public marks

PUBLIC MARKS from wiredsetman with tag journey

23 April 2007

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Days 38 to 39: The Trans-Mongolian Railway is not a train journey. It is a Russian existential play, and the fact that it commences in Ulaan Bataar and finishes in Moscow is what's known as audience participation. The curtain lifts on the dining car, which is so filled with smoke that it's difficult to read the No Smoking sign hanging above the doorway. A table at the far end is occupied by three men who listen to Russian pop on a portable stereo made by Hyundai. These three men are smoking at all times. Occasionally they break into a game of dominoes, but nothing interrupts the smoking.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 37: I haven't sampled all the world's railway station public address systems, but I think the PA in the Siberian town of Ulan Ude stands a very good chance of being the most annoying. Announcements begin with the first melodic refrain of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," a tune whose merriness is debatable in the first place. They come fast and often--at least two a minute--and at six in the morning, the thought that runs through my head is that the woman making all these announcements had no idea what she was in for when she applied for the job. She is busier than Jack Welch.

16 April 2007

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 36: Mechanically speaking, the Russian train is superior to the UVZ. Mechanically speaking. Comfort is another matter. The UVZ was an '05, so it still had some of that new-car freshness. The train, I am guessing, is a '55, and its new-train freshness has been long since depleted. This isn't all bad. In between the cars, the vestibule spaces, where passengers wait to unload, have an extreme industrial theme, with a pervasive gun-metal grey color scheme and sharp corners that give a strong Soviet flavor. The cabins themselves have seen better times and the upholstery has swallowed its fill of dead skin and dust. Sitting down, I begin to fantasize about a long and intensive fumigation—three days of marination in chemicals and steam. But I'm not sure that would quite do it.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 35: The UVZ, I'm sad to say, started showing signs of its price today. We headed out from camp, and I took a turn behind the wheel and freaking loved it. It's like driving a cross between a tractor and a minivan. The dashboard is punched out of a single sheet of metal. I have a strong sense that the UVZ factory hasn't changed much since the 1960s.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

I have a regretful episode to tell you about that took place on my honeymoon. It was a 10-day tour of Tuscany, and we were staying at a remote and once-abandoned Tuscan village that had been renovated into a charming little resort. Since it was autumn, the place was abandoned again, and we had it all to ourselves. One afternoon, Laura and I took a walk down into the valley. As we sauntered under hardwood canopies, holding hands, finding new adjective-laden ways to describe our love--something my wife can do for hours--I regretted not having a truffle-sniffing pig or dog along.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 32: We were on our way to pick up the horsemeat when I heard the greatest sentence yet uttered in the English language: "Let's go to the cashmere factory outlet store." Let me back up a moment. I had just spent my first night in Mongolia, in Tower A of Ulaan Bataar's Hotel Bayangol, a Soviet-style edifice notable for the fabulous neon sign hanging over its restaurant, but not much else. Byambaa, my guide, picked me up at nine that morning and we piled into a funny-looking vehicle called an UVZ 3909 and drove west out of the city, headed towards a Mongolian ger camp.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 32: We were on our way to pick up the horsemeat when I heard the greatest sentence yet uttered in the English language: "Let's go to the cashmere factory outlet store." Let me back up a moment. I had just spent my first night in Mongolia, in Tower A of Ulaan Bataar's Hotel Bayangol, a Soviet-style edifice notable for the fabulous neon sign hanging over its restaurant, but not much else. Byambaa, my guide, picked me up at nine that morning and we piled into a funny-looking vehicle called an UVZ 3909 and drove west out of the city, headed towards a Mongolian ger camp.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Days 30-31: I took a gamble on the train to Ulaan Bataar. The first class berths have two beds, and I only bought one of them. Most people will tell you to buy both, if you can afford it, because the risk is high that you could get stuck bunking with some fat businessman from Hubei Province who chain smokes and sweats garlic oil. At first, my prospects didn't look so good. There was a mad crush of people to get on the train, most of whom had half their worldly belongings stuffed into cardboard boxes or white plastic bags. When they opened the gates to let the people board, the people stampeded.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 28: Chinese roosters, like roosters everywhere, crow to announce the arrival of day. It is the best kind of alarm, and in Water's Head village, a crescendo of mules and goats figure into the mix, a brazen and undeniable call to action. We got up, washed our hands, and rolled our sleeping bags. The toilet was situated in a shed out back, and was nothing more than a hole in the ground to squat over. It worked just fine, so long as you could tolerate the thigh-burn.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 27: Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall of China is not one big, long, continuous stretch of unending wall. It is several pieces of wall, with many gaps. It is also many different walls, though they all run roughly parallel to one another--east to west--separating China from the lands to the north. The Great Wall of China was not a raised highway used to transport goods and people across the country, it cannot be seen from the moon, there are no dead workers buried within its bricks, and no one knows how long it is. The Great Wall was built with a single purpose in mind: to keep out Mongol raiders.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Day 26: My first night in Beijing, I bathed in an eighteenth-century palace, rode on a bus more packed than I thought possible, and ingested the spiciest cabbage in existence. This was before the fight broke out.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

oday is the saddest of these 80 days. Laura and Greta left on a plane to fly back over the Pacific Ocean. The morning was long and heavy. We ate breakfast, then undertook the painful process of packing separate luggage. Greta was wearing her bunny outfit, which is my favorite. At around 10 a.m., it was time to say goodbye. I lifted her up, kissed her warm, tender head and tears were rolling down my cheeks as she smiled and made googly noises at me, which was a 180-degree role reversal for us.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

From a design point of view, the cruise ship was conservative tacky. It looked like it was decorated by a team of Hungarian-coffee-shop grandmothers with a dream budget--lots of chrome and brass, smoke crystal sconces and chandeliers, and plenty of glossy marble surfaces. You know the look.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

As I write this, it is 5:20 p.m. here and 5:20 a.m. on the Eastern Seaboard. My watch is correct once again. I am halfway around the world. Here on the other side of the world, no one seems to think I'm dressed very well. Every second man I pass in the street wants to make me brand new a suit. So great is their alarm over my appearance that they assure me that one can be ready in just a few hours.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

aura visited the spa for the third time. This time, she underwent a treatment called the Ionithermie Cellulite Reduction Program, even though she has only microscopic quantities of cellulite which hardly require anything as drastic as Ionothermie, whatever it may be.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

This morning we sailed through the gap of ocean between the Philippines and Taiwan. The air outside was suddenly humid and dense and thick with the smell of pollution. To step outside now is to feel heavy and exhausted. It is as though Asia is exhaling on us. We seem to pass one ship every hour or two. There was a big one this morning, another tanker. It inched by in front of us, stolid and humorless. Tomorrow morning we arrive in Hong Kong. The cruise is almost over. I had a burger for lunch today, the last until I get back to America.

11 April 2007

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

If I had the money, the first thing I would do upon getting to Hong Kong is buy the biggest, fattest, most ridiculously enormous SUV available and drive it up and down the city's streets--idling whenever the mood strikes, cranking the air conditioning with the windows open--just to appreciate the superb fuel economy. When it comes to fossil fuels, this ship has quite a thirst. It doesn't run on gas or diesel fuel. It burns what's known as heavy fuel oil, a petroleum product that, when cold, is hard enough to walk on. (This is the stuff Kim Jong-Il is always running out of. This and Cognac.)

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Had another massage today. I know what you're thinking. But if I don't have at least one massage a week, I could get fired. This one involved a seaweed wrap. I was going for a terroir thing. You know, I'm on the ocean right now, I should be wrapped in seaweed. The seaweed itself was no longer in weed form. It had been dried, powdered and mixed with clay and something minty. With a little water, it turned into a soft paste that the masseuse spread all over my body, then wrapped me in tin foil. Unfortunately, it wasn't Pacific seaweed. It was from France, and thus the massage was not ocean-appropriate.

26 March 2007

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

It was a dark and stormy morning. The boat was heaving worse than ever, and I got up well before sun rise, opened the curtains and was met by an angry sea: frothy white caps, a howling wind picking up seawater and blasting it at the side of the ship, and a driving rain. I couldn't sleep, so I grabbed my Sony Reader, which I loaded with books before leaving, and went up to the Lido Deck for coffee, convinced I was the only soul stirring on the boat. I arrived to find a collection of elderly gentleman already there, reading and drinking coffee. I settled down with a latte, a smoked salmon sandwich and my book and thought about the considerable pleasures of rising early.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

The ship started pitching early this morning. We woke up expecting to see a fierce ocean outside our window. Instead, it was a vision of calm. There was a fine chop on the water, the conditions were perfect for waterskiing, and yet, amidst all this calm were big, gentle rollers that threw the nose of the boat up, and yanked it down again.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

I am developing an obsession with the crew. Their lives seem substantial imbued with arc compared to the leisurely routines of the guests. Beneath their smiles and courteous nods, there is the aggravation and frustration of working life. There must be.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

I received an email from my father today that concluded with the line, "You are a terrible gambler." My father knows me well. As promised, I took yesterday's bingo winnings to the casino last night with the hopes of increasing my net worth even more. In a span of thirteen minutes, the afternoon's bingo jackpot of $140 had been reduced to $100 and I was so pained by my reversal in fortune that I refrained from another, no doubt equally calamitous, buy-in.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Between bingo games, I've found myself with a little time to respond to several questions and comments posted on the blog. Thanks all! I'm dedicating the next bingo win to you.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

Cruise ship life has a way of getting inside you. We begin every morning with breakfast on the balcony, which is one of the most pleasant breakfast experiences there is. Why all the other guests congregate in the buffet area when they could be sitting at their very own, private ocean-view table watching the sun rising on the horizon is a mystery to me.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Travel Blog by Conde Nast Traveler at Concierge.com

A strange thing happened last night. Somewhere around midnight, we left Sunday and entered Tuesday. This implausible turn of events is due to the fact that we crossed the International Date Line, and no matter how hard I try to understand the physics involved, I am left perplexed. Monday, to paraphrase Lynrd Skynrd, is gone with the wind--and that's the problem.

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