Thursday, March 31, 2005

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...

Way back in the summer of 1998, I was in Strasbourg, France walking back to the youth hostel around 3AM after a night of general revelry. As I got to the front door, a small car pulled up and the passenger side window rolled down. I naively looked over to see if the person needed something. The driver, an older bald black man in a sweatsuit, propositioned me in French. He said something to the effect of "Voulez vous un peep", which translated into either him giving me a "gift" or me giving him a "gift". Now, I love receiving presents as much as the next guy, but let's face it, we're not talking about the little red bike you asked for when you're 7 years old. So I quickly turned and started ringing the bell to the front door for them to let me in. The guy was asleep and took a minute to wake up and open it. Let me tell you, those were a few very nervous moments for me. The guy in the car just sat there staring at me while I waited, and I'm thinking, "If this guy doesn't hurry up and open this door, Big Black Baldy is gonna be on me like a hobo on a ham sandwich!".

That was the first time I'd ever really been so blatantly hit on by another dude and it was a little disconcerting. It ended up happening twice more while I was in Germany. Here are the stories...

A year or two later, I was drinking in downtown Wurzburg. I went to the John Barleycorn to listen to some live Irish music, but the band never showed up, so I decided to just hit a few different bars and see what kind of tom-foolery I could get into. So I spy another bar with a Guinness sign hanging out front and heard the angels singing so I figured I'd better go in. The night was still young and I was a bit hungry, so I ordered the obligatory pint and a bowl of Irish stew. Later on, the place is getting crowded and people are crowding the bar. A dapper looking older German fellow is standing next to me and starts making small talk. This was not an uncommon occurrence, many Germans are friendly to the Americans there (there's a base in the city). So we're chatting about the US, traveling, Germany, etc. Suddenly, after about 20 minutes, he says, "So, vould you like to go party on my boat?". I almost dropped my pint. I said "What did you say?" and he replies, "Uh...I have a boat on zee river...maybe you and me...we go to party together, ja?". I collared the bartender and yelled "Zahlen bitte!" (I'd like to pay please!), and then got the hell outta dodge.

The third time was by far the funniest one of all. There was a girl in my unit named Mary Schofield who just happened to be from the same city as me in the US (Nashua, NH). She was also pretty cute, so one night I called and asked her if she wanted to go downtown and have a drink. She said sure, let's go. So we go down to the Schwabelnest in downtown Kitzingen and I order a couple pints. We're chatting and I start telling her the stories above, how I seem to keep attracting these guys. Mary laughs, but says she thinks I'm exaggerating a little bit. I assure her I'm not, but she doesn't quite buy it. About an hour later I go to the little boy's room and when I come back out, there's some drunk slimy scumbag looking German guy standing over near Mary. He sees me come out and plops down in the stool next to me, cigarette blazing away. He's got this unbelievable stupid looking grin on his face that shows off his yellow teeth and tells me "I vas about to talk to zee girl, I didn't know she was vis you" to which I reply, "Well, good that you didn't, she's here with me". Then his cigarette smoke starts blowing right in my face so I tell him, "Could you move your cigarette?". He says "Vat's the matter, you don't smoke?". I tell him, "I do sometimes, but I don't like someone else's smoke blowing right in my face". Then it happened. Picture it: this drunk scumbag is about a foot away from me, he's starts staring at me straight in the face with his stupid grin without saying a word for - literally - about 7 or 8 seconds. I'm thinking he's about to take a swing at me, so I'm getting ready. Then he opens his mouth and tells me, "You have zee most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen in my life...!". I turn around and look at Mary and she's cracking up, going "Oh my God, you weren't kidding! You're a magnet!".

What can I say?


Wednesday, March 30, 2005


OK, this is funny on SO many levels...

You just can't make up stuff like that. And check out the look on the cop's face! Priceless...


Monday, March 28, 2005

Flotsum and Jetsam

* Spent all night - and I mean all night - puking on Thursday, called in sick on Friday and today is the first day that I feel 100%. Apparently, there's a bug going around here and many others are suffering the same fate. Pray that you don't get it, it was one of the WORST experiences I've ever gone through.

* I caught the first half of the Italy - Scotland World Cup qualifier on Saturday and that's the best that Italy has looked in a long time. I like the new Cassano-Gilardino-Totti triangle, but I think Andrea Pirlo might turn out to be the best of the bunch.

* I bought the new "Daft Punk" CD today during lunch. At first listen, it sounds similar to most of the others so I don't think I'll be disappointed.

* WHEN is the next Seinfeld DVD coming out?! It'd better hurry up or I might start convulsing. I've been wearing the 3rd season out and I NEED season 4! Luckily I have Curb Your Enthusiasm to pacify me somewhat. Speaking of which, the "Krazee Eyes Killa" episode has got to be one of the funniest of the whole series...

* Today is the day I start doing my cardio work in hopes of losing the 10 pounds I've put on in the last year. Most people tell me that 10 pounds is nothing for me, but when you consider what I used to look like just 3 short years ago, it's pretty significant, at least to me. The weights have been going ok, but the cardio will suck. Virginia is trying to get me to do Pilates, but I don't know, it seems kind of girly to me.

* You know what word I love? Caveat. I try to sneak it into a conversation whenever I can.

* Best quote I've heard lately: "Dreams and real life are actually the same book; real life is when you read the whole thing in order and dreams are when you just skim through".

* The X Man has a new thing that is driving Virginia crazy - he loves to go into our room, open the bottom dresser drawer, and take out all her underwear. He'll walk around the house holding a couple pairs and the rest will be piled on the bedroom floor. Strange child.

* The smallest check I ever wrote was for $1.25. I was in college and had the munchies but had no cash. So I broke out the checkbook and wrote a personal check for a thing of Ben & Jerry's "Chunky Monkey".

* The other day someone asked me the age old question, "if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?". Now as a certified "guy", I know I'm not supposed to answer such asinine questions, but if I could I guess I'd make myself a little taller. 5'8 is average, but I'd love to be 6 feet tall.

* I've been thinking about getting some new ink lately, but I think the two small tats I have now will probably be it. I'd like to get an "X" somewhere in honor of the X Man, but if we have more kids, that means more ink. Next thing you know, I'll be looking like Henry Rollins. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Wonder of '80's Teen Movies

Yesterday's post got me thinking about the wonder that is the '80's Teen Flick. I consider myself lucky that my entire formative years were spent in the '80's. I'm old enough to remember some of the '70's, but the '80's are ingrained in my memory. I graduated from high school in 1989 which is kind of symbolic; when the '80's ended, so did the "fun" part of life. One of the things that made the '80's great were the movies. The teen movie was practically a separate genre unto itself. The beauty of the teen movies in the '80's was that they always featured a common theme - unpopular outcast guy ends up with a girl he had no business being with in the end. In between, there was always the requisite party scene where the house gets trashed, the adolescent sexual hijinx, a poor little rich kid, and there was usually some kind of moral message that elevated the film above the mindless drivel that it might have become otherwise.

To that end, I've decided to list my 10 favorite teen flicks from the '80's. I've already covered one of them - The Last American Virgin - in my previous blog entry. Here are the other nine, in no particular order:

Fast Times at Ridgemont High - An all time classic. Many famous '80's actors got their start in this one, such as Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz and Nicholas Cage. And the Phoebe Cates-red bikini scene may well have been the defining moment of '80's pop culture.

Better Off Dead - Just when you thought Diane Franklin couldn't get any hotter, she comes back as a French exchange student. This is one of the most quotable movies of the '80's.

The Breakfast Club - The best of John Hughes' considerable repetoire.

Sixteen Candles - Anthony Michael Hall became a legend to nerds everywhere in this one.

Risky Business - The movie that put Tom Cruise on the map.

Just One of the Guys - "All balls itch! It's a fact!"

Can't Buy Me Love - Patrick Dempsey is the male version of Diane Franklin. It seems like he was in every teen movie made in the '80's.

Porky's - Another all time classic. What adolescent boy could ever forget that shower scene?

Valley Girl - Most people have forgotten about this one. But any movie that features the song "I Melt With You" has to have a place on this list.

There you have it. There are certainly alot of others that I could put on this list, but I think these were probably my favorite. Feel free to weigh in with yours...


Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Holy crap, I'm so excited about a recent online find. Years ago, I saw a movie called "The Last American Virgin" on VHS. As I was in high school at the time, I enjoyed every minute of it. Over the past few years, I have periodically checked online to see if it was available on DVD and have always been disappointed. In fact, it wasn't even available on VHS. Recently, I checked again and lo and behold, it has come out on DVD! I ordered it without hestitating, for fear that I was imagining it. It should be arriving any day now and I just cannot wait.

For those who have never heard of it, "The Last American Virgin" is, in my estimation, the quintissential '80's teen movie. Juvenile humor, raunchy jokes, unrequited love, teen angst, it's all here, accompanied by the ubiquitous high school party scene and an unbelievably great soundtrack that features such 80's luminaries as Devo, the Cars, and even has the song "Oh No" by the Commodores (which you may remember from my post a few days ago). And, perhaps the best thing about the movie is that the female lead is played by none other than...wait for it...Diane Franklin! If you don't know who Diane Franklin is then, frankly, I question your knowledge of '80's films (you may not recognize the name but if you grew up in the '80's, I guarantee you'll recognize the face). Here's my recommendation if you're going to check out this film - don't read anything about it first. Don't google it. Don't read reviews. Don't even read the back of the box. Just get it and watch it. It's the only way to get the full effect. Going into it without knowing anything about it is the best way to enjoy it.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Travel Tuesday - Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt was actually the very first trip I took upon arriving in Europe back in 1998. I liked it right off the bat. You walk out the train station and walk right into the Red Light District complete with junkies, prostitutes, and the many "Eros Centers" (multiple story brothels basically). But ignore all that and keep walking to find what makes the city so much fun to explore. Frankfurt seems so big and vast that it's hard to believe that it ranks only 6th in population in Germany. It's also the main transportation hub of Europe - the airport is the busiest in continental Europe. All of this contributes to make Frankfurt a true international city with a lot to offer the traveler. There is a pretty good metro system that makes it easy to get around.

The first thing you notice about Frankfurt are the buildings. It's one of the few cities in Europe with American style skyscrapers. This, combined with the fact that it lies on the Main River, is where it's nickname comes from - "Main-hattan". Another nickname - "Bank-furt" derives from the fact that Frankfurt is the banking capital of Germany. Intermingled with the skyscrapers are some medieval looking churches and towers, which gives Frankfurt a unique look and feel. It's cool to look up and see the futuristic looking skyscrapers, then look down and realize you're standing in a town square that looks like this:

Quite a contrast indeed.

For those who like to shop, the main shopping street is called the Zeil. It's crowded and intense. Because it's a big city, you can get a good variety of ethnic food there (Be sure to have a Turkish Doner Kebap). The one local specialty to try is the Apfelwein (apple-wine), it's absolutely delicious. But if you're like me, you judge a city by its nightlife. And I'm here to tell you that Frankfurt can hold it's own with almost any other city in Europe in that category. The main bar district is across the river in the old town and is called the Sachsenhausen. I've never been to a place that had so many people from so many different countries in one area before. One reason why is that the youth hostel is located in the Sachsenhausen. Here's a good picture of the Sachsenhausen:

It is a truly international drinking experience. You will meet more Australians here than you ever thought existed. On one of my trips, I was in an Irish Pub eating Irish stew and drinking a pint when a stunningly gorgeous blond walked by on her way to the restroom. On her way back, she stopped and asked (in a silky-smooth Aussie accent) "Excuse me, but if you're by yourself, would you like to join my friend and I?" You can imagine what's going through my mind! But my excitement was extinguished as soon as I got to their table - her "friend" was actually her boyfriend. But I made the best out of it and we ended up spending about 3 hours buying rounds and trading stories and travel adventures. It was the kind of thing that attracts me to traveling; open your mind and you'll be surprised how much fun you can have, as well as how much you'll learn about the world around you.

The next morning, as I walked back to the train station, I tried to walk around the sleaze of the Red Light District. I took a deserted side street and walked right into a junkie shooting up in a doorway. Scared the hell out of me, but he seemed just as scared as I was. All part of the Frankfurt experience...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Weekend Wrap-up

Turned out to be a pretty good weekend. We got a sitter for the X Man on Saturday and spent the day in Venice with our friends Jeremy and Linh:

Jeremy and his lovely wife Linh

Jeremy and Linh are both from Sacramento, California (Linh was born in Viet Nam but grew up in Sacramento). Initially we were planning to go to Venice to have dinner at Shri Ganesh which is a really good Indian restaurant, but Jeremy and Linh had never been to Venice, so we ended up going in the afternoon so we could show them around a bit before dinner. Since we had limited time, I just concentrated on some of the main sights such as the Piazza San Marco and the Bridge of Sighs. We also stopped for the requisite pint at the Fiddler's Elbow on the way. We planned on another pint at the Devil's Forest, but the Rugby Seven Nations tournament was going on, so there was no room. Probably a good thing that I had forgotten about the tournament, as I probably would have spent the day at the pub watching the matches!

We met up with our friends Denise and Theresa, as we always do when we're in Venice, for a drink (ok, three...). Hadn't seen Theresa in a while, so it was good to catch up a bit. After walking around for a bit, we finally made it to the restaurant for dinner, and it was fan-tas-tic. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Thai, Indian, or anything else with curry in it. If I could, I would have curry intravenously fed into my veins all day long. So you can imagine how good dinner was. I opted for the yogurt-curry chicken. For an appetizer I had the Kena Naam, which is one of the tastiest things I've ever had. And of course, whenever I eat ethnic food I always drink the national beer that accompanies it, so I had a few Kingfishers. Kingfisher is a crisp, slightly bitter pale colored lager; by itself, it's nothing special, but it goes well with Indian food.

Sunday was pretty much a wash. We met our friends Mark and Jane at the pasticceria for coffee and pastries, then went to the base to do the grocery shopping. I picked up a bottle of Bordeaux (sacrelidge!) on the way home and sipped it while I watched a few more episodes of season 5 of the Sopranos (a friend from the US taped them and lent me the tapes. So far, it rocks!). In the afternoon we took the X Man for a walk to the sports bar for a glass (ok two) of cabernet franc and a panini for Virginia. Virginia made her version of Pad Thai for dinner last night, complete with chicken, shrimp, egg, and curry. Perfect ending to a good weekend.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Rik's "Favorite Songs" Focus: "Oh No" by the Commodores

I don't remember the first time I ever heard this song as I was so young, but it wasn't until recently that I discovered exactly what a great song it is. You may not know the name but I guarantee you've heard the song. From the famous first line ("I want want me...") to the last note, it's fantastic. It's one of those songs that I have to play twice everytime I listen to it. To really get the full effect, you need to play it on a good sound system at a very loud volume. It's got a very mellow groove to it and features mostly piano and violins, which add greatly to the melancholy mood of the song. In fact, the two words I would use to best describe this song are "hauntingly beautiful".

The song itself is about unrequited love. You can really feel the guy's pain as he's singing. With each line, you keep waiting for him to just lose it and burst out in emotion, but it doesn't happen until the last line - "I can't think anymore bay-baaaay!". Only then do you feel satisfied. And then the song is over, which I guess is why I always play it again.

Best Lyric:

When I close my eyes, I see your face...I'm just not sure how much my heart can erase"

You may have heard the song, but give it a listen again. It's just another of "Rik's Favorite Songs"

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Travel Tuesday - Best and Worst Of Europe

OK, I'm copping out today as it's too busy at work. Since I don't have time to do a normal travel entry, I'm posting the link to the "Best and Worst of Europe" page of my website:

Best and Worst of Europe

Check it out, and by all means, let me know what you agree and disagree with.


Monday, March 14, 2005

O solo mio...

Looks like I'm gonna be going solo for a while again soon. We're planning Virginia's trip back home to visit the family and I should be buying the ticket today hopefully if I can find one for the right price. The plan is for her to fly to Hong Kong for a week, then fly to Philippines for about a month, then back to Hong Kong for another week, then back to Italy. She'll be gone a total of about 6-7 weeks. Right now she's looking at flying on or about April 8 and returning somewhere around May 27 or 28. I'm really going to miss her and the X Man, but it's been several years since she's been home to visit her family so I know it means quite a lot to her. And her family has never met the X Man, so the time they'll get to spend wit him will be priceless. I have to admit that I'm a bit nervous about the X Man spending so much time in the Philippines without me (her family lives in a very rural area), being so young and all. But I trust Virginia to make sure he's ok. I just told her, "No casawa root!"...

So anyway, work has been quite busy which will occupy most of my time, but I'm planning on taking a few weekend trips while they're away since it's a lot easier to travel solo and I'll need something to keep me busy on weekends anyway. But damn, am I jealous that I can't go to Hong Kong with her! When the Afghanistan crap is over and I'm able to take some vacation time, Hong Kong is at the top of our list. But for now, I'll have to make do with the occasional weekend trips around Europe. If anyone has any suggestions...


Friday, March 11, 2005

Good Rik Hunting

Yesterday I bought the movie "Good Will Hunting" on DVD. As you may know, it's one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time but I've held off buying it for some unknown reason. However, after seeing it at the PowerZone for 15 bucks yesterday I grabbed it. I'd almost forgotten what a great movie it is.

Now before we go any further, let me just say this; I am not the kind of person who "looks at things deeply" or gets dramatic or emotional at certain songs, movies, or whatever.

Having said that, you may be surprised to find out that the movie "Good Will Hunting" actually changed my life. Let me explain...

The year was 1997. I had a good job at a newspaper as a voice information systems coordinator. Much of it consisted of sales and advertising and I was growing increasingly miserable doing it. The more miserable I became, the harder the job got. It wasn't just the job though; I was also growing more and more unhappy with my life in general. I had done what I thought I was supposed to do to be happy - gone to college, gotten a good job, etc, etc. But instead of making me happy, I was feeling trapped in a job that I didn't enjoy. I was restless. I needed to do something, but had no idea what. I figured I just needed a change of scenery, so I started sending resumes around the country. All the offers I received were for sale and advertising jobs. I started thinking that maybe I wouldn't be as unhappy doing that type of thing if I lived somewhere else.

Then one night, I went to the movies with my brother to see a film called "Good Will Hunting". It was getting rave reviews and Oscar consideration, but we went mostly because it took place in Boston. After seeing it, I would never look at life the same. For those not familiar with the story, it's about a boy genius in Southie (South Boston) who grew up in foster homes and was going through life with a huge chip on his shoulder. Rather than capitalize on his gift, he is content to spend his days working menial jobs and his nights getting drunk with his buddies. He relishes every opportunity to make pretentious "smart people" look stupid. Then one day he meets a psychiatrist (Robin Williams) that changes his life. He does this by showing him that, although he is amazingly intelligent, he knows nothing about life. Williams' character has been through it all - traveled around the world, fought in the Viet Nam War, lost his wife to cancer.

There is one extremely poignant scene that still gives me chills when I watch it. The two are sitting on a park bench and Robin Williams' character gives a speech that just hit me between the eyes. I won't recount it all as it's too long, but I'll give you the gist - he tells him, "If I ask you about art, you could probably tell me everything there is to know about Michelangelo. But you can't tell me what it smells like inside the Sistine Chapel. If I ask you about war, you'd probably quote Shakespeare all day long. But you can't tell me what it feels like to hold your dying buddy in your arms on the battlefield." This goes on and on, and it's the one scene that changed everything for me.

See, I realized that I was just like Will Hunting (just nowhere near as smart). I thought of myself as pretty intelligent and well rounded. I thought I had it all together. But the truth was, everything I knew was all from books. I had no real life experience. I had a college degree, a good job, had my share of girlfriends, but I really hadn't done any living. After that, I realized that I didn't need a new job or a new location; I needed a new life. With that in mind, I took the biggest chance I've ever taken in my life. Quit my job, joined the Army and came to Europe. In retrospect, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Eight years later, I've traveled the world, gotten married to an amazing woman, have a beautiful little boy, and am fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world doing a job that I actually enjoy doing. I realize that it could all be over tomorrow but if it is, I can die happy knowing that, as Robin Williams' character says in the movie, "at least I played a hand."


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Help! Need New Tag Board!

As you can see, my tag has decided to stop working for some reason. I have limited time to spare in searching for a new one, so if anyone out there can help recommend a solution, please do.

It should one that is easy to add and easy to use. As I mentioned, I don't have time to be messing around trying to figure out how to install it, etc.





Wednesday, March 09, 2005

It's Like Christmas in March!

After working on the "My Music History" project over the past few weeks, I got a bit nostalgic and ordered a bunch of CDs last week from Lo and behold, I've been receiving them over the past few days (the wonderful postal service at work!). The first shipment I got contained "Best of the 90's", which contains such forgotten gems as "Ice Ice Baby", "I Touch Myself", and "Close to You". It also contained Sarah Brightman's wonderful CD "Time to Say Goodbye", which contains one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded (the title track). Yesterday I also received "The Best of the Sugarhill Gang", which I bought because I wanted the entire 15 minute version of "Rapper's Delight". And as an added surprise, the CD import of "Moi...Lolita" arrived a few days early. Needless to say, I'm wearing it out. This morning brought "The Ultimate Manilow", which contains pretty much all of his songs that I like. I'm also expecting to receive Tupac Shakur's "All Eyes on Me", which I thought I would have had by now. It's been too long since I heard "Thug Passion", I'm suffering withdrawals.I'm pretty sure that's the last one, but I guess I'll find out if I forgot any over the next few days. In the meantime...

"You better hit bullseye, the kid don't play!"


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Travel Tuesday - Youth Hostels

When I first came to Europe, my one goal in life was to travel as much as I possibly could. Originally I was only supposed to be here for 3 years and then go back to the States, so I had to cram in as many places as I could. This meant that I had to learn how to travel cheaply. One of the biggest expenses on any trip is of course the hotel. In Europe, they can get expensive, and they get more expensive when you start going to the “big” destinations such as London, Paris, or Rome. Fortunately, my older brother Eric had taken a backpacking trip around Europe a few years earlier and showed me a few tricks. The best thing he showed me was the beauty of the youth hostel.

For those who have never heard of youth hostels, let me introduce them to you. A youth hostel is a cheap, sometimes dormitory-style type of lodging that is perfect for backpackers and anyone else who is trying to travel cheap. Most of them are controlled by organizations such as Hostelling International (HI). They are certainly not luxury accommodations, but that’s the whole point; if you’re traveling on a tight budget, you don’t want to spend all your money on a place to sleep. Most hostels charge 20 – 30 bucks a night. For this, you usually get a bed, a locker, a shower, and sometimes breakfast. For me, they were perfect because all I needed was a place to keep my bag and lay my head at night, so I could use the money I was saving on other stuff, such as food, nightlife, souvenirs, or, well, nightlife.

Hostels offer several advantages to the traveler. I already mentioned the price advantage. Another is that millions of travelers use hostels every year. Many are students. So at any hostel, you’re going to meet people from all over the world. What better way to get the most out of traveling than to stay with others from many different cultures? I always traveled by myself and more often than not, I would meet others to hang out with. Australians mostly – those are some traveling people, those Aussies – but also Scottish, Swedish, hell, even Koreans. In Strasbourg, France, I met a Scottish guy named Gavin who was there visiting his French girlfriend. She left a day early, so he and I ended up hitting the pubs all night. I’ll tell you, this was a lot more interesting than drinking with an American guy all night. In Rome, I met an Australian guy who was traveling alone. I was headed out to the pub and he asked if he could tag along. I said sure, and we ended up meeting some other Australians later. I love drinking with Australians; they’ve all got great stories. These types of things are typical at youth hostels. Because of the number of travelers who stay there, they also offer the perfect opportunity to learn anything you need to know about any travel topic you can think of. The people are always friendly and always willing to share their experiences, tips, etc. with others.

Here’s another advantage; location. Because of the very nature of the youth hostel, they are always located very close to the touristy areas, since most backpackers and other budget travelers usually don’t drive. This works out perfectly, as you can usually walk wherever you need to be.

Here are some disadvantages; first is that the rooms are segregated, so if you’re traveling with a “significant other”, it might not be the best option. Another aspect that turns some people off is that the rooms are often dormitory style so you may have several other people in your rooms, and there’s usually a shared bathroom/shower. But hey, what do you want for 20 bucks?

On almost every trip I took during my two years in Germany, I stayed at youth hostels. I’ve stayed at hostels in places such as Rome, Amsterdam, Zurich, Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Montreal and never been disappointed. Eventually, I started earning more money and decided to start staying in hotels when I went places. But the hostelling experience added a tremendous amount to my early traveling education and gave me a real appreciation for things that I would have missed by staying in hotels. And, as I mentioned, it saved me a hell of a lot of money.

For more information on youth hostels or to locate a hostel anywhere in the world, check out this link:

Or, you can do a google search on “youth hostels” and you’ll find everything you need.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Germany Trip

Last week I had to go to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for a few days for work. Normally, I would jump at the chance to take a business trip up there, as I absolutely love driving up through the Alps - especially when it's on the government's dime. I've made the trip probably a couple dozen times in the last 5 years or so, and I never get tired of it. As road trips go, it's one of the better ones, and so I always look forward to it. Except for this time. I only had to go up for one day, which meant that I would spend one day driving up there, the next day "TCB" (taking care of business), then spend another day driving back. I usually like to have at least a week up there when I have to drive so far. But hell, I figured I would still enjoy it.

From the get go a lot of little factors kept trying to combine to drag the trip down. First thing was the rental car. The gov't always pays for a rental car when I go up there and just about everytime, I've gotten something nice like a Passat or a Volvo, and they seldom have more than 5,000 kilometers on them which means they're clean and they run nice. So I was dismayed to find that I was given an Opel Vectra that had 50,000 kilometers on it. By itself, this wouldn't be too bad but it had other problems such as the seat riding too high and controls that were impossible to figure out. And the worst part was the radio which sounded terrible. I even considered taking Old Triple Seven (for those of you who don't know, Old Triple Seven is the name of my new's a long story), but I figured what the hell, the rental was paid for, so I might as well take it. As it turned out, it had one redeeming feature - gas mileage (it was a diesel).

The next thing was the weather. For those who are not living in Central Europe, we had a lot of snow last week. As soon as I hit Bergamo (just outside Milan), I ran right into a blizzard. It actually took me an hour just to get through the 10 kilometer stretch around Milan. Once I got into Switzerland it started tapering off until finally stopping just north of Lugano. From there it was smooth sailing. However, on the way back, it snowed like a sonofabitch.

So I get to Germany. I stayed at the Hotel Europe in Ramstein which was pretty nice. I was desparate for a schnitzel, so LTC Larson and I go into town looking for a good restaurant. We eventually ended up at the Alt Landstuhl where I had one of the best schnitzels I've ever had, accompanied by the ubiquitous pils. LTC Larson had to get home (he didn't get the kitchen pass), so I made my way to the Irish Pub in town. My friend Alexis was supposed to meet me but she pulled a Marsha Brady ("something suddenly came up!") so I had to fly solo. B-O-R-I-N-G! I ended up playing the video trivia, chatting with the waitress and taking a cab back to the hotel (I feel compelled to mention, by the way, that I played three games of video trivia and now hold the all-time top 3 scores. I got game.). Under different circumstances, I might have done something different, but the next day was too important to do much else.

The next day was pretty long. I spent most of it coordinating stuff and running around. Ramstein is a great place to shop, so I did some of that during lunch. I ended up picking up a few CDs for the long drive home. One was a Hip Hop sampler and the other one was "The Annual Ministry of Sound 2005 Limited Edition Box Set". This turned out to be a great purchase as I listened to it all the way home. For the uninitiated, Ministry of Sound is one of the most famous dance clubs in the world, located in London. If you like clubbing or dance music, I highly recommend this CD box set. The standout tracks are:

Call On Me (Eric Prydz)
Every Little Time (Onyx feat. Gemma)
MyMyMy (Armand van Helden)
Back For Me (Candee Jay)

The road trip would have been a lot more boring had I not found this CD. The other ones I listened to included L'il Jon's "Crunk Juice", Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet", Johnny Cash's Greatest Hits, as well as a few others. The right music is very important on a road trip, but we'll cover that in a future post.

On the way home, I was planning on spending the night in Lausanne, Switzerland for some sightseeing and nightlife sampling but my plans were waylaid by the weather. As I approached the autobahn split, I was prepared to take the one that goes through Bern en route to Lausanne, but apparently there was an accident or something and the traffic was backed all the way up. It was snowing pretty hard and I'd already spent one hour in traffic alternating between crawling and stopping. So I called my friends who live outside Lausanne and told them I wouldn't be coming after all. They were of course disappointed, but we made tentative plans for me to go back maybe sometime in April while Virginia and the X Man are in the Philippines and Hong Kong. Hopefully it'll work out.

It had cleared up by the time I hit the 17 kilometer long tunnel at St. Gottard (that's right, 17 kilometers, not for the claustrophobic). I got to Milan fine, then I made absolutely fantastic time from there to Vicenza. I was able to do about 180k most of the way so I made it from Milan to Vicenza in just under an hour and a half, one of my better times.

I finally arrived home on Saturday evening around 1700 and took Virginia out for dinner to celebrate my successful trip that night. I was only gone a few days but man, did that Italian food taste good. We're planning on having Virginia and the X Man fly meet some friends in Germany later this month and fly with them from Munich to Hong Kong, so it looks like I might be doing the road trip through the Alps all over again later this month. At least the weather will be better, and I'll probably stay a night or two in either Lausanne or Geneva so it'll be a better trip all around.

Overall, I'll rate this road trip as a 6. It would have been a 5, but the Ministry of Sound CD brought it up a bit...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Where in the world is Rik?

Rik is leaving early tomorrow for a few days in sunny, tropical...Germany?

Yep, gotta go there for work. Be back on Monday, so the blog won't be updated for a few days. I know you will all miss me terribly, but you're just going to have to deal with the void of not having me around.

I'm so yabang...


My Music History, Part V: The European Years

I came to Europe in 1998. I initially spent a couple years in Germany, then moved to Italy in 2000, where I now find myself. Those who know me know that coming to Europe opened up a whole new world for me in a lot of ways, not the least of which is musically. As you may recall from my last entry, I was stagnating a bit in the years immediately preceeding my arrival in Europe. After getting here, it didn't take me long to realize that there was a whoooooole lotta good music being made that we weren't hearing in the US. Most Americans think the only music in Europe is the techno-pop type stuff. There certainly is alot of that, but there's so much more. In fact, I think Europe might even be better than the US, because we get all the US music PLUS all the European stuff too.

For those who don't know, I initially came to Europe with the US Army. There are a lot of black people in the US Army. And most of them listen to nothing but hip hop and hardcore/gangsta rap. With so much exposure to it, I eventually started liking it a lot. I liked the hard beats and lyrical flow of it I guess. I'm not always crazy about the lyrics themselves, but they become more palatable when put to a good backbeat. One of my favorite CDs during this time became Tupac Shakur's "All Eyes on Me". I was - and still am - hooked on the song "Thug Passion".
I also developed more of a liking for R&B during my time in Germany. I discovered Usher, R. Kelley and D'Angelo. D'Angelo, for those who have never heard him, is some of the finest music to make love to. Just thought I'd throw that in there. Here is a funny thing I've noticed in Europe; you know how, in the US, the record stores will mark each section according to the musical genre? For example, "Rock", "Country", "Rap", etc. Well, in Europe, they do the same, but here's the funny part - they put all the rap, R&B and hip hop under the same section and call it "Black Music". Can you imagine a record store in the US doing that? Holy crap, the NAACP would go nuts! But to the Europeans, it's apparently all just "Black Music". Don't be fooled though, it's extremely popular over here.

Anyway, as I said, I discovered alot of stuff here that I probably never would have heard in the US. Here are some of the better songs I've listened to over here that I don't think ever hit it big in the US (although I could be wrong):

Tu Es Foutu (Ingrid)
Mundian te bach ke (Panjabi MC)
Narcotic (Liquido)
Moi...Lolita (Alizee)
Breathe In (Frou Frou)
Stranded (Lucretia McNeil)
I'm Still Waiting (Sasha)
Strong (Robbie Williams)

Some of those may or may not be familiar to you if you're from the US. If not, check 'em out, you might like 'em. I spent quite a bit of time in the clubs when I got to Europe. As a result, much of the music I listened to falls into the dance or techno category. I've also spent a lot of time in Irish pubs, and have developed an affinity for traditional Irish songs. There are few things in the world as fun as being in a crowded Irish pub with a bunch of friends drinking Guinness and belting out "Wild Rover". In fact, while I was in Germany, it became a tradition that when we went to the pub, I would always get up on stage and sing it. I've done it several times and always brought the house down. Here's a shot of me onstage in Nurnberg, Germany:

There's another thing about Europe that I prefer to the US when it comes to music; the sampler CD. For those not familiar with it, a sampler CD is basically a bunch of songs that are currently popular on the charts. In the US, you can find such CDs, but they never contain new songs, for the simple reason that the record companies want you to buy the artist's CD. If you buy a sampler CD that has the artist's song on it, why bother to buy their CD? But in Europe, sampler CDs are very popular. I believe that the "Now That's What I Call Music" series is popular in the US, so I guess it's changing a bit. The Now series is from the UK, and is great. It's usually a double CD set and has most of the current songs on the charts. Think about it - at any given time, you might really like 6 or 7 songs that are popular. But you don't want to buy 6 or 7 CDs just for the one song, right? Therein lies the beauty of the sampler CD. And they're not just limited to pop, you can get them in several different genres. I personally love them, and have bought quite a few of them here. They're good because they almost always feature some lesser known European songs that I would otherwise never hear.

We have MTV in Europe just as in the US, but it's a little different. Most countries have their own MTV ( such as German MTV or Italian MTV) They do this so the VJs can speak in the local language. One feature I like is the European Top 20. It's pretty much the same songs that are popular in the US, but there are always a few that aren't. This way, I get the best of both worlds - I can keep up with what's popular back home, and follow some of the local stuff too. I only get one American channel at the house, so most of time I just keep the Italian MTV channel on while I'm at home.

So there's a (very brief) snapshot of how being in Europe has influenced my musical tastes. In the next - and final - edition, I'll try to tie it all together and I'll take a look at where I'm at right now.

Stay tuned for Part VI...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Travel Tuesday - Hong Kong

This edition of TT takes us to the Far East. I discovered Hong Kong back in 2001, I've been there 3 times and I can say without a doubt that it is my favorite city in the world (although everytime I go to Venice I reconsider!).

Its official name is Hong Kong SAR (Special administrative Region) and it is owned of course by China. To their credit, China have not meddled in its capitalist affairs too much since reclaiming it from the UK back on June 30, 1997 (my birthday!).

To enjoy Hong Kong, you have to like big cities. I compare it to an Asian Manhattan. There are skyscrapers galore, the streets are packed, it's always crowded, and you can get pretty much anything you want there. However, there is another side to HK that most people don't know about. Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong is not a city, it's a region. What most people know of as Hong Kong is actually 2 main parts separated by a thin channel of water: Kowloon peninsula and Hong Kong island. The area with all the skyscrapers is called the Central District, and is the business district which means it's the most expensive. Kowloon and HK island are connected by a few underwater tunnels used for both private (cars) and public (Metro) transportation. But Hong Kong also extends far north to the China border. The area between the city proper and the China border is called NT - New Territories. The New Territories are basically cookie-cutter type cities hastily built to relieve the overcrowding in the city. In addition, Hong Kong features several islands, big and small, which offer a welcome respite from the day to day grind of the city. One of my favorite activities there is to take a ferry to one of the mountainous islands and do some hiking. The scenery is gorgeous. Here's a picture:

Not the typical scene of Hong Kong to be sure.

One good thing about traveling to Hong Kong for me is that because of the British influence, English speakers have an easier time there. Many locals speak English; however, with each trip, I've noticed that many seem to be less and less willing to. It's almost as if the locals want to be more associated with the Chinese culture rather than the British. I can understand this nationalistic attitude, but I sincerely hope the colonial influence isn't lost altogether eventually. It adds a certain charm to the city. Of course as long as there's tourism, things will be fine. I also like Hong Kong because it's extremely easy to get anywhere fast. The Metro is very efficient, one of the best I've used.

If I had to recommend one place to see in Hong Kong, it'd have to be Victoria's Peak. Although you may not know the name, you're definitely familiar with the view from here. It's one of the most famous in the world:

From the top of Victoria's Peak, you can see pretty much all of Hong Kong Island, all of Kowloon, and up into the New Territories. Definitely the highlight of Hong Kong. There's a funicular tram kind of thing that you can ride right up to the top, so it's very convenient.
Although millions of people do it every week, another of my favorite things to do there is to take the Star Ferry across the harbor. The Star Ferry has been running for over 100 years and offers one of the best views of the city. It's also the cheapest way to cross the harbor, costing less than 50 cents for a one way trip.
The two best areas for nightlife are the Wanchai and the Lan Kwai Fong districts. Wanchai is a sort of a tame red light district and is a lot of fun whereas Lan Kwai Fong is more upscale. Both feature several great bars, pubs, and restaurants. In the Lan Kwai Fong, you're more likely to see well dressed professional types hitting the scene after work. Wanchai is where all the strip clubs and sleaze is, but there's a lot more to it. There are several upscale bars, restaurants and clubs here as well. One of my favorites is Joe Bananas. If you ever go, you might want to avoid a disco called the Big Apple. Virginia had told me about it, but I had to see it for myself, so I ventured in one night. Sure enough, it was pretty sleazy. I was sitting at the bar drinking a beer and just watching the revelry, when a pretty girl on the dance floor caught my eye. She slinked over to me, came in close and...bit me on the neck. That's right, the girl bit me one the neck, then walked away with a come-and-get-it glance. I politely declined her generous offer for fear of needing a rabies shot afterwards. So avoid the Big Apple. You have been warned.

Of course, Hong Kong rates extremely high on one of my other litmus tests for travel destinations: F-O-O-D. I love any kind of Asian food. Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, doesn't matter. And you can get it all in Hong Kong. In fact, the Thai food there is better than I had in Thailand! One famous little place to try if you go is Mak's Noodle Shop, and you have to try the shrimp hargau. They make everything fresh right there. Culinary-wise, Hong Kong is at the top of my list of just about anywhere I've ever been. I really miss the smell of just walking around the streets, a combination of Asian food, incense, and what Virginia calls "stinky bean curd".

While Hong Kong can hold its own as one of the most expensive, you can still enjoy it without going broke. For one thing, stay in Kowloon, the hotels there are much cheaper. It's quick, easy and cheap to get anywhere you need to go, so you don't need to stay right in the middle of everything. I've stayed at these two places and was happy with both: Dorsett Seaview Hotel, Metropole Hotel. Most of the hotels in Kowloon are similar in price and facilities. And for food, good, cheap restaurants abound in Hong Kong. Like any major city, you will find restaurants in every single price range and in every single quality range.

For more pictures, including a map of Hong Kong, check out the Hong Kong page of my website