Posts filed under ‘travel’

O look! Could it be? A post!

new yorkYou get the idea.

IT IS! That’s right, It’s Alive, folks. Sort of.

I really should put up an “warning: irregular posting” disclaimer. But that would just give me one more thing to procrastinate, so I better stay put.

If you must know, I had, of course, a perfectly good reason for my absence. I was visiting the distant shores of Uncle Sam. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve been back for 3 weeks now.The truth is, I actually started writing this 2 weeks ago, so at that time I had a perfectly valid excuse for being out of commission – I was jetlagged and had cold. In the meantime, I had to edit and re-edit this paragraph over and over because my old excuse is so outdated now.

First of all, let me tell you people, your toilets SUCK! Seriously. Gross toilet water close that close to my toosh makes me very uncomfortable. And what’s up with the toilet stall gap? You know, if I’m going to use the toilet in a public place, I would really appreciate some privacy! I mean, drop your lipstick and you know all my business. Not cool!

Anyway, where was I… oh right. So on this trip I got to see 2 more states, Michigan and New York. That brings up my total of visited states to a nice round number of …… 3 (Went to Florida Keys last year).

So while I only spent a few days in Michigan, I can say I “saw” it, mostly because  2 of them were spent driving up and down the state, which looking back was kinda stoopid. But yeah, I am not the best planner out there, and notoriously suck at being a tourist. Early starts are definitely not my thing.

After that I spent 2 weeks in New York, waking up late and being a bad tourist all around- I didn’t go ice skating, I didn’t see the statue of Liberty, I didn’t climb the Empire State, and I only made it to one museum (the Guggenheim). It was still pretty awesome, despite the bad-tourist guilt.

I even attempted some shopping. Mostly, failed. All I have to show for is a new red sweater and some thrift store pants. Despite the fact I keep telling myself I have to stop buying red sweaters. Every time I attempt shopping I end up buying a red sweater (and that’s it). It’s my fall back plan, if nothing else, there is always a red sweater I like. I’m really starting to get on my own nerves with this red sweater thing. Is there such a thing as red sweater rehab? If there is, I’ll sign up right now!

But anyway. I tried to be a good vegetarian (but not a perfect one). My slips included some mercury-laced sushi and a Starbucks bacon & egg sammich laced with better-not-think-about-it. I am not proud of it. It think that broke both of my survival rules (that I stick to because the American “food” industry freaks me out).

  1. All animal products must be organic.
  2. All corn and soy must be organic.

But yes, you got me. I was going to Starbucks. I have to admit they won me over with the organic milk. But then they went and burst my bubble by discontinuing it. Bastards. Then I discovered that you can ask for soy milk and soy milk is organic and actually drinkable. Even in cappuccinos.

Then I discovered that the American idea of cappuccino slightly differs from my pre-conceived Euro-notions: espresso, hot milk and milk foam. Starbucks thinks its ALL about the milk foam. Literally. No milk. Just foam. And you guys know I take my cappuccinos very seriously. So I developed a routine where after I deliver the stainless mug, I go over to the barista and ask to ease up on the foam.

That usually coincides with me being annoyed at the fact they are still wasting a disposable cup for my coffee IN SPITE my very specific cup instructions. Although on one occasion I did encounter a barista that was also annoyed at all the cup wasting behavior. Not that that changed anything. I hope she gets promoted and brings on a smackdown on cup-wasting.

On the up side, I was very happy to see I wasn’t the only freak with a mug. Although it seemed much more common and accepted in Michigan. You would think New York is where all the eco-hipsters are.

And you guys would be proud of how good I got refusing plastic bags. I’m an almost professional bag-refuser. The trick is to announce it early and clearly, before they scan your groceries or while they are folding your red sweater er… clothing item.

And well, that’s all for the travel report. Sorry I didn’t post a touristy picture of my self in front of a landmark. In a red sweater. I’m such a lame tourist I didn’t even take any pictures. Although I lugged my camera across an ocean and even got a new lens for Christmas. So Hiro Nakamura will just have to do. How do you guys even put up with me?

February 5, 2008 at 11:03 pm 9 comments

The hand that rocks the Cradle to Cradle

Michael Braungart

Welcome back ClosetReaders, and please excuse me for the punny title… it was just too much to resist. I know its been a long time, but once again I will throw myself at your feet and beg for your indulgence. Oh Gods of Blogdom, please accept this post as my humble offering to thee.

So anyway. Exactly 2 weeks ago I went to the Cradle to Cradle conference in Maastricht making use of my press privileges (true story). Believe it or not, I have press privileges, which basically means I get to go for free and have the undisputed right to harass anyone (which I did). Haha, suckas!

You can read my official version of the events at Celsias (which also came out today, in case you think I’m, like, holding out on you or something). So if you read that, you will know that Michael Braungart was presenting. I got to harass him too, with my annoying little “practical” questions and poorly thought through opinions. He’s a good sport though, fun to harass.

As this here is the unofficial version of the events, I might as well tell you that greenwash is everywhere and this was no exception (You know who you are, Mr. Greenport Shanghai).

In other news, it was at this conference that I ate my first piece of meat in over one month. It was organic chicken, if you are wondering. It was tasty. *sigh*

And now, to conclude is style, I’ll share with you the wonderful things I learned at this conference:

  • Mattel is the evil.
  • If possible, industrial composting is preferable to home composting.
  • And composting paper tissues and napkins and what not is probably a bad idea because of chlorine and dioxins.
  • You can take the girl out of engineering school but you can’t take the engineer out of the girl. Metaphors are lost on this one.
  • The only reason people go to conferences is to pull the ember to their sardine (don’t you just love Portuguese expressions?)
  • Law of networking: the amount of asses you need to kiss is inversely proportional to your position in the food chain. (as you can imagine student bloggers rank pretty low there)
  • Inversely, your position in the food chain is directly proportional to the amount of people standing in line to kiss your ass (Braungart=long line)
  • If you don’t have business cards because you’re a (broke) small fish, at least pretend like its on purpose. Write your name on a pretty piece of cardboard and say that’s for environmental reasons. Not that I know anyone who would do this *whistles and looks around*
  • If you want to see a conference for free you should walk in and announce you are covering the event for the *insert name of the conference here* blog. And act like you belong.

Just one last thing. As we all know, when it rains it pours, and today you can read not one, not two but three! posts written by yours truly:

Enjoy!

November 16, 2007 at 4:10 pm 3 comments

Overdue post about that trip to Portugal

AveiroBack when my camera still worked.

Well, seems like that sign I put up on my last post was more than accurate… I didn’t mean to. I really did mean to write about my adventures that very day but then I never got around to do it.

In the meantime, I packed up all my shit and moved, my boyfriend left and now I’m more or less settled in my new place. This time I will not get sidetracked. I will tell you all about my moving and my new place on one of my next posts.

Anyways, I’m gonna spare you all of the “ahhh we went here” and “ooh we went there” and all that “it was so nice” crap and cheesy pictures of us in front of this and that and get right down to the environmental stuff. So lets get on with it shall we, in a neatly organized fashion.

It rocked:

The metro network.It is only a few years old, but its really really good. Most of the times, it is more convenient than driving because its faster and parking is a pain. My boyfriend arrived a couple of days after me and I decided to try the metro service to pick him up. I was pretty impressed, it was really fast, VERY close to the terminal and no parking (which, at airports, is quite a rip off). The bus network is very good as well, but its not as easy to figure out, and the schedules are less predictable.

The recycling. Recycling is slowly making its way into mainstream culture. Now you have recycling bins in most public places like the airport and metro stations, and it looks like people actually use them. The recycling infrastructure is quite good. I missed the composting bin that I was used to here in Holland, but I think they are working on that too, they already started collection biodegradable waste from large producers. My mom is a very thorough recycler. I got her into it when I was still a pre-teen. I am very proud of her in this matter.

The market. Whereas most of supermarket food in Portugal is imported, the food at the market, where I demonstratively bought vegetables, was very local, most likely organic and dirt cheap. Now I just need to convince ClosetMom to shop there more often.

ClosetFriends. I was very impressed that ClosetFriends have the habit of picking up old batteries, if they see them laying around in the street and depositing them in the appropriate recycling bin. Bravo, ClosetFriends. Something I can learn from you. (insert suggestion for Vanessa here)

It sucked:

ClosetMom refuses to use the metro. Her work involves a lot of driving around the city, including during rush hour. She could totally use the metro at least for some trips, if it wasn’t so much trouble to figure out where the stops are *roll eyes*.

Smog. ClosetMom picked me up from the airport (see above). The first thing I noticed on the drive home, was how smoggy Porto looked. I didn’t remember it being like that last year. The horizon looked yellow, and I’m not exaggerating. Coincidence or not, I got a sore throat about a week later, that quickly developed into a cold. Yes, it could have been just a cold, but I think it was pollution related cold.

Plastic Bags. Man, this country has a plastic bag problem! Even if you buy just one tiny little thing, they stuff it in a bag before you have time to open your mouth. I have to say, unlike in the Netherlands, getting away without a useless bag took considerably more effort. But at some point, I got very good at announcing “No bag, please” as soon as I hand them my purchase.

The receipt holder fad. Now this was annoying. Since last time I was in Portugal, apparel shops developed this new fad. Now instead of just handing you your receipt, now they put it in a nice little cardboard receipt-holder thingy. WTF?? This time, I didn’t manage to develop a defense against this one because I was too perplexed to react, but next time I’ll be prepared. Bastards…

My camera may or may not be broken. It died on me in the middle a shot. I still have hope that it could have been the batteries (even though there was no indication that they were getting low), so now I am dreading the moment of truth, when I change the batteries and realize that I have to do something about the matter. In the mean time, I have no camera, and have already recurred to borrowing from strangers once. (Before, I was using ClosetBoyfriend’s digital to take all those fabulous pictures of my groceries). Now I’m thinking of buying a crappy second hand one to tie things over.

Greatest Accomplishments:

Refusing mom’s well meaning ride offers and getting around quite easily by metro, bus (1x) and walking. Managed to keep use of car to a minimum. Used the metro to go to the beach (thanks, global warming), the airport and city center bunch of times. In almost 2 weeks, used the car 5 times, including 2 trips to the airport and one ride from friends.

Addressed ClosetMom’s bottled water habit. She claims tap water is bad for the kidneys (bullshit) and it tastes bad (tasted just fine to me). Explained how bottled water has less quality and how plastic gives you cancer. Refused to drink bottled water thus proving there is nothing wrong with tap water. Before she used a plastic cup to drink from the water cooler in the office. Now keeps a cup there and explains to co-workers how plastic gives you cancer. They don’t believe her, saying “they wouldn’t deliberately give us all cancer”. So naive…

Got 2 ClosetFriends more interested in vegetarian food, and even got them to try some meatless cooking by themselves. Score. ClosetMom is more resistant to the idea, but I’ll get to her too… eventually.

Resolution of the washing machine ordeal.This one requires a little more background explanation. When I got to Portugal, I was informed that our washing machine was broken and that a new washing machine was scheduled to be delivered the next day. I, of course, was shocked that ClosetMom, despite being broke, ordered a +-500E washing machine, without even trying to fix the old one (age 7, and a very good brand, so technically, its still middle aged in washing machine years). I explained how the washing machine must be a cheap fix, and that ClosetMom was too quick to cough up 500 euros she didn’t have. However, it was already too late. However, it just so happened that ClosetMom was buying the display model and that the delivery guys were dumbasses. Because it was the display model and they were too lazy to pack it up, they were delivering it without any packaging, and then tried to fit it through the building door. Sure enough, when my mom saw her brand new washing machine all banged up around the sides, she knows nothing more than to say “well then, you can take your ~@?$^%*# washing machine and stuff it (…)”. And so, I had ClosetMom call the official repair service and for 50 bucks the thing was good as new. If that ain’t Karma, I don’t know what is. Now, whether this was a good or bad outcome in terms of greenness I don’t know. I really don’t know what they will do with that banged up washing machine. Maybe they’ll fix it. Maybe they’ll sell it. Maybe they’ll just recycle it. All I know is that ClosetMom wasn’t having a banged up washing machine. And I don’t think I would either.

For next time:

Get ClosetMom and ClosetFriends to Bring Their Own Bags when they go shopping. This time I didn’t have time to go shopping with ClosetMom, so the plastic bags issue didn’t “come up”. I’ll get them all next time. MauAUauahahAAHahAHA!!

Get everyone DivaCups for their B’days. I already started psychologically preparing ClosetMom, showing her my Diva, telling her how great it is… I think I’ll get her one for Xmas now. MauAUauahahAAHahAHA!!

Lessons Learned:

  • You must know your enemy and be prepared to strike back. It’s the surprise attacks that screw us over.
  • When trying to get someone to change their ways, people always respond better when you put things in terms of “What’s in it for me”, like “save money” or “NOT get cancer”. I found that “its better for the environment” crap gets you nowhere, so I don’t even go there.
  • It’s not that people are trying to harm the environment, its just that sometimes they don’t know any better. Most of the time, they just don’t know there is a better way. Like ” you don’t HAVE to take bags every time just because they try to give you one”.

And so, even though I didn’t offset my trip (partly because I’m broke, partly because I still haven’t made up my mind on offsetting), I would say that the overall impact of my trip goes a long way towards canceling out the plane rides. Or at least I prefer to think so.

 

 

October 8, 2007 at 1:55 pm 5 comments

Went to Portugal. But I’m back now.

I know, I know, I’ve been a bad, bad blogger again, didn’t warn my dearest readers I’d be absent for over 2 weeks, shame on me. So that sign is what I should have put up before I left… But I’m guessing you must be used to my irregular posting by now. If you’re not, you better get used to it, because I don’t think it is going to get better any time soon. If you want regularity, you always have my Friday Linkfest feature at Celsias (and even that has been taken on by another writer the last 2 weeks because I was on holiday). But we’re open now!

The month of September is being quite an eventful one, so I’ll just give you a quick update on what’s been going on and what you can expect from The Closet, followed by an account of my time in Portugal, in which I rant about the Environment there and you get extremely jealous of me because Portugal is so much awesome and everything the Spanish, French and Italians can do, we can do, better.

So anyway, my boyfriend is graduating tomorrow, which, unfortunately for me, means he is going back to the US a week from now. Which unfortunately for me, also means that I’m going to be left alone in this @#$@#@$%# country until I finish my !@!#@$%^&* thesis and can get the f#c% outta here. (Fortunately for you, this probably means my posting will become more regular just because I’ll be bored out of my mind). This also means that I can no longer stay in my apartment both for financial and mental sanity reasons. Hence, this week will be quite hectic as we have to move all our stuff to my new room, and BF gets ready to leave the country. I found a room in a hippie-minded student community and will write more about it in due time.

In the meantime, I don’t know if I have mentioned this, but our beloved ClosetCat was only borrowed, as we were taking care of him while his owner was away. So shortly before we went to Portugal, ClosetCat’s true owner returned from exile and we had no choice but to hand over our sweet little kitten to his owner. We miss him already. *sigh*

In other news, I am making contacts with a local environmental activism group, and if all goes well, will work with them on a project for my internship. You will also hear more about this as things develop. Tomorrow, I am taking a break from packing and cleaning to go to a screening of the documentary “Waste=Food” they are organizing.

So I know you must be hanging on the edges of your seats waiting for the follow-up post to my last post, but I’m afraid you will have to hang in there a little longer. Things are going to be a little crazy here for a while, but I will get on it as soon as I can. In the meantime, feel free to browse the archives, or subscribe to the Closet Environmentalist (which you can even get by email now).

But look, I’ve already extended myself more than I intended to, and I didn’t even get to the juicy part of my story: Portugal. So I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna get on writing it today and you can count on it first thing tomorrow. Gotta stretch this out, you know, Kill Bill style 😉

Photo by Leo Reynolds.

September 25, 2007 at 10:11 pm 5 comments

Trains Rule and Planes Drool

Night Train

Flying sucks. Big time. Not convinced? Check out my awesome new post at Celsias for 10 great reasons why you should take the train. And the environment is not one of them, haha. Go on, you won’t be sorry. Even though sometimes (but not always) it might be more expensive, it is totally worth it, especially for shorter trips.

When you consider your options don’t forget to factor in the time it gets you to get to the airport, that you have to be there 1 or 2 hours early, that you will wait 1 hour for luggage and that you will need another hour to get to where you are going from the other airport. And transport to and from the airport, whether it is a taxi or a shuttle will sometimes cost more than the ticket itself.

So think about it. Is it really worth the global warming you would be causing? But that’s enough spoilers…. Go and read my post 😀

Photo borrowed from Ned Lyttelton on Flickr.

July 31, 2007 at 1:21 pm 1 comment

Ceci n’est pas un Post.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Haha… just kidding. Yes it is. I have just been away for such a long time I reached the point of not knowing how to start a post… Sad.

So I tried to put the blog on hold while I focus more on finishing my thesis, but this seems to work even worse than before. It seems that the more time I don’t write the worse my writer’s block gets. So I guess I am back to blogging, and will try to keep up with more regular posting from now on. Doesn’t it always seem like the more we get done, the more we are able to do? Although, the opposite is usually more noticeable. Whenever I don’t do work, I am not able to do anything else because I feel like I should be doing work. I don’t do work, but I also don’t do other things I have to do, and I especially don’t do things I like doing. But now I am trying to reverse this tendency. Get back on the horse I guess.

Anyway, let’s move on to what I actually wanted to talk about today. I went to Germany last weekend. And yes, the sad part is that I have been meaning to talk about this all week, and only now was I able to overcome the Block.

I have mentioned before that I have a really had time keeping up with my best green intentions when I am out of my element. And so it was once again. I was visiting family for a whole weekend and I my biggest achievement was refusing the bottled water everyone was insistingly offering me. And indeed, I won that battle but lost the war. These Germans really do put up a fight, I didn’t even stand a chance. It wasn’t just the fact that I had meat shoved down my throat 3 times a day. It was more than that. It was experiencing a lifestyle that seems so distant now, and so capitally opposed to everything I stand for. It is hard to face the facts. How can something that means so much to me be so insignificant to everyone else?

But the worst indignity was still to come. Never mind the meat, the overpackaging, the bottled beverages, the fake food, the obliviousness to the our food values. The most frustrating part of the weekend was on the train ride back. That was the last drop. After that I was fuming so much I thought my head was going to explode. But why don’t I tell you about it and you will see what I mean.

There was a restaurant wagon on the train. I brought my own lunch wrapped in my nifty little wrap’n’mat. I had my handy little travel mug. So I thought, ‘why don’t I go over to the restaurant car and fetch myself some cappuccino’. Surely they would have a proper coffee machine, capable of pouring out cappuccinos into peoples mugs! And that’s because the Dutch had me spoiled. Their standard coffee machines are able to produce a half-decent cappuccino. And I was innocent enough to believe that the Germans would live up to their neighbors standards. But no. That’s not how it went.

When I did get to the train bar, I asked for my cappuccino, presented my mug and was very clear to demand that my cappuccino be served in my mug. But before I could realize what was happening and scream “Nein! Nein!”, the guy was opening a little plastic sachet and pouring some powder into a paper cup. At this point, I again indicated to the guy that I wanted my cappuccino in my cup and not a disposable one, with still some hope left that the sachet and the paper cup were destined for someone else. The guy only seemed to ignore me. And then what? And this is the part that left me perplex. I told the guy again that I wanted the cappuccino in MY cup. And to my horror, the guy nodded and then proceeded to fill the paper cup containing the sachet of gross cappuccino powder with boiling water and then pouring it into my cup!!! I was mortified!

It was then I realized that the guy thought it was his duty to measure my cappuccino with the standard paper cup to be absolutely sure that I was going to get the EXACT amount of cappuccino powder and hot water that I am allowed, and not a sip more. But the most revolting part to me is that the guy was only measuring hot water. The powder was already precisely measured because it came out of a sachet. So tell me. How &@#$% square do you have to be to measure HOT WATER???

And now I am going to end this post abruptly because I am so pissed off at Germans that I fear I might say something less politically correct about them. The End.

July 13, 2007 at 12:49 pm 9 comments

This is getting really belgium

 The pissing bastards

(Don’t know if you caught the obscure Get Fuzzy reference)

So I spent the last couple of days in Belgium, having a little interviewing marathon for my thesis. 4 guys in 2 days (3 of them on the same day!). It was a very educational experience, I learned a number of the new things, including about myself.

For one, I learned that I really need to be in my own environment to be eco-conscious. As soon as normality is taken away from me,  my ‘convictions’ fly out the window faster than you can say ‘global warming’. I behaved very poorly these 2 days, as much as it pains me to admit it. I was doing it all. Using the tiny little hotel toiletries… Eating mediocre non-organic meat, and worse, unsustainable tuna and salmon sushi…. Accepting coffee in plastic cups at my meetings… I even bought a glass of juice in a pretty little plastic cup, a paper packaged brownie and didn’t bitch about it. I found that it’s really hard to fight the disposable establishment when I’m out of my element like this…

At least I came to my senses at lunch and consciously didn’t eat at this one place  (even though it looked really good) because to say that place was over-packaged would be an understatement. Even their soup was in disposable paper cups… Not to mention the *gasp* Styrofoam coffee cups. So I went to a more traditional place instead, you know, with real dishes.

A new world was opened to me, now that I now what good towels feel like… And now I have to go back to my crappy ones *sigh* Nonetheless, even though from now on I will probably be coveting towels like those every time I pass a linen store, I have made a resolution (yeah, that’s right, I can make resolutions too you know). I decided not to buy anymore ‘things for the house”. I tend to exorcise my need to consume by buying candle-holders and special cheese-slicers and stuff like that. But now I am trying to slip into ‘moving out’ mode, which means stopping accumulating things and starting to purge all the useless crap I’ve been buying.

I found out that Belgiums are weird. They greet each other with kisses… Now, that would not be strange to me at all, because all of us Mediterraneans do that. The particular thing about waffle eaters is that unlike us meds, guys kiss guys on the cheek… That’s just so odd!!! At first I even thought it was a gay thing, but then I saw regular scrubs doing it, so it must be a cultural thing…
And trust me, they were straight! (I know because I have been accused of having an overactive gaydar, never the other way around).

I realize now how lucky I am to have dutch tap water. I had to refill my bottle in Belgium and man, it tastes horrible! I am starting to doubt if I will be strong enough to keep off the bottle if I have to live in a place with yucky water like that! I was dehydrating all the way back on the train just because of the taste of it…

My rusty french is better than I thought… at least the 357 people I asked for directions seemed to understand me. And I always found what I was looking for, so yay for me. The absurd thing is that at times I had to slip in dutch words into the mix, and my dutch is so much worse than my french!

Anyway, I really like Belgium. It has a sort of chaotic charm to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to do any of the touristy stuff this time, because Brussels is really beautiful. I didn’t even buy chocolate, can you imagine? Hard as it is to believe, I actually think that Belgium is the European country that is more similar to my familiar old Portugal, at least out of northern Europe. I think even more than France. (I know I’m just talking out of my @$$ cause I didn’t go to ALL of the countries in Europe… yet. But still… the point remains.)

Its amazing how you can clearly see the point where Belgium ends and Holland begins. On the Belgium side you actually have hills, and trees growing randomly in a seemingly natural manner. On the dutch side, everything is flat  flat flat flat. All the trees are planted precisely 5m away from each other. All the farms are exactly rectangular, forming a perfectly geometric pattern, like a masterfully crafted quilt. Seriously, the dutch are so anal… But I guess the Belgiums would have all drowned a long time ago if they had to claim half their country from the North Sea.

And now you ask ‘Wow! How did you manage to insult so many people in such a short post?’ Well… I guess it takes a special kind of talent :p

Army of pissing boys by Mr Jaded on Flickr.

——————————

Edit: I am having some trouble making the Get Fuzzy link work, because it is on an archive of Cafepress. If that link is not working, and you are dying to know what the ‘fuzzy’ reference is, go here, choose ‘strip designs’ and ‘bucky’s unique vocabulary’.

May 25, 2007 at 12:53 pm 9 comments

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