Europe

Country no. 39 on my World Karaoke Tour: living la dolce vita in Rome

TreviIt seems like I travel to Rome every 11 years. My initial excursion to the Eternal City came in 1993. My second jaunt to Italy’s capital happened in 2004. And in November 2015, during the long weekend surrounding the American Thanksgiving, I descended upon Rome for the third time.

Due to its rich history and its abundance of artistic treasures, Rome is one of my favourite cities in the world. But this time I was jetting there on a mission unrelated to its cultural heritage. Even though I’d already been to Italy twice — including stops in Rome both times — I hadn’t yet sung karaoke within its national borders. That made Italy one of the few countries I’d visited without adding it to my World Karaoke Tour. In returning once more to Rome, I intended to change that. So while I was excited to again gaze upon such beloved sights as the Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I was even more stoked about the opportunity to achieve my long-sought goal of singing in such a storied location.

Just to be able to make it to Rome on this latest occasion was, for me, what U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden would call a BFD. Continue reading

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Karaoke in Ireland: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Me with Jimmy JoyceAlthough I’ve sung karaoke in 35 countries as of this writing, there’s a handful of nations that I’ve visited without singing while inside their borders. Perhaps the most surprising place to end up on that short list is Ireland. I mean, it’s a fun country, right? Not to mention that it’s a land with a rich musical heritage. But that musical tradition doesn’t yet seem to have translated into abundance of karaoke — at least in the capital city of Dublin, which is the only Irish locale that I’ve visited to date. Although I’ve now been to Dublin on two separate occasions — most recently, at the start of 2014 — I have yet to sing into a microphone on Irish soil. Many of my posts on this blog concern the circumstances of how particular countries were added to my World Karaoke Tour; however, this article will recount how Ireland failed to become a part of the tour.

Visit no. 1: the early ’90s

Over 20 years ago, Ireland became the third foreign country in which I ever set foot (after the United Kingdom and Canada). That trip occurred between late December 1991 and January 1992, as I rang in the New Year in Dublin. Two indications of just how long ago we’re talking about: I hadn’t yet even entered law school, and Bill Clinton had yet to be become President of the United States. (My enrollment in Georgetown Law, and Clinton’s first Presidential election victory, would both occur during the ensuing twelve months.)

Back then, karaoke wasn’t really a thing yet in most parts of the world outside of East Asia. I myself had just taken up karaoke singing during the preceding year while living in New Jersey; and my aspirations to go global with my new avocation lay many years in the future. Looking back from 2014, I have no idea whether any karaoke venues even existed in Ireland in the early 1990s; but in any event, I made no attempt to search for any during my initial visit to that country. Continue reading

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A day in Odessa: hanging in my great-grandfather’s hometown

My great-grandfather, Hyman Manoff, was born in 1884 in Odessa, in what’s now the Ukraine. This past May, I got a glimpse into my heritage by spending a day in my great-grandpa’s hometown.

Hyman Manoff was my maternal grandfather’s father, and I was sort of named after him. (My parents bestowed on me the Hebrew name of Chayim, which derives directly from my great-granddad’s first name; they then chose the relatively similar moniker of Harvey for the English-language name on my birth certificate.) At some point, Hyman married a woman named Sadie who came from the small Ukrainian village of Shpola. In 1905 he left Odessa and emigrated to the United States; he settled in Philadelphia, where he worked as an upholsterer. (I’m not sure whether Hyman married Sadie before or after his crossing of the Atlantic.) Hyman and Sadie had three children including a son Joseph, whose daughter Arlene would become my mother. And I’ve now pretty much exhausted the extent of what I know about Hyman Manoff’s life. He died in 1959, more than a decade before I was born, and I don’t even know what he looked like.

In May 2013, during my visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, I took a day-trip to Odessa. (I flew there from Kiev; the flight was about an hour long.) For several hours, I was privileged to wander some of the very streets that my ancestor must once have trod, and to gaze upon buildings and monuments that would have been familiar to him more than a century ago.

Odessa is a metropolis of just over 1 million inhabitants, making it the third-largest city by population in the Ukraine. My self-guided walking tour of the city began at a really long stairway.

The Potemkin Stairs

The most celebrated symbol of Odessa isn’t a building, but a staircase: the Primorsky Stairs, popularly known as the Potemkin Stairs. Rising up from the harbour to the plateau on which Odessa’s historic downtown rests, this assemblage of 192 stairs and 10 landings measures 466 feet in length. It widens as you descend; the topmost step is 41 feet wide, while the bottom step is nearly 71 feet in width. These stairs were constructed between 1837 and 1841. Here’s the view looking down the Potemkin Stairs towards the Black Sea:

Looking down the Potemkin Steps from the top.

Looking down the Potemkin Stairs from the top.

And here’s the opposite perspective, gazing up the Potemkin Stairs from somewhere just above their base:

Looking up the Potemkin Stairs from the bottom.

Looking up the Potemkin Stairs from one of the lower steps.

These stairs appeared in a famous scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film, The Battleship Potemkin. Continue reading

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Country no. 30 on my World Karaoke Tour: mayhem in Moldova

When my taxi driver from the airport dropped me off at my hotel in downtown Chișinău, he shook my hand and wished me a good night. His friendliness was typical of the people I would meet in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. I found the inhabitants of that city to be extremely welcoming — with the notable exception of the two bouncers who tried to keep me out of a karaoke bar.

That bar was called Art Club Karaoke; and my encounter with its overzealous gatekeepers occurred on Friday, May 24, 2013. I’d been excited to enter Art Club, as I was embarking on the most significant evening to date in all of my karaoke travels. After my singing appearance in the Ukraine the previous Monday, I could say that I’d sung in 29 different countries — thus tying me for the distinction of having performed karaoke in more nations than anyone else on the planet. But I wanted that record all to myself. 🙂 I looked forward to making Moldova the record-breaking 30th country. But as soon as I entered the foyer that led into the bar, the bouncers gleefully informed me that their establishment was closed for the evening. Continue reading

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Country no. 27 on my World Karaoke Tour: a Turkish delight

Stock photo of the Turkish flag.As 2012 drew to a close, I jetted off from New York to make my first-ever visit to Istanbul. The city that was founded as Byzantium in the 7th century B.C. certainly lived up to my expectations of it as an exotic destination that can be appreciated on many levels. Of equal interest for this blog, less than 24 hours after I stepped off the plane at Atatürk Airport, Istanbul became the latest stop on my World Karaoke Tour!

Klub Karaoke: The tour rolls on

It happened at a venue called Klub Karaoke. That particular “Klub” is located just off Istikal Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare that’s known for its abundance of nightlife. I’d found Klub Karaoke’s website via a google search while planning my trip; and I was particularly impressed that the bar makes its songlist available for perusal online. That was a big plus for me, since it enabled me to confirm in advance that I would find my desired songs there.

Istikal Street, late on a Friday night.

Istikal Street, late on a Friday night.

Most of the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that draw revelers to the Istikal Street area are actually found on side streets that intersect Istikal rather than on Istikal itself, and that was true of Klub Karaoke. Here’s what Klub Karaoke looks like on the outside: Continue reading

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8 things I’m looking forward to in the next 12 months

One year ago today, I launched this blog by sending my first post into cyberspace. Having never operated a website before, I really had no idea of what I was getting into. But it’s been an incredible year. Portugal, Egypt, and Germany became countries no. 24, 25, and 26 on my World Karaoke Tour; I enjoyed writing about my international karaoke experiences and other travel adventures; and I discovered an amazing and inspiring community of travel bloggers. Along the way, I’ve connected with some very cool people. Learning from them has already helped to make my travels more fulfilling.

There was a rough patch during the early part of 2012 when I got sick and suspended my blogging for over three months. Let us never speak of that dark period again, except to say that getting through it provided me with a renewed sense of purpose, and even a sense of urgency. The realisation that I can’t take my health for granted now motivates me to enjoy life to the best of my ability, and to prioritise seeing as much as I can of the beauty and wonder in this world — while getting to know the people who live in it.

As I commemorate the first anniversary of this website (an occasion that’s also known in the vernacular as my “blogoversary”), I’m eager to embark on the next 12 months! I’ve got some exciting plans lined up for the second year of H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke. I’m especially anticipating the following events:

1. Santacon in New York City

One of the annual highlights of the holiday season for me is Santacon: a celebration held on the same day in various cities around the world, during which large numbers of people dressed as Santas and other seasonally appropriate characters cavort around town, make merriment, and (of course) consume generous quantities of alcoholic beverages. New York City’s Santacon is usually the biggest, featuring thousands of participants; and it’s just generally a really fun time. Here you can read my blog post about last year’s edition of Santacon. Santacon 2012 will be held on December 15 in at least 37 countries! It’ll be my fifth consecutive year of hanging with the Santas. (In case you’re wondering, I do not, myself, don a Santa outfit, beyond wearing the red hat with white trim. But hey, someone has to document the proceedings on the internet. So I still make a vital contribution. :))

2. Istanbul for New Year’s

I typically spend my New Year’s Eves overseas, and the dawn of 2013 will be no exception. On December 27 I’m heading to Istanbul, the only city in the world that straddles two continents; that’s where I’ll be as the world rings in yet another year! Continue reading

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Countries no. 6 and 7 on my World Karaoke Tour: the Netherlands and Belgium

After my World Karaoke Tour was shut out in Italy, I headed north and hoped that things would go differently in the Netherlands and Belgium. Three train rides later, and some 16 hours after my departure from Venice, I rolled into the Dutch capital.

Dutch courage in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is well-known for its Red Light District, where one can indulge in certain activities that are unlawful in most of the world. To gain a full flavor of the city in which I now found myself, I made sure to check out the Red Light District (strictly out of curiosity, of course). 🙂 Actually, I didn’t have to wait long after my arrival in Amsterdam to observe one of the city’s legalized vices: as soon as I disembarked from the train, I witnessed people smoking joints on the platform.

I probably could have gotten high myself from the secondhand smoke that was wafting up from all of that cannabis. But doing the Cheech & Chong thing was unnecessary for me. As this blog reflects, singing karaoke provides a natural high for me. So, although many tourists in Amsterdam end up in that city’s “coffee shops”, I set out in search of a venue where I could indulge my addiction to song. Happily, that quest proved much more successful in Amsterdam than it had in Rome; and on Tuesday night, August 31, 2004, the Netherlands became country no. 6 on my World Karaoke Tour.

I opened with “Footloose,” perhaps a risky choice because most of my audience in the bar that night consisted of first-year university students (They were in the midst of their orientation week). Those whippersnappers hadn’t even born yet when Footloose: the movie was released in 1984, and they’d probably never heard its title song, originally recorded by Kenny Loggins. (An atrocious remake of the movie — a “reboot,” in current Hollywood parlance — would be foisted upon filmgoers in 2011; but on that magical night when I strode onto the stage in Amsterdam, the release of the Footloose remake was still seven years in the future.) One thing that I had going for me: the Footloose theme song is an outstanding dance anthem that invariably gets a crowd fired up. Have a look at the closing scene from the movie, in which the full potential of the song is realized:


My concerns about my song selection proved unjustified; the young scholars responded with enthusiasm to my rendition of “Footloose.” If this was their introduction to the song, it had made a favorable first impression on them. My trademark H-Bomb leg kick at the end of the song didn’t hurt. And my Amsterdam karaoke appearance marked the first time that I uttered what would become a signature line for me at my appearances in foreign venues: “New York City is in the house!” This too helped endear me to the audience.

In addition to “Footloose,” I performed four other songs over the course of the evening. I couldn’t tell you what those other songs were, as I neglected to document that information (The name of the bar where my singing took place has also long since been erased from my memory banks). Keep reading to learn more about my experiences in Amsterdam and Brussels

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My Italian odyssey

Italy belongs to a select list of countries to which I’ve traveled without singing karaoke within their borders. Here’s the story of how that happened — and how I occupied myself in the absence of singing opportunities.

In one of the excavated villas in the volcanically-buried city of Pompeii, a floor mosaic bears the words “Cave canem” — Latin for “Beware of dog.” During my 2004 visit to Italy (a tour that did include a stop in Pompeii), I had my own “Cave Canem” experience. The scene for that encounter was the island of Murano, near Venice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Rome: Veni, vidi, vici? Not quite . . .

My Italian hijinks commenced in Rome. I’d been to the Eternal City once before, in 1993. I was excited to return because in the ensuing 11 years I’d read extensively on Roman history; and so I looked forward to appreciating the relics of the Roman empire in their historical context as I gazed upon them in the 21st century.

And the Roman landmarks that I toured did not disappoint: the Colosseum (also known as the Flavian amphitheater); the Forum; the Pantheon; St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel); Trevi Fountain; and the Spanish steps. One of the less clichéd attractions that I was privileged to behold was the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), which was the subject of a famous scene in the Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday. This image of a river god has hung in its present location in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin since 1632 (see photo at right). A legend holds that if you insert your arm in its maw and tell a lie, the Mouth of Truth will swallow your arm. I did not put that legend to the test. 🙂

The history buff in me enjoyed taking in so many iconic sights during my sojourn in the Italian capital. But I was in town for another reason as well. Having just added Greece to my World Karaoke Tour a few days earlier, I wanted Italy to join its Mediterranean neighbor on my list of karaoke conquests. Unfortunately, that mission was not fated to be accomplished in Rome. Nick, an Italian-American karaoke buddy in New York, had suggested that I would be likely to find a karaoke venue in the Trastevere, a bohemian quarter on the west bank of the River Tiber. Pubs and restaurants abound along the cobbled medieval streets of the Trastevere; and as I meandered through its narrow pathways, I hoped that at least one of those establishments would offer me the chance to sing.

My search was doomed to failure by an aspect of Italian culture of which I’d previously been unaware. I actually did come across one bar in the Trastevere region in which karaoke nights were held — only to learn that the karaoke was suspended for the month of August (the month during which I’d walked into that watering hole). The reason: during each and every August, many Italians (including, apparently, the karaoke host at this particular pub) go on vacation for the entire month. So I was out of luck.

That was as close as I would come to adding the nation of Italy to my World Karaoke Tour. My Italian itinerary also included Pompeii and Venice, but I was not fated to find karaoke in either of those locations. However, I did see some cool stuff in those cities.

Pompeii and Vesuvius: H-Bomb versus the volcano

The prosperous Roman city of Pompeii was interred under volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 — perhaps the most celebrated volcanic outburst in world history. Pompeii’s ruins (unearthed by archaeologists in the 18th century) make for poignant viewing when one contemplates the tragic and sudden end that befell its residents. You can walk into well-preserved buildings that were constructed over two thousand years ago, and thereby gain a unique insight into the way people lived in antiquity. The surviving structures that line the Pompeiian streets include not only residential villas, but a bakery and even a house of ill repute (tangible proof that the trade that was practiced inside its walls is truly the world’s oldest profession).

And you can even see (sort of) some of the people who lived and worked in those buildings; one of the most unusual series of items on display in Pompeii is the plaster casts of some of the Vesuvian victims (see photo at right). When Pompeii was excavated, found in the volcanic ash were indentations in the shape of some of the human casualties. Those impressions preserved for centuries the poses that the victims had been in when nature’s wrath overtook them. The archaeologists made plaster casts from the indentations. However, the presentation of many of the casts leaves something to be desired. For example, the one seen here is just lying on a wooden table in a storage room.

During my Pompeiian visit, I also took a day-trip to the ruins at Herculaneum (see photo at left), another outpost of the Roman empire that was destroyed in the same Vesuvian eruption that wiped out Pompeii.

And I made an excursion into the bustling metropolis of nearby Naples, where I visited the National Archaeological Museum. Among the highlights of that museum are a wealth of artworks found among the excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Its most famous gallery is the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet), a chamber that features erotically themed art from those ancient cities (Additional examples of the treasures of the Gabinetto Segreto can be glimpsed here and here. But be warned: the images from the Gabinetto Segreto to which I’ve linked here are NSFW). Until relatively recently, the contents of the Gabinetto Segreto were deemed too explicit for public display, and could only be viewed by “persons of mature age, known to be possessed of a strong morality.” My guidebook had indicated that even today, upon entry into the museum, you need to sign up for a timed appointment if you wish to gain access to the Gabinetto Segreto (although the museum staff no longer evaluates your morality when you do that); but even though I forgot to register for an appointment, there were no guards stationed at the door and I had no trouble accessing the forbidden chamber.

Perhaps the highlight of my visit to Pompeii was my ascent of the volcano that was responsible for all the carnage. Continue reading

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Country no. 5 on my World Karaoke Tour: Greece

As previously discussed in this blog, through August 1993, I’d sung karaoke in four countries. As the calendar flipped to August 2004, I’d still sung karaoke in a total of . . . four countries. The biggest reason for this stagnation in my World Karaoke Tour was that for much of the intervening period I’d been trapped in a horrible job in which I was severely underpaid relative to my qualifications as an attorney and the work I was doing, and which therefore did not enable me to afford vacations to foreign lands (That job also sucked for additional reasons beyond the paltry compensation, but those reasons are beyond the scope of this blog). In the summer of 2004 I was still languishing in that dismal job, although I was only a few months away from finally quitting it. But I’d accumulated enough American Express Membership Rewards miles to qualify for a free round-trip flight to Europe; and by staying in cheap hotels I was able to cobble together my first overseas trip since 1996.

The itinerary for my new voyage included the Greek island of Crete; Rome; Pompeii; Venice; Amsterdam; and Brussels. The focus in the present article will be on the initial stop of Crete; the next installment of this series continues the narrative of my late-summer 2004 romp through Europe, during which the concept of my World Karaoke Tour finally began to reach critical mass.

Prologue: Terror on the high seas in 1996

I’d been to Greece once before — during the aforementioned 1996 journey that had marked my most recent foray outside the United States. On that trip, taken at the end of the summer, my law school friend Dave and I visited Athens and Delphi on the Greek mainland, as well as the Aegean islands of Ios and Santorini. Although Greece boasts a musical tradition dating back to ancient times, I didn’t find any karaoke during my 1996 visit. To be honest, I didn’t really seek it out; while I’d been singing karaoke Stateside for nearly five years at that point, karaoke had not yet become one of the defining activities of my life.

Despite the lack of any H-Bomb performances, my 1996 Greek holiday was memorable for a certain boat ride that occurred towards the end. Dave and I were on a ferry, returning from Santorini to Athens before flying back to New York. The ferry made an unscheduled stop at some random island. An announcement came over the public address system in Greek, and about two-thirds of the people on the boat immediately disembarked. Dave and I wondered why. Continue reading

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Countries no. 2, 3, and 4 on my World Karaoke Tour: United Kingdom, Austria, and Iceland

As of June 1993, I’d been singing karaoke sporadically for about two years. That month, having just completed my first year as a student at Georgetown University Law Center, I flew to London to commence a summer law study program. My summer was to divide into three segments, each three weeks long: First, in London, I was taking a course on “Comparative Litigation.” Next, in Salzburg, Austria, I was taking a course on “Fundamental Rights in Europe and the U.S.,” which was co-taught by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Both the London and Salzburg sessions were under the auspices of a program that was operated not by Georgetown but by the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, California. Following my six weeks of academics, I would spend the final three weeks on a sort of abbreviated version of the Grand Tour, passing through various Western European cities. By this time I had come to regret not having spent a semester abroad during my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins; and I viewed my summer excursion as a way of partially compensating for what I’d missed out on. (This was at a time when study abroad programs were far more likely than today to take place in Western Europe; naturally, I assumed that if I had gone abroad for my junior year, my destination would have been somewhere in that region.)

The entries on my law school transcript from the summer of ’93 are not particularly important to this blog (although it was pretty cool hanging out in an Austrian beer garden with a Supreme Court justice, and asking him about a case that I had just seen one of my professors argue before him and his fellow jurists a few months earlier). But that summer in Europe had another, unexpected impact on my life. It saw the genesis of my World Karaoke Tour.

London, United Kingdom
I’d been in London for no more than a few days when I decided that I needed to find a British pub in which to sing. So one afternoon after my classes let out, I walked around from bar to bar, asking the bartenders if they knew of any pubs that offered karaoke. In one response that was seared into my brain, a bartender not only stated that he knew of no such pubs, but gratuitously added that “karaoke is old hat.” He said this all the way back in 1993! Talk about being on the wrong side of history. 🙂 Of course, in 2012, karaoke is ubiquitous almost everywhere on the planet — an outcome that would not have surprised the 23-year-old me in ’93. So anyway, when that bloke made his smug comment, I wanted to respond, “Hey man, your whole country is old hat!” But I held my tongue. (Note: I’m a huge Anglophile; so when I call England “old hat,” I say that term with nothing but affection. But there was something ironic about a denizen of such an ancient land deriding as antiquated an invention of the 1970s.)

Naturally, I did find a place to sing in London. Continue reading

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24

Last night, on my very first night in Lisbon, Portugal became the 24th country on my World Karaoke Tour. I didn’t want to go out last night; I’d been up for two days (as usual, I’d been unable to fall asleep on my redeye flight from New York the night before). I was exhausted and really just wanted to be in my hotel room catching up on some zzz’s.

But when I chatted up the man at the front desk of my hotel and had him make some phone calls, he was adamant that I was extremely unlikely to find karaoke tonight (New Year’s Eve) or the following evening (a Sunday). At the same time, he assured me that a venue called Café da Ponte in the Doca Santo Amáro section of town (a region also known as the Docklands or Docks) did in fact have karaoke last night. He called them and confirmed it.

It was possible that by exploring on my own today, I would find a venue that offered karaoke for New Year’s Eve or the following night. But I couldn’t count on that. So if I didn’t hit Café da Ponte last night when I had the chance, I risked having nowhere to sing during my stay in Portugal — and thus jeopardizing the very mission of this trip. Seeing some castles and monuments would be nice, but if I didn’t sing karaoke this weekend, my vacation would be a failure.

So it was really a no-brainer. 🙂 At 10 pm I jumped in a taxi, which conveyed me to the Docklands. It dropped me off at the taxi rank, which was all the way at the end of the strip of bars and restaurants; my destination of Café da Ponte was at the other end. I hadn’t gotten very far when I was accosted by four Portugese youths.

At first they seemed friendly enough, asking me where I was from and feigning excitement when hearing that I hailed from New York. Suddenly, one young man who seemed like the leader of the quartet asked me if I had drugs. “No,” I said. “Let me see,” he responded, pointing to my backpack. I shook my head and started walking away from the youths.

Undeterred, the youths followed me and now surrounded me. “Let me see if you have drugs,” the leader repeated.

At that point, I was thinking that I did not come all this way just to be mugged or whatever by some second-rate hoodlums. Although it was dark and there weren’t many people out yet along the strip (I was later advised that on a Friday night, people don’t really start showing up in that area until about 11 pm), I did spot a group of older folks a little further down. “Help!” I yelled, loud enough so that they could hear me (and I did catch their attention); then I made a run for it. My assailants smiled, realizing that I’d gotten away.

I was still nervous since I would have to return this way to get a taxi back to my hotel after I sung. But I figured I would deal with it, and now I proceeded to Café da Ponte for some Portugese karaoke.

The host, Tiago, was very nice and put me up as the first singer (although the fact that I was the first patron to submit a song may have had something to do with it). By the time that Tiago handed the mic to me, a decent-sized crowd had assembled. From the generous selection of English-language songs in the book, I chose “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & the Beaters, which is one of my A-list songs. And about four minutes later, Portugal had become the latest addition to my World Karaoke Tour.

I was having a good time and would have liked to stay and get to know some of the locals as I would ordinarily do. Unfortunately, after having been up all night, I felt an overriding need to just get back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. So I reluctantly took leave of the nice people at Café da Ponte, and hoped that I would have the chance to make a more leisurely appearance there sometime (but that more leisurely visit won’t happen this weekend, as they have no karaoke tonight or tomorrow night).

Incidentally, when I told the bartender about my encounter with the ruffians at the entrance to the Docks, he called the police. He said that I wasn’t the only person who’d complained about them. By the time I had to walk back to the taxi stand, even though I hadn’t been at the Docks for very long, there was a sizable police presence on site.

Lisbon, like most places in Western Europe, certainly seems like a safe city — it doesn’t have the reputation of a Rio de Janeiro or a Mexico City. But my incident at the Docks is a reminder that no matter where you go, there will always be people who mean to harm you; so it’s important to always be alert and exercise caution.

Well, I shouldn’t spend all of my vacation time in my hotel room writing blog entries. 🙂 Time to get out and take in some of Lisbon’s sights!

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Another year, almost in the books

As 1989 was giving way to 1990 I was in Scotland, where New Year’s Eve is known as “Hogmanay.” The occasion for my visit to the homeland of Robert Burns was the World Universities Debating Championships, which were being hosted by Glasgow University. I was representing Johns Hopkins University, where I was a senior.

That trip marked the first time I’d ever ventured outside of my native United States, and the first time I’d even flown on an airplane. It helped ignite my lifelong passion for travel. Meanwhile, as the 1990s dawned, karaoke was still largely unknown in the United States, but was only a little over a year away from being introduced into my life.

The Hogmanay party that I attended that year involved snifters of scotch repeatedly being carried out onto the dance floor, and resulted in me waking up at 4:00 pm the next day — and only because my debate partner was banging on my door and shouting that I needed to get ready for supper. Unrelatedly, during that same Scottish visit, I got into trouble during a tour of a maximum-security prison when I attempted to shoot candid photos of the guards on duty. The prison authorities confiscated my camera and destroyed my film. Fortunately, I was released without the need for intervention by the U.S. embassy. (You may be wondering how I ended up visiting a penitentiary in the first place — especially one that housed convicted murderers and other violent offenders. The answer is that during the debate tournament, a match was held at a local prison, with some of that facility’s residents in the audience. Selected inmates were even permitted to give floor speeches — that is, speeches in which audience members may advocate for the pro or con side of the proposition that is being argued — before the debaters delivered their rebuttals to sum up their points for the round. I remember one particularly eloquent and poignant floor speech during which a prisoner stated, “We are not Untermenschen!” I had to admire a hardened criminal who was literate enough to make such a philosophical reference). Anyway, if a similar incident were to occur today, I would, of course, make every attempt to hide the memory card in my pocket, and swap in a memory card containing photos that I would not mind deleting.

A generation later, I still have yet to spend a night in the Big House. And I’ll be in Europe once again for Hogmanay, although they don’t call it that at the place where I’m headed. One week from tonight I will usher in 2012 from Lisbon, Portugal. This will mark my third consecutive time ringing in the new year from an overseas location.

Two years ago, I welcomed 2010 in Hong Kong. In that city’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza, as with so many others around the globe, the countdown culminates with a fireworks show at midnight. But instead of being detonated above buildings, the fireworks are actually shot off of skyscrapers along that city’s beautiful skyline.

London also offers an outstanding fireworks display for New Year’s Eve. I took in that one to kick off 2011. The focus of London’s festivities is the launching of fireworks from barges on the Thames. If you’re watching the spectacle from the correct side of the river, you can see the pyrotechnics exploding with the London Eye in the background.

At the conclusion of this post, you can check out photos of the New Year’s Eve fireworks displays that I witnessed in recent years in Hong Kong and London.

As for my NYE plans next weekend, I’ve heard that Lisbon puts on a fireworks show over the Tagus River. I may or may not end up at that one, depending on whether I find a karaoke show that night. 🙂 In that regard, it should be mentioned that I have not yet confirmed a specific venue at which to sing during my stay in Lisbon. A couple of weeks ago, I contacted the Portugese tourism bureau, asking if they could recommend any Lisboetan establishments that offer karaoke on any of the nights that I’ll be in town. They forwarded my request to the more localized tourist board in Lisbon. Shockingly, the fine folks in Lisbon respoonded to my inquiry as follows:

“Thank you very much for your e-mail. Unfortunately we do not have this kind of
informations.”

And I was like, what the hell?! Isn’t it the job of the tourism authority to gather that kind of informations? And this response became all the more baffling when one of my Facebook friends noticed that the Portugese tourism bureau’s own website states as follows, in describing nightlife in a neighborhood known as the Docklands: “[Y]ou can show off your talent at one of the various karaoke bars . . . .” How hard would it have been for the Lisbon tourism folks to check their own partner’s website? Or just pick up the phone and start calling some bars and restaurants in the area?

Despite the lack of a specific identified destination (and the lack of help from the people who are supposed to assist tourists with these sorts of requests), I’m fairly confident that I’ll find somewhere to sing in Lisboa. After all, I at least know that there are “various karaoke bars” where people show off their talent in the Docklands section of the city. I also have received a hot tip that there may be additional karaoke spots in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district. So I’ll have to enlist my hotel concierge to make some phone calls, and maybe I’ll even pop in to a few venues myself to chase down leads. These are time-honored methods by which I discover where I’ll be able to sing.

No matter what I end up doing this December 31, I’ll have much to celebrate as I reflect on the year that’s slipping into the history books. Among other stellar happenings, 2011 brought the launch of this blog. 🙂 It was also during the past year that my World Karaoke Tour reached its sixth continent, Africa, during my visit to Morocco. As we embark on 2012, I plan to continue singing in exotic and far-off lands.

A very happy holiday to you and your family!

New Year's Eve fireworks in Hong Kong. Note the year displayed in large illuminated numerals on the side of the lanky building towards the right. That building is 2 International Financial Centre, at 415 metres the tallest building in Hong Kong. My vantage point for this shot was the Kowloon peninsula, across the harbour from the city centre.

New Year's Eve fireworks in London, nearly one year ago, seen from the Westminster Bridge

Categories: Europe, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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