Next trip: Canada

On my last house-sitting job, the cat – or rather the cats – survived and the house didn’t burn down, so I got offered another house- and cat-sitting job, this time in Calgary. And thus, I will travel to Canada for the first time.

Everybody always says that everyone in Canada is super friendly and nice and polite, and I am curious to find out what it’s like to live in such a paradise. To a grumpy German, it may come as quite a shock. But who knows, maybe I will return as a reformed man.

What’s the best time to go to Canada? Winter, of course. Yes, I know it will be cold and there will be a bit of snow, but honestly, ever since I lived through a tough winter in Lithuania once, I have missed the experience. For someone who likes to read, study and write, it’s perfect. You sit inside with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket, while outside the blizzard is gently blowing the snowflakes back and forth, and in Calgary, I will even have a cat sitting in my lap.

On 11 December, I will arrive in Vancouver, where I will only stay until 14 December.

I can’t stay longer because on the 14th, the train to Edmonton will leave. There would have been easier ways to get from Vancouver to Calgary, but I love trains. And I hope that the ride will be scenic, at least the part in daylight.

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Spending 27 hours on a train will be a good test if I am ready for the Trans-Siberian Railway.

In Edmonton, I will only spend one night to catch up on sleep and to shower, and then the assignment in Calgary will last until the end of March 2019, just as temperatures will rise, the flowers will blossom, birds will be chirping, and girls will be wearing skirts again.

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After the job will be finished, I will have one extra month before I have to be in Toronto on 27 April 2019 for the flight to London.

One month to cover more than 3,000 km leaves me with several options, which I am still pondering.

canada-map

a) I can’t walk the whole distance, but there is a trail across all of Canada and I could do a combination of hiking and hitchhiking. Although, as I look at that map more closely, I notice that in Canada, “hiking” seems to include canoeing and kayaking. As I don’t even know the difference between the two, this is probably nothing for me.

b) I could take the train, with lots of stops in lumberjack towns on the way, of course. Some people have told me that it’s boring to go through the Great Plains for days, but they clearly don’t appreciate the joys of train travel, with a book and a cigar in the restaurant carriage.

c) I could try to get as far north as possible and then simply fly to Toronto. There won’t be any flowers and girls with skirts, but I like bears more, anyway. The bigger problem is that flights from Kugluktuk or Ulukhaktok are prohibitively expensive.

d) I have always been fascinated with the northernmost US states like Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. I could also take that route to Toronto.

You, as the reader of this blog, can cast your vote. But before you do so, please check out photos of Montana and Wyoming! ;-)

Links:

  • More articles on house sitting. I will put up some FAQ soon because lots of people have been asking me how to get such jobs.
  • Do you want a postcard from Canada? The more donations I get, the closer I can get to the North Pole. (No idea about how to get back, though.)
  • More articles on train travel.
  • Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.
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Posted in Canada, Travel | Tagged , , , ,

Visiting the UK is as cheap as never before

Sometimes, particularly when I put on my lawyer hat, I am inclined to think that maybe, just maybe, that whole Brexit thing wasn’t properly thought through from the outset. But big words like “sovereignty” won over practical concerns, and thus we have the mess that we are in.

In a weird twist of fate, the consequences of Brexit do however mean that traveling to the UK will be cheaper than ever. Thanks to the folly of British voters, you can now visit England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for less money than the Roman soldiers who built Hadrian’s anti-immigration Wall.

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The first reason is the plummeting value of the British pound. Since Brexit, the pound has lost in value against most of the world’s currencies (shown as the appreciation of other currencies in the following chart).

“But look how well the pound is doing compared with the Venezuelan bolívar,” Brexiteers want to interject, before being told that anything went up in price compared with the Venezuelan bolívar, even toilet paper.

This means that Britons cannot afford foreign holidays (except in Venezuela) and have to pay more for imports (which is everything, except maybe fish). For you as a traveler, it means that you will get many more pounds for your euros, dollars, yuans, kronas, leis and zlotys. 

The second aspect is less obvious and only applies to people who either need no visa for the Republic of Ireland or who can easily obtain one. Because in Brexit terminology, “taking back control of our borders” means that there will be no border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and because the UK has promised that there will be no border or passport checks on trips between Ireland and Great Britain, you can buy a ticket to Ireland and simply walk into the UK across the invisible border. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. And the UK won’t even know that you are there! They call this a “Common Travel Area“, which strangely enough is no threat at all to sovereignty, control and the nation as a whole.

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Thus, you save the money and hassle that you would have spent on a UK visa.

But now comes the best trick: If you don’t need a visa to enter the Republic of Ireland, you can purchase a one-way ticket only, make your way to the UK, go hiking in the Highlands, enjoy the Lake District, visit the Palace of Westminster to observe democracy in action, and when you have run out of money, you go to the nearest police station and introduce yourself: “Good afternoon, I am terribly sorry to bother you, but it seems that I find myself in your country slightly illegally. I wonder if there was any possibility that you could deport me back to my home country?”

As British police are very polite, they will ask you to take a seat, bring you some tea (make sure to order it with “no milk, please”) and then they will efficiently proceed to deport you to your home country, for otherwise the tabloids would be up in arms about “illegal immigration” with riots ensuing. In effect, the United Kingdom will pay your return ticket. You may have to spend a few days in prison, but surely, that only adds to the adventure. (If you are less keen on knowledge of the detention and deportation system, you can of course simply make your way back to Ireland across the invisible border once again, without the UK ever having noticed your presence.)

The same thing also works with Guernsey and Jersey, the Channel Islands. I was once on a ferry from there to the UK and upon arrival on the south coast of England, the Border Control office was simply closed and a thousand people marched ashore unchecked. So much for the hysteria about unchecked immigration.

Beyond EU citizens, who will always be able to fly to Ireland (and then proceed to the UK), this applies to citizens from a number of other countries who enjoy visa-free entry to Ireland:

visa free Ireland

It looks like half the world will be able to avail itself of this trick. I, for one, will most definitely venture to the UK in the manner described after Brexit, just to make a point.

Links:

Posted in Economics, Immigration Law, Law, Politics, Statistics, Travel, UK | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

“Mindfulness”

I know something is a fad when I see it advertised in a really small town in Andalusia.

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Posted in Andalusia, Language, Spain | Tagged | 3 Comments

“The Great Railway Bazaar” by Paul Theroux

In 1973, Paul Theroux was a novelist and out of ideas when he came across my blog and got the inspiration for a trip around the world by train. From the UK, he set out to Istanbul, of course, and then onward to Iran, India, Burma, Malaysia, Japan, with some flights and ferries in between, obviously. On the way back, he took the classic route through Siberia from east to west. He published The Great Railway Bazaar about that  journey and became the famous travel writer that he now is.

Quite why he became so famous is a secret to me after reading this book. I am fanatically railway-minded myself and love the idea, although I am a much slower traveler and would dedicate more than four and a half months to such a trip. But then, Theroux had a wife waiting for him at home.

9780141038841Maybe it’s the style of writing, for that is good indeed. Sadly, though, I got the impression that he didn’t enjoy the trip as much as anticipated, an impression fostered by the ever-increasing complaints the farther he gets east. Fellow travelers will know the old Englishman or American whom you meet on trains or ships, complaining that there is no NFL on television in Tehran or that they have the wrong kind of biscuits in Bombay. Theroux sounds like that kind of person. He complains about the weather, about late trains, about not being able to buy tickets, about the food, and mostly about other people whom he encounters on the train. I almost wished him an accident, to put him out of his misery.

Even worse, many of his remarks and “jokes” are deeply insulting, racist and stupid. He probably thinks he is funny, in a way that Westerners steeped in colonial thinking of superiority play little jokes on everybody who is not a WASP. Once he gets on the Transsiberian, he finds it appropriate to address the Russian passengers as “monkeys”. Decide for yourself if you want to like such a man.

His constantly getting drunk and unsuccessfully trying to cheat on his wife doesn’t help to endear him, either. There is a reason why travel bloggers and writers should remain single.

There is a sequel, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, where Theroux went on a similar journey in 2008. I am curious if he learned anything from his first trip, if he matured, if he has come to realize that non-Anglo-Saxon culture is not inferior. Has anyone read the Ghost Train? I am curious to hear your opinion!

Links:

Posted in Books, Travel | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Armenian Patriotism

This summer, during the Football World Cup, I was in Kraków, where I met an Armenian friend studying in Poland.

When she said she needed to go home to watch the World Cup, I naturally assumed that she would support the Polish team. As always in sports that require more effort than moving wooden pieces across a board while smoking a lot, Armenia hadn’t qualified.

“We are all cheering for Colombia,” she corrected me, leaving me wondering. I knew there was a city called Armenia in Colombia, but that wasn’t it.

She explained: “When you turn the Colombian flag upside down, it looks similar to the Armenian flag. So, when Colombia is playing, we turn the TV sets upside down and imagine that it’s a stadium full of Armenians.”

colombian flag.jpg

Links:

  • More articles about football.
  • And one day, when I will find the time, there will be plenty more articles about Poland, about Armenia and about Colombia, all of which are fascinating countries. But Armenia is definitely the funniest of them all.
Posted in Armenia, Colombia, Poland, Sports | Tagged | 8 Comments

“Fear” by Bob Woodward

I am generally not a big fan of reading books on contemporary subjects, because books get better with a few years of hindsight. But for Bob Woodward’s book about the Trump presidency, Fear, I made an exception. Of all the people who have published books on the current president, Woodward is probably the most meticulous researcher.

71ir9ucf2klThe White House is dysfunctional and the President was and remains unprepared; that’s not news. Everyone can see that, every day. Thus, Bob Woodward doesn’t have that much new to offer. But the sheer amount of information and in particular the verbatim conversations, mostly provided by people who have since been fired or resigned (Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and John Dowd seem to be the main sources), can still be shocking at times.

Here are some of the things that were new to me:

  • The amount of disdain that almost anyone working with Trump has for him. In meetings, they call him “a fucking moron”, “an idiot” with the intellectual grasp of a 6th-grader or even “unhinged”. And these are all people picked by Trump, who want to support him.
  • But I can understand how one could lose one’s mind, trying to have a rational argument with Trump. He doesn’t have the most basic understanding of NATO, of international trade, of inflation. At one point, he suggested that the US can just print money to reduce the deficit. And he is obsessed with trade balances between individual countries, although almost everyone explains to him that these are irrelevant.
  • Trump doesn’t care about arguments, facts, numbers or legalities, ending the debate by explaining, “this has been my opinion for 30 years and I won’t change it”.
  • He does however change his opinion on foreign policy, like the military presence in Afghanistan, particularly after listening to generals’ recommendations. Of course, he regrets it after an hour and says that he made a mistake by listening to advice. In essence, whoever last speaks to Trump, will win him over. Until the next conversation with someone else.
  • As President, it’s apparently OK to start your working day at 11:00, to go back home early and to never read one’s homework. What a life. Sad.
  • Aides to the President repeatedly removed papers from the President’s desk to prevent him from signing something, like terminating a trade agreement with South Korea in the middle of the nuclear stand-off with North Korea. Even scarier, Trump doesn’t realize that the papers are gone because he doesn’t keep a mental or physical to-do list. He doesn’t have an agenda. He just deals with whatever comes to his mind, usually by way of television.
  • Trump is a pathological liar. It is his natural modus operandi. I was most shocked to learn that he even lies in condolence calls to parents of killed service members.
  • After reading that attorney John Dowd charged Trump $ 100,000 per month, I am thinking of raising my fees.

Woodward is not trying to dramatize anything. If at all, his tone is rather boring at times, like someone taking notes at a National Security Council meeting. Still, if you haven’t been reading any newspaper in the last year, or if you want to know how bad it really is, this is probably the best book out there for now. But for the definitive account, we will have to wait. With more people getting fired, there will be may more sources, I am sure.

Links:

Posted in Books, Elections, Military, Politics, US election 2016, USA | Tagged | 4 Comments

Living in a Cave

When I introduced the cave houses around Venta Micena to you, I promised you a look inside. Luckily, I met Florence and Bruno, a lovely couple from France, who invited me to their cave home in Fuente Nueva. It was very spacious and comfortable, much more so than one would anticipate from the outside.

Here are a few of their photos:

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Links:

Posted in Andalusia, Spain, Travel | Tagged | 6 Comments