Austria, Germany.3, England, Scotland

October 20th, 2003

Subject: Taking my 2 weeks vacation
Current Location - Hamburg, Germany
Local Currency - Euro ($1.15us = ?1)
Language - German
Temperature - 50ish
Songs defining this leg of the trip - Kryptonite - 3 Doors Down (Innsb)
      Chicago - Groove Armada (Hamb)
      Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie (Hamb)

Well, if traveling is my job, then the past 2 weeks have been my vacation.

After my last email from Innsbruck, a funny thing happened. Summer ended. Just like that. One day we were outside in t-shirts playing ping-pong, the next, I'm wearing a leather jacket with a big furry liner and theres snow on all the mountaintops.

Innsbruck really looks a lot more like Innsbruck when there is snow on the mountaintops. I dont know, that was just the way I envisioned Innsbruck should be, and really liked it that way.

I spent the next few days in Innsbruck following up on leads on potential buyers for the van. Then when all that fell through, I followed up on potential people to take the van for free. See, you have to pay ?70 to dispose of a vehicle, so if I found someone to take it for free, then I'd save that charge. Still I couldnt find any takers.

So the next few days in Innsbruck, I spent hanging with the Popps (Nils' family). Nils lives with his brother, Peter, and his other brother and sister live in the same building. So when Nils was busy or couldn't go out, I headed out with Peter. After a while, I almost felt like I was adopted. I was even invited out to the family Sunday lunch at the parents house. All in all, some of the nicest people I have met on my whole trip.

As it became clear that I wasnt going to get anyone to take the van, Nils and I made an arragement. I'd give him the van, he could sell off what parts he could, hopefully selling a couple hundred euros worth, then using that money to pay the ?70 disposal fee, and hopefully make a few bucks out of the deal.

With the van taken care of, I headed to Hamburg.

When I sent out my email saying that I was getting a little traveled out, I had several offers from people who said that I could come stay with them in Europe and just relax for a little while, one of them was even from my good friend back in the US who said I could go stay with her mom in Belguim. :) All the offers were nice, as that was just what I needed. In the end, I decided to come to Hamburg and stay with Daniela for a week or two and recharge.

Its been nice to not travel for a little bit. I ride the bike a lot (I now know Hamburg very well), sit around and watch MTV in German, and generally just chill out. I plan important lunch meetings and make it seem to the people I am meeting as if I have other pressing things to do.

Actually, when I got to Hamburg, I wasnt feeling so well. Bit of a cold, possibly from the sudden onset of winter. Besides getting a urchin spine beaten out of my foot in Mexico, this was only the second time on my whole trip I have been to the doctor. I have medical insurance, but it only covers major injuries, so I dont go often unless I really need to. However, the cold felt a little like strept throat, so I figured I should go. Now, in the US, just walking in the door of a doctors office without insurance will cost you $100 or more, thanks to the lovely system we have. However, here in Germany, its only ?30. All was fine, I just had a cold, and they gave me a prescription for tea. Tea? Yes, tea. Its like this medicinal tea that you can only get at the pharmacy, and you have to drink it 3 times a day.

So, during the week, I'd ride the bike around Hamburg. Riding a bike here in Europe is very different from DC. I know I've mentioned it here before in this journal, but it is so great to be somewhere that bicycles are given respect on the road. If a bicycle is riding in a traffic lane, going 10kph, the cars will wait behind the bike before passing. And if it is rush hour and there is no chance to pass, so be it. There is no honking, there is no squeezing by and trying to push the bike off the road. Also, most times there are wide sidewalks with a red brick pathway on half of it. This is the bike lane. If you come to Germany, get to know this fact. When Sheila and I came to Germany, no one told us about this red brick path. We were just casually walking along and would get icy stares from each cyclist. Little did we know, we were walking in their path. :)

Most nights we go out to dinner or a bar with Danielas friends, which is nice. However, this past Thursday we got tickets to go see David Bowie. I am a confessed 80s freak so the chance to see David Bowie was too great to pass up. The show was awesome. It was nearly a 3 hour show, with songs from just about every part of his career, including a lot of his new stuff.

A couple interesting things about seeing a concert in Germany. First off, we had floor tickets, where it was standing room only. We got there early so that we could be part of the rush to get a good spot on the floor. Well, they open the doors and everyone rushes up to a gate that separates the front third of the floor from the back 2 thirds of the floor. Here you wait your turn to get an armband which allows you in to "front floor". Once enough people are in, no one else is allowed. How cool is that? So we got to be on the floor, upfront, and not smushed in by hoards of people behind us.

The other thing that struck me is something I've been meaning to bring up for some time now, and its time we got it out in the open. Its these toilet brushes. They're everywhere. I went in to the bathroom at the stadium, and there in the immaculate stall was the token toilet brush that you find in every bathroom in Germany, and in most of them throughout Europe. But this is in a stadium?!?! Where the only thing put on is sporting events and rock concerts. I come from a country where most people at these events dont even have the courtesy to flush, yet alone use the little brush to clean up after themselves. I try to imagine the big burly fan at a football game in the US, wearing his ripped and filthy Eagles jacket, about to leave the stall, and thinking, "Uh oh, better tidy that up, good thing theres a brush in here". Hope someone else finds this as funny as I do. :)

In any case, Daniela and I decided to head to Amsterdam this past weekend to visit Nicole, who was one of the other people from our trip to Ibiza.

The 3 of us spent the day riding bikes around the city, through the red light district, and through the rest of town. We stopped at a coffee shop for a break, and then took a boat tour of the city, which I had always wished I'd done when I visited Amsterdam 5 years ago. The boat tour was a great way to see the city.

While I was in Amsterdam, I got in touch with several of my freinds from my Mexico trip, Jan, Yuen, and Saskia. (PHOTO: we are the 4 in the bottom left: ) They live in Den Haag, about 40 minutes away from Amsterdam. The 4 of us getting together represents the biggest reunuion of people from that trip yet that we know of. It was really great to see them and catch up and find out what everyone has been up to. It was actually a nice surprise to see Yuen, as she was living in Canada at the time of the trip, but has now moved out to Holland to spend some more time with Jan.

We all had a rather nice dinner (and possibly most expensive on my trip so far) at a very nice resturant in downtown Amsterdam. It was a big crew with Daniela and Nicole and her friends, me and the tortise crew, coming to a grand total of 11 people and a baby.

Afterwards we headed out to a pre-party at the house of one of the guys from dinner. I guess you cant go out too early in Amsterdam, or people will know you're not with the hip crowd. :) As my freinds lived outside of town and were driving, they couldnt come with us to the club, so we said goodnight.

Afterwards, the rest of us headed to a club called Mazzo. Mazzo was the perfect club. They had a great DJ, it was a good size (not too large to feel empty, not too small to feel cramped) you could dance on the dancefloor and have room to move, yet it was full, and there was a nice area with couches to chill out on. Yep, good club.

We stayed out late, and didnt get up the next day until well after noon. Daniela and I didnt get on the road home until about 7pm. She slept while I drove. She's got a zippy little Mini CooperS, which I got up to 190kph on the autobahn, a fact she wont know until she reads this. :)

So now I am back to my routine for a couple more days before heading out to London on Wednesday or so. I'm really looking forward to visiting my friends there.

Hope all is well,

-Rick

      I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind,
      I left my body laying somewhere in the sands of time,
      I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon,
      I feel there is nothing i can do.
           Kryptonite by 3 doors down

November 3rd, 2003

Subject: Q. Whats worn under your kilt?
   A. Nothings worn under my kilt, its all in perfect working order.
Current Location - Glasgow, Scotland
Local Currency - Pound (1 = $1.65)
Language - English with a funny accent
Temperature - 50ish and rainy.
Songs defining this leg of the trip - "You're my love and freedom" - Some song I recorded in Hamburg but have no idea the artist or track name.

Well, I spent the rest of my time in Hamburg checking out the sites by bike, and heading out to various bars with Daniela. It really was nice and relaxing to have some time doing nothing much, and getting in to a small daily routine. Yep, fun.

As hard as it was to leave, I finally decided it was time to move on to London. I had planned on getting to London as early as June, and as it was the one place that I knew the most people, and had the most plans to meet up with friends, I was eager to get there.

Getting in to London is just kind of fun for a foriegner. I'm not sure exactly why. Something about jumping on the 'London underground' that has a way cooler ring to it than the New York City Subway. And catching a double decker bus thats painted red is way cooler than one thats only one-story. Its probably the other way around for Londoners.

I got in and headed straight to my friend Buntas place. The majority of the friends I have in London all stemmed from one guy who lived in DC while I did, who lived in London before and after his stint in DC. We kinda swapped friends and now my gang in DC has sort of a sister group of friends in London.

When Bunta got home from work, he told me that several of the crew from DC were headed out here for New Years Eve, which was just fantastic, as I had planned to be here as well!

Walking around London, its very strange to be somewhere that English is spoken. To be fair, the majority of places that I have visited recently (Scandinavia, Austria, Germany) most people you meet can speak English, and well. But for the past year, every sign that I have seen, I have not really been able to read. Every conversation with a store clerk has started with a tinge of anxiety and me asking if they speak English, or fumbling with their language or a lot of pointing. Dont get me wrong, I sort of get off on that kind of thing, or I wouldn't be traveling. But its a strange sensation when its all back in to your own language. I go to a store clerk to ask for something and for a brief moment have to think how I say it in the native language, which I then realize is English, and then I still have to think about how to say it without trying to translate or speak slowly. That may not make a lot of sense, but thats the way its been feeling. I ate at a resturant the other day and the man behind the register was hispanic. The fact that he wasn't european threw me slightly as when I asked him for the bill I couldnt remember what the word for 'bill' was in this country. My friend looked at me and said "Do you want to ask for the bill?". Oh, thats right.

Anyhoot.

I didnt really do much sightseeing in London. I had done some on my previous trips here, so didnt put that high of a priority on it. Perhaps its sort of lazy of me to think that I've seen all the sights there is to see in my previous 4-day trip. :)

My first Friday in London, I headed out with Craig and some of his friends to a bar. We were rushing around to get to the bar before 10pm. In most cities, 10pm to 11pm is an acceptable time to show up to a bar. In London, its considered late, considering the bars close at 11:30. Yes, thats right, 11:30. Although, things are changing. Now, certian places can have club licences and stay open far later. I'm not sure who decides who gets which licence, or how each is defined. But as England grows closer to becoming a part of Europe, they are relaxing on some of their rules as well, which means changing the hours of the bars. Its a slow process, but its happening.

The next day was Saturday, which according to Craig, Bunta, and the majority of males living in London, is reserved strictly for football. (We would normally call this soccer, but as we're in London, I'll let them get away with this). Some of you might know that I have never been much of a sports watcher, but I also feel that "When in Rome, do as the Romans". So if the Romans are watching soccer, soccer it is. Bunta gave me some pre-gameday training, such as the proper position to sit on the couch and cheer. After this rigourous training, I was ready. What I was not ready for was the fashion in which it was watched. 30 games at once. All on one channel. Imagine a show that is tracking the stock market. Ticker symbols going by, and someone commentating. Now instead of the stats being stock prices, its all current games taking place. And just as the stock market shows dont take you live in to the boardrooms and meetings, this show didnt really have any game footage. Just constant updates of 30 games. Definately a new twist on soccer watching.

That night we went out bar hopping. I got in touch with Sheila who was now staying in London and she joined us for a night out. We ended up hitting 4 bars ranging from Bunta and Janes "local pub" to a couple big clubs downtown. Pretty fun night.

Sunday was pretty lazy. Sheila and I headed to Chinatown to check out some lamps for her new place and everyone basically just recovered a bit. I got on the internet and booked a flight to go to Scotland. It cost me 16, including all the taxes. Thats about $25. I was toying with the idea of going to Ireland, which was 30 round trip. Its just amazing the flight deals you can find out here. Its a reason a lot of people who live around here say they havent seen much of their own country. You can get a 15 flight to a town a few hours north, or a 15 flight to Spain.

I spent the rest of my week shopping, meeting up with freinds and 'doing dinner'. I still havent seen half the people around London that I need to see. Hang on you folks - Im on my way.... While I was shopping I saw the new video phones from a company called 3G. http://www.mobile-phones.org.uk/3g-video-phones.html People, the future is here. I've always thought technology was pretty nifty, and I love to marvel at how small or how cool a piece of electronics is, but this is actually the future in my opinion. You can hold a small phone, and see the person you are talking to as they talk, as they see you at the same time. All on a cell phone. If you had told me at age 10 that I would see this in my lifetime, I would have never believed it.

So Thursday I took off for Glasgow to meet up with Fiona and Heidi who I met when we were all traveling in Bolivia. They are both British, and have just finished up their trip, and had told me that as I would be in their neck of the woods about the time they got home that I should swing up for a visit. In theory its a swell idea but when taking in to account they're finishing up a year of traveling and now getting ready to go back to work, its a stressful time for them with a lot of people who want to see them and catch up. Despite this, its really all worked out fantastically.

The night I got in to town, we headed around to a variety of different bars in downtown Glasgow before heading out to Dinner. Afterwards, we headed out to meet some of their freinds and catch a movie. It was a pretty good movie about the roaring 20's, or at least the parts I stayed awake for seemed nice.

When we got back to Hiedis place, I got to see the TV show everyone has been telling me about. Its called Wife Swap. They take 2 families from different backgrounds with different household roles and change the wifes for 2 weeks. For the first week, house rules apply, for week 2 the new wife gets to put in her rules. Talk about a great reality show. Conflict, conflict, conflict!! Love it. Dont worry, its on its way to the US of A... http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,1058503,00.html

So, when I met Heidi and Fiona in Bolivia, I told them that I wanted to buy a kilt when I got in to Scotland. They then informed me that a kilt will run about 400 on average. Most people who own them own ones that are passed down through the family. You can buy cheaper ones, but they look just that - cheap. The last thing you want, is to be seen wearing a cheap-o kilt. So the other option is to rent one. Which is what I did.

Hiedi had to work so Fiona took me out to the kiltmakers. The kiltmaker was a strange guy, further enhanced by the fact that he is called the kiltmaker but doesnt actually make them, but he assured us that he does order them. I was able to rent a kilt, along with the proper belt and the sporran. The sporran is a little purse like thing that goes on a chain around your waist. See, kilts have no pockets, and someone hundreds of years ago figured that people needed somewhere to put their cell phones and cameras. Perfect. I am thinking about adopting one as my daily attire.

The plan was to wear the kilt out to a Ceilidh (Pronounced Kay-lee) if we could find a good one. Well, we found 2 Ceilidhs and our first choice was booked solid with reservations for Friday night, the other one at the Riverside Cafe was first come, first serve, but they only allow a certain number of people in and turn away the rest at the door. So we decided to do that one, but we had to meet people at a different bar first.

Fionas freind Archie joined us for the evening, and as he had a kilt, he wore his as well. So the 4 of us walked in to a slightly posh bar, with Archie and I being the only 2 guys wearing kilts. I didnt feel self-concious, but I was constantly concious of the fact I was wearing it. Suddenly, I noticed a girl at a nearby table looking at it. She must of said something to her friend who then turned around to look at it and nodded approval. Then the original girl looked up at me and nodded and threw a flirty smile. Kilt: 2, Jeans: 0. I continued on with the conversation in our group when I saw a different girl, standing on the other side of the room do about the exact same thing. Look at the kilt, look up, nod and smile. Hot damn. Kilt: 3, Jeans: 0. Yessir my friends, I think I need to invest in one of these things.

We had to head to the Riverside in time to make sure we werent turned away, but as it turned out we were the first people there. Although, within 20 miutes, the place was full.

So what is a Ceilidh? I hope I do it justice descrbing it, but you can look it up on the web if I've confused you. Its a traditional Scottish dance that hasnt gone by the wayside now that modern times have come upon us. There are routines that go with each dance which involve a lot of spinning, jumping, clapping, and the occasional whoop. The routines are pretty easy to learn for first-timers, although most of the crowd there, in ages between 20 and 35, had learned them in elementary school and knew them. I just found it so cool that a crowd of this age really got in to going to this sort of thing. I think in the US this type of thing would be considered 'uncool'. Maybe thats why I liked it so much, I was never one of those cool kids in the hip crowd. But its a shame that it couldnt be cool to do stuff like this, like it is here. Everyone just had a fantastic time and the mood of the evening was festive all night long. The only reason anyone might not join in with a particular dance is that there might not be enough room. My friends were telling me that part of the reason these are so popular, is that its what makes weddings so fun. A wedding without a Ceilidh just isnt that fun they say. You sit and socialize and maybe dance. But with the Ceilidh everyone just gets super festive. Whatever the reason, I really had a ball. Perfect place to wear my kilt to. Out of the 50 or so people there, there were only about 4-5 guys wearing kilts. And yes, I wore it properly.

We headed back home after the dance. I did sort of want to head out to more bars, although it was really more just to see if I could score a couple more points with kilt smiles.

Saturday, Fiona and Heidi and I headed to Edinburgh to check out the town and see a party called Vegas, which they had raved on about while we were traveling. I must say that Edinburgh has some of the best architecture I have seen on my trip yet. The buildings were just incredible. We arrived at night so I wasnt able to take any pictures, but will later this week when I go back.

We got in late at night and walked around the city for a bit, and then went on one of the cities ghost tours. The ghost tour went through the cemetary in to the black mausoleum where over 500 people were murdered and their remains lie just feet from the those of the man who had them all killed. Supposedly one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. We packed our whole tour group in this tiny and dark room about 20ft X 20ft waiting for our little slice of paranormal activity which we paid 6 to see. No luck today. The goblins must have the night off. After all, it is the day following Halloween, which is "Day of the Dead" in Mexico and other latin countries, so presumably the ghosts have other matters to attend to in those parts of the world. I'll have to go back again later. http://www.hiex-edinburgh.com/edinburgh/haunted_graveyard_tour.htm

After the ghost tour, we headed on our way to the Vegas party. Again, this party is unlike anything I have ever seen, and it was amazing. Its a fancy dress party in the style of flappers of the roaring 20s, but with music all the way up to the 50s and 60s. You can wear anything you want, but antique suits and flapper dresses are most common. Cocktail dresses, 70s outfits, be-bop clothes and other era-gone-by outfits are also welcomed. The music is a fun-to-dance-to mix of everything you'd normally never hear played anywhere else. I had great fun dancing to it all, but largely just made it all up as I went along, as it seemed most poeple were doing as well. They even had a roulette and blackjack table downstairs. Yep, cool gig.

Glasgow and Edinburgh are only about 45kms from each other, so we returned that night after the party. Sunday was a bit of a lazy day, getting up after noon. However, Heidi and I did make it out to see the (day-late) Day of the Dead celebrations. It was a cute little parade they had put on. About 30 participants and about as many spectators. It was the first year for it. Maybe next year the crowd will be a bit bigger.

So that takes us about to today, more or less. I've rented a car to loop around the north of Scotland. Solo. Everyone else has to work. I'm a bit wigged out by the idea of driving. I still havent become used to being on the other side of the road. When other people are driving and I am the passenger, I stop myself just sort of shouting "Aarragh! You're turning in to the wrong lane!!!" I nearly turned in to the wrong lane today and just stopped myself moments before turning in to oncoming traffic, which was coming rather quickly. I think I've got it all sussed out now. If not, I opted for the insurance. Just in case.....

Until next time.... take care of yourselves, and each other.

-Rick

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