29 November 2010

Video - China

One month and half in China where we shot these videos:

21 May 2010

Video - Buryatia

Videos from the days we spent in the two villages.

Fights in Buryatian Surharban

Video: Russia

We've done very few videos during the trip, but here they are. First one is in Russia, excluding the two weeks we spent in the villages. It is a long video (nine minutes) representing the long time it takes to cross and enjoy Russia.

17 April 2010

Small world - part 2

This weekend we decided to come to Austria to visit a friend we met in Russia last Summer. Was just 4-hour away from Munich were we are currently having shelter. We took the train and after failing the connection due some mechanical problem, in Bischofshofen (so you can imagine how small was the place) we heard a "Miguel" call from behind. Looked and it was an old university colleague (Jorge Tavares) which I did not see since I end university. He was there with his girlfriend on the way to her parents house.

We start telling the stories of our lifes and Jorge tells that for a year he worked at MIT, in the area of transports. A bell starts ringing in me (we were speaking Portuguese). He add that it was in the Civil Engineering department. The bell starts to be stronger. I ask "did you met Alda?". "Yes..." he answers. "We stayed at her place in Boston, last February!". I add, now in English "and did you met Vladmir, from Sao Paulo?, we also stayed at his place in Sao Paulo". He also knew him.

And we kept talking amazed by this coincidences in a small train station in middle of Austria, while waiting for our connection. Alda was our last minute Couchsurfing host in Massachussets (Boston) for two nights. Vladimir was her friend there, but had returned to Sao Paulo couple weeks before. Alda kindly intruduced him to us by email, so we could also be hosted at his place in Brazil.

11 April 2010

01 April 2010

Next Where: Stop!

We are now sorting the pictures, we will be back soon with a nice slide show.

24 March 2010

A tribute to Couchsurfing.org

It's time to look back on our trip (apart from also looking forward...) and time to write this post that has been in my head for a while now.
By now our regular readers should have heard of Couchsurfing. To cite their website: "CouchSurfing is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit".
And that's exactly what it was for us. Our trip would never have been the same without this wonderful project. Instead of staying in hostels and meeting the same beer-drinking travellers all over the world, we had the chance to meet locals, make friends and experience diverse lifestyles.

Without Couchsurfing, we would never have:
- learned that one can live without a fridge
- learned that one can live without a shower
- experienced the way people in St Petersburg and Moscow go to work every day
- had a bonfire and barbeque while watching the sunset at midnight
- experienced the limitless and unconditional hospitality of Russians
- seen a futuristic electronic housekey in South Korea
- seen Kuala Lumpurs nice sides
- participated in a Capoeira class in Arizona
- cohabited with a little dog with a dress in New Orleans
- walked into the most interesting buildings in downtown Chicago
- had a great time during the snowstorm in Washington
- stayed in a luxurious apartment in Rio
- made friends all around the world that we would like to see again.

Now many of you will ask: but is this SAFE? Well, we stayed with more than 30 people all over the world and yes, it was safe. Of course we didn't connect with everybody in the same way and some people are weird, but we never felt unsafe and all experiences were good and worth remembering.
Now that we are on our way back to a more "normal" life (but what is normal, anyway?) we are looking forward to giving back all this hospitality to other people travelling like we did.

For those who don't know how it works and are curious to know, go to www.couchsurfing.org

23 March 2010

Porto Alegre - Elinka e Alberto

At Porto Alegre we had Elinka and Alberto. She is a singer and musical consultant, he studied history but works as a computer programmer. Elinka during whole time she hosted us - four days - had to do a blog presenting a musical group. The whole time she spoke with us and on the phone and little did, even going to bed at 6am. They live not far from the center on the third and last floor of a building not very taken care of. Even if living together already for some time, they had several boxes around. At the lobby they had two TV sets which didn't work very well. The lobby connected to a long corridor with doors for four rooms, bathroom and passageway to the kitchen. Our room is the most organized: there is a sofa-bed to which Elinka added two wood pads and an extra mattress to make a real bed. In one of the rooms - the dining room - Elinka gives classes of voice and singing. In another room - the office - there was a desktop and two laptops on just two tables and lots of pandemonium. Their room is also a mess of clothes. The bathrooms has hot water in the shower, which is a box (like in São Paulo and Curitiba). The flush doesn't wok the first days, being necessary to manually lift the rubber in the water container. Also the ceiling light doesn't work and the only working light is necessary to turn on over a high closet. The kitchen was another disarray: lots of dishes and cutlery going around. When we arrive there is a huge pile of dishes to wash. For the rest of the days we don't give opportunity to repeat the situation. Finally, the washing machine leaks in the front, water that they collect in a basin not big enough for the amount of water coming out.

They have two cats - Lord and Prince - which made their business in their boxes by the kitchen every morning while we have breakfast.

Elinka and Alberto take us out couple of times and, even with all the mess, we are feeling well at their place. Of course they do not have a cleaning lady. They also do not have a car.

Ticket to our next stop

It took an hour and a half to get it printed at the travel agency!

18 March 2010

When a decision becomes an indecision...

It's sunny outside, warm, the beach is close. We are supposed to leave to Porto Alegre, our host is sleeping. We feel that we will regret moving away from here, at least while the weather is like this. But we decided, we are finishing this trip, put the final dot on going around.

Yesterday we showed some pictures to our host. We will repeat this process several times from our return. First to select the pictures, then to show them. We will again regret having decided to dot the sentence. But maybe is only a semi-colon. Hopefully so.

You always envy the life of the others. He took a boat from there to there, he plans to spend Easter there. The other got a indefinite contract elsewhere and we, we are here putting the final dot on a trip, going back to unknown settlement. Making our radius of movement decreasing to couple thousand kilometers. Well, it is not so bad. We'll be back to friends and family. We'll be back to dreaming about our nextstop.

Now, Porto Alegre.

17 March 2010

Internet at the beach

This was one of the beaches we visited in Ilha de Santa Catarina, called Matador. We bet everyone was surfing the internet there.

16 March 2010

Laziness by the beach before an end

We are in Florianópolis, South of Brazil. Couchsurfing in a big house, 10 minutes by foot from a waved see with the right temperature, neither hot that does not refresh, neither cold that makes it hard to get in. During the day we have the big house for us, there is shadow and breeze in the porch, right for reading while the sun is too strong to make it in the beach.

There's a computer with internet, but no mouse, taken by our host to use with her computer. In Brazil many things do not have explanation. They are just like that. Like on Sunday night when we were cooking and we run out of gas. Is just a no-problem, we phone and they deliver in 10 minutes. But no way to buy an extra bottle.

We are in Brazil and thinking the same way. We should move South, to Porto Alegre, but so far we are looking for a couch. For tomorrow, but here is so good that we will postpone to the day after our departure.

Our trip is near an end. Our head does not allow any more different beds to sleep, find timetables, find bus, find way home, find bed, find food, find what to do, find where to go. Our body does not want anymore to be seated 5 or more hours in a bus, adapt to a new bed, a new pillow. Is time to go home. Where's home? There is no home. Where will be home is a question that keeps us. What will be our new job. Looking for a job. No, we stay travelling. But then travelling would be no more than an escape of looking for a job, for a home.

There is no other sense now on traveling more, we need to find a ticket to Europe. Soon. This is the end.

Florianólis, Patricia and her two children

In Florianópolis the house is in Campeche, only five minutes by foot to the beach in a area of detached houses. Patrícia lives with her two children and a german shepherd in the garden. The children are 14 and 16years old and students. The younger one also plays videogames while the older one works. Patrícia is event organizer but she doesn't like the company where she is working. She is 45 years-old and not long ago she did her first solo trip to Patagonia. Her car is a Fiat. The house has two floors, with a open area on the ground floor with the dining room, living room, kitchen and a office in one of the corners. On the first floor, after climbing a cement staircase without handrail, there is Patrícia's room, the children room with two single beds and a bathroom. We sleep in the room of Vitor and Pedro and we use a bathroom on the ground floor. Again, hot water only in the showers. The kids sleep in the living room and use the bathroom upstairs.
There are few kitchen utensils and only a small frying pan where we prepare the onions and potatoes for the "bacalhau com natas". The gas stove runs out of gas while we cook, Sunday night. A short phone call and in less than ten minutes there is a motorbike arriving with a new bottle of gas. But in Brazil we never buy an extra bottle, in case.
Patrícia lends us two very shaky bicycles we use only once to go to the supermarket. She take us to visit semi-desert beaches like Matador or Lagoinha de Leste.

13 March 2010

Bacalhau com Natas

One of the things we cooked around the world was, when we find it (very seldom), bacalhau com natas. Portuguese recipe, but everyone seems to like it.

Shredded salted codfish (150g pp)
2 onions
6 potatoes
4 + 2 tablespoons butter
250ml cream
500ml milk
1 tablespoon flour
mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper

Cook the cod in boiling water, strain and rinse
Fry potatoes in butter, sliced thin
Fry onion in 4 tablespoons butter
Melt 2 tablespoons butter, add flour, milk and seasoning to make a béchamel sauce
Add half the cream to the sauce still on the stove and the rest at the end
In a oven pan - layer potatoes, cod, onion
Pour the sauce and bake for 30minutes

10 March 2010

Curitiba, Milana and Dalmo

Milana and Dalmo are our hosts in Curitiba. Both journalists and studying for public worker examinations, in order to have a more stable future. They live not far from the center, walking distance from the "eye" of Niemeyer. Their large apartment is on the fifth floor on a quite recent building. The living with two sofas and a TV, a bar dividing the space of with the kitchen. There are three rooms, one of them transformed into a office, a toilet and a bathroom. Is the first apartment in Brazil we sleep with hot water plumbing, warmed by a boiler in the kitchen. Our room had a single bed and an extra mattress, which I use to sleep on the floor. The "office" is mostly used to hang the clothes to dry. They have a car, a Fiat, and a cleaning lady once a week.

08 March 2010

Le Brésil
Riche et Pauvre
Blanc et Noir
Ceux qui ont de l'argent doivent s'enfermer derrière des murs et des grilles, faire garder leurs maisons par des gardiens.
Les employées de maison - Noires, les patrons - Blancs.
Les employées de maison sont priées d'utiliser la porte latérale.
Le Pauvre montre un couteau et demande de l'argent, alors le Riche a peur du pauvre et doit s'enfermer encore plus.
Et il renvoie le Pauvre dans sa favela, loin du quartier où habite le Riche.

Les enfants des Riches vont dans les écoles des Riches, les enfants des Pauvres vont dans les écoles des Pauvres.
Et le cercle continue pour toujours.
Ou pas?...

07 March 2010

Problem solving - Brazilian way

Rio de Janeiro still has a tram - a very old one, called Bonde, that goes to the historic district of Santa Teresa. It's mostly used by tourists but we took it anyway. It rides up the steep hills, around curves, and has to stop from time to time and the driver has to step off and fix something with some big iron tool. But then there was a car parked and the tram couldn't pass, just because of a couple of centimeters. The driver rang his bell for some time, without effect. Then somebody got off the tram and hit the car, hoping this would set off the car alarm (but it didn't). The driver continued ringing the bell and somebody entertained the passengers by suggesting the tram pass over the car. Fifteen minutes passed without appearance of the car owner. The tram driver phoned someone (I guess the traffic police or so), until somebody had a brilliant idea: to rock the car until it would move the 2 or 3 centimeters it took to make space. All the men instantly jumped from the tram with a big "wooohooo!" and started rocking the car to and fro. In less than two minutes the problem was solved, the car moved a few centimeters down the hill, it was out of the way and the Bonde moved on through Santa Teresa.

Sao Paulo - Vlad e Vanessa

Alda from Boston introduced us to Vanessa and Vlad by email. Vanessa is accountant at C&A and Vlad is teacher of economics in a university. The apartment is at the city center, close to the university where Vlad teaches. On the 18th and last floor (in Brazil we always stay on the top floor) of a building with four apartments per floor. Downstairs it is necessary to cross two gates before crossing a security guard and continue to the elevators. Like in Rio de Janeiro. The apartment is small. The lobby is the living room. There is a small kitchen, a room and an office, where we sleep. The shower, like everywhere else in Brazil, warms the water electrically over our head. All other taps only serve cold water. The simple washing machine washes with at cold. We sleep in a air mattress. There are three cats - Bolacha, Biscoito and another one. They have a car, a renault clio.

06 March 2010

The Sheep Keeper

I'm a keeper of sheep.
The sheep are my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.

To think a flower is to see it and smell it
And to eat a fruit is to taste its meaning.

That's why on a hot day
When I ache from enjoying it so much,
And stretch out on the grass,
Closing my warm eyes,
I feel my whole body lying full length in reality,
I know the truth and I'm happy.

Sou um guardador de rebanhos.
O rebanho é os meus pensamentos
E os meus pensamentos são todos sensações.
Penso com os olhos e com os ouvidos
E com as mãos e os pés
E com o nariz e a boca.

Pensar uma flor é vê-la e cheirá-la
E comer um fruto é saber-lhe o sentido.

Por isso quando num dia de calor
Me sinto triste de gozá-lo tanto,
E me deito ao comprido na erva,
E fecho os olhos quentes,
Sinto todo o meu corpo deitado na realidade,
Sei a verdade e sou feliz.

Alberto Caeiro - O Guardador de Rebanhos

Alberto Caeiro

Mobile network in Brazil - a story

Like in several other countries we bought a SIM card to our mobile phone here in Brazil. Arrived to the airport in Belo Horizonte we asked a shop keeper where to buy and which network he recommended. We got a chip from Vivo.

We tried to call. Not possible, it was necessary to register the SIM card first. When tried, they asked for the "CPF".

Once we were with Lorenza, she phoned the hotline and managed to register the phone with her "CPF", which is the identity card number in Brazil. This already means no tourist can register on himself the SIM card. We try to call. No luck. Lorenza phones the hotline again and it seems that to buy the chip which includes 10reais in money is not enough, you need to buy extra credit.

We go to a kiosk and get the credit. The phone works now. A call costs 1.50reais, about 0.65euros.

Couple days pass, we go to Rio de Janeiro and the sim card does not work anymore. We go to a shop and they say to call the hotline from the phone inside the shop. In the hotline they say the phone is not registered. I say that it is, that we got already some credit in it and did some calls. The lady in the hotline asks me to call some assistant in the shop. The assistant is clever. Aleluia. She says that the problem is the phone, that only quad-band phones work with Vivo in Rio de Janeiro. She was right.

Next day we needed to buy more credit. To receive a phone call in Rio de Janeiro costs 1.30euros the 1st minute, plus 0.65euros the extra-minutes! This with a Brazilian sim card. We go to a kiosk but the machine to charge says our number is not valid. We go back to the Vivo shop. There is a guy selling paper cards for charging the phone. The Vivo shops are always super busy. He says that as our chip is from a different state, only cards sold in the shop work.

We travel more, arrive to São Paulo, we need more credit (would be cheaper for us to use our foreign mobile phones). We go directly to a Vivo shop, they sold us the magic card but it does not work, says again "invalid mobile phone number". The lady says again: "Yes, there's a problem with chips bought in Minas Gerais, we cannot put money on them here"... How can we do? Then she gives us back the money and says: "Well, if you go to the other side of the road, to the lottery shop, there they can put money on your sim card". And she was right, the official Vivo shop cannot put money on their own sim cards, but the lottery shop can!

Already in Minas Gerais we inquired other operator to see if things would be easier. First to go and she said that in their official shop they do not sell their own sim cards, one needs to go to a kiosk. We inquired about prices, state roaming. Five minutes later we come back with other question about prices and another seller says completely different from the first. We gave up.

The only advantage of having a Brazilian sim card is that internet access on the mobile phone is very cheap and that we would be able to receive sms from any Brazilian operator without problems. Even if in Brazil people do not seem so much fun of sms.

03 March 2010

Rio de Janeiro, the ghost Xiopan

Rio couchsurfing experience is bizarre. We are received by the house maid who take us to an apartment style loft, fully equiped where we stay. On the floor there is the air matress with satin bedsheets, silver color and brand 'playboy'. In the kitchen there is all kind of food for breakfast, except fruits. "I'll get them tomorrow" says the maid, "you don't need to buy anything". Her name is Lena and is a small women. The apartment has only one big living room without separation for the bedroom. It has two bathrooms, one of them big even with small jacuzzy and which entrance is one of the doors of the closet. The entrance of the apartment is to the kitchen, even though there is one door that goes to the living room. In the kitchen there is a door to a small veranda with the washing machine and dryer only for us and a small toilet for the maid. The apartment has television, sound system and wii console.
On the second day we expect a Turkish boy to join us which didn't come. The apartment is only for us and there is a freshly made carrot cake with chocolate sauce brought by Lena. In the big toilet there are 'playboy' magazines, in the TV cupboard erotical movies and in the fridge a lot of beers.
At the end of the third day the Turkish appears, also a small boy. Little after while he is still trying to explain for how long he has been in Brazil and what he does for living, while he is changing the story from 2 to 6 years and back, the apartment owner, Xiopan, appears. She takes a plastic orange, squeezes and it becomes a penis and she laughs. We go to her apartment with sea view. We meet her soons: a 17-year-old girl who is going to have dinner with us, white; two black younger boys, clearly adopted. Lena doesn't get out of the kitchen. Xiopan and the daugther do the service. At the end of the dinner a picture: "say sex", says Xiopan. She is lawyer for a court.
That night the Turkish leaves the light on when he goes to bed and, at 6am he turns on the dryer machine which wake us up.
We don't see Xiopan anymore. The next day we leave, telling Lena. Xiopan phone us saying she was sorry for not being more available for us and that she planned to do kayaking with us.

27 February 2010

Literary Travel Companions

This is what I've been reading during the trip (in reverse order), and what I thought about it.

18. East of Eden (John Steinbeck). Another great American classic, read with gread pleasure in the trains that carried us through Texas and then up north through the snow.

17. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee). For our trip through the US, I thought I should read an American classic, which it is. A great story from the American South.

16. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami). As I'm writing this, I'm not even halfway through the book, but it's fantastic. Could read it for hours at a time (long train trip coming up tomorrow!). Well written, mysterious, makes me think about things... Great.

15. Riding the Iron Rooster (Paul Theroux). Another travel account, this time about Theroux' train travels in China, in the 1980s. I had been waiting to read this since we were in China, but couldn't find the book until we were in Thailand. Now there were some points where I disagreed with his views (not about China but about Poland), but it was an interesting and entertaining book to read. A lot of things have changed in China since then, but some things haven't changed that much (the spitting, for instance...).

14. Surviving the Killing Fields (Haing S. Ngor). This is an autobiography of a survivor of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It made me finally understand what happened exactly in Cambodia and why, and how peoples minds work in this country. Before going to Cambodia and doing a bit of reading, I knew about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, that they had killed people, that the country was still poor and terribly corrupt, but nothing more. Everybody in the west knows about Vietnam, but Cambodian history is still not very much talked about. This book is a must-read if you want to have an insight about what happened there, and why, and what went wrong.

13. The End of Poverty (Jeffrey Sachs). This book opened a whole new world for me, the one about development economics. It's extremely well written and easy to understand. It was interesting to read while travelling through still developing countries. It got me very interested in development and how it all works, and angry at the rich countries (especially big USA) for not doing more and just talking all the time. I will for sure do some further reading as soon as I can.

12. Catfish and Mandala (Andrew X Pham). Well written travel book about a Vietnamese-American going back to Vietnam to find his roots. Great to read while in Vietnam.

11. The Old Patagonian Express (Paul Theroux). A favourite, of course. Theroux keeps my spirits up and makes me feel normal if I don't find everything beautiful and great.

10. One Man's Bible (Gao Xingjian). Good book to read while in China, it gives an interesting picture of the Cultural Revolution. It's not an easy read and sometimes a bit "strange" but still interesting. Had to hide it deep down in my backpack because it's banned in China...

9. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden). The ideal book to shorten a long train trip, but a bit too "easy" for my taste. No big surprises in there...

8. Midnight Children (Salman Rushdie). A more difficult read than the other books, but excellent.

7. Animal Farm (George Orwell). Bought back in Russia when we were happy to find a bookshop with a few English books, but I only read it (or re-read it, had already read it back in my school days) between Japan and South Korea. Always great, a classic.

6. Underground - The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Haruki Murakami). I bought this book because it was mentioned by Paul Theroux and because we were in Japan. He collected stories from people who experienced the sarin attack by Aum in Tokyo. It reveals a lot about how the Japanese "work". It made a big impression on me.

5. Meister und Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov). I was very happy to receive this book from Juergen, who had brought it from Austria but when he heard that I had run out of reading material and that it was just impossible to find foreign-language books in Ulan-Ude, he very spontaneously offered it to me. Thank you very much! A great book by a great russian writer, definitely worth reading (I would recommend you buy it in a translation in your native language).

4. Die Nacht von Lissabon (E. M. Remarque). I bought it because that's what they had at the bookstore in St. Petersburg. Interesting book and very well written.

3. Die Apothekerin (Ingrid Noll). Very entertaining. Lasted for one 24-hour train trip.

2. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (Paul Theroux). An excellent travel book, a must for train lovers and independent travellers. Miguel read it as well (after remarking that it was "too big", he read it all in one go...) ;-)

1. Von Sibirien nach Japan (Klaus Scherer). The making-of (and a lot of background information and photos) of a TV programme about Siberia (Kamkatchka and Sakhalin) and Northern Japan. Very entertaining, and a good preparation for our trip!

Converted to Catholicism?

Yesterday we arrived in São João del Rey, a town with a nice old centre and lots of nice baroque churches. As the afternoon was spent with getting a haircut (Miguel), going on-line (Miguel) and sleeping (me), we only walked around town in the evening when most churches were closed.
But in the evening, after the 7 pm mass, there was a procession to celebrate Lent (Quaresma in Portuguese, the 40th day before Easter), during which a Jesus on the cross was carried through the streets and everybody followed praying the Rosary. We walked with them. We didn't pray the Ave Maria though, but we looked at the churches and chapels where the procession stopped and a group played music (which was nice, except for the trumpettist who was off-tune...).
So, no, we haven't converted to Catholicism, but we just took it as an occasion to visit the town!

26 February 2010

Getting tired

When you cannot anymore count with the fingers the number of the days you had to wake up before dawn to catch a bus/train, travel unconfortavel, arrive to a new city check three hotels and have to decide which was is the least bad.

The good thing is to confirm more and more that the best of the travel is the less turistic cities/villages where you are treated as a normal person and not a walking ATM.

Contemporary Art in Brazil

Is in Inhotim, MG

It is a huge space suitable for huge installations (usually one per building). Big names are already there. All this is in a amazing garden partially planned by Burle Marx.

21 February 2010

In Brazil

Sabará, near Belo Horizonte, where is Igrejinha do Ó (not in the picture).

Season change

Few days ago we were with one meter of snow packed in the sidewalks, almost impossible to get out of home and we were obliged to drive for 2000km to get our plane in time.

Now we are in summer, t-shirt and shorts (or skirt or dress) all the time in Brazil. We are visiting Lorenza, my brazilian friend from the time I lived in Finland. So, for me back in Belo Horizonte and for Eva a first visit to the brazilian culture.

Also, this season change obliged us once more to re-arrange the backpack, from winter mode to summer mode. A big deal, the backpack which was just 10 or 11kg in winter mode (we were dressing the rest of the weight) is now with 14kg, as the jacket, fleece, shoes, long-sleves are all inside. We have also decided not to carry anymore our winter clothes that we bought and got offered in Chicago (thanks Hannah!). Just that there is no space and we are affraid we will not get again to as cold as it was in North of the United States. So, this just to tell that like at home, we too have to move winter and summer clothes from one place to another. Just that in the backpack is only inverting the stack.

Brazil, here we go.

14 February 2010

Passing through Switzerlad

On our 2000km drive down the East coast of the US we passed by two "Switzerland" villages. Was a bit like going home in a flash of time.

13 February 2010

Hotels in United States

We stay always in big hotel chains (Super8, Motel6) or in small motels. The quality is aceptable, they are clean and cost between 45 and 80USD, depending on the location and day of the week. Sometimes it includes continental breakfast (cofee, cereals, bread and jam). The rooms have one king-size bed or two queen-size. The price is for the room, accomodating up to 4-persons. Sometimes there is microwave, fridge and coffee machine. There are always two towels per person and the shower is fixed (no hand hoose) and you cannot choose the water pressure, only the temperature. They are usually motels by the roads, not pedestrian accessible.

11 February 2010

Washington, Margaret, Brad, Christina and Marc

They are the family that hosts us in Washington area. They live in Alexandria, Virginia in a 3-floor house. The parents are around 50 years-old and the sons are 16 and 13. Margaret and Brad are both graduated on health and they worked for one year in the Thai-Cambodia border dealing with the refugees. Is the most comfortable couchsurfing place we found so far and we sleep six nights there. Not as an option but because we arrive at the beginning of a historical snow storm which stops all the public transports and schools. Margaret is very energetic and at home is always cooking or willing to go out to do some activity. We go with them to a SuperBowl party at some friends place and the day after to their church to watch the beginning of the SuperBowl game. Only once we go to Washington, taken by Margaret, but the excess of snow makes the walk very tiring and uninteresting. The museums are closed. We walk twice by the streets of Alexandria, we cross-country ski on the streets full of snow. I help to clean the snow around the house and from a roof; Eva makes bread and I make hot wine. From Friday to Saturday night it snows around 60cm and Tuesday night and Wednesday some 30cm more. Without a better solution we rent a car from Thursday to go until Miami. The familiy house is big. The ground floor has an office and a living room on the left of the entrance, a dining room, the kitchen and another living room on the right of the entrance. On the top of the stairs there was a bathroom, the parents room and the rooms for each of the sons. Some more stairs and there was our room, a space for games and a paiting room. Around the house they have a small green house, a tree house and a garage.

10 February 2010

New activities

Since Friday, when we arrived to the area of Washington DC that a couple of historic snow storms is changing the life of people, including ours. We are staying with a nice couchsurfing family in Alexandria, state of Virginia, just couple metro stations away from downtown Washington. Since Friday that school is closed and since Saturday that museums and public transport do not operate outside downtown Washington. Today is Wednesday and wind is blowing very strong, together with a good amount of snow (25cm?), which is going above the 60cm of snow that fell down during Saturday. Here in Alexandria not every year there is snow and when there is, usually it falls just couple of centimeters, that are cleared out in a couple hours. This means that people do not have winter tires neither there are many snow clearing machines. On the sidewalks all the snow is cleared with shovels.

So while Eva did a nice bread yesterday and today she is solving a puzzle, I helped out to shovel in front of the house and to remove the accumulated snow over their greenhouse which roof was starting to feel the weight of 70cm of snow.

On Monday we went to downtown, mostly walking, but sidewalks were full of snow and wet snow, making walking an horrible activity.

Maybe I should go back and ski like on Saturday...

ah, and hopefully we will be leaving Washington tomorrow... by car. No trains operate, half of airplanes do but are fully booked. Without other solution, three days of driving is what expect us. We expect that few hundred miles south the snow here was just rain there and roads are clear!

06 February 2010

Couchsurfing reenconter

In New York City we met Liuba, our Couchsurfer host in Yaroslavl, Russia. In June 2009 she was at her family place to renew her passport and hosted us. We did not forget her and now we made to meet Liuba again at her new city. Just like this. She could not host us this time, but we visited two art galleries.

Snowstorm paralyses Washington DC and eastern US

Basically... we are there!


And our photos (today taken during a walk and a cross country ski ride on the roads):
Eva skiing on the street of our hosts

A car is hidden in the snow!

The Washington Post, February 5th 2010, Movie Reviews

The Last Station
Contains a scene of sexuality and nudity.

From Paris with Love
Contains nearly constant violence, pervasive obscenity, drug use and brief sexuality.

Fish Tank
Contains profanity, smoking, teen drinking and some sexuality.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: the squeakquel
Contains mild crude humor and slapstick violence.

Broken Embraces
Contains sexual content, language and drug material.

Contains intense thematic material.

Journey to Mecca
Contains brief swordplay during an attack by bandits.

When in Rome
Contains some mildly naughty still photos and suggestive art work.

The Princess and the Frog
Contains nothing objectionable.

The United States
Contains pervasive obesity, extensive bag-controlling, nearly constant pollution by paper cups, and presence of gun material.

05 February 2010

A story

"You should choose the braised beef ribs. You can share it. Mashed or baked potato? And have the house vegetables with it. Very good choice. You'll have a coffee? You got it.
Where are you from? I'm from Germany. My family is from Stettin, but that's now Poland. After the war they went to Eastern Germany, about an hour from Berlin. I went to Berlin often, I like this city a lot. Then came the Communists, and you know, you couldn't own anything. We were expropriated four times. Then my family escaped through the tunnels to the west. We went to Stuttgart. My mother was an interpreter there for the American army. In the seventies we emigrated to America. But I would like to go back. I like Europe better. And in Germany, all is very orderly. That's the only system that works, the orderly system... here nothing works anymore.
Cheesecake? Oh yes we have cheesecake, the best in town. More coffee?
You have to say hello from me to your mother and your grandmother. And tell them I'm from Stettin... remember I'm from Stettin, they will want to know."

Waitress at the Courthouse Diner, Queens, NYC

04 February 2010

Brookly, Lisa and Wistlepig

Brookly is elected as our district while staying in New York City. Lisa is our host together with Wistlepig, a young dog. The aparment on the ground-foor of Carol Gardens neighbourhood is nice and full of things. Lisa, even though she works as a nanny and in a kindergarten, she likes handcrafts and does crochet, paints, clays. The entrance of the apartment is to the kitchen which has a small toilet on the side. To the left there is an arch going to the living room with a corner table, a sofa-bed and books, sewing table, etc. A second arch from the living room goes to the storing area. The apartment belongs to someone that makes a cheap rent in exchange that he keeps his storage in the house. A door from that storage are goes to Lisa's room where there was the bathroom. We are feel comfortable and we cook once and we take breakfast at home. The nearby supermarket was simple but good (even with portuguese bread). On the last day something happens with Lisa's family and neither her or the dog sleep at home and we could not say goodbye.

03 February 2010

The Law

"We're not allowed to do it" - "That's the law" - "You cannot be here"
Phrases I'm getting so tired of, because we hear them all the time in the US. Isn't this a "free" country?....

We took a train in the evening for a trip that would last about 24 hours. Sleeping cars are very expensive here so we just have to sleep on the seats. When we got on, there was a lot of space in the train so we each took a double seat. Conductor (big black guy) comes. "You together? Then you have to sit together." Me: "The train's half empty." Conductor: "But it's gonna be VERY FULL." Me: "Aha, but I can move during the night if you need the seats, no problem." Conductor: "Huh?" I repeat what I've just been saying, but apparently I've hurt his personal feelings or something as he just walks away while I'm still talking to him. We sleep each on a double seat and when we wake up in the morning the train is still half empty (as we expected).

The only way to get public internet in this country is at the library. Usually one has to sign up, show a passport, and gets an hour of free internet. At the Chicago library, we got 2 computers, my session starting 15 minutes earlier than Miguel's, so when I was done I went over to him as we needed to do something together. Security guy comes: "You can't be on this chair." Thinking that he didn't want me to sit on the chair intended for the computer next to the one we were using, I just stand up and continue typing the e-mail I'm writing. Security guy: "No, you can't be 2 at the same time on one computer." We: "We're not making any noise and we just need to do this together." He: "You need permission from the front desk to do this."
AAAAHHHHH This is too much for me. I'm done with my e-mail so I tell Miguel to stop talking to that stupid guy, sit down and I'll go somewhere else and read a newspaper.

Chicago, I need new contact lenses. I go into a big optician's store and ask if they sell them. "Only if you have a prescription from a doctor or an eye test from us." I say something like "please, I'm just travelling, I've had my eyes checked less than a year ago, I just need some new contact lenses" but it's "No, we don't have the right to sell you contact lenses."
Oh yeah, I could have a problem with my eyes in 2 years and then come back and sue them for having sold me contact lenses without a prescription. Argh, I should just have bought them in Singapore....

USA experiences...

Black woman in NY subway wearing a hat with the inscription: "God is my Boss".
Three black men singing gospels in a NY underpass.
Lots of people walking their dogs in the streets (the dogs are the new children).
The Chicago wind - so icy that it's painful.
Families going out for Sunday lunch in a hamburger restaurant in a small town in New Mexico.
People so fat you could never imagine it.
The ubiquitous question: "How are you today?"

In the streets of Chicago, Boston, New York....

... there's a Swiss-Portuguese couple desperately looking for a nice cafe, selling coffee in real cups instead of paper or styrofoam cups....

Americans are obsessed with organic, whole-food, vegetarian, vegan, non-dairy, non-fat, and generally good-for-your-health food.... but it usually comes in plastic plates and paper cups and you eat it with disposable forks.... all this producing a HUGE amount of waste.

Is this really good for our health?


30 January 2010

Boston, Alda

In Boston is almost a last minute couch. The morning we are leaving Chicago we send few more requests for Cambridge as there was no reponse for Boston. Alda immediatly answers. She is Portuguese doing PhD in airports and studying temporarly at MIT. She shares apartment with Baris and his girlfriend at the top of the stairs of the two storey building. There is a kitchen/living room where we sleep the first night in a futon, a bathroom which sink did not work well, Alda's room quite empty where we sleep the second night and Baris couple's room. Alda kept offering soup and tea but we only taste the latter. Her apartment is near MassAv.

28 January 2010

Chicago, Hannah

Hannah would not stop to talk from the moment she met us until we say goodbye. She had finished nurse education and was looking for a job. Meanwhile she is volunteer for a poors people clinic and teacher at hebrew school. She is Jewish but not very involved - she works on shabbat. Her apartment in Northwest Chicago is old and full of things. At home she has four bicycles plus two at the cellar. It was a one bedroom ("messy, don't enter") apartment, with a living and dining room together, plus a bathroom and a kitchen. In is a first floor with a small porch. We have an air matress to sleep on, which developed a hole after the first night and, after spending the second night pumping air time to time, we patched with a bicycle patch. Hannah cycles everywhere and likes second hand things. She shows us a huge second hand clothes shop where we buy things for the American winter and also she offers pairs of gloves and a jacket.

Silence is not on purpose

Sorry for not writing more, there are no paid internet places. The library is free but time limited and usually with a queue. We take long time on Couch Surf searches, not enough left for blog. We'll be back as soon as we can.

27 January 2010

US Prices

Appetizer (starter) - 4usd
Entree (main) - 6usd
Drink - 2usd
+tax (10%)
+gratuity/tip (15-20%)

You pay at least 15usd.

The gratuity in the usa is not a choice (unless you have an horrible experience), but a mandatory part to add to the bill (before taxes). The waiters are taxed on their salary plus expected 15% taxes! So if you don't pay gratuity they will be taxes anyway, their salaries are very low already counting they will receive good part of it in tips.

But usually, here in the usa, only the waiter for your table will be nice to you (hey, how are you today?/everything alright? three times during the meal). When you leave the restaurant no other waiter will say 'goodbye' or 'thanks' to you. You don't see either team work. Also you see that waiters share the tables among them, so that each gets same amount of costumers. Discussions continue and continue about the advantages or not of tipping system, but I just feel there are none. In my opinion (knowing it is not easy) they should fight for correct base salaries and having tips just as an extra and purely in discretion of the client. More, it is much nicer when any other waiter thanks you for coming, no matter if he received your tip or not.

Well, not necessary the simultaneous 'thank you' by every single waiter and cook that you have in Japan or South Korea (quite amazing). :-)

14 January 2010

Police raid in Tucson

Our host in Tucson - Sarah - was preparing dinner for us when her invited friend and neighbor arrived saying that there is police everywhere outside.

We go out to check things and there are three police cars with roof lights on in different parts of the street. One of them as they see us point a strong focus at us, we ignore. Minute later a undercover police car pass slowly by us, then stops and reverses, open the window and says: 'we are looking for a stabber around here with dogs, please go inside as the dogs don't make distinctions'.

We keep inside but we lack bread for dinner. Sarah's friend goes by car to the shop near by. Thirty minutes later he's not back yet. We wonder what is going on. He doesn't answer the phone either. We start thinking what might have happen, if police would not have let him pass, but at least he could answer the phone. We get a bit scared until he finally appears saying there are two policeman going into Sarah backyard.

By the kitchen window we peer and see them, one armed with a dog and other with a good sized gun. We prefer not to look for long before become suspicious. Dinner was ready long time ago.

While on the table a new sound comes by - helicopter is flying over the house and the street. The stabber should not be far. But when we finally end dinner all the action was over. And we will never know if they catch him or now.

13 January 2010

Public transport in the US

The trains exist, usually one a day. On the South only 3 per week, on the East between Boston and Washington one per hour. The first class is a 2-seats couchette you can transform into 2 beds and with all the meals included. Second class are reclinable seats with leg rest. For the night they provide a pillow. There are one and two floor trains, being the biggest difference only more toilets in the two-floors type. There is a panoramic-wagon and a restaurant-wagon where they serve you with throw-away dishes and cutlery. The trains seldom go full.
In the cities there are aceptable public transport, sometimes a bit confusing. Usually you pay to a box at the entrance which gives you the ticket. There are "transfer" tickets a bit more expensive and full-day tickets with a magnetic band and costing between 3 and 4 times the price of a single trip. The singe-trip is between 1,25 and 2,25USD, depending on the city.

First Amtrak Experience

After two bus rides in Malaysia (one in the back of a doubledecker bus with hot air blowing down my back), a long air trip (didn't remember that the air is so dry in airplanes - I felt like one of those dried fishes in the Chinese markets...) and surviving US immigration, we arrived happily to California. A few days after we got on a train again, which is always exciting in a new country.
To begin with, we had to take a bus because there's no train station in San Francisco. It took us over the bay bridge through thick fog to Oakland station. Getting on a train here is a bit like boarding a plane. You have to check in your large baggage, for example. When the train arrived, our tickets were checked first by a guy on the platform, who then directed us towards a lady who was responsible for one or two coaches. She assigned us our seats, and when the train had left she went through the coach checking the tickets again and sticking a note with the destination above each pair of seats - all this while talking loudly about anything that came to her head, and calling everybody "sweet", "honey" and "love", regardless of sex or age. During the rest of the trip we would learn about her lifestory which she told in several episodes to different passengers, as well as her complaints about her colleagues. After each stop, she would welcome the new passengers as the "new members of the family, please have your ticket ready!" She replaced the need for any TV entertainment! And to be sure we would not get bored, the train conductor gave regular comments about the scenery ("and to your left now, you can see some exceptional cows grazing in the fields...").
Around 9 am, there was another announcement: "Hello, this is Jane from the cafe, the cafe is open now and I'll be happy to see you...". Imagine someone saying this in a Swiss train!
(I did buy a coffee at Jane's cafe, and she was indeed very nice.)
For lunch we went to the dining car at 1 pm, our assigned time. We were seated with two other travellers, both american, and about 10 seconds after being seated we started a conversation, which went on until we had finished eating, then "ok guys, was nice talking to you, have a nice trip". Interesting.
I'm looking forward to our next trip tomorrow!

09 January 2010

Looking for reasons not to relocate to San Francisco

- Its far away from everywhere (even New York)
- Too many crazy people (but less than Venice beach, LA)
- Never hot through the year

It was a hard job to find these few reasons. It seems a so great city to live nonetheless.

08 January 2010

The culture of the sub-culture

Skaters, crazy people, homeless, cyclists, gays, chinese, mexicans, swiss-portuguese couples, blacks, musicians, joggers, etc. Everything taken to the extreme, totally into their own world, fighting for their subject. San Francisco, USA.

06 January 2010

Hopefully here

Time wrap travel

5 Jan, 3pm, +30 degrees C - We visited Putrajaya, a big mostruosity of Malaysian government; 6pm - Check-in at Kuala Lumpur airport; 9pm - Flight to Seoul departs; 11pm - Landed at Kota Kinabalu; midnight - Departed from Kota Kinabalu

(Five hours later)

6 Jan, 6am, -10 degrees C - Landed at Seoul. The airplane slides over the ice while parking and we need to be towed; 11am - we sleep in a airport's bench; 12pm - we took shower at Seoul airport; 3pm - Departed from Seoul.

(Eight hours later)

6 Jan (yes, again), 8am, +10 degrees C - Landed in San Francisco; 2pm - lunch in San Francisco; 8pm - we go to sleep.

01 January 2010

To travel...

... is being conscientious of missing much more than what you will have time to visit.

Sometimes I miss...

... good bread with butter and good honey.
... giving body combat classes and ride my bike.
... drink beer with friends.
... Eva's cakes and bread.

Next stop - where?

So, we have arrived in Singapore. All the way from little Switzerland, by train and bus and boat. Quite a long way, looking at it on a world map.
And now?
Well, we're not coming back just yet. We have other plans first.
A hint: it's about train travel - again.
So, any ideas? :-)

We will let you know when we're there!

Happy New Year!

From Singapore

Singapore - a breath of fresh air. Is it?
Compared to all southeastasian cities, it's definitely cleaner. The public transport system works. There's enough space on the sidewalks to actually walk. Car drivers stop to let pedestrians pass. Few people spit, almost nobody litters. The small boat that took us to a small island the other day can only take 12 passengers, otherwise people are advised to complain. The buses are clean and in good working condition. People are polite. The city is full of huge shopping centres with expensive shops. Everybody goes shopping after work or on public holidays. And to think that Singapore was "thrown out of" Malaysia in the 50ies, and managed all this by itself...

The downside?
No freedom of speech. Press heavily influenced by the government. The same prime minister ruled for decades, the current prime minister is his son. Homosexuality is illegal. No social security. No real opposition (although they do turn up in elections but never win). High rate of self-censorship in the press and the arts. Spitting is forbidden and punished with a high fine, as is eating or drinking on the subway (costs 250 Euros), littering and many other things.

The question:
Is all this necessary to build a working state which is clean and where people are nice to each other? Is it necessary to have such strict laws and punishments about what I would call minor issues? If there weren't any laws like these, would people spit and litter and smoke everywhere? Maybe yes... (look at China). Or maybe not?

I don't know.