Sunday, May 30, 2010

My New Travel Blog: Tripping Over The World

Originally, I had planned to blog here about mine and Laura's trip. However, over time I decided that I wanted a blog dedicated specifically to traveling, that wouldn't be muddied with my rants, raves, recommendations, etc. about non-travel things. Also, blogger isn't super easy to use on an iPod Touch, which is what primarily I'll be using to connect to the internet for the next two months.

Thus, I have started a new wordpress blog that will focus exclusively on mine and Laura's trip. I've posted a couple of things there, but hopefully it'll have more interesting and exciting details about what we're up to as soon as our trip begins. Here it is:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Final Preparations

Laura I leave for our big trip in about a day and a half. So for the last couple of days we've been doing last minute preparations. Here's some of the things we've done:

1. Cleaned of our camera's memory card. And bought a new, 8 gig card. Hopefully that and our old 4 gig card will be enough for all the pictures we're going to take.

2. Bought some new clothes that we needed. (I got some socks. Laura's out shopping now so we'll see what she gets.)

3. Cleaned up the guest bedroom of my parents house, where we've been living for the last month.

4. Altered clothing. I added a button to a shirt (which included me learning how to sew a button hole), and turned a long-sleeve shirt into a short-sleeve shirt. I also cut off a pair of pants so I'd have some shorts.

5. Found backpacks to use. (Specifically, I found a small-ish backpacking backpack in my parents garage that I'm using).

6. Printed out tons of documents that we're taking.

7. Bought some travel apps for our new ipod touch with an old iTunes gift card.

8. Bought Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door 2010.

9. Bought other guidebooks from as ebooks from the Kindle store. That was a new experience, but infinitely better than lugging 50 pounds of books around with us.

10. Lots of other things that I'll have to go over later, because right now I need to go continue packing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brazilian Itinerary

Somehow, in all the trip preparation, I forgot to post a detailed itinerary for Brazil. We'll be traveling all over the place down there, so I wanted to give a more detailed account, similar to the one I already posted for the European leg of the trip.

May 31: Depart for Sao Paulo from Salt Lake City
June 1: Arrive in Sao Paulo (2 nights) at 7:30 am
June 3: Bus from Sao Paulo to Rio De Janeiro (6 nights) sometime in the late morning/early afternoon
June: 9: Plane in the morning from Rio to Salvador (5 nights)
June 14: Plane from Salvador to Manaus (3 nights)
June 17: Plane from Manaus to Brasilia (5 nights)
June 22: Plane from Brasilia to Curitiba (1 night)
June 23: Afternoon bus from Curitiba to Foz do Iguacu (i.e. the city by those huge waterfalls) (2 nights)
June 25/26/27: Overnight bus from Iguacu to Sao Paulo (1 or two nights, depending on how much we liked Sao Paulo at the beginning of the trip)
June 28: Plane from Sao Paulo to London (non-stop!)

(Para meus amigos brasileiros, vou estar no Brasil durante Junho. Se quiserem se encontrar, deixa um "comment" aqui, fala comigo no facebook (espero que ja somos amigos la, mas se nao adiciona-me como um), or manda uma email a

I'll have more to say about why and how we're doing this itinerary later, but for now, that's it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday Movie: Hellboy

First, I know, it's Tuesday. Somehow I forgot to post this yesterday, even though I've had this film picked out for a long time.

Second, you may also be thinking, "Hellboy. WTF?"

In reality however, Hellboy is a fantastic movie (with a terrible name that's based on a comic book that I've never read.) When it first came out in 2004, I decided that it looked terrible and that I'd probably never see it.

Over time, however, it earned a lot of praise from critics. People I trusted also told me that it was really good. So I eventually put it on my netflix queue, and before I knew it the movie was at my house.

What surprised me was how silly and fun the movie is. What I hadn't realized when I saw the trailer was that despite its name, the movie doesn't really take itself very seriously. It isn't trying to be an overly dramatic superhero movie, it gives its audience an entertaining couple of hours. Hellboy, in other words, is great because it embraces its pop culture kitschy-ness.

In framing the film that way, director Guillermo Del Torro puts himself in the company of other postmodern directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and even Wes Anderson. However, what really sets Del Torro apart is that his work demonstrates an appreciation for pop culture and a sense of awe. His movies aren't just smart and witty, they're also charming, visually impressive, and sincere if sly.

If you've seen Hellboy, you probably know what I'm talking about. If not trust me and watch it. (I actually was going to include this movie in a Monday Movie a long time ago, but I felt like I should recommend a few more serious films first so that people could get a sense of my cinematic tastes and wouldn't immediately dismiss Hellboy.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Our Hotels So Far

Laura and I leave one week from today, but we still haven't booked every night of our trip. In the early stages of our planning we struggled to decide if we should book hotels in advance—which would mean we'd have to really nail down our dates/itinerary—or simply should up in different cities and try to find lodging on the spot. Ultimately, we've decided that in heavily touristed areas, we needed to book in advance, but when we're off the beaten path we'll try to give ourselves more flexibility and find places when we show up.

This means that we've book hotels so far in Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, and Rome (and may a few more places that are slipping my mind now). And some of these places sound pretty exciting.

In Rio, for example, we're staying at the Maze Inn. This may be the lodging that I'm most excited about for the entire trip. It's an independently run budget hotel, located in a favela near the beach. At first I was ambivalent about staying in a favela. Rio's slums are ultra dangerous, and I didn't want to go there to gawk at the poor. However, the reviews I've read suggested it was relatively safe, and as a missionary in Brazil I experienced a fair amount of poverty which will hopefully prevent me from assuming an overly touristic or voyeuristic attitude. In any case, however, the hotel has great prices, a big breakfast, and a jazz night that we'll be in town for. So far, the staff has also been super helpful—this morning, for example, they emailed a response to my request for instructions on how to get to the hotel using the city buses. I initially thought I found this hotel in an Lonely Planet guide book, though I subsequently can't find it in any of the ones I have right now, so either I already returned that book to the library or I found the hotel somewhere else.

In London, we're staying in easyHotel's Victoria location (I may have mentioned this in earlier posts, but I can't remember.) As a chain hotel, this experience will contrast sharply with our Rio experience. However, the hotel is an ultra economic company that bases its rooms off of ship cabins. They're really small spaces, which translates into really low prices. This hotel was recommended by Rick Steves.

In Paris, we're staying in a hotel called Hotel Camelia Nation. At first I was very skeptical about this hotel, because it wasn't listed in any of the guide books Laura and I checked out. However, we found it on a hotel listing website and because we hadn't read about it elsewhere, we checked practically every website we could find that reviewed it. Ultimately we decided that was in a cool—if potentially loud—location (near the Bastille, and we'll be there on Bastille Day), and it was the lowest price we could find at a non-chain hotel. I'm still slightly afraid that it's going to be crawling with rats or something, but it looks cool and had a lot of decent reviews.

We just booked our Rome hotel a few nights ago, so I haven't decided what to think about it yet. It's called Hotel Italia Roma. It came recommended by the guide books I mentioned above, as well as Fodor's. It's well located as well, and so that sounds good.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pointless Technologies

I rely on—and generally love—technology. I can’t imagine life without the internet, I already depend heavily on my new iPod touch, and most of the jobs I’ve done (writing, video editing, etc.) have a significant tech component.

However, there are also some really pointless uses of technology. Despite promising to save time, make life more convenient, or whatever, they actually just cause problems. Yet, somehow, they prevail. I’m not taking about those silly things that people invent, put on late night commercials, and then fail to actually sell. I’m also not talking about great ideas by major companies that just didn’t catch on (Apple, for example, has created a lot of things that didn’t catch on, but it’s also managed to produce paradigm-changing products at the same time. I’m also not talking about the iPad, because the jury is still out on that and though I don’t have one, I like them.) Instead, I’m talking about things that lots of people use, but which aren’t actually saving time, or even benefiting people much.

So here are a few examples:

Weed wackers: When I was a teenager I always had to mow and edge our yard. I really hated it. Now that I’ve moved back into my parents house, that has apparently become my job once again. However, while the lawnmower works well enough, I was surprised this week to see just how aggravating the weed wacker still is. It’s a gas-powered machine, and it uses those green plastic cords to cut the grass. To use it, you wrap the cord around a spool, and then to feed more cord out you bump the spool on the ground. (The ones I've used are similar to the one pictured below, but are also not that exact model.)

Whether that makes sense or not, the point is that it doesn’t even remotely work like it's supposed to. As you can imagine, a thin plastic cord constantly hitting rocks, cement, etc. wears down quickly. However, the machine that my parents have hardly ever feeds more cord out properly. That means that literally every five minutes you have take the thing apart and manually pull out more cord.

The result is that a job that should take 20 minutes ends up taking hours. There are many solutions to this problem, but the easiest would just be for some one to invent a weed wacker/edger that actually works.

Dishwashers: Dishwashers might be my most hated appliance ever invented. They seem so promising: no one likes washing dishes and a machine that would do it for you would be great.

The problem is that no dishwasher I’ve ever seen actually works. First, you basically have to wash all the dishes hand before putting them in the dishwasher. Then, somehow, there is still food stuck all over the supposedly cleaned dishes. I’ve lived in lots of houses and apartments, and without fail that’s the outcome I’ve experienced. And while I have no doubt that there are probably some super powered (and super expensive) dishwashers that actually work, I’m yet to see them in action.

The funny thing is that it’s also pretty easy to wash dishes hand. Most people are already doing it, but without soap, so that their dishwashers will work. For some reason, however, there seems to be a mistaken impression that machines are getting dishes more sanitary or clean, simply because they’re machines.

Rice cookers: This may be a controversial choice for this list, because most rice cookers I’ve seen do work, and many people love them. However, what are they really doing? To cook rice, you literally just have to boil it in a pot with water. That means that a rice cooker is just a pot with a timer on it. They may save some time by going marginally faster, but they also sacrifice some freedom: you can’t test and season rice as easily when it’s locked in a machine.

Bread machines: Bread machines are like a cruel joke. They make something that looks and deliciously smells like bread, but that typically is a monumental disappointment. The vast majority of bread machine bread that I’ve had have a bland flavor, overcooked crumbly crust, and a far too airy interior. Maybe those things are the result of bad recipes, but time and again I’ve had disappointing bread machine bread from different people and in different settings. It’s usually on par with the cheapest store bought stuff, but coupled with the smell of home cooked bread, it's infinitely more disappointing.

This list could go on and on, but the point here is that everything doesn’t need to be mechanized, and that some modern machines are just producing awful simulacra of good things.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hotels vs. Hostels

The romantic image of young travelers—especially young travelers in Europe—is of people riding the rails and sleeping in crowded, lively hostels. Because Laura and I are about to travel to Europe (and Brazil), and because we're trying to do the trip as cheaply as possible, I figured that meant we'd be staying in a lot of hostels. What I've been surprised to discover, however, is that hostels are not always the cheapest way to go.

Before I mention what I've learned about booking hostels and hotels, though, it's worth mentioning that hostels offer a one-of-a-kind travel experience. You're in the midst of other travelers—who likely also share a similar travel philosophy—and my experience is that interacting with hostel staff is more personal/local than interacting with hotel staff. So, even if they aren't always the most economic option, they're worth experiencing. On the other hand, hostels can be loud and chaotic (which means poor sleep), dirty, and cramped. (The first night I stayed in a hostel I was shocked to hear a veritable symphony of snoring. I did not sleep that night.) So while they provide an interesting experience, that experience can become a drag after awhile.

So, are hostels really the best budget option? Can a hotel really beat their prices?

The answer varies from location to location, of course, but for single travelers, hostels are almost always going to be the cheapest choice. When booking our London portion of the trip, for example, Laura and I were initially going to stay in the St. Paul's Hostel. It's centrally located, and in a cool old building. For a bed on the dates we needed, the price was 22 pounds. That can't be beat, and if Laura and I weren't married (and, in our case, drawing money from the same bank account), we definitely would have stayed in the hostel.

In reality, however, and because we're married, the night would have cost us 44 pounds. That's still a great bargain, but after researching a bit I discovered that we could stay in the easyHotel Victoria for 45 pounds. That means that for one extra pound we'd have a private room (and bathroom). We'd probably sleep better, and our stuff would be safer. And because we'll be flying directly from Brazil to England, I wanted to make sure that we could sleep in a place that was relatively quiet. Also, many hostels are segregated by gender, so in general hotels will allow us to avoid the annoyance of having to sleep in separate rooms.

To be sure, easyHotel Victoria probably has less character than the hostel. It's a chain (albeit a European one), it's also not in as prime a location. Still, I feel comfortable getting around London and I suspect we'll sleep better in the hotel.

What has surprised me is how often this booking/research experience has been repeated. As we've planned out our trip, city by city, we've discovered that for two people paying together, hostels are almost never the most economic option. In many cases (and in the most expensive cities), there are actually hotels that cost less than two beds in a hostel. The disparity is also exacerbated when looking at private rooms in hostels, which many offer.

Of course, when booking a hotel that's cheaper than a hostel it's essential to be careful. Before we book anything, Laura and I read travelers' reviews on multiple sites. We also usually get recommendations out of guide books like Lonely Planet and Rick Steves' Europe. Still, for travelers going in pairs or groups, and who can pay together, hotels can sometimes be the most economic option.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Movie: Fail-Safe

Sidney Lumet's 1964 classic Fail-Safe shares its premise with the classic dark comedy Dr. Strangelove: in the midst of Cold War brinkmanship the Americans go too far and inadvertently let a nuke loose on the U.S.S.R. However, while Dr. Strangelove is hilarious and dark, Fail-Safe is searingly bleak. It's an attempt to honestly explore the incomprehensible horror of preparing to begin a nuclear war.

The film stars the patriarchal Henry Fonda as the president of the United States. The cast also includes Walter Matthau. And while I won't spoil the movie's ending, it does somehow manage to be entertaining while including a surprising, horrific, and thought-provoking finale.

(Also, I think you can watch the entire movie in 10 minute segments on Youtube, beginning here. I netflixed it, so I can't be sure the entire movie is there, but from looking at the related links it appears to be.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

I've commented on this topic before here, but I wanted to add some more thoughts in light of this year's recent Mother's Day.

In the days leading up to Mother's Day, something was bugging me. And then I remembered: the way we celebrate the day is too gendered.

For example, yesterday Laura and I made dinner at my family's house, so that my step-mom wouldn't have to. From talking to other people this seems to be a relatively common practice. Yet, the ironic thing about it is that it implies that on all the other days of the year my step-mom has to make dinner. And, in practice, she sort of does. After all, in many families—mine in included—making the food is often the mother's job, whether she likes it or not. On the other hand, is that good? Shouldn't (typically gendered) tasks be more equally shared throughout the year?

The problem here, as I see it, is that some women probably would prefer to assume different roles in their families, but our cultural modes of celebrating mother's day tell them that they shouldn't (or even can't). (And, of course, this works similarly for men on Father's Day, though it seems to me, to a lesser extent.) In other words having the men in a household make dinner on Mother's Day suggests that that action is an aberration. It's a "favor" or gift that they're giving, not something that they're typically responsible for. Implicitly, this also suggests that a mother should cook, and I'd she doesn't she somehow a less adequate person.

Obviously lots of women like to cook, lots of men don't, and flipping individual roles isn't a huge deal. What is disturbing, however, is when these behaviors become codified and foisted on those who don't appreciate them. As I listen to men and women talk at church, school, work, etc., making dinner on Mother's Day is something that men are encouraged to do. Similarly, all the women at my church were given roses this year, and in past years the men and women were given very gender specific gifts. (Laura actually gave me her rose, because she didn't really want it and I did.)

My point here, I suppose, is that Mother's Day and Father's Day are moments when our cultural constructs regarding gender become painfully apparent. Woman-as-homemaker is simply an accepted role, as is Man-as-provider/worker. These roles are simply taken for granted and accepted as good. For some people they certainly work, but when a culture so easily accepts them and equates them with "good" or "appropriate" it also requires those for whom they don't work to accept them.

Monday Movie: Primer

Primer is one of the most confusing movies I've ever watched. Luckily, it's also one of the more interesting as well. And that means that this shoe-string-budget, Sundance gem is definitely worth watching.

The story follows two entrepreneurial young engineers, as they accidentally invent a time machine. It's a familiar premise in science fiction, but what makes Primer stand out among time-travel movies is that it really tries to grapple with the complexities and paradoxes of messing with time.

At first, for example, the two guys just use their machine to make successful stock purchases. Everything seems innocent enough, until their plans become more complex, other people seem to discover the machine, and chaos ensues. I've actually seen this movie twice and I'm still not sure how everything fits together.

However, the great thing is that I imagine that's about how confusing real time travel would be. The point of the movie, in any case, isn't to make perfect sense (though I suspect it would if you sat down and plotted the different threads on a piece of paper). Instead, it aims to explore the relationships and psychology behind a paradoxical ideal, and in that objective, the movie is successful (and intriguing).

Friday, May 7, 2010

The latest travel update and iPod touch

So, Laura and I are preparing to leave on our trip this month. We've seriously started planning our day by day brazilian itinerary, recently received our visas and are just about ready to go. However, one the that we have thought a lot about is how to stay connected while on the road (or in the air, or kn the rails, etc.). For some people, I suppose that a trip like ours would be a welcomed chance to disconnect with the plugged in world, but for me at least (if not exactly for Laura) I really want to stay in touch while we're gone. More specifically, I hope to blog about our trip while it's still taking place. Plus, it'd be nice to be able to check or bank account, email family, etc. whenever we need to.

Our cell phones aren't internationally enabled (and it would have cost a lot to get new ones that are), and we didn't want to take a computer that would easily get lost, broken, or even stolen, so we decided to get a portable device that would be relatively cheap, but still allow us to stay connected when needed.

So, we settled on and iPod Touch. I really like the iPhone, but we're on Verizon and I didn't want to switch (plus I wasn't ready to commit to some expensive two year contract). I also considered the uPas, but decided that it had most of the same vulnerabilities as a laptop.

Thus, and iPod Touch seemed like it was the best option. It has wireless, which most of our hotels provide (as does, I discovered, the entire beach front in Rio de Janeiro), is small and easy to conceal, and is less expensive (on the long run, at least) than most other, similarly capable devices. Obviously, it's not going to be good for writing a novel on, but I think it will allow us to keep in touch with what's going on back home.

In the spirit of preparation, I've actually written this entire blog post on the iPod touch. And actually, I've been surprised by the experience. There are some really annoying aspects to it (like having to switch keyboard screens everytime I need a non-letter character like a dash or parenthesis) but the software that automatically fills in words and fixes typos far exceeds my expectations. Obviously, I can't say how well this is going to work on our trip, where we'll have more intermittent Internet access and probably be more tired a lot of the time (and so less excited about writing blogs on a tiny keyboard), but at least for now it looks like well able to stay in touch and document our trip.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Movie: Topaz

You've probably at least seen clips of Psycho and The Birds. Maybe you've seen those films in their entirety. And you may even have watched Vertigo and North by Northwest. But have you seen Topaz?

Topaz is an Alfred Hitchcock classic, albeit a lesser known one compared to some of the director's other work. Still, almost everything of Hitchcock's is fantastic (though I didn't really enjoy The Trouble With Harry), and Topaz stands out for being especially vibrant and colorful. It's also much more expansive in it's setting than some of Hitchcock's more spatially restrained work. (Rope and Lifeboat being two extreme examples of Hitchcock restricting the action of a film to a singular location, but there are others.)

I first saw this movie one summer when I checked out literally dozens of Hitchcock films from the Provo Library. And though it's not as well-known as some, it's actually one of my personal Hitchcock favorites.

The plot involves Russian missiles in Cuba, a French diplomat traveling to and from Cuba, trying to get information—and some extramarital lovin on the side—and a spy ring called "topaz." In general, however, the plot is basically all about the intrigues of the cold war and how different people and governments tried to manipulate them to their own ends. (Read wikipedia if you actually want a real summary of the plot. Or, watch the movie).