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A Vegas Miracle - how I won $129,000 in my 3rd tournament ever

This is how I won $129,000 in my 3rd ever poker tournament. Note: don't try this, it probably won't turn out well for you.
I spent about 6 months grinding up a $5,000 bankroll playing home/casino games ranging from .5/1 to 1/3. The week that I hit that $5,000 mark, Matt, one of my best friends from college informed me that his job had placed him in Las Vegas for the next month and that I could crash with him for a few nights if I wanted to come on out west. I had frequent flyer miles for the flight and some Mlife/Fremont hotel comps for the rest of the trip. My grand total for flight and lodging for 10 days came to $200.
Now, I’m not going to bore you guys with low-level cash hand histories. The next 10 days were filled with me playing lowstakes poker for 10-12 hours a day. It’s as fun as it sounds – it’s not. I was having a good time in Vegas otherwise – but towards the end of the trip I had a realization: 1/2’s the same everywhere. I didn’t have to fly out to the desert to raise to $7 preflop.
After 10 days, my grand total from poker (and a fair amount of dumb degenerate shit on Fremont) was -$186. That wasn’t what I came out to do — I knew that I was a better player than my recent results had indicated. The morning of my return flight, I decided I was going to play tournaments until I either busted my $5,000 bankroll or hit something worthwhile.
I impulsively decided to not get on my plane at 11:30am. Checkout time from Luxor was at 11:00 – and I didn’t know where I was going yet. I had 30 minutes to pack up my stuff and figure out where I was going before they’d charge me a fee. I sorted TripAdvisor by cheapest first – I’ve stayed in crappy hostels/motels before and overall am a very low maintenance person. I figured that by staying somewhere for $20 a night, I’d be able to maximize the amount of shots I could take before flying back home. I accepted that there was a real chance I’d go back broke – but I didn’t really care. If I didn’t take my shot now, then when?
I booked the cheapest bed in Vegas - a 6-person shared hostel just past the Stratosphere. Let's just say you get what you pay for — it was not a happy place. A fair amount of the people in there were bordering on homelessness and there was barbed wire surrounding their outdoor gym. In addition to this, I had the constant stress of knowing that all that separated my bankroll from the rest of my roommates was a tiny lock. I took the Deuce to the strip, lived off food comps, and turned down invites from my friends to hang out. I was in town to play poker, nothing else.
Disclaimer: I had never played tournaments prior to heading out to Vegas. My only knowledge of hand ranges was from watching televised events. I downloaded a free Nash chart app on my phone while on the Deuce to the strip and studied it for 5 minutes – whatever, I get the jist of it. Let’s play some cards.
The first day of doing this I played the $140 daily at the Aria. Top 13 spots paid -- I finished in 15th. It was depressing to say the least — I felt as if I was at rock bottom. Before the first night of sleeping at the hostel I called the airline to see if I could get on the flight that I had deliberately missed the day prior. I couldn't.
I made it my goal to at least cash something so that I could get a decent hotel room.
I couldn’t have slept more than 2-3 hours the first night there. One of my roommates was loudly vomiting all night, the sheets itched, and I was going through an existential crisis... like dude, you’ve got a finance degree and you’re really doing this shit?
While on the bus to the strip, I opened Poker Atlas and saw that there was a $200 satellite to win a seat into the $1,600 Venetian main event. I decided that I was going to go take a shot at that.
I was at risk twice in the satellite but after studying the GTO method on how to win coinflips, I persevered and won a seat to the main.
The first day was surreal – once again, I was running on minimal sleep due to my housing arrangements, but I remember the following hands from day 1:
  1. Button opens to 2.2x, I’m in the BB with Q9cc. SB folds, we go HU to a flop of 832c. He c-bets, I call. Turn 4x, x/x. River Ax. I check, he bets, I x/r to like 3x his bet, he insta folds. I take it down and show air.
  2. UTG+1 opens, MP calls, I flat on the button with K10ss. 3 ways to a flop of Qs43xx. UTG+1 bets 40% pot, MP calls, I call. Turn is the Js. UTG+1 bets 60% pot, MP calls, I flat. River comes the 8s. UTG+1 snap bets 80%. MP flats, I flat. I announce king high flush, they both muck.
  3. Folds to the SB, he limps, I look down at Q10o, and check. Flop comes KQ6r. He leads 35%, I call. Turn 10. He bets, I call. River comes a J. He bets, I tank for about 45 seconds then flick in a call, he shows 76o… ship it.
The average stack after day 1 was around 40k, I bagged like 65k. I walked back to the Deuce stop outside of the Venetian and headed on my 30 minute ride back home. I kept thinking to myself, someone’s gotta win this thing, why not me?
I had to get in the money for this tournament to be able to get the fuck out of there. A min cash here was over $3k – that was more than enough for me to get a suite on Fremont for a few nights and party for a bit, then get home with my head held high.
Day 2: I get up at 7am after already being completely awake for the past 4 hours. There’s no way I slept more than 3 hours last night. I hit the Denny’s by the Stratosphere then get on the Deuce.
I get to the Venetian and feel like I’m about to fall asleep. I go to the self-serve coffee/tea dispenser in the middle of the room and make myself an iced coffee. I get to my table, and the cocktail waitress comes around. I ask for another iced coffee and toss her a fiver.
Here are some highlights from the 1st half of day 2:
  1. I open 97ss on the button, BB flats. Flop comes AK3s. BB checks, I bet 35%. He throws out a 5k chip – which I interpret as a x/r to my bet. I groan, make a joke about it being the first hand of the day, and start to muck. The dealer stops my cards midway before hitting the muck, and informs me that he didn’t raise, that he called my flop bet. Everyone laughs, I go silent and wait for him to make change. Turn is the 2s. He thinks for a second and bets 30%. I tank for like 30 seconds, then flat. River is a blank. He thinks for a second, then checks. I bet like 30% pot. He tells me that I’m an angle shooter and mucks. I tell him I’m not an angle shooter and show my 9 high. Everyone laughs, we get on with playing.
  2. CO opens, I 3b 87dd in the SB to 4x, he flats. Flop comes 1032d. I check, he checks. Turn is the 6d. I bet 55% pot, he flats. River comes the Kd. I bet 60%, he tanks, tells me he thinks I backdoored diamonds, then folds. Damn, these players are pretty good.
  3. I open KK UTG to 2.5x, UTG +1 flats. Heads up to a flop of K43r. x/x. Turn 8, I bet 40% pot, he calls. River 3, I bet 80% pot, he tanks, then calls with AK.
I bring my 3 racks of chips to the new table and immediately get some comments – whatever, I’m just on a heater, it happens. At this point, my body was giving out. I was trying my hardest not to fall asleep in between every hand.
Cutoff opens, I’m in the SB, I look down at KK. I put in the 3b, folds back to him. He puts in a healthy 4. We’re the two big stacks at the table – I’d guess he was 50bb effective while I was around 65bb. God damn, am I good enough to fold kings here? No, I’m not. I shove, he snaps, I know that I’ve just fucked up my tournament. He shows the aces. The dealer puts a king in the window, and I hold. I’m for sure the chip leader now.
I lose a few 40/60 and 60/40 flips and chip down a bit. I still have a very healthy stack, probably around 80bb.
The next 3 hands are from the second half of day 2:
  1. Aggro Asian guy on the button. Folds to him, he opens to 2.2x, SB folds, I look down at 43ss and raise to 7.5x, he flats.
Flop comes 894cc. I check, he bets, I call. Turn’s another 9. I check, he bets 75% pot, I call. River’s the 10c. I check, he bets 1.2x pot. I ask the dealer for a count of the bet – meanwhile, villain looks like he’s going to shit himself. I flick in a chip, he throws down KcQx. I laugh a little, show my 43ss, and obnoxiously say ship it.
  1. I open KQo UTG+1, MP 3bets me. I figure that a 4b from UTG+1 could take it down a fair amount of the time, so I decide to go for it. He thinks for a second and flats.
Flop comes AK4r. I check, he checks back. Turn is a 6, goes x/x again. River’s another brick. I put in a 30% value bet. He does a little grimace and tanks for like 20 seconds. It looks like he’s going to fold so I start verbally telling him that his queens are good. The dealer informs me that you’re not allowed to talk about your hand to another player. I inform him that I’m not talking about my hand, I’m talking about villains’ hand. Dealer laughs and lets me continue to antagonize villain. MP starts talking back, asking if I’m really bluffing. I inform him that once he folds, I’ll show the bluff. He ends up calling, I snap show, he pays me then gets up from the table to go for a walk.
  1. We’re playing 6 handed. UTG opens, MP flats, I flat TT on the button. 3 ways to a flop of AT9ccc. UTG bets 50% pot, MP folds, I put in a medium sized raise. He thinks about it and flats.
The turn is the Kd. He pauses for a second then checks. I figured AxKc was his most likely combo. I didn’t think he could fold AxKc to any sizing – I decide to overbet jam 2x pot. He tanks for like 5 min and eventually lets it go. He tells me later he folded AxKc. Nice fold sir.
I finished day two 2nd in chips out of the 64 players remaining. More importantly, I was in the money. My friend Matt offered to give me a ride to the hostel to grab my stuff.
On the way to the hostel I’m telling Matt how trash the place is and he’s kind of like yeah man, whatever, it can’t be that bad. We gather my belongings and head on out. Matt remarked to me that the hostel reminded him of jail mixed with a summer camp.
I open a same night hotel app and see a room at the Four Queens available for $110. The lady at check in was nice enough – however, she informed me that the only room they had available at my price point was a smoking room overlooking the Fremont St. experience. I paid the $20 to upgrade to a non-smoking in the quiet part of the hotel. Vegas man, I swear.
It’s like 2am at this point -- I get to my room, sit on the bed and close my eyes. I open them and it’s 11:00am. Ah fuck man, I gotta get to the Venetian. I hop in the shower, brush my teeth, and freshen up. Even if I don’t have clean clothes, whatever, I’m second in the main, who cares.
Some interesting hands from the first part of Day 3:
  1. I had two inexcusable punts in this tournament. This is the first one: I open 5h5c from LP, BB calls. Flop comes J62hhh. x/x. Turn is a 4x. x, I bet 50% pot, BB jams 15bb. I called – and immediately realized I fucked up, big time. He had 2 big chips in his stack that I didn’t see, making his shove effectively like 25bb. In addition, I didn’t have the 5h, I had the 5d. I really didn’t ask for a count or double check my hole cards. Villain turns over 64o and holds. In my defense, I literally didn’t know what ICM meant at the time. Whoops.
  2. Someone who I recognize from poker TV jams 22bb UTG. I’m in the CO with JJ, I ask him how much it is, he’s talkative and seems genuinely comfortable/down for me to call. I fold – I run into him a few days later at the Aria, he tells me he had AA there. I believe him.
  3. CO opens, button instantly jams 30bb effective. I’m in the SB with TT and 25bb – live reads, we’re flipping. I call for all in my effective stack, CO folds, button has AQ. I hold. He’s not happy I called with tens. Oh well, sorry bro, gg.
  4. MP opens, CO 3 bets to 7bb, button jams 20bb. I look down at 2 black aces in the big blind. I reshove, MP folds, CO calls off his 20bb stack. I’m up against AQ and QQ. I hold.
Even with my atrocious punt earlier in the day, I’m the chip leader again.
We’re down to about 15 left in the field. UTG opens, I 3b AKo on the button, he jams 20bb, I call. He has 99, a king comes on the flop and he’s gone.
It’s day 3 of the main and we’re playing 5 handed with 12 people left. Let’s fucking go.
  1. Button opens to 2.5x, I’m in the BB with A8dd, I flat. Flop comes A104r, I check, he bets, I call. Turn is a 7, x/x. River A, I bet 1.2x pot. He tanks, calls, I show, I’m good.
  2. CO opens to 2.5x, I’m in the BB with 108dd, I flat. Flop comes Kd4x2d, it goes x/x. Turn is a Kx, I check, he bets 60% pot, I flat. River is the 4d. I check, he bets pot. I tank and let it go. He tells me later he checked back a weak king on the flop.
  3. SB completes, I’m in the BB with J9o and I check my option. Flop comes Q108r. The SB donks out into me for 60% pot. I flat. Turn comes a brick and he leads into me for 60% again. I raise to 3.5x his turn bet, he thinks for a while then flats. River is another brick. He bets 80% pot into me. I tank for a while, then shove. He starts laughing and folds QQ face up.
Less than a week ago I was grinding buffet comps at Planet Hollywood. Now I have guys correctly folding top set to me.
I’ve made it to the final table. I pick up a few small pots and the two shortstacks at the table get eliminated in quick succession.
This is without a doubt the most pointless and just plain out stupid punt of my entire life: I open J2dd on the button into a ~18bb SB and a GTO robot with mid 7 figures in career earnings in the BB. Don’t do this, this is quite literally lighting money on fire. SB folds, BB flats. Flop comes Kh8h3d. I cbet, BB calls. Turn is the Kd, goes x/x.
River comes a 7h, he leads into me for half pot. Whatever, I’m going for it – I put in a raise. He thinks for all of 5 seconds then calls me with KQh. Wow, I just punted away $50,000 in ICM. Jesus Christ dude, what the fuck.
For the next orbit or two, I’m clearly pissed at myself. I get up after my button and do a lap around the poker room – I’m good. The monkey tilt is gone, and I’m ready to get back to playing normal ranges.
Anyway, nothing else really happens for a while – I look down at AKo UTG and raise it up. Folds around to the BB, he thinks for a while, then jams for about 20bb. I snap, he has AQo. I hold. I’m now second in chips. We go on a 10-minute break.
When I get back to the table, the prospect of a 5-way chop comes up. We’re all tired – and the pay jumps are very significant. If you couldn’t tell from this story, I’m a degenerate, but in this spot, I’m willing to reduce variance a bit. We run the numbers and come to an agreement – we all agree to take a very slight ICM bump to give 1st place a bit more money than his stack is worth.
I just won $129,000 -- huh? This was my second tournament cash – not too bad considering that it was my third tournament ever. Maybe I should start learning how to play MTT’s now.
I take $124,000 in a check and $5,000 in cash. I’m leaving Vegas in 4 days and don’t plan on coming home with any of the cash.
The winner of the tournament’s a pretty cool guy and he asks if I want to crash in his guest room tonight… like yeah, if that’s a real offer, I’m down. I pick up my toiletry bag from the Venetian concierge and we hit the Uber.
The next morning Matt picks me up at his house – I hit the Chase bank and deposit the $124,000. I take Matt and my other friend, Spencer out to the Sterling Brunch over at Bally’s – the entire time, Spencer just kept repeating “Davis, what the fuck”. I don’t know dude, seriously, what the fuck.
I get a suite at the D downtown that night and (very) long story short I end up hitting $100 on a number at roulette at 5am. It’s time for bed.
Here’s a link to my Hendon Mob, verifying my tournament result. Hopefully I see some of you guys at the WSOP in 2021.
https://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=783521
Davis
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OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…5

Continuing
“Hey, Viv!”, I say, as we’re all being shuttled onto the bus which will take us to our hotel, “Toss me one of those miniatures, if you please. Yeah. Of course, Vodka’ll do. It’s bloody dusty round these parts.”
Viv chuckles and asks if anyone else wants anything. He’s a consummate scrounger and somehow sweet-talked a demure and pulchritudinous female Air China cabin attendant out of her phone number, Email address, and a case of 100 airline liquor miniatures.
That he looks like a marginally graying version of Robert Mitchum in his heyday and speaks fluent Dutch, French, and Italian might explain his success. I mean, a guy with four ex-wives can’t be all wrong, right?
He’s a definite outlier in this crowd. We could be characterized as a batch of aging natural geoscientists who collectively, sans Viv, add up to an approximate eight on the “Looker” scale. Besides the years, the mileage, the climatic, and industrial ravages, it’s a good thing we all have expansive personalities, as most of us are dreadful enough to make a buzzard barf.
But, save for Viv, no one presently here is on the make. Oh, sure; we’ll all sweet talk some fair nubile into a free drink or a double when we really ordered a regular drink, but we’re all married, most terminally, that is, over 35 years and counting. The odd thing is that save and except for Viv, none of us married folk had ever been divorced.
That is strange, considering that the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, and we are often called to be apart from kith and kin for prolonged periods. However, we are always faithful and committed to our marital units and those vows we spoke all those many long decades ago.
But, hey, we’re all seriously male and not anywhere near dead; and there’s no penalty for just looking, right?
Continuing.
We’re all loaded on a pre-war, not certain which war, by the way, bus which stank of fish, kimchee, and diesel fuel. We really don’t care even a tiny, iotic amount. It’s free transport, we’re tired of traveling, and not keen on walking any further than we absolutely have to.
Viv has been passing out boozy little liquor miniatures, and I’ve been handing out cigars since I bought a metric shitload back in Dubai Duty-Free and somehow got them all through customs.
We didn’t light up, as there was neither a driver nor handler present. So, we figured we’d all just wait on the cigars, and concentrate on having a little ground-level “Welcome to Best Korea” party until the powers that be got their collective shit together and provided drivers, herders, and handlers.
We sat there for 15 long minutes. Being the international ambassadors of amity and insobriety, we started making noises like “Hey! Where’s our fucking driver?” and “I am Doctor Academician! Of All State Russian Geological Survey! How dare you make me wait?
Suddenly, a couple of characters in ill-fitting gray suits and fake Rays Bans are outside the bus having a collective meltdown. Somehow, someone fucked up and put us on a ‘regular’ bus and not the ‘VIP’ bus. In other words, we got to see what the locals really got to ride around Pyongyang on instead of our supposed to be impressed by the bus that wasn’t there; but was now just arriving.
A spanking new purple-and-chrome Mercedes long-haul bus shows up. It even has our group name emblazoned above the placard that normally tells where the bus is headed or who it is for: “’국제 석유 지질 과학 연합’ [Gugje Seog-yu Jijil Gwahag Yeonhab] or ‘International Union of Petroleum Geological Sciences’”.
We are brusquely ordered off our present bus and into the opulent, obviously bespoke, bright yellow faux-leather interior Mercedes-Benz Tourismo RH M. It’s so new and so obviously a ploy to get us to think that all things here are so new and opulent, it even smells of that new car, ah, bus, aroma.
“Well, we’ll take care of that soon enough”, I muse, as the bus is equipped with ashtrays and we’re going on the scenic route to our hotel, which is only 25 or so kilometers from the airport. However, it was announced that it’ll take us about 2 hours to get to our hotel since we need to see the city in its best light and get a feeling for the town if we should ever find ourselves lost and alone.
We all know what’s going on. They’re getting our rooms ‘ready’ for our arrival and need some extra time to make sure everything’s all wired in and transmitting properly.
“Guys”, I muse to our new handlers, “I’ve been to the Soviet Union, pre-wall fall. I stayed in places where I was definitely among the first westerners ever to grace their porticos. We’re a busload of natural scientists, of eight different nationalities, covering the economic spectrum from staunch capitalism to sociable socialism to hard-core communism. You even think for a second we’re going to spill any beans about anything you’d find interesting or useful? Think again.”
In fact, it would become a running joke between us all to see what sort of fake bombshells we could drop into the normal conversation what would give the listener’s the greatest case of the jibblies.
But for now, our bags were all loaded into the cargo compartment of this very, very nice, I must admit, mode of conveyance. Our handlers: ‘Yuk’, ‘No’, ‘Man’, and ‘Kong’, are all seated upfront and please with their latest tally of bodies. We have a couple of shady fellow travelers with the knock-off Ray-Bans and shiny gray suits that just appeared out of the woodwork in the back, seated by the loo, watching over all of us, and we’re going on a fucking city tour, whether we like it or not.
We’re all present and accounted for. Let’s keep our camera in our bags for the time being as the drinking and smoking lights had just been lit as the bus fired up its new German-engineered and machined precision diesel engine.
The bus rumbled to life and after a moment or two of checking that all dials, gauges, and indicators were where they were supposed to be; without so much as a cursory glance, we pulled out into traffic.
Except there was none.
Not another bus, pushbike, tap-tap, scooter, car, truck, hover-board, or motorcycle in sight.
Nothing.
Seems we were a big deal. They shut down the main drag so we wouldn’t be encumbered by such proletariat things like traffic jams or people-things cluttering the roadway, clambering for a look at the Western scientific cadre.
So, away we whizzed, sans traffic and into the very belly of the beast, and onward; eventually, towards our hotel.
Our handlers were very kind to point out passing scenes of interest.
“Look, look! There’s the Potong River. Notice all the lovely birds, ‘eh what? See the Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage!”
“See here, look. Here’s the Taedong River. Many forms of fish in the river. Maybe we’ll see some fishermen. If you like, we can stop, and ask them about today’s catch.”
We all declined, as we were certain that the fish the ‘random fisherman’ we’d talk to was flown in fresh from elsewhere earlier in the day.
Besides, we were comfortable. We had our drinks, our cigars, and we were leaving the driving to someone else.
After being driven around the city and seeing all the wonderful monuments, like the faux Arch of Triumph, which looks exactly unlike its namesake Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris.
The Arch of Reunification, a monument to the goal of a reunified Korea, which, by necessity, is unfinished. Then there’s the Tomb of King Tongmyŏng, where people are lining up, just dying’ to get in.
Finally, we all called for our hotel, the Yanggakdo, after yet another mausoleum, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.
Arches or tombs. Such a stunning array of monuments and places of less than moderate interest.
We were interested in Mirae Scientists street (Future Scientists street). It is a street in a newly developed area in Pyongyang to house scientific institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology and its employees. But we were told that it was too late, there was not much there to see, we needed to express written permission to visit, and we’d be going there tomorrow or next week.
We wheel into the parking lot of the Yanggakdo Hotel and are immediately unimpressed by the pseudo-Baroque concrete fiasco that appears to stand, wobbly, before us. It’s a page right out of the Soviet Construction-For-The-Masses Handbook. A cold, gray concrete edifice with multitudes of seemingly little, tiny windows. A perfect metaphor for our travels thus far; look at the expansiveness of Best Korean wonders, through this pinhole.
However, we judged too soon. We were told to go inside and check-in, whilst our luggage would be de-bussed for us and handled by the expertly efficient hotel staff. The lobby was opulent, tastefully laid out in earth tones of facades of veneers of marble, granite, some garnet-mica schist, if my hand lens doesn’t lie, some Prepaleozoic anatectic migmatite, displaying intricate and intense plication, xenoliths, and graphic delineation of minerals by segregation through melting points. There was a gigantic well-appointed and well kept up aquarium, complete with snuffling sharks and nuclear-submarine sized groupers.
Very handsome indeed. Impressions increasing slightly.
Then we see that there’s a bloody casino on the bottom floor of the hotel, several bars interspersed throughout the hotel, and karaoke, of which I’m not terribly fond, but some of my European counterparts almost swooned at the prospect. There are a large pool and weight rooms/gymnasia, saunas and places to relax outside of one’s room, but still under the watchful eye of the thousands of ill-concealed video cameras at every turn.
“Covert surveillance” may be a thing in Best Korea, but it’s a practice still leaves a lot to be desired. The Eastern Siberian Russians back before the wall fell were more covert with their obvious button audio microphones woven into the fabric covering the headboard of your Intourist bed than the Best Koreans here. Their cameras were ‘disguised’ as flower arrangements, overhead lights, and speakers inexplicably placed into things like standing ashtrays, refuse bins, and randomly placed holes in the wall.
The floors were all covered with exquisite what looked to be hand-woven rugs of most vibrant crimson and gold; the usual Communistic colors. Always with some sort of floral pattern or pattern that’s supposed to be reflective of nature, as I was told. Evidently, for workers to remember what nature was as they don’t get out much with 14 to 16 hours workdays here in the Worker’s Paradise.
Enough of the travelogue; we all wander up to the front desk, and each with their own passport in hand, request our reserved rooms. We supposed that we would all have rooms on different floors as the reservations were made, expired, re-made, juggled, rebooked, allowed to expire, re-jiggered, and finally formalized a scant week before we left the UK.
Nope. No such luck. We were all on the 39th floor. The place boasts 47 floors, of which, the top floor is a revolving restaurant. Evidently, food tastes better when you’re rotating.
However, it won’t spin unless you first buy a drink.
We had that thing whirling like a NASA centrifuge after its discovery the second night.
Yeah, all 12 of us are bivouacked on the 39th floor. A floor with approximately 30 rooms.
I guess we could have played “Room Roulette” and see who got which room and who’s luggage. Or we could switch every day or two to drive our handlers nuts. Or, we could just take our assigned rooms, which were conveniently located one empty room apart.
Meaning, no one had adjoining rooms. Why? Fuck if I know. We didn’t spend much time in our rooms, and that time was either sleeping or showering. We’d all meet at the bar, casino, restaurant, karaoke, bowling alley (all three lanes) or actual meeting rooms every once in a while when we thought we should get together and compare notes. It was the most inexplicable situation.
Plus, we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting on the fucking elevators to take us to our room. These elevators, and if you think you’re going to get a batch of aging senior scientists to schlep it up 39 floor’s worth of stairs, think again; are the slowest elevators in the civilized world. And that was the consensus of scientists representing not only Europe and North America, but Russia as well. 15-25 minutes added to each journey, up or down; stopping on every floor, except 5, on the way down..
Jesus Q. Fuck, dudes. If you can’t construct a bleedin’ elevator that works better than those at the Sozvezdie Medveditsy Guest House in Lesosibirsk, Eastern Siberia; then I suggest you seriously rethink your plans for world domination and new world order.
Grako and Erwin once, while waiting for the fucking elevator, figured out that we were earning some US$25 each just to wait for the lift to arrive and take us to our rooms. Every day. Sometimes several times per day.
With that, we all agreed to toss our “waiting time” funds into a kitty and on our last day of captivity here, blow it all in the hotel casino. Whatever became of that would be donated to the Koreans we thought most deserving of our largesse.
Would it be our handlers? How about the Korean Scientists we’d be meeting? The affable and most accommodating concierge? Or that plucky little Korean charwoman who was always on our floor and kept everything spotless, right down to our freshly laundered and pressed field clothes and newly polished field boots; done without our requesting or knowledge?
Only time would tell.
It could be a fortune or it could be bupkiss. Just like our expectations of the Heavenly Kingdom where we were currently sequestered.
As it was, with our official protestations, they kept only photocopies of our passports as we roundly refused and threatened a full-scale karaoke battle right here in the lobby if they didn’t relinquish our passports immediately. I had broken out my nastiest cigar and was primed to offend.
With that, we all had our keys and trooped over to the elevators for our first, of many, inexplicable waits. We made many uncharitable and potentially nasty remarks about the Anti-Western posters that made up some of the wall décor. Once we finally made it to our floor, we all fanned out to find our rooms. Viv found his first and was quite pleased to report to the rest of us that there was a “Welcome” basket in his room.
We all hoped that we would be receiving one a well.
I was in room 3914; which I considered a close call, but later only wondered as there was no 3913. Upon entering, I saw it was 1980s Hotel 6 opulent, but with an excellent over-city view. True it was late, dark, and the city was only somewhat lit up; I was looking forward to the view of the town in full daylight.
The room had a ‘king’ bed; that is if the king in question was Tutankhamen, the stubby, Egyptian boy king. The bed had no mattress pad and no box spring but it was hard enough for my liking. Many of my compatriots didn’t agree and complained bitterly. They eventually received thin mattress pads for all their kvetching.
There was an ancient Japanese color television, which only had 2 English language channels - Al Jazeera and the BBC, which was on a dated news loop. Watching the local channel is amusing though; the ads for ‘personal enhancements’ were hilarious, even without understanding a word of the language.
There were a couple of chairs and a low table, built-in dresser drawers for our clothes, a rusty and probably unusable room safe with corroded batteries, a small table built out of the wall that would serve as my travel office, and would-you-believe, a rotary telephone; how’s that for nostalgia?
There was an old-model radio built into the nightstand next to the bed. I was very surprised to find it not only received AM, FM but shortwave as well. I had brought along a pair of Bose headphones and during some rainy down days, spent many fun-filled, and I mean that sincerely, hours DXing from the comfort of my ‘enormous’ king bed.
Beyond that, the room was very nondescript. Like any other of the millions of rooms in hotels around the world that unlike here, aren’t claiming a 5-star rating. I mean, it was clean, if not a little long in the tooth. But didn’t smell too terrible, even after I took care of that with my Camacho offerings. It was utilitarian, everything worked, even the water pressure, which surprisingly could strip off layers of one’s skin if you weren’t careful.
The bathroom, though no Jacuzzi, had a large enough bathtub for the occasional soaking period. Western accouterments in the bathroom were also welcome additions. My knees can’t handle the traditional squat-holes any longer.
There were an electric teapot and several brands of tea, but no coffee. A quick “Gee! I sure wish I had some coffee!” to the four walls and damned if 30 minutes later, a porter didn’t arrive to replenish my tea and courtesy in-room coffee…
There was a small Japanese brand in-room refrigerator which I thought might house a mini-bar. Oh, no! It was actually a complimentary larder stocked with all sorts of Best Korean goodies. Multiple cans of Taedonggang beer. Several bottles of Pyongyang Soju, in various flavors ranging anywhere from 16.8 to 53 percent alcohol by volume. My fridge was skewed towards the right-hand side of the bell curve; the more heavy-duty boozy side.
Evidently, my reputation had preceded me again.
There was a selection of German-style wheat beers from the Taedonggang Brewery and the more familiar ales, steam beers, and lagers. There were some imported beers like Heineken, Bavaria, Pils, a couple of Japanese brands: Asahi and Kirin, and something called ‘Hello Beer’ from Singapore.
There were also ‘sampler’ bottles of Apricot Pit wine, and a couple of high-alcohol fruity liquors made from constituents such as apple or pear, and mushrooms. There were also special medicinal liquors like ‘Rason’s Seal Penis Liquor’.
That is going home with me unopened.
There were a couple of bottles of local sake, called Chonju. Finally, there was a couple ‘samplers’ of homemade alcohol known as Makkoli. Plus there was something called ‘Corn Grotto’, which for the life of me, looks and tastes much like a very passable Kentucky Sippin’ Bourbon.
I put our concierge on instant danger money the very next day. He’s yet to source me more than a fifth of the stuff so far.
I found that there is a popular drink here which mirrors the Yorsch of Mother Russia. Beer and soju can be mixed to create *somaek’; a foamy, frothy, funky drink of many flavors, depending on the soju chosen.
Is ethnoimbibology at thing? The science of how different cultures drink and the effects of drinking culture on different societies. If not, now I have another Ph.D. to pursue after I endow a chair at some likely Asian university.
Anyways, in everyone’s room was a “welcome” basket, just chock full of Best Korean goodies. Postcards, stamps, ads for coin sets, stamp proofs and other goodies that could be purchased at the hotel. There was a field notebook, which I thought was a very nice addition, newspapers, cookies, crackers, biscuits, candies, fruit drinks, and some fresh fruit; although tamarind chewies and durian chips aren’t on my list of personal favorites.
There were a couple of tour books, just chock full of staged photos. These were very nice as well, as so far, we haven’t had much time for shopping outside of government stores or smaller family-run shops in town or out in the boonies.
A few of us were hungry and decided to see what the hotel had to offer room service-wise.
Bupkiss.
But, they did have a selection of restaurants. There is a Chinese restaurant, a European restaurant, and a Korean restaurant on site but they all serve the same food...a Best Korean attempt at western food. And it was weird being the only ones in the restaurant even though it was fully staffed.
We grazed lightly and decided to do some late-night perambulations around our hotel. Our handlers admonished us to stay within the confines of the hotel, or see them if it was absolutely necessary to go walkabout. In the hotel, we were on our own.
We found that there were tunnels in the hotel’s basement. The basement tunnels were a real bonus. There’s a bar with pool tables, a karaoke room, bowling, and a massage parlor, where I was beaten and pummeled into submission by tiny, diminutive, little Korean lassies fully 1/5th my size.
It was wonderful.
There was a hairdresser’s, who were completely befuddled by my shoulder-length silver-gray locks and full gray Grizzly Adams beard. They did provide a lovely shampoo/cranial massage though for the equivalent of US$2.
There were a couple of shops selling Chinese goods rather than local stuff, which was sort of disappointing, a cold noodle bar, and another casino. No shops selling Korean Communist propaganda posters, as I wanted to augment my Soviet-era collection. Perhaps I’ll find something in-country later on.
We were shocked to find that the casino had WiFi that was uncensored and we were able to access; after a fee of liquor miniatures and a cigar or two. We were supposed to have access to the global internet, not local intranet, from the universities that we would be visiting. However, all of that was under the heavily squinting eyes of handlers and guys in shiny suits wearing fake Ray-Bans.
I still had my secret satellite internet lash-up available, but that was iffy, a pain in the ass to set up, and ridiculously expensive. However, it did work on the 39th floor and the times I used it instead of wandering down to the tunnels, no one appeared to be the wiser. Thus far.
So typically, we’d just head to the basement casino with our laptops, iPads, and phones. Bam! Robert’s your Sister’s Husband, we could connect more-or-less free with the outside world; hence how you are reading this now.
Herro! “Yes, I’d sure like another beer. This time a porter, if you please.”
The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. Or the more they put into locks, the easier they are to pick.
Besides, we were told we’d have access to unfettered and free internet. OK, so we just found it for ourselves. Whaddya expect? We’re scientists, motherfucker, back off.
Ahem.
Back to reality.
The breakfast buffet the next morning had a wide choice of Asian and Western food, although the choices seemed to be the same every day. The main event was to beat the Chinese tourists to the egg station every morning. Breakfast always included fried eggs, a limited selection of pork, kippered fish, potatoes, rice, fruit, and a very Titanium-dioxide-white white bread
After a while, I took to going to the small market behind the lobby, buying some imported Chinese or Japanese nibbly bits and heading to the tunnels for a few breakfast beers before the long hard day’s work. It took almost a week, but I gained the trust of some of the workers in the tunnels and they showed me the on-site microbrewery at the hotel. It produced very passable, and very, very cheap beers of several varieties.
Liquid bread. Beer. Is there nothing it can’t do?
After breakfast our first day at the hotel, we were told to meet in the Conference Room “Il-sung” as we were going to have a ‘Welcome foreign imperialist scientists’ introduction and indoctrination.
Besides our handlers and the shiny-suit squad, there were several Korean folks we didn’t recognize. These were students, scientists, and scholars from the Kim Chaek University of Technology, Kim Il-sung University, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology; all hailing from Pyongyang, and the University of Geology from North Hwanghae Province.
“Oh, marvelous”, Erlen remarked, “It’s going to be a bloody Chautauqua. We’ll be here all day.”
“Well”, I replied, “It could be worse. We could be on a bus headed off on another unscheduled road trip.”
As we found our seats, our Korean counterparts were busily setting up portable screens, like the ones your grandfather had for showing his 2.1 Googleplex worth of travel slides every Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together. They had a couple of ancient Chinese brand laptops that could have doubled for body armor, they were so thick and heavy.
While they fiddled with running cords for the overhead projectors and 16mm film projector; yes, it was going to be movie time as well, the hotel’s restaurant folks wheeled in carts laden with scones, cupcakes, and other sweet sorts of bakery. Another cart was wheeled in with pump-pots of hot water, tea, and coffee. Usual scientific meeting fare.
There was one final cart that made the day bearable. It held a pony keg of hotel micro-brewed beer on ice, with several dozen frosty mugs available for all who wanted to partake.
There were instantly 12 mugs that were spoken for.
I grabbed a cold beer and wandered around the conference room, sipping beer, chewing on an unlit cigar, and just trying to be pleasant to our hosts and their scientific guests. I was surprised when one North Korean professor, who spoke amazingly British-tinged English, offered me a light for my cigar.
“Is smoking allowed here?” I asked.
“Allowed?” he laughed heartily, “My good man, it’s practically a prerequisite.”
“Here then”, I said, offering him a nice, unctuous Camacho, “Try one of mine.”
Dr. P'ung Kwang-Seon of the North Korean University of Geology became my instant and lifelong friend at that moment.
We had a very nice chat, much to the chagrin of the gray suit cadre, who could hear what we were talking about, but probably didn’t understand anything beyond every 8th word.
After a while, we were asked to take our seats, after refreshing our drinks, and introduced to the group of Korean geoscientists we’d be interacting with during our stay here in Best Korea.
I tried to record every name, but between the students, other scholars, and professors from the various universities, I decided I’d ask for a list of participants once the day had worn on. After all, they had all our names, references, and resumes if the thick folio they kept referring to was any indication.
There were a couple of hours of introductions, as every one of the Korean geoscientists there introduced themselves, mostly through translators, told of their personal area of specialty, and their latest work.
Most were what would be considered geoscientists, but oddly enough, not one that you would consider a petroleum geoscientist, however tangentially.
There were geomorphologists, structural geologists, petrologists, mineralogists, marine geologists, engineering geologists, and seismologists. However, there were no stratigraphers, sedimentologists, paleontologists, or geochemists. We were all geoscientists, but apart from the obvious Korean:English disparity, it was as if we spoke different scientific languages as well.
That would be our first hurdle to overcome.
They had no oil industry here; none whatsoever, therefore why one would bother with the geosciences that fed directly into petroleum? That, in and of itself, would make it difficult to explore for oil in the country. Couple that with the fact that they’re so insular, think their version of ‘science’ is the best, at least that’s the official line, and think all other’s ‘science’ is capitalistic, substandard, and inferior doesn’t bode well for your country discovering anything either oily or gassy.
We were having another conclave around the beer keg, ack, err…a ‘coffee break’ and I mentioned this fact to my scientific colleagues.
“Guys”, I need input here, “We’re going to get precisely nowhere if they won’t even acknowledge that they have major problems from the start.”
Ivan replies, “Very true. I’ve seen this before back home. You get a group so entrenched in their own little corner of science, they can’t even accept or acknowledge that others exist. Not only exist but actually know more about a certain problem than do you.”
Dax joins the fray, “Sure, that’s very true, but who’s going to tell them this unfortunate fact? They could take that as a personal, national, and global insult. Imagine you’re at an international conference and a bunch of foreigners walk in just to tell you you’ve been doing it all wrong for the last 75 years.”
I add, “Remember, though. These characters are scientists as well. I think it’ll be a good measure of seeing what sort of science and scientist we’re dealing with here. If they are truly researchers, they’ll listen to and evaluate what we say as for veracity and accuracy. If they’re just a bunch of Commie goons; no offense, Comrade Academician Ivan, they’ll get all pissed off, kick us out, and we get to go home and enjoy our triple Force Majeure pay.”
Ivan walks over and deliberately steps on the toes of my newly polished field boots.
“In Soviet Russia, field boots walk on YOU.” He laughs in his heavily inflected, and scary, Soviet-era speech…
“Yes, I agree”, Joon adds, “But who is going to address this issue with our hosts? Perhaps one of our Russian comrades, as they are, or were, more politically aligned with our Korean friends and perhaps best understand the issue?”
Ack speaks up, grinning maniacally, “No, I disagree. We should have the one person here who so encapsulates the ideologies and political leanings that they love to hate here so much. You know; the quiet, diminutive, and soft-spoken North American…”
Dax recoils, “Oh, no! I’m not going out in front of this mob of ornery Orientals…”
I smile wanly and tell Dax to cool out.
“Relax, Dax. They’re talking about me.”
“Oh, yes”, a collective group of voices replies, “Yes. Let out fearless Team Leader break the bad news to our Eastern Colleagues. That way we can gauge their reactions to being bounced around scientifically by a member of the Evil Capitalist Cartel.”
“OK”, I reply, “I’ll do it. But be forewarned, my fine feathered fiends. I get stuck on a topic that’s not precisely my bailiwick, I’m going to throw your ass to the wolves. Remember, we’re all in this together.”
Whoops, and catcalls were reduced to mumbles and ‘Aw, fucks.’.
Chautauqua resumption was called and I asked for the floor.
It was a bit off the agenda, but since they’ve been chewing the air for the last several hours, they understood it would be appropriate for us to at least try and get a word in edgewise.
I downed my beer, and grabbed a fresh one as what I was going to say was going to be harsh, cut-and-dried, and rather pointed. But delivered in a pleasant manner.
I hoped.
This all had to be filtered through a series of translators, one for general conversational Korean and another for the more technical and scientific transliterations. I realized I was going to be up here for a while. So, I brought a cigar.
One way or another, I was going to deliver our pronouncements and hell, I may as well be comfortable while doing it.
.
“Greetings and felicitations, my Eastern Colleagues. Let me first say how nice it is to be here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as part of the ….”
I’m going to fast-forward through all the flowery bullshit and introductory happiness; I’ll going to just cut to the guts of the matter.
“…Now, you do know why there has been virtually no oil, gas nor any other hydrocarbon related deposit discovered here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?” I asked by way of a rhetorical question.
I sipped my beer and lit my cigar. In for a chon, in for a won.
I let the buzzing subside on the side of our eastern counterparts.
“Because, and please do not take this as insulting or derogatory, but as a statement of irrefutable fact, no one with the proper training nor experience has been looking. You’re historically guilty of applying the science incorrectly and letting dogma and politics guide your search, instead of the scientific method and the facts. Geology, like all natural science, is just as truth based on the facts for a capitalist as it is for a communist. Reality is not influenced by your beliefs, be they scientific or political, secular or spiritual, ‘trusted’ rather than ‘thought’; any more than by your wish that it wouldn’t rain today during a raging thunderstorm.”
Little Boy over Hiroshima was dropped with less effect.
Our Democratic People's Republic of Korea colleagues erupted into a chaotic mixture of stuttering, internecine yelling, accusations, and sputtering.
Calling for decorum, I figured that since I was this far gone, I may as well push the plunger all the way to the bottom.
“Gentlemen, I do not denigrate the science of geology as taught and practiced here in Best Korea.” I actually said that, sort of a slip of the tongue. Continuing, “However, one would not fish for Bluefin tuna from a rowboat in a pond with a fly rod. One does not hunt bear in the city with a slingshot. Just as one doesn’t search for oil and gas with mining engineers, geomorphologists, and seismologists.”
I let that sink in and after the translation, they calmed a bit and wanted to hear the rest of what I had to say. I could sense a couple was less than thrilled with what I had to say, but forging onward…
“One fishes for Bluefin tuna in the deep ocean with huge rods, reels and a specialist boat captained by someone with deep experience in hunting the elusive fish. One hunts bear in the proper environment, the taiga or forest, with the proper tools and guided by one with the education, learnedness, and experience to know how to make the hunt come out successful.”
Hit them with some analogies they can relate to and digest. Now, go for the carotid.
“Just like one does not hunt oil and gas without stratigraphers, sedimentologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists, and other oil and gas experts who have the education, experience, and knowledge to know where to look. Knowing which environment looks most conductive to hide your quarry, if you’ll pardon the pun, and how best to find them, the guys who know how to corral and de-risk them once you find them, and the engineers and technologists who know how to bring them to the surface so they can be utilized.”
They had stopped being irritated and were listening in rapt attention.
“My colleagues and I have spent the last few days going over, in detail the geology of your country. There is nothing we can see that would preclude the development, entrapment, and preservation of economic quantities of oil and gas. Ture, the geology is quite complex as is the structural history of the entire peninsula. That’s one other thing you will have to accept. Geology doesn’t give the tiniest shit about political boundaries. One must look at the big picture, and that doesn’t stop at some man-made borders. Ignore that fact at your peril, because if you continue to view the geology here as not existing across political boundaries, you are preadapting yourself for failure.”
Drs. Ivan, Volna, and Morse make certain that everyone sees the ex-Soviets agreeing with the bushy-bearded, cigar-chomping American capitalist.
“So,” I said, hoping to bring this little spit-balling session to a fortuitous close, “If we can have an agreement; scientific agreement, on these points, then I am certain we can find a way forward with not only this discussion but the program we can devise for the best Korean (notice phase shift?) geologists to take the project forward both scientifically soundly and economically successful.”
My North Korean counterpart gets up from his seat in the conference room, goes to the keg, taps a couple of beers and walks up to the podium where I was standing.
“Thank you, Dr. Rocknocker, for saying what needed to be said”, he spoke in perfect English as he handed me a beer.
I grinned and gratefully accepted the beer.
“Why, Dr. Chang Kwang-Su”, I said, as that was his name, “You old fraud. You do speak English; and very well, I must add.”
“Yes, almost all of us do”, he relayed, “But, as you said, we are most reserved. We were more or less under orders of the ‘most illustrious’, to play coy, and act as if we spoke no English.”
“I see.” I said, “I’ve worked in several FSU countries as well as Russia and saw that there as well. I guess old habits die hard.”
“That they do, Doctor.”, he replied, “But, we must now tell you the truth. We knew exactly what you said is true, and we agree. We are not as totally insulated from the outside world as some suspect.”
“Well, I was going on what your superiors related to us. Like the police that had all their toilets stolen, I had nothing else to go on.” I replied.
“Ah, ha! Quite!”, he chuckled, “We had long suspected that we were lacking in certain areas of scholarship. What you said cements that fact as it was an independent conclusion. We can now present that to our superiors with the caveat that unless we bolster work and training in these areas, the hunt of hydrocarbon resources here will be for naught.”
“I am relieved”, I said, truthfully. “I was slightly concerned that some might take umbrage to being told their science is not up to specifications. I tried to be the bearer of that bad news but deliver it gently. Here, I find you need that to use that as a truncheon to smack one’s boss upside the head and tell him that an upgrade is required. And fast.”
“Ah, so”, he replies, “We are in total agreement. Now that is out of the way, we would appreciate it if you’d help in designing a course of study for up and coming local geoscientists. Then, we can go forward with a great plan to search for oil and gas here in…Korea. Correct?”
“Absolutely”, I remarked, “You’ve got over 400 man-years of science and exploration expertise here in this room alone. Let’s shoot for the moon, so to speak. Let’s get you up to speed on scientific journals and articles that are available out there in all of academia and industry. Let’s get you communicating on a global basis. Let’s prove that you can talk science with global scientists and still not have it affect your political or nationalistic aspirations one little bit. Let’s see if we can drag you, figuratively speaking, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.”
“Doctor”, Dr. Chang remarked, “You are the embodiment of what we were always told what Americans are. Brash, loud, confident, and evil. Except for evil, you are American as we were led to believe.”
“Hey, I take that as a compliment”, I exclaim. “You think that’s bad, I’ve got a bunch of earnest Europeans, raucous Russians, and a couple of cagey Canadians on my side as well. Before we’re finished here, we’ll have you ordering hachee, dining on Caldo Verde, snacking on salmiakki, drinking Russkaya vodka with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, eating poutine, and rooting for the Packers.”
“Doctor, I don’t know what half of that means, but I hope it comes to pass. It sounds most fascinating.” Dr. Chang chuckles.
The rest of the day was spent with various groups crystallizing and breaking off from the main crowd; then reforming as different groups. This was good, as it showed an interest across not only national borders but across ideologies and scientific specialties.
Most everyone here spoke English with some degree of fluency, so the translators were called in only occasionally.
I made certain they were included in everything that transpired that day. I want everyone to feel ‘part of the team’. How better to show the classlessness of Western science to include everyone in on both sides of every discussion and activity?
To be continued…
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OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…6

Continuing.
After the third pony keg of beer was delivered, it was decided that the next few days would be spent in the conference room discussing what we thought was the best way forward.
We wanted dry-erase boards so we could start taking detailed notes, even though I was well ahead of the curve in that regard. We instead ended up with some mobile elementary-school blackboards and a pile of grainy, sooty chalk.
Leave it to Dr. Cliff to go into a discourse on the genesis of chalk and its economic importance.
Bloody carbonate geologists.
Bloody White Cliffs.
We geologists need to punctuate their conversations with pictures, so these would suffice quite well.
At 1700 hours, the official end to the workday was called; we’d meet here again tomorrow. I’m not certain by whom, but it was readily agreed upon. We were more or less on our own until 1000 the next day. I needed to spend some time in my room with my notes and update a number of dossiers, field notebooks, and other items I was using as a running chronicle.
Several folks decided to invade one of the hotel’s restaurants for dinner. Some wanted to head to the casino, a couple wanted to get a massage, and others wanted to do what tourists are normally wont to do on the second day of being a foreigner in a foreign land.
I declined invitations to dinner and other activities, as I had a long writing session in front of me. I wanted to get this all in its proper place while the memories and notes were still fresh.
30 minutes later, in my room after a 25-minute wait for the elevator; I’m updating dossiers, creating several new ones, and updating my field notebooks. Suddenly, after an hour’s work, I notice something is amiss.
“I don’t have a drink or a cigar,” I said to the four walls. “This. Will. Not. Do.”
I was used to Happy Hour in Russia. Happy hour is slightly different; there are no ice cubes or orange-peel twists in the vodka. Also, it lasts all day.
I remedy that situation by finding and clipping a nice, oily oscuro cigar and digging the bourbon out from under my boxer-briefs in my dresser drawer. I heft the bottle and feel that it’s significantly lighter than when I left it last night. I happen to look in the trash can and spy the wrapper for a box of my festively colored Sobranie cigarettes I obtained back in Dubai.
“Hmmm”, I think, “It would appear that we have some light-fingered Cho Louies or No Louises around here. I’d best guard my supplies a little more securely.”
I move all my smokeables into one of my now emptied aluminum travel cases. They lock with the stoutest of combinations and it will be readily apparent if anyone is fucking with them.
I move some of my best booze into the pretty much worthless in-room safe. With a deft application of duct tape, I seal the safe. It may not be the most secure spot on the planet, but if anyone tries anything troublesome, they’ll leave an immediately recognizable record of what they were up to. It’s just too obvious; they’d have to be crazy to go in after anything inside there.
My money, keys, and passports are in the safe deposit box down in the lobby that the hotel supplies for visiting dignitaries. Even so, they let me keep my shit in one of them anyway.
That handled, I spend another hour writing like a madman. I suddenly realize I’m tired of all this and need a diversion as well as some food and, of course, drink.
30 minutes later, I’m down in the byzantine basement tunnels of the hotel. It’s crowded with hordes of Chinse tourists, and the casino is ground zero for the incredibly loud chatter.
I look in on the bowling alleys all three of them, and they’re full. The massage parlor is hopping, although I leave my name and they promise they will call over the PA when a suitable masseuse is available. Evidently, I ‘intimidate’ some of the more demure ones.
I wander over to the bar, now there’s a surprise, and see it’s packed to the rafters as well. I decide to wait for a seat to open up on Mahogany Ridge when there’s some gargling over the PA and a pair of Chinese nationals leave the bar in great haste.
I grab one of the two newly open seats, much to the chagrin of a couple of Oriental Unidentifiables (OU) who had their eye on them as well.
“Sorry, mate”, I said, “First come, first served. It’s the capitalist way.”
One of the pair grabs a seat and the other just stands there, looking annoyed unspent bullets in my direction. Forget that I’ve literally twice their size and could be an aberration as an angry American. They just order a couple of drinks, and content themselves in giving me dirty looks and probably say nasty things in their own indecipherable language about my national origin and familial heritage.
As if I gave the tiniest of rodental shits.
I fire up a cigar, as literally everyone else in the joint was smoking something more or less tobacco. However, there was a definite barnyard aroma, a regular Dairy Air, in the room. I think some of what was being smoked there was more bovine or equine in origin than botanical in nature.
With numerous hilarious attempts at Korean, pointing at a garishly photographed drinks menu, I was finally served a cold draft house steam porter and 100 milliliters of probably ersatz ‘Russian’ vodka, vintage late last Thursday. This bartender that could at least form some of the phonemes found in American English. A few. A definite few.
Since it all cost the equivalent of US$0.50, I really didn’t care.
Apparently vodka helps flowers last longer when they're dying. But you can put vodka in anything and it'll make it better.
Being a trained observer, I rather enjoy just sitting in any old bar, smoking my cigar, drinking my Yorshch, and watching people. I try and not be intrusive and I never eavesdrop, but I like to try and think of what strange set of circumstances brought us all here together in this place at this time. It gives me writing ideas, some of which I jot down in a notebook I always carry. It also gives me a good shot of nostalgia when I look back at something I wrote some 40 or so years ago.
Yeah, old habits do die hard.
I take a drag off my cigar and set it in the ashtray in front of me on the bar as I go to correct another egregious misspelling in my notebook. I have to immediately proofread what I wrote, or I’d never recall later what the fuck I was trying to convey; especially if it’s in a noisy, smoky, or murky milieu.
Quicker than a bunny fucks, Unidentifiable Oriental #1 (UO #1) deftly reaches over, snags my cigar, and helps himself to a few mouthy puffs.
I look at him, the empty ashtray directly in front of me, him again, and then UO #2.
Since I speak no real Oriental, much less Korean, language, and my Mandarin at this point is worse than laughable; I just point to the cigar, turn out my hands and shrug my shoulders in the international “What the actual fuck, dude?” gesture.
He just smiles a gappy, toothy, and snaggle-toothed at that, grin at me and makes a point of ensuring that I see him enjoying a few more drags on my own damned cigar.
Not able to contain myself any further, I venture a “What the fuck, chuckles? That’s not your fucking cigar.”
Like gasoline being tossed on a fire-ring full of embers, they both go unconditionally incoherently insane.
Yammering, chattering, jumping up and down, and getting right into my face. They wanted me to unquestionably understand that my few words of English insulted them far more than their filching of my $20 cigar.
OK, I’m pretty well trained in Hapkido; an oddly, given the present situation, hybrid Korean martial art. I’m at least 6 or 7 inches taller and who knows how many stone/kilos/pounds/Solar masses heavier than these two clowns. I could easily go all Gojira on their hapless asses and mop significant expanses of the floorboards with them.
Instead, I look around for the bartender. I figured since I was keeping him well supplied with Korean won via tips, and he spoke some English as well as perhaps whatever the fuck these characters were chattering; maybe he could get to the bottom of what was happening.
The bartender walks over and I ask him to ask the two unidentifiable twins why they stole my cigar.
He nods in agreement and goes on in whatever the fuck dialect was being used today by the pair.
“They say they wanted it. So they took it.” They ask, “What are you going to do about it?” the bartender relates.
I deftly reach inside my field vest, as everyone concerned ducks and covers.
I extract two fresh cigars; not a .454 Casull Magnum.
I give one cigar to the bartender and one to OU#2.
“With my compliments.” I pleasantly say.
I was well apprised of the fact that in certain places like this, the local authorities often approach foreigners with, for the lack of a better term, ‘Agents Provocateur’.
Like the Westboro Baptist “Church”, they try to get a rise out of you so you’ll lose your cool and either create a scene or take a poke at the miscreant. Then they have all the pretext they require to drag you to the local hoosegow, shake you down for every penny on your person, as well as any phones, notebooks, wallets, passports, cigars, cigarettes, etc.
Basically, they goad you into a fight, then drop the thousand-pound shit-hammer when you retaliate.
It’s all so parochial. So obviously clear as vodka; this elementary charade only raised a single eyebrow.
I’m not going to even raise my voice over a couple of cheap cigars that neither of them noticed I slipped them instead of the premium ones I was smoking.
Thus defeated, I asked the bartender to ask them if they liked the cigar.
“What do you think?” I asked in cordial English, “Too tightly rolled? Not caged enough? Too green?”
UO #2 slipped and said “It smells very good…” where he realizes he’s blown his cover.
“Yeah, I like it too.”, I replied, “So much so, I buy my own. What are your badge numbers, boys? I will be reporting this incident to Inspector P'aeng Yeong-Hwan, the head of security for the IUPGS conference to which I was invited as special scientific consultant.”
Of course, they immediately dummy up and feign illiteracy.
I say loudly and very clearly, “You bastards aren’t gonna get away with this. I mean, what is going on in this country when scumsuckers like you can get away with trying to sandbag a Doctor of Geological Sciences?”
I ask the bartender to translate, but alas, it was too late. They vamoosed when I turned to talk with the bartender.
They left so fast, they didn’t notice me snapping their pictures with my ancient but trusty Nokia 3310, revised edition, during our little chat. Even with a mere 2-megapixel picture, I have enough to show the North Korean leaders of the project to get an identification and make known my displeasure of being treated like some commoner or buffoon.
They left both my cigar and the one I gave them. The bartender tucked the cigar I gave him into his pocket and stared lustily at the two remaining on the bar.
“Take’em”, I said. I sure as fuck don’t want them. “Just a clean ashtray and a refill, if you would be so kind,” I say, as pleasantly as possible, considering the situation.
Both the unsmoked and my smoldering, as well as well-traveled, cigar disappear as quickly as minks rut. A clean, new ashtray, double beer and ‘vodka’ suddenly appear.
“No charge, Dr. Rock”, the bartender grins, as he shoves my erstwhile high-mileage cigar between his teeth.
“OK, fair enough.”, I say, “Spaseebah.”, and deposit a raft of won on the bar. The pile won’t be touched until after I leave in a few hours’ time.
“Stranger in a strange land.” I muse over a couple of further beers.
The call from the massage parlor never came, or it did and I couldn’t hear it over the clamor of the casino. I went up to the hotel’s Korean restaurant; had some salty soup, a sad, sad salad, and some form of funky fish, I think, for dinner. I retired that night in a slightly foul mood.
I called Es then the next morning and caught her before she retired. With a 14 hour difference between us, I was getting up at 0700 and she was getting ready to hit the hay at 2100.
I told her of the events of the day previous, and she was glad she wasn’t tagging along. She would have never accused the Korean geologists of being behind the times and would have probably bent the guy’s nose that swiped my cigar.
Agreed, that she’d probably be unimpressed with this place. I promised her that we’d go on a holiday when I returned from all this. It would be up to her to find out ‘where,’ and I’d supply the ‘when’ when I could.
Everything else was going along smoothly, more or less, on the home front, and I didn’t want to give the local listening-in federales too much to say grace over, so we said our parting admirations and rang off.
Shower, shower sunriser of real vodka and citrus, a quick brush and comb, and spiff of cargo shorts and new ghastly Hawaiian shirt; 30 minutes later, back down in the restaurant for the inevitable breakfast buffet.
After what some would consider breakfast and others would consider a vague attempt at nourishment, we reconvened in the conference room precisely at 1012.
Nothing like precision with this group.
We spend the next two days going over, in various groups, what we think would be required to set forth proper the quest for oil and gas in North Korea on track. Everyone got in on the act, and we advocated for that. We needed everyone’s input to make this happen. Or to even map a way forward to present to country officials. Those from the West on what was needed and those from the East to tell us what was available, and the combined wetware to make what needed to be done happen with what existed.
It took no small amount of doing, but we secured a set of maps that covered the entire country. We were watched very closely by the shiny suit squad that we did not copy, photograph or otherwise take any extraneous information from these sheets of infamy. All other maps in the country were intentionally skewed, with errors deliberately added in to confuse “interlopers, spies, or other personas non grata”.
I made a massive stink and told them that if we didn’t receive the unfuckered maps, aerial photographs and satellite imagery pronto, we’re packing up and leaving that afternoon.
“We don’t have time for monks resisting the carnival. We didn’t come here to try and guess if the maps are correct or if our remedies will actually work on maps that say one thing and reality says something else entirely.”
They hemmed and hawed, but as I made the announcement to all before lunch that if the real maps didn’t appear by the time we returned from tiffin, we’re gone.
And we take tiffin purty durn early round these parts, buckaroo.
No one was surprised as I when we returned and there were folio after folio of government-uncensored maps, photos, and imagery for our program. I guess they finally reasoned it would be a relatively good idea to begin to take us seriously.
We spent one whole day just going over our field geological apparatus. They had a good idea of how to use a direction-finder compass and Jacob’s staff to measure sections. However, they were totally flummoxed by our Brunton Compasses, GPS systems, curiously referred to as ‘position finders’, notebook mapping applications, and electronic data storage and retrieval systems.
Gad. It was like being back in the 1970s before PCs were a glimmer in IBM's corporate orbs.
We spent the next week working to bring our less fortunate colleagues up to, well, not date, but at least up to the brink of the 21st century. We explained that plate tectonics, continental drift, and the precession of the continents was accepted geoscientific principles, not some arcane Capitalist or Socialist plot to undermine the quality of science in the east.
Yep. It was that mindset we had to first conquer. I think we’ve made great headway in that direction today.
The next Chautauqua session had us split up into two separate groups. We decided in a fit of Cesarean inquiry to ‘divide and conquer’. There are two distinct milieus which are able to contain economic deposits of hydrocarbons: onshore and offshore.
Instead of attacking both head-on, we’d focus initially on the offshore domain. Once we had a good handle on what was going on under the East Korean Sea, the Huangai (Yellow) Sea and surreptitiously, the South Sea; we’d collaborate our findings and work to tie them in and extend them onshore.
The singular Phyongnam Basin is the one large depositional, sedimentological, and structural basin in North Korea. It is filled by the Joeson and Pyeongan Supergroups of sediments, which are Cambro-Ordovician and Permocarboniferous, respectively. These are good hunting grounds for oil and gas. Could be elephant–hunting country.
But before we could undertake that, we had to get ‘back to basics’. That is, we had to understand and delineate the ‘frame’ of the Korean Peninsula. In other words, we needed to figure out how and when the peninsula came into existence.
South Korea’s geology is much more complex, fortunately than that found in the North. There were nasty side comments that were due to the relative development not of the geology, but of the geologists who studied each country’s geology.
It was, perhaps, a mean way of characterizing the situation. But, unfortunately, it was also probably fairly accurate.
The Korean Peninsula is characterized by huge massifs, which are sections of a crust that are demarcated by faults or flexures. In the movement of the crust, a massif tends to retain its internal structure while being displaced as a whole. The term also refers to a group of mountains formed by such a structure. It’s basically one huge, semi-resilient rock.
The basement rocks of the Korean Peninsula consist of high-grade gneiss and schist, Paleoproterozoic Precambrian massifs, which formed in the early stage of Earth’s history. These rocks are unconformably overlain by metasedimentary rocks; schist, quartzite, marble, calcsilicate, and amphibolite, of the Middle to Late Proterozoic. The Korean Peninsula is floored by a collation of about five of these huge Precambrian massifs that acted like ‘microplates’ during the aggregation of the peninsula. These massifs consist of thick dolostone, metavolcanics, and schist, which were intruded by Paleoproterozoic granites.
These Paleoproterozoic metasedimentary and granitic rocks underwent repeated intracrustal differentiation, followed by the events of cratonization, i.e., regional metamorphism and igneous activity, at 1.9-1.8 Ga. Sediments deposited in the peripheral basins during the Mesoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic lead to stabilization as the basement of the peninsula.
These early depositional basins formed the locus of deposition that continued on from the Proterozoic through the Phanerozoic. There are at least three, perhaps four, depositional basins in the south which are delimited by structural zones, such as the South Korean Tectonic Line (SKTL), a huge zone of continental transform faults and forms the basis of boundary demarcation between the Okcheon and Taebaeksan basins.
The boundary between the Seochangri Formation of the Okcheon Basin and the Joseon Supergroup of the Taebaeksan Basin in the Bonghwajae area is a thrust (or reverse‐slip shear zone). This thrust is presumably a relay structure (i.e. a restraining bend) between two segments of a continental transform fault (the South Korean Tectonic Line or SKTL), along which the Okcheon Basin of the South China Craton was juxtaposed against the Taebaeksan Basin of the North China Craton during the Permian–Triassic suturing of the two cratons.
In the late Proterozoic, sedimentation was initiated in basins of the Korean Peninsula, accompanied by deposition of siliciclastic and volcaniclastic sediments as well as carbonates. The massifs were submerged in the Early Paleozoic during a greenhouse period, forming a shallow marine platform and associated environments.
The Cambrian-Ordovician succession unconformably overlies Precambrian granite gneiss. It consists of mixed carbonate-siliciclastic rocks of sandstone, shale, and shallow-marine carbonates. Sedimentation was initiated in the Early Cambrian with a global rise in sea level on the stable craton of the Sino-Korean Block.
There was a major break in sedimentation during the Silurian and Devonian periods in the entire platform. During the Carboniferous to early Triassic, sedimentation was resumed in coastal plain and swamp environments with progradation of deltas.
Major tectonic events were initiated in the Triassic when the South China Block collided with the Sino-Korean Block. The eastern part of the Sino-Korean Block rotated clockwise and moved southward relative to the South China Block along the SKTL.
In the Middle-Late Jurassic, orthogonal subduction of the paleo-Pacific plate under the Asian continent caused compression and thrust deformation. A number of piggyback basins formed along the thrust faults in the east of the SKTL. At the same time, the entire peninsula was prevailed by granite batholiths, especially along the northeast-southwest-trending tectonic belt.
In the Cretaceous Period, the paleo-Pacific Plate subducted northward under the Asian continent, forming numerous extensional (left-lateral strike-slip) basins in the southern part of the peninsula and the Yellow Sea. A large back-arc basin was initiated in the southeastern part.
In the Paleogene, both the volcanic arc and the back-arc basin ceased to develop, as volcanic activities shifted eastward, accompanied by a rollback of the subduction of the Pacific plate. In the Miocene, pull-apart (right-lateral) basins formed in the eastern continental margin.
The Korea Plateau experienced continental rifting accompanied by extensive volcanism during the extensional opening of the southern offshore basin. It subsided more than 1000 m below sea level.
So, as South Korea was mix- mastered by a half-a-billion years’ worth of structural tectonism, which created several depositional basins quite capable of generating and storing economic quantities of oil and gas, the scene to the north was much more quiescent.
The North was composed, from south to north, of the relict Imjingang Belt, which was an old back-arc basin between the Gyeonggi Massif to the south and the Nagrim Massif to the north. It is a paleo-subduction zone, full of volcanics, volcaniclastics and other non-hydrocarbon bearing rocks. It was mashed and metamorphosed, and basically forms a convenient boundary between the complex geology of the South and the more relaxed geology of the North.
Heading north, we come across the Pyeongnam Basin, the only North Korean basin thus far defined that could contain hydrocarbons. Further north is the huge Nangrim Massif. It’s a huge block of igneous and metamorphic rocks that weather very nicely and form some spectacular scenery, but from an oil and gas economic outlook are worthless.
Offshore North Korea, there are two possible petroliferous basins. The offshore West Korea Bay Basin and East Sea Basin, along with five onshore basins could be offering exploration potential. At least ten exploration wells have been drilled in the West Sea, with some showing “good oil shows” along with the identification of a number of potential reservoirs.
The West Sea potentially has oil and has reportedly flowed oil at reasonable rates from at least two exploration wells when they were drilled and tested in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the East Sea has seen Russian exploration efforts previously including the drilling of two wells, both of which reportedly encountered encouraging shows of oil and gas.
Onshore, there has been little exploration to date, apart from efforts by the Korean Oil Exploration Corporation and also recently by Mongolia’s HBOil JSC (HBO). Among five main onshore sedimentary sub-basins, the largest is south of the capital; while unconfirmed reports point to a 1-trillion-cubic-foot (tcf) discovery in 2002.
Historically DPRK was thought to consist of five under-explored geological basins, the
• Pyongyang,
• Zaeryong,
• Anju-Onchon,
• Gilju-Myongchon and
• Sinuiju, Basins.
These basins are all located more or less along the coast, rather than inland. This also points to a certain degree of geological aptitude; as it’s much easier to explore along the more populated coast than it is to venture inland. There may be more hiding in the interior of the country, it’s just that no one’s looked as of yet. That’s difficult. Exploring along the coast is much easier.
With 3 basins supposedly proven to have working petroleum systems; 22 wells have been drilled and the majority are said to have encountered hydrocarbons with some wells testing production at 75 barrels of oil per day of light sweet crude oil. This has yet to be documented or confirmed by the Korea Oil Exploration Corp (KOEC), North Korea’s state-run oil company.
Yeah, our work was definitely cut out for us.
It was decided that a series of excursions offshore in one of the few remaining seaworthy, which was a real judgment call, KOEC seismic boats would be appropriate. The one we received use of was an old, decommissioned Chamsuri-class patrol boat, one Chamsuri-215(참수리-215), PKMR-215 in particular.
It had been basically stripped to the gunwales and completely retrofitted as a seismic acquisition and recording vessel. It had been renamed: “조선 민주주의 인민 공화국 영광” or “Glory of Democratic People's Republic of Korea Science”.
In reality, it was an aging rust-bucket piece of shit that might have possibly seen better days but wasn’t letting on. All the military nonsense, except the powder magazine, had been removed and a new superstructure consisting of slap-dash hunks of poorly-welded low-carbon, cold-rolled steel were erected to form a pilothouse in the area where the bridge once existed. They also built, extra haphazardly, a shooter’s room, galley, cold and wet storage areas, recording room, and storage of tapes and the extra bits and pieces needed for a none-too-extended stay on the sea. It was, being charitable, almost utilitarian.
They could not make their own water, so trip times were limited to about three days in length. Besides, they didn’t really have a hot galley, so it was cold, canned Chinese chow for the next 72 hours. They had a couple of fairly sturdy yardarms with heavy winches to handle the towed seismic arrays of geophones, which were of ancient heritage and showed it. These were probably appropriated back in the 80s or perhaps earlier when they first thought about opening their waters for seismic exploration.
They ‘borrowed’ most of the sensing and recording equipment back then from oilfield service companies and simply forgot to return it once finished. Since they burned that bridge so glowingly, they couldn’t get parts nor service when things failed. Being delicate seismic sensing and recording equipment, fail they did.
So, we had to use what was leftover, or what DPRK industries could cobble together, or what could be salvaged from salt-water drenched recording equipment that hadn’t been too heavily cared for over the span of the last 50 years.
We weren’t terribly optimistic.
So, we load the good ship ‘Rorrypop’, as Viv christened the thing, and head out to the wilds of the Yellow Sea. It was an abbreviated foreign crew, as there was really nothing other than upchuck and curse me soundly for insisting the non-geophysical scientists came along.
Aboard were the two geophysicists, naturally; Volna and Activ. I was there stick-handling the logistics and hoping to help out with the geophysical signal source explosives.
Morse and Cliff, the two other geologists accompanied us on the trip, and Dax decided to go with me as he figured I’d have access to the best booze no matter where we went.
The remainder of the team, the geochemists, Erlan and Ivan, the geomechanic, Iskren, the PT, Joon, and the two REs, Viv and Grako, remained behind onshore at the hotel. They set forth cataloging what data was available; from what sources, it’s vintage, veracity, and usefulness.
Augean tasks, both. Not as fecaliferous as Hercules’ jobs, but still, they held their own rations of shit for each sub-team.
Heading seaward, the Yellow Sea extends by about 960 km (600 mi) from north to south and about 700 km (430 mi) from east to west; it has an area of approximately 380,000 km2 (150,000 mi2) and a volume of about 17,000 km3 (4,100 mi3).[4] Its depth is only 44 m (144 ft) on average, with a maximum of 152 m (499 ft). The sea is a flooded section of the continental shelf that formed during the Late Pleistocene (some 10,000 years ago) as sea levels rose 120 m (390 ft) to their current levels. The depth gradually increases from north to south. The sea bottom and shores are dominated by sand and silt brought by the rivers through the Bohai Sea and the Yalu River. These deposits, together with sand storms are responsible for the yellowish color of the water referenced in the sea's name.
Being shallow, the Yellow Sea is more perturbed by the frequent seasonal storms of the region. The area has cold, dry winters with strong northerly monsoons blowing from late November to April. I was told that the summers are wet and warm with frequent typhoons between June and October; but now all we had to contend with were swelling seas, spraying saltwater, waggling waves, and a shivering, shimmying ship.
All the navigation, communications and other shiply duties were being handled by both members of the DPRK Coast Guard Auxiliary, mostly older guys who were of great and high humorous jest; and an actual pleasure to be around. They were like their scientific cadre on this cruise, basically a political ‘give a shit’ attitude, and a desire to get the job done, smoke the American’s cigars and drink as much as we could get away with.
The scientific portion of the cruise was being undertaken by students of the various universities and members of the North Korean national oil company. The demeanors of these characters ranged from extremely earnest and stringently North Korean politically correct in the students and academicians, to a more relaxed ‘yeah, let’s just get the fucking job done so we can have a lot of drinks’ sort of view of the older members of the DPRK scientific team.
It was a fun admixture of cultures, ages, professions, and behaviors.
Oh, forgive me for forgetting to mention our ‘guides’, or handlers. They were also chosen, nay, ordered to come along. Landlubbers all, they were less than thrilled with the assignment and inevitable seasickness; which seemed endemic to those of Oriental extraction on the cruise. However, our guides did enjoy drinking. As we learned that alcohol is a central part of Korean culture, and they encouraged us to socialize with them when the time was appropriate.
Or, not appropriate, as I was being denounced by one of the geophysical students after only a few hours into our very first day. Hell, we weren’t even in the Yellow Sea proper. We started here at Pyongyang, down the Taedong River, over the Giva Dam, through Pushover, across Shmoeland, to the stronghold of Shmoe; into the very belly of the frothing Yellow Sea.
Most everyone, other than the foreign elements on board, were either making the trip in the bowels of the ship; nursing and cursing seasickness; or by rail, doing exactly the same thing.
“Chum it over the side, ya’ blinkered mucker!”, I admonished one bottle-greenish national. “This ain’t the Captain‘s mess, Chuckles. You have to clean up your own spew!”
I was reveling in getting back out on the water and regaining my sea legs. I never get seasick.
Never.
Ever.
Be it a seismic vessel in the heaving Arctic Ocean, a pirogue in the swamps of Louisiana, my cousin’s fishin’ johnboat back in northern Baja Canada, a US nuclear submarine under the permanent pack ice of the North Pole, or VLCC in the Straits of Somaliland; I just don’t get seasick.
Airsick? Nah. Carsick? Nope. Ready to puke in a Hind-20 over the Caspian Sea during a strong local thunderstorm? Close, but no cigar.
So, I’m doing a Titanic scene recreation. Up in the very bow of the craft, standing in stark defiance of the gusting winds and blowing salt spray, smoking a huge cigar, and totting out of one of my emergency flasks while trying to hang on to my Stetson. I am also endeavoring to remain upright, field vest and really, really ghastly Hawaiian shirt billowing in the breeze.
I’m not certain if it was the cigar smoke, the wind-whipped beard, and hair, the give a fuck attitude, or the flapping of the Hawaiian shirt to which the little local geophysicist objected. But he was pissed. Olive-green with seasickness, rubber-kneed but still standing a good social-distance away, reading me the riot act in high-pitched Korean.
As I usually do in such delicate situations, I just smile and wave. Show them I’m mostly harmless and they either cool down or get pissed off even more and stomp off in disgust.
Either one was a winning situation for me in my book.
So, I return to doing my ship’s figurehead imitation and revel in the wind, spray, and feeling of really being booming. Sure, some might complain of the cold, but not me, the sting of the salt-spray or the windburn; but I eschew what most people enjoy as ‘normal weather’. I live for pushing the boundaries. I love rough weather and situations that thrust the edge of the envelope further past normalcy.
Besides, we were still in sight of land. Hell, if everything went south at this very minute, one could practically walk back to shore. I can hardly wait to see what these wigglers will do if a night storm comes up when were 100 or more kilometers from land.
The boat’s thrumming heavily from both the thrust of the Soviet-era diesel engines and the craft’s bludgeoning its way through the waves. Most hull designs are so the ship will ‘cut’ through the surface waters. This craft’s flattened trihedral hull design didn’t so much ‘cut’, as ‘slam’ it’s way through. The boat would then crash up one side and smash down the other of each large wave we encountered. The boat would shudder whole, adding a new note of resonance along with the monotonous one-note song of the aged Russian diesels.
The spray would fly, the boat would convulse, time would seem to freeze until we bashed into the next wave. The captain of the vessel took his orders very seriously. “Get to coordinates XXX and YYY by the most expedient means possible.” If that meant charging, full-throttle into the teeth of the oncoming monsoon-force wind while we were traversing the worst kelp jungle I’ve seen this side of the Sargasso Sea; well, piss on it, full steam ahead.
“Fuck it”, I thought, “Not my pony, not my show. Let’s see how this plays out.” While I light a new cigar and search for Emergency Flask #2.
After I’d been upbraided by the geophysical student for transgressions still unknown, Cliff and Dax wander out to ask me what the hell I was up to.
“Have you gone completely barmy?”, Cliff asked. “It’s a full gale out here and you’re standing in the teeth of it like it was a warm, sunny Sunday in Piccadilly.”
“Nope, not at all”, I replied, “Just reveling in the delights of an angry atmosphere.”
“He’s nuts, I told you”, Dax smirked, “He’d go anywhere and do anything to have a cigar.”
“Not just a cigar, me old mucker”, I smiled and waved my second emergency flack under his nose.
“Figures”, they both respond in unison.
Dax departs and returns mere seconds later with paper Dixie-style cups he liberated from the ship’s one head. We are going to do our very best to extend the lifetime of the onboard water supply for our scientific and military friends. I pour them each a cup full.
“Whoa, Doc”, that’s gotta be 100 milliliters!” Cliff objects.
“As the Siberian saying goes: One hundred versts, roughly a hundred miles, is no distance. A hundred rubles isn't worthwhile money. And a hundred grams of vodka just makes you thirsty. Prosit!” I say in reply.
We retire to the overhang on the fantail of the boat. It’s a sunshade and keeps the worst of the weather out for the lightweights on the cruise. I decided we’d withdraw there to keep these Dominionites out of the worst of the wind and sea spray.
“Rock”, Cliff notes, “You are a complete throwback. You do not belong here in the 21st century. You need to find a way back to the Calabrian and ride herd on the continental Neanderthals. Give them the gift of distilling and tobacco agriculture, and you’d reframe the world.”
Dax agrees, but notes if I do find a way back, he and Cliff would be selected against.
“Good point”, Cliff agrees. “Rock, stay here. We need your expertise now more than ever. Plus your ready supply of strong drink and cigars.”
“Glad to know that I’m truly appreciated around these parts.” I chuckled slightly acridly.
“Ah, Rock. Buck up. You know we’re only takin’ a piss.” Cliff says.
“Aim it starboard. Don’t want it blowin’ all over the seismic gear”, I reply, laughingly.
The trip continued, and I found a not-bolted-to-the-deck chair and moved it outside under the shade back by the boat’s fantail. I refreshed my emergency flasks and replenished my cigar supply. I’m not about to sit inside and listen to the wails and gnashing of teeth of the landlubber crowd, the patter and timor of the geophysical throng as they titter and argue about array design, nor the military hut-hutting all over the fucking boat.
A couple of times, one or more of our ‘handlers’ would venture out as I had the only supply of readily available smokeables and drinkables. Oh, we had food, lots of beer, soju, some knock-off vodka, and some of that faux homebrew bourbon for later once the workday was declared over; but for now, I was the one and only dispensary.
We’d have some random chats while they screwed up their courage to ask me for a smoke or a tot of drink. I brought several bundles of really cheap-ass cigars for just such occasions; besides, I figured one of my Camacho triple-maduros would have them chumming for the remainder of the trip. I had also many, many cartons of Sobranie pastel-colored cigarettes, and many more cartons of knock-off Marlboros I bought at the duty-free when we hit town.
It was chucklingly funny to see these harsh, military, no-nonsense characters walking their duty beats smoking pastel green, lavender, and mauve cigarettes.
We got bogged down a couple of times when one or more of the ship’s twin screws fouled with kelp as we tried to put some distance between us and the shore. Each time, one really dejected low-ranking young Coast Guard character would go over the side with a rope around his waist and a knife in his hand to free the props. I was going to object as this was moronically dangerous; but, again, not my pony, not my show. This called for full proper tethering and SCUBA gear.
They had neither aboard.
Welcome to the wonders of a centrally planned economy.
To be continued.
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Summary of the Persona 5 Royal info from the trailer and website (includes P5 Spoilers!)

Finally, some info!
I'll divide this into details from the trailer and details from the site (there's a lot of the latter), with a few bits of speculation thrown in (I'll make it clear which details are confirmed and which are just mine though):
The trailer (in roughly the order of appearance):
Those shoulders look too broad to be Kasumi's (and doesn't seem to have long hair or a ponytail), but they have hair so can't be Shido. But those are definitely seams on the edges of the shoulders...it's Takuto, isn't it?
Maybe Kasumi talks first and Takuto hijacks the message and/ or kidnaps or attacks her while she's delivering it? Maybe they're the same person under different personas personalities? Atlus has done weirder stuff!
Edit 8: I wrote another post analysing the English fan-translation of the trailer, including some further speculation about Gnostic influences. Please check it out too if you have the time!
The website:
There's a ton of stuff here, as I said before!
From the opening "reel" of screenshots:
Section 1: Kasumi Yoshizawa and Takuto Maruki:
Section 2:
And now Lady Ann and I will finally... happy cat noises
In any case, this confirms a "Golden" ending where Joker doesn't need to turn himself in to ensure Shido gets punished. Maybe this involves the "vision" at the start of the trailer and getting Goro to confess on his behalf instead? Or maybe the Yaldabaoth situation is handled differently in such a way that gives Sae the evidence she needs to convict him (assuming the bonus dungeon is in fact the Velvet Room)?
Edit 1: But this also begs the question: what will we do in those three months? Will the Metaverse survive the final boss this time around, or will the last three months be purely for social stats and Confidants? Will at least Mementos survive, so we can complete Confidants, or will they be re-written (by default or after the end of the game) so that Mementos won't be necessary for them?
Section 3:
This details the additions to the overworld and Metaverse.
School Life
Phantom Life
Spec-Up
---
Edit 1: Thanks to the screenshot in this thread (thank you, u/ZuskatoIsR3D) we can see Kasumi's stats in relation to everyone else's. Her numbers are lower than the other three, though this could just mean she recently joined the group and needs to catch up, but her SP is less than half her HP. This could mean either:
The next batch on information will come on May 9th. However, there's also a talk show tomorrow with Joker's VA that was supposed to give P5R info, which makes me think tomorrow will just have a recap of today's stuff (along with info of an upgrade deal for existing owners, I hope).
Persona 5 Royal releases on Halloween in Japan and 2020 in the West (the English trailer also confirms the Western name drops the "The" in the Japanese title as many suspected, following P4G's example). 'til then, enjoy! I hope you found this useful!
Edit 4: Theories (marked with "(*X)" above):
  1. It's possible that the meeting between Kasumi, Ren and Akechi is where we hear the dialogue from last month's trailer ("What do you think of the Phantom Thieves?") After all, them meeting at all means she isn't restricted to only meeting him at the TV station, and this gives her more time to form an opinion on how they work - at least until finding her way into the metaverse and seeing what they do and why.
  2. u/TheReaperCreeper had a much better suggestion than me: what if Akechi is the one who turns himself in for Ren's sake? As another user of the Metaverse he can also answer questions about it to get Shido sentenced, while also paying for his own crimes. Better still, he could claim to be the leader of the Thieves to keep the law off everyone else's backs, thus getting to redeem himself while also being punished for the things he did. Thanks, Reaper!
  3. I was going to say Kasumi may only be important because she was in the right place at the right time, but this certainly hints at a more supernatural cause if true.
  4. u/hypercombofinish suggested Kasumi's Persona could be Dorothée, and since her outfit shares so many similarities to Joker's I think this is highly likely. For those who don't know, Dorothée is the lead character of the novel The Secret Tomb, the only Arsène Lupin book in which Arsène himself doesn't appear. Instead the plot is about Dorothée solving one of his "four fabulous secrets". This could be highly fitting for someone initially disagrees with the Thieves before becoming one herself and would also tie her into Joker's "mythology" the same way Marie and her backstory tied into Izanagi's (and thus Yu) - assuming Kasumi is the Aeon Arcana and not a Fool or Jester or something completely different, of course.
  5. The trailer as a whole has a small narrative running about Kasumi trying to dissuade the Thieves from their work, while Morgana tells her they won't be swayed by the danger or not getting results. This provides some early insight into her character, but maybe she eventually goes off the deep end and tries to control everything as a way of keeping everyone safe? Morgana telling her that "granting everyone's dreams is bad" and her saying she "took everyone's dreams" is also quite interesting. Maybe Wakaba and human!Morgana are just illusions? I plan on making a full post about the translated trailer tomorrow, but this is just something to sleep on until then.
---
(Just search for "Edit X" to see what each change entailed. Check the time stamp to see if I added anything you missed or want to correct!)
Edit 1: Just added a few tweaks based on stuff I've seen elsewhere on the sub and stuff I forgot to add the first time.
P.S. ...am I the only one who thinks Kasumi looks better in her school uniform? Anyone? Maybe because I like clothed people and the pose shows her off better?
Edit 2: Amended the descriptions of Kasumi's weapons.
Edit 3: Added a detail I overlooked the first time and clarifications from Persona Central's article. (Edit made at 16:53 UTC.)
Edit 4: Added translations for the new boy and a theory section, 17:31 UTC.
Edit 5: Added more translations, a correction about Joker's grappling hook and a new theory! 21:47 UTC.
Edit 5.5: Added a quick note I forgot to under the "mysterious boy's" section. 21:54 UTC.
Edit 6: Another edit, another translation! 22:22 UTC.
Edit 7: Added information from the translated trailer and u/quitethewaysaway's observation. 22:50 UTC.
Edit 7.5: Edited theory 5, 22:53 UTC.
25th April
Edit 8: I wrote another post about the translated trailer and added some new speculation there including possible Gnostic influences! Also I added a possible explanation for the alarms ringing in the Velvet Room. 9:40 (am) UTC.
Edit 9: This has nothing to do with Persona 5 Royal, but I wrote a post for P5S too! It's nowhere near as detailed as this one (since we have nowhere near as much info), but I hope you find it worth reading nonetheless! 14:39 UTC.
Edit 10: Added a shower thought inspired by Kasumi's cosplayer. 16:19 UTC.
Edit 11: Added a detail about Futaba's AOA that I noticed on rewatching the trailer. 18:14 UTC.
Edit 12: Finally managed to snag a picture of the above, and also added a scene from the trailer I didn't think worth mentioning before but have since changed my mind on. 21:13 UTC.
27th April
Edit 13: Added a new observations from the trailer. 08:35 UTC (am).
Edit 14: Added more info about a screenshot. 13:05 UTC.
Edit 15: Added some info from Twitter. I wish I knew of MysticDistance's work sooner! 13:54 UTC.
Edit 16: Added some observations from the trailer. 20:15 UTC.
Edit 17: Added a screenshot of the mystery figure on the TV screen. 20:47 UTC.
28th April
Edit 18: Added more details from Twitter, some speculation and a feature about the cutscenes I keep forgetting to add! 10:09 UTC.
Edit 19: Added speculation about when Kasumi joins the Thieves as well as a theory on Okumura's Palace. 14:05 UTC.
Edit 20: Added some speculation and further observations. 16:52 UTC.
UPDATES: This post is now too long to add to, so further updates will be added in the comments (along with text from here to show where the new details fit in.
Edit 21: Can be found here. 22:17 UTC. (Edit 21.5: Added a link to the magazine article and boldened the links to the trailer and site. 22:25 UTC).
29th April
Edit 22: Can be found here and contains some further speculation! 19:13 UTC.
Edit 23: Can be found here and details Kasumi's animations and possible symbolism of her stats/ potential playstyle. 19:36 UTC.
Edit 24: More speculation! 20:03 UTC.
Edit 25! 21:32 UTC.
30th April
Edit 26! 20:12 UTC.
(Edit 26.5: Added the above date and italicised it and the 29th for better clarity. 21:13 UTC.)
Edit 27: Added something I've been forgetting to add ever since adding the speculation of Goro (and Kasumi) joining Joker as "inmates," followed by some shower thoughts! 21:48 UTC.
Edit 28! A big one if I say so myself, about Kasumi's theorised code name, "Swan". Now I really hope we were right! 22:06 UTC.
4th May
Edit 29, 30 and 31: I was able to cover a lot over the past few days, including an analysis of Kasumi's character and name so far and translations for everything on the trailer and website! 16:49 UTC.
Edit 32: A new thought and an old thought. 23:00 UTC.
5th May
Edit 33: A thought regarding the narrative impact of the similarities between Kasumi and Joker's outfits. 10:01 UTC.
Edit 34: Wrote an analysis of the main song, Colors Flying High, and added some suggestions for the origins and implications of Kasumi's powers! 15:14 UTC.
6th May
Edit 35: More theories based on suggestions from the comments! 14:16 UTC.
Edit 36: New theories from the comments and something I keep forgetting to mention. 14:43 UTC.
Edit 37+ listed here!
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Mediterranean Cruise (2018)

Mediterranean Cruise (2018)
Here is how to make the most of a one-week Mediterranean cruise and see as much of Europe that one can possibly manage in one week. I planned our cruise to minimize any unpleasant surprises and yet leave room to be spontaneous and adventurous.
This article is not about cruise ships and you do not have to be a fan of cruises as my trip was mostly on land other than the overnight cruising. I felt that at the age of 57, I had delayed Europe long enough and with my busy business schedule, the cruise was the only way to get a snapshot of three countries and six cities in 10 days total, plus two days for flying from and to Canada. My wife does not like cruises, and I was left to travel with Lucas, our seventeen-year-old!
In August 2018, Lucas and I flew to Barcelona, Spain, the embarking port for the Norwegian, Epic cruise ship. It was our very first time on a cruise and our very first time to Europe except for England. I do not recommend August or July for this trip as it is high season for local tourism, and it is too hot to walk the cities (well too hot for me). However, if you have kids in school, then you understand that it must be summer, unless you choose to go without them.
Our ship would mostly cruise at nighttime giving us a full day from 7 am to 6 pm in most cities. That was perfect for me because there is only so much staring at water I can enjoy, and spending time in a tiny casino or eating non-stop are not my kind of pastime. If you are a cruise fan, then Norwegian Epic is great. They have about 10 wonderful restaurants, a superbly well-organized huge buffet with great selection of international food, a nice water park on the upper deck, and even a youth club with games, music, and dance to keep your teens entertained.
Every evening after our long city walk, Lucas and I enjoyed a nice meal after our shower and then watched a show or a musical performance before we hit the sack in our comfortable balcony room. I do not like closed spaces and a balcony room was well worth the small difference in price, even though we did not have much time to be on the balcony. Epic was also completely renovated in 2015, which meant it was clean and up to date on amenities. Always check the year the ship was build or was renovated before committing to a cruise.
Our cruise had stops in these cities:
1- Barcelona, Spain - embarking
a. visit Gothic centre, La Rambla, La Sagrada Familia church, Park Güell,
2- Naples, Italy
a. Rented a car and drove to Sorrento (an hour drive)
3- Rome, Italy
a. Took the train to the city centre and then the city tour-bus to Vatican City, San Angelo Castle, Piazza di Spagna – drove past Colosseum
4- Florence and Pisa tower, Italy – walking tour, site seeing
5- Cannes and Nice, France – walking tour, site seeing
6- Mallorca (Majorca), Spain - took a taxi to Palma Nova beach, swam and chilled
What to pack? We traveled very light with one carryon and a backpack. The backpack was for our extra stuff and NOT for touring the city. I do not recommend walking with a backpack, even less in the summer. Other than the usual travel items, here are some essentials I had to buy.
1- Light and cool walking shoes that were comfortable for walking and cool for summer. I bought a pair of nice leather sandals with good support and solid straps for walking. Also packed a pair of dress shoes for evening dinner on the ship and exercise shoes that I never used!
2- Summer shirts. I ordered some European collared Linen shirts. They look nice, are cool, and comfortable. www.bensherman.com has a good selection of those if you live in Canada or USA. Pack lots of tees for less formal places.
3- A couple of dress pants (linen and or khaki) for the evening restaurant and shows and dress shorts for long walks.
4- Beach sandal and swimming trunk for the Beach in Mallorca which I ended up buying in Cannes
5- Your credit card, Euro currency, and travel documents of course. Leave them in the safety box in your room and only take what you need for the day.
Barcelona, Spain: We arrived Barcelona three days ahead of schedule to experience one city for more than just a day. We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Violeta (http://violetaboutique.com/home/) in the centre of the city and only three blocks from the Plaza Catalunya. It was the best and most centric location in my opinion. I loved the hotel.
Violeta was a small hotel that reminded me of my apartment in Buenos Aires. The hotel is in a residential apartment building where they had turned two floors into hotel rooms. The Gothic architecture offered us a giant completely renovated room with a very high ceiling. We had two queen size beds in our room, a sitting area and plenty of open space. The reception was extremely helpful with information, and being small, made check-in a breeze.
Violeta Boutique also included a European coffee and pastry breakfast but if you wanted an American breakfast, there was a small cafe next door on the street level and plenty of other options within a three-block radius.
Our three days in Barcelona coincided with the Fiesta de Gracia (thanksgiving!) which was a 20-minute bus ride from Plaza Catalunya. I had bought a 10-ride Metro-Bus pass (Credit card size) from the Metro (subway, underground) station at Catalunya. Fiesta de Gracia was in the Garcia neighborhood where all the streets were colourfully decorated by the residents and live bands played all night on the streets and restaurants had set outdoor patios. The music was free, the food was reasonably priced, and people were jolly. It was my second favourite part of our time in Barcelona and we went there two evenings.
Barcelona Gothic city
From the airport, we took a bus straight to Plaza Catalunya (Plaça de Catalunya) in 20 minutes and then walked three blocks to our hotel. I had the hotel directions Googled (searched) in advance. I am fluent in Spanish (the Argentine version) so taking public transit was natural for me. Although Barcelona is a destination for international tourism and most people in the industry seem to speak English.
I bought a SIM card for my phone (which was unlocked in advance) at the airport for €30 from Vodafone (https://www.vodafone.com/) that gave me 10 Gig of mobile data covering most of Europe for up to a month. It did not include coverage on the cruise ship.
La Rambla and the old Gothic city in Barcelona were 10 to 15-minute walk from our hotel or Plaza Catalunya. You want to spend half a day walking this area, watching the beautiful shops, the narrow streets of Gothic centre and try a street café or restaurant.
La Sagrada Familia is a must see for its architecture alone. We took a bus there, but you must purchase tickets in advance if you plan to go inside on a specific day and skip the long lineup. This is another half-day venture unless you want to tour the outside which is fascinating enough. I found it amazing to see how much craft and detail was offered to decorate the exterior of the building. It is no wonder that the new extension brings a modern and plain contrast that just does not quite match the elegance and masterful craftsmanship of the old.
https://preview.redd.it/vtg8evyjdv851.jpg?width=3024&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=777149d10c02a875134f6fab5d5ae73072cbf3b7
Park Guell is another 20-minute bus ride to the higher altitudes of Barcelona. It is a beautiful park with some very interesting structures left behind. It was a good half-day break from the city to relax and enjoy the nature. You can also see the entire city from the top.
Restaurant can be pricey in the touristy Plaça de Catalunya area. I managed to venture a couple of blocks off the main streets and find some local small restaurants. We had a great satisfying meal at a fantastic price and mingled with the residents. I even found a little Italian owned pizza place! Of course, we also tried the more refined tapas restaurants. After all, we were tourists.
Naples, Italy: The longest leg of our cruise was from Barcelona to Naples which took a full day at sea. That was perfect because it provided us the opportunity to navigate the ship and the amenities, learn the evening programs, browse the list of restaurants, and to start our reservations. I did not think that Naples had enough to interest me for the whole day and I hungered to see the Amalfi coast. Amalfi coast was too far for a day trip, so I decided that Sorrento and maybe Positano would be close enough. I rented a car from Hertz in advance which was a five-minute walk from the port. The car cost me about $150 Canadian, tax included! Luckily, I still remembered how to drive standard transmission (stick-shift).
We made it to Sorrento on the scenic highway with no problem. Traffic did slow at some points giving the driver (me) an opportunity to enjoy the scenery. About 10 minutes before arriving, atop the hills on the narrow road that took us to Sorrento, I found a little space to park the car and breath-in the fresh view of Sorrento waterfront. We could see the sail boats floating on the Mediterranean blue water, and the colourful little houses built on the slope of the hill from the top all the way to the sea. The buildings were in so many colours as if the quaint Sorrento were architected by Michelangelo to be lived by DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.
Sorrento from the road top
Sorrento was so beautiful that we spent the entire day there. We parked the car in an underground parking across to Gran Hotel Europa Palace (www.europapalace.com) on the hilltop. We must have spend about 45 minutes roaming the exterior of the hotel, admiring the architecture and the impressive iron gate, and then spending time on the back patio taking a closer look at the colourful buildings on the hill rolling down to the water. There were stone walking paths from the houses to the water where a giant deck with seats and shades turned the sea into a giant public pool.
Sorrento Hotel
The ladies in reception were extremely helpful offering us information and allowing me to charge my mobile since I had forgotten my charger! According to one of them, the German war maps were still on the lobby walks behind the giant paintings at this fortress (now hotel). I wanted to go down to the waterfront for lunch. So, the nice lady called her friend, the owner of a restaurant on the waterfront, and they sent us a car at no charge and after lunch they drove us back. The ride to the water was through narrow winding streets of Sorrento. After lunch we took a walk along the harbour and watched the sail boats rock on calm waters. I would like to spend a week or more in Southern Italy some day.
I forgot to mention that my cousin lives in Naples working on his PhD. He was our translator for the day. This was our first encounter in forty years (that is a sad tale that should not ruin this travel story). On the way back, we sat in a very nice café in Naples and had an amazing coffee and pastry before heading back to our ship. Italian pastry is the best, with my apology to mom and all the Persians.
Sorrento harbour
Rome, Italy: The port for Rome is in Civitavecchia, an hour drive from Rome. A tour purchased from the cruise would have been around $300 CDN per person. I like to think that I am adventurous and enjoy experimenting the local ways as much as I can. However, I understand that you may think that I am just cheap. I am fine with that. My son (Lucas) and I took a five-minute bus ride to the train station and paid €10 each to take the fast train to Rome. I love trains a lot more than buses.
We could have ventured Rome with local transit; however, our time was limited and we could not afford any time asking for directions. If I recall accurately, the daily hop-on-hop-off city tour was about €20 per person. To visit Rome and only spend one day should be a crime but a snapshot to calm my itching curiosity was the deal I had taken. I would say that Rome and Vatican City would require at least a week. There are many ancient Basilicas other than St. Peter’s each offering a unique history and that alone is well worth a week for me.
The bus passed by the Colosseum, check mark. We were heading to the Vatican City knowing well that we may not make it inside. After all, Vatical city is a day by itself. The bus dropped us a few blocks away in front of San Angelo Castle also known as Mausoleum of Hadrian https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Sant%27Angelo. The castle was a tall cylinder-like giant stone building walled all around like a fortress. I thought we would take a quick tour of the place at €15 (it was free for minors “Lucas”). We ended up spending over two hours admiring the decorated walls and ceilings with painting that were full of stories, and the museum items there were placed in its numerous rooms. We climbed many rocky stairs all the way to the top of this tallest structure in Rome, ventured the narrow hallways and took some pictures on the roof.
San Angelo Castle
The entrance to Vatican City was a ten-minute walk. Before crossing the bridge over Tiber (Tevere) we sat on the patio of a river-side food booth to have a snack. We walked to Vatican City and spent an hour in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) observing the architecture, the elegantly attired Guards, the crowd lining up and the shops that lure the tourist.
We took the tour bus back to Piazza di Espagna. This was the cleanest, most modern, and prettiest part of the city that our eyes had seen in the past few hours. The bus left us on the upper escalation of the Piazza where I took some pictures before descending the steep long set of steps into the centre of the shops and restaurants. We walked for about an hour window shopping and then found a restaurant patio in a pedestrian intersection. It was a touristy area but still reasonably priced. We certainly could give ourselves this one treat before heading back to the train station for our hour and twenty-minute ride back.
Piazza di Espagna
Total cost of our Rome venture including transportation, admissions, and food (for two) was €150. Lunch was the biggest expense.
** Picture
Florence and Pisa, Italy: Another restaurant and show evening aboard the Norwegian Epic, and we arrived in Florence (port of Livorno) early morning. Getting to Florence by public transit was too complicated. A car ride from port of Livorno to Florence was about 90 minutes and to Pisa around 30 minutes. I was lucky to find a private mini-van taxi (a brand new eight-seater Mercedes) that needed two more passengers to get going. At €50 per person to take us to Florence and then Pisa and back, it was a great deal. This deal could have been booked online in advance for €40. A lesson learned here. The other people sharing our ride were a family of four from Montreal, and a mother-son pair from Los Angles.
Everyone was very reserved and quiet. Lucas and I sat in the front with the driver and I spend the entire trip learning from our friendly driver. Florence is beautiful and quaint. However, I thought I had enough architecture in Rome and did not feel like lining up for an hour to see another church. We took a walking tour of Florence and had a meal at small sandwich joint run by two very funny and entertaining ladies. They offered a great selection of artisanal sandwiches, but almost two years later now, I cannot remember what I ate.
Pisa was another little town walled all around. I can imagine the great length the leaders had to go to protect people from attacks and we so often take our freedom for granted. Of course, we must protect ourselves from partisan politics and corporate lawyers, but that is easily manageable. At this point of the trip, I had enough sight seeing. I would have been good with a video of Pisa on YouTube. Here is a picture of the magnificent but defected marble structure.
Florence
Residents sunbathing in Florence
Pisa
Canes and Nice, France:
Canes, France was physically the most beautiful city on this trip, in my opinion. It was manicured clean and peaceful. Canes did not have a port for the cruise ships, hence we had to anchor in the sea and take the emergency boats to the shore. The emergency boats were giant, and each held about 200 people. We had a short time here and we were tired. I should have taken a tour bus, but my sense of adventure (or cheapness) had us walking up the steep and narrow winding street and then back down to the city centre for a bite.
I found a small sandwich shop to share a ham and cheese baguette and a couple of drinks with Lucas. In my broken French, I asked the young lady behind the counter if she could cut the baguette in half for us and she gave me a stern “Non”. I am not certain whether that was a lack of courtesy or I had crossed some religious or cultural boundaries. It was simple enough to split the baguette with me hand. We should have continued our tour of the city and stayed in Canes as I had advised our friends from Quebec. However, a sudden urge came over me to take the train to Nice. We did, and Nice’s downtown and beach area were beautiful to walk; however, the injustice I did to my own principals of travelling is unforgivable. The whole day was just too rushed and consuming.
Canes, City Market
Mallorca (Majorca) Spain:
The trip from Canes to Mallorca was the second longest leg of the cruise. We arrived Mallorca around 1 pm giving us roughly five hours on the Island. After seven days of walking the cities in the heat of August, even the young Lucas was exhausted. The port in Mallorca was not walking distance to any interesting place and Lucas wished to spend the day at a beach. Great idea, I thought.
I Googled the most scenic beaches nearby and Palma Nova was the second choice but the only feasible option due to our limited time. We had a brief line up for a taxi right at the port. There was a family of five from Peru from our cruise in front of us in the lineup and they could not all fit into one taxi. I invited the grandpa of the family to come with us since they were heading to the same beach. Grandpa was a good companion and an opportunity for me to learn about Peru. We agreed on a time for going back together and then split to our ventures.
Palma Nova was perfect to spend a day. The beach had the right amount of crowd and was decorated by some rocky hills on one side for us to take a walk in between swims. The water was perfectly tempered, calm, and clear blue. There were no high rises nor big tourist hotels on this beach and plenty of restaurants and shops. For lunch we crossed the street on the beach to a patio and I shared a nice pizza and drinks for €12. We paid €15 for the bamboo umbrella and two chairs to have our spot on the beach and about €35 total for the taxi ride back and forth. That brings our total to €62 for a beautiful relaxing day in Majorca.
Palma Nova beach, Mallorca
I would like to spend a week in Mallorca. There are many scenic quaint towns and beautiful beaches to enjoy. If you are interested to know more, you can search for Palma, Sóller, Valldemossa, and Pollença. All these are on the west side of the island and within an hour drive from Palma. I would stay in Palma and make day trips to each of these towns. If you are a tennis fan, then you will probably add Rafael Nadal’s academy (https://www.rafanadalacademy.com/en) to the list, which is about an hour drive east of Palma.
Palma Nova beach, Majorca
Our last night on the cruise was concluded by a beautiful three course meal and listening to a live band on the middle deck’s lobby. There was a talented singer among the passengers and a few great dancers on board who joined the performance. It was a great way to end the cruise. We arrived Barcelona early morning, well rested, with a fresh shower and a full tummy. We found a taxi and headed straight to the airport to catch our noon flight back to Toronto without rush. I suppose my project management trainings mixed with my entrepreneurial nature, made a perfect schedule for the trip. You can check out www.pmi.org if you are interested in formalizing your skills for time and budget management.
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Tour & Reviews of River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, B.C 10 Tricks Casinos Don't Want You To Know - YouTube Rivers Casino Commercial I YELLED SO LOUD THE ENTIRE CASINO HEARD ME! Double ... Life As a VIP High Roller At the Casino: What It's Like ... Rain Man - Casino Scene - YouTube How I make money playing slot machines ~ DON'T GO HOME ... WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CRUISE SHIP CASINOS  GAMBLING ... The Man Who Cheated Vegas Casinos For Years And Stole ... History Buffs: Casino - YouTube

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Tour & Reviews of River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, B.C

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