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Prince Albert National Park: Simultaneously disappointing and amazing!

When I announced that I was going to Saskatchewan, more than one friend assumed that I would chose to visit Regina – mainly because Regina is about the only legit rhyme for another English word. So, while these friends were right to go to the gutter, they forgot about Prince Albert National Park, which must be the most misleading name for a national park, ever.

Prince Albert National Park: Spruce River Highlands Trail

In my imagination, there would be PAs running amok wherever I turned – and I thought it would be amazing to capture a PA in front of a sign that said “Prince Albert National Park” – unfortunately I do not have a PA, nor do I know anybody who has one, who I would be willing to ask to join me in PANP to pose for said picture. Thus, my entry into PANP lacked the excitement of my dreams. However, I did get a standard English/French bilingual admission ticket to the park, and I must say that the name of the park drifts substantially between English and French – 900ish kilometers and one province, to be exact.

Prince Albert National Park Entry

While my piercing gaze over the landscape did not detect any PA, it did detect incredibly vivid fall colors: some of the nicest and brightest yellows and reds that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Prince Albert National Park might be the most beautiful place that I’ve seen in 2018 (although, given my travels, there is some hearty competition).

Prince Albert National Park: Spruce River Highlands Trail

It was starting to rain semi-seriously my first day in the park – so I hiked about a kilometer at one stop in order to climb a tower to enjoy a beautiful vista, then another tower to enjoy another beautiful vista, before landing at the Hawood Inn, in Waskesiu Lake, a town in the park, with hotels, shops, and services. There were also (expensive) restaurants – so I was doubly happy to have brought some basic foods from a Safeway along the way.

Prince Albert National Park: Height-of-Land Tower

After checking in and being upgraded (my first room had an air conditioning unit whose parts were disassembled), I wandered around Waskesiu Lake for an hour or two. As I was there in the shoulder season – by about two weeks and on weekdays – the town was dead. Some of the shops were already closed for the season and those that were open were selling summer clothing at substantial discounts.

What I really, really, wanted was stuff that said Prince Albert – yet there was only one men’s t-shirt that said this, and it was sold by the Parks Canada gift shop. I was completely blown away by the fact that the name and its double/triple meanings were not exploited at all. I desperately wanted to buy lots of things exploiting the awesome name, so to come away with a single t-shirt and a deck of cards was disappointing, although a blessing for my bank account.

All of that aside, I hiked a total of about 8 kilometers on Thursday – my one full day for the park. One day was not enough time. I should have extended my time in the park by another full day, especially given how disappointing Saskatoon ended up being.

Prince Albert National Park: Greay Owl Trailhead

My first highlight Thursday was watching a wolf cross the road about 500 meters ahead of me – I rode that emotional high as I drove down a dirt road to the Grey Owl trailhead. The road itself was fine the first 10km, at which point it became a little less packed and was bordering muddy at points. This kind of driving is not my favorite. When I got to the trailhead, I walked briefly down the path, but between the rain that was threatening to turn the road into mud, signs warning of bears sighted in the area, and a rock with a warning that a bear had been seen Sunday at 2:30 (albeit, the specific Sunday was unspecified), I headed back toward civilization, but not before stopping at a few places to hike and enjoy Prince Albert National Park.

Prince Albert National Park: Greay Owl Trailhead

The Narrows Peninsula Trail was a lovely 3 kilometer loop that offered excellent views of Waskesiu Lake – really, trying to apply words to the scenery is pointless as English offers up only a small number of words to cover such a range of beauty.

Prince Albert National Park: Narrows Peninsula Trail

Prince Albert National Park: Narrows Peninsula Trail

Prince Albert National Park: Narrows Peninsula Trail

From there, I headed south, stopping at the Point View – with another nice view on Waskesiu Lake.

Prince Albert National Park: Point View

After that, I passed a hunter on the road: what can I say about this hipster, other than the fact that (s)he appears to be eating free-range organic fowl, thus meaning (s)he fits into Prenzlauer Berg perfectly.

Fox and Goose

The next hike was the Waskesiu River Trail, a nice 2.5km wander around the river flowing from Waskesiu Lake.

Prince Albert National Park: Waskesiu River Trail

Prince Albert National Park: Waskesiu River Trail

Prince Albert National Park: Waskesiu River Trail

I concluded with the Boundary Bog Trail, a short 2km through a bog.

Prince Albert National Park: Boundary Bog Trail

Prince Albert National Park: Boundary Bog Trail

At that point, I was toast – but I returned to town and took another walk around town, this time stopping in the one shop that had been closed on Wednesday but was open on Thursday.

In retrospect, I wish that I had one more day in Prince Albert National Park – the scenery was outstanding. I would happily have lost a day from Saskatoon in favor of PANP. Not only that, but I would go back to PANP: it’s that good.

My trip timing was perfect: Canadian kids start school at the beginning of September and during the week the park is empty, thus giving you lots of space and the ability to get away from it all. The fall colors (at least this year) were in full force – lending another layer of beauty that just cannot be beat.

The only thing I would have done differently is that I would have packed slightly warmer clothing – my attire Thursday consisted of a thin woolen undershirt, a standard t-shirt, and my normal weight woolen hoodie. While this was fine, it was, perhaps, a smidge too light. Thursday’s weather was running about 6°C and misty – but it never actually rained heavily. Had it snowed (which was in the forecast), I suspect I would not have enjoyed my day nearly so much.

Saskatoon, from best to worst

I’m fresh back from a trip to Saskatchewan – my ninth Canadian province – meaning that I have one to go, plus the three territories. My explicit goal is the complete the provinces, but I am not sure I will attempt the territories: while the Yukon and Northwest Territories are easy, Nunavut is shockingly expensive to get to – at least whenever I examine ticket prices.

The last few days were spent in Saskatoon: I mainly like city trips and I expect cities to be interesting, dynamic places. This does not describe Saskatoon. Generally speaking, Saskatoon was a series of disappointments – high expectations that were, at best, unfulfilled. However, there were some things that either met expectations or exceeded them—so starting with the positive:

Billy-Ray Belcourt and Chelsea Coupal

Billy-Ray Belcourt and Chelsea Coupal on the stage. If they look cold, it is because it was cold.

Billy-Ray Belcourt – Sometime in the last year, Bill-Ray crossed my radar and I ordered up his poetry collection, which made its way to me in Berlin. It probably spent two months on my physical-paper objects to read pile before I realized that Billy-Ray would be speaking at the Saskatoon Word on the Street literary festival while I was going to be in Saskatoon. I pulled the book of poetry out of the stack and started reading. Poetry is something that I typically struggle with – but his work penetrated my consciousness and I found myself laughing and sympathizing.

Sunday ended up being a rather cold and dank day: generally misty, it was not a day to be outside, especially carrying around books. As such, the crowd at the poetry reading was actually quite large considering: about 30 of us sat/stood under the shelter of a tent listening to Billy-Ray and Chelsea Coupal, a poet from rural Saskatchewan, read from their collections. It ended up being a lively reading with the crowd clearly enjoying both poets – although I was under the vague impression that Billy-Ray had a larger fan-base at the talk.

John Diefenbaker Campaign Material

Diefenbaker Canada Centre – Throughout Canadian history, there has been only one Prime Minister from Saskatchewan, John G. Diefenbaker, who served from 1957-1963. Given that I enjoy visiting Presidential Libraries in the US, I thought it might be fun to visit the Canadian equivalent. Shockingly, as I understand it, there is only one – so I have completed my quest to visit the “libraries” of Canadian Prime Ministers. The exhibits far exceeded my expectations: it covered the life of Diefenbaker pretty thoroughly (as far as I can tell), talking about his hopes and aspirations for the country. I spent just under an hour there, which was more than enough to cover it all.

Mi Casa – Saskatoon’s highest rated Mexican restaurant is actually a Mexican/Central American restaurant and was well worth the trip. I was the only customer who did not speak Spanish – which says something about the customers that the place attracts. The food was good and had nuanced flavors that were outstanding. I would highly recommend stopping by there.

Tim Horton's Breakfast

Tim Hortons – Face it: the coffee at Tim Hortons is not the best on the planet, but it’s fine. The donuts and breakfast items are great. The service is fast. I ended up stopping by Tim Hortons twice while in Saskatoon because it is a known quantity and it’s a great third space.

Maple Leaf Lounge – Talk about lucky, Air Canada opened its newest MLL at the Saskatoon Airport on Friday, September 14: a few days after I got here, but a few days before I departed. The MLL is not huge, but its staff is incredibly friendly and the space is suitably dignified.

Roasted Nuts

Saskatoon’s Farmers’ Market – I’ll say that the Farmer’s Market met expectations. If I had a kitchen and/or was staying in Saskatoon longer, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. Considering my traveling circumstances, it was worth a gander, but while the pies looked good, they were not going to go into my suitcase heading home.

So… now that you’ve read about the things that met or exceeded expectations, the rest ranges from mildly disappointing to so completely disappointing that I wanted my money back.

South Saskatchewan River

Remai Modern Museum – this is supposedly a gem of an art museum, but I found it lacking in multiple ways. Architecturally speaking, the architect was not kept in control: the building has extremely high ceilings (which I suppose might be necessary in parts of a modern art museum) – attempting to give a grand impression. I guess it worked, I felt like it was a grand space. One very strange choice were the doors into each gallery, which were glass, tall, and had a VERY LOUD CLANK every single time somebody opened it. I suppose it’s a way to wake up the bored security guards, but in an otherwise relatively quiet space, it scared the crap out of me each time.

With respect to its art, unfortunately for me, there’d been a power outage the night before and two of the exhibits weren’t working. No discount on the price, just a vague apology. After spending an hour wandering around, I think I can say that their current exhibitions did not speak to me – and, in what I think is a very strange choice, they had a display of work by Picasso. Apparently, they have a large collection of Picasso prints (I forget the details). Given that I don’t particularly care for Picasso’s work, I can safely say the gallery was wasted on me.

Ukrainian Museum of Canada – This was a huge disappointment: Saturday, it was closed for their annual meeting (I’d some how missed that detail on their website, so perhaps my fault that I didn’t notice) and it is only open on Sundays in the Summer. September is not summer. Thus, I did not get to see the museum.

Pizza Pirates – the cold, wet, blustery weather deterred me from going outside Saturday evening. Further, I suspected that I was coming down with a cold (thankfully a wrong impression), so I found the highest rated pizza delivery restaurant, clicked onto their website and was stopped cold: they were not open! Naturally, I thought this was odd: it was 7:30pm on a Friday night. Surely a pizza restaurant would be open. Double-checking their website, they were open – so why was my online order not going through? I realized it was because my computer is set to Berlin time and at 3:30am on a Sunday morning, they would be closed. So, I adjusted my computer clock and my order went through.

The resulting pizza, the Veggie Pirate, was interesting. The toppings were Ginger. Coriander, Mushrooms, Green Peppers, Hot Peppers & Onions; ultimately a decent combination. Unfortunately, the crust was too much: too bready, too much there. I should have ordered the thin crust version. The pizza completed its main purpose in life, which was to ensure I ate something at some point Saturday evening. Beyond that I would keep trying pizzas in Saskatoon – as a college town, it ought to have good pizza somewhere.

Bon Temps Café – I kind of blame myself for thinking there might be a substantially OK Cajun restaurant in Saskatoon. I was wrong. There is not a substantially OK Cajun restaurant in Saskatoon. There’s a place that serves what it thinks is Cajun food but is actually far away from anything served in New Orleans.

South Saskatchewan River from Wanuskewin

Wanuskewin Heritage Park: the website and reviews for this Native American center looked outstanding and I was super excited at the prospect of visiting it. To call this thing a dud would be unfair to unexploded ordinance everywhere. After paying $8.50 to get in, I got to watch a 15-minute film that was, at best, uninformative. At worst, it was one of those films that asks a lot of questions but does not provide answers, a pseudo Socratic-style of introductory film. I then went into the gallery, which featured works by two artists – there were, at most, a dozen artistic objects scattered about the room – one of which was clever, the rest forgettable. The $8.50 also provided access to a network of trails around the substantial grounds of the museum. If one wanted, one could spend a couple hours wandering around the grounds, but it was cold and blustery, so I limited the trails that I walked. I kind of wanted my admission fee back. The last time I had that feeling was when I visited the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois, about a decade ago.

Aydens Kitchen and Bar – I booked myself a table at what appeared to be Saskatoon’s best restaurant for Friday evening. If Ayden’s is the best joint in town, then the town is most unlucky. I’d reserved through Open Table, so when Open Table asked me to leave a review, I did:

Ayden seems to have a pretty good reputation — which is what drove me to try it on Friday evening. Clearly, while the restaurant aspires to be something outstanding, it isn’t and it doesn’t have a clue on how to get there. On the food front, the flavors are creative, but not necessarily good. The Poke was adequate — nothing special, while the Beef Belly was not really memorable. For some reason, I foolishly decided to order dessert, the “Chocolate” — which managed to not be what I thought it would be.

Service wise, the place is a disaster: each member of the wait staff oversees too many tables, resulting in service that is, at best, inattentive and unaware. I have no complaints about my waitress – she was working hard, but was covering at least five tables, probably more.

When I pointed out that they’d overcharged me for dessert, it was taken off the bill — so on that front they were apologetic and responsive, but I had the sense that the restaurant has too many things going on and that attention to detail, which is critical at fine dining restaurants, is severely lacking because there are too many details to be tracked.

Been readin’

Like always, I am often found with a book in my hand – recently including two actual books (like on paper), and one on my Kindle that is actually a collection of three works by one author.

There is a common theme through the three books that I’m reading.

Starting up with a recommendation by a friend in Hamburg, I read Late Nights on the Air by Elizabeth Hay – set in a radio station at Yellowknife. The book reminded me of (at least in the first part) of works by Tom Bodett – at the End of the Road (among others). It’s really hard for me to qualify how – other than the fact that both authors capture some kind of intrinsic essence of living in the rural, cold, north. The flashbacks I had to the body of Tom Bodett’s work caught me off guard – making me wish I had copies of his books to re-read. It’s been way too long.

The book took a somewhat dark turn at one point – something that caught me off-guard, but actually dovetailed the book in the collected works.

The largest one, The Collected Works of Grey Owl, is a startling work: writing in the 1930s, Grey Owl is remarkably perceptive about the environment. In fact, the book sounds like it was written today:

I’m currently reading about his two pet beavers – and am not really ready to say anything about it, other than the idea of having two pet beavers is cute.

He also says some nice things about his home, Canada:

All of this, by the way, is not meant to ignore some of the inate controversy about Grey Owl himself: Grey Owl is actually an Englishman, Archibald Stansfeld Belaney. It’s not clear to me if he bestowed the name upon himself (thus meaning cultural misappropriation) or if it was bestowed upon him by a local native. I’m not a scholar in this area and I do not want to wade into this mess – rather, I want to focus on the fact that he is a transformational figure in Canadian conservation/environmental history, changing Canada for the better.

The third book I’m reading is a collection of poems by Billy-Ray Belcourt, This Wound is a World. Poetry is not something that generally speaks to me, but I decided to take a whack at it. Again, it’s not what I normally read, but his poetry seems to work for me. If you want to know more about who he is, his bio, stolen from his website, says:

Billy-Ray Belcourt (he/him) is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is a Ph.D. student and 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar in the Department of English & Film Studies at the University of Alberta; he is at work on a creative-theoretical project called “The Conspiracy of NDN Joy.” He is also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and holds an M.St. in Women’s Studies from the University of Oxford and Wadham College.

There’s a common theme running between these three works – all represent, on some level, my next vacation.

Colorado in August

Republic Plaza Tower

My big trip in August was to Colorado – off to see the family and a plethora of friends.

All-in-all, my time in Denver was time well spent. There wasn’t a single disappointing meet-up or other time wasted. I ended up going to a total of five museums, four meals out with friends, and two Colorado Rockies games.

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum (RMQM)

Some of the museums ended up being really cool – like the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, which is in a store front out in Golden, Colorado. This year was my second visit and I can say that with its rotating exhibitions, I will probably keep returning every time I visit Denver. This time the principle special exhibition was “Pieced Together—Patchwork Quilts from Russia” – with some beautiful work.

Clyfford Still Museum

The same day, I also stopped by the Clyfford Still Museum and the (relocated) Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts. It was my first time at the Clyfford Still Museum – as an artist he crossed onto my map because of a YA novel by Robin Reardon, Educating Simon – in which the title character uses art by Clyfford Still to communicate with his stepsister. What I can say is that Clyfford Still’s art is as described in the book. Ultimately it is a bit too abstract for me – but I’m glad I visited.

With respect to the Kirkland Museum, what I can only say is that in its new location, it just has more space and is, somehow, better organized with respect to time. However, it remains rather cluttered and it is impossible to take it all in. As the third museum in one day, I was too mentally exhausted to fully appreciate its new (and old) surroundings.

The Navarre Building

That said, the absolute best museum in Denver is clearly the American Museum of Western Art. At only $5 for entrance (without a tour, but with an audio guide), this place is a stunningly wonderful place to pass a morning.

The other things in Denver – were all pretty personal. It’s awesome catching up with friends from throughout my life, including time in Denver (middle school, high school), Laramie, and Bloomington.

Dear Apple,

By the time you read this, it will be too late: I’ve made the decision to shift my custom away from Apple environment.

My gateway drug, the Apple iPhone, is not for me. I still remember when it was for me: It was at the WEBMU in Bremen (I think) where PapaScott showed me his iPhone and I was like – I want that. Within a week, I had one. It was amazing – and, quite frankly, put Apple back on the map for me.

A little while later, I bought myself a laptop computer. A MacBook. The MacBook was perfect for me and it became my constant companion.

Eventually I replaced my first iPhone with another iPhone – eventually landing on the iPhone 5. I also replaced my first MacBook with a newer version (a MacBook Pro that is now, as I type on it, rapidly closing in on its 6th birthday).

However, things are not going so well –the newest iPhones, to be blunt, are crap and my MacBook has developed some odd quirks that ought to be looked at.

On the iPhone front: I am a thumb typist. When I hold my iPhone in my hand, I hold it with my right hand and type with my right thumb. My hand is big enough to do this on the iPhone 5. It is not big enough to do it on the iPhone 6, 7, 8, or X. Thus, when it came time to replace my iPhone 5, I went with an iPhone SE.

Am I happy with it? No – not really: I am content with it. The podcast app is a disaster (some podcasts are unsubscribed for no apparent reason) and most App developers seem to forget that the iPhone SE screen dimensions are still out there. The main benefit of having an iPhone SE is that it is not attractive to thieves – it’s too old fashioned and out of date to be worth anything to anyone but me.

With respect to the MacBook, I am frustrated. Last October I said to myself, I will need to buy a new MacBook. I even did some passive research, deciding that for what I use my laptop, I didn’t need a MacBook Pro, but rather a MacBook – but that I wanted to wait for the newest generation to come out. I’ve budgeted a decent amount of money for this.

In the meantime, I’ve been waiting.

Unfortunately, my MacBook Pro has developed some odd quirks and I would like to have it looked at. However, whenever I look at available appointments for the Apple Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Berlin, nothing is available. I’ve looked in the morning. I’ve looked at night. I’ve never seen an available appointment.

I decided to pop by the store last Friday.

Now I do not fault the greeter who attempted to help me, none of the facts that he informed me of are his fault, but it boiled down to this: (1) there were no more walk-ins available on Friday, as of 2:00; (2) my best bet was to show up at 10:00 Saturday morning and be prepared to wait; and (3) once accepted, it is 8 to 12 working days before computers are repaired and returned.

Excuse me?

Eight to Twelve Days to repair a computer?

The greeter explained that it was because the Apple Store was the only one in Berlin and that maybe I would have better luck at one of the other authorized servicing companies in Berlin: same quality of service, he assured me, but it might take longer.

After listening to him go through this, what I understood was, “if you buy a new computer from us, good luck ever getting it repaired.”

In an instant my mind was made up: I’ve been using an Apple MacBook since about 2010 and the iPhone since about 2008. It is time to return to Windows.

Sorry to go,

Adam

PS – A bit of casual research after writing the above indicates I actually had an iPod before the iPhone – but the iPod’s functions were subsumed into the iPhone, so I forgot that I’d ever had one. I haven’t touched an actual iPod in over two years at this point. I own two, but they are never used.

One Night in Paris for Kent Monkman

I’ve gone all in on Kent Monkman: When I noticed that he would have an exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, I decided it was time for a trip to Paris. Mind you, I haven’t been to Paris in close to a decade and that I fall in to the distinct minority of people who don’t get Paris. Surely, I know that Paris is beloved by many, but when it comes time for me to explore the city, I just don’t get it.

Canadian Culture Center Paris: Kent Monkman

So instead of trying to make it an extended visit, I flew over Sunday morning and back Monday evening, making the center of my plans for Monday to visit the Canadian Cultural Center. That was, by far, the best hour of my trip.

Canadian Culture Center Paris: Kent Monkman

The rest of the time in Paris… meh…

Visiting Gdańsk

May is a month with many legal holidays.

Fahrenheit Memorial

Combining the first one, May 1st, with the last weekend in April, plus taking Monday off, I headed to Gdańsk in Poland. I was sold on Gdańsk because it’s home to the Fahrenheit Memorial. Naturally, it became my first stop, providing me a place in the picturesque heart of Gdańsk to see the temperature in Fahrenheit. And Celcius.

Fahrenheit Memorial

Saturday morning, I headed to Costa Coffee – a chain I know well from the United Kingdom. It was if I was in a Costa in the heart of London: all the employees were Polish.

Westerplatte

After my morning coffee, I Übered to Westerplatte, which is where World War II started. Germany’s first attack was on the Polish fort (err: Military Transit Depot), which held out for a remarkably long time. I spent about two hours wandering the grounds – it’s a fascinating place, with the ruins of bunkers, buildings, and a large memorial that honors the memory of Westerplatte.

Westerplatte

Of course, it is hard to transport one’s self back in time to imagine what it was like to defend this tiny piece of land from the invading Germans. Given the communist years where the government simultaneously wished to forget and remember the soldiers at Westerplatte, the ruins are both enough and not enough.

Westerplatte

From there, I took the bus from Westerplatte to the city center, right near the European Solidarity Center, which honors the memory of the Solidarity movement that, ultimately, took Poland out from communist control. A long time ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Lech Walesa speak at Indiana University Bloomington – he was a famous person – introduced to the stage by one of my classmates. (This was before his anti-gay remarks, which, to be honest, goes to show that even people who trigger great societal changes are often imperfect.)

The European Solidarity Center annoyed me: from a poorly designed (physically speaking) audio guide with automatic playing features that triggered recordings that were not always right, combined with a huge amount of textual information posted on signs, it was overwhelming and, to me, frustrating. There were also glass stairs – with some attempt to make the treads look solid, but I found the glass stairs incredibly unnerving to walk up, so much so that I took the elevator. (Going down was slightly better: I could look up and grip the hand rail tightly – I did not see signs for an elevator alternative.)

I also glanced at their (then new) temporary exhibition, which had signs that I could not read for two reasons: small type on a sign posted high up and lights positioned incorrectly over the reflective surface.

ESC sign

It was, to be blunt, a relief to leave the ESC.

Sunday started the same way as Saturday: Costa Coffee.

World War II History Museum

Thereafter I headed to the Museum of the Second World War. I won’t spend too much time on this museum. From my personal perspective, it was nothing new – other than the fact that it was from the Polish perspective. Having read a lot of history as a kid, living in Germany for over a decade, and having visited more than my fair share of World War II sites, there was nothing excitingly new presented to me at the Museum of the Second World War. Other than, of course, the Polish perspective – which was surprisingly muted.

World War II History Museum

One thing that did surprise me about the museum is that it is in Polish and English. I would have expected it to be in German as well, if anything to make sure that the neighboring nation, with its millions of potential tourists, could show up and learn about what awful people they were (are?) in their own language. In that sense, the Polish perspective was hugely muted.

Really, the only time I became annoying with the Polish perspective was toward the end of the museum, when it talked about how Poland was betrayed by the western Allies, left to the control of the Soviet Union, meaning that when the war was over, it wasn’t actually over, because the Polish people then had to suffer through communism.

I’ll agree to that point: communism sucked. But to stick this discussion into a museum about World War II is to jam too much into the museum. The European Solidarity Center is the place for that discussion.

The rest of Sunday and all of Monday were devoted to the beach: I took the tram (well, substitute bus service) out to the end of the line and wandered down the beach until I found a quiet spot to lay out my towel and read my book. I was reading You Gotta Have Wa, a charming book about baseball in Japan, which ends up being about far more than just baseball, but about the Japanese and the way they live.

Tuesday I had a quiet morning – breakfast at a café, a wander through the city, and then I boarded a bus back to the airport and planes back to Berlin.

Gdańsk is worth visiting, but only once.

The Croatian Scam?

It started simply enough: I was walking down the street when a young man stopped me and asked, “Do you speak English?”

He didn’t fit my profile of people to whom I say, “I’m terribly sorry, but no, I do not speak English! What a terrible misfortune. I wish you luck in finding somebody who does speak English.”

Instead he fit the profile of people who look vaguely lost and need directions, I said, “Yes.”

“Do you know any Croatians?” he queried.

“No,” I replied.

“So, you only know Germans?” he asked.

“I don’t know any Croatians,” I said.

We then started a brief discussion where I admitted I was an American and he wanted to know why Kansas and Arkansas were pronounced so differently – “I have family in Arkansas,” he said.

It was in this moment that I suddenly recalled that this wasn’t the first time I’d been asked if I knew anybody from Croatia.

The last time had been a very cold evening, as I was returning home from a party. Coming out of the U-Bahn station, it had occurred to me that I needed to pee. And pee badly. The multiple half-liters of hefeweizen were coming back to haunt me.

About 20 meters from my front door, a young man had stopped me – with the very same series of questions: “Do you speak English?” and “Do you know any Croatians?”

I don’t recall the exact tale of woe that I was told 18 months ago, but the young man who stopped me today was a construction worker who was going to get paid tomorrow, but last night his roommate had been too drunk and he’d had to sleep in a hostel. He now needed 12€ to pay off his hostel bill.

There’s no way I will ever pull out my wallet on the street to give money to somebody on the street so I lied: “Sorry, I don’t have any money on me.”

“How will I pay my bill,” the guy asked me.

“Good luck,” I answered as I started walking again.

May all the Croatians I don’t know, who live in Berlin, stop rooming with alcoholics.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

Last Sunday I headed up toward northern Berlin, a part of the city I have not really taken the time to explore. This time I wanted to see the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide, one of the three (that I know of) Soviet memorials to World War II in Berlin.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

Surprisingly, the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide is of human scale: unlike the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, at Schönholzer Heide, it felt human. It had a bigger impact on me. According to Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, 13,200 out of the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died during the Battle of Berlin are buried here.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

My Sunday morning visit was peaceful — and thoughtful; as one is often given to reflection when visiting memorials.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide

For the complete photo set: Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide.

Don’t Be Stupid Fucking Tourists

I actually uttered this words on a bus earlier this year.

I was somewhere random and needed to go somewhere else random and, like magic, there happened to be a bus that connected the two points. You might think that this is a one off, but the professionals at BVG, the Berlin Public Transit Group, have strung together the most amazing collection of bus routes that connect places in a single seat ride that you wouldn’t think are possible.

Anyhow, I got on this bus, sat down and started reading, not really paying attention.

At the next stop, two people wanted to get on the bus, but the back doors were not opening – the front door was open. Then a woman on the bus, pressed the button to open the doors so that she could get off and these two people got on the bus and immediately sat down.

This I did notice and I knew immediately that these bozos were engaging in fare evasion, thinking to myself, “what assholes.”

Unfortunately for these two people, the bus was quiet enough that the driver noticed and he yelled at them over the PA system, in German, to come to the front and show their tickets.

These two geniuses remained seated and said back, “We don’t speak German.”

So I intervened.

“He wants to see your tickets, so go show them.” – or something like that — The guy got up with his backpack, went to the front of the bus, and started rummaging through his bag. Another clear sign of fare-evading assholes: my public transport ticket is something I show at least twice a day, so I keep it easily accessible.

The girl continued to look confused, and I continued to talk, “Don’t be stupid fucking tourists.”

Clearly It isn’t rocket science to figure out that when you’ve entered a bus in the middle or back and the bus driver starts yelling at you, you need to show your ticket. You do not even need to speak the same language to figure this out.

Perhaps my second comment was unnecessarily cruel, but it’s the basic truth: if you are a tourist, it is incumbent upon you to figure out how public transportation works in the place you are visiting. I’ve made it a point to study how bus systems work in different places – before I get there: Chicago, London, Washington DC, Lisbon, and Kiel – to name a few.

About the only place I’ve ever been completely stumped in advance (and in person) was Lund, Sweden. At the time, the only way to buy a single ride was to use your Swedish mobile phone and to do it via SMS. Otherwise, tourists from outside the country could only buy expensive day-passes and I wanted only one ride. (Even today, you still cannot buy tickets on the bus in most of Sweden unless you use a contactless card; it’s obtuse and confusing, trust me; this from somebody who figures it out in advance.)

Still, after not figuring it out in advance or in person, I approached the bus (mind you I do not speak Swedish) at the front, with the driver, and begged to be let on. I didn’t brazenly behave like an asshole tourist.

I have zero sympathy for tourists (and locals) who evade paying fares.

It gives me a thrill when I see ticket inspectors haul people off of the u-bahn or bus (and not frequently enough from the bus) and fine them for not paying.

What’s also funny is that even though I rarely ride the u-bahn, I have come to recognize some of the fare inspectors, already pulling out my wallet to show that I’m an honest customer, even before the doors to the train are completely shut.