Tag: United States

Oh, Canada: Where’d all the drunks go?

I remember sitting in a college class ( Nonviolent Defense and Conflict Resolution) listening to a guest speaker talk about life as a submarine commander. This was a few years ago, but here is what I remember from his lecture, “You can travel the world and see amazing things, or you can find out that a bar in Asia looks the same inside as a bar in England.” (The other thing I remember about the class was that on the final day we had a discussion about how our views of violence had changed. My friend Rick said he would still punch someone if the occasion arose.) In other words: If you travel and want to see something different, stay out of bars. I have not always followed this advice, but in my many years of roaming this planet I will add my own bit of wisdom. “If you travel, and you visit bars, you will believe that the entire country is filled with drunks.” This is true in all countries except England where the country IS filled with drunks no matter where you go. England, it might be time for a few of your friend-countries to sit you down and have an intervention.

My early experiences with Canada involved traveling for college basketball games to distant locations like Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria. Now one might think, “Oh, isn’t it lovely that all you boys could get together and go and exercise with other young fellows. That sounds so healthy.” Well it wasn’t. Most meals were at the Golden Arches and evenings when I could have been reading my textbook on Nonviolence I was doing research on drunk Canadians. Where do you find drunk Canadians? Bars, liquor stores, and just about everywhere I went.

Canada has changed. I don’t know what happened to the drunk Canada that I once knew, but these days Canada doesn’t remind me of Canada at all, it reminds me of Norway.  (I have a feeling it wouldn’t take much research to locate this drunk Canada again, but I’ll leave that up to somebody who doesn’t have to be in bed by 8:30.) Canada is on a health kick. I don’t know if it was the Vancouver Olympics or if Canada just decided that it needed to lose a few pounds, but whatever happened has transformed this nation into a bunch of granola eating, flip-flop wearing, tree-huggers, and I love it. Who knew a trip to Norway could be just a drive away?

Spend two hours watching Canadian television (I am American, if I can’t watch TV I go into a diabetic shock) and you will see commercial after commercial selling the outdoors and exercise. These are not ad campaigns focused on selling hiking equipment but commercials for Timmy Horton’s Donuts and McDonald’s. Everyone in Canada is now out river rafting, mountain biking, and hiking. I don’t remember this being a Canadian thing but exercise is now hip in Canada.

Did these rings change Canada's behavior?

Did these rings change Canada’s behavior?

Yes, this is the same Canada that is a frozen land of snow and ice for seven months a year, but just like the Norwegians, Canadians have adopted the “there is no bad weather, there is just bad clothing” attitude about being outdoors. They have also invested infrastructure to support exercise. It was like Canada woke up with a huge hangover a few years ago and decided that it was time to start doing something other than vomiting all over itself.

I’m sure my American readers (Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh) have already seen through this Socialist plot to make people healthy. “The next thing you know, they will have everyone outside doing T’ai Chi every morning dressed in grey jumpsuits.” Yeah, that could be. Maybe since Canadians have socialized medicine it made sense to see if exercise might make people healthier. These Communist plots are the kind of Communist plots I can go along with. That’s right, I’m a Socialist-Communist-Pinko-Pacisfist who believes in universal healthcare. I also think that America needs a new cultural identity. I will borrow from the American classic Animal House, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.” The world’s view of Americans is that we are fat and stupid (and they might be right), but we could follow Canada’s footsteps off the couch and become a nation of people who exercise, not just a nation who watch exercise. Or, or we could just wait another five years and hope that Mexico continues to get fatter. We might still look pretty good if we stand next to Mexico.

 

Those Sneaky Canadians

English: The flag of Canada, flying in Vanier ...

Canada: The only country with a leaf on its flag. It’s tricks like this that make me think Canada is up to something.

If I could sum up Canadians in one word it would not be polite, it would be sneaky. That’s right, I wrote it: sneaky. I don’t mean sneaky like China trying to sell toys painted with a combination of poison and lead, but sneaky like having a toll bridge with no toll booth.

I know, that doesn’t make any sense. A toll bridge always has a toll booth; not in Canada. On the outskirts of Vancouver (BC, not to be confused by the one in WA which shouldn’t be a problem unless you are really lost) there is a sneaky toll bridge. It isn’t like the Canadians are trying to catch you off guard, there are a trillion signs leading up to the bridge announcing: Last Exit Before Toll Bridge, Toll Bridge Ahead, Now Approaching Toll Bridge, You Are On A Toll Bridge, You Just Crossed A Toll Bridge, I Hope You Brought a Computer So You Can Figure Out How To Pay Your Toll, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING.

Looking for a toll booth? Don't bother.

Looking for a toll booth? Don’t bother.

For ten miles after crossing the bridge (16 kilometers for those of you who bought into the whole “the metric system is the future” thing) I kept looking for a toll booth. There wasn’t one, but there was a sign with a web address. Had I known that there was going to be a sign with a web address I might have been able to write the address down, but I wasn’t prepared because I was trying to see if the downtown area of Vancouver was visible from the bridge. I did this by ignoring the lines on the road and turning around in my seat to look over my shoulder. “Yep, you can see Vancouver,” I said to my family who were watching the road for me so they would be able to file the police report when I crashed the car.  Then, just as I began to think that maybe there wasn’t a toll after all there was an ominous sign that stated, “Pay Your Toll Within 7 Days For The Best Price,” or something like that. That is Canadian code language for pay or you will get a fine for a “licence plate processing fee.”  How did they have my licence/license plate? Those sneaky Canadians got it when I crossed the border, I remembered the border agent walking to the front of my car and writing down my plate. At the time, I wondered if something came up on the computer when I handed over my passport, “KNOWN TO PARK IN CARPOOL PARKING SPACES, WRITE DOWN HIS LICENCE/LICENSE PLATE.”

They also got it because the new bridge has cameras taking pictures of the license plates of all the vehicles crossing the bridge. Pretty sneaky, Canada, pretty sneaky. (Canada loves their hidden cameras.)

How do I know all of this? Well, because some enterprising Americans invented Google. (Okay, one of the guys was from Russia, but the other guy was from Michigan.)  So when I got to my hotel in Whistler I typed into Google: “Toll Bridge Vancouver BC” and this is what I found: https://www.treo.ca/the-bridge/

This was the moment that I realized I would not be getting a free drive across the Port Mann Bridge. They had me. I crossed the bridge. I saw the signs. I would be recrossing the bridge on the way home. There was no way to avoid paying. I paid the toll, but it didn’t feel right. Computers, cameras and the interwebs have made it easier for us to  those daily tasks, but what have we lost? We have lost terrible jobs like Toll Booth Collector. Imagine how mind numbing that job must be. We have lost the traffic congestion caused by people who don’t have exact change. We have lost the challenge of picking the quickest line of cars when approaching the toll booths. Okay, we haven’t lost that much, but I did have to give my credit card number to Canada to pay for my $6 (Canadian) toll, which will probably end up being $20 after all the overseas charges and exchange rate maneuvering my bank goes through for me spending my money in another country.

Why couldn’t Canada just put a booth on the road like the rest of the world? That’s just not Canada’s style. Canada enjoys its reputation of producing maple syrup, hockey players, and Ouija boards. (I made up the Ouija board thing, but it is better than saying Justin Bieber.) Their reputation has allowed them to quietly infiltrate the entertainment industry in the United States. Of course everyone knows about John Candy, Mike Myers, and Martin Short, but do you realize that William Shatner is Canadian? How about Ryan Gosling? Lorne Greene? (The name Lorne should have given him away, but riding those horses with Hoss and Little John made him seem more American.) Tommy Chong? For every Howie Mandel there are three Raymond Burrs (Canadian). You don’t see Malcolm Gladwell walking around singing, “Oh, Canada” but he sure knows the words. So did Peter Jennings and Guy Lombardo. That’s right, Canadians have been sneaking across the border for years and taking American jobs. Where is the outrage? There isn’t any outrage because Canadians have built up years of trust with us. They are the polite nation. The nation that produces maple syrup. They aren’t the job stealing nation, I’m not going to mention any names here but Florida knows who I’m talking about.

Should we care? I don’t know. Should I care when I go into a McDonald’s in Canada and they serve poutine? Does it matter that Canada has a sneaky little maple leaf in the McDonald’s arch? Well, if they can corrupt McDonald’s with their little red leaf where will they stop?

McDonald's Canada

One step closer to Socialism taking over the planet.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe Americans can become more polite. Maybe we can say, “Sorry” before we say, “What’s your problem?” Maybe we can learn to wear sweaters in the winter. I can probably learn what a blue line is in hockey. I can probably learn to like Nickleback. (See, I just wrote that sentence and didn’t throw up on my computer.) I can probably understand that universal health coverage is better than paying $700 a month for insurance that only works when I don’t need it. I can probably be Canadian. I’ll make you a deal Canada, I will learn your sneaky ways if you don’t tell Texas, and if you put up one toll booth on the Port Mann Bridge.

 

An American Guide to World Cup

English: FIFA World Cup Trophy Italiano: Trofe...

 

Every four years the world gathers representatives from their countries to kick a little round ball around a big field. This international tournament is called The World Cup because it really does include almost every country in the world (it isn’t like the World Championships we hold in the United States in which the only countries invited to our World Championship are countries that are directly above the US or are the US). The World Cup is a big deal in most corners of the globe and since I am an expert on all things global, I thought I would sit down this morning a give all my readers in the United States a guide to the World Cup. I have been watching the World Cup ever since I discovered that I can watch any sporting event that doesn’t include cars going around in a circle, or a baseball.

 

 

What you need to know to be an informed viewer:

 

 

1. The host nation, this year Brazil, spent billions of dollars (or Euros, or Spanish Doubloons)  to get ready for this big tournament and are now wishing they hadn’t even applied for the job. This happens every four years. Last time it was South Africa who was sorry they hosted the event. This is because the governing organization, FIFA, is the most corrupt organization on the planet: Worse than the Mafia, worse than Walmart, worse than Monsanto, and worse than SPECTRE. If you really want to know more about FIFA’s corruption just read anything about how the country of Qatar will be hosting in eight years.

 

 

2. When watching the games the player with the worst haircut is the best player. (There are two exceptions to this rule, but I will not bore you with real information here.) The best player from Brazil, Neymar, has hair that looks like Beaver Cleaver cut it.

Neymar with ball

Neymar, haircut courtesy of Theodor Cleaver. (Photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

Most teams follow this rule to make it easier for the casual viewer to follow the game. The US’s best three players have cut all their hair off to be different, so Kyle Beckerman (not America’s best player) has made up for it by growing the ugliest dreadlocks possible.

 

3. The most annoying part of watching soccer/futbol/foosball/football is all the faking of injuries. This is part of the game apparently. Pretending to get hurt runs contrary to everything Americans respect in sports and most real fans of the sport hate the flopping also (unless it is their team who fooled the ref), but guys will regularly fall down like they were shot by a sniper. Then the television crew will spend 10 minutes discussing whether it was a real injury or not. 99.999999% of the time they guy is perfectly okay. Usually he falls, rolls around for 3 minutes, is taken off the field in a stretcher, and then twenty seconds later is running around like nothing happened. This is usually when I yell at the television the most (yelling at the television is a skill all World Cup followers master). I like how rugby deals with injuries, if you get hurt the game doesn’t stop, the doctors come out on the pitch and fix you on the field. Fixing in rugby usually means pouring water on the broken leg and then wrapping it with tape and saying, “Right, that’ll do ya.”  In soccer they even kick the ball out of bounds when a guy pretends to get hurt just so nobody gets mad.

 

 

4. Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and the Netherlands are probably the only teams who have a realistic chance to win the whole thing, but it really comes down to a whole bunch of luck in my opinion.

 

 

5. There is pool play, this does not include an actual pool, and then there is the knock-out round, which does not include any actual punching. The US will be super lucky to get out of pool play since they are in the Group of Death. There is always one group that has too many good teams and so one of those teams will not make the next round and everyone in that country can complain that it was unfair. The group of death this year includes Germany, Portugal, the United States, and Ghana. (I think the England, Costa Rica, Italy, and Uruguay pool looks worse, but what do I really know?) If the US doesn’t make the next round nobody except soccer nerds will really care, but if we do make it out of the first round suddenly everyone will start watching soccer.

 

 

6. The US coach is from Germany and has already announced that we have no chance of winning. This made all the US soccer nerds mad, and then they shrugged their tiny shoulders and agreed, we really have no chance to win unless all the other teams catch malaria.

 

 

7. The US’s first game is against the team who has knocked us out of the past two World Cups. If soccer were a big deal in our country we would have invaded Ghana by now built a new nation like we did in Iraq.

 

 

8. The tournament will last about a month and during the final game the entire world (except for Canada and the US) will shut down to watch. During the last World Cup final I was in Paris and the whole city stopped. This is when I was attacked by Gypsies at an ATM. I fought them off by screeching and swinging my empty backpack with such force that I probably caused a tornado in Kansas.

 

 

9. ESPN is covering the World Cup and has hired about four guys who can’t speak English very well. I’m not trying to be mean, but sometimes it is painful to watch, and they have these poor guys sitting in the more ridiculous set ever constructed. This alone makes watching the World Cup worth it.

 

 

10. The US plays its first game today at 3pm Pacific Standard Time.

 

 

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.

TSOJ: A Vienna Bike Tour with The Terminator

Before most bike tours start there is a tiny tutorial about how to use the bikes, the bike rules in the city, and how to avoid getting killed on the bike tour, but not with Walter (pronounced Valter for those of you who speak English properly.) Walter simply asked if we all had bikes, looked to see that we all had bikes, and then he began riding away from us assuming that we would follow. His assumption was half correct. About half of us followed, and the other half of the group had some difficulties turning around, hopping on their bikes, and beginning riding. It wasn’t long before a city block separated the two groups and I was a little concerned for the trailing pack, my job as “Ass Man” made me keenly aware of the difficulties of being in a trailing group. Sometimes traffic lights delay progress, sometimes it is a slow rider, and sometimes it is just fate, but usually the group leader is a little concerned about splitting the group and will slow down and wait, but not Walter/Valter, I never saw him turn around to check on the progress of the pack he just kept rolling forward like he had to be home for cable installation between 5:00 and 5:05.

Walter rode for another block or two and then stopped. He turned around, saw that half of the group was still missing, shook his head, wondered aloud why the people in the back were so far behind, and began talking about the opera house without waiting for the slow pokes. There were two distinctive attributes about Walter that I instantly loved: 1. He made fun of everything not Austrian. 2. He sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he talked. “I am going to use a bad word now for you Americans, Socialism. That is vhy ve have the best drinking vater, the most livable city in the vorld, and if I have to go to the hospital I don’t pay anything.”  Walter did not just give America a bad time, Germany, France, England, and Russia would all get tossed under the bike tour’s wheels at some point along the way, but Walter did it with good humor and the type of boasting usually reserved for American Olympic teams.

Athena agrees that Vienna is a great looking city.

Athena agrees that Vienna is a great looking city.

When we rode by a large statue of Goethe I asked why we hadn’t stopped (mostly this question was poised so that I could show off that I knew how to pronounce Goethe’s name.) Walter did not skip a pedal push, “He’s German, nobody cares about him.”

The tour followed the ring circling Vienna’s old downtown area and before too long I realized that Vienna has the most beautiful buildings in the world. Each city has its own beauty (I am excluding Bakersfield from this observation) and spending time anywhere a visitor can find things to like about a city, but most cities are limited in what they can offer a visitor who is there for a short period of time.

My requirements for a perfect city to visit: 1. Great, easy to understand public transportation, 2. A city plan/map that is easy to understand, 3. Great museums, 4. Beautiful buildings, 5. Green spaces, 6. Temperate climate, 7. History, 8. Walkability, 9. Food, 10. Je ne sais quoi.  On a 0-5 scale most great cities will score in the high 30s and low 40s using my scientific scale. Take Paris for example: Transportation: 5, City Plan: 5, Great Museums: 5, Beautiful Buildings: 5, Green Spaces: 5, Temperate Climate: 4, History: 5, Walkability: 5, Food: 5, Je ne sais quoi: 5, for a grand total of 49. That is a pretty good score. London might end up with a 42 (city plan is terrible, and London is not really a walkable city unless you want black lung.) Bakersfield: 5 (great Mexican food, everything else is a zero.)

Anyway, as we rode around Vienna, I began to believe that Vienna might be a 50, and I am sure Walter would have agreed. Since Vienna was the center of the Hapsburg Dynasty it still has the structure of a world leader, but the importance of Austria as a global power has diminished and I have the feeling that this has allowed Vienna to relax and focus their monetary assets internally as opposed to trying to run an empire.

That is one big, two-headed Eagle.

That is one big, two-headed Eagle.

Green spaces in Vienna are abundant. Want to rent a rosebush in the royal garden? You can.

Green spaces in Vienna are abundant. Want to rent a rosebush in the royal garden? You can.

There is a large amusement park near the Danube river. I saw this thing in a James Bond movie once.

There is a large amusement park near the Danube river. I saw this thing in a James Bond movie once.

The food tent outside the Rathaus.

The food tent outside the Rathaus.

The center of European power for 800 years.

The center of European power for 800 years.

Some royal house or something.

Some royal house or something.

By far the best Plague column I saw during TSOJ.

By far the best Plague column I saw during TSOJ.

You don't see things like this in Bakersfield.

You don’t see things like this in Bakersfield.

The golden dome was designed by Klimt.

The golden dome was designed by Klimt.

Just another Vienna building.

Just another Vienna building.

Walter telling half the bike riders about the fountain.

Walter telling half the bike riders about the fountain.

Public housing Vienna style.

Public housing Vienna style.

All in all the bike tour took about two hours and Walter was able to make it to meet the cable man in time. I think he also mentioned a meeting he had with a couple beers, but in my opinion Walter earned those beers. He did not lose anyone on the tour, he entertained me, he did not tell any lies (as far as I can tell), and he did have a lot to say if you kept up with him.

 

TSOJ: Prague–Aussies, Bike Rides and Dealing with Being Sick

Twenty minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive from Hamburg I knew there was going to be a problem. Piles and piles of young backpackers with Eurail Passes were already crowding the platform. This was not good. I did not have a reserved seat and there were many, many more people than there were going to be seats, but I figured since I was traveling solo it would be easier for me to find a seat than most. When the train pulled up and a few people exited, the mob climbed aboard the train like we were attacking a castle fortress. My plan was to look on a car near the back and if nothing opened up, jump off the train and head toward the front looking for a less crowded car. Most of the kids were clustered around the middle of where the train would arrive and I wanted to avoid that mess if at all possible. I jumped on the trailing car, looked for a moment, almost all the seats were reserved, I jumped off the train and kept going until I could hop directly onto a car. I jumped, moved my way around a few folks, looking for any seat that did not have a reserved marker near the window, it did not look good, but suddenly I noticed an open spot that everyone was passing right by. I looked closely and asked the old man next to the open seat if it was taken. He moved his bag and I sat down. I scored a reasonable seat, and began to enjoy my new found home. There was no space to put my bag anywhere so I did my best to shove it under the seat.

"Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

I relaxed and for about 10 minutes, enjoyed my luck, then…I heard Aussies. I like Aussies. Aussies are great. Australians are fun to be with, informal, open, and generally great company. There is one caveat to enjoying Aussies…groups of Aussies fall back on their prison boat past. Groups of any nationality can be annoying because mob mentality is real. I can be a very quiet and reserved person, but put me in a foreign land with a handful of my countrymen and suddenly I’m every American stereotype in the Book of Stereotypes (available at Amazon in the Reference Section.) These 10, young (between 20-25, I figured) Aussie blokes (not gentlemen) were loud, obnoxious, and had only seven seats. They talked loudly about their sexual encounters, their drunken exploits, and their embarrassing moments. (I doubt the train ride from Berlin to Prague will become part of their repertoire because they were suffering under the impression that English is a strange tribal language only spoken by a few surviving people. If you speak only English, assume people near you will understand what you are saying and act accordingly. Just because you don’t understand them doesn’t mean they don’t understand you.) There was a young lady stuck in the corner with her reserved seat amidst the sea of “AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE!” I felt terrible for her. She sat there the whole trip. It was a long five hour ride.

Hmm...Which ticket do I want? Do not pick the wrong one, because they check tickets in Prague's underground.

Hmm…Which ticket do I want? Do not pick the wrong one, because they check tickets in Prague’s underground.

When I arrived in Prague I took the underground (one of the easiest systems to understand as long as you know how to buy a ticket) to my hotel and was pleased to find out that I was no longer staying in a total dive. I had to work out a problem with my bike tour for the next day so I went back to the center of the city and talked to the bike shop owner. I was the only person who had reserved the full-day tour. (What? People don’t want to spend 7 hours on a bike?) He refunded 200 CK and I decided to do a morning tour and an evening tour, it was a good choice and I got ten bucks back. I took my new-found wealth and had dinner. I went to bed wondering if I had a scratchy throat or if I was catching something.

In the morning I knew I was coming down with a cold, so I did all the right things to prevent the cold from getting worse: took six hours worth of bike rides, drank three beers, and stayed out well past midnight. In my defense the evening bike tour finished around 11 and I had not eaten since I purchased very bad sandwich from a store the size of a walk-in closet next to my underground stop, so when our group asked if I wanted to join them for dinner I accepted. (For the record a sandwich that is labeled as “Mexican Flavored” does not mean the same thing in Prague as it does in the US.)

The first bike tour was centered around the historic downtown. I ate an entire bag of Halls fruit flavored throat lozenges during the ride so I was taking in something nutritional. The actual bike ride was very informative, but I don’t remember much about it, my mind was preoccupied with: 1. Not being killed by a car, 2. Not being killed by a fix object, 3. Not crashing into a pedestrian, 4. Not crashing and getting a bad case of road rash, 5. Wondering if anyone had died on this tour, 6. Wondering if it was a fever I was feeling or the heat of the day, 7. Thinking about what I was going to do if I got really sick, 8. Wondering if the bike company had ever been sued by Americans who had lost their ability to reproduce because of the cobblestones, 9. Wondering whether I should have a beer during lunch, 10. Thinking about whether I should go to bed or do the second tour later in the day.

How do you want to die on the bike tour? Car crash, Trolley, Wall?

How do you want to die on the bike tour? Car crash, Trolly, Wall? Oh, that is one of the Opera houses in the background.

The Astrological Clock. The builder of the clock was blinded after construction was completed so he could not make another.

The Astrological Clock. The builder of the clock was blinded after construction was completed so he could not make another.

Jan Hus was the leader of a reform movement against the Catholic church. Things did not go his way.

Jan Hus was the leader of a reform movement against the Catholic church. Things did not go his way.

The Art Nuevo architecture in the city was amazing.

The Art Nuevo architecture in the city was amazing.

When the tour was finished I had three hours to rest up for the next tour. I thought I would walk back to my hotel, take a two hour nap and be fresh as a daisy for the second tour. This was a good plan, unfortunately I got lost, really lost. How lost, you ask? Lost enough that I ended up walking through what I will call a “needle park” filled with homeless people and prostitutes. Lost enough that by the time I found my hotel I had enough time to take a 30 minute nap. 30 minute naps are like getting a bite of dessert, you pretend it is enough but it isn’t. I was not a fresh daisy when I started back to the bike shop, I was a wilted avalanche lily. Along the way I picked up more lozenges, the bad Mexican chicken sandwich, and an orange juice. I did my best enjoy my tour. It was beautiful and strenuous. We climbed hills, looked at the panoramas and took pictures. We were a small group: an American dude from Tennessee, an older couple from Israel, an Aussie lady, our guide from Mexico, and a younger Aussie guy who wore a shirt that read, “Pull the trigger Bitch!” I’m not sure where you get a shirt like that, but maybe there are “Misogynist R Us” stores in Australia. When I heard Tennessee and “Pull the Trigger” guy talking about signing up to do a Prague tour where you get to shoot machine guns I decided to spend most of my time talking to the Aussie lady and our guide. The climb to the top of the ridge was okay, but it was difficult for the older couple and for Tennessee since he had just lit his second cigarette of the tour. This was not what I will call good planning. Having a smoke in Prague is perfectly okay, but smoking while riding is questionable, toss into the equation that you are going uphill and that the smoke you are blowing out is coming right back into your face and you have made a series of bad choices, but Tennessee would become the touchstone of bad choices on our tour in my opinion.

(This paragraph is dedicated to the things Tennessee said during the tour: “I want to retire in Chechnya.” “I am the bad things that happen in Chechnya.” “I work security.” “I haven’t fired a AK in at least a month.” “That’s why I’m still single.” “That sounded like a 45 being shot.” “That usually scares the women away.” “I like your shirt.” “Let’s go fire some guns tomorrow.” “I’m an adrenaline junky.” “I doubt I’ll ever get married.”)

The rest breaks did give us lots of time to wait and gave me the chance to shove lozenge after lozenge into my pie hole. Prague from the hillside, looking across the river was beautiful. From where we stood on the ridge, the downtown area looked untouched since 1700. Prague is a strikingly beautiful city covered in two inches of historical grime. The Charles Bridge, the two remaining city towers, the Old Town Square, the Jewish quarter, and the organically-grown twisting cobblestone streets cannot be described without taking another 2,000 words, but let me just sum it up by saying, Prague is lovely.

The Vltava River cuts through Prague.

The Vltava River cuts through Prague.

Prague looking good from here.

Prague looking good from here.

Pretending to feel fine.

Pretending to feel fine.

Prague's castle/cathedral.

Prague’s castle/cathedral.

Look at me, I feel great.

Look at me, I feel great.

I almost crashed once on the ride down the hill, there were lots of switchbacks and I tried to cut one to sharp and nearly ended up gathering a collection of small rocks under my skin, but my half-asleep-cat-like reflexes saved me at the last moment. We took a longer break waiting for the older couple on the way down the hill and this is where I made a mistake in judgment. “The Pull the Trigger” dude asked the Aussie lady if she wanted to have dinner after the tour, she looked at me and said, “Dinner sounds good, let’s all go.” Now I took this as, “I don’t want to be alone with this guy, please come along so that I don’t end up being a story told loudly on a train some day.” I said that I could do a short meal, what I should have said was, “I don’t feel well, I think I need to get some sleep. You kids have a good time.” Anyway, this is how I ended up eating dinner at 11:30 in the evening in a smoke filled restaurant in Prague pretending;I was having a good time. (The term “smoke filled” is really redundant when it comes to Prague restaurants, but for those of you who have not been there it might not be apparent.)

If I were at home, I would have taken some NyQuil, drank ten gallons of OJ, and taken a hot bath. Instead I drank a liter of beer, ate some little pieces of mystery meat and spinach (not fresh tasty spinach, but frozen and reheated), and then I took a shower before hitting the old hay. I slept for about four hours before the sun was up.

Here is the great thing about being sick on vacation, you spend very little money. I ate nothing all day, watched Django Unchained again, watched Inglorious Bastards, watched No Country for Old Men, and moved in and out of consciousness for about 12 hours. I killed the cold by drowning it in sweat. My room on the top floor was a combination sauna/heat collector for the rest of the guests downstairs. For some mysterious reason my AC was not working, I turned the little knob toward the number 15 but nothing happened. It was the only hotel on my entire trip that had the luxury of cooling air, but it was not working. Had I been in a coherent state of mind I would have called downstairs and asked why my room was 115 degrees, but instead I thought about writing a short note about how I had died in Prague from the Black Plague. “Dear Loved Ones, I’m sorry I died during TSOJ. Thanks for letting me go. I had fun until I died in Prague. Love, Jon…PS. Isn’t it odd that Prague and Plague are almost the same word…”

I found out as I was checking out the next day that if you want the AC on you have to request it downstairs. This is good information to have after you leave.

Anyway, around 5PM I started to think that I could sneak out and see the Mucha Museum that I very much wanted to see. I got up, showered, and went outside and decided to eat something instead. Choosing to eat verses going to a museum is something I never do, so this was a real moment of weakness for me, but in the end I decided that I will have to return to Prague and see what I missed.

TSOJ: Berlin, like a local (who speaks no German)

East Berlin

East Berlin

When you are in Berlin during the summer you will get a whiff of something unpleasant, something that smells like a sewer and that is because it is the sewer. I don’t know why the sewer smells like it does, but it is one of those distinctive aspects of Berlin that are inexplicable. In a country with the infrastructure like Germany one would think that moving human waste without having the odor escape from the sewer might be a priority, but apparently it is not, but after a few days in Berlin I did not notice the smell any longer. The only thing I did smell was on a particularly hot day I got on a subway and smelled what can only be described as Atomic B O. I wondered who on the subway needed a shower, the good news was that the person in need of a shower was the dude wearing my shirt. The best part of me stinking up the subway car was that I really didn’t care. Yep, I should have put on more deodorant, but I didn’t and now it is too late. I was trying to conserve a little travel sized deodorant for the whole month-long trip, but I was now running low and in my effort to conserve I probably went a little too far. (I have since come to my senses and purchased another lump of deodorant.)

One of the best things about going to Berlin was seeing someone I knew. Aristea was a Berliner and had been a student at my school this past year. My first words to her when I met her in the summer were, “Your city smells.” (I’m all class, all the time.) Despite this first encounter, she agreed to meet with me while I was in Berlin. We met at the Jewish Museum (after I found it, I got lost twice thanks to 70/30% rule of German signage) and I met Aristea’s friend Chloe who was visiting from France. We wandered through the museum for a little while trying to understand what was going on, but I was struck immediately by the use of one word in all of the descriptions of the Jewish people in the exhibits: murdered. Almost all of the Holocaust/Jewish museums I have been to say things like, “Issac perished in Auschwitz, or Issac was executed in Auschwitz, or Issac died in Auschwitz.” Murdered is a personal word, it is not a word used to describing mass killings. I am certain that this word was used purposefully, to personalize the deaths of these innocent people, but also to hammer home the deaths were intentional and not accidental or part of the machine of time.

The modern wing of the Jewish Museum.

The modern wing of the Jewish Museum.

Another beautiful day in Berlin.

Another beautiful day in Berlin.

Several of the exhibits were just experiences. I stood in a large room looking up at a shaft of light, there was no explanation, but to me it seemed like the hope of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. They could see something in the distance but were surrounded by darkness and the light was very far away.

That light was way, way up there.

That light was way, way up there.

The next spot was a little courtyard with large rectangular blocks of cement. At first everything seemed normal, until you stood in the courtyard. The blocks provided a visual illusion that you were standing upright, but the ground was actually on a slope and it was difficult to walk because the visual cues were telling you one thing, but the reality was different.

Looks straight up, but it isn't.

Looks straight up, but it isn’t.

We eventually got upstairs and began the history part of the museum. I thought I knew a little about Jewish life and beliefs, but it did not take long for me learn about five times as much as I had ever known. I learned about traditions, about Jewish beliefs, about Jewish history, and about stuff I hadn’t ever considered. We were there for two and a half hours and we could have stayed there twice as long.

Aristea standing in front of a sound wall. The headphones picked up different voices as you moved around. No one spoke English, but a few times I recognized a name and age from the voices.

Aristea standing in front of a sound wall. The headphones picked up different voices as you moved around. No one spoke English, but a few times I recognized a name and age from the voices.

The Tree of Wishes. Grab a paper apple, write a wish, hang it in the tree. I put, "I hope the Cubs win the World Series." That is a lie, I put up a little hippie note about love and peace.

The Tree of Wishes. Grab a paper apple, write a wish, hang it in the tree. I put, “I hope the Cubs win the World Series.” That is a lie, I put up a little hippie note about love and peace.

Large glass courtyard set aside for eating and thinking after the visit.

Large glass courtyard set aside for eating and thinking after the visit.

After the Jewish museum we were off to eat Thai food. I love Thai food, but I also suffer from the idea that the best ethnic food can be found in America. Why did I believe this? Primarily ignorance, but a little of it was buying into the idea that America is a melting pot of many cultures and everywhere else in the world is pretty much a collection of mono-ethnic cultures where people don’t mix. This is not the case, the world is incredibly diverse and while America has good Thai food, so does Berlin, really good Thai food.

We met Aristea’s mom at the restaurant and got seats outside along the street. I really love the relaxed attitude of eating outside in Europe, it is one of the great pleasures of life. At our table to eat Thai food, we had a French woman, two Berliners and an American, it was very international, the best news was that everyone spoke excellent English. It was so nice to be able to be taken care of by my German-speaking hosts. They ordered, picked up the food, and picked up the bill. I had some duck and curry. It was very good, and I got to try a mango drink that was also very nice. I spent a lot of time talking to Aristea’s mom about the United States about her travels. After I told her about my harrowing experience climbing the tower in Copenhagen, she told me that it was possible to climb up into the tower in the center of the Tiergarten. I hadn’t planned on climbing anymore towers, but this one looked pretty safe compared to the one in Copenhagen. After dinner, we walked to a coffee shop and had some caffeine and cake to top the evening off. It was one of those leisurely evenings that seem so hard to accomplish in America. Culturally we could learn a lot from the Europeans when it comes to eating and relaxing. Imagine eating a meal for two hours in America, it just doesn’t happen, but it should.

At the end of the evening, Aristea’s mom drove me back to my hotel by way of all of the places I should visit on my last day. I managed to make it to all of the locations on my final day in Berlin, but nothing was better than the evening that I got to pretend I was a local.

TSOJ: Bike Tour of Potsdam

In my humble and important opinion, bike tours are one of the best ways to see most European cities, and my favorite bike tour company (Fat Tire Bike Tours) always manages to do all the things that make a bike tour great. I have taken three tours based in Paris (day tour, night tour, Versailles) and I have taken one of the many Berlin tours, so when I saw that there was a tour of Potsdam offered by Fat Tire I did not hesitate to sign up. When solo traveling these tours are great for meeting people and seeing the sights.

The Crew, ready to rule the mean streets of Potsdam.

The Crew, ready to rule the mean streets of Potsdam.

When I decided that Potsdam was on my itinerary I knew very little about the history of Potsdam other than the end of WWII and Potsdam had some distant connection in my brain. By the end of the day I knew as much as someone with a PhD in German history. (This is a lie, but I could pass a two question test on German history written in English.)

We kicked off our tour by informally introducing ourselves and it wasn’t long before we all agreed that it was a small world as we made connections from our pasts. (For example, one of the ladies on the tour had grown up in the mighty PNW and had spent many summers at a family cabin in Grayland, WA where I worked for 16 years.) We all hopped on a train to Potsdam and picked up our bikes. The bikes all have names printed on their frames and I ended up with The Alman Brothers, I really wanted Anna Kornikova but I didn’t think my wife would approve of me riding Anna all day. Off we went, it was a cooler than usual day and I was prepared by having hairy legs and arms. The people from California and Arizona in our group were cold, but I was comfortable the whole day.

Doing my job as "ass man." Blocking a car, a horse-drawn carriage, and taking an ill-advised picture while riding downhill.

Doing my job as “ass man.” Blocking a car, a horse drawn carriage, and taking an ill advised picture while riding downhill.

Our guide, Craig, was from Australia and brought that Aussie relaxed attitude the entire day. One of the first things to decide on the tour is who gets to ride in the very back. In France they called this the derrière, but in Germany the last person is referred to as the “ass man.” The payment to be the “ass man” is one beer back at the shop, I had been the derriere before and quickly volunteered to take care of business as the “ass man.” The “ass man’s” job is to make sure no one gets left behind and at times is the person who blocks traffic. The nice thing about the Potsdam tour is that there was not any need to block traffic since most of the day we were riding through the huge parks in Potsdam.

I will now sum up everything you need to know about Potsdam in a paragraph. (If you need to check any of the historical accuracy of this section please use Wikipedia.) The Germans wanted to have a Versailles like place for their royalty to hang out, so they built a bunch of castles. It got a bit out of control. Many of the buildings were like Hollywood stage sets and did not have much substance. The different kings all had their own ideas about what to build and pretty soon there was a mess of different styles of architecture. Eventually the kings lost power after WWI and the place was kind of ignored for a few years, until the Big Three (not LeBron, D Wade, and Chris Bosh, but America, England, and Russia) were looking for a place to divide up Germany after WWII. The Big Three met in Potsdam because the rest of the country only had about three buildings left standing. (This bombing is described in Germany as inhumane, in the US it is described as necessary.) After the Potsdam Accord was signed the Cold War started and we got to move our hatred from Germans to Russians. After that Potsdam was controlled by the East Germans and the castles were used by the Communist Party leaders as summer retreats. There was some other important stuff along the way, but that is the condensed version.

On our bikes we saw some awesomely weird buildings and rode around the whole city. I must say, when people have unlimited funds to build things they go a bit nutty. The worst building was this Chinese Pagoda building. There were Germans who had been to China to trade opium and they returned with some great stories about the buildings, so instead of having the architect visit China or bringing in a Chinese builder, they just kind of winged it. The result is a building that is either blatantly racist, or just plain ugly. I believe the traders were smoking their product instead of just trading it.

This is a real building. This building exists.

This is a real building. This building exists.

What's worse, the hats or the mustache?

What’s worse, the hats or the mustache?

That's a lot of gold leaf.

That’s a lot of gold leaf.

Shocked, but certainly amused.

Shocked, but certainly amused.

One of the kings, Frederick The Great (aka Frederick II), had an exciting life. He tried to run away from his father and leave the royal thing in the rearview mirror, but one of his friends ratted him out. (Most historians agree he was homosexual and trying to escape with his lover.) The king executed Fredrick’s lover; forcing Fred to watch. Freddy then decided to behave himself and even got married (kind of, no kids and he is buried next to his dogs, his wife’s grave is nowhere to be seen). The best thing King Freddy did was bring potatoes to Germany. At first Germans did not want to eat potatoes, so the King Freddy made a law that said that only the royals could eat potatoes. This changed everyone’s attitude about potatoes and soon people were trying to steal potatoes from the royal potato patch. After a year king Freddy lifted the ban on potatoes and everyone was making potato salad, mashed potatoes, and eating potatoes like crazy. Germans are still potato crazy.

The Potato King's grave, with potatoes and his dogs, you can not make up history this awesome.

The Potato King’s grave, with potatoes and his dogs, you can not make up history this awesome.

Around noon, we stopped to have a little lunch in a beer garden. This beer garden overlooked a lake and offered traditional German food: Beer, sausages, lentil soup, potatoes of various types, and pretzels. I decided that a liter of seasonal beer was needed to wash down my brat, potato salad, and kraut. It was a great break in the middle of the day and allowed all of us to sit around a table and find a little more about each other. Craig, the tour guide, said the most surprising thing of all; he wanted to travel to America and see the southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. All of the Americans were shocked by this information. Most often, these are not the locations that tourists want to visit, but Craig said that he heard that people there were crazy and he wanted to see them with his own eyes. This view is even more odd when one considers that Craig is from Australia and seeing crazy people is easy enough in his homeland. This is not an opinion, it is a fact.

They needed Dutch builders, so they built Dutch style houses to entice them to come to Potsdam.

They needed Dutch builders, so they built Dutch style houses to entice them to come to Potsdam.

Sanssouci from the gardens below: The Summer Palace.

Sanssouci from the gardens below: The Summer Palace.

This was the servant housing...really, they had the servants stay here so they could show the other rulers where the servants stayed.

This was the servant housing…really, they had the servants stay here so they could show the other rulers where the servants stayed.

Need a windmill to make it look like Holland? Then build a windmill.

Need a windmill to make it look like Holland? Then build a windmill.

Roman ruins built in the distance to look like Roman ruins. If you want to see real Roman ruins you will have to go to Disneyland.

Roman ruins built in the distance to look like Roman ruins. If you want to see real Roman ruins you will have to go to Disneyland.

What do you do when you are at war with England (WWI)? Well, you build a really big English Tudor style mansion. Makes perfect sense in Potsdam.

What do you do when you are at war with England (WWI)? Well, you build a really big English Tudor style mansion. Makes perfect sense in Potsdam.

We finished the tour at the building where the Potsdam Accord was signed. I did not pay the extra fee to take photographs inside the building. There were three rooms for the three leaders: Churchill, Stalin, and Eisenhower; and one big room with a big round table for the actual meetings. It is strange to sit in a room where the course of history was changed, or at least to know that many of my childhood fears of the USSR were formed by the decisions made in this room. We hopped back on our bikes and cruised back to the train station, just barely made our train, and then headed back into Berlin. Once we made it to the bike shop I collected my beer and was given a chunk of the wall. I don’t know if the chuck was because I did a passable job as “ass man,” but it doesn’t matter why I was awarded the fist sized piece of cement because to me the fall of the wall is more about the potential for change than anything else. I never thought I would see the day when Germany was combined and I never thought we would live in a world where the Communist Bloc did not exist any longer. It gives me hope for the future and for all the challenges the human race will face.

TSOJ: Copenhagen–Terrifying Towers, Nonexistent Museums, and Stealing Coffee

If I were to run away from America, I would run away to Copenhagen. Copenhagen is the city for hippies and hippy wannabes. Copenhagen is Portland on hippy steroids and, I think, the future for most cities if the human race is going to survive beyond the year 2038. (No, I do not know anything about 2038, it is just 25 years from now and I will be even older.)

Bike graveyard, or bike parking lot?

Bike graveyard, or bike parking lot?

The first thing I noticed both times I have been here is: There are a lot of bikes in this city. The second thing I noticed was: No one seems to be actively stealing these bikes that are everywhere. The third thing I noticed was: Riding a bike looks like more fun in Copenhagen than at home. Everyone rides bikes, they ride bikes like cars don’t exist, and almost everyone living in Denmark looks younger than me, could this be because of the bike riding?

See it doesn't look too bad from here.

See it doesn’t look too bad from here.

I decided that I could see a lot on foot on my first day and I was right. The plan was to climb a couple of towers, visit the Danish Design Museum, and see most of the sites around the center of town. This plan was an actual plan, it had been mapped out and thought about, and it took about an hour to completely unravel.

I wanted to get my climb to the top of Vor Frelsers Kirke before it got too windy. The church (kirke) has a unique tower with an exterior stairway climbing around the spire and even though I am scared of heights, I thought climbing up to the top would be fun. From a distance it did not look very high anyway. The church was across town so I took off right after a moderate breakfast (that’s right, folks, I’m not always a pig). Well, I did stop at a pastry shop along the way that my family practically begged to eat in when we were in Copenhagen five years ago. (We did not eat there because I had been yelled at in so many bakeries by that time that I was a bit scared. Okay, the truth is I thought it would be expensive and it was crowded and I didn’t want to wait in line.) It wasn’t expensive and the line moved quickly. (This news will probably not make my family happy. Oh, and it was delicious.)

After my little snack break, it was off to climb a tower. It took me some time to get across town, but I enjoyed the walk. The weather was perfect. It was everything I need in weather: sunny, a little breezy, and warmish but not hot. I did my one good deed for the day along the way, a middle-aged couple were climbing a long series of stairs with their luggage and the husband (I’ll assume he was married because of the way he was acting) made it to the top of the stairs and was standing there watching his wife drag her far-too-large luggage up the stairs. Now, I am sure the reason he was standing there was because as they were packing back in the US he said, “You’re taking too much stuff, Honey. Are you going to lug that all over Europe?” Of course she said she would and now he was standing at the top of the stairs watching her and thinking, “I knew it.” She, on the other hand, was thinking, “I wonder what the divorce laws are in Denmark.” I couldn’t help myself and intervened by carrying the bag to the top of the stairs. It weighed about 30 kilos and it was too big, but I got to feel good about myself and that is the most important lesson here. This little ego-boost carried me all the way to the church where I suddenly was confronted with the fact that this little tower was in fact a big, tall, spiraling, death-trap of a tower.

Up close it is much taller.

Up close it is much taller.

The ladder/stairs  are great for getting the old ticker moving.

The ladder/stairs are great for getting the old ticker moving.

I went inside, paid 40 DK ($8), and then began my ascent of fear mountain. The ticket dude said that there were over 400 stairs which didn’t scare me, I can climb stairs without sweating, but what did scare me was how these 400 stairs turned into ladder-stairs after about 150 stairs. It was steep, it was 400 years old (not an actual fact, but it could be older), and there were signs every ladder-stair set warning of imminent death. If I was in America I would have ignored the signs, we warn people about everything, “This plate is hot. This door might open. Watch out for falling rock.” In Europe they don’t warn people about many things, so when I saw a sign letting me know that death was just around the corner, I started to get even more frightened. I stopped at one point, took three minutes to decide whether to finish or to go back to the bottom ashamed of myself. That’s right, me, Mr. Wonderful, the guy who just carried a lady’s luggage to the top of the stairs, I was having a moment that can best be described as self-loathing. I almost turned around, but the thing that moved me forward was that I HAD PAID for this experience. If I pay for something, I am going to finish it.

My strategy was to not look down. Even inside the tower I had to repeat this over and over, “Don’t look down. Don’t look down. This tower will not fall over. You will survive.” (I have issues, I really do think tall buildings are going to fall over when I am in them.) Everything was peachy keen until I reached the final ladder and could see the door leading outside. If there were not five or six people around I would have crawled outside, but because I HAD PAID and there were other people around, I sucked it up and stood outside. It was terrifying, it was a great view, and my hands were so sweaty I was worried I was going to drop my iPhone while taking a couple quick pictures. I then began the climb on the outside of the tower. The only thing that saved me was that the railing was about two meters high and it was solidly attached to the tower. As I neared the very top I ran into a Danish fellow who pointed out where everything in his city was. Danish people are the best. We spent about 15 minutes talking about our travels, our jobs, and our shared fear of heights. He said he climbs up here about once a week to keep himself alive. I like to take naps to keep myself alive.

The city from the tower.  Sweaty, shaky cam.

The city from the tower. Sweaty, shaky cam.

The railing that saved me from the walk of shame.

The railing that saved me from the walk of shame.

The climb back down was just as dangerous because everything was so steep. The good news was that my legs were no longer shaking like new-born colt’s. I made it to the bottom and celebrated by sitting on a bench for 10 minutes.

Next on my list of things to do was a stroll down by the waterfront and around by the royal stuff. I also wanted to see the Marble Cathedral that was designed after Saint Peter’s in Rome. The waterfront was nice. People were out riding bikes, kids were playing and everyone was enjoying their time. imageAs I got closer to the Marble Cathedral the tour groups got thicker, but most of them were there to see the royal stuff, only the Italians seemed interested in the church. I am beginning to believe that Italy might be the only country in Europe still interested in Christianity at all, but I could be wrong. The Marble Cathedral was okay. It didn’t have any striking characteristic other than the dome.
I walked a little further and then had to take a break. My feet were killing me. I had blisters on both feet and it was time to do something about it. My go to solution is always duct tape, but finding duct tape in Copenhagen was a challenge. Eventually I got some and patched up my feet. It helped some but my walking shoes have proven to be a bad choice for travel.

Duct tape works on everything.

Duct tape works on everything.

I then headed off to the Round Tower cutting through the large park by the old castle. I remembered being here five years ago and took a couple pictures. The Round Tower is probably a good spot to see the city, but after my climb up terror tower nothing was going to impress me too much anymore. I got up there, took a couple pictures for families that needed photos and then decided it was time to visit the Danish Design Museum. On my way to the museum I walked by a little coffee shop that had seats outside and I thought that a latte would be just the thing to pick me up and keep me going. I didn’t have enough change for a large latte, so I ordered a small one. I waited picked up my latte and then went outside to drink it. When I was done with my cup I thought I would return it since that is what polite people do. I went in and the girl who had helped me with my order said, “Your latte is ready.” I looked and there on the counter was a much smaller latte than the one I had just consumed. I drank someone’s drink and paid for a small. Nice work, Champ! They encouraged me to drink the smaller drink, but I felt like such an idiot that I just ran like Tom Cruise. At least I had the Design Museum in the future to salve my wounded ego. I had wanted to go to the museum the last time I was in Copenhagen, but my family wanted to go to Tivoli. (Tivoli is worth an entire day if you are ever in Copenhagen and I think it was the right choice. My kids didn’t need to spend any more time being bored in museums.) I walked to where the Design Museum was located five years ago and found a large cafe affiliated with the Danish Design Museum and a sign that said, “No Exhibits Showing.” This was disappointing, but it explained why it had been hard to find information about the museum. I have since found out that it is located in a different area of the city.

Hans Christian Anderson, they took his pedestal away.

Hans Christian Anderson, they took his pedestal away.

Soren K, chilling in his garden behind the library.

Soren K, chilling in his garden behind the library.

Striking out on the museum was a bit of a bummer, but then it was off to the city hall…It was closed. I was beginning to feel a little like an idiot, not uncommon for me and after this trifecta of stupidity it was more than a feeling. At this point I surrendered, I stopped by to see Hans Christian Anderson and noticed that his statue is now shorter than it was last time I was in Denmark, my visit with Hans inspired me to visit my other favorite statued writer in Copenhagen, Soren Kierkegaard. Soren hangs out over by the library and has a little courtyard that is very pleasant. I dropped in on him and then wondered if I could bust into the library. It was about five pm and I figured the library would be closed, but because it was my lucky day the library was open until seven. The new wing of the library is called the Black Diamond and is just as good as a Danish Design Museum anyway. I snuck around for a little bit, trying to go places I was not allowed and then saw that there was a special exhibit on Kierkegaard. I talked to the ticket lady, she said that there were English guides and that it was worth my time. I could also see the collection of cartoons by a Danish artist, and was allowed into the room with the treasures of the royal collection (these were rare books, not crappy crowns and gems). I spent the next two hours checking stuff out. I took a bunch of pictures in the rare book room before I saw a sign saying, “No Photography.” so I did the ethical thing and deleted all the pictures even though there were some pretty cool things like letters from Nietzsche and musical scores from Beethoven and Mozart.

The skybridge between the old and new wings of the library.

The skybridge between the old and new wings of the library.

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The old wing, with free wifi.

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Who needs a Design Museum when you can just go to the library?

Kierkegaard was a fascinating guy. I know him in the simplistic terms “the Christian Existentialist,” but he was so much more than that. He was a prolific writer and wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms when he wanted to write something especially controversial. His life was short, died at 42, but his influence in Denmark was huge.

Finally I decided it was time for dinner, unfortunately 7:00 is late for Danish dinning standards and I wandered around until 9 until I finally bit the bullet and got some Chinese take-away, which tasted just a little bit better than the bullet. Food that sits under a hot lamp all day is never a great choice, but you might notice that great choices are not my thing.

Hey TSA, Let’s Ban CornNuts

I can remember flying from Auckland, New Zealand, to Los Angeles in the smoking section of the airplane. Yes, Virginia, people used to smoke on airplanes. At that time, the entire world was filled with Don Drapers, lighting up wherever and

Don Draper

Don Draper (Photo credit: Christina Saint Marche)

whenever they wanted. If you didn’t smoke that was okay, you just had to learn to smoke the second-hand way.  The flight was a twelve hours long and when the plane landed at LAX I smelled like I had spent the night at the Whiskey A Go-Go. I am not a smoker and breathing someone else’s smoke does annoy me, but it was not the worst assault on my personal space while on an airplane.

A few years back I was on a flight from Seattle to Reykjavík. The airline, who shall remain nameless, (IcelandicAir) is one of those budget numbers where nothing on the flight is free except water and air. (They do not charge to use the bathroom, but I expect that has been discussed at shareholder meetings.) On flights like this people who are even more frugal than me bring their own snack items onboard. Generally this is not a problem because most people have the good sense to bring things like candy bars and little sandwiches purchased at the airport. I don’t bring snacks. Once the plane is off the ground I throw caution to the wind and pay 10 times too much for food of questionable quality. As I recall, I had ordered a chicken curry wrap and was busy munching away when I smelled something so offensive that my nose burned: CornNuts. If you have never smelled CornNuts before then you are a lucky person, because CornNuts stink. For those of you who have not been assaulted by CornNut smell imagine being placed in a coffin, covered from head to toe in corn chips, and then buried alive for a month; that is what CornNuts smell like.

The odor of CornNuts must have some interesting chemical properties because it is the one odor that never goes away. Your nose does not adjust to the smell, your poor brain cannot delete the smell from your olfactory senses and the stink of CornNuts  only gets worse as the mouth-breathing idiot who opened the bag in the first place is now chomping away like a dog eating peanut butter.

CornNuts brand Corn nuts product samples. 3 fl...

CornNuts brand Corn nuts product samples. 3 flavors L-R: Original, Barbeque, and Ranch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The flight from Seattle to Reykjavík is eight hours. I had the pleasure of smelling those CornNuts for 7:45 hours of the flight. Had I been able to pinpoint the moron eating the CornNuts we might have had an “international incident” and I then would be writing this blog from some jail in Nova Scotia.

I am not saying that CornNuts are not a tasty treat, they are just a treat that must be enjoyed away from the general public. If you want to eat CornNuts knock yourself out, just do it outside and at least 20 feet from the entrance of a building, preferably in the rain. Anyone who choses to eat CornNuts must also brush their teeth and gargle for five minutes before being allowed back inside the building. If you wish to eat CornNuts on an international flight, you must do so while sitting on the wing of the plane. That means you will not be permitted inside the plane at all, bring a jacket because I hear it is cold out there.

Ideally the TSA would ban the use of CornNuts in airports, airplanes, airport shuttles, elevators in airports, and anywhere within 500 miles of an airport. Violators would be subject to working in a CornNut plant without a mask for a month. If they survive that they can return to civilized society only if they promise never to eat CornNuts again.

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