Category Archives: Travel

Distraction / Travel List

DISTRACTION DISTRACTION DISTRACTION!!!  Read here if you want to take your mind off of the insanity for five minutes.

For the next three weeks I will be posting parts of a list entitled “5 Places I’ve Been That I Would Go Back to in a Heartbeat.”  I will list #s 5 + 4 this week, #s 3 + 2 next week and #1 and honorable mention on the third week.  So without further ado:

#5  LONDON
Reason: Unfinished business

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I spent about 18 hours in London on my way home from my Peace Corps service. I spent a lovely time with this guy Alex, who I met a couple weeks earlier in Macedonia. He showed me the town, put me up for the night, and drove me to the airport, which saved me at least $100.* At Alex’s direction, we took a 5 hour power walk and knocked out Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Piccadilly Square.  I saw all the big sites, but the list is not completely checked off. The town was settled in 43 AD, the amount of history there is mind-blowing. Stories and sites of the World War 2 blitz, art and museum exhibits that cover the entire span of human history from all over the world (thank you imperialism), the Globe Theater, the pub life, the hooligans, I’m not sure what I would make a priority, and that is all the more reason to go back. Let me know if you want to come along so I can let Alex know how many places to set at the dinner table.

* I can remember telling my folks about staying with this guy, and my Mom asked, “how’d you know the guy wasn’t some wierdo? And what would you do if he was?” Both excellent questions that I constantly asked myself the entire time I was in this dude’s house. It’s just one of the joys of traveling. Putting your faith in others, and hoping for the best.

#4  AUSTIN
Reason: Live Music

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After a 2 day bus ride from Worcester, MA, to Austin, our friends whisked us back to the blues bar they had left to get us. Great first impression of a city. Transitioning from being surrounded by the characters on Greyhound buses to a bar lined with pictures of all the greats who played there was grounds for serious culture shock, but I was instantly in love with this town.

I was amazed that EVERY bar had at least a couple of guys strumming guitars. I was amazed there was high quality blues in a concert open to the public in a park where people responsibly sat with coolers full of beer and enjoyed a good time. I was amazed at the BBQ.

I feel like Austin is one of those places that you just have to like, and if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you, man. I was hesitant to include it on the list because the pick seemed too easy. Of course anyone with any sense would want to go back to a city that a) is home to three really close friends, b) is always warm, and c) has music, film, and comedy festivals year round. It is reassuring that Austin will be rocking, weird, and there for me no matter how many years it takes to make it back.

The list continues next week.

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A Neighbor and His Stories

Feel free to forward the link to this blog, repost it on Facebook, or just tell someone you know (hell, tell strangers about it too, if you want).  The number of hits here is growing, so thank you very much for your readership.

One thing I’m really enjoying now that I’m finally on Facebook, I have reconnected with many of my old friends from Vetovo.  Using the “Find Friends” feature got me thinking of all the people back in Bulgaria I would like to send my regards to, unfortunately many do not have profiles.  One guy in particular sticks out in my mind as having the best insights into what life was like under the Steel Curtain, oh wait, I mean the Iron Curtain (I don’t think L. C. Greenwood ever made it back to the old country).  I never knew this guys name, but he lived a few doors down from me, worked at the limestone mine outside of town, and I could pick him easily out of a line-up.  His insights come to mind also because after the fucking painfully expensive ($1.6 BBBillion!!!) election, my mind started wandering onto other types of government and how they role.  So I thought I would just share a couple of conversations and situations a found interesting.

One of my last days in town, I was at the local restaurant and saw my neighbor.  He invited me to sit down for a drink and shortly after, the owner of the place sat down as well.   As happens from time to time over there, I started hearing about “the old days” and what life was like under Communism. I heard both sides of the argument at the same time.  Lemonade soda was 15 cents. Everyone had work and a good pension.  There was no Orange Fanta or Jack Daniels.  We had to wait for three hours for bananas on New Year’s Eve.  What was so notable about this discussion was that the restaurant owner was the one telling me how great communism was, and the guy that worked in the mine was telling me how terrible it was.  Where does an entrepreneur get the idea that redistribution of wealth is the way it should be? Or, why does someone who believes all people are entitled to cheap soda get into the restaurant business?  Shouldn’t the laborer think everyone should make the same amount of money?  Where rich and poor all drink from the same, Fanta-less refrigerator?  Where in their lives did these two (and I’m sure they’re not alone) get information helping them form ideas that sort of contradicted their actions / places in life?  These are the types of questions that made my two years over there both difficult and fascinating.

I saw my neighbor on the street once, and we got to talking about the Balkan Peninsula and its history (as ya do) and invariably the “problems” in the former Yugoslav republics.  While there have been many conflicts in the past century throughout the region, Bulgaria has remained relatively peaceful.  To this, he simply said, “I don’t know if we’re smarter or lazier than everyone else, but whichever one it is, at least we’re all still here.”

The third story from this guy (I really wish I knew his name, but I really didn’t ever know it, so I can’t say “I wish I could ‘remember’ it” because I heard it once when I barley understood the language, and never had the nerve to ask him again.) is something we’ve all definitely read about or heard or seen in movies, but it was just wild to here it told by someone who actually lived it.  Years and years ago, his mother used to work at the cafeteria of mine that he works in now.  He can remember every month, one case of Coca Cola would be delivered and she was in charge of setting it aside for the bosses.  No workers were allowed to have any, and she was not to mention the existence of this case.  Every once and a while, there would be a night where the bosses would have drinks in the office, and over indulge a bit.  This would open the door for this woman to swipe a bottle or two of Coke and literally smuggle it home.  She gave it to her son (the guy telling the story) and he would have to be super hush hush about it.  He said he would have to be very careful about who he invited over to share the booty with, but they would break out their best cognac, prepare a big dinner, and enjoy the sweet stolen beverage.  Like I said, we all have seen this type of scenario in movies, or read about it in history class, but to hear someone retelling their own personal experiences was something memorable…

I’m not sure why this guy and these stories jumped out at me when they did.  It’s not like I’m hoping we go Communist or anything.  I think mostly it’s this:  Our election process is painful and wasteful, but at least I can fill my tub with Coke or Orange Fanta, submerge myself in it, and eat 7 bunches of bananas… that is if I was into that sort of thing.

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“American Bread” Review

If you enjoy reading about the adventures, joys, and tribulations that come with extended road trips, read this book.  If you or a loved one has had life-changing medical issues, read this book.  If you are doing some soul searching and/or faith exploration of your own, read this book.  If you are looking for some insight into whether international microfinance can be used as a vehicle to enact social change through shifting societal modalities while increasing the awareness of global insight within an emerging market, don’t read this book. “American Bread: Chronic Lyme Disease and the Tao of the Open Road,” Nick Vittas’ literary debut, is pure heart.  Nick has been battling Lyme disease for 14 years, and this book provides insight into how one man copes with life-changing events.  It is an intricately assembled collection of stories from his days as a punky cah-lidge kid at UMass – Amherst, his navigation through the early years of his diagnosis, and his adventures on the road when he was finally healthy enough to drive cross country twice, and through Mexico.

A book that combines travel stories and spirituality (two of my favorite topics of discussion) this well is a very hard find, but what sets Vittas apart even further is his ability to extract lessons from seemingly mundane or unfortunate happenings.  Frolicking and joking with neighborhood kids in LaMadrid, Mexico.  “Car trouble” in the Bay Area.  Sitting in the basement studying pre-recorded NBA games (on a VCR nonetheless).  These and many other situations become the vehicles for Vittas to apply the philosophies and attitudes he cultivates, through mediation and readings, as his acceptance of his condition evolves.  His painstaking attention to detail allows the reader to truly feel his frustration with Lyme disease and occasional desire to stomp his feet and scream, “Enough!,” to focus on their own breathing while he describes his first meditation, and to curse that damn Oakland weather.  His description of the constant battle of being present in the moment versus focusing / worrying about some hopeful event somewhere in the future is also something everyone can relate to on some level.

While this book has many soulful, honest moments, the travelogues have the ability to make anyone’s feet itchy.  Lobo and the patron saint of recklessness combine their efforts to create some seriously insane situations which Vittas sounds very grateful (in hindsight) to have been present for.  The joy he finds in traveling, and the companionship of his buddy cannot be contained, and the reader can’t help but feel the love, too.  Costa, Linda, Belli, and a cast of others also appear throughout the book adding color to Vittas and Lobo’s adventures across the US and Mexico.  As the book progresses, and rough early days of his diagnosis are explained, even the grumpiest reader’s spirits are lifted as they see how far the author has come physically.

This book is versatile and is a must read for anyone who reads.  It will leave you full of wanderlust.  It will make you laugh.  It will make you focus on your breath.  It provides food for spiritual thought.  It is simply a well written book by a dude who has been through a lot, and shares his experiences in a clear and honest way.

 “American Bread: Chronic Lyme Disease and the Tao of the Open Road” is available on Amazon.  Click on the image of the book to the left for more information.