Category: Travel

Adventures and Misadventures.

Summer Solstice Fremont Style: Put on Some Pants Old Man

The annual Summer Solstice Festival in Fremont (a small neighborhood in Seattle) is well-known in the PNW because it is a kooky gathering of strange people celebrating the longest day of the year. How is it celebrated? Well there is the street fair, and a concert, and a parade, and…what am I forgetting? Oh yes, the part where a few thousand people take off their clothing, paint their bodies, and ride naked through the streets of Fremont.

This was my first Solstice Festival but if you live near Seattle you know about the festival because it is covered annually on every news channel. Why is it news? Well, it isn’t really, but if you take a big camera to a parade of naked bike riders you probably don’t look like a pervert, but having spent a little time in a newsroom I can say that is exactly why it is covered each year.

I was not in Fremont to see naked people I was there to see the concert because I am a cultured and responsible member of society. Did I accidentally see naked people riding on bikes? Yes, I tried not to look, and I tried not to take pictures, but somehow it still happened. Will I post pictures of the naked people? No. Okay, I will post one.

There you go. If you want to see more show up next year.

There you go. If you want to see more show up next year. If you click on this picture to enlarge it you may go blind. A notice will also be sent to the NSA.

I was expecting about 50 naked people who would zip by pedaling like they were chasing Lance Armstrong but that did not happen. There were hundreds and hundreds of naked bike riders pedaling like grandmas on a Sunday afternoon, maybe even thousands, most of them with elaborate body paint jobs, but there were also a few old dudes who put on a Viking helmet (and only a Viking helmet) and just started walking down the street.  These old guys didn’t seem to get the whole point of the parade and I’m sure haven’t looked in the mirror in about 25 years. (If you feel the need to be naked in public do everyone a favor and eat a sandwich while standing naked in front of a mirror. If you can’t finish eating the sandwich, then you should put some clothes on and never expose your body to the fresh air.)

I don’t know how long the parade lasted, but since everyone was crowded around the parade route we (yes, I took my daughter to the parade because I am an excellent parent) figured  this was the perfect time to get something to eat before the concert started and avoid the long lines at most of the food booths.

With our bellies full we headed to the main stage area to watch the opening acts. My daughter headed to the front row barricade and I found the beer garden was a great place to kill time.

Cascadia 10 opened the show. How would I describe Cascadia 10? Jazz? I think jazz. I don’t know, there was no singing but there was music so I guess that means it was jazz. My attention span was challenged so I started watching the sparse crowd and this is where I decided that Cascadia 10 was a good jazz group. (Who can really tell these things?)

Dance like nobody is watching.

Dance like nobody is watching.

Cascadia 10 dance party.

Cascadia 10 dance party.

See the guy in the green and yellow shirt? This guy was dancing the way everyone wishes they could. It wasn’t beautiful dancing, it was joyful dancing. The music was flowing through him and he let himself go. I have never been there, the place where your body says, “We are dancing, stop thinking and just dance.” When I dance, which is not often, my brain is usually concerned with telling my body what to do, and then it is also saying, “You look ridiculous moving this way. Move your arms less. Try a little swaying. Just stop. Please, just stop!” Maybe it is me, but I don’t think so. We spend our lives controlling our impulses so allowing our bodies to be released to the wilds of the id feels unnatural. I was a little sad when Cascadia 10 finished up their set and this guy left, but as John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I am happy right now by just looking at pictures of this guy.

The Flavr Blue (I am sure they know that blue is not a flavor and that flavor has an o in it) was next on the main stage and I was looking forward to hearing them. I have never been a huge fan of the synthesizer/techno music even back in the 80’s when everybody else was listening to Flock of Seagulls, but there is something fresh about The Flavr Blue’s music. Hollis certainly can belt out a tune and the energy of the band got most of the growing crowd moving. About halfway through the set I began to wonder what sport Hollis plays. This may not be what musicians want audience members thinking about, but there are people who just move like athletes and there was something about Hollis’ jumping around that made me think she would be a good athlete.  I decided after some consideration that Hollis is probably a very good tennis player. Her footwork looked strong and I imagine she can cover the net like a boss. Her overhead game probably needs some work, but that is what tennis lessons are for. Hollis, if this singing thing doesn’t work out, I suggest joining the USTA and winning some Grand Slam tournaments.

Hollis, Lace, and Parker: The Flavr Blue

Hollis, Lace, and Parker: The Flavr Blue

It is difficult to put a simple tag on how The Flavr Blue sounds but they are a fusion of electric, hip-hop, and pop. What does that mean? Go here: http://theflavrblue.com/ and see for yourself. Do your ears a favor and download some of their free music. Hollis’ vocal range reminds me of Kate Bush and that is about as good as it gets.

The Physics took the stage as the sun started to finally dip in the sky. If you live closer to the equator, you really don’t know how awesome summers in the mighty PNW are, but let me say the summer day exchange rate makes one Seattle summer day worth four summer days in LA. (This does not mean that I want more people to visit Seattle in the summer. It just means I am lucky and you should stay home and not make it hard for me to find a parking space.)

This was my third Physics’ show and they did another fantastic job, in fact, this was my favorite show so far.

Sun setting, Physics playing, crowd putting their hands in the air.

Sun setting, Physics playing, crowd putting their hands in the air.

I recall how confusing everything was the first time I went to a rap show (you can read about that here) but these days I know a little more about what is going on. (I still have no idea what the computer/DJ guy does, but mysteries like that should never be solved.) Thig Natural is a great lead showman and by the time the sun set he had run through a pretty tight set of seven or eight songs. There is a lot to like about The Physics, but I like their R&B backing sound best. (What does that mean? I’m not sure but you can listen for yourself here: http://thephysicsmusic.com/blog/) There is something Motownish about the their music, but there is also a modern twist that mixes the synthesizer and rapping that doesn’t really sound like anyone else I have heard.

Once The Physics wrapped up their set I turned around to see that I was no longer standing in the back of the crowd, I was surrounded on all sides. Maybe people were waiting for the sun to go down so they didn’t have to slather on sunscreen, or maybe the crowd knew that the Blue Scholars had not performed in Seattle in over a year and did not want to miss the show.

Geo and  DJ Sabzi

Geo and DJ Sabzi

What makes the Blue Scholars great? For me, music with a social consciousness is always better than music about pouring sugar on people, and the Blue Scholars have intelligent lyrics that challenge the status quo. Art must challenge people’s thinking and that is what the Blue Scholars do.

DJ Sabzi and Geo took the stage and put on a fantastic show. I don’t know enough about rapping to enlighten readers about what makes Geo’s style appealing, but here is what I do know, Geo writes poetry that can be rapped. There is a natural iambic rhythm to his lyrics along with creative rhymes that are backed up by DJ Sabzi’s beats and samples. It is everything music should be.

The show had a hard curfew of 11PM (which was too early for those of us attending the show but I suppose the people who live in Fremont 11 was about right). I was left wondering why these two guys are not more widely known. Maybe the lyrics are too PNW-centric, maybe there are things I don’t know about music, but in the end I cannot understand why the Blue Scholars are not famous and Kim Kardashian is.

It was a long day (therefore the extra long blog post) and well worth the hassles with parking, long lines at the bathrooms, and naked people.

 

An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Vienna

Today we will be examining a manhole cover from the city of Vienna, Austria. In the United States, Vienna is primarily known as the place that produces those little sausages that come in cans. (I did not see any of these sausages while in Vienna, but there was an attempt to get me to eat liver paste for breakfast.)  Vienna should be known for more than sausages but it is easier for Americans to remember facts related to food than anything else.

As you can see this manhole cover is going to be a challenge, but that is why God placed me on this spinning globe.

Vienna

Vienna has a pretty boring manhole cover that is until I say the magic word: Illuminati!

At first glance this manhole cover appears to be pretty simple and utilitarian. That is exactly what the Illuminati want you to believe. Who are the illuminati and what do they have to do with Vienna’s manhole covers? I don’t really know, but ask anyone between the ages of 13 and 20 about the Illuminati and you will learn a great deal about the secret society that controls the world. How are the Illuminati connected to Vienna? Well, and I suppose I am taking quite a risk in writing this, the Hapsburg Dynasty and the Illuminati must be connected. One of the rules of secret societies and global control is that you don’t just go around blabbing about how you control everything, you make secret signals instead, because what is the fun of controlling the world if you do it publicly, anyone can do that.

So what secret messages are hidden on this manhole cover? First, let me draw your attention to the wavy lines in the center of the cover. Notice that there are three wavy lines, notice that the lines break the circle, notice that the wavy lines cover the little squares inside the circle. Now a careful observer would wonder about how many squares are being covered up by the wavy lines: Four full squares and two partial squares by my estimates. Hmm…what does it all mean? This is where the Illuminati are so tricky; they have you wondering if there is some secret message in the numbers and what the symbols might represent. The real hidden message is just a few centimeters away near the outer ring of the manhole cover.

Do you see it? The two letters: M N? Aha! What does that stand for? Well, I don’t really know because I believe those letters are actually W N. I know what you are thinking, in English a W makes a woo sound, but in Austrian a W makes a vee sound. What does it all mean? Is it possible that these letters represent directions? Yes, then is it possible that it is a map? Sure, why not. If it is a map, could guide you to a hidden doorway that leads to the Illuminati headquarters, there is only one way to know, someone in Vienna must find this manhole cover and follow the directions on the map. What directions? Well there is the big problem, I don’t really know. I suppose if I were Nicholas Cage and had a movie script it would be easier to figure out, but I will leave the searching up to my readers in Austria.  Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Well, this  brings me to the end of my wildly popular guide to European manhole covers series. Keep an eye out for those interesting manhole covers and if you see one you need analyzed don’t hesitate to let me know.

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An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Munich

Today our manhole cover comes from Munich, Germany. If you plug the word Munich into a translator you will find out that the city was named after Thelonious Monk. It is possible that this information is incorrect, speaking of incorrect, let’s look at our manhole cover today.

Munich. Yes, those are the same pair of shorts you have seen in the last three pictures. I travel light and gritty.

Ask your average American man what he knows about Munich and he will say, “Is that where they have Oktoberfest?”  Yes, it is. (The biggest problem I have with Oktoberfest is that it is at the end of October and the beginning of September. So it should be called something else. Oktotemberfest is my suggestion.) If the man is particularly astute he might say that Munich is where they held the 1972 Munich Olympics which is also correct. So now that we are all up on the entire history of Munich let’s see what the cover has to offer.

Munich has a pretty plain cover as you can see, but like all of the greatest works of art, the questions left in the viewer’s mind are of the utmost importance. The man on the cover is actually a monk, not a Dungeons and Dragons monk with spell capability and fighting skills, but the kind of monk who makes beer. This particular monk became a monk because he was horribly disfigured, look at his head. Man, I have seen some big old hooks on the back of people’s heads before, but this guy really has a problem. Imagine trying to buy a hat if your head was shaped like a hammer. So, no doubt, this caused him to drop out of society and start making beer.

The next detail is what might be mistaken as a cross on his tunic. Is this really a cross? Or is it possible that it is his muscled abdomen bulging through his clothing? Okay, it is probably a cross. This is a dumb paragraph to have written because it goes nowhere, but it is staying here because my internal editor is taking a nap.

The gang sign that the monk is flashing with his right hand is for his homies in the Bavarian gang. There really is quite a rivalry between cities like Munich and Berlin. It is kind of like the East Coast, West Coast thing that took place between Death Row Records and Big Boy Records in the 1990’s except there aren’t any rap songs being written about it and so far no one has been mysteriously murdered by Suge Knight. (I am not indicating that Suge Knight had anything to do with Biggie Smalls‘ death, or that he has ever done anything bad, I am simply drawing a comparison between the conflict between the East and West Coast rappers and Berlin and Munich which now seems a bit ridiculous, but if you have read this blog before you know that ridiculous is kind of my thing.)

Back to the monk on the cover, in his left hand he is holding an early version of an iPhone. I believe it is an iPhone IV (they used to go by Roman Numerals back then.) This iPhone was known for its poor reception so the monks would have to hold it far away from their bodies to get good reception when the Pope called. The Pope stilled used a landline back then. The Vatican is always slow to make changes and even today they use MySpace instead of Facebook. Pope John Paul tried Google+ but thought it was lame just like everyone else.

I now want to draw your attention to the sleeves on the monk’s tunic. These sleeves look pretty cool when you are holding your arms out, but as soon as you put your arms down the sleeves are going to be dragging in the mud. Obviously the monks were not familiar with the idea of form and function, but like most men, these guys were probably clueless about clothing. (I would probably still be wearing my green Kawasaki mesh shirt today if it was socially acceptable. It would be a tight fit since I was about half the size I am now, but cool doesn’t have a size.)

The last detail of the manhole cover is the word pressed into the bottom of the cover: STADTENTWASSERUNGSWERKE. This is a real German word. The only thing missing is an exclamation point! Germans love their exclamation points! Ask a German student to write an essay and 75% of the punctuation will be exclamation points! I am not kidding! They are probably mad because in Germany when a teacher asks for a 500 word essay they know it will be 10 pages long, and that is 10 point Times New Roman! There are two ways to understand this word: I can put it in my little Google search engine and it will tell me what it means, or I can use my linguistic skillz (pronounced skeeelz) and break the word down. Get ready to be dazzled. WASSER means water as I recall, and WERKE means work. With those two clues let’s break the rest down. I will guess that RUNGS means something like plumbing or pipes, and STADTENT means city or something like that. So according to my skillz the word means: City water plumbing works. I will now drop it into Google to see how close I got. Wow! CITY DRAINAGE WORKS! I am going to write to the College Board and see if I can get a few extra points added to my 1983 SAT score.

Okay, you must be exhausted after all that learning. Learning makes your brain work hard, which makes you thirsty, so get another cup of coffee and take a rest.

 

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An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Prague

Today’s manhole cover comes from Prague. Prague (known to the locals as Praha for some unknown reason) is the capital of the Czech Republic and a pretty sweet city if you like your cities with a little second-hand smoke and grit. As you can see, Prague also has a pretty boss manhole cover.

Prague

Prague. The finger in the upper right hand corner is part of a new movement in photography. I call it the finger in your eye movement.

(Note: I am wearing black socks and surf-sandals. This is okay, because I was traveling alone and I am from the Pacific Northwest where socks and sandals is perfectly okay.)

Prague’s history as an open-door can be seen in its manhole cover. Look how inviting it is. Praha means threshold in Czech, so depending on the direction you are traveling Prague is either the gateway to the East or the gateway to the West, either way, lots of people (including people who decided how the people of Prague should behave, who they should get along with, and who should govern them) passed through the city so it is not a bad idea to have a manhole cover that looks tough. If you hadn’t noticed the cover has multiple images of power on it.

Power image number one: It is hard to miss the disembodied arm and sword sticking out of the main entrance. This is an odd threat since the door is wide open. “Welcome to Prague. Come on in. Beware of arms carrying swords.”

Power image number two: The castle wall with the three towers is delivering a message about the wealth and power of Prague. The three towers symbolize the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; they could also symbolize Larry, Moe, and Curly for all I know; there is an outside chance that they don’t really represent anything and the artist was just trying to make everything symmetrical.

Power image number three: The half-open iron gate. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all but I think if the gate were all the way closed it would be more effective. I realize that would mean restructuring the whole bodiless arm and sword thing, but if you  want to scare people off you might consider putting the arm upstairs kind of hanging over the edge of the wall. That would keep people away from the wall and you might be able to attach the arm to a body. Maybe the artist was not very good at doing people’s chins or something and didn’t want to take on the additional challenge of creating a warrior’s head, well if that is the case, then put a helmet on the dude and call it good.

Power image number four: The wooden hinged doors. These doors look like one of my fix-it-up projects. You cannot tell me that those doors fit snuggly into that portico. A sloppy job of craftsmanship isn’t going to intimidate anyone.

Power image number five: The castle, doors, arm with sword, and wall are all on a shield. This is one of those subconscious images of power. Most observers would not notice this, but that is why I am here, to point out the mildly obvious.

Not really a power image, but an image of how many cigarette butts are on the streets of Prague: There are three cigarette butts in this picture. I will estimate that the picture is a square meter (I am American, I have no idea about the metric system because it is a rational and logical system of measurements and therefore not accepted in the USA). The city of Prague is 496 square kilometers, which means it is 4,960,000 square meters (I might be off by a factor of ten here).  So if there are three cigarette butts for every square meter, then there must be (4,960,000 x 3) 14,880,000 cigarette butts on the streets of Prague. That seems like a lot of cigarette butts, but there is good news. Every couple of years the Vltava River floods and all those cigarette butts get washed away. The Vltava drains into the Elbe and then out to the North Sea where fish eat those pesky cigarette butts. Problem solved!

So there you go, another European manhole cover down. Have a great day and see you real soon.

 

An Inaccurate Guide To European Manhole Cover Art: Berlin

Today’s manhole cover comes from Berlin, Germany. Berlin is one of Europe’s smelliest cities , but it is also one of Europe’s sexiest cities (according to t-shirts sold in Berlin). It is also a city with good food, good museums, good history, and great manhole covers. (A quick suggestion for the manhole cover makers in Berlin, if you didn’t drill holes in the cover it might reduce the sewer smell.)

Berlin

Berlin

Before we dig in to the cover, let me apologize for the shoes, I realize that they are a distraction and there is no excuse for buying shoes this bright, but it happened, it was nearly unavoidable, and I now like them. (If you are curious about how they got on my feet you can read about it here: TSOJ: Berlin–Ugly Shoes, Horrible Hotels, and How Germany Won the War of Breakfast.)

This is a pretty busy manhole cover so starting at the bottom it goes: Reichstag, TV Tower, Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column, Mystery thing, No Idea thing, and Kaiser Wilhelm Church.  I think some of the better places have been left off the cover, but that might just be me. When the artist planned this cover out I am sure there were a few tough decisions to make. For example, they were probably told to get an equal amount of stuff from both sides of the city;  this theory might also explain the two mystery objects on the cover. It is also possible that one of the mystery objects is the Pergamon Museum (the one closest to my left foot), but I don’t recall the Pergamon having any big, tall towers. Is it possible the museum had towers at one time? Yes. Where did the towers go? That is something that requires research and therefore that won’t be happening this morning. Just for fun, let me say that the towers were put in a museum in Turkey after WWII.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot see an image of the Brandenburg Gate without thinking of David Hasselhoff singing Freedom, which should be reason enough to remove the image from the manhole cover which would leave space for some other stuff that wouldn’t remind me of David Hasselhoff. It is one of many oddities of German/American relations. We (USA! USA!) dropped a number of bombs on Germany and then said, “You know, let’s be friends.” Then we spent the next 50 years hating half of Germany and loving the other half. We expressed this love by inflicting David Hasselhoff on them. They now pretend not to know who he is and people like me continue to remind them.  Germans don’t forget embarrassing stuff, I still remember getting perms in high school, as well as every junior high dance; I’m talking to you, Tammy Carroll…too tired to dance, sure. (Yes, I am a little German.)

The TV Tower is also know as Fernsehturm Berlin, but since English speakers have no chance of getting that pronounced correctly we call it the TV Tower; if there is one thing we know how to pronounce it is TV. The tower was on the wrong side of the wall back in the day, but today you can go up to the top and see the whole city. (These views are always overrated in my opinion. Seeing a city from up high is pretty disappointing. I end up looking at a lot of parking lots and wondering how much it costs to park there.) The TV Tower is also the default wide-angle-arial shot used by all movie directors to indicate that the setting is Berlin. It simplifies things. If you had a shot of the Reichstag people would wonder where it was, if you had a shot of Brandenburg Gate people would wonder if David Hasselhoff was in the movie (which, like yelling “Fire” in a theater should be illegal), and if you had a shot of the Victory Column people would get super confused…it has been a long time since Germany finished a war with a victory.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is really not named well, but it looks good on the manhole cover. The cathedral should be named something else since it is really a cathedral and a half. There is the old blown up part, and then there is the new tower and church that holds the biggest, scariest, gold, flying Jesus I have ever seen.  I think the church ended up on the cover more because of its location (“West side represent”) than its value as a historical landmark in Berlin. It is cool to take a peek inside the church and see all the blue stained glass and flying gold Jesus, but I can think of several locations that are better.

I have avoided the mystery object long enough, let’s tackle this thing now. I have no idea what that thing is. Is it a map of the park? Is it the food court at KeDeWe? Is it a palace garden? Is it a piece of toast that has its own children’s television show? (You heard me right, look this up on YouTube: Bernd das Brot. You’re welcome.) Whatever it is, it doesn’t belong with the other buildings because I am sure it is not a building. I don’t make the rules for what can or cannot be on manhole covers, but I think a rule should be made. Either you go all buildings, or you go no buildings. It seems very un-German to have something this inconsistent on the cover. Maybe some of those German engineers I hear about all the time should devote themselves to straightening out Berlin’s manhole cover.

The final detail on the cover is for the sewer workers. The words say, “Berliner Wasserbetriebe” which I believe means Berlin Water Company or something like that. The arrows are there to help the workers know which direction to put the cover back on correctly. I think the arrows are a good idea, more manhole covers should think about having some directional arrows to help out.

Well, that’s enough learning for today, you have my permission to take a nap and call it good.

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An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Covers: Copenhagen

Today’s manhole cover comes from the capital of Denmark and one the world’s happiest cities. Why is Copenhagen one of the happiest cities in the world? According to the Danes it is because they have low expectations and therefore their expectations are usually met. This is why I am generally happy with myself. Okay, let’s take a peek at  how Copenhagen keeps people from falling into the sewers.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

I will start with the items that I am certain about, which should not take long, and then I will venture off into conjecture. Item #1: Someone should probably learn how to spell Copenhagen. I know there isn’t spell check on manhole covers, but come on “København.” That isn’t even close. If you are going to write words in English at least learn how to spell. The only other thing I can really say about this manhole cover is that the city might have been established in 1857, at least that is what I think “Ke afløb” means. It could also mean that the city was underwater for 150 years because the rest of the manhole cover looks like some kind of hippie Atlantis thing is going on.

Let the guessing begin: There are three buildings portrayed on the manhole cover and none of them are going to meet the building codes in modern day Copenhagen. The walls are not straight, the windows are off-center, and there are fish swimming on the walls. Is the city underwater? Well, then explain the rain, it can’t rain underwater. Are the fish swimming in the air? Or are these just paintings on the side of buildings? Whoever designed this cover must have been spending too much time in Freetown Christiania smoking left-handed cigarettes.

If I were to look at the cover with a symbolic eye I would say that the three buildings represent the three nations (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) that took turns bossing each other around in the olden days. The center building must be Denmark because it has the largest fish and the largest flowers. The one on the left must be Norway because the country is a little fatter than Sweden. The building on the right has to be Sweden because the fish looks drunk. (There is an interesting triangle of drunkenness in the three countries. Ride a ferry between the nations and you will find that the boats are really just floating liquor stores designed to sell beer and alcohol duty-free.)

Five of the six flowers on the buildings appear to be poppies. This must have something to do with the opium trade. I’m not sure what it has to do with the opium trade, but there could be no other explanation. The one different flower appears to be in the Denmark tower and it looks a little like a royal flower, or it could be a thistle. Maybe there are lots of thistles in Denmark because they don’t want to use weed killer because they are so environmentally friendly.

In the water below the three towers are little fish that look like the American cheese snack crackers we call Goldfish. They could also be those snack fish known in the United States as Swedish fish, I am certain they don’t call them Swedish fish in Sweden though, they are probably called Red Chewy Fish Candy. In Denmark they probably call them Drunken Fish. (Side note, I knew a child who ate a lot of these Swedish fish and then threw up. I asked him if he was practicing ‘catch and release.’ The child did not think it was a good joke. I still think it is a pretty good one.) The little fish look like they are having fun, so they must be Danish fish without very high expectations. They aren’t smiling, but they are jumping in the water and it doesn’t get much better than that for a fish. I imagine a fish’s life is a bit boring: the weather never changes, you can’t take a nap, wi-fi connections underwater are pretty spotty, and everything pretty much tastes the same.

Okay, your brain is probably pretty tired by now, learning new things can wear you out, so eat some Swedish fish and take a nap.

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An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Bergen

Today’s manhole comes from Bergen, Norway. If you live in the United States you probably just mouthed the words, “Where?” Well, Bergen is either the second or third largest city in Norway. (I was about to do some research to find out which it was, but since I live in the USA where we only keep track of who is number one, I decided to leave it up to the rest of the world to figure that out.)

Other pseudo-facts about Bergen: It rains two thousand days a year, it is on the Western Coast of Norway, tipping in Bergen is difficult if you don’t remember the exchange rate. (Sorry about that waitress at the pizza place. I thought it was a good tip at the time.)

Okay, enough education for today, let’s look at the manhole.

Bergen

Bergen

No, this is not photoshopped. I know you don’t believe me because Bergen has never had a sunny day since the dinosaurs all died, but let me reassure you,  I have not done anything to alter this photo.

On the right and left side of the manhole are dual images of two suns that have rain drops falling from them. Either that or Bergen was founded by really big Daddy Long Legged Spiders. I know fans of the movie Chariots of the Gods will probably think that these images are evidence of space aliens, but if space aliens were going to establish a colony here on Earth they would go some place with sunshine.

In the center of the manhole is an image of Bryggen  (which is some kind of historic area of Bergen). The three-pointed  rooftops of Bryggen (four if you count the one hiding behind the sails of the boat) are as poorly constructed on the manhole as they are in real life. The building codes in Bryggen allowed houses to be built right on top of each other. This was done so that when one building caught fire all of them would burn to the ground. These fires were the only way for people to get dry and warm. (They certainly were not going to get dry inside these poorly constructed buildings.)

Just behind the images of the buildings of Bryggen are the local castle and Haakon’s Hall. The castle is the one that is already bothering you if you have OCD. How hard is it to line up windows? Apparently very difficult in the wind and rain of Bergen. I can only assume the reason the windows are not lined up was because no one would ever look at the building from the outside since it is always raining and they would have an umbrella blocking their vision. This mismatched widows probably wouldn’t bother you if you were looking out into the daily downpour. Haakon’s Hall is the other building. (Is it possible I have these two buildings mixed up? Yes, get over it.) The hall is where everyone would go when Bryggen burned to the ground every six months. It is a big hall. I can’t imagine how bad it smelled in there with all those Vikings with their wet furs and dried fish. It probably smelled like a dog who rolled around in wet fish guts.

The rest of the image behind Haakon’s Hall is one of the seven mountains surrounding Bergen. There is a funicular that goes up to a view point where you can see the rain clouds at more of an eye-level. It also looks like there is a gondola lift from there to a Chinese Pagoda. Why is there a Chinese Pagoda on top of a mountain in Norway? Maybe Bergen has a sister city in China, or maybe it is the spaceship the aliens left behind. The background of clouds and sun/moon were put there just to fill space, no one in Bergen has ever seen fluffy white clouds or the sun. The manhole cover would look pretty blank with one big grey cloud in the background and I’m glad the artist fictionalized the image to give it a happier appearance. Anyone who lives in Bergen probably needs images like this to keep them from jumping off the Chinese pagoda.

The final image is a large sailing ship. It has ten little sails instead of four big ones because Norwegians believe in the the saying, “It isn’t the size of the sail that is important, it is how they use the wind.” It is also very cold in Norway and sails have a tendency to shrink when they get cold and wet. It appears that this ship is sailing in the harbor, but if you look closely you will notice that the water has probably filled the streets and the boat is taking a ride down the main drag.

Good job, Bergen! Nice manhole cover!

 

An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Oslo

Manhole covers say a lot about a city, or at least they say something about a city. Most manhole covers are boring utilitarian objects placed over holes to prevent the general public from falling into a sewer and dying, but some cities have taken a few extra steps to make their manhole covers into something more than just a round piece of metal.

Our first manhole cover comes from Oslo. First take notice of all the crosses surrounding the round stuff in the middle. There are a lot of crosses. These could either be there for traction, or they could be saying something about Oslo. I really don’t know because this is an inaccurate guide, not an accurate one. Next, notice the four stars surrounding the dude in the middle. These stars are Amazon’s rating of the city. (Some of the people gave Oslo four stars because it is far away from the USA. Others gave Oslo four stars because it didn’t have a McDonald’s on every corner. I believe most people take one star away from Oslo because of the cost of a beer.) The guy in the center of the manhole cover is holding either three really big arrows, or three crutches with sharp ends. If he recently twisted his ankle because there was a woman laying in the road (which appears to be the case) then they are crutches. If they are arrows then it is probably saying something about power or archery. There is an outside chance these could also be darts used on a really big dart board.

In his right hand he (let’s assume he is the King) is holding what appears to be a really large washer (not the kind you use to clean clothing, but the kind that is used to hold nuts and bolts tight). The washer is an ancient symbol of things getting too loose. When the King of Norway (who at the time was probably the King of Sweden or Denmark, because Norwegians were using big arrows as crutches instead of using them to shoot Swedes or Danes) thought things were getting a bit too loose in Norway he would pull out this big washer and say, “Ongy, bongy, dingy, wingy, lingy.” (Rough translation: Things are getting too loose, it is time to tighten up and start behaving.) Then the loyal citizens would stop acting so crazy and become more orderly. I can think of a few countries that could use the big washer these days…I’m talking to you Netherlands.

Hiding just behind the King are two lions. These lions are trying to eat the city stars but because the King is sitting on them they cannot. This symbolizes the power of the King to keep Oslo a four star city. If the King were to disappear, then Oslo might drop to a two star city, one star if the lions are really hungry.

Beneath the King’s pigeon-toed feet, is either a lady or some sea creature that looks like a lady. This is where knowing a little about Oslo’s history would probably help, but research is not happening at 5:30 in the morning. One thing can be certain, the King’s feet smell. Look how the lady/sea creature’s face is turned away like she is trying to catch a breath of fresh air. This might be because the King had a tough job and his feet would sweat.

Finally, take notice of the most disturbing aspect of the lady/sea creature: her feet/fins. There is nothing there, her legs just end. I know feet are hard to draw, or in this case hard to design, but the artist could have fixed that problem pretty easily by putting shoes on her feet, or swim fins. The artist wisely hid her hand  from the viewer by having it tucked under her side, had the artist planned ahead he/she could have tucked those difficult feet behind one of the city stars.

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TSOJ: An Interview with Myself

I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

How did The Summer of Jon come about? 

TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.

How did you plan your trip?

I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.

The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.

After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)

The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.

If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently? 

I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.

Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.

What were some of the highlights?

The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.

What was the loneliest moment?

Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue.  It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.

When were you the most lost?

I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.

Why do you get lost so much?

I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.

What scared you the most? 

Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.

What was the strangest thing you saw? 

I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.

What is the dumbest thing you did? 

Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.

What is the smartest thing you did? 

Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.

What’s the deal with bike tours? 

There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.

Will you ever have another SOJ? 

I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.

Don’t you think it was a waste of money? 

Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  

Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio. 

Okay.

What is your favorite word?

Euphony

What is your least favorite word?

Cacophony

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Words

What turns you off?

Conflict

What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)

What sound or noise do you love?

Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Techno music.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything where I have to sell stuff.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That was funny.

Final Thoughts on TSOJ

The Summer of Jon lasted 28 days and now that I am back home it seems like it happened a long time ago, or in a dream.  It was a trip of a lifetime, but I hope to do a few more trips of a lifetime before I kick the big can and become fish food (not the Ben and Jerry’s flavor, I doubt there is much rotting human flesh in Phish Food). Hopefully, time and distance  will give me the ability to say what aspects of the trip were truly memorable and make connections to my understanding of life.

Enough of that and on to the banal observations of an aged man traveling Europe on his own.

10. Traveling alone is only lonely if you want it to be. These days it is easy to close off to the world. Early in my trip I thought listening to my iPod as I walked around was a good way to keep myself company, but in the end it closed me off from talking to other people and interacting. When I started leaving my iPod in the hotel I started meeting people and no matter what people tell you, Europeans are friendly. They are not American-sloppy-open-mouthed-kiss friendly, they are a little more reserved and each nation has its own flavor of friendliness, but I had zero negative interactions with people on the road. (Okay, the guy behind the desk at my hotel in Munich was a bit of a grump, but if I had to wear tight suits in ugly colors I would be grumpy too.)IMG_1399

9. Knowing the exchange rate and running a few calculations is always a good idea before arriving in a country. This seems like a no-brainer, but when you travel through multiple countries in a month things can get confusing. When I arrived in Reykjavik I knew the exchange rate was 125-1, but I hadn’t run a few simple calculations so I ended up getting $400 worth of Icelandic Kroner s instead of getting $40 worth from an ATM. My mistake was a windfall profit for Iceland, I had to spend more there than I had intended since Icelandic Kroner s are not accepted anywhere else in the world. (Yes, I could have exchanged the money in the airport, but even an idiot like me knows to never exchange money in an airport.) When I ordered a beer on my first night in Norway and the bartender said, “97 Kroners,” I didn’t think twice about handing over my credit card. When I got back to my hotel room and checked the exchange rate I found out I purchased an $18 beer. From that point on, before I let my hotel wi-fi and traveled to my next destination, I looked at the exchange rate and figured out what $50 US was equal to in my next country.

8. Germans walk my speed. I like to walk with a purpose, so do Germans. There is no leisurely strolling and blocking the sidewalk in Germany and this is the way it should be. If you want to lolly-gag then go to Italy or find a beach.

7. Five days worth of clothing is plenty no matter how long you are traveling. Your room sink or tub is a great little washing machine if you don’t want to waste time in a laundromat. It takes two days for cotton shirts to dry inside a room, but about four hours next to a window.

Wash, rinse, dry on mini-ladder.

Wash, rinse, dry on mini-ladder. Clothing from the Johnny Cash travel collection. 

6. Those stupid little packing cubes really are handy. I thought they were overpriced and for OCD sufferers, but once I was on the road I loved my packing cubes.

5. WiFi in hotels can be lame, but Starbucks stores usually have pretty good connections and it is free if you register a Starbucks card (which doesn’t make it free, but I have had a zero balance on my card for about five years and I was still registered). You can also stand outside of stores and steal wi-fi if you have no shame. The wi-fi outside the Apple store in Munich was great.

4. Pay toilets are stupid. Europe needs to rethink this one. There is nothing else to say here.IMG_1880

3. In Europe vices are viewed as personal issues, in the United States vices are viewed as societal problems. The view of Europeans (huge generalization here) is that if you want to do something stupid go ahead, just make sure it doesn’t bother anyone else. In the US we make laws restricting vices. It is probably why the US leads the world in prison population.

Europe may not allow high-fives, but most of the time they let people do what they want.

Europe may not allow high-fives, but most of the time they let people do what they want.

2. When I would tell married couples (especially couples who are close to my age) that I was in Europe traveling alone I got two very different reactions. The men would get a glossy, far-away look and ask, “By yourself? How did you make that happen?” The women would turn the faces clock-wise about five minutes and squint, “Your wife must be pretty special.” The look the women gave me indicated that they really didn’t believe me and that there must be more to the story. I often felt like I was being accused of something devious.

1. My wife is pretty special.

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