Tue Apr 30, 2013 23:59 (UTC -7)
Katya and I woke up in Budva, Montenegro, and told our host we’d be leaving instead of staying an additional night. She seemed surprised, but the place wasn’t what we’d been looking for. So we gave her the money we owed her and left.
We had hardly seen the city, so we walked around. I had read that Montenegro had one of the world’s highest concentrations of smokers, and we could smell that this seemed to be correct. It was easy to see why the place was popular with tourists, though: the weather was sunny and the vistas gorgeous. We walked down the beach and to the Budva’s small “old town,” where we walked between narrow stone buildings on narrow stone streets. From an old fortress labeled Citadela, we looked on at the crystalline Adriatic Sea.
Katya did some swimming on a beach that I wasn’t convinced was public, but if it wasn’t, then it was so crowded that no one noticed. Then we had to find out how to get to our next destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Later that day, we were heading up the Adriatic coast on yet another bus. The trip was long and the bus driver a fan of repetitive folk music. In one town, the road stopped at a small harbor. We had to get on a ferry to reach the next stretch of road. At the border, a uniformed man collected our passports for inspection. Though Katya’s was red with a two-headed eagle and mine was blue with a one-headed eagle, they were both welcomed in Croatia as they had been in Serbia and Montenegro. I was grateful for that.
It was still light out when we arrived at the big bus station in Dubrovnik, and I didn’t see the old city, its star attraction, anywhere. Once we figured out that we had to take a city bus to get there, I went to an ATM and took out a large sum of Croatian kuna because the apartment where we had booked a room for several nights only accepted cash.
Soon we were at magnificently preserved old city of Dubrovnik, walled off all around and perched over the Adriatic. It made Budva’s old town look like… a village? Something less than a town, anyway. We spent a while lugging our luggage around the shiny white stone streets and past the ancient storefronts and churches before we found out that our accommodation was outside the city walls.
It turned out to be surprisingly close, yet tucked away. Apartments Mia is an old three-story house like many others in the maze of streets near the old city. A side street, if you could call it that, ascends as it curves around the house, so there are entrances on multiple floors. Our suite, on the top floor, consisted of a modern, fully-equipped bedroom and bathroom. Next door lived the owner and his mother. (Both suites are shown together on their website as Apartment 1. I don’t know if the site is out of date or if the owner has made different living arrangements since we stayed there.)
Dino, the owner, did everything he could made us feel relaxed and at home (Dino, I said I’d give your place a good review, so here it is). On our first night, he sat with us at the table on the small terrace outside our room; the walled city loomed in the background. He gave us a tourist map and told us where all the good restaurants were. Each day he’d offer coffee and snacks for us to enjoy on the terrace, and his mother even hung up some of the clothes I had left outside after a swim.
We stayed in Dubrovnik for only a few days, but in my mind they blend together into one pleasant memory. The city itself attracts a lot of tourists, but it’s big, and there’s a lot to explore. I never got tired of looking at it. Katya and I found our fair share of fine restaurants, including one at the top of a hill overlooking the city. It was a wonderful place to watch the sunset and the sea.
We went swimming in a hidden cove—I swam only once on this trip and I did it here. The “beach” was even closer to our apartment than the old city was, and it consisted of an extremely short stretch of sand with cliffs on either side. And houses—houses all around (including one in the side of the cliff). We also kayaked around the city walls and back again—man, was that a workout, but it was fun.
One day, Katya and I took a short boat ride to the island of Lokrum (population: peacocks), where we wandered around the ruins of an ancient monastery. We spent a few hours there, until the sunset turned everything orange, and almost missed the last boat off the island. I was worried, but not so worried that I couldn’t snap a few photos before starting to run.
We asked Dino if we could book our room for an extra day, and fortunately it worked out. On our last day in Dubrovnik, we set out early (at his suggestion) to walk the city walls. There was a lot to see: apartments, churches, restaurants, a school—a glimpse into the lives of the people who still call the old city home. I couldn’t imagine living in a place where tourists could walk on a giant wall and gawk at your home all day, and since Dubrovnik has expanded far beyond its original boundaries, the people who still live in the old city must really feel like it’s a part of them. And what a place to be a part of.
I was sad when we returned to the bus station where we had arrived only a few days before. Although we had gotten a lot out Dubrovnik, we had to Split.
Sun Apr 07, 2013 21:40 (UTC -7)
Maybe in the next 10 years I’ll finish writing about this trip.
So, continuing from last time: It was our last day in Belgrade. After another breakfast on the roof, our host took us to an artificial lake. He and Katya swam for a few hours. I didn’t because the water was way, way too cold for me. I would have died.
Later, the three of us went to a nice restaurant and ate the fastest dinner in recorded history because Katya and I had to catch our next train. Our destination: the historic coastal city of Bar, in the newly independent nation of Montenegro.
We had a compartment with beds in it, but the train was ancient and our door didn’t stay shut. I asked the attendant if he could fix it, and he gave me a special device to kind of attach it to the doorway, like those locks with the chains. I guess it’s cheaper to buy those things than to actually fix the doors.
The ride was unpleasant, and I didn’t sleep very much, but it was a beautiful morning when we arrived in Bar. Also, I didn’t know what we were going to do. The train station seemed to be nowhere in particular, and our only way anywhere seemed to be some sketchy guy insisting that we take a ride in his taxi.
Fortunately, the bus station turned out to be a short walk away, and we soon caught a bus to the Old Town. It was quaint and placid, if a little touristy. There wasn’t much outside the main street, which was rather steep, and we ate at a restaurant with outdoor seating. Fortunately, we were under an umbrella—the heat was virtually unbearable.
Then we spent a couple of hours walking around and exploring some ruins. From there I could appreciate how the Old Town was—is—nestled in the mountains as we looked on the new city below.
We didn’t stay in Bar for long. Instead, we took a bus to Budva, up the Montenegrin coast. We bought our tickets pretty late, and the bus ended up being overbooked by one seat. In the US this would be a problem, but it wasn’t in Montenegro. They had Katya sit on the floor by the stairwell—in front of the yellow line (or rather, where the yellow line would be if it were an American bus)—along with a guy who seemed to be with the bus company. I had a view of the magnificent Adriatic sunset to our left. Later, Katya and I switched seats, and silently, the guy from the bus company offered me a cigarette, which I declined.
By the time we arrived in Budva, it was dark, and we had no place to stay. We were hoping to find a spare apartment—not just a room, as Katya wanted privacy. Sure enough, almost as soon as we got off the bus, there were some locals offering accommodation. A smartly-dressed middle-aged woman told us that she had an apartment available. After being sure that it wasn’t just a room and that it had air conditioning and everything else we wanted, we followed her into the dimly-lit back streets.
I was on highest alert. The woman gave off this vibe like she could have been an accomplice to some kidnapping ring. After a few minutes of walking, we made it to an apartment building. The apartment was on the top floor. As she showed us around, pointing out the bedroom, the kitchen, the bathroom, and the rules, my shields gradually lowered. Still, when she asked for our passports to write down the ID numbers, I watched mine like a hawk.
The three of us made conversation, and at last I was convinced that we wouldn’t be chopped up into little pieces, but Katya was unhappy. We had been promised accommodations where we could enjoy total privacy—or so we thought—but the woman (and her son) lived upstairs, and didn’t have their own kitchen or bathroom outside our “apartment.”
But we were already there, and it was late. Katya and I went out briefly to get some food and cash; our host had been kind enough to trust that we would pay her the next day. Then, having returned, we retreated to our tiny bedroom to find that the air conditioner was actually a fan.
I’ve been looking for this list for a while, and on Wiktionary (the Wikipedia of dictionaries), I’ve finally found it: English nationality prefixes. You know, like: the Russo-Japanese War, Greco-Roman wrestling, Franco-American SpaghettiOs…
The World of Stuff is 10 years old
Sat Apr 06, 2013 15:22 (UTC -7)
It’s been ten years since I started The World of Stuff! And to celebrate, I’ve given the site a new design. It is a work in progress, and I hope to polish it a bit over the coming weeks. By then you’ll probably have found the surprises that it holds.
I’ve often waxed poetic about milestones like these, so let me be brief. Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll stay with me for many years to come.
Breakfast on the roof
Sun Mar 10, 2013 23:07 (UTC -7)
So there were four of us—me, Katya, our CouchSurfing host, and another CouchSurfer—and we were at a Belgrade casino. For the food. I had informally resolved never to set foot in a casino if I could help it, but I didn’t see myself getting out of this one, and besides, the buffet was actually really good. Plus, as new members of the Grand Casino Beograd, we three CouchSurfers got coupons for free drinks, so there was that.
So after dinner we had some drinks and talked and laughed and laughed. Our host tried to keep some food with him to take home until one of the staff noticed and made him give it up. Since new members also got coupons for free chips (or tokens, or whatever they use), we decided to play some games. Well, everyone else did. I let Katya use mine.
The next day, back at our host’s apartment, we all woke up late and then went to have breakfast on the roof. We just had to go up one flight of stairs, and instead of an apartment being there, there was a rickety old door that led out to a small rooftop area with a patio-type table and an eclectic variety of chairs. There was barbed wire along one side—to keep people from waltzing over to the roof next to us, I guess, since it was literally right there—and what seemed to be a clothesline running over the table. All around was a sea of communist-era apartment buildings like our own, but each with its own character.
We had a good Slavic breakfast: bread with butter and cheese and Serbian coffee. I think this was the first time on the trip that I had Serbian coffee, which I first found pretty repugnant but eventually took a liking to. It’s like Turkish coffee. I think it’s exactly like that. Don’t tell the Serbs, though.
We also talked. Our host couldn’t have been too much older than any of us, but he had an idea of what things used to be like. He spoke fondly of the days of communism, when life was simple and everyone could coast by without having to work hard. The Californian CouchSurfer talked about how easy it was to get medical marijuana in his home state. We talked politics a little. I don’t recall saying much. I’m like that, usually.
Then Katya and I set off on our own to explore the city a bit. We walked down an avenue past the Serbian capitol and into a quieter neighborhood with shops, grocery stores, and decrepit apartment buildings, many of which appeared to have no paint on them whatsoever except for anti-NATO graffiti. Walking further, we crossed into a small district that might have been uninhabited. Sure, cars were parked here and there, a few people were walking around, and some of the buildings weren’t roofless burnt-out husks, but it was too quiet. I was a little freaked out.
At last, we were on the grounds of the historic Belgrade Fortress, which is equal parts historic site and public park. It’s a large complex with old buildings, tennis courts, replicas of cannons, ice cream stands, statues, basketball courts, a museum, a small cafe, and ruins of old buildings. We sat on the fortress wall and watched the sun slide down toward the Danube.
As we left the fortress, I realized I had forgotten to take the map with me. Although that was an idiotic move that sucked big time, we were fortunately able to retrace our steps and make it back to our host’s place. Soon, we were headed back to the casino for more food, drinks, and (for some of us) gaming. They are really generous with the free stuff when you join. Everything was free except the food.
Some four years ago, I reviewed (for some loose definition of “reviewed”) a Creative Commons-licensed novel called Noisome Beasts. I’ve just found out that the book is now available as a Kindle e-book. This reminds me that I should read it again. I recommend it! (Although my employer doesn’t necessarily. I, uh, have to say that.)
The other side of Europe
Wed Feb 27, 2013 00:20 (UTC -8)
Katya’s visa was expiring. Our passports were stamped; we were out of the EU. We followed a long line of travelers across the tarmac of Gothenburg City Airport and into a purple and pink airplane.
It was my first time flying a cheapie European airline, and while I was worried they would charge me for breathing the air in the cabin, the flight was reasonably comfortable. I was able to take my mind off of how scrunched up my legs were by looking at the ad on the seat in front of me. It was close.
There’s little overlap between the countries that Americans and Russians can visit without a visa. Our plane was headed for one of them: Serbia. It was a place I didn’t really know anything about, except that there used to be violence and stuff there when I was growing up. Things were different now, the travel guides had assured me. Belgrade—or Beograd, as it’s called when it’s at home—was moving on up in the world.
We landed at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport and were shuttled to immigration. I had gotten used to the drill by now: wait in one of several long lines for an unsmiling uniformed officer to glance at you and stamp your passport. And no using cell phones before you’re cleared to enter. I guess that’s in case you’re a terrorist or something, telling your terrorist friends that the chicken has left the henhouse, but it’s still funny. It’s like you’re not really anywhere until they let you through that little gate.
The airport’s sterile modernity betrays its small size. Once we were past immigration, we were virtually out of the place. Almost, but not quite. Having picked up our bags, we found ourselves in a small waiting area with car-rental kiosks, an ATM, and, in one corner, an oversized analog flight board with some of the spinny letters broken.
Katya went to the bathroom, so I was alone there for a bit. I felt kind of bad about thinking it, but to me this seemed like the kind of place where foreigners—be they tourists, students, or wise-cracking cops who take the law into their own hands—needed to watch their backs a little more than usual.
I hastily made a trip across the room to the ATM and took out enough money for a few days. The exchange rate would be easy to remember: 100 Serbian dinars were about a dollar. I stuffed the bills into my wallet as fast as I could and shuffled back to sit next to the big board. I wouldn’t feel right until we had gotten to where we were supposed to be. It was a travel day, and I was in travel mode, in an unfamiliar country.
I took a map of Belgrade from an information desk. We knew which buses we could take to get to our host, a CouchSurfing user who had generously offered us a room in his apartment at the very last minute. So we stood outside, waiting for a bus, and, as if on cue, a guy asked us if we wanted a taxi. He actually left us alone eventually, so I felt a little better.
The sun set during the nearly hour-long bus ride. We debussed at a bustling bus station in central Belgrade. We dragged our bags around, trying to follow the map, but I wasn’t even sure we were going in the right direction. The streets were pretty quiet, and it was hard to find any street signs (although I did see that one street was named after Gavrilo Princip). We might have been going in a circle. After a while, a man who spoke English spotted us and offered to help. He suggested we get on a particular bus and was heading the same way.
We had finally made it to our host’s apartment. It was a tiny place, and there was another CouchSurfer staying there, a guy from California, whom we’d be sharing a room with. We were late, and they were hungry for dinner. So, where should we eat? We asked the local.
He had a thick accent but spoke good English. There’s an interesting place that I like to have dinner at a lot, he said. The food’s good and cheap. It’s a buffet. I always take guests there. You’ll like it. We can go by taxi.
The cab stopped outside a massive building that was completely dark. It was the Hotel Yugoslavia, and it had been bombed by NATO in 1999. We walked around back, to the side that fronted the Danube. Here was an entrance, and it was brightly lit. We went in and found ourselves in what seemed to be a lobby.
Our host watched as we three first-time visitors each filled out a card with our name, address, phone number, date of birth, place of birth… They snapped a photo of each of us, and we got membership cards with the name of the establishment. The name was also on a huge sign outside that I had completely missed: “Grand Casino Beograd.”
I wrote about approval voting last year (ohmygod it wasn’t last year it was the year before last, man am I getting old). The Center for Election Science, which aims to promote approval voting through its newly non-embarrassing-looking website, wants to make a slick, professional video to compete for a prize funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and they need your help. They’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the video. Read about approval voting, and if you like what you see, chip in a few bucks. For democracy.
Progress Bar Clock
Sun Jan 27, 2013 18:15 (UTC -8)
I’ve also always had an interest in clocks and various ways to represent time, so I was wondering if there was a novel way to show the time and date with the new stuff in HTML5.
I did a token amount of research and didn’t find anything like this, so I snapped up the domain name and made it real: progressbarclock.com. It went live two weeks ago, and although I’m pretty sure no humans have visited it yet, I can’t know for sure because I’m not even keeping logs. It’s just for the lulz, as they say.
The HTML5 progress bar is still pretty new, and support is limited. If you’re not using the latest version of your browser, you probably won’t see anything. I didn’t realize until after publishing the site that Internet Explorer 10 hasn’t officially been released for Windows 7 yet… but that’s not the latest version of Windows either. Upgrade your stuff.
In other news, I finally got around to upgrading WordPress for the first time in, like, two years. I was also able to upgrade most of my plugins, which provide features like subscribing to posts and automatic tweets, but one plugin, Subscribe to Comments, hasn’t been updated since then, so I’m not sure if it still works. If anyone can recommend an alternative that’s being actively updated, I’d appreciate it.
Finally, a fascinating TED talk explaining how to watch light travel by shooting video at one trillion frames per second. With a real example! (Via Kottke)
Strolling across Sweden
Sun Jan 20, 2013 23:45 (UTC -8)
So, yes, Katya and I were in Sweden in September. We criss-crossed Stockholm on foot; I walked more than I had in a long time (and I walk to work every day, mind you). We walked through a large park to the Kaknäs Tower and went to the top. From there we could see all of Stockholm and eat lunch while sitting on trendy furniture. Along each window was a faded photo of the vista with place names labeled, and I’m pretty sure I saw the city that my couch is named after.
We walked over bridges, through churchyards, to squares, to stores, and to restaurants. We took a free walking tour and got to see the very old, historic center of the city while learning about its colorful past. We took a short break from walking to tour the canals that lace through Stockholm, and our boat passed a large house that belonged one of the people from Abba. And then we walked—fast— to catch our train to Sweden’s second city.
I had heard from travel writers and natives alike that the train ride from Stockholm to Gothenburg would be extremely boring. I didn’t think it was, but then, I don’t really recall what it was like. I haven’t gotten completely disenchanted with riding on trains, though, and I like how casual Europeans (and probably everyone except Americans) make train travel out to be. The ride was just fine, I guess.
Our CouchSurfing host met us at the train station. It had been hard to find hosts in Sweden (we had to stay in a hotel in Stockholm), so I was especially glad to see him. What’s more, he was a man after my own heart: a Linux enthusiast who made us pasta for dinner because it was just about the only thing he could make. It was well-received… by me.
Katya asked him to show us some offbeat or out-of-the-way places, with emphasis on the old and abandoned—she really likes stuff like that. Fortunately, our host knew just where take us. Despite, or perhaps aided by, the overcast and drizzly weather, we enjoyed a stroll through vast cemetery with an entrance that bore the inscription: TÄNK PÅ DÖDEN. “THINK ABOUT DEATH.”
Next we toured a narrow slice of land along the river where people kept boats in various states of disrepair. They ran the gamut from floating fixer-upper for sale all the way down to rusty parts lying in the grass. Across the water, we could see a ship that was decorated to look like an enormous Chinese dragon. It had been a restaurant until the owner fled the country for tax reasons. Now it was also abandoned.
We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant (I’m pretty sure I ate more Asian food than Swedish food in Sweden) and set out again as the weather cleared up. We walked further along the river and, tired, returned home.
Katya and I went out again to have dinner at a swanky restaurant near the top of some tall building. I didn’t realize it would be so fancy—I didn’t know anything about it, in fact, and we were probably the least casually dressed people there. It was a good thing I had some cash because they made me check my jacket for about a dollar.
But I was there and I was hungry, so I ate. Considering my previous meal choices, I ordered Swedish meatballs, which were about as good as any I’ve had anywhere. From the window we could see Liseberg, one of the most popular amusement parks in Sweden.
The next day was a travel day. After saying goodbye to our host, we made it out to the observation deck of an office building (I’m noticing a theme here) before we had to take a bus to the airport. I had only been in Europe for a few days, and now it was time to jump from one end to the other.
Speaking of travel, have you ever wondered about this? Welcome to America, Please Be On Time: What Guide Books Tell Foreign Visitors to the U.S. It’s interesting to see social customs that I’ve never thought of as social customs being described in detail. (Via Kottke)
2012: The Year in Review
Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:54 (UTC -8)
I wasn’t going to do this, since I’ve hardly blogged at all this year, but I might as well since I have a little time. I’ll forego the traditional bullet format with links and just go through the year by memory since I haven’t necessarily written about all of this anyway.
I started 2012 on my balcony in Seattle with a couple of friends; Katya was there too, but she was getting some much-needed sleep. She would soon go back to Russia for a few weeks, only to return to Seattle to stay with me for almost three months. We mostly stayed at home, but we did manage to visit my friend Luke and his girlfriend Carmela in Oregon before they moved to Tennessee.
In May, I went to Florida for my sister’s wedding and played a very special part: I performed all the music (two songs) on guitar. Also that month, I had lived in Seattle and been at my job for one year. I didn’t celebrate or anything, but I could have.
I did celebrate the Fourth of July by having a bunch of friends over: almost everyone I knew outside of work, in fact. Later in the month, I had a subdued birthday celebration in which I went to one of my favorite bars (whaaat jrodon u have a favorutie bar????!?!?!?!) with my friend Nick.
My friend Kevin spent the night at my place when he got bumped from one of his flights on the way from Florida to Seoul. That prompted me to open my place up to CouchSurfers after a hiatus.
In September, I met up with Katya in Sweden, and from there we went to Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia, where I returned to the island where some of my family had originally come from—all in half a month. Shortly after, Katya and I were no longer in a relationship, but we remained good friends.
In October, my sister and my brother-in-law made a spontaneous visit. They only came for a weekend, but we had a lot of fun. That was the last I saw of my family until Christmas; I spent Thanksgiving alone, but I didn’t mind. I arrived in Florida on Christmas Eve and spent a few enjoyable days with my folks. And they live in northern Florida, so they are folks indeed.
After that, I came to spend the New Year holidays with Katya in Saint Petersburg, and that’s where I am now. We tried to stream the Russian New Year countdown online since we’re in a a place that doesn’t have TV, but we missed it. Nevertheless, I did take part in the Russian tradition of eating tangerines; it dates back to Soviet times, when they were a luxury item.
So, technically I’m cheating with this post since it’s 2013 already where I am. But don’t let that bother you.
During 2013, I will try to blog more. And floss every day. I probably won’t blog every day, but this post has reminded me that a lot of things still happen to me that are worth writing about.
And sorry if I missed anything.
Red, white, and blah
Mon Nov 05, 2012 23:27 (UTC -8)
Hi, I’m Jordon Kalilich from theworldofstuff.com. You may know me as someone who writes about things I do in other countries or computer stuff you don’t care about. But I do more than that. Sometimes I write about politics—and I vote.
I mean, I write about politics once in a while, but I vote all the time. Or rather, as often as I can. Which is once in a while.
Anyway, I know you’re tired of hearing about the presidential election and all that stuff, and this is the last place you want to hear more about it, but please allow me to say: Vote, stupid. Seriously. Do it now.
I live in Washington state, which conducts elections exclusively by mail. It’s more convenient than going somewhere and standing in some long line; I filled out my ballot yesterday in the comfort of my own home. I was wearing pants, but I didn’t have to. This morning, I sealed my ballot in the provided envelope and popped it into any mailbox or one of several convenient ballot drop-off boxes located around King County. I had to wear pants for that.
Washington probably has one of the more interesting ballots this year. Not only is there a hotly contested gubernatorial race, but we also get to decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage and marijuana (woooo!). And charter schools (wooo?). And phasing down the debt limit percentage in three steps from nine to eight percent while modifying the calculation date, calculation period, and definition of general state revenues. Woo.
And of course, there is the presidential race. I know someone here who said he might not bother to vote at all because, in a heavily Democratic state, his vote (presumably for the Republican candidate) simply wouldn’t matter; the Electoral College rears its ugly head again. I told him he should vote instead of believing a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, hypocritically, I used the same rationale in voting for Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate. If I still lived in Florida, which swings both ways, I’d have had to be more careful with my vote.
Fortunately, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is well on its way to effectively abolishing the Electoral College. If your state hasn’t joined the compact yet, write your lawmakers and tell them about it. Washington has!
Well, that’s about it. Like everyone else, I look forward to not talking about politics.
Redshift is a program for Linux that changes the color temperature of your monitor from its usual bluish hue during the day to a warmer, redder shade at night. The rationale is that at night, your computer screen should give off what looks more like electric light and less like sunlight. I’ve been using Redshift for about a year, and although I can’t say for sure that it’s helped me get to sleep easier, I definitely wouldn’t be able to work without it. You don’t realize how intensely bright and blue your computer screen is until you’ve used a program like this for a while.
A couple of things
Sat Nov 03, 2012 16:25 (UTC -7)
As I’ve been telling the story of our most recent travels together, I suppose this is as good a time as any to say that my relationship with Kate is over.
Also, she now prefers to be called Katya. That’s how her name sounds in Russian, her native language.
If you’re close to me, that may be a lot to take in—it has been for me—but I’ll leave it at that. As for me, I’m doing fine and feeling optimistic about the future.