Saturday, January 31, 2009

Arrival in Praha (Prague)

So after a fun night train from Krakow (and maybe a little too much partying on board), I arrived in Prague around 7am. I was couchsurfing with a Swedish man named Rolf, and so I followed his tram directions to his apartment, which turned it to actually be inside of the Swedish Embassy (Rolf works there)! It is a beautiful building with a beautiful view of the entire city of Prague. Below is the view from the balcony right outside my bedroom window...Couchsurfing is amazing indeed, and Rolf was a great great host. He threw a party the next night, but I will tell you more about that later.

The balcony outside of my bedroom window with Petrin Hill behind.

The courtyard of the Swedish Embassy.

Rolf's dining room

This is the street right outside of the embassy, Uvoz, which leads down to the Little Quarter and eventually the Charles Bridge. Prague is a beautiful, beautiful city, and I will be posting many more pictures soon!

Beer-Man Returns!!!

The Beer Man Strikes Again!Francisco and I encountered another beer man while walking in the Main Square in Krakow, and then just before I left to head to Prague I saw this...

They are multiplying! Run for your life!

Friday, January 30, 2009


There is nothing in the world that I want to do less than go to Auschwitz again. The former Nazi concentration camp (the largest) is a close bus ride from Krakow, so it is kind of a must, though not something to look forward to. However, I do feel that visiting Auschwitz or another concentration camp elsewhere is extremely important. People should not forget what happened there, and if we get too comfortable about leaving the past behind us, we will be destined to repeat it.

You really cannot feel the entire weight of the situation until you have walked around Birkenau (the second camp of Auschwitz) and see how massive the place is. It boggles my mind that there are still people around the world, such as the President of Iran, who deny that the holocaust ever happened. There is very very physical evidence, and nothing drives it home like a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. If I never go to another concentration camp in my life I will be happy, as it is a very uncomfortable experience, but it shouldn't be comfortable. If you find yourself in Poland or near another one of the camps, go once. You wont regret it, and it will probably affect you for the better. Below are some pictures that I took during my visit, mainly to show the scale of how big this is.This is the entrance to Auschwitz I, which was originally a Polish military base until taken over by the Nazis in 1939. The horrible sign above the gate reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" in German, which means "work will set you free". This camp was used mainly for political prisoners, pow's, and members of the Polish resistance until 1942 when it became too small. At that time the Nazi's built Birkenau and began to send Jews from all over Europe there to be exterminated. A map in one of the buildings showed that people were sent here to die from as far away as Greece and Paris, Italy and the Netherlands.

This is the gate to Birkenau, and you might recognize it from the movie "Schindler's List". 1.1 million people passed through this gate and never returned, 90 percent of whom were Jews from every country in Europe.

This is where the people were taken off of the train and sorted by Nazi doctors, basically into groups of who could work (and basically starve to death later), and who would be sent immediately to the gas chambers. 75% of everyone getting off the trains went straight to the gas chambers.

Some memorial candles lit at the other end of the train tracks from the main gate.

This is a view from the top of the main gate of just one part of the camp. It stretches out as far as you can see in this picture. The barracks in the foreground are a restored example of where the prisoners lived. They were actually designed as horse sheds for the German army, so when you go inside there is absolutely no insulation of any kind. It would have been like sleeping in a very crowded barn in the middle of a cold, Polish winter.

I took many more pictures, but this is all that I will display for now, as I'm sure you readers are not aching for more from Auschwitz. In my next few posts I will move on to happier things as I travel to Prague, but for now, let this post make you uncomfortable, that is how a visit to Auschwitz should make you feel.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Krakow in Pictures - Pt. 3

Wawel Castle and Cathedral, which is the National Cathedral of Poland and is a mausoleum for many of the country's great leaders of old.

This is Schindler's Factory, which is still here in Krakow and lies in an off-the-beaten-path industrial district. Large parts of the movie, "Schindler's List", were filmed right here, on location. It was closed to the public today as it was the 64th anniversary of the liberation of the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp. I visited Auschwitz the next day, and will have some somber pictures from that trip posted soon...

The Old Cemetery in Krakow's Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz. All of the graves in this cemetery are dated between 1552 and 1800. Francisco and I had to borrow yamulkes so as to cover our heads and pay respect. You can see a picture of me sporting my yamulke to the right at the top of the page.

As we were walking back through the Main Square there was a lot of shouting and singing, so we decided to investigate. We were puzzled to find a bunch of young men wearing what I would describe as towel-capes, most of which had pictures of naked women on them (with the exception of one man who strangely had a wholesome picture of a Polish family on his). After asking around a bit, we found out that young Poles have to do a compulsory year of service in the military, and that these guys had just completed their time. So to celebrate the end of military service in Poland, they apparently get super wasted, wear towels, and sing loudly. And can someone please tell me why some people still think that Americans are obnoxious when traveling?

Oh yea, and in addition to the drinking and singing and generally making asses of themselves, the now ex-soldiers do a lot of push-ups.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Krakow in Pictures - Pt. 2

That is a giant sculpture of a head in the Main Square, and Francisco is picking its nose. Francisco was the other American couchsurfing with me in Krakow. He is in the army and based in Italy, spending the off time traveling around Europe. We spent the day walking around the town together, and yes, we are being stupid Americans in this picture.

Another view of the Main Square with St. Mary's Basilica in the background.

This is a replica of the Shroud of Turin in Pope John Paul II's home church (the name escapes me now). Even though it is a replica, it is still considered a Holy Relic because it has touched the original. So if I touch Bob Dylan, can I be considered the world's best folksinger as well?

The plaque marks the pew where the Pope sat and prayed (before he was the Pope).

The entrance to Krakow's main attraction: Wawel Hill and Castle. More on that in the next posting...

Krakow in Pictures - Pt. 1

I couchsurfed both nights in Krakow with three lovely hosts: Gosia, Gosia, and Bartok. They have couchsurfers pretty much every night of the week, and while I was there they were hosting not on me, but an Australian, another American, and two Polish girls. They host so often that you can see all of their supplies on the shelves here: extra sleeping pads, travel books, hitch-hiking signs, and plent of signs in English to help you find anything you want all around the house (drawers marked "silverware" or "cups", etc.).

The name of the street eludes me at the moment, but it is a major shopping street connecting the Main Square to the gate at the edge of Old Town (Stare Miasto in Polish).

This is one of the Gosia's and Bartok singing some Polish folk songs for me and the other cs'ers. I played some music for them as well, and if you are my friend on facebook you can watch a video of Gosia singing Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" in Polish!

The same street pictured above, this time in daylight with St. Mary's Basilica in the background. St. Mary's is the main cathedral in Krakow, at least in terms of tourism, size, and prominence. There are MANY churches in Krakow (a whole lotta Catholics).

This is the Main Square in Old Town, a very large, beautiful space to spend some time eating food and drinking beer. A friend of my hosts told me that it is the 2nd largest Main Square in all of Europe, though I haven't confirmed that, so don't quote me on it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Warszawa - in Pictures pt. 3 (Finale)

Warsaw has a palm tree! Well, its an art installation that never went away...

I found a random tribute to John Lennon and the Beatles by a fence in a Warsaw park. There were some candles lit, very strange...

a statue of Charles de Gaulle. He helped to liberate Warsaw from the Soviets in 1920, so they love him.

Nowy Swiat, THE shopping/eating street in the city. Fairly expensive, but fashionable!

This is Katarzyna, she worked at the Oki Doki Hostel where I stayed. Katarzyna likes jenga, and she will kick your ass in it. John likes to play jenga with Katarzyna, and is pretty sure she is the prettiest girl in all of Poland.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Warszawa - in Pictures pt. 2

For some reason the man above was walking around the park in a beer suit to advertise his brand. The park wasn't particularly busy, so I'm not sure how well the advertising campaign was working...

This is Poland's equivalent of the White House, where the president lives.

a view of Old Town (Stare Miasto)

the main square in Old Town. Although all of those buildings look old, they are rebuilt since all were destroyed in 1944.

the Barbican Gate, originally part of the defense system around Old Town, it separates Old Town from New Town.

Warszawa - in Pictures pt. 1

Above is the "Palace of Culture and Science", a 1950's era "gift" from Stalin. Everyone I talked to thinks its pretty ugly, and I do too!

In 1944, after an uprising against the Nazi's failed, Hitler ordered the entire city of Warsaw to be razed to the ground. 85% of Warsaw was destroyed, and you will find many exhibits around the city showing that destruction, or showing what the city looked like before.

Piludsky Square, a very large open space that has served many purposes over the years, including the first appearance of Pope John Paul II in Poland (his home country) after becoming the Pope. In this picture you see Polish soldiers walking towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Some very pretty moss in the park behind Piludsky Square

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leaving for Europe TOMORROW!!!

So this is it.

I quit my day job.

I have one last gig tonight in Madison (7pm @ the Brink Lounge)

and tomorrow I am taking a bus to O'Hare Airport in Chicago and flying to Warsaw, Poland!

Needless to say, I'm pretty pumped.

And I just wanted to let you all know that I will be doing my best to keep up the blogging during my travels. At the least I will post pictures fairly frequently.

I also have a few gigs set up while I am over there:
Feb. 2nd - Budapest, HU
Feb. 3rd - Budapest, HU
Feb. 5th - Vienna, AT
Feb. 15th - Parma, IT
and possibly a house concert in Prague in the works...

I'll be gone for a month, traveling through Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Italy.

Stay tuned, and I'll catch you all on the flip side...


Monday, January 19, 2009

Re-post: Spring Tour Journal - Pt. 1 (from 2007)

So while I'm busy preparing to leave for Europe this Friday, I thought that I would leave something for you to read. This is a re-post from my Southern Tour back in the spring of 2007. This was only the second tour I ever did, and the first one that I blogged from. I used to post blog entries to my myspace site, so that is where this was originally posted. I've added some pictures that weren't in the original post. To the left is a picture of Lake Wedington in Arkansas at sunrise (you'll read about that below), and the second picture is of Fort Smith, also in Arkansas. I'll probably re-post past tour blogs some more in the future, especially when I may be too busy to write something new. Stay tuned, though, because I'll be in Poland on Saturday and I'm going to try to blog fairly often from the old world! And now, I will take you back to April of 2007...

Day 1 - Dubuque, IA

I actually had to work all day at the local Madison music store where I am currently employed, so when I got off at 5pm I darted home, packed my bags, and I was off on Spring Tour! Woooohoooo! I drove the hour and a half to Dubuque, IA (which is just across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin) and arrived at Grape Harbor, where I was playing that night. The venue was a classy wine bar, with kind of a lower-key Water City Grill feel to it (for those of you from Oshkosh). Anyways, I walked down the street to get a delicious sandwich at some coffee shop, and then went back to the venue to set up for the show. It was a great evening, and I'm pretty sure close to every seat in the room was filled. The crowd was very attentive, the wine was good, and it was an all in all great first gig! I should mention that I absolutely adore the town of Dubuque, and always have a great time when I'm there.

Day 2 - Kansas City, MO

Got up and out of (whew!) that cheap cheap hotel I had found for the night and started the 6 and a half hour drive to Kansas City. The day of driving started out great, but there's always a point when faced with driving past endless corn fields and really flat country when boredom sets in. Then one gets excited when entering a new state: Missouri! The Show-Me State! ... except you cross the border and realize that there isn't a magical line that completely changes the landscape when you enter a new state, and there was still a lot of boring in Missouri. Then, ahoy! The Kansas City skyline! Before entering the city I had to drive about 20 minutes east to reach the KOA campground I would be staying at for the night. I recently signed up for the Kampertainment program, which allows performers a free night's stay at a KOA campground if you perform a free show for the other campers, which is a pretty darn good deal. They actually gave me a free cabin for the night because they said the ground was too wet to pitch my tent, so that was pretty nice. I set up and played a one hour show for a group of about 12 retired locals who were part of an RV club. They were nice folks (albeit very conservative), and enjoyed the music. One of the women said she would forgive me for being from Madison, WI (I assume because of its liberal reputation). After finishing that show I packed up and headed into the city for the real deal. I played at the Westport Coffeehouse in the Westport area of KC. It seemed like the part of town where young people flock to to have a good time. There were bars and music venues all around (and the fad 90's band Placebo was actually playing next door!) Anyways, it was a pretty small place, but all the seats were filled, and it seemed like people got into the music while drinking their coffee and eating sandwiches. Two wonderful people, Steven and Brandi, actually drove 60 miles from Topeka, KS to come watch the show! The crowd came and went, but it was always strong and appreciative, and I had fun. I drove back to the KOA and got about 4 hours of sleep before the craziness of the next day...

Day 3 - Fayetteville, AR

I had to get up at 6 am and hit the road immediately in order to make it to Fayetteville by 10 am. I was scheduled to play a brunch gig (11-2) at a place called Common Grounds. The four hour drive wasn't bad, I had NPR to keep me awake and sane, and the terrain got much more interesting the closer I got to Arkansas. I arrived at Common Grounds just on time, and decided since it was such a beautiful day to play outside on the patio. The patio filled up by 11am with college students and other locals, all seemingly nursing hangovers with bloody mary's and 1st class breakfast food. I played for three hours out on the patio and had a blast (outdoor gigs rock), and managed to get my first sunburn of the year. Afterwards I endulged in some of their amazing food and headed out of Fayetteville about 20 minutes west to where I had reserved a campsite for the evening. After three 3 hour gigs in a row and lots of lots of driving, I was ready to set up that tent and take a nap. I passed some time reading a new book about Townes Van Zandt, which is very interesting and insightful, and quickly realized I was going to be the only person camping in the entire park that evening. The park was in the beautiful Ozarks of AR and on a secluded lake (Lake Wedington). However, at night it was slightly eerie being the only one around and I kind of spooked myself until finally falling asleep comfortably in my sleeping bag...

Day 4 - Fayetteville, and driving to Texas

I woke up at 5 in the morning freezing my ass off. I did not anticipate the nighttime to drop to 30 degrees out, as it had been in the high sixties that day. I could simply not get warm in the tent, and had to run to my car and get the heat going. I slept in my car until sunrise, and managed to get out and take some great pictures of the lake while the mist was still rising. Got back in the tent and got a few more hours of shut-eye before heading into Fayetteville to get some b-fast at Common Grounds and then do a radio interview for KUAF, the college radio station for the University of Arkansas. Had a great time talking to Kyle, the station manager, and the interview should be playing repeatedly throughout the next few weeks or so, so check that out if you can. Then I decided to take the scenic route down to Ft. Smith, AR, where you cross the border into Oklahoma to head south to Texas. I had a wonderful drive through the Ozarks and then headed into Ft. Smith to do some well-earned sightseeing. I simply had to go to the old Fort Smith down on the Arkansas River. The fort is famous as the last stop on the Trail of Tears for the Indians that made it, and where they crossed the river into Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The best part of the story is we made all kinds of illegal treaties with the Indians and forced them from the homes in Georgia, Florida, etc. and told them that if they complied we would give them a land in the west (modern-day Oklahoma) that would always be theirs. Then in the late 1800's we let white people settle it and broke our promise, and in 1907 Oklahoma was born!

It was particularly ironic then, that as I crossed the Arkansas River and headed into Oklahoma, leaving behind a scene of great tragedy which occurred more than 150 years ago, I turned on NPR and learned of the terrible tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech. Soon after I heard the initial news about the shooting, I got deeper into Oklahoma, and thus, the only news I could get was from right-wing, Christian radio stations. Every single radio host seemed to be saying that students would be safer if they were allowed to carry guns to class. Am I the only person that believes that it is insane to think that MORE guns = more safety? I cannot properly express the anger I felt at the media for sensationalizing such a tragic story, and for the people taking advantage of the situation to advance their own politics. I don't have much more I'd like to say on the topic, other than it is a deeply deeply tragic happening, and its terrible that such senseless violence happens. When you think about it, something of this magnitude or greater happens daily in Iraq, and many other places around the world. Imagine if 30 people were killed daily here as in Iraq? Anyways, anything else I did for the rest of the day is pretty inconsequential compared to what happened in Blacksburg, VA.

This concludes the first part of my tour journal, feel free to comment or give your own perspectives on last week's tragedy if you feel inclined to do so. Watch for pt. 2 in the coming days, as I head on to Texas and beyond!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The State of Country Music

When I'm driving around in my sexy '05 Dodge Caravan, I'm usually listening to cd's, NPR, or progressive talk radio, but every once in awhile I like to scan the channels on the radio. Sometimes I'm looking for a nostalgia fix (maybe a 90's alternative song that I listened to in high school) and sometimes I'm hoping for a catchy Tom Petty or Steve Miller song. But every now and then I like to find a country music station and see if I can find at least one good song in a 20-min. block of music. Generally, I can't.

Now I grew up on country music, my dad was always listening to Hank Williams, the Carter Family, Emmylou Harris, and even John Denver. I love that stuff (though John Denver admittedly can get pretty cheesey). I love the "twang", the pedal steel guitars, the banjo, the harmonies, and the great songwriting of classic country. Real country. I say real country because modern "country" has been corrupted by corporate greed and bubble-gum pop music. It seems to me that what Nashville is doing these days is taking generic pop songs, and simply adding a few signature country sounds to "trick" us. Maybe the singer will have a slight twang to his voice, or there will be a faint pedal steel in the background to remind us that, yes, we are indeed listening to something thats sorta kinda country music. Heck, the most "traditional" country music you might hear on the radio might even throw a banjo in there! Now I'd like to actually provide some proof for the "suckness" of country music rather than just provide my opinion all day long. Lets take a look at two songs that I heard on the radio as I was driving earlier today: "I'm Still A Guy" by Brad Paisley and "Just A Dream" by Carrie Underwood.

With "I'm Still A Guy" comes one of my biggest complaints about modern country music: its own self-awareness of how "country" it is, which means blatant lyrics relating to "everyday men" and "joe the plumbers" so as to equal album or download sales. Just take a look at some of the lyrics of this song:

"These days there's dudes getting facials
Manicured, waxed and botoxed
With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands
You can't grip a tacklebox

With all of these men
lining up to get neutered
It's hip now to be feminized
I don't highlight my hair
I've still got a pair
Yeah honey, I'm still a guy

Oh my eyebrows ain't plucked
There's a gun in my truck
Oh thank God, I'm still a guy"

Wow, what a manly piece of songwriting, eh Brad? Can you see what I mean about the self-awareness there? Its like a laundry list of things that "common men" can say, "hell yea, thats me!" about. Laughing at men that take good care of the personal hygiene because they can't grip a tackle box, hyuck. Hell yea there's a gun in my truck, hyuck, and I've got a pair, woooooeeeeee!

Now let me make this perfectly clear, I am NOT making fun of rural people, or people that keep guns in their trucks. I grew up in the country, I like to fish as much as the next person, and although I don't keep a gun in my truck, I can understand why someone living out in rural Nebraska would. That being said, what makes me angry is that all of those rural Nebraskans, Oklahomans, and even the city slicker country music fans are getting completely ripped off. You are getting spoon food everything that you want to hear about your lifestyle by people that don't live it! Yea, Toby Keith might have a ranch somewhere, but do you really think he goes out and works his hands to the bone every day? And don't tell me that pretty boy Brad Paisley never gets manicure or lotions his hands. That is a load of crap.

There is another song I've heard on the radio from time to time by Montgomery Gentry called "Lucky Man" that is along the same lines. Some choice lyrical excerpts include, " Got a brand new rod and reel " and "My old trucks still running good, My ticker's ticking like they say it should". If you haven't heard the song, Montgomery Gentry is singing about all of the reasons they are lucky, and guess what? All of those reasons relate to directly to the "common man"! And the kicker is that when you hear this song in Wisconsin, there is a line that goes, "Last Sunday when my Packers lost, Lord it put me in a bad mood", but when it plays in other states they switch the team name! If you look the lyrics up online you will see versions with the Steelers or the Bengals inserted. If that isn't a marketing strategy, I don't know what is.

Now lets take a look at Carrie Underwood's "Just a Dream", and with it, my biggest pet peeve about modern country music. It is too damn sentimental. Do you remember Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, all those old dudes? They used to sing songs about murder, drinking, gambling, etc. And yea, maybe Emmylou, Dolly, and Linda weren't always singing their own songs, but those songs had class. They were classic songs about lost love and hard times. Now I don't want to fall into the testosterone trap and seem Brad Paisley-ish, and there is nothing wrong with a little cheese now and then, but every other song on a country station is just as market crafted to make you weep as Paisley's song is to make you feel like a real man. Here are some lyrics to Carrie Underwood's song:

"And when the church doors opened up wide
She put her veil down
Trying to hide the tears
Oh she just couldn't believe it
She heard trumpets from the military band
And the flowers fell out of her hand"

At the risk of sounding like a total music snob, that is crap. Those words sound like they are straight from a Celine Dion or Mariah Carey song. And really, the only thing separating them from that kind of pop music is that there is an occasional pedal steel in the song. Listen to it if you get the chance, Carrie's voice doesn't even sound particularly twangy, it starts out like a piano ballad, and there is just the faintest of pedal steel in there. My point is that these Nashville businessmen are taking tasteless pop, dressing it up with a hint of “twang”, and selling it to the masses as country music.

Now where to turn if you are looking for real modern country music, the kind you wont hear on the radio? Go to your local record store (or iTunes if you must, though I’m sure the locals could use your business) and look for Gillian Welch if you’re hungering for some female dust bowl ballads. If ass-kicking, working man songs are what you need check out some Drive-By Truckers or Hank Williams III. If you just can’t live without some cheesey country, pick up some Ryan Adams, he will deliver with great songwriting to boot. And go back to the foundations. I can’t say enough good things about the Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams. Hell, even the 90’s country music was ten times better than the stuff on the radio today. Sometimes when I’m driving through western Nebraska and all I can get are country stations, I think, “what I wouldn’t do for a Garth Brooks or Randy Travis song right now.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

New York City

On Thursday morning, Dec. 4th, Kyle drove me from Wilmington back to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia so that I could catch a train to New York City. After a short train ride (I like the short Amtrak rides MUCH more than the longer ones) I arrived in NYC in the early afternoon. I hopped on the subway and headed to Brooklyn to check into the hostel I was staying at that night, which was located on St. Mark's Ave. The place was well-run and clean, but had a weird configuration as the room I stayed in was actually down and across the street from the hostel office, in a random apartment, in a random apartment building. When I entered the apartment I was staying in, I was greeted by a group of Czech travelers playing a rowdy game of poker and drinking Budweiser. The picture above is the view from the hostel office looking down St. Mark's Ave. towards the other building.

I got back on the subway and headed back into Manhattan for my first gig of the night, at the Sidewalk Cafe. There were several other local acts performing after me on the bill, so I was hoping that they would bring out some fans and friends, and they did... Unfortunately, I'm guessing they all advertised the night starting with their sets (at 9pm and after) and night with my opening set (at 8pm), and I had a total of 2 people watching me (plus the sound guy and a waitress!). Low and behold, as soon as I finished my 50 min.-long set the second act showed up with a considerable crowd, *sigh*.

Back onto the subway, I headed back to Brooklyn, where I was playing at a place called Goodbye Blue Monday. GBM is a really cool coffee shop/bar/music venue where literally EVERYTHING is for sale. I was playing last that night (I started around 12:30am), and played following an ironic country-jazz act and an experimental duo which featured a bass clarinet and a bari sax, both of which were running through various effects pedals and loop stations. As you might expect, the crowd gathered to watch those two groups wasn't really into acoustic folk music, and they quickly abandoned the venue when I started playing.

After I finished my set (with only a few people around still listening) I packed my stuff up and inquired with the bartender about getting a cab, since I had no idea where in Brooklyn I was in relation to my hostel. The bartender told me that there was a cab stand across the street, so I walked outside only to feast my eyes upon the "Puerto Rico Car Service" stand. Now maybe I'm just a naive mid-westerner, but when I think taxi I think, you know, a taxi, not a... Puerto Rico Car Service. I went to the counter inside of the small building and had them call me a... car. Within minutes there was a honk outside and to my surprise a maroon Buick that was completely unmarked, no "taxi" sign, not even the words "Puerto Rico Car Service" printed on the side. Now what would flash through your mind if you were being picked up by an unmarked car at a seemingly sketchy "cab" stand in the middle of Brooklyn? I'll tell you what my more paranoid side thought: "they are going to dump you in the East River after they rob you". However, upon entering the car I was impressed with the fact that they did have a radio to communicate with the base and a GPS system, and decided that they were on the up and up. It was actually a very quick cab ride, and the driver was quite nice. Upon dropping me off in front of the apartment building where my hostel room was, he inquired as to how long I had been living in such a "terrible neighborhood", and informed me that St. Mark's Ave. was a fairly dangerous place. I can't say I had a bad experience in the area, though, or ever felt truly unsafe. Oh, and before I end this "taxi ride section" of the posting, I highly recommend you check out the website linked above for the Puerto Rico Car Service, its a pretty good laugh. You'll find lots of pictures of fleets of taxis, or one of a very-professional looking woman with a headset on. I am fairly certain that those pictures were just pulled from a google image search, probably stolen from some other taxi company's site. But let me be clear, after actually riding with PRCS, I do endorse them and recommend their transportation services when in Brooklyn!

I woke up fairly early (early for being up so late the night before) so that I could get a bit of sightseeing in before having to catch the train back to Philadelphia around 3pm. I caught the subway down to the financial district around Wall St., as I hadn't been to that part of Manhattan during previous stops in New York. A photographer and myspace friend of mine named Amanda met me down by the World Trade Center site (pictured below) to show me around Manhattan for my last few hours in town. We took a whirlwind tour of the island, hopping on and off the subway from Wall St. to Chinatown to Washington Square to Harlem to Central Park and finally to the train station. The trip to Harlem was a random stop so that Amanda could check out an apartment she was thinking about moving to. It was actually a highlight of the day to check out a somewhat dumpy, yet artistic living space (the inhabitant was actually an artist moving to the Dominican Republic or some other Carribbean country). We practically ran through Central Park to get to another subway station as time was running out before my train left. With only 10 mins. until it was supposed to leave we had actually hopped on the wrong subway line, heading away from where we were supposed to be going. Once we got ourselves turned back around and to the station it was a mad dash to the terminal, and I literally got on the train, sat down, and it started moving. I'd have to say that spending a couple of hours that afternoon running around New York with Amanda was incredibly fun, and I'd highly suggest taking whirlwind tours around Manhattan with a foxy photographer to anyone!

While my excursion to New York on the mini-tour certainly wasn't profitable (I made a total of $2 in tips from both gigs), and it didn't even get me much exposure, it was time well spent. The college gig I had played in Pennsylvania the day before more than covered the trip, and offset the lack of money made in New York. I returned to Philadelphia with a smile on my face, ready to play the last two shows in Mount Holly, NJ and Newtown Square, PA.

Here are a few more pictures taken around New York. The big red square sculpture with the hole in the middle is down by the WTC site, where I met up with Amanda. The other is a picture of a sculpture adorning the Virgin Records store which sits next to Washington Square. Amanda tells me that it is supposed to be of God looking down on the Earth, or something like that...

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Cheapest Flight of My Life

So I am preparing for my eastern Euro-trip later this month, and am feeling good about everything. Bought myself a Eurail pass good for five of the countries I'll be in, have a few couchsurfs set up, and a hostel or two as well. In the middle of the month-long trip, I'll be arriving in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, and from there heading south by train to Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo. After Sarajevo I'm heading south, back into Croatia, and to the beautiful Adriatic coastal-town of Dubrovnik.

Now I learned from my readings that it is a long process to travel back up to Zagreb by land from Dubrovnik (which I need to do in order to make my way west to Slovenia and Italy), so I decided to see what I could get a plane ticket for between the two cities. I paid a visit to the Croatia Airlines website and checked into the pricing for the date in question. Of course, the website is meant for Croatians, and so displayed the price in Kuna (HRK), 225.70. Now I'm thinking, "oh man, I was hoping it would be cheaper than that, how much is that in good old US greenbacks?" Drum rolllll..........


Hell yes!

A 55 minute flight in Croatia costs only 42 bucks, damn thats good! I'm glad that there are still places in the world where the dollar gets you somewhere. I will only be in three countries on my trip that are using the Euro: Austria, Slovenia, and Italy. Book your vacations to eastern Europe soon, friends, countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic are on schedule to join the Eurozone within the next few years, and then it will be just as expensive as western Europe (probably even more so, since the Euro will just get stronger against the dollar).

Well, thats all for now, just wanted to share with you my excitement about the cheapest flight of my life, hoorah.

P.S. I realize that I am now about a month behind on posting the rest of the installments about my December east coast train tour. The holidays stalled me, and I've been under a mountain of booking work. Currently I am booking a month-long tour out to California in back in March, an Alaskan tour in early May, and midwestern dates in between. I'll post it soon, though, I promise, along with some pictures from my holiday excursion with the family to Colorado!