Archive for the ‘Travelogue’ Category

6000 miles from home: London to Baku, Azerbaijan

On the flight from London, they handed us very hot towels, which was awesome. I already felt scummy and it was a good start to wipe my face.

Everything felt five times more intense than my original trip to London. I kept saying to myself, “I’m over the North Sea, i’ve never been this far from home. I’m over the Black Sea. I’m over the Caspian Sea.”

The flight was so empty that most people lay across their seats like a bed. I tried to stay up for the entire flight because i knew i’d have to reset to another five-hour time difference, but ended up sleeping for a few hours, which really just made me groggy and gave me a neck crick.

They showed what may well be the BEST INFLIGHT MOVIE EVER. I think the name was “Fantomas,” but i can’t be sure. It was originally in French and then poorly translated (i could still hear the original dialog underneath the translated voices) into what i assume is Azerbaijani.

Did i say AWESOME? The villain looked like he’d dipped his head in lime-colored rubber and the police chief occasionally had three arms.

By the time i landed in Baku i was sleep-deprived and extremely nervous about language and customs and, i don’t know, being arrested for having purple hair or something.

Okay, fine, it wasn’t as bad as i’d worried, but i did have to run through four people and they took my passport for awhile and made me sit.

The Baku airport has smoke everywhere. Everyone smokes! As far as i can tell the airport is run by eight guys in grey suits with cellphones who rove around handing out boarding passes and pointing to gates.

Within an hour getting into Azerbaijan i saw not less than three men and one woman with entirely gold teeth. Entirely. Gold. Teeth. My camera battery died as soon as i left London, so i don’t have any pictures.

When i left again through the smokey airport, the pilot walked through the airport yelling, “Aktau! Aktau!”

Our plane died on the runway …


There was a lot of discussion, heated discussion, i didn’t track any of it … because it was all in Russian and possibly Azerbaijani. They sent a bus to bring us back to the airport while they got another plane.

Yes, this was kind of stressful and i briefly considered living in Baku forever or taking the train.

Once we did take off toward Aktau, they gave us onion-potato knishes, which sort of made everything okay.

Whitwell to Leicester to London

House-sitting in Whitwell was largely a success. Matt and Klara, the owners, were funny and interesting. Matt picked me up at the train station and Klara made me dinner. Rocky and Milo, two Yorkshire terriers, were the kind of dogs that magically appeared on your lap the second you sat down. The night before they left I stayed up till far too late talking about American politics and theater. Their house was awesome, big and comfortable. They left me with a ton of food for the week.

I spent a big chunk of the house-sit writing and learning mandolin. The dogs were pretty hyper, Milo in this sort of chill way. Rocky was … well, Rocky was a very angry dog. I mean he liked me, but was enraged that people would dare walk by the front window and on walks he was constantly trying to mix it up with other dogs, seriously ignoring that just about any dog in the world was two to four times larger than him.

I once accidentally stepped on his paw and he was seriously going to KILL THE SHIT out of my shoe. I just sort of stood there and held out my shoe out for him to maul until he got it out of his system. After a few angry minutes, he eventually forgave me.

So, like i said, the house and the dogs and the owners were all nice. The town of Whitwell itself … well i’m not sure the people liked me all that much. There were some exceptions. The folks in the chip shop were friendly and there was this really nice guy at the Boot & Shoe pub, but in general the vibe was distinctly “foreigner go home!”

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The worst moment was when I went to the pub across the street from the house. I literally had one of those movie moments where everyone stopped talking and started at me till I left.

There’s not really anything to do in the town and i started to go seriously stir-crazy by the end of the week. I even took a bus to the nearby towns Clowne and Worsop, but people still didn’t seem really that into me and there weren’t markedly huge things to do. The Worksop pub, which felt disturbingly close to a Denny’s, didn’t help much either. After the worst Guinness i’ve had outside of America and a DEEP FRIED VEGIBURGER (??!!?) i gave up and spent the rest of the week in the house watching movies and writing.

Once back from their trip, Matt and Klara graciously drove me to Leicester, right to my friend Damien‘s door.

Damien, as always, was awesome to hang out with. He was great host and played tour guide around Leicester, giving me a feel for local flavor, history and political vibe.

I liked Leicester a lot, but Damien says i still have to see the dark side. We spent most of the day and night talking writing and books. Unfortunately I had a house-sit to get to the next day, so I had to take a train in the morning.

In London now. More on that soon.

The obligatory foreign food post.

Yes this makes me an ugly American, but you know, some things must be noted to give a proper impression of my trip.

First up, there’s just the unusual language usage. Just little things that catch me off guard, like:

And, you know, is it just me or do the English use a lot of precious language for things, especially food.

When we first arrived at the housesit, Klara asked if we’d, “like some squash.”

Now, to me “squash” means the single nastiest vegetable on the planet, but in England it’s this sort of Kool-Aid stuff you splash in water to “make it taste better.”

Speaking of taste, we couldn’t help but try DANDELION AND BURDOCK SODA, which was unfortunate, because it tastes like where cough syrup goes to die.

And finally are the foods that i can’t even get my head around, like maybe there’s just a gross misunderstanding of how certain foods work.


Eugene to Seattle to Reykjavik to London to Edinburgh to Whitwell

Flying across the world takes a long time. I figured out that by the time i stepped off the plane in Edinburgh, nearly 30 hours had passed. Whew! One of the weirder bits was flying through Reykjavik.

My plane from Seattle landed at about 3:30 in the morning and i had a two hour layover. Everything was closed and i had to go through FOUR security checkpoints to get to my plane (the last two i had to wait and hour for because they wouldn’t let us near the plane till a half hour before the flight.) I’m sure Reykjavik is lovely, but at 3:30 am and without anyone else to talk to, it was pretty freaky.

By the time i got to Heathrow in London, i was starting to go off from sleep deprivation. Heathrow is kind of like Los Vegas, flashing lights and ads everywhere. While i tried to stay awake i sat between two men arguing vehemently in Italian and some kids fighting over whether Spiderman was a mutant or not. (Yes, girl in the grey jumper, you were right, he’s not.) People there were really nice and a cute guy said he liked my purple hair. I was almost disappointed when i didn’t have to do the “naked scanner” thing.

I didn’t think i’d like Edinburgh as much as i did. I mean, sure, i thought it’d be nice, but, God, i love it there! I miss it already. I’d originally planned to land in London and bop around by train, but my good friends Heather and Gethin live there.

Heather and Gethin went above and beyond. Housing me, feeding me, showing me around. They were perfect hosts.

I could have spent another week in Edinburgh. The city has a lovely old and modern feel to it and a good chunk of my memories were wandering the streets, looking at amazing old architecture and listening to people.

About that: Did i hear someone use the word “fooking” within five minutes of landing? Yes, yes i did.

Actually, most people had pretty understandable accents. Edinburgh is diverse. I heard Italian accents, German accents and 300 dialects of Scottish. The Scottish accent spans from “oh that’s adorable, say something else” to “wha?”

One night, we were coming back from a party and had just missed our train. With an hour to kill, Heather Gethin and i started playing hacky-sack on the platform. Because i suck, i inevitably kicked the thing down into the tracks. And because i’m an idiot i decided to climb down and get the damn thing. The second i hooked a leg into the rail-pit, a woman in uniform appeared like magic, yelling at me. So you see, some Scottish accents might as well be Tagalog for all i could understand. She was very upset, i got that, but i couldn’t translate a single word. Seriously, not even “is” or “you.” We got into a sort of rhythm where she’d yell at me, i’d smile and nod and then look to Gethin, who’d shrug. Then she’d yell more and we’d start over.

When not attempting to get myself arrested, i went to concerts. Most notably Balkanarama, which was a mad mash-up of video, costume and gypsy klezmer party music. The concert was my first night in Edinburgh, so i attended on a 48 hour sleep deficiency. It was awesome, but i made it till 2am and then started to go seriously fuzzy around the edges.

It took me about three days to get a hang of my sleep cycle. Well, i actually still need regular afternoon naps, but i seem to be mostly synced up.

I got a mandolin for my birthday! I was sad about leaving all my instruments packed away in Eugene, so i got something i can travel around with. I’m slowly learning chords and scales and my guitar/bass/viola background is helping. That day i also had veggie haggis at Urban Angel. That night the three of us went out for a pint (my God, i’d forgotten how much better beer is without pasteurization) grabbed some Indian take-out and watched Kiss Me Deadly with our newly acquired friend, Richard. Kiss Me Deadly is … well, it’s a pretty tight and clever noir until the end. After the TALKING BOX OF PURE SCIENCE, it gets pretty cracktastic.

Anyway, in Whitwell now, somewhere in the center of England, where it’s raining!

Much more to report. More to come.

Hugs all around,