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10 Things You Should Never Tell An Irishman

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Fun Fact: The town in Ireland with one of the longest name is Muckanaghederdauhaulia, meaning “piggery between two briny places”

“Top of the mornin to ye!” well I guess we got number one out of the way, on the list of things never to say to an Irishman. The phrase is so stereotypical for the Irish that sometimes you just can’t help it when you meet you’re Irish mate at the Paddy pub for a good ole Guinness.

But, unless you are a cartoon, red-headed leprechaun looking for you’re shamrock and pot of gold, you might best avoid it unless you want a smack.

Once my Irish friend asked “what’s the craic”? (pronounced ‘crack’) And I told him I didn’t do drugs. Evidently craic is Gaelic for fun or happenings or whatever, depending in the context. “Needer do I, ye fook”, was usually the response

There are more things that you shouldn’t say to an Irishman, but just to be thorough, I asked my Irish friends to help with the list. This is their feedback.

-“You’ve had enough.”
-“we are out of beer.”
-“Ireland is part of the UK.”
-“Do the curtains match the drapes?”
-“Hurling is for sissies.” if you know the sport, you know what I’m talking about.
-“Belfast is the best city in Ireland.”
-“Gaelic is worthless.”
-“American football is better.”
-They wont appreciate a good “mom” joke

 

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The Worst Hostel in the World, As Advertised

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Brinker hotel entrance

Here in Amsterdam, I think I may have finally found the worst hostel in the World. I certainly can’t be wrong, because even the owners agree.

The Worst Hostel in the World
Photos from Hans Brinker Hostel Website

“The best cheap youth hostel I’ve stayed in since my sentence was suspended.” 
– Michael, New York.

“What can I say? It was cheap. But not that cheap. I mean, a bus shelter offers the same facilities.”
– Charlotte, Texas.

These  advertising (possibly) geniuses somehow do a good business  by promoting their own hostel as the worst in the world. I didn’t stay at Hans Brinker youth Hostel here in Amsterdam, but I was so amused by their self degrading rhetoric on their posters and website, that I had to share.

Photos from Hans Brinker Hostel Website

From their website:

Welcome to the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam.

The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel has been proudly disappointing travellers for forty years. Boasting levels of comfort comparable to a minimum-security prison, the Hans Brinker also offers some plumbing and an intermittently open canteen serving a wide range of dishes based on runny eggs.

8_dining
Photos from Hans Brinker Hostel Website
The Worst Hostel in the World
Photos from Hans Brinker Hostel Website

Other Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam services and amenities include:
– A basement bar with limited light and no fresh air.
– A concrete courtyard where you can relax and enjoy whatever sunshine is able to pass the high buildings on either side on the extremely infrequent days when it’s actually sunny.
– An elevator that almost never breaks down between floors.
– A bar serving slightly watered down beer.
– Amusing witticisms and speculations about former guests’ sexual preferences scrawled on most surfaces.
– The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam Luxury Ambassadorial Suite (featuring the Hans Brinker’s one and only bath-tub).
– Doors that lock.

 

Amsterdams-Hans-Brinker-Budget-Hotel-main
Photos from Hans Brinker Hostel Website

 

Apparently this crazy advertising is working with budget travelers and students, and they are flocking in to experience Hans Brinker. When they advertise this way, I suppose no one can be surprised about anything.  I will leave you with with this final word from the Hans Brinker website about their Eco friendly side:

“The Bans Brinker budget hotel has been helping the planet, unintentionally,  since 1970. yes, here is a hotel where the light bulbs don’t work. a hotel whose showers have less hot water then is standard. where the elevator stays out of order for days. and whose vacuum cleaner’s buttons are rarely switched on. we have towels that need washing on a much higher heat. We advise guests to use the curtains to dry off, instead of a towel.”

 

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Searching For an ATM in Monkey Bay, Lake Malawi

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monkey bay

I was visiting Lake Malawi, starting at a small town on the southern shores called Monkey Bay. I had no plans, but the name looked cool when I saw it on a map. The problem was, a few days into my visit, I was broke and there was no ATM in town.

There wasn’t a bank or ATM in nearby Cape Mclear either I was told, so the closest one was in Magochi, about an hour bus ride away. I found a minibus that would take me there for 300 Kwatcha, about $1.78. It was so packed that the hour seemed like 3. It was very hot and stuffy, and besides the constant honking and swerving around potholes, the blaring music, anything from Bob Marley to Eminem, didn’t do much to make for a nice journey. I was having flashbacks to my nightmarish mini-bus ride in Mozambique.

monky bay
Lake Malawi

Once the nightmare was over and we arrived in Mongochi, I killed as much time as I could, dreading the horrid trip back.  I was almost resigned to my fate when I noticed a small pickup truck getting ready to head down the highway towards Monkey Bay. I ran over to hitch a ride, and they agrees to take me for 300 Kwatcha. I hopped into the bed of the truck feeling pretty pleased with myself. This was a much better idea.

As we sat on the side of the road, i started to wonder what we were waiting for, but before long I knew. The 5 people in the truck turned into 20, then 30, and at last count 40. I was standing at the front looking over the cab, because i thought it would afford the best views of the ride, but as the truck filled with people, I became packed in like a sardine, unable to turn left or right, or bend down to sit. I was completely smushed against the cab looking into the wind. If someone wanted to pickpocket me, there would be no way to stop them.

Venice Beach Backpackers
Venice Beach Backpackers

4686949-Cape_Maclear_beach_Malawi_Cape_Maclear
We finally left, and i hoped it would get less crowded as we dropped people off along the way. No such luck. they just kept picking up people as they went along. They stopped so frequently that the ride turned into a 2 hour ordeal. for 2 hours I was stuck standing in the back of the truck, facing foreword into the wind over the cab, getting burnt by the African sun.

When we arrived into town, I was a sight to see. It seemed like the whole town stopped what they were doing to come stare at me; the crazy looking white man. I was hot and tired, and didn’t really care, but when I passed by a mirror I grew an instant understanding of why i was the new main attraction. malawibike

I had been sweating all day, so my hair was wet, then at the same time had been standing in the windy truck bed for 2 hours, so my hair was standing straight up into a Mohawk  I looked like Sonic the Hedgehog, and the Reyband sunglasses didn’t help. Besides being the only white guy in town and having crazy hair, I was also wearing a shirt that a local guy made me that was black with crazy yellow, green and red stripes going everywhere. It’s a helluva ugly shirt that doesn’t match anything known to man, but it’s comfortable. Somewhere along the way I had list a flip flop, so was walking around with only one.
monkey
In other words, I was probably the most interesting and strange thing to come through Malawi since Madonna.  Someone even called me the king of Monkey Bay. Kids and adults alike would stare so hard and long they would only be pried away when they ran into something. At first I was embarrassed and wanted to run and hide in my hostel, but the people are some of the nicest in the world, and I realized they mention no harm.

Cruising through aa storm on the Illala Ferry on Lake Malawi
Cruising through a storm on the Illala Ferry on Lake Malawi

After only being in Monkey Bay for a day or so, everyone in town knew or recognized me, and I have to return greetings every 10 seconds, when walking around town. People will yell out things like, “hey big boss, are you fine today?” or “howzit friend?”. Sometimes from way down the street they yell for me, and want me to come marry their sister or just have a coke. I guess this was my 15 minutes of fame, but hey- This is Africa.

lake m

 

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The Ship Hitching Guru

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ship hitching
On the ferry from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam, I met possibly the most interesting woman I’ve ever met. She had mastered “ship hitching” and had a lot to tell. In my eyes she is the ultimate traveler and as close to a World citizen as one gets.  We sat down together in the lounge and she told me her story. It seemed like no one had been interested in her story before, and she was ready to tell it. And a great story it turned out to be.

I don’t know her name, but she said every one called her Aunty. She was probably 50 years old and hailed from Moscow, though she hadn’t been there in years. She told me how, when she was about 15 she left home with hardly any money in her pocket, knowing only Russian, but with a sense of adventure and a high level of determination to never return to her. She had had a rough childhood, with her father becoming abusive and a drunk after the war, which eventually led to her mother murdering him. When this happened, she was 10 years old.

She bounced around from foster families for years, until, when she turned 15, she hit the road. with the equivelant of $20, she hitchiked south until eventually reaching Egypt. When she arrived there, carrying a small bag of clothes, no money, and knowing only Russian, she was thrifty enough to be able to do odd jobs here and there just to get by. An Egyptian family took her in soon and let her work at their hotel in Dahab to pay for her accommodation and  meals.

After about ten years in Egypt she had transformed into a completely independent and adventurous woman. She had traveled nearly all of Africa, from Egypt to south Africa to morocco. Never flying or expending large amounts of money to get to a place, she just worked in order to travel.

Even though she hadn’t been educated higher than 8th grade, she knew four languages, Russian, English, Afrikaans  and Arabic, and had traveled a great distance independently. In other words she had become the backpacker we all wish we could be, a real life nomad and wanderer of the world.

After that 10 years in Africa, when she was 25, like any true traveler, she started looking towards new horizons and wanting to see the rest of the world, seeing as how she had conquered Africa, if Africa indeed can be conquered. I sat quiet and eagerly listening, realizing that I had assumed that was the end of her story, but in reality it was the beginning.

At age 25, she left Dahab and crossed over into Israel. From there, with little money, she hopped on trains, hitchhiked, and did what she could to get to India. It took her a year, in which she became completely fluent in Farsi. She visited Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally India. No small feat, then or now.

When she was in New Delhi, she didn’t plan on staying for so long but was robbed and forced to stick around and work while living in the most sparse conditions. She didn’t leave India for four years, though she saw every inch  of it and experienced most of what there was to experience of India. By the time she was ready again to keep moving east, she was 30 and had learned another two languages, Urdu and Hindi, bringing her number to 7, making her a real polyglot.

From India she trekked her way all the way to Indonesia, passing through the likes of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, and finally Indonesia. she spent about a year in this trek, since she had to work along the way to fund her travels. She did odd jobs like cooking, maid services, teaching English, house cleaning, hotel reception etc. She had nothing or no one holding her to any one place, and always after a while, to move on.

She found herself teaching English in Bali when she was 31, but started missing her adopted family in Egypt that she hadn’t heard from or talked to in 6 years, since she never used the Internet or telephones or the likes. She remembered how it had taken her six years to get this far and was looking for a much faster way to get back to Egypt to see her loved ones. She started working at bars around the shipping docks and eventually found a ship captain that was willing to hire her in the ship kitchen, to pay for her passage to Mombasa, Kenya, getting her rather close to Egypt. So, at age 31, after mastering Indonesian, Aunty took her first container ship passage, unknowingly starting a trend for herself.

After this quick trip across the Indian ocean to Kenya, she made her way overland to Dahab, only to find out her loved ones had past away. After some deliberation, she decided not only did she want to see more of the world, but that she rather liked the passage in ships. She made her way back to Mombasa, and got herself a job near the docks, and made friends with every captain and ship crew she could. This was very doable since she was fluent in 9 languages, Swahili being the latest, and because of her being so outgoing and sociable.

Eventually she earned passage back to Indonesia as a cook. From there it was not long before she gained work on a vessel going to Australia, and it was the same vessel she had taken that first time from Bali to Mambasa, cementing that relationship and contact for life. From Darwin she hitched her way to Sydney, and took up work near the docks once again. Eventually she got a kitchen job on a container ship going to Lima.

Once in Peru, she worked and traveled her way through every country in South and central America, subsequently learning her 10th language, Spanish along the way. Taking passage on ships as a worker as much as she could, she not only visited all 21 countries of South and central America, she was also able to cheaply traverse many countries in the Carribean, visit the Falkan and Sandwich Islands, and skip around the South Pacific to the likes of French Polenisia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, New Caledonia, New Zealand, New guinea, and others.

This went on for years, her just going to a new place on a whim. It got easier and easier she said, as she made valuable friends and contacts in each and every ship she took. For reasons I still do not understand, she always ended up back in Mombasa, working around the docks until she got a new ambition and wanted to see somewhere new, then she would pick the appropriate ship and appropriate work on it. She had been to most of the countries in the world, spoke ten languages fluently, and had contacts all over the globe. She did it with no help from back home, no bank account, and solely on her own ingenuity.

It was the most surprising thing in the world to learn that her nationality was actually Russian. In fact, the language she spoke the least and had started to forget was Russian. she was very tanned and wrinkled, and besides her light hair, she looked nothing like a Russian. She was the greatest traveler I’d ever known, and an enormous inspiration.

As if to prove her stories authenticity to me, she took me to the ship yards. As we walked down a peer, she was hailed by no less than 10 captains or first mates. They called her by name. “Hello Aunty! Where ya off to today?”. She said she could go to nearly any countries’ port and be recognized this way. I was, am, so impressed by this woman, that I doubt very much I will ever meet someone as interesting or as worldly as Aunty, a true world citizen.

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Travel addiction: Do you have the symptoms?

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216546_207570069264641_3719483_n
Hello, my name is Justin, and I’m an addict. I am addicted to travel, and there’s no denying it. They say the first step to recovery is admitting the problem, so on to step two. Let me identify to you all of my symptoms, so that you can determine if you are an addict as well.

1: Everything reminds you of travel. You can’t watch a movie without wanting to go somewhere. Certain songs remind you of a road trip you once had? Seeing a backpack makes you want to catch the next bus out of town? You might be an addict.

2: Youre abnormally good a geography. You couldn’t name the fourth letter in Pi, but you know every country on a map, every capital, river, mountain and lake. When the news is on and someone next to you asks “where the hell is Kosovo?”, you just smile, because you were there last month. You might be an addict.

3: What are you working for? You can’t get anywhere in your career because you take huge breaks every year to travel? Yet you don’t care, because there’s a map on your cubical wall and you’re just counting down the days until the next trip. You are probably an addict.

4: When guests come over to your house, do they wonder why the towel in the bathroom is a fast drying travel towel? Or why you have more post cards than a 7-11, on your fridge? Do they  wonder how you’ve managed to travel to 43 countries, when you live in a shoe box size apartment? You’re a travel addict.

5: On your way home from a trip, are you already planning the next one? Does your old, ratty backpack mean more to you than your first car? Do you have more travel magazines than clothes? If so, it’s official, you’re addicted. vene

Do not worry if you have these symptoms. You aren’t alone. The only way to alleviate the longing, is to just keep traveling. And that’s ok with me.

 

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Photo Tour of Cologne Cathederal, Germany

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Cologne, Cologne Cathedral
Flickr credit: Allan Watt

Yesterday we hitched from Bonn to Cologne, and I had fully intended on writing a post about this new city. However, when we were dropped off near the central train station, the biggest, most awesome church I’ve ever seen popped into view. The Kolner Dom Cathederal, merrily 50 meters from the Hauptbahnhof station, is so amazing that it deserves a post of it’s own. I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking. The inside of the cathedral is  kept dark and ominous, which is a photography nightmare, so there are only a few photos of the inside, but as you can imagine, the interior was almost as amazing as the rest. 106_2788   cologne cathedral   Cologne Cathedral   Cologne Cathedral   Cologne Cathedral   Cologne Cathedral   Cologne Cathedral   Cologne Cathedral   Cologne Cathedral

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flickr credit: Adam Lerner
Cologne Cathedral
flickr credit: Traven Luc

 

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