Morro Bay, California

The jewel of Morro Bay does not exist.  Like many, my first and only knowledge of Morro Bay came from the wonderful film Finding Dory.  The aquarium and area looked fantastic in the movie so we decided to spend a night here on our Pacific Coast journey.  Pulling into town we were somewhat disappointed.  It looked like any other small coastal town.  Little did we know then how severely disappointed we would be when walking along the coast looking for the aquarium. IMG_1167

We drove through the town to get to our hotel.  One of the drawbacks to traveling in the off season is that tourist towns look depressing, especially coastal tourist towns, and Morro Bay is no exception.  Our hearts sank driving the bland main street with its plain concrete strips of shops.  Not ones to give up we started bouncing funny and cute Dory quotes off each other to raise our spirits.  When we pulled up to our hotel we were quite a bit happier.  It had some nice flowers in the front and out towards the sea we had a view of Morro rock, which was looming large, quite beautiful and impressive. IMG_1171

Leaving the hotel we avoided the main street and instead directed our steps straight towards the ocean.  Walking down quite a steep hill we passed an RV park and a few hotels and hit a bay.  To our right was Morro Hill and a giant power station and to our left a road lined with shops.  To the left we went, passing shops that may have been open but without a customer to be seen.  The road was much the same.  A ghost town.  IMG_1184

From the start we were not satisfied.  The shops blocked any view of bay.  To see anything one had to use special sightseeing openings that took you behind the buildings to a dock.  It was quite annoying.  After looking out upon the bay for a while and taking some pictures with the rock in the background we headed for the aquarium, quite surprised that such a nice place as seen in the film would be located in this small town.  To our surprise(though we shouldn’t really have been surprised), the aquarium was nothing like in the movie.  It was a tiny little shack on the water.  We were bemused.  We shook our heads and passed on by, using what we think was the only Mexican restaurant in town to lift our spirits.  Unsurprisingly we were the only guests.  Here was the best part of our stay.  The food and drinks were good and our table overlooked the bay where we got to watch otters play in the water.  It was a much needed pick me up.  After dinner we went to our room and slept until leaving the next morning.IMG_1182

As always, Hollywood has exaggerated.  This time outdoing themselves.  There is nothing even remotely resembling the Morro Bay of Finding Dory fame.  Especially not a jewel.  The closest you will find is the excellent though bloody expensive Monterey Bay Aquarium about three hours North.  Plus that city is fantastic.  Do not waste a night in Morro Bay.  Stopping by for a few hours is more than enough.  Move along, nothing to see here.

Torun, Poland

Torun is a beautiful town near the middle of Poland.  I enjoyed the few months I got to spend there, even though most of it was Winter.  Let me begin with why I went there.  The truth is, I have no idea.  I guess I got bored in Poznan and wanted to try somewhere new.  Maybe I threw a dart at a map or perhaps somebody told me about Torun, but no matter.  Somehow I ended up living in this lovely place.

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I rented a very small flat one street from the rynek(mainsquare).  My neighbor was supposedly Copernicus but I walked a lot every day and never saw him, so it is probably a lie to get tourists, similar to every church having a piece of the true cross.  I should let it be known here that Copernicus was from Torun. And there is your fact of the day.

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I did not work while I was living here so spent most of my time walking the streets looking around, investigating the quality of the cafes and pubs once the cold had chilled me to my bones.  The river was a fantastic place for a walk.  The view on one side of the walk was a white sheet of ice while on the other was the brown and red of the old city walls.  It is a majestic sight and I highly recommend trying it once.

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Most of the stories I would tell would be quite boring for a reader.  Trying different restaurants and cafes, walking to Auchen or the mall(Which are a long way from the rynek), hanging out in the rynek and shopping streets, seeing the old buildings, walking in the non-tourist areas, having my Russian girlfriend come visit me.  But there are two stories that I believe will be interesting enough to tell, or at the very least they are interesting enough for me to write and conjur up the memories once again.

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On one of my early days in the town I went to a small cellar pub just a few doors down from my flat.  I have never been a shy or uncomfortable person and therefore have never been ill at ease going out by myself.  I actually prefer it as it is a great way to meet people as this story will demonstate.  I was enjoying a beer and people watching in the pub when a group of five people came and sat down with me.  One girl, Dominika, told me that the bartender said she should sit with me and make me comfortable since I was a foreigner.  I guess the bartender and her were friends.  So we started chatting and became friends(I’m a very likeable person and not just a looker).  We weren’t attracted to each other but that made going out and sightseeing together much easier.  We talked, drank tea and coffee, and just had a jolly good time.  I guess I was a sort of attraction in Torun as she enjoyed showing me off, which was fun.

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Later I also had another wonderful experience resulting from my going out alone.  This time was New Years Eve.  I was walking around trying to find somewhere to have a few drinks before watching the fireworks.  I settled on a pub in the rynek.  Again it was a cellar pub and I was the first guest.  Not another soul apart from the bartender.  I was offered a menu with two choices, which were in Polish so I didn’t understand and the bartender didn’t speak English.  At this point I should have noticed something was not right as pubs do not usually offer menus with only two choices.  But I was oblivious and just smiled and asked for a beer(which I could say in Polish) .

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The hours passed on and the pub got quite busy.  Finally a gentleman came up to me and tried to ask me something.  When I said that I don’t speak Polish he responded in very good English, asking how I could work for(some company that I don’t remember) without speaking Polish.  It turned out that I had crashed a companies New Years party.  In that wonderfully receptive Polish style I was welcomed not as an intruder, but as a guest of honor.  I started to get drinks for free and everybody wanted to talk to me.  I was a god among men.  The night finished off with the watching of a spectacular fireworks show and receiving many invitations out in future.

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My few short months in Torun will be forever imprinted in my mind as some of the best in my life.  I have nothing bad to say about the town.  Even the biting cold is a warm and cherished memory.

Hong Kong Through A Childs Eyes

My first trip was when I was one year old. My family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from Colorado for my Fathers work. I don’t remember anything of those days so let us leave it.

We moved and traveled quite often but the first time I traveled solo was flying from San Francisco, California to Miami, Florida. I believe I was fourteen years old. Perhaps older, perhaps younger, but fourteen is close enough. My Father was a pilot for United Airlines, and I could fly for free. So I decided to take a day trip to Miami. I cannot tell you why I chose Miami but there I was, a boy dressed in Khakis and a nice shirt flying across the country. No hotel reservation, no car, no friends or family waiting, a few dollars in my pocket and a small backpack. I was ready for the world.

I wish I could tell you that the city is imprinted in my mind. That the bright lights, beaches, and people are all shining memories in my head. But it would be a lie. My memories consist of riding a city bus with vague impressions of colorful buildings, and of walking into a hotel lobby that was on the beach. Why I walked into that hotel or what I did in there is as unknown to me as it is to a perfect stranger. I have no desire to ever go back so let us leave it as well.

Around this same time my family took a trip to Hong Kong. My father, mother, two brothers and myself flew across the beautiful Pacific ocean to a strange land. Of the flight I remember nothing save the landing, but oh how that will be imprinted on my mind until I am dust.

Kai Tak airport was famous for it’s approaches, and rightfully so. I remember looking out the window, as I always had to have the window seat, and seeing buildings on both sides of the plane rising higher than we were. A tunnel of buildings big enough to swallow an airplane is not something a young boy will forget.

Our hotel had a doorman, and the lobby was extravagant, but details I cannot give. I believe all five of us stayed in the same room, but I must have had a cot, because early the next morning I couldn’t sleep and got up before the sun. I quietly escaped without waking anybody to see what this city had to offer. I bowed to the doorman and set off on my adventure with no directions or idea where I was going. I had no money, mobile phones were still unheard of, and had not told anyone where I was going. I was an American child walking alone in a strange new world.

Nobody was out at this hour, save a garbage truck and two men cleaning under a bridge. My feet lead the way as my mind admired the sheer number of gigantic buildings that seemed to go into eternity. Soon enough the shops began to open and people walked about. When I got tired I sat down on a bench. I picked up a newspaper next to me and pretended to read it, as that would somehow fool the people that I was one of them.

I walked on, passing electronic shop after electronic shop until I stopped dead in my tracks. Next to me was a shop full of grotesque items hanging in the window. They looked to be animals, but my mind could not accept it. This was a boy that had once been served a chicken leg for dinner by his mother. He started crying and naively asked, “Where is the rest of the chicken?” as if the rest of it could be found, it could somehow be put back together and walk and live again. They looked like ducks, chickens, geese, dogs, and all sorts of other animals. Strung up by their necks or dangling from hooks in their back. It was a scene of red and white butchery this man wishes he could forget. After staring for some time I put my head down and walked on in a trance.

Somehow I crossed a bay that separates two parts of the city. If I sneaked on a ferry or somehow paid I do not remember. What I do know is that I got to the other side where there was a steep hill. A tram followed the road up the hill but I decided to walk, perhaps to show these people how strong an American boy is, but more likely the reason being that I had no money.

At the top of this hill was a shopping area, and an anciently old man pulling a rickshaw came up to me, talking some crazy made up language and pointing to his transportation device. I tried to wave him off but he was having none of it. He took my hand and put me in the passenger seat. Off we went around the market. One simple loop and then I was to get out. His palm opened up hoping for money. I was willing to fill it, but lacked the means. As it was I just turned and walked away. Back to my hotel I went, having seen all of Hong Kong I needed to see. A towering city where foreigners of all ages can sight-see unmolested.

An Overview of Dubai

Dubai is the worst city I have ever been to.  Actually it ties with Kuwait City but I will get to them later and make them cry into their solid gold towels.

I know almost all of you will disagree with me and that is fine.  We are all different. I have only known three other people that hate Dubai as much as I do.

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First a little background on my trips to Dubai.  I have been there over 20 times because it was the hub when I worked in Saudi Arabia, so I have quite a bit of experience with the area.  I have even spent a New Years Eve there.

My first judgement of a city is the natural beauty, and Dubai has zero.  Actually the whole Middle East has zero natural beauty.  I hate the color brown and love green so I am biased against the Middle East.  Just look out the window of your plane as you fly into the city.  Sand, sand, and more sand.  And then once you enter the city limits it gets worse because of my second hatred.  Fakeness.  It goes from nothing but sand to big beautiful houses with green gardens.  It doesn’t get more fake than that.  The amount of water they consume must be astronomical.

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The airport is beautiful and efficient.  I have no complaints about the airport and enjoy flying through it.  But step outside the air conditioned building and prepare yourself for an oven.  Summer is a true bake off but year round it is hot.  I once rode in an air conditioned taxi and when I got out my glasses completely fogged over so that I couldn’t see due to the heat.  So everything is air conditioned, which glides me nicely into my next point.  The pollution.  The air in Dubai is disgusting.  There are multiple reasons for this.  One is that  it is naturally dirty due to the sand and high winds, then their is the legion of air conditioners, and then finally is the amount of cars and distances they travel.  Dubai is a gigantic city.  Forget any thoughts you have about popping down to the shop to get a liter of milk. No no no.  It will take you at leat five hours to drive to the nearest shop.  Want to see the palm island from the airport.  At least an hours drive on motorways with no traffic.  Add an hour or two if there is traffic.  It is terrible.

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Next on my list is that there is nothing there to do unless you want to pay a fortune.  Want to drive a mini F-1 car?  Sure, you can do it, but it costs. Skydiving? Sure, but pricey.  You can do anything with money, but how about those of us without.  You can sit on the beach which is ugly(I have been to Hawaii and Mexico and other beautiful beaches so I might have too high of standards).  The beaches are nicer than Croatia.  The other option is the mall.  The malls are gigantic and beautiful, but after all, they are just malls.  All the same shops you can visit anywhere else on the planet, except in Dubai you get to smell disgusting incense all the time.

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I did go once to swim with the dolphins and that was fantastic, but it was just a few minutes of enjoyment followed by days of disappointment.  I guess my main problem with the city is the fakeness.  I hate anything fake.  Women with makeup, people with plastic surgery, people or businesses using loans to buy nice stuff, and cities that are truly a pit but with a gold covering. Dubai is a copy of Las Vegas, and while I also hate Vegas I would much rather be there as they have gambling, a walkable strip, and free shows(the Vegas water show is a hundred times better than Dubai’s).

I will finish by saying that my New Years time was also a bore.  I went to the tallest building in the world to watch the fireworks and it was packed with people as you would expect.  I know this might sound like a dream to some people but I was bored to death.  Dubai just gives me a negative vibe and I hope never to go back.  When the oil runs out it will become to biggest ghost town in history.  I hope I live long enough to see that day.

 

An Overview of Poland

Poland is my second favorite country on the planet.  That might sound strange, especially to a Pole, but it is the truth.  My reason for this is not a sound one based on any tangible facts, it is merely because I always felt comfortable and at home while there.  This opinion is not based on a weekend or summer holiday in the country, but on living there for about two years in multiple areas.

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As this is an overview I will stick to generalities of the country, with individual stories of the cities and villages to come later.

First off, Poland is a very large country but is not a melting pot like Germany.  In my two years there I cannot remember ever seeing a black person outside of Warsaw.  So it is highly Slavic, which is fine by me as I love Slavic women.  And that takes me to my first love of the country, which is the people.  I have already mentioned that the women are beautiful but beyond this they dress well and are good with cosmetics.  I have found that only Russian are better are showing themselves off and are the only people on the planet trained from birth to walk in heels.  But beyond the superficial beauty I found them all intelligent, educated, fun, and interesting.  Some of the best nights of my life were sitting in a pub drinking wine, laughing and having interesting conversations with a Pole.  And I do not mean only the women.  I also had some male friends that were the same.  This is a huge difference from Russia where I found all the men to be worthless drunks.  So the people are a huge attraction.

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My next love was the safety.  I have never felt so safe before.  I would walk anywhere by myself at any time of day or night.  Many times after leaving the pub I zigzagged my way through dark streets and never had an issue.  There was only once that I felt uncomfortable and turned around and that was a street out of the center in Krakow with a few locals hanging outside  their BMWs in a group.  For comparison there were many places I would not walk in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and all other US cities.  I never felt safe or comfortable in Hungary, and I didn’t even like going out alone in the daytime in Russia.  Maybe I was just lucky, but I tell it like it is.

Here is my biggest love of Poland.  The history!  I am a fan of military history and Poland has it is spades.  Yes, Hungary has an interesting history as well but the Turks don’t interest me near as much as the Nazis.  The Polish history is facinating.  I couldn’t get through their history books fast enough.  The only reason I liked Warsaw was that every corner of the city has some mark from the war.  Walking the streets it would take me hours to go a few blocks as I would stop and read all the plaques and touch the walls.  I dreamed of the Warsaw Uprising when I slept.  It was all so magical.  I’ll sure the locals would call the memories by a different name but for me it was incredible.  I also know of no other country that didn’t exist, then re-existed, then didn’t exist again and so on.  I recommend you read some history books about the country before visiting or while riding the trains around.

The ryneks! These are the main squares.  Warsaw doesn’t really have one but all the other cities do.  Full of restaurants, clubs, and pubs, they are beautiful areas that fill with people sitting outside in the summer.  I used to spend hours sitting outside with my friends drinking beers and watching people walk by.  It is darn near my idea of a perfect city center.

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Should I continue?  I think not.  I try to keep these posts short so you don’t get bored, but do not think for a moment it is for lack of material.  But I will discuss some of the problems with Poland.  Oh yes, it has problems just like anywhere else.   It is so religious that it is scary and that holds them back a bit.  They are homophobic, racist, etc.  Gay bars have to lock their doors and only admit people they know(My best friend in Poland is gay). The government is poorly run, though they have improved by leaps and bounds lately.  In the winter the whole country smells of coal, but I actually enjoyed the smell, plus I don’t mind losing a few years of my life.  I think we all live too long anyway.  And I think that is about it.  I’m sure for residents there are more complaints but I don’t really have any.  It is a wonderful country to visit and just icing on the cake if you enjoy military history.  In later posts I will discuss my experiences in the individual cities  where I lived, inlcuding Warsaw, Krakow, Torun, Poznan, and Wrolcaw.

An Overview of New Zealand

The short and quick of it is that New Zealand is my favorite place on the planet.  Lets delve in a little deeper and see why that is.

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Let me start by saying that I have not just traveled through New Zealand, I have actually lived among the Kiwis.  I worked for a couple of months as a bicycle courier in Auckland and as a chef on the Southern Island, but those are both stories for another time.

Natural beauty.  It is well known that New Zealand has it and it is incredible.  Anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings(Terrible films) knows about this, but it goes deeper.  There are many beautiful and amazing places on the planet but there is something special about New Zealand that I cannot put my finger on.  The few days I spent at Milford Sound was my heaven on Earth experience.  Again, that is a story for a later time.  Auckland and Wellington are built into the hills which I love.  Going into the first floor of a building on one side and existing on the 7th floor through the other side is an amazing experience.  I could write a novel about the natural beauty but for this blog I believe I have said enough.

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The activity of the people is another huge benefit of the country.  Cycling through the country, skydiving, bungee jumping, paragliding, rugby.  The people love being outside and that suits me just fine.  I’m so tired of everybody sitting inside watching TV and sitting on the computer.  They take sport so seriously that when I asked if I could play rugby with them or join a beginners team they said no way since I hadn’t been playing since I was a child.  They would have killed me on the pitch.

I love that they refuse to let any American navy ships into their seas since America ignored their rule of no nuclear powered vessels in the water.  It was strange to see a Chinese warship ship docked in Auckland but no American ships.

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I have a few items I wish they would change though.  Driving on the wrong side of the road is one, though it does make going through roundabouts and parking lots extremely exciting.  The architechture is terrible.  I wish the buildings were a bit more attractive.  I wish it was the perfect country but it suffers from the same issues as everywhere else, such as tearing up the cargo railroad lines because the truckers lobby asked them to.

I really wish I could put on paper why I love this country so much but it is impossible.  It is just a feeling I had when I was there and have never gotten anywhere else.  If you have never been you really have to go and put up with the 50 hours flying time.   I will add a little disclaimer to this.  If you are the type of person that likes fake beauty, then Dubai and Las Vegas are for you.  But if you are like me and care more about natural beauty and less about what man can make, then New Zealand is your paradise.