The Cost of Travel

After traveling around the world in 80 days (or, well, 73), I have finally returned to the United States and will be avoiding any significant traveling/touristing for a while until I finish and ship Splody. A number of you probably have a few quantifiable questions, like, how much did it cost to spend 2.5 months wandering around Europe? Or, how many pictures of cats did you take? Well, herein lies the answers to those, and many other metric-driven questions!
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Barcelona

Why Barcelona? Some friends had stayed here a coupe months and recommended it and, well, it was the cheapest flight to Beijing, which is where I’m planning on going next, and seemed to have a good train connection from Marseille. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the last post, that train was canceled due to a strike, so I hop on a plane instead. This plane is perhaps the most cramped plane I’ve ever been in, but at least there is an empty seat nearby so I don’t feel totally squished. My hotel room in Barcelona is similarly rather small, but I’m only there for two nights, so it’s no big deal.

Upon arriving in Barcelona, I’m suddenly struck with feeling like I’m back in California – people are talking at me in Spanish! That being said, unless it’s describing entrées on the menu of a Mexican restaurant, my Spanish is pretty poor, but at least I know all of the social niceties. I do notice, however, that the primary language on all of the signs is not Spanish at all, nor English, but Catalan. Barcelona is in the heart of Catalonia, a region of Spain that is pretty distinct culturally, historically, and linguistically from the rest of Spain. During the Franco dictatorship of Spain, they were repressed, it was illegal to even speak Catalan, but since then their culture has flourished.

For lunch I check the highest reviewed nearby spots on Google Maps and get directed to a Cuban restaurant. I am a little skeptical going in, as I’ve been to a Cuban restaurant in San Jose which people raved about, and I found it pretty mediocre, but it smells wonderful when I enter and the meal I have here is amazing. If you’re ever in Barcelona, stop by the Cuban restaurant a few blocks from the main (Sants) train station!

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Ancient Roman Cats

Today I was planning on visiting the Vatican Museum and related sites, but, in preparation for where I’m heading in a few stops, I ended up spending most of the morning and afternoon figuring out how to get a Chinese visa for an American citizen in Italy. Luckily, there is a Chinese visa office in Rome, and they don’t care that you’re not Italian. Unlike the Chinese consulate I once stopped by in San Francisco, this one was almost completely empty, and on my two visits there I spent no more than 30 seconds waiting for someone (the same guy, who spoke good English, both times) to assist me, so it was relatively painless, though even with rush service they will return my passport, with visa attached, the day before my last day in Rome, so I hope all goes well! In order to get the initial Chinese visa, they required plain tickets to and from China, but I am not completely sure on my plans yet, so I booked some flights, printed out the tickets, submitted my visa application, and then canceled one of the flights (within 24 hours, so no cancellation fee) until my plans solidify. After this initial visa is granted, I can use it any number of times in the next 10 years to re-enter China without having to jump through any hoops, so I’m not sure why they’re so rigorous on the initial application/entry. Probably because people intending illegal immigration might just buy a one-way ticket and they want to protect against that.

After my Visa Quest, I strolled over to the Pantheon, as it was a bit of Ancient Rome I had not yet seen, and there were a couple other sites of particular interest to me in the area. The Pantheon used to be the temple of all gods, but when Constantine converted Rome to Christianity in the 4th century it was converted into the church of all martyrs and statues of Zeus and Apollo were replaced with statues of Andrew and Peter. Like most active churches in Rome, there is no admission fee, whether you’re coming in to pray or to be a tourist, and due to it being later in the day, there was no wait to go in.

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Zercatts

246Back in Zermatt, I start the morning with one of the cans of Mountain Dew I brought back with me from Lucerne. This made-in-Germany Dew is not quite the same as what I’m used to. The ingredient list looks different, and not just because it’s in German. Sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. No Yellow 5. That last one is very noticeable as I pour the contents of the can into a glass, and it looks more the color of brandy, and less the color of radioactive urine. Though very similar in taste, I guess I’m particular, and I’d rank this around the same as most other sodas I might enjoy – Dr Pepper or Cherry Coke – but not the precise acquired taste I have for Mtn Dew. Continue reading “Zercatts”

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and Boats

The day before, when walking past the beautiful Jesuit church, the doors were locked, but I saw they had a 7am daily mass, so this morning I wake up with the sunrise intent on catching the morning mass and having a look around the church. Sadly, when I got there, a moment before 7, the doors were still locked. After a bit of exploration I deduce there must be some back entrance the faithful use, but I am unable to find it before it is too late to be proper to walk in. I guess I’ll give myself more time when I next try to find my way into a seemingly locked building. Continue reading “Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and Boats”

Ludum Dare in Geneva Day 1

I woke up a little before 3AM, wide awake, checked my calendar, and saw that one of the 3 times to do round 1 of the Google Code Jam was in fact 3AM today, so I signed on, did that (advanced to Round 2, which will be in a few weeks), and chatted with Bart (the author of the current Code Jam platform, now, finally, eligible to compete since he left Google a while back) about the problems, and tried to get back to sleep, but ended up thinking about possibilities for the Ludum Dare (which also started around the same time). The theme for the 35th Ludum Dare was “Shapeshift”, which was not particularly appealing to me, but working within restrictions is part of the Ludum Dare. For those unaware of what the Ludum Dare is, it’s a 48-hour solo game-making competition – all code, art, and sounds made from scratch, by a single person, during the 48 hours. This is my third Ludum Dare I’ve competed in, and they’re always a blast! This one will be balanced with a bit of sight-seeing in Geneva during the same two days though. Continue reading “Ludum Dare in Geneva Day 1”

To Europe! Greenlit!

PIC__001 Moving
Almost everything I own, in 50 boxes, in the corner of my previous apartment

After flying to Seattle and before flying to Geneva, I took a long flight to Frankfurt on Condor Airlines. I’ve never heard of them before, but they were like half the price of any other airline going to anywhere in Switzerland when I wanted to. I think this is the best flight I’ve been on so far! I paid a little extra for “premium economy” which gives a bit of extra leg room, which was nice.  The seat between myself and the elderly bicyclers next to me was empty, also nice. The flight safety movie was pretty great, it included a dog, an Elvis impersonator, a mime, and what appeared to be a NASA astronaut, sitting on a Condor flight, wearing a space suit, quoting Neil Armstrong… in German. Continue reading “To Europe! Greenlit!”