On the Necessity to Author an Eighteen-Volume History of Exploration and Travel After Nearly Going Broke

Kerr Voyages-1

While on a search for free travel books for Kindle yesterday, I happened upon A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Arranged in Systematic Order: Forming a Complete History of the Origin and Progress of Navigation, Discovery, and Commerce, by Sea and Land, from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time, an appropriately early 18th century title for an 18-volume series by Robert Kerr, a man whose name was new to me and likely is to you, too.

Born in Edinburgh in 1755, he was the son of James Kerr, a second generation jeweler and goldsmith who also served as an MP for Edinburgh city. The younger Kerr studied medicine and eventually became a surgeon at Edinburgh Foundling Hospital, working in partnership, according to nineteenth century Scottish historian Robert Chambers, “with an aged practitioner named Wardrope”, whose daughter he later married.

His hands, it turned out, were equally adept with a pen as they were with a scalpel. Literary ambitions led to a hefty production line of scholarly translations, beginning with French chemist Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier’s Elements of Chemistry, published in 1789. Others followed, including a translation of another French chemist’s work, Essay on the New Method of Bleaching by means of Muriatic Acid and Oxygen, by Claude-Louis Berthollet. (I haven’t read either.)

Neither was an indication of the massive work he would undertake two decades later.

Continue reading…

Plane de-icing, Cleveland

Plane De-icing, Up Close

I shot this from my window seat yesterday afternoon at a de-icing station at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. I felt like we were already in the clouds. It was even colder and icier in Chicago a couple hours later where the mercury dipped to 0 F, or -18 C.

Fresh off a 13-hour flight, I arrived in Doha today late afternoon local time, where the closest conditions get to this are either at the Qatari capital’s indoor skiing hill or mall skating rinks. I don’t plan to visit either.

For the record, today’s Pic du Jour is the 360th straight.

slo train 004

Crossing Borders from Ljubljana – Slovenia Rail Deals for January 2014

After too much time away from it, I’m excited to get back into the groove of hunting down deals on rail fares and finding new (to me) interesting routes. I’m coming across lots of useful info so I thought I’d share some of the better discoveries here as well.

This is an overview of some of the deals that are available now through December via Slovenian Railways aka Slovenske Zeleznice. If you’re planning to pass through Slovenia overland this winter, spring, summer or fall, this is for you.

The good news: Slovenian Railways has lots of great cross border deals at the moment, starting for as little as 25 EUR.

The bad news: tickets can’t be purchased on line, and won’t be available via the internets until the beginning of 2015. For non-residents, that’s a major downer. Down yes, but not necessarily out. At least not on all routes. Read on.

To begin, a list of special fares that link Ljubljana to four of the five nearest capital cities:

- Ljubljana-Belgrade: 25 EUR one way via the Beograd Spezial. Daily departure from Ljubljana at 08:25, arrives Belgrade 17:32. Return departs the Serbian capital at 11:00, arrives Ljubljana 20:53. Nine fares per route available at this price daily. Regular fares: one-way 54.80, 87.60 return.

- Ljubljana-Budapest: 39 EUR one-way, 49 return. At the moment, that’s the standard fare for EN 499/205 which departs Ljubljana daily at 06:35, arrives in Budapest at 16:29. Return (EN 204/498) departs at 14:45, arrives 23:37.

- Ljubljana-Prague: 49 EUR one-way on the EC 212, which departs Ljubljana at 09:22 and arrives at 21:21. Only four tickets available daily at this fare via the Praga Spezial per route but note that this train goes via Villach, Austria, and then onwards Vienna. Another shorter Prague connection, that goes directly to Vienna, is 132 EUR one-way.

- Ljubljana-Vienna (Meidling): 29 EUR with two daily options (departure 08:05 and 16:00, arrival 13:57 and 21:57) with 12 tickets available at that fare per departure via the SparSchiene special.

Other points north:

- Ljubljana-Zurich: 29 EUR one-way, with four tickets available at that price through the SparSchiene Zurich special. Sleeper in a six-berth compartment as low as 39 EUR, four-berth at 49 EUR. Departs at 21:10, arrives Zurich at 09:20. Return: departs 20:40, arrives 08:11. This can be purchased three months in advance.

- Ljubljana-Munich: 29 EUR one-way via the Munchen Spar or Smart Night specials. Six tickets available on both. Regular price in 77 EUR.

The EC 212/213 departs Ljubljana 09:22, arrives 15:41; return departs 12:18, arrives 18:31.
The 498/499 departs 23:55, arrives 06:10.  Return departs Munich 23:40, arrives Ljubljana 05:59. Sleeper in a six-berth compartment as low as 39 EUR.

- Ljubljana-Frankfurt: 49 EUR one-way, six tickets available via the Frankfurt Smart special. One departure daily: 09:22, arrives 19:49. Return: leaves Frankfurt at 08:22, arrives 18:31.

Other capitals?

These aren’t special fares but are worth noting beginning with Zagreb, the cheapest of the capital-to-capital connections.

- Ljubljana-Zagreb: 16.40 EUR one-way, 26.20 EUR return, with four departures daily: 06:35, 08:25, 14.45 and 18:35; return 06:50, 12:35, 18:37 and 21:20. Roughly two-and-a-half hours.

- Ljubljana-Sarajevo: 49.20 EUR one-way. Daily departure at 06:35, arrive 18:13. Return 10:46, arrive 23:37.

- Ljubljana-Bratislava: 87.20 EUR one-way. Depending on the connection times and the Vienna-Bratislava price, this might be cheaper if you can get one of one the SparSchiene specials to Vienna listed above.

- Ljubljana-Skopje: 88.40 EUR one-way. Daily departures at 08:25, arrive 07:22 the following day. Return; 20:10, arrive 20:53 the following day. Both require layovers in Belgrade of four-and-a-half and six-and-a-half hours respectively.

And to round things out, two more destinations of interest in Croatia, more specifically, Istria:

- Ljubljana-Pula (Pulj in Slovenian): 25 EUR one-way standard fare. Daily departure at 13:12, arrival at 17:51. Return: departs 13:20, arrives 18:40 (or 19:29 on Sat/Sun/holidays). Requires a chance in Buzet, Croatia.

- Rijeka-Ljubljana: 17 EUR one-way, 27.20 return. Departures at 06:35 and 15:10, arrivals 09:20 and 17:55. Return: Departures at 11:55 and 20:40, arrivals 14:53 and 23:30.

Where to buy? Station ticket offices and authorized agencies. The list is here.

With the exception of the Budapest run, I’ve been on all of these routes, many of them several times.  The quality of the trains varies wildly; quality-wise there is still a wide bridge between the trains operated by the countries of the former Yugoslavia and eastern Europe and those of their western and northern Europe counterparts. That said, the gap isn’t nearly as wide as it was a decade ago when I moved to the continent permanently.

And finally: all tickets listed are for 2nd class travel. If you manage to get the cheaper fare, you cannot upgrade to 1st class from those specially-priced tickets. All can be purchased up to two months prior to departure, three months for the Zurich route. Timetables, routes, and prices valid through 14 December 2014. But we all know that it’s always best to double check, right?

In closing I leave you with this, a 35-second video shot aboard MV 482, the Rijeka-Ljubljana line. The soundtrack is Chrome Weels by Asian Women on the Telephone and it rocks.

Vietnam 111

Five Ways to Find Authenticity on the Road

In the travel industry sense, ‘authentic’ has devolved into little more than another hollow buzz word, rendered almost meaningless in a world where the lines between authenticity –by definition simply something that is genuine– and modernity have become impossibly blurred by the expectations marketers thrust our way. The examples are numerous and I won’t spell them out here. Let’s just get to the list.

No. 1. Leave your expectations and stereotypes at the unclaimed baggage counter.

Vietnam 109Better yet, dump them in the non-recyclables bin before passing through security. Because if you arrive at a destination with some vague notion of authenticity in mind, it’s quite likely that your entire journey will be shrouded by a dark cloud of disappointment.

Unfulfilled expectations always suck, but they can be painfully brutal when you’re traveling. One brief vignette from a visit to Sapa, Vietnam, a few years ago as a case in point:

I was sitting at a restaurant waiting for a glass of a local wine described as ‘Good for Men’ when a group of half a dozen twenty-something American English-speaking travelers entered. They hastily claimed two tables, spread out and sat down.

“Sapa is bullshit, man,” one said as he leafed through the extensive wine list. “This isn’t Vietnam. There’s nothing authentic about this place. What a freakin’ joke.”

Sapa is northern Vietnam’s thriving gateway town for day trips and overnight treks into the area’s highlands and visits to its more remote mountain ethnic communities. They had just returned from a trek to the summit of the 3,148m high Phang Xi Pang, the country’s highest mountain, and were clearly disappointed that Sapa fell short of their preconceived notions of precisely what a 21st century Vietnamese highland tourist town should be.

A friend agreed. “Yeah, this just isn’t real,” he said. “Totally sucks.”

A few moments later he connected to the restaurant’s free wifi and began tapping on his iPhone in search of a proxy server so he could break through Vietnam’s Facebook block to presumably tell his friends just how unreal and sucky Sapa was.

Just as his medium rare Australian strip steak and small Chef’s salad –he asked for a light dressing on the side—arrived, so did success.

“Ha! I got through.”

So by allowing themselves to confuse modernity with their personal notions of what was or should be ‘authentic’, they contributed to the ruin of what should have simply been a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience in a strikingly beautiful corner of the planet. I can only hope that broadcasting his disappointment via Facebook helped him reach some closure.

No. 1 above is the only one that really matters, but since blog readers like lists here are four more ways –plus a bonus!– to help you have an authentic experience, in no particular order:

  • In cities, check out immigrant neighborhoods. The best meal I ever had in Brussels was at a modest family-run west African place with the finest jukebox on the planet. Brussels is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. That meal was a helluva lot more authentic than the dime-a-dozen over-priced mussels joints near the Grand Place.
  • Go to a local dive bar. The kind you wouldn’t go to at home. Preferably one that doesn’t sell t-shirts. Although those are authentic, too.
  • Don’t go to malls. Not because they’re not authentic (they are). Just because you shouldn’t.
  • Sharpen your senses. Free them to work over-time. Taste the dust. Smell the diesel.

In short: Ignore the marketing hype. In one way or another, it’s all authentic. Let your mind be blown.



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Just an innocent snap of Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolivia.

Bus Rides, Street Assaults and Heavy Metal Murals – Piran Café’s Top 10 Posts of 2013

This is a shot of Cerro Rico, the unfortunate mountain that towers over Potosi, Bolivia, that I snapped just before I was punched in the crotch by a four-and-a-half tall grandmother wrapped in brightly colored clothes. I’m delighted to report that a post recounting the incident back in March was among the ten most visited on Piran Café this past year. I’m not sure if I should be glad or disappointed that it didn’t come in at No. 1.

I hit the road for seven months at the tail end of January, so not surprisingly Piran Cafe focused almost exclusively on my overland jaunt through eight South and Central American countries –seven of those for the first time– which boosted my countries-visited tally to 51.

Eight of the top 10 posts for the year were filed in South America, on topics as disparate as the locales they reported on. Two of the top three were practical (and of course, entertaining) in nature, providing readers and travelers with bus information for routes where such info remains difficult to find or obtain. Interests noted; more variations on the theme to come in 2014, promise.

I am a little disappointed that I didn’t post as much or as often as I wanted to from the road. I couldn’t quite find the right balance between blogging and collecting notes for my book manuscript, but I still plan to do plenty of catching up over the next several months as I continue working on the book.

So, for those of you may have missed some –and some of you quite likely did– here’s my annual rundown of the most read posts from the past year.

10. Bringing Hopper’s Work to Life – Shirley: Visions of Reality, a 90-Second Review

I attended 26 screenings at the Ljubljana International Film Festival in November, and this film by Austrian architect/experimental artist Gustav Deutsch was among the most memorable. A monumentally ambitious visual and intellectual feast.

9. So John Lennon and Che Guevara Walk Into a Bar…

A brief rumination on a photo of a Lennon and Guevara jam session. What songs would be on their playlist?

8. Patterns on a Wall, and Through History

Mural by Guache, Lima, Peru 2013

Mural by Guache, Lima, Peru 2013

A post about the most stunning piece of street art I had the pleasure to see in 2013.

7. March Against Monsanto in Quito – Notebook and 22 Photos

On May 25 demonstrations against the production and use of genetically modified crops were held in 436 cities in 52 countries. I attended the action in Quito. Video, too.

6. Punched in the Crotch by a 4 1/2 Foot Tall Woman, or the Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi

As mentioned above, a streetside smackdown at the hand of a 70-year-old grandmother.

5. All the World’s a Page – 16 snaps from the El Ateneo Bookstore

El Ateneo bookstore, Buenos Aires, 23-Jan-2013

El Ateneo bookstore, Buenos Aires, 23-Jan-2013

The next time you’re in Buenos Aires, make time for a visit to one of the coolest bookstores in the world. Coming here really was on my List of Things to See Before I Die.

4. Bootleg Barbies, an Inauguration, a March Against Monsanto and the Coolest Floor in the World – RTW Week #18

The first and most popular of my weekly roundup posts; this one began in Manta, Ecuador and ended in Quito. I was pretty good about compiling them for a few weeks until hepatitis A stopped me in my tracks.

3. Los Libertadores Pass – Mendoza to Santiago by Bus

If any bus ride can be forgiven for being stretched from seven hours to nearly 11, it’s this one, linking Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, the Chilean capital, via a pass through some of the highest peaks in the Andes.

2. Kavarna’s Heavy Metal Murals

Billy Idol mural in Kavarna, Bulgaria

Rebel Yell

Info and pics of a heavy metal urban beautification project in the Bulgarian Black Sea coastal town of Kavarna. The place to go if you want to see three-story high murals of Ronnie James Dio and Billy Idol. Visited in late 2012, but posted in January.

1. Minefields, Guanaco, and the Magellan Strait – Ushuaia to Punta Arenas by Bus

Details and info on the bus route linking these cities in the far reaches of Patagonia. Highlights? Guanaco and nandu sightings galore, crossing the Magellan Strait and driving alongside Chilean minefields.

What to expect in 2014? Bar none, the best year ever for Piran Café! That’s a promise I intend to keep. As always, thanks for visiting, and enjoy the pic gallery below. And if you missed yesterday’s 2013 photography flashback, check that one out too. And if you’re not already, please consider following me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Peace and a wonderful 2014 to you all!


Sucre 044

Hotels, Rooms, Hostels & Beds – The Best of 2013

This was at the CasArte Takubamba hostel in Sucre, Bolivia, one of some fifty places where I laid me down to sleep in 2013. All things considered, it was my favorite accomodation of the bunch: comfortable, welcoming and staffed by genuinely nice people. If I ever return to Sucre, I will be returning here.

Since I moved to Europe in 2004 and began traveling extensively, I developed a road routine that includes taking a quick snapshot of my hotel room promptly upon arrival. I haven’t always succeeded, and have probably missed a few dozen over the years, but I was pretty good about this year. When I was putting this little slideshow together — accommodations from Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego to my hepatitis A bed in Boquete, Panama  —  I noticed that I only missed a couple, not counting the beds and couches of friends and relatives later on.

Viewed separately these snaps are fairly mundane. Viewed quickly, and with a soundtrack by the jovial and energetic Asian Women on the Telephone, they become slightly less mundane.


In order of appearance:

Buenos Aires, Argentina | Ushuaia, Argentina | Punta Arenas, Chile | Puerto Natales, Chile | Calafate, Argentina | El Chalten, Argentina | Los Antigos, Argentina | Chile Chico, Chile | Rio Tranquilo, Chile | Villa Castillo, Chile | Coyhaique, Chile | Puyuhuapi, Chile | Chaiten, Chile | Puerto Montt, Chile | Puerto Varas, Chile | Puella, Chile | Bariloche, Argentina | Mendoza, Argentina | Santiago, Chile | Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile | near Laguna Colorada, Bolivia | near San Juan, Bolivia | Uyuni, Bolivia | Potosi, Bolivia | Sucre, Bolivia | La Paz, Bolivia | Copacabana, Bolivia | Copacabana, Bolivia to Cusco, Peru | Cusco, Peru | Cusco to Lima, Peru | Lima, Peru | Zorritos, Peru | Puerto Pizarro, Peru | Guayaquil, Ecuador | Puerto Lopez, Ecuador | Manta, Ecuador | Jama, Ecuador | Quito, Ecuador | Popayan, Colombia | Medellin, Colombia | Cartagena, Colombia | San Blas Islands, Panama | Panama City | Boquete, Panama

And if you’re still interested, here’s another similar hotel room & view slideshow consisting of 124 snaps taken between 2007-2011.

And if you’re planning to visit Sucre, check out CasArte Takubamba. A brief write-up with plenty of photos is here.


This post was added to the Sunday Traveler blog linkup which made its debut today. Visit one of the co-hosts, Chasing the Donkey, to check out other blogs or to add your own throughout the week.

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Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Isla del Sol: In Color, or Black and White?

Here is a 90-second video notebook from Isla de Sol on Lake Titicaca, the island were the Inca believed the sun was created and their dynasty born. After spending part of a day traversing the lake’s largest island, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the spiritual connection the setting inspired.

The sublime beauty of the island and its immediate environs imparted in me a connection and inner peace than not even Machu Picchu, where I would visit about a week later, was able to match.

I didn’t shoot much during the hike across the island’s spine, just these half dozen handheld scenes under the strongest and brightest sun of the day. I’ve watched several black and white films in recent weeks so I decided to render this in both color and monochrome to see what iMovie throws back.

Which do you prefer?

Music via the Free Music Archive is a portion of this beautiful piece, ‘Appel à la prière’ (feat. Eddie Wagner), by Montreal-based musician YlangYlang. You can also check out more here.



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Ljubljana 0625

The Best Food Stall in Ljubljana’s Central Market? – LJ Pic of the Day

It’s a generally accepted rule of travel: when you’re on the road and looking for a place to get something eat, look for where the locals line up and happily wait. Like this mobile bakery parked on the western side of Ljubljana’s central market on most days.

No stall –prepped food or raw– had the kind of line that was found this morning and early afternoon in front of the mobile oven operated by Krejan-Levec, where a variety of pogača –buckwheat, bacon or vegetable pies– were served up pizza-slice style. The bacon and vegetable pies are made on a wholegrain spelt flour base, while the buckwheat comes topped with cottage chese, sour cream and corn meal. All piping hot.

Ten more photos of the stall and the boys in action are in this Google+ album.

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Wouldn't it be nice if Greyhounds were decorated like this?

Going Trans-America, Almost

Portland, Ore., USA – I’ve taken quite a few long bus rides over the past several months: Bariloche to Mendoza, Argentina, 19 hours; Cusco to Lima, Peru, 22 hours; another handful that lasted 14-18 hours; more than I care to count in the eight to 12 hour range. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, so after a string of seven bus-less weeks, I’m coming back for more.

I’m setting out from Portland’s Greyhound station tonight at 11 bound for Cleveland, Ohio, on a trip that will take me through ten states in two days, 14 hours and 25 minutes. Among those, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa will be first-time transits.

Photos of a fleet of sleekly designed, comfortable and wifi-equipped buses figure prominently on the venerable American coach company’s website; I’m banking on the hope that they’ll be a step or two above those that Greyhound used the last time I rode on one – back in 1992 when I traveled from the US-Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas to Athens, Ohio in the Appalachian foothills.

Unfortunately, I won’t have time to stop anywhere along the way. My return to Slovenia has been booked (9 Sep) and I’ve got several family commitments in and around Ohio I’m looking forward to before heading back to Europe.

So why not fly?

Because my intention from the beginning of this trip back in January was to travel exclusively overland. Had I not gotten sick in June, that streak which began in Tierra del Fuego would not have been broken last month when I boarded a plane last in San Jose, Costa Rica for the Pacific Northwest.

So it’ll be all highway, almost all the time. And seedy city centers at 4 am the rest of the time. Looking forward.

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