Prague’s Jewish Quarter

Prague is one of my favourite cities – a really nice old town and home to great (and cheap!) beer. We spent Easter 2015 there – in line with our Easter city break tradition that also featured thus far Paris, Rome, St Petersburg, and Hong Kong. We found ourselves back there for a friend’s stag do, which of course cannot be the subject of a blog post here. 😉 But there was one particular sight we missed last time around – the Jewish quarter was closed due to Passover. So we used our time wisely while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive.

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Helsinki

Our first stop on our break back in Europe was Helsinki, home to my lovely wife. Finland, somewhat on the edge of Europe and mostly famous for ice hockey and heavy metal bands (plus the late Nokia mobile phone brand, R.I.P.) is certainly not known as the number one tourist destination. In fact, whenever we tell people that Natalia is from Finland they tend to respond “we’ve been to Sweden, but we never made it to Finland”. But for me the “land of swamps” (as they call it themselves) has some unique unpretentious beauty. I might be a bit biased though – on the one hand since it strongly reminds me of my own home in the North of Germany, and well, because it brought forth my wife on the other hand.

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Four Nights in Bangkok

I do apologies for the title, but truth is we don’t have much to report from our stay in Bangkok. We’ve been to Thailand some three years ago, so didn’t feel the pressure to do sightseeing. Instead, we enjoyed the luxury of our five star hotel (which cost us about the same price as our tiny windowless box in Singapore) and spent the days working.

Luckily, we have friends everywhere. Patanon, one of Natalia’s course mates from London, returned home to Bangkok after his year in the UK, so was now happy to show us around some of the better hidden temples.

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A Journey in Numbers

Since we’re back in Europe for a couple of weeks, I thought it’s time for small résumé. Being a mathematician, the only way I could think of was doing it in numbers…

5 months on the road

We left London on December 6 and touched down in Helsinki on May 8. It’s not even been that long, but our time in London already feels like a different life in the distant past.

10 countries visited

Namely: Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. Granted, Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions of China, not sovereign countries, but they handle their own immigration, which brings me to my next point. Read More »

Driving in Bali: A Game of Chicken

One of the most fundamental examples you study in game theory is the Chicken Game: two players (or drivers) head towards each other, and you win the game if your opponent yields while you don’t. Of course, if no-one yields there’s only losers. Over the weekend, I could see the game being played in practice – on Bali’s roads.

We decided we would like to be independent, so we rented a car for a bargain IDR200000 a day. The rental company would send someone in the morning to our hotel, we would fill in the form, give the guy some cash, and off we went. No questions asked, no license or ID checked, no insurance – and no way to enforce liability for any damage we would cause. But maybe we’re all just overly cautious and too paranoid.

Anyways, we got quite a nice car and were good to go!

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Tips, Tips! – Part 2

You might remember how annoying we found the porters on Boracay who will essentially just take your bags, load them into your vehicle, extend their hand, and demand “Tips, tips!” On arrival to Bali, we had an even more annoying experience of that kind.

We greeted our driver, made our way to his car, and were immediately joined by no less than three guys, who would not ask, but just take our suitcases and roll them for us. It’s more effort to argue than to just let them do their thing, so whatever. After a short walk, no more than 3 minutes, all smooth and level, we arrived at the car park. Inevitably, the guys would drop the polite small talk and ask for money (they didn’t even bother waiting for the car to do some actual lifting). We just withdrew money from the machine, and the smallest note we had was IDR100000, which really would be too much by Western standards (like I said, I could have perfectly managed all suitcases just by myself), but with a feeling of generosity I handed it over anyways. Instead of a thank you and gratitude, they indeed asked for more! They said it’s the three of them and they need to feed their families, but I just said, so do I (seriously, how many people have their hourly rate, it would be some IDR600000). To give you a context, our driver would get IDR200000 for driving us half an hour (Uber is even cheaper), for IDR20000-40000 you get a main course, and for IDR50000-100000 you get an hour’s massage. So, I really did not feel like their children went starving that night. Do they think tourists who just arrived cannot handle all those zeros or don’t understand the price level? Read More »

Let’s talk about money…

No, this is not about the costs of travelling (though I recently took a good look at the spreadsheets that capture all our plans and expenses, which at times is a bit worrying – but hey! no reason to stress 😉 ) nor about ways to refill the war chest (I am currently venturing into the field of freelance software development, but that deserves a post on its own). This is about the practicality of paying, calculating, and, most importantly, talking in dozens of different currencies. Not only does every country we travel to has its own currency but naturally the readers of this blog also live and think in different currencies. So far we tried to add some context to our expenses in Aussie or Kiwi dollars by giving an estimate in pounds, but this will be of little help to all our friends in Europe etc.

Worry no more! Going back to programming for work it came to my mind that this is something that really should be done by software. So I hacked away a little over the past two days and came up with a small plugin that fetches current exchange rates and automatically converts prices it finds in the text into the currency of the user’s choice. You should find a menu to your right (on a large screen) or on the bottom (on a small screen) where you can pick your favourite currency. It may take a second or two to fetch the exchange rate, but just like magic you should see the prices in the correct currency. Yeah! Read More »

Sarsaparilla and other oddities

Let’s collect a few random observations. First, let me start with an apology. Before we took off, I already was complaining about Australian beer because all I knew and could think off was Foster’s whose taste cannot be described better than by the old joke:

What does Australian beer have in common with making love in a canoe? – It’s fucking close to water!

Truth is: Since we arrived here, I haven’t see Foster’s a single time. A quick research reveals that while it’s promoted as the Australian beer in Europe its popularity here is negligible. What a smart idea! Get all that tasteless piss out of the country! Instead, I enjoyed a variety of really nice lagers and pale ales. Kudos, Australia! Read More »

Canberra

I’ve never seen a city so functional and soulless. Australia’s capital was founded in 1913 in order to avoid having to choose either of the rival cities Melbourne or Sydney as the seat of newly formed federal government. So a new city was carved into New South Wales’s limestone somewhere in the middle of nowhere between the two big cities – in-land, to fortify it against any possible invasion. This hyper-planned, purpose-built nature of Canberra transcends every aspect of the city. There is absolutely no reason to live there unless you work for the government. It’s full of large, more or less representative buildings, all connected by huge highways. When our guidebook told that the city is totally geared towards the car I didn’t realise just how true this was. Our hotel was only about one block away from Parliament House, and still, there was no way of reaching it by foot. Read More »