I Bought a Car!

After over 6 [wonderful] years of not owning a car, I decided it was time. Between housesitting at non-public transportation accessibly places, transporting building materials to the quarry, and always bumming a ride to trivia, the time is right.

This yet to be named steed is a 2000 Toyota Echo. I'm pleased to say that the buying process, something I haven't done in 18 years, went smoothly and there was very little run around. As long as the transmission doesn't fall out in the first couple weeks, I consider it a successful purchase.

The last 6 years of being without a car have been a wonderful experience, one that I wish many many more people went through. It helped me learn [and love] public transportation, develop a consciousness and deliberateness in transportation choices, and so much more. Someday I will have to write up some thoughts on my carless years to share all the wonderful aspects.

But for now, I get to explore what it's like to have a car again. Hopefully I'll retain much of my biking/public transporting tendencies. But I'm guessing that I won't be missing a trivia due to lack of transportation any time soon.
Thursday June 20 2013File under: transportation

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Cruise-Europe-Morocco Trip Financial Breakdown

I really like, after a significant travel adventure, to put a little time into reviewing it's finances; to get an idea of overall costs after so much time of looking at finances from a one hotel room to the next view. And since I find it so interesting, I thought maybe other folks might too. So here's how the money panned out for this last trip. (Oh, and if you like this kind of stuff, you might like previous trip recaps here and here.)

(Interesting side note: I spent over $55 in "international exchange fees" from my stupid bank on top of bank withdrawal fees. This 3% on all non-domestic expenses is worth keeping in mind (and is going encourage me to look for a new bank for my next travels))

Major Transportation Expenses
Flight Seattle -> Puerto Rico$188
Cruise Puerto Rico -> Portugal$452*
Ferry Spain -> Morocco$50
Flight Casablance -> Amsterdam$122
Flight Amsterdam -> Vancouver$515

Day to Day Expenses (hotel, food, domestic travel, sights, etc.)
PlaceDuration of stayTotal CostCost/dayNotes
Puerto Rico2$70$35This was just bare bones hotel and food. We didn't do any internal transportation (except for a city bus or two) and no sights/museums/tourist activities*. I imagine if I was to visit in earnest (rather than a cheap as possible layover with trips to the beach), these numbers might be higher.
Cruise10$452$45For the caliber of food, lodging, entertainment, and more, this was a spectacular deal. The fact that it covered transporation as well* just made it all the better a deal.
Portugal/Spain9$425$47For Europe being one of the more expensive places in the world, I feel like these totals aren't bad at all.
Melilla (Spanish Morocco)2$125$62I used this time to huddle up in a hotel with wifi to do some work, so I imagine I could have gotten by slightly cheaper. But Melilla doesn't have cheap hostels*, so housing, at €35, really makes it an expensive stopover.
Morocco11$465$42Morocco was quite a cheap place. A bit of an extravagant 2-night trip into the dessert at $130 greatly up the per day.
Amsterdam3$195$65Again, lodging was the culprit for such a high per day, but again, I'm pleased with being able to visit a European city for such a relatively low cost. And since this 3 day stopover saved me $200 on airfare*, I consider it pretty much a free stop in an awesome city

Overall
Total cost# of daysTotal cost/day
$2653*38$70

Saturday June 8 2013File under: travel

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Leftover Pictures of Cruise Europe Morocco etc

While the best photos from any trip I take usually makes it into a blog post, inevitably some slip through the cracks. So, just like so many times before (SE Asia, East Coast, Grenada, Taiwan/Japan, Mexico, etc., NYC, etc.), I threw a bunch of the better leftovers together with a word or two of explanation and am calling it a slideshow. Enjoy!

Sunday June 2 2013File under: travel, pics

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Cabin Work - Season 3

With my world adventures* out of the way for the year, it's time to settle into life in the northwest for a while. With the weather [mostly] warmed up, it's a beautiful time to be here and a beautiful time to get some outdoor work done. And while the tarped plywood roof on my cabin keeps the rain out, I still very much consider any word there to be outdoor work.

First on the agenda of projects is getting the floor finished up. In the deep of winter, I poured a concrete slab in preparation for a fancy stone floor. This week, I started on said fanciness with some gorgeous blue stone flag stone (not from the quarry, although the occasional split Alger green stone is peppered in). It is quick work and looks great. Hopefully I'll have it all finished up this week and can move on to the next project.

My goals (at the beginning is as good a time as any to state them) are to finish the floor, shingle the roof, sheet the walls, and hang the windows all before Chautauqua this year. I think it's doable and with it all done, it will practically be livable. Maybe not quite ready for a cabin-warming party, but livable nonetheless.
Tuesday May 28 2013File under: quarry

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My New Favorite Travel Pastime

When I was in Paris a couple years ago, my travel partner had a city guide by Rick Steves that turned out, despite my hesitation to be one of those kinds of tourists, to be really insightful and interesting. Being that I was back in his domain, I decided to see what he had for offer. What I found heightened my travel experiences in Amsterdam incredibly* and gave me a new way to explore on my travels (besides geocaching and aimless meandering.)

The Rick Steves Walking Tour podcasts are what the name implies: a podcast that leads you on a walking tour of various places. It points out architecture, talks about history, customs, etc., and leads you to areas of interest for tourists. Each seems to be about an hour or so and cover a distance between 1 and 2 miles.

For Amsterdam, there were 3 tours and after trying out the first one, I was hooked. My favorite, by far, was the Red Light District Walk. Along with architecture, history, and cultural context, it dove pretty deeply into the logistics of how the area's drug and prostitution worked, which I couldn't help but find incredibly fascinating. In fact, I would suggest giving it a listen even if you weren't walking the narrow canals of Holland's most notorious district.

So while I'm sure I'll continue my random tourist meanderings just like always, I'm super stoked to have found another great way to get to know a city. Now if only Mr. Steves' empire expanded beyond the bounds of the world's most expensive cities. City Walk: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Now we're talking.
Wednesday May 22 2013File under: travel, Netherlands

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Amsterdam Has So Many Bikes...


Okay, folks, it's time for your favorite pastime: audience participation! I'm here in Amsterdam and am totally blown away by the number of bikes. They're everywhere! It's actually quite comical. The task: to create the best "Amsterdam has so many bikes...." joke. Be as crass and creative as you like (Jule, I'm looking your way here). Here are a few to get you started.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, "bing bing" has become an accepted greeting in the local dialect
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, the strippers in the red light district don't even have to go the gym.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes and drugs, Lance Armstrong is consider a run for mayor.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, I score 75 points before even getting out of the rent-a-car lot.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, the hipsters have given up and now all drive SUVs.
I know you can do better than those. Let us have 'em!
Friday May 17 2013File under: travel, Netherlands

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The Wonder of Marrakesh

In his list of 100 wonders of the world (previously covered here*) Howard Hillman includes the city of Marrakesh Morocco, citing its famed public square, its souks*, and its minaret. Mr. Hillman hasn't led me astray yet, so I figured I had to stop by to have a look.

While the minaret was great, everywhere you turn in this country there are minarets. And besides the normal beauty of almost all the minarets I've come across, this one didn't stand out so much. As for the souks, it's hard to get excited about an attraction where the main activity is to buy stuff. I long ago gave up buying souveniers/trinkets for folks back home, which makes the draw of markets, aside from their energy and bustle, largely lost on me.

But the public square, Djamaa el Fna, was something that I haven't really seen before*. At first impression, it doesn't seem like much, just a big square with the occaional fresh orange juice stand. But as evening sets in, the large chunk of pavement become totally covered in street performers of all kinds and the people who come out to watch. There were snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, impromptu boxing matches, dudes with monkeys, henna artists, traditional musicians, and more. Much of it was lost on me because I don't speak Arabic so couldn't quite figure out many of the clusters, but the excitement and bustle of it transcended language barriers. The only letdown was the lack of jugglers*. Alas.

I can't say whether Marrakesh would make it to my top 100, but it would definitely be in the running. But in my write up, I might skip the minaret and souks and instead highlight the Majorelle Garden and the Bahia Palace. But to each his own. Whatever the case, Marrakesh is a city worth visiting.
Wednesday May 15 2013File under: travel, Morocco

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Walk the Casbah

Everywhere I travel, I can't help but notice the architecture. In Europe it is narrow streets, gigantic cathedrals, and pillars and columns. In Thailand, it is thatched roof huts raised up on poles. And here in the Moroccan desert, it is mud bricks and neat almost Navajoan designs.

While I have seen this style throughout the past couple stops here on the hot* and dry side of the Atlas Mountains, the best example of it was seen near Ouarzazate* at a place called A�t Benhaddou. The reason for its exemplary condition is that it is somewhat of a tourist destination. Many films were made here include Gladiator, The Jewel of the Nile, and Prince of Persia. It's just my type of tourist destination, though, because the main activity is to roam around and look at the buildings.

I took some pictures too, not because I think they'd be any better than what's already out there, but because, when rolling solo, it is a good activity to extend your roaming around a place. Oh, and I found a geocache there too!


(Would you look at that...I made a picture oriented blog post without one of those silly self shots in it. I guess this is what it feels like to be a grown up.)

Sunday May 12 2013File under: travel, Morocco

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Sahara Sahara!

One of the big reasons Morocco has been on my want-to-go list for some time is because of the Sahara. It is storied, it is beautiful, it is different, it is mysterious--basically, it is all things I look for when traveling. While not all my super high expectations were realized*, after a two-night camel trek into Erg* Chebbi outside of Merzouga, Morocco, I've got a little better understanding of this place I've been so anxious to see for so long.

One of the things that I learned was that riding a camel isn't the most comfortable experiences in the world, both physically* and mentally *. But they are incredible interesting creatures, and to be so close to them was really great.

When I wasn't busy holding on for dear life on the camel*, I was constantly engrossed with the vistas. The desert, esp. sand dunes, are really beautiful! Very few of the pictures I took turned out*, but I'm okay with that. I've got the necessary imagery up in my noodle.

Yep, it was quite an adventure ("nomad village", an oasis, scarab beetles doing it, traditional Berber drumming, a frisky scorpion/spider getting intimate with my leg, bright stars, isolation, and more) and I'm so glad to have done it.
Friday May 10 2013File under: travel, Morocco

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Sometimes Photos Just Dont Cut It

Some places, no matter how good a photographer you are or how good your equipment is, defy being captured to any sufficient degree. No photo can convey the feeling of being there, whether it is an issue of sounds or smells, scope, or merely an issue of geometry. That's not to say, of course, that good photos can't be taken, but they just don't do the place justice.

Medersa Attarine in Fex, Morocco, is just such a place. Among the elements that can't be captured are: the agreeable drop in temperature from being surrounded by stone that's been in the shade, the surrounding nature of it, and the drastic calm compared to the bustling Medina just outside its elaborate gates.

I stumbled upon said Medersa while aimlessly meandering* the narrow descending avenues of Old Fez which made the impact of it all the greater: I didn't know what to expect. "Oooh, that looks like an interesting gate. I wonder what's through it."

I am heartily comforted by the fact that some places you just have to visit to understand. It helps justify travel*, as opposed to looking through beautiful National Geographic photos. So while I always attempt a few photos, just to spur my memory later, I basically just end up staring in wonder trying to soak up the moment.
Tuesday May 7 2013File under: travel, Morocco

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