Happy Holidays – Bonnes FĂȘtes

I was having dinner with two very good friends of mine yesterday and we had a very interesting discussion about religions and since it was an important aspect of my trip (more about that another day hopefully), we ended up going over the pictures of some of the holy places I visited. In addition to being appropriate to the season, it brought back a lot of fond memories and I have to say I even got goose bumps and felt a bit melancholic.

Well. It brought me back here and I realize I have not posted for 3 months!!! Man, life goes fast. I have been busy getting back on track and got pulled deep into crunch mode at the new job I started Oct 1st. blah blah blah… .

Anyway, that little discussion of yesterday evening brought back a lot of fond memories. But while you could think I remembered more some of the places I visited, it is actually not the case. The strongest memories that came back to me are all related to people that were nice (crazy!?) enough to accept to hang out with me while I was traveling or even to worry for me or support me through this blog, emails or pure thoughts. This is what means the most to me.

Extending this to the full year, I want to thank you all, all my family and friends I knew before or I met in the last year. Thanks for welcoming me in your life, even if it is/was for only 5 minutes, 1 hour, a day, a week or forever. Thanks for being here. I appreciate every minute of your friendship. You are all great people.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2007.

Wish to hear from you or, even better, see you soon.

People, Not Places

Packing List Review

One subject of conversation that came back often when I was in France and England was about the size of my backpack. Most of the people were amazed that I travelled for 4 months with so little.

Well, if you have read this website from the begining, you know I spent some time fine-tuning my packing list optimizing for weight and easy-cleaning. To read how it was created and how I selected some of these items, go there.
I think the best way to comment it is to go over it:

  • 3 t-shirts/1 long-sleeves t-shirt: I loved my 4 dry-fit t-shirts. They were perfect for every occasion. I ended up buying one short sleeves and one long sleeves cotton shirts in Dahab and it proved useful too.
  • 2 pair convertible trousers: Perfect
  • 3 pairs of underwear: Rod used to make fun of me for having only three of them. He even offered me to buy me some in Tel-Aviv! That is true that it was a bit tight especially when I could not clean any for several days. I would go for the double next time.
  • A set of long very warm underwear pants and t-shirt (The set I use when I ski): I used them at night in the desert and on top of Mount Sinai and never got cold.
  • 1 swimsuit trunk: Definitely
  • 1 fleece jacket: Not used that often but definitely worth carrying.
  • 1 windproof, rainproof jacket: Only used in England!
  • 3 pairs of socks: I wore the Tevas most of the time so 3 pairs were enough. If you wear closed shoes more than half the time, I would take 2 more pairs.
  • 1 cap: Perfect. I would take one more next time because I got tired of it.
  • 1 pair trekking/walking shoes: Perfect
  • 1 pair of Tevas: Perfect. They got quite stinky at time but they wash nicely overnight!
  • 1 travel towel: Useless. It is nice to go on a backpacking weekend. Very light and everything but frankly, I used it rarely preferring the hotel’s towels when available and ended up loosing it. I bought a normal towel that I lost the same day on the boat. I finally bought a large beach towel in Greece and even if it was taking more room in my backpack, it was definitely worth it.
  • 1 silk sheet bag (because I am worth it!): Well, used it only for 10 nights max. The hotels/hostels usually provide bed sheets and those that require a sheet bag rent them for super cheap and you do not have to clean the damn thing. I would not take it again for a trip in Middle-East. It might be different for a trip to Europe though.
  • 1 toothbrush / 1 tube of toothpaste / 1 box of floss: Take the real thing, not travel size.
  • 1 bottle of shampoo/1 bottle of soap: I thought I would be smart and use containers that close tight but they were too small and ended up having to buy these items.
  • Nail clippers: N/A
  • An electric razor: Except for the fact I decided not to use it by the end of my trip, it worked great. If you don’t bring one, you can take your chance with the barbers that do a nice and relaxing job for very cheap.
  • 1 travel pack (Gregory Palisade): Worked well. Difficult to securely lock so it might be a concern for other people.
  • 1 day pack (Eagle Creek packable day pack): Love it! British Airways too!
  • 1 duffel bag (that folds very small): Never used.
  • 2 locks: Definitely. I used one to lock my daypack when going in crowded area.
  • 1 tiny alarm clock: Very useful and worked like a charm.
  • 1 mini Maglite flashlight with extra bulb: Very useful for the desert, the Egyptian monuments and the cave exploration in Petra and Cappadocia.
  • 1 Leatherman micro: Very useful. Sadly, I had to let it go at the airport in Athens after I forgot to check it in.
  • 1 compass/whistle combo: Compass was very useful while exploring Petra and Cappadocia.
  • 2 safety pins: Never used.
  • 1 bunch of Ziplocs: Perfect
  • 1 small roll of duct tape: Once again, it saved the day when I had to fix my papyrus roll after the Israeli custom had cut the top open!
  • 1 tube of detergent: I bought liquid soap. I did laundry every night for 1 month. I did not have enough. Then I discovered that most of the backpacker hotels were offering laundry service for very cheap so I went for that.
  • 1 sink stopper: Great
  • 1 surgical-quality, natural latex rubber clothesline!: Perfect, that stuff can hold a load.
  • 2 inflatable hangers: Very good. I got some shit for having them from Rod but I think he was just jealous!
  • some toilet paper: Always have some on you.
  • 1 pair of sunglasses and its box: Lost the box in Athens. I also managed to damage them by putting them in my pocket :(.
  • 1 traveler first aid pack including diarrhea treatment, Advil/Tylenol, blister pads, bandages…: One word: Cypro!
  • 1 bottle of mosquito repellent: Used it only twice.
  • 1 tube of sunscreen and lip balm: I think I went through 5 or 6 tubes total. It is difficult to find good sunscreen with SPF over 30 so if you need more, stock on them. I used SPF 60 for most of Egypt.
  • Inflatable travel pillow / blindfold / earplugs: I cannot find earplugs that work with my ears. As Ledi says all the time, they have a weird shape!
  • A digital camera + an extra battery + charger: Worked great except when I broke the LCD.
  • A Hardshell CD case to store the picture CDs I burn along the way: I bought it in Egypt. Definitely worth it.
  • An IPod and its charger: For the 13 hour bus rides with the radio blaring in a language you do not understand!
  • An universal power converter: It worked great everywhere. Small and versatile.
  • A security pouch: Perfect
  • Important documents
    • Passport / Green card
    • Vaccination certificates
    • Credit/debit cards
    • Health insurance info
    • 3 personal checks: Never used one but it is a good thing.
    • A list with personal addresses and phone numbers
  • Copies of these documents: N/A
  • 3 guidebooks: The Middle-East Lonely Planet turned out too old to be useful. It was so heavy that I ended up tearing sections apart and carrying only the current country’s section. Having a guidebook is at the same time an enchantment and a calamity. It helps you not get scammed all the time but it also shields you from many experiences. Using it is definitely a balancing act. While more expensive and more difficult to buy a guide when you get in the country, it definitely saved my back not to carry all of them from the beginning.
  • A bunch of books: These were heavy. Need to take less and unload more along the road. The book exchange works quite well.
  • My scuba diving logbook and PADI cards
  • 1 small notebook
  • 1 pen: Failed on me in Istanbul. I did not find one I liked before England.
  • 1 pencil: Gave it to a tomb guard in Abu Simbel on a misunderstanding. I thought he wanted to write something for me!

The only thing I really missed was a set of nicer clothes to go out. I did not go as much as I could have because I did not have anything nice to wear. I will take what is needed next time.

Except for that, everything worked quite well. I have updated the list based on my comments.

30 Cents

My black backpack has finally made its way to Mountain View from London thanks to Rav and Fedex. The bag was locked and it took me some time to figure out where I had put the key :).

But everything is fine. The bag was only weighting 2.5kgs (5.5lbs) so I was a bit worried about it (and stuff stored inside ) being smashed by heavier pieces of luggage. The camera is fine (except for the LCD screen that was already broken), the IPod is fine, the glasses are not worth than before and the books are all there.

The picture CDs are fine too. I think it is mostly due to the hard shell CD case I bought in Egypt at the beginning of my trip for 30 cents. I had decided to buy this shell once I realized the 2 first CDs I had burnt were getting scratched by dust and could break if something went wrong. Maybe the best buy of my trip! I will definitely add this item to my packing list for my next trip.

And the story of a French Canadian girl I met in Istanbul makes this even more compelling. She had got a professional recording of her singing done in Budapest and the audio CD broke by Istanbul. She was quite upset about it. Gladly, the master digital CD was still fine!

I am now in the process of copying all the pictures on my computer hard drive and I will burn them again on DVDs.

I also got my notebook back so I will be able to type some of stories I did not get the chance to publish before.

Back In San Francisco

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We’re back, we’re back in San Francisco
We’re back and you tell me I’m home

If anyone wonders, this is what I was singing in my head as I was walking out of the plane as I had just landed at San Francisco International Airport today.

Around 12 hours earlier, I had said bye to Rav that had taken me to Heathrow way early as I did not know how long it would take to register and then go through the security checks. The security restrictions have been eased up and everybody is now well aware of them so it went smoothly.

Back to San Francisco. Since I had been out of the country for 5 months and had visited many countries of the Middle East considered at risk by the government, I had to go through a lengthy interview process. But it actually went very well as the officer was very nice about it mixing probing questions with genuine interest for my trip and the things I had visited. I was prepared for a rougher reception so it was a pleasant surprise :).

My friend Gregory offered to host me while I will be looking for a new place. It is Kind of surreal though as it seems like I was leaving yesterday but really, I have been away for 155 days! It has not sank in yet. At the same time, I really feel the need (pressure?) to get back into “normal life”. I will try to balance that feeling in the following days as I am adjusting to the jet-lag.

Later on, as I was checking email, I got a message from Rav telling me a bag had been delivered to his place! The good news is that BA located my bag. The bad news is that they did not take into account yesterday’s phone call and still delivered it in Southall. Well, it is still great news and I am quite happy that it was not stolen or completely lost. As usual, everything ended well. My lucky star is not going away. Rav will be sending it to me next week. I will soon be reunited with my pictures. Quite a good start for my come back 8).

Posted in USA

Dalimania

The first time I came to visit my friend Rav in London in January 2003, I did not have much time so we did an accelerated visit of the main sites. It got a bit fuzzy actually and while I remember most of the places we visited, I was not able to remember how to go from one place to the next.

This time is different as I am staying more days here and I am on my own most of the time since Rav is busy at work. In a way, it is better as it is when I visit by myself and sometimes get lost that I get a good feel for a city. At these occasions, my strategy is to walk as much as possible using the bus or tube only if I am in a hurry or if the place I want to go to is too far to walk to.

After having lunch with Rav and some of his coworkers at their office, I wanted to go checkout the Dali museum located close to the London Tower and the London Eye.

I didn’t have a map of London so I had to rely on some directions given to me by Rav and on my tube map. Of course, I got lost and ended up walking a long way with an unplanned detour by Buckingham palace. But I did not mind as it gave me a chance to explore some side streets and a park and I finally found my way to the museum.

Big ben from Dali museum

The museum ticket is a bit expensive and Rav had warned me that some of his friends had not found the exposition worth the money. But I really wanted to go as I have never really got the occasion to explore Dali’s universe and I have had a kin interest for a long while.

It was actually very interesting for me but if you have already seen things from Dali, it might not be worthwhile as most of the pieces in exposition are not originals. The paintings are mostly lithography and the sculptures are all one of a serie.

Like Picasso, Dali had definitely another vision of the world than most of us. I liked what I saw :).

Later in the evening, I met again with Rav that took me for a walk through the center of what is known as Little India (downtown Southall). It might well be the largest Indian mall out of India. Also, the neighborhood is stuffed with places of cult for the different religions cohabiting there: Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

On other news, it is now the fifth day my backpack went missing. I finally got through the BA phone system. The representative told me there was 5000 bags left to process but they would be processed tomorrow. As I am leaving tomorrow, I asked him to change the details on my file so that my bag is delivered to San Francisco now once they find it.