The Kent-is-really-a-regular-dude mailbag

     Hello from California! I have no update other than I am eating as if there is no tomorrow. If I am traveling for ten months, being outside a lot, running around a lot, not having my own space, I can tell you I go into full hermit mode when home. And I eat chips and salsa too much. And I desperately need to redesign my website.
     Let’s jump straight to the mailbag:

french statue

     Seen in France.

From Geraldine in Country Unknown:
     You are a self proclaimed idiot. Your blog scream of that.

     This isn’t starting well.

From “homeless and a hooker in america”(?!):
     india over manila..are u on drugs? slums in manila is not that huge and they are harmless and eventually relocated…and then u says makati is not as exotic? u are a very jelous white trash fag..its just that u cant believe that makati and beyond have such an amazing massive skycrapers that im sure your home city have nothing like that…philippines is booming since 5 yrs ago and our economy is 2nd highest in asia after die of envy idiot fag white trash..dont ever come back to manila again..your not welcome here..idiot

     Sounds like someone needs a hug.

From Lucy in Kenya:
     I am not sure whether I loved or hated your blog.

     I’ll seeing that glass as half full! Let’s build on this!

From Silke in Germany:
     Hi, I found your blog as I was searching for some Information about the border crossing at Irkeshtam (Kyrgyzstan). I’ll travel from Osh to Kashgar and further on to Islamabad. Your blog is just great, probably the best I’ve read about traveling… and I simply love your point of view towards female solo travelers :). I always knew that I’m awesome :) and finally somebody admits :) just kidding, but honestly please keep on writing!

     I can’t find my email to Silke so I can’t remember how I responded, but I have never lost my admiration for solo female travelers. I’m on Reddit‘s travel pages answering questions and giving advice, and so many men AND women are anxious and scared to travel, much less to go alone, and this was before the Paris attacks which is making potential travelers nervous. Silke went to Pakistan on her own and had a fantastic time, she reported to me later, with not one problem. Well done, Silke!

From Robert in Hungary:
     Do you drink alcohol at all? It doesn’t come through in your blog entries.

     Not really. I don’t like the taste. I might drink a beer if I am in a crowd just to not draw attention to myself, but then everyone yells at me anyway for being unable to finish one bottle. What’s funny is that I will tell someone this and they will nod, but then they will encourage me to try their “special” local beer. To me, it all tastes the same. I certainly have been able to travel for much longer by not spending money on booze—but I miss out in a way, too.

tiny water

     Who says everything is big in America?

From India in England (she says her name is India; who am I to argue?):
     My friend made me trudge in the pissing icy rain to find that Hashem place (in Amman, Jordan) because she’d read about it somewhere. I was desperately hungry and kept asking why we couldn’t just go to one of the 450,698,216 falafel or shawarma joints we passed on the way. Only once I was full of Hashem’s hummus and fool did my resentment subside and I admitted it was worth the effort 😀

     I don’t give restaurant recommendations willy-nilly, you know. You’re welcome.

From Anya in Australia:
     Loved reading your blog. Like you I had been trekking in Nepal (with husband and kids) and had only flown out a couple of days before the earthquake. It’s kind of weird isn’t it, I’ve been reluctant to show off my holiday photos. I guess I should, the Nepalese really need their tourism. We spent a few days at Peaceful Lodge in Langtang Village because the owner was so nice and cooked lovely food. I couldn’t get over that BBC footage, so horrible and sad.
     I’m not usually to keen to stereotype nationalities, but I have to share this one. My youngest son ordered a bowl of noodles that he found too spicy. He played with it, dribbled into it and left it. An Israeli trekker (who was watching him) took the left overs and put them in plastic bag to eat later in the day!

     Aaaahahaha! That’s a funny story! Thanks for sharing it—although, of course, the guy could have been from anywhere. Of course!

hendrix stamps

     Jimi Hendrix on an official United States stamp! Who says America is a conservative country?

     I had another question from Nigel in England. I dutifully answered, and he wrote back:
     Thank you for your response. It is impossible for me to convey how happy it was too hear from you. It’s as (if) a fictional character spoke to me from out of a book.
     I’m just a regular dude! I have heard from several people who only know me through my website that they are shocked that I would take the time to reply and the idea of meeting me is an inconceivably big deal. I can tell you that everyone gets over it very quickly when they realize I am like everyone else who puts his pants on three legs at a time. I’m no big deal, and I answer 99% of my emails that are written by real people.
     So don’t be shy. If you have something to say, get your pen out and write me.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

What I Learned Traveling Ten Months Around the World

boracay sunset

     Another ho-hum Philippines sunset.

     Greetings from the land of sweet California sunshine! It feels like a long time since I was here, because it has been a long time since I was here. I was away exactly ten months. Last year I was away exactly ten months. Every single year of my adult life I have been at least six months away.
     I am unloading my backpack for the last time, sitting here among the motley assortment of flotsam accumulated on the road: Bulgarian sudoku booklet, Malaysian t-shirt, Turkish toothpaste, Jordanian water bottle, Filipino sweatshirt, German backpack—I am a post-modern Mr. Multicultural all by virtue of doing nothing more than buying plane tickets.
     So what did I learn from being away so long? I learned nothing. NOTHING! I do this all the time. This is all I do. This is all I know how to do. It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day” where the same events keep repeating themselves and like the TV show Seinfeld: no learning and no hugging!
     Wait, this is a good time for an emo Polish pop song from Myslovitz:

     Near the beginning of this trip in the Philippines I was talking with a woman and she asked how many countries I had been to. I said, “About 100,” and she said, “That’s too many!” That’s a funny response, and maybe the correct one.
     Another time while hitchhiking in Europe a Croatian driver interrogated me about my life and concluded, “I can’t believe someone who has lived such a harsh life looks so incredibly young.” HA! I assume he was driving to his eye doctor appointment and running late.
american machine

     Seen in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Quick vignette I never blogged about because I write too much about day-to-day events that bore everyone to tears:
     Two months ago I was hiking in the mountains of southern Bulgaria with a group of people and we came across a walnut tree on the edge of town. We made a stop and without a word being spoken, a guy climbed deep up into the tree and began throwing walnuts to the girls. The girls dutifully sorted and opened the walnuts, instructing me how to remove the bitter soft covering, and feeding me the best ones.
     That’s living off the fat of the land, and that is the difference between Americans and most of the rest of the world. Maybe I should only speak for myself, because I would look at a walnut tree and wonder if someone owned this tree, it the nuts were ripe, if they would be tasty raw, if it was safe to eat the nut, if this breed was edible, if I might get sick, etc. As an American I was impressed with myself that I could recognize a walnut tree.
     OK, so I learned one thing.
over new mexico

     Flying over a mysterious New Mexico landscape.

     My flight from Miami to Los Angeles was free, or, I should say, the fact that I sat on a plane with a burning engine between Guam and Manila at 3am to start this trip earned me a $150 certificate from United that I redeemed. The practical information here is to request to fly on defective planes so you can get airline credit. The more burning, the better.
     My next blog post will be a mailbag where I answer very random questions people ask me; if you have any questions for me, feel free to send them to me here or via email or Facebook or carrier pigeon—whatever feels right.
credit card apps

     This was my welcome home: 40 credit card offers from airlines.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

It’s, it’s, a Belgian Blitz! It’s, it’s, a Belgian Blitz!

     The end is near! Belgium is my last foreign stop before I fly to Miami, Florida, though is Florida really any less foreign? I made a quick visit of Belgium just before the long slog home.

ukraine intl

     I flew from Amman, Jordan to Brussels, Belgium via Kiev on Ukraine International Airlines. Even though I am into frequent flyer miles, I also like flying oddball airlines like this for the experience—if they are cheap. This was a strange plane and an awful, awful flight, a skinny Embraer jet that shook so hard in heavy turbulence for so long I had my recurring dream of living in one idyllic place and never flying again.

Hitchhiking in Belgium
     I wasn’t optimistic about it, but I tried hitchhiking from Brussels airport. I found a bad, yet quiet spot away from any police and threw my thumb out. Surprisingly, a car with diplomatic license plates stopped. That is very rare, and even more so since I hadn’t shaved and was looking grizzled. However, he was going the wrong way. But then another car with diplomatic plates stopped, and this time I went with them into town: two Burmese guys—do I have to say Myanmar? Myanmar has existed for so long now no one will remember it was once Burma—from the embassy. They were a jovial duo, entertaining me by mock-throwing their phones out the window every time it beeped with a message.
     Hitchwiki told me where to take public transport in Brussels to the best spot for heading west to the coast. I needed help from a gorgeous Congolese woman to figure out the ticket system, though I might have heard every fifth word while staring at her. Every time I am in Brussels I am struck that it must be one of the most international (read: least white) places I know; it’s no wonder little Belgium is such a hub for international flights.
     The hitchhiking all went quickly from Brussels: an African-Belgian guy took me to the first highway gas station, then I sat in a disgustingly filthy car thick with cat hair and cigarette smoke from a man with three kids in the back seat, and finally a Chechen guy drove me to Oostende on the coast. He couldn’t believe I was American nor that I was visiting for fun. I had already told him I was from America, but he looked me over and asked, “Are you Syrian?”
     “Nooooo!” I replied. I pointed to the American flag velcroed on my backpack and said, “California!” in the dorkiest way possible.
     He was confused. “You are on holiday in Belgium? Belgium?!” as if it was the most ridiculous idea. I assured him I had no other motives to be in Belgium and he let me out in Oostende, not believing a word I said.
     Sometimes I worry about getting robbed while hitchhiking, but any driver’s smartphone is worth twice as much as everything in my bag combined, and the driver probably quickly realizes it when meeting me. In almost all of Europe the balance is such that the driver is far more worried about you than you are worried about the driver. Whatever the dynamic, so far, so good.
burbling water

     Burbling water in Oostende. What animal could cause such a force?

     In Oostende I stayed at an Airbnb place that cost exactly $1 because the guy simply wanted to have guests. In Gent I stayed as a Couchsurfing guest, but I might be losing my Couchsurfing mojo. Lately it hasn’t been so easy to find hosts.
The Cheap flight—always the cheap flight
     My flight to Miami is with a Belgian-based airline called—ready for this? It’s unbelievably bad: Jetairfly. Ta-da! Is that not the worst name for an airline? Who thinks of these things? I am flying with them because $165 is crazy-cheap.
     I was all proud of myself that I found such a cheap flight, but these days they aren’t the only cheap game in town to cross the Atlantic. Jetairfly, and Wowair via Iceland are the way to go, among others. Still, $165 including all taxes and a free checked bag is very, very hard to beat.

     I saw this ad in my mailbox, which makes up for the thousand other times I feel getting airline newsletters is a waste of time. I tried and tried to purchase it online, but wasn’t having any luck. I called my credit card company, but they claimed the problem wasn’t on their end. I tried calling the airline even though I knew I would be on hold forever and be a costly international toll call (and somehow you can’t use Skype to their landline). I finally discovered that you can’t buy a ticket with an American credit card, though they never mention it on their website and no one can explain it anyway. What the hell? Luckily I have a friend that trusts me and I used her credit card. (I have a friend!)

Blitzing through the US embassy
     I raced to the US embassy in Brussels just before my flight to get extra passport pages. You must make an appointment online, but then there is wiggle room if you call them and ask for other times. Like anything involving passports, it’s better to do it abroad than home because of the time and cost. If I wanted new passport pages in USA, the cost would be the same, $82, but I would have to mail it away (with insurance and a return envelope) and wait 4-6 weeks or pay an express fee of $32 if I went in person to a passport office in a big city.
     It rankles me that I have to pay $82 for something that used to be free and which takes minutes to do, but come the end of the year, the government will no longer issue extra passport pages. When your passport gets filled with stamps, you’ll have to buy another passport, which is about $140 now, plus photos, plus the interminable waiting time, etc.
extra passport pages

     My new passport supplement. While you are at it, ask for double pages as shown here. I used up my 45 pages in five years, so the 45-page supplement should be perfect as my passport expires in another five years. That said, now I have a massive passport that will be uncomfortable to stuff in my pocket while sweating in the tropics.

     Pro tip: all those mangled US dollar banknotes that no money changer will touch, the ones with the rips, tears, spots, markings, and stains? The embassy will take them.
     For foreigners coming to USA, just because nowadays there are old and new types of banknotes for the same denomination doesn’t mean it’s a problem to use either one. In fact, every banknote ever printed in America is legal tender. Don’t come to USA with anything other than dollars. I have never, ever seen a decent rate for any foreign currency.
     How did I find an Airbnb place that was $1? By doing a search by map, putting my parameters as a place for under $10, and zooming out. You never know what you might find.

     Oostende architecture. This is all one building.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Adrift in a Dead Sea; 300 Days Away

     I left sweet California sunshine exactly 300 days ago. Tomorrow, Day 301, I fly back to USA and a couple of days later, back to the Golden State. The end is within sight. I am what we in the travelling community call “tired”. I am becoming weak of mind, body and spirit. General feebleness all around. It is exhausting to run around for 300 days, in case you were unsure.

kent dead sea read

     Having a read at the Dead Sea in Jordan. The salt content is so high that unexpected parts of your body will notice it for you. One kid screamed, “My butthole stings!”

     I flew in to Amman, Jordan at 2:30am, which is the absolute worst time for a flight to arrive, and I flew out of Amman at 4:30am, which is the absolute worst time for a flight to depart.
     Why are those the worst times? It means no sleep on either end and lots of hours at the airport if you are like me and avoid taxis like the plague. And where are you going to go with a taxi? I’d rather hang out at a decent airport—no, I’m not talking about you, Kathmandu—than deal with waking up or checking in to a hotel at some crazy hour. Actually, I don’t feel strong about that statement. I am a poor sleeper in the best of times, so I don’t know how best to carve up the night.
horse on ledge

     This dude at Petra rode his donkey right to the edge of this cliff, and jumped off as if he was in the middle of a flat field. That’s a suicidal long way down.

3 husseins

     King Hussein on the left, King Abdullah in the middle and the King Abdullah’s son on the right. In Syria they often do the same trifecta with Father Assad, Son Assad and Brother Assad.

abdullah rug

     A rug of young King Abdullah in a cave by the monastery at Petra.

kent jordan eat

     A can of hummus, a can of foul (fava beans), and pita bread is much better than it sounds. Check my skin color out. It’s inhuman.

kent monastery

     Sunning above Petra monastery.

kent siq

     Stephen Lioy would like you to know that Stephen Lioy took the best four photos on this page. You can figure out which they are, but a new camera/smartphone is on my shopping list. Feel free to make recommendations.

jd passport stamp

     The Jordanian passport-stamping bastard at the airport ruined my Somaliland stamp just as the Madrid passport-stamping bastard ruined my other Somaliland stamp. Is nothing sacred?

     There is now a Jordan Pass where, in one package, you can pay for your visa and have one day at Petra as well as many other national parks for 70JD (Jordanian dinar). Normally a visa and one day at Petra is 90JD, so it is well worth it, but you have to buy it online before you arrive, and then you will have a few stressful seconds at immigration when they examine the paper as if it is the first time they have ever seen such a thing.
jeep children


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Hitchhiking the Aegean Coast in Turkey–Easy!

     Question of the Day: Are there more barber shops in Turkey or pharmacies in the Philippines or stray cats in Egypt?

gamze mustafa

     Gamze and Mustafa picked me up hitchhiking twice, two days apart! Small world.

palamutbuku water

     They took me here, Palamutbuuuuuukuuuuuuu!

     As I showed in the previous blog post, Turkish buses can be state-of-the-art amazing, but I had an itch to hitch. I hitchhiked about 400 miles (650km), all of it surprisingly easy. I even had two Turkish women pick me up once, which no one would expect. As a tactic I didn’t velcro the USA flag on to my backpack as I usually do; I wasn’t in tune with local sensibilities enough to feel OK about waving the flag.
     The longest stretch was the last, 350km from Fethiye to Izmir. The day before 100 people were killed in Ankara in a bomb blast, mostly Kurds. Two of my drivers thought it was the work of the government. One of them was Kurdish. I wondered how well Kurds fit in when they are in western Turkey (where the jobs are) and so I asked if he had an accent when he spoke. He said people knew instantly when he opened his mouth that he is from the east. I asked if Kurds had distinct facial characteristics, and he lifted his sunglasses to show a formidable caterpillar eyebrow, plus he said Kurds have big noses. My nose was bigger than his. Maybe I have some Kurdish in me.
turkey road sign

     I’ve had such a long run of fruitful hitchhiking, so many good years, that I’m long overdue to be robbed or maimed or I don’t know what, but no, in Turkey it was all rainbows and unicorns.

     From Marmaris I thought of making a day trip 70km out west to Datca (pronounced “datcha”) and Palamutbuku, but I was pleased with myself that I checked out and didn’t let inertia take over as the area became my favorite place in Turkey.
     The fact that I made the right decision was made easier by my traveling light. If I had a lot of baggage, I wouldn’t have done it, or, since I was surrounded by British at the hotel, I should use their expression: “I couldn’t be bothered.” It’s the white flag of surrender for traveling when you start saying that too much. This is why you pack light, why you don’t have a bag with wheels because they add too much weight, why you don’t want to be overweight in any sense.
     I got a ride halfway to Datca with a guy working at a remote hotel, and he left me in a desolate place, but then a kind young Kurdish couple picked me up, Mustafa and Gamze. Gamze was spellbinding, a raven-haired beauty with olive skin, full eyebrows and a dazzling smile. They squeezed me into the back seat next to a plastic bag bursting with colorful, interesting-looking lingerie until Gamze noticed it and became embarrassed, quickly snatching it away and tucking it under some other bags.
     They were not only going to Datca, but 20km further west to Palamutbuku, which is supposed to be the most beautiful place on the peninsula, so I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. This is why you pack light, why you…
palamutbuku feet

     In Palamutbuku I sat at the end of a pier like a Turk, voraciously eating sunflower seeds while dipping my feet in the brilliant Aegean Sea. The water was crystal clear perfect, if a tad chilly. Well, I found it chilly. A Central European would find it very pleasant and a Norwegian would be scalded with third degree burns.

     The receptionist at my pension in Datca was impressed when I told him I hitchhiked everywhere, but his mood darkened when I told him a Kurdish couple took me. He went off on the Kurds, saying, “They do all the bad jobs: sell drugs—any mafia business…all crime!”
     He went on. I patiently listened. I proposed that maybe it would be better if the Kurds had their own country, a Kurdistan in the southeast where they are a majority. He shook his head. “No, they are too smart. They don’t want to be independent. They get everything free from the government: housing, school—they get everything! They don’t pay taxes!”
datca sunset beach

     Cheesy yet quaint scene at one of Datca’s small beaches.

turkish breakfast

     When Mustafa and Gamze took me the second time, they invited me to a Turkish breakfast at a pretty place by a river with ducks and eels, both fighting for food thrown their way. The quality of the food was impressive. I don’t even eat tomatoes at home, but here they have a full taste, just like the honey—and how did I manage to exclude the sublime tahini from this photo?

blue lagoon sign

     A photo of a photo of the Blue Lagoon is more dramatic than being on the ground, but it’s a beautiful spot ringed by mountains and the water incredibly clear. What a location! Now how can I get rid of all the people?
     I hitchhiked in the dark from Oludeniz back to Fethiye with a guy who said he was a technician. I told him I was swimming at the Blue Lagoon and he said that’s where he is a technician, to keep it clean, I presume. It was amazingly clean and clear, just like Palamutbuku, but tons of people use the water, so how can that be? Communication between us was too hard to pursue this.

oludeniz sunset

     Oludeniz sunset

oludeniz town

     The mean streets of downtown Oludeniz. Every other restaurant touts their “full Scottish breakfast” as scads of British are about, engrossed in their beers and Rugby World Cup. The British are unrivaled masters in drinking and sports commentary.


     Had to do a double-take when I saw “Harrools” of Oludeniz.

vegas oludeniz

     Oludeniz might have an identity crisis.

     Sirin Pension in Fethiye was only 10 euros for a room including breakfast.
     In Datca I got a room at Thetis Pension for 40 lira (US$13), as reasonable as I could find. Well, I found it reasonable. A Central European would find it a bargain and a Norwegian would book the whole hotel just because they could.
     In Izmir I stayed at an Airbnb place for $11, a great deal. Airbnb sends an email before your visit encouraging you to get to know your host, but often that is the last thing I want to do. If I want to get to know my host, I use Couchsurfing. I feel zero responsibility to hang out with my host, unlike CS. If we have a nice conversation and get along, that’s great, but I have no obligation to make time to socialize. That said, I always chat with my hosts, if they are in the mood.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Deep Diving into Turkish Mass Tourism

     Turkey was a last-minute impulsion. I bought a ticket to Izmir on the Aegean Coast only the day before I flew out. I figured I would visit Ephesus and then improvise everything else, which is my modus operandi anyway. My idea was to visit all the places on the Aegean Coast I have heard about, but when I saw the first, Kusadasi, I was so repulsed by the crowds, the congestion, and every business catering to tourists that I had to rethink everything, a challenge for my feeble brain.
     I’m surprised how busy southwestern Turkey is. Apparently the season peeters out at the end of the month, so for now the climate is perfect, just on the hot side of warm, and the exchange rate pretty juicy for us white-trash Americans, three lira to the dollar.

genuine fake

     I paid with a genuine fake 20 euro note. I figured they wouldn’t mind.


     Ephesus, some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. Elton John once played to 25,000 people here before the government realized huge crowds were ruining the ruins.

     When I got off the train near Ephesus in Selcuk a man approached me and asked if I needed a place to stay. I am all about following strangers to their homes, so I let him drive me to his place in the middle of town where I had my own room for 25 lira, about $8.40.
     I am becoming a fan of, especially for cheap last-minute hotels. It must be a godsend to those out-of-the-way hotels that can’t count on foot traffic. I could do without all the bogus pop-ups: “Only one room left at this price!” and “8 people are looking at this property!” and “This is the lowest price we have seen in the last 40 days!”
     When I checked in at Blue Lagoon Hotel in Marmaris, I found out that I really was getting the last room, and somehow it was a suite with a view. 11 euros. You can’t get a dorm bed for less. The Blue Lagoon attracts a rough crowd, though, almost all British. The fact a tattoo shop sits in the middle of the lobby is an unmistakable sign.
     The only reason I had a hotel is because my Airbnb host was incomunicado. I booked, I emailed, I messaged, I called, I went, but I didn’t have a street number and I gave up. I emailed airbnb about it, and they were predictably slow to respond, leaving me flailing in the wind. I fumed about all these companies that don’t spend two cents on customer service, whose self-help FAQs on their websites are woefully inadequate, that claim they are merely the marketplace and you are on your own, but to my surprise the next day they refunded my payment and gave me a $50 voucher, good for one year. Kudos to you, Airbnb.
     After Kusadasi it was nice to see the natural beauty surrounding Marmaris, but the problem with Marmaris being such a tourist haven is that as you go away from the center, you lose all chance to live like locals do, meaning there is no place where normal Turkish people would eat. Nowhere. I ended up having stale borek from a supermarket. I am always on the lookout for lokantasi (cafeteria) food: white beans or chickpeas in sauce, bulgur, pilav, manti (small ravioli), lentil soup—that’s what my Turkish grandmother would always make for me if I had a Turkish grandmother.
lokantasi food

     White beans, pilav, lentil soup, eggplant, and ayran, a watery yogurt drink, all for 8 lira, about $2.75.


     Sinigang?! Adobo is a common Filipino food, but I have never seen sinigang (a kind of soup) outside the Philippines, and why in Kusadasi? Filipino sailors? Can’t be. Mysterious.


     Look at Marmaris laying down the law! Meanwhile, kids on motorbikes zoom around without helmets while yapping on their cell phones, but you putter about town in your “ginger” and you will face the wrath of Marmaris!

marmaris chairs

     This looks like a setup for a Monty Python skit.

salty skin

     This is what my skin looks like when I come out of the sea and also out of the shower in Turkey.

turkish bus cart

     Two things I had never seen on a bus: a beverage and snack trolley cart normally only seen on airplanes…

turkish bus screen

     …and a rear-seat TV screen, normally only seen on airplanes, though the internet was lacking. I like the movie genre on the lower right: “Fear and Tension!”

     That was the first and last time I took a bus. I hitchhiked thereafter, and in the next blog post you will see the beautiful girl who picked me up (with her boyfriend, but still.) In fact, the next blog post will be more entertaining than this one. Apologies.
     I flew from Berlin to Izmir for 145 euros one way on Sun Express. If I had waited two more days, it was 99 euros, but I had to get out of Dodge.
     For Americans a Turkish visa is $20 if you prepay online or $30 if you show up without it. When I checked in for the flight, the agent asked to see it, but didn’t ask about an onward ticket.
     If you are going to Ephesus, you can take a train straight from the airport to Selcuk, avoiding the Izmir town altogether. The only downside is you will likely have to stand for the whole hour it takes.
fethiye sunset


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Living in Auspicious Times in Berlin, Germany

     Before we get started:

     “…tiny Djibouti said this month it would revamp its previously bankrupt national carrier. The new Air Djibouti will be managed by Iron Maiden rock singer Bruce Dickinson.” (Source: Reuters.)

     Air Djibouti’s new slogan should be “Where every departure is two minutes to midnight.” The last time I saw Bruce Dickinson I got hit in the head with a bottle outside of an Iron Maiden concert. I was taken to the hospital, got five stitches, and then convinced the nurse to drive me back to the show. Even the most hardcore of metalheads kept their distance from the freak in the bloody head bandage and yellow t-shirt with red splotches all over it.
     But I’m not here to talk about me. Oh, wait, this whole website is about me. Anyway, I was in Berlin for the 25th anniversary of the reunification between East and West Germany, a touchier subject among eastern Germans than you might guess. I was in East Berlin twice during the good old days of separation, so I have a long history with it. Nonetheless, is there any argument that Berlin is the most compelling city in Europe? Please let me know if I am mistaken.

hot sheeps cheese

     Right in front of the Brandenburg Gate they put on an all-day show, but this photo is just an excuse to show the “Hot Sheep Cheese” stand, the white tent on the right, which must be the only thing all Germans can agree upon since it was the food closest to the stage.

german langos

     Greasy Hungarian food was well represented on German reunification day. I stopped counting the langos stands after four. All it takes is one heavy Hungarian langos and you can barely move. Hungarian food as crowd control! Genius.

reichstag show

     A short walk away from Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag (Parliament building) where there was another show, but here the police barriers were in full force to keep people at a distance. From a choir. Once those German choir aficionados start feeling it, the mosh pit can get out of hand quickly.

ai weiwei

     In Berlin there was a spotting of Ai Weiwei, and when he got up from his group two of us formed an elaborate pincer movement to corner him. We then had a host of camera problems, but he was good-natured about it. Unfortunately, the distraction meant that others then came over wanting photos. Being famous must be awful because of people like me.

paddy drums

     This is Paddy from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who intends to travel the world playing frying pans and buckets. He was fantastic, a blur of intensity. In a perfect world I would have video here instead, but that perfect world is coming.

mother angela

Mother Angela Merkel, savior of the Syrians…and Iraqis…and Afghanis…and Eritreans…and…

arbeit macht frei

     Arbeit macht frei. (Work will make you free.) I visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp just north of Berlin. Everyone should visit a concentration camp while in Europe, no matter how you know you will feel when it’s over. I’ve been to Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen multiple times. If you are only going to one, though, it has to be Auschwitz.

german burrito

     I saw the Dolores Burrito shop in Wittenbergplatz and I flinched. Normally I am a Mexican food and sushi snob and refuse to eat them outside of their original domain, but I made an exception. Can we say now that burritos are more American than Mexican, and certainly more prevalent? Burritos are to California what doner kebab is to Germany and chicken tikka masala is to England.
     When I walked inside and saw that indeed they meant Dolores St. with a huge map of San Francisco on the wall, I couldn’t resist. Yes, I did have a lime cilantro soy meat burrito. Born and raised in Northern California!

     Don’t put chipotle mayo on a burrito.
     A private room on Airbnb can cost the same as a dorm bed in Berlin, but few such people let you book immediately, and for a last-minute person like me, the wait for someone to approve my stay took too long. I ended up at Hotel Big Mama, a hostel near Osloer Strasse, which is perfect if you fly into Tegel Airport as the 128 bus ends right there.
     On the other hand, it almost makes no difference cost-wise where you stay in Berlin since it is likely you are going to buy the 6.90 euro day pass instead of paying 2.70 euros for single tickets. (Going to Sachsenhausen costs a little more.) Berlin is too spread out to do that much walking.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Hitchhiking in Bulgaria to a Sunny Hell

ahtopol flower


     Hitchhiking has always been my favorite way of meeting local people. I hitchhiked every day on the Black Sea coast, sometimes out of necessity since buses can be few in low season. Since I am, um, less than fluent in Bulgarian, I’ve had to use a melange of languages to communicate with drivers, none of which I claim to speak, but hitchhiking is a privilege and I am happy to try anything, so I have been dredging up snippets of Swedish, French and often Russian.
     The only time hitchhiking was a struggle was getting around Burgas and as a last resort I velcroed my USA flag on my backpack. It’s a western European technique I use that I wasn’t keen on replicating here, and it worked, but then I forgot to take it off and the next driver was a burly, sneering Russian on vacation with his girlfriend.
     “I no like America,” he started. He wasn’t smiling, as some do when they say this—and plenty of people say this.
     Oh boy, here we go, I thought.
     “America,” he began again, but couldn’t find the words so he made a throat-slashing gesture. “Always war.”
     He asked about the elections next year. I tried to convey that I didn’t like anyone running. He opined, “Clinton is…” and again paused to search through his vocabulary, “…crazy chick.”
bohemi hotel

     I was curious what a Bulgarian holiday resort was like, and I got a last-minute deal that put me on the middle of the top floor here at the Bohemi Hotel in Sunny Beach on the Black Sea Coast, 35km north of Burgas.

     Sunny Beach is spectacularly awful, the true Las Vegas of Bulgaria. However, I had a nice room, modern, centrally located with a big bed, shower, toilet, toilet seat, toilet paper, towel, TV, aircon, AND buffet breakfast for 20 lev, which is $11.50. Thank you,, for letting me reserve without a credit card, too. (Alas, weak wifi. Serpents in paradise, friends. Serpents in paradise.)
     When I arrived, however, I encountered something I hadn’t planned on: packs of loud British lager louts on holiday. They dominated the bar in the lobby, a swarm of them flirting with the bartender who looked like she had three acre-feet of makeup on her kabuki face. I thought a top floor room would insulate me from the rabble-rousers, but I was wrong. Drinking British are a more formidable presence than Chinese tour groups, and a gang of drunk British women is sheer terror.
bohemi view

     The view from the Bohemi. From here it doesn’t look bad, but go a little farther to the see the soullessness up close. It’s perhaps the only town in Bulgaria that feels like an artificial construct to cater to cheap tourists, so it’s a parade of noisy bars, sex shops, tattoo parlors and carnival food. The beach is churned up and worn with too many umbrellas, paid areas and commotion. Why did I leave my pristine Veleka Beach in Sinemorets again?

nessebar house

     Oddly juxtaposed at the end of Sunny Beach is UNESCO-protected Nessebar with its cozy streets and traditional wood-on-stone houses.

     If a Bulgarian asks for my name, I like to say it is Emil Kostadinov or maybe Yordan Letchkov, which always gets a smile. Who are they? Come on, let’s relive the best of the 1994 soccer World Cup in two short video clips! (This will be painless, I promise.) The first is this 13-second link to Letchkov’s spectacular header against mighty Germany, so out of the blue, that Letchkov became an instant hero that lasted for years, or at least until he was embroiled in numerous corruption scandals as mayor of his hometown.
     This second video is so good. It’s the last thirty seconds of France vs. Bulgaria, the final day of qualifying for the World Cup. All France had to do was sit on the ball and they were going through, but David Ginola lofted a dumb cross from the corner, and a ten seconds later Luboslav Penev made a perfect pass to Emil Kostadinov, which is below. (As only the British can do well, there is an engrossing back story to the day’s events. Penev and Kostadinov had to sneak across the French border before the match because the Bulgarian football federation forgot to apply for their visas.)
     The result was that Bulgaria qualified for the World Cup at France’s expense. The French commentary in the video adds to “la cauchemar” (the nightmare) as you see written on the bottom. I was watching this live on TV in Hungary with Peter Nagy in his home. A family member or two might have awoken in my celebration on a school night, but they still invite me back.

     These are some Bulgarian websites a friend recommended to find a cheap private room or hotel room. What I like is that they give complete info about the place and you can contact them yourself. (It is better to use the Bulgarian version and use Google Translate because the English version,, doesn’t have a way to sort by price.)
backpack lock trick

     This might be considered extreme since I had my own room with my own key, but in Sunny Beach I locked the zippers of my backpack to the TV cord. I always lock the zippers of my backpack in dorms and even airbnb places, too, since you don’t always know who is coming and going.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Bulgaria Needs a New Name

     Hello from Bulgaria! I thought I knew a thing or two about Bulgaria as I have been here once before, but it is my first time on the Black Sea coast and it is a revelation—in mid-September, I should add, as my timing is perfect. I had no idea how attractive the beaches were, how mellow the people are, and the grapes and wild figs are at the peak of their ripeness.
     I also didn’t know that the Cyrillic alphabet comes from Bulgaria. POP QUIZ QUESTION! How many countries use Cyrillic as their primary alphabet? Answer at the bottom.

fish and chicks

     This is one of the first signs you see when you enter Ahtopol, 70km south of Burgas. I would have named the restaurant “Fish and Chicks.” Thank you! Thank you! I’m here all week!

     For a region that is developed, the coast southeast of Burgas has a nice, raw feeling to it. There are concentrated centers, but it’s easy to get out to quieter beaches. Now all the beaches are quiet. In the towns when I do come across tourists, I hear very few western languages. Even in high season I don’t get the feeling westerners dent the numbers of Bulgarians and Russians that come.
     Why isn’t Bulgaria on everyone’s travel minds? I believe Bulgaria needs to rebrand itself, and the name doesn’t help. “Bulgaria” is not a good name. “Bull”, “Grrrr”, bulgar/vulgar—these all have negative connotations. Since there is no clear reason why the country is named Bulgaria, why not change it to something that will convey a more positive image? I am thinking of a name that evokes the exotic, something enchanting, alluring, attractive. I am thinking “West Thailand”.


     Bulgaria does have one name I like. The money in Bulgaria is the lev and there are 100 stotinki in one lev. Stotinki! Who doesn’t love saying “stotinki”? If I had West Thai kids I would wag my finger at them, “You have to save every stotinki if you want to travel!”
veleka beach

     Isn’t this something? The river comes right to the sea, makes a ninety degree turn to the left, and then another ninety degree turn to the right before emptying into the Black Sea. This is Veleka Beach, a wonderful spot in Sinemorets, which is about ten miles (16km) from the (closed) border with Turkey. The farther down the spit of sand you go, the more clothing optional it is. The river is a titch warmer than the sea.

     For some inexplicable reason the season is considered completely over by now, mid-September. It’s a three-month period where everything is at capacity, and then the rest of the year it all sits idle save for a few basic shops for oldsters who have nowhere else to go. My timing is perfect, but I don’t understand as it’s still warm and will be for quite a while longer. What else matters? Where is everybody? It’s 23C (73F) every day. Nights are pleasant. Why do people not come in droves beyond the tiny high season? What am I missing here?
     If someone was writing a book, or just wanted a relaxing place to stay for a month, what would be better than Bulgaria in Sept/Oct? I bet you could get a place for a song, next to nothing, and the weather has to be great. Hungary is far to the north and it stays nice and warm until the end of October.
hay sculpture

     Hay sculpture on a bluff above Veleka Beach

fig tree beach

     A friend from Sofia came out to meet me by the sea. We went to her favorite place, Smokinia (Fig Tree) Beach a few kilometers south of Sozopol, which is about 35km south of Burgas. This is another clothing optional beach, which meant a topless girl bartending but also a bottomless madman parading a Soviet flag around and bumming everyone out.
     It was easy to hitchhike back to town. Strange how hitchhiking is so much easier with a girl.

ivy boat

     Sozopol boat covered in ivy.

kent harbor

     Autographed 8 x 10″ glossies available upon request.

cliff photo shoot

     I should have done my photo shoot here. Look at how much junk is on the inside of my lens. I am getting a new camera before the end of the year with neither a kickstarter campaign nor crowdfunding.

varvara grapes

     Grapes and figs, grapes and figs. They’re everywhere, and they are in season! This was in Varvara, a pretty little village just before Ahtopol. It looked like the house was closed for the winter, though I didn’t put much effort into checking as this was right next to the road where I was hitchhiking, and in between cars I would grab a grape. So sweet! I was disappointed when a car stopped to take me.

     If I ever forget the year I was first in Bulgaria I just google “Michael Jackson first concert Bucharest” because I hitchhiked from the Hungary/Romania border in a truck with one of Michael Jackson’s roadies, a British guy who was eager to unload quickly as he said he wanted to “perv myself silly tonight”. (The British are nothing if not eloquent.) While we waited at the Nagylak/Nadlac border (which used to be an all-time classic free-for-all with every kind of weird thing going on, but then both countries had to go and get all prosperous and law-abiding and join the European Union) he introduced me to another roadie who had a giggly young German girl traveling with him. They had an arrangement where she would “see Europe” in exchange for him having his way with her. He was thrilled with the deal, he winked to me. That seems like forever ago as it’s almost unimaginable to me that a German girl would make such a deal today.
     Every border on that trip was memorable. At the Romanian/Bulgarian border at Giurgiu I was stuck as they wouldn’t let me walk over the Danube, but then an American woman on her own in a van materialized out of thin air and took me all the way to Veliko Tarnovo, my destination. While walking across the Bulgarian/Turkish border, a man came racing in front of me to take a bunch of photos of my face and then he ran away again. At the Turkish/Syrian border I saw numerous people stuck in no man’s land between borders in a dusty hell.
     On and on. I was pickpocketed in Istanbul. I went to the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan at 5am to watch the Presidential election results on TV. However, the coup de grace was the Israelis destroying all my film from the entire trip because I had been in Syria, among other things. Fall 1992 was easily a Top 5 unforgettable trip.
airbnb trick

     Look at this crap from Airbnb. This creative math happens because the person who makes the listing doesn’t do it in dollars, and Airbnb refuses to quote in fractions, so they conveniently round up. Airbnb is growing on me fast, but this kind of thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I hope they find the nickel and diming lucrative enough to counter the resentment.

     I stayed at an airbnb place in Sarafovo, which is literally five minutes walk from the Burgas airport, and yet I never heard the airport once. Sarafovo, like nearly all the coastal towns, is very sleepy, yet has a pleasant charm in this still-warm weather.
     In Ahtopol I stayed at Villa Jani Ahtopol on ulitsa Yana #8 (tel 0889-682889 and 089-7377151). 15 lev ($8.65) for a room with 2 beds, TV, shower, fridge, sea view and the woman even washed my clothes for free when I asked if there was a place to do it.
     I flew here for only $106 on Aeroflot one way from St. Petersburg and felt pretty good about it, but saw there were even cheaper deals to be had since the season is almost over. looks interesting, though you have to go to the Russian version to see those deals, while the English version looks westward.
     Upon arriving in an unfamiliar country I ask the same question: can I drink the tap water? Sometimes people get a little offended, as if the question is really if I am in a banana republic. In Bulgaria everyone answers differently than the person before, and everyone is adamant, so I don’t take the chance.
     WARNING! There is a drink called boza that is disgusting. It tastes like the juice from a can of pinto beans that has been sitting out in the sun for days and is beginning to go sour.
     POP QUIZ ANSWER: Eleven countries use Cyrillic as their primary alphabet: Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.
veleka beach horse

     One last photo from Veleka Beach.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Suzdal, Vladimir and Life Lessons Learned in Russia

redhead on bus

     In Vladimir I met up with a friend with bright red hair—but this isn’t her. This is a girl on a bus. Who knew Russia had so many striking redheads? Someone please tell me there is nothing creepy about taking a photo of a girl’s hair on the bus. Someone? Anyone? Hello? Would 100 rubles help?

     When I alighted from the train at Vladimir, 190km (120 miles) east of Moscow, I saw the Trans Siberian train on the platform next to mine and stopped in my tracks. I stood still as others passed around me and considered my urge to jump on it. Go East, Young Man! Oh, how delicious that would be! East! Kazan! Yekaterinburg! Irkutsk! Khabarovsk! Vladivostok! Vladivostok, one of those cities I have never been but have long desired to go along with the likes of Tehran, Montreal, Philadelphia, Minsk, and fifteen places in Central Asia. But nooooooo! Russia doesn’t want punks like me running around their country. Thirty-day visas, pffft! They offer multiple entry visas like they are doing me a favor. When I am in Khabarovsk, what am I supposed to do, nip over to North Korea and back to continue my journey? Please.
vladimir church

     Vladimir’s Cathedral of the Assumption

     Suzdal is a peach of a town with a fantastic atmosphere when the Chinese tour groups dissipate in the afternoon. The best is the sunset out behind the market square on the bluff overlooking the river where a good dozen or so art students paint and sketch in the quiet.
     I stayed at Godzilla’s Hostel (Top 10 dumb name for a hostel) for 700 rubles (US$10). It was two Moscow girls and me in the dorm room. One of them had more tattoos than I have seen on a woman in a long time, and I knew that because she was prancing around in the most minimal of clothing. She said she was from Moscow but she had the classic Central Asian full moon face that I love.
     At 2am I had to yell at them for being loud. I have a short fuse in hostels now. I don’t care what you’re not wearing. The worst of my wrath is reserved for the inbreds who have loud keypad tones when they text in the middle of the night. Why does anyone even need a keypad tone? Why is it on as a default? Are there people on this planet who don’t find that incredibly annoying? What is going on?
     A slightly milder version of my intense noisy gadget hatred is reserved for people with digital cameras that make a loud, non-digital, old school camera shutter sound when taking a photo. Why oh why does anyone need a sound at all, much less that sound? Are people suppose to feel soothed or reassured? Who are these people? I need names!
     What was I talking about? Oh, the hostel is the only one in the village, and in a good location. Great facilities.
suzdal fake cows

     The fake cows of Suzdal heading toward what I believe to be a real river.

suzdal river

     Yes, a real river.

     When I was Thirty Days Younger Kent Foster, I was nervous about coming to Russia, which is completely absurd and embarrassing that I ever had such a thought. Extrapolating that, if you think about it, if I, Grandmaster Traveller, had feelings of trepidation about Russia, then how about everyone else, particularly the 99.9% of Americans who have never set foot in Russia?
     When you know precious little about a place and stay in an enclosed environment where the information you get that informs your opinions about other people and countries is from dubious sources, you can easily become enveloped in a myopic viewpoint based on fear and exaggerated threats. This is the essence of travel at its best: if you spend a little time in a country and develop even just a small understanding of it, you are less likely to have hostile feelings toward it.
     Some of us Americans claim that if any of our warmongering presidents had ever backpacked, at a minimum we would at least be more circumspect about our actions. It may be simplistic and naive, and backpacking itself hardly makes me a peacenik as I can think of a few guest house owners and taxi drivers I’d like to drop a drone bomb on, but the point is traveling can—if you allow it and are open to it—enable more positive attitudes, which is no small thing in these days of rigid opinions.
     My god, that was deeeeep! So profound! And I blog for free!
suzdal kremlin

     Inside the Suzdal Kremlin at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Tithing or something like that. I can’t keep track of all these churches.

     I don’t even remember what I was worried about in Russia. I now only think of Russians as being reserved, gentle, kind, helpful people. In fact, as I now remember, all the problems I had last time were in Ukraine. Ukraine and I need to do some fence-mending. It’s been too long since I was there.
In Russia cars stop for pedestrians with an Australian-esque consistency (unlike supposedly uber-civilized Switzerland, where I was lucky to escape without tire tracks up and down my back). On my first day in the country I was struck not only by that but how few people jaywalk. And they don’t do it because of a threat of punishment, they do it as a matter of course.
I have seen watermelons sold for as little as nine rubles a kilogram, which is US six cents a pound, which is a solid building block for paradise. All along the northern highways the side of the road is dotted with parked cars as people go forage in the forest for mushrooms.
When you know only two Russian pop songs, and both are old, it’s exciting to recognize one of them being played in the street.
St. Petersburg has less than half the population of Moscow, but it feels like a huge city. It is a huge city; at five million it has the same population as Finland or Denmark, but the hugeness is dispersed by the endless suburbs. Downtown never goes higher than five floors other than the churches.
     I bought a US$106 ticket on the website of Aeroflot/Rossiya Airlines to go one way from St. Petersburg to Burgas, Bulgaria. That’s a deal for 200 minutes of flight time, if you weren’t sure. With the ruble so weak, it’s a good time to buy things that aren’t adjusted more quickly to the worsening rate.
     Run, don’t walk to Russia, especially at 68 rubles to the dollar.
suzdal house paint

     Seen on the back streets of Suzdal.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

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