The Worst Words

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post last summer and never got around to actually publishing it because it seemed like a dumb thing to write. However, it felt like a waste to leave it in the hopper to die a slow unpublished death. And I really do hate the word hubby.

Anyone who has spent more than a modicum of time around me knows that I have lots of strongly held opinions. The English language is no exception to this rule, and three particular phrases draw my particular ire as being universally terrible.

Wanderlust

Wanderlust is what happens when we scour the German language for a foreign word that sounds kinda cool that has the potential to be overused by all 100,000,000 travel bloggers on the internet. Not to stretch the definition a bit, but I totally will. That “wander” part? It doesn’t actually mean what “wander” means in English. It literally means to go hiking. So you the word basically means you want to hike around a lot. Not take lots of poorly-filtered Instagram photos at “luxe” resorts that prevent you from actually experiencing any culture.

Don’t use this word. If you really want a rad-ass foreign-sounding word to use, how about Fernweh. It has some bonus points insofar that nobody can pronounce it, and actually kinda means what we think wanderlust means.

Hubby

Jean Teasdale used the word “hubby” hot and heavy, and much of my dislike of this word comes from her original columns in The Onion. However, hubby is a terrible word for a multitude of equally legitimate reasons.

Hubby is a lazy word. Just say the whole goddamn word. Hubby is still two syllables, only a few letters longer, and doesn’t make you look clingy and co-dependent.

It refers to people by their relationship. This is kind of a more subtle thing, but I’ve always been annoyed when people refer to their spouses as “the wife / wifey” or “the husband / hubby.” That’s not their name. It’s just a random government-sanctioned title that tells us nothing about who they even are. Call people by their name. Come on people.

It sounds dumb. There. I said it. Hubby makes you sound like you shop at Wal*Mart,  and own a lot of guns.

Signal Boost

This is a fairly new phrase that people are using, I guess, but it’s a pretty dumb one. It reads like someone was like “hmm, I want to post about this issue, but I need a cool word to describe my sharing activity.” And instead of “sharing” we’re “signal boosting.” Wow we took a phase, added a word, and made it longer! Whoohoo!

Signal boost mostly makes me think of really shitty amplifiers that just end up making the original signal indecipherable because you’re clipping the audio. Don’t do this. Don’t signal boost.

Louisiana and Caribbean Cruise

Recently Tracey and I visited New Orleans and went on a 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise. I know you may be shocked at this, but two of our very dear friends were getting married on the ship right before it sailed, and invited anyone who went to the wedding to also go on the cruise with them. We didn’t have anything else planned travel-wise for the spring, so we figured we’d try it out.

We flew down late Friday night to NOLA, and took a taxi to our AirBnB in Bywater. Now I’m not sure if you know about New Orleans, but Bywater is the neighorbood that basically everyone says “ohhh, there. Don’t walk outside at night.” But whatever, right? We’ve been all over the world and live in the middle of a fairly large city. And I even spent four years living right next door to the Unsafeway in the U-District and the criminal nexus of that neighbourhood: Jack-in-the-box.

But Bywater. Yes, it was basically everything people had said about it. We were staying in an adorable duplex with hardwood floors, soaring ceilings, and a quirky decorating job. Oddly enough, there was a very good pickle-themed vegan restaurant four blocks away from our apartment. The pickled strawberries were unusual and also excellent. The walk four blocks back was not so excellent, but we managed to avoid becoming crime statistics so it all worked out.

The day before the wedding, we went and met our friends Katy and Meg to go explore part of the city. After some VERY powdery beignets at Cafe Du Monde, Katy led us on a walking tour around French Quarter.

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We checked out some hot sauces, old buildings, and eventually looped back to take the steamship Natchez for a 3 hour tour of the river.The ship was pretty rad, as you could actually visit the engine room and see the powerful engines in action as they slowly moved the piston that powered the paddlewheel.

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As we passed down the river banks, the devastation that Katrina wrought was visible in destroyed piers, repaired levees, and shuttered buildings. Further down we detected a sickly sweet smell: the diamond sugar refinery!

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NOLA is also into oil, so there was naturally a very imposing oil refinery.

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The Wedding

Sunday Morning, Tracey and I dressed up and made the trek to the cruise terminal. We had an early check-in because of the wedding. Aha, you see, the wedding was actually taking place on the ship, but before it sailed, so anyone not going on the cruise could still come to the wedding and then get off the ship before it sailed. Anyway, we get cleared and as we’re walking on the ship, we notice a body bag being removed from the Carnival Dream. Yes, someone had so much fun on the cruise they actually died on it. It was a foreboding symbol.

Sitting and waiting for the wedding to start, the best man suddenly shows up and says something along the lines of “Nikky, the Carnival videographer didn’t show up. Do you want to take a video of their wedding?” to which I hem and haw because I’m an outstandingly bad videographer before he ends the conversation with “well, it’s not a choice. Come with me. You’ll be great.”

I wander back to encounter a slightly flustered Carnival photographer who hands me his very high-end camera, lens, and flash before muttering some super basic instructions. Luckily it was a Canon and the functions were fairly similar to my 60D. Nicer, of course, but still close enough. So anyway, I took a lot of pictures during the wedding. I guess it’s better to be behind a lens while getting teary eyed during the wedding than being photographed.

The Cruise

The reception happened for a few hours and then the wedding was over. To our rooms we go! The cruise room was whatever. It was a fairly bog-standard room on deck 6 with a balcony. Small, but workable. We settle up for a bit before having the safety drill and then were free for that evening and two full “fun” days at sea.

So now what?

Well, there’s not a whole lot to do on a cruise. You mostly eat. Eat a LOT. And also sleeping and reading. Those are the main things you do for those days where you’re at sea all day.

Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras

Our first stop was to the Island of Roatan in Honduras. So here’s the thing about cruises: the people on them really really hate hanging out with the locals and seeing authentic experiences. If we’re normally backdoor travellers, they’re front-door travellers while driving tanks around (and over) wildlife on the way to duty-free alcohol stores. Mahogany Bay is a small bay on the island that had a $62 million dollar complex built by Carnival to serve cruise ships. There’s a shopping plaza (cruise members only!), a private beach (cruise members only!), and even a Harley-Davidson store.

We mostly spent time at the nature trail.

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The bay appeared to have some shipwrecks at it. These did not appear to be fake.

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While it was possible to leave the duty-free shopping extravaganza, there wasn’t anywhere to go on the island that wasn’t built for tourists.

Okay, so this was mostly a wash. We spent the time on the ship. Interestingly enough, soon after we landed and most of the passengers disembarked, they started the crew muster and evacuation drill. It was very odd to be standing next to a giant ship on a tropical island where evacuation alarms echoed throughout the bay. Naturally I was intrigued by the whole process.

Belize City, Belize

Thursday’s stop was Belize City, and our excursion to Xunantunich. These are Mayan ruins located in Western Belize, and we boarded a bus that took us through the city proper before spending 90 minutes on the main highway deep into the country. This bus ride was probably the most interesting part of the whole cruise, as you could see the economic condition Belize was in. And uh, well, I was pretty depressed for a long while after that. It almost felt exploitative being there and staring at abject poverty from an air conditioned bus.

Soon enough we arrived at a hand-cranked ferry. The ferry was far too small to hold the bus, so we all got off and took the ferry across a small river.

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A short van ride away, and then Mayan ruins!

 

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The weather was quickly turning to rain, and we quickly started climbing the largest structure before the park authorities kicked us off: they don’t let you climb it when it’s raining because it gets exceedingly slippery.

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It was a pretty nice view from the top, all things considered.

You can’t really see it here, but it’s raining. A LOT.

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The hand-cranked ferry.

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We loaded back on the bus, went to a big open-air restaurant for some very tasty rice and beans cooked in coconut cream before getting back to Belize City.

In Belize, they didn’t have the facilities for cruise ships to dock (or Carnival didn’t want to pay), so it was a tender day. That’s where a bunch of random boats show up to whisk you back and forth the few miles between the ship and the port. The last tender back to the ship left at 16:30, so naturally half of the ship arrived at 16:28. Needless to say, the last tender didn’t actually leave until 18:00 or so.

Cozumel, Mexico

Our final stop, on Friday, was Cozumel in Mexico. After going on a long walk to the center of town with Bridget and Steven while looking for “hat pins,” we decided to hit up a beach. The only problem? Six cruise ships showed up that day and all of the beaches were crowded. So we went to a smaller beach slightly north of the town on the recommendation of the taxi driver. Sure, the driver likely got a kickback and we were probably charged more to get into the beach than normal, but it was still super cheap so we didn’t mind much.

The beach was nice. Plenty of guacamole, tacos, sun, and sand. We took a taxi back to the ship and Steven and I quickly ran to the top of the ship to ride on the water slides before all of the annoying kids showed up. The plan worked perfectly! No kids in line and we could ride the slides!

End of the Cruise

And that’s the cruise, really. Sometimes they made you dress up for dinner, you could eat as much as you wanted, and they had 24/7 soft serve machines all over the ship. We got a lot of reading done, and caught up on a lot of sleep.

In compensation for doing some professional wedding photography, they offered Tracey and I a meal at the exclusive steakhouse onboard. Despite us being vegetarians, they made us some outstanding off-the-menu stuffed cannoli before bringing us a complimentary bottle of some very tasty wine.

Would we do a cruise again? No. It was too relaxing and too slow-paced for our travel style. Still, I think it was an educational experience that was even fun at some parts.

Observations and Opinions on Touring and Eastern Europe

Let’s talk about “Eastern Europe.” Not the Warsaw Pact region from the 1980s, but the array of independent counties as they presently exist today. I’ve presented overviews of where we visited previously, and a number of common themes are present in this vast and often underlooked region.

First, let’s address the term “Eastern Europe.” I’ve been using it throughout these posts as an easy point of reference, but the people who live in this region get fairly upset when they hear that we refer to them as part of this region. To them, Eastern Europe is Russia: their occupiers, and they wish nothing to do with this constructed geographical term. “Heart of Europe” may be a much more apt phrase, but for the continuing purposes of not confusing anyone, I’ll keep calling it “Eastern Europe.” Just be aware that this term carries with it a number of implications and baggage that you may not realize or wish to convey.

Eastern European cities are typical European urban centers, and in many ways surpass their Western European peers in city planning and transit. The historic centers have been preserved and markets are still found in almost all towns. As you move away from the center squares, you’ll quickly notice that the architechure rapidly transforms into the Soviet-style of prefab concrete. These buildings are slowly decaying, and entire hills are often a drab color of grey.

Transit is largely extremely well-developed and efficient. The Soviets were really good at building and designing mass transit, and it shows. Every major city has a large metro network, and they often have streetcar grids to supplement their transit offerings. Although the rolling stock can be old, the fares are affordable.

The violence and devastation that World War II wrought upon these nations are remembered, but they do not dwell in the past. Recovery, delayed in many cases until after the early 1990s, is reawakening national pride and industry. With planned economies behind them, Eastern European nations are coming into their own. Many are aligning with the EU, and although pro-Russian parties are present in all of these nations, the majority believes that their future lies with Western Europe. Don’t let this economic recovery fool you though, prices are still fairly cheap by American and European standards, and in many of these countries you’ll be using a local currency as they have not fully integrated into the Eurozone.

For much of Eastern Europe, the food is primarily meat-based with a distinct lack of seasoning or creativity. You’ll get very full eating their meals, but that’s about it. Each region has their own interpretation of dumplings: some places view them as moist bread-like slices, others have them as your “traditional” round dumplings that we commonly think of in the United States. Vegetarian and Vegan places are fairly easy to find in major cities, with at least two or three restaurants in each. And the beer? Superb.

This region of the world carries with it a bit of a gritty reputation. Don’t let this dissuade you from visiting these vibrant and history-soaked nations. As these are largely small nations, English is the common tongue, and you can get by with  just a few phrases in each country you visit. The prices are cheap, the people are friendly, and the sights are perhaps even more interesting and authentic than in Western Europe.

But what about touring? Isn’t this a thing you were worried would be unfun and weird? It was an interesting experience, to be sure. I’m not sure how much benefit we got from this in the big cities: the walking tours and other things were nice, but it’s the kind of thing we can do on our own. The real value came from transportation between cities and where to make our stops for the night in small towns. These were all amazingly cool, and we never would have thought to stay in these places if we were on our own. Our guide was quite excellent, and emphasised transit skills so we would all be able to go to independent touring in all of the cities we were at. The itinerary itself revolved around cities the first 5/8ths of the trip, and natural beauty for the rest of the time. This meant we had a super fast and fun pace at the beginning, and then it markedly slowed down during the end of the trip as we stayed in small Mediterranean islands and deep mountain towns.

Exploring Eastern Europe: Czech Republic

More than two months have passed since our return from Eastern Europe, but never fear, the trip summary is finally here! Or at least I’ve started typing it.

As mentioned previously, Tracey and I went on a Eastern Europe in 16 Days tour. Touring is not our usual thing, but I thought it’d be a good way to explore what the primary product at the company I worked for was all about.

Czech Republic

We flew in to Prague via Heathrow on British Airways.  Other than eating an outstanding chutney and cheese sandwich at the airport while waiting for the connecting flight, it was largely an uneventful yet sleep-deprived journey. The trick is to stay awake when going East, and we sure accomplished that.

Of course, the price of not sleeping is arriving seriously fatigued. Successfully reaching the hotel was a huge win, and we found a nice vegan restaurant in Prague before a nice early bedtime. The tour started the next day, and we wanted to get in some exploration before we met everyone.

After finding some cool-as-hell old concrete structures and a nice secluded tea house the following morning, we wandered back to our hotel to meet our tour group. Whispers of “oh, young ones!” echoed across the courtyard as we sat down and met tour guide. The lady next to me said “aren’t you a little young to be going on one of these?” in jest. So the demographics of this tour was basically what we expected. After an introduction and so forth, we walked across the river to a group dinner.

(One editorial aside: I won’t be strictly delineating the untoured vs. toured portions of this trip.)

Since we’re in a major European city, there’s likely to be a castle. Prague has a large castle complex on a small hill across the Vltava from the main areas of the city. Although it served as somewhat of a military citadel, it’s largely a collection of government buildings and palaces.

On the hill next to the castle, there exists a tower that looked somewhat liked the Eiffel Tower. Called the Petřín Lookout Tower, we were immediately both terrified and thrilled with the idea of climbing the exposed stairs to the top lookout post.

The views were nice.

Climbing down a swaying metal lattice while cold winds whipped around us was not nice.

Prague was a vibrant city, but the weight of the Soviet era weighed heavily. Many structures were large concrete blocks, and brutalist architecture wasn’t hard to find. Strikingly, on the National Museum exterior in Prague, many light-colored patches existed. When the Soviets repressed an uprising in 1968, bullet holes peppered the building. The patriotic Czech workers used a lighter-colored sandstone to fill in the holes as a reminder that although the movement was suppressed, its memory could not be erased.

After three nights in Prague, we met our tour bus driver and snaked our way through the Czech countryside until we arrived for lunch at Štramberk, a small town best known for a small fortified tower. Immediately climbing the tower, we were struck by not only its rustic interior, but the seemingly unsafe wood observation deck that was attached to the exterior of the structure.

Notice the wood floors and the stone structure of the building on the left.

Upon descending, the tower seemed slightly more robust when noticing that there were lots of stone reinforcements holding up the wooden deck.

A few hours later, we arrived at the town of Pustevny for the night. Mostly a skiing resort, Pustevny was a quiet mountain village in the late summer, which is also known for being quite close to the mountain of Radhošť. In case you’re not too up on your Slavic pantheon, this is the home of the god Radegast.  A trail followed the saddleback from Pustevny to the peak of the mountain, and a few miles of hiking led us to a beautiful sunset in the Beskydy Mountains and a wooden Christian chapel. The chapel was erected to desecrate the sacred pagan site, ‘natch.

Desecration or not, it was still a cool building.

Ah yes, even Radegast makes an appearance!

Settling down for dinner at a mountain lodge, we drank Radegast beer. Turns out a lot of the trail, (including the statute!) was paid for by the company that brewed Radegast beer. So of course we had to drink it.

Luckily it was cheap and tasty, which is a true trademark of Eastern European beer.

We settled down in our cute mountain lodge for our last night in the Czech Republic.

Next up: Poland!

 

First Half of 2014 and Travels

Although this blog has been unusually quiet as of late, fear not! I’ve been putting off various posts about the things I’ve been doing and instead combining them into one big “what I’ve been up to since the beginning of the year” update.

San Francisco

Despite being all over Europe, Tracey had never been to the Bay Area! We remedied this in January with a sunny respite that involved awesome burritos, BART, and all of the other things one does while in that part of the country. Probably most significantly, I finally had a change to tour the ultimate Mario Kart course known as Alcatraz Island.

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New York City

In May we took our seemingly annual visit to New York City, and this time stayed in a couple of shipping containers. When not hanging out on rooftop bars, we saw an awesome play about LBJ called All the Way, which starred Bryan Cranston as the titular role. Many neighborhoods were explored, and much cheesecake and pizza were consumed.

I even managed to convince Tracey to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge!

Bridges are scary.
Bridges are scary.

Washington Park Arboretum

One of my favorite activities in Seattle is to rent a canoe from the UW’s Waterfront Activities Center and meander around in the arboretum. This time, we rented the boat at 10am on July 4th, and almost had the place to ourselves, which meant the critters (and ducklings!) were out and about.

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Nikky 2.0: Nikkybot and Nikky Ipsum

A while back, Travis Evans, a fellow staff member at the ticalc.org project, wrote NikkyBot. It was, as you may imagine, a Markov chain based application that he created to essentially simulate my behavior on TI Graphing Calculator IRC channels.

A TI-89 version exists, naturally, but one of the really fun applications of this was that Travis turned the generator into a full-fledged IRC bot that would randomly out spew semi-sentient things. The fine folks at Cemetech have been saving some of the better quotes that it says.

Travis hatched the idea that at some time, late at night when nobody is looking, the bot and I would switch nicks. It turned out just about as you would expect, with lots of confusion, but the more striking thing is that more than a few people simply didn’t notice anything had changed.

Last but not least, I made a Nikky Ipsum, which provides you with lots of awesome Ipsum text for your next web design.

This bot has become somewhat of an existential crisis, as not everyday are you faced with something that can learn from what you said over the past decade of chat. Oftentimes the bot replicates what I’d say in any given conversation. Many times I’ll check an IRC channel only to find nikkybot has already jumped into a conversation and said exactly what I would say.

How to Write a Lovecraft Novella

After a rather odd urge to consume some classic horror, I recently finished reading a wide array of H.P. Lovecraft stories. What I mostly discovered is that Lovecraft found a formula that worked well for him, and mostly stuck to it. Here’s how to write your very own Lovecraftian-style horror.

Setting

Your novella should include one of the following:

  • Mysterious town in New England that people avoid
  • Remote location in the world, preferably Antarctica or Australia

It is very important to use one of the two. Without it, your novella will be a fraud.

Character

Pick one, or mix-n-match if so inclined:

  • Curiosity-seeking traveler who happens to stumble mysterious town
  • Well-educated professor from Miskatonic University

General Plot

Again, pick one:

  • If curiosity-seeking traveler, they will find themselves in the mysterious town, and find some horrible dark secret.
  • If professor, go on some unrelated field expedition that stumbles upon an ancient and terrible place
  • If professor, investigate some experience that links back to a mysterious town. In course of research, discover some terrible secret.

Ending

Main character either:

  • goes crazy and is killed/died
  • is the lone survivor in a twisted plot, and spends the rest of their days in silent horror and terror

Other Requirements

Your novella must include the word “Cyclopean” at least twice, and “non-euclidean” at least once. It would also be a good idea to mention the  “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred and his book the Necronomicon.

That’s it!

Have fun writing your very own novel!