Global Tour 2023/2024


February 22


Hoping to sleep until 8, but I gave up around 7:30 and quickly got ready and headed out so I could get that first coffee in me. Spotted a free breakfast that I hadn't been aware of, though, a good one with bacon and soft-boiled egg, so I used the eating time to upload my photos and update my website. Even though my laptop was working again, I would remain fearful that it might crash at any moment, so uploading and backing up ASAP and frequently seemed of paramount importance.

It was past 9 when I headed out, and I was anxious to make progress on the fifteen stores I hoped to visit, but I immediately ran into a roadblock when I found that my car was not where I parked. Instead, there was a large piece of construction equipment, like a crane I think, and on the wall across from it I spotted a plain white sign, not something anybody would notice, alerting of a tow-away zone that day! This sucked because I only had a day and a half before I needed to return to airport, but all things considered the process of taking an Uber to the L.E.S.A. office to pay the 200 euro fine, then another Uber to the tow yard, was relatively quick, and I was at the Starbucks shortly after 10 am.

Lost a bit more time at the first store when I spotted someone who smelled Starbucky, and he turned out to be working for the DB Group, the company that runs stores in Malta. I used that as an opportunity to ask my questions, and we had a good chat. I then walked a few minutes to Coffee Circus China, an indie shop that offered V60s. Decor was awesome, but the coffee merely so-so.

The day was getting away from me, and it was nearly 13:00 when I reached the ferry terminal to head to the Victoria Gozo store.

February 21


I was still sleepy when I awoke at 7:08 and wanted to go back to sleep, since my flight was not til 13:00, BUT my car was parked in a metred space that would go active at 8, so I had to get a move-on. Had a little bit of time to check if my laptop was working yet, but it was not. Traffic was a bit heavy towards the airport until I cleared the city, and then the trip to the airport was smooth. Only one petrol station near the airport, Afriquia, and while I did manage to use my remaining MAD, the tank needed a bit more, and the attendant ignored my attempts to get him to stop when the nozzle clicked and took it from 42 to 50, thus wasting 8 MAD of my money, nearly a buck.

Returned car shortly after 9, which left me nearly 4 hours until my flight, and yet somehow towards the end I felt rushed. Check-in went by quickly, but security was quite long, and then at the first Starbucks I got into a discussion with the barista who didn't speak much English and did not understand what I was asking, why he had wasted a short cup to measure my coffee--he was the first barista in a LOOOOONG time to do that. Nearly all others had understood the fill line I had marked on the cup. I hung out at that store a bit because my iPod was way low on power (and my phone moving in that direction). I then had to walk over to Terminal 2 to see the other store and get food (had not eaten ANYTHING), and I could not find anything good and settled for Paul. After the other Starbucks I spotted a Relax Quick Spa with full-body massage, something I rarely see at airport and had never experienced, but the price was waaaay too high, 80 euro for half an hour. Even with the therapist trying to entice me with an extra 15 minutes, I simply could not justify the cost even though I still had nearly three hours, although by the time I finished the Starbucks it was now only a little over 2 hours til boarding.

Also used a lot of time at Paul charging and trying to reconstruct financial data from memory, and blogging. I then went in search of a proper lunch, but all restaurants looked fast food-ish or uninteresting, and since a meal would be served only plane, I gave up. The main reason I felt rushed at the end was that the system said I could not board, and I had to wait for a manager to show up and clear me because ITA, the company that had marketed the fare (a combo of Royal Moroccan and Air Malta), had sent a fraud warning related to my name. Later, at FCO, I would discover they wanted a credit card check, and I'd experienced this before, but always at the check-in counter, NOT the gate because of course that's a stupid way to do it, at the last minute when the flight is about to depart.

Three-hour flight went quickly, the only hitch being no USB--my devices were running low. Flight arrived not long after the scheduled time of 16:10, and when I checked the details for the flight to Malta, I realised that I had closer to 5 hours, not the 4 I thought, and then I googled and learned that a train could get me to Roma Termini, which had two Starbucks, in a little over 30 minutes. All of a sudden I saw the possibility of picking up two more stores and practically guaranteeing I could achieve my 5000th international store. I had to hurry, though, and I immediately ran into a glitch when I was directed to the e-Gate because of my U.S. Passport, but the gate didn't work, and by the time I got to the ALL PASSPORTS line, dozens of passengers had arrived ahead of me. That delay cost at least 30 minutes, during which time one train to the city left, and then another. When I finally clear immigration I was in a hurry, but I could not resist exchanging my Turkish currency upon spotting a bureau. I was glad to have ditched the bills and have euro, BUT I got a LOUSY RATE!!!

I then hurried to T1 to check-in for my flight and reduce that uncertain, but there was nobody at the designated check-in counter

February 19


Hope to sleep an hour more, especially since I was sniffling and sneezing, but when I woke up at 6:58 local time (or 7:58 in Cairo), I just could not manage it and decided to get moving and try to get some coffee in me quickly. I waffled back and forth between renting a car and heading to Marrakech or forgoing the driving, but given my sniffling, I did not want to be walking around in the cold, nor to exhaust myself.

Only had to wait about 15 minutes for the shuttle to the airport, good timing, but then at the airport my efforts to rid myself of my Turkish and Egyptian currencies were a bust. Could not see either of the two Starbucks either--after security. Exchanged just $20 in the hopes of finding better rate outside, and then I went to get the rental car, but the agent took a long time finding my booking--he had to wait until 9 for the reservatons office to open. Even then he wanted to wait til 10:30 to "honor the booking", and I had to push him to get me the car right away.

Drive to Marrakech, my longest drive in the Middle East, was smooth. Good highway, 120 kph limit. Expensive, though--$8+ toll. Traffic in the city was not bad compared to Cairo, perhaps because there are police everywhere, and I even found legit parking near the first Starbuck at the station, although it was not exactly free. Technically free, but the barista looked aghast when I asked and said that I should give the informal "attendant" 10 dihram, about a buck.

I was hoping to peel off an hour for the legendary Moroccan hamman treatment I'd read about, but apparently spas closed on Mondays and Tuesday. Whiffed again on ridding myself of those bills, and this time I got an explanation, that the central bank will not take them.

Famished by the time I did the second Starbucks (airport store inaccessible), but I just just settled for some groceries from Carrefour. But then, as I walked out and ate my yoghurt, I passed a stand with an unusual-looking crepe that I had to try. While there I figured I might as well explore the waffle too. I got into a discussion with the employee about different types of crepes, and in all my distraction while waiting for my order, I FORGOT ABOUT PAYING. I just WALKED AWAY, and she had to have the guard chase me down. I tossed a tip into the dish for her trouble.

Drive to Casablanca was equally smooth, and even when I got to the heavier traffic and more aggressive driving, it wasn't that bad, except that these folks just seem to ignore lanes. Also, one burgundy SUV on the highway was either incompetent in how they swerved towards me, or they were being aggressive. Still, compared to Cairo, this was a breeze, and I managed to find parking easily for Sidi Marouf, then Morcocco Mall, then

February 18


Wanted to sleep til 8, but gave up shortly before 7 and took my time getting down to breakfast. Before heading out, I walked to the circle to see if I could find a shop where I could buy safety pins to try and "fix" my jeans, but I only saw the pharmacy open at that hour. Nonetheless, I was STILL TOO EARLY, I think, when I arrived at the Starbucks near Tahrar Palace, which was inside a gated park. I could not tell from outside if it was open or not, and when I walked in a guard called me back to buy a ticket. Things got awkward because I did not want to buy a ticket without knowing if the Starbucks was open, and all I needed was for the guard to walk me over there, but they weren't getting it, so I left to go to the next store, where I was told that the Tahrar store HAD been open, but I wasn't sure if that was correct since the staff at the park had been saying 10 (in Arabic).

The driving and parking for the four stores in Heliopolis was annoying, but the it got a bit easier one I headed out to one of the outermost stores, One Katamya. That trip had its own issues, though. First, the usual uncertainty about which exit to take that I had been experiencing since I arrived in the Middle East. I also stumbled across a checkpoint that confused me because police were checking some cars but not others. I had my ID and passport ready, but the policeman just waved me on through. Then when I reachd the One Katamya compound, there was a security checkpoint to enter, and I was still minutes from the Starbucks. Then I had puzzlement in figuring out how to get to the other side of a fence, and then finally finding parking, so I just had to stop in front of the stores, TRIPLE-PARKED, and rush in and out.

At the next store I asked the manager to confirm that One Katamya and Sokhna were the furthest out, and he alerted me that Mohamed Fawzy was where I had been earlier, so I had to backtrack before heading to Arabella Plaza. That manager was also more into Starbucking than the others I had met during this Egyptian trip, and he asked to take a photo which he later sent to my Starbucking FB page.

Because of the slow wifi in Egypt (which affected my algo), I had been trying to find food next to a Starbucks so I could stay connected, but I finally had to give up and eat some quick pasta at Arabella Plaza before continuing with the caffeine.

Meanwhile, my route to Miami was locked in, with a good possibility of Guayana before Panama.

I debated how hard to push to get more stores on the way to the airport, but I decided that I really did not want to find myself rushing. Mall stores were likely to suck up an unknown amount of time due to parking, security check, and finding the stores, so just did two more of the petrol station stores (Ola), and I called it.

Unusual order of operations at the Cairo airport. There was a passport/ticket check at the entrance, followed by a security checkpoint, which is normal at the higher-security airports, but then after passport control there WAS NOT the usual security checkpoint that catches liquids. Instead, I exited into a hall with duty free and also a food area where I could grab a couple of slices of pepperoni and then use the relatively fast wifi to make my post. I then rushed to the loo, then my gate, and it was only then, AFTER SCANNING BOARDING PASS AT GATE, that we entered the other security checkpoint.

ALMOST thought I'd gotten lucky again with a row all to myself for sleeping, but turned out someone was there. Actually, I did have a row to myself, BUT it was behind the exit row, and thus the third seat had a hard barrier--no way to lay down. As a result, I barely slept, maybe two hours if that much. Additionally, I had to blow my nose a lot and began to worry that I was getting sick.

At the airport my priority was to get to the hotel and to sleep--Starbucks and money could wait. Unfortunately I missed the timing of the shuttle to Onomo and would have to wait nearly an hour for the next one, so I walkd the 20 minutes, and it was a pretty easy walk--felt secure.

February 17


An unexpected arrival card that I had to fill out, and a few questions at immigration about whether I smoked or had CBD or medications, but otherwise a relatively smooth entry to Egypt. Tried to exchange my Turkish currency, but the bank would not take it, so I used a $100 and got a better rate than the official. I then tried to check-in with Egypt Air so I could get a boarding pass, but I'd have to wait til 3 hours before. I then checked in for the rental car, but I could not go with them to pick it up because first I had to visit the Terminal 3 store, a small kiosk outside of the terminal. After that, technically I was not supposed to be allowed back into the terminal if I was not flying, but I said "rental car" and pointed to the offices, and the guard let me through.

The mall stores would not open until 10, but fortunately nearby Cairo Complex was open. No wifi, though, and the centre appeared to still be under contruction and has to navigate from parking basement to the Starbucks, as well as to figure out how to pay for parking. The signs said to pay before returning to car, but that was not true--I had to pay at a kiosk at the exit.

I then went to the next nearest store that was open, Tucano, and also no wifi, but by that time, after some groceries at Spinneys, City Stars would be open by the time I arrived, and then I spent the next two hours figuring out the two new Starbucks and looking for Samsung to replace a phone charing cable I had somehow misplaced while deboarding the plane.

Next I headed to Almaza City Centre where my car was not inspected (trunk open) nor was there a security bag check or metal detectors. Over the course of the day I'd notice that some malls did it, while others did not.

Because of my proximity to my hotel, Jewel Glorious, I opted to skip the nearby cluster of stores and instead check in, and then I headed all the way down to the area near Festival City, where the Duck Donuts was. I started with three outdoor stores first before the sunset, and then I tried to rush to the final outdoors one at the Cairo Festival City Village. Unfortunately, the guards ruined my chance at a picture!!!

Since it was already dusk and I'd probably have to use my phone anyway, I should have left my camera in the trunk when I arrived at Cairo Festival City, although I did hope to use it for the Village store, which is outside. I was stopped at the security, and he wanted to keep my camera, which I wasn't going to do. I almost gave up the battery, but since I had lost the light anyway I changed my might and went back to the car. Back at the Starbucks, it was fully dark, but the flip side is that made it easier to snap one shot from one angle, then go inside and copy it to my laptop, as a precaution, before snapping a shot from another angle. Inside the mall, after shooting the first Starbucks then finding the Duck Donuts, I also copied over the photos, and same at the second Starbucks. I had never been FORCED to delete photos, but I could not rule out that it might happen one day, especially overseas where I am not confident of the laws.

Duck Donuts was delicious as per usual, albeit tinged with sadness because the place should have been packed on a Saturday night, but instead I saw maybe half a dozen customers in the thirty minutes I was there. I suspect the store will close like half of the interional locations already have.

February 16


Up shortly after 7 and soon downstairs for the best complimentary breakfast of my entire tour. Morning now, so I walked to the Discovery Campus Starbucks. I would have liked to walk to Rosebank, risking the security situation, but an hour out of my final half day was just too much to take.

At Rosebank I was able to see the first store in South Africa, then Father Coffee, then the store in Checkers before a short walk to Parks during which I noticed that during load shedding, when the power was cut off, my phone said it had reception but did not actually work very well.

From Parks I took a series of Ubers from store to store, and just when I was considering calling it and heading back towards the airport, I spotted one more store on Google Maps that I had not plotted on my map, Cresta. I probably could have picked up a couple more if I had not dawdled, but since there was a series of about half a dozen stores around the outer ring road, it didn't make sense to head out there for just one or two if I did not have time to complete the route.

Surprised that traffic to the airport was not awful, and I lucked out on the flight because it was far from full, and I was quickly able to find an empty row of three middle seats. I was going to skip dinner, but as soon as I told the attendant this, I felt hungry, but after eating I was able to sleep enough until breakfast that I did not feel awful. After breakfast I tried to sleep some more, but it did not work, and pretty soon we began our descent and just had some coffee and read.

February 15


I started the flight to Doha by catching up on comics, but after the meal I had to close my eyes for a bit, as the flight was four hours and I had sleep deficit built up. I was hoping we would make up some of the near-hour delay in departure, but no luck, and I had to rush through security, then the shuttle, and finally a great distance to gate C91 after stopping at the loo and to get water which I'd had to dump at the stupid transfer security checkpoint. On the way I got an app notification that boarding had begun, and when I arrived there was a line extending all the way down the hall, so I hoped to charge my laptop and work on my phones. Unfortunatately that boarding area at an otherwise good airport is lacking in many outlets, and my laptop was quite close to empty.

The plate to JNB had working USB, and I made sure to charge up both my devices during the night, a good thing for the surprise that was to come. While on the shuttle bus to the plane, I took a melatonin, and I soon had my eyes closed and skipped the evening meal, preferring to sleep. I think I managed to sleep a good bit, maybe 5-6 hours before time for the breakfast service, after which I had some coffee and just read until touchdown.

Longish line through immigration, but I breezed through with no fingerprints or photo, only one queston about what I was doing, and the agent even understood and acceded to my request about the entry stamp on the first available spot. Outside, not so easy. Only three currency exchanges available had lousy rates and high commissions. I settled on one for my Turkish lira, but the agent had a problem with my passport because of my name and needed to get IT involved, and I was not about to wait for that. I wanted to find lockers to leave my heavy unnecessary items since I'd be walking a lot, but all the airport had was a storage service, and they only took cash, and they needed my items to be on a bag, so I passed. Fortunately SA has Uber, so I could get to the Bedford Centre using a credit card, and that ride was smooth and easy.

I quickly found the Starbucks, and that is when I found myself surprised that the outlets were of a type I'd never seen!!! I had stopped checking months earlier, assuming UK/European/American/two-prong would be find in all places, but SA is different. I had to put my Starbucks visit on hold and go back downstairs to look for an adaptor. I found a phone repair shop, but they had run out, but the employee said he could get one in an hour. I figured I could kill that time exchanging currency, eating, and at Starbucks, so I went for the deal. Took a while to find the area with the banks, where there was ONE currency exchange, but it was Western Union, which generaly has bad rates and commission, but after checking with the banks, none would exchange to a non-account holder, so I had to go with WU. Process took a long time, including a check with the supervisor about my single name, and by the time I was done the adaptor was on the way.

I could not find any suitable restaurants, so I went over to Woolworth's Cafe, sat down, plugged my iPod and phone into USB, and ordered. Just then I got a WhatsApp message about my adaptor (and lighting cable), so I asked the waitperson to watch my things for two minutes, and I rushed over to Techtronic to get my adaptor. The employee came back with me to Woolworth's and helped ensure it would work, and I was back in business, albeit with SLOOOOOW "@Woolies" wifi.

From Eastgate I walked 10 minutes back to Daisy's Thai Spa, where I learned that it is common for spas and other businesses to be behind a security barrier and operate on the basis of bookings more than walk-ins. This was a hassle that did not usually work with my schedule, but the price was good, less than $25, and that made it worthwhile to go ahead and make a booking (even though I was right there) for immediate appointment. EXCELLENT massage for the price.

I then Ubered to Melrose Arch, and then Sandton City where I almost missed the store inside the Checkers because the barista initially said "we're closed" but then looked at the clock and realised it was not yet 19:00. After visiting the main store, I really wanted to walk 10 minutes to my hotel, many people told me not to walk at night, as well as Google searches, and moreover when I specifically showed the route to the baristas and asked if that might be safe, they said no, so I sucked it up and went with a $3 Uber.

It was still early, barely 20:00, but there was not much activity, and the receptionist at the hotel explained that because of security, most businesses closed after dark.

February 14


Desperately wanted to sleep until 8, to catch up for the overnight flight, but I gave up shortly after 7 and got ready to leave, in not too much hurry because the sky was not light yet. By the time I sat in heavy traffic back to the area where I'd been the night before, it was light, and then I sped through a couple of reshoots. My next reshoot was at the Capitol AVM which was not open til 10, so I went to two new stores, the second of which was at a hospital that charged too much for an hour parking. I found some in a neighbourhood, and that worked out for me because I needed to walk in that direction anyway to get to Capitol and then Altunizade reshoots. I thought I'd missed the Capitol reshoot because it was not on the locator, BUT IT WAS THERE, just in a different location (mistake on app).

By that time it was pushing middday, and I had only been to two actual new stores, so I needed to hustle over to Akasya AVM for two stores, plus investigating two closures. I still had plenty of time, but after missing the exits for the Akasya FOUR TIMES, I started to get frustrated and concerned that all my spare time would evaporate as usually happens. More time lost at the first Starbucks trying to figure out which one it was, and whether there were older ones that closed. None of the partners spoke English, and although a customer tried to help, I could not get satisfactory answers and had to ask at the information desk who helped me figure out that I had the stores backwards. I was also in a tow-away zone, and even though plenty of cars were there, I wanted to hurry.

Meanwhile, my phone was draining because I could not plug it in because I needed it to get the partners to help me figure out store info.

I then headed over to Emaar, for three stores plus one nearby, and the first wackiness was at the security, when the agent pointed to my bag and said something I could not understand, and she could not explain. Behind me were a trio, a couple and an older woman, and the agent pointed to the old woman's bag, and they all got into an argument, and the agent let me go.

At the Starbucks one barista spoke pretty good English, finally, but it was still hard to help me figure out where all the Starbucks were, especially the Koc Business Center one. After a lot of back and forth to let me know it was next to a hotel, the supervisor/manager used his phone to tell me that it was only for employees. AARRGHH!!

HOWEVER, that manager/supervisor was SUPER NICE, and when I returned and asked him to call over to Koc to have them bring me out a coffee, he agreed, and then when he called the manager at Koc said to come to security and they would let me in, briefly. He then went further and walked me over to Koc, where that manager was intrigued by what I was doing and willing to let me sit for a while, but I needed to get over to one more Emaar store, then any more I could get on way to airport. By the time I finished at Emaar, the time was getting close to 4, and I was feeling pressure. I wanted to get gas in the car to eliminate that uncertainty, but I was surprisingly not passing by any petrol stations, and I could not search Google Maps because of a glitch. I went ahead and visited the Serifali store, and then when I plotted the next store I actually saw a Shell station on the map and decided to go there instead, which involved a detour. During the detour I spotted a BP and went there instead, and I had to get the gas in four parts--100 TYL, 200, 200, 200--to leave the dial north of where it had started. Annoying when the rental car is not full when given to me.

Risked a dodgy parking sitch in front of the Rings AVM store to get in and out quickly, and then I sped off to the airport and arrived with about two hours before my flight, a bit less after returning the car, and less still after check-in. I then asked the Qatar Airways staff about the landside Starbucks, and they pointed me downstairs next to the McDonald's. At that store the staff sttruggeld with English, and the had trouble describing where the airsdie store was, but they were sure that there are TWO Alshaya stores. On the other side of passport control and security, though, I COULD NOT FIND IT, and nobody could help me, not the licenced Starbucks, not the info desk. I finally had to give up and go get a fast doner so I could then get a Wispotter code and go to my gate to try and do my IG upload before boarding. I managed it, barely, and a trip to the look, but in all my scrambling I managed to leave my lighting cable and would not discover this until Doha.

February 13


Managed to sleep until 7:30 again, quite refreshing after spending so much time discussing politics with Remy the Canadian. Had to sit in traffic to get to the first Starbucks, and then when I headed to the third one the delay was so long that I turned onto a side street and found parking and decided to walk to the remaining stores in the area, plus a stop at Filtre Coffee, where they did indeed have filtre, and a fascinating decor, but the coffee itself was so-so.

Stumbled across another indie during my walking, Meet Lab Coffee, and I was amused by the juxtapostion of the craft coffeehouse with a door leading into the Starbucks.

Something odd as I walked along a main road towards another Starbucks. I spotted a line of people at a stand serving some type of fried dough. Naturally, I got in the line, and when a young couple queued up behind me, I asked them to explain. Turned out this was NOT a business, but rather a custom, to give away food after someone in the community (a nearby mosque) had died.

Parking continued to be on-and-off challenging, like the Goztepe store where I had to go about ten minutes away. After that, I should not even have approached Bahariye Cad No:28 because I lost a lot of time backing all the way out of that touristy area to find parking, and then I got hosed on dinner, $10+ for a light meal that should have cost half the price.

I had considered holding out until Panama, but since Manu had laundry and they would let me do it myself, it made sense to freshen up my funky clothes. I had to wait for the existing load to finish, and then I had to get up in the middle of the night to put mine into the dryer, but it was totes worth it.

February 12


Up at 7:30 and downstairs shortly before 8, where I booked my room in Johannesburg while waiting for the desk to open so I could get my deposit back. On the way to parking I passed by The Cue, a coffeehouse offering V60, and that was my first time trying coffee from Cuba. It was not great, but acceptable, and I appreciated the opportunity.

Ugh, at the Lara store I realised I had forgotten to go back to Markantalya for another photo, and while I could have made up the time since I had to wait for She Mall to open anyway, I really wanted to book my next flight, and by the time I got back to the city then out to She Mall it was getting close 10:15-10:30, and I started having doubts about trying to make it out to Land of Legends. Actually, given that it was raining, I really did not relish the though of driving for a couple of hours--this is a huge different from when I was younger and would go to any lengths to squeeze in one more store.

Instead, I took advantage of the time to finish making my flights all the way out to Malta, plus some other bookings, to keep up with my paperwork, and also a cheap massage just minutes away from the Terracity Reserve store, a place that called itself Thai but employeed Indonesians.

At SAW I first went up to the HMSHost Starbucks to try and confirm that there are two Alshaya stores, and the barista said yes, but I first wanted to try and get to any outside stores before nightfall. Didn't quite make it though, to Pendik, and after some debate over dinner I decided to call it and just head to the hostel rather than getting night shots that I'd just have to reshoot.

As I suspected, Manu Startup House was a little tricky to find, not at the Google Maps location, but thanks to a picture, I spotted some familiar brings over at the next building, and Manu signs, but no indication of which unit or floor. NOT ON FLOOR 2, but finally someone answered and said floor six. Other than that confusion, the place was good, and I had long discussions with first an Argentinian woman, then a brief chat with an Iranian, and then a long political discussion with a young man from Montreal.

February 11


After my rough bedbug-trauma night, I was overjoyed when I looked at my phone and the time was 7:48. The last thing I needed was to get up super early when I had not falling asleep until after midnight. The sky was not fully light, but by the time I got over to the Starbucks I needed to reshoot, it was fine, if not exactly sunny yet. The sun did come out, though, by the time I got out to a beautiful new store Sahil Antalya, one which began a series of water-facing stores that offered great views. The store was so beautiful that I did not mind hanging out a bit, a forced delay because the next store would not open until 10.

With a heavy concentration of stores, I fell into a routing of visiting a store and pausing to make plans. I'd be moving fast and needed to nail down a route back to Europe, where I'd have more flexibility. Last thing I wanted was to get stuck on a place that was hard to get out of, and I had to alter my route to head straight to South Africa, then Egypt, then Morocco.

Upon arriving at the hostel, I informed the desk attendant about the bedbugs, and she became quite alarmed. She offered to move me to another bed or room, and we went upstairs, turned on all the lights, and inspected my duvet, bed, under the mattress, on the floor and walls but saw nothing. I had no idea if those two bedbugs had been isolated, or if there were more in the room, but since I was not bitten again after killing those two, I decided to chance it, and she said I could switch beds in the night if necessary.

February 10


Up shortly after 6 and bolted out of bed without hesitation to improve my chances of visiting the two stores just south of the airport. Lost some time in the lobby downloading podcasts, waiting for employee to check the room, explaining about the broken shower, and discussing why the records showed I had paid twice.

Traffic was super light, almost nothing, all the way to Khalde Alforno, and I was then easily able to get to Total Damour North where I had to deal with confusion and overbearing attendants while trying to figure out the fuel and payment situation. I just wanted all of them to stop trying to help me and let me ask the English-speaking manager my questions, but they just weren't getting it.

Still, I arrived to the airport right around 8:40, two hours ahead, and the car was fine, and I was soon through security and immigration with about 10 minutes to find food. Unfortunately the non-chain place I found near my gate did not have a menu that I could see, so I rushed all the way to the other side, but all I found was Zaatar w Zeit, a local chain I'd seen around Lebanon. I had no choice but to get something, so I went simple, just ham and cheese wrap, still ridic expensive at over $10. I managed to get back to my gate before boarding, BUT then I had to go downstairs to the loo, and by the time I got up it was last call!

For some reason I thought my flight would be over two hours, so I was surprised when landing announcements were made a little over and hour later. Immigration was a breeze, no visa needed, but then I could not find any NON-Travelex currency exchange, so I decided to wait. No Starbucks that I could access at the airport, and later I would learn that they are no Alshaya anyway, so I went over to Enterprise to let them know I was there, and then I bought my ticket to Istanbul. I was intending to buy at the Turkish Airlines or Pegasus ticket counters to avoid the credit card issue, but decided to go ahead and get a wifi code from the kiosk and use my laptop to try again. The best flight was on Turkish, and this time the card payment worked!

I went over to get my car, and it was a manual transmission, my first one since the UK and/or Ireland, plus a diesel, my first such in over a decade. Checked the USB before we went further, a habit I need to get into. Getting out of the airport was tricky because the big car could not make the turn, at least not with me driving, so I had to go out of the entrance, but once outside, the trip to the first Starbucks was fairly easy and helped easy my Turkiye driving hestitation.

Like other countries, Turkiye Starbucks required a local phone for the wifi, even though the logon screen allowed a user to select another country code. Fortunately a pair of customers helped me, AND that initial login carried over to the other stores for the rest of the day, and the next. I also found decent exchange with no commission, although the rate for my JOD was not great. Lunch was HELLAH EXPENSIVE though, nearly $20 with the exchange hit--I expected cheaper.

Took two more stores to find a Starbucks card. Not an Alshaya gift card like the Middle Eastern countries, but an actual card. This one worked weird, though, requiring partners to enter the PIN. At the next store the partners could not figure out how to use it, and that had me worried, but at my final one, fifth of the day, they figured it out. Apparently the card is not commonly used, so most partners are unfamiliar.

A bit of confusion at the Be Bold Hostel when I discovered someone in my bed. The other dormmate, Prashant, gave me a description of the guy, and I went downstairs to find him but could not, so I asked the reception to send him a message via Booking, and then I moved his bag to the top bunk. Took me longer than expected to get my recordkeeping done, in part because I was chatting with guests, but I loved being around other travelers again after two weeks of hotels.

UNFORTUNATELY, a downside of hostels, because of all the guest turnover, is a higher chance of bedbugs (I think) that hotels (which OF COURSE can still have them), and last night I had my second (maybe third) experience of this trip.

Before I was fully asleep, I awoke with itching, and since it was too chilly for mosquitoes, and I could not think or where I might have been bitten, I turned on the light and my phone torch and started turning the comforter over and over, inspecting every inch.

Sure enough, there was a bedbug, and I quickly captured it and took it to the loo. I returned to the bed and continued to looking, and I found A SECOND BEDBUG. I dispatched that one and continued to look, for five minutes I'd guess, before I tried to go back to sleep. I performed multiple such checks during the night, and the incident had me so riled up, that, combined with soft noise from the wideo a dormmate was watching, I had still not fallen asleep past might.

February 9


Up around 6:30, and despite having gone to bed later than expected, I made not attempt to go back to sleep both because I wanted to see how far I could get today, and also because Antalya will be an hour ahead. Only hung out in the lobby for a short while to finish some downloads (wifi still no good in room), then rushed off to the Mar Mikhayel Starbucks.

Killed some time until 8 so I could check out a couple of indies before heading out of the city, Steampunk Specialty Coffee and then Caffeine Coffee. Both were beautiful spaces, and Steampunk had excellent coffee but I wasn't a fan of Caffeine's.

On the way out of the city I stopped at Zalka for fresh photos, and I popped in to see if anything was different. The manager was there and was able to clear up some outstanding issues regarding stores, like ECO101, which had closed, and whether some other stores truly existed. Then onto a new store, ABC Dbyiah, where I had to wait until 10 am. In fact, the parking lot did not open til 10--first time I had ever seen that. However, I just parked on the side of the road, kind of like a service road from the mall to the highway. No way I do that in the U.S., but this seems to be how Lebanese roll.

My stop in Zalka had resulted in calls to many of the stores along my route, and thus I was expected by many of the partners and managed to score a number of samples as well enthusiastic receptions. I had several offers for coffee tastings, but I had to beg off because on this particular trip, getting to Amioun before dusk, and then as far back towards Beirut before dark, was reeeeally important, so I did my best to hurry through half a dozen stores.

February 8


With no shouting or bitter cold, I slept much better, almost 10 hours, and got up shortly before 7 am. By the time I got down to the lobby, breakfast was operating, and while I appreciated the free, it was not really my thing.

Headed out shortly after 8 am, but was stopped at the gate by an attendant who wanted 400 for parking, something that the hotel had not told me. I went back into the hotel to clarify, and one of the attendants handed me 400, but I promised to pay back that evening or the next day.

I returned to Palm Spring and Rouche for morning photos, and the detour was totes worth it because the views, especially from Rouche, were pretty fantastic. From there it was just minute to Dalfa Bay, where a partner and the supervisor said that the company, Dareen (affiliated with Alshaya somehow) did not allow photos because of the political situation. I wrote down all my contact info and asked the supervisor to message the DM, and a while later a barista came and said that the DM had approved my photos.

Bottle orange juice made from Lebanese oranges I was told, a top ten Starbucks orange juice IMO.

Next, Zaitunay Bay, another seaside Starbucks, gorgeous, and with fantatic weather I was really feeling my return to Beirut, and my opinion of Lebanon as my fave Middle Eastern country was reaffirmed. Given the parking and traffic situation, I took every opportunity to walk rather than moving the car, and I was able to get to two more stores before returning to my car so I could drive to the Gemmayzeh area, along a busy and popular street, to find two craft coffeehouses, after finding parking of course, easier said than done.

Once I retrieved my car it was heavy traffic again, on the way to the ABC Mall, but then I passed up the exit, but that turned out to be good fortune because upon spotting the first right, to turn around, I saw a parking spot, and I was able to walk. First I went to the Sassine store, which, as I had been told, was indeed the same Ashrafiesh store that I had seen in 2008, just renamed. At that store I ran into a partner with asset protection who had spotted me at a number of stores, and he walked me to the two stores in the ABC Mall, which were indeed new.

By that point it was starting to become late, so I ordered a pizza from a cafe near to the Starbucks so I could pick it up after completing my photos and recordkeeping, and then I hurried back to my car so I could sit in traffic down to an area with multiple stores. Lucked out again and spotted the Beirut City Centre, which had been plotted incorrectly on my map. I wasn't sure if there was more than one, but I took a chance and went into the parking lot, and sure enough this was the correct place.

From there the walk to Spinneys was less than 10 minutes, and then only a little over 10 in the other direction (from City Centre) to Galaxy, so I got those out of the way on foot, and then I finally got my car and headed back to the hotel.

February 7


Tuesday night was a bit warmer than Monday, but the same man who had been yelling the night before continued to yell, mostly in German, but with enough English for me to guess that he was upset at the Gaza situation. Ironically, that same man had complained when I arrived back at the hotel and started talking to another guest about the breakfast situation. The nerve.

Nonetheless I managed to sleep almost 10 hours, because I had gone to bed before 9, and shortly after 6:30 I got up and hurriedly got ready so I would not be rushing when I got to the airport. Needless to say, I was rushing when I got to the airport. First, my route was about 5 minutes longer because I did not feel like navigating the shorter route, and then I could not figure out where to leave the rental car and ended up exiting the parking area and having to circle back around. By the time I finished packing and called the Budget agent over to check the car, it was 8:42, and by the time I finished having a muffin at the Arrivals Starbucks it was past 9 am.

Still plenty of time, but when I spotted the Land Side Starbucks I immediately suspected that it WAS NOT the one that I had seen in 2008/2011, but I had to confirm this. Fortunately, one of the partners had ten years with the company and had enough knowledge to explain that the ENTIRE AIRPORT HAD MOVED IN 2013. After sorting that out, I rushed to the North Pier store, then the South Pier, which just happened to be right across from my gate (130), and that made it easy for me to see that boarding had not yet started (heavy fog delays), and then I had time to go back to the main court and get a shwarama and chips. I then rushed back to the gate and hurriedly worked through my lunch, fully expecting boarding to begin before I was finished, and sure enough it did. I had to rush to the loo, then the correct loo, to brush my teeth and wash up, but sadly no time for the toilet.

Not having had time to use the toilet became worrisome as the pilot announced further and further delays, and every time I turned around I saw the bathroom doors locked, so I assumed they were disabled for takeoff. A bit later I noticed someone returning from the back and realised that the loos WERE open, and I rushed into a stall to try and find some relief before takeoff.

For the first time ever, I had an airplane meal served before takeoff, because of the delay, but before I could start eating, the plane began to move, which was bizarre because tray tables were still down, and luggage not under the seat. I could not believe we would take off that way, and sure enough the attendants came around and said we needed to eat quickly or after takeoff.

One oddity at immigration was that, like in Jordan, the agent wanted to know my father's family name--I guess he entered it into the system, but I am not sure if he used that or WINTER WINTER. No Starbucks at the airport, one of the rare airports of this tour without, and I spotted no currency exchange, so I headed straight to Budget. I handed over my IDs and card and asked about exchange, but the agent said that businesses would take dollars, so I decided to see how that went.

The first store, Chouifat, was about 15 south of the airport, and I quickly ran into a chaotic driving situation at an intersection where the signals were not working. Later on I would continue to notice non-functional signals. The next day I asked a barista, and he explained that because of energy costs, signals were kept off, and this would be the single most challenging thing about the Beirut driving.

At Chouifat I met the manager, Adnan, and he was extremely enthusiastic about Starbucking and had lots of questions, as well as answering many of mine. Great first experience for my return to Lebanon.

AARRGHH!!! Upon leaving the mall and turning onto the road, I hit a huge hole in the pavement, and I am lucky that the car did not get stuck or damaged other than some torn apart plastic. I stopped twice to check on the undercarriage to see if there appeared to be more serious damage, but I saw none. I would still be worried for the rest of my stay, and wondering if Budget agent would notice or mark me for that.

At one of the ABC Verdun locations, I was surprised by a completely different reception than in Chouiefat, and most of the other Alshaya countries--when I spotted a group that I thought might include the district manager, I introduced myself, but one manager/partner acted like he did not care at all, and the DM himself looked a little confused, not at all enthusiastic about what I am doing.

By the time I left both ABC stores it was pretty much dark, but I did not want to stop at just three and went ahead and drove to Palm Spring and Rouche, figuring that they were so close to my hotel that I could easily reshoot them in the morning.

One of the baristas recommended a place called Hani's Snacks for dinner, about 7 minutes walk away, and on the way I passed Turbo Massage and had a bizarre experience that still puzzled me the next day.

The hotel was nearby, but I had to figure out the parking situation, and then when I got up to the room, the wifi was barely functional, so I had to get dressed again and go down to the lobby to upload photos.

February 6


Sleep was not great because of the cold combined with a man who was shouting at random intervals all night long, but somehow I slept until 6:30 before I gave up. Showering was awkward because of the cold and low water pressure, but I mananaged, and around 7:30 I walked over to the nearby Post Office Starbucks, about 10 minutes, where I hung out until 8:30 so I could take advantage of the free hotel breakfast.

Unfortunately, when I got to the designated breakfast spot, at a different hotel, it was not yet ready. I fiddled with my map for about 10 minutes before deciding I could not waste time on this free breakfast and walked over to the Waibdeh Starbucks, and then nearby to Bunni Coffee Roastery which actually did not have a cafe, but they brewed me an excellent cup anyway.

Back to the car, which was unharmed, BUT the electronic key unlock did not work, which put me into a panic until I realised I could use the key itself to unlock. Driving was more iffy this morning, with tight squeezes, and then parking around Abdali Mall was chaotic, so I finally gave up and went into the underground garage which required opening my trunk. This time the guard did not have me remove my camera--she barely looked, actually.

At the Starbucks I once again conferred with the staff about nearby Starbucks, including the mysterious "Boulevard" store, but still could not nail it down. HOWEVER, after walking over to the nearby store, in the Boulevard shopping centre, I learned that an older store HAD EXISTED, where the Pinkberry is now, but closed down and moved across the open hallway. Mystery solved.

On the way to the next cluster of stores I stopped at Melange Coffee House, which the have a cafe, and a pretty good if not spectacular coffee from 85+.

Made up some time at a couple of quick stores at petrol stations, just popping in and out, before finally taking a break for recordkeeping at Shmisani.

February 5


Trouble sleeping after 4 am, not good because I'd likely be exhausted during my limited time in Amman. At least I had a lot of coffee saved from the night before, and I downed the first three (in one bottle) and hurriedly showered, packed, and headed down to check-out. I was really grateful that I had gassed up the night before, because I took multiple wrong turns and arrived at the airport MUCH LATER than I hoped. On top of that, I wasn't sure where to park the car and lost a good 10 minutes on that, and then I had to wait for the company agents to review the car, then check me out.

By the time I cleared immigration and security it was nearly 8:45, but apparently boarding was not going to start for 20 minutes, so I had plenty of time to do the airside Starbucks then get a crepe. After shooting the store, a pair of unspecified agents asked where I was flying--the first time that my photography had been noticed by any agent at any airport that I could remember.

Flight seemed longer than I expected, but I was soon on the ground in Amman and before multiple immigration agents who were confused by my name and trying to decide if to enter me in the system as WINTER WINTER or use my father's name attached to Winter. They finally went with the former, and I was out in the terminal at the first Starbucks, where I had the usual questions of the manager, although not as many because I already kinda knew no Starbucks card and no discount. I was unsure about whether the landside store had changed, but I'd have to clear that up when I flew out. One of the partners seemed really into my project, so I showed her my Bahrain cup, and she was enthused by my collection of Starbucks cards (inside the cup). She noticed the pin given to me in Vietnam and gave me one of her own, from her apron.

Exchanged my 100 SAR (about $25) for JOD, then picked up the rental car and set out for the first store, quite a ways from the city at Total Gas Station - Al Bayader DT. I was famished by that point, but I had not passed any restaurants that looked easy to pop in and out of. At the next store, Cozmo 7th Circle, I went down to the grocery store and picked up a design egg + cheese product that turned out to include dough and ended up similar to a pizza but slightly different, and heavy enough to tide me for the rest of the day. I didn't even have to eat the yoghurt I bought.

First time experience at Taj Lifestyle Centre. Besides security checking the trunk, there was the bag check to enter the mall, which was normal, BUT THIS TIME the guard would not let me enter with the camera, and I had to return it to the car. This was, of course, silly because I literally had my phone in my hand, not to mention an iPod, a laptop, and a tablet, and I was easily able to take my photos.

After those two stores, the hotel was messaging to see when I would arrive, and I was exhausted anyway, so I called it a night and headed to Nobel Hotel. I parked in front, unsure if that was the "official" parking. The attendant had a map for me, so I left my passport and went to move the car, but I could not find the spot and had to return and look at the map again. But then when I got to that street and parked, I noticed tickets on two cars, and I asked a passerby who explained that parking USED to be free on that street, but recently police were ticketing. He directed me to a street up a hill, in a neighbourhood, and while I was apprehensive about leaving the car in such an out-of-the-way spot, it was fully insured, and I had no valuables left in the car.

Room DID NOT HAVE HEAT, and it was COLD!!! I paid an extra 4 JOD for a heater, which only had one heating unit working, and I was cold through the night but had little choice but to endure.

February 4


Managed to sleep a little past 6, did not get up til 6:18, and by the time I completed some tasks it was 7:01, and I headed upstairs for a quick breakfast so I could get going. I hoped to definitely beat 15 stores on my final day in Riyadh, but I also needed to put in the time to investigate my route home, as the end of February was barreling towards me like a freight train.

First Starbucks was a bust, under construction. This was a tip from a barista at Khayama Mall who apparently did not realise the store had not opened. From there I decided to head 15 minutes to the furthest store to the south and east before the ring road (and then desert beyond that).

Moved pretty quickly, trying to see how close I could get to 20 stores, but I lost time because I did not account for which ride of a major arterial the stores were on, and how much time it would take to make ueys. Also, I had to keep making plans, and I finally managed to buy a ticket using Pegasus Airlines, to Antalya, but calling customer service to process the credit card. Took a while, but the fare was really good. I also made another craft coffeehouse stop, near the Marvella store, at Elixir Bunn. Despite saving time with a fast-food chicken sandwich, I still only made it to sixteen stores before dark, and then I called it a night and headed back, stopping for food in a plaza where I had to go from place to place to find a restaurant with a washroom. I really did not a burger, not more beef, but the last Starbucks had been a drive-thru, no loo, and I could not stand it without a washroom.

February 3


REEEEALLY WANTED TO SLEEP TIL 7, but I just could not, and gave up shortly after 6. Took my time, because breakfast would not start til 7, and then I spent more time eating that I expected because it was a buffet, and I figured I might as well get my money's worth. Meanwhile, managed to lock in a car for Jordan, and later in the day a hostel. Once I plotted the distance to the nearest Starbucks, I was doubly relieved that I was able to rent a car because the walk would have been over 20 minutes, and then after that the walks would get unbearably long, both for the time I had available as well as my leg.

At the airport English was no problem, but at the first store of the morning, Prince Mohamed hospital - SFK, the first partner barely spoke any English, and the second's was not quite fluent. Outside of Starbucks, on the roads I was seeing many Arabic-only signs, and even some of the speed limits were posted in large Arabic but tiny roman numerals. Driving along the streets, the percentage of signs with Roman-character signage was low relative to the other GCC countries, although this changed as I got to the tonier parts of Riyadh. As I moved on to other Starbucks, though, I began to encounter immigrant staff--Filipinos, naturally, and South Asia, and of course they spoke perfect English. Managed six stores in about two hours because of the heavy concentration, and it looked like 10 would be easy, even 15 or more, so I went ahead and took a 25-minute drive to where the Duck Donuts had been, both to confirm that it was indeed closed, and to get a photo of what was there now. As I expected, there was a Starbucks in that area, and I simply continued along with stores in that part of Riyadh.

After 8 stores I really needed food, so I went looking for Indian along the route to my next store, but the one place was closed. I then made a u-turn and spotted a different Starbucks because the concentration was so high in Riyadh that I was going to be running into random stores left and right. Next to the Starbucks was a plaza with some interesting-looking eateries

After letting the burger settle, my curiosity about the pancakes from Seventies Cafe got the better of me, and since that woman had paid for my lunch, I had no hestitation to popping in and order them, along with the drip coffee. Since the owner/manager had not spoken enough English to really grasp what I was asking about the coffee, my hopes were not high, but quite surprisingly, that Clever-brewed cup was EXCELLENT, one of my faves in a week, perhaps since Singapore, and even more surprising that it was from El Salvador, not my fave of coffee countries. Pancakes were tiny, like silver dollar I guess, and pretty tasty, definitely fitting the defintion of what I would consider an "American" pancake.

With the time lost on lunch, then coffee at Seventies, and the pancakes, it was already mid-afternoon, and I had to hustle for the rest of the afternoon as the light quickly faded, earlier than I expected. Lost a lot of time on parking at some malls, and then getting some paratha, and by the time I reached the 13th store, Riyadh U Walk Mall, it was dark, which was too bad because it was a beautiful store.

February 2


No luck catching up on sleep, and I was up just after 6. I showered up and worked on some repacking and planning until it was light enough outside, and then I checked out and walked over to rephotograph The Curve. I then headed to the Ezdan Tower store, where the partners were engaged in a coffee tasting which they quickly interrupted to greet me. Then I went to the City Centre to sort out the confusing situation, and it turned out that the Level 2 store had reopened, Level 1 was the same, just remodeled, and the City Centre Doha was a phantom that the manager knew nothing about.

At the next store, at the Corniche, I learned that ALL STORES would be closing from 11:15 to 12:45, on Fridays, for prayer, and this led me to Scramble through the next four stores. I thought I might miss Doha QIG Tower Lusail because Google said they shut at 11:00, but Google was wrong--they closing time was 11:15 like all others. I lucked out, and this was a good place to be stopped because the parking was free in front (lots of paid parking at malls in Qatar), and I could easily pick up the wifi from the seats on the patio. The 90-minute break was not that big a deal because it took me over 30 minutes to just catch up on recording stores and other tasks, and then I could turn my attention to planning.

Headed over to the Lusail J 22 Mall store shortly before 12:45, arriving just two minutes after they opened, and then it made sense to just walk about a kilometre to the Place Vendome shopping centre for two stores, rather than moving my car and dealing with parking. The partner enthusiams continued and slowed me down, but I did not mind terribly because I needed charging time. However, I was quite hungry, but I did not want to eat from the mall. I eased the hunger a bit with a cheese scone from M & S Foods which I ordinarily would have skipped, this late in the day, when they were cold, EXCEPT that out of curiosity I thought to ask if they could warm the scone, something that the UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore locations could not do. This one could, and I think I enjoyed my very first out-of-the-oven M/S scone (alebit a cheesy one). Pretty good, quite biscuity.

Next a longer-than-expected walk back to my car, due to a wrong turn, and I had to keep a keen eye on the clock. Across from the next store, Lusail Al Meera Fox Hills, I spotted a petrol station and decided to get that out of the way, then lunch, to reduce uncertainty, before hitting the Starbucks. Once more paratha (called porotta on this menu) and dal fry, and a better paratha than yesterday (though not as good as Chennai/SE Asia).

No surprise, after squeezing in Fox Hills and Doha Lusail Downtown, I found myself speeding towards the airport, careful eye on the speed cameras, a situation not helped by my propensity to miss my exits on these Qatari highways (also Bahrain and Muscat). I was also worried about the gas sitch, because I had only put in 5 QAR, hoping to get the indicator to 8 (full), but it stayed at 7, and I worried it would drop to 6 which would lead to a charge (because I would not have time to stop again). Fortunately it stayed at 7 even though I missed the exit to the car rental return, and Budget helped me with a far check-in. FlyNas check-in was similarly speedy, and immigration/security, and I was soon the Reserve Starbucks, then the older one.

I even had time to get a slice of pizza, which, surprisingly, came with fries, and cost and arm-and-a-leg, and finally, at the gate, to make most of my phone calls since boarding was delayed. I also had to get on the horn with Herbruger, because they wanted to report on my mother's condition and get authorisation to have a doctor see her to find out why she was so sleepy.

I was quite excited to land in Saudi Arabia, but also anxious because it was late, and I had much to do. After a wait and some issues with fingerprint machine, immigration was no problem, and out in the arrival hall I quickly found the first Starbucks and got that out of the way. I then looked around for currency exchange, could not find it, then asked a passenger who seemed sure there was none, only ATM. I started doing mental calculations about how much cash to withdraw to justify the ATM fee, and THEN I saw the currency exchange, and a pretty good rate.

I then found the car rental agencies and anxiously inquired about whether I could rent with my United States licence. One agent looked at it, confirmed that it was from Texas, then asked an agent from another company who explained that some agencies would rent to me with my Texas licence, while others would not. He would, and he had cars, and while I was apprehensive about going with an unknown, the reviews were okay, and the rate was good, and I really needed to get to my hotel but did not want to get hit with $50+ in taxi fee.

I also did not want to be stuck without accommodation or car if the hotel was not there, or reception was closed--the property had not been responding to my multiple messages. So I went with the car, had a pretty smooth drive to the hotel, and checked in okay despite the receptionists ignoring me when I asked why my messages had not been replied to.

Exhausted, and it was almost 23:00, so I quickly made my IG post and then crashed.

February 1


Up before 6 am again, this time because I wanted to get to as many Starbucks as possible before rushing to the airport, as well as uploading my photos if possible and also booking a room for Saudi Arabia. First though, I wanted to get petrol because past experience has taught me that if I cut that close, I end up in a situation wherein the line is long. First station was not there, so I went to the second, and once again I had to fumble my way through making the employee understand that I wanted exactly 2.4.

First Starbucks, Manama Center, surprised me because it did not have a free lot, unlike all others I'd seen and ALL PARKING IN THE AREA appeared to be for pay. I finally had to suck it up and pay .1 (about 27 cents) for 30 minutes, which I used for both Manama Center and Bahrain Car Parks Company Amakin just down the block. I was determined to be in and out of each store as quickly as possible, but enthusiasm was still high for Starbucking, and I had to pause to answer questions and take pictures, at most stores.

Also needed to pause to repack, a task made trickier by the bag of coffee, the mug, and then also a plastic cup gifted to me an excited supervisor. I reduced some bulk by placing cards inside the plastic cup, and later it would occur to me that I could place cards inside the mug too. Also used a little time to upload photos, just to get that out of the way, and buy some groceries, and in the end I managed only six stores, which is still pretty darn good by 9 am.

After check-in I headed over to Gulf Air to tell them I would not be on the flight, and, as I expected, there was no way to recover any value from the ticket. I then headed to the gate and sat down to try and book a room for Riyadh, factoring in location and transport, and I was finally urged to board the plane even though, as expected, we sat there for a good 30 minutes. In the end I booked something on mobile and hoped that taxi would not be too expensive.

Flight was short and smooth, but I did see a delay in clearing immigration, perhaps due to my name, and then I was not able to find the Starbucks because I was told, BY TWO PEOPLE, they were landside, but that turned out not to be true. I was soon in the car though, a Nissan Sunny just like in Bahrain, BUT THIS ONE DID NOT HAVE A USB, and that was going to make the next day a pain, but liveable. And delay at the first store, at the Woqod PS HIA, because the supervisor did not know how to sell me an Alshaya gift card, and could not figure it out after 15-20 minutes, so I had her abort. At least she comped me my coffee, and I was able to get the card an a reshoot (from my 2016 laptop theft), Ooredoo Airport Road. That reshoot ended up costing me waaaay too much time, though, due to the parking sitch.

I then pulled into a plaza across the road for lunch and scored some paratha, but not that great, along with daal.

The spectacular reception by these Alshaya partners continued into a third country. Back at Woqod, the supervisor had wanted a selfie, and she had sent it out to the group, and by the time I reached the Al Meera AL Thumama store, they were waiting for me and in fact had changed the wifi password to "Hello@Winter", a first! Partners across the four additional new stores I saw were also expecting me. Some did not recognise me on sight, but as soon as I said "Winter", they smiled and asked "are you the blogger" or "are you the one going to all the Starbucks"?

Meanwhile, I finally had a chance to visit my first still-surviving Duck Donuts in the Middle East, after the closure of Dubai much earlier, and my newfound discovery that Riyadh had closed. I was in and out quickly because of the parking and the fading light, maybe 15-20 minutes, and in that time I saw no other customers, not even given the location inside a department store. Not a good sign for the survival of the Qatar location.

My hotel, Retaj Al Rayyan, at $105.76, was my most expensive of the tour, and yet annoying because the room was super cold when I entered, though thankfully not as cold as Bahrain. I was able to prop the door open and after an hour it was not freezing any more. I also had trouble figuring out how to turn off all the lights and had to call the front desk twice. Also, all the waste irritated me. Truly, I preferred budget hotels and hostels--they are much less wasteful.

January 31


Up super early, well before 6, but the time came in handy because I was able to begin working on my 19,000th Starbucks visit video, and nearly two hours later, I found myself rushing out the door and to the Bahrain City Centre to shoot more video and meet with the district managers and operations manager.

Milestone went spectacularly, the first time that Starbucks or their partner company had come out to meet me, and afterwards they gifted me a special blend and a Bahrain mug. Video editing also went much more smoothly than in the past, and before I had even left the store, I had a video ready to upload a bit later.

I spent the rest of the day rushing through stores, and despite all the time I had taken at City Centre, I still managed to make it to a whopping 19, my highest count of the trip! The flip side of that, however, was a mediocre burger for dinner as I hurried to The Avenues to see if a friend of an IG follower was there, but she had finished her shift in the afternoon.

January 30


Up around 6:30, almost 10 full hours, which was fantastic. No particular hurry, since my goal was to reach 11 stores, 18,999, and stop so I could do 19K on Wednesday morning. I was soon at the first store, The Terminal 338. From there I decided to tackle the furthest away stores, so I headed down to three drive-thrus in Riffa, and I also stopped a Neo Books & Coffee where I was pleased to find coffee from Hasbean, a British roaster. This told me the place was serious about coffee, and I enjoyed a pretty good Bolivian pour over.

Next down to the furthest out store, Zero Gravity DT, where I ran into district manager Adnan again, AND also the operations manager Ahmed, who was tickled pink to meet me. We chatted a while and took a selfie, then planned to meet at my 19,000th store in the morning. Meeting Ahmed was also fortituous because the next store on my map, Manama Batelco HQ, just happened to be inside a pretty secure complex, so he said he would arrange for them to bring me a coffee to the Liwan Project store across the street.

When I got up to the area I could see that the complex had more security than any other secure-access stores because two different businesses, Batelco and Beyon, were on the campus, which had a tall wall around it and a gate that I would have had to cross before I could even get to a lobby, if they even had such a thing. First, though, I was famished and looked for some nearby food, finally settled on some pancakes from Plant Cafe, but they took waaaay too long (because they burned the first ones). Later, at the Starbucks, after I got my drip coffee, I was invited to a coffee tasting, and then before leaving I had to sort out my Qatar plans because I discovered that due to an aquatic conference/competition, hotels were REALLY EXPENSIVE. I had planned on three days, or four to take advantage of cheaper airport, but the hotel prices forced me to cut my stay in Qatar to just a day and a half, flying out on Friday evening.

By the time I finished my planning, I had to hurry up through Manama Ok Petrol Station Hamala DT, El Mercado (which was hard to find), and Saar Mall in order to make it to Nakheel Centre before it was dark. At that point I could relax and have some dinner, my first experience with Persian in many years. I also scoped out a massage spa across the street, just to see the prices, and, as I expected, they were comparable to those in the United States, not a good value. I expected this would be the same throughout the Gulf countries.

January 29


I gave up on sleep shortly before 7, washed my face, repacked, and headed over to the Starbucks, where I hung out for hours, completing tasks, and spending a ridiculous amount of money on yoghurt, juice, and banana. Around 9:30 I headed around the corner to Roti Bhai and enjoyed some really good paratha, worthy of what I was finding in Chennai and Singapore.

After debating back and forth, I booked a car for Bahrain, and then I researched the driving licence sitch and found myself unsure of whether I would be allowed to drive. I intended to just ask at the Avis counter, but about an hour or two later I received a missed call, then a WhatsApp message about my arrival time, and I used that as an opportunity to call and inquire. The agent said that with my U.S. licence I was fine.

Managed to fall asleep fairly easily on the short flight--in fact, I'm pretty sure I missed the takeoff. Had my eyes closed for most of the flight, only fully waking up and reading some comics shortly before landing. Not much sleep really, but enough that I was functional when we landed.

Quiet date a BAH, and I expercience a slight worry when the agent was puzzled by my name, but of course this is normal. Like other places, he just called a supervisor, called another over, and I had no problem.

First Starbucks in Bahrain was a beautiful newish airport expanded kiosk, and the supervisor was helpful, especially with contacting the district manager and putting me on the phone with him so I could explain that I expected to visit 19,000th store on Wednesday. I asked for recommendations and suggested that the support centre might be interested in sending someone out to meet me. Fingers crossed.

One more store upstairs, and then some confusion because Avis did not actually have a rental counter at the airport, but rather at the nearby Movenpick hotel. A representative came to get me, and I was soon on my way to the Muharraq Mall store, where I exchanged currency at LuLu International Exchange for a pretty good rate. Disappinted, though, that I could not exchange my Kuwaiti currency because it was too old, $27 worth.

Cheap haircut on the way to the next store, Al Sayah Square, where I ran into Adnan, the same district manager I had spoken to, and he just as super nice in person as on the phone, and hopeful that someone from Alshaya would be interestd in covering my 19,000th store. I had to beg off after a short while though, because Bahrain was further north, and thus the sun setting sooner, and I wanted to get to as many in daylight. I rushed through The Village and Muharraq Diyar Souk Al Baraha, but by the time I got to Lagoons Amwaj Island it was already dark. I still pushed on to Hidd Bay Center Shopping Mall, my 8th store of the day and then walked a few stores down for a Middle Eastern meal of schawarma and fava beans.

Something different at the Meshal Hotel & Spa--I walked into the room and dang near froze because the aircon was on, which is atypical of hotel rooms, and set to 17, which is just ridiculous. Also, I could not figure out how to turn on the lights, so I had an awkward few minutes as I called the front desk to complain, and ultimately I decided I needed to move to a different room because despite what housekeeping and the host said, it was NOT going to take 5-10 for the room to warm.

January 28


Went backwards on sleep this morning, waking up between 5 and 6, closer to 5, and lying there unable to get back to sleep until I gave up shortly before 6. No hurry, obvs, so I worked on some tasks before showering and packing slowly, waiting for breakfast to begin, which I assumed was 7. When I got downstairs, I saw that breakfast had actually begun at 6:30, but oh well.

Ever since I originally made my Oman map about nine months earlier, I was not sure of the location of the Ghala Mall DT store, and now it was time to find it before setting off, especially since I had it plotted a good 15-30 minutes away. Google Maps showed no Starbucks there, nor a Ghala Mall, and the Starbucks app also did not have the Starbucks there. Fortunately, I noticed a Starbucks marker on Google that I did not recognise, and it was just 3 minutes away. I did not think it was one of my visited stores, so it was a possibility, and at minimum I might be able to get help from the baristas. The hostess at the hotel restaurant confirmed that there is indeed a Starbucks there, so I headed over, and sure enough it was Ghala Mall!

Baristas were, once again, super welcoming, and they brewed me up the Dallah's Treasure Blend, and then I went to reshoot 18th November DT and Azaiba Commercial DT before heading to Mall of Oman where I hoped to try an indie coffee, Azuran, before the Starbucks. However, upon walking into the mall I spotted a cafe called üshk that was displaying half a dozen bags from different roasters, and this told me that they were pretty serious. I gave them a try and the Colombian V60 from Crimson, a Saudi roaster, was excellent, the best I'd had since Singapore.

At the Starbucks the baristas were exceptionally happy to see me and eager to set up a coffee tasting, using Sumatra beans this time, paired with strawberry cheesecake. I commented to them that I could have finished all the 13 new Starbucks in less than two days, but I was glad I had the extra time so I could partake of the partners' hospitality.

On the way to the next Starbucks I stopped at Barbecue Nation, recommended by a barista as a place to get Indian food, including paratha. Not bad, but not great either, and nowhere close to what I got in Chennai or Southeast Asia.

With a keen eye on the clock, my stop at Al Raya Complex was quick, slowed only by the fact that, for the first time in 11 stores, there were a lot of customers, a group of college athletic youth, it appeared. I then rushed to Oasis Centre, where I took more time because of the partners exceptional hospitality and curiosity about my project. As a result, when I reached the final store, Qurum DT, I had to beg off the offer of a coffee tasting because I did not want to be rushing when I got to the airport. Good thing I hurried, because I arrived at the gate with just minutes before boarding, and I needed that time to get online, make a couple of calls, run my algorithm, and do some bookkeeping so I would not lose track of it when I touched down in Dubai and scrambled to sort out the new airport stores.

Middle seat aside, flight to Dubai was short and uneventful, and then it all fell apart. I could not use the scan gates because I was traveling on a new passport, so I had to go to the main passport control line, and when the agent saw my single name, she sent me to the passport office. After fiddling with my passport and his computer system, the agent informed me that there was a problem. UAE had passed a law (in November 2022) prohibiting single name passports, and without a different passport, this would prevent me from entering the country. I asked if there was any way to work around it, and the agent asked me for any other old passport with two names.

I sat down and called my father, who still had not left for Colombia, and asked him to look inside my big plastic box of personal items for an old passport. He could not find any, let alone pre-name-change, so I instead had him send me images of my birth certificate and name change documents. Additionally he sent an image of an old passport from the 80s, and I sent all these documents to the agent who send them to his superior. I waited over three hours, and finally he called me outside and explained that none of his superiors would approve entry, so I would have to depart.

I was taken into an office to fill out paperwork documenting why I was not entering the UAE. While the agents did that, I booked a flight and hotel in Bahrain for the next morning, 11:15, not too early, so I could at least visit the Starbucks in the transit area, where I would have to remain. One an agent took me there, I was dismayed to find NO quiet places, and moreover it was cold, really cold. Despite my thermal underwear and laying atop my small towel and a shirt, to blunt the cold of the floor, I was not able to fall asleep in the one isolated corner I found, and I had to over to the other side, where it was slightly warmer, but quite crowded. Between the cold, ambient passenger noise, and annoying gate announcements, I reckon I might have slept 2-3 hours AT MOST.

January 27


Managed to sleep until around 6:30 or 6:45, or past 8 am India time, and I was glad both because I needed to sleep but also because I did not expect the nearby Starbucks to open any earlier than 8 on a Saturday morning. I was able to kill a lot of time, though, because my 'Audacious' interview was finally posted, and I had to excitedly blast it to all my social media while enjoying a reasonably-priced breakfast of pancakes and omelette from the hotel.

Al Muzn Centre Starbucks was open when I arrived, and the partners were again quite helpful, both in getting me on the wifi, and also with info about other stores I needed to see, because I could not necessarily rely on the app, nor Google Maps, for accurate locations, nor even whether the stores existed (one had shut down at Mall of Muscat).

At Mall of Muscat I stopped first at Lulu Hypermarket and had to talk a supervisor into letting me go get some fruit and yoghurt with my backpack, and then at the Starbucks I was stunned to find AN AQUARIUM!!! Not just a fish tank, which I'd seen before, but an honest-to-goodness aquarium! Sadly, I was told the store might be closing because the entire mall was on the skids. Also, as I continued across four more Starbucks, I barely saw customers because of the boycott, and I felt horrible that these baristas who were being so kind to me and had nothing to do with the conflict might suffer if Alshaya decided to start closing stores.

Despite my having gotten a fairly late start and taken many wrong turns, plus a coffee tasting at the Muscat Sawadi Ahlain Complex store, I managed to finish the six stores (one closed down) on the west side of the airport by just after 4, and that left me with extra time. I considered heading all the way out to the Al Qurum DT so I could see the city centre, but byt he time I started wrapping up at SQUare Drive-Thru, I could see that by the time I got out there I might have lost the good light, and I opted instead to head to a nearby indie cafe. I figured I could kill the time back at the hotel booking some flights and taking care of other tasks.

That cafe, No10 Coffee, ended up being closed down, but nearby was Pro Beans Coffee. I did not care for the Brazilian pour over--too dark, but I appreciated the chance to try some indie brewed coffee, and the fast wifi so I could get my photos uploaded.

January 26


With only one Starbucks left to go, and a flight not until 15:00, I had hoped to push my sleep past 7 am, but no luck. I got up shortly before 7 and took my time getting ready, packing, and working on some tasks. At some point I learned that today was a holiday, Republic Day, and I wondered if that would push the Starbucks opening time, or even cause it to be closed. I emailed one of the partners who had sent me photos for info about the Commerzone store, but after a few hours I had not heard back.

I wasn't too worried, though, because my first destination was The Brew room, ostensibly with 8 am opening time, but I found that unlikely on a holiday, and Google said 10 am. When I finally set out,I took the metro to a nearby station and then found a cafe to have a traditional local breakfast to kill time. When I finally completed the near-20-minute walk to The Brew Room, they were open. Decent enough Chemex-brewed coffee, but a little bland--so far I'd not had any spectacular Indian coffee experiences.

Keeping an eye on the time, I decided to take an Uber to the nearest metro, but that proved easier said than done. The first driver canceled. I became concerned by this and decided that I wanted to start walking towards the metro and have the next driver sync up with me, but apparently this was too complicated. He called me to ask location, I asked if he spoke English, he said "no, only Tamil" and canceled the ride. The next driver showed up at the location where I'd been when I booked, but I had already moved a few minutes down the road, and he did not seem to understand my repeated messages of "keep driving" and "I'm ahead of you", so he canceled. Finally, the next driver was only two minutes away, so I just waited. When he arrived, he wanted to know how much I would pay him, and THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I DO NOT WANT TO DO. I use Uber instead of picking auto-rickshaws from the street to AVOID HAGGLING. I gave him four stars for that, but I am also irked at Uber because it does not allow customers to specify specific reasons so the drivers know what they are doing wrong.

I took the metro to Andalur and walked up to the road leading to the Starbucks, and Google Maps gave me a numbef of bus options. After a few minutes with no bus, I got nervous an booked an Uber, and then of course the bus showed up, so I canceled the Uber and saved 100 INR.

Supervisor/manager and staff at Commerzone Puror were exceptionally friendly, and in fact he went above-and-beyond and drove me (on his bike) to the Alandur station to help me get to the airport more quickly. I'm glad he did, because that gave me time to pop back into the Aerohub Starbucks and use up my remaining card balance and some cash on a muffin and juice, and then rush into the airport and to the gate to discover that I needed to go to the check-in counter for a printed boarding pass. I started to worry, but by the time I cleared security and got to the gate, boarding had not yet started, and this gave me time to get to the washroom for some much-needed toilet time, and then to order some last-chance paratha from Masala Kitchen in the food court.

Managed to close my eyes towards the beginning of the flight, and then after the meal I felt good enough to spend the rest of the time catching up on comics. The near four hours passed by pretty quickly, and I was soon past immigration (no visa required, contrary to what I had read) and in the arrival hall grumbling about my T-Mobile roaming coverage that kept going in and out and threatened to become a real problem since I could not get onto the wifi either.

Fortunately, after many reboots, my phone stayed connected long enough to download a map of Muscat (which I should have done earlier) and also to receive the OTP code for the airport wifi, so I could quickly connect all three devices before I lost roaming signal again. I then went up to the Budget counter to ask the agent to get the process started while I changed currency, but she recommended doing it outside of the airport. After securing the car, I decided that changing at least $20 would be a good idea, but when I inquired, the amount of rial was SIGNIFICANTLY lower than expected, and I smelled a bad deal, so I passed and headed to the first Starbucks.

Actually NOT the first one I intended, Azaiba Commercial DT, because it was misplotted on my map, although I did pass it on the way to that area, but on the other side of the highway, with no easy way to get there. Instead I went to 18th November DT where the partners were quite helpful in answering my questions. I then went to Azaiba Commercial DT and decided to hold off on getting cash. I just had a quick burget at a cafe in the same centre and went to check into the hotel.

January 25


Up at 6:45, and I tried to go back to sleep, as I would need to keep adjusting my body every few days as I headed west. Because of the sketchy nature of the hostel, with no curtains, I had to follow protocol and take my backpack into the shower, as a precaution, but I lucked out, and this one allowed me to set the pack on the toilet and run the water with little pressure so as not to splash the bag.

Killed time with some phone calls and tasks before booking an Uber to Ciclo Cafe, and then things got wacky. The first driver started asking me something about cash, but he did not speak enough English for me to understand. After some back and forth, he canceled the ride and drove off. The next driver showed up, asked about cash, and I explained that I (Uber) was using a card. He drove me, but to the wrong place, because apparently there are two Ciclo Cafes on Google Maps, as odd as that seems. There was, of course, no Cicle Cafe by the train station, and I had book yet again to get to the right place. For a third time the driver asked about cash, and this time he tried to get me to pay in cash or Gpay, and through broken English explained something I did not understand about a problem the auto-rickshaw drivers are having with Uber in Chennai. I could not help him, though--the ride was already locked into credit card, and I wasn't going to burn any remaining cash on Uber until I could get more.

Cicle Cafe was a bust, no brewed coffee, but at least I was in an area near foreign exchange, after a 15+ minute walk, and then a wait until 10:00 am for the place to open. Surprisingly, I got a REALLY GOOD rate for my 72 remaining Singapore dollars, and when I did the calculation from USD to SGD to INR, I got more rupees than expected.

After my Ciclo experience, I took a close look at the next cafe on my map, and when it appeared that it was food-focused, no filter that I could see, I went to Davrah Coffee instead, which looked more promising from the pictures. Barista/manager/owner at Davrah was quite friendly and happy to explain about the coffee, specifically how they prepared their filtre coffee. I was still surprised, though, because it came with cream, which is normal, but not what I was expecting. Decent, but I still wanted to try the no-cream version if I ever had another chance.

Oh, during the walk to Davrah, I had to walk along a road that had cops all over the place, and I was questioned about my destination. Once at Davrah, I asked the manager about the security, and she explained that a government minister lives there.

I discussed other cafes from my map with her, and she clued me in to an error--I had Beachville Coffee Roasters misplotted north of the city, when it was actually 15 minutes away. On the way I passed a sign for the first unisex spa I'd seen since arriving. All others had been gentlemen/kids only or ladies/kids only. I had to check out the pricing, and it was 2000 INR, considerably cheaper than the day before in the mall (as expected), so I could not resist. Once again an excellent massage.

Beachville Coffee Roasters prepared my coffee on a V60 and was my first proper filtre coffee experience in India. Decent enough, but I intentionally chose Indian coffee, and it was more dark than I preferred.

Finally, well, into the afternoon, I made it to the first Starbucks of the day, T Nagar, where I tried the podi cream cheese bagel--not my thing. Perhaps one of the worst bagels I'd had from Starbucks across the different countries. I did, however, save 21 rupees by ordering the filter coffee in the India-only Picco size. At the next store I switched to a Picco cappuccino, which was even cheaper, 194 INR, and I was surprised that they made it with more milk than I expected, almost to the halfway point of the tumbler. I had to start adding sugar so I could tolerate the taste. I had gotten used to coffee without sugar, but not milk.

Ubers to Harrington Road and Anna Nagar, but the next store looked to be more or less a straight shot, and I saw an easy bus line to get me there, for just 11 INR, although it dropped me off in a different spot than Google indicated. Not a problem, because I passed a number of restaurants and was able to enjoy a HUGE plate of fried rice. Seriously, these Chennai portions are HUGE.

VR Mall was pretty high-end, and the guards were pretty diligent with the bag check. The saw my camera, pointed, and said not to use it. I did not. I used my phone instead, after scoping out the guards to make sure they had passed, and choosing angles where I could not be seen from info desk.

To my surprise, I discovered that the green line was actually operational, and I was able to take it down to the Vijaya Mall store, a quick stop right as it was getting dark, so I hurried up and rushed to Ashok Nagar--unfortunately that was a night shot that would not get replaced any time soon.

Walked to Andalur metro which I took to Little Mount, and then a short walk back to the hostel, stopping first for some dosa instead of paratha.

A bit of confusion at the hostel when I could not find the control to turn on the aircon. Apparently someone had put it on a window sill BEHIND A CURTAIN, an action that makes zero sense because how the hell is anybody else supposed to find it!

January 24


I had expected to wake up super early because of the jet lag, but it wasn't actually that bad, and I manage to sleep until around 6 am. By the time I finished using the toilet, shaving, showering, and repacking, it was around 7:30, and I was able to take an Uber and arrive at the Adyar Besant Road Starbucks right when they were in the process of opening. Once again a barista recognised me, and as I was having my coffee and performing tasks, they also gifted me some cake, and then later one of the baristas was eager that I participate in a coffee tasting. Of course I did not want more caffeine, but they were being so polite and generous that I indulged him and had a pretty good French pressed Indian Estate coffee. For that cup (half cup) I made an exception and added sugar, like I do to craft coffees. Still too dark, but I did enjoy the brew.

I walked about 15 minutes to Farmgate, but that was a bust. Google said 10 am, but no one was there, and I also stepped in dog mess after spending five months being careful to avoid it. As I was about to book an Uber, someone opened the external gate for Farmgate, and I asked him about opening time. He said maybe 3 pm--obviously much too late for me.

Uber to ECR, using cash payment this time, and I was recognised again by a barista who was tickled pink by my presence. Tried the cinammon swirl and orange/carrot juice, neither of which really did it for me, and caught up on tasks once on the wifi. With a goal of just six stores for the day, I was able to take my time at each one and try to get on top of all my recordkeeping.

From ECR I decided that BSR Building was not so far, so I decided to walk to see what I might find along the made road, and I finally spotted signs with paratha or parotta on them. Popped into one place, and the parotta was excellent, and the chicken fried rice was okay BUT HUGE. For once, I could not finish, and I felt bad because I hate wasting food.

After BSR, Uber to Marina Mall, where I discovered that Starbucks India has a Picco size (6 oz)!!! This looked like a good way to save money, and the barista went ahead and changed my order, although I did not realise until later that I ended up having paid the higher short Americano price but receiving the cheaper drink.

Something else intriguing, a spa called Chloe catering to both men and women. I had to go check it out. The price for Swedish was 3000, a little under $40, higher than much of SE Asia, but still doable out of the curiosity. No availability until 16:15, though, and I was not willing to burn the time when I had two more Starbucks to see. HOWEVER, when I asked about other locations she said they had one at Palladium, which was one of my next two Starbucks stops!

Long, long ride, with lots of traffic, and lots of cows in the road, to Phoenix MarketCity, the first Starbucks in Chennai. Afterwards I walked across the plaza to Palladium (not realising there was a passageway underneath), and the Starbucks happened to be a few doors down from Chloe, so I took the massage first. Excellent, although I suspected I was paying considerably more than if were able to find a unisex spa out on the street. On the other hand, compared to some of the janky spas I've been in, with showers and washrooms that are cramped, and sometimes sketchy vibes that make me nervious for my things, this place was more of the upscale type that I would expect from a high-end mall like Palladium.

It was past 19:00 when I finished, so I hurried up at the Starbucks so I would not get to the hostel too late. I set out walking along the street find dinner, hopefully more paratha or parotta, and I found a place where I was able to compare the plain parotta with tandoori paratha. I also tried egg masala for the first time, but it was not my thing.

In the runup to Chennai, someone from the hostel had been quite accommodating to my change requests, but once at Hostel Gandhi I got a bad vibe right away when the attendant appeared confused after I showed him my HostelWorld screen and explained about the change from three nights to two nights. He went and retrieved his manager who first asked him to show me the room to see if it was okay. In all my decades of hosteling, I had never experienced this, and it made me wonder just what that room would look like. It wasn't actually that bad for a four-bed dorm in a budget hostel. Top bunk, no curtains, no outlets on bunk, no lock on door, and a shared remote for the AC/fan. What bugged me though was the lack of toilet tissue, and after questioning the staff about this, the next day I would email the owner.

Sleep with greater care to have my backpack by my head, and in a position where it would be difficult to take without waking me because it was so heavy.

January 23


The night was actually better than I expected because I found an area all the way at the south end of the Termimal 3 Departures hall where I could lay down on carpet, behind some benches, near other people who were sleeping. It was past midnight, though, by the time I bedded down, and after my first trip to the loo, which was conveniently right next to where I slept, janitors began the process of cleaning it, so for my next two trips I had to walk some distance. After my 4 am trip to the loo, I downed half of the three coffees saved from the night before to help ensure that I would not oversleep, and I managed to doze off again and wake with my alarm at 5 am.

I quickly washed my face and went down the hall to the check-in counter, where an agent had to enter the e-Visa info into the system before I could get my boarding pass, and then I found the lone Starbucks remaining in Terminal 3 and got coffee and some pancakes, and then I repacked everything. By the time I finished the time was approaching 6, so I had to hurry to get through immigration, only to discover that it was quite a distance to Gate A18. Fortunately, the flight boarding was delayed, and that gave me time to pop into the loo and also make some calls.

On the flight I was exhausted, of course, after maybe three hours of sleep, and during the wait for takeoff and breakfast, I had to close my eyes a bit. After breakfast I had trouble falling asleep, but it helped that I had three seats to myself in the very back row. I did doze off a bit at some point, and this helped so that upon arriving in Chennai I was not dead to the world.

A bit of a wait on the e-Visa line, but the process was easy, as was customs, and then I got outside and wanted cash before going to the new Starbucks across the street. I did not like the vibe I got from the lone currency exchange bureau, and it's never a good sign when there is only one. I begged off (did not appreciate the agent's reaction) and went to the Starbucks to ask the usual questions and calculate how much I'd need. I then went upstairs to find the exchange bureau that a barista said was there. It was, but not yet open for business. I winced at the possibility of having to deal with that same lady again, so I tried to get upstairs to departures to find a bureau, but without a ticket, I could not enter. I then noticed some businesses over by the metro station, so I walked over, and a taxi driver pointed me upstairs, where I found a branch of the same chain from the mall. They gave me a better rate, 80 INR for 1 USD with no commission.

Cash in hand, I went back to Starbucks for my coffee, and then I was treated to some free cake along with a welcoming sign from the supervisor. I then took the metro two stops up and walked to where the Starbuck was on Google Maps, BUT THERE WAS NO STORE!!! If I had not had T-Mobile roaming, I would have been screwed, but I was able to see that Google had plotted a phantom store, and the real one was another station up.

At the Kathipara Urban Square I ran into the district manager the supervisor at Chennai Airport Mall had told me about, who had previously worked in Dubai for Alshaya and might have contacts who would help me get some promo for 19K. I was also able to get online thanks to the supervisor--India still required an Indian number to access the wifi. I worked on some tasks to let my algo run, and then I had some lunch across the hall where I could pick up the wifi, for the same reason.

Took the metro two more stops towards the city and walked to the Alwarpet store, and then I Ubered to where I thought FabExpress Lloyd's Inn I was located, with fingers crossed. The attendant had to look at my booking info, call his boss, and put me on the phone, but finally he determined that he had my booking. I'd read some bad reviews about door not shutting fully, but maybe that was a different place because this room was fine, except for the mosquitos, generally shabbiness, and only one accessible outlet.

I quickly showered and set off again, walking to the nearby Express Avenue Mall store, then the Bergamo Mall, where for the first time in Chennai a guard pointed at my camera as I walked in and indicated no pictures. I had considered pushing on to Harrington Road, but I decided to call it at 5 stores, get back to the hotel, and try to catch up on sleep, a task that proved easier said than done because of the mosquitos that forced me to use the aircon so I could cover myself.

January 22


Managed to sleep til almost 7:30, a good thing both to try and catch up, and to prepare for overnighting at the airport, and to wait for the desk to open so I could get a refund for Monday night, which they generously agreed to.

Before leaving I asked about another tailor, and I was directed to the next street over, Pagoda St. EuroTailor did not open til 10 am, but by chance an employee arrived just as I was looking for confirmation of their hours, and when I described that I wanted my jeans patched, he directed me to the marketplace at the end of the block. As he suggested, most of the shops were closed, not to open until 9 or 10, but after walking around I did see at least one shop with ALTERATIONS on the sign.

To kill time and not go too far, I walked about 5-10 minutes west, to Homeground Coffee Roasters, one of several craft coffeehouses in the area. Excellent coffee and atmosphere, except for that thing about many of the cafes I have encountered in Singapore, and some around the world--I was seated by the host. This disturbs my process, because I want to take a photo outside, inside, then ask the baristas about the filter coffee, then find a seat next to an outlet. After Homeground I headed to Five Oars, another excellent cup, my first from Thailand since June 2022, and then I headed back to try and find a tailor.

No luck, after spending around an hour wandering around the market, People's Centre, and OG People's Centre. One tailor could not do it til tomorrow, while the original one at OK Tailor, the one who had asked me to wash them, said that because I had worn them, she could not. The next tailor I found that was open was the same situation, and all others were closed or would have to send the jeans somewhere else.

By that time it was already past 11 am, and I could not waste any more time on the jeans and headed to the Singapore Management Universit store, where I faced another annoyance, my third cafe in a row without electrical outlets--my laptop battery was hurting. From SMU I decided to make the leap to the furthest out store in the direction of Punggol (NE MRT Line then LRT), Oasis Terraces, and then whaddayaknow but the centre had laundry/alteration shops! The first could not do anything for five days, but the second agreed to take me right away. This time I was smart and went into the bathroom to remove my jeans, leaving the shorts underneath--not sure if that made a difference in perception regarding the cleanliness of the jeans, but she agreed to take me and said it would take about 30 minutes.

While I waited I found some ramen, with above-average broth (noodles - 7.0, pork - 6.75, egg - 7.25) and to the best of my knowledge, I had not eaten at a restaurant while wearing shorts in about 25 years.

By the time I finished lunch and Starbucks, the jeans were finished, looked great, and a huge burden was lifted off my mind as I continued my journey.

January 21


Did not really fall asleep until well past midnight, but I was still up before 7 to try and pick up a few Starbucks before rushing to the tournament. Took the 33 bus to Anchor Point, and I missed my stop, but that didn't matter because the store did not open til 8 am anyway. I was at the counter the instant the barista indicated they were ready, and although in a hurry, I waited for the brewed coffee so I could plan what to do next. I decided that I wanted to try for a nearby craft coffeehouse, Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee, and they did not open til 8:30, so I took the opportunity to try the butter scone--pretty good.

Made it to Tiong Hoe just a few minutes after 8:30 and waited for a pour over of an excellent Brazilian, and as soon as it arrived, I pour it into my tumbler and rushed off to the East-West Line, already worried that I'd be late, at least according to what Google Maps was saying. Lucked out though and caught a train almost immediately, and then upon reaching the stop for the 179 Bus, the next one arrived in two minutes, and I was actually at the designated stop on the NTU campus with ten minutes to make the walk to Hall 3--plenty of time.

Tournament went well, 6-2 for third place, BUT towards the middle afternoon I realised that I had grossly misplanned in not saving more coffees from the previous day to get me through Sunday, and I began to go into withdrawal. Lucked out, and the host had brought some Red Bulls, which got some caffeine in me, and then I took an ibuprofen to make it through the last game. Right after awards I rushed to the Jurong Lake Gardens store and quickly downed a shot of espresso, and I was soon feeling better.

January 20


Managed to sleep til 7:38, something I wanted not only to catch up on sleep a bit, because once again it had been difficult to fall asleep because of my noisy dormmates, but also because I needed to kill time until the OK Tailer I had seen would open (hopefully at 10 AM, if not sooner). The tailor had wanted me to wash the jeans before she mended them (understandable, given their soiled appearance), so I figured that would take around an hour, at least. Straits Laundry was conveneiently around the corner from the hostel, but jeepers, the price for a small load--$13.48!!!

After my washing was completed I stopped by the hostel again to drop off some clothing then headed into People's Park Centre to find the tailor, but the shop was closed. I kicked myself for having neglected to ask the owner the night before about shop hours. I noticed a business card on the door and sent both an email and text message, but by the end of the day I'd heard nothing. I killed some time with breakfast, but once I finished around 10:15 and went back downstairs, the shop was still closed, so I set off.

Stopped first at PPP Coffee to make some headway into the Singapore craft coffee scene, and that's when I looked up when my flight would depart on Tuesday and discovered that I had accidentally purchased a ticket for 7 am, not the afternoon or evening!!! This was a HUGE problem, and I had to take time out of my Starbucking to try and come up with solutions. After considering a number of options and calling Singapore Air (flight change would be $350 SG), I realised I had little feasible option but to overnight at Changi. I then canceled my booking at the hotel near airport and emailed the hostel to add Tuesday night to that booking.

Easy walks to four stores. The fourth, Tekka Place was on the edge of Little India, so afterwards I went in search of paratha and found Apolo's Food Village inside a marketplace, and once again I enjoyed delicious paratha, both the plain and egg varieties, albeit at a much higher price than I'd paid the night before.

I then headed to nearby Apartment Coffee, where I found a waiting list, perhaps my first in recent memory for a cafe, especially mid-afternoon. Took a while to get the coffee, but it was excellent. I downed it quickly and walked to a bus stop that got me to the Orchard area with a lot of Starbucks, and it took me quite a while to discover that OG Orchard Point was no longer there. Not sure if it had relocated then closed, because a 5-year partner had no knowledge of it. I rephotographed a couple of stores so that my trip would not have been wasted, and then I headed to Takashimaya, only my fifth store of the day, in late afternoon already.

I noticed that the Northeast Line had Starbucks at most of the stops, and many were knew to me, so I headed first to The Poiz Centre, then to The Woodleigh Mall, by which time it was past 18 and getting dark, so I grabbed a quick omu rice at the Food Republic food hall just outside the station.

January 19


Shortly before 7 am I desperately wanted to go back to sleep, as I'd been up til 22:30 and there had been a lot of noise during the night in the 16-bed capsule dorm, BUT I also knew that I'd only had five new coffees, plus two from the previous night, in my system, and that meant I was probbly not going to feel better as withdrawal progressed. Went ahead and showered and was soon at the Chinatown Point store, just minutes away, where I had to pause for a beat and make a slew of calls.

Next store, Far East Square, had closed, so I headed to Republic Plaza II where I hoped to find a scone (Chinatown had run out), and they DID have them, but no orange juice. On the way to to 6 Battery I passed a Marks and Spencer Foods which had the plain scones, and still warm, BUT NO SMALL ORANGE JUICE, so I had to take the scone with me. I popped into the next store, Singapore Land Tower, an older one, just to get juice and eat my scone, but it had already cooled.

Meanwhile, I started making a map of craft coffee, because I wanted to make up for lost time here in Singapore which I knew would have a lot.

I was trying to not walk too much, but from Battery there were no good metro routes, so I walked to Raffles City, a relocation, but then the next store, South Beach, was another closed one. My route to investigate whether Millenia Walk was a relocation took me through Marina Square, so I reshoot that store, and while there I noticed a Popeyes and saw that they DO serve biscuits here in Singapore--decent enough for a fast-food biscuit.

With six stores under my belt in roughly six hours, I felt pretty good about getting close to 15, but in the afternoon I began to slow down, in part because I wanted to study some words for Sunday's tournament, and in part because the rain forced me to change my plans. In the end I only got to 11--I could have done 12 or 13 on the same East-West metro line, but I was feeling tired and decided that I preferred to get back to Chinatown, look for paratha, and try to get to sleep before 21.

Partially succeeded--paperwork until 21, then a phone call to a Starbucks that should have just opened at 8 NY time, and I was quickly in my bunk, but my dormmates were noisy.

January 18


Up even earlier than my alarm, at 6:08, and I used the time to make some calls until about 6:30 then hurried into the shower and was out the door before 7 am, rushing to KB. Unfortunately, as I feared, KB was not yet open, contrary to what I was told. I still hoped they would open at 9, which is what Google said, BUT a sign on the door said 10 am, and I just could not risk that. I had really botched this one in booking my return flight for 12:10.

I killed a little time by heading over to a petrol station to get a sense of how much I was going to spend on fuel, and make sure that a credit card would be accepted, but even though it was a Shell, they would not accept a card and suggested a larger Shell station in a nearby town. This made me concerned that I might lose time back near the airport finding a station that accepted card, so I made a quick pass by the Starbucks again, saw no one, and decided I needed to abandon it. I did find that Shell station in Seira, and as it turns out I more than filled the tank for just 8.50, which meant that I easily would have had enough in cash, plus extra. In fact, once I returned to the city and stopped at another Shell, it was filled for just 3.60, which told me that the tank had not been full when I got it, regardless of what the gauge had said.

I texted an Avis agent that I was in the parking lot, and her colleague came out to meet me, which sped up the return process, and then I quickly rushed to check in, immigration, and security, so I would have time to do the Starbucks, eat, and possibly exchange currency. Well, no surprise, the flight was delayed, and, as I feared, there were no good food options after security, only Starbucks and the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, where I got a mediocre chicken lasanga. As for currency, I was surprised that the bureau was taking my BND 1-to-1 for SGD with no commission. This puzzled me until a FB phrend pointed out that Singapore and Brunei have a mutual currency agreement, so I could have used the BND in Singapore anyway.

Despite the delays in boarding and landing, we arrived in Singapore pretty early, early enough that it made sense for me to get most of the airport stores out of the way in order to reduce uncertainty when I left. Back in 2011, I had a flight to KL booked, but when I got to the airport I lost so much time trying to see all the Starbucks that I missed the flight.

Anyway, I checked into the airport at 14:27, and I did not leave the airport complex, including Jewel, until around 19:00. I headed down to the MRT and hoped that my ezLink card would still work, but it had expired in 2021, and I lost my $7.08 balance. I needed to buy a new one, but the machine that took foreign cards was being refilled, so I either had to wait, or I could use my last $10 SGD to buy a card from the counter in cash. I hated to be cashless, but I was getting off at Chinatown, and there were supposed to be lots of money changers in the area. That turned out to be true, and I did in fact get a much better rate than at the airport. Unfortunately, I did not find any paratha within a few minutes and settled for chicken fried rice before walking over to my hostel to check in and upload photos/post.

January 17


Around 6:30 I felt like I COULD have slept more, but I figured I might as well down the three saved espresso shots and get going, in order to pick up one or two more stores on the way to the airport. I could expect to catch up on sleep in Brunei, where I would be less caffeinated and have more than enough time to see all four stores. Took my time packing and then headed to a walkable store I had missed days earlier because it had originally been designated as IN (Indian) on the website instead of ID (for Indonesia).

Grab to RS Husada, and then I had to sort out the discrepancy in location for the Pluit Junction store, which was in the direction of the airport but not found on Google Maps. Finally sorted it out and booked a Grab, and from there I could just walk across the street to Emporium, my final store before heading to the airport.

It was a bit later than I expected when I finished up at Emporium Pluit, and then the wait for a Grab was longer, and then the driver seemed to miss the exit to T3. The upshot of all this was that I was already under time pressure, and then the Royal Brunei agents said they could not check me in without calling Reservations to validate my credit card. By the time I got through security, not much time was left to eat and find the Starbucks, and the information board did not even list any airside.

I did spot the store when I got to the corner, and it was brand new, less than a month, which is why it had not been listed. They did not accept to 30% off coupon, BUT they would give the cup discount, so I scrambled to figure out what to do with the water from my tumbler, and in the end I just had her make the espresso shot with the water inside. In the United States, I do not think baristas would do that. This solved my water issue, so long as I did not lose the water before I drank it all, which would cancel out the Starbucks.

After all that scrambling and hurrying, I thought I'd be late for my flight, but of course it was delayed. I quickly forgave Royal Brunei, however, when our meal was served with sturdy plasticware--fork, spoon, and knife--the best I had seen across all my travels in recent memory. I asked if they were going to be thrown away or reused, and the attendant said they would be resused, BUT I could keep mine if I wanted. I did.

Despite the delay we arrived around 17:00, and I immediately began filling out a digital arrival card, which I had completely forgotten about! Once I did, though, I breezed through immigration--my info was already in the system by the time the agent scanned my passport.

Small airport, and first thing I did was to exchange about $30 in Malaysian currency just so I'd have some cash, and then I found the Avis counter, but no one was there, just a sign reading WINTER WINTER. When I took the sign there was a note saying an employee was away and would return, and I called the number to find out how long, because the clock was ticking. He arrived within 10 minutes, and I was on my way by 17:30 and soon as the first store, which appeared to be in the same place as the photos even though the web ID had changed. The barista knew nothing about whether it might have relocated.

I debated whether or not to get Kuala Belait out of the way, but the barista at Mabohai seemed REALLY DOUBTFUL that I could make it. I finally decided against it, and it was only later, back out in the car, that I realised that the time had changed between Jakarta and Brunei--it was actually past 18:00, and there was no way I would make it by 19:00. Sadly, another effect of the time change was that by the time I reached the drive-thru, it was dark, and I was not sure I'd have time for a reshoot the next day.

From that parking lot I could not get to the adjacent shopping plaza, with restaurants, so I pushed forward towards my hotel and pulled into another plaza with a grocery store and some restaurants. Nothing looked good, though, so I just bought some bananas, juice, yoghurt, and a waffle, then headed to my hotel and set my alarm for 6:30.

January 16


Could not sleep past 6:30, but that was fine because I had slept well. I was quickly out and walking to the Raden Saleh Jakarta, hoping to spot plates. Although that walk was 30 minutes, there would be three stores not far away, BUT then I learned that the St. Carolus Hospital one had closed. Turns out that was not the only bust. After three stores, I decided to make the 30-minute walk to Jatinegara City Plaza, BUT IT WAS CLOSED. Hours said 10 am, and it was past 11!!! I killed time having some lunch and finalising my Oman itinerary with a hotel. By the time I finished and got up to go to the loo, I could see lights on in the store, but around 11:45 they were STILL not open. No point in leaving, though--I waited until noon and then just got a quick espresso shot, not brewed coffee, to save time and then book a car to a different part of town.

Started with Allianz and then was able to walk for the rest of the day, and despite the hour lost at the mall, I got to a whopping twelve more stores besides the four I had started with!

Meanwhile, my further travel plans continued to take shape, with my finally booking airfare for Chennai to Muscat, then car, then accommodation. Next, Dubai, and for that one I had a problem booking in a browser on my laptop and had to use the FlyDubai app, but I got it done, plus a rental car and accommodation. Did not book a flight out, though, because UAE does not require proof for onward travel I wanted to use UAE as a point where I could reconsider my further plans. I did not want to have too many nonrefundable air tickets purchased in case something forced a change of plans.

Meanwhile, my SECOND pair of Apple earbuds finally went on the fritz, and I had to endure starting/stopping (due to short-circuit in the wires) for the afternoon and early evening until I returned to my hostel and switched to my third and final pair, which I desperately hoped would last for six weeks at least.

January 15


Woke up at 6:55, just before 7, so no point in trying to go back to sleep. I was out quickly, after deciding whether I wanted to take a Grab all the way to 1/15 Coffee or walk the 30 minutes in the hopes of spotting some of the remaining words. I opted for the walk, also hoping to spot some foodibles in the alley (actually a small street, Jalan Srikaya II), and I quickly spotted something that appeared to be tofu or some other meatless subtance, not cheese, dipped in batter and fried. Further down I spotted what appeared to be plantain chips, and a bit later I spotted a Circle K and went in to look for a bottle of some protein drink that could replace the glass bottle I had been using for a few days. That bottle's lid tended to slip, and I worried about a disaster. No shake, so I went with a drinking yoghurt to try later.

Decent cup at 1/15 Coffee, the best of the three I'd had in Jakarta, and then I made the walk over to Wisma BNI'46, again, and for the second time it was closed, this time due to renovation. Fortunately the partners were inside, including the district manager, and after I explained my purpose, she agreed to make me a shot so I would not have to return.

Continued generally southward across stores that had been closed earlier, Menara Astra, Chase Plaza Setiabudi, Sahid Sudirman Center, TCC Tower, and in the meanwhile I started working on my plans after Chennai. Flight to Oman looked good, but since 2015 they had instituted a visa requirement, and the application page and related info was the most confusing of the four I'd done thus far. In the end, payment failed, and I did not see an option to retry, so I sent an email for support. An hour or two later I received a reply stating that I could obtain a FREE 14-day visa at the airport. Since this was from an official source, it was probably correct, but I wished that I were not reading contradictory reports from people. On the other hand, I also posted on Reddit, and two people immediately replied that the 14-day free visa was accurate, so I decided I'd go ahead and book for Muscat.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabia e-visa, although expensive at $130 (including mandatory medical insurance), came through in just a few minutes. It actually took longer for me to book a hostel in Riyadh, and then after the visa was approved I had to cancel the booking, since I did not actually have an itinerary to get into Saudi Arabia.

Something unusual, I popped into Ramen Ya! next to the Mayapada Tower 2 Starbucks, but since I'd had ramen two days in a row, I decided to go for a cheap plate of donburi instead, just to get some calories for the remaining few coffees. Also that store was the first in Indonesia, and in a long time, where a guard had said no photos, but fortunately I already had one from the inside, out of sight, before I went out for an outdoor shot.

Hurried up through the next four stores, to make twelve, although I lost some time at Menara Standard Chartered when a barista threw away my sample cup, and I had to cajole the manager into fishing it out of the trash and cleaning it (with LOTS of hot water and steam) for me, just in case I could not find another. However, she called ahead to Tokopedia Tower, and they just happened to have some, so I was able to replace the cup, which was already starting to break down.

After nearly a week of a normal stomach, I decided to try a hole-in-the-wall for dinner. Up til then, I'd been favouring restaurants in malls, or more proper shops, just as a precaution, even though more expensive (often just a buck or two). This chicken tripe soup, behind the Tokopedia Tower, was pretty good, and only $1.42.

January 14


Finally, after four nights in Jakarta, I managed to fall asleep again in the 6-7 hour, and I slept until 7:30. Quite grateful, both because I do not want to build up a sleep deficit, but also because I expected many Starbucks to open later, after 8 am, on Sunday, and getting out later reduced the possibility of needing to kill time.

This turned out not to be an issue anyway because I needed to get more cash, and after stopping at two places, in vain, including Stasiun Gambir where I picked up another Indonesia Starbucks card, I did not arrive at Juanda until nearly 9 am.

Quite a bit of distance to the next three stores, but I sucked it up despite the pain and the heat in order to find words, and my walking paid off with plenty of finds. Also scored with a better exchange rate near the Hayam Wuruk Starbucks, 15480. As I approached the next store, I was pleased to see that my e-Visa had been approved, but then when I went to buy the IndiGo ticket to Chennai, both my credit cards were rejected. The other cheap option, on India Air, departed at 9 AM, which would make the morning a bear, so I had to pay $100 more to go on Singapore--hopefully I'd at least get a meal out of it. That flight was not til 20:00, though, arriving at 22:00, which would make getting to the hostel infeasible, so I had to book a cheap hotel right next to the airport and contact the hostel about changing the reservation.

The next store was a Chinese market, with a food lane adjacent, and I had a cheap lunch before setting off for a store that would be a 40-minute walk, perhaps a bit too long. Google Maps showed what appeared to be a free bus, though, JAK, but they were not stopping where Google said. A few bypassed me, and then JAK.10 pointed up ahead, so I chased the minibus and managed to almost keep up with it, good enough for him to stop at the next intersection for me to hop on. The bus was indeed free--I just had to tap my transit card--and save me 20 minutes. I had to walk the rest of the way, but as soon as I started I found two more words, SUI and the long-elusive ADO, and was super-thrilled.

Things got wacky after between Gunung Sahari and Dunia Fantasi. First of all, because the Grab driver enter the property, I had to pay 6000 for parking, which sucked--I could have met him outside. Then, over an Ancol, I had to pay 30,000 for an admission to the beach area, more than twice the price of the coffee itself!!!

January 13


Only slept marginally later and was once again out the door quickly and walked about 15 minutes to Plaza Menteng, still trying to walk as much as possible in order to spot plates. On the walk to the next store, Cik Ditiro, I missed two plates and grumbled, and then I remembered that I needed to look for craft coffee and pulled up a blog. Plotted some stores while at the Starbucks and found Anomali Coffee just down the street--pretty decent cup, if not stunning. Quite disappointed by their cheese danish, though.

Next was a walk to Metropole, a beautiful store recently upgrade to Reserve, where I had to beg off the baristas offer of a free sample of a special coffee because I had already had the required cup. Once ready to go, I discovered that the next store, Manggarai Station, was shut according to Google, and the baristas said it had closed two years earlier, but is still on the Starbucks website. Decided to hop over to a major cluster of stores, starting with Wisma BNI 46, BUT I sorta wasted my rideshare because the store ended up being closed on Saturday, despite what Google Maps said. The next nearby store was also closed until Monday, but Citywalk was only about 15 minutes away.

Picked up some groceries before the Starbucks, then spotted a ramen place and enjoyed a pretty good bowl from Ramen Bari-Uma. Worth point out that this ramen was quite simple--broth, noodles, pork, egg, and scallions, and it was better than many of the more complex ramens I've had that include things like fish cake, sprouds, nori, and other ingredients.

Another short walk, to Benhil, where I found that I was caught up enough on tasks, including plotting the Singapore stores and deciding that I would stay from the 18th to the 23rd. I found a cheap flight to Chennai, and I immediately began the process of applying for an eVisa. Of the three online applications I had done so far, including Vietnam and Lao, this was BY FAR the most complex, with questions including info about my parents, past visa # (which I do not have), and a list of countries where I'd traveled. Even worse, when I made a mistake on one page, it lost all my data for that page, and I had to do it again. Another error during payment, but by that point the application progress was saved, so I was able to go back into the system at the next store (a time delay was imposed) and make the payment after two tries.

Most of the stores in the area were closed--I really had picked the wrong part of town, but it looked like with two at Lotte, and two more nearby, I could get to ten. With the sun setting, I did not want to kill too much time at Lotte and tried to speed my trip to Kuningan City with a Grab, but as we sat in traffic I realised that in this case, Google Maps directions might have overlooked a crossing point, and I think I could have just walked the distance without losing time. Finished up at Kuningan quickly and hurried to Oakwood in time to get a halfway decent photo before the sun completely set.

Wifi had not worked at Kuningan, and the mall wifi was spotty, and I could not get anything at the Oakwood store, but I discovered a strong network at the nearby Satrio One across the street, and I used that as an excuse to try the "pancakes" from Baby Dutch Pancake. Quite different from traditional, and not really my think. Because they were small, I tried a rosti also and then took a Grab back to Konko.

January 12


Despite having gotten to bed later than I hoped, I still wasn't able to sleep past 7 am, giving up around 6:30 and out the door fairly quickly. Considering walking to the first store, but I really wanted to spot plates. Leg wasn't great, but it was not terrible either, not agonising like it has been some mornings.

Started off the morning walking in the same direction as the day before, but I bypassed Sabang and went to Menara Thamrin, which was deep inside the office tower complex and hard to find, and then I headed north towards Gedung Sarana Jaya, a store in a complex where the U.S. Embassy was, and thus requiring two security checkpoints. From there I walked to Tanah Abang, the Community Store, and then Cideng. Finally, after Tomang Raya, I had to hire a Grab to get me to the next cluster, starting with Mal Ciputra Citra Grand Cibubur where the challenge was to sort out a discrepancy, because I had a store called Citraland in my database, but the partners at Mal Ciputra said that was Citraland. Later, at the UNTAR store, a partner explained that there had been a temporary store inside the mall, and that might be what is showing up on the app.

During the walk to the next few stores I scored a cheap haircut, barely $3, great for these super hot days, plus ditching the white that seemed to come earlier and earlier. Lots of stores in the area of Central Park and nearby to bring me to a total of 13 for the day, excellent progress. Once again for dinner I had a nasi (rice) dish, and I was pleasantly surprised that at these huge malls I was still able to find meals for around $3-4.

At Taman Anggrek Mall, I finished up my uploading and posting then took a Grab all the way back to Konko, where I found two top bunks empty--it was just me and the Russian woman, and she was not around, so I had a pretty much quiet evening with only one disturbance when she returned with some man, they exchanged some dialogue, and then she went to bed.

January 11


Because my body was an hour ahead, I was up around 6:30, figuring that by the time I'd get ready, some nearby Starbucks would be open. I quickly discovered that the store locator was once more accessible, and all of a sudden I felt MUCH BETTER.

Right outside of the hostel I spotted my first unfound word, FAV, and as I walked towards the Sabang store, I ready through the Wikipedia entry and confirmed that plates should have three letters at the end. Over the course of the day I'd become sure that the O with slash, or slightly not-round O shape, were both valid Os, and that meant many needed words would be up for grabs in Jakarta. This created pressure for me to walk as much as possible, which was at odds with my thigh pain. For the next few stores, though, Jakarta Theater (Skyline), Plaza BII, MRT Bundaran HI, the distances were so close that it did not matter.

I then spent about five hours almost entirely inside, because between Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia, two adjacent malls, there were FIVE Starbucks, and I also spotted % Arabica and decided to give them another try, after having ejoyed enjoyed the cup I had in Kyoto. This cup was not as good, but I was till happy to return to some craft coffee exploration after a break while in Cambodia and Malaysia because of my stomach.

All those cafes inside the mall were benefit to me because it rained, hard, that afternoon, and as I sat a Arabica, I wonderes how soaked I would get crossing the road. Fortunately, by the time I headed to Grand Indonesia, the rain had lightened some, and I had no need of those barefoot umbrella kids. Even better, by the time I finished at GI, the rain was much lighter, making it easier for me to walk a longer distance, to Plaza UOB and then Tata Puri, the Signing Store.

Because of the wifi sitch back at the hostel, I had to change my modality. I prefer to eat dinner then head to the hostel to upload photos and digest, but I had to do it differently. I needed to stay at Tata Puri, my 11th store, and do all my uploading along with Starbucks photo calls, and only then could I head back.

Since I needed food, I did not want to book a Grab all the way back, but I lucked out, and I was right across from a metro that took me one station up, from where the walk was only 25 minutes, and I was able to stop and get some more of that nasi (rice) stuff that I'd had for lunch.

January 10


Stomach was still good in the morning, EXCEPT for the anxiety I was feeling over the broken store locator. Since I was up before 7, I did some fiddling, but I really couldn't burn time with that and had to head out soon to see one new store near KL Sentral, at NU Tower, then at the next station, Menara Etiqa, and finally another metro hop to sprawling complex that included the Gardens Mall, the Mid Valley Megamall, and, first KL Ecocity. That was the easy one, and then I used up the rest of my time trying to figure out which stores were old, which had closed, and which were new/relocated. For the first one, I had to ask a supervisor who called another store manager, but still no answer until I noticed a unit number in a photo that confirmed that this was an older store but with a radically different look. In the end there were three new ones, and at the final one, the Reserve store, I found a partner who was able to answer most of my questions.

By the time I finished and booked a Grab to the airport (returning to Sentral for the airport train made no sense), I was worried that if I lost any time at all, my flight would be in jeopardy. The drive to the airport was smooth as silk, but then I got caught up in reshooting the Gateway store, then confirming that the first store I saw in the departures area was simply renamed. At that point I had to hurry through immigration where I lost a few minutes because the immigration agent saw something in my passport and had to consult with two colleagues. Security went fast, BUT there were two checkpoints before I could reach the L gates, where I was dismayed to discover limit food options that forced me to resort to a chicken sandwich from Burger King if I wanted a proper meal so I would not be hungry on the flight, as Air Asia gives NOTHING for free.

Because I rushed through the morning, I did not prioritise downloading any new comics, and it wasn't until the long Burger King line that I started, but only two came down, plus a few existing ones in my library. That would not fill the two-hour flight to Jakarta, but I used the time to sort out some database issues, and we were soon landing.

Visa-on-arrival was a much longer process than Phnom Penh, but simple enough, and I was soon in the arrivals area where I exchanged $100 so I'd have enough for the hostel in case all money changers in area were closed. I then tried to find a Starbucks, sure that there was one before security at T2, where I was, but the guard wasn't being helpful about locating it, and this was one of those airports that is restricted. I abanadoned that plan and considered a Grab to a nearby store, but I quickly decided that I'd be better off heading to the hostel where there was a heavier concentration.

I found the bus area and bought a ticket for a bus to Stasiun Gambir, in about 20 minutes, and I went to the covered bus depot a few minutes away. Signage was poor, so I had to keep listening for an employee to shout the correct destination. During the wait I tried Indonesian roti for the first time, and it was quite different from all roti I had previously experienced, and rather sweet. I finally got onto the bus after the employee indicated it was the right one, but when it stopped at T3 and an agent checked my ticket, he said the bus WAS NOT going to Gambir. Somehow I had missed the 16:15 bus, so I had to wait for the 17:15.

Since I was at T3, I figured I might as well get my first Indonesian Starbucks out of the way. I had 30 minutes. I rushed in, and the Starbucks was a minute away. The manager was quite helpful with my questions, but it still took a while to brew the coffee. By the time I finished it was quite close to 17:15, and I wanted to find a loo before the hour+ trip, BUT I COULD NOT FIND A LOO IN THE AIRPORT TERMINAL!!!

I abandoned my loo plans and just rushed back to the bus ares, where I tried to figure out if the Gambir bus was there, but none of the employees were helpful. Fortunately the bus arrived a few minutes later, and we were soon at Gambir Station where I was able to get some dinner and my second Starbucks, along with a Starbucks card. To my disappointment, like Shanghai, I could not use my credit card--I had to reload the Starbucks card in cash.

Walked 10 minutes to the hostel, went up the wrong stairs, then up the right stairs. Check-in was smooth, and I was happy that they had secured the bottom bunk for me, because I'd be staying 7 days. However, when I got up to the common area on the 5th floor to upload photos, I discovered that my laptop would not stay connected to the wifi, and even when it was, it would not connect to FTP, nor even to Gmail. I tried downstairs, where there was no outlet, but no luck. I had to just use my phone, which WAS picking up the signal, to make my IG post and leave the photos for next day.

January 9


After a night of dream anxiety, during which I dreamt about the broken store locator and how it would affect my project, I woke up to one of my roughest mornings of the entire project, beause of a COMBINATION OF THINGS. Healthwise, I did not feel horrible, but not great either. I felt like I often feel after a day of heavy Starbucking, when withdrawal was beginning, and so I could not tell if I was actually feeling bad because of my stomach issue. Nothing when I got onto the toilet, but that might have been because I had already expelled everything. Wifi continued to be pitifully slow, and this made it impossible to download podcasts, continue watching a Netflix show I was binging, and, worse, it caused a LONG FACEBOOK POST I had composed to be lost. Also, later, when I got to Starbucks at The Exchange, I discovered that my lighting cable was missing, doubtlessly left in the room because I had made no other stops. Fortunately I had another, but I did not need any further hassles.

Less walking to start out the morning because I headed straight to the metro, although once I reached The Exchange, it took me quite more walking than I hoped to find a Starbucks, but it was the Reserve, not open til 10, so I headed over to Exchange 106 where I was able to rest and upload photos while waiting for 10 am. Headed back to the Reserve store, and then my jaw dropped when I got outside and Google said it would take OVER AND HOUR to get across the street to RHB Centre. I ignored Google and decided to investigate for myself, and I spotted a pedestrian bridge and made the trip in about 10 minutes.

The next store was 28 minutes according to Google, and while I was tempted despite my leg, it was drizzling, and route seemed complex, so I took a grab to MyTown. At some point I realised I had gone 16 hours with diarrhea and felt much better, and on the walk over to Sunway Velocity I passed a street food hall and decided to risk the fried rice.

Sunway Velocity Medical Centre and Sunway Velocity Mall were right next to each other, and from there a short walk to the Aeon Taman Maluri where I managed to find a small enough bundle of bananas to justify buying (with a flight the next day), plus a couple of apples. From there, Viva Home was also walkable, and at that point I needed to switch to Grab for Komune Living and Wellness, walk to HUKM Hospital, then Grabs for Taman Connaught, Alam Damai, Petron Cheras DT, and finally Eko Cheras which required two bookings because the first one canceled. Lucked out, and Eko Cheras was mostly inside, so no need to think about a reshoot in the future, and I was finally able to relax and go get some food at the food court, my experience with mee.

I had worked it out to end up near the metro, and it was just a short walk along a link bridge to the station that got me back to the hostel. By that time I was over 24 hours without diarrhea, and feeling much better, with confidence that I was in the clear.

January 8


Slept until 9 am KL time (8 am Cambodia time), and when I got onto the toilet, it felt like I MIGHT be better. Certainly wasn't feeling that overbearing fatigue, but definitely hunger. Wifi wasn't working well, so I wanted to hurry to get to the first Starbucks to make my post. After showering I messaged the landlord, Wandi, about payment, but he did not respond promptly, so I left.

Starbucks website still having a problem, after 24 hours now.

The first store on my lap, Leboh Ampang, was a bust--not there. When I asked about it at the nearby store at a station, I was told it closed a year earlier. Still listed on the app, though--I guess Berjaya is not good about removing stores, or adding new stores. Wifi at the station store not working because their system could not print out a code, and I headed towards Capital Square until I realised that I had been there and rerouted to SOGO. Passed an Indian spot and saw roti on the menu, and I figured there was no time like the present to start my search for paratha/roti as good as what I had found in Singapore 13 years earlier. This egg roti was not exactly the same, but mighty good nonetheless. Now, could I keep it down?

I then headed to the SOGO store, where the wifi wasn't working, and I hired my first Grab, 7 MYR, not bad, to the Hospital Kuala Lumpur store, which did not offer wifi at all, nor indoor seating. So far the first four stores on my map had been a bust, in terms of amenities. The next one, though, KPJ Tawakkal, 10 minutes walking away, did have outlets and working wifi, although it was pitifully slow. One good thing, though, was that after my coffee I bought a donut and juice and discovered that I could log on to the wifi with my credentials on a different device, then enter a NEW CODE from the receipt, and I would not be knocked off the wifi on my laptop. I was able to thus use the wifi to make my best-of IG post, and despite the slow speed, the photos uploaded.

I kept popping into the loo to check my status, and it did appear that the diarrhea was diminishing, and solid faeces was starting to form, but of course until I ate a lot, I would not know for sure. Strength-wise, I was not at 100%, but I did not feel like I was on the verge of death with every walk, either. From KPJ Tawakkal I was able to walk over to the metro to get to Berjaya Central Park and a number of other stores by walking, and while I did not feel exhausted, the restroom was never far, I made sure.

I was in the heart of a heavy concentration of stores, and if I had not cleared many out in 2011 and 2015, I could have gotten near 20, health issues permitting. I thought I might go for 12, but Berjaya Times Square was not a relocation, but merely an upgrade to Reserve, and the third store had closed. That just left one more nearby, so I went down to the food court and chanced a proper meal, clay pot chicken with egg and rice. As I ate, I felt like I would be fine, but less than an hour later, at the BBCC Lalaport, I had to rush to the loo before true disaster struck.

Good thing I was calling it a night anyway, and I was able to take the metro back to the hostel and meet Wandi to make payment. Once again all I did was make my IG post, and I put off the photo uploads for yet another day and just went to sleep.

January 7


I once again woke up feeling better, AND WITHOUT A HEADACHE THIS TIME, which was surprising because I'd only had 4 1/2 coffees the day before, so I was expecting the beginnings of withdrawal. Mostly just weak because I've barely eaten in two days.

Of course, I had felt better on Saturday morning, but the day went downhill fast, so I wasn't assuming anything. As I write this, I am eating the same breakfast as yesterday, peanut butter toast and a mixed fruit plate, and I imagine I'll find out within a few hours if my stomach is going to handle it.

I set out earlier than the day before and took a tuk-tuk to the 313 Quayside store, arriving around 10 AM. Depending upon whether certain office building stores were closed on Sunday, I was sure I could make it to four, but I hoped for five or better. However, just down the block from the store I spotted a few massage parlours with what appeared to be the super low price of $5, and I had to investigate and ended up learning a new lesson. If it seems to go to be true...

Thing of it is, when I first wisited Thailand in 2011, I noticed massages on the beach in Phuket for about $3-4, if I remember correct. And back in Lao, I was seeing prices of $5-6 on the low end, so when I left the 313 Quayside Starbucks this morning and noticed the $5 price on a massage sign, it did not seem like anything was amiss. I still wasn't sure if I wanted to try it, both because I did not feel great and because I wanted to get to at least five Starbucks before heading to the airport. Then a masseuse came out and used her hand to indicate that the price was lowered to THREE DOLLARS, and I just could not pass that up. Even if the massage was bad, or a pretense for something else, and I cut it short, $3 is nothing.

Now, wherever I get massage and a shower is available first (because if it has been more than a few hours since I left my accommodation, I might be sweaty), the masseuse typically indicates for me to undress and leave my things in the room, but I NEVER do that. I always undress in the bathroom, even if it is cramped and my backpack gets wet while I shower, simply because I cannot risk leaving my backpack unattended. This time around I did not need a shower, since I had just left the hostel about 30 minutes earlier, and when the masseuse indicated for me to put my bag inside a locker, initially my suspicions were raised, but since the locker was in the room where I would be, right next to the bed, that seemed safe enough.

Other precautions against theft (because I have seen masseuses try to take money out of my jeans pocket) is to put my phone and iPod in my bag, and to minimise how much cash I have in my pockets, and that is what I did, and then I placed my jeans and bag in the locker. About a minute or two into the massage, though, I got a bad feeling, wondering if somehow the back of that locker could be opened from the adjacent room, as farfetched as that sounded. For my peace of mind, I indicated to the masseuse that I needed my phone (her English was almost zero), and slid over to the locker to grab it, and I used that as a pretense to remove the backpack and keep it next to my head.

Did not take me long to realise that the "massage" was going to be mediocre, if even that, really more the type of weak rubbing typical of places where massage is a pretense for something else. I figured I'd get whatever relaxation I could, stay off my feet for a short bit, pass on whatever extra was offered, and maybe end it early since I'd only be out $3, or $5 if I told her to keep the change. Then she coughed, and I was not thrilled about that given this new strain of COVID-19 going around. The coughing persisted, and I became more concerned. When she asked me to turn over, I motioned for her to pull up the translation app on her phone, and I said we could finish the massage.

She appeared confused, and meanwhile I opened up the locker, and when I checked my pants for the $5 I was going to give her, whaddayaknow, it was gone, along with the $10 I also had, but not the small amount of riel I had in the other pocket. I was instantly both annoyed that I had let them rob me, and RELIEVED that my gut had spurred me to remove my backpack from the locker. I shuddered at the thought of what I could have lost, and what a disaster that would have been, and I felt that losing those $15 was an insignifican price to pay to be reminded that the world is full of thieves and grifters, and any foreigner just looks like a fat juicy target.

Even though I was sure I had placed those U.S. bills in my jeans, I still looked on the floor, under the bed, in the locker, just in case, and I even went into the other room and opened up that locker to see how feasible it seemed that someone could have opened that back metal panel. It did not really look possible, and what must have happened is that someone came into the room stealthily and opened the locker without my noticing. Meanwhile, the masseuse used her phone to ask what I was looking for, and I replied that I had $15 in my pants. She then went into an Academy-award worthy performance of pretending that she didn't know what happened and helping me look, even though she was of course in on it.

As soon as I got outside, I googled "phnom penh massage theft", and a Reddit thread with some horror stories instantly came up (see link in comment) by customers explaining how they'd been scammed or robbed, specifically at those $5 parlours. Someone even suggested that those places might be in league with the police, not that I ever considered trying to call the cops over $15. That is just a BAD idea in most countries, probably even in parts of the United States.

Lesson learned, to either keep my jeans in sight along with my backpack, or to remove all cash from the jeans.

However, the upside of cutting short the massage was that I had an extra 30 minutes of Starbucking, and I also lucked out that the Sathapana Tower store was actually open despite what I'd seen on Google earlier, and what the baristas at Quayside had told me. Soyra Mall made three, and there I was told that Exchange Square and Monivong were actually open despite what Google said, so I headed over there, and they were indeed open, bring me to five.

Meanwhile, even though I was not feeling the overwhelming fatigue from the day before, my stomach was far from settled, and I had to keep taking pit stops, most of which were false alarms, but I could not take the chance anyway.

From HKL Preah Monivong I decided that it was worth taking a little bit more time to stop at TK Royal 1 since it was literally on the way to the airport, AND my experience thus far had been that tuk-tuk drivers arrived within 1-3 minutes, so I would not lose much time stopping their then catching another to the airport. Plus the flight was already delayed, and it would end up being significantly delayed.

Unfortunately, despite my walking that morning, I spotted NO VALID/NEEDED PLATES, and thus Cambodia became the first country that should have had valid plates but was a bust. I had one final opportunity at the airport, after retrieving my boarding pass, to go out into the parking lot, but I really did not want to be rushed, not the way I felt, and I wanted to get some calories in me, so after security I immediately found a restaurant and had some spaghetti, which also enabled me to rid myself of final riel (using a card for the remainder).

I lucked out that the flight was delayed some more, because this gave me time to do one more pit stop that was not in a cramped airplane loo, probably giving up much of that spaghetti I had eaten 1-2 hours earlier. On the plane I lucked out and had an aisle seat, and that made it possibe for me to rush to the loo as soon as the seat belt sign went off, but I did not have any serious emergency during the flight.

Immigration was a breeze, and the agent did not even as to see the Digitial Malasyian Arrival Card. I went ahead and exchanged $100 USD even though I'd been told the rates were better in town, because I assumed I would need it for the train, but in contrast to transport at many of the other countries across Asia, the KLIA Ekspress preferred contactless payment.

First, though I spotted a Starbucks, and it was a new one, but I did not exactly "check it off my list" because it was in my list at all. It had opened back in October, replacing an airside store, but I was not able to figure out which store it used to be. From the perspective of this trip, it did not matter, but during my next trip to KL, I'd have a problem if I did not have an actual name from the app. Fortunately, I took photos from three angles, plus two tiger artworks that would help me identify it in the future.

KLIA Ekspres to KL Sentral was as simple as I remembered from past trips, as was hopping onto the metro one stop to where Birdnest was. Took me a while, maybe 5 minutes, to find the door, and then when I got upstairs I did not see the key to the room in the box. A German woman pointed out my room (8) to me, and I was able to open the door and notice that the key was inside. I messaged Wandi about come down for payment, but he said we would do it in the morning. I made my IG post and forwent uploading photos so I could go for more sleep.

January 6


Continuing the ailment...

Finally headed out, after 11 am, and walked the 8 minutes to the first Starbucks, The Point, without feeling too week, although of course the pain in my thigh was still there. A few minutes after the coffee, I felt a telltale gurgling in my stomach. I quickly packed up my laptop and rushed to the loo, but nothing. Next store, Bokor, BKK II, I tried again, but nothing. Third store, however, Noro Mall, the torrent arrived, and then again at the BKK Flagship store. Because of these delays sitting on the toilet, I ordered my coffee so it would be ready when I got out, and then I headed to the next store, figuring I had rested my thigh enough.

It wasn't just the thigh though. Although I woke up feeling better, with the full-body ache gone, and the first walk, 8 minutes, was fine. Not perfect, but fine. However, with every subsequent walk, typically 5-10 minutes, I felt worse and worse. Generally speaking, whatever the walking estimate Google Maps gives, I can do it in 75% of the time, and if I'm trotting, half the time. Not today, though--I was walking SLOWER than the Google estimate. I still did not want to take tuk-tuks, though, not only because the distances were so short and I got frustrated when the drivers did not want to give me all my change, but also because I was hoping to spot at least one valid Scrabble word on a registration plate, and I did not have much time left.

At the fourth store, my body was screaming for me to call it a day and head back, but stopping would seriously cut my average. A couple of weeks earlier I had to visit just over 5 stores per day to reach 19K in Asia in February, with BKK Flagship, I had 212 stores to go, and 25 days left in January + a few weeks in February (before getting back to Europe--Malta, Andorra, and possibly Belgium). I had hoped to wrap this up in January, though, thus giving me more flexibility to rush back if my health worsened, and a 4-store-day did not help.

I pushed on to Lucky Pavilion and took a long break to catch up on paperwork, and then I thought long and hard whether I could take a 7-minute (according to Google, longer for me), walk to the next store. In the end, my desire to stay above five stores won out, and I made the excrutiating walk to Prince Phnom Penh Tower, where I just sat there for a while before even mustering up the energy to order up a tuk-tuk back to the hostel.

Returned to Sacred Lotus around 16:00, perhaps the earliest I had ever stopped my Starbucking in my entire 136-day journey. I asked the staff what time the kitchen closed (20:40), and then I went upstairs to eat a banana and then pass out. A couple of hours later I still felt awful, but incredibly hungry, and with enough energy to at least go downstairs and eat some vegan congee while doing my paperwork.

Back up in my room, I was not able to fall asleep right away because I had to make about half a dozen trips to the loo, sometimes requiring a trip downstairs because the one on my floor was occupied. Most of these trips were just sitting there, but eventually it was clear that I was not through with the diarrhea (no more womiting, though).

Also, a mosquito got into my room. I tried to get rid of it by leaving my room door open so that the skeeter would be attracted to the light in the hallway, but that did not seem to work. HOWEVER, I got lucky during one trip back from the loo, and the mosquito just happened to appear right next to my blanket, within reach of my clapping hands. Two claps, and I got it. Later during the night, another mosquito showed up, and I had to turn on the aircon so I could cover myself up with a blanket.

Oh, one thing I did, just in case I was still feeling awful in Kuala Lumpur, was to upgrade from the 4-bed dorm to a single room for roughly twice the price. If I continued to feel aweful, the cost would be worth it.

January 5


Up shortly before 7 and fumbled a bit with the shower, because of the two available, I could not figure out how to turn on the water in one, and the other did not have a place for me to set my washcloth and razor, thus forcing me to be super careful that I did not drop my iPod. Downstairs I hung out for about an hour finishing up a 2023 BEST OF post, and then I walked 10 minutes to the Toul Tom Pong Starbucks. On the way I stopped to exchange $50 in the area near the Russian market, and I had to try two different money changers because the first did not like any of my hundred-dollar bills. At the second, I had to pull out my envelope full of bills to select one they would accept, and this made me nervous because the vendor in the next stall was looking on, and the last thing I wanted was for people to know how much cash I was carrying. After the exchange I hurried down the street and looked over my shoulder all the way to the Starbucks.

Given my leg, and the loooow tuk-tuk prices using Grab, there was no chance of my walking 35 minutes to the next store, at ChipMong--I just booked a tuk-tuk. At ChipMong the barista/supervisor did not push back on a short coffee, the first of four stores where I had not had to argue the point.

I had chosen to pick off the outlying stores, and that turned out to be a fortutious decision, because all stores after the first one required tuk-tuk rides, and the way I felt, walking in that heat would have been a disaster. It wasn't just my leg, which desperately needed rest, but also stomach discomfort and a bout of diarrhea followed by a feeling of fatigue that persisted through the afternoon. For lunch I just had a simple doner + meat sandwich, and I wasn't even sure my stomach could handle that, but I needed the calories.

Had to complete a digital arrival card for Malaysia.

Even though I was making use of tuk-tuks, I was also spending a lot of time in each Starbucks because I lacked energy, plus multiple trips to the loo, and in the end I only go to eight stores, plus one reshoot, before I called it and decided to head back to the hostel, quite early, around 18:00.

All I ate after the doner kebab were two yoghurts (out of a pack of three), and for the second one I had to step outside the hostel, because they are wegan and do not want any meat or dairy.

More ailment details...

January 4


Final day in Bangkok, and I had to hustle to get to as many Starbucks as possible, BUT I still took my time with the packing, both to ensure I did not leave anything, but also to have the best and most comfortable arrangement of things. I had some calls to make before I got out, but I was soon at that T-One store that had been closed through the holiday.

As I walked, I debated whether I should exchange currency to have enough for transportation and any food on the way to the airport. I only had about 380 THB left, and I mitigated the deficit by buying a yoghurt using my Starbucks card (and later loading the card with a credit card), but I winced at Kinu Donut when I misunderstood and could not use a card, which forced me to use up 90 BHT. Fortunately my BTS/MRT rides were limited because of my specific route, and by the time I got to Mo Chit, where I would catch the A1 NGV bus to DKM for 30 BHT, I had more than enough, even for a 25 BHT waffle from The Waffle, which I finally found after five days. I had seen other kiosks during my stay in Bangkok, but I had not been hungry at the time. I had adored The Waffle during my 2011 visit, and this time the waffle was just as good as I remembered.

Despite my rush, I took my time, in part because of the leg, and in part to rework my Brunei arrangements, canceling the hostel because of their complex self check-in procedure, and booking a hotel for about $30 more instead, and also booking flight to Singapore, where I hoped to play in a tournament. By the time I got to Spring Tower, only my seventh store of the morning, I decided to call it and head straight to Mo Chit, where I could visit one more store at the MRT then catch the A1 bus to the airport.

The wait for the bus was longer than expected, MUCH LONGER than the 10 minutes Google indicated, and I started getting worried and thinking about hiring a Grab, but finally the bus showed up, and it got us to the airport quick, a good thing because I needed every minute.

I lost a lot of time at the first store I saw, Donmueang Airport Inter Land 3F, trying to confirm that it was not the same store I visited in 2016. One of the easiest ways might have been to simply look at the top of the receipt, but I could not find any lying around. I tried to explain my purpose to the baristas, but they did not quite get it. I then tried to get them to show me a receipt, any receipt, so that I could see the name of the store, but they refused. I had to buy a coffee and tell them NOT TO MAKE IT, just in case this was the same store I had been to, and then I was able to see that it was Donmueang Airport Inter Land 3F and have them prepare the coffee. The whole situation was awkward, and the first time in my Starbucking history that a barista had refused to let me see the name of the store on the receipt.

Next store, upstairs, was easy, then I cleared immigration and security, also easy, and then I found the first airside store, also easy once the wait died down. However, I could not access the Domestic side to go check whether that store I moved, and the longer I went without doing that, the less the chances that anyone would remember. Nothing to do but go over to the final store, which WAS NOT at Gate 22, like the barista said, but fortunately a customer confirmed that it was further down (by Gate 26). I then lucked out and managed to spend the remaining 165 on my Starbucks card on a juice, and then my remaining 121 THB on chocolate and Haribo Gold Bears before rushing to Gate 5, only to find out that the flight had been moved...

TO GATE 26!!!

Back at the gate, I confirmed that I had 10 minutes before closing and used the time to buy a crappy hot dog from Dairy Queen, then eat it before rushing back into the washroom to wash up. I then rushed to the Gate and passed through, AND THEN I COULD NOT FIND MY WATER BOTTLE!!!

In America, they would not have let me back through, but here they just took my passport and allowed me to pop into the loo, where the bottle was sitting on the counter.

Flight itself was short and easy, for me at least. For the passenger next to me, he was confused about the landing card and asking for help, but I could not understand him, nor could the flight attendant. He might have been speaking Mandarin--not sure. Later it appeared that the passenger by the window understood him and helped.

Upon arrival at PNH, the visa-on-arrival processed seemed much smoother and quicker than in 2016, and I was soon out in the hall, where I bypassed the currency exchange in the hopes of shopping for rates outside, but as it turned out I exited to the outside, rather than a landside arrival hall, which is what most airports have, and there were no exchange bureaus. I was allowed back into the customs area (something else that would not happen in the United States) after presenting my passport, and I took a look at the rate, which did not seem that good. However, I had discovered that the nearby Starbucks did not require a tuk-tuk--it was only 10 minutes by foot, so I just headed there in hopes of finding exchange.

Usual procedure at the Starbucks...

January 3


Timing for me to be alone in the room was great, because it was finally time to do laundry, and with no dormmates, it was easier for me to prepare my clothing to stuff in my bag (leaving almost everything else in locker/bed) and head to the laundromat 9 minutes away. Process took over an our, between figuring things out and then 25 minutes for drying, more than I wanted, and after all that I realised I had left a shirt, the one I had put on a few days earlier. Nothing to do but keep wearing it in order to keep the other two fresh.

Headed in the other direction (along the BTS) this time, because on Thursday I'd be going back north towards the DMK airport. Two stores near Phra Khanon station, then a few minutes away to Single Lane coffee, another excellent cup. I was running a bit behind for ten stores, but I did not let that stop me from stopping for a cheap lunch at the intersection a down the block from Single Lane. As typical, rice and egg, with some type of chicken that had a few vegetables mixed in, a bit spicy.

Walking to the next two stores, taking break to book car and hostel for Brunei, then walk to the Century On Nut store before hopping back onto the BTS to get to the next store. Then the next one was a reshoot, 101 The Third Place, and I was reminded that I keep forgetting to go through all my Bangkok photos looking for reshoots I need and and putting them on my map.

I then booked my first Grab in a few days, since arriving in Bangkok, to get to Bitec 7 minutes after 16:00 and discovering that GOOGLE MAPS WAS RIGHT. I had disbelieved Google when it reported a 16:00 closing time, and I asked the baristas at 101 the Third Place. They showed me the app, which said 19:00, so I went anyway, but Wednesday was early closing for some reason.

Something weird though, I lost my water bottle, and not knowing how was unnerving. Could it really have fallen out of of the pouch on the side of my backpack from the movement of the bike? If that was possible, what else might fall out?

Fortunately I had not wasted the trip, because the HomePro store was just 10 minutes walking away, and the upside of losing my bottle was that I looked at the food stands in the hallway for another bottle and found some really good OJ for just 35 baht.

I then took another taxibike to LaSalle's Avenue, then to Central Bangna for a reshoot, then walk to Little Walk, then the final taxibike of the night to JAS Urban Srinakarin. After that store I noticed that there was a metro line running in the direction of a reshoot store, and when I got to the lobby and went to buy a ticket, a guard told me it was free. I messaged Annop, and he told me that the Yellow Line was in a trial period. That was awesome, EXCEPT that trains were not running frequently, and after nearly minutes of waiting I decided that if I actually took advantage of the free line to get to a series of stores, the waits would add up, and I'd be back at the hostel really late. I decided to call it, switched to the other platform, and took the Yellow Line to Samrong where it connected to the BTS which I took back to Ekkamai. Had some more cheap pad thai, then back to the hostel.

January 2


Leg hurting more than most mornings, but regarding sleep I felt caught shortly after 7 am and was soon out and around the corner at Rolling Roasters, where I enjoyed a pretty good natural Colombian.

First store of the day was a bust, T-One, in an office building but closed even though it was January 2nd. I had actually been expecting this, because I had been told that a couple of office stores near PARQ would be closed until Wednesday. However, the next one, Athenee Tower, was open, which meant that they were going to be hit or miss. What made sense, then, was to hop straight to an area with a lot of stores, preferrably not "Tower" stores.

Same as the day before, I took breaks at each store to catch up on tasks and make plans for the next month, finally booking my flight to Jakarta and then Brunei, plus hostels in KL and Jakarta.

Found my "cheapest" lunch yet, just 40 THB for a full place of chicken, sausage, rice, and soup, BUT at the exchange rate from a few days earlier, the cost came out to $1.17, more than the $1.02 that the 45 THB at the 2016 exchange rate came to (for the pad thai from the 30th).

Next, back to the Siam area to pick up Palladium, then three reshoots before heading over to the Shibuya 19 store, a walk that took more time than usual because the area was hellah busy. Right next to the Starbucks was Waffle Maru, and they had croffles on the menu, my third, and my best one yet, with more of a distinct croissant taste than the second one I'd had.

I then headed to a nearby (25 min) cluster of stores, but when I spotted a BTS station, I remember that I had bought a BTS one-day pass and needed to make the most of it, so I hopped on the train and went all the way up to a cluster in Ladprao. The four stores were all relatively close and easy to do, and I was able to hop back onto the BTS while it was still light and get down to Rajavithi Hospital just minutes before it closed, then FIVE FIFTEEN VICTORY before it was completely dark.

Since it was dark, and the next door inside, I took a break for a cheap dinner before heading into Victory Hub.

January 1


My headache worsened through the night, and I wanted to stay in bed as long as possible to catch up on sleep, but around 7:30 I gave up and downed my coffee + shot from the night before. I was not eager to set off with a pounding head, AND I needed to charge up my equipment, AND I wanted to take advantage of the faster wifi to continue my refresh. I used the time to upload my photos, and then I tried to kill a little more time with some food from the hostel, but the only thing I wanted was a bagel, and they did not have a toaster, only a microwave.

Over at the Starbucks, though, they had pancakes, and they were actually THE BEST Starbucks pancakes I had ever taste, quite soft like the ones from the Frontier restaurant.

Since I had managed 15 stores the night before, I had less pressure to get to a lot today, and I figured my day would be light anyway because of the holiday, so I slow-walked it, opting instead to maximise algorithm time while completing tasks. First I verified that I could get a visa-on-arrival in Jakarta. Then, at the next store, I booked my flight to KUL. Then I had to start the process of cleaning up the Malaysia stores in my database so I could begin plotting KL stores, a requirement for booking a hostel and deciding on 2 v 3 days.

Right as I was about to leave K Village, I spotted Uchidaya Ramen across the hall way and decided it was a good time, primarily because I could pick up the wifi and continue the database refresh. As it turned out, though, the ramen was pretty good, with an above-average broth.

I then headed to a cluster of four stores, hoping that at least a few would be open, and I lucked out. The PARQ was open, and MedPark Hospital, but the other two would need to wait. From that area I was able to hop onto the MTR, my first ride of this trip, and take it two stops to Silom where there were many stores. The first was closed, but the next two were open. From Samyan Mitrtown I walked up to the sprawling Siam area. I thought I had two new stores in MBK Center, but only the Duplex store was new. When I got up to MBK-SF Cinema City and went to record it, I saw that I had already visited, yet somehow that store had gotten onto my map, along with a few others. I had to pause and examine the map to try and remove the duplications, but for the life of me I could not figure out what happened. Still, I got better photos of that store, and then over to the Mahboonkrong for better photos before heading across the street to SIAMSCAPE to bring my total to eleven on day. Not the twelve I had expected, but still enough to keep me ahead of my 19K schedule.

I left SIAMSCAPE through a back exit and walked down some smaller streets, where an alley caught my eye. I walked down to see if there was anything interesting, and I found Nunu Toast, serving up fried ice cream for my first such experience--delicious. Filling, too, so that when I returned to Ekkamai to discover that the street food was not open, I just bought a soy/protein from 7-11, and that was enough to keep me from being as hungry during the night.


December 31


In the morning I got up wondering if the guest in the bottom bunk would check out early so I could take it, so I would not have to return and lose time, BUT it turned out that they had never arrived at all during the night. Since checkout was only a few hours away, I figured I might as well move my things to that bunk, and those things to the top. To avoid confusion if/when that person arrived, I left a note explaining, with my email, and then I went downstairs and explained to the hostel staff.

The first store was just minutes up the road, but I had to skip the next because it was in a tower, and closed for the weekend/holiday. Instead I hopped on the BTS to Phrom Phong for the beautiful EmQuartier Sky Garden store and then two reshoots. By that time, it was getting close to 10:30, when I was supposed to meet Annop, so I headed to Siam station. While I was on the BTS, Annop said he had taken a wrong turn and was going to be late, so I took the opportunity to visit the newer Siam Square One store, a flagship (right across the hall from the old), and then across to Siam Paragon because I thought I had a store to visit there, but I was wrong. Later on I would discover that I had mapped about half a dozen stores that I had already visited, but I had no idea why that happened.

While I was at Siam Paragon, Annop said he was parked, so I left and made a beeline for the Duck Donuts, except it wasn't a beeline because I was totally disoriented, and it took me longer to find Siam Discovery, then the donut shop.

The Duck Donuts in Bangkok, my first outside North America, was pretty awesome, the largest I'd seen in a long time, ever since the company started shrinking their footprint back in the States. To celebrate I had the most donuts ever, three, including a French toast one, plus 3/4 of another donut because buying six (the two others were for Annop) was a better deal. After taking an epic selfie and enjoying the donuts, we headed off for a few hours of Starbucking that included reshoots, relocations, mistaken relocations, and brand new stores. We finished up at EmSphere, then Annop said hi to a friend at a matcha place, and finally we walked to Terminal 21 for a hearty pizza lunch at a place he knew. We then headed down into the MRT station, where I visited the Starbucks, and Annop headed off to clean the house.

From the MRT I headed up to Baan Kampu, but I screwed up and bypassed Ocean Tower 2, thinking it was closed because of the holiday. Then I learned from a barista that Ocean Tower 2 would be open til 5, so I backtracked down there, then back up to the MRT Phetchaburi store. Rasa Two was closed, so I headed to the Grand President hotel, with 17:00 fast approaching, and I saved some time with my first boat taxi ride. Didn't matter, because the Starbucks did not close at 17:00, but still, any walking spared was a good thing.

I did not try to rush to the next set of stores, figuring they'd be open later since they were near Siam, a super busy area. First was to reshoot Graysorn Village, then new store in the same building before weaving my way through the New Year's crowds to the Market at M1. Then things got unreal.

The final cluster of stores for the day (two, I thought, but actually three) was across from Gaysorn/Big C/Market in Central World, BUT there was a massive New Years event occuring, with live music, throngs of people, beaucoup police, and the road blocked off, which meant that I could not cross, not even using the pedestrian skybridge, which was also blocked off. Probably took me an hour to get from one side to the other, and once I did, I had to show my passport to gain access to the passage that led to the mall, even though I was not actually going to the event. Similarly, I could see that customers exiting the mall towards the event side also had to show ID, but fortunately, once I finished, I found that the other side exits were not restricted.

Once inside, I had to hunt around for a long time, over 15 minutes I'd guess, before I found any kind of directory that pointed me to the nearest Starbucks. Unfortunately, it was on the 1st floor, and I had no Starbucks on the first floor shown on my app. I had get the attention of a partner who in turn went to get an English-speaking supervisor, and we went back and forth as I asked when the store opened and tried to explain that the store was not listed, until finally she said that the name USED TO BE "World Trade Center". I sat down to try and sort this out and finally realised that the store that was called "World Trade Center" on the app was called "Central World-First Fl." on the app. All said and done, I was going on 45 minutes, maybe an hour, and then I still had to find the 2nd and 5th level stores. Those went quicker, but it was still quite late once I exited the mall and proceeded to walk AWAY from the event in search of food. I had trouble seeing any, until finally, near the Siam BTS, I spotted some restaurants and settled on noodle soup from a street vendor.

Had to fight my way through pedestrians again to get onto the BTS down to the Nana station, where, finally after three days in Bangkok, I found a good massage, although the price was around $15, twice what they were charging in Lao. Headed back to the hostel, arriving shortly before midnight, and it was easy to wait until the New Year while making my IG post. I was exhausted, so I left the uploading of photos to the next day.

Finally up in the room, I found it empty, as I expected, because any guests would be out partying. Two sets of bags were on beds, though, but since they were not around, I was able to turn on the light and move stuff from my bed to my locker. First, though I plugged in my laptop now that I had access to the outlet, BUT I discovered that IT DID NOT WORK. I quickly tested the other two outlets, and they DID work, so it just happened to be the one next to me, which sucked because I needed to run my refresh algorithm all night. Even if I trusted that the two other guest would return from partying and immediately crash, not mess with my laptop, I could not use either of the other outlets. One would force me to place the laptop on the floor where a guest, drunk or just fumbling in the dark, would step on it, and the other one would require me to reach past a guest's head in the morning to unplug, a situation I preferred to avoid. I had no choice but to leave the laptop running unplugged, with the screen off, and hope that the battery would last all night--it did.

December 30


Took me a while to get out this morning due to my stomach, and also reworking my packing. First thing I did was to spot an English-speaker downstairs and ask if he knew where the bus terminal was, because Google Map was showing it to be quite far. He consulted with his wife, and an employee, and they all agreed that, yes, it was quite a ways outside of the city centre.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to travel there only to discover that the next bus would not leave for hours, but first I had to get the Starbucks out of the way. I had to pass by the train station where I learned that the next train was at 14:30, much too long to wait. I started leaning towards skipping Nakhon Ratchasima and started looking up flights, and I saw one at 11:55 for just $55. Plenty of time to book and get to the airport, but when I reached the Starbucks and tried, I had problems. First, the Google Flights link to the flight would not take me to the Thai Air booking page. I then went to Thai Air directly, but the 11:55 was not shown, and I figured it was because of the cutoff for online sales. I decided that I'd just go to the airport--if the flight was truly sold out, then there was Thai Lion at 12:55 or Thai AirAsia at 13:20.

Booked a taxibike on Grab, then rushed over to 7-11 for a yoghurt, and in those few minutes the driver had to cancel to go pick up his child. He needed for me to cancel, and it took me a while to figure out how, and then only with a barista's help. I quickly booked another, and she arrived in just a few minutes.

At the airport, the flight WAS available, and purchasing was a breeze, only slightly more expensive at $57, with the only hitch being that since it was a person looking at my passport with the single name, she had to check with her supervisor to confirm entering WINTER WINTER.

I had MUCH time before boarding, so I went downstairs and perused the eateries, settling on a waffle comparison from Punthai, as I had rarely seen both Liege waffles and American waffles in the same place. Besides the waffles, I was able to catch up on my paperwork then start making plans beyond Bangkok, hopefully Cambodia, Brunei, and Jakarta. I settled on a slightly more expensive AirAsia flight because they had a ticket office upstairs, and I figued the process might be quicker and teach me something. First thing I learned was that they charged more, but only $7 for that ticket, so I was okay with that. But THEN the agent told me the price had just gone up, more than $10, and at that point I decided to pass and keep trying, maybe at BKK.

Felt weird not to clear immigration at BKK (because this was a rare domestic flight for me), and I was quickly at the relocated Starbucks. I then went to information to ask about Sky Angkor ticket sales, but they did not have an office. I then went to the AirAsia office, and the ticket to PNH only cost $6 more, no surprise price increase this time, so it was worth it to me to get it out of the way and learn more about the process. Knowledge might come in handy later.

After the other Starbucks I tried to figure out if Grab drivers could come to the airport, but in the end I just decided that it was worth paying more for an airport taxi to get myself to the nearest store, at Central Village, more quickly. At Central Village I had to eat, and of course the meal was a lot more expensive (2-3 times) what I'd have paid in the city, but I was famished. After the Starbucks I had trouble with Grab, though--my first attempt at a ride failed, so I went outside to look for taxis, saw none, and tried again with Grab. After a minute I did get a ride, about 8 minutes away.

From Metro Village I just walked across the street to the other store, then back across the street and hopped on a random bus for 10 baht, hoping it would be going straight for at least 2 km. It was, although I wisely hopped off a bit early when I saw a pedestrian bridge. Had I not done that, I'm not sure I would have been able to get to the Boonthavorn Bangna store easily because after that the trip across that massive intersection to the Mega Bangna complex was onerous, 20 minutes of confusion about whether I was taking the right path across the overpass, then to get into Mega. Once in, I had to find two different Starbucks, then another one in Harborland which Google Maps said closed at 19. That seemed doubtful to me, and went anyway, and it was open. Even better, they had a mysterious "Starbucks_temp" wifi network that was super fast compared to the normal, AND did not block Bittorrent. Slow Starbucks wifi was going to be the bane of my week in Thailand, I could tell.

December 29


Up shortly before 7 and out as quickly as I could manage to reduce the chances that I would miss a bus to Udon Thani. Still had some minor tasks, and then I started walking the wrong way at first and lost nearly 10 minutes, but I skipped breakfast and reached the bus terminal by around a quarter past 8. Quickly investigated the bus options, and found two that were leaving at 9. Chose the slightly cheaper minibus for 55 THB and then walked a few minutes to find some breakfast. No English, and pics hard to understand, but I got some bread, sausage, and eggs--adequate.

Bus trip was relatively short and smooth, with one hitch, that I had no idea how to ask the driver if he would stop at Tukcom, or even if he would. I asked 3 passengers if they spoke English, but all said no. Not a huge deal, but would have saved me time, and I was still hoping to catch a late flight to BKK.

Bus stopped right in from of Udon Central, so I got that one first, and also tried the waffle--pretty good--and juice--pretty good. I then went downstairs for groceries and was disappointed to discover that groceries stores here, multiple at least, do not sell single bananas, like in Korea, but at least I was able to buy a package of three.

Discovered an answer to something that I'd been wondering about since Hong Kong, where the baristas kept having to swipe my card twice. I thought they were doing something wrong, or the machine was flaky, but it turns out that the first swipe was reporting that the card was not registered for rewards, so that's why they had to do it again. In Thailand, I registered an account, simply for the wifi, not the rewards, and after linking my card, subsequent transactions did not require two swipes.

Walked the wrong way, so I changed my plan and went to Tuk Com first, then the hospital store, stopping on the way for a haircut at less that $3. At the final store, UD Town, I discovered that my change of store sequence actually worked out in my favour, because UD Town was only 10 minutes from the bus terminal, and I arrived with just 20 minutes before the next bus. Only then did I look up the travel time to Khon Kaen and realised it was waaaay more than an hour, which created a hunger problem. Fortunately, across the street was a hole-in-the-wall where the cook had the fried rice out in five minutes, thus allowing me time to finish the entire plate and still make my bus.

Since I would not be arriving until around 18:00, I quickly guessed that I would not make even last flight to BKK and went ahead and booked a room. I wanted an early flight to BKK, but I decided I'd better wait until I finish the KK Starbucks to book. However, during the bus trip I looked for Starbucks in between KK and BKK, and I saw a cluster in a town that was about 3 hours away, so I started thinking that it might make sense, if I could get a bus without waiting too long, to try for that town on Saturday then on to Bangkok.

Earlier I had posted about how Vietnamese buses do not always come to a full stop as passengers board or alight, a risky downside, but on the other hand drivers are more willing to stop wherever on request compared to in other countries, ones like the UK which are quite strict. Well, same in Thailand, which helped me out A LOT when the driver agreed to stop right in front of Preeda Park, thus saving me the time and expense to have traveled up there. From there a barista was SUPER NICE and used her Grap app to order me a motorbike down to Wufoo for 60, half the price of a car taxi.

I had intended to call it a night and see the other two in the morning, but I wisely checked Google and saw that Central would not open until 10:30, which forced me to book another taxibike and get it out of the way before having dinner from a food card next to the mall, then walking to Lay Day, where I had to call a # and wait for someone to show up. Given all the times I had to do this on this trip, I wonder how I ever managed before my phone had coverage.

December 28


Up around 7:30 and headed over to the good toilet (not the lousy one next to the room). While shaving the liquid soap had the oddest smell of any I had ever experienced in my life, and I was glad that in the shower they had normal body wash with a normal smell.

Did some paperwork during breakfast while helping another guest, Dalim (Kurdish origin) from Portsmouth, charge his iPhone. Eggs and toast were included, but given the low prices, I ordered a pancake too, which turned out to be quite different, rather egg, but tasty nonetheless.

While on the way to reshoot Madame M I decided I really wanted to find good filtre coffee before I left the city. I popped into one place, but they did not have it. Nor did the next place shown on Google Maps. The third clearly had it on the menu, but the employee said no, presumably because she was not trained on how to prepare it. The same thing had happened at 1984 Coffee in Hanoi. A customer recommended The Cubano by Phansy, so I backtracked 3 minutes, and they did have it, my first experience with coffee from Lao, a medium. Not great, but not awful either.

Stumbled across a cluster of massages, prices around $6-7, and I figured I'd get one while I was freshly showered and feeling. Pretty good, and fortunately she spoke enough English to understand when I was telling her to stay away from my left thigh.

One more craft coffee, Drip 1920s, in a homey space that is also a hostel and plays old-timey music to go with the old-timey decor.

A little under thirty minutes walking to the Parkson Mall Starbucks, and I considered a tuk-tuk, but the 1920s staff suggested that trip might cost 100, and I wanted to keep an eye on my cash for the journey to View Mall, then the bridge. It wasn't pleasant, but I made the walk, with a couple of breaks, one when I spotted the bus station and investigated the bus to Nong Khai, and then another to purchase something that appeared to be an apple. However, I paid only 48 cents, the least I had paid for any type of apple-like thing since arriving in Asia, I think.

I tolerated the pain from Parkson to Vieng Vang, then ITECC Mall, and then I was able to (forced) to take a break from walking because of the distances. I had downloaded the LOCA app earlier at the behest of a hostel employee, but the manager of ITECC suggested Indriver, and it did in fact turn out to be a little cheaper, so I went with that and had successful rides to View Mall then to the border.

Quick sandwich to use up currency, but it's a good thing there were no chips or crisps available, otherwise I would have spent too much, because I used the loo without noticing the sign and lost 3000, and then I did in fact have to pay an exit tax, contrary to what I had determined from my searching, plus what the first immigration agent I encountered had said. Actually, I could have paid for the bus in baht, so it came out the same. 15000 left me with 4000, about 19 cents, not bad.

With the light fading, I eschewed trying to find a bus or bargain for a tuk-tuk and just went with the first lady that asked, and I managed to get to tmy first Starbucks in northern Thailand before it was dark.

Starbucks wifi was now free, but had a cumbersome registration process and only allowed one device. No special Thailand Starbucks card at this store, but I think I wanted to use up cash anyway, because I actually had 173 at better rate from 2016 than the rate right now.

December 27


Up shortly after 7 and packed pretty quickly, since I had left my thermal underpants and Starbucks cards in the backpack, and I finished up paperwork during breakfast, including getting quite close to finishing my Thailand mapping.

Bus 01 got me down to Starbucks at The Legends, and from there the walks to the next three stores were short.

27 stores into my Hanoi tour, I FINALLY had a chance to taste drip coffee, when a barista at the Vincom Star City location offered to brew it. All other baristas had given some excuse and offered Americano or, occasionally, a pour over instead.

While at the first store of the morning I had looked up the transport options to the airport, and I saw that I would end up not far from a stop for something called X.E Vietnam which would get me to the airport fairly quickly. I felt that was good enough and continued my tour without drilling down. Later, once I finished up at the last store, Trung Hoa, I looked more closely for pricing info and realised that this might be some sort of higher-priced limousine bus service. I had enough cash, but there was no guarantee that there would be seats, and that service only ran every hour. The next best option was bus 22A to the stop for bus 90, much slower, but also much cheaper, and with the bonus that 22A ran frequently, while 90 every 20 minutes. Though the trip might take close to two hours, I was pretty sure I would not have any issues with the bus filling up, so I went with that. As it turned out, I was at the airport in about 90 minutes, although the stop was at the wrong terminal, the domestic one, so I had to take a free shuttle to the international. Not that the delay mattered, as Lao Airlines check-in to Vientiane had not even begun yet, and I had to wait another 5 minutes.

Not a fan of pho, but when I spotted Big Bowl as one of the few pre-security options in the terminal, I went for it. I wanted to eat right away because I was hungry, and then I could buy a snack from Starbucks to use up my remaining currency. Mediocre pho, though, and no fork (I had finally lost mine).

WOAH, the Starbucks at the airport charges TWICE THE PRICE for a shot of espresso 80 VND v 40 in the city!!!

As the flight was short, Lao Airlines only offered a small sandwich and some biscuity things, but I was fine since I had an apple and banana that I needed to eat before customs. No issues EXCEPT that I developed the need to cough, that same sporadic cough that had appeared for the first time while in Hanoi. Fortunately it went away before I alarmed anybody.

Breeze through immigration and customs, and once again the currency exchange bureaus were offering rates better than what Google showed. I had no time to shop around, nor to eat, nor to fiddle with the wifi any longer, because as luck would have it, the 44 Airport Shuttle bus was leaving in less than 20 minutes, and the cost was barely $2.

Upon alighting in the city at the stop nearest the first Starbucks I'd encounter, a young man said hello, but he might have been a ladyboy. I returned the hello and continued to make a beeline towards the Starbucks, quite excited despite the pain to add my 62nd country to my list.

Mostly good news at the Starbucks. They had drip, and a cup discount, AND the prices were the lowest I'd seen in any country in recent memory, but the supervisor was not allowed me to sell me a short, and even though it was in the computer, he was afraid of getting in trouble. Only a 9-LAK difference, not even 50 cents, so I wasn't worried. No Starbucks card because they are new to the market, but I wanted to use cash anyway. At that particular store (unsure about others), the wifi was reeeeeally slow, though.

Passed what I thought was a crepe stand just a minute or two from the hostel, and after check-in I headed back and discovered the offering was actually roti, which is typical of this area, I think. I decided to try something new, taking the option that included banana along with egg and cheese. I prefer not to mix sweet and salty like that, but I did like this.

Momentary panic in my bed when I felt something on my arm, got up, and saw what appeared to be an insect. I quickly swatted, but it disappeared, and I wasn't sure of what I'd seen, or whether it might be a bedbug. I spent many minutes with my torch looking for bedbugs or other insects, but saw nothing. However, since my bed was right next to a fan unit that was open to the outside, insects could definitely get in. Also, the light from the outside was annoying so I used a t-shirt weighted by my water-filled tumbler to cover it, hoping it would not fall on my head during the night.

December 26


Up earlier, 6:30, so I could be showered and downstairs in time to try my mother yet again, but once again she was not speaking, not even saying "hola". Finally had the pancakes along with breakfast, and I used the wait time to sort through Thailand stores, a long-neglected task that had to be completed before I could arrive in Bangkok for 2-3 days and visit new stores.

A bus got me to the first Starbucks fairly easily, and then I rested up before undertaking a 30-minute walk along a lake to the next store, where I lucked out and the manager spoke enough English to explain that the store that had appeared on the app as "Ascott West Lake" never existed and was not forthcoming.

A few minutes south of the Lotte Mall store, I passed my first bagel shop, Banis Bagel, inside Drop Button Coffee, and decided to try it. While there I saw that they also had croffles and could not resist. A bit of awkwardness, though, because the internet went down just as she was trying to run my card, forcing me to use 140 VND, leaving me just 460-ish. Things got worse, though. When she brought out the bagel, it had no cream cheese, and it turns out that they did not have cream cheese--I do not like plain bagels. The Vietnamese white coffee was iced--I do not like iced coffee. By the time I brought this to her attention and she offered to remake the coffee, she was already working on the croffle, but I had wanted to eat the bagel first, then have the croffle made, to ensure that everything was warm.

New store at Lotte Lieu Giai was just minutes from Vincom Metropolis, my shortest intra-Starbucks walk in Hanoi, but then I had to change my plans when I took the 32 bus going in the wrong direction. Not too much of a problem, as I just headed to Golden Field instead of The Legend, and from there two stores were relatively short bus ride away.

Bus did not make sense for the final cluster of three stores, but I still got to them all before sunset, for a total of ten, leaving me only four to visit on Tuesday before my flight. Another hour to return, on bus 22A, but I did not mind, using the time to unwind, rest my thigh, and read. Upon arriving at the stop, I found a banh mi stand where I had one that was different from the usual, with a mix of meat, and I added chips. Headed back to the hostel finally feeling well enough for a massage, but I surprisingly did not spot any places at my desired price while walking along that route (I had seen many, it seemed, on my first night). Finally, a few doors down from my hostel, I spotted a spa, but by that point I figured I might as well complete my paperwork first, let dinner settle, and wash up, then have the massage to kill time before calling my mother. However, by the time 9 roll around and I walked over to the spa to see what time they closed, the staff was already getting ready to leave, so I just went ahead and called my mother. This time we used video to see if seeing me would trigger her to talk, but she still said almost no words--her condition was worsening.

December 25


Up shortly before 7 am (body still nearly an hour ahead, though), and rather than trying for more sleep, I downed my shot from the night before and quickly showered and headed downstairs to try my mother again, but unfortunately she was already asleep.

Given the unreliability of the bus schedules, I did not bother to leave at any specific time nor hurry to the stop for bus 55 to the first Starbucks of the morning, Vinmec Times City. I lucked out, and the bus arrived less than a minute before I reached the stop, BUT I TOOK THE WRONG BUS, 55B instead of A. I saw that it was B, but back in Taiwan I often saw buses with the wrong designation, and they still got me to my destination. In this case, the bus crossed the river and stopped at the Aeon mall instead.

Wandering through the Aeon grocery store looking for yoghurt, figuring I'd pass on the apples in favour of a street vendor. However, the price I saw for the cheapest, 69/k, seemed aweful inexpensive, and I wondered if I had overpaid on the street. Hard to tell. The apple I bought today for 12 was smaller, maybe half the weight, BUT the one from yesterday had been 40, definitely more expensive, but perhaps one of the pricy ones. Aeon had some at 120 or more per kg. Almost picked up a yoghurt before I remembered that I still had two from yesterday, from Daily Mart where all I found were four-packs.

Starbucks was open, but not the mall, not until 10 am, so I disregarded the roped off exit to the mall and stepped around to take me photo. I figured I'd just be told to come back inside, and that's exactly what happened. Unfortunately, another customer followed me, and he protested when asked to step back inside. Looked like my actions, seemingly benign, set a bad example.

At Aeon Mall Long Bien, I finally reached the point of calculating that the overall cost of taking the 45-minute transport (bus) route to Savico Mall, much of which involved walking to the stop, then the mall, was a bad value proposition compared to the cheap cost of a taxi, which took less than 10 minutes. I still hated the thought of being cheated, so when I was quoted 70 VND, I asked about the meter, and when their response was confusion, I just kept walking. At the other end of the parking lot were more taxis, and this time I first asked if he would use the meter, and he pointed to it. I was then about to explain Savico Mall when a taxi driver from the other group came over and exclaimed at them. They directed me to go with him, and he was using the meter. The fare came to 50, just $2.04 (actually 51 but he gave me 150 change for my 200 and would not accept the single I offered), so the difference between 50 and 70 was only 81 cents--not a huge deal, obvs, but like I said, I hate the FEELING that I am being cheated, upsold, upcharged, whatever you want to call it.

Next store, same calculation, but this time I went directly for the question (on my phone) "will you use the meter", pointing to it, and then I said the destination. Slightly cheaper cost, 44 VND, but the big savings was on physical stress--besides the thigh, my left knee was also quite tender, and I just felt all-around out of sorts, with random pains, itches, and odd sensations, and also that dad-blasted stye in my left eye that had persisted for OVER A MONTH.

A counter-concern, however, was how much local currency I still had, because I did not want to run out. Although I still had not been able to confirm, I suspected that the exchange bureaus near the hostel would give a worse rate, and I did not remember having seen a lot of exchange in other areas. More importantly, I had made a mistake in not traveling with more 50s and 20s, which forced me to exchange hundreds. If I did not want to end up with thousands of dollars of foreign currency upon returning to keep track of (or risk devaluation or obsolescence of the bills), I needed to exchange the leftovers. In this case, I still had about $12 in HKD and about $3 in NTD, and that might have been enough to tide me over if I ran out, but I wasn't sure, and even at $2 a ride, I could burn through a lot of cash if I took taxis to all the stores.

To the next store there was a bus that took me most of the distance, but I still had to walk over 10 minutes to the stop, and even during that short walk I began to feel dizzy, and when I sat down at the stop I enumerated a list of over a half dozen current ailments.

The Hai Au Villa store was the newest in Hanoi, and not yet on Google Maps, but a partner at the previous store helped me find it. Similarly, a partner at this store helped me locate the next one, also newer, at Ocean Park (called Sapphire 2 on the app). Before I left, though, I was desparate to eat something, but in this master-planned area of Hanoi, pickings were slim, much was closed, and prices were high. I finally stumbled across EatMor, a 5-day-old Sri Lankan restaurant that had a rice dish, which I wanted, for a little over five bucks. I had to use up more cash than I preferred, though, because they were not yet set up to accept cards. The plate ended up being HUGE, though, and I probably would not have to spend much on dinner.

I also saved a little getting to the Ecopark store, because at the Sapphire 2 store, the supervisor had suggested I download the Xanh SM app to book a taxi (since they did not typically pass through that area), but the required phone OTP code did not come through. When I told the partners that I would just walk, about 40 minutes, the sup offered to DRIVE ME!!! I had assumed a car, but of course it was a motorbike, my first such ride in twelve years, maybe, but the time savings were amazing (plus the 7-8 VND and also stress on leg), and I arrived at the super beautiful Ecopark store with good light for photos.

Since I only had one more to go I went ahead and took an hour to get to Vinmec Times City by walking/bus, and after haning out there for a while and processing photos, I walked across the street to find antihistamine/decongestant with different active ingredients than the loratadine and cetirizine I already had, walking away with clorpheniramin and desloratidine.

Grabbed the correct 55A bus (the only 55 option) this time, and I was soon back near the hostel, where I walked along the street and found India Palace. While, I did not relish two meals from the Indian subcontinent on the same day, while in Vietnam, they did have daal dishes, and it was a relief to pay only around $6 for an Indian meal, much less than I'd been paying across northern Asia, Europe, and even back in America or Canada. Good thing the meal was not expensive, because I had a mental lapse and paid with cash instead of a card as I had intended. This left me with a little over 530 VND to last for Tuesday and Wednesday morning--I would be cutting it close.

Furthermore, while I left the restaurant thinking the hostel was my next stop, I did look around for egg coffee and instead spotted Always, a Harry Potter themed cafe, so I course I had to pop in. Besides having cool HP stuff

Stayed up until past 21 so I could try my mother again, and this time the phones did work, but it was hard to hear over the wifi, so I switched to my T-Mobile. I was then able to hear better, BUT my mother was not speaking, not even to say "hola". This was troubling.

December 24


Rough night, starting with one guests arriving well past 9 pm, turning on the lights, then another, and they began to chat about wanting a different room. I had trouble falling asleep, and in the middle of the night my runny nose returned. I woke up shortly after 7, which would have been 8 in GMT+8, and my gut started to hurt. I made my way to the loo, and I spent an unpleasant 30 minutes wondering if the tiny bit of tap water that I had used to rinse my toothbrush had been enough to make me sick, or if this was a coincidence.

Ugh, Vietnam blocks BBC podcasts!

Ooh, complimentary breakfast at Queen Cafe Hotel and Pub!

I was not relishing the walking, but with limited public transportation and streets so clogged in the city centre that taxis or motorbikes seemed useless, I had no choice but to walk. Best I could do was take my time. I popped into Cafe 1984 just around the corner from the hostel, but the employee/manager who knew how to prepare a pour over was not around. I walked slow, taking lots of photos and blogging.

Just as the store last night, no luck with drip coffee at the first two Starbucks of the morning. I was told that Vietnam DOES offer drip, in the short size, with a cup discount, but I wasn't finding it. At a few stores they offered me a pour over at the same price, but not all. Usually waiting for the pour over would have been a big inconvenience, but since I needed to rest, and I had outstanding paperwork, and I had no specific target between trying to reach 19K (which I could do at less than 10 stores a day), I did not mind waiting.

How much walking I'd have to do was my great worry, but on this first full day in Hanoi, I lucked out and found a lot of buses. Then I discovered that Hanoi actually DOES have a metro, a single line, and I was able to save myself some time while making a hop to Royal City. I figured that it made sense to go light on the stores, and coffee, today, which would help me catch up on sleep.

Towards the end of the day, I did start to think more about time, once I decided to pick off two outer stores, and I kept looking for some quick fried rice to sate my hunger. I did not want another bahn mi, but in the end I passed so many stands that I just went ahead and had one to save time. Later I spotted an apple, which, like in northern Asia, was expensive, BUT at about $1.60, not that expensive (but much more so than in America).

After Royal City I discovered yet another form of transport in Hanoi, the BRT, a a metro bus line that saved me some time getting to the furthest out store at the Aeon Mall, although I still had to walk over thirty minutes. According to Google, even with transport, the trip back would take nearly two hours and involve a lot of walking, so I processed my pictures to give my leg time to rest. When I finally left the mall, however, I spotted a shuttle bus out front. I asked a young man where it was going, and although he had a little trouble explaining, we quickly sorted out that the bus would be going to the metro. It was a different station than where Google wanted me to go, but that didn't matter. I saved myself 20 minutes of walking, plus the (minimal) bus fare to the metro, AND much time over the total journey.

Once at the metro's terminal station, I went hunting for food before getting on a bus, but pickings were slim, so I went for my first burrito in Vietnam, from Taco Non La, a small place with a Chipotle-like setup. I was able to get exactly the ingredients I wanted, but the resulting product was a little bland. Better than Chipotle, though.

Final bus ride of the day, five in all including BRT, and I found that while I did have to wait quite a bit, the buses indicated by Google always showed up. On the way back, I happened to notice a Beard Papa's and hopped off at the next stop to at Vietnam to my BP map.

Worked on paperwork until 10 pm so I could try to call my mother, but no answer. Up in my room, I was alone for about an hour or two, and then two guests arrived, but they did not disturb me too much, and I quickly fell asleep, better than the night before.

December 23


I had stayed up til almost 23:00 the night before to finish up paperwork so it would not get overlooked during the transition to Vietnam, and also because there would be a one hour time difference. I hoped to sleep until 8, but only managed til shortly after 8, maybe 7:15. Took my time getting ready both to do it right and to give the manager time to wake up so he could return my deposit. I wasn't in that much of a hurry because my final HK goal was simply to get to my 1000th store of the tour, and I felt I could accomplish that with relative ease once I got to the Admiralty/Central area.

Picked up an apple and banana downstairs, for 15 HKD, and then a biscuit, yogurt, and small juice at Marks and Spencer Foods on the way to the East Asia Mansion Starbucks. My experience from four days earlier, suffering through hunger on the flight, was still fresh in my memory, and I wanted to avoid this.

At Pacific Place I lost a little time confirming that the two stores, 106 and 128, were not the same as the stores I had visited in 2006, and besides being quite helpful with the info, the manager of the Reserve store (106) comped me my espresso shot, which otherwise would have cost 28, 9 HKD more than at a normal store. I would appreciate this doubly when I got to the MTR station to add enough balance to my Octopus card to get to the airport because when I handed two 100 notes to the agent, he returned one of them saying it was from mainland China!!!

My mind instantly went to the worst possibility, that the manager had cheated me, with a secondary possibility that he had made an honest mistake. I *did* have reasons, because shortly after I checked in, he came to my room and claimed that I had only paid him 853, not 953. I had to walk him through all the math of the currency I'd exchanged (I had the receipts--ALWAYS KEEP THE RECEIPTS), and then I had to do it again. Also, the following evening he had moved my things to another room without the courtesy of an email.

I was quickly preparing what I was going to say in my review, which seemed to be important to him because he had pestered me about a 5-star rating no fewer than six times. I paid the MTR agent the rest with my final 50-HKD note, which left me light, and I went to wait for my train. While waiting, I started calculating how much I'd been cheated, and I also went back into the enωelope to retrieve the other 100-HKD note, which I would now need for my pre-airport purchases.


I had never had a 100-HKD in that enωelope. I had misremembered, and I actually had had a 100-NTD note, which is quite similar to the HK note.

The mistake has been entirely mine!!!

Took a little bit longer than I expected to visit the Prosperity Tower store, #999 of the tour, and then head over to the CGCC store, #1000, and compose a post. I thought I was good because I was right next to the Hong Kong station, but that was the MTR, and I actually had about 10-15 minutes of walking to get to the Airport Express. Once on it, though I was soon at the airport, where I quickly retrieved my Octopus card deposit, plus balanc (minus a fee), then went to check in. Interestingly, I was NOT asked for my visa, BUT later, before boarding, the ticket reader flashed red, and I had to show it. HOWEVER, later on, in Hanoi, the immigration agent did not even look at it.

Good thing that everything went smoothly to the airportc check-in, and security, because after that it took A LOT OF TIME to get to all three Starbucks. Gate 2 was a bit of a walk in one direction, and there I waited for the coffee while asking the barista to confirm opening date, to make sure it was new. She seemed to know stuff, so I asked her about the other stores too. Gate 16 was in the other direction, a bit faster fortunately. Then up to the food court, because I was famished, and it's being Saturday, right before Christmas, it was quite busy, and I ended up finding some ramen. TONKOTSU: Broth - 7, Noodles - 7, Pork - 7, Egg - 7. OVERALL: 7

By the time I was heading out to the Gate 206 store, it was already near 14:05, the appointed boarding time, and even though the flight was delayed 20 minutes, I did not feel comfortable stopping at the 40s gates (different shuttle stop) to check on whether Gate 44 was truly in the same place--that would have to wait. Good thing I did not detour, because the Gate 206 store had a line, and by the time I finished, boarding was just minutes from starting. I had NO time to charge (no outlets in the area), and barely enough time to finish some paperwork.

Flight was uncomfortable because of my stopped up left ear, a bit of a headache, congestion, and hunger, but at least it was less than two hours, and I had my comic books to keep me occupied. I was quite relieved when we arrived, but then I waited well over 30 minutes, maybe closer to an hour, to get through immigration, where the agent asked no questions and did not look at my visa.

Airport exchange counters seemed to give a good rate, and then I went for bahn mi. First two places had them premade, but upstairs I found a cafe that made an egg/porn/pate one for me, and for UNDER THREE DOLLARS.

Struck out on the airport Starbucks, though. BEFORE exiting the secure area, I asked if there was a Starbucks anywhere, but I was told no, outside. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know about any Starbucks outside except for the one in the secure area, past immigration, upon departure.

No choice but to give up and go find the 86T bus that would take me into the city for LESS THAN TWO DOLLARS. Good thing I did not wait until the last minute because the bus filled up, and the way I began to feel later, once the sniffling began in earnest, I would not have wanted to be standing. Long trip, about an hour, but I made a single-serving friend, Frasier from Brighton, traveling abroad for the first time.

Decided to pay for my hostel with cash, about $36, not credit card because they upcharged 3% for using the card, but for some reason the exchange bureaus at the airport have given me MORE THAN THE ONLINE RATE, $2,445,000 for my $100. I had arrived with about $10 in VND, and I had spent about $4, so that left me around $70 for the three days--possibly enough, given the low food cost, but I'd need to keep an eye out for exchange bureaus because the ones near the hostel, in the tourist areas, gave lousy rates (I was told).

Top bunk, unfortunately, plus a new dormmate from South African who turned on the light then started chatting with a German man who arrived to complain about the room. Rough night.

December 22


I had forced myself to go to bed last night, before finishing my paperwork, to catch up, and so this morning I awoke before 7 and was ready to go before 8. Had to change my destination, though, because the new crop of HK stores I had plotted after discovering them (they had been miscategorised as CN) were all closed. That is why they had still been denoted as CN, becuase they were not in my latest refresh.

I also determined that on Saturday morning my route to the airport would be through HK, not Kowloon, and through the west, so I decided to head down to stores east of that point, after making a couple of calls to new U.S. stores, and also calling my father to see if he was in Colombia yet.

On top of the thigh pains, I had pain in my left knee, my left foot, and pains on the right side that came and went. Fortunately my walking was limited through midday. First store was minutes from the MTR, then just 10 minutes to the next, then my first HK tram right to Happy Valley, a relocation. While down there I stumbled across a corned beef + egg sandwich from a place called Date Cafe, and while waiting I discovered Reaction Coffee Roasters a block away and popped in for a pretty good Bolivian coffee, natural processed.

Tram got me back to a station just minutes from the Leighton Centre store, and then just minutes to Lee Garden Three.

With the goal of possibly getting to more than 15 stores in the back of my mind, I still had to keep an eye out for food and try to find something good but quick. Spotted Tintin Vegetarian a few doors down from the Tin Hau Starbucks where I had some interesting meat substitute, gluten or something like that. Interesting. Not sure I liked it, and I certainly would have preferred it hot--only the rice and soup were.

Made it to the sixteen stores after all, although the final Citywalk, had an exit to the outside, a night shot, but at least I got shots from inside the centre. Called it a night so I could make it back towards a Mammy Pancake, recommended by a friend, for a delicious egg waffle!

December 21


The private, dark room probably helped, and I slept until 7:41, and that probably help me finish shaking off the sniffling from a couple of days earlier, as well as resting my thigh. Unfortunately I had to do a bit more walking than I would have preferred in the morning, first to Laguna Mall, then Kerry Hotel. I took breaks, though, including at Nodi Coffee Mart, a craft coffeehouse just down the block from Kerry where I had an excellent Colombian cup.

Back to walking, then, with just one metro stop to help me, to the Hung Hom Station where I noticed a business card with a Starbucks (Coffee Concepts, Maxim Group) phone number, and against my better instincts I decided to call the number and see if I could get some attention on the email I had sent the previous day about the Star Avenue Starbucks. As I expected, it was an awkward process that had me making two calls, then trying to understand the questions of the agent through my connection and her accent. In the end, she found my email, and it SEEMED like she understood what I needed, and she said she would forward the email to the right department--we'll see.

Continued looking for affordable local food as I walked, and continued being surprised at how many restaurants DID NOT have English on their menus, given that the official position of the HK government (I read) was trilingualism, including English. Did not need any English, however, to spot a picture of a bubble waffle at Kowloon City Plaza. Bubble waffles have never been my fave, and this one, which had already been made and was not hot, was mediocre at best.

Walked across a park towards Hong Kong Baptist University, another supposedly access-restricted store (according to the HK app, and one of the two baristas at KCP), but I was able to walk onto the campus, and I was not asked for ID to order. Coffee was substantially cheaper, something I've seen at other university Starbucks.

I had not paid attention to the sunset on Wednesday because I called it an early evening to watch the Aquaman film, but it turns out that there was enough light for a decent photo up to around 6, and with the winter solstice almost here, the days would be getting longer moving forward. Despite the pain, I kept hustling, pushing forward, and I managed to get to 15 stores with no need of any reshoots (which would not happen, since I was heading down to Hong Kong city the next day).

Popped into a Penang Hainanese chicken rice shop, but pretty much everything I pointed to was sold out. In the end I took what they had, and it was adequate, and not that expensive for HK (but in Taiwan I'd have paid half that, or less).

Headed back to the hostel with my fingers crossed that there would not be another surprised. Fortunately there wasn't, and it looked like only one of the other guests remained--he was out in the hallway smoking with the manager. The manager once again pestered me for a 5-star review, which just made him seem sketch.


Sleep was rough because I kept the bathroom light on so that the guest in the back room would be able to see when he passed through my room to get to the front door. I tried to say hello when I saw him, but he did not speak English, and he did not seem interested in being friendly.

In the morning, I decided to chance taking the stairs down from the 3rd floor. A review had warned against this, and I could see why. The staircase and alley were mighty sketch, and I would not have wanted to brave them at night.

I had just used the airport wifi the evening before, so it wasn't untkl my first store this morning, K11, that I discovered that like some other countries on this trip, Starbucks in Hong Kong required a receipt code to access the free wifi, and it was both pretty brief (30 minutes) and limited to one device. HOWEVER, they do give out a 10-minute code for customers who ask, and as it turned out, I did not need it anyway, because the codes worked at any store, and since I did not actually need to log on each time, I could collect the receipts.

Also discovered throughout the day that, unlike other countries, almost none of the Starbucks had USB ports on the outlets, which means that while my laptop was plugged in, I could charge my phone OR my iPod, but not both.

Across from the first Starbucks I spotted Urban Coffee Roaster, and since I did not have the same pressure to visit all the stores, as I did in Taiwan, I took the opportunity to check the place out and ended up enjoying an excellent natural processed Ethiopian bean. Ny visit was a bit awkward, though, because neither the Starbucks nor Urban had a loo, so after ordering my coffee I had to walk around the corner and into the K11 mall then wander around looking for the loo.

Meanwhile, my thigh issue continued, and I could not tell if it was getting better or not. I walked over to the Star Avenue store and spent a lot of time there, time to rest my leg, while trying to determine if the store had relocated (and watching 'Slow Horses') by moving from the left side of the building to the right.

Uncomfortable walk to the next cluster of stores, but there were many in close proximity that gave me the opportunity to rest the leg. Then I spotted a burger place, Honbo, that looked intriguing, and I was able to get an Impossible Burger (with bacon, ironically) for a ridiculous price, nearly $30, while watching 'Slow Horses', plus I booked a hostel for Vientiane.

After my burger I had a bit of a confusing walk to the store called West Kowloon Terminus, basically the station, where I noticed that some HK stores are not accepting cash (moot for me, as long as I had balance on my Starbucks card). Relatively easy walk to the Jordan St. store after, then a hop onto the MTR to the next set of stores, finishing up at Moko.

I had intended to walk back to the Langham Place cinema to see the new Aquaman film, but as luck would have it, there was a cinema at Moko, so I just stayed there and grabbed some food from Starbucks. Not what I would have preferred, but the time savings was worth it, as I was able to complete nearly all my pressing paperwork by the time the movie was about to start. I saved additional time because there was an MTR station near Moko, to get me back to the hostel.

Back at the hostel, around 22:30, after a long day and the movie, I returned to a first in all my years of hosteling, to quite a surprise! Two men, non-English speaking, in the space that I had occupied, and my things nowhere in sight. I tried to ask them what was going on, but not only did they not speak English, but they were not being cooperative nor proactive about using Google to translate--they just chuckled instead. I finally called the manager, and he came over and explained that he had moved me into the back room. Of course I did not mind having that room, but I would have appreciated an email so I didn't have to experience all that awkwardness with the other guests. Also, I could not find my towel or sleep t-shirt, and I thought the cleaning lady had tossed them. The manager said he would ask, and only after he left and I shut the door did I see that they were on hooks BEHIND the door.

Oh, and he asked me for a 5-star review.

The closest thing to this incident I could remember was one time when there was a mixup in the booking, and the cleaners thought I had checked out and removed my things.

December 19


Throughout the night I would wake up and have two thoughts. First, to sleep as long as possible to give my left thigh (and also increasingly hurting knee) more time to heal. Also, to sleep as long as possible so I could recover from whatever was causing the sneezing, congestion, and runny nose. Around 6:30, though, nearly 24 hours after I had taken my last cold/flu pill, those symptoms appeared to be gone. Just a couple of coughs in the night is all I remember. I decided I could rest my leg just as well on the train, or the airport, and regardless of when I got up, I was not going to too far away from Hsinchu station before heading to the airport. Also, I wanted to catch the managers of a couple of California Starbucks before they left for the day.

Managed to get what I needed from those Starbucks quickly, which lightened my cognitive load. I bought my ticket to Hsinchu (only about $6) using cash, as I now had plenty of extra to either get rid of or hold til I returned to Taiwan. I really did not want to be holding as much international currency as after my previous trips (over $1000), so I was thinking of exchanging in HK and taking the hit.

With about 10 minutes to spare, I was able to get a new pastry, something called a big salt borsht from Joy Time Bakery, and I was soon on the platform waiting for the train. I thought I had a few more minutes, and my backpack was feeling a little off, light, and I wanted to check it but then the train arrived. I rushed to my seat, set the pack down, and went through all the compartments again trying to think of anything I had left. Then I tried to think of why it seemed lighter. Well, I was wearing my undershirt and long-sleeved shirt, I had already finished my orange juice, so no extra liquid beyond my water, and only one banana in terms of food. I had ditched my glove and wool cap a few days earlier. All that could have accounted for the lighter weight, but still I could not shake the feeling I'd forgotten something. But it all appears to be there: BIGGEST COMPARTMENTS - two t-shirts, folder, tablet, currency, laptops; MIDDLE COMPARTMENT - camera, laptop charger, small towel, thermal top, briefs and socks, plug adaptors, items I never unpacked after Tainan; SMALL COMPARTMENT - both phone chargers, lightning cables, medication, shorts, t-shirt, deodorant, razor; TINY SLOT - complete; POUCH - nothing of consequence.

Hit Hsinchu station right at 8:33 and set off, but I quickly saw that my wildly ambitious plans of getting around 10 stores near the station were just ridiculous. First of all, I had misjudged the distances, and second, it still took some time to do the stores right, like the first one that was in historic building that merited many photos, plus other tasks like finishing an algorithm on the wifi, then at the next store discovering a strange pop-up in my browser and immediately running two different virus scans (still worried about that pop-up, which said that there was a tracker in Facebook and wanted me to "click here" to remove it). In the end, I only managed THREE STORES and still found myself hustling to the North Hsinchu station, trying to ignore my thigh pain, which was not that bad. I did experience that sharp foot pain with only 2-3 minutes to go, though, and I had to shift my gait and limp a bit.

Although spending more than half the day on travel, by train to the airport, then the flight, then train to Hong Kong, was going to lower my average (I had no idea if I'd even get to any at the HK airport), it was a relief to not have to walk--my thigh REALLY needed the rest. Once at the airport, I did the opposite of what I usually do, which is to take every opportunity to stand. Instead, I tried to sit whenever I could.

Airport went smoothly enough, although I was not able to get to the two airside stores in T2. I wasn't worried, though, since next time I could fly out of T2, or arrive earlier to the airport. I did, however, manage to get rid of the 90 NTD coins I had remaining, on some mixed nuts, but when they were served, I saw that it was a HECKUVAH markup for a small scoop from a container they probably got at a grocery store.

Flight departure was delayed 30 minutes but went smoothly, except for a couple of hitches. NO SNACKS WHATSOEVER, and also while looking to see if I had a HK travel card, I spilled half my Starbucks cards all over the floor. I picked them all up, or so I thought, but then when the plane landed, a few more materialised.

Immigration was a breeze, and I was soon out in the terminal googling for best exchange rate. It appeared that in HK, going out to the street was best, so I only did about $27, or 900 NTD, and then I used my credit card for dinner and to load up a Starbucks card.

First Starbucks I found was a new one, and a barista spoke perfect English and had a lot of good info. HK has drip coffee, in the short size, with 4 HKD discount, and the Starbucks card, and also sample cups. The one hit was that store, in the departure area, 7th floor?, was not on my app, nor in my database.

Left the airport much later than I expected, like by an hour, and did not arrive at the C U Again Hostel until after 20:00 to find no one at the counter even though I had been emailing back and forth with someone. I had to try twice, but I finally got through to a manager who quickly came down. He spoke limited English, but enough to help me. I was already a bit disappointed with the sketchy look of the place relative to their 8.5 rating, but this guy was giving me bad vibes. First, he said I had to pay in cash, despite, to the best of my recollection, my having seen that cards were accepted (I look for that when booking), and then having sent an email to confirm. He put me in a smaller "dorm", actually a room with three beds that I had to myself, with another room behind me and shared bathroom, and that was good compared to the awful looking 6-bed dorm. HOWEVER, he claimed that I had only paid him 853, not 953, and I had to go through the process of counting all the money I had exchanged and accounting for what I had spent, and then I had to do it AGAIN while he paid attention.

December 18


Around 4:30 am my nose started running again, but I managed to fall asleep. I woke up again at 6:30, but I REALLY did not want to get up and tried to fall asleep again. Unlike most mornings, this time I managed to doze off and woke up again at 7:41. I still felt lousy, but that was enough, and I took a cold/flu pill and set about getting ready.

To give my leg more rest time, I headed straight to the TRA station and out to one of the final stations that appeared to have Starbucks, Wuri. I had misread the map, though--I should have gotten off one station later, at the THSR and gone to that Starbucks, then to the Zhongshan Wuri store.

I was less concerned about my mistake, however, than the email I received, from Lao, indicating that I needed to "fix" my last name and first name on my application. This was always my concern with the e-visa process, that sooner or later the name thing would confuse an automated system. I much preferred visa on arrival, where an actual human would be looking at my passport. As soon as I arrived at the first Starbucks, I sat down and sent an email to their support.

Lucked out and caught a bus to the THSR Wuri station, allowing me to rest my leg and save 30 minutes, and then the metro to the next cluster of two stores, the first of which was not actually in a hospital, but rather a food court adjacent. After the Starbucks I walked around the court and decided to try some peanut butter toast. Back in America, I am not a fan of the toast that is usually served at restaurants because I don't really like the white bread, or even wheat bread, used by most eateries. Taiwan seems to use different toast, usually thicker, and the Taiwanese LOVE there toast, so it is all over the place. While toast will never be among my fave breads, this one was pretty good.

I was walking quite gingerly, no doubt, favouring my right leg, and I could not help but wonder how long I could continue shifting my weight to that leg without starting to experiences pain there. I also tried to stick to the metro line as long as possible, for two stops, riding the MRT for distances that I would typically walk, simply to allow more rest time. After Nantun Wexing, though I had to get off the metro if I wanted to reach 13 stores that day (and 18,600 total), so I did much more walking than was probably wise, and I was in agony a lot of the time. Naturally, I spent as much time resting as I could while keeping an eye on the time and the sunset. My final three stores were expected to be indoors, but I wanted to get the others during daylight.

Mediocre hot dog and crisps from FamilyMart to save time and daylight.

Lao e-Visa was approved.

I made it to the necessary stores during daylight, then headed to the two in Mitsukoshi, then FE21, and I was incredibly relieved that my route had put me on one of the main arterials, with plenty of buses heading towards Taiching station (and thus the hostel), so I was easily able to save myself nearly an hour of walking (which would have killed my leg). I only had to walk a couple of blocks to find dinner, an awkwardly-ordered bahn mi sandwich from a street vendor, preparation for my upcoming Hanoi trip.

Returned to the hostel shortly before 20:00 to reheat and eat my sandwich, and I already felt a bit exhausted as I rushed through a lot of paperwork, including booking my flight to Lao. I still had several other tasks I wanted to complete, but I had to call it and get to bed. I even decided to scrub one task, plotting the remaining unvisited Taiwan stores for a post I wanted to make, simply because that was going to take too much time.

Did not take a cold/flu pill this time, since I was alone in my room, again, and did not need to worry about disturbing roommates with sneezing or nose-blowing. Also, I wanted to see if I felt better without medication in the morning.

December 17


Heavy congestion, sneezing, and runny nose in the morning, not a good sign under any circumstances, but given my thigh pain, swollen lymph nodes, and general pain from walking, additional ailments were quite unwelcome. I woke up around 6:30 and tried to get another hour of sleep in, but it just wasn't working, so I took an allergy pill (hoping it was allergies due to change in weather) and headed out.

Had to skip a few stores, but by midday I was already at seven, with major clusters not far away. I was looking at a goodly number, at least 15, and needed to keep eating to blunt the effects of the caffeine, but I was having trouble finding light things, include my usual banana and apple.

After ten stores I stumbled across some ramen, from Hiro's Kitchen, and it was quite good, and quite interesting with a reasonably creamy broth that had a bit of gritty texture to it. Noodles were thick (I chose), and pork plentiful, with a decent egg texture.

By coincidence, at the store I visited after ramen, I received an email from a Minnesota Scrabbler alerting me that Taichung was where a former Scrabbler, Benjamin, ran a cafe called Uptowner. I just happened to be six minutes away, so I walked up there, but a customer said I had missed Ben by about an hour.

I continued along my

December 16


I had gone to bed late because of paperwork, so it was not a great night for a new dormmate to arrive, quite drunk presumably, and proceed to heave for a good 10 minutes in toilet. I woke up, of course, and had to use the restroom, but I needed to wait for him to finish, all the while wondering if he was getting vomit all over the floor. Fortunately, when I finally got in there, I saw that either they were dry heaves, or his aim was good, and/or he cleaned any mess he made.

I had hoped to sleep til 8, because I expected some of the Starbucks along my route to open later, but I still woke up around 7, and soon I had a different concern. I detected lumps on the left side of my groin, as I had two years earlier. That time my immediate worry was a tumor, but an ultrasound showed them to be swollen lymph nodes. My doctor instructed me to monitor the swelling, and eventually it mostly went away (though never back to normal). This returned swelling was concerning, but not as bad as if I had thought cancer.

I slow walked my packing, hoping that staff would arrive to help me print my Vietnam visa, but by 8:30 no one, so I headed out to reshoot the Ximen store, and then I stopped for breakfast to kill more time, as the nearest new store did not open til 11, and I'd either have to return, or skip it. The further I got, the longer it would take to return, of course.

As it turned out, the issue was moot. First, the "bacon" I ordered at that Ga.Yo place came with toast, butter, sauce, and lettuce, and I asked them to remake it with no sauce or vegetables. Breakfast ended up being HUGE, and by the time I finished it was past 9:30. At that point my calculation shifted, and it no longer made sense to go to Jiankang then return to Yong Fu (in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi). It made more sense to return to the hostel, have my Vietnam visa printed out, and then just catch up on blogging and mapping distance walked until 10:40. I then walked over to the Shin Kong, waited four minutes for the doors to open, BUT THE STARBUCKS WAS CLOSED!!! At least according to the information counter. They made it seem like it was forever, but when I got to the next store, nearly 30 minutes of walking, a partner explained that Yong Fu was simply remodeling. Anyway, that was A LOT of time lost that morning, but at least I got my printout, and I got to rest my leg.

No buses for the rest of the day, sadly (the times were always off), but my thigh seemed to hold up pretty well. That's not to say I was pain-free--my feet, especially, were in serious pain, with occasional knee pain. But those pains are an understandable consequence of stress, unlike the mysterious thigh pain.

I started with Jiankang and Fu Rong, taking plenty of time to rest at each one, but once I got to Dongmen, I started to step up the pace once I decided that I was going to head to one more store away fraom Tainan Station before turning around. Carrefour and Yunong were pretty straightforward, with a lot of walking, but I got a little mixed up at the two stores at the T.S. Mall and lost more time than I'd hoped. By the time I got to the next two stores, Zhang Rong and FE21, the time was nearing for the 18:25 train heading to Taichung, the last one I could reasonably take if I wanted to arrive before 21:00 and avoid having to go through the self-checkin process. I thus called it, at just nine stores, despite there being three more within minutes of the station. Instead, I hunted for food, since I did not see anything at the station, and all I could find nearby was a fried chicken place.

Once on the train, I sat down and noticed that the car had an LED sign that read RESERVE. After asking a couple of passengers if they spoke English (they couldn't), I got up and started looking for a non-reserved car. I was walking behind a young man who accidentally stepped on my foot when the train lurched, and when he said "I'm sorry", I figured he spoke enough English that I could ask him about the cars. He explained that the entire trainw as reserved, and he helped me get to the car where the conductor was. He knocked on the door, and later a waitperson did also, but the conductor never came out. Instead, a ticket taker came by, and when I showed him the translation of a couple of questions, he explained that my iCard was not good enough--I still had to buy a ticket, which I think, at 545 NTD, ended up being more expensive than if I had bought at the station.

That mixup paled, however, to what I discovered when I started to process my photos and could not find my phone charger. After hunting in all the compartments of my bag, I figured I must have left it at the Fu Rong Starbucks, the last place where I could remember having plugged it, but I struggled to remember how that could have happened, since by this point of my trip, I'm pretty locked into my process of putting everything back in my bag before I move on. Regardless, it was gone, and I finally had to break out the spare that I had been wise enough to pack, despite the inconvenience of adding to the bulk of my backpack, and slightly to the weight.

December 15


Only one other guest in my dorm at Light Hostel on Thursday night, which reduced disturbances (I never noticed him come in from the lobby), plus the rare advantage that the room was PITCH BLACK, which made sleeping quite easy, and I was able to stay in bed until a little past 7. Only a few calls to make before I began to orient myself in Tainan and discovered that THIS CITY HAS NO METRO (first line under contruction). That meant I was going to have to do a lot of walking, and unlike previous mornings, when I woke up free of leg-thigh pain, this time I was hurting from the get-go.

I found myself spending more time at each Starbucks, and taking every opportunity to remove my backpack and sit as quickly as possible. I also had to keep an eye out for bus schedules, as they were not running nearly as often in Tainan as they had been in Taipei. From the first store, at Tesco, there was a bus running down that road to the next store, but the timing was off. Similarly for the buses that would save me some time heading back to the next cluster.

I simply walked the distance and was happy to wait for a pour over at Korokoro Coffee, a beautiful space where the single-origin coffees where conveniently categorised by processing method, making it easy for me to choose an excellent natural-processed Ethiopian Guji brewed on a V60.

The next Starbucks was just across the river, and the next one only 15 minutes away, but for the next I really wanted to take a bus, so I waited for the #10 until more than 10 minutes past its appointed arrival time, and then I gave up and started walking. FORTUNATELY, when I got to the intersection where I needed to turn northward, I spotted the bus waiting at the light, and I hurriedly rushed across traffic, not worried about the light, to make it to the bus stop where an elderly couple were also waiting for that same bus--they commented on the unreliability of the schedules.

From Haidian Tainan I walked around 30 minutes to Bei An, at which point I needed to decide whether to start heading back or pick off that one store that seemed to be all by itself in that direction. Because it was at the An Nan Hospital, I expected there to be a bus, and I was right. Of course, I still had to do a lot of walking in the hospital, because the store was brand new, not yet on Google, and I entered through the wrong door and had to follow a green line to the other building.

Once at the hospital I was pretty far out there, and I wanted to start heading back so I could get to the hostel in time to have my Vietnam visa printed out, but as it turned out, if I walked about 15 minutes, I could catch a bus out to Zhongzheng Yongkang, and from there it was a roughly straight shot to about five stores heading back into the hostel. The time was already past 15:00, though, and I was pretty hungry, so I rushed to the corner where I'd be picking up the bus, hoping to spot a cafe. Laya Burger was there, but not open, so I popped into Hi-Life and finally had my first bao.

Meanwhile, throughout the day I had been completing tasks while resting my leg, and I took care of my flight to Hanoi, and then the hostel for four nights.

From Zhongzheng Yongkang is was all walking, first to A.Mart, then STUST, then a cool store at Xiaobei, by which time the sun had fully set, so I was able to stop and rest a bit before pushing on to Hai`an Hewei, where I rested again and applied for my Lao visa before continuing on to the final store, Ximen, which would open later on Saturday morning, so needed to get it out of the way.

On the way to Ximen I passed by the Xiaobei Night Market and finally took the time to hang out for about an hour and just explore foods, five different things in all. By that point my leg was hurting terribly, sometimes feeling like if I took another step the wrong way, a muscle would just snap. I was really worried about what was happening in there, but I was pretty sure I'd need an MRI or ultrasound to get an answer, and that wasn't going to happen overseas. The worst part about the pain was the sensation of liquid dripping. Since there was obviously no liquid on my thigh, I worried that there was fluid INSIDE the thigh that flowing, but it felt weird that I felt it most when at a urinal, and in the evening, not all the time. I truly could not make sense of the particular nature of these symptoms.

December 14


Up well before 7, closer to 6:30, figuring I might as well use the extra time to take my time packing up and do it right. Slightly different arrangement of items, and I decided to toss a few things, my wool cap and single glove, as well as the plastic container holding the Q-tips--I just dumped them into the bottom of the bag. That allowed me to place a plug adapter and a earbud container in the hole of the duct tape, to reduct bulk.

I thought I got out early enough to post a decent Starbucks number before rushing to Tainan, but then I screwed up and returned to the Ming Cheng store by mistake because Google Maps had chosen it when I was trying to plot the Mingcheng Meishu store. Then I lost a lot of time waiting for a waffle containing brown sugar mochi and cream and honey--the combo looked irresistable, but after a long wait I ended up with a mediocre treat and regretted having given up the time.

Despite the time loss, when I finally finished the stores around Hanshin Arena and saw that the time was almost 13:00, I figured I might as well try for to check out Pipipie Bakery, since it was just 10 minutes away. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the place was closed, but at least the detour was probably only 15 minutes or so.

I headed to the nearby station, and as I sat on the relatively short hop across the river, I noticed something odd on the map for the ASE Group store, and I suspected it might be on one of those corporate campuses. The closer I got, the more this seemed like a possibility, and I was mentally preparing myself to have to skip it until I could get to the next store and try to get a supervisor to call the ASE partners. However, when I arrived, I was able to get in through a back door, that appeared for loading, and I quickly spotted the Starbucks, AND a sign indicating that the door was just for employees. No one was monitoring, and the area was busy with people setting up for some exhibition, it seemed, so I just walked in and ordered, quickly before anybody noticed. As a precaution, I waited until I had drunk my coffee before stepping outside, first into the lobby, then into the courtyard, for pics, just in case, and once I finished I just walked out the same way I came in without ever been challenged.

Quick pork rice meal from a place on the way to the next store, but they were to-go only at that hour, so I had to sit on some steps to eat. Awkward but doable. After eating, when I finally made the next turn towards the Starbucks, I passed a massage spa with 800 on the menu, a price that came to less than $30, around $25, a price I'd been looking for since I'd left Taipei, where I was disappointed that prices over $30 were the norm. Awkward experience, though, because the therapist tried to upsell me SIX DIFFERENT TIMES, and I was getting annoyed.

Still, the pain in my thigh DID ease up for the duration of the way to the next store, although it soon returned. I had another concern, however. As soon as I exited the spa I saw an email from Light Hostel informing me that registration would close at 17:30. It was already 16:00, and I did not think I could make it. I quickly rushed in and out of the next Starbucks, routed myself to the one 10 minutes up the street, and then I called the hostel. They explained that they would leave self check-in instructions. This was fine, but I really wished that HostelWorld would proactively check on hostel details, which they get wrong ALL THE TIME>

After that second store I was out of position to get to the station, and I had quite a bit of a walk to get back to the MRT, then to Zuoying and buy a ticket for the THSR to Tainan. That stop was well outside of the city, adding to my journey, BUT I did pick up the Starbucks at the station, then in Mitsui across the street, bring my total to 12, a decent number considering all the time loss.

I took a train to Shulan, but then had to walk 30 minutes because Tainan lacks a metro. Check-in was easy once I figured out how to open the "woody box", and I dropped some things off in my room then walked across the street for some food, which turned into a fiasco. I used Google to translate the menu, but then I pointed to the wrong thing and got fried chicken instead of pork congee with preserved egg. I tried again, and I still pointed wrong and got a plate of something that seemed like fries, except more like taro I think. I finally did get my congee, but the waitperson who helped me thought she had screwed up, and she was so upset she was crying, I think. Another customer was translating, and I asked her to tell the employee that it was not her fault. Anyway, when all was said and done, I had my BIGGEST DINNER of the entire trip--I went to bed stuffed, even after spending 30+ minutes finishing paperwork then some additional time getting ready.

December 13


Up before 7 and hoping to get out early and get to 15 stores today, but I immediately got bogged down in frustration trying confirm an Oklahoma store opening, then a Rochester (NY) open. As I hurried to complete the calls before stores shut down stateside, I was really hungry and getting hangry.

Debated about whether to head towards the easiest stores first, or get a cluster further out, away from the transport lines, and in the end I chose the latter because that could give me an opportunity to hit one of the other recommended craft coffeehouses before heading back into the city centre (although most those Starbucks were cleared). Lots of walking after exiting the Orange Line, with only one bus that seemed convenient. There was another, something called the R28 Bus Taxi, that would have saved me a 40-minute walk, but I must have missed it and just decided to walk.

Meanwhile, although the odd sensation in my left thigh had not yet returned, I started to experience pain. Two of them actually. First, my left foot began to hurt. Second, and odd itching and pain coming from my left knee. At the risk of not hiting even 10 Starbucks, I found myself taking more breaks, in part because a new episode of 'Slow Horses' dropped around midday, and that show is just THAT GOOD.

During the 20+-minute walk to Rruyo Coffee, while my knee was really bugging me, I stopped for some delicious chicken fried rice from a literal mom-and-pop hole in the wall. The place appeared to be literally run out of the cook's home, and she was literally a mother. In fact, I would have kept walking IF the little boy had not waved at me. That spurred me to look over, and I noticed what appeared to be fried rice photos on a sign, and the lady spoke enough English that the process of ordering the chicken without onions was easy.

Like Shalom Cafe, Rruyo Coffee was harder to find--harder, actually, and I had to ask a lady a hotel (by showing her my phone). She was super nice and walked me over to the place, a beautiful space with an owner who was friendly and happy to chat about the coffee while he made me a natural-processed Ethiopia Sidamo pour over using a Kono dripper, the first time I had noticed that brand. Worth the detour, even though by the time I finished and headed over to the next store, I found myself rushing through the afternoon to make it to ten stores (I actually managed 11).

Finally spotted a cheap, 150 NTD, haircut along my route with no wait, worth losing 10 minutes of light for.

Still awaiting the approval of my Vietnam visa, and every time I checked, I was nervous.

I hoped to find dinner between the final Starbucks of the day, Boai Huaxia, and the station, but I saw nothing appealing and waited until I got back to the area around myself, where I ended up back at the Xingzhong Night Market and tried some pork and mushroom stew with a side of rice. Not bad, but the stew had an odd flavour, perhaps too oniony.

December 12


Sleep had been weird, both because of the feeling in my left thigh (which went away, again), and also because my dormmate left the light on. I could not figure out if he was out, and if the person in the top bunk of that bed was a new dormmate, or if he was the same person (Ray) and just chose to sleep up top so he would not need to move stuff from his bed (like a tablet, book, etc.). Anyway, during the night I might have imagined disturbances, and his talking, and vaping--do not think all that was real. Finally I turned the light off, and that made sleep easier, but I still slept until later than usual. Then I had a few calls to make, including once again trying to reach the hostel in Tainan to change my booking by a day. No luck, so I emailed HostelWorld. Then I made a map of indie cafes, and by the time I was out, it was almost 9.

Two stores were relatively close, to the north by northeast, then stopped for groceries at a mart, then an egg/cheese/bacon crepe, and then I went to two more before figuring out the bus down to the Daliao store, the furthest out to the east (in the Kaohsiung area). Got off the bus one stop to soon, though, which cost me 5-10 minutes.

From Daliao I wanted to check out Cafe Shalom, in that general area, and on the way I stopped at a place called Undefinable for a quick lunch, figuring that if their name was in English, there would be a menu in English. There was not, but one of the employees helped me with the machine. Of course, I ended up paying more, as was the pattern--if the restaurant/cafe has English signage, they tend to charge more than the ones that use purely Chinese, sometimes around twice as much.

Cafe Shalom was hard to find, and I almost walked away, but when I noticed a sign, in Chinese, on the ground, something about it screamed cafe, so I used Google to translate, and sure enough it was for a cafe. I then turned around and saw a sign pointing to Cafe Shalom. Once I entered, I was surprised to see Christian imagery throughout, since the name had me expecting a Jewish-themed cafe. I asked the owner, and she explained that she chose the name because "Shalom" means "peace" in Hebrew. Using Google I translared the menu and selected a light-roasted Ethiopian Yiargacheffee pour over that turned out to be excellent, towards the top of the coffee I'd had in Taiwan. The owner, despite her limited English, was quite friendly and eager to chat, to the best of her ability, and she was intrigued when I mentioned that I had found the cafe on a blog. I pulled up the blog and showed her, and she pointed out that the photo was incorrect, so I found an email address on the blog and let the blogger know, even sending him my photo for reference.

From Shalom I walked to the terminal Orange Line station and took it out to the Zhongzheng Ziqiang store, and then I rephotographed the two final stores of last night before taking the light rail to the Pier area.

December 11


Up around 7 with no calls to make, and I was soon at the San DuoStarbucks a minute away, where I was tickled pink by an amazing coincidence. As I ordered, I noticed a youngish (30s maybe) Black woman working against the wall, on a call, and she looked familiar. While waiting for my coffee I walked over to get a better look, and, sure enough, she was Ty, who had spent a few days at Life is a BOX of Chocolates and then returned for Nikita's birthday party!


Ty was, in fact, the person who spurred me to make the leap to Kaohsiung rather than working my way southward from Taoyuan, because she had explained that the hostels were REALLY cheap and that the train was less than two hours and cheap, with a discount using the Klook app. I knew that she was going to be in Kaohsiung at some point, but I had no idea if it would be this week, and I certainly did not expect to run into her randomly.

After saying hello and chatting, I set off to see the FE21 store, where I inquired about the airport store and learned that it was indeed landside, so I headed down there next. From there I walked to the next store, Hongping Xiaogang, then half-walked, half-bussed to Zhongan Xiaogang, the newest store in Kaohsiung, and pretty spectacular one that boasted an unusual design commemorated by its own MUG and it's own CARD!

From that store, my schedule went a bit awry because after walking 15 minutes to the stop for the R11 bus, it never showed at the indicated (delayed) time, nor even 15 minutes later, so when I finally did see a bus, the 30, I was sick of standing in the sun and hopped on without knowing where it was going. As much as I loved Taiwan public transport, one flaw was that I had not been able to easily find bus route maps, and by the time I found something useful for 30, I was heading AWAY from my intended store. The bus was headed to the terminal station of the red KMRT line, so I changed my plan and decided to go to the Dream Mall instead, then Uni-Wonder.

Typically don't expect to find decent craft coffee in a shopping mall, but when I spotted Arosa, across from the Dream Mall Starbucks, I dug the clean, white look of the space, and after noticing pour overs on the menu, I decided to give them a try. Ordering was a bit awkward, because unlike at most of the indie shops in Taipei, this barista did not speak English and had to call a friend to help.

The Dream Mall Starbucks was spectacular, and popular, and it took me almost as much time to finish as Metrowalk, and then I had to go clear across the mall to find the 4F store (Uni President), and then when I headed out to the light rail station, I noticed that I the next train would not be for nearly 30 minutes. Made sense to go back and get some food, and I lost so much time on that that I missed the next one and the one after that, and I had to wait for 15:59. I was prett sure I'd make it to the next two stores in daylight, but maybe none after that, which was disappointed. However, because I was a bit west, and south, the day would be slightly longer, and I hoped that would allow me to get to ten.

Meanwhile, I went ahead and locked in a hostel for Tainan, for two nights, and that left me with just three more days in Taiwan after that to figure out. I was thinking two in Taichung and one in Hsinchu, but only one hostel/hotel was listed for the latter, with ZERO reviews, so I started to think that maybe three days in Taichung would better, even if it meant a longer train ride on Tuesday morning to the airport (and thus more uncertainty).

After Wujia I routed myself back to the red line to hit a couple of stores, one of which was on B1, so nighttime was irrelevant. The other was probably ground level, so I tried to hurry, but I had to walk nearly thirty minutes to the station.

December 10


Up a bit before 7 am, and out relatively quickly, but I had to return to retrieve the tablet that I had left on the counter. When I unplugged it in the middle of the night, I knew I should have set it someplace other than the counter, but once again I neglected my better instincts. On the upside, that feeling in my left thigh was gone, BUT later in the day, after much walking, it returned.

Meanwhile, the stye in my eye still had not healed, after over a month. Troublesome.

I cleared three Starbucks right in the Zhongli city centre quickly, and then I debated whether or not to visit the one west of the city, nearly 30 minutes of walking, or try to leave it to when I returned, before going to the airport. I quickly realised that when I finally did return to the area, probably on Tuesday morning before my flight, the train would drop me off at the THSR station in Taoyuan, and traveling to Zhongli would mean heading AWAY from the airport, which made zero sense, so I went ahead and did the walking to get that store out of the way.

I then turned around the headed east to the J-Mart store, the one on the campus of Chung Yuan Christian University. When I had passed another Christian or Catholic university days earlier, I wondered if access might be restricted for security reasons (I'm guessing that Jewish campuses around the world are restricted, as well as many ordinary schools all over), but there were no restrictions, nor even guards or police. In general, I was not seeing much in the way of police or security in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, I was keeping an eye on the time, because I did not want to arrive in Kaohsiung too late in the evening, but I was doing okay. I picked up a bus to the next cluster of three stores, grabbed some food at the mall where the Nei Li Starbucks was, and groceries, and then after a bit of a walk, I managed to pick up a bus to the Metrowalk store, which would have been a heckuvah schlep otherwise. Besides the time concerns, minimising walking felt important because of my leg issue.

I was hoping to pop in and out of Metrowalk, but I actually encountered the longest line I could remember from my entire tour, and it took me a full thirty minutes to get through the line and get my coffee, and only because they had iced coffee brewed. If I had had to get an espresso drink, I would have waited even longer. Still, I managed to pick up an express bus to Taoyuan THSR shortly after I finished, and once I scanned my barcode at the gate, I was surprised to learn that I had NOT actually purchased a train ticket on Klook. I had paid, yes, but I still had to wait in the ticket line to get the actual ticket. I was given a reserved ticket for 15:43, but I could also take the next train. That seemed like the best option to me, but as it turned out many people wanted to ride in the non-reserved car, and I did not make it onto the 15:10. The next one was 15:34, and given that I had a reserved seat for the 15:43, just nine minutes later, it made sense to wait. In fact, just upstairs I was able to pick up the wifi, and also plug in, so I just sat down to work until time for my train.

Smooth and easy 90-minute ride on my longest high-speed rail trip in Asia ever. No outlets, but there was wifi, albeit slow and spotty, but I was still able to work on future plans, looking up visa requirements, airfares, and hostels after Hong Kong, and I finally decided on four days in HK and booked a hostel. Later, at the hostel, I applied for an eVisa for Vietnam, for a trip to Hanoi, but I held off on airfare, preferring to wait until the eVisa was approved.

Once in Kaohsiung I quickly (about an hour) did four Starbucks in and around the THSR Station (Zuoying), and then I grabbed quick bite at Global Mall and took the KMRT (my iCard worked, which was awesome) to a station near my hostel, D'Well. Once more I was on a four-bed dorm, and there was only one other guest at the time, a long-timer, retired from the U.S. Army with PTSD and medical benefits after deployment to Afghanistan--this was a first, to my recollection. I'd met long-timers before, but they were usually working--this kid was in his 30s, I think.

December 9


Up earlier this morning, before 7, but with a few phone calls to make, which turned out problematic because the wifi was still slow. I decided to wait until I got to the Starbucks 10 minutes away (in the other direction from the day before), next to another station, BUT for some reason that wifi was pitifully slow too and made the phoning process painful.

As I said before, Taoyuan only has the single metro line, and I had already cleared the Starbucks that were in proximity, which meant bus travel if I wanted to avoid long walks (the Starbucks were also more spread out that in Taipei). Also, it was Saturday, and that often means reduced bus service, so after finishing up at that first Starbucks it looked like if I wanted to avoid a long walk, I needed to head back to the THSR station, get some breakfast at Starbucks and work for a few minutes, then take a bus out to the Jing Guo area where there was a cluster of four stores. Then one bus ride, and three more ones that were easy walks.

Meanwhile, I finally got ahold of my aunt to talk about my father, but she had not really been speaking to him much and could not speak to whether he seemed different.

I managed to get a bus to the Dazhu Luzhu store, but then, as I had suspected, there was no bus that would take me to the store on the #1 freeway service area. Service area Starbucks exist throughout the world, and if I am not driving, they are almost always challenging and time-consuming. For this one, I had to walk around 3 km to get there, and then after rushing out to catch a bus that was going to the airport, they only agent who spoke a little English would not sell me ticket and left without explanation. I had no choice then, to walk another 3 km, more, actually, and all that walking might have ****ed up my left thigh, because it had a really uncomfortable sensation, a bit painful, and quite weird.

December 8


As expected/hoped, being in a pitch black room helped me sleep, and I did not wake until 7:19. For some reason I thought it was Saturday, and I expected a bunch of calls to make (Friday night in America), but since it was only Thursday, I only had one, a good thing because the wifi in the room was lousier than the hostel wifi had been. I was soon at the THSR Taoyuan station to find the first Starbucks, but first I spotted a beautiful Simple Kaffa kiosk and decided to try a different one of their coffees, since I had enjoyed the first. A similarly good cup, but again not towards the top of my Taiwan coffees.

After doing the Starbucks I had to take a pause to investigate family issues. My sister left a message saying she was concerned about my father's memory, and I had to attempt to discern the truth, as her perspective is often warped, by speaking to others, like the neighbour and a cousin. Also tried to reach my aunt, but she had turned her phone off. Lost about an hour on that, and then I had to depart without visiting the Gloria Outlets store because they would not open til 11:00. I'd easily be able to pick them up in the evening, but I would not be able to get day photos, so if any of them were outside facing, I was out of luck.

As it turned out, that Gloria Outlets inconvenience was minor versus what came next. I wanted to pick up some out of the way stores on the way back to Linkou, starting with Zhongzheng Dayuan, and that store was easy enough, about a 15 minute walk and back from the station. The next store was clear on the other side of the airport, 15 minutes away by taxi, but an hour by MRT and walking (no bus), according to Google. IF THERE HAD BEEN TAXIS OUT IN FRONT, I would have taken one, but all the taxis were down by the station, and by the time I walked back, it made little sense to pay for the taxi. Unfortunately, when I got to the Kengkou station and started walking along the recommended route, I found it blocked--the sidewalk had collapsed, and even if I could make the jump with my backpack, proceeding into what appeared like a construction zone appeared stupid. I backtracked and headed to the other route recommended by Google, but that one was even more clearly blocked, by cement blocks. I had no choice but to take the long way around, and what could have been a 15-minute ride turned into a nearly 2-hour walk, with a 5-10 minute break for a quick lunch. In terms of resource-optimisation, with time as a resource, I did a poor job.

By the time I finished with Sanmin Dayuan, only my third store of the morning, it was already well past midday, and I knew my day would be light. I took the MRT back to Linkou, quickly hurried up to the store I needed to reshoot, then onto the other two, the final of which, Zhongshan - Linkou, completed New Taipei City, except for the store out on the east coast

Taoyuan City does not have a proper metro system, only the Airport Commuter line, so I had to take a bus to my next cluster of stores. I managed to get through three pretty quickly, all in daylight, or daylight-ish--I would not be returning to that area.

Not too much in the way of foodibles on the walk to the bus that would take me to the MRT station, so I just popped into a Thai restaurant for some fried rice. The employees did not speak any English, but I surmised that they appeared to be closed, about to open. They let me in anyway for the fried rice, and although in the confusion I had to forgotten to ask about onions, I was easily able to pick them out.

Back at the THSR station I finally ventured into Gloria Outlets and set about finding the three Starbucks, all of which were quite a distance from each other. The whole process took me around an hour, I'd guess, including a 10-minute break to try something called "baby castella", a Japanese pastry that was most definitely NOT a pancake despite what the employee said.

December 7



I knew, when I plugged in my camera battery to charge last night, into an outlet on the other side of the room, that there was the possibility I might forget it. There is always this possibility for any item that is right in front of me. On Tuesday, in fact, I had plugged my tablet into the outlet in my bunk, tried to make a mental note to grab it before I left the hostel, and of course I left it and had to ask Nikita to put it behind the counter for safekeeping.

I had plugged my camera battery in before, a few times, during my stay at the hostel, but each time I had left the camera itself on the desk while I worked, and this served as a reminder. Last night, though, I was focused on the interview, and after 70 minutes of discussing Starbucking, I needed to select some photos of myself at Starbucks, and by the time I get into bed, the camera battery was long forgotten.

And of course, since the whole reason I was leaving the hostel was because I had cleared out all the nearby Starbucks, I did not discover my error until I was over an horu away, at the Mingzhi Taishan. The only mitigating factor in all this was that the other Starbucks I had needed to see that morning before pushing further west into Taoyuan would not open until 11:00. That meant that I would only lose about an hour, not two or more.

Once back at the hostel, I decided that since I was going to lose time anyway, and since I had traveled all the way into Taipei, I might as well check out one more craft coffeehouse, the nearest Kafemea, and I'm glad I did. They serve coffee from Verve and The Barn, and the Kenyan pour over I enjoyed from the latter was excellent, towards the top of my Taipei coffees. Additionally, the shop itself had a beautiful design, and the owner is also a photographer and displays old cameras around the space.

Additionally, on the way to Kafemera I finally decided to try some of that French milk toast I had seen around Taiwan, in the form of a sandwich with egg, cheese, and bacon and it was delish. Of course, between the delays, by the time I finished up at the Houhui Plaza Starbucks it was around 14:00, and I was looking at ending up on a low Starbucks number for the day.

Houhui Plaza, although busy, was easy to get to from the station and back, and I was soon back on the MRT Airport Commuter train for Taoyuan, where I had intended to start at the furthers out store in Linkou then work my way in. However, when the train stopped at the A8 station, which seemed like a major transfer station, it waited for a moment before departing, and I thought to use the time to check the app for stores, and sure enough there was a cluster of four in the immediate area, so I quickly hopped off and found the one in the Global Mall. I then picked up a quick Indonesian meal, nasi lemak, but I had to eat it sitting at Starbucks because the restaurant was so crowded.

The next two stores were just minutes away, and I was about to head to the fourth, also minutes away, when I noticed that the Quanta store, shown on my app, was not far and might be worth visiting first. I could not find it on Google Maps, though, and while that sometimes happens with newer stores, this one was old, and that made me suspicious. I asked the supervisor at the nearby Starbucks, and she checked with another partner, and sure enough the Quanta store was inside the building, only for employees. Fortunately, the supervisor was super kind, and really into my mission, and she called over to Quanta and arranged for them to meet me in the lobby. Unlike ASUS, Quanta actually did have a lobby, and that made it easier for the partner to meet me, and in fact for what happened next. THREE OF THEM came down, curious about my project, one filming, and I explained all about Starbucking and my Taiwan journey, interview style, and then we took a selfie. Also, they gave me a signed cup. Great customer service experience!

Of course that detour meant I only got to one more store during daylight, the next one in dusk lighting, and the final one at night, but since it was on the way to two more, which I'd see in the morning, I was not worried. I grabbed an apple from Carrefour express and took the same MRT Airport Commuter line to Taoyuan, where I noticed Gloria Outlets and checked my app to find that, sure enough, there was a Starbucks. Three, actually, but I was beat, and I wanted to do my paperwork, so I decided to pass until the next day.

As much as I enjoyed the sense of community from the hostel, it was a bit of relief to have my own room, as that allowed me more flexibility to spread my things around, and to have video on while I moved around and worked. On the flip side, I could not figure out the heat, if there was any, and the lobby and my room were both pretty chilly.

December 6


Managed to sleep until nearly 7, quite refreshing and necessary, although of course I would have liked more. I lost a little sleep the night before when I heard a strange voice, like coming from a device or speaker, and I quickly figured out that a guest in a the adjacent room was having a conversation, and she must have been on her bed, right next to the electrical outlet, and the sound must have been traveling through the her outlet into the wall and then out of my outlet.

45 minute journey to the closest new Starbucks this time, about the limit of how much time I wanted to spend on overhead travel each day. It was looking like my timing for departing the hostel on Thursday was correct--no more need to return to Taipei proper after tonight.

My relief at seeing that the rain had finally stop was cut short, as drizzle started after just one or two stores. However, I was not doing much walking because of the distances--mostly buses, so I was not really getting wet.

Finally found an egg and cheese bagel sandwich, and for an great price, just 50 NTD.

Finally satisfied my hamburger craving at Whatever Burger, near the Taoyuan station, and with the bonus that they did have an egg option, something I have not seen in a long time, maybe not at all during this trip. The burger was interesting because egg, which was an option I have not seen on most burger menus during my trip, was scrambled, not fried. HOWEVER, it contained onions, something that I did not know to ask about because I had never had a burger in Taiwan.

The afternoon went a little awry because the buses in the Taoyuan area were not as plentiful as I expected, and I lost more time walking than I would have preferred. I had ambitions of approaching 15, but I called it a night at 12, the final two of which I unfortunately had to shoot after dark because I had gotten my timing wrong. Those two, in Sanxia District, were out of the way, and it would not make sense to reshoot them, but if I managed to get daytime photos of 300+ Taiwanese Starbucks and only a few night shots, I wasn't doing so bad. I mean, I had litereally dozens, if not hundreds, of outstanding nighttime photos from the U.S. and Canada that I had never fixed.

Next to the lone Starbucks in Yingge District was a place called Cafe Esuwa advertising something called brioche cinammon roles. Even though I've never been a huge fan of Cinnabon (avoid them whenever I can, actually), I was intrigued enough to pay 380 NTD, which was around $12, a whopping amount, for 4 of them. Unfortunately, the cafe had no way to heat it, so my experienced with the first was mediocre, and later that evening when I heated up the second, it was not great, maybe because it had been sitting out all day. The next morning I had the other two, and they were truthfully lousy, one of the worst pastry values in memory.

Given the mediocrity of the rolls, I quickly tossed out any idea of having the others for dinner, and instead I sat down for a quick and small meal from my most regular spot, near the hostel, Wagyu Shabu, and then I went up to the hostel to arrange my back, tossing out as much as possible, so I'd be ready to go as sooner rather than later in the morning. I also took care of two outstanding tasks. I took a fresh picture of the 10 Zodiac cards I had bought so I could more easily try to find the other two. I also tested the "broken" laptop power adaptor again, because I had noticed that the new one only worked when plugged in at a certain angle. This time I tried different angles with the old adapter, and when adjusted, it DID WORK, which answered the question of whether I should toss it or keep it. I also took the roll of duct tape (for my bag) and flattened it some, then put my Q-tips inside, just to minimise bulk. I tossed out loose papers, a paper bag, and anything else I could think of, but the bag still felt bulky.

Interview, with a public radio show, went great, though. I was told to be available for 30 minutes, and we ended up talking for over an hour. The host seemed to really enjoy my answers, and I was hopefully that the episode would air sooner rather than in two months, preferrably while I was still traveling, because if my story went viral again, being overseas would make the resulting spate of interviews more interesting.

December 5


Up before 7, and it LOOKED like I was going to get out by 7:30, BUT then I realised that I had overlooked something in my algorithm, and I actually had several new Starbucks in North America to check up on. Still managed to get out reasonably early, and by 11 I had already done four stores, with another nearby.

At the Xinpu Banqiao I spotted Birkin Waffle on Swarm, and it was supposed to be right next door, but I could not find it. In fact, while Swarm had pics of a cafe from a while back, nearly 10 years, Google Maps had photos of the bank. By that point I had waffles on the brain, so I tried to go to a different place nearby, Puchi Loft, but apparently it is now Lazy Enjoy. They did not have traditional waffles like the Puchi pictures showed, but by translating the menu I discovered something called "mini waffles". They were quite different, not even sure if they count as waffles, but along with scrambled eggs it was a pretty good brunch.

Enjoyed a pretty good lunch, too, across from the Tu Cheng Starbucks, heck of a value at just $3.65. For that price I received a HUGE bowl of pork, rice, and vegetables. After Tu Cheng I had to make a significant jump to the other side of a river to the Shulin District, but there were only two stores, putting me at 9. Any further store would require either moving a significant distance away from the hostel, which did not make sense, or making a lateral jump 30+ minutes to see three stores then RUSH back to the hostel for a party for Nikita's birthday. I opted to call it a Starbucking night, and I went in search of light foodibles, finally settling on a "baked potato" with bacon and melted cheese. This potato was different from what we find in America, because they had scooped out the potato into chunks and placed those in some foil. Not quite mashed, but not quite whole either.

Stopped at Mia C'Bon and picked up three bags of snacking items, then upstairs to wait for the party to begin. Good eats and good time with about half a dozen folks, then later some more, a refreshing change of pace from the usual, and well worth putting off some of my tasks, including continuing my map of new stores in Hong Kong (necessary to decide on how long I'd say and choose the most efficient hostel), and finish plotting stores in Taoyuan so I could figure out how best to proceed for the next two weeks.

December 4


Slept quite late this morning, surprisingly not waking til around 7:30, and that put me in rushing mode because at 8:30, or 18:30 CST in the U.S., there would be a Zoom meeting for WGPO. I absolutely DID NOT want to burn 45 minutes waiting for the meeting, then the meeting itself, before heading to my first Starbucks, so I rushed through my getting ready and rushed down to the station. According to Google, I might make it with 10 minutes to spare (would probably turn into 5), but if I could just get into the store, I could join on my phone while ordering my coffee. UNFORTUNATELY, it was raining, and that was going to make the trip from Nanshijiao station to Far East Century Plaza miserable.

WHEW!!! Made it to Starbucks with two minutes two spare and got logged onto to the meeting in time, coffee in hand, and I didn't even get that wet.

Considered taking a bus to Global Mall, but the bus would only cover half the distance, and thanks to the abundance of buildings with awnings, I managed to get through much of the day without getting too wet, and once I was in the heart of Banqiao, with a heavy concentration of stores, I spent enough time indoors that I was starting to dry off, although one of my feet had gotten soaked due to an errant step.

At Global Mall I had a message from a cousin about my mother. Her hand had been swollen, but it had gotten better. However, a doctor who saw her recommended an EKG and other tests. Also, the administrator at the facility was new (the owner, actually), and I had to spend a good hour talking with cousins and the new administrator to make sure we were on the same page about next steps.

Rare day when the light rain persisted for the duration of the day and never really let up, at least not when I was outside.

December 3


Tried to sleep as long as possible, without success, and this morning it was a bit more important because of the previous nights disturbance, a false fire alarm that had everybody awake and out into the hallway, although by the time I was ready to go, the alarm had stopped. No need to rush out this morning, because I was meeting an old acquaintance at The Folks, in Da'an District, at 9. We caught up for about an hour, and then I had to beg off to hurry to the next Starbucks and work on some Scrabble tasks.

I headed out to the Yonghe District, not arriving til nearly 11, and after my Scrabble work I did not get to the next Starbucks til nearly noon. Still, there was enough of a concentration that I could have gotten 11 stores, EXCEPT THAT IT WAS SUNDAY, and two of the stores ended up being closed, so I only got 9. By the time I finished, it was still light, not quite 17:00, and I actually could have gotten one more in the daylight, and then a few more inside malls, but that would have required traveling 30 minutes west, which did not make sense. If I just hit those stores the next day, I could be in and out in 5-10 minutes each--no sense in burning an hour today. I was better off returning to the hostel to work on a slight improvement to my algorithm, then plot the remaining three dozen stores in New Taipei City so I could better get a sense of what my post-checkout plan would be.

Most exciting this of the day was finding a GAY plate for my Platespotting project. The word will not be found on plates in English-speaking countries, but I hoped that other countries might have it, and Taiwan did, despite that the Wikipedia page said they didn't.

In disappointing news, I left my water bottle, of a comfortable size for the pocket in my backpack, in a restroom, and I did not realise it til I had already swiped my iCard at the station.

December 2


With my days in/near Taipei City fast running out, I wanted to get to a few more indie coffees, and today I chose Fika Fika Cafe, and I chose WELL!!! First, the coffee was excellent, a 7.5, but what truly surprised me was that after more than three months, day 101 of my trip, I finally found a true American-style biscuit. The Devon (plain) scones from Marks & Spencer were close, maybe 90%, but these Fika Fika Biscuits are spot on!

By the time I reached Sachong District again, it was around 10:30, and all of the stores required substantial walking, and some required waiting, so it took me nearly four hours to complete. It would be about an hour to the next cluster of stores, and that was going to mean another couple of hours of blitzing to take as many day photos as possible.

HOWEVER, the first store Er Chong, just happened to be in a mall with a concentration of Japanese restaurants, include Arashi Ramen, and I could not resist tryign to see if I could sneak in some ramen in 15-30 minutes. Broth - 7.25; noodles - 7.25; pork - 7.0; egg - 7.0.

Despite my ramen, a combination of fast walking and two buses allowed me to cover four more stores in that district just in time to take a decent photo of the last one (so no need to return), but of course that was only 9, my lightest day in Taiwan after the initial Sunday half-day. I could have pushed into a different district, but that trip would have taken over 30 minutes, and I'd just have to return the next day, so that did not seem like an efficient use of time.

Instead, I noticed a night market just minutes south of the final Starbucks, and I walked around a bit and finally ended up settling on a proper restaurant, Vietnamese, when I saw a picture of fried rice on the wall. UNFORTUNATELY, I believed it to be pork, and the server/manager/owner said it was, but it was actually beef.


December 2


Up well before 7, with almost no phone calls to make, BUT I had to do some organisation of the laundry I'd done the night before, and then I got into discussion about hobo-or-not with Ben who was departing that day. By the time I got onto the train towards Tamsui, it was around 8:30, and as thought I was nearing the Guandu station, I received a bit of a shock when I realised that the train was moving AWAY from my destination. Apparently that particular train had terminated at Beitou and then reversed direction, costing me at least 15 minutes.

Lost some more time when I discovered that the ASUS store was restricted, but fortunately a partner at the nearby store was willing to call over there, explain what I was doing, and the ASUS manager/supervisor agreed to meet me downstairs with coffee, which was good enough to count the visit. Once I arrived, I couldn't figure out the correct entrance. Google Maps was a bit weird with that, and a guard directed me around the entire building, but instead of coming up onto a lobby, like most American office buildings, the ASUS building had instead a series of windows, across from which were computers to enter a QR code for access. That made it tricker, since the guard spoke limited English, but eventually he got in the phone with someone who WAS NOT from Starbucks, and I had to explain the whole thing to her and negotiate a lot of confusion. Finally she asked for my number and said she would call me back. Meanwhile, I tried myself to call, first with Skype, whic did not work, and then with my phone (which would cost me), but I DID reach a partner who was expecting me, and she came down shortly with coffee.

Dreary day, unfortunately, for visiting all these seaside stores, or walking along the water, but I did score some delicious pastries: a hard-to-describe tart filled with custard, then a butter biscuit doughnut, and then something called twin dough. Post-pastry, I encountered three excellent stores, two with great views of the water, and the other, next to Cloud Gate Theatre, truly ununusual in store design and decor, some of which promotes the dancing at the theatre. Lots of walking nearly 30 minutes in between each, in chilly temperature, with drizzle and wind, to get to those stores, but the trip was worth it.

The flip side to my enjoyable time in Tamsui was that by the time I finished, with only 8 stores that day, then stopped to change currency, it was already quite late. The trip to the next closest district with unvisited Starbucks was over and hour, and by the time I arrived, around 16:45, I had to rush to try and get two stores before nightfall. I lost nearly 10 minutes right away just orienting myself out of the station and getting across the street, and although I did reach the nearest store while the sky was light, I could not make it to the second. Worse, it was out of the way, and it wasn't going to make sense to return for a day photo.

I had not had a proper lunch, and I was famished and dizzy by the time I finished, so I stopped at the first place I saw with pictures (no English) of the food. The employees spoke some English though, and I got a excellent meal for just 100 NTD, with no hiccups.

November 30


Actually managed to sleep past 7, waking up at 7:19, and I was quite pleased because I'd been staying up later finishing tasks, and sleep deficit is always a concern. Having cleared out all of central Taipei, I was now at the phase when every morning would involved 30-45 minutes of travel, or more, at least for the time that I remained at the hostel. This morning came with extra delays, first when I missed the stop and had to get off and go back, and then because I had to walk more to reshoot a couple of stores, in addition to an out-of-the-way walk to the NTSEC Starbucks. By the time I started in on the heavy cluster of new stores it was getting close to midday, and then while at only my second new store of the morning, at Far Eastern SOGO, I spotted a Beard Papa's then a cafe UCC Cafe Mercado offering Siphon brew and decided to try it.

Of course, right afterwards there was a cluster of four stores, and nearby was a cluster of three, so I knew I'd definitely get more than 10. The real trick was the Grass Mountain store, which appeared far away, and, just as I expected, not accessible by public transport. The only bus line ended not far from the Mitsukoshi Starbucks (the closest store to Grass Mountain), and I would need to walk an hour from there. I was not necessarily opposed to an hour walk, but it was drizzling, and I expected that the route would take me through areas where there no buildings to provide cover if a downpour began, and I did not want to get soaked (or my bag). So, no, I had to suck it up and pay for my first taxi in a while, but at least it only cost $6 to get there, not the $25 that a google search indicated. Trip in the taxi only took about 15 minutes, BUT it took almost that amount of time, about 10 minutes, to get the driver to understand where to take me. He had to call someone he knew, Iris, but she still could not find "Starbucks Caoshan", and finally another taxi driver, who spoke more English, got involved and helped.

Upon arriving at the area, Caoshan, where the Starbucks is, I looked around for taxis but saw none, and I quickly pulled up "Can you wait 5 minutes and take me back?" on Google Translate so I would not lose even more time trying to get a taxi back. The store was beautiful, and I wish I could have hung out and really taken in the unuusual woven mural, but I needed to get to at least 10 stores, and I needed to return to the hostel earlier than usual to do laundry.

On the way back I started to feel dizzy, and I wasn't sure if it was the winding nature of the hilly road, OR the bloated feeling that I had after my largest and most expensive lunch of my days in Taiwan. I had stumbled across Jai Ho, an Indian restaurant behind the Mitsukoshi store, and as I ordered the dal makhani and rice, I decided to try the cheese naan as also. Well, I guess I should have added up the total price, because the bill came out to more than $17, AND I should have asked about portion size, because I struggled to finish my meal and felt bloated for the rest of the day, eventually skipping dinner in favour of only a small protein bar. Anyway, I started to feel sick as the taxi ride back ended, and I asked him to stop once in the city, and I walked 10 minutes to the next store. The fresh air, and not being in a car helped, and I started to feel better, but I was worried that I would finally throw up before metabolising the coffee from the previous store, which would negate the visit.

I deferred drinking the coffees until I reached each next store, then saved the final three, just in case, but by the time I got to #12, right as it got dark, I was feeling fine (but NOT hungry in the slightest). While waiting for that final coffee I did some paperwork, but then I remembered that I needed to get back and stopped what I was doing upon receiving my coffee. On the way back I took an interesting MRT line, which consisted of just ONE SEGMENT between the Beitou and Xinbeitou stations. I learned from a Westerner that the line was built to provide access to some famous hot springs.

Back at the hostel, I ended up having to wait for the washer anyway, but at least the wait was not to long. I had to get some help from Nikita, but it all worked out, and I was finished by around 9, even if not everything was dry. I hung up my jeans and some shirts, but I had zero expectation that they would be dry in the morning given the rain and humidity in the air (they weren't). In fact, my shorts and sleep undershirt, which usually dry quick, were still damp, so I slept in my thermals plus the shirts and shirt.

November 29


Since I did not go to bed until after 22 the night before, I hoped to sleep more this morning, but of course my efforts at further sleep almost always fail, and this morning was no different. Instead I got up, made a couple of phone calls, and then I was ALMOST out before 8 am when I got into a chat with a new guest, a seven-year traveler.

First stop was back to that market near Gongguan station to find the tailor, but they were not there yet, not until 10. Back on the metro to the Jingxing Wenshan store, then a bus ride to the Wan Fang Hospital store. My plan was to clear all the stores (that I had not seen the night before) in the Xindian area then try to stop at the tailor again, but when I noticed that my bus was headed all the way to MRT Gongguan, I went ahead and returned. The tailor was indeed there, but unfortunately, like the other, she would not try to fix my shirt. Oh, well--I could not spend any more time on that. At least I found some bananas.

Finally headed all the way down to the MRT Xindian store, then began working my way back north, stopping at some place for Hainanese chicken and rice. As much experience I have traveling and looking for surprises in my food, usually ingredients I cannot handle, this place surprised me with COLD chicken and a COLD soft-boiled egg. At least the rice was warm.

November 28


Made zero effort to sleep more, and got up around 6:49 and got moving so I could the plethora of phone calls that typically come with Mondays (Tuesday in Taiwan, Monday in America), and by the time I finished and left the hostel it was well past 8 am, and I was already hungry despite the banana, with a long trip ahead to the Xizhi District, the furthest out cluster of stores in that direction.

Xizhi Datong was easy enough, as was the walk to U Mall, then a quick hop across the street, but that's when my schedule for the day went out the window. Firstly, it took me a while to find the Starbucks. By the time I did, and finished up, it was almost 11, so I returned to a food hall in the same building and fumbled my way through ordering some pork congee with a few other ingrediats, like corn and scallions, that seemed palatable to me. I passed on the "preserved egg" though, thinking it was pickled, but later googling showed that it was something else entirely, perhaps worth trying.

Google showed public transport to the Fude Starbucks to be not much faster than walking, so I started hoofing it and tried to find a path to the other main road through some buildings, as Maps indicated, but that route was clearly not for pedestrians. I went into the building to see if I could go through, and I spotted a place called Vennel Coffee that looked interesting, especially after googling, but by coincidence the employee was locking the place up with a sign on the door. A passer-by explained that they had an "equipment malfunction".

I then spotted another coffee offering a croffle, a combination pastry that I had hoped to try in Kyoto but the cafe was closed. I finally tried it, and it was decent enough, with just powdered sugar, and a waffle look plus croissantish texture and taste.

I then decided that I really wanted to try some indie coffee, as it had been three days, and I popped into Mark Odousan Coffee for a pour over. One barista spoke English and helped me choose a lighter roast, Kenyan, but the resulting brew turned out a little bit below my baseline for a coffee I would return to. Between the croffle and the coffee, I lost about 30 minutes, and then I resumed the hunt for the mythical path to the other road that Google Maps insisted was there. I ended up in the next building, following the instructions of a guard, but I still could not find a path. I spotted a couple of passers-by who looked like they might speak English, and one of them did. After looking at his map and talking to his friend, they decided that there was no path, and that I would need to go through the station, so they had me follow. Once we got back out to the main street I felt that I could figure the rest out on my own, and I went into the building and promptly got lost again. I could not figure out a path to the station, and I wandered around for a while before I spotted a pair of youth who spoke English, and one of them asked at a restaurant about the mysterious path and was told there was none. At that point I gave up, went back out to the street, and walked all the way to the next insersection then up, and by the time all was said and done, a walk that should have taken 20 minutes probably took and hour!!!

Once on the main road, getting to Fude was easy enough, then a bus clear to another part of the city--New Taipei City, actually, to see one store in Shenkeng before crossing back into Taipei for a trio of stores, quickly because it was getting dark, then back into New Taipei City to try and get two stores before dark. Didn't quite make it, though, but that was okay because I'd be returning to the area the following day.

On the way to one final store next to a station (to get me to 11), I passed a ramen spot and finally partook after 9 days, and then I passed a Thai massage place offering an hour for NTD 1000 (about $32), about the limit of what I wanted to pay.

November 27


Did try to sleep a bit more this morning, but once I was awakened by an unexplained jolt, I had to pee, and I knew that if I got up, I would not be able to fall asleep again. I tried to fall asleep anyway, but that never works. I think I would have a problem traveling to Mars.

Headed in the direction of the stores where I had finished the night before, but first to Dongxing which had been closed, then two more stores in the area (one requiring my first TRA train ride) before crossing the bridge into Neihu District. If I could clear that district, it would help to give me a better handle on where to go on Tuesday.

Next to the Kang Ning was the Halar Cinema, and I finally decided to see if Taiwan offered films in English. They did, and that included 'Napoleon'. Worth considering, so my backlog of films would not be so long when I returned.

Near the next store, Kangning Minquan E., was an interesting place, San Gu Mao Lu, where a series of racks displayed cards containing pictures of ingredients and their prices. I was thus able to select what I wanted and present the cards to the cashier, and the only confusion was about the level of spicy.

Meanwhile, the duct tape on my backpack had fallen off after a little over a day, and I was on the hunt for a place to buy some. I had resisted, because I don't want to add the bulk and weight to my pack for the next three months, but I'd be much worse off if the hole in the backpack grew to a dangerous level.

Meanwhile, I felt what could be a blister forming in my left foot, in the same place as before. I immediately regretted having opted to walk to the next store (but I was hoping to find a place to buy duct tape), and I tried to adjust my gait. Not sure how successful I was at shifting my weight for the rest of the day, but by the time I wrapped up, I did not feel that the "blister" was getting worse.

After considerable walking, I returned to the area where I had discovered so many closed stores on Sunday evening, and I set about to blitz through those stores as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, after the first two, I arrived at Rui Chuan, waited behind a customer, and as she was finishing up I set my tumbler on the counter and reached into my back pocket for my card--BUT IT WASN'T THERE!!! I feverishly checked my other pockets, then my packback, and then my mind for any memory of having stashed the card somewhere other than the usual pocket--nothing. I still had around $70-80 on the card, by my estimation, too much to just give up on, not when I just needed to backtrack 10-15 minutes to check. Once back at the other store I checked the table where I figured I'd left it (I'd done that before at other stores), but it wasn't there. I asked an employee if anyone had turned it in, but she said no, then asked a manager who said no. I checked my pockets and backpack AGAIN, and I finally gave up and resigned myself to losing the money and buying a new one. I fished my credit card out of my bag and went over to the counter to ask if they had any cards (many stores do not), AND THE CARD WAS THERE IN FRONT OF THE BAR. It was where I had set it to fiddle with my phone while expecting the barista to hand me the coffee, but then she threw me off by remaking it, so I went to sit down and left the card. WHEW!!!

Got my card back, but the mistake was costly because despite rushing in and out of the next three stores, then rephotographing three at a feverish pace, I did not make it to Shih Chien until nightfall, which was disappointing because that was the final store in that area, and it made no sense to return for a reshoot since that would cost me other stores. HOWEVER, that disappointment would immediately be supplanted by a different issue, because when I sat down to finish up paperwork and charge up before heading back, MY LAPTOP WAS NOT CHARGING!!!

I wasn't panicking yet. First I tried the other port. Nothing. Then I tried my spare adapter. Nothing. Then I tried rebooting the laptop. Nothing. Then I tried the original adapter again and noticed that the LED at the end of the plug was flickering, and that made me wonder if there was an issue with the voltage/wattage of the power coming into that building, so I packed up and walked towards the station to find any restaurant that looked like it might have outlets. I would have preferred Chinese food, or anything besides pasta, but the plug was the priority so I sat down at I'm Pasta for a rather bland and mediocre meal, and, sadly, the laptop STILL wasn't charing. I was all nerves as I returned to the hostel, because without my laptop, my project could not continue. I could visit maybe a couple of days of Taiwanese stores using my phone and record them on my phone, but eventually that process would become unwieldy, and if I could not find a place that could fix it, or come up with another solution, I'd have to give up and go home.

As I sat on the trains back to the hostel, my mind was racing with possibilities and doomsday scenarios. At the hostel I rushed into the bathroom, and then I sat down just as Jeremy the every-day-pubster from Jacksonville came out to eat, and he asked how I was doing. "I'll know in a moment", I replied, and then I plugged in the laptop. Nothing. AARRGHH!!! I tried the other plug. Nothing. AARRGHH!!! I then tried the other adapter, expecting nothing since I'd already tried it, BUT IT WORKED!!! The light on the laptop came on, and when I booted it up, it was charging, FINALLY!!! I was able to get to work, but during the process I noticed some disturbing things. First, I had to position the plug just right into the left-hand port, or it wouldn't charge. The right port was also fritzing. It would charge my iPod if possitioned correctly, BUT it would not read my SD card (thru the adapter), and the USB drive (thru another adapter) was hit or miss--I had to plug things into the left-hand port, then plug the laptop adapter into the right-hand port, and all that plugging and unplugging was making me really nervous. For all the benefits of the rather expensive XPS laptop, it only had two USB-C ports, and if they went out (or the headphone jack), the device would have limited to no utility.

I had intended to update my algorithm to download lat/long so I could plot outstanding Taipei stores and get a sense of where I stood, but my plug mishap had set me behind, and by the time I finished the necessary work, it was past 9 pm, so I went to bed.

November 26


Slept a little bit longer this morning, which I appreciated, especially since I figured some Starbucks might not open til later. But I actually I had planned for that, since I needed to reshoot a few stores. Nonetheless, by the time I finished the reshoots and arrived at the first new store, in one of the Breeze shopping centres (but with an outside door), I discovered it closed until 9, 23 minutes. If I could have had breakfast right in that area, I would have waited, but there was nothing open on the way to the next Starbucks, so I just did Fuxing Nanjing then No.1 Qingcheng across the intersection and rerouted to head back to Breeze.

After a hundred stores, I could no longer necessarily remember which stores I had been too from the names alone. For this reason I had tried to clear all the stores in areas, but sometimes I had to skip around. I wasn't sure about Fuxing Nanjing and had to pull out my laptop and check when I reached the store, before ordering coffee, and for the rest of the day I made sure to examine the next few stores along my route while on my laptop to make sure they were not in a zone I had visited.

On the way to TTV I continued my pattern of getting more adventurous with restaurants and cafes that do not have English on the menu. This worked out, using Translate to specify only egg/meat/bread, and I got a simple sandwich (with lettuce, which I removed) for just $1.11!!!

I was feeling pretty good around midday, seeing the possibility of almost 20 stores, and I didn't even mind spending some time at Sukiya, a Japanese restaurant, but then the Sunday effect came into play, when the store that would have gotten me to 10 by early afternoon was closed on Sunday. I did some walking and got myself to 9, then I took what thought would be an easy bus across the river to another cluster of stores, BUT after a few stops the bus started heading back towards where it had picked me up!!! I had no idea what was happening, so I quickly got off and ran back across the street to wait for a different bus, which DID get me to the correct stop (where I still had to walk over 10 minutes).

After those two stores, to bring me to 11, I headed towards the next cluster, nearly 10 stores, BUT the first one was closed, some meeting I think, then the next one undergoing some construction or remodeling. The third was open, but then the next two were closed. I finally got out of the business district and into an area where most stores were open, but I only got to one before sunset, then the rest, to get me to 16, I'd need to reshoot.

Took another chance on a small restaurant with no English menu, and at this one the employees did not seem too interested in helping me order. I pointed to what I wanted, and their attitude was, like, okay, we'll LET you eat here. Pretty good pork and rice, though, at a great price.

November 25


Wide awake well before 7, with no headache, and not feeling crappy like the previous day, so I did not even try to sleep more and prepared to get an early start, EXCEPT that it was Saturday, so I had to make sure I would not arrive at a Starbucks and have to wait for it to open, AND I also wanted to hit The Normal Coffee, from a blog, in the area where I'd be. I also considered heading out to Keelung to ensure that stores would be open, but then once I returned I would not want The Normal, and I expected they would open even later on Sunday.

Headed to two Starbucks, then killed some time before returning to The Normal, stopping at some random restaurant on the way for some eggs and toast.

Coffee from The Normal Coffee was worth killing time for--it was excellent, my new second-favourite of the Asian portion of my tour, albeit the most pricey coffee I've had across Europe and Asia, $12 for the cup!

After the CTS store I decided that it made sense to start getting some of the further away stores out of the way, and Keelung seemed like a good place to start, since I could get there by bus from a terminal near the Taipei City Hall MRT. Finding the correct bus, the 2088 (A?) was easy enough, and the relatively-short trip had wifi which allowed to get some work done, but then I misread (or Google was wrong) the stop, missed it, and the next one left me to walk back 20 minutes (the entire bus ride had been a little over twice that) in the light rain. For further annoyance, the sidewalk was interspered with occasional cables--I honestly have no idea how those haven't been ripped out by a pedestrian or cycling hitting them by mistake.

Stayed as long as I could to dry off some, but time was a-tickin', and I was soon back out in that sometime-drizzle-sometime-rain. Google Maps wanted me to take a bus that went along the coast, but I figured the walk there would not have any cover, so I went towards town inside, where portions of the sidewalks had awnings. I was supposed to take the 202, so I skipped the 2088 (figured it was more expensive), but the 202 did not come at the appointed time. I continued waiting for the 202 bus, but it never arrived. The electronic display said BUS AT DEPOT, but I had no idea what that means, so I ended up taking the 201.

Upon exiting the bus, I scooted for cover, then went into the first building and found a path to the Starbucks. Waited a long time for the loo, but I did not mind so long as I was dry, and then I forwent a 12-minute walk to the next store in favour of a long wait, then short bus ride, simply to keep myself away from the rain as much as possible. By the time I finished the store at Keelung Railway South Station, I was sure I'd not return to Taipei before nightfall, so I went ahead and took a long break at an Indonesian market/restaurant across from the station.

Managed to get to Maijin and then back on a bus to Taipei without getting too wet, and by then the rain had eased enough that visiting six more stores and getting dinner was fine. Actually, only three were outside, and once I got to SOGO, I was inside until I returned to Guting Station and the hostel.

November 24


Slept until 7:19, and ordinarily I would have been relieved for getting more sleep, but I had a headache, and my throat felt funny, and I did not feel 100%. The last thing I needed was to get sick again so soon after having shaken off weeks of symptoms.

Thanksgiving in America, so no calls to be made, and I was soon as the cluster of three stores I had skipped the day before to head to Taipei 101. Passed Ciuqu Drip Coffee, a place that looked beautiful and interesting, BUT for some reason their drip was only cold, so I passed, and then I finally sat down and started looking up blogs of best coffee in Taiwan, specifically filter, and plotting those.

I did not feel like I had shorted myself on food on Thursday, but nonetheless I was really hungry, and the honey yoghurt from Starbucks did almost nothing to ease that hunger. I wanted to find something from a street vendor or small cafe that looked good, but I didn't want to do another coffee without food, so I tried a egg + bacon pancake from MWD (My Warm Day), and it was decent enough, kind of like a savoury crepe.

On the way to the TMU Hospital and Wuxing stores I walked past a lively street market, always a highlight of Starbucking, and I was able to pick up bananas and a lone apple--I'd much rather patronise these street vendors over Carrefour if I can help it. Only bought the one apple, though, because of my experience they other day--they can be quite heavy if I buy four or five. I still wasn't feeling great, with sensations of dizziness throughout the day, and I did not want to strain myself if I could help it.

Finished removing closed stores from the main StoresInternational table, and it looked like there were many fewer Taiwanese stores than the 563 I originally had--finishing them all, or coming close, actually seemed possible if I kept on the grind and hustled. Unfortunately, I was still not feeling 100% by midday, often dizzy, and hustling proved a challenge.

Hit ten stores by 14:00 and felt like I could definitely get 16, but I had to eat something, without taking too much time, so when I spotted Nene Chicken, doing a promotion with Snoopy, I had to give them a try. Once I looked at the menu I spotted something interesting, called bongousse, which was a Korean rice burger, and I decided to give it a try, after my usual specifications of "NO EXTRA SAUCES".

November 23


Barely even tried to fall back asleep this morning, pretty much resigning myself to getting up before 7, and making a mental note to put more of an effort into going to bed before 9 so I would not build up a sleep deficit. My gut told me that the sleep deficits from Europe had an effect in making me sick when I was in Milan, with ailments that persisted through China and Japan.

Started out with some stores not far east of my hostel, but after about half a dozen I deicded that I wanted to go ahead and sort out some stores that I had visited in 2006 but had never matched to stores listed on the Starbucks website. All those stores were in proximity to Taipei 101, where I began my brief tour back then, so I walked up to a store next to an MRT station and was soon inside Taipei 101 and immediately regretting that I had not headed there first thing in the morning, because the newer Starbucks, the Reserve one, was already slammed, and the whole time I was there I could not get a clean photo. I did score special Starbucks cards, however, and then I went upstairs and confirmed that the Taipei 101 store I had seen 17 years earlier was that one, on the first floor. Then, for the sake of nostalgia, I ate from the food court, which is what I had done when I arrived at Taipei 101 in 2006.

The area has a high concentration of stores, so I had to find ways to slow down the caffeine intake, and spotting a series of food stands across from the Breeze Nan Shan Starbucks did the trick, once I spotted some donuts. Unfortunately, tasty though they were, they were not warm, and I do loves me a warm donut. Or three, in this case, because that was the minimum order (at around twice the price of the one I found on the street a couple of days earlier). While I ate I chatted with a man from India, from Gujarat, and later his daughter who had just happened to be in Houston recently. They gave me some recommendations of places to go in India, but of course airfare is going to be a major deciding factor.

Oh, at some point during the afternoon I emailed Starbucks Taiwan, or rather Uni-Wonder or Uni-President, or President, or whatever they are called, about my mission to see if could help, with the unstated hope that they might be interested in generating publicity, and later in the day I did receive a reply, but it did not sound enthusiastic.

November 22


Awake well before 7, as usual, and this time I barely tried to get more sleep. I downed my coffee from the night before, closed my eyes, quickly gave up, and went off to jump in the shower and examine all the mosquito bites from the night before. I had discovered that the reason I heard so much outside noise was that the window did not shut fully, and that was probably letting mosquitoes even, every through the screen and the outer panes of glass.

The morning was light on calls, and I was soon at the first Starbucks, next to NTNU on Heping E. Rd., and then my route to the next took me past CAT.jpg, a cat cafe recommended by a guest/employee of the hostel. As I expected, no filtre coffee, but the Americano was okay, and I enjoyed the vibe even without any outlets.

Not sure what happened, but despite my early start and not even having to do much work once I finished categorising the remaining Taiwanese stores, I was only at 8 stores by around 14:00. In order to save some time and improve my odds of getting to 16 stores, I had a rare fast food meal, from T.K.K. Fried Chicken, which seems to be a local chain. Cheap and fast, but not something I'd return to if I did not have to. Best to limit fried food to the ones I really want, and mediocre fried chicken does not cut it.

To get to Lin Sen I shaved 10 minutes off my trip with my first bus ride, and thankfully there were a couple of Americans on board who were able to clarify that I needed to both TAP IN and TAP OUT.

Despite my detours to reshoot 3 stores, and the out-of-the-way Lin Sen, I still managed to make it to 14 stores during daylight, and that meant I could pick up two inside stores at the TSA airport, one I did not even know existed until I clicked the dot on the map. Surpringly, from the Hong Tai store, instead of taking the MRT, I was able to walk to the TSA airport in less than 15 minutes, making this one of the rare times that I have walked to an airport, on top of this being a rare visit to an airport Starbucks without actually flying.

Another rarity, perhaps a first, eating a meal at the airport without having too (because of a flight). Prices were so reasonably, though, only $3.50 for pork rice plus soup, that it just made sense.

November 21


Up early once again, although I expected to not actually gain any Starbucking time because I would need to return to the hostel to move my things to the bottom bunk after that guest departed. I lucked out, however, and he, a Canadian, was up early himself to head to the airport, so I was able to relocate before departing.

I headed to the He Ping Starbucks at the end of the block to make calls using wifi, not my T-Mobile bandwidth, but as soon as I walked inside I could tell that I would likely disturb others as I enunciated to be heard over the Skype connection. Instead, I stepped outside and sat next to the window, which meant enduring the ambient noise of a lot of morning traffic. I was not looking forward to doing that every morning, but I'd have little option if I wanted to save my bandwidth.

After my calls, I took the metro back to Ximen and walked over to Chong Qing for daytime photos, and then I headed to the first new store of the day, Guanqian & Hankou, which happened to be across the intersection from the Gu Gu Waffle stand I had passed the previous night (right after dinner, so I was not hungry). Unfortunately it was closed, and the passers-by I asked could not find any indication of an opening time, so I went over to the Starbucks and had a bagel. Well, what do I see from the second floor window right as I sit down to eat?


I killed as much time as possible at the Starbucks so I'd have at least a little bit of an appetite for a waffle, which turned out to be decent, for the non-Liege style, but not as sweet as I'd hoped, and they did not have powered sugar. Might be worth trying with some other flavour, like custard, if I ever return to that area.

Pretty heavy concentration, and I got up to six stores pretty quickly, by midday, so I finally took a massage break on the way to Bao An Datong store. She did not speak English, though, and she did not seem to understand either "softer" or "too hard", or read into my sounds of pain. Towards the end, when she massaged my stomach, she was pressing too hard, sometime that I have been told by other masseuses is not good. For the rest of the afternoon I would find some blood in my stool. Now my bloating and the occasional blood were probably completely unrelated to her pressing on my stomach, but I still had to wonder.

The next store was an usual Reserve, and across the street was a Carrefour where I could get some yoghurt, after a tofu meal from a restaurant in the Carrefour Mall. Once again, like the day before, I had to waste a lot of time on escalators that took me to the department store floor before I could get to the grocery floor. Of the half dozen or so countries where I had been to Carrefour during this trip, Taiwan was the first where I could not simply enter the grocery store directly.

By around 14:00 I was already up to seven or eight stores, and I was easily able to get to 14 today, although the last few I would need to reshoot. I also took the opportunity to get a haircut. It was pricier than I expected at $12, but the service was extra. Besides the shaving, the barber shampooed my hair, extensively so, and then after the shave she also gave me a mini shoulder massage.

For dinner I found some Indian, Ali Baba's near the Songjiang Nanjing station, and I ordered entirely too much by adding rice to my naan, then deciding to try the aloo paratha.

November 20


Because of the time change, I woke up shortly after 6 am. I tried to get back to sleep, but I gave up before 7 am and went ahead and got ready to head out. Only a couple of phone calls to make, but I immediately experienced shock when I tried to Skype and got an unexpected error. Tried again. Same. Tried with my iPod. Same. I started to worry, but I switched my phone off wifi and was able to make the call with my T-Mobile roaming. A while later at the Starbucks a few minutes away, I tested Skype on their wifi, and it worked. That meant I had a way to make calls without burning my roaming bandwidth, BUT I'd have to rush to that Starbucks, or another nearby, early morning, to make my calls before stores in North America shut down in the evening.

A block down from the He Ping Starbucks, I passed Miracle Coffee and could see pour over set up through the window. Busan had been both overwhelming and underwhelming when it came to craft coffee--OVERABUNDANCE of choices, but most seemed to not have filtre coffee, and a few that did were merely okay, not outstanding. I was skittish about randomly trying a place in Taipei without research, but I decided to give this one a try. The owner was super nice and gave ma recommendation for a coffee/tea expo finishing up that day (too far, I decided), and she brewed me up a decent Bolivian natural processed coffee. Decent, once I added sugar, that is, which she WOULD NOT give me. I had to use the three remaining packets in my bag, then backtrack to Starbucks for some more.

I continued southeast on Roosevelt to two other Starbucks, one so new it was not on Google Maps yet, and then I detoured to the main street behind Gongguan Station to look for the tailor that the hostel owner/manager had recommended. I saw nothing for a few blocks, and I asked a young couple who first said they did not know the area but then came back and went above and beyond to google and find a place inside a marketplace in or attached to Wellspring Theater, on the next block. Unfortunately it was closed today, but an employee doing construction confirmed that there was indeed a tailor, and that they would open tomorrow.

I did, however, score a pretty decent sugar-coated traditional doughnut from a street vendor across the street, for less than 50 cents. Better than the raising scone I had had from Starbucks. The ones in Korea were better, and so was the orange juice.

At the next store, my fourth of the day, I finally found some exciting Starbucks cards, zodiac themed. Unfortunately I could only get five, not the whole set. HOWEVER, the cards were expensive, 150 NTD each, and since this money did not go on one's balance, it was about $5 a pop.

Since I would need to return to that part of town the next day for the tailor, I took the metro north to the CKS station, and near the Starbucks I found King of Roast Taiwan, where I had some pretty good, if bland, duck with rice and veggies for a little over 4 bucks.

Given the number of Taiwanese Starbucks that I wanted to get through, I was planning on only seeing roughly one craft coffeehouses every 2-3 days, definitely not my focus, but when I passed Cozy Sun Day Coffee with its adorable logo, I had to give them a try, especially after seeing that they had a peaberry natural coffee on offer (my fave ever was a Kenyan peaberry from Sightglass, and it was probably natural). Excellent cup, but it left me super wired, and I would only get to twelve Starbucks that day.

On the way to the Xizang Starbucks I passed a shoe repair place, and since I know that similar businesses often choose locations in proximity to one another, I asked the employee (with my phone) if there was a tailor nearby, and he walked me a few doors down. The younger of the two women spoke some English, and they all chuckled when I pointed to my jeans. They would not mend my shirt, saying the fabric was too deteriorated, but they did take care of my jeans, for only about $6.50, and boy was I relieved!

I was amazed most of the day because I did not pass a supermarket, but in the afternoon, desperately needing food, I got to the Guilin Wanhua in a Carrefour building, and since I am in the hostel for a while, I was able to buy apples and bananas in bulk (but not the yoghurt). Made my backpack REALLY heavy though, but during the walk to the next store I found it cool enough to don my long-sleeved shirt, which lightened the pack (as did eating an apple).

The next cluster of stores took me to 11, and by that point it was dark, but I still pushed on to 12 because 11 just did not feel like enough, and then I looked around for food and settled for pasta, once again a pretty inexpensive meal.

November 19


As is my habit, I booked a flight not early in the morning to avoid rushing, and I even got up before 7 (thanks to a lot of noise made by other guests), and yet, despite a pretty much straight shot to the airport, I found myself worried that I would miss my flight. The primary reason was that I misread the Starbucks app--I thought I only had one new Starbucks to see, on the same line to the airport, so I dawdled and finally made the necessary call to check in on my mother. I then proceeded to walk to the next store on the map to rephotograph it, BUT upon arriving I did not recognise it, and I quickly realised that it was a store I had not yet been to, so it took me longer than expected to get out. By that point I was worried, so I forwent the reshoot of the other store and just rushed into station to get to the airport.

As soon as I entered the terminal and found the check-in lines, I was glad that I had skipped the reshoot, but I was also worried because the line was long, and according to an agent, the gate would close 40 minutes before the flight, at 10:25, leaving me about 40 minutes to check-in, clear security, clear immigration, and find the gate. Made it with about 3 minutes to spare, but then the flight was delayed anyway, so I had time to try and find any food product ending in 150 KRW (1150, 2250, even 650) so I could get rid of my coins, but all foods were at "even" amounts.

I had expected an international, 2 1/2 hour, Air Busan flight to include a meal, but apparently only for those who ordered, so I was really glad I had thought to pop into the Shinsegae food hall the night for some groceries. I still had an apple and power bar left over, and they tided me over during the flight, but I still arrived quite hungry.

There was an inbound security check, something I'd not seen at any airport ever, or in a long time, but immigration and customs were a breeze, and I was soon out in the arrival hall, where I headed straight for Bank of Taiwan to exchange currency. As the articles had led me to believe, the rate was decent--after a 30 NDT fee, I received 31,420 NDT for $1000, compared to the official rate of 31,749. The difference of 329 was about $10, which, off a $1000 exchange, is not bad.

I felt a headache coming on, so before seeking Starbucks, I looked for food and found a cafe serving up some roast chicken with rice, soup, and braised egg, for about $7. Remembering my first experience with food in Taiwan, I emphasised no additional sauces, and the only thing that caught me off guard was something on the cabbage/mushroom, but it wasn't too strong.

First Starbucks, B2, I was quite pleased that both baristas spoke excellent English, as did one on the 4F and 5F. They confirmed that all Starbucks are operated by the same company (Uni-Wonder or Uni-President or President), and that Taiwan offers brewed coffee in the short size with a cup discount. On the downside, the receipts do not contain store numbers matching what is on the website, just as in Japan and Korea, annoying. Also, Taiwan did away with the plastic/paper Starbucks cards and just relies on the app, which sucks because I cannot download the Taiwanese app. That means using my credit card over and over, which I don't want to do because my statement would be a nightmare to examine, or to pay cash. A barista at the 4F store offered to give me one, but he did not have any at the store and said if I returned he would let me have it. Airport is an hour from town, though, BUT I had to travel in that direction anyway to visit Starbucks, so maybe it made sense.

With a month in Taiwan, it finally made sense to take the time to figure out the transport card. There are two, East Card and iPass, and iPass seemed to make the most sense, but I was really confused when I put in my 200 NTD and did not get a card. I had to go get help, and it turns out the card was stuck in the dispenser.

The trip to Taipei Main Station went smoothly, and just minutes away were two Starbucks at Q Square. By that point my headache was full on, despite having taken an ibuprofen on the train, so even though I wanted a proper dinner I ordered a lemon tart from the second store, just to see if that helped (it did). I decided to call it a night at 7 stores and head to my hostel, but I could not even make it to next station without passing a Starbucks, so I did one more, and there I lucked out and found a physical Starbucks card.

After checking into the hostel I popped back outside for a quick dinner and was impressed at how cheap the pork/rice/egg bowl was, just about $4.50!!!

November 18


Was hoping to sleep a bit more to make up for having seen the film the night before, and to start getting my body used to the time difference in Taiwan, but I ended up before 8 anyway, which ended up being a good thing because I had a lot of phone calls to make, and businesses were starting to shut down stateside.

On the other hand, the later I got out of the hostel the better, because I was shocked to learn that the temperature had dipped below freezing and was around 35 just before 9 am, but expected to rise every hour, getting close to 50 or maybe better. I once again took a longer metro route simply to avoid the 10-minute walk to the Beomil station, and once I reached the first cluster of stores near the Jangsan station, I took my time to allow the sun to work its magic and warm up the air some. One I finished a cluster of three stores, I'd have to be doing more walking, and at 35 degrees, with only one glove, long walks would be quite uncomfortable.

11:30, still only up to 39 degrees, quite miserable whenever I turned a corner and got hit by a gust of wind.

Ah, gotta love that language awkwardness. Spotted an apple from a street vendor, and because he spoke no English, it was an akward process to pay him. Not sure what the issue was. He hemmed and hawed at the sight of the apple in my hand, and finally he went to his car, retrieved a 500-won coin, then two two 1000-won notes from my hand and gave me the change.

Since I had no wish to be outside any longer than necessary, today was a bad today to forget to check the Starbucks app and instead head straight to the next Starbucks shown on Google Maps, which apparently had closed down. I grumbled, but on the other hand the detour took me past Egg 2000, where I was able to get a rare helping of egg, along with cheese and bacon on a sweet roll. Unfortunately, the "potato" advertised seemed to be potato SALAD, with mayo, which I had specifically said I did not want "no sauces"). I felt nauseated every time I bit I tasted mayo, but I endured.

My walk then got more scenic as the day got warmer and I headed down to the Haeundae Dalmaji store, and after that it was finally time for the tallest Starbucks in the world, at Busan X the Sky. Admission was about $23, but the views and experience were totes worth it. Took a long time to get out thought--it was nearly 15:00, and I had to hustle to the next two stores in the area, pausing only for some takoyaki from a stand in Emart to blunt the coffee. I then hopped on the metro and headed to the Centum City station, where there was a concentration of SIX stores to bring my total to 15 for the day, a great haul.

I was feeling exhausted and wanted dinner quickly, so I took a chance on a spot serving congee (rice porridge) with abalone. I once more amused the staff by declining all the extras, and I contended myself with blander congee than most people eat. Not bad, although price at 14,000 KRW given how light the dish was on abalone.

Before fatigue set in so quickly, I had hoped to stay up til 11:00 and call my mother, but I could not do it and just went to bed after my paperwork.

November 17


Did not get up until 7:49 this morning, after a bout of sneezing, and this worried me that I was once again getting sick after about a week since my last set of symptoms faded (except for the sty, which is still not completely gone).

After some phone calls, it was not terribly cold outside, but I nonetheless forwent a 10-minute walk to the most optimal station, Beiomil, in favour of getting underground as quickly as possible even thought that meant a transfer. I headed out towards the Haeundae Beach area, and after picking up the Starbucks near the Suyeong Station, I took a detour out to Haegrida, a coffehouse recommended by a customer at Starbucks of all places. Unfortunately, while the space was lovely, great for events, even wedding receptions, and with a great view, the Americano was one of the most lackluster of my tour.

Soooo many Starbucks across the river, and I picked a direction and started picking off stores, pausing when I got to BEXCO, the convention centre, where a gaming event was taking place. About a dozen food trucks were out in front, and after checking out all of them, I was disappointed in the lack of English on the menus (given that the gaming con would likely attract westerners), and I just went with a hot dog and the MOST EXPENSIVE CHIPS ever, more than $5 for chips that were not even special in any way.

Starbucks inside BEXCO was slammed, of course, because of the convention crowds, and so of course on top of waiting a while for my coffee, I could not get a decent photo. On the other hand, the store WAS open, and I wasn't sure that it would have necessarily been at some other random time, until there was always some type of activity in the building. Once I finally wrapped that up, I walked to a brand new store, not even on Google yet, next to an eye hospital. As with many of these Starbucks inside other buildings, this one shared the loo with the building. When I exited I did not need to go back through the Starbucks, but rather the front door of the building, and I stopped to put on my wool cap. In that moment, the guard came over and waved to me, and he spoke more English than I expected, enough to ask if I was a Starbucks customer and if I had bought a drink. He went on to ask me more questions, but if I had to guess, he was no longer interrogating me but just wanted to practise English and sate his curiosity about a foreigner. Eventually I had to beg off and head to the next pair of stores, right across from each other.

Across from Marine City I-Park was Zenith Square (not Zenth, as shown on the Starbucks app), and before finding the Starbucks I spotted Truman Coffee and noticed a pour over set up, so I decided to give them a try, since Haegrida had been a disappointment. Decent enough Honduran pour over, but far from great, and having that cup on top of the Haegrida Americano had an effect of leaving me really wired, even though I had only been to six Starbucks, and I would be struggling against overcaffeination for the rest of the day, forcing me to slow the Starbucks down a bit. In fact, I started deferring coffee earlier than expected, just so I could handle it. This was, of course, risky, because if I deferred only the final stores of the day, and I lost/spilled the coffee, I could easily figure out which stores those were. If I deferred a couple of stores, then drank from a few, then deferred another, tracking which stores I had deferred would be tricky.

Still, I plugged away and got another half dozen stores, at which point I had a choice to go out to the Sky the X store, but given that there was admission to go up to the top floor, I figured I might as well wait til daylight. Instead I headed out to the Haeundae Station store, where I could get the metro back, and I stumbled across a CGV cinema showing the new Hunger Games film in English, and the time was perfect. I had just enough time to get a slice of pizza and upload photos before the film.

November 16


Up a bit earlier this morning, feeling quite rested, but once again disappointed that this @#$%^& sty had not yet disappeared, and, at the rate it was improving, would not for another week. Had to sort out some North American Starbucks issues, as per usual, then figure out in which direction to head. My initial plan was to return to the area where I'd left off the night before, but those remaining stores were spread out and would likely require walking. Weather said it was going to rain, so I changed to a different area with a higher concentration which would mean I could spend more time inside in between rushing to the next store.

Tried the Starbucks bagel and the Hallabong juice (I call it "hollaback"), and while the latter was delicious, the bagel was not great--Korean Starbucks scones are better.

Even though the day's stores were away from the city centre, they were still no more than 20-minutes walking at their furthest, and I continue to space them out by performing tasks, primarily working on some Scrabble duties. Tried to keep my stomach full, and I finally found a single apple and was shocked at the price, around $2.50!!! For lunch I decided to try Frank Burger, simply for the yuks (the Punisher connection), and I was shocked when I discovered a pineapple slice inside my bacon cheeseburger!!!

The drizzling began shortly after midday, and as a result I dawdled quite a bit inside stores, to try and stay as dry and warm as possible. I ended up at twelve stores, a number I could have beaten if I had hustled, but I did not feel like being cold and wet all afternoon. Also, I finally spotted a place offering waffles, after three days without, and I could not resist.

The final five stores of the day all had views of the beach and the water, but the day was overcast, and it was drizzling, and I felt a little cheated.

By coincidence my twelfth and final store of the day was in the first food hall I had encountered in Busan, Millac the Market, and I decided to try my first burrito of these Asian travels. Once the employee remade it WITHOUT onions, only carnitas, potatoes, and cheese, it was pretty good, albeit a little bland.

To get home I went a bit out of my way to stay dry. I could have taken the #2 metro line to the same station I where I started in the morning, then walked about 10 minutes, but I opted to do a transfer instead, which added time to my journey, BUT only left me with a 2-3 minute walk.

November 15


Up earlier this morning, hoping to call my mother before they started dinner, but I forgot that the time change did not affect Panama. I was also hoping that my sty would be gone. I barely felt it, but I could still see the swelling and did not like the fact that it had been over a week already.

Not many phone calls to make, but I did lose time trying to verify a licensed St. Louis store by mistake, for the simple reason that the column in my table indicating ownership was off my screen, and I did not notice. After the Starbucks stuff was done, I tried to find a craft coffeehouse that was open and in the area where I would be, but all were in different parts, and would not open til 10, 11, or 12. HOWEVER, the first Starbucks of the morning, at BIFC, happened to be in a mall where every other shop, or more, was a coffeehouse, and after looking at a few menus, I ordered from A.OK and enjoyed an excellent Costa Rican pour over.

One more walkable store, and then I had completed everything in walking proximity to the hostel and had to figure out the bus sitch. 1000 KRW directly in cash on the bus seemed to do the trick, and I was soon at a cluster of three stores near Busan Station.

Tried the full-sized scone at one of the stores to help blunt the effects of the coffee, but after all three, it seemed like a good idea to get some more food, a light meal, before hitting a cluster of nearly ten stores a few metro stops away. By luck I spotted an Indian restaurant across the street, New Little India, and they just happened to have a small lunch special for 8000 KRW, which was perfect for me.

Took the metro to the next station, although in retrospect I could have walked, and I likely would have done so if I could have calculated the distance using Maps. Some weirdness at the exit station however, when the QR reader rejected my ticket. A passer-by stepped in to help and pressed a button to call an agent. The agent came over, took my ticket, scanned it, and told me to proceed, but I never got an explanation of what happened.

Didn't want to deal with that again, so for the next store I walked, and also to the one across the bridge. Regardless of the distance, I wasn't going to pass up a walk across a bridge. For the next one, though, eyeballing it, the walk was going to be at least 30 minutes, and it would be getting dark soon. I wisely opted for the bus, which cost 1700 won, not 1000 like earlier in the day, but it was worth it to get some photos of that spectacular waterside drive-thru in good light. Similarly, it was worth paying another 1700 to ensure that I hit another cluster before dark, which would put me well above 10 stores for a second day in a row.

Easily made it to thirteen stores before nightfall, even despite having to wait 5-10 minutes at most of them for the coffee. Like Japan, Korea had no issues offering me filtre coffee in the short size, except in the few cases where the machine was broken/cleaning, or at special Reserve stores, BUT UNLIKE JAPAN, where the coffee was usually brewed, half the time, or more, I had to wait for the Korean stores to brew a pot.

I had another craving for chicken fried rice and spotted a place between Starbucks, but when I finished up at the last one of the day, I didn't feel like detouring back there and just picked a spot on the way to the station. Took a while but I found a place with rice dishes (growing weary of noodles) and some English descriptions, and I picked a pork and rice soup that was served to me bubbling hot, but BLAND, because I was expected to add salt(s) (there were two shakers), spices, and a selection of other items that I passed on.

November 14


Tried the mini scones from Starbucks, and they were actually pretty good, with a hint of American biscuity taste. Orange juice was also good, probably top 5 for Starbucks OJ of this tour.

Most of the stores had brewed coffee prepared, but occasionally I had to wait 5 minutes, and I used this time to catch up on tasks. During one such wait I started to calculate my distance walked on Monday and quickly realised that the lack of walking directions in Google Maps was a problem. I had to find another site,, and use it in combo with Maps to try and estimate the distance.

As I full expected of a major Asian city where Starbucks had had a presence for decades, the concentration of stores in the city centre was heavy, and I was easily able to make it to fifteen stores today, even with plenty of pauses--breakfast, lunch, looking for currency exchange, booking my flight out of Taiwan, booking my hostel in Taipei, and some wandering. I killed just enough time to keep myself from feeling caffeine overload, and by the end of the day, with 14 coffees consumed and only one deferred, I felt fine leading up to a ramen dinner.

Unlike Starbucks Japan, the Korean Starbucks did have some unusual breakfast pastries, including mini scones that were actually really good. So was the orange juice!

After last night's no-English dinner adventure, today I played it safe for lunch and found a Chinese place that had an English menu and offered fried rice. I used Google Translate to specify "no onions", but the waiter spoke enough English to understand me anyway, and then to clarify that the soy sauce had onion, which was fine with me.

Currency exchange was not as plentiful as I had expected in Busan, but I did find a place that had a better rate than the airport, just in case I ran out of cash before I finished. I had paid for the hostel in cash, to avoid a 10% markup, and that consumed a third of the $200 I had exchanged.

Back at the hostel, I was relieved that I had knocked off at 15 instead of trying to get one more, because once again it took me a long time to do paperwork, and I was well past exhausted when I finished.

November 13


Since I was already at the airport, and my flight was not until 10:30, I tried to sleep until 8, but I gave up sometime before 7:30 and 8. The extra minutes actually helped me, because once I reached the first Starbucks, before checking in, I discovered an issue with my website that I wanted to resolve as quickly as possible, and since I thought I had plenty of time, I went ahead and took care of it. Then I went into the North Wing to find the check-in area, and my jaw dropped when I a line stretching all the way down the row of Jin Air counters then wrapping to the end of the building and halfway back!!!

Turns out that Jin Air does not have kiosk check-in, and that meant long check-in lines, and I started to worry about whether I'd have time for the other Starbucks. Fortunately, the line moved pretty quickly, and I was checked in by 9:30 or 9:40 with boarding not starting til 10:05 (it was later delayed 10 minutes). I definitely had time to see the other Starbucks, BUT I also wanted to confirm that the old Airport Station store, now renamed on the app, was the same. Didn't want to risk it, though, and it was a good thing I headed directly to the Starbucks, because that gave me time to order a waffle and also pick up a yoghurt. This would turn out to be important because Jin Air, a low-cost airline, did not offer a meal, AND MOREOVER they did not have any actual hot food for purchase. The flight was 2:40 minutes, and I did not want to arrive in Busan with a head, so I sucked it up and purchased some cup noodles for four bucks. Later on I was still hungry and tried to purchase sweet potato crisps, but the flight attendants did not get around to it before we started our descent, so I canceled the order.

Breezed through immigration (no questions) and customs (not even a glance in my direction), and I exited to some surprise because the Busan airport was quieter than I expected, AND it also lacked Starbucks. That was actually a relief, because I needed to verify that all stores counted for me, and if any did not, the airport ones would be most likely to be not Shinsegae.

I had no leftover cash and figured I'd likely need some, so I sucked it up and exchanged at the airport, although it was actually a bank branch, not simply an exchange bureau. No idea if the rate was better or worse.

Upon opening Google Maps, I saw that it was relatively easy to get to the hostel, but it was still quite early, not even 14, so it made sense to knock off some Starbucks nearest the airport. I asked at information and learned that the first line, which was not indicated on Maps, was a monorail (actually light rail), and the next one a bus. At the light rail station I tried to figure out if there was a multi-day transport pass option, and after some googling I finally learned that the one-day metro passes did not apply to light rail, so I quickly bought a ticket in the direction of the transfer stop, Renecite. At that point Google said to take a bus, but the Starbucks looked close enough to walk.

UNFORTUNATELY, I received another shock when I tried to plot the walking distance and Google Maps could not. I googled for this and learned that the government prevents companies from exporting the mapping data, because of the security threat from the North. I had to eyeball it and determine that the distance was walkable, and I did it in less than 30 minutes.

At that first Korena Starbucks in eight years, the manager was super helpful and gave me the answers I hoped for. All Starbucks owned by Shinsegae (hope she was correct). Filter coffee is offered, and in the short size, and there is a 400 won discount, about 30 cents. I also found two different Busan Starbucks cards right away, but there was a curiosity--I had to first buy the card for 5000 (which did end up on the card) and then reload, and the minimum reload was 10,000. I spent a lot of time doing paperwork at that store, and by the time I headed out to the E-Mart store, I was famished.

E-Mart had a grocery store so I went for bananas, and I had to figure out how to buy them. They were all in huge bunches, and I only wanted four at most, so I grabbed a bunch and took them over to a scale. I asked the employee next to the scale, by pointing, if I needed to weight them, and she indicated no, so I went to the register. The cashier was super confused by my four bananas, so she asked a coworker who went and got a manager who ended up just giving me the bananas, even though I had money in my hand. Still have no idea what happened.

On the way to the next store I was still hungry and stumbled across a corn dog which tided me over til dinner, which would not come til sunset. I found the next two stores easily, but the one after that was confusing, on the other side of rail tracks and a freeway, and without Maps directions, I had no idea how to get there and just had to make my best guess which took me through a neighbourhood and up some stairs onto a main road.

After that store I took the metro to the next, and both metro trips that day were frustrating because, inexplicably, some of the station names were not translated to English, including the direction of travel. That made it a challenge to figure out which platform to be on.

One more store, making six for the day, and I called it quits and walked down the road looking for dinner. I decided to take a chance on a random cafe that had something on a menu that looked like chicken with chips. Turned out that it was NOT chicken, and what appeared to be chips also included some type of fried onion and some other vegetable, perhaps zucchini. I had to pick out all the other onions to finish the meal, and while it sated my hunger, I did not really care for it.

Headed to the hostel and checked in, in intended to grab a bottom bunk then head down to the lobby to upload photos. Ended up getting into a multi-hour chat with several of my roommates, all friendly, and by the time I finished my paperwork and got to bed it was nearly 22.

November 12


Sty had not healed, of course (not in one night, not at that size), but as far as I could tell, it was not bigger, and I had hope that it was on the way out, not something that was going to force me to abandon my trip. With practise, I was getting faster at packing up, but I still had to wait to leave until nearly 10 because I needed to identify new stores. I had hoped that Focus Karame was in an area I had not covered, but once I took a look, I saw that I had been across that entire area, so it was a painstaking process to identify the new stores.

Outside it was drizzling, which did not help with the cold that had arrived. Warsaw had been colder, temperature-wise, but at least it had not rained. Fortunately I only had one more day, and I expecred Busan and further south to be warm.

Before getting started with Starbucks, I detoured to Mister Donut to try a style that had been recommended. Not bad, but nothing like a freshly-made donut. They were cold, and I could tell they had been made at least an hour or more earlier. While the ones from I'm donut? had not been made-to-order, I could see the staff making them to keep up with demand, and mine were a little warm.

After the first Starbucks I remembered to look up good coffee, and I found a 4.5-rated place along my route. Tiny hole-in-the-wall, called Shigeno Coffee Craft on Google but I think that was just the owner's name (Shigeno). Excellent natural-processed Ethiopian pour over, worth a 7.25 score to remind me to return, if I was ever in the area (less and less likely as I grew older and ran out of time).

Kinshicho Olinas was the rare store with open outlets, so I took some time to catch up on tasks and identify a few more new stores in the area. I then decided that I wanted a souffle pancake, and there was a place called Butter in the PARCO mall where the next Starbucks was. Despite the reviews, which said they had souffle pancakes, the waitperson looked through the menu and did not find them. Instead I decided to satisfy my curiosity for Umami Burger, which I had seen around. Bacon cheeseburger was good, but not earth-shatteringly so. Ironically, after I ordered I noticed on their menu that THEY DID have a souffle pancake! I debated having one after the burger, but that just wasn't a good idea.

Thirty minutes later, after finishing my food, I looked up and saw that there was no line at the Umami counter, I promptly changed my mind. I guess you could say that I waffled on the pancake. Fortunately for my stomach, that souffle pancake was a small dessert portion, and I had no trouble taking it down then walking to the next Starbucks. I tried to hustle for the rest of the afternoon, but after AEON, my 7th store, I realised that the next one was quite a ways a way, either walking or taking the bus (because the next bus would not leave for over 30 minutes). I sat down at the Starbucks to see if I could come up with another plan, but I didn't see anything better, so I hustled into the market to buy an apple and quickly eat it as I crossed the street to head to the bus stop. Once on the bus, I was at the Rinkai store in less than thirty minutes, and to my relief it was open (app does not list hours for Japanese stores). The final two stores, bringing me to ten, were in a mall at the edge of Tokyo Disney World, so of course they were open, but then I had another issue, that there was no direct way to the airport.

Google Maps kept showing me wildly different options depending on when I clicked, and where I was, and I finally decided that no matter what, I was going to need to get back to Tokyo Station, so I hurriedly went out to the station and bought that ticket. I had 10 minutes to get food, but options were quite limited. I needed protein, but I ended up with a banana crepe, which ordinaryly would have been great, but I had already consumed TOO MANY sweet carbs that day. Still, it was a wise decision, because amazingly, at Tokyo Station, I could not find restaurants serving hot meals. I even had THIRTY MINUTES before my train to Nippori to catch the Skyliner to NRT, and in that whole time all I saw were sweets, breads, and a few places selling these microwavable boxes. Weird, given that the station had to cater to travelers who would not have access to an oven. Or maybe I misunderstood, and they were to be eaten cold. Anyway, I had to wait until I got to Narita, and then I had to settle for a mediocre meal from Yoshinoya (not a fan).

November 11


With confidence that I could get back on my 10-store-per-day target even if I slept late, I tried to sleep as much as possible to make up for having gone to bed later than I had during most of the trip. I managed to go back to sleep when I woke around 7:30, and I slept until around 8:30 and felt that was enough (even if it wasn't 9-10). Took my time getting out because I had to make calls, then headed to metro and immediately made a research mistake. I bought a one-day pass quickly so I could get on my to the Roastery, but when I got to the transfer station (which took longer because I had initially headed in the wrong direction), I discovered that my pass was not good on the next line, so I think I wasted some money. If I could use the pass later in the evening to get back to the hostel, I'd only lose about 300, but still.

Meanwhile, the sty in my right eye had persisted for at least three days since I first noticed it, and while my sties have typically faded in that time, this one was larger, which was a disturbing turn just as I had finally ridded myself of my other ailments.

Upon exiting the station I noticed a Starbucks attached to Tsutaya, and I went across the street to see if it was licensed or corporate. I then noticed that the place next door was called "I'm donut?" and had a line wrapping around the building. I was intrigued. I tried to get the attention of an employee taking orders to ask what was special about the donut, but, as I suspected, her English was not good enough for that. I asked a couple of customers, and one gave me a sorta explanation that sounded interesting. I waffled for a bit, then decided to get in line anyway after he told me it was only 15 minutes. Two customers behind me was a young blonde Westerner, Anna, and she ended up being American, from Maryland. I hoped that she knew something about the donuts, but she was also in the dark and just curious to try them. The line ended up taking closer to 30 minutes, but having an English speaker to talk to made it go faster.

The I'm donut? line was nothing compared to the Roastery experience. Upon arriving, I saw no line, and I was relieved until I learned that the reason there was no line is that this Roastery uses a digital ticketing system. Took me a bit to figure it out, but once I did my number came up by the time I finished taking a bunch of outside pics. Once inside it took me a long time to orient myself. On the bottom floor the hostess wanted me to first take a seat then get in line, and that seemed awkward so I went upstairs to see if anything was different. I discovered that on the 3rd floor I could order then take a seat at the counter. My drink and pastry took a long time to arrive, nearly 30 minutes, but I needed that time anyway to identify new Tokyo stores to go to. The only downside was no outlet, and I would struggled to keep my laptop charged for the rest of the day.

It was truly a challenge to identify new Tokyo stores to visit. Of the 17 countries on this trip, Japan was the first of the that I had returned to WITHOUT new stores plotted on a map, simply because there were too many. In Osaka and Kyoto this was not an issue, as I could just follow the map on the app, but in Tokyo I had already been to 138 stores, which meant that there was a good chance that any given store on the app would be one I'd already seen. Going from database to map, which is what I usually do, would still take too long with nearly 300 in the area. Instead, what I had to do was to go dot by dot on the map, on my laptop because phone was too cumbersome, and then compare web IDs.

I only made it to seven stores after the Roastery, but many of them were interesting, starting with the combo of Princi bakery and Starbucks Reserve. These combos had existed in America, three of them I think, but they all closed down.

After six stores it was around 17, and dark, so I figured I might as well take my ramen break before trying to do a couple more stores. My top choices, on an IG post sent by my cousin, were all too far, so I picked nearby Ichiran Ramen, with a 4.3 score on Google, and when I arrived I was shocked that the wait was SIXTY MINUTES!!! Yes, I was in Shibuya, a super popular area of Tokyo, but it was still early. Well, I could not burn 60 minutes without a place to work on my laptop, which was low on power anyway thanks to the Japanese Starbucks sitch, so I had to keep looking. The next two places appeared to not be there, and I finally ended up at Keika Ramen.

November 10


Finally almost entirely finished with ailments, except for sty, and caught up on sleep enough that I woke up well before 8, before 7:30 I think. I took a few swigs of coffee and hoped to sleep a bit more, but I quickly abanadoned that plan and took my time getting out of the hostel and heading to the remaining area Starbucks (which had been closed the day before), stopping at another Starbucks on the way to get a bagel except I was mistaken--no bagels at Starbucks Japan.

After the Starbucks I headed to Weekenders Coffee, where their Honduras pour over was the single best coffee I'd ever taste in Japan, no doubt, with notes of black tea, which I love, and easily one of the best of my entire tour. Chatted with an older Australian couple for a while, got some recommends for good Tokyo coffee, and then I headed to the metro (actually the Hankyu train line--I'm not sure about the difference) to begin the journey to the Itami airport.

Meanwhile, I kept my eye on the clock for when 'Loki' would drop, and I experienced anxiety over whether I'd be able to see 'The Marvels' that night in Tokyo.

I had to change at Takatsuki, which was weird because the train I needed to change to seemed the same, only a semi express instead of a limited express. Seems like I could have just taken the semi express back in Kyoto. Regardless, there were three Starbucks nearby, so I went ahead and got those, as well as two Beard Papa's. However, when I finished up and replotted the route to the airport, it appeared to make sense to take the JR line (not Hankyu) to Shin-Osaka and then an Airport Limousine Bus (cheap)--that worked out great.

Check-in was a little weird, because the kiosk wanted a ticket #, not a confirmation code, so I checked in at the counter. Security had to check my tumbler, and I wished that I could know which airport securites would do this so I could prepare by removing the cap from my tumbler to see if that would make a difference.

At the Starbucks I had to clear up some confusion because that store used to be designated as licensed but now was corporate--apparently it was switched.

Enough time left to get a rice/egg/eel dish for lunch, using my card because I was surprisingly running low on cash. When I exchanged that $100 I expected to have leftover, but Kyoto was more expensive than I had imagined. I rushed through lunch because the gate was some distance, but of course when I arrived it was not yet boarding. This was a relief because I needed to charge up after rushing through the morning, and I also need to check if my Marvel app had glitched, which it often does after a few hours or days. Even though I've downloaded issues to read on the plane, the app goes into this mode where it needs an internet connection to displa comics that are already there, and what I have to do is connect to the internet, click on the issues I expect to read while on the flight, then switch the tablet to airplane mode.

Flight was short and easy, and I was soon at Narita where I decided to go ahead and exchange another $100 instead of trying to use credit cards everywhere, which was a problem in Japan.

I was anxious to get to my hostel and see 'The Marvels', but I knew that it would not be wise to try to rush through Terminal 2 stores on Monday morning, plus my Jin Air flight to PUS would be departing from Terminal 1. So, I spent the hour necessary to go to three Starbucks and ensure, by comparing photos and asking for opening dates, that none had been the same one I visited in 2013. The one on the 4th floor had relocated, and fortunately one of the baristas, older, had worked at the old store and spoke excellent English to explain what had happened.

Had to eat something fast, so I went with takoyaki, either for the first time, or the first time since my 2015 trip when Lisa might have spurred me to try it. This one was octopus, and it was okay, but not something I'd go out of my way to order.

When I got down to the train area my heart stopped because it was packed, with LONG lines for all of the ticket machines. I was worried that I would wait in the wrong line, so I took at least 5 minutes, maybe longer, to wander from place to place and looking at the electronic boards to figure out what was what. I finally realised that the train I wanted, to go directly to Kuramae, had a relatively short line, and I was able to buy a ticket with about 5 minutes to spare before the train arrived. The trip itself then took over and hour, then a bit longer because my GPS was off and I missed my station. The hostel was just minutes away, and I thought I had time to kill before the 20:40 screening, but after check-in, then switching beds, I realised that bus/metro would not get me there that much faster than walking, so I just took off on foot and hustled in the hopes of finding some quick food on the way. I passed a grocery store for bananas, and that ended up being a lifesaver because it took me longer than expected to buy a movie ticket using the machine, and by the time I finished I did not have time for any concessions food. Instead I just went into the loo and ate a SECOND banana, and even with that I was hungry through the film.

'The Marvels' was AWESOME FUN FUN FUN and well-worth prioritising, and as I walked back to the hostel, I felt relieved to have seen it so I'd avoid spoilers, and also eager to see it again--maybe in a couple of months, maybe the Middle East where finding English would be easy.

As I walked back I worried about my camera. I had placed it in my locker just in case the cinema did not allow cameras, as I had encountered once in The Philippines, but I could not remember if I had actually locked or even closed the door. Upon returning, I saw that I HAD NOT EVEN CLOSED IT!!! Nor had to completely shut the curtain, and I just lucked out that no thieves were in my 14-bed dorm room. Greatly relieved, I quickly changed and got to sleep as quickly as possible.

November 9


Slept MUCH better, perhaps my best sleep since Milan, and when I woke up shortly after 8 and downed the two coffees from the day before, I soon felt ready to go. First up was to hit the nearby location for % Arabica, which I had seen in a blog and then later in a message from an IG follower.

Already crowded even though it was barely 9, but the coffee was worth the wait. Not outstanding, but their Chemex-brewed natural Ethiopia was perhaps one of the best I'd had in Japan--definitely this trip, and possibly past, though my memory is sketchy going back many years.

Stopped in a market for some fruit and yoghurt, then did two Starbucks before working my way back into the pedestrian street from the night before to find that croffle place. UNFORTUNATELY, that cafe just happened to be closed THAT DAY and would not reopen until 11 the next, probably too late--the trip to Itami airport was looking complicated, and I wanted to give myself extra time.

FORTUNATELY, that street had no shortage of goodies, and I enjoyed a banana + chocolate + custard crepe, and afterwards I tried the soy milk mini donuts. With all those carbs, I was able to make it through the rest of the day with just an apple until dinner without feeling overwhelmed by the caffeine.

At the Porta store in Kyoto station I learned that Porta had closed, and then I cleared up some confusion regarding the stores marked as "JR"--I thought one of them was coroporate, but all three were licensed, and that meant only one more in that area, at the AEON Mall. By that point the coffee had settled, and the next three stores were a good distance on foot, so I no longer had to worry about caffeine overload, only making sure that I did not spill the coffees I was saving in my tumbler. This was a tricky process because at each subsequent store I needed to pour the coffee from the tumbler into the paper cup I'd saved from % Arabica, hope that nobody would bump into the table (I selected a table away from people, and I set my water bottle and backpack there to indicate the table was occupied). After returning to the table with the new coffee, I poured everything back into the tumbler, four in all by the end of the night at the further out AEON Mall store.

Took a Kyoto bus for the first time to cut my trip to Kyoto Engine Ramen in half, and I'm glad I did because by the time I finished all my tasks at the hostel, it was almost 21. Excellent ramen at Engine Ramen, with my discovering that I really liked the creamy broth, up to a point. I also got a deal because of a confusion between "fork" and "pork". I was given extra pork even though I wanted a fork, and the cashier adjusted the price to make up for the confusion.

November 8


Each time I woke up, I want to sleep later, but we were asked to depart between 10 and 15 for cleaning, and if we chose to remain, there would be noise. I wasn't sure, but I seemed to remember the sign said that the showers would be closed off as well, and I definitely did not want to go through the day without, so I went ahead and forced myself up shortly after 9.

My headache had lessened, and I decided to not take any meds but instead hope that the reason was caffeine withdrawal. The first store just happened to be the long-await famous Kyoto Starbucks with Tatami mats, and I immediately wished I had not slept so late, because even though it was not yet 10, the area was crowded, and after getting my coffee I had to wait for a tatami.

I had to take a selfie, plenty of photos, then set up my database for the Kyoto stores, and then I headed out to the nearest cluster of stores. By coincidence my route took me past the hostel, so I did something rare, to pop back in to use the washroom and get water. At the next store I found an outlet and took care of some tasks--by the time I left it was nearly noon--I was definitely running behind on stores, but I was more concerned about keeping myself feeling okay throughout the day.

The fifth store, at BAL, was amazing, basically an art gallery, and I was impressed that two out of the first five Kyoto stores had been so impressive. If it had not been for the tatami store (Nineizaka Yasaka Chaya), I might have chosen to focus on Osaka and never come up to Kyoto, and that would have been a darn shame.

Earlier that morning I had felt some itching between two toes, and I was reminded that I had also lost my antifungal cream with my ziplock bag. Outside of BAL I spotted a pharmacy and went through the process of asking the non-English-speaking employee to help me. HOWEVER, this time was infinitely easier than in 2011, when I needed to buy some in Korea, BEFORE I had a smart phone and translation app. My blog entry for that experience is rather amusing, but also less mature than my present style of writing, so I will not share it.

I needed foodibles before continuing with the coffee, but GOogle Maps showed only mediocre offerings in the area, so I passed on the ramen and just had some spaghetti.

One more store, saved the coffee, then headed over to Stumptown, not because I love their coffee, but out of nostalgia, and to put one international location on my map. After that coffee, plus the one I had saved from Shinkyogoku, I was really feeling the caffeine, and I was seriously considering stopping around 8, not even making it to 10.

By slowing it down, however, moving just fast enough to ensure that I still had some daylight by #10, and by saving the coffee from 9 and 10, I was able to hit my mark and then go find what I thought would be a Kobe beef burger but ended up NOT BEING Kobe beef and WITHOUT a bun!!!

I knew I'd be hungry later after that light dinner, so I went hunting for carbs, but everything was shutting down by 18--the donut shop, the crepe shop, croffle shop. I had to settle for an unknown pastry made of red bean paste, but it was actually pretty good.

November 7


The first part of the night was rough because it seemed like every time some sympton let up and I was getting better, someother symptom would manifest. Monday saw the onset of a pain in my chest, but I wasn't sure if it was some type of breathing pain in my lung, which could be COVID related, or a muscle pain in my back due to pulling a muscle of having slept wrong, both of which had happened before. Regardless, I was finally forced to take an ibuprofen, something I am loathe to do, and I guess it helped because throughout the night the pain seemed to subside. Or maybe it would have subsided anyway, because I felt better throughout Tuesday well after the pain reliever should have worn off.

After more than a week of sleeping past 8 or 9 on most days, I woke up shortly after 6 and could not fall asleep again. I finally gave up shortly before 7 and decided to just go ahead and shower, then I started making phone calls in the hopes of wrapping that up quickly then going to get pancakes before check-out (at 9). Calls took longer than expected, though (good ole Starbucks keeping their partners in the loop), and by the time I finished, shortly after 8, Kaz had unexpectedly arrived, and I was able to check out and get my refund before 9 am.

I had been debating whether to head straight to Kyoto or pick up the remaining stores around the station, and I finally decided that it made sense to do a cluster then let the caffeine settle while on an early-afternoon train. I ended up losing nearly two hours, though, because 8F Links store would not open til 11:00. Going to other stores and returning seemed inefficient, so I first decided to get some breakfast, and I stumbled across a pancake place and took my time catching up on tasks and charging up. I then went to reshoot the Grand Front North store, and by the time I finished I only had a little over fifteen minutes to wait until 11. By the time I got back to Links, I only had 10 minutes to wait, so I sat at the huge 2F Starbucks and killed the time.

After Links 8F, it took me a while to find Eki Marche, and it was a spectacular store with an awesome mural. I then popped into the ramen place around the block, Hakata-Ikkosha, where I had to once again purchase a ticket from a machine, then wait. Tiny place, but better ramen than Sunday, and they had a fork!

Keeping an eye on the time, and hoping not to take the train to Kyoto during the rush hour, I rushed through the next six stores, not even pulling out my computer to record each one, instead making notes on my phone. The only break I took, besides a necessary and lengthy toilet stop, was a detour to a currency exchange because it looked like I would run out. I realised that I had miscalculated and brought too few fifties because I probably did not need a full hundred for the remaining time in Japan. I wasn't too worried, though, because the dollar was strong, so I might end up better off next trip if I come with leftover yen.

I managed to get through all of the stores in that area by 16:00 and head over to Osaka Station, where I stumbled across a market for an apple and some bananas before figuring out the ticket sitch in time to make the 16:45 train to Kyoto Station. Trip took only 30 minutes, and while the walk to my hostel was lengthy, since I wanted to find some food, I decided to just walk it.

Hoped to go to bed early, by 20, but after making my IG post I decided to go ahead and upload photos then do some other research tasks, and I did not head up to the room until closer to 21, and then, once again, it took me too long to fall asleep, but it did help that the chest pain from the day before was much less, definitely on the way out.

November 6


I woke up shortly after 8 feeling like I could probably make a meeting with Yoshi, but it would be better in the afternoon, so I messaged him to say that I would let him know when I was out of the hostel. Unfortunately, I sent the message to the wrong person, and when I woke up again, shortly before 10, I saw a message from Yoshi with a photo of the Starbucks where we were meeting!!! I rapidly apologised and said that I would be there as soon as possible, and I rushed to shower and head to the station.

I was nearly an hour late, after some stumbling around at the hostel and then orienting myself when I arrived at Umeda Station, but Yoshi, the translator, and Minako did not seem upset. We chatted for a while, and then I grabbed a quick custard apple pie to blunt the coffee, and we headed off to three more nearby Starbucks, all without having to go outside the buildings. Four (two in Hankyu, two in HEP FIVE) was about all I could take without more food, so we returned to a curry place we had passed, Pangola (or Pangol, depending on whether you believe the sign or Google Maps) for lunch.

After lunch we said our goodbyes because I needed to sit down at the next store and catch up on paperwork. At the next store, in the Umeda EST food hall, I finally got into the groove of using the ONE MORE COFFEE half-price discounts that had been on all my receipts since arriving. I had noticed the 162/165 on the bottom of my receipt at the very first Osaka store, when I was scanning for useful info, but the numbers seemed meaningless and useless to me. It wasn't until the first store on Sunday, my third day, that a barista explained that ONE MORE COFFEE was a coupon to get my next drink, the same thing, half off, but only that same day. I used the coupon immediately, but then I kept forgetting to use them and only received on more discount that day. On Monday I still had three receipts, but when I tried to use one, the barista said it was no good. I figure I squandered 1000+ yen, maybe 2000, in savings, but from that point I started to use the coupons for the rest of Monday and my remaining time in Japan. Once I got into the habit that every other coffee was half off, it became a routine.

At NU Chayamachi plus I finally spotted a free outlet upon arrival and stuck around for a good while charging and catching up on tasks. I was also glad to be inside, because I had chosen to go outside of the buildings for some stores that involved more walking, simply to space out the coffee, and just then it had begun to drizzle, then rain a little.

After Applause Tower I headed back inside and found the Beard Papa's that I had spotted earlier with Yoshi and crew. This one was interesting because the sign read "20th". I managed to get an English-speaking passer-by to translate and found out that 20th was an anniversary, although I was not clear if it was for that store, or when.

I then headed into the huge LUCUA complex that included LUCUA and LUCUA 1100, with five corporate Starbucks between them (plus a licensed Tsutaya store). I visited the first two easily, but then I had to ask for directions and hunt for the one in 1100, which ended up being the wrong one because there were two. After four stores I forgot about the fifth, in the basement, and headed over to the two Grand Front stores before returning to Lucua B2F. I spotted the Starbucks, but I was famished so I just took photos then ordered a burger from a "Hawaiian" place after failing to find any suitable English menus at the more interesting Japanese restaurants. Burger was mediocre, and NOT a good use of my burger allocation, but I had to eat something, and at least it was a lot of food and gave me the chance to upload my photos so I could later go to bed earlier when I returned to the hostel.

After that final Starbucks, I was at a whopping 14 for the day, with three coffees saved until morning, and then I headed back to Shinsaibashi in the hopes of finding that massage place where I had calculated the price to be about $20. I couldn't remember where it was, though, and quickly gave up and returned to the hostel to finish my IG post then go to bed. Since I'd been getting up pretty late since Shanghai, I did not want to risk overstaying the 10 am check-out time.

November 5


Saturday night's sleep was better than Friday, but still not great. I did feel like my supposed sinus infection was clearing up, and I debated whether I should try to sleep more. I finally gave up shortly before 10. I took an ibuprofen for my headache, but I had almost no congestion and no runny nose.

After a shower I stopped by the front desk and extended my stay by one night because I had not had time to make plans for Kyoto and did not want to be in a place where I did not have a place to stay for Monday night.

Melbourne Coffee Roasters was another recommendation, so I headed to a few Starbucks in that direction, stopping first at Kita-Shinsaibashi before heading to Melbourne. The latter was hard to find, and crazy packed, clearly popular, BUT their long black was the worst of my tour so far. It wasn't just too dark (even after I lightened it up)--the taste was bad. I'd actually had better Americanos from random not craft coffeehouses.

I wanted a proper breakfast before a ramen lunch, but I had trouble finding any place in the area, and I was so famished that I finally tried the waffle from Starbucks. Pricewise, with the exchange rate, it was a great value, less than $2, but it was a different style of waffle--I prefer the European style.

Another Starbucks detail, out of around fifteen stores, electrical outlets were lacking relative to the fact that most stores were packed all the time. At European stores, even many Chinese stores, I was able to plug in and get some charging done while ordering, but I was literally NEVER able to do this in my first twenty-four stores in Osaka.

After three stores I went for that ramen lunch, choosing The Ramen War because of their great name. First experience of the tour where there was a line out the door and corner (actually no way to wait inside), but the ramen itself was probably one of my least favourites of Japan, if I remember my Fukuoka and Hiroshima experiences. Menu did not have English, but the host knew enough that I was able to order shoyu with two pieces of pork and adding an egg. No fork, though, and curiously enough, they were playing American country music throughout my stay. Like the other place, and the two craft coffeehouses I'd seen, cash only, no credit card.

After one more store in the area, Opa, I was finished with the easily-walkable ones and hopped on the metro to the Tennoji station to pick up a dense closure of six stores, three on the Abeno side, and three in Tennoji MIO. Even though daylight would be gone within 90 minutes, I was not in a great hurry, in part because I wasn't feeling great, and I slowed things down. When I finally found a store with an outlet, I hung out and caught up on some tasks. However, I probably lost the most time looking for the MIO Plaza store. The mall had three locations, and while 3F and 8F were easy to find, I had to ask for directions twice, plus passersby, to find the Plaza store that was in the other building.

In the meanwhile, I found some of the best grocery store juice of my tour at Seijo Ishii, although a bit pricey for what I'd been paying in Japana. I also found that Liege waffle from Mannaken, a stand I had seen back in Hiroshima. Finally, I also found a great crepe from a stand outside MIO.

I considered heading to one more store a few metro stops in the other direction, which would have required me to head back to Tennoji then switch again, but I was exhausted, and since I could not be sure of what time it would close on a Sunday, I decided to call it a night, head back to Shinsaibashi, and find a non-carby proper meal with some meet. Popped in a place called Shinpachi Shokudo where I had to order using a tablet, after verifying that they had forks, and then pay by taking a QR code to a machine. As far as I could tell, there were no actual waitstaff. Also, this might have been my first time eating sardines that I could remember.

Once again I hoped to get to bed early, before 21, but it still took me a while to process photos, make the day's post, and then book both a hostel for Kyoto and a flight from Osaka to Tokyo. The night was better, but still rought, because as some ailments went away, others reasserted themselves, and now I had a pain in my chest.

November 4


Friday night was absolutely miserable, partly due to an unforced error. I had been so hungry at the airport, unable to wait until a ramen dinner, that I popped into Lawson and my eye caught a corn dog. After I bought it, I noticed these bags of things that looked like chips, but they were actually sweet potato chips (heavily processed, I imagine), and I got those too. Well, the consequence was that by the time I wrapped up my Starbucking later that evening, I still was not hungry, and I figured I could get through the night on just a yoghurt. A few hours later, though, I felt famished, and the four coffees I'd had, even though filtre, not shots, were really getting to me, doubtlessly because of how empty my stomach was. Add to that the discomfort of that probable sinus infection, PLUS a stye in my eye, and I don't think I got to sleep until well past midnight, maybe closer to 1, 2, or even 3.

Fortunately I was able to stay in bed until well past 10, which helped, and once I got a few coffees in me, I was not all that tired during the day, although still suffering from the infection (lots of thick mucus). Famished as I was, I was happy to spot a picture of a waffle, and after the first Starbucks I popped into Hapje and had a good discussion with the Belgian owner. Unfortunately breakfast was over, so no egg, no protein, but I got lunch not long thereafter. The owner recommended Lilo Coffee Roasters, just minutes away, and I headed over there and had a decent, if not great, natural Ethiopian pour over.

That first Starbucks would have been the second, except that I could not find the one at CRYSTA West, because it was underground, but fortunately a barista at Yotsubashi was able to direct me. Generally, though, these Starbucks were super easy to find thanks to the app, and I was amazed that I ever got any Starbucking done WITHOUT an app and/or GPS, Google Maps, etc.

Wary of letting the caffeine get to me, after only three Starbucks (plus Lilo), I found a ramen spot that looked good, Makotoya. Ordering was via a machine that accepted only cash, no credit card, and spit out a ticket that I gave to a hostess (?). Ramen was excellent, easily the best, or second or third best, of my tour, just as I would expect from Japan.

On the way to the next store I popped into the Tsutaya Ebisubashi Starbucks to confirm that it was indeed licensed, and, as I expected, the barista did not understand what I was asking, immediately responding that it was "Starbucks". I had to go back-and-forth a few times, asking the question in different ways, before she confirmed that the cafe was operated by a different company (Bakku or Bukka or something like that).

After a few more stores, I had some difficulty finding JR Namba Eki-mae, but that actually worked out because I stumbled into a grocery store with a wider range of products that I had been getting at Lawson and similar places in Japan and China. I had buy the bananas in a sealed bunch of four, but that was actulaly not a problem since I could leave the bunch at the hostel.

After two more stores, Osaka Takashimaya B1F West Zone and Namba Parks (which I had to hunt for), my total was up to seven, and I took a detour into an electronics store and found a US three-prong-to-two-prong plug adapter. While the one from Shanghai worked, it was big and clunky and did not always fit, like in a recessed socket.

By the time it left I could tell that it would soon be dark, so I hustled past Nanba Nankai-dori and EDION, pausing only to scan the display at a currency exchange place to confirm what I suspected, that the aiport rate was LOUSY.

Called it a night at ten stores and returned to the hostel to do laundry, hoping that the apple and power bar would tide me over in terms of food. I had not forgotten what had happened the previous night, with only five Starbucks that day, instead of ten, but I thought I was good--later, though, I ended up having to eat one more banana.

One of the washers was broken, so I had to wait, and the wait was quite long, 77 minutes!!! Of course I had a lot of tasks to complete, so I just sat in the basement in my briefs and sagging thermal underpants (elastic was done), plus the fresh t-shirt. I was glad for the basement, where the showers were, because I would have felt awkward up dressed like that up in the lobby.

Took me the entire time to upload my Osaka posts, make my Instagram post, and then book a hostel for Tokyo and a capsule hotel at the Narita airport for Sunday night, to ensure I would not miss my flight. From what I was seeing, it could take two hours to get from Tokyo to Narita, and that was simply too long.

The laundry was an amazing deal, just 400 yen, less than $3, AND THE MACHINE DRIED AS WELL. First time seeing such a machine, and I did not at all care that most of the items were damp--I simply hung them up in my capsule.

November 3


Woke up around 6:07 and went back to sleep, then again shortly after 7:00. The morning was a mental struggle between trying to sleep as much as possible, not cutting the trip to the airport too close, and considering the possibility of picking up a Starbucks at or near the LongYang Road station where I would change to the Maglev train. I decided to add water to the bottle containing the three shots from the night before then take a few swigs, to ensure that I would not sleep til 9, and then I got back into bed. Not sure if I drifted off, but around 7:30 I felt that enough was enough, and I got up so I could take my time packing up and ensure that I did not overlook anything.

My usual mini mart was closed, so I picked up a banana from a nearby one and headed into the station. Arrived at LongYang before 9, and I knew the trip to the airport on the Maglev took just minutes, so I quickly oriented myself on Google Maps and the Starbucks app (GPS on app is still off), and I saw that there was ostensibly a store in the plaza right next to the station. Seemed ridiculous not to pick it up, but it took me a few minutes, and asking a service agent for directions to figure out where the store was, and then I had to walk all the way around the parking lot to actually see the Starbucks because many of the doors were closed.

Back at the station, I waited less than 10 minutes for the train. Meanwhile, episode 2.05 of 'Loki' should have dropped at 9, and I was anxious to watch but did not want to burn bandwidth allocation, assuming that Disney+ would even work in Shanghai. Later on, at the airport, I checked to see to see if could get onto the app, and I could, after updating, and then I was able to log in. But once I got onto the airport wifi and tried to stream the episode, I received a message saying the account was blocked due to suspicious activity. I immediately worried that the block would be permanent, but as soon as I switched back to T-Mobile, I was able to play the show.

Check-in was super fast, and then, as I expected, the outbound immigration line was long, but I did not mind because I was watching 'Loki' (bandwidth be damned). Immediately after security I rushed around looking for the Starbucks, asking multiple people, but finally an airline representative said there was none. I walked as far to the left and right as made sense (until the restaurants ran out), but saw no Starbucks. I was glad that I had stopped at LongYang, but irritated that I still had 40 yuan on my Starbucks card.

Final Shanghai total, 62 stores in just under 5 days, which seems impressive, EXCEPT THAT it's just a drop in the bucket--my latest database refresh has over 6800 Chinese stores!!!

Used up all my coins (8 yuan, leaving .5 on the counter), plus 30, on a cheesecake, leaving just a 10 and 20-yuan note to take back--not bad, and if I ended up losing it, not a great loss.

Flight departed an hour late, but we made up some of that time and touched down fewer than thirty minutes after 15:00. I breezed through immigration, and then, surprisingly, through customs, even though I had had to fill out a form for the first time in the 14 countries of this trip, and thus declare my cash. No questions though, except how long I was staying in Japan, and then I procedeed to the arrivals area where an information display told me exactly where the Starbucks and currency exchange offices are. I first changed money, $200, and, as expected, the rate was not great, just around 29,200 when I should have received closer to 30,000, a hit of about $5, still better than the $5 Bank of America foreign ATM fee + 3% + whatever fee the local ATM charged. Later on I would feel grateful that I had the yen (I had only brought 4000 leftover from 2016) when the train ticket machine would not take my credit card.

Lucked out at the Starbucks, where a barista spoke perfect English and was able to answer my questions: yes, they have drip coffee, and even better, they have the short size on the menu (so no arguments), BUT the cup discount is only a little over ten cents, the worse I'd seen outside of the U.S., I think. They also had two different Japanese Starbucks cards, and I put 1000 each on both. Also, the app has names in Roman characters, as well as my database, important because, unlike in Shanghai, the recepts DID NOT seem to contain useful identifying info. There WAS a # at the top of the receipt, but it did not correspond to the store number from my database. There was also a phone # at both stores I saw at the airport, BUT the website is missing phone numbers for most Japanese stores, so I could not use that to help match. At the airport, 1st floor v 2nd floor made the two stores each to identify, but in a mall with multiple stores I might need to ask.

Visited the second floor store then popped into Lawson for some crappy food, a corn dog and a package of (highly processed, I imagine) sweet potato fries, then I went over to the info desk and confirmed what Google Maps was saying. I then went into the train station and bought a ticket (in cash, because card rejected) on a Nankai train (there's also JR) to Namba station. Since it was getting late and the trip would take an hour, I decided to head to the hostel, or near, and abandoned any idea of trying to visit a few stores near the airport (Rinku Town) while it was daylight.

Great sense of relief at being OUT OF CHINA. The five-day experience had been endlessly fascinating but also frustrating because of the blocked websites and podcasts, the constant lack of English all over, including menus, and the pervading sense that if something went awry and I ran afoul of the authorities, I'd be trapped in a place where the U.S. government might not be able to help me.

Surprised that the Nankai train to Namba station, as well as the metro trains I'd see in Osaka, did not have electronic displays indicating the stations. I'd seen these on most trains all over Europe and Shanghai, so I fully expected Japanese trains to have these.

At Namba station I had to switch to the metro, but when I calculated the distance to the hostel, it was only 20 minutes walking, so it made sense to just walk back after visiting a few stores. The first one was conveniently in Namba City, attached to the station, and the next was in nearby SkyO, both inside so I didn't really have to worry about returning for daylight photos. At SkyO I finally got around to trying to plug in my laptop (the others had all been too busy), and I noticed something that I had forgotten, that the outlets did not have a grounding plug. I could not remember if all outlets were like that, or only some, but thankfully the same plug adapter I had bought for Shanghai worked for these.

November 2


Despite not having fallen asleep until after midnight, partly because of the phone call, I was up shortly after 8 am, important because my flight was at 11:30 on Friday, and the quicker I left the hostel for the airport, the better. Based on what was coming out when I blew my nose, and past experienced, I finally concluded that I had a sinus infection. In an unpleasant coincidence, in 2004 I had arrived in Japan for the first time and shortly thereafter found myself with the same symptons--congestion, thick mucous and exhaustion. With only 4-5 days in Tokyo, I waited until I returned to America to be diagnosed with my first sinus infection, and I've had at least one more since. This time, however, I questioned the wisdom of letting it go untreated for months, and that posed a problem because of the language issue. I wasn't about to potentially lose the entire day trying to find an English-speaking clinic in Shanghai. Nor was I going to try to obtain antibiotics without a prescription. That just feels like a bad idea, and that was before doing additional googling and learning that they could get me in trouble upon entering Japan. A better plan would be to arrive in Osaka tomorrow night and ask hostel staff if they knew of a clinic open on Saturday (or Monday).

First stop, I returned to the Blue Bottle I had seen at the Kerry Centre the previous afternoon, simply to add my first international location of an American craft coffee chain to my list. I had never been a huge fan of Blue Bottle's coffee, and at this location they did not even have a single origin offering. Mediocre for craft coffee, but as per usual, the space was beautiful.

At the first store, Donghai SOHO, I decided that I would not worry about speed but instead ask for immersion brew whenever they had it in the hopes of tolerating the caffeine at least through ten stores, then doing 4 more in the evening and saving the coffee. I wasn't worried about the short/tall issue since I had more than enough yuan (had not even started in on the $100 I changed the previous day because I had gone to so few Starbucks and called it a night so early). I lucked out, though, and a number of stores and was charged for the short, while a tall at others.

I had hoped to do four stores before a proper meal (not counting the morning yoghurt, banana, and a crepe from a stand), but when I passed by Crystal Galleria again I thought it prudent to find the loo, and then I went ahead and looked around the food court and spotted ramen, so I figured why not! Ajisen Ramen turned out to be pretty good--probably not as good as what I'd find in Japan, but better than most of the ramen I've had across Europe and back in North America.

At a few stores they did not have the immersion brew, and I did not want to do another shot of espresso, so I went with the cold brew, which, in the tall size, with discount, comes to TWICE the price of the shot, more than $4!!!

With more cash than I needed, and a desire that I not feel as bad as I did the previous day, I put an effort into eating more. A few stores after ramen I popped into a Lawson for some yoghurt, and later, at the IAPM mall, which had two stores, I took a break for some cheesecake.

One interesting thing that stood out to me in Shanghai, which I had probably noticed in my past trips to Asian countries, is that in the high-end shopping centres, where Starbucks typically operates, nearly all of the shops had names in Roman characters, not Asian scripts.

Lost a bunch of time, and light, at the Mei Chen store when needed to reload my card but tried to see if they had another Chinese or other special card. The barista did not understand, and she called over a suprvisor who spoke better English, but not good enough to properly explain how to use this special black card that cost 98 but did not contain that cash, but instead rewards coupons. Did not seem to be a good deal for me, as we wrapped up, and English-speaking customer came over to see if he could help, and we ended up chatting for quite a while. During the discussion I realised that the barista had not give me my receipt, so I tried to get it, but the ones she printed out did not contain that MERCHANT NO I needed, so later on, during dinner, I had to match the other way.

Three more stores, quick, at night, saving the shots, and then I set off in search of chicken fried rice and was directed by a barista to the Kerry Centre. I did not end up finding it and settled for some beef, fried egg, and rice, plus a couple of desserts. I wanted to try just one tart and one ball-like thing, but I ended up getting three of each and taking them with me.

I found it interesting that the bill was brought out BEFORE the meal. I wasn't sure if this place was high-end enough (prices were not that high) that the server would expect a tip. When he brought out my change, he kept looking down at the table, as if expecting me to leave something. When she appeared free, I showed the hostness my Google Translate asking if the server expected a gratuity, and she quickly and furiously shook her head "no".

November 1


Up at 8:08, and considered pushing myself out into the shower, but I figured that shifting my wakeup time by about an hour was good enough, so I went back to sleep and woke up again around 9. Still exausted, not feeling great, but I quickly downed the two shots from the previous night and forced myself into the shower. Went ahead and made three calls before heading out, in part to give the coffee time to settle before hitting the Roastery, and I also decided to take advantage of being in a room for two more nights to wash a couple of pairs of socks and briefs in the sink, leaving them to soak for the day (or until the water drained, if the seal was not tight).

Famished, but a stop at my usual minimart (fourth day now, and the employee retrieved an apple with my even having to ask) helped, and then I decided to save time and take the metro two stops out to the West Nanjing Road station, next to the Roastery. Fare was only 3 yuan, absolutely worth it.

At the Roastery I nearly had a heart attack when I tried to take a photo, but my camera had no display!!! I assumed that my battery had somehow drained, perhaps because the display had been on during the night, and I rushed into the store to find an outlet, but I saw none. I finally found a conference room, but the outlets were recessed into the floor, and the camera battery charger would not fit. AARRGHH!!!

I then grabbed the camera and removed the battery and reinserted it, then removed the lens cap and pushed a button to see if anything would happen, and I noticed a green LED light which told me that there WAS power. I suddenly noticed the monitor button and remembered that I had pushed it the night before--turns out I had switched modes, which is why I could not see anything on the display. D'OH!!!

I ordered a special-looking blueberry muffin (different from those in America or Europe, from Princi I imagine) and a Shanghai Nostalia beverage then went out to shoot some photos. Came back in for a selfie and to enjoy my drink and muffin, and then I shot lots of photos of the interior of the Roastery and made my posts.

Set out for four nearby reshoots, and on the way I spotted a Manner Coffee and decided to finally give it a try. Good news was that I got no pushback on a filtre coffee like at some Starbucks, BUT it cost 25 (around $3.60) AND they did not take credit cards. I winced at using up that amount of cash, but I figured I'd make up for it by using my credit card at Starbucks all day.

Reshoots finished, I walked along the Wujiang Road Leisure Street (where the final reshoot was located), and I saw plenty of foodibles I wanted to try, but they were all "pricey" (not really, but relative to how much cash I had). A few minutes later I passed an ICBC bank and quickly did some calculations on how much I'd spend at Starbucks if I paid for 30 stores in cash--nearly $100. I had less than 600 CNY, and I was loathe to keep pulling out my credit card, so I decided to just go ahead and go through the process, which I expected to be cumbersome.

As I entered the bank, an older gentleman, 50+ I'd wager, asked "exchange money", and then he indicated that I should do it with him. Not a chance. Who knows what kind of bills I might get, or what the rate would be, or what type of trouble I might get into with the authorities. This is China, man--don't do ANYTHING to risk trouble.

Inside the bank, the process did in fact take quite a long time. At least a 15-30 minute wait to be attended, and then the most involved process I had every seen. The teller asked for my profession and where I was staying, and he even needed to enter the address of the hotel, which proved an issue because Google Maps did not have it. Fortunately, it was on the back of my keycard. Curiously enough, he did not say anything about my single name. In the end the process took over 15 minutes, BUT I did get 726.80 yuan for the $100, compared to 691.50 at the airport.

HOWEVER, by that point I had only visited ONE STORE in just under four hours, and then next two took a whole hour in large part because the caffeine (I imagine) finally forced me into the toilet for an extended stay.

Yikes!!! A few hundred metres after I left the bank I realised that I had no memory of having put up my passport!!! I quickly returned and an represenative retrieved it from the teller who had attended to me. Good think I discovered the problem right away, as China is pretty much the last place I want to be without my identification.

Something weird at the Plaza 66 store, a small Reserve Bar inside a toney shopping centre. The baristas claimed that they could not reload my Starbucks card at that store, only at a normal store. However, the next store, in Shanghai Centre, was also a Reserve Bar, according to the signage, and yet they were able to reload my card.

Meanwhile, I still have not found a Starbucks card with China or Shanghai on the card design.

As I sat down to process a couple of stores, I noticed that the receipt from Plaza 66, where I paid with cash, DID NOT include the MERCHANT NO that would help me identify the store. I wondered if cash made the difference. Fortunately, I still had the URL method.

After only five stores, plus maybe a sample size from Manner, plus the two shots I'd started the day with, I was feeling AWFUL. On previous days I had been able to survive through the day on a banana, apple, yogurt, and bread/pastry, then get proper dinner after sunset. Not today, though. I was famished, and the coffee was really making me feel weird. While typing the name of a Starbucks, I looked up to see what appeared to be random characters (probably just one off, with the caps lock on). I then retyped, and I looked up to see a parenthesis that should not have been there. I was honestly wondering if my brain was working correct. I felt like if I had one more coffee without putting some food in my stomach first, I would die. I was in a toney area, though, no mom-and-pop stores, so I just went for a 48-yuan spaghetti at the next plaza, where the Jin An Kerry Centre Starbucks was.

While waiting for my pasta I tried to book a flight to Korea from Japan, but my first attempt, on Air Busan, failed due to a card issue. I did not have the heart to try again on my phone.

As I exited the Kerry Centre I was surprised to spot the familiar logo for Blue Bottle Coffee. I knew that they had expanded outside of North America, to Japan and Korea I think, but I had not even thought to look in Shanghai. I was much too over-caffeinated and exhausted to order coffee, but I made a point to return the next day.

Even with pasta blunting the effects of the coffee, I was done. I could tolerate no more, but I did still manage to get to three more stores and save the espresso shots from each: Jiuguang Lifestyle Place, and two in Crystal Galleria. By the time I finished that 10th, it was not even 18:00, and I felt like I was giving up quitting so early, but I just could not go on. I was right next to the Jing'an Temple metro and just took that back to People's Park and exited to find a Lawson and get some yoghurt. I ended up in a no-frills underground centre outside of the metro and spotted some pastry with egg. I hoped to wash it down with orange juice from a convenience store, Hot Maxx, but it turned out to be that fake-ass "juice drink" instead.

Out on ground level I became disoriented and walked in the wrong direction, and then after I turned around I forgot that I needed to exit People's Park on the correct side of a main arterial because there was no ground-level pedestrian crossing. I finally spotted the Lawson and had some confusion with the cashier who was trying to tell me that the yoghurt I had chosen was 2-for-1.

Back at the hotel my first priority was to book that flight out of Japan. I went back to the Air Busan site to use a different card, but the confirmation step never completed, something that had happened before. I wasn't sure if it was the Chinese wifi or the speed. I then switched over to a Jin Air flight that was earlier 10:30, and that one succeeded but created the issue of needing to ensure that I could make it to the airport on time.

I managed to finish my photo uploads and posts shortly after 21, but I needed to call my mother around 23. I set an alarm and hoped to fall asleep for a bit before the call, but I never did. Unfortunately, she was not too lucid today, would not talk much, and remembered nothing.

October 31


The night had been rough, with my getting up over and over and not really getting to sleep until past 3:00 AM. I wanted to sleep more, but I forced myself up at 9:47 because I needed to get my jetlag under control by getting up about an hour earlier per day.

Took me less than two hours to get to four stores this time, and it looked like I would cruise to 16, but then I ran into significant delays. First I set out to look for a China Construction Bank ATM because they are supposed to have an agreement with Bank of America that will waive the ATM fee. Hard to tell from Google Maps, though, where exactly the ATM was, and my best guess was in the mall, but I could not find it. I then spotted a tourist information kiosk out on the walking street, but there was a line, so I went into the No. 1 Shopping Center first to find the Starbucks on the 4th floor, and then the one on the 1st.

While logging those two stores, I noticed that had not been given the cup discount on the 4th floor, so I had to return. 4 yuan is only about 57 cents, but given that I would be killing time all day to space out the coffee, and also that I was concerned about conserving cash, it was worth the trip. Once there, I had to wait for the manager/supervisor to return to get my refund, additional time lost. I then headed back down to that information kiosk, stopping at one of the food stands in the alley for a hot dog and chips. At the kiosk I asked where I could find CCB, and I headed off in that direction and spotted one of the stores next to People's Park on the way, so I crossed to street to check that store off the list. Once I entered and got ready to order, however, I realised that my Starbucks card was not in my pocket, nor was it in my backpack. I thought about it, and I had no memory of having placed it in either place, so I concluded that the baristas, who had already made an error with my cup discount, had forgotten to return it. I'd loaded around $43 on the card a few stores earlier, so I definitely had to return for it, and all of a sudden I no longer felt like I was on schedule for an easy 16.

Back on the 4th floor, the baristas and I stumbled through language difficulties as I tried to explain that they had not returned the card and requested that they look around the counter. I thought it prudent to look at my backpack again, since they insisted the barista ha returned it, so I went over to where I was sitting to set the bag down on a chair, AND THERE WAS MY CARD. Oops. My bad. I apologised and return to that other Starbucks.

Meanwhile, while my plan had been to alternate between immersion brew an shots, the first four stores I had been to were not offering the immersion brew, so my coffee dosage had immediately spiked. Finally, at the fifth store of the day, I was able to get that brew, but in the tall size. Just like most stores the previous day, whenever I got the immersion brew, the barista did not want to serve me the short size.

I finally found the Chinese Construction Bank, which was on the second floor, where I was told that the bank machine was out on the street, down the block. I headed down there, but despite multiple tries, the transaction would not work. I did not want to try again and risk the machine's confiscating my card, so I went back upstairs to see if they would change money. I was told to go to Bank of China.

Next I headed across the street to see if I could find the Beard Papa that Google Maps displayed. Once I noticed that it was in Raffle City, I had my doubts, because it should have been in the food court on the lower level, and I had not seen it the previous day. Sure enough, a guard said it i not exist. I tried to find that location on the Beard Papa website, but their list of international locations would not come up.

Next stop was the store down in the People's Park metro station, and by the time I found it and finished it was past 15:00 and I had only done six stores--not good!!!

I wanted to hustle to as many stores as possible before nightfall, but I was now quite concerned about running out of cash, so I went back to the info kiosk to ask about Bank of China, but I quickly changed course and asked about currency exchange instead, and they directed me to an ICBC bank down the pedestrian mall. Took me more than five minutes to find it, then another way, but at least I confirmed that I COULD exchange there if necessary, but I held off because I still had nearly 600 yuan left.

Finally I was able to get to new stores, and I moved pretty quickly across New World, Novel Plaza, Peoples Park, Tomorrow Square, and Shanghai Daying comprehensive before finally reaching M580 when it was dark, and this allowed me to slow down. During that brust six stores, I hardly took a breath EXCEPT when I passed a Drunk Baker and spotted a scone that looked biscuity. It wasn't.

Once it was dark, I started asking if they had immersion brew at stores and managed to get a few, a good thing because all that espresso was REALLY getting to me. Even though I do have a record of 29 stores in one day, nearly all of those coffees were samples of filter, with only a few espressos, AND I was younger. By the time I got dark I was already at 11 or 12, still hoping for 16, and strongly doubting whether I could make it. In fact, at 13 I considered stopping, then at 14, and it took everything I had to push to 17, and only because I now had another small plastic bottle from the juice I had bought, and I was able to save the two shots until the next morning.

Considered taking the metro back, but I had not been impressed with the selection of small mom-and-pop restaurants near the East Nanjing Road station. Most seemed to be on the more expensive side, or in malls. I also thought the metro fare would be 7, not realising that 7 was from the airport to the city centre. In actuality, the shorter ride would have been 3. Anyway, walked along small streets and finally found a place with a picture menu and English descriptions for SOME of the dishes--I chose the pork chop and corn soup. The employees were quite bemused by my presence, talking quickly in Mandarin, presumably telling me that they did not speak English. Fortunately, I was able to motion to one to come outside with me, and I pointed to the soup. I considered using Google Translate to ask about rice, but I decided to just wait, and when the soup came out, it did in fact include a side of rice.

I had wanted to go to bed MUCH earlier than the previous nights, BUT it took a LONG time, almost til 23:00, to process and post three days of Shanghai photos, then make my Instagram post. By that point I was beyond exhausted and forwent calling my mother, which I really needed to do before moving onto Japan time (one hour ahead). Also skipped making a few Starbucks calls.

The night went much better, without all of the waking up from the night before.

October 30


Woke up many times during the night and finally decided to pull the trigger on that T-Mobile Magenta plan upgrade that I had investigated a month earlier, while in Romania. $50 for 30 days of a 15 GB limit of faster speed did not seem worth it when wifi was so ubiquitous, but here in China I was losing way too much time on mapping and other tasks because the slow T-Mobile roaming speed was reeeeally slow, and I had no choice but to use it because even when I could connect to wifi, Google Maps was blocked.

Rough, rough night with my sore throat, and early on I made the decision that I was going to sleep as long as possible, even if that cost me Starbucks or prolonged the time required to get over my jet lag. Still, I was shocked when I checked my clock and the time was 10:58! I still felt knackered, not at all great, but I had to push myself just a little bit and forced myself into the shower.

Stopped at the same market, one street down from the hotel, where I had bought the banana the previous day, this time picking up an apple as well. The young man who attended me spoke more English than the young woman from before, at least enough to know "banana" and "apple" and ask me if I was from America. When I said "yes, from America", he smiled. Similarly, last night a young Russian woman at the Mosaic store overheard my question to the barista about the second store, and she asked me about it, in a quite friendly manner. Regardless of the war in Ukraine, or a possible future war over Taiwan, I think lots of Russian and Chinese people on the ground actually like Americans.

First up was Cross Tower, where I once again asked for brewed coffee and for the ninth time was told they did not have it. This time, however, I decided to go ahead and pay the 6 CNY extra (about 85 cents) for the "immersion" brewed coffee, simply to cut the level of caffeine in anticipation of visiting many more than eight stores. After I ordered I tried to get a small paper sample cup to measure the coffee, but they only had plastic--same at the next store. Still, although the cold (plastic) sample cups were slightly smaller than the paper, I estimated that if I took a sip of coffee then filled the plastic cup to the brim, that would be the same. I then had to pour the coffee back into my reusable tumbler to avoid the risk of melting the plastic.

On the receipt from Cross Tower I noticed something at the bottom, a MERCHANT NO that matched the StoreNumber field from the website. This was another thing I could use to track stores, but at the next store Bund Center, that receipt did not have the same info.

At Bund Center I went back to a shot, and I figured that for the day, I could try switching between a shot at one store and immersion brew at the next.

At Bund Center I was about to ask a barista about a store shown nearby on the app that did not appear on Google Maps, "Jiushi bussiness building stor", but there was a customer behind me, so I let her go first. She made a comment in English, clearly better than that of the barista, so I later asked her to help me, and she knew the store. She wanted to go above and beyond and actually go outside and show me the directions to the store, but I explained that I still had some writing to do about this store.

Even with her directions, I had trouble finding the store and ended up walking around and entire city block, and asking several people before a hotel employee directed me. I did not mind, though, because the density of Starbucks was so high that I needed time in between stores to let the caffeine settle. Additionally, the process of walking around Shanghai was endlessless fascinating.

Finally found the paper sample cup at the "Jiushi bussiness building stor", and I also noticed that the receipt, which I asked for immediately, contained the MERCHANT NO at the bottom. At the previous store, I had asked for it after the fact, and the barista had had to do something to find it--perhaps that is what makes the difference. Regardless, having this # on the receipt made my process slightly easier, because I could query for that in my database rather than having to retreive the store ID from the website, which was a bit of a pain on my phone (because the Chrome browser is not wide enough to show the ID in the URL, so I have to scroll, and awkward process).

After 11 stores, I was noticing that Shanghai baristas were quite good about noticing my cup and inferring that I wanted the discount, then entering it into the system. Better than in many European countries.

After 11 stores, the challenge of remembering which green dots (stores) I had visited (and thus not visited) was proving more difficult. Easier when there was a cluster of dots to clear, but where the dots were spread out with no discernable boundary, my difficulties were going to become unmanageable, I predicted. I wanted to create a Google Map that was the reverse of what I usually do, which is to plot stores in advance then delete (or turn light green) after visiting. Instead, I wanted to plot the visited stores, but I could not do that on my laptop without tethering, and doing it on my phone would be more cumbersome.

First three stores of the morning had no washrooms, but I had noticed signs for public toilets since I arrived in Shanghai, and on the way to the next store I spotted one and decided to try it even if I had to pay. Except that I did not, and this is one thing that China DEFINITELY does better than the United States or Europe. IMO, it is STUPID to not have public toilets, because the logical consquence of no toilets is that people will just go wherever, because when you gotta go, you gotta go.

Shanghai World Trade Building took some time to find, but the trip took me into an AWESOME bookstore called Shanghai City of Books. Anybody who loves the printed page, fans of places like Powell's Books in Portland, would LOVE this place.

After a full night of sleep and a number of coffees, a little over twenty-four hours into Shanghai, I was REALLY feeling that sense of bliss that I often feel when I am in certain Asian countries (like Japan or Korea), once the disorientation has worn off I feel like I'm figuring things out and making progress.

Ran into issues at a couple of stores that did not want to make the immersion coffee in the short size. Tall size is 28, or 24 with the discount, significantly more expensive than the 15 for the solo. At those I just ordered a solo, but at some point I was going to suck it up and pay the 24 simple because all those espressos were really getting to me.

As my process improved, so did my speed. Managed four stores in just under 4 hours between 11:30 and 15:00, but then I did 3 in just one hour, with plenty of time to reach my second-day target of 12 (or better).

16 stores in, I could not recall having heard any Chinese music at Starbucks, which is surprising given some of the other Chinese-centric changes, like Chinese store names/addresses on the website, Chinese signage, and menu items tailored to Chinese tastes.

I had moved into a heavy concentration of stores, and the only limit was my tolerance for caffeine, and I did not want to shock my system too much. At Raffle City I first head down to the food court and found a bread that resembled a biscuit but was really just a sweet roll. Still, it would help blunt the effects of the caffeine from the Starbucks upstairs. I then killed additional time looking for a wifi network that I could get on to download podcasts, and I found one at a clother called COS, but like all the other networks I'd encountered, this one was pitifully slow.

At the other Raffle City store I killed additional time by finally looking for a hostel in Osaka, and I was shocked to discover that they were even more expensive than Europe, with hotels in the city centre priced out of this world!

I needed two more stores to get to 12, Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel and Yongan, BUT FIRST I needed some food, so I set to find some fried rice on the way to the Starbucks. But after 15-30 minutes of walking the streets and looking at photos on menus, all I saw were noodles or dishes that had the rice at the bottom. I finally gave up and was desperate to eat, so I went with a dish that had rice, pork, fried egg, and some vegetable.

Oh, nertz!!! I finished two days of Shanghai photos with my camera still set to GMT+1!!! That creates a problem when ordering the photos, because the ones from my phone have the correct timestamp and are out of sequence.

October 29


Flight was fine, although of course I did not sleep nearly as much as I had hoped, and I arrived exhausted, just as expected. My disorientation was exacerbated by a Starbucking-specific factor, that I had to verify two Starbucks openings as quickly as possible (because it was evening in North America, and stores would soon close), and I had to do this while following the signs to the transfer area, going through security again, and finding my gate to PVG. This huge time difference, 12 hours from New York, was going to be an annoyance for a solid three months, until I moved back towards the west.

I had hoped to try and discover if there was any new Starbucks at HKG, but there was clearly no time for that given how big the airport was, and the crossings through a passport checkpoint and security. I had hoped I could just go from the arrival gate to the departure gate and see a Starbucks, but I never saw one, and I did not want to risk the time required to go find one.

At the gate I found power, and the wifi was fast, and I hoped that I could run through all closures before boarding, but did not get close. Also hoped that I could sleep a little after breakfast during the two-hour flight to PVG, but I doubt that I ever actually fell asleep, and I was really out of sorts when we arrived. To add to the disorientation that I would soon experience, I could not find my water bottle. I assumed that it had fallen out of my backpack and rolled somewhere, but even after waiting for everybody to deboard and with me and a couple of flight attendants looking, we could not find it. Finally one attendant asked if it was an orange juice bottle, and I realised that I had left it in the loo when I brushed my teeth. He rushed back to find it, but it had already been discarded. Fortunately, I had filled my reusable cup with water, and I would run through all that water before even clearing immigration because my throat was sore.

T-Mobile roaming did work, as I had been told, and I was indeed able to access Facebook, Instagram, and Google Services, all of which were blocked whenever I connected to the airport wifi (which, of course, required a code to be sent to my phone). Through the course of the next few hours, I would think over and over how lucky I was for the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and that T-Mobile offered seamless roaming in 200+ countries. Without this, I would have been ****ed in China.

First step to getting out was to be fingerprinted by an automated machine that spit out a voucher. Continuing on towards immigration, the next step was to scan a QR to bring up a health questionnaire which generated another QR code. I had to use that code, as well as facial recognition, to get past a gate, and then I was directed to a room where a nurse swabbed my throat, put the q-tip into a vial and handed it to me. I took the vial over to another agent who scanned my QR code again then did something with the vial before motioning for me to go. That part was worrisome for me, because I had no idea why my throat was sore. Not one of the common symptoms of COVID-19, but I tested positive, I'd lose some indefinite amount of time in quarantine, I'd imagine, and I had no idea what that would do to my transit visa status.

Next was to get into the immigration line, which was long and moved slowly. As I was getting close to the front, I noticed that some passengers had blue forms in their hands or passports, and I noticed a sign that read ARRIVAL CARD. I grimaced, thinking that I'd have to lose my place in line to go get a form, but I was able to call an agent over and he handed me one, with tone of irritation in his voice. I filled out the form, but when I presented it to an agent about 10-15 minutes later and said I wanted the transit visa, he formed a pained look on his face and said that I had to go to a different counter, all the way down.

Another wait, during which time it was unclear how the line was structured, which led to a group of three Russians' being attended before, and when it was my turn I was told that the blue form was incorrect--I had to fill out a different one! When I finally did present that form and answered not many questions at all, I had my visa sticket in about 15 minutes and headed over to customs where I plopped my backpack onto a machine.

Outside in the arrivals area I was immediately accosted by taxi drivers, and I said I just needed Starbucks. One pointed in the other direction, and there it was, my first Starbucks experience in mainland China. Another line, and after the wait I was surprised and disappointed that the store was not staffed with even one barista who spoke excellent English, which meant that I could not have a discussion about all of the differences in Chinese Starbucks. I wanted to know about the short filtre, of course, but their machine was broken, or cleaning, so I had to take a solo espresso, and with the cup discount it came to 15 CNY, or a little over two dollars using my credit card, I estimated. I held my breath waiting for the receipt, and when I saw it, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it contained the name of the store. This would be CRITICAL in identifying which stores I had visited given the Chinese naming of the stores on the website.

Coffee in hand, I turned around and walked to the information desk, where the agent spoke much better English and was able to answer some of my other questions, the first being how many other Starbucks I could visit at the airport. The answer was... ONE. The other at T2 was after security, and the rest were behind security at T1, the domestic terminal. Next I asked about the metro. I had pulled up a page indicating that I could buy a card good for all transport, but the agent said that info was old, BUT he confirmed that I could get to the city centre by metro.

Next I went back into the Starbucks to check out the outlet sitch, and from what I saw on a wall and on the benches, those outlets would not fit my plug nor three adapters. I went back to info desk to ask about a store to buy and adapter, and also about currency exchange.

Meanwhile, I was hellah thirsty and kept returning to the water machine to put water in my reusable tumbler until I finally decided just to fill it (I had been hestitating because I'd have to dump it at the next Starbucks).

Next I called the hostel I had booked, because two different locations had come up on Google Maps, but the person who answered could not speak English. I made a quick decision to write off those $13-15 and find another place, and this time I tried calling first to make sure that an English-speaker was available. I tried two places and put that task on hold, instead going off to search for the adapter. The agent had said that to my right, all the way down, I might find a store, but all I saw were restaurants. I then went upstairs to look for shops and currency exchange. The employee at Muji didn't even look at me when I asked about English, and the next store I checked clearly did not have adapters. The first currency exchange office was closed, so I asked at another info desk, and then directed me all the way down to the A section, where I saw that that one was indeed open. Rate was not horrible, BUT there was a 38 CNY commission, more than $5. I was going to exchange $100, but the commission spurred me to exchange 200 so I'd reduce odds of having to exchange again later.

While completing the transaction, I asked an English-speaker I had met over at the other (closed) exchange office about plug adapters, and he said I could find them at the airport hotel, about 15 minutes away. Turned out to be less than 10, and after some confusion with the employee at the door, then another at the desk, I went into the shop, and when I showed my plug to the cashier, she found the adapter, and it appeared that it would do the trick.

Oh, at some point I also bought a juice from Starbucks, simply to replace my lost water bottle.

I decided to stop trying to investigate accommodations by phone and just take the metro to a central area, which led to another ordeal. I went through the security checkpoint but saw no ticket machines before the gates. I asked an agent if she spoke English, and she just motioned for me to exit. Turned out there was a Metro Service Desk around the corner, but that agent barely spoke English. Still, she point around the other corner where I saw the machines. I saw no option for a multi-day pass, nor to pay with credit, so I was glad I had cash to buy a ticket to the People's Square station which was on the 2 Line from the airport and had hotels and hostels nearby.

The trip to People's Square was quite long, over an hour, but I needed the time to get down all the details of everything that had happened that morning. I also needed to identify the store in my database, and I quickly realised that this was going to be a problem. For this particular store, there was a phone number on the receipt, which I found in my database, so I could relate to a record, but MOST of the Chinese stores did not have phones, and I was not sure what I would do for those.

I decided to exit the metro at East Nianjing Road and find some Starbucks first, then accommodation, and I immediately ran into a glitch, a discrepancy between the GPS location shown on my Starbucks app versus Google Maps. I found the Hong Yi store, and the barista spoke slightly more English, enough to tell me that they did not have any Starbucks cards (I saw some on the counter). Also could not get wifi--the system would not send a message to my U.S. #.

I did, however, come up with an additional technique for identifying the store. By using BOTH the app and the website, I could identify which two dots on the maps were identical, then click on the dot on the webpage to view the store ID in the URL.

Not far from the Starbucks at Hong Yi there was a cafe called M something that had open wifi, which was surprising.

The area had a number of other Starbucks, and I wanted to get a few more, but it just seemed prudent to lock down a room, and there was a prospective room 9 minutes away, Shanghai Fish Inn Bund, showing a great rate on Google Maps, BUT a higher rate on Booking (a little under $40/night). I walked up there, and the attendant knew just enough English that, combined with the translation app, we worked it out. Basically all I needed was a reasonable rating, a reasonable price, a bed, and wifi. ESPECIALLY the wifi if Starbucks wasn't going to work out for me.

Meanwhile I'd barely slept in over 25 hours, and I was definitely not firing on all cylinders, plus disoriented and dealing with the high cognitive load of figuring out a million things. However, as I overcame obstacle after obstacle and completed task after task, I was feeling better and beginning to appreciate the fact that I was finally BACK IN ASIA after SEVEN YEARS.

I headed out from the hotel again and went to the Henderson Celebrity Square store where I finally found a Starbucks card, but I was not able to purchase it with a credit card. We tried two, and both failed. I paid 200 CNY cash and later tried again at another store, but the transactions still failed, and this time a manager explained that it was not allowed to reload a Starbucks card using a credit card. That was disappointing, because that was a good way for me to take advantage of the best exchange, without a fee, and without having to pull my credit card out of my backpack over and over, which could result in misplacing it or leaving it behind, as I had done in Zurich.

Despite my technique of matching up Starbucks dots on the app and website, I was still running into difficulties. Some of the time there was a discrepancy between the name on the receipt and the name on the app. These were worrisome because they could lead to confusion in the future when trying to visit new stores. There were also stores shown nearby that baristas did not know about, like New World 3F, which should be on the 3rd floor of the department store, if it existed, or it might be in a completely different part of the city.

I had stopped and had a banana after leaving the hotel, so I could wait until dark to eat. After just four more stores, six total, I was FAMISHED and headed down to the B2 level, the food court, of the New World Department Store and looked for any menus that had English on them, finally settling on a rice noodle bowl with egg, a green vegetable, and what I belived to be mushrooms, for just 20 CNY. When I calculated that to be just 2.89 even with the lousy exchange (because of commission) I got at the airport, I was in disbelief and ran the numbers again, then again a different way. I truly expected Shanghai to be more expensive. Heck, since the single espresso from Starbucks cost me around $2, I expected food to be a bit more.

Given the language difficulties, and the fact that I could not log my tablet onto the wifi, then use Google Translate, I quickly abandoned any hopes of getting opening dates for stores.

Cheap ($7) haircut in the alley across from the department store, then two more Starbucks for the night, bringing my total to 8, not bad considering that I arrived at the airport around 10 am and then spent nearly four hours there before heading to the city centre. On the way back to the hotel I was suddenly famished--I know that cheap dinner meal wasn't going to cut it. I spent over an hour composing my post because of the slow hotel wifi, slow T-Mobile roaming, and the need to tether my laptop to my phone in order to access Gmail/FB/Insta etc on the laptop. By the time I finished, I had been away for around 31 hours, except for brief moments dozing on the plane.

October 28


I thought I had plenty of time, but once I finished packing and got down to the lobby to plot a route to the final Starbucks outside the airport, Arese SM Il Centro Mondadori, I discovered that I had plotted a car route earlier. By train the trip would take over and over. I started the walk to the station and grumbled at the slow T-Mobile roaming speed while I tried to make sure I could get to the airport in time, and I was dismayed to discover that it would take an hour and a half. That was 2 1/2 hours total AT BEST, probably more with delays and missed connections, and I was not prepared to risk my flight to Shanghai for that one store (a different attitude than my younger Starbucking days).

By that point I had already bought a 3.60 ticket to the station were I would have caught a bus to the mall, but instead I got off at a station to connect to the airport train. I was hoping that it would be cheaper from that station, but no, it was the same 13, so I wasted 3.6. However, I decided to mitigate that loss by getting a coffee and pastry from the place at the station (airport would be more). Even though I had a coffee to drink at the airport still, one coffee was not going to be enough to keep me from arriving in Hong Kong with a killer headache, and I did not know if the flight would offer coffee for free.

Upon arriving at Terminal 1, finding the correct check-in area, and entering the line, I motioned to an agent who was assisting the line to ask why my online check-in had failed. I had ideas, of course--my top guess was that I needed to provide visa, or visa-free transit, information for Shanghai, and my second guess was my name. The agent, Claudia, surprised me by asking if I was Winter Winter, and it turned out the reason she guessed who was because I was the only passenger (if I understood correctly) flying on to PVG (from HKG). I surmised that she had been looking for such a person as a potential volunteer to resolve an overbooking situation. Because there was a direct Air China flight to PVG, and Air China would cooperate with Cathay, they could put me on that flight, if necessary. I saw no downside to that offer and readily accepted.

As a courtesy, Claudia authorised me for the lounge, and that sounded intriguing because I had never in my life spent time in an airport lounge, at least not as far as I could recall. I took my boarding passes and headed to security, where I received a shock.

AARRGHH!!! MY MOST SIGNIFICANT TRIP LOSS TO DATE (not really)!!! Arrived at security and went to put my toothpaste in the clear plastic bag, except--IT WASN'T THERE!!! Despite having turned on the light and used my torch to scan the bed and desk for anything I had left, apparently my plastic bag had falled onto the floor, which I did not check, and I had lost: remaining allergy medication and melatonin; most of my pain reliever; final daytime cold/flu tablets I brought from the U.S. plus the ones I had bought, at not-insignificant cost, in Hungary; my Q-Tips. Also, perhaps one or two spare toothpastes--as I write this on the plane, I need to check my backpack. FORTUNATELY, in the middle of the night, while fishing for an allergy pill, I had removed my razor from the bag, so I did not lose it.

First, though, I had to go find the Starbucks, which was by the A gates, in the opposite direction from the Cathay gate(s) (B58) and lounge, and seemingly all the way at the end. Line was a bit long, but it was one of the splashier airport Starbucks that I had seen (bearing in mind that I miss many because they do not count). By the time I finished up at the Starbucks, I started to wonder how all that spare time had evaporated, and also whether boarding was going to begin more than an hour early given that it was a long-haul flight, and I decided I needed to hustle, because I still had A LOT to do.

First, a loooong way towards passport control (the B gates were beyond that point), but first a stop at the chemist to replace my meds, and, like in Hungary and past trips to Europe, I could not buy any of those items without asking the chemist.

Automated machine errored out on the picture step (probably still a name issue), but I was told to go to a line that moved quickly. On the other side, my first step was to find food, and I lost over five minutes on that, maybe closer to 10. Once I had a ham and cheese sandwich (no restaurant where I could get an egg dish, which I was craving), and had to walk several minutes BACK to get to Sala Montale, which was the lounge. I was underwhelmed.

Perhaps I misunderstood, because the place was packed, and by passengers who did not all look like business class. The room was packed, and it took me a while to spot a table that was free because it messy with leftover items. I quickly moved the items to one side of the table so I could take a first-lounge-experienced selfie, and then I set about completing tasks as quickly as possible until Claudia texted that I would remain on the Cathay flight, and to go to the gate. I remained as long as possible because the lounge wifi was FAST, so fast compared to regular Malpensa wifi.

At the gate, I managed to get much of my outstanding tasks completed, but I was still unprepared for Shanghai, or even for my hour at HKG, where I hoped to pick up a new Starbucks. I hoped to use my 10+ hours on the plane to do some research and preparing, but the wifi would not confirm my credit card. I could have tried again later, but once the time approached 10 PM and then beyond, it seemed pointless because I would want to be going to sleep, if possible.

Good thing I picked up some medications, because halfway during the flight I started to sniffle, and that was super uncomfortable cramped in between two passengers. Also, I needed to melatonin to help me sleep--any amount of sleep was critical for maxing out on Starbucks upon arriving in Shanghai.

October 27


As I hoped, when I woke around 7 am, my headache was gone. The sky was dark, so I made no attempt to hurry, even though I did want to complete four Starbucks then get to the Roastery before the crowds. At the first store I compared my receipt with the one from the night before, and I saw that, as I had suspected, the barista had not included the 20-cent cup discount even though we had discussed it, and he had checked with the supervisor. I pointed this out to the barista, and her supervisor, at the Centrale store, expecting them to refund me, but they said I needed to go back to the other store--that is POOR customer service.

At the next store Restelli, the barista looked at me like I was a loon when I asked about the cup discount. She seemed actually angry with me. Later, as I was at a table, I discarded my receipts with some other trash on the adjacent table, and a few minutes later a barista came with the receipt and said something in Italian. I told her a couple of times that I did not understand, and then she walked off angrily. So far I was QUITE disappointed with Percassi customer service.

No issues when I returned to the Garibaldi store--the supervisor immedialty refunded my 20 cents. I did the next two stores as quickly as I could but it was still around 10:30 when I arrived at the Roastery, and, as I feared, there was already a loooong line. HOWEVER, by the time I finished shooting some footage for my 18K video, the line had eased, and I only had to wait less than five minutes before entering. Then around 15 in the line to order a pastry and finally Oleato, a tall Golden Latte.

After snapping photos and getting my drink/pastry, I finally sat down to work on my flight out of Milan, and to see if the Oleato would force me to rush to the washroom. Took me about 60-90 minutes to get a flight, but I had to abandon my top preference of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, because I just could not find a good route anymore, not after the previous day's attempts with both Pegasus and Turkish Airlines failed on the payment step. I finally decided on Shanghai, on Cathay Pacific, and then the required outbound flight, to Osaka, on Air China, and both payments succeeded.

No stomach issues 90 minutes later, but maybe 30-60 minutes after that I felt a little dizzy, maybe queasy, but I had no idea if this was related to the Oleato.

With 18K done and flights booked, I headed out to the final Starbucks in the city centre, Vercelli, stopping for a quick spaghetti on the way. I then headed to my hostel to check in (the one from previous night had been booked for Friday), BUT IT WAS THE WRONG location. HOWEVER, I was told that I had to check in online using the form, or I'd be charged 10 euro, and after I did that I asked if I could choose the bed. I was told that they were assigned automatically, so there was no point in losing an hour to go back up to that hostel. Instead, I went to a store further out, Assago. I finally had to ask a customer for their wifi code, if they were not using it, but it did not work, and none of the codes printed out by the barista worked. Fortunately the mall wifi did work, and I was able to get some work done before deciding that I needed to head out to the final store to ensure I could get back before my 24-hour transport pass expired.

Something odd on that train to Scalo Milano Outlet--when I showed the agent my ticket, she said it had not been validated, and then she asked where I boarded, and she wrote some validation information on the back. I still don't understand, because I though the validation was done by the ticket machine when I inserted the ticket at the gate, both to metro and other trains.

Made it back to the city centre just around 19:00 and went straight to my hostel, primarily because the CyberLink PowerDirector software I had originally installed to create my 18K video would not let me add my video files, which made it useless. I was willing to upgrade simply to get the video done, but the BUY button did nothing. So I had to download a different package, OpenShot Video Editor. I tried downloading from the Scalo Milano Outlet Starbucks, but their speed was too slow. At the hostel it downloaded in 4 minutes, and then I went in search of food, which took waaaay too long. I finally settled for a pricey pizzeria, 20 euro, quite different from American pizzas.

Returned to the hostel to finish the video, and then I was irked to discover that the uploads, for a video only 4 minutes in length, were going to take a loooong time. The upload to YouTube was going so slow that I was not sure it would be completed overnight. At the same time, I copied the video to my phone and started an Instagram upload, which went faster and completed in a little over an hour, just as I was about to try to go to sleep. I then uploaded to my Starbucking FB page, but that post seemed to disappear so I just used an IG link.

Two young French students (one was in something called an "Erasmus" program) in my four-bed dorm, and we chatted briefly before they went out for the night. I hoped that they would not disturb me too much when they returned. Well past midnight, maybe closer to 3 am, the fourth roommate (I think) showed up and was startled when I got up to go to the bathroom. She was clearly drunk from the motions that I could hear. Later, between 5 and 6, the two French friends showed up and were quite loud. I tried to go back to sleep, since the Starbucks at Arese would not open til 8, and the trip only 23 minutes, but I finally gave up aroun 7:20.

October 26


Once again I managed to sleep well past 7 am, maybe past 7:30, and I had no particular hurry since I did not expect the craft coffeehouses to open til 8, and I had intentionally booked a 14:35 flight to give myself plenty of time in the morning to visit a few indies, visit the final Starbucks, and if possible reshoot Place de la Republique.

First stop, KB Coffee Roasters, a small space like many in Paris, and without outlets that I could see (actually the one at my bench did not work). Tables were a bit low for a laptop as well, making the place not ideal for working, but the coffee, a natural processed Colombian, was pretty good. Also, they serve scones that are quite close to some American biscuits.

While there I booked a hostel and immediately received an email alerting me to the 19:00 final check-in time, which I had not noticed. While my flight was scheduled to arrive at 16:05 and there is a 1-hour express train to the city centre, I wanted to stop at a Starbucks on the way, and that might create an issue for me.

Next was The Beans on Fire, also a small space, but with outlets. The coffee there, another natural, from India, a country I do not oft see represented, was okay, but more on the medium side than I would have preferred. I plugged in and worked on a variety of tasks while keeping an eye on the time. We all know how it goes--I started out with plenty of time, and then I find myself rushing. When I decided it was time to go, I changed my plan and decided it would be prudent to first visit the remaining Starbucks and then see if I had time for any other indies or to reshoot Republique. This also made sense because Rue de Bercy is further away from the airport, and I suspected that I might need to stop at Republique anyway to change to an RER to the airport.

As expected, I frittered the time away. First I arrived at the Gare de Lyon metro station and could not resist looking for a Starbucks to try and make sure that the new store "Paris Gare de Lyon" was indeed NOT Alsea, even though I was pretty sure because Alsea has not opened any stores in French transport hubs. I finally verified this from the manager at the real store, Rue de Bercy, and then I lost too much time in the toilet and started to worry about reshooting Rue de la Republique. Since there was a bus that would get me there in 7 minutes, I decided to try it. However I ran into that same situation from the day before wherein the designated stop, for the 91 bus, did not make sense. There were multiple stops, and I chose the one that made the most logical sense and asked someone if he had seen the 91 bus, and he said it just passed. I waited about 10-15 minutes, longer than expected, and then the bus appeared but stopped about 50 metres away. A slew of passengers noticed this and rushed down to the bus, but when one tried to board, the driver told her something. I assumed that the bus was going to stop further up, where the actual stand was, but once the bus began moving IT JUST KEPT ON GOING!!!

I could not afford to risk any more time, and I just headed back into Gare de Lyon to cash the A RER one stop to Chatelet Les Halles where I would connect with the B train to the airport. By happenstance, the express B just happened to be on the platform, and I quickly rushed over and asked passengers if it was going to the airport. They said yes, and all of a sudden I was looking at arriving at the airport MORE THAN TWO HOURS ahead of time, unnecessary for a Schengen flight. Looked like I had squandered my reshoot opportunity, AND my opportunity to check out a waffle stand at the station, Le Comptoir Belge. There is NOTHING WORSE than a wasted waffle opportunity.

Needless to say, the easyJet flight was delayed even further, and we did not board until after 15:00 and then sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour before departing around 16:00. Somehow we made up some time and landed less than an hour late, BUT upon entering Terminal 2, I was quite dismayed with the facilities--no info kiosk, for example. I wanted to visit the Starbucks, and it took me a while to figure out that it was quite far away, in Terminal 1, AND after security. Then I had to find the stop for a bus to T1, because it was not walkable, and that bus was delayed, which was going to make me late for the 19:00 check-in deadline. Fortunately I was able to call the hostel and arrange for self-checkin, by submitting my passport, and I was not charged extra.

XP2 train to the city centre had multiple delays, but since I had self-checkin instructions, I did not care. Almost missed my stop, and once I was out into the station I had to ask a local to orient myself to the nearest Starbucks, which I was anxious to visit. Drizzling, but not too bad, and it eased up as I neared the Starbucks, which made it easier to take a halfway decent night photo.

Starbucks Italy first impressions. Wifi requires a code, which is annoying and costs me time, because I cannot begin downloading immediately upon entering the store. Of the first seven Starbucks I saw, all required codes but two (one was the Roastery, operated by Starbucks, not Percassi). Even worse, the code only worked for one device, which would necessitate some juggling. Bathroom at that first Starbucks, Corso Garibaldi, was filthy and smelly, and I started to have concerns about the quality of Percassi Starbucks.

Headache had begun while at the airport and on the train, and gotten worse as time passed. I wasn't sure if it was caffeine withdrawal, and I hoped that the shot from Garibaldi would help. I was in bad shape, though, and had to eat whatever, so I resigned myself to a burger even though I was not due. Fortunately the spot, Burgez, had a Beyond Meat option. Self-checkin went smoothly, but then I was surprised, and a little perturbed, that the four-bed dorm DID NOT have bunk beds, which meant no opportunity jury-rig a curtain, and no privacy. Something else, a brief scare because the plug adaptor I had attached to my laptop plug did not work. I couldn't understand why, since Italy should be on the same European style out of outlet. Fortunately the other adaptor worked, and I was able to get some work done. Not much, though, because by that point my headache was even worse, and I had to defer as many tasks as possible to the next day. All I managed to do was make my FIRST STARBUCKS IN ITALY post and then get to sleep, after a brief chat with a young Frenchman, Matthias, who came in while I was working.

October 25


I was stunned when I turned on my phone, thinking it was no later than 5 or 6, and seeing 7:52 on the display, but I was also pleased because catching up on sleep is good good good. The nearby Starbucks would not open until 8 anyway, and I did not even need to hurry because it was still dark, and the skies overcast and drizzly. I was out of the hostel by 8:14, and yet by the time I reached the Starbucks a few minutes later it was STILL dark (CURSE THESE SHORTER DAYS). I figured I'd kill some time plotting indie cafes, but I didn't even have to do that because I ran into the stupid pricing issue.

Unlike two stores the previous day, when I had asked for a short coffee, and the display had read something like "SH COW xxxx" (xxxx are letters I do not remember), this display was "TL CAFE FILTRE", and the barista did not seem to know how to change to short--she even showed me the display from her side. The supervisor could not help either, and after some discussion another customer showed up, so I let him and the next guy go. I then asked the supervisor when the manager might arrive, since I was still waiting for light, and he said they would just serve me the coffee for the doppio price. By that time I was frustrated with this issue and wished that I could contact Alsea for an explanation, but I have been trying to contact them since my first visit to Mexico twenty years ago, and that company does not seem to want to respond to customers.

When I finally got my coffee, I realised I had forgotten to indicate the line on the cup to fill it, and they gave me a full cup, and then there was additional awkwardness because they did not understand my request to dump it out. I finally had to go outside to dump it (because dumping in the trash makes the bags heavy).

I quickly plotted a bunch of craft coffeehouses, but none were in the area, so I packed up, stopped at Auchan for groceries, then headed to the next store, and that's when the next fiasco began. The designated store was Rue de Bercy, with address 209/211 Rue de Bercy, but when I went to where Google Maps placed it (AND had a STARBUCKS marker), there was no Starbucks. I had to go to the next nearest store, Bercy Park, and older one, and wait to speak to the manager, and while speaking to him, I put 211 Rue de Bercy on my map again, and THIS TIME it plotted it correctly!!!

The actual location was in the opposite direction of the outlying stores that I wanted to visit while I had my Paris Visite pass, so it made no sense to go, but I STILL had to backtrack about 15 minutes to get to the 6 line, which I could have picked up right after the Place Felix Eboue store and thus saved myself a lot of wasted time (although the CC Italie store might not have been open til 10).

Anyway, I made it to CC Italie 2 (Deux), and there I was reminded of a question I've had for years, with no idea how to answer. Italy Deux, Rosny Deux, Every Deux--many of these shopping centres had "Deux" in their titles, and that created confusion for me, because I wasn't sure if that represented the second Starbucks in that mall. I was eager to learn why French malls adopted this naming, but who to ask?

Anyway, at the store, the partners had no problem finding the correct menu item "SH COW xxxx" (keep forgetting to note that word), and they were superfriendly about it. Unfortunately I did not realise that that mall, the first I'd encountered since my return to France, charged for the toilet, 80 euro cents, and if I had known, I would have left quickly so I could reach the next store, 30 minutes away, before my bladder threatened to burst. Just outside the entrace to the metro was a creperie, and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone, but it was not yet open.

My arrival at the Issy-les-Moulineaux store brought bladder relief, but customer service frustation. They had filtre coffee, and no issue with the short size, but then the barista went to the back, returned, and proceeded to dump the existing coffee. I knew what had happened, that she had asked the manager who had instructed her to remake it, but I did not care if it was expired--I was trying to cover A LOT of territory that day, to take advantage of my Paris Visite pass, which would expire at midnight (NOT a 24-hour clock like in other cities). I asked the barista to please stop dumping the coffee, and then I asked again, politely but with an increasing sense of pleading in my voice, in both English and French, but she just looked at me with a blank stare and made no motion to stop the dumping.

After I had my coffee I asked for the manager to explain to him what had happened, and that nobody in customer service should EVER ignore a customer like that, no matter what, and although it took a while, it seemed like he understood. Then he had a realisation and asked if I had been to the Saint Antoine about twenty years earlier, and I pulled up my website and showed him that I had. All of a sudden he lit up because he was in disbelief that he had encountered me yet again, so long after my visit to his older store. He ended up gifting me a drink coupon and taking a selfie, and a really negative Starbucks experience turned into a positive one.

The next store was more of a hassle because Google Maps said to take the Express 19 bus to the Parly 2 mall, but there was no bus stop at the marker, and the stops on the other side of the road made no reference to Exp19. After bouncing back and forth between two stops on the eastbound side, looking again for a stop on the westbound side, then getting into a confusion conversation with a passenger when the 419 bus arrived, I finally asked some passengers at one of the stops, and they directed me to take bus 2 on the other streeet. I walked over and checked the ourt map for two, and it indeed included Parly 2.

Once there, the non-unexpected hassle finding the store, with confusing instructions both to the toilets and then from the electronic display, but once I reached the store things went smoothly. I try to enjoy the smooth moments, because it doesn't take long for things to get confusing again. Once on the Exp1 bus to the Versaille Chantiers station, the electronic display indicated otherwise. The stops did not match Google Maps, but the driver assured me the bus would go there, and I crossed my fingers.

Once at the station I saw that I had just 4 minutes to buy a ticket and/or figure out if Plaisir was in Zone 5. When I reached the station, I spotted one of those Paris train customer service agents that I have seen at a number of stations, and I was just thinking how lucky this was when another customer walked up to her, and then she left her station with him, entered the platform area, then went over to the office. I had no idea how long that would take, and I now had 3 minutes, so I set out to buy a ticket, but before I could find the option to enter the name of my destination station, the service agent walked back to her station, so I quickly rushed over and asked if Plaisir-Les Clayes was Zone 5, and she said yes. At that point I had to rush through the gates and look for Platform G, and I made the train with about 60 seconds to spare.

Took me a while to find the Starbucks in Plaisir, because it was in the OTHER shopping centre, the new tony one, and not in the one that I walked through, which looked a bit dilapidated. Once there I was irked that the wifi did not work, because that slowed me down as I pulled up directions to the next store in Cergy. However, it looked like the trip was doable via three train segments, in an hour and half, and it looked possible to visit that store in daylight then head down to Puteaux.

Once I examined the route to Cergy, I noticed that I had to connect at La Defense, so it actually made more sense to exit the RER, visit the Puteaux CNIT store, then head to Cergy.

At CNIT I lost time waiting for the throngs of people to part and give me a clear shot, then maybe 10 minutes waiting to see if I could exchange my Swedish and Norweigan currency, but it turned out my Swedish bill was old. Those minutes, plus all the other minutes I lost, ended up costing me the chance to check the Westfield Forum Les Halles store off my list that night.

AMAZINGLY, I made it to the Westfield Forum Les Halles with minutes to spare! After having lost so much time, everything had to go right. The train delays had to stop building up, and then once on the platform I had to find the Westfield, and then the Starbucks. Fortunately I quickly spotted a Starbucks that I immediately suspected was older, and not Alsea, BUT the partners knew where the Starbucks was, right next to Fnac. Then once in the mall, the first security guard I spoke to knew exactly how to direct me to the Fnac, and it was less than a minute away.

With that store out of the way, it made sense to continue on to the Place de la Republique store, even though it was out on the street and would need a reshoot. That left only one store, and that gave me the flexibility to go ahead and book Milan for Thursday IF I could still find a reasonable flight.

First, though, the obligatory Paris ramen experience, nearby Yamanashi Ramen. Mediocre--I expected better given the high Google review score.

For the night I chose St. Christopher's Inn Gare du Nord because it was significantly cheaper, while still having a decent store, and I'd stayed there before. Also, it was in proximity to some craft coffeehouses I could see in the morning. Four-bed dorm, no bedbugs that I could see, no issues except for the noise from the pub and/or night life, but I soon felt sleep.

October 24


In the wee hours I woke up and heard rain, or so I thought, and I hoped that it would be gone by morning because I had a 15-minute walk to the RER. Every time I got up, though, I kept hearing that rain. Finally, just before 7:30, I noticed that I was not seeing rain falling on the skylight, and when I opened the door and peeked under the gate, I did not see rain falling. Turns out that sound had been something else.

After getting ready I hustled to the RER station, although it wasn't really necessary because plenty of A trains headed in the Paris direction, every few minutes. Arrived at the Noisy-le-Grand store shortly after it opened, and of course they did not have filter coffee brewed. I had no problem waiting, but the supervisor could not find the Pike Place, so I had to go for a solo espresso yet again. Weird thing was that I kept seeing DOPPIO ESPRESSO on the screen, and the supervisor could not seem to find a solo. I finally could not waste any more time on that and just paid the price and made sure they only poured one shot.

I started out for the RER around 9:30, but I wanted to use the loo first, and I was shocked to learn that the centre did not open them until 10:00. Then I spotted the Waffle Factory, and by the time I got my waffle and headed back out to the ticket machine to figure things out, it was 9:45. It took me another 5 minutes to figure out what I wanted to do, and by that tim eit was 9:50, and I figured I might as well wait for the loo since my trip could be a long one.

Then I picked up some groceries from Carrefour after being pleased to discover that this one did not require bags to be checked, as I had encountered at Carrefour, and their sister brands, all over the world.

After all that, I decided that I'd go to Evry first, and when I went back out to the RER machine, I had to help a man who could not pay with cash, so I used my card. He didn't want the full amount of change back (in a hurry), so I netted 95 euro cents out of that act of kindness.

Evry was easy enough, except that I had to scramble to get the barista NOT to dump out the cold coffee, and I had to switch to English explain to the manager that I just needed to drink a coffee from every Starbucks--I did not care how it tasted. From there, as I expected, there was a bus that would take me to directly Lieusant, but then I ran into what could have been a devastating glitch. I immediately saw the Starbucks, BUT IT WAS THE FAKE ONE!!!

I had noticed a day or two earlier that there were two stores in Lieusant, and I made a mental note to verify at the new Alsea store that the other one was not Alsea, and then I promptly forgot. Fortunately I can count on the third-party licensed or franchised stores to NOT have the standard Starbucks wifi, and that spurred me to ask if the store was Alsea. However, the delay, plus the standard delay at all these malls in finding the loo (which always seems to be out of the way), plus confusion at the real Alsea store about a short coffee, caused me to miss the 13:59 bus, but I lucked out and there was a 14:10.

With Evry and Lieusant, which seemed to be outside Zone 5, out of the way, I made a quick calculation that the 43 euro for a 2-day Zone 5 Paris Visite pass would be less than what it would cost to visit the remaining stores, and I used that to get to Creteil Soleil, where I finally had the time, and a sufficiently English-speaking barista, who explained that contrary to what I had experienece at Alsea Starbucks in the Netherlands, in France they did not offer the solo espresso, only doppio. I wasn't convinced that this was correct, but I was reeeeally hungry and just wanted to complete the store, finish some tasks, and get food.

Rosny 2 was easy, but by the time I finished it no longer made sense to head to two additional Paris stores before going to my hostel. I probably would not reach one, and I'd have to end up returning to that area. Made more sense to head into the city and find dinner near the metro (daal from Bombay Curry near the Nation station) then head to my hostel and try to catch up on sleep and get an early start.

October 23


No disturbance during the night. It was just me in the dorm for a few hours, and then a someone else checked in (a young woman, I would see in the morning). I slept until past 7, which meant around 10 hours, my first such night in many weeks!

No hurry this morning, as my flight was not til 12:25, and I did not expect the bank to open until nine, nor any craft coffeehouses until 8. I went down into the common area, quiet at this early hour (though not always--depends on the place and day). I looked up a blog that indicated where to change money, and then I looked up the Czech National Bank and was surprised to see that Google listed the nearby branch as OPEN even though it was not even 8 yet. I figured I might as well try to get that task out of the way, so I headed out.

On the way I passed by Kava Ruzova, a cafe that had not been listed in the blog I found, and I noticed filter on the menu displayed on the door. Good enough for me, and I popped in and enjoyed a pretty good Guatemalan bean from Coffee Source.

Took me a while to find the bank because I first spotted a building with Ceska Narodni Banka on the wall/window, but it was closed. A passerby helped me and explained that this was the LIBRARY. I had to go around the corner, then pass through security, but then I was able to exchange my 200 koruna (about $8.66).

Used up my remaining 139 koruna at Starbucks, then had to go find Rossman because I had discovered that one of my gloves had disappeared! Unfortunately that particular Rossman did not have the gloves I needed, and I did not want to waste anymore time, so I just crossed my fingers that I would not need them for a while.

Picked up some groceries at Albert, taking extra time to find a power bar that left me with just one coin, a 50-koruna piece, but of course I had gotten the order of operations wrong, because when I went to Urban Cafe, my final craft coffeehouse of the city, the cost was 73, so I was back to having lots of coins, 73 to be exact. I did not want to risk missing the Airport Express bus (I could not find an actual schedule, only that the bus left every 30 minutes, so I resigned myself to hoping I could spend exactly 73 czk at the airport.


Observant readers might have noticed that if I had an even amount plus a 50-crown piece, and the coffee cost 73, then I would not have had 73 crowns left, but 77. I had done the math wrong, and I had that 73 amount fixed in my head when I arrived at the airport and spotted a Billa grocery store between Terminal 1 and 2. WHAT LUCK, I thought, because I'd easily be able to buy exactly 73 crowns worth of food, and I was right. But when I pulled out my coins at the register I discovered 77! I wanted to replace an item, and I tried to indicate to the cashier to stop, with increasing forcefulness, but she ignored me and continued with the transaction. I looked around for an English-speaker, and a young woman came from from a self-service register to explain to the cashier what had happened, but the cashier did not want to refund the transaction, instead saying I could spend those 4 crowns on a piece of bread. I did end up finding a piece for 3.20, which round down to 3, and I just let the cashier have the other crown, but I left irritated that I had so plainly told her to stop, and she would not.

First time on Czech Airlines (or it's low-cost variant SmartWings--not sure which I was flying), and the flight was delayed nearly an hour, the longest delay of the half dozen flights of this tour, I think. Not a terrible problem because I had not booked a dorm/room for Paris and had the flexibility to book something in the burbs if making my way into the city centre proved infeasible after picking off a few far-out Starbucks starting with the new one nearest the airport.

Of course, time is money, and I lost quite a bit at the airport when the Express 20 bus to Claye Souilly did not show up at 15:30. Almost as bad, the day was chilly and rainy. Actually, my foibles had begun almost right away. First, I exited into the terminal without passing through security, and I thought "trip is going great already", but then I could not connect to the wifi to update news. Then I could not find an information kiosk to answer the question of whether I could walk all the way to the bus depot (since I had time). I couldn't, but when I pulled out a credit card on the first bus, the driver asked where I was going, and when I pointed to the other bus, he let me on for free.

Bus finally arrived around 15:50 but waited until 16:00 to depart, and I began to doubt that I could pick up three or four stores that evening. That wasn't my only concern, though. While waiting for the bus, I looked up Uber prices and discovered that they appeared to be FOUR-TO-FIVE TIMES HIGHER than what I was paying for equivalent distances in Poland, or that Bolt ride (fuck Bolt) in Romania. If I had to use Uber for all the outlying stores, I was going to rack up a bill in the hundreds!

Claye Souilly was my first French Starbucks in eight years, so I had the usual questions, but other than that it went quickly, once I found the store, which WAS NOT on Google Maps. Then I plotted the transit route to Val d'Europe and was shocked to see TWO HOURS. Nope, couldn't do that, and had to suck it up and pay 38€ for an Uber.

As expected, accommodations would be expensive too (past experience with hostels), and since it made no sense to travel into the city when I had a store in between to visit, I needed to stay either near Val e'Europe, which is near Disney and thus expensive, or out to Noisy-le-Grand. The reviews were lousy, scary even (smells of human excrement) for one place out there, and I did not even bother to read the other reviews in that price range and instead just sucked it up and paid nearly 100 for a room that was 15 minutes walking away, which turned out to be an AirBnb. I winced at the price, but I had zero issues with the place except for the cold, and not being able to lock the door. I wasn't worried though, because the neighbourhood was clearly safe and quiet.

October 22


Before leaving for the day, I verified that the young man had indeed left, so I needed not worry about another incident the night before my flight to Paris. First stop of the day was back at the Ujezd store for daytime photos AND ALSO to check and see if the staff had found my plug adapter. I had gone over a month without leaving it behind, but sooner or later...

Fortunately, the same barista who had closed the night before had opened the store, and she had the adapter right on the register--easy peasy. Back to Novy Smichov for photos, then I finally headed down to one of three remaining stores, Waltrovka.

Note for the future--the orange juice from DelMart is DELICIOUS.

From Waltrovka I took the B metro back into the city centre, where I would catch the A line to Vokovice, but first I detoured back to Pauseteria because I had not been able to get those pastries out of my head, and I walked away with a kremrole. I had hoped they would be serving Naughty Dog coffee, but they still had Fiftybean on, and I did not want to wait 15-20 for a pour over because my transport pass was only good til 11:45. Still, I took the opportunity of being just 10 minutes away to walk to Onesip, which had been recommended by an X follower. I had a test roast, an anaerobic Kenyan, but it was a medium roast and not to my liking. Baristas were friendly, though, but Onesip is not really a hangout spot--tiny with just two seats at a counter.

AFI Vokovice was super fast as well, and since the coffee was about expired the barista comped it. I was in and out in a jiffy and able to catch the 414 bus to the Premium Outlet. I wasn't sure if my pass would be good, but it was. By the time I needed to catch that same bus again, same driver, my pass had expired, but the fare to the nearby train station was almost nothing. Almost missed the train to Kladno for two reasons. First, I assume that the guy with the suitcase was going to the train station, so I followed him and went the wrong. When I finally figured it out, I still had it in my mind that the train would depart at 12:50, but the departure time was actually 12:19. Barely bought the ticket in time, and only because a train agent figured I was buying a ticket for that train and held it for me.

In Kladnot I could have walked about 20-25 minutes, but I took the bus to speed things up. It looked like there were plenty of trains back to Prague, but later on it appeared that if I missed the 14:13, I'd have to wait a few hours. Fortunately I tried to get in and out ASAP, but I lost time for three reasons: 1) loo was on the other side of the mall from the Starbucks, and I had to go twice; 2) this Starbucks, a kiosk, was the first I had ever encountered that turned off the power to the electrical outlets in its seating area except for paying customers; 3) Starbucks was quiet when I arrived, but by the time I got the staff to turn on the power, several customers had arrived, and I had to wait a while to take photos. As a result I had to trot the 2 km to make it to the train on time, and I regretted having worn a fresh shirt.

The station was closed, so I had to buy the ticket back to Prague on the train, and I was surprised that the agent would not accept a card, only cash. Always good to have cash!

Back in Prague I walked in the direction of a cluster of craft coffeehouses, but on the way I decided I wanted to eat first and chose Bon Ramen. Decent ramen, but stunning decor. Just a few minutes away was Ye's (yes, apostrophe) Kafe Studio where I had my first excellent coffee from Dak. I hung out for a while taking care of tasks, and I began working on a video for my 18,000th Starbucks. I wasn't happy with what I was seeing though, and wasn't sure if I would go in that direction.

After about an hour, hour and a half I decided to start walking back towards the hostel, slowly because I wanted to eat something light after 7--the ramen had not filled me up. I had pizza with a thick crust on the brain but never found any, and then as I neared my hostel my backpack started to weigh heavily on it. The straps were hurting my shoulders. I passed up the hostel to just go find any food, and I started to feel really bad, with a tightness in my chest. Earlier I'd had some blood in my stool, rarely a good sign, and I wondered if the two were related. I didn't have the energy to continue my food search and just popped into a Chinese place for something light, chicken/corn soup and rice. Shortly after I began eating, I started to feel better, and by the end of my meal the pain in my chest was gone.

October 21


Woke up around 5:00 AM, at the same time that the dormmate above me was packing up, and I felt a sneeze coming on. Three sneezes in succession, and I had to go to the washroom to blow my nose. I tried to fall back asleep, but I continued to feel the need to sneeze and blow my nose, and I wondered where this had come from, out of the blue. Weather was warm in Prague, so it could have been pollen--I often feel congestion in the wee hours because of pollen, except that I wasn't sure how it would have gotten into the dorm. Anyway, I needed to sleep, so I took yet another of my dwindling supply of allergy pills, plus a melatonin.

I woke up again at 7:10 and felt that was enough, and I quickly downed the remaining coffee from the night before. I got ready, glad to be able to leave much of my stuff on the bed and travel with a light pack for a few days. I headed out to the three stores I had visited the night before for quick reshoots, and then I headed to a new store, Karlova, then the magnificent store in Old Town Square, across from the iconic clock tower. I remained there a while plotting craft coffeehouses and then headed to nearby Pauseteria, which had a pretty good coffee but spectacular display of pastries. Next I headed to one of the locations of EMA Espreso Bar, on the way to the next Starbucks at the Florenc bus depot. By that point I was really feeling the caffeine and needing to slow it down, so after the store at the Galerie Harfa, where I hung out a bit to catch up on tasks, I decided to head out to a couple of reshoots, starting with Letany, then Fashion Arena.

Taking a couple of hours out of my schedule for those reshoots was risky given how many NEW Starbucks I had to see, and as the mid-afternoon dragged on, I regretted no having paid closer attention to Google Maps when I asked for directions to Chodov. I keep forgetting that I usually have Maps set to prioritise train travel, so I missed a bus route that would have gotten me to Chodov almost 30 minutes faster.

ACTUALLY, the bus route was not necessarily the best, because I happened to look up while on the tram and noticed that we were at the Flora stop, which sounded familiar. I quickly checked my map and realised that there was a Starbucks RIGHT THERE, and I had not even considered that I would be passing right next to it on the tram. Unfortunately I did not realise this quickly enough and had to ride to the next stop, then walk nearly 10 minutes back. Still, I knew that I was going to make it to the other two stores on that side of the city with no issues, so I took some time out for a quick Indian meal from Bombay Express in the food court, not that expensive. Arkady Pankrac went pretty quickly, EXCEPT that when I tasted the drink, it was sweet and chocolatey, and I wondered if the barista had given me a shot of mocha instead. She said it was espresso plus mocha, but I could not be sure, and if I did not actually drink the coffee, the prophecy would not be fulfilled. I had to ask her to remake it, which meant possibly yet another shot to my already wired system.

More time lost at Chodov, where there was a bug in the information system that displayed directions to stores. While searching for "st" did in fact show the two Starbucks (interestingly, "sta" did not show any), regardless of which one I pressed, the directions were the same. Simple programming error, but the upshot was that I wasted a lot of time finding the store.

By the time I finished, the sky was still light out, but I wasn't sure for how long. It was 30 minutes to the next store, and I kicked myself for losing all that time, because if I had been faster earlier, I would definitely have reached the next store during daylight and would not have to reshoot it on Sunday morning. As it turned out, I did in fact arrive after nightfall, and those thirty minutes would have made a difference, but that was the least irritating thing about that evening.

At that store, Ujezd, something odd. I spotted a pretty new Starbucks card that read "Fall", and I wanted to transfer the balance from my current card over to that one, but the baristas said that they are not allowed to do that because someone had hacked the process. Thing is, the night before, at Quadrio, a barista had done just that when I spotted a special edition card that I wanted. What ended up happening is that the baristas told me to just go ahead and take the car, which I was fine doing as long as I had permission (otherwise it is theft).

The MOST annoying thing about the evening, though, was a discrepancy on the app/website regarding the old and new stores at the Novy Smichov, one inside the mall, the other outside the mall. In 2016 I had visited the one INSIDE the mall, and the other had not opened til 2018, but based on the addresses, they might have been backwards. These discrepancies are frustrating to me because they might make it hard for me to determine which store(s) is/are new in the future should one of them relocate, or should a third store open.


Additional roommates on Saturday night, including a young man in the bunk above me, a young woman in the other bottom bunk who came in and immediately went to bed, a blonde woman in her 30s who might have owned the big golf-bag looking thing, and a young Asian woman who seemed to be in the middle med of the other bunk. Because of all the caffeine, I had trouble asleep, of course, and at some point I heard a repetitive motion/sound coming from bunk above me (I was in the bottom bunk). The motion/sound would go on for a few seconds then stop, and I could not tell if the young man up there was pleasuring himself or just scratching.

If it had been the former, it made no sense to me that it would pause for minutes and then start up again. However, the young Asian woman in the topmost bunk apparently thought the worst (and she could have been right), because after a while she shouted "UH, WHAT THE *FUCK* ARE YOU DOING DOWN THERE!!!".

She got dressed, left the room, presumably to complain, then a while later came back in and shouted "NEXT TIME GET YOUR OWN FUCKING ROOM" before packing up and leaving.

What was the young man doing?

Well, the truth is that nobody knows. She doesn't know, I don't know, you reading this don't know, and the best solution is to tag him with an incident report (wirtually, using an app) that will have ZERO effect on him...

UNLESS his behaviour triggers additional incident reports, in which case he will find himself unable to book any more hostels, at minumum. But since we don't use that tech, that young woman has left feeling harassed, possibly traumatised, with essentially no recourse or remedy.

Anyway, the disturbance really screwed with my ability to fall asleep again, and it was well past midnight when I finally did. When I got up in the morning, it looked like all of the things were cleared out from the top bunk, and I hoped that he had departed so there would be no repeated.

October 20


Up at 7:10 and, as per my usual Friday since the return of 'Loki', I dawdled so I could watch, BUT I did not watch the whole episode because I hoped to catch the fast train to Vienna. I bought a two-hour tram car to speed my trip to reshoot the store in the city center, and then I quickly looked up craft coffee and found Monogram Espresso Bar right on the way to my tram stop. Monogram was tiny but served me up a pretty good Costa Rican batch-brew. I was in and out quickly, coffee in my reusable tumbler, so I could get down to the Campus store and back to the station with almost no time to spare for that 9:22 train.

While on the train to Vienna I discovered something odd. The night before I had looked up train schdules, and it had appeared that I could get from Vienna to Chvalovice quickly, but that's not what I was seeing this morning. I quickly decided that I would go to Linz instead, a little over and hour, then Prague.

I almost blew that trip to Prague, though, because I neglected to look up that train, and I dawdled in Vienna, going to TWO craft coffeehouses, No Panic Coffee and then Carl Ludwig, and almost a third. I lucked out that I caught the 12:55 to Linz after missing 12:45--if I had taken the 13:13, then I would have missed the 15:54 train to Prague and blown my chance to arrive at a reasonable hour. Fortunately in Linz there was a tram directly from the station to Plus City, and then I was able to purchase the ticket to Prague using a machine, thus freeing up time to get a couple of pastries and even popped into Spar for a banana and yoghurt, a detour that forced me to outright sprint to get onto the Prague train.

Long trip to Prague 3 1/2 hours, but that was fine because I needed that time to catch up on a lot of this. Slow going for the first hour, while in Austria, because the train was Czech, and the CDW wifi only started working once we crossed the border. One of my outstanding tasks was to determine whether a slew of new French stores were Alsea, and I discovered that by looking at LinkedIn posts, I could tell. Once I finished that, I could finally decide that it made sense to skip the Czech stores in a almost a dozen small cities, which I expected would take DAYS to complete. Instead, I could fly to Paris and pick up a dozen stores in the general area, then to Italy to make that final run at Milan.

Upon arriving at the main station in Prague, I quickly scooted over to my hostel to check in, fortunately securing a bottom bunk because this particular hostel had TRIPLE bunk beds, something I rarely see. I then rushed out to visit the two nearby Starbucks that the app said were open, and by happenstance I passed by a third, which was closed according to the app, but actually open for another 20 minutes, thus allowed me to check off Jungmannova, Quadrio, and Spalena off my list and thus increasing the odds that I would get all of the Prague stores before I had to fly out on Monday.

I probably could have gone to bed without eating, but after two late shots of espresso, my head was spinning, and I felt I would sleep better if I ate something before walking back to the hostel. Across from the Starbucks was Burrito Loco, and I was willing to try it because it was out on the street, not a mall like that lousy burrito I'd had in Budapest. Once inside, however, I was intrigued by the smashed burger and went in that direction instead. Surprisingly, the place did not offer chips, so I went to the pizzeria two doors down for them.

On the way back to the hostel I walked through one of the many interesting passages in the city, and this one took me past a cinema with a Czech poster for 'Killers of the Flower Moon', the latest of many films that I really wanted to see but was postponing because of my focus on coffee and my desire to get to Asia ASAP.

Lucked out again with my six-bed dorm at Hostel Mandarinka, nobody there initially, although one person checked in shortly after I bedded down, and in the morning I noticed one other. Bottom bunk was great, with both curtains and outlets.

October 19


Up at 7:09 and got a move-on so I could catch an early train to Katowice. By 7:26 I was ready to go, and as soon as I stepped out the door I saw that if I did not make the 8:50 train, I would have to wait another two hours, so I trotted to the Coffee Square store for a reshoot then lost time with wifi issues while I had a waffle and juice to keep burning down the excessive balance on my Polish Starbucks card. I wanted a yoghurt too, but they were out. Wroclavia was not far, and right across from the station, so I was able to relax for a few minutes and take my time thinking through some things. I went ahead and ordered a latte to satisfy my Starbucking requirement, then a croissant for the trip to Katowice. Fortunately I did not cut my departure to the station too close, because I realised that I ALSO needed to rephotograph Wroclaw PKP, and with the extra time I was able to secure a seat reservation to go with my Eurail pass (recommended, so I would not have to sit on floor or keep moving as other passengers bumped me). The rez was only 1 zloty, and well worth it to be able to sit undisturbed and work for two hours. Even had a few more minutes to pick up a yoghurt and power bar from Zabka, which came in handy because despite the waffle and croissant, by 10 am I was super hungry.

Katowice was even more of a blitz. Train arrived at 11:02, and I immediately secured an Uber then rushed to figure out where the pickup spot was, but I neglected to note the platform for the next train out 11:39, and that was a mistake. Uber got me to Libero at 11:17, and I though that I might just make 11:39. Starbucks was conveniently located less than a minute from the door where I entered, and I felt confident enough to use a couple of minutes to ask for water and purchase some additional snacks to burn balance, a caramel waffle bar, chocolate, and another juice. Those two minutes MIGHT have been costly, because when I ordered the next Uber, the time back was considerably more, 18 minutes! Slight mix-up over the pick-up location, but the driver messaged that he had arrived, then honked, and I spotted the car. He made better time (in part because Google had chosen the wrong drop-off), dropping me off between 11:40 and 11:41, but since I did not know which platform had my train, I had no idea if I could have made it because once the appointed time arrives, that train scrolls off the electronic display.

I still had to hurry because the next train, which was off-network, was at 11:54, and if I missed it, the next one would not be until 15:00!!! I quickly bought a ticket then rushed to the PKP Starbucks, where the line had mercifully died down, and used my remaining balance for another croissant, and this time they DID have a yoghurt. I still had 11+ PLN to burn, but I did not want to risk the time, hoping instead to buy something quickly at my connecting station, Goleszow.

Thought I was going to miss the connection in Goleszow, but it just so happened that a train employee needed to get on that next train, so it waited for her, thus helping me out, and over half a dozen other passengers who were also going to Cieszyn. Becuase of the delay, in Cieszyn I had less than 10 minutes for my connection, which did not leave me time to use up my currency for food, BUT at some point I realised that the 5-minute trip to the next station, on the Czech side, was so short that the distance might be walkable. Twenty minutes--definitely walkable. I stood on the platform for a few minutes waiting to see if the train would show up, but then a man, perhaps an employee, said something to me, pointed, and I understood "autobus". Must have been another one of those situations with a replacement bus, and at that point I decided I might was well walk and look for a place to spend my remaining 11.40, which I did, right before the border, except that all I could to come out to exactly 11.40 were chocolates. Poor me.

Noteworthy that, to the best of my knowledge, this was the first time I have crossed a European border on foot, not counting Cyprus to North Cyprus.

Once at Cesky Tesin, I was back on network and was just able to hop onto the train. At my connecting station, however, Ostrava-Svinov, I had to make a reservation. It was interesting how some of the trains required them and others did not. Train to Omolouc was not until 13:21, which left me time to get online, complete some tasks, and then look for real food (not carbs and chocos). All I could find was a bistro that had a chicken cutlet and some other meat thing on display, which I ordered with some soup that turned out to be lousy, perhaps full of onions. It was food though, and since my stop in Omolouc would be rushed, I needed to keep eating. Funny thing, the bistro did not take cards--surprising for a place in a station. Fortunately, I still had 300 korun from before.

Later, however, while buying a pizza slice in Olomouc, I discovered that, once again, I had OLD BILLS!!! Actually, one old bill, a 200-korun note, so I'd have to waste my time finding a bank to swap it out, again.

Olomouc was another blitz. Scheduled arrival was 16:12, and I was on the platform at 16:14 to 52 minutes to cover about 3.7 km, find and do the Starbucks, then get back to the station and find the correct platform by 17:06 or I'd miss the fast train to Brno. I also wanted to exchange currency, and get some food if possible. Weather was warmer, so after about 15 minutes of trotting I was in the mall, and sweating. Lost 2-3 minutes finding the Starbucks, but I was first in line and managed to get my coffee and take photos in about 3, another 2 to get out of the mall. I was back at the station at 16:54 which left me 12 minutes. I lost time looking for the currency exchange that was listed on Google Maps because, surprisingly, it was attached to the counter that sold train tickets. Fortunately I had banked all that time, and that left me a few minutes to get a slice of pizza, but I had to wait for a fresh ham one, 3 minutes, and by the time I made it onto the train I had about 2 minutes to spare.

While on the train I decided that I would not try to blitz through Brno, and instead I booked a room, and upon reaching the station I made my way to Brno Ramen, where I enjoyed a ramen better than most I'd had in Europe. I then made my way to the room, which was actually in an apartment complex and thus had self-checking, which I am NOT a fan off. Still, it worked, and the room was super cute, like a childhood bedroom. I managed to sleep ALMOST ten hours, which was great.

October 18


Since the second store at the Posniana shopping centre would not open until 9, if Google was to be believed, I once more tried to get more sleep, and all the noise that the loud roommate made did not help. I finally had to get up, down my coffee from the night before, and I headed out to rephotograph the Polwiejska store then look for craft coffee before catching a tram to the mall. I walked in the wrong direction, however, and by the time I realised this, I did not feel like backtracking, so I just took a different tram, directly to the mall, and I made it to the downstairs Posniana store just after 8 am. I had to hang out until 9, but I had so many tasks to work on, and late night comedy news shows to catch up on (now that the writer's strike had ended), that the time disappeared in a heartbeat.

I did my best to get out of the mall as quickly as possible, but on the way I realised that the top-recommended craft coffeehouse, Miel, would not open until 10. Not that big a deal, it turned out, because after making my way to nearby Polwiejska for photos, I made use of the extra time to get groceries at Aldi, and then I only had about 10 minutes to kill.

Miel was worth the wait. Friendly barista and owner, and an excellent Ugandan coffee (don't see that country much) prepared on a V60. Small space, only three or four seats, not somewhere I'd want to camp out for too long, but I'd certainly like to return. My coffee was from Father's, but they also carry another roaster, Mok.

From Miel I picked up another tram to the Kaponiera store for many new photos, and then I missed the tram heading in the direction of the King Cross mall. This actually worked out better, because the bus that pulled up right behind the tram dropped me closer, just 6 minutes from the entrance, and I was in and out of the Starbucks in a jiffy. I sprang for an Uber to try and get me back to the station in time for the next train to Zielona Gora, but I missed it and had to wait another 30 minutes. Fortunately the station was next to a mall, and I was able to get some lunch, from a place called North Fish. Not bad--salmon, rice, and vegetables--BUT pricey, $11+, for a relatively small quantity of food. That's what I had been seeing at many of the malls, though--significantly higher prices than what I saw out on the street.

The trip to Zielona Gora required a change at Rzepin, and I should have had 20 minutes but there was a delay. I only had 10 to find my platform, and even though the station was tiny, I experienced momentary panic because many of these smaller Polish stations did not use the electronic signs that indicated which trains are arriving/departing. Instead, one has to use a printed timetable on a large poster, and for some reason the poster displayed up to 12:30 on one sheet then jumped to 13:00+ on the next--my 12:54 train was omitted. That left me scrambling, wandering around, asking passengers if they spoke English, until I spotted a sign that indicated the Zielona Gora direction on one platform, so I rushed over to that train, and the conductor confirmed it was the one.

As my Poznan morning dragged on, I doubted that I was going to reach Katowice, my final Polish town of that trip, by night fall, and the news (from Artur) that Lubin had opened (fortunately on the way) reinforced that notion. The finaly hit, though, was the timetable to Lubin from Zielona Gora--the next train was nearly two hours after my arrival. In fact, getting to Wroclaw in time to find accommodation was looking iffy, but a quick search showed dozens of properties. I was sure I'd find something and psyched myself up to double-time to the Lubin store then back to the station. Of course, the fact that the train to Lubin was delayed would not help!

Lubin worked out, with time to spare. I had 45 minutes until the next train to Wroclaw, and Google Maps showed about 13 minutes to the mall. Even walking, I should have been able to get there and back in time to purchase a ticket, but of course I double-timed it and covered the distance in less than ten before losing a few minutes because Google put the Starbucks across the street from the actual mall, but I caught the error pretty quickly. Entered through the wrong door though, more time lost, and then a young woman cut in front of me in line. Still made it back to the station at 18:55 for the 19:15, and buying the ticket was actually on a machine, super easy. The only thing that went wrong was that I did not have time to get spaghetti from a nearby restaurant, and they did not offer pizza by the slice.

Arrived in Wroclaw in time to walk briskly to Galeria Dominikanska and check that store off my list with ten minutes to spare before it closed. This was important if I wanted to get out of Wroclaw early in the morning, because that store was fully inside the mall and would not open until 9. Six-bed dorm only had five of us, I think, and once two guests went out for drinks, it was mostly quiet, and I was able to sleep pretty well through the night.

October 17


The two Starbucks in Bydgoszcz would not open til 8:30/9:30, and I was thus glad to sleep until 7:39. The previous evening, while on the train, I felt exhausted and sleepy, and I had to imagine that after 2 months of not getting the 10 hours a night that I shoot for, my body was feeling the stress.

The walk to Zielone Arkady was bitterly cold, so much so that I regretted not having donned my thermal underwear bottoms. I arrived shortly after 8:30, and they were not quite ready yet, so I had to wait a bit for my coffee, but I had tasks to take care of, so that was okay, kind of. I lost a good bit of time on the way to Focus because I wasn't sure how to cross the river as a pedestrian, and I had to leave quickly and hustle to the station to make the good train to Torun.

Torun Plaza was quite a distance from the station, and if I wanted to get to Poznan after Lodz, I could not risk public transport, so I Ubered again. I could have taken the tram/bus back to the station, but then I would have ended up quite hungry on the 2-hour ride to Lodz, so I opted to get some takeaway and scarf it down quickly while wating for an Uber back to the station.

As often happens during fast and furious Starbucking, the minutes lost here and there earlier in the day combined to have a real effect in the evening. As I arrived in Lodz, I looked up the trains to Poznan, and I was surprised to see that after the 16:31 train, I would have to wait nearly 90 minutes for the next one that was on the Eurail network. Oh, there were plenty of other trains in between, but they were off network, and since I had elected to use my penultimate Eurail day, I wanted to maximise my walue.

I considered using Uber to help me make that 16:31 train, but the Lodz Zabienic station was just minutes from a tram that would drop me off right near the Manufaktura store, and an Uber would not save that much time. I took the tram option while I thought about what to do. Manufaktura was a spectacular store, in a cool area with nifty looking food kiosks, and I really wanted to stay, but with the weather getting cold fast, I needed to hustle. The next store, Piotrkowska, was a short tram ride away, and by that point I knew that I wasn't going to make 16:31, not even with an Uber, and I started thinking about whether I wanted to wait til 17:53 or just pay for a ticket.

I decided to take one of the off-network trains, after getting a kebab to go, and when I arrived back at Zabienic and looked at the route again, I noticed something interesting, that upon changing trains in Lowicz, I would be on an IC. So what I did was put Lowicz -> Poznan into the Rail Planner app, and, sure enough, it WAS on-network. Turned out I only needed to buy an 18.80 PLN ticket, a little over 4 bucks, to Lowicz and then I could use my pass to Poznan!

Arrived in Poznan early enough to get coffee from two stores on the way to the hostel, and they would be easy to rephotograph in the morning. Three-bed dorm this time, cramped, which was fine, but the third guest was hellah noisy and did not seem to understand the concept of not turning on the light when the others are sleeping. I had to ask him to turn off the big light and use the one on the bed. Once he finished getting ready, I had to ask him to turn off the small light. Then he got started watching some show on his phone without earbuds. Later still, he fell asleep with the video still playing, and fortunately when I got up to go to the loo, he woke up, and I was able to ask him to turn off the video. Oh, well, sooner or later, every week or two, I'm going to get one of those.

October 16


Awake at 6:43, which seemed much too early given that Targowek would not open til 8:30, but this time I did not even try to fall back asleep. I went ahead and got ready then had to use 5 minutes to sop up water from the bathroom floor because the shower door would not close correctly, and I did not notice that water was leaking all over. By the time I completed this and a couple of tasks, it was time to head out to Targowek.

On the way I passed a Rossmann, open before 8 am, and I popped in and used Google Translate to ask the cashier of they had gloves or a hat, and I managed to find both. That wool cap made a HUGE different on my head. The gloves were going to be awkward though, only for when my hands were frigid, because without a code I had nowhere to put them without stopping to open my backpack.

Coffeedesk, and I was immediately impressed by their collection of roasters on the shelves--I counted FOURTEEN (and I probably missed some)!!! Coffeedesk has multiple locations, and I chose the one that was on my way towards Westfield Arkadia, near the Swietokrzyska station. The coffee I had, a Honduran from Runty Roaster, was good but not great, but I was unfazed. With so many roasters, one could experiment for weeks, and some cups will be better than others.

About 10 minutes away was Forum, another multi-roaster coffeehouses, although their selection was smaller, maybe half a dozen. However, the one that was on drip, a Kenyan from Warsaw's Coffee Lab, was superb. That was my first experience with Coffee Lab coffee, and I hoped to enjoy more. The space was modest, a little cramped in the front but with additional seating the back, plus a patio (too cold for that)--pretty good hangout. Baristas were friendly, and one went above and beyond to figure out which exact Coffee Lab coffee I was drinking (the Brewlab Fruity).

As I continued to walk around, I was discovering that, just as I feared, juggling my gloves, iPod, and phone were proving to be awkward. I had to take off my left glove to do anything with the iPod, and my right glove to do anything with the phone, and I had to be extremely careful or sooner or later I was going to drop a device. Additionally, having to place my gloves back in my pack every time I was in a warm place added to the overall cognitive load of my traveling process, and that increased the risk that I might forget my phone or something else. I was really considering getting a coat because even though I'd have to keep track of it, I could put the gloves in the coat pockets.

Final Warsaw store, Westfield Arkadia, went smoothly--I arrived at the tram stop exactly on time, both on the way in and out, and that left me more time at the station to buy my ticket and grab a quick waffle then head downstairs to the (older) Starbucks conveniently located across from the platform to hop online and make my daily post. I shoot for midday for these posts, and if I had missed that opportunity, I would have had to wait until after 15:00 in Gdansk.

Gdansk was probably one of my most successful cities, in terms of efficiencing and scheduling. Five new stores, and I managed to get to them all between 15:00, when I arrived at Gdansk Glowny, and 18:11, including tram rides to two shopping centres north of the city centre, then a train trip back to the station. I did lose time, of course, both unintentionally, like getting off at the wrong tram stop, and intentionally, making phone calls and looking up store opening dates, and due to those minutes, I did not make the 18:19 train to Bydgoszcz, but that was fine. I used the time to sit down for a proper Indian meal while working on tasks, and the next train, at 19:41, was faster and would get me to the next town around 21:00.

One of my travel fears is that I will make a booking, arrive at the accommodation, and not be able to contact the host/landlord, thus leaving me stuck, forced to find a different room. I've only had to do this once, in Phoenix, in the summer, when my Airbnb host was not responding. Fortunately I had a car, and I could have slept in it WITH THE AIRCON RUNNING ALL NIGHT, but that would have been hellah uncomfortable given the heat, and I booked a cheap room (and had to wait for the reservation to show up in the system). On about half a dozen other occasions, including once in Korea with my former partner, nobody was there at reception, but calling/messaging them worked.

Every time this happened, I worried that I would have to settle for a bedbug-infested, dangerous place, if I could find one at all, or walk around all night waiting until Monday, which would itself be dangerous. And now, given the cold, being left roomless would post additional discomfort and jeopardy. Tonight was yet another one of those occasions. Upon booking, Hostel Ratuszowy sent me a text message with a code to the outside door and instructions to go up to room 303, which was supposed to be unlocked. It wasn't. Fortunately, after a few moments of worry, the landlord texted me back and said to go to room 301. That room WAS unlocked, but the main light did not work, and neither did the wifi. I sent this info to the landlord, and they never texted back, which is a big black mark when I fill out the review.

October 15


I awoke to no itching beyond that on my thight, above my knee, which now boasted a welt nearly the size of a quarter. I knew I was not necessarily in the clear, because bedbug bites can take days to develop into welts. I was glad to have slept until well past 7:30, and after the night I went through, I did not mind that I was getting a late start on clearing the remaining six Warsaw stores.

As I walked I plotted craft coffeehouses in Warsaw, and by the time I arrived at Norway House, I only had to kill about fifteen minutes before heading to Cophi, a few minutes away. I ordered the smallest drip coffee, but the barista took my reusable tumbler and filled it--much more coffee than I expected. Cophi was tiny but I still dug the atmosphere, and the Peruvian coffee, brewed on a Moccamaster Sage, was excellent. Barista was friendly and generous with recommendations, and she concurred with the blog that Stor, open at 9:30, was a good choice.

By the time I got to Stor, I was feeling heavily caffeinated and decided I needed some food before more coffee. All they had was a cinnamon roll, and I think they were a bit old and not very good. Coffee, a Rwandan, brewed on a Clever, was superb, though. Like Cophi, this Stor location was small, but it did have some upstairs seating. Baristas were also exceptionally friendly.

After weeks of passing on massage to relieve my soreness because of prices higher than I wanted to pay, I finally decided that the prices in Warsaw, combined with favourable exchange, were good enough after two months. I needed some additional cash, however, because though many places accept dollars and euro, the exchange rate is not good. The exchange rate on one of the main tourist streets, however, was abyssmal, 3.20 zloty to the dollar. We all know that tourist prices are higher, but this was ridiculous considering that 10 minutes away from the tourist zone I found 4.255.

At the metro station to head to the next Starbucks I bought a 24-hour ticket, but the machine would not validate it. I continued through the gates, as everyone else was doing, figuring I'd explain if there was a control. Later, on a bus, I tried to validate again, with no luck, and after one passenger told me the machines were blocked, another passenger called out that transport was free because of the Polish election!

By the time I reached the third Starbucks of the day around 15:30, I was famished. I had already gone through a yoghurt, cinnamon roll, banana, and apple, but I wasn't going to be able to hold out until the evening--I had get some food before the Starbucks, and I went with the closest thing, and Asian place where I took a chance on the stir-fry tofu, Thai style. Not my thing, probably my least favourite proper meal of the trip to that point.

From Wilanow I half bussed, half walked to Sadyba for a reshoot, and I hoped to pick up some gloves and a cap because the cold was making me miserable. Turns out shops were closed, either because it was Sunday or because of the election, and I decided that it was worth the time savings and sparing me from the cold to take Ubers to the three final new stores on the outskirts (leaving Westfield for Monday). This plan worked splendidly, and no requirement from Uber to verify my account (OR I had already done it when I signed up). I managed to get to all three stores before the appointed closing times, BUT the time for Targowek was wrong--they closed at 19:00 today, not 20:00, so I made that trip for nothing. Fortunately getting back from that store was a relatively easy walk to the metro while I ate a kebab, and from their to the a&o Warsaw Wola hostel, my third stay at a&o of the trip.

Only two of us in the 4-person room, and the young man only spoke Turkish, so I did not feel rude working on some things before getting to bed and trying to catch up on sleep--no bedbug nightmare that night!

October 14


Assuming that Google was correct and the Starbucks would not open until 10, there was no point in getting up early, but try as I might, I could not fall asleep again past 7, so I went ahead and got ready and worked on some tasks until 8. I hoped that at least one good coffeehouse would be open in Rzeszow, but the only one that looked promising was in the opposite direction, and I did not want to take a chance before at least going to the Galeria to see if the Starbucks might have a door to the outside and be open earlier. It was not, so I headed to the train station for a ticket to Warsaw, but the 10:35 was delayed to 11:18, and it was obvious that the 10:25 FlixBus was the best choice despite the bouncing that had made me dizzy the previous day.

The bus depot was conveniently located right behind the Galeria, and as a precaution I walked over there, stopping for groceries first, to make sure that the location was right, and to note the platform. By then it was 9, and I checked the Galeria doors again, but still locked. I was not the only one surprised--several other customers were outside, and more arrived while I was looking at my map for a breakfast place.

I found a cafe with a cute name, Hola Lola, where I could get eggs (I haven't been eaten them much, and I crave the protein), but breakfast was mediocre, and the Americano quite bland. Moreover, I did not realise that I needed to order at the counter, and the waitperson made no attempt to clue me in, so fifteen minutes passed before I thought to ask, and by the time I got my food, I had to wolf it down to get to the Starbucks in time to make my 10:25 bus.

Every once in a while, striking up a conversation with a stranger can yield unexpected benefits. I asked the young man sitting next to me on the bus where he was from, and he replied that he was Chinese but had also lived in America (Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Washington (not sure which one)). Turned out that he was also a Starbucks fan, and in fact had photos of a number of cool Chinese cafes on his phone, and as we chatted I mentioned that I wanted to go to Shanghai to see the Roastery but was stimied by the process of obtaining a visa. Not sure if he brought it up, or me, but the topic of visa-free transit entry came up, and Tab explained that the policy had been brought back this year, and extended to 144 hours (that's almost a week).

This was FANTASTIC news, because the policy introduced the possibility of visiting mainland China for the first time and seeing the Roastery, as well as 10-20 stores a day for six days. Additionally, Tab explained that my T-Mobile coverage should allow me to access services that were otherwise blocked, like Facebook and Instagram, and he even suggested a VPN should I need one.

After about thirty minutes of chatting his bag fell from the overhead compartment onto the floor, so I moved to the seats behind us and got to work on some tasks. I did not initially begin to get dizzy, and I wondered if what I had experienced the day before had another cause, but after a while slight dizziness did start to appear, and I put my equipment away and closed my eyes. A few hours later, as we were closer to Warsaw, I resumed my work, figuring that the dizziness would not get too bad in the time remaining.

As we neared the West Station the bus stopped somewhere, and I quickly looked at my map to see if that stop was convenient for getting to Janki, and it turned out to be the airport. I quickly deboarded and rushed into information to figure out where to get the train, which would get me to Janki in over an hour. I missed the next train, and the following one would not arrive for 30 minutes, so I used the time to download Uber, which Artur had suggested. Even though I had never, to the best of my recollection, used the service, I had created an account long ago, to get some free credits, and it was relatively simple to book a 17-minute trip to the mall, well worth the cost to save an hour.

On the way back into the city I tried another new thing, the Jakdojade app for buying a bus/tram ticket. I had to fiddle with it for a bit, to refill my account (only 5 PLZ) and then validate the ticket by scanning a QR code on the bus (after waiting 3 minutes, because I had missed the window the first time).

After seven weeks of lucking out with the rain, I finally had to do some significant walking in light rain to the next Starbucks, and I dawdled there a while because I was in no hurry to get wet again, schedule be darned. When I finally left, the rain was down to a light drizzle, and the walk to the next store, less than 10 minutes, was fine.

BY that point it was dark, and I finally stopped for a proper meal, choosing a darn good burger from Burger SHow for my beef allocation. After dinner I headed to find the Reduta store, and something rather unusual occurred. I could not seem to find the Starbucks where Google Maps said it was, and the fact that the GPS on my phone seemed to be fritzing did not help. I went into the main station because the app said a Starbucks was there, and after asking around, I went downstairs and spotted a store. I wasn't sure if it was Reduta, so I asked the baristas, and they were not entirely sure what I was asking. I asked to see a receipt to compare addresses, but the number was wrong.

THEN a customer walked over and said he could help, and after a moment he asked "are you Winter?" Turns out this was Roger, a customer I had met at that same store back in 2013. That time he had overheard me asking the manager for a sample, and we chatted about Starbucks and he helped me get to the next one on my list. After a bit of chatting, I showed him the Starbucks I was looking for, and he explained that Reduta had shut down a few years ago. I showed him the rest of my map, and he gave me suggestions for how to proceed then next day.

I had planned on heading to Norway House next, but it was almost 20:00, so I decided it wasn't worth walking down there only to return in the morning for a daytime picture. Instead, I headed to the hostel, where something else weird, nay, HORRIFYING, occurred.

The Safestay hostel had a great location, in Old Town, and was a great deal for a 4-bed dorm. Check-in went smoothly, and upon entering the room, I saw that it was quite small, pretty much just the bunk beds, which was GREAT because it discouraged guests from hanging out and chatting or working in the room. My bunk bed had a curtain, outlets, and light, and I was quite pleased with the arrangement. But isn't that how every horror film begins?

Not long after crawling into bed, I felt an itching above my right knee. Since I had been wearing jeans all day and moving pretty quickly, I wondered how a mosquito could have gotten to me. I'm pretty sure I've been bitten through a shirt before, but I think bites through my jeans have been uncommon. I also felt general itching, but I chalked that up to my imagination. I had felt the same thing at other hostels/rooms, without later feeling an array of welts, and I was sure that all of the news about a bedbug infestation in Paris was causing me to imagine things. But that's exactly what every horror film victim thinks, that it is just their imagination.

Usually takes me a few trips to the bathroom before I fall asleep, and when I returned, I decided that I had to check the bed for signs of bedbugs, which I understood to be dark splotches. I turned on my phone so I could use the flashlight, and I scanned the pillow, both sides, then started moving the light across the bed. I had read that bedbugs are tiny and hard to spot, and that they will move away from light. Every time I saw any dark spot, I focused on it, then touched it, but they were all lint or other detritus. I then turned over the duvent, and... THERE IS WAS!!!

A beastly critter, larger than what I had believed bedbugs to be, but with a shape that resembled the images I'd seen in all the news reports about Paris. My heart began to beat. It was well past 22:00, maybe closer to 23:00, too late for met to check out and find another place to stay. If my bunk was infested, I'd be effed. First things first, I needed to exterminate the beast before me, and I quickly decided to needed more light. I reached over to turn on the bunk light, and the beast moved! I worried that it would move someplace where I could find it, and I reached into my backpack for a paper towel. The best moved again, but I could still see it and, after several attempts, managed to scoop it in the the napkin.

At that point I had to figure out what to do, and the first thing was to see if there were additional beasts. I flipped that duvet around over and over, checking every inch, but I spotted no more beasts, so I turned my attention back to the paper towel and opened it to see if I had crushed the beast. NOPE!!! IT STARTED MOVING AGAIN!!!

I quickly secured it in the paper towel and then stuffed it into the three stacked paper sample cups I had in my pack, and then I went to the loo and flushed the beast into a watery hell. I returned to my bunk and once again inspected for more beasts, but I saw none and resigned myself to the possibility that they might be hiding. I had no choice but to try and go to sleep again, and I lay there for a long time trying to calm down, concerned that hidden beasts would leave me welt-stricken come morning.

October 13


I woke up feeling much better, thus validating my extremely wise decision not to take that overnight train to Prague. I quickly showered and then looked for travel options, and while I did not see anything on FlixBus to Rzeszow, I saw a bus leaving at 9:35 to Krakow, and that was good enough. I suspected that trains between Krakow and Rzeszow would be plentiful, and I would later confirm that this was true.

After watching the second episode of the second 'Loki' series (priorities), I headed out in the hopes of finding some filter coffee. First cafe shown on my map was not open, the second did not seem to be there and might have been a bar anyway, and the third was clearly not focused on speciality coffee. The fourth was legit though, from the looks all the single origin coffees on display, and even though TiC (This is Coffee) did not offer filter, their Colombian bean was excellent enough that I could taste some good flavour even though I had to take an Americano. The barista was friendly and suggested another place, Libresso, for filter, and I decided to squeeze them in. Cool spot, a bookstore and vinyl record shop in addition to coffee, and the V60 of a Nicaraguan bean from a roaster named Spojka was excellent. I had to wait a bit for it, which forced me to trot to the Starbucks (day photo) and Lidl (groceries) and then the bus depot.

Four and a half hour bus trip to Krakow was MISERABLE because for some reason (it doesn't always happen), after about thirty minutes of looking at my phone, then laptop, the motion of the bus caused me to get dizzy, and the dizziness, tinged with borderline nausea, persisted for the duraiton of the ride. Around the two-hour mark, after I had completed a number of necessary tasks, I felt awful and had to put all equipment away, even my iPod, and close my eyes for two hours (not sure if I ever fully dozed off). By the time we arrived around 14:15, I was craving fresh air, hoping that a cool breeze plus walking around would help. It did, but only briefly, because the logical first store to visit, Serenada, forced me back onto a bus for 15 minutes. Fortunately, even though I was only in the mall for about 10-15 minutes before rushing to catch a bus back, that was enough for me to feel significantly better.

The bus had an issue and was forced to stop two stations shy of where I needed to get off, forcing me to walk around 20 minutes to the next Starbucks. Ordinarily I would not have cared, but I was flirting with the idea of trying to complete all five new Krakow stores (one had shut down) and still make the 18:26 fast train to Rzeszow. Fortunately, the stores were all in close proximity, and that left me time to wait for good photos, set up my laptop, do some charging and downloading, getting some takeaway Indian dinner, and even stop at an exchange bureau where I finally remember to rid myself of my Swedish currency (since Starbucks seemed to be almost dead in that country).

Did not actually have time to eat the food, as it was a daal dish that I could not eat on the move, and that created an issue for me on the train. When I reached the station, around 18:00, after making the wise decision to trot, trot, trot, I found the ticket counters and was dismayed to see quite a LONG LINE!!! Seven weeks into my tour, this was the longest ticket like I had seen, and it was not a good time for that since I wanted to eat my food. Couldn't really do it while moving forward in the line though, but at least I was able to make some phone calls.

When I finally got to the front of the line, at 18:23, readying myself to sprint to the platform, there was some confusion because the agent wasn't sure if I wanted 18:26 or 18:29. After losing at least thirty seconds, maybe a minute, she finally told me that 18:26 was sold out, and I had no choice but to take 18:29 even though it would not arrive until 21:00, exactly when the Starbucks would close. This was particularly bad because the store, according to Google, would not open until 10 am on Saturday, so I was going to lose a few hours. My immediate issue, however, was that after sprinting to the platform, takeaway Indian food in hand, I was dismayed to see that all of the wagons were CROWDED, standing-room only. I took the last one and wondered if I'd have to hold on to my food all the way to Rzeszow, but after 5-10 minutes a young man moved away from behind the ticket machine, and I was able to take that spot. It was great, because I could put the daal and naan atop the machine and then get up on my tippy-toes to spoon the daal into my mouth.

I finished eating relatively quickly and then remembered that I neeeded to book a room, and about 45 minutes later, an hour into the trip, I was able to get a seat which allowed me to catch up on some tasks.

October 12


Awake at 5:59, and as I went to the restroom, my intent was to sleep for one more hour. I got back into bed and it seemed like it wasn't going to happen. I went ahead and downed the Americano from the previous night and tried to close my eyes and doze off for just a few minutes, figuring even 5-10 would make a difference, but it was no use. As it turned out, it was good that I got on my way, because by the time I got ready, walked nearly 20 to the station, then figured out that it was better for me to buy my tickets acrosss several Slovakian towns instead of using my pass, I did not have much time left for food. I just wanted a simple pastry to tied me over until I could find a grocery store in Trencin, but unlike most other stations across Europe, I could not seem to find that nearby and settled for a ham and cheese baguette.

Pleased to discover that, unlike Romania and Hungary, Slovakia has fast train(s).

In Trencin I was not pleased to learn that the Starbucks was an hour's walk away, and the next train towards that plaza would not leave for nearly and hour, and nearly 30 minutes for the bus. Once on the bus, the trip was easy enough, and I leveraged the journey to pop into Tesco and hurriedly pick up some groceries. Hurriedly, I said, because I had misread the Moovit app and thought the next bus back would arrive in 18 minutes. From Tesco I double-timed it to the Starbucks and fumbled through my words as the barista, then her supervisor, pushed back on serving me a short coffee before finally relenting, just minutes before my bus was scheduled to leave.

Except it wasn't. The truth was what I should have known already, that there is only one #24 bus that travels from the train station to OC Laugaricio, so the next one would not arrive for quite a while. The driver of a different bus, with his limited English, explained this to me, but then he was super kind and gave me a free right to another stop where I could pick up the #22 bus to the station.

New Lydia Loveless album is spectacular and should be feeling me with bliss, as did the last one, but I cannot feel any bliss right now, not with what is going on Gaza and Israel.

In Zilina I had a good bit of time, nearly an hour and a half, before the train to Kosice, and while making up time was always a goal, I was relieved to be able to slow down for a bit. First stop, I sought out a currency exchange place, trying two banks first, and finally find a small spot where I could ditch my Hungarian forints so that I would not have to deal with either replacing old bills or a switch to the euro on my next trip. Yes, I lost out on the exchange, but I giving up a few bucks was worth not having to track so much currency for indefinite periods of time.

I took a slightly longer route to the Starbucks, through the town square, and there were vendors and food kiosks set up. I quickly spotted one for Langose, which of course was their version of the Hungarian langose, which I had already tried plain and with nutella. This time I wanted savory, so I ordered with cheese and sausage. Or so I thought. Even though the owner and I went over every possible ingredient, I think there was a confusion between the Slovakian word "ano", which means "yes", and what I was saying, "no", to mayonnaise, ketchup, etc.

For a moment I feared that the owner would not remake my food, as had happened once in Greece, but an English-speaker intervened, helped me translate what I wanted, and then took the mayonnaise-tainted langose for himself. Mine was delicious, although I think I prefer plain or sweet--would love with powdered sugar.

Supervisor at the Starbucks was bemused by my request to fill the cup to just sample size, and she comped mine--so far I was doing pretty good in Slovakia and Serbia!

I did not cut it close at the Starbucks but instead gave myself a few minutes to detour through the town square once more and pick up a homemade strudel, cheesecake and strawberry--I waited about an hour into my ride to eat it, and it was delicious.

During the ride to Kosice I finally started planning what I would do after Presov, and it appeared that I was stuck!!! Train routes to Rzeszow or Debrecen or Krakow would not leave until the next day or require many connections, which would make sleep impossible, and I did not even see a good option for returning to Bratislava on a fast train so I could sleep then fly out somewhere. I finally discovered that I could take a direct 8-hour train to Prague leaving around 23:30, and that would allow me to sleep since I did not have to change, especially if I could get a sleeper car.

Kosice was a bit faster because I had about 30 minutes to do the 10 + 10 minute walk to the Starbucks, get my coffee and photos, and buy my ticket to Presov by 17:43. Missed it by minutes, but that was okay because that route is heavily traveled, and there was another train scheduled for 11 minutes later, delayed a little over 5 minutes--not a problem.

What WAS a problem, however, was that I started feeling exhausted during the ride to Presov, and a headache started to come on. Starbucks would close a 9, so I would have to stay awake for over two hours waiting for my bus, in the chilly night, wandering around if I could not find an open cafe or restaurant. Halfway to Presov I made an abrupt decision to forgo trying to make up time and instead get a room. Fortunately they were relatively easy to find.

Headache and fatigue aside, I easily made the walk to the Starbucks, only about 15 minutes, and then to the Penzion Tina another fifteen minutes away. By that point my head was hurting so bad that having abandoned my plans to overnight seemed like the smartest decision of my tour! Still, I was a little disappointed that I no longer had the stamina of my decade-younger self who once overnighted on a train/airport for THREE consecutive nights!

October 11 (day 49)


I had planned to sleep until well after 7 am, but around 6:49 I woke up feeling much better, with my sniffling all gone, and I decided to make the most of the day. Relatively quick shower and packing, and I was out in time to make the walk to the Starbucks and arrive just as they were about to open. Ran through the usual how-does-Starbucks-operate-in-this-country questions, bought my coffee, some orange juice, and got water all as quickly as possible before rushing off to the station to try and buy a ticket fast enough to leave myself time to get food.

Automat was not working, but buying from an agent went quickly enough, and the trip to Bratislava went smoothly. Outside the central station, at the bus depot, a group of youths helped me figure out how to buy a 24-hour pass (automat did not have an English option), and I headed first to AuPark to rephotograph that store and pick up some groceries from Kraj.

At Kraj I was able to test out what the barista in Nitra had told me, that if I returned the plastic juice bottle, I would get 15 cents back.

From AuPark I headed to Mand'la, a craft coffee house that seemed legit based on a review, and which also happened to be west of the city centre. Mand'la was unusual for a craft coffeehouse becuase it was in a newer area and building, and I dug the clean, minimalist look with lots of natural lighting and white. The loos were even futuristic because they are access through sliding doors and continue the all-white theme, like something out of Star Wars or Star Trek. No wifi, though.

After a enjoyed a decent (but not great) Costa Rican coffee from La Cabra, I took advantage of my being west of the city centre to take a tram (pass was good according to the baristas) to the Bory Mall to get that one out of the way. The walk was around 20 minutes, and even though I had eaten a banana on the way, I felt famished, so I hit the food court (usually try to avoid those) and went for somehting I have been avoiding during my entire trip, a mall burrito from Los Capolitos. It was crappy, like worse than Chipotle, but at least I was able to eat it as I walked back to the tram stop and save time.

Next stop was the other store on the outskirts, at the Avion Mall, and after waffling back and forth all day between trying to blitz through Bratislava and push on to Trencin to make up time, I finally decided that I wanted a couple of free hours in the city, with the bonus that overnighting would cost me about $15, while moving on to Trencin or beyond was going to cost much more AND also run into the same issues as in other smaller cities, dealing with late check-in restrictions.

Meanwhile, my trip had come under a dark cloud because of the horrific war between Israel and Hamas, and my thoughts were consumed with both the untold suffering of the non-Hamas Palestinians and the dead Israelis, AND with my disappointment in the world and it's people for refusing to consider the most feasible solution to the conflict, which is to give all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank U.S. citizenship, free transport to America, free shelter, medical care, education, etc., and even a basic income. With most of the Palestinian population jumping to take that deal, Hamas would dry up for lack of members, and Israel could permanenntly settle the Occupied Territories and solve their security issue.

From Avion I headed to the Central Shopping Mall, and in the pedestrian tunnel that took me across busy intersection, I spotted a barber and decided to check on the price, as I was no longer in a hurry, my mop was becoming disheveled and grey. €12 seemed reasonable for what I was likely to find as I headed west, to more expensive countries, so I went for it. With time to kill, I was able to spend more time at the Starbucks on tasks, and I had another crop of phone calls to make, which I did while walking to the newest store, Stanica Nivy. From there I walked a few minutes to another craft shop called Soren, recommended by a customer at Mand'la. Excellent Kenyan coffee, although once again no wif--I wondered if that would be a thing at craft coffeehouses in this city.

With the light fading, I rushed to Eurovea for the final reshoot of the city, then I rushed to the store in the city centre, Sedlarska, and it was absolutely lovely--the best touch was art frm a local designer. And the barista there was really into my project and comped me an Americano.

Finally, just a few minutes away, I added Slovakia to my list of countries where I had enjoyed ramen, at Ramen Kanu.

October 10


Rough night, but I took a melatonin in the wee hours and managed to sleep until 7:49. As much as I wanted to make my 18Kth store in Europe, and specifically the Milano Roastery, I understood that I needed to keep up on my sleep both for general health and also in case I was getting sick.

First stop of the morning was Mantra, a modest-sized roaster that served me up a delicious V60 of a Rwandan bean, thus continuing to affirm in my mind that Rwanda has really improved their coffee since I first tried beans from that country.

I asked a barista to recommend one of the nearest three shops on my map, and she unquestionably recommended Kontakt. Quick stop at the Ferenciek Starbucks, and then I detoured down the block to a bank. Unfortunately, as I expected, the employee told me that YES, it was possible to exchange my 9000 old forints, BUT not at the branch, and he directed me to one a good 30 minutes away.

I next headed to Kontakt, a little hard to spot in an alley, but a pretty shop that seemed to share space with an eatery called Simplify, or perhaps they were the same business (I saw employees walking through both spaces). Coffee was also good, BUT Kontakt does not offer any sugar. In order to avoid giving offence, I poured my coffee into my reusable tumbler and did not add sugar until after I had left the shop and walked down the alley.

Next I returned to the Szervita Starbucks for a daytime photograph, BUT first I needed some additional sugar for my coffee, and that little distraction was all it took for me to forget the photographs. I made it all the way to the Promenade store before I realised that I had to return to Szervita!

I was finally finished with Budapest coffee, but I still had to walk across the bridge and another 20+ minutes to exchange those 9000 forints (around $24), and then I could finally make my way towards two stores on the west side, starting with Budaors. That store involved a 30-minute walk that took me past a Tesco, so I popped in to the plaza to look for a pharmacy, and I learned that although I could buy cold and flu tablets "over-the-counter" (no prescription), they were kept behind the counter.

Once again I left my phone and rushed back in a panic to retrieve it--THIRD time so far this trip. This is getting to be a problem. I need to fix this lack of attentiveness, or I am going to lose it for real.

After completing the Budaors store I popped into Auchan for some super glue for my laptop, and then I realised that I had made a mistake in using my Eurail pass for the trip. I had expected to use it for Budaors, Biatorbagy, then onto Slovakia, but it turned out that a bus was the best way to get to Biatorbagy. From that store, there was no way to pick up a train heading west, so I had to pay for another bus to get me to Kelenfold, then the metro to get me to Nyugati--I might as well just have paid for my tickets outright and saved the pass for a full day of travel.

I had a little over thirty minutes before the 17:29 towards Nitra, Slovakia, and I made good use of the time by double-timing it to a nearby place called Retro Langos, for one with nutella--delish!

Train to my connecting city of Nove Zamky was delayed 10 minutes according to the monitor, but it arrived around 17:20, so I figured it would be on time, or not that late. I then proceeded to screw up and book my hostel for Nitra even before confirming whether the check-in closed at 22 or 23, or waiting for the train to actually leave. Stupid, because by 17:45 the train had not yet left, and after some announcement, the two passengers in my car got up to leave. I asked what the problem was, and they said a delay, maybe as long as 40 minutes. That would blow my connection in Nove Zamky, and then next train would not be for TWO HOURS, thus making me late for check in IF the desk ended at 22.

I quickly dispatched an email to Nitra Glycerin Hostel, and then I followed up with a phone call. I had to call back because she was attending guests, but she said she would do leave a key for me. Still had to sort out the instructions of where.

As it turned out, the train to Nitra was also delayed (or waiting), and still at the station when we pulled into Nove Zamky, BUT I ALMOST MISSED IT. I had gotten distracted reading comics and working on other tasks, and then, as I realised we were nearing the station, I decided to put on my undershirt since I expected to be waiting for nearly two hours. Suddenly the train stopped, and I realised that I needed to have been ready to bolt onto the platform, so I grabbed my things in a panick and rushed to the door. IT WOULD NOT OPEN. I rushed to the other end of the car where an agent was standing at the door. I hopped off and asked about Nitra, and he said to ask at information. I spotted a man crossing the tracks (they do this in Europe), and then I spotted another train down the platform. I could not read the display at that distance, but I rushed in that direction anyway and finally saw a flashing "NITRA" on the sign. I rushed to where an agent was standing and hurriedly asked "NITRA???". He said yes, and I hopped on, then quickly crouched and inspected my backpack to make sure I had not forgotten anything.

After all that, the trip to Nitra was smooth, and I was able to call the hostel receptionist and explain the good news, that I would be there around 21:00. Walk was longish, about 30 minutes, which is not really long for me, but that blister on my foot had turned into a hard callus that was painful when I stepped on it.

Shortly after I got into bed and my Ukranian/Italian dormmate had turned off the light, a group of youth, the other four dormmates, came in and started talking. I worried that they would keep me up a long time, but eventually they turned off the light, and I managed to sleep pretty well during the night. My sniffling did not return, but I did feel some phlegm in my throat.

October 9


Lots of running nose during the night, and I could not figure out why. I felt fine, so my best guess was allergies. It was weird when the sniffling came, though. Typically when I am in a room for hours, with windows closed, I do not feel allergies, but I sniffled less later that morning. Anyway, I tried to sleep as late as possible but gave up at 6:39 and was out of the hostel shortly after seven. First stop, the two Starbucks from the night before, for daytime photographs, and then I walked to a new one, Kneza Milosa TLD.

One of the supervisors was super-friendly (the other, not so much), and he had no issues selling a short coffee, although he comped me anyway. This was different from the supervisor the night before, who said that they had received instructions to not sell a short. Weird. Decided to try the juice, and I was going to get a pastry too, but nothing was local--same as other AmRest countries.

When it was time to head to the far south Starbucks, near the IKEA, using bus 70, I was surprised that Google Maps had no directions. The Moovit app did, though, bus 23 to the bus 70 stop. I asked a customer how to buy a ticket, and she gave me a convoluted, broken English explanation involving SMS that I did not quite understand. She also said maybe I could buy a ticket in a shop, and she added that ticket agents were almost never present. I decided to walk in the direction of the 70 stop for a pastry before hopping onto the 23 bus, and after a few blocks I realised that I HAD LEFT MY CAMERA BATTERY PLUGGED IN AT THE STORE. I returned, and the friendly supervisor was back in the front, so I asked him about buying a ticket, and he echoed what she said but added that there was an app. I quickly found Beograd Plus and downloaded it, but he suggested that it was not worth using it. I decided to get on the bus and ask someone there to help me. As I walked I tried to figure out the app, but I could not find a way to switch to English.

Found GOAT yoghurt during my walk and also a pastry shop, and by that point it was not worth taking the 23 bus, although I came to regret that when I approached the major intersection (road and highway) where I'd need to get 70. It took me quite a while to cross the highway, and then to get to the other side of the road I had to go minutes down the road, and back. Then I had to figured out, by asking a few people, how to get to the bus stop, which was actually on the highway. After about 20 minutes the 70 bus arrived, and there was a sign posted in the window about using Beograd Plus app for tickets. I asked one passenger to help me switch to English, and then, after creating an account using my Google account, I asked another to confirm that I was buying the right ticket (Zone A, daily). About $1.20--cheap for the half dozen rides I expected to take.

At the Starbucks the supervisor was friendly, a good thing because once I started plugging in my things I realised that I had LEFT MY SECOND PLUG ADAPTOR AT THE OTHER STARBUCKS!!! I asked her to try and call that store so I could speak to the supervisor who knew where I was sitting, but she did not get an answer. I sat down to complete some tasks, and about 15 minutes later she returned with KFC, and asked if she could pass on a message. She tried again to call and got a female supervisor who did not find the plug in the office. That was a miscommunication, because she thought I'd been there the night before. At that point my best bet was going to be to return, and I hoped I'd not lose too much time.

First step, though, was to head to the BEO store, using bus 70 again. There I decided that it made more sense to visit the final store, at the Ada Mall, then head back into the city centre. While there was a risk that someone might find the outlet, I would save time. That plan worked out, and when I finally did return to TLD, the adapter was exactly where I'd left it.

Good thing, too, that I opted for the time-saving itinerary, because by the time I left TLD, I only had a couple of hours left, at most to get food and some good craft coffee. I was famished and headed in the direciton of restaurants, hoping I would pass a small local restaurant. When I looked into one, in a plaza, the menu was just burgers and similar food. A diner offered to help with the menu, though, and I took the opportunity to ask him about Serbian food. He suggested a couple of places, and I walked over to nearby Grmec for a delicious bean stew with smoked ribs, plus rice.

Lunch took longer than I expected, and by the time I left, I decided I only had time for one craft coffeehouses, especially since the nearest one was closed, according to Google. I went to D59B, a bit out of the way, but the coffee, decor, and coffee talk were excellent and totally worth the detour. I stayed about as long as I could, and then I hightailed it to the stop for the 72 bus which was covered by my pass (the faster A1 bus was not).

Despite the slower bus, I arrived with more than enough time, over two hours ahead of my flight. That allowed me the time to catch up on my blogging and other tasks while charging up, and even to use up my remaining 650 RSD on a sandwich.

Flight was delayed, no surprised, but by less than an hour. Good thing, because through the course of the afternoon, my sniffling had become a nonstop torrent of runny nose, and I was not feeling great. Any thought of taking the cheaper transport back to the city centre went out the window, and I just payed the 2200 HUF for the E100 bus (about $6).

October 8


Awoke at 6:01 and tried to sleep further, but at 6:34 I gave up and just went ahead and got ready and worked on tasks until close to 8, when an unvisited Starbucks would open. Had to wait a long time for filter at that Astoria store, which was troublesome because I knew that all the time I had before leaving to the airport would disappear, and I wasn't sure if the trip would take 60 or 90 minutes using the slower transport that was free with my travel card.

Still, I wanted to check out indie coffee, so I headed next to Blue Bird, and I was confused when the sign said KARAOKE BAR. Turns out that they have three cafes, two quite near each other (I thought it was an error on Google Maps), but the specialty coffee one was just minutes away. Took a while to get my coffee, and as I waited I began to think that getting out to Biatorbagy and Budaors was not going to happen. I actually thought that was for the best, because I like Budapest and its coffee scene and did not want to rush. Decent coffee from Blue Bird, not great, but the Italian barista was quite friendly as she prepared it.

Coffee was better at The Cube Coffee Bar, as well as the coffee conversation from the owner, who knew her business. Excellent cup from Casino Mocca, a roaster I recognised, probably from my previous trip to Hungary. I then speeded to two Starbucks to reshoot because I was becoming concerned about the time. I still had to reshoot Szervita, but unvisited Podmaniczky was on the way, so I got that one first, and then I decided to call it and reshoot Szervita on Tuesday morning when I visited the final store Budapest stores. I rushed back to the metro for the two-transfer (metro, train, bus) trip to the airport, and when I arrived I grumbled because check-in would not even start til 13:15!!!

Line was long enough that it took a while to complete check-in, and then another wait through security, then my bag was pulled out for inspection. By the time I got to the food court, I had barely 45 minutes before the gate closed. Negroni had some good options, chicken and rice, but they were so expensive that I just ordered a couple of slices of pizza and figured I'd eat better, and cheaper, in Belgrade.

Once more I forgot about outbound passport control, and I dawdled while eating and then found myself rushing when I realised that I could not go directly to the gate. Fortunately, the line was not long. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed, 75 minutes initially. I was no longer sure that I would make it to any Starbucks in the Belgrade city centre that night, which would put a squeeze on my schedule for tomorrow, when I had three stores to see, far from the city centre, and no idea how to get there.

Flight took of shortly after 17:00, and arrived a little over an hour later. Brief chaos when we passengers walked up two flights of stairs until to reach a door that was LOCKED. We had to go back down and tell and agent who quickly scooted up there to unlock it (or he called someone). Immigration was a breeze, and then I had no choice but to take the exchange rate at the airport because Google had reported that the fast A1 bus to town only accepted RSD. I felt that the rate was not good, and while the lady was supposed to give me 5280 RSD for my 50 USD, she only gave me 5200. I could tell from her face that arguing would be no use, and I much preferred to catch the next bus. Nor was I too worried about the buck or two I might have lost on the $50 exchange--getting all the Starbucks was the priority.

Bus arrived right around when Google Maps said it would and was soon down in the city centre. I actually managed to get off a stop before bus depot and shave my 5 minutes off my walk to the first Starbucks. I asked for the supervisor,and she was super nice and answered all my questions plus volunteering info about what transportation to take and what order to visit the stores in. Additionally, without prompting, she instructed the cashier to comp me the espresso shot!

Serbian Starbucks notes: AmRest; they offer filter coffee (forgot to ask about short); 50 RSD cup discount (about a buck)

Famished, and I had actually experienced some dizziness earlier, so I needed to eat. I would have preferred not to eat in the trendy area between the Starbucks and the other one and my hostel, but I was in a hurry, so I popped into yet another Sri Lankan place where I paid 2-3 times what I'd spent on that Sri Lankan lunch in Romania, and more even that the fancy Bistro Lanka dinner place.

October 7


Needless to say, after having consumed shots of espresso that three different Starbucks the previous evening, I was up pretty early, but I still slept over nine hours, I think. I had time to take care of some tasks, including plotting craft coffeehouses from a blog that listed a coupla dozen, and then I set off to rephotograph the two nearby stores from the previous night plus two others that were part of the group of photos lost on my stolen laptop in 2016.

I just happened to arrive at the Corvin store the day of their reopening (which explains why Google had said "TEMPORARILY CLOSED"), and I had a good chat with the local district manager, as well as enjoying a mocktail they were offering. Next I headed up to a craft coffeehouse on the wait to Keleti, MuTeReM Kavezo. No filter, but acceptable Americano, and a cute space and friendly vibe. Then Kastner Kommunity, a space that was like an art gallery, with bookstore and another popup shot, and decent coffee from Brostery, even though it was a blend.

As I expected, I found an currency exchange bureau near the Starbucks across from Keleti station, and for some reason I did not find myself too concerned with comparing exchange rates with the other two in the area.

The Keleti Starbucks was hellah busy, and I had to deal with some grief from the barista when I asked if they could put on some filter coffee so that I would not have to wait 15 minutes in line, then another 5-10 to actually get my coffee. She grumbled, but at least she did it.

The district manager had expressed that it would be difficult to get to the two Starbucks I showed her that were far east of the city centre, but it did not turn out to be so. I simply hopped on a bus right outside the Keleti Starbucks, and it was almost a straight shot.

At that shopping centre I found a Pepco, suggested by the employee of the hostel the previous night, and he was right--I easily found a towel, and it was not include the perfect side, but pretty cheap, a little over a buck.

Getting to the Dunakeszi Starbucks was also relatively easy, a bus, tram, and then bus, and in the mall I found a decent, not expensive, Turkish meal of chicken cutlet and rice. The day was going pretty smoothly, EXCEPT FOR ONE THING. I had kept forgetting to find a bank to exchange my old Hungarian notes, and by the time I remembered, the branch in the mall, and all other area banks, were closed. This was a problem because I did not necessarily have that much time left in Hungary come Monday. If I managed to finish all stores on Sunday, then I would want to leave for Slovakia ASAP, stopping only for a couple of craft coffee places.

At Duna Plaza I decided that I would NOT go out to Biatorbagy that evening, because it was looking like I might not make it in daylight, and also Budaors. Instead, after Duna Plaza I decided to blitz through as many Starbucks closer in to the city centre as I could, but it was not long before I deviated from my plan. Across from the Kolosy Starbucks was a small food truck nosherie, and once I noticed a truck serving something called langos, which is Hungary's version of fried dough, and quite similar to a Panamanian hojaldre. Needless to say, I had to try it, and it was delicious.

I got to Mechwart as quickly as possible, before it got dark, and the next store after that was inside the mall, a second unit inside the Westend mall, but the next two, Nyugati and Szervita, were night shots that I would need to reshoot in the morning.

By that point, my left food was on fire, although it was not clear how much was the blister and how much was the foot pain that I had been experiencing before. During my walk back to the hostel there was plenty in the Budapest city centre that I wanted to walk around and see, but I was in so much pain that I just could not bear to walk anymore.

Back at the hostel, something different. I decided to book for two more nights, even though I was would be in Belgrade on Sunday night, simply because it was easier to stay at Central Market Zen Hostel than to pack up my things and take them to Serbia, AND the price was reasonable. IN FACT, the receptionist only charged me 20 euro for the two additional nights, LESS than I had paid for the first two!

Weirdness in the late night, when Matias, the guest from Chile, discovered that the receptionist had cleaned out his things to make room for another guest. I felt bad because I had noticed that an additional guest was moving in, and I should have noticed he was going into Matias' bed, and since Matias was out in the lobby, I should have had the foresight to ask him if he was switching rooms.

October 6


Awake around 6:30 as I expected, with no particular hurry since the nearest Starbucks would not open until 7:30, and also because I wanted to watch as much of the premiere of 'Loki'. At the Starbucks, I was pleased to discover that Hungary offers filter coffee, in the short size, and the barista did not hesitate to offer to make it. Even better, a short filter only cost 490 HUF, around $1.35, and moreover the cup discount was amazing, 200 HUF, almost half off for a total of 70 cents!!!

At the second Starbucks in Szeged I discovered that a solo espresso is 790, significantly more, so I asked the barista to brew some. I then looked up again the bus options to Pecs and saw that the bus depot was just minutes from the Arkad shopping centre. I hurriedly finished at the Starbucks and went down to Spar for groceries and a pastry before finding a toilet and heading to the bus depot. A young woman clarified for me that I could buy a ticket on the bus, BUT ONLY CASH, and she used an app to direct me to the correct platform. A barista at the first Starbucks had turned up her nose when I asked about a bus to Pecs, indicating they were often cramped and dirty, but this Volanbusz was fine, although no outlets, wifi, or toilet.

Despite the lack of amenities, the bus was fine, and my only hitch was that the depot in Baja, where I had to change buses, did not have any decent food, and most of the minimarts I encounter do not have protein bars. The reason food was so important was that my schedule looked like it was going to be tight. Upon arriving in Pecs, I expected to have only about 25 minutes to do the Starbucks and get food before getting on a train for over two hours to Szekesfehervar. HOWEVER, as I continued to plot directions, I realised that there was a better option, another bus. Not sure why Google Maps had not shown me this option at first. The bus also had two more advantages. First it, would not leave for more than an hour, giving me time to get food. Second, the train station was not near the Pecs Arkad and would have chewed up precious time that I needed for charging and wifi. Sadly, much of that precious time was chewed up by the painful process of finding the loo, then waiting in line to pay for the loo, then getting in and out.

MEANWHILE, I booked a hostel for Budapest and immediately realised that I had screwed up again and neglected to notice the age restriction. I immediately contacted Spicy Hostel, but they did not get back to me in a timely manner, and I had book another to ensure I did not get stuck on a Friday night, when the good hostels in major cities often book up. HOURS LATER, Spicy would contact me to say they would make an exception, but it was too late. Later still, someone else from Spicy would ask when I would arrive, indicating that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. Moreover, I had contacted HostelWorld, but they were so slow to respond that I actually received an email soliciting feedback on their customer service BEFORE I ever got a reply about the issue. That reply, of course, was unsatisfactory, simply telling me that I should have noticed the rule. My entire email to them explained that since HostelWorld knows my age, they could prevent over or underage guests from booking to begin with!

AARRGHH!!! Halfway to Szekesfehervar I learned from Sebastian that the Starbucks had closed, earlier in the year!!! That bus was direct, so I had no opportunity to get off, and I had to sit there and think about the time I was wasting. Furthermore, the trains station was 20 minutes from the bus depot, so I lost additional time, although I made some of that up by calling my mother.

Slim pickins for a fast dinner on the way to the Szekesfehervar station, by which I mean nothing, so I had to settle for a pork sandwich and crisps, but at least that cafe had an outlet and wifi, which I naturally abandoned too soon because the train to Budapest was delayed.

Almost missed my stop at the Kelenfold station, right across from the Etele Plaza Starbucks, and I barely made it off the train in time, and in a panicked worry that I might have forgotten something. I tried to get in and out of Etele as quickly as possible because of the fading light, but it was no use--the line was long. I still would not have made it to the next Starbucks before dark because it took me a while to figure out how to get a ticket for the tram (no credit card reader like in Romanian and other countries). I actually had to go down to the metro station, but that worked out better because I ended up buying a 72-hour travel card option good for metro, buses and trams (according to the young man who was helping me).

Got two Starbucks near my hostel that were still open, then walked a few minutes to check in to the Central Market Zen Hostel (NOT to be confused with the OTHER Zen Hostel). Only three others in my dorm room, and later a fourth, and these dudes were friendly and good to chat with while I wrapped up some business, including purchasing my airfare to Belgrade (because trains were too difficult, a reality echoed by multiple people, and the Internet).

October 5


Managed to sleep until 7:49, a welcome respite from the sleep deprivation that I had felt building up. No particular hurry, as I had to kill time, and I dawdled quite a bit catching up on the morning shows that had just resumed: Colbert, Meyers, Fallon, Kimmel. I then managed to do what had been eluding me during most of my European mornings, touring craft coffeehouses BEFORE hitting any Starbucks.

Started with Rem's Coffee because it was right across the plaza from where the Re-Born (or is it Freeborn) hostel was located. Relatively weak pour over of an Ethiopian coffee, perhaps my least favourite filter in Romania, but super friendly baristas and a welcoming vibe. Just up the side street was Ovride, where the head barista/owner was exceptionally eager to talk about coffee and brewing methods. They were serving Manhattan, and he prepared a delicious Colombian bean with a V75. Ovride is small and prohibits laptops on weekends, and the owner commented that most of the 1-star reviews had to do with this policy. I found that to be unfair--I do not agree with giving a business a poor review just because of a policy that makes sense giving the limited space. I think a better way to go about it is to give a fair review, based on the coffee and service, and then, in the comments, point out the laptop policy so as not to discourage those who simply want a good coffeehouse.

Finally got over to the Starbucks and spoke to the supervisor about whether the Iulius Mall had relocted--it had. That meant I would need nearly another hour, and all of a sudden I started to feel time pressure because the Shopping City store, in the opposite direction, was an hour's walk, or 30 minutes by train. I still had plenty of time if I took the tram there and back, but as anyone reading this knows, any spare time that I had tends to disappear mysteriously.

Hated to do it, but I had passed no cheap pastry shops or grocers that morning, and after three coffees the caffeine was starting to go to my head. I need to get some calories, any calories, inside me, so I bought a Twix from a minimart near the tram stop before heading to Shopping City. I completed the Starbucks as quickly as possible and hoofed it about 10-15 minutes to a different tram stop that would get me to Timisoara Nord 15 minutes quicker, and I would end up needing every single minute of time. At the station I bought my ticket for Szeged--actually two tickets, one to Arad, then the one into Hungary. Actually, THREE different items. Reservation to Szeged first, then ticket to Szeged, in an envelope. THEN the agent gave me the smaller ticket to Arad, the same size as the train tickets I had been buying in Romania. I distinctly remember taking the ticket, but as I write this, I cannot remember where I put it, although I want to say I slipped it into the same envelope.

Bus E1 got me to the relocated Iulius Mall Starbucks quickly, but then I lost over 5 minutes because the loo was inside the mall (no access from Starbucks) and on the other side. Another 30-60 seconds lost due to some weirdness outside. When I exited the doors of the mall and pulled out my camera to shoot the Starbucks, there was an older man wearing a green jacket and baseball cap with lettering on them, indicative of some uniform, but not quite seeming to fit what I would have expected security at that mall to look like. He said nothing as I took photos from two angles, and after I put up my camera and was about to leave, an actual security guard, wearing a bulletproof vest, came out and splashed water onto the older man. The man ran off, and the guard chased him down and grabbed him. The guard was saying something forcefully to the man, but perplexingly enough, he had a smile on his face. It seemed like the older man had been told not to hang out there, but that's purely a guess. Of course I was curious to see how the interaction would play out, but I had to leave.

The return E1 bus got me back to the station at 12:43, and since I had plenty of time, I walked across the street to Mega Image Shop & Go for some groceries. There I lost additional time, at least three minutes, because a seemingly indigent man ahead of me did not have enough for his 3.81 RON purchase. He had multiple bananas, so the obvious step was to buy fewer, but he and the cashier kept going back and forth until she turned to ring me out. I had 14 lei left and my purchase came to 7.70, so I told the cashier to just set the 30 bani change with the man's money, to help him get to his goal, and I kept the remaining 6 lei for something in Arad.

All that lost time became significant when I got to platform 8 and went to retrieve my ticket to Arad to see my seat assignment. THE TICKET WAS NOT IN THE ENVELOPE. I immediately went into a panic. I quickly looked in my long-sleeved shirt pockets, nothing, and I then had to decide between tearing my backpack apart or using the remaining five minutes, which quickly turned into four minutes to try and buy a new ticket. A trio of train agents were nearby, and I asked if I could buy a ticket on the train. They said yes, but when I asked about card, they said it had to be cash. I quickly ran back into the building and to the ticket office and feverishly told the agent I needed a ticket to Arad now, but she knew it was going to take too long and told me to rush back and buy a ticket on the train. I rushed past the trio of agents and to the man they said was a ticket agent and asked if I could buy on the train. I figured that if there was a problem with my card, at least he would know I tried and might not penalise me. I boarded the train, turned around, and asked if he accepted euro. He said no. I asked about a card. He said yes. I pulled out my card, just to make sure there was no misunderstanding, and he still said yes.

As it turned out, this train did not have seat assignments, but it had been a good thing that I checked for one anyway; otherwise I would have been unprepared when the ticket agent came by. I found a compartment with a few youngers, and I found one who was willing to trainslate for me. When the agent came by, I had her show him my credit card receipt for the Arad ticket, but of course it made no difference because he needed to scan it. The new ticket was more expensive, 16 RON instead of 11, but that was not even $4--not really a big deal compared with the cost if I had missed that train and thus my connection to Hungary.

In Arad I got a breather, nearly thirty minutes to rush across the road and find a great lunch bargain, with TWO electrical outlets near my able, AND wifi from the betting parlour next door. I needed more download and wifi time, but I had to rush back at almost the last minute, with just enough time to stop at the minimart and rid myself of 5 additional lei, leaving just one. I probably could have found an item that cost 1 more lei, but I did not have the time, and of course upon arriving at platform 4, the train was delayed 15 minutes. At least there was wifi on the platform, which was weird--it was not up in the main area, only the platform.

When it comes to train travel, I CAN NEVER STOP PAYING ATTENTION, nor relax until I am on the train. Just as I got into some tasks using the wifi, I noticed that the platform seemed to empty, and the two youngsters that were sitting behind me on the stairs were gone. I quickly asked someone who seemed to work for the rails about Budadpest, and he replied "linea 3". The train wasn't there yet, so I was okay, but I nonetheless rushed back upstairs then down to platform 3.

Not long into the trip, we stopped in a Romanian town near the Hungarian border for a passport/ID check. The Romanian guard was amused by my single name and returned it quickly. On the other side of the border, though, the guard was bemused and perplexed, and she had to consult with multiple of colleagues, for quite a while, before stamping my passport and returning it to both. Both times I showed the agents my driving licence to faciliate the interaction.

No outlet for my laptop, but the USB port for my phone wortked, and I made use of the time to book a room for Szeged near the station. Shortly after booking, I got an email from the property stating that there would be no one at reception, which was confusing because they did not indicate the check-in process. The email also stated that check-in closed at 18:00, which was different from what the listing stated, which was 24 hours! I foresaw a problem and immediately dispatched a message to the property, then to Booking, and then I called booking because I did not want to wander around a small Hungarian town for two hours as I had done in Craiova. The agent put me on hold for a long time and then came back to say the property had agreed to wait until 20:00, and the property sent me a similar message.

In the meanwhile, I had a conversation in broken English and German, plus some Google Translate, with the lady sharing my cabin, about my situation. I wish that I had studied a different language every year during my pre-college education, because even a little of a language goes a long way.

In Bekescsaba I wanted to find cash, because the property stated payment in cash, HUF or EUR, and I only had 9000 HUF, about $25, not quite enough (but lots of euro). I was unsure if I really wanted to walk to an exchange place that was 15 minutes away (less if I trotted) without even being sure it existed, so I decided to stick arond the station and use the wifi instead. Wifi was too slow, however, so I went ahead and double-timed to Correct Change and got what seemed like a decent rate, 36,140 HUF for my $100, compared to the official rate of 36754. Good thing I did, because when I stopped at a minimart for water on the way back, I tried to pay with my old forints and learned that they had been removed from circulation and needed to be exchanged at a bank.

Something strange about the train to Szeged. About three times during the trip, the train just stopped, for maybe 5-10 minutes. Then, after another train passed in the other direction, our train would continue. My best guess is that for some reason the two trains could not be moving past each other, or maybe there was a shared track situation.

Lucked out, and the landlord in Szeged answered the doorbell as promised, although when he quoted me a price, it came out to about 30 euro, not 27.50. Given that I was checking in late, I was not about to argue over 2.50. I was just relieved to have a room, and to be able to get into it early, shortly after 19:00, which allowed me the time I'd not had in days, to just make some progress catch up on tasks. I nonetheless forced myself to get to sleep before 21, because I knew that I would be waking before 7 due to the time change.

October 4 (day 42)


I managed to sleep til 7:19 and awoke unscathed--no one had tried to force their way into my room during the night. I had no idea how much time I had to get to the station because by the time I found a hotel, I had been too tired to research my next destination. I was not in a mood to hurry, so I took my time in getting ready, in part because the landlord had said he would meet me at 8 (presumably to check my ID and retrieve the key). He had not shown by 8:09, however, so I left the key on the reception desk, sent him a picture, and headed off to the first Starbucks.

To save time, and because of my aching left foot, which now had a blister, I took a tram to the second Starbucks. As had happened in Bucharest, the bus' card reader did not work, neither of the two, but a customer was kind and swiped her card for 3 lei. I offered her a couple of lei (all I had in my pocket), but she would not take it.

I finally pulled out my Eurail map and looked over the routes from Craiova, and I immediately saw that there was no line to Serbia. Technically I did not have to use my Eurail pass (I had not since arriving in Romania), so I should have looked on Google Maps, but I did not think of that. Instead, I had a choice between Timisoara or Siubu, which would have me moving in the wrong direction, so I settled on Timisoara and groaned when I saw that there was only one train per day, at 14:53. Oh, well, it is what it is, I thought, and I decided that I would kill the time visiting some indie cafes, getting a good lunch, trying to find a cheap haircut, and trying to find a laundromat.

I first took a bus to the station to lock in my ticket, lest I arrive close to departure time to find that the train was sold out. The cost would be about $35, essentially what a day's Eurail pass usage would consume, so I did that and only paid a 5 lei mandatory reversation fee.

As much as I love specialty coffee, my long-sleeved shirt and black undershirt had not been washed since I left Houston (because I overlooked them in Copenhagen), and I was sure they were gamey, so I prioritised laundry. I walked less than ten minutes to a place called WASHMI, but they did not have coin machines. The attendant spoke Spanish, however, and she directed me to look in a neighbourhood called Sarari, and when I pointed Google Maps there and did a search, easywash came up. As I walked down there, I hoped that the place, if existing, would not be crowded because I had to figure out how to change into my clean underwear without somebody calling the cops.

I lucked out, and easywash did exist and was a small place. A washer was running, but nobody was there, and as I strategised how best to change, I realised that I did not see a soap dispenser. I had to go off and spend about 15 minutes wandering around looking for a minimart, then finding the smallest soap container they sold (the owner initially showed me ones that were much too big, and around $4-5). I finally found one for a little over a buck and quickly returned to the laundromat. By that time, a customer was there, but he was a young man, and he was focused on his phone as I quickled moved over to the back, turned around, then quickly slipped off my briefs and put on the fresh ones--thank heavens for my practise of always buying XL t-shirts! I was also grateful that the older lady who showed up while I was there had not arrived sooner.

Other than their lack of soap, easywash was great, easy to use, and then even had fast wifi, so I was able to make good use of my half hour there. I then headed off in search of craft coffee, stopping first at a local restaurant for some pork cutlets, potatoes, and spinach, then walking a few minutes to S.T.O.R.M. Coffee. No filter, unfortunately, despite the menu and the big chalk illustrations on a board, but since they coffee was from Julius Meinl, a roaster I remembered from Vienna, I went ahead and ordered an Americano. Not as good as the two I'd had in Bucharest, but not terrible either.

Coffee Story was a lovelier cafe and served me up a much better coffee, a V60-brewed Ethiopian. In fact, the barista was so attentive coffee quality that after he had to run out to catch up with a couple of customers who had not paid, he decided to restart the brewing process because it had been interrupted. I was not worried at first, but as often happens, time started to slip away, and by the time I had my coffee, I needed to hustle to get to the station by 14:53. As you can already guess, the train was some 20 minutes late.

Longest train ride of this trip so far, about six hours, and perhaps my longest ever excluding overnight trains. Thankfully, because the train had plenty of electrical outlets and because I had T-Mobile coverage all the way, I was able to get a lot done, including a much needed improvement to my website. I also started to research my next destination so I would not be caught off guard (my usual practise), and I was surprised to discover that getting to Belgrade by train from Timisoara was looking quite difficult. After a while I realised that plan might indeeed end up being a "nightmare", as I had read online, and I decided that it made more sense to fly from Budapest.

Even that was going to be time-consuming. The last two times I traveleing between Budapest and Romania, it was by overnight train, because of the length of the trip, but this time I had Starbucks in smaller cities, along either of the two routes. I finally decided that I would head to Szeged, but even that would cost me the entire day, as the train would not leave til 13:00. I'd have to kill time in Timisoara, as I had done in Craiova.

Couldn't go to bed right away upon reaching the hostel because the receptionist had gone to dinner, so I sat in the kitchen and finished my phone calls. It looked like the Onslaught was indeed winding down, and that was a great relief.

October 3


Once again I woke up and got ready in time to arrive at Starbucks just about when it opened, to make the best use of time, BUT when I was about 10-15 minutes away, I realised that I had screwed up and headed to the wrong one! I was supposed to go to Piata Sfatului first!!!

Also the morning was cold, even more so than Chur, and since I ended up walking for nearly 40 minutes do to my mishap, my hands were freezing by the time I arrived at the Starbucks, and I was in no hurry to leave. On top of that, the Starbucks and surrounding area were beautiful, and I spent some time chatting with a barista. By the time I reached AFI it was well past 9 am. I wrapped up fairly quickly, but it was still nearly 10 am before I returned to the station.

I had planned to base my next destination based on which train could get me there faster, but as it turned out, there were no fast routes to any of the three possible cities--Targu Mures, Sibui, or Pitesti. I had to make a quick decision to head back to Bucharest, then to Pitesti, so I rushed over to the ticket machine, but it did not list Pitesti. I then went over to the ticket counter, and I was told that I did indeed need to take the 10:10 train to Gara de Nord, BUT I would need to buy a ticket on the train because it was operated by a different company (TFC), and THEN I would need to buy another ticket at Gara de Nord for Pitesti. I knew full well that once I finished in Pitesti, I might once again find myself with no fast route to any destination, but what was I going to do. Sooner or later I need to check these stores off my list, so flying did not make sense. Best I could hope for was to make steady progress towards Serbia, a new country and thus a priority.

Arrived in Pitesti late, no surprised, but not TOO late, and by trotting 1.6 km to the Starbucks and back, I had enough time to plug in my equipment, do some downloading, take a number of photos, and ask for water after my coffee. I still managed to make it back to the station well before the 14:42 train to Piatra Olt (where I hoped to connect to Croaiva), BUT of course the hassles of Romanian trains are endless. Today's debacle was that the line between the two cities is under construction, which meant that, like that one day last week on the route to Sieberg, we had to take a bus to the Parvu station about thirty minutes away. There we got into the single jankiest train I had ever been on, probably worse than Cairo-to-Alexandria in 2011. This thing was a SINGLE WAGON with, like, NO shock absorbers, making it almost unbearably loud and giving me the ass-bruising of a lifetime.

Piatra-Olt was a nothing town, with a station that was nearly devoid of people, and I was left wondering if I should have gotten off in Slatina instead to seek accommodation. I was desperate to make up time, however, by reaching Craiova, and that meant the risk that if something went wrong with the next train, I'd be stuck in a town with no hotels, and a multi-hour walk to the next town. Fortunately, the train did arrive, but upon arriving in Craoiva, I had a bit of a rough time.

I decided to continue to Croavia because Google Maps showed a plethora of hotels with availability that night, even though I knew full well that given availability could disappear at any moment. Trained arrived shortly before nine, and it took me nearly TWO HOURS of walking to finally find a place, growing increasingly worried as hotel after hotel said they had no rooms. I visited four in total, and when I finally showed up at the fifth, Pensiunea Everest, and called the number, twice, a man answered, and he knew enough English to tell me they had a room. Then things got confusing, because he was not actually there, so he walked me through the process of going inside the lobby (door was unlocked), depositing 150 lei in a box on a shelf (he could see me on the cameras), and then going into my room, which was also unlocked. This was concerning, so I asked about a key, and he directed me to the mailbox outside which contained the keys. The door would not seem to lock, though, REALLY CONCERNING, but after looking around, I managed to pull the bed towards the door so it would block it, as well as pushing a nightstand next to the door. A while later I heard some guests coming in, and later still, when I went into a closet in the lobby to look for a blanket, I saw another guest, and I felt less nervous that marauders would burst into my room and take all my things.

October 2


Monday morning's timing was excellent. I managed to pack up and get over to the Day Tower Starbucks just minutes after they opened, leaving just two more Starbucks in the area. I was DETERMINED to find good filter coffee in the city before I left, though, so rather than hopping on the M2 for Pipera right away, I returned to First Coffee to see if they were finally open. Nope, BUT I did notice an Instagram on the door, and I decided to message them. I then walked over to Ivy, which had not had filter coffee on Friday, but this time the experienced barista/owner was there, and he had an excellent Kalita batch brew of a Colombian bean from Mabo, a local roaster.

While I was at Ivy, I received a message from First saying they were indeed open, so I returned, and I am glad I did because that was a serious coffeehouse, with a training centre for baristas, and an owner who was more than eager to chat at length about coffee, at least until a large group came in about thirty minutes later. The coffee was the priciest I'd seen in Romania, a little over $5, more than I expected, but the natural-processed Colombian from Hot Pipes was good stuff.

I felt I could tolerate one more, so I made up for lost craft coffeehousing time by walking up to Orygyns, a spot that had been recommended, and I was pleased when I walked in and saw a wall of stickers from one or two dozen roasters. Today they were serving Sprout for the espresso and Manhattan for the V60-brewed filter, and I enjoyed an excellent Ethiopian coffee.

After my mini craft coffee tour, I headed up to the final two stores in the city, one just outside the Pipera Metro, and the other a 20-minute walk away at Pipera Plaza. After some groceries from Lidl, I headed back to the metro station and managed to luck out with the timing to arrive at Gara de Nord with about twelve minutes to spare before the next train to Ploiesti was scheduled to depart. I hurriedly figured out how to use the machine for a ticket, but I had to beg off a gentleman who was trying to ask me for something related to a ticket. As much as I like to help, I did not have time to assess what he wanted or figure it out without risking missing my train, and I still needed to find food (famished). In the end, all I had time to do was pop into Carrefour Express and feverishly look for a protein bar.

First Romanian train experience since 2012, and while the train seemed shabby, and I am told not generally any faster, I immediately discovered one improvement, electrical outlets on my train to Ploiesti and then to Brasov. No wifi, but the power was still significant because it would keep me from having to lose time at Starbucks simply charging up.

I'd had no time to look up directions in Ploiesti beforehand, so upon arrival I was shocked that it would take an hour or more by either bus or tram to get from the Ploiesti Vest station to either of the two Starbucks, not that much faster than on foot (for me). Nothing to do but suck it up and start walking, but I did make a mental note of the Bolt car just outside the station (I had seen Bolts throughout Bucharest since my arrival). At the Starbucks, when I asked a barista about taking a bus to the other store, she said that Bolt was my best option, and this got me curious, so I went ahead and downloaded the app.

One amusing detail on managing potentially challenging situations. At the AFI Ploiesti store I was able to take shots from two outside angles with no guards in site (most of the Romanian malls had NO-PHOTO signs). However, as I walked inside the store and saw how beautiful it looked in the natural lighting, with no customers, I quickly snapped a photo even though a guard was chatting with the baristas. He said something to me, but rather than engaging, I immediately started talking to the baristas in English, telling them how beautiful the store was. The guard left me alone, and I figured that he did not speak English that well, and that one of the baristas had told him that I must be an American fan of Starbucks.

The Bolt ride to the Ploiesti Shopping City Mall store was super easy and just over $3, more than worth the time savings. That was where the easy ended. Upon trying to set up a ride to the station, Bolt required me to verify myself (the DiDi app in Mexico had done the same thing, if I recall correctly). I quickly scrambled to take a photo of my passport, and then a selfie, but the process failed. I thought maybe it was because I had switched from Starbucks wifi to my T-Mobile roaming as I walked to the food court, so I tried again. Fail. I ordered a pizza to go then returned to the Starbucks and got back on the wifi to try again, but the process still failed. I then submitted a help request, but it took a while for "Rob" to get back to me, and he just asked for more details. I decided to try one more time, and then I submitted another request. By that time I had finished my pizza, and I decided that I better start walking if I was going to get to Brasov before it was too late to find accommodation.

I made the 5.7 km distance in about an hour, and the walk was my most grueling yet. I still had to be careful of my left foot, which continued to hurt. Additionally, after the hourlong walk to the first shopping centre, my shoulders and back were already sore, and the 60-90 minutes that passed before I began the second walk were not enough to fully recover. About halfway into the walk, my back and shoulders were really sore, almost on fire. It felt like the straps were cutting off my circulation, and I had spend some time using my hands to ease the burden on my shoulders.

Still, I managed to make the 19:02 train to Brasov, and that was a good thing because the hostel that looked best had a registration desk that closed at 22:00. Assuming the train was not delayed, I would easily be able to walk from station to hostel by 21:30, but after I sent the hostel a message with this info, they replied that the desk had actually closed at 20:00, and they included self-checkin procedures with two door codes. I then asked about which bed, and about payment, and they replied that someone would be at the registration at 21:30 to take payment.

For the first time this trip, after three weeks of hostels, I finally lucked out and got a dorm room all to myself, for only about $16! These are great not only because I have no sleep disruptions, but I was also able to catch up on some TV while getting ready for bed.

October 1


Another early rising, this time with more schedule pressure because the final day of the tournament began at 9, not 10. Still, the more stores I could check off my list today, the quicker I would finish on Monday and depart Bucharest. One thing helping me out was that I had already ridden the M1 line from the far western stops to Obor (where the tournament is), so I had confidence that I could make it. I headed out to Orhideea and arrived shortly after 8, and I was out of there within 10 minutes. I could have called it right then and skipped Gara de Nord, since I expected to take a train out of that station on Monday, but I got ambitious and figured that the store would be quieter, now, in the morning, than midday on Monday. I double-timed it to the station, lost a couple of minutes trying to figure out how to get across the tracks (turned out I did not need to), and finally when I arrived at the Starbucks, there was a bit of a wait before I was attended, and then the all-too-frequent discussion about the short sized filter coffee--fortunately the supervisor had just returned.

Nonetheless made it to the tournament in time to get walloped by my first two opponents, effectively knocking me out of contention for first place. I won the next two and still hoped to make it up to third place, the last cashing position, but that hope was dashed immediately after lunch, and I finally ended up in a mediocre thirteenth place. At least lunch was good, another Sir Lankan spot, reasonably priced, along with some other Scrabblers.

The tournament ended early enough that, after waiting for the organiser to give me a "diploma" (certificate) and Romanian fridge magnet, I was easily able to make it to two Starbucks while it was still light out. Would have been three, except that Piata Romana had closed at the beginning of the year. That would have been the first and only Romanian store I missed, EXCEPT that it turns out there was another, called either The Mark, or Grivitei, that never showed up in my database, so I had no idea until it came up in Google while I was searching for an opening date for the Piata Victoriei store. Odd thing was that Sebastian had somehow found out about it. I ran all sorts of searches in my data, for both names, and for all Romanian stores, but nothing. I also searched for the likely store name plus "" to see if I could find an old link to the store's page on the Starbucks website, but none came up.

Meanwhile, during all my walking around and waiting for the metro, I was making phone calls, trying to get through my seemingly endless list of new stores and possibly-closed stores to process. I was making headway though, and now that it was October, the Onslaught would be winding down. I looked forward to being able to walk around these foreign cities and actually pay attention to my surroundings rather than being focused on phone calls.

After wrapping up those stores, I walked to a popular street and spotted a ramen house, Japanos, thus adding Romania to the growing list of countries where I have enjoyed ramen (over a dozen now). Along that street I passed a speciality coffee shop, Sloane, but of course it was too late for more coffee. I wanted to try again in the morning, but as luck would have it, they would be closed that particular day for training. Headed back to the hostel for my final night, and I was pleased to find that two guests had left, leaving only the Ukranian kid who likes to lounge in his briefs. I am used to older guests doing that, but typically not the 20-somethings.

September 30


Saturday morning was another rushed affair, with four potential Starbucks that I might visit before the 10:00 AM tournament start time. Unfortunately the first, Day Tower, was out because it would not open until 9, and my priority was to check the further out stores off my list. I headed instead to ParkLake, the store that had been misplotted, and then had opened at 8 as expected. Since Mega Mall would not open til 9, I thought I had some time to kill, but then I looked up the directions, and it turned out that the tram route would take nearly 50 minutes and take a roundabout route to get there. Google showed the walk to be about 45, and I was able to not only beat that time, but I actually arrived at Mega Mall BEFORE 9 and had to wait a few minutes for them to open.

From Mega Mall is was easy to reach the tournament on time, with not only time to stop for groceries, but also pop into a random coffeehouse that Google said was highly-ranked. I did not see filter coffee on the menu, but I saw coffee from April on a shelf, and that told me these folks are serious about their coffee. That was enough for me to try a long black (extra water, of course), and it was decent. Even though I dislike the taste of espresso, IF the coffee itself has great taste, it can come through despite the disfavoured preparation.

The tournament venue was less than ten minutes from the Veranda Mall, although that walk took a little longer because the route passed through a weekend market that was packed with people. Still, I had plenty of time to check the Starbucks off my list, get some lunch in the food court (after wasting time trying to find something out on the street), and even stop for mini donuts on the way back.

Missed a couple of words that I should have found and finished the day a 5-3, in fifth place with seven rounds to go. Still plenty of time to move up into one of the three cashing positions. The group was going out to dinner again, but I wanted to catch up on sleep, so instead I went with Jakob, the only undefeated player, to a Sri Lankan restaurant that was in the direction of my hostel. Pretty good grub at a reasonable price, and I was back at my hostel around 21:00.

Only spent a little time on bookkeeping, skipping a lot of phone calls, simply because I did not feel great and really wanted to catch up on sleep.

September 29


Up fairly early, and ready to go in the hopes of checking out some filter coffee before some fast and furious pre-tournament Starbucking. I did not expect any places to be open before 8, so I killed about sevens minutes and then used the Google Maps "Open Now" filter to make my search easier. I settled on T-Zero Coffee as the closest spot that had filter coffee on their menu, but when I arrived, they were closed. Before I resumed my search for another spot, I asked a passerby if she spoke "English", then pointed to the shop and asked if they were still open. She said she did not know, but then she spotted a man she cognised coming our way, and she asked him. He said they were running late--five minutes. I was skeptical, but I walked across the road to snap a picture anyway, and in those moments an employee showed up and opened the shop. No filter coffee, though, so I took an Americano, with extra water, of a Brazilian bean, and it was actually decent.

I then walked to nearby Ivy, which also had filter coffee on the menu, but neither of the baristas knew how to prepare it and said I should come back around noon, when an experienced barista (or the owner) would arrive. I could not wait of course, so I found a place on the way to the metro station, First Coffee, supposedly open at 8, but they were also closed. I continued on towards Emozia Coffee Manifesto, a slight detour from my direct route to the station, and the entire shop was gone, replaced by a pizza place!!!

Major filter coffee fail this morning, but I could not keep looking--I had to get out to the furthest Starbucks on my map in order to ensure that I could work my way back into the city and to my tournament venue on time.

Meanwhile, my left foot, which had been feeling weird for a few days, suddenly experienced a sharp pain that left me walking gingerly to avoid making it worse. Five weeks into my trip had seen me experiencing all sorts of pains, the price of being over fifty years old, but not being able to walk would be a serious one. Fortunately, I treaded carefully throughout the day, and I made a number of trips on the metro in the morning that allowed me to rest the foot. By the time it was time to embark on a 30-minute fast-walk to the metro that would take me to the tournament stop, my foot was feeling better.

Another hitch, T-Mobile notified me that I had already used up my monthly 5GB of higher-speed data and would be slowed down, and I immediately noticed a degradation in Google Maps. This was made worse by the fact that Google Maps automatically reroutes every time I open the app, and THERE IS NO WAY TO TURN THIS OFF. Actually, there is a way, to download an offline map of the area and TURN OFF THE DATA, but that means I cannot look at Google News or do anything else online.

First Starbucks of the morning, Militari, was the first drive-thru in Romania, and as per usual, I dawdled too much catching up on bookkeeping. I then proceeded to lose time at the next store, which was supposed to be ParkLane Mall but actually turned out to be Plaza Romania, the first store in Romania, which I had visited during my first trip. That is one of the hazards of plotting hundreds of stores quickly as I did between January and May--sometimes I do not notice that Google Maps has chosen the wrong location. Fortunately the walk was not entirely wasted, because the next store was 15 minutes down the road, and then I was able to hop onto a nearby metro to the Cotroceni mall that had added a kiosk. From there a quick walk to the Campus store, and then I had to ignore the ridiculous Google Maps locations that would have made me late for the tournament. Instead, I did not go the long way around, nor take a tram, but instead I double-timed to the metro station, and in doing so managed to arrive at the tournament venue five minutes before 15:30.

Four-game early bird event went marvelously despite my deprioritisation of Scrabble (hardly any studying), and I won all four games, and 100 euro which was the entirety of my entry fee for the entire tournament! Afterwards, despite having so much to do, I decided to be social and join the group for dinner at a nearby restaurant. I had fun catching up and meeting folks, but the entire process took longer than I expected, and by the time I completed my 30-minute walk back to the hostel, it was past 22:00. Then I STILL had to make more calls, because Onslaughted, and THEN a new dormmate wanted me to changed my bedsheets because he said they had a sweaty smell. Odd, because I had only slept on them once.

September 28


Did not sleep so well the previous night because my dormmates were lively, and even after they finally left to get food and drinks, they later returned to get ready to go to the Kit Kat club. I lucked out though and managed to sleep until just past 7, and after downing the coffee from the night before, I did not feel so tired. I was soon at my final Berlin store, besides the airport, at East Side Mall, and I finally tried the new brand of Starbucks orange juice in Germany, Grandmade (they had recently switched from the Ohn Saft) and a mediocre pain au chocolat. Plenty of time to sit and catch up on things, then look up nearby craft coffee.

Headed over to Passenger Espresso for a Mexican batch brew that was okay, but far from the levels of the best European roasters I had been enjoying, and then it was time to head to the airport. Picked up a few groceries, and then a relatively short and easy trip to the airport WITHOUT using my Eurail pass this time. Since the airport ticket was only £4.00, it made no sense to burn a rail pass day, and I expected to not use it at all in Bucharest until the next Monday when I would be heading to another city.

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time, which was good, because after I visited the Starbucks and popped into the loo, I headed over to the security line and discovered that it was moving sloooow. Didn't look like that many people, but it took well over 30 minutes to clear, and by the time I go to my gate, I was glad that it was delayed so I could have some time to charge and download. As the delay dragged on, I had no worries, not having any idea of what was to come.

We arrived in Frankfurt shortly past 13:30, and I felt fine because my flight to OTP was not til 14:20, but when I opened the Lufthansa app to check my departure gate, it said MISSED CONNECTION!!!

The flight attendant had not idea why it said that and said I need to go to the transfer desk. My mind began racing, and then next thing I did was to check the flight status of LH 1420, and it said it was still departing at 14:20. I guessed the algorithm thought that I needd more time, and I relaxed, but as the walk from the A gates to the B gates dragged on (and involved two elevator rides), I started to understand. Then I saw that we had to clear passport control, and I began to worry. Then I saw that the time was perilously close to 14:20, and I reeeeally began to worry. I checked the app again, and it said the gates would close 15 minutes before. I had about 10 minutes to clear passport control. It was going to be close.

As it turned out, I made it to the gate with 5 minutes to spare, AND the boarding line was long, giving me another 5-10 minutes, BUT food options were scarce, and the only two eateries where I could grab something quick both had lines, so I had to settle for two candy bars plus my apple (I'd already eaten the banana). Flight was unpleasant, constantly fighting off a headache due to both hunger and probably caffeine withdrawal.

After spending some time studying words, my headache was bad enough that I had to put the laptop away and close my eyes. I might have dozed off, if only for a brief spell, but that was enough that I was feeling a little better by the time we landed. I did not want to push the hunger, though, so I was glad to get through passport control quickly.

My first challenge was to get to the Baneasa Shopping City by bus, and I had read that I could get some card from a kiosk but could not find it. I remember that in 2015 I had spent a bit of time figuring it out, but things had changed. An agent at the information kiosk said I could pay with a card on the bus, and just as I went outside #783 was passing buy, and tapping the card worked. According to a traveler, I did not need to tap out, as I did in The Netherlands--I hope they were correct.

At the mall I quickly found a currency exchange bureau that gave a rate not that far off the official one (certainly better than an ATM, for only $100). I also gave in and picked up a USB-C to USB-A cable for about $10, to make charging my phone easier. I then asked at an information kiosk where the new Starbucks was, and of course he directed me to the old one, and of course I got lost on the way. Trip was not wasted, though, because the store had been remodeled with some cool interior art, and I was able to get a photo from a different angle.

At the new Starbucks the supervisor was friendly and answered all my questions: Romania serves filter (but not all stores will have it brewed), and the short size, and has a 1 leu cup discount (about 21 cents, the lowest I had encountered in Europe), making a short coffee would about $1.58, a relief after western Europe. They do have a Starbucks card now, but that store did not have the standard ones.

Lower prices for coffee and transport, as I expected, but I was surprised by the $15 price I paid for a meal at a Romanian restaurant, Rustic, right next to Starbucks. I must have misread the menu, or not understood it, because after selecting the pork/beef (I think), beans, and spinach, the total was much higher than I remembered paying for food in Romania eight years earlier. HOWEVER, perhaps I asked for larger portions without realising it because just those three items left me stuffed and needing to walk it off.

Not much walking though, just to a bus stop right outside the mall, where a young man was more than eager to help me confirm the correct bus (I was double-checking the Google intructions), then on the bus when the card machine would not work. I immediately feared that my card had been blocked for security, even though I had not received any text or notification from Capital One, but he said that those machines malfunctioned all the time. In his zeal to help me, however, he had me get off one station too soon, but I did not mind walking 5 minutes to the tram stop. Same issue on the tram--card did not work. Later, at the hostel, I asked the receptionist, and he said this was common.

Lowest price per night for a hostel of my trip, and of course the place was on the shabby side, even if the review score was higher than 7 (general the lowest score I will accept). Only four beds, with a young man, and older man, and someone who had not arrived. No lock on the door, a first for this trip. Instead, lockers were provided, and I made sure to use mine for my backpack, even during the night. I usually sleep with the backpack next to my head, but for some reason I felt exposed in that room. I was on a top bunk with no opportunity to jury-rig a curtain, and it seemed like someone could reach up and grab my backpack next to my head.

September 27 (day 35)


Unlike most recent mornings, I did not have to rush out today because there are regular ICE trains heading between Hannover and Berlin, and that allowed me the opportunity to take my time leaving the hotel while watching much of the latest episode of 'Ahsoka'. Once I arrived in Wolfsburg, however, it was back to rushing, because I did not have long to catch the next ICE towards Berlin. To make my schedule even tighter, the Starbucks at the outlet mall would not open until 9:30, and as I paced in front of the door, I hoped that this would not be one of those occasions in which the baristas dawdled in letting customers in.

Got lucky, and a barista unlocked the door exactly at 9:30. I had my solo espresso a couple of minutes later, and I downed it in a rush and then double-timed it back to the station, in time to catch my train. During the trip I finally find a flight from BER to OTP at a reasonable price and time, and if I could lock that down, I'd finally be able to slow down for nearly a day.

Goodly two kilometre walk to the outlet, a beautiful store, and the first thing I did after ordering my coffee was to purchase that flight. With that taken care of, I was able to relax a bit, although I still needed to book a hostel for Berlin, and then a hostel for several nights in Bucharest. Those tasks were easy enough, and I felt more relaxed as I walked back to the station to catch the next train towards Berlin.

First Starbucks was a quick stop, as it was quite close to a location of The Barn, one of my favourite European coffee roasters, and although I had encountered their coffees around Europe and occasionally in the United States, I had not had a chance to visit their cafe the last time I was in Berlin. Flash forward eight years, they appeared to have grown significantly, and their Cafe Kranzler location was the first I encountered. Good choice--rooftop location with a great view and a great vibe.

Next I headed to the Alexanderhouse Starbucks, but I held off on drinking the coffee until after I visited the Berlin location of Man Versus Machine, which was amusingly enough sharing space with a Lacoste store, another company using an alligator as their logo! I also wanted to hit another The Barn location, right across the street, but by that point I was coffeed out and would not have enjoyed it, so I just headed over to the nearby Hackescher Markt Starbucks and called it a day as far as coffee was concerned.

Finally, three weeks after leaving Panama, I found a Latin American place, Cuban, with green plantains on the meny, although they were not tostones, but rather sliced thin, like potato crisps. Still delicious along with the traditional Cuba ropa vieja, well worth the price. Afterwards I had a 5K walk to my hostel, and unlike other occasions when I had to decide between walking and public transport, here in Berlin it was a no-brainer that I would walk, simply so that I could see more of the city.

Ten-bed mixed dorm tonight, and my dormmates were the liveliest group I had encountered thus far. Things got even more interesting when I heard them discussing a club they were going to, the Kit Kat Club, and talking about the chances of being able to get in. I know that nightclubs can be hard to get into, but one kid was so worried that I peeked out from under my makeshift curtain (the duvet) and inquired, and I learned that Kit Kat is a well-known Berlin club notorious for its exclusivity and dress code.

September 26


I woke up with the knowledge that getting to the new Starbucks in Siegen was going to put a serious hurting on my schedule, so I hustled to the station to try and catch the next ICE out to either destination. Because the desired train was delayed, I figured I could make it, but halfway through my trot I saw that the delay had been shortened, and I ended up missing it, probably by just a minute or two.

I used the time to get a waffle, but every single line to every single shop was long, and I still had to hustle to make the next ICE north to the transfer point for either store. When I finally arrived in Frankfurt, it looked like Bonn was my best option, so I took that train. Bonn store, right across from the station, was a pain to find, probably lost ten minutes, but that was nothing compared to the other delays. Google Maps showed a lengthy trip to Siegen, at best, on smaller trains and buses, but the Rail Planner app showed an ICE + RE combo that was faster. I was skeptical, mind you, since Google did not show it, so I updated my app and tried again. The route was still there, so I decided to take it.

When I got off at Koln, though, I could not find the connection to Siegen on any monitors, and I finally had to go to the Reisezentrum for help. The next best option, starting out on an ICE, was canceled, so the agent finally printed out an itinerary involving a slower train, then bus, then train.


The agent's itinerary had me transfering in Au (Sieg), and I spent much of the day wondering what the "(Sieg)" signified until I finally looked it up. I had to take a bus to the next station, but I could not find the stop, so I headed down a road to where I saw a bus, where the non-English-speaking driver told me that I was not at the stop. I started to walk back, but he motioned for me to get on, saying the stop was too far. Clearly he knew nothing of my walking ability, but I went ahead and obliged him--seemed like it would have been rude to dismiss his offer.

In Betzdorf, I once again hopped onto a train going in the wrong direction, but this time I caught the error before the train depart. UNFORTUNATELY, the door would not open when I pressed the button! I quickly rushed to the next door, which also would not open, and then the train started moving. I ended up stuck at the next station, waiting 20+ minutes for the next train, and as I sat there I feared that this was the error that was going to cost me the opportunity to see any more Starbucks after Siegen.

Upon arriving at Siegen, I first looked for the platform for my train out, at 14:45, which gave me just fifteen minutes to visit the Starbucks and get food. I lost a minute heading to the first mall-like structure I spotted, but I lucked out and could not find the main entrance before I spotted "City-Galerie" on the building across the street.

Getting my coffee was the quickest part of my visit. I had to make the most of my fifteen minutes to charge my laptop and phone and use the wifi to run my algorithm. I lucked out in that there was a pizzeria selling slices right next door, and I risked leaving my stuff unattended for the minute that it took me to pay for two slices. Managed to get back on the train right around 14:43, and of course the train sat there for another 5-10 minutes--I could have gotten a proper meal.

By this point I was getting used to the time that most of the time my T-Mobile roaming coverage was good enough for Skype calls, and I was able to complete most of my calls while on the way to Hannover, even before boarding the ICE segment.

Between trips to Bonn, Siegen, and Hannover, I had around nine or ten train segments today, and the obvious problem with some many connections is that the odds of missing a connection are increased. Hannover had four from Siegen, and only barely made the third segment after rushing over to a market for food and getting stuck behind a lady who was determined to fish exact change out of her purse. For all my sprinting to make that connection, though, it was delayed and arrived in Hildesheim mere seconds before the next train to Hannover pulled away. That meant that IF my 19:06 train arrived at the scheduled 19:38, I would have 22 minutes to orient myself and get over to the Ernst-August Galerie (just two minutes away), then find TWO Starbucks. Ideally I would inquire when they opened, but I doubted I would have time for that.

On top of all that, I hesitated to book a room in Hannover until the final segment, and that cost me 10-20 euros because the cheaper places had disappeared. Upon arriving in Hannover, the Galerie and first Starbucks were easy to spot right outside the station, and the one on the second level was also easy. Another plus, the walk to the hotel took me past Wonder Waffel, and I could not resist. Then things got difficult, because the door to the hotel was locked, and the lack of a light in the doorway made things more challenging. I called the first number on the door--no answer. I called the second--it did not work. I looked up the hostel on Google--same number, but I tried it a different way, and this time I got an answer. Lengthy awkward process to direct me to a box behind me which contains three key boxes, then a struggle to open keybox #2 with one hand, then setting the phone down in the larger box, fearful that it might fall and crack further. I finally got into the building, and then a challenge to find room 2 because the landlords' English was limited and they did not know how to say to go down (although I would have understood "unter"). Finally a young man came out of a door and helped me find #2, and then there was the issue of payment. They said that someone would come within the hour, which was inconvenient because I wanted to go back out and walk around the red light district I had passed. To kill the time I first showered to get a head start on Wednesday, then I set about my bookkeeping and discovered that I had A LOT MORE phone calls to make. Actually, not that many, but they took A LONG TIME because the Starbucks partners simply did not know whether those nearby stores had opened. I tried calling nearby businesses for stores in Atlanta and NYC, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time to confirm the Atlanta store but no answer for NYC. By the time I was finished, it was past 22:00, and I was too exhausted to go out.

September 25


I noticed that the sky was starting to lighten before 7 am and quickly jumped in the shower then headed over to the station to find the brand new Starbucks. The walk was chilly, the chilliest morning so far at 47F. It was only going to get colder from that point, and I figured I'd be breaking out the thermal underwear soon, and probably needed to purchase gloves.

I was pleased that this store did have filter coffee, and the short size was only 4.50, or 3.70 with the cup discount. Even more luck, the manager was there, and she was familiar with St. Gallen and was able to confirm that the store at the station had indeed moved, underground. I would need to detour there before Zurich, but at least I knew I would not waste my time like my trip to the Munich airport.

During the final leg of my trip to St. Gallen, I discovered that now I was the one riding without a ticket. I usually use both Google Maps and Rail Planner to plan a route between stations, but earlier in the day the Rail Planner app had not been able to find St. Gallen. With time to spare on the train from Uznach to St. Gallen, I finally used the map option on the Rail Planner up to scroll to St. Gallen and select a station, and once I did that the app said that the segment was NOT in my pass network!

With only thirty minutes to go, I wondered if I might get away without seeing a ticket agent--after all, I had not seen one for the entirety of Sunday, I think, but just then I spotted an agent in the next car, heading my way. I wasn't about to try and duck him, so I laid out my pass, the Eurail map, the route on the Rail Planner app, and Google Maps, I hoped to plead my case and see if I could buy a ticket for the final segment. However, with the agent two seats away, the train stopped at Wattwil, and I made the snap decision to just get off and buy a ticket. In the time it took me to find the ticket machine, I missed the train that departed a few minutes later, but that was fine because I used the 30-minute wait to walk over to Migros and get some groceries.

Supervisor at the St. Gallen store, which had indeed relocated due to station remodeling, was quite helpful, and I was also pleased to learn that the train to Zurich WAS indeed in the network included by my Eurail pass. Almost made another time-costly error while on the way, so focused was I on other paperwork. Fortunately, as we neared Winterthur, I had the presence of mind to look at the two new Zurich Starbucks on my map and note that they were quite far apart. It made sense to visit Prime second, as it appeared to be on the way to Basel, so I tweaked my Google Maps directions for Stadelhofen and learned, with just a few minutes to spare, that I needed to get off at Winterthur and take an S train directly to the Stadelhofen station. Almost missed that train, though, because I was rephotographing the Winterthur Starbucks, and with a minute to spare I found myself sprinting towards the train along with three young women. It was a delicate situation, because I did not want to miss the train, but neither did I want to be an asshole and shove myself in front of them. We all made it.


About 20 minutes to the next train back, so I tried to make use of that time to eat, both to save that time in Zurich but also in the hopes of paying less than in Zurich. Could very well be that Mr. Rice's prices were cheaper than those in Zurich, BUT, after a month in Europe, I finally found a restaurant that did not accept credit when I needed it (although I often paid with cash in the UK or the Eurozone).

Once in Zurich, the first Starbucks was easy, right in the Stadelhofen station, and from there I took advantage of proximity, just five minutes, to enjoy an excellent Colombian coffee, brewed on an unusual (to me) machine called a GINA, at MAME. In my twelve years of pursuing craft coffee, I had only been to one speciality coffeehouse in all of Swizterland, and while I did not want to spare the time to tour multiple spots (especially later in the day when I was coffeed out), I had to hit one.

Worth mentioning that the wifi at MAME was a relief for my downloading, because for some reason all of the Starbucks wifi in Switzerland had been super slow, as well as the trains (to be expected), if present at all.

Prime 2 was also easy, just two stops on an ZVV line then five minutes walking, but after that, the afternoon turned to chaos. First, I finally cracked the screen of my EXPENSIVE Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra that I had bought for this trip and still needed for five more months before I could replace it. As cracks go, this was relatively minor, but still disappointing. Then, after chatting with the supervisor about some Zurich closures, I rushed back to the station to try and catch the next train out towards Basel, but I could not figure out where the platform was and missed it by a minute or two, I reckon. HOWEVER, missing that train was the best thing that could have happened, because I HAD LEFT MY CREDIT CARD AT PRIME 2!!!

FORTUNATELY, that Starbucks did have a phone number listed (many foreign stores do not, and some entire countries do not provide numbers, period), AND my roaming coverage strength was enough to make a Skype call, AND it turned out that the card was at the store. If I had boarded that train, I would not have discovered my missing card til Basel, either too far too turn around, or too costly in terms of time. Unfortnately, I figured I was going to miss the TGV train to Basel, but I nonetheless hustled back to the ZVV platforms and broke into a sprint, right behind a young man, to make the train that was waiting. I rode one stop back to Hardbrucke, then walked fast towards the Starbucks before deciding the I might actually make it if I caught the right metro back to Zurich Hbf. I broke into a trot the rest of the way, and supervisor had my card ready as soon as I walked in. I quickly did what I SHOULD HAVE DONE earlier, stash the card in its usual slot, and then I exited the store and broke into a trot all the way back to the station, even up a ramp despite my burning calves. Good thing, because once again a train was at the platform, and I made it on by less than a minute. Because of this, I was able to arrive at Hbf exactly at 13:30 then hustle over to Platform 14 (I had made a note of the platform, fortunately) and onto the TGV before it departed.

Chaos was not over, because one thing I can count on regarding French high-speed routes (this TGV was headed to Paris) is that they are usually packed, and if I do not have a reservation, I can expect to stand, sit on the floor, or, if I get lucky, find seats on the steps or, today, next to the luggage. Yet somehow this seat had an outlet next to it, and that was more than good enough for an hour to Basel.

Basel is a lovely city, and I would have loved to stay longer, but I was in and out in just over an hour, just enough time to take a tram part way to the Starbucks and back, walking the rest, and I even returned to the station with 10 minutes to spare, enough to get some dinner from the Migros Eatery. To pull that off, however, I had to chance boarding the return tram without a ticket, simply because a group of older folk were using the ticket machine, and if I had waited, I would have lost the opportunity to get food, or even missed the train to Lörrach.

Lörrach was even easier, right across from a relatively small station, so I was able to use the wifi and make the necessary phone calls right up until I had to rush across to the platform. Of course, as you can probably guess, once I got the platform I had to wait, as was the case about half the time. However, I just continued making phone calls because I had waaaay too much bookkeeping to waste any time. Additionally, once I boarded the train to the Basel Bad station, I had to figure out how far north I was going to get. The next store was in Bonn, but my best arrival was after midnight--wasn't doing that. So I had to look for rooms at intermediary points like Karlsruhe or Frankfurt, or even beyond in Cologne (doubtful given my previous experience), and I finally found a great hostel deal in Mannheim with an arrive around 21:30, almost perfect. Reception closed at 22:00, but the train arrived at 21:26 which gave me plenty of time to reach the hostel at a brisk walk.

Hostel Mannheim was wonderful, brand new, probably my best of the trip, with the highlight's being that the floors are named after Hogwart's houses, and there are Harry Potter nods throughout. Also, the beds had curtains, wifi was lighting fast, towels were provided, soap dispenser in the showers, and an outlet near the bed. Win, win, win.

September 24


Got up at 6:23 and quickly showered and rushed out the door. Even though the two Starbucks near the main station would not open until 8 am, I had to travel up to the airport, around 45 minutes, and back, to investigate whether the airport store had relocated. After much analysing of my photos from 2008 and 2013, speaking to a barista, a patron of the adjacent shop, and an information kiosk employee who had worked there since 2007, I was able to confirm what I thought, that the store was the same. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know anything about that second store that was listed on the app/website, so all in all, my trip was a bust except for taking fresh photos of the remodeled/expanded store. That made two unnecessary German trips due to website ID issues, plus at least two British ones, and probably a few others that I am not recalling. Add to that stores that had already closed, and I figure I had waste more than one day, maybe more than two, on unnecessary trips.

The one silver lining was that since I left early, I would only lose an hour total, as the S1 was expected to arrive back at the Hauptbahnhof just before 9. And actually, I did not really lose a full hour because I was determined to get to Man Versus Machine, and they would not open until 10.

Met another TC/Starbucking fan, Atakan, at the station store, and we did a mini Starbucking tour, walking next to the Karlsplatz store, then to Man Versus Machine. After finishing up that coffee, I headed to Munich Pasing to check that store off my list, and finally it was time to figure out where to go next. The ICE to Innsbruck would not depart for a couple of hours and arrive after 15:00, so I tried to hop on slower trains leaving soon from the Hauptbanhhof, but I had to stop for some groceries and missed that train, then another that would be connecting in Salzburg, by just a few seconds.

Figured I might as well use the time to get a good meal from someplace where I could charge up. After lunch I headed back to the old Platform 11 Starbucks at the Hauptbahnhof and tucked myself in a corner using the wifi until it was time to board the train to Innsbruck.

The train was packed, and I did not even think to check what section I was in before grabbing a seat that became unoccupied right in front of me. I was able to ride for a little over half an hour, two stops, and do some work (and watch shows) until a ticket agent came by and asked if I had purchased something for 1st class. Since I had not, I had to move and stand or sit on steps for the remaining 45 minutes to Innsbruck.

Plenty of time to get to the Innsbruck Starbucks and back before the 16:09 towards Zurich, but I still trotted simply so I could get more charging and wifi time. I also expected the store to be busy, and I wanted some time to confirm that most of the Starbucks in Austria are still operated by Starbucks (not AmRest, Alsea, or some other company).

First-time experience, when I tried to get into the men's toilet using the 2222 code, I was having trouble with it. A couple of baristas came by, and one of them showed us the "trick" to open the door. Then one of the baristas went in ahead of me, so I held back. She came out and said that two people were "****ing in there", and I had to use the women's.

Used the wifi/outlet as much as possible without cutting it to close, then returned to the station to find that the train was delayed 10 minutes (of course). Fortunately the OBB station had super fast wifi that I could grab for about 10 minutes, but none on the train. I did have outlets though and was finally able to charge up all my equipment.

Something unusual on the train to Landquart. Have you ever seen a movie or TV show in which one or more characters on a train are sans ticket and ducking the agent? Witnessed this myself for the first time.

A young man, limited to no English, sat down across from me and plugged in his phone. He motioned to a young man across the aisle and pointed to his phone. I assumed he was asking about the train's destination. A bit later he shows me the phone, Arabic script on the display, I think, and points to the locked wifi networks, and I assumed he was asking if the train had wifi, so I say "no". A few seconds later it occurred to me that he was asking if one of those locked networks was mine and wanted me to share.

I stopped paying for the ability to create a hotspot within a few years of buying my first smartphone in 2011, and I've never kept up with what my Sprint, now T-Mobile, plans offer for free, nor the capabilities of my phones. I decided to try the Bluetooth option to share my roaming coverage, and I motioned to the young man so we could try it.

Just at that moment he looked up and say "no", grabbed his phone, and headed away from me. I turned around and saw the ticket agent, and I quickly inferred that he was ducking the ticket agent. A while later the young man walked past me again, looking from side to side, and I figured that he had hidden in the loo until he thought the agent had passed. I assume that ticket agents are trained to be on the lookout for exactly this, but I really have no idea. I imagine that some agents do not care that much, and others are more diligent and observant.

Arrived in Landquart with almost 30 minutes to spare before the Starbucks was scheduled to close, but I almost missed it because I rather incompetently misunderstood the Google Maps directions, and I wasted 10-15 minutes walking in the wrong direction even as a voice kept telling me "this can't be right". Once I finally found the store, I was breathing hard and dripping with sweat from the sprint across the station and outlet center parking lot.

First Swiss store in eight years, and since I was not asking for samples, I had to once again ask about policies, whether they served filter coffee and in the short size, the cup discount, etc. Filter coffee machine was either finished for the night or broken, so that was moot, and I reverted to my next choice, a solo espreso, only to learn that Starbucks Swizterland only offers a DOPPIO, not a SOLO!!! I had never encountered this and had to ask the partner to double-check, then the supervisor. Once they confirmed, I learned that the price was a whopping 5.20 CHF, the highest I had seen for the cheapest coffee available. On the other hand, the cup discount was the highest, 0.80 CHF, but 4.40 = $4.85 was the highest I had paid thus far to check a store off my list, not counting special drinks at Reserve Bars or Roasteries.

The good news was that as I rambled on about my project and how little differences added up, I suddenly remembered to ask about an opening date, which was last October, and then I just, for no reason, asked/commented "so this is the newest Starbucks in Switzerland, right?" The supervisor replied "no" and told me that a store in Chur had opened a few days ago (actually the previous day), and I was gobsmacked. Sebastian had told me that Chur was coming, and I had it on my map, but I had not known the date and assumed it would be after I had passed. I would have missed it, and it was sheer luck that I learned it was open.

Another piece of luck, Chur is the largest city in that region, and there was actually a hostel available, AND it was cheaper than what I would have paid in Zurich, so things were working out pretty well despite the sticker shot. Check-in process was a bit cloak and dagger (not really, just a code to access a keycard then read a map to find the entrance), and I was pleased to see almost nobody in the eighteen-bed dorm. Got a really good night of rest to help me be up early and clear Swizterland ASAP.

September 23


Woke up after 7 am, which helped me catch up on the sleep the lost the night before, and I hurried to the station and made the three segments of the trip to Stuttgart with no issues, including a long-awaited stretch on an ICE so that I could get some charge and get started on searching for new Starbucks, a task that would be even more critical for the next few weeks, during the Onslaught.

During the trip I discovered that I had overlooked a new Starbucks in Bonn that opened in March, after I created my map, and that really sucked because it was unlikely that my route would take me back there, not unless I had to fly out of Colonge. Also tried to figure out, with Sebastian's help, whether the Starbucks at the Munich airport had moved, and whether there had been two. Sebastian called and got some info from one barista, and then I called later and was told that, yes, there had been two, and that the current one was not the original. I really would need to get to the airport to find out, and I hoped that I could schedule a flight out of there so I would not waste a trip.

After the Milaneo kiosk I could have rushed off the Metzingen, but I decided I had to check out at least one craft coffeehouse, and then I noticed a ramen spot in the same direction and decided to head there. On the way to Umami, I passed Holanka, a cafe I'd seen on one of the blogs, and since I was literally right there, I decided to try the coffee, which ended up being not to my liking, but only 2.50 so I did not miss much. Umami was decent, and then I noticed that Harry's Kaffeerosterei was across the street and had many pour over options. Unfortunately, they were not for takeaway, so I had to sit down, and it took much longer than I expected to get my Colombian V60 with a complimentary chocolate-covered truffle and a container of cream. After all that, the coffee was too dark for me, and even though Harry's lets one order any of dozens of coffees, they seem like more of a traditional old-school roaster, dark-to-medium, and probably not for me.

Finally I walked a few minutes to my original choice, Cafe DA, and there I actually got a really good coffee, a V60-brewed, natural-processed Ethiopian from Berlin roaster Bonanza. Unfortunately no outlets nor wifi, so once I got my coffee I pour it into my resuable tumbler and headed to a nearby station to catch a MEX train to Metzigen. Ticket turned out to be fairly expensive, 11€, and only after I was on the train did I realise that I had punched in the terminal station, Tubingen, rather than Metzigen--perhaps I could have saved some dough if I had not been in such a hurry and actually thought about it.

While on the way to Metzingen I took the opportunity to look for hostels/rooms in Munich, expecting myriad low-priced options, and I was shocked to find high prices, many of which included the phrases "campground" and "Oktoberfest". I did a quick google, and, sure enough, Oktoberfest had begun in Munich the previous weekend and would run for two weeks, which means that I picked the worst-possible time to have visited. My best plan for not paying $100+ for a room was to finish the three Munich stores (four, if the airport one was new) and then either find a cheap flight to another destination or take an overnight train somewhere. That meant I needed to get in and out of Metzingen quickly, but of course that did not work out.

The walk from the station to the outlet mall was not terribly long, but I was about to burst and lost time finding the nearest loo, not in the direction of Starbucks. Once I reached the store, I saw a line that was out the door, the single longest of the near-180 stores I had visited during my trip. I didn't mind so much, because I needed to charge my laptop and phone in case I could not find a room that night, but then when I got to the front of the line, I ended up losing another 15+ minutes.

As I had experienced at other German stores, the barista said that they did not sell a short filter coffee. I ask her to call over the supervisor and explained what I had experienced, and she looked on the POS system and said that the short option simply was not there. If that was true, that would mean that nearly 20 German stores, all operated by Alsea, had the short, but for some reason that store did not. This seemed strange to me, and I asked the supervisor to come over to the side (because of course there was a line of customers out the door). I explained that I was drinking coffee from all Starbucks, nearly 2000 over six months (if possible), and even small differences in prices would add up. I explained that many baristas had told me the same thing about the short size and ended up being wrong. She seemed unfazed, and I don't think that she really understood what I was tring to say. Finally, I asked if it was possible to call the manager, and she actually did that. The manager spoke to me, and agreed to sell me the short, but when he spoke to the barista again, she reiterated that short was NOT in the system. They decided to just sell me a tall with a discount, and that was good enough for me.

That entire interaction, besides wasting time, which could have made the difference in whether I cleared Munich or not, was awkward because I felt that all the baristas involved, and the manager, likely thought I was one of those asshole customers who ask for unreasonable things, and an American one at that. I did not want to make their jobs harder, but even a 25-cent difference across 2000 stores would add up to $500, the cost of airfare to a major destination. I blame Alsea for this, and any other Starbucks partner who has removed short from the POS system or given baristas lousy instructions. Encouraging customers to purchase a larger size by giving them a better per-unit value is fine--at least customers are given the choice. But REMOVING the choice to purchase the size they want and forcing them into a larger size is not only unfriendly and annoying, but also a violation of the principle of consuming less for the sake of the environment and personal health. A similar example is when unhealthy soda is offered in increasingly larger sizes. Just the other day I actually had a craving for a Coke with my lunch, but I wanted to buy one of those six-ounce cans that I have seen in Europe in the past. Unfortunately all of the shops at the station had large 16-20 oz bottles, and I refuse to play that game. A size that large forces me to either drink more sugar than I want, or pay for something that I am just going to throw away.

To make my visit even more annoying, my German Starbucks card, with balance remaining, would not work. The barista tried swiping it first, and the system would not read it. The same thing had happened at a few other stores, and those baristas had typed in the numbers directly. This time, however, when she typed in the numbers, the system said INACTIVE ACCOUNT. I wasn't about to fight that, so I just paid in cash, and the first thing I did at the Ulm Starbucks was to ask that barista if she could read the card. She had to type in the numbers, but this time she was able to see my balance, and when I made the actual purchase, the swipe worked.

I reckon I might have spent a good 90 minutes in Metzigen before I returned to the station and boarded the (late) train to Ulm, and I was starting to become concerned not only that I would not clear Munich, but that I wouldn't even make it to Augsburg before that store closed for the night. Moreover, while on the way I noticed that there was a second Augsburg store, at the Hauptbahnof, that I had omitted from my map, probably because I thought it was not AmRest. Worse case scenario, I'd arrive just in time to see both stores, but there would be a line at the station store, and that would cost me the city store. Amazingly, I arrived in Augsburg just past 19:30 and quickly grabbed a coffee from the station store, then made it to the city store and back to the station in time to catch a train that would arrive at Munich Pasing around 20:30, thirty minutes before that Starbucks closed.

I had already booked an expensive (88€) hostel to ensure that option would not disappear, so I would not be able to leave that night, but if I got Pasing and the other two that night, I could leave for Austria/Switzerland first thing in the morning. UNFORTUNATELY, the app was wrong, and the Pasing store closed at 20:30, minutes before I pulled on the door. It would not open til 10:00 am on Sunday, which meant that any thought of getting an early start was out the window. When I arrived at the Munich Hauptbahnhof, I passed by the new store, but there was no point in waiting in that line for coffee when I expected it to be quieter in the morning, and I just went to my hostel.

September 22


Unable to sleep any further between the ruckus outside and what seemed to allergies, even after taking a pill (that's three, I think, of my limited supply) I went ahead and downed the two shots saved from the night before as I turned on my phone. 6 AM, waaaay too early given that the Heidelberg store would not open til 9, but perhaps I could figure out an alternative.

I showered, reviewed my packing (always worried I'll forget something when leaving room while it is dark), and went down to the lobby to see if it made more sense to go to one of the other two nearest Starbucks. Nope--while Kaiserslautern opened at 8, Zweibrucken would not open til 10, so it made more sense to go ahead and head to Heidelberg, arriving shortly after 8 (or maybe 8:10-8:15 given the train delay) then find some breakfast and wait for the Starbucks to open.

Enjoyed some interesting "ovenbaked" French toast with fruit from NOMAD in Heidelburg. Not bad, but I would have preferred it to have been warm, but according to the chef, they used to serve warm, but most customers prefer it cold.

Despite my desire to make up time, Coffee Nerd was on the way to the new Starbucks, and I had to pop in and an enjoy an excellent Guatemalan coffee from Obadiah. The bad news was that I need not have traveled to Heidelberg at all because the SOF (Saks Off Fifth) location had closed a few months earlier, and somehow I had not noticed despite having run a query to look for closed German stores. I ended up walking another ten minutes to the original Heidelberg store to confirm that SOF had indeed closed, and while I was there I went ahead and popped into the other Coffee Nerd cafe where I was able to try coffee from Sumo for the first time. That was a particularly good experience, because the shop was not busy when I arrived, and the barista was happy to talk to me about roasters and cafe design before going into the storeroom to get some Sumo for me.

The huge downside of the unnecessary try to to Heidelberg was that the trip in the other direction, to Kaiserslauten, was going to take a long time, on an S train, and Zweibrucken would be the same. To make matters worse, once in Zweibrucken, I could not be sure that I could make it to any other Starbucks that day, and a two-Starbucks day would really set back my wildly optimistic target of ten stores per day.

Tried to walk as fast as possible (about 10 minutes) to the Kaiserslauten store, but once there I had to pay for the loo, yet again (because those S trains don't have them), then wait in a considerable line to order, and then I had a good discussion with the manager explaining what I was doing, after which he refunded the price for my coffee since I was having so little. He suggested that I should ask for samples, and I explained that I had stopped doing that because of the occasional awkwardness or hostility.

Rushed back to the station to begin to slog to Zweibrucken, and once there I faced the same choice as with other stores that were far from the station, whether to take a bus or walk. In this case, the bus would mean a 20+ minute wait and put me at the Fashion Outlet at 17:06, while Google Maps said the walk would be about 75 minutes and put me there around 17:30. I figure I could shave at least 10-15 minutes off the walk and see the city centre while on the way, so I started hoofing it. I lost several minutes right away when I noticed that the Google route took me onto a road that appeared to traverse the property of some business. The entrance gate was open, but I could not tell if the gate on the other end would be open, so I decided to take the time loss and go the other way. Nonetheless, I still managed to walk the near 5K distance and arrive at the Outlet shortly before 17:06, and I did it without breaking into a trot.

For the return trip the calculus was different. The next bus back would not be for an hour, 18:06, but walking was not the plan because I needed to use the time to recharge my laptop and phone. Actually, it ended up being mostly only my laptop because I quickly discovered that the Onslaught was in full swing. The Onslaught is that period at the end of September and beginning of October when, for tax reasons, Starbucks opens dozens of new stores in the U.S. and Canada, and I spent the entirety of my time at the Starbucks, even while in line, making calls.

I did not know it at the time, but another benefit of not walking back was that it began to rain during that hour, and that walk would have been miserable. Also risky because a month into my trip I continued to forget to save a large plastic bag (like the ones I had been given for takeaway meals) to protect my laptop in the even of a rainstorm.

Train back east was delayed, of course, but that was only the beginning of the evening's fun. First, the sole toilet on that train was clogged, and the washroom was in a general state of disgusting. I held off as long as I could, but I finally had to use it anyway. Because of the delay, it appeared that I was going to miss the connection at Pirmasens Nord, and as we approached I stood next to the door to get a view of whether that train might still be there. It was, and a group of us rushed from one train to the other. I chatted about German trains, the U.S., and rock music for about ten minutes with another passenger, and in that time we started to wonder more and more about the delay. Finally the passenger went to ask the train conductor, and I followed him to find out what was going on. Twenty minutes to an hour, he said, so I continued to wait, donning my undershirt in the meanwhile because it was starting to get cold (outside--the train inside was heated).

I alternated between hanging out in side and walking around outside, and I began to become worried that I would be stranded at that station, a two-hour walk from Pirmasense and any hotels. When I finally saw another train arrive, heading in the direction of Pirmasense, I decided to abandone my plans to get to Landau, Karlesruhe, or Stuttgart, where there were cheaper accommodations, and just pay the €85 in Pirmasens if I could not find anything cheaper. The Best Western was only €76, but no availability. The hostel across the street, which had not been listed online, had no availability either. I finally gave up and booked the Ferienwohnung Nikolena before that lone available room disappeared, and then I abandoned plans for dinner, to save money, and just stopped at Netto for a power bar plus yoghurt and banana for the next day.

When I arrived at the address, I thought I saw what appeared to be the hotel-apartment, but not the entrance. I pressed a button next to a gate, but I heard nothing. Finally, a restaurant employee exited from a door, and I waved and asked if this was Ferienwohnung Nikolena. She said yes and directed me around the corner, into a restaurant. I took at the door a while, and a waitperson took me to the bar at the bag, where the "receptionist" came out to meet me. It appeared that the apartment/hotel portion was secondary business run by the restaurant, and after checkin, I actually had to follow her through the kitchen to get to the back and into the apartment-hotel.

Oh, BTW, the receptionist did not speak English, nor did the other staff appear to, but my limited German came in handy once again. Also, earlier at the Netto. As I had experienced before, once outside the larger German cities, the odds of running into a non-German speaker went up.

September 21


Woke up shortly before 7 and quickly showered and hustled out the door to rephotograph the store from the previous night while rushing back to the station to catch the 7:42 to Wuppertal. Made it with about three minutes to spare, apple ready to go since I'd no time to buy anything else, BUT OF COURSE the train was delayed, first 15 minutes, then another 11. I had been hoping to get to Oberhausen, after Wuppertal, shortly after the Starbucks opened at 9, but that plan was out, and then in Wuppertal the direct train to Oberhausen was delayed--of course.

I headed over to the platform a few minuts before 9:18, the new departure time, and I quickly realised that I had made a stupid mistake in assuming that the time was accurate. I had expected the train to be delayed further, but I had NOT expected the train to arrive and depart sooner than the newly specified time, and I ended up missing it. I quickly scrambled to figure out a different route, because there was also a train that connected via Dusseldorf. I could not reconcile the trains that the Rail Planner app was showing me with the trains listed on the electronic display, but then I saw a slow train (called an "S" train, no wifi) to Dusselfdorf departing in one minute, and I figured that was going to be my best option.

Arrived in Dusseldorf with a few minutes before the next train, but of course it was cancelled. I was in disbelief that getting to Oberhausen was proving so frustrating, and I went to the Reisezentrum to ask if there was some issue around that city. Construction, said the agent, but he confirmed that the next train, via Duisburg, was still scheduled.

In Oberhausen I finally faced the same decision that I imagine I had in 2008, whether to figure out a bus or walk, EXCEPT that this time I had Google Maps to tell me which buses to take, and how long it would take to walk. I missed the next bus to the Neue Mitte stations by seconds, and the next one was about 10 minutes away, so I decided to walk.

Spend MUCH longer at Centro than I hoped because I needed to sort out which of the two or three stores were closed or relocated, as well as fix apparent mislabeling from my original trip (actually it was that two stores had shared the same store number). I spoke to MANY partners across the three stores, an assistant manager, and a manager, and I finally ended up with one relocation and one brand new kiosk, which I count as a new store.

By the time I finished at Centro, I could easily tell that I would not have time to get to Dortmund (to check on a possible relocation) and Siegen before meeting Sebastian in Montabaur, and I decided to speed things up and take a bus back to the station. Despite this, the ICE I had pegged to Montabaur was cancelled, so I had to take the next one, which was delayed, and it would not arrive at my transfer station, Frankfurt Flughafen, until AFTER the train to Montabaur was scheduled to depart. While trains between bigger cities often depart every 15 minutes, if not more frequently, the next train to Montabaur would be an hour later, and that would make me late to meet Sebastian before he needed to head to his night shift. Of course, if one train is delayed, another train can be delayed too, and even though we arrived at Frankfurt at 15:30, the other train was delayed to 15:33, and I was able to make it!!!

Another mini Starbucking conference with Sebastian, making it around half a dozen times we had met, and nearly as many countries: Germany, Hungary, the United States, and Panama.

Thanks to my making that earlier train to Montabaur, I was able to complete my day's phote calls and still have time to hop onto a train to Wiesbaden after Sebastian went to work. Wiesbaden turned out to be a duplicate, though, because I had thought that Lili was a relocation of the old Lilien Carre store, but it was just a remodeling (along with the entire shopping centre) and expansion, and unlike the case of the replaced kiosk, this does not count as a new store for me. Still, I got fresh pictures, including a cool piece of artwork, and I did not really lose anything because I was going to overnight in Frankfurt anyway because of the great hostel prices.

NOW, if I had missed the two Starbucks at MyZeil in Frankfurt, either because of train delays or incorrect closing times on the app, THEN I would have been upset about the unnecessary detour to Wiesbaden, but since I made it to the centre with half an hour to spare, I was good. Light rain when I exited the mall to take the train back to the main station, then walk to my hostel, but the walk was short. So far I had not had to deal with heavy rain while walking during the first month of my trip, but I expected that could not last.

Tonight's hostel, 5Elements, was in a red light district of Frankfurt, and the email they sent after I booked warned guest of that and gave them the opportunity to cancel. When I approached, the street felt familiar, and I think this was the same street where an overly aggressive club employee kept trying to get me to come in for a drink, even as I told him I just wanted to sleep. He even put his arm around my shoulder, like we were buddies, and I had to be more forceful about begging off, as he protested "I'm just doing my job." Tonight I walked into the hostel undisturbed, but there was street noise through the night, and the Australian dormmate really wanted to keep at least one window open. In the wee hours though, when I noticed the Australian leaving at the same time as there was aggressive shouting on the street, I closed all the windows, but it was no use, I was not able to sleep any further.

September 20 (day 28)


Up just past 7:00, just in time to shower, pack up, and head down to breakfast at 7:30, then walk down to the Starbucks before meeting Renee for breakfast.

I consume bready carbs selectively, and I deprioritise pancakes, preferring to wait until I can be assured of an exquisite pancake experience, or a special occasions. Reconnecting with Renee after a decade fit the bill, and we enjoyed delicious American-style pancakes from LOTS Brunch club, topped with banana, kiwi, passion fruit (or star fruit perhaps), peach, red berries, blueberry, with some type of Dutch syrup on the side (different from traditional American maple syrup).

Renee walked me to the station and immediately noticed, before I had even had a chance to orient myself, that there was a problem with the train to Oberhausen that forced passengers onto a bus instead. We walked over to the bus terminal and said our goodbyes, and then I went over to bay H to wait for the bus. When it showed up, however, I saw no indication that it would be going to Oberhausen, so I let it go and began planning an alternative. I decided to take a train to Aachen instead, even though it was 3 1/2 hours and would require a suboptimal route. I then popped into Albert Heijn for some yoghurt, but I passed on the fruit because I refuse to pay 1 euro for a banana or an apple. I then changed my mind again and decided to try for the bus--I spoke to a different agent who explained that the bus going to Duisburg was indeed the one I needed to be on. I then asked about toilets, and he said there were none, so I had no choice but to pay 50 euro to use the loo in the station. Back at bay H, I asked a couple of passengers about wifi on the bus, and they did not seem to think that the bus would have it. I then decided that I did not want to waste 2 1/2 hours unable to charge or get online to work, so I changed my plans and and went back to the train area to catch that train to Aachen after all.

Unfortunately, neither the train to my first transfer point, Utrecht, nor the train to Heerlen, had outlets, but at least the wifi was... functional (barely), and they had toilets.

Tried to get in and out of Aachen as quickly as possible, but I still lost some time. First during a detour to someplace called Ucambio, in the hopes that it was an independent currency exchange bureau which, in my experince, give better rates than big chains, but it turned out to be a Western Union front, and the rate was lousy. I was almost out of euro, so I finally had to detour to a Deutche Bank ATM, because they have an agreement with Bank of America to waive the ATM fee (still a 3% international fee, though). Then, once inside the Aquis mall, I wasted a good 5-10 minutes finding the loo, only to discover that it was one of this shitty pay toilets. Then I wandered around a bit before finding the Starbucks, which was outside (and yet had no loo).

By the time I got on my way to Monchengladbach, I had missed the train and had to wait another thirty minutes, but I used the time to find some reasonably-priced pork fried rice.

I did much better at getting in and out of the Minto store in Monchengladbach, but when I got to the station in time for the train to Dusseldorf, IT WAS CANCELED!!! AARRGHH!!! Getting to Oberhauses, even from that direction, was still going to require a bus (I would have assumed only the line from Arnhem was the problem), which introduced uncertainty, so I made a snap decision to head to Cologne. I expected to overnight there and then take an early train back to those northern cities (Dusseldorf, Wuppertal, and Oberhausen), but THERE WERE NO HOSTELS AND ALL THE HOTELS WERE $200+!!!

This was a serious budgetary problem, and as soon as I finished with the Starbucks I would need to find reasonable accommodation in another city and travel there. Oberhausen was an option, with many hotels around 60€, but the Starbucks would not open until 9:00 AM. I finally decided on Dusseldorf for 70€, in close proximity to the new Starbucks. During this trip, time has a cost.

Arrived in Cologne to see a political rally in the plaza outside of the Cathedralo, over a dozen police units, and police guarding the speakers. I figured this was normal and not the reason for the dearth of accommodations. As I walked to the Starbucks, I was reminded of how vibrant the city was, and I regretted that I wasn't overnighting.

New addition to my process. Because so many of the shopping centres I have encountered in The Netherlands and Germany impose a cost to use the loo, I must now remember to use the loo when my train is nearing my stop, lest the Starbucks not have one. If I forget, then I have to hold it until I get back onto a train because, as I said before, I loathe paying for this most basic of human rights. Technically I am paying for it even when it is free, but I want the price to be rolled into the costs associated with the shopping centre, station, etc.

TM Hotel Dusseldorf was hard to find, just one narrow door tucked in between two eateries, no sign, but the place was cute. At first I was concerned about the street noise, but I slept quite well throughout the night (even though every time I woke, there were voices outside), and I felt rested in the morning.

September 19


Up early once again, as I had hoped, to make up for only having traveled as far as Rotterdam the day before. Making my way to Arnhem by evening looked entirely feasible, so I first headed to that "New York" area of Rotterdame on the way to Espressohouse Kopi Soesoe, which was cute, the second-best coffeehouse design I had seen during the trip. Coffee, an Indonesian from Rum Baba, was also excellent.

Took the tram back to Rotterdam Centraal, and this time there was no ticket machine on the tram. I asked a passenger, and she explained that I just needed to tap with my card when I arrived, then when I left. The machine went green both times, but it did not indicate how much I had been charged. Nor could I see how I would prove that I had paid if an agent inquired.

At the Tilburg store (and the first Einhoven after that), the price for a short filter was once again 1.85€, what I had paid in Groningen and Amersfoort. Still not sure why I was paying a full euro more in Amsterdam, and maybe that much more in The Hague and Rotterdam.

Back on the train quickly, and soon in Einhoven, where I was thrilled to spot my first non-Mexican, reasonably-priced Latin American food, a Venezuelan truck hawking arepas. I had stumbled across and Argentinian steakhouse the night before, but the prices were prohitive. Delicious arepa with beef, white cheese, black beans, and plantain, but super messy. Because of this, I stood at a table rather than eating on the go, and this turned out to be a plus because I had a good discussion with an Honduran kid studying physical therapy in Eindhoven. These random interactions with people from all over the world are a welcome part of my foreign travels.

Finally found a haircut, and for only 17€ (tipping is not a think in The Netherlands, according to my googling). When I passed my first barber with a price of 32€, I had winced and thought I'd need to wait til Germany or even further (a country where the economy was not as strong). I was just about at the month mark, and getting raggedy, so I was quite relieved when saw the cheaper price.

Had my second super-awkward interaction at the Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht. First I was able to use my stamp card (nine stamps = free drink) for a latte, and then I asked about a toilet at the other store (which I had already visited), as this one, in a mall, did not have one, and the mall toilets charged 0.90€! Then I asked about a Starbucks that had been on my map when I came (Hof van Bern, but I could not remember) but no longer appeared on the app. At this point the barista went over to talk to her supervisor, and they spoke in hushed tones before the supervisor, Svetlana, came over and asked for my email or website. At first I thought she knew who I was because some barista who had heard about my travels contact them, but then her tone shifted and she asked why I was asking this question. She had suspicion in her tone, like that barista at the Westfield Stratford kiosk in London, and she went on to say that if I went to other Starbucks, baristas would not be able to answer an questions. This was, of course, ridiculous, because I'd already been to 160 Starbucks during my trip, and nearly every barista who was not too busy, or simply didn't know, had been cooperative with info about openings, closings, the artwork, new stores in area, etc. I walked away wondering if Svetlana was speaking out of her own initiative, or from instructions she had gotten from her manager, district manager, or new partner Alsea themselves.

Oh, and Hof van Bern was indeed permanently closed, another Dutch store I missed. I realised then that this was the second store that a barista at Rokin must have been talking about, that had closed but I could not identify. I thought she meant in Amsterdam, but she was thinking of this Utrecht store. HOWEVER, I ended up picking up a surprise store, one that had opened in late January or early February, AFTER I had created my map. I had been checking my database for such stores, in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Germany, but I had forgotten to check for The Netherlands. I had to make sure that it was Alsea, and the partner, who had been hired the previous week, was not sure, but since the manager was the same, I was pretty sure, and also I compared my receipt from Tilburg with a receipt from that store, and they were the same. For stores that are licensed to other companies, I have always seen that the receipts are different. Also, if they are run by SSP, the partners seem to know that they work for SSP.

Arrived in Arnhem and discovered the greatest discrepancy in store hours of my journey so far. The Starbucks app said that the store closed at 19:30, but they actually closed at 17:00, so I did not make it in time. Ordinarily this would have been a big deal, because I would have planned to get back on a train to Germany, but this time I had plans for breakfast with a friend, so I would be overnighting in Arnhem anyway.

Arepa, plus an apple later, were not nearly enough, and many of the restaurants were closing, so I went to a Chinese spot, Noodle Works, and spent nearly $20, too much. While my food budget was not yet out of control, and I knew from experience that prices would drop once I exited the expensive part of Europe, I still winced a little.

Only one hostel left in Arnem, a good 30 minute walk from the city centre, in a wooded area. Different from the other eight that I had stayed in--refreshing, actually. What was not refreshing was the other occupant. It was just he and I in a four-bed dorm, and he was a rather odd middle-aged stoner (based on how many times he went out to smoke) with an array of snacks and smokables lined up in front of his bed. I got a "don't leave your things unattended" vibe, and I was glad that with the top bunk unoccupied, I was able to take that duvet and use it to create a curtain for myself.

September 18


I still felt weird in the morning, possibly a lingering effect from the night before. I immediately downed the coffee I had saved from the Rokin Starbucks to stave off the caffeine-related portion of the headache, but the pain persisted for a while.

Starbucks was complete in Amsterdam, but I wanted to make some headway in my craft coffee pursuits, so I looked up some blogs and chose Bocca Coffe because of proximity to the Rokin Starbucks, which I wanted to reshoot without all the people in front. On the way I passed a bakery and I walked away with a delicious Liege waffle which went great with the juice I had leftover from the previous afternoon. A few blocks down the road I passed the Flowermarket Starbucks and decided to rephotograph. I set my waffle and juice down on some steps, and while I was shooting from the other side of the store, a saniation engineer grabbed my food and tossed it onto the ground with the other refuse!!!

Before I could stop myself, I shouted "hey that's my breakfast" at him, but he just shrugged and walked away, no apology. I thought about it for only half a second and quickly picked up the bottle and downed the remainder of the juice, and then I looked at that waffle and thought "how bad could it be?"

Bocca was the blandest of the three indie coffees I had that morning, BUT the space was large, and I was able to plug in and get online, which was a bonus. The next shop, Uncommon, suggested by a barista, had better coffee, but the space was small and prohibited laptops. The final shop, nearly a thirty-minute walk northwest, Friedhats FUKU Cafe, offered the most delicious coffee, and beautiful decor, and a few outlets, BUT no wifi. That was fine, because I spent most my time there chatting with the baristas about the coffee and the amazing cartoon-themed artwork, and I needed to get on the train to The Hague anyway.

From Friedhats I did not need to return to Amsterdam Centraal, but rather continue west to the Sloterdijk station where I caught a train to The Hague, and then I had to figure out how to take the tram to the Mall of the Netherlands. I think I screwed that up. I had asked a passerby, and he said to tap my card, so upon boarding I tapped my credit card, and th emachine turned green. I wasn't sure what to do next, and the passenger I asked was not sure either, so she pointed me to a ticket machine. I bought a 2-hour ticket for 4.50£, but since I had also tapped my card, I'm guessing that I will be charged twice.

Didn't spend too much time at the mall because a fan wanted to meet me in Rotterdam. Lost some time figuring out the Google Maps directions to Rotterdam, which did not have me taking the tram back toe Den Haag Centraal, but rather to get of at a stop where I had to take a train to Centraal. Unfortunately, when I reached the station, I had to use a barcode to exit, and my barcode did not work (because my Eurail pass was not valid on that line), so I had to follow someone out and hope that nobody noticed.

At the Forum Starbucks in Rotterdam I had a great conversation with a fan who had seen the VICE video and was eager to talk about the artistic nature of Starbucking, as well as my thoughts about purpose. To me, these are much more interesting questions than the basic "aren't all Starbucks the same" types of questions.

Joran suggested I checked out a part of the city called the "New York of Rotterdam" because of the way it was rebuilt after the WWII bombings, and that area was close to one of the craft coffeehouses, I set off in that direction. I needed to eat, though, I stopped for ramen at Ajisan, and by the time I finished it had started to rain. I wouldn't be able to enjoy any views, and I did not want to walk 15 minutes in the rain, so I went ahead and took the metro to Alexandrium where I called my mother for her birthday.

Things you don't see every day--a middle-aged man in a motorised wheelchair speeding across the hallway in front of the Alexandrium Starbucks, while an older woman trotted after him, unable to keep up, while she radioed for help. A minute later, a guard jogged past, also speaking into his radio.

Nearly a month since my last haircut in Panama, and I was looking round for a barber while away from the city centre, hoping for a halfway-decent price, but they were all closed in that part of Rotterdam.

The rain had stopped, and from Alexandrium it was an easy metro ride then walk to my hostel, Hostel ROOM Rotterdam, and after setting some things down to claim a bottom bunk, and went down to the common area to make phone calls and work on paperwork. I had planned for the ramen to be my last meal, but around 19:00 I was overwhelmed by hunger, so much so that I was starting to become dizzy, and I gave in and popped over to a cafe on the next blocked that served some delicious frites topped with smoked beef and light barbecue sauce. I could have done without the extras, like peppers and some other veggie.

Eighth night in a hostel, and this was the first time during which I actually chatted with some of my dormmates. On most occasions, everyone had been in bed, or not chatty, and the only other time that I met friendly dormmates, they were on their way out the door.

One unusual thing about Hostel ROOM Rotterdam, they do not use keycards but instead an app called Goki that opens the door using bluetooth. The downside of this is that I had to turn on my phone every time I went to the bathroom during the night, but I got used to it. In case you are wondering, there IS a code that can be entered if the phone runs out of power (or is left in the room), and I had to use it in the morning (fortunately I had my backpack and iPod) when I thought I had left my phone on the bed.

Turns out the phone wasn't on the bed, and I felt the greatest sense of panic of my trip to that point because I didn't know where it was, and a cardinal rule of my journey is to ALWAYS KNOW WHERE MY PHONE IS. Turned out I had set it on a shelf in the toilet and somehow did not see it, even though it was right behind me.

September 17


I had showered the night before, in anticipation of rushing to the station as soon as I woke up, and this plan worked out marvelously. I was out of the hostel within 10 minutes and soon at the station with enough time to pick up a Danish-ish pastry for breakfast, and then a waffle because why not, and also some lousy overpriced coffee from the bakery. That coffee was the first non-Starbucks, non-craft coffee that I had paid for, and while I was loathe to do so, the next 4-5 hours on trains plus a bus would not be fun without coffee.

As I expected, the bus that I had to take from Leer to Weener would not accept my Eurail pass (even though the bus ticket had DB on it). It is possible that the drive was mistaken, but that is not the type of situation in which it makes sense to get into an argument, especially not for €4.50. I struggled a bit to make sure that I was at the correct place to take the correct bus, but several people were willing, even eager, to help me.

I was shocked and relieved when I arrived at the Starbucks in Groningen, the furthest out I have seen in The Netherlands, to discover that the coffee cost me about half what I was paying in Denmark. The short filter size was on offer, and with the cup discount the price was just €1.85, less than in the United States even.

While on the train I had coordinated future plans with a friend and made plans to meet my cousins, on their final day in Europe after their time in Denmark, at a bar in Amsterdam for dinner. To improve my chances of not being late, I rushed through my Groningen visit so I could make the 12:49 train towards Amersfoort, and I made it with a minute to spare even after stopping to buy an apple (since I did not have time for a meal). One thing that slowed me down is that since my first train leg that morning, I had not had any electrical outlets on the subsequent trains, and my batteries were getting low. That meant I had to spend a little time plugging in before ordering, then taking care to pay close attention to avoid theft, which would be a serious problem.

In Amersfoort I encountered something new, a gate to exit the train station, the first such barrier I had seen outside of the London, to the best of my recollection. Took me a while to get help to figure out what I needed to do, which was to scan a QR code on the back of the envelope that held the rail pass. I continued to see this in other Dutch cities, and one noticeable effect is that there were fewer, or no, seemingly indigent individuals within the boundaries of the station.

After visiting the Starbucks I HAD to eat something, preferrably light, and I was thrilled to finally find a fried dough treat, my first since leaving Panama (hojaldres). These treats were called poffertjes, and while Wikipedia likens them to mini pancakes, the ones I had were quite different, but delicious.

Missing the 15:40 to Amsterdam Centraal, but that was okay because I had time to spare, and the next one put me in the city with more than enough time to visit the Starbucks and check into my hostel before meeting my cousins.

We met at Soju Cafe for Korean chicken, as an added bonus, I got to reconnect with a former Scrabbler, Brian, who just happened to be Amsterdam with a companion. Had not seen him since at least the late aughts, when he dropped out of the scene. Chicken was good, and then we walked around and eventually found ourselves at a coffeehouse, where I took the opportunity of being with my cousins, who could help me if the effect went wrong, to try something stronger than what I had tried in 2011, my last coffeehouse experience. I barely felt that one, but this one really hit me, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to walk with them back to their hotel to give the effect time to fade. Still, even 30 minutes later, by the time I returned to the hostel and prepared for bed, I was still feeling the effect, and throughout the night.

September 16


I woke up shortly after 7 in no particular hurry because I wanted to take full advantage of the free breakfast, which I was told began at 8. As it turned out, on Saturday they began at 7:30, so I could have gotten to the station 30 minutes earlier and possibly caught an earlier train out to Aarhus. Oh, well--breakfast was excellent, better than your average American motel/cheap hotel fare, and I as much as I could fit into my stomach to better prepare for the multi-hour trip to Kiel.

At the station I hoped to get help from an agent to purchase a ticket from Denmark into Germany, but the customer service office was not yet open, so I had to use the machine, which seemed to limit me to Denmark. I had also wanted to find out if I could pay partly in cash, to use up all my Danish currency, and the rest with a credit card, but the machine did not allow that. I expected the DSB office in Aarhus to be open by the time I arrived, and, coincidentally enough, a ticket there was 204 DKK, just two krone more than what I had left. If I used a credit card, I'd have to try and spend the currency on groceries (and possibly lunch) and carry them around with me, but I lucked out and found a person who was willing to just give me two krone. I've often said that Starbucking is about the journey, not the destination, and part of the fun of the journey is figuring things out, both the big puzzles and the little ones like today's.

In Aarhus, the agent was easily able to find me an itinerary to Kiel, and the total cost of the trip, from Aalborg, was about $120, about what it would have cost to simply fly from AAL to CPH, where I'd have to take another flight. Not sure why I had been so fixated on flying out from Aalborg, and on thinking that I'd lose too much time on a train. In fact, as I write this, I have lost no time at all, as I've been working away on various tasks. Of course, as I write this, I am trying to make a mental note to not make the same mistake when it comes to trains and buses. Sometimes a bus will get me there almost as quickly as a train, and for much less.

Aarhus to Kiel would require three changes--Fredericia, Flensburg, and Neumunster. On the first leg, I chanced a seat that was reserved further down the line, and as a result from Vejle to Fredericia I had to stand, but only for 20-25 minutes. First stop in Germany, Flensburg / Flensbourgh, and I saw something I'd seen in the past, but not on this trip. Polizei were waiting, and they identified two scruffy-looking young men and asked for their passports. No idea if train staff had called the police, perhaps because the men lacked tickets, or if it was a random check, or something else.

I had gotten so used to fast wifi on the Danish trains that I was caught off guard when the DB wifi on my train was slow, just when I had decided to continue researching a EuRail pass. Eventually I gave up and had to wait until the next train, from Neumunster to Kiel, to figure out that I had plenty of options if I traveled down to Hamburg. This was good, because on my first day back in Germany I ran into the limited-hours issue, with the next store I hoped to visit after Kiel, in Stuhr, outside of Bremen. That store would close at 18:30 according to the Starbucks app, but 18:00 according to Sebastian, so there was no way to get there on Saturday evening. For some reason it was closed on Sunday, so I'd have to skip it. Other Germans stores in that general area did not seem to make sense, so I decided to head straight to Gronigen in the morning.

With no pressure to leave once I got to Kiel, I took time to try and figure out how to register a German Starbucks card so I could earn and redeem rewards, but the website kept erroring out, both during the sign-up process and then when I tried to log in. After thirty minutes I decided it wasn't worth it, and I just wrapped up my first German Starbucks visit since 2015 (and my first AmRest German Starbucks visit) and headed back to the station to try and buy a Eurail pass. I was told I needed to buy it at the Hamburg Reisezentrum, but that was fine because I was overnighting there anyway.

Drama at the Reisezentrum in Hamburg when a man started yelling at an agent before banging on the counter and walking away, only to be met by four police officers.

September 15


Woke up to discover that I had finally, after four days in Panama and three weeks in Europe, lost my razor. Hanging onto it while I was urban camping was easy because I'd stick it back in my backpack after shaving in a washroom, but at a hostel I would make the mistake of setting it down somewhere, since my backpack was on my bed.

The train to Kolding was a DB train to Hamburg, and it felt good to finally be back on DB, and a preview of what was to come once I got down into Germany. Of course, DB is not all great, and none of the electrical outlets that were free seemed to work. Since the trip would only been 36 minutes, I just gave up and relied on battery.

During the trip to Kolding I checked my Capital One statement to enter the actual spent amounts (after currency conversion), and I was shocked that what had been charged seemed much higher than what I expected. Turns out that I had accidentally googled up the SWEDISH exchange rate, 1 SEK = 0.09 USD, while 1 DKK = 0.14 USD, significantly more! All of a sudden I realised that I had spent MUCH MORE during my time in Copenhagen than I thought, and my trip across Denmark was going to be quite expensive. In fact a solo espresso was just under $4, and a tall filter was around $4.50, making Denmark the most expensive Starbucks city that I could think of. I was quite glad that there are only 14 stores for me to visit.

Upon arriving in Kolding, I walked over to the bus station and pulled up the DOT app to see if I could purchase a ticket, but I could not figure it out. The stops indicated on Google Maps were not found in the app, nor anything that made sense. I finally asked a group if anybody knew how to use the app, and the only person who responded told me that I should use the Sydtrafik app. Well, as much as I love having T-Mobile roaming coverage while abroad, it is still pretty darn slow, and apps take a long time to download. With no guarantee that I'd even get to work, it made more sense to hoof it. I managed the walk to Kolding Storcenter much faster than the 51 minutes that Google predicted, and I figure I actually arrived faster than I would have if I had waited for the 9:57 bus (if I had succeeded in purchasing a ticket).

Replaced my razor at Bilka and picked up some groceries, BUT NOT orange juice because given the true exchange rate, those prices were unaffordable. I don't care what my income is or how much I saved--I'm not paying that much for unknown quality juice, at least not when I expect to be in a less expensive place soon enough.

At the Starbucks I tried to figure out the Sydtrafik app, but every time I added my card for payment, then entered the confirmation code from Capital One, the screen would stay where it was--no option to move forward. I tried twice and then gave up and decided to suck up the ATM fees to get 400 DKK, which I estimated I would need for buses for the remainder of the day, with any extra spent at Starbucks and on food.

With cash in hand, I was able to take the 103 bus, which was the only option that Google Maps gave from the Kolding Storcenter up to Vejle. Vejle was easy, simply walk to the Starbucks and back, and then a quick train up to Aarhus, where the two Starbucks were also within walking distance. I took a brief detour up to the SkyWalk / Roof Garden at the top of the Salling department store (where the Starbucks was), because as I've written before (and in my book), I love views from tall structures. Did not dawdle too long, though, because I still held out hope that I might fly out from Aalborg that night.

That hope quickly faded when I returned to the Aarhus station, and my schedule fell apart. First, the originally scheduled departure for Aalborg was delayed by around 30 minutes. I used the time to go into the mall and get a burger, and then I returned to to station and found the correct platform with about 10 minutes to spare. Once a train arrived, I boarded and continued eating, but as I looked around I realised that the train was headed to Copenhagen, the opposite direction!

Not sure how I missed it, but my train had been on the same track, but further down, and I had missed it. Fortunately the next train was scheduled for less than thirty minutes later, but that time kept getting pushed back until around 16:10. I was relieved when I finally boarded, and it seemed almost guaranteed that I would be able to visit both Starbucks, because one closed at 19:00 and the other at 20:00. As we neared Aalborg, shortly before 18:00, I deviated from the Google Maps directions, which had me taking the train to the Aalborg station, then a bus down to Skalborg. Upon seeing that we were approaching Skalborg, I quickly calculated walking directions, and upon seeing they were only about 20 minutes, it made more sense to get off and walk.

Upon arriving at the Skalborg store, with nearly two hours to go before the other store closed, a little voice inside my head told me to chat with the baristas about the closing times, and one said that the other store closed at 19:00! I showed her my American app, which showed 20:00, and I explained that Google was often incorrect, BUT I still felt that it made no sense to risk it. A bus to the city centre was only about 20 minutes, so I hurriedly finished up at the store and rushed to the bus stop. Good thing, because the city centre store did in fact close at 19:00, and I arrived with barely ten minutes to spare.

When I learned that Aalborg had the second-largest airport in Denmark, I assumed that it was also the second biggest city and would of course have plenty of hostels, but I was mistaken. Not sure if any hostels do exist, but none showed up on HostelWorld or Booking. I could have searched outside of those sites, but after bad experiences with low-rating, or unrated places, and bedbugs, I thought it wiser to just take a $75 room in the city centre. Because of proximity, I'd save time and possibly leave the city earlier in the morning, and they also offered breakfast--I figure that was worth $15 if I ate a lot.

As an added bonus for my money, Hotel Jomfru Ane happened to be situated on Aalborgs principal street for night life, and I enjoyed walking up and down and taking in the vibe, which had a tiny hint of the types of busy streets I see in Asia.

After some wandering, I returned to my room to make plans for the next day. After a good half hour of searching, it appeared that either I would need to take a 7:00 AM flight, which I hate, or I would lose most of the day AND pay hundreds. I had assumed that I would lose most of the day if I took the train back across Denmark, but I searched anyway and discovered that I could be in Kiel by mid-afternoon, in time to visit the new Starbucks, and for MUCH less money.

September 14


Final morning in Copenhagen, and I was torn between rushing out of the city or visiting a number of craft coffeehouses and getting some breakfast to see if my cousins would end up returning to the city early enough so I did not blow my chance to get to Aarhus in time to check into a hostel. Remaining area Starbucks, Radhuspladsen, did not even open til 7:30, so I could not leave the city too early. April, a roaster I recognise, would not open until 10:00, so I headed over to Darcy's Cafe, a multi-roaster with a number of options new to me. I went with a Colombian coffee from Standout, and while it was not as good as the three I'd enjoyed on Wednesday, I was still four-for-four on Copenhagen coffee.

By the time I finished my coffee, the time was not that far away from 10:00 AM, and I had a craving for a proper breakfast with fried egg. The place across the street had egg on the menu, but they were soft-boiled. I then clicked on spot after spot in Google Maps looking for menus in English, but most were in Danish, so I decided to just walk from place to place to ask for English menus. I finally found what I wanted, a delicious brunch from Wulff & Konstali, fried egg, pan au chocolate, bacon, skyr, and smoothie bowl. Pricey, though, at $13.40. Since my cousin (and godmother) had insisted on picking up my lunch the previous day, however, I didn't feel so bad about spending a little extra.

Next up, April, a delightful space and excellent Kenyan coffee, and then I headed over to The Artisan for a final get-together with my cousins. Peruvian coffee this time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it but still only took half the amount, because I was already wired, and instead gave the rest to a cousin. I hung out with them until nearly 13:00, and by that point I had to get going and take the train down to Hundige to begin the a phase of Starbucking that is a bit of a grind, hopping off the train in a town, rushing to the Starbucks, then rushing back to the station to head to the next town. I could not find a rail pass just for Denmark, and a cousin confirmed that DSB does not offer one, which meant buying a ticket for each destination. Hundige was about $3, and Naestved about $7, so for those first two stores it seemed like my overall Denmark trip might end up being reasonable in cost.

Didn't take long, just the next station, for me to run into one of the delays that make Starbucking by train unpredictable. Those times shown to get to Odense, Kolding, Vejle, and Aarhus were meaningless because every change of train could cost me time. To get to Naestved from Hundige, I had to change at Koge, and that meant, at minumum, a 30-minute wait. But the train was delayed, and the wait turned into an hour.

Unsure of how long it would be before I reached Naestved, I did something I loathe, I paid to use the washroom at the station. Actually, to be honest, I might have tried to hold it, but the loo actually took a credit card, 5 kr, and I figured I might as well use a card for washroom access once in my life. Unfortunately, I got the order of operations wrong. I should have gotten lunch first (hot dog and chips at Xpress Kebab across the street) so that I could brush my teeth in the loo. Just another sign pointing to the sad reality that I am not actually a genius, nor an artificial intelligence. Later, at another station, I paid to use the restroom again, because the trip to Odense would take an hour, but when I entered I discovered that a man was using it BUT HAD NOT LOCKED THE DOOR. Then the train arrived, so I wasted the 5 kr, AND THEN I discovered that the IC trains have toilets, so I need not have paid at all. Grr...

That delay at Koge proved quite costly, because by the time I got to Naestved, visited the Starbucks, then looked up the time to Odense, I was going to be cutting it close. Then I realised that the instructions had me taking a LOCAL BUS to the main station, and I had forgotten to get any cash, after my cousin said during dinner that he did not carry any. I guess I was assuming I could make all the Starbucks visits without buses, but that was dumb.

Going back into the mall to try and find a currency exchange bureau, or take the $5+ hit from an ATM, would blow my schedule, but an older lady overheard me asking another lady if I could buy a bus ticket with a card, and after a few minutes she just went ahead and gave me 25 kr for the ticket, while the other one was also trying to help and looked up the DOT app that I could use. After all that, it appeared that I was going to miss the Starbucks anyway, by minutes!!!

Even so, as soon as I reached the Odense station I made double time (literally--I can usually cover a distance in half the walking time estimated by Google if I'm jogging, and faster in an all-out sprint), and I arrived at 19:06, but that was too late--the doors were shut. Fortunately, unlike Starbucks in the United States and Canada, the stores I have visited in the UK, Ireland, and now Denmark all keep their wifi accessible after the store have closed, and that made it easier to hop on Booking (nothing on HostelWorld) and reserve a room for the night. For the sake of time, I chose a more expensive room closer to the city centre--it was worth paying an extra $30 to avoid walking two hours (or figuring out the bus situation and paying for tickets).

The night's schedule failure was one of the consistent issues with Starbucking across a country (or Europe), by train--I always ran the risk of ending up in a town with no hostels and thus paying more for accommodations. On the other hand, I slept quite well and felt fully caught up by morning.

September 13 (day 21)


Slept a good ten hours, finally, and my headache was gone--once I got some coffee I figured I'd be good again. First task was to do laundry, however, because it had been nearly three weeks in Europe plus four days in Panama. Hostel had a laundry room, with relatively easy to use machines that accept credit, my first such experience. A little pricey, around $10, which is what I expected, but necessary. Alas, I made a common laundry mistake for me, forgetting items, in this case my long-sleeved shirt, and my black undershirt. Fortunately, I have not worn either that much because the weather has been warm, mostly just on flights.

First stop of the morning was the Frederiksberg Centret Starbucks, the other one not in the Cophengagen city centre, and I decided to try something local for food, skyr. My experiences with skyr in the United States had been negative (I was once kidnapped by an elemental monster named Skyr), but this one I had today was quite good, quite yoghurty with great berry flavour and nuts.

With only three more Starbucks, in the city centre, to go, I was able to follow my intended coffee tour plan of visiting indie cafes earlier, before coffee overload had killed my tastebuds. Cophenhagen/Denmark best coffee blogs and articles were multifold, so I went with a name I recognised, Coffee Collective. I happened to choose the roastery location, and the barista I spoke to was super friend as I explained that I only rarely saw European roasters in the United States but recognised Coffee Collective and wanted to try. The Ethiopia Worka, batch-brew, was great, and the barista was happy to offer recommendations.

One of his recommends was not coffee, but Juno the Bakery, and since I had time I figured why not. Great choice, because whatever I had, a vaniljesnurrer, was DELICIOUS. The place was packed, with a line out the door, and from some googling it appears that Juno is a popular spot.

From Juno I walked a few minutes to Prolog, where I had another excellent coffee, a Kenyan Githembe, and another good chat with a friendly Venezuelan barista who gave me some recommendations for Barcelona, where he had lived for a while.

Quick stop at the first on-the-street Starbucks I'd seen in Denmark, on Frederiksborggade, and then I headed towards Kongens Nytorv to meet my cousins and walk around the Nyhavn area with its beautiful coloured houses. I was famished, but I was also experienced enough to suggest getting off of the main thoroughfare next to the canal, and on a side street we found a pizzeria/kebab shop with reasonable prices. No washroom, which we needed, BUT Copenhagen has public toilets, another way in which this place beats many cities in the United States.

Checked out La Cabra, another roaster I recognised from select shops in America (and also from my visit to Prufrock a few days earlier). This shop shared space with Another Aspect, a clothing store, and did not have proper seating, so I could not hang out too long before departing for Starbucks where I could plug in.

Headed to Fisketorvet next because it was further out, with the expectation of finishing up at Radhuspladsen then meeting family in the city centre for dinner, but they changed the plan and decided to dine at Fields. Not a problem, because I could easily pick off Radhuspladsen in the morning without losing any time, on the way to Hundige and beyond.

Turned out that a public transport trip from Fisketorvet to Fields was not direct and went back towards the city centre, where I would likely deal with delays outbound, so I opted to walk back across the river and catch a different line. Arrived late, and then I somehow missed the pasta menu (at Milano, an ITALIAN restaurant), so I ordered a veal plate, and it was pretty large--I struggled to finish long after all the others had completed their meals.

We all went down to the Bilka One Stop where I picked up some groceries for the next day, and then I returned to the hostel to post photos and do some work on my website. I had a lot of Starbucks phone calls to make, but it was almost 22:00, so I opted to put them off to the next day, despite the fact that time is critical if I want to get accurate dates.

September 12


My final half day in Ireland was, as expected, a mad dash. I woke up super early and headed over to the Naas Starbucks to see if I could pick up the wifi. It did not work from any of the parking spaces, but I continued my record-keeping anyway until I saw a partner come out just before 6:30. I asked if the lobby would be open, and he replied that it would only be drive-thru UNTIL 8:00!!!

If it had been seven, I would have waited, but I could not burn an extra hour. Moreover, I could not get my cup discount through the drive-thru, and I also ended up losing 20 or more minutes because I entered the M7 in the wrong direction. Not a great start to my Irish coffee blitz.

I made it through Ashleaf and Belgard, picked up a yoghurt from Dunnes Stores (my first time shopping there), then reshot The Square Tallaght, and then it was time to head into the city centre and deal with traffic and parking.

Took a chance at loading zone to reshoot Bishop's Square, and then I made my way into a parking garage next to the Stephen Green's shopping centre. Once I found the Starbucks, I sorted out the issue of another store with the same name (it had existed, down the block, but closed), and I was able to get some additional closure info from that manager.

I managed to hoof it to three additional new stores, Grafton St, Westmoreland St, and Crampton Quay, as well as reshoot Chatham Row and also find another partner who had good closure info. Towards the end of my sprint, I got a notification from SAS about a 15-minute delay, and I had never been so relieved for a flight delay in my life!

Sprinted back to the parking garage, found a place to dump my pillows and blankets for an unhoused person to find (hopefully), and then I rushed to the airport and lucked out with a petrol station right on the way into the terminal. Car rental return went smoothly, but then I had to haul ass to Terminal 1. No passport control on the way out, which was surprising, and helpful, and security went smoothly. Boarding had not started yet, so I had time to find the T1 Airside Starbucks and speak to the supervisor who confirmed that airport stores at DUB are operated by SSP, but they MIGHT be taken over by EE in the future, in which case they would count for me.

Boarding had not yet started when I arrived at the gate, and I would have had time to eat, but I was so far behind on paperwork, my devices running low on power, that I decided to rely on my banana, apple, and Soylent Squared (if necessary). Outlets at a desk near gate did not work, but I still had enough laptop battery to get some work done and also charge my phone some.

Flight was quick and smooth, but no food, not even crackers, so I was famished when I arrived at CPH. I held off on food, though, because I was meeting family at a nearby mall. Instead, I very quickly tried to find the Starbucks still listed on the app, to confirm it is not run by Salling, Starbucks's primary partner in Denmark. I could not find that store, though, and information said that it used to exist but had closed years earlier. Later a supervisor at the Starbucks in the mall would echo this, as would my support centre contact.

Purchasing a train ticket to the Bilka Fields Mall was as easy as I had read, and the trip was just two stops, as my cousin had indicated. This was one of the quickest trips from airport in a new country to first Starbucks outside of the airport, and I was finally able to feel some excitement at adding a new country to my Starbucking count.

Danish Starbucks notes: No short filter size. 5 krone discount for my own cup, making it 31 for tall filter, or 27 for espresso. They have a Starbucks card, but the partner did not know how to load it because customers rarely request it, so I just used my credit card directly. I had not bothered to obtain cash because Denmark is highly card-centric, and I'll only be here for a day and half.

Family arrived not long after I reached the Starbucks, and we went up to the food court so I could eat. I was surprised that I got a burger and fries for under $10--I thought Denmark, especially Copenhagen, would have been more expensive.

Trip to the hostel and check-in were easy, although I experienced momentary confusion when I could not get into room 37... because I had misread a "1" for a "7"! I finally got a bottom bunk, my first in five nights in hostels, but no outlets in or near my bed. I was low on power but not too worried because I had spare time, and as soon as I unloaded some things, I returned to the lobby to catch up on paperwork. I then received a message from a PhD student doing a thesis on Starbucks, and we had a good conversation about the company. By that time it was nearly 21:00, although only 20:00 in UK/Irish time, and yet I had a really bad headache and felt exhausted. I called it a night, and in the morning my headache was gone.

September 11


I woke up super early, well before the sun had risen, which meant I needed to kill some time before I rephotographed the three stores in the Cork city centre. Unfortunately, I killed TOO MUCH time because of the maddening one way system that made it nigh well impossible for me to turn around. I intended to get some petrol to kill a few minutes, but the process of getting back to that station (the only one I saw) cost me a good 10-15 minutes, and by the time I parked and walked over to Alberty Quay, the sun had long since risen. I reshoot Princes and Opera as quickly as possible then sat in traffic to a new store, Blackpool Cork. The next three area reshoots went smoothly, and from Cork I headed to nearby Ballincollig to see a really cool store in a former ammunition depot.

That's when the driving got rough. Rather than being able to enjoy the Irish countryside on the way to Tralee, the most remote store on my list, I instead had to deal with narrow roads often barely wide enough for two vehicles. On top of that it was raining, and I just knew that if a car came speeding towards me and I had to brake hard, my Volkswagen was going to skid. As such, I drove much slower that the speed limit, and a trip that Google pegged at 1:38 turned into two hours. The worst part was when I found myself behind a long lorry hauling logs. The road was not wide enough for me to pass, and I had to follow that lorry for miles hoping that he would stop and allow to me to pass whenever there was a wider portion (like a driveway). I probably waited 15-30 minutes for that opportunity, and I have never been so relieved.

Something unexpected along that route, a garda (police) checkpoint, in some random town (if even that big) between Ballincollig and Millstreet. Only one officer, and he just glanced in my windows and told me I was fine to go--did not ask for a licence or passport.

I experienced momentary dismay upon walking into the Tralee store and seeing that the wifi network was named "STARBUCKS-FREE-WIFI". At all of the corporate stores in the UK, the wifi was named "StarbucksWifi", and the Irish stores run by EE also had that same network. In the past, a differnet wifi networks indicates that the store is operated by some other entity, and I feared that I had driven two hours, then another hour plus back, for nothing. Fortunately the manager was in store, and he confirmed that this store was also operated under the EE umbrella.

The manager at Tralee was a wealth of information, and as a result I probably spent more time at the store than I should have. I should have sucked it up and eaten fast food to save time, but I just could not bring myself to do that, and I instead drove 5 minutes into town and spotted a deli that served me up some delicious pork loin with mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes. The cook was in disbelief that I did not want gravy ("everybody likes gravy", he said), but I held firm. I did, however, accept some complimentary beef stroganoff.

As per usual, all the little delays added up, and by the time I reached Shannon, I felt I was probably not going to get to a drive-thru near Dublin that night. I would have to clear Limerick super quickly, but I arrived during the rush hour and lost at least thirty minutes just finding the parking garage. Even forcing myself to do all three city centre stores in one hour was not enough, and it was also disappointing because Limerick is cool, and I would rather have spent the afternoon there.

By the time I left Limerick, the only thing I could hope to accomplish was to return to the Kildare Outlet store to confirm that it had not moved again, and take a fresh photo. I barely got there before the centre shut it's doors. While the Starbucks app said 20:00 closing, that was incorrect--they had shut at 19:00.

The app said that the Naas store would open at 6:30, and if so, it would make sense to wisit, so I went over there (just 15 minutes, in the direction I was headed anyway), but unfortunately hours were not posted on the door. I asked a customer who was waiting for his son to finish work, but he was not sure. I decided to chance it and found camping in town.

For only the second time in my British/Irish urban camping history, I had to move because someone had noticed me. I found a really great spot, quite, off the main road, but shortly before I bedded down, someone parked behind me and went into the house. I thought that was the end of it, but a few hours later, when I woke up to use the restroom, I noticed that the man was standing outside his door, smoking. There was no way for me to hop into the back seat without being noticed, and I had no idea if he would just ignore me or make trouble, so I had to defrost the windows (which took 5+ minutes) and then go find another suitable area. Fortunately, Naas was big enough that I found a good spot.

September 10


Sunday was one of those tedious Starbucking days during which I was trying to balance many factors. Because it was Sunday, I knew that stores would be closing early, and that kept the pressure on to keep moving forward. I wanted to pick off as many Dublin area stores as possible, but I also wanted to make sure I got down towards Cork before those stores shut. I also needed to reshoot many stores because those photos were lost. I also wanted to gather my usual open/close data, and in Ireland this was more of a challenge for two reasons. First, many of the "new" stores had opened six or seven years earlier, shortly after my last trip (or I had missed them), and that meant that partners were unlikely to remember a date. In fact, not a single barista/supervisor/manager knew their opening date, and none offered to look. Additionally, EE (Entertainment Enterprises) and/or Tanrat (later I'd be given the name of a third company) were not active on social media, nor did they seem to be eager to promote openings, because articles were often lacking. As if all that weren't enough, I still had my usual North American opening/closing info to gather, and the 15-or-so minutes I lost trying to confirm the opening of a new store in Lancaster, PA, while dealing with rude baristas, did not help.

Querying baristas at each store did yield useful data, though, and I eveen met one at Shelbourne Road (not a relocation after all) who knew of my website and was eager to help.

Some of the reshoots cost me a ridiculous amount of time, and I figure I lost at least two hours because of that, especially going down to Blackrock, where parking was tight, and Dun Laoghaire, where street parking was nonexistent, so I had to park in a nearby garage and walk to both of the area's Starbucks (the third had closed down). I took advantage of the opportunity to order some lunch, so that saved time, but then I spotted Twobean Specialty Coffee, serving the barn, and I of course had to order a pour over. It was good, but not as great as my past experiences with The Barn, and I did not appreciate the way that the owner(?) responded to my expression of enthusiasm about seeing that they were serving The Barn. Maybe my perspective is off, but I think that shop owners should appreciate when a customer is passionate about what they offer and echo that enthusiasm back.

The reshoots in Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire cost me so much time that by the time I got out to a new store, in Bray, I was concerned about reaching Cork that evening, but I still had to do my paperwork. The next store, at the Bridges in Arklow, was about an hour away, and as I approached and looked up directions to the next one, in Waterford, I realised I wasn't going to make it! In fact, I still had to rush in and out just to make it to Dungarvan just minutes before they closed. I will add that as I looked for the store, I asked a security guard and an employee where the Starbucks was, and they both said it was closed--important lesson not to trust what people say.

Dungarvan was it for the night, so I slowed down and got my usual Chinese takeaway next door, chicken and sweet corn soup + egg fried rice, and I sat down to book my hostel for Copenhagen. As soon as I did so, on, I got an email from the hostel, Sleep in Heaven, with a restriction I'd never dealt with before--NOBODY OVER 35 IN THE DORM!!! I had known in the back of my mind that some hostels had age restrictions, but I had forgotten, and now that I was 50+, I expected to have to deal with this. I had not bothered to check the rules, but at least I was able to cancel except for the website deposit. I then made sure to check the rules for the other options and booked a different one.

Drove the relatively short distance to Cork and found some parking with relative ease.

September 9


With my flight to Dublin booked for 18:10 out of LHR, this was my final day in London, and I wasted no time trying to sleep any more and was up well before 7 and on the way to the only remaining store open early, on Warren Street, but when I got there I discovered that the next logical store would not open until 8, so I had to wait. That next store was a gorgeous one in Camden, BUT because of a delay on the Northern Line, there was nobody at the store at 8. I took some photos then walked to the older Starbucks near the station to see if any partners had heard anything, and they told that about the Northern Line delay.

I wasn't sure how much time I was willing to kill to pick up that store, but at minumum I could get some breakfast from Pret-a-Manager and use their loo (Starbucks did not have one, like many in London), and when I walked back in the direction of the new store I saw that two partners were inside, setting it up. I still had to wait, 15-30 minutes, much better than if I had returned to more central London to visit those stores then back to Camden.

This new Camden store also did not have a loo, so I caved and had a croissant from Pret just to use their loo, and then I headed down to High Holborn 14, where the two partners were helpful in identifying opening dates and closed stores. At that point I remembered to check for craft coffee, and the London Coffee Festival map reminded me about Prufrock, which was just seven minutes away. Even though I like adding new craft coffeehouses to my list, Prufrock is just too darn good, and I had to head over, for my fifth visit, to see what coffees they were offering--I was not disappointed.

I did add one more indie to my list, Monmouth Coffee Company, conveniently located just a few doors down from the Monmouth Starbucks, and as I walked towards Marble Arch I got lucky again and stumbled across my London ramen experience, Kanada-Ya Ramen Bar, just minutes from opening.

Marble Arch was a spectacular Reserve store, and the supervisor was quite helpful with closure info. From there it made most sense to the Westfield at Shepherd's Bush, and there I made an interesting discovery. The first Starbucks I encountered was the older kiosk, except that it did not look familiar. Once I got up to the new store, the Reserve one, I looked up my photo of the old, and it looked quite different. After completing my visit of the new store, I went back downstairs and talked to some partners to try and sort things out. They were all relatively knew, and none of them remembered the old kiosk, but they agreed that it was different and appeared to have been moved. That was good enough for me--according to my rules if the kiosk is replaced and/or moved, then it should count as a new store, even though it will usually have the same ID and store number. Unfortunately, there are countless of these types of upgraded kiosks that I will never know about because Starbucks does not usually give them new IDs.

By the time I sorted out the kiosk issue, I was starting to become concerned about my trip to the airport (sometimes there are delays), but I still had to visit one more store, on Earls Court Road 203 , and also try to learn whether 185, just down the block, had ever existed. It had, so I added it to my missed stores table, and then I picked up a quick banana at Sainsbury's (no loose apples) and skirted over to the tube station that was conveniently on the Picadilly line already.

No delays to the airport, and I arrived well before 16:00 for an 18:10 flight, and that gave me time to investigate two things. First, even though I had checked in, I went to the Aer Lingus counter anyway to have my backpack weight. The reason I had gone with the more expensive Aer Lingus (about about £50 plus another ten for carry-on) was because I wasn't sure if my pack was under 10 kg and of the proper dimensions to meet Ryan Air's requirements. With Ryan Air, if you don't pay extra for carry-on in advance and they have to check at the airport, they charge £95!!!

Well, my pack was only 8.8 kg (and I could easily get that down by wearing my undershirt and shirt, and dumping the water/food), and the agent immediately said it would be fine for under the seat (my pack usually is). Of course I inquired about a refund for the £10, but there was no Aer Lingus customer service at the airport. I would have to make a call, and no way was I going to endure that hassle for just ten pounds.

Super fast flight to Dublin, which was great because the plane had no outlets (I expected more from Aer Lingus), but then I lost some time because the immigration agent was suspicious, due to my not having accommodations nor a flight out of Dublin. He was finally persuaded, and I was soon in my rental car, a Volkswagen Polo. Good thing was that the Bluetooth worked for my iPod, but the bad thing was once again figuring out another set of controls. The drive out of the airport was awkward at first, but within ten minutes, by the time I got to the Omni Starbucks, which I needed to rephotograph, I was already more comfortable. Wish I had not lost time at immigration or figuring out the car, though, because even 15 minutes earlier would have yielded a better photo.

Headed over to a Tesco Superstore for bedding, and then drove around looking for a suitable place to park. Sleep was rough in part because the rear seatbelt connectors were protruding into my back. I first used my small towel for padding, but later I had to end up using the duvet, too. Worse sleep than the wretched MG3.


Despite all the coffee I'd had later in the day, I did not wake up so much during the night, and I slept until just past 7--I needed it and felt no need to short myself even if that meant missing out on some Irish stores.

Sorted out the Clapham Junction situation and walked from PubLove to that store, and then back to check out the first Whole Foods that I remember seeing in the UK. This store was relatively small, with a main room that felt tiny, but two others that added to the space. I was surprised that fresh juice was only £3.49--I expected much higher. No hot bar, nor breakfast, so I picked up a yoghurt to go with the juice and continued on towards Battersea Power Station. Initially I was going to walk the whole way, but I made a snap decision to hop on a bus. In the past, I avoided buses because I did not know where they were going, but with specific directions on Google Maps, it was easier to save a few minutes, and worth the cost.

While at Clapham Junction I finally googled for best coffee, specifically for a map, and I stumbled across the London Coffee Festival website. Their map was great and identified a number of cafes in the areas where I would be traveling. The first was in the same direction I was already walking, BUT, like many cafes I will encounter in the UK, Europe, and throughout the world, they did not serve filter coffee.

Maps and blogs are useful, but as always, in a city as large and dense as London, I was likely to pass coffeehouses while walking around. The previous day I had stumbled across Curious Roo's, but they just happened to have run out of filter. Today I passed by District, serving Origin, a coffee I'd enjoyed in Birmingham. I popped in, and actually I was served Radical Roasters instead--not bad.

After the Nine Elms Starbucks I headed down to Coffee Studio 7Gr., moand the barista there was more than eager to chat about their coffee, Lot Zero from Italy. I liked the vibe of the place, larger than District and quieter, and I wished that I had more time in London so I could really take in all these coffeehouses. The Chemex-brewed natural Nicaraguan coffee was excellent, in the top third of the UK coffees on this trip so far.

As good as Google Maps transport direction are, sometimes it shows directions that do not appear optimal. From Coffee Studio it wanted me walk all the way up to Oval to catch the Northern Line, but I was able to use the Stockwell station instead and get back to Balham (to reshoot the store) with no issues.

I wasn't sure how easily I could get from Balham out to Streatham Hill, and I was expecting a hassle, a few transfers, but instead I lucked out and happened to be at a Southern Line train station. Different from the Tube, but my Oyster Card still worked. I was then able to use the Southern Line to get to Sydenham, and then the Overground to get to New Cross Gate, and at that point I was close enough to central London to use the regular Underground and walk.

Lost time due to a bagel craving, and also at the Shard Arcade store figuring out if it was actually new, and these delays almost cost me the opportunity to get to Fenchurch and Moorgate, two stores in a part of London known as The City, where businesses shut down early (because the offices have closed). Fortunately, I made it with a few minutes to spare, which was great because the managers/supervisors at both stores were able to help me figure out some closed stores.

With no more stores in the area still open, I called it a night and headed over to Mikkeller Brewpub to meet a Time Crisis/Starbucking fan who worked there and comped me a ginger beer, then gifted me a Mikkeller passport. Good thing I did not arrive later, because the place was starting to get slammed because of a rugby match. By the time I finished my drink and we took a selfie, the space was overwhelmingly crowded, and I was anxious to get out of there and head to the hostel.

After a day and a half of carrying my backpack whenever I was walking, I was truly appreciating the lighter laptop, lighter camera, and my choice to trim every ounce of weight I could, including packing just two spare shirts. I wondered if I could have trimmed more, like only packing one washcloth, or no small towel, but the truth is both of those had come in really handy during the two weeks in the car. Same for three extra briefs and socks, rather than just two.

Packing as light as possible was also important in helping me keep track of my things. My great fear was losing items, and in fact I had a recurring dream about losing my backpack.

After three nights in hostels, I experience my first weird moment when I woke up in the morning to discover that the young man whom I'm met the night before was sleeping with his briefs half off! No idea how that happened, but it appeared that one leg of the briefs was still on, but the other off. Hard to tell, actually, because I wasn't about to stare at him, but at a glance it was not obvious how that might have happened.

September 7


Final day in the rental car, and I stumbled across a shocking realisation. I drove down to the Hayward Heath Starbucks, which opened early, before the Sainsbury's, and although I wanted to make the best use of the car, my phone was close to empty, so I had to stay and charge it while catching up on my record-keeping. As I uploaded photo and generated webpages, I noticed that I had the new Haywards Heath and East Grinstead stores designated as "UnitedKingdom\West", but I did not have "West" in my Metroplexes table. Should have been "WestSussex", actually, and after I fixed the two stores, I ran a filter to see what other stores I had in WestSussex, and that's when my jaw dropped!

I ALREADY HAD THE HAYWARD HEATH and EAST GRINSTEAD SAINSBURY'S STARBUCKS IN MY DATABASE, and I immediately thought that this was another Taplow situation, but much more expensive because the detour south to those stores had cost me many hours that I could have used to go out to Wales. I immediately pulled my old photos, and that's when things got weird, because the photos I was looking at looked nothing like the Hayward Heath and East Grinstead Starbucks of today. If they had been relocated, that would be great--two more stores to my count. However, my contact at the Support Centre repored that they had only been relocated, so I was doubtful. What I needed was to find someone who had lived in those towns for fourteen years and could verify one way or the other.

I also lost some time trying to use the Sainsbury's travel money (currency exchange) service, to get a better deal than Eurochange, but just like Eurochange, the good rate was only available online, AND in addition, only by using a bank card--no cash. Since I wanted to use cash, that did not work for me. What I ended up doing instead was using No1 Currency Exchange just a few minutes from the Ealing Broadway Starbucks--the rate I got was better than the Eurochange rate from a few days earlier.

I had planned for more stores on the way back to the airport, but by the time I left Haywards Heath and fought the traffic up to Croydon, I was running low on time. I was thus relieved when a chat with the supervisor revealed that the next store on my map, in Kingston-upon-Thames, was a phantom one, no longer on the app. Moreover, the supervisor said that it might be an experimental store he had heard about that would be a joint venture between Starbucks and a franchise partner. I wondered how this would affect my future UK Starbucking, but I did not have time to worry about it.

Took a loooong time to drive to the Budger rental return center, including a long stop for petrol and to pack, but I still made it on time. I was worried if I'd be charged for the additional scrapes on the wheel, but I made a point of explaining that this MG3 car was one of the worst I'd ever rented, and I listed much of what was wrong with it. As I hoped, the manager, as a courtesy, decided not to charge me for the wheel.

I flirted with the idea of carrying my blanket and sheet around London with me so I could use them in Ireland, but as soon as I got out of the rental car and grabbed the blanket, I realised this was a stupid idea and left it in the trunk along with the pillows. I took the sheet, rolled up, in my arm, but when I got to the terminal I decided I really wanted my hands free, only my phone, so I tried stuffing it in my backpack. I walked around a bit like that, but it just felt too bulky, so I ditched the sheet too. Not worth the additional hassle, or even the risk that in fumbling with the sheet I might drop or forget my phone, or some other item.

Surprised that my Oyster Card from 2016 still works! My NYC Metro Cards stop working after just a year or two, maybe less. I wondered if my half dozen or so cards from other countries, like Turkey and Singapore, would still work if/when I returned.

Since I had only managed two (or one, not counting Hayward's Heath) stores in the morning, I tried to make the most of the afternoon in London, stopping only to get cash, eat, and research store data, mostly opening dates, some closing dates, and some "phantom" stores. This process involved a lot of googling for articles, tweets, Instagram or other posts, reviews, as well as talking to partners. The latter rarely yielded useful info because of the relatively high turnover at London Starbucks (I seek partners who have been with the company a while), and also because, like NYC, London Starbucks tend to be busy, and most baristas will not wrap their heads around why this strange American is asking questions.

Rushing aside, I was thrilled to finally be back in London, not in a rental car, and walking around the city, a process that I absolutely love. Walking in general is much better than driving, because I can see more, and in London, just as NYC, there is just SO MUCH TO SEE. I did, however, take the tube and buses whenever possible, for the sake of time, and I was finding that the Google Maps public transport directions had gotten even better than I remembered.

Not sure which was greater, my joy at being back in London, or my relief at finally getting a shower and sleeping in a relatively quiet space where I could stretch out. The PubLove hostel was tiny and cramped (shower/toilet combo, for example), but I did not care. It was in the area that I needed to be, and cheap enough, with a reasonably high score, and that was good enough for me.

September 6 (day 14)


Wednesday morning was a mad dash across four Starbucks, from Benthal Green to Shoreditch to Dalston (two). Speed was critical to avoid parking restrictions and the increasing level of traffic heading in towards central London. By the time I finished at Dalston and began headed outbound, I could see inbound queues everywhere.

With five coffees in me in about 90 minutes (including the one from the night before), I was happy to take a break and rephotograph stores, starting with Leyton Mills from the night before, then Stratford Westfield and two at Canary Wharf. Those were stores that I had photographed in 2016, but after my trip my laptop had been stolen, and I lost the originals.

While I do value having original images of each store, I lost WAY TOO MUCH TIME on those reshoots. First, I accidentally ended up in the Blackwall Tunnel (under the Thames), and while the trip outbound was speedy, traffic inbound was naturally backed up. Parking at Westfield took time, of course, and then I took some time to try and discover the opening date for the kiosk, which I had somehow neglected to discover in 2016. During that process, I experienced a rare reaction from the supervisor who treated me with suspicion, sharply saying "WHY?" when I asked if she remembered when the kiosk had opened. Since there was another location on the lower ground floor, I took some additional time to speak to the supervisor of that store and explain what happened so that he could communicate to the other partner that she should not speak to customers like that.

Canary Wharf was also time consuming, as I first could not find the parking garage, and then I could not find the South Collonade Starbucks. By the time I set out for actual new Starbucks in Beckton, the morning was getting away from me, and my notion of making it out to Wales that day was disappearing. I tried to speed things up by ordering pizza for lunch while I visited a nearby Starbucks, and by forgoing a lot of record-keeping, BUT I still had one non-Starbucking priority, watching the latest (and most excellent) episode of 'Ahsoka'. Delays added up, and by the end of the day, I would end up realising that I would miss the Hayward's Heath Starbucks, by about FIFTEEN MINUTES.

Since I wasn't going to make it to Hayward's Heath, I took the opportunity to sate the persistent hunger that hovered around me during my trip, with some Chinese food in East Grinstead, and then I lucked out with a really quiet spot to camp, and warm weather.

September 5


Tuesday was a finally push towards London on Tuesday, where I hoped to pick off some stores that would be time-consuming to reach by train/bus, plus ones well east and south of London, before heading over to Wales during the final day in my rental car. The total distance was not that long, but all of the tasks that I had to do at each Starbucks were inevitably time-consuming. I lost precious minutes, sometimes 5+, every time I tried to inquire and search about a store openening/closing date, but the best chance to obtain accurate information has always been when I was in store. The exception is when the info is online, but if I wait until later to search, and I don't find it, I have lost my opportunity.

In Coventry I gave in to hunger and took nearly an hour of my schedule to sit down and have an Afghan meal, with the rationale that I was also charging my phone, something I had to do anyway. Keeping the phone charged was a challege because I had chosen to only carry one UK adapter, which meant that if I was using the computer (almost always), I had to plug the phone into the laptop, which does not charge it as fast. I had a similar issue with my camera battery, except that I could not plug that into my laptop. What I had to do instead was take the photo immediately, then plug the battery charger in while I went to the loo or did shopping. With this technique I hoped to keep it charged enough until I was out of the car and in hostels (where I could charge at night).

I also took a detour in Cambridge to check out Hot Numbers, a craft coffeehouse that looked interesting, but that stop was relatively brief because my car was sticking out of the parking space because I still have not mastered the art of parallel parking while sitting on the right side of the car. I have trouble seeing behind me, and I cannot judge the distance from the curb correctly.

In Hoddesdon I encountered only the second partner (both at Sainsbury's), who noticed me taking the photo and was concerned that she not appear in it.

Made it back to London, and I was immediately of why driving is a LIABILITY in this city, not an asset. Lost time finding the first Starbucks, in Tottenham Hale, then parking, and those delays cost me the chance at a daylight photo of the next store, at the Leyton Mills Retail Park. At that point I had to take a pause from the rushing and work on my record keeping until the store closed at 21:00, and then I decided to find parking in the direction of London so I could visit several outlying stores before the parking restrictions went into effect.

As I had hoped, and similar to my first night, the temperature in the city was a bit warmer, and that was quite helpful because it is hard to find any isolated parking in London, which means that I do not want to turn the engine on in the middle of the night to attract attention. Didn't have to, and in fact I was able to remain in my shorts and t-shirt, no thermal underwear.

September 4


I woke up hoping to make it all the way to that missed store in Coventry, but at the same time I wanted to take the opportunity of being in Newcastle, a fairly sizeable city, to add another craft coffeehouse to my list. I had to wait until 8 AM of course, but I was easily able to kill the time by going to a Starbucks in the city centre for some porridge and then catching up on my record-keeping and blogging. The wait was worth it, and Pink Lane Coffee was delicious and delightful. On the way, however, I encountered yet another of those UK driving issues that flummox me. A lorry was blocking the only car plane, and in order to go around it I would need to enter the bus lane. Many cities have bus lane cameras, and I have received a penalty before, so I was skittish and finally went only after the lorry behind me began honking. As I passed, I asked the driver of the unloading lorry about the penalty, and he said that cameras had been taken down. However, a barista from Pink Lane told me that was incorrect.

The Sunderland relocation took a lot of time. First I had to find the parking structure, and then figure out how to get from the garage into the building, which involved actually going out onto the street. Then I had to wait for the end of a customer service meeting that was taking place next to their kiosk, which was next to the Starbucks. Finally, I had run out of cash, but Eurochange was conveniently located around the corner from Starbucks.

I then detoured to Durham, an older Starbucks noteworthy because it was one that I wisited in a hurry a decade earlier in 2012, as I rushed to a Scrabble tournament in Coventry. According to the website, the store should have opened at 8 AM, but they were still closed, and I thought I'd have to abandon it. I was able to waive a barista over, who reported that the hours had been changed, BUT he was kind enough to sell me a coffee so I could check the store off my list. I was NOT able to go inside, however, and I've been waiting all this time for another opportunity. Going inside is NOT one of my Starbucking rules, but I still like to, if possible.

I lost more time in Leeds futzing with glitching wifi, and also having a good chance with the baristas at Crown Point who showed me a cool conference room that the store has. Additionally time lost when I could not find the parking lot for the White Rose Sainsbury's, and by the time I got on the M1 to Worksop, I was doubting that I'd make it Coventry. Then I ran into my longest highway delay in all my time driving in the UK, nearly an hour due to a horrific wreck that left half of a small car a burnt-out husk. By the time I reached Worksop, Coventry was out of the question, and even Loughborough and Leicester looked doubtful.

The manager of Worksop proved a fountain of information, and even clued me into a brand new Derby store that I had left off my map, and at that point I abandoned my plans to get to Loughborough and decided to go into Worksop to find a proper meal. Even that took longer than expected, and I still had to rush to make it to the first Derby store, a relocation, at the Derbion Centre (formerly Intu). That was another situation because the parking structure did not issue tickets, and I struggled to figure out how to pay and get out. Pressing the button on the pay machine for help did not work, and I finally had to involve three security guards.

September 3


Woke up early, as per usual, and downed my saved coffee from the previous night during the two-hour drive into Edinburgh. I was eager to get through two outlying stores and into the city centre before it got too crowded, but I had a lot of record-keeping and blogging to complete, with my Time Crisis appearance as the highlight.

By the time I did make it into the city centre and found parking, I only had about thirty minutes before free parking ended at 12:30, and I did my best to rush to a craft coffeehouse, Lowdown, and then the new Starbucks. Lowdown was busy, as I expected, but so was the Starbucks, which ended up being Edinburgh's flagship store, and by the time I got out of there with a solo espresso in my tumbler, the time was 12:29. Despite the heat, I double-timed it and made the trip in about eight minutes, no ticket, but I paid for this in the form of becoming even more gamey, and later on, feeling a pain in my calves and thighs (since I'd not run in about three weeks).

I even had time to pop into one more craft coffeehouse conveniently located right across the street from my car, and I managed to get back to my car before a parking agent walked over. I had hoped to clear Newcastle and Sunderland on Sunday, but when I arrived at Fort Kinnaird and saw how busy the retail park was, I abandoned any thought of rushing south and just took my time covering the remaining two stores in Edinborugh.

In Newcastle I learned that yet another store, the sixth overall, was phantom (not yet built, perhaps never), but I nonetheless needed to overnight and wait for Sunderland, which had closed at 16:00. This is typical of my Starbucking Sundays while overseas, because it many places, especially the UK, Starbucks (and other shops) will close quite early.

I did not mind so much, because I had not had a sit-down meal in days, and I took the opportunity to head over to the Jesmond suburb, recommended by a couple of baristas, and there I found my first ramen spot of the trip. It wasn't great, but the staff was friendly, and I appreciated slowing down and catching up on some tasks before bedding down next to a nearby park.

September 2


Seven new Starbucks in Glasgow and East Kilbride, and I wanted to get to them as quickly as possible, preferrably by noon, to improve my chances of getting up to Aberdeen and back by nightfall. Still, I took a little time out to chat with Time Crisis/Starbucking fan in Braehead, and then to check out two craft coffeehouses in the city centre, Laboratorio Espresso and Outlier.

Didn't get on the way to Aberdeen til after 14:00, and even to manage that I had to debase myself by eating from KFC to save time. I eschew fast food back in the States, and I certainly don't want to eat that crap while abroad, but the rigourous nature of my aggressive Starbucking ambitions meant that I would have to compromise.

Despite the fact that I was sleeping better, or so I thought, I found myself getting sleep during a motorway drive for the second time in two or three days. I really wanted to nap at a parking area, but I did not want to have to overnight in Aberdeen, which I assumed would be colder than Edinburgh. I pushed on and managed to get to all five new Starbucks and complete some other tasks, and I even had time to pick up some Indian food.

Some bad news though, a barista at one of the stores says that he thinks the stores that do not offer filter coffee are a trial for a wider expansion. He is expecting that the UK will be doing away with filter altogether, but I hope he is wrong.

September 1


Couldn't bear to depart Manchester without visiting at least one craft coffeehouse, but I had to find one open early, and I did not want to deal with city centre parking. I lucked out with B'spoke, on the way to the Stockport Starbucks, which turned out to be my best indie experience of the previous week. Barista was super friendly and eager to talk coffee, and the brew itself was my best cup so far in England.

Spotted my first Tim Horton's of this UK trip, and I could not resist checking out their menu. Upon noticing pancakes, I had to try them, and they were as mediocre as expected. Something interesting was that this Tim Horton's, like McDonald's, is pushing customers to order using an electronic display, although they will still take orders at the counter (but not cash). On a related note, this location was in a parking lot controlled by one of the companies that uses registration plate readers to detect entry and exit, with the threat of a penalty if one does not pay. No idea if I could just rush in and out with my food, as I could do in the past, so I had to go ahead and pay a pound, which, for a $3.49 food purchase, is quite a lot.

After rushing rushing rushing for all of Thursday afternoon and evening, I finally slowed down, at the Stockport Starbucks, and caught up on myriad tasks.

At the Ashton Moss Starbucks I was recognised by a fan, a barista, for the first time of this trip--he had been following my Instagram and knew I was in the area.

Finally sat down for a proper English breakfast--egg (poached, I think), sausage, bacon, toast, baked beans, and something called potato rosti. Would have been nice to enjoy this at a local cafe instead of an M&S Cafe, but time was beginning to become an issue, and M & S was right next to Starbucks.

The drive to my first new Scottish store in eight years, in Prestwick, was longer than I expected, partly due to queues, partly due to distance, and partly due to missing an exit and ending up on a slower road. Still, I made it before nightfall, although it did not matter because that store was fully inside Sainsbury's, no door to the outside. Still, I had time to grab a quick Chinese dinner and then make it back to Glasgow to overnight, where I once again slept pretty well.

August 31


My eighth day in the UK began with my biggest mishap of the tour so far, due to a data error that I did not even know to look for. Over time I had learned that the database that drives the Starbucks app and website contains countless error, and I already knew to check for incorrect addresses, countries, or renamed stores. What HAD NOT occurred to me, however, was that ownership codes might be wrong, and that is exactly what happened with the store in Bangor. Only after driving around 75 minutes into Wales and entering the store was I clued into the mistake, when the wifi network was not "StarbucksWifi". I immediately spoke to the supervisor, and she confused me further because she was referring to the store as "equity", which was the opposite of how partners in England were using the term, which means "company-owned" in Starbucks-speak. She offered to contact the district manager, and I hoped to speak with them to try and see if there was any other relevant info on this topic. Meanwhile, I dove into my database and discovered that the cause of the discrepancy was quite simple--when the store was initially entered into the database, the ownership code of CO was used, and later it was fixed to FR, but I did not know to check for this.

About two and a half hours of driving, plus around thirty minutes sorting out the discrepancy, plus petrol--a significant cost. PLUS, the most important cost was that those three hours would ended up costing me real Starbucks.

I encountered more data issues later in the day, but they were not as costly. I had three stores with newer IDs plotted on my map around Manchester, and two of those had fallen off the website since I made my map back in January. It did not make sense that the stores had closed so quickly, and when I spoke to a number of partners, I learned that these stores had not yet opened (and might never). This was actually a relief--fewer stores to visit--and the only thing I lost was some time wandering around Salford Capital Quay looking for an apparently nonexistent drive-thru Starbucks.

Because of the delays, I did not clear greater Manchester on Thursday, BUT I did manage to visit the two relocations in the city centre, and without getting a parking ticket, despite making a huge mistake. I neglected to snap an image of where I parked, and as I rushed to the second store I realised my error and began to panic that I would not be able to find my car in time. Fortunately, in the 10 minutes that I was over time, I was not ticketed. Additionally, I even managed to make it up to the Manchester Fort location, and on top of that I found parking in an industrial area nearby, and I managed to sleep better.

All told, except for Bangor and having to settle for a hamburger when all other eateries appeared to be closed (in the town of Sale, where I felt so famished that I just could not tolerate any more coffee without getting some food in me).

August 30 (day 7)


Thanks to the bed, I slept until nearly 8, and I definitely felt better, but, oddly enough, later that day during a long motorway drive to Stoke-on-Trent, I had to fight through persistent sleepiness. Despite my later start, I still undertook a mini tour of three Birmingham craft coffeehouses--Urban Cafe, Saint Kitchen, and Under Pressure Espresso. With 8-12 ounces of coffee from each, I was hellah wired for much of the afternoon, and I did not mind so much that I only got to seven Starbucks today.

In Dudley I took at brief detour into the Merry Hill Center to exchange dollars for pounds at Eurochange, and I discovered an oddity, that I needed to register the transaction online in order to obtain the best rate, then go to the branch to make the actual exchange. Later I would realise that car rental agencies also charge a higher rate for walk-ups, so the idea was not that strange after all.

Finally had my obligatory fish and chips from Island House, a place I spotted on the way to Stoke-on-Trent, and I had forgotten just how many chips these places serve--soooo many carbs. Something new, though, peas, mostly mashed, that came with the order.

I continued to encounter more stores that did not offer filter coffee on the menu, which forced me to order espresso, and I have no doubt that this was contributing to my difficulties sleeping--another rough night, this time in Ellesmere Port, where the new Starbucks would be in the morning.

August 29


I had hoped to clear all of the Starbucks in greater Birmingham on Tuesday, but by choice, accident, and circumstance, I lost too much time. First, I opted to sleep as much as possible (strategic, to bolster my immune system) and I did not force myself up until around 8:15. I then returned to the previous night's Starbucks for a fresh photo, and when I was finally underway to Coventry, too far to return, I realised that I had LEFT MY PLUG ADAPTOR!!!

Leaving my plug adaptor plugged in has been a mistake that has plagued me for the decades I have been traveling overseas. In fact, just in the last five days, I had almost left it twice already. Actually, I did in Kempshott, and the mistake almost cost me the chance to visit the new Southampton store that night, but I caught my error when I was just a few minutes away. I almost left it again the next day, and I you'd think I would have learned, but I still had a lot of trouble remembering to pull the adaptor out of the socket, rather than my laptop's charger outof the adaptor.

After stopping at the first Starbucks, Binley, I discovered that I should have gone to Crosspoint first, AND THEN I discovered that I did not have the newest store, Arena Park, plotted, and thus my route was even more suboptimal. Then, as I headed to Boots to look for a plug adaptor (I had found those there during earlier trips), I missed the exit. Rather than turning around, I continued on to the Crosspoint Starbucks and tried at Tesco, but they did not have it, and then Home Bargains--no luck. I finally found it at a different Boots, in Arena Park, and by that time I had lost quite a lot of time.

Up in Birmingham, my laptop seemed to be having trouble with the wifi at the first store in the area, in Solihull. I tried at the next store Maypole, and I had the same problem. Problems connecting my computer or my iPod, or any device, to Starbucks wifi, is not uncommon, and I should not have worried, but for some reason I got it into my head that my laptop's wifi card might be glitching, and I decided to try at Sainsbury's. Unfortunately their wifi, supplied by O2, requires a code to be texted, and I never received it, so I tried again at a McDonald's down the road. That delay probably cost me 20 minutes, and the adaptor delay at least 40, maybe more--definitely over an hour.

Well, by the time I was ready to head to the Amblecote store, in a Sainsbury's, I discovered it would close at 19:00, in just 22 minutes, and the drive was 29, at least--if I had not lost all that time, I could have checked that store, and Dudley, off my list. Probably not the other two Sainsbury's Starbucks, not without having sacrificed sleep, but every bit of time saved helps.

Oh, and I also missed the Fairfax Avenue store in Coventry because it was closed due to a maintenance issue. Another glitch was that at the A38 store, I was told by the supervisor that they did not serve filter coffee at all, nor would they serve me an Americano for the price of a short filter coffee. Up until that point, every other store had either been willing to brew filter if they did not have it, or serve me an Americano at the cheaper price. Without this option, I had to settle for the next cheapest thing, a shot of espresso, at 2.25, minus .25 for the personal cup. West Bromwich was also like this, and I wondered how many such stores I would encounter. The issue for me is that the shot of espresso contains more caffeine than the 4 ounces of filter coffee, and this would affect my sleep.

Nonetheless, I made it to nine stores today, eleven in a 24-hour time frame, and I really do not regret having prioritised sleep. Doing that probably helped stave off a headache which was starting to come on because of hunger.

In other good news, with the jetlag and fatigue past me, and Scrabble out of the way, I was starting to feel a persistent, low-level bliss due to the recognition that I was finally back in the UK, a nation that I love dearly. I was also feeling grateful that I'd been able to make the trip at all, given my family sitation, COVID-19, and the general state of the world.

After West Bromwich I headed to the Birmingham Central Backpackers hostel. Typically I would not pay for a hostel if I have a rental car, but I needed a strong wifi connection, and a quiet space, for a radio interview. Fortunately, unlike in London, where hostels can be pricey, this dorm bed was only £20.

August 28


Fifth day, jetlag pretty much gone, and I once again woke up early enough to take care of some things. Waitrose was closed, unfortunately, but that turned out to be a good thing because it prompted me to head over to the Marks & Spencer Food Hall, where I was thrilled to find that they still serve the Devon scones (called "plain" scones). I also got that fresh picture of the Midsummer Place Starbucks, but no luck on my final task of the morning--Out of Office Coffee was closed.

As a result, I ate my lunch hurriedly and had just enough time to rush back to Out of Office and check out their cafe. Coffee wasn't great, but in order to discover the great coffees, I have to put in the effort to give them a try. Fortunately I had only lost fifteen seconds off my clock when I returned for my Round 22 game. Unfortunately I lost the game. Fortunately, I won my final two and came in ninth, better than expected. And all this while managing my usual Monday task of verifying Starbucks store openings and closings. This was going to be quite a challenge during this trip, more so than in the past, for two reasons. One, the level of North American openings was higher than when I had last traveled overseas. Two, I was also tracking closings more diligently, and this was critically important for identifying relocations. All this effort was going to chew up A LOT of time, and thus cost me money, but I had no choice.

As soon as Scrabble prizegiving finished, I rushed up to Bedford because, to my surprise, the Starbucks was still open, even on a bank holiday. My past experiences in the UK were that I often had to stop earlier than I hoped in the evenings because of early closures. It was looking like this had changed, at least as far as Starbucks was concerned. Not only was the Bedford lobby open until 22:00, but the drive-thru was open 24 hours. In fact, as I had already noticed several other 24-hour drive-thrus, and I suspect this is going to be more common throughout the UK than in the United States.

After Bedford I rushed up to Northampton. Actually, I did not "rush" because the roads seemed to be narrower than I remembered, narrower at pedestrian crossings, and speed cameras more plentiful. As such, I arrived a little too late to capture a daytime photo. I needed to catch up on sleep anyway, so I took advantage of a really dark parking spot nearby and bedded down for the night. Unfortunately, this was the toughest time falling asleep that I had experienced so far on the trip.

August 27


Fourth day in England, and my jetlag had worn off enough that I was able to wake before 7 without feeling horrible, and that gave me plenty of time before the first game to get some things done. Of course, as it typically goes with me, I am too ambitious and try to pack too much into whatever time I have available.

I had forgotten this, but the UK has regulations about what shops can open early on Sunday, and thus Waitrose was closed, so I went in search of another grocer/breakfast. On the way I stopped for petrol, and I was shocked when the total came to 46 pounds, after a relatively short distance driven since I picked up the car, only around 120 miles. During dinner I calculated how much I would need to drive to get to the furthest Starbucks in Aberdeen, then back south, and the estimate would be well over 1200 miles. Based on around 50 pounds per 120 miles, I was looking at 500 pounds in fuel, probably more, about the same as what the rental car itself would cost!

Next I went over to the Starbucks at The Place Retail Park, which I had visited in 2015, hoping to speak to a partner who had enough experience and knowledge to answer questions about franchising. I got lucky, and I had a pretty good conversation about franchising and general UK store growth. I had noticed that since my 2016 trip, the number of company-owned stores had increased dramatically over the first three years since franchising was introduced, and the partner echoed my suspicions, that the franchisees were not living up to Starbucks quality standards, and Starbucks was probably concerned that they would dilute the brand.

I did not expect any of the craft coffeehouses to be open so early on Sunday, so I did not even try. Instead, I went to the city centre to rephotograph the Starbucks at Silbury Arcade and Midsummer Place, but I only made it to the former before I had to rush off, stop at a Budgens market, and then barely make it to the tournament on time.

During lunch I hoped to finish up early and then rush back to the city centre to visit Out of Office Coffee, but the time got away from me. On the other hand, I did quite well in Scrabble and ended up in 10th place after 17 rounds, with seven more rounds to play.

Something else that was working out was that I was becoming more reacquainted with the driving and more comfortable. On the flip side, sleep was rougher, and I had to take a melatonin. I was trying to limit this because I only brought around a dozen pills and preferred to avoid until absolutely necessary. Oddly enough, I actually felt warmer during the early part of the night and changed out of my thermals and into shorts and a t-shirt, and only later, around 3 am, did I need to put the thermals back on.

August 26


Second night in the cramped MG, I slept better. Perhaps I was getting used to it, or perhaps I was simply so exhausted that I had no choice but to sleep. Another factor might have been caffeine withdrawal, as I had not been Starbucking up until the evening as I would have done were it not for Scrabble. Probably for that same reason, plus the jetlag, I woke up quite late. Actually, I ALMOST went back to sleep, but I decided to check on the time, and it was 7:45--yikes!

Round 9 would begin at 9, and that did not give me much time to go get groceries, breakfast, and also try to find craft coffee in the city centre. And as it turned out, none of the best indie MK coffeehouses listed on a blog seemed to be open that early, so I abandoned that plan, finished up my porridge, and rushed back to the conference center.

Long lunch break in between the Warm Up and Main Event, and that gave me the opportunity to hit up Bogota Coffee Company, after a light meal of dal makhani and pratha at the Indian restaurant across the alley. Coffee was okay, not great, but I nonetheless had a side goal of trying to visit as many overseas craft coffeehouses as possible during the trip.

Pretty much Scrabble all day, but I did manage to make progress on various Starbucking-related tasks. Additionally, my jetlag was well on the way to fading, and I was feeling much better by evening. Scrabble wrapped up earlier, and I managed to get some good sleep that night, although the MG still felt really cramped because I could not stretch my legs. In fact, one of the times I was trying to stretch out my right leg, I ended up with painful cramping. On top of that, the temperature dropped, I think, and my night felt much chillier despite my thermals and covers.

August 25


Despite my jet lag, I forced myself to get moving before 7, yet despite this I found myself rushing through an ambitious schedule of six Starbucks before the Warm Up event of the British Matchplay Scrabble Championship about an hour away in Milton Keynes. I knew that I would be cutting it close, maybe even skipping lunch, but every store I checked off my map meant a time savings after the tournament, especially those in Luton and Dunstable. If I missed them, I would lose a lot of time detouring as I returned to London after clearing the Starbucks in the north of England and Scotland.

Tried the Starbucks UK porridge for the first time since around 2015/2016, and either they changed how they prepare it, or I just forgot. Unlike in North America, the porridge is kepted in a fridge, and the barista will add milk (not water) and then heat it up in the oven. Slightly cheaper than in America, but not something I'd go out of my way for.

Despite extensive experience driving in the UK, I was having a rougher time of it than I remembered. One thing that flummoxed me were narrow roadways, and I struggled to avoid scraping the tires (and sometimes failed). I seem to remember that in the past, I had been able to study Scrabble words or watch videos while driving in the UK, but I could not imagine it today, as it took great concentration to both avoid damaging the car and figure out my correct turn.

The merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, and subsequent conversion to the latter, was a game changer for my traveling. In the past, I had to download offline maps of everywhere I planned to travel, and sometimes they were not detailed enough. Without such maps, I had to wander around looking for wifi so that I could located my next destination, or find food or other services, and I lost countless hours on this. I even lost time looking for wifi simply so I could check in to a location with the Swarm app, and even today I cringe at all of the things I could have seen or done instead of seeking out wifi.

Around mid-morning I discovered something that left me in a near panic for most of the rest of the day--MY WEBSITE WAS NOT WORKING!!! I was seeing a permissions error, while others were seeing an "account suspended" error, and I was on pins and needles as I awaited an email reply from OLM support, and as I tried to call them over and over, with no answer. Of all the possible times that this could have happened, it occurred just when I was embarking on my first global tour in seven year, and shortly before I was expecting a burst of publicity that would drive fans to my site. Additionally, I had just directed my Instagram followers and FB phrends to this blog, but they could not access it. Finally, in the late afternoon, a technician reported that this had been a mistake I was fixed.

As I expected, I had to skip lunch, but I managed to visit those six Starbucks, and I made it to the tournament with a few minutes to spare. Unfortunately, I was jetlagged, exhausted, and played poorly, and I went 4-4, with three games to play in the morning.

My experience at Sutton Bonington in 2016 had taught me that parts of England can be quite cool in the evening, and that is why I made sure to pack thermal underwear and also carry around a blanket and sheet until I reached my rental cars. All those items came in quite handy on Friday night. Unlike Thursday night, just west of London, further south, where it was warming, I would have struggled to sleep in Milton Keynes without the thermals and covers. Especially since the MG car had no way to turn off running lights while engine is running, so I could not run the heat without the risk of attracting attention. I was told that sleeping in my car at the venue should not be a problem, but I still did not want to risk being spotted by any security.

August 24


Given the passage of seven years since my last trip to the United Kingdom, I expected changes, and the first I experience was the introduction of automated eGates at the immigration checkpoint. The United States has been (or was--I haven't seen them recently) using these for a long time, and they have never been able to process my single-name passport. I expected the same from the eGate, but, as I have learned many times, other countries often do things better, and the eGate software did handle my passport and allowed me through the gate.

Because of the eGate, I was not asked any of the questions I have experienced on previous trips to the UK, such as "what are you doing in the UK", "how long will you be staying", etc. Based on my googling, technically entry to the UK requires proof on onward travel, or proof of sufficient funds to purchase travel, but no questions were asked (by the eGate or any other agent). Apparently the eGate system will automatically track how long a person remains.

Next step was to find a Barclays ATM and obtain cash without a Bank of America fee, but the airport did not have any Barclays, so I proceeded to the designated shuttle bus stop for Budget/Avis and then waited nearly thirty minutes. While I was not in a huge hurry at the beginning of my trip, I did want to make it to Southampton that night, so I could not dawdle. The rental car itself, an MG, was immediately disappointing because it lacked an Apple CarPlay feature which forced me to listen to podcasts while driving using one earbud, not ideal. Additionally, the MG has a number of other annoying "features": radio turns on automatically every time I start the car; much too tricky to turn off display; running lights turn on with the engine, even if car is not moving.

On the other hand, didn't take me long to get used to driving on the left again, or shifting with my left hand, BUT I spent much of the afternoon forcing myself to stop driving too far to the left (because the driver seat is on the right).

I was expecting to spend extra time at the first store sorting out the wifi and figuring out if I could use my Starbucks app, but I also spent some time talking with the manager, to confirm that Sainsbury's stores were indeed corporate (called "equity" here in the UK) and ask why so many new ones. During the talk I learned that the Taplow store had opened A LONG time ago, and that made me suspicious, because I should have visited already. As it turned out, I had been there in 2009, but for some reason Starbucks had changed the store's ID on the web (store # remained the same). I was relieved that I caught it and reminded myself to always ask when a store opened.

After finding a Barclays ATM and getting some cash, I continued on to Winnersh, Tadley, Kempshott, and Southampton, all four new stores inside Sainsbury's, and I barely made it to the last one with a minute to spare, in large part because of an AVERAGE SPEED CHECK zone on the M3. There is no way to speed past those without receiving a ticket. I also lost a bit of time figuring out how to purchase a pillow, because since my last trip Sainbury's has entered into a partnership with a company called Argos, and they have automated checkout in which one orders as if ordering online, but then an employee retrieves the item, if it is in the store.

After all that rushing I was famished to the point of feeling faint and found some nearby Chinese food, and then I made the wise decision to head back up towards London to camp out near my first store of the morning. Because of construction on the M3, there was a lengthy and time-consuming detouring, but dealing with that at night was much better than in the morning.

2023 August 23



Leaving for the airport shortly, and after a lengthy PTY -> ATL -> LHR overnight flight, I will undertake overseas Starbucking for the first time in SEVEN YEARS. If all goes as planned, I will remain abroad for six months and wisit stores across Europe, Africa, Asia, and possibly Australasia (doubtful).

So, in addition to what I am wearing, what have I packed for six months living out of this backpack...?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra - significantly improved camera over my S10, an excellent supplement for my mirrorless Nikon

13-inch Dell XPS laptop - lighter and more compact than the laptops I have taken on past trips

Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera - lighter and more compact than my previous DSLR. Lens zoom capability is not as good, but my Samsung Galaxy phone can make up for that when necessary

Samsung tablet - primarily for reading comic books, but could also be useful when I need to show a Starbucks manager a Google Map to help me locate a Starbucks, or when I need to show a translation to a non-English speaker
iPod - for podcasts and music, but also useful for accessing warriors apps if my phone is charging. Also, two additional pairs of earbuds, because Apple earbuds are notorious for glitching after a few months

chargers for aforementioned deωices

spare chargers for laptop and phone because these chargers are not designed for constant movement in and out of a backpack for many months

plug adapters for the UK, Europe, and one other that I'm not sure about. Still need a U.S. 3-prong to 2-prong adapter

2 XL brand new craft coffeehouse t-shirts
shorts for sleeping
3 pairs of boxer-briefs
3 pairs of socks
1 small towel
2 washcloths
thermal underwear - important for urban camping in the U.K. and Ireland, and for when the weather gets cold, because I am not taking a coat

toothbrushes and extra toothpaste
razor and extra blades
nail clippers
allergy pills
cold pills

Reusable Starbucks tumbler because in many countries Starbucks offers a discount, and over the course of 1500-2000 stores, even small discounts will add up

random bottle to refill with water TEMPORARY
blanket and sheet for urban camping, to be discarded once I reach continental Europe

about a dozen 100-calorie Soylent Squared bars. Not nearly enough for six months, obvs, but could help me during a food pinch for the coming weeks, especially if I am hungry on flights and want to aωoid overpriced airline junk

Air Travel Challenges

While I arrived at my Delta departure gate with time to spare, today's air travel was not without its challenges. First, I was not able to check in online because the Delta system generated an error when it could not find a ticket departing the United Kingdom. I was easily able to check in at the counter, but the glitch (actually programmed behaviour) still created some uncertainty.

Because I would be flying directly from PTY to LHR (connecting in ATL), I had to enter Panama with cash in excess of the limit, and thus declare it, and thus lose an hour while forms were filled out, and the cash counted. Moreover, upon leaving today, I had to arrive at the airport extra early to go through an analoguous process--presenting receipts and filling out forms, although this time they did not actually count how much cash was exiting with me. In the future, I'll likely want to avoid this hassle by traveling with less cash, but that will limit my ability to save on fees by obtaining the best exchange rate I can find.