Jul 172017
 

The following is the second part of the travelogue I wrote following a two-week trip to Israel and the Balkans 7/24/04-8/08/04.  Slightly edited a few times since.

After leaving Israel I landed in Frankfurt Saturday evening and had a few hours to catch my night train to Vienna. I dug out the reservation I had made the previous week and found the car with my berth. The compartment was empty, except for me. I made my bed and went to sleep.

Do I need to continue here? Or can you tell that something is about to go wrong?

The train stops in other major cities on the way to its destination. In Mannheim a family got on and came into my compartment. That was fine, there was room for five more people. Unfortunately there were 6 new people. And I was the one in the wrong place. Actually, not so much the wrong place as the wrong time. I was traveling on July 31, and apparently the reservation had been made for that exact spot – on August 31. Fortunately the extra person agreed to sleep elsewhere so I got to stay where I was. Just so much for best laid plans and all.

I only had an hour in Vienna to change trains, so after buying some food for the journey I got on board for the very long trip through the tip of Austria, into Hungary with a stop in Budapest (tourism officials boarded the train, handing out maps and making hotel reservations before arrival), before heading south into Serbia. Following what I think was the Danube the terrain was flat and unremarkable, although full of agriculture (and a lot of sunflowers). The train was on schedule when it hit the Serbian border but then went very slowly into Belgrade. I thought it was interesting that by the time we arrived, new cars had been added. Cars with destination signs saying “Moscow-Belgrade” and “Kiev-Belgrade.” I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore… Continue reading »

Jul 172017
 

I wrote the following after a trip to Israel, Germany, and the Balkans 7/24/04-8/08/04.

Everything is connected to everything else. On a plane the year before I’d met my friend Jon. He and I stayed in touch, and when earlier this summer he said to me, “My girlfriend and I are going to Israel, would you like to come?” I naturally said “Sure!”

It was yet another trip booked with frequent flier miles, 75,000 of them. The plan was to fly Lufthansa from Washington to Tel Aviv via Frankfurt. (The Star Alliance is indeed a handy thing.) The ticket permitted a stopover in the transfer city, so I booked a weeklong layover in Frankfurt on the return from Israel. I figured I could always find something to do in Europe for a week, even if it was just going to France and hanging out on the beach, practicing my French. Continue reading »

Jul 152017
 

This is the third installment describing my trip to Poland.  It was also originally posted in October 2005 as three separate posts, which have been edited down into this single one.

After leaving Suwalki I returned to Warsaw.  Happily I could easily find my hotel, which turned out to have its quirks.  It was basically fine and I’d stay there again (location, location, location) but the interiors of the rooms had some questionable aesthetics. Lots of brown… I felt like I’d stepped into someone’s den from the 1970s.

The room did have a TV, which I stayed up too late watching. There was a great musical cabaret show on a Polish channel, which featured a string quartet that reminded me of Canadian Brass (classical music expressed with a sense of humor). Then I watched a bit of Mad About You dubbed in German. Unfortunately it turns out that there’s a vast difference between Paul Reiser saying in his sarcastic New York accent, “Excuse me?” and a dubbed Germanic voice instead saying, “Entschuldigung?” Still, even poorly translated this show was better than the German sitcom that seemed to be one long stupid joke about the husband failing to have an erection. Meanwhile, on BBC World, the sky was still falling. OK, I know there are bad things in the world and it’s good that someone tells us about them, but, still, the BBC news coverage was a bit much. The most uplifting segment I saw them show during the whole two days I got to watch it was on advances in artificial limbs, which is only a happy subject if you don’t stop to consider why people actually need artificial limbs.

Then another Polish channel had a movie that was mostly in Polish but subtitled in English. It wasn’t very good. It was one of those morose European flicks full of melodramatic silences and a darkened city full of no one but the movie’s sinister characters. I wonder, though, if this is not because European filmmakers can’t afford the extras needed to make a place look populated? I’ve seen French films like this too, although they usually include some gloomy dialog where the protagonist waif explains how her parents had both killed themselves and that’s why she’s throwing herself into the clutches of an emotionally-scarred man three times her age. Or at least the one I watched while in Poland was like this…

Anyway, in the Polish movie at one point one bad guy suddenly started speaking to the other bad guy in English. I’m not sure why; they seemed to both be Polish. Maybe they thought it sounded tougher? They thought wrong. The older one, his accent was ok, but his pacing was off. Perhaps he couldn’t really speak English and he learned his lines phonetically, which would explain the erratic diction. I wouldn’t make fun of someone’s language limitations, but I think it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize the filmmaker who wrote his dreadful dialog and directed the performance. The “sit your ass down!” demand was delivered so out of sync from the way any English-speaking heavy would have actually said it that I was surprised the other bad guy didn’t start giggling. (I did.) Then he punctuated his threat with, “Dig it?” I get the sense that the filmmaker perhaps once stayed in my hotel and got confused about what decade it was…

The room also included breakfast, which was an elaborate buffet: cold cuts, all sorts of cheeses, hard boiled eggs, poached eggs, scrambled eggs, cereals, fruit, coffee cake, breads with butter and jams, sausage and some other hot meats, juice, tea, coffee… Sadly however I only had about 20 minutes to enjoy it in order to catch my next train to Krakow. Continue reading »

Jul 142017
 

The following post continues the description of my visit to Poland that I took during my time as a law student in Germany.  Originally written as multiple posts in October 2005 and is the portion that best explains why I was taking the trip.

I did it again: I picked a spot on the map, and then went to go see what it was like.

The place I went to see was Suwalki, a town in the very northeast of Poland. In fact, it’s so northeastern that it hasn’t always been part of Poland. Within the past two centuries it’s also been claimed by Russia and Lithuania.

It’s a bit off the beaten trail. My Lonely Planet Eastern Europe book didn’t even list it, and it takes at least 5 hours to get to by train. (However, that says more about the speed of the train than the distance… It goes pretty fast to Bialystok, which is about two-thirds the way there, then turns into a local train that goes much slower the rest of the way. Plus they have to change the engine at a certain point because the tracks are no longer electrified.) But I had a particular reason for being there. Continue reading »

Jul 112017
 

When I was a law student in Germany I mostly stayed put in Germany so I could experience a German life.  But I did take a few trips, including this one to Poland.  Originally written October 14, 2005.

I’d forgotten how nice night trains can be. I used to take them regularly, especially as part of my marathon post-graduation 6-week trip through Europe in 1996. On that trip I think I took about 14 night trains within a month. (Actually, it was probably more like 15 if we include the Rome fiasco… plus there were also the night boats between Sweden and Finland.) My thinking always was, you have to sleep and you have to travel, so why not do both at the same time? Plus the couchettes cost no more than a hostel bed, and sleeping on the train saved me the trouble of having to find alternate lodging. In any case, this thinking is why I opted to take a night train to Poland for this trip instead of other means. Continue reading »

Jul 102017
 

With so much news coming out of Hamburg this week I decided it was time to repost what I’d written about my visit to Neuengamme, a concentration camp not far from the city.  I had spent several months in Hamburg as a law student, and this was a field trip organized by the law school.  The following, a combination of two posts originally written in October 2005, joins other items I’ve reposted from the blog I kept back then that reflected on my time there, particularly with respect to what it was like being Jewish in Germany and learning about the history of Jews in Germany

Keeping the holidays around here is challenging. My days are particularly packed, with more classes than usual as two of them wrap up this week. Yesterday began with Conflict of Laws, followed by Comparative Torts. Then almost immediately thereafter many of us boarded a bus for a field trip to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp.

It was one of those gorgeous fall days the holiday often falls on, sunny and pleasant. But we spent it in an environment whose modern serenity belied its past. Although this camp wasn’t dedicated to the extermination of Jews, per se, many did perish there (along with many, many others). On an occasion of contemplation, it was quite the place to spend the afternoon. Continue reading »

Jul 092017
 

I’ve been resurrecting posts from my old blog.  Tonight I found this sad tale from my second year of law school.

If I am crankier than normal, and I think I probably am, it’s not without reason. Case in point: my odyssey last night.

As I complained earlier, I have been in technology hell with all of my devices breaking.  All forward progress has ground to a halt while I take care of fixing the basic technological infrastructure underpinning my life. To that end I am fortunate to have a helpful friend, one who previously loaned me a laptop and last night offered to loan me a new router. Great. The problem? He lives in another dimension: there is no direct way through time and space to get to Newton, Massachusetts. The street plan looks to have been designed by M.C. Esher. Roads that seem parallel intersect. Streets that look like they connect to major thoroughfares instead double-back on themselves at the last minute into one-way mobius strips. Forget having a sense of direction: it will be of no use to you in Newton. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:43 pm  Tagged with:
Jul 082017
 

The following travelogue was originally posted on a personal website that has long gone dormant.  It describes a trip taken May 30, 2004-June 5, 2004 and was originally written immediately thereafter (with an edit the following year).  I’ve given it a minor edit now (mostly to change tenses) and republished it here.

It all seemed like such a good idea at the time. A friend of mine from law school, Megan, had an internship the summer after our first year in Cambodia. For her such a position wasn’t too exotic: she’d already lived in Cambodia, having taught English there, and as a result she speaks Khmer (the local language). I, on the other hand, had never been to Asia at all, so when she said, “I’m spending two weeks in Thailand before I start; why don’t you come with me?” it seemed like the perfect excuse to finally get to visit the world’s largest continent. Sixty-thousand frequent flyer miles later, I had a ticket booked. Continue reading »

Jun 252017
 

I had to do something really hard yesterday: I had to give up my car. I’m sure you are thinking, “What’s the big deal?” People get rid of cars all the time. The circle of life for automobile ownership is barely longer than that of a fruit fly, so why should this be hard?

Because I’m not one of those people. When I bought my car, new, I fully intended to drive it into the ground. And, basically, I did – nearly 23 years later.  Which is what made it so hard, because in getting rid of the car I was basically divorcing myself from one of my oldest and closest relationships. I have family relationships that aren’t even as old. Or as close. Or who have been nearly as good to me. Continue reading »

Jun 252017
 

I decided to re-post this post from September 2006 so I could link to it from this new post.

I was glad that on this most recent cross-country trip I took the time to actually see the country I was crossing.

The day I spent in Indiana turned out to be quite interesting. My friend and I went to a small country town where they were having a fair. But it wasn’t a big fair, with midways and carnies. It was a small affair, with lots of local vendors and stalls selling local crafts and foods. It was also interesting because the community is full of Mennonite and Amish people, who were all represented there, but not “on display” for tourists as they might be in more well-known “Amish Country.” I’m not sure there were any tourists there at all, actually, apart from us. It was just a corner of America, being itself, that we got to visit for the day.

I got to visit a few more corners by detouring up to I-90 and going through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Especially South Dakota. Which happened to be where I was on the 5th anniversary of September 11. Where better to spend a day of American self-reckoning than smack in the middle of it? But the difference was striking: just a few days earlier I had been in lower Manhattan, within Ground Zero itself even, on one of those beautiful, clear, almost-Fall days like it had been on the day of the attacks. A sober energy was beginning to percolate within the streets, as people got ready to face the somber occasion of remembering the awful day their neighborhood changed.

By the time that day came, I felt like I was a world away, in the near-emptiness of South Dakota. I began the morning leaving Sioux Falls, driving through the vast flatness while listening to Native American chants on the radio. By lunchtime I’d reached the famous Wall Drug, perched at the mouth of the Badlands national park. I paid the $15 and drove through them, all the while listening to NPR’s urban-broadcast coverage of the 9/11 remembrances and resulting state of the world. In the empty, sunny stillness of the Midwest the day’s activities in New York and Pennsylvania may have seemed a world away, but it was all still in these United States.

Exiting the area in Rapid City, from there it was time to head up into the Black Hills. Along the way I saw a lot of interesting wildlife: prairie dogs, mountain goats, and the most American of all animals: the turkey. Climbing up through the granite turrets of the hills I suddenly saw, there around the bend, Mt. Rushmore and its quartet of great American leaders. George Washington was particularly striking, with a small yet confident, fatherly smile on his lips that seemed to say, as he gazed out eastward over this great nation on this sad day, that, despite it all, we would be okay.