I got only a short breather after the last trip – enough to catch up on some sleep and try to out-lay-in-the-bed the aircon-induced flu – and off I went to yet another adventure: in Spain.
I have been to Barcelona before, but only for a day on the way to Morocco. This time the plan was to finally properly see the city. (Picture gallery HERE!!!).
Upon arriving to Barcelona airport, I couldn’t find Aline – I assumed she would be there. Having waited for almost 40 minutes at arrivals, I texted her to ask where they were (her and the other people sharing the car with us). I got instructions to walk outside of the terminal and all the way through the parking lot. I did that – no one there… 20 minutes later I managed to get ‘row 37’ intel from someone in the car… That they were standing on the utmost left (as you exit) corner of the terminal building was, I’m guessing, too simple of a description to tell me from the get-go :). We finally found each other and drove off to Lloret del Mar for the Zouk and the Chocolate Factory Congress. We were lucky to find a parking spot about 350 meters away from the hotel (the hotel has no parking space… Go figure :)) and enjoyed a great weekend full of dancing there :). But this is about Barcelona, not Lloret…
We returned to BCN on Monday afternoon (December 10). At first we couldn’t get through to our CS host… We needed to drop the luggage off then return the car to the rental at the airport, plus drop off two passengers for their flights. Passenger 3 was the (in?)famous Fabiano, aka Nyx, the protagonist of a ‘saga‘ that began this summer. This time, thank goodness, he wasn’t catching any flights (phew!) but staying in the city instead. Well, sort of… Turned out that instead of staying in Barcelona, he was somewhere up in the mountains at Molins del Rei, which basically ruined any party plans right there :(.
Right then on Monday though he was getting picked up at 11pm, which was fortunate: we were able to grab a coffee at a nearby cafe, leave Nyx and our luggage at Spiral Dance studio and drive off to the airport. Rental car drop-off was in the middle of nowhere, but at least a shuttle bus took us back to the terminal, where we had a lunch with our friends, saw them go off to catch their flights, then caught a train back to Barcelona, navigating our way there with a smartphone app that positions you as a blue dot on the map, which moves as you do :). Best of all – it doesn’t need internet to work!
We then fetched our suitcases from Spiral and walked to where we were staying (15 minutes from Spiral, not too far from placa Espanya), settled in, agreed to intersect later on with our host somewhere in the city and went out for a stroll. The evening out ended up being cancelled and it probably wasn’t such a bad thing, after all – we were tired and needed to sleep, which is exactly what we did after a short walk around.
On Tuesday the central heating (and, thus, hot water) broke in the building… Something that would have been fixed in a few hours in Holland was, apparently, no big deal mid-winter in Barcelona… We chilled at the house for most of the day, the weekend’s toll still very much upon us (my knee was hurting for whatever reason, Aline’s ankle was hurting for the reason that someone ‘graciously’ stepped full-weight on it… Maybe one day people would learn to watch out and keep their weight on their toes?), but ventured out into one of the most famous cava/tapas places in Barcelona in the evening with our host. The prices there are outrageously low (you can get a bottle of Cava for 2 Euros until a certain time…), the local tradition is to throw the food wraps right down onto the floor, there are no seats and you may need to learn to levitate if you get there around lunch hour, but everything is tasty, staff is friendly and the place is just great :).
We then proceeded to Mariatchi bar – it belongs to Manu Chao who, apparently, drops in ever so often and may randomly start singing and people start saying “wow, he really sounds like Manu Chao!” lollll…
We had a relaxing evening and a few semi-philosophical conversations, then retired to our humble quarters.
On Wednesday we took the free city tour of Barcelona. There are several to choose from (google ‘free city tour Barcelona), but we opted for the one we could take at 1pm (11am when the other companies started was way too early for us night owls and 3pm would be getting too dark for good pictures).
Turns out that decision was fateful in more ways than we could imagine…
For starters though the coolest thing was that there were 4 of us at the tour: Aline, myself, Hellen (another fellow traveler from Kenya) and Jamie (the guide). It was pretty much private and cozy.
But we got even more lucky when we returned to the bar for a coffee.
After warming up and saying goodbye to Hellen and Jamie, I went to the bathroom and in the meantime Aline ended up talking with Luis and Mamadou, who came to BCN from Philly. Somehow our shower/heating situation popped up in the conversation, and some minutes later they invited us to shower at the hostel where they were staying! (thank you, guys, you rock!!!)
Later that evening we grabbed what we needed and headed to the hostel to crash its facilities. Hot shower was a BLISS!!! That we were running out of clean clothes (because we only packed for a certain number of days…) was less of an issue than inability to rinse off and wash the hair! Finally nice and clean, we were ready for the night’s party, which was at Nos Vemos. It was supposed to be Salsa/Bachata party with occasional Kizomba/Zouk music. For some strange reason google convinced us it was 20 minutes walking distance from the hostel… When we finally got there almost an hour later, having lost half of the people who decided to join us at the hostel, it was already pretty darn late. But we still ended up having a lovely night, danced a bit and were smart enough to take a taxi back to the hostel.
Now, the original plan was to contact our host, who we knew was out with friends after watching the football game, and join them in the city, then get home together. However, even though I texted him already from Nos Vemos, there was no reply… We were all tired, so we just crashed the hostel in the end and stayed for a sleep-over :).
On Thursday morning we still haven’t heard from our host. Guys were leaving the city and we left the hostel around 9:30am because we wanted to also make the free Gaudi tour at 11am. We woke our host up to let us in, changed and headed to the tour. It was great, although it was relatively cold outside. We got a lovely guide Jessica who seemed to know everything there was to know and a bit more :).
Later that day we finalized our plans… to stay in Barcelona longer! My ticket was non-changeable so I had to get a new one, but oh well – whatever :). We decided to stay at St. Christopher’s Inn – the same hostel we ‘crashed’ the night before. Since we were going to a party that night and had no idea what time we’d be back, plus our host had other CSers staying over from Friday on, we decided to make the move in the afternoon – taking advantage of our all-day metro ticket as well.
We fell in love with the hostel! The food (and drinks, for those who are into that) was cheap, the portions were huge and everything was fresh and finger-licking delicious!
The rooms were warm, everything was new and clean, the entire building was secure, it was possible to lock your stuff and suitcase into a big drawer under the bed. Beds and pillows were super comfy and, best of all, each bed had a heavy curtain (whoever came up with it was a genius!!!) that could separate you from the rest of the ‘world’ in seconds, shielding you from any light and even a bit of the sounds. You ended up in your own little ‘bunker’ of a sorts – with a personal headlight and a socket :). Oh, did I mention: all that and a free breakfast – for 7 Euros per night (in a 12-bed dorm)! EPIC!
After a great dinner we headed to Dio Club for a b-day Zouk party. At least this one was relatively easy to reach because it was within city limits :).
The cake at the party was an additional bonus 🙂 🙂 :).
On Friday Aline was originally supposed to be on the bus to Reus at 8am. At 9am she received an e-mail from Ryanair that her early morning flight from Barcelona to Eindhoven was cancelled due to snow in Milan (I know, I know, we also had a hard time trying to find a connection)… In other words, we were destined to stay in Barcelona longer anyway :).
Oscar joined us for the day. At first we headed to Belushi’s for a few drinks/coffee’s and to enjoy contemplating over the bar’s messages printed on the furniture:
We have arranged to meet up with our host at the Wok Dao restaurant near Sant Antoni market at 3pm, but the guys overslept after yet another night out and didn’t make it. At least his tip for the place was spot on! Wok Dao has 9.58Eur buffet from 2 till 5pm – all you can eat. I was stunned by the number of different things on offer, a breathtaking choice of seafood, vegetables, some meats, desserts… Jamonnnnn!!!! Lol (I’m such a big fan, I even managed to carve out a couple of big pieces and took them with me for a later snack :). Actually, to be fair, Oscar managed to carve out the bigger piece for me :)). Everything we tried was well-cooked and delicious! We stuffed ourselves motionless and headed back to the hostel. It was Oscar’s turn to crash the showers :). We got ready and headed to who-knows-where-the-hell-that-was party of the night at Icarus LaBlue club.
We were supposed to take a train to Molins del Rei then get picked up by Laia by car… Of course, nothing could be as easy – there was some accident or what not on the tracks, so we had to change the train and wait forever. In the end, we were late for the rendez-vous with Laia, but we were still at the party an hour before it started… So we sat around in the car eating chips and salted nuts :).
When it was time to get in, the security guys were giving a hard time to another girl – Diana – who came all the way from Barcelona. They wouldn’t believe she was over 18! As luck has it, she had no ID with her… It took a while of trying to talk them into letting her in, but they wouldn’t. A bit later (Diana still outside) I had an epiphany – to ask the people she was staying with to take a picture of her passport and send it to her. It turned out the mission was even simpler – she had a pdf of her passport in her e-mail, but no internet connection. Laia let her connect to the internet off her phone, Diana found the file, the security were baffled that she was way over 18, and we all finally entered the venue without suffering any losses to the party troops :). Except I suspect the club may be priding itself in just being difficult for no good reason in general…
The party was nice – Salsa/Bachata in the bigger room and Zouk at the back – but it was a shame that very few people showed up…
I also realized very quickly that my dance shoes stick to the unwashed floor in the Zouk room… At first, I simply took them off and wanted to dance in the knee-highs I was wearing – they were much more slippery. However, the barmaid came up to me in the middle of dancing (like the bitch couldn’t wait till the end of the fucking song, this urgent was her mission… Seriously?) and told me I am not allowed to dance without my shoes on! I told her I can’t dance with the shoes on (and ruin my knees after 2 turns? No, thanks) and asked whether she expected me to just sit down for the rest of the night, as well as what was the reason for such a ‘rule’. For all I know, if someone wants to dance barefoot – it’s their own damned business. Remember Nos Vemos – the Salsa party place we walked miles to get to? I forgot the bag with my dancing shoes at the hostel, so I danced the whole night simply in my socks – somehow, it wasn’t any problem for anyone there.
No explanation was offered to satisfy my curiosity though… If I hate anything more than generally retarded and obviously pointless rules, it’s the absence of some semi-sentient explanation for those retarded rules, even if made up. Damn, tell me that the club is liable for any injuries a person may suffer while inside (even if it’s a lie) and being without shoes increases a chance of an accident, for all I know, but tell me something! Having given myself 3 minutes to be majorly pissed off, I simply took my knee-highs off and then pulled them over the shoes that I put back onto bare feet. Sticky-floor problem – solved (like a BOSS, lmao :D). I was almost wishing for someone to come to me again to complaint about the “no shoes” rule to have it stuck under their noses that I was, in fact, wearing my shoes, fuck you very much for your concern, but I guess I screwed up that pleasure for myself because the barmaid saw me do the trick…
Just about the time I warmed up and forgot about the sticky shoes ordeal (some time before 2am), Aline decided to leave, as there were some people driving back to Barcelona. We had no idea otherwise about how to get back to the city in the morning… I wasn’t too eager to leave having dragged my lazy ass all the way out here and just after getting into the dance mood, so we split up and I stayed till the end. Besides, Diana also came from Barcelona, had no foreseeable way of getting back and was staying till the morning.
As is often the case, the strategy paid off. First, I was used as a floor mop by Fabiano (no hard feelings, maaan, it was great fun, as always!):
Later in the night I finally had one of my Zouk wet dreams come true – to dance with two guys at once (it’s a very different dynamic and I always wanted to see how that would go, but never quite had a chance before :)). So me was happy to have stayed :).
My general reliance on “things usually sort themselves out somehow” wasn’t wrong: nothing terrifying happened on Saturday morning – we got a ride from one of the dancers to the train station and caught an early train back straight to Catalunya where the hostel was :). I threw some of the breakfast into my system and went to sleeeeeep :).
In the afternoon we made it to Park Guell to tick off yet another touristy thing on our lists.
Hypothetically, there was a Zouk party somewhere even further away from Barcelona this night, but we were both tired and it was way too far off. Aline stayed at Belushi’s to chill off, and I ended up going to check out a milonga at Bellos Aires with Diana and her friend. I was very lucky to see them in the street after exiting the metro, because I would never in my life have found the place on my own: it was an unmarked door on a small dark street and you had to go to the 3d floor before you saw any actual people and heard the music and realized you weren’t tricked into one of Jigsaw’s traps, after all. I must say the sight was depressing: the level of dancing and the beauty of it were eons ahead of the Prague scene. In Prague, people simply walk around and do nothing much else. Here – people dance. I wish I could take all of the Tango dancers from Prague, bring them to the milonga in Barcelona so that they can see what Tango looks like… Maybe one day I’ll learn it properly!
Sunday was our really last day in Barcelona. We decided to go up the Montjuïc mountain, met up with Diana and first took a bus, then (having descended way too early) took the funicular up the hill.
We made a few pictures and a video for Zouk is Everywhere (shhh, it’s a secret 😉 ).
We then walked all the way down to the port, enjoyed the sunset, went to the hostel for the dinner, showered and headed to the last parties at Port Olympic. One was at Zich and the other at Salsa (about 50 meters away). Many people walk back and forth between the two. Zich was all about Lambada though, so we stuck around Salsa – we liked the music there better.
The party finished at half past midnight – waaaaaay too early. Some of the ‘last survivors’ went for a dinner in McDonald’s and then we spent roughly forever trying to talk Nyx into not going back to Molins del Rei but going somewhere to continue the night. Actually, it was more like that he spent forever trying to talk the person who was driving him back to stay in the city… Finally peer pressure seemed to have worked, so we all got into the cars and first went towards Belushi’s. Unfortunately, it closed earlier on Sunday… We then walked a bit further and ended up at some gay club that was open till 5am :). Nyx got there a bit later than we did, the person driving him managed to experience a change of mind about joining us and wanted to go back. In the end the ‘compromise’ was to split – the a-social one left and Nyx stayed with us all at the club. It was a good decision to stay there – the music was good, the people were generally nice and unobtrusive (for the most part, with very few exceptions) and we had a fun time there dancing and fooling around. Dani dropped in later on as well, so it was a cool, fun night out.
At the end of the party the very very last survivors (Dani, Nyx, myself, Aline, Diana and some random folk from the club) went to an afterpaaaahhrty bar (which was impossible to find unless you’d know about it). Despite the dodginess of the place, the music was surprisingly good, too!
We stayed there till Aline had to leave for the airport… After that we walked to Dani’s place, watched TV for about an hour chilling on the couch, and finally the guys went to sleep and Diana and I had to go (I also had a flight to catch). At least we had a proper night out in Barcelona after a week of being here :).
I got back to the hostel, had breakfast, finished packing and set off to the airport… Bye-bye, Barcelona! Hopefully, till next time!
Maldives has always been on my bucket list… granted, every country on this planet is on that same list, but this one was in the top 20 for sure, if only because it is also in the top 20 to drown due to global warming :). This year my mom and a few other people had to go to Sri Lanka for a congress and, lo and behold, the cheapest available flights were by Emirates through Male! As we normally stay a few extra days before or after the congress anyway, we decided why not do the same, just not in Colombo…
It’s hard to imagine how people arranged things and found out information before the internet… For instance, how else than from the internet forums would we ever learn which island is the cheapest to stay at? Or which hotel to choose on the island? Or how to best get there? Actually, to begin with, how else would we quickly find cheap flights for the needed route? But we live in the age of the world wide web and all this was all possible, so this is how it went.
November 14. We set off to the airport. Once inside, we pass winter clothes and shoes back to my dad for the keeping – no need for the extra luggage on this trip – and proceed to baggage drop-off. The two other ladies we are flying with are lovely, but suffer from memory loss: I need to remind them, as before every flight, to drink up their water, put all cremes/perfumes over 50ml and manicure scissors/nail foils into the suitcases (tricky since they already wrapped them… I squeeze everything into my own…). At security check we spend a few extra minutes trying to untangle one of them out of her belt and finally make it through to the gate.
Must say that this particular time cabin crew on both stretches of our flight was somehow either more tired or just slightly less friendly/responsive than is the norm on Emirates… It didn’t matter too much though… The down side of the well-equipped carrier was that I made the ‘wise’ choice of watching movies all the way from Moscow to Dubai instead of sleeping…
We had a 4h 05 min transit in Dubai – an important number because, as it turned out, Emirates issue free food vouchers for all passengers with a stop-over of 4 hours or more to be first requested at the counter in the terminal and then redeemed in one of the restaurants from the list. I thought this is something of an anti-economical strategy for the airline (I remember BA saved millions of $ when they decided to put one fewer olives into the business class salads…) – a conclusion that resulted in 100$ loss on a bet to my mom that she seems to have, luckily, forgotten about :).
We sort of battled the urge to gobble up some McD or super-spicy Thai or what not… NOT :D, ‘settled’ on (as in, ran to) the Ocean’s Basket place near gate B26 and ordered 2 portions of fish-n-rice and 2 portions of shrimps-n-rice: the only two dishes the vouchers could get there (you could have it with chips as well). They we absolutely delicious!
We then went upstairs to some cafe and ordered tea, the power of which I grossly underestimated: the waiter unloaded what seemed to be half a pack of green leaf tea into the pot and I got enough of a kick out of it to completely wake me up for the rest of the journey! So much for the plans to nap…
An hour before our next flight we set off in the direction of the gate. On our way, we dove into one of the DutyFree shops to sample perfumes – purely out of curiosity, although I discovered one absolutely addictive scent there (but I don’t use perfumes… Besides, it cost an effing fortune…) – and, roughly 40 minutes before the flight, emerged, all fragrant, to proceed to the gate C19… which ended up being a whole freaking kilometer away at the very end of the terminal extension downstairs! This, however, I only discovered after I saw ‘last call’ announcement for our flight and proposed to run ahead of my ladies with our trolley of our carry-on scraps to make sure I get to the gate and hold them off, if needed. When my ladies made it to the far ends of the segment, they walked right past me and C19, so I had to run after them, but we actually made it and the flight was stuck in airport traffic for extra 15 minutes. Phew – this could have been an expensive miscalculation of the terminal’s length…
Since my naive hopes of a nap during segment 2 were crashed by the tea and the jogging session, I watched another movie. Towards the end of the flight the crew finally presented my mom with her b-day cake (we kinda expected it on flight 1…) and asked us whether we wished for our picture to be taken… Ehmmmm… half a day into a trip? Sssssssuuuuurrrrre… We had to carry that cake through the heat of the day but in the end it made it and was well worth it, too. Thank you, Emirates! I’d rather take pictures of the sunrise instead, here:
Welcome to Maldives.
At first, we had a mission. The ticket for one of the ladies traveling with us was bought separately from us three. It was the same exact route we had, but the price went up tremendously by the day she decided to join us and the only way to get the same price was to indicate the Male-Colombo flight segment (our flight path was Moscow-(via Dubai)-Male-Colombo-Moscow) as being later on the day of our arrival to Male. We could not change that ticket in time through the booking site and Emirates couldn’t change it until the ticket was used up up to the segment in question. So once in Male, we went to the Emirates office and, when someone showed up, asked if it would be possible to change the date for Male-Colombo flight to November 22. Originally we expected a change fee, but we were lucky and it got changed for free :). This taken care of, off we went into the heat.
Money: The airport is its own island and was undergoing renovation/construction when we arrived. The only exchange office is located immediately at arrival before you exit into the terminal itself. Most places on Maldives happily accept USD, giving you change in either USD or local currency, but you might want to stock on some local cash, especially if you only have banknotes of higher denomination with you. In case the exchange office guy is not there and no one knows when he’ll be back, you can also change some money at the help desk to the left of the exit from arrivals section. No one warns you that you cannot change Maldives currency back to any other at departure unless you got a receipt for the original exchange transaction (help desk doesn’t give receipts ;)). This means you’d need to spend all your local money before you leave or do some shopping at the duty free.
Ferry. You can, of course, order speedboat transfer to your hotel directly from the airport, but those are costly, especially if you are only 1-4 people. If your arrival/departure times allow it and you decide to stay on one of the local islands, as we did, it’s better to take a ferry. If you are going to Male, then once you exit the terminal, you need to go right to the ferry docks. They leave every 15-30 minutes or so, depending on the time of the day and the tickets are something close to $1. Ferry crew will help with suitcases.
On Male we had to go to the port on other side of the island to catch our ferry to Maafushi island. It is a roughly 5 minute drive but if you have serious luggage, don’t hesitate to catch a taxi – they have a flat rate of close to nothing ($8) and dragging your stuff around in the heat is a highly questionable pleasure. There are a dozen of eateries (locals called them ‘cafes’, but I’d say it’s a stretch…) near that port where you can wait out, but order at your own risk. “Not spicy” is a meaningless promise in most cases. Even basic foods, like pasta, can be made so terribly wrong you’d think one would need a special degree in “spoiling simple foods” to cook that up. But hey, it costs close to nothing and if you’re not hungry, you can simply order a drink.
Maafushi. The ferry leaves to Maafushi around 3pm and costs about $2 per person. According to the seasoned travelers we eventually met who have been to the Maldives a few times already, it is probably thus far the cheapest place to stay at on Maldives (not counting a hostel on Male, but staying on Male is thoroughly worthless and should be avoided at all costs, unless it is an emergency or absolute necessity due to flight schedule) and also the island from which various trips are the cheapest.
Why the trips? Because there is close to nothing to do on Maldives. You have the picture-perfect ocean and beaches, snorkeling, souvenir shops, some SPA procedures if you’re into it and the rest are water sports. In the big resorts there may be some additional entertainment (I’m guessing), but on the local island like Maafushi there is not. Thus, if you are a beach potato, you’d love it here. Or you can take snorkel/diving trips to either other islands or specific locations at the atolls to swim with all sorts of creatures of your selection. And that is the cheapest, for now, from Maafushi.
Try to coordinate your potential trips with other guests at the hotel: if you are fewer than 6 people, try to get 6-8 to go together, as it makes any trip cheaper. If you happen to be alone and you want to join people from another hotel on a trip (no one else from yours is going where you want to go), try to arrange it in advance: the owners would need to contact one another to arrange everything and you’re likely to need to sign a responsibility waiver for your own hotel in case of any damage/injury during the trip.
We stayed at the Stingray Beach Inn. It is, at the moment, one of the cheapest hotels on Maldives, but very comfortable, with nice rooms with A/C, hot water, TV and fresh towels for both the shower and the beach provided every day, good reviews and a very helpful and friendly owner – Ibrahim. Other hotels didn’t have nice reviews… Breakfast is the only downside – if you are there for longer than a few days, the ‘choice’ of eggs/sausage/toast/jam/coffee (or all that with beans) vs. canned tuna mixed with coconut and served with plain white nan-type bread can get a bit annoying.
What you can do is order breakfast for just a few days, then take the remaining days with no breakfast and order a-la carte – at the hotel or elsewhere. Keep in mind that everything takes time on Maldives, so you can order your food then go back to your room to shower, for example, and come back out 40 minutes later to still wait a bit for it to be ready :). Order before you’re too hungry, in other words :).
November 16. Food seems to be an issue on Maldives. You basically are gambling every time you order: it may end up being nice and tasty, or completely ruined… In our hotel we found out chicken cream soup and sweet corn creme soup were really good. In the restaurant near the dock the same chicken cream soup was mediocre at best… Milkshakes, on the other hand, are better there than elsewhere, the grilled fish is very good, so are boiled vegetables (which aren’t even close to cooked at Stingray, on the other hand…). Fresh juices in our hotel were a curious thing to say the least but really nice at the other two restaurants. Pasta was the best on the beach – it was, for starters, actual spaghetti (Carbonara) and properly done, too. Avoid ‘barbecue’ sauce there, unless you’re into overly vinegary sour experiences. You have to explicitly tell them to not put anything (and insist on no sauce, too) onto your food, if that’s the way you want it (for instance, we prefer our sea food and grilled chicken to be cooked with no additional spices/sauces), because if you say just ‘no spices’ they coat it in that freaking mega-sour sauce instead for no good reason :). However, if you give very clear instructions, they manage pretty well :). One thing that surprised us was the collective inability to cook prawns… The tiny ones in the pasta or the slightly bigger ones on ‘grill’ were somehow, in all three restaurants, cooked to the point of turning into rubber… Apparently, not all island cooks can deal with sea food :).
We met our hotel neighbors that day and opened up the swimming season :). Trivia fact: on local islands the sandy beaches change location depending on the time of the year. For part of the year a lovely sandy beach will be on one side of the island, and for the other part of the year on the other side. It depends on the currents and winds moving around the coral sands. On big resort islands special structures are built to prevent this beach migration thing. Maafushi island hotel owners are thinking to also construct some shields to make sure the beach gets a bit bigger and stays there throughout the year.
November 17. Way too early in the morning for my liking we set off to chase a shark…
Whale shark, to be exact – it was a snorkeling trip. It took roughly 2 hours to get to the area by speedboat and another 2 hours to locate the shark itself – I was lucky to have landed on the bench at the very back of the boat, so I could lay down. When we finally got a signal about the shark and got there, there was a whole huge crowd of snorkelers (maybe 50 people?) chasing the poor thing with cameras and without :). One of the people we were with on that trip had an underwater camera, so there are a couple of pictures and a video :). There was only one shark there that day – here it is:
After the chase we stopped on one of the local islands. Most houses were destroyed by the tsunami and have been rebuilt or are in the process.
November 18. I caught up on sleep and swimming and took a few pictures of the sunset.
I also spent a sleepless night helping out on some writing, so when on
November 19. my mom and the ladies decided to go watch the sunrise, I tagged along and took a few pictures, of course :).
It rained today, so I could sleep half through the day without missing out on any great weather :).
November 20. We decided to go snorkel with manta rays :). There were 8 of us on the boat, so it was fun :).
On our way to see the stingrays we also saw an entire crowd of dolphins. First they were far away from us, but later on we got closer to where some of them were – swimming around, doing the ‘wheels’ and occasionally jumping out of the water :).
At first we only saw 2 of them (one disappeared elsewhere soon). I admire the ability of the locals to spot them from afar just by looking at the water surface! We took a few pictures from the boat and then jumped into the water with the masks.
The very first stingray was swimming right at me at one point, so I tried to keep still and when it was passing me by, I managed to touch it on the ‘wing’. I say ‘wing’ because the stingrays don’t ‘swim’ – the way they move is exactly the same as the way some birds fly, except the speed is adapted to the viscosity of water. It got scared and went deeper into the water for a little while… Its surface is kind of slippery :). There was 1 more at a different spot and finally, when we already were planning to go to the Biadhoo island, a whole bunch of them together. The underwater pictures are the courtesy of our friends with the camera who went to swim with the stingrays 2 days earlier than we did.
After satisfying our curiosity about those gracious creatures, we have proceeded to the Biadhoo island.
It is just a stone’s throw away from Maafushi, it is pretty cheap to enter ($11) for the day and offers lovely beaches and more lush vegetation. It’s good for snorkeling as well, although I saw more fish on the corals near Maafushi beach.
In the evening we were treated to a concert of local music and dance.
Besides our own dancing queen Liliya who, despite her age, could probably out-last them all on the floor, there was one particular participant who, it seems, was way more into it then everyone else and who added what I bet are non-traditional elements to their program :). The more interesting stuff begins around the 6th minute of the video:
November 21. I taught one of our ladies how to use fins and the snorkeling mask… So we chased fishies down the corals for almost two hours :). There was a heart drawn on the beach for some honeymooners – everyone took care not to mess it up and made sure to take pictures inside :).
I have heard before that sunsets at Maldives are spectacular. So tonight I decided to take my time and take a million pictures of the sunset :). This time I was lucky because there were more clouds and they made for spectacular scenery.
In the evening we made a major mistake of going to the souvenir shop… We left with I’m not even sure how much stuff… Oh well – nothing else but eat and shop for souvenirs to do here anyway :).
November 22. In the morning I was on the mission: to use up the under-water camera that we bought yesterday… It took me forever to get the 27 pictures, but I hope some of them worked, although obviously the colors and quality will be questionable underwater without proper equipment :). We decided to not go back to Male in the morning, because the ferry from Maafushi leaves around 7am (there is a passing-by ferry around 1pm, but it operates only on some days). Our flight was past 4pm and we would have been stuck on Male for half a day for no good reason instead of enjoying one more day at the beach…
So we had to agree to the expensive speedboat transfer, but at least we had an extra day on the beach and we also decided to have some lobster (because some of our group and one lovely lady we met never tried them) on the beach.
Thus came to a closure our lovely vacation on the Maldives and we moved on to Sri Lanka for the congress… But that, children, is a whole different story :).
Of the many ways Facebook has changed our lives, one of the more frustrating is how quickly it can take the shine off your best vacations. Thanks to album shares and instant photo uploads, it’s now much easier to see just how many of your extended circle have also, say, posed at the same overlook you did in Machu Picchu or spent July bodysurfing at the beach. The trips might always have been a little routine, but now it’s painfully obvious.
The latest trend in the travel world aims to help vacationers hold on to their bragging rights. A growing number of companies are offering “experiential travel,” trips that veer off the beaten path and focus less on seeing sights and more on having singular experiences. So, instead of trailing along with a tour group on your Mongolian trek, you might bond with a local shaman, then end your day in an exquisitely appointed yurt. Instead of eating at a top TripAdvisor pick, how about spending a few days with a celebrity chef as you explore his culinary influences? Just try finding that on your friend’s Facebook page.
Hotel companies are getting into this bigtime, with most of the luxury chains offering “local flavor” in the form of carefully crafted excursions. Travel agents have long focused on creating unique itineraries, but new companies now offer insider adventures for any budget. Even travel guides are getting into the game: Frommer’s Remix, a new website from the travel guide giant, generates an itinerary based on your destination and preferences, then sends you a custom-made book with maps centered on your hotel.
These days a new field isn’t legitimate until a tech startup enters the fray; last April, San Francisco-based Vayable launched as the “AirBnB of experiences,” offering travelers the ability to bid on unique itineraries submitted by locals (offered recently: a street-food tour of East London for $55 per person). The company now has some 10,000 registered users and lists 2,000 experiences — and last year teamed up with AirBnB to offer unique itineraries to AirBnB renters.
With all the options, there’s something for every travel need — and every budget. From mini-indulgence to a once-in-a-lucky-lifetime splurge, here are three ways to break free of the everyone-else-was-there-too blahs.
On a budget
The average traveler can scour travel magazines and poll word of mouth for the best local ideas, but that takes time and connections. A new New York company, Fortnighter, offers a fix by creating individualized itineraries written by professional travel writers. Fortnighter taps into a pool of some 100 freelance writers from the likes of the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler, who put together three-, five-, or seven-day plans for trips anywhere in the world for prices ranging from $135 for a one- to three-day trip to $320 for seven-plus days. Users fill out an online form to indicate their interests, specifying everything from early-bird or night-owl tendencies to specific cuisine preferences.
The itineraries can range from a couple of days (a recent mission: Fill in the free time around a wedding in Chennai, India, with cool local activities and a day trip to nearby Mahabalipuram) to several weeks. One client asked the company to structure a three-week road trip through New Zealand. He had heard of caves full of mesmerizing glowworms but didn’t know any details, so Fortnighter’s writer did the research, tracked down an outfitter to escort him through the caves, and found hotels for 10 stops along the way.
The downside: Once Fortnighter hands over the itinerary in a slick PDF, you’re on your own to book the options you find most appealing. Still, a customized vacation without spending endless hours sifting through websites and travel magazines can be priceless.
If you want a rich experience but prefer to base your trip around your cushy hotel, many resorts are beefing up their abilities to deliver unique experiences both on and off their premises. The pioneer here is One&Only Resorts, the upscale hotel collection (rates start at $725 a night) with seven properties scattered from Mexico to Dubai (an eighth is under construction in China). At each location, the staff is empowered to create a “One&Only moment” when the opportunity presents itself. If a guest mentions something like a favorite song, drink, color, or food, the staff do their best to, say, play the song or make the dish appear at dinner. “We understand the importance of the unexpected when it comes to creating a memory,” says CEO Alan Liebman, and it’s “something that can’t be sacrificed at the expense of corporate red tape.”
One group of visitors to the company’s Cape Town property wanted to explore the region’s food and wine, so the managing director called on local celebrity chef Reuben Riffel, who had just joined the resort as executive chef, to lead a five-day culinary tour with top-ranked sommelier Luvo Ntezo. (The excursion costs were on top of the hotel bill.) They traced Riffel’s culinary history and visited the producers, markets, vineyards, and restaurants that inspired his latest cookbook. On the last night Riffel and his wife hosted a special dinner paired with rare wines from a nearby cult-favorite vineyard (the winemaker joined, of course). As they’d say in Afrikaans, Gesondheid (Cheers!).
Sky’s the limit
Are you royalty? A billionaire? Just sell your tech startup? Based on a True Story could be for you. Founded by British entrepreneur Niel Fox, this Europe-based outfit organizes just a handful of trips each year, but each one is a wish-fulfillment bonanza.
So what do you get when you hand over the AmEx black card and ask for the moon? Imagine a cast-iron canopy bed perched on the edge of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or a custom-built igloo complex, complete with a hot tub and champagne chilling in the walls, awaiting the arrival of your Finnish dogsledding team. Wherever you go, you’ll get all-private transport — jet, yacht, you name it — plus a professional photographer cum tour guide who accompanies you, shooting the footage for the book that will arrive after your return home.
This kind of treatment will cost you — most trips run in the six-figure range or more, though the company has on occasion arranged weekend trips for less — but the experiences truly can border on magical. (One group of travelers had no idea where they’d be exploring until their private plane touched down and all their phones lit up, saying, WELCOME TO INDIA!) While travel within Myanmar has been limited by the government, Fox has arranged several journeys through the country’s rich landscape. One group recently enjoyed a dinner among the temples of Bagan while a monk read their fortunes, then helped them release birds to set the plans in motion. Other travelers, on safari in South Africa, were enjoying a bonfire after dinner when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by the sound of tribal drums. After a brief pause a battle cry shot out, and hundreds of Zulu tribespeople charged down and staged a battle in front of the stunned tourists.
Fox won’t name his clients. “No one knows who we work for, and it will always stay that way,” he says. But royal families and billionaires seem to have him on speed dial. Better start saving now – or cross your fingers for that buyout.
Every big picture is made up of the smaller details, right? Well, Croatia was definitely one hell of a patchwork of small, fairly insignificant events, random acts of un/kindness by both friends and strangers, unforeseen inconveniences and absolutely great times :). If it sounds vaguely manic-depressive in spirit – it’s because it pretty much was! Pictures will be up in the gallery very soon, I swear!
It is year 2012 and the end is nay – that is, the end of the summer. I set off in the direction “airport” to be then transported inside a big, hollow, metal cigar-like thingy with wings in the direction “Croatia”. Specifically – Split. I am there one day before the beginning of the Salsa Beach Splash Festival (read their webpage – it’s an overall great piece of fun literature :D). This would be my fourth trip to the country and my first visit to the city.
Someone has written me on CouchSurfing three days prior to my departure that they would be happy to host me when I arrive to the city – and asking when I will be there and how many people are with me… That I have written that I travel alone and my arrival/departure dates in the original post must have escaped that person’s attention. So did the fact that it could help to actually login back to CouchSurfing to check for an answer any time since writing me a warm potential welcome note…
Airport… Arrivals… Lengthy hang-out at the passport control finally over, I grab my suitcase from the belt, withdraw some Kunas and exit into the midday heat. The Croatia Airlines shuttle driver is trying hard to persuade me into taking a ride, but I ask him where the local bus stop is. He insists the shuttle is better – it may well be all that and 10 minutes faster, but it is also 2,5 times pricier, I say. He gets irritated and waives me off in the general direction of “further away from the airport” with the meta-specific directions of “down” at my yet another attempt to ask where the local bus stop is.
The only thing visibly “down” from the city shuttle stops is a parking lot at the right hand side and a round-about with some minor roads and no sidewalks… I encounter two Czech girls who are equally confused about the location of the stop. One of them is wearing a pendant that I can’t quite see under her scarf but really want to because it looks like a very intricate snake or lizard of a sorts – I like snakes :).
I recall that the airport roof is visible from the bus stop but that it’s not right next to it, so we walk further down to the main road and then see “it”. The girls are going the opposite direction so we say our goodbyes and I wait around a bit till bus 30 shows up. I’m in no hurry and enjoy the journey with many stops and one of the passengers on the front seat happily chatting with the driver for most of the way.
I swap to bus 9 at the local bus terminal to arrive at the Marina port. It takes forever because we are stuck in traffic but in reality it is just a few minutes away. Well, here I am…
I spot a pizza shop and buy a slice, walk a bit up and down then come back to try and check whether my presumed host replied to me. The pizza shop has a computer with internet access that is granted once you drop coins into the machine under it. I have exactly 3 Kuna in coins – just enough internet time to check the message and reply if needed. I drop 2 Kuna in, the computer unlocks and… isn’t working. The keyboard isn’t reacting to anything. I ask for some help and one of the girls behind the counter eventually comes, tries a load of times to press any buttons, none of which help, and eventually restarts the computer. It’s an old machine, you can imagine how long that takes.
Once rebooted, the computer all of a sudden recognizes it has a keyboard and what is the proper manner in which to react to the key strokes. I throw in my last Kuna because I know that the time was ticking while the girl was trying to press the buttons, log in to my CS account, see that the “happy to host you when you get to Croatia” person still hasn’t even logged back in since writing me, and begin to type a message to post in the group for an emergency couch request – just in case. What I don’t expect, however, is for the computer to log me off (without a warning, mind you, as most such systems would normally have – like “you have 1 minute left, would you like to extend your session?” type) mid-way to pressing the “submit” button on the post…
The girl who restarted the computer has vanished. An older woman has appeared and the girl who initially served me the pizza is still there. I say “excuse me, why did this stop working?”, as I presumed the time ticker would be switched OFF while the computer was, well, off (rebooting). I am ignored. I get a bit closer to them and ask them whether they know why the time has run out so quickly. They say I should put in more coins. I tell them I don’t have any coins but I wonder if there is something they can do to unlock the stupid thing for like 30 seconds so I can simply finish my post and hit “submit”. I am being ignored again. I ask a few times what should I do and would I remain logged in to my account (which is unsafe in principle, although CS made a smart move in forcing and auto-logout of all idle sessions of several minutes) and how can I finish my message. I am treated with less attention than the spider web in the far upper corner.
Commandment number 1: thy shall not mess with me when I am tired and hungry.
I raise my voice. After all, a fucking simple “oh, we’re sorry, it seems the timer runs independent of whether the computer is on or off – it’s not the system we actually run… Would you like to exchange some bills for the coins so you can finish?” is all I really expect from the get-go, but this? This is shitty. The older woman finally notices that I exist and starts trying to tell me off, to go away and stop bothering them. Younger one all the while only managed a mumble and a mild shoulder raise. Fine then, I think, you want a scene – you get a scene. I significantly increase the pitch and make sure people walking by outside also hear me inquiring why the timer keeps running when the computer is OFF. The woman starts to threaten me with police. Tough luck – I start demanding her to call the police myself. I am being ignored again, despite the loud voice. I wish I had a local police number – just to give them shit for being assholes. I try to ring the Vodafone infoline to get the number but they’ve changed it since I bought my sim card and it no longer is the info number.
I go outside, walk up to two bus drivers standing there chatting, apologize and ask them where I can find the police (I mean hey – it was HER idea, right?). The younger guy asks me what’s wrong. I said they run an internet service in the pizza shop where you pay for something you don’t necessarily receive anything from. As in, you throw coins in, computer isn’t working, then the timer keeps running while it’s switched off rebooting. He walks into the pizza shop with me and asks them in Croatian why is it such a silly system, etc.
Note: I understand perfectly well it’s an external service to the pizza shop, some other company is in charge of the computer, they probably know less about it than I do and it’s none of their responsibility and business to bother. BUT. But it IS a paid service offered on THEIR premises and the very fucking least I as a customer can expect is an apology for the damned thing not working and eating my coins. Although a good business owner would simply walk up and throw in an extra 1 or 2 Kuna from the tips jar into the stupid machine. Had they done it, I would have ordered a coffee there too :).
But no. So here I am with the bus driver, who is reminiscing calmly with them in Croatian that it is, indeed, a rather silly system with this timer thing running on a computer while it’s off… I think the women are irritated by me enough by that point, so the younger one asks me how much I put in. I said I had 3 Kunas but the ticker wasted 1 Kuna worth of timer on reboot – not counting the first few minutes of playing with non-responsive keyboard that I am willing to forget about (mind you, this is a mindblowing sum of 1/7,4th of a Euro… Ahem… Aka in this shop as “5 minutes of online time”. Oh and yes I’d be happy to actually at least try to post the message on the board, but that has become a tangential objective by now). She finally shoves a 5 Kuna coin into my hand and, as I start turning back towards the evil machine, tells me to go to a different internet shop down the street.
I follow the advice. It’s a more pricy joint but there is no drama. I log in, post the board message (skipping ahead: to which no one ever replies 😉 ), and then go ahead book the cheapest available hostel that I find good reviews about and which is just a few minutes away from the pier and dead in the old city center (Hostel Sunseekers, Poljana Stare gimnazije 1 21000, Split Croatia, +385 91 291 2127), drag myself there, shower, change and walk around the city a bit. At the Marjan hill I decide that going all the way up and around is just too much work and descend.
I meet a few cool people at the hostel to compensate for the initial unfriendly ones. The hostel receptionist even waited a few minutes past his time to leave till I ran downstairs to grab some food in the middle of the night because something was going on with the downstairs lock and I couldn’t open it. Day 1 fades into the night…
I pack – my own stuff and the three books I picked up from the hostel book bank – and chill out in the common area of the hostel until the time that I need to set off in the direction of Split airport. This time I get bus 37 and the airconditioner is so strong that even though I take out my sweater, I still freeze.
The bus driver is well aware that I need to get to the airport. There aren’t that many people on the bus and I buy the ticket directly from him. However, when the bus arrives at the stop, it takes me a bit of time to wheel my suitcase out – since I have to avoid running it over the other people’s feet. By the time I am at the door, the driver looks in the INNER mirror directly at me, closes the fucking door and drives off. I am so stunned for that crucial second that it doesn’t even occur to me to shout at him to open the door and let me out…
The next bus stop is about 1km off in direction of Sibenik… I get off there thinking I might walk back to the airport, but it starts to rain – slightly at first, then turning into a serious downpour… My laptop is in my bag and getting it soaked isn’t on the top of my to do list, so I stand on the bus stop and wait. I text my friends to let them know that if I am not at the airport in time, they can pick me up there at the corner. About 15 or 20 minutes later I see some other bus eventually show up and flag-stop it. Even though I already have a ticket that is still valid, they try to make me pay full fare for going one stop to the airport because it is a “private bus”. I decide that I can put those 2,5 Euros for better use, tell them I am missing my flight and I have spent all my local money already. They are disappointed but let me off and I make it to the airport well ahead of time. The same bus with the driver who didn’t let me out pulls up to the stop just a few seconds later… Had I known its terminal in Trogir was so close by, I would simply ride it there and back again and avoid the rain and the hustle… Oh well…
The flight is slightly delayed and then it takes the usual forever at the passport control, but finally everyone arrives and we set off towards Sibenik.
Unpacking, dinner, shower, a bit of chilling with “Before I go to Sleep” (pretty great in its own way with a few twists you just can’t see coming, especially towards the end), and here comes the very first party of the week. I forgot to pick up my pass t the registration desk, but somehow get in :). Already there are quite a few people who made it here, but I have been out of the salsa scene for such a long time (I am forever a slave to Zouk now 🙂 ) that I’m finding it hard to be feeling the groove. The music also seems to me rather uninspiring overall and a bit too Cuban for an event where everyone dances linea… I’m wondering what the rest of the week will bring…
I run into one of my friends at the party. They are staying somewhere in Bradarice and also one extra day after the festival. At this point I am still unsure about where I will be staying on the 31st of August myself, as I am trying to make sure it will be near the airport. I say that out loud and contemplate that I can either leave my things somewhere for the night and finish some stuff up online or see if I can find a place, when I am interrupted by “we are full!”…
First of all, am I fucking ASKING for anything? Not as far as I am aware! I am just giving a general update to someone who is supposedly a friend of mine on the current state of affairs – as in, information sharing. So fuck you right back, dear. Second of all, I wouldn’t want to stay near Sibenik anyway because it is way too far from the airport – my plan is to see if I can find a place in Split again or somewhere else nearby. Your fully booked premises in Bradarice don’t qualify for “near the airport”, don’t fucking worry. Lastly, I know you’re someone without any innate empathy and social skills, but for the future: there are WAYS you can convey the same message that would NOT make you sound like an absolute fucking asshole. Maybe next time you can try saying something like “Oh, I’m sure there will be something you can figure out. I’d offer you to join us for the night but the apartment is already full, unfortunately.”
Sometimes I am amazed at how insensitive and mean and inconsiderate people may be – and we’re not talking strangers here… Maybe I am the weird one? In my background and upbringing, helping people out or at least treating them decently and, if needed, refusing them in ways that would not make them feel like they are a piece of shit to you is the norm, not the other way around…
Day 1 at the beach – yesss!!! Finally some heat and proper sunshine! Kicking the day off with some shisha on the beach may not be everyone’s idea of a good morning, but it sure works for me :). So here I am, fulfilling the daytime agenda of this trip: grilling myself on the local pebbles nearby the HotSpot. Must say that the music there is by far superior to party #1. I finish the book at the beach…
Party number 2 (to which I get still without the pass, which I, once again, forget to pick up during the festival desk opening hours) makes me start thinking that I might have lost my salsa jagger beyond redemption since I got hypnotized by Zouk about 3 years ago – most of the music just doesn’t get me any more! Oh-oh, did I arrive to Croatia only to discover I can no longer find the joy in what used to be so much fun just a few years ago? To think of it – I was frequenting Salsa congresses more often than fast food joints (well, maybe not more often – it’s hard to beat the number of my visits to my favorite KFC 🙂 ) only a short while ago, and now I can’t get in the groove? Then the morning slowly approaches and some better tunes come up and manage to touch a few strings still fine-tuned to salsa in my heart and I realize that not everything is yet hopelessly lost… But it is all over before this hint of a feeling reaches any level of certainty and it’s time to go sleep…
Completely throwing my plans, budget and mood off, a few things go amiss and I have to change my location for the rest of the festival. The only reasonably priced place that is not fully booked that I discover is hostel Vijur, marked as 45 minutes away walking distance from Solaris resort. I call to reserve the room. Shuttle party buses don’t go there. I wonder how I will ever transport my luggage…
I decide to walk there without all the stuff after the beach and the dinner. At one of the intersections that I thought was the one I needed (judging by google directions/map I sort of scrambled by hand in a notebook), after walking back and forth a bit around it, I decide to double check where I am going. One of the apartments for lease features “information” sign on it and signs of human presence. I walk up the stairs and someone suggests me to ring the bell. The owner comes out – a man by the looks of his well into the fifties and well into the local wines. I ask him about a street name but he doesn’t know. His friend comes by and has a smarter phone than mine (well, at this point I think any phone is smarter than the one I have :D). We look at the map and I realize google failed to show me this particular intersection and the one I need is further on.
Miki (the owner) invites me for a glass of Coke (original invitation was for something stronger, but I declined). I say I came for the festival and, well aware how “highly” many people in the region think of Russians, that I am Czech. Turns out several other people stay at his place for the festival. We have a nice chat and I finally set off for the rest of the journey. I have to call a couple of times to make sure I’m going the right way, especially because at one point I need to walk through what seems to be the middle of nothing inhabited, but I finally make it to the hostel, albeit with a nasty blister on my right heel – simply perfect for dancing :).
A Croatian guy is sitting outside with the receptionist – it turns out he is also there for the festival. We arranged to meet downstairs after shower/rest and walk to the party together. It turns out he knows a shortcut, so we arrive there within roughly half an hour. We also agree to get a taxi back and split the cost. He has a local taxi number – several times cheaper than hotel taxi would be for just two people. By this night I finally start having a good time and the music is much better tonight, too, but I am tired and we leave around 3:30am.
Walking to the resort in midday heat feels like crossing a minor desert. That, and there is much more traffic threatening to run you over during the day as you walk along the road with no sidewalks on it. But I make it. I need to find out a way to avoid walking back and forth during the day as much as possible – it’s just too bloody hot and asphalt-saturated air is hard to breathe… At least I can shower and change at my friend’s room without having to walk back and forth!
After the dinner and the shower I go to ask about buses to Sibenik city center – there should be an open air concert there tonight. They say the bus had just left but it is possible to take a taxi. One other guy from the festival is there, too. He wants to go even though it costs 130 Kuna (around 20$). I’m thinking if it’s a tenner per person I’d just skip the whole event – I need to watch my money because I don’t have much left on the card. Fortunately, a few other people arrive and, since the taxi is a minibus, we are now 7 and can share the cost so that it adds up to roughly the same price as the shuttle that we had missed. Off we go then.
Things are still in the process of being set up when we arrive. I wander off to search for an ATM nearby and see a little bit of the city. Then finally the band comes on and, after a long sound check, plays a song and gets off stage… They come back a bit later on and play a set. Then there are shows, then more of the band and social dancing. It is great fun at the square :).
At the end of the concert I see some more people from Prague. They arrived to Croatia by car. Since there is space, they offer to get back to Solaris together. First, however, we walk off to see if they can find somewhere to buy some beer or something. We run into a local who tells us everything is closed in Sibenik, and it’s a depressive place where you work and don’t get paid, walks with us till he gets to his flat and we part ways. So we start walking to the parking lot, passing the bus station, where we see some sandwich shop open. I want to buy an orange Tonic and take one out of the fridge, but then I see a vending machine in the hallway 5 meters away. I get there – one bottle costs 7 Kuna. It’s 15 at the shop. I ask Marian if he has any coins – he’s got 3 and I have 4, so I drop them into the machine and press the button. Two bottles fall out. I’m not sure why I find it funny but I do :).
We then finally make it to the parking lot and get to the party. It is almost midnight, but people just about begin showing up – seems like many of them have gone to the city. From this night on, however, I am back: the music is great and the dancers are even better. It helped that they played enough cha-cha-cha and had a few equally in-love-with-it crazy men at the party, too – it got my blood pumping every time. I can’t begin to list all of the amazing people I dance with for the rest of the weekend, but it’s an absolute ball! I even had a chance to dance some Zouk in the second room with Jahoda from Prague and someone else from somewhere else :D.
The walk back to the hostel is actually pretty relaxing without all the heat…
I keep missing the hostel receptionists because I leave after they leave during the day and come back in the middle of the night when no one is there yet, so I decide to leave a note and payment for the room in the office near the computer and pick up change later on when I check out. I stick the note through the opening in the reception window and put the money inside. Hopefully, no one from the outside will think anything of it and the intended recipient – the lovely evening receptionist – will get everything when she arrives. I write her that I will see if I can find accommodation in Trogir for the 31st and if I manage, I’d check out that day and collect the change but if not, I’d stay at the hostel for one more night.
My friend #1 tells me that I can no longer shower in the room. That after I already take my stuff with me to change into after the beach… Well, THAT sure helps… Not… I mean, never mind that I live about 30-40 minutes away… Later on at the HotSpot I see someone else I know from Prague. I ask if I could shower and change there before the party and it seems to be no problem. If I can do that for the rest of the festival, then only walking to Solaris once during the day and back to the hostel in the morning is manageable.
The party is picking up the pace – it seems more people have arrived just for the weekend alone, so there is more action in both the main and the 2nd room. Speaking of the 2nd room – at one point of the night they began playing MJ and other disco music and quite a few teachers went there and began to show off their skills. It was absolutely mad fun and great fitness! 🙂 🙂 :).
Best crazy part of the party begins when I decide to go back and change the shoes… Some great music comes up, then some more and then some more… Next thing you know it is past 6am and the party is officially over, the remaining few insane dancers are laughing their heads off and there is little time left for sleeping :).
I finally set off to walk back and guess who I see in the street picking up fresh bread delivery when I get to the junction that I got confused at the first time? Miki the apartment owner. He again invites me over for a drink and offers to drop me off at the hostel. Since I already spent much of my sleep time on going loco on the dance floor, it is an offer I can hardly refuse. More than that, he insists I call him when I wake up and he’d give me a lift from the hostel to the junction. I think I asked about 10 times if he’s sure it is okay, but given that he earlier told that all he does all day is sit around, talk with friends who pass by, eat, drink and do nothing much else, I can see he may be bored enough to actually welcome a 10 minute car trip…
Back at the hostel I find a place to stay at in Trogir and leave another note letting them know I won’t be staying there on the 31st. Then I shower and pass out.
To which I pretty much do not make it. I manage to forget my towel and my dancing shoes at the hostel today, and while Miki was kind enough to drive me back to pick up the shoes, I still forgot about the towel – great… Oh and he also kept asking me if I will drop by in the evening so that we can spend some time together because he really likes me… Sure, it is in fact my most cherished wild fantasy to come for a rendez-vous with a well-withered man old enough to be my dad instead of going to the festival that I actually paid for and enjoying the company of much more exciting individuals! Of course! Thank you for picking me up, Miki, but please next time leave your excessively pink shades at home where they belong… Sigh… Guess it’s more walking around now :).
I find a patch of grass instead of pebbles nearby the pool bar and get working on my tan there. Nothing against the party, but I want to get dark :). Some time later a Croatian man strikes up a conversation with me. He gets us coffees and says he may also be going to Trogir on Tuesday and can offer to drive me along. It’s good to know, but we’ll see how everything really plays out.
I get to the pool party around 6pm, enjoy a bit of tossing the ball around, some Rueda, a bit of dancing and then go to dinner. We later watch a pretty cool film at my friend’s room, I’ve seen it before but it’s been a while. It’s where a woman (biology teacher) gets kidnapped because her husband accidentally filmed cops killing some people, and manages to dial a random guy’s cellphone from an apparatus left broken in the attic where she is held…
The party, yet again, is great fun. And just as before, I end up staying till the very end, fooling around with the last survivors and getting myself tossed around by some crazy man :). I mean, what better to do at 6am than some lifts and acrobatic tricks, right? 😀
In the morning Indy invites me and Jacky to join for breakfast. I’m not even hungry because I had a sandwich earlier that night, but it’s good to have a cup of tea and a pastry :). Hotel staff probably stopped trying to keep track of Salsa people by then. We then all 3 decide to go into the room and sleep – which is great because I won’t have to walk anywhere – but Indy, positioned in the middle of the bed, keeps turning around and waking me up. At around noon I get so annoyed at constantly waking up that I leave and go to sleep on the grass. Since I don’t have my sunscreen with me, I end up slightly more cooked than I hoped for on one side, but it’s not too bad and in the end of the trip I even it out :).
I simply chill there all day and then, after the dinner, get back to the hostel, shower, change and make it to the very last party of the week. It’s awesome but the floor is long dead by now. Next year they should really make sure it is secured better, and if I do make it there, I WILL this time bring my own supply of baby powder because DAYMN was it sticky the last couple of days, too!!!
And then it’s over… A load of amazing dances and great fun behind me… The sun is up, final pictures are taken and it is time to say the goodbyes… If all goes well, I hope to make it again next year! As for now, it was time to pack up and get ready to go to Trogir…
The morning receptionists (whom I see for the first time of my stay) ask me when I play to leave the hostel (I already checked out and am waiting for a text from some other people who also were going to Trogir). I tell them I’m waiting to hear from my friends but they are keeping mum. They say they need to leave to the city and will have to lock the building, so I won’t be able to leave afterwards. I decide that maybe the others won’t be going and say I’d then go ahead set off towards the city. The lovely ladies offer to drop me off at the bus station in Sibenik, which is awesome because I won’t have to drag my suitcase and bag around! Thank them both so very much!
I arrive to the station, get a ticket and wait. Some festival survivors are also there, going somewhere else. Next thing I know the people who were planning to go to Trogir show up – turns out they ran out of credit. We all board the bus and enjoy the picturesque ride along the beautiful Croatian coastline to the city of Trogir :).
Once there, we can’t decide where to stay. I booked a hostel, but they want to stay at an apartment. We first take a taxi to a beach area and try to find a place there, but it doesn’t work, so we take a shuttle boat back to the city center (which has some Salsa playing, so of course we dance a bit 🙂 ) and manage to find a place right nearby that ends up in a similar price range as the hostel. We drop the bags, get our swim gear and take another boat to another beach. First stop is at a cafe for an ice coffee, then we finally start walking along the coast, trying to find a spot. It’s all taken, occasionally by nudists, and in the end we get to a little bay that seems to have all the rubbish in the area collected on the shore. Plus it is in the shadow – exactly NOT what we were looking for… But oh well, it’s swim-time anyway, so we pass the rubbish to the clean water and go swimming. Of course, without the swimsuits – that’s the whole idea :).
Later on we dry off and start walking back. We pass an older man getting some ‘special attention’ from a pretty young guy in one of the rocky enclaves… Oh well – whatever makes them happy :).
There is Salsa playing at the first bar on the promenade. Ilker and Anna mark the spot by dancing there a bit, then we move on. The next pit-stop happens to be at the fig trees – we gather pretty much everything we can reach and have a fig feast. I’m sure a load of people are looking at us going “those crazy tourists!”, but we’re just having too much fun to really care. Finally, we end up at a restaurant by the water for an awesome fish and meat dinner – really amazing cooking! Mmmm!!! The sun slowly goes down and we manage to pay just in time to make it to the boat set back for the city.
Once back, we pay for the accommodation and go to walk around Trogir a bit. The city center is tiny, with a few restaurants, cafes, late night bars, shops and ice cream places. We wander around a bit, get lost (boys lose girls :)), then found, then finally get back to the apartment and crash.
While Naz and I were packing downstairs, our good fairies went out and brought some breakfast material for us all! Naz and Ilker had a flight 30 minutes before mine, so we all went to the airport together. Anna had to go to Zadar airport, but her flight was later that evening… This is it – the end of the holiday, the final “see you later”-s… I notice while standing at check-in that there is no counter number 13… Would you really want to entrust your life to superstitious personnel? :D. Ah, the little things…
It is evening by the time I get back home in Prague. My mind is still in Croatia under the sunshine, while my body feels as if majorly jet-lagged. I rinse it off and put it into bed, right after getting a bus ticket to Zurich for tomorrow – a Zouk congress I had no hopes of attending up until a few hours ago. I absolutely need to thank my friend in Zurich a load for allowing me to stay over because it was SOOOOO much fun, but that, of course, is the subject of a whole other entry :).
Photos from the whole event keep coming up: dig them all up from the FB page here.
It may be nice when everything goes according to the plan, but it usually doesn’t make an exciting tale in the end. With this in mind, I would say that the unexpected turn of events during my last trip to Paris was not, after all, such a terrible mess as it seemed to promise to be when, on the day of my planned arrival to the city, I realized I was homeless :D.
The original reason for going to Paris was one and only: I wanted to meet the crew of the “It’s on the Meter” project – guys who have set the new Guinness record for the longest taxi ride by traveling around the world in an old English cab over the course of 15 months. The reasons I wanted to meet them were linked to my own project (which is currently suspended until a few unexpected set-backs are dealt with) and I figured, back when the trip was being planned, that Paris is an ideal destination to catch up with them as I know the city, have friends there and my project partner is also in Paris. Of course, if everything had gone as planned, there would be nothing more to write…
The very first unplanned thing that happened was the disappearance of my project partner. Not physical in a ‘missing person’ sense, but virtual: she became unreachable by e-mail, Facebook, Skype, phone and telepathy. This grand mystery remains to this day unsolved, as I was unable to get in touch with her even while in Paris. That’s a crying shame for many reasons, but not really a part of this story.
The second thing that went rogue was my arrangement for a place to stay at: I was supposed to stay over at a friend’s place, but my friend unexpectedly was sent to a different country (from yet another place than Paris) for work and was thus unable to leave me the key. It didn’t help that I was due to land at 11pm… I tried contacting my friends and CouchSurfers for an emergency landing, but everyone was either away or full, so I finally set off to the airport with an expectation of a nice night in the company of a book and my laptop at the Chalres De Gaulle.
One of my friends texted me upon my late Monday night arrival and said to come to the city – their friend might have a place to crash at for the night. I took a bus, where I met some fun people from Philippines, to the city and ended up dancing in the bar for a couple of hours. My friend’s friend then left the key and directions and I got a good night’s sleep in a bed instead of the airport floor. It did go a bit wrong, since the friend came back and thought I was still sleeping and was a bit annoyed at ‘not being able to get into the room’ (as in, walking in was so impossible? Plus I wasn’t sleeping…), so I was then told by my friend to try and leave as fast as possible to not cause any further inconvenience… Maybe it’s just me, of course, but If I were a person who would let someone stay over at my place for the night in a situation like mine, I would handle it all completely differently, but whatever – all people differ, I guess they weren’t too used to having anyone ever stay over.
I left right after I checked for any messages on CouchSurfing or anyone else and went to sit on a bench in some park reading my book. Later on, the Philippines people texted me that they were going to have a dinner and invited me to join. We met up at some restaurant on Champs Elysees that had a known name but a sadly un-matching in quality food. Initially, I thought I’d occupy a spot in the McDonald’s (as long as they’d have Wifi, and/or sockets, and/or at least stayed open all night long so I could finish my book). However, my new friends have come up with the brilliant plan of taking me to the hotel where they were staying where I could finish up some pending writing in the business corner instead.
Now, at this point you may be wondering why I didn’t find some hostel for the night. Well, first of all why waste the money when I really just needed to survive one more night in the city? Second, walking around with a suitcase looking for hostels all around the place in the middle of the night was NOT my idea of a great way to pass a few hours of my life.
The business corner at the hotel was great – I was practically invisible from both the entrance and the reception areas behind the small wall that one of the computers was placed at. I put my suitcase under the table and caught up on the book, the mail, some research I needed to do and everything else that could be done online.
In the morning I put my suitcase into the hotel’s storage box (dragging it around with me all day didn’t seem like much fun) and went off to get some breakfast. I was meeting Johno from “It’s on the Meter” (Guinness record for world’s longest taxi drive) at noon a bit outside Paris. It was really great to see Hannah (the cab 😉 ) in real life, to share a short ride around and talk about making one’s dream a reality. These guys have indirectly inspired my own project back when I first heard about their plan, and it was psychologically important to meet with someone who had actually beat the odds and done what they planned to do – as a good reminder to not give up despite the set-backs…
After the meeting, I headed back to the city and discovered that the Montmartre cemetery was just next to my luggage storage spot! Since I had my camera with me, I headed there for a lovely afternoon of chasing local cats and a few shots (gallery here).
Finally, another one of my friends arrived back to the city, so I retrieved my suitcase and headed to my alternative place to crash at for the rest of my stay :). Even though the official reason for the visit was fulfilled, I initially made sure to stay a week so I can meet some of my friends and, maybe, my project partner and, maybe again, go dance some Salsa on the upcoming weekend. Of course, plans exist so that they can be altered…
Indeed, I managed to catch up with one more friend of mine on Thursday afternoon. I got an added bonus of a quick lunch and a scooter-drop-off at the bank of Senne for a walk that I felt eager to undertake on that exceptionally warm and sunny day. I started up somewhere in Gare de Lyon area, walked to Pont Neuf , then back up all the way to Montmartre and securely occupied the couch with a book I picked up from the shelf in the guest room of my friend’s place for the rest of the evening – physical activities quota for the day was more than fulfilled.
My original plan for the Friday night was to explore one of the yet unknown to me Salsa clubs I found online. However, while I was checking the news on Facebook, I noticed the names of Prague dance instructors (Carlos and Lenka) and ‘Paris’ in one of the posts. What a coincidence, thought I, and clicked. It turned out that there was actually a first Brazilian dance weekend organized in Paris on May 11-12-13! What it meant in practice was ZOUK (the Brazilian Zouk, not the French Zouk) was coming to Paris! Never thought it could happen – at least not as soon – or that I’d accidentally end up in the city on the same weekend. So I efficiently altered my plans for Salsa in favor of Zouk and set off to the middle of nowhere (more precisely, somewhere around Val de Fontenay) for an unexpected dose of my favorite dance. I only went for Friday and Saturday night parties though and they finished way too early (note to organizers: if you leave the ‘4am party end’ on the website AFTER you already know that it won’t be the case – that is totally NOT cool. Not at all.), although I got to meet a few of my dance scene friends there and got to know a couple of new really good dancers.
My friend and the guest of the Saturday evening dinner were trying to talk me into going to a cabaret with them, but I couldn’t possibly miss the Saturday party, so we settled on a different plan: they go to the cabaret and bring the girls back, I go and bring the guys, and we meet back at the apartment at 6am for the after-party :). Well, at the very least I fulfilled my obligation! It can also probably be regarded as ‘progress’: last time I brought someone homeless into the house with me it was just a kitten (incredibly cute and lovely, but I couldn’t keep her, so I found her a nice home), now it seems I’m up-grading to picking up humans from ‘the streets’ :D.
Now, before you get all excited, there’s nothing x-rated coming up (sorry!). One of the dancers had nowhere to sleep and I said if he doesn’t find anything, he’s welcome to crash on the other half of the guest room bed for the night. So the party was followed by a fun night bus ride and conversation with some other people from the event and a spontaneous chat with some random funny guy on that bus sitting near us all, trying to work out what the buzz was all about and why we were all from different countries, who, it turned out, was going to the same exact station as we were! It was great that we started talking because if he didn’t tell us where to go when we needed to quickly switch to the 2nd bus, we would’ve missed it and would have to wait another half an hour for the next!
When we finally made it to the house, my friend was awake working on some photographs and I was joking about the fact that I see no girls while I brought my share of promised humans just around the promised time of the morning, too. It turned out though that the cabaret plan was abandoned after I left, so it’s good I didn’t cave in to stick with them for the night in the first place. The brief hello’s were quickly followed by the appropriately swift crash onto the bed and long needed sleep. I presume my unplanned-for guest left early in the morning and made it to the boat trip – I’d have to ask about it, however, at another congress :D. Maybe Berlin?
On Sunday I originally planned to stop by Barrio Latino for the afternoon Salsa session but the laziness got the best of me – and that book I was reading was just way too interesting to put down :). So I left Barrio to another visit and stuck to the literature. I wasn’t going to go to the third party of the weekend either – it was due to finish at 2am, which was way too early for a good congress party and definitely not worth the trouble of getting there and the entrance fee. Besides, I had a flight to catch back to Prague. I, of course, had missed all the hot and sunny Prague weather (yet again) while in Paris, so now it is miserable and freezing (hello, you people up there regulating the weather – it is END OF MAY already, wtf?!), but hey – at least I have one more short story up my sleeve and a few new pictures of old tombs :).
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This post has been found in violation of H.R. 3261, S.O.P.A and has been removed.
I had hoped for a relatively boring stay in Warsaw, and I got just that (besides our quest in search of any bank or exchange office that would accept a fully torn-in-half 100$ note, which had ended in raving success: we got 70$ worth from it after a few hours of search – in Russia it would’ve been 50$). However, the journeys to and from, in line with the philosophy of the destination not necessarily being the most important part of a trip, made up for any lack of amusement! A quick glance at what happened:
On the way to Warsaw from Prague we were awaken at roughly 5am, upon crossing the Polish border. We were subsequently requested to pack up all our stuff and leave the cart, walking to the replacement cart (right next to the original one) with all our stuff… Turned out that Polish officials refused to allow this cart to proceed – possibly for technical reasons. I know nothing of trains and train safety, but the cart was kind of loud and shook more than one would expect of it, granted it was hooked right after the locomotive. Luckily, my travel companions in the coupe were positive type of people and joked the whole hustle through :). Once in a new cart (I must say it rode very smoothly, as was due, and didn’t shake side-to-side), we proceeded to climb back onto the beds and catch up on the sleep.
On the way back I experienced a different type of an ‘adventure’. I ended up alone in the coupe, and soon I wished I wasn’t. One of the passengers from next door stroke up a friendly chat. He was very happy when I said I was from Russia, because presumably our nations are very close and he likes Russian people a lot (well the part about his jacket saying “Russia” in big letters turned out to be true, indeed). He also said in the course of the conversation that unfolded that he was holding one of the official positions and dealt with political and economic representatives. He even showed me his picture with president Vaclav Klaus :).
Being the “I’m not impressed” type of a person when it comes to flashing one’s status, connections or anything similar to it, I instead form my opinion on people based on their personal merits, personality traits, and conduct. At first, he just seemed as any other kind-of-bored train passenger wishing to pass some time talking to someone else. His enthusiasm about me being Russian and also liking reading and philosophy was a bit exaggerated, I thought, but well – could have stemmed from his Southern origins.
The man said he likes cool people and prefers to be friends with them rather than hanging out with different folk he meets at work. Fair enough, thought I. He then went to change from the suit into something more comfy and came back. This is where, as it turned out, the ‘adventure’ was meant to begin – for him.
I guess he decided that I was conveniently enough alone, of a convenient age, not too ugly (questionable conclusion, granted how beaten up I managed to look that evening 😀 ) and of pretty low IQ :). Or something similarly enticing… Maybe he thought flashing his pictures with the Czech President et al was bound to either impress me enough, or to activate my inner gold-digger… (tough luck on both…). In either case, he insisted he was very interested in being ‘friends’, except judging from the fact that he didn’t wait too long before bragging about his massage skills (and offering me one, of course, swearing to god it’d be “very nice”), moving to sit closer to me and putting his hand around me, I figured out that my initial ‘way too friendly’ radar reading was spot-on and his idea of ‘friendship’ differed from the commonly accepted definitions of thereof… Even if all that wasn’t happening, it was enough that one of his first questions to me was whether I have a boyfriend (I just said all the positions are currently taken), followed by a generous offer from his side to become one, because (you guessed it) “it will be nice” and “you will like it”, as well as “I am not like the others” (damn, do all such men read the same freaking “how to pick up a dumb chick” manual or what? 😀 Seriously 😀 )… I was presented with his business card and even invited to his hotel upon arrival (for breakfast and a chat… I said I’d go sleep when I get back, he said I could sleep in his hotel, I asked him why… His answer indicated he also had a very different definition of ‘breakfast and a chat’ than is commonly accepted 😀 ), and to his home country any time :).
Unfortunately (for him), all I wanted was to have him move his hands back where they belonged. I also asked him how many times of saying “no” does it take to get the message across to the recipient. I must give him some credit though, for, despite being slightly under influence, he cooled off a bit and said if he made me uncomfortable he could leave. I said I wanted to sleep and yes, him leaving was the right thing to do at that point, so I nodded to that offer.
He went to his coupe, saying he might drop in later to talk some more, I nodded and once he left locked the door and went to sleep.
He came back a few minutes later and knocked, then tried the door – I played dead. When I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I thought he’d be asleep by then. When I was just about to return, however, I saw him in the corridor, knocking again! (Maybe he wasn’t lying when he said he couldn’t sleep in the train…). Fortunately, he didn’t see me, so I hid back and waited, hoping he won’t try to open the door – then he’d know I’m awake and would continue on his agenda. I let a few minutes pass, walked quietly back to my coupe and opened the door, hoping he was not inside… No one was inside (although I had initially wished for some co-traveler, who could by the mere presence make it rather difficult for my neighbor to keep trying to score a quick round with a ‘random dumb chick’), to my relief, so I locked the door again and slept the rest of the night through undisturbed…
When the train arrived to Prague, I waited for everyone to get off with the door closed. I hoped they (him and his assistant) would have been gone when I get off – they were standing instead near the cart door. Luckily, I was wrapped in my scarf, and although if he could remember my red suitcase from the night before he could easily identify me, either because he didn’t or decided not to let it show, he didn’t say anything. I simply got off and walked away, too…
This was, thus far, the end of the adventures related to the trip, and here is what am left to say:
Dear fellow traveler: just because you hang out with presidents doesn’t mean every female traveling alone will happily suddenly transform into a common whore and offer you entertainment, become your ‘girlfriend’, go to your hotel, enjoy your massage, or whatever the fuck not else you had had in mind. Your money, position, friends, etc do not impress me, nor do they give you the right to not take “no” for an answer when it’s been repeated to you over 10 times in various explicit ways. Neither does it provide you with a license to start touching me (or any woman, for that matter), moving to sit closer and letting your hands wonder – all that AFTER I very clearly said I am NOT interested. You talked a lot about respect – well, SHOW some next time towards strangers you meet. If you truly want an honest, down to earth friend (without benefits, thank you) – holla back. If you only sought a quick random shag and talked about ‘shared interests’ not because of your genuine interest in me as a person, but as a manner of getting into my panties via express lane, tough fucking luck, mate – I’m the wrong kind of a girl to try this on.
Oh and a P.S. Note my decency of not mentioning your name, position or even country of origin: I wrote this as an advice for fellow single female travelers, and even more importantly as a reminder for the people of your kind who think they are entitled to seek taking advantage of others, for some bizarre reasons, and not as a way of a personal revenge. Neither do I judge you to be a horrible person or hold an unfavorable opinion of you. I only hold unfavorable opinion of your specific behavior in that train (including apologizing for something, then continuing doing it) – not your entire personality. Good luck in your life. I sincerely wish you well, just please treat strangers with more regard and respect next time and remember that we’re not all doormats created exclusively for your personal amusement.
Discovery of the week: that Murphy’s law is a valid and potent force in the universe had been confirmed empirically this weekend. My mother, who dropped in for a brisk visit, had the flight to and from Vienna (it was 3 times cheaper than flights to Prague), so we have decided to use the weekend and go strolling in Vienna two days before her departure. My previous trips to the city have been nothing but wonderful. I even owe the birth of this blog to my previous visit to the Austrian capital, so we have enthusiastically set off on the road. And that’s where it all began…
At first, we were delighted to occupy the front seats on the bus – they provide most space and are the warmest. Behind us sat a Vietnamese man. Behind him sat another Vietnamese man… The both of them have had something like 1h long pause in their otherwise on-going, loud conversation across the rows… They began when we were stuck in traffic for an extra hour on the D1 exit from the city and that was the end of the peace on the bus. The one right behind us had to crook his head to talk to the guy behind him. The guy behind was hanging on the chairs the whole way. At least one can seek comfort in assuming that one’d get a major neck-ache and the other’s hands would be sore… That they actually had an option to sit together didn’t occur to them in those 5 hours… True, they had some luggage with them that had been placed on the seats next to them, but placing the luggage on two seats in front of themselves and sitting together, anyone?…
But that was just the beginning, of course…
The booking site of Eurolines buses for some strange reason allows to choose the option of arrival to the Vienna airport. The reality differs, for Eurolines buses only have a station at the bus terminal in the city, where we have arrived to. Thus, together with the driver, we had to run to another bus destined to Bratislava that stopped at the airport on the way. The bus was full of Italian guys. One of them got extremely upset that the bus was departing 25 minutes later (our bus driver, while en-route, called the one going to Bratislava to wait for him and passengers. As we understood, he lives in Bratislava and that was the last bus going there). Initially I presumed they needed the airport and were in a hurry. The brisk verbal exchange between the upset guy and our bus driver almost turned into a fist-fight, but 5 other guys rushed to the front of the bus and stopped the madness.
Once at the airport, we counted on a free shuttle to the hotel, as advertised on the booking website. There was a shuttle, but it wasn’t free. Neither was there anything available to eat at the hotel at this time, despite the description including 24h food facilities. We had some of our own food with us though, luckily, so dinner was sorted and we finally could rest. If you’re wondering why we were staying near the airport – my mom’s flight was early in the morning on Sunday and staying elsewhere would have meant getting up several hours ahead and dragging the suitcase around…
The night was in its prime and the sleep was sound… That is, up until the baby came into the picture… Somewhere in our wing or on our floor was a baby. Babies, as is a known fact, cry at random times. In a sense, that would not have been a problem if the baby cried. Except, THIS particular baby didn’t cry – it SCREAMED. It screamed as if it had been put onto a frying pan! I’ve heard a fair deal of crying babies and I was really concerned about this one’s well-being, so I hope it was fine and just had a very peculiar manner of crying. Nevertheless, the baby repeated the screaming a few times at random throughout the night, sort of sending the dreams of a solid night’s rest down the drain.
On Saturday we walked around the city. We started off by discovering that it wasn’t the battery that died in my mom’s favorite watch but the mechanism itself, proceeded to a dinner at the Chinese restaurant, walked through the city center and finally closed the stroll by eating the Sacher cake yet again. Of course one can buy a whole cake at the store, but it’s hard to eat the entire thing in just a few days of its lifespan and the ambience of having had one at the original Sacher hotel would be lost, too. Besides, it makes for a funky tradition :).
This is where we split. I went to a friend’s birthday party and mom went back to the hotel to pack. At the party, I helped tie the balloons and pretty much single-handedly made a mega d.i.y. twister – see below.
Probably the hardest part was cutting out the fabric circles with extremely dull scissors…
My hands were covered in glue, but the good thing about it was that it wasn’t super glue, so I got it off of my hands pretty easily. On the other hand. I still have some fabric glue on my jeans…
However, as the fortune has it, I had no chance to ever try the game out. I only had the time for the live music and a dance.
Shortly after, I needed to catch a train to the airport and the last one was leaving before midnight, which is when the party was really starting…
Of course, expecting a smooth journey back was a mistake. The last train simply never came at all, although it was marked on the schedule. I’ve gotten to Wien Mitte instead and had to take a taxi, which was an unpreviewed expense… The option of going back to the party was there, too, but I was very tired and I also had to sort out a few final things with mom…
Once at the hotel and done with everything, I was really looking forward to a good night’s sleep… Unfortunately, the Vietnamese people (not the two guys from the bus 🙂 ) that inhabited the hotel didn’t think it was a great idea to let people sleep at night. Around 3:30 in the morning there began loud rolling of suitcases, loud conversations in the hall, loud laughter. First I thought some party people were drunk coming back to the hotel and having a buzzed-out laugh.
My level of noise tolerance is pretty high – we have neighbors with little kids right upstairs where I live, but everything has its limits. When 1.5 hours later the ceaseless loud chatter outside had still been at full volume, I finally got up off the bed, opened the door to see the Vietnamese (I can tell Vietnamese language apart, in case you’re wondering how I’m so sure about that 🙂 ) inhabitants talk to each other loudly from one end of the hall to the opposite end, some standing talking to someone with doors open and similarly respectful behavior. They acted as if they were the only living humans in the entire universe! With all due respect, but other people have just the same paid the same money (or more, as I’m sure they got a group discount rate) to get some rest. Some people, like the man we shared the shuttle ride with upon arrival, travel for more than 24 hours, have maybe 5 hours at most to rest and then another flight. Some people have children with them. Being so bleeping loud at any hotel at all, let alone at an airport hotel, is beyond any notion of inconsiderate! If they wanted to talk, they could do it behind closed doors, for crying out loud. I was so pissed off I point blank told them to “shut the fuck up”. I doubt they understood the English, but they must’ve gotten the tone. I had to get out twice more in those 5 minutes, but that made them finally lower down their voices.
However, due to time change, it was already around 5.30am and our wake-up time was 7am…. a.k.a. ‘completely sleepless night’.
At 7 we pumped up on the coffee and mom set off to the airport. I showered, packed my stuff and went to offer the house-cleaning services to the b-day party host. The three of us there did the dishes and some emergency cleaning, which occupied us till around 3pm, and then I had to go to catch the bus back.
It is Monday now and the weekend is over. I just hope that Murphy’s law is no longer valid – it’s a different week and a different country :).
Back from Paris, re-packed suitcase, then off to the Hague via Amsterdam I went… Our original plane’s pilots must have eaten some wrong kind of brownies, or maybe they had just been blown off by the strong winds in the Netherlands that evening, but in either case it turned out that I had made it to the airport well in advance for the first time in recent history completely in vain – the flight was delayed by an hour. Oh well, I just went to heaven then after checking in to wait for my fate. Eventually, I boarded the plane that was originally destined to fly to the UK, but the important part was that it made it to the final destination written on my ticket.
Netherlands. Day one – actually, evening. Train to the Hague from Schiphol. Luggage drop-off at the house then out we go – I had been cordially invited to my friend’s sister’s place for the birthday party dinner. Didn’t expect the Netherlands to welcome me with a gastronomical treat! I happily OD-ed on some delicious international food and the three kinds of cakes, washed it all down with some green tea, annoyed a lovely little girl and finally got to relax and rejuvenate. I also discovered that I had forgotten my hair dryer – not the best item to leave back home right after freshly dyeing the hair, especially any shade of red, but I’m a survivor and I made it through!
Day two – watching some of the performances (singing, dancing, acrobatics and even martial arts) at the city hall – it was the Chinese new year’s day celebration. Unfortunately, we have overslept the parade with the paper dragon and the fireworks, although it would never occur to me that those two could possibly occur any time before sundown (well, maybe I could agree to the dragon, but fireworks???), or at least at some reasonable late afternoon hours… Thus, no pictures, but I am sure you would forgive me this time.
In the evening the warm-up session for the upcoming festival had been officially kicked-off with a zouk party: I was lucky enough to arrive in time for this once-in-a-month event. I was unlucky enough to forget my safety pins, so my ultra-comfy but (sigh) strapless stretch overall kept creeping down all the time. I kind of gave up on trying to make the rim remain above instead of below the general bra level a little through the party, so I just fixed it not to fall any further than that and pretended that was exactly the style I intended to rock that night :D.
Day three: God presumably rested on the Sunday, and I sort of started the day accordingly – lest it is not by hazard that I have a PhD in procrastination – but then I finally had to buckle up for an all-night-long session of passionate…typing on the keyboard of my laptop, as I was facing the final deadline for the essay I was unable to force myself to finish in Paris, due to the fact that my mind had become over-preoccupied with the brilliant idea of mine – that which I do not speak of (ha!) until the time when I will…
This extremely un-entertaining but necessary to go through experience has kept me busy all the way into the almost monday noon, when I had finally wrapped it all up (all the 20 pages of editing and 15 of typing) and went on to amuse myself with compiling the up-date on my experiences in Paris the week ago. Then I finally retired from the living room sofa and got to sleep, only to wake up in the evening to some more chilling and procrastinating – this time well-deserved. Finally, the day had been wrapped up by a zouk workshop.
Day five started off by waiting for Godot… Godot, this specific time, was a friend of mine who currently studies in Utrecht and who promised to drop by to hang out with me (and bring a hair dryer along) around 2pm. If you know the tale, then you know what happened… (If you don’t, up-date your classics reading list 😛 ). While busy doing that, I have tortured myself by listening to 3 of the 7 parts of the interview of my absolute new hero (simply for the fact that he didn’t slap that woman on her face not just within about 25 seconds of starting to talk to her but for like over an hour in total I truly believe he deserves a monument built in his honor with some sort of stoic or patience-related inscription) Richard Dawkins with Wendy Wright (what a name! One more ‘w’ somewhere and she could well be replacing the Wicked Witch of the West, whom we dubbed ‘www’, in the script that we had written on par with my friend back when I was 12 in the summer language school at Cambridge for the Wizard of Oz Play… Oh, and it was I who did the part, of course 😀 ). I must say I was uncertain of my abilities to remain calm enough not to smash my laptop into pieces after this exemplary portrayal of distilled ignorance so I hadn’t finished watching the remaining 4 parts right away and switched to a slightly more digestible, although still profoundly disturbing, religious educational documentary. Purely for the sake of the laptop, of course.
All the while, I was checking the phone for the promised to me text message from my lovely friend who was meant to send one upon boarding the train… Up until about 4.30 pm when I had finally decided to use the rare sunshine day for picture-taking. Oh, and she wrote that she had to finish some school work so my date was off for the day… Except after having taken two or three shots of a particularly picturesque bike parking, I had realized that it was too bleeping cold for my fingers, went to the train station to get my ticket to Utrecht, aborted ‘mission photoshoot’ till better weather and returned back to the casa, stopping by the supermarket on the way – I had promised to introduce my friend to my personal version of the bachelorette ‘quick-tasty-and-filling’ dinner solution – washed my hair, dried it as well as i could with the towel, listened to yet another utterly brilliant speech by my hero and set off to do the elaborate cooking. Unfortunately, Dutch stores may have a wide array of products available but the key ingredient to success – the cheddar& mozzarella grated cheese mix – available at Prague’s Tesco stores – was lacking. The alternative cheese option turned out rather saltier and more poignant than I would ideally want it to be, so we have agreed that next time if occasion arises I would bring the proper cheese along.
Oh and if you’re wondering what the recipe is, it is absurdly simple: cook some pasta (whatever excites you the most. I like multi-colored or whole-grain versions, as they have more taste of their own); once it’s done, add olive oil (ideally. Practically any oil or butter would do – you only need a bit so that the pasta doesn’t stick and so that the rest gets mixed in well), grated cheddar and mozzarella (I am fond of this particular coupling because of its smooth, mild taste and richness at the same time) or whatever else gets your toes to curl, some soy sauce (make sure to not overdo this one, especially with more pronounced variations of cheese – better to add in a few drops later than to be stuck with overly salty breakfast/lunch/dinner… :P), multi-colored pepper (it DOES matter, taste-wise, if pepper is just one kind or the mix, but heck, if you don’t have the mix… substitute to your liking 🙂 ) and mix well. Make sure to do all of the above pretty quickly as pasta has a tendency to cool off fast. As a final touch, you may opt to then mix in a raw egg-yolk, but you don’t have to – thy shall be forgiven if you don’t. The whole ordeal from the moment pasta water boils and you throw it in takes roughly 15 minutes. Bon appetit :).
The mock version of the dinner behind us, we have ventured into the evening for another zouk workshop. In theory, it was meant to finish earlier than it did and leave some time for social dancing. In practice, it finished just about 15 minutes before I had to leave to the train station… Meh… Good strategic thinking on our behalf resulted in some dancing on the side while any music was playing during the workshop though, so it was not a visit paid completely in vain :).
45 minutes later in Utrecht… I finally saw the pretty face of my lovely friend, whose hair dryer I never got to use… She took me through the cold, dark night all the way to the college campus on her bike, on which I froze my fingers and my ass, but it was definitely a fun and worthy experience :). Once there, we had some gnocchi and went to the student party at the bar right there on campus (what a kick-ass cool university!). Since the last time I attended an organized party affiliated with an educational institution it was back when I was 14 or so in the UK (summer language school), this was quite a funny experience to observe the scene – it reminded me more of high school than college. The music was fine though so it didn’t matter – we left to catch some snooze at around 3am.
The following day after the breakfast and some chatting I had returned back to the Hague. This was the day scheduled for unwinding and properly utilized for that relaxing and recharging purpose. Oh, and I had been converted to becoming a devoted addict to the Ben&Jerry’s ice-cream after the very first try of their chocolate-chip-cookie-dough variation on the theme. This stuff is pure sweet-tooth-ers’ cocaine!!! It’s so good it must be banned! YUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!
Thursday began lazily and rainy-ly and ended up in manic attempts to pack the suitcase before the tram left. The tram won the race… So it had been agreed upon to catch the next one. A short while later at the station, having managed to not miss the ride I was certain I’d miss, I hopped onto the fuschia-colored train (Barbie train??!! lollll) that took me to Amsterdam to our lovely host from last year. As it had been the case last time, it was all about food once again – not that I’m complaining though :). This was the Spanish omelette evening, which we then went to dance-off at the congress pre-party. The pre-party was small and didn’t last long – definitely not the greatest value for the 7-euro price of the entry – but it was a nice way to kick off the weekend.
Having gotten off two stops before the one we actually needed, for whatever reason (even though we’ve taken the same exact bus back many times last year), we wandered around a bit being very lost within the approximately 200m range from where we were staying. Taking the right street would’ve helped, as we had later figured out from the street maps (practical Dutch people put area maps at all bus and tram stops with ‘you are here’ pointers – gotta love them!), so we were home sleeping, after raiding the fridge for some yoghurt, about an hour in total later than we could have made it.
Friday afternoon I’ve met with a friend of mine for a coffee to catch up on her news and latest successes and developments. I’ve been also shamelessly seduced by the most good looking lemon muffin. It wasn’t probably as exciting as a space-cake could’ve been, from what I’ve heard, but it did the trick for me in its own ways :). Later on, it was Chinese dinner’s turn.
Then, finally, here came the first festival night. It is amazing how tiny the dancing world is – at every festival you meet people you’ve seen before, the friends from around the world, share the news, the dancing, the atmosphere… And this is also the first night of being spaced-out. Sadly for all the sensation hunters out there what I mean by ‘spaced-out’ has nothing to do with many of the interesting things Amsterdam has to offer on its menu. I mean being spaced out by dancing – quite literally so, too, when one of my favorite of all times Dutch dancers made me fly up and down and around in the air for a couple of songs once again – wheeeeeeee :):):):):):). I had been waiting for this ever since last November!!! And I want more again soon!!! Hehe :). The only unpleasant part of the night was the strict shut-down of the party at 4am sharp. One would reasonably expect the party to go on till at least 5 but nope… In addition, it was the last song when the DJ announced the last song. In case you don’t know, the festival unspoken rule is to have the ‘last song’, then have the public demand one more and have the real last song (or, if you’re lucky, two) play. But this was it when they said this was it :(. How very Dutch :(… lollll… At least this time we got off at the right bust stop.
Saturday afternoon I went to search for a pair of black shorts – mine have been left at home along with that damned hair dryer and I needed them for the Saturday night glamour dress-code do (pictures pending…). Then I had the most delicious apple pie with a couple of friends, some fun conversations and generally spent the time rather pleasantly away from the misery unfolding outside weather-wise. I was back at the house exactly in time for the dinner – pesto pasta, tuna salad and a few other little things. After the dinner I actually stretched (wow, I’m proud of myself) properly, then got ready and set off for more dancing.
This night there were more people and less free dancing area, which is probably why I received a decent hit on the nose right at the start, but even that didn’t spoil the mood. This night the music was more to my liking as well, and I’ve gotten to dance with all my favorite dancers plus several of those I didn’t dance with before – what a treat! Spacing out continued through the night and culminated in the final several songs interpreted on-par with Ant. By this time there were fewer survivors on the floor, so we took our improv to the next level and it ended up being an amazing creative collaborative effort that is exactly that kind of a high that is worth dancing for :). That is not, of course, to dismiss the similarly psychedelic in their own ways zouk sessions with the rest of my lovely Dutch dance team – guys (Roger, Jasper, Odin, Yon) you all RULE my dancing world! 4 am came way too fast that night, but everything has to come to an end, even the best spacing-out sessions…
So here was Sunday with its late afternoon wake-up call, packing, flight back to Prague and catching up on some unfinished urgent business… Right now it is half past 7am on February 15th, the morning after the best v-day ever: I slept in late, went to class and then straight to the v-day zouk party at the Church, where we had a great deal of fun. I reckon I better get to bed, as I would eventually need to get up some time in the afternoon to fulfill some other urgently pending tasks. Therefore, I salute you and in the true anti-valentine and pro-valentine spirit (just to maintain both sides of the perspective), present you with (if you haven’t seen them yet) some appropriate for the occasion treats :). Enjoy!
Before I even start on this, allow me to mention that Paris is a city I have already visited several times throughout my life. While a full-feature story about my previous trips to the city is still in the ether somewhere, I can’t help but share the most recent experiences, partially because on my recent visit I have had more happen to me in the first day than ever before over the course of several days.
It all began when my Parisian friends expressed their disappointment at the fact that they haven’t seen me for ‘too long’. The ‘too long’ criteria is, of course, highly subjective, but I guess that two years into the separation is a reasonable measure. Thus, having discovered an ultra-cheap flight to Paris during my spring break, I’ve proceeded to purchase it and following a hectic, sleep-deficient day, boarded the plane that has smoothly landed in the French capital shortly before 11pm.
My dearest friend that I have stayed with has been kind enough to pick me up at the airport, and I was finally introduced to the entire CD of Rihanna on our way back to the city. Alas, upon arrival we have figured out that a) we were desperately hungry and b) the fridge was desperately empty. So we ventured a couple of blocks from the house into a tiiiiiiny little place with the French crêpes (aka thin, large pancakes). The place looked like something you would intuitively rather speed up right past, but that would be a grave mistake. Located off the center of Paris, this little crêperie is worth a dedicated visit! Named Marche ou Crêpe, it is rather famous, a suggestion one may find in travel guides and definitely something you and your taste buds will remember with joy. You can pick and mix your own recipe from a selection of many unusual, fresh ingredients, whether sweet or salty. I must say that my born-at-the-spot idea of having goat cheese, egg, olives and sweet paprika was so damn good I’m still dreaming about a second serving!
However, the gastronomical experience was just the beginning of it all. On our way back to the house, we have been stopped by a man who was clearly not very sane. For whatever the unfortunate reason, he wanted to talk to us and got very upset when we simply carried on walking. He followed us, asking why was it we didn’t want to talk to him. At a certain point, he grabbed me by the hand to stop me and even reached into his back trousers pocket after a beer bottle, which we were not too interested in knowing what he wanted to do with. He then spat in my direction, too, after we told him to leave us alone, which is when we promptly crossed the street to the nearest available cafe with someone in it. They were closing, but we asked if we could just stand there for a few moments till the guy is gone. Soon enough, he found another set of victims to try and converse with, so we made a little semi-circle around his street post and sped back to the house. My friend said she had never had anything like this happen to her in 11 years of living in the city – I must definitely be some sort of a lucky charm for all kinds of madness…
The rest of the night had been spent extremely productively – by talking till the wee hours of the morning. I must say that besides the company-deprived man, so far everything went rather well.
The afternoon of February 28th was spent the way it should have been after all these sleepless nights: passed out. Rather early in the evening than late in the afternoon, I finally got up, took a lovely shower and was driven to the new gastronomical treat of the day. This time it was a small, hidden Japanese restaurant that has been owned by the same couple for at least a decade. Before, the restaurant did not accept non-Japanese clients, but nowadays economy dictates otherwise. Still, you would be better off when it comes to ordering anything if you either know Japanese or have someone with you who does :).
I had just received my special gift, too – a fancy set of chopsticks that can be dismantled and carried around in a special casing – so I was happy to try them out (read: show them off). I was also happy to try out all those yummy items on the menu. The feast had been hallmarked by the green tea ice-cream with sweet beans and I naively thought that this was enough of guilty pleasures for the night.
Instead, another friend of mine had texted to ask if I was interested in going for a drink with a few people. We’ve arranged for them to pick me up at my friend’s place and the ‘few drinks’ have turned out to be a visit into the VIP Room club. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this many over-dressed youth representatives gathered at one location!
The music disappointed me that night. Specifically, the fact that until as late as 2am the DJ kept playing half a minute or a minute of music and then threw in a half a minute pause… Or at least so it seemed… Pauses are fine, but they should only last THAT long and no longer. Besides, pausing music every other bloody minute does nothing to hype up the crowd – it rather does a lot to kill the groove even if someone has it to start with! In the end it got a bit better, so we left around 4am.
This is how I’ve gotten a lovely cheap-end meal, a crazy man, a hidden Japanese place and a VIP hang-out squeezed into the first 24 hours of my visit.
The other tales of that trip are the following:
1. The tale of Bastille.
Bastille is where we arranged to have a rendez-vous with yet another friend of mine at 4pm on the Sunday. The plan was to proceed to the Barrio Latino for the afternoon Salsa marathon. Once at Bastille, I had texted my friend a very imaginative “I am at Bastille”, but received no answer. It was rather cold outside, so I decided to find the place myself. I had been there once several years ago in the middle of the night, but I roughly recalled how the street should look like that it was on – a helpful thing granted that there are about 10 streets converging on Bastille… I’ve informed my friend that I’m going to the place and began circling the round-about. No reply…
At one of the streets, I saw a neon sign that seemed familiar. Trusting my inner GPS, this was the street I have decided to try taking and, surpriiiiiiiize, there was Barrio Latino just over a hundred meters into the street! I was very proud of my navigational skills and proceeded inside to be stripped of 8 euros for the entry. I’ve stayed there till 10:30 (partially to get my money’s worth 🙂 ) and got to dance with many good dancers and some great ones, one smelly and one creepy, as well as one absolutely crazy but in a great way :). One guy recognized me from Prague Zouk weekend with Mafie – we even managed to dance our Brazilian version to two songs of French Zouk-love :). I’ve also myself recognized a couple of people from some Salsa congresses – it was fun to see familiar faces. However, my friend had disappeared into oblivion… By 10:30 the place began to empty out and I began to feel hungry. These two factors influenced my decision to finally leave, grab the McD hunger fix kit (KFC was closed 😦 ) and proceed back to the house to sleep some more.
As it later got cleared up, my friend was helping someone to move and was too tired to come that day. I guess it was a smart decision not to wait at the metro stop! I’m just wondering how strenuous the move must have been if even a text message to inform me proved too exhausting of a task :).
2. The Truffle tale.
I must say that I am rather surprised by the general level of culinary fanciness of this particular trip… Following a lovely and a delicious dinner at the Relais le Bistrot d’Edouard with yet another friend of mine and two wonderful ladies (his friends), we have arranged to give a try to the Terres de Truffes restaurant the following evening. My previous experience with truffles is limited to some truffle sauce in Italy (but those gastronomical tales are a subject of an upcoming entry of their own), so I was curious. I was so curious that I was the first one to arrive to the place 🙂 (okay well maybe it had to do something with the fact that yet another friend of mine we grabbed a drink with earlier that day had to leave and I was not too far from the location…). Then my lovely hostess and her friend showed up, and finally one of the two lovely ladies from the night before. So there we are the four of us waiting for my friend and the other girl to arrive… And they never do! As it turned out, she had not been feeling well that day (as one could reasonably expect that after a night of binge-drinking 😀 😀 😀 ), so they had decided to have a dinner at yesterday’s place instead, which is right next door to the house. Except that, fortunately, neither I nor the other lady have received the texts that informed us about the change of plans!
This series of events resulted in us having the dinner at the truffle place… I must say that the fuss about them is not over-estimated by a bit! Everything we tried was damn delicious, the service was extremely friendly and helpful with the selection, and this gourmet dinner will definitely stay as one of the highlights in my memory of everything I’ve ever eaten!
After the dinner, we have stopped by my friend’s place for a short chat and towards 2am proceeded back to the house to finish yet another enjoyable day.
The very last tale is the tale of suspicion… It is actually very short: upon my arrival to the airport the next day (and I pride myself in yet again making it with enough buffer time – a habit I seem to have lost over the years to the risky one of making it to the airport 3 minutes before the end of the check-in…), I was kindly requested by a police officer not to go upstairs. Turns out there had been a suspicious object discovered at the airport, so I decided to use the freshly available to me 15 minutes of procrastination (this is how long the officer said it should take to sort everything out) for a coffee break. Since I was not the only one, the little cafe quickly filled up and as the fortune has it, I ended up in the line in front of fellow Russian citizens, who had troubles finding tea on the menu. I’m overly chatty when sleep deprived, so I helped them to find the tea and talked them into oblivion while having the coffee. Hopefully, I talked them into visiting Prague :). If so, my mission was completed. The suspicious object had also been dealt with in the meantime, so I had finally proceeded to the Charles de Gaulle and waved goodbye to Paris and my very delicious visit.
First of all, thank you so much for being there! I hope I don’t disappoint you with the quality/frequency of the posts :). If you’d ever have any suggestions, comments, requests – you can always contact me!
Second: it may be tricky to notice, but the tabbed menu of my blog actually features FIVE separate blogs. What it means for you as a subscriber is that you would ONLY be notified of new posts in the blog(s) you are subscribed to – and you would NOT be notified of any new posts under any other sections/blogs. This is mainly done so that posts that are extremely different in focus and area of interest don’t blanket-flood everyone :).
If, however, you are interested in any other section(s)/blogs, don’t forget to subscribe to them separately, too, not to miss out on new articles! Here’s a very quick guide to each section/blog:
In Shade: random entries on a variety of topics and occurrences in life. Usually not extremely long (I’ll likely migrate longest entries into ‘Contemplating’ section, when relevant). In the future, the plan is to add more videos and pictures – yes, the funny stuff too :).
Travel Tales: once I get a hang of picture resizing, I’ll continue to migrate my travel photos to this blog. Most times it will be a gallery, and you can read the story of the whole trip by following picture captions in the gallery. I’ve been to 42 countries so far (I think…), so a LOT is coming up!
Contemplating: long text warning! This section/blog often contains longer writing with many external links/videos on various topics that are more thought-provoking, controversial, educational, inspiring. My focus changes over time, so just because the latest spree was focused heavily on religion, it doesn’t mean that’s all you’d ever get :). In the future: even more of great stuff on education, science and everything else that constitutes slow food for the brain :).
Dancing through life: everything dance. Congresses I go to, styles I dance, occasional rants on the topic of dance floor violence :D. Coming up in the future: amazing dance videos and pictures from different styles.
Poetry: thus far the most neglected section of the blog… But I’ll get to it :). If you’re into poetry – let me know. I’d be more motivated to post if there’s an audience for it :D.
Voila, that’s it :). It’s like a buffet – so feel free to pick and choose, subscribe to sections (well, blogs 🙂 ) that you’re interested in – remember that they are separate and if you’re not subscribed to some section(s), you won’t get notifications of new posts made there :).
Wishing all of you well, thank you for being there! Also, don’t hesitate to share anything that you may find interesting with others :).
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The next destination on the map carried the nickname of “the bay of poets”. The little town Lerici apparently hosted a bunch of creative people’s retreats and was one of their favorite places to visit for inspiration. This was pretty … Continue reading
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Rescued by my friend from the increasingly boring stay in Bologna, I got a chance to visit Florence. It was roughly lunch time when we arrived… You can also view the album as a slideshow: Our next stop for the … Continue reading
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One time a CouchSurfing friend of mine suggested to go for an Erasmus Valentine’s day party in Bologna… The tickets were cheap, so was the stay, and in the anti-v-day spirit, I said “definitely yes!”. This is how it went … Continue reading
I remember when we took a ship ride from Cyprus to Israel to visit Jerusalem back when I was yet a pre-teen. The very first local image imprinted in my memory was that of huge piles of trash on the sides of the road.
This time we have arrived to Eilat instead. Besides the landing at a small military airport outside of the city, nothing else in this tourist haven showed any signs of the on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine…
Next local destination on my list is Tel Aviv :).
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On November 9th, 2007 I have arrived to Sri Lanka for a congress and some sunshine. I was the only one flying from Prague, so I had to wait a couple of hours for the others, and then we finally … Continue reading
Everyone smiles on Sri Lanka, but unless you kick them in the nuts, exerting any sort of effort, with rare exceptions, is not on their agenda… As I mentioned before, I had managed to multiply my adventures tenfold – here is how:
I was meant to stay at Beruwala only for 2 more days and leave on the 17th. My flight was at 19:05 in the evening, so I spent the first half of the day in the sunshine regretting the fact that I’d have to clean up the house when I get back :D. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really wanted to go back to Prague, but I just thought that one extra day of grilling wouldn’t’ve hurt :).
You know, let me insert a piece of advise here: be extremely careful what you wish for because every now and then it all tends to come true. I guess I so dreaded the cleanup that somehow I got it fixed in my mind that my flight was at 19:50 (my mild dyslexic tendencies at their best…) so we called a taxi for 4pm… BIG mistake…
Beruwala is only 60km away from Colombo, and the airport is 20km away from the city, making the total journey’s worth a mere 80km. However, due to the traffic unfitting any commonly acceptable Western schema of vehicle interaction, including the almost supernatural ability of the local drivers to squeeze through the tiniest holes, driving with nearly no distance between each other, taking all lanes at the same time, passing other cars on any convenient side AND not having car accidents every 30 meters of the road, it would normally take 3-4 hours to get to the airport. We made it in 2,5 hours but the check-in counters close 1 hour before the flight here, not 45 minutes as is the case in many other international airports.
If you happen to be one or two minutes late to the check-in, then too very bad for you. Sri Lanka was still under military regime back then, so the security measures included, among others, something ridiculous like “sorry, we can’t check you in” for anyone who was not at the counter on time…
Fully stressed out, I went back to the hotel, told my sad story to the rest of the group and went to the bar to drown my sorrows. I had told my sad story to the fun British ladies who kept trying to set me up for a date with a local animation team member, received a double martini bianco as a moral compensation (they had it all-inclusive anyway), danced a bit and ended up walking on the beach till 2:30am.
On Sunday the 18th I went to Colombo again – this time with the rest of the group. Their flight to Moscow was at 2-something am on Monday but they had a plan to stop by some other places on the way. So I got dropped off at the Ceylon Continental hotel for the night… The trick is, Qatar airways operational center at the airport had told me on Saturday (the day I missed the flight) that there were seats available on the same flight on Sunday. However, I could not get on board without a booking. And I could not get a booking because Qatar airways office, and most of the important things in this country, are closed on Sundays, while the operational center could not process bookings (which makes me wonder wtf for do they even exist at the airport)…
On Monday the 19th we went to Qatar airways office in Colombo city center and were told that the nearest available flight is on the 26th of November… Even though factually speaking several rows of seats are always available on every flight leaving Sri Lanka – reserved for governmental officials in case an emergency evacuation shall be needed… I said it ain’t good enough. They said there’s nothing they can do. So we went to Sri Lankan Airways and they said they can get me to Prague on 25th. I said it wasn’t quite good enough just yet and asked for the nearest connection anywhere to Europe. They said London on the 20th. I said perfect I can get to Prague from there. We booked the flight and got the ticket. Then I asked a friend of mine in London to book a flight from Heathrow to Prague, it turned out to be on 21st at 19:30pm.
I then got back to the hotel to stay yet another night… Good news is, just as during the full moon party hustle in Thailand, I think my guardian angels (even though they allowed me to miss an opportunity to fly out on Sunday grrrrrr) are still cool dudes after all. Every now and then they do something nice for me for a difference. As I was sitting in the hotel lobby on Sunday wondering whether I should first shower then eat dinner or first eat dinner and then shower, the decision taking me way too long, there was some man sitting nearby and we ended up talking. I told him about getting stuck on this forsaken island (a lovely place, actually, if you watch your anti-mosquito equipment and presume everything, including the simplest things, would take 3 times as long as they should and half of them would be done wrong anyway, and be ready for it all mentally). It turned out to be some Director of International Admissions from a college in Cyprus. Quite a funny individual :). He cordially invited me to use his laptop (mine was upstairs) and check mail. Then we had a dinner, discovered a cake made of floor (well, at least that’s what it listed among the ingredients on the label next to it 😀 ) and walked along the ocean listening to the music on the cell phones talking about random stuff.
When I came back on Monday afternoon, he was meeting with people from universities in Sri Lanka at the lobby. I told him I got a ticket to London and a flight to Prague. After he finished the meetings and I finished using the ‘stolen’ wifi internet of the hotel (I happened to have overseen the login and password of the business center, so I enjoyed limitless free internet for a few hours, which should actually be free anyway for hotel guests) we had a dinner again. This time we both were tired so we acted loco, putting napkins on the head cuz they were folded like crowns, complaining to the waiters about the meat, requested the maitre d’ to play some Western music (that evening was dedicated to the far East Asian themes so they had some sleepy nice Chinese music on to go with the food. We asked to change it because there was no one else at the restaurant. Surprisingly, they actually did!) and generally entertained the staff.
Then we went to his room and watched some horror movie that neither of us got the point of and, disappointed with that fact, called it a night and wished each other a nice flight. Since I had not paid for lunch or dinner at the hotel on the second night of my stay, it was extremely convenient to have gotten someone to feed me :).
Tuesday morning. I had breakfast and went to the airport. I arrived on time. I even had so much time that I spent an hour reading a magazine in a café. Then the boarding was announced and I went to the gate. At the gate, however, I was told that since my connecting flight was over 24 hours after my arrival, they wouldn’t let me on board without a transit visa. The British immigration agent at the gate said the airlines should not have let me through the check in without asking about my connection flight time and e-ticket print out, so it was their fault. Thanx for the tip! I tried to ask at the transit counter if they had internet so I could print out my connecting ticket, but they gave me the dumb “can’t do anything” look… Boarding was completed – without me. I was escorted back through the customs, my exit stamp annulled…
I tried to get a connecting flight booked from London, and there was one at 8-something am on the 21st, but by the time these people did anything at all I had missed the London flight anyway. So, keeping in mind I shall continue to blame the airlines, I requested them to put me on the same flight the next day, free of charge, which they, surprise-surprise, actually did. So much for telling me there were no seats on any European destination flights till the 24th…
To have this all done, I had to go outside the airport terminal to the Sri Lankan Airways ticket counters (yep, they are actually outside the airport…) and make a booking. I then got back inside the airport (third time now!), walked towards the check-in counters to ask what I shall do next and guess whom I saw checking in? Exactly ‒ my food provider of the past two evenings! 😀 He asked me what a hell I was still doing in Sri Lanka anyway, I de-briefed him shortly about the procedure, then we caught some woman and asked her if I can get past the emigration and she said it is possible to get checked in and go to the terminal area only 11 hours before the flight. That meant 2am and I decided not to go back to the hotel, since I’d get a chance to sleep later on, but wait in the airport instead and save the money. So we wished each other a good trip yet again and I went to the public area which, by the way, has quite little to offer. I haven’t told my parents about the fact that I’d be staying an extra night at Sri Lanka vs. London because it made, technically, little difference in relation to the time of my arrival to Prague. Or so I thought…
Thus, I roamed around, looking for a socket I could plug in to. It turned out that, unlike the hotels, airport has different sockets. So I asked some woman in a little travelers’ store if she knew of a place I could get electricity access and she got me a chair and told me I can stay as long as I want to right there at the store and use the computer if I need to cuz she actually has the universal sockets around. She even arranged a likeness of a table for me out of a chair and one of the small suitcases on display for sale 🙂 🙂 :). This way I was able to write this little story up until the paragraph before.
After waiting for 10 hours, the clock finally struck 2am, so I went to the check-in counters yet again. I was, however, told that I cannot be checked in until 8 hours before the flight… If i didn’t have a witness to testify that I was told something completely different, I could have thought that I had simply gone crazy after all this… I demanded then a place to sleep at and was told to go to some resting room upstairs, but the security lady had not let me into the elevator to go up. So I came to the Sri Lankan Airways service counter and asked why I was told something different by every person I so far talked to. The girl I asked said she did not understand how someone could tell me about an advance check in because check in counters only open 3 hours before the flight… (insert jaw drop…). I told her I have a witness to the case that a Sri Lankan Airways staff member had told me to come at 2 am, which is why I waited at the airport in the first place, so she must tell me if there is a place I can sleep at, which I had been consecutively promised. I was told I should either go to a hotel or stay at the airport public area, but I insisted that it was absurd and asked the lady to do something. She proceeded then to make some phone calls as I was standing there waiting, then she told me she was checking with security and that was the last of our communication for the upcoming 40 minutes. At 2:49am I asked if I will be granted any sort of an answer at all. The lady said there was nothing that could be done. I asked her then if it means I should sleep right there on the floor next to the counter and she said ok, with a wide smile.
I Guess she thought I was kidding but I was getting close enough to a 24 hour sleep deprivation after a rather short sleeping session the night before that at that point at 3am I couldn’t have cared less, on top of being immensely pissed off. Thus, I took out my winter jacket for the ‘bed’, a short sweater for a ‘pillow’ and a long one for the ‘duvet’ and, well, constructed a sleeping place right there next to the bloody counter on the floor tiles… The staff began laughing at me so I told them to shut up and that I’d look at how they would behave had they been through all I had been through because of the Sri Lankan Airways and their retarded (I, of course, omitted that adjective from my speech) staff. On that note, I got covered up head to toe and actually managed to sleep till 9am having only awaken twice for natural reasons :).
In the morning, just when I had thought everything was finally right, I got up and proceeded to the check-in the minute it opened. I talked to the office manager and told him how I was treated, but he said there was nothing the airlines could do for me. No compensation. Not even some breakfast… I was invited to write a complaint though… Okay then, I thought, screw that…
This time there was a reasonable human being at the counter. He asked me for an e-ticket print out, which I had made the evening before. And then (drum-roll…)… he had told me I would be missing my connection flight because the Colombo-London one actually arrives at Heathrow at 19:45 and my flight is booked at 19:05!!! So not only I was supposed to be let on board the day before, I was facing missing yet another flight to Europe because of the incompetence of the airport and airline staff!!!
I told my whole story to the guy at the counter and asked him to do something. He called the superior. The same “it is impossible to do anything but you can file a complaint” dude came up to me and told me I shall contact BA to sort it all out. Since this would have involved me either going all the way back to the city to the BA office (his first piece of advice), or calling them for a lengthy conversation on my Czech phone and running my bill skywards (his second suggestion), that practically meant that I’d be missing yet another London-bound flight…
Mad beyond any limits of politeness by then, I said that I need them to sort out my connection flight and I honestly don’t give a crap how they are going to do it because I need to get to Prague and they have to make sure that I do. The guy began telling me some more b.s. but I told them (at this point some woman came by who seemed to be in some higher authority position) to cut the crap. I guess I was furious enough to be convincing. The woman took my passport and tickets, listened to my case and disappeared somewhere. The sane guy at the check-in counter actually was extremely supportive and kept me informed about what was going on all along, telling me that some phone calls are being made and generally saying not to worry. Unfortunately, he had to leave the post 2.5 hours in, but he told the guy replacing him about me and assured me once again everything should be fine… Fortunately, ass-kicking (a tactic I only resort to out of desperation) worked wonders! The mystery woman reappeared roughly 3 minutes before the London flight check-in was to close: they managed to get in touch with BA and get me a confirmed reservation for yet another flight to Prague at 8am on the 22nd, although first they kept telling me it was fully booked.
I wonder just how impossible that task was after all, granted it had been done. Given that by the time it had all been sorted out the check in was just about to close, imagine what I was feeling during the wait!
Thus, I was given a print out of the connecting flight, checked in and proceeded to the departure gate. Luckily, this time I was allowed on board. Hallelujah! All better than the 26th, after all… The same British immigration lady was there, I had told her that they miscalculated my stay at Heathrow and I should have been accepted onto the flight the day before. But oh well, whatever…
At the gate I got to sit on the seats reserved for clergy and met some weird Irish man who offered to marry me at the airport upon arrival, so I can get a better passport 😀 😀 :D. 11 hours later I have landed at Heathrow, back at the civilized world, and in 5 minutes time was checked in by the polite BA staff for the morning flight to Prague, after having paid 61$ more for the ticket change ‒ the sum I otherwise would have paid for a night at the hotel had I gone back to the city in Colombo…
So I had spent a night at the Heathrow airport. It was a bit more comfortable than the floor, but bloody freezing because AC ran like crazy for whatever reason it could happen in the face of the up-coming winter. Even the staff were freezing and said something was wrong with system regulation… In the meantime, I had saved some Ukrainian lady, also awaiting a flight but to Ukraine, from freezing during the night by letting her wear one of my two sweaters to sleep. We had a coffee in the morning and then parted ways to our respective gates. The flight was delayed about 20 minutes ‒ a drop in the ocean, really, after all the previous turmoil :D. And, two hours later, I had finally made it to Prague. I arrived to the house, took a niiiiiiiice long hot shower, began to feel like a human being again, got ready and went to my dance class of the day. I’m back. Life’s good again. Cold, but pretty good still!
The conclusions to this trip are the following. First, it’s yet to show why I stayed at this forsaken Colombo place for so long and what this entire episode of my life was about, besides, of course, making one hell of a story. Maybe some time later something useful will grow out of this situation, as it oftentimes happens :). One thing for sure, there are always a few awesome people around if you open your heart and eyes and allow them to help you. The second thing is, I definitely need to swap my Russian passport for something better. Or at least get a dual citizenship. I’m afraid none of the non-Russian friends of mine will ever come to understand what it really means to have a Russian passport and try to travel around the world… With all due respect to my motherland, I feel like a piece of dirt whenever I need to beg for admittance to any visa requiring state, which there are almost 200 of for the Russians… So much for divisions among the states, borders and political tensions caused by strive for power and world domination or at least a strong enough position… And law-abiding citizens like myself, willing to spend their money on other countries’ economies by going there, must suffer through demeaning experiences of the kind just by the vice of beholding a passport of one country vs. some other… The more I learn about politics, and the more times I need to prove I am not a criminal to obtain a visa to go somewhere, the more I hate power politics and the roots of thereof…
But even all THAT was not the end 🙂
Remember the congress and the tortures we underwent while there? Well, the whole congress part was so bad that some woman even passed out from having had no food for so long. I understand that this was Sri Lanka, after all, but it was an international congress and it was not the first time around they organized it (in fact, it was 45th 🙂 ). People paid good cash to fly there from all over the world – to experience that? I was so irritated by everything that a few weeks after I came back I sat down and wrote a very long and detailed e-mail to the Colombo University – just to vent (I didn’t have a blog back then 🙂 ).
I wrote them about the organization, timing/scheduling. I offered them specific suggestions on how to speed up some things (for instance, on day 1 some of the students were awarded diplomas on the stage. It’d go like this: a name is read. The person gets up from wherever they are in the audience (or even up on the balcony), walks all the way to the stage, gets the diploma, walks all the way back. Next name is called… You can imagine how long THAT alone took!), why it was important to stay on time and how to do it. I wrote them about the food problem: they must have had food (free or even for sale) on premises during the conference, as well as water. Dinner was to be served immediately – people can enjoy entertainment while eating. I had a specific section dedicated to the presentations themselves – the content and the delivery… Man, I was even ready to go give them a crash course on Power Point and public speaking, if they would pay my expenses! I sent out the e-mail and happily forgot about it.
A few months later I received a message from the Colombo University… They thanked me for the letter. Which was already more than I expected… However, they also said that they had forwarded that letter to every single one of past congress participants/speakers!!! OOOOPSIE… (I guess due to presentation-making section…) That was not what I expected at all! However, I am happy about it because if it helped them to make at least some changes, participants would suffer less as a result. The moral of the story is: if there is something that bothers you – try writing a letter, giving a call, or sending an e-mail… You may be surprised :). If you’re backing up a cause – try rallying for more people to do the same. Funnily, people often think that their voices won’t be heard just because they never try…
I wish you all safe travels, smooth schedules and pleasant experiences! However, I dare you, in the comments, to share an “I missed the flight” story that can beat mine in absurdity – have you ever had such? 🙂