Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A cunning act of desperation ( booking a flight and missing my bike shop)

It's 8 degrees. The sky is covered end to end in dark clouds.  Drizzle creates those lovely impact circles in the puddles.  George would have called this slit-your-wrists weather.

So last Friday, when Zulema took upon herself to drive her car from Abbotsford to North Vancouver for the sole purpose of visiting me, I asked her if I could use her credit card to book a flight.  WTF? Am I turning into my mother???  No worries. I paid her back as soon as we found a bank branch that hadn't closed (The nearest TWO bank machines ceased to be present in line with the efforts of tearing down strip malls and selling condos in 4-storey paper-mache buildings to unsuspecting idiots.


So I booked a flight.  A while ago I decided to use Alan's presence at a physics centre in Quy Nhon (Vietnam) as an excuse to visit him there (AND to get out of HERE).  So did I book a flight to Vietnam?  

Strangely NO, LOL.

This is where my habit of looking at flights from Vancouver or Seattle for fun comes into play.  The first thing I noticed was that quite a few cheap flights with many lay-overs used Manila as a lay-over point, but only for something like 5 hours.  The second thing I noticed was that if I booked the flight from Vancouver through Seattle to where-ever, it would be $200 cheaper than booking the flight right out of Seattle. WHY?  Don't ask me!

 But it's probably the same reason that is responsible for the CHEAPEST flight on July 10 from Luang Prabang (see post last November) to Saigon (CAD 134) to be a 3 (THREE) hour flight to Kuala Lumpur followed by an overnight stay there and a 2 (TWO) hour flight to Saigon. Go look on a map where all these places are, LOL. And WOW.  US$ 100 for 5 hours of flying and yet another stamp in my passport.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (without a view of the Petronas Towers, LOL)

Soon enough I had a spurious overview of all the flights that would be of interest to me.  I just had to decide whether to have an extended layover in Manila or in Bangkok, both places I have never been to.

So a few days ago, with the help of Zu's credit card, i booked one.  

One-way  Vancouver to Victoria to Seattle to Hong Kong to Bangkok.  For CAD$ 500.  NOT bad, in particular since flights from Bangkok to Saigon can be had for as little as $94!
NO, of course I'm NOT going to fly to Victoria and then to Seattle.  I'm just going to take the train down to Seattle and board that flight to avoid the two lengthy lay-overs I would have to face otherwise.  But booking that flight from Vancouver was actually $200 cheaper than booking it from Seattle.  

The simple act of booking that flight allows me to dream again: Of course I'm looking forward to an overnight layover in Hong Kong. 

 Always a JOY to come back here ;-).
  And I've researched a few more fabulous places to stay in Vietnam. And yesterday I finally realized how small the world has become: the waitress in my Vietnamese restaurant insisted I check out Phu Quoc.
 I had to look it up in Google Maps.  HOLY F#%!  It is an island off the southern Vietnamese coast.  What really floors me is the fact that it is only 80 km as the crow flies from Koh Rong, the island PARADISE that I visited in January with Zu. Good stuff !

And that leads in the direction of the point I'm trying to make.  Sure, I love to return to my favourite places of the recent past.  But what is even more exiciting is to discover something entirely NEW.  And that's why I booked my flight through Bangkok.
Bangkok
 So far, I had almost assumed that Bangkok consisted entirely of bathhouses and massage parlors.  But a bit of research reveals: NOT so.  I get to explore and discover again !  



And of course staying in a fabulous centrally located apartment for just CAD 39/night does NOT hurt either.  And I'll get to sample the world-famous Bangkok street food before the government follows through on its intent of 'cleaning the streets'


And as almost every single day in Vancouver , I get reminded WHY I like to travel AWAY from HERE.   

Riding the bike back from supplying Grandma with food, I get drenched by COLD rain AGAIN.  

Yuho & son
I stop at Yuho Sports, a fabulous bike shop that I discovered last year.  No appointment needed just to change brake pads !   No wait, and half the price of other bike shops.  That should tell you something.  Good AND cheap usually does not survive in Vancouver. So I'm not too surprised when I see a close-out-sale sign in front of the shop.  What happened?   The owner of the little strip mall sold the building and the new owner raised the rent by $1000.  The usual story.  While Yuho changes my brake pads on the spot, he tells me that he has been in Vancouver for 27 years and now is moving to Sun Peaks.  While I'm sad that I have to look for another no-bullshit bike maintenance place, I also know that his move will be best for him and his 3 sons.  

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

United, my favourite airline

United Airlines was always one of my favourite Airlines !   It's almost as good as Air Canada (known for it's atrocious food and gruffy service from wide-hipped stewardesses who don't know how to turn their hips and consequently brutally wake you every 5 seconds if you were stupid enough to take an aisle seat.
I mean, why would I fly Delta or (God forbid), or an Asian airline, where the staff still treats customers as kings?  Courteous service, good food, and clean toilets are really over-rated, don't you think?

I am making these statements of my own free will, without any type of coercion from United Airlines, it's staff, or hired goons.


And I wholeheartedly agree with those co-passengers of the above man who I saw being interviewed and who were of the opinion that the treatment he received was justified. It is great to share the opinion of other upright and courageous citizens of this land of freedom and democracy.  And just like them, I will fly United again and again.




ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?      

WAKE UP !!!

Is THIS how bad it has gotten?  Doesn't anyone have a spine anymore?  Almost EVERYONE chose the BLUE PILL?  

sad.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The 3 day journey back: Schwerte - FRA - SEA - YVR


9:30 am

Time to check out and ride the rental bike 5 km back into the centre of town with all my luggage on my shoulders ;-)


I return the bike and find myself 50 minutes early for my train.  I cycle TOO FAST !




The first train ride is only about 15 minutes long and gets me to Hagen. I dimly remember sitting here in the freezing cold at 6 am as an 18-year old after a night of debauched drinking waiting for a train for 3 hours.



Yes,the air really is that dirty


All that Graffiti says :THINK 
Of course, the connecting train is 20 minutes late ;-(
waiting ....
waiting....
As soon as I hit my 1st class seat I fall asleep for 40 minutes ;-)

HINT: Book the ticket online 36 hours ahead, look for the 2nd class ticket, select the Sparangebot, and you will get the 1st class ticket for LESS than the regular 2nd class price ;-)






The approach to Remagen.
The (in)famous Bride of Remagen led into a tunnel in the cliff on the left


35 years later:   The nuclear power station of Mulheim-Karlich. It operated for only 3 years.
It was shut down because it became clear that it was built on top of an earth-quake fault.  Genius at work, LOL

When the PA system announces that the train will hang around Koblenz Station for 10 minutes because of a problem with the locomotive, I 

a) go for an extended cigarette break on the no-smoking platform (Cambodian Wisdom: It's just a sign) and 
b) head for the restaurant car for a small bottle of Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris, only much better) and a Currywurst.
My pseudo-uncle, who lived for > 60 years about 100 km from here and is no stranger to train rides, told me that I should take the ICE, which would cost more but would be faster.
But then the ICE takes a completely different route, missing the Romantic Rhine Route completely.
On the other hand, Alan, who is from Hong Kong, told me to take the slow train to be able to enjoy THIS VIEW from the train.
Yes, I grew up here, so I already knew, but why is it that someone from Hong Kong has figured it out, but someone from very nearby has NOT?
Food for thought, LOL.  (And wine seems to evaporate fast in these parts ;-)


By the time the train gets to Frankfurt Airport, it is 40 minutes late. No worries though, my relatives are playing golf.


Since I didn't write down the number of the bus that would take me right to my hotel (for 3.15 Euros), I grab a taxi. The driver does not recognize the name of the hotel but the address (there are 5 hotels on that street).   We start chatting and eventually I ask him where he is from.   




He giggles and says "I'm NOT from Turkey. Guess!"  I guess Iran.  He is surprised:   "SOOOO CLOSE. My country has a border with Iran.  I am from Afghanistan".  As soon as I ask him "So you say Tesekku"r there too?" I have made a friend, LOL.  No, I barely tip, but he shakes my hand after he pulls my second backpack from the trunk.  It's NOT difficult ;-)



4:30 pm

Not my pic: An On the Run store in New Zealand.
At least the Kiwis speak English , LOL
Time to go shopping. Shopping on a Sunday in Germany? 
Impossible! you may say. Nope, GAS STATIONS are allowed to sell stuff.  I get a toothbrush (my electric one finally ran out of charge), cookies, and a chilled bottle of Riesling. 

Booze at the Gas Station.YEAH !  But why is the gas station store called "On the run"?  A comment on globalization or on German gullibility?







Then I notice that the relatives I'm supposed to meet here called me and have left a message.

Yes, I know Freedom Mobile phones won't even roam in Germany starting May 1st, but it's only April 2nd today and I find out that I can NOT access my voicemail. 


OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE CANADA, do you NOT realize that you can NOT keep up in the 21st century on Oil Sands and LPG alone?????       

WAKE UP !














NOT my pic







Despite all those technical difficulties, we manage to find each other and have a typical local dinner (A"ppelwoi & Gru"ne Sosse). Since we haven't really properly seen each other in at least 5 years, we're too involved in conversation for anyone to think about taking pictures.   Ah well, NEXT time ;-)

Handka"se mit Musik




Tired. Don't want to travel today.  But I don't really have a choice ;-(


My unwillingness to travel only increases during the amazing breakfast in my Turkish-run and -operated hotel.  2 kinds of Feta cheese?  4 kinds of olives?  The best coffee of the last 2.5 weeks?  I could stay here a while, LOL.



I regret having eaten the Handkaes mit Musik yesterday. 

 My bathroom smells like cheese and my toilet bowl looks like the latest piece by Jackson Pollock ! 


I'm discovering hidden talents, LOL. Wonder whether it's true art and worth any money or just shit, LOL.




7:45 am

Time to check out and walk to the bus stop.

8 am

The hotel web-site claims that the bus to the airport costs Euro 2.50. The bus operator web-site claims that it is Euro 3.15. But when I try to give the fare to the bus driver he just waves me through.  

WTF? 


That's a first !


9:15 am

World-wide paranoia is spreading.  The check-in clerk at Condor starts with "That is your passport? You are courageous travelling with that to the US !"
Nonsense, by now it's the officials in the US who complain the least about the state of my passport ;-)  Then he wants to know where I'm staying in the US. WHAT?   Kings Inn, I say.  Then he wants to know the address of that hotel. I say "I have no idea, but I know how to get there by tram and foot".  He refuses to give me the boarding pass until I dig the address out of my phone. 

The rest is comparatively easy.  Security is thorough but still a breeze; I get to keep my shoes on.

YES, Frankfurt Airport has Smoking Lounges 


My ride




Sea-Tac Airport.  Time to find Link Rapid Rail. They have the usual long line-up of clue-less people in front of the ticket machines.  NOT AGAIN !  There are even assistants there to help people buy the tickets.   Doesn't that SHOUT that there is something wrong in the interface design? LOL.  I have to buy another ticket tomorrow and more tickets next time I'll fly through Seattle (I don't see the fabulous people at CIC completing my PR card anytime soon), so I invest to spare myself the pain the next few times by buying an Orca card (Think Hong Kong's Octopus card or Vancouver's Compass card).


Just one question:  Why did Seattle manage to come up with such a unique West Coast name for its Public Transit Card while mind-numbingly boring Vancouver had to steal the Compass name from the Public Transit system of San Diego?  (NO, I'm NOT kidding ;-)

The TIRED look
With the Orca card, the 40 minute ride from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle costs me only $3.





I get to Kings Inn at 3 pm.  It's sunny in Seattle and apparently even in Vancouver.





I sleep from 6 pm to 4 am.  Having a proper bed instead of an airplane seat is very conducive ;-)
4:30 am.  Still 1.5 hours until breakfast.  The one thing I don't like about traveling?   All those waiting periods, LOL.


5 am

I check the weather forecast for Vancouver and instantly regret it. Rain starting today and lasting 5 days until Sunday.  SO SICK OF IT !



In analogy to the train ride from  Koblenz to Bingen: Taking the train from Seattle to Vancouver, ONE should OBVIOUSLY sit on the WATER side,so that ONE can take in breathtaking scenery ;-)




6 am.  Breakfast at Top Pot Coffee next door again.  It's still dark outside ! At least I'll have some food in my belly for the upcoming 4 hour train ride (Note:  The train from Cologne through Brussels to Paris only takes 3.5 hours, LOL).   

Thanks to some bizarre-minded keeping-the-doors-locked policy of Amtrak when crossing the border, this train ride will allow me as much smoking as a flight from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta. NONE.  But at least I can walk around and enjoy some nice scenery !


 6:45 am. Start walking to the LINK station.  In today's internet age there's simply NO reason left to take a taxi. Google Maps and other offerings allow-dirt cheap and efficient use of public transit almost anywhere in the world.
How is that for sunrise colours?


Link Station art
  





7:45

The train is moving



Yesterday's sun has vanished behind the usual North-West layer of Gloom-Cloud (TM)

But the journey right along the water is absolutely amazing. Seals (or baby sea-lions) sleeping on rocks and swimming; bald eagles and ducks circling the grey waters in front of a backdrop of the snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Peninsula. This is NICE !








This GLOOM will take some getting used to
Finally, Canada is a World Leader ;-)
Now take a brief moment to think about the above chart.  Would you REALLY want to live in a country at the bottom of the chart?   Yes, good medical resources are one thing, but there is an underlying REASON why so many people are depressed in the first place !!!!





9:30 am

The train is passing through the Mt Vernon region. The clouds are getting darker and darker.  Ah well.

9:45 am

A trip to the lounge car leaves me US$ 20 poorer but possession of two pieces of banana cake AND a VERY drinkable demi-bouteille of Chardonnay ;-)


10 am

Despite all the good intentions of riding a bicycle exclusively, as the gloom darkens outside the windows as the train heads further North, I reserve a rental car for 5 days.  The forecast DID call for 5 days of rain, and by now I fully know what that means in Vancouver.

10:15

 Another page in Canada's Book of Paranoia:  We're approaching Bellingham and Amtrak is OBLIGED to check passenger's passports again, just in case they LOST their passports on the train in between Seattle and here.  I DID ask, and it is a REQUIREMENT forAmtrak to check the passports AGAIN ;-)

10:50

The train is crawling along the water-front of White Rock, BC, Canada.  The Cellular Data connection of my Canadian cell phone, which was reasonably stable and functioning all the way from Seattle to the border, is OUT.  Clear text: My Canadian cell phone, which happily roamed in the US, has no reception in 'remote' areas of Canada. 

HOW THIRD WORLD IS THAT ?  (OK, reception comes back 5 minutes later only to drop dead again 2 minutes later, LOL)  And every time reception comes back the stupid thing makes a sound because I received a 'new' voice mail.  HELP !


11:20

The train is CRAWLING over the railway bridge over the Fraser River in New Westminster.   The last time I was on a train moving at a comparable speed was this past February when I took the Royal Express in Cambodia.  Wasn't one of Trudeau's election promises related to investing in the ailing infrastructure????


A little before noon
The train is about to arrive at Pacific Station.  BUT, it's BACKING in, just like the last time.   I know that in about 5 minutes we all have to sit in our assigned seats again. Canadian Immigration is STRICT.  NO loitering, while the luggage gets unloaded.  Only once the train staff allows us to get up will we be able to go downstairs again, file past our luggage, and face questioning by the preservers of a safe Canada.  But that's only in 5 minutes.  Right now I'm downstairs when the train switches from going forward to backing up.

YES, there are SIGNS advising passengers that opening the windows and doors is a hazardous thing.  To my amazement, I find that they are NOT locked.  So if I wanted to avoid the annoying childish questioning about to be unleashed on me, I could just wait for the exact moment when the train starts backing up (i.e. is NOT moving) and hop out somewhere in the area of the Rocky Mountaineer tracks.  NO fences or stupid questions around here ;-)




Since I chose to NOT jump ship or train, I get subjected to the Special Treatment again.  An excerpt:   

Immigration Officer(IO): (pointing at the customs form) Do you REALLY live at this address?
Me: No, that is Grandma's address. I live in a hotel.
IO:  Then why did you not write in the hotel as your address?
Me: Because right now I don't live there; I'm only checking in today.

The confused look on her face was priceless.  It also tells me how far my lifestyle has deviated from that of mainstream society, LOL.  But living outside the NORMAL has also taught me a lot, so that's OK ;-)  Related: I noticed a question on a web-site:  Are you ready to stop life on autopilot?  And I can honestly say:  I switched that off quite some time ago ;-)

Taking the Skytrain & Bus is routine by now. But I notice that at noon it is SO DARK outside that the little floor lights in the handicapped area of the bus are ON AND VISIBLE






Welcome to Gloom Town !

6 pm

It's POURING. March 2017 got close to or did break the all-time record for amount of rainfall amount in March.

The #1 rule for Global warming: Areas already dry will get even less rain and it'll rain even more where it already is raining a lot.  Congratulations Vancouver !

Keep sitting in those idling cars ;-)

I head out to eat something. Let's pick Earl's, they seem to make consistently good pizza.  Someone parked a little outside the lines in one spot, so I cross the line of the next one even more to make sure they don't scratch my rental car.


I get back to the car and find this attached to my window:


I have been back in this country barely SIX HOURS and the little grey men on their high horses already have found and judged me.  Some research reveals that one can BUY booklets of these at Walmart or  I am reminded of Fiona, my hairdresser from Hong Kong.  She told me recently that as soon as she steps out of a plane into Vancouver Airport, she gets that feeling that she has done something WRONG.  It's just a feeling you get here. Because EVERYONE here seems to be waiting to point their fingers.  


I get back to my hotel room and I realize that the only thing I'm thinking about is getting out of here.

This is NOT the life I intend to live.  I'm NOT willing to live in a place where people are SO MISERABLE that all they can think about is making other people miserable too.  As the Dalai Lama says:  Seek the company of positive people.  

So I start looking for flights out of here.