London Town: Mates, Markets and The Return of the Mexican

While my trip to London wasn’t what I had originally planned it to be, I made the most out of my few days there. The original plan was to meet the writer for my book there for a few days of research. He had to change plans and instead of losing about $800 in airfare and lodging, I decided to play the tourist for a few days.

london thymes river london eye from far

I arrived to Heathrow around 4pm and walked to the underground, stopping along the way for some SIM cards. I  broke my own rule by not making sure the cards worked before leaving the store and, sure enough, the cards I got for my MIFI didn’t work. In a place like Asia it would not have been that big of a deal, but in London those cards cost me around 30 Euros. With no way of getting in touch with this little bodega, I’ve already disputed the charge thru my CC company.


Lions, Tigers and Lady Boys… O My!

I love me some Chiang Mai. What a cool place to visit and a fun place to hang around for a week. Marina and me were only supposed to be in chiang mai for a couple of days, but after checking the weather down in the islands, we decided to stay longer. The weather was supposed to be pretty ugly and considering the only real things to do in the islands is water related, I decided I would hang in Chiang Mai.

thailand-chiang-mai-tigers-baby-payI have a friend living in CM who I met last december when I was here last so I was looking forward to seeing him and also just looking forward to staying in one place for a little while. We’ve been constantly moving and only spending a few days in any given city. I was really happy to just hang in CM and spend some time with my friend, Phil, and just relax for the last part of my trip. (more…)

Japan: Food Poisoning & Saki Bombs

I apologize in advance for the lack of detail on this post. I really slacked and waited a month to write it… oops.

So I arrived in tokyo after a very long day of traveling between phuket and kuala lumpur and then on to Tokyo. We deplaned and went through immigration where they absolute TORE apart my bag. I really think these guys get a kick out of this. They rip your bag apart and leave it up to you to put everything back together. I understand WHY they look through the bag, just think they could be ‘nicer’ about. 


After getting through immigration I exchanged some money that I had brought with me from thailand. My hopes of getting a sim card (i knew the chances were low seeing as it was 1130pm) were squashed pretty quickly. There was really NOTHING open in the airport between leaving security and leaving the airport. 

I was nervous as I didn’t have any way of getting in touch with my airbnb host or knowing if the driver was going the right way without internet or phone service. I knew that taxis were EXTREMELY expensive (about $75 to drive less then 5 miles and less then a 15 minute trip) but at that point of the day I didn’t want to have to try and figure out the local subway. I made it to the airbnb without any troubles though and checked in with my hosts who were super nice and had a really sweet spot overlooking tokyo tower.

The plan for my 4 full days in Japan was to spend my first half day around tokyo and then head to kyoto on the bullet train for two nights. After a good nights sleep I ran around tokyo and got as much done as possible. I hit Harajuku (this crazy busy block with so many people walking down it that you could barely move). I got over to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I got more street/people photography done in a half a day then almost the entire rest of the trip. Tokyo was a cool place and was pretty easy to get around via the subway. I only had about 5 hours to roam around town before getting to the bullet train station to head to kyoto. 

So this was a pain in the ass. I bought my bullet train ticket (i thought) all through a website i found online. Essentially i only paid for the ticket but still had to go pick it up. One thing to note about Japan, they LOVE heat. They love it on the subways, they love it in restaurants, they love it in stores and shops. They blast the heat in some places at like 85 degrees. It was so hot in the bullet train ticket office that i literally gasped when I walked in. Spending an hour in there to get my ticket actually printed was no fun. Suggestion to anyone looking to take that train, I’m sure there is an easier way of getting your ticket… figure out what it is and do it. 

The bullet train itself was actually really nice. I don’t spend much time on trains here in the states other than back and forth to manhattan, but these trains were pretty upscale. They had power outlets at every seat, wifi, beverage and food service, etc. The seats were really spacious and the overall experience was great. It didn’t really feel like it was going any faster then a normal train, but it sure did look cool when it pulled into the station. 


I am going to talk about 2 things in regards to my trip to kyoto. First, I had one of the coolest experiences at dinner while at my airbnb. Second, that great experience was followed by one of the worst nights of being sick in my life. 

I got to my airbnb which was an old 2 story home which featured a “samurai” style japanese restaurant on the first floor and a small 3 bedroom apartment on the second floor.  It was by far the least modern place I had stayed at throughout the whole trip but did have a bit of ‘charm’ to it. The rooms were all small, the ceilings were low, and the bathroom was just barely big enough to were I could close the door while sitting on the toilet (this would be important later as I spent much of the night cramped in this little hole of a room). 

The host was nice, spoke english and showed me around. I figured the place would suffice as I didn’t plan on spending much time there other then to sleep. I had a lot of places to visit and sites to see. Kyoto features some of the oldest temples still standing in Japan after WWII so I was looking forward to getting some great shots.  It has features Geishas in certain neighborhoods and I was looking forward to trying to get some photography done for that as well. 

I went down to the restaurant to grab some dinner and figured I’d just pass out early and get an early start to the day. The whole restaurant seated maybe 20 people and I was put at a table next to a group of 10 japanese young adults. I don’t really remember how it happened but we engaged each other in conversation and started chatting. About an hour later we were all laughing and sharing drinks and talking about our respective cultures and ways of life. They were all extremely interested in what it was like to live in the US and what I wanted to do with my life and what I believed in, etc. It was kind of flattering that they took such an interest but I think it was a matter of respect for them as well. They had welcomed a new friend into their group and really made me feel like a part of their crowd.

We sat on the floor for 2 hours and shared stories. Ikumi , the 26yr old girl I was sitting next to, refilled my glass when I finished each drink. It is bad form to fill your own glass as I would learn so I was more than happy to oblige. They each shared their business cards with me and they presented them to me like a gift, with the utmost respect. It was just a very interesting experience. 

I brought my own “flare” to the exchange as well. I couldn’t believe it, but they had never heard of saki bombs (dropping a shot of saki into a beer and drinking it all at once). So that lead to about a dozen saki bombs which they really got a kick out of. They told me about their favorite comic, “One Piece”, and Nobu (one of the guys) shared his love of “Bushido” (the samurai way/lifestyle) and recommended a great book to read (which I am currently reading now). We all did some laughter yoga at the table (which is essentially just belting out some great big laughs.. its invigorating).

The whole dinner experience was just one of the most interesting and enlightening experiences during the whole entire 7 week trip. It was, unfortunately, followed by the worst experiences of the trip. As we neared the end of dinner I started feeling some stomach cramps. I didn’t think much of it though and we all said our goodbyes,  expressing our gratitudes and pleasures to meet each other and went on our way.  I retired back to the apartment upstairs and got some photo editing done. 

The next 7 hours was filled with the worst food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. I could not keep anything in my system. My body rejected anything that came in. Without getting to graphic, I don’t think that little 4 foot by 3 foot bathroom will ever recover. It got to the point, around 3:30am, that I decided I had to go to the hospital. I was completely dehydrated and had no nutrients in my system what-so-ever. I was cramping up and could barely move from exhaustion. 

I will have to give some major credit to my airbnb host who drove me to the hospital and translated for me for 2 hours. Thank god he was there because I don’t know how i would have gotten the medical attention I needed without him. The whole hospital visit including an IV drip and other medications cost me a grand total of …. wait for it…. $190. A trip like that would have cost easily several thousand dollars here in the states. By the time we left I was feeling a bit better and at least got some electrolytes in my system via the IV.

That was my whole kyoto experience. What was supposed to be a big highlight of my trip with views of old temples and geishas and the real “old japan” was summed up to a great meal in a restaurant and a hospital visit. I had no energy to do anything the next day and while I was supposed to stay another night, I really just wanted to get back to the much more comfortable airbnb in Tokyo. I got back on the bullet train and headed back where my hosts there was nice enough to open their place to me a day early.

The next day and a half I spent trying to keep some food down and doing a bit more touring around and grabbing some photos. 

I did not get to eat all the food I had planned on eating while in Japan and certainly am planning on going back and doing it right. Overall, thought, it was a great experience to add to the entire journey. The japanese 20 somethings that I met gave me some really cool perspective of japanese culture and left me wanting more for sure. 

japan-yoyogi-park-tree-on-top japan-minato-statue-and-pinwheel japan-minato-water-dripping japan-shibuya-girl-cryingjapan-shinjuku-women-with-statue

Le Meridien, Chiang Rai

The ride to the hotel (Le Meridien, Chiang Rai) from the airport took about 15 minutes. The lobby was very welcoming and smelt nice. I was able to get checked in without TOO much trouble with the fact that no one spoke decent english. I chalked it up to the fact that I was in Thailand and I had prepared myself for a lack of communication. However, I was not prepared for how bad it was at the hotel. This is supposed to be a five star resort here in Thailand and it is a Starwoods property… I was very disappointed. I’m going to go on a bit of a rant so I apologize in advance.

I had several issues the first 24hours in the hotel and they were all made considerable worse by the fact that I couldn’t voice my issues to anyone in the staff and get any kind of feedback or support. After spending more than an hour on the phone with Starwoods my second night at the hotel, they told me the day manager would be in at 8am and he has a note to call me. I had a very nice conversation with Stephen, who is australian, and speaks perfect english. I really needed that and we were able to get a few things resolved.  (more…)

Paris Part 1

So there I was in Paris. Fresh off my visit with my great friends in Bordeaux, I was looking forward to the city of lights. I’d heard great things and was also getting more excited to wrap up my European part of the trip. I was also extremely excited to get to stay at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome. This is a super high class hotel that I was staying at for free (rooms start at around $1,000/night) because of a signup/spending bonus on my Hyatt card from Chase (2 free nights at any hyatt in the world after reaching the required spend)

Anyway, I’ve detailed my stay at the Vendome in THIS POST so I won’t describe the stay in this one.

After landing at ORY airport, south of Paris, I headed to the metro/shuttle that would take me right into the heart of town. I was advise prior to arrival that taxi’s from the airport can run as much as 60-70 euros (almost $100) so I figured I’d find another option. The orlyval (think thats what it’s called) runs a shuttle from the airport to a local metro stop. Then, switch to the metro and get off about a 10 minute walk from my friends place. Easy as pie.

street musicians in paris along the river seine

I met with friends and we toured around town a bit. We picked up some rabbit to cook at home and other then the weather being a bit crappy, it was a nice ‘welcome’ to the city. We got into the subway and on a bus so it helped me get acclimated for the rest of the trip.


Uneventful Barcelona…

Perhaps I was overhyped for this leg of the trip. I was looking forward to Barcelona because most of my friends and people I’ve met so far have told me that Barcelona is great and I would really enjoy it. Perhaps is was the poor weather for the first 36 hours of my visit. Or perhaps it was the fact that my airbnb on my first night was shit and both of my hosts had the flu. Perhaps is was the fact that it was considerably more expensive then the rest of spain which I felt was all very reasonably priced.

Whatever the reason, I did not really enjoy my time in Barcelona. I found that while the Gaudi buildings were interesting and nice to look at, they were quite expensive and even the park was more than $10 for entrance… I mean its a park, come on guys…. (more info HERE)

main ceiling in la segrada familia in barcelona. a gaudi building

Some good things:

The metro was super easy to use and I was able to figure out which lines to take and where to enter etc pretty quickly.

My second airbnb was excellent. I was with a very nice couple around 30-35 years old. The girl spoke english while the guy did not. He was a chef and I don’t think she worked much (beyond managing the airbnb room and guests. I was able to have a couple of really nice and interesting conversations with her and learned that they will be flying to Mexico in january to prospect on buying some land there. The plan is to build a green home and bungalows and rent them. She was really sweet and made me feel very much at home even leaving breakfast for me each morning.


Rental Car Headache

Dealing with a big headache right now that I have been known about and have put off for a couple weeks. Automatic Transmission rental cars in Europe.

I visited France last year and needed to rent a car for about 6 days. I needed a large van type car because we were going to be traveling with 4-5 adult males with some camera gear and luggage. I realized then that the price difference for an automatic vs a manual transmission was pretty stark.  While my father (who was accompanying me) said that he could drive manual (he hasn’t done that in about 35 years) i thought it best that we fork over the extra money for a car that we could both drive. Besides, he graciously agreed to cover the cost of that since i was making most of the other arrangements for the trip.