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October 2006

Halloween in Europe

Tivoli Gardens Halloween Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark
Originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

This was taken in Copenhagen, Denmark at Tivoli Gardens. It's a nearly 200-year-old amusement park located smack in the heart of the city featuring roller coasters and other rides, restaurants, bars, carnival games, live music, etc. The entire park was decked out for Halloween including thousands of pumpkins and pumpkin patches spread around the park!

Europe: 41% tackled

create your personalized map of europe or check out our Barcelona travel guide

According to this fun little utility, Mr. Crab has now visited 41% of Europe. Although in reality, it's probably more like 61% because the site counts small city-states like the Vatican and Monaco as equals to "real" countries like Russia. Most of the states remaining on my list are in Eastern Europe.  If you add the countries both Crabs have visited, it goes up to 50% or so because Mrs Crab has also been to Luxembourg, Iceland and even a country which no longer exists:  Yugoslavia.

I've also updated our world map, which suggests that Mr. Crab has visited 44 countries, or barely 19% of Planet Earth. It's a big world. Get out there!

MacBook Blues & Boos

My brand-spanking new MacBook 2.0 laptop is in the shop. I'm suffering serious computer and internet withdrawl, not to mention a bit of anger and resentment at Apple - Macintosh for pushing what they claim is a superior product than IBM.  I've had nothing but problems with my MacBook since I bought it in mid-August.  The biggest problem is also the most common among Macbook users -- RSD, or Random-Shutdown Syndrome. For no apparant reason, my MacBook shuts down, sometimes 6 or 7 times a day. There is no rhyme or reason as to why it happens. Sometimes it occurs when I'm using Microsoft Word, or when im surfing the net, or watching a DVD. No particular software or task is setting off the shutdown. 

My other problem is the cheap-ass plastic that was used to make the keyboard. After less than 2 months of use, the keyboard and palm rest area is discolored, turning some keys black and other parts of the body are turning urine-yellow. Quite disheartening.

About two weeks ago, I spent over an hour on the phone with AppleCare customer support. They had me run various tests and eventually diagnosed a hardware problem. My laptop is now sitting in a shop near our flat, MR Systems, whose "customer service reps" are now refusing to return my calls about the status of my machine, which they have now had for 10 days.   Sometimes I hate computers.  This is my Halloween nightmare.

Speaking of Halloween, tomorrow is my favorite holiday ever. Sadly, it's barely celebrated in Britain.  Oh sure, you can buy costumes at Woolworth's, and even pumpkins (dubbed "scary veg") at Sainsbury's grocery store chain. But that's about it. Trick-or-treating is rare. Mostly, adults dress up and go to pubs for costume parties; or a few kids might put on their costumes (Brits call it "fancy dress") for a local party at a school or park. But nothing about Halloween in the UK is "scary". Most of the costumes involve sexy witches and devil girls or handsome vampire dudes and smiling clowns. I miss Halloween...

Sleepless in Londontown

After hundreds of miles traveling on trains, trams, ferry boats and subways, the Two Crabs have returned home to "Londontown."  From Amsterdam, we took a 90 minute train down to the Hook of Holland, then boarded our boat for the 4-hour crossing of the North Sea to Harwich, England, followed by another 90 minute train ride to downtown London. It's been about 12 hours and we still feel like we're bobbing from side-to-side from the train/boat movement. I have no balance!

Home sweet home. Our flat was still there so things were looking up. Just glad to have a shower and clean clothes. But then about 11pm it started...CA-CHUNK. CA-CHUNK. CA-CHUNK. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.  "Put your hands up in the air and yell WAA-OOO" BOOM BOOM BOOM.

You see, our new flat is directly next door to a nightclub. This is NOT something that was disclosed to us by our letting agent (They are called Copping Joyce. Don't use them. THEY SUCK. I call them "Conning Joy").  The restaurant next door was called Fez, it used to be a Moroccan restaurant that started a dodgy dance club in their basement as an after-thought. Even though we are located two floors above and over from the club, the noise seeps up through the walls of our 105-year-old building.  When we first moved there in August, we called the Islington "Noise Police," who came over and took noise level measurements. 

For a while things got quieter, and a new owner has taken over.  We've luckily had good relationships with the new owner but we notice the club has been slowly turning up the volume night-by-night, perhaps testing our limits. Last night was the last straw. Apparently during our week away, they cranked the dial as far as it would go because you could literally feel the bass of the music in your chest and on the walls and floorboards.  Mr. Crab went down at 1am and kindly asked the owner to turn it down, which he did. But later it got loud again. At four-o-frackin in the morning, Mrs. Crab went down and practically dragged the club owner upstairs so he could hear the noise from our bedroom. As he stood in our hallway, he had a look on disgust his face as if to say, "What? I don't hear anything" (surely half-deaf from years of working in nightclubs) and complained that he had already turned the music down three times in three hours.

I'm sure he's now beginning to think that we are the stereotypical  "arrogant pushy Americans." Frankly, I don't give a damn.  He has repeatedly promised to soundproof the walls but now he says that won't happen until January at the earliest.

We don't want to move because we love the flat itself. But there is also very little we can legally do.  In this country, landlords have all the power and renters have practically zero rights.  In the meantime, we'll keep dealing with the landlord directly and, if need be, the noise police. Until then, we are...


Greetings from Amsterdam!

Hello friends and family. After many miles on many trains, we've finally arrived in AMSTERDAM, our final stop on Continental Europe before returning to London via ferry tomorrow.   

To recap our trip thus far:  We've hit five countries in six days: Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany and The Netherlands (Holland).

From Berlin, we checked out of our hostel and took an hour train ride to FRANKFURT ODER, a tiny border town with not much to it. A 15 minute walk away from the train station brings you to a bridge, where you get checked by German and Polish customs agents, who fill your passport with various stamps for the privelege of walking into the Polish town of SLUBICE: the land of cheap aplenty!  Cigarettes for 13 euros a carton, if you're into that stuff.  We paid $5 for lunch for two including a hotdog, hamburger, and two pints of Polish beer!  Sadly there is not much else worth seeing, so we walked quickly back to train station and bought walk-up train tickets to HANNOVER.  We originally were going to continue to a village called Glosgar but Mr. Crab has been feeling quite ill on this trip (fever, sore throat, sweats, you get the picture).  But he's sticking to his motto: SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON.

In Hannover, we showed up and discovered there was a convention in town: an international sheet metal expo!  Every hotel in town was booked solid. We found a room that was about 20 minutes by tram south of town for only 50 euros a night, a cute little room above a restaurant with a shower and loo at the end of the hall. THe rest of the hotelw as quite ritzy and we felt seriously under-dressed to walk down throught the restaurant where men and women in business suits mingled.  Had dinner and drinks at yet another beerhouse: The Bavarium, a beerhall styled after an old Bavarian brew house. 

On Thursday morning we took a quick hour train ride south to a cute village called GLOSLAR, our original intended destination we had read about in several tour guides. The town bills itself as one of the most beautiful cities in Germany, and was it ever. As Mrs. Crab described, it's how you imagine that all German villages should look:  old cobblestone roads, timber houses with exposed wood beams, a giant church in the middle of a huge square filled with cafes, a partially walled city with remains of watchtowers and town gates and a babbling brook running through town. Mr. Crab feeling slightly better, we arrived just after noon and walked directly to a 500-year-old gasthaus (guesthouse) that we had read about in our Rough Guide Germany travelbook (mediocre travel guide, FYI. Rough indeed). "Habben zie Zimmer Frei?" Do you have a room free? YES!  We splurged: 77 euros a night, our most expensive stay so far but we have a huge room covered floor to ceiling in wood and a huge bathroom in a beautiful B&B style house.  The "frau of the haus" (woman of the house) was so trusting; she never asked for ID, money or anything. We dumped our stuff and just spent the afternoon just wandering from biergarten to brewhouse. Paid in the morning. WOuldn't it be nice if all the world could be this trusting and wonderful, as Mrs. Crab sais.

This morning we woke at 7am to grab an early traditional German breakfast, which, by the way, is almost always part of the hotel price. The usual fare consists of breads, rolls, cold cut meats and cheeses, jams and jellies, salad, coffee, juices, cereal and a hard boiled egg.  Caught the 9am train back to Hannover, and then the 4-hour train journey to Amsterdam aboard the EuroCity train line, semi-fast trains that connect two major European cities.  We met a chap from Costa Rica on board in the bar car; small world eh? 

Now we're chilling in an Internet cafe in Amsterdam. Next blog will be from home in Londontown.  Ciao!

The Two Crabs

Greetings from Berlin!

Dammit to hell, I just finished typing a long report about our trip to date, and stupid TypePad erased my entry. So here is the abridged version:

The Two Crabs are on a low-budget packpacking trip across northern Europe. So far we have hit Denmark, Sweden and Germany.


First stop - Copenhagen, Denmark. Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park smack in the middle of the city, was the highlight, where we celebrated a REAL AMERICAN-STYLE HALLOWEEN!  Thousands of pumpkins, costumes, etc. It was the first place in Europe where we have seen Halloween celebrated tot he extent it is in the USA. Other than that, the citz was overrated.

Much nicer was Malmo Sweden, a beautiful cobblestoned seaside town on the Baltic Sea. 

Now weƤre in Berlin, staying at a reallz nice hostel, with our own bathroom, private room, breakfast all for 40 euros a night. much nicer than some 3 star hotels where we have paid $100 for a room!

More photos and reports TK.

Greetings from Berlin!

We are blogging to you live from the A&O Hostel in Berlin, Germany, where the Two Crabs are in the middle of their low-budget packpacking tour of northern Europe. So far we have hit Copenhagen, Denmark; Malmo, Sweden and now Berlin!  In Copenhagen we attended a REAL AMERICAN-STYLE HALLOWEEN FESTIVAL in Tivoli Gardens, a beautiful amusement park smack in the heart of the city. It was the first place in Europe where we have seen Halloween celebrated to the extent it is in the USA. The park had been transformed into an elaborate Halloween theme with thousands of pumpkin patches, staff dressed in witch costumes, and even a pumpkin-head live band! 

As for Copenhagen itself, apart from the main canal and Tivoli Gardens, we found the city overrated. A much nicer city turned out to be Malmo, a beautiful quain seaside town on the Baltic Sea, with cobblestone roads, a huge town square with old buildings and a park that ran alongside a sandy beach.  On Mondaz we made our way to Berlin via a train from Copenhagen to Hamburg (part of which was a ferry ride in which the train itself actually boarded the boat on a special track for the 45 minute journey across the Baltic Sea, and then returned to the rail when it reached Germany!) followed by a high speed 90 minute journey to Berlin via the German ICE train, the nicest train we have ever seen in Europe.

Other than our first night in Copenhagen, we have not made any reservations along the way, playing it all by ear. When we got to Berlin, we headed straight for the tourist office and we learned it was still high season. Luckily they found us a room at this hostel, that is actually as nice as a standard 3 star hotel. We have a private room with shower, toilet, sink and TV, breakfast included, all for 40 euros a night. Sweet!  For our first meal in Germany, we dined on beef goulash, potato dumplings, apple struddle with ice cream and two pitchers of dark beer at the Georg Braus Brauhaus, a traditional german beerhall on the banks of the river.  Hard to believe that just 16 years ago, our hotel and main sights in Berlin were once behind the iron curtain on the East side of the Berlin Wall.

Pictures and more reports TK.

London calling

The Two Crabs have been so busy of late that we have not had the time to seriously blog. So here's my random thoughts of what's on:

The Crunchy Nut Crab Stays in the Picture:
About three weeks ago, we're sitting home watching some stupid British TV show when a stranger buzzes our intercom. He claims to be a film & TV location scout and is offering us 500 pounds (about $900 USD) to use our flat for four hours to film a television commercial. The crabs are skeptical but we let him in, and he proceeds to show us his ID and several storyboards (drawings) of scenes his company wants to film. The product: Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. One scene involves an overhead shot of a businessman walking up a busy London street as he rushes home for his bowl of cereal (weird, I know).  Anyway, the guy was thrilled because our flat overlooks the posh Upper Streetl, and there is a small park just across the street to provide some greenery. He takes several photos and our contact details. We're thrilled at the prospect of the extra cash. But sadly at the end of the day, they decided not to use our flat. But the good news is we're now in a database of London film locations, so who knows!

Mr. Crab is happy to announce he's picked up a lucrative new client this week...a major U.S. magazine. So his days of sitting home doing nothing but eating bon-bons and watching "Battlestar Galactica" are now over.

Nemo, the runaway crab
Two weekends ago, we took advantage of England's Indian Summer to take a daytrip to Eastbourne, a beautiful beach resort town about 90 minutes southeast of London by train. We hiked about 8 miles along the chalk cliffs, down to the beach and collected dozens of shells. The next day I open my backpack to clean the shells and I see somethign moving. A tiny fiddler crab with one claw was inside one of the shells. Naturally, the Two Crabs are lovers of all crabs. Mrs. Crab named our stowaway "Nemo". He's currently living in a tupperware bin but he's getting too big for his aquarium. We plan to release him today on London's "beach," a spit of sand on the Thames River where crabs congregate.  Crabs rule!

Tube Tunes
Time Out magazine has named the 50 top songs ever written about London. It's amazing that London Town has inspired that many song lyrics, making it second only to New York City in town tunes.  The #1 song? "Streets of London" by Ralph McTell.  I've never heard of most of the songs on the list.  My personal favorite, which appeared at #18 on the list, is Ella Fitzgerald's version of "A Foggy Day in London Town.  Somehow this magazine completely daftly ignored some of my favorites. "London Calling" by The Clash and "Werewolf of London" by Warren Zevon are nowhere to be found. At least Lily Allen's "LDN" made the list at #35 but how can you ignore The Clash!?!? Idiots!

Time Out's Top 10 songs of London:

1. Streets of London - Ralph McTell
2. Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks.
3. God Save the Queen - The Sex Pistols
4. Sheila - Jamie T
5. Peter the Painter - Ian Dury
6. I Was There (At the Coronation) - Young Tiger
7. Has it Come to This? - The Streets
8. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight - The Jam
9. Kidz - Plan B
10. Itchycoo Park - The Small Faces

First VideoBlog post!

After many months of being illiterate in the ways of YouTube and digital video processing, I've finally figured out how to convert a home video from AVI to MPEG-4 format, upload it to YouTube and post it on a blog.  Our first video appears below. We shot it in Petra, Jordan in June. Take a look!

Sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why, would I wanna be anywhere else?

Lily Allen is a young singer/songwriter from Islington, London. At first listen, she may sound silly and poppy, but her lyrics do really capture London life!  Her first hit UK single was "Smile," filmed at Alpino's, our local cafe (pronounced "caff") on Chapel Market in Angel Islington.  Her new song is "LDN" (short for London). Absolutely hilarious and cute. Take a listen!