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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: July 2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ramadan: the County Fair feeling

From Istanbul

The five pillars of Islam differ slightly between the major sects, but can be basically summarized as: (1) profess monotheism and accept Muhammad as God's messenger, (2) do the five prayers daily, (3) alms to the poor, (4) make the pilgrimage of the hajj, and the one that is relevant to this particular blog (5) to fast at various times, but especially during Ramadan. The last one is the one this particular blog focuses on.

Ramadan is a time for Muslims to fast (during daylight hours) for the sake of Allah and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

As it turned out, I was in Istanbul at the beginning of Ramadan last year. On the European side of the Bosporus lie some of Istanbul’s most famous buildings: the Hagia Sophia , the Topkapi Palace, and the iconic Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque). Immediately next door to the Blue Mosque is a public park, where families congregate in the early evening hours during Ramadan to await sun down. As they wait, they set up their soon-to-be-consumed feasts of food and drink on the tables. All around the park are vendors, selling Turkish food delights. After sundown, the evening call to prayer plays over the loudspeakers of the adjacent mosque and then, the fast is broken and the revelry begins.

The entire thing reminded me a bit of a county fair in the American South. Quite a bit different type of county fair, in that whirling dervishes were some of the main entertainment, but nonetheless, it was that same spirit of community and family that infused the entire place. That and the children, running around with wild abandon. It was a great festival to witness.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition at Grantouismo Link

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Photo of the Day: Hoi An Market

From Hoi An

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photo of the Day: Norway

From Munich

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Photo of the Day: Halong Bay, Vietnam

From Hanoi

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Photo of the Day: Petra

From New-Old

Really loved the colors in this wall

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Photo of the Day: Hoi An, Vietnam

From Hoi An

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Photo of the Day: Copan Ruins

From Copan Ruins


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Berlin Blog with added pictures

Posted this about a year ago, but thought I'd go back and add pictures. Enjoy.

Just in time (almost) for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, here are some quick notes on Berlin. A city with almost too much to see, Berlin is to easy get around via subway and by walking. It is well worth at least three or four days of exploration. I want to focus on just a few of the sights that are all within very easy walking distance of each other.

In the center of downtown (at the Unter den Linden S-Bahn exit) lies the Brandenberg gate, the triumphal archway under which conquering German armies marched after going to war. It was commissioned by King Fredrick William II in the late 18th century and is probably most famous for its chariot of horses on top, being driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. Apparently it didn’t provide initial good luck, because Napoleon conquered Prussia just a couple decades later and took the chariot statute and Victoria off to Paris. It was returned a few decades later — after another war, this time won by the Germans.
From Berlin

It is an iconic sight in Berlin. Their is a line in the street on the west side of the gate that shows where the Berlin Wall once ran. The Brandenberg gate was actually in the no-mans zone for those years. Immediately next to the gate is the U.S. Embassy — prime territory in town for one of the conquering Allied powers. Across the way is the French Embassy, in a fairly ugly building that does not refect what I think of when I think France. The prime hotel overlooking these particular sights is the Hotel Adlon, which normally wouldn’t be one any sightseeing agenda, but I can almost guarantee that you have seen it before.

It was from the penthouse suite’s balcony that Michael Jackson dangled his infant child, to the consternation of most of the world watching on television. Ahhhhh, those classic Michael memories.

Right around the corner is the Reichstag, which houses the German Parliament. The building is suitably picture-worthy, but it is the addition that that building that is the real draw. Before the legislative seat of government of Germany was moved back to Berlin, post re-unification, a large glass dome was added to the top of the building. From inside, you can actually see down to the floor of Parliament and see government in action. It really does look like sausage after all. Lines are long to get in — better to go first thing or last thing in the day. Views from up top are spectacular.
From Berlin

Immediately south of the U.S. Embassy and Brandenberg Gate is one of the most moving places I’ve seen on my entire trip: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Often mis-indentified as the “Holocaust Museum,” the correct in-your-face name gives an accurate impression of what this site is all about. On the surface of the city block that the memorial occupies are the iconic 2,711 huge stone block that you have no doubt seen pictures of. They stand at various heights and are neatly organized in rows that take up almost the entire block. The architect of the project, Peter Eisenman, has never given any interview explaning what feelings he meant to convey with the design. Walking through the field, taking pictures of the stones with the shadows cast upon them, and seeing others walking in and out of your field of vision is interesting. I wish I had a better word for it, but that’s all I’ve got.

Underground in the small museum. Admission is free and although I hate to be the type of blogger that says “you must do this or that,” you really should take a hour or two out and go downstairs. There are only about five rooms down there. One hallway has the basic history and time line of the Holocaust. One room has maps and pictures of every concentration camps — and there were a lot more than I ever though. One room details how many Jews were killed from each country. But it was two of the rooms that set me back the most.
From Berlin

There is a room where the histories of 12-15 families are laid out. Family photos are on display. Letters. Descriptions of each of the members of the family: ages, professions, schooling, and so on. And then a full explanation of when the Nazis took them to their concentration camp(s) and how they died. Entire families. From Germany, France, Lativa, Russa, Bulgaria, and so many others. Among the reality of millions of murdered Jews — seeing these families stories brought it down to a level I hadn’t thought of before.
From Berlin

The Room of Names is a simple place with no photographs or other displays. One each of the four walls, a person’s name and biographical data is projected. Over the loudspeakers in the room, using information compiled by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, an annoucer somberly and briefly details the life, and death, of the person whose name is projected on the wall. On a continuous loop. There are about 700 such brief biographies being looped now and the project aims to expand that to several thousand. When I was there, two women sat on one of the benches crying. They weren’t alone.

I walked out that morning with one thought in my head — I just don’t understand. I don’t mean that in a disrepectful way at all. I certainly understand the facts and details of the Holocaust and the museum was an incredible jolt to my soul. But I don’t understand how people can do that to each other.

On this trip, I’ve been through Uganda, Germany, Cambodia, Sudan and skirted Bosnia. Genocides have happened for thousands of years in a variety of places and are certain to happen again in the future. I am, or at least was, a criminal defense lawyer. I can comprehend murder. Murder for greed, or anger, or jealousy or any of the other thousands of reasons it happens every day does make sense to me — I dispise it, but I can at least comprehend it.

I just cannot comprehend the systematic killing of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or in the Holocaust’s case, millions of people because of their religion, or tribe, or educational background or the other means of weeding out who “must die.” One murderer or a small gang of murderers is something I can get my head around — but genocide is carried out by thousands and thousands of people, at the highest levels of power in their government. How do they get to that point? How is it possible to convince that many people to do something that unspeakably horrible? In the end, I supposed I’m glad that I cannot understand it at all, but I do understand, and believe, in the inscription on the wall I read that day.

“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.” from Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (I sommersi e i salvati. Turin 1986), Simon and Schuster, New York.

Primo Levi, born in 1919 in Turin, was a chemist. As a member of the Italian resistance, he was arrested in 1944 and deported to Auschwitz. He survived and began in 1945, directly after his return, to write. In 1987 Primo Levi committed suicide.

From Berlin

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Quirks of Travel Time

I like odd things. Oddities are one of the big reason I love travel as much as I do. Strange food. Unusual places. Different cultures. Things that work differently than back home. Things that don't work at all. New sports to enjoy.

It is, for the most part, the differences that make me smile most days. That keep me on my toes. They are one of the main reasons I want to travel indefinately and see how much of everything I can see, with the time I've got.

One unexpected oddity was time. You would think that amongst all the newness and uncertainty involved in world travel that time would remain a constant that you could rely on. Not so fast, Madam.

Here are some of the time travel weirdness that I found on my trip:

(1) China is one entire time zone, from one end of the country to another. I'll try to place this in perspective for those of you that haven't been there. China is big. Really big. It is the third largest country in the world. It is hard to get exact distances from the websites I've seen, but from east to west, it is basically the same size as the continental United States.

Imagine working and living in Los Angeles. You need to be at work at 8 a.m. Except 8 a.m. is now essentially three hours earlier -- a couple hours before sunrise. That's what you would have to put up with if you lived in Western China.

(2) All train schedules in Russia operate on Moscow time. This is one that inevitably trips up a traveler or two taking the Trans-Siberian railroad. You get off the train in Irkutsk to stay a couple days there. Your train ticket says that the train leaves on Tuesday at two in the afternoon. Except that is two in the afternoon in Moscow -- where you are now, that is seven in the evening. If you train ticket says you get in at 9 p.m. and you think you are going to find a hostel to stay in that evening when you arrive -- it's really 2 a.m. local time when you get in.

Going into the various train stations is one of the more odd experiences with time you have anywhere. You might have just come from a bar, where the clocks on the wall say one thing, but when you get to the station, all the clocks in there are on Moscow time. Walking through the doors is walking into a mini-time machine.

And FYI -- Russia has nine time zones.

(3) North/South time zone changes. I realize there are a few places in the States where you can go north/south and change a time zone (for instance going from El Paso north to New Mexico), but I still find it odd to move forward or back in time when not moving east or west.

The bus going south from Peru to Chile was my best example on this trip. When we crossed the border, we moved forward not just one, but two hours. I almost got jet lag.

(4) Half-time zones. There seems to be a reason for some of these various time oddities, but this one completely baffles me. There are a variety of places around the world where you only jump a half-hour when you cross over a time zone. No idea why this is the case, but think about how that affects things like national television programing and the like. Makes no sense to me, but I ran into it in the middle of Australia.

Would love to hear some of your stories about oddities in time on the road.

From Uluru and area


Totally forgot time oddity (5) - the International Date Line. As most of you know, I crossed the Pacific by ocean freighter, so the time line was particularly interesting. I didn't just fly over it quickly, we crossed it slowly and then I... had my second chance at March 28, 2010. I had two full, twenty-four hour March 28ths this year.

On March 28th, first try, the highlight was watching The Godfather, Part I. You can imagine that the highlight of March 28th, second try, was going to be The Godfather, Part II, which I did watch, but the memorable part of that day was actually busting my head open and making my one and only trip to the boat hospital. It wasn't a big deal, but I found it somehow appropriate that I got a little punishment for being totally unproductive twice... on the same day.

Thanks Amanda for the reminder!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photo of the Day: Sunset Mid-Ocean

From Sunsets


Monday, July 12, 2010

Photo of the Day: Graffiti

From New-Old

Check out the bottom of this picture -- British graffiti in Luxor, Egypt. Kinda made me laugh a little bit.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers (or not)

I haven't written in a while -- having to deal with real world stuff. Water pipe burst at my house and been dealing with moderate water damage, and more importantly, annoying insurance people that don't want to cover it. Trying to sort out a few short trips this month and next. Seeing if I can get organized to go back to South America in September for the rest of the year. But all of that is boring -- let's get back to travel stories.

One of the many great things about travel is putting yourself partly at the whims of kindness of strangers. Sometimes that is good. . . sometimes bad, but it is always a good fodder for entertainment. On my trip, I've had a large dose of good fortune and a small bit of bad fortune in depending on the kindness of strangers. Here are some of the stories:

My best bit of good fortune on the trip were the South African and British bikers that completely saved me at the Ethiopian border. It took me three exhausting days to get overland from Nairobi to the border -- one day on a bus and two days hitchhiking on top of a cargo truck down the worst road on the entire trip. When I got to the border, I found out that the information that the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi had told me about getting an Ethiopian visa was incorrect. . . and the Ethiopian border agents wanted me to return all the way back to Nairobi to get my visa. Not an option. Here's the story of the charitable bikers that simply saved my ass.

Massive border problems, and help, at Kenya/Ethiopia

When I finally got into Ethiopia, I had a number of problems I had to deal with, most importantly, I still needed to get a visa in Addis Ababa (since I was worried about getting out of there and also worried about getting arrested for being in-country with no valid visa) and another problem I didn't anticipate -- I needed U.S. dollars but had no way to get them. Here is the story of my personal cab driver that came to my rescue on many fronts.

A savior cabbie in Ethiopia

No compilation of stories about the kindness of strangers would be complete without talking about the nicest people in the world, the Kiwis.

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

One of the things that totally opened my eyes on this trip was the vast internet travel community out there (including hundreds of great bloggers) that are ready to step up and provide answers to questions, help and general support. Twitter. Facebook. Direct emails to bloggers you've never laid eyes on before. The Thorn Tree Forum on Lonely Planet's website. The resources, and great people, are everywhere. Here's the story of the stranger in Norway that helped me find my way to the top of the world, before it all got iced over for winter:

Help from an Internet Stranger

I have said for a long time that I have a complete hate/love relationship with cabbies. I hate 9 of every 10, but then the 10th one comes along and ends up being the most helpful person on the planet. While I was in Uruguay, I got an email from my cargo freighter travel agent that my ship was leaving early and I had to haul ass to get to the port or I would miss it. Here's the cabbie that got me across the border in the middle of the night:

Another savior cabbie, in Brasil

Unfortunately, it isn't all wine and roses from strangers out there. Most every third world country you go to has a variety of scam artists out to try to get into you wallet. And not every stranger offering help has altruism in their heart. But those experiences are simply a part of travel -- and sometimes provide the best stories.

When my friend Dave came to visit me in Egypt, we wandered around the Arab Quarter of town in search of good photographs (which are plentiful) and some good local food. We ran into a food scam that we both should have known to avoid:

Rip off in Egypt

The last story I'll share on this theme is one of my favorites from the trip, though it didn't happen to me. There was a British guy named Mark that I traveled with for about a week or so. He, like me, didn't speak any Spanish before he got to Central America. As you will find when you are out there, when people come up to you and start speaking in a foreign language, for some reason, you invariably end up nodding a lot and saying "yes" in whatever the local language is. I guess it is just a form of general politeness, but everyone ends up doing it.

In this case, Mark was going back to his hostel in Panama at about 1 a.m. after an evening of drinking. A local guy walked up and engaged him in conversation, mostly Spanish, with some sign language and a bit of English thrown in. It went something like this:

Stranger to Mark: "Hostel or hotel?"

Mark, thinking the stranger was going to help him find his way: "Hostel amigo, that way [pointing]"

"Ahhh, hostel, si, si." As the stranger starts walking with Mark and then he asks Mark three or four questions and Mark has no earthy idea what is being asked.

"Si, si."

When they got back to the hostel, Mark turned to the stranger and said, "Ahhh, mi hostel. Gracias," and started to walk inside. The stranger followed him. "No, no -- this my hostel."

"Si, si" said the stranger smiling and made a hand motion of what was apparently agreed to in the series of questions that Mark blindly answered yes to.

"NO, NO. Me like-a the chicas! Not the amigos! Me like chicas!!"

And off walked a very disappointed local guy that thought Mark had agreed to a night of passion. In this case. . . a stranger that was perfectly willing to provide a little. . . kindness.

Photo of the Day: News in the Desert

When I was in Namibia, I took a three day trip down to the Namib Park dunes. Right outside the park was the tiny, tiny town of Solitaire. It was one of those seven building sleepy towns. We stopped at the gas station to fill up and get some soft drinks for the campsite. This sign was the daily news in town.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Photo of the Day: Ethiopia Child

From Ethiopia Misc

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Photo of the Day: San Gimignano

From Various old

Click for info on San Gimignano, Italy

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