Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 Political Prediction

You heard it here first, the biggest political story of 2008 will be the independent presidential candidacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Back in Boston

Well, "Jason Bourne on a Budget" is done, and I am back in Boston in my apartment, finishing up last-minute Christmas shopping. We're already talking about a sequel, perhaps to Italy in 2008 (another country that does figure into Bourne... in fact, the first place he landed in "The Bourne Identity").

I will get pictures up soon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Final "Jason Bourne on a Budget" Chapter

MUNICH-- After one final night in Munich (spent at Hofbrauhaus, of course), Scott and I are up early for a mid-day flight back to the United States.

We see that the snow has stopped, for now, on the U.S. east coast, so it looks as though we've picked a good window to return home. After the few very light flakes we saw when we first arrived, we have not seen any snow at all here.

We've begun to put together lists that rank the three cities we visited over the past week on various categories. Here's a sampling:

Best Christmas Village
1) Munich
2) Zurich
3) Prague

1) Prague
2) Zurich
3) Munich

Most Likely to Spend a Comfortable Day or Two
1) Zurich
2) Munich
3) Prague

The trip was clearly a success, and now it's time to go home and do what all Americans do: Have a vacation from a vacation to get some rest.

We've met a wide variety of people on this trip. A Nebraska college student who has been backpacking around the world. A French chemist who received his Ph.d. in Chemistry in the UK and is hosting his parents for Christmas in Munich. A Swiss psychologist on the train to Munich, and her German boyfriend who offered us Swiss cookies. A Canadian photographer and his wife spending eight days in Prague.

We learned a lot about them and about how they view America. We think that Americans geography in many ways hurts the American perspective. We're so isolated. In Europe its a short train ride, and suddenly its Crowns instead of Euros, cobblestone streets everywhere instead of pavement, and bars that are open until 5 a.m. instead of 1 a.m.

For the next trip here, I am bringing my skis!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

There's No Place Like Home (in Munich)

MUNICH-- We did not even need a map to get from the train station to the hotel. We're resting here before our final dinner in Munich, likely back in town near Marienplatz.

On the train from Zurich to Munich, we sat next to a young couple (lady from Switzerland and gentleman from near Munich). We engaged in what will certainly be the most significant political conversation of this trip. We emphasized that not many people in the U.S. are currently happy with President Bush's performance. The couple was generally very interested in what the possibilities are of the U.S. next President changing the course in Iraq.

As a whole, they do not see much hope for Americans to change course, primarily because we are too wrapped up in putting America first and not cooperating. It was a fascinating conversation.

Anyway, I will post more later.
Go For Zurich Departure

ZURICH-- We're checking out of our hotel this morning for an early afternoon train to where Jason Bourne on a budget began: Munich.

Last night we walked through Niedendorf, a young hip part of Zurich. Niedendorf satisfies the two requirements of a hip area: greasy late-night food and lots of Starbucks (remember we came up with that theory back in Munich).

We met a bartender who herself has seen the Bourne movies. She says she could not tell, initially, that the Bourne Identity was not filmed in Zurich, even though the movie took place in the city. The movie does have blue tram cars that are a signature here; we've seen them all over the place.

In any event, I will post more about Zurich when we get to Munich tonight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Arrival in Zurich

ZURICH-- We arrived in Zurich this morning, and are just now getting into our room at the hotel here. It's about 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday-- about 7 a.m in Boston.

The train ride was uneventful, though I must say the Prague train station is pretty confusing if you can't read English. Only after two trips to the International help desk was I confident that we were ok. The problem was the train number on my ticket registered for a train going to Salzburg, even though the car we ultimately went to was marked for Zurich. Our train traveled southwest out of Prague, crossing the border into Austria. We then traveled west to Salzburg, where we met with a train coming out of Vienna.

Luckily for us, we were in a car that could sleep six, but no one else showed up. We had the entire car to ourselves, and therefore conveniently moved to the bottom bunk on each side.

Anyway, we must go back and chat about Prague for a bit. It's a beautiful city-- the most beautiful city I have ever been too. We remarked so many times that you just can't take enough pictures, and you really have to go to understand. On the second morning in Prague, we went to the Castle on a large bluff overlooking downtown Prague, and invested in a tour that was well worth the price.

Prague depends quite a bit on tourism. Apparently a lot of Brits come here for bachelor parties. For that reason, many of the shops are cheesy in their attempt to appeal to visitors, everyone can speak English and pretty much everything is written or translated in English, and you have to be careful not to get ripped off. Case in point, on our first day, we went to a place called Cafe Grand Praha, right in Old Town Square and next to the Astronomical clock. We ended up spending a fortune.

Unfortunately, the tourists put a pall on the feel of the place. In Munich, there were tourists, but you never got the sense that the locals catered to those from out of town-- or perhaps better put, they took care of us, but you never got the sense it was out of desperation. In Prague, you can tell that the tourists are very important to the economy.

Anyway, on our one night in Prague, we went to a place on Wenceslas Square called "The Beer Factory" (see what I mean about the cheese? The name was even in English!) and met a local bartender Kate (her nickname for Americans). She directed us to an area off the beaten path, where we had dinner (at about 15-percent of what we paid at the Cafe Grand Praha).

On the morning of our departure for Zurich, we went to the Castle (as noted earlier) and then walked past the American Embassy.

Some random facts about Prague:

-- Everyone speaks English (at least everyone we, as tourists, ran into), and in general, the English is better than in Munich. Pretty much everyone learns English by interacting with tourists (I took an informal poll. A few learned in high school when they traveled to the U.S.). Everyone we spoke to on the tourist path had been to the U.S., which means either everyone goes to the U.S., or we were speaking to some fairly privileged kids.

-- They have Budweiser beer in Prague. No kidding. Apparently Anheiser-Bush got the name Budweiser from the beer in the Czech Republic. Like in America, Budweiser's parent in Prague is equally watered down and cheap. You have to work to find it though. We found it at a very local pub off the tourist march that was occupied by what looked to be local college students listening to techno music.

-- The smog in Prague is really, really bad, which is ironic, give how pretty the city is. It was tough to take a picture of the city from the Castle vista because of the smog.

-- While in Munich girls can't stay away from Schmuck (German for Jewelry), in Prague if you want perfume, you gotta go to the "Rossman" (name of a Prague chain of perfume stores).

Here in Zurich, I finished off my Christmas list this morning and bought myself a Swiss watch. Scott noted a preliminary summary of the three cities: Prague (prettiest), Munich (most fun), Zurich (best for shopping). Then again, we still have to go out in Zurich tonight.

Funny story about the train ride. We were woken up about 10:30 to get our passports stamped on the way out of the Czech Republic. About five minutes later a new border guard knocked on our door (from the country we were entering). Having no idea what the route was to Zurich, I quipped: "What country are we entering now?" The guard, after giving me an incredulous look, responded: "Austria." His intonation showed he was disappointed I had no clue where I was.

Scott is out cold. Time for me to take a nap. We're headed to old town Zurich tonight.

P.S. No snow on the ground in any of the cities we've been to. Can't wait to get back to Boston : )

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Report from Tourist-Land

PRAGUE-- Just a quick post, as Scott and I need to get moving today. We're taking a train tonight to Zurich.

Prague is a beautiful city-- the prettiest I have been to in Europe. It is overrun by tourists and clearly dependent on them for a large part of its economy. For that reason, everyone here speaks English. Our bartender in one establishment, Kate, tells us she learned English at a bar serving tourists.

We managed to see the building in Prague where they filmed the bank scene in The Bourne Identity. Even though the movie takes place in Zurich at the beginning of the plot, the bank scene there was shot here.

More later. For now, breakfast and then a full day of touring before our night train. I should post next from Zurich.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Closing Munich Chapter 1

PRAGUE -- It's shortly after midnight Monday morning here in Prague, and we've arrived safely in the capital city of the Czech Republic. It was kind of cool to cross the border. A Czech border guard walked through each compartment in our train, followed closely by a German police officer. In succession, they each stamped our passports-- The Czech officer welcomed us in, and then the German police officer stamped us out of Germany. The stamps are pretty cool-- The German one has a little picture of a train on it.

Scott and I manged to stay out of trouble leaving Munich. At the train station, we traded forty of our remaining Euros for 800 Crowns, which are the currency here in Prague. We are officially carrying three different types of currency! Of course, we had no idea what a Crown was when we got to the train station, though we did know the money in Prague was different than in Germany. Upon arriving in the center of Prague, we bought a Coke Lite to get change for the metro.

Can't really give you an early read on Prague, except to say the metro is very clean. While on the train, Scott and I mapped our plan for day 1 here tomorrow, which will include visiting the Castle across the river and walking on the Charles bridge over the river Vltava.

Before leaving Munich on Sunday, we had breakfast at the Weisses Brauhaus (boiled white sausages) downtown, and we took a trip out to see the Olympic village, which is north of the city center. Scott and I got into an argument on whether space needles, such as the one in Munich, are becoming "more common." (Scott says they are. He has stood next to the one in Toronto, seen pics of the one in Seattle and thinks there's at least one somewhere in Asia. In fact, there's even one in Prague. Still, despite all the evidence, Ross believes space needles are not, in fact, becoming more common. What we have here is a difference of opinion). If you have thoughts, leave a comment to this post, and we know you have thoughts. We did take some pictures from the restaurant in the needle (though it was cloudy), and we did see the Olympic village where the tragic events in 1972 took place.

We were sad to leave Munich; it's a special city that was good to us. But we know we will be back there for one more night later this week.

Speaking of Munich, a couple of additional random facts:

-- You can't pry a woman from her Schmuck in Munich. ("Schmuck" is the word for jewelry, so we think, given where it appears in stores there).

-- Ashton Kutcher has apparently set up a phone company in Munich. T-Mobile in German is "T-Punkt." All kidding aside, we did have to use a T-Punkt phone at the Munich train station to call ahead and make sure we had guaranteed late arrival here in Prague. Once again, everyone speaks English...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Somber Day

MUNICH -- One of the great things about this trip is Scott and I are kind of just making our itinerary up as we go along. While on the plane, we noticed that there is a town within range of the Munich subway called Dachau, and upon further review, we discovered it is the same, infamous Dachau-- where one finds the Dachau concentration camp (called "Gedenkstatte"). We went there on Saturday (I am writing this on Sunday morning, which has dawned sunny-- our second straight day of good weather).

The subway system here is fantastic. It's similar to what I saw in Berlin when I was there in 2000. S-Bahn trains cover a large area outside of Munich, including to the airport; whereas U-Bahn trains cover more ground within Munich itself. To get to Dachau, we took an S-Bahn train.

While the system is great, it's not exactly a simple task for an American to buy a train ticket. Each station has ticket machines, but everything is in German (there's a way to push a button on the machine that looks like a flag to change the language, but I haven't been able to get it to work). So basically picture us taking at least five extra minutes for each subway ride spent in front of this ticket machine, trying to figure out how to make it work. When it finally did, we would raise our hands in triumph. Which is all the more ironic since they don't even check the tickets when you get into the station or on the train-- not once has anyone even asked for our ticket.

As you could probably imagine, Dachau is a pretty terrible place. It's not where one would go to laugh. Hidden behind a relatively new housing complex, and accessible via a discreet path, the Bavarian state has preserved as much as it can from the World War II days. Two of the more than 30 original bunkers where prisoners lived have been reconstructed, and there is a very nice museum and gift shop (as soon as you can find the entrance). Scott and I took a two hour tour that was fantastic. It included a trip to the incinerator and gas chamber. In a bit of dark irony, the gas chamber at Dachau was never used, for once it was completed late in the war, the Nazi's found they no longer had enough coal to burn the bodies once they were dead -- the Allies had bombed the large German coal mines by that point.

We tried to figure out why our tour guide did what she did. She was a volunteer, has been doing tours for eight years, and has a full time job as a marketing researcher. Her English is very good. We decided she must have had a relative who was either an inmate at Dachau or a member for the SS (Secret Police) that inflicted the terror on Dachau's subjects. By the way, two random facts: Dachau is pronounced without the "c," and we actually saw "Dachau II," since it was the second camp built there-- the first was torn down in 1937.

The trip to Dachau sandwiched two excursions into Munich's city center, which is less than a mile from our hotel. In the morning, after breakfast, we went downtown to Marienplatz, the city square where there is currently a large Christmas Market, and we climbed the tower of the Glockenspiel, which is in the middle of the "New Town Hall" in Marienplatz, to take pictures of the view. We could not see the Alps, but at least it was sunny on Saturday and we could see the famous Munich view of the Olympic park (we're going there today, Sunday).

After Dachau, we went back to Marienplatz to have dinner at the Ratskeller restaurant. Then we took the U-bahn out to a neighborhood called Schwabing, north of the city center, to visit a couple of bars. Schwabing is a young and hip section of town. We could tell this because there are a lot of places to buy pizza and greasy food late at night, and there were a bunch of Starbucks and a chain of coffee shops called "San Francisco Coffee Company." (Wonder if San Francisco knows they're here?)

Which brings us to day two of our random observation section:

1) Munich is a very friendly town. Scott and I like it a lot. It's far friendlier that what I remember about Berlin, which is good since I was judging all of Germany based on that trip, which brings up a very important point:

2) We have yet to see a single German flag flying here. We're in the state of Bavaria (Munich is its capital city). Bavaria is known as a friendly, good natured area. Well, Munich sees itself more as Bavaria than as Germany. Pops, the elderly man we met at the beer hall the first night, says Berlin is not in Bavaria and so Berlin is not as nice. In any event, the Bavarian flag is a white and blue checkerboard. We've seen that a few places, however, it's not plastered everywhere. More importantly, not one German flag.

3) Everyone here speaks English. I mean everyone. We crashed a fortieth birthday party at a small Schwabing bar, and even though everyone was speaking in German, they had a "Happy Birthday" sign in English hanging in the main room.

By the way, the woman who turned forty was at the wall in 1989 when it came down. They showed a photo of her on top of it as part of this projected slide-show roast at the party. It was a very powerful picture, though few in the room reacted. We think that maybe going to the wall in 1989 was common for people in there 20s. Kind of like the protests in the U.S. during Vietnam.

By virtue of where we were sitting, we were in pretty much all of the key photos taken at the birthday party. Which means when they show them at this woman's fiftieth birthday party, everyone is going to wonder who the h*** we are.

Today, Sunday, we leave Munich to travel to Prague. I should be able to get online at the hotel there.

Editor's Note: The photos on these posts are taken from other websites (Scott showed me how to do it). They are not taken by me. I forgot the cable to connect my camera to the computer. Real photos I have taken will have to wait...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Jason Bourne Meets the Hofbrauhaus

MUNICH -- Scott and I accomplished our first objective last night, which was to stay awake.

We did it by making a trip to the world famous Hofbrauhaus, which is basically a very big beer hall. Literally the place is one large room with long tables. We had some beer with a U.K. couple named Frank and Karen (or Katie... something with a K). They live in northern England. After moving to a different table because the first was reserved, we sat with a very nice older American gentleman who we nicknamed "Pops," along with two native Germans.

If you hadn't guessed it, in Munich you can basically sit at a table with anyone you want. It's weird, but kind of cool. You just go up to a table with an open seat and say "FRY?" (Which means "free")... And you sit your butt down. A native Munich woman we met earlier yesterday told us that the natives are proud of this. In America, it wouldn't go very well.

Which leads me to a round of useless, random observations:

-- They have a lot of bikes here. I mean a ton. They have special bike lanes and you'd better not walk in them for fear of death. We saw bike racks with literally fifty or a hundred bikes.

-- Everyone here speaks English. Lucky for us, since the only words we know are "Beer" and the aforementioned "Fry"... And as you can see, good luck on my actually spelling those words the right way in German.

-- They sell alcohol on the street. It's this hot wine called Gluwein (pronounced Gloo-- VINE). It's pretty potent stuff. And they sell it right on the street. If you pay extra, they let you keep the coffee cup mug used to serve it. So there's a bunch of people walking around with these random mugs (well, those are probably all tourists). This was when we walked down the Neuhasser street market.

-- They really like pretzels here. They sell them in every restaurant. And I guess it's a nice gesture to buy a "round" of pretzels for your table at a beer hall. Someone did that last night for us. Scott made the comment that you could take a Munich native to Fenway, give them a soft pretzel and a serving from the Sausage Guy, and they would be in heaven. Wouldn't even have to go in the ballpark.

Anyway, we also saw the Christmas market here, which was nice. We met this very nice family where the husband is from the U.S. and the wife is from Munich, so they have an apartment in Munich and a home in the U.S. They directed us to a nice restaurant where we had our first taste of local fare-- sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels. In the restaurant, we overheard another family speaking Spanish. The daughter spoke German. Here I am thinking--- "I can't even speak English good."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jason Bourne on a Budget is a go

Scott and I have touched down in Munich. It's about zero Celsius here, and there is a very light snow falling. We found our hotel pretty well.

The trip here was fairly uneventful. Scott and I spent the day Thursday in Philadelphia in the rain. Shortly after arriving, I realized I have forgotten the cable to connect my camera to the computer, so pics will have to wait for my return.

During the day, the weather situation the northeast collapsed. I read email after email of colleagues attempting to leave work, but only finding they could creep a few meters before having to turn around and come back to the office. Meanwhile, Scott and I had our picture taken with the Liberty Bell.

We set two early rules for the trip:
-- Whenever we put our name down for a table, we will use the name "Bourne."
-- We are going to take a picture of every type of beer we consume (two so far at the Philly airport).

We managed to get some sleep on the plane, which was rather bumpy and left Philadelphia about an hour late (typical, so says Scott).

We're soon to leave the hotel to find lunch... It's six hours ahead here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Youth and the Media

I just came home from a panel discussion organized by MassINC called: "Plugged In, Tuned Out: Young Adults and the Media."

Panelists, including Adam Gaffin (who I finally got to meet) of UniversalHub, discussed why young adults are turned off by the newsmedia. A couple of interesting take-aways:

-- As noted by Bianca Vazquez Toness, a panelist from WBUR, maybe young voters don't pay attention to the media because the media don't report on what young voters care about. She just wrapped up a story for WBUR on what young voters do care about. The answers? The draft and the environment. Not necessarily surprising. When was the last time the New York Times wrote a front page story on the stances Presidential candidates have on the draft?

-- The previously mentioned Gaffin did a great job summarizing the role of bloggers in today's media environment. He noted how bloggers are ideal for giving first-hand accounts of breaking news events; he noted the plant explosion last year north of Boston in Danvers. But to actually explain why the explosion happened, we need the Boston Globe and the professional news journalists.

As a whole, the panel focused far too much on the topic for a general audience, rather than for the young-adult age group advertised. Case in point: "The Daily Show" came up once, and that was by a questioner.

As a result of the panel, I plan to follow Dan Kennedy's blog. He was a panelist.
Of the coverage today of the recent National Intelligence report that discusses how Iran is not building a nuclear bomb, I find this excerpt very interesting from today's New York Times:
Intelligence officials had said just weeks ago they were ending the practice of declassifying parts of intelligence estimates, citing concerns that analysts might alter their judgments if they knew the reports would be widely publicized.
But in a statement on Monday, Donald M. Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, said that since the new estimate was at odds with the 2005 assessment — and thus at odds with public statements by top officials about Iran — “we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available.”

Simply put, they didn't want to publish the report, but they had to because the administration was inaccurately portraying Iran. Which makes me wonder, don't the people who write the National Intelligence reports talk to the administration peeps discussing policy? In fact, don't they work for the same administration? Aren't we all on the same team.

The New York Times gets it. They carefully noted the timing of when the researchers were filing the report versus what President Bush and V.P. Cheney were saying publicly.

NOTE: Excerpt from New York Times, December 4, 2007. "U.S. Finding Says Iran Halted Nuclear Arms Efforts in 2003," Page A1.