Reading while on the road.

Having a book to read is essential to me for my down time or when I just want to sit outside in a park/cafe and sip a coffee/tea and relax.

1) Brought my “Rough Guide : First Time Around the World” to start off.

2) Found a John Grisham book on the airplane to Dublin. Kept it. Never read it.

3) Bought my Lonely Planet : Europe on a Shoestring later, gave my John Grisham to Kiera. The LP has been the single most important book on my travels so far.

4) Bought a Sherlock Holmes collection of stories book in Bath. So much fun to read.

5) Picked up “Rob Roy” in Brasov. Was difficult to read as it couldn’t keep my interest.

6) Bought Lonely Planet : Africa in Istanbul.

7) Sold my “Rough Guide”, “Sherlock Holmes”, and “Rob Roy” to a local bookstore here in Goreme. Had to get rid of all the dead weight. Picked up “Dracula”. So far, lots of fun to read.

I need A/C now!

It is 2:25 am, I am sitting in the hostel lounge in Istanbul. I am dead tired and the only reason I am here is because the lounge has A/C and the room upstairs doesn’t (and it’s bloody hot). There is one standing fan to be shared between 8 people but it doesn’t even revolve, distributing air to everyone in the room. There’s a guy who came in, turned the fan toward him, went to sleep. I intend to do the same later tonight, when everyone’s asleep. Turn the fan toward me, get my share of moving air. In the future, I am making sure I get rooms with A/C, especially if the country is hot during the summers.

On a side note, Starcraft 2 is coming out in a few days and once again, I’ll be falling way behind times when it comes to games. 🙁

edit 7/23 : HOLY SHIT! Today, they installed A/C in our room!!!!!!!!!!!! Tonight I shall sleep awesome.

Update on plans…

Well, I’ve been thinking about my schedule (basically making it to Malaysia for Chinese New Year) and it appears if I want to spend more time in Africa and India/Nepal, I will have to sacrifice something. That something is probably Australia. I was going to go there for : Aussie Open, visit some family friends, beaches. I figured, this means I can always go to Australia some other time (and it’s a place most friends wouldn’t mind going with me as well so that could be a good future trip).

As I am a little pressed for time and haven’t been to Italy,Spain,Portugal,Morocco area, I will be forgoing a chunk of South-Eastern Europe (I really wanted to visit Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia…). Will be back another day for that region as well.

Plan A : Go to Istanbul tonight, spend about 1 to 1.5 weeks there and Cappadocia region (in the middle of Turkey). Fly from Istanbul to Cairo (Egypt) and spend about 2-4 weeks there. Then since Egypt is so isolated, I’ll fly back to Athens (Greece, can’t miss Greece on this trip) and fly budget to Rome, continue Europe, moving west.

Plan B : Go to Turkey, then train to Greece, then fly to Cairo, spend 2-4 weeks, then fly to Rome and continue Europe from there, moving west.

Argh, just trying to minimize costs and time on the road/plane. Damned efficiency-whore that I am…

p/s : Don’t miss my Lviv entry below!

Skipping Scandinavia

I decided about a week ago to skip Scandinavia (except Norway). I wasn’t that interested in it I suppose. Coupled with the great distances to travel (costly) and the area being costly itself already and nothing that really attracts me, I decided to only travel to Bergen (Norway) and then take the train to Oslo. That way, I can visit the fjords, get a taste of Scandinavia, then see the landscapes across Norway. After Oslo, I will be flying to Kiev in Ukraine. Eastern Europe appeals to me more and I’m itching to get back there.

I am sure I will visit Scandinavia one day, along with Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Longest Nights

Let’s talk about hostel roommates. You run into all kinds, the quiet mind-my-own-business ones (like myself), the friendly chatty small talk ones, the noisy ones who get home late at night drunk…let’s talk about the last one, since the other two are ok in my book.

Example : Last night, 2:47 am, the door is flung open and slammed someone’s bed. Two drunk English guys stumble in laughing and talking loud, turning on the lights. Their girl friend is trying to ssshh them so as not to wake the people in the room up (TOO LATE!). These guys don’t care, they’re drunk. The continue making a ton of noise, one guy then decides to pour water over his friend who just got in bed. The guy gets mad because his bed is wet. He changes, storms out of the room. This other guy then pursues him, with the English girl behind them trying to get them into bed. After much noise, several warnings from the hostel front desk, continual banging of door on bed, a couple “sorry everyone”s, more noise…the three English get into bed an hour later. At this point, I thought, I could finally try to sleep.

Not quite. Turns out, one of them is a heavy breather, the other’s a loud snorer. My God, will this never end? In go the ear plugs but they do little to drown out the sound of the snores. On top of that, the guy in the bunk above me, decides he wanted to compete to see who could snore louder and in a more annoying rhythm.

Another sleepless night for me, another common night of staying in hostels. 6 am rolled around, I decided to get out of bed and head down for breakfast. I couldn’t TRY to sleep anymore.

Potential snags are coming up…

Russian visa, how do I obtain one outside of the USA? This is going to be tricky. My initial plan was to travel to Helsinki, Finland and apply at the Russian embassy there but it’s not so simple. Not only do the Russians require a ton of documentation (which I may or may not have on me at the moment), they might outside reject my application since I didn’t apply for it in the USA. I am going to take a shot in London, see what the Russian embassy there says.

This might be the same for India and China down the road but not as bad as Russia I think.

So US$130 for a Russian Visa…and all the hassle…is it worth it for St Petersburg and Moscow? A tourist visa is only for 14 days I think… I have to think about this one. Maybe bypass Russia altogether this time around?

Lessons learned so far…

Not a complete list but these comes to mind at the moment…

– I need two pairs of pants. One pair is inconvenient because when you wash one pair, you gotta wear something else if you want to go out instead of say, my board shorts, which is all I have now that I lost one pair of pants in Cork. I would look silly wearing it in the streets so I’m sitting in my hostel typing this while laundry is being done.

– Wearing sports sandals only sucks. My feet are calloused and black after 3 weeks, I had to buy a pumice bar and scrub the dirt/hard skin off. I am looking into getting a pair of hiking shoes, wear them with socks.

– Screw doing laundry in the sink. Unless you absolutely have to, just take it to the laundromat. At least your clothes will be washed/dried properly and smell fresher. Or maybe I just did it wrong. But whatever, I hate damp clothes dripping in my hostel room anyway. Plus, have you seen hostel sinks? Not the cleanest thing out there.

– I don’t like old overnight trains. Much prefer buses to travel long distances. Maybe I just need to get on a nice overnight train.

– It is not easy to get away from anything touristy in Europe, especially during the summer. Even the small places have quite a few tourists. Next time I hit up a small town to “get away”, I’m getting a single room, maybe at a B&B place, so I can be as anti-social (private, alone) as I want. Sometimes, with all the people I meet on the road, I can appreciate alone time to relax, sleep, shit in peace.

– Get a guide book (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide etc.) It helps. I can thank Kiera for this one. Of course, sometimes it’s good not to always have your nose in it but it helps.

– Tours aren’t just for tourists. I am beginning to stop thinking that way. I just can’t learn everything on my own or I will miss out on lots of things.

– Czech beer is just bloody awesome and cheap.

Need a little peace and quiet

I’ve been travelling to a lot of major cities and I expect a lot of tourists everywhere. I’m longing for a place far from the city, maybe a small coastal town to wake up in and sit in a cafe, drink coffee, read a book (visiting Anne Frank’s annex made me interested in reading her diary, I still haven’t read it!), write, ponder, reminisce, think, whatever.

Gah, was too cheap to pay €8 for a new paperback ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. I am hoping to run into a used bookstore like Half Price but in Europe (and one that sells English language books!). Got a Sudoku book but there’s only so much Sudoku I can do before I get bored.

Transportation/Hostels/Misc Costs

I’ve been travelling primarily by bus from city to city (Eurolines). Costs vary depending on distance, cheapest have been €15 from Irish city to Irish city and as much as €50 from Amsterdam to Berlin. It’s a lot cheaper than train but much slower (and not as comfortable to sleep in over great distances).

Within a city, in Ireland, I used the buses or walked. In France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, it’s all about the metro lines (subways). I biked around for a day in Amsterdam, that’s how everyone gets around there but big countries like France and Germany require the use of metros or you will be walking a lot. In France/Belgium/Germany, you can buy tickets at the stations but in Netherlands, everyone uses a pre-loaded access card to scan in/out of terminals. Once you get the hang of the metro system in one country, it’s pretty much similar to the others (at least from my experiences so far). Know what line you need to get on, know your stop, know what direction to go (read: know the name of the end of each line).

Hostels vary from €10-25 for dorms (4-10 beds in a dorm, fewer beds usually mean more costly but also depends on how nice the hostel is, how popular the area is, how reputable the hostel is etc.)

I think for the most part, transportation and hostel fees are a bulk of the cost. Cost of eating/drinking will depend on you. For me, I mix eating street food (€2-4) with the occasional sit-down restaurant (€10-20) and also hostel cooking (€3-6). I don’t drink much so I save there (pint of beer can cost €3-5, cheapest I’ve bought was €1.50 for a bottle of Jupiler).

Museums (€5-15) , tours (€10-20) cost money but I’ve recently discovered the wonderful Sandeman’s Free Walking Tours (Kiera told me about it actually). They are the best thing to happen to a budget traveller. I also enjoy wandering and getting lost and taking out the guidebook to find my way home. Or go sit in some park that all the locals love to hang out at.

Losing things along the way…

Remember when I said I couldn’t update my blog for a while? Sometimes it wasn’t just the internet.

I had arrived in Cork and was unpacking when I realized my netbook wasn’t with me. Oh shit, I must’ve left it in Galway!

I didn’t panic immediately, I realized I made some friends in Galway and one or two ppl mentioned going to Dublin. I shot out a mass email asking if anyone was going to Dublin within the next day or two…Sebastian answered my call and said his friend Justin was going that day. *phew* so he brought my netbook to a Dublin hostel where I collected it later that day.

And when I reached Dublin, I realized that I had left my little bag of dirty clothes in Cork! Shit…that contained two of my shirts, and one pair of my travel pants. I was pretty disappointed in myself and sad.

Oh well, stuck with the few clothes I do have. I did a wash in the sink in Paris a few days ago, hung them all up. Bought an extra cheap plain t-shirt too. Going to look out for more items in the coming weeks.