Thursday, 30 July 2015

Looking Out The Greyhound Window

Travelling in the United States, the all American dream road trip where one just drops everything and hit the road being free. I had dreams of it, wishing I was driving a car, a motorbike, or even hitchhiking down the famous route 66 with nothing other than good jeans, t-shirt and a small backpack and a straw in my mouth like a cowboy. Unfortunately reality is not as perfect as television shows and dreams.

Coming from outside of the states, the great road trip I wanted to do so much was just too expensive to consider. I needed a ride and a ride cost money to buy or rent. Being an alien means I only have a limited amount of time before my visa expire and I have to leave or be branded an illegal. The movies always show these grand road trip by people with no money but the hard fact is that you need quite a lot of money for a road trip in America if you are from the outside.
I remember sad endings in movies where someone on the run always board a bus in the end of the show. A bus to anywhere and the screens go blacks as the bus departs showing a guy or girl looking out the sad window, yet also a start of a new beginning.

That was my journey in the states, always looking out the greyhound bus window at towns, cities, countryside as they roll by, for not every place in the states were travel friendly. Hotels or Motels would have whip back my journey’s budget for months and without a set of free wheels (Car or bike) I would be stranded at the bus stop as soon as I reach these remote towns. Only places with some form of public transportation, subway or if small enough within walking distance would be the places I go to. I could go anywhere I wanted America, but I was restricted and bonded by chains called money.
I first visited United States back in Jan 2012 on my very first backpacking adventure around the world. I quickly realized that hostels were limited to big cities or very popular places and were not everywhere as it was in Europe. I was content then travelling the big cities route for everything was a new experience anyway. Today Apr 2015 not much have changed in the hostel scene other than the steep hike in prices but I ran out of big cities to explore.

Even back in 2012 I quickly realized that I was stuck on the bus route. Cross states trains were available but too expensive and have lesser flexibility in terms of places to go to. Not every city in America is serve by a train station and trains don’t always run regularly. A set of free ‘Wheels’ was not possible money wise so all that was left was the bus.
I soon discovered after desperate research that there was a bus pass for the Greyhound. The ‘ greyhound discovery pass’ was a lifesaver for I could buy a monthly pass for USD 450 and travel unlimited times on any Greyhound bus to anywhere in the states. Today 2015 this bus pass is no longer on sale and I had to book from stop to stop making it even more expensive to travel the states.

For some reason certain route was cheaper than the others although it is the same amount of distance. For example a bus ride from Knoxville to Richmond cost USD 80 for 11 hours journey but a bus ride from Knoxville to Washington D.C cost USD 37 for 11 hours journey. You can of course guess which city I choose to go from Knoxville.
A friend I met in the USA told me that the Greyhound was the most lousy bus system and only the scum of the earth takes the Greyhound bus. He was adherent to persuade me to take Megabus or Chinatown bus but cost wise it was nowhere a cheap as the Greyhound. The novelty of getting a bus tickey for USD 1 on the Megabus was utter bullshit to a traveller. I have only ever got a 0 dollar air ticket from Airasia by stalking the website every day and even that was a 1 year ahead booking. I knew I would never get such amazing deals. Not unless you are willing to tie down plans and forgo free will.

How bad is the Greyhound Bus Service ?
I remember back in 2012 I could be sitting next to the homeless on the greyhound bus for the whole journey. The smell was horrible but when the bus is full, all you can do is try to sleep with you head facing the other way.

The Greyhound bus was always cold. Back then and even now. For some reason the air-conditioning is always set to freezing and if it in winter the bus driver would normally be oblivious to how to turn on the heating. There were times when I thought I would freeze to death in a greyhound bus regardless of how much cloths I was wearing. Nowadays I learn to layer up or at lease bring all the layers up the bus regardless of the weather. Much better than dreaming of that warm clothes at the undercarriage.
You meet so many people on the greyhound bus station. The kindest, weirdest, dangerous, creepy people that you can think off. No wonder my friend call it the scum of the earth.

I am in Knoxville now and going just outside the station to smoke people will approach you for a cig. Normally I roll my own and once they see it and know that the rolled cig is not weed they would leave you alone. One guy thou really wanted a cig and was willing to roll his own so I let him.

This guy was a welder, looked like a short hippy that could not stop talking to himself. You could never know with these people if they were talking to you or just talking to themselves.

Don’t engage too much … I always thought.

Soon another guy came up and asked if he could roll a cig as well …. This guy looked like a typical nice white boy. Nice simple conversation and always the standard question of how many hours have you been on the greyhound and how long more you have to go. Some people travel for 4 days on the bus to get where they were going. All was still weird normal to me but then a pretty girl came out and light a smoke next to us. The welder asked how she was doing and her reply was “Great – first day out of prison”.
Yep I know I am travelling the cheapest way possible, on the Greyhound bus.

In Baltimore while waiting for the bus to Philadelphia I was smoking as usual at the smoking area and observing the weird Americans as usual. A nice young black chap who just wanted conversation but always ended the sentence with a punchline of “You know what I’m saying”. A Mother and very young son (about 4 I think) which was worrisome for when the boy being playful wondered too far away the mom would drag him back to the smoking corner and threaten the hell out of the boy.
I think her words were, If you fucking leave 20 ft away from me again I will fucking smack you so hard in the face you be crying on the floor. Do you fucking hear me?

Poor kid. But another old lady took the cake and made me shuffle back inside the bus station. She was talking to the young chap and topics were flying everywhere until they mention about how dangerous it is in Baltimore. The old lady said that she did not feel safe too but she ain’t scared for she has her 22 right there in her pocket. (22 as in a Gun) ….
What I think about the Greyhound Bus

I have to say that I am thankful that there is at lease one system of bus that run all over USA. Else I would be stranded in the city that I landed. Thou not for the week hearted traveller it shows a glimpse of True Americans of how diverse the people really is and not just what Hollywood portrays. As dangerous as it sounds .... I stills survived it and they do have security guards that although at times seams forceful does instil as sense of security around the stations.

Monday, 27 July 2015

A Day in Baltimore

I rushed through Baltimore like no other city. Only one night of stay since the one and only hostel in town was booked out for the next three days for a fraternity event. A baseball game was on that weekend I was there and it was pulling crowds of people into Baltimore.
Baltimore Harbour

Arrived in early afternoon by train from Washington D.C and chuck my bag in the hostel and out to explore the city. Loads of history Baltimore has for America since it was the base colony of England. Baltimore claimed a lot of the first items in America. First Church, first so and so. The city was pretty, not too busy but enough to keep one occupied and not too grime that it felt really safe.
Library in Baltimore
Most tourist congregate around the harbour which was the main sights, food, aquarium, stadiums and museums. The harbour itself had plenty of old and antique boats lined up and the long walk was a present stroll in the late spring.

One of the weird place to visit in Baltimore was the library. They had one of the top 10 library to visit in the world I think for most tourist just visit the library for the old Georgian architecture interior and it was also filled with old books. It like a rare collection library.

Apart from that and just walking around Baltimore and mostly concentrated on the harbour area I could not see much. That’s is what happens when you rush a city I guess for just a day. My local guide never met me in the end for she was busy last minute. A day in Baltimore maybe just enough I think for me.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Visiting Washington D.C a second time.

I left Knoxville with a smile but only to head for the greyhound bus late at night for an overnight bus ride all the way to Washington D.C. Travelling overnight by bus in South America has skewed my expectation on bus ride. Overnight on the greyhound bus means minimal sleep and double the cramps plus painful freezing atmosphere.

American Indian Smithsonian
I eventually arrived Washington D.C and was happy to stretch my legs by walking 25 blocks to the hostel. Washington D.C … nothing new since I have visited it before three years ago on 2012 and not much was about to change. Apart for restoration works which seems to be going on forever just at different segments of the Capitol Mall everything remain the same really for Washington.

This time round I managed to see the pentagon …. But no photos of proof that I was there. Apparently it is sensitive to take photos of the pentagon and if you try ….. chance are that you will be catch and thrown to prison for a while. Nearby I also saw the huge cemetery for the soldiers. We use to watch TV seeing “the when a fallen hero gets buried” on a mound with lots of white stonehead ….. it really exist …. Big as hell and solemn. Out of respect and a little fear … I did not go in and back track to the nearest subway instead.

The other things I manage to catch in Washington this time around was the American Indian Smithsonian museum, a dark museum showing the ugly side of America. The harm that has been done to the native of the land and cannot be undone. At lease with the museum as a reminder hopefully the future will be better. I think it is a good museum, for all the grandeur of museums in USA that propaganda the power and might, this museum shows the other side of the coin, and the after effect of power without restrain.
There is no honour in power but there is power in honour … 

I also catch the National Geographic Museum which was a waste of money. Of all the exceptional good free museums in Washington D.C there is no need really to pay for any museum nearby. It would take a week or more to even see all the free museums. I just figured paying for one could not be that bad and was also curious if a paid museum would be much much better than a free one. I forgot for a moment that Smithsonian although free still has a rich funding.
National Geographic Museum ….. its better to see National Geographic Documentary on TV


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hello Knoxville …. Still basking in the 1982 World Fair Glory …

So going to Knoxville I was wondering how this AirBnB experience will be like since the host is a girl. A young girl in fact of 22 years old staying at a loft of another’s person house while she goes to university of Tennessee which is in Knoxville. Allison was tomboyish but still pretty and the place I was staying was on the foldable spring bed for one. The place felt like a studio and I like a random stranger for a few days to disturb her life but she was so friendly it made up for it.

In fact the place and pictures that was shown was actually her own bed. She would rent them out to AirBnB people and she would sleep on the foldable spring bed when people visits. I took the springbed for it was for a single person so then she and her friend Hannah could sleep together in the room instead.
Knoxville was small as expected and nice and peaceful. University driven town with little industry and still stuck in time as the locals will tell you about the 1982 world fair. I did not even know such a thing exist … a world fair …. But then again I won’t be surprise if the world fair only amount to places from the states and not actually from the world. The fact that I heard it mention by local more than once without me prompting was an indicator it was a big deal for them …..

Nothing like a town forgotten in time …. ^Chuckle^ ….
Knoxville was a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains reserved but without a car I was stuck there …. So close to one of the great national park of the states and I could not even see it. The old town or downtown centred around the Gay Street where all the restaurants, theatres and things of interest can be seen. I spend most of my time in Knoxville just reading, watching movies and updating journals and of course watching the locals live their life by ….

I seem to be doing that a lot in USA …. Daydreaming travels …

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Night Out Singing Country Music in Nashville

There is a certain charm to Tennessee in the USA that I can’t really describe which lures me back over and over again. Of all the states and places I have visited in USA Tennessee is one that I would go back to as many times as possible if only just to experience that free spirit country vibe.

Nashville reminded me of Memphis. They had a street called Broadway that was similar to Beale St in Memphis. The city was also a miniature resemblance of Washington D.C with its big monumental government building nearby, clean street and huge stadiums for games. I was there during an ice hockey game night and many people was in town and some were happier than others J
Not much hostels in the USA but when they built a proper one, they built it like an exquisite hostel. Key card lock, big common area, everything build from ground up specifically for a hostel. You could see they choose the beds, building material, wiring, heating everything for a hostel need. Unlike most hostel around the world that usually starts from a refurbish building or office or shop this hostel building was built from ground up to be a hostel. That’s how USA is … you do not make something into a hostel … you custom built it …
First night and barely half an hour when I manage to rest my bags, two guys came in … Howdy and Jay from Pennsylvania.
You wanna go grab a drink or bite ? ….

They asked and I was hungry since I had no food for lunch and it was now pass dinner. I decided to join them and we walk down the music street of Nashville, Broadway
First pub we stop was the Honky Tonk bar, large with lots of people and great country music. Ordered a few beers, and Howdy nudge me saying the two girls across the bar was checking Jay out. Both Jay and Howdy was 25 and the girl across looked like 40. Howdy wanted to ran away but suddenly Jay was missing and looking around he was outside chatting up the two girls.
Country Music at Honky Tong Bar - Nashville
Oh fuck! was what Howdy said but I was a third party and was not about to pass judgement ….. Good free entertainment is hard to come by

We all ended up bar hopping from one to another meeting so many random strangers just hanging out from out of town and eventually all was drunk enough to head to a karaoke bar, one of those where you sing in front of a stage of everyone in the bar. The Karaoke bar was a small one so at lease not much stage fright would be happening but we all went for a go. I got persuaded to sing something and thinking that they won’t have it anyway on the list I requested for Billy Joel-Piano Man. They have it and I was force to sing it …..

That’s one thing you don’t see often in Karaoke places in Singapore or Malaysia. English songs was normally pop hits or classic like MLTR so I was surprise that everyone was singing really old country classic music. Good old fun and when the time comes ( Late Morning ) Howdy excused us and left Jay to walk the girl to the car but somehow he did not manage to seal the deal. Fun guys …. They left the next morning continuing their road trip and me back to daydreaming travels.


Friday, 3 July 2015

My Mini Adventure in Atlanta

So after Tampa it was Atlanta. You know sometimes the traveller does not pick the destination but rather the place itself forces its will upon the traveller. Atlanta was that kinda of place for me … a waypoint that I could not avoid due to, all bus stops and leaves from Atlanta.

Plotting route in USA was always a challenge. You had to find the right cheap transport to places you want to go and then somehow ensure that there is a hostel there or some sort of cheap accommodation as well else budget will be blown 5x before you know it. From Atlanta I could go almost any direction on the Greyhound bus. Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina. As confuse as I was where to go … I knew I had to get to Atlanta first hence Atlanta I went.
Atlanta was blend of poverty and rich mixed together. Not much different from any other major cities I guess but there was a certain countryside city charm to it. Certain parts felt like a black community but not in a dangerous way for such were the AirBnB place me and Happy were staying. It was the kind of city where people have a purpose and not just wandering about. Everything was a hidden Gem in Atlanta. Unless you know how to find those hidden Gems places one would think that Atlanta was a shithole as well.
Atlanta City

Games of Thrones Premier in Atlanta

The Atlanta people was hidden that’s for sure, but we manage to see the actual crowd of Atlanta of sorts at the historic Fox Theatre. By chance we stumble upon the place just wandering around midtown since the nice girl at the Information centre told us that was where the big cheap grocery store was. Beautiful architecture we first thought that it was a mosque seeing it from the rear side but it was a good old classic American Fox Theatre. By chance I was just messing around asking the ticket counter what show was running for the next few days and how much the ticket would cost.
The Game of Thrones Premier Season 5 was on tomorrow the girl said and it’s free. WTF. Any show inside that Fox Theatre would cost at lease USD 30 for it was a proper Theatre and it was Games of Thrones Premier of season 5 which I have been waiting as well.

The next day I drag HappyHHhbhdao to see the show ignoring all his wishes. He eventually got hooked by just seeing one episode of season 5 …. and going back to the AirBnB place we stayed I downloaded the season one episode one to further binge his craving. I am evil in a sense …. Happy in that one week he knew me had started smoking again, drank beer for the first times in years and is now hook on Game of Thrones. *rolls eyes*
What’s the worst thing that could happen while travelling ??

This I am sure is always on a traveller mind. I always get question similar to this such as what was the worst/best/unexpected/bizarre/crazy thing that happen in your journey which is fun remembering but when you are travelling you always think of that worst case scenario.
For some reason dying is not one of em …. So getting shot in the back alley in Brazil Favela is entirely acceptable for at least that is the end but getting beaten half to death and robbed would be a problem. One friend once told me to be careful in India that you don’t wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a missing kidney but any season traveller will tell you that these are all extreme cases. If you chance upon such crazy odds and such extremes does happen …. I say there was no way you could have avoided it anyway …. Stay at home and barricade yourself.

But back to the main question …. The worst thing that could happen is  …… drum roll
1.       You fall sick …. Appendix rupture (I had mine removed when I was young but for the rest …. Maybe )
2.       You get robbed, lost luggage, lost passport, electronics breakdown/stuff breaks
3.       Atm/credit card does not work overseas
In my opinion that is the only two worst case scenario …. The first part sickness you can’t really plan for it other than getting some vaccine prior to travel and wear a condom but the second part which is all the same really. Getting robbed and losing stuff from missing bag through airport is the same disaster just different circumstance. The third …. You just have to do your homework and it should not happen and a spare always help.
When Electronic breakdown during Travels ..
So I got my first scare when I was in Atlanta when my Surface 2 tablet decided to not charged although it was plugged in and all the neon lights were working. Overnight it drained and refuse to start anymore since it had no power. Fuck me but luckily I still had a smartphone and there was a Microsoft outlet in Atlanta.

Tablet was new, not even one year old so it was still under warranty but when travelling who gives a shit about warranty when you just want things to work. Warranty is like insurance … nice to have but I never want to use it …. Ever, plus I was in USA so I did not know if the tablet bought in Singapore would work in USA …. Plus it was no longer in sale after surface 3 came out ….. shit shit shit …
Keep calm, don’t panic and take things one at a time. I am amazed how controlled I was, but I guess travelling so much will do that to you. I have lost things before, bag got pilfered, phone got stolen, broke down, so I have learn not to curse and swear and just keep a calm mind and weight your options. One step at the time …. no point planning ahead more than two steps …. Locate the store and bring it in for help.

The Microsoft store was at the shopping district of Atlanta at Buckhead a little way outside the downtown but still easily reached by the subway system. First thing I got there and after lots of explaining I asked to borrow a charger …. My tablet revived ….. so it was a charger failure …. And although still under warranty I had no choice but to buy another new charger …. At lease I don’t have to buy a new tablet …. Phew ….

Atlanta was fun doing mundane stuff but it was time to move on but I left Happy in Atlanta trying to sort out his life while I head onwards to Nashville.