English as Your Only Language.

So, I’ve been reading this book called The Timbuktu School for Nomads. It’s helping me keep my head in other places over the winter, before I start travelling again in the spring. I enjoy the story very much, and it makes me think of my own time in the desert (such as it was). The reason I bring this up here is that there is a fair bit in the story about struggling with language. The author kind of made his own way out of Europe and down through Africa. he went from local tribe to local tribe and had to adjust to different languages as he went. it is my impression that he spoke some Arabic before he left Europe, but not a lot. Which leads me to me topical question, Do you find it necessary to speak more than one language, or to have a backup language?

I only speak one language. English. American English, to be exact. I specify the difference, because the first time I went to London I had no idea what people were saying for about two days. It took me some time to listen to the differences in words and start to figure things out.

In my travels, I have found that there were many occasions where speaking the local language would have been handy however, it was never a necessity. I have always managed to get by on some hand gestures and a big cheesy smile. Case in point, Paris. I love Paris. It’s dirty and fantastic and ( sadly) full of Parisians. They are the international poster children for being snooty about language. Or, so it would seem from the modern media. The truth is not so far afield.

Whenever I can, I stay a little place called Le Tim Hotel. It’s on the Seine, down the street from the Louvre. It’s a nice little place with good access to the Metro. Directly across the street from the front door is a corner Brassiere. You can get a beer or some food, and watch the street scenes play out as you sit. It’s nice.

Now, to set the stage, I wouldn’t say I speak any French, at all. I took French classes in first through fifth grade, and grew up about an hour and a half from Quebec, in New York. One would think I would have retained some ability to fake my way through, but no! What I retained were words. Words buried deep in my memory. The stuff that comes out when you’re talking and not thinking.

Every time I get into town, I go to the Brassiere. I go there every day, late in the afternoon, for something to eat. Usually on the first day I can say hello. The waitress French girl looks at me with disdain and shows me a seat. By the last day, I can string together a sentence, and the same waitress French girl will usually smile and ask me to stop speaking French and just use American. I’ll laugh, do as instructed, and leave an extra tip.

The point to this is not that they don’t like people who don’t speak the language. They don’t like people who don’t try to speak the language. This is an important distinction to make. I try to learn enough of any language before I go to say hello, yes, no, reservation, please and thank you. This little bit, if applied correctly, will warm the heart of the person you’re talking to enough, to let you off the hook. You need to start out in their language, and let them tell you to switch.

Second case study was the Middle East. (I may have mentioned this bit in an earlier post. if I’m being redundant I’m sorry.) The Arabic language is not and easy nut to crack. I bought a Rosetta Stone set before I left and attempted to learn some of the language. it was not a success. So, I tried a second time, when I first made it to Kuwait. That too, was not a success.

You would think that a big white dude wandering around Kuwait and not knowing how to speak Arabic would be a problem. I certainly did. it turns out that it’s not. After a little trial and error, some random conversations at restaurants, and pretty much every cabbie in the country, I learned that the base common language in Kuwait is English. It was some thing I was unprepared for, and left a large cultural hurdle un-leapt, though it helped me significantly. The vast majority of people in Kuwait are imported workers. The Kuwaiti really don’t do anything useful. Mostly, because they have oil money. So everyone that I ended up interacting with out in the city, the cabbies, the shopkeepers, the restaurant waitresses and the like, were all from some other country. They were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, or Shri Lanka. They couldn’t talk to each other either, but they all learned from limited form of English in their homeland. So, by proxy, English became the common tongue.

I learned as I spent time there that it as definitely more helpful if you had someone in your group that did speak the language. I paled around with my British buddy Zahin. Z Man’s Cultural upbringing meant that he could converse in Pakistani. We got way better service and food at the local place when we conversed with them in their native tongue. I got perfectly acceptable service when I went at them in English, but I got way better food when Z Man went at them in Pakistani. People just respected that. That, I am fully behind.

So, I have found that if you are polite and courteous, people will also be polite and courteous. From Egypt to Jordan, to Dubai, to Italy, to France, and Peru, I have found that if you go slow and at-least start out I their language, you will end up getting the conversation completed. People are people. They just want you to respect their ways. After all, isn’t that why we travel? To learn the ways of others?

Have you had this same experience? Have you tried to get somewhere on hand gestures and a big smile? Knowing the native tongue is definitely good, but don’t let it stop you from going.

Kuwait, circa 2018. The shops signs in Kuwait are somewhat bilingual, as are the road signs. I think the camel just speaks camel though.


Now go on. get out there and make your own experiences.

Boxes Of Photographs.

This is a follow up post, of sorts. A little while back I wrote a post about travel photos and wrapped philosophic about what happens to them when you return from vacation. This is an adjacent take to that post. A bit more, present day.
Since returning from the middle east, I have found that I need to reestablish the general level of comfort that I am used to. When traveling from an extended period, one of your primary money drains, at least at an adult age, will be what to do with your residence. This was the topic of an early blog post. Some people find it a good idea to keep their homes and rent them, some sell them and plan to find another later. People living in apartments really need to address how to handle their possession, but still have the issue of unburdening themselves from leases.
Having struck a bargain with a friend for rental of his house, I have handled the where-to-live issue. This prompted a languid trudge over to my storage unit (where all my possessions live) to retrieve the most essential items. I needed a bed and a few pans for cooking. I confess that my cooking is minimal, mostly coming from frozen pizzas and microwave burritos, but you never know when you’re going to want some soup or something, plus I can’t exist without a coffee pot. I pulled out my grandmother’s dinning room table, so I could utilize it as a writing table. It’s the right size. And, almost as an afterthought, a grabbed a large plastic tote labeled pictures. It might be nice to have a picture or two on the walls.
I have numerous totes marked either pictures or photo albums, so I wasn’t sure what was in it, when I grabbed it. I simply assumed that there would be something cool. It turned out to be a good thought. The one I grabbed was almost completely travel photos. There was one of me at the pyramids in Giza, and another from Machu Picchu. I found the catacombs of Paris, the Cysteine Chapel, and Stonehenge. Street scenes from Lisbon, and Dublin, as well as the gardens of the Louvre. There was even me running with the bulls in Pamplona.
I scattered the pictures over walls, wherever a nail was left behind, and filled a couple of empty shelves with frames. As I walk around now, I find that the pictures have two profound effects. The first one is that they make me happy. Sometimes, I sit and just look at the ones from Pamplona and remember the crazy 24-hour street party that is the Festival. Other times, when I am having a bit of writer’s block, I look over at the picture of the Eiffel Tower. It was taken from the park in mid-summer, and really is Paris. Second, and much more real, they make me want to travel. I have places to see, and parts of the map that I haven’t been to. These pictures remind me not to rest too long. Life isn’t lived at a writing table, not even a nice one like grandmas. Life is lived out in the world. It’s a good thing that there is already something in the works for next summer, or the pictures would give me the itch to do something foolish. They can be powerful motivation.
The pictures also have one final power. They remind me of the people that I’ve met along the way. Random people that cross your path and give you something to keep. I spend half of my trip through Egypt partying with this group of Australians. I have completely lost touch with them over the years, but the memory of joking and drinking the night away as we waited for the sun rise over the Nile is permanently locked in my memory. (The pictures of the sunrise did not capture the majesty of the event.)
I guess the question wrapped up in all of this, if there is one, is what do you do with your travel pictures? Do you print them out and display them? Are they topics of conversation when people come to visit? Do they motivate you to travel more? Do they remind you of how good things are on the rainy slow days? I find my travel pictures do all of those things. I would suggest that you print out a few and scatter them about. So many people live in computers any more, that I think we all forget that we also live on the planet. And the planet has a lot of awesome history, and cool people in it. That’s just my two cents.
As a side note, my pictures aren’t super fancy or anything. I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t do a lot of Kodak processing. I print most of my pictures off my printer, using photo paper. It works, and they look like photos. To me, that’s what counts. It’s the image, not the quality of the image. But, that’s just me. You do you.

Now, you get out there and take some pictures. Go make some memories.

Kilts, Cabers, and Klans.

Though I admit at the outset of this post that I only travelled across town, and it is a small town, I like to find new experiences in unexpected places. And, I would classify new experiences as one of the primary reasons for travel. So, here we go …

Yesterday, in the midst of cold weather and overcast skies, I joined friends for a trip to the local Scottish Festival. And, even though I’m not Scottish, (all of the family crest research episodes have come back as English) I did have a very good time.

The 57th Scottish Gathering and Highland Games was held in Salado, Texas, from 9 through 11 November. As a casual observer, I’d say the event could be broken down into about four distinct activities, which seemed to offer something interesting for every person who stopped.

First, there was an area in which representatives from each of the recognized klans were all located. I found this area definitely interesting. Many of the klan’s booth areas hosted historical information with maps and individual klan tartan colors. Others showed historic swords and items that their individual klan produced (think whiskey). All of the different representatives were happy to sit and tell stories and provide information.

Second, there was your standard craft fair area with numerous tents selling every end of Scottish oriented paraphernalia. There were t-shirts, kilts, crafts, jewelry, books, swords, knifes, and the like. I enjoyed this area quite well, and made several turns around the tents.

Third section, I would classify as entertainment. This was broken into two different sections; the dancing and the bagpipes. The dancing section consisted of competitions between groups of young men and women performing traditional dances, and was quite entertaining. The second section was the band competition. Performing groups consisted of drum and bagpipe, and ranged from school band groups to adult performance groups. The band area collected most of the spectators and everyone was obviously entertained.

The fourth section, and collector of most all the remaining spectators, was the area where the Highland Games were contested. Sturdy men and women decked out in klan colored kilts and fashionable competition t-shirts competed in the various events. I stayed to watch sections of the bail toss, the hammer throw, and the caber toss. It was spirited and enjoyable to be sure.

Though the weather wasn’t the best, it didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of anyone that showed up. The center of small town Salado was full and parking was definitely at a premium. I parked toward the end of town, by the local craft beer brewery, Barrow Brewing Company. After a solid turn around the festival, I walked back to the brewery for a beer and some heat. It will sound bad, but 45 degrees in Texas is damned cold! I like the summer heat of the desert much more than the winter cold of the high desert plans.

If you happen by a Scottish Festival, I say stop in and take a look around. I think you will find something enjoyable as you make your way through it. Wether it be the people, the scenery, or the spectacle, there is a little something for everyone.

One end of the klan representatives area.

One of the bands warming up before competition time.

the tossing of the caber.

Wether it’s down the street of on another continent, I say get out there and see what there is to see. Enjoy the ride!

Going Home.

Having come back to America from the Middle East, there was a requirement to head back home and see mom and dad. I utilized the initial couple weeks being back in the USA to handle the things that need to be handle after a year abroad. There was finding an apartment, rifling through loads of mail, miscellaneous doctor visits and the like. Having the necessary items in the bag, it was time to leave Texas for the unwelcoming fall weather in upstate New York.

I decided to fly, as opposed to driving, because I had a bunch of AA frequent flyer miles that were about to expire. I bought the remaining needed miles and ended up with a completely reasonable plane ticket. After that, I shopped around until I found a decent rate on a rental car. It ended up being booked from Hertz through Travelocity. Parking my truck at the long term in Austin is cheap. And, I also stay at the same motel in Potsdam every time, Northern Family Motel. It has great rates and is owned by a high school friend.

Being back in my hometown after a significant time has been an interesting affair. Spending time with mom and dad is great. They have been enjoying the time. After that, the stay has turned into a scavenger hunt of tracking down friends I haven’t seen in some time and catching up.

Small town food hasn’t changed, and I have been making my way through all of the small town hotspots. I think I’m gaining weight! The food in small town America is sturdy and sticks to your bones. Its meat and potatoes, washed down with beer around this place.

Small town America in the fall is as far removed from the deserts of the Middle East as one can possibly be. 100 degree sunny days of uniform brown have been replaced by 40 degree rainy days of half-emptied trees of dulled fall leaves. Brown sand handed off to green grass. The chatter of numerous languages replaced by quiet conversations in one language.

I always enjoy being up in the New York Adirondack mountains, but I must admit that the hotter Texas weather is more to my liking. I’m sure that my thermostat will adjust after some time. For now, I’m just going to wear warm clothes and complain. I can’t complain for long though, there are still more people to track down before I have to go get back on a plane.

Making my way through O’Hare airport in Chicago.

The heavy-duty breakfast. It sticks to you ribs.

There is no pizza better than East Coast pizza. Its just a fact, but I might be a little bias.

Now, get out there and explore the roads you already know well. You will enjoy the ride. Go. Enjoy.

A Quick Road Trip.

Faced with a weekend that quickly needed to be filled with something, I decided that it wasn’t too early for a quick road trip. There was a cup of coffee, a scroll around google maps, and a bag to be packed.

Admittedly, when I walked out the door I was only 50% committed to my idea. But when I hit I-35, the truck turned itself north and I was off to explore Oklahoma.

I’ve never been to Oklahoma before. This trip afforded me the opportunity to check off another state. Now, I only have four left to go and I’ll have been to them all. This seemed like an Easy Peasy kinda day.

I drove out of the rain around Waco, and found the blue sky line about Denton. As I kept going north on I-35, the weather continued to improve. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City, it was T-Shirt weather once again. Joy of joys!

My primary stop in OKC was the Oklahoma National Memorial, otherwise known posthumously as the Murrah Federal Building.

The memorial was quite nice, and well worth the drive. There is an open air memorial occupying the building footprint and the accompany street that received the cratering charge from the explosion. There is a multi-story museum located in an adjacent building which was reportedly used as the incident command scene. The museum has a complete story of events and is fairly moving.

Rolling north out of OKC, next stop was Stillwater. Some years ago, I promised a friend of mine that if I ever made my was to Oklahoma, I was go to Eskimo Joe’s restaurant. So, I did!

Eskimo Joe’s sits on the edge of the Oklahoma State University campus and is an obvious community landmark. The wait was long, unless you sat at the bar, which I did. The burger and fries were quite tasty, and the gave me a soda to go. I give the place high marks. I also picked up a T-shirt from the monstrous gift shop.

Getting out of Joe’s after dinner time, I drove down the main drag till I found a motel and pulled in. The Days Inn in Stillwater is clean and reasonably priced. I was watching American Ninja Warrior as I typed this post.

Tomorrow, it’s a casual drive back south to Texas, and maybe a stop at the casino.

When an opportunity presents itself, get out there. Check those boxes!

The reflecting pool of the Oklahoma National Memorial.

The open air tribute to the people lost in the bombing.

Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, OK!

Go find adventure!

Adjusting to the Weather.

It’s been a minute since I’ve left, what had become, my desert home. I have to say that of the small number of things I enjoyed about the desert, the heat would be number one. It’s interesting to me how something like the weather can have a lasting effect on people’s impressions of a place.

For the record, I grew up in the northeast. The winters were snowy and blisteringly cold. The summers were nice and sunny. Neither of these settings produced the hot heat that I found, once I started to travel. Admittedly, the northeast has much more to offer than snow, but that is the relevant part for this post. I still enjoy the change of the leaves in the fall, and the way the woods gives way to winter as that happens. It is a cycle of life thing, I guess?

I loved the cold, when I was younger. resisting it was how you measured up against your friends. Work had to be done, cold weather or not, so you just got used to it. As I began to travel for work, I got exposed to other climates. Climate that, now a much older individual, I enjoy better. There is something about the heat that is much easier on me, than the cold is. There is an old joke up home that says, old people go to Florida for the winter. Though a joke, there seems to be some truth in it all.

I bring this up today because, well, it’s cold out. I came back to the USA about two weeks ago. It was still summer in the Middle East. The heat was still on. I was hoping the same would be said of Texas, even though it was coming on to fall here pretty fast. I can say it was nice for a couple days. The sun was out, and the heat was still here. That, however, has changed. The last week it has been raining basically non-stop, and the heat has left the land. Yesterday, I was wearing three layers of clothes (though one was for the rain).

I not really a complainer. I tend to just accept things as they come along. I’m just shocked by the change in affairs. When I first moved to Texas, it was SOOO DAMNED HOT down here that I wasn’t sure I was going to stay long-term. Now, after a year in real heat, it just feels wet and cold.

Of all the memories I have from the last year wandering around the Middle East, I think that the feeling of the deep dry heat might be the one that stays with me the longest. The dry heat, like standing inside an oven, will hopefully stick with me as I re-climatize to a cooler climate. or maybe, it will be the catalyst to get me travelling again? Right now, it’s hard to say.

Remember, its the experiences you have that make traveling the world worth while. There is absolutely no substitute for actual experience. now, get out there. Have some great experiences!

Sunrise in the desert. Circa 2017, Kuwait.

Excited by Airbnb!

With my tenure in the Middle East coming to a close, I have set my mind on new adventures. My current musing have me, in my mind’s eye, backpacking around Europe. A Europe of the summer type of event. This, as we all know, is not the cheap time to be in Europe. Normally, I would consider the shoulder season, unless there is a specific date range that I need to be in a specific country for. Shoulder season is the better time to be in the land of the Euro. The prices are cheaper, the crowds are less, and the weather is still pretty nice. Current planning still has me heading back across the Atlantic in the spring shoulder season. That will allow me to cover some ground before prices start to climb. After the prices start to climb, I have been researching options to keep the overall cost down to a reasonable extravagance.

This research has led me to become extremely curious about Airbnb. I have heard a lot about Airbnb over the last couple years but have never tried them out. I tend to just find low cost hotels and consider that good enough. I’m not a hosteler. I’m too old for that experience. So, it’s usually hotels.

I was reading a good piece on keeping things within budget from light-travels.co. It is a great blog, full of good advice, and a breeze to read. In a section regarding maximizing your travel money, Carly (the blog’s author) was a great proponent of Airbnb, as their pricing for stays of more than a couple days was a good cost savings. This article led me to their website. Since then, I have spent many hours on their site typing in different cities and date ranges to see what is on offer. I am continuously amazed by the difference in pricing they offer compared to even low-grade hotels in the same cities.

I have to say, this has me very excited. I even changed my way of thinking about the trip to incorporate more week-long Airbnb locations, as opposed to 2 and 3-day hotel stays. I’m hoping that this will extend out my available travel time by keeping the cost down. I will definitely be letting everyone know how things are going once I get out on the backpacking trail. Until then, I’m just super excited about looking at the website and seeing what the available options are.

Hopefully, this gets you thinking about ways you can stretch your travel budget. Travel doesn’t have to be overly expensive. It just tends to end up that way via the path of least resistance. If you look around for options, they are usually there for you. Definitely look around before you just book that all-inclusive vacation package. A little research will save you some money.

Now get out there. Go vacation and stuff.