Documentaries and Harry Potter in Concert

Hello Walkabout followers!

I know it’s been a while but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. Needless to say, I’m no longer traveling so life isn’t quite as exciting. But I should probably be updating this with some other random news, info, or entertainment…

An update on what’s going on in Boulder, CO: I’m currently working at a small video production company where we’re making documentaries for National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. I started as an intern, then a production assistant, and now a production coordinator. It’s a hectic business filled with plenty of unique and exciting challenges.

The first series I worked on was called “Cocaine Wars” and was a four part series airing on National Geographic Channel about the DEA fighting drugs (specifically cocaine) in Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Part 1 and 2 have already aired (check here. I think the next showing is 1/5 in the evening) and part 3 and 4 will be on soon.

The second series and the project I’m currently working on is a three part series entitled “Pot Cops.” We follow around the Humboldt (CA) County Sheriff’s Office while they do their best to eradicate marijuana grows in their county. The characters are interesting (both cops and growers) and it should be airing in the end of January or beginning of February.

This brings us to the biggest reason for this post. One of the editors for Episode 1 of our Pot Cops series was the editor for something called “Star Wars in Concert.” Basically, Star Wars in Concert was a traveling show with a live philharmonic symphony, enormous HD screen, lasers, Star Wars actors, a traveling Star Wars museum, so on and so fourth. The show stopped at various large stadiums across the country for a couple years and was, from all accounts, a big hit.

HP Photo

The premise was taking the incredibly composed John Williams Star Wars scores and putting video from all six movies to the music. It’s basically flipping the status quo of having the scores go to and enhance the video to having the video go to and enhance the music. With the easily recognizable and beloved John Williams scores the backbone of the show, there may not have been a way for it to fail. The music would be played by the orchestra while the video would be displayed on the massive HD screen.

Seeing that I love soundtracks (specifically anything John Williams) and Star Wars, this kind of show was right up my ally. Unfortunately, the tour ended a couple years ago. So, I decided I’d try to duplicate the project with a different movie series. Without further ado, I present the first video in what hopefully will be many, in Harry Potter in Concert.

[click the youtube button in the lower right corner so you can then turn up your volume, watch full screen, and set to HD]

For those who don’t know, John Williams actually did the soundtracks for the first three HP movies and developed the easily recognizable theme played throughout all eight movies. The score I used for this video was actually composed by Nicholas Hooper but I hope to get to the famous John Williams score next. This video was a fun project to work on and I can’t wait to get started on a few more.

Hopefully you enjoyed the video and honestly I think this type of thing should be done for a few movie scores… Maybe those will be next. Until the next video, I bid you adieu!

-Phil

“Oz-low!”

An important lesson I learned during the fateful 20 hour train day from Umeå to Oslo, was how easy it is to miss your stop on account of unrelenting sleepiness. If you fall asleep on the train and your stop is not the last on the route, you could easily end up hours away from your destination.

Looks windy out there...

At the beginning of the six and a half hour train ride from Trondheim to Oslo, I marveled at the breathtaking scenery outside of my window. We went from snow-capped mountains, to beautiful fjords, to blank white wind swept plains.

As the sun slowly sank beyond the horizon, the bright scenes outside of my window turned to dark nothingness and the length of my day caught up to me. For the last couple hours I nodded off and hadn’t even thought of setting any sort of alarm. Rookie mistake.

This could have ended in tragedy. I could have easily stayed asleep through leaving time and ended up wherever trains sleep. Or, even worse, if the train’s last stop had not been Oslo, I would have kept on going to God-knows-where Norway. (Which, all things considered, isn’t that bad. It’s much better than Allah-knows-where Afghanistan…)

A bit gloomy Oslo coast

Luckily for me, I had a savior on the train. It was in the form of an Old Norwegian Guy with a hefty voice and a sturdy hand. As I lay there paralyzed by sleep while almost everyone had departed the train, Old Norwegian Guy gave me a hard jolt to the shoulder, looked into my half groggy, half asleep eyes, and said with a grin on his hardened endearing face, “OZ-low”! I got the message and sprung out of my seat quickly, realizing my luck. Forever his one word, Oz-low, will be engrained in my mind as an example of what happens when you don’t set an alarm for your train’s expected arrival time.

-Phil

More on Train Travel

Getting Around

Pre-trip research is, of course, a good idea, and I did a little, but I kind of liked just going out there, taking it a step at a time and learning the train system in my own way.

Some train views are better than others.

There’s something really exhilarating and liberating about thinking, “I want to go there, there, and there – now, or tonight, or tomorrow” and then looking up a train schedule and just doing it. Unless you’re in Greece, the trains are almost always on time. The efficiency and organization is almost scary compared to most rudimentary American transportation systems.

If you’re having trouble finding a path to your destination, especially if it’s a multi-stop route, you can always turn to the online, searchable version of the timetables through DB, the German rail system here.

We’ll talk more on timetables in timetable specific post. They’re so much fun!

A Must Have Train-Travel Skill

The ability to sleep on trains is a paramount skill to either already have or hastily procure if planning a two-month, non-stop, city-to-city tour of Europe on the glorious rail system. Luckily, I think my aforementioned affinity for transportation stems from my insatiable need to sleep through most of any train, plane, car, bus, or boat journey. Something about the steady ebb and flow of my transporter triggers my inner infant and whisks me back to my rocking crib days.

But sleep, although necessary, has its risks. As safe as I will profess the trains in Europe are, you can’t avoid horror stories of belongings being stolen, people being drugged asleep, and personal space being invaded during some train ride, in some place, at some bad time.

In general, these aren’t issues you should dwell over, but at the same time you can’t completely ignore them. As I’ve said before, keep your belongings as close to your body as possible and you should be perfectly safe.

Sitting Around

Speaking of other people on trains, something that took a little getting used to on European trains was the seating arrangement. There were numerous different seating patterns in the train cars.

If you're in the train it's O.K. to sleep. Outside, not so much.

Some trains had all compartments with six seats in each compartment, three facing the other three (like on the Hogwarts Express). Others were like airplanes; with two columns of three seats all facing the same way. But many had seats facing each other. It would be two columns again, but instead of facing the back of a seat you would be facing other seats that were facing you with a space between, and your back to another quartet of seats facing each other.

This method provided more legroom, but took some getting used to because you had someone unknown in your face. It turned out to be a great way to meet people, but at the same time, if you or the other person wants to have nothing to do with the other, it creates some awkwardness. Or at least that’s true for us uncultured Americans…

A Center Cut Advantage

Who wouldn't want to be dropped off in the middle of Hell?

Another great thing about train travel is that you’re almost always taken to the center of your destination. Unlike airports, train stations are central pieces to almost every European city. There wasn’t one train station I visited that wasn’t easily accessible to wherever I was staying by walking, or when it was necessary, easy public transportation.

This feature can save a lot of transportation money. Although everyone hears a lot about huge discount airlines like Ryan Air and others around Europe, what you may not realize is that they fly mostly to secondary airports, which means you can end up wasting all your air ticket savings on getting from the airport to your lodging and back again.

This scenario played out perfectly when I flew from Sydney to Melbourne for a few days. My friend Jeff and I booked a wickedly cheap round-trip ticket to an airport outside of Melbourne. We probably saved around $50 on the flight. Unfortunately, when we landed we quickly realized it was going to cost us $40 each way to get from the airport to Melbourne.

Always check airport to lodging transportation rates before booking flights. Or, just travel by train.

The Bottom Line

I met a lot of really nice and intriguing people on trains throughout Europe. Whether they were backpackers like me, Indian travel agents, German workers traveling back to their families, American tourists, or blue-eyed, blonde haired, gorgeous Swedish boarder agents waking me up from my quick nap, they were all very friendly and more than happy to be trekking (or working) by train.

For anyone who remotely enjoys, or thinks they would enjoy, train travel, the opportunity to journey through Europe looking out the windows of safe and comfortable trains into the beautiful mountains, lakes, fields and cities of Europe is a must. Whether it’s for a week or months, you’re guaranteed an exceptional travel experience.

-Phil

Bella’s Red Suitcase and “Pissa”

On only my second European train ride I saw a young Swedish woman learn the hard way that if you have space to put your luggage on the upper rack, do it. Also, avoid leaving your luggage out of view. This is especially true if you happen to be on a late night train.

This is the type of place I'm guessing the boy's night started

The young woman, let’s call her Bella, had boarded, stored her luggage on the floor at a luggage spot near the front of the train car and taken her seat. Soon thereafter Bella apparently had some other business to take care of elsewhere on the almost empty train and left the car.

At some point during this train ride a couple of youngsters quite far into their night boarded the train and went into a compartment together. One of them, needing to relieve himself, left his compartment stumbled by the bathroom and, mistaking the luggage area for a hole in the ground, proceeded to piss all over Bella’s suitcase.

I confess I listened to the act half in horror and half laughing, intermittently peaking over the seat in front of me out of sheer intrigue. Without the conductor in the car and not a word of Swedish to my name I wasn’t sure what I could do. There was only one other soul in the car with me and his seat faced the opposite direction from the action. He only turned once to see what the trickling sound was.

Most train rides starting here don't end so badly.

About 15 minutes later Bella returned to her seat. A little while later she went to retrieve something from her suitcase. Her first reaction was mystery. She inspected the scene of the crime like a dog first meeting a new awkwardly smelling friend. Bella soon realized the problem and with a face of pure disgust, shot up and out of the train car with an internal fury I think only hell hath.

Bella returned with the conductor’s escort and they began the search. Naturally they first went to the other person in the car, I suspect because he looked less American than I, and oddly enough, although I’m quite sure he knew what happened, he chose not to get involved and brushed away the conductors inquiries.

The conductor then moved towards me and said something I didn’t know in Swedish, but that I perfectly understood. I pointed to the compartment where the culprit and now accused was residing and explained in English, which I’m pretty sure he understood, that the guy had dark hair.

The conductor rapped on the door, opened it, brought out the two lads and began the inquisition pointing repeatedly at Bella’s shiny bright red suitcase and firmly questioning them in Swedish.

From this point on I have no idea what was being said, but I imagine it went something like this:

***

Conductor[C]: “Did one of you piss on this suitcase?”

Almost Reasonably Drunk Blonde Swede[ARDBS]: “No, no, we’ve been in our compartment. It wasn’t us.”

Unreasonably Drunk Dark Haired Pissing Swede[UDDHPS]: “Yaughughghay”

C: “I was told that one of you came out of your compartment and pissed all over the luggage right here. Where do you think this piss came from?”

ARDBS: “I don’t know”

C: “Get back in there and do not leave.”

***

At this point the conductor came back to me, looked at me, pointed towards the spot where he had been questioning the alleged, and raised his eyebrows. I nodded vigorously and said again it was the dark-haired one. Apparently he did know a little English, said thank you and stomped to the compartment even more incensed because now he had been lied to by young drunk dumbasses on HIS train.

Let’s just say the next 10 to 15 minutes entailed a lot of yelling in Swedish, both of the drunks getting kicked off the train and the conductor having to clean up the mess left behind. I’m happy to report Bella got her two (or three or four) cents in as well.

Again, I can’t say I knew what the conductor or Bella were yelling at these two party animals, but the word “pissa” which is apparently similar to its English brethren was used a lot. In between the numerous “pissa’s” were words said with an inflection that implied they would not be normally used in polite company.

I’m grateful this situation came up early in my trip so I could clearly understand the potential consequences of not taking care of where I left my bags.

-Phil

Risks and Rewards

Hooray for beautiful Swiss trains!

I have always had an affinity towards transportation. Whether it’s plane, train, car, bus, boat, biking or simply just walking, I enjoy the excitement of going somewhere new and taking in the experience along the way. Even if human teleportation existed, I’m sure I’d find something alluring about the journey it provided.

For my walkabout I was venturing into a relatively blank chapter of my transportation book. I had a Eurail Global Pass for two months that worked in 23 countries and the only real train trip I’d ever taken was from Boston to NYC on Amtrak. Needless to say, I was planning on learning on the fly, or, err, rails.

There were things I knew, things I didn’t know, and things I thought I knew, but definitely didn’t know about train trekking around Europe. Before the trip I had fantasized about going everywhere and seeing everything so I could, as it’s commonly phrased, “get it out of my system”. I quickly learned how erroneous that idea was.

In Melbourne you don't have to be scared of Graffiti. In fact, it's quite nice.

Not only will I, or probably any travel minded folk, ever get “it” out of my system, but also, the sheer idea of thinking you could somehow see “everything” is completely absurd and naïve.

Yes, I had traveled before, but in those past expeditions my itineraries were strictly regulated and planned by someone other than myself. In those experiences I didn’t have the opportunity to break away and see outside the trips constraints, and instead was left living in a travel bubble. I’m guessing these past experience are what lead to my rather narrow-minded expectations.

Don't worry about those Berlin bullet holes. They're from a bygone time.

I have now happily accepted I will NEVER see everything and will NEVER get traveling “out of my system”. Perhaps that’s lesson number one from the walkabout.

Another lesson I had to quickly pick up was minimizing risks while basically living on trains.

It’s not so much I expected something bad to happen, or even that it was a large possibility, but more about reducing my “harass-ableness ” in general so as to ward off any potential harassers.

For instance:

I always did my best to keep my two backpacks as close to me as possible, my passport/money belt on me at all times, and to set an alarm to make sure I didn’t sleep through my stop1. I like to think I did my best to minimize all risks which, is part of the reason, among others (including luck), I had zero safety problems2.

Let’s be honest, are there risks to riding around by train almost daily for months? Absolutely. But, to put it bluntly, who cares? There are risks involved of every part of daily life and the risks in this sort of excursion are minimal at best and will provide great rewards. If you’re not at least a little scared, you’re not pushing yourself far enough. Plus, even if you do get gassed to sleep and have all your belongings stolen, or have bodily excrements deluged all over your stuff, as long as your not permanently scarred in some manner, at worst you’ll have a great story to tell. And what more can a traveler ask for than great stories to write in his blog?

If I had been attacked on that dark Budapest hill, the attacker would have shown up here...

-Phil

1Examples of why these methods may help will follow soon. This includes the “pissa” story. [It might be worse than a Tuesday night sitcom, but I’m not sorry for the double cliffhanger.]

2If you consider walking through the center of Naples after midnight with all your belongings on your back and hookers by your side while trying to figure out where some hostel you know little about is located and that hostel happens to be located in a relatively sketchy dark and dirty alleyway, OR walking up a dark densely forested hill path by yourself in Budapest late at night with only a camera at your side while feeling like you’re being watched classifies as some sort of safety risk for you, then perhaps my safety record isn’t completely clean.

Warm Up For European Train Travel

Well I’m finally restarting this blog… again. I’ve had some post ideas I’ve wanted to get out but hadn’t quite got to it recently. But wait no more. Unintelligible, disorganized, gobbledygook, resembling something akin to chicken scratch (can someone tell me if that font exists?) has been assembled and is currently on the editor in chief’s (my) carving table.

That's just the front side of all the trains I took...

The general gist of the aforementioned “writing” is all about train travel in Europe. There are tips on how to do it, safety maneuvers, pricing, and numerous other juicy tidbits, including behind the scenes stories of the Walkabout previously untold that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Let’s leave it at, if you want to learn what the word “pissa” means in Swedish in regards to my train travel, you’ll most definitely want to stay tuned.

-Phil