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Stuff that Sucks

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Well, It Finally Happened

Crazy line in Kyoto, JapanI finally found a line-up for food that I didn’t have the patience to stand in.

I mean, look at that.  It’s for a well-regarded soba noodle restaurant in Kyoto, and I was excited to try it, but that line was going to be an hour, at least.  Assuming that the place was as small as many of the restaurants here tend to be, that might have been closer to two hours.

Uh, no thanks.

Crossing the Road in China can be Hazardous to your Health

Beijing trafficI’ve mentioned some of the quirks of crossing the road in a couple of the cities I’ve been to so far.  Well, Beijing has a pretty big one: cars will straight-up run you over if you’re not paying attention.

In most cities, pedestrians tend to have the right of way when they’re crossing at a crosswalk, or at the very least, cars are somewhat deferential.  Not so in Beijing.  Crossing the road is like playing a real-life game of Frogger, only with life-or-death stakes.

Beijing traffic

You’re not safe once you’re in the middle of the road away from the turning area, either — cars will do these crazy, super-wide turns (presumably to weave around pedestrians) and they’ll sometimes get within inches of where you’re walking.

And then there are the scooters, which seem to exist in a completely lawless state where they can go wherever they want, whenever they want.  As far as I can tell, traffic lights don’t apply to them at all, and yet they’re essentially little motorcycles, so that’s fun.

On a trip to Shanghai last year, a distracted guy on a scooter was headed straight towards me on a crosswalk; I had to dive out of the way to avoid being hit.  It’s kinda nuts.

Give These People Air

Beijing, ChinaYou’ve probably heard that the pollution in Beijing is so bad, just breathing the air is the health equivalent of smoking a bunch of cigarettes.  This is true.

It’s actually worse than you’d think.  It actually wasn’t something I was thinking about until my throat starting getting scratchy.  It’s noticeably bad.

There’s a website that measures various pollutants in the air and then turns those into a number called the AQI (air quality index).  As I write this, the AQI in Beijing is 167 –anything over 50 will impact your health.  For comparison’s sake, the current AQI in Toronto is 9.  So… that’s not great.

Ben isn’t Bonging

Big Ben in London, EnglandHere’s a pretty big bummer: Big Ben is currently under a pretty substantial renovation, which means that the outside is almost completely covered in scaffolding, and its iconic bonging has been silenced.

If you go to London and you didn’t see or hear Big Ben, were you even there?

The Worst Pizza in the History of Pizza

Vending machine pizzaRemember when I tried a vending machine kebab sandwich, found it disgusting, but then admitted that I’d eat more weird vending machine food if I found it?

Well I’m a man of my word.

I was at the Prater amusement park the other day to ride the ferris wheel, and I figured I’d walk around a bit and check the place out. And that’s when I saw it: a pizza vending machine.

Vending machine pizza in Vienna, Austria

I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I couldn’t stop myself. I ordered the cheese pizza (or käsebaguette) because it was the cheapest one at €3.30, and I wanted to pay as little as possible. The machine whirred to life, and within a couple of minutes, it spit out an inoffensive looking rectangular pizza.

Vending machine pizza in Vienna, Austria

It was so bad.

Featuring some kind of slimy cheese-like substance resting atop a crust that tastes like a bundle of Kleenex that’s been soaked through with sea water and left out to dry in the sun, it was actually kind of surprising how bad it was. Like, you expect a vending machine pizza to be gross, but this was next-level bad. There was absolutely no texture here other than soft and mushy and gooey, and the flavour was just saltiness and fake cheese. It was absolutely horrific — it made the vending machine kebab look gourmet in comparison.

You know how some people say that even bad pizza is pretty good? Those people need to come to Vienna so they can see how wrong they are.

Really?

No thanksIn case you can’t read that sign, it says “Restaurante Gluten Free.” It actually deeply saddens me to see that the idiotic gluten-free trend has even managed to infect a city whose main culinary export (pizza) is pretty much a love letter to gluten.

And yes, I know, celiac disease is a real thing, but that condition affects less than one percent of the population. For everyone else who’s like “you know, the human body can’t actually digest gluten,” get the hell out of here. Humans have been cultivating and eating wheat for over ten thousand years. We can digest gluten just fine, thank you very much.

On Being in the Middle of a Terrorist Attack

TerrorSo I’m assuming you’ve heard the news about Barcelona by now. I’m a few days ahead with my posts, so you wouldn’t know it by reading this blog, but I’ve been in Barcelona for the last few days.

And I was right in the area where it went down when it went down.

I was in a big department store called Corte Engles in a hugely popular area called Plaça de Catalunya, and I was heading out onto the street when everyone started running and screaming. This was a huge crowd — maybe like a hundred people or so — and this wasn’t just “hey, is something happening?” screaming.  They were the screams of pure terror.

I had no idea what was going on, but obviously I ran, because holy shit. Hopefully you’ve never been in a crowd that’s screaming bloody murder and running for their lives, because let me tell you: it is terrifying. It might have been the scariest moment of my life.

Waiting in a department store

The crowd flooded into the department store. After a couple of minutes, the security gates were shuttered and the place was locked down. No one seemed to know what was going on; it hadn’t even hit the news yet.  I texted a few friends and relatives to let them know I was okay, and I could barely even type — my hands were shaking so much from the adrenaline.

The square outside, normally packed with hundreds of people, was now eerily empty, save for the police and their cars.

Scary

We eventually learned that some stupid fucking idiot drove a van into a crowd, killing and injuring dozens.

About an hour later they let us out; we were escorted to a police barricade where hundreds of concerned onlookers and journalists were congregating.

Waiting

My cousin is actually in Barcelona, and by sheer horrible luck was in the same area, on the other side of the square. We couldn’t get to each other at this point, but we arranged to meet at her apartment, which was about ten minutes away.

As I was heading there, the sidewalks were packed and the roads almost empty, save for the occasional cop car or motorcycle screaming by. My Google map was updated with a big red circle labeled “terrorist attack.” It was marking the exact spot I had just come from.

I’m sorry to be swearing so much in this post; I’m not a big swearer, but non-profanity just doesn’t seem right in this situation.  Holy fucking shit.

I got to my cousin’s place and we hung out there for a while. I had a knot in my stomach for hours. For most of the evening, we could hear sirens outside and helicopters overhead. We kept anxiously checking Twitter and various news sites to see what was going on. Eventually, things seemed to calm down and I headed back to my Airbnb on the outskirts of the city, promising to text my cousin as soon as I got there. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be staying in the suburbs. It sounds stupid, but I felt uneasy in the city.

Panic

I’m obviously not the only one who feels that way; near the subway station around my Airbnb, there’s a main road that heads out of the city. It was bumper to bumper. This was around 10:00 PM. It was like something out of a movie.

I have one more day here before I fly out, and I don’t even know that I have it in me to head back into the city tomorrow. I might just hang out around the Airbnb.

I wish I could say that the terrorists have failed; that they haven’t scared me. But that’s not true. I’m rattled. I’m more than rattled.

I wasn’t exactly where it happened. I was nearby, but (thankfully) I was never in immediate danger. I didn’t have to witness the grizzly aftermath. But being that close to it is hugely unsettling.

To be honest, there’s a part of me that’s tempted to cancel the rest of my Europe plans and head straight to Asia.

Hey, terrorists, here’s an idea: why don’t you stop being stupid jerks?

Sweet, sweet grease

When I got back home, I went to the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon near the apartment and got a plate of fries, bacon, and eggs.  Because after a day like that, you need a big greasy plate of comfort food and a beer to wash it down.

Yikes.

Anyway, back to silly food posts starting tomorrow.