A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: lbassi

The End of an Era

But. I. Don't. Wanna. Go. Home. Yet.

As it turns out...I'm being forced to go home today.

Last day in Paris...
DSCN1726.jpg
Ahhh "Charade." I really hope one or two of you out there get my references...
DSCN1736.jpg

Well perhaps not forced. I'm getting on a plane to go back home and see family and friends and start my dream job and all that jazz. But still. My bribing days are ending. And a huge part of me is just not ready to go. I suppose that's to be expected. After 9 months of gallivanting around the world doing whatever I damn well pleased, I must join you mere mortals. I have to go home, start work, earn a pay check, buy a cell phone, find an apartment, gather things to furnish said apartment with, get up everyday at 5am, earn a living, pay taxes, visit the dentist and work towards a more stable future.

But why the hell would anyone want to do a thing like that?

It's the end of an era. And in honor of this occasion, I give you my bribing numbers. Travel statistics, for the true blog nerds:

Journeys...
(Defined as two or more hours, intercity travel is not included.)

(I’m a woman of the sea, you know...) By boat: 3
Plane: 21
Train: 43
Bus: 44
Auto: 5

Countries visited: 20 (nothing like the Vatican to pad the stats...)
Cities/Towns graced with an overnight stay: 86
Days of Bribing: 260

Assorted bribing classics...
Kotor. Go to Montenegra. Really. It's the new...something.
DSCN1620.jpg
The hills are, in fact, alive.
DSCN1716.jpg
Ali and Beth at the Pantheon.
DSCN1725.jpg
Lost in translation...watch for children in bows?
DSCN1718.jpg
Petra, one of the lovelier places on earth:
DSCN1113.jpg
Doing the Titanic pose in Mcleod Ganj for unknown reasons:
lauren_0201.jpg
Hidden talent discovered while bribing:
lauren_0101.jpg
Bohinj! Always a crowd pleaser.
DSCN1717.jpg

Number of times forced to sing along drunkenly to “Me and My Bobby McGee” with a man who had no business playing the guitar: 4. That’s right. 4. In one night. No. Really.

Number of times threatened with Bulgarian jail as my sister screamed “corruption!” and “you are bad people” at said menacing cops: 1

Number of momos purchased for me in hopes that I get into the old lady nightie: 1 (Thank you Sarah. What are best friends for?)

Number of Ipods ruined by the travel gods: 3

Pairs of underwear that survived the journey: 3. It's been tough out there.

Song most played on our only surviving Ipod: “Night Shift.” Ahhh the Commodores. Say you will. Sing your song. Forever more.

Lives up to your expectations: balloon rides. The Great Wall. Japanese toilets.

Most depressing revelation: there are no dill pickles in Israel. Entirely a New York invention. It's a nation of sweet gherkins. Devastating.

Universal take-away: Doesn't matter what continent, country, culture, age frame, size, shape or mother-tongue...men everywhere are the most unmitigated shits when they put their minds to it. (Dear random hostile Canadian reader: don't get upset. Embrace said universal truth. I've got sketchy hissers in Egypt, molesters in India, essentially all older Western men visiting Thailand, pedophiles in France...really. Don't even get me started.)

Now, I could go into a sentimental ramble about beauty and truth and finding myself on the open road. I could quote Whitman and wax poetic about great life lessons and the soulless nature of American life.

But I don't want to be that guy.

I was going to reward you all with the tale of Pete the Parasite. That's right. Being loyal readers and loving bribers, I was hoping to grant you the E True Hollywood Story: The Rise and Fall (and rise and fall) of Pete the Perennial Parasite. Two things stopped me:

1. I was informed that perhaps it was in poor taste to put the sordid details of your sister's parasite protrusion on the internet for the world to see.
2. The comedic millage I'm going to get out of this story will last a lifetime. Alison's incredible discomfort is small potatoes considering the hilarity we can share with others. It's about spreading joy in the world. And I'm quite positive that this is a story that is best enjoyed in an oral retelling. (Which sounds dirty, given that we are talking about bodily functions, but isn't.) I am currently penciling people in...but it's filling up fast. Best to inquire as soon as possible. Can't underestimate how good this story is. All the comedic elements are there: parasites, rubber gloves, skittish doctors, language mix ups...classic.

In lieu of Pete, just a quick word.

So grateful to everyone who made this year possible. My family, for not only encouraging me but joining up along the way. Sarah for proposing it in the first place. Ali for all that she does...reading maps and fending off touts and hooking me on historical romance novels. The Flanigans for making me laugh so hard I choke. Beth and Crystal who joined us and were always ready for adventure. And to everyone else along the way who sent advice, provided much needed cheer, humored our linguistic deficiencies, pointed us in the right direction, gave us a place to stay and a bathroom to use or a conversation when we were just desperate to talk.

Attempted to write something that conveyed just how amazing the year has been. How much I've grown, changed, learned. Can't seem to do it without sounding trite and contrived. But I did find something in my journal, dated September 21st, the day the journey began. It read: "Scared to death. No idea what possessed me to do this. But I guess it's just going to have to be a leap of faith...not just in the world, but in myself."

We've come a long way baby.

Signing off for now. Safe and happy travels, wherever you are.

DSCN1755.jpg

"Ithaca is all along the way." -NM

Posted by lbassi 17:52 Comments (1)

Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Men

and all that jazz...

I meant to put this up months ago, but what with traveling the world and all, I forgot. I know...I understand that you all spend your days alone in your cubicle, itching for new posts, hitting refresh at a veracious speed in hopes that the blogging gods might smile upon you. I'm also clear on the fact that I'm going back to said life in T-3 days and thus should put some good blogging karma into the world. Let's just say I suck and move on.

Anyway, on to the matter at hand. Sarah and I glimpsed hope for world peace back in February.

And we forgot to tell you.

I was going to let it go...but I watched CNN today. After 20 minutes of being bombarded with suicide bombings, bus surfing deaths, honor killings, refugee camps and the end of the world as we know it, I thought I'd put a little hope out there.

That's right my friends. I come to spread the good word. There can be peace on earth. Good will towards men. Teaching the world to sing, in perfect harmony. Taking it in my arms. Keeping it company. (Is that reference about 10 years before my time? Not sure.)

In Punjab, you can actually travel from Amristar up to the Pakistani border. If you time it right, you end up there at dusk, when the flags come down on both sides. Many people were nervous when they heard we would be visiting the infamous border. These two countries despise each other. On the verge of war from time to time. Who knows when we will wake up and find ourselves in the midst of a massive nuclear war brought on by these two countries...if America doesn't beat them to it, of course.

Thus, this optimism was entirely unexpected.

I now give you my own pathetic attempt to do this justice:

We arrived around 5pm, were offered chi, flags, video recordings of the event and other such treats before being herded along some barb wire. Suddenly were turned a corner and there it was...

lauren_018.jpg

That's right. Bleachers. Huge, full-stadium bleachers.

I turned to my traveling companions. This was the India/Pakistan border, yes? Not a football or cricket match? I was assured that we were, in fact, at the right place. We took a seat and the pre-gaming began. A man with a megaphone, a powerful set of lungs and a dream began chants, songs and other throughly enjoyable activities. On the other side, Pakistan broke out their loud speaker and attempted to chant over my Indian compatriots. Within 10 minutes, refreshments were served in order to salvage the vocal cords that were being strained around me.

Then the flags were broken out. Not the official flag, mind you. Just a few that they handed out to strong, determined looking young men who were falling over each other desperate to be picked for flag waving/running honors. Careful selection took place. The fittest took their place. A roar went up.

They ran to the gate. The roar became louder.

They came back. It was deafening.

Repeat. 15 times. Then hand off flags to alternate eager fellows in the stand. Inspiring. Really.

Finally, the real show begins. Out come the soldiers with their strange uniforms and ridiculous hats. Baffling knee-altering walks commence. You might call it a march, but I think that's being generous. Soldiers from both sides waddled up to the fancy iron gate, both of which bear their country's flag. With precise coordination, almost complicity, a choreographed lowering of the flags begins. Literally. Millisecond by millisecond. Millimeter by millimeter. The most exact, equal movements of lowering. Indian soldiers jerk at their flag. 5 seconds later, the Pakistanis have countered, the same motion, same distance. It's like a border ceremony for the anal retentive.

(Found a few videos of it for your enjoyment. Thoroughly entertaining stuff if you have a free moment...)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FhFNKtjWEc
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5407119265552473297&q=indian+pakistan+border+ceremony&hl=en
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8pisv0i9bE

An awkward acknowledgment. The flag is handed off. At the exact same time, equal numbers of soldiers from both sides waddle back to the stands.

india_pak_2.jpg

Crowds cheer. They stand. Smile. Wave. And file out to their cars and rickshaws to go home. Peacefully. Happily. Quietly, at least for India standards.

lauren_019.jpg
(Please zoom in on the small sign in the background. That's right. It says "Welcome to India, the largest democracy in the world." Hmmm...)

For being one of the more absurdly executed ceremonies I've ever seen, it was orchestrated with the full intent of being equal, coordinated and absolutely without incident.

Now really. If these two nations can end each day with a ceremony that has less animosity than your average Yankee/Red Sox series, I ask you...

Is there not hope for peace on earth? Goodwill towards men?

Sweet dreams everyone. No fear. These young fellas are on the job.
indiapak.jpg

Posted by lbassi 15:38 Archived in France Comments (0)

Seven Wonders of the World...

Vote. It's your civic duty.

I always thought the "7 Wonders of the World" were set in stone. Not really a matter for debate. Either you made the list or you didn't.

Apparently...I was wrong. (I say that sentence rarely, so enjoy it while you can.)

Go here: http://www.new7wonders.com/index.php?id=351&L=0

The history seems a bit complicated. The wonders of the ancient world was a list of what was deemed the seven great structures of classical antiquity. Apparently based on guidebooks from Greek tourists of the age, only one still stands, the Pyramids at Giza. Though you can see the site of the Colossus of Rhodes or the Temple of Artemis (and your bribers have, at that) that's apparently the only real show in town.

A few thousand years later, someone with a sense of humor decided to create a list for the wonders of the Middle Ages. Many amazing sites are included on that list, though the list isn't so much seven wonders as eleven...either there was significant disagreement, or counting was not a prized skill in medieval times.

Somewhere in the 20th century, we lost control of the list. There became a list for the seven natural wonders, for the seven modern wonders (the CNN tower? seriously?) and the seven tourist wonders. Clearly, the wheels had come off the wagon, and it was time to narrow. To focus. To examine the great sites of the world and show some taste in the matter. Can't just hand these things out like candy, or UNESCO World Heritage Site ratings.

This task apparently fell to a Swiss organization called the New Open World Cooperation. In 2001 they started combing the world and in 2006, they released a list of 21 finalist.

Your bribers have been to a number of them including:
-The Acropolis
Seven years ago. Spent most of the time laughing at people taking digital shots and home movies of the urn collection in the neighboring museum.
-The Alhambra
Twice now. Never fails to take your breath away.
-Ankor Watt
Ali could tell you about that. But she's apparently on strike. Does it count as a strike if you never blogged in the first place?
-The Colosseum
7 years ago again. The entire time I was whining to Alison that I had to go back to the hotel to wait for a phone call from my boyfriend. We called it the summer of Juliet. Yes. I too, was once lame.
-The Eiffel Tower
lauren_001.jpg
-The Great Wall
lauren61.jpg
Did I mention it was, in fact, great?
-Haiga Sophia
Eh. Nice. Big. Sturdy. Old.
-Kiyomizu Temple
Hard to distinguish among the 8,396 temples we saw in Kyoto.
-Manchu Pichu
Sarah's department.
-Petra
DSCN1078.jpg
-Pyramids of Giza
DSCN1268.jpg
lauren_009.jpg
-The Statue of Liberty
Seriously?
-Stonehenge
Some stones. Nicely arranged, grant you.
-Taj Mahal
DSCN0628.jpg

Looking at the list...at the incredible disparity between these things, after all, how can you compare the Pyramids with the Eiffel Tower? How bogus is it that something like The Statue of Liberty even made it to the final round? What on earth is the criteria?

I looked into this. Apparently, age has nothing to do with it, as it covers the entire span of human history. Instead they are judging based on structure quality, geographic dimension, artistic/cultural value, recognition and diversity...whatever the last two mean.

But really...it should be so much more than that. Alison made a great point - it shouldn't just be an impressive architectural structure. It should have some aspect of mystery or, dare I say, wonder. It should take your breath away. You should feel all at once amazed at what man can do and mystified by how on earth it was achieved. And no amount of explaining can fix that.

And so, without further ado, we present you with another list. It's not a perfect list. Some of these things are not even structures, but experiences. Nonetheless, offer it we do. Your favorite bribers now humbly submit for your approval...

Better than a large statue in a moderately dirty harbor...Marvels of the world that will knock you on your ass:

1. A balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey
Magical. Can't describe. Just look...
lauren_021.jpg
lauren_020.jpg
lauren_013.jpg

2. Abu Simbel, Egypt
It's not just that the statues of Ramses II that guard this temple are austere and massive and many stories high, because they are. It's realizing that 40 years ago, an international team took 4 years to disassemble the entire structure and put it back together in a different and higher location, to save it from submersion from the rising water of the Nile due to the construction of a dam. Plus no one is allowed to take pictures inside, so you can actually see the carvings and paintings without being blinded by the constant flash of cameras. (The digital camera was a horrible invention, giving people with no talent or interest the ability to take hundreds of low quality pictures of a subject, without actually looking at the subject except through a camera lens, and then allowing them to bore friends, relatives, neighbors etc with said photos of something they visited but didn't actually experience).

3. A bus ride through India
Hard to do it justice. But ride through any random town or city in India. And the visual stimulation is so overwhelming- the colors and images that flash by you, not to mention the smells and sounds. Sensory overload is an understatement. And you're just filled with amazement at the delicate order that rules the seeming chaos. And moderately impressed that this society has not collapsed at this point...
DSCN0712.jpg

4. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, NY, USA
Eternal optimism of the human spirit. Don't even get me started.

5. Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic
At midnight. When the statues are dark but the castle is still lit up. It feels haunted...and you feel a creeping paranoia that a KGB spy in a trench coat will pop out and begin torturing you...

6. The marketplace in Marakesh, Morocco
At dusk it starts to come alive. Food is being cooked and touts try to hustle you into a table. There are snake charmers sprinkled throughout and little groups of musicians playing or puppet shows, theater troops and magicians. Smoke starts to billow everywhere and it could be 300 years ago, but for the other tourist milling around with their digital camera. That's pretty much when the charm starts to wear off.

7. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India
Maybe its the sacred pool that surrounds it. Or the cool of marble under your freshly washed feet. (There is something about being in a temple or mosque, where they require your shoes to be removed. Padding around, somehow...it makes you more aware of everything.) Maybe its the removal of the holy book on its long golden bed, supported by 15 Sheiks, all staggering under the weight. Hard to say. But maybe my favorite sight in India. And that's saying a lot.
lauren_0131.jpg
lauren_015.jpg
lauren_014.jpg

So, go to the website. You only have 60 days left before they close the books. Look at the 21 choices. Choose wisely. Although you are entitled to your own opinion, if you vote for the Statue of Liberty over something like Ankor Wat or the statues at Easter Island, hang your head in shame. This accolade will bring much needed tourism to each country that gets this listing. So Cambodia and Mali are more greatly in need of those tourist dollars than New York...stepping down from soap box now. Apologies.

But also, make your own damn list. What have you done? What have you seen that gave you chills, made you breath deeply at a sight or experience? What has filled you with wonder? Despite feeling a bit like Hard Harry in asking this, your bribers welcome your contributions to this list of wonder filled experiences.

We're waiting. And we're not known for our patience.

Posted by lbassi 14:25 Archived in Serbia Comments (3)

Good Riddance, Bulgaria.

We've Come Undone...

If anyone invites you on a trip to Bulgaria, say no. Say no and run away fast. You'd probably have a better time biting your own hand off for a week.

Before you all label me irrational and judgmental (which let's be honest, you already have) allow me to relate some circumstances. Just a sad tale of two sisters with a dream. A dream of seeing the world. Of heading out with nothing but the clothes on our backs, 30 pounds of crap and this dream. Of being bathed in the warm embrace of the world and her children. Of being wrapped in the bosom of mother earth. I quote Henry Mancini- "Two drifters off to see the world/ there's such a lot of world to see..."

Are you getting all this?

Your two hopeful dreams crossed the border into Bulgaria one chilly spring night. And got eaten for dinner.

Alison, face aglow with displeasure:
lauren_029.jpg

Alright, not eaten for dinner. Having been to India, my standards for getting my ass handed to me by a particular nation are a bit left of center. But I will tell you, after a week of giving it the old college, try, we crossed into Serbia this morning, raised our fists to Bulgaria, cursed the land, their people and stomped on our Bulgaria Lonely Planet pages.

And what happened in this short week that poisoned us to this seemingly harmless place?

Well for starters...

Cyrillic is not the easiest language out there. We can't read a damn word of it and there's no English to be had. So we landed ourselves back in the world of intensive pantomime, stick figure drawings and Alison's bootleg Czech. None of which was appreciated. An entire nation without a sense of humor...

Now, if it were this alone, I would forgive. Been in many a place where I can't speak/read/write the language and I certainly don't expect everyone to learn English for my convenience. Or laugh with me as I try to learn their mother tongue. But...

We were also forced to bribe some jackass tram inspectors. Now being a briber, you'd think there'd be no objection. We like bribes. We understand bribes. We expected to pay them. But not to a ticket inspector with a mullet who looked at our perfectly legal and stamped tickets and decided to worm some money out of foreigners anyway. He insisted that we stamped them on the "wrong side" hauled us off the train, surrounded us with two of his buddies all of whom were yelling "money! pay! police! jail! passport!" at us. There were also several strange handcuff motions that could be interpreted as either "your American ass will be smarting in jail if you don't pay our $15 fine" or "I'm crazy about S and M, how about you?"

That's pretty much where the wheels came off the wagon. My sister, having spent a year in India and therefore determined to be nobody's fool, started screaming back at them about corruption and in clear, concise, if vehement English, declared them all to be bad people. Dreaming of an overnight in a Bulgarian jail did not sit well with me, however, and I hissed at her to pay the money, much to her chagrin.

In the end, we paid, made a series of rude gestures and left. We choose to think of this as a bribe instead of plain extortion and targeting of foreigners. It's how we sleep at night. Again, not the Maoist rebels, but what can you do.

Finally...and perhaps finally, as this part is rather catty and I'm secretly hoping you get bored and move onto youtube before you realize just how shallow and obnoxious we really are...there's Bulgarian fashion.

Imagine Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman. Pre-classy makeover. Now join it with what was in style just before the Berlin Wall fell.

That's pretty much what we're looking at.

Hair is crimped. (Do they still sell crimpers?)
Boots of red pleather or sparkling gold.
Men wearing vests...with nothing underneath.

It's pretty shocking. Two pictures to illustrate:

Display window in fancy Bulgarian department store:
lauren_012.jpg

Two young, attractive women walking down the street:
lauren_028.jpg
That's right. One is a lime green jumpsuit. The other is wearing capris, navy blue tights and black strappy shoes.

Couple this with some terrible maps, a ridiculous dearth of internet, consistently mediocre meals and the rain...can you blame us?

Okay. After 8 months in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, I'm not the easiest to impress anymore. And given this fact, I will admit it's quite pretty here. Nice mountains. Very green. I quote the great Wesley- "Not saying I'd like to build a summer home here, but the trees are actually quite lovely."
lauren_027.jpg

Another interesting and positive fact about Bulgaria: allies with Germany during WWII in hope of annexing Macedonia. However, when the Nazi's informed the Bulgarian King and Orthodox Church leadership about the Final Solution and asked for full cooperation, Bulgaria said "Ne," saving up to 50,000 lives. Impressive, no? Well done, Bulgaria.

See? Spirit of generosity. Being a big person. Staying positive, looking for the good.

(But good riddance, I say.)

p.s. Serbia is 4 lovers.
No. Really.

Posted by lbassi 05:31 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (3)

Strongly Worded Letter Addendum

From disgruntled bribers...

To: Foreign women who chose to spend their vacations in countries with predominately Muslim populations.
From: Bribers near and far.
Re: Have you fallen? Have you fallen on your head? Have you fallen and hit your head on something hard?

Ladies-

Nice to see you. Thanks for coming out to Morocco, Jordan, Egypt. Glad you're stretching your legs, getting out of your cubicles.

Enough with the pleasantries. Allow me to ask- what the hell is wrong with you? You get that you chose to come here. To this place. This place with a ginormous Muslim population? You could have stayed at home and worn whatever the hell you like, regardless of whether or not its flattering. You want to refuse to wear long pants? Strut around in t-shirts? Leave your head uncovered?

Fine. Fine. I think it's obnoxious, but I'm moving on.

But walking around in halter tops, mini skirts, athletic shorts, cleavage bearing tank tops? Really? Have you fallen on your heads?

It's not just that it's disrespectful, though clearly, it is. It's the fact that this perception of Western women as a relatively easy specimen doesn't exactly get put to rest when you do this. And who pays? This kid. Walking around with a covered head and long pants and long sleeves even though it's 75 degrees out. This kid still gets leered, grabbed, hissed and propositioned.

Put on some clothes. I beg of you.

Disgruntled in Cairo,
Canadian Bribers

To: Egyptian Men, young and old, far and wide.
From: Bribers, near and far.
Re: Hissing.

Gentleman-

Really? You're hissing at me? Has this yielded results in the past?

Baffled in Giza,
Canadian Bribers

That's pretty much all the news from here.

Except that we saw this yesterday:

DSCN1268.jpg

Yea. Amazing. Strangely located in the middle of a suburb, that's how much urban sprawl has taken place in Cairo.

We also bribed.

And were Canadian.

Okay...so we bribed to get an non-tourist vehicle into Giza.

And we were Canadian so as to avoid extra security following us everywhere.

Not exactly meeting Maosit rebels in the mountains.

But still.

Bribing Canadians.

Posted by lbassi 09:54 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 25) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 »