Sunday, 19 February 2012


If people in London think Harrod's has a good food hall, then wait until they've seen KaDeWe (actually, I've never been inside Harrod's). It is Germany's largest department store (and their stationery department is amazing). So I am taking the elevator up to the foodhall when I see four huge posters showing Kanada on me. They are the typical tourist posters showing Mounties, blue skies and mountains, canoes, Native Americans. Very stereotypical. Then I reach the landing on the elevator and directly facing me is a whole wall - no, a whole department - of maple syrup and maple syrup-related cookies etc. How exotic.

The food hall is comprised of many sections (a very small bag of twizzlers sells for 2 euros, by the way), but every once in a while I will see a moose dressed up in an RCMP uniform or a model wilderness plane hanging from the ceiling with the maple leaf on it. It kind of freaked me out. So this is how Canada is represented abroad, eh?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Alternative Berlin

People riding their bikes calling for their dogs to catch up, cross the street, the dogs running after them, and unleashed in stores. People openly drinking beer on the subway not because they are alcoholics but as a norm. Graffiti everywhere to the point that it is a fabric of the city, is appropriated by advertising companies.

Reunified Berlin is relatively young. It is in a lot of debt. It is a good city to see how a city's citizens oppose gentrification (and sometimes even succeed). This must be what New York was like 20 years ago, but the big G has taken over that!

Hong Kong via Berlin

Berlin reminds me a lot of Hong Kong. They are both cosmopolitan cities with plenty of expats. They love their food and have it everywhere for cheap. They have a very extensive and integrated public transport network. And people carry those tissue paper packets everywhere. I guess that's where the comparison ends, but that is enough for me.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Waiting for you to come around

So here I am still in Rome because as I feared the train I had tickets for did not run. I am kind of angry because when I purchased the reservation tickets two days ago I asked the agent if there's a chance the trains might not run because of the snow situation and because I have to transfer in Bologna where there's lots of snow and he said no. When the Siena train didn't run yesterday I was already a bit wary.

In any case I hope the overnight train to Munich runs (it should because I saw the Munich train coming in this morning) and then in the morning I will be on my way to Berlin again...

Things I Have Learned: A List

I don't know if travel for more than a vacation period is supposed to make you a better person or teach you anything. Regardless, here are some things I'm more aware of now that I've been living out of a backpack for a month:

1. It takes me about 7 days to be able to navigate around without a map in a city like Rome.
2. To interact with people, you really really should learn Their Language. Here I spoke to more French and Latin American people than any Italians (or Chinese, for that matter).
3. You have to be flexible about money. As Lemmy said, "You win some, you lose some, it's all the same to me." I could list so many examples of how this applied to me on the trip but before this trip, I didn't have this attitude towards money.
4. You have to be flexible with plans if you want to go anywhere - literally.
5. If you travel without interacting with anybody who lives there, you can get an essence of the place from books and film, but it will be the same as having Margaret Atwood or David Cronenberg or Mordecai Richler represent Canadians.
6. Materials are just that: materials. They create weight and take up space. At home I have a collection of books, music and CDs and every once in a while I will trim the collection to get more space. It's great that I have my favorite films and books at my fingertips, but I've learned to leave materialistic things behind, to let them go more easily because it's not the material that has sentimental value but the contents. And since that is mass-produced and nowadays there is the Internet, you can get them anywhere.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Going to Monaco

I went to the Termini train station yesterday and asked for train tickets to Munich. I noticed on the screen that the agent had typed in 'to Monaco' and I said, "No no, I meant Munich!" and then the agent told me that Monaco is the Italian name for Munich. Oops!

After I went to Vatican city. First I visited St. Peter's Basilica, then I sat down to have a grocery store salad lunch. These pigeons came buy and this young one came over my shoulder and attacked my salad! These daring things are probably trained from birth.

McDonald's is an Institution here. There is a floor just for cafe complete with selling of cakes and stuff and then there is a huge second floor for the regular burgers and stuff with hundreds of seats. I saw something like this in Paris but it's even crazier here.

I haven't talked to many Roman people since I've come. On my first day here when I was walking around I felt way more comfortable speaking to French tourists in French than I was for trying out any Italian.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Roman Holiday

I was warned that I will have to do a lot of walking in Rome. Fine enough. I like walking. I just wasn't prepared to walk all over the city over ice. I hate walking in ice in Canada and I avoid it whenever I can because my feet aren't very stable. Also the trees keep on dropping piles of snow on people's heads.

In Athens, a woman who had been to Rome said, "Athens reminds me of Rome except that Rome is like an outdoor museum." And it's true - I got lost so many times on the streets and most of the time I'm confused where I am but it doesn't really matter because a site is just right around the corner. I've been to the Colosseum, the Capitolone Museum, the Villa (Gallheria) Borghese, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Except for the Colosseum, I've accidentally discovered these sites while trying to search for others.

My first full day in Rome is on a Sunday, and usually most things are open but there are signs all over every single attraction stating something like, "Due to the inclement weather, we are not open. We apologize for any inconvenience." Umm okay there is some snow on the ground and nobody can come to work? Except for the churches, of course, because it's Sunday. It is quite unfair to the thousands of tourists who booked vacation off and flew all the way here to have nothing open. Of course, Lazio is probably not used to this. The tourist information centres have been closed since Friday due to this weather. I think I would really like Rome except now it's really cold and I am getting tired of being outdoors in the cold all the time.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

My opinion

I don't know if there have been any demonstrations since I've come to Athens, but there certainly haven't been big ones. What I do notice though are the police and more than anything this instills a fear in me, a certain uncertainty, and I think that's the point of police presence here. Maybe.

People from other EU countries coming here notice the difference - there are more panhandlers and graffiti on tourist sites. I'm not pointing fingers at anybody but like ancient China, like ancient Egypt and other ancient civilizations, citizens here must respect their history but not dwell on it and then have things as status quo. From the ancient and classical age until now, what has happened (must I say what has declined)?

I don't know enough about contemporary Greek politics to be able to form any theories or answers.


So I travelled all the way to Greece to be told that the ferries aren't running at this time of year so I booked a short-haul flight to Rome in a week. And so that's how I found myself stuck in Athens. I say stuck because I don't like archaeological stuff so much and it is much colder here than I thought (although I hear the rest of Europe is freezing).

Anyway I decided to make the most of it and went to the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and some museums. And I went to some places where Plato's Academy stood so if Joyce reads this I hope she is jealous!

Even more interesting than that, I noticed large expat communities of South Indian, Chinese, Philippine and Arabic-speaking people. The Chinatown here is huge and I can see some similarities: the food and goods markets here are very similar to HK and they sell sesame-dough snacks that taste like HK snacks.

Relics more rare than ancient, crumbling stones in downtown Athens include supermarkets and non-touristy restaurants. I finally found a supermarket yesterday but it was out in the suburbs.

The driving here is insane. The car really reigns here and walking around downtown is perilous enough but outside that are just miles of road and big-box furniture stores. Most pedestrians just ignore the marked crossings and light signals and cross or run for their lives when they see a pause in the flow of traffic. I've learned to do the same...the parking is also insane if folks thought that parallel parking isn't of any use, it's king here!

Photos sneak peek

I noticed I haven't put up any pictures yet so here are some from my iPhone.

One is the view out of my accommodation in Thessaloniki.
One is on a train from Berlin to Prague.

Too lazy to type