Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Here are some footsteps for you guys to show you where I've been.

Hogwarts: The Great Hall

This is Joe's place. And that's the couch!

Brussels, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Amsterdam, Netherlands

As always, you can just go straight to the photos themselves.

Next, I go to Milan, Italy!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Still alive

I know I haven't written or posted up photos in a while. Just been doing a lot of traveling and keeping connected with a few people while brushing through various cities.

London, with Joe.
Brussels with Jim. Bruges too.
Now in Amsterdam.

Just to let you guys know, I'm still alive.

I've run out of space for my photos on my laptop though. Good thing I have this iPod to save photos off too...

Monday, October 15, 2007

God Save The Queen

Here now in London with Joe in his awesome flat. It's a really nice place a bit southwest of the main city of London.

Went to visit Buckingham Palace, the Tower London Bridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral. I thought the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur in Montmarte (northern part of Paris) was amazing, but St. Paul's is beautiful beyond belief. Not only does it have one of the most elaborately decorated and beautifully designed interiors I've seen yet, its materials are chosen in a manner that really enhances the overall look. Most of the other cathedrals I've seen use a darker stone that blends in much more with the colors of the wood and other materials used. St. Paul uses really clean white stone that serves as a great contrast to the paintings and gilded wood, serving to enhance both.

It's fantastic.

One thing I have to say about such "no photography" policies which claim that using a camera is disrespectful: I show no disrespect by appreciating the great works of men through an artistic medium of my choice, the same way that the people who appreciate these works by choosing to sketch them, here, there and everywhere in the cathedral show no disrespect.

If you allow them to sit there and appreciate art in architecture by drawing and sketching what they see, to create their own representation, their own reality of the scene, how is that different from my choice of composition, choosing my own reality and my own representation using my lens, my eye, and my position? Furthermore, by taking what the camera sees and further manipulating it again (possibly in Photoshop) into a further distilled, augmented representation of reality?

One is clearly similar to the other.

This is a great work of men, men which are said to be created by God. Blood, sweat and tears of thousands, preserved in stone, tile, pigments, wood and eons of time, all because these men were compelled to create such a monstrous beauty in the name of a deity they know not to exist except under faith.

To prevent such an appreciation, to disallow my choice, my way of appreciating this work would be disrespectful to both man and God.

There is no disrespect from me for God or God's house of worship. I reserve only disrespect to those who would prevent me from appreciating it artistically as the artists would.

Tomorrow, to Leeds.

For more on why I believe photography is a valid artistic medium as is sketching the scene on a sheet of paper, see this link.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Off to Great Britain

Off to London in the morning. Why did I get the 8 am train? Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

Anyways, toodles all. Paris has been fun. I'll be back to write more later, but for now, I leave you with this awesome video: Les blancs ne savent pas danser (white people can't dance)

There's a great line in there that's "le seul blanc qui sais danser c'est Michael Jackson." You can pretty much get what that means.

Au revoir!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Paris is the city with the most things to see so far. The people here have done everything in their power to preserve their culture and their history, and it shows, with the sheer number of huge museums that are available, the fantastically kept parks and beautiful gardens, and the ornate statues (some covered in gold), finely detailed bridges, and elaborately decorated buildings.

C'est magnifique!

Although, I guess I had a tough night of sleep or something because I'm achy and I feel like I'm getting sick. I spent most of today sleeping, and left the place at 5 pm after feeling like I was decent enough to go out to see the Louvre.

Contrary to some people's opinions ("the Louvre is overrated" - Diana Wan) the Louvre is an absolutely magnificent spectacle of a museum. Statues, gigantic paintings (beautiful, BEAUTIFUL monstrosities of paintings, both framed and built into the walls and ceilings). I wish I had photos to show you right now, but I have been in and out of sleep and consciousness, and now battling for my health, so I will have to do that later. I haven't even finished my Scotland photos yet. Ah well, in due time.

Here is one of their gigantic paintings.

I think it's the Coronation of Napoleon, by David Jacques-Louis.

Rant time: What the F*CK is up with the Mona Lisa display, les gens du Musée du Louvre? I get that you need to put up glass in front of the painting to protect it from the constant barrage of the morons in front of it, constantly bombarding it with UV flash. Good idea. What I don't get is why you have to block it off with guides at such a f*cking far distance? The painting is simply two feet high. I like looking AT the details and strokes, seeing the mastery from which the artist's hand flows, the cracks and creases that the elements left in the pigments/paints, the subtle gradients of color within/between each stroke... and now you've shoved me 20 feet away so that La Joconde is merely the size of a stamp. Bravo... idiots.

Like the Tour Eiffel, La Joconde (the Mona Lisa) is another one of the French letdowns. Merde.

In other news, I was able to get my ATM card. Huzzah!

If I didn't say it earlier, the Paris metro is absolutely tourist friendly. It has stops named after all of its famous attractions so you know where to go and where to stop. It even tells you when the next train is coming along, and their buses also have the maps of their stops. Amazing. If you are ever here longer than a few days and you imagine you'll be traveling around Paris a lot, I'd say buy a weekly ticket. I must have used it all up in 3 days with all the bus line transfers and metro that I've been using. It works for the metro, the RER (longer distance subway train) and the buses.

Anyway, I must sleep. Au revoir!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Sandra (my cousin Sheila's friend from Loveboat) and her friend Jun have taken me around for the past two days. We've been waking up really late (OK so honestly I get up the latest so its my fault) so I didn't get to see too much but I'm covered under their French wings and am protected against having to figure my way out and about the city. Everywhere I went, I had no clue where it relatively was in comparison to the rest of the city.

Well that all changes tomorrow.

I'm back on my own two feet and am headed to the city myself... wish me luck!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Paris, je t'aime?

Today is my first day walking around, alone, in a country whose primary language is not English.

I got out of the bus which took me from Beauvais airport to Paris, and started heading in the direction of where I believed the Metro to be ("look for a circle with a big yellow M" I was told). I walked for about a mile, circling and going down side streets, finding a lack of any such Metro. I was almost run over by the crazy French drivers who fight each other in what amounts to an endless game of sideways chicken to get ahead during rush hour. They turn on the "walk" signal here when the vehicle traffic crossing the pedestrian line still has the green. It's up to the driver to see you and stop. Imagine my surprise as I'm walking into the intersection as I'm nearly sideswiped by a hatchback and flattened by a minivan.

Le sigh.

Anyway, headed back to the lot, walked in the opposite direction this time. Ah, hello Metro. Surprisingly enough, the Metro is amazingly easy to follow (once you freakin find it). Easier than in Chicago. I'm transferring lines and hopping trains in no time.

And watching everyone intently in a proactive thievery prevention strategy. Yes, that means you, woman holding a baby. I know how you totally eyed these slippers, these two dollar Walmart specials. I've got my eye on you....

Get out of the subway at the right stop, head to where I'm supposed to go according to Google maps. Uhhh.... where the heck is this street (Alleé de la Chocolaterie)... I walk to the end of the street, turn around, and walk back. I go up to number 22 and look at the street sign... Rue Jules Ferry.

Oh freakinay, my brilliant plan to find the place on my own has hit a huge roadblock. I have no clue where this Alleé is around me. Best of all, this is the last step too. Oh, Christ, help meeee.

Some old Chinese lady with a dog is walking by, and she stares at me. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking "I wonder if she thinks I'm lost. Maybe she'll help me out. Please God, let her be helpful."

I keep walking, head to another building and peer in the glass door. Dude, there is no way this place could be it. Oh man... stern resolve crumbling... fear creeping in... sense of helplessness growing... Huh?

The old lady was saying something in French. "Uhhh.... (in my best imitation French accent) Alleé de la Chocolaterie?" She points at the paper I'm holding, and I show her the house number, 22. She says, in slow broken English "Oh, zat is my 'ouse. I live weeth my, uh... daughter."

ZOMG. I'm saved.

Turns out, she's my host's mother.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand.

The author of Atlas Shrugged, a book I picked up to whittle away the seconds, minutes, and hours waiting to be transported from one moment to the next. A book I chose because of a videogame called Bioshock, which apparently utilized the ideals in her thousand page work as the basis of the atmosphere and backstory.

The only other book that I've read of Ayn Rand is Anthem, a shorter, politically tinged, narration of one of her characters, explaining what essentially amounts to her view on collectivism. I could be wrong, it's been ages since I've read it, but I know it was some form of 'ism' that she wanted to portray in the world she created. It was short, it was dense, it was full of heavy ideas, and I had to read it for a class, hence it was ultimately something that I had to pore over and understand its meaning, deeply, symbolically, and not something that I would overall enjoy. I assumed that Atlas Shrugged would be the same, dry, slow, denseness, except a thousand pages thick.

I could never be more wrong.

Atlas Shrugged has been a fantastic read thus far. A thoroughly developed story, incredible characters (literally, some are unbelievable), all tied together in a war, an epic struggle of the capitalist, ability/merit driven, objective seekers and the supposed selfless merit smashing, level-playing-field brotherly-lovers.

I really need to slow down when reading this book. I'm going to finish it too quickly and then I won't have anything else to whittle away those seconds, minutes, hours...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Scottish Heritage

What could be more Scottish than a whiskey distillery? Not just any distillery, mind you, but the Glengoyne distillery, one of many that has been Scottish run for the entirety of its existence.

Glengoyne is located about 14 miles north of Glasgow. You take the number 10 bus from Buchannan bus station and tell the driver that you're headed to get plastered visit the Glengoyne distillery. He drops you off right in front of it, then you head to the back to the reception area. On the way there, I met three Canadians from Toronto, one guy, his wife and their friend, who were also setting off to specifically visit the distillery. Thankfully I went when they did, otherwise I would be alone on the tour and well... that would be just weird.

I decided to go for the Tasting Tour, which includes four drams of their best whiskeys. I originally wanted to go for the Master Blender Tour, which allows you to create your own blend from various others but they said you have to RSVP that one in advance. Alas...

Heading upstairs, we get to a bar area with a big TV. The tour guide pours a dram of their bread and butter 10 year old single malt for the four of us. I try some of it, and also with Jason's expert whiskey advice, I put a bit of water into the whiskey. The water breaks a seal on the whiskey and releases deeper flavors, while reducing the harshness of the alcohol. Works like a charm.

After the small video, we head outside to their back area to show us the natural water that they use in part of the distilling process. It didn't exactly look so fresh or clean. Thankfully they only use that water for cooling and get their pure spring water from another area in Scotland. Taking us outside and into the actual warehouse, we get to an area where he shows us the process of malting, or smashing barley and heating it in water. He basically takes us next to a giant vat of it, opens it up and lets us stick our heads in to smell and see what's going on. Neat.

Next, he takes us to the huge wooden fermenting barrels where they take all the malted barley, throw it into fresh spring water, and add yeast. They ferment until the yeast kills itself to about 8% alcohol, sort of a malted beer. Taking this beer, they put it into multiple distillers, each time concentrating the alcohol until it's somewhere north of 70% alcohol. At this point, it's still just a clear spirit. Where does it get the color?

Why, from the oak barrels. These barrels are from various parts of the world, and they are cask sherry barrels (sherry is stored in them for some years to infuse flavor into the wood). The spirit is put into these barrels, where they sit and mature in their storage area, soaking up the flavors of the oak and sherry for over 10 years. The whiskey also soaks flavors from the air in the area, and since Glengoyne is in the highlands where it's beautifully clean, you don't get a lot of the harsher iodine flavors you'd get with a distillery near the ocean, for example.

Each year, a small percentage of the whiskey evaporates into the air. The Scots call that the "Angel's Share" and joke about how happy those Angels are. The alcohol evaporates faster than the water does and the concentration lowers over the years spent aging.

Next, we're taken into the boardroom where we are poured drams of their 17 year and 21 year whiskeys. The 17 year is even smoother than the 10 with a deeper sweetness to it.

How's the 21 year?

Smooooooooooooth. Delicious. I could possibly be drunk at this point. Adding some water, the flavors really come out. I can see the look in the Canadian guy's face, he says he's definitely going to buy something expensive here.

Now taking us back to the shop called Slainte Mhath (Gaelic, pronounced "slan je vah", means "good health to you!") he passes us each a dram of 12 year cask strength whiskey. Cask strength means they don't dilute the whiskey to it's regular 43% alcohol volume, it's straight from the barrel at 57%.

Oh gawd, it's like a bear clawing its way down my throat. A bear with sweet honey tasting claws.

The Canadian guy grabs one of the 21 year bottles, and the ladies get some souvenirs. It turns out they're in Glasgow and then eventually Edinburgh for their friend's wedding. Pretty cool. They have to head back but I hear about this very nice local restaurant and inn so I turn at the road and head towards... well I can't see anything but fields past this point, so I just head down the road.

10 minutes later, I happen upon a small town and get to the Beech Tree Inn. They have this thing called High Tea time where you get an entrée, a set of desserts, and tea for 10 pounds! Woo!

And that's that for the day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

William Wallace

Went to Stirling Castle today, the battleground where Mel Gibs---I mean, William Wallace fought against the English and handed their asses to them at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Also went to the bridge and his gigantic monument. The people in the Highlands looooove William Wallace. It was pretty badass to be at the actual site of battle.

Except for walking through miles of Scotland rain. That was a pain.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Time to dance

Glasgow is a nice city, although I prefer Scotland's bigger metropolis, Edinburgh, when it comes to looks and history. Maybe it's just that I missed a few things yesterday since things close early (my bad) and some listings in the Lonely Planet actually changed (doh!). It's OK though, I managed to get out early today and see what I wanted and eat what I desired.

In my planning brilliance, I have left it up to October 5th before I fly down to Paris. I'm going to use this time to see the Highlands again because while the city is nice, I love Scotland's natural wonders.

By the way, my hosting solution in Paris was solved due to quick action by my awesome cousin Sheila and her friend Sandra who is currently chillin' in Paris.

I'm staying at a really nice flat here in Glasgow. The host is a really cool girl named Matilda who is paying only 62 pounds/week for a place that is all art deco, wooden floors, and modernesque. That, my friends, is a fantastic deal. She's actually renting it from a filmmaker that... get this... makes pr0n. He uses the place to keep a lot of "props" from his sets.

One can only guess at what kinds of things are kept behind the white sheet in the center of the flat...

In other news, internet is being stolen from the coffeeshop downstairs (free!! woohoo!) but it's too slow to upload photos or do anything else. I can use Skype to call people though, and it manages to keep the connections.

In other news, my ATM card expired yesterday, and I have like, 5 pounds in my wallet.


It's time to dance.


So, I've worked around my "cash" problem for now. I'll just have the ATM card sent to my next destination (Paris!) and in the meanwhile, I can get cash advance thru my credit card. Of course, they say they'll charge the regular APR (which is like, 17% or something) so I'm like, F- that, I'll just prepay my credit card in advance and collect it like a bank account.

And... Skype is awesome. I can call all over the world for like 2 cents a minute (most major countries) and set up appointments and things! How cool is that. All for $10 in measly credit.

Saw a football game today. Rangers vs. Lyon (Scotland vs. France). The Rangers scored pretty early, and then twice more! Each time, the whole bar (which was like, 12 guys watching the big screen) would erupt with cheers and a lot of yelling. I also had a full bottle of Bulmers. 586 mL thank you very much.

I need more water.