Author Archive

In Search of Bacchus

May 7, 2009

For my final entry, I thought I would share with you all an eccentric hobby of mine. While I travel, I am always on the lookout for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and theater. Allow me to share with you a very small bit of my collection of images documenting my encounter with the god. These are from my Florence and Paris collection:

One of the statues is that of a Maenad, one of Dionysus’s followers.

This is a fun little hobby, and I suggest you try it out.

Well… I guess I’d better get back to packing.

Cheers,

-Michael

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A Scene from Gubbay Hall

May 7, 2009

We spend all of our lives trying to move from one place to the next. Or at least I have so far. I cannot be satisfied where I am. I move in to a place, I unpack, I sit in the chair. I stare out the window. Make a cup of coffee. Sigh. Go outside. Have a smoke. Watch the sun set behind my new neighborhood. The next day, the room is a mess, I’ve accidentally blown out the power, and I need to get the hell out of there.

The dorms over in Middlesex University in the northern suburbs of London were called halls. I know the difference in language is slight, but the little changes in terms added up over time. I found myself constantly jingling from the large amount of change that the British use in their currency system. I was not sure what the difference was between one quid and one pound; it turns out they meant the same thing.

Simon cracked open another tall can of Stella and looked at me with a dim twinkle in his eye. The room was a chaotic mess of rubbish, bitter, and wankers (which was our lot). I was finally starting to understand more than three words at a time that came out of Simon’s mouth; his accent was thick, but not nearly as indecipherable as Alex’s, who was from Manchester. We were discussing the differences between American and British slang. I was trying to keep up with the Brits as they spewed out talk in their strange code.

“Yeahp, Alex is a chav,” Simon mumbled, smiling.

Alex hit him on the arm. “Ye best not listen to this bloke,” Alex laughed, reaching for another beer. “He’s a bloody tosser.”

I frowned. “Tosser?”

Alex laughed. “Ye know. A wanker.”

I was still confused. Alex, sensing that his insult was lost in translation, made a vulgar gesture with his free hand. “Ye know, when there’s no tart around, ye have a wank. Yer tossing. Simon is a tosser.”

I nodded. The room erupted with laughter.

It turns out that a chav is a derogatory term for someone of the lower class. Chav seems to be the British equivalent of the American white trash. When I was hanging out with that crowd, generally I did not hear them refer to each other as blokes or chaps. But there were a hell of a lot of tossers and chavs. Oh, and of course, I was the token yank of the group. They flattered me.

Selective memory, I suppose. Paired with some wanderlust.

-Michael

Packing, packing, packing.

May 7, 2009

Well, the time has come, my friends, to saddle up and hit the dusty trail. One thing a backpacker needs to know more than almost anything else is how to pack. This is a skill I still need a bit of work on.

Being an aspiring travel writer, I usually wind up packing way too many guidebooks and notebooks. This is silly. It is impossible to get lost in Europe, as long as you stay in the main, touristy parts of the city–and that’s what the guidebooks detail, anyway. But if I am going to become a real travel writer someday (I hope so), I have to go off the beaten path. I think that the most valuable resource you can have with you is another person.

I’ve always valued traveling alone, but if I am really going to sink my fingers into my destinations, then I’d better grow a pair and skip the changing of the guard (overrated). I’ve done a lot of bizarre things in my travels, and I’ve noticed that simply being with another person gives me the strength to venture into so pretty unusual situations and places. Fortunately for me, I will not be traveling across the continent on my own this time.

This list is a good starting point for any aspiring traveler. My advice, however, is to pack what you can–and cut it in half. The sage wisdom of my fellow backpackers is finally starting to rub off on me. My biggest problem my first few times around was that I packed like I was going off into the wilderness. Like I said… it’s Europe. In some ways, they seem a lot more civilized than we are. I may have to bring a few Moleskines with me, though. I can’t resist.

Can’t wait to go make some stories.

-Michael

Kaboom

May 7, 2009

I am going on a trip with the Geology department out to the West over the summer to get a “hands on” experience with geological formations. Today, I spent a whopping 7 1/2 hours with the Geology professor getting a crash course in Geology 101. It was intense, and a little excessive, but the information I learned about the cool places I am going to see was worth the time.

The National Geographic has reported that a volcano underwater is spurting out highly toxic levels of molten sulfur. The interesting part is that two species of shrimp thrive on the chemicals being belched out into the water, even as the body count of other marine life climbs.

Here’s the story from the National Geographic.

From the National Geographic

From the National Geographic

I learned today that volcanoes are responsible for massive amounts of land growth, most notably in places like the Hawaiin island chain. As tectonic plates shift, the volcanic “hot spots” stay put underneath the Earth’s crust, creating the chain of islands over time.

-Michael

In Bruges

May 7, 2009

My trip back to Europe is only two days away. A city I am staying in, but know absolutely nothing about, is Bruges in Belgium. For a bit of relaxing piano and a neat little tour of the canals, check out the video below. Can you spot the horse and buggies?

It comes across as very Medieval. Rapture!

This is from the Wikipedia page. Nice, huh?

This is from the Wikipedia page. Nice, huh?

According to Wikipedia, it is called the “Venice of the North.” I can see that, but those canals, along with the architecture of the buildings, reminds me of Amsterdam more than anything else.

When I stayed in Amsterdam, I decided to do something a little different. I was getting pretty tired of staying in cities, so I booked a hostel that had an interesting twist: every room was its own caravan. I spent my days biking the countryside and kayaking through the canals, but at night, I slept in a caravan somewhere in the middle of the Dutch countryside. It was pretty surreal, but definitely worth the commute back into the city.

The Lucky Lake Youth Hostel outside of Amsterdam

The Lucky Lake Youth Hostel outside of Amsterdam

Unfortunately, it looks like I am going to be flying out on Friday into some thunderstorms. I’m not afraid or anything; flying is the safest way to travel. But I don’t like the idea of my flight being delayed eight hours. Oh well. On one of my flights, the wing practically scraped the ground during landing.

-Michael

Viva El CInco De Mayo!

May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco De Mayo everyone! Here’s a video on YouTube that goes over the history of this somewhat obscure celebration. Enjoy!

-Michael

Tourists for Terrorism

May 5, 2009

http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2009/05/04/terrorist-threat-has-london-become-hostile-to-tourists/

So, because I’m taking a photograph of a double-decker bus, I must be a terrorist, right? Is London becoming hostile to tourists? I have a friend out there right now who says that she’s heard of it being illegal to photograph police officers. That, combined with the scare tactics of the CCTV cameras and all the other stuff in London, makes it seem like my favorite city in the world is spiraling down a rabbit hole of paranoia.

I’m returning to London in a few days. It will be interesting to see how much things have changed in the year that it has been since I was there last. I remember Obama’s face on the cover of every paper on the Tube. I wonder what kind of images I will see now?

London, last year. Pictures like these may become illegal.

London, last year. Pictures like these may become illegal.

Three days.

-Michael

Night Train

May 2, 2009

This blog post on BraveNewTraveler really touched me. In fact, it shot bolts of lighting down my back. When we think about the risks of traveling, we’re usually concerned with practical matters like health, money, and safety. But there are other risks involved. There’s the risk that the experience will change us in an irreversible way; we will come home a changed person. People may not recognize us. People may question our ethics, call us fake, try to bring us back to the real world. But this change we experience may be permanent. When we travel, especially when we travel alone, we are going on a psychological journey as much as we’re going on a physical journey. We meet people, and in those fleeting conversations we share with drunk philosophers on a night train may begin a catastrophic slippery slope of self-examination.

I recall a moment I had several months before the night train. It was my first week in London, and I’d gone out to a goth club with a few new British friends. They all flaked out by the end of the night and left, victims of too much drink and and too many strobe lights. I had to get home on my own. Trying to navigate home after the Tube is closed is not just a terrifying experience, but it is also a deep sociological moment. People are animals, and at three in the morning on a night bus, we can truly experience the carnal nature of human beings first-hand. It changes our perception of humanity. It scares the living daylights out of us, yes, but it also reveals our own mettle; being a stranger in a strange land gives us balls. There are certain things that still scare me: bees, heights, and people. But as I travel from place to place, my fear of people mutates. While the fear of people and what they are capable has not diminished, I am also aware of their capacity to seek fellowship in strange situations.

I was on a night train coming back from Barcelona to Paris. I was utterly alone. A victim of insomnia and the earth-shattering tremors of fear, I stared out the window as Spain at midnight rushed by, a kaleidoscope of dimly lit shacks and power lines. The majestic Spanish countryside was masked under an impenetrable shade of black.The door of the train car opened. An old man dressed in a cycling suit hobbled towards me and asked in a thick British accent if I spoke English. The world broke. I smiled and laughed. It was an incredible relief. He asked if I knew what station the train was going to pull into; I knew Paris very well by this point, so I pulled out my map and gave him a little tour of the city. The rest of the night we smoked cigars and drank whiskey. I learned a lot from the old man; he cycled from Paris down to Barcelona–on his own. He was a remarkable human being. At the end of our conversation, I asked if I could take his picture. He agreed, and now I have a photograph of an old, eccentric Englishman on my computer. A man who was my savior on that lonely and terrifying night.

Thanks, Chris.

-Michael

Stonehenge- It Still Works

April 28, 2009

It was just… sitting there. Outside of our coach window, Stonehenge was a craggy blemish in the middle of the Salisbury Plain. We were let out across the old road and took a tunnel underground. We passed by a few souvenir kiosks, and finally, there it was, in person, with no glass between us and one of the most magnificent enigmas our species has created.

The heat was brutal. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it rains all the time in the United Kingdom. However, it was a necessary trip. Within a few days I’d be leaving the United Kingdom, alone, to backpack all over the continent. But first, I needed to see a little more of Great Britain. After a long day of travel and arguing with the bus company in Salisbury, we finally arrived at Stonehenge. I turned to my travel companion, whom I’d just met days earlier, smiled, and walked as close as we could to the rocks. We walked the path around the monument, paused to take pictures and watched as birds flew around and perched on the great bluestones. The actual monument itself was roped off; though it was slightly disappointing to not be able to touch the thing, it was nice to be able to see it in all of its mysterious glory without having to ignore little kids using it as a playground.

As we wound around it, I paused and turned to the tourists. We were parading around Stonehenge like we were participating in some great religious rite. I thought about how the ancient people that built the monument knew exactly what they were doing. Whoever built it, for whatever reason, had the right idea; people still circle around and pay their respects to Stonehenge. It’s a pilgrimage to make it out that far. But we still do it. We revel in the mystery. Whoever built Stonehenge, wherever you are now, I just want you to know one thing: it worked.

-Michael

Bianca and I at Stonehenge

Bianca and I at Stonehenge

Here is a link to a great feature on Stonehenge (I brought this issue of National Geographic with me to the actual site):

Stonehenge Decoded- National Geographic

Big Brother Googles Your Name

April 28, 2009

Have you ever Googled your name? Sometimes, the things that pop up are surprising. When I search for anything floating around the Interwebs that has my name attached to it, one of the first images that shows up in the results is a photo someone took of me from a little over a year ago. I was at a literature festival hosted by Middlesex University, the school that I attended in London while studying abroad. Whoever took the picture knew who I was. I’m around twenty pounds heavier, and my hair somehow looks even more disheveled.
And this is what people see when they Google me. Great. But I suppose it could be worse. It could be a photo of me from my senior year in high school, my legs up in the air, a keg nozzle in my mouth, and beer spraying all over the place. Or something else that’s incriminating. What upsets me is that I know that my professors–and some of my potential employers–have access to these photos and information, just like everyone else. I’m not ignorant enough to become a “fan” of Rowan on Facebook so that they have open access to my profile, but I am aware that there are students who have “friended” me because they work for the University. I recently made my profile “private,” but I am concerned that it happened too late; I still haven’t heard back from the University regarding a scholarship, and I hate to think that it’s all because there are photographs floating around of me drinking beer.
Vaidhyanathan’s (Siva, consider a pen name, please, for the sake of all writing students) article, “Naked in the ‘Nonopticon’,” discusses the idea of being observed without being aware of it. The state can watch us behave “normally” and identify people who may cause a problem–and get in the way of the state’s agenda. Back in London, I knew that I was being watched by thousands of CCTV cameras. As a temporary resident of a strange new city, I did not exactly mind having the watchful eyes of the government trained on me. It probably kept me from getting mugged by football hooligans. But, I can understand how it is still a violation of privacy. We cannot always act like Grandma is in the room with us. As advanced and civilized as we claim to be, we are still animals, at least in my opinion. We obey the natural laws of nature, not necessarily this fabricated moral code that our Western society has emphasized over the last few decades (and hundreds of years, though it has evolved, and is still changing rapidly).
But I should mind my tongue. They’re watching.