Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Nor(w)ich Wedding

After having traveled around Europe (and N. Africa) for the past few weeks it was now time for my final destination, Norwich. I'd considered taking a train from Amsterdam to London then to Norwich, but time and money put me on a flight from Schipol to Luton, one of the cheaper Easyjet flights. From there I took Greater Anglia trains all the way to Norwich with one stop in Cambridge. It only took a few hours, not bad really and the trains were comfortable enough. Once I got to Norwich I started walking for my hotel. Unfortunately I forgot the map I printed, but remembered the general direction and that I thought I could walk it in less than 30 minutes so I set out. It wasn't too far to get to the Best Western Annesley. I was quite pleased with the hotel, it was a nice little place. Since I arrived at the hotel close to 9pm the guys were already out for the bachelor's night, but I was able to locate them and get a few pints in before the night was over. The next morning I had two missions, haircut and pair of dress shoes. I figured I could get a pair of dress shoes for 20BP or less and that was what I was willing to pay not to have lugged a pair of my own across Europe for the last three weeks. I was in luck as there was a TJ Maxx and SuperCuts. I had my breakie, shoes, and a sharp cut by noon and so had just enough time to get back to the hotel to take a nap before heading to meet the guys at The Assembly House. Long story short the bride said yes, wedding was beautiful, food was great, drank too much, got to bed around 1am. It was cool to see Jon so happy, also very nice to see some of the guys I had known on JET as well and to talk about old times and how things have changed. The next morning I was on the verge of death, but managed to get myself checked out and walk to the train station by 8am, Monday. This began what is probably the longest set of trains, planes, and automobiles that I have ever taken. It took me about 48 hours to train to London, fly from Gatwick to Basel, Basel to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and finally Kuala Lumpur to Penang were a friend picked me up at the airport. I got to my new apartment at 8pm Wednesday, signed my lease papers, and went to sleep in order to face the first day of work the next day. I've been back in Penang for about a month now and this year is running much more smoothly than last. Aya joined me shortly after I arrived and now I could even  possibly see myself staying here for a while, maybe. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013


From Brussels I moved on to Amsterdam by Thalys train. For the first night I had booked a hotel out by the airport and so spent the evening in town walking around but not doing much else. People were very laid back, but a big difference I noticed right away was the smell of marijuana wafting through the streets.
As I was walking through a shop I noticed that they had a bottle of absinthe, which is illegal in the US. So I grabbed it and headed back to my hotel room. Green in color this drink is often associated with green fairies and is rumored to lead to mild hallucinations, so I had to try it. It is also very strong at about 75% alcohol. I had a couple of glasses of it and I must say that it was disgusting. Hopefully the maid liked absinthe because I ended up leaving almost a full bottle when I left the hotel the next day.
The next couple of days I stayed closer to the downtown area in the King Hotel. Amsterdam has plenty to do and I spent most of my time just walking circles around the streets near the train station enjoying the canals, the people in the squares and street performers, and window shopping. I went to a store that had over 1000 varieties of beer (otherwise known as heaven), ducked through the red light district a couple of times, and enjoyed all sorts of street foods most notable fries with gobs of mayo. I did some constructive things too, the first being going to the Amsterdam Dungeon. About 5 years ago I had visited the London Dungeon and really thought that was fun so I would give the Amsterdam Dungeon a try. Basically it is like an informational haunted house. As a group of 30 or so you get shuffled around to different rooms where there are different stories told and things to scare you. Just like in London the characters interacted with you, frightening you and generally making people laugh with discomfort. It was really fun and at the end the Amsterdam Dungeon had something that the London Dungeon didn't, a roller coaster!
Later that afternoon I went to the My Dream Exhibition, which honestly at first I thought would be kind of lame. About 200 Van Gogh paintings had been retouched to show their original color and 7of them had been rendered in 3-D. Unfortunately I have lost all my pictures from this experience, but it was very cool. Besides seeing the bright colors of Van Gogh the 3d booths were neat. They looked like large photo booths so you would pull back the curtain and step inside. Once inside you put on your 3d glasses and view the painting with soundtrack  which would play in a 2 minute or so loop. I found this video, but it doesn't do it justice. Van Gogh's My Dream Exhibition
After having seen the exhibition I thought I would then go and see the real Van Gogh paintings. I have been a fan of Van Gogh for a very long time and kind of felt like I was going to a concert where my favorite band was playing. The paintings at the museum were beautiful and I was very glad to spend the rest of the afternoon just shuffling from painting to painting.
As the museum would soon be closing I thought it best to move on to the Heineken factory. I joined a tour group and they showed us how Heneiken was brewed along with a couple of beers at the end. There were lots of neat things like a 4D experience of how Heineken makes their beer, an area where you could customize your bottle, where they keep the horses (apparently Heine has horses?)The experience was enjoyable and since I have recently started home brewing myself it was neat to see the industrial version of the 7 gallon buckets I use.
Having had a few beers it was time to go see Anne Frank's house. Unfortunately by the time I got there the line was very long and I didn't think it worth it to wait to see what would basically be an old house. Sorry Anne Frank, you were a brave little girl but there was a dinner/beer special around the corner from your former house.
More or less that encapsulates my time in Amsterdam. I really enjoyed it and would like to go back again some day to see a bit more of the city and perhaps take some day trips to the surrounding country side. Onward to Norwich, England!

Sunday, September 08, 2013


From Tanger I took a flight to Paris, arriving around 9 at night. I booked a budget hotel for the evening and got up early the next morning to catch my train Paris Du Nord station to get to Brussels. I used Thalys and the train was fairly nice and fast. In Brussels I was a bit early for checking into my hotel, but I thought I would give it a try anyways. I had booked the Max Hotel with no real thought for what type of hotel it was, just that it was fairly central and cheap with fair reviews. Since I was too early the receptionist told me I could keep my baggage in a locker on the 2nd floor. After I put my bag in I looked around the corner where there was a large sitting area and a computer terminal. There were also a couple of vending machines. Some of these had normal things like beer, candies, and some personal products in them. However, I was very amused to see another machine selling 24 hours of wifi, maid service, extra towels, etc. There were many plastic cards that you could buy which would then drop out of the vending machine and you could use for the service. For example the maid service card had a slot nearby where you dropped it with your room number on it and a maid came at a later time to clean your room. I bought a wifi/satellite tv card and was very satisfied to have control over what I was being charged for in terms of a room. Most hotel rooms have things I never use like a hair dryer, safe, or slippers. I hate that because I am being charged for the service that I don't use. 
So, first impression of Brussels was pretty good. I then bought a can of Hoegarden from the adjacent vending machine and my impression got even better. I had a few hours until I could check in, but basically was free to roam the city and so I headed to what I thought would be a cool sight, the museum of modern art. I didn't get in the first day because it was closed, but did on the next day and was very disappointed. Most of the artwork was of the 15-1800 paintings of Christ and the saints variety. I did a tour of the whole place in about 30 minutes. I'm sure the other patrons must have thought me mad to be walking about so briskly barely looking at most of the work, but I had already paid the sunk cost of the ticket and wasn't about to additionally waste my life looking at what bored me. 
There was one particular painting I enjoyed though, Jacques-Louis David's painting of Marat, one of the martyrs of the French Revolution. The story behind it is interesting. 

There were a few other points of interest for me in Brussels. I visited the famous Mannekin Pis and the Grand Place. One of the most interesting places I visited was the Atomium which was built for the world's fair in 1958. I can't say that the inside itself was too interesting, but certainly the building was. Plus, I got to ride what was the fastest elevator in 1958 (which was super slow) and realized why elevator music was invented. I enjoyed my time in Brussels, from the beer to the waffles and all of the very friendly people. Someday I would like to go back again, but this time with my chocolate loving wife. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013


His name was Mohammed, which was no surprise. I was beginning to feel like the people here in Tangiers were very friendly as this was the second man to chat me up within a couple of hours. The first had helped me to find dry cleaners and as we walked away I expected him to turn and ask for money or a favor. My experiences with cultures such as these in the past had taught me what to expect, but it never happened. So I thought this second guy might be on the level. It was evening and the streets were jammed with people as dark was coming in a couple of hours and everyone would break the fast. People were scurrying here and there try to buy last minute meals or get home to family.
When Mohammed first approached me I thought he would just want to ask where I was from, but the more we talked the more he divulged his story. Nearing 40, no wife, out of work for a couple of years but starting work at a hotel next week. He asked where I was going, to the Kasbah, and offered to show me there. As we approached all I could think was that he might try to get me down a dark alley so that he could rob me, so as long as we were in crowded streets I was ok and kind of enjoyed talking to him. We entered the outer market and made our way up a steep hill. During this climb he asked me if I smoked, honestly at first I thought he meant cigarettes because we were both starting to breath hard and so I said, “Not really, but once in a while I might”.  He then said, “Yes, sometimes it is good to smoke with friends to calm down, but not too often. That is bad.” And then I realized what he had really meant.
So now I am thinking that Mohammed is going to rob me for sure so that he can go buy some hash and get smoked up before the evening meal. His eyes seem to tell that story, but he still hasn’t made any really aggressive comments and we are still on the crowded street so I don’t bother to cut this off. Eventually we reach the top of the hill and are going to where we can see over the harbor across to Tarifa. It’s a beautiful view and I would stay to sit for a while, but its beginning to be odd having Mohammed at my side. More or less I have run out of things to say to him. So we stay a couple of minutes and then start making our way through the back streets down to where we started. At one point there is a fork in the street and Mohammed asks three teenage boys something, and they say "prison, it used to be a prison" pointing to a rather nice looking building which Mohammed steers us to the right of. I may mention that the back streets of the old city are very narrow, windy, full of people and character. It’s a maze more or less, but we navigate very well and are soon back to where we started. At this point there must be about 30 minutes to sundown and I press Mohammed about getting to his family to break the fast. He tells me that I should come, asks if I am truly sure that I don’t want to get some hash, and then we exchange numbers and he says goodbye.

So now I am on my own, by the Kasbah and with about 30 minutes to dark so decide to go back the same route to the top of the hill to sit and look at the harbor. Everything is fine, besides the two men who approach me to sell me hash on the way up. I get to the top and sit for a bit, then decide that I better get going as now the sun is setting fast. As I leave the wall and make my way back down to the market I decide to take a different route. I take a left instead of a right by the prison assuming that I basically just have to go down and to the right to get back to the main market. Sooner than I realize I am deep down a side alley that has no exit so I turn around and see the boys who were at the top of the wall by the prison, but in the darkened alley and on my own they seem more menacing than before. To avoid them I take a left which turns out to be another dead end and run into another group of young guys. This time I try to ask them in Spanish, where is the Medina? They are helpful and point me in a direction which I go, but 5 minutes later I am facing another seemingly unending maze of alleys. So I ask again and get pointed in another direction again leading to confusion and an ever darkening maze. By this point its right on the verge of darkness and the streets are thinning of people as they are all breaking the fast. Eventually I see a sign for a pension deciding that this might be a good place to go as they will probably speak English and definitely will know how to guide people to the Medina. So I enter and find no one but a young girl who I attempt to ask in Spanish and English, where is the Medina? I guess she does not understand and runs to get her father who after a few confused moments points me down another alley. Now it is dark and as I emerge into a small square I recognize where I am, back in the Medina.