Bobland

Most of us go to museums to see art. Sculptures are usually enjoyed in public squares or parks. For my dad, however, art is right outside his back door.

Bobland*, located across the water from Seattle, isn't your everyday suburban home. Giant bones, faces, and balls mostly made of concrete and rebar turn the backyard of this outskirts property into a place where you can roam around and always see something new. And it's not as though if it is just art on display. The art integrates with normal backyard things too!

Each time I visit Bobland, I find it an inspirational reminder that wondrous things exist in the most unexpected places, all it takes to make art is action, and art is not only something that hangs on a wall in a museum. Someday, maybe, these reminders will help me craft my own space into something more than just utilitarian. Until then, I'll always look forward to the experience at Bobland.
Friday June 17 2011File under: misc

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Financial Breakdown of Turkey-Greece-ExYu-Paris Trip

If frank talk of money feels a bit taboo to you, you might want to skip this post. In it, I break down the costs of my most recent trip to Turkey, Greece, the Western Balkans, and Paris. The reasons for this are two-fold:
  • Using a similar format/criteria as my last financial breakdown post, I am able to quantitative compare travel costs
  • For perspective travelers to these areas, I thought it could be helpful to have some real-life numbers to help in your planning (keeping in mind that I'm a budget travel so your numbers might differ.)
Overall, I'm really pleased with the way the numbers turned out. I was shooting for $50/day not including plane tickets, and came out at $55/day with plane tickets. In fact, interesting to note, on a cost/day basis, a trip to the much more expensive Europe* was cheaper per day than my trip to Mexico/Belize/Guatemala last year. I attribute this to duration of stay, having a few friends to stay with along the way, and finding a food-and-lodging-included volunteer opportunity.

Like it or not, money is a big part of travel. And while I try not to think about it too much while on the road in order to not take myself away from being in the moment or enjoying once in a lifetime experiences, I think it is important to check in with the numbers. And with numbers like these that could conceivably be similar to what it costs to live here in the U.S., it is nice to know that at least financially, my next epic trip doesn't need to be that far away.

All costs excluding international travel
Place# of daysMoney spentCost/dayNotes
Turkey24$840$35Just right! Cost per day helped by staying with a friend in Istanbul for 4 days.
Greece12$650$55Cost per day somewhat elevated due to costly ferry trips. If # of days per island was increased, overall cost per day would go down.
Albania2$110$55Prime example of short stay in a country leading to really high cost per day. Albania is actually really cheap and had I could have probably stayed double the time for only another $20 or so.
Montenegro3$150$50Actually slightly more costly than Albania generally.
Bosnia16$300$19These costs aren't representative of regular budget travel in Bosnia. I spent no money* for 8 days while volunteering at Most Mira Festival. Then for a few days before and after, I stayed with a buddy in Banja Luka who was an excellent host. Cost of regular budget travel in Bosnia would be similar to other ex-Yu countries, maybe $40-$50 a day
Croatia7$406$58Perhaps the most expensive of the ex-yu countries I visited, but not by much. Costs were also upped a little due to not traveling solo (therefore not eating PB&J 3 times a day.) But traveling non-solo is worth the slight up-bump in cost.
Paris6$545$90I'm pretty proud of these figures for my time in Paris. Having been warned it is crazy expensive, I was able to have an amazing time and still keep costs under double my daily average. Lodging accounted for half of per day cost.
London2$105$52London is a truly expensive city. I got away so cheaply because I was so generously offered a place to crash at a friend's house. Most of the budget went to either the tube or food. (I skipped all attractions that cost (Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, etc.)
New York City6$200$33Due to having a wealth of awesome friends there, my time in NYC is always not only wonderful but also relatively cheap, having to pay for only food and the subway, more or less.

International travel
LeavingArrivingCostNotes
Seattle, USIstanbul, Turkey$485Includes a 2 day layover in NYC which not only saved cost but allowed me to visit friends there(!)
Marmaris, TurkeyRhodes, Greece$66Inordinately expensive ferry trip. Less than 2 hours compared to 12 hour ride for half that on Rhodes to Crete.
Athens, GreeceTirana, Albania$36Not the most direct bus, but the cheapest I found
Banja Luka, BosniaParis, France$100Train to Zagreb, EasyJet to Paris
Paris, FranceLondon, England$578 hour bus/ferry ride. Other option was $125 2 hour train ride via the chunnel.
London, EnglandSeattle, US$531Again a layover in NYC (via Boston to NYC by Chinatown bus)

Overall
Total cost# of daysTotal cost/day
$458183$55


Wednesday June 15 2011File under: travel

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Passport Laundering

Here's a hint for anyone looking to travel internationally: don't put your passport through the washing machine the day before you plan on crossing 2 international borders. I know what you're thinking. "Any idiot knows that." Well, not this idiot so it would seem.

For a budget traveler like myself, having free reign on a washing machine while on the road ranks up there with getting a dorm room at a hostel all to yourself or a currency's exchange rate going in your favor the day before you change lots of money. In other words, it is an exciting event. So it can kind of be understood how checking one's pockets could be overlooked. Nevertheless, it is not something I intend to do again.

Luckily, passports are pretty hardy little documents. With the exception of a significantly curled and frayed cover and a washed out stamp or two, everything seemed in pretty good working order. I put a few soup cans on top to flatten it out while it dried, and it turned out looking almost passable. The RFID chip* was probably toast, but I counted that as a fringe benefit.

All my worries regarding crossing borders with a laundered passport proved to be unfounded. While I got a few strange looks (esp. from the U.S. officials), the majority of people couldn't have cared less. One guard even make some joke to the effect of "forgot it in your pants pocket on laundry day, eh?"*.

The worn and torn look actually lends a little exotic traveler credibility. So while still not advisable, it is nice to know that passports don't need to be perfect to be functional.
Sunday June 12 2011File under: travel

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The Monkey Tail

No doubt because of my [strictly documentary] habit of making and posting ridiculous beard pictures, a couple of astute readers pointed me to The Monkey Tail. And hey, a good idea is a good idea.

It turns out it is really hard to get a good picture of the monkey tail. Hopefully from these pictures, you get the idea. I submitted my photo to the website, but it got shot down. Snap! Oh well, at least it can be added to my ever increasing beard portfolio.
Wednesday June 8 2011File under: beard

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Out of Steam in London

London is a great city, I'm sure. It can't have been such a business, cultural, and historical center for all these years without having its charms. But for me, I just wasn't feeling it. After being on the road for over 2 and a half months, my travel tanks were running low on the fuel needed to get out and "do" a city, so I just couldn't give it the fair chance it needs.

I did a very brief taste of most of the required sights and enjoyed them. I loved that the museums (Tate Modern and National Gallery) were free without long lines, metal detectors, etc. And all the buildings (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Parliament) were spectacular*. I rode a double decker bus and took the tube*. But my heart wasn't in it. I did, however, have a great time seeing some old (and new) chums who were kind enough to put me up, talk circus, and send me away with a wonderful new bananagram-esque word game.

This abbreviated visit to London, however, was planned this way. I fully intend on doing the city up properly someday, when I have the time and focus required, and I didn't want to lessen my motivation by seeing too much. Just a taste to get me excited to come back. And it did just that. See you later, Britain Greater.
Sunday June 5 2011File under: travel

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Big Paris Post

I had a really really great time in Paris. I also took some really great photos, thanks to a temporary upgrade of camera. So instead of weeding the experience down to fit in a normal sized post, or posting just the photos, I've put together this slightly longer than normal review of my favorite Paris attractions. I hope you enjoy.

Notre Dame
Being that it's located pretty much right in the middle of town, I passed by many times. Each time, I couldn't help but stop to admire this gorgeous cathedral. The inside is equally as impressive as the out, just as the way a good cathedral should be. Art, sculpture, and architectural embellishment is everywhere. If I lived there, I know I would make a habit of popping in, just to soak in the aura of the place. After all, entry is free!*

Versailles
Although not technically a Paris attraction, it is a short train ride out to this palatial palace*. This catalyst to the French Revolution is as overwhelmingly lavish as it is inundated with fellow gawkers. Luckily the site is more than the chateau. Our favorite part was the mother-in-law house on the back of the property. Much less crowded and, IMHO*, more tasteful, we were bummed we didn't come there straight off and spend the day enjoying the relative crowdlessness and the hidden treasures surrounding.

The third part of the Versailles trifecta is the gardens (although more of a forest) with fountains, statues, and...geocaches!! Next time I come to Paris, I'll set aside a day for just lounging in the gardens, because, again with the magic word, it's FREE!

Sacre Couer
The only top notch Paris attraction that I had never heard of*, I didn't really know what to expect. But sometimes, this is a good thing. When I first saw this gleaming white cathedral and its hordes of Sunday visitors, I was quite taken. The surrounding neighborhood, full of street portrait artists, "Toulouse-Lautrec slept here" signs, and 3-card monty specialists, just added to its charm.

Louvre
Think of all the well known art in the world. I'd say about half of it, at least from a given time period, is in the Louvre. I guess, however, that isn't saying much because of the sheer size of the collection. Either way, it makes for an enjoyable afternoon of perusing vast halls of spectacular work after spectacular work.

But almost more impressive than the art, at least to me, is the building itself and esp. it's courtyards. The outdoor courtyards are even (you guessed it) free, which makes for a great place to do a little juggling.

Eiffel Tower
In my 6 day visit to the City of Lights, I visited this icon 4 times, which, I hope, indicates how much I like it. Most visits, we'd just sit in the park and admire it or stroll underneath, both of which cost nothing. In fact, the thing that actually costs, ascending by either elevator or stairs, wasn't even as good as admiring it a step or two away, but I suppose it's gotta be done.

Yes, this possibly most famous building in the world actually completely lives up to the hype, if you ask me. And the next time I return to Paris, a visit to its shadows will be up near the top of my list.

Thursday June 2 2011File under: travel, France

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Things I Learned in Paris

One of the many fun things about traveling is learning, esp. learning about things you knew of before, but not so much about. So in the spirit of sharing, here are a few things I found interesting in my time in Paris. (To just tell you the trivia tidbits would be way too easy, so instead, I present it in quiz form.)

1. What is the river that bisects Paris, and how is it properly pronounced?*

2. The popular Paris attraction, which, in French is known as La Joconde, is known as what in English? hint*

3. There is a smaller (but still largish) Statue of Liberty on an island near the base of the Eiffel tower. Was it made before or after New York City's statue of the same name?*

4. Moulin Rouge translates to what in English? hint: it's not "skimpily clad dancing girls"*

5. Who designed the famous pyramid at the Louvre (and, for bonus points, what other famous monuments has he/she designed)?*

6.For how many years was the Eiffel Tower the tallest building in the world: 0 years, 21 years, 41 years, 61 years?*
Tuesday May 31 2011File under: travel, France

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Paree

       
After a couple months spent travelling is slightly lesser known parts of the world, I now find myself in Paris, where there's a famous monument, museum, or building on every street corner. And to tell you the truth, I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. Versailles, the Eiffel Tower (twice), Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Notre Dame (twice) done so far, with the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, possibly the Pantheon, and much more to go.
Friday May 27 2011File under: travel, France

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A Country Divided

Bosnia and Herzegovina is the official name for this country that I've been hanging out in the last couple weeks, although it seems that most people call it plain old Bosnia. But the duality implied in the name is well placed, as I have learned. Politics, geography, language, and more all seem to come in sets of two.

The country is divided into two states, the Federation* and Republic of Srpska*, each with its own territory, its own political system, and even its own alphabet. Republic of Srpska generally uses the Cyrillic alphabet on street signs, etc. while the Federation uses Latin characters. They both spell out the same words, mind you, but in different alphabets.

The whole alphabet thing is pretty intriguing, but the thing that really gets me, that really makes this duality thing so hard to ignore is that they have two different versions of each denomination of paper money, one with a representative of the RS and one from the Federation. They have the same value, and can be spent exactly the same, but it is just that the country couldn't agree on who to put on their money.

I try hard not to judge this duality that is rather impossible to ignore. I know there are years of history behind it, and it is much more complex than I can imagine. But I can't help but wonder if this duality is sustainable. If I return to this area in 10 years, will I have to pass through passport control in going from Banja Luka to Sarajevo? Or maybe it will get all worked out through a charismatic leader that everyone can get behind.

However it pans out, for this trip, it has made for an eye opening experience.
Tuesday May 24 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Most Mira Recap

How do I sum up a week spent volunteering at the Most Mira festival, an arts festival for kids in NW Bosnia to promote peace by teaching children to play and create together? Well, I can tell you now, inadequately. But I'll try here with a 3 pronged approach.

Prong #1 - the Kids: Kids are kids the world over. They like to laugh, to play, and the circus*. The fact that we didn't share a common language* didn't stop them from learning just about every trick I could remember in my diabolo workshop. Gestures, high-fives, smiles, and a universal "bravo" go a long way. And at the end of the week, what a better way to celebrate new skillz learned, friendships formed, and smiles had than by putting on a show under the big top. (Oh, and it wasn't just kids that like to learn and play...)

Prong #2 - the People: One of the things that made Most Mira so wonderful was the other volunteers I got know. How often is it that in a single day, one can have a meaningful conversation about European politics, get a lecture on the gypsy language Romani*, give an impromptu clown/juggling performance with a perfect stranger, watch more hands than necessary go up for any task that needed to be done (no matter how unpleasant), and fall asleep to amazing drum music? Well, at Most Mira, that was pretty much every day.

Prong #3 - Bonuses: Outside of the magic of the festival, there were all sorts of hidden bonuses. Just one example: we got to attend a performance of traditional folk dance/music as the guests of honor (where, among others, I ended up on stage doing a club passing routine with some of my clowny friends).

See? A totally inadequate summary. But fitting an experience that big into just a few words is just downright impossible. I guess to get the full story, you'll just have to ask me about it sometime. I'm happy to share!
Sunday May 22 2011File under: Balkans, circus

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