Category Archives: travel

USA Trip: The big thank-you post

My three-week trip to the United States over July and August was one of the best times of my life. Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list of thanks to the people who made it so awesome:

Thanks to Tracy (@strayfarce), my lovely girlfriend, for showing me fun little things around New York, and being a brilliant partner on my hard-charging see-and-do-it-all tourist expeditions.

Thanks to the folks at Pier 96 for providing free kayaking – a great way to spend a summer day on the Hudson River. Joe Gage, gay porn director who introduced (and perceptively analysed) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! at the IFC Center. The bartender at the Stoned Crow who stood us a free round of Brooklyn Lagers. The talented, funny and generally awesome Chris Serico (@ChrisSerico), for a fun night out in Manhattan. The staff at Ruby Foo’s, for putting banana and chocolate spring rolls back on the menu for one night only (only slightly due to badgering from my gf…). The staff of Pam Thai in Hell’s Kitchen, for their lovely food and unpretentious atmosphere. A.V. Club legend mbs/Matt Stechel (@matthewstechel), for making it in from Queens, recommending a great cinema and bar around Union Square, and for experiencing Dogtooth with us.

Thanks to Stefa (@MsStefaPie) for being a great host and all-round neat person. And also to her housemates – Jenn for being lovely and hospitable, and letting us use her as a taxi service, and Darryl for taking my half-nakedness in his stride (don’t ask). Jim of Jim’s Deli (Brighton, MA) for great breakfasts and fun banter. All the AVC/Twitter crew who attended the Boston party – Tony (@el_zilcho), Josh (@JoshLikeGermany), Jon (@JGoo220), Zack (@zhandlen), Joe (@Karatloz), and Phoebe (@phoebeheyman) – for being charming and funny and entertaining, and putting up with my terrible jokes. The bike rental people on Boston Common who rented us a tandem for the day.

Thanks to Becky (@SchoolhouseReck), and her family and in-laws, for making the Brit feel very welcome and treating him to dinner in Philadelphia, at a restaurant where chocolate was involved in as many dishes as possible (America!). Emily, the Australian girl from the hostel and huge Arcade Fire fan who ended up seeing them with me at the Mann Center – couldn’t have asked for a better gig companion. Sean and other randomers we met that night, for good company and guiding us round the city (Not sure if I should thank them or curse them for prompting me to get a cheesesteak from Geno’s). The shisha bar people who effectively reopened their premises late at night so we could have a smoke and a coffee – class act!

Thanks to the guy at Men’s Wearhouse in Manhattan who found me a full Calvin Klein linen suit at a knock-down price. The crew of my JetBlue flight to Chicago, who managed not to exit via escape slide clutching a couple of beers in response to lengthy delays and mounting passenger frustration. President Obama, for at least giving me a fun “why my flight was late” story. James at the hostel, for fun chat, updates on the run-up to Lollapalooza, and company while wandering round Millenium Park in the morning. The bartender at the Billy Goat Tavern, for being extremely quick with the refills. The two guys who brought Georgie the dog to the Clark Street Ale House so he could drink beer from a tumbler placed on the bar. The people at Cafecito for making delicious sandwiches (egg and chorizo for breakfast? Yes please! The Palomilla is also great as well).

Thanks to Gabby (@VAMPARS), Roneesh (@roneesh) and Lauren, for being the best guides to Dallas anyone could ask for. Karen (@kaellynn) and her friend Ace for putting me up in Austin and giving me a great tour of the city. The guy at Austin Art Glass for talking us through the glassblowing process we could see going on in the workshop at the back of the shop. The bats under the South Congress Ave bridge for putting on a good show for us. The Ginger Man in Dallas for a huge selection of beers. Buzzbrews in Dallas for the best coffee I’ve tasted while in the States.

Thanks to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC for an interesting panel discussion, and a packed-full exhibition of comics art from creators across the spectrum (including Maurice Sendak concept sketches for Where The Wild Things Are!) Justin (@littlealex_) for good conversation over a few drinks, and for coming to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with us.

That should be all. Anyone I’ve left out, thank you so much, and if you want to be included, please let me know.


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“To that tall skyline I come…”

I’m going to the United States tomorrow, for three weeks. I’ll be flying into New York, then travelling around, visiting friends and seeing as much of the country as possible. I’m incredibly excited for this trip, and I want to share it with the people I know. I’ll be posting photos and text here when I can, but depending on how things go I might do a longer write-up after the trip. America, here I come!

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Airline service: a peasant’s view

Joe at Mutantfrog wrote a post recently on the evolution of flight paths from Europe to Japan. Readers my age may be surprised to know there used to be an awfully large country called the USSR directly in the way, which wouldn’t allow Western airlines to fly through its airspace. The route to and from Japan was eventually whittled down from a monster Tokyo – Manila – Bangkok – Rangoon – Calcutta – New Delhi – Karachi – Bahrain – Cairo – Rome (- London) route in the 1950s, to nonstop flights between Japan and Helsinki, which involved going over the North Pole. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, airspace restrictions were lifted, and all flights to Japan I’ve been on the past four years take me over Russian airspace.

The first time I ever went on a long-distance flight was to Japan, way back in 2003. I had window seat, and spent a lot of the 12-hour flight marveling at the epic expanses of the Russian landscape spread out beneath me. Of course, it only took a couple more trips for the magic to wear off. Now, I go for an aisle seat every time, so I can get served drinks and go to the toilet easier.

Don’t think this marks me out as a seasoned traveller. For the most part, I buy all my tickets from student travel agency STA Travel, and rank them on how much money I can save. (Nota bene: for flights to the Far East “saving money” is a relative notion.) That’s fine – I’m not particularly fussed about gathering up air miles so I don’t have to kick it in economy class with the other peasants. In fact, going on a different airline every time gives me some insights about how the service varies across different airlines.

JAL is assumed by many to be the Holy Grail of air travel to Japan, and I certainly arrived for my year abroad in style; direct flight from Heathrow to KIX, delicious food and those lovely warm towelettes that precede meals in Japan. (You clean your hands with them, but on long-distance flights nobody minds if you sneakily freshen up and wipe your face as well.) Air France pleased me less, as its 20kg weight limit for luggage meant that I was charged loads for bringing a year’s worth of stuff back home. On the plus side, their food was good as well – at least by airline standards. On a short return trip last summer, I used KLM, which I have to say is the best of the bunch. You were fed almost non-stop, the in-flight entertainment was on demand – which meant you could start and stop the films whenever you wanted – and the selection was great. I watched De Palma’s The Black Dahlia, Casino Royale (again), The Departed (again), and a rubbish action flick called Shooter – the less said about that the better.

As for the mystical quality known as “service” – namely, how well the staff treat you – I don’t see it as a huge factor. I got drinks and food whenever I wanted, and in the end that’s what counts – I don’t really need stewardesses smiling at me and patting my head to make me feel special. Or stewards, for that matter.

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Oh noes! How did I miss this?!

My friend Sam is off on his travels overland from Paris to Osaka, and has set up a blog to chronicle his epic adventures. Also blogging the journey are his travelling companions Raph and Johnson. Each of the three are worth a read, and the journey itself sounds absolutely amazing – the kind of thing I wish I had done a few years ago, if I had the initiative, the funds and like-minded friends to accompany me. Right now, in the middle of a degree and the financial obligations that entails, the best I can do is track their progress through the magic of teh interwebs. Hell, already the Foreign Legion is sounding a decent post-graduate career choice…

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"Carbonisé": a word for all occasions

I’m off on holiday tomorrow, to France for a couple of weeks. We’ll be in a tiny town on the Atlantic coast with no Net connection, so the only medium for keeping up with world affairs is local paper Ouest France, who deal mostly in graphic accounts of horrific road accidents. See you.

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Another Homage to Catalonia

I got back from Barcelona yesterday, having some enjoyed some lovely food, wonderful scenery, and treatment from Ryanair that made me want to throw back my head and let out a full-throated, Jack Bauer-style “DAMMIT!”. Having left two of our suitcases behind in Stansted, and not getting them over to Spain until the last day we were there. We picked them up at the airport on our way out, only to be told our flight was cancelled. I pictured Michael O’Leary frolicking in a vault filled with Euros as we made our way to the Ryanair desk. There were two people there – very nice and as helpful as possible, but faced with two hundred-odd irate British tourists, many in full baseball cap and tracksuit regalia, they were all at sea. Disaster was averted as we phoned up Dad back home and got him to book us a flight out the next day.

Pooterish holiday-from-hell-blogging aside, it was a great couple of days. We stayed at a hotel just off Las Ramblas, which was brilliant for wandering down the huge thoroughfare and seeing the city’s personality. Mime artists, tourists, promenading residents and a certain amount of disreputable characters as well (you haven’t been to Barcelona unless someone’s attempted to rob you). It leads down to the redeveloped harbour area, where you can walk across a footbridge to look at the boats coming in and leaving. Very romantic, especially of an evening. Oh yeah, and I saw a bird eating another bird. (The one time I forget to bring my camera!)

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Seoul was rather nice. I’d been thinking about going for a while, but I decided on it when in the last days of living in Seminar House I found a Lonely Planet guidebook to Korea that someone had thrown out. As good as handing me a free ticket there, IMO. I spent three days mostly walking around, visiting tourist sites and snapping pictures. A lot of memories stuck with me:

A park full of old geezers doing karaoke with portable machines in the open air at sundown. Street stalls galore selling food and alcohol. Drunken boisterous groups of middle-aged men in the street. On a Tuesday. The hugely impressive great city gates (photos to come). Branches of Dunkin’ Donuts everywhere. Team Korea football merchandise everywhere. The Gyeongbokgung palace – more impressiveness. The amazing amount of stuff for sale at Namdaemun market, including a load of stuff that was obviously taken off the U.S. military base. Seeing people stretched out on park benches in the early evening, taking naps. A bunch of middle-aged Korean guys in military uniform putting up banners outside Seoul Station (I found out later from a news report that they were veterans protesting against the missile test by the North). The Cheonggyechoen river at night – it used to be really polluted, but after a huge clean-up operation is now a nice spot in the heart of the city, full of courting couples at night. It made me think about the approach in Japan – most rivers there are artificial concrete channels, just like the Cheongyecheon, but it at least in Seoul they make an effort to make it look nice.

All in all, a nice trip. Next time I go, it’ll be for longer, and I’ll make more of an effort to explore the rest of the country. From what I’ve seen of Korea’s natural features, it’s just far too beautiful to just visit once.

Oh yes, enjoy my photos.

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