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Germany (I)

germanyI co-wrote this monster of a guide along with Andrea Schulte-Peevers, Steve Fallon and Anthony Haywood.

I covered Bavaria, the ever-lovely Mecklenberg-Vorpommern, half of Lower Saxony (maybe the bigger half), half of Baden-Wurttemburg (the smaller one), Saxony and Saxon Anhalt.

And while Steve covered Berlin, I wrote the Trabant joke.

All told, probably my favorite parts of the country were the ones I thought I’d least like: Saxony – Leipzig is one of the hippest cities I’ve ever visited, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where they grow trees along both sides of the road so that in summer it canopies all the highways.

This originally protected the horse-drawn fish carts as they made their way from the Baltic to markets in Berlin.

Florida

Florida_2Tackling the entire state of Florida with your wife is a great way to test the strength of a marriage, and Corinna and I had not just one but two books – this and Lonely Planet”s Miami – to do!

We managed not only to stay married, but to produce one hell of a guide – if we do say so ourselves – to a state most think offers little more than South Beach and Disney.

We went crazy on the outdoor activities, museums and art galleries to try to get away from the golf courses (which we didn’t include at all), condo-lined beach resorts and the madness of Kissimmee.

As a bonus, we ticked off loads of people who felt different – Jay Clarke roared in the Miami Herald that we’d inexplicably excluded the city of Naples from our guide (we left it out because it’s a golf-course packed, condo-lined beach resort), though he relented a bit and said that our book offered “more than most”

Golly, thanks, Jay

But the second edition of the book promises to be a kinder, gentler, Florida. There’s improved coverage of native American activities and history.

And of course, newly updated sections on all the state has to offer, from Disney to Drag Queens.

And yes, we’ve included a nice fat section on Naples which, truth be told, is a perfectly lovely city with some exquisite restaurants.

Brazil

brazil-2What a blast. I covered the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, as well as updating the history, flora and fauna, and all that stuff in the front of the book, while Andrew, Chris, Robyn and Leo tackled the rest of the country.

The basic assignment I got was, “Cut the book by half the length. And make it funnier.” That’s the kind of job I love. So I went. I’d always wanted to go to Brazil, but by the time I got there I had been writing LP books for about five years, and frankly I was burned out. I called my wife from a pay phone in Minas Gerais state.

“How’s it going?” she asked.

“Yeah, well,” I said, “basically everything is the same here as it is everywhere else, except that here I get to look at beautiful girls on the beach while I plod by with all my crap, as opposed to looking at ugly people in a city. So not much difference.”

Brazil, though marked the first time that I wrote a book entirely on the road, using a handheld device of the sort that used to be called a Personal Digital Assistant and is now called a “phone”. It was a WinCE machine that allowed me to type all my notes and corrections into the chapter file at the end of each day and send it via Internet home to Spain. For the first time, I wasn’t lugging all my notes and guidebooks and pamphlets and magazines.

Just half of them.

What, Me Worry?

Steven Caron has time on his hands, and with unique reason. For with all the talk in the U.S. media about the dangers of Russia and the “Mafia-controlled businesses” there, the congenial 26-year-old Californian entrepreneur has such reliable Russian business partners there’s not enough to keep him busy.

“It runs itself,” Caron says of Russian Youth Hostels and Tourism, a joint venture among Caron and two Russian friends. “I mean, I can go in to work and putter around a bit, but we’ve got such a great staff that I’m not really needed there anymore.”

Caron went to Moscow in 1990 to sit in on classes at the Moscow Art Theater, a move meant to advance his first love, a career in acting. But on a visit to St. Petersburg, he found himself spellbound by the 17th-century city, so he decided to transfer there and study Russian in earnest.

Over the next 1 1/2 years Caron, along with two administrators from the Moscow Art Theater, Nikolai Travinin and Oleg Dzanagati, formulated a plan to create the first youth hostel in the Soviet Union that would operate under Western standards.

In February 1992, an exceptionally good lawyer slashed through miles of what was still the Soviet Union’s red tape and registered the joint venture in a record two weeks.

Booked Solid
Caron’s Russian Youth Hostel officially opened in June 1992, and was semi- filled throughout the year as word of its existence filtered through the backpackers’ grapevine. But most important, it opened in time to be included in budget travel guides aimed at young travelers. Since 1993, the hostel has been booked solid.

While his partners ran the day-to-day business, Caron began the gargantuan task of insinuating his hostel into the worldwide hosteling network.

“On my first visit to the hostel in Helsinki,” says Caron, “I found out that some Estonians had just set up a hostel in Tallinn. I met with them, and we all decided that we should get together and promote that route – Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Estonia – as a Baltic Triangle.”

Establishing the Triangle was fortuitous in more ways than one: While Caron insists that the Mafia in Russia is in no way as bad as it’s made out in the Western media – that it concentrates on local businesses, not tourists – it still poses a real enough threat.

“We have to be extremely careful,” he says. “We don’t advertise in the city, but we advertise in Moscow and Helsinki and Tallinn, as well as in guidebooks; anything that the ‘no-necks’ won’t read. It’s a constant battle of promoting the hostel in the West but not gaining too much publicity here in town.”

But a far greater threat than the Mafia to the hostel’s existence are the Byzantine tax regulations imposed on businesses by the fledgling Russian government.

“If they stick another tax on me, I’m going to jump out the window,” says the otherwise preternaturally calm Californian.

Big Obstacle
The tax situation has long been one of the biggest obstacles to foreigners doing business in Russia. Laws change so suddenly and frequently that accountants use the day’s newspaper to determine what taxes their clients are required to pay.

Enforcement is organized, with tax police empowered to raid businesses’ books, make arrests and freeze bank accounts. And there’s a great incentive for the tax police to find new ways of catching non-payers: They work on commission.

“One friend of mine owned a cafe in town,” says Caron. “One day the tax police pulled up outside his place driving BMWs and wearing expensive suits – they had more money than he’d ever seen!”

So far, though, the tax situation hasn’t been enough to stop Caron.

Last year he established another joint venture, with the state museum that operates what has become St. Petersburg’s trademark: the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Caron now operates concessions within the fortress, providing sorely needed food and beverage stands as well as stands selling T-shirts. And Caron is hopeful that his company will be St. Petersburg’s first distributor for Ben & Jerry’s when the Vermont-based ice cream giant begins sales in the city (the company is currently operating in Petrozavodsk, about 100 miles north of St. Petersburg).

True to Hostelling
But over time, hosteling remains the purpose to which Caron is true. He’s upset by what he considers to be unfair reporting of the dangers in St. Petersburg, pointing out that “in two years of doing this, I’ve had two guests have serious trouble on the streets; both were drunk, and both were out very late at night walking in deserted sections of town.”

Indeed, security in the city has never been tighter. Police were on practically every street corner to keep order during the Goodwill Games in July, and there’s a plan to create a “tourist police” force, similar to those in Egypt, Indonesia and, more recently, Miami, composed of multilingual police officers to assist visitors.

For his part, Caron uses his “down time” to organize hosteling in Russia and improve St. Petersburg’s tourism infrastructure. He was instrumental in creating the Russian Youth Hostel Federation, which is composed of five hostels – his own and ones in Moscow, Novgorod, Irkutsk and Petrodvorets.

Caron’s energy seems endless, and if it ever does falter, he has a precious resource from which to draw in the community of foreigners living in St. Petersburg. In a city of more than 5 million, the expatriates have managed to create a community as tight as any town of several hundred, and they all get involved.

“The ex-pat community is larger than it was, but it’s still very small and very tight,” he says.

“The American Business Association here now has a sports committee and a social committee, and we see each other all the time – it’s amazing how close we all are, and how much we support one another.”

Obvious Western Influence
To guests at the hostel, the Western influence is readily apparent. The clean, well-lighted, five-story brownstone is guarded not by hulking security guards, but by grandmotherly types who admonish those who arrive too late at night.

Inside, while the Russian staff keeps things clean, backpackers from all over the world gather in the lobby area to do what hostelers everywhere do: drink coffee, laugh, share war stories and travel tips and make connections at the hostel’s crowded bulletin board.

To understand how Caron achieved his dream in a system fraught with pitfalls and booby-traps designed to thwart his every step, one need only look at how he relates to people.

When Caron bought an apartment last year, the seller, an emigrating Russian, took very little cash up front and Caron’s word to wire the balance to an account in the West. When the Russian arrived at his new home, the money was waiting for him.

IF YOU GO . .
The Russian Youth Hostel is near St. Petersburg’s Moscow Train Station off Ploschad Vosstaniya. Reservations can be made by calling Russian Youth Hostels and Tourism in Redondo Beach at (310) 379-4316 or in St. Petersburg at 011-7-812-277-0569. There is a $10 one-time reservation fee. Rates at the hostel are $15 a night including breakfast. Russian Youth Hostels also arranges visas for hostel guests.

Bluetooth Is Coming…And How…

What do feisty contenders like Germany’s Hüft and Wessel and Sweden’s C-Technologies have in common with giants such as Ericsson, Nokia and Siemens? Bluetooth technology: the most quickly adopted industry standard in history.

And very soon you’ll own something that’s Bluetooth enabled – whether you know it or not.

Analysts say that Bluetooth, which allows broadband-speed wireless communication between computing and other devices, is at the cusp of ignition, but that its mainstream use is still one-and-a-half to two years away, despite the early release of British Telecommunications-enabled devices this year.

But oh, how it will go mainstream: in a June 29 report on Bluetooth, Merrill Lynch upped its market estimates of Bluetooth device penetration to an astounding 2.1 billion devices by 2005.

Early Problems
The main obstacles right now are robust software to operate the chips and a perception–if flawed–of the chips as being overly expensive. Not quite accurate, said Karl Hicks, a manager at Datamonitor’s technology division.

“Some would say that there’s a problem with price at the moment,” Hicks said, “but the cost is really only $15 or $20 per chip currently, and when you see the kinds of announcements and developments in Bluetooth, the large economies of scale will begin to bring prices down very soon.”

Merrill Lynch vice president and European seminconductor analyst, Andrew Griffin, who co-authored the Merrill Lynch report on Bluetooth, agreed. “We’re looking at the average price per chip dipping below $5 in 2002, but some firms will have reached that price level by 2001,” he said.

Another mildly worrying subject, according to Griffen, is the development of “bulletproof, robust software that won’t irritate the end user.” Point-to-point solutions are one thing, but software that can cope consistently with other kinds of applications–for example, cell phones speaking with PDAs, laptops and other devices–is still under development.

“Software issues aren’t going to prevent Bluetooth from taking off,” Griffen said, “but it will prevent it from taking off this year, and we won’t be seeing any of the really super sexy applications just yet.”

Why It Will Work
“It’s really simple,” said Johan Boman, chief financial officer of Sweden’s C-Technologies, which recently unveiled the first mass-market Bluetooth enabled device. “We expect Bluetooth to be the definitive standard for communications, replacing infrared and all other existing options. Companies simply must cope with it to have a place in the market.”

While the technology is currently under heavy development by major American manufacturers like Motorola, Dell, Microsoft and Intel, smaller European firms have some distinct advantages.

Ericsson, which initiated the standard, had the stunningly good sense to see that a) they had a hot one on their hands, and b) in order for it to succeed the standard must be open and royalty free. The result has been industry support by all major computer manufacturers, and a current membership of almost 1900 companies in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) of Bluetooth device manufacturers.

The beauty of the open standard is that it allows smaller companies, which can move much faster on a new technology, the luxury of full entry to the market at this early stage. For example, take Neuer Markt gem, Hanover-based Höft and Wessel, which specializes in interactivity and mobile communications (they make the gizmo that the conductor uses to charge your credit card for tickets aboard European trains, and the one you paid for your rental car with at the airport last month).

The company, which made a name for itself in European mobile computing with the wildly successful “Taschen Kasse” mobile cash register, is now looking to empower its Web Panel with Bluetooth. The Web Panel is already a model of inteconnectivity, a wireless web device that can run both Windows Pocket PC and Linux operating systems.

Or take C-Technologies, whose Anoto division recently brought the first mass-market Bluetooth-enabled product, the Anoto Pen, to market. The pen, a bit chubbier than a Mont Blanc but with thinner versions planned, has a built-in camera and recognition engine that allows users to write a note on patterned paper by hand, and then send it as an e-mail via Bluetooth.

C-Tech is already a producer of popular handheld devices that lend themselves quite naturally to Bluetooth, such as the C-Pen and handheld scanners–and the company has already unveiled prototypes of these devices enabled for Bluetooth.

These companies are far from alone. This week, IBM and Toshiba announced they will offer Motorola Bluetooth devices across a range of their products. IBM also said it will produce Bluetooth-enabled PCMCIA cards, allowing users of current notebooks and laptops to connect easily with future Bluetooth devices.

And Ericsson will soon release its Bluetooth-enabled cellular phone wireless handset, which will work with any make or model Bluetooth-enabled phone. Analysts agree that Bluetooth, whose standard operates on the same frequencies worldwide, allowing users to use Bluetooth devices anywhere on earth, will substantially change the way devices communicate.

“That’s the really exciting aspect of Bluetooth,” said Jörg Müller, research analyst for new technologies at Value Research Management.

“People talk about the cable-free revolution; I’m not really interested in avoiding cables, but I really mind if I have to use 15 different adapters, like when I have my Alcatel cell phone that can’t connect to my car, which is wired for Siemens,” he said. “Or when I already own a Siemens headset and buy a new Motorola phone. In these cases, Bluetooth would let me use all my devices together.”

What It Does & How It Works
Bluetooth wireless technology lets a device speak, at broadband rates, with other nearby Bluetooth devices instantly and securely, and uses the same frequencies worldwide, so your cell-phone from the US can speak with your VCR in Hong Kong. Each chip can support up to seven “slave” devices, and that mini-network can in turn can be slaved to a second master–the possibilities are mind boggling.

The buzz over Bluetooth is just beginning, and while many products are in development, there’s a somewhat slow ignition process at the moment, but that won’t last long: it’s merely a matter of momentum.

“It’s a bit like the first fax machine or the first video phone,” said VMR’s Müller, “until there are more users you’re not going anywhere. The consumer only benefits when there’s a broad range of Bluetooth devices on the market. I’m really sure that this has a very big future, but at the moment, there’s a struggle to get enough products to market for the concept and the platform to really take off.”

Analysts agree. “I don’t think we’ll see very much happening this year,” said Johan Montelius, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. “We’ll see lots of press releases and a few products coming out, but the big thing is next year.”

For European investment opportunities, look to manufacturers like C-Tech and Höft and Wessel, as well as infrastructure and mobile telephony companies. But don’t forget an important player: “white devices”. Dishwashers, refrigerators and other kitchen appliances will be heavy users of Bluetooth in the future. As a Massachusetts Institute of Technology guru told the crowd last week at a London advertising convention, the majority of Internet communication in the coming years will be “machines, not people.”

So when your fridge calls your grocer to order more Nutella, Bluetooth will have come of age.

And Now, A Little Trabant Joke

TrabantThe Trabant (1949 to 1989) was the GDR’s answer to the Volkswagen. Intended to be economical, convenient and ubiquitous, it succeeded in being only the latter.

Despite production times from hell (the average Trabant owner waited nine years to get their lemon), the Trabi, as it was affectionately dubbed, is still one of the most common cars on the road in Eastern Germany.

Each Trabi took so long to build because its plastic pieces (most of the vehicle’s parts, aside from the frame, hood and other necessarily strong sections, were plastic) were molded by workers running hand-operated molding systems.

A plastic car, you say, with a two-stroke engine that you had to wait two years to own?

That reminds us of a little joke.

A Texas oil man heard that there were cars in East Germany so popular that buyers had to wait years to take delivery of one. He immediately sent a check to the Trabi factory.

The directors, sensing a propaganda coup in the making, arranged to send him the very next car off the line.

Two weeks later the oil man was in a bar, speaking with some friends.

“Ah ordered me one o’ them Trabis them folks over there in East Germany wait 12 years to get,” he drawled.

“And you know what? Them East Germans are so efficient. Wah, just last week they sent me over a little plastic model so I can know what to expect!”

 

____________________________

This (minus the graphic) appears on page 250 of Lonely Planet’s Germany travel survival kit.

Retroshock: When The Familiar Is Unfamiliar

groceryfail

An American returning to the United States after living abroad finds himself in the unique position of being, for a time, a stranger in his own land.

Everything he has attuned his body and mind to accept as normal no longer is. Hearing English spoken in the streets, not having to work out what to say to a shopkeeper in advance, and even plain old-fashioned jet lag are all symptoms of what some refer to as “retro-shock”: The familiar is unfamiliar.

“We warn volunteers before they go, telling them that they will experience culture shock; different sights, sounds, smells, but that none of this will be anything like coming home,” says Cammie Noah, public affairs officer for the Northern California field office of the Peace Corps. “But you can never prepare for re-entering an American supermarket for the first time. You walk in and see 17 brands of chili and there are so many choices you walk out with nothing.”

Indeed, the sheer amount of consumer goods available in the United States is startling to one who has spent time away. Ken Eckern, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based medical supplies salesman who was asked how a two-week trip home to the States was, replied simply, “They got a lot of stuff in Target.”

Scott Hepworth, Stake president of the San Jose East chapter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says, “One of the first things that people returning to the States see is the monumental waste – throwing food away, excess packaging and these things are very disturbing because you tend not to notice them before you go away.”

For many, retro-shock begins on the flight home. One man said that on his recent Delta flight from Frankfurt, the captain addressed the passengers, saying he was speaking from the “flightpit.” Had political correctness so changed the American lexicon, he wondered, that “cockpit” was now a sexist or sexually charged term?

“And then the captain told us that the temperature in New York was 45 degrees. For the last three years, I’ve been living like the rest of the world, in Celsius. For a second I thought it was 115 degrees Fahrenheit in January in New York.”

This type of confusion, though it lasts only a few seconds, occurs frequently during the first two weeks after returning, and many say it can be very disorienting.

“When I first returned from New Zealand,” says Hepworth, “I had dreams for about a month where I was driving on the left-hand side of the road.”

The Peace Corps, one of the largest organizations that regularly assigns Americans to overseas posts, says the feelings of displacement are universal to returning volunteers.

“Every Peace Corps volunteer has gone through this,” says Michael Learmouth, a public affairs officer for the National Peace Corps Association in Washington, D.C. “Anyone who (gets stationed overseas) has to go through culture shock twice, and some feel that the returning culture shock is the worse of the two.”

Reversal of Customs
To effectively function in a foreign country for an extended period you have to fully adapt to the customs of that country. Upon returning to the States, the readjustment from what has become “normal” must be reversed, and some say the turnaround is never quite complete.

“After a year or two of being away,” says Amy Portnoy, a New York-based international media consultant, “you think about what life is like in the States and how things work here – you build up a lot of expectations and slightly flawed memories and you’re usually wrong, because your expectations are based on sort of a synthesized middle ground between the two cultures.”

The feeling of displacement during the readjustment period, where neither home nor the foreign residence can be considered “home base,” can produce a range of symptoms: from the mild, such as confusion about weights and measures or stomach problems from readjustment to the local food, to the more serious such as depression, paranoia, a feeling of being “left out” or floundering.

Sublime to the Ridiculous
The readjustments run the gamut “from the sublime to the ridiculous,” laments David Wilson, an American journalist who recently returned from a two- year European assignment. “I get annoyed that even after a month at home, every time I try to turn on the bathroom light I turn off the hall light!” (In Europe, light switches are generally placed outside the room, and switch down for “on.”)

“The first few days back were hell,” recalls Timothy Philips, who taught English in southern Poland. “I was walking in a cloud, and every time I walked into a shop I felt something was missing, because I didn’t have to work out in advance what I’d say to the shopkeeper. And for the first week, every time I heard English spoken on the street I’d want to ask them where they were from, because over there a native speaker was a novelty. Sometimes I’d feel sorry for the person I was speaking to because they got subjected to two weeks of pent-up English!”

Aside from physical discomfort and temporary confusion, there is a feeling of frustration among returning expatriates over not being able to express what they’re going through with their friends at home. “Most people at home can’t relate to these experiences,” says Eugene Patron, a Miami-based free-lance correspondent who spent most of 1991 in southern Africa. “Climbing a sand dune in Africa at sunrise gives you a feeling you can’t explain to someone who’s never done it and those feelings are yours alone. But that also means it’s difficult to relate the stories of your trip in a meaningful way.”

The Peace Corps’ Cammie Noah agrees. “It’s a big problem. When you talk to people you want to tell them what you’ve been through and they don’t want to hear it. They’ll say “How was Uganda?’ and you’ve gotten into it for 30 seconds and they want to start talking about Mary being pregnant and what’s new on television.”

Key to easing back into life in the States are support groups. The Peace Corps has a department dedicated to helping returning volunteers re-establish their paper trail (such as obtaining employment, referrals and health insurance) as well as counseling.

Elaine Neufeldt, treasurer of the non-profit Northern California Group of Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (NorCal), was an overseas volunteer in Kenya from 1969 to 1972, and in the East Caribbean from 1979 to 1981. “We’ve got 720 members, and we find that many of them have been frustrated by their inability to find really receptive listeners,” she says. “We hook up with them to help them ease back in, because anyone who’s been overseas has a lot of weird things to talk about that we can understand.”

Birds of a Feather
Other returning expatriates, such as journalists or teachers, find support from those in the same field who’ve had similar overseas experiences. And on- line computer services offer a forum for “chats” about traveling or life in foreign countries.

“There’s a difference between a tourist, a traveler and an expatriate,” says free-lance writer Patron. “When you’re living and working overseas you feel different; special and kind of radical, and when you get home there’s a feeling like you’re still in motion, or not rooted yet. It can be very confusing.”

Easier Each Time
Those who repeatedly live overseas, though, say that each time it gets easier to readjust, and that the first time is definitely the hardest. “Separating becomes easier the more you do it,” says a translator who has lived abroad on and off for eight years. “The more you leave and come back, the easier it is to say, “OK, this is here, that’s there’ and keep realistic expectations about what it’s like to return home.

“A big difference about coming home is that when you’re away, every day is like an adventure,” she says. “When you’re away, something always happens; whether it’s good or bad, it’s something new, and I miss that.”

 

IF YOU’RE INTERESTED
Returning Peace Corps volunteers interested in contacting the Northern California Group of Returning Peace Corps Volunteers may write to NorCal, P.O. Box 2547, San Francisco, Calif. 94126 or call the Peace Corps at (415) 744-2677.

Russian Cooking Comes Of Age

Russian-Borsch-Recipe-Me-cookingAs fodder for guide book humor, Soviet cuisine led with its chin. It’s not that there wasn’t any good food available in the country, it’s just that you had to search long and hard for it. In between looking and finding, visitors were faced down by enormous portions of overcooked vegetables, potatoes slathered in vegetable oil, mystery meat and the occasional pancake with sour cream.

And at Moscow’s middle-eastern restaurants, one would wondered whether ” belly dancing” meant theirs or the dancer’s.

Now days, with availability of high-quality fresh ingredients from around the country and the world at an all time high, Russians are cooking up a storm. And despite their reliance on just a tad more fat then most Western chefs, they’re pretty darn good at it.

The newly-slicked-up Russian Television stations – and their sponsors – have not been slow to capitalize on this trend. One of the most popular cooking shows on Russian television is Smak (which sort of translates to ‘Pleasant Taste’), sponsored by Uncle BenE’s rice and hosted by Andrey Makarevich, former lead singer of the famous 70’s and 80’s-era rock group Time Machine. Now a bit older, a bit paunchier but still as charming as ever, Makarevich’s show features recipes from and appearances by famous (and not so famous) guests.

On May 8, the day before Victory Day, Smak featured cartoonist-cum-television commercial actor Ufimtsev, proffering his recipe for what he calls Baked Chicken and I call ‘Victory Chicken Statue on a Bed Of Wild Rice’ (you’ll get it when you see the recipe).

In a halting, slightly nervous but mostly confident manner, Ufimtsev set about chopping garlic, mushing butter and generally being the elder statesman about the kitchen.

And lo and behold, as the thing started to take shape, I realized that this was the Russian version of the chicken my fat- and-cholesterol-fearing father prepares in New York using a metal contraption that looks something like a Tonka super sex toy, designed to hold the chicken upright during cooking so that the evil fat drips away from the meat. ‘Boy, this is terrific’, says dad, and judging by the looks of things on Smak, Russians think so, too.

UfimtsevE’s Victory Chicken Statue

(From Smak)

Chicken:

one medium-sized chicken, washed

small bunch of dill

several (6 to 8) cloves of garlic

1 cup water

one stick softened butter

1 thick 500 ml or 750 ml glass Bottle (such as a European beer bottle)

Rice:

One cup wild rice

two cups cold water

one tablespoon softened butterv
dash salt

Chicken

Fill the bottle about a quarter-full with water, and add about two cloves of crushed garlic. Impale the washed chicken on of the bottle so that it looks sort of like a chicken statue. The chicken should reach almost, but not quite, to the bottle bottom.

Spread the softened butter all over the chicken, using your hands, followed by crushed garlic. Place the chicken statue on a cookie sheet (to catch fat) in a pre-heated 200°C/400°F oven for about an hour or until done.

The fat drips from the outside of the bird onto the cookie sheet; from inside into the bottle, steaming water infuses the chicken meat with garlic aroma. The contents of the bottle are later discarded.

It didn’t explode on TV, so I don’t see why it would at your house, but for the attorneys’ sake, I should say that the whole thing is AWFULLY DANGEROUS and should all have a warning label and don’t try this at home unless you’re a professional. Use as thick a bottle as you can. If you’re still worried, you’re probably the kind of person who thinks that baseball bats should have warning labels.

Rice

In a small pot, place the rice into the cold water, add butter and salt, bring to a boil; stir briefly and reduce to a simmer and cover the pot for twenty minutes or until the water is gone and small steam holes appear in the surface of the rice on the pot. Don’t stir during cooking and for God’s sake don’t overcook it or keep opening the pot to see if it’s done all the time.

Spread the rice out on a serving dish large enough to accommodate the chicken. When the chicken’s done, place it on the bed of rice (Smak, of course, prefer that it be Uncle Ben’s!). Um, before you do that, it’s probably good to remove the now- filled bottle – grasp it, with the aid of a pot holder, and pull the chicken off the top carefully with two forks.

Chop finely the bunch of dill and three cloves of garlic, and mix the two together in a small bowl. Pour some of the pan drippings on top of the chicken, then sprinkle the garlic-dill mixture on top as a garnish.

You can modify this recipe to be Fatly Correct by ditching the butter and not garnishing with pan drippings; the inside of the bird will still be sumptuous and moist. If you’re really into it, remove the skin, but AFTER cooking. Come on, live a little.

How To Read A Guidebook

Near the registration desk at Jakarta’s most famous youth hostel, Wisma Delina, I watched with growing disbelief an exchange between the owner and an angry backpacker.

“A room,” the owner said, “costs 13,500 rupiah per person.”

“No it doesn’t,” insisted the backpacker, fervently jabbing at a listing in his well-thumbed guidebook, “it says right here that it costs 12,000.”

A traveler who expects a guidebook to dictate pricing policy to the hotel industry is in for a shock. As the guidebook market has become more competitive, publishers have been going to greater lengths than ever to convince readers of their thoroughness, accuracy, and authority. But you can’t forget that a guidebook is intended to be just that – a guide.

“I’m glad I’m in the book,” the owner told me later, when the influx of shelter-seeking backpackers and tapered off. “But I have that same argument 10 times a day. People don’t seem to accept that I set my prices – the guidebook doesn’t.”

He’s right. And it’s not just prices; some travelers take a listing the guidebook to be the word of God – and then become incensed when the book’s wrong.

“A traveler standing on street corner, shifting his eyes between a guidebook and the empty spot where he expects to see something the book describes,” said Berkeley screenwriter Natalie Cooper, “has a deer in the headlights vacuousness that I think is incredibly funny.”

As a guidebook writer I know that all guides, even the great ones, have their inaccuracies. A typo can put museum on the wrong side of town. An off the beaten path site or attraction that appears in a book may be teaming with tourists a couple of months later.

A good write-up in a popular guidebook sometimes results in a price hike. And a cheap bus from A to B go out of business or be taken over by thieving greedheads by the time you ask for your ticket.

But it shouldn’t stop you in your tracks.

Rolling With The Punches
Rolling with the punches is the key to enjoying yourself on the road. Even the best guidebook can’t prepare you for everything you encounter. Even if it could it would take away much of the delight of traveling. When I’m on the road I expect surprises – in fact that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy traveling.

Sometimes the surprises books bring are even pleasant. “The super shuttle,” writes Tony Wheeler in Lonely Planet’s San Francisco City guide, “costs 11 dollars.” Well, my driver charged me $10 for the drive and if anyone thinks I argued with her and pointed in my guidebook they’re nuts.

Travelers can get the most out of their guidebook by carefully selecting a guide that suites their needs.

“One of the quickest ways to see if the book’s right for you,” said Bill Dalton, who founded the Moon handbook series in 1973, “is to look at the index and the table of contents together; play them against each other and from those to you can surmise the breadth and scope of the book.

That’s key. Before you do that though, you’ve got to decide just how much information you want. When researching in Russia, I used the excellent Blue Guide to Moscow and St. Petersburg for architectural and historical information. But for just visiting the city, I’d probably want less detailed history and culture and more general and practical information.

Watch out for books that loaded down with features you don’t need. When I went to Costa Rica for two-week vacation all I wanted was bare bones practical information on how to get to the nearest beach. But on a recent trip to Munich I looked for something to give me a broad range of information like history, culture, architecture and entertainment.

Getting at What You Need
My colleague, Tom Brosnahan, author of Lonely Planet’s Guatemala, Belize and Yucatan guidebook, stresses information accessibility.

“A good guidebook is a knowledgeable, insightful, well informed friend who’s been to the place before you and is helping you get through it,” said Brosnahan, who suggests that you read some paragraphs and see if you can get all with the author’s “voice”. Does it sound friendly” Pithy” Florid”

That’s very important. Peter Moore, who writes about travel on the Internet and speaks about it on radio, said: “choosing a guidebook to accompany you on your travels is as personal a decision as buying a new pair shoes or a new coat. If you’re not comfortable with it, you’re going to have a terrible time.”

“Wherever possible,” said Fred Hornbruch, owner of Philias Fogg’s Travel Books in Palo Alto, “I compare the information of an area I’m familiar with to see if the author covers it as accurately and completely as I want.”

That’s not a bad strategy. When I plan a trip to place or region where I’ve been before, I loiter in book shops looking at every guide they have, looking up off the beaten path places I remember. The book that has the most of them listed – and described well – usually comes home with me.

Some key points:

Prices change. Prices, if listed, are there as a guide to costs at the time of research. They’re not intended to be accurate forever, or even spot on when you by the book. What they are, though, are generally accurate representations of price ratios relative to each other. If you notice that the prices you encounter are, say, 5 to 10% higher than those quoted in the book, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll be similarly higher elsewhere in the country. But a hotel that’s 10% cheaper than its neighbor will likely retain that price advantage.

Things change. Good places go bad, bad places go broke. As a traveler, your instincts are what you should be following; use the guidebook to hone them.

Get what you need, not what’s prettiest. Check the proportion of color photos to text to see if what are looking at is primarily a picture book with text or text complemented by pictures. Three pages of photos to one of text is a distinctly leaning to a coffee table book!

Do your homework. Even if you have a loyalty to a particular guidebook series, check the competition is well. All publishers have a couple of books that they’d just as soon forget about – books that aren’t quite up to the series standard for one reason or another. It’s your responsibility to find the best book for your trip. You may find that you want to buy more than one book to cover all of your interests.

And when you do find a mistake or a piece of dated information, perhaps you’ll find it some consolation that, while it may have annoyed you for a minute, we’ll be getting mail about it for the rest of our lives.

Checking Out The Russians In The Hoosgow

The unique thing about St. Petersburg’s new Holiday Hostel kept distracting me as I walked through, checking for bugs under the beds or other tell-tale signs of sloppiness (I didn’t find any). What I was hearing was shouting, and it was coming from…right…next…door. Look at it as a selling point or a travel agent’s nightmare, but it’s certainly unique that the Holiday Hostel’s building is adjacent to St. Petersburg’s Kresty Prison.

Kresty is St. Petersburg’s main holding prison; if you’re busted here, Kresty’s where they take you to await whatever it is that awaits you. And while news reports of a Mafia takeover of the 18th-century City on the Neva are preposterously overblown, crime has increased to the point that Kresty is doing brisk business indeed.

But what distinguishes Kresty from, say, New York’s Riker’s Island, is that Kresty is located on a main boulevard, and prisoners can get to the windows. Russian families are quite close, and in true Russian style, the families of the accused line the street outside, bonding with their inmates.

On any given day, you can see dozens of these well-wishers lining Arsenalnaya naberezhnaya. Mothers, fathers and sometimes even drunken friends stand crying. Wives and girlfriends stand close to the concrete fence, moving their arms in what may look like complicated dance moves, but what is in fact a crude code, known to inmates and prison guards alike.

The prisoner, let’s call him the receiver, makes himself known by holding an article of clothing out the window (they stick their arms through the bars or through holes in the steel mesh). When the sender, down on the street, identifies their man, they start waving their arms about, tracing Cyrillic characters in the air. The receiver waves up and down to signal “I understand”, and side to side to signal “repeat”. Under this method, after three or four minutes of waving, one can clearly discern the message, ‘I-c-a-l-l-e-d-y-o-u-r-f-r-i-e-n-d-M-i-s-h-a’!

The process, understandably, is time consuming (a message like ‘I called your lawyer but he was out to lunch’ could take half an hour or so), but the family and friends on the street below (again in true Russian style) bring along sausage, bread, cheese and thermoses filled with hot tea. Of course, some bring along a bottle of vodka – just to pass the time.

As I left the Hostel, I walked past some of the families waiting to send messages. A black Mercedes-Benz was parked outside; next to it stood an attractive Russian woman in a revealing dress. She was looking towards the prison window and waving. But this woman didn’t need no stinking codes: she was speaking into a cell phone, and as she looked across the prison yard, a tear formed in the corner of her eye.

This was written for Lonely Planet Online in 1995 and subsequently an edited version ran in Lonely Planet’s St Petersburg city guide. That version subsequently made it into the second edition of Lonely Planet’s Russia, Ukraine & Belarus guide. In the latest version, the author who updated the text said that the prison was currently running tours for a fee.