Monthly Archives: May 2009

Win one of FIVE copies of “Lost on Planet China” by J. Maarten Troost

Posted by on May 31, 2009

This week I have a great prize.

J. Maarten Troost is one of the best travel writers working today. He has written such popular books as The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific and Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.

I’ll be giving away FIVE copies of his latest book Lost on Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation. describes his new book as follows:

Maarten Troost is a laowai (foreigner) in the Middle Kingdom, ill-equipped with a sliver of Mandarin, questing to discover the “essential Chineseness” of an ancient and often mystifying land. What he finds is a country with its feet suctioned in the clay of traditional culture and a head straining into the polluted stratosphere of unencumbered capitalism, where cyclopean portraits of Chairman Mao (largely perceived as mostly good, except for that nasty bit toward the end) spoon comfortably with Hong Kong’s embrace of rat-race modernity. From Beijing and its blitzes of flying phlegm–and girls who lend new meaning to “Chinese take-out”–to the legendary valley of Shangri-La (as officially designated by the Party), Troost learns that his very survival may hinge on his underdeveloped haggling skills and a willingness to deploy Rollerball-grade elbows over a seat on a train. Featuring visits to Mao’s George Hamiltonian corpse and a rural market offering Siberian Tiger paw, cobra hearts, and scorpion kebabs (in the food section), Lost on Planet China is a funny and engrossing trip across a nation that increasingly demands the world’s attention.

All you have to do to win is to leave a comment telling me your favorite thing about China: food, music, movies, language, etc.

Comments will be left open for about a week and five entries will be selected via

The Paradox of Travel Blogging

Posted by on May 31, 2009

You may have noticed a significant amount of inactivity from myself on Twitter and on the website during the last week. Since I left Florence I’ve been extremely occupied taking photos, running around seeing things, experiencing Italy and generally doing things that travelers do.

The problems with a travel blog is if you are traveling you aren’t blogging and if you are blogging you aren’t traveling. In fact since I’ve been running this site I’ve noticed something peculiar: the days I’m actually out doing stuff are the days which I get the least amount of traffic. The days I’m sitting at my laptop are the days I get the most traffic. In other words, traveling is an impediment to travel blogging. I would like to hereby name this phenomenon “Gary’s Paradox”.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. Some places just don’t lend themselves to easy internet access or warrant spending time at the computer. When I drove from Darwin to Perth in Australia, my updates on the site were very sparse because there were few places to update from in Western Australia. Likewise, early in my trip while in the Pacific my updates were only about once a week. When your choices are swimming or blogging, it is a pretty easy decision.

Suffice it to say today I’m Turin, Italy sitting in front of my computer and not really doing anything, hence the blog post.


The contest for the year subscription to National Geographic and Energizer Batteries is over. The winners of the subscription are Erik and Polara. The winners of the Energizer Batteries are Jen, Katie, and Doran.

A very photo intensive interview with me has been published on Wandering Educators. I was also interviewed for an article on traveling to dangerous places on

Finally, I did a lengthy interview with Craig Martin at the Indie Travel Podcast. It is about a 30 minute interview where we talk about my travels in the Pacific, guidebooks, long term travel and my future plans. Craig and his wife Linda have been producing their podcast for about as long as I’ve been running my blog. What I like about them is that, like me, they are doing all of this on the road having recorded podcasts all over Europe, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

I highly recommend subscribing to their podcast on iTunes. Please also take a minute to give their podcast a review on iTunes. The more/better reviews they get on iTunes, the higher they appear in iTunes rankings, the more people can discover their podcast.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #63: Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

Posted by on May 30, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #63: Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

UNESCO World Heritage Site #63: Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

From the World Heritage inscription:

As a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem has always been of great symbolic importance. Among its 220 historic monuments, the Dome of the Rock stands out: built in the 7th century, it is decorated with beautiful geometric and floral motifs. It is recognized by all three religions as the site of Abraham’s sacrifice. The Wailing Wall delimits the quarters of the different religious communities, while the Resurrection rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses Christ’s tomb.

The old city of Jerusalem is such a small place, yet on a square meter basis contains more history than perhaps any other city in the world. When you walk down the streets you can get lost and still run across things which have some historical or religious significance.

This photo was taken from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley. I thought the barbed wire over the city conveyed the conflict and struggle over the city, which has changed control over 40 times in its history.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #62: Masada

Posted by on May 29, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #62: Masada

UNESCO World Heritage Site #62: Masada

From the World Heritage inscription:

Masada is a rugged natural fortress, of majestic beauty, in the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. It is a symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel, its violent destruction and the last stand of Jewish patriots in the face of the Roman army, in 73 A.D. It was built as a palace complex, in the classic style of the early Roman Empire, by Herod the Great, King of Judaea, (reigned 37 – 4 B.C.). The camps, fortifications and attack ramp that encircle the monument constitute the most complete Roman siege works surviving to the present day.

Masada is in the middle of nowhere, but it was really in the middle of nowhere thousands of years ago. The dry conditions and the remoteness of the location has preserved some elements of the area extremely well. From the top of the mountain you can clearly see the wall (berm) the Romans created to encircle the mountain, the areas set up for their camp, as well as the ramp they built up the mountain.

It is a popular vacation spot for Israelis, especially for boys having their Bar Mitzvah. There is a hostel at the base of the mountain which mostly caters to large tour groups and an excellent museum with interpretive center.

The Tourist of Venice

Posted by on May 25, 2009

After my tiny two day adventure in the tiny country of San Marino, I arrived in Venice where I have been for the last day. Venice is an amazing city. The moment you leave the door of the train station you are hit with the Grand Canal and every sterotype of the city you’ve ever heard. The city is a giant maze. I’ve taken several walks around since I’ve arrived and am still pretty clueless as to where I am. The city also really stinks at low tide due to the alage which is growing on the surface of everything.

Vencie today seems 100% devoted to tourism, yet unlike some other places I have visited, the mass of tourists doesn’t seem to distract from the city as much. You can walk around and be pretty oblivious of everyone around you. Take away the gelato stands and the tourist traps, and the city looks like it would have several hundred years ago. Being a photographer in Venice is like being a kid in a candy store.

I will be here another two or three days before I head off for a brief stop in Milan before going to France. I might take a day trip to Padua from Venice because it is so close by train. I’ve heard good things about the tour of the University (the 2nd oldest in Italy).

My internet access is limited here. The internet connection at my hotel isn’t working so I have to rely on internet cafes.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #61: Petra

Posted by on May 19, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #61: Petra

UNESCO World Heritage Site #61: Petra

From the World Heritage inscription:

Inhabited since prehistoric times, this Nabataean caravan-city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. It is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture.

Petra was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. I can’t help but think that part of the reason it was picked was because it was a filming location for one of the Indiana Jones movies. I say that because there is usually only one photo of Petra which people every see, and that is the Treasury Building. While the Treasury Building is the most well preserved of the carved structures in Petra, there is a lot more to the location. You can spend a full day exploring Petra and be very tired at the end. Not only is it big, there is a lot of vertical distance to climb.