Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Pisa to Nice to Monaco

September 22, 2015 - 8:50 am No Comments

At Rome’s Termini station, we got on our Trenitalia (rhymes with “genitalia”) train and chilled out for 4 hours. We all got to know each other a bit, and Nader pulled out his Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey to loosen things up a bit. My iPhone playlist was judged to be weird but good. Except by Maddy, who made some snarky comment about it but later quietly sung along with one of the songs. Outside, we were treated to the Italian countryside with the occasional glimpse of the Mediterranean.

Pisa is a charming little town with the the leaning tower, of course, as the main attraction. After quick pizza lunch, we walked over to the famous tower.

Sausage and Pesto Pizza (more…)

A Moment in St. Mark’s Square

August 28, 2011 - 5:42 pm No Comments

Frank and Alex are continuing on a tour through the rest of Italy with Intrepid, giving them another week in the country. For a while, I thought about changing my plane ticket and joining them, but a girlfriend and work commitments at home prevented me from doing so.

Do Not Get On or Get Off During the Closing (more…)

Berlin in a Day

August 13, 2011 - 1:21 pm No Comments

Just as day started to break on the left side of the plane, the orangey glows of small Normandy towns became visible in the blackness on the right.

What followed was an unbelievably long, borderline criminal walk from the farthest gate in Terminal 2C to the farthest gate in Terminal 2D. Sweating profusely, I got to the gate just in time.

Flying into Berlin, the first things I saw through the hazy gray clouds were the famous TV tower and white apartment buildings of identical design all over the place.

On the bus from the plane to the terminal, I studied the mostly German passengers I had just flown with. They have a look, but it’s hard to pin down. Their most common features are skinny frames and thin lips, but there is a lot of variation. None of the women wear make-up, and many have short hair, making them look a bit masculine. In a juvenile and probably offensive way, I wondered how many of them had fathers or grandfathers who were Nazis. Does that make me an asshole? Or is that a valid stigma German people will battle for generations to come?

Strangely, there was no customs or passport stamp upon entering Germany. Is that because I had just come from Paris, where they did briefly glance at my passport? Once you’re in the EU, you’re in the EU?

The helpful girl at the information desk gave me a map and precise instructions to use the bus and train to get to my hotel.

I was introduced to Berlin through the bus window. Every street sign had a platz or a straße on it (that ß is kind of cool-looking). As instructed, I got off at the Alexanderplatz train station.

Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz (more…)

Going Home

January 17, 2009 - 9:30 am No Comments

From Khao San, we grabbed a taxi to the airport. Forcing the driver to use the meter, it cost us half as much as what we’ve been paying. Finally, we’re getting this down.

We took off from Bangkok in an enormous 747-400, biggest plane in the Air France fleet. It really took some effort to gain some altitude, though, almost like the plane weighed too much. I went right to sleep. Woke up for dinner served with METAL forks and knives. WTF?

The coach seating on these international flights is uncomfortable. No leg room, and you sit so upright that you’re almost leaning forward, making it impossible to sleep since your head is bobbing around like a carnival toy. And those inflatable, U-shaped neck supports that Doug and I have don’t help, since the gap of the U is in front of you and, because you are sitting so upright, your head keeps falling forward. Wearing the neck support backwards prevents your head from falling, but if you have an Adam’s apple like me, you are choked while you sleep. Still not sure if it’s worth the several hundred dollar upgrade to first class, though.

Sitting next to Doug was a young girl from Virginia. They struck up a conversation about the usual stuff like her reason for travel, what she saw, and school. Inevitably, she asked Doug when he graduated. Doug looked at me. We knew that this would be where the conversation ends. When Doug answered “1998,” the girl put her head down and went to sleep. 32 is the new 52.

The flight took us back on roughly the same route, only this time I was awake for a different part of it. Looking out the window, we flew by Odessa, Vienna, and Prague, each a spider of sulfur lights in the blackness.

By the time we got to France, I couldn’t see anything. We descended all the way into Paris without seeing any lights. Heavy fog blanketed the city. Saw the runway lights whizzing by just a moment before touching down.

We’re in Paris for about five hours, not really enough time to really do anything in Paris since a) there’s not really enough time to commute back and forth, b) it’s the middle of the night, and c) I feel like crap.

What I think was probably just a cold intensified by the air pollution of Siem Reap now plagues me with a pounding headache, coldness, and a general malaise (points for using French in France?).

I walked in slow motion to our gate, and we plopped our stuff down. I walked around trying to figure out what I could do to keep warm. My jacket and hat were packed, and it felt drafty wherever I walked. I discovered that the grill on the floor and lining the windows throughout the terminal was producing heat, so I laid down on it, rotating a few times to make sure I was cooked evenly. It was glorious. I just woke up and feel much better.

We’re about to board our last leg home to Washington. Sitting on the grill are two “arroy ma” flight attendants waiting to board the same flight. Air France knows how to recruit.

One Night in Bangkok

December 29, 2008 - 5:03 pm No Comments

On the night of December 27, I went to Doug’s place, where one of his friends was waiting to take us to the airport. Our big trip had a bit of a rough start when, halfway to the airport, I realized that I had left my brand new iPhone on the trunk of my car. I insisted we go back to Doug’s place to get it, so we did, finally getting back to the airport just in time to catch our flight to Paris.

On our Air France flight, coach class was uncomfortably cramped, with seats crammed in about as tightly as you might expect on a domestic flight in the US. The food, surprisingly served with metal forks and knives, was mediocre. But I was most disappointed to find out that the coach seats on the plane did NOT have an outlet for my laptop. One of our flight attendants, though, was absolutely beautiful. She had one of those faces that you just can’t stop staring at. And I did stare, wanting for a moment to sneak a photo of her. Girls get creeped out by that sort of thing, so I didn’t. She hated me.

With no laptop, I had to entertain myself with the in-flight video system. After watching Ghost Town (fantastic since it stars the brilliant Ricky Gervais), I got a bit sleepy and conked out for the remainder of the seven-hour flight. Wonderful, since I usually have a really hard time sleeping on flights. Woke up just in time for the pilot’s horrendous landing Charles de Gaulle Airport. Didn’t even feel like the landing gear was down.

At Charles de Gaulle

We were scheduled for a seven hour layover in Paris, so Doug and I planned to head into town and do a little bit of sightseeing. We caught the affordably priced Air France shuttle bus into town and spent about two hours sightseeing. We had just enough time to circle the Arc de Triomphe, take a brisk walk over to the Eiffel Tower, and pee on the sidewalk. It was frigid outside (right around freezing), and since Doug and I had mostly packed for the warmer temperature of Thailand, our walk was a little uncomfortable.

L'Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Doug and I have both been to Paris before, but on this particular visit, Doug and I agreed that Paris smells like fart. Every time we turned a corner, it smelled like someone had just dropped fresh ass. Walking the streets, I profiled the French: lots of hair, carefree, very little makeup, and pushy. No courtesy when people are lining up for toilets, visiting attractions, or boarding/deboarding a plane or bus. Once again, I tried to be friendly with them, but I was stuck in Peru mode and kept saying “Gracias!” to anyone who helped us out.

We caught the shuttle back to the airport to catch the long flight Bangkok, this one about 11 hours. Again, no laptop, so I watched Tropic Thunder (not bad) before drifting off and getting some quality sleep once again.

Charles de Gaulle Airport

Unfortunately, the flight did not follow the great circle, which would have taken us right over Mt. Everest and might have made a good photo opportunity. Instead, it went around the Himalayas and over India. When I woke up, I cracked the window shade and stared at the blue haze covering the mostly featureless Indian plains and chaotic river systems of Bangladesh before heading out over the Bay of Bengal. A few minutes later, we were descending over the mountain rainforests of Myanmar and landing at Bangkok airport. We were finally here.

Myanmar River System

Suvarnabhumi Airport

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is the coolest airport I have ever been to, with geometrically intricate, glass-covered terminals. After being discourteously pushed by impatient French people trying to get off the plane, we made our way through the terminal, through customs, to an ATM to get some Thai baht, and then outside to catch a public taxi to our guest house. It was warm and humid outside, nice to feel after the freezing temperatures in Paris. And I was feeling fantastic. Despite the lengthy travel time and 12-hour time difference, there was hardly any jet lag.

Confused about the dates and times of our flights out to Bangkok, I screwed up my original reservation for our Bangkok guest house, saying that our arrival date was a day before it really was. Showing up a day late, I was afraid they’d cancel our reservation, but they were cool with us when we showed up. The friendly lady at the front desk offered us a different, slightly more expensive room. We gladly accepted.

We plopped down our bags and headed back out. Since we were only in Bangkok for one and a half days, we knew we had to make the most of our time.

After consulting our travel guides, we decided to head out to the waterfront along the Chao Phraya River, the main waterway through the city. We walked a few blocks and soaked it all in: the hot pink taxis, the beeping horns, the haze from smoky vehicle exhaust, the blind homeless guys singing horrible songs, and all the smells: fried meats on sticks, pork barbecued on miniature charcoal grills, the putrid smell of garbage, vehicle exhaust, and the heavy stench of human feces, all within a few feet.

Bangkok Traffic

We hopped on the Sky Train and then walked a few more blocks before hopping onto a tuk-tuk (TOOK TOOK), a rickshaw-like thing which sounds like sputtering go-kart. Traffic in Bangkok around rush hour is pretty heavy, and squeezing into the back of a tuk-tuk and holding onto dear life while it splits lanes and zips between cars is a definite thrill ride. After arriving, we told our driver “kop koon kup.” It means “thank you,” probably the first thing you should learn how to say when you’re in a foreign country.

Tuk-Tuks & Motorbikes

We got to Phra Athit Road, one of the main streets along the river recommended by one of our guidebooks. It was not what we expected. A woman bowed at our feet as we walked by and then proceeded to piss on the sidewalk after we passed. Monks dressed in robes of highlighter orange shuffled past us. Tuk-tuk drivers stalked us like hungry lions, offering to take us anywhere. There was no communal pier or open areas filled with street performers, and hardly any tourists.

Wat on the Chao Phraya

The only access to the waterfront was through countless narrow alleyways, most of them smelling like shit and dark even during the daytime. After winding our way around for a few minutes, we made it to the rather unscenic waterfront, where the only item of interest seemed to be the majestic Rama VIII Bridge. We walked over to it, snapped a few photos just as the sun was setting, and then waited at one of the service piers for a boat ride down the river. But the boat never came, since it was 6:30pm and the boats stopped running at 6pm.

Sunset on the Chao Phraya

Under Rama VIII

Rama VIII Bridge at Dusk

Hoping to get a few more sweet night photos, we hopped onto another tuk-tuk and headed over to the Grand Palace, only to find that it was closed and surrounded by high walls. A complete bust. While waiting for a tuk-tuk back to the house, Doug and I purchased Cokes in glass bottles from a street vendor, only to see the girl pour them into little plastic bags and add ice and a straw before handing them over to us. Glass bottles are not allowed on the streets of Bangkok.

Determined to get something out of our first day, Doug and I went to get a foot massage down the street from our guest house. The masseuses were anxious to get us in the door, running out to invite us inside as soon as we stopped to scan their signage for pricing. A foot massage is what I really wanted, and it cost 250 baht (US$7) for an hour. But a full body oil massage cost 400 baht (US$11), also for an hour. It didn’t take much convincing for Doug and I to splurge.

The inside of the place was right out of a movie. The innocuous, brightly lit chairs downstairs were visible to the street and were for the foot massages. Doug and I were lead right past them, up some rickety wooden stairs and into a dimly lit room with large “cubicles” made of plywood and a curtain door, Doug into one and me into another. We were told to take all of our clothes off and shower before we started. My masseuse was named May. She was nice. The massage was good.

It was time for dinner and a taste of Bangkok’s legendary nightlife. We decided that our first stop should be Padpong, Bangkok’s “red light” district. We hailed a tuk-tuk driver and hopped in. After hearing that one of the things we wanted to do later that evening was see a ping-pong ball show, our driver made a beeline for one that was completely out of the way but surely made him a commission. We got out, telling our disappointed driver that we weren’t ready to go in and that we wanted to eat first.

We found another tuk-tuk driver who, after hearing that we wanted to see a ping-pong ball show, made a beeline for another one some distance away which surely made him a commission. After making myself excessively clear about our intentions to eat first, he took us to some random seafood restaurant in the middle of nowhere that served very mediocre, very overpriced food. Pen, our tuk-tuk driver, offered to wait outside while we ate so that he could take us back to the ping-pong ball show when we were done.

Doug and I were learning. The best thing to do with these tuk-tuk drivers was to be vague, saying that you wanted to go to a particular neighborhood without mentioning exactly what it was that you wanted to do there so that they can’t sucker you into one of their “recommended” destinations.

After our meal, Pen took us back to the ping-pong ball show. Again, the downstairs looked innocent enough, with brightly colored pleather booths and tables that made the place look more like a foreclosed Denny’s than a place where sex shows are performed. We walked to the counter, paid our admission fee, tipped the guy who shoveled us inside (he stood there with his hand out waiting for it), got our free drinks, tipped the girls who gave us the drinks (they stood there with their hands out waiting for it), and finally went upstairs. The show was something else. Wasn’t sure how to even react to it. What they say about ping pong balls, bananas, razor blades, paper clips, and popping balloons with darts is all true. Four Indian women (one of them covered head to toe) sat in the corner and watched silently.

"Welcome to Bangkok Jeff"

Again, Pen was waiting for us outside after we were done. We told him that we wanted to finally go to Padpong to get a few drinks, so he took us to a bar where several similarly dressed, good-looking Thai girls were chatting on the deck out front. Each one of the girls had a large white button with a large black number clipped to their dress. Doug and I looked at each other and then proceeded to go inside.

The place was empty and again resembled a foreclosed Denny’s. Doug and I looked at each other, not knowing which were the proper emotions to be feeling at this point. We both knew that we were probably getting into something that we didn’t want to do, but we went with the flow. A guy came inside and asked us if we wanted to talk to some girls, reassuring us that it wouldn’t cost anything. What would cost us is if and only if we wanted to take the girls somewhere else. No purchase required, so we went ahead with it. Moments later, all the girls spilled in from outside, and more girls came out from the back, all lining up single file in front of us and smiling. The guy asked us to each pick one to talk to. After taking a moment because I didn’t want to hurt any of their feelings, I picked #24. Doug picked #19.

The girls sat down with us, and everyone else disappeared. Awkward conversation ensued. Doug and I pounded our beers and knew we had to get out of there ASAP. The guy, who in effect was a pimp, asked us if we were ordering another drink or if we wanted to take the girls with us. We declined, and he walked away visibly disappointed.

After insisting to Pen that we did not need to go anywhere that had girls with numbered buttons on their dresses and that we wanted to go to a bar where we could find locals and tourists and have a few drinks, he suggested that we go to the bar next door. Inside, more girls with numbers on their dresses.

Pen said that all the bars in Padpong were like this, so we just told Pen to take us to a dance club in another part of town. So he took us to a place called Oscar.

Oscar was decked out like the cheesiest dance club in America, complete with lasers and smoke machines. The only girls in that place were the ones who worked there. We had a couple of drinks and decided to call it a night.

Before leaving Oscar, I had to use the bathroom. After finishing up my business, a gentleman came up from behind and reached around me with his arms. My asshole seized as it normally does under those circumstances, but it turns out that he worked there (I think) and all he wanted to do was contort me into various positions to crack my neck, back, shoulders and hips. Felt pretty good actually. Worthy of a US$1 tip.

Now, I sit in bed with Dough half-naked, as my late arrival in Bangkok meant that our original reservation, the one with two beds, was canceled. We are sharing a queen bed, which will work fine if Doug promises not to cross the line up the middle.

Our first day in Bangkok was educational to say the least. We have a full day planned tomorrow, as it is our only full day in Bangkok. We have a lot of wats (temples) to visit, more nightlife to experience, and maybe one more massage to squeeze in.

I’m afraid it will be a few days before I get any photos up. I think I’ve got some good ones, but I just haven’t had any time on my computer to get them uploaded. Will try to get a few up soon.

No Regrets!