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Friday - Saturday shenanigans

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Seems I've found myself on a last minute trip to Serbia. In before "DR is looking for a wife." Took the 9:10 last night from lax to Munich, where I'm sitting now waiting for my puddle jumper to Belgrade.

I'm in the Lufthansa first class lounge and I'm like a kid in a candy store. Tons of free booze and newspapers and magazines, but the only problem is, I don't drink the booze and I don't read a whole lot of German. However, there's a bottomless supply of cashews and I am killing those. They're fresh and crisp. The good stuff. There's some weird old man in bright blue cords and a pink sweater walking around looking at each table for his favorite treat, appearently. Keeps looking over everyone's shoulders. He takes my cashews I'm gonna cause an international incident.

My flight sort of sucked. I had what must've been a newer traveler sitting in front of me. I like to be amongst the last to board because I hate waiting on the gangway. So, I get on the plane and some dude with an accent (the nerve!) is sitting in my seat. He had to move one seat up. That sucked for me because he's one of these a-holes who puts the seat in full recline the moment the flight leaves the ground...after the stewardess tells him to bring the seat up before take-off, of course. So, at first I was stoked because the aircraft is an A340-600 and I'm thinking there's gonna be some leg room, even in steerage. But I got spoiled by the A380 and this plane ain't nothing like that.

Anyways homeboy really brings his seat back. I mean it's dipping down like josh hamiltoe's bat looking for a baseball. So, after a while I naturally give the old seat back a solid right-left with my legs, which wasn't all too hard because my knees don't have a choice. Must be like how the new guy in prison feels.

Finally, about four hours into the flight, the guy looks back at me like, 'wtf,' and I look back at him like 'wtf.'. So nothing gets resolved and now I feel stiffer than a Mark Trumbo at bat.

Speaking of stiff, my friend is getting a massage in the lounge. I'll leave it at that. At least, until I get to Belgrade.

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Don't know what nationality the homeboy was, but he didn't understand the stewardess when she spoke German so maybe he was Greek or Baltic.

The LAX to Frankfurt on Lufthansa is the long 747 which, is supposed to be a pretty good plane. Go to seatguru.com to make sure your assigned seat looks good enough.

I'm about to crash. It's dark out, but so far, not alot to see in Serbia. The people are without humor, understandably, but some of the chicks I've seen are pretty remarkable.

I had a not bad looking Serb chick sit next to me on the short flight and I let her try on my noise canceling headphones. I had to hold back my laughter when, like Borat, she said, "very nice."

Beyonce is playing Belgrade Monday night. Hopefully will be off to Spain by then.

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Eastern European women have come a long way since the Soviet Olympic team broke up.


I'm just on the Chicago to Frankfurt as I am currently on assignment in Akron. Nobody has bothered to tell these people that we're 3 weeks into Spring. What does it say about Akron when I'm anxious to leave here to get to Bahrain?

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My flight sort of sucked. I had what must've been a newer traveler sitting in front of me. I like to be amongst the last to board because I hate waiting on the gangway. So, I get on the plane and some dude with an accent (the nerve!) is sitting in my seat. He had to move one seat up. That sucked for me because he's one of these a-holes who puts the seat in full recline the moment the flight leaves the ground.


The first time I flew to Europe (LAX-LHR, United 777) I had one of those types in front of me. The moment the wheels cleared the runway his seatback was in my chest, where it stayed for 11 1/2 hours. When we boarded I figured hey, 777, should be plenty of legroom. There is probably more legroom in the back seat of a Fiat 500. Flew an American 777 on the same leg about nine months later, much better experience. They at least left a decent amount of room between the seats.

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Thank you for the compliments. Y'all keep this up, I just might get a big head. Like the Serbian males. There's some big noggins here. These dudes could kill you with a sharp look or a head butt. And they all look like they've killed someone at least once in their lives. Maybe they have if they're over the age of 30.

I just walked across the Danube from what is called 'new Belgrade' to the o.g. Belgrade. O.g. Belgrade is pretty cool but after walking a mile or two in these people's shoes, I can see why they're so dour. The streets are broken, the buses wheeze and whine, the sidewalks are uneven and the buildings are either celebrations of communist era concrete or grimed up beyond recognition. And this is an observation on a fairly warm, sunny Belgrade post commie and NATO bombing kinda day. Imagine what it looks like and feels like when it's ten below and there's snow piled up everywhere.

It's a shame because the architecture, when it has a chance to pop out and when it's taken care of, is very cool. It looks like a dirty version of Germany or maybe Spain post-Franco.

Yesterday, I went over to the location where this movie's being shot. I think the word 'shot' gets used alot here. The location is an abandoned hotel called the Hotel Yugoslavia. You wanna read some interesting history, give it a wiki search.

The building is a celebration of communist era minimalist crossed with lazy construction. Sort of a Mad Men vibe without the booze and irony.

I may have mentioned that beyonce is in town. She's staying on the 8th floor of my hotel with security posted around. Or maybe that's just another hold over from the communist era. Her crew has been checking out whenever I walk by the front desk. Must be 100 of them. You can imagine the vibe in the restaurant when the hotel guests gather for their breakfasts. The crew is either black with some swagger or pasty white with missing teeth and tattoos. There was a bus load of English folk on some sort of tour of their own. A crossroads of humanity all looking for one thing: eggs.

The beyonce show tonight is such a big deal that it made the front page of one of the newspapers. Couldn't tell you what the headline reads because it's all Serbian to me.

I know this is shameful but I had McDonald's when I did my walkabout. The food looks about a trustworthy as a politician In a whore house. Or fundraiser.

It was a giant McDonald's and I'm happy to say it had a free bathroom. It's the little things when you travel.

There's a fascinating promenade area where the trendy people shop and it was pretty cool. Since Serbia isn't the richest of nations, alot of the original passage ways and buildings remain. So, you think you're looking into a storefront but it's really an alcove with a bunch of stores tucked away. It's like a scene from 'Taken.'. Intimidating but you can't help but go in.

The styles here remind me of parts of SoCal: let's just call it 'Glendale chic.'.

I'm headed down to Spain tomorrow and got some help printing my boarding passes in the hotel lack of business center. There was a nice young lady working there with the unsettling name of Dragana. "gaga for short" she tells me. But not like lady gaga...I guess it's a nick name here. Odd nick name for a country where no one is a baby. And everyone is a man.

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Same day update: have not seen Miami Vice on tv, regrettably, but I just turned on the tv and I swear this is the truth....there is some sort of show on that shows people working on a farm. Thats it. No narration, no real editing. Just different camera angles of people moving some wood around. I think it's a reality show. Like Big Brother but on a farm. If I'm understanding correctly, it's called "Farma."

The hell?! Now there's a couple older ladies in an old farm house and one of them is making mashed potatoes...with her hands. No gloves, no utensils. Hands. Just hands. "Hi. Can I please have the mashed potatoes with a side of SARS?"

I went over to the set for a bit at the Hotel Yugoslavia. I had a crew driver named Zoran. He did not kill me for fun. As they say on Facebook, 'blessed.'

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Got to Valencia, Spain last night after a 10 hour travel day. Mind you, it's probably about the same distance from Serbia as say, Anaheim to Portland, but Belgrade is a pretty remote place. Not alot of reason to go there.

So, after going through Belgrade airport which might remind you of orange county airport in the 70s, I flew to Paris and waited for about three hours for my flight to Valencia. There was a high school group of Spainiards walking around and I prayed to Allah that they wouldn't be on my flight. Allah did not answer my prayers. Allah not be praised.

Luckily, they were pretty mellow on the flight. Or maybe I was just happy to be on the final leg of a long day.

I took the metro from the airport and got off at the Aragon station. This is where the Valencia football stadium is located. Sometimes they get their asses kicked here by Real Madrid and Barcelona. I headed down a major thoroughfare nd just like that, I was at my brother's place.

He and his wife - she's a Spamiard - are two very nice and hospitable people. They broke out the cheese, bread and funky meat and I had a few bites. Since it's Spain, and it was only 11 on a tuesday, we headed downstairs to the local bar called la Salamandra. My brother goes the to watch soccer matches and knows alot of people in the hood. It's simply, the local pub.

One of the locals there is the head of Valencia's terrorism unit. Very interesting. There's a substantial Muslim population here and they're appearently hard to track.m some come in illegally and alot of the legal ones have names that may not be correct. The terrorism dude estimated there are between 400 - 500 mosques of all shapes and sizes hidden in homes, back of shops etc. he said one of the problems they have is that the Muslim population doesn't really assimilate. The Spanish authorities would like them to so they can essentially keep a better eye on them.

After my brothers second glass of wine, I surrendered and told the, I had to get some sleep. I went back with my niece as she was texting non-stop on her blackberry. The same teenage experience as home, but without the blackberry.

I just got back from the super mercado which has the glorious name 'Consum.'. Bunch of people speaking Spanish to/at me. Like, 'hey, let's mess with the one guy here who doesn't speak fluent Spanish.'. Judas h. Priest, people! Can't you see that I have blue eyes and just took a shower? I am not from here!

I'm headed back out again for more adventures. Meeting my sister in law for lunch since my brother had to abandon me for a day in madrid. He takes the AVE train which gets him there in an hour and 40 minutes.

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DR is finally easing into the local time and got out of bed at 7am, local time. This, despite the college students who rent the flat below my brother's place came home around 3 or 4am and proceeded to slam doors and do whatever hell else college students do at that time of the morning. Thankfully, they did not start in with the soccer video game which I could hear them playing yesterday..."Gooooooooaaaaaallllll!"

One thing about Spain, people are immune to noise. The cities are tightly packed and the streets are narrow, so you just get used to it or don't know any better. Valencia is known as the city of "lights and love." But it might be more appropriate to refer to it as the city of people who don't clean up their dog shite, aggressive cigarette smoking and fast walkers. And bikers. They have that same system here with renting bikes that they use in Paris. Pretty ingenious: there are bikes around the city in popular locations. You pay a small fee and the bike unlocks. You ride it to where you need to go and return to whatever bike rack you like that's in the same program. When you need another bike, you just pay another couple euros. Or get a monthly pass for 28 euros. If we had that back home it would cut down on the drunk driving a little.

I was so thrilled yesterday to take a shower and put on some new under slacks. Since I left most of my luggage in Serbia, I packed a backpack pretty tightly for my jaunt to Spain. In a case over overly cautious packing, I left out my under slacks. So, after lunch in old town Valencia, it was off to El Corte Ingles for some emergency underwear. This is where you really see how great it is to be American and know that you can go to Target and pay under 10 bucks for a three pack of dungarees. My two pack of underwear cost me 26 euros. I don't know what the exchange is right now, but that's about 35 bucks, give or take. For two briefs. No wonder my Spanish in-laws bring an empty suitcase when they visit the states. I've never seen someone so happy to go to a Ross and Marshall's in the same day.

Earlier in the day I went to old town Valencia. It's an incredible area if you like history. It's flown under the touristy radar but the city is full of gems. Yesterday, I went to an office that had been renovated and now displays some of the finds discovered during the renovation. Because there's so much hidden history in Valencia, developers need to go through an exhaustive process if they're renovating or building anything. My sister in law's office is an older building that was completely remodeled, saving only the exterior walls. When digging underground a couple years back, they discovered giant ancient bleaching wells used to bleach fabric for trade. Probably from the Roman times. They were found in perfect condition. A glass floor was installed so you can walk and stand right over the area. Also discovered under the building was an original dock from when the Muslims first occupied Valencia. You could stand over that too. Just amazing. The office was using a couple pieces of roman columns as end tables which was really weird but that's how it works here. There's alot of old stuff and some of it gets taken for granted. Like I take cheap underwear for granted. Every culture has some advantage, I guess.

I got back to the flat and had my nephew there, studying some chemistry. It's his first year at the University of Valencia and he's in real tough program. If he doesn't keep hIs grades up, the university charges more for tuition. Plus, with unemployment here around 30%, and his ability to speak English, his dad is pushing him to get a degree and move abroad for work. Because the options are limited here at this time. So he's all stressed out. No video soccer for him.

We went to pick up my youngest nephew at his school and that was bedlam. The kids are released class by class, oldest kids last. So you gotta find your kid before he's lost in a sea of little Spainiards. And they all look the same so you gotta work fast. We didn't find him at first, but luckily my nephew has a bunch of cousins at the school and they all told him when they last saw the punk kid. It's like that here...you get the feeling everyone knows someone in someway. I told the little guy I'd buy him an ice cream and asked where we should go. "Los chinos," he said. Translated, it means 'the Chinese.' everyone in the barrio knows Los chinos because they run a little store that sells a little of everything. Sort of a 99 cent store in a hundredth of the space. My nephew is friends with one of the chinos and they play together.

I gotta split. I'm off to the consulate with my brother. More later if I don't choke on cigarette smoke and dog pooh fumes.

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