2008 was when I took a trip around the world, during the summer. At the time, I posted updates to a Blogspot site; later I consolidated everything into this single page.

Why Do This?

April 14, 2008
"Around the world, the trip begins with you" The decision to go was formed by any number of events; among them an Edward Hasbrouck booksigning-reading, discovering the library's 'Powaqqatsi' videotape, reading how Magellan's crew dscovered the date line in A World Lit Only by Fire, etc. Last November I purchased the tickets, a little impulsively, and tomorrow I'm going up to the City to have an Indian visa installed in my passport. I've only had transit visas previously, the most memorable through Yugoslavia in 1977 during my first trip to Europe. That was the longest I've ever been away from home; this journey will also be seven weeks. I've made seven more round-trips across the Atlantic since then, and been seven times across the Pacific, as well. A final number - my departure date is Friday the 13th. Now I'll be filling in my gaps of longitude, and though Singapore's quite close, my first crossing of the equator will have to wait for another time.

How and more Why

April 27
The big steps of this journey will naturally be by air, and arranging flights has become quite easy, via aggregate sites like kayak.com (as well as the airlines' own). A sad result of this is I've lost touch with Gretchen, my travel agent through the 1980s and 90s.

Years ago, I read a book which inspired (or even, enabled) me to make this journey. By that I mean unlike before, afterwards I felt that this was a trip I could actually undertake successfully, even though the idea of being in the developing world fills me with apprehension. As noted previously, I once attended a presentation by author Edward Hasbrouck, at a travel bookstore in downtown San Francisco. (I took him for a local, then, but he actually calls Capitol Hill home.) The travel agency he's affiliated with is airtreks.com and their specialty is arranging the daisy chain of one-way tickets necessary for a round-the-world journey. I played around with their online trip-planning software for years without following through.

I'll be using my usual methods for this trip, carrying a single piece of luggage, my trusty black max-carry-on sized Eagle Creek backpack, and staying in cheap hotels with their single rooms. When I began exploring the world I stayed in the much cheaper hostels, but getting a good night's sleep isn't possible anymore there, given strangers in the room. All local travel will be via public transportation, almost never arranged previously - the concept of moving through a foreign land in a sealed motorcoach with an organized group is anathema to me, a sentiment shared by many travelers. The comparison I heard recently was visiting a country with an organized tour was like reading a great novel's Cliff Notes (unfair, really, because sometimes those tour guides really know their material).

Actually, another book was an enabler for me, many years previously: Ed Buryn's Vagabonding. He motivated me into taking my first trip abroad, to Europe, a mysterious, foreign place at the time, not so easy to get to, or around in. His title's been co-opted by Rolf Potts, who now pays homage in his blog, with quotes from the now out-of-print original (for example, Ed Buryn on the Unexpected.) I've got a postcard from him; Buryn responded to my fan mail years ago. For more about him a local newspaperman up in the Gold Country became interested, then discovered the old but still-living author was practically a neighbor - see Ed Buryn: Our Nevada City vagabond.

Final Preparations

May 23
Even though my Indian itinerary's rather vague, I've made the necessary preparations for travel outside the cities -- typhus and hepatitus shots, polio and tetenus boosters, plus obtaining a stash of malaria pills as well as something for Delhi belly. The latter worries me most -- can't imagine I'll get away from the sub-continent without being sick.

Not giving packing much thought now, that's always very-last-minute since my backpacking travel system's become routine. Instead, packing up ALL my gear, since I'll be homeless for the duration, placing my stuff into storage rather than pay rent on an empty apartment. Said storage unit was secured yesterday, so moving out has begun.

Where?

June 7
Some people's reaction, when I tell of this trip, is to ask "Which countries?" or even, "How many countries?" Related is the Grand Tour idea, that you get one big trip in your life, into which everything must be packed. I've never had much truck with that notion, and yet it's weirdly embarrassing when my answer to the second question's only, "six." But then I explain it's really 'just' a journey to Turkey and India; if I'm going to the far side of the globe, why not just keep going; and Holland-Germany and Singapore-Japan are just convenient, familiar places to set down in between my true destinations and the American East and West Coasts.

Although the financial situation may prevent it, already I consider another orbit, this time in the opposite direction, and dipping below the equator. The Southern Route would start with the longest flight, from LAX to Australia/New Zealand, followed by South Africa; then Rio, Buenos Aires and finally Santiago; then returning to the Northern Hemisphere, and home in the Pacific Time Zone.

Departure in six days, whereupon these entries will become more descriptive, less introspective, and more frequent (but sometimes, when the internet is expensive, just a terse location note).

Departure

June 13
My journey began yesterday after placing the last of my possessions into the storage unit, closing out my apartment, and dropping of my car at a teacher-colleague's house in San Jose. Her husband drove me over to the light rail station: after a few stops I transferred to an express bus to Fremont, the BART station at the end of the line. A few stations north to the East Bay nowhere of Hayward, where I checked into the Days Inn and, shifting immediately into travel mode, washed some clothes in the sink just after taking the room, hanging them up to dry before heading out to find something to eat. Later, on the TV, I watched some Sci-Fi channel "Twilight Zone" before retiring. In the morning, I'll walk back to the BART station and ride north to Oakland, for the first of my sequence of ten flights east.

Airports, Metro, and Maryland

June 14
First flight left Oakland late, but no stress at DFW since my connecting flight into DC was also delayed. Some concern about the final leg into suburban Maryland but I'm aware how the Metro trains now run late Friday night, into the wee hours. Spent my time at DFW eating tasty BBQ at Dickie's, which I remember from previous visits. My flights were all in the stylish new Terminal D but I spent a lot of the time riding around on the automated Skylink people-mover, which travels at refreshingly rapid speeds to connect the various terminals. I know this airport well, as it was our test-bed when I worked on Air Traffic Control software (during a memorable business trip there around '98, I got to experience the scene from up in one of its towers). Finally, back into another cramped S-80 for the flight to my hometown, then a dash to the Metro station at National. Finally, bro Andy ferried me the final mile to my parents' house, from the mall locals have called the Plaza since it opened, just before we moved here in 1960.

Today my parents were off at a wedding so I didn't do much but knock around the house, making phone calls. (Some irritation since a parcel I shipped home via FedEx has gone missing, possibly stolen off the front porch.) Later, they returned and we had dinner at a local Orthodox church's Greek Festival.

Day after Father's Day: New York!

June 16
Father's Day spent with family: got to visit parents, sister and all my brothers. Now (early AM, Monday) it's into DC to catch a Chinatown bus up to NYC, where my transatlantic flight will be departing tomorrow, at around 6PM.In the Big Apple again, and it's great! Perfect timing catching the bus, the first of four long "coach" rides I'll be making during this journey. Staying with Molly and two of her nephews tonight, in her loaner tenement apartment in Queens, but for the rest of the day I'll be riding around town, sightseeing with my unlimited Metrocard. Seems like I was just here, but that was two years ago.

Europe!

June 18
Flying all night, no sleep, and after an hour's wait in the Dublin aerodrome (my first time in Ireland), the short flight to Amsterdam. Now I'm in the Hotel Brian. Casual and inexpensive, its tiny , 40€ room works for me (with free internet in the family-room lobby). I've traditionally stayed a little further from the Central Station, down near the Heineken Brewery; it's more fun up here, closer to the action.

Yesterday in New York, I wandered around Molly's temporary neighborhood of Greenpoint, Queens; which to my surprise is a Polish area. I got to utilize the tourist expressions recalled from my 2004 trip there.

Understanding Amsterdam

June 19
After yesterday's balmy weather, awoke to a dreary morning whereupon I discovered my umbrella's gone missing, but so far unnecessary -- dodged the showers until afternoon, when it cleared up and became sunny again. Today, the trip's first museum, the Historical; and I now (finally) have an understanding of this city's geography, and can picture its early growth. A political/historical term learned today was Batavia, along with the Batavian Republic of the 19th Century.

Stores fondly remembered and revisited today included the American Book Centre, which has moved into a nice new space; and the shop of things Japanese called Winkeltje. (I've also seen a Tibeten Winkeltje.) So much fun relearning all the sights and my way around this town.

Tomorrow, a new hotel, and then a bus-ride to Düsseldorf.

View of the rooftops from the hotel window

Three Amsterdam Observations

June 20

Back in the Fatherland

June 21
Amsterdam really is a wonderful city, so clean and perfectly working. Seems like I spent hours last night riding around on the trams, watching the sights slide by. Even though it was the weekend I forgot to prepare, high season and hotels were mostly booked last night but I found space just around the corner in the Tourist Inn 'Budget' Hotel, very nice in comparison to the Brian, flat-screen TV but non-free internet in the lobby, plus more variety at breakfast.

This morning via Metro to the Amstel Station and the Eurolines bus, the lost-cost alternate now to Continental train travel. Our pair of drivers chattered away in Russian during the four-hour drive to Düsseldorf, which was interupted at the border for a security check. I thought this was a thing of the past in Schengenland (but there was a notice in the bus station about long delays at the Italian frontier...) I spotted the border, which had a pullout like a rest area with several official vehicles parked, but as the highway traffic just continued on I thought it was going to be ignored like on the train: no stopping, no checks, no nothing. But instead, a moment later, the bus pulled into an actual rest area right behind a parked police car, from which two border guards emerged wearing the familar gray Grenzpolizei uniforms (but these were both young women). They seemed to be giving someone in the back a lot of attention (this bus's final destination: Croatia), and they even asked to look inside my backpack. The first time ever, for me, entering Deutschland. Achtung, baby.

Now I'm ensconced in das Hotel Rheingold which is too expensive but great because I have a little back porch with a view out onto a triangular courtyard. In the nearby Telesurf internet cafe, I'm inhaling too much second-hand smoke (welcome to Europe) made even more annoying by the one-sided chatter of a couple of Sype callers. Earlier I was exploring the Japanese stores along the Immermannstraße -- did you know one of the biggest expatriate communities from that country calls Düsseldorf home?

All the residents are all watching the big game again tonight and German flags are flying everywhere here, along with a few gutsy Turks. They even have pairs of 'em mounted on their cars, their shafts protruding like insect antennae, just like the patriotic yahoos do back home.


Kind of a rip off; being here for less than 48 hours -- so often cold wintry or rainy autumnal are the weathers I experience when visiting Düsseldorf, but now in the warm sunnyness my presence is all too brief. I return to this town again and again 'cause I like its semi-newness: flattened in the war, it's all no more'n sixty years old. Tomorrow, back to Mainz, a more traditional place (very close to the Frankfurt aerodrome), home of Gutenburg, where I broke my leg stumbling off a curb on a last day of my 2004 visit to Eastern Europe.

Düsseldorf

June 22 AM
I always pass through the Köln-Düsseldorf neighborhood on my European travels. Last time was to nearby Wuppertal, to ride the Schwebebahn, but previously I did several overnights in Düsseldorf, in the 90s. Then I'd stay in the funky, inexpensive Hotel Manhattan (so refreshing in '94, but stale by '98) and once at the Hotel Komet which was expensive then, but more reasonable now (38€). Coincidentally, or maybe not, both the Manhattan and das Rheingold face the huge Kaufhaus, but the Manhattan always gave me the noisy room facing the street.

They've spruced up the place, possibly just for summer, by installing new planters of recycled, horizontal tires (filled with soil) at street corners, delineating the pedesterian access points -- either big fat tractor-, or tiers of three auto-tires. Bushy green plants sprout therefrom, along with those spiky mini-palms -- palmettos? Also I see at least one tram line has had grass planted along its right-of-way, very nice.

On the TV, the Delai Lama is visitng Deutschland, and is greeted with open arms. Old b&w images show the Chinese takeover, and the young DL escaping. How circular -- when I was in Mainz, after returning from the hospital to my hotel room, I watched Brad Pitt hanging with the same guy in 7 Years in Tibet.

Kestlerbach

June 22 PM
Given an early flight tomorrow morning, I'm hunkered down in a chain hotel near the aerodrome, an ibis, and it's a real nowhere, being Sunday night -- although there's stores about, a strip mall across the street, nothing's open. Mainz was fun, walked down to the Rhine river, where I found some ghats. (More on these later.) Turning towards the bridge I remembered, strolling along I encountered an extensive fair, a Euro version of those street fairs back home I dislike, an endless aisle of little booths selling crafts and food items, the parade of humanity sometimes clogging and slowing down, stopping. The air was muggy, almost rainy, and before I got to where I stumbled so fatally last time, I turned back towards town. Striding along, loving the sensation of Mainz without crutches, I ducked into a cathedral (my custom in Europe: if I'm close to one of those ornate entrances and people or even one person is going in&out, and I'm not in a hurry, I duck in also) and this one was deserted, and had twin alters of several dazzling gold-leaf life-sized angels. Back outside a minute or two later I was disoriented and asked a passerby the classic Wo ist der Bahnhof and she walked me all the way. Sarah (which sounds "Zarah" auf Deutsch) is a costume designer and schneider (tailor) for a local theater, and she grew fascinated as I told my story, and said Istanbul was one of the best places.

My train ride this morning was an express, very picturesue views along the Rhine, stopping only at Köln and Koblenz. No seats available, and since I didn't pay the reservation premium yesterday I took up the SRO position in the at the end of the car, fortunately not crowded there. As it was only a couple hours I didn't mind and I was reminded of the last time this happened, in a morning train from Tokyo heading south towards Kamakura, when it was too crowded. Anyway, after the Mainz interlude, the last train ride was a local to this town, a couple miles from one of the continent's biggest airports, and a long but pleasant walk from the station to hotel.

Evening in Byzantium

June 23
Kind of exhilarating, this İstanbul. I'm in a hotel called Yunus Emre and since I can find better deals elsewhere I won't be here past tomorrow night. So far, I've only walked 'round the neighborhood but the amount of ancient ruins (and sometimes, their integration into existing structures) is amazing. For the first time, I've heard the call to prayer issuing from minarets. The Turkish keyboard is problematic: not only for the additional cedila ç and ş characters, the umlauted ö and ü, plus a silent, crowned Ğ, but also because in this language, the i can be either dotted or not, in both upper- and lower-case. So the problem is, that undotted ı key is in the usual dotted i's location. Tired now, will write more tomorrow; but must note the title of today's post is a forgetable 1970s Irwin Shaw best-seller which was set not in Turkey, but the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Impressions of İstanbul

June 24
The morning began with breakfast on the rooftop terrace, apparently a standard feature of a stay in İstanbul -- looking out over the neighborhood, one can see many such terraces. Afterwards, strolled over to the Aya Sofya as it's known here (for some reason, it's called the Hagia Sophia elsewhere -- guess that g's silent). I've wanted to see this building for like forever, and it didn't disappoint, even though a quarter of the main dome was hidden behind floor-to-ceiling scaffolding (as shown in that link -- scroll down). Originally an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, the Ottomans converted it into a mosque -- and I realized, examining the mihrab in the apse, what an incredible coincidence -- it's almost exactly oriented towards Mecca, perhaps 1° off.

Afterwards, headed across the Bosporus tributary known the Golden Horn to the bustling Taksim Square to wait an an hour in- and outside the crowded Turkish Airlines office in order to reconfirm my ticket to India, something I'd already handled in about two minutes at their counter at JFK. However, an urgent email from my travel agent said I had to do this again (but she was wrong). It wasn't at all bad though, hanging out, waiting for my number; and afterwards I walked through very interesting streets down to the Galata Bridge, which has only a narrow channel in the middle for ship traffic; on either side, under the bridge's deck, open restaurants beckon passers-by.

After walking through the Spice Bazaar, where I bought some hazelnuts, wanted to visit the Süleymaniye Mosque, supposed to be the best; but its interior is in fact currently filled with scaffolding, and closed for renovation. No matter, the one I really want to visit is the Sultanahmet, right next to the Sofya. The latter's no longer religious, just a museum: but the former's known as the Blue Mosque due to its interior tile and stained glass -- can't wait.

Sounds of İstanbul: screeching of seagulls, and folk music accompanied by the Turkish saz lute; smells include wood-smoke, diesel fumes and sweaty human bodies; and there's many scrawny cats around, who can't be too happy in the day's heat.

Sunset Ferry Ride

June 25
Dashed over to the Blue Mosque first thing, but it wasn't open to tourists yet, so back to the rooftop terrace for breakfast. Returned to the mosque, where tour buses were already letting out hordes of tourist groups. Finally inside, I was a little disappointed, not really that blue; but I was glad I made it. Back to the hotel (just a couple blocks) where I checked out (no more of that unctuous young innkeeper) and moved down the street and around the corner to the more reasonable Otel Buhara, with a smaller but nicer rooftop terrace which has an amazing view of the Blue Mosque (and at night, when all lit up with sodium lights, seagulls are attracted for some reason, and they circle around silently over it).

Three views inside the Blue Mosque




Thence to the oldest enclosed mall in the world, the Grand Bazaar. Not really that interesting to me, although I love the displays of the lanterns (flickr photos) made of mosaics of colored glass beads and chips. After a chicken kabab lunch I retreated to my hotel room for a siesta, deciding to take it easy this day. Eventually, I emerged to ride a ferry across the Bosporous just before sunset. At Kadiköy I had a fish sandwich, my first meal in Asia, then rode back just after sundown. The amount of water traffic reminded me of Venice.

Another Turquie Day: Soccer, Cistern and Food

June 26
After posting yesterday evening, I realized everyone was glued to the TV again. At first I thought it the Swiss-Austria match, but no -- this was critical, the big deal: Germany vs. Turkey in the semi-final. These two countries have an awkward relationship, rather like California and Mexico. In Germany, Turks are usually Gastarbeiter, or Guest Workers, and they've been doing menial work there for generations, just like Mexicans in the US. I first learned of their difficulties in '77 when, back home from my first jaunt to Europe, I was inspired to seriously resume study of the German language, which I'd given only passing attention in high school. The first reading in my college text involved a Turkish girl's plight in public school in the Fatherland, where she was not having a good time. And unlike the US, being born in Germany doesn't automatically make you a citizen (our rule's actually rather unusual). So, given this background, the passions surrounding this match are complicated. I activated my room's screen with about ten minutes to go, and three goals were made in that interval. This morning the locals are somber, because the Germans were victorious, 3-2! I was happy for them, one reason being if the Turks had won, their jubilations out in the street would have annoyed for hours. (Good thing I'm no longer in Düsseldorf.)

Breakfast this morning quite pleasant, on the roof terrace shaded by a dense grapevine, already bearing unripe fruit. Better food selection then the previous hotel, and the azure waters of the Mediterranean Marmara so beautiful. Escaped from the heat by visiting the subterranean tourist attraction of the Basilica Cistern, then crossed the Golden Horn again to explore more the steep streets above Karaköy, where musical instruments, electronics and even neon signs are sold. Now I'm writing in an Internet cafe in a shopping district of shoes.

I'd heard Turkish cuisine is wonderful, and so far it's been very tasty. Many kebabs, of course, which are often served with a fresh, puffy pita (those I know back home are always flattened before packaging). I'd also heard of an incredible chocolate pudding called süpengile but was kinda disappointed today when I finally got some, nothing special except for a surface dusting of coconut and optionally, crushed pistachios.

Tomorrow, I'll be leaving İstanbul for Capadochiya, and may not get access to a computer for a day or two. This could be a grueling overnight bus journey, if I did it all at once; but instead I'll be breaking it up with an overnight stay in Ankara, the capital.

New Cities in Ancient Lands

June 27
Maybe not so new where I am now, in a noisy old quarter where the cheap hotels are; but I was impressed with the architecture seen from our hot video-bus as it reached the urban core of Ankara, and was reminded of the track from Powaqqatsi so I'm using that for today's title.

I won't last long in this smoky fourth-floor Interent cafe but yeah, a bus which shows too-loud videos, common in the third world, and today was my first ride in one, and not the last. Supposedly air-conditioned, but that seemed to fade away; and the second feature was an embarrasment, a piece-a-shit Hollywood 'comedy' from 2006 called "Little Man" rendered even worse by the dubbing. I would've liked some sub-titles for the first, however; a modern Turkish slapstick involving four goofy men, two sexy women, a casino and then an airplane hijacking/robbery where the Arab bandits fled DB Cooper-style, with parachutes.

Tonight's lodging is the Hotel Sarp which doesn't rate a web-site but quite adequate for my needs, only $20 and no breakfast but that's half what I was paying yesterday.

Just had a delicious plate of Kuzu Kapama which was a soggy beef rib under a pile of carrots, peas, beans, potatoes and tomatoes. In fact every meal here comes with tomato, it seems; no complaints from me.

Tomorrow, on to Kapadokya!

Arrival in Cappadocia

June 28
Although there are some trains in Turkey, most long-distance travel's by bus. Every town has an otogar or bus station, and Ankara has the biggest -- incredible. I thought its counterpart in Kuala Lumpur was a bustling scene, but nothing like this. Nevertheless, I found my way onto a better 'coach' than yesterday, AC adequate, no cracked windshield; but they stuck me in the very last row, where my ride was extremely rough, and the requisite video (a domestic film, mostly men talking, occasional violence) was so annoying I developed a headache which is only now fading.

But I've arrived in the land of the fairy chimneys, and it's been worth the hassle. Amazing landscape, and by chance I've stumbled into quite nice lodgings at the Köse Pension. Very friendly people (both guests and hosts), even a swimming pool. Plus this great Internet spot around the corner (smoke-free, like the pension) which features English keyboards as well as Firefox (and traditional music playing in the background).

Exploration begins tomorrow; too hot today, plus that headache had me laying low.

Extraordinary Göreme

June 29
I think my first exposure to Kapadokya was in a "Prince Valient" comic strip which depicted a warren of little cubicles hewn from solid rock, each containing a monk working at a book by candle-light. The region has several villages; Göreme, where I am, is the most central. The environment is reminiscent of "The Flintstones" (and in fact there's a Flintstones Bar -- over the entrance, Fred and Barney welcome you, both wearing sunglasses; and Barney's sporting a peace-sign helmet). The volcanic landscape's also somewhat like Joshua Tree. A fascinating place to explore, but so hot in the middle of the day, must take refuge poolside at this great Köse Pension.

At dawn this morning I was up and about, watching the hot-air balloons, must've been a dozen in flight. (This set of photos include some with the balloons.) Later, I walked around an area of ancient Christian churches, exploring the chambers carved from the soft tuff rock, long ago.


Another nice thing about this pension are the high-quality dinners they have nightly, served at one big table so the guests mingle. Tonight, one of the balloon pilots attended, a friend of Dawn, the proprietress, and I had a great conversation concerning things Lighter Than Air with this Australian aeronaut.

Something included in the various local tours offered here (example) is a visit to the Star Wars set, which I believe is bogus -- my recollection was those Tatooine scenes were filmed in Tunisia. Perhaps that's why one description mentions a visit to a location where "it is said" the first Star Wars was filmed. Now, of course, the quandry -- which Star Wars is first? It's true, that scene in "The Phantom Menace" of the village at night very much resembles the cave hotels up the hill, where I plan to stay tomorrow night; but like "A New Hope" its IMDb filming locations lists multiple places in Tunisia, but none in Turkey.

Speaking of Star Wars, I'm feeling a bit like a wookiee now, as I haven't shaved since Amsterdam, a very unusual move for me. All my brothers and school chums have (or have had) facial hair, but I only tried that once, when I was 21. After three weeks, the itchiness forced a termination of the experiment. Both my brother Andy and I independently discovered the best shaving method, immersion, which requires a bathtub, and I doubt that I'll have access to one of those until I reach Japan, so I'm trying again. This time, it seems to be growing faster, and now my facial hair's coming out mostly white, hopefully giving me a dignified appearance.

Final Cappadocian Evening

June 30
Hung out this morning in the pleasant Köse Pension common area, playing with the Alex, the proprieters' kid; and talking with a small group of travelers from Virginia, as well as Dawn, the Hausfrau, who's originally from Scotland but now 25 years in Turkey. My cost was like $17 a night there but I've moved on, to the Village Cave House, since I can't leave this place without spending a night in a cave room. Rooms, actually -- they've given me a double, very nice, but only charging the single price, about $20 (no meals included). Up the hill, isolated and lonely, no comraderie like at the Köse (which I can't recommend highly enough) but with incredible views and a most interesting interior.

Tomorrow I ride the bus back to Ankara, and I got a good seat this time, second row. Yes, seats are assigned on the Turkish videobus, and in addition to the driver, there's always an attendant who periodically passes out drinks and little cakes, along with splashes of cologne into passengers' palms (except mine -- no thanks). And it always leaves promptly, five minutes after the scheduled time.

Ankara Again

July 1
Very pleasant in Göreme this morning, but eventually the bus showed up and now, a return to this smoky Internet Cafe, the only one I've discovered in the decididly non-touristy Ulus district of Ankara. My hotel, the San, is in an area thick with little electronics shops, all with novel LED displays in the window. After checking in, and then doing the usual bit of laundry in the room's sink, went out in search of a meal and had an inexpensive döner (beef with tomato in the wonderful Turkish bread) at a fast food place called Azim Piknik. Then I wandered up to a little plateau which afforded a splendid view of the sunset, the sprawling capital city all around, as well as an ancient ruin (the Temple of Augustus and Rome, from around 25 BC) and a mosque. The great thing about mosques is they're reliable sources for a free, non-plastic-bottled drink of water, since they always have a row of knee-high spigots for pre-prayer ablutions. The line of men sitting there washing their hands and feet remind me of a Japanese sento, or public bath (except in the sento they'd all be naked, and washing their whole bodies).

Tomorrow morning, back to the enormous Ankara bus depot, like a major airport as arrivals are on the lower level, departures from the upper. After a six-hour ride (my last, thank heavens -- impossible to tolerate without the ear-plugs) I'll be back in İstanbul for one more night and day, and then it's on to India.

Farewell to Turkey

July 2
Yesterday's hotel was cheap, hot and noisy; tonight's, even cheaper, but doesn't face the street, so not as noisy (I hope). The window's view is an airshaft but at this point I don't care, I'm in that end-phase where I'm watching my Turkish YTL (or new lira) closely since there's not much left, and I don't want to acquire any more since I leave the country tomorrow.

After checking out this morning, another minibus ride to the huge Ankara otogar, or bus terminal. The buiding's general size and shape remind me of the BWI terminal, except the positions of the passengers arriving/departing and the vehicles they're riding are reversed. This time, I chose the Metro company for my ride back to İstanbul -- amusing to this DC native, to ride a Metrobus in Turkey, and I was hoping the ride would be on one of their big Starliners, and my wish came true. Quite luxurious, with many blue LEDs inside; but like all these Turkish buses, no on-board toilet. Unfortunately, shortly after departure, an ominous rhythmic sound became apparent, tire or wheel trouble, I reckoned. The bus pulled over, and the crew of four (I think one was a manager catching a ride) took a look, shrugged their shoulders and got back in and we continued, but shortly afterwards, a blow-out (left front) and the bus driver barely pulled onto the left shoulder. A spare was aboard, but none of the necessary big tools for swapping it, so we waited for the support vehicle to arrive. After 90 minutes, we were on our way. I could've taken a train for this leg of my journey, but it takes an hour and a half longer than the bus. Cheaper, too, but runs only twice a day and these buses are leaving every half hour -- and that's just Metro's schedule, seems like there's hundreds of bus companies available. Whatever, here I am, back in İstanbul.

After checking in to the Otel Erdal in the central Aksaray district, I rode the tram back to Karaköy so I could have a final walk over the Galata Bridge, enjoying the view of the Golden Horn at sunset. Bought a pound of Bing cherries from a street vendor to munch as I strolled without even washing 'em first, a treat I dare not have in India, where American tourists are advised only to eat fruit we've peeled ourselves.

Leaving this very interesting and surprisingly pleasant country, I'd like you to take away something as well. From now on, remember the traditional bird we have for Thanksgiving dinner as one thing; but Türkiye or Turquie is the source of turquoise, a color seen everywhere here, often paired with royal blue, a combination I like very much. Turkey's Aegian coastline is known as the Turquoise Coast, a place I'd like to visit when next I return.

Tomorrow night, after a six-hour flight, the most difficult (and frankly scary) part of my trip begins. Updates here may not be possible for a day or two, but when I resume, I'll be posting from the sub-continent. See you then!

Smelly Delhi

July 4
Great retro experience with the flight here on Turkish Airlines -- they served us a wonderful meal, even distributed packages containing a pair of socks and an eye-mask for sleeping. I chatted up my seat-mate, in the last row of coach, who turned out to be CEO of a company which manufactures musical instrument components like violin pegs. After enjoying a splendid view of İstanbul, taking off, he told me about getting into town from the airport, and when we both emerged from customs at the same time, he ended up walking me through the process of getting a pre-paid taxi, and then finding it outside, a step which was giving me much aprehension.

It was 5AM when the cabbie dropped me on Pahar Ganj, a street which by day becomes a chaotic marketplace, and is the location of my hotel, the Anoop. My room has both a noisy, buzzing air-con unit as well as twin fans blasting the hard, linen-less bed, in stereo -- necessary 'cause it's so hot and muggy here. (Fortunately, I'm packing a queen-sized sheet.) Some regrets about the length of time I'll be spending in India now, but it sure is cheap, and that's the point.

Traffic is a continuous cacophony of horn-honking by the green and yellow three-wheeled tuk-tuks (or 'autos' as they're called here) and passenger cars. Also included in the parade are motor-bikes and -scooters, which sometimes have mechanical horns which sound more like duck-calls, as well as trucks, buses and bicycle rickshaws or pedicabs, which are so cheap, but I just can't use 'em -- as Kal Penn said in The Namesake, "Travel by another's muscle power? Thats medieval." But I'm sure the time will come when I'll give in to temptation, and ride the motorized version.

Been back and forth many times today to the big central double-circle of Connaught Place, mostly arranging the purchase of some cheap new spectacles. Also trying to arrange transport out of Delhi, pronto, but the travel guy here at the hotel failed to get my train ticket so it's up to me to brave the crowd at the train station's Foreigner Ticket Office, instead. At least he got me the necessary info I'll need when I go back there tomorrow. If no reservation can be secured for the next day or two, it may be back onto a long-distance bus, something I was hoping to avoid here, but the train station mob scene is a bit off-putting.

So glad I brought along my Katadyn water filter, been pumping away with it, and so far, no ill feelings!

PS A question provoked by this Yahoo!News photo: if a gun is fired whilst driving a Segway, would its gyros react appropriately to the recoil?

Final Delhi Day 1

July 5
Back to the station this morning, where I secured a ticket and reservation for tomorrow morning, last seat on the train. The rabble must wait and queue up on the ground floor but there's an air-conditioned Foreign Tourist Reservation office upstairs. They also apparently reserve some quantity of tickets for tourists, as the guy here in the hotel said yesterday this train already seemed to be sold out. The reason I didn't just complete this transaction yesterday, when I first reconnoitered the station, was it was a mob scene by then and I didn't have enough info -- it's better if you can state the train you want to ride, rather than begin with requests for information. Amazing how complex they make this process.

More exploration of the center of Delhi today, popped into the big fast food emporia on Connaught Place. In McDonalds the two big sellers are apparently McChicken and "Veg Surprise" burgers -- no beef available, of course (but I sill have some contraband I smuggled in, the homemade jerky stash from my Vietnamese student). The menu at KFC is more traditional and I had some chicken strips (to go, due to the way-too-loud music in the dining area).

Today I've been riding the new Metro system, and I'm using a one-day pass. Like Hong Kong and Singapore's MRT there's no doors between the cars, so from one end you can see all the way to the other. Entering any station, passengers must pass through metal detectors, and then usually get the once-over by security with their wands. I'm going out now to ride some more, including to the vicinity of those main Delhi attractions of the Jama Masjid mosque and the Red Fort. Don't really want to leave the train, however, air-conditioned as it is like the refuge of my hotel room.

And the smell? It's more amniotic urine than the expected fecal overload. Reminds me of a sign observed just outside the station: "Deluxe Urinal" (I thnk because it had a roof) -- I've seen many open-air pissoirs here and there although walls and corners are the usual target. Other signs: on the back of many trucks it says "Please Honk" and some trash bins were labeled "Use Me." (Oh, that honking -- in early evening, there's so much it almost becomes a continuous blare.)

Hardwar

July 6
Up early and away, picking my way through the mob around the dawn-breaking New Delhi station, but was cool and almost refreshing waiting on the gangway above my train's platform, due to an unxpected wind. The train was on time, and even luxurious -- a small meal was served, newspapers were handed out, along with free bottled water plus flasks of hot water with small paper packages labeled "Soft Food Tea Kit" which contained both tea bag and packet of sugar.

Disembarked around noon in Hardwar, holy city on the Ganges. Standing on the broad steps called ghats leading down to the muddy river, its level seems high, and it's streaming past quite fast. Of course, there's people bathng in it, but I cannot as it allegedly contains awful water-borne parasites. (The bathers' faith makes them immune, supposedly.) It's a very different vibe here, in comparison to Delhi -- no touts are harrasing me and most of the people in the street seem very happy to be here, the women are very colorfully dressed and the festive feeling's contagious.

Lots of music today also -- on the train, piped in; and suddenly in this small internet cafe, they're singing "Happy Birthday" in Hindi. But mostly in the bustling market streets adjacent to the Ganges, where numerous monitors are continuously playing a very catchy video featuring I think Anuradha Paudwal, singing among the pilgrims on the Hardwar ghats. As I leave this cafe they've begun singing along with other tunes someone's brought up on their desktop.

Haridwar Sunset

July 7
The big event today was watching the aarti evening prayers on the banks of the Ganges (or Ganga as the river's called, in Hindi). People put floating candles into the water, and they float away, sometimes burning for a while before the current tips and extinguishes them. Actually they're bowls made of leaves sewn together which contain flowers as well as the flame. Lots of festive singing and temple-bell ringing accompany this -- it was quite a scene. (Photo, not mine; in fact I've been unable to charge my cell-phone so may not capture any images while in India.)

Tomorrow I'll try to get to Rishikesh, just to the north, in hopes of finding a quieter, more peaceful place. The tuk-tuks here are just as noisy, but more elaborate in their decorations then the drab Delhi versions, and they're joined by larger models, which can hold up to eight people, and the worn-out engines invariably sound like throbbing jack-hammers. These are called Share Autos (and I suppose I should be using the local name "auto" instead of tuk-tuk but it's confusing and not as exotic-sounding). I could easily take one of these to Rishikesh but I'll be trying to catch a bus -- it's only an hour north.

Rishkesh: Monkeys, Butterflies -- and Delhi Belly?

July 8
In the morning I returned to the chaos of the Haridwar bus station, in addition to no obvious structure, or English, rains in the night made it a muddy mess. Asking around for the bus, which allegedly departs every half-hour, I was eventually directed into a vikram, another name for the larger three-wheeled "Share Auto" vehicles I was discussing yesterday (unlike the tuktuk, which has only onw wide passenger seat, facing forward, a vikram's cabin has two wide seats facing each other). Can't find any explanatory linkage for "vikram" online but the locals and guidebooks all use the term. The passenger total varied between 6 and 10, but the 12 km journey went by fast enough, and now I fond myself in a rather dumpy hotel called Green, actually the allegedly upscale and adjacent Green View because the regular Green's closed for renovation.

After walking around Rishikesh and appreciating the many butterflies (and staying well away from the monkeys, traveling along overhead, which can occasionally attack the unwary) I realized I was finally feeling some intestinal distress -- it's not bad yet, perhaps a mild case, here's hoping.

* * *
Just before retiring to my hotel room after walking a four-mile loop around town, it began to rain. Prior to now, I've only experienced very light sprinkles here, but it really started coming down. And as has been happening every afternoon in these hot climates, after a while, in my cool refuge, I took a nap. I never do this at home but it's just seems like such a good way to get along here, with a siesta -- the heat'll kill me. I awake after dusk and the rain had become very light again, so I emerged for a walk, and had a great time. I'm in a place where there's hardly any four and no three-wheeled vehicles, between the two pedestrian-only suspension bridges on the east bank of the Ganges, where I'm surrounded by ashrams. In the warm tropical evening I heard crickets and frogs and people chanting (but almost zero honking and engine noise) and as I got closer to the Ganges, en route to the internet cafe, the sound of its rushing current. So for tomorrow, anyway, I'm just moving to a neighboring hotel.

Back in Haridwar

July 9
In the morning, after barely surviving the night in that damp, mildew-y room, I checked around neighboring hotels but didn't like what I saw so decided to go with yesterday's gut feeling, and evacuate. I previously had some daffy notion of spending a week in Rishkesh but now see no compelling reason, as there's other places I want to see in India (like Jodhpur, the Blue City) so it's back to Delhi tomorrow to arrange an excursion into Rajasthan.

Still feeling a little queasy, have had no real appetite all day, but "the trots" are quite sporadic. Ordered a banana pancake this morning but couldn't eat it, in fact while at the window, discussing the river's height with the restaurant-honcho, I leaned out and almost puked but that's the only time I've felt nauseous. So very mild remains my diagnosis.

After a couple very bumpy vikram rides, back in Haridwar, returning to the hotel where I stayed previoulsy, but neglected to mention: the Rajat Residency. Like many, it offers "24-hour hot water" but only the cold taps work, in the attached shower-toilet -- it's "bucket hot water" which requires a request to the desk. Haven't needed any though, it's so hot, cold showers are okay.

Could go on and on concerning Unpleasant Things About India but for balance's sake, let's have a plus and a minus. I like the lack of mandated First World safety -- much of traffic is two-wheeled motors, both scooters and motorbikes, but helmets? Haven't spotted a single one. And on the train, the doors at each end of the cars can be opened at any time, and after a while somebody'd eventually open each one, for standing in and watching the passing scene (not to get cool though, that train was air-conditioned, except in the platform-space between cars). What I hate is the damned incense. I can deal with second-hand smoke, don't like it but it's usually tolerable. But incense is everywhere here -- every little street-cart has its burning mound, which is okay outside, just a passing annoyance; but they sometimes even light some up inside restaurants -- even enclosed restaurants with the rare AC. And incense in a closed space has become ghastly, for me; aggravates my asthma critically (like the above-mentioned mildew).

After a week, getting used to India

July 10
Tonight's hotel, the City Palace, is in a district just a few blocks north of where I first stayed, both places in close proximity to the New Delhi train station, but hardly any tourist shops around (although still a bunch of cheap hotels). In fact, many of them are marked with the bold vertical neon that's now rare in American cities, but I like a lot, the flashing block letters maybe changing color via inner and outer sets of tubing. An example from out on Desh Bandhu Gupta Road:

HOTEL
K
U
M
A
R

PALACE
At one point there was a whole string of these in view and walking along at dusk I thought, I gotta get a disposable camera. Do they come with the high-speed 400 film which I've used so successfully for night-time photos?

Shortly after checking in, returned to the Tourist Reservation Office up on the station's second floor to secure a round-trip ticket to Jodhpur. I may cancel the second half though, and return making stops in Jaipur and Agra. It's an 11-hour journey, overnight, in an air-conditioned sleeper -- an unnecessary expense, perhaps, but at only $23 each way, why not? (First class sleepers seem to come in three flavors, lets say low, medium and high; I got medium.) I leave tomorrow evening, so may not have time for an update until later the next day.

A few days back I mentioned the Segway, an interesting vehicle, but an unforseen consequence was its driver looks like a dork. My feeling was always, just give me a bicycle... if I'm on wheels, I want to sit down. In Hokkaido a couple days ago Toyota unveiled their i-REAL which seems to answer my lazy request. But do electric vehicles actually reduce greenhouse gases? Only if their batteries are charged with power generated cleanly. Another photo I want is of the tricycle rickshaw school buses, for very young Indian students. * The Pedicab Blog's India posts feature a couple YouTubes. The first's just a view of traffic here, but the second very briefly shows an open version. But in comparison, the kind I see must be for the difficult kids, who might be thinking of an escape en route to school. Their passenger cabin is a closed metal box with narrow bench seating along the insides and only an open gap of windows around the top. Also in the news, at Toyota, an incident of karoshi.

Awaiting Dehli Departure 2

July 11
Turns out I'm just killing time until the train leaves, so a couple comments on Delhi. Previously I said nobody wears helmets, that's not true here in the capital, all motorcyclists are wearing them. (Must be a law.) And a big difference with the tuk-tuk 'autos' here, perhaps the reason they're all so uniform in their green-and-yellow livery is they're powered by compressed natural gas, unlike the noxious Vikrams.

I'm back at the concentric circles of Connaught Place after stashing my bag at the Inter State Bus Depot. It's near the Old Delhi train station, from where I'll leave tonight; and that station may also have a checked luggage room but I knew the ISBT did so there I went, riding an 'auto' for the first time from last night's accommodation in the Ram Nagar area, so superior to the backpackers' magnet of Pahar Ganj, where I first stayed. In fact I keep returning to the priginal hotel, as they've got a copy of last year's Trains at a Glance in the stack of magazines on the rooftop terrace. That's the thick schedule containing all train information -- I could just buy a copy, but I don't want to lug it around.

Just picked up my new glasses, and they're fine. I thought to get just any ol' lenses but they were able to acquire my usual ultra-thin Zeiss. For my extreme prescription, not a huge savings, maybe just 75%, but still. For the rest of today I'll just do some more air-conditioned Metro riding.

Rajasthan at Last

July 12
The night train to Jodhpur left Old Delhi station on time, but arrived 1.5 hours late. Not a problem though, as I was actually able to sleep (and even dream) during the journey. I feared a sleepless night as one of the other three men in the compartment wouldn't lie down and shut up, making and even receiving calls on his cell way past a reasonable hour.

Riding the Metro yesterday, only one noteworthy sight: amidst the usual thicket of grubby housing, a dreamy vision appeared: a snowy white, onion-domed temple with magenta trimming. My manager, a Delhi native, says that according to her relatives, the city's much cleaner and traffic's much improved now, due to their urban rail system (which like any trolley, uses an overhead cable instead of a third rail for power). Mostly it's elevated, only the most central stations are underground.

Observation:
India's built from brick. My previous train rides to/from Haridwar, I saw where they came from -- chimneys sprout in the green countryside with a slightly curved, alien taper (reminding me of decapitated Baobab trees) marking the furnaces where these bricks are manufactured. Even the walls of concrete-floored buildings are built up with brick -- and often, the very bumpy country roads are patched by dumping a load of broken brick into the depressions.

Anyway, I've finally reached Jodhpur, a place I've wanted to visit ever since seeing photos like these. And by luck, an inexpensive room was available in the agreeable, family-run Cosy Guest House where I may stay for many days, located as it is up sloping streets away from traffic noise. As I recall, this destination was pushed off of my initial itinerary because of weather fears, unbearable heat or continual monsoon rains, but so far it's fine, cooler compared to the other Indian places I've been, possibly 'cause it's overcast now. But it is monsoon time, so I can apparently expect showers every evening.

Wandering through Jodhpur

July 13
Walked down into the frenetic hub-bub of the central city this morning, just outside the Sojati Gate of the old city's wall, and since I've decided to stay put for a while, canceled my return ticket for tomorrow evening, at the train station.

Then, I surrendered to India:
a kid named Anjun came up with some of the usual questions, which I answered, then moved on. I need a new shirt, so when I found myself in a street of very colorful fabric shops, I inquired and was sent to place along the way selling ready-mades. They found one meeting my requirements, but it wasn't large enough for comfort, so I moved on. Anjun found me again and led me to one of the tiny shops which sell a few things, including freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice and OJ as well as bottled drinks from a little icebox, where I got a Limca, the soda so common here which I've grown rather fond of, drinking it from the usual well-worn returnable glass bottle. Anjun, who's in the VIIIth grade (that's how they're marked here, with Roman numerals) acquired a postage-stamp-sized "sex picture" from the shopkeeper which depicted the elephant-god Ganeesh with his trunk up inside a happy naked woman -- another kid had joined us by then, much smiling all around. Then we moved on. First we looked in on a kite shop, where the small square kites like I saw flying yesterday are manufactured. Then he took me to a spice shop where four Scottish girls were receiving a lesson involving a mortar and pestle. That shopkeeper, after welcoming me in with a small glass of the milky-sweet Indian chai, proceeded to push a series of opened-top quarter-kilo baggies of interesting-smelling mixtures under my nose. I liked the first one best -- it contained cinnamon, cardamom, ginger & etc, and was specifically for chai. Finally we arrived at the Umaid Heritage Art School, where Anjun's a student, painting exquisitely detailed miniatures. This proprietor, his teacher, also served me a glass of chai and had me read a satisfied letter recently received from an American customer, showing snapshots of the pictures he'd bought there now hanging on his living-room wall, along with one of Anjun and himself. In an ironic coincidence, this man lives in Los Gatos, one of the neighboring communities of Santa Clara County, my home these past eleven years. I eventually escaped but then got sucked in to a very large fabric shop where the proprietor showed me a photo album with snapshots of "his friend" Bill Murray, who'd once paid a visit. (Bill always looks older, in real life.) He said Mick Jaggar had also been there recently, but had no evidence.

Now I'm in a guest-house quite close to my own, which (unlike the Cosy) has an operational internet connection. After returning to my room, I'll repair to one of the rooftop terraces, looking out over the Blue City with the Mehrangarh Fort up on the huge hill in the middle distance -- and if it's like yesterday, the kids will take advantage of the balmy early-evening breezes with more kite-flying. I'll eventually have some dinner at the rooftop restaurant -- like breakfast this morning, so much easier than finding something in town. Also, after consultation with a couple guests from Denmark, I recharged my cell phone without incident, and have resumed photography.

Up to the Fort 1

July 14
Jodhpur is dominated by a huge mound of sandstone upon which stands the Mehrangarh Fort, built about 3.5 centuries ago, and characterized by one guidebook as bing like a huge alien spacecraft perched over the town. This morning I walked up to the base but that's as far as I got, moving around the areas just below where one must pay for entry. Initially I was feeling extremely nauseated up there and almost retched but didn't lose it (see below for why). Mostly I just enjoyed the views from on high, and the balmy breezes up there, realizing I'd return another day to explore the wonders within.

While hanging around up there I realized my little discussion about bricks pertained to modern India -- in the past, buildings here were constructed with blocks of sandstone. Gazing at this structure one can't help but feel amazed -- what an incredible feat of construction, like the pyramids of Egypt.

I now have a collection of mosquito bites, clustered on my left knee. This of course gives me pause: are they malarious? Shouldn't be a problem as I'm faithfully swallowing a turquoise capsule of anti-malaria medicine every morning, but it seems if I take this on an empty stomach just with some water, I have a short period of terrible nausea thereafter (pretty sure that's what happened to me in Rishikesh.) So I'll be taking it with some breakfast or brunch from now on.

Last night on the rooftop terrace, an extroverted young man insisted on joining me for dinner and as it turned out, we had a great conversation about books and India. He's been in-country for many weeks now, doing a big circle beginning and ending in Mumbai, and like the trio I met in Cappadochia, he also attends James Madison University, studying Indian Islamic history, and his current read is Catch-22.

Up to the Fort 2

July 15
At breakfast on the rooftop terrace, sitting with the student mentioned yesterday, we were joined by a woman from the Netherlands, and all three of us walked up to the Fort. His name Billy, her name Pia, we hung out on the ramparts but didn't pay the necessary fee for entry into the various museums and palaces up there (although I did get into the gift shop to buy the requisite postcards). Afterwards, we walked down into town for lunch but never did find anything suitable, only drinks; during which we were joined by another guest at the hotel, a British girl named Alex. After a time, I split off from them and eventually found my way back to the hotel. Its internet connection is working now, I can update here, but it's not 100% -- for some reason, can't connect with my email.
Billy's view from the Cosy
Billy's photo of the Fort from the roof of the Cosy

Planning final India week (plus "The Fall")

July 16
Strolled down to the new town center twice today. First, late morning, with Billy to scope out a book store he'd spotted. Incredibly cramped, stacks of books on the floor rising to obscure shelves with multiple layers of volumes, but we each found one to take away. As we kept encountering copies of Conrad's Lord Jim Billy took that as a sign, so that was his choice; for me, Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Second, late afternoon , after a nap and just after the power went out. I'd chosen Saturday as optimum for travel to Agra, so requested this all-day ticket down at the Computerized Reservation Office, and got it. Therefore, Sunday will be the Taj and maybe Fatephur Sikri; Monday or Tuesday, return to Delhi with departure Wednesday morning.

The last movie I saw before leaving the States was "The Fall" which (among other locations) had scenes I knew to be filmed in Jodhpur. Up at the Fort yesterday, I recognized another place, or a smaller version thereof, and in the gift-shop I learned what it's called: a stepwell. Roger Ebert's review of the film doesn't identify that location, but that Wikipedia link does, and by all means check the review -- scroll down to see director Tarsem leaning up against a wall which could be at my hotel -- I'll have its view of the Fort for a couple more days. And do see the movie, if possible -- Ebert: "One of the most astonishing films I have ever seen."

Two Shirts Purchase

July 17
Bid farewell to Billy this morning, he's off to Kashmir. No real plans for today, except buying a shirt. Ended up getting two, overpriced, no doubt, but I'm terrible at haggling. Then bought a few of the little donut-looking things they fry in big woks, like samosas; sat for a while to eat them under a tree, watching the never-ending parade: pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, tuk-tuks (some in school-bus mode, marked by all the book-bags hanging from the outside hooks, under the rear window) plus the occasional cow ambling by.

Then up to the lower reaches of the fort, to our "secret" garden, where I relaxed, listening to the many birds there, some of which sound like a child's squeaky-toy.

Up to the Fort 3

July 18
Down to the depot again this morning to secure my Agra-Delhi ticket, should've done this earlier, now I've got a wait-list ticket but with a position close enough, in all probability I'll be on that train, just without a seat. Otherwise, I'll have to take a bus back.

For my last day in Jodhpur I went up to the Fort again, and this time I paid for admission, saw the museum and a palace interior. There's a couple lavishly decorated rooms with mosaic windows of tinted glass, but one could only be viewed through a window, while the other (The Palace of Flowers, or Phool Mahal) visitors can enter, but only at the boring end -- a rope restricts access. Understandable, I suppose, otherwise people would be poking out the little disks of colored glass.

Last night, up on the rooftop terrace, I was cornered by a young English guy I've been avoiding. On and on he droned, reciting an unrequested history of Pakistan. Our conversation wasn't entirely worthless, but gawd what a bore. At one point he was praising some guru named Osho who I should've recognized, we remember him by his mid-80s handle, Bhagwan Rajneesh (you remember, the Pacific NW commune, his collection of Rolls-Royces). His fan claimed his books are banned in the US but I had to correct him on that score, books aren't banned, but some just don't published. Fortunately this guy left this morning, but last night was joined by another new arrival, a South African English teacher who works in Taiwan. Normally I'd be interested in this colleague's stories, but there's something creepy about him, and I only want to put space between us. So, finally fed up, I just stood without comment and walked away, returning to the refuge of my hotel room.

Speaking of hotels, the two tallest are in the news. First, an interior slide-show of the Burj-al-Arab in Dubai. And second,
work has resumed on the one in Pyeonyang, North Korea. Hotel of Doom? Across from the Jodhpur train station sits the Hotel Dhoom.

No update tomorrow; I'll be on a train all day long.

Agra: Taj morning, Fatehpur Sikri afternoon

July 20
This hotel I'm at has free internet but the power keeps cutting out -- the care-free manager says it's always like this during monsoon season. Fortunately they have a backup generator; I just helped with refilling its tank, by adding my flashlight's beam to the operation.

"Quite a boring journey" was an apt comment on yesterday's train ride -- a fellow passenger said this to me -- he was traveling with his wife and daughter. Twelve hours, the only relief the meals, and that food was terrible, like most I've had here (too peppery-hot -- seems like I've been subsisting on soup, rice and bananas.) One interesting aspect of the ride was a number of passengers up on the roof -- occasionally, they could be heard stomping around up there.

The auto-rickshaw-wallah I utilized last night to reach this hotel wanted to ferry me on to the Taj Mahal as well, so I agreed. "Bobby" correctly assumed I wanted to do it first thing in the morning, and I believe he just stayed with his vehicle, parked in the street outside the hotel. At 6AM we left, and although overcast, an amazing sight to be sure, glad I went. Very interesting acoustics inside the Taj, and incredible marble-inlay work everywhere. Outside, an Asian guy had me take his photo -- Hiro turned out to be Japanese so we had some fun communicating bilingually. His arms and feet were henna'd, like an Indian bride -- didn't ask why. And watching the endless stream of tourists, I though it remarkable how so many of the Western women (and a few of the men) were wearing newly-purchased native clothing.

Later, I took a most raggedy bus to a place called Fatehpur Sikri, abandoned capital city of the Mughals. It's only 20 miles from Agra: I misread the guidebook, thought it said a half-hour but the trip's actually 90 minutes. Maybe longer, parts of the road are under construction. Interesting wandering about there -- could've paid to enter a palace, but funds are getting low, and as the Taj entry fee is currently rather steep (for foreigners, 750 rupees, $15!) I didn't pay to enter anything in Fatehpur Sikri. In the free area of the ancient buildings and ruins, I found a little square reservoir completely green with some surface plant-life. On one side, steps led down to it, with golden dragonflies flying just above the surface. Also spotted a green bird I thought might've been a parrot. The return trip to Agra seemed faster, and that bus was in a little better shape. We passed several camels en route, and I saw a couple monkeys again today, as well; but I may wind up spending my whole time in India without seeing an actual living elephant.

Back in Delhi

July 21
A day of waiting. Waiting for the train, which was late in arriving (although I got a seat, no problem); and then waiting for it to (finally) pull into the New Delhi train station. Now I'm back in Pahar Ganj at the Ajay Guest House, related and quite similar to the first place I stayed, the Anoop, which is around the corner. Chose this location over a preferable and more upscale Ram Nagar hotel because of their 24-hour check-in policy: in at 11PM, so out at 11PM -- perfect for that early-morning flight I'll be catching Wednesday.

Met some nice people today: First, an odd, desperately friendly little man, a worker at an Agra post office, who wanted me to go home with him for tea -- had I known the train was to be late, I'd have taken him up on his offer. He took my "backstage" in his PO, a huge old structure ventilated by a vast grid of ceiling fans. Like many older guys you see in India, he had artificially orange hair -- I hear their wives insist on this coloring, once hubby's or their own hair goes gray, as it make 'em look younger (or so they think). Second, on the train, Billy and Becca, a married couple from Little Rock (although she's from Seattle, where they left the kids w/ Grandma). In order to make the train arrive faster, we impatiently got our baggage together and moved into the little doorway area between cars, you know how that is. Of course it didn't help, but because of this I got a great view of Humayun's Tomb, illuminated in the evening darkness, framed in the open doorway. (It's hard to see any details through an AC car's sealed windows). This time I had the "low" flavor of First Class (3-Tier) and there was plenty of room, even though my ticket purchased several days previously was wait-listed -- according to Becca, every Monday in July is a holiday of sorts for Shiva, hence lots of travel plans, but due to India Railways easy refund policy (incredibly, you can get your money back even after your train's departure) travel plans are changing constantly.

India End-Phase

July 22
Tonight, in the wee hours, it's off to IGI (Indira Ghandi International) for my flight onward, to Singapore. Probably even hotter there, but at last, I can finally eat everythibg again, and not worry about the water. Very much looking forward to tropical fruit again, especially mangosteen. But here, today's lunch was a chicken Wimpy-burger, dressed with some stringy lettuce and a small tomato slice. According to the doctor, these foods are forbidden, but I couldn't resist.

Summing up, India is a place where:

South Asia to SE Asia

July 23
I could've payed an additional half-night's rent on the hotel room and been better rested, but I hoped there might be an acceptable place for hanging out at the airport. Plus I just wanted to be done with it so a taxi took me away several hours earlier than necessary, shortly after my 11PM check-out. The Delhi airport does have a Visitors Lounge, but it's essentially just a big room of chairs. Turned out to be the only place to go, since departing passengers aren't allowed inside the actual terminal until three hours prior to flight-time; and outside, insects and traffic noise were bothering me. Dozing there, stretched out on the hard floor, I was reminded of a similar situation in 1978 when I had to wait overnight at the Laker Airways terminal-office in Queens, in order to get a cheap ticket to London during the June rush (but their floor was carpeted). Eventually, after sun-up, we boarded the aircraft, but being Indian Air it wasn't until this afternoon that I was completely free from that foul, stinking, painfully noisy, filthy, annoying but weirdly interesting and invariably polite country which will henceforth be referred to only by its acronym: I'll Never Do It Again. It may be considered part of Asia (hell, that's also true of most of Turkey) but in my book it's not really, the Orient means they're eating with sticks. Not true for parts of South-East Asia, like Thailand, but although Singapore's down at the end of the same Malay penninsula, it has a Chinese majority.

The island-nation isn't as hot as I was expecting, balmy and not humid, at least today. So clean and refreshing, and the food's a gourmet's dream. My hotel (the Happy, which lets rooms by the hour as well as the day) is located in the Geylang Road red-light district, where this ciy's cheap lodging's to be found, at this time -- doesn't bother me, at least not yet, and there's some very pleasant scenery down at street-level. One of my favorite students, who joined my class last summer, was from Taiwan, but her husband's from Singapore and he was telling me about how because there's so much evening action in this quarter, the available food's quite good as well, and I must agree. Right outside the hotel, first thing, found a guy selling mangosteens from a table, S$3 a kilo, and he gave me a dozen for just S$2 (which comes to about $1.50 American.)

Singapore currency now has little clear-plastic windows set into the bills for counterfeit protection. They call cell-phones "handphones" here (perhaps the etymology of the Germans' term Handy is related). And the little form you fill out and submit to immigration with your passport sternly reminds you "Warning: Death for Drug Traffickers Under Singapore Law" which reminds me of the report by William Gibson in a very early issue of Wired, Disneyland With the Death Penalty.

Singapore Bird Park

July 24
Woke up late (more jet lag) and couldn't locate any kaya (coconut) toast nearby, so had some duck noodles for brunch. Then it was back to the elevated railway station for a ride to the end of the line, for a visit to the Jurong BirdPark. Normally I'm not interested in trips to the zoo but this one's exceptional, and found the notion of a monorail named the "Panorail" intriguing. Saw many extraordinary birds, including the Australian Lori, all colors, like parrots, and you could feed them, so they get real close to humans; African swallows, irridescent blue and purple, like butterflies; the very red Crimson Ibis; plus Penguins, Toucans, Hornbills and many more -- even a few Bald Eagles. Best was the live show, in an amphiteheater, very similar to that Universal Studios program featuring trained animals, maybe even more amazing.

Towards the end of my visit it began raining. Took refuge under an overhang for a while, where I was joined by a local elementary school fieldtrip. The kid next to me said their flustrated teacher's name was Mr Du. Then I made a run for it, back to the bus stop, and developed a headache -- even so, nodded off on the train back and overshot my station (but feeling better now). Incredibale neon singage in this district; even though charging my "handphone" isn't possible here, I'm going to take a few pictures (rain-drenched streets make for great neon photos).

Singapore Chinatown & etc

July 25
Earlier today, a mild upset stomach, after a breakfast of fish noodle soup. As it was raining, I laid low for a while, watching the TV in my 7th floor hotel room, occasionally checking the rain status at ground level by peering down at the working girls out front. (They're all apparently from the Chinese mainland, and their creepy pimps are always lurking nearby.) Still holding their umbrellas? Check -- still raining. Watched bits of some bad movies on HBO, as well as some news. Question: What's with the open laptops that now appear on the desks of the newsreaders? It's not like they ever use or even look at 'em -- they're just reading off the teleprompter, as usual. It's an updated affectation, I suppose, replacing the papers they use to shuffle around.

Eventually I emerged and walked through the pleasant sprinkles to the MRT station, and rode into the urban core. At Bugis station, I gazed up at the striking new Parkview Square building. Singapore is one of my very favorite cities because it truly matches a Dream of the Future: perfect metrorail system, elevated away from downtown, where instead of unsustainable suburban tracts, efficient clusters of sleek, high-rise apartment buildings are separated by well-manicured lawns, parks, or patches of forest (being the tropics, with many coconut palms). And what makes it a dining wonderland? During my previous, too-brief visit in '02, I began exploring the Hawker Food Centres, which are roofed-over; but in the district of my hotel, almost every corner has open-air clusters of the little food-stalls, with tables spilling out onto the sidewalks. Their signs almost always show photos of their few specialty dishes, usually labeled in English as well as Chinese, along with the prices. Walk up, order, sit down, and after a bit your requested items appear, at which point you pay, not much, and of course tipping's unexpected.

As evenng fell, I was walking around Chinatown, which seemes to be greatly enhanced and gussied-up since my previous visit (so a comparison with a Disneyland is valid). Some of my time previously was spent in Little India, a district I have no intention of re-visiting now, but true to form, that area wasn't spotless like other areas of the city -- in places, trash was strewn all around. Maybe it's different now -- a notice posted in the bus:
No Littering
Maximum Fine $1000 or Corrective Work Order

July 26
More intestinal upset last night, even a sharp stomach-ache, but by mid-day, all was normal again. Earlier I had some kaya toast in two different places at Bugis, both kinda spoiled the experience I think by adding a too-thick slice of cold butter between the slices of toasted bread. After a restorative nap (wondering if my upset stomach was due to some candle nuts I sampled), rode the SMRT to the Newton Food Centre to eat, eat and eat! Tried some pari nyiru (grilled sting ray) and sardine puffs, some otah (which I still can't define) plus a big mound of the shaved-ice treat called ais kacang. Also some carrot cake (no resemblance to the dessert, instead, a white substance stir-fried with other tasty ingrediants), and some kway teow (very tasty fried noodles, what American Asian restaurants call Singapore Noodles). A native named Tony sat down at my table, and we had a nice chat -- in parting, he asked me to send him a copy of The Satanic Versus which is banned here. And I will, with a request to send me a can of Kaya, in return, as I can't pack one in my carry-on, they're too big to pass the liquid/gels rule. Also had an icy drink called a Milo Dinosaur, "Milo" being what Nestle's calls their instant chocolate milk powder in many places, including Singapore.

Last Day in Singapore

July 27
A beautiful day, partly cloudy, but lots of sunshine. I rode a bus through downtown, unfortunately didn't get one of the double-deckers. Many modern skyscrapers, and along the waterfront, couldn't miss their new "observation" wheel, the Singapore Flyer, biggest in the world as of this writing, but it didn't appear to be turning. Singapore flags everywhere, more appearing every day in preparation for their National Day, August 8. Speaking of patriotic pride, my favorite part of watching the anime TV channel was its midnight sign-off when they play the national anthem, Majulah Singapura, with a montage of stirring images and happy, multi-ethnic faces.

At one point, taking a short cut through an alley, I came across a seemingly endless mass of people engaged in "steamboat" -- this cuisine requires round tables with gas burners set into the middle, upon which a special split pot bubbles, one half oil and the other water, where the diners cook their own food, like Japanese shabu-shabu. They were always doing shrimp and sometimes other shellfish, piles of meat and even vegetables like one-inch sections of corn-on-the-cob. Reminds me of some Indian street-food I failed to mention: little charcoal units are utilized upon which the corn is placed, directly on the coals. Sounds gritty, never tried it -- and speaking of the sub-continent, sure glad I got out of there before the recent bombings.

Anyway, my time in Singapore's winding down, I'm off to the Changi aerodrome now, everyone's favorite -- lots to do there, allegedly even a swimming pool and free movies, plus actual napping facilities where I'm hoping to find space.

Ashita, Nihon!
(Tomorrow, Japan!)

Changi, Yamanote, Shibuya and Yukata

July 28
Everybody praises Changi and it's great if you're flying high-dollar Singapore Airlines but this budget traveler always ends up in the Friendly Skies and if you're flying United, you're a second-class citizen here. Or such has been my experience. Both flights I've had departing left way too early; last time United was stuck with Terminal 1 just after new Terminal 2 (with all its slick attractions) opened. Spent that night on a cushioned bench-seat in a deserted sushi restaurant, listening to the beeping of the floor-washing machines coming and going. This time, United's in Terminal 2 but nobody mans their counter until 4AM; at this airport they don't rate use of the automated check-in units. And all the good stuff's inside the security zone. So I bedded down (or tried to) in a dim corner of another deserted restaurant (Pasta Fresco) before emerging and having some great kaya toast and then polishing off the last of my mangosteen stash before checking in. The movie theater? What could I have been thinking? Crappy unheard-of airline movies, naturally, and rather than the advertised 24-hour, screening not to begin until just before my flight's boarding. At least security didn't give my bag the third degree, like last time, and these nifty free internet terminals are all over the place. Fifteen-minute limit, when it expires just move over to the next one.

Routine flight
to Narita, breezed through everything, changed money (trying not to notice the pitiful exchange rate) and thence to the Keisei train to Nippori station, arriving over an hour later (yes, the international Tokyo aerodrome's way out there) then transfering onto the circular Yamanote line. Most of its stations have distinctive electronic music themes, signaling doors closing at departure, and in fact my cell-phone's ring-tone is the old one for Shibuya, a wintry ditty (which reminds me of the "Troika" of Prokofiev's "Leutenant Kije"). Passing through and then leaving Takadanobaba station, I realized 'Baba's theme had been updated too, and I knew to what, and why: it was the Astro Boy music, because the story says this was the location of the laboratory where Tetsuwan Atomu was created, and they embraced this event locally on the 50th anniversary thereof. Brought a tear to my eye, hearing the familar theme -- that cartoon was one of the very first Japanese fascinations of mine.

Finally, to Shibuya, and up the hill to the Hotel Fukudaya, where I've stayed many times. Borrowed some scissors and cut off and then shaved away most of my beard, except for the sideburns, because it was bugging me, food in the mustache, and the white hair made me look old. Previously the hotel-keepers guided me to my first sento (public bath) but now I needed to do laundry, everything was overdue, and they showed me on a map a place down the street and around the corner. After a shower, in my bag of clothing, I secreted my yukata, standard issue with every Japanese hotel room, since I had to wash all my clothes, which I put on once everything was in the sentakuki machine. The original plan was not to leave the mini-laundromat but being hungry I sauntered up to the 7-11 across the street and bought some unagi eel on rice -- and then again to a handy vending machine for a canned juice-drink. At resorts, people wear yukata in the street, but it's not something you see in metropolitan Tokyo, but I didn't care, ignored the looks, in fact felt right at home wearing a cotton kimono on a summer night in Nihon.

Health note: I've been trying to ignore the symptoms, but I've been developing a cold these past few days! Argh! Runny nose and sneezing, but not serious. To be polite, I may have to get one of those white face-masks.

A sushi dinner

July 29
This is my eighth trip to Japan, but the first time I've been during the summer. During the day, their cicadas make a distinctive buzzing noise, and anime soundtracks use it to signal summertime, but this morning was my first time hearing it for real.

The first order of business this trip like any was to head down to the Tourist Info Center (TIC) near the main Tokyo train station. Not only to find out what's happening but to arrange lodging for subsequent days, and now's a difficult time, high season, just as in Europe and the US. But I was in fact able, and had a good time there using my Japanese, which is amusing for the volunteers who staff the TIC. And it's almost across the street from my favorite store, Muji, the big location I think of as the Mega-Muji. Will stock up more there towards the end of my stay, don't want to be lugging around unnecessary weight just yet; but I did replace my umbrella.

Then it was off to just west of Shinjuku to explore an unusual shopping mall I've heard about, Nakano Broadway, described as "several floors of subculture specialty shops: manga, anime, idol, music, and toys." Given more time, might have found something worth purchasing... nerds I know (but not me)collect little figures and show 'em off in display cases. This would be a heaven for them, a place to find that missing piece, and many more they didn't even realize existed.

Evening meal at a kaiten-zushi (conveyor-belt sushi) restaurant near my hotel I keep coming back to, Daidoko-Ya, this visit made very special because I met a former student there. Eventually her husband showed up (he works for Cisco, is bored now because in San Jose he was technical but now the job's just sales) and not only did he pick up the tab but also, in parting, he gifted me with one of the restaurant's mugs, something I've always wanted but felt too expensive and fragile.

Speaking of expensive, I'm back in the only internet place I've been able to locate, so plush compared to all the other cafes: you're assigned an individual enclosed executive booth equiped with a comfy black-leather chair and foot-rest, plus a little auxilliary monitor I'm unsure how to operate and a food&drink menu. You're asked if you want smoking or non- which reminds me: Maya's husband Takeshi was telling me how in order to purchase tobacco in Japan now one must have a special governemnt-issued license, and cigarette vending machines now have a sensor to detect this license. Although a smoker himself, he hasn't gotten his yet, he's still using the stash of smokes he brought back from America.

Ikebukuro, Koenji, Shinjuku

July 30
Last night, returning to the hotel, found my neighboring rooms full of chattering German girls, from Leipzig und Dresden. I was able to speak with them for several minutes until inevitably, my vocab failed me, and they effortlessly switched to English. They're here to study jewelery.

Late morning, during a ride on the brand-new Fukutoshin subway line, I was distracted by a subterranean media tie-in with the just-opened Miyazaki film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Eventually I emerged in Ikebukuro where I was seeking a building allegedly

designed by H.R.Giger (the peculiar artist best known for his "Alien" design work) but I think it was just an extreme form of Art Nouveau. On my way back to the station, inspecting a display of keitei (more info), had fun comparing my own mobile's camera functions and operation with the way-more-advanced (but larger) models a salesman demonstrated -- didn't realize Apple was already marketing a 3G version of their iPhone here.

Then I found my way to a pleasant neighborhood called Koenji, and began this post in a quite pleasant I-Cafe that plays a continuous loop of soothing New Age music, the minimal kind mixed with nature sounds, in this case ocean waves. Previously had some tasty soba noodles in a place whose name was a pair of the kanji for style. A literal reading would be Yoo-Yoo Ramen but based on the rockin' music, the blue bandanas (instead of tenugui) on the heads of the youthful guys behind the counter, and the book-shelves full of manga for customer use, my translation is Stylin' Noodle. Also paused at a Baskin-Robins for a cone of that flavor unavailable state-side, the Musk Melon jouranalist T.R.Reid described as "sublime" in his Confucious Lives Next Door.

Eventually, before retiring for the evening, was over to Shinjuku to explore its old Golden Gai (Street) warren of tiny bars; and also the much newer Mosaic Street, closer to and just west of the station, which connects two department stores. Tomorrow, I'm going to Yokohama for a couple days.

In Yokohama

July 31
Great lodging tonight -- and it's a hostel! I was fearful, given "hostel" in the name, that they'd double me up with a stranger, but this one (and others as well, now I know) has single rooms. I've avoided hostels for decades although they were key during my first trips to Europe, when I couldn't quite afford cheap hotels. But they always meant shared sleeping quarters, which was all they had, I thought, by definition. And it became quite tiresome, trying to nod off in a room of young men talking (and worse) in their sleep. The worst was this awful London experience, long rooms full of beds like a hospital ward, and creepy people waking me up, trying to borrow cigarettes. The best was the castle, outside Munich. My size of my room for tonight and tomorrow is very small, a three-mat room -- new tatami smells great! Comes with a cool little incandescent floor-lamp, fridge, TV, air-con and a balcony, where the day's laundry is now hanging out to dry. Plus they even have a couple lap-tops you can borrow (for free!) to connect with the in-house LAN (but showers and yukata are extra).

Before leaving Tokyo I wandered around Shijuku some more, was in a Korean neighborhood for a while, but wound up having an okonomiyaki lunch in a subterranean restaurant located in the vast mall which extends to the east underneath the station, busiest in Japan. Dinner tonight was in Yokohama's big, gaudy Chinatown, which is quite near the hostel. Kinda disorienting, talking with Chinese restaurant personnel in Japanese.

Jitensha and Hanabi

August 1
My feet were really hurting yesterday and today I was able to give 'em a break. Another feature of this fine hostel is the few bicycles they rent out for a quite reasonable daily rate of ¥300. They're girls' bikes, and the seat's too low, but such luxury, zipping about 'stead of plodding along. (In my dream, I ride not one of these clunky Asian no-speeds but my own jitensha, peddling to a classroom gig like Peter O'Toole in "The Last Emperor.")

So, during the day, I toured downtown Yokohama and its waterfront, visiting the Red Brick Warehouses, watching the rides at CosmoWorld, and touring the restored Hikawa Maru, a small ocean liner which ran a regular route between Seattle and Yokohama before and after the war. Charlie Chaplin was a noted passenger on the Art Deco Queen of the Pacific and he liked tenpura so much it was served every night he was aboard.

I'm liking Yokohama -- close to the metropolis (half-hour by train) but not so crowded and hectic. Plus, ocean breezes.

In the evening, met my student Ayako and we had a tasty sushi dinner. Loved the summery iced green tea! Had a great time swapping India ansd Singapore travel tales and afterwards, we caught a bit of a big fireworks display, from a bridge linking department stores adjacent to the main train station. I thought the crowd responded more enthusiastically to hanabi than their Fourth of July counterparts in the US; they were certainly more attractive since many of the women were wearing colorful yukata.

After getting some strangers to snap our photo (returning the favor I'd performed several times earlier in the day) we said our good-byes and she went one way, to Kawasaki, and I another, to Ishikawa-cho. Leaving my station, I made a big loop through Chinatown before heading back to the hostel, strolling along the narrow Nakamura River as pleasure boats returning home from the evening's festivities passed by.

Back in Tokyo: Origami and more Hanabi

August 2
Hung around the train station near my Yokohama hostel for some time, having the spaghetti lunch special at a restaurant upstairs and a cream puff at the bakery on the ground floor before finally boarding the train back into Tokyo. Tonight and tomorrow, the most luxurious lodging of this trip's Japanese leg, an authentic ryokan near Tokyo University called Tsutaya. Walking there, I noticed that something called Origami Kaikan was almost on the way, so I made a very slight detour to see what it was: a place devoted to teaching paper-folding and manufacturing craft paper since 1859. Ended up staying there for about an hour, before finally heading on to the ryokan, where the first order of business was washing up and then soaking in their big ofuro hot tub. Afterwards, I rode a subway line almost to its eastern terminus to see more hanabi (fireworks). According to a handout from the Tourist Info Center this was to be the most extensive display in Tokyo, at Edokawa, and predictably, it was a mob scene -- although I saw them partially at the end of the crowded street, didn't want to get any closer, as people were already leaving and I new it would be a rush-hour style crush for the ride back. But it was a scene and I was glad to be there, even for just a little while -- so many women in their colorful summer yukata kimonos, plus food from the stalls which are a feature of any big public gathering. I had to have some takoyaki, the fried dough-balls of octopus, plus the chicken skewers called yakitori. Yummy!

The Edo-Tokyo Museum

August 3
During my previous trip, when I was at the nearby Kokugikan arena for a day of the sumo wrestling, I couldn't help but notice the architecturally monstrous Edo-Tokyo Museum next door. Today I went inside, and ended up staying for hours, until they chased me away at closing time. Left in mid-afternoon for a late curry-rice lunch nearby, then went back. Now I've returned to the same internet cafe where I was last night, the only one around this neighborhood, it seems, and it's expensive, so this post will also be brief. After the museum, in the early evening, I wandered around Akihabara for a while, the electronics mecca known more recently for its maid cafes -- and sure enough, several of the maids were at the station, handing out promotional flyers. I thoght their costumes must be mighty uncomfortable in this weather, which is getting even hotter. After getting back to my ryokan, passing the amusement park at Tokyo Dome en route, left again for some hiyashi-chuka, the cold summertime noodles recommended by my pal Chie, and they were delicious.

Getting very close to the end now, the time when I become quite sad, knowing I must leave. Tomorrow's the day the English-language newspaper comes out which allegedly has classifieds with English Teacher Help-wanted ads, which you can bet I'll be studying (although that information is now also available online, naturally; and I won't be ready to make that major jump until next Spring).

Around Tokyo Station, then Minami-Senju

August 4
After leaving the ryokan, where they treated me very well (gifting me at departure with a nice nail clipper) I returned to the central Ginza area and the TIC (Tourist Information Center) in Yurakucho to advise Hashimoto-san of how nice her Yokohama hostel recommendation turned out. I was going to just try my luck at finding an inexpesive place here in Minami-senju but since I was there, I let her call one of the hotels on her list (and mine), which is pretty good, has an ofuro hot tub on the top floor, and free internet, but now I know there's even cheaper options in this district, and no doubt there's no difficulty in finding a room here, even during this peak travel time.

Afterwards I went under the tracks and across the street to the huge Bic Camera electronics department store. This place is infamous because of its annoying jingle, played every few minutes over the PA, and they had what I couldn't find, yesterday, in Akihabara -- a battery-operated LED light for bicycle use -- among the white and red, they also had the blinking blue I craved.

Then being hungry, I descended into the vast subterranean shopping mall which spreads beneath the Tokyo train station, a place I fondly recollect for the novel experience of my first-ever breakfast in Japan, where I had the coffee and thick toast combination called Morning Service. But now, I wanted sushi, the conveyer-belt kind, and by scanning for the square-within-a-square mawa character for rotation, located such a place on the big map, the local branch of Genki Sushi. Three observations of sushi bar trends:Plus this place had a feature I've heard of, but never seen: a fish-tank containing live shrimp, within easy reach of the sushi chef for serving raw shrimp immediately. (But I never actually saw him do the deed.)

Eventually, rode away on the train, from the Ginza bustle to the older, eastern section of the metropolis, known as Shitamachi, near the Sumida River. After settling in to another tiny three-mat room on the ninth floor of the Juyoh Hotel, I ventured out for a dinner -- only me in a small restaurant with the husband-and-wife operators, who were entranced with a game show on the TV, but took the time to make me a tasty rice-bowl of yakitori. I got into the game, also -- the task seemed to be to draw a kanji based on its katakana reading. Meanwhile, the vague rumbles of thunder we'd been hearing turned into a full-blown thunderstorm, which tapered off after a bit, and I dashed back to the hotel. Now, after midnight, still raining lightly, and I'm wired -- too much green tea today!

San'ya and Yanasen

August 5
An objective for this trip was to explore a relatively poor region of Tokyo. I've got a book by Edward Fowler called San'Ya Blues which is all about that area; I knew my hotel was close, but didn't realize until checking my maps last night that it was right in the middle. He paints a bleaker picture than the reality, in my opinion, but some of the guys he writes about, day laborers, were gathering on the corners this morning, having their breakfast of one-cup sake. A block away is the Iroha arcade, again, not as crummy as I was expecting, and when I walked through it and turned left, I discovered a well-recommended tempura restaurant I've tried to visit twice before, on other trips. Once, it was already closed for the night; another, just closing, and they chased me away. But this time, Iseya was open, it was lunch-time and I had a great meal. It's pictured in every photo except the first in this flickr set.

Thunder and intermittent rain all day today, but I deployed my new umbrella and went out anyway, this being my last full day in Japan. Returned to another favorite neighborhood, Yanesen, which I first read about in Rick Kennedy's Little Adventures in Tokyo. The adventure in question is available online, A Walk Through Old Tokyo. (He doesn't use the term "Yanesen" -- it's an acronym of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi.) Unfortunately, the little tai-yaki shop was closed, again, but this time, I finally visited the Imojin ice cream parlor for an Azuki-Cream which was mostly very fine shaved ice, but quite delicious -- red beans underneath and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. (Another flickr set has views of this place.) My return walk took me through Ueno Park, then Ueno Station, one of the biggest, and I'll be back there tomorrow to catch my train to the airport.

Asakusa, and back in the USA

August 6
Packed up and left the Hotel Juyoh after a final session with its free internet; walked one last time through the Iroha arcade, stopping to chat with the friendly layabouts; and then headed south to visit the big Senso-ji shrine area in the traditional Asakusa entertainment district.


the view round back of the Hozomon Gate

Other trips, a stop here has been one of the first things, but this time, one of the last. Bright sunny weather after yesterday's rain, but after only a little while, the short subway ride back to the big Ueno station, then boarding the train to Narita, location of the airport. This journey can take an hour and a half on the regular express (although non-savvy tourists are funneled into the Skyliner, which saves a few minutes' time, but at twice the fare). Like my last visit, I got off in the the actual town of Narita, rather than riding to the end of the line. That trip, I was a little side-tracked as I ran into a French girl en route to Australia, who only had a couple hours in Japan, and we walked to the huge Narita temple, in the rain, and then had lunch before heading to the airport; but I want to explore that temple more. Unfortunately, 'twas not to be, I only had time for lunch myself (another bowl of chilled hiyashi-chuka noodles, even better than the first). Turns out I shouldn't have felt so rushed -- arriving three hours before departure is unecessary if you're not checking any bags and flying United, because at Narita that airline has automated check-in, and the security check is naturally very efficent and quick (although they warn you it can take much longer). Actually, I arrived about 2.5 hours early, but even so, there was some downtime.

The flight was routine and on time, arriving just before noon, and now I'm home -- but wait, I have no home! Just a storage unit, my destination via trains south from SFO. After stashing my souvenir booty I strapped my laptop and some fresh clothes to my bicycle (I'll be retrieving my car tomorrow) and rode up to the Budget Motel on el Camino. Couldn't get their WiFi to work, so now I'm at the library checking apartments on Craigslist. Once I get settled, I'll write a concluding post here, and at some point I'll be extracting the photos from my cell phone and adding some images.

Down and Up

August 7
Dinner last night was at In'n'Out -- love their burgers, and it's been a long time. Had another today, they're actually one of the most economical otpions for a meal around here, and I may be eating out for some time yet. Talked with a couple apartment managers today, nothing viable located yet, the search continues. Earlier, an endless ride on VTA light rail to Elizabeth's house to get my car. Its battery was totally dead, although brand new. And we couldn't jump it with her car and my cables, so she called AAA and the tow-truck guy cranked it right away. After a much-needed visit to the car wash, I'm mobile again! Another stop at Karen's, she's been visiting my PO box. So grateful for these friends, really pulled my mood around, because last night was one of deep gloom. Only slept a couple hours, then wide awake for the wee hours because of jet lag. Read almost an entire Maigret in an unsuccesful attempt to move my thoughts away from neurotic review of past errors, due not only to post-trip let-down but also the motel's close proximity to my first Silicon Valley apartment. Often so difficult to remember a great lesson: how the wheel of life will cycle you up, when you're at your lowest. Anyway, tonight I'll sleep much better at a different place, called the Wittle Motel, in Sunnyvale. (Yes, it's small -- and $7 cheaper.)

Transience

August 9
Found a great place Thursday, probably too expensive; and an adequate place today, which I'll probably take, dependent on impressions made during this evening's night-time reconoiter.

At the cheapest lodging in town since last night -- that Pacific Inn place, down near the railroad tracks in Sunnyvale, with the tiny rooms and Murphy beds (they made Cheryl stay there on business during the Internet boom because all the 'real' hotels were full). Interesting comparing it with those teeny 3-mat places I had in Japan, which were even smaller, their only amenties being a TV set and air-conditioner. Plus both have a telephone, and toilet and shower down the hallway. The TV set in this place is twice as big, plus there's a sink and, tucked into a closet, a small fridge and microwave. But noisy at night, squeaky floors, and weird neighbors -- it's kind of a flop-house.

Santa Cruz

August 11
Been accepted by an apartment, but can't move in for a week, maybe less, stay tuned. Last day of swallowing the turquoise anti-malaria capsule, a daily ritual since arriving in India.

Hoping for cheaper accomodation, drove away over the hill, wound up in Santa Cruz last night, beautiful beaches and gnarly pines, rocks in the surf at Pescadero. Now back in Sunnyvale at the marginal Pacific Inn, which has WiFi, but I can't connect -- seems like anyplace requiring WEP won't work with my aged laptop -- and some that don't, like this place, won't work either. Time to upgrade, I suppose.

Ayako sent this photo from our night in Yokohama. The date it goes with would be August 1.

Sonoma

August 14
Tuesday, joined a new gym (24-Hr Fitness, a chain here), cheaper than expected, and being a teacher got me a deal. So for the first time, ran on their treadmills yesterday. My branch is across the street from the apartment I'll be occupying soon.

Found a tin of Kaya in a small Asian food store -- rejoice! Singapore coconut toast will be a staple in my new kitchen. Also, Trader Joes has freeze-dried mangosteen, now. Bought a bag, but haven't opened it yet.

Worked last night for the first time in two months, interviewing new students. Classes start next Monday, and here's hoping I'm allowed into the new apartment before then.

But meanwhile, I've escaped north, driving over the Golden Gate bridge a little while ago. Now I'm in Petaluma, a town I'd visit at least once a year while Tony lived here. But that was long ago. Now, all Peet's coffeeshops have a new WiFi system, which works for me, so that's my current location. Tonight I'll endeavor to be economical, "sleeping rough" somewhere near the coast, possibly in a campground.

Moving-in Day, Finally, Unpacking -- Journey's End

August 16
Did I really spend the night in my car Thursday? It seems so... in the parking area for Shell Beach, near Bodega Bay (well known from Hitchcock's Birds.) Although prepared to stretch out, with my sleeping bag (but no tent) I forgot to account for summertime Northern California coastal weather -- of course, it became very foggy, so quite damp (although for a time during the long night, the heavens cleared, the full moon illuminating the landscape). Choosing dryness, I figured since I can sit in such small quarters and get some rest on the airplane, why not in my little car on this murky, deserted coast? Kind of unerving though, waking up at 5AM to see not one but two cars freshly parked nearby, their passengers outside in huddled conversation. Fortunately the party kept their flashlights to themselves, and disappeared down the beach trail.

Eventually returned to Sunnyvale (pausing on Clement St in San Francisco for dim sum) to spend one last night at the Pacific Inn -- did a lease-signing (6 mos) late afternoon and then this morning, finally begen moving my stuff from the storage unit to my new apartment. Its location: near the intersection of a pair of broad boulevards, between my schools, and it has a swimming pool. But no communications yet, so I'm posting from the Peet's on el Camino at Mathilda, and across the street I can see the faded sign for the Wittle Motel, where I stayed just after returning.

Driving around today, for the first time I listened to the cassette tape I bought in India, and was immediately transported back to sunset along the Haridwar ghats. Was that really just last month? Reviewing the trip's finances, my numbers average out to around $100/day, including airfare. That total was $3500, the tickets purchased last November; I bet it would be lots more this year.

Completely unpacked my backpack at last, and stowed it in a new closet. Opening up the many boxes I packed in June, putting familiar objects onto new shelves. Always wanted to do a big trip this way, but it's a lot of work. Time to end this travel-blog. Now, it's your turn -- plan a journey, then GO and write about what you do, in cyber-cafés -- and send me the link!
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