Archive for September, 2003

Now This is an Internet Cafe

Saturday, September 6th, 2003

Free Wireless internet — just bring your laptop and sit on down. Cheap beverages (cappucino, Coke products, various beers.) Plus Cuban freakin’ cigars on offer.

Now of course I know jack about cigars, and for all I know these are the Cuban Swisher Sweets — the most expensive is about ten bucks. (They all say ‘Habana’, that’s all I recognize.)

But I’m tempted to buy one just because I know I can’t at home, a fact that the young kid behind the counter in the USA sweatshirt seemed vaguely aware of: “Yeah, I heard about that,” he said when I mentioned they were illegal in the States. Then his face got scrunchy: “Something about Fidel Castro…?”

Yeah, something like that.

Announcing JSP Journeys

Saturday, September 6th, 2003

Live from Sydney, Australia, and wherever else I might end up this year, I’m going to be providing travel updates on my new site,

First Impressions of Melbourne

Friday, September 5th, 2003
  • The Spencer St. train station isn’t much of anything.
  • I’ve seen more Porsches in 5 minutes than I have so far in Sydney (though I did see a right-side drive Corvette there. That was weird.)
  • In Sydney, the NSW plates carry the slogan: “The First State.” The Melbourne (Victoria) plates answer back: “The Place to Be.”
  • There’s an extensive tram network, with a casual ticketing system that reminds me of Amsterdam (i.e. one could ride for free fairly easily.) I wonder, do any American cities (not least of over 3m people) have trams anymore? Are they on the honor system?
  • The street signs are either charmingly idiosyncratic or freaking irritating, depending upon how lost you are. Some major streets aren’t labeled at every intersection — but some alleyways are.
  • The street names are also a trip: they have plenty of “little” streets here, which are prefaced by “Lt” on the signs. Thus “Lt Bourke St” is Little Bourke Street, not to be confused with Lieutenant Bourke St (which fortuntately does not seem to exist) or just “Bourke St,” which is like a block away. Little doesn’t seem to have anything to do with length or prominence. Or maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet.

Well Trained

Friday, September 5th, 2003

On a bit of a whim, I decided to go to Melbourne this weekend. Due to some scheduling issues — and, okay, nostalgia for my European train travel days — I opted for a sleeper car rather than the faster (and cheaper) Virgin Blue flight.

Thus Thursday night I found myself settling down into Berth 25, Car A of a CountryLink XPT train on the Sydney – Melbourne route. The accomodations were really quite posh, and it took me a bit to figure out why; in fact it wasn’t until I visited the buffet car and turned to back from whence I came, where a sign read FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT. For a moment, I was at a loss. How would I get back to my cabin?

Then I realized: duh. The complimentary newspaper, complimentary hot or cold breakfast delivered to the cabin by my “personal attendant,” complimentary toiletries tote (toothbrush, comb, shampoo, conditioner, soaps, etc.), monogrammed towels for use with the shower (!), seats wide enough that I could stretch across them, two fold-down beds instead of the more common four… These were not the usual accoutrements of economy train travel.

A staffmember confirmed as much when I said “Random question: is this first class?” He gave me the briefest of glances before saying “Yes sir, of course.” “Ok,” I continued, “are there, um, any other classes?” “Certainly. Economy class is located just beyond the buffet car.”

So as you might imagine, this only added to what was already an enjoyable little journey. I was feeling very Cary Grant (with perhaps a dollop of Agatha Christie sans the murder bits) as I stole across the dark Australian night in my posh train cabin.

Oh, and naturally I used the shower. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken a shower in a moving vehicle, so I took the opportunity. I chose to take it that night, as my shower was shared with the elderly couple in the adjoining cabin, and I didn’t know if they would favor a morning clean.

But that shower: What fun! It was an engineering marvel, with just enough room to stand (and you can bet that sucker had a traction mat down.) The cramped space was nice when the train jostled a bit, and your wet self bounced around on the walls (if that is, you were not blessed with my own preternatural sense of balance.) At times the lack of space was a tad less convenient: there’s nowhere to go when the water starts, and it starts cold. No worries, though, as it soon enough ramps up to the Centigrade measurement on the dial. (You do know what Celsius temp you like your shower water, don’t you? No? Good thing they have a pleasant default temperature.) Also I’m pretty sure the floor drain just went straight through, as the train noise was pretty loud.

After the shower I ducked into the top bed (just because I could) and slept pretty well until the 6.20 delivery of my breakfast, which I ate while I watched the sky change color.

It was all just a blast and I really enjoyed it.

Quiz Night Redux

Monday, September 1st, 2003

With a slightly larger team, we did slightly worse: 3rd place. I thought we were really in trouble when I heard the film question: common actor in The Fly II, Haunted Summer, Manifesto, Lionheart, The New Kids, Anaconda… I had no clue. (Answer.)

All was not lost, however, for during the next segment there was another common actor question. I actually only heard two of the films (Varsity Blues and Enemy of the State) but that was enough. Two other people made it up to the front before me, but neither knew the correct answer.

My prize: more Heineken schwag and assorted salty snacks. I think it’s time they start giving away money.