Monthly Archives: September 2011

London, England – Days 1 & 2 – “You’re an engineer, you figure it out.”

After my night in Leeds, I grabbed the next train to London, through King’s Cross.

Yes, I saw the sign for Platform 9 and 3/4s but they put it outside the station and I was too tired to deal with that bullshit.

I turned up outside the apartment door of my lovely host Bhavisha at 8:30 in the morning. This being Saturday, she had, unbeknownst to me, a pretty … fun night out. I was greeted with a half hearted, zombiesque “Oh. Hello.”

She led me to her guest room where I was handed an air mattress and a hairdryer and was subsequently told: “You’re an engineer, you figure it out.”

(This will be the title of my autobiography.)

Needless to say, I slept on the floor for the next three hours.

Given the hectic nature of the past few days, I decided on pursuing a quiet day in. This consisted of helping my friend paint her wall. We laid on a coat of what I believed to be white, but was soon reprimanded as it was actually “Antique Creme”. Once the wall had been sufficiently cremed, we upped the fun factor by watching it dry.

What followed was a night watching The X Factor (the newest American/British Idol) and eating Pizza Hut. For some reason, we bought some Pizza Hut nachos.

Do not buy Pizza Hut nachos.

They taste like thick, hard Doritos with stuff on them.

Day 2 saw us venture out into London. Specifically the area around Canary Wharf itself. The area is remarkably similar to Wall Street and the entire South Street Seaport area. We also tried our hand at The Spitelfields Market: one of many large, daily farmers market style setups throughout the city. I’ll mention some of the more interesting ones later.

Coming up next time: Museums, The Changing of the Guard, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Curry Pimps.

Cheerio,
Ganesh

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London, England – Things Stupid Americans Should Be Aware Of

London is huge. Really huge. You might think it’s a long way down to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to London.

To give the city it’s due, and because I stayed here for a whole week, London gets the dubious honor of being featured in a epic trilogy* of posts.

I’ll be starting off my London series with a short guide of things Americans should know before coming to London.

Pronunciation and Lingo

Here is a short guide to show you exactly how different two identical languages can be. American English on the Left, British English on the Right.

Apartment = Flat
ATM = Cashpoint
Bar = Pub
Bangers = Sausage
Bird = Pretty Lady
Book = Booky Wook
Chips = Crisps
Coffee = Tea
College = University
Dollar ~ 0.65 Pounds**
Exit = Way Out
Elevator = Lift
Fries = Chips
Glasses = Specs
Laptop = Lappy Toppy Too-ta
Lawyer = Barrister
Mile = Kilometer
Pretty Lady = Bird
Poofter = Tourist
Subway = Tube
Take Out = Take Away
Television = Telly
Telephone = Telly
Telly Savalas, actor = Telly
Tired = Knackered
Truck = Lorry
Zebra = Zeb-ra not Zeeb-ra

Etc.

City Layout and Pedestrian Navigation

As with all European cities, London is laid out in a manner most resembling spaghetti. Digested spaghetti. This issue is compounded by it’s enormous size (that’s what she said).

But wait. There’s more. Street signs are almost nonexistent. And when they are present, they are placed on buildings rather than corner poles. This makes finding your way around a pointless exercise in idiocy without the aid of a map.

If you do decide to walk, you might want to take heed of crosswalks. It really is funny how many innate instincts are used while crossing the street. I’ve caught myself looking down the wrong side of the street many times before crossing, but have yet to be the cause of a fatality. See the next section for my views on English driving.

Driving

Everyone knows the British drive on the wrong side of the road but not everyone is aware of the sheer insanity with which they pilot their automocars. While in cities like New York, pedestrians own the streets, British drivers couldn’t give two shits. Watch your step at all times, or risk becoming a meat hood ornament.

Lanes? Forget about it. With the labyrinthine maze that passes for central London streets, you can never really be sure from which way traffic is coming.

God forbid you get behind the wheel of a car. In addition to everything being all backwards and weird, making sure you’re going the right way depends on nothing more than instinct and feel.

Oh, and know how to drive stick.

Public Transport
The Tube. The Tube is good. The Tube is fast. The Tube gets you where you need to go. The Tube is reasonably priced. All hail the Tube.

That being said, I’m sure the bus system is good to, but unless you know the routes really well, I’d stick with the underground.

Money and Expenses
England is expensive! Like, super expensive. Don’t come here unless you’re planning to spend money. What makes this so much more difficult is that, as with most European countries, England uses no paper money lower than a fiver. Thus, 1 and 2 pound coins are ubiquitous. This gives you the false sense that spending a few coins is cheap, when you’ve really just pissed away four pounds ($6.20**) on a Cadbury. Although, that may be worth it. Cadburys are mouth gold.

Schooling
Not like Harry Potter.

Home Life
Fairly standard, with a few endearing quirks.

First off, the Britons seem to have revolutionized sexism by placing their clothes-washing machines in their kitchens. There’s something to be said about efficiency.

It is also worth pointing out that the light switches for their bathrooms are outside the room itself. So be careful, lest you run into a dark water closet.

On a slightly related note, the phrase “To Wash Up”, in America meaning to wash one’s self, in the UK refers to doing the dishes. This poses many problems in the case of a female friend asking you to help her “wash up”.

Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully I didn’t miss anything. If I did, I’ll catch it in post. I’ll start writing a bit more about the experience soon.

Cheerio,
Ganesh

*Disclaimer: Trilogy will have more than three parts.
**As of this writing


Leeds At Night: An Uncomfortable Segue

As mentioned in my last post, I intended to take a night train down from Edinburgh to London.

In my eyes, this would have been a wondrous journey: a giant metal link of carriages gliding swiftly over hill and dale as I slept snugly in her confines. I would arise early enough to see the crack of dawn emerge from behind the skyline of London, and subsequently be deposited in King’s Cross station: a magical end to a fantastic journey.

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In my haste, I had not booked an overnight, nonstop train. I was to take a train from Edinburgh at 8:00pm that would strand me halfway in Leeds at 1 in the morning.

Here I slept for 4 hours. A tweed covered hobo sprawling over two chairs, with uncomfortable handrests in between.

And Leeds station is not a pretty place on a Late Friday night. A woman who had very clearly enjoyed her night out ejected the contents of her stomach some ten feet away from me. At 1:00am, the cleaning crews were not alerted. I promptly moved.

Later, I happened on my first instance of paid toilets. Note to future travelers: they only accept exact change, as I found to my chagrin.

Eventually 5:00am did arrive and I boarded my connecting train to London.

In retrospect, I have no one to blame but myself.

But it’s really just easier to blame the entire city of Leeds.

-Ganesh


Edinburgh, Scotland – “You’re A Wizard, Harry!”

First of all, it’s pronounced “Edinburra”, which invites the question “Why didn’t they just name it Edinborough?” I don’t know.

Second of all, and let’s get this out of the way quickly, Haggis: Did I have some?

Yes. And it’s actually quite good. Not something you’d eat everyday. But good.

We got into Edinburgh at around 10pm at night, which is the worst time to get into Edinburgh, because everything’s closed. I wandered around for an hour searching for a good meal, then gave up and ate fresh at a Subway.

We were greeted by this imposing edifice the following morning.

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This is Edinburgh Castle. The pictures really do not do it justice. It is nuts.

It’s at this point that I should mention is that Edinburgh is the full-on Harry Potter Experience. The one in Florida ain’t got shit on Edinburgh. For those unaware, as I was, JK Rowling wrote up the first two books in a cafe called The Elephant Room ( more on that later ). From the cafe window you can pretty much see all of Edinburgh, castle included. Now, you might think it’s a stretch to say that Edinburgh Castle is the ‘real’ Hogwarts. I though so too, until I saw the metal Quidditch Field they put up next to it.

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Actually, it’s just a temporary installation for a military ceremony, but y’know close enough. Anyway, so you’ll probably see a recurring Harry Potter theme for the rest of this entry. Just warning you.

Edinburgh is a city of absolutely beautiful old architecture. Besides obviously the Castle, it is also home to a host of churches, monuments and just really old things, including this monument, which I am calling the Tower at Bara-dur.

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This will be the only Lord of The Rings reference in this post. I just wanted to mix it up a little.

We opted to do the Free Walking Tour, equivalent to Dublin’s, first thing in the morning, so we would really know what to go see and do ourselves on day two. This was our tour guide, Alan.

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Yes. We got taken around the city by Rubeus Hagrid.

After the tour, a few of us decided to hike up Arthur’s Seat, a giant hill on the outskirts of town. My legs were sore for the next two days. After 250 vertical meters, we got amazing views of the city.

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During the hike, our group got a little more buddy-buddy, as you do, and we learned that one of them, Helena, was a writer and was currently chronicling her trips through Scotland. Clearly, we are all going to be featured in the book, as she allowed us to choose our own pseudonyms. So, if by chance, in the near future, you’re perusing through a travel book on Scotland and come across a mirthful character named Handsome B. Wonderful, you know who to thank.

Following the hike, we were all completely exhausted and non-functional, so we decided to do a pub crawl, which went a little something…like this.

Not covered in this post, my group’s Karaoke arrangement of the 90s hit single “I Want It That Way.”

Yeah. We’re cool.

Yes, a video exists and no, it will never see the light of day.

Day Two started with me feeling like shit. Possibly due to the copious amounts of alcohol. Science can never be sure.

Luckily, Scotland (and the UK) is home to an elixir known as Irn Bru.

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Here are some facts about Irn Bru.

1. Irn Bru contains 38% of an adult’s suggested daily value of sugar.
2. Irn Bru contains amounts of Quinine large enough to act as a painkiller.
3. Irn Bru receives its orange color through dyes called Sunset Yellow and Ponceau 4R.
4. Sunset Yellow and Ponceau 4R are known to have adverse effects on activity and attention in children.
5. Irn Bru is a controlled substance in North America.

As Hagrid had told us the day before, it is supposedly a miracle cure. And I’d have to agree.

Our first stop of the new day was Edinburgh Castle, which is as imposing as a castle can get. We were given great views of the city, but none as cool as Arthur’s seat.

The castle also offered us a tour of the Scottish crown jewels, a crown a sword and a scepter. No pictures were permitted, so I can only describe them to you. They were shiny.

We moved on to The National Scottish Museum, home to a variety of things, including, but not limited to, dinosaurs, steam engines and cloned sheep.

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The museum is a hodgepodge of natural history, regular history and prehistory and more than worth the price of entry: free.

Our final stop of the day was at The Elephant Room, a coffee shop of great significance. This, of course, being the place where a poor, destitute JK Rowling penned the first two Harry Potter novels, and subsequently went on to have more money than Jesus (who, come to think of it, may not have had very much money in the first place. So the comparison is unfair). Regardless, the prices were outstandingly cheap for a place of such repute. And they didn’t really cash in on their fame by selling Harry Potter t-shirts and Hermione-shaped pastries.

Konstantin and I then split up. He to the airport to catch a flight down to London and me to Edinburgh’s Haymarket Station to catch a night train down.

I was under the impression that a night train down through the Scottish and English Countryside would be a wonderful, romantic journey. Stay tuned for the next short interlude to see how wrong a man can be.

-Ganesh

(P.S. All credit goes to Konstantin for the nicer looking pictures. If a picture sucks, that’s probably one of mine.)


Ryanair: An Interlude

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Where do I begin?

Is it the fact that we board from the ground, in no particular order, in a mad scramble?

Or the fact that there are ads on the luggage bins, like you would find on a New York subway?

Maybe it’s because the flight attendants on a flight between two English speaking countries seem to have enormous difficulties with the language.

Well, we landed. So that’s a plus.

Some potential Ryanair announcements:

“Good evening, passengers. This is your Captain speaking. We have reached 10,000 feet, so it is safe to use all approved electronics. However, in order to provide you with the best savings, we will be shutting down the engines for the remainder of the flight. Thank you for flying with us.”

“Good evening, passengers. This is your Captain speaking. As a weight-saving measure we will be jettisoning the cockpit in 30 seconds. It has been an honor to serve you.”

“Good evening passengers. This is your Captain speaking. We have just landed in Edinburgh. I’m going to chalk that one up to beginner’s luck.”

“Good evening, passengers. This is your Captain speaking. Tonight’s meal will be comprised chiefly of flesh from your fellow passengers. If you wish to purchase this stew, the price is €8.83. as a reminder, Ryanair is a cash free airline. We accept only Discover or Diner’s Club cards.
Thank you for flying with us.”

Yours Truly,
Ganesh


Dublin, Ireland – There’s Something Poetic About How The Gaelic Word For ‘Man’ is ‘Fear’

My flight was at 9:00 at night and arrived at around 9 in the morning, dumping me off in Dublin with about 1 hour’s worth of sleep ( hence the title ) on the plane by using my Total Pillow.

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It’s called that because it’s totally a pillow. Irregardless*, I did manage to get not one, but two in flight meals. And free beer. Obviously, I opted for the most Irish of beers: Heineken.

Upon meeting a friend, Konstantin, at the airport, we proceeded to our hotel. Upon arriving with very little sleep, we evaluated our options and proceeded with the wisest plan possible: venturing out into an unfamiliar city tired as hell.

Let me just begin by saying that Dublin’s weather scene can be described by four letters: ADHD.it can’t seem to decide if a day should be sunny or miserable.

Our First stop was the nearby Trinity College’s walking tour, where they were filming a Bollywood movie.

I know, right? Hilarious.

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The plot, I’m told, is as follows:

An Indian scientist working at Trinity is secretly selling….secrets, I guess, to Pakistan. The Indian government sees fit to eliminate this threat by sending in a highly skilled and highly female operative. After 20 minutes of high octane dancing, they fall in love, despite his light treason. The rest writes itself.

After that little jaunt we saw the Book of Kells: an extremely ornate edition of the Four Gospels made in 800 AD. The detail on the pages is staggering, which further solidifies the fact that people back in the day had way too much time on their hands.

We then wandered down Grafton Street, Dublin’s major retail street and got lunch at a pub ( naturally ). As we sat down, a tiny old lady next to us was finishing her second glass of beer, and started on a small flute of wine. By the time we had finished eating, she had gone through two more beers and had ordered a glass of whiskey. I quietly sipped on my water ( with a slice of lemon ).

Next on our tour was St. Stephen’s Green, the Dublin miniature Central Park. On our way, I stumbled upon this example of brilliant Irish wit:

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What you see is what you get.

Anyway, the park was beautiful, as expected, and several high class photos were taken.

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Yes. I know. My goofy looking jacket and hat make me look like a man who lost a bet with a time machine. On the other hand, though, screw you.

I’m feeling more like sepia.

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Ahh. There we go.

Finally, we hit a pub crawl. Because if we didn’t, it would be an embarrassment.

How many pubs are there in Dublin you ask?

Infinity.

We hit maybe 5.

All good fun and good booze.

Some had traditional Irish Music:

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Others had traditional Irish games:

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All had traditional Irish beer.

Then we collapsed.

Day two began with a quick breakfast. Note: the Irish concept of a bagel is flat and lacks the hole. Also worth noting, the pigeons around here are vicious. One tried to eat my foot.

Next up was a free three hour walking tour of Dublin’s sights. Really worthwhile stuff. Interesting history and color commentary. I won’t go into detail here because it was THREE. HOURS. LONG.

We followed that up with a visit to the National Museum of Archeology. They had some Major artifacts, including the Cross of Cong ( excavated, of course from his home on Skull Island ).

Supposedly, the cross had a piece of the one true cross embedded in it, but wouldn’t ya know, they lost it. I would think you’d keep something like that locked down. Guess not.

The museum also had remains of ancient humans preserved in peat. Including this one, who I am calling “Cro Magon O’Brien”:

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Unfortunately, we had no time for the Guinness tour. I know what you’re going to say. Shut up. So we packed up and headed to the airport.

Goodbye Dublin.

Hello Edinburgh.

Sincerely,
Ganesh

*I know.


It Begins.

Greetings, true believers.

I’m Ganesh and this is my half-hearted attempt at a travel blog!

I leave for a two-month stay in Europe tomorrow night. I’ll be traveling to such diverse countries as Scotland and England! And I guess some of those other loser countries.

Just kidding, European Union. You know I love you.

Check this blog often to see exactly how long I’ve neglected to update it!

But, in the off-chance that you believe in miracles and the stars align, you can expect a unique take on the European cultural, political and geothermal landscape. A view filtered through the pop-culture obsessed eyes of a man-child raised to an alarming extent by Science Fiction and Traditional Sitcom Tropes.

While you’re waiting. Check out the side-bar where we have an about page and a Frequently Asked Questions that I’ve cleverly re-named!

My trip starts tomorrow. 9:05 PM. I board my flight from JFK in New York to Dublin, Ireland.

Are you ready?

 

…because I’m not.

 

-Ganesh