My Second to Last Stop: First Four Nights in London

I took the Eurostar from Paris to London which is a fantastic way to jump between the two cities. It’s a 2.5 hour train instead of a 20 minute plane ride, and it’s more complicated than just jumping on the train (baggage security check, for example), but you miss all the airport stresses and two hour before flight check-in.

I started my journey in Ireland and I will end it in London. This makes my cultural entry and exit easier since Ireland and Britain are both English speaking and share many U.S. customs.

My first four nights in London I stayed in Chelsea, an upscale borough of London, with new friends Perry and Adriana, both involved in the world of blogging for several years now. They’re also politically engaged, contributing to the popular blog Nice, generous hosts.

I got a little lost finding their house after getting out of the bus. I asked a business guy in a dark suit pacing down the street if he knew were Cheyne street was. He told me to walk with him since he was going that way. I didn’t sense a British accent so I asked him where he was from. He said, "Like you." Pause. "Ok," I responded, confused. "The States," he added, "But I haven’t lived there for 25 years." "Oh yeah? Where do you live now?" He took a long, hard drag from his cigarette. "Saudi." Pause. Another long pause. We’re still walking. I ask, "You mean Saudi Arabia? What are you doing there?" Pause. Another drag from the cigarette. "Yeah, Saudi Arabia. Banking."

I had back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings on my first full day in London, all either directly or indirectly a result of my blog. I met some interesting guys. Gareth Slaven has been persistent in reaching out to me and I’m glad we were finally able to hook up. Sonali De Rycker at Atlas Ventures is an impressive person who confirmed my initial impression that London is perhaps the most international city in the world. She was born in Bombay and now invests in software and tech companies in Europe (thanks Chris for intro). I met Jackie Danicki in-person, finally, at the Waterloo Burger King, which was a hoot. And then I had dinner with blog reader Mark Steele, an interesting young guy who got kicked out of high school and so is embarking on variation of my idea of "Real Life University." I hope to be able to help Mark in his work and real world education and learn from his intensive travel schedule!

Img_1603 Along the way I stopped at a Chelsea bookstore and picked up two novels which look good and had a bite to eat at a Dutch Pancake place. For some reason I had a craving for American pancakes — thick, buttery, pancakes — which I haven’t seen in Europe. I didn’t know what Dutch pancakes were, and just hoped they were close. Not really. Thin. Different. Oh well. As close as I’ll get.

On Saturday I returned to being a dumb tourist. I wandered around Picadilly Circle, ate at Subway since they were offering a 10% discount to students, and just generally tried to listen to as much of the wonderful British accent as I could. I went to the National Portrait Gallery, free, which was awesome — great photography and some amazing oil on canvas works. I then hopped on the double decker tour bus, almost by obligation. Didn’t London invent the concept of a open top tour bus?! I’ve done a bunch of tour buses on my trip and most are pretty good, some disappointing. For big cities it’s a good way to get a lay of the land and can even beat public transit when you’re going from sight to sight. From the tour bus I saw Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, Big Ben, etc. I got out at Tower of London and wandered around. Long queues were prohibitive, and the free boat ride was full, so I got on the tube and headed back home to get ready for the party.

By the time people cleared out it was 1:45 AM, so I went to bed at 2, got up at 7 AM, worked for a couple hours, went back to bed, got up at 11, had a brunch with leftovers from the night before, then headed out to the gym. I hadn’t been to the gym since Barcelona! Running outside is nice, but I’ve missed that treadmill, bike, and weights. I had an awesome workout. No better feeling. Afterwards I went to the Victoria & Albert museum right next door, one of the best in England, and free! It would take days to exhaust the place, so I just checked out the impressive first floor (Islamic art, Japan and China art, and some sculpture).Img_1622

I got home at 5, worked online, took a hot bath in a tub that actually fits me, and then went out for a late dinner. The London air was still and cool. Finally, a climate that resembles San Francisco! I could wear my SF Giants fleece! (I’ve been wearing t-shirts every night when I go out.) I had a chili thing and a salad and then walked along the main street by my house here. I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and read at an outside table by the street. Very peaceful, cool, calm.

In my last few days on the road, I’ve made a conscious decision not to stuff tourist activities and busy-ness. I’ll take it slow. Not only because I’m, well, exhausted, but because I’ve become rather uninterested in tourism now. Yeah, 6.5 weeks of looking at sights and every single goddamn church starts to look the same. I’m going to focus on reading and talking to Brits (who are bloody good people).

A big thank you to my gracious hosts Perry and Adriana! Such hospitality and good conversations!Img_1633


16 Year-Old Iranian Girl Hanged for Sexual Immortality

This made my heart drop, all the more poignant since this girl was the same age as me. What can we do to help Iranian girls throw off their veils?

Andrew Sullivan:

This is another chilling story from Iran. This time, a 16-year-old girl is hanged for "sexual immorality" which, so far as we can tell, was a function of being raped continuously by a man three times her age. Money quote:

Being stopped or arrested by the moral police is a fact of life for many Iranian teenagers. Previously arrested for attending a party and being alone in a car with a boy, Atefah received her first sentence for "crimes against chastity" when she was just 13. Although the exact nature of the crime is unknown, she spent a short time in prison and received 100 lashes… [Subsequently], the moral police said the locals had submitted a petition, describing her as a "source of immorality" and a "terrible influence on local schoolgirls".

So she was arrested again. Then there’s this moment in her "trial":

When Atefah realised her case was hopeless, she shouted back at the judge and threw off her veil in protest.

That earned her the noose. This is the enemy we face. And they do this in God’s name.

London Party to Celebrate the End of My Travels

My friend Jackie Danicki pulled off quite a feat Saturday night, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given the generosity of all my blog readers this trip, especially Jackie.

About 20 people filed into the Chelsea / London home of blogging gurus Adriana Lukas and Perry de Havilland for a long night of drinks, food, and conversation in party timed to celebrate the conclusion of my seven week Europe tour. Though not a lot of diversity in political views, there were fun and interesting personalities. Josh Hanna, an American now in London running the UK operation of, and I had a great time watching the impressive Damian Counsell debate the personal expense account of Sherry Blair. I have a video clip, but I don’t think the language therein is appropriate for this G-rated blog ("rubbish" this and "rubbish" that). Page Sands reminded me that a master’s in e-business still exists and can be useful, and Antoine Clark confirmed and disputed some of my impressions of France. Other good chats abound.

Jackie posted a funny spread of photos from the night which ends in a digitally altered image to highlight the greedy, blood-sucking, 3rd-world-exploiting capitalist bastards we are. Other photos at Flickr. Thank you Jackie for organizing the great party and to Perry and Adriana for hosting!

(Me in foreground below. Notice upright posture, combed hair, and stylish business shoes. Yeah, I try.)

Bar Outside

Japan's $2.5 Million Travel Theme Parks

If I was only living in Japan, I could have visited Holland, Italy, and Spain by walking across the street. Responding to a desire for citizens to taste different cultures, Japan has set up massive cultural theme parks that attempt to replicate tourist attractions, food, and the landscape of certain European countries. I’m a fan: people who really care and are blessed to have the shrinking but still sizable resources needed to travel will visit Italy in-person, but for people who wouldn’t otherwise get a sample, now they have that option.

Skillfully inverting a few essential principles of travel, the parks offer a stress-free and decidedly postmodern way of seeing the world — a sort of abridged Grand Tour for the fast-food generation

“People want to taste different cultures,” says Akira Fujiwara, a representative of the Italian Village in Nagoya. “But they don’t necessarily have the time, or the money to go abroad. This place is a convenient way for people to get a taste of something different.”

Specializing in the importation of culture, the parks package and present foreign countries like the Netherlands or Spain as a plethora of architectural reproductions, educational attractions, shops and restaurants, with the odd roller coaster or two thrown in for good measure. The most popular attraction at the Italian Village, for instance, is the gondola ride. The boats (imported from Italy) are manned by a youthful crew of Italian boatmen. As they steer passengers along the faux Venetian canals, they smile for the cameras, shouting ‘Buon giorno!’ at irregular intervals.

The Blaring London Headlines

London papers are funny. Blaring headlines and articles filled with the same kind of Economist/British snarky bite that’s usually entertaining.

Recently there was the following headline on the newstands: Man Mugged on Tube for Bottle of Water
He was also carrying an iPod and wallet. The guy wanted his bottle of water.

Hell, I’m surprised I haven’t mugged someone for water yet.

(P.S. The Tube is madly expensive and as hot as a microwave with no AC. Definitely disappointing.)