Days Like These


There are absolutely some travel days where you're better off hiding under the covers and starting again the next day.

And rather than merely present the good/interesting days all the time, perhaps it's more realistic to occasionally blog about the "other" days as well.

The "there will be days like this" axiom holds true even when you're at home, but there are frustrations and challenges on the road that make the bad days even more pronounced.

To balance it out, I suppose it can also be said that the ways to remove the stink of such days are more numerous and more enjoyable on the road too. So, allright October 20th, we'll call it a draw. But I don't need to see days like you again for a while.

En voyageant, everything is heightened - the good times can be really good, and the bad days can make you want to book the next flight home to mommy. (I didn't do the latter, I should add).

Rather than ramble on with a list of actually frustrations though, I will proffer some handy travel tips instead:

  • When you are leaving your home country, it is best to notify your bank. If you don't and they see a number of foreign withdrawals from your account, they may freeze it. The bank however, doesn't tell you this. And this, oddly enough, leaves you unable to withdraw money and unable to do online banking. You simply get an error message stating "It looks like you're having trouble." Yes, no freaking kidding I'm having trouble. You just froze my account.

  • When calling (more on that in a moment) your bank to get it sorted out, it helps to find a good customer service representative. This is luck of the draw, of course, but to have one scold you, actually scold you, for not having the foresight to notify them ahead of time that you are leaving, is really not helpful. (Who actually does the call-the-bank-before-leaving thing anyway? Who's even heard of this? You're lying).

  • Before settling into a neighborhood, try to locate local call shops ("belcenters" in Holland) that you can use if you need to access a landline. And then do not use them. At least not if you need to try to dial a 1-800 number. I may as well have been in the jungles of Borneo, sending smoke signals, to get through to my bank. The call shops don't allow calls to 1-800 numbers in North America. This I found out after going to about 4 of them in a 20-block radius.

  • What's that you say? Just use or get a cell phone? Ideally, your phone is equipped with GSM that works everywhere in the world pretty much, and it allows international dialling. If you have a CDMA phone, a slowly dying North American standard, you cannot use it in Europe. I knew this going in - so I figured, "I will buy a prepaid phone when I get to my country of choice, and simply swap out the SIM card when I get to another country." The latter part of this works just fine. Except when your SIM card provider does not allow you to call 1-800 numbers. (As an aside, the prepaid rates are fairly exorbitant, so only buy a prepaid phone if you think you really need it).

  • Before you go, enlist a trusted relative (thanks sis) or friend back home who can get things done on your behalf if you are really stuck, and then call them. A conference call patched through them to the right agency/bank really helps.

  • Don't do laundry, groceries, or attempt anything at all really when one of your days begins with wandering the streets for 2-3 hours looking for an ATM that will take your card or a call center to take your call. You will lose socks, buy the wrong food, and nearly break your toe on a wayward cobblestone. Just sit down at a local cafe or find the local stress-relieving method of choice - Amsterdam has abundant choices - and wake up tomorrow. My personal statisitics for travelling indicate that there are 23 great days for every one like this.

Short on Sports


Post-goal celebrations here are waaaay different

Before embarking on this extended trip, I was already curious as to how my brain would react without my usual cultural touchstones to rely upon.

There would be no Daily Show (although the Internet has helped out here), no "24" most likely, no So You Think You Can... ok, maybe I shouldn't make that one public. In general, there would be little to no TV at all, and what there was would be in a language that I can understand, but not at quick conversational speed.

There would also be a whole different ballgame in terms of sports. No golf, no ice hockey, no basketball, no football - at least in terms of the leagues I grew up following. And I can safely say this is the only area that I miss from a cultural standpoint.

Soccer - plain "football" in these parts, although using the term "soccer" does not raise eyebrows nor ire in Holland - is absolutely king here in Europe. It seems to even match or exceed Canadians' love of hockey, which is no small feat.

So I've traded Favre for Fabregas, Sidney for Cisse, and LeBron for le foot.

And having attended my first ever European soccer match Saturday, October 24th, I can say that so far my trades have been one-sided, and not in my favor.

The rain was coming down in a fine mist and the wind was gusting, but about 45,000 raucous fans were not daunted. Some great soccer songs were being belted out every few minutes, each one walking a very fine line between love/passion and malevolence/anger. I'm sure the possibility of violence breaking out at any second is what keeps most fans awake.

It was Feyenoord - the Rotterdam club - versus VVV-Venlo (no idea what the 3 V's mean, although after about the 39th minute, it could have been changed to ZZZ) from south Holland. After a 1-0 Feyenoord win, and maybe, maybe 2 shots on net after 90 minutes, it was time to head home. To be fair, my hosts told me it was in fact one of the worst games they've seen. But wow, that was some kind of boring.*

In search of a fix I scoured the Internet, which revealed a few spots in Amsterdam that broadcast NFL games on Sundays.

Fast forward 30 minutes later, and I'm sitting next to Rob the software salesman from Boston, eating a kangaroo burger in Coco's Outback, an Aussie bar. I went all out and ordered it "Oz" style - with a fried egg, a slice of cheese, and a beetroot.

To recap - a bar, in the Netherlands, run by Aussies, broadcasting American football, while being served by a Hungarian server. With a side of French fries, no less. It is truly enjoyable and it doesn't happen everywhere, that's for sure.

*Disclaimer: I realize there is a complete parallel here; the European visitor to North America would likely be bored stiff watching golf with its snail's pace, American football with all its stoppages, etc. So apologies to my European friends reading this - feel free to equally insult the North American sporting landscape.

P.S. The kangaroo burger? Tastes like chicken.