Showing posts with label culture travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture travel. Show all posts

Hoi An - The Tailoring Capital of the World

We're currently in Hoi An, about mid-way down the coast of Vietnam. We've been in this country for a week and a half and it was not love at first sight. After the lovely trickle of life in Louang Prabang, Hanoi felt a bit like being dropped into a furious ant hill. People piled on top of one another, endless noise, crazy traffic, people pushing, shop keepers following us down the street trying to get us to buy any number of Hanoi t-shirts and fake war memorabilia. Also, I managed to have my wallet stolen less than 24 hours in.

It wasn't for us.

So we high tailed it out of town and spent a night on a junk ship on Halong Bay. The area was stunning and I really enjoyed the experience of sleeping on a ship, anchored out in the water, but the weather was cold and there were rats in the walls. Then we were back for one more night in Hanoi before catching the sleeper train south to Hoi An.

It's been unseasonably cold in Vietnam since we arrived, which has been okay because it makes it easier to focus on work rather than on going to the beach. Hanoi was only getting up to about 8 degrees during the day and Hoi An, a bit warmer, sits in the high teens (celcius). The heat isn't such a big deal, but it's also been cloudy and rainy, which makes for wet, muddy roads and the sensation of wanting to do little other than curl up under the blankets with a book and a cup of tea.

Hoi An is beautiful. It's an ancient town and at night, the old centre is lit up with hundreds of lanterns. I'll post pictures soon, but it is really very special. The town is split in the middle by a river and is located out on a kind of peninsula on the sea. It's a strange mixture of very old Vietnamese people who don't speak English and live a very quiet life working their fields or selling their crafts, and all the tourists who've come here to get clothing made on the cheap. Because that's really what Hoi An is known for: in this town of just over 100,000 people, there are over 600 tailor shops all vying business.

Pretty much all of the tailors work out of shops where they've got a range of samples on display. You can go in and buy something off the rack or ask them to adjust any garment for you - or you can go in with a sketch or some images and get them to make something from scratch. Prices vary from store to store and I'm told that the work quality isn't consistent between them, but you can generally get a basic custom dress for just over $10. There are also dozens of shoe shops and again, you can either buy off the shelves or get them to make you a pair of shoes.

On the 22nd of this month I'm being flown to California for a job interview with a hugely exciting company (hint: rhymes with schmasebook) and given that I've spent the last nine months living out of a suitcase, I'm a little lacking in appropriate outfits in the 'business casual' category. Since I can't possibly turn up in flip flops and a floor length hippie skirt, I'm planning to have something made here within the next few days, which is exciting because I don't think I've ever owned a custom made outfit before! I want something simple, comfortable, not too serious and with a bit of personality - something I can wear again.

Last spring at Target I saw a simple little dress by Massimo (pictured on the left, below) and one of the shops here has a similar pattern. Instead of the tank top though, I'm going to get them to add 3/4 length sleeves, with a slight poof at the shoulders (I seriously love a poof!).

Images from: Target, The Fashion Police, Sugarscape and Picassa.  Image of Hoi An by Viajar24h.

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Tokyo at Night = Magic

I really like this photo Dan took of me last night when we went out to find some dinner. Especially at night, the surreal saturation of this city is just intensified - all the lights come on in all the shops, down all the streets and little lanes and it's just stunning.

The strangest sensation for me so far is that suddenly I find myself completely illiterate. I'm so used to looking at language and immediately understanding it - without thinking. Language is my strength, the thing I always feel confident about. In Japan I feel like a two year old, struggling with the absolute basics. So far I can say:
  • Domo Arigato (thank you very much - truth, I only know this because of the Mr. Roboto song)
  • Domo Arigato Gozimas (thank you very much, but said more politely)
  • Konichiwa (good morning/ early day)
  • Konbanoi (good evening - I know I'm not spelling it right but that's how it sounds)
  • Hi (yes)
  • Kudesai (please)
I really need to learn/remember: two, can I have, the check, pardon me/excuse me, vegetarian (I'm not one, but occasionally this feels like the safest option), bathroom/toilets, do you speak english, I don't speak Japanese. If I can get these down within the next week I'll be happy. Dan is much more advanced than I am - he can even read a number of the characters. 

This sense of confusion and muteness really underlines how life-changing the ability to read and use language is and what a core right learning those basic skills of communication should be. Without being able to speak and read the local language, you're always a gypsy - someone merely passing across the periphery of a place, looking for ways in. 

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Tokyo Pad

I love Japan so far, which is pretty amazing given that my expectations were insanely high. This morning we were leaving Shinjuku station en route to our apartment for the first time and we got pretty lost. Out of nowhere a lovely man came up, offered his help and walked us way out of his way to get us on the right path. He didn't do it for a tip or any gratification apart from being nice and practicing his English for a few minutes. I'm sure that there are rude Japanese people just as there are rude people in any culture, but for the most part, the politeness here is almost overwhelming. Every time I think of our helper this morning it makes me smile.

Small kindnesses are so important. It's a good reminder.

The above clip is a little video tour I made of our flat, which is quite comfortable and actually a little larger than I was expecting. We've unpacked and Dan already has his work station set up (the work is endless right now). When we went to the rental agency this morning, they had us sign a contract, which was mostly standard things but included were two clauses that made us laugh: we are not allowed to become Yakuza (gangsters) or have them sleep over, and we are not allowed to play noisy games of Mahjong. Both reasonable requests I think!

I think we're going to like it here!

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On Arriving in Puerto Vallarta

Will Smith’s Family, Feeling Queasy and Cursing in Spanish

A few days ago we traveled by bus from San Blas to Puerto Vallarta, which is about a three hour drive south through the mountains that line the Pacific coast of Mexico. For anyone with any penchant for motion sickness at all, it isn’t a pretty journey. Buses here are air conditioned, but they appear to have no shocks and the roads are bumpy and windey. Not fifteen minutes in and we both felt queasy.

The only thing that makes me feel better when I’m nauseas is sleep. The bus was cool, the bus was quiet and at the exact instant that I began to drift away some little kid put on a ripped copy of the new Karate Kid film starring Will Smith’s rug rat on full volume. The sound system on buses in Mexico isn’t good. There’s a lot of static and the bits you can make out sound like they are being shouted through a long, echoing tin can. And of course it was dubbed, quite poorly, into Spanish.

I will forever associate that cocky little Smith progeny with nausea and a wall of fuzzy noise.

I felt sick enough that, with my head leaning on the curtain on the bus window next to my seat, I started to drift off anyway. I could hear the tinny Spanish dub of the Karate Kid but it became part of my dream – my squeamish stomach so far away that I couldn’t really feel it anymore. I felt the bus stop and heard some people get on and sit behind me, toward the back of the bus.

In these circumstances, my instinct is to dread the arrival of children but if I’m honest, it’s never usually the kids who cause a ruckus, but their parents.

“Little Roberto – do you want some chicken?!” the lady yelled in Spanish as though little Roberto was either deaf or on a bus in the town over. The word for chicken in Spanish is ‘pollo’, pronounced “po-yo”.
Little Roberto: Huh? (Maybe he was deaf)

Lady: Pollo! Pollo!

LR: Pollo?

Lady: Pollo!
This went on for awhile until it was eventually determined that indeed LR wanted some chicken. My eyes were closed the entire time, so I am assuming they thought I was sleeping and just didn’t care. Then, about ten minutes later and I really was starting to fall asleep again when suddenly the curtain I was resting my head on, covering the window next to my seat, was wrench out from under my cheek, causing it to slap against the bare, warm window.

I opened my eyes to see a thirty something man – another of the little Roberto clan – standing over my seat trying to rearrange my curtain by roughly pulling it back and forth. I should note that he had his own window and curtain, which he could have arranged without touching mine.

You know when you feel so angry that for a moment you can imagine yourself reaching out and doing bodily harm to another human being? That’s how I felt.

One of the challenges of being in a country where you aren’t fluid in the language is that you need to look things up before saying them. As Roberto senior was messing with my curtain, I’m fumbling in my Mexican Spanish book trying to work out what I want to say to him. Whoever makes these language books should include a section called “Insults to Hurl At Locals Who Are Pissing You Off.”

I gave up with the book and settled for a “Hey!”, a nasty look and then I roughly readjusted my curtain to where I wanted it, where it was before. Roberto senior looked at me like I was crazy, as though on buses in Mexico you should expect the person sitting behind you to yank your curtain out from under your sleeping head if he feels like it.

Incidentally, the word for rude here is ‘grosero’.

Mr. Bean Makes an Appearance

Upon the conclusion of the Karate Kid, it looked like a DVD featuring Mexican wrestling was going to be put on but following the opening credits, it was abruptly removed and replaced with a Mr. Bean DVD. I’ve never been a big Mr. Bean fan and generally think the character is a dick, which might explain why the guy behind me chuckled at his antics right until he got off the bus just outside of Puerto Vallarta with little Roberto and the loud lady.

Taxi Drivers and “Geese Hotels” in Mexico

We pulled into the central bus station in Puerto Vallarta and headed directly to the taxi stand. We had no idea where we were going and with our huge backpacks, weren’t willing to spend hours trying to navigate the confusing public transportation system here.

At the taxi stand we walked up to the first car in the queue, which was driven by an old man who didn’t speak English. Before we got into the car, a younger guy who seemed to be in charge of the taxi stand, walked up and asked where we were going. I’d written down the name and address of our hotel and showed it to him.
“Zat de ‘otel of de geese.”


“De geese! De geese!”

“It’s the hotel of the geese? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“De gay-eese.”
Then it occurred to me that this funny, cross-eyed man was trying to tell me that my hotel was “the hotel of the gays”, in other words a gay hotel. This made me quite angry. First of all, I was pretty certain that even if our hotel was ‘gay friendly’ it didn’t ban straight couples; also I’d booked through Expedia and although it was explicit that no one under 18 was permitted to check in (a bonus for us) there’d been no warning about being straight. I was also pretty certain that the taxi driver probably had some deal going with some other hotel in town and received a commission by funnelling tourists to them.

“Well, we’re staying at this hotel and we’re not gay.”

"Done say I dee not warn you," and he gave us a 'you crazy gingos' shrug and walked away but not before explaining to our taxi driver how idiotic he thought we were being and having a chuckle. I had momentary visions of kicking him in the shins. 

Mexico is a fairly Catholic country and perhaps the threat of homosexuality is interpreted to mean “they will ass rape you when you check in.” (Which didn't happen, by the way). After five weeks in San Blas, all I wanted to know was: are there dog size spiders and do the toilet flush.

For the record, our hotel is a little bit ‘gay’. There are mostly gay men staying here and working the front desk; and the neighbourhood is also filled with rainbow flags and well-dressed men having fancy meals with one another on verandas.

Give me a hotel of the “geese” any time over one that is intolerant. As long as it doesn’t have spiders.

Image Credit: Picture by me - this isn't the hotel of the geese (thank goodness!)

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Travel in 2009

In addition to moving from Cardiff to London this year (yay!), I've also had a great time of exploring new places and re-visiting others I'd never been to before. So, for posterity sake here's the list (* means I'd never been before):
Places I visited but didn't include on the list because I was either there fleetingly, so often that it didn't feel like a journey, or because the place is too familiar include: Regina and Regina Beach (Canada), Swansea and Ystradgynlais (Wales) and Detroit (USA).

I am really looking forward to the next year and the journeys it will bring. I'm especially excited at the prospect of getting to Japan, India and Italy, which have all been at the top of my list for a long time. Really, I am just very lucky to be in a position to travel so much and, as an added bonus, to do so with someone I love. (Barf, right?)

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USA East Coast Trip Pictures

NYC - Street Art, originally uploaded by oladybug0.

I've posted most of the images from my east coast (Boston and NYC) work trip we took in mid-October on my Flickr.

You can see the entire set, including images from the lovely Harvard University, here.

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Why My Trousers are Too Tight - California Eating

A few weeks ago Dan, his mom Gwyn and I went on a one week whirlwind trip to California. Not one to take things slowly, Dan had prepared a fairly intense schedule that included time in San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, Monterrey, Carmel, San Juan Battista, Santa Cruz and a drive up Big Sur. Though I've spent some time in California, most of it has been in cities - San Francisco, LA - and I genuinely had no idea how truly diverse and beautiful that state is.

We had really hot weather the entire time we were there, even in San Francisco, which is not known for its balmy summers. The day we arrived it was well over 30 degrees in San Francisco - perfect for dinner on a patio and cold Steam Anchor beer. This trend continued and by the time we were en route to Yosemite, about two days later, it had peaked at well over 35 degrees.

But this post is about food. Living in the UK, sometimes I forget how amazing eating really fresh produce is. The food ethos over here is so curious - they don't refrigerate things like eggs, which in my mind, clearly need refrigeration, but they do refrigerate tomatoes and avocados, which clearly don't. Don't even get me started on the challenge of finding a fresh, crispy leafy green...

California is geographically, a huge state, and because most of its mass runs north to south, it is also incredibly diverse. For a place that is so heavily populated, there is a shocking amount of space - from Yosemite National Park to the more flat fields where California's famous tomatoes and fruit grow in such abundance. On the road between San Francisco to Yosemite there were dozens of little road side stands selling everything from pears, apples and peaches to heirloom tomatoes, all local and fresh. With all of this available, it stands to reason that the state has some wonderful restaurants that pride themselves on serving beautiful, fresh, local produce.

1. Zuni Cafe - 1658 Market Street, San Francisco
I loved the brevity of the food menu at this restaurant. Instead of having pages and pages of possibilities, they had a very tight selection of dishes that they were confident they could do perfectly. I also loved that every single day the menu changes depending on what is fresh and available. They don't make squash soup unless it's in season. They don't do certain kinds of seafood unless it is available locally. Basically, they do everything a restaurant in a place as rich with local food as San Francisco should do.

We started with a gnocchi with an herb, thyme buttery wine sauce and little pieces of zucchini. It wasn't like pasta, the texture just absolutely melted the moment it went in my mouth. To begin, we also had these delectable little shoe string potatoes - fancy chips really.

My main course was a beautifully done (medium rare) tuna served with local vegetables and canneli beans. Initially, I wasn't sure about ordering it because I don't have a lot of experience with tuna apart from the odd raw piece with sushi or the canned variety. Fresh tuna is absolutely amazing and I've already made a point of having it once since being back in the UK. Canned tuna is quite fishy tasting but fresh tuna is lovely and flaky and mild. It was definitely one of the top five meals of my live.

2. Citizen Cake - 399 Grove Street, San Francisco
Let me qualify how good this place is by telling you that I didn't have anything chi chi here - I had a cheese burger and fries with a chocolate cupcake for dessert - and it was absolutely, fantastic. The beef tasted beefier then I can ever remember beef tasting, the cheese was cheesier, the chips crispier - it was a simple but beautifully prepared meal. Just thinking about it gives me a hankering for a hamburger, except that hamburgers are never this good. Ever. And the cupcake! I wish I had a picture because it was a truly lovely, insanely moist little cake with a gigantic dollop of butter cream icing on top. I love icing but the trick is to find a balance between sweet and not TOO sweet and this was perfect. The only other cupcakes that I've ever had that are even near the same category as this are Lola's cupcakes from the bakery in Primrose Hill (you can also get them at Selfridges).

3. Houston's - 1800 Montgomery Street, San Francisco
For those of you in Canada, no this isn't a Houston's like the Houston Pizza places (not that I'm knocking them - if you ever want real pizza, Houston in Saskatchewan is really the only thing there is). This was in a dark little place near the bay and it was heaving with people - obviously a local favourite. We ate here at our last night in California and we wanted to indulge. And oh, did we ever. A garlic cheese bread, artichoke and spinach dip, full rack of ribs, loaded baked potato and bottle of wine later, we weren't sure we would meet the weight limitation for our aircraft the following day. It wasn't fancy and the portions were huge in the way only North American portions are, but the food was done beautifully. It was exactly what BBQ should be - tender, tangy and filling.

4. Basil Seasonal Dinning - San Carlos between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea
With a name like that, you know it will be good and it was. First off, if you are having a meal there they automatically bring you out freshly baked bread with this beautiful pesto dip. In the UK that would be an appetizer they would charge £4 for! For my main entry I ordered a linguine in a white wine and garlic sauce heaping with local clams. It was simple and fresh tasting and really lovely. Dan had a steak salad and his mom had a pulled pork sandwich - everything looked really, really nice. The only complaint I have about this place is that, like a lot of Carmel, it was a bit snooty and that included the service. Our waitress wasn't awful but she was cold, a bit unfriendly and it was very obvious to us that we weren't terribly important to her. That said, my clams were worth it.

There were lots of amazing meals including a few we had at the restaurant at Evergreen Lodge just outside of Yosemite and the Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove, which is a short walk from Cannery Row in Monterrey. I could go on, but it's making me hungry.

You can see more California photos on my Flickr.

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Canada Trip Photos

Hoodoos - Drumheller, originally uploaded by oladybug0.

The first round of photos from our Canada summer trip are up on Flickr. These ones are mostly of the Hoodoos of Drumheller, Alberta.

See the whole set here.

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Escalator Etiquette and Other Notes

(Image from here.)

I've had a bit of a rough day and feel a bit like whinging. There's no real reason for this, just an overall sense of aggravation and frustration, which is mostly unjustifiable.

I love London but sometimes living in a city that pulls at you the way it does, a city that allows for so little personal space, grates. Most days I am so much in love with all that I get to see and do here that I barely notice the inconveniences of jamming my body into the hot tube every morning, but today everything felt like a challenge. If I had to pick one thing that annoys me the most it is the men and women who line the busiest streets and intersections pawning off London's free dailies - London Lite, Metro, etc., etc. They block doorways, entrances and sidewalks, their insistent arms jutting out in front of you, all but forcing you to take one. I'm not sure how their employers instill such passion in these people who surely must be poorly compensated for their time but almost without exception approach each passer-by with an almost religious-like zeal. Take what I have! Take one! When I am really at odds it takes everything in my power not to tell them to kindly take their paper out of my face.

The first time I visited London, I remember getting on an escalator going down into a tube station and like so many newbies to the city, I planted myself firmly on the 'wrong' side of the moving stair. In London everyone is in a rush all the time and to enable those people, the proper thing to do is to stand on the right hand side of escalators to leave room on the left for those people who are in such a great rush that they choose to walk. Instead of being told gently to move to the right, I am pretty sure that someone yelled at me and maybe even shoved me a little bit. I felt embarrassed and a little annoyed at the rudeness. It's amazing how many other non-Londoners share this exact same experience.

When my mother was here visiting a few months ago, I warned her in advance about escalator etiquette and as a result I am pretty sure that the only one reminding her to move over was me. She remarked quite a few times on how rushed people were in London and now, instead of commiserating about the rudeness of Londoners, I found myself defending them. In a city filled with thousands of people, most of whom are commuting good distances on a daily basis, it is easy to find yourself pushing, trying to get in front of slower people and even desperately impatient when others don't follow the rules. Tourists are fair game because, especially during the summer, they are everywhere. This isn't to say that I don't try to be polite when I tell someone to please stand to the right so I can get past, but now instead of empathising with them, internally I am shaking my head just a little.

Here are the top few rules I wish someone had told me before that first trip to London:
  1. On an escalator, always stand to the right so that people can walk to the left.* If you use crutches or can't walk at a reasonable pace, please stand to the side.
  2. Never travel on the Tube at rush hour unless you absolutely have to. There are thousands of people who are forced to cram onto those tiny bullets and if you aren't one of them, you should really try to not compound the situation.
  3. If you are going to consult a map or book, it's best not to do so at the top or bottom of busy stairways, in doorways or smack in the middle of a sidewalk. The same rule applies for taking a photo or having a mobile phone conversation that brings you to a standstill/near crawl.
  4. Get out your Oyster Card or travel pass before getting to the gates. It's not cool to stand in front of a gate rifling through your bag while other, more prepared people, wait on you.
These are really pretty basic things but when you aren't dealing with the day to day push of the London grind, it's easy to overlook them. It will make for friendlier Londonders and a nicer trip.

Now if only we could think of a way to address all the free paper pushers.

*Rule doesn't seem to apply to escalators at Westfield Mall if my trip tonight was any indication.

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Mother on the Tube (London)

She's the one in the middle of those other two happy looking people.

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I never imagined Italy would be sooo beautiful!

I just got a phone message from my mother who is currently somewhere in Tuscany with a tour group.
Amy, Italy is amazing. I never dreamed it would be this beautiful! You should see the view from my window!!
She sounded choked up and so happy. I can't imagine what it would mean to finally decide to see the world when you are nearly in your mid-fifties, but I am so proud of her. I hope this kicks off a lot more adventures. I really believe that travel is life-changing and life-affirming. It is one of those things that you will never really understand until you've tried hoisting yourself into a country where the language and food is different, where the streets aren't built the way you are used to and where the people require something of you that is outside of your comfort zone.

I am not one of those zen travelers who takes things as they come. In new, uncontrollable situations, I get stressed out. I like to have a plan, a schedule. I like to KNOW, within near certitude, what is going to happen. This is exactly why travel is so good for me. Try as I might, when I am in an unfamiliar place, I generally can't make everything go according to plan and it's taught me all kinds of things about myself and made me learn how to take a breath and relax a bit when I am at home. The world is so big and filled with so many wonderful and terrible things. And life is short. I am proud of my brave mother and can't wait to hear about her new adventures.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a big inspiration for a lot of women. When I first read it, I was in a relationship that wasn't particularly fulfilling, I'd settled into a mortgage payment and was weighed down with the responsibility of animals and a career. The summer before I read Eat, Pray, Love, I took my first trip to Europe to visit my friend Jackie in London. While over here, I also took a long weekend in Paris by myself. Although London was amazing, my four days wandering through Paris alone was life changing. I was much more afraid of going on my own then I'd let on to anyone, and getting on the Eurostar felt very much like jumping off a high diving board; by the time you are up there, looking down, it would be humiliating to walk back down because of fear. So even against your better judgment, you jump. And usually, as soon as your feet leave the board, you are filled with a feeling of freedom and elation and the minute you hit the water, you begin think about when you are going to get to make your next jump. That's what Paris was for me.

Despite this amazing discovery, coming home after London and Paris was grim. I remember being almost sick with the heaviness of feeling trapped and stuck - like there was absolutely no way out of the situation I had been so instrumental in creating for myself. To everyone existing in the world outside of my head, I had a lovely life. A very nice boyfriend, animals that loved me, a fine little house in a nice neighbourhood and a great job doing PR for the biggest and best gallery in the Province. But I was miserable and dejected and couldn't help but feel that after this transcendent experience of travel, my life was now over. Then I read Eat, Pray, Love and slowly, I began to believe that there was a way out if I was only brave enough to take it. At first I didn't know what life I wanted for myself, but instead of feeling hopeless, I knew that when I did make up my mind, I could choose to either stay safely where I was or seize an opportunity to move in another direction.

Now, two years later, my life is almost unrecognizable from what it was then. It is lovely and imperfect but very importantly to me, it is something I am choosing to move forward with every day. I am not just allowing myself to be washed forward on a wave of expectation and comfort. Sometimes it is uncomfortable and difficult and other times it is lovely and, as cheesy as it sounds, I feel like I am going to explode with gratitude, but I always, always feel that I own it. I am no longer stuck, and that is everything.

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the city that sucks and other adventures

Dan and I just got back from the Museums and the Web conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. It's been a long few days and we are both completely exhausted. In the last two weeks we've been back and forth between Cardiff and London a few times, in Istanbul, Detroit and Indianapolis. We arrived in London yesterday morning at about 7 am. When we got into the flat at around 9 am, we made the mistake of allowing ourselves to have a nap until mid-afternoon before hunger propelled us up and out. As a result of this accidental sleep, we were awake much later than normal last night and were up at 6:30 am to catch a train to Cardiff where Dan has a meeting today. I am soooo tired! Tired to the point where my eyes are blinking funny. Tired to the point that I am basically just occupying space at work today despite loads of things I should be working on.

I've left my camera in London but will upload some photos and stories about Istanbul in the next few days. As for Indianapolis ... all you need to do is look at the above image, the view from our downtown, four star hotel room, to know that it was less than stellar. The conference itself was good and we met a lot of interesting and some not so interesting people but the city itself was bleak. I do not come from a place like London or New York or San Francisco. I am used to smaller prairie Canadian cities but I was not prepared for the ugliness and emptiness that is Indianapolis.
  1. The downtown core of the city looks like an industrial site. If you look closely at the picture above you can see a factory churning out smoke in the background.
  2. All they serve is steak, though admittedly I had one really nice steak while there. Still, how much steak can a person eat?!
  3. There seem to be no people in Indianapolis. Even though the greater part of the conference was during the week and the downtown appears to be filled with office buildings there is never anyone on the street. It very much feels like a ghost town or scene from a zombie film after the zombies have eaten everyone and moved on.
  4. There appears to be very little in the vein of independent shops or restaurants. The downtown is filled with obvious chain stores (Forever 21, H&M, Banana Republic). There is nothing unique, nothing local, nothing interesting.
  5. The neighbourhoods are on the verge of completely dying. During one insanely motivational moment, Dan and I decided to take a cab outside of the downtown area to an independent record store that was having a BBQ and promotional day with live music. The record store, Luna, was nice and all but it was a $25 cab ride away and contrary to what we were hoping, it was in the middle of nowhere. No little shops, nothing but urban sprawl. Taxis are hard to come by and it was a warm day so we decided to walk the two hours back to downtown in the hope of seeing some sense of a neighbourhood. It consisted of endless blocks of mostly boarded up, abandoned homes, empty streets and very rarely was there even anywhere to stop and buy a can of pop. Depressing.

Dan: "If you could sum up Indianapolis in three words, what would they be?"

I can only remember my first word, which was vacant. It really says everything there is to say about the place. I'm sure the recession has hit a place like Indianapolis quite hard, but my problems with this city went well beyond something that could have transpired over the last year. There were some high lights, including visits to some local art institutions, but they seems less innate to the place and more in spite of it.

On the way back to London we had a six hour stop over in Detroit and had the intention of taking a shuttle into town to look around. Turns out the only transportation into Detroit is a $50 cab ride (one way) or a cheap bus that takes an hour and a half to get you there so we didn't go. Didn't want to risk spending a fortune to be dropped off in another wasteland. Here's a little free advice Detroit: if you are worth visiting, you might want to think about providing visitors with a less expensive form of transportation into your city from the airport.

This is the first time I've flown to the UK and felt a little like I'm returning home instead of heading away from it. A nice feeling, though a bit disorienting.

Mom arrives in a week. Yay!

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