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Pic that: Congrats Bratislava

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You win for Most Badass Statue Ever.

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Pic That: Gordy’s Chicken

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Actually, Google Maps is not the best.

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Dear United Airlines: You are normally crap but I’m digging your updated planes. The Direct TV from SFO to Newark was awesome.

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I even got to watch some of this guy. That was good.

I was in such a good when I landed in Newark that I actually risked missing my connecting flight to grab this bag of salty goodness.

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That would be a 10 piece,2 cheeseburgers, fries, and a Diet Coke. I mean, when in New Jersey…

After what was probably the best flight I’ve ever taken, thanks to a well-stocked personal entertainment system — again, kudos to United — I landed in Istanbul. Thankfully, I’ve done this dance before.

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$20 and your passport. Boom. Visa obtained.

That would be the end of my easy travel day. I eschewed the $40 can ride to my hostel and decided to take the $3 metro instead. That ended up being a one hour, cramped, standing ride that had me struggling to maintain balance every time I let go of the pole to wipe the sweat off my face. Pleasant.

From there I proceeded to get lost for over an hour trying to find my hostel. Cabs refused to take me there because, get this, I was too close. “200 meter!” Unfortunately I don’t know how to say ” Whatever, dude! Just take me there!” in Turkish. So that kind of sucked.

Turns out that if I had just followed my gut I would have found it easily. I was 20 meters from the place before I Google Mapped it and God-gle told me I had made a wrong turn. Technology dumb.

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But even in my sweaty frustration I found a gem. I had walked up a steep hill with all my luggage only to realize I overshot the street by 300 meters. I needed a place to sit and catch my breath and this makeshift cafe did the trick.

The owner didn’t speak much English but his kind smile smoothed my nerves and the tea quenched my thirst. It was a nice 30 minute respite of peaceful people watching. Mucho perfecto.

Courtney’s Guide to Hostels, or How I Became an Asshole About Lodging.

I like hostels. People think I’m weird. I think they’re jerks. And so on and so forth. I wanted to take a moment and make my pitch for the hostel life because I have to say that my willingness to give them a try and low and behold, my actual love for them, has thoroughly enriched my life.

Here’s the bottom line, kids: hostels make my international travel doable. How many times have you found a really cheap air fare to some far off place you’ve always wanted to visit, only to realize you have no friends and family in that city and a quick browse of available hotels means you’re going to paying more for the hotel than you did for your flight. You close your internet browser, shut off your computer, put your head down and cry tears of regret and self-loathing. This is not the way to live, people.

For me, I’ll always entertain the idea of traveling to Europe or Australia because I know that I’ll be able to find lodging at around $20 a night. TWENTY DOLLARS A NIGHT, FOLKS. A shitty hotel on the outskirts of London will cost you $100 at least, yet here’s a place that’s offering to give you a bed, a shower, and possibly some booze for a fifth of that cost and it’s RIGHT IN CENTRAL LONDON. Put differently, I can stay in London for five days at a hostel for the cost of one night in a hotel. HOW ARE WE FIGHTING THIS??? I’m sorry for the all caps but I feel like yelling is my only option here. It’s a no brainer, and to the extent it’s the cost of traveling that’s keeping your butt in your office chair you’re being absolutely dumb. Yes, that’s the technical word for it. Dumb.

Let me deal with the complaints and criticisms of the hostel life. I know you’re thinking them. Just be honest.

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Overheard: Bro’d to death.

Bro 1: “This is dope. There are so many good movies here. It’s like, like, like…a movie fest. Hey, have you seen Angels & Demons?”

Bro 2: “Yeah.”

Bro 1: “Is it any good?”

Bro 2: “It’s decent.”

Bro 1: “Is it as good as the book?”

Bro 2: “I don’t read.”

Spensy sleep chamber.

I’m an incurable insomniac. Have been for as long as I can remember. I have my theories as to why this is — hyperactive mind, the need to savor the solace that night brings when the days are full of useless noise, the fear that if I go to bed the next day will begin — but this ain’t a LiveJournal post. All you need to know is I can’t sleep. Unless I’m on planes.

A few years ago I went on vacation with my bestie (hai k) to London. We were both stressed out during the week preceding the trip — weeks before vacations are always the WORST — but I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. If I could just power through the week there was an 11 hour flight waiting for me at the other end wherein I could sleep.

Like, I don’t just cuddle up and slide into peaceful slumber. I can count on one hand the number of take-offs I’ve been awake for. After bustling to my seat, unpacking my gadgets and books that I intend to partake of during the flight, browsing through SkyMall and cursing silently at the shit movie selection on offer — NO ONE WANTS TO SEE SELENA GOMEZ’S GREATEST HITS I ASSURE YOU — the cabin door closes, I buckle my seatbelt, and I’m out before the attendants are demonstrating to the aliens on the plane how a fucking seat belt works. Boom. Snoozeville for at least four hours before I wake up parched, guzzle a cup of water, and conk for another four.

I always assumed everyone could do this. I mean, flights are boring as fuck. What else are you really supposed to do for that time? Read under that janky dim light that’s turning you blind by the second? I may avoid sleep to put off the next day but I invite it with closed eyes on flights. Go to sleep and wake up at your destination? It’s the life of time traveling kings.

So I remember that London flight for one thing. Ok, two things. I remember syncing up my Star Trek watching with K so that we were laughing and gasping at the same time. But I did that because as I came to learn, my friend K can’t sleep on planes. THE HORROR. It’s like a superpower that’s actually a curse. She’s the Rogue of flight snoozing. That just sucks so hard. I felt super bad and tried my best to stay up for the entire flight. I lasted 2.5 hours.

All this is to say, HOLY SHIT I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO MY SLEEP-FLIGHT. I’ve been sleep deprived for most of the week and with a 10am flight today I wisely (sarcasm) decided to stay up all night. I’ve got a cross-country snoozer from SFO to Newark, and then a Sleeping Beauty sized slumber from Newark to Istanbul. If there are screaming kids on either of these flights they will die. Because I will destroy them.

By the by, it’s weird that there are direct flights from Newark, New Jersey to Istanbul, Turkey, right? I’m 73 percent convinced I booked this wrong and I’m going to wind up in Istanbul, New Hampshire.

And yes, I typed this on my Blackberry while riding BART to SFO. #lawyerskillz

Anybody got some Pledge?

Hmm…so I clearly didn’t end up using this blog as I wanted to two years ago when all this traveling began. I would apologize but isn’t that presumptuous? Oh I’m soooo sorry for not keeping you entertained with the goings on of my world-hopping life. Please accept this this custom engraved iPad that says “My life is better than yours. Let me tell you about it” on the back as my penance. 

Dumb, right?

Part of it is because, and again this will sound obnoxious, but most of the traveling I’ve done over the past two years has been pretty much work related. Ever since I got hired by Highlights I don’t really have the freedom to just, oh I don’t know, be offline for days on end and take time away from talking about balls anytime I want. Highlights wouldn’t like that very much. Oddly really into balls though. Weird for a children’s magazine.

But after a year and a half of non-stop ball theory, I am planning a ball-related trip that will still allow for some pre-Highlights style idiocy through random cities in Europe. The itinerary is still developing, but it looks like I’ll be getting my passport stamped in Istanbul (again), Vienna (never been), Bratislava (never been), Copenhagen (never been), London (been too many times), and a few stops in between. Hostels and trains will be involved, as will Courtney trying not to lose her temper in cities wherein she does not speak the language. Hijinks, people. Hijinks.

When I’m not talking about balls I’ll be talking about stuff here. Needless to say I’m really excited for this trip.

Not gonna lie. I’m kinda sick of talking about balls.

Holy Crap, I’m in Australia.

Can we just talk about how expensive public transportation is in Australia?  Ok, maybe not all of Australia, but I was blown away to learn that a train ticket from the Sydney airport to the center of the city was $15 one way.  We’re talking a slow 15 minute train ride.  It doesn’t even cost $15 to go from Walnut Creek to SFO via BART, and that’s a good 40 miles.  So yeah, that was my first introduction to Sydney (apart from that whole Who’s on First business): sticker shock.

That said, it was totally worth it to finally get to see the Australia I only see on postcards (metaphorically — not sure I’ve ever actually received a real post card, let alone one from Sydney).  After checking my luggage at the airport I hopped on the train to head to the Circular Quay station.  Why Circular Quay?  Because according to the rudimentary map plastered on the wall of the train station that looked like it had been drawn by drunken, possibly color-blind, Kindergartners, it looked to be where the Opera House and Harbour Bridge were at.  And and I was hell-bent on seeing that fucking Opera House on January 1, 2011 if it killed me.

And it almost did.  The heat!  Holy wow!  Between the fact that I was in jeans, hauling about 15 lbs of hardware on my back, and a stuffed purse that I didn’t dare check, I was feeling the drain.  Stepping out of the airport I did a double take.  I must have stepped out next to a running bus engine exhaust, right?  Nope.  That’s just Sydney.  Hot, humid, with a blazing sun that just seems to beat down on you harder than any sun I’ve felt before.

But it felt good.  The sweat dripping down my back and legs didn’t feel great, but just the fact that I was in the warm sun and sweating at all felt new and fresh.  And I must say, for all my cynical pissyness, the Sydney Harbour totally lived up to the hype.  I just think it’s absolutely beautiful.  The pristine blue skies, the deep blue water, the sexy-ugly Opera House, and the rather imposing Harbour Bridge make for a unique and distinctive skyline.  Sitting by the water and soaking it all in (and trying to hide my embarrassment from taking dumb pictures of Matt and Josh), I felt a lot like how I feel whenever I see the Golden Gate Bridge.  My heart skips a beat, my stomach drops a little, and I get a goofy grin on my face.  I’ve never been able to describe why I do that, it just happens.

It felt really nice and after all the travel travails and distractions, I finally was able to stop and internalize the enormity of this trip, the ten years that got me here, and how life is just truly and magnificently weird and fucked up, in all ways good and bad.  It felt dumb to think me coming to Australia for a six-week jaunt was “enormous” in any way.  As I’ve found in my hostel-hopping, people do this shit all the time.  But I know it’s a big deal for me and I guess more specifically, “to” me.  I just never thought I’d have the opportunity to do anything like this for the reasons I’m doing it.  It’s a big step for me, I guess, so it was nice to finally stop and realize that.

And then I drank.

Who’s On First.

First order of business in Sydney: Figure out how the hell I was going to get to Perth.  I had obviously missed my originally scheduled flight to Perth and Delta didn’t do much in helping me rebook that flight.  So I walked to the counter agent, told them I needed to book a flight, and she said that it would actually be cheaper for me to do it on via internet, which I could access at the domestic terminal.  I head over to that terminal, wander about like an idiot looking for an actual terminal, and find nothing.  Believe me when I tell you this whole “me wandering about and not asking questions” thing would become quite the theme of the trip so far.  More on that later.

I finally ask the info desk and they tell me I can access the internet form inside the terminal.  I’m thoroughly confused.  I don’t have a boarding pass to get me through security to access the internet because I need to access the internet to buy my ticket to get me a boarding pass, which I can’t do because I can’t get through security because I don’t have a boarding pass.  You get it right?  Well the kind Virgin lady (capital V, folks) had no idea what my problem was.  She just kept telling me that I could just hop on the internet in there.  This was straight up “Who’s On First”, only way less hilarious because I’m actually experiencing it.

I take a deep breathe, try to process what she’s saying, and then take a stab in the dark.

“Wait, do I need a boarding pass to get through security?”

“Oh, no.  No boarding pass necessary.  Anyone can access the terminal past security.”

[Courtney internal monologue: “WHAT THE EFFING EFF, WOMAN?!?!?!? WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY THAT???”]

“Oh, perfect.  Thanks so much for your help!”

So yeah.  Thank you Australia for reminding me what air travel was like pre-9/11.  Not only did I not need a boarding pass, my shoes stayed on and I could basically bring a keg of gels onto the plane if I chose to.  Of course, me being the American, the lack of TSA-standard security (how sad that it’s actually a “standard” for anything) TOTALLY FREAKED ME OUT.  “But….shoe bombs!  And…gels!  You don’t know what could happen!”

Yeah, I got over it the minute I realized I cleared security in less than 30 seconds.

So I hopped inside, copped a squat in front of Hungry Jack’s (a.k.a., Burger King), popped open my laptop and bought me a ticket to Perth later that evening, which would allow me some time to go into Sydney and actually see something.

Oops.

It’s a bit dumb to start a blog, tell people you’ll update it, and then…not.  So I’m dumb.  But, as I have been trying to do my whole life, I will make a fair attempt to rectify this now.

Has it really been two weeks since I left?  Time is absolutely flying by and to be frank, I’m not sure where it’s gone.  I think I would have blogged more about the trip except that I’ve been knee deep in the tennis since I landed.  That aspect of the trip has been absolutely fantastic (I won’t bore you with the technical details; check out FD for those) but when you’re at a tennis site for a minimum six hours a day, coming home to write about it for another 4 hours or so, it makes for very little actual seeing of the Australia.

In case you haven’t heard, I had a bit of a showdown with Delta before I even landed Down Under.  Skip ahead if you’ve already heard this.  My flight out of SFO was delayed, causing me freak out a bit (a beer or three may have been involved) about whether I would be able to catch my connecting flight to Sydney out of LAX.  After multiple inquiries, I was assured by the Delta gate agent that I would have “no problem” catching the flight and in fact, they knew I was coming because my name was on the connection list.  Gravy.  Multiple times I asked, multiple times I was reassured.

So you can imagine my losing of the shit when I sprinted off the plane at LAX, down 5 gates to my flight, only to see the doors closed, no gate agent, AND MY PLANE JUST SITTING THERE WITH THE JETWAY STILL ATTACHED.  That’s right.  Despite the fact that Delta knew they had five connecting passengers coming, they closed down the flight mere minutes before we landed.  Way to go, Delta!  You’re fucking idiots!

And with that, my grand plans of spending New Year’s Eve in Sydney, ringing in what I hope to be an amazing 2011 watching a rather ridiculous and unnecessarily excessive amount of fireworks exploding over Darling Harbour, I was going to be on a plane over the Pacific.  And instead of just being told I was never going to catch my connecting flight and thus staying the night in SF with friends or Walnut Creek with family, I was stuck in a hotel room near LAX with a view of a beer billboard and windows that rattled as planes flew by.  Oh, and they gave 18 dollars to eat, which I blew at McDonalds because, well, I just wanted to see whether or not I could eat $18 worth of McDs.  Turns out I can’t and trying to do so gave me the Kimmis.  All in all, a fantastically crap result.  Like I said, Way to go, Delta.  You’re fucking idiots.

But once I got my wits about me (e.g., drank 2 Bud Light tall boys in the hotel) I calmed down.  I had no reason to complain.  I was on my way to Australia for six weeks.  Bitching and moaning was simply tempting the universe to get all Dharma Initiative on my plane.  And trust me, despite the fact that wearing cargo pants all the time would totally be my jam, I don’t look like Kate when I don’t shower regularly.  So I decided to shut up, be grateful, and be happy.  See Tom?  I choose happiness.  And vodka.  And Chaka Khan.

The flight to Sydney was uneventful, which would have been great except for the fact that it was New Year’s Eve.  I mean, shouldn’t they pass around some champagne or something?  Or, I don’t know, even just pop on the PA system for a sec and let us know that it’s 2011?  Nothing.  Dead silence.  I know this because I watched The Social Network twice in order to stay up to see my fancy Casio, which I had set to Sydney time, strike midnight.  I mean, it’s a digital watch so it didn’t “strike” anything.  The crystals moved to form a “12:00”.  But…whatever, you know what’s up.

So that’s how I got here.   NEXT!