Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"You should write a book!"

In 2001, I asked myself what I would do if my doctor told me that I only have 3 years to live. What would be important to me? Would my priorities change? The things that I always thought that were important might not be so important anymore. I tried to stay within reason, but I really tried to stick to the premise that I had about 3 years to live. What were the things that I would focus on over that 3 years? I quickly decided that I would travel and see the world.

Traveling was always exciting to me but I only took on average, one or two international trips a year before my whirlwind adventure began. After I started my adventure, I would often be in three different countries every month.The USA is one of the best countries in the world but Americans have this warped sense of reality that we are the center of the Universe. It is estimated that less than 20% of Americans own a passport, thus a very low rate of international travel. Many Americans can't locate both Mexico and Canada on the map which is shameful. In my extensive travels outside of the United States I began to see how "ugly" Americans can be.

In many places around the world, it was the Americans who were loud and obnoxious, didn't make an effort to blend in or just didn't respect the country that they were in.Everyone that I have ever met has told me that I should write a book. My friends all use to tell me that my life was unbelievable and they wouldn't believe it if (a) they didn't know me and (b) I didn't have the pictures to prove it. My friend use to tell me that my life was a mixture of a Seinfelt episode mixed with a soap opera combined with a Lifetime TV movie.

I do admit that I have lived an extremely exciting life. I have been blessed with good health and a positive outlook on life. I have always had the attitude that no one is going to give you anything in life. If you want something you have to go out and get it. No one gave me anything. Everything that I have I did on my own.

Most people lead an ordinary life. They have an ordinary job, have an ordinary house and do ordinary things all their lives. I believe you must do extraordinary things in your life to be special and take full advantage of this short time we have here on Earth. Traveling and seeing the world was one of those extraordinary things.

It will take a long time but I will eventually post detailed reports from various places I have traveled to. I type over 160 words a minute so that will help but I'm really pressed for time working. I love photography as well and took many photographs from most of my vacations so I will post them as well.I have done some crazy things during the past 3 years. From the time that I met a girl in Cali, Colombia that I didn't know and bought her and her brother passports, clothes, suitcases, plane/train tickets to fly and meet me in Peru... to the time I met a girl online from Mexico and dropped everything to go fly and meet her to the countless vacations where I decided to fly to Paris or London "this weekend" at the last minute. Hopefully it is as entertaining as it was fun for me.

I enjoy writing and took my small Dell laptop on most of my trips to listen to music and write in my journal. Luckily I saved my journals so many areas (not all) I will post my diary as well. I always planned on writing a detailed book about my life and my adventures. Almost every single person I have met has told me that I life was a good "book" or "movie" in the making. Who knows.... maybe someday I will sell the rights to make a movie based on my adventures called "3 Years to Live". Maybe I can ask them to star Ben Affleck to play me?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Paris, France

Sacre coure Posted by Hello

(I took this photo of Sacre Coure at sunset. The photo turned out great. The other photos I took of the sun going down over the city were amazing.)

January 2004

Hi all. I've been in Paris the past couple of days. I know I've said it before about other cities but this is a world class city. It's truly amazing! Anyone living in Paris is truly lucky to be able to wake up to some of those sights. It's also THE most romantic city in the world. Wow!

I was lucky to meet a really great girl my first day in the city. The circumstances of this meeting are actually funny. Often times before hitting a new city I'll do a search on Yahoo or MSN under profiles and email some girls and ask them what the hip clubs are at the moment. Several emailed me back giving me the names. One girl emailed me back some names of places she wanted to hit but hadn't since she was relatively new to Paris too and didn't have many friends there. I quickly invited her to meet up and was surprised when she said Ok. I had a great time with her. Like many things in life you have to put forth an effort to obtain results. She was really beautiful, smart, funny and just an all around cool girl. She’s from Romania and is studying at the University here in Paris. We’ve been spending everyday together and hitting it off very well. I think she'll meet me in the French Riviera for my March trip. I hit the jackpot. Sometimes I ask myself how I got to be this lucky!

I'm staying in a nice hotel near the Eiffel Tower and on Friday night I was kind of solicited while in my lobby bar. I know I’m a lucky guy but not that lucky when beautiful girls from the Ukraine as asking me to buy them a drink. Ha, ha. She was obviously a “working girl”. The girl was really nice though and I did buy her a drink and we chatted about Paris, how she ended up here and just about life in general. Everyone has a “story” and I enjoy talking to new people.

I walked down the red light district near the Moulin Rouge. Tons of strip club type places and XXX porn shops. I just walked and avoided the hawker’s pleas to come in. I did talk to a group of Indian guys that were tourists. They told me they got pulled into some strip club and girls were all over them. The manager brought over a "complimentary" bottle of champagne but when they got up to leave 15 minutes later they demanded 600 Euros!!! Be careful and avoid these clubs.

The clubs are really cool! Hit Les Etoiles, Les Bains Douches (long lines - beautiful people come here...if you're not young, dressed well, hip they won't let you in). Also, there was a new club I think called Caberet that was hip.I walked around for 4 hours last night with my Romanian girlfriend. Very, very very romantic city. It was the Chinese New Year week and they celebrated with a parade in the street and the Eiffel Tower was red last night with lights. We walked hand in hand for hours just taking in everything.

Bring your wallet though. EVERYTHING here is expensive! Expect to pay about $200 a night for a 4 star hotel. I'm staying at the Novotel Tour Eiffel which is 7 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. It's a true 4 star hotel. I paid an extra 100 Euros to get a view of the Eiffel Tower. I'm on the 29th floor. (Get a room on 20th floor or higher to get an unobstructed view of the Tower). Bottled water and Pepsi's on the street are 3 Euros!

Taxi's are very difficult to find at night. Especially on the weekends. Unbelievable! I got done with dinner close to 2 AM with my girlfriend and there were amazingly long lines for taxi's and none to be found. We ended up eating in Bastille and it's too far to walk to my hotel. Luckily some guy asked me if I wanted a ride to my hotel. I asked how much and he said 20 Euros. I thought it was steep but it was probably a bargain. Took a while to get home since there was so much traffic at 2 AM!

EVERYONE should hit Paris at least once in their lives. For those that don't believe in God you will once you see the view from the Montmartre. Amazing! Go up there at sunset.Make sure you get the guidebook called Plan de Paris par Arrondissement. It's a valuable took for sightseeing and getting around Paris. It's a small book as opposed to many fold-out map type guides. The guide has maps of each neighborhood (arrondissements), and metro and bus routes. You can buy it on or any Barnes and Noble bookstore. I also noticed it in many shops in Paris.

Arriving at the airport:

The airport code for Paris is CDG. There is another airport but if you are coming from the USA you'll be arriving at CDG. I researched the various and cheapest methods of getting from/to the airport. You can take the Metro (RER) into town but it takes some time. I didn't mess around with it. The various shuttles are the quickest and most convenient way to get into town. Most of them all cost around 24 € each way and it's door to door service so they will take you directly to your hotel. I found one company called Blue Van - The reason I used them as opposed to the many others is because I found out they charge the same in US$ as Euros. You can pay before you leave with your credit card via (I paid $44 US as opposed to $57 with the horrible Euro conversion).The only semi inconvenient thing is that all the shuttle companies in Paris make you call upon arriving at the airport and then they pick you up. They all say to call from a payphone toll-free but I just called from my cellphone and it worked fine. Make sure to tell them which terminal/gate you are near.

The other cheap alternative is you can take Air France's shuttle bus no matter which airline you fly into. I believe it leaves every 15 minutes and the cost is 12 €. The disadvantage is it doesn't take you door to door so pay attention where your hotel is. Do a search on under Air France Shuttle and you can find out more info.


There is no shortage of hotels in Paris. Most of the nicer 4 and 5 star hotels are quite pricey though. Be careful as many countries in Europe use a different star system. Many times it is one star level below US standards. So if they say 5 star it's really 4 star; 4 star really 3 star, etc. Go to a site like and you can get an idea of the price range. Most 4 star US equivalent hotels are at least $150- $300+ tax per night. The further outside of touristy Paris the cheaper it is but keep in mind that taxis are expensive here.

Getting around:

My goal was not to take any taxi's at all. I technically managed to do that since I couldn't find an available taxi on several nights while out and about. For a city the size of Paris there aren't too many taxi's. During the day there is no problem but at night, especially on the weekends it was difficult to flag down a taxi. There are various spots where people literally wait in line for a taxi. The lines can get long for taxi's that don't come too often.

One night in Bastille I was with my girlfriend and we needed two separate taxi's. She kind of joked around that maybe we would have to walk home. Only the joke was on me because she wasn't kidding around. We walked around for a while and even at 2 AM it was difficult to find a taxi. We walked to a hotel and there was one taxi that she took. She didn't want to take a taxi believe it or not because she said they all scam people. I didn't see any alternative. I gave her 30 € and she didn't want to take any money from me. I stuffed it in her pocket though and then I had to find my own taxi.

I went back to this long line and there was some French guy asking people in line if they wanted a ride. I guess he was just some dude that owned a car. Some people would tell him their location and he turned his nose and said no so I guess it was not far enough. He asked me and I told him I was staying near the Eiffel Tower. I asked the price and he said 20 €. I didn't even try to negotiate. I was tired from walking around all night with my girl and it was cold out.The traffic believe it or not was horrible even at 2 AM! On the way home I saw several lines of people waiting for traffic and I felt relieved to have a ride home. He made several attempts to talk to me but I couldn't understand him. I bought Pimsleur French before the trip but only listened to 9 lessons. Those 9 lessons helped though.

Keep in mind the Metro stops after midnight. That's the reason I couldn't use it late at night.

The French People:

Forget the preconceived notion that French hate Americans before coming here. Almost every American at one time or another has said, "I hate the French" or "the French hate us Americans" . Heck, I've said it before and I kind of used it as an excuse for never visiting France. Sure, the French are wimps when it comes to many Global issues but we as Americans tend to over generalize. The plain truth of the matter is that the majority of Americans have never been to France or even know anyone from France.

People say, "the French are rude", which may be true but I didn't experience this phenomenon. Maybe part of the reason why is because I at least made an effort to be open minded. I took the time and effort to learn at least the words for please, thank you, good morning, goodnight, how much is that, do you speak/understand English, I am American, Mr./Miss/Mrs. ,I don't understand French, can you please help me, where is ___, and some numbers and other various phrases. Always try to speak some French (even if it sucks) when you encounter someone or enter a restaurant, club or store. It will go a long way.

Never be an "ugly American" or become loud or obnoxious. Don't let yourself get upset by something. Make sure you don't wear clothing that is considered offensive or just plain tacky/ugly. On many international adventures I see guys dressed like slobs or wearing T-shirts that say the city they are from in bold lettering. (Example: ARKANSAS!!! ). The French and Europeans in general tend to dress better and the girls especially will treat you better if you're dressed nicer.

Exchanging Money:

The best rates typically can be found by using your ATM card but I've always believe Cash is king when traveling and usually just exchange some. I did change some at my hotel and I got a bad rate as I fully expected. I got 72 € for $100 US which would be a rate of about 1.39 € : 1 $US. The official banking rate is 1.28.

Note: Be careful where you change your money! I typically never exchange money at those exchange window places in touristy areas. On a weekend the banks weren't open and my driver told me there was a good spot with a good exchange rate near the area where we were at. I was not paying attention and I didn't notice there were 3 places where he was talking about. I went to the wrong one. I did look at the rate and it said 1.38 which was bad but ok with me.

Most countries must display if they charge a commission but I didn't ask since my driver said this place had a good rate. Upon exchanging $100 US she only gave me back 51 €. I was shocked! I asked her where the rest of my money is and she gave me a receipt that showed they charged a commission of about 20 € !!! I asked for my money back but she said it was too late.When I got back to my driver I told him and he was so upset. I guess he was talking about another place a block down. I think he was more upset than I was. We went to this place and true to his word it was a good exchange rate of 78€ per $100 US. ALWAYS ask if they charge a commission and more importantly ask them if you exchange $100 US how much you will get back in Euros when it's all said and done.


I found the prices for most things to be more expensive than most places. Paris isn't a cheap city. What is especially difficult to believe is that Parisians don't seem to earn more than their European counterparts even though the city is more expensive. I'm not sure how they can afford to live there.

Bottled water and a can of soda in most touristy areas is 3 € (almost $4 US). When I told my driver how expensive I found things he said that you can buy things cheaper at grocery stores but I explained to him that tourists don't have time to go to these places or can find them easily. He agreed. This guy was really cool.

Paris is a great walking city. You must explore Paris by foot. It's a good idea to take a mini tour of the city one afternoon or morning to get a good idea of the layout. I did this one day then walked around on my own after that. The wonderful thing is that you can just follow the River up and you can see so many wonderful areas. It's an easy way and you can't get lost this way.Paris is a melting pot of different races. I found it funny that several times people said that they thought I lived here. When I asked them why they just said that I didn't look like a tourist which really puzzled me. Even my driver said that I could pass for a local student. Maybe it was the way I was dressed or just my attitude. I'm not sure. There is no 'typical Paris look'. Unless you are dressed horribly "American" you won't be singled out as a tourist.

I found the restaurants to be quite good. There are many higher end restaurants but there are also some affordable restaurants too. You don't have to spend a lot of money dining if you don't want to. I did treat myself to one good restaurant each day. There are many neighborhood eating establishments in Bastille. I liked Bastille and it looked like a cool area to stay in. It's not too close to many touristy stuff but it's easy to get here with the Metro. DEFINITELY stop and have a hot chocolate at a place called Angelina. It was an orgasmic experience and they had lines out the door.

Parisians are a very proud people. Some might consider them arrogant but I didn't find this to be true. I would be very proud if I lived there. They are quite fortunate to live in such a beautiful city. I asked my driver one day if he realizes how lucky he is to live here. He said it's easy to forget after living here so long and seeing these sites day after day. I would move to Paris in a New York second if I could earn a good salary there.

People talk about how expensive Europe is. Generally this is true after hitting it a few times in only a few months. I'm also headed back there next month, again in March and again in May. Keep in mind though many important things don't cost a lot. It doesn't cost anything to walk around and see the sites. (Granted they might have a high admission to get in).Paris is probably one of my favorite cities so far in the world out of all the cities I've visited. The food is GREAT there. There are tiny cafes all over the city that aren't too expensive and there are also many great restaurants.The ones that I went to were:

Goumard which had really great seafood. It's in the 1st Arrondissment. The hotel recommended it when I asked them for a good seafood restaurant. The address was 9 ue Duphot. Make reservations as it was very very crowded. I had to wait a little bit. I can't remember exactly how much I spent but I think it was like $80 just for me. Something like that.I also went to a hip spot called Buddha Bar. It was near Champs-Elysees in the 8th Arrondissement. It had a mix of food with some Asian and French combined. Many beautiful girls were there just drinking upstairs in the bar. I had some spring rolls, chicken skewers with orange sauce and some other appetizers. All the food was excellent. It wasn't super expensive but not cheap. I think I paid around 30 Euros for the main dish and about 13 Euros for the appetizers. 8 rue Boissy d' Anglas

I had lunch one day at a place called Kambodia I think it was called. That's the great thing about Paris. They have great food from everywhere. There were a ton of Asian restaurants. It's a good romantic spot also close to the Champs-Elysees. I had lunch here with my girl. I had the chicken roasted with lemon and honey. It was devine! 15 rue de Bassano. Wasn't terribly expensive. I think like $27 per dish.

I was in the mood for Lebanese food one day and found Al Dar. It's in the 5th Arrondissement on the left bank. This also was pretty inexpensive for Paris standards. Main dishes were about 15 euros I believe. They had good hummus and tabbouleh. Address is 8 rue Frederic Sauton.

There were a lot other places I went to but I didn't write them down in my diary or have their business card. I didn't have a bad meal in Paris and I ate out 2-3 times every day. I liked the area around Bastille quite a bit. There are tons of neighborhood type restaurants that aren't too expensive. I enjoyed walking around that area with my girl at night. The only downside was there were no available taxis on the weekends. They were all full.

Paris is a magnificent city that everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano, Switzerland Posted by Hello

(I took this photo near the lake on a rainy day. Even on this rainy day it was breathtakingly beautiful. Notice just how clean the city is. No trash anywhere).

November 2003

Wow. I'm having a wonderful time here in Lugano. What a beautiful city. Bring your wallet though. Everything here is damn expensive. I spent two days in Zurich and I'll write about that in the Zurich section. I took the train from Zurich to Lugano. A first class ticket was 99 CHF (1.28 CHF to the $1 US). Very comfortable with gorgeous views. I had my small DVD player so I watched a movie on the way here. It took 3 hours. I think a 2nd class ticket was about 70 CHF.

It was pouring raining out when I arrived so I took a taxi. A taxi from train station to my hotel in Paradiso was 18 CHF. You can take the bus (number 2) if you want for a cheaper option but I didn't want to mess with my bags. I decided to splurge and booked the Grand Hotel Eden right on the Lake. Wow! A beautiful 5 star hotel with an awesome view. I booked a Deluxe Lakefront suite. A little steep at $250+ US per night but worth it. The bathroom is all marble and it has a nice balcony. Everything in the city is expensive. Bottled water is like 3.5 CHF each. A Gatorade was 4 CHF. I went to a simple Pizzeria yesterday and with a Pepsi it was 28 CHF with tip for a pizza!

I walked all over this beautiful city. Learn some Italian. Almost no one here speaks English including many restaurants and taxi's. You gotta love a city with S series Mercedes Benz for taxi's! I rested then decided to shower and head to a club that a friend told me about. The short ride in the Mercedes was 20 CHF one way. It's really easy to drop a lot of money here. Do NOT come here only for the girls. This is one of my real vacations so I didn't come for the girls. Thank God I listened to the first 10 lessons of Pimsleur Italian. I don't know much except for a few basic phrases but they have helped alot. Learn some basics. You can get by with just English so don't worry. It can just be a little frustrating at times.

I went to a few clubs and was really surprised to see many girls from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and parts in between. Luckily I am conversational at Spanish and decent at Portuguese so didn't have any problems communicating with them.

The next day I spent more time exploring Lugano. As mentioned, it's a beautiful, beautiful city that I'm positive I'll be back to. It is very serene down by the lake and there are plenty of parks and benches to watch the lake. There is a casino that I wasn't really interested since I went to some casinos a few weeks ago with a friend and I lost $700. (Ouch). Still I walked in to see how nice it is. They won't let you in without your passport so don't go there without your passport. I felt quite at home in Lugano. Now I only have to learn Italian and I think I'll be fine.

You can also buy a 24 hour bus pass for 5 CHF. There are several machines that you can buy it from at the bus stops. You can walk but my hotel is at the end of the Lake so it was easy to hop on the buses to get around. I didn't notice any internet cafes. My hotel has a "business center" that consists of one computer but it faces the window to the street. The alternative is they will let you use a laptop and you buy a card for their wireless high speed access. Worked very well but expensive at 19 CHF for two hours. Showered then went to some clubs to meet some girls.

Something strange to see is that there are these bars with photos on the outside of the windows with naked girls. I'm not talking abotu a red light district either. I was staying at one of the nicest hotels in town and there was a bar next door like this. I didn't know what they were but figured some clip joint since they are all near the expensive hotels -- I have to admit I was really curious.

Anyway, this taxi driver, Rodolfo, that I met earlier told me that his cousin, Susy, is the bartender/manager of one of these clubs right by my hotel. The place is called Cava connected to the Cava Hotel. Wierd. They aren't owned by the same owners apparently. I'm a curious sort so obviously I checked it out. I headed over around 11 PM. It's pouring rain outside but luckily I packed my good umbrella so no problem. The place opened at 10 PM. I walk in and there are only about 5 girls and NO guys. I order a drink and all the girls are watching me like a hawk. I sit down and am a little worried since I don't know what the deal is here. For all I know my drink was expensive but I didn't ask how much. A girl comes over. She wasn't that beautiful but spoke good English. I could tell by her accent she was Russian. We talked some but I wasn't interested. She eventually asks me if I will buy her a drink. I didn't care and said sure. The manager comes over and confirms that I want to buy her a drink. I said yes. Then he's "chen-to". 100 CHF!!! I tell her no thanks. I tell her I'm gonna have one drink and leave.

Two other guys come in. Older and in suits. They look super wealthy. Another Ukranian girl comes over and also spoke good English. I clearly tell her I'm not interested in "anything" but ask her to tell me the deal with this place. She said it's simple. You buy a girl a drink that enables you time to negotiate. What?? So the 100 CHF drink does nothing but pay for one drink. Yikes. Around about that time I decide to leave. There was only like 2 really gorgeous girls in there. I walk to the bar to pay the bill and I see an older lady. I ask her if she is Susy. Then she says yes with a huge smile. We spoke in Portuguese so no one could understand us. I tell her that her cousin told me to say hi to her. She is so friendly and I tell her that I love Brazillians. She tells me I'm in the wrong place. No kidding! Small world as she actually knew one of the girls I had met in Lugano.

I was going to leave and she tells me to wait. She buys me a drink. Yes, that's right. She tells me not to leave and bought me a rum and coke which incidentally was 30 CHF. (I paid for the first one). Damn expensive for a drink. Some customers came in but we talked about Brazil and such things. She loved Brazil. That's the thing about Brazil. These girls love their country and love living there. She told me about a good club that I would like. Great! I tell her to call her cousin and he is on his way to pick me up. Meanwhile a totally hot hot hot smoking hot Russian girl comes up to the bar and talks to me. She speaks very good English. I tell her I'm leaving and she pleads not to leave. I tell her this isn't my scene and she said she is willing to negotiate but I told her my driver is on the way. This girl was Playboy, Victoria's Secret type hot. She said she is an aerobics instructor in Russia. Rodolfo comes and picks me up. I tell Susy goodbye and ask how much for the drink and she said she got it.

I spent a great time in Lugano and had wonderful meals here. My hotel was great and the people were really friendly. I found the people in Zurich a bit cold but the people from Lugano were really great. I'd love to come back here again. Off to Italy.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Back to London, UK

February 2004

This was my 2nd trip to London. I really enjoyed it so much the first time that I decided to go back. I did keep a diary of my trip but I decided to post more information for the first time visitor that might not know what to expect. I hope it helps those that have never been to London.

General Observations

London is a very big metropolitan city that is very spread out. There is a unique vibe and flavor to this city. There is something for everyone here…. but at a price. The flight isn’t that easy though due to the 8-hour time difference (from West Coast). If you have the extra FF miles upgrade to business/first class. It makes the flight much more bearable. I’ve upgraded the last few times to Europe and it’s hard going back to coach.

You won’t have much down time here because there is so much to see and do here. I’ve said it before about other cities that I’ve written about but I’ll say it again- bring your wallet- because you’ll definitely need it here! London is one of THE most expensive cities in the world. However, people here seem to earn much more than their European neighbors. I didn’t find that to be the case in Paris. The wages seem proportional to the cost of living so these Londoners can’t complain too much. I spent a lot of time with a Brazilian girl I met here (non-hobby) and she has no formal University education and is making £29,000 ($55,000) a year in a normal job there. Although her rent for a really super tiny studio apartment in Kensington is £900 per month. Most people coming here will find it unbelievably expensive. The unit of currency here is the British Pound (GBP). It’s currently £1 = $1.90 so our dollars are almost worthless here. I can’t imagine even more worthless currencies like Canadian dollars here.

People here seem to complain a lot though. I guess not everyone makes a lot of money. I met a few waitresses and bartenders that thought they would come to London and make big bucks but instead they are stuck in a dead end job making about £6 per hour ($11.40) and no one really tips here they told me. I always tip well for good service and the staff always seems to be extra appreciative here. People need to understand how the tipping structure works in many countries. They think since the restaurant is already adding on the tip on the bill the server is getting that amount. That is NOT the case in most countries. The waiter/waitress is getting a salary and that 10% covers their salary. If you get great service tip a little more. If the service is bad than don’t feel like you need to. When I’m in Brazil often times the service is horrible because they don’t get that 10% that you see on the bills. They only get their salary. The good servers around the world understand that it’s not just about being a warm body there working. Good service will earn them more money.

One thing that is clearly evident is there is a big part of the population from other countries. I’m not sure of the actual percentages and I’d be really curious to find out how many people are actually Londoners NOT from foreign countries. I’ve never been to a United Nations convention before but walking around London has to be the closest thing to it. Many interesting people that I met claimed to be “students” but I’m sure that can’t be the case with all of them. I’d venture to guess London has a very high percentage of illegal immigrants. I also met several people that lived here that seemed to be a little down on their own city. When I told them how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful city they told me it’s an entirely different world when you’re just visiting as a tourist and another living here as an actual citizen. Many were itching to move out of London. One girl I met even inquired about the possibility of marrying to “trade passports”. I told her I wanted to live in Europe and she wanted an American passport. I told her I’m quite happy with just my “blue book”. Ha, ha. Seriously though, I know how these people feel. The USA is great but I’m itching for the chance to live abroad. The grass is always greener on the other side. Right?

There is so much history and culture here. I find London to be one of the most historic cities in the world. The architecture, as I pointed out last year in my diary is amazing! It’s also romantic like Paris but in its own way. I find the history amazing in Europe. The United States is relatively new so our idea of history is the corner pharmacy or ice cream parlor that has been around for over 100 years. It’s sad.

A good source of information about city events and the hip places to eat, drink, shop and just about everything else can be found in the weekly edition of a magazine called “Time Out”. It costs roughly £2. If you want to check out some events before you hit London you can visit them online at: If you’re going to be here a while and can take advantage of a lot of sightseeing then you might want to consider buying a “London Pass” card. I heard it has good discounts but I never bought one since my trip was only a few days. You can check out the details at:

Arriving at the Airport

There are 4 airports in London. Actually it’s a little misleading since none of these airports are actually in London. Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Luton are all outside of the city. Everyone arriving from the US will be flying into either Gatwick or Heathrow. I’ve always flown into Gatwick but probably should try Heathrow as it’s the only one on a Tube line. I believe it’s on the Picadilly Line but you can go to this site to find out all you would need to know: You can also take the Heathrow Express into Paddington station for a quicker journey to London but it costs more at £13. It runs every 15 minutes and journey time is about 20 minutes. I was told there is an Air Bus for a cheaper alternative but it takes forever and can get quite crowded. I wouldn’t recommend it.

The cheapest option seems to be the Tube via the Picadilly Line. I looked at the map at a station and the airport looked like it was in Zone 6 and the cost was £3.80. The airport code for Heathrow is LHR. Gatwick is about 30 miles from the city. There is a ”Hotellink” bus shuttle (http:// that you can take with other people. You pay a flat fee of £22 and that includes your ticket on the Gatwick Express ( to the Victoria station. Then a representative picks you up and takes you to your hotel. The airport code for Gatwick is LGW. Since my hotel is close to the Tube I just take the Gatwick Express (first class is £36 or $68 for roundtrip ticket) to the Victoria station, which is on the Circle, District and Victoria lines then walk one block to my hotel. Again, everything you would need to know including buying tickets ahead of time with your credit card can be found on the site.

I highly recommend buying the tickets ahead of time because you can use your credit card. You’ll get a confirmation # and you just go to a ticketing machine and punch in your confirmation and you can collect your tickets. Luton isn’t on the Tube line either. It’s 35 miles north of London. The cheapest way to get into the city I believe is to take the Thameslink train ( to King’s Cross station, which is on the Circle, Hammersmith, City, Victoria and Piccadilly lines. It runs about 8 times an hour and takes about 30 minutes. You can also take the bus which is called the Green Line ( You can get special discount offers for about £8.50 from Easyjet.

I included this info because several EasyJet flights are out of Luton. For those of you that aren’t familiar with EasyJet you should check it out. It’s a discount airline that flies all over Europe for cheap. Think the Southwest Airlines of Europe. ( ). Stansted Airport also isn’t on the Tube line. It’s 38 miles from London so a long haul. I’m including information because it’s the fastest growing airport in London due to the growth of the discount carriers. Easyjet and Ryanair ( ). All the flights here are European and UK based flights. You can take the Stanstead Express ( ) into the Liverpool Street station. I think it runs every 15 minutes and it takes about 45 minutes for the jouney. A cheaper option is to take the Stansted Air Bus which is cheaper but takes longer.

Do a search on Google to find out more information. Some other budget airlines for flights here are: BMI –;; and Virgin Express (via Brussels) –


When I’m in Europe I try not to take taxis if I can help it. Taxis are expensive and not really necessary most of the time. Unless you are in a big hurry you can easily get around on London’s Underground subway system (the Tube). I was told it is the world’s oldest subway system. There are plenty of free small maps of the Tube at each station. There’s also a big Tube map on each individual train.

There is a small learning curve when getting acquainted with the Tube but anyone can figure it quickly. Take the time to map out your path to your hotel and such before you arrive to London. It’s hard to believe but I never took any means of public transportation like this until last year. My first subway type experience was last March in London. It’s very efficient but the Tubes can get quite crowded during peak times like rush hour at the beginning and end of the workday. It gets surprisingly busy on the weekends sometimes too.

The biggest negative I had with the Tube is that it can get very crowded during peak times. I can’t imagine what someone Closter phobic would do because it would be impossible to take the Tube. Also the ventilation system probably could use some work. I bet in the hot summers here it must be unbearable.

Familiarize yourself with the lines and routes. Each line has a different color. There’s the yellow, green, red, blue, black, silver, brown and navy lines. Although I’ve found that most locals refer to them more by the name of the lines than the colors which I thought would be the opposite. The cost of a 24-hour Tube Pass is £4.30 ($8). I got one each day and got my use out of it. Armed with a small Tube map, I could make my way to anywhere around the city.

Just about everything you would need to know about the Tube is located at the link below. You can download maps of all the lines. It’s a really valuable resource that someone took the time to put together so use it. Main Tube map from official site:

You will inevitably use a taxi at one time or another if you’re in a hurry. I’d recommend the black taxis. I’d never been in a taxi like that before. There is a lot of room in them and it’s unique. I think everyone should take one at least once to experience it.

Where to Stay

Deciding where to stay can be a difficult decision. My first trip I stayed in the Kensington area and really liked it. I wanted to find an area that was very walk able. I also wanted to be near a Tube line that was convenient and accessible to all parts of the city. It’s near many museums, attractions and great shopping. I think the area is a little more expensive than some other areas but I think no matter where you go it’s not going to be cheap.

Before arriving, decide what’s important for you. It might be smart to note the locations of your favorite attractions, activities, cost and the atmosphere of the neighborhood. You also might want to note areas where there is good dining. I like the restaurants and bars around the Kensington area too. I also like being close to Kensington Gardens and Holland Park. Although London is an expensive city there are tons of hotels and price ranges available. Do a search on or Any nice hotel will range from $150- $300+ a night in most nice areas. Remember, those £99 a night deals you see online translates into about $190 a night. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how crazy high the conversion is.

Dining Out

As I mentioned, it’s extremely expensive here. There is no shortage of possibilities when dining out but any decent meal in Central London isn’t cheap. Sure there are tons of fast food type places but I like to eat well when I’m traveling. The great thing is there are so many different types of restaurants here. You won’t lack for a choice of what to eat. There are several resources online to help you eat cheaper in London but honestly I didn’t use them. Here is one site that has some advice. You won’t have a hard time finding a good meal in London. There is something for everyone’s tastes.

Generally I found that the nicer places are priced similar to US restaurants only the prices are in £’s so you have to almost double the prices! One day I spent £25 ($48) on lunch just for me! The meal was good but not that great.

Final Thoughts

No matter how expensive any city is, I’m a firm believer you can spend as little or as much as you want. London is no different in this regard. As I mentioned in my Paris report, it costs nothing to walk around the city and enjoy the scenery. London is a very walk able city. Part of the fun of a city for me is walking around looking at the architecture and discovering quaint little neighborhoods. Don’t feel like you have to spend tons of money or hit every museum if that doesn’t interest you. I find walking around a city more enjoyable than viewing pieces of art in a museum. To me, each city is its own piece of art.

Just pick a part of the city you want to tour and start walking. That easy! You can take the Tube to stops like Knightsbridge where Harrod’s is located or areas like Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, or Westminster.

I got no universal feel to London from the people that live there. Some seemed to love it, some seemed to hate it. Some seemed content to be living/working there now but mentioned they won’t be here much longer. The majority of the areas are very clean with no trash in the streets. If you wake up early and walk around you’ll see city workers cleaning up the streets every morning.

I really love London but it’s just such a massive city. It almost has an impersonal feel to it. People really keep to themselves compared to other cities. Even on the Tube it seems like people are scared to even acknowledge each other. Not only do they not talk to one another but also they don’t even look at each other. I like to people watch and watch the world going on around me. I’ve now taken public transit systems in Europe in Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and England and Londoners have their own system of keeping to themselves.

I love shopping when I travel internationally but London is definitely not the city you want to be spending money on a shopping spree. Everything is more expensive here. Save your money for other cities. Even Paris was much cheaper to buy clothes. It seemed like every single store had 50% off sales when I was there a few weeks ago. Even 50% off sales in London make things normal cost for USA. London has a bigger selection and better stores but the stores that I did go into the service was not that great. I didn’t really plan on buying anything but the clerks didn’t know it. I have a few Platinum cards with no limits that I could have done some serious damage with but the customer service I found to be quite bad compared to other cities I’ve been to.

Be careful when walking around here. Pedestrians must not have the right of way here. I’m not sure but it sure seemed like cars didn’t watch out for pedestrians too much so be very careful and look both ways before crossing the street. I only noticed cars yielding at specific crosswalks. However, something that IS helpful is the “Look Left” and “Look Right” lettering at the crosswalks of many streets. It’s probably saved a few dumb tourists’ lives.

The club scene is quite good here although surprisingly it starts and ends earlier compared to a most big cities around the world I've been to. A hip spot right now is a place called “Egg” near Kings Cross. I stand by my opinion that the majority of girls here aren’t as attractive as other major cities. There are beautiful girls here though. I again found that most of the super gorgeous girls here were from Brazil, Spain, Russia, Italy and other countries in Eastern and Western Europe. It truly is a melting pot here.

Something surprisingly great about London is that they don’t charge an admission fee for their national museums and art galleries. They stopped charging a fee a few years ago. In other cities like Florence, Italy and Paris the admission fees can be quite high. The parks are also great here. It’s kind of nice to see all the swans swimming gracefully in the many parks here.

London is one of the great cities of the world. The other great thing is that they speak English so there are never any communication barriers. Everyone needs to come here at least once or twice in their lives. I plan on coming back over and over. Good luck.

Montreal, Canada

Havana, Cuba Posted by Hello

(Water from the ocean splashing on the Malecon)

Day 14 in Cuba

The gang all did the best we could to sleep in. We decided today would be a relaxing day. It was TAD’s last night and we let him decide what we were going to do. TAD was a great guy to hook up with. We spent over two weeks in Cuba together and he was a good traveling companion. It felt good to know I made a new friend. I would probably have never gone to Trinidad if he didn’t suggest we go. Stu was skeptical when I emailed him telling him I met a cool guy but Stu got along with him really well too.

We walked around Havana Viejo and then decided to walk the Malecon for some sunset pictures. I got so many great photographs this trip of the city. I really started falling in love with Havana. It’s a totally different destination that really takes some time to get to know but once you do it will get under your skin. I really will miss this place and don’t want to leave in a few days. Stu’s girl from the day before called him and she was interested in a seeing him. She said she was with her friend. We happened to be in the area where she lived so I gave her our location and she said she would meet us.

Shortly thereafter she arrives with her friend. Her friend was nothing to write home about. I ended up leaving with another girl I had met earlier in the trip. We spent the afternoon together then I hooked up with the fellas and we went to dinner at this awesome restaurant next to La Chorrera. You can’t miss it. It’s at the end of the Malecon before you hit the tunnel to Miramar. It’s not a cheap place and fancy but the food is good. TAD was nice enough to pick up the tab for dinner, a bottle of wine and drinks. He said he appreciated all that Stu and I had done. Stu and I weren't on a budget so we picked up several tabs and expenses.

I was sorry to see him go. It would end up being our last night together since Stu decided to drive to Trinidad alone the following morning. I should mention that Stu saw the BSG (blue shirt girl) as usual in her predictable spot. We grew to kind of feel sorry for her. She always had on the same blue shirt every single day that we were in Havana. Stu saw her and wanted to give her a New Year’s present. He stopped and gave her $10 at the side of road near the entrance to La Chorrera. As he gave her the money some dude whistled to signal that the cops were behind in a car. She scurried away scared. We were right at the restaurant parking lot and parked. TAD was driving. He didn’t have his driver’s license on him. The cops were looking for another bribe for not having a license. We all had had enough. We said we weren’t paying but the cops wouldn’t leave. My Spanish is totally decent and I didn’t have problems communicating with the police. They asked for $30 and I told them that was ridiculous.

Finally I confidently told them I was a lawyer that did business in Havana. I told them I had many co-worker friends that were lawyers here. I said that TAD would be happy to pay the fine but that I needed a receipt with both of their names on it. As soon as I said that they both got scared and said they would never demand money and that we didn’t understand them correctly. Bastards! We laughed about it afterwards. If you rent a car and stay in Miramar and are in Havana for any significant time you WILL get pulled over by the cops. Just don’t show fear. That was the 6th skirmish with the police. I was getting good at avoiding shakedowns. Stu also got pulled over once. He also was motioned to pull over by police on foot. We just ignored the police if they didn’t have a motorcycle or a car. There isn’t really anything they can do. Sure they could radio ahead but they are just looking for a bribe. Do NOT pay these as it will only encourage them to keep doing it. I’m sure many guys pay it as they can’t speak Spanish or are scared. Make sure in Miramar you don’t make a turn anywhere you aren’t supposed to. For some stupid reason you can not make a turn on many of the streets. You have to wait for a major intersection or just go around the block and find a street with a light.

After dinner we went behind the restaurant to Los Jardines for a “fashion show” that was going on. It was horrible. Some of the girls were hot but the clothes were hideous. We had one drink and left to go next door to La Chorrera. In the parking lot TAD saw the girl that we saw almost every night. Most nights she was just drinking and hanging out. I never saw her leave with anyone. Even last night when we were there around 4 AM. We had to convince him to go with her but he finally did and we bid him farewell. Stu and I entered La Chorrera. There are many girls that ask you to pay for their way in. Do not pay for them to get in. We always told them if they have their own money they could come in with us but the majority was looking to find some guy to pay their $5 entrance. I’m not entirely sure the girls couldn’t enter on their own. Some places they couldn’t enter without a male escort but I don’t think this was one of them. If you want to be a nice guy and pay their cover that’s your prerogative. The times I did the girls didn't even say thank you so I stopped doing it.

Stu and I walked around a bit. It was about 12:30 am and I was getting tired from a lack of sleep so I wanted to meet some girls. I was talking to this cute girl and we decided to go back to my place. She had a cute sister that I wanted Stu to hook up with but he was off chasing some other girl he said he saw on the Malecon one day. I wished him good luck on his trip and we said goodbye. It was another great trip with Stu. This was our fifth international trip together in only one year. We had so many good laughs and good times this trip as usual. I took a taxi particular home with my girl.

Day 15

I tried sleeping in but woke up at a reasonable time. Stu and TAD were both gone. I had various calls from other Americans that wanted to meet up throughout the trip. I never did meet up with anyone else. I’m content traveling with the good friends I’ve already made. I tried getting a taxi on Calle 5 in Miramar to no avail. Believe it or not it isn’t too easy to get a taxi unless you are in front of a big hotel or in a touristy area. Even when you call the Panataxi # of 555-555 it is usually busy or not available. If you’re staying in Miramar it is essential that you have a rental car. It was a beautiful day so I decided to walk as far as I could down to the Melia Cohibe hotel. I assumed I’d be able to flag down a taxi but there simply were none that didn’t already have people in it. It was a little hike but manageable. I wanted to see what stores were in the Galleria Mall next to the hotel. There was nothing there that any tourist would need.

I decided to walk around Havana Viejo some more. I wanted to take some more pictures in the Plaza de San Francisco which I really liked. It was the most uncluttered area that I noticed. There is a good outdoor café with good food. I had lunch there and walked around the area for a few hours. Something that I noticed is that instead of a bag or backpack I carried around my camera and stuff in a plain plastic bag that the convenient stores give out when you buy something. I didn’t even have one tout approach me for anything. Maybe it was a coincidence. I took a Panataxi from the Ingleterra Hotel all the way to Calle 28 in Miramar and it was $6.14 so don’t ever negotiate to pay more than this. Always round up and give them the change. Shortly thereafter one of the girls I hooked up from La Chorrera called me and I had her come over to my apartment. It was very convenient since she lived in Miramar. I spent a nice afternoon with her.

I really like my apartment here in Miramar but I miss having the car here. Stu took it to Trinidad. I tried renting a rental car today but they are all still sold out. After my girl left I went and checked email at an internet café at the corner of 28th and 3rd in Miramar. I had to wait a little bit since they only have one working computer. It didn’t work that well. I only was on 20 minutes when I got tied of waiting for pages to load (it was a dial up connection). There was a girl waiting and I gave her the rest of my card which had 40 minutes left. She was very happy. The cost of 1 hour access card is $5. This is the minimum time you can buy. I walked down to this ocean front bar that the fellas and I frequented near our casas.

I had a few Mojitos then decided to come home and made a few phone calls. I was trying to reach one of the girls and I accidentally called Stu’s girl that he hooked up with a few times. Be careful storing numbers in your phone. 90% of the girls we met had names starting with Y. It was kind of comical. Even girls with names like Jessie were spelled Yeissy. Anyway, since she answered I thought I might as well see if she was doing anything. Stu wasn't serious with her so I didn't see it as a problem. She wasn’t exactly my type but she had a great personality and was really funny and fun to spend time with. She came over in a little more than an hour and stayed for several hours.

I ended up resting a little and listening to music and reading a book. I went out to the clubs that we frequented and I partied a little and met a friend and spent a good last night in Cuba.

I’m in Cancun now. My room isn’t ready so I’m typing this in the lobby of the hotel. Final Thoughts No trip report or no guide book could have prepared me for what Cuba was going to be like. There were certain things I really loved about Cuba but other things that really bothered me. I didn't like the fact that you couldn't go to a club or meet a normal girl without the girl worrying what people would think about her. I am not shy and have traveled around the world. I've met girls all over the world but I've never felt how I felt in Cuba. No single guy that is doing nothing wrong should have to feel guilty about spending time with a girl just talking or having dinner or in a taxi with her.

One thing I was very surprised at is that there is virtually no people begging for money or giving you the line that they have no food. It seems like no one is starving here. For those that travel to Latin or South America you’ll notice many people begging for money for food. The entire trip I maybe had one person begging for money. The whole idea of socialism in theory is good but it just doesn’t work. The Cuban people as a whole seem to be a very happy and proud group of people. Music defines their society. There is music everywhere. It is in the streets, restaurants, cafes, and the beach. For example, in Playa del Este on a 50 meter stretch there were maybe 3 separate groups all playing music.

It was kind of interesting to see that the men aren’t the only ones that come to Cuba to meet girls. I saw several middle aged and older women with young Cuban guys. Hopefully these ladies aren’t deluding themselves into thinking these men really care for them. I saw many older men with young girls. It was interesting when I brought up this topic of conversation with several of the girls. Many told me that they had many chances to marry middle aged or older Italian or American men and they would rather live in Cuba then be in a relationship where they had no attraction or love for the other person. Almost all of the girls I saw had no interest in dating Cuban guys. They are looking for an opportunity at a better life. All of them loved their country but what future does a girl have when the most she can make even in a professional job is $30 US a month. I’m sure finding love in Cuba is very possible but in the end you have to stay realistic. One day TAD and I were having coffee at the café next to the Ingleterra. An older guy that spoke almost no Spanish was sitting with a girl. The girl didn’t speak English. I didn’t find her attractive but she seemed nice. She was holding hands with the guy and they were sitting with a tour guide. She told me that the guy was her fiancée and that she was going to be married in a few months. I guess the guy was supporting her. I’m not sure if he knew it or not but we saw the girl "working" and spending time with senior citizens almost every day the rest of our trip. I guess love is blind huh? I will miss Cuba and everything I experienced. I could have done Cuba alone but it was so much fun with Stu and Tad. I made another great friend in Tad and I’m sure I’ll see him somewhere in the world on another adventure.

Life is good.

Havana, Cuba (New Year's Eve 2003) Posted by Hello

(I took this picture on New Year's Eve in Havana. It looks like this guy started toasting the New Year a little early).

Day 13

We did some touristy stuff today. Saw more of the city and took lots of pictures. Havana is a great walking city. However, I would highly recommend renting a car. It isn’t a cheap option but you have the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want. It’s an easy city to drive in since there are not too many cars on the road. The only problem is if you go outside of the city, since there are virtually no signs to direct you where to go. We walked on the Malecon and decided to stop by a café. It turns out it was a Chinese Restaurant believe it or not. Some young kid was pestering Stu. Stu was taking pictures and this 18 year old kid followed him down to the Malecon. We had to chase him away. Stu ended up meeting this girl and we invited her over to our table to have a drink. He ended up leaving with her.

TAD and I walked around and took more pictures. We had a drink at the café next to the Ingleterra. It was slow since it was NYE. Tad was a good influence on me. Usually I'm always in a party mode but Tad is really easy going and laid back and just liked doing simple things. He was starting to rub off on me.

The girl I was going to spend NYE with was acting flaky and appeared to be having family problems. I really didn't feel like dealing with her problems on NYE. I talked to Stu's girl and she confirmed her plans to show up and meet us at my apartment. I told her to bring 2 of her beautiful friends. She said no problem. TAD and I had to decide who would see who. We had this problem another night. I gave him the option to take the first or last girl that walked in. He chose the first. When the girls arrived I was really disappointed but there was nothing I could do. We planned to spend NYE at Macumba for one of the hottest gigs in town. One of the hottest bands in Cuba was playing. (Charanga Habanera). I figured worst case we could pay their entrance fee and then drink a little and leave. We were told it was a $20 cover to enter. When we got to Macumba there was a line. I told them we had reservations. They weren’t letting anyone without reservations in. Many people were walking away. We made our way to the front of the line and I again told them we had reservations. I guess it was impossible since they weren’t taking reservations just for the entrance. Only if you had their NYE dinner special you were allowed on the sacred list.

In any case they told us to stand to the side and this rude bouncer told us to go back to the line. Stu was especially annoyed but couldn’t really argue in Spanish so kept telling me to. I tried a few times to talk to someone with authority but the bouncer wouldn’t let me in. I figured money talks and bull crap walks. I had the telephone number and called the club on my cell phone. I told the lady that answered that I was in line with 5 of my friends and I had us$100 to spend to get us in ASAP. Stu put in $50 and I put in $50 and we essentially bought our way into the hottest gig in town without reservations. The cover was $40 per person instead of the $20 that they advertised. Oh well, like anything else in Cuba…. What can you do?? Unfortunately only Stu's girl was cute. My girl had a cute face was just not my type. Truth be told TAD’s girl was downright scary. It turns out the two girls were cousin’s of Stu's girl.

TAD and I thought if we drank heavily that would solve our problems. As predicted, it did not. My girl was cute but just had this really bad attitude. I tried pulling out all the punches to butter her up but it wasn’t happening. It was getting late and TAD and I decided we must leave and look for girls somewhere else. Honestly I didn’t care if we met other girls or not. I just wanted to leave these girls. It wasn’t a good situation. Stu’s girl is bright and figured out we just weren’t interested. I told my girl that I had a stomach ache and had to leave. TAD didn’t make any excuse. He barely talked to his girl as he didn’t want to give her any hope whatsoever. They just asked for taxi fare home. We each gave them $20 and I explained to Stu’s girl that there were many drunk Italian guys and I’m sure the girls could meet other guys up if they put their hearts into it. (I was happy to hear the next day from Stu that both girls hooked up with drunk Italians. I’m sure the guy that hooked up with TAD’s girl woke up regretting coming to Cuba).

By this point it was very late. It was 3:00 AM on NYE. The chances of hooking up were not in our favor but we took a taxi ride to La Chorrera. Predictably there were very few cute girls in the club. We both met a few girls but TAD and I decided to cut our losses and just go home. It was after 4 AM at this point.

Havana, Cuba Posted by Hello

(I took this photo on a typical street in Havana. It looks like a nuclear bomb went off a decade ago and the shell of buildings are the result)

Day 12 in Cuba

Went to Playa del Este and it wasn’t sunny but had a nice time joking around as usual. Stu and Tad were good company. We all had books with us so we laid on the beach and read most of the afternoon. A really relaxing day.

I called Stu's friend for him and she came over. He couldn't speak Spanish so well but he was holding his own. Tad just didn't seem too interested in trying to meet girls. Like me, he didn't like the fact that really sweet girls that we were meeting were being scared to be seen with us because we were tourists. One of the girls that I met that I spent a few days with called me and I told her to bring a friend for Tad. She said she was anxious to see me.. She wanted to come over earlier but I was at the beach. When I called back she seemed to be having family problems.

I waited a while and Stu and TAD went to eat. Finally I just said enough of this. I walked to where they were eating (which was great by the way). Yasmine calls saying she wants to come over. I tell her to come to the restaurant and she says ok. 15 minutes. Then when I get there she wants me to pick her up. It was just too much. I told her that we could do our own thing tonight and we were planning on going out for NYE together.

We started at the parking lot of La Chorrera which is at the end of the Malecon. Anyway, I left with them to Casa de la musica near the Prado and it was horrible. I was going to go in with TAD and Stu but the lines were long, the girls were aggressive and seemed to all be "pros". I left alone and took a taxi to this club I went to a few times. I felt good. Got a drink and had to chase some girls away but one of them in a cool manner told me she thought I was attractive. We flirted with one another and then we ended up leaving together.

Back in Havana, Cuba Posted by Hello

(I took this photo in Havana Viejo. There were some really interesting buildings in that part of town)

Day 11 in Cuba

We woke up semi early and got packed up. I went over to Seaman’s place and the family he was staying with was talking to us. They were totally cool and their casa was nice with a nice balcony where you could sit and have drinks. TAD picks us up in the car and as we are waiting for Stu, I happen to see the girl that I originally was going to see the night before. I just didn’t understand what happened to her. She saw us and walked by and she was crying. I suspect that maybe she spent the night in jail or something along those lines. She clearly looked a little scared and didn’t even talk to us this time. Just think that she got into trouble just for talking to us on the street. This is the part of Cuba I didn’t like. I'm all for having fun as long as no one gets hurt but I didn't like the idea of a girl getting in trouble just for TALKING to me. Can you imagine a girl you just brought home with getting 4 years hard labor for spending time with you?

We head back and Stu is deciding if he wants to go to Matanzas with TAD. I could give a rat’s ass what they did. I only requested they drop me off in Havana on their way. Stu told me that he also wanted to head home to Havana. That left TAD stuck in Havana as Stu and I were paying for the rental car. We decided to take the same route we took to get here. It was a shame we couldn’t stop and take photos the first time. The views were amazing driving back once again and this time I took lots of pictures. I just got 5 rolls of film developed and almost every one is great. Cuba is a very photogenic place.

We stopped a few times to try to get bottled water but it was tough finding it. Most places only had carbonated water in the small towns. We finally did find some in one town where TAD and I went in. The funny thing was some Cuban guy in line was apparently trying to impress us with the wad of cash he had. He must have had at least $500 on him. His clothes were soiled, he looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks, his hands and face had dirt on it but somehow he thought he would impress us with his wad. I found it interesting more than anything. He was getting two sodas and first pulled out a $100 bill. The cashier said he had no change so he pulls out a $50 then a $20. Finally he ends up paying for it with two $1 bills. It was kind of comical. We get outside and Stu is in the car talking to some Cuban guys. The guys are trying to ask us if we want girls but after the fiasco with the girl crying that I saw I decided no.

We were on our way to Bahia Honda. We joked around on the way home. Stu and I have bonded on a few trips this year but it was nice that Stu and TAD got along very well too. We were all pretty like minded individuals. Different in our own ways but still had things in common. We arrived at La Palma to eat and have lunch. No restaurants were visible from the main road so we decided to have pizza which we saw everyone eating. There was a line for pizza because they were making it fresh. It’s not the same kind of pizza we have in the US. It’s more like bread made in iron cast molds and a little tomato paste smeared on and lots of cheese. It was actually pretty good. The cost was 5 pesos. (26 pesos = $1 US). I got two pizzas and told her to keep the change because I doubt she would have given me any. She clearly knew the exchange rate though as I told her in Spanish 26:1 and she nodded yes. We walked around a bit and the city had some cute girls. One thing I noticed here is many of the girls had green eyes and were lighter skinned. We went to a grocery store and got some water and some snacks. The people here are all friendly.

We were a novelty as there were no tourists in town. This town is not on the main highway so I doubt many tourists come here. No one has any intention to scam that I noticed. Even when we bought bananas on the street here there were no signs with prices. TAD gave him a 50 cent convertible coin which is equivalent to 50 cents US. We only grabbed a few bananas and they guy looked at the coin and kept trying to give us more bananas. It was funny. Another funny banana moment was in Piñar de Rio after dinner the lady didn’t have dessert but gave us bananas. When we weren’t hungry she tried giving us the bananas to take with us. I joked that we were going to the bar to meet girls and unless the girls liked bananas we had no use for them.

We got back to Havana and called some girls that we met earlier in our trip. It was good to be back to Havana.

Piñar del Rio, Cuba
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(I took this picture as we were driving on the road from Viñales to Piñar del Rio. We stopped for a bathroom break at the side of the road when I noticed this abandoned shell of a house. I saw two girls playing in the yard. Stu and I both love photography so we asked the girls if we could take their photo. They were natural models and the photo turned out great. It was sunset so the lighting was perfect. We gave them some gun and candy which they loved.)

Day 10 in Cuba

We decided the night before to meet at 10 AM after breakfast and head to Piñar del Rio. First we drove around Viñales a little and snapped some photos. My casa owner was beautiful and probably would have been a site to see 10-15 years earlier. It was a shame she was married. She was sweet and gave her the name of her friend in Piñar del Rio. We arrived in town and went straight to Zoima. She was this spunky 28 year old with a good attitude. I was flirting with her but she too was married. Her room was booked but she went all over helping us find 3 rooms. She was great. We kept confirming that we could bring guests home and each place said no problem. We were excited. This town seemed like it had a life and it was bigger. Instead of giving Zoima some money we decided to eat dinner at her house that night so she could make some money that way. I flirted some more with her and she was taking things well joking around.

We went off exploring the city and taking some pictures. We spent several hours eating and drinking at a neighborhood outdoor bar. So far I wasn’t seeing any hot girls which was worrisome. I still held out for hope though. In the bar we saw this nerdy looking American with this big black lady. I needed some rest so I decided to just try to relax a few hours before we ate dinner. My casa owner was super cool but the problem is their neighbor had a loud dog that kept barking all afternoon. I wanted to kill that dog. I got zero rest. I knew I couldn’t stay there more than one night. The bed also was horrible which was common in every place we stayed in Cuba. I walked up one flight of stairs to Stu’s pad. His casa owners were super cool. They had a cute daughter that lived in Havana studying in a University. We had a few cocktails then headed to dinner.

At dinner I joked around with Zoima that we wanted to meet some nice girls. I asked her to set us up with her friends. She promised to the next day but said that at this late notice she couldn’t arrange it. We had a decent meal and joked around with her. It’s funny that many of these people have very little money but several places we went had these big ghetto blaster type stereos. It was funny after dinner Zoima's mother who cooked the dinner didn't have any dessert to offer but she kept trying to give us a banana to take with us. I told her in Spanish I could try to put it in my pocket but I didnt' think I needed it. We all had a good laugh at that.

We were feeling good and decided to go to the place everyone said was good. Café Pinar was the name of it. It was predictably dead since it was still rather early. It might have been around 10 PM. Here is where the story gets interesting. I see this girl alone in the street. She was cute and I asked her if she wanted to have a drink with us. She followed us as we went to the corner store to get some beer. I tell the fellas I’m going to leave with her to my apartment. She gives me the scoop on Pinar del Rio. She tells me it’s extremely difficult for the local girls since if they are with a tourist the police automatically assume they are "working girls". She told me all the girls are scared to hang out with tourists. Then I asked why she wasn’t scared and she simply told me she wasn’t a "working girl". Ok..all the better I thought. She went on to say that no girl would go to a casa particular because they write down their ID # and the police regularly check the log books. No wonder all the casa owners were saying it’s OK to have guests. Because they knew no girl would ever come over for fear of the police thinking they were "working".

She tells me that she can't come back to my apartment but I can meet her at her place. She comes back after about 5 minutes saying her place isn't available. She asked me to please wait there. She was going to check on a friend's apartment I guess. I waited around for a while but she never came back. Stu, TAD and I were kind of surprised at the scene here. It was very depressing here. I wonder what happened to her and I hoped she was ok. I worried that something happened to her. The ironic thing was the next day as we were going to leave in our car we saw her. She walked by us without saying anything and she was crying. We speculated the night before the police saw her talking to me and they might have automatically arrested her?? I was starting to get really depressed at the local scene. I also felt guilty for just TALKING to her.

So, after this we hear about another place that has a party scene. We were originally told it was 5 blocks away. We kept walking and walking and walking. We’d ask directions and they kept saying further and further. By this point we’d just killed about 35-45 minutes. It was about a mile away but we finally made it there. I just wanted to go to this disco that the girl from Stu's casa was going to with her friends. She was all dressed up and looked pretty good. Anyway, we’re at this hotel and it looks like a total tourist hang out and we didn’t see any girls so we don’t even pay the cover. I flagged a taxi and we went to the disco club. We get to the disco and there is a very very long line and they are not letting many people in at a time. We waited but ended up leaving to check another club we heard about. It was dead! TAD was getting tired but I told them there is no way in hell I was going home without at least trying that disco again. We took a taxi back to the disco and the line was still there. We waited and waited. We offered bribes to the doormen and believe it or not they didn’t accept it.

There was a Cuban American from Miami there visiting his friends and he was drunk but also annoyed they wouldn’t let him in either. Cubans were climbing the fence to get in but that did little good because there was security at the front door. I couldn’t believe it. Here we were in Cuba and the doormen wouldn’t take a bribe to get in. Ridiculous! Finally we gave up when they said they are definitely not letting anyone else in. At that point I didn’t even care about anything. I just wanted to see the inside of this place. I couldn’t believe it. We agreed to leave the next day. There was some talk between TAD and Stu about hitting some other cities. I politely asked them to drop me off in Havana on the way to wherever they were going. It was about 2 AM when I got home. I came home and finished one of the books I brought called The Pilot’s Wife. It was actually a good book but it was kind of surreal to believe I was in Cuba at 2 AM and reading a book.

Santiago, Chile Posted by Hello

Vina del Mar, Chile Posted by Hello

Back to back to back to Rio de Janerio, Brazil (I hit Rio over 10 times in 3 years) Posted by Hello

Banff, Canada Posted by Hello

San Pancho, Mexico Posted by Hello

Kauai, Hawaii Posted by Hello

Montevideo, Uruguay Posted by Hello

Villa Traful - Pategonia - Argentina Posted by Hello

Villa la Angostura - Patagonia - Argentina Posted by Hello

Bariloche - Patagonia - Argentina Posted by Hello

Friday, May 13, 2005

London, UK Posted by Hello

Rio de Janerio, Brazil Posted by Hello

Back to Paris, France Posted by Hello

Lima, Peru Posted by Hello

Cuzco, Peru Posted by Hello

Machu Picchu, Peru Posted by Hello

I took this photo at the top of Macchu Picchu. I got lucky and got truly magnificent weather. I took many photos that day. This is only one of them. Photos were taken with a 5 mg Olympus digital camera.

Curacao  Posted by Hello

Nuremburg, Germany Posted by Hello