I got inspired by another blog to write about my first ever big solo overseas trip, which was USA back in April and May 2001, when I was 20 and a month away from the legal drinking age (not that it mattered since I’m a boring non-drinker anyway). I’ve travelled a lot since then, but your first independent trip always remains a rather special memory. I even dug out my travel diary, which was an interesting read in retrospective. For one thing 99% of it is written in Russian, whereas now my travel diaries are 99% in English, and it’s a bit sad to see how much fluency I’ve lost. And good lord it’s overzealous with descriptions; I spent three whole pages listing all the things I’ve seen at the American Museum of Natural History.
I thought it was time to replay my beloved Ultima games, and since I now have a habit of writing I thought I would also blog about the experience. I found that blogging about playing a game is actually very similar to writing about travel; you pick the funny/weird/interesting details that stick in your mind.
The blog can be found here, or under the Ultima menu under the header.
St Cristobal is a charming place with the pedestrian-only streets in the centre and endless cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. From there, a couple of us went on a half-day excursion to the local villages and Chamula, a town which is mostly famous for its most unusual church. Unfortunately you couldn’t take any photos inside – a fact which was stressed to us over and over – and the descriptions don’t do it justice. Let’s just say that the church is a very bizarre blend of the pre-conquest Mayan and Christian traditions, and involves pine needles on the floor, hundreds of candles, and a chicken sacrifice.
Mexico trip was a blast; I loved the places we visited and while I almost never had a bad group on my organised trips, our group in Mexico was probably the most fun one and just a great bunch of people. We started in Mexico City, which I wished I could have spent more time in as it felt like I only scratched the surface. Or maybe not, because, as I realised only a few days before, Mexico City is 2,250 m above the sea level, which means altitude sickness and its lovely symptoms like increased motion sickness and feeling bloated. Anyway, the highlight for me was visiting Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo Museum, where she and Diego Rivera lived and which is dedicated to her life and works. There weren’t that many actual Frida Kahlo paintings, but it’s still a must-visit for any Frida fan (and I so want her colourful kitchen).
This whole trip happened because of a very special event: the 25th Anniversary Bash for the Ultima Dragons, the internet fan club devoted to the Ultima role-playing game series whose member I’ve been for close to 20 years. I travelled to Vietnam last year and I didn’t anticipate another trip overseas so soon after, but when I heard that a celebration was to be held in Anaheim, I decided almost instantly that I wanted to come. Flying to USA and back again from Australia is quite an ordeal, so to make the most of it I also tacked on an organised trip to Mexico; I’ve never been to Central or South America so I thought I’d start with USA’s closest neighbour.
So apparently my blog now is two years old. How the time flies. When I started it back in January 2015 I really had no idea how long I’d keep at it and what the blog was going to be about. Since then it’s turned into a more or less constant thing, and once I’ve seen a film or read a book I’m automatically itching to turn my computer on and arrange my thoughts in a coherent and hopefully engaging manner. Admittedly, sometimes I had to let go of the idea that I have to review everything I come across as some sort of obligation to god knows who, and only do it when I genuinely feel like it.
Big thank you to everybody who visited my blog, subscribed or liked a post – it means a lot.
Spent four days up in Queensland, in a place where every day was reliably hot and sunny without crazy temperature drops we have to endure here in Melbourne. Though on the plus side, we don’t have to worry about crocodiles and six varieties of stingers. It was rather weird to see beautiful palm-fringed beaches with beautiful warm water… except you couldn’t swim anywhere outside of the official netted areas.
I held on to my old Nokia 3310 phone for ages, long after almost everyone I knew switched to smartphones. I swear that thing was like a Chuck Norris of phones – it survived a drop into a rain-filled gutter and the battery lasted for something like eight years. I was keeping it around partly out of fascination with its long life, even after most of the numbers on the keys became almost invisible from use. Plus, I have to admit, despite being generally easy-going I have a stubborn streak that randomly shows up here and there, so when somebody tells me that I just have to get a smartphone my impulse is to dig in the heels.
Anyways, eventually it spluttered and died, so I thought it was time to get myself a smartphone. I smugly picked myself an inexpensive plan, because, ha hah, I wasn’t going to be one of those people who can’t ride two floors down in a lift without whipping out their phones and burying their noses in their evil glow. Nope, I was only going to use it for calls and messages and only use internet when absolutely needed. Good plan.
Well I haven’t yet sunk so low as to get my phone out during a lunch with my Dad or something, but I really underestimated the powerful pull of having so much information and all my regular internet haunts so readily available. It’s insanely addictive. Waiting for a latte at my local cafe? Check the phone because obviously the two minutes of waiting are just too unbearable not to be filled. Too lazy to switch on the tablet at home? Reach for the phone instead. Phone began to replace my reading at night and I’d only half-watch the TV programs I was actually interested in because of the phone. Phone time instead of listening to music and people-watching on the train. Phone instead of morning news while eating my breakfast. Even extra payment for exceeding my plan is no major deterrent – what’s extra $10 per month after all?
This has to stop… so here are the rules: 1) Absolutely no phone in the bedroom, especially at night. 2) No phone on the train – it makes me feel motion sick anyway. 3) Checking the phone while sitting in a cafe by myself = fine. Checking the phone to fill in every single short gap in time = not ok. 4) No splitting between the phone and TV programs I’m genuinely interested in watching. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable they are if you give them your full attention instead of 30%.
With luck and willpower I shall avoid this fate:
Today we said goodbye to Mousya, our gorgeous tabby princess who lived to the ripe old age of 18, which means that she’s been in my life for exactly half of it. She’s been an old cat for so long I can barely remember her as a young one. We got her very soon after we moved into our family house, and for the first few days she wouldn’t leave my brother’s bedroom, which she probably found comforting because of the carpeted floor. We called her Mousya after our first family cat who we sadly left behind in Russia. Mousya is basically a Russian version of Spot, a common-as-dirt pet name.
We stayed in Hoi An for three nights, and it was totally worth it: it’s an incredibly pretty place, especially enchanting at night. We did another countryside excursion on the second day, this time on a mountain bike. By the end of the trip, I felt like some parts of me might never be the same again, but it was a fun day out. Among other things, we got to make our own rice noodles for lunch.
I’ve never heard of Nha Trang before, and it turned out to be a coastal resorty place, full of Russian tourists. It was bizarre seeing Russian signage and menus everywhere. We had a full day boat trip on the bay, including snorkelling which unfortunately I didn’t get to do since I can’t see much without my glasses. The water however was lovely and warm, and I really tried to squeeze in as much sunbathing and swimming as possible before coming back to Melbourne and the impending winter.
Once in Ho Chi Minh City (our group leader never called it so, preferring the old name of Saigon), I finally gathered enough courage to try the frog. It tasted kinda like chicken and caused many Kermit jokes around the table. I really liked the city and its wide shaded boulevards, even if the street traffic here was at its most intimidating to cross.