Seaport Village Busker

While we were strolling along the bay at San Diego’s Seaport Village, this busker sporting white 18th-century garb caught our attention. You go girl, don’t let that economic crisis get you down. 🙂

Home Exotic Home

On ContemporaryNomad.com, we’re used to showcasing exotic destinations around the world. But today, these scenes are from my home turf in La Jolla, California. I grew up hanging out at the beaches in La Jolla, I went to La Jolla High School, and I worked in La Jolla for years. Somehow, after years of living abroad, my home seems like an exotic destination in Continue…

Americans are in for it now!

In a baffling move of mind-blowing idiocy, the American government will now start charging a $14 “entry fee” for tourists who qualify for visa-free entry to the United States. Why? Because they are going to use the money to help promote the United States as a tourist destination. What the hell?!?!? Do we need some basic logic lessons here?

Not surprisingly the European Union, which has a reciprocal visa-free agreement with the United States, is not amused. Americans can expect the retaliatory entry fees to start popping up across the world not only making international travel more expensive but also much more complicated and confusing.

Think I’m wrong? Post-9/11 American visa antics (including high, non-refundable application fees) have already caused Americans to be singled out across the globe for higher visa charges. Just since we started Contemporary Nomad, I have paid significantly higher visa fees in China, India, and Laos. In one Indian consolate, I was actually called into the back and lectured for 30 minutes on how ridiculous the American visa process has become. Sorry India, I don’t make these rules.

For prospective visitors to the US, this new fee is an addition to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). If you wish to visit the United States under the visa-waiver system, make sure you have completed the ESTA process in advance. If all this annoys the hell out of you and you decide to spend your vacation somewhere where they don’t make you register online, pay an “entry fee”, scan all ten fingers, and enter your face into the facial recognition database, I fully understand.

Free Phone Calls to USA and Canada

Gmail has just upgraded US-based Gmail accounts to allow people to make free calls to phones in the United States and Canada.

This is different from Skype and Gmail Voice Chat because Gmail users can call telephones for free, not just other computers. Although Skype’s fantastic Skype-In feature has provided a similar service for years, a small per-minute charge has always been required.

So, will Gmail calls stay free forever? Probably not, as there is a small line of text stating “free in 2010.” Well, enjoy them while they last. Everyone else certainly is. Apparently, over a million free calls were made in the first 24 hours!

Leaving California

California has been, like, SO totally awesome! I mean I’m, like, NO WAY DUDES, margaritas and fish tacos with mountains of guac…

Goodbye California

I love California and I’m seriously going to miss it, but expensive, pre-booked return flight tickets have a way of forcing you to stick to a particular departure date. Family, friends, the beaches, the sun, the Mexican food – oh, the tragedy, don’t make me leave 🙁

Being nomadic most of the time, there is true joy in plopping down on the couch with a pizza and watching a DVD. The thrill of not packing or moving, not being sandwiched into third world buses has made California the perfect vacation from vacation.

But it’s time to get back on the road. So, it’s back to Bangkok to continue our adventures. Stay tuned, the explorations have just begun!

ESTA Scheme UPDATE

I thought the newly implemented pre-registration with Homeland Security for U.S. visitors was just annoying, but at least it was free. Now, as it turns out, America is going to slap a price tag on it. That’s outrageous!

ESTA Application

When I talked about the ESTA scheme in Welcome to America, I was bothered by the lopsidedness of the reciprocal visa procedure. Now, Congress has gone a step further. It just passed the Travel Promotion Act, a law which is supposed to promote the United States as a travel destination. Part of this program will be financed by imposing a $14 fee on tourists from visa-waiver countries whenever they renew their ESTA registration. Basically, ESTA is a visa in disguise. So much for the visa-free travel between the United States and the European Union.

Slapping an annoying new $14 fee and a load of confusing bureaucracy on tourists doesn’t seem to be the brightest way to “encourage” tourism. If you are American and you think this doesn’t affect you, think again. Visa waiver countries are sure to retaliate with a similar system. Oh, will the bureaucrats ever learn? If this is the government’s way to promote tourism, just imagine what they’ll do with health care!

***Price Update from January 2012***

American Food Culture

Salmon

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that Americans have no food culture. Apparently, the whole nation lives on hamburgers and doughnuts. But it’s SO not true. They also eat microwave dinners and frozen pizzas. 🙂 Clearly, we Germans are so much more sophisticated with our sauerkraut, bratwurst and “real” black forest cakes. It should be obvious that our culinary preconceptions of other countries are almost always wrong, and they are especially wrong when it comes to food in the United States.

What exactly is American food? Well, it’s like asking Continue…

Frank Gehry’s Disney Theater

Disney Theater by Frank Gehry

On our way back to San Diego, we couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to visit the incredible Disney Theater located in downtown Los Angeles. Don’t be fooled by the name, this phenomenal construction, designed by Frank Gehry, just might be reason for Los Angeles haters everywhere to give the city a second chance.

But visitors beware Continue…

Bumper Sticker Culture War

American Bumper Stickers

America is a land of extremes, from gigantic drinks to enormous cars to super-sized opinions. The latter is especially true when it comes to politics. All Americans have something to say about the wars, gay marriage, the Bush years, or the place of religion in American lives. Needless to say, where car culture meets uncompromising beliefs, opinions are expressed in the form of bumper stickers.

Coming from northern California, we spent an hour in Los Angeles traffic staring at the cars in front of us. Bored and stranded in a sea of bumpers, I started to notice the endless opinions rolling by in the form of politically charged bumper stickers. It’s kind of fun to look at people and know immediately what they think. But it’s surprising how many times the face didn’t match the message. Looks can be deceiving. You suddenly realize that the sweet little grandma wouldn’t hesitate to burn America’s gays at the stake, or that the stern-looking business man would love to join a march on Washington to end the wars.

People feel safe voicing their opinions while sitting in their little shells on wheels – BUT with such liberal gun laws in America, I sometimes wonder…

California Coastal Wildlife

Watch this short video to see one of the bulls basking in the sun and flipping sand on his back to stay cool.

The California coastline along Highway 1 boasts many natural attractions, above all the amazing animal life. On our trip from Monterey down to San Diego, we spotted sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, pelicans, cormorants, seagulls, ground squirrels, hummingbirds, and northern elephant seals – just to name a few. “Anything to get excited over?” a Californian might ask. For a local, these are just common animals. But for a German, these are creatures you never get to see outside a zoo – except in California. Continue…