The Legendary Pompeii

Posted March 19, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Italy, Travel

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve written about Pompeii before, but I can’t help but feel I did a pretty shoddy job of it considering just how impressive the location I’m talking about is. And so I’m doing a take two on this, now with more detail and description. More of a narrative historical overview approach rather than the ‘this is what I saw and what I did from last time. Links are all to pictures I took while wandering Pompeii.

Pompeii is a small city in Naples Italy famous for being the most intact Roman ruins in the world and the remains of one of the ancient worlds most grand tragedies. It was almost two thousand years ago the volcano Mt. Vesuvius erupted and in a an event that could only be described as apocalyptic the city of Pompeii was buried in flame and ash. We can imagine it now, the sky a pitch black from ash and smoke. The cities inhabitants running, screaming, illuminated only by the dreary red of flames as ghastly silhouettes amidst the carnage. Those that don’t perish in the fires wishing they had as they are buried in burning ash as it descended from the sky like a terrible hellish snow, those unfortunate souls last moments that of choking on searing ash as they collapse to the ground in agony and perish. People and animals alike dying, being buried alive, burning. Soon not just the people are being buried, but the city itself. And as the volcanoes wrath subsides and the sun can once again be seen in the sky, nothing remains of the city that once was. It’s people, its buildings, all of it simply gone.

Time passes and the tragedy becomes a memory, then a story, then myth, and is then forgotten entirely.

The story sounds surreal, a work of horrible fiction, but that is the tragic tale behind the small city of Pompeii. It was by accident that the city was rediscovered during the building of a villa for the King of Naples and since then has becomes one of the greatest archaeological sites  in the major world. A city, perfectly preserved for almost two thousand years. Nothing like it exists anywhere else! And so archaeologists flocked to the site and began the massive dig which continues to this day as new rooms are uncovered and explored, new buildings unearthed and locations ancient and wondrous exposed to the light once again.

Of course Pompeii’s most gruesome and yet eerily fascinating claim to fame today is perhaps not so much the city itself, remarkable although it may be, but the inhabitants that once lived there. While excavating archaeologists took note of strange gaps in the ancient ash, holes and shapes they couldn’t rightly explain at first. The idea eventually came to fill these gaps with plaster and to then carve the casts from the earth themselves, preserving the shape of whatever it was that had left this odd cast for archaeologists to study. I’ve no doubt they knew what to expect, yet all the same I can only imagine the mingled emotions which much have greeted those men and women as the first of these shapes emerged from the ground. The mingled fascination and horror as they saw before them the shape of Pompeii’s residents in their final hours of agony and death. Pompeii’s ancient populace once again emerging into the light of day.

With this discovery Pompeii’s claim to fame was complete. You see as the populace was buried in ash it preserved their shapes perfectly, the ash around their still forms hardening over the years even as the bodies themselves rotted away and dissolved, leaving behind eerily detailed casts of those poor souls for mankind to once again discover so very many years later.

You can see them yourselves now if you so choose, many of these forms on display within Pompeii, sometimes even in the locations in which they were found although now preserved and protected by a glass covering but otherwise open to public view. For although Pompeii remains to this day an archaeological site of paramount importance it has also gained fame as a tourists location which anyone with the time and money may visit and admire and beyond any doubt one of the most memorable locations which I have ever visited.

The site itself is easy enough to find as there’s a train stop for the small town of Pompei, the name of the modern town which surrounds its more ancient namesake. Not a bad place itself really with generally friendly people and a nice central park that boasts the impressive visage of the towns basilica which serves the occasional religious pilgrims that visit the area. The historic town of Pompeii (Note two i’s rather than one!) lay only a short walk from that central square and can be entered via a pair of simple booths that stand guard, charging the relatively meager fee of 10 euros for entrance. It’s worth noting that by the looks of it those booths might not be standing there much longer as construction on a much more elaborate and grand entrance was in the works while I took my visit. It’s almost a pity and I can only hope that the city retains its extremely minimalistic tourism style which I found extremely appealing.

You see, Pompeii is quite literally a small town you are given free reign to wander almost anywhere you wish. Some sections are closed, most often for the archaeologists which still work to uncover and study the site or for preservation reasons, but for the most part everything is free to be seen and explored. So big is this small ruined town that street signs adorn the corners and many buildings have been given numbers and names, it is quite literally like wandering a ruined, abandoned town with little more than the ghosts of the past, some stray dogs,  and the occasional fellow tourist to keep you company. There are no fancy displays or gaudy exhibits, just ancient history left as it was found for you to see and experience.

Picture yourself walking along ancient stone roads or across worn dirt paths as you wander amidst the ancient crumbling ruins. Walking beneath arches that have lasted longer than many religions. Entire civilizations of men and women arising and falling while this city stood still in time. And now here you are walking along streets which until recently hadn’t been walked upon for thousands of years, formed of uneven large stones worn smooth and with deep ruts carved into the rock itself from centuries of horse-drawn karts being driven over them. It can make for difficult walking at times, but that’s all part of the experience. For the most part the buildings to either side are rubble, hollow walls that extend outward in strange labyrinth patterns. Crumbling murals still sometimes visible on the deteriorated walls and where floor once lay and roof sheltered now grows grass and weeds. It’s both touching and fascinating. You can tell sometimes which rooms were which; the ruins of what once was a sink in one area and another which could only have been a bedroom, adding a human touch to the mysteries around you.

Not all is ruin however. Some buildings have been rebuilt and strengthened with modern aid with new beams of wood supporting the ancient rooftop, the floors still sporting beautiful murals and paintings across the walls. And some few rare structures have survived all these years intact and can be walked within today, casting a glimpse into the unaltered state of how it once stood so long ago. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this being the Roman Bath House which still boasts some absolutely gorgeous murals and carvings across walls and roof alike as well as specially placed holes in the ceiling which cast down beams of light into places where once water would have been and people would have laughed and relaxed. Haunting. Then there’s the amphitheater and the small theater as well as various other fairly complete structures.

You may wander among the ancient grave site, down the residential avenue, along the vast green courtyard of the temple district and more! Yet for all its size there’s still more to be uncovered as another estimated third of the original Pompeii remains buried, you can see it as the ruins end with a stark wall of buildings seemingly emerging from the grassy dirt field beyond. Walls half uncovered half buried, streets that lead into nothing. There’s still so much left to be uncovered and for future archaeologists to discover (Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the vast majority of money to the site is dedicated to preservation rather than continued excavation, so it’s unlikely much more of the city will be uncovered for a very long time to come, if ever.). Indeed it’s a vast and wondrous feeling, and can at moments casts a feel of adventure which most popular tourist sites fail to create. It can just feel so incredibly adventurous to be wandering amidst the rubble, regardless of the fact thousands have been there before. A glimpse into a time long gone.

Pompeii may not be for everyone; There was a group of American tourists, I’m guessing Texan or something of the like judging by their accents, who frankly I found disgusting. Every second word a swear, spitting, kicking walls, laughing like bloody idiots as they flaunted their ignorance “What the F#%k is this? I dunno! Stupid Italians! Huh huh!” all while wandering like idiots and talking as loudly as possible. Sadly such is the norm in any tourist location, although in a location such as Pompeii behavior like that I found particularly distasteful and disrespectful. Fortunately Pompeii is so large I only saw the group twice, and the other visitors to the site were much more appreciative. I can only hope such is the norm.

You wont find a beach or any stylish attractions in Pompeii, and if you just want to see ‘the bodies’ you’d be better off simply looking pictures up online (I only took one picture, which I wont post. It felt… wrong somehow to be snapping pictures of such things.) as they are not that numerous nor will they hold your attention for long unless you’re the particularly morbid type. No, the real star of Pompeii is the town itself, and for those with a love of history or even simply a sense of exploration and a respect for the past Pompeii is one of the most grand places you might ever visit. There simply is not another experience like it!

The modern town of Pompei is small but friendly and scenic, the historic site is wondrous beyond words, and honestly the entire experience does not cost nearly as much as most would think. Pompei is easy to reach via train by Naples, a large nearby city which itself I never got to see, and the view from the train is as wondrous as I’d come to expect from Italy.  That part of Italy is particularly gorgeous by any standards.

So why not? Go. Visit one of the worlds most amazing historical sites. Pompeii is a place to be remembered!

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A most unique city: Venice

Posted March 1, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Italy, Travel

Tags: , , , ,

If there is one city in this world that I would recommend you visit as soon as possible, it is Venice.

The reason why is as simple as it is tragic: Venice is one of the most unique locations in the world. There is no other city quite like it, not in Italy nor anywhere else. However Venice will not remain the way it is now much longer. It is only a matter of time till something happens, some catalyst of change occurs, and the city as it stands today is forever changed. Whether it be the rising waters tides as the city sinks, bit by bit, or some catastrophe we cannot predict. Maybe something as simple as a wealthy corporation deciding that ‘they’ would be the first to build a skyscraper somehow and other corporation follow suit, who knows? I do not. But no matter how resistant to change the people who live in Venice might be (And they are very, very resistant to change. Just look up the controversy over the cities ‘newest’ bridge!) change will come, and Venice as we know it now will never be the same.

And so I say go, go and visit Venice. Right now!

As I wrote above, Venice truly is unique among cities. You’ve undoubtedly heard of it and seen pictures, perhaps watched James Bond as he ran along the beautiful city streets or seen boats chase each other down its narrow waterways in the Italian Job. It’s in countless movies and innumerable stories. Venice is, well, legendary! And it is a deserved status as the city itself, glamor aside, is stunningly gorgeous and special all itself.

We all know that the city rests above water, that’s one of the cities main claims to fame: That long long ago Romans fleeing the destruction of the empire around them built their city in the farthest reaches of their lands, in the last place anyone would ever think to look for a city. And yet somehow, some way, not only did it manage to work but the city thrived and grew and now stands a marble pinnacle of wealth and power. A marble city resting lightly above the waves. It’s a fairytale come true, it doesn’t sound like it should ever have come to be! However you can go there, walk the streets yourself and see in person that this particular story is no fiction but fact. This isn’t a city where you’ll exclaim “Oh look, there’s a couple houses that stretch over the waterline, just like in the brochures!”. No! The entire city, all of it, is above the water. Venice doesn’t simply live up to the tales, it exceeds them.

The results of this strange past and design are evident everywhere you go in Venice. Because of the cities rather unusual location, where most cities grow, expand, and change over the course of years Venice, well, Venice is pretty much the same as ever. Oh sure there’s McDonald’s there now and shopping centers, tourist shops beyond counting. But those fancy new places? Either inside the renovated buildings of old themselves or standing out starkly as a strange new pimple upon the face of history as its modern design clashes with the antique buildings to either side that seem to themselves glower upon this new aberration and ignore it out of dislike. The city doesn’t just have a neat historical section or a few classical designs, the entire city is one massive glimpse into a time long gone. You glower at me, say ‘You exaggerate!’, and I do slightly for the sake of drama, but allow me to explain further.

There are no cars in Venice. You can enter the city via vehicle as there’s a bridge that extends to the ‘isle’ of Venice (The train also extends to Venice.) and presumably there’s a parking lot somewhere, but other than that? Nothing. Venice is a pedestrians paradise, a city designed for walking and traveling by foot in a way that went out of fashion everywhere else with the advent of vehicles. This helps set a particular mood for the city as you walk along its narrow streets and across the numerous picturesque bridges. It can get crowded at times, which is to be expected, but stray from the usual tourist areas and you’re likely to find yourself alone but for the sound of water gently lapping against the walkways and the antique buildings which surround you.

Ah, the antique buildings. There are many sights to see and famous locals to explore in Venice, but for the most part I found simply wandering randomly through the less crowded sections of the city to be much more enjoyable than the more famous touristy sections. Why? Because again, the entire city is a massive historical monument itself. One in which people still live and enjoy to this day. Even in the quiet little corners away from it all you’ll find unusual sights to see and oddities to explore. The sheer volume of historical church and the like is mind-boggling, ensuring that although Venice is not a very large city all things considered, you’re never at a loss for things to see and enjoy.

To add to the cities interest Venice itself also boasts a slew of its own unique personality traits. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of the Venetian masks and parties, the remarkably detailed and extravagant feathers and costumes. You’ll find many shops along the many avenue which cater towards selling these, small booths along main streets selling cheap plastic knockoffs for the tourists and the more dignified locations from which you can buy the ‘real thing’ so to speak. I found simply looking through the windows and wandering the shops which sold these to be its own pleasure as the craftsmanship and imagination which go into these projects is fascinating. Then there’s the architecture! In a city where nearly every building is historic in some way, there’s a love of flourished and embellishments which I haven’t quite seen the like of anywhere else. I can only presume it’s the locals equivalent to the more mundane ‘who’s got the greener lawn’ contest. Also remarkable is that for a city built above water, parks and gardening are amazingly common. Baskets containing herbs and pretty flowers hanging from windows, small but well kept and particularly green parks. It’s not something I’d really expected to see considering Venice’s unusual location.

Venice is beyond any doubt one of the most unique places in the world, one which everyone with a love of travel and history should see. To walk along its historic avenue, peer into the shops selling Venetian masks or to stare in wonder at the facade of a grand church before you. It’s stunning!

Gaming Retrospective: System Shock 2

Posted March 1, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Video-Games

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Often times when you replay an older game despite all the love and nostalgia, you can’t help but realize that honestly it just isn’t as fun as it used to be. Why? Because more often than not what was new and innovative then has now been done a dozen times over and most likely done better as well. It’s a disappointing thing to suddenly realize that the game you once held so high and mighty is now little more than a faded memory of the past with a pleasant nostalgic sheen that makes you remember it as better than it really is. That’s not to say the old games aren’t usually still fun. Of course they are! It’s just they’re not as fun or grand as you might have expected or remembered it to be.

Why do I say this? Because I speak from personal experience and whenever I replay an older game it’s practically instinctual to prepare myself for that crushing feeling of gleeful shiny memories turned sour. And so it was when I recently set aside System Shock 2 to be replayed that I went about steeling myself against the disappointment and preparing for the worst.

Fortunately for you and I, System Shock 2 is one of the very few games which I can happily say has almost completely avoided the seemingly inevitable downfall that comes with being an older game held to modern standards. It’s that very reason I’m writing this right now, I want to stand high on the tallest mount and shout forth praise to the sky in wonder! But why you ask, WHY? Is my favoritism so great that I cannot see the faults? Am I blind to the truth? No! (Well I hope not!) The reason why is as simple as it is depressing: There just hasn’t been a single game since System Shock 2 that’s really strove to do what it has. It still stands unique, a strange relic from a bygone era, and as such it has managed to dodge the disappointment that plagues its fellows.

System Shock 2 was, and still is, one of the greatest games ever made!

Now with all that aside there’s two reasons you could be reading this right now:

A: You’ve played and loved System Shock 2 yourself and are reading for that enjoyable trip down memory lane that comes whenever you listen or read about something you already know, smiling knowingly and nodding your head at all the right moments. And for you I say “Sweet zombie Delacroix, aren’t those monkey’s freaky? I feel the urge to defend myself every time I go to the zoo on the odd chance a psychic monkey breaks loose and starts blowing the locale to pieces! Please tell me it isn’t just me!”.

B: You’ve never played System Shock 2 but have heard of it and are curious enough about it for whatever reason to read this article in the hopes of learning more about this ye-olden classic of the late 1990’s of which you’ve heard so much. Not old by normal standards, but in gaming years that’s all but a century ago! And it’s for you, dear reader of the B category, that I’m mostly writing this in the hopes of spreading the word that is System Shock 2. Don’t mind the people from category A, they don’t mind! They’re hopefully just enjoying the ride.

So what is System Shock 2?

System Shock 2 is a shooter/role-playing/action-adventure/horror game (I told you it was pretty unique!) set in the cold depths of space. Although it is the sequel to an earlier game knowledge of the first isn’t necessary to play the second although it undoubtedly makes the experience a bit more sweet. No, the game can easily stand alone.

Gameplay is from the first person perspective and in real-time, however combat as well as a slew of other details are all handled via your characters rpg-style statistics. Clicking a button brings up an interface with all the details you’d ever need such as a complete list of the journals, recordings, messages sent to you and any details learned from research throughout the game so far (All of which you are free to re-read or listen to again at any point throughout the game!) not to mention your statistics, inventory, and resources available to you. It’s worth noting that everything done via this screen is still taking place in real-time and as such you are always in danger, the wise would advise you always make sure to pay attention or find a fairly safe place to stop while browsing this interface. It can be overwhelming at first, no doubt about that, but with experience most such as myself come to appreciate that everything is so readily made available to you.

Click for screenshots of interface. WITH HUD UP and WITHOUT

Throughout the game you’ll have multiple options open for your skill advancement as a Marine, Navy, or OSA. The Marines acting as a ‘warrior’ type with Navy the ‘rogue’ equivalent and OSA the ‘wizard’! However how you choose to mix and match skills is up to you as at no point are abilities cut off from the player save if they do not meet the requirements, which themselves can be met by anyone willing to spend the points to fulfill them. ‘Leveling up’ is done via a resource named Cyber Modules you’ll receive throughout the game for completing tasks and through exploration. These modules can be put towards anything you wish so much as you have the requisite amount of them to advance the statistic in question. The Marine, Navy and OSA descriptions really only come into account early in the game when you are asked to choose one as a sort of starting platform towards what abilities you’ll begin the game good with.

It’s worth noting these are much more than cosmetic changes and WILL determine how you end up playing the game, so one much choose carefully! Specialize heavily into one aspect and you’ll find new options open to you, but might find yourself limited in other situation which call for a different approach. Meanwhile there are not enough Cyber Modules to become a perfect ‘jack of all trades’ type and so choosing to *not* specialize will have the same effect as though you had, with many talents simply out of your reach and as such options closed to you.

Exploration through the ship is done is a semi-linear fashion where typically you are free to go and do as you wish but are limited by how far you have advanced along the main plot, with new ship decks and areas opening up to you regularly. Maps are quite large and a single deck of the ship, of which there are quite a few, are often themselves divided into multiple large sections to explore. The effect is that you feel like you are truly wandering a massive space ship with living quarters, cafeteria, engine rooms, science sectors and everything else you would expect to find in a working ship. It can however also be confusing as you can get lost or turned around quite easily or are not sure where you need to go to complete a certain objective. There is a map available which can be quite useful but it does not point out things such as mission objectives and the like and as such its usefulness is limited. This can, and will, lead to much backtracking, a task made all the more dangerous by the fact enemies re-spawn after a certain time and so even in a level of the ship you’d already explored so you are never safe. It can be frustrating at times but it also helps add to the illusion you are moving through a real place as opposed to simply a series of corridor or shooting gallery.

Now that all that is aside there’s something that needs to be said.

There are three reasons really that System Shock 2 is so well loved. One is it’s complexity which I think I’ve done a fair job of explaining; System Shock 2 is a game that treats its players with respect and in return demands you pay attention and act intelligently. Indeed it’s unfortunate that today so many gamers find that such complexity is a thing of the past because so few new games employ it, as while this complexity can and does make the game difficult and even intimidating at first, it also allows for a much deeper and enjoyable experience in the long run. Something that System Shock 2 excels at and which has helped give it such a lasting appeal over its more simplistic brethren.

Two is the story, which I’ll get to next. The story like the gameplay mentioned above is something that treats the player with intelligence. While those that choose not to dive deeply into the games labyrinth tale are given a very basic experience, those that delve into the massive library of journals and logs you’ll find throughout the game as well as those who pay attention to the details and who read the information provided will find that System Shock 2 has a surprisingly in-depth story that covers a variety of mature themes most games try to avoid out of fear of controversy.

Allow me to start at the games story beginning, simple as it is; You are a random slob in the streets joining the military. No detail is given of the main protagonist and any past experience is for you to come up with. You walk into the recruitment station and choose which branch of the military you will follow. After choosing a military branch you are given a series of options to flesh out the class you just choose through a selection of assignments you can accept. You do not play these assignments, but it’s a fun bit of background information that gives your mute protagonist a bit of a personality. Three years worth of experience later you are assigned a position aboard the UNN Rickenbacker as one of the military staff present for the launching of the newly designed launching of the first faster-than light-speed spaceship; The Von Braun.

Then the nightmare begins!

I wont give away much since like I said early on in this retrospective I’m trying to appeal to those B readers out there (Remember that?) who haven’t played the game yet. But I’ll tell you this much… the story advances through voice recordings and transmissions you are given or find throughout the game. These logs are from a variety of different people and staff aboard the ship. Some will progressively tell tales of love and triumph, others the fall to madness and death. You will never meet most of these people, indeed through most of the game you will never encounter a single living soul. But despite that they are given a clearly defined personality which most games would envy! The voice acting is but for a few examples absolutely perfect and the moody sound of the ship around you and the yells in the distance and of your enemies help create and atmosphere that’s incredible.

This might sound boring, just reading and listening to logs, but what makes System Shock 2 stand out is the strength of the writing and the skill at which these bits of information come together to form a cohesive whole and an experience like no other. An example is that while most are in the past tense, you will (And this is a slight spoiler, although not enough to ruin anything!) eventually come across logs that grow more and more present, and eventually, you might even stumble across a few which mention that there’s rumors of a UNN soldier fighting his way through the ship with the aid of some unseen force. Here you pause for a moment and think “Wait, I’m a UNN soldier! They’re… they’re talking about *me*!”. And suddenly the world around you grows a little less distant, a little less lonely, and yet at the same time so much more so in a different way as you think that other people are alive on this ship. Somewhere. Maybe just right ahead! And yet you can’t reach them!

This helps create a sense of loneliness, a feel that you are being manipulated by forces beyond your control, that this is all of it, a setup and that there’s a *reason* you haven’t met any other survivors yet. And THAT, among other things, is the brilliance of System Shock 2’s storytelling as it both manages to make other characters in the game distant and yet still make you care about them. Most characters you’ll find will represent a theme, a particular type of story and tale. A pair of Romeo & Juliet style lovers trying to unite and escape the ship! A scientist slowly falling to ‘the dark side’ and praising his transformation! A resistance fighter, refusing to give way to the very last breath against an overwhelming force! All stories told throughout the game, all helping to make the Von Braun come alive with excellent voice acting and just enough information to keep you interesting in the crews myriad personal experience.

But wait, you ask, I mentioned three things that made this game brilliant. I’ve gone over gameplay and story, what else could there be? To which I reply with a single word, a name in-fact; SHODAN!

You will eventually meet her, SHODAN, the genie of Citadel Station as called in one particularly memorable recording. And although you might think she should fall under the story category, and she does, she’s simply such an all pervading part of a game; A single element that stands out so strongly and which is so memorable she effectively is a category of her own.

I’ve mentioned each character throughout the game tends to have a theme, right? SHODAN has one as well, and hers is easily the best written and most controversial of them all. SHODAN’s is religion, and as the story progresses you’ll discover that you, the main protagonist, have gotten tangled into her personal story and her ultimate strive to do something none before have done: To become a God!

I will go no further than this but if you’ve played System Shock 2 I recommend you read this extremely well written article by Kieron Gillen called The Girl Who Wanted To Be God! It goes far more in-depths on the story than I have or will here. Be warned though that those of category B will want to avoid this as it’s spoilerific in the most spectacular way.

Link. Extremely Spoilerific!

If it seems up to this point I’ve yet to have mentioned any real faults for the game, there’s a reason for that. System Shock 2 is not without its problems, this was the troubled offspring of a new developer working on an untested early-stage engine after all. There are problems! But simply put what faults the game has are not nearly enough to come even close to ruining the experience nor are enough to harm the amazing atmosphere the game sets. If I must list the problems with this game, and I do, I’d say first and foremost that the visuals are lacking. Even with mods which allow for better graphics than the default it is still far from a pretty game. Similarly the level design in places can be a bit cluttered, with objects blocking your path and making advancing difficult in places. Mission objectives as mentioned earlier can be frustrating to locate at times and the games overall difficulty can be extremely unforgiving to someone who’s never played the game before, weapon degradation (Fire a gun too often and without maintenance it can jam and become useless!) and limited ammunition adding to the games difficulty.

And so that’s System Shock 2! A game of amazing complexity mixed with excellent writing and featuring perhaps the most memorable gaming villain of all time. It is ambitious in its gameplay as it strove to touch upon multiple genres we’d normally never throw together, and innovative in how well it managed to succeed at blending those features. Immersive almost beyond compare, and with an amazing story full of interesting and believable characters.

System Shock 2 truly is one of the absolutely best games ever made, and if you’ve never played it and have read this far I suggest you try to find a copy now and play it. You might have trouble running it unfortunately on many new computers, but there are workarounds to get the game running.

If you have windows XP download this fan-made patch and in most cases it alone is enough to get the game running.

If you have another operating system I recommend trying various compatibility modes and if those do not work, go to this site and see if you can find a solution there. The community is quite friendly, fear not!

Once you’ve got the game running I would also recommend these mods which improve the visuals a fair bit. The Texture Upgrade Project and the SS2 Rebirth Project.

So go, go and play this classic immediately. Play and enjoy one of gamings most memorable classic experience.

Wandering Downtown Montreal

Posted February 19, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Canada, Travel

Tags: , , , ,

Much of my family lives in the city of Montreal, Quebec. And so I’ve visited the place a couple times and figure I’ll do a writeup on it as it’s an interesting city. One of the most interesting in the world actually, if not nearly as historic or dramatic as many of the others I’ve visited.

Hmmm… Montreal is a fun city to wander because once you escape the confines of the local tourist trap area (charming although it may be) you get a nice blend of old meets new with all sorts of quirky results. Sometimes impressive, other times not-so-much, but fun as hell to explore either way! The main shopping street, named Saint Catherine I believe, is a collection of smaller shops spread along a fair distance with a smattering of big businesses and malls along its length. The most popular and widely visited length of the street is mostly a collection of fashionable clothing shops with ye-olden style fronts, quaint stone gargoyles, stone carvings and the like, while in either direction from this main fashionable shopping core the quality of the storefronts begins to slip some and smaller, more unique stores pop up among generally lesser quality and seedier shops. This extends till suburbs on one end and industrial another. It’s also fun to note that ‘adult’ stores are plentiful along this street with all sorts of fun and hilariously out-of-place signs. It’s a bit awkward to see a seedy looking strip bar with pictures of skanky girls all over it among otherwise high-end stores and sporting a nice classical storefront, but hey, can’t deny it adds a bit of flavour to the area.

To the west of this core avenue I believe you’ll find what I interpreted to be the ‘upper class’ shopping area, a series of quaint little shops all in perfect great condition that look extremely pretty, for lack of better words, and are for the most part jewelry stores, high quality restaurants and more clothing stores till it dissolves into mostly office buildings. To the south is housing, I’ve never explored it much, and to the north is industrial. Finally to the west are mostly office buildings leading to tourist trap central and the pier, a fun area to be sure. Keep in mind my north-south-east-west are all based on about ten minutes I spent looking over a map of downtown Montreal once while relaxing in a Chapters bookstore, so I’m probably wrong on my directions here but nevertheless I hope you atleast get the general idea. Probably the main attraction here is Old Montreal, a street nearby the waterfront that’s a depiction of downtown Montreal circa-whenever (Mostly built around the 1700’s I believe.). Most memorable for its twisty narrow brick streets with storefronts left and right all well maintained older buildings with wooden signs out front for that added ‘ye-olden’ look that’s only broken by the fact that most of the stores are souvenir shops, local novelty shops and expensive restaurants. Still, nice street to walk along.

Then there’s the pier area, mostly waterfront shops and boat docking, all closed for the season while I was last there and the ice frozen over (It does tend to get quite icy and cold in Montreal, which makes it perfect for sight-seeing in my opinion since it all but eliminates the usual droves of tourists and can provide a much more relaxed, if chilly, experience. Mind you I’ve always rather liked winter so opinions will vary!). Great view though! Nearby is the Basilique Notre-Dame, an amazing cathedral-style church somewhere between st.catherine street and the pier. The only place in Montreal that I’ve payed money to see, $4 in-fact, and so impressive I spent that extra $1 from my fiver to buy a postcard just in-case my pictures didn’t turn out alright. The architecture is extremely impressive, exterior the usual stone carvings and the like but the interior an amazing display of wooden craftsmanship and design the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. There’s even a modern touch in that the lighting in the Cathedral is set up to enhance certain areas presenting an absolutely glorious display of color and setting an extremely dramatic tone to the entire experience. I’m told there are even full light-shows that take place there complete with music, which I someday hope to see since even the default lighting is extremely impressive. Very interesting place and more than worth the admission price. Go there on a chilly day as I’ve done, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself too which makes the experience all the more moving!

Perhaps my favorite part of Montreal though is the number of quiet corners and forgotten spots where time just seems to have slowed to a crawl or stopped entirely. An abandoned old school-like building, now covered in graffiti and the gate around it breached in so many places, yet stained glass windows still visible from one corner of the building and nice stone architecture untouched. A single small shop, now fallen into disrepair and surrounded by a parking lot, looking lonely and awkward there all by itself like the last man standing after a long conflict. A series of storefronts underneath the train tracks, all boarded up long ago and forgotten. Nothing remarkable in themselves, but the frequency of such little spots adds up until there’s a sort of all-pervading vibe throughout the city. And I’m not talking slummy areas either, those you can find in any city, more… forgotten spots that just seem to have been pushed aside and left while the rest of the city continued to advance and grow.

Wandering downtown Montreal is an entertaining experience both for its diversity and its uniqueness which set it apart from other places in the world. Certainly worth a visit. Me? I recommend during winter as there’s nothing quite as dramatic as walking along the streets with the wind and snow in your face and not a crowd to be seen. But that’s me. Either way; visit, enjoy! It’s a beautiful place.

What makes a truly great video-game?

Posted February 16, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Rants, Video-Games

Tags: , , , , , , ,

It was inevitable that I’d start writing about video-games on this little journal of mine eventually. They’re simply too big a part of my life to be pushed aside, forgotten or ignored but for a side comment in my About info. By writing this I’m more or less abandoning the idea of this being a purely travel site, no, I suppose I’m going to grow it into something a bit more personal. More general. And I’m glad of it! I think I’ll be posting here much more often from now on.

But to the topic at hand; what makes a truly great video game?

Now anyone who plays video-games is going to have a different opinion on the matter and almost all gamers will have their own private list of ‘best games of all time’ and a laundry list of reasons why. But my goal here isn’t to list my personal favorite games so much as to simply try and nail down what it is… what it is that really makes a game not simply good or even fun, but legendary in a way few games are. The instant classics and the games released years ago which continue to have a following to this day! The games which define what games do!

So what makes a game not simply good, but great? Ambition for one. Most of the ‘best’ games out there, the most polished and highly rated are in truth re-treads of an established idea. A limited scope that’s been polished to such perfection that the player can find little to no fault and whether the game is good or not becomes less a matter of real debate and more simple taste. You look at the highest rated games and you’ll find sequels and spiritual successors to other games, games which take an established concept and stick to it. Just look at the latest gaming trends! Right now the popular genre is shooters and as such there’s a steady stream of unambitious but excellent shooters on store shelves and in development as I type this. Lots and lots of em! Now to be clear there’s nothing wrong with the games that do this, they’re fantastic, but they’re just not ambitious in any adventurous sense. There’s no risk or drama in the games creation. Oh sure, there may be a neat new ‘innovative’ gameplay idea or one feature which stands out (Our game has destructible environments! Ours has fantastic visuals! Ours has an amazing sidekick character! Ours lets you toss fireballs out yer bum!) but that’s all.

No, the ambitious games are those which try something entirely new or those which wander down a rarely tread path. Those which take an established idea and throw em out the window in favor of something different, does not even need to be a change in gameplay but perhaps a plot or overall concept! This doesn’t always end well, in-fact more often than not these are complete failures (There’s a reason so many games follow the same beaten paths: It’s safe and rewarding!) but for those few that succeed, those very few that manage to accomplish even just a little of what they sought to achieve, the rewards can be great as they truly stand apart from the rest.

What else? Immersion. This can be a tricky subject as what’s immersive can be quite subjective depending on the person so let’s look at the basics for a moment. What is immersion? It’s that draw, the lure and intensity when something becomes more than simply a moving picture on a screen or a scrawl of words across a page. It’s that moment when you realize you’ve become so absorbed into a fiction that you’re leaning forward, muscles strained and brow dotted with sweat, because the real world, even for just a matter of seconds, faded entierly from your mind and for those few moments that fiction was your reality.  It’s something movie directors have learned to use and books strive to create. It’s also something which games above all other mediums have the potential to create, being interactive as they are… And those few, those noble few games that have really mastered the immersive factor are among the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have. Game or not!

Which brings me to another thing I’d say makes a game great, this time a feature specific to games and games alone. Interactivity. Again, a tricky thing to really nail down as games can be interactive in many different ways. But in this case I mean more in an in-game sense. Interactivity in the way that you genuinely ‘feel’ like you have an impact on this virtual setting regardless of whether you truly do or not. Why do I say interactivity is one of the major features? Because this is what sets video-games apart from any other creative entertainment medium out there. This is the video-games defining attribute! You cannot interact with the story in a book nor the actors in a movie. In a game, you can! And *any* great game needs to exploit this in some way. Whether it’s making a virtual world that reacts to your every whim or one which you can control and enjoy in some strange or quirky way, it’s an absolute must.

I will add this however; Many games today and in the past have not been truly interactive in any real way. Look at a typical shooter, what is interactive about it? You control what you shoot, but in order to advance you MUST shoot exactly what the game has given you. There’s no real impact with anything you do nor do you have any real choice. You shoot, something likely dies, you advance. Being able to ‘interact’ with the environment by knocking over objects or even shooting a hole in a wall is little more than a flourish, the equivalent of those cheesy 3D glasses in theaters. A purely cosmetic touch that ultimately changes little beyond perhaps the immediate conflict. There’s no genuine sense that you have an impact, that the world is responding. It’s digital LEGO!

By this point if you’re reading this and you’re familiar with games you might be thinking “But not every game can be role-playing game or the like if that’s what you’re asking!”, and I can understand that, but it isn’t what I’m asking. No. What I ask is the idea that we can have an impact. That we are given at least the illusion of choice, that we’re not simply walking down a pre-ordained path but instead stepping into a world of our choosing. Interacting with a pre-determined fiction rather than simply guided through it. You follow?

So that makes three things: Ambition, Immersion, and Interactivity. It may sound extremely general or vague, but given the parameters I’ve given, what games meet those three requirements? Really think about it, toss favoritism aside and think. I’ll admit right now that the game I’d easily call my all time favorite, well, it doesn’t really pass those. It meets ambition and interactivity, but lacks immersion. So my all time favorite is out. Games that do make those three requirements are surprisingly few in truth, and I’m hard-pressed to come up with more than a handful, which is exactly how it should be.

The reason I write this is because despite the childish themes for many games, the over-the-top violence and the downright stupidity that pervades many aspects of the gaming industry, games as a medium have more potential than any before to not only tell stories but to entertain and expand our horizons and knowledge. You laugh, sure. They’re just games! But think about it; The stereotype that many games are childish is true enough, but at the same time the potential as another story-telling medium is incredible. Not only can you enjoy a story, but you can now interact with it in a way none before have allowed, and that’s amazing! The possibilities are endless.

Which is not to demean those games out there which focus entirely on being fun or entertaining. That’s what the industry is founded on! I just believe that those few games which truly stand out and expand our definitions of what games can do should be appreciated for what they’ve done. I think it’s an absolute shame so many classic gaming experience are simply tossed aside, where under any other medium a project of that sort of ambition would be remembered and held high as deserved.

So to that end I made this article. I’m not going to list any games which I believe meet the requirements because the instant I do this becomes a topic not so much about promoting the genre as praising my own personal favorites. If someone asks I’d be happy to name a few in the comments, I’m not one to deny curiosity, but the article itself shall remain without. Nevertheless I thank you for reading my latest rant and the first in what will undoubtedly be the first in a long chain of video-game related babblings. Thank you!

The Middle Ages unforgotten.

Posted February 2, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Austria, Travel

Tags: , , , ,

There aren’t many left that I know of, but you will find them, these patches of land torn from history and locations where time seems to have stood still before and since the time of knights and chivalry. Remote forests high up in the mountains where the moss grows thick across the ground and mist spreads outward with icy tendrils to ensnare you in this seemingly ancient forest alone and away from the comforts of the outside world. Houses and towns that still boast the strange styles of the past, and people who preserve those proud traditions.

I’m talking Austria in this case. Indeed, traveling into Austria from Switzerland via train you can see the sudden shift in borders as the lands go from the well tailored and gently curved green slopes to more rugged terrain with thick foliage the likes of which bring to mind tales of exploration and adventure.

Unfortunately the only location in Austria which I’ve gotten to wander proper is the city of Innsbruck, which I rather enjoyed. It’s a nice city really with some beautiful mountainous views and many streets boasting an eye catching front that just beg to be photographed. But beyond that nothing in particular stands out, it’s a pleasant city by all first impressions but not the sort of place I’d consider especially noteworthy. So why, you ask, are you writing about it right now and why the ambiguous title ‘middle ages unforgotten’? Easy. The city itself may not have much impressed, but the people certainly did. Allow me to continue.

Outside the train station is a predictably somewhat slummy area, but no worse than most train stations. And wandering aimlessly didn’t bring up anything spectacular that stood out. It was of all places the Hostel I stayed at which offered the first taste of just how memorable of a visit this stop would turn out to be. A nice little operation that was essentially a single large room in the apartment above a ground-level family owned bakery. Entire thing with only six beds, or was it eight? Either way, very small little operation but run with the sort of care that I wish more places would show. Comfortable, well decorated, clean, friendly staff. As good as hostels get! And to make it more intriguing the other people staying there at the time of my visit were an interesting group of fellow travelers from all around the world who my friend and I instantly took a liking to.

It was getting later into the evening when my friend and I returned to the hostel after a good stretch of time spent eating and doing the laundry at a local coin-operated place (What? Not all travel is glorious adventure.) when one of the other people staying at the Hostel suggested heading to one of the local cafe to enjoy a snack and a drink while talking.  Sure. Why not? And so we were enjoying ourselves when much to our surprise as we sat outside talking that a small procession of entertainers walked by, not limited to but including a pair of knights, a jester, band, a juggler and entertainers, and your usual assortment of medieval nobility. Unexpected to say the least. They paused just down the street and set up at a small stage I hadn’t even noticed earlier set beneath one of the cities landmark buildings, and so began the festivities.

The knights did battle, swords clashing one against the other and the crowd ooohing and aaahing at the appropriate moments, not the best choreography I’ve seen but done with an enthusiastic vigor that more than made up for a lack of dramatic skill and entertaining beyond any doubt. Shortly thereafter various speech made in the local tongue which I didn’t understand, music from the era-appropriate band, Jester tomfoolery, juggling, dancing, and even an entertaining session of fire dancing (Juggling and acrobatics done with flaming items, posing, some athletic dancing. All very moody considering it was dark at the time and had been raining earlier, leaving the ground a dramatic reflective black and the crowd thin.). And then, performance done, the group left in a procession just as they’d come, a team of mystical set-people appearing seemingly from thin air to dissamble the stage and clean up any mess as though nothing had happened. Needless to say I returned to my bed for the night extremely satisfied considering what had started a tame slow visit had turned into a meeting with interesting people and a free spectacle to observe, oh, and the cake I had for a snack had also been delicious.

Looking it up now via google it seems the whole affair is a local touristy event done every Thursday during summer. An event the locals tolerate it but little else. Hah! As a tourist, I can verify that it was indeed fun to watch and if more cities did such things in the name of netting a few travelers many places would be a helluva lot more memorable than they were. As it is what you usually get are an assortment of chalk artists (To be fair a few I’ve seen were extremely talented!), living statues (With at least one down-on-his-luck sort sort wearing an ill-sized costume trying to earn a few coins among em!), and maybe a photo-shoot setup with a guy in appropriate costume (Romans outside the colliseum for example.). That’s it! So be proud, that little display Innsbruck, which I keep almost spelling as Innsmouth thankyouverymuchLovecraft, is among the best touristy performance I’ve seen. It also set the mood for what was to follow the next day.

Leaving that Hostel was a bit of a bittersweet thing. Unusual as Hostels are generally not the sort of places you’d want to linger at, but the people who’d also been there had been friendly enough and the room comfortable enough that it was half-tempting to spend another night. But no, onto the train and northbound into Germany was the plan.

That train ride however was one of the more memorable ones. Twisting up and around these jagged slopes, the mornings mist the sort you see in movies and read of it books as it twisted and flowed through mossy forest trees torn themselves from countless images of medieval forests of old. It was impossible to not see that classical image, especially after the events of the night before; the thick pounding of heavy hooves and the glimmering armor of the knight as he emerges from the dense mist, weapons held low as he charges forward to meet fate, cloth banners billowing in his wake. A ‘romantic’ and undoubtedly non-factual image formed from too many movies and books, but one which stayed with me till forest and rugged mountain made way for the hilly green slopes of Southern Germany. The train car deserted but for myself and my friend, so the entire time was spent loudly talking about history and fantasy when I wasn’t staring out the windows and simply enjoying the view.

It’s also worth noting that in Southern Germany during this trip a pair of burly biker-esq men came into the train car holding out police badges and asking to see our passports, which they most certainly got to see considering even if they hadn’t been boasting the badges the two were easily bigger than me, and I’m a decent size, and certainly tougher looking. While trapped in a moving vehicle is not the best time to debate right and wrong with people who look like they could lift you like a twig and likely snap you in half just as easily! Nothing else to tell really, they saw the passports, nodded, and moved on. It’s just remarkable in that it was the only time I’ve been checked while crossing borders in western Europe. Plus the two guys looked like stereotypical German *cough* movie stars of a certain type, complete with handlebar moustache and leather hat. A sight which while intimidating also made for a good laugh later and an odd aside note now.

My experiences in Austria were unfortunately limited, but memorable and pleasant enough that I’m sure to make a more thorough visit in the future when I’m not poor and have monies to spend on travel again. I know little has been said about what exactely I saw and did there, but in the end that’s not really the stuff that stands out to me now, but the vague impressions left upon me by the whole experience, and so that’s what I try to convey through typing. In this case that of the middle ages, unforgotten.

Tips & Tricks for the cheap Traveler.

Posted January 31, 2009 by incipiency
Categories: Random, Travel

Tags: , , , , ,

Money Money Money Money.

It’s all about the money. More money you’ve got, longer your travels can last, the more you can do, and the more fun you can have. Run out of money? That sucks, you’re left calling you friends or parents (or both) begging for pennies to head home and in the meantime probably sleeping somewhere uncomfortable munching cheap snacks for dinner. Joy. Of course you could always try to work for some quick cash, but then you’ve got a whole new plethora of annoyances to work legally, and if you choose to try to get cash the ‘under the table’ way you’re likely going to be working hard for minimal profit, all while knowing if someone decides not to pay up, there’s not a thing you can do about it. Damn.

So how can you avoid this apocalyptic scenario? Easy. Save your pennies and play it smart. You’d be amazed how much comfort you can get for minimal monies. This isn’t a guide by any means, more just a few common sense little things I’ve found useful while traveling Europe.

-If you’re eating at a restaurant, drink water. Not bubbly water, not sparkling, not mineral or holy water or water infused with the power of Zeus. Just plain tap water. Cheap. Free. Tap water. But why you ask? Because the drinks are the expensive part of any decent meal, and without that added cost of a cola or a glass of wine, you can easily afford to sample delicious local foods without breaking the bank. Which brings up…

-Drinks in general. For the most part, stick with bottled water. Find the local market and they’re sure to have big 1 liter bottles for dirt cheap prices. And if you absolutely must enjoy a cool tasty specialty, then again, find the local supermarket and get it there. Buying drinks at the little tourist kiosks may be convenient, but it’s also likely three times the price you’d pay anywhere else.

It may sound boring, water, water and more water. However not only is it healthy for you but you’d be amazed at how much money you’re saving by such a simple thing. If you absolutely must spend a couple nights in a pub as part of you trip, try to limit your money spent carefully. I’ve met people who’ve wasted away days worth of money on nights they can’t even remember the next day. I can do that at home if I want to, traveling half-way across the world to do it just seems stupid! But hell, I’m not here to criticize anyones habits, just point out how bloody expensive it can be. Do that every night and you’ll soon find yourself wondering where all the money went.

-Hostels are an excellent place to spend a night or two. Don’t be stupid, don’t believe the silly movies or whispered rumors. The truth is Hostels are just like Hotels in that there are some that are better than others. Hell, I can name a few Hostels which I found better than hotels that cost hundreds a night to stay at. Indeed the novelty of spending the night in such a setting can be refreshing at times (Unless you’ve got a snorer in the room. Damn them! But after a long busy day world wandering, not even the mountainous rumbling of a fellow roommate is likely to keep you long from precious sleep.). Hostels can range in style and quality from location to location; some are small family run buildings, the equivalent of renting out an apartment. Small family run operations. And then there are the big organizations. Regardless of which type you stay in, Hostels are usually damn cheap and as far as needing a place to sleep goes they serve admirably.

-If you are traveling with a companion cheaper hotels are also an option. For a 2 star hotel (Basic amenities but little else.) the cost of a 2 bed room, or 1 bed if you’re traveling as a couple, split between two people will often end up the same cost as a pair of beds in a Hostel. And yet there’s no doubt about the advantages of having your own room for the night. 1-2 stars doesn’t mean bad by the way, the higher the star rating the more luxury. One of my favourite hotels was actually a 2 star hotel, which had spacious room, clean comfortable beds, great location and friendly staff.

As a side note, if you travel from one city to another you’ll quickly find out about the organization ‘Hosteling international’ which runs a good slew of Hostels around the world, and it’s worth mentioning that in general I’ve had more bad experiences with that organization and the hostels under them than good. Usually when looking for places my mantra would be ‘anywhere but Hostel International’. A mantra that served me well. I’m sure they’ve a couple excellent quality locals but seeing as I’m not omnipresent (Although I do try to be!) and the vast majority of times I’ve stayed there (Usually for lack of anywhere else affordable to stay.) have been fairly negative experiences, you’ll forgive me if I just try to avoid them as a whole!

-Don’t buy maps or touristy info, there’s always a free alternative somewhere. Tourist information will often have a free cheap map and a slew of ones which you have to pay for, and for the most part you’ll find that the cheap freebies are more than enough to explore the cities core. That’s what they’re for after all: An incentive to get tourists to explore the local areas. They wont give much information beyond the central core of the town or city, but that’s usually more than enough.

-Walk whenever possible and if you need to get somewhere far enough away that you can’t walk there, then take the public transportation. Taxi are just too damned expensive, and even the thought of renting a vehicle sends a money related shiver down my spine. Via transit and walking the cost of wandering a city is negligible, leaving you all the more money for an extra days travel later on or to treat yourself to a cool soft-drink or a snack at a local cafe.

-Try to avoid spending in the tourist traps. These are the locations where the prices are highest, the crowds are thickest, and everything is designed to sneak pennies from yer pockets. By all means wander them freely and enjoy, the tourist traps are often the nicest part of cities. But just keep in mind that almost anything you buy there, whether it be food or drinks or tickets or whatever, will often be almost twice the price of anywhere else in the city. That’s just the way it works! Meanwhile the attractions you’ll find in these areas are often the most pricey but showy of a cities sights. Whether you pay for admission to these places is ultimately up to you. You are a traveler after all, it’d be silly to go to say; Paris, and not visit The Louvre! Just keep in mind these things add up after a while.

-Batteries are expensive, either bring enough to last the trip from home or make sure whatever electronics you’re carrying are rechargeable. Unfortunately the different voltage from UK to Europe to North America and various other places around the world will not always be compatible with the rechargeable item in question, regardless of plug converters. But for the most part anything designed for travel or convenience: Camera’s, Electric Shaver’s and the like will work just fine. Just be careful.

*ADDED*

-Many places you might stay will offer a basic free breakfast or at the least a baguette if you happen to be in France. Ask about it before getting a room for the night and consider it when choosing a place to stay, most hotel will have this and many hostel as well. Take advantage of this always! Eat your fill and then eat a little more before going about your day.  Stuff yourself. GORGE! Free food is a beautiful thing and should be taken advantage of. Might not always be the best (9 times out of 10 you’re choices are cereal, cereal, and more cereal if you’re at a hostel.) but it’s free.

-Now if you’ve saved money by not buying an expensive breakfast, here’s another tip in the same vein; Eat smart! It might seem counter-intuitive for me to suggest you eat at a nice place for dinner but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Perhaps you think fast food is a clever way to save money, it is cheap after all and McDonald’s really is everywhere. But the food they serve is simply neither very healthy or filling and you’ll find yourself much more hungry quicker than if you’d eaten some genuine food. And this applies not just McDonald’s but most any fast food chain. Meanwhile if you’ve taken my advice above and do not order any drinks, you’ll discover that eating at a fairly nice place to enjoy the local cuisine isn’t all that much more expensive than the fast food chain you were considering earlier and so much more filling. Indeed, you just might start skipping lunches and looking forward more and more to trying something tasty and new for dinner. Saving money and eating great, you can’t ask for more!

-This isn’t always an option but if you can find a local marketplace there will occasionally be a few stalls which will offer basic meals. When you can find these go for it, you’re getting the best of the local cuisine at dirt cheap prices.

That’s all I can think of for the moment, although I’m sure I’ll end up editing this a few times in the future as various other little things come to mind and I feel the urge to make this as complete as possible for next time I look it over. And honestly it may not sound like much, but the money saved from things as simple as drinking water really does add up. I write this just as much to remind myself as anything else, since I’m still kicking myself over some of the stupid mistakes I’ve made while traveling that cost me so very much money.

Next time I’ll be smarter, next time…