Today’s #frifotos — Colorful

Joy City Mall, Beijing, China

Rainbow Payphone, San Francisco, California

Dyed Yarn, Marrakech, Morocco

Senbazuru (Thousand origami cranes), Kyoto, Japan

Memoirs of a Shisha

i happened to come across a bunch of videos on my computer from when some friends and i went to egypt in 2008 and this is one of my favorites. it was our first night there after a long series of flights (SFO-JFK-FRA-CAI — the latter being my first A300 flight #avgeek) and i’d never smoked a hookah* before. clearly my friend did not have the same trouble as i did! i finally was able to keep some of the smoke in without hacking a lung back up, but i wouldn’t say it was the most pleasant of experiences. that said, i’m all for local traditions, so i had to give it a shot!

*shisha in egypt, the waiter at the hookah shisha lounge was very keen to tell us

random: we took a cab from the airport to our hotel earlier that day and as i recall someone (the bf? it wasn’t me, that’s for sure) opened the door as the car behind us was pulling out, causing a small but significant dent. we were petrified, but luckily the cab driver didn’t want to deal with us so he just grumbled as we walked away. eeep!

Phlashback: Apology

one in an occasional series of photo flashbacks

Four years ago

While reading The Kite Runner on a train through Switzerland (going from Milan to Saarbrücken)

Ex-Bloc Party

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

Have you traveled in Eastern Europe? What did you know about the region before visiting? If you haven’t been to Eastern Europe, what country or city appeals to you most as a place to visit? Or, more generally speaking, how much does knowing about the history of a place inspire your future travels?

first off, what is eastern europe? as a(n american) child of the ’80s, eastern europe meant a combination of poverty, communism, oppressive regimes, this iron curtain thing (which i remember thinking everyone was confused about because the berlin wall was made of concrete LOL), and goose step marches to slow, plaintive music. of course, this is the gross caricature of a pre-teen, and ha, most certainly has not been borne out in my travels to the region.

Besides (East) Germany, I've been to Estonia, the Czech Republic (twice), Hungary, and Slovenia (and passed through Croatia on a train).

in any case, given the very disparate definitions of eastern europe, i’m going to go with my perhaps-distorted notion of what eastern europe is: those countries that used to be in the eastern bloc. of those, the czech republic holds a very special place in my heart because it was the destination of my first solo trip (2005). i really didn’t know much about the area other than vague recollections of CNN broadcasts from over a decade prior, but i do remember hearing that it used to be a cool place for backpackers that had since changed from what it was in those years immediately after its bloc exit. in other words, i was late to the game. ok, fine, it may not have been the cheap backpacker haven of yesteryear, but that didn’t diminish my experience in the least, and that held true for the other former eastern bloc countries i’ve been to as well.

also, it goes without saying that these countries are just as much a part of europe (and deserve a visit) as their siblings to the west. it was pretty cool being in slovenia the year prior to its conversion to the euro (prices were marked in both tolars and euros), thinking that there was still change in the air. (speaking of change in the air, perhaps consider playing this song as the background music to this post.)

back to the question at hand: given what i knew, or thought i knew, and with the understanding that much had changed since the dissolution of the bloc, i really had no idea what to expect.

what i found was a mix of “old europe”, relics from their communist past, and modern and thriving places that are by no means second or third tier.

what i hoped to see (bloc-y)

i have an odd fascination with life under a communist regime. not that i would ever want to live in one (nor wish it on anybody, especially after going to the house of terror museum in budapest), but there is this whole “evil yet unknown” quality about it. i just knew growing up it was a bad thing, and as an adult, i want to understand it more (maybe it’s like watching a train wreck? morbid fascination/can’t look away?). plus, i’m in love with the socialist realism style of art.

Cosmonaut statue, outside Haje station (was Kosmonautů), Prague

Odd communist monument, Tallinn

Paneláky, Jižní Město (I think), outskirts of Prague

what i knew would be there (splendor from a great past)

Interior of Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, Budapest

Ljubljana

Looking across the Danube and the Chain Bridge towards Buda, Budapest

what i was pleased to discover (ongoing vibrance)

Griffin Ice Sculpture, Tallinn

Lennon Wall, Prague (though started during communist days, it constantly evolves)

Street art, Prague

i’m not done with eastern europe yet! if my september trip to georgia goes as planned, i will have a day to spend in warsaw during a layover. also, i went to graduate school with students from bulgaria, romania, and serbia and would love to visit the places they called home as well.

two random facts:

Music Through Rubber Tubes

remember the days of yore when your in-flight entertainment was crappy music piped through these?

I have come to learn these are called pneumatic headsets.

sure, it’s not some fancy-pants touchscreen where you can watch movies and order food and watch your flight progress, but it had its benefits, especially when you’re a kid with nothing better to do (those free decks of cards and pilot wings only went so far).

  • endless hours (ok, minutes) of fun from squeezing or kinking the tubes, making one or both ears get muffled/no sound.
  • seeing if you could talk into the plug end so your brother can hear you through the earpieces. (“can you hear me now?!”)
  • flipping through the audio channel dial quickly to see if you could break it (i couldn’t).
  • pretending you’re a doctor wielding a stethoscope.
  • trying to sleep, leaning on a pillow on a propped up armrest, ear positioned right by the output holes. if you turned the volume all the way up you could fall asleep to music without being encumbered by a headset.

and yes, i’m speaking from experience. i couldn’t have been the only one!

image via allproducts.com