Christiania as the Great Equalizer

In ones life, as in many other things (which are invariably included in a life, whether you notice them or not), are indefinable moments. Moments that break beyond the human reality that you’ve become accustomed to seeing. Moments that make you feel like a small child who is looking at the world with fresh eyes. The feeling you get after meditating and reaching a new peak. The feeling that you get after reaching the summit of a tall mountain. The feeling when you finally look up to see the light after hitting rock bottom. The feeling of stillness, of peace….of complete unconditional love towards this gift of life that we’ve been given. It’s always hard for one to put a label on something so infinite. We may call it nirvana, heaven, peace, contentment, umami, the calm etc. etc. It is a moment to be cherished. Maybe you’ve never had a moment like that. Maybe some people only get one moment such as this when they pass on from this world to the next. And if you’re a person lacking in said moments, or just a person in general, I politely urge you to start walking towards Christiania. When your foot crosses over the border, you’ll know exactly why. It’s because the word Christiania is comparable, and belongs in the same class as those others….nirvana, heaven, peace….

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What is Christiania? It is an idea. It is a place. It is a work of art. It is not what it seems to be to outsiders. You can read the articles and look at pictures and think that Christiania is a chaotic commune of drug addict hippies in Copenhagen… but it is so much more. It is a token of warmth in this sometimes cold world. It’s so disorganized to ‘normal’ people that IT IS organized. So, don’t think to yourself ‘Oh that’s cool. I dig that. Maybe I’ll visit it one day after I see the wonders of the world’. No. Absolutely not. There are no other wonders that can compare to Christiania. It is the only wonder of the world worth visiting. It will expand your awareness exponentially. Your perspective will constantly shift. You will walk in facing east, but east will suddenly become west. And how can you find your way once the poles inside your mind have shifted? You’ll just have to turn north until it becomes south…..and this is BEFORE you smoke a joint or eat a space cake. Just as words cannot properly describe the depths of love, beauty or wisdom….my words are a pitiful attempt to describe the feelings that I had when wandering around Christiania. The feelings that I still have. The feelings that we can all have. And if we could just maintain a slice of that, a miniscule sliver…imagine what else we could see. Imagine how we could change ourselves and change the world.

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I went to Christiania thinking it would be a very cool destination to visit, one not to be missed. And, pat myself on the back, I scheduled my trip so as to attend the 43rd birthday party of the inception of Christiania (September 26th for any of you future travelers). I’d been to Tacheles in Berlin, which to my and many others’ disgust has been shut down, bought, sold and reworked under the guise of progress; so I thought I’d get a similar but not identical taste of complete and unbound artistic freedom. What I received, for no admission price might I add, was something similar yet completely different. Putting my artsy ramblings aside… Freetown Christiania is an autonomous community covering 84 acres of a former military compound in Copenhagen. It is a self-governed town with its own set of rules. Artists run wild. Spontaneous performances take place. You can visit an art gallery, grab a dish of the best organic, vegan food you’ll ever eat, have a drink at a bar, smoke some weed, paint a portrait, rave to techno or even go for a nice jog by the river. Anything goes…somewhat (they do have rules ya know….like don’t piss everywhere because you think it’s a big party).

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I watched. I ate. I drank. I sang. I peed on the grass (once, sorry). I watched some more. I cheered. I walked. I smoked. I raved. I saw the lines form. I saw the colors shake. I saw how important and necessary it is for this world to have something like Christiania. It’s as if God reached out his hand and said, ‘Here! I know that shit happens. I know that life can be sad and dark and miserable at times…and I wish I could fix it all. But here! Enjoy this! Right now. See what the world can be. See what you can be. See the facade behind the facade behind the facade. See the great movie as it is created and transpires right in front of your eyes’. It’s an experience. It’s a feeling. It’s not just a hippie town where drugs are legal that needs to be stamped out by the rational side of society. It’s Christiania. It is the great equalizer in a chaotic world. A reminder that control is not the way. That there is no such thing as control. Have you ever had a coincidence that was so strange you felt that the universe was winking at you? That’s Christiania. Have you ever felt what it’s like to be in love? Deep in love? That’s Christiania. Have you ever had a dream so peaceful and so real that when you woke up, you were free from stress or desire or thought? That’s Christiania.

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I’m a weird guy. I know that. But we’re all a little weird aren’t we? Even if you’re a fellow artist, or a cop or a fitness instructor or hell even Barack Obama. We’re all looking for the same thing. A little bit of peace. A little quiet. A little happiness. A few moments of perfection. Just a few. We’re simple creatures with extraordinarily complex minds. We’re little universes bouncing around at incredible speeds inside of an even more infinite universe. But still, we’re human. We have ups. We have downs. And Christiania is an up that you need to explore. It is an up so high that it’s as if you never knew what up was. And if you can’t get there right now….find little Christiania’s elsewhere, because they have to exist. But go you must. One step at a time. Towards a small country called Denmark. To a city called Copenhagen. To another dimension called Christiania. Adventure can be a scary prospect…but it is the only way. Why do I even bother writing this blog given the fact that my words cannot possibly convey what I feel towards Christiania? Because I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity….I’m so in awe of what exists in this life….that I drop to my knees like Joe in Joe vs. The Volcano and say, ‘Dear whatever you are. Thank you. I thought I knew. But I didn’t know anything’. And I’m so passionate about it that I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a feeling that is so amazing that I want you to feel it too. And I want you to find the same spark that I caught a glimpse of. You’ll probably find something entirely different, unique to your own experience, but I know you’ll be able to see behind the curtain. And that’s what we all need. The great truth revealed. Christiania. The moment where time stands still.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.AV.B.L.O.G. as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. There are tons of cheap flights available to Copenhagen, Denmark and even more reasonable hostels, hotels and Pensions there. Take a risk. Take a chance. I hope you do. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Be good to animals. Even plants and rocks. And follow The Golden Rule as best as you can. Have a great day.

Dragon Age Inquisition is Good… not Great

WARNING: SPOILERS

Since I’m an adult (ha!..right) with precious time to spare (another ha!…kind of), I try to choose my games wisely. That being said, the video game industry has really come a long way in the last 20+ years, hasn’t it? Remember playing Nintendo’s Dragon Warrior as a little kid and having your mind blown? The amount of progress is astounding when you make comparisons but still…that doesn’t mean every new game is going to be a gem. I wrote an earlier review on this game that is mainly related to it being a good play-through on PS3, which I still stand by, but boy am I glad that I didn’t buy a PS4 just to play DA:I.

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Ok. First of all, the games in the Dragon Age series are some of the best that I’ve ever played. DA:O was the pinnacle of awesome…I’ve played about 6 different play-throughs and it’s still exciting. As cool as Hawke was, DA:2 was a flop (and I base that solely on the recycled environments. I had to shut the game off 10 hours in because it was so boring and I never revisited it). And Dragon Age: Inquisition is good…maybe even really good but it’s not great and doesn’t come close to Dragon Age: Origins (I’ll explain why in the list below). I have hope that the staff at BioWare will be objective and ask themselves the important questions as they plan further games. And here we are with the list. I’ll try to keep it as concise as possible. Criticisms are in the front….positives are at the end. Hang in there. I’m a huge fan and want nothing more than to help improve these games…because I love the story!

1. The beginning was better than the ending. What do I mean by that? All the events leading up to establishing your base at Haven, Haven getting attacked by Corypheus, you being anointed ‘The Inquisitor’ and your first few journeys out (especially if you chose to support The Mages. Wow!) were more thrilling and emotionally charged than the games ending. They were actually phenomenal and flawless. I thought I was playing the best game I’d ever played before. How cool was it saving your townspeople during the attack on Haven? How amazing was walking through the snowy tundra after the battle at Haven and finding your team? That moment, and the scene that followed….was one of the best moments in the game. John Stevenson at The Writers Block provides a pretty stellar review, which is well worth reading (I’ll try not to copy you John but…I just had to write a review too). Also, all the reviews on Kotaku are very good. Basically, the games ending was flat. You traveled the world, found Skyhold, built the Inquisition, raised a huge force…I guess? ( A War Assets type situation would’ve made more sense here. You are the same company that created Mass Effect…right BioWare?). Essentially as you moved forward in the game, it felt like nothing that you did in terms of growing in power, forging alliances and gaining agents mattered (it didn’t) and the big final climax that you thought would take place at your castle Skyhold (the one that you’d been rebuilding all game specifically for protecting from an assault) didn’t take place there and it was really quick and boring. The game could have ended after thwarting Magister Alexius because that storyline, and the storylines that led up to it, were phenomenal and engaging. Temple of Sacred Ashes, Haven, Alexius’s time warp, giving the first speech at Skyhold and meeting the Divine in the Fade all were way more powerful than the ‘Hey I found you Corypheus! Bang, you’re dead. Mark of the Rift. Schwing! Go back to the Fade. Bye. Roll Credits’. It went from ‘Greatest Game Ever’ to ‘Boring and Trite’.

2. Why have a power score if it’s meaningless? At first I thought it was kind of cool. Similar to the War Assets of Mass Effect. That’s a great mechanic. The ending changes based upon how much power and how many allies you have. If you have a lot of power, your whole ‘main crew’ lives and survival rates are high. If you don’t have a lot of power, maybe some of your crew dies, maybe your army is decimated….maybe you can’t even beat the game! How exciting! Since BioWare had implemented that before, I thought that it was a no brainer they’d do it again or tweek it a little. Nope. Nothing. So, you basically just gain power for no other reason than to advance the game and choose missions (because the missions cost a certain amount of power to unlock). That’s fine, unlocking missions with power had controlled your leveling to an extent.. but that’s all it did and that was a HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT. This was an RPG, right? So, let me get this straight….all the hoopla about establishing base camps in the various immensely detailed and beautiful environments in the game, the companions urging you to increase your power and size of the Inquisition, the alliances that HAD to be made….were meaningless because it had no impact on the games finale? That makes sense right? NO! Not at all. Sorry BioWare, you dropped the ball on that one. For whatever reason it was, poor planning, politics, greed, technical issues etc….you ‘shit the bed’ and it made for a lifeless experience. There could have been a small ‘forces’ bar and that would have sufficed. RPG fans LOVE to see that they are making progress in the game. Oh, I just liberated this area….my Influence bar just went up AND my ‘Forces’ bar just went up, showing me that I command 1,700 troops now. That would’ve been nice.

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3. It was way too easy! RPG’s are supposed to be fun for all ages. Never can a video game company use the cop out that games are scaled down or shortchanged because of the age of their consumers. Many elements that hardcore fans and 18+ gamers expect, do not need to be eliminated because a larger group of 10-14 year olds will be playing the game. That’s where the difficulty setting comes in to play. Remember in Fallout: New Vegas where you could play Hardcore mode and you actually had to remember to eat and drink in-game? That was cool. Too hard for a ten year old you say? Ok…they can just set the game to ‘normal’ and poof! Problem solved. Not Dragon Age: Inquisition. One, all of the elements that DA:O fans wanted to see, that may have been too difficult for a younger or casual gamer to handle, just weren’t there, normally or in the hard settings. Two, this game was way too easy. On my first play through I tried the normal setting…after about 15 hours I was way too good for the game and destroying every enemy that came my way. So, I started over on the hard setting, which only took me about 40 hours until I was way too good and destroying every enemy. Then…I tried the nightmare setting….which was more like the hard setting. So essentially the gameplay settings are as follows. Easy=Extremely Easy. Even a dead person could play on this setting and win. Normal=Easy. Hard=Normal. Nightmare=Hard. I know lots of work goes into these games, but come on. BioWare figured it out before…there’s no legitimate reason to why they couldn’t make it work again. The games difficulty was way too painless and I certainly do not consider myself a master RPG gamer. I play about 3-4 games a year, totaling maybe 200-300 hours of gaming, so usually the hard setting is REALLY tough for me. But not this time.

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 4. Why half-ass the strategy and customization? Just do it….or don’t. Here’s one of my biggest issues. BioWare promised us, in all the press materials leading up to the game, that we’d be able to customize castles, take over territories, lead armies etc. etc. and what we got was just watered down customization options. Don’t make an RPG with strategy elements if you’re not going to fulfill them properly. Take the expansion Dragon Age: Origins- Awakening for example. It was an add on game, yes. But it added some cool elements that fans were yearning for. Elements that you’d think would be improved upon in the next full fledged game. Nope. So, ok…you can build a Mage Tower or a Templar Tower that states in game, that it’s only a cosmetic upgrade, and it has no bearing on your progress. And it serves no real purpose because your castle Skyhold never gets attacked. Woopdy doo. You can choose to create a Training Grounds or an Infirmary, and again this is a cosmetic upgrade that has no purpose other than to make your castle look different. Yay! Who cares? Oh and you can build a Chantry or make an Herb Garden. If you build the Chantry you get gold….or more followers….maybe? If you build the Herb Garden you get….wait for it…..6 POTS where you can plant herbs!! You’re the almighty Inquisitor and you get only 6 POTS!?! And you have to farm it yourself. What!?! What would’ve made a hell of a lot more sense would be….Build the Mage Tower or Templar Tower…get power points and a defensive bonus if the castle were attacked. Build the Training Grounds for an attack bonus for your troops. Build the Infirmary for a health bonus for your troops. Build the Chantry to gain more followers and power or spirit magic resistance for your troops. Build the Herb Garden to have a constant supply of herbs, farmed by your followers and deposited in your inventory. That would make a lot of sense right? The armor and weapon customization was a decent mechanic and tool, why not make the castle customization similar? You looted some weird materials off this Red Templar, sent it in for research and now you can have a special upgrade for your armor/weapon. Likewise, you found some strange materials in a ruin you excavated, you have your dwarves work on it and now you can have a special upgrade for your Mage Tower or your Front Gate or your Dungeon. Also, when you took over a keep…you couldn’t do anything with it. NPC’s just showed up along with some merchants. It would’ve been cool to choose what type of keep it would be (Military, Espionage, Political) and subsequently what bonus you would get (A recruitment bonus or attack bonus for your troops, A spy bonus or more secret areas unlocked to explore, A political bonus with more options for allies, gold and power). Ya know…the little things….allowing you to ‘see results’ from missions that you undertook and an actual impact in your game would’ve been nice rather than a childish…’Well I beat that mission. NEXT!’. Lastly, the judgments, which were very cool, lacked something that was established in DA:O-Awakening. Why weren’t there judgments or requests from regular townsfolk, nobles or members of your Inquisition? It would’ve been very rewarding to have you judge a petty squabble between an Inquisition Mage and Templar, or choose to commit troops to protect an Inquisition farm from attack or bring the citizens to the castle for protection, or to settle a nobles dispute that would gain you gold or influence. Again, the little things….that were developed in an add on to DA:O…that a fan like myself thought would be expanded on the grander scale of DA:I that simply…did not happen. If you’re going to make an RPG, with such a rich storyline and advertise that it’s going to be groundbreaking…you better satisfy your more mature fans (18+ or just veteran gamers) who expect this greatness that was promised.

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5. Harvesting and gathering loot. This can be fun sometimes. But seriously, with a game of this scope you don’t want to spend 10-15 hours harvesting and looting because you’ve already got 100+ hours of gameplay to go through (if you play out a majority of the missions). Remember the PC game FATE? It was a cool dungeon crawler but one really awesome element that it had was this dog that you could call and it would grab your loot for you. Then it would take a certain amount of time to leave, drop off the loot and become available to you again. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have a few squires that would follow well behind your party and grab all the loot for you, then one of them would report at your castle and show you what was looted and harvested? It would solve the constant problem of clearing your inventory, pausing to loot each corpse after a battle and stopping to grab every herb or mineral you see. I understand that this was done to a small extent in the War Table where you could send your advisors out to gather materials, but frequently the mission would come back with 5-10 herbs, a very tiny amount, considering that you can gather 5-10 herbs in a few minutes of gameplay. And it could be a simple option that you could turn on or off (for people who like gathering herbs). Want your squires & spies to follow you and scour every area you go to and then report their findings back at the Skyhold? Or do you want to do it yourself? That type of situation could also lend to a unique storyline with your subordinate(s). Are you putting them in danger? Can they be killed while doing this? Does it affect your overall power score? Ya know…just some simple detail. I mean, you have a nice dialogue with the short, cute, female scout in every place you go to…in which her character didn’t really have any purpose other than to brief you and fill some time. Why couldn’t that person serve a real in game purpose like I just mentioned? Ya know….the devil is in the details…or lack thereof.

6. Character approval means nothing. Remember in Dragon Age: Origins you had the character approval bar? And the higher that bar went, you could inspire Minor or Major abilities in that character such as combat bonuses. And the lower the bar went, the more pissed your character was with you…and they may even leave your party….or try to kill you? Now THAT WAS COOL. In this game, there’s no point to the approval system other than when you make decisions, some on screen text will tell you who approves or disapproves of your actions. There’s no status bar where you can check how much a person likes/dislikes you. And there’s no incentives such as combat bonuses or unique relationships (that I could tell). It’s just another area that fell completely flat. It’s as if BioWare started to create this portion of the game and just stopped at some point. Just another example of how DA:O is better than DA:I.

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7. You don’t get to appoint characters in branch off missions. Remember at the end of Dragon Age: Origins when you had to choose 4 companions to lead the second team that would defend the gates at Denerim while you took on the archdemon? A pretty simple side mission and very effective for engrossing you in the game. But again, nope. Nothing even remotely similar throughout the game. You’ve got this great group of characters. Iron Bull and his team of chargers. Blackwall. Cassandra. Dorian etc. etc. and you have to leave them out of battles because you only can pick up to 3 companions to join in on your missions. There was so much potential to work off of elements that were successful in past titles. Wouldn’t it have made sense to include the other companions in your sieges, for example the siege on Adamant Fortress and the final battle? Maybe your second team covers your back or attacks from another flank? Maybe, like in the ending of Mass Effect 2, if you choose characters who aren’t suited properly for the specific task….they will die…or someone else will die as a result of the lopsided team. It’s the little things, ya know?

8. You’re BioWare. Should you listen to the fans? Absolutely. Every single one. Look, I know you’ve won game of year and accolades upon accolades for this game. Congratulations. BioWare as a company and all of those involved in the creation of this specific game deserve all of that praise. This is a very good game that just falls flat in some key areas. And if you’ve learned anything from the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, it’s that your fans know best. I’m sure there’s an amazing team at BioWare but the truth is….you didn’t live up to your expectations with Dragon Age: Inquisition. You didn’t pull a George Lucas prequels blunder….but if you don’t heed the advice of people outside of your internal ‘team’ then your games will continue to be lackluster. I love this game…I really do. I’m probably going to play it again but stop my campaign after Alexius is defeated.. where it starts to go downhill and it becomes obvious that your choices are meaningless. Now for the positives! The environments are amazing. The animations are fantastic. The armor/weapon customization is great. The loot is great. The War Table and missions associated with it were great (although could’ve been tweeked a bit more to make it more realistic with consequences for choosing the wrong advisor). The castle decor and style customization is really cool. The combat is good (though the AI wasn’t as effective as DA:O where you could choose their tactics). The talent tree is good. The writing was really, really good. The early plot twists and turns were awesome. The soundtrack and in game ‘bard songs’ were great. The characters were great and well developed. Dorian…amazing character. Solas! Perfect! The crossover from previous games was awesome too by bringing in Leliana, Hawke and Morrigan and it was done really, really well. Playing the ‘game’ in Val Royeaux was great. The Inquisition influence bar and perks were cool. The judgements were a lot of fun. The Avvar clan was amazing. Those small Inquisition War Table missions to build a bridge etc. were a really nice touch. The Dragons were AWESOME!!! The Solas & Flemeth twist at the end was cool. There are lots and lots of plusses for this game. But the minuses are just too big and they keep this from being a great game. Even though the gameplay and technology of the time in DA:O is about 6 years old, that’s still a much, much better, tighter and more fulfilling game. And I know that BioWare wanted this to have the same impact that Oblivion did at the time that it came out…but it just doesn’t. It’s just another game. DA:I was too big and some really important details were missed in the grand scope of it all. Details that make or break games for the consumer. I’m still a HUMONGOUS FAN. I would pay BioWare 200 or 300 or 1,000 bucks if they finally created the perfect, earth-shattering RPG. I love this series and the world that BioWare has created. I’m just telling the truth in the small hope that company folks and designers at BioWare, and other video game developers for that matter, will say ‘Ya know what….the fans are right. Let’s do better!’.

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In closing, BioWare did a very good job. The game was great….and then once the shortcomings became evident and the storyline got flabby, it dropped to being just ‘good’. So, they did make 1/3rd of the greatest video game ever. If I were 10 or if this were the first RPG I’d ever played, like I did many years ago with Dragon Warrior for Nintendo, I would lose my mind and praise BioWare as if they were Gods. But that’s not the case. They’re just people….in a big building sitting in front of computers and arguing in meetings. BioWare is a huge company that makes lots of money, with CEO’s and Presidents and a PR & marketing team that gets in the way of the creative department. There are so many people collaborating and so many rules to be followed that I understand why certain things do or do not happen in games. But the fact that I understand how hard it is for a big company to create a flawless game does not detract from the truth that DA:I isn’t flawless. It’s just good. And being just good….is a big disappointment in such a story rich franchise.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and that it’s improved your video game life, your knowledge of the Dragon Age Series or the next video game that you’re about to make or play. Thanks for reading. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Even plants and animals. Have a great day!

Snoring & How to Deal With It!

It’s a SNORE subject (har har har) for all backpackers. Snoring. Some of us snore. Some of us don’t. Personally, I’m a snorer…90% of the time. Now for most people, on a regular night when we’re sleeping alone in our room, the fact that we snore or don’t snore isn’t a problem because we’re ALONE. If you’re in a relationship, ok, one partner will likely wake up every night to alert you of your snoring (which does nothing! It’s not as if snorers can hit the ‘off’ button). And if you’re snoring after a one night stand….it’ll probably end up being just that…. a one night stand….because people HATE SNORERS!!! Now that’s in the regular world of single people and couples. Backpacking is very, very, very different and it would greatly assist the ‘backpacker’ to review some unspoken rules that I’ve put together.

What causes snoring

I will preface this by saying that 2 months prior to my latest backpacking journey I researched remedies for snoring and I religiously went to acupuncture to curtail my snoring (which cost me almost $300 and that’s a lot for a traveler to put into snoring prevention). Did the acupuncture work? Yes. I recorded myself during the time periods between visits and I wasn’t snoring. But….it didn’t last into my journey. So, I wouldn’t recommend this treatment for a traveler. I would recommend it though for stationary maintenance . And now we start the list.

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#1. Most importantly. Know what you’re getting into. If you’re roughing it…you’re going to be sleeping in a tent with one or several people. If you’re staying in a hostel and trying to save money, you’re going to be sleeping in a room with four, eight or possibly 20 different people. There’s a give and take. You’ll get off paying $10-$30 for a bed and will have to put up with snoring, farting, people who talk in their sleep, people who have night terrors, rude people who talk on their cell phone in the bedroom, smelly people, messy people, drunk people, people trying to bang and people having different sleeping habits than your own. Don’t expect it to be ‘your space’. Sometimes you’ll luck out because most backpackers are respectful and hey….they’re just trying to save money while they travel too.. so they ‘get it’. But….know what you’re getting into. ANYTHING GOES. Just like the guy who was talking non-stop to himself in his sleep saying, ‘Tomorrow I have to brush my teeth’, ‘I should’ve taken a shower tonight’, ‘I really need to buy a new toothbrush’…did I find that annoying? No…I found it hysterical and laughed myself to sleep. It’s all part of the experience.

#2. Invest in some good ear plugs. If you’re a non-snorer or a light sleeper. Get some ear plugs! They’re cheap and there are a lot of good brands out there. Get several different ones. If you want to sleep…you’ll need em. If you’re a snorer…BRING EARPLUGS EVERYWHERE. I brought a stock of about 6 ear plugs with me to each hostel. I would write a note that said, ‘Hey. I snore. I’m sorry. Here are some free ear plugs’…and I’d leave it on the desk, sink or couch in the common area of the room. I was just being courteous because I know how annoying snoring can be. At least if you do that…fellow travelers won’t sneer at you when you pass them going to the bathroom in the morning.

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#3. This one is really important. DON’T BLAME THE PERSON WHO SNORES. Seriously dude. They can’t help it. And if they can…there are very few effective remedies for snoring that snorers can employ while traveling (see #4). When backpacking, I feel bad EVERY NIGHT that my snoring keeps people up. Sometimes I even stay up as late as possible, until 3-4am just so most people can have a good nights rest before I start wailing away like a monster. Occasionally, I’ll sleep in the lounge if there is one in the hostel…just in case I snore. Should I (or other snorers for that matter) have to do that? Should we sacrifice sleep and go on 4 hours a night of rest just so the 7 other people in the room can relax? No. Not at all. I mean…we paid for a bed too. But most people give snorers a lot of crap… like this weener. And in reality it’s the non-snorers fault. If you can’t handle snoring…you should do the research & testing and find a pair of good earplugs for yourself. Or book a hotel or B&B where you can have complete silence for your sensitive ear drums. You’re in a hostel. Deal with it. Take some responsibility. Don’t blame anyone but yourself. I love when I walk into a room at 2am and a few people are snoring….it makes me feel like less of an asshole. When in truth the guy who’s tossing and turning underneath me that DIDN’T TAKE THE FREE EARPLUGS I GAVE HIM is the bigger asshole.

#4. This is for snorers. Remedy the problem as best as you can. Are you a fellow snoring backpacker? Don’t have 10 grand for the sinus surgery that probably won’t work? Want to know what works? BREATH RIGHT STRIPS. That’s right. Breath right strips. Invest in them. I brought bag of them with me on the last trip. They don’t eliminate your snoring….but they do cut it down by 20-30% and that’s pretty good. That means your heavy, dying sea animal snore has now turned into a light, waves crashing in the ocean snore, and that’s awesome & acceptable for most people (not that you should care because other people SHOULD HAVE EARPLUGS). What else works? Cut your alcohol consumption. REALLY difficult to do while you’re traveling but…alcohol has an effect on the muscles in your throat and you’re guaranteed to snore (or snore louder) when you’re drinking. So if you’re a drinker, just get DAY DRUNK, it’ll make your trip extra exciting OR just stop drinking 1-2 hours before bed. Lastly, steaming your throat will loosen up your throat muscles and your sinuses. 15 minutes of that before bed and you won’t snore at all. But who has time for that while backpacking? So…a cup of tea or a hot shower will suffice.

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If you’re reading this…you’re most likely wide awake at 3am, scanning the internet on your smart phone to find a way to deal with the snorers in your hostel. And that’s just it. DEAL WITH IT. Go get some earplugs that work. They’re cheap. Some hostels even give them out for free. Don’t complain about how hard you’ve got it because you can’t get your precious sleep while you’re backpacking the globe, something a large majority of the worlds population will never get to do. Suck it up. Train your mind. Put aside your petty troubles. Meditate. Do your best to become a heavy sleeper. Be a sleep magician like me. Once I put my head down on the pillow, I’m usually out in 3 seconds. You’re in a hostel. Anything goes. Someone could stumble into the room screaming. Someone could snore. Someone could break a window. Someone could pee on you in a drunken stupor (happened to me). Who knows…..but ya know what I know? I’m getting my sleep…loud room or not. Once again. Acceptance. Earplugs. Courtesy. Respect. Breath Right Strips. Sleep. Repeat as often as necessary.

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Thanks for reading this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. I hope it’s helped your current hosteling sleep situation and/or enlightened you to the world of backpacking. As always. Do your best. Do better. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Even plants, animals and rocks. Follow The Golden Rule. Now get some rest…

 

Dragon Age: Inquisition on PS3

It’s kinda pointless writing a blog about Dragon Age: Inquisition because Kotaku has provided several stellar reviews of the game, which makes it unnecessary to read any others. That being said, it’s hard to find good information about a new blockbuster game on a last generation console….hence why I am writing about Dragon Age: Inquisition for the Playstation 3. I won’t go too in depth regarding the plot and storyline because well, read Kotaku’s blog if you want to get the full review. All else aside… this post will be helpful for people who still rock the PS3 that are on the fence about buying this game. And so we begin…

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First off, YES THE GAME IS WORTH THE MONEY!! If you’re a fan of the franchise already, a fan of the fantasy genre or just a fan of RPG games…buy this immediately. I’m about 35 hours into my first play through, I’m extremely engaged and there’s no end in sight. It’s rumored that this game can take almost 250 hours to complete if you do all the side quests along with the main storyline and that’s a pretty awesome deal for $50-$60 bucks. Of course, the graphics don’t look as good as the PS4 but they’re still good. There’s no drop off from Dragon Age: Origins (the original game in the series) and the scope of the game is huge. So what?….it’s not gonna look as pretty on the PS3 but it’s still going to be a lot of fun.

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Secondly, the writing is spectacular. Friggin’ Phenomenal. The writing and dialogue in the previous 2 games was great but this one just blows them out of the water. Nice job Bioware. In DA:I the gameplay is great, the storyline is fantastic and the plot twists will make hollywood screenwriters jealous. Seriously….this game is like playing an epic movie. It’s amazing. I actually got misty eyed at one point (during a plot twist that I did not see coming AT ALL)….I felt like I was sitting back watching a great film. Technically you don’t notice any sound issues or drop-offs on the PS3, some cut scenes (which I gather look awesome on PS4) can look kind of crappy on PS3….but there’ve only been a few that I’ve noticed. Bugs? Yeah….there are bugs. I don’t know if this is exclusive to the last generation consoles or the whole game in general….but you will need to save often and keep different save files open. Occasionally there will be some severe gameplay glitches but nothing that removes you completely from the story or action. Your screen will freeze and the system will shut down occasionally….which REALLY SUCKS! But I think that’s due to the huge amount of memory running on the old console. It’s nowhere near the amount of bugs in Fallout: New Vegas. It can be annoying, but not detrimental to the flow or your focus in the game….most of the time. Just save every 15-30 minutes and you’ll be fine.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition has made some improvements in terms of mixing an action rpg game with a bit of strategy simulation (creating your castle and making improvements to it etc. etc) but I think there’s still more to be desired out of it. Not a bad thing at all. I wrote about the Dragon Age: Origins-Awakening expansion, which I really liked, and Bioware incorporated some of that detail into Inquisition and I think it goes over well. But…there’s always going to be room for improvement, which I’ve noticed briefly and read about extensively in reviews on the game. I’m not sure if some features in this part of the game are exclusive to PS4 though….either way, it’s still fun.

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M.A.V.B.L.O.G. SCORE- 9.5 out of 10.

To keep it short….Is Dragon Age: Inquisition worth a purchase on a PS3? Absolutely. I think the game plays well on the last generation consoles….and if you don’t have the money right away to buy a PS4, definitely don’t wait on it. Have fun and play Dragon Age on PS3. You can always replay it a few years down the line once you’ve picked up a PS4. I mean, Bioware will probably have worked out all the bugs by then and probably added some more cool DLC’s. So, if you’ve got time to dick around playing video games….pick this one. It certainly is not a waste of time.

As always. Be good. Be great. Be better! And follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day! …..oh yeah, and don’t forget to exercise once and a while….video games can turn you into a zombie. Right?

Keira Knightley is the best…and not cuz of her boobs

Keira Knightley, you all probably know who she is, the cute actress who gets cast in movies because she makes audiences swoon. But that is not why I’m writing this post about her. As good of an actress that she may be, she is equally as cool and kind as a person….and I’m taking that opinion of her just from one detached experience. About 4 years ago, my father, who was terminally ill with cancer, had what was to be, his final birthday approaching. And I took it upon myself to write to about 10-15 of the actors/actresses from the Pirates of the Caribbean films. You see….my Dad was a big fan of those movies and he frequently laughed his way through the horrors of chemotherapy’s side effects because he watched them constantly (HBO played them non-stop at one point in time). I’m not sure how a man could still find enjoyment from watching the same films, day after day…..but then again he WAS pumped full of toxic chemicals and just looking for a good laugh and an escape from the pain.

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Any who… I printed out a bunch of head-shots of various actors from the films and sent off dozens of padded envelopes with letters that said essentially, ‘Hey, my dad is sick. He loves the pirates films. This might be his last birthday….and I want to give him a present of all these get well signatures from various actors from the film.’ A fan letter is a long shot….but I work in the industry and I know that famous people have assistants, secretaries and agents that sort through their mail (and sometimes they actually do it themselves) so I figured…..why not? I’d sent the letters out about 8 months before his birthday. PLENTY OF TIME. I also sent duplicates to some people.

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I waited and waited….hoping to get a few of the stars. I mean….Jack Sparrow surely would send a reply. Or Geoffrey Rush….right? Nope. Nada. No Johnny Depp. No Orlando Bloom. No Bill Nighy. And more importantly…..No Bootstrap Bill. Really? Paul Newman even personally wrote me back when I was a kid. And that was PAUL NEWMAN!!! What did I actually expect though? I went to college with a butt-load of theatre kids. I’ve worked in film/tv for years and I know what actors and actresses are like. So I was being VERY realistic….but I figured….hey come on it was a really nice letter….and it’s a HUGE FANS LAST BIRTHDAY!!! After a while I’d even forgot about the whole ordeal because I’d waited so long to get a single reply. And then about a week before my Dad’s birthday a couple of packages came to the door. Naturally, I rushed out to open them. Boom! The first one was from Mackenzie Crook, you remember him right?…The skinny guy who’s eyeball kept popping out of his head. And the next was from Kevin McNally, Johnny Depp’s right hand man ,Gibbs, in the films, who left my Dad an AWESOME birthday inscription on the headshot. If you ever read this…THANK YOU KEVIN!

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So, I said to myself….ok. ok. Two side characters. That’s awesome! But it kind of sucks because I sent out so many letters and took the time to actually print out the head shots so it’d be REALLY, FUCKING SIMPLE for a person to just sign it. I mean….because they have SOOOO MUCH TO DO. Ya know, read through scripts, choose a project, get driven around by assistants (what I used to be-kind of why I know intimately what their lives are like), socialize at parties, go to nice hotels, eat at nice restaurants with producers and then oh yeah…..pretend to be someone else in front of the camera. Woopdy Doo! I was a tad bit bitter, to say the least. Not bitter for bitters sake (an actors life can be hard sometimes, I know. They deal with an ENORMOUS amount of BS)…..but just bitter because I know from personal experience HOW EASY IT IS FOR AN ACTOR TO REPLY TO A FAN!….just then….another package came. Who could it be? Was it Jack Sparrow!?! Yes!!!!

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Nope. Not Jack Sparrow. You know who it was from?…….Keira Mother Fuckin’ Knightley. Yeah boy! Leave it to the lady to show some respect & compassion. She sent two small, signed head-shots. One of them was even made out to ‘Joe’, my Dad. SCORE for Team McConnell. Hey…I mean….it probably wasn’t even her. Maybe her assistant read the letter and just said, ‘Hey Keira. Sign these head-shots. Make one out to Joe’, and she signed it and didn’t give it another thought. Or maybe the assistant even signed it. But maybe she actually read the letter….maybe she has some compassion for her fans….and maybe she is a really cool and genuine person. Either way…..those pictures & signatures made my Dad’s day. And yes, he swooned for Keira Knightley…..who wouldn’t? Even my Mom swooned. That’s why she gets the work after all. So, Keira….if you or your associates & comrades ever find this on a google search for some un-Godly reason….THANK YOU! Number 1…..you made a dying man very, very happy. And Number 2…..because you took 3 seconds to sign a head shot…you’re way cooler than any of the other ‘stars’ from the Pirates films. Thank you Keira, Mackenzie and Kevin for being part of the 10% of cool people in the industry (Cast/Crew alike….man some crew members are assholes). It’s not always easy for an actor to remember that they’re a regular person living in a fantasy world. Also, part of the reason why I wrote this post is for you unfortunate souls that work in the film industry and trudge through the slop of sycophants ….hey! Here’s a real story from someone else who works in the film industry. And it’s a good one! About something good that happened in the business. Cheers! (cheers as in go drink a beer, or two, or three…because you work in the film industry-not the Cheers! that the English & Australians say)

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Thanks for reading this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. I hope that you take a look at the work of Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Crook and Kevin McNally and maybe even become fans of theirs.  As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Even animals, plants and rocks. It’s a pretty jacked up world so…. do your best to follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day!

 

A Backpackers Mind

Life….a series of seemingly significant or insignificant moments that are strung together throughout time forming an individuals very essence, one who will interact with tens, hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of other humans that inhabit this vast and mysterious world that we constantly try to control and understand. Interactions that on the surface, one might think are inconsequential, but possibly lead to events that bring into being the treasures of a life well lived and/or the foundations for opportunity and growth. Life….can you tell me what it is? Can the worlds most renowned scientist, spiritual authority, politician, mystic or philosopher tell you or I the ‘reality’ of what is going on in the world? What does it all mean? Why are we here? What is my purpose? Can anyone answer for you the largest questions that have ever existed?  Absolutely not. They’re questions that only you can answer. And that brings us to the backpackers philosophy and the travelers mind, which I feel is important to cultivate, with whatever label you may give to it. Because it can help you answer those questions that everyone is bound to have and help to improve your life. What I’m saying isn’t entirely new…..it’s just coming from a different person.

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What is backpacking? What is travel? It’s just seeing new places, having fun and experiencing different cultures, right? Yes…..at first. What it really is, is a lesson in risk-taking. A constant lesson (depending upon how much you travel and/or if you can maintain that mystical energy field one can foster around oneself while you travel). Something happens to the adventurer that embraces the fact that he or she isn’t in control of anything. That they are at the whim of the world that they’re about to experience. You’ve got to let go of your plans and travel books and pre-conceptions of what a vacation ‘is’ to tap into that field. You take risks. Risk after risk. Large and small. Why? People who travel are escaping something. A stressful job. A life without flavor. A death in the family. A chance to recapture their youth with friends. A break-up. An overbearing spouse. A dead end job. On and on. People are escaping. What they can unlock when they start to take risks is…. their true essence. The absence of fear. Their human potential. Each moment they will transform into a better version of themselves. Travel is not just about sitting on the beach sipping margaritas. That is fine and it has it’s place…especially if you’ve been hiking for the past 2 weeks. But to find the travelers mind, one must move outside of their comfort zone, in small and in large leaps.

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What am I talking about? I’m talking about those moments where you can ‘follow the white rabbit’. Those moments when you can push yourself. An opportunity gets presented and you can walk through the door, or not. Do I cancel my trip to Austria because the cute girl who was drawing a sketch of me on the train is going to Poland? Do I follow her there? Do I go with the guy to an absynthe bar? Do I cancel my flight to see this once in a lifetime concert? Do I stay in a hostel, even though I’m terrified of sharing my space with complete strangers? Do I walk alone at night for 3 miles through this part of the city or do I take the tram? Seemingly insignificant moments that can have a huge bearing on what you are about to become. Me? I didn’t follow the girl. Maybe she and I would have fallen in love. I did follow the guy, drank absinthe, had wild hallucinations and spoke fluent French to strangers when I was lost, although I don’t speak French (I only studied it briefly in school). I did cancel my flight and had a spiritual experience at the concert, which stirred up emotions from memories past that I needed to re-asses and cleanse. I stayed in the hostel (and many, many others) and broke down my misconceptions that we all live ‘the exact same way’. I walked through the city, in the quiet hours of the night when no tourists are clouding the truth that lay there, and got to observe what it’s like to be a homeless drug addict.

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Are those few moments that I’ve shared from my life really what amounts to cultivating the travelers mind that I talk about? Yes. However unremarkable as they were, they led to hundreds of other instances, where I could have chosen the familiar road or the unfamiliar road. And as you grow and enjoy it….you begin to take more risks into unknown territories. You may even find peace…without meditation. Your meditation was your risk taking. The adventure was your drug. Because that’s what we’re all after too, right? Peace. A life without stress. A life without fear. Complete freedom. That’s why we read so many self-help books, are members of organized religions, take so many pharmaceuticals, go to therapy and exercise like maniacs…..because we want to quiet our mind. Our mind….that is the root of all our problems. Because it’s our mind that is or isn’t afraid, that is or isn’t sad, that is or isn’t accepting of situations. Our mind….is also our greatest ally and given the proper shift, is capable of transforming your perspective into a perfect, dream-like life, where next to nothing can rattle your cage.

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Then comes the hardest part for a backpacker… you realize that the journey has to come to an end. As do all things in life. That’s the second most important thing you learn. How to say goodbye. On a whim you went to a country that you knew next to nothing about…and you found a place that was like a childhood dream. It was a place without equal. And you only had two days to enjoy it. You knew in your present situation, it may be years, if ever, that you return to this place. So you do something that’s harder than a break-up, maybe even harder than putting your favorite pet to sleep…..you say goodbye to perfection. You let go. Constantly. You say goodbye to the great friends you made at the hostel in Prague. ….will it really ever be the same if you meet up with them again? You travel and you keep moving. You say goodbye hundreds of times, to people, to places, to things that you fell in love with. You cultivate a giant garden of fantastic moments. Moments that never would have happened unless you took those risks. And each place you go to….you find more things in this world that you fall in love with…..another town, another city, another person, another bar, another restaurant, another meal, another church, another farm, another mountain, another tree, another hostel, another beer, another wine……and you think to yourself, ‘How can there be so many beautiful things in this world? If I were to see it all, how could I even comprehend how vast and amazing this world is?’ (A blog is a poor excuse I know). You start to let go of all the horrible things you’ve seen and read in the news and start to realize that……for every bad thing…..there are 100 indescribable things that overcome it.

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And however many times you have to say goodbye, is how many times your heart breaks. You get filled up with joy and then torn apart so many times….that nothing can harm you anymore. Your ego explodes and reassembles continuously in the self analysis that inevitably happens as you step outside of your comfort zone…that you forget who you are. You forget where you are. You forget why you were so damned afraid or so damned shy. You burn up and then rise like a phoenix out of the ashes…over and over again. It’s as if you’d been asleep your whole life….and all of a sudden you’re filled with energy and alive. You can become so addicted to this energy, that you yearn for it constantly. It’s not a drug addiction. Or an adrenaline addiction or some other man made disorder. It’s an addiction to life. What life really is. And once you experience it….you want it again, and again, and again. Just like Bill Murray in Scrooged (1988). Because who wants to go back to being afraid and boxed in once they’ve been set free? It’s like a hell in it’s own way to return from a life changing experience. How can one come back to their former life….when their life, rather their perception of it, is no longer the same? How can you be stagnant…living in one place….when you’ve stayed in a different bed in a different city every night for months? It is something that I’ve struggled with each time I return from a journey….

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And ‘an’ answer, not ‘the’ answer, in keeping that favorable aura about yourself, is that there’s always another journey. Even if you’ve been gone backpacking for 2 years…..the coming year upon your return home is another great journey. What is home? There’s no need to be miserable, living in bitterness because you left a great expansive adventure behind you, but to be happy because you know deep inside that nothing is set in stone. Nothing can be controlled. Nothing can be answered but with the answer that you give to it. Nothing is irrational or unrealistic or impossible. Because there is no answer that you can contend with, that is any better than your own answers. You become so in touch with your emotions, your spirituality, your morals & ideals that you feel a step above the rest, but you know that you’re no better than any other human being….you can just see it clearly, is all. And there’s always a new adventure to be had. Sure, you’ll go back to a ‘normal’ life and a ‘normal’ set of ideals, laws and societal expectations. But when you’re there, in the travelers mind frame, you can just sit back and laugh at it all….because it’s all man-made. And the knowledge that you gained….is probably more valuable than all the power in the world. Your family & friends will think you’re the same old person and will treat you accordingly. The rules will pretty much be the same….but you won’t. It’s like The Wachowski’s described in The Matrix…you’ll start to see the code, in a sense. And songs like this will start to make sense to you.

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Gratitude. The third most important thing for a backpacker. Do you know how amazing it is that you were born? That you were formed into the person that you were? That you positioned your life to have the opportunity to travel? That you picked those certain places to travel to? That you met the people you did and experienced very strange synchronicity’s in those places you went to? Do you think a football player like Ryan Tannehill (Go Dolphins!) could just hit the road, backpack Europe, have fun and get crazy without being recognized and criticized the world over for it? Do you think a movie star like Tom Cruise or Jim Carrey could have that same experience? No way! I mean…maybe they could try…..but it’s highly unlikely that they’d go incognito for more than a few days. Do you know how lucky you are to backpack and how unimaginable that escapade is to most people? Be grateful for each second. For each good and bad experience. Each girl kissed and each ankle sprained. Backpacking makes you realize, however slowly for some, that life is REALLY F$*%ING PRECIOUS!! And AMAZING! Just look at it! And if you can transform yourself….each time that you return home you’ll become a better version of you, with a new lease on life. Of course you’ll tell your boss that he’s an @$$hole and get fired. Of course you’ll ask the girl out that you were always shy around. Of course you’ll call an estranged friend that you haven’t seen in 5 years. Of course you’ll tell someone that you love them. Because it’s such a laugh, isn’t it? All those shortcomings and imaginary fears. We all die. It’s inevitable. And we have this gift of a life……to live… and to be free. Truly free. Not the freedom that George W. talked about.

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No matter how perfect you feel after the journey ends. No matter how clear headed you’ve become. You’ll always get dragged back into human drama, pain and suffering (greatest movie ever, watch it). You’ll spin in the same circles that you’ve spun in before. You might make mistakes….but you’ll know why. You’ll take the risks….knowing that things may end poorly….and you’ll do it because you’ll know that there’s no point to life unless you take risks. Big ones. You’ll keep stepping outside of your comfort zone because you won’t want to become stale….so you’ll try to be a little unpredictable, just to hang on to that travelers mind. And you might pull stunts to keep that feeling. And it might leave you. For a long time. Who knows…you might turn into who you once were before the journey began. But if you’re looking for it….it’ll come back around. The winds always change.

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You might be saying, ‘Great. You feel awesome. I’m happy for you…weirdo. You’ve got a good lease on life. Why do I need to save my money and allocate all this time to travel just to find….a better outlook on life? What if I don’t find it? What if I don’t need it?’ Well, you might not find it. I’ve traveled at times and didn’t have the same explosive experience as others. It has a lot to do with your head space when the journey begins. But if you’re open to it….there’s a good chance that you’ll have a great experience. It’s entirely up to you. The meaning of life is your own meaning. Your purpose in life is the purpose that you give to yourself. I can’t tell you who you are. I can’t tell you what to do. Neither can your boss, or your lover, or the President, or the Pope. It’s your call. Always. I’m just a guy sharing my experiences. And I’m sure that you’ll do the right thing for yourself….but I hope that some of my words have rubbed off. And maybe you will go backpacking, however close to or far from your home. And maybe you’ll open your mind to see just how unbelievably amazing this world is, how unbelievably amazing you are and how important you are to this world that you live in. And here I am….trying to push you off the cliff.

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Thanks for reading this M.A.V.B.L.O.G and learning about the backpackers mind. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. And follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day.

Brasserie de Silly

This past month I had the good fortune to visit Brasserie de Silly in Silly, Belgium. Yes….Silly is a real place, just like Fucking, Austria. Silly Fucking Europe! Craziness indeed. The brewery is a little out of the way for train takers… but the beer is just as good, if not better, than lots of the Belgian beers I’ve tried whilst overseas. If you’re a beer enthusiast, a brewer or just a regular dude or dudette who likes cool things…I highly recommend visiting this brewery. Now, when I say brewery, I mean the breweries cafe, which is attached to the actual brewery. The brewery only does tours for large groups so unless you’re with 20 friends…you’re gonna have to just drink at the cafe.

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My friend and I arrived in Silly not really knowing what to expect. When we walked in the doors it kind of looked like one of those random cafes you see in a European city that you don’t want to go into. Ya know, it’s dark, there’s two quiet guys in the corner and one person in the back. It’s pretty empty…..and they don’t speak your language. Not too inviting. (If only I were blacked out drunk to access my fluent French speaking part of the brain!!) So we figured, hey let’s just get a beer and then split. The prices were super cheap….about 1.80 euros to 3.50 euros for a beer. And 2 cheeseburgers were 4 euro. Sweet!! After our first drink the bartender asked us if we were American, we reluctantly said ‘yes’ not knowing what the French speaking Belgians thought of us Yankees. But it turned out that one of those ‘quiet’ guys that we saw earlier was Bernard, the brewer, and he wanted to buy us a round of drinks. Rock on! So there we were, chatting with the brewer and drinking some really amazing beer. What more could we ask for?

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Well…….after about 7 drinks, plus the free ones, some cheeseburgers and a few hours of hanging out……we asked for the bill. Now, previous to this visit I was in Scandinavia so….I was just expecting a normal bill as if we were out drinking in New York. It was 14 euros and 10 cents. What!?! That’s so cheap!! Silly, Belgium man. Silly Fucking Belgium. I mean, it was a small town….and hopefully if Brasserie de Silly gets more popular in the coming years, they’ll raise the prices a little for the oncoming tourists. But hey, for now…..what an amazing deal! Now, I’m no beer guru (when I drink I tend to like ‘crappy’ American beers such as ‘Miller High Life’, ‘Busch’ and ‘PBR’, though I really appreciate and prefer good beers) but I’ll give a quick rundown of a few of the beers I tried.

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Let’s start with the best one. La Cré Tonnerre. Holy crap. Drink this immediately. Next up is Abbaye de Forest. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. (Hey I said I wasn’t a beer guru) Silly Pils was great as well. A nice, simple pils. Pink Killer is the only one I heard about before visiting Silly….and it wasn’t bad. It’s a fruity beer. Not my style, necessarily…but good. And the last one I had was La Divine. Good beer. Good, good beer. I also tried the Scotch Silly which is very nice. I’m well aware that this paragraph was neither eloquent nor detailed….but do you really need details all the time when it comes to beer? Sometimes, you just need to know if it’s good. I don’t care what type of beer you like. The beer in Silly is good. And most importantly….IT’S FUCKING CALLED SILLY!!!!!! Yes….that’s a sophomoric statement….but come on man. It’s SILLY!!! For those of you that would like a more detailed description of the beers in Belgium I’ll provide a link to my friend Rob’s blog when he posts it.

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Overall….I had an awesome experience in a cool brewery in Silly, Belgium. The head brewer was welcoming and really friendly. The beers were great AND CHEAP. And I’m sure if you visited, you’d have a similar experience…..unless you’re a loud mouth douchebag…. Ya never know.

Thanks for reading. As always. Take care of yourself. Take care of your clan. Be good to animals. And follow The Golden Rule as best as you can.

I have a (backpacking) dream!

I’m not Martin Luther King Jr. nor do I think that I’m the backpackers version of Martin Luther King Jr……but I HAVE A DREAM!! I have a dream that one day the US Government (and all other governments too) will institute a broad, cultural & educational internship/ambassadorship for all its young citizens. As soon as the youth would graduate high school, and before attending college/university or entering the work force, they’d be required to complete a full year of travel, study & work-study, which was completely sponsored by the state. A year where the youth would have the opportunity to broaden their minds, stimulate their brain cells, socialize with foreigners from around the globe, where they’d visit museums and monuments and great feats of architecture. A year where the people of the world would have the chance to integrate their ideas, beliefs, dreams and passions with one another. I have a dream!!!

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I have a dream where all adults would be fulfilled in their lives, de-stressed and content with their jobs because of the opportunities afforded to them by their government when they were in their youth. Where all people would be appreciative of the great memories they’d created while traveling abroad. Where all people would be given the opportunity to find themselves and find their true calling before being shuttled into our current higher education monstrosity. I have a dream where countries would tolerate one another’s differences, without resorting to horrific wars, because of the seeds sown amongst generations of travelers. I have a dream where the youth, whether rich or poor, for one year, would be treated as equals by the entire world. Where they could study, travel, work, go on pub crawls, have relationships, fall in love and go on adventures with one another. A year where the daughter of a CEO and the son of an inner-city factory worker would be in the same strata. A year where the youth would be forced out of their comfort zones into an expansive world that would leave them appreciative and in awe of the world that they live in.

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In short, I have a dream for a brighter future and a better world where everyone gets to know the joy of backpacking, visiting monuments & museums, seeing that street band play in a foreign city, going for a walk in the woods in a different country, drinking glacier water as it melts on the mountain, kissing the girl you met on the train, taking a class at a foreign university, getting into an argument with someone at a hostel and then drinking with them and realizing that your cultures aren’t all that different, going to Oktoberfest in Munich for the first time and just missing your train connection at 1am and the next train isn’t until 7am, eating a pizza in Rome and seeing the Champs-Élysées. It’s a dream that is far-fetched right now but it is certainly possible. Some countries such as Germany have had similar programs during our modern time where you could either join the military or join a volunteer service. So maybe it’s not as outlandish an idea as I think it is?

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Human beings are not just a commodity to be pegged, prodded and used as fodder. Each moment, each word and each step in a persons life has long lasting psychological impacts on them and sociological impacts on society. Parts of the world are broken and intelligent thinkers in charge need to make positive changes or else we’ll see more radical groups like the Islamic State and the reckless governments who view people as numbers and not living beings. Maybe if we were afforded the chance to speak, learn and bond with foreigners, on a large scale, then we wouldn’t view certain cultures as radical, evil or dangerous….and vice versa. I once met a North Korean fellow during my travels….we hung out and drank beer together….he was a funny dude….he told me….’I don’t like George Bush. I don’t like what he does. But I like the Yankees. And I like you’. Well maybe when he went home he told his family & friends….’Hey I had a good time with this American. He was nice. They’re not all bad’. And there you go….tolerance. Progress. One small step at a time. I certainly told people about the awesome North Korean guy who was obsessed with German beer and the Yankees. How he got out of North Korea and traveled? Beats the crap out of me!

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So, how would this dream actually work? Well it’s fairly simple…in principle. Students would have to sign up for their accommodations (state sponsored hostels) and air-fare/train-fare (State sponsored) similar to the way they sign up for classes in college. There would need to be some ‘Backpacking Counselors’, which initially I’m sure the government could find amongst the travel bloggers and travel enthusiasts out there. Those people would staff the hostels, lead tours and help the students. Then eventually, those ‘Backpacking Counselors’ could be staffed by some of our youth that just fell in love with backpacking and they made it their career to assist others in their journeys. Those folks could work at any of the state sponsored hostels around the globe. They’d be viewed as college professors sort of….but KICK ASS college professors. Those counselors would also make sure students were getting enough culture and work-study. Each sponsored hostel could also have a tiny military presence (country of sponsorship or NATO or what have you) just to ensure that student travelers are safe and also to give certain soldiers a better job than cleaning out the latrines at their local military installation. It’s the technological age….so each student would have a data-chip in their ID card, which would be linked to their personal ‘student travel website’. All information would be cached/collected so that their counselors could make sure they were 1. Doing enough cultural activities (museums, guided tours, plays etc.) 2. Doing enough work-study (example: they’d need to work for 2 months out of the year at state sponsored hostels in food service, office work and janitorial duties) and 3. Seeing enough of the required cities on the list (example: each student would plan their own custom trip but would be required to see such places as- Dublin, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Barcelona, Moscow, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Hong Kong, Brazil, Tokyo etc.). Also, for Americans (or any locals and their own country of residence for that matter) they’d be required to visit a certain portion of their own country too. I mean, how can you broaden your horizons when you don’t know about the place that you’re actually from…..right?

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Obviously there’d be some exceptions to the rule. You wouldn’t want criminals traveling around or people who didn’t complete their high school education and were looking for a freebie. There’d have to be some type of incentive to getting this state-sponsored opportunity. (For example, ‘you must receive your high school diploma and have volunteered X number of hours in your community and have a clean criminal record [within reason of course cause cops LOOOOVVVEEE to arrest people these days]) And there you have it. The basis for a world of adventurers that would learn from each culture and eventually work in every industry….from simple people who farm and cut trees, to people who become CEO’s, bankers and politicians. Would this proposed system work? Of course it would. Education fills your head. Travel opens your mind and stimulates your senses. Meeting people from other cultures and walks of life educates you even more, makes you tolerant and expands your world view. And instituting a program like this for the youth of the world….well……give it a try and see how AWESOME the world would be a generation later. You can educate yourself (great!) and watch all the news and all the documentaries that you want, good or bad, but they’ll still never be the same as putting your feet on the ground, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds & conversations, eating the foods and immersing yourself in another culture. And back to those bad eggs or youth with a less than favorable background. We wouldn’t want to exclude them because that’s not entirely fair. Maybe they’d have the option to join a branch of the military and get their world travel through a 2-year volunteer service with NATO or some type of world sponsored guard service. Hey, the ‘World Guard’ just like the ‘National Guard’.

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I’m just a regular guy. I don’t have an ivy league educational background that would put me into a decision making spot in politics, nor do I have the desire nor the connections to do so. I don’t have the fame, money or prowess to create a foundation and lobby our policy makers in this area. I don’t even have a full-time job right now. But what I do have is a voice….and a lot of experience. I know what I’m talking about. And I know that this is something that is progressive, has high potential and that the governments of the world need, especially the US government. It wouldn’t even cost that much when you put 2 and 2 together. Maybe it’ll take 50 years. Maybe it’ll take 100 years or even 200 years. But it’ll happen whether it’s sponsored or not. People are waking up. They’re realizing that there’s no adventure left in the world and the life that we’re spoon fed to live isn’t a life that they want. So, for those of you that read this….maybe you’re already in a place of power, maybe you’re a student who will one day become a senator or a young genius who will become a renowned scientist….and maybe you like my idea. And maybe, just maybe….you’ll go backpacking and have an adventure of your own….so that you’ll know EXACTLY what I just talked about. Turn off that TV. Stop saving up your money for the same vacation to Ocean City that you’ve gone on for the last 10 years… and do something new for a change.

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Eventually we’ll all realize that the various Gods we worship are essentially the same. That some of the religious rules we follow are outdated and need to be amended or thrown away. That the differences in our cultures can be appreciated and tolerated….and some of those differences are merely in text books and in the news and aren’t differences at all. That our own mind is the only thing preventing us from taking that next leap into an unknown realm of understanding and a better existence. The old ideas may not be working anymore…..and we’ve gotta start somewhere new….or else we’ll continue beheading others who in a different world we’d be having a coffee with, running crusades and blowing up buildings that in another world we’d be taking tours and snapping pictures of, having unending wars instead of having unending symposiums and we’ll constantly live in turmoil as if we’re on thin ice instead of living as if anything is possible.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ll give this legs and run with my idea. Who knows? I’m just writing stuff on the interwebs for people like you to find. As always, be good to yourself, be good to others, be good to animals, follow The Golden Rule and have a great day.

Vienna, Austria for Backpackers

Vienna. What comes to mind when you think of Vienna? Classical music concerts, Beethoven, The Vienna Opera House… Some of the staples of Vienna. Right? Those things are great about this city and well worth getting immersed in….but Vienna actually is a pretty cool place apart from the classical music scene. Is it a party city? No. It’s not Berlin. But, it’s certainly worth a visit. I’ve spent a good amount of time exploring Vienna over the years and will provide some tips & hints for discovering Vienna. It’s not the cheapest city, but it’s certainly do-able if you’re budget minded. First up…..Schnitzel.

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Being part Austrian, no schnitzel will ever be like Grandma’s schnitzel, but Vienna’s got some KICK ASS choices. I’ve eaten 5 dollar schnitzels in Vienna and even a 50 dollar one (which wasn’t very good). Here are my top two picks. If you’re on a budget, check out Schnitzelwirt. The meal will set you back $10-$15 bucks….and it’s gigantic. You can basically eat the meal as lunch and dinner and you’ll still have some to take home. It tastes great. The restaurant is nice and you’ll be surrounded by Austrian locals. Overall it’s a fun time. Next…and my favorite is Zum Figlmuller. There’s really only one thing you can order on the menu and that is the Figlmuller-Schnitzel. It’s so amazing! It’s huge! It tastes so good! The meat is pounded so thin that the schnitzel will flop over your plate. And you’ve gotta get it with the mixed salad or potato salad. This meal will probably set you back about $20-$25 bucks but it’s well worth it. And you’ll either have leftovers or you’ll be full for the next 24 hours. I recommend going to the Wollzeile location. Make reservations here!…and unless it’s a touristy season the wait is just 10-15 minutes long. Oh yeah…no beer is served. Only wine. Lots of people online give Figlmuller crap and say the schnitzel isn’t good…..but sorry man. THE SCHNITZEL IS AMAAAZZZING!!!!

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If you’re on a really tight budget, go to one of the many Kebab stands in the city. They’re all over the place and they ROCK THE SOCKS. I think I’ve eaten at about 75% of them in the entire city. One visit I was obsessed. That’s all I ate. There’s a really good one in the Naschmarkt, which is another place you’ve gotta visit. It’s a big flea market/food market. Take a 30 minute stroll there and check out the sites and smells of Vienna. It can be reached easily because the U-bahn system in Vienna is really simple to use. Just go to a kiosk and select a 24-hr, 48-hr or 72-hr unlimited travel card (well worth it). After that you’ve gotta check out Stadtpark, Vienna’s central park, and spend about an hour or so just walking around and hanging out. During the night it’s just as pretty, but I’d go during the day because it’s nicer. And not that it’s dangerous, but on occasion you can get the random drunken lout wandering around at night. Next stop….Schonbrunn Palace. It’s a 20 minute U-bahn ride on the U4 green line and about a 45 minute walk to get from the subway platform to the Gloriette at the top. If you’re into the history, take the tour inside the palace, but I’ve always just walked around the immense palace grounds and gardens. Give yourself a few hours for this. The view is amazing. It’s free. Bring a picnic. Take a nap. Meditate. It’s awesome. Also, during the winter they have a Christkindlemarkt there, which is doubly as awesome. Hot punch. Friendly people. Great snacks. Crisp air. Christmas lights. What more could you want? Now if you’ve got the time…go to the Tiergarten Schonnbrun. It’s the oldest zoo in the world and is right next to Schonnbrun Palace. I wouldn’t recommend going there if you only had a couple of days in Vienna. But if you’re there anywhere from 4-7 days. Check it out.

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A lesser talked about destination in Vienna is the Hundertwasserhaus. It’s an architectural and artistic masterpiece. A trip there will change your life and calm your soul. Well worth it and something that you wouldn’t expect in Vienna. Some other fun stuff to do? It’s a big city and I’d advise a little bit of wandering, especially if you have the unlimited U-bahn ticket. Hop on an above ground tram, cruise the main ring (Ringstrasse), and/or just take the U-bahn and ride around. Some good places to see are the Prater (Praterstern U-bahn stop), the Rathaus (Rathaus U-bahn stop), the Karlsplatz U-bahn station used to be filled with bums, but now it’s cleaned up, and there’s the Opera Toilet (you HAVE to see it) and of course Stephansdom (Stephansplatz U-bahn stop). Even if you’re not religious….when you have a chance to see an 850-year old church…..go see it! It’s remarkable. You’ll get hounded outside by 20 guys dressed as Beethoven selling tickets to cheesy concerts, but just ignore them. Once and a while they have nighttime concerts inside the church (well worth paying if available-they sell those at the ticket booth located outside of the church). Up for some ice cream or gelato? Go anywhere that has the EIS sign. They’re scattered throughout the city. My favorite one is near the Reumannplatz subway stop, but that’s just me.

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The Vienna Concert Cafes are really cool. Time your visit right and you can sit and enjoy a classical concert for the price of a cup of coffee. And if you’re smart….you’ll shell out the extra Euros and order the Kaiserschmarren (Austria’s staple dessert). If you’re adventurous you can head over to Bratislava for the day. It’s a good place to see. The commuter train is only an hour long and it’s about a $20 dollar round trip ticket. The exchange rate was awesome and I did some shopping on the cheap there, but that was in 2007 (In 2009 they adopted the Euro). Back in Vienna proper, if you’re a horse enthusiast, seeing The Spanish Riding School will definitely be a highlight, but if you’re not, it’ll be a waste of time and money for you so just take the nice, romantic horse drawn carriage through the cobblestone streets if you’re with your spouse/partner/lover. That way you can see the city from a different vantage point.

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If you’re looking to go out and get some drinks….hang at some of the bars in the Bermuda Triangle (just a grouping of bars in a triangular area of streets). It makes for some easy bar hopping and late night kebab eating. Crossfield’s Australian Pub (near the Opera) is also worth the visit. Beers. Trivia games. A comfortable atmosphere….and you can eat grasshoppers if you want! That’s right. Grasshoppers! They’re crunchy!… Down for Karaoke? Hit up Mai Kai and belt out some tunes. It’s a chill spot. Where to sleep you ask? Well…. Hotel Furstenhof ain’t the cheapest place ($60-$75/night) for a bohemian half-hotel, half-hostel) but it’s certainly got some charm. There’s always Wombats Hostel ($20-$30/night) or you can take a quick look on Hostelworld.com. There’s plenty of em’ to choose from. As for regular hotels…they can be a bit pricey in this town….but look nonetheless. They run some deals and specials from time to time. Hotel Karntnerhof is a good one to try. It’s not too close to the action but not too far away.

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Museums? Yes to them all. If you’ve got the time of course. If you’re gonna pick just one….I’d say that you’d have to see Albertina. Also, take one of the Danube River tours (Stift Melk is a good one [uber awesome if you’re a librarian] and check out Durnstein and Krems while you’re there) or a take walk in the Wienerwald (it’s really special. Autumn is the best time for this). If you’ve hired a car or have the money for a taxi, head out of the city to a traditional Heuriger restaurant. It’s no German beer hall, with the singing and dancing, but it’s just as awesome in it’s own way. Grab a nice lunch and try the new Austrian wines or some ‘Sturm’ if it’s in season. Another very fun ‘free’ thing to do is go to Stephansdom and walk in the direction of Karlsplatz. As you walk, just watch the street performers. There’s a dance group that shows up (almost everyday) near the church and draws a big crowd. Sometimes there are classical music groups or guitar players that are good to watch. You can tip them or just waltz on by.

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There’s plenty to do in Vienna and I’ll say again that it’s really worth a visit. The best time of year to go is probably in mid to late September or early October. Autumn in Vienna is perfect. Not that other seasons in Vienna are bad. The spring is amazing when the flowers are in bloom, the summer is great (but a bit hot because of all the recent heat waves) and the winter, though a bit dreary in parts of the city, it’s beautiful because the Christmas markets are out and a fresh snowfall in Vienna is pretty stunning. Anytime that you go, you’ll have a good time. I’ve given you a large amount of stuff to check out but don’t limit yourself. Check out the tourist maps (available at most shops and hostels) and see what they suggest. Also, do some of the classical music concerts if that’s your sole reason for visiting. And again, wander around….wander, wander, wander. It’s fun. You might just stumble into this place ‘Burg Kino’, which is perfect if you’re an Orson Welles fan. And if you’re flying in or out, be sure to use the CAT train shuttle (about $15 bucks). The airport is a ways away from the center city and you’ll end up paying 40-50 Euros for a cab ride.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and my tips for Vienna, Austria. If you’d like further assistance in planning your trip, feel free to contact me on twitter @odiemcconnell or via e-mail at mcconnellfavors@gmail.com.  As always. Do your best. Treat others with respect… people, animals and plants alike. And follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Back in 2011, I was lucky enough to attend the screening of the documentary film, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ at the Berlin Film Festival, and it’s a film that I highly recommend. The documentary, directed by David Gelb, is the story of Jiro Ono, an elderly sushi master who owns the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, and is supposedly one of the best sushi chefs in the world. I’ve never eaten there….but after seeing the film and hearing the director speak during a Q&A session after the movie, I tend to agree. One of the things I remember him saying was that it’s very difficult for him to eat sushi now…..because Jiro’s sushi was by far the best he’s ever had. And at $300 for a starting course (plus a trip to Tokyo and lodging)….that’s a tough problem to have for a sushi lover.

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There are plenty of other good blogs about the film and Jiro’s ideology… and I have no intention of going into details and spoiling it for viewers, so I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. It’s a well made and entertaining film that highlights a living legend in the sushi trade. It’s a film that has many layers and speaks volumes of truth on different levels because of Jiro himself. It’s a pleasant slice of Japanese culture. And it makes you want to eat sushi. The best sushi.

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I will probably never make it to Sukiyabashi Jiro while Jiro is still alive and running the restaurant. Unless maybe he lives to be 100 and is still working, which is entirely possible after seeing the guys work ethic. So, if you’re a traveler and have the money to do so, I’d say go for it. Check out Jiro’s restaurant and then write to me and tell me how awesome it is. I mean….even Obama went there and ate his sushi. But, if you’re not gonna fly around the world to grab the best sushi meal on the planet….pick up some nice sushi from your local Japanese place, rent ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ on netflix or DVD….and enjoy yourself. Oh yeah….UMAMI.

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Look at that face! Who doesn’t want some Jiro in their life? I really, really hope you check out the film and learn about Jiro and support independent documentaries. It’ll be well worth your time. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. And follow The Golden Rule.