Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas in Walt Disney World

Sticking with our Christmas theme from last post, I almost went to Florida this year for the Holiday party at Disney World. This blog wasn't around last year, and I did indeed attend the festivities at WDW and Epcot, and a great time was had.

Last year, my trip began with winning a very, very nice gift because of the Year of a Million Dreams. Without going into details, the gift was expensive, and nice, and made my trip easier, and placed Disney World on the top of my list of very best friends.

That said, Disney is a class act, and puts on one heck of a party. If you haven't attended a Disney Party, I can say that the Halloween and Christmas Parties at WDW in Florida are well worth the extra cost. The extra cost is a small fee for tickets to the park at night, and the park is only open to those ticketholders, so is relatively less crowded than on a normal day. The party consists of a special parade and fireworks exclusive to the party, and of course the place is decorated to the hilt. I'll cover the Halloween party at a later date, but the Christmas party has hot cocoa and cookies at different areas of the park, and other freebies I can't remember right now. There is artificial snow falling in Main Street, and Disney Characters available for meet and greets, and Belle telling a Christmas story behind the castle, and the castle? Wow!

The castle is covered with lights that change color slowly, and truly makes the place look magical. The lights are practically invisible during the daytime, unless you get up real close to the castle, and look for them. At night, though, the lights are hard to take your eyes away from.

At the larger hotels, the chefs create special edible holiday displays thta must be seen to be believed. At the Beach Club in 2007, a gingerbread carousel smelled and looked wonderful. At Epcot there is a candlelight procession, Santa's from around the world, Holiday foods and music, and more. The Cast Members are very helpful, and enjoy talking about their Holiday traditions. At MGM, or Holiday Studios, (whatever they're calling it this year) there is a beautiful display of Christmas lights set up that again must be seen to be believed. Each of the parks also has their own giant Christmas tree, decorated to match the parks theme, such as the tree at Animal Kingdom being covered with animals.

Altogether, Christmas at Disney is a wonderful experience. Sure, the snow isn't real, and the swimming pools are full of bathers, but the Christmas magic is there, and the Holiday is very enjoyable, even to someone who is used to cold and snow at Christmas. :0)

And here's a Disney secret! Book yourself for an early morning event, like breakfast with the Princesses, or special offers that give you early access to the parks. It's amazing to walk through the gates and seeing Main Street Disney, with the castle looming behind it, all sparkling clean, and free from the crowds. Very nice!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas in New York City

A big city has a lot to offer... it's fairly safe to say that most people will find something to enjoy... if they can stand the crowds, and do some research before they go. For me, there is no better time to visit a big city like New York or London, than at Christmas time. The lights, decorations, and Holiday spirit can take away from the pollution and litter, and the crowds seem more festive than annoying. Nighttime is best, of course, when the lights sparkle, and everyone is bundled up against the wind and cold, and the smell of roasting peanuts and pretzels fills the air.

I've been to New York City at Christmas time many times, and it's usually pretty much the same every year, but somehow I find myself still taking the same pictures of the same lights, and enjoying it just as much. And there is always something new to see. The window displays of the major department stores change yearly, of course, with some being worth the long lines to see and hear.

The above photo is of the famous processional in front of Rockefeller Center, facing away from the tree. This is definitely one of those sights I look forward to seeing each year, and it is lovely to stroll here. The huge snowflakes in the background twinkle, and every few minutes play Christmas carols, while blinking on and off to the music. The angels light the faces around you, and underneath those huge snowflakes is the window displays of Saks 5th Ave, I believe. Behind this view is Rockefeller Center itself, the famous skating rink with its golden statue, and the giant Christmas tree and large toy soldiers overlooking all.

The surrounding area has much to offer in shopping and sightseeing, and every corner you turn can offer more Holiday displays such as the photo above. Besides the taxis and tourists, at this time of year you are more likely to see the horse and carriages of Central Park making their way southward to show the sights to their occupants. The clopping of hooves adds to the Holiday fun somehow.

A bit more walking will bring you to Times Square, which, if you haven't seen it, should probably be on your list of things to do. It's still crowded and dirty, but they put up about 200 more television screens, and a million more light bulbs to distrcat you from that. There are also hundreds of more advertisements, but hey, that's what it's all about, right?

Times Square has some neat shops to visit, such as the Hershey's chocolate store, the M&M's chocolate store, and the big Toys R Us which is three stories tall and offers a huge ferris wheel inside, as well as a giant moving Tyranosaurus Rex that is guaranteed to scare the kiddies. :0)

This trip I went to the M&M's store, to buy some chocolate, and was surprised that the hardest thing to puchase there was... chocolate! They have hundreds and hundreds of items for sale from underwear to figurines with M&M characters everywhere, but oh so little chocolate, and what chocolate they did have was quite expensive! I didn't visit the Hershey's store this year, but I remember it being a lot more kid friendly, and chocolate lover friendly, with the emphasis on product first, merchandise second.

Of course, New York City is the best for one sport... celebrity spotting. There's always somebody famous, or semi-famous, out and about, enjoying the sights. I saw this guy at the NBC store, but he obviously wasn't happy about having his picture taken. :0)

Now, I've only briefly scratched the surface here... there's much more to see, and much, much more to buy, if shopping is your thing. Still, a night in a big city at Christmastime can be a fun and rewarding outing, especially if you enjoy the bustle of the Holidays.

If the big city isn't exactly your thing, I can highly recommend a smaller city such as Edinburgh, or Zurich. Both offer big city sights and stuff with a much smaller, tamer, nicer, cleaner atmosphere. Zurich in particular is lovely during the Holidays, and really has kept the traditions alive there.

Wherever you go, and whatever you choose to do, I wish for you a safe and happy Holiday Season! JOHN :0)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Travelling in Style

Yesterday I had the pleasure of parcipitating in MINI's Motortober 08 Rally around northern New Jersey. Who says you have to go far to get the benefits of travel?

In this economy, it makes sense to travel locally, and participating in events like this get you out of the house and seeing places you might not have visited before, doing things you may not have done in a while, and meeting new people: all of which are benefits to travel. Of course, you're not immersing yourself in new cultures, but what the heck. Travelling for pure fun is good, too. :0)

Being in the MINI Rally was a blast... it was fun watching people's faces as first they see one MINI, then as they're pointing it out to their companion they see a second, and then their jaws drop as several more are seen following behind! I witnessed this three times, and several other times people shouted out "MINI!" as we drove by. It was hard to keep the entire group together when we were in towns, but there were at least a dozen of us as we pulled into the first stop for ice cream, and about two dozen when we pulled into a farm for some off-roading.

At the farm we went on a hayride, and saw up close some alpacas... silly little creatures that look like llamas. After that we drove through the fall foliage to the Montville Inn for an excellent late lunch/ early dinner... with a special MINI menu. All in all a fun day, and we couldn't have asked for nicer weather. And with a MINI, we didn't use up that much gas as we tooled around the countryside!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS That's my MINI in the third photo... you can just see it at the far right.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Loud American

Xenophobia, loosely described as fear or loathing of people or beings that are different from yourself. I've spoken here of why it's good to travel, such as it improves your brain, and your outlook on life. Like other travels, I should probably just focus on the good stuff, like great food, or excellent shopping when teh exchange rate is in your favor.

No, I have to intellectualise things, and what I should say here is that I think travel should become mandatory. People aren't going to travel because it's good for them unless you drop kick them on the plane and wait to make sure they don't get off again until the next stop. Okay, that sounds a bit harsh, but the world, great big place that it really is, is also getting smaller in terms of cultural boundaries. More and more each day we're forced suddenly with people who wear different clothes, eat differet foods, and more importantly have different views, opinions, and ideas. Eventually, tensions arise, and problems begin.

The cure, or at least delay to the problem, is of course, travel. More than reading a book or website, true travel immerses you in a new place, and you're forced to see things from other viewpoints. Being of English decent, I can blend in pretty well in the UK, if I keep my mouth shut. So I was sitting in a cafe in Bath one time, alone, and so quiet, when these Americans walked in... young kids, mostly girls, and fine examples of the American Teenager. Very loud and raucus, laughing out loud, making snorting noises, and pushing each other around as teenageers do here every day in every eatery in America. For some reason, though, this behaviour seemed unexpected in this little cafe in Bath, and people started staring, and glaring, the moment these kids walked in the door. Eventually, rolled eyes accompanied whispers of "Americans", and I smiled to myself since I was American myself.

The point here, of course, that even in a country where you speak the language, there are cultural differences. And even though teenagers everywhere could use a little lesson in manners, these kids were just having fun, and yet drew stares and whispers. Take this idea further, and you can begin to understand xenophobia. how many Americans reading this see nothing wrong with the teenager's behavior? I wouldn't, except for the fact that I was there, and everyone else in the cafe was quiet and reserved.

What I am trying to say is this: It is very easy to assume that you are always right and someone else is wrong, especially when all you know is your neighborhood, and you hav eyour neighbors to reinforce your world view for you. Travel to foreign countries can be eye opening when you see that not everyone loves America, or Americans, or our politics, or world stance. Did I tell the story about the guy in India who spit at me because he disagreed with Clinton's policies in Pakistan? I was told through a translator that since Clinton was my president, I must agree with the things he says or does! Well, talk about a misunderstanding, and a very scary situation!

It is also very eye opening, and rewarding, to see that people in other countries are also very much like us. Most people just want simpler, better lives, with a good roof over their heads, and a warm television to sit in front of. They want better lives for themselves and their kids, and are not always enmeshed in politics, religion, or anything else that makes us all different.

Wherever you go, you'll realise that people with very different lives can be very familiar to you if you actually see them with your eyes, and not through the filtered lens of the media. It's important to also see, though, that your viewpoint is not the only one, and no matter how sure you are of your beliefs, there are those out there who will strongly disagree with you. Both points are important to realise in today's global village.

I sincerely think travel should be mandatory for American students.... all students, not just those who can afford the Senior class trip that some High Schools offer. It would definitely help us to raise better kids who are more prepared to face the world.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

One of my cartoons about Bath, England. :0)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bangers and Mash, Anyone?

An American standing in front of a decent pub

I always recommend a trip to the UK for an American's first visit overseas. The language is recognizable, the people friendly, and yet there is so much to see and do that excitement will fill your every moment travelling there.

For a small island, England has a lot to offer. In fact, I'm sure most people would find something to their liking, especially if they just forget all that silly small talk, misconceptions, and 'facts' that everyone assumes to be true. No, it doesn't rain all the time in the UK, and yes, there are many restaurants and pubs that serve some excellent food, and no, beer is not necessarily served warm.

One problem Americans in particular face when confronting England is the food. One joy of travelling is discovering new things, and the best place to start is food. However, the moment we Americans arrive, we right away look for something familiar and comfortable, and this is a mistake. I, as a new traveller my first time to the UK, learned these things the hard way, and would like to steer you right.

England is more culturally diverse than America, by far, and so there is a wide variety of foods to choose from. However, this is England we're talking about, not some remote forest village. The water is safe to drink, and I doubt anyone is serving crunchy catepillars, so why the fuss?

First off, true British food, what I would call Pub Grub, is fabulous. Shephard's pie, fish and chips, and surprisingly many vegetarian options are offered by pubs, along with some terrific beer. All fairly safe foods, so don't be intimidated.

It is true that some British folk overcook their veggies by our standards, but I think you'll see this less and less in restaurants. Also, what may be familiar in America may not be familiar in the UK. My first meal ever in the UK was served in an 'Italian' restaurant. Suffering a wee bit of jet lag and culture shock, I looked for something familiar, and regretted it. The veggies were overcooked, and the pasta was soaking in way too much oil, and the cheese was overcooked until it too became unrecognizable and the spices were different than I was used to. Blech. Another meal, found along the vein of seeking comfort, was nachos in a trendy sports pub. How can you go wrong with nachos, right? Cheese and salsa on chips, toasted until the cheese melts. Well, fortunately my brain has forgotten the details of that frightful meal.

Every country has specialties, and their own versions of things. In England, stick with a real pub, not one of the trendy chain pubs that are taking over the old pubs too rapidly. Or find a restaurant that looks crowded... a good tip for any trip. What is familiar here is not familiar there, where ever you go. Unfortunately for me, I went to places that just wanted tourist money, and tried to cater to tourists. Thankfully I learned to go with the flow, and do as the locals do.

When you are feeling more adventurous, try some other places. It's best to have recommendations from friends or up to date guidebooks. I would recommend some places, but things are changing too fast for that. Some of my favorite places have disappeared or changed too much. Indian food in England is usually very good, especially in established restaurants, or some of the new fusion places. There are some bad places, but again, those were aimed at tourists, and gave you little for your money.

Most places in the theatre district are pretty good from my experience, and there is a Chinatown not far away. Chinatown, though, is like Chinatown in other big cities, and should be approached cautiously by the unadventurous. You're not going to find the Americanized Chinese food we have here. My experience in New York and London is that this food is very authentic, and not for the faint hearted. A dim sum experience in London revealed foods that I could not identify by sight, and some, like fried chicken's feet, were too identifiable. If you're seeking adventure, that's the place. :0)

European food can also be found, in restaurants that specialize in Swiss style eating, or Belgian, French, etc. One place I can recommend is My Old Dutch Pancake, which is not too far from the British Museum, but I always get lost trying to find it. The first time I went there it was a family friendly place, but the last time I went it was an upscale cafe with much higher prices. The food, service, and atmosphere is always nice, though, and something unique.

A different American standing before My Old Dutch Pancake

In any country, it's best to go where the locals go, or to a slightly more upscale place. Noone is going to deliberately serve bad food, but there are some places it's best to avoid. A place looking to accumulate tourist money is not going to be aiming for repeat business... they'll take your money, and then the next guy's, and the next, for as long as they can get away with it.

If a place is known for something, then it's safe to aim for that. In England, go for the Fish and Chips or other pub food. We've all heard about the Brits eating Fish and Chips, right? Then again, I've had the best Chinese food... in India!

Which just goes to show what an adventure travel can be. Just be sure the surprises you find are good ones!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Staying Home

Since the Googlebots haven't found this blog yet, my visitors have been few so far. I really thought that last post about my Disney trips would have got some of you talking, but then again, it's summer, so hopefully a lot of you are travelling. :0)

Anyways, I still have lots of travel tips, stories, and illustrations to share with you, but right now I'm finding adventure at home... with my comic strip The Inquiring Minds.

Today I am proud to announce my 100th comic strip of The Inquiring Minds! This is a big deal to me. I'm doubly pleased that this 100th strip falls smack dab in the middle of the 2008 Big Summer Adventure currently going on. I honestly believe that when this is over, the Big Summer event will be my best work to date. I'm very pleased with the art and the writing both, and for me, this is something that's been a long time coming.

It's fun, and getting funner, and big things are yet to come!

If you aren't up to date with the story, please read through it before reading the new 100th strip below, as it is a culmination of what's been going on so far this summer. But this is by no means the end! Plot twists are a coming! :0)

See the whole story at

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We're Going Live in 3, 2,1...

They say that you either love LA, or hate LA, but who cares about that? I'm in Anaheim, and about to hit Disneyland for the fourth day. That's right, The Traveling 'Toonist is reporting live for the first time, and ready to give up to the minute reports, travel tips, and answers to your questions.

AFTER I hit the parks, of course. :o)

Ciao, JOHN :0)

Getting up close and personal with a Princess

UPDATE 0: No,it wasn't me assaulting Cinderella above, but someone else was, and she remained smiling the whole time while security took care of the matter. One of the nice things about Disney parks is that the characters are great, stay in character, and are very friendly and accomodating. I only saw one incident where a princess made a face at a family, and hopefully she'll be replaced.

UPDATE 1: I'll update this with photos or illustrations when I return home. I'll also give you my plusses and minuses on my current Disney vacation.

UPDATE 2: The economy sucks right now, so those of you outside the US can come here right now and live the high life. For those of you IN the US, the price of gas has some benefits... mainly shorter lines at Disney, since there are fewer vacationers. Later hours means little or no lines on great attractions like Pirates or Haunted Mansion or that Buzz Lightyear ride.

UPDATE 3: Ran into Jack Sparrow, (that's Captain Jack Sparrow) in the Pirate's Lair of Tom Sawyer's Island. He let me in on an exclusive tip! He says there will be a 4th Pirates adventure, and it involves Captain Barbosa in the land of the Dead! Yes, you heard it here first, folks! A Pirates of the Caribean exclusive, straight from the Captain's mouth. :0)

Captain Jack Sparrow

UPDATE 4: The new ride at Disney is Toy Story mania, and it is definitely something to get manic about. 3D target shooting fun, fun, fun! I was told that people have stood in line for two hours to get in, and I can believe that. Even at closing time, the lines had a 45 minute wait. Definitely a ton of fun.

UPDATE 5: Disneyland is NOT a copy of Disney World, nor vice versa. Both have a lot in common, but maintain their uniqueness nonetheless. Disney World does have 4 parks to offer, but Disneyland has California Adventure that is a beautiful park that has a lot to offer. Also, the parks in California are not as small as you may think, nor are they 'old or run down', as I've heard people surmise. Yes, Disneyland goes back to the 50's, but Disney is a class act, and they've maintained the parks well. Another reason for you East coasters to go to California? Pirates of the Caribean and Haunted Mansion are both far superior to their counterparts in Florida. PLUS, Pirates is not only longer, but has a restaurant inside called the Blue Bayou! How cool is that? I actually had dinner while people were riding by in their little boats, heading for adventure with salty pirates.

The view from the Blue Bayou

UPDATE 6: Walt Disney came up with the idea of Disneyland while out and aboot with his kids. He wanted a place where parents could have fun with their kids, not just sit on the bench watching them. A great idea, but what did I see so much of? People sitting on benches while their kids and other loved ones ran off to the rides.

So what happened to Walt's dream? First of all, I wonder if he imagined just how big the parks would get, or just how many things there are to do there? Even 4 days wasn't nearly enough to do all that I wanted to do, and trust me, after 8, 10, 0r 12 hours in the Californian or Floridian sun, you are tired... exhausted even, and with the kiddies along, chances are they have passed out long before you are ready to leave.

Another reason? I don't imagine that Walt wanted you people to bring along infants! I can't tell you how many boneheads I saw carrying one or two month old children around in the hot sun. First off, infants shouldn't even be in public for the first few months, to protect them from colds and stuff, and second, their little heads and everything else are just too fragile to be putting them through a theme park environment. Third of all, why would you want to sit on the bench for hours on end or push strollers everywhere? Please, people, please... come back when the kids are older.

A denizen of 'The Mansion'!

UPDATE 7: I'm home, and can I please add that even with gas prices so high, I think I'll drive on my next vacation. The quality of air travel has gone down considerably. The plane I was on had the poorest air quality imaginable. You could smell the stench of the plane the second they opened the doors, and I was standing about 30 feet away! The food was bad, the bathrooms dirty, and the plane was kept much too hot. I'm sure the plane was so hot because they wanted to save money by not using the air conditioner. They actually asked us to close the shades so that they could conserve energy. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I'm driving next time, even if it's over seas.

Okay, now it's time to add some photos. I'll post some more if and when it comes to me. Cheers, JOHN :0)

UPDATE 8: While travelling, please avoid at all costs the internet connection that hotels provide on your hotel television set. It usually costs about 10 bucks a day, and it isn't worth 10 cents. The screen is awful, the graphics are awful, and the connection craps out every 15 seconds. And apparently my reply to Brian didn't even get through. Save your money, folks!

Disney's California Adventure by night

UPDATE 9: If you are going to do Disney, do it right. Save up your money, and look for deals. I've got the Disney Visa Card, and it comes with some nice perks. (I wish I could get a commision for saying that!)

Also, buy park tickets ahead of time to save a lot of money. At the door they are very costly. Get a park Hopper ticket, so that you can come and go as you please, and visit multiple parks in one day. Some parks close early, some late, and with the Park Hopper Pass you can take advantage of this.

Another MUST DO? Stay within the parks, in a Disney Hotel. There are hotels for every budget, although the cheaper ones? Well, you get what you pay for. The real benefit is closeness and ease. In California, the Disney Californian opens right into Disney's California adventure, and into Downtown Disney, and is mere steps away from Disneyland. I stayed at the Convention Center which advertised being only 1 block from the park, but that was misleading. The parking lot was a block away, but the entrance to the park was a very, very long walk. In Florida, the Disney World parks have a bus system that runs every 5 minutes from your hotel to the parks, which is soooooo convenient, that I cannot recommend it highly! No need for car seats, no looking for parking spots, and you can go from park to park or park to hotel and back in a short, comfortable ride. A wonderful service, that is free with your Disney Hotel package.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Around the World in 14 days

Sometimes you don't need to leave the house to travel. You can watch the travel channel, look through old photo albums, or exchange letters with a pen pal from overseas, although, sadly, that last one seems to be fading away. The internet is another way to travel, but when all is said and done, there is no replacement for the real thing. Instead, all of the above should inspire one to make plans and actually get out there.

As an illustrator, I have the option of drawing or painting far away places, which is another form of stay at home travel. Researching a foreign port, learning about new places, and seeing a hint of their beauty is also very inspirational. One of the benefits of Freelancing is that I never know what a client may want from me, and sometimes that takes me in unexpected directions.

Recently, Freelancing took me around the world... in only 14 days!

Yes, a client came to me to provide artwork for an Annual Report, which is a big deal for an illustrator. Unfortunately, by the time we decided I would illustrate ports from around th globe, we had about two weeks left until the artwork had to go to the designer, and the print ready files go to the printers!!

Thus began an incredible challenge that kept me from sleeping for two weeks, but also kept me very inspired and excited. Thanks to my well-travelled client, I starting learning about places I had never been to, and some I only knew very little about.

I'm not going to show you everything I did, because I ended up doing 10 or 11 illustrations in those two weeks, and several of them were two page spreads. However, I will share a few with you, and maybe even inspire you to learn more about these places, or encourage you to one day visit.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS The illustrations above are London, Venice, and Istanbul... although you probably already guessed that. :0)

PSS Artwork belongs to the American Club, so don't even think of borrowing it.

On my iPod? Fish, Sunsets on Empire

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Indiana John and the Day at the Beach

They say that you can find adventure in your own backyard, and man was that point driven home the other day... on a trip to the beach! The sand was soaked with blood and I had a very close call with - well, let's start from the beginning, shall we?

The moment I arrived, I was looking for a quiet place to put my towel when I immediately noticed something... different. I realised quickly that the water off to the side looked funny, in this space between a 2 foot sewer pipe that disappeared into the waters and a stone jetty about 10 feet away from that. The water was brighter there, much brighter, so I dropped my stuff and sauntered forth to see why.

As I approached this tiny natural harbor the water flashed bright silver at the edges, and getting closer still I saw dozens of large fish being tossed by the tide! They were alive, but did not look happy, and I wondered why they were just letting the tide push them around. A few feet away a seagull appeared to wonder the same thing, as he cocked his head at the fish, and danced away from each wave.

The fish were all between 9 to 12 inches, with bright silver and bright brown scales, and there must have been about 50 or more all within arms reach. In fact, calling over some sand urchins to see the fish, I borrowed one of their buckets and actually scooped up one of the fish... a big one too at about 13 inches long. It flopped in the bucket wildly, so I went to release it, and then noticed the red mark on its back. I also noticed the seagull was looking at me kind of funny like, as if he thought I was mad to be standing ankle deep in the water surrounded by 50 unhappy fish. THEN I noticed the dark shadow swimming back and forth just behind the waves... a long dark shadow about 3 feet long that suddenly lunged at one of the fish in front of me and snapped it in half!

Well, I jumped out of the waves, the kids ran screaming down the beach, the seagull flapped its wings with excitement, and another shark-like creature made its appearance in the waves, with a flash of bright blue as it flipped through the piscene thrall and snapped the tail off of another fish.

So, a Nature Channel special happening right in front of me, with quite a few lessons to be learned. First of all, if a seagull is unwilling to step into the water after free fish, there might be a reason for it! See, animals and birds aren't as dumb as some people think. The sharks were also pretty smart, since it became rather obvious that they corraled this school of fish into this natural tiny harbor, setting themselves up neatly for an easy buffet. You can argue that it's all instinct, but how much of intelligence is 'instinct', after all? One of the sharks was always on herding duty while the other went in for an easy snack. Neither was in a hurry, and the feeding frenzy went on for well over an hour, and only really begun when the fish were so exhausted they could hardly swim.

My question is, though, is what kind of predator was this, gobbling fish at the Jersey shore? I spent some time watching, trying to get details, and the two acted like sharks, and swam like sharks, but I'm not sure. The top fin was veined like a fish, where the sharks I have seen have solid fins. Also, the head was not flattened like many sharks have, and was more fish like. The tail was vertical, and the two 'tines' were symmetrical, where sharks seem to have one tine much longer than the other.

Whatever they were, they were calculating, cool, and vicious. It was fascinating to see the advantages they had, as well; their bellies were bright blue like the sky above, and their tops were dark greenish blue like the sand below, making them nearly invisible except when thrashing after prey. Their prey swam in schools for safety, apparently, but the fishes lost a lot of their numbers that day.

But hey, this is a travel blog, so what's today's travel lesson? Oh yeah... you can find adventure in your own back yard. :0)

So the next time you find yourself wanting to travel, but short on funds, go someplace not too far away, but where you don't get too often. Adventure is right around the corner, and it does the spirit good to get away from the usual once in a while.

And since this is a Cartoonist's blog, I'm struggling to find the right illustration for this. I can't remember drawing anything about fishing, so let's visit The Inquiring Minds for a Predator/prey cartoon, of sorts.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Greetings from Bangalore, Part II

So let us please return to our regular scheduled report on Bangalore, after our short break in which we announced our FREE DOWNLOAD, a short comic story that I created after a visit to Beckenham, Kent, England, titled, The Wolfman of Beckenham, Kent.

We left off with me singing the praises of the Dosa, a thin crispy crepe-like treat that originated in South India. I also mentioned that things are changing in Bangalore... upscale shops, higher prices, more traffic and pollution, and now I hear of high-rise luxury apartments. "Sheesh", you say, "you sure are selling the place!" Well, just hold on, please. First off, I do try to tell it like it is, because travel comes with enough surprises. Second, I DO recommend the place as a primo place to visit, and I will try to convince you of that.

One benefit to the recent boom in Bangalore is more flights, and more direct flights. Once upon a time it could take 24 hours to fly there from New Jersey, with multiple stops, including a layover in Bombay (Mumbai) which could go on for hours. A nightmare... trust me. You're first view of India shouldn't be meeting the mosquitos at 4 in the morning with 90 percent humidity and 85 degree temps, and being hassled by hucksters trying to convince you to rest at their nearby hotel until your plane arrives.

So now you can arrive in Bangalore after only 18 hours, and hopefully no stops. From there, I suggest if you are not travelling with friends, or a tour group, you hire a car. Hopefully you did this ahead of time, but still, a car and driver helps. And stay in a decent hotel. In my experience, even when the dollar went far in India, a 4 or 5 star hotel was still expensive. What you get for your money, however, is fab; Outstanding service, and a place of comfort to retreat to when jet lag or culture shock sets in. I've already covered this in my book, 3 Knights in India, so let's continue.

Kannada is the language of Bangalore, although you'll hear many a native complain that the languae is falling out of favor with the influx of so many others moving in. Hindi is still spoken by everyone, and many speak English, or try to at least. At the hotels and bigger shops you will not have a problem. At smaller shops and out if the way places you'll have to take it slow and be sure that you and the proprietor understand each other.

Now, I'm sure to get a lot of flack for the next photo, but most people laugh when they see it, and it does give one an idea of the language gap, and the importance of understanding what you are saying. And remember, mistakes go both ways. :0)

It seems I have a lot more to say, so let's continue with Part 3 at a later date.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Beckenham, Kent, UK

We interrupt our current feature on Bangalore, India, to bring you the latest news from HappyGlyphs Comics: a new FREE comic called The Wolfman of Beckenham, Kent!

I've had the pleasure to stay a few times in Beckenham, and used to walk past a cute little bed and breakfast on Coper's Cope Road, up from the train station. Unfortunately, I belive the neat little place full of nooks and crannies, and plaster walls, and old paintings of English Hunting Scenes is to be gutted and turned into condominiums. This saddened me, so I wanted to pay tribute to the place. At first I wanted to do a painting, and so took some nice pictured of the place. However, since I'm a Cartoonist by nature, I began to create an occupant of the place... a strange occupant.

The Wolfman of Beckenham, Kent is his story, and the story is my tribute to the Goodwood Private Hotel, and all of the other lovely places like it that are losing their charm so that they can become part of the modern world.

Here is the cover of the story, and here is the link to the story. It's FREE, so please check it out. While you're there, check out our other fine offerings, including a fine poster print of the cover to The Wolfman of Beckenhem, Kent, complete with blue MINI cooper. :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Greetings From Bangalore, Part I

Snacks in the park.

I'm not actually in Bangalore right now, but I liked the title. I actually had a page with this title at my website while I was working on my graphic novel 3 Knights in India, and at the time I had indeed visited the garden city.

So, I've had a few complaints about that post I made a few weeks back concerning a rough experience in India. I'm not dwelling on bad experiences, and I certainly do not mean to imply that this is all that India is about. I love India, or I wouldn't have spent 3 years of my life on that graphic novel, nor would I have travelled there so many times. My visits to India have had some spectacular moments, and I've had some wonderful times there... some of the best in my life.

So let me now take you to Bangalore, a city with a great climate, decent food, and a whole lot of culture.

Bangalore is in the southern part of India, and features simple but healthier food than its northern counterpart (but wait... there's more on that later). Being of a very temperate climate, the city's parks and residential areas are beautiful to look at, with the abundance of various flowers doing a decent job of competing with the colorful saris and churidars that the ladies wear. However, since becoming the Silicon Valley of India, and boasting some of the highest paid college grads, and basically becoming a booming city, the place is developing into THE place to be. Where once upon a time the American dollar could go very far, there are now places that have become very upscale, and money talks. Shopping malls, luxury condos, and a car in every yard is now the norm.

Of course, the downside is incredible traffic that has to be seen to be believed. I've mentioned elsewhere that I've seen two or three laned roads with 12 lanes of traffic trying to get through. Of course, in India traffic can mean three wheeled motor rickshaws, motor scooters, ox drawn carts, bicycles, motorcycles, and others all squeezing between the cars and trucks that one would normally expect. Pollution has also increased, as well as litter, as the citizens of Bangalore are adopting a more western lifestyle of fast food on the go.

Some of that traffic I mentioned.

I can't predict where Bangalore is going, but I believe that for a while yet it will still maintain its cultural distinction, and its natural beauty. Bangalore offers some outstanding hotels with luxurious service that you wouldn't believe, and the restaurants are becoming world class, with distinctive offerings found nowhere else.

On my last visit, a blend of North Indian dishes and Chinese dishes seemed to be the specials at every top restaurant in Bangalore and nearby Mysore. I've had 'Chinese' food in Indian restaurants in America with very mixed results, and so far have found little of interest. In Bangalore, however, chefs familiar with a wide variety of spices and cooking techniques can turn Chinese food into something absolutely spectacular... definitely worth blogging about, and I highly recommend that you try 'Chinese' food while in India, as well as trying a wide variety of styles of food. Although not all experiments work, you'll find much of the food in Bangalore to be worthwhile.

My version of the oxen above, available as a high quality print here.

I mentioned earlier that south Indian food is "simple and healthier", and I am of course referring to traditional south Indian foods, such as idly, sambar, and dosa. Idly is a steamed rice dumpling, sambar a spicy tomota soup, and dosa? Dosas are a crispy crepe-like treat made from rice and dal flour, and the original recipe probably came from Heaven itself. Plain, spicy, or stuffed with a potato mixture, dosas go great with coffee for breakfast, or with chutney and sambar for lunch or dinner. A real treat which I recommend highly. Nowadays, South Indian restaurants are cropping up in America and elsewhere, so you may be able to try a Dosa locally.

Part II coming soon!

Meanwhile, here's another look at the above topic from the afore-mentioned 3 Knights in India.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Thursday, March 27, 2008


All right, that last post was a little rough on the nerves, so let's head into something a little more light-hearted, eh?

One nice thing about travel, of course, is discovering new things. Discovery, however, falls into many categories, and serendipitous surprises can add a little something special to a trip.

One example of this occured during my third trip to London. I don't remember when I became a fan of Red Dwarf, or even where, but it's one of the funniest television shows that I have ever seen, and very creative. Anyways, I was about to say, "let's go to my travel journal for the story", and... honest to goodness, no lie... the story continues on the very next page from my earlier journal entry about Cardiff! Talk about a serendipitous moment!

For you, it's like continuing where we left off, so let's do it.

"A short while ago I finished the new Red Dwarf book: The Last Human, by Doug Naylor.
"Oh", I hear you say. "You DID find it, then?" Well, yes, and as is usually the case with me, there's a story.
So, as promised, we got up Saturday morning with the plan of me showing Marty around town for the day, and getting some shopping done. I wasn't yet sure how I was feeling, so I could not commit to anything yet. So, first thing we went for our complimentary breakfast which consisted of one sip of orange juice, a fresh roll, and coffee powder to take back to our room, so we could make our own coffee. We then exchanged some traveller's checks and headed for Oxford Street.
Sure enough, at Forbidden Planet, they had lots of the new Red Dwarf book - Right next to the sign announcing the book signing at 3:00! Wow!
So not only could I get the book I came for, but I could get it autographed too!"

All right, from that entry, you can probably tell that we were staying in a very 'affordable' little place... almost a hostel. The place had it's charm, though, although wait until I tell you about the morning I stayed there, and had to get up early for a flight to Switzerland.. Yikes!

I was also younger then, and a bit more excitable. Still, going all the way to London to get a book, and getting to meet the Author on the one day you're there is pretty lucky. It's also amazing that this random story follows on the very next journal page after the last page I shared with you - quite accidently.

So, you can find serendipity anywhere, when you're not even looking for it, which I suppose is part of the definition, huh?

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Fool and His Money...

When confronted by someone in trouble, many of us would probably want to help. If we saw a child who was hungry, hurt, or in any dire strait, we would want to do something. But should we?

There are predators everywhere, and when travelling, you are a target. Especially when visiting a foreign city, one where poverty is in abundance, or plain site, there will be those poised to take advantage of the situation. Sick? Yes. Profitable enough for some people to forgo ethics, and all else? Definitely.

A word of advice: When travelling in a foreign place, any foreign place, a place where you did not grow up or spend years of your life, do not, and I repeat, do NOT assume that you understand the place. That borders on arrogance, and can be dangerous.

On my first trip to India, quite some time ago, I took a tour bus from Delhi to Agra, home of the Taj Majal. Trust me, I've written quite a bit about that trip, and you'll hear of it again. Anyway, our bus was full of tourists from all over, and some of them were older people who obviously had some money. All nice, smiling happy people until we made this one stop, and got off of the bus.

There to greet us was a small group of children... all handicapped, all dirty and dressed in rags, and all crying with their hands out. Some of them had missing limbs, and one had a bad case of elephantitis, his leg swollen to 3 or 4 times it's normal size. One leaned on a handmade crutch, and all looked hungry. A matronly German woman ran over to them before they could surround us with outstretched, tear-stained hands, and several others from the tour reached into their pockets to help these children. I was warned by an Indian traveller to keep moving, so I did.

As we walked into the Red Fort, my fellow tourists felt so good about themselves. They were happy to know that they could share their good fortunes, and help those poor children in need. We all had a nice time in the Fort.. it is a beautiful place full of magnificent gardens, architectural wonders, and the best view of the Taj Majal. A pleasant afternoon was spent, and we made our way back to our bus. As we left the gates, our lives changed forever.

There, before us, laughing and smiling, were the children. They were standing around like a bunch of old men, smoking cigarretes, eating bags of potato chips, and just having a great old time.

My fellow tourists suddenly felt like fools. I know I did. It seemed we were suckered.

Now, hold off until I'm finished. I learned later quite a bit about this. The money given to those children was probably given to gangsters, who took care of these kids. The kids were probably taught how to act for maximum impact and profit.

Yes, we were helping poor, handicapped kids, but we were also giving gangsters a living, and a reason to continue using these children. Yes, the children were handicapped, but was it all accidental, or did someone damage these children to make them more effective at getting money from tourists? Also, where did these children come from? They may have been kidnapped by the gangsters, or equally as bad, purchased from families who had too many children to feed?

Yes, this is horrible to think about, but I've heard from many sources that these things happen all the time, in many places. You can go back and forth in your mind about it, but the truth is we may never know the truth, and we may never know if it was right or wrong to give those children money.

And this is a good lesson to keep in mind... if you do give someone money in an impoverished area, there will more than likely be many others who will want their share, and a crowd will quickly form around you. And wherever you are, if you are in a crowd, you should always watch yourself, and watch your pockets. That little kid hugging your leg and crying is probably looking for yor wallet.

Am I being cynical? I only wish. This is only one incident that I am telling you about. There have been several others.

Travel helps one grow, but it isn't always easy. Remember; open eyes, open ears, and open mind.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

North vs South

Something's been bugging me for some time now, so I'll put it out here, and see if someone out there can offer some intelligent feedback. And yes, this is travel related. :0)

Until recently, there has been East vs West, which is quite an understandable division. Asians and Europeans went their separate ways millenia ago, and with time and distance creating a barrier, they grew independantly from one another, with very different cultures, languages, etc. Understandable. However, I hear more and more of differences between North and South... within the same country!

Travelling allows you to see how others live, but only a glimpse. You cannot know what it is like to actually grow up 'somewhere else', so some things, like prejudice, may be difficult to understand. For me, it is a question of why is it that one country can have its north and south be so independent that they could easily be separated into two? (And at the same time be entirely dependent on one another.)

Extreme examples are the American Civil War, of course, or the troubles in Ireland. Gentler examples would be the difference between food in northern Italy and the south, or the cultural differences between north and south India. In the middle are the prejudices seen between the north and south of England. I'm not talking about the differences between Scotland and England, which there are many, but the division within England itself.

Maybe there is no one answer. In some cases, distance can be a big factor, especially on a planet like ours where the climate can vary drastically between the north and south ends of a country. But Ireland and England don't have that much of a distance barrier, or even cultural difference. Switzerland has three regions that each speak a different language, and yet as far as I know, one section doesn't see itself as far superior to another.

Differences can be good: they give us choices, such as al dente pasta vs a seafood sauce. Differences that cause prejudice are another thing altogether. Your average traveller won't usually be affected by this, but such problems may be important to know about before travelling. Research into a foreign country can make any trip more enjoyable, and safer, even a country where you speak the language. Cultural differences are something an outsider cannot totally understand, and usually your opinions are not wanted.

When travelling, don't be the loud American, or the missionary who walks into someone else's life and tells them how to live, or worse, acts superior. Arrogance is not pretty. And by missionary I'm not just talking about religion. Try to learn about another country before travelling there, and try to learn some of the language... at least enough to get by. In Switzerland I had so much help from friendly people wanting to practice their English. In France I couldn't get an ounce of help without knowing the language perfectly.

If you haven't travelled much, remember this: the world is a big place, and there are taboos, laws, and rules of life that you may not understand. And though something may seem silly to you, it may be very serious to someone else.

So be careful. Travel is a way to broaden the mind. Go with open eyes, and open ears, and leave the ego behind. You'll get through culture shock a lot faster that way.

And if any of you have thoughts about why we divide countries North and South, I'd love to hear from you.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Travel Bug

Why is it that some of us, once we have travelled, simply cannot get enough of it? Well, believe it or not, but I may have an answer for you!

A recent report in The Wall Street Journal (March 12, 2008; Page B1)
discussed internet addiction and the brain. Apparently, our brain rewards us whenever we experience something new, on the condition that the newness requires interpretation. We 'feel good' with new experiences, and therefore seek out more new experiences, as in an addiction. Now, you know where I'm going with this, but here me out.

Internet addiction can be a bad thing, like food or drug addiction. In this day and age, we avoid boredom, and seek constant thrills. What better, and safer, way to do this than to travel? Think about it: visit someplace you've never been before, and everything you see, and many things you smell and hear, will be new. The more foreign to you, the better. A natural thrill occurs, as your brain is stimulated by all of your senses, which explains why travel can be such an adventure.

Of course, too much of a good thing isn't good either. There is such a thing as culture shock, and expanding on our theory here, too much exposure to new things can simply overwhelm the mind. On my third trip to India, in a familiar place, surrounded by familiar people, culture shock hit me bad. My mind literally realed, and I was quite shook up. Going further, now, perhaps we can seek a cure for culture shock?

I discussed this in the afterword of my book, 3 Knights in India, and advised anyone travelling to a new place to start out slow, and seek the familiar. Even if you can't afford to stay in a fancy hotel, you can walk into any hotel in the world, and have a seat, a drink, or a meal, and relax. These places look pretty much the same anywhere, and can be a great 'home base'. However, all you really need to do is sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, or read a book.... something to trick your brain into thinking it's experiencing the familiar. Then you can set out for adventure, and let those new experiences be the fun that they should be.

So, if you have the travel bug, now you know why. But don't let the science of it spoil anything for you. Just look at it as improving your mind, and having fun while doing it!

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Dichotomy of Travel

I'm going to mention this a lot at this blog, but travel is good for you. Your mind expands from the onset of new sights and sounds, and from adapting to new situations. If you've never left your home state, then it's time to cross that line. If you haven't left your country, then take the first step out, and get yourself a passport. Few things can help you grow, and give you such an education, as seeing the world beyond your doorstep.

Saying all that, there's a certain dichotomy to travel. You'' see this on your first international voyage, especially if you go by air, and travel far. It's an 18 hour flight from New Jersey to India, and 24 hours to Australia. That's a long time to be sitting in a tiny seat, trying to sleep as the air gets staler and your internal clock starts to lose confidence in what time it is. Get a window seat, and make sure you look outside once in a while. The world is a big place.

Passing over the top of the planet, you see miles, and miles, and more miles, of nothing but black dirt and occasional ice. Pass over the middle east, and it can take hours to cross nothing but desert, with the occasional oasis or oil field to break the monotony. Fly to Japan or Hawaii, and there is so much ocean spread before you, that it takes hours to cross. The earth is a truly big place when you see it in this manner.

However, and here's teh dichotomy, you land. At the airport, you see a few familiar thigns, such as currency exchange, and long lines of people. Some airports can appear quite foreign, but if you get out into a big city, you may find yourself staring at a McDonald's, or a Citibank, and several other familiar landmarks. You stop at a market, and there are familiar fruits, candy bars, and of course, Coca Cola. Suddenly, it seems like it's a small world after all.

That will change, of course, if visiting a truly foreign country, but the thing is, we're all people. Go into a restaurant anywhere, and there will be kids eating treats, young couples laughing, older folk in the corner with their coffees... and people in general trying, just like you, to get by in life.

Remember that flight, and looking out that window. Keep that humbling experience of seeing just how big the planet is. But don't forget that its getting smaller every day, perception-wise. And get out there, and see it now, because its changing, and changing fast.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

PS For a travel illustration, we turn to my first book, Take Me Away From All This!! for today's 'small world' moment. Please click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Starting out...

Before we actually 'travel', let me share an important tip with you: Keep a journal.

Okay, a journal isn't for everyone, and trust me, you'll never ever have enough time to write everything that you want to write. However, you'll also never ever remember everything that you want to remember, and looking back at a journal will not only help you relieve some great travel memories, but you'll also get a glimpse into how you've grown as you travel.

Also, a travel journal can be like a scrapbook... I'm always picking up matchbooks, and ticket stubs and anything else that colorfully tells where I've been, and I stick them in the journal, and tape them in when I get home. Now I have several scrapbooks full of memories, and also a handy reference to places, like "what kind of train ticket did I buy when I went to York", and stuff like that.

A travel journal covers mostly highlights, and is written on buses, trains, and aeroplanes... anytime you're sitting down, really, with nothing to do but sleep. There's an excitement in them, though, that comes from rushing to get down as much as you can in the time alloted. There's also an immediacy to it, that comes from looking around as you write, and puttin down exactly what is happening around you at that moment. I tried to capture that feeling in my first travel book, my graphic novel 3 Knights in India. The book doesn't tell you nearly enough about India, but you do get the flavor for travelling there, and hopefully enough of a taste as to want more.

Sure, there's always more that you wished you had written, but that's not the point of a travel journal. Besides, you should also have some photographs to tell some of the story as well.

At this point, I'll give you a peek into one of my own private travel journals... nothing too personal, but a bit of fun. And don't worry about reading it: I'll include an excerpt after the photo.

7:15 PM Cardiff to London 5 Nov, 1995
{A nearby full moon is all I can see through the train window, and the occasional lights in the distance. It's very dark out. Inside, the train is packed, mostly with} obnoxious teenagers on their way to London. Where they come from or why they're going, I don't know. One of them, obviously drunk, is bellowing out a ballad of sorts. I don't know what she's singing, but lots of people have their hands over their mouths in apparent astonishment.

All right, so I didn't promise you War and Peace. :0)

Today, those of you brave enough to travel with laptops can blog from the road, and even further capture the moment. However, I'll leave you with another tip: Leave the iPods and computers at home, unless you're travelling for a month, and keep a cell phone only for emergencies. This is a must when visiting a foreign country, or some place for the first time. This way you can soak up the sights and sounds around you. Heck, I prefer to leave the video camera at home, as well. The fewer distractions, the better.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Sunday, March 9, 2008



My name is John, and I'm a Cartoonist / Illustrator who loves History and Travel, and cooking, and.... well, let's just stick to travel for now, with a side-dish of history. I have another blog devoted to creativity, cartooning, and illustration, and since my work overlaps with my life, a lot of my blogs end up about travel. I also write occasionally for The Fylde & Wyre Antiquarian , and those blogs discuss my travels in England, as relates to history, especially prehistory.

So... in an attempt to separate things a bit, and try to focus my other blog on my art, I am beginning this blog to focus on my other interest; travel.

Of course, you'll have to expect to see my art showing up here: it's only natural. But I'll stick to travel themes.

Here's a travel toon, to get us started.

All right, I might as well add right now that England is one of my favorite places. I've been there many times, and cannot wait until I return. So... you'll see quite a bit about England. However, I've been all over, and I tell it like it is, so we'll eventually get to other places as well.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)