I spent the last few days hanging out by myself, or with friends I just met. I've wandered around George Town a little more with P and A. MM (Malaysian Mum) took us all for steamboat at MamaVege on Saturday (24th): We ordered two kinds of soup, which are served in bubbling pot on a hot plate built into the table. Plus a selection of vegetables, not-meats, and noodles, which we drop into the soup and watch simmer.
Then I wandered around Gurney Drive, an area north of George Town where there are lots of fancy condos and hotels and is a common place for tourists to stay. It's a far cry from the 'heritage' of George Town, and largely malls and plazas and shiny new buildings. I thought there might be some form of beach access, but it's mostly off limits because of construction in the sea (Penang Island is all out of develop-able land). At one point I wandered down a side street in the hope it might lead to the ocean, but it turned out to lead to some guy's orchard. Just as I realised I was on someone's land and should probably leave, the owner, Bok, popped out of the bushes to say hi. He told me all about the fruits he was growing (coconut, jackfruit, various others) and that he does it for fun not profit, now that he's retired from managing a security firm. He picked a small, yellow relation to the guava (English name unknown) from a tree for me to try; it was mildly sweet and fragrant.
I eventually made it to Straits Quay, or at least the shopping/hotel complex part of the area. There's a trail along the seafront that leads from Tanjung Bungah to Straits Quay, once you can find the way in. It runs behind a huge area of luxury villas, most of which are still under construction. It was more peaceful here than walking along the road... obviously. All of the villas have pools facing the sea. A good place to stay if you want to veg out and aren't interested in the local area or culture. I walked back along the seafront until I returned to Gurney Drive. I spent a short while in Brown Pocket, a cafe on the 6th floor of Gurney Paragon mall with big windows and great seaviews. Their wifi wasn't working though so I didn't get much done.
It started to rain. I went upstairs two more floors to the cinema to see Rogue One. It was great. I ate at TinTin vegetarian in the basement of Gurney Plaza (the next mall along), where by chance I also found vegan coconut ice cream by Sangkaya.
Yesterday (25th) I climbed Penang Hill with P and A. We walked first to the Botanical Gardens from our apartment, which took around 45 minutes. We started our climb from the Moon Gate. The first stretch was a lot of steep steps. This turned into steep climb with fewer steps and more sliding in mud. Someone had built a tin-roof kitchen part way up the hillside, where a bunch of elderly people were cooking noodles. I don't know how they got there. Later the path skirted around the side of a hill for a while, so it was fairly level. Then down a bit, then back up to being really steep again. We crossed paths with the railway, and and met a sprightly teenager who, after borrowing P's phone to make a call, guided us the most direct route to the top, which was again sheer steps. It was pretty exhausting; she patiently waited for us. The climb took about two and a half hours.
At the top are a few places for a good view, but not as many as expected. There's a food court (we got juice) and tons of random tourist shit like an owl museum, a toy museum, and terrible merchandise. There were loads of people (there's a train to the top from Air Itam). There's also a mosque and a Hindu temple.
After sitting around for a while and re-energising, we walked to Monkey Cup, a small cafe a little apart from the crowded area. There we had coffee in their garden, and enjoyed quiet jungle surroundings. I met a local scorpian. I was assured that he wasn't poisonous, and his stinger is "just like a little ant bite". Figured it can't be worse than Tigo. He didn't sting me, anyway.
We wanted to take a different route down, and got directions (and a hand-drawn map) from staff at Monkey Cup. We followed a narrow concrete path winding down the hillside. At some point we missed a turning and ended up clearly bound for Air Itam, rather than back to the Botanic Gardens. Oh well. We walked through hillside farmland and enjoyed views into the central valley and across to the coastline.
In Air Itam most restaurants were closed (between 3 and 5 is not a good time for seeking lunch in MY) but we managed to get some kway teow from a hawker stall, negotiating the exclusion of egg and prawn from mine. It started raining; we took an Uber back to George Town, because we'd walked quite far enough, and between three of us it cost the same as the bus (6 RM total).
Back home, A and I soaked in the pool for a while. Later that evening we ate at Lily's, a vegetarian restaurant close to the apartment. It was great; we shared satay, I had lam rice (rice in gravy with tofu and vegetables), and an almond jelly tofu fruit dessert. Staff were reallly really friendly, too, and the food was far lighter and less greasy than similar places.
Today... I'm staying home, trying to write some code.
Yesterday evening (21st) I went for a 'quick walk' into town. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk from the edge of George Town heritage area and 40 minutes from the jetty and core tourist zone. Between home and the edge of the 'nice' part of town is not particularly nice: apartment blocks, malls and big roads with... intermittent... footpaths. There are still lots of interesting places to stop of course; markets, stalls, local restaurants, general streetside chaos. Walking around here takes a lot of concentration, between trying to take in the surroundings, not being hit by scooters and cars, avoiding enormous open holes into the sewer, and not accidentally buying a kilo of tropical fruit every five minutes.
The sky was blue. My goal was to procure coconut oil for cooking. I thought it would be easy to get hold of here, but so far, after a few days of hunting around, I found it in a vegetarian restaurant (Leaf Healthy House) and a baking shop for twice the price. I asked in an Indian grocery, and was directed to another grocery store, but I never found it. So I returned to Leaf to pick up 2 litres for RM 36.30. Or so I thought. I got distracted by not-meats at a different Indian grocery, paid a visit to Fort Cornwallis, plus dinner at Veggielicious, and by the time I made it to Leaf I didn't have enough cash left.
On that note, Fort Cornwallis was pretty rubbish. There are guided tours where one is presumably told about the history.. I was at the allotted tour starting point at the right time, but nobody showed up. The 'exhibits' are glass boxes in mouldy rooms containing bits of rock or dioramas, and no explanation of what they are. There isn't much 'fort', just outer walls and some cannons on hills. I was feeling particularly disgruntled because I paid 20 RM to enter, which could have got me four or five meals. I left after about half an hour, most of which was occupied milling around waiting for a tour guide to show up.
When I got back it had started raining, with thunder and lightning. I sat in the outdoor bit of the pool for half an hour, watching the sky light up.
Today (22nd) I went into town at lunchtime, and made the first stop Leaf, for coconut oil. I was accompanied by two new guests in my AirBnB, P and A; ship engineers from Poland. Apparently ship engineering isn't as exciting as it sounds. We ate at Woodlands vegetarian Indian. Service was frustratingly slow, but the food was good and cheap. While we were there the sky opened and the lightning commenced again. I headed home, and they went off to explore town some more. It rained heavily, intermittently, but I mostly stayed in the cover of the archways that line most buildings here. I stopped at Mydin, a giant supermarket and department store, and finally bought more kitchen stuff. I got a blender for less than $12. It's probably not good quality, but it only needs to last two more months.
Yesterday I went to Penang National Park, and got three kinds of wet.
Part One: Sweat
I took the 101 bus from KOMTAR. For 3.40 RM it took about 50 minutes to get to the National Park entrance, which is the last stop. I had to wait in line to register for at least 30 minutes. There are separate lines for Malaysian and foreigners; don't stand in the wrong one. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck behind a large group of Chinese tourists. Entry to the park is free, but you have to register your name and passport number, and in exchange for this they give you a permit to enter the park (a piece of paper with a hard-to-read map and stamp on it). This permit was checked once by a member of park staff later in the afternoon. I'm not sure if this was protocol or if he was just trying to make conversation. So probably best not to try to skip this process, even though you could technically bypass the registration desk to get to the park entrance fairly easily.
I hiked from the park entrance to Pantai Kerachut (Turtle Beach). This took about 2 hours including looping around the meromictic lake twice and climbing an unnecessary hill by accident, and stopping for a snack break. The jungle is thick outside of the marked trail, and set against a backdrop of a non-stop high pitched whistling sound. I don't know if it is birds or insects. I also saw big ant trails, which is always cool.
The meromictic lake is one of only a few in the world, and is interesting because it contains both freshwater and seawater, which don't mix; the latter floats on top of the former. Except most of the year it's basically dry, so there wasn't much to see.
There were a handful of people at Turtle Beach, and a very small handful of turtles in the sanctuary. It was pretty peaceful, and good places to hang hammocks, and a nice view. There are no facilities (food for sale or anything), and also no swimming due to big waves and venemous jellyfish.
From Turtle Beach I hiked to Teluk Kampi, which earlier some Asian businessmen (that's what they looked like) shouted out was the "best beach in Penang!". It was over a massive hill that never seemed to end, and took about 45 minutes from Turtle Beach. There was nobody there though, except the beach guard who checked my park permit. It's the longest beach in the park, and very picturesque. There is a 'hall' - an open-sided wooden structure - on the seafront. I couldn't help but notice that its beams looked perfect for hammock hanging, and one of them had a power outlet... So this can be my new office? A 3 hour hike through the jungle is a reasonable commute, right?
I napped in the sun for a short while to recharge for hiking back. I was thoroughly soaked in sweat, but no swimming due to jellyfish here, too. The beach guard said he could call a boat to return to the park entrance, but that it would be about 120 RM. I did not have 120 RM.
However, a short while later came cries of "help!" from a guy in a boat approaching the beach. A surefire way to get someone's attention... He wasn't actually in trouble. He offered to take me to Monkey Beach for 25 RM. Seemed like a bargain. I wasn't expecting to have time to make it to Monkey Beach, either.
Part Two: Sea
So I grabbed my stuff, ploughed into the sea in my trainers (oops) and boarded the boat. Turns out he'd been chartered by some Chinese people who were having a break at Turtle Beach, so he'd whisked this one Portguese guy around the coast to see Teluk Kampi; any additional passengers he could pick up for nominal fees was a bonus.
We picked up the Chinese people at Turtle Beach, then continued to Teluk Duyung (Monkey Beach). This was a lot more crowded, with vendors selling drinks, coconuts and snacks. There was also a lot more trash and it was generally not as nice. I bought and consumed a fresh coconut for 5 RM, and took this photo which has been great for taunting people on the other side of the world who are currently shovelling snow.
Then I bumped into E and K; previous tentants of my current AirBnB whom I'd had dinner with, along with my host, the evening before. We all swam in the sea and chatted for a while. The sea was pretty grim, murky, and made my skin itch. I think the itching was actually due to temperature change but... who knows. Not my favourite.
Part Three: Storm
I was planning to hike back around the coast to the park entrance from Monkey Beach, one of the popular trails that should take about an hour. But E and K wanted to take a boat, and as we were discussing it looming storm clouds turned into smattering rain. We canvassed the beach for other people to share a boat with (they're typically a standard 40 RM between Monkey Beach and the park entrance, no matter how many people you take). As the rain got heavier the tourists dissipated. We found a guy willing to take four of us for 30 RM after a little bargaining. The rain was pelting down by the time we boarded the boat, and there was thunder and lightning.
So I was soaked afresh by seawater from the waves splashing into the boat, and rainwater from the sky. We reached the jetty and raced for cover.
After hanging out for a bit, and ringing out our clothes/shoes/hair, it didn't look like it was going to let up, so we raced to the bus stop in time to jump on. For some reason, the return 101 does not leave from the same place it drops off, but there's another bus from a different route which takes people from the park entrance to the 101 bus stop for free. It's unclear if this is out of sympathy for people in torrential downpours, or all the time. E and K said they'd taken it last time they visited the park too.
We transferred to the 101, which was naturally air-conditioned to arctic levels. For just under an hour, as we were soaking wet, this was highly unpleasant. Fortunately on the return route it stops right outside my apartment (due to one way streets, the outward bus stop is a little further away). It had stopped raining by then, but I darted home and into a hot shower. It took me a while to warm up.
Shockingly, I only have one new mosquito bite to show for all of this.
Sun is on the pool side of the building in the afternoon. And it's sunny today, not cloudy. So I took a writing break in the condo pool. It's on the fifth floor, and half open-air. Pool is good. Sun is good. Back to writing.
Just kidding, I'm going to break the habit of blogging every single day, since there will be fewer days packed as full of excitement as my KL days were. I'll probably stick most to short notes for a while.
But I ate at two good veg*n restaurants today, so that's worth mentioning. Coya has a variety of healthy dishes, and labels things with egg. I had dumpling noodle soup, buckwheat tea, and watermelon (11.80myr). This evening I met C, L and Y at Sushi Kitchen for dinner. I'd missed Japanese food! A vegan restaurant with an abundance of things I want to eat. I'll be back. I ate a spicy sushi roll, edamame, and udon with tempura (25myr). On the walk back the sky went from zero to torrential in a parsec. I was drenched. I'm surprised my phone survived the journey. The other people staying in the apartment tonight laughed at me when I came in.
Unpacking all of my things because I'm staying in one place for a while... Kinda nice. George Town, Penang, until the end of February. Looking forward to grocery shopping and actually using a kitchen again.
I had a plan. Leave early from the hostel, catch a bus to TBS (let's pretend that stands for The Bus Station), and take an intercity bus to Butterworth, Penang. Then get the ferry from Butterworth to George Town, and a bus most of the way to my next end destination. I'd be there by mid-afternoon.
The night before, I met some people who were planning to take the train to Butterworth on the same day. The train is a little more expensive, and I'd read a little slower and less comfortable. But there wasn't much in it, and the more I thought about it the more appealing taking one train over two buses became. Plus all three of them ended up in my dorm that night. So I joined their little crew: C (Essex), L (Netherlands), Y (Russia). We left the hostel, bright eyed and bushy tailed, by 0830, hopped on the train from Pasar Seni to KL Sentral, and then found the ticket counters for the intercity trains (upstairs, above the Komuter ones).
The trains were full until 11:40. That felt like aaages away.
Trains sell out?!
So we took a taxi to TBS. A taxi voucher counter was conveniently around the corner from the train ticket counter. Splitting 27 myr between four of us for a fifteen minute drive didn't seem so bad. I'd read the buses were super frequent, so we were confident on not losing much time at all.
How naive we were.
This is only half of the bus station.
We queued for an hour, to find out that all the buses were sold out until 18:10.
There are a dozen bus companies, with departures for Penang every ten to fifteen minutes. All day. We sucked it up and bought the last four tickets on the 18:10 bus, for 34 myr each. The company turned out to be Konsortium. Not one of the fancy ones with wifi. Then we went for coffee et cetera at the bus station food court. L bought coffee, the coffee was awful. We all took one tiny sip each and could not go further. I have since discovered there's a common type of coffee that contains margarine. What the FUCK Malaysia? Yeah it was awful. I had starfruit juice.
After recouping, we crammed our bags into lockers (10 myr for a big one, 5 for a small, 12 hours), except for C whose suitcase wouldn't fit. Then we walked about 30 minutes to a nearby mall. C complained the whole way about pulling his suitcase. I kept suggesting I'd help but never actually doing so. It was mostly uphill, and pavements are uneven. His complaints were justified.
The mall, which was called Spark, was quite desolate. We saw Moana at the cinema on the top floor (16 myr). Then we went to a grim food court and ate very sad vegetable soup. I think eating it used more energy than it provided, because I was far hungrier afterwards. It was now raining. We started walking back, and eventually managed to get a taxi who was willing to take a suitcase. 10myr from Spark to TBS. Whilst edging along the roadside trying to hail taxis, a motorcycle with two helmetless ten year olds drove past on a scooter and catcalled at Y and me. There are too many things wrong with that. My first reaction was horror that they didn't have helments. The second was that there were small children driving scooter down a highway. I decided to stop processing at that point.
Back at TBS, we sought better coffee and sat around some more. Then relcaimed our luggage and made our way to the departures. The bus station was still packed, just like in the morning. Our bus was delayed, but only about 20 minutes, presumably to make way for earlier buses which had been delayed even more.
The bus seats were big and reclined far. Loads of room for a small person. There was neither power nor wifi. The aircon was sufficient. I slept fairly well. Somehow the 350km journey took ten hours. I'm not exaggerating. We stopped a few times at service stations and food courts, and there was a crazy amount of traffic on the highway for the middle of the night. We got to Butterworth at about 4am.
Obviously neither the ferries nor the buses were running. The bus dropped off right next to a taxi rank, and we argued with taxi drivers for a while. Despite our fatigued state, it still seemed worth trying to get them down from 80 myr to George Town. They were claiming 80 myr for two stops (because C, L and Y were going to a different place from me) or 70myr for one stop. We asked for 60, and must have appeared stubborn enough that eventually a more senior looking taxi driver came over and told the lad we were haggling with to just take us for 70. He reluctantly agreed, and proceeded to fail miserably at packing our stuff in his boot. It would have fit, he just clearly didn't have an engineering bone in his body. His solution was to summon a friend, whose car to me appeared exactly the same. We packed it ourselves this time, and had no problem. The new taxi driver was far less talkative. He knew the road I was going to, but not the others' hostel address. Despite me being further out, I got dropped off first. I contributed 25 myr.
The security guard at the front of my AirBnB was sleeping in his little cabin, having stayed behind to give me the keys. I was very grateful. The apartment seems nice and stuff. I'm on the 10th floor of a new tower block. It has a balcony and a pool. There's no cooking pots, but an abundance of terrible margarine instant coffee.
Anyway, advice for long distance travel in Malaysia might be:
Don't travel at weekends?
Don't travel on Prophet Mohammed's birthday?
Book your train or bus tickets in advance, online?
If you're offered a two and a half hour wait for a train, for goodness sake take it.
I woke up later than I wanted, and went to the Islamic Art Museum (7myr for student). It was interesting, and huge, but probably not as good as the one in Qatar. Hightlight was an exhibition about Islam in Austria. I went to the museum restaurant, which is fancy and expensive. I asked for a seat by a power socket, and the wifi password ("islamic100"). It didn't seem super appropriate for me to have my laptop out, and after I ordered a drink the waiter was pushing me to order food. There was a set lunch, none of which was vegan, and a lunch buffet that wasn't on the menu. I eventually agreed to the lunch buffet (27myr); all middle eastern food, which I love, was a nice change. I stayed for two and a half hours. After the waiter trying to hurry to clear up my plate a couple of times he eventually accepted that I was staying, and chilled out. He even started bringing me water after about an hour. I got some work done. During my quest to get my money's worth of the buffet I think I ate too much.
Then I walked to and around the scuplture garden, and found the war memorial there as well. There's wifi in the sculpture garden, naturally. I napped on a bench, it was hot.
I stopped by 7/11 and a money changer for supplies, then went to Water Lily again for dinner. Curry mee was a little better than the previous food I had here. I bought three bao to go for the bus tomorrow.
I caught the train from Kuala Lumpur station (not KL Sentral) at half past 9 to Batu Caves. It wasn't nearly as busy as I'd been led to believe it would be. I first went inside the Ramayana Cave, 5myr entry. There was nobody else there, and distant dog howling added atmosphere and made me nervous. Brightly coloured and lit statues inside tell the story of Rama and Sita. There are also steps going pretty far up to unadorned parts of the cave.
Next I climbed the steps to the temple cave. Some ladies at the bottom were enforcing a below-the-knee dress code (only for women) which I hadn't read about during prior research, and may have been because they were peddling sarongs to rent. I had my own scarf in my bag for just such an occasion. There's no charge to enter the temple cave, but there's not a huge amount of interest. Maybe worth going up for the view. And besides, I can never resist a massive staircase.
Just before that however is the Dark Cave. A conservation and research area, with educational tours for 35myr. I took one, and really enjoyed it. Over 45 minutes we ventured into the depths of the limestone mountain and discovered spiders, centipedes, millipedes, scorpians, snails, snakes, bats and crickets. And different rock formations, plus a few minutes with lights off in total pitch blackness. Our guide, whose name starts with 'Shy' and ends in 'a' and has a q in the middle, was super enthusiastic and knowledgeable. If you love bugs and dark slimy places, this is totally worth doing, and a nice change from the tourists and temples outside.
I had lunch at one of the several vegetarian Indian restaurants at the base of the steps. Idli, with dahl, coconut chutney and tomato curry. This is a small breakfast dish - 4myr - and pretty delicious. I also had espresso for 6myr. I wandered slowly back to the train station, just missing one and waiting 45 minutes for the next. During this time the skies clouded and then opened up ferociously.
During a gap in the rain, I went from the hostel to Coffee Amo. This place is super quiet... not even music playing. They specialise in fancy 3D coffee art according to google reviews, although I didn't get any on my soya cappuccino. Wifi, power, decent chairs; I worked here for a few hours. It was super peaceful. Lots of google reviews complain about the lack of music, but given every other cafe plays music I think the world needs at least one that doesn't. I stayed long after every other customer had left, and one of the two staff members also left, but I didn't feel unwelcome.
I went to Wan Fo Yuan for dinner. Along the same style as all of the other family-kitchen Chinese restaurants I've been to, with bleak lighting and plastic table runners, and stock overflowing into the dining area. Staff were slightly less sullen here. Previous reviews on HappyCow said people felt overly pressured to decide on something, so I made an effort to make a fast decision, but when someone came to take my order the first thing she said was "need more time?" I picked chicken and mushroom noodles, and Chinese tea. And... wow, that was everything I want in a noodle dish. Like, it tasted like it would if I made it myself. Except for the really large pieces of ginger which I couldn't stomach after a few and had to put them aside. I was even provided with a little dish of sliced jalapeno! And the tea came in a big glass mug. All for 10 myr. I was full afterwards, and proud of myself for not over-ordering.
This morning I went on a free heritage walking tour. We left from the KL Gallery around 9:15. Our tour guide was Marie and she alternated between funny and stern; giggling at her own jokes, and reprimanding stragglers or shhing passing schoolkids. She was full of information, and over three hours led us around parts of the gallery (free entry with the tour, normally 5myr), textile museum, some industrial buildings with history, and a private club facing Dataran Merdeka. The KL Gallery contains a scale model of the whole of Kuala Lumpur. It's seriously impressive. In clear plastic are skyscrapers yet to be built; the government is planning 300 new buildings over the next 5 years, including a 118 storey one in Chinatown. KL gives the impression of being in constant repair, chaotic construction disrupting footpaths and roads. But from the tour I learned that it's all part of a Plan, and there's meaning amongst the madness. In five years, this will be a different place. Particularly the river, for which the city is named (Kuala Lumpur means muddy estuary). Right now the banks look awful, concrete, diggers, trash, inaccessible. Turns out this is because there's a major restoration project ongoing and by next year it will be a beautiful recreation space with grass and cafes and peddleboats, and hopefully people will then stop dumping rubbish into it.
According to Marie, KL has only 60 years of history. What she's counting from is when Malaysia got independence from the British in 1957. Before that is super interesting history about the reasons parts of the area were settled and developed, by Chinese traders first, and then the British, mostly due to tin. Lots of key individuals who came to seek their fortune as teenagers have left lasting legacies.
The Spotted Dog remains to this day an exclusive membership club, but we were allowed inside as part of the tour. Except for the bar, where women aren't allowed under any circumstances.
This is among many buildings which were built in the 1800s by British architects for specific purposes. The first printing house is now the KL Gallery, and the old train station is the textile museum. After the tour I checked out the music museum, and the parts of the gallery and textile museum the tour missed.
I got lunch from a vegetarian street vendor I found in a dark alley. I knew to look there thanks to HappyCow. A huge pile of rice, vegetables, tofu and soy meat (self serve) for 7myr. I was also handed a plastic bag with a straw in it full of what appeared to be hot rice water. There was lots of rice (or barley?) floating in it too. It was a tiny bit sweet. I later googled it and apparently, according to Chinese lore, it is a miracle cure for lots of ailments. I also picked up guava, lychee and lemongrass juice from one of the stalls by Central Market, and took the lot up to the slightly airconditioned food court in the upstairs of the market to eat.
Then I spent a couple of hours at the library, and back to the hostel when it closed at quarter to 7.
Later that evening I walked to the night market with P (Colorado) and R (Germany). Noted reduction in catcalls to zero (from every five minutes) when walking with two 6+ feet tall guys. I wasn't super hungry. Drank papaya juice while the guys ate real food at one of the market restaurants. Compared to less touristy areas, the portions were small and the prices high. I couldn't find veggie bao, but picked up some hot sweet potatoes. None of us had yet tried durian, so we decided to share this important life experience. We bought a little pack for 10myr between us. P and R had one bite each and decided it's not for them. I ate the rest, and am still undecided. It transitions between this smooth creaminess to being foul and oniony. I hate onion flavours, but the creaminess may be good enough to ocmpensate. The hostel has a no durian policy, so I had to finish it before we got back. I suspect it'll be like natto, which I liked for a while but the more I ate the less it appealed.
I worked from the library from 10 until 2.30, which was great. It's cool without being over-airconned to freezing, the wifi works fine, there are good chairs and desks (and I can take my shoes off and sit on my feet), a nice view, and the atmosphere is generally conducive to productivity.
I walked through Kasturi St market for lunch, picking up a selection of fried Indian things (4myr), fresh coconut water (3myr) and steamed coconut rice (3myr).
I dropped my laptop back at the hostel, then went to the Bird Park. A steep 50 myr for entry, but I think worth it. Still half the price of MOMA in Boston. I spent 2 hours here, until closing; this was enough time to see everything as well as sit tranquilly by a lake and listen to bird sounds.
The park is a giant walk-in aviary with most birds flying free. Some are in their own aviaries, and there are smaller walk-in aviaries inside the main one too. The main structure is basically a net over some forest. There are many kinds of parrots - seeing little conures made me miss Tigo. I even found two green-cheeks. There are also lots of peacocks, herons, and various fancy pigeons. It wasn't particularly busy with humans though. I could have spent longer, just sitting. The constant background chatter is heaven.
I drifted into the orchid and hibiscus gardens afterwards. I thought everything closed at 6 and checked every gate I passed through to make sure I could climb back over it if it was locked, but nothing so exciting happened. I just kept walking, and eventually ended up in the botanical gardens. Many beautiful areas, and full of joggers and kids playing, so I guess this part doesn't close and is free to enter. I found groves of bamboo, rare fruit trees, and wandered around the lake. In some open areas there's even wifi! I recommend a visit.
I came out at KL Sentral, so I went to Gandhi's again for dinner. Just satay skewers and orange juice, as I wasn't very hungry. Maybe too much sun today.
I spent most of today working from the hostel, after waking up late. Went out early evening for 45 minutes in the Telecom Museum. This was plenty of time to read everything, and it's very interesting. A student ticket is 5myr. Upstairs was seating and wifi; had I known, I would have gone there to work.
I had dinner at Water Lily vegan restaurant, which has a huge selection of stuff and I definitely want to go back there to try more. I had the BBQ bao, which previous reviews on HappyCow raved about, and sure enough it was great. I got a set meal: assam soy fish, which came with tofu, vegetables, rice, and herbal tea. The tofu and veggies were bland, but the sauce around the fishy chunk of soy meat was good. I also had lime sour plum juice; 18.60 in total. I got there just after 5 and it was very quiet. Mostly the staff were occupied peeling mushrooms with which they'd covered the entire table.
After that I wandered to Dataran Merdeka, a big open area of grass surrounded by museums and galleries, and containing fountains and a giant flag pole. I also found the library, and I think I'll go there to work tomorrow. As the sun began to set, the lighting here was incredible. Orange reflections cascaded between the glass of skyscrapers, and both the KL Tower and the Petronas towers were in view from some spots.
Spent today around Brickfields, the Indian part of KL. To get there I passed through Petaling St Market (... a couple of times) and scouted bright coloured loose pants. The starting price seems to be 20 to 40 myr, so I can probably negotiate down to lower than the mall ones. Let's also pretend that Kasturi Walk and Central Market were on the way too. Well, they kind of were, it's hard to keep bearings in these windy streets and enormous confusing highway junctions.
Anyway, eventually I made it to Brickfields, and looked into some temples. In one, a wedding in progress. It seemed a bit chaotic. 20 sen for shoe storage outside. I had it on good advice (TripAdvisor forums) that the money changers in Brickfields are abundant and have the best rates. I spent my last few ringgits on a lotus bao to see me through lunchtime, and couldn't find an (open) money changer anywhere. Lots of veggie restaurants I now couldn't eat at though.
Eventually I stopped into PODs hostel and got directions to one. A very specific one, perhaps the guy's buddy.. At PODs I noted excellent seating, wifi, and coffee. I followed the directions to Nu Sentral mall. Another mega shopping complex with many chains and divine aircon. I found a money changer that did not fit the description of the one I was told has "best best price for you", so I noted the rate and kept looking. When I found the one that looked right (orange signs), sure enough it had a better rate, and I swapped $80 for 355.20 myr - probably as close to the exchange rate as I could hope to get.
I wandered the mall for a bit. Contemplated Boost, Nandos and Built (they have a vegan burger) and a cafe called Library Bar Central. Ultimately decided to return to PODs, not least because every outlet in the mall was playing christmas music.
PODs sold me a lukewarm iced coffee for 5myr, and I sat in a super comfy swingseat in the window for the next few hours with my laptop.
When hunger struck, I headed to Gandhi's vegetarian restaurant. The sides are open to the street, it is fancooled (no aircon) and busy and hectic. Staff don't seem particularly interested in helping, but eventually I laid my hands on a menu and got rojak (a salad consisting of shredded veggies, and a sliced deep fried tofu ball, smothered in a slightly sweet, slightly spicy peanut sauce). I found a small sliver of metal in my rojak. Shortly thereafter a mosquito landed in the sauce and died. But let us not dwell. I also ordered nasi lemak, a Malaysian staple I hadn't yet managed to try. Rice, peanuts, sambal, cucumber and fried scraps of something crunchy that I assume are the veggie alternative to dried anchovies. Plus deep fried not-chicken balls that were so chickeny I was a little alarmed. And watermelon juice, and a gooey coconut sweet. It's delicious and this was too much food, but I ate it all anyway. 17.20 myr.
I'd been considering a travel pass, and almost decided not to get one when I came across a TouchNGo outlet in the Nu Sentral mall. So I paid 10myr plus 10myr topup at the machine. I started to worry I wouldn't actually use 10myr of transit by the end of the week, so that (along with the possibility of getting horribly lost and walking for hours... again) prompted me to hop on the monorail at KL Sentral for two stops to get back. I disembarked on the edge of Chinatwon, and walked through Petaling St Market again. On the way, I stopped for fancy bright pants and a baggy vest top with birds on. The starting prices were 28 and 25 respectively, and I asked for them both for 30 together, and paid 35. I was pleased to be buying from a woman, but men are much easier to haggle with for some reason. Further in, I spied the same tshirt and asked, and was given a starting price of 15. Damnit. But for $8/£6 I shouldn't complain.
Today was moderately productive, from the hostel in the morning and VCR Cafe in the afternoon. I found VCR on workfrom. It's hip, spacious, with good coffee, good wifi, and abundant power outlets. Upstairs are floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony (though, populated by smokers). The wicker chairs are comfier than wood. Coffee seemed kind of pricey - 9 myr for a small americano - but I don't know what's standard for the hip coffeeshop scene. About the same as chains, at any rate.
I ate lunch at Blue Boy, an indoor-outdoor set of stalls supervised by sullen staff serving excellent food. All vegetarian. I got fried flat noodles with vegetables (and requested no egg), a plate of not-pork, and lemon juice, for a thoroughly reasonable 10.50.
Dinner was on the pricier side, from Yuet Sum Hin, a Chinese vegetarian restaurant in Bukit Bintang. There was so much to choose from, and as I was half way through reeling off dishes the waitress warned me I was ordering too much. I confirmed that I could take home what I couldn't finish, and continued. For 44 myr I got sizeable portions of kangkong (water spinach), tofu in black bean sauce, and fried rice with salted 'fish', and a pot of jasmine tea. I finished about one third, and it was all delicious. The fried rice was my favourite.
I detoured through Times Square again on the way back. Surprised by how cheap clothes on the upper floors are for a mall. Initially I was just scouting so I have a basis to haggle at the market, but then I bought some light, knee-length pants for 12.
I wandered around a corner on the 9th floor and was confronted with... this...
There's a literal theme park inside the mall. And it's all quirky and space themed. Full blown rollercoaster. Actual craziness.
Took a wrong turn on the way out and accidentally found the thumping nightlife district. It was awful. Exited with haste. Longer route than anticipated back to the hostel, as my navigating-by-hotels is still not up to scratch, plus the chronic problem of being stuck on the wrong side of uncrossable highways.
Woke up early, and caught up on internets in the hostel lobby. Researched some things to do. Concluded that buying a KL Pass was not necessary for the discounts it offered. It's probably good if you want to go to like loads of themeparks and shows and stuff, but even with the discount on the KL Tower it doesn't seem worth it for me. Wifi in the lobby was good until about 9am when the rest of the world came down for breakfast.
Headed out with E around midday in search of food. We went to Bakti Woodlands Indian vegetarian restaurant, a couple of blocks from the hostel. It was full of people who looked like they probably originated from India, and didn't consult menus before food arrived to them, which is a good sign. E ordered a Jain thali, and I had mushroom manchurian and aloo paratha. It was exactly the right amount of food, and so deliciously full of flavour. I'd say I'd go back, but there are a whole bunch of vegetarian Indian restaurants on the same street, so I'll probably try a different one.
I had planned to wander to a monorail station and get a travelcard, then take a jaunt to Titiwangsa park, and be back before dark so I could do some work. We wandered into the first train station we found, which didn't have the TouchNGo card available, so we just bought a one way monorail ticket. The machines issue a little round plastic token, which is interesting but inconvenient because it doesn't fit in my wallet like a normal ticket would (1.70 myr). Then we discovered the monorail doesn't actually connect at this station. So we took a train two stops to one that did. The monorail was packed. But still cool.
Next discovery was that the stationed named Titiwangsa is not that close to the park after all. And requires walking near a horrible, giant, smelly, under-construction highway. We stopped at Gloria Jean's for iced tea and a wifi break.
We finally made it to the park, which has big lakes, fountains, and a traffic park.. a place with pretend traffic lights and junctions and crossings, where you can practice driving and rent little pretend cars to zoom around in. Hah. After lapping the lakes, we exited the park in a different place and found ourselves on the wrong side of the highway for returning to the monorail station. So we figured we'd walk in the general direction of the city center until we reached another station. On the hospital grounds, we chanced upon a free GoKL bus, and hopped on board. We didn't know which line it was though, and the fancy screens inside the bus weren't displaying anything useful, and nor was the onboard wifi working. So we thought we'd wait and see. We waited, and saw it loop all the way back around to Titiwangsa monorail station. Oops. We got off, and got on another... turned out to be the same line. This time we got off in Bukit Bintang, figuring we'd check out Times Square, a giant shopping mall amongst giant shopping malls.
On the way we got distracted by a diner where the seating booths are cars. The sheer delight on E's face was enough to go in and order potato wedges. Also the ice cubes were guitars.
By the time we got to Times Square it was closing up. The security guard let us inside to use the bathrooms, and we had a quick look around. Shops...
We walked the rest of the way back to the hostel. My feet were tired again. Taking today off from walking around.
My flight landed in KLIA2 just before 7am. The line for immigration was short but slow. Fingerprints, but no forms to fill in. The terminal is huge, and I wandered around thinking about checking out one of many mifi options, and deciding where to change money, for a while. I didn't get a mifi, but did change $50 for 202 MYR. Not a particularly good rate, I think, but no fee with CIMB Bank.
Anyway, I found the buses on level 1. I bought a ticket for Star Shuttle, having learnt from wikitravel this was a good option, from a very generic looking ticket counter which seems to cover all of the many transport options. I caught the 8 o'clock, and took the approximately 1.5 hour ride to Puduraya for 11 MYR. From there I walked about five minutes to Explorers hostel near Chinatown. I'm in a 6 bed dorm on the third floor. Aircon in the lobby and rooms; wifi only in the lobby. Movies playing on a TV in the lobby 24 hours a day; high brightness, so James Bond and Star Wars look like low-budget action flicks. Free breakfast - coffee, tea, toast, peanut butter (yay!). Lockers in the room.
I rearranged the contents of my bag on my bunk, then met a roommate, E. She's been backpacking around for a while, and just came from Penang (where I'm going next). Together we wandered through the nearby market, and bought sweet bao (lotus, sesame, yam). The heat squashed my appetite for most of the rest of the day. We reached the KL Tower, which is surrounded at the base by a small patch of indigenous jungle. There's a rope bridge through the tree canopy, and forest trails. The base of the tower is full of souvenir stands and overpriced food. There's an upside down house. A house in which everything is upside down. Also the house itself is upside down. Okay. We didn't go inside.
The tower itself is pretty expensive to go up, at over 100 MYR to the very top. Having said that, it's about the same as towers in most major cities. Maybe I'll go up anyway. But we didn't yesterday.
Continued wandering until we reached the Petronas towers. Enjoyed the aircon in the enormous shopping mall for a while. This rebooted my appetite, and we ate in the food court, which included a vegetarian place called Simple Life Healthy Vegetarian. I asked the server to pick a noodle dish for me; it was a large portion, deliciously savoury and slightly spicy; vegetables, mushrooms, a little tofu. Plus a black sesame soy milkshake, came to 20.70 MYR. Not bad.
Inside the shopping mall we found an Asian contemporary art exhibition, free to enter, with some really interesting pieces. There's also a petroleum museum on the top floor, maybe for another day. Behind the towers is a park with a big lake and fountains that do interesting things. We crossed the street to another shopping mall, and discovered that the H&M there doesn't sell underwear. In case that piece of information is useful to anyone. We spent some time in Muji (which does sell underwear) and I amused myself with the quirky signs, descriptions, and packaging. Less amused by the prices.
It was raining by the time we emerged, so we hopped on the free GoKL bus. There are several free bus routes, which is kind of nuts, but also awesome. Except we hit it at peak traffic hours (or maybe that's all the time, I don't know yet) and we travelled like two stops in one hour. Mostly sitting still. I napped. Then we got off, because staying on was kind of silly, and walked back to the hostel. I bought a dragonfruit for 6 MYR; I think I might have been ripped off. Still cheaper than Wholefoods though.
I shed two t-shirts, a pair of smartish trousers, and denim long shorts in Tokyo. I still find myself envious of all the people around me in the hostel in Kuala Lumpur with smaller backpacks than me.
On a related note, I really want all of the brightly coloured loose pants at the market.
So I'm going to try to significantly reduce my load again before I leave KL. To make it easier, I'll put something aside to rehome every day for the next nine days. To remind myself, and stay accountable, I'll update this blog post.
Update: In the end I did it all at once, a couple of days after writing this. I extracted this stuff, and shoved it under my bed. At the end of my stay in the hostel, the folks at reception said they knew someone they could give it to for charity, so I left it with them.
Working from Commune246 today, a cute hippie food court nestled in what appears to be a pretty upscale neighbourhood in Omotesando. It has vegan food, coffee, wifi, power (courtesy of Wired) indoor and outdoor seating with lots of laptop/notebook space, and a much better playlist than most public places in Japan.
All vegetarian, mostly vegan, but many non-vegan desserts and drinks. Well labelled on the menu.
I went here twice, once with a fairly big group of carnivores who were reasonably impressed or at least polite about it. It's open late which is a plus, has a nice atmosphere, and free wifi (you have to ask for the password, when I was there it was 88888888). They also sell some organic groceries, vegan cookies, etc.
Food was delicious and portion sizes were reasonable. I tried the vegetarian plate (a selection of things), teriyaka wrap (contains wheat gluten and salad), and a curry and rice bowl. All dishes come with salads and soups. I also had a vegan lassi which was an unusual (but delicious) raspberry flavour, and coconut 'tiramisu' cake, which wasn't really like tiramisu, but was delicious anyway.
Pricey in general, but average for the area.
Natural House Food Court
Tried to go here twice. The first time, though HappyCow says it's open until 2000, they told me they close at 1600. The grocery store part is open later, just not the restaurant. The second time I got there at about 1430 and they told me they'd sold out of curry. Oh well. Picked up some snacks from the store instead, which is extensive and healthy organic produce, though not cheap.
All vegan, and proud.
Loved this place, but maybe by this point the lack of options in Kobe was wearing on me. It's frustrating that it's only open for lunchtime. There's no wifi, but comfy seating and graphic novels and books to read. I went twice anyway and got a different lunch set each time. The curry was excellent, and more filling than it looked. The sandwich was interesting, I'm not sure what was in it, but it did the job. Accompanying salads and soups were great. I tried cheesecake and poundcake, and chai and iced black tea. Again, pricey in general but normal for this kind of place.
It's also about a 15 minute walk from Sannomiya station, which is handy. Follow the trainline west (mountains on your right) until you reach the next station, then it's off a side road.
Vegan dessert stall
Close to Chinatown we stumbled across a vegan dessert stall. They had waffles, doughnutty cake things, and chocolate cake. We bought one of everything.
All vegetarian, thali and chapati seem to be vegan, though the dessert that comes as part of the dinner set (ice cream) is not. Declined that, but paid the full price anyway. The thali was three curries, rice and chapati, and they were delicious and homecooked. There was no menu, we just sat down and the owner brought out dish after dish. The samosas were great, I could have eaten them all night. Good job I didn't though, or I wouldn't have had room for the curries. As it was, I took some leftovers home. Food all cooked by the owner and his wife, though they seemed kind of despondent. There wasn't anyone else there when we were, early evening.
Difficult to find, the map marker in HappyCow was about 15 minutes too far west. But some googling for the name and different parts of the address eventually got us there. We almost walked right past, but I was lucky to see the sign fro the Indian supplies store that is right below the restaurant.
Food in Osaka
All vegan, located upstairs, just off the side of the enormous indoor mall arcade thing that runs through the center of the city. Their specialty for some reason is bagels and hummus, which are made fresh onsite every day. They have three set lunches, which include starters and drinks, and three dessert options for a little extra. It was all really good, filling.. felt expensive, but actually normal for vegan restaurants here.
Mel Coffee roasters
Friendly, young, husband-and-wife team running this teeny tiny coffee roasters which has been carved out of a corner of a building. They have a bench outside, but no real seating. Any space inside not taken up by the counter is occupied by coffee roasting equipment, and you can watch the beans go round.
Seriously good espresso, and a wide selection of hand-drip, too. Plus, the cheapest coffee we found between Kobe and Osaka at 190 JPY for an espresso! And by far the best. Did I mention it was great?
Their English is fluent, and as an added bonus had a good working knowledge of vegan restaurants in the area.
This is a tea (and cereamics) shop, recommended to us by the folks at Mel's. We tried two different types of sencha, which was produced with great ceremony. It was very pretty, with teeny tiny cups, pots and timers. We initially tried to share a pot (it's expensive!!), but we were required to make an order each. We got three infusions, at different temperatures, and finally - the part we'd been excited about after reading it on the menu - they brought us the tea leaves to eat. Except they returned them seasoned with soy sauce and bonito flakes. D'oh.
They have a bunch of tea-appropriate nibbles on the menu, many of which look vegan, but I didn't try any.
They sell a very small selection of tea to buy by the gram as well.
All vegan and proud. They used a button system to call servers, but it was chronically slow anyway, including the food coming. In the end it took so long we decided not to get dessert.
But the food we did get was great. 'Oysters' made from mushrooms, fried soy meat, and cheesey vegetables. They also brought us some small starters to choose from a plate.
All vegan, macrobiotic, healthy food. There's a kitchen right across the street from the actual restaurant which was at first confusing.
No English menus, but the server/chef did her best to explain what the dishes were. We picked two out of the three lunch sets at random, and tried miso soup, salad, curry, and ramen. The ramen were bland but a large portion. The curry was on par with other curries we've had a vegan restaurants. We followed up with two (small) slices of apple cake. The food was all good, but definitely on the more expensive side.
This place. Wow.
All vegan, and proud.
Reviews on HappyCow claim it only has four seats, and a grumpy owner/chef, but I found a much bigger space and a cheerful, curious, talkative waitress. Their space was occupied by a prebooked large party, but they managed to dig up some extra chairs and repurpose a storage table so that we could stay!
Not on the cheap side, but we ordered as much as possible. I finally got to try oknomiyaki which was maybe one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. Plus a pizza with something spam-like, and potato. It was so cheesy and absolute comfort food. We also tried deep fried soya meat, which came topped with more grated radish than one should reasonably try to eat. We got a platter of sides, including bizarre 'squid' (which I was reliably informed had a texture very close to actual squid), and soy meat chunks, and various salad-y bits.
There was a poster on the wall with a picture of some ridiculous looking Hallowe'en dessert, and I had to have it. It was pumpkin soft-serve ice cream, matcha ice cream, red bean goo and mochi balls. Plus little biscuits shaped like a bat and a pumpkin. I regret nothing.
This was my last night in Osaka, and I was tempted to stay longer just to come back here.
Accommodation in Osaka
I stayed in a small self-contained apartment near Tennoji. It had a balcony, and a small but functional kitchen. It also came with a portable Mifi hotspot which was fast and the most useful thing ever.
Also posted to AirBnB:
Great communication from Keisuke right up until I arrived. Really great place, clean and minimal and comfortable. Also a good location, for a train to the airport, and for central Osaka. In fact, I walked into Osaka; it takes more than an hour but is a great way to see different areas. The apartment is also close to a large park and many tourist attractions, including Tsūtenkaku tower. Thanks!
So I had this plan of going somewhere cheap and warm for the winter. Then I went to Japan for a month and after that Boston for two weeks. Both of those places are very expensive and fucking freezing. Must try harder.
I read online that it was surprisingly easy to get vegan mayo in Japan, and that it's much better than its US or European counterparts. So I set out on a quest.
Armed with the kanji for tamago, I spent upwards of 20 minutes squinting at dozens of ingredients lists on mayo packs at two different supermarkets. I first searched for the brand I'd seen online, and found one, and it said egg on it... but in red... did that mean it was saying it didn't contain egg? Was it talking about how bad egg is? Then I found one that said in english 'olive oil mayo' on it, but on a second reading I found egg in what looked to probably be an ingredients list.
I was gradually noticing patterns, and getting the hang of where to look for ingredients and allergy information. I was almost ready to give up, when I picked up one of the really common seemingly cheap brands (Kewpie) and started reading... and where most brands list egg, soy bean, and katakana my brother later identified as 'apple' (I'm not convinced, need to get J to confirm) in their allergy list, this one only listed the latter two! I re-read the whole pack twice, scouring for tamago and didn't find it. Delighted, I flipped it back over... and saw "NO EGG ADDED" in English, plus a big picture of an egg with a cross through it.
But the point is, I practiced my kanji pattern matching.
And now I have mayo. And it is better than any I've had in the US or UK.
So far I've met a leather-clad blues player called Jim and a lovely almost-80 year old lady called Glenda, who has been telling me about her various travel adventures. This is the tenth time Jim has made this journey, from Ohio to Arizona, and Glenda has been on the train since where it started in Chicago (she got off in Tuscon). During our four-hour layover in San Marcos I also met some early-twenties new army recruits, who invited me to go find a bar with them; I declined and stayed on the train to talk to Glenda instead.
The majority of this journey has been through two nights, but the daytime took us through Texan desert, including Marfa (where a bunch of famous movies including No Country For Old Men) were filmed. Valentine, where there's an art exhibition which is a replica of a Prada shop (complete with the latest shoes and purses), and not much else. Sierra Blanca, where the main economy is United States Border Patrol. The Mexican border, inclusive of small wall. One of the train crew is helpfully providing commentary. And plenty of desert brush and interesting mountains.
Apparently passed close enough to the Mexican border that Three have charged me now almost £25 for data not included in my free roaming. Including around £15 during a period of time when I disabled the SIM completely to stop this from happening any more. Hopefully they'll give me a refund. I wasn't even using the phone, it was just background activity. Sigh.
Finally left Texas for a stint through New Mexico. Things started to get greener once we were in Arizona.
After watching the sunset over Tuscon (and a couple of movies) I went to sleep. I woke up a few hours later, over an hour early, in LA.
Since my first Big Adventure on an Oasis Overland truck for three weeks in the Middle East I've been itching to see more of the world. During my PhD I have been taking the absolute piss utilising my academic freedom and conference travel funding effectively, and since September 2012 I visited seventeen countries, most (but not all) on a university's dime. I did this not by fraud or trickery, but by carefully picking conferences and communities to involve myself with, by thinking laterally about how I might find the cheapest transport options, and by asking for barely any funding towards accommodation, so I can ask for more transport funding again in the future. I squashed accommodation costs by CouchSurfing, hotel-surfing (when I know someone attending the same conference who has a spare bed or sofa in a room covered by their organisation), and staying in hostel dorms. Thinking laterally about transport options involves being flexible about dates, but also cities and means. Buses and trains are often cheaper than flights in Europe, and transport links are good. It's possible to get good multi-city deals on flights, and if, for a conference in city A, I can fly into city B and out of city C for less than a return flight between home and A, nobody minds when I expense that... and I get to see three cities instead of one. For that, I'm happy to pick up the cost of buses and trains to A from B and C myself. In the end, I'm sure I saved the university money.
In May 2015, I found four legitimately work-related reasons to be in different continental European countries in the space of four weeks. My department paid for a three-week Interrail train pass, which was cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) than two flights a week for a month. Before my rail pass started, I hitchhiked. En route between the places I was supposed to be for meetings or conferences, I visited a few new places alone, for peace and quiet and to catch up on work. This trip lasted five weeks, and was the longest travel experience I'd had so far. Because of the flexibility of the interrail pass, I didn't make much of a plan except for the known waypoints, and I was able to decide where to be next a few days or less in advance of setting off. I. Loved. That.
In October 2015 I moved to the US for a one-year visiting studentship, and the only months I didn't leave Massachusetts were January and July. I visited four countries outside of the US (not counting the UK), and six states within. I spent literally days on Amtrak, and far too long on buses.
Travelling is tiring, but so is staying in one place. At some point, possibly during that month of backpacking around Europe, it became cemented in my mind that my dream was to set off without much of a plan, and not have a date to be back by. I started telling people who would ask what I was doing after my PhD, that the plan was to... just go.
At this point it's less of a dream and more of a frantic urge. Boston is nice, but loud and expensive, and I can't wait to get out. Edinburgh is beautiful and affordable and friendly and full of people I love, but the thought of going back there makes me feel claustrophobic. There are places I know I will be welcomed with care and a bed, but nowhere feels like home right now.
I started pipedreaming about skipping winter this year, and heading to Mexico or Asia to finish my thesis. I have a month to vacate the US once my visa expires, so I thought I could overland travel south to Mexico, and just stay there. It turns out though that I have to leave the continent before I can re-enter as a tourist. Then I found out a bunch of people I know will be at ISWC in Kobe, Japan, in October, plus my brother just moved to Tokyo. Several people in the past year told me I'd "love Bali", and my sister didn't like it at all when she went last year. Two people I know through work-related stuff said they're planning to be in Bali at some point this winter. Bali is a fairly easy hop from Japan.
Eventually the signs mounted, and I booked a one-way flight from LA to Osaka. I left myself a week and a half in the US after my visa ends, mainly constrained by the dates of ISWC. I'm filling that time by flying to Austin to see a CouchSurfing friend, then taking a 37 hour Amtrak to LA.
Before I left Edinburgh for Boston a year ago, I gave away almost everything I couldn't fit into a large suitcase and a 40L backpack to take with me. I spent the summer whittling down my possessions further, and swapped the suitcase for a 52L backpack. I developed an absolutely pathological aversion to stuff, and started to check myself hard if I found something difficult to let go of. The harder it is to give some item a new home, the more important it is I get rid of it. I took a mountain of clothes to Goodwill, and sold nearly all of my tech.
I'll admit that I still have a cupboard of stuff in my old house in Edinburgh, but I've authorised the current residents to give away or claim all clothes, books and furniture. I'm stuck with some folders of writing and paperwork that one day I hope to digitise. I also have a buttload of stuff at my Mum's house in England. I remember finding it so hard to let go of childhood clutter. Maybe next time I go back I'll finally be able to sort through everything and let it all go.
This is what I have left:
So, finally it's happening. From Sunday 9th October, I will no longer be on a rental contract. I won't have a fixed address. I have a one-way flight to Japan, just enough savings, and total time flexibility, to get to somewhere - probably Bali - I can afford to stay for the winter, once my brother kicks me out of his place in Tokyo.
I still have to finish my thesis. But the thought of doing it on the beach, in a timezone where nobody can bother me, puts me at ease.
I am officially a digital nomad. Don't ask me when I'm coming home, I'm already there.
In Memoriam: purple beanie (and a day in Providence)
I found this purple beanie under the bed in the first flat I moved into in Edinburgh. I washed it, and wore it every winter for years. It's big, and stretchy, and after I dreaded my hair it still fit unlike the rest of my hats. It has plenty of space at the back so when I put my hair up it fits over the top.
I lost it in Providence, RI, last Saturday. It fell out of my coat pocket somewhere downtown.
We had a good run.
It costs $11.50 to get to Providence from Boston on the MBTA commuter rail, and takes about an hour. Amtrak is faster, but costs more.
The weather was gloomy and the city was very quiet. We found an African drum festival in a bar and hung out there for 45 minutes or so.
We walked to The Grange vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Lunch was after 3pm so they just had the bar menu. We ate peanut fried cauliflower, fries, and seitan tacos. It was all delicious and greasy and satisfying. Then we moved to their 'lounge' area for tea, a scone and a muffin, and a couple of hours of hacking. It was cosy and we sat on a swing seat. We packed up when the restaurant started to get really busy for dinner, around 6pm.
We walked back through downtown, to Vinya Test Kitchen, a month-old fancypants raw vegan place. There were only two other people in there. The food was delectable. We shared a starter (tree nut cheese tasting board), main (spinach pie with fancy mushrooms, pea tendrils, and a pecan flax crust) and dessert (pumpkin macademia cheesecake with hazelnut apricot crust) between two of us. And drank a tangy apple and lemon juice, and a bitter, thick orange and rhubarb juice. The waitress commended us for "eating so slowly and mindfully" and we didn't mention that we'd had a fairly big lunch only a couple of hours prior. I recommend trying this place on a full stomach though, as it really did enable us to savour each bite which had been so lovingly prepared (as raw food always is). Our total was a bit under $60 in the end.
We chatted with the chef, Sam Bonanno, for quite some time after the meal. She told us about her raw food experiences in Boston and the rest of the world. Definitely check this place out if you're in Providence and love fine food.
We went to check out the Firewater, which happens something like every weekend over the summer. The canal is filled with floating things which are lit on fire. There's stalls and food and stuff. It was pretty nice. We also found a Breast Cancer festival.
We took the last MBTA train back to Boston at 10pm. The ticket booths were closed and they wouldn't take card on the train and the ticket app wouldn't install on my version of Android. But the staff left us alone in the end and we got a free ride.
Frustrating MBTA commuter rail experience as no ticket booths open late, no card transactions on board train, and no online sales, only an app that doesn't work on my phone.
But crisis averted as the staff practice (or at least did tonight) benevolent negligence: telling you sternly that you need to get off at the next stop if you can't pony up enough cash or figure out how to install the app, and that they'll be back to check on you in a minute.... and then never returning.
Amy wrote about travel, cwebber, hacking, activitypub, socialwg, dustycloud.org, madison, & specification
Leaving Madison for the 26 hour (hopefully!) journey to NYC. Had a super productive, super delicious and most of all super fun few days with Chris Webber (and family/friends). Full report due over the weekend.
Sitting on the sofa in my host's lovely home after a fun evening with her family. Fiona, the timid cat, was eyeing me up like she wants to be on the sofa but is too shy to ask. She eventually elected for the top of a big cat toy across the room, from where she continues to watch me resentfully. Yoshi, the less timid cat, is content in a little basket.
I got up lateish this morning and after coffee and breakfast and talking about pets, my host and I drove to La Jolla, an upscale seaside neighbourhood in the north of San Diego. We walked along the coast, enjoying the sun, watching the waves crash and baby seals play in the surf.
We drove back to pick up supplies and make lentil and black bean chilli, cilantro and almond pesto (who knew pesto goes with chilli) in time for her nieces and their families to arrive for dinner. A nice evening talking about travel, tech, and life in general. A four year old instructed me on stirring the chilli, ate copious amounts of my homemade coconut oil+cocoa+coconut sugar chocolate, and made me draw snowflakes and build a helicopter from blocks. Once I was on the floor amongst the child chaos it was hard to get up again.
Amy wrote about travel, ca2016, couchsurfing, san, & diego
CouchSurfing reminds me that people are SO NICE it warms my heart. And you know me, I don't even like people. Maybe it's just the kind of people who give strangers a key to their home, offer them anything in their fridge and even drive them around. I'm SO glad I didn't hostel San Diego, and cost isn't even on the list of reasons.
I arrived in San Diego on the Greyhound, struggled to figure out how to top up a public transit card with anything other than a $7 day pass, gave up and jumped on an approaching bus because they're infrequent, didn't have the right change so resigned myself to giving up $5, and a nice lady supplied my missing $1 so I could make the correct fare after all. So that was a welcoming start.
The bus announcement voices have a kind of lisp... "stop requischtid"
Turns out San Diego is one of those US cities where I can't get a data connection on my phone.
My CouchSurfing host had been held up, so she let me know where to find the spare key, and I let myself into her house, and hung out with her beautiful fluffy cat, Kafka. Kafka wanted all of the cuddles.
My host came home and we drank tea and chatted. I went to Sprouts grocery store (very similar to Wholefoods) for a quick instant-noodle dinner, then eventually crashed. I had a mattress on the floor in a private room. The next morning my host left for work before I woke up, and I enjoyed a reasonably productive morning on her couch catching up on life and administrative tasks. Kafka helped with my CHI expense report by sitting on all of my receipts as I tried to sort them out.
Eventually I ventured out. I walked through University Heights and Hillcrest, cool districts with lots of lively restaurants and thrift shops. I found the Spruce Street suspension bridge, which is where a normal neighbourhood is suddenly a canyon full of trees with a massive bridge across. It was stable, but moved just enough underfoot to be unnerving.
I proceeded to Balboa Park, which I've heard was worth going to, but imagined like a park, not massive canyons and hills. It felt wild and had groundhogs darting around but it's also sliced through by freeways, so had that special USAmerican kind of nature vibe. There were pretty good views of downtown San Diego from some points. By accident I ended up in the central part of the park which is suddenly civilised and full of museums (none of which were free). There's a botanical 'building' that looks like it's made from massive bamboo straws or something. Lots of people around and I walked through the background of at least one wedding and one graduation ceremony. I saw cable cars overhead and looked for them, but figured eventually they must be in the zoo. I wandered more, aiming for where HappyCow told me would be a vegan restaurant. I found the WorldBeat Cultural Center, which it turns out is where the restaurant was, and hung out there for a couple of hours eating Jamaican curry and a big cinnamon roll. Food was good and cheap, and atmosphere was quiet and friendly and hippie. Stuff going on in the background like business meetings and dance classes; was a nice backdrop to get my laptop out for a bit.
My legs were aching by that point. Not from the 7 mile walk I'd just done surely... but perhaps from the fact I'd walked about an average of ten miles every day for over a week. My CS host offered to pick me up! Which she did, and then gave me a driving tour of downtown San Diego, and Coronado island. Coronado is an upscale neighbourhood on an island, surrounding a military base, reachable across a massive road bridge. We parked and took a walk along the front; mostly fancy hotels, beaches, posh people..
We ate at Muzita Ethiopian restaurant (yum!) and my host dropped me at a transit station where I caught a bus to my next CS destination.
My new host picked me up from the bus stop! (Americans and cars! Not complaining..). I met her kitties and we talked about pets and breakfast and plans for the weekend. Then I went to sleep in a lovely room of my own with a real bed in it.
Amy wrote about travel, food, vegan, usa, la, veganstraightedge, santa, monica, & mendocinofarms
I had a really great experience at @mendocinofarms this evening. I was on my way to Golden Mean when I stuck my nose in to see what they had, and ended up staying for a vegan Samosa Dosa, and iced tea. Unusual service sequence of: order with the staff on the door, who then gives you a tracking device and sends you to the counter to pay, where you also get bombarded with free samples of salads (spicy potato salad was ace!). The Samosa Dosa is a hefty wholewheat wrap containing curried cauliflower, chickpeas, potatoes, spinach, onions and some kind of mayo-y substance. It was really filling and delicious; every time I thought I understood it I'd encounter a new flavour or texture combination. And the iced tea was incredible. It's black tea, unsweetened (or I wouldn't have bothered) but it contains passionfruit (which I didn't know when I ordered) giving it this awesome delicate floral twist. It's also a nice space to chill, and I stayed there for a couple of hours pootling around on Twitter. The staff were really sweet, cheerful and friendly and after about an hour and a half kept coming over to offer refills of my iced tea (I declined, I was stuffed). To top it all off, it was very reasonably priced. To top it all off, it was very reasonably priced. At least, compared to what I'd been getting used to paying in LA: sandwich under $9 and iced tea around $3.
Deflating in beautiful Hidden Peak teashop. No photos, because no electronics allowed! I'm sinking into a soft, velvety plum red chair with dark wooden arms. The decor is tea paraphenelia, Asian rugs, paneling and wood carving. I can't place the music; it has a Middle Eastern Lint and is chanty. In the front of the shop are tea hardware and decor for sale as well as shelves of books. Lamps and dragons. The seating ranges from wooden chairs and stools to squishy (yet still elegant) armchairs and couches. The lighting is soft with a burgundy ambiance from the walls and dark wood flooring and furniture.
I'm sipping Dama, a Yunnan, and couldn't resist picking one of their four raw vegan desserts (an orange, cardamom cup with cashew cream). They have $400+ (per serving) pu-erhs on the menu, which made me smile. They're very serious about tea here. As anyone should be. I came across this place by accident as I wandered through town looking for a place to sit, and it's perfect. There seems to be a guy here who has brought his tea-novice friends for a pu-erh tasting. That's a test of a friendship.
I'm unwinding and sinking and stretching because I walked about 15 miles today. I'm glad I managed to drag myself out of bed for the 0830 35A to Big Basin. I followed this guide and started out on the Sunset Trail, through forests of giant Redwoods. I deviated by accident to Timm's Creek and doubled back to see Silver Falls and Golden Falls after Berry Creek Falls. Despite this, I remained between one and two hours ahead of schedule according to the times given in the guide. I also detoured (deliberately this time) to Sunset Camp; the guide said not to bother but the trail up was very pretty. A change in foliage, footing and lighting from the forest.
The stretch that followed Waddell Creek was long and samey. But the guide hadn't prepared me for the stretch around a precarious edge of a mountain with a beautiful view of Waddell Beach. Seeing the destination made the last few miles a little easier; especially when the destination was glittering sea and sand.
Ready to thrust my feet into the ocean, I came across park rangers with a variety of local snakes. My new friend Bandita (a King Snake) investigated me throughly before folding herself in half and nesting under my hoodie, stretched around my bank in the nook left by my backpack, with her middle poking out one end and her head and tail out of the other. I patiently stood for about 15 minutes as other hikers came and went, none committing to take over as snake-bed. Eventually I had to wake her so I could go collapse on the beach.
I had 45 minutes before the number 40 bus back to Santa Cruz. I plunged my feet into the mouth of the creek and ate leftover Saturn Cafe pie. When heading back to the bus I saw humpback whales spraying and playing in the surf.
I had no phone signal all day, and after the 40 minute bus ride I walked through downtown looking for somewhere to sit down and catch up. And yet it's somehow a relief that Hidden Peak tells me I'm not allowed to.
Oh, I did only eat old bagels all day after all. And a banana, leftover noodles, some chips from the bus station, and leftover pie. Later... pizza.
Following my stay in Linda's Seabreeze Cafe, I accidentally walked ten miles. Around beaches, through parks, to Twin Lakes and along traintracks back to the Boardwalk; entertaining an idea of going on the Sky Gliders, but they were closed. I also entertained the idea of a toffeeapple (available in great and exciting variety) as I wandered through the evening buzz of the funfair. I resisted. $7 pricing helped. I did google taffy to see if it's vegan though (unlikely, butter).
Having neglected to eat I stumbled with relief into Saturn Cafe and downed a BBQ ranch not-chicken burger and fries. I also got a berry apple pie with mint chip ice cream but suddenly the burger caught up with me and only managed a bite of pie. Food was average veggie-diner style, prices higher than average. They had a wide choice though, so it's possible I just happened to pick a particularly uninspiring sandwich.
Absolutely stuffed, I stumbled back to the trailer with vague intentions of heading out to Wholefoods for lunch supplies for the next day (so I wouldn't have to eat only old bagels). Instead I napped, woke back up just long enough to watch Perfect Sense on my laptop, then went back to sleep. My hands and forearms and face are tanned, my shoulders glowing red.
I didn't have high expectations for San Jose, so it was fine. The weather was good all week and vegan food was easy to come by. The middle of Downtown is nice enough, and the university campus is pretty and green, but otherwise kind of... not desolate, but industrial I guess. Contrived. Everything was closed or not serving food by 9 or 10pm, which was inconvenient. The Martin Luther King Jr Library is a good place to work; quite, plenty of desk space, and nice views of the city from the higher floors.
I ate... a vegan hotdog at Original Gravity; various Asian food at Vegetarian House (twice, friendly, taro smoothie!); rice and beans burrito at Iguanas Burritozilla (twice); bubble tea from Boba Bar (soy milk options) and ThirsTea (all made with non-diairy creamer, bonus points for punning); fresh watermelon juice from the place next to Boba Bar; delicious healthful hearty meals and amazing Mayan chocolate pie from Good Karma (twice); sushi from Fuji Sushi; coffee from Social Policy.
I ran the length of Guadalupe Park, and wandered around the rose garden. It was sometimes isolated, and sometimes the highway was audible or visible.
I'm in Linda's Seabreeze Cafe in Santa Cruz. Feels like it's full of locals. Coffee is nice, in a large mug. Staff are friendly, reporting back from time to time as they discover things in their kitchen which are vegan. They have a few things on the menu, but only big meals, so I enquired after smaller things. I'm not hungry anyway, I only wanted coffee. The sun came out since I've been in here. It was grey when I walked. I'll finish my coffee, then continue walking to Twin Lakes. Oh that might be a while, I just got an impromptu refill.
Santa Cruz so far feels pleasant and friendly. The Boardwalk is tacky... fairground rides, candyfloss, toffee apples... but somehow still charming. I walked around as the sun was setting last night and everywhere felt quiet and calm. Until I made it to the end of the wharf, which, underneath, is populated by noisy sealions. They bark and snort and sneeze and groan. I found a spot that was lit well enough to see a heap of them and watched them sleeping in piles, climbing over each other, awkwardly hauling themselves in and out of the water and over and around their buddies.
I'm staying in an AirBnB, an adorable trailer in someone's backyard. It's tiny, only has a bed and some shelving inside. The bathroom is across the yard. A tiny space to myself in a quiet town is exactly what I need for a few days post-conference.
I might go on the cablecars (Sky Glider) on the Boardwalk later. And maybe swim in the sea. Tomorrow I'm thinking about hiking in Big Basin all day. I need to look out for somewhere I can pick up lunch to take so I'm not eating week old bagels all day.
Trapped in La Banquise. Weighed down by the poutine in my belly. The air outside is cold and wet, but people in here are warm and in the process of making the same mistake I just did. Or are they? I ate half a large Rachel and half a large Mexicania, but now I'm noticing other diners are sharing one large between two, or eating a small each. Why didn't the waiter warn us? Substituting vegan cheese and vegan gravy was a steep $5.50 extra, but worth it. Comfort food and-a-half, and almost makes the rainy day worthwhile. The Rachel was topped with onions, mushrooms and green peppers; the Mexicania with tomatoes, olives and chilli peppers.
This morning I walked to and around Ile Sainte Helene and Ile Notre Dame. The Biodome was closed (everything is closed on Mondays) but there were outside galleries and scuplture and greenery to see. Ile Notre Dame has the Olympic basin, and Formula One track to wander around. We found ourselves in the Casino, surrounded by old people and slot machines and extravagance. Warmed up there, before heading back into the rain to catch the metro back to the city, to warm safe poutine.
Later: coffee in Cafe Gonzo; more walking in the rain; hearty, homely, friendly, dubiously-vegan Taiwanese food from Le Roi du Wonton. A walk through the underground shopping malls and a couple of hours listening to a traditional music jam in teeny tiny L'Escalier (which has lots of vegan food, though I didn't try it). Overnight bus back to Boston.
Nine empty beds, one with me in. The fluorescent light that works is clicking rapidly. Muffled lively conversation from elsewhere in the hostel. Resting my legs.
I started the day (after toast and hostel-chat) with an 8.9 mile run. Some walking. It was hot all day, I'm a bit red. I traversed the ports and almost started along the bridge to Ile Sainte-Helene before turning back; over two hours. I saw great abandoned buildings, grain silos, old and modern port industry. A boat spa with a tranquil pool, hidden away; Habitat 67; and plenty of green.
As if that wasn't enough, I walked up Mont Royal, then rested by the lake for a while. Hot sun and piles of snow, tam-tams, jugglers, acrobats and hippies everywhere. Walked further, all around the city, over 12 more miles in total.
I ate: coconut bubble tea from a bakery in Chinatown; shiitake teriyaki with cheese sandwich from Copper Branch; chocolate mousse from Crudessence; pizza sans fromage with wholewheat base, spinach, olives, artichokes, from Il Focolaio. The pizza was great, reminded me of Rigatoni's in Edinburgh. And they clocked vegan straight away, and even have a tofu pepperoni option.
I'm sitting in a park, as Montreal beeps and rumbles and chatters around me. I can hear a helicopter passing. The clacking of skateboards. The sky is inky black, stars drowned by city lights. A circling spotlight peeks between skyscrapers every few seconds. A city like many others. It's rough around the edges, but seems stable enough. Rough enough not to make me suspicious of it, like Tokyo or Doha. Stable enough to make me content there alone, unlike Cairo or Delhi. Maybe if Edinburgh grew skyscrapers it would be like this.
It's more French than I was for some reason expecting; primarily French. I understand when people speak to me - eventually. It takes a few extra seconds to process, and by that time they've realised and switched to English.
Today I went to the botanical gardens. A blue and black papillon landed on me, and a green stick insect climbed my hand. I watched my beetle alter-ego fly repeatedly into glass, flounder with its legs in the air for a while, before righting itself and proceeding to bury itself completely with dirt. I walked through artificial environments which supported plants that shouldn't be there. Diverse bits of the world gathered together in one place, entombed in glass, for $14.50. There wasn't much alive outside. Instead of playing rainforest make-believe, I took some photos of plants alongside the human-built infrastructure that kept them alive.
I ate: an apple pastry from Sophie Sucree; pea soup from the gardens' restaurant; three fresh samosas from a tiny Indian place; brown sticky rice with edamame, carrot, ginger, avocado, cucumber, watercress and tempeh from Nutrimania.
I saw McGill campus, Parc la Fontaine, and many streets. After dark, I walked through Place des Artes, and here I am.
Leaving Eltham at 8:29am (+00:00) on Sunday the 28th of February 2016 and arriving in London Bridge at 8:49am (+00:00) on Sunday the 28th of February 2016
Second passport obtained
I successfully obtained a second UK passport today with suspiciously little difficulty, but this is doubtless due to helpful advice I got from Phil and this blog beforehand. There is no official information about how to do this online, and only a little around blogs and forums, so I'm contributing my experience to the pile.
Due to travel and living outside of the UK, there was no time to wait for the postal turnaround and only a single day I could be in London in person before I needed it, so I had to go for the Premium service. This, plus an extra large size passport, cost £139. I made my interview appointment and paid online, just over two weeks in advance.
I called the passport adviceline to check a foreign employer was eligible to sign the supporting letter, as I'd read on a forum that they wouldn't be, but that was no problem. I asked someone with a sufficiently impressive sounding job title in my research group at MIT to sign a letter saying I need an additional passport to make frequent work-related travel possible (which is true). Officially the letter is required to be signed by a 'senior manager', which academia doesn't really have obvious job titles for, and I didn't think a Professor would cut it as far as the Passport Office is concerned. Fortunately there are a few people who are my superiors, if not directly above me in the chain (I don't know what the org chart looks like tbh) who have 'Director' in their title. That worked.
As Phil points out in his post, the letter has to state that frequent travel either hinders access to send-away-for visas, or involves countries who deny entry if you've previously visited certain other countries; they don't give them out for one-offs. And the letter has to have a 'wet' signature, not be a printout or photocopy. And has to be on headed paper. I had it printed on extra thick fancy paper for good measure.
I also had to have one of my passport photos countersigned by a professional who had known me for 2 years, who also had to fill in section 10 of the application form. This is the same as for first time passports, but not renewals. Some forum posts about this suggested you should follow the renewals process for a second passport, but this is where it varied. My PhD supervisor did this.
Minor last minute panic around realising I was missing my supervisor's passport number and my parents' passport issue dates the night before, but they all replied to me in time.
I showed up at the passport office in Victoria just after 0900 for a 0915 appointment. You can take anything you want in, but it goes through a security scanner like at an airport (in contrast to the US embassy where I got my visa, which didn't allow laptops). I was issued issued a queue ticket which said 'outstanding: £128' on it which worried me slightly. Less than a 10 minute wait before my 'interview'. The first thing I said was that I was applying for a 2nd passport for business travel, not a renewal (which is what I'd selected when I booked the interview online). The interviewer asked me about how I'd booked and paid, because he could see I'd paid online but some other system hadn't registered it (hence the 'outstanding' on my ticket). He was kind enough not to charge me again. He ran his finger over the signature on the letter to check it was 'wet', read through my application form and filled in section 1 for me (I left it blank because there is no option for '2nd passport'); I didn't see what he put, but at the end he showed me that he'd written 'DO NOT CANCEL ORIGINAL' somewhere. He flipped through my passport and asked me to show him the stamp for the country that would be preventing me from getting into a different country. I was pleased my passport is already packed full of stamps and visas, leaving him in no doubt of my 'frequent traveller' status. I was not asked for proof of travel, but my letter contained the start and end dates of my next trip.
Aaand... that was it.
I went back to the collection point 4 hours and 20 minutes later (after a fancy expensive breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien around the corner, who I know to count on for power and wifi and whose menu has exploded with vegan options since I was last here, and a jaunt to the British Library) with the receipt, and they handed my shiny new 48 page one over!
I'm in Edinburgh for 1.5 days next week. Top of my list are: Hoose, Rigatoni's, chips.
I'm in London for 1.5 days next week. Top of my list are: Nando's, chips, Nando's, chips.
Gonna be a healthy time.
Arrived in Portland after a 17 hour train journey. Had no data connection and had done no prior planning, including caching a map or getting the address of where I was staying. Pantsed around Union Station looking for wifi for a while, and eventually the restaurant next door (Wilf's) were sympathetic. I made it to my destination, discussed the boundless possibilities of vegan food with my hosts for a few hours, and then we went for dinner at Epif Restaurant & Pisco Lounge; Charciqan. Also headed to a bar where I tried Kombucha. Not sure how I feel about it.
Ground Kontrol for a vegan corndog, weird Liam Neeson movie and pinball. The nostalgia for Windows pinball I got from playing IRL pinball was incredible. Reverse nostalgia?
Went to White Owl for vegan s'mores, but they don't sell them any more due to complaints from the fire department. Stopped by the entirely vegan mall (!?!), but everything was closed. Finally ended up at Rimsky's for tea, a truly fantastical place that would have been the highlight of the day had the day not been entirely highlights. "Sit at a table which hums."
I went on a walking tour of 'underground' Portland. I was the only person, and the tour guide wasn't super keen to go out in the downpour, but he humoured me. I learnt lots about racism and crimping and tunnels.