Moving Day

No, not moving to Hungary (yet.)  I’ve moved my blog to its own URL, whereisnikki.org.

From now on, this address is defunct.  It will no longer be updated. So move your bookmarks and RSS feeds to http://whereisnikki.org/

I’ll see you at the new site.

But who cares how you spell it when you can buy chocolates like this?

Notice that not only can you buy a “mini-set” of three, you can also purchase an even smaller size, perfect for midafternoon nomming.

And does anyone else notice the slightly disgruntled cherub looking down on them?

Ahh, Brugge. European Disneyworld.  I watched the movie the other day, by the way.  The one that made Brugge famous, called In Brugge.  Don’t watch it. It’s crap and everyone dies for stupid reasons.


It’s time to renew my passport.

I’m not happy about this. Renewing my passport means I have to start all over with stamps.  And it’s going to be stiff and brand-new looking, with an RFID chip in it. My old passport doesn’t have the chip in it.  This occasionally causes problems with airport personnel trying to check me in, which is amusing.

Although on the bright side, I’ll get a new picture, maybe one that actually looks like me so security doesn’t do a double take every time they compare me with my passport photo.

I’ve heard the rumor that US passport fees are going to go up in the near future. It’s already $100 for an adult passport – so if you’re thinking about getting one or will need yours renewed soon, get on that and do it now.

If you don’t have a passport yet, go get one. Now. And then use it.  The United States has the smallest percentage of passport holders of any developed nation.  Everyone travels more than we do.  And with all of our nation’s wealth and affluence, that’s just sad.

So…how does one go about procuring a passport?  Very simple.

  1. Go to the US Government passport page. Find and fill out the proper form. If you’re over sixteen, you’ll be getting an adult passport, and if you’re under sixteen you’ll be getting a child’s passport, which is only good for five years.  You can either fill out the forms on the computer, or print out blank ones to fill in by hand.
  2. Get your passport photos taken.  It’s possible to do this yourself – look up how to do it if you’re really interested.  Or let a professional do it for you at a place like Walgreens, Ritz Photo, Meijer, etc.
  3. You can go here to search for the nearest place to apply for a passport.  Most post offices and government buildings will do it.
  4. Follow the directions on your form and on the website.  You’ll need to bring proper ID with you when you apply (and you must apply in person, unless you’re only renewing an adult passport.)  You must have either a previous passport or a certified birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship to prove that you’re a US citizen.
  5. Submit a photocopy of your identification.
  6. Give them money.  Rates are supposed to be going up, so get in there soon.
  7. Give ’em your two passport-sized photos that fit all the specs.  (See above.)
  8. Sign on the line. Don’t sign the form until they tell you to.
  9. Become a proud passport holder. –Once they send it you, ages later.

Win.  You’re now authorized to travel many places on the globe, with the exception of Cuba.  Border Patrol will be keepin’ a close eye on you if you travel to the Middle East for any reason, and Russia’s visa laws are silly.  Luckily, you can pay people to “sponsor’ you on a visitor visa so Russia really isn’t a problem, just more difficult. But you now have one of the best passports on earth–many countries don’t require visas for Americans to visit.  Do you feel lucky? Good.  Don’t take it for granted.  Try talking to someone from a third-world country and ask what countries welcome them in with open arms.

Whether you’re in between trips, planning a trip, or just returned from one, here are four websites with quality travel advice to keep you inspired and help you plan your next trip.

  1. Bootsnall.com As adventure travel sites go, Bootsnall is probably the best. Nothing against the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums or anything, but…they’re not as good as Bootsnall.  The site can also help you plan your trip, from helping you purchase Eurail passes to RTW plane tickets.  There’s not a lot you won’t find here. They have free city travel guides, an active community, a plethora of resources to help you plan your trip, and best of all their website isn’t full of advertisements for their own products.  I’ve never bought plane tickets through them, though I’ve heard good things about it. They also have a fare search that covers all the major aggregate search engines like Vayama, Kayak, etc.
  2. Oneworld or Star Alliance RTW fare calculators.  Hmm, maybe its’ just me, but I can waste good time making up theoretical round-the-world trips.  And if you’re actually trying to plan an RTW, these interactive maps are great for mapping out exactly what you want to do.  Depending on where you start your trip, the RTW fare might be higher or lower (the USA is a fairly expensive place to start, due to low demand and relative inaccessibility to the rest of the world, while the UK is the best deal I’ve found so far.)  Each program has different fare rules; Oneworld is based on continents visited and country of origin, while Star Alliance is based on miles traveled.  Check both with your planned itinerary to see which can give you a better deal.
  3. Nomadic Matt: Nomadic Matt has travel advice, articles, and  a good travel blog.  He’s actually developed his site to the point where he makes money off it — no mean feat in the oversaturated world of travel-writing-on-the-internet.  Look him up on Twitter too; he always has interesting travel article links.
  4. Vagabondish: “The travelzine for today’s vagabond.”  If it’s possible to make vagabonding posh, then this site has done it.  It’s a good way to stay inspired to travel and has some good travel advice.

Vegemite: WTF Mate?

But, I mean, what do you really expect from a country whose Prime Minister, Harold Holt, on December 18th, 1967 simply vanished while walking along a beach in Victoria.  I mean, really.  He’s walking along, and then he’s gone. No trace of him was ever found.

And not only does Australia have vanishing prime ministers and 10 out of the 10 most poisonous snakes on earth, they have that oozing dark fecal matter in a bottle that they endearingly call “vegemite.”

This is one unnatural food product that shockingly enough hasn’t caught on in the United States.  I’m sure it’s available somewhere, but most Americans have never even heard of it.  Fortunately.  The English have a similar product called Marmite.

So what exactly is Vegemite?

From the official website itself:

Vegemite dates back to 1922 when the Fred Walker Company, which became Kraft Walker Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods Limited in 1950, hired a young chemist to develop a spread from one of the richest known natural sources of the vitamin B group – Brewers Yeast.

Following months of laboratory tests, Dr. Cyril P Callister, who became the nation’s leading food technologist of the 1920s and 30s developed a tasty spreadable paste. It came in a two ounce (57g) amber glass jar capped with a Phoenix seal with the label “Pure Vegetable Extract.

Tasty. Not only was it developed by a chemist (it has more in common with a Twinkie than you thought!) it had to be approved by the British Medical Association in 1939.

Australians rave over it.  I’ve tried it several times and have been unable to figure out what makes it good.  It tastes kind of like mold scrapings from an old barn added to a pound of salt, mixed with a dollop of horse dung, ground well, and spread on toast.  The subtler flavors are not within my meager powers of description.  You’ll just have to try it yourself.

The Vegemite website is worth a look – they have the entire history of the product and recipes (with “yummy” rather suspiciously bracketed in quotation marks, as though to say, “We’re simply implying that some people may find this product appetizing, but this is not the official opinion and merely represents a few crackpot loonies off somewhere in the bush.”  Isn’t that what putting single words in quotation marks usually means?)

You can send Vegemite e-cards, look at old advertising, see how their packaging has changed over the long and exciting years, see a timeline, read a poem about Vegemite, purchase Vegemite memorabilia – there’s even a link called the “Litte Aussie Vegemite Reader.” I’m afraid to look.

Now here is the clincher, here is the thing that prompted this rant:


Imagine the previously described taste mixed with processed cheese product – and you have Vegemite Cheesybite! Perfect, as the Vegemite homepage animation suggests, as a dip for crackers, celery, and carrots.

Someday, someday, if enough Australians force me to keep trying this appalling yeast by-product until my taste buds commit suicide, I might learn to like it. Until then, I stand firmly by the belief that this was never meant to be eaten by mortal human.

I am now off to go consume cheesy snacks.

Travel Disclaimer

From the excellent files of Bootsnall.com comes another sterling piece you might find interesting…

Travel Disclaimer

Fabulous Friday Photos is back…as long as the program continues to cooperate.

Prague. The problem with Prague is that it’s so touristy, and so gorgeous, and has too much history to possibly take in.

Mid-November Christmas market in the central square

I loved Prague. I’m not sure that I would want to live there; I showed up about ten, fifteen years too late for that. But to visit, it’s spectacular.  It really does live up to its reputation as the prettiest city in Europe. However, I thought it did lack some kind of personality — too many tourists, I suppose.  I wish I could have been here ten years ago.

This is a city I’ll be coming back to – often – when I live in Hungary. They’re not very far away, after all…