Democracy Monument by foot. On my first expedition I found a museum of coinage (which had a great exhibit on the late king), the post office (now to find postcards!), a cool fortress, and the famed "Backpacker Street" - which was pretty tame on a random Monday afternoon.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

More Vignettes from Osaka

When I thought of these, a bunch came to my head quite readily. Now that I'm trying to type them, I'm having no luck. Since I have a couple, I think I'm just going to post this and come back should inspiration strike in the future.


Big square glasses and a cigarette permanently affixed between purple lips, the square-faced man watched the hairy foreigner struggle to make himself clear through pointing, gesturing, and typing things into his phone. It was a show for the night, he supposed, occasionally displacing his cigarette to allow a bite of dinner or a swig of beer to enter his mouth. The foreigner seemed to making a reasonable go of it though, interspercing "arigato"s between every word and gesture - he did end up getting food and drink, so his efforts weren't in vain. Finished with his own meal and out of cigarettes, it was time to move along and head home - maybe hitting a bar on the way.

When morning rolled around, he discovered that maybe he'd hit the bar a little too hard. Pushing himself into acceptable clothes, he decided to get the good coffee around the corner instead of the instant he kept at home. He got his wish soon enough and his coffee was set in front of him just as his current cigarette had run its course. Taking his first sip, he looked up only to find around the bend of the bar sat the hairy foreigner - the remnants of toast and an egg on a plate in front of him. The show was starting again, but this time with an accomplice - a second foreigner lacking the first's beard, but making up for it with hair up top. Both had notebooks with drawings and handwriting in front of them that they kept passing back and forth chittering in their shared tongue. What were the chances of meeting twice in less than twelve hours? Probably low, but what did it matter?

The coffee man boiled up a second cup in his glassware for the hairy foreigner and the square-faced man took stock of his situation. Feeling a bit better, he decided to call it a morning and get to his next destination. Perhaps he'd see the foreigner there too?


Whatever vignette inspired me earlier here has gone. I went to a temple, watched turtles lazily swim, and imagined myself as the reincarnation of some ancient monk visiting his favorite turtles.


Again, lost the thread. I went to two different malls - one inside, and one outside - just to explore the city. At the indoor one there was a huge line of schoolchildren waiting for autographs from some celebrity.


In Osaka, a fine NPC*
His head was all I could see
Through a hole in the wall
He often would call
"I'll hang on to your bag for a fee!"

*Non-Player Character

In Shin-Imamiya a world to explore
Though typhoon soon closed that door
As I tried to pay
The Bag Man did say
The airport bridge is no more!


Point at a picture, get what you pointed to. Seems pretty easy, right? Everything started out well enough - I squeezed into a coffee shop where I could touch both walls if I laid down and was handed a menu with three pictures. Coffee, coffee with egg, coffee with egg and toast. I pointed at the bottom and a bunson burner was lit. A flask of water was brought to a boil and, through a steam pressure mechanism, the water mixed with the coffee grounds located in a chamber on top of the flask. When the wrinkled old man behind the bar felt the coffee was sufficiently brewed, he turned off the bunson burner and focused his attention to buttering a huge piece of toast while the steam cooled and pulled the coffee back into its original container. The coffee was poured into a cup, the toast was cut into three pieces and placed on a plate, a hardboiled egg was drawn from a cooler and put on its own miniature middle-school lunch tray, and the set was placed in front of me, a wet-nap and tiny glass of ice water completing the picture. All was well in the world.

In due course, the comestibles were consumed. I wasn't quite sated though, so I reacquired the picture card and pointed slightly higher - the coffee and egg. It was only ten yen cheaper, but it was the difference between getting more coins in change or getting rid of the coins I had in my pocket. The old man magicked up some more coffee, the hostess brought forth a second egg on a second tray, and a fresh wet-nap sprang forth from the aether. I was happy.

A few minutes and certainly a few tiny glasses of water later, I squeezed my way out f the establishment. Five ten-yen coins disappeared from my pocket, as did two one hundreds and a five hundred. Now much less jingley, I went out wandering the neighborhood.

Pounding pavement for a couple hours, it came time to sit and digest what I'd seen (and maybe get a bit of writing done). I found a new cafe with a lot more space and two women running it - the hostess and the bartender. A familiar picture menu appeared as I sat down at the bar, though it was a bit pricier - four hundred yen whether you got food or not. I pointed at the top picture - coffee - and used my best friend of a word "oni-guy-shimas" (no idea on spelling - it's "please"). This was met with a smile and a few words I didn't know. Then there was a gesture at the menu - I sat there as Homer Simpson, Smiling Politely. A nod did the trick though and a bunson burner was lit. Then the bread was placed in the toaster oven. A minute or so later there was a familiar set in front of me, complete with wet-nap.

It wasn't a big deal - everything was the same price, after all. That's probably what the hostess was trying to tell me. I wasn't really hungry, but everything went down well enough. While I took my time eating, I wasn't quite ready to start walking again, so I caught the eye of the bartender (maybe better luck with her?). I held up my empty coffee cup and employed my magic word. Point at the cup, thumbs up. Point at the plate, crossed fingers. The lady smiled brightly and nodded.

The bunson burner was lit. The bread went into the toaster oven...


Killing some time before the typhoon hit and found the strangest mashup of a bar.


Who needs an evacuation plan when you have a six pack and a sleeping pod?


I don't know if I'm jet-lagged or lucky. In any case, I caught the first train to the airport and arrived an hour before my international flight.

TV AND 333

The company I was flying with scheduled a departure time of 7:20am. The bridge to the airport reopened at 6am. The massive lines and confusion meant TV cameras everywhere and I got interviewed. Told at check-in that I needed to be at the gate twenty minutes prior, we finally got off the ground. I paid for a cup of coffee in-flight. I had 373 yen in coins I didn't want to carry. The coffee cost 333, leaving me with four, ten-yen coins.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

No Sake in Osaka

Osaka is probably best told in a series of vignettes, so let's get the stats out of the way. I arrived September 28th (crossing the international date line - I wasn't on an overnight flight) and left October 1st (originally scheduled for September 30, but was interrupted by a Typhoon). I made a series of mistakes on this leg, the biggest being withdrawing 50,000 Yen instead of $5,000 Yen ($500 instead of $50). The second biggest was in the choice of hotel. There was also the fact that I clicked "bid 4 biz" on the airline and entered the lowest bid - $120 - assuming I wouldn't really pay that. I won the bid and got upgraded to first class on the flight to Osaka, though I'd already paid extra for my bag and a meal.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Living the Beach Life in Honoulu

My review of Honolulu is going to be a bit of a mess, as I took the opportunity to be an absolute bum. In a first for this trip, I've actually been to Honolulu before, so I did not feel pressured to go and see all the sights. Rather, I got to where I was staying and stayed within a couple blocks - the furthest I wandered was to a place called the Rainbow Drive-In for some cheap eats.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Los Angeles: Acute City of Angles

As of this writing, of any city so far this trip, I spent the longest amount of time in Los Angeles. I didn't really expect to go there - my mind was originally set on immediately flying from Alaska to Asia, but I'm really glad I did. While I'm writing this only a few weeks after the fact, so much has transpired that we'll see what all I can remember.

What drew me to Los Angeles was a generous offer by a couple friends (Sean & Rachel) from Philadelphia of the use of their couch. I figured that would cut costs significantly and it would give me a home base (plus, of course, I'd get to see friends!). I arrived at their spot in Culver City sometime around seven in the morning and, after a quick nap, Sean brought me along to a writers group he had been attending daily. The writers group (Writers Blok, LA) turned into a wonderful therapy session for me - I got a lot of writing done over the next week or so.

After writing (and, I think, another nap), we went out for sushi and walked around Santa Monica for a bit, generally having a good time.

While I'm sure I have specific stories, most of my life was pretty much the same - attend writers group, wander around (or not!) and generally take a bit to just be someplace, as opposed to heading to the next destination. Perhaps we could block this off into "excursions":

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Book List

I can't seem to focus on writing anything, so here's a list of all the books I brought with me. Fair warning, this list is 300+ entries long - expect typos and abbreviations. I've bolded the title if I read the book on this trip - there are a number that I've read previously that I felt could use a reread. If I give up on a book, I'll give it a strikethrough (giving up being defined as deleting it from the device).

Thursday, October 4, 2018

PHASE II: No Itinerary Desired

Where Phase I had to be planned out and scheduled (the train across western Canada ran only three times a week), Phase II was intentionally left blank. The goal was to get to somewhere in SE Asia / Oceania and chill out for a few months. I ended up going to Bangkok (where I am currently typing this with the aid of some Hong Thong blended whiskey). The goal-behind-the-goal is to get some writing done, which hasn't quite sparked yet (especially since I owe blog updates).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Inter-phase Gear Update

I figured it'd be worth it to take a moment to describe the changes I've made to the stuff I brought with me. Oh, and for the record, the airline weighed it all as 11.5kg leaving Hawaii.


  • Ripped jean shorts (this was a painful, but necessary toss - the miser in me wanted to keep repairing them, but they were too far gone)
  • Long sleeve REI shirt (an easy trade-in - I hated wearing it)
  • Exploded pen.
  • A phone charging battery that would not hold a charge
  • A second gray REI short sleeve shirt (with trade-in of the other shirt)
  • A Space Pen refill (just in case)
  • Mid-size hard-back notebook (from Writer's Blok)
  • 100 US post card stamps
  • A zillion Alaska Marine Highway postcards. I have no idea what to do with these.
  • The phone charging battery would be here, but I discarded it less than a week after acquiring it

Along with these, I've made certain clothing / packing changes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Whew - it feels like it's been a year since I last posted. I'm currently in Thailand enjoying the respite the "rainy season" provides (I can't exactly sight-see if it's pouring out). To give you a bit of where my brain's at before I dive in, the past 10 days have been spent in Los Angeles, Honolulu, Osaka, and Bangkok. Please excuse the post if it's a little scrambled!

I'm not sure what to put for my Phase I Wrap Up, but I feel like there should be one. I welcome any suggestions! How about we start with the facts?

My "plan" as it was conceived.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Not dead; on Hawaiian time

I know it's been a bit since I posted my last update. I owe you a Phase I wrap up, a story or two about Los Angeles, and maybe something about a Phase II.

Until then, enjoy Waikiki!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Adrift in Anchorage

On Saturday, September 8, I arrived in Anchorage - finding myself solo for the first time in over a week. A confused taxi ride (the guy didn't know how to use the map app on his phone and I had no signal!) to my AirBnB and I did my best to settle in. This included a mile walk to the nearest restaurant (Tasty Freez?) for a burger and some ice cream, then picking up a 40 of PBR, then walking back to the AirBnB. I then proceeded to sleep for a long time.

The next day was, well, more of the same. I walked around a nearby lake, but failed miserably to make it a relaxing walk. The places I wanted to eat were closed and a guy tried to tell me how much me walking past him was the best thing that happened to him all day. Head-faking him (where are you headed? Oh, surprise, I'm headed in the opposite direction.), I went and had lunch at the same place I had dinner the night before. Then I walked another mile or so up to a bar (Piper's) where I had a few beers and eventually made friends with a bartender who was ending his last shift at the place. After a couple beers, a couple swapped stories, and a couple shared poems, he offered to drive me back to where I was staying - a welcome development given I wasn't looking forward to the long walk.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Juneau there's going to be a pun.

In 1917 miners in the Treadwell gold mine began undercutting the shaft supports in order to get the last little bits of gold out. This, in combination with an unusually high tide, caused the mine to flood and collapse, leading to the close of the mine. It's believed no one died, though one person went missing - possibly fleeing town to avoid his debts.

This is one of the three or so facts you will hear right after someone in Juneau says hello to you. [They really don't want anyone to have died in this, but I ask you if you have a mine collapse and one guy is "missing" do you assume he died in the mine or that he got out out and simply skipped town to avoid bills? I'm betting on the first. Sorry Juneau, he's dead.]

Dan, again, in brackets.

Getting off the boat at around four in the morning was not one of my highlights for the trip. As a bonus, neither Dan nor I could get a consistent cell signal, meaning we were a bit in the dark as to what to do while we waited for the hostel to open. [It also made it very hard to say call a cab, thankfully the ferry terminal had a local phone with which to call cab companies.]

A note about the hostel - for $12 cash and a chore, one can stay at the only hostel in town. The price opened up some possibilities (else you paid $100/night and had to forego any large expense), but the catch was the hours - the "office" was only open 8-9am and 5-11pm. This meant there was some waiting in Dan and my future. [Juneau has many good aspects but it is not a town that's hopping at 4 a.m.]

We waited a few hours for Donna's, a recommended diner, to open (6am). We took a taxi over there, then I had too much coffee while we waited and waited. After some false starts (oh, bonus, it was Labor Day, so even things that would normally be open were closed), we got another taxi to the hostel. Finally checked in, we were kicked out until they reopened at five. What's open on Labor Day? A mountain was open.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lounging to Alaska: a Nautical Tale

Dan & I (see: Dan & Simon's Wacky Rally posts) met at the ferry terminal a little before four in the afternoon. It turned out the boat wasn't going to depart until seven, so our first interaction was a debate about what to do until then. We ended up just getting on the boat and figuring it out. [It turns out the boat, which we thought left at 6 PST leaves at 6 Alaska Standard Time, giving us another hour before departure.]

If you didnt guess, Dan will be conntributing in brackets.

As I sit here thinking about how to shape this into a narrative, I keep coming up with "ways I could have done this better." To be clear, I had a delightful time on the boat, but it's hard to make a post out of "I ate and read and looked out the window and played card games" without thinking about how I could have streamlined the process. I'll do my best to give a full account before giving a future traveler advice.

We spent the first night with a light dinner (chowder, probably) [It was indeed clam chowder] and hitting our two drink limit in the dining area. After that, we just wandered around the ship, getting an idea of its public spaces. To wiz wit:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Lots to See in Seattle

Well, it feels like it's been a year since I visited Seattle, but it's only been about two weeks. We'll see if I can put together a string of words that makes sense...

I arrived in Seattle in the afternoon of the 27th of August by Greyhound. The trip wasn't anything exciting - confused and contradictory bureaucrats are pretty normal. There was one police encounter when we picked up someone just released from jail in Everett (they wanted to search him), but otherwise the trip was rather tame.

In need of a bite to eat, I wandered around the stadiums (the bus stop is right next to the stadium complex) and found myself a little pub. I celebrated my return to America with a burger & some cheap beer and quizzed my bartender about public transit. Not only was that line of inquiry useless, it ended up costing me an hour, as I missed the last "Sounder" train (one hour trip) and would have to use two connecting buses (two hour trip) to get to the ferry that would take me to Whidbey Island.

As a general complaint, the public transit in Seattle was a pain to understand - even folks who were employed by the transit services didn't know what was going on. I put $10 on an ORCA card (that cost a non-refundable $5) thinking "how much could a bus trip be?" - turns out $4.25 for the bus and 5.05 for the ferry left me with an immediate need to refill the card the next day. Later I'd do my research, put $27 more on my card, only to find out the ferry only charged fares one-way, meaning I had $5 on the card when I eventually left. I gave it to my hosts, of course, but the sentiment stands.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Dan reads! Dan writes! Simon does Arithmetic!

Hello from Juneau!

While I was writing the Vancouver and Canada wrap-up posts, Dan added commentary to the Wacky Rally posts. If you'd like to read his additions, check those out!

Seattle, life aboard the M/V Columbia, and Juneau are coming soon (and I realize I didn't do my "math" in the wrap-up of Canada - will rectify that shortly).

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Porta-Party (Wrapping Up Canada)

This is meant to be a Canada wrap-up post. As this is the first wrap-up, I'm not sure how exactly to proceed. I've added a bunch of pictures from earlier posts. After chatting with Dan (see: future posts and the Wacky Rally), I've come up with eight Best & Worst and four Most & Leasts. In no particular order:

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Run for Vancouver

That's what passes for a pun now. "Run for Cover" Not my most inspired work.

Stoch and I arrived in Vancouver about two hours early (though we sat outside the station for a good 45-60 minutes prior to that) and made a beeline to his hostel (the Cambie) where he was very excited to take a hot shower. The hostel operates a bar and far be it from me to waste an opportunity for cheap beer. I sat, drank, wrote, and waited - first for Stoch to finish settling in, then for a mystery person Stoch met in his room.

The mystery person turned out to be Rebecca. Hailing from the UK, she's wandering around the world for a bit and I suspect our paths might cross again. But before they cross again, I should get on with how they crossed for the first time.

Gassy Jack, eponymous man of Gastown

Sated & slaked, our anglophonic trio explored Gastown for a little while. Our first actual stop was for a pee and pint pause at some ping pong place. While there I saw someone with a homemade "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" shirt and I mentioned I was from Philly. This garnered about a dozen hugs and one free shot. Perhaps not everyone hates Philly! In good spirits, we pressed on.

After Gastown, we wandered up to the waterfront (indeed, circling around Waterfront Station) and did the usual tourist gawking and squawking. In need of a spot to take in fresh beer and unload the processed stuff, we stopped in an English-themed pub. It was where I said farewell to Stoch, as he was catching a morning train nonstop to Toronto.

I made my way back to Waterfront Station and rode the skytrain out to Point Moody to meet up with my host for Vancouver - a "distant" cousin (I use the term somewhat ironically, due to geography - I believe he is first cousins with my father). Paul was a great font of knowledge about my father's side of the family and had a lot of information about visiting Lebanon - a place certainly on my to-see list. While we had several great conversations (and I learned a ton of my family history), I should get back to Vancouver generally.

The next set of photos are from the first night...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Welcome... to Jasper Park!

This entry is going to be mostly pictures and videos, but I suspect you won't mind. I have some interesting stuff to share, but I need to get a few housekeeping things off my chest:

Halifax to Montreal: ~22 hours (on time)
Toronto to Winnipeg: ~36 hours (one hour late)
Winnipeg to Edmonton: ~28 hours (four? hours late)
Edmonton to Vancouver: ~29 hours (two hours early)

(everything else was short / as scheduled)

Books Completed: Autobiography of Ben Franklin, Snuff!, War of the Worlds, Siddhartha, The Secret Adversary, Call of the Wild, First Men on the Moon, more? (will update when I look at my kindle again)

The trip from Edmonton started expectedly enough - delays and starts & stops. Eventually we made our way toward and into the Rockies and landed ourselves in Jasper.

At that particular stop I decided to stay on the train (instead of going into town - where I should have bought some beer or something). While on the train, I saw a head and backpack walk by my window that I thought I recognized - could this be Stoch from the Toronto-Winnipeg trip? A text and a quick jog to another car and my suspicions were confirmed! Where I'd spent five days in two cities, he'd spent five days hiking and camping around Jasper. We were now bound for Vancouver.

The rest of the trip was taken up by sharing our different experiences (and how annoyed he was at having departed with his $50 can of bear spray) and cards (half-remembered cribbage can be highly amusing!). Unlike the rest of the train trips, I got a decent sleep (after taking forever to get comfortable) and he had a rough time (one would expect differently after having slept on cold ground).

We departed the train in Vancouver together and made a night of it... but that's another entry. For now, a bunch more pictures.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Up and Down Alberta

The train backed into the Edmonton VIA Rail station four or so hours behind schedule and I was a nervous wreck. Unlike every other stop so far, I'd met my host before and my mind was spinning with worry. Perhaps we hadn't had the connection I thought we had? Perhaps our friendship had developed from set & setting and would not survive different circumstances? Perhaps we'd come to resent being in continued close quarters for a few days? Perhaps perhaps perhaps...

I'd met Mellina at PAX Unplugged - a major board game convention that took place in Philadelphia in 2017. She came to an event I was hosting and we hit it off immediately - I had to be reminded a couple times that I should take a minute to chat with the other attendees (normally I'm pretty good at circulating and making folks feel welcome). Over the next two days we became fast friends; when the convention was over there was definitely a "we need to hang out again" in the air (though it was highly unlikely: we live in different countries and connecting with travel friends is always tough).

Over the next months, as my trip across Canada solidified, it became clear that we would reconnect - this time on her turf. She offered (or, perhaps, acceded to my request) to host me as I took this train trip. Which brings me to arriving in Edmonton.

While we'd been communicating about the delay as the train inched toward, then past, then backing back into, Edmonton station, I was starting to feel burdensome - not only was I taking up the usual time & energy of a host, the train being late was certainly piling on some anxiety. Would this whole adventure work out as I'd hoped?

When I saw her smiling and waving on the train platform, a giant wave of relief washed over me and I knew everything would be great.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Gears of Tour

As requested, a list of how badly I overpacked things I packed for a two-year trip.

  • Osprey Farpoint 55 convertable bag. This unzips into two bags - one small backpack (under seat "personal item") and one, well, larger backpack (overhead bin carry-on or "flight's full" gate-checked item). I keep the small bag filled with essentials, important stuff, and one change of clothes and keep it on me at all times.

  • One khaki "military" cap
  • Three quick-dry (REI co-op sahara heathered) tees
  • One quick-dry (REI again) long sleeve
  • Two regular tees (one "Phillies" and one "Wacky Rally")
  • One short-sleeve casual button up
  • One long-sleeve casual button up
  • Two white undershirts
  • One adjustable cloth belt
  • Two pairs of jean shorts
  • One pair of cargo shorts
  • One pair swimtrunks
  • Two pairs basketball shorts (one orange, one black)
  • Six pairs of quick-dry underwear (exofficio)
  • Five pairs of quick-dry socks (smartwool)
  • One pair Keen Montfort shoes
  • One pair flip flops
Non-clothing cloth:
  • Two quick-dry towels
  • One silk pillowcase
  • One hankerchief
  • One "US Census 2010" totebag
  • Extra pair of shoelaces
  • One pair cheap sunglasses
  • One self winding watch
  • One Nerd Nite Philly button
  • One Ben Franklin in Beaverskin Hat button
  • (acquired) One Canadian Flag pin
  • One Google Pixel 2 XL (with Google Fi service)
  • One iclever folding bluetooth keyboard
  • One no-frills Amazon Kindle (loaded with ~250 books from Project Gutenberg)
  • One crappy AC-USB converter
  • One USB-USB-mini (micro?) cord
  • One USB-USB-C cord
  • Three USB-mini (micro?) to USB-C converters
  • One international power adapter
  • One international power converter
  • One USB stick
  • OneMini-SD card
  • One USB-C to 3/16 headphone jack converter
  • Three cheap 8x10" notebooks for everyday stuff (that I suck at using)
  • One  5x7" waterproof notebook
  • One regular (3x5"?) moleskine notebook
  • One mini (1x.5"?) moleskine notebook
  • A dozen or so scrap pages for letters
  • A dozen or so Philly postcards for host gifts
  • (acquired) a dozen or so postcards for sending (or future hosts)
  • A half-dozen letter envelopes
  • Two 10x12" big envelopes (to send filled notebooks)
  • Lots of US Postage (to use in Seattle / Alaska / LA)
  • Map of Germany (to explain my 2014 trip)
  • Map of Eastern Canada / US (it appeared in my bag)
  • Write-up of my 2016 trip
  • One-page RPG rulesheet / charactersheet
  • Spacepen
  • Four misc pens
  • One Foldable travel toothbrush
  • Three mini tubes of toothpaste
  • Two rolls of floss
  • Two tubes of chapstick
  • One regular-size underarm deoderant stick
  • One small tube of excema cream
  • (acquired) two bars of soap (totally didn't forget to pack this...)
  • (acquired) one sample bottle of bodywash (which came with...)
  • (acquired) 400 pack of q-tips (smallest size they had!)
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • One comb
  • Three bic disposable razors
  • A couple sheets of chewable Pepto tablets
  • (acquired) Small bottle of aspirin
  • Several packs of earplugs
  • One plan-b packet in case I make a friend and there's a slip-up
  • Game box (chess, checkers, backgammon, special APS cards)
  • Half-dozen safety pins
  • One travel sewing kit
  • A couple alligator? paper clips
  • A few yards of 550 cord
  • One mini-M&M container (perfect for odds & ends - might have to find anotherd)
  • A few rubber bands
  • One flimsy carabiner
  • One hundred Philadelphia-themed paper presents for hosts (and bribes?)
  • One trusty money clip
  • A million napkins
  • Passport & passport card
  • (acquired) packet of emergency ramen
  • About $500 USD, split between my person and the various bags
  • Maybe $150 in Euros and Pounds from my last trip to the EU
  • Capital One Credit and Debit cards (no international fees!)
  • Chase Credit Card (just in case CapOne freezes my account due to fraud or whatever)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Laking friends in Winnipeg

Upon arrival in Winnipeg I walked from the station to go meet my host for my stay, Misty. When I arrived at her home, she let me know that she was about to leave to go to hang out with some friends at a lakehouse (hence the "typo" in the title) and I was invited. As I'm trying to be a bit better about accepting invitations and changing plans at the last moment, I said I'd join. A shower, a nap, and a bacon and tomato sandwich* later and we were on our way.

We picked up two of Misty's friends along the way and drove up to Red Rock Lake (by a somewhat circuitous route). We arrived intact and ready to have some fun (though two days of poor sleep were certainly having an effect on me). All together there were eight of us - just about the perfect number for the size of the cabin and the composition of the group - big enough that there were always a few conversations going on but small enough that everyone quickly got the feel of one another.

There's not much to write about the night that would be of interest in a travel blog. I had a ton of fun swimming, drinking, playing games, and chatting around the fire (as I suspect most of us did). There are certainly little things I'll remember ("that's my towel!") but I fear anyone who has ever attended an intimate house party will find any details I paint unique in specifics but with a common hue.

After the party (and breakfast and hangover cures) everyone made their ways back to whence they came. Misty and I went to see the legislative building in Winnipeg for a minute (they have a unicameral legislature that has fewer members than Montreal's city council!) then got some dim sum. I spent the rest of the night resting and being distracted by the television. This is the first city I was unable to get my "bonus" achievement of writing a poem in a library completed.

The morning of this writing I woke up, headed over to the train station, and boarded the train on which I'm currently sitting. It's supposed to take 23 hours to get to Edmonton, but we hit a snag (a disabled freight train) so we'll see how quickly we actually make it. The scenery has been pleasant (fields and such) but the company has been less so (noisy kids in every car, no strong connection to any passengers). I completed H.G. Well's The First Men on the Moon and might finally finish Herman Hesse's Siddhartha (I keep starting and stopping). Maybe I'll even do some writing (assuming two blog entries don't count)!

*Some of you know that I hate tomatoes (and tomato products) with a passion. The smell of spaghetti sauce makes me gag - sometimes to the point that I have to leave the room before I puke. That being said, I'm not allergic or anything, it's just some misfiring synapse in my brain. To that end, I'm trying my best to eat them when offered on this trip (trying being a key word - I failed twice in eating spaghetti with sauce). We'll see if I don't return to the States with a more varied diet.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Train Train Train (Train of Fools)

The train trip from Toronto to Winnipeg did not start well. Much to my dismay, I chose a section behind a whole group of Asian tourists who couldn't figure out how to stay in one seat (much to the frustration of the staff) and next to a family who brought the noisiest baggage and child one can imagine. If the kid was not playing a game at full volume or its parents weren’t repeating “do you have to go pee pee” four hundred times, she was crying. The crying, of course, spurred the family to start rooting around in crinkly bags to find something to sate the kid. Earplugs didn’t help.

I enjoyed the view from the train - the Canadian wild is absolutely beautiful - but the commotion inside the train was driving me nuts. Every time I moved to another part of the train (e.g. the cafe car, the glass dome car) noise makers seemed to follow. Luckily, I make friends easy, and the rest of the trip is what I'll really remember.

When I was in line to board I started chatting up the guy next to me, an Ottawan (I assume that's the demonym) by the name of Stoch. As we waited it became pretty clear that our personalities would work well together and, when I found out that the train was laid out two-and-two (I had expected two seats on one side and one seat on the other as with the Ocean), I suggested we sit together. It worked well enough the first night - he slept quite well and I wasn't troubled by him (though, as mentioned, I had a terrible time sleeping).

In the morning we figured it was time to head up to the dome car. On the Canadian there were maybe four special cars (of the twenty-some passenger cars) that had cafes, tables, and an upstairs glass dome. The order of events isn't particularly important, but we connected with two girls we'd been pleasant to at various points earlier in the trip (Melissa, from Germany, chatted with us while in line with her uncle, and I'm not sure how we connected with Mia, also from Germany). The four of us would be traveling companions for the majority of the trip - we more-or-less claimed a table at the front of the dome car where we chatted, ate, and played a lot of cards.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Toronto, or "Toronno" as the locals say

When I got off the train in Toronto I was pretty hungry, strangely craving noodles. There’s a great little travelers information booth that would help me on several occasions, but my first request there was where to get some hand-drawn noodles. I wandered over to Chinatown and sated my desire, though I made a slight mistake - I should have grabbed a vegetarian dish instead of being sucked into a “spicy” beef dish (it was not spicy - a common theme in the food I would consume). I then headed over to the subway and headed over to my AirBnB for the night.

Not my AirBnB - City Hall

The AirBnB was possibly the best appointed I have ever been to. My host, Charlene, had set out fresh fruit, cereal bars, water bottles and all sorts of little things that make traveling. Plus she was great to chat with and I got many tips about exploring Toronto.

Laundry & sleep and I was on my way the next day. I decided to make city hall my first stop - I hadn’t realized it was “Federation Headquarters” from Star Trek, so that was cool. It also had a small display of flags of indigenous persons, which I obviously enjoyed. I arrived in the middle of a fire drill, so I took some photos and tried to get into Old City Hall (it’s a functioning courthouse - they would have let me in, but there wasn’t really anything to explore). Eventually the fire drill ended and I took a self-guided tour, which included one of my artsiest photos - a side view of the “wall of nails”. I also wrote a poem in the library inside city hall.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Still Alive! (Just no internet)

I just got in to Winnipeg and am now headed out to a cabin on some lake.

Fun fact: the trains out west don't have wifi and only barely ever have cellular signal, so I wasn't able to get a post cobbled together for Toronto. (Plus I made some new friends!) Given my schedule for the next week or so, I suspect I'll be having too much fun to sit and type.

Rest assured I'm having a great time (outside of issues sleeping on the train).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Overindulgence City (Ottawa)

The White House... no, wait...

In a huge twist, I went to Ottawa and saw the Parliament building. Oh, wait, that's what everyone does. I only had a few hours in the city (train arrived at 2pm and I would depart at noon the next day), so I just kind of ran around.

I've titled this post "Overindulgence City" because, well, I was a bit of a glutton, starting with splurging for a taxi from the train station (it was an easy 40 minute walk). After checking in to my AirBnB I rushed over to the capital complex (they have a name for it... that I forget). A nice information girl gave me the low-down on a couple things and I was told that, basically, there was no way I was going to see inside the buildings. I was then directed to the Bier Markt for an early dinner.

"the American invasion" - words I'll likely see again

I had a few local brews and, still a little miffed about my burger the previous day, decided to eat some specialty burger on the menu. The beer, the service, and the burger were all great, if pricey. I even got a show as some huge group of tourists decided to dine & dash, which was understandably annoying to the staff.

Stares and Stairs (Montreal and Quebec City)


I left you in Montreal with the promise of the excitement of laundry and relaxation in my next post. Well, I dare not disappoint - I did, indeed, relax and do laundry on Wednesday! I've also done a few other things since then.

As I'd bought a three-day metro pass, I figured I should get some use out of it ($19CAD for five trips - I should have done each trip separately [though, had I done that, I suppose I wouldn't have been driven to use the pass and go downtown on Wednesday to "get my money's worth"]). I had two things I needed to check off my list - I wanted to see a government building and I wanted to write a poem in a library.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Halifax Explosion (and how one egg is un oeuf)

My last entry was written at a fine cafe by the name of "Dilly Dally" - additionally, I believe I mentioned stopping in at a bar on my first night in Halifax - both of which are photographed below for your viewing pleasure.

I'm trying something a little different this time with the blog - instead of using the Blogger app, I'm typing all of this directly into the Blogger website. I've heard from a few of you (okay, okay, just my mom) that you didn't receive a push notification / email when I published the piece I wrote at Dilly Dally the other day. Maybe putting it through this way will change that?

In any case, I should probably catch you up on what I've been up to.

After leaving the cafe, I made my way up to the Citadel in Halifax. Due to my time limit in the city (my train left at one in the afternoon), I chose not to purchase admission to the site and instead walked around it for a bit - it seemed like the type of place that would take a half-day to actually wander around and take full advantage of. Instead, I circled it and read some plaques - including a reminder that the largest pre-nuclear explosions happened in the harbor (bay? water area?) in Halifax due to munition ships colliding. The whole story is fascinating and a testament to human courage and charity. If I were on a real computer, I'd link to some info right about now.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bad Omens, Good Outcomes (Philadelphia to Halifax)

I'd not one for signs and portents, but if I were, I'd never have traveled on August 4, 2018. The whole week prior I'd seen a dead bird nearly every day, culminating in a giant dead crow on my travel day. Add in nearly constant fear of dying in two ways ("Am I having a heart attack or just stressing out?" "Is that a lump or do my nuts normally feel like that?") and waking up to a giant rain storm and I'm surprised I even got out of bed.

But I did.

I ran my last few errands (mail, credit union, ominous last meal) and boarded the MFL to Jefferson Station to catch the train to the airport. Waiting for my train, I realized that in my packing spree I'd never actually checked in for my flight. Air Canada gave me a seat assignment of "GTE" - as in, see the gate agent as there's a distinct possibility that I could be bumped from my flight. Don't gooooo...

It turned out there was something wrong with the train to the airport and, after waiting twenty minutes to board, we went two stops and had to switch to a shuttle bus at 30th Street (had I known, I would have taken the MFL straight there). A shuttle bus pulled away just as a group of us got to it - several people started loudly complaining, but all I heard was Don't gooooo...

We all packed together when we finally got on the bus - I grabbed a seat near the front (just behind the "reserved for those in need" seats). As we pulled away, I remembered my manners and offered my seat to two different older women - one of whom had offered me her seat earlier in Jefferson Station when she saw my enormous backpack. While neither took me up on my offer, one praised me for being "such a nice young man whose mom must have raised him right". This was the start of fortune's turn around - I am a nice young man whose mom did raise right.

On the bus to the airport, I started to consolidate all the "bad omens" I'd seen / felt over the past few days and pushed them into a narrative. My Bad Luck Vacation. My Ill-Fated Adventure. How Simon Died: A Travel Story. As the narrative formed, I began to take control again. Hell, if Air Canada bumped me, I'll just skip Halifax. Or I'll make them fly me to Montreal from Halifax (as I'd miss my train). Or I'll just cancel a couple stays and make things work - it would be okay.

We arrived at the airport around the time we would have had the train been working and security / getting to the gate was easy enough. The gate agent came around and gave everyone gate-check tickets - the first outside sign my luck was changing. Not because I had the ticket, but because my ticket ended in 828 - my lucky numbers (a.k.a. my birthday, August 28). The plane was late, but that was okay - compared to my imminent death, a late plane was nothing.

Bad luck and good luck crossed over the next few hours. I had bad luck with a seatmate on my first flight - he couldn't stay on his side of the arm rest - and the door that the gate-checked baggage wouldn't open. I made it to Montreal alive though, so that was a start. I got through customs in time (though there was a frantic man yelling "I have to get through - my plane's in fifteen minutes!" as if we weren't all in the same boat). My gate was at the furthest reaches of the airport, so I used my "city walk" to plow through dozens of mouth-agape tourists whose idea of catching a flight was apparently "mill about in the middle of foot traffic".

My first real human interaction came while I waited for the plane to Halifax. Julie and I had a delightful chat about all sorts of things - she was headed out to meet some friends and see a ZZ Top concert. I also had better luck with my seatmate this time around - Donna was headed home after a two-month stint in Nunavut. She expressed an interest in doing the Wacky Rally (http://www.wackyrally.co.uk) someday (which she totally should!).

I was a bit impatient when I finally got to Halifax and ended up splitting a cab to get to the downtown area (ugh, that's the price of a day's stay wasted). I checked into my AirBnB, did an 11:00pm walk around the block, and found myself a bar with local beer (Freeman's) and some delightful company (Shay, bartender, who didn't like the newspaper I also found disappointing; Colin[?] who gave me some great advice about finding my way to the train station in the morning and who passed up a once-in-a-lifetime free rail trip on board a famous rail car; and Matt, who was doing a similar thing to me, though he is job-hopping instead of... well... whatever I'm doing).

I'm writing this in a quaint little cafe ("Dilly Dally" - very appropriate as I look at the clock creeps closer to my departure time). To pull back the curtain a bit, I have a bunch of blog questions. Should I publish this now or should I wait until I get on the train (and have seen a bit more of Halifax)? I don't have any good pictures - should I wait to publish until after I take a few? I haven't hand-written any bit of this (a HUGE surprise to me - normally I hand-write these then type them up later) - should I get this on paper at all?

I think I'll push this out as-is. I'll just have a Halifax post later. Apologies for typos - this keyboard introduces twice as many as I normally make and I'm not always good at catching my normal amount!

[edit] Reading List: Finished Franklin's Autobiography, started Christie's The Secret Adversary