This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Aaaaand that's a wrap

I didn't really have anything to say while I was in Buffalo, so I didn't. Which is not to say that I didn't have a good time. Because I did. I just had nothing to say. I'm back to wondering why I even try to maintain this thing.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Buffalo, Day 1

So here I am, six years after my first visit.

This isn't a proper trip. I'm basically here for a conference which begins Thursday night, and I will have to spend my nights working on my presentation. This is hardly ideal - there are some interesting pubs around here that I wanted to check out - but I will still have plenty of time to wander and explore during the day. And eat. Definitely, definitely, definitely. That all begins tomorrow.

Earlier tonight I asked two dudes on the street, both African American, if they knew anywhere I could get soul food/southern food in Buffalo. The first guy responded "fuck you man!" and stomped away. I wonder if perhaps he thought that I was being racist. The second guy told me to check out Broadway Market, in the East Side (not the safest part of the city). He then demanded money for having answered the question; I think he may have been a hobo. I gave him a dollar.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The end

I'll be back in Canada in less than ten hours, and already thinking about getting back into my life there. First, my beloved Club de Hockey Canadien. They're having their best playoff run in 17 years, and I've basically missed all of it (Game 7 vs. Washington, all of the Pittsburgh series, Game 1 vs. Philly). I'll be back in Toronto in time to watch Game 2. And thank goodness.

A little tougher will be getting back into my work. I've done bits and pieces while on this trip, but obviously not enough, and I will have a mountain to plough through when I get back, not least of which will be preparing a presentation that I will be giving in at a conference in Buffalo on June 4. Usually when I travel, I have a brutally hard time getting back into my work; for me to be an effective, efficient academic, I must be sealed in the academic bubble. It has to be my entire life, or at the very least, I have to live by its logic. Traveling has the nasty side effect of prompting in me an existential crisis: traveling takes me outside this bubble, forces me to interact with loads of interesing people who live fulfilling lives outside the academic realm and inevitably results in me questioning why the hell I'm doing a PhD in an obscure field in which there are basically no jobs. Why do this when I can work for an NGO in London like B? Why do this when I can be a teacher in Sweden like Cailan? Why do this when I can have any number of rewarding jobs that actually pay decent salaries, which of course would allow me to travel even more? I've already begun asking these questions, and I suspect it will take a little bit of time before I can adequately answer them.

In the meantime, I already have another trip lined up: Buffalo! It's for a conference yes, but I've arranged to go a few days earlier so that I can adequately explore the city. I'm beyond excited to be in the rust belt again, and in a rust belt city with such a crazy local food culture no less! I'm sure I will be dispatching reports from there in this space as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Denoument: or, a frenzied return to London

So I am probably by now the world's foremost lay expert on ash clouds and that blasted Icelandic volcano. This is what happens when a much desired holiday is imperiled. I have actually been very lucky with my flights so far. My Toronto-London flight took off as scheduled only two days after ash cloud related cancellations in the UK. My London-Stockholm flight took off, but only after a dramatic shift in winds that prevented the ash which had wiped out flights as far south as Birmingham from descending upon London. So I was probably due some ash-related inconvenience.

The story is this: I was supposed to fly from Stockholm to London (Stansted) on Monday night, and then London (Gatwick) to Toronto on Tuesday morning. But then, upon my arrival in Stockholm from Helsinki, I read that more ash was drifting southeast and had forced flight cancellations as far south as Manchester and Liverpool. Every news story I could find predicted that the ash would continue moving southeast and disrupt flights in London on Monday (the day I was scheduled to fly). I guess I began getting really nervous when East Midlands Airport, not too far from Stansted, closed. I called my airlines, and here is what I figured out:

If my flight TO London on Monday was wiped out, stranding me in Stockholm, but my flight FROM London on Tuesday morning went ahead (a very, very, very, very real possibility), I would have had to buy a brand new ticket back to Canada, because Air Transat would be unable to accommodate me.

So basically, I had to answer these questions:

1. Did I really need to get back to Canada quickly? (YES)

2. If so, how much would I be willing to pay to ensure this? (Unclear)

3. Assuming that there would be ash issues in London on Monday preventing my arrival there (and every single report that I read on Sunday anticipated that there would be), was I willing to pay for a one-way Stockholm-Toronto flight? (NO)

So I took a massive gamble, packed up all my stuff, bolted to Arlanda airport, and bought a ticket on the last flight into London Sunday night. It was expensive... not as expensive as it could have been, and certainly not as expensive as a ticket to Toronto, but expensive nonetheless. And now I'm in London. And wouldn't you know it, it looks like all my freaking out was for nothing: flight restrictions in London were JUST lifted (literally five minutes ago), and it appears as though my originally scheduled flight will proceed. But I don't give a shit. I made the best decision with the information that I had at the time. As far as I'm concerned, I bought myself rather expensive flight insurance for my London-Toronto flight, as well as piece of mind. I had a good sleep last night. I probably would have stayed up all night in Stockholm monitoring weather reports.

And oooh, let's rationalize this a bit further: the amount I spent on that flight last night was probably the same amount of money I would have spent on hostels in England, Sweden, and Denmark if I didn't stay with friends.

I hope I never have to write about ash clouds ever again.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vegas-On-The-Baltic, and Helsinki

So here was the deal: an overnight sail from Stockholm to Finland, followed by a frenzied handful of hours in Helsinki, followed in turn by an overnight cruise back to Stockholm. Pretty much everybody who has ever met me knows that this isn't ideal for me. But I agreed to it because

1. I had awesome company for the cruise
2. This whole trip has been unideal and rushed, so why not rush Helsinki as well.
3. These cruises were evidently a cultural experience unto themselves.

And you know what? I had a blast. I may have had too much of a good time, as I barely got any sleep Friday night and basically explored Helsinki whilst running on fumes. And it's true, the cruise is a hell of an experience, with a very definite Vegas-on-the-Baltic vibe. There was a nightclub, a casino, slot machines, overpriced restaurants and tacky shows such as an American Idol style karaoke contest and an ABBA tribute band. The whole thing seems obviously geared toward Finns. Everybody who worked on board was Finnish, and all the emceeing for the shows and such was done in Finnish only. There was also a sauna. The passengers were a strange mix: seniors, families, and working class Finnish youth (mostly males) looking to get drunk on duty free alcohol.

I may have sung "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in the karaoke lounge.

Helsinki was very pleasant indeed. I wasn't there for very long, but I got a half-decent taste of what it's all about. It seems very livable, and there is plenty of water and green space. Very cool, but in an unpretentious way. The architectural mix is fun (19th and early 20th century), and was a welcome change of pace from Copenhagen and especially Stockholm. I encountered a lot of interesting bars, and some kickass music stores, where I ended up buying an album of Finnish surf music from the early 60s (I'm kicking myself for not buying the CD of Finnish do-wop classics). Mostly everybody I encountered was lovely. I was tired enough to butcher the Finnish word for "thank you" on three occasions, and each time the merchant apologized to me on behalf of the Finnish language. AWWWWWWWW! Finns are so cute and self-conscious!

I don't really have much else to say at this point.

This is my last day in Stockholm before flying back to London tomorrow and Toronto the day after. Or so says my itinerary: unfortunately, the ash cloud looks like it will probably screw this up completely. I told my Mom in an email that I should probably make it to London tomorrow night, but now I'm not so sure. Either way, it seems likely that at least one, if not both, of my flights will be disrupted in some way. We'll see. Come on north winds!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Södermalm, or how I discovered Stockholm's soul

Ahoy. In Stockholm now, about to sleep my second night here. Synopsis: it's a'ight. I definitely prefer Copenhagen, but there is a case to be made for this city too. It's very pretty, particularly the old town. The public buildings are large and impressive. There are lots of swell sounding museums. There is lots of green space. And so forth. But walking around today... I'm not going to lie, I was a little bored. There was little of the grit or impatience or EXCITEMENT that is so refreshing about Copenhagen, and that smacks you in the face as soon as you abandon the tourist hordes. Did this city have a soul?

I should have known better. Last night, upon arrival, we met up with Cailan's friend Henrik at a bar in Södermalm, which appears to be the trendy or boho or hipster district du jour. The bar was great, and so were Henrik and his friends, and then we went to another bar, with Henrik but without the friends, and it was pretty great too. And a lot of other bars that we didn't go to likewise appeared to be pretty great. A lot of them had lineups, and there was a pretty lively street scene too. Obviously, we should have made a beeline for Södermalm this morning, but we were stupid and chose to wander around Stockholm's shopping area, which was about as souless an area as one can imagine (bearing the scars of 1960s urban renewal projects). Better late than never I suppose. We went for dinner in Södermalm, to some really old beer hall with high ceilings and really traditional Swedish food on the menu. The ambiance was raucous, the food was... errr... Swedish (OK, I didn't like my dish, it was too rich, but my starter, herring and cheese, was amazing), and there were fun drawings on the walls. That was more like it. A brief stroll through the streets post-dinner confirmed that Södermalm was indeed the place that Stockholm goes to party.

So yeah, we're heading there first thing tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I had an awesome post planned for today - seriously, probably the most awesome post in the history of the universe - but I am cold and tired and generally feel like shit. I will do my best not to sound too grumpy. Evidently people don't especially like hearing bad news when you're on vacation and they're not.

Regardless. I like this city. Most people do, I think. But I REALLY like it. I've tried very hard to find reasons I don't like it, but this has proven a frustrating exercise. The only thing that I knew really about Copenhagen before I came here was that a) it was the capital of Denmark, and that b) it's currently very, very, very trendy in architecture, design, urban planning, and food circles. This made me want to dismiss it as a little too perfect: too many clean streets, too many perfect little squares, too many perfect waterfront apartment buildings, too many contented, perfect-looking Danes whizzing by me single file on their bicycles, too many photonic energy workships. I tried hard to see it as a souless city that was too happily post-industrial, post-racial, post-political, post-everything.

Instead, I found a city with a surprising (?) amount of grit and soul, and a whole lot of really yummy smørebrøds (open-faced sandwiches) to eat. I've seen a lot of really awesome graffiti. I stumbled into what must surely be the coolest bar in the world (even though I never went inside). I was shocked to find an immigrant neighbourhood - Nørrebro, where I'm writing this blog - so close to the city centre, since immigrants have priced out and pushed to the periphery in pretty much every other major European city. I met some squatters. These are all good things.

Smørrebrøds are the cheapest things here to eat, by far: you can get them for as little as 10 kr (~€1.30). Consequently, I ate a lot. It would take me hours to describe every kind of smørrebrød I had, because I definitely had over 10, and maybe over 15. I will however say this: dill pesto may be the most perfect sandwich condiment every created. Yessir.

Tomorrow is a travel day. I'm headed back to Sweden, meeting Cailan and Sarah in Stockholm for a Swedish long weekend. I am very much looking forward to sitting and sleeping on a train for most of my day tomorrow. I think a day spent outside of Scandinavian drizzle will do my cold very good.