A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about armchair travel

Music and Memory

Songs that take you somewhere

sunny 23 °C

I am in Cardiff in Wales. I ventured down for the weekend from Birmingham, mostly because it looked close on the map, though I have since found out that the train from London to Cardiff is quicker than the train from Birmingham to Cardiff.

Last night I wound up having a few pints in a bar called Cuba. In the bar there was a band playing called Honey Fungus, an acoustic duo from Wales. One of the songs they broke into was Hotel California. I smiled, because back in 2002 I was in another place called Cuba listening to that exact same song.

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Sometimes songs that you hear when you travel are bound to end up sticking in your head and always reminding you of that place.

Sometimes it is because you hear the song when you are there. For example, Two Princes by The Spin Doctors reminds me of Shawnee, Pennsylvania. I went there when I was in university for a our spring break with a bunch of friends. We were at the bottom of the ski hill (yes, there is skiing in Pennsylvania, but it's not great) getting ready to head up the hill for the day. A radio was playing from the lodge. The song Two Princes came on. At the end of the song, the DJ came on and said, "man, I love that song. I wish I could hear it again. Hey, wait a minute! I'm the DJ. I can play it again." And then he proceeded to play the song a second time. It was so bizarre that me and my friends all started laughing, and now whenever I hear that song, I am back at the bottom of the ski hill in Pennsylvania.

The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup reminds me of Chile. I was on the Navimag ferry between Pto. Montt and Pto. Natales in Chile. One night a couple of Australian girls tried to teach me to dance the Ketchup dance to the Ketchup Song in the bar / disco of the ferry.

I had similar experiences with The Soca Boys' "Follow the Leader" during my trip to Mexico in 2001, Wonderwall during a trip to Whistler 1997, or Let's Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas for Costa Rica 2004.

Other times, it's because of lines in the song. When I was in China, I remember humming Beautiful Day by U2 a lot to myself, mostly because it contains the lines "See the world in green and blue, see China right in front of you."

I spent a year working in New Jersey just outside of New York City. There is a ton of references to New Jersey in the song "Tweeter and the Monkey Man," originally by The Travelling Wilburys. The song is a tribute to New Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen. For me, though, the version I best like of the song is by the Canadian punk band The Headstones. Two lines in the song really stuck with me.

Now the town of Jersey City is quieting down again
I'm sitting in a gambling club called the Lion's Den

I spent a weekend in Jersey City. Like much of New Jersey close to Manhattan, it's one of those places that has two sides - the nice side of condos, restaurants and bars along the water and close to the transit hubs into the city, and the dirty, grungy side further away from the Hudson River. I took a walk through both sides of the town, and I could see more than a few places that probably had illegal gambling games going on in the back rooms.

The other lines from the song that really struck me were the lines:

I guess I'll go to Florida and get myself some sun
There ain't no more opportunity here, everything's been done

If you've spent any time in Florida away from the tourist traps, you'll find a lot of people from other places, people who seem like they just burnt out on life and somehow wound up in Florida, working lazily at menial jobs, just making enough cash to get some booze and hit the beach. Some days I really felt like joining them.

Hotel California, originally by The Eagles, actually reminds me of a few places I've been. California, obviously, when I would often find myself humming the song to myself. It also reminds me of a few actual hotels I've seen - one in Costa Rica and one in Canada. Whenever I see a hotel called "Hotel California," I can't help but start singing the song. The lines "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave," has always stopped me from actually checking in to a place that shares the song's name, though.

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In 2002 I travelled down to Cuba for a beach holiday. Myself and some friends were staying at a resort, but we wanted to get out and see Cuba so we often wandered away from the hotel. One day we took some of the bikes from the hotel and pedalled into the town of Varadero. We pedalled around, and wound up grabbing lunch at a little beach-shack restaurant. Myself and my friends were the only non-Cubans in the place.

There was a trio of musicians called "Trio Amanecer" that was wandering from table to table entertaining the guests. They played mostly Cuban music, but when they got to our table and saw that we were definitely not native Cubans (I am white and I was with 3 Asian guys) they decided to play some foreign music, so they played Hotel California. The singer didn't speak English, so he was phonetically singing the song. Generally he did pretty well, but there were some things he messed up. After the song, I bought one of the trios CDs, which included Hotel California.

So that's what I was thinking about, standing in a bar in Cardiff, Wales. I was thinking about Cuba, and chicken grilled over an open fire, an ice cold cola and three Cubans playing an American song for a bunch of Canadians.

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Posted by GregW 15:16 Archived in Wales Tagged armchair_travel Comments (1)

The Battle of European Supremacy Part II

Round two goes to Spain and Barcelona, as they defeat a rather sad looking Man U bunch.

sunny 24 °C

If I were to say to you, "Manchester or Barcelona?" and you weren't a football (soccer) fan, you'd probably think it an odd question. If you are a football fan, you'll already know the answer. The answer is Barcelona.

In the second grand contest of European supremacy in as many weeks, Manchester United and Barcelona kicked off at Olympic Stadium in Rome to determine the winner of the the UEFA Champions League cup. Manchester United looked okay to start (according to those that know such things), but when Barcelona scored on their first shot with only 10 minutes gone in the game, Manchester lost the plot and ended up playing an awful game of football.

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So Barcelona and Spain take round two of European Supremacy! Norway - 1, Spain - 1 and U.K., well... null points.

This past weekend also saw the last games played in the Premiership, which is the top flight league of English football teams. Manchester United fared better here, ending the season atop the table with 90 points, ahead of Liverpool with 86 and London based Chelsea with 83. Arsenal, the closest stadium to my new place in King's Cross, finished fourth.

So Manchester United were both crowned champions and were the bridesmaid in the same week. To make it even more confusing, Manchester United also won the Carling Cup back in March, which is a cup awarded to the winner of a tournament of the 92 best football teams in England, but they aren't playing in this weekend's FA Cup, which is awarded to the winner of a tournament involving 761 clubs from across England. Man U, are, however, holders of the FIFA Club World Cup...

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Me and the FA Cup - to be played this weekend between Chelsea and Everton

The end of the premiership also sees 3 unlucky teams get booted out of the Premiership, those being Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion this year. The three lowest teams get sent to a lower league, with three teams coming up to join the premiership next year. This is known as relegation.

It's so different here than in North America. I mean, could you imagine if last year the Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres were told to go and play AAA baseball while Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Durham Bulls and the San Francisco Seals were brought up to the big leagues?

Anyway, it's all a little hard to track for me sometimes, exactly what a match is being played for. Turn on the TV and see a football match, and it could be a Premiership game, Carling Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League or FIFA Club World Cup game. Enough to make the head spin.

I did keep my head on straight enough to compete in a Premiership Fantasy Football pool this year. I think I did pretty well for a novice, coming in 8th out of 30 players. Well above the relegation zone.

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Posted by GregW 10:36 Archived in England Tagged armchair_travel Comments (2)

Maybe I should have done this all sooner... then again...

Free will, quantum mechanics, multiple parallel universes and drunken yobs on vacation!

semi-overcast 10 °C

Some physicists, those with a more philosophical bent most likely, worry about how free will is possible in the universe governed by the rules of physics. If we can understand and describe the future motion of items down to the atomic level, does that not mean that we can predict the course of neurons firing in our brains? In an entirely predictable world, all that has been, all that is and all that will be would be predictable if we just knew all the right variables and had the computing power to run the calculations. But if the entire world - right down to the electrons firing around in brain controlling our actions - is predictable, than that means our actions would be predictable too. We wouldn't have free will, it is all an illusion.

Personally, that's why I like the concept of quantum mechanics, quantum indeterminacy and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. If we don't actually know where atoms are and where they will be, but can just assign probabilities to these concerns, then free will lives. We don't live in a deterministic world, but rather in a nondetermined, probabilistic world that allows us to make choices. I'm no physicist, but I believe this is called the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum mechanics.

Albert Einstein, though the father of quantum mechanics, didn't like the nondeterministic nature of the theory, and worked for most of his life to come up with a theory of quantum mechanics that didn't include uncertainty. He couldn't ever believe that the universe was not explainable if we had absolute knowledge of the current state of it. In a letter to Max Born, he famously said the oft-misquoted line, "I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice." The "He" in the sentence is the reference to God. Niels Bohr had an excellent come-back, in my mind, which was to say, "Einstein, don't tell God what to do."

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An alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics is to instead look at the probability of wave of an electron not as possible outcomes, but actual outcomes. Of all the possible places an electron could be, it actually is. Each of these possibilities then becomes its own "history." In effect, all possibilities occur, they just do so in parallel universes spun off from every point in time. This is called many-worlds interpretation. For us laymen, what that means is that if you imagine every choice you have ever made, there exists somewhere a world where you made the opposite choice.

I can't imagine the many-worlds interpretation actually being reality. It's too comic-booky. Too much like all those DC titles I remember popping up in the mid-1980s about multiple worlds and the Crisis on Infinite Earths where different versions of The Flash and Bat-dog all existed.

Thinking about the possibility that all those parallel worlds are out there, though, does present a tantalising thought that you could, if you could see through the barriers between worlds, find out what happened to other versions of you. I was thinking about this today as I wandered the streets of London down towards Chinatown, where I was heading to quench a craving for noodles.

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I passed an estate agent that specialises in finding student housing in central London for all the students of the many University, colleges and other learning institutions in the city. I suddenly felt a little melancholy that I hadn't taken the opportunity as a student to go some place far away and exotic to study. Instead, I stayed close to home, and only really took up travelling in my 30s.

"What kind of person would I have been if I had started travelling sooner?" I wondered. I thought about all the lost opportunities and extra years I could have had feeding my travel urge. If there were multiple worlds out there, perhaps there was a Gregwtravels out there who had been at it since the age of 18, having criss-crossed the world many times, perhaps now lazing on a beach in Central America or eating noodles in a train station in Osaka.

Of course, that Greg probably doesn't exist even if multiple worlds do. After all, when I was 18 I had no real desire to go far away to school. The university I went to - University of Western Ontario - was really the only one I wanted to go to. I flirted very briefly and not too seriously with a couple other options, specifically McMaster University which was even closer to my hometown, and McGill.

McGill would have been an interesting choice. It was far from home, being a full 6 hours by train from my parent's house, and it was in Montreal, a bilingual and very diverse city. That is a Greg I could imagine that might have taken up travel sooner. Maybe he learnt French and did a semester in Paris. Maybe he went into something more bohemian than IT consulting, perhaps publishing. That Greg would be an interesting Greg to meet. I think I'd like him.

I continued to walk towards Chinatown, feeling the sting of lost opportunities. "I wish I'd starting travelling sooner. I wish I'd been braver in my 20s." I kept telling myself, becoming increasingly glum.

Perhaps Einstein was right, and perhaps God doesn't play dice with the universe, because just then something happened the removed all the glumness from me and cured my melancholy. It was so perfect a cure, so fitting to my affliction of temporary despondency that it had to be more than just mere coincidence.

I came upon this sign.

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"Oh, a travel show, that'll brighten me up," I thought, so I went in. And brighten me up it did, but not in the way I imagined. For the show was focused on the young traveller, and was full of exhibitors plugging bus tours of Eastern Europe and trips that focused on nightlife, drinking and hooking up, including a company offered Trans-Siberian train journeys on the "Vodka Train," with big banners replete with photos of young, good-looking folk downing shots of the white liquor.

The place was jammed with people, mostly in the teens and twenties, and many seemingly interested in the tours that offered the best chances of hooking up and getting drunk. I could only stand it for a few minutes before I fled.

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I realized, as I exited the hotel that it was probably best that I didn't travel much when I was younger, for knowing me it would have been EXACTLY that kind of travel - drunk all night, blurry eyed and hung-over during the day, missing most everything and really only wondering where the next bar was. I do know there are those out there in their teens and twenties who travel in a more measured, reflective way, but I don't think I would have done that. I would have been a drunken yob.

Some of you, especially those that have travelled with me, might be wondering how the above actually differs from my current method of travelling. I will admit that how I travel now does involve a few drunken nights and hung over mornings, but probably earlier nights, less buses and hopefully a little more appreciation of the local culture and sights than a 22-year-old me would have travelled.

"Guess I really didn't miss much," I told myself, and continued on my way to Chinatown, where I found a restaurant and fulfilled my noodle craving. I'm not as young as I once was, but I've still got a many good years of travel adventure ahead of me. I'll leave the other Gregs in other parallel worlds who made other choices to their own lives, and concentrate on mine. I may have started a little late, but I have to say that right now, it is pretty damn good.

Posted by GregW 08:49 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged armchair_travel travel_philosophy migration_philosophy Comments (1)

Regional Identity and the Need to Travel

Rick Steves on Regional Identity and Europe, and me on the biological need to travel.

overcast 8 °C

In November I read an interesting article by Rick Steves. The article, entitled United Europe celebrates ethnic diversity, talks about how despite the increasing unity on the continent, regional peoples, cultures and languages are flourishing.

As Europe united, I feared its ethnic diversity would be threatened. But I find just the opposite is happening. In Europe there are three loyalties: to your region, to your nation and to Europe.

Ask a person from Munich where he's from and he'll say, "I'm Bavarian," or "I'm German" or "I'm European," depending on his generation and his outlook. Ask somebody from Barcelona, and she'll say, "I'm Catalunyan," or "I'm Spanish" or "I'm European," depending on her viewpoint. These days city halls all over Europe fly three flags: regional, national, and European.

Back in my entry on my trip to France for Bastille Day, in describing why I moved to Paris, I was a little rough on Rick Steves. I said:

Most of my experience in seeing Europe came from two sources: people’s slide shows of bus tours and Rick Steves. If ever there was a combination of sources of inspiration to inspire you NOT to go to the place, it was these two... At home, you flip on PBS to find Rick Steves looking out a train window while his voice-over says, “the Swiss Alps have excellent train connections through them, and the trains are fast, reliable and frequent. You can even get food on board, as you see the crew and I sharing a few Swiss pastries.”

Let me know apologise for that. I still do think that his TV show is dull, but I was very impressed with his article. It communicates one of the main things I have enjoyed about Europe - it's diversity in culture and language. People take pride in their regional identity, but accept those with other identities.

You can check out more at the CNN travel site.

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I also read another article by an intelligent and frankly very good looking author, a Mr. Greg Wesson. It's an article I wrote for a website called Travelblogs.com, entitled Monkeys With Suitcases: The Biological Imperative To Travel. The article, partially tongue in cheek, examines how the desire to travel is in our genes.

It is in our genes, in our genetic code, to be explorers, adventurers and travellers. As life has evolved from the primordial ooze to the wide diversity that exists on our little blue-green rock today, at every step the beings that eventual evolved into us where the ones that got out there, took the chance and made a move. We are chance-takers by genetic necessity. If we weren’t, we would have died out, or evolved into something very different, like rhesus monkeys, sheep or catfish. Overall in evolution, survival of the fittest might rule, but when it comes to human evolution, it is survival of the most likely to pack a change of underwear, a toothbrush and take off down the road.

You can read the full article at Travelblogs.com: Monkeys With Suitcases: The Biological Imperative To Travel

Posted by GregW 04:50 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged armchair_travel travel_philosophy Comments (0)

My home... or at least one of them.

No, I am not super rich with multiple homes, just flexible on the term

rain 20 °C
View Phoenix Rising From The Flame on GregW's travel map.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For most Americans, after a strenuous and aggravating day(s) of travel on the jam-packed roads, crowded airports and stuffy trains, they are now sitting down getting ready to stuff themselves with turkey and fall asleep watching football on the TV.

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Football float from 2006 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

For me, I am having a bit of a lazy day lounging around my hotel room. After a breakfast of McDonald's Egg McMuffins, I am been watching TV, alternating between CNN with the India terror coverage, the Travel Channel with Andrew Zimmer eating weird stuff and surfing the internet.

One of the many blogs that I try and keep up with is On Our Own Path, written by a couple (Bessie and Kyle) who are travelling through Latin America. They've just passed their 300th day travelling, and Bessie wrote in a post on the occasion:

Settling into our Next "Home". Out of habit, I still call the places we stay "home", it's sort of like a blind person saying "See you later", but you know, it works.

That got me thinking of a conversation I had the other day with a coworker here in Phoenix when they asked what, if any, plans I had for the Christmas holidays.

"I am going home to Toronto for a few days to see the family, then I will be heading home to London. Well, it's five o'clock, I think I am going to head home to my hotel."

Like Bessie, I call my hotel crash-pad for the evening my "home," but I also call two other places home as well. Three homes, are you super-rich, Greg? No, I am not super rich with multiple homes. I am just flexible with the term.

At the end of the day of work, I go "home" to my hotel, the TownePlace Suites Scottsdale. It's a comfortable extended stay place that includes a small sitting area and a full kitchen, so I can actually do something other than eat out every meal.

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I also find myself still calling Toronto home, even though I don't have a place there anymore. It was, of course, the place that I had "lived" for the past 35 years, even if for the past 9 years I spent more time travelling the USA and staying in hotels than back in Toronto.

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And finally, my flat in London is home as well. The place I actual live and get my mail delivered, and the place that I am hoping to build a more complete life as time goes on.

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So there you go. All within one sentence I can call three different places home.

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"Home" art from the Guinness brewery, Dublin, Ireland

Home. It is many places.

To expand on the classic definition, home is wherever you lay your hat, your might lay your hat, you laid your hat in the past or you will lay your hat in the future.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by GregW 10:01 Archived in USA Tagged armchair_travel living_abroad migration_philosophy Comments (0)

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