Land O’Lakes

As I start this, I am finishing up my Helsinki, Finland, stay, where I’ve been from August 8th to September 9th.  It’s Thursday, I leave early Saturday morning, and anticipate a good 4-5 hours of sitting in the airport in Olso, Norway, waiting until I can go to my new place and check in.  So, if I don’t finish this before I leave Helsinki, I expect I’ll finish it soon after.

And now it’s Wednesday, the 13th, I’m in Oslo, Norway, and just finishing up this entry.  Time, huh?  Ain’t that somethin’?

I could blather on a bit about my current status, but at the end of the last blog I was leaving Croydon, England.  So, let’s just pick up from there and get on with it, shall we?  (I’ll take your silence as consent.)

Tuesday, August 8th — Arriving

Let’s see… what was my last line of that blog: “I got a nice window seat, folded my jacket behind me for lumbar support, and after a modest delay we were off to Finland!”

Did you spot the foreshadowing?  I’ll give you a clue: when you put something behind you, it’s remarkably easy to forget it exists.

You see it now, don’t you.  That’s right.  I’ve lost yet another jacket in transit.  Sigh.

Unlike the fuzzy trekking jacket I lost when leaving Edinburgh a year ago May, which I’m moderately sure was stolen, this loss was entirely my fault.  This was the remaining other half of my cool-weather ensemble, the browish/orangey windbreakery coat that I’d expected to sometimes need to wear over the trekking jacket and instead had been wearing on its own for the last year+.  When I don’t need to wear it for warmth, and if my bags are particularly full, I end up just carrying it, often tucked through the shoulder straps of my large pack and dangling at elbow-level.  This was what I was doing through Gatwick airport, and then I got on the plane, put my big pack overhead, the smaller one under the seat, and folded the jacket behind me to give better back support.

Cut to, what, 3 weeks later?  When I’m having my morning shower and for some reason the jacket ended up in my mind (maybe I was thinking about the weather?) and it crossed my mind that I wasn’t quite sure where I’d put it. Hanging in the closet? I… don’t think so. Folded in my pack? Um… no….  Where…?  I knew, even before I stepped out of the shower, exactly what had happened. Folded it behind me in the plane seat, enjoyed my now-more-comfortable chair for the 3 hour plane trip, landed in Helsinki, pulled my small pack on before rising to grab the large pack from the overhead, and left the plane with never a backward glance at my chair.

Sigh. Again.

I contacted Norwegian Air Shuttle to see if there was any chance they might still have it, and they directed me to the Helsinki Airport Lost and Found, which contracts out to some lost-and-found service, which had a website, where I put in a search request, at the cost of €5 (~$5.36).  I haven’t heard back yet, and don’t really expect to.  It’s been too long.

I should have known.  I spent that whole trip marveling at how smoothly and easily everything was going, from Airbnb door to Airbnb door the best trip ever, yada yada. Naturally, something had to go wrong, but it took me 3 weeks to learn what that something had been.  Still, if bad things have to happen invisibly to be discovered later, it could be a lot worse than an $80 jacket.

Like, as a totally random hypothetical, it *could* be a $4,600 tax bill added onto my 2015 taxes, apparently because my fancy financial services group reported income to the IRS that they didn’t tell *me* about, and apparently the IRS have only now figured it out.  Thanks fancy financial services guys.  And then the IRS sends me that notice mid-July, bill due mid-August, and it doesn’t reach my sister for her to tell me about until September 6th.  So, now I have a late IRS bill, for about 1/6 of my annual max budget, which I was already running over thanks to Europe being super expensive. Yay.

I’m thinking next year is *not* going to be a tour of the U.S.. It’s going to be to some place waaaay cheaper, either back to Asia or to Central America — Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, all of which come highly recommended as retirement destinations.  Did you know that Nicaragua is in the top-20 happiest countries?  Turns out, no more dictators and death squads!  In spite of that loss, I’m sure there’s still something for tourists to do — I won’t do it, of course, but it’s good to know it will be there for me to ignore.  (Having a rich supply of appealing things that I won’t do is a sure sign of a robust economy.)   BTW, the U.S. has dropped from 13 to 14 on that list in the last year — no way to know why, nope, no way at all — so I can clearly be nearly as happy in Nicaragua as I can in the U.S., but much less expensively.  That seems very appealing right now: live cheaply for a couple of years, come in under budget again, and then do the U.S. maybe in 2020, in time for the next election?    🙂

Anyway, it seems that I’ve gone off on a tangent.  Quelle surprise.

Back On Track

Back when I still had my jacket, this was how the world looked:

Possible captions:
(A) Land O’Lakes
(B) In Plane View
(C) A View With A Jacket

In case it looks like there’s a lot of water out there, there’s a good reason: there’s a lot of water out there.  Finland is know for having a lot of lakes.  In fact, the only 2 stories I’ve read that featured Finland both prominently involved Finnish lake houses (Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and a short story that I read recently that I quite enjoyed but have literally no hope of remembering the author or the title of).  And the first weekend I was here, my hosts left to go to his parent’s lake house.  It’s like having a really big door in L.A.: you’re no one here unless you have a lake house.

But of the many things that Finland is known for, perhaps chief among them is it’s geographical location, as illustrated below:

Stuck between Sweden and Russia, and very much regretting the arrangement.

Finland is considered one of the Nordic Countries, although not actually part of Scandinavia (which are Norway, Sweden, and Denmark).  The current Finnish people are the same ones who first migrated there around 9000 BCE, in what a Finnish essayist I read claimed was the first of a long series of terrible decisions by his ancestors.  It’s certainly true that it’s cold for a lot of the year, and pretty damp thanks to all of the water, and the overcast days (of which there were many during my stay) are kind of dreary.  But it was also super lush and green and fairly cool for August, and I quite liked the weather.  Of course, the essayist was also referring to rather a lot of debatable history, as Finland tried to tack between Sweden, Germany, and Russia, often ruled over by one or the other.  They had their own streak of nationalism leading up to WWII; curiously, because the Finns are a genetically coherent ethnic group, their nationalist/racist movements look down on Swedes as much as they do on anyone else, leading to a weird reversal: a group of Teutonic people not being considered “pure” enough.

Anyway, Finland absorbed a lot of people and culture from the Swedes (the anti-Swede nationalists are a fringe group), while treating Russia with all of the resentful respect you’d give to a nearby den of rabid bears.  During the Cold War, Finland was famous for firmly adopting a neutral position between the superpowers (largely out of worry about antagonizing Russia), giving them a rather privileged status in international relations.  They made a considerable effort to develop out of the agricultural backwater that they’d been languishing in, did fairly well for a time, and now are struggling with a bit of a lagging economy.  But they have a lot of progressive social programs, and their educational system is world-famous.  (Which has the side effect that their kids grow up to be very able graduates who then leave for other European countries to get better jobs.)  But at least they speak excellent English which, let’s be real, is the important part.

BTW, I don’t mean that English is the national language of Finland, just in case there was any confusion.  That’s Finnish, an etymologically unique tongue that has the liquid sound of Portuguese and at least as many syllables and probably-unnecessary L’s as Welsh.

(I know, I’m giving an example of Welsh to illustrate Finnish, but it’s funny!  I also like the very subtle self-satisfied look of the weatherman, who knows he nailed it, is pretty stoked about it, but still plays it cool.  Good job, mate!)

Finnish also does not have articles (“a”, “the”), it has 15 grammatical cases (but no future case), and does not distinguish grammatically between male and female, even in personal pronouns — which may be why Finland was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote, and to have a female president.  The language has a lot of other quirks too numerous to list, and is considered one of the more complex for non-native speakers to learn — not at the level of Japanese, but close.

Anyway, on that map above, the capital, Helsinki, is marked by a star on the southern tip of the country and marked by architecture that can’t decide if it’s 18th century European, cinder-block Bauhaus, funky retro-60s, or glass-and-steel modern, and none of it felt like it fit well together. That, plus the economic strain on the country, may have been why I never felt quite comfortable there.  The landscape was beautiful, but the city felt, well, awkward and disjointed; the people were friendly, but kind of distant.  At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I’m unlikely to return.

Of course, those impressions were as yet unknown to me, as I boarded the metro train from the airport.  30 minutes took me to my neighborhood, and a 10 minute walk got me to my home for the month, here.  BTW, the Airbnb listing describes this as a “luxurious” room. It’s a nice room, to be sure, and quite comfortable.  For “luxurious”, though, I really need something more, like a more comfortable bed (it was perfectly fine, but nothing special), sliding closet doors that I don’t have to wrestle back onto their tracks myself, a fancier desk chair with better lumbar support, a fridge, tea kettle, and coffee machine in the room, and maybe an ensuite bath with a jacuzzi tub.  Oh, and a balcony.  “Luxury” really ought to mean more than “comfortable middle class bedroom”, which is what this was.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the room.  It’s just the adjective that I dispute.

Not that I got to see the room immediately. When I booked the place, the primary host Jussi (the husband in the Jussi and Anna couple) warned me that this room was taken for the first few days of my proposed stay, but that if I was willing to bed down in the office for a few days then I could move in to my real room when it freed up. I said that would be fine, so he installed me in the office first, which was pretty nice: a large corner room with a huge desk and wall-to-wall windows filling the corner walls and trees all around.  Then, 2 days later, he moved me into a freed-up guest room, smaller, but still well windowed.  Then, 3 days later, I was in my intended room, the smallest of the 3.  All of that was fine, but there were some oddnesses about the place.  The listing used to have pictures of what appeared to be a deck, and a passing river, and lots of people sitting at a porch table outside the kitchen, and the whole thing seemed like a long-running BnB with lots of guests and an active community life, which seemed like an appealing change of pace for me.

Those pictures seem to be gone from the listing now.  The river is blocks away, the deck is still there (though it doesn’t have the view implied by the river pictures), the guests (myself included) were all either in their rooms with the doors closed or elsewhere, and Jussi later told me that he and Anna had encouraged that so that they could get their house back.  With their kids (from a few prior marriages) grown, they just rented out the upstairs room so as not to feel guilty about wasting the space (I’m sure the cash didn’t hurt either), but they really wanted to still be able to live their own lives downstairs.   So it wasn’t so much a big friendly community BnB, as much as it was a friendly-but-quiet, isolated space.  Which was fine, but not what I was expecting. (As is often the case.)

Anyway, I did have a few chats with Jussi, and at least one with Anna.  She was a library district manager, he was a retired IT manager and working on a book which (at the time of my arrival) was due at the publisher in a few days.  When I arrived, Jussi and I had a nice chat as he showed me around, but he had his book to work on and I did start to get the “I’ve really talked as long as I can” vibe pretty quickly, and I made a point of letting him go.  I’m better than some might expect at sensing that vibe, but very poor at figuring out how to end the conversation once I’ve sensed it.  With the result that we can be talking for several minutes while my mind is casting around for “How do I release this person gracefully?”  I’ve been testing, “Well, I’ve probably detained you as long as I should” language, and initial trials have been fairly successful.  But I’m always worried that they’ll think I’m ditching them, when in fact I’m just trying to free them before their vibe pushes towards “desperate”.

Before I released him, Jussi did tell me where a nearby grocery store was — kind of uncomfortably, as if it was an unusual question that he wasn’t sure how to answer.  So I walked there, back past the metro line and a few blocks more, to a little mini-mall with a weird, low-end, slightly dingy little grocery that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to return to.  I discovered later that there was a *much* better one just 3 blocks further away, like a smallish Whole Foods, but I got enough groceries at the dingy place to hold me for a couple of days and that would do.  I wasn’t sure how the whole “eating” thing was going to go here, anyway: the kitchenette on the guest room floor was a tiny, barely equipped closet with a small fridge and I wasn’t sure I was going to have any space of my own in that fridge for salad fixings.   But there turned out to be a bit of unused space, so within a couple of days I’d packed it with my food and all was well with the world.

In theory, I could have gone to the convention center on the day I arrived, and registered for WorldCon early.  But that seemed unnecessary, so I settled in for the evening, ate, watched YouTube, and that was it for Day 1.

WorldCon 75

So, The 75th World Science Fiction Convention ran from Wednesday, August 9th, though Sunday, August 13th, at the Messukeskus Convention Center, about 2 train stops away from me. I think WorldCons used to alternate, a year in the U.S., then the next year in another country.  That seems to have changed to a more general bidding process and I’m not sure there’s any real pattern to it now.  But this year was Finland, next year will be San Jose, California, and the leading contender for 2019 seems to be Dublin.  New Zealand was also bidding, although possibly for 2020 (I think it was 2020, but I don’t remember clearly).  Members vote for the next site, and I’d have gladly voted for New Zealand, to have the excuse to go there.  But they were charging €30 just to cast your vote, and it hardly seemed worth it.

Since I the days when I was a geeky, awkward teenager, I’ve been to many conventions, including SciFi, Comics, Anime, New Age, and Film Festival, and they all seem to divide up into 4 types of experience:

  1. Staff — Steadily escalating frantic planning before hand, unremitting action during, lots of interaction with other staff, slightly numb eating together after its all over. If you’re disciplined about scheduling your own time, maybe you get to see a little content here and there between your duties.
  2. Professional — A mysterious experience that I have never been privy to, that involves very little “official” convention content, except when you’re a member of a panel, but lots of socialization with other professionals, usually in bars.
  3. Groups — Going with a bunch of friends is fun. You go to movies and panels together, you enjoy and/or mock the same content, eat and drink together during and after the day’s events, and generally have an extended party.
  4. Solo — The most alone you can be short of offending a prison guard and getting chucked into Solitary.  You drift like a ghost from panel to panel, trying to decide if the one you’re in was really the right choice, or if you should just be sitting in the screening room in the dark where at least you wouldn’t see (a) all the other people that surely *must* be more into this topic than you are, or (b) those who are clearly doing the fun Group thing.  In between, you eat the snacks you’ve brought with you or pay for overpriced convention food, which you eat at a table alone like the kid who was never in any of the lunch cliques at school.  Then you come back the next day and do it again, because you paid $95 for these tickets and by gods you’re not wasting them!  But hey, at least everyone around you smells really good. Oh, wait….

I’ve had experiences 1, 3, and 4, and I’ve noticed that 1-3 all involve you existing in your own subworld within the convention where you deal almost exclusively with your own people.  Whereas 4 involves the continuous reminder, over days of convention time, that everyone else has their own community except you.  Sucker!

I confess, I’d kind of forgotten the solo convention experience.  Also, the last SF convention I attended was back in college when everything was a novelty and the world was young. Now, I think I’m concluding that SF conventions are a bit more prone to having dreary panels than the anime or comic conventions that I’ve been to more recently.  I’m not sure why this is, but I have 3 theories.  The first is that the age group skews a bit older: there are plenty of folks in their teens and 20s, but I’d say the average age of the attendees was in the 30s, and there’s just a naive exuberance that gets lost as the age range moves up and everyone thinks they should be Adults.  The second is that SF people are more convinced that they have a Serious Literary Endeavor, one that also has Science!, which is Very Important And Superior, and so the topics are drier and are discussed more seriously, and the life is slowly sucked out of the room.  My third theory is that anime and comics are both visual media with lots of bright, primary colors: they’re just innately more enthusiastic subject matters.

Who would have thought that a presentation on gravitational wave detectors could be boring? Come on, guys!

I’m not saying that everyone was dull and dry.  At one physics panel I was in, a panelist made a great joke about non-falsifiability of proofs that went over like gangbusters in that room, and that was the moment that I *most* felt, “I’m with my true people.”  But it cannot be denied that, overall, it skewed dull-ward, and I spent several panels playing backgammon on my iPhone so that I could pay better attention — years of mandatory company meetings have taught me that a mindless game is a great way to distract the part of my brain that would otherwise wander, daydream, and then nod off.  I listen better when I’m playing than when I’m just sitting and staring at the speakers and gradually drifting off. #protip

While some of the panels were hideously dull, there were rather a lot of panels, often panels that I was interested in up that were scheduled up against each, requiring Hard Choices.  Do I see “Crackpot Archeology in Scandinavia”, “Make the Most of Your First WorldCon”, or “Nordic SF/F Now” — I have to choose, because they’re all Wednesday 2-3pm!  Do I go to “Obsolete Science Ideas”, or “Alternate Realities – 1” — and if I skip “Alternate Realities – 1” will I enjoy “Alternate Realities – 2” as much, or always wonder what my life would have been like if I’d chosen “- 1” instead?  They’re just aren’t any good answers.

Some things that you think will be entertaining really aren’t.  I thought “Asexuality in SF” would be interesting, but I have rarely heard a sex-related topic discussed as lifelessly.  Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised: the topic is basically “People lacking a type of passion”, so it makes sense that the discussion should mimic the topic.  I did almost get into a Twitter argument about it, though, so that was exciting.  I posted my amused reaction to the panel on Twitter, and some random person leapt on it like they were itching for a fight:

I started off thinking that they were a bit slow, to not be getting the intrinsic humor of the statement.  Then, with their next reply, I realized they were walking around with a big defensive chip on their shoulder, and got very excited that maybe I was going to be in one of those Twitter pile-ons, where a bunch of randos get all upset over something you’ve said that’s fairly innocuous, and you have to deal with them flooding you with antagonistic comments.  I’ve seen those in action, but never been the target!  But, no, just one rando, soon dealt with.  My own fault, really.  I could have baited her more, and drawn her out, and maybe gotten some mileage out of it. But I just don’t have that sort of temperament.  Sigh.  Yet another wasted opportunity.

There were a couple of highlight panels: the Remembering Tanith Lee panel was cool.  She was one of my grandmother’s favorite SF authors, who died a couple of years back; she wrote a ton of books, and was extremely well regarded, but was never a huge seller.  The panelists had all known her in varying capacities, and had a bunch of stories about her, and that was pretty neat.  And there was a good science panel on habitable worlds, and what sort of variations of life might exist in more  extreme environments.  And in a few panels I took a bunch of notes of future books to read, and SciFi-themed anime to watch, so that was good.

There was a panel on the Kalevala, Finland’s mythological epic, that was quite good, presented in the context of the creators working on a multimedia adaptation of the epic, with a comic in progress and also a game and a movie planned.  This looked pretty interesting: it promises to be a kind of SF flavored adaptation, treating the Kalevala much as Zelazny’s Lord of Light or Grant Morrison’s 18 Days treated Hindu/Buddhist mythology.  The director was off to the side of that panel, mostly involved in changing slides while the comics creators did the talking.  He was the spitting image of a blonde Clark Kent, all glasses and blandly-attractive face and unassuming posture laid over a strapping frame that we were somehow not supposed to notice because “Superman doesn’t wear glasses so it can’t be him!”

Of course, there are *other* things to do at conventions besides panels.  The Dealer Room is usually a big deal, where you can buy all sorts of stuff associated with your favorite shows, books, or memes.  Of course, I don’t buy physical things anymore, so Dealer Rooms are of limited use to me now, but they’re fun to wander through.  Sadly, a scifi convention in Finland does not have a large population of local geek retailers to draw from, so the dealer room was not huge.

That said, it was not without things I totally *would* have bought, if I wasn’t living out of my backpack:

My kind of deity.

I believe this is from the TV show Vikings. They had a t-shirt too, which I would not really have bought even if I could carry it, as walking around with “Fuck Calm” on my chest isn’t really my style. Still, I heartily approve of the sentiment.

There’s also the screening room.  Big conventions often have 2 or 3 such rooms, and media conventions (like anime cons) have 4 to 6.  This had 1, and it wasn’t huge, but I spent some of the happiest hours there, watching often very good short films and generally enjoying not having to cue for seats in over-crowded panels.

There’s also author/creator signings, and panels, and the like. I did end up in a Charlie Stross reading from his next upcoming Laundry Files novel (an entertaining blend of Lovecraftian horror, spy thriller, and office-cubicle dystopia), and that was mildly amusing.  I don’t have anything to really get signed — Amazon should really add a signing feature to the Kindle and Kindle apps, where authors could sign the screen with their finger or stylus and Amazon uploads it to your account and keeps it with your copy of the book.  How cool would that be?!  (Super cool, that’s how cool.)  I skipped the George R.R. Martin panels, but he was a few feet away from me in the registration line when I arrived, so that was entertaining. I could have sworn that I had a picture of that… but whatever.  A Google Image Search for “George R R Martin standing in a line” will give you largely the same effect. 🙂

There were a couple of musical thingies going on: a goth music session and something else that I don’t recall, but they were at night. Also, I didn’t care.  And then there were the Hugos!

The Hugo Awards

The Hugos, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, are science fiction’s Oscars.  There are other awards, like the Nebulas, and the Locus Awards, and the like, and some of them can claim to be more meritorious, but the Hugos are the ones that people know, when they know about such things at all.

The Hugo nominees and winners are picked by attending members: if you buy a ticket to the convention, you get to participate in both phases.  By the time I bought my ticket, the nominees were already out, and I was surprised to find that I’d already read a fair number of the nominees, books like All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and novellas like The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, and Every Heart a Doorway.  Or movies I’d seen, like Arrival, Deadpool, and Rogue One.  Still, *most* of the nominees I had not read; thankfully, like the Oscars, voting members get packets with the nominees, so they can read and judge and vote (hopefully) intelligently (on a ranking of 1-6 in each category).

Mind you, not everyone votes intelligently.  This would go without saying if it weren’t for a couple of groups of small minded people known (and self-named) collectively as Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies.  (The Hugos wiki entry discusses these groups a bit.)  These are folks who seem to think that Science Fiction and Fantasy should be all about Strong Aryan Men who beat Evil with Big Swords or Ray Guns, and that SF/F used to be about that and none of this pansy Emotion, or Female Heroes, or Political Commentary, or Queers, or Multi-Culturalism.  Never mind that SF has always been about those things, going back to H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, continuing through Star Trek and Dragonriders of Pern and The Left Hand of Darkness and Downbelow Station and so on, straight on up to present day.  The last 3-4 years of Hugos have been a bit turbulent, with groups of these people trying to game the system by voting in massed blocks for authors and works that they think fit their agenda — in a weird foreshadowing of the broader, modern political scene of resurgent nationalism/etc.  The mass voting block method worked a bit, in their first couple of tries, and they got some nominees into the lists that did pretty well, or managed to fill a couple of categories with only their nominees. (While exhibiting all of the good behavior and class that you’d find at a Trump rally.)

Unfortunately, for them, The Hugos have a No Award category, that you can vote for if you think none of the nominees are deserving enough, and Puppy nominees have been losing to No Award almost exclusively.  That, plus some voting-rule tweaks have made gaming the system much harder, and in the 2017 voting results, every Puppy candidate fell below No Award in the rankings.  And the major winning authors were almost exclusively women and people of color, writing largely Ray-Gun-Free books.  (Yaay us!)  So the Puppies’ day looks to have come and gone.

(BTW, the best line I heard about those deluded reactionaries came in one of the WorldCon panels: “There were more brown people in medieval Europe than there were potatoes, and yet no one gets upset if your fantasy novel includes potatoes.”  Nice.)

Hugo politics aside, while I was in Edinburgh, I spent rather a lot of time reading through as much of the nominee list as I could — which was quite a lot, really, and for the most part it was all wonderful.  A huge batch of very entertaining books, stories, graphic novels, and the like, all included in the $95 ticket price.  The timetable involved made some of it feel a bit like homework, but by and large it was all just riveting science fiction and fantasy, and left me with a lot of notes for future reading and new authors to pursue further.

I did my best to read everything and vote intelligently…  but sometimes I had to throw up my hands and let a category go.  Like Best Editor Short Form: the packets for the nominees had selections reaching to thousands of pages of stories that they’d edited in the last year.  Even if I read them all — and I did *not* have time to do that — how would I know what was to the original writer’s credit, and how much was due to the editor?  Most of the great writers I know speak glowingly of the benefits of a good editor, so I don’t doubt the editor’s contribution to the finished text.  But as a reader trying to judge what that contribution to the text was…. it’s like watching a movie and trying to guess if you don’t like an actor’s performance because they were bad at their craft, or because the dialog they were given was bad and/or intrinsically hard to deliver well, or because they’re being given bad direction.  I’m sure there are people who can judge those things well, but I am not one of them.  So I left one Editor category blank, and the other I ranked as best I could simply so that I could cast a vote for the Puppy guy to be below No Award, because I was determined that Bad Behavior Should Not Be Rewarded.

(I did, by the way, read the Puppy nominee for Short Story.  I knew of the author and his rather horrific views on a variety of things, but I wanted to be fair — maybe it was well written?  Talent and virtue are hardly married to each other.  In this case, both were absent.  It. Was. Terrible.  Amazingly so, considering how good the other nominees were.  Like, even the ones I hadn’t been wild about were generally well written, just not written to my taste.  This wasn’t written to any sane person’s taste, being an overdrawn thinly veiled metaphor about political correctness that beat its point into the ground in some of the most painful prose I’ve read in decades.  If I *wanted* a story to prove my own virtuous commitment to giving a suspect author a fair shake, I could hardly have asked for better. I felt truly ennobled by my effort.  I hope to never again be so ennobled.)

I left the Fanzine category blank, because I just ran out of time to read the samples.  I left the Best Dramatic Presention, Short Form blank too — TV series episodes, basically — because I hadn’t seen any of them and couldn’t see searching out and watching a single episode out of context and being able to judge its merits properly.

Some things I hadn’t read or watched, but felt I could make an educated judgement about.  Hidden Figures is a good example, a movie about the black women who were critical in making the moon landing happen.  I’m perfectly prepared to believe it’s a great movie, but it’s an historical drama and not really Science Fiction. So I placed it below No Award.  There were podcasts that I hadn’t listened to, but the subject matter of one sounded more interesting than the subject matter of another, so I could rank my preferences.  I’d read neither Ursula K LeGuin’s Words Are My Matter, nor The Geek Feminist Revolution, but I can guarantee that I’ll like the former more than the latter. I approve of the latter, of course, but to read a documentary book about it sounds unbearably tedious.

“Here’s a good thing!”
“Awesome. I’m glad it exists. 🙂 ”
“Let me tell you all the details!”
“Gosh, I’m not sure I have time for that.”
“But it’s wonderful, let me persuade you!”
“Not necessary, I agree with you already. Totally.”
“But I want to tell you about it. I have slides!”

(Yes, I know there are people who enjoyed the book — Jenni 👀 — and I rejoice in their happiness.)

In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the Google Docs spreadsheet I built to keep track of the nominees and my rankings as I read through them.  After the convention, I went through and added the actual awards results to the list, all ranked 1-6 (or 1-7, when No Award mattered).  It was comforting to see that, while my number 1 picks didn’t win most of the time, most of my top picks matched most of the final top ranks.  (The notable exception was the Best Novel winner, where Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate won despite being my 5th place pick. I do believe that it was probably that good, she’s a great author. But it’s the 2nd book in a series that I hadn’t read, so I really couldn’t read it, and I placed it below other good books that I had read.)  But most of my best picks placing well is all that my delicate sense of self-worth really needs to get by on, so I’m taking the whole thing as a win.

BTW, I didn’t go to the actual awards show.  It was at night, and I couldn’t see sitting through the whole thing when most of the presentation would end up online where I could watch it at my convenience, AND the results would be summarized for me the next day if I were patient enough. Which I am.

A Book

I really feel as though I ought to review at least 1 thing from the exhaustive Hugo reading list, but it’s kind of hard to pick from all of that great material.  I’m choosing to go with Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee, my pick for Best Novel (as I write this, $5.24 for the Kindle edition on Amazon).

It’s set in a far future, interstellar empire where the technology is largely based on consensual reality: how people think about the universe is leveraged to alter physical laws.  As a consequence, the conflicts involve changing people’s viewpoints about common assumptions — the central one being the calendar(!) — and supporters of alternate calendars are ruthlessly suppressed as dangerous heretics who would bring down not only the political structure but the technological underpinnings of society.

In that world, a woman military commander with a knack for performing the complex calculations needed to invoke changing realities on the battlefield, is recruited to lead a force to break into an impregnable fortress taken over by the enemy.  To do that, she recruits the empire’s most dangerous enemy, a general who never lost a battle until he became a mass murderer, and whose body was destroyed and now only exists in prison as a consciousness — one that can be joined to hers if she can withstand his influence and work with him to win the seemingly unwinnable battle.

In short, there’s a lot going on here.

I really like books that give me new ideas, and this played with a *lot* of them.  And it was well written and witty and the characters were multi-dimensional and there were layered mysteries that peeled back only slowly.  Some of those mysteries are still opaque: it’s the first book of a series, and though this novel was pretty well self-contained and can easily be enjoyed on its own, there’s clearly a lot more to go in the overall story.  I’m really looking forward to the rest of them, and it became my number 1 pick (and took #3 in the Awards results).

BTW, I did really like the books I ranked 2-4 (I didn’t read 5 & 6, but they were both 2nd novels in their series), and if you’re inclined to read any of them, you can hardly go wrong doing so.  I might be a bit cautious about Ada Palmer’s Too Like The Lightning, though.  It’s another super clever and inventive book with a lot of new ideas — and it won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer — but it’s the first book of a pair, the 2nd’s not out, and the tone of the book was already morphing towards the end into something that might well turn out to be disillusioning and unpleasant.  So I cannot yet assure you that it will be a pleasant read, just a technically very good one.

And that’s where I’m going to end this post.  In the next one, I’ll cover my post-conventional Helsinki experience, and I’ll get to that as soon as possible since, after all, Norway awaits!


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What, no clever title relating to some interesting fact about Croydon, a working-class suburb south of London, or my experiences there?  No. Croydon really isn’t that interesting.  It’s just there, a quality that I had in common with it, briefly.

As usual, I’m sure that there were some moderately interesting bits that I never got to.  Wikipedia has rather a lot of information about the town and its history — although it is telling that much of the article’s modern information is devoted to the building of shopping centers and apartment complexes and the like.  (My friend Roger said that it was once billed as *the* place for middle class families to move to, away from central London — but that was more than a generation ago.)  The Wikitravel article, which would be intended more for tourists, is just a stub redirecting you to an overall South London page, wherein Croydon is described as the “Dallas of the South” — which is both hilarious to this native Texan and also kind of confusing when you think about it. I mean, come on: Dallas is already pretty much the Dallas of the South, and it’s indisputably much further south than Croydon. (Croydon is, in fact, higher latitude than Winnipeg, Canada, known to some as the Miami of the North.)  Calling it the “Dallas of the South” really kind of implies that the UK has another Dallas somewhere further up the country.  (There is village in Scotland called Dallas, but I can’t see anyone referring to a commercial metropolis by that village’s name.)

But I don’t mean to sound too harsh; not every town can be Edinburgh.

Looking up at Edinburgh Castle, from New Town. Sigh.


Monday, July 17th –Leaving

Leaving Edinburgh on July 17th was, as it turns out, was not entirely necessary.  I mean, yeah, I had to leave eventually, but my flight to Finland wasn’t until August 8th.  Unfortunately, it was from Gatwick Airport, a little south of London, and departed at close to 10am, so I knew I’d have to head down that way at some point and stay somewhere overnight.  And, when I’d worked out with Murphy to expand my Edinburgh stay from 2 to 4 months, I’d told him I’d be out on July 17th.  I knew that he’d be starting to book other guests again, and I knew that he’d want to raise his rates for the August season.  (Edinburgh has a world famous arts festival going on for most of August, called the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the tourists pack in and anyone with a room to rent bumps their rates way up.)  So, I thought I should clear out, and not (a) take advantage of Murphy by weaseling my way into extending my lower, off-season rate or (b) have to pay a *lot* more on my limited budget.

As it turns out, it became clear that Murphy would have been perfectly happy to have me stay longer, as (a) we got along well, and (b) he was *not* looking forward to dealing with the turnover for that room.  But by the time I learned that, my Croydon place was long since booked, so there we are.

In truth, I was kind of itching to get on the road again.  But 3 more weeks at Murphy’s would have been preferable; he sent me a message recently saying that he and Ealga missed my presence in the house, and the feeling is quite mutual.  Of course, people rarely miss me, per se, but apparently I generate nice vibes and the absence of those vibes is keenly felt. I should definitely looking into Haunting as my post-life occupation, if my presence is perceived so favorably. Maybe in concert with a real estate agency: I could haunt a place on the market, and potential buyers would come in, feel my agreeable presence, and snap the place right up.  Or maybe some clever buyer would leave his XBox out, and induce me to stay. “Yeah, the place is haunted. But if we leave out video games, the ghost keeps the energy balanced in a really nice way, and the kitchen has never been cleaner!”

Then, in the dark hours of the morning, guests would sometimes hear a haunting melody echoing through the hallways….

And they would know that, when they finally rose from bed, the coffee would already be made.

But, as it’s likely several years at least before I can take up that profession, more immediate concerns present themselves.  In particular, my obligations for continued travel.  So, early on Monday, July 17th, I rose before my alarm clock (as I often do on travel days), finished tidying and packing, and headed up to Waverley Station to catch the 9:30 train to Kings Crossing in London.

This was entirely uneventful. It was a slightly over 4 hour train ride, and I had snacks, and I don’t recall having a seat companion.  The scenery was generic green countryside, and I mostly watched Marvel’s Agents of Shield on my iPad, and all was right with the world.  The train arrived at Kings Crossing, and I navigated my way through the London Underground to Victoria Station, and caught a train 1/2-hour south to the Selhurst Station, about 4 blocks from my new place.

Which was here. This was one of those curious cases, that I run across about 1/3 of the time, where the listing description leads me to think of something quite different from the actuality.  A youngish guy named “Benedek” posted the Airbnb listing, who is originally from Budapest, and it’s mentioned that “Kati” is the co-host.  The phrasing of the listing suggested to me that there was a private bathroom, which was very appealing to me after 5 months of sharing, and it seemed like a multifloor place with my room and bathroom at the top, mostly out of the way of the young couple. Who, I assumed, would be working during the days. It also says that the Crystal Palace Park is nearby, the Crystal Palace being a famous glass-walled building built for an exhibition in the 1800s, and Google confirmed that its park was in walking distance.

In fact, “Benedek” was Tom Benedek, a young artist currently in Italy, and the place was his mother Kati’s, a very nice Hungarian woman maybe slightly older than I am, who worked (rather intermittently, it seemed to me) as a caregiver.  The place was a modest 2-story flat in a row of similar smallish townhomes, with one shared bathroom in the flat, and the other bedroom was *right* next to mine, and Kati was a late sleeper — so I was a bit self-conscious about any noises in the morning hours.  Kati, while entirely pleasant, was around a lot more than I was expecting, given that I was expecting a young, urban, professional couple.  She was also a smoker; which she did in the *very* green garden in the back, but it blew in through the upstairs windows and across the house to my room rather more than I would have preferred. (Which, in fairness, would have been zero, but, still….)  So I arrived and found that very little was really what I expected, but I’ve developed a trick for dealing with that, over the course of my travels.

It looks something like this.

My train from Victoria Station to Selhurst Station in Croydon was packed with roughly-5th-grade students, and their minders, a wonderfully ethnically mixed lot who got on soon after I did and exited at the same station, treating me to a long and very excited discussion of the pros and cons of local football players and, oddly, what they planned to reincarnate as next.  (The children, not the football players.)  It seemed a bit early for them to be planning their next incarnation… but as a guy who once booked a room in a farmhouse in Ireland 8 months ahead of time, perhaps I shouldn’t throw stones.  And, after all, something could go awry sooner; it’s important to have a Plan B.

I knew that I’d be arriving in the area at a little after 3:00, and I’d sent Kati a message saying, “This is when I’m arriving, but I can just hang out somewhere if it would be more convenient to meet me later, no worries.”  She said 5pm would be more convenient — it’s always a nuisance when people take you up on your considerate gestures, but what can you do?  So, I found a pub nearby called the Two Brewers, and got a pint of Guinness, and settled down to read and relax.

The middle aged woman tending the bar looked at me like I was from Mars when I tried to leave a tip. So, when I confirmed that it just wasn’t done, I took it back with a friendly grin.

It was a slightly odd place: off the street and several doors down into a residential neighborhood, with a very working class, neighborhood bar feel, like you’d expect a British Archie Bunker to show up there. There were pictures from Halloween over the bar, with a lot of superheros featured in them. The older folks hanging out in the other front corner from where I was sitting were talking about that Ryker actor’s new show, “that fellow from Star Trek but not the older series”, that was all about weird stuff (I think they meant Jonathan Frakes’ series Beyond Belief, though that’s almost 20 years old now), and then they started complaining about the Paki problem.  So, a weird mix.

And that’s not even counting this. I can only imagine the wondrous horror and fascination that little kids in the neighborhood must feel for this thing.

I had a pint, and that got me to about 4:15, so I had another, and some oatmeal crackers that I’d brought with me to soak it up.  About ½-way through the second pint, around 4:40, Kati messaged me to say she was home — which was considerate of her, to be sure, but mid-way through a pint it had little effect on my timetable. I worked my way through that pint, hit the street again, and arrived at about 5:04.

The Google Street View, looking northeast, of the road. The place I was staying in is near on the right, the southerly side.

So, I met Kati, got the brief tour of the place, set my stuff down, and had a nice chat with her in the garden for a while.  She seemed delightful, and I rather thought that there would end up being a lot more of that sort of conversation.  But then she had an old friend arrive from Hungary a couple of days later, and stay for a week — a woman who was probably nice enough, but in our every interaction she had a deer-in-the-headlights look, and I thought it best not to stress her.  (Plus, when an old friend visits, you don’t want a random stranger taking up valuable conversation time. And the random stranger doesn’t want that either, trust me.) And then Kati was under the weather for a couple of days. (I offered to get her groceries, or escort her to the doctor if she was feeling unsteady, and she was very appreciative but didn’t take me up on it — so, winning!)  And I had a lot of Elder Scrolls Online for a bit… So our paths managed not to cross very much.  It was always agreeable when we did, but there we are.

Elder Scrolls Online!

Speaking of ESO, there was rather a lot of that for a couple of weeks.  They had this “Midyear Mayhem” event, in one of the largest player-versus-player areas of the game — what you might dub the Warring States Area.  ESO players belong to one of 3 Alliances, and they’re fighting for control of the central, capital region, so you get massive groups of players invading towns and forts and fighting each other to control the most territory.  It’s pretty hectic, and the guys who are good at that sort of thing are way out of my league.

Even back in college, once you got past about 3 or 4 buttons on a video game, I was out. Some games I was quite good at, even drew a crowds (a handful of times) to watch me play, which was very gratifying.  But games like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter where you’re hitting 6-8 buttons and combining them for special moves… it just was never my thing. (Maybe that was a reflex I could have trained, but at the cost of a quarter per play it never seemed worth it.) And some of these ESO Player-vs-Player (PvP) guys are switching back and forth between 2 sets of 6 moves apiece, and rotating between moves to take advantage of their interactions, and using potions, and triggering special armor and weapon enchantments, and they’re doing that while they’re dodging around rocks and jumping through trees…

Like the guy in this video.  I don’t know how much of it you’ll be able to watch — none, probably, if you are prone to motion sickness, because his camera moves around a lot.  But, if it helps, he’s a Red alliance player, of a type known as a Nightblade (basically, an assassin type, lots of attack power, but low on defense), and he’s running solo, picking off Blue and Yellow players.  I’ve been killed almost instantly many times by just this sort of guy, and I didn’t even understand how it was being done until I watched how this guy was playing.

And then you get players like this doing it in coordinated groups, and taking advantage of the terrain and their fellow group members’ special moves. It’s a lot of layers of reflexive coordination, and the Twitch-Kiddies (as I think of them) are welcome to it.

I normally stay out of those areas, and play the quieter, player-versus-environment areas, where you’re just doing quests, fighting monsters provided by the game, and there’s very little there that I can’t deal with one way or another.  Heck, I can very happily spend a couple of hours just picking useful plants and collecting natural resources of various sorts.  And mum and Sarah and I join up in those areas once a week, and can handle almost anything the game throws at us.  (Mum and Sarah also like to fish. I’m sorry, but that’s where I draw the line.)

But this event was in the PvP area, and there was cool stuff to get, and it lasted across two weekends and the week between. So, I arrived in Croydon, spent a few days in the game doing some things I wanted to get done before it started, and then I launched into it, joining up with (hopefully) large groups in my Alliance and fighting over territory. Like an American!  And, overall, it went pretty well.  I got a bunch of stuff, had some fun, learned a play style that works for me — basically, a support role in large groups, and attacking from a distance, not trying to go toe-to-toe.  Some of these guys carefully pick equipment that maximizes their attack damage; some maximize their defense; me, I maximize my ability to hide and run away, and I’m *very* good at it.  But this is in keeping with my longstanding battle cry:

Weirdly, it works really well.  I can usually keep up a kill/death ratio of 3/1 or better, and I have a few good healing/protection techniques for my team, and a couple of good long-distance techniques for slowing and weakening the enemy so that the heavy hitters can take them out faster.

So, that was most of my first 2 weeks there.  Then I hit that allergic reaction that I mentioned last post, and had a headache for several days after, that made me disinclined to do much other than play. So I did.  It was all a bit more than I’d really intended, but whatevs.  I got some decent in game stuff with it. And I joined a guild (an in-game player club) that I’d played with a few times during the event, who have been around for about 10 years across a bunch of different games, and I’ve had some very enjoyable runs with them since.  So, it worked out, as it tends to do.

Meanwhile, In The So-Called “Real” World

I did manage to get out a few times.  The first location was a nearby grocery store, a *huge* Sainsbury — a conventional U.K. grocery store chain, with a modest selection of organic foods.  I generally like their stock, although they do occasionally provide puzzlers.


The place was just a couple of blocks away, and right next to a local football stadium — the store was closed entirely on game days, possibly because their parking lot was shared and possibly because the store didn’t want to risk looting if the game went badly. Or if it went well, for that matter. You know Brits and their football.

The initial route to the store took me most of the way around the large block that it was situated on, until I noticed an alleyway that had a modest selection of potted plants laid out as some sort of community garden.  The alleyway cut the travel distance in half — which I had mixed feelings about, since I wasn’t really getting enough exercise.  Still, it’s hard to argue with a time saver that avoids a lot of traffic and car exhaust. And other things.

I mean, when an area is clearly marked as a Red Light District, how much time do you really want to spend walking through it?

But, as fascinating as a large grocery store may be, it was not the only place I went to.  Being in the neighborhood of the Crystal Palace, I was quite looking forward to going there.  So, just after the ESO event officially finished, I walked up to where Google said it would be, walking about 40 minutes along highly trafficked roads to get to a “main street” sort of central area with little shops and restaurants, at the corner of the Crystal Palace Park.  This large public park was notable for 4 things:

Large green spaces, like this one, often with people lying out on the grass, children playing, and general enjoyment of the fine weather.

Smaller, more intimate green spaces. One such was a small hedge maze, which was mildly amusing to wander through, but not terribly interesting to photograph since, from anywhere inside, you’re really just getting a picture of hedges. (We all know what hedges look like, I trust?)

A Sports Stadium. Or, being England, maybe a Sport Stadium? I know one of the ways you can spot a British writer is that they refer to sport instead of sports. Also, maths instead of math, because consistency is for the conquered peoples, not for a citizen of the Empire. And, of course, whilst. I assume that this applies to stadiums also. Unless they’re called “bonnets” or something. You never know with Brits.

And the Crystal Palace. Isn’t it amazing? It was originally built in 1851, out of cast iron and glass, to hold the Great Exhibition of that year, and… wait, what’s that? You can’t see it? Oh, that’s because it burned down in 1936, and the park that it was on just kept the name, misleading tourists for decades after. Sorry, no palace for you, thank you, come again.


If it *had* been there, it would doubtless look like the photos on the Wikipedia page, and would be super cool.  But our generation doesn’t get to have nice things, so never mind.  I’ll just return in a huff to my immersive online fantasy world, my streaming video, my infinite library, and chatting with people all over the world on a device I can hold in my hand. It’s so unfair.

I had been greatly looking forward to seeing Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets while I was in Croydon.  But there weren’t any theaters near me, and the closest, about a 40 minute walk, was described on Yelp as pretty basic, but Ok as long as you didn’t mind the smell of urine.  As it happens, I kind of do.  There was one theater a 25 minute train ride away that was described as very nice, but I was really not in the mood to pay over twice the ticket price by adding transportation costs to it.  None of which would have been a sufficient barrier if the movie had been well reviewed; sadly, the general sentiment seemed very blah.  My friend Damien tells me that at least it’s pretty to look at.  Oh well, it’s not like I won’t enjoy streaming it later; seeing it in a big hall with overpriced snacks is *hardly* a requirement.

I had thought to make it up to London proper once or twice, to see things.  The thing is, I’ve been London a couple of times before, and it’s cool to go there, but I didn’t really feel driven to return.  And I’d rollerbladed all over the interesting bits in my previous visits, seeing Winchester Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park, and 221B Baker Street, and the British Museum, and even sat in on a session of the House of Lords in Parliament — with Mark, no less, who was there on business. (In London, that is. Not in the House of Lords. He wishes.)

I *did* want to make a point to go back to the British Museum, though, because… come on!  It’s the British Fricken’ Museum!  Chock full of historical exhibits from all over the world, removed from their places of origin back when Britain was an Empire and could do pretty much whatever it wanted.  (They now respond to requests to return them with, “Hey, we preserved them from further damage and see no reason to stop now,” and “Look, we bought many of them fair and square,” and “No. We have nukes. Whachoo gonna do about it?”.)  So, I *had* to go back there.

And there it is! You can just see the outer wall there, out through the far windows of the pub! Magnificent, isn’t it? I can tell you, I felt very full of its magnificence when I left, nigh unsteady from the wonder of it all. Culture is a wonderful thing.

Oh, very well. Sigh. I *did* go inside the actual museum.  The thing is, when I got there, it was a Saturday, there was a considerable line to get in (thanks to the highly perfunctory bag check that you had to go through), and it was getting kind of close to lunchtime.  So, when I saw the Museum Tavern across the street, I thought, “What the hell?”, ditched the line, and had a wonderful (if a bit overpriced) lunch — a decent local stout and an odd sort of shepherd’s pie with a bit of lamb shank sunk into a bowl of potatoes and peas and gravy and such.  I figured maybe the line would be shorter when I got out, because the morning rush would die down, plus people would be going to lunch.  In the latter, I was proven exactly wrong.  The line was of almost identical length when I returned to it.  I, on the other hand, was much more fortified (and possibly slightly taller, if internal impressions count for anything), and between lunch and an audiobook, I found the line to be no great burden at all.  In really very little time, I was through the silly bit of bag checking and ready to enter the museum proper.

The very cool interior plaza of the museum, which looks like a somewhat later addition to the older, outer structures.

You may notice that one of the hanging posters on the central column is advertising a Hokusai exhibit. (He’s a famous Japanese woodcut artist, particularly known for piece known as The Wave.)  I was quite looking forward to seeing that exhibit. Unfortunately, while the general museum was free, the special exhibits require a ticket purchase, and while I would have gladly bought that ticket, they were sold out for the day.  I dallied briefly with being very sad about that, but in truth I have seen *many* woodcuts in my day, no few of them *in* Japan, and so I bore up fairly well under the disappointment.

I realize that it is my custom, during such museum visits, to include a large number of pictures, with accompanying commentary, some of which may even be said to venture towards the amusedly critical.  And I would like to do that here.  Unfortunately the British Museum, while certainly interesting, is not really what you could call amusing.  Much of it consists of things like this:

A hall chock full of some of the aforementioned, “acquired” marbles. Oooh, marbles. Seriously, what am I supposed to do with that?

I mean, it’s impressive. It’s dramatic. But is it art? Ok, sure, it *is* art, technically. You got me on that one. Damn.

And, really, without anything worthy of semi-sarcastic commentary, I might as well just include a link to Google Images.  In fact, I believe I will!  Here, take that, boring old British Museum!

I did wander around here for a few hours, but not as long as I normally would have, because it became an increasingly unpleasant space to be in.  In addition to the crowds, it was unpleasantly warm and humid in there, growing more so as the afternoon progressed.  I don’t know if it’s normally like that in the summer, or if their A/C was having problems, but the standing fans scattered about the halls were having little impact on the unpleasantness of the space, and I grew increasingly miserable until I’d had enough and bailed.  It was awesome to step outside into the cooler, fresher air, and the walk back to the subway station was much more pleasant.

A random bit of street. It almost made me think I should have stayed inside the city after all. More expensive, but I would have had something outside my door worth walking around in. This is always my quandary with cities: I don’t really want to be *in* them, and yet that’s the only way I’ll easily get out and see what’s there. It’s a balance that I’m constantly fiddling with.

Of course, once in the subway, my day was back to being warm and humid, but that’s not the A/C being down. It’s the fact that the tunnels are dug through clay, which has been banking the heat of their constant operation for a century, gradually getting hotter and hotter, until now it’s bordering on intolerable, with no ready solution in sight.  Here’s a fascinating article on the subject, which I enjoyed immensely while I was still in Edinburgh. Less so when I was experiencing the phenomena directly.  This is why experiencing the world through books, TV, games, and the web is *so* much better than so-called “real” life.  It’s much more comfortable, snacks are readily available, and you never have to hunt for a public restroom.

Speaking of which…

A Book!

I’m kind of torn between discussing some book that I had read recently, at that point, like one of the Hugo Award novels, or one that I read while I was in Croydon.  Honestly, there are just too many choices here. I think I’ll save the Hugo books for the Finland post, and go with what I actually read, L.E.Modesitt’s Assassin’s Price.

I’ve reviewed one of Modesitt’s books, Heritage of Cyador, at the end of one of my posts a couple of years ago, he’s one of my favorite authors.  As I noted there, he can be a bit formulaic, but I read pretty much anything he comes out with immediately.  This book was another set in his ongoing Imager series, set in a fantasy world where a few people can create objects out of nothing but their imagination (although with some costs), and Modesitt seems to be varying his formula a bit with his recent ones. The last books in that series didn’t involve a young man with growing powers, learning to use them in a fairly standard progression pattern; they centered on an older, established man dealing with a world and abilities he was very familiar with.  And this latest one, though it was back to the young-man learning-tradition, it was a man without powers in that world, dealing with essentially political problems and having to rely upon the powered people without really firmly understanding their world or what they do.

Side note: I’m not sure what the book cover really has to do with anything in the book. The scene it portrays is nowhere to be found. Hardly a unique sin in the literary world, but still.

It was an enjoyable read… but I’m not sure how broadly I can recommend it.  Quite a lot of it is really kind of expository, a lot of discussion about petty politics, and trying to get sensible solutions to problems implemented, and an intelligent young man in line for the throne learning stuff that will be useful to him.  There’s some assassination stuff, but it’s just brief bursts of action in an otherwise fairly dry story.  As I said, I enjoyed it, but… well… you have to like Modesitt, I guess.  If you want to read his work — and many of his books are well worth the read — start with The Magic of Recluce. Don’t start here.

Tuesday, August 8th — Leaving

I have rarely left a place as easily as I left Croydon.  Not merely because there wasn’t much to interest me there, or to hold me, but because the actual physical process of leaving and going to Helsinki was perhaps the simplest bit of international travel that I’ve had yet.  My hostess was away for the night, so I didn’t need to tiptoe around in the morning as I got ready.  I left on time for the walk to the train station, and had an easy wait for the 1/2-hour train to Gatwick Airport.

Though, if I’d wanted snacks while I was waiting, I’d have been out of luck. (These signs amused me greatly. Well done, retail servants!)

Airport security was pretty easy — I had the usual unpacking/repacking to do, and the pull to the side and double-checking of all my electronics, but I’ve long since worked out how to minimize the inevitable nuisance of that, so no worries.  I’d been concerned that Norwegian Air Shuttle would make me check my large pack, but they didn’t, and the overhead bins had plenty of room.  I got a nice window seat, folded my jacket behind me for lumbar support, and after a modest delay we were off to Finland!

Yaaay!  🙂

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So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Hey, now this is exciting!  I’m currently in Croydon, a suburb south of London, where I’ve been for about 3 weeks.  And with this entry on Edinburgh, I’m finally catching my travel blog back up nearly to current time. Yaaaaay!

See, the trick is, compress 4 months worth of time into a single blog entry!  I should have thought of this ages ago.  All you have to do is go back to a place that you’ve been to and written about before, and then stay there for 4 months and don’t see anything new.  Write the blog entry for it just as you leave… profit!

From now on, all of my stays will be for 4 months at a time.  So, which of my friends wants to be first when I go back to the States and do my U.S. tour next year?  No, wait, that’s not fair… I shouldn’t make you guys fight over it.  I’ll set up a separate page with an automatic lottery, and you can all draw numbers, and whichever person draws the number closest to the one I’m thinking of right now will have the pleasure of my company for 4 uninterrupted months!  That seems the fairest way to go about it.  I’ll set that up shortly and let you know when it’s done.

And tomorrow morning, I leave early and head to Gatwick airport, to fly to Helsinki, Finland, for a month, where I will be attending the World Science Fiction Convention, WorldCon 75.  I thought I’d have gotten the Edinburgh post out sooner in my Croydon stay, but shortly after I arrived here the Elder Scrolls Online had another one of their events, Midsummer Mayhem, and OMG there was so much killing to do! Thankfully, it only lasted about 10 days, but there was some stuff I did ahead of it, and then momentum carried me for several days afterwards, gradually trailing off.  Yesterday was the first day I really felt like I was getting back to normal.  (Their next big event involves a new addition to a side of the game that I’m never involved in, so I think I’ll have escaped that one. Whew!)

In the meantime, on to the topic at hand: Edinburgh.  I was in Edinburgh from March 17th — which I discovered (at my favorite local pub, to which I had made a beeline after dropping off my bags) to be Saint Patrick’s Day, so yaay that. (I don’t mean that I didn’t know 3/17 was St Pat’s day, but I hadn’t been thinking about it and was mildly surprised to find it suddenly upon me.)  And I left Edinburgh on July 17th, 3 weeks ago.  I was considering writing this entry before I left Edinburgh, but then the digital game store Steam had a summer sale, and I got all of the Fallout games before the current Fallout 4 (Fallout; Fallout 2; Fallout 3; and Fallout New Vegas; and all of their additional content) for about $24.  So I bought them, and was playing the original Fallout, from 1997, for my last couple of weeks in Edinburgh (preempting most of my work on this entry).  It’s a kind of odd game to play, but surprisingly decent for a 20 year old game.

BTW, looks like I’m not the only person who recently started a Fallout 1 playthrough.  (In the unlikely event that you actually care, the video above is mostly the setup and character creation, and the game play action properly starts in this video blogger’s episode 2.  So jump to that one if you can’t wait to see a tiny, indistinct human stab even tinier indistinct rats in a cave.  But this first episode has the game’s intro, which is reasonably entertaining.)

BTW, I just ran into this bit on Twitter, and it seems apt here.

Not that anyone here was complaining — nor should they, given the atypical interests of all of my friends. Indeed, having atypical interests is very nearly a requirement for me to like someone. But it’s beautifully stated, and is a sentiment that I find that all of the best people share.

Anyway, it’s for the best that I didn’t finish this until I left Edinburgh.  After all, the point is to have a single blog entry for my entire stay; I can’t do that if I publish it before I leave, now can I?

Thankfully, this is not the impossible task that it might seem because, as you’ll doubtless recall, I’ve been here before.  In fact, I’ve been here 3 times in the last year (and once before that, long ago, but that hardly counts).  The first time was for 8 days in May 2016 (as seen in 3 posts, starting here), and, because of having to wait at home for 2-½ days for a FedEx package that had insane delivery problems, I didn’t really feel like I’d been here properly.  So, after going on to Ireland for the summer, I decided to go back (instead of going on to Berlin), so I spent my fall in Scotland with a month in Glasgow and 6 weeks in Edinburgh, before flying home for the winter (via Dublin).  I never did write up my fall time on the blog.  I may go back and do those during my down time back in the States in November — Glasgow deserves treatment, at least.  But the long and the short of it is: most of the cool stuff in Edinburgh is largely described in those earlier posts, and my return trips have mostly just been enjoying those things more.  But I’ll see what I can rustle up for you.

Probably the most notable thing about this trip was that it started as an odd jumble of priorities that ended up with me extending my original plan of staying 2 months, and making it 4 months instead.  I talked about all that a few posts ago; it had the delightful result of giving me 4 months to just not have to worry about travel and chill for a while.  In theory, at least.  In practice, there was a lot of ESO, while feeling guilty for not writing the blog, and while getting increasingly tense about not having plotted my after-Edinburgh travel yet, and then 3-4 weeks of working on the travel plans and stressing over too many possible variations to pick from and too many pricey Scandinavian options and Airbnb hosts who hadn’t updated their listings or were slow getting back to me.  But, by late May, that all settled down, and I started in on the blog again, and everything started to relax, and the last 7 weeks have been almost entirely pleasant.  And I think that’s how it’s going to remain — as long as I keep up on the blog.  My subconscious seems annoyingly insistent that this activity is a necessary thing, and even buying it a fidget spinner didn’t help.  Stupid subconscious.  (Note: I did not buy my subconscious a fidget spinner.  This was humor.  Although, if I could figure out a way to do it without alerting my conscious mind about it, I totally would, because, wow, my subconscious could really use something to let off some of its nervous energy, and take its not-mind off things. I wish it would find a video game it likes; that’s done the rest of me a world of good.)


So, my flight into Edinburgh (from Barcelona) was meant to arrive at about 12:30, and ended up closer to 1:00, but other than having to send my host a couple of extra messages, that was no big deal.  Murphy wasn’t at home anyway, he was a few blocks away in a garden plot, weeding, and there was a keybox for letting myself in.  I’m not sure how one gets garden plots in Edinburgh, but there are a variety of places that the local council makes available to local residents — gated parks and whatnot — and this probably was part of such an arrangement.  Edinburgh seemed largely divided in what were effectively multi-block condominium complexes, where you own your unit, but you still pay fees for “the commons”, and they, in turn, take care of all matters outside of the walls of your unit, even to changing the light bulbs in your building stairwell.  It seems like a very agreeable way to divide a city into smaller, more manageable bits.

The bit that I was in is described here. It was a huge place, big enough for a sitcom about 3 or 4 starving hipsters in New York.  The room itself was large and warm and friendly, with old wood floors (stone in the kitchen), high ceilings, windows that looked north, and you could see bits of the Firth of Forth over the rooftops.  There was another rental room also, which had a young Spanish couple staying a bit longer term when I arrived, through the first month I was there.  The living room was almost unused, and Murphy slept in a large attic room upstairs (1 of 2 such).  The kitchen was kind of astounding: I’m thinking that Murphy has never found a useful kitchen tool that he didn’t buy, and use, and that kitchen was packed, often to the detriment of usable counter space.  The man has a carbonation system for making selzer water. He has a butcher-grade meat slicer, one of those big, spinning, slicing wheel things that give me nightmares.  He has a vacuum sealer, for vacuum sealing food in plastic envelopes!  There was a frig and freezer in the kitchen, and two more in a closet off the living room.  Apparently, he used to be a professional cook, and also an engineer, and we all know where that sort of combination leads.  Eventually, he started working at Airbnb, then rented this apartment from a Swiss woman (who seems to be grateful for a long-term tenant who handles all the repairs himself), and started using Airbnb to rent out the rooms.  Then he quit his Airbnb job, and now just lives off what he makes from hosting.  <cough> Slacker.<cough>

After dropping my bags off, I went to my favorite Edinburgh pub, Brewdog, and had their yummy goat cheese pizza and a new beer they’d just released that day, the Semi-Skimmed Occultist, which they had on tap.  My gods, that’s a good stout.  Brewdog is a recent Scottish brewery known for their eccentricity, and for their sometimes insanely strong beers.

They once made a beer that was 55% ABV (the percentage of Alcohol, by Volume, in the drink), called End of History, that came contained in a taxidermied animal. 
I love this with every fiber of my being.

For comparison, a typical Guinness is about 4.3%.  Most yeast starts to die by around 15%, and some strains make it to 25%; to get higher, I think you have to use special techniques like freezing the beer and removing the separated-out water ice, to increase the relative percentage of alcohol.  As I recall, a British temperance group made vocal complaints about the strength of Brewdog’s beers, on the principle that it encouraged irresponsible drinking.  So Brewdog responded by making one that was 0.5% ABV, and called it “Nanny State”.  The group, I heard, was not amused by being so roundly mocked — but Brewdog still makes Nanny State.  I ordered it once in Glasgow, because I *had* to try it — and I still remember the withering look of the bartender when I made my selection.  In truth… it wasn’t bad.  But I never repeated it, and I had Semi-Skimmed Occultist many times during my 4 months in Edinburgh, it never stopped being excellent.

After pizza and beers, I cleared out before the St Patrick’s Day crowds got large, and walked home, along familiar routes.  Very little had changed in the 5 months I’d been away, just a bit of construction here and there.

The true horror of the building’s sentience wasn’t that its cries for mercy weren’t heard. It’s that they were, but that the demolition continued anyway.

Not long after I got back, Murphy and the Spaniards returned, and I got a proper tour of the place.  I also got a bit of grim news.  Murphy’s Airbnb listing had mentioned Melody as a co-host, Murphy’s girlfriend, who’d been living with him for about a year I think.  Unfortunately, she had died within the last couple of months, in a rather unexpected and tragic fashion that I didn’t get the details about until shortly before I left.  I’m not going to describe it here — it’s rather a bit personal to be dumping into a public-facing travel blog page — but Murphy was struggling.  He’d canceled most of his bookings; I think I only got in because I’d booked long term and he knew he wouldn’t have to keep dealing with new people and turning over the room.  He did gradually get better while I was there, but he had his good days and his bad days, and there were days when he just didn’t come down from his room, and I can’t say that I blame him.  When he was around, I always found him smart, funny, and easy-going.  I enjoyed his company, and I quite liked his friends also, which is always a testament to a man’s character.  I even liked his dog, a frickin’ adorable German Schnauzer named Herman.  I get along with dogs well enough, but I’m not really a dog person — I liked Herman instantly, though.  (You’ll see pictures of him in the Airbnb listing photos.)  I’ll definitely look forward to seeing them again, next time I’m in Edinburgh, if he’s still hosting.

Anyway, this seems like a good time for a mood distraction:

The Spanish couple staying in the other guest room were nice enough; they were moving to the UK, and Murphy had said they could stay there, for reduced rent, if they helped take care of the place.  In the end, they didn’t help out as much as Murphy was hoping, and about 4 weeks after I got there he told them he was going to have to start renting out the room again and they’d have to find another place.  Then another friend of his, a really delightful Italian/Turkish woman (30? maybe?), named Ealga, needed a room closer to her new assistant manager job at a nearby cheese shop, and Murphy said she could rent the other upstairs room.  So, she moved in at around the 6 weeks mark.  Ealga was *great*.  Smart, friendly, into video games and a bit into manga… I had a bunch of great conversations with Ealga, and she brought me a little bag of wonderful decaffeinated coffee from the coffee roasters next to the cheese shop.  I need nothing more from a friend.

I got to meet Murphy’s best friend since college, Giles, who works as a freelance DJ up in Aberdeen, with (I’m told) a reputation for having a huge, eclectic library of music and a knack for building playlists to match pretty much any style or theme.  And Murphy’s friend Peter, an older (than me, at least) antiques dealer from London.  And I met Murphy’s parents a couple of times; his mother is American (Murphy had *very* little Scottish accent, although he claims that comes more from the world-traveling he did as an engineer), and his father owns the only fish cannery in the U.K.  Really.  Any tinned fished that I’d find in the supermarkets, no matter the apparent labeling, actually came from Murphy’s dad’s factory in Aberdeen, and I had all the tinned fish I could eat while I was staying there, including: interesting, experimental stuff that you don’t see in the stores: Sardines in Green Thai Curry, Sardines in Red Thai Curry, Mackerel in BBQ sauce; fish I’d never heard of, like Skippers, and Sild; and sauces I’d never heard of, like Peri Peri.

Some of the tins were labeled with various end-market packaging and descriptions, some of them were Mystery Fish, plain, unlabeled steel tins where you wouldn’t know what you were eating until you opened them. It. Was. Awesome!

Indeed, tinned fish was nearly the only thing I’d take from Murphy, who kept trying to offer food, or ask if I needed anything from the market, or suggest dinners.  It got to be a running gag that he’d keep offering and I’d keep politely turning him down.  I’d actually have taken him up on the dinners, except after the first few times that failed, I just gave up.  The failure was essentially because our schedules were about 4 hours offset.  Murphy would be up “early”, head over to get a Scottish breakfast takeout, and ask if I wanted some — but it would be 9am, and I’d have had breakfast 3-4 hours earlier.  (If I start eating random full meals between other meals, I’ll balloon up to a portly 160 lbs within the year.)

Or, he and his friends would propose dinner — at the unusually early hour of 9pm, out of consideration for me — and I’d think, “Ok. Sure. Let’s be sociable, it will be fun. I’ll have a snack to tide me over.”  And then 9pm would come, and 9:30, and there’d be *no* sign of dinner happening anytime soon, and I’d give up, have some cheese and oat crackers, and go to bed.

There was one time Murphy proposed fixing burgers, and eating *super* early at 6:30pm, and I said “Great!” Then, 6:30 came and went, and the other people weren’t there, and it was clear it wasn’t starting soon, so he insisted of fixing one burger for me, and sitting with me for company while I ate it.  Nice of him, to be sure; and it was a good burger, don’t get me wrong. But that really wasn’t the point of what was supposed to be a social occasion.  So, after a few of these, I just started saying, “Love to, but you *know* this never works.”

But other than that quirk, the interactions were everything that one could hope.  Once guests started staying in the other room again, mileage varied on my connection with them, but no one was disagreeable, and some of them made for great conversation.  And I got some great tips on visiting Estonia from a Belgian/Estonian couple; it cemented my (preexisting) desire to go there the next time I’m in Europe.  (Estonia is like Croatia, in that it’s invested in its infrastructure, and has great internet, and paperless government.  I’d read about this; apparently, as a foreigner, you can get “digital citizenship” in Estonia, with a variety of associated benefits.  I was advised to visit Tartu, in the south, instead of the capital of Tallinn.  Tartu is a college town, and cheaper and friendlier.)

Other than that, there were a few points of note.  One was that the water heater was a bit flaky.  I’m used to bathrooms and showers being weird, and often problematic, in about 2/3 of the places I stay, but this bathroom looked wonderful and modern and up to date, a wonderful relief.  Then I went to shower the first morning, and the heat wouldn’t come on.  I almost cried.  I wasn’t in the mood for a repeat of the daily cold showers that I’d had in Ireland last year, so I put up with being grungy and sent Murphy a message.  Then, the heat came back on a bit later.  Murphy explained that it was getting a bit flaky, and the 2nd or 3rd time it happened he showed me the steps needed to reset it so that it would work.  I then ended up being the water heater fixer guy, resetting it regularly for myself and for guests, and meeting the boiler repair guy a couple of times. (I think he came 3 times, and it got better, but still wasn’t perfect.) Murphy later thanked me with this cool bluetooth headband, with speakers embedded in the band where they can position comfortably right over your ears, and so flat that you can sleep on your side without feeling them — perfect for wearing and playing my white noise app when I go to bed.  My app plays the sound of a running creek — I set it to play for 3 hours and then slowly get softer and turn off, and it masks background noise pretty effectively.  But the sound is a bit tinny and harsh through the little iPhone speakers.  With this headband, it’s amazing.  The sound is rich, and full, and it surrounds me; I drift off to sleep cocooned in a gentle babbling brook.  (Ok, that sounds more cold and clammy than I intended. Thankfully the experience was auditory only.)  I was skeptical when Murphy said he was getting me a thank you gift, because gods can I not carry anything else on my travels.  But this headband is fantastic.

The second point of note is that the apartment was a little close to an intersection with a busyish street, and there was a bit of traffic noise.  Not normally too intrusive, but extra reason for the white noise app, especially when the weather warmed up and I had to leave the window open. (We had a bunch of warm, dry months while I was there, unusual for Scotland, and the locals were freaking out a bit over it.)  The street noise only became intrusive when they started repaving the road, a month before I was to leave. They said it would take the whole month, and I groaned.  But, in truth, it was only a big deal over maybe 10 days, near the beginning of the month.  And for probably 9 of those days, I just let the noise pass over me, and ignored it.  The other day, I got the hell out and went someplace more pleasant for a few hours until it was over.

Things I Did

As I mentioned previously, a lot of the things I did during this visit were repeats of things I’d done in prior visits.  That’s Ok, because I liked doing those things, so doing more of them was perfect.

Walking: Holyrood Park & Arthur’s Seat

Every 2 or 3 days I’d go walkabout, usually to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, which was about a 50 minute walk up and down hills across New Town and Old Town, including a fairly steep hike up the hill itself.  At the beginning, I’d usually divert to one of the secondary hills because (a) the main Seat was crowded with tourists so you couldn’t just sit quietly and admire the view, and (b) some worry about heart failure.  This is the difference between hiking in your 20s and 30s and hiking in your 50s when you spend most of your day in front of the computer. In your 20s and 30s, when your heart is pounding from the exertion you think, “This is great, I feel so alive!”. In your sedentary 50s you think, “Is this the day I have the fatal heart attack?”  (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.)

So, I’d go up to the secondary hill, with a snack or a bit of lunch, and just sit for a while and look out to the south over the suburbs south of Edinburgh, and enjoy the cool/cold breeze/wind/gale and the sun/clouds/spatter of rain, and just appreciate how great it was to be there.

Looking southeast, with a bit of the Firth of Forth in the picture to the east (left). Visible in the lower left is a little dirt track, worn into the earth by a tall black guy who often showed up at around 11am and walked back and forth along that same 15′ long bit of hill for 20-25 minutes, with headphones in. We saw each other 1/2 a dozen times, and had graduated to a friendly nod by the time I had to leave. We never got to the “Hey” stage, which was a lost opportunity, but how often you never get around to saying the important things, and then one of you is gone.

Over time, that walk up to the hill got easier and easier, my heart pounded less and less, and in the last 6 weeks or so I started occasionally walking up to the high point, Arthur’s Seat proper, and hanging out for 5 minutes or so, before leaving the tourists and walking down to my secondary hill.  The improvement in general fitness was very gratifying.

Also gratifying were the podcasts and audio books I started listening to on my walks.  As much as I like feeling connected to my surroundings, there’s only so many days you can walk across what is largely the same patch of city before you start to need something to occupy your mind.  I caught up on all of the Radiolab podcast (which I *highly* recommend; their episode on forests is kind of mind blowing), and Welcome to Night Vale, and then started in on Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats, and a collection of Lovecraft-inspired stories, and Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, and now I’m an audio book convert.  I listen to them mostly in tiny bits, as I’m making meals, which is better for a non-fiction podcast than for an engrossing story, but boy did they make those regular walks more enjoyable. And maybe even possible — it’s hard to keep going out, knowing that you’ll see the same things every day.  Having something great to listen to at the same time really turned that around.

Walking: Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument

When I spent that first week in Edinburgh, a year ago, one of the places that I’d meant to get to was Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument.  But there was the whole FedEx problem, and I just didn’t have time.  When I came back for 6 weeks in the fall, it was firmly on my to-do list, until it got moved to my to-didn’t list, as so many things do.  But this time, about 1/2-way through my stay, I made it.

The Holy Trinity of landmarks in Edinburgh are the Castle, Arthur’s Seat, and the Calton Hill, and this plaque from the little museum inside the Nelson Monument (the tower you’ll see on the hill) has a pretty good shot of it. In truth, there’s not really much going on here. There’s the tower (the Nelson Monument), a little stand of greek columns intended to resemble the Parthenon except the money ran short (the National Monument), and a small observatory (that was closed when I was there).

I can’t argue with their claim about the view though.  Here’s 3 pano shots that cover the full 360° from the top of the Nelson Monument — which was a considerable climb up the narrow, circular, tower stairs, and serious wind at the top.

Looking south, with the edge of the National Monument’s Greek Columns in the lower left and the edge of the Firth of Forth out to the east, Arthur’s Seat right of that to the south, all of Old Town stretching to the right, with Edinburgh Castle at the far end, Princes Street running west.

Turning west, covers much the same territory, but I couldn’t stand where the other photographer was, and he looked to be there a while. But here we look out along Princes Street, with Princes Street Gardens running along it, forming the boundary between Old Town and New Town, with the West End beyond it.

Looking North to the Firth of Forth.

I had a bunch of trouble posting and describing those, because I cannot help flipping Edinburgh around in my head, to put the Old Town, Holyrood Park, and the Castle to the north.  It’s the weirdest thing.  Then I start writing things like “Princes Street running east”, and catch myself later and have to start combing through the text looking for all the mirrored references.

I think, in my head, I place the top of any map as north, and I also place all the good stuff at the top of my mental map.  QED, the Park, Arthur’s Seat, and the Castle must be north, and where I lived in New Town must be south, along with the Firth.  It takes a modest effort of will to remember them the other way.  Fun fact: ancient maps used to be oriented with East at the top, because that’s where the sun rose.  And that’s why we call the lands to the east the Orient.  Why some people seem to think “oriental” is a slur for asians is a mystery to me, since it literally means “people from the lands at the top of the map”.  But, then, why people choose to get upset by things often confuses me.  The next Doctor Who will played by a woman, get over it. (If it’s never going to be the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, again — and it never will be, no matter how many small animals you sacrifice to the gods, trust me on this — then I really don’t see why anyone would care who plays him. Her. Them.)

Anyway, as I said, there wasn’t really too much up here, but there were a lot of tourists showing up to see it, and I got to check it off my list.  And it got me out of the house, so yaay that.

Walking: Leith Walk

Among the things that Murphy used to bug me to go to was Leith Walk, a little park and walking path the ran along the Leith River, just a few blocks south north of our place.  I’d actually walked much of it south north towards the Firth of Forth, within a week of two of my arrival, but it took me until about a week before I left to walk it east west.

It’s a nice longish walk, along a path through the narrow park that runs along the river. Probably super nice to have a house overlooking, and hear the sound of birds and river and small waterfalls instead of city traffic.

If you keep going, you reach two art museums in fairly short order; the park continues on up the river from there, but I did not.  (And Murphy claims that there is no need to.)  I never did go to the two art museums, but it’s important to save something for next time, otherwise I might not be tempted to come back.

Walking: Other

And, of course, there was other, miscellaneous walking.  Even walking familiar routes can lead to delightful surprises.

Passed this amusing van, on the way home from the grocery store, but it would barely be worth mentioning except that, literally just around the corner…

Soul mates, unaware that their true loves were but yards away, out of sight around the corner.

I have never been so torn between hating a thing and loving it.

They’re speaking my language.

In a similar vein. (I assume it’s a deliberate mockery of the Choose Life motto, and I approve.)

I don’t know… I like good bread too. I think every grain has to find its own path in life, and we shouldn’t judge those who choose the road yeast traveled by.

I took this picture because of the beautiful sky. Only looking at it later did I notice the warning sign, that the road could crumble beneath you at any time. I didn’t realize that sinkholes were a big problem in Edinburgh, but kudos to the Scots for being so blasé about it.

Amazing sky is amazing.

Right up until the mood swing, which is still amazing, but you might just want to hustle inside.

Yeah, inside seems good. There was hail that day, as I recall.

But, as I mentioned, the weather while I was there was comparatively warm and sunny most of the time.

A view looking south east towards Old Town, next to the National Gallery between Old Town and New Town.

Or, from a few feet away, the view over Princes Street Gardens. I mean, my gods! After 4 months there, I was really feeling like it was proper to move on to the next place. But now I’m wishing I’d written all this before I left, because browsing these pictures is making me homesick.

Of course, they had hail in Glasgow just yesterday, so who knows how long this good weather held up after I left.


I went back to the National Museum a few times.  It was free, and they had restrooms.  Also, a decent cafe that wasn’t terribly expensive. (And a serious restaurant, with a view, that was more so, but I went there last time.)  I kept swinging by the gift shop, thinking that I’d find a cool scarf or pin or something, but no such luck.

You can tell it works, because they’ve already erased Pluto. #NeverForget

I also went to the National Art Gallery, and saw their Beyond Caravaggio exhibit, but they didn’t allow pictures. (Not sure what these are, then.)

Other Events

One of my crowns came loose, and I had to find a local dentist to re-affix it.  Murphy suggested someone a bit over an hour’s walk away across the heart of the city, and they were able to see me almost immediately.  Delightful people, and much perturbed about the unseasonable weather.  I confessed that it was my fault; I love the rain, and wherever I go, it mostly stops until I leave. California? Droughts. I leave? Rains and flooding. Rainy Thailand? Here, let me fix that for you. Boom! Instant drought conditions.  Southern Ireland? Unseasonably warm and sunny while I was there. Edinburgh? The same.  Now I’m in London, and today was sunny and 82°.  I think next year I should look into submarine rentals. It’s the only option left, if I want water above me on any kind of regular basis.

My long standing allergy to any kind of denim other than black Levi’s 505s got worse.  And I’m not kidding here — for 10 years, wearing any other denim starts to make my skin raw and irritated and progressively worse until — well, I have to stop wearing them before I do damage. Except for black Levi’s 505s. I have no idea why they’re different, but ended up owning 8 pair, 7 of which are buried in a storage container in Washington state.  But the 8th pair, that I’ve been wearing every day for the last 18 months of European travel, finally wore out.  So I ordered a new pair (with some difficulty, because of weird English textile import rules) and, within 3 weeks of wearing them, the reaction started.  My best guess is that they’re using a new dye now, more similar to the dye used on their other jeans, and that’s what I’m reacting to.  I thought maybe I’d been able to fix the reaction using some holistic stuff, but instead I’ve just changed it: now, wearing them for even a day gives me massive headaches — the last one, last week, took me nearly a week to recover from. (Part of the reason I kept playing Elder Scrolls Online after the event was over last week; I didn’t at all feel like going out. Or thinking too hard.)  So that’s crazy annoying. ☹️  I’ve found a pair of heavy cloth pants that aren’t denim, but should still be good for cooler weather, and I’ve given the 505s to a local thrift shop, but I’ll miss them. They were sooo comfy, like good jeans are supposed to be.  At least, in a few years, I’ll unpack my storage container in a new home and my good, old-make jeans will be waiting for me. Something to look forward to in my old age.

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 when it came out, a week earlier here than in the U.S. A super fun movie — maybe I liked #1 a bit more, but you can’t go wrong with Kurt Russell playing an insane, sentient planet.

The new Spider-Man: Homecoming, out now, was fantastic.  Witty, and fun, and very new in style and tone from the prior movies, much more similar to a modern Marvel movie than the previous renditions.  Perhaps the best portrayal of Peter Parker as a smart but impulsive 15 year old who gets super powers dropped in his lap and has to try to learn the ropes, getting in way over his head most of the time.  The previous Peters were all basically young adults.  Not that I’m complaining about them; to my mind, Spider-Man 2 may be the best superhero movie ever made.  But they were still darker, more mature movies.  This one is light and energetic and fun.  And it has Michael Keaton, who is amazing, playing a really good role really well.

The new season of Sense8 came and went and was (mostly) brilliant. My friend Jenni gave me sooooo much grief for not finishing the whole 11 episode series the weekend that it came out, OMG, you have no idea.  And then Netflix canceled it, cutting away the option for a season 3, and leaving us with more than a few cliffhangers unresolved.  And then they agreed to a 2-hour wrap up movie.  So, we’ll see where that goes.

And then Neil Gaiman’s American Gods TV adaptation came out, and it was amaaaazing!  That, I binged-watched all in one day (8 episodes, just doable), once the season wrapped up.   It aired as weekly episodes on Starz and was available on Amazon with a Starz subscription.  But I plan to buy the series, and I’m *not* paying Starz twice: 2-3 months of subscription fees while it’s airing, and then a second time to own it when it’s released.  So, I waited until it was complete, subscribed for the free trial, and the canceled after I watched it.  Which I wouldn’t normally do, but I’m totally buying it from them when they’ll sell it to me.  Anyway, it’s a genius adaptation of the novel, and I highly recommend it.

Let this stand in for all the things that I didn’t do. An improv comedy show! I would totally go to that, if they had it at, say, 1:30 pm. Maybe — maaaaybeee…. — even at 6:30 pm. But 10:30 pm? Nuh uh, no way. If this was 1985, and the only way to get entertainment outside of books and telly was to go to live shows, so you went whenever they chose to put them on, sure. But 2017? I have hundreds of hours of entertainment that I’ve ripped or recorded and not even watched yet, not to mention the countless thousands I could stream. You think I’m going across the city to watch a show that may or may not be any good and doesn’t even start until 10:30? Ha ha ha ha ha ha, you’re funny! Yeah, no.

One last Edinburgh image: Cherry Blossom Season!

And finally there were books.  More than a few really, and a bunch of short stories and novels and novelettes and whatnot, as part of voting for the Hugo awards, given out at WorldCon 75.  But that, as they say, is another story.  😁



Postscript: A Brief Warning

WordPress recently released a new version that’s giving people some update headaches — particularly people hosted on Aabaco (formerly Yahoo Business) servers, as I am —  and I am one of those people having these problems.  Yahoo and Aabaco have never been great for web support, and I’ve thought about leaving a few times, but it will be a hassle to move the site and my email addresses and old mail and all of that, so I’ve held off.  But I may soon have to and, in the meantime, my fingers are crossed that you’ll be able to read this entry.  So far, it works, but everything is suuuper slow to load.  So, if sometime in the next month, you’re not able to access my e-mail or this site, that will probably be the reason.  Aabaco/Yahoo/Wordpress problems, and/or me being in transition to a new host.  You all have my phone number, if email fails and contacting me becomes important. (However unlikely that is.)

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♬ Da duh-duh duh-duh dum dum, Barcelona! ♬

(Yes, I know, it sounds stupid. But I swear that not a day went by without my singing that to myself at least once.  My powers of free association are both a blessing and a curse, like… I don’t know, something else that’s a lot like that.)

As with my last post, I am currently in Edinburgh, with about 11 days left until I head down to London for 3 weeks, and thence onward to Helsinki, Finland, for Worldcon 75, the World Science Fiction Convention.  As an attendee, and a member for the year, I get to vote for the Hugo Awards, science fiction’s equivalent of the Oscars.  As with the Oscars, there are other SF awards, like the Locus, the Nebula, Spectrum, and others, some of which are arguably of more merit.  But, still like the Oscars, the others don’t get nearly as much press coverage.  There’s more I could write about that, but it probably makes sense to save it for my Helsinki post(s) — by which time I will have forgotten what I meant to write about, saving us both a great deal of time and effort.  Winning!

Anyway, my only real point in bringing up the Hugos is that, since I get to vote on them, I have been reading the nominees.  (Again) like the Oscars, voters get packets of the nominees, so I’ve been reading through free PDF copies of a bunch of really good novels, novellas, novellettes, novellinis, novellejos — I don’t know, I’ve been getting kind of lost in all the categories — graphic novels, short stories, art, and so forth.  I was pleased to find that I had read a bunch of this year’s nominees already — not even 1/3, mind you, but definitely more than usual — and the others have been pretty uniformly enjoyable.  The only stand out sucky one was a short story by a guy with a reputation as an a-hole, who was only on the list because there’s a big a-hole voting block who nominated him.  (More on that in the later post, if I remember it.)  The flip side is that, while the materials are good, having to read a bunch of them for a deadline feels rather like having a lot of homework and being behind on it.  Not unlike having a travel blog. So, super awesome to have both of those going on at once.  Plus, did I get enough walking in today?  Did I do yoga? Did I meditate? Stay current with new Elder Scrolls Online content? Read enough Twitter? Read enough Hugo nominees? Make any progress on the travel blog? Go see something interesting locally? Eat something even a little different from what I’ve been eating every day all week?  Do any of the dozen or so things I vaguely sort of ought to do but keep putting off because of all the other things?

This is why people become hermits, you know.  I mean, *proper* hermits, not this genially misanthropic thing I’ve got going.  They head off to a shack in Peru and live in a hut with nothing for company but a solar charger, the collected Harry Potter audiobooks, and a llama named Dolly, and you don’t hear from them for 5 years, and when they return they have a limp and a beard and eyes that have seen too much, eyes that look right through you, and, yeah, they shave, and they clean up, and they dress normally enough, but the first dinner party you insist on holding around them they drink silently for the first half hour before responding to a casual question about their time “down south” with suddenly blazing eyes and Words Humans Are Not Meant To Hear. None return from *that* dinner party unchanged, and none will tell you what they heard, and barely half of them will live out the year.

So, just FYI, that’s what I’ve been doing in Scotland.  Also, Edinburgh has finally had a patch of cool, rainy weather, which has been wonderful.  It means I have to work harder on getting enough walking exercise, but it’s still awesome.  So much better than all the warmth and sunshine we’d been having here, which even the locals find a bit unnatural. Unnatural… yesssssss.

So, currency achieved… where was I?

A Linksys To The Past

My last day in Seville was Friday, February 17th, though it was barely a day in Seville at all, since I was up before dawn, finishing the last of my packing and cleaning, and heading out by around 7:30am to meet the 8:50am train to Barcelona.  A 25 minute walk through morning streets that seemed very different from the Seville I’d become used to: everyone I passed seemed very purposeful.  Of course, you wouldn’t have many tourists walking around then, and I’d expect that in cities/cultures that stay up later, the folks up earlier in the morning have a damn good reason to be up that early.  But I almost felt like I was seeing a different city, and kind of regretted not having been up and about that early before.  Not that there would have been anything to do.  Not that I’d have done those things if there were.

Anyway, I got to the train station in plenty of time, negotiated with a few machines until I found one that would agree to give me the ticket I’d preordered, stood in a surprisingly long line to get a breakfast-sandwichy thing to have for second breakfast once I was on the train, and then settled down to wait for the platform number to be posted — which happened right when I was disassembling parts of my packs for better arrangement.  I cursed, quickly reassembled them, and quick-trudged off to the train, sitting down with a whole 5 minutes to spare.  (Gotta say, I’m really not a fan of the “Hey, we have no idea where you have to go until *right* before you have to be there” thing.  But I guess it still beats dealing with the TSA (or local equivalents), so whatevs.)

The 5-1/2 hour train ride goes north through the middle of Spain, through Madrid, and then drifts east to reach Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast.  I suppose a reprise of the earlier map of Spain would be in order here:

Spain. The capital, Madrid, is pretty much dead center. Seville is south and west, towards the Atlantic, and Barcelona (my destination for month 2) is in the northeast.

The ride was pleasant enough; I had a forward facing window seat, treating me to more views indistinguishable from Southern California:

Pretty enough, in a semi-arid sort of way, especially in the morning light, but not worth elaborating upon with a great many pictures. If you feel like you’re missing out, take the 405 north out of LA for a couple of hours. Same difference.

I did have a seat companion to ignore for about half the trip, but the ignoring thereof was not a trial.  I don’t think I’ve had a proper conversation with a public transit companion since my bus ride from the airport to the downtown terminal in Taipei.  I’m pretty decent at matching conversation, but not terribly adept at (nor inclined towards) starting it, so if my companions aren’t talkers, little talking will be had.  Unless, of course, something obviously funny presents itself — but in my experience the results of assaying that sort of thing vary pretty widely.  On this trip, no such events presented themselves, and I have no complaints.


We arrived at the Barcelona Sants station at 2:25 in the afternoon… and I suppose this would be a good time to drop a map of the city:

The central part of the city, where I tended to wander. My Airbnb was at the circled star just north of the center, the airport is about 30 minutes south along the coast, and there are plenty of museums and parks and a zoo and an aquarium — judging by what I see, looking at the map here. I’ll take Google’s word for it.

There’s a lot that can be said about Barcelona, and I intend to say only a very little of it. Culturally, there are several points that I find of particular interest:

1) It’s the capital of Catalonia, one of the semi-autonomous regions of Spain.  Spain seems to be a bit of an uneasy federation, not unlike the United Kingdom only grouchier about it.  You may have heard of the Basque region in the north, which has been fighting off-and-on for independence for many years.  Catalonia appears to be only a little happier about the arrangement.  I really only saw this demonstrated in the area of language: Catalan is not quite Spanish.  So, you’d look at restaurant menus at and see things written in the two languages that, as a person fluent in neither, looked almost identical.  And the national art museum had bilingual plaques, with descriptions written in Catalan and Spanish.  Given the number of international tourists in Barcelona, the amount of space devoted to 2 local languages, in place of Spanish OR Catalan and some more internationally useful language like (just to pick one out of the air) English… this is kind of hard to read as anything other than a big F.U. to the Spanish government.

There was some talk, during all of this Brexit stuff going on in the U.K., that an attempt by Scotland to break away into its own country and join the EU might be blocked by Spain.  The Spanish government really doesn’t want to talk about parts of countries breaking out and becoming independent, because as far as I can tell they’d lose the Basque region in a heartbeat, and Catalonia almost as quickly.  Then Theresa May and her government did some new stupid thing that annoyed the Spanish (I think it was about the status of Gibraltar), and Spain piped up, “Nooo, no problem, you Scots could go right ahead, we have no objections at all!”  Heh.  Politics is fun!  (When you can look at it from the outside.)

BTW, during a break soon after writing that paragraph, I was browsing Twitter and this story synchronistically came up in my feed:

Catalan independence: Plan for quick split from Spain after vote.

Just in case you were wondering if this was idle speculation on my part.  🙂

2) It’s a very modern city.  There are old buildings to be sure, that date back to medieval times (and excavations going back to 5000BC), but much of the central city was rebuilt in the 1800s by modern planners, so there’s a clear street grid, wide avenues, large and frequent plazas, fairly uniform building heights of 4-7 stories, and some amazing architecture.  More on that later.

4) Related to that, Gaudi. A world-famous Catalan architect (1852-1926), he seems to be *the* big local hero, and has architecture and art all over Barcelona, and plenty of other architects were inspired by him.  I feel like I’m giving him short shrift to just mention him here and then move on — he is, after all, kind of a big deal.  But I’ll have more on that later and you can always Google his buildings.

3) Finally, back in the prehistoric days of 1992, Barcelona hosted the Olympics, which had two effects.  First, they modernized even more things, built more public transit, built a subway system, and generally enhanced the infrastructure to get ready for it, and have been benefiting from that investment ever since, even in Spain’s currently tough economic times.

Second, it was the first time I’d ever really heard of Barcelona, and as I watched the Olympics coverage I was astonished to realize that Spaniards were Europeans!  This, of course, sounds absurd. Of course they are!  But, growing up in San Antonio, Texas, “Spanish” really sort of implied “Mexican”, and without really thinking about it I had subconsciously assumed that Spaniards looked like Mexicans.  Of course, they don’t.  Mexicans are primarily aboriginal Americans (and, going further back, Asians), with varying degrees of Spanish (European) blood mixed in, and Spaniards sit somewhere in the French/Italian European bloodlines.  And, to be clear, if you’d asked me, “What do Spanish people look like, ethnically?”, and given me any reason at all to think about the question, I’d have spit up the right answer.  But, without thinking about it, it took seeing pictures of Barcelona and Barcelonians in the Olympics coverage for me to suddenly go, “Oh, wow, they’re totally Europeans! Of course! Of course, they would be. Duh!”

For comparison, I grew up mostly in Texas, and didn’t realize why it was called “The Lone Star State” until I was in my late 20s.  Then it suddenly occurred to me to wonder, and I immediately realized that our state flag had 1 star on it.  But I’d never consciously thought about the name before, it was just a predefined label.

For further comparison, I didn’t realize that people had accents until I was in 8th grade.  I’d moved around a lot as a kid, been around all sorts of people from different parts of the country, and my mother’s family spoke a more accentless English (if there can be said to be such a thing) than most of my neighbors.  So, I just kind of thought that people talked however they talked — I didn’t really notice the differences, and the idea that there were regional similarities never occurred to me.  Then, in junior high, I had a Texas History teacher from Brooklyn, with a strong Brooklyn accent, and that’s when it clicked.  “Oh, wait, he’s not just a unique example of himself, he’s part of a group of people who talk that way, and that’s what accents are!”

These little enlightenment experiences still stand out to me, years later.  Any embarrassment at having not noticed a fairly common thing is thoroughly dwarfed by the pleasure of the realization.  (And, given the number of daft things many people believe, that never crossed my mind and that I still have trouble crediting that people can buy into, I’m going to claim I’m still ahead of the game.)

But I digress.

Moving on

The Barcelona Sants train station is circled on the map above, a little west of center, and it conveniently connects to a subway line that runs north east along the major streets, exactly where I needed to go.  I navigated it without too much trouble, and found myself coming up right in front of a Gaudi building, the Casa Milà, just a couple of blocks southeast of where I was staying.

Mind you, this isn’t the best shot of the building; for that, I direct you to Google. But it’s a pretty famous building, fluid and organic looking, that I recognized immediately — and to see it just as I came out of the subway, as my first step into Barcelona, was kind of cool. So, you get the picture I took, probably more to memorialize the occasion for myself than for any tangible benefit to you. You’re welcome.

Looking the other way got me this view:

Casa Mila Adjacent. This is effectively just a random city view, but it does highlight a few things: really broad streets, sidewalks, big bike lanes, lots of motorbikes, lots of public transit, pleasant architecture on even fairly utilitarian buildings, and a little of me, in the upper left. (I rarely include myself in these shots so, again, you’re welcome.)

It was, of course, the middle of February and thus theoretically winter, which can be shown by the woman in a heavy overcoat at the left, and the trees with no leaves.  This was pretty much the only way I could tell; it felt like a pretty comfy spring day to me.

I walked easily to my Airbnb place, which was a quiet building set back about 2 blocks north from the main central street that cuts diagonally across the city’s grid (inventively named “The Diagonal Avenue”), managed to correctly buzz the apartment, and made my way up 3 of the 4 floors to be let in by Ian, the college-age son of the flat owner — who was a very attractive woman perhaps a hair younger than I whose name I confess I’m now struggling to recall.  I could swear it started with an “M”… Margueritte? Magdalena? Madre De Ian? I don’t know; I rarely had occasion to use it, and it’s now 4 months later.  She was *super* nice and we shared an interest in yoga, but she spoke very little English and I know barely a dozen words of Spanish, so it was basically a lot of smiling warmly at each other for a month.  They had another guest staying a bit longer term, a 30-ish Italian guy who spoke (I think) decent Spanish and a bit of English, and I think was in Barcelona looking for work — though I only know that from hard-not-to-overhear phone calls, since we barely exchanged more words than I did with… Mariana(?).

Most of my conversation was with Ian, who spoke fluent English, had done some early college in Atlanta, Georgia, and was now near graduating in Barcelona while working essentially as the software architect for a startup company creating computerized menu/ordering systems for restaurants.  Oh, and he was a big anime fan.  We’d already bonded over the internet when I booked the place, and we’d both anticipated sharing a great deal of anime during my stay… but before I got there he’d ended up largely moving out to a place closer to the startup and to the university, to reduce his commute, and I ended up almost never seeing him, which was a pity.  The few times we talked, I found him delightful company.  Oh well.

(There was also a friendly and mellow white bull terrier — not my fave breed of dog, but perfectly agreeable otherwise.  There was, I was told, a younger brother, currently studying philosophy at the university.  And I’m not sure where their father might have been, but Ian never said word one about him, so I’m inclined to guess that he’d either passed away or else left under unpleasant circumstances.  Neither possibility really encourages inquiry, so I thought it best to leave it as an unknown.  I’ve blithely ignored things that were far more my business than this.)

Ian was pretty much running the Airbnb aspect of the place, and it’s his photo attached to the listing.  He was also responsible for setting up the two WiFi networks that covered the long, thin apartment, and I had to give him kudos on the network names:  “A Linksys To The Past” and “Virus Gratis”.   In case you don’t get them, the first is a play on a WiFI router manufacturer named Linksys, merged with a classic Nintendo game, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past”.  The second promises “Free Virus” if you connect to it.  I particularly liked this sticker on his laptop:

I promise you, all of my techy readers are laughing at this. (For the rest of you, I could sum it up as “Save your current code changes to the network before fleeing the fire”, but the comedic effect would be quite lost. This joke is not for you. Move along.)

So, yeah, Ian was my kind of people.

The room itself was long and narrow, with a window overlooking some rooftops, and the WiFi was generally quite good — though it could bog down something fierce in the evenings after people started getting off work.  There wasn’t a lot of room for yoga; just a narrow walkway between the bed and the large freestanding closet, but I angled and contorted and made do.  I found organic grocery stores, and settled in for the month.

Depriving Barcelona of Its Brightest Ornament

“The sage knows without traveling.
He sees without looking.
He works without doing.”
— Lao Tzu

He travels without touring.  I have to confess, Barcelona has the dubious distinction of being the city that I cannot help feel got the shortest shrift from me, of all the places that I have been.  I don’t know why, but I really was *not* in the mood to be going places.  I barely was in Seville, and even less so in Barcelona.  Some of that undoubtedly derives from my immersion, at the time, in Elder Scrolls Online.  As I wrote a couple of posts ago, they had a succession of celebratory events and rewarding activities that, while they eventually grew to be too much of a good thing, were still pretty much at the very peak of Good Thingness when I arrived in my new residence.  So, any inclination that I might have had to go out had to fight pretty hard with Fun Stuff To Do Inside.  And it’s always been my nature to get immersed in the things that interest me — as, I suppose, it should be.

When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.
— Shunryu Suzuki

Of course, as a counter argument, I did get what felt like a prodding e-mail from Airbnb the other day, with a message that I captured via Twitter:

Well, regardless of what I should or shouldn’t have been doing, what I *was* doing while in Barcelona was playing ESO, plus Fallout Shelter, watching YouTube, watching Luke Cage on Netflix, and other mostly indoor sorts of things, with occasional trips out every 3 or 4 days to walk around the city.  And I was there for a month, so I did get to see some stuff…


Barcelona is — by far — the most architecturally interesting city that I’ve been in.  I mentioned early that the central city was rebuilt in the 1800s, so (a) it’s got a really modern layout and (b) it was rebuilt at a time when people like Gaudi were experimenting with architecture, and even his less experimental predecessors and peers still thought buildings shouldn’t just be functional (as opposed to the later, hideous, Bauhaus movement) but also aesthetically pleasing.  So, walking through most of Barcelona is a long series of these sorts of things:

Random street corner. All the minor intersections had corners that had the edges cut away — really so that it was easier to see cross traffic, but with the side benefit that you’d get these large, open intersections with nice views. And you can see: the buildings are all of varying styles, but they look nice, generally fit well together, and open onto pleasingly wide streets.

Another one.

And another one.

Tired of the pleasing-but-kind-of-traditional? Here, how’d you like to live in a digital circuit board? You can cosplay as characters from Tron.

A street near my place. Just *look* at the number of different styles on display here, but they all hang together well.

I could go on with these for a long time, but you get the idea.  And that’s not even getting to the fancy stuff, like that organic Gaudi building from above. Or this one:

The Casa Batlló is the one with the organic shapes and the dragon scale roof, just left of the sandy corner building. In any other city, the buildings around it would attract the attention; here, they’re pretty normal.

Or the grander intersections:

(I spent a lot of time at this intersection, trying to figure out where the hop-on-hop-off tour bus stopped. I never did find it there, and had to catch a different line on a different day.)

Or the plazas:

Or the same plaza in slightly better focus due to less movement. And with better jams. And pigeon tides:

Or other plazas:

A large plaza 1/2 a block off La Rambla, where one could sit outside and dine. I did not, because every time I tried to look at a menu, a staff member came up to attentively watch me as I read it. I’m not going to steal it! Go stare at someone else, I can’t concentrate! So I went elsewhere to eat, a place where they knew how to properly ignore customers. But still, this sort of space is the best sort of city outdoor dining: the kind away from traffic. Most big cities that have outdoor tables have them right next to passing traffic, and I *hate* that. How is noise and smog making *anything* better? Barcelona has a *ton* of outdoor dining, tucked away from the roads. Kudos for that.

And then there’s the public art:

These 2 women walking by this famous memorial to the great transporter malfunction of 2257, like it was nothing. For shame.

And random mini-parades:

Started walking north from my place and suddenly tripped across a little mini-parade, with musicians and horse drawn carriages and people in the carriages throwing candy out onto the street. Which sounds pretty cool, until you come back through a few hours later and your feet stick to the ground because of crushed and melted candy for blocks around the parade route, and for a day or two after. This may have been connected to something Carnival related; there were celebrations related to that, most notably about 1/2 an hour south along the coast in Sitges, the West Hollywood of Europe. But I didn’t see any in my area, except for a day that people dress up (like we would do at work for Halloween), and I ran into a random guy in a creditable Thor costume. Good enough.

And of course the food in Barcelona, on those few occasions that I ate out, was fantastic.

Flaherty’s Irish Pub. They made a decent Irish coffee, but I confess that the fish and chips and mashed peas were a bit more food than I really needed at one sitting.

If there were two areas where I felt like Barcelona suffered a little, the first was in the car exhaust pollution.  Spain has one of the poorer air qualities in Europe, and a long day walking around traffic tended to make me feel a bit ill.  (The 2 days I took the open double-decker tour buses around the city rather did me in.)  This is aggravated by the fact that it’s a dry climate — it rained a few days while I was there, but generally it was temperate and sunny — so the pollution isn’t washed out of the sky the way it would be in rainier places.  Seville was much the same, except that there were so many little, narrow streets with little or no traffic that I didn’t find myself breathing it as much.  So, that was a down side to Barcelona.

And the second was that it was (for them) winter, and most of the trees were barren of leaves.  This is hardly the city’s fault, but there were some promenades where I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out.

“La Rambla”, an avenue leading towards the water with a very wide central median on which were placed shopping booths and restaurant seating. It was nice enough when I was there, but imagine it in the summer, shaded by the leafy trees, with cool air coming up from the water. It must be lovely.

But, sleeping trees aside. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city as intrinsically pretty. (Not including Barstow, of course. That wouldn’t even be a fair comparison.)

There were a few other highlights.

Park Guell

Park Guell is a park designed by Gaudi, just a little north of where I was staying.  I went there twice, the first time just walking by because they seemed to be charging admission and I wasn’t in the mood.  But by the second time, a couple of days later, I’d learned that only a museumy part of the park required the admission, and the bulk of the place was free to walk around in.  So I did.  It was nice enough, with lots of paved paths wandering through semi-arid vegetation, leading up to nice views over the city.  For the most part, I’m not super satisfied with my photos of the Gaudi bits, so I’m going to direct you to Google for those.  But this one of the entrance turned out Ok:

Looks very Disneyesque, so I approve.

I walked up a windy path that took me through a couple of neat arched tunnels along the hillside:

Not much to say here other than that they were designed to blend in with the hillside, and were pretty cool.

From somewhere above, I could hear flamenco guitar being played.

Eventually, I got up to the top of the park’s hill, and was rewarded with a pretty decent view of the city:

The view southeast. The hill in the distance, just right of center, is Sants-Montjuïc, where the National Museum of Art is, as well as soccer stadium and Olympic facilities. When we passed there on the tour bus, there was a whole Olympic museum thingy which I would have gone to but — ha ha ha ha ha! Sports. Right.

The little area at the top of the hill had trees and benches and I sat out for a while relaxing and waiting for the tourists to clear away from the edge so I could take a good panorama shot.  And so that I could join in a little 2 person play, that I captured afterwards and will present here, for your entertainment:

An Afternoon in Parc Guell

Scene: a retired American software architect sits cross legged on a stone bench, on  the top of a hill overlooking Park Guell. A young blonde American woman approaches him.

Blonde woman: ¿Hola?
Architect, warmly: Hola.
Blonde woman: ¿Hablas Ingles?
Architect: Si.
Blonde woman: Ah. Um, ¿donde esta Park Wall?
Architect: I have no idea where the park wall is, sorry.
Blonde woman:<Startled reaction to my fluent English>

Note: It occurred to me sometime later that she was probably not asking about some bit of park art or architecture called the “Park Wall”, but was in fact asking me where “Parc Guell” was — a possibility that had not crossed my mind at the time because (a) I was too distracted by amusement at our conversation, and (b) Parc Guell was where we _were_.

Second note: on the off chance that you think that I answered “Si” in order to toy with this young woman, you do me too much credit.  Not that I wouldn’t have toyed with her, amiably, but I am not that quick on my feet.  She asked me “¿Habla Ingles?”, in Spanish, and even with as little Spanish as I know, “Si” popped out reflexively purely because of context and free association. But, once she got to the longer question, I had no way to easily construct a response in the same context, and reverted to English.  The comedy was just a happy side effect, and thinking that I did it deliberately is like seeing a face in the bark of an oak tree or divine agency in lightning. So, the next time I do something that doesn’t make sense to you or you suspect ulterior motive, just remember that my consciousness is just your pareidolia, and I am merely relative to the observer.

A final shot, from my way out, taken along a western outcrop of the park looking down at its entrance. Just thought it looked nice.

Out of the park and on the way down, I passed a church (behind me), El Real Santuario de San José de la Montaña, dedicated to “Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary’s husband and Jesus’ adoptive father.” I thought that was pretty cool; no one thinks about Joseph, who took in someone else’s son and raised him like his own despite (according to some gospels) the kid doing some freaky scary stuff like Billy Mumy in that Twilight Zone episode. So, kudos to Joseph.

The Bus Tour

I did one of those hop-on-hop-off bus thingys, about 10 days after I got there — I normally like to do them the day after I arrive but, as described, I was busy.  I bought a 2-day ticket, and rode both days, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with this one.  Partly because of the levels of car exhaust around me, particular when we hit some road work and spent 20 minutes going nowhere.  And partly because the recorded tour announcements were pretty bland, and very intermittent.  So, definitely a fail on that one.  I did get a handful of amusing shots, though:

My PokemonGO app identified this as Juan Miro’s Woman and Bird. You are now as informed as I was, more so if you bother to read the link about it, though I cannot advise it.

Looks like Home Depot had a sale on garden ornaments….

Some dramatic lighting for the National Art Museum.

The Olympic Needle, aka the Montjuïc Communications Tower, located in the Olympic park and used to transmit coverage of the game.

The tour bus did take us down to the docks and along the waterfront, some of which was a bit industrial but got better towards where the cruise ships docked and then improved thereafter. But honestly I found the waterfront kind of dull.  The best part was on the way back into the center, where we passed this building.

This is not a building. It’s a painted facade concealing the building while the building is worked on. Love. That.

Note: even as poor a selection as these pictures are, they’re still all from Day 1 of the bus tour. On Day 2, I took a different tour route, and it was so dull that I took almost no pictures and they’re not worth preserving here.  Ah well, you win some you lose some.

The National Art Museum

Even *I* could scarcely visit Barcelona without going to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, the National Art Museum.  Especially since they have a free admission day once a month, and this was that day!

Just a few pics back, I had a picture of the front of this building, taken from the tour bus approaching it on the street below the hill. This is from the east side. It’s a large, impressive building.

I really should have taken the subway to get here.  It was a lovely day for the walk, but walking the 2-1/2 miles there, walking around the museum for 3 hours, and then walking all the way back was a bit much; that return trip was just a slog.

The view from the front steps, northwest across the city, was very cool. There seemed to be some sort of athletic event going on below (I feel vaguely like it may have been a special Olympics sort of thing), but I didn’t go down to be sure. I think I can see Parc Guell from here, the lesser green hill in the distance, over the head of the right hand statue.

Inside, they had a lot of medieval art, like this:

A Fresco of the Conquest of Mallorca.

And this Pinterest collection of stills from a Medieval rave.

This portrait of Quasimodo and his mom was unexpected, but touching.

You have *no idea* what humans look like, do you?

Look, I know that feet are hard to draw, but yikes! Not that the rest of them are much better. (Little known fact: Christ could cure leprosy and raise you from the dead, but had no remedy for being cross-eyed. True story.)

“Aaaagh, help, I’m on fire!”
“Would you like a lollipop?”
“No, gods, why would you ask that? Water! Help! Aaaagh!”

The angel cleverly realized that if he pinned Mary’s cloak to the wall with thrown darts, she couldn’t flee from the Annunciation.

Um… Did no one explain to you how crucifixes work?

The Duke’s tickle parties became increasingly elaborate, until Christ himself stepped in and put a stop to them.

This were mah pet rat, wot ah found on street yesterday. His name were Edward, an him were Emperor of Bulgaria. An also, ah has a donkey in mah undergarments.

He knew there was no point in pretending; he’d farted, and everyone else knew it.

Beyond the medieval art, the museum also had a bunch of modern stuff, though most of it wasn’t (to me) as interesting.  Still, there were some exceptions:

The Flash comic, where he battles the supervillain Siamese Rooster, is one of the classics of the genre, and it was cool to see one of the pivotal panels captured here.

I don’t know what sort of fever dream is being captured here, but…

I like the way the Mystical Dream Horse is breaking the 4th wall with that “Can you believe this bullshit?” look.

This wry commentary on the state of modern medicine would be too advanced for some critics, but an expert such as myself can clearly see the underlying meaning of an artist just trying to pay his rent. Well done, my talented friend. Well done.

Oh, wow! This is seriously one of my favorite Japanese woodcuts! It was a welcome breath of the familiar to find it here.

Ok, that’s a really nice vase. More of that please!
(Narrator: “There was no more of that.”)

The museum had this really cool atrium, with a gift shop and a cafe on the lower level, that I think was sometimes used for plays and concerts. I almost had a snack at the cafe, but it was a bit crowded there, and after a few hours of walking and museuming, I was really pretty much done with people, and things — and that’s pretty much all the museum had. So I left for the hour’s walk home.

And, leaving:

So, that was, by and large, my month.  A bit overviewy, but really as much as is needed considering how little I actually got out and around.  Honestly, I’m not sure how much more I would have done even if I hadn’t also been doing separate touring in a fantasy landscape.  I mean, yeah, there were more museums I could have seen.  I could have eaten out more.  I certainly could have walked more, and actually should have — though the traffic exhaust kind of put an upper limit on that.  In truth, Barcelona did not get as much of my attention as it really deserved but, hey, Life happens. (Or, Second Life happens, in this case.)

And it’s a beautiful city, it really is, hands down the most objectively artistic environment that I’ve been in yet.  Imagine New York or San Francisco, but wider streets, super decorative building facades in thousands of variations, and few buildings over 4-6 stories so that you don’t feel hemmed in by them, you feel welcomed.  If you’re in the neighborhood, I can highly recommend the visit.

I woke up early on Friday, March 17, left at around 7am, walked down to the subway station that I’d arrived from, took it to the Airport shuttle bus terminal at the Plaça Espanya (near the National Art Museum), caught the shuttle easily, and was at the airport after a 30 minute ride.  Then, off to Edinburgh at 10:40, arriving a little after noon — as will soon be told.

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The Hermit of Seville

So, here I am, returning to Seville at last. I have to warn you, this entry can not possibly be as entertaining as the first Seville entry was.  Seriously. I just reread that entry, to remind myself of what I covered, and I have entirely intimidated myself now.  Like, how is me-now supposed to compete with me-then? That guy was good!  Gotta tell you, feeling Imposter Syndrome in the company of yourself is really taking it to the next level.  Go, me!  Only the greatest determination induces me to continue writing this and not simply walk away.

Determination, and the hope that getting back to my blog will get me sleeping again.  It’s been mostly 5-6 hours a night for a few weeks now, and I still haven’t spotted the source of stress that surely is causing it.  Of course, it might simply be the day/night cycle here in Edinburgh.

It’s warm enough here that I have to leave the window and shutters partly open, and so I get street noise — and possibly just too much light in the morning, rather than internal stress. Sigh.

Anyway, it’s rough when you feel Imposter Syndrome around your own writing (and software), and I rather suspect that it’s only going to get worse.  “Oh, yeah, that Charles-in-his-30s guy sure did write some great software.  Me? No, I haven’t touched that stuff in years.  These days, I don’t even remember how to set the clock on my VCR. What do you mean, ‘That’s not a VCR?’ I guess that would explain why my Duran Duran tapes don’t play on it anymore, damn it.  Well, could you set the clock on it anyway?  Since President Snowden moved us to Daylight Metric Time, I never know when to eat my tapioca.”

By the way, speaking of President Snowden (and, by extension, politics), my Aunt Florida sent me this pretty amazing article written by one of the long time Fox News commentators, about how its shows are as carefully constructed as WWE wrestling.  Independent of one’s political party, it makes for a fascinating read.  It also rather supports my longstanding view that Rupert Murdoch is not a conservative media magnate, he’s a businessman; he doesn’t care what “truths” his channels are promoting, just that they generate reliable revenue.  I’ve always said that if Rupert thought he could make money on a Baby Harp Seal channel, we’d be getting our warm, fuzzy, daily news from baby harp seals.  It’s just product to him, and any negative opinions about the net result are more a condemnation of unrestrained capitalism and greed than they are of the political ideology that the greed is riding into the ground.  Anyway, it’s a pretty cool insight into how that process works, and a reminder that there’s a *lot* of PR manipulation going on in our systems right now, with the usual motivations of money and power.  (Like the amazing Facebook manipulation driven by Cambridge Analytica.)  Reading and viewing widely, from sources across the political spectrum, is one of the few counters to it.  (As is reading nothing at all, I suppose, but ignorance is rarely a useful solution.)

But, if all that leaves you a bit tense or worried, don’t be. There’s always this.



So, in my prior post, I covered my first few days wandering around Seville, mostly looking for groceries. And a yoga mat (twice).  This seems like a good time to repeat the map of Seville that I posted then, for orientation purposes:

Central Seville. The old city is on the eastern side of the river (you can still find large chunks of the old wall around it). The train station, Sevilla Santa Justa, is circled on the right, and my Airbnb place is the circled star near the top on the right (to the right of the Basilica de la Macarena, where I assume they have dancing at church services, like Pentacostals).

I’d like to say that I did other things during my stay there, so I shall: “I did other things during my stay there.”  It’s not true of course, but it feels very affirming to say.

As I pointed out in the last post, my time was soon subsumed by Elder Scrolls Online — not exclusively, but largely.  Let it not be said that, when I get into something, I don’t commit.

When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.

— Shunryu Suzuki

But, despite my own personal Burning Season, I did get to wander about the city, sometimes looking for groceries, sometimes following my walking tours app, sometimes just picking an arbitrary point and walking there because I needed the movement.  (It’s very annoying, that I trained from early childhood to sit unmoving for hours at a time, generally while reading, and became quite good at it. And now, all grown up and with time on my hands, if I do that too much, I WILL DIE!!!! Hardly seems sporting.)

So, here’s a bunch of stuff that I ran across while wandering Seville, 70% of which looked like this:

Narrow alleys with pastel buildings and (one hopes) lots of summer shade.

And 20% of which looked like this:

Wider street, with sidewalk, cars, and cafes.

And 10% looked like this: wide arcades with churches and trams and quaint local coffee shops and street musicians playing ethnic music:

Made me nostalgic for Disneyland, this did.

That was taken on avenue running southeast from the Plaza Nueva (marked with a star on the map above, almost at the center of the map and just above a little blue box that indicates a tram stop), until it reaches another tram and subway stop at Puerto Jerez by the river, near to the Torch Coffee Roasters (where I went looking for some decent coffee beans).  Google, for some reason, does a terrible job of showing that this street exists, unless you really zoom in — but despite that omission, it’s a lovely street:

The Plaza Nueva. This was a nice place to sit out with a cup of coffee. I reach that conclusion by deduction based upon observation, rather than by experiment, as I only sat out there without coffee. But I have a high level of confidence in my conclusion.

A building along that avenue. I’ve mentioned before how pathetic most U.S. architecture is, right? Of course I have. Consider that reiterated.

I mentioned that there was a church along this avenue, right? It’s this, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, aka Catedral de Sevilla. No big deal, just 80 chapels, 500 masses per day (as of 1896). Thought I’d mention it. You can see some more pics here, and interiors here.

I never quite made it inside that church, because I was distracted by finally catching enough Magikarp to evolve a Gyarados!

It takes 400 Magikarp points to evolve one into a Gyarados, so I was super happy to finally get one, and named it after the city itself. Seville was worth visiting for that happy achievement alone!

(I also caught my first Ditto here — also very exciting — but that was as nothing compared to getting the Gyarados! Woo-hoo!)

The other end of the avenue, near what seems to be a subway station. I never needed to take the subway, but it’s good to know that it exists. Also, again: architecture. Come on with the come on!

And then, of course, continuing past on the left of that orange-banded building, you reach the river:

This is scenic in direct proportion to (a) what season it is and (b) how fully you are in the shade when you view it. In the sun, on February 1st, it was quite nice. I’m pretty sure that as I write this on June 14th, it’s another story entirely.

Of course, not all of Seville looked this quaint — some bits were more modern, or a bit more run down and decorated in Decaying Modern. Like, this was literally the first place on the other side the river:

♬ There was a plaza, ♫ had some kitsch, ♫ and Bingo was its name-o. ♬

And this thoroughfare ran out from that plaza. I mean, the streets are clean and all, and it’s not hideous — but would you want to live there? Cheek by jowl with hundreds of other hive-homeys in modern pillboxes, above constant traffic? On one side of the river, beauty, and on the other, despair, as if divided by the River Styx. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps they’re perfectly happy there. *I wouldn’t be, but it takes all kinds, etc, etc.

On the other hand, they *did* have what is clearly a Euthanasia shop just down the street, so maybe I’m right after all.

I headed back across the river pretty quickly, and was rewarded with street art:

Like this bit of poignant commentary on the burdens of fashion — and it was on the side of a church, no less! I was impressed at their willingness to display graphic cultural commentary like this.

All these years that I’ve heard this song, it never once occurred to me that it referred to a street. I’m not sure why this street was such a big deal, it didn’t look special. Maybe the songwriter grew up here? Ah well, learn something new every day.

I suppose I should mention, since much of this walking about was motivated by grocery shopping, that I did find places that sold decent coffee — the regular grocery store coffee that I mentioned last time wasn’t actually that bad, but the organic shops had better.  They also had some decent organic beers — I’ve had mixed success with organic beers in the past, but Seville had a nice selection, and the regular market had Guinness, so all was right with the world.  Though there was one beer that I gave a pass:

Rule of thumb: the more high-concept a beer gets, the worse it generally is. (There are notable exceptions, like anything from Dogfish Head brewery, but it’s pretty true in the general case.) It’s like Christian Rock — the quality of the music is generally sacrificed in the interest of driving home the message. In this case… no. I don’t even like “chocolate” beer, or “coffee” beer. If you think I’m going to like “weed” beer, you really are high.
(BTW, agrees, and gives it 1 star out of 10. Ouch!)

Mind you, weed beer wasn’t the only thing I deliberately passed up:

“JapoKitos”? Which are, somehow, Japanese-themed, though only the branding suggests that? And are fronted by a malevolent looking tween wielding cat-themed fake chopsticks? I give up.

Although in retrospect, I probably should have purchased and consumed the JapoKitos in preference to this:

At the time, I was jonesing for ice cream, and could not find my usual vanilla or coffee, just weird strawberry stuff, or Ben & Jerry’s There’s So Many Flavors In Here That We Just Gave Up And Picked A Random Name Out of the Dictionary Of Cultural Literacy. (I hate that flavor.) But I saw this and thought, “Well, ‘leche’ is milk, and it’s Häagen-Dazs, how bad can it be?” All. All of the bad. “Dulce De Leche”, it turns out, means caramel, and whatever you may think about the virtues of caramel, throw them out. Because it turns out that when you mix caramel with already sugar-intensive ice cream, the result is an insulin-shock inducing swamp of concentrated candy that would send even a Japanese person running for the vomitorium. It. Was. Horrible. First bite: “Huh, ok, not what I was expecting.” Second bite: “Ok.” Third bite: “Yeah, really not my thing, I think.” Fourth bite: “Must. Not. Waste. Food.” For the avoidance of doubt: I did not finish the pint.

But I find that I’ve gotten a bit derailed by the food topic.  Back to my walkabout.  I have to say, I found Seville to be generally a very nice walking city.  The car exhaust was maybe a bit much on the main thoroughfares, but you could avoid much of that by sticking to the narrower streets, of which there were many: winding, disorganized, chaotic lanes of varying sizes running through seemingly endless blocks of ancient, pastel apartment blocks, opening up occasionally into tiny plazas and shopping arcades.

Perfect example: a random little plaza, with fountain and orange trees, and with shops and homes around it. There’s no not loving that, none at all.

If you think that’s too small and quaint, and you’re impatient for something larger and more dramatic, just hold your horses. (Or let these guys do it for you.)

And if you want really dramatic:

I tripped across this one day, and I have no idea what it’s supposed to be, but I love it and I have dubbed it Eggo Plaza, the name by which it will henceforth be known to all who may ask.

Or, if you want something smaller scale, the shop windows were often entertaining, though I wasn’t always sure of the motivation behind them.

I’m not sure what shopping demographic is served by selling figures of ceramic turnips, Depressed Jesus, Disney dwarves, and Darth Cleric, but I have to assume that they know their business. (Knowledge that I find myself grateful not to have.)

“Please come in and buy our totally official, and not at all home made, brand name merchandise. Sweatshop-free since 2015!”

Did I mention the magic wand shop down the street from me? I totally meant to go in there and ask what sort of cores they use, but I never got around to it. Plus, the language barrier. (And, I really can not carry anything else with me, my pack is heavy enough already.)

There were a *lot* of little restaurants that I passed on these walks.  I kept looking for a place that served rabbit — which I assumed would be labeled “conejo” on any menus — as part of my goal to eat The Rabbit of Seville. (Damn, but it’s hard not to stop writing and watch that all the way through.)  Unfortunately, despite some serious looking, I was completely unable to find one in the month that I was there.  I did find lots of these:

A lot of places made dishes from something called “tapas”. I’m not sure what animal “tapas” comes from, but given the way some meats disagree with me, it seemed like a good idea to just avoid it.

Fortunately, there was an alternative:

O’Neill’s Irish Pub, which Google Maps will actually let you virtually walk into, here!  I came back here at least 2 more times.  I always sat inside — I hate sitting outside next to busy traffic, and this was a super busy intersection.  I heard the Irish bartender talking about the weather with another patron, and he said that sometimes they get hot, dry, sandy winds all the way from Africa — another reason to get out of Spain before summer.  The burger, with bacon and egg on it, was super good, btw. 😀

(Side note: Murphy, my current host in Edinburgh, says that *they* sometimes get sandy winds from Africa!  It comes as very fine dust, carried in the upper atmosphere.  I guess that’s not any weirder than 25% of San Francisco’s pollution coming from China, but still. Would not have guessed that.)

One of the nice things about a lot of these older cities that I’ve been in, is that you continually trip across interesting things, just in random wandering.

This little side street near O’Neil’s Pub particularly struck me. It was like a street that in most cities would have been a run-down side alley, but they’d kept it up, kept it clean and scrubbed, and it stayed quite nice as a result. So, yaay that.

There’s very little of that in large modern cities.  Like, I can walk for ages in Manhattan and never see anything out of the ordinary — it’s mostly all of a piece, and that piece is generally a bit worn.  San Francisco, though I love it, is much the same. It’s city, and there may be oases where you get something different, but mostly it’s very planned and constant.  I have found that less true in the older cities, and I’m not quite sure why.  At least some of it has to be that their old stuff stands out to me as different, and noticeable, because it comes out of a different tradition than I’m used to — whereas most of the new, modern stuff that younger cities are made out of reflects the same broader (American-dominated) world culture that I’m used to seeing everywhere else.  Maybe some of it is because they’re old societies that have had their roots in the same neighborhoods for centuries and learned to keep up the place they live in, so their back alleys look prettier and don’t look as ignored?  Maybe because they’re so Old, the New has to move in slowly, and the controlled interplay between them creates a wider variety in what you see roaming around, than what you see in more purely new cities.

Of course, not all of that interplay really, um, works:

At the end of a long day of Nude Newspaper Selling, you need a beer. I don’t judge.

On a wall plastered with concert posters, this made me laugh. It’s one letter off a Japanese term for — well, this is a family blog so let’s just say, “little boys” and leave it at that. I’m not sure the artist would be pleased by the association. 🙂

The Isla Mágica water park across the river was closed — doubtless due to the bitter winter weather — but it apparently features a sort of German beer garden with what appears to be a German beer drinker, with barrel, suspended in mid-air. (For reasons which I’m sure were clear to the park’s architect, perhaps while in his cups.)

The water park was part of a larger stretch of park that ran for quite some length along the west bank of the river (paralleled by a narrow park-ish embankment on the east side).  Much of it was very pretty to look at and be in.

The south-of-the-water-park section had some developed river-pier areas, though in this stretch they seemed to be used more for jogging than for anything actually nautical, despite the water traffic passing them.

It also had some sections that quite terrified me!


This was taken February 3rd.  The beginning of February! For Pete’s sake, what do I have to do to avoid Spring?!

Thankfully, I was due to leave on the 17th, and Seville is nowhere near as green as Zagreb, Croatia, was.  But still… my Post-Traumatic Spring Disorder runs deep.

The other thing this park had was, as usual, tons of orange trees.  The oranges were simply falling ripe onto the ground, clearly underutilized, so I took the risk of violating the public order and picked one.  A little research quickly turned up why the city’s ubiquitous oranges were underutilized:

I think I’ve mentioned before, that I have that genetic variant (in common with much of my family — in the traditional manner) that means I don’t really detect bitter tastes.  It contributes to my fondness for dark beer, dark chocolate, strong coffee, and other things typically described as being bitter. I barely notice that aspect of them.

This, I noticed.  Wow.  It was an interesting experience, and I don’t regret it, but thereafter I bought my oranges at the grocery store like everybody else.

Curiously, now that I think of it, I still can’t really conjure up what “bitter” tastes like.  I mean, I recall that orange being a really strong, not very pleasant taste, but I can’t bring it to mind the way I can sweet tastes, or savory, or tart, etc.  I remember discussing this with Brandon a few years ago, that I was supposedly had a poor ability to taste bitter and that I couldn’t even bring to mind what bitter tasted like.  So we did a test where we drank a beer with a strong hop taste, that would be considered bitter — and there wasn’t anything in it that particularly stood out to me, versus other beers of its style.  I could vaguely detect something in its flavor that was kind of like something that marmalade had.  But I still couldn’t describe what that was, and I cannot recall it now.  I guess those neurons in my brain never needed to develop, because they so rarely got that input.  Kind of weird, but kind of cool, too. You can do a lot worse than going through life never really noticing the bitter parts.

On the western side of this bit of park was a gated-off complex with a futuristic look and no clear purpose:

This is exactly the sort of location they’d use for films like Gattaca, or Battle for the Planet of the Apes, where you need some futuristic city backdrop, and people in weirdly cut suits walking up and down the stairs. I’m sure it was something much more innocuous, like a government lab for developing super-viruses.

There was also a fair amount of graffiti, some of it fairly complex:

I always appreciate good graffiti. The kind that are just lazy signature scrawls do nothing for me, but there was a lot of this better sort along this stretch of the river, and it was pretty cool.

And some of it was super complex:

Sines of the times.

Making liters out of mole hills.

Oooo, you’re a rebel, scrawling graffiti about force and change. Get a job, hippie.

The north end of this long park was much wider, spread out across what would have been a number of city blocks, and it had what appeared to be proper  groves of oranges, kids’ playgrounds, adult exercise equipment, lots of trees and grass, a tiny functional train circuit.  And yet, somehow, it managed to never be out of earshot of nearby freeways and heavy-traffic roads.  I’ve got really no patience for that sort of thing; traffic noise is not restful to me, and whatever peace might be derived from pleasant trees and grass is completely wrecked by the distant roar of 18-wheelers. (Similarly, city cafes with outdoor seating next to busy streets.  I do not get the appeal of eating next to the noise and stink of traffic.  I mean, maybe there are people who just never get outside, so sitting in *any* outdoor setting is worth it to them.  But, if so, wow. That sounds painful, man.)

And then there was this:

My PokemonGo app calls this point of interest “Huevo de Coloń”, or The Columbus Egg. I don’t know if this is the official name but it’s descriptive, so good enough. I have mentioned before, my reaction to monuments to Columbus, so I won’t repeat it here. But the egg is weird enough that I can’t entirely disapprove.

Though the day I walked this park was rather long and tiring, and least I had something cheery awaiting me at home:

This mead, and other beers, are apparently made by a brewery in the Seville area, despite the Nordic name. I ran across a little beer shop that carried them, bought a small variety, and enjoyed them all. 🙂

There was another park across the city that wasn’t as large but seemed more quiet:

I liked this place, but it was completely without grass, and I got the strong impression that they’d simply given up trying to keep it alive in the summer and settled for packed clay as a lower maintenance solution. Can’t say that I blame them.

I took that shot on my way to the Plaza de España, an impressive complex of gorgeous buildings (mostly serving as government offices), tiled courtyards, water, and parks.  Which I took a ton of pictures of, only to discover that even the Wikipedia page for the place has better pictures.  Well, pictures that are at least as good, lets say that.  Of course, Wikipedia doesn’t have this:

I cannot recommend resting on those benches, if the men’s and women’s toilets are where the sign seems to indicate.

I did capture a couple of pictures that seem nice enough to be worth saving — though I don’t dare do a Google Image search, where I’m sure even they would be put to shame.

Come on, that’s just pretty, right? I mean, I don’t get the people who chose to rent a rowboat to go back and forth along the tiny canal. And I bet the stone & tile plaza is bloody hot in the summer. But other than that, it’s charming!

The base of the building, running along the curved edge below the arches, is a series of little decorated niches, alternating sitting areas and small fountains (which weren’t running at this time of year).

Eventually, I pieced together that each niche represented a different region of Spain, and had little painted scenes that reflected important events for that region. The ones with the little fountains might have been nice to sit next to, if the fountains had been running and if you had a lot of sunblock on.

The surrounding park was also very nice, with trees and benches and fountains and this:

The little waterfall was nice, and there were nearby benches to sit out and listen to the water and not hear the traffic, and I even nodded off a little resting there. The hill had a little gazebo on the top, and I wanted to take a panorama from the gazebo. But there was a couple snogging up there and they lingered until I gave up and left.

On the walk home, I stopped at a gelato shop on the Av. de la Constitución, and they made the most amazing construction out of my 2-flavor request:

I almost hated to ruin this by eating it. Almost. (It was as yummy as you could expect.) I’m not sure what they called this, but a gelato rose by any other name would taste as sweet.

I should point out that, in visiting Seville, I’d wanted to do 2 things specifically: eat some rabbit, and get a haircut.  As reported, I failed at the first of these, but, thankfully, was successful at the second, about a week before I left.

Trip not wasted, and a decent haircut out of it. Yaay, me. 😁

And that’s about it.


So, on February 17th, I woke up early, tidied whatever I hadn’t tidied the day before, left the keys on the counter, and headed off to the train station.  I don’t think I ever saw my host after the day that I checked in, but the place was more like apartments than a shared space, so that wasn’t surprising.  But we exchanged a few e-mails, got along well in them, and left each other nice reviews, so it all worked out.

My train left at 8:50am, so I retraced my arrival path, got there in plenty of time, grabbed a second-breakfast sandwich for later, and caught the train for Barcelona as expected. And that was Seville.

I liked Seville.  It would be too warm to spend much of my year in, but I could see going back sometime.  Probably won’t be this lifetime, but almost certainly the next, for like a weekend or something.  (I mean, Elder Scrolls Online is releasing new content all the time, and I just don’t see how I could fit another visit in, this lifetime. You’ve got to be practical.)

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Had I but world enough, and time

First, sorry for the earlier blog post false alarm.  I went to save my progress on the draft, and hit the wrong button and published it instead.  My bad. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

Catching up

Ok, so it’s been a while since the last entry. As you are doubtless aware. My last entry was Feb 4th, a couple of weeks into my stay in Seville, and my time was starting to free up a bit. I was doing less gaming: leaving Skyrim, playing a little Fallout Shelter on the iPad, and doing a little more Elder Scrolls Online but not a great deal. I was doing yoga every morning, doing a little walking around the city (mostly, but not exclusively, in search of groceries), watching a bit more TV, and thankfully starting to read properly again. It was good to have the time back!

And then it all came crashing down.

Time-Suck #1:

The Elder Scrolls Online folks released an update in mid-January that added the ability to buy player homes in the game (with in-game gold or with real-world cash), and to add on to them, build structures, and decorate. This sort of thing is like crack cocaine to me — you may remember me mentioning the settlement building functionality in Fallout 4? I spent countless hours building up small towns around post-apocalyptic Boston, and setting the settlers up with food, water, and electricity, defenses, housing, etc. There wasn’t a settlement in Boston that wasn’t a fully functioning seed of a restored civilization when I was done with them, and it was time consuming and awesome. I’ve loved planning houses and building since I was a kid — age 8, designing underground homes based on stuff I’d read in my dad’s hippie, alternative living magazine (Mother Earth? Mother Jones? I no longer remember the magazine’s name, but I’m almost certain it was Mother Something. It was 1970.).  And I spent weeks building Skyrim housing add-ons.  Software architecture scratches much the same design itch, but in the last 5 years of building housing mods for Skyrim, settlements in Fallout, and now home building in ESO, I’m starting to suspect that I may have missed my calling as an actual building architect. Ah well, next lifetime, perhaps.

So, I buy a convenient home in the game, and then have to start roaming the landscape searching for building materials, and building a deck, and lights, and fireplaces, and laundry rooms, and all of that. In preparation for this blog post, I spent a little time recording what the place looked like before:

(Note: this is a little choppy at the start, thanks to running the game and the recording software at the same time and straining the system. It settles down after 20-30 seconds, after I leave the starting town.)

And after:

Mum recently talked me into entering the place into a little housing contest that one of our player guilds was having, and then she played hostess to the judges (since it was the middle of the night, my time, and I was asleep). I entered it with some reluctance, but Mum is quite the saleswoman (to me, and to the judges) and I took first place! 🙂 So, time well spent.

Time-Suck #2:

Just as I was winding down on home-building (I continue to tweak the place, but the basic work on it was done in the first month), ESO started an anniversary event for the release of one of their add-ons, the Thieves’ Guild DLC.

(DLC is “downloadable content”, extra stuff you can add to the main game after its release. Most big games have a few big DLC packages that you can buy, to keep the game fresh and interesting, and never-ending games like MMOs (Massively Multi-player Online games) will keep adding stuff indefinitely.)

I’d never played the Thieves’ Guild DLC (nor a couple of the others), because I was sunk into Fallout 4 when it came out, but there was some special stuff you could get if you played it during this anniversary event, so I thought that I probably should start it. I’ll omit all of the riveting details of my gaming experience and just say that it was, in fact, fun. And it took about a month, getting me from Seville to Barcelona.

Time-Suck #3:

Just as that was winding down, they started an April Fools event, the Jester Festival! More fun — and rather silly — stuff to do, and… well, let’s just say that you could get lots of fun/cool things if you did that stuff, repeatedly, every day, with every character you’d created for the game.

If this sounds painfully repetitive… you need not check your hearing, because how it sounds is pretty much exactly how it ended up being. I have a built-in inclination to try to optimize results, and if I can get the most stuff by doing a repetitive thing for a bit, then I’ll do it without thinking twice. Unfortunately, this meant spending about 3 hours a day for the whole month of the event — just doing the repetitive, administrative tasks, without even playing any new, adventure-y content — and I was really feeling pretty done with the whole affair as the end of that month approached. (This covered mid-Barcelona to my first couple of weeks in Edinburgh.)

Time-Suck #4:

Then they announced a Brand New Event, this time for the anniversary of the game’s original release 3 years ago. More. Stuff. You. Could. Get. Now, I was actually starting to get a bit cross. “OMG, give me at least a short break between events, it’s too much!” But, if you play the game, it was really good stuff to get! So, gritting my teeth slightly, I started the new event, running all of my characters (I had 8, and made a 9th for the event) through variations of the same activities every day. There were actually a lot more activities I *could* have been doing daily, but I stuck to the handful that got me the most rewards in the shortest amount of time; they were really as much as I could handle. (Have pity for my poor mother, who has something like 40 characters spread across 3-4 accounts. And understand that at least I come by the trait honestly!)

For what it’s worth, much of this was, in fact, fun. I did actually manage to get a lot of long-term game goals accomplished during this event, which made me very happy, and I’ve been getting the benefit of that time investment ever since. And I spent some serious time with that brand new 9th character, and got him quite advanced in abilities and he’s going to be very useful for certain types of game activities. But by the end of all of this, I was about ready to bite the head off lead game designer.

This was roughly weeks 3 through 6 in Edinburgh. Around weeks 3-4, I deleted Fallout Shelter from my iPad; I don’t know how much time I’d spent building up my Shelter in the 20 months or so the game had been out, but it was just too much of a time-suck in addition to the other things. So, I threw it out. This may be reassuring to anyone who worries about game-addiction: once the experience stops being fun, I move on. (To another game, but whatever. Shut up.)

Time-Suck #5:

“Newly announced: ‘Morrowind’, a massive, new addition to the Elder Scrolls Online, coming out June 6th! Help us beta test the game! Here’s your exclusive key to download the pre-release software!”


No. Uh-uh. I’m done. By this time, it was the end of April and I needed my space. So I dialed back. I did some beta testing, and it was cool, and I reported a bunch of bugs that I found, and it was nice being able to help them out. But it’s nothing like the time I was spending before, maybe 2-3 hours a day, and I start getting out more, walking more, reading more. And I think that’s the level I’m going to be at for a while, even if they add new events down the line. I expect I’ll cycle up and down a bit on time spent in the game, a bit more when I have a goal I want to accomplish, less in between. That works for me.

They released the expansion early, to people who preordered it, so at the time of this writing I’ve been playing it for about a week and my previous time balance is what I’ve been maintaining, quite easily. A little more, a little less, depending on the day, but it’s been much more balanced.

And that gives me time to catch up on the blog. In theory. No promises. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂

Where Am I Now?

Currently, we heading towards the end of May — at least, that’s what my friends in Scotland are hoping is the case, but the election is still 2 weeks away. Still, Labour is doing really well in the polls, after coming back from terrible polling before the snap election was called. And Jeremy Corbyn had a great and widely watched TV interview, back-to-back with a terrible Theresa May interview, so that helps.  Fingers crossed, that the UK should get back to principled and competent leadership. (At least one of us should escape!)  In case it wasn’t clear, I am in Edinburgh.

I was originally planning to be here for 2 months, while I possibly looked for a place to possibly stay longer term. But getting a permanent place here has proven to be impractical, as neither of the conventional options works for me. I can’t really rent, because I can only stay in the UK (on a standard visa) for 6 months a year, and renters don’t want to rent to someone who plans to then (effectively) sublet the place on Airbnb for 1/2 the year. And, I can’t really buy: paying cash isn’t an option when my money’s in longer-term investments, and mortgages would be hard to get (local banks don’t want to lend to non-citizens, U.S. banks don’t want to lend on foreign properties).

And, as I’ve had time to let the idea sit, I’m not sure that I actually want to get a place for a longer term. I *love* Edinburgh, it’s my favorite city in the world so far, but there are still other places to see — and certainly cheaper places to live. (My spending rate has been too high this year, and I need to head back towards my original plan of staying in cheaper parts of the world, in keeping with my ‘Jane Austen heroine’ lifestyle.) And, as much as I like being in nice places while I’m in the place, I like moving on to the next new thing even more once I’m on the road again. Which, I guess, means that no matter which I’m doing — staying put or traveling — I like that thing the most, at the time that I’m doing it. And so I guess I can’t complain about that too much. Hence, continuing with my travels really rings more true to me now. It took me a while to resolve that in my head, but I eventually did.

But I decided that, even if I wasn’t moving here, having a break where I didn’t have to move around would be nice, so shortly after I arrived I talked to my host here, Murphy, to see what he thought of my staying an additional 2 months, for 4 months total, and leaving in mid-July. He said, essentially, that I was genial enough, so sure, and that’s what we’re doing.

That means I’ll be here, in Edinburgh’s New Town, a few blocks north of Princes Street, until July 17th.

Where Am I Next?

OMG, I spent so much time and worry trying to figure this out. Lest you think that all I have been doing for the last 5 months was playing games. Which, in fairness, is probably what I was implying above. Granted, I was mostly gaming. But I also:

  • Watched the new season of Sense8 just after it was released (goaded into timely viewing by my friend Jenni, who wanted someone to discuss it with)
  • Finally watched the 1980s movie A Boy And His Dog, based on the Harlan Ellison scifi novel. Its tale of a boy (late teens / early 20s, played by Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog (played by some sarcastic curmudgeon of a voice actor) surviving in a low-budget, Mad Max, post-WW4 wasteland was one of the inspirations behind the recent Fallout games. The movie is terrible. Teerrrriiibbblllee. Its only redeeming virtue is that it has a happy ending. Of a sort. I liked it. (Read the wiki for spoilers.)
  • Watched the new Iron Fist series, the next part of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration.  It was… not good. In short, weak writing and plotting, and a lead actor who was supposed to be the world’s best martial artist and instead looked like a sulky harem boy.  I’d have gladly watched a series about a sulky harem boy, but not one pretending to be a martial artist.  They couldn’t have found *one* young actor with real martial arts chops? One who could hold a basic form?  Jeeze.  I’d had high hopes for that series, knowing the brilliant comics it was based on and knowing how good the other Marvel/Netflix series were, and I was very disappointed.  🙁
  • Read a few books, some of which I’ll mention in these blog posts.
  • A *lot* of Twitter. As usual, really — though in the depths of ESO, I mostly read a pared down subset of my usual feed because I just didn’t have time otherwise.
  • Just a few days ago, I watched Colossal in the theaters. It may have already come and gone where you are, but I highly recommend it if you can see it. It was weird and funny and kind of horrible and wholly original, and did *not* go where I was expecting, and it’s a wondrous and rare thing to be surprised in the movie theater.

And, within a couple of weeks of arriving in Edinburgh, after confirming with Murphy that I could stay here until mid-July, I started planning my post-July year. As I mentioned before: This. Was. A. Hassle.

I’ll try to compress this hassle into something not too meandery.  The Schengen Agreement is the bane of my European travel, particularly this year, because while it creates a single travel zone and conveniently eliminates border checks across nearly all of Europe, it also limits your stay across that whole area to 3 months out of any 6.  I barely had to deal with this last year, because most of my places — Croatia, Ireland, and the UK — weren’t part of the Agreement.  But this year, I started my trip with 2 months in Spain, so my Schengen 6-month block began in early/mid-January.  Then came to Edinburgh, and, if I plan to leave Europe in early November to return to the U.S., that really means that I’ve only got 3 months I can stay in the rest of Europe after I leave Edinburgh.  So I either go into the Schengen territories for 3 months and then return to the UK until it’s time to fly home, or I stay in the UK until early August.

I’d thought about Amsterdam and Berlin, but I’d also thought about Norway.  A Norwegian cruise was *very* tempting, but *super* expensive; I could live for 3 or 4 months for the cost of a week or two on one of those boats.  And, the World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Helsinki, Finland, this year, from August 9-14th.  I was pretty sure that I wanted to go to that… but that clearly puts me in Scandinavia in August.  And I only have 3 months. And I want to go to Norway. And Airbnb is usually way cheaper if you book for a month at a time.  So, 3 months = 3 places.  Finland, Norway, ????.  And where do I kill time before August 9th that’s not Schengen?  It’s pretty much got to be the UK, but where?

Locking this in, as I was researching places and travel arrangements, I tripped across an amazing flight deal: on November 7th, a direct flight from Oslo, Norway, to LA, for $218!  There really was no passing that up, so I grabbed it.  You may await with anticipation my stories of what a hell flight this surely must be — I very much fear that I will be forced to check my trekking backpack for the first time, for example, and may the gods have mercy on my gaming peripherals.  But there we are.

So: Helsinki at the Start, Oslo at the end, and anywhere not in Scandinavia is going to be a nuisance to get to and back from. I toyed with a bunch of variations on this theme, sent a *bunch* of Airbnb requests to places that often had not updated their listings and were not really available for many different reasons, and the only arrangement that ended up working out was: London -> Helsinki -> Oslo -> Stockholm, Sweden -> catch a train back to Oslo and fly home.  It’s a slightly imperfect arrangement — it would be better, obviously, if I my last month could have been in Oslo, since I’m leaving for LA from there, but the only Oslo places that I thought were appealing (and affordable) were booked for a chunk of that last month.  So, there we are.  I’ve updated my itinerary page accordingly.

On with the blog

So, where does this blog go next? I’m going to end this here now.  I was considering including the last leftover photos and such from Seville in this post, but after my publishing failure a few hours ago, I think I should just kick this guy out as a general status update, and then do the remains of Seville in the next post.  (I’ll start that in the next few days.)  Then I’ll write up Barcelona in the post after that, and conclude with Edinburgh — which, in truth, has not changed much since I was here last fall.  Except for the weather, which has been amazing and very uncharacteristic of Scotland in late spring.  It was 84° a few days ago, warmer than it was in L.A. that day!  Simply nuts.

So, thanks for bearing with me these last few months.  This blog is always a bit irregular, based on my distractions, and this spring it has been excessively so.  But that should be done now. I hope. Feel free to berate me if it’s not.  I give you leave.  🙂

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Psych! (Aka, oops, wrong button.)

Sorry, my bad. I meant to save the page I was working on and hit Publish instead of Save Draft. And then, of course, the e-mail blast goes out and there’s no way to recall it.

So, hold on. The next post will be out very shortly.  🙂

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No Hablo Español

I am writing this instead of stepping out into a warm, sunny, afternoon in Seville.  This is almost certainly an error on my part, and I’m going to spend the next several paragraphs trying to persuade myself to go out and see something.  But I woke up late (7am!), spent most of the morning reading e-mail and Twitter and playing Fallout Shelter), followed by an hour of yoga, and then lunch, and I have groceries to last until a couple more days, and I’m feeling very inclined to do a bit of meditation and book reading and maybe go out tomorrow instead.  Since I’ve done *nothing* in Seville except wander across the city in search of good groceries, leaving the “sights” largely unseen, I’m trying to tell myself that I’m wasting my month here and really should go out more.

But I’ve rarely felt less inclined to be out and about as I have been here.  Maybe because it’s a largish, well equipped studio with a nice patio, lots of sunshine, and great internet.  Maybe it’s because I’m sleeping well, and doing an hour of yoga a day, and so I have 2-3 hours less time awake than I used to.   Maybe it’s because my Twitter feed has filled with reports of the ongoing lunacy in our executive branch, and I feel like the obligation to be informed — and pass the important, or funny, bits along — is swallowing a massive chunk of my day. (Bans based on religious affiliation? Really? The Constitution means nothing to you lot? Thank gods for the courts, and the ACLU, because few members of our national legislature seems to have any backbone at all, in either party.)  And with the blogging time, and getting back into my reading, and catching up a bit on TV shows….  Honestly, it’s amazing I manage to get out even for groceries!

So [I paused here, and am continuing this the next day], instead, I stayed home, did meditation and caught up on some good TV, and today I’ll likely do the same, plus write in the blog a bit.  I’ll probably get out a bit tomorrow, following a walking tour of Seville in my walking tour app (GPSmyCity), or for groceries if nothing else, and then hit my first local museum on Tuesday

In the meantime, I’m leaving Philadelphia!

Monday, January 16th

So, as reported in my last entry, I left my Airbnb place in Philly at around 10:30, took the local subway to the airport, and hung out there until my plane left at 6:50pm.  It was a bit of a wait, but I read Twitter, played Fallout Shelter, meditated, ate a couple of times, and it was a pretty easy wait.  Mostly.

No! Must… keep… walking. Resist shinies. Be… strong….

On the way to the airport, a guy I know from Twitter (and a friend of other friends), suddenly twigged that my tweets were coming from Philly — it turns out, he lives there.  Alas, too late for us to meet for a beer, which we’d totally have done.  But next time. Philly being a central airport hub — notably, for American Airlines, where most of my frequent flier miles are — I’m likely to be there again in a year or so.

Also, the only airport I’ve been in that’s ready if it starts raining men.

One plus of flying American was that my TSA pre-check thing worked, and I got to just walk through security without having to unpack/repack my luggage.  That was *awesome*, and doesn’t happen when flying out on foreign airlines.  (There is a global version of the precheck, that works on more of them, but I’ll wait for my my current one to expire before I fork out for the expanded one.  Especially since it lasts through 2018, and that year should be my North America tour.)  And then, when boarding, they did that thing where if you have their associated credit card you get to board in an earlier group, which was also awesome. The flight itself was rather uncomfortable, but solely because I tried to sleep and maybe — maybe — got 3 hours of fitful rest.  The flight lasted about 7½ hours, which wasn’t too bad, and I’d picked an aisle seat about as far back in coach as you could get, with nobody seated next at the window next to me.  (The stewardesses did some weird rearranging after I was on the plane, seemingly needing to clear a couple of rows for reasons they never explained, and I ended up getting moved, a few rows forward — but the flight wasn’t too crowded and the end result was the same.)  And economy class was fine: I’ve learned that on these shorter flights, it’s just not worth blowing a large chunk of frequent flier miles on business class.  I have trouble sleeping on a plane, even in lying down in reclining bed-seats; then, you combine that with a shorter flight, the nonsense at the start and end of the flight that reduces your sleeping time, and then the dinner and/or breakfast time.  I wasn’t going to have time for much sleep, even in the unlikely event that I’d be able to, so springing for business class doesn’t buy me much, if anything.  But, even with the relative luxury of the whole 2-seat row to myself, there was just no way to get comfortable enough to nod off.  Maybe if I’d put the seat back more… but I always hate doing that to the person behind me, and it probably wouldn’t have helped much.  Planes and trains just aren’t places where people like me can sleep much.

So, we arrived over Madrid a little before 8:00 am, and it was still nearly pitch black outside, which astounded me.  Madrid is nearly as far south in Europe as you can get without a prescription, and I wouldn’t have thought it would be that dark that late in the morning.  But, all of Europe is pretty far north to begin with, and Madrid is about the same latitude as Philly, maybe half a degree further north.  And, more importantly, it’s on the far western edge of the Central European Time Zone, which has been deliberately stretched out to include pretty much all of the EU proper.  Since the UK isn’t part of that (and will be even less so, if Brexit goes through), my old stomping ground of Edinburgh, Scotland, is one time zone further west than CET; but Edinburgh is actually slightly east of Madrid, and therefore has its sunrise over an hour earlier by the clock.  And if I’d been flying into Croatia, on the far east side of CET, the sun would have been up for a while already.  In Madrid, the eastern sky was just turning that brilliant indigo color that you really only see from airplane windows.

Predawn Madrid.

Most of my trips through foreign immigration have been pretty easy; the UK is more uptight than most, but nothing compares to the U.S. for making a bloody nuisance out of even a citizen’s entry into their home country.  So, getting into other countries generally seems like a bit of a cakewalk.  Spain was cake with ice cream and ginger ale.  I didn’t do much more than wave my passport under the nose of the official and in I went.  There was the usual separation of post-passport routes into “I have something to declare” versus “I have nothing.”  Does anyone deliberately take the “I have something” route?  I mean, I had nothing, but what would someone be carrying that they’d feel they had to ask for extra hassle?  Well, regardless, the “I have something” line wasn’t even staffed at the absurdly early hour of 8:10am, so if anyone did have anything to declare, they declared it to their traveling companions and kept walking. (You don’t need government assistance for everything, after all.)

The one universal in all airports: your international flight arrives as far as possible from the immigration checkpoint. 3rd world countries have smiles awaiting you at the end. 1st world countries have pedwalks, but no smiles. Your call.

Working out the route from the Madrid airport to the Seville train station had been a bit of a challenge.  Based on my Google research, it looked like I needed to catch a bus from the airport to get to the Madrid main train station, about 40 minutes away.  And then it was a roughly 2½ hour train ride to Sevilla Santa Justa Station, and a 22 minute walk from there to my Airbnb.  My check-in was at 3pm, so I had left myself lots of time on both ends and booked an 11:00am train, figuring I could just hang out at the train stations on both ends. But I wandered around what looked like the airport bus stops for a while, on arrival and departure levels, looking for the bus Google told me I should take, with no success.  Then, I found that there was an actual subway line that ran straight from the airport to the train station!  How civilized!  How weak of Google not to tell me! But there were very few signs in English, though, so when I found the area that looked like gates to the subway, I went to the nearby information booth and asked how to get to the train station.  The very nice young woman there directed me to the farthest set of ticket machines and gates, and, with some effort, I picked my way through the indifferent English available on the ticket machine, got a ticket for the subway train to my destination, and, after trying it a few times in the wrong subway gates, was directed by an attendant to the correct ones.

As an aside here: I’ve often commented on how easy it is to get around the world if you know English.  Spain is shaping up to be a bit of a weak link in that chain.  I still can’t call it hard — there are plenty of people who know a little English, and my usual handful of words (“no”, “si”, “no hablo Español”, “Donde esta casa de peepee?”) plus Google Translate are enough to get me by.  But it’s almost as if they already speak a language that’s used all over the world, don’t really feel a huge barrier to staying connected with it in their native tongue, and don’t feel like they need English to bridge the gap.  Weird, really.  Well, regardless, the most notable lack is in machine and web translation.  The ticket machines — and the train company’s online presence — is surprisingly weak in English options.  It’s like, they have them, but only in places, and other places they just give up and you have to guess and hope you’re not really buying a ticket to Burkina Faso, and telling them that you need an extra seat for your grandmother, who’ll be in a pet carrier.  Honestly, a couple of times, I could have been saying anything, just guessing based on common web site design.  So far so good, but….  The supermarket checkout ladies here (and they’re always ladies, don’t ask me why) ask me a question, and I say “no” with a vigorous head shake — but only because she’s almost certainly asking me either (a) if I have their supermarket card, or (b) if I want a bag.  (And “no” is always a safe answer, there, because outside of her giving me my groceries and me giving her money, there is really no other thing that I want to have or to happen. “Would you like complimentary heroin?” “No.” “Would you like to be saved?” “No.” “Can I hug you?” “No.” My answer is always no.  It’s how I roll.)

Anyway, once I had the subway ticket, with the train number on it, I was able to confirm with Google Maps that this was, in fact, an available route.  Not that I doubted at this point, but Google gave me details of the timing and intermediate stops, and it was all good.  I boarded the train when it arrived (one is rarely well advised to do it earlier), and 5 stops later I was at the Madrid Atocha train station.

This stands a pretty good chance of being about as much as I ever see of Madrid. The descriptions of it that I read don’t particularly draw me. In truth, any city in a climate as dry or drier than Southern California has a bit of a hurdle to overcome, in my book. Seville made it, as did Barcelona. I might go to Gibraltar sometime. Madrid not so much.

The Madrid Atocha train station has the feeling of a transportation nexus combined with an underground mini-mall.

Nice enough, but super functional and no-frills.

Ok, some frills. I ran across this atrium while looking for the restroom, about 20 minutes before my train was scheduled to depart. I didn’t have time to explore it properly, so I’m not quite sure what was there other than the plants, but It didn’t seem well trafficked compared to the rest of the station.

Arriving at around 10-ish, I played with the railway’s ticket machines for a bit until I coaxed one into giving my the ticket I’d pre-ordered.  Then I checked the boards for my train and found it, but there was no platform announced for it yet.  So I stopped at a nearby sandwich shop, got a ham and cheese croissant and some kind of electrolitey-looking water, and settled at a table to check e-mail, interrupted only by a rather aggressive beggar woman who, after a few rounds of “we don’t speak each other’s languages”, shoved her hand in front of my face, leaving only after I physically recoiled from the gesture. Lady, personal space, come on!  (I give money to street people, occasionally — there are, sadly, too many to give to them all — but not when they’re super in my face about it.  You get the behavior you reward, and I’m not rewarding that.)

While I was waiting, I got a message from my Seville Airbnb host saying that she’d be home earlier, and I didn’t have to wait until 3pm to check in.  So I told her I’d go straight there when my train arrived, and should be there by 2pm.  Yay, no more waiting in station diners!

At around 10:35, I got up and checked the boards — still no platform — went looking for and found a restroom (€0.60 to use it, for Pete’s sake!), and settled in front of a large board watching for my train’s platform listing and worrying that something was going wrong.  Never makes sense to me when they can’t figure out the platform in advance — but maybe I’m spoiled by airport scheduling, and by Grand Central Station in New York, where you often know the platform hours ahead.  Of course Penn Station, for my New York to Philly ride, didn’t know until the last few minutes before departure. (I’d even double checked with the lady at the info desk, but she’d assured me it was just arriving and would be on the board shortly.) So, maybe it’s not uncommon… but it seems really weird to me.

It’s the *next* train. How do you not know where the *next* train is going? (I’d say it’s a bunch of bull, but that’s the 11:35 to Pamplona.)

So, I stand there in Madrid until about 10:55, when the time finally pops up, then walk quickly to the security checkpoint (for the only set of gates with no gate numbers above the security entrance, but I triangulated…), get a cursory scan of my bags through the machine, and find my train and my seat.  The rest of the trip is uneventful.

I don’t have many pictures from the train south, because my seat was on the east side of the train, and the sun screwed up most of the shots. No huge deal, really. Just imagine Southern California, but with a more sparse population, more olive groves, and with the decaying stucco and Spanish tile on 200-500 year old buildings instead of 20-50 year old buildings. Otherwise, very similar.

I arrived in Seville as scheduled, and started walking.  Speaking of which:

Spain. The capital, Madrid, is pretty much dead center. Seville is south and west, towards the Atlantic, and Barcelona (my destination for month 2) is on the northeast coast.

Central Seville. The old city is tucked into the bend on the eastern side of the river (you can still find large chunks of the old wall around it). The train station, Sevilla Santa Justa, is circled on the right, and my Airbnb place is the circled star near the top on the right (to the right of the Basilica de la Macarena, where I assume they have dancing at church services, like Pentacostals).

Seville is a much larger city than I’ve had a chance to notice while I’ve been here.  Wikipedia says that it’s the 4th largest city in Spain, with over 703K people in the city proper and over twice that in the general metropolitan area.  (Which means it’s about the size of Edinburgh, but half again as concentrated in the city proper.)  Seville dates back to Roman times, and has been a significant port city — while not on the coast, it’s on a major river leading up from the Mediterranean.  After Columbus “discovered” the New World, pretty much all of the Spanish New World pillaging wealth came through Seville — I ran across a major statue to Columbus while walking through a public park (The Monumento a Cristóbal Colón).  In deference to the large group of Chinese tourists, I did not spit on it — although they probably wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual or cared.

I was here largely because (a) I wanted a destination in Spain, (b) I was going to 2 cities in Spain, and Madrid didn’t appeal to me, and (c) I wanted a haircut.  Visiting The Barber of Seville seems like a necessity.

The walk from the train station took about 25 minutes, along a street with lots of shops including a promising sushi place, and a barber.  I was certain that the latter would satisfy my need for a haircut while in Seville, but I found a better alternative a few days later. (More on that when the event arrives.) Also:

There are orange trees all over the city. Anytime there’s a tree planted, odds are about 33% that it’s an orange tree. They go back to an old tradition of a despotic local ruler who planted orange trees and forbid the people to eat from them in a time of famine, feeding the oranges to his cattle instead. A local hero rose up, started stealing the oranges, and distributing them to the people at churches. The ruler sent in troops to catch him but the people led the troops on wild goose chases until they eventually led them into an arena with the ruler, barred the doors, and then let loose a bunch of maddened bulls. The ruler was destroyed, and the people had oranges from then on.
Or, maybe I’m making that up. There are a *lot* of orange trees, is what I’m getting at.

The Airbnb I’m staying at is here.  The host, Nadia, met me at the door, led me down a central hall to stairs going up to the top, 3rd, floor, showed me where everything was, and that was that.  She was a cheerful woman in maybe her mid to late 30s, with a husband and son (neither of whom I’ve met); she spoke a very little English, and had already said that she used Google to translate our Airbnb conversations.  Between her basic English and the Google Translate app on my iPhone, we managed everything just fine.

The place itself is basically a semi-enclosed, square rooftop, with a large square patio in one corner and a studio wrapping around it along the two sides of the roof, with windows and sliding glass doors facing the patio on both sides.  This means, by the way, that while it was a pretty comfortable temperature in Seville — 40s-60s — it could get pretty cold in my place at night thanks to all that the radiating glass.  I’d turn on heaters in the morning, and it wasn’t uncomfortable — quite the reverse, really, and the bed was soft and the blankets warm and the neighborhood quiet.  Then, in the afternoon on a sunny day, the place would get quite warm and I’d open the doors and enjoy the fresh air to avoid overheating.  Super glad I’m here in January, though, because I bet this place bakes in the summer.

The interior is about as thoughtfully designed as any place I’ve been.  Basic IKEA-style furnishing, cupboards, and the like, but all pleasant enough and *lots* of surfaces and storage and plenty of pots and pans and utensils, and great WiFi — and even a wired ethernet cable!  I kind of wish I was staying here longer.  I did notice that the pans were degrading a bit.  I don’t know what people were cooking in these things, but the non-stick surface was breaking down, and my first scrambled eggs were a bit unnerving.  Seeing tiny flecks of teflon in my eggs did give me a moment’s pause — but a little thing like fear of eventual Alzheimers was not going to stop me from having breakfast.  (“I’m going to remind you that you said that.” “You’re going to have to.”)  One pan was worse than the other, so I switched to the better one for future dishes, and no more flecks, so yaay that!

She had also provided a capsule coffee machine, similar to a Keurig, and a bunch of capsules.  As she started to describe how to use it, I interrupted politely to say thanks, but I had a French Press with me. (Thanks, Jane!) What I did not say was, “I wouldn’t use one of those if you paid me!”  I did not say that, because it would be a lie.  I would totally use one of those if you paid me to; a little extra income never hurt. But you’d have to pay me and I’m not cheap (despite what they wrote on the bathroom wall at Starbucks).

I asked Nadia about grocery stores, and she mentioned there was a large supermarket just two blocks away, and I found it on Google Maps easily.  I also asked her about organic grocery stores (organic is commonly called “ecological” in Europe, in whatever the local language is), and she quickly dismissed that, saying that she didn’t know of anything like that nearby.  I was suspicious of that, and later Google Maps turned up half a dozen within a 30 minute walk of me.  But that was for later.  For today, I just wanted the basics, and the local grocery store was fine.

And, in fact, it was fine.  They had great, inexpensive goat and sheep cheeses, and sardines, and beer — your 3 basic food groups.  They had mostly instant coffee, and some pre-ground, and only two bags of whole bean coffee.  One of those was a mix of arabica and robusto beans (robusto are hardier, grow faster, and are more inclined to taste like petroleum), so I went with the other one.  They had a wide selection of meats, some presented in forms that I was not really accustomed to, but were still very impressive:

A tourist from the city passed a farmhouse and saw a pig with a wooden leg. He went to the farmer and asked him about the pig.
The farmer said, “Oh, this is a great pig! There’s no pig like him anywhere! Once, when I was plowing a field, the tractor tipped over and pinned my leg to the ground. This pig saw me and went to the house to get my wife. He saved my life!
“Another time, my wife and I were asleep in the house when a fire started. This pig woke us up and got us out of the house before it burned down. He saved me again! He’s a wonderful pig!”
“But you didn’t tell us how he got the wooden leg,” said the tourist.
“Oh,” said the farmer, “a pig like that, you don’t eat all at once!”

Can you imagine walking through a RenFair munching on one of those?  That’s a business opportunity there, is what that is.

Vaguely similar languages makes grocery shopping soooo much easier.

Large blocks of goat cheese for a few Euros. Mmmmmm.

Every country has some common, grocery store product that you will miss once you’ve left. Japan has rice balls and convenience store meals, Scotland has cream, and Spain has these giant round crackers that are OMG insanely good. They’re about 5″ wide and come in half-a-dozen varieties, including cinnamon, and orange, and a sort of “original” flavor covered with sugar crystals (too much sugar, but wow was it tasty)… ♪ and my fave: Rosemary and Thyme. Remember these when you have left there, they were once a true snack of mine. ♪

Probably the weirdest thing about this first grocery run: they don’t refrigerate the milk in the supermarket! I was looking all over for milk (well, cream for my coffee, actually), and I can’t find it, and I’m thinking, how is this possible?  They have cheese. They have yogurt. They have kefir. How do they not have milk?  Finally, I realize that the boxes I’m passing in one of the aisles actually hold milk, rather than, say, dry goods.  We. Ird.  It’s one thing not to refrigerate the eggs, but the milk?  Anyway, I brought home a box and put it immediately in the refrigerator.  I can’t save them all, but I can save that one. Be the change, and all that.

So, with basic groceries procured, I settled in, did some unpacking, got the computer set up, dinner, YouTube, took my melatonin, and was sound asleep by 9pm.

Wednesday, January 18th

And got 13 hours sleep! 13!  I don’t remember ever getting 13 hours sleep in one night before.  I mean, I’ve been sick (or hungover) once or twice where I’ve mostly slept on and off for a big chunk of a day.  But I don’t know if I’ve ever gone to sleep and awakened 13 hours later!  That’s insane!

I was *very* happy. 😁

And I did *nothing* on Wednesday.  Hung out, read Twitter, watched YouTube, played Fallout Shelter, ate groceries.  It was just a day to ease back into the world and into European time.

Thursday, January 19th

This was my day I started to establish more of my daily pattern.  Ideally, I’d wake up, check in with the Fallout Shelter game (for things in its simulated world that had completed overnight), do morning yoga, shower, eat, and get on with other activities.  Unfortunately, yoga as an initial activity was out — it was cold enough outside that my space was just too chilly to be comfortable for stripping down to my skivvies and trying relaxation poses.  My great Yoga Studio iPad app (thanks, Mark!) does not have an entry for “Downward Freezing Dog”.  Later in the day, the place warms up a bit, and I can forceably rip myself away from some other activity and do my yoga, but not first thing in the morning.  When the weather warmed up enough, that settled into starting at 9:30-11:00, but for the first week(ish), it was an afternoon activity.

And I’m still wrestling with how to manage Twitter.  I’d really hoped it would calm down after the election, but Trump’s being Trump, a firehose of events, and it’s hard not to feel like you should stay informed about current events.  I follow a lot of science and arts-related accounts, and even they can’t get away from it — national policies affect how they do their jobs.  I feel like my time reading the news has doubled.  Not like the good old days, when Grandpa would read the Wall Street Journal in the morning after breakfast.  A newspaper will only get so large; if there’s too much news, it gets truncated or dropped.  But not on the internet. More news? Great! Here, have it all!  I’m skipping and scanning more, but I need to find a way to reclaim some of that time.  It’s just too much.

I did get an update from Sarah with a scan of some recent e-mail.  One of them I had to save off to my phone, so that I’d have it readily available.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a few years now, and recent events have made it a priority. I remember, growing up, it was a conservative’s knock on someone they thought was too liberal, that they were “a card-carrying member of the ACLU!” (Preferably announced dramatically, with a southern twang.) Later, I learned what the ACLU actually did, like defend free speech no matter what the speech was, and it started to sound a lot more appealing. And now I’m carrying their card. It feels like a worthy thing.

Plus, I want “Guardian of Liberty” on my business cards. Of course, I no longer have a business. Maybe “Guardian at Liberty” is more accurate?

Anyway, just after lunch I made a list of extra groceries I still needed, like organic oatmeal and vegetables and proper coffee (I was still working on the leftover bag of Whole Foods coffee I’d bought in Philly, and hadn’t started the local grocery store’s coffee yet, but I had my doubts about how good the latter was going to be).  Then I marked a few organic food stores on Google Maps, and a few sports shops.  The tile floors in my studio were *not* going to work for yoga — they’re fine for standing and lying down, but you don’t want to have to kneel on them. (What if Zod shows up?).  So I was going to have to break down and get a proper mat.  I don’t know if I have room to take it with me later… I might have to buy a new one in every city, just because of the space and weight required, leaving a trail of abandoned yoga mats behind me wherever I travel.  But if I do, I do.  I need the exercise, it’s well past due.

So I headed out.  You’ll see on the map, above, that there’s a central area colored in brown, with lots of place names and little stars of places I’ve saved for future reference.  That’s basically the core of the old city, with lots of old buildings around narrow, winding streets, with progressively more and more shops at ground level as you head towards the center.

The large street just south of me, Calle Muñoz León, highly trafficked, and with a good length of the old city wall still standing and in good repair.

A similar street, showing a fairly typical view of the modern neighborhoods, from the next day’s walk. Notice the way the cyclist is bundled up, protected against the bitter 56° weather; the locals were just as bundled up on 66° days. Again, I do *not* want to be here in the summer.

Moving inward: more dense, but still fairly modern.

Denser still, and showing some of that rich coloration that back streets in Rome had.

I really like these understated, sandy pastels. They’re relaxing.

Neighborhood sign warning people to flee indoors from the Dark Hunters after the 20:00 curfew (8pm CET).

It also struck me, looking at these buildings, that there are probably families who have been living right in apartments right next to each other, faux-balconies and hanging laundry lines cheek-by-jowl, for hundreds of years. It felt both claustrophobic and amazing, at the same time.

I did find the sports shop I was looking for, the Decathlon City Rioja, in the more intensely shopping oriented, pedestrian only, central part of the inner city (you can see a star next to the shop name name in the middle of that brown section on the map), and they had several types of yoga mats, so I took the risk of buying one that looked lighter and thinner and was a bit longer and looked more likely to be something I could carry with me later.  This, I discovered, was a mistake.  I don’t know what function that mat was supposed to serve, but it was entirely too thin for a bony guy like me to use on hard floors.  Within a couple of days I gave up trying, went back to the shop, and bought a heavier mat — which I’ve been very happy with.  Quite aside from its virtues as a yoga mat, its surface is so grippy that it’s serving as a sort of loofah for the soles of my feet.  It’s weird to see the little bits of ripped up callous, flaking off like a peeling sunburn, but I feel quite virtuous.

From there, I walked to what I thought would be a good organic grocery, the one closest to where I was living, “La Ortiga, Cooperativa de Consumo Ecológico”.  So much more romantic than “Whole Foods”.  I suspect that the Most Interesting Man In The World shops at grocery stores with names like this.

Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed.  I managed to partly decipher a nearby sign that suggested that on some days, they closed at 2pm.  I eventually figured out that a *lot* of places around here close around 2pm, and I strongly suspect that this is the “siesta” thing that I’ve only heard about, but that is common in very warm climates.  You close down in the heat of the day, and then reopen later and stay open later.  I think.  All I really know is that I’ve been to that shop 4 times, and never quite managed to get there before it closed.  I blame lunch.  Anyway, I’m almost surprised that they need it.  With the narrow streets, I was in the shade most of the time, and I’d think that this would mitigate the summer sun considerably.  Not enough, I guess.

So, with “La Ortiga, Cooperativa de Consumo Ecológico” (be sure to roll your “r”s) closed, I had to go to my next option, “Centro Ecológico Gaia”, which was a bit south along the curve of the river.  The trip to the closed shop wasn’t wasted, though, as I did get a chance to pass a lovely neighborhood park on a smallish city block.

I call it a park, maybe “city square” is more appropriate. It’s not like there was grass or a playground. Just a place to sit in the shade, or hang out with friends. The photo doesn’t really convey how huge that tree in the center was. I saw a few others like it, in other parks, some larger, with trunks 15 feet in diameter and branches going up 3-4 stories. I’m in love with those trees. (There’s another failed conservative insult of liberals: “tree huggers”. Hell yeah! Why wouldn’t hug trees? Trees are awesome!)

So, heading a couple of blocks west, I got to see some of the river and some of the interesting architecture on the other side:

You can see some sort of decorative modern bridge up the river, looking rather like the harp bridge in Dublin. I’ll have to try to check that out, later.

(Note: I did check that out later — by which I mean, I looked it up on Google Maps, with the initial intention of going there, but that bridge takes me to Isla Mágica, a “New world–themed adventure park with roller coasters & water slides, plus live shows and a lake.”  So, basically, Seville’s Epcot Center.  Might be amusing to go with a friend, but not really on my own.)

Looking south. It looks like the east riverbank, between the river and the main road paralleling it, is largely open park. Again, not a huge amount of grass — I’m getting the impression that the climate is too hot and dry for that — but there are trees and benches and running paths and the like.

A lot of folks don’t realize that the Vikings raided all up and down the coast of Europe, and had trading routes even farther. Like Dublin, Seville seems to have preserved one of their ruined longboats. Yaay, archeology!

It’s funny how, being nomadic, you get homesick for odd things from your travels. Seville has these gas stations that look like little partly-enclosed structures, set amongst regular, taller buildings, completely unlike the way we have gas stations in the Western U.S. — but just like a place I used to pass walking to and from where I was staying in Sapporo, with Kenta. A gas station in Seville made me homesick for Japan. My life is weird.

Seville has a lot of graffiti; this is my favorite so far. Topical!

Which reminds me, there was an anti-Trump rally in the city on the Saturday after I arrived, according to a website I ran into that listed a bunch of world-wide rallies.  I tried to go — I wanted local color, and I wasn’t going to go see bull-fighting, but bullshit-fighting sounded like a worthwhile substitute.  But I got there a little late, and either it hadn’t happened, or it was short, or they’d marched somewhere else without leaving a trace.  Oh well.

I’ve said things like this before, but I’m saying it again: America needs better architecture. You rarely encounter crenelation in daily American life, and that’s a shame. My next home is totally going to have battlements. (And may well need them.)

I did find the organic food place I was looking for, a decent sized shop with a chill room that had their vegetables.  I spent fricken forever in there, because they had a price list on the wall, and a little electronic scale that….  How do I explain this?  I ran into these in Croatia… instead of getting your vegetables and taking them to the checkout, where the check out person weighs them and charges you appropriately, the Croatian grocery stores make you do that yourself.  The produce bins have placards with the usual information on them plus a number code.  You take the produce and go to a scale in the produce section where you weigh what you’ve picked, type in the number code, and it prints a price label for you.  You put that label on the produce, and then checkout person rings it up accordingly.  This saves the checkout person having to be trained to recognize the produce (Clementines versus Mandarins, anybody?) and weigh it themselves, but it does create a slight barrier if you’ve never seen the system before.  (It also makes reusing the produce bag a bit harder, since the label sticks to the thin plastic bag in a way that hard to remove without tearing the bag.)

So, the produce section in this store had a scale like that. But the bins didn’t have numbers.  However, there was a price list on the wall, so maybe you type in the price when you weight it?  Except the names on the price list often didn’t seem match the names on the bins.  Like, they had 5 kinds of tomatoes, and at least 6 tomato types in the price list, and only one of the names matched.  Then, another customer tried to ask me for help, and I got to practice “No hablo Español” — which was cool — but the section was tiny and she kept futzing about right in front of the scale (but not using it), while I politely waited.  Eventually, she asked a shop worker for advice, solved her problem and left, and I returned to futzing with the tomatoes and the scale, trying the only tomato whose name matched the price, typing in the price, looking for some button that looked like “Enter” or “Do it” and hitting buttons semi-randomly in the hopes of it doing something.  Eventually, the checkout lady walked past, saw me there, and said something completely indecipherable but which I clearly understood to mean, “That doesn’t work. Just bring them to the counter.” Don’t ask me how I understood this, I couldn’t tell you.  I think traveling in foreign countries is making me more psychic out of necessity.  (Also, I don’t think we give context and tone the credit they deserve.)  So I did, and everything worked like an American supermarket from there.  Except with less smalltalk.

Backpack now loaded with groceries, I walked the half-hour home.

I liked the look of this, so I’m sharing. That quartered circle thing at the top is particularly cool. (It looks like where you insert the key to wind the church up.)


It’s really high time that I mentioned my (at that point) latest book.  I started this on the plane from LA to New York, and continue reading it until just after my last blog entry, but it’s quite finished now and worth mentioning: The Pigeon Tunnel, Stories From My Life, by John le Carré.

John le Carré is, of course, the best-selling author of a large number of spy novels, many of which have been turned into movies (often with him screenwriting as well).  He’s also the father of one of my favorite authors, Nick Harkaway, who wrote the truly excellent The Gone-Away World, which I very highly recommend if you like weird, over-the-top, super science stuff with ninjas. (And who doesn’t?)  Fun fact: John le Carré is a pen name, and the author’s actual name is no secret.  I was just recently surprised to discover that Nick Harkaway is also a pen name.  I’d been following Nick on Twitter for some years and it never occurred to me that that wasn’t his real name, until he said something obliquely referencing the fact.  It was kinda freaky, like you’ve discovered an old friend of yours has a secret identity you never knew about.  (An old friend who doesn’t actually know you exist, of course, but still….)

Anyway, I’d never read any of John le Carré’s books before — spy novels don’t normally interest me.  But I somewhat recently learned that he’d written The Perfect Spy, a book that a BBC series I’d seen was based on.  The main character was raised by a con man, who ropes him into a number of his schemes, and when the lad reaches college, he attracts the attention of the British spy services, who recruit him into their ranks, where he’s a natural, having been raised from birth to be deceptive and take part in schemes.  I won’t give away the plot, but the show overall had a deeply melancholy tone — which I don’t normally care for, but the characters were so well realized and well acted that the series has stuck with me ever since.  And when I heard that John le Carré had written The Perfect Spy, I also heard that it was partially autobiographical: he, too, had been raised by a con man, and recruited into the British spy service, before eventually leaving to write novels.  So, hearing that he’d written a recently published autobiography, I had to read it!

It was not the experience I expected.  The subtitle “Stories From My Life” is appropriate.  The book doesn’t start with his youth and follow linearly through his life, demonstrating character evolution or, at least, an historical pattern.  (His early years are at the end — he says in the intro that he had chosen to put the stuff with his father at the end, because his father insisted on being the prime character in all situations and he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of starting the book with him.)  The whole thing is mostly written as a series of shorts, one incident after another, initially discussing specific experiences working for the British government; nothing that you’d really think of as a spy story, just interactions with foreign people of varying levels of importance, often with a lot of historical background.  And then, in the many years after becoming a writer, most of the stories dealt with writing, traveling to research his writing, working with actors and directors on movies, etc.  All of it written in an intelligent, seemingly sincere, and quite mellow tone, what one might expect of a smart, relaxed guy in his 80s with a bit of a sense of humor.  Most of the stories were interesting, but I couldn’t help feeling a little bit bored.  They were all quite standalone; there was no narrative thread tying them together really.  That changed in the last 20% of the book, when he finally got to his Dad, and then it became a bit more linear and, in my opinion, more interesting.  But the whole thing had a quasi-distant feel to it. There was very little about his own emotional life, except as it directly related to the point of a particular story. He refers to things like his first marriage not working out (for which he claims much of the blame), he refers very glancingly to the existence of kids, and of a second (still current) wife, and once or twice to taking a son with him on some of his trips and that son was the right age to be Nick Harkaway — so, a minor point of interest for a Harkaway fan.  But that’s the limit.  In that last 20% of the book, you learn more about the family he grew up in, but at the end of it I could tell you almost nothing else about his childhood (did he have friends at school? Damned if I know) or about his non-professional life once he hit adulthood.

So, this strikes me as the sort of book that people leave next to the toilet.  Read a chapter in 5 minutes, and then read another one the next time you’re there.  Or read bits of it on the bus or train, confident that your stop won’t shock you out of a gripping plotline.  Or, possibly, pick up one of his spy novels instead, to get more in-depth characterization.  Don’t get me wrong: I *like* him as a person, based on this book. But I can’t say that I got a lot *of* him and, for an autobiographical book, that seems like an omission.

Moving on

And, that seems like quite enough for one entry.  I shall continue with Seville next time.

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2017 – A Rocky Start to My Travel Year

So, I started writing this on Friday, January 20th, 2017, from my studio in Seville, Spain.  I’m part way through my Glasgow write-up (which I started in November, back in Edinburgh, and weirdly just ignored ever since), and I fully intend to go back and finish that. But I wanted to sync my blog with where I actually am now, to recapture some of the immediacy of my experiences that the early blogs have.  And, also, to not make the entries have to cover weeks of time and seem like insurmountable challenges.

Plus, it’s a good way to ignore Twitter, which is weirdly dark today for some reason.

Half my feed is like this. Probably something astrological going on, like Earth is in retrograde. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

So, for a quick catch-up: it’s been a few months since my last entry, on Dublin, which I wrote at the end of my month in Glasgow (which was 8/27-9/27).  I was in Edinburgh for 6 weeks after that, left there on November 7th to head back to the US (via Dublin and New York, 5 days apiece, because plane fares from Dublin to JFK were super cheap).   I was in LA until Jan 4th, staying with Mark and Jane (and, amongst other thing, playing the newly rereleased Skyrim game, and the Fallout Shelter iPad game), and then staying in New York with Brandon and Sallie until the 9th, and then spent a week in Philadelphia, where I went largely because of nonstop cheap fares between Philly and Madrid, Spain.  So, on Monday the 16th, I flew to Madrid, arrived Tuesday morning, took a train down to Seville near the southern coast, and will be here for a month. Then Barcelona for a month, and then back to Edinburgh for 2 months more.

I quite liked Glasgow — more on that in the Glasgow Catch Up post — but Edinburgh is cementing its place as possibly my favorite city anywhere.  Mind you, there are plenty of places I haven’t seen yet that I might equally enjoy — I still haven’t been to Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, Berlin, or anywhere in New Zealand — but Edinburgh is perhaps the first place ever in my life that I’ve thought, “This would be the perfect place to live.”

I’ve been considering getting a place there to use as a base 6 months out of the year, and travel the other 6 (while renting it out on Airbnb in my absence).  That also might be a better balance of stability and travel than I have right now.  I’m currently on my own a little more than is optimal.  Having a place where I could build some connections, maybe join a hiking club or an anime group or something, or at least establish a favorite pub where everybody knows my name… that would be nice.  I’ve looked a bit, in my 6 weeks there, but haven’t quite found anything that suits my needs; so I’ll go back there in the spring and look some more.  I’ll try to find a place to rent (or possibly buy though that’s harder, with all my cash in long-term investments).  The idea being that I could stay 6 months out of each year in a town that I *really* like, and travel the other 6.  If I can find an Edinburgh place that works during the 2 months of my return, I’ll stay there for 6 months total and schedule other places like Berlin and Amsterdam and Oslo around it.  If I can’t, I’ll let it go as not-meant-to-be, go spend more time in those other places, and just head back out somewhere else for 2018.  Probably either my North America tour, or New Zealand.

Anyway, that’s where I am.  And, since my travel year starts when I leave the home of the last of my holiday-visit friends, that means it starts with my Philly trip, on January 9th.

Monday, January 9th – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

So, after 5 entirely pleasant days visiting Brandon and Sallie, a bit north of New York City, Brandon dropped me off at the train station on his way to work and my travel year began again.  (It’s not as though I mean them to be my jumping off point each year.  But the first year, it just made scheduling sense to have them as the last friends I checked in on, as I made the rounds before starting my new, nomadic life.  And the last two years, I’ve been going to Europe, and they’re the closest.)

The train ride down was fairly straightforward.  7:14 train, an hour to get to Grand Central Station, take the short shuttle subway east-to-west to get to Penn Station, and catch the 10:52 Amtrak train from Penn Station to the 30th Street station in Philly, arriving at about 12:15.  The check-in for my Airbnb place was 4pm, so I had some time to kill once I got there, but I found a restaurant in the station, had a beer and a burger, and hung out reading until about 3:30, so it was entirely pleasant.  The train station was a decent enough place, with that old, northeast-US public building architecture that ranges between solid/lofty/grand and cavernous/worn.  This place was sort of in-between; I’d love to show a picture of it, but this is all I seem to have:

Still, I think that it captures the important part of my stay there.

A quick map of central Philly (the part I care about, at least) is probably in order here:

The 30th Street train station is circled, on the left, on the west side of the river. My Airbnb is the circled star in the upper center. Ignore the State Penitentiary a few blocks northwest of the Airbnb. I’m sure the locals do.

I had intended to walk from the station to the Airbnb; Google predicted about a 25 minute walk.  But the temperature was about 23°, there was snow on the ground, and the two times I tried to leave the station I couldn’t find the pedestrian river crossing. (“There’s a river of pedestrians you have to cross? That’s crazy!” Shut up, you. You’re interrupting.)  It turns out, I was looking just a little too far north; I should have gone south to Market street. Or something.  Whatever. After two tries, I decided it was just too damn cold, and walked to the long line of taxis instead.  It was a short trip, so I overtipped the driver, but I didn’t have to worry about freezing my hands (my light gloves are way too light for 23°), or slipping on snow and ice and breaking a hip.  Or, more importantly, my gaming laptop.

The Airbnb building is in a reasonably upscale neighborhood: the buildings are all kind of worn brownstone tenement types, but the cars parked on the street tended toward the mid-to-high range, it’s super close the the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art (in the large park, a few blocks west), and there’s a giant Whole Foods a few blocks southeast of my place.

Whole Foods is a sure sign of an upscale area. They don’t open Whole Foods stores in the hood, and this one had two little restaurants inside of it and a pub!

Not exactly a winter wonderland, but pretty enough in its own way.

The Christmas Hacienda is a nice touch. Got to say, was not expecting Spanish tile this far north. Muy sorprendente.

Kudos also to whoever built the Lego Fairy Tale Church down the street from me. Churches aren’t usually so… I don’t know… charming? So, well done there.

If I understand correctly, the building owner runs a pub/restaurant on the ground floor, and rents out the rooms in the building above; the guy running the Airbnb listing (which is here, btw) was not the owner. My room was on the second floor, a little studio that mostly resembles the pictures in the listing, except that there was a free-standing, open frame closety thing set up between the two windows, and that tall, bar-style table and stools was placed in front of the window next to the bathroom (on the right). There was also a small cabinet with a microwave, coffeemaker, and toaster between the frig and the TV.

Oh, also different from the pictures is that it was freezing inside.  Well, in truth it was 50°, but, still, that’s rather colder than one normally likes indoors.  I knew it was 50° because there was a heater thermostat on the wall, locked away in a clear case, that showed it was 50° and claimed that it was shooting for 70°.  I knew it was running, because I could hear it in the closet, a muffled hammering like a small power generator.  It turns out, that heater was for the whole building.  It wasn’t a deafening noise, but it did permeate the room and you’d have had to deliberately talk over it. (I sent the host a message asking if there was a way to turn it off, and he said it was for the whole building and the owner didn’t allow adjustment.)

Fortunately, it was just muffled enough, and regular enough, that I could sleep through it, and I had to, because it ran continuously until late morning the next day.  By that time, the outside weather was warming enough that the chill air pouring off the windows became not quite as chill.  Also, I’d been running a small space heater continuously, and running the electric stove during my waking hours, and between all of that we got it up to 70° and the heater cut off.

Unfortunately, all that dried out the air so much that my sinuses kicked in as if I was in an LA Santa Anna.  The same problem I’d had in LA a few weeks before, with headaches and feeling generally ill, which I’d cleared up with a Netti pot running water through my sinuses, hit all over again.  It had started a little in New York — northern heaters really dry out the air, for some reason — but hadn’t bothered me too much then. But here? Full on sick, all over again.  So, I went to a nearby CVS and bought one of the little Netti-pot-equivalent squeeze bottles and a bunch of the powder, and started irrigating again.  And boiling water in a couple of pots on the stove.  Between that and the building heater turning off and mostly staying off, I got over it in a couple of days.  But Tuesday was pretty much a loss; I was not in a mood to go anywhere except out to Whole Foods for food. Or even think too hard. Mostly, it was just the computer, Fallout Shelter, and reading, all very low energy.

So, I was not enchanted with this place.  A cute enough studio, in a good location, but not someplace you want to be in really cold weather.  Which was basically how I phrased the review, after I left.  (There were other oddnesses. There was one blanket, and it was too thin for that temperature; but there were a surprising number of towels, so I piled them up on the bed and was warm enough. There were little hotel-sized shampoo+conditioner bottles, and hotel soap, but the hotel soaps were these little Howard-Johnson-grade wafers that wore out fast or cracked and fell in half; I made do, but they were a nuisance.  There was a nice set of pots and pans, but no cooking utensils. And for eating, there was a set of steak knives, but only one fork, and one dinner knife, and no spoon.  It was… a weird set of equipment choices.)

Wednesday, January 11th

By mid-day Wednesday, I was feeling close enough to decent that the need to get out overrode my lingering malaise.  So I got a salad and juice at Whole Foods and ate it there (while eyeing the pub longingly), and then continued on to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The museum is set near the southern end of a large park that runs for quite some way north along the river. Just across the street from it is a statue of, I’m going to say, George Washington, with assorted animals, settlers, and Indigenous Americans draped around the base in seemingly disinterested lethargy.

The grand steps leading up to the museum were made famous in the movie Rocky, because he ran up and down them for aerobic conditioning while exciting music played.  Philly seems to have taken this movie to heart, and erected a statue of the Rocky character at the base of the museum, just visible in the photo above if you look under the “C-1” sign and across the street.

Or, you could just look at this close-up, which is probably easier. There were a bunch of people taking pictures of each other in front of this statue — probably the same sort of people who get excited by the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I find the whole thing a little irritating. Although, I shouldn’t, really. Popular movies become part of our cultural mythology, and we’ve always turned our myths into statues. And, in truth, if it were a statue of Gandalf, I’d have no complaints. So, whatever, to each their own. I did catch a lot of the fighting-type Machop pokemon around here though, enough to evolve my first Machamp! So, it was worth something.

FYI, walking up those stairs feels weirdly like a counter-cultural protest: all the tourists run up them and look excited when they get to the top.  And I’m thinking: yeah, that’s great lady (or buddy).  Do it 50 more times, and maybe it will be a proper homage to the movie. Doing it once is just a way of saying, “Hey, look! I’m not technically disabled!”  (No slight intended to those who are technically disabled. I’m just saying.)

When I arrived, there was a crew in the process of taking down the Christmas tree that must have been placed there earlier.  I looked at some of the surrounding architecture, including a nice — what would you call it, a gable? — decorated with Greek gods in color.

Little known fact: Greek statues used to be colored! But the colors faded and wore away over time, and their later imitators saw them as plain white marble and didn’t color their more modern pieces. (I remember an old Superman comic book from when I was a kid, that pointed out that on Krypton, the Kryptonians colored their statues and, wow, wasn’t that weird and cool?! Turns out, we used to do it too.)

I went inside, bought a ticket, and was directed to coat check to check my backpack — a thing that always annoys me a little.  What, are they afraid I’m going to stuff a painting into it?  I used the time in the short coat check line to take pretty much everything out of my backpack and put it in the pockets of my jacket, before handing it to the coat check guy, feeling very much like I was sticking it to The Man.

And, from there, I started wandering.

Much like this guy. Except *he* got to bring his backpack. Anarchist.

I saw that they had a wing of Asian Art, and headed straight for it.  Unfortunately, I still had to go through some other, intrinsically less interesting rooms.

I’m not sure what this exhibit of china and silver serves that wouldn’t be equally served in the cutlery section of Macy’s, but who am I to judge? I’m sure that my grandmother would have liked it, so I guess I’ll allow it to remain. For her sake.

The landscapes were nice enough. Some quite nice, really. But a web page of photos of paintings of landscapes seems like too many degrees of separation to be worth it, so I’ll stick to this pano.

I think this one was titled “A Temperance Meeting”, by Winslow Homer, but I shall always think of it as “I’ve got work to do too, you know. Fetch your own damn water next time.”

I confess, I’ve never seen the point of still lifes. “Oh, look, some vegetables. On a table. With nothing remotely interesting happening. I’ll take two!” I mean, I guess they’re useful as practice for the artist in exploring the mechanics of representing light, shadow, and perspective, but why they end up in museums as opposed to on the practice heap, to be scraped and have their canvases reused for something more engaging, is beyond me. Maybe they were sold to medieval markets, to advertise their produce sections? That’s the best I can come up with.

Finally, I got to the Asian Art wing, which is really quite impressive.  For example, one room has an entire Japanese tea house (where they occasionally have real tea ceremonies), guest house, and Buddhist temple built into it.

A scene so familiar, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d been here in a previous life. Or in this one. Because you had. Well, I had, at any rate, during a couple of extra days after a comic book convention 6-8 years ago. Which I’d completely forgotten about visiting the museum during, and only started to suspect otherwise when looking at the Rocky statue and museum front steps, becoming certain in this room. Jiminy Christmas! At this rate, a few years down the line I’ll be coming back into England and the border guard will ask, “Have you been here before?” And I’ll answer “Nope, first time!” And he’ll say, “What about all these stamps in your passport? And, in my database, it says you were knighted for heroically taking a bullet for the Queen.” And “I’ll say, OMG, you’re right. But the knighthood was really overblown. In truth, I just took in a ballet, set to Queen music.” And he’ll laugh, and say, “Yeah, like *you* would go the ballet.” And then I’ll feel slightly embarrassed, and… But I think I may be getting a bit off track here. My point is, I suddenly realized that I’d visited this museum before. It’s still a cool place, though.

♬ Oh, what a feeling ♬
♬ When we’ve dragons on the ceiling. ♬

It’s so cute! Like a cheery woodland sprite peeking out of a dragon costume.

One of the museum’s long-time curators was a woman who’d traveled extensively in Asia, and had a large collection, which eventually included much of a ruined Hindu temple. She had it set up here, one of several such large rooms, including the tea house room, and a Tibetan hall (which for some reason I didn’t take a picture of). You rarely see large scale permanent exhibits like these. They’re very cool.

There were other cool things, like Buddhist and Taoist statues, Persian swords and armor, and the like.  But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and I left that section and headed into medieval European art.  And you know what that means:

Gods damn, did medieval artists all have bad relationships with their mothers? Because, as you’ll recall from many blog posts last year, Madonnas and Children who look at all happy with each other or their lot in life are few and far between. Here, we have the classic “Madonna Who Dropped Out of College When She Became Divinely Impregnated And Is Still Regretting The Career She Gave Up, and Child.”

Let’s be super clear: I am in no way intending to mock the story that — for want of a better word — “inspired” this piece.  But could the artist not show even a hint of maternal/filial affection, or happiness with the state of things?  Here’s what I get from this painting: “Even the happiest part of our religion is dreary and unpleasant. Good luck avoiding Hell.”  I’m just saying, they could be doing better.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s his favorite bed-time story, he drags it with him everywhere. I’ve read it to him 43 times so far. But who’s counting?”

“Make that 44. I’d swear it’s getting longer every time I read it.”

Mary’s extra clavicle-boobs were the main reason God chose her to be the receptacle of His grace.

“He smells like he needs changing.”
“It’s your turn to change him.”
“No, way, I changed him last time! Get the guys with the diaper bags to do it, it’s their job for Pete’s sake.”

And, what collection of medieval Christian art would be complete without at least one Annunciation featuring a Mary who is clearly having none of it:

“Uh uh, buddy, you’re not getting your ‘divine seed’ anywhere near this girl. Go away, and for gods sake, wash your hair. And maybe try a conditioner!”

We all remember where we were, when we heard that Firefly was cancelled.

Finally, a decent rendering! Of course, it was dated 1646, and was in a different gallery entirely. But, still, wholesome and not at all disturbing in any way! Yaay, that.

Moving on, there were rooms of medieval arms and armor:

If there is a red-blooded male for whom the armor and weapons room of a museum is not the best room, I do not wish to know them. (Which, in fairness, does not much distinguish them from any other human, red-blooded, or male, or otherwise. But, you know, still….)

Amongst the bravest of his peers, Heinrik the Handless did not let his disability keep him from the field of battle.


This was actually pretty impressive: the wreath looks remarkably 3D, even in a photograph of the painting. Imagine how absolutely amazing and trippy that must have been to contemporary viewers, before the days of 3D glasses. The artist is lucky they weren’t burned as a witch!

Finally, one more Madonna and Child from today’s trip:

“Our Lady of the Reedbed of Irún with Donor, Captain Joaquín Elorrieta” from Ecuador, around 1750. Weird, but strangely cheerful. I like it.

By this time, it was getting close to 5pm, so I retrieved my backpack, repacked it, and headed over to Whole Foods for to pick up a salad and call it a day.  The museum ticket was good for two days, and there was plenty I hadn’t seen yet, so I figured I might as well come back on Thursday, and maybe walk the surrounding park a bit more.  And, as it turns out, I was right.

Thursday, January 12th

I spent the morning on e-mail, Twitter, meditation, yoga, miscellaneous stuff, and headed out towards the museum after lunch.  This time, a slightly different route treated me to some new views:

Seeing that huge wall a few blocks north, I started to walk towards it. Until I checked Google Maps, and realized it was the State Pen. (Not to be confused with Penn State, though I understand they may now share some folks in common.) So I turned back and kept going.

Another church. My apologies for the slight skew of the right side of the church; despite many attempts, I could not seem to get a panorama that didn’t tilt either all or part of picture to the right. (Maybe a subtle political message from God?)

Standing on the museum steps, facing the south end of the park. Note the old guy on the left, celebrating his single run up the steps. Good for you, mate. Your laurel wreath awaits.

Today, after once again emptying my backpack into my jacket pockets and checking it, I headed into the Modern Art wing of the museum.  Rather against my better judgement, truth be told, but you never know: I might find something impressive and inspiring.

Or… not. As usual, I find myself wondering what the point of this is. And it’s a Picasso, for cripe’s sake! This, as I see it, is the museum’s fault. Picasso is supposed to be some great painter, so would it be too hard to add to the plaque something explaining why I should be impressed with this scratchy-looking painting of some woman’s disproportionate head, neck, and shoulders. I am *very* willing to be educated on this subject. I don’t see the appeal, so please explain it to me. Because “Oil on cardboard” is not enough to win me over.

Or this, a Renoir. “Woman with a Guitar.” More precisely, “Out of focus Woman with a Guitar.” I guess it’s a vaguely pretty collection of colors, but why am I looking at it? What message am I meant to get or, alternatively, what virtues of the painterly art is it meant to exhibit? Because all I felt from it was the need to clean my glasses, and I don’t wear glasses.

Oh, you are gods damn kidding me.

“Bride”, by Marcel Duchamp. Or possibly “Two Sailboats Mating.” I think my notes may be out of order.

Either “Man, Woman, and Child” by Joan Miró, or “Toucan Having an Existential Crisis”. Your call.

An exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly works, showing his mastery of putting black paint on an off-white background. “Coming to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s in New York, Kelly’s singular view influenced several generations of younger artists.” For this alone, his soul is condemned to wander beside the lake of screaming goats until the turning of the age.

Leaving the Modern Art wing, I quickly came to more palatable fare.

This was not only more pleasant to look at than the preceding pieces, it was a marvelous example of 19th century artists’ willingness to portray assassination in a favorable light. One so rarely sees garroting shown in such a positive way these days. Our loss.

I saw many other pieces in the museum, but they were generally pretty standard European fare: more Christian art (often dubious); landscapes with idyllic Grecian ruins; portraits of overdressed and doubtless overflattered noblemen/women.  It was all well and good, but you know the sort of thing I’m talking about.  There’s little need to reproduce it here.

Afterwards, I collected my backpack and wandered north through the riverside park — which would have been lovely if not for the major roads and freeways passing around and through it for — as far as I can tell — its entire length.  I gave it about 45 minutes, and then got tired of listening to traffic and headed back in the general direction of Whole Foods, passing through slightly different neighborhoods this time — the highlight of which was passing a building that’s now condominiums but used to be a beer brewery.  I’d show pictures… but it’s really just a standard-looking apartment building with a sign out front announcement its formerly beery nature.

One thing I noticed, as I walked around on the various days of my stay: Philadelphia does not seem terribly interested in Walk lights at street crossings.  I might have seen a couple during my visit, but mostly there were just traffic lights, and pedestrians were supposed to figure it out.  There were even traffic lights used when only walk signals would have made sense, sometimes facing away from the traffic on one-way streets.  Go figure.

Anyway, that was the day.

(FYI, there was a Rodin Museum nearby, but it was closed this month for renovations. I’d love to include an appropriate image of someone looking a bit sad and pensive over the closure, but nothing comes to mind.  Ah well, moving on.)

Friday, January 13th

Friday was the now usual mucking-about in the morning with email and Twitter and Fallout Shelter and yoga and meditation.  Then, after lunch again, I walked east across the city to a movie theater about a block east of Independence Hall, at the lower right of the map above, where I planned to watch the movie A Monster Calls.  I’d been looking forward to it ever since I’d seen the trailers, months ago, and only a few days before I’d realized that it was out in theaters, and I had this one week in Philly to see it before I left for Europe and it was relegated to later Amazon or Netflix viewing.  So, I looked up where it was playing, and the time (1:40pm) and headed off.

I’m going to leap ahead very slightly and report that the movie was not at all what I expected it to be.  It *looked* to me like one of those urban fantasy, supernatural intruding on real life, kid meets a powerful spirit guardian and gains magical powers to solve his real-world problems sorts of stories, where I would want to see it alone because I’d probably end up crying because the magical elements resonated so strongly.  And I did end up crying.  But it wasn’t really that kind of movie at all.  It was built around a kid dealing with the tough hand he’d been dealt, and trying to come to terms with it — not a light, exciting, fantasy romp but instead a much darker story, and more real.  Though, at the same time, my first impression may not have been that far off.  It’s hard to say, without revealing things.  But it was a really terrific movie, and I can absolutely recommend it.

Along the way, I passed some pretty cool stuff, as is the custom on such walks.

Such as this.

And this. Walking through Philly’s Chinatown, it seems a little more functional, a little less tourist-centric, than those of some other cities, like San Francisco and New York. It feels a little more like Chinese and Chinese-descended people still live around here and go to these places. I could certainly be wrong — one casual stroll through a few streets hardly makes me an expert — but that’s how it struck me. I did pass a restaurant that I ate at with some friends many years ago. I’d have been tempted to go in and have a meal, but I had places to go.

One sign, of many. Turns out, there’s a lot of stuff to see in Philly’s Historical City Center.

The sign describing Franklin Square, a modest park on one city block, bordered by a busy road and a freeway. I’m sure it’s nicer in other seasons, when the trees are green. But it mostly felt like another park where you couldn’t get away from traffic noise.

Still, not without its virtues, I guess.

I was tempted to go there. I’d read online that they had one of the first public printings of the Constitution there — the original being in the Smithsonian. But a building just *about* the Constitution didn’t feel like a strong draw. I can find that sort of thing on the internet.

The Constitution Center is at the north end of Independence Park, behind me, and Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both drafted and signed — is on the south end, ahead of me. The building with the Liberty Bell is on my right.

Looking at these places, it came to me that this was a really good place to be visiting, at this turbulent time in our national politics.  With literal fascists being appointed to high office, under a leader who, at best, gives no appearance of caring for the principles of these documents or even for making a consistent set of statements (much less the loftier goal of speaking some viewpoint of a truth), visiting the foundation of our democracy and meditating more on the principles established here seemed particularly apt.  But I had a movie to get to.  So, later, democratic principles!

So, movie watched and enjoyed, and post-movie emotional sniffles concealed from the humans around me, I left the theater and briefly considered stopping in to see these sites.  But it was late in the afternoon, I had longish walk back in chilly weather, and I thought it might be better to not be rushed through the exhibits, and be able to walk home while the sun was still up.  So I did, down Chestnut Street, which like many of the surrounding blocks is chock full of shops and restaurants and semi-official buildings and seems like a lovely place to stroll and shop on a warm spring afternoon.  I, myself, set a very brisk pace to stay warm, pausing only to catch Pokemon and occasionally take pictures of interesting and historic sites.

This Monument Left Intentionally Blank

You can, if you like, reproduce my walk with considerably less exertion, by going to the Google Maps street view and stepping your way east.  If you cross a river, you’ve gone too far.

I read about these guys; they’ve been much more successful since they changed their name from Harmful Savings And Loan.

This is something we don’t have nearly enough of on the West Coast. Random castles. Feels very European.

I stopped by Whole Foods again, but this time I bought a salad bar box and a small cheesecake, went to their indoor pub, ordered something dark, and had dinner there.  Don’t recall the beer’s name, but it was quite good, and I felt suitably fortified afterwards.

Saturday, January 14th

Nothing of significance.  Really.  I don’t think I left the studio.  I was scheduled to play ESO with Mum and Sarah from 1-3 my time, and that was sufficiently in-the-middle-of-my-day that trying to compact anything around the sides of it just seemed like too much work.  (I’d originally thought I’d try to see the University of Philadelphia campus and surrounding area sometime on this visit, but it didn’t happen.  With Philly as a central airport hub, I’m likely to get other chances, so next time, I guess.)   So, Twitter, reading, yoga, meditation, YouTube, etc.  That sort of thing.

Sunday, January 15th

The day I’d had earmarked to visit Constitution Hall.  Normally, you have to get tickets — which are free, but you’re advised to reserve them on the website — but during the 2 or 3 coldest months the crowds are lower and they don’t use them.  So, around 9:30 I had a fortifying snack of Icelandic Skyr, and headed out.

Thank Whole Foods for providing this exotic treat. Which is, um, yogurt. That’s pretty much it. “It’s different from yogurt because we use Icelandic bacteria!” No… that just makes it local yogurt. You think anyone else doesn’t use local bacteria? You think the Greek’s are importing Turkish bacteria to make Greek yogurt? No. They use Greek bacteria, make Greek yogurt, and you know the fancy name they market it under? “Greek yogurt.” Ooo, we use traditional German yeast to brew this, so it’s not beer, it’s “Alkoholmitspeziellenlokalenhefe”. No, it’s “beer”. “Bier”, if you really want to go native. Get over yourselves.
(FYI, it was pretty good yogurt.)

BTW, looking at that photo, I just noticed that I ate it a day past its sell-by date. No harm done.  (Maybe that Icelandic bacteria is hardier than normal?  Or less so? I’m not sure which would be better, when you’re talking about eating expired food.)

Along the way, I saw the usual sights:

I didn’t realize that Philly was such a science city, but they have a charter school specializing in String Theory. That’s pretty cool!

Thankfully, I was on a roll and didn’t have to land here. Could have cost me $200!

Another cool mural.

And, by around 11:30, I arrived:

From the front — this one from when I was here on Friday afternoon. Sunday morning, there was a pretty steady stream of tourists going in that front door, let through in guided groups after going through a metal detector and bag scan.

The Wikipedia page has much of this building’s history, and links to the people, events, and documents related to it.  My group’s tour guide was a member of the National Park Service, and may well have been a Shakespearean actor in a former life.  A stout fellow in maybe his late 40s, with a seriously booming voice, he led us first to the state court room.

The ground floor held two rooms, and we saw the western room first. Originally the state courtroom, it was briefly the site of the U.S. Supreme Court, until that moved to a different building and later to other cities. Here, the guide gave us mostly background about the building and some miscellaneous info — like the original British crest above the judges’ seats was taken down when we declared independence and paraded through the streets to be shown and mocked before being burned with a bunch of other symbols of British authority.

The eastern room was the debate hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated, drafted, and approved, and the guide told those stories very effectively.

I can’t say this strongly enough: these are the founding sites of the American Myth, the stories that we are told as children, taught in schools, read in books, watched in movie theaters. There’s a power that you feel, when you’re in the presence of your cultural myths, a sense of something so much bigger than yourself.  And, in the case of these particular American Myths, it’s a solely positive myth and therefore that much more awe-inspiring.  If you were British and went to visit the crown jewels, or Buckingham Palace, or the Magna Carta… they’re complicated. The authority of a King, or the symbol of a group of nobles taking power back for themselves, is a mixed symbol, that may or may not move you in different and possibly conflicting ways. Rome’s Colosseum is a pivotal symbol of Italian history, as is the Vatican, but there’s both good and harm in them for an Italian.  Most cultural edifices grew up organically, over long periods, and have a lot of mixed associations.

Not so with Independence Hall.  America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out here, and those ideals themselves were not complete at the time.  But they were perhaps the first coherent statement of the rights of mankind to be crafted into the founding of a nation.  We can debate aspects of their meaning and interpretation, and how to update them as our civilization matures, but the defining story of the American identity was established here, a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”[*]  This is where that seed was planted, the seed that grew into who we are as a people, and if you come from our culture and believe in these principles, it would be hard to visit this place and be unmoved.

Our country has always had challenges to overcome, both within and without.  And there are always those who seek to deny or diminish the freedoms that were established here and those freedoms that have grown up from these initial principles.  People who want to restrict freedom of speech (because they fear unfamiliar or disagreeable viewpoints, or they want to suppress dissent), or freedom of religion (because of heresy or fear of extremist minorities), or they wish to govern by personal preference, or the desire for money or power or attention, or simply by unquestioned fiat.  But, in the end, this clear, defining, foundational statement of values and principles — of government deriving its authority from the governed and in the interests of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — is such a matter of national identity and shared Myth that there are always those who will strive to retain and extend its promise.  And that gets us through times of strife and corruption and past (sometimes too slowly but still inexorably) our national errors and failings.  We are not a perfect nation, but we share an ideal of perfection, and from that shared ideal progress comes, despite all trials and obstacles.

I ended up in Philly almost by accident. But it was a good time to be here, and I’m grateful that I was.

The brief tour ended in this second room, and I offered my compliments to the guide, as I passed him, for an exceptional presentation.  Leaving the building, there were a couple of adjacent buildings, which hardly anybody went to; they did the tour, and then took off.  But the other buildings were definitely worth the visit.  The first that I went to was a ground floor space holding some historical documents in protectively dim lighting, such as this one:

George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, that he carried with him to remind him of his duties.

Words from its signers.

Descriptions of its contents, in many of the languages of its immigrant citizens.

And, in the building next door:

On the ground floor, the original meeting hall of the House of Representatives, in Congress.

On the second floor, in addition to various administrative rooms, is the original meeting room of the Senate.

There were National Park Service attendants in these other buildings also, though they weren’t as much tour guides. I noticed they had standard brief statements explaining the rooms, and then simply answered questions when asked.  I have to say, I was very impressed with everybody in the NPS here.  They were unfailingly upbeat (but not in your face about it), friendly, and informative, and seemed able to give the same spiel over and over again to new tourists without losing any of its freshness.  It was a vital service, and they performed it admirably.

After this, I went across to the Liberty Bell building, across the street to the north.  This was a long, low building with an entrance (and security screening) on one end, the bell on the other, and a series of exhibits all along the way, dedicated to the association of the Liberty Bell with the freedom and civil rights of Americans throughout the nation’s existence.  Starting with this sign on a windowed block next to the entrance line, before you even got in the door:

And then, once through the entrance:

A great point of significance, as described here and in the Wikipedia article about the bell, is that it only exists as a symbol of American freedom and ideals because of the abolition movement.  I think most people have a vague concept of the bell as having been rung to announce the signing of the Declaration, or perhaps to warn the city of British attacks, and maybe the famous crack in it came from British bullets or canonfire. Nope on all counts.  It used to hang in the Independence Hall tower, there’s a line from Leviticus on the bell about liberty, and the abolitionists seized on those things, made it their symbol, and gave it a name.  And once you give a historical artifact a mythic name like that, it becomes a part of the broader Myth.  I had to wonder, while I was walking through, if all of this gives visiting racists pause.  Do they get upset at the “contamination” of something they regarded as a national symbol that should be independent of <viewpoints they don’t agree with>?  Do they glower past the exhibits until they get to the bell, view it, and leave resentfully? Or do any of them take that message of “Liberty for All” away with them, and reconsider?  I can only hope for the latter.

There were many pictures of minority groups (or, in the case of women, a majority group) fighting for freedom and civil liberties, sometimes on their own and sometimes in direct association with the bell. 

There was an exhibit about the Women’s Liberty Bell, created by the suffragists:

While I was there, there was a little girl, maybe 10 years old, determinedly reading out loud all of the text of this exhibit about the struggle for women’s rights. It was really kind of moving.

Well, hello Dalai!

And the Liberty Bell itself. The holographic doctor from Voyager was another excellent Park Service presenter. (Kudos to his programmer.) And his most interested questioner was the little Asian-American girl next to him.

And, the exhibit’s final message:

Well, that’s timely.


And that, I think, will be that.  This was my last full day in Philadelphia, I checked out the next morning at around 10:30, walked 25 minutes to a subway (in a surprisingly clean and well organized subway nexus), and rode it around 40 minutes to the airport to catch my 6:50pm flight.  A bit of a wait in a warm, arid, airport, but there was WiFi and meditation and reading to be had, so no biggie.

Next entry: Seville! (Coming soon, to a blog near you.)

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Beer and Claustrophobia in Dublin

So, Glasgow proceeds apace.  I’m here for another couple of days, and then back to Edinburgh on the 27th.  It’s all going well; the people are great, it’s super international, there’s lots of holistic stuff going on, the weather is varied (but generally thought to be unseasonably warm — or, what most of us would call “cool but comfortable”).  I quite like the city so far.

But I get ahead of myself.  Haven’t left Ireland yet, have I?  So, back we go….

(NOTE: I fit the whole Dublin experience into this post, so it’s a bit longer.  If you decide you want to read it in smaller fragments, I will not look askance at you.)

Tuesday, August 23rd

Liz dropped me off at the Kinsale bus stop at around 12:40, to catch the 1:00 bus to Cork, which arrived at around 1:40, more than enough time to walk across the downtown area to get to the bus going to Dublin at 3:00.  She said I could probably catch the next bus, an hour later, and still be fine, but why have to rush across downtown?  Carrying probably closer to 50lbs of backpack (including a full bag of oatmeal — I’d overprovisioned), I agreed.

It’s probably worth including the UK map again, since it shows Ireland, Cork towards the bottom, and Dublin on the center-east coast. (As usual, ignore the reused image comments.)

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This Google Map view doesn't make the England/Scotland border obvious, so drawn a rough approximation in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This Google Map view doesn’t make the England/Scotland border obvious, so drawn a rough approximation in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.

The bus trip had the usual medley of Irish sights: narrow roads, green fields, green trees, cows, more cows, and buildings in various states of repair.

You know letting things fall into disrepair is a tradition in Ireland, when even little geolocation games recognize landmarks by their abandoned status.

You know letting things fall into disrepair is a tradition in Ireland, when even little geolocation games recognize landmarks by their abandoned status.

The bus arrived without difficulty, and over the next 25 minutes or so I walked my way from the stop, over a bridge spanning the lower tributary branch of the Lee, and over to the main bus terminal near the Port of Cork.

My Dublin-bound bus departed from a spot directly across another small river from that terminal. Why the first bus didn't arrive at the terminal, nor my second bus depart from it, is beyond me. But it did give me a chance to wander through a bunch of streets in downtown Cork, which seemed to have been turned into a large, pedestrian-friendly, outdoor shopping/dining district, similar to Zagreb's.

We arrived from the south, getting off at a stop that I think was just below that “R610” roadsign, below the lower branch of the River Lee. Across the upper tributary, where you’ll see the star, was where my Dublin-bound bus departed from — almost directly across from the main bus terminal next to the Port of Cork. Why the first bus didn’t arrive at the terminal, nor my second bus depart from it, is beyond me. But it did give me a chance to wander through a bunch of streets in downtown Cork, which seemed to have been turned into a large, pedestrian-friendly, outdoor shopping/dining district, similar to Zagreb’s.

Downtown Cork seemed delightful, for the few minutes that I spent trudging through it; a bit old and worn, but accessible, and welcoming.  And busy? OMG. After almost 3 months on a rural peninsula, I couldn’t believe how busy it was!  People! Commerce! Dining! Traffic! It was like I’d forgotten what all that felt like. (Hint: It felt awesome!)

Little point in my going into these shops (especially with all my gear), but it was nice to see them there.

Little point in my going into these shops (especially with all my gear), but it was nice to see them there.

Almost wish I'd stayed in Cork for a few days. On the other hand, not really a huge amount of cultural stuff in it, so perhaps being impressed in passing was the best course.

Almost wish I’d stayed in Cork for a few days. On the other hand, not really a huge amount of cultural stuff in it, so perhaps being impressed in passing was the best course.

I couldn’t really sightsee, with all that I was carrying, but some things were in easy reach.

A small bit of green next to the river, with a couple of WWII monuments, a coffee shop, and a seafood cafe. Which I wouldn't have known about, except there was a pokestop at the Hiroshima/Nagasaki memorial. So, um, yeah.

A small bit of green next to the river, with a couple of WWII monuments, a coffee shop, and a seafood cafe. Which I wouldn’t have known to track down, except there was a Pokestop at the Hiroshima/Nagasaki memorial. So, um, yeah.

You know, you could probably get an idea of me walking through foreign cities, never looking up because my eyes are glued to the PokemonGo app.  Funny thing is, I’ve ended up seeing more things because of it.  (A) It encourages me to be out walking around for longer than I might be otherwise.  (B) Much of the time, it’s at my side or in my pocket, and I use an earpiece to alert me to when it wants attention. And (C) the Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms at set up at points of interest (as marked in Google’s database), which I often wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.  Many times I’ve been walking from point A to point B and heard (via the one earphone I use in my right ear) the characteristic “swush” alert of a nearby point coming into range.  I pull out the phone to see what the app has found, and discover some curious architectural feature, or a well-known mural on a side-street, or a plaque commemorating the birth/life/death of some famous figure.  As in that snapshot above, you see the picture, and a title, and sometimes you can click in the title and see some details. Just a few days ago, in Glasgow, I found a Banksy painting on a wall near my walking path which I’d have never looked for if the app hadn’t told me.  (I’ll include a picture of it when I “review” Glasgow.)  So, while the app’s not without its cons, the pros have definitely been outweighing them for me.

The lower branch of the River Lee, next to the Hiroshima Memorial / seafood cafe.

The lower branch of the River Lee, next to the Hiroshima Memorial / seafood cafe.

The upper branch of the River Lee, facing east, with the main bus terminal a block or so down on the right and the Dublin (et al.) bus area that I wanted on the left.

The upper branch of the River Lee, facing east, with the main bus terminal a block or so down on the right and the Dublin (et al.) bus area that I wanted on the left.

Two interesting things at the end of the bridge....

Two interesting things at the end of the bridge….

A couple of odd things to note in the picture above.  The first is “Paddywagon”.  That’s a term I grew up hearing and knew to be a term for a police van used to round up drunks/brawlers/rioters to bring them in for booking. I’ve since heard people say that it’s a bigoted term one shouldn’t use, because it comes from the East Coast view of the Irish as being problematic: “Paddy” refers to St Patrick and hence to the Irish, so it’s a van used to round up “those drunkard Irishmen”.  Ok, I’d thought; I can see how that’s a concern.  Thing is: (a) if there are folks in the U.S. who still care whether someone is Irish or not, I haven’t heard from them in my lifetime; and (b) the Irish seem pretty happy with the term.  I saw a few of these Paddywagon shops around — I think it’s a chain of bookie joints — plus a bunch of other “Paddy” things.  So, I think I’m going to stop worrying about it.  But with the criticisms I’ve heard about the term, it was surprising to see it so readily used.

The second is the Warhammer shop, part of what appears to be a chain in the UK.  Warhammer is an institution in fantasy board and video games and books, and game shops seem to be doing much better in the UK than they are in the states.  Maybe because the cities are more centralized and people can get to physical shops more easily?  Maybe.  But it was cool and surprising to see.

I had a bit of time to kill before my bus left, so I wandered over to the bus station, used their bathroom, marveled at the abundance of city Pokemon, and eventually sat down near the bus and snacked on my provisions.  At the appointed hour, we boarded (it was, thankfully, not too crowded and I had no one but my backpack next to me), and were on our way.  It was uneventful, except for one moment near the end when the bus driver stopped, came back to check the restroom, and then announced that smoking wasn’t allowed on the bus and don’t *make* him turn this bus around or we’d be sorry!  Or words to that effect.

I took pictures out the window, but, you know: green. Quite pretty really, but not really anything new there.

Oh, very well. I guess one won't hurt.

Oh, very well. I guess one won’t hurt.

I’d been a bit melancholy, leaving southern Ireland and Liz and Lia and the cats and my very comfortable room in the old farm house. But watching the landscape pass from the bus window, I felt really free again and the melancholy just evaporated.  So that was nice.  🙂

One rather annoying bit: watching our arrival in Dublin, via Google Maps, we drove within a few blocks of where I was staying, before going on to our official stop a 25 minute walk away. Sigh.

So, at about 6pm, we got off in the heart of Dublin, at a point known as Batchelor’s Walk on the River Liffey, which runs through the center of the large, old downtown.

A map of the center of Dublin, with a few points of interest circled. I was staying at the star circled at the lower left. The bus dropped me off at the circled star in the center of the map (not far from the National Leprechaun Museum -- but more on that later).

A map of the center of Dublin, with a few points of interest circled. I was staying at the star circled at the lower left. The bus dropped me off at the circled star in the center of the map (not far from the National Leprechaun Museum — but more on that later).

I trudged my way through picturesque streets with lots of traffic, taking note of things I ought to visit later.

Despite the tourist trap name, I was really quite set on going to "Traditional Irish Pub". It didn't pan out, but next time!

The green-outlined building on the river’s south bank. Despite the tourist trap name, I was really quite set on going to “Traditional Irish Pub”. It didn’t pan out, but next time!

The first restaurant I've seen that was named after how you'd ask your phone to help you find a place to eat. Like naming your business "AAA Acme Products", but for the modern era.

The first restaurant I’ve seen that was named after how you’d ask your phone to help you find a place to eat. Like a modern version of naming your business “AAA Acme Products”.

After a walk that made me intimately aware of the weight of my belongings, I eventually arrived at my home for the next 4 nights:

The Hell Pit

Whoops, spoilers!  (Although, since it starts the section, “Whoops, title!” is probably more appropriate.  Not so much foreshadowing, as justbeforeshadowing.)

You can see where the place is on the map, the circled star at the lower left.  Good location, easy walking distance to the center of town, museums, etc, and only a few blocks from the Guinness Storehouse, where they do the brewery tour.  So, locationally, ideal.  Here’s the Airbnb link.  It’s one in a row of Irish rowhouses, which I should have taken a picture of while I was there, but Google Street View will suffice:

A bit bleak looking on the outside, but those are the old buildings. The pics on Airbnb show it's modernized on the inside. A lot of these dingy looking homes had shiny new doors -- that's gentrification for you.

It’s a couple of doors down on the left. A bit bleak looking on the outside, but those are the old buildings. The pics on Airbnb show it’s modernized on the inside. A lot of these dingy looking homes had shiny new doors — that’s gentrification for you.

The picture of the bedroom they were renting out looked a bit small, but I was only there for a few days, so no big deal. Though, as it turned out, the overall inside of the 2 bedroom place was scaled to match; if that home was 800 square feet in total, I’d be surprised. (For reference, if that value doesn’t feel meaningful to you, my old condo in Santa Monica was about 1300 square feet.  Combine the small size with the row house placement, and you get a powerful sense that this was where the poor people used to be packed in, until they had to sell their children for scientific experiments.

Well, I’ll let my Airbnb review describe it:

Sara and Thomas are very nice people, and their place is clean and pleasantly decorated, a modernized, 1-story row house that is an easy walk south of the Guinness Storehouse, and close to a grocery store and several bus lines. It’s very well located in Dublin, about a 20 minute walk from the city center. It has a lightly equipped kitchen, and decent WiFi.

It’s downsides are all related to nature of the space. The apartment itself is small; the room size is clear in the pictures but the whole 2-bedroom place is compact, and the clear acoustics and otherwise-quiet background make even small sounds carry, so you hear pretty much everything from everyone. I recommend white noise apps and/or earplugs to any travelers, generally, but definitely here, and I was very self-conscious about any noise that I made myself, including shower noise, squeaky door handles, etc. (And felt guilty about a small electronic beep from a device that I didn’t even notice until after the host pointed it out.) Similarly, the interior doors are mostly frosted glass, so any light from other parts of the place will unavoidably light the bedrooms; you’ll want blinders if you’re light-sensitive when trying to sleep. The small bedroom has little air circulation, so I’d advise leaving the door open when possible. (Some of these problems could be easily solved with a small adjustable fan, for white noise and air, and a curtain for the door glass.) The mattress was Ok for me, but you are aware of the springs when you lie on it; if you need something firm, due to back problems, it may not work for you.

In summary: this a small space in a good location hosted by nice people, that’s probably better suited to short stays where you’re looking for a place to crash while you’re out sightseeing most of the day.

This might be the most negative review I’ve ever written for a place, and for the overall rating I only gave it 3 stars.  I think I gave that little box in Chiang Mai’s Old City, where I was sick from air pollution and the shower made me fear electrocution, 4 stars.  In fact, part of me wanted to give the Dublin place a mere 1-star, because I hated this place. I said that Sara and Thomas were nice people — it would be more correct to say that they acted friendly, but I got this weird vibe the whole time I was there, like I was intruding.  Between that, and the size, and the feeling that every noise I made disturbed them, and the poor ventilation in the room, the whole thing felt claustrophobic as hell!

The thing is: there was no false advertising. The listing has no inaccuracies. My reactions are simply my reactions.  And, judging by most of there other reviews, most people don’t have a problem with it. So, I tried to describe the downsides objectively, and be positive otherwise, knowing that simply describing the downsides would warn off anyone who cared about such things.

When you fill out the review survey, you can say things to the host privately that won’t appear in your public review — in this case, I did not.  But you can also say things directly to Airbnb that the host doesn’t see, and I occasionally do (positive or negative).  Here was my comment to Airbnb:

I think this might be the worst rating I’ve given a place since I started using Airbnb. I did my best to write as positive a review as I could, while still noting the really very strong problems so that others would know what they were getting.  The hosts are really very nice people, and I feel badly that I couldn’t write a more favorable review.   But I felt *so* self-conscious of every little sound I made while I was there, and heard most of theirs,  and I’ve never felt as claustrophobic in a space as I did while staying there.  Leaving felt like an escape!  I should be clear: there’s nothing intrinsically *wrong* with it or them, it’s just a super odd space. If it doesn’t bother any other guests, awesome.  And, in fairness, maybe they were equally glad to get rid of me. (“My gods, every sound he makes just *carries*! How does he do it?”)  Anyway, thanks for the chance to vent here.  🙂

It turns out, I was being a bit prescient in that.  One nice thing that Airbnb started doing, shortly before I started using it, was not posting the reviews until both parties have had a chance to review each other.  That way, you don’t know what they said about you when you write your review of them, and so you can’t give a negative “revenge” review if the other party reviews you badly. (Which I’ve read was not uncommon, before I joined.) After a couple of weeks, the review window closes.  A few days after I submitted my review above, Sara posted hers, and then we could both see them:

Unfortunately we didn’t like the experience of hosting Charles. We didn’t really appreciate many things he was used to do: eating in the room, waking up at 5:00am everyday with no reason, after that spending almost 2 hours in the bathroom making so much noise…Any kind of communication with us. Please, POKEMON HUNTERS in our house are NOT welcome!

My very first negative review!  Woo-hoo!

I was kind of relieved by this, first because it substantiated the subtle sense I was getting (despite their surface affability) that I wasn’t welcome.  “Yay, it’s not just something I’m mocking up in my head!”  Second, it’s not as coherent as it might be.  Sara and  Thomas are Italian, and while their English seemed good enough, it doesn’t seem to extend to writing compelling text. Are they complaining that they got too much communication with from me (my noise level), or too little (I didn’t chat with them), or did they not like the kind of communication that I gave them? I can’t tell.  (I have come to suspect that they wanted me to be super friendly and sociable and hang out with them, but I never felt in sync enough with them to do that.)  And they don’t like that I play Pokemon Go? Which you play… outside, not in the apartment at all? And that is a problem… why?  (I suspect they were mistaking a different electronic noise for being that game, but that’s just a guess.)  And I’m up at 5am for no reason? So, you know that I have no reason, how? (Actual reasons: a, I’m a morning person; b, I’m super uncomfortable in your space and waking up earlier than usual, even though I’m tired.)  Anyway, if people are going to condemn you, you certainly want them to condemn you badly.  It makes them look less credible.

You get to respond to a review (positively or negatively), which I don’t think I’ve ever done before.  (Only one response, and there’s no counter response, so it can’t degenerate into an argument.)  So I wrote this:

I’m very sorry that my stay didn’t work out for you. I don’t know what the “2 hours in the bathroom” was, but your bedroom is right next the bathroom, and sound carried really well in your place — so maybe you stirred when I used the restroom, and again later when I came back to shower and shave, and thought it was all one visit? That’s the only thing I can guess, there. On the eating in my room point: I would suggest, if I may, that you add “Don’t eat in your room” to the house rules, if it’s a problem. I’ve seen a few other Airbnb hosts do that, and it’s very useful to know. (Or at least please do say something, when it comes up.) I always check the house rules before I arrive; I was trying really hard to stay out of your way, and if I wasn’t supposed to eat there, I could have easily gone outside or eaten somewhere else. I have stayed with a lot of different folks in my travels, and I’m quite happy to accommodate most rules or preferences, as long as someone tells me about them. Cheers!

I tried my best to hit the right tone: to neutralize the points that I thought might be problematic to other potential hosts; to explain to other hosts why these guys might be reacting as they did; and, most importantly, to sound more charming and reasonable and coherent than my critic (even while politely suggesting that they’re the ones at fault).  All while being sincere.  Sincerity is important, even if it’s hard work to fake. 😉

They never responded to my review of their place. Maybe they recognized the validity of my points, and couldn’t rebut them. (In truth, denial would be hard. Those things may or may not bother you, but they’re exceedingly real.)  Or maybe my referring to them as “nice” despite the apartment’s problem, while they were less positive about me, made them feel guilty? Or maybe they thought it wouldn’t matter compared to their many other almost uniformly positive reviews. (Nearly all Airbnb guests give short, favorable reviews. I rarely see detailed reviews on properties — positive or negative — and even more rarely see negative reviews on properties where the host lives there and you meet them. I think some people just don’t want to bother writing details and others can’t confront saying anything bad when they’ve met the host. I feel like I have an obligation to write what I’d like to see in a review — what I’d want to know myself.  So I do.  Be the change, and all that.  But I try to be gentler when the host is nice.)

What I did do, later, was update my Airbnb guest profile.  Partly because I wanted to make sure I fully countered the review — for example, I hadn’t included anything specifically about the early rising in my response, because I didn’t want to focus attention on it in case it made some hosts reluctant.  And as I thought about it afterwards, it seemed not only better to address that somewhere, but better in general to make it clear in my profile.  After all, if someone’s going to have a problem with that, why would I want to stay with them?

So I expanded my short paragraph (which used to be just the first paragraph below, not including the last sentence) into the much richer detail below.  (Airbnb says that it’s helpful to include lots of details, and I think I now agree with them.)  Then I ran it by Mark to get a “how does this sound” sanity check, which it passed. There’s a fox guarding the henhouse aspect to that, but whatevs. (BTW, the “Twitte.r” thing in the first paragraph is not a typo. Airbnb edits your text to hide things it thinks are problematic; and it typically hides links. The word “Twitter” seems to count, for some reason, so I had to mistype it to get past the filter.)

I’m a retired software architect, currently nomadic, living out of an overstuffed backpack and traveling the world, connected by my laptop. Hobbies include reading, meditating, sightseeing, online gaming, anime, and Twitte.r.  I love walkable cities with good public transit and lots of greenery, and places to stay with solid, fast Internet.  And I generally like to stay in places for longer periods, to get a better feel for the real lives of cities than you get in a whirlwind tour of tourist attractions.

I’m not an extrovert but I like people, and I usually get along pretty well with my hosts — how much we hang out depends on our schedules and temperaments and communication styles, of course.  I’m a morning person, and a pretty quiet one — and what I most often hear from my hosts is that when we weren’t talking they hardly knew I was there.

That said, my only negative review (it had to happen sometime, I guess, and it’s worth noting) came from a couple whose place was *very* small, where I could hear everything they did and they could hear me. They were night people, and our mismatched schedules were a problem: I was fine (I have earplugs and a white noise app, so I could sleep despite their noises), but my being awake and moving before 7am was waking them up.  Those 4 nights were not a comfortable experience for either of us.  So, if your place is set up such that someone moving, taking a shower, or making a cup of tea in the morning would disturb you, we might not be a good fit.  Beyond that (and this is also based on that review): if you have any problems during my stay, *please* do let me know. I’m very adaptable (you have to be, living in different spaces all the time), and I don’t generally mind changing how I do something if it will help.  I pay attention to the house rules, and on longer stays I make a point of asking how things are going, and if there are any changes my host would like me to make, just in case they’re reluctant to bring something up.  So do tell me, I won’t mind at all. 🙂

I’m pretty sure that will cover it.

Anyway, remember how I used to say that cottage on Koh Samui was the worst place that I’d ever stayed? Not any longer.  This place in Dublin will be forever known by me as The Hell Pit — beating out the place with crazy heat and humidity and gnats and mosquitoes, where a swarm of tiny insects once flew in my front door and spontaneously died in a heap on the floor.  We have a new Champion!

Other Than That How Was The Play, Mrs Lincoln?

The rest of Dublin was quite nice.

Wednesday, August 24th

I had made a reservation to take one of those hop-on-hop-off, city bus tours, like the one I’d done in Edinburgh, where you sit on the top of a double-decker bus and ride around the major tourist sites while a live or taped announcer tells you what they are and what you’re passing.  So, after an uncomfortable, stuffy, mildly claustrophic Tuesday night, I left Wednesday morning at around 8:30 and walked down to where the tour bus agency said their primary location was, stopping for Pokemon things along the way. (Take that, Hell Pit people!)  And for amusing sights.

The names of some old establishments don't really hold up well over time.

The names of some old establishments don’t really hold up well over time.

When I first saw this, I could have sworn it said "Brexit Cancer". Understandable, since everyone I follow on Twitter thinks of it that way.

When I first saw this, I could have sworn it said “Brexit Cancer”. Understandable, since everyone I follow on Twitter thinks of Brexit that way.

Finding my tour bus turned out to be a bit problematic.  Because the location is in front of the Gresham Hotel (marked on the map above, a little north of my arrival point) there are 4 or 5 other tourist buses that all stop there, and several offices for their agencies, and trying to find the one that matched my reservation was harder than it might sound.  But I made it, and then was treated to a 90 minute ride around the city, hitting so many Pokestops and catching so many of the little guys that it made me dizzy! (Metaphorically.)  Oh, and we saw stuff too, which was an excellent side-effect of riding the tour bus, and one could almost recommend the activity for that reason alone!

This shot manages to capture a couple of things: (a) a really pretty morning sky, and (b) the rather drab nature of most Dublin buildings. I mean, not that they're any worse than, say, a 70s-style apartment building. And it's not like they're hideous. But there's a kind of utilitarian, warehouse style to many of them. Compare the row house picture of my Airbnb location... It's just "housing that gets the job done".

This shot manages to capture a couple of things: (a) a really pretty morning sky, and (b) the rather drab nature of most Dublin buildings. I mean, not that they’re any worse than, say, a 70s-style apartment building. And it’s not like they’re hideous. But there’s a kind of utilitarian, warehouse style to many of them. Compare the row house picture of my Airbnb location… It’s just “housing that gets the job done”.

Amusingly, out of a whole 90 minute run round the city, that’s the only photo I took.  I’m sure the Pokemon is partly to blame — I was looking and listening to the tour, but switching to the camera in time to take a picture of something we were passing was, apparently, too much for me.  (In truth, tour buses are lousy places to take pictures from, and I’ve mostly given up trying.)

Anyway, when it was done, we were back at the Gresham and I could proceed to my walkabout of the local sites, many of which I’d noted on my tour.  (After a modest lunch at what I suppose could be called an Irish pub, though I had a basic beer and burger and it really felt more “standard lunch place” than a pub per se.  I had fully intended to let go of my “no Irish pubs in Ireland” conceit; but, in truth, none of the places I ate at were proper pubs with “traditional” Irish fare.  Thankfully, Flexibility is my middle name. (My folks had hopes they were raising a Yoga instructor; I fear that computers were a poor substitution.)

The birthplace of Oscar Wilde. The bus tour had taken us past his statue, at a nearby park -- and I wasn't really impressed by it. But my Pokemon Go app alerted me to this plaque as I got near it. So, winning!

The birthplace of Oscar Wilde. The bus tour had taken us past his statue, at a nearby park — and I wasn’t really impressed by it. But my Pokemon Go app alerted me to this plaque as I got near it. So, winning!

Merrion Square, the park that the statue is at the corner of. FYI, we had pretty good weather while I was in Dublin, and the parks were super popular hangouts. A couple of the days I was there, I just lay down on the grass, just out of the sunlight, and relaxed. Near multiple Pokestops, of course, so that I could play while I was there. And, btw, there were tons of people doing the same (I could often overhear bits of their conversation), and there was a really cool community feeling to it.

Merrion Square, the park that the Oscar Wilde statue is at the corner of. FYI, we had pretty good weather while I was in Dublin, and the parks were super popular hangouts. A couple of the days I was there, I just lay down on the grass of the nearby St Stephen’s Green, just out of the sunlight, and relaxed. Near multiple Pokestops, of course, so that I could play while I was there. And, btw, there were tons of people doing the same (I could often overhear bits of their conversation), and there was a really cool community feeling to it.

The Natural History branch of the National Museum of Ireland was near this park, and was free (like the other National Museums), so I stopped by.  It would be more accurately called The Hall O’Dead Things.

You know how some museums have rich, detailed exhibits that not only explain what you're seeing but tie it into a rich fabric of interconnections and understanding? This was the other kind. It's dead, we got it, come and look!

You know how some museums have rich, detailed exhibits that not only explain what you’re seeing but tie it into a rich fabric of interconnections and understanding? This was the other kind. It’s dead, we got it, come and look!

You want sea life? We got it!

You want sea life? We got it!

You want waterfowl? We got all kinds!

You want waterfowl? We got all kinds!

Ducks not your thing? How about some predator birds? Lethal killers, every one!

Ducks not your thing? How about some predator birds? Lethal killers, every one!

Maybe some nightmare-inducing Thestrals for the kids! Remind 'em they still need mommy and daddy to keep away the night terrors. :-D

Maybe some nightmare-inducing Thestrals for the kids! Remind ’em they still need mommy and daddy to keep away the night terrors. 😀

"You cannot comprehend the horrors we've seen."

“You cannot comprehend the horrors we’ve seen.”

"If the Manager gives you a ticket to the Dark Carousel, run! A priest can be your only salvation."

“Psst! If the Manager gives you a ticket to the Dark Carousel, for the love of God, run to the Holy Church! Trust not, lest ye share my fate.”

After that museum, I headed home — the backpack trek across the city the day before had been a bit uncomfortable, and the night more so, and I was looking forward to salad and chilling and watching a bit of Youtube (with headphones) and going to sleep.  Apparently, exactly the sort of thing that upset my hosts, but I didn’t know that at the time.
¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

Thursday, August 25th

The usual rising ritual, modified by my increasing paranoia about making any noise in the morning. I managed to get out fairly early, at around 7:45; my host Sara was up, and I said a cheerful good morning on my way out, receiving the same from her.  They had a policy of taking shoes off at the door, so I grabbed mine on the way out and paused outside the door to put them on.  She followed me outside, to tell me that it was Ok to put them on inside, and I cheerfully said thanks, I was fine, no worries.  I’m pretty sure that this interaction annoyed both of us. In retrospect, she was probably thinking, “Why is he ducking conversation?” And I was thinking, “We just had a perfectly pleasant conversation. Why are you making this super awkward?”  We were really just not in sync.

This day was a bit more of a casual wander, passing a variety of interesting things.

The Irish take their Viking heritage seriously. This Viking longboat ruin has been carefully preserved in its original state. Quite commendable.

The Irish take their Viking heritage seriously. This Viking longboat ruin has been carefully preserved in its original state. Quite commendable.

I was initially looking for a place to settle, have some coffee and maybe a snack, use the WiFi, and just chill in a place that didn’t feel so oppressive. Then, at the other end of a side street:

<Cue angelic choir.>

My second order of business was fixing my broken hiking shoes.  You may recall from the last post that the soles on both shoes had been separating from the uppers.  I’d looked up a shoe repair place downtown named Bryan’s Master Cobbler (?), which was right on the river, across the river and a couple of blocks west of where the bus had dropped me off.  It opened at 9, and I was there by 9:30.  I showed the guy the issue, and he said, no worries, it would take him just minutes to fix it.  The industrial glue he used set super-quickly so I could easily wait and wear them out again, and it would cost me €8 (about $9).  What a deal!  Then, while I was waiting, a woman came in complaining that her new high heeled shoes were too high, and the guy fixed those too.  (One assumes, correctly.)  A few minutes later, and I was confidently enshoed and on my way again. I was very happy with these guys.  It’s kind of amazing how much your comfort level improves, when you have been walking around for a couple of weeks worrying that your progressively-disengaging soles may trip you up if you misstep, and now you’re no longer worried.  Sooo much better!  (If only my progressively-disengaging soul could be so easily repaired.)

After that, the wandering.

Another spot that I was led to by the Pokemon Go app.

Another spot that I was led to by the Pokemon Go app.

I am sure that this Dublin eatery’s licensed and Marvel-approved. Of course it is.

I am sure that this Dublin eatery’s licensed and Marvel-approved. Of course it is.

While much of Dublin’s downtown area is walkable, commercial, and semi-touristy, some parts are more so, and the area near St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is more so, with several pedestrian-only blocks and street musicians. The center itself, while not terribly impressive as a mall, is cool to look at:

A visual delight, and a Feng Shui horror.

A visual delight, and a Feng Shui horror.

Of course, the real sign of a shopping-centric district does not come from shiny malls.

I really should go into these, every 5 years or so, to see if they've added anything interesting. I'm guessing that, since their big window display is about a sequel to a fishing trip, now is not the right time.

I really should go into these, every 5 years or so, to see if they’ve added anything interesting. I’m guessing that, since their big window display is about a sequel to a film about a fishing trip, now is not the right time.

Um, is this supposed to persuade me that you're great?

Um, is this supposed to persuade me that you’re great?

In fairness to the above establishment, I bet there’s a rich, dynamic world of dining challenges the people who eat out late have to deal with.  (Ha, ha, losers!)

Hah! I see what you did there. Well done! :-)

Hah! I see what you did there. Well done! 🙂

I ate lunch at a little restaurant with a patio on a small, pedestrian-only alleyway (the same one that the earlier hotel with the murals were on), that had Irish coffee and Irish stew, had a nice chat with the overworked waitress (it wasn’t rush hour yet, so I wasn’t holding her up), and it was entirely pleasant.  The bathrooms were downstairs, in what had clearly once been the servants domain.  But they were, odd.

Fortunately, I didn't need to use this. Because I'm not sure how you stand inside to close the door. Maybe lower the toilet lid and stand on it? ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

Fortunately, I didn’t need to use this. Because I’m not sure how you stand inside to close the door. Maybe lower the toilet lid and stand on it? ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

"Viking Irish Tours". This may be the best thing I've ever seen.

“Viking Irish Tours”. This may be the best thing I’ve ever seen.

I do not know what this means. Is it a place you go for drinks while your new hairstyle is drying? Is that a thing now? Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure it's too trendy for me, in my flannel and hiking shoes and self-cut hair.

I do not know what this means. Is it a place you go for drinks while your new hairstyle is drying? Is that a thing now? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s too trendy for me, in my flannel and hiking shoes and self-cut hair.

"Oy, mate, you can't come in. Can't you read the sign? It's reserved, and I'll thank you to step back, please. Thank you. Why hello, Miss September, it's good to see you again. Please this way...."

“Oy, mate, you can’t come in. Can’t you read the sign? It’s reserved, and I’ll thank you to step back, please. Thank you. — Why hello, Miss September, it’s good to see you again. Please, this way, the others have been waiting….”

After lunch, and some walkabout, I ended up at the branch of the National Museum of Ireland that is dedicated to Archeology.  Thankfully, not as Stacks-O’Dead-Things centric as the Natural History branch.

It's not a huge museum, but it's a nice one. The central atrium was filled with old jewelry, torcs and such. (I blew past these looking for the restroom, but I did come back later and they were cool.)

It’s not a huge museum, but it’s a nice one. The central atrium was filled with old jewelry, torcs and such. (I blew past these looking for the restroom, but I did come back later and they were cool.)

I was a bit worried at first, because the first halls I walked into had Mediterranean and Egyptian exhibits, and I was thinking, “Here now! I’m here for Irish stuff, don’t go wasting my time with Egyptology, I can get that in any country!”  It did shortly occur to me that this was being a bit unfair.  Museums in the U.S. don’t just have U.S. artifacts, and they are where U.S. citizens go to see things from Egypt, Europe, Asia, Africa, etc.  Irish museums should be serving their Irish citizens in the same way, and tourists should come second.  Quite right.  (And I soon moved out of those rooms into more tourist-appropriate sections anyway. They might have had Egyptian artifacts, but they didn’t have many. So, yay that.)

But as I thought about it later — and by later I mean yesterday, when I started thinking about writing this up — I don’t think I’ve seen any artifacts from the Americas in the European museums I’ve been in.  I know they must exist. Europe was raiding American cultures for hundreds of years before the Europeans actually in the Americas took over and established a monopoly on it.  So there must be stuff. But I haven’t seen any except one room (actually in this very museum) that had an exhibit about how an Irish scientist reported on terrible treatment of South American indigenous workers by a British company.  There were a few woven baskets and weapons in that, but it was mostly text displays on the walls and a few photos.  And a sign outside warning that things inside might be upsetting. Still not sure why.  This just seemed to be about super lousy working conditions — doubtless terribly unpleasant, but not horrific.  The British have done way worse than what was recounted in that room. (Way. Worse. Like, you don’t even want to read this report about Kenya. Jesus.)  Still, maybe I missed something.  There were a lot of words, and I do loathe words.

So, there was a little of the Egyptian stuff (which was pretty generic, so no photos), and then it moved on to some Irish Christian idolatry:

Without my walking stick

🎶 Without my walking stick,
♫ I’d go insane.
♫ I’m only half a man
♫ Without my cane.🎶

Found it.

Found it.

"Contemporary illustrations show jugs being used for a variety of purposes." So, alcoholism and... what is that? Bestiality? (I hope the curators were chuckling over their choices as they posted this. You very rarely see satirical museum plaques, and I think that the field is sorely missing out in not going with that more often.)

“Contemporary illustrations show jugs being used for a variety of purposes.” So, alcoholism and… what is that? Bestiality? (I hope the curators were chuckling over their choices as they posted this. You very rarely see satirical museum plaques, and I think that the field is sorely missing out by not going with satire more often.)

I'm not even going to ask.

I’m not even going to ask.

Killing me softly

🎶 Strumming my pain with his fingers,
♫ Singing my life with his words,
♫ Killing me softly with his song,
♫ Killing me softly with his song,
♫ Telling my whole life with his words,
♫ Killing me softly with his song.🎶

After a bit of the old monk-and-saint, it moved on to proper archeology, with an exhibit about Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin.

It was kind of a weird one; it had a recreation of a small Viking ship, and swords, and helms, and shield, and plaques explaining in a slightly disjointed way what had gone on with the people involved and the battle, but it wasn't presented in a structured narrative that you could easily follow. And that's despite a large wall display, with video, that seemed to be mostly about asking Irish people what they knew of their Viking heritage, and pointing out their weak answers -- without going into what the correct answers were. Kind of frustrating.

It was kind of a weird one; it had a recreation of a small Viking ship, and swords, and helms, and shield, and plaques explaining in a slightly disjointed way what had gone on with the people involved and the battle, but it wasn’t presented in a structured narrative that you could easily follow. And that’s despite a large wall display, with video, that seemed to be mostly about asking Irish people what they knew of their Viking heritage, and pointing out their weak answers — without going into what the correct answers were. Kind of frustrating.

I knew Brian Boru by name, but I knew only a little more about him after the exhibit than I did before. Honestly, other than a bit of extra soap opera backstory to some of the principals, I got as much out of the Wikipedia entry about the battle as I got out of the exhibit.

They had other rooms of Viking stuff — it seems to have been Viking Summer here at the museum, and it’s hard to go wrong with Vikings — and what looked like a 1980s BBC documentary about forts.  And they had a pretty huge exhibit on Irish bogs and how they formed and the things found in them, which was pretty cool.

Bog Butter, which I'd heard of before: great lumps of butter buried either for storage or as offerings. Some of it is still edible, thanks to the oxygen-free environment of the bog. Not this bit, I'm guessing.

Bog Butter, which I’d heard of before: great lumps of butter buried either for storage or as offerings. Some of it is still edible, thanks to the oxygen-free environment of the bog. Not this bit, I’m guessing.

Bog Buddy. My Aunt Olive used to have a saying, about someone who looked like they'd been "ridden hard, and put away wet". I've met a few folks like that over the years, but never this extreme.

Bog Buddy. My Aunt Olive used to have a saying, about someone who looked like they’d been “ridden hard, and put away wet”. I’ve met a few folks like that over the years, but never this extreme.

Their collection of gold torcs and other jewelry was kind of impressive. The Celts liked their bling.

Their collection of gold torcs and other jewelry was kind of impressive. The Celts liked their bling.

After that, I wandered over to St Stephen’s Green park, lay out on the grass and got some badly needed relaxation in, and caught a bunch of Pokemon.  As noted earlier, I was not the only one.

I was lying out on that farther right island of grass. There were many people in this park who weren't catching Pokemon, I'm sure, but I don't think any of them were near me, judging by the surrounding conversations.

I was lying out on that farther right island of grass. There were many people in this park who weren’t catching Pokemon, I’m sure, but I don’t think any of them were near me, judging by the surrounding conversations.

The walk home to the Hell Pit offered a brief explanation of why I so rarely get to hear local music:

"From 9pm till late"? So, from 9-9:30 then? Why would I even bother going?

“From 9pm till late”? So, from 9-9:30 then? Why would I even bother going to a show that brief?

I got home around 5:30, and was varying degrees of uncomfortable until I left the next morning.

Friday, August 26

Today was Guinness day!  I’d made an online appointment for 9am, the first available slot, so I hung out in my room until after the hosts had left, and then walked the few blocks to the Guinness Storehouse.

This is a pretty typical Dublin street, as far as I can tell. The city center is more picturesque, but the morning light is hitting these buildings nicely.

This is a pretty typical Dublin street, as far as I can tell. The city center is more picturesque, but the morning light is hitting these buildings nicely.

I took the usual picture of the Guinness Storehouse Gate — which is off to the side, away from the tourist entrance — but it’s a wooden gate with the Guinness logo on it, and I won’t toy with your patience by uploading it.  (See here, if you desire more.)

What followed was a 4 hour wander through the storehouse, as it guided me (and others) through Everything Guinness.  The building has been sculpted to look like a pint glass, and you work your way up from the ticket booths at the base, to the gift shop and first-level exhibits about how they get the ingredients (Guinness alone uses 2/3 of the barley produced by Ireland!), up through old-timey brewing equipment displays and exhibits about cask and barrel making, shipping, tasting rooms, history of advertising displays, a couple of restaurants, and finally an enclosed observation lounge at the top with a bar.

The central well, from below.

The central well, from below.

The whole thing runs 8 levels total, and it took me about 2.5 hours to work my way through.

The Storehouse website is here, and has a bunch of pictures and info, if you want to browse.

The Storehouse website is here, and has a bunch of pictures and info, if you want to browse.

It took the tourist groups who rushed past me considerably less time, I’m sure.  A side effect of this was that, by the time I made it to the observation lounge (called the Gravity Bar), it was pretty crowded, and I resisted the temptation to grab a beer and sit with it, largely because there was no longer any place to sit.

Probably a nice place to hang out with your fellow touring companions. I'm guessing.

Probably a nice place to hang out with your fellow touring companions. I’m guessing. If I ever come back here, I’ll go in and 9am and head straight to the top for my mid-morning beer first, propriety be damned.

I took a ton of pictures, but I’m not sure how many to include here.  Partly because this post has a prodigious word count already and I’m getting tired, and partly because I’m not sure how many of them are really worth including when a Google Image browse would be nearly as good (and the actual website possibly better).  But here are a few I liked:

The barley video convinced me that the fields around me in southern Ireland were probably growing barley all summer, and not corn as I'd assumed. It looked just like these pictures.

The barley video convinced me that the fields around me in southern Ireland were probably growing barley all summer, and not corn as I’d assumed. It looked just like these pictures.

You can see the little green buds on the vines, on each side of this video display, which are the hops. The video is about their harvesting -- the height of the vines is surprising! (I read that they used to be harvested by guys on stilts. They must have had an amazing workman's comp plan.)

You can see the little green buds on the vines, on each side of this video display, which are the hops. The video is about their harvesting — the height of the vines is surprising! (I read that they used to be harvested by guys on stilts. They must have had an amazing workman’s comp plan.)

Water. Ok, Guinness, now you're just showing off. (All right, it was cool. What-ever!)

Water. Ok, Guinness, now you’re just showing off. (All right, it was cool. What-ever!)

The original bottle for the Guinness Foreign Extra, my favorite of their beers.

The original bottle for the Guinness Foreign Extra, my favorite of their beers.

The Hall of (Guinness) Presidents.

The Hall of (Guinness) Presidents.

The official Guinness harp, used as their logo.

The official Guinness harp, used as their logo.

A largish exhibit on the famous cartoon animal advertising campaign from the middle of last century.

A largish exhibit on the famous cartoon animal advertising campaign from the middle of last century.

By the time I made it up to the Gravity Bar, and was ready to leave it, it was 11:30 and I was really ready for food.  Unfortunately, the restaurants on the level below didn’t open until 12:00.  Fortunately, I had a few crackers in my backpack for just such an emergency, and I hung out until they did.  Then had a great meal at 1837 — a restaurant named after the Guinness brewery’s founding year — where my table looked roughly like their website’s view of it, minus the *super* annoying looking foursome.  I seriously over-ate here, but how do you say no to a Guinness burger (which comes with fries), and their Foreign Extra Stout on tap (wow, that was a good beer), and then a Guinness chocolate mousse (if you can say no to that, I do not wish to know you any longer), with which coffee is naturally appropriate.  That was at least 1/2-again as much as I needed to eat but no regrets.

(I almost had the squab, but it was really underdone, and I had to send it back.)

(I almost had the squab, but it was really underdone, and I had to send it back.)

On the way out, I swung by the gift shop to see if there was anything I could reasonably pick up as a souvenir.  Sure enough, they had knit caps; since I’d lost mine to a laundry accident as Liz’s place a week before, this seemed like a reasonable and practical souvenir to pick up. So I did.

It doesn't bring out my eyes -- but, since I normally sleep in it, that's probably for the best.

It doesn’t bring out my eyes — but, since I normally sleep in it, that’s probably for the best.

When I left the Storehouse, that open-topped city tour bus came by, and my ticket on it was good for 3 days (it had cost slightly more for 2 days, but they threw in a 3rd “for free”, so I figured why not?), so I grabbed it.  It took me past their giant park, which I’d passed through during the prior tour, that has the zoo in it — the park was mostly open, well groomed spaces, and I figured I could skip it, but there are pictures here if you want them.  And I let it drop me off near my original landing point nearly Batchelors Walk — with my belly full of food, it was nice to not have to walk it.

The drop-off point also happened to be near the Leprechaun Museum — a thing which is hard to say no to.  But not, as it turns out, hard to say not quite to.  First, there was considerable wandering and being distracted first by nearby Pokemon and second there was weird map behavior that made it oddly hard for me to find.

But find it I did, despite the lack of a rainbow leading me to it.

But find it I did, despite the lack of a rainbow leading me to it.

You might expect a pot of gold to be forthcoming — and in fact there was one.  I overheard the ticket seller talking to the people ahead of me, and the ticket price was €14!  In richer days I might have said, what the heck let’s do it.  But I’d just spent about €25-30 on lunch, and another €12 on the cap, and €14 on the Storehouse tickets, and — let’s face it — what’s a Leprechaun museum really going to have in it?  Artifacts from Leprechaun colonies unearthed in Irish bogs? Actual Leprechaun skeletons?  No. It’s going to be a little cultural amusement, and probably not a large one, and that’s it.  I’d have done it for €5-7, probably, but €14 was just more than I was comfortable for, when the national museums were free.  So, here’s their website, and some Google Images.  It looks cute.

Instead, I walked back to the Gresham Hotel and picked up the next tour bus, figuring I could ride it around to near St Stephen’s Green again and hang out in the park for a while.

FYI, on the way there I passed the Spire of Dublin again. Might as well toss in a picture of it, while I have the chance.

FYI, on the way to the bus I passed the Spire of Dublin again. Might as well toss in a picture of it, while I have the chance.

And we started out Ok. But it was getting close to 4pm on a Friday, and traffic was getting pretty heavy, and were were spending most of our time stopped. Bus rides were not really the ideal way to get around town at this point.  So, I got off a little way down the river and walked.

You'll see downriver the Samuel Beckett Bridge, designed to look like a harp, Ireland's national symbol. The bus driver said it was even playable, on special occasions.

You’ll see downriver the Samuel Beckett Bridge, designed to look like a harp, Ireland’s national symbol.

The bus driver said it was even playable, on special occasions.  I’m a bit suspicious about that claim, as a quick search for the bridge online didn’t turn up any references to it making music.  Possibly, they do something like play harp music in time with bridge lights on the strings?  It does, however, swing open and closed to pass ships, and that’s pretty cool.

Continuing on to the park:

When you pass something in a foreign city that reminds you of home. In this case, the UPS truck. Sigh.

When you pass something in a foreign city that reminds you of home. In this case, the UPS truck. Sigh.

St Stephens Green, in augmented reality. Once more, a busy place.

St Stephens Green, in augmented reality. Once more, a busy place.

After a relaxing hour there, I swung by a nearby gelato place and headed back to the Hell Pit.  Another uncomfortable night there, I packed up early on Saturday, left a polite note of thanks to my hosts, and escaped to the bus stop by about 6:15 to go meet my ferry to England.



My verdict on Dublin: A nice enough city, well worth visiting, but I wouldn’t normally rush to go back there.  Hell Pit aside, Dublin — and the other places I was at in Ireland — had a kind of worn feeling to them.  Like the modern cities were built on top of a kind of tension that had been there for a long time, and they’d just worn down a little.  The touristy downtown didn’t feel as vibrant as Edinburgh’s touristy downtown, the wear not as comfortable as Croatia’s wear.  The people I talked to — outside of American Liz and her daughter — I didn’t feel like I was really connecting with much, even when they were perfectly nice.  I’ll end up being here again in the future — my trip back to the US goes through Dublin, so I’ll have a few more days there in November, and maybe I’ll like it more without the Hell Pit underlying the experience.  But I think Ireland and I aren’t really quite in sync.  No great criticism, and I expect I’ll enjoy any future visits.  Just, not especially overwhelmed. YMMV.

And that, as they say, will be that.


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