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¿Comò te llama? ¿Cuántos años tiene?


Photo (C) Cara Aliek

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It’s All about the Kids

Photo (C) Tyrel Nelson

 

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HALEKULANI – Perfection in Paradise

Photo (C) Mark McKirdy

Like an elegant host of a large, family party, surrounded by relatives of inconsistent style and increasing volume, Hawaii’s Halekulani Hotel sits at the southern end of Waikiki Beach amidst other hotels. It is a part of the scene because of its presence yet apart from it because of its quality. Read more


Firenze, Romans…

Il Duomo/Photo (C) Mark McKirdy

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Visiting the Vineyard: 5 Things Up-Island You’ve Never Done, but Should

Martha’s Vineyard’s Cliff/(C) Caitlin DonahueMartha’s Vineyard—a common vacation spot. Beautiful beaches, various kinds of seafood, people everywhere…and lots of overpriced shops. The Vineyard is a great place to visit, and there are many things to do. However, most people find themselves amongst the crowds; all doing the same things.

 

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Jail in Japan: Tales of Pocket Knives, Bathtub Antics, and Utter Cluelessness

Flashlightfish/flickr

I am being ordered to strip down to my birthday suit. Every experience is a good experience, I tell myself, trying to believe my traveling credence with the same passion it usually warrants. 

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Discovering the Great Wall of China - in Pakistan

The Great Wall, Simatai - China

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Moscow Remembered – A Tourist at Home

Industrial Moscow Sunset

When I walk through Union Square on an occasional sunny Saturday in San Francisco, I resent that the people around me might mistake me for a tourist. I make myself abundantly clear – I wear no fanny pack, carry no Macy’s bags and plaster a trademark sneer on my face at all times, punctuating it with an occasional roll of my eyes.
Maybe I go overboard, but seeing every other sneering local in my adopted city reminds me of the confusing, maddening and humbling time when I was, indeed, a tourist in the city of my birth.

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Where Thieves and Pimps Run Free

Damrak - Amsterdam

I had been in Amsterdam for a couple of months, and the city’s seedier side just wouldn’t stop trying to mug me. While I must have appeared to be, and no doubt was, something of a soft touch, my aggressors had nevertheless experienced varying degrees of success in their endeavours.
The first enterprising gentleman had come away from our encounter with by far the most success, and in hindsight I can hardly begrudge him the 20 euros he made off with. Despite thinking of myself as a reasonably shrewd customer with plenty of big city experience, I had managed to plant myself in a ridiculously idiotic situation and was, it can be argued, very much asking to be robbed.
The next time it happened I managed to keep hold of my cash and some of my recently diminished self-respect, as both parties to the event left the encounter in much the same circumstances to which they had approached it.
On that occasion I even managed to convince myself that I was something of a hero for having stood my ground and thwarted the criminal mastermind who had confronted me. This small sense of self-worth was quickly deflated however, upon hearing of a friend who, in similar circumstances just a few days later, had not been content to merely stand his ground, but had actively infringed into his would-be-mugger’s, by wielding a nearby brick and chasing him down the street. I resolved that I would emulate this course of action should I find myself in a similar situation again.
I didn’t have to wait long to see my brick-brandishing bluster exposed as the delusion it had always been.
There are an estimated million bicycles in Amsterdam, which with 750,000 inhabitants rather points to the city’s canals’ unofficial status as mass bike graveyards. Regardless, the bike is indeed king and the most common way of getting around. I, however, was temporarily reliant on the city’s transport system, having recently comprehensively wrecked my own bike, and large parts of myself, in an ill-considered drunken attempt to hop a curb.
Agreeing to meet some friends in the centre of town one evening, I hopped on a tram and settled down to daydream about the new pimped out bike I envisioned getting. So wrapped up was I in thoughts of velvet seats and gilded handlebars that I failed to notice that the tram was not in fact heading in the direction I had assumed it was. Eventually coming to my senses half an hour into what should have been a ten minute journey, I realised that we were delving ever deeper into a part of town I had never encountered before.
I got off at the next stop and took stock of my surroundings. They bared very little resemblance to the twinkling canals, gabled town houses and cobbled alleyways of the Amsterdam I was familiar with. Here things were decidedly bleaker. Boarded up shop windows and deserted, shard strewn pavements were bathed in the harsh light of industrial-style street lights, while a lone junkie stumbled past an upturned bin.
I couldn’t immediately see a tram stop that would take me back in the direction I had come. However, reasoning that trams, by their very nature, were dependant on tram tracks for mobility, I concluded that if I hoped to find a stop there were only two likely directions I should choose from. I headed left.
Before I had gone more than 200 yards, I heard a voice behind me bellow something. I decided against bellowing back and hunched my shoulders, quickening my pace.
I hadn’t quickened it enough obviously, as in the next instant, a young man had a firm grip on my forearm and was blocking my path. He spat out something aggressive sounding in Dutch.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch.”
“Your money, now,” he replied, effortlessly changing languages. If there’s one thing to be said for the Dutch mugger, he, like the vast majority of his countrymen, speaks impeccable English.
“I haven’t got anything,” I lied, acutely aware of the hundred euros that had suddenly started burning a hole in my trousers.
“Now brother.”
“I’m telling you, I don’t have anything. I’m a student!”
“Now!”
“But I’m a student, I’m poor!”
All of a sudden, the grip on my arm relaxed. “Hey, I was kidding brother! Relax, it was just a joke!”
These words, coupled with the huge grin now spread across his face, took me aback. Not too much however, as, despite his apparent change of heart, I remained convinced that this gentleman had unquestionably not been kidding, nor had it been just a joke. To be on the safe side, I repeated my mantra again: “I’m a student…. I’m poor….”
Mr Hyde came surging back. “Hey shut the hell up! I said I was joking brother, relax! ”
“Oh. OK. Right. Ha ha! Good one. Anyway…. I’d better get going….”
“Stick around brother, what’s the hurry? I’m waiting for my girlfriend. Keep me company. Here - have some fries.”
He unzipped his jacket and from inside withdrew a plastic container. Opening it, he thrust its steaming, glistening contents towards me.
I hesitated, but, having not yet eaten and eager not to spurn my new friend’s generosity, it was only for a moment. “Have you got any mayo?”
“Sure.” He reached back into his jacket and pulled out some sachets which he proceeded to smother the food with.
“There we go. Now they are real Dutch fries. So you’re student then brother? What are you studying?”
As we shared his dinner, we chatted away. I told him I was studying history at the university in Amsterdam, and took the opportunity to subtly re-emphasise the fact that, as a student, I was naturally terribly poor. He asked about my courses and when I said they were mostly on American history this year he remarked upon just how much he disliked “that crazy Bush guy”. I told him I was from London and he said his cousin had moved there a few years ago, that the family had not heard from him since, and that I should keep my eyes open for him.
Despite the excellent dinner and company, part of me couldn’t quite shake off the suspicion that we were merely killing time until not his girlfriend, but his back-up, arrived. This fear proved unfounded however, as about ten minutes into our conversation the girlfriend did indeed turn up. We were introduced and she was encouraged to partake of the meal, which she politely declined. “More for us!” grinned my new chum.
The fries eventually came to an end and I took this as my cue to say my goodbyes, thanking him for the fries and asking where I might find the nearest tram back into town.
“That way,” came the reply, with a gesture back the way I had come. “Why were you going this way? Were you lost?”
I let out a nervous half-laugh and sheepishly admitted that I had been.
“Careful brother. This is not the place to get lost in. Bad people around here.” I studied him closely but could detect neither the hint of a smile on his face nor a trace of sarcasm in his voice.
I hurried along and soon found the right tram. Meeting up with my friends an hour later than planned, I was quizzed as to just what had taken me so long.
“I stopped for something to eat on the way.” Read more


Europe from my window

Photo: Flickr/Pichote

Steamtrain

It came up slowly and smoking the pipe; was waiting ’til the passengers enter, take their places and it would continue the trip without steps which seems to be very irritating for this old but comfortable train.

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