Posts categorized under ‘Travel & Living’

Airbnb alternatives

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Most people know Airbnb as a good alternative to a hotel/hostel, or even CouchSurfing, but what many people miss is that there are several similar web sites offering the same services as Airbnb. Some of them can be cheaper because the number of visitors is lower to those web sites. Here is a list of a few of them:

http://www.wimdu.com

http://www.homeaway.com

https://www.roomorama.com

http://www.9flats.com

http://www.travelmob.com

https://www.flipkey.com

http://www.vrbo.com

http://www.cancelon.com

If you still want to use Airbnb you can use the link below to get 30$ for free to use on your next booking!
www.airbnb.se/c/jnoren9

 

Airbnb alternatives

Lebanon

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

About a month ago I was in Lebanon but because of travels I did not have time to update the web site. I really enjoyed the country and it’s people, although it was a bit football-crazy at the moment. On all street you could see gigantic German flags, as well as on a lot of the cars.

Besides the coastal line of Beirut my favorite places in Lebanon was the city of Tripoli and the mountains to the east. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

Lebanon Beirut mosque

Lebanon Beirut fishermen

Lebanon Beirut coast

Lebanon Beirut waterpipe

Lebanon Beirut coast

Lebanon Beirut drink

Lebanon Beirut coast

Lebanon Beirut beach

Lebanon German flag

Lebanon Beirut outdoor market

Lebanon Tripoli Island

Lebanon Tripoli beach

Lebanon Tripoli boat

Lebanon Tripoli city view

Lebanon Tripoli

Lebanon

Lebanon mountain gorge

Lebanon cedar tree
Cedar tree, the national tree of Lebanon which is also on the flag

Lebanon church

Lebanon food

Shooting range in Ukraine on a “shoestring”

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Don’t want to take a guided shooting range tour for $300 just to shoot 2 different machine guns? Here is a guide on how you do it by yourself!

First, in Kiev take the metro to the end stop of the red line, Lisova. From there, take any bus that goes to Brovary, for example number 403. Ask the bus driver to drop you off near Brovary-Avtoport, a trip which takes about 15 minutes and costs 5 UAH (0,3 EURO / 0,5 USD).

When the bus driver tells you this is your stop, pretty much outside of town, get off and find some people to ask where Avtoport or Sapsan is. Probably now you realize that you are in the totally wrong place. Find the guy Ivan who is in the middle of fixing his car and ask again where Sapsan is, near Chkalova street. Let him drive you there (about 10 minutes) for “gas money”, which equals about 20 UAH (1,3 EURO / 2 USD) because that is all the change you have in your wallet.

Now when you finally arrive find somebody who speaks a bit English at least and explain that you want to shoot guns. She will take your passport and give you a price list in exchange. Walk a few minutes to find the shooting teacher Georgi that will show you which guns are available and let you choose which ones to shoot and how many shots.

The price is about 15-20 UAH (1,3 EURO / 2 USD) per shot and 5 UAH per target used. No other extra costs is added like on some shooting ranges here which takes a fee for range hire, gun hire, instructor etc. Minimum shots per gun is 10 shots so for example 10 shots with a Kalashnikov (AK-47) is 10×15 = 150 UAH (10 EURO / 14 USD). For a complete price list, see www.sapsan.ua

When you return the price list, which now have notes on how much you were shooting it’s time to pay and get your passport back. Finally drink a coffee or beer at the shooting club and then walk away with a smile on your face some 500 meters to find a bus which will take you to Brovary center. Here you can visit the market or walk around for a while before heading back to Kiev the same way you came.

Total price: 10 shots with 5 weapons = 850 UAH (56 EURO / 77 USD) + 16 UAH transportation.

The trip to the shooting range takes about 1 hour and if you instead payed a travel guide to drive you it would be almost the same price as the shooting (650 UAH).

Side note: Here in Ukraine both men and women learned how to take Kalashnikovs apart and put them back together when they were kids, as part of their school education. Nowadays even the kids on the shooting range are more interested in their mobile phones than the weapons.

Ukraine shooting range: weapons Ukraine shooting range: target Ukraine shooting range: shells

Hitchhiking “home” to Sofia, Bulgaria

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Would this be the final day of hitchhiking on this trip? Only a few days earlier I started hitchhiking from Croatia and yesterday I arrived to Macedonia. I had heard some years ago, when thinking to visit Skopje from Sofia, that this part should be super easy to hitchhike as there is only one road between the two cities. Well, it was not super easy and there were more than one road.

I started my morning early, waking up at 8 am and at 9 am the hotel worker came to “wake me up” because of a misunderstanding. Starting with a nice walk through the town in search for a coffee I walk past the pizza place from yesterday. I take the opportunity to tell the pizza guy, which was now instead the guy who tried to find me a hotel the day before, that I finally found a place to sleep not to have to worry about me.

I continue to walk out of the town, already with a strong sun keeping me company. There are two roads out of Kumanovo towards Bulgaria and I take the one that goes more direct to the highway to catch cars from Skopje. Just out of town I arrive to a gas station where the turn for Sofia is 2 km away and when starting to walk instantly getting stopped by a police man not allowing me to walk on the highway. I go back to the gas station and manage to get a couple to drive me the two kilometers even though they seem skeptical and ask me if I have the right documents if the police stop us. I get dropped off a bit after the turn at a good spot and start to hitchhike on the highway. But after only 2 minutes I get accompanied by two policemen. First I am thinking what to do, not knowing if it is illegal or not to hitchhike on the highway in Macedonia, but because I really have no choice and they don’t start talking to me although they must understand what I am doing, I continue to try to catch a ride thinking that this will be impossible with the policemen standing there with me. After a while they stop the traffic on the incoming road and let two cars pass by themselves on the highway. Some minutes later they let the cars go again. Then they come to stand with me on the incoming road, and I ask them if I can instead stand on the highway, which they agree to. Not many minutes pass by and a car stops.

Inside is a Macedonian family which first seems not so talkative but after a while we are all chatting happily. The family consists of the father, the son and his girlfriend which for the first time is going to visit the father’s hometown. She is the only one speaking English but only a little bit and mostly when the others are out of the car. They give me some bread (similar to the Bulgarian Banitsa) with chocolate and even stops the car two times to refill my water or buy me a coca cola. I ask them why there are policemen everywhere along the road and they tell me something about the president, maybe it was the cars that I saw? The father drops of the “kids” and continue for a while to take me to a better hitchhiking spot. Again, I am finding myself standing in midday under the sun with very little shadow and cars, just on the outskirts of a village. At least I have a huge outdoor pool to look at, which gets more and more filled with people as I wait for a car to stop.

Hitchhiking Macedonia pool

Hitchhiking Macedonia pizza sign
Important telephone numbers to the local pizza places

Finally, a guy stops and drives me 1 km near the border where he has to turn. The rest I walk, realizing that this is the first border crossing that I will cross by foot on this trip (in Central America for example we always crossed by foot). When I reach the first passport control the guards ask me why I took a picture of the border area. Well, there are no signs telling that this is illegal but I don’t want any problems so I just tell them that I took a picture of the Macedonian and Bulgarian flags together. They seems pleased with that explanation, and I am happy I didn’t take a picture of the sign “declare smuggling and corruption” next to the guards. Three minutes later I have passed all of the border controls and am finally in my lovely Bulgaria again. In the last border control the passport controller barely cares to open the window to check my passport, and when I ask him how far it is to the next village and he tells me 20 kilometers I do not know how much I should believe him, but start to walk.

Walking Macedonia Bulgaria

Macedonia Bulgaria border crossing

Macedonia Bulgaria border sign
Declare smuggling and corruption at customs

On this side of the border the only thing I see is a diplomatic truck, a few Bulgarian cars and a big group of older men which starts laughing at me when I ask if I can get a ride with them (without paying). And of course they laughs even more when I start walking towards Sofia (120 km away). Anyway, soon the first and only sign for the next town is visible and it says 18 kilometers so I guess the border controller was correct. Ok, no cars in sight, and almost no shadow. But if I could walk for 11-12 hours yesterday I can definitely walk for about 4 hours today, or maybe 5 because my foot has a small cut which I dont know where it came from but it hinders me to walk full speed.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria empty road

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria beautiful road

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria sign

Some cars passes by in high speed but nobody seems to even think about stopping. Two different Macedonian cars show me the sign that they will only drive a short distance, but that is impossible because there is nothing else to drive to before the town where I am walking and that small bit for them would save me a five hour walk. Two Roma men joins me. They have been working picking berries for 10 days in a row in the mountain, but now they have some days of rest. We try to have a conversation and then parts in different directions when they visit a friend of theirs on the way, which also gives me a bigger chance of getting picked up by a car. Finally, after 1 hour I get a ride by a man who drops me off in Kyustendil.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria Roma workers

I decide to try to hitchhike directly but because of hunger I soon go to find some food before continuing. Again I see the two Roma men and we have a quick smiling greeting before we all continue our ways. Now I am back on my hitchhiking spot and the sun is killing me without any stopping cars, so I take a break laying down in the grass under a tree. Some 40 minutes later I try again, but without luck. Time to start to walk. There are several small intersections and at every one I stop for a while trying again, but the sun is burning and nobody stops so I continue to walk every time. Sun is starting to disappear and I am creating backup plans in my head of where to sleep if I don’t get a ride, but at the same time trying to not think about it too much. Finally after a few hours a Macedonian guy is stopping and drives me a few kilometers in the opposite way of his direction to a bigger road where I even can stand in the shadow of a bridge, even though its almost no sun anymore. This area is filled with Roma people which makes the chance of cars stopping even less, but it makes a very interesting and beautiful surrounding with a lot of animals and families riding horse carriages in the sunset.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria man and goat

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria woman sitting

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria goats on bridge

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria goat on bridge

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria bridge sunset

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria cow in sunset

It takes some time, but eventually a Roma guy with a really “personal” car is stopping and driving me to a better place about 5-10 minutes away. For every meter that the car is passing I feel I am getting more near my goal, but at the same time I know that it is still about 80 kilometers to Sofia when he drops me off near a gas station with a cafe. Anyway, this is a perfect spot with even a backup plan for the night if I have no luck. I try to hitchhike for a bit more than an hour and during this time two buses stops and picks up a group of people, almost like a last test to my will (I challenged myself to only travel by hitchhiking). Now it is completely dark and when a truck parks in front of me and blocks the place for cars to stop I finally takes a dinner pause at the cafe, changing clothes to protect myself against the mosquitoes and cold which are now appearing.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria Sofia sign

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria cafe

A short while later I am again standing next to the road, and after adjusting my clock to the new time zone I realize the time is around 10:30 pm. I try again with the truck driver who is walking around his truck with a flashlight to control the tires, but he tells me no and shows me a sign on the back of the truck saying “army” while aiming the flashlight to his face saying “military” with a smile. At least now the truck is driving away, giving me more chance to get a ride.

At 11:30 I am almost giving up, but I decide to continue to at least midnight. Many cars seem to stop but are only slowing in to go somewhere else, or to the gas station. One post car stops and backs up to me at the same time I am walking towards him. This seems promising. He asks me where I want to go and I say Sofia/Radomir, he says something else which I do not understand but it only takes me a few seconds of thinking and then I jump into the car, knowing he will pass by Radomir at least and hoping that I can find a place or cafe there to spend the night, or at least a place with a lamp where I can continue to hitchhike.

The guy is really friendly and we talk a lot, some things we understand correctly and some misunderstandings his friend on the phone translates for us. Even though he initially wanted to drive me to Pernik, he changes his mind and now offers to drive me the whole way to Sofia (after a 10 minute work break in Pernik) which I of course agrees on. His friend even asks me in which area I want to be dropped of, so I SMS my friends telling them I will be back soon. Well, in the end he drops me off a “bit” outside the center and I have to walk on a straight road for an hour before I start to recognize the center of Sofia. 15 Minutes later, at 2:30 am, I am home with my feets hurting and a big smile!

..and this is where the story of one week of hitchhiking through 7 countries ends, Croatia to Bulgaria, a total of 750 km.

Hitchhiking through Kosovo to Kumanovo, Macedonia

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The day after the big mountain walk in Kukes, Albania, I wake up feeling great. Even the legs are okay, but I do some stretching to soften them up a bit. Today I am going to hitchhike to Kosovo. I feel a bit sad about leaving this wonderful town of Kukes and the amazing people of Albania, but at the same time I am slowly getting tired of being on the road and I am thinking that nothing on this trip can top the experience of yesterday and the atmosphere of this town.

So I start to move again, I just have to pack the rest of my stuff that I was to tired to pack yesterday. First of is breakfast. Breaking my “rule” of not visiting the same place twice I go to the same hotel restaurant as two days ago when I can not find anything else on the way where there are people sitting. My idea of pancake breakfast is quickly changed when I see a word that I do not understand in the menu. I ask the waiter what it is and he points to his head saying “inside the head”. After some talk it seems this wonderful breakfast item is cow brain, a must try! I also order a coffee and a fresh orange juice, which when it arrives to the table has transformed to a canned peach juice. The cow brain comes as a soup and the brain part of it has different colors and textures suggesting it is all parts of the brain. Anyway, the dish is surprisingly tasteful, a bit like snails, probably because of a pre-eminent taste of garlic.

Kukes brain soup breakfast

After the breakfast I continue to walk out of the city while trying to find a shop that sells sun protection, as I am still a bit red since yesterdays walk. This task is not as easy as I thought, finding only sun protection strength 2 or 60 if anything at all. I double check the direction by asking a person I pass on the street, just not to walk unnecessary long this day, but the answer is not conclusive and the guy even changes his mind after a short discussion. Before starting to walk out in the middle of nowhere I make a last try at a pharmacy I see not far away, the last shop in Kukes before nature and the road takes over.

Inside the pharmacy is a lady which seems incredibly happy to see me, making some positive sound as I walk in through the door. She starts asking a lot about my life and tells me about her life as well, happy to practice her English. In the middle of the discussion I get to the point where I can ask for sun protection which she actually has and gives to me for free, even though I say I want to pay for it. I talk to her for about half an hour, both because I want to be nice and let her practice her language skills, but also because it is interesting. Several more clients come and she serves them before coming back to our discussion. Finally a new client comes in and she asks him in Albanian if he can drive me to Kosovo after hearing that he is going that way. He looks very skeptical and she explains that maybe he do not trust me because of my looks, and that he do not know me. She continues to press the man and he finally gives in, but not before checking with me that I do not have any gun in my backpack before entering the car, probably partly joking and partly serious. The pharmacy girl makes a last try to give me some chewing gum and headache pills for free, but I decline with a smile.

Inside the car, which is a luxurious BMW, we are 3 people plus me. The languages are mixed but I at least hear German between two of the men. Later I understand that they are from Kosovo families, born in Germany but later having moved to Kosovo and finally Albania because of better business there. I talk as much as possible with them, also to make them more relaxed and confident with me in the car, through the youngest guy who translates to the rest. We end up having a really nice conversation and they drive me through the border and on to Therandë (Suva Reka) in Kosovo where they meet up with a business contact and drive on in another direction.

Kosovo

I take a walk in Therandë and just when I sit down in a cafe to drink something I realize I do not have any local currency, so I walk around trying to find an open WIFI to figure out what the currency is worth before taking out money at an ATM machine. After a rather long walk I manage to get online and see that the currency is Euro, which I actually have some but still take out extra to manage until tomorrow. I then sit down in the first best restaurant that looks nice and orders a local dish which I have no idea what it is, even after the waiter tries to explain it to me. Next to my table sits a man which I see noticed me, but that’s nothing unusual in these kind of towns with few tourists. After finishing his meal he joins my table and asks where I am from. When he hears my answer he shines up with a big smile, starting to talk in my mother tongue to me. His family is actually from Kosovo but he is born in my country and is more patriotic about it then any other person I have met in my life. We have a nice talk and after a while I ask him to leave as I have to do some short work and research online on my laptop. He completely understands, having earlier said very politely that if I want him to go I can just tell him, but not leaving before insisting to pay my bill. He is still excited about our meeting when he leaves and the other people in the restaurant are looking at me, probably wondering what just happened. After he leaves I order a coffee to finish of the lunch, and when 20 minutes later I am about to leave and want to pay my coffee the waiter tells me that the coffee is on him. What a day, maybe it’s the positive energy from yesterdays mountain walk that still rubs off me.

Kosovo Therande lunch

I start to walk out of the city, having changed my mind about staying in this town as it is still early and I feel like moving on, even though I am a bit tired. Before leaving the town I walk into the man again, now with his son, and he tells enthusiastically the son that this is the person he was talking about. The son looks a bit embarrassed about his fathers behavior, or maybe he is just shy. I continue to walk, now with new energy, until I am outside the town and on a big road leading east. Again no shadow, but already after 1-2 minutes of trying to hitchhike a man picks me up. He lives in Switzerland but is now back for a 2 week vacation with his family. We talk politics for the whole ride, which I think lasts for one hour but the conversation is so interesting that I totally loose track of time.

Kosovo sign

When entering the city of Ferizaj he drives me around to find a cheap motel for me, even walking out of the car to ask people the price so that I don’t get a tourist price. He is shocked when he see that the prices here are higher than in Switzerland, and finally I ask him to drop me off because I don’t want to bother him anymore and I have the whole day of walking around the city anyway. After a short search I take a pause in a nice restaurant “No Stress” and then decides, once again, to move on to the next city.

Kosovo sign

While once again walking out of the city I find some really cheap hotels but I still decide to go further. My next ride is again a luxurious car, this time by a local business man that after a while stops in an outdoor restaurant along the way to buy me a coffee and have a talk. He tells me that he has two businesses, one is import and the other is personal development. The second one is the one he wants to talk to me about, and very quickly I realize that he is trying [softly] to sell a pyramid scheme to me. I write down the information and we continue the drive. After a while I realize that he is going the whole way to Macedonia, but because I want to spend a night in Kosovo I ask him to drop me off before on the road.

It is now starting to get dark and I am not even in a town. There are more people here but they are either waiting for a bus or for friends to pick them up. After what feels like a long time I finally get a ride. This guy is going to the Macedonian border to get or drop off some documents, like a courier. I ask him to drop me of in Kacanik where I plan to find a hotel. But there are no hotel according to all the people I ask, including the taxi drivers, so I have no choice but to go to the road again. The option is to hitchhike back some kilometers to a motel in the middle of nowhere, or to hitchhike to Macedonia. I choose Macedonia, now longing for being back in Bulgaria. Again I stand around for what feels like forever, with the darkness getting nearer and the people looking at me like they have never seen a hitchhiker before, or maybe even a stranger.

When finally the second BMW for the day stops with two mysterious guys inside I feel relieved, but a bit tense. The conversation is not going well, with the driver only speaking Albanian and German. After a while they stop and walk out of the car, talking outside. I decide to go out to stretch my legs, but the car is locked. Finally the drivers friend takes off and the driver opens the door for me, saying something like “lets go” and pointing to the bush. I do not understand what he means, he walks and takes a leak and then we are on the way again. Now the conversation is a bit lighter, but still we have big difficulties to understand each other. When we finally hit the Kosovo/Macedonian border and are first in line the guy can not find the right paper for his Switzerland plated car (he lives there). His plan for the day was to go to north Macedonia to get something from a friend and then directly drive back to Kosovo again, a long drive but perfect for me coming near the Bulgarian border. Now it seems he has to turn back early instead without entering Macedonia.

A young guy that talks to him about the problem offers me a ride instead and I walk with him to his car, where his friend and his father awaits – looking skeptical at me. Anyway we drive through the border and into Skopje where they let me off somewhere in the center, asking if this is fine for me and me saying yes because I have no idea where I am anyway. I stand looking at the enormous buildings for a while, being used to small towns for the last days, and then starts walking around for about 15 minutes before I decide to go on to Kumanovo instead, one step closer to the Bulgarian border.

Macedonia Skopje

I start hitchhiking on the highway near to where I was dropped off just minutes earlier, accompanied by a taxi man and a cheer-leading group of girls maximum 15 years old. A car stops even though he is going the other direction, but I think he will maybe turn around so I go to talk to him. It turn out the guy in the car wants to buy sex from me, ok so this is maybe not the best place and time to hitch hike I realize. I say no and go back to my spot, but after 10-15 minutes the guy once again comes back, now on my side of the road, and tries to convince me.

Macedonia Skopje sunset

About one hour later I am ready to give up because of the dark but with no idea where to go, when a German couple stops and picks me up. They are going to a small village near where I am going, to visit their family. Dropping me off outside the city I have to walk into the center. During the walk I take out some local currency and buy street pizza with mayonnaise, Bulgarian style. The pizza guy tells me he also just came back from Germany visiting his girlfriend. He also tells me where I can find some hotels but before I take off some of his friends walks by and he tells them to show me instead. We walk for a long time, not as close as the pizza guy told me the hotels were, and when we finally arrive they realize that the hotel is now gone and replaced by a restaurant. I say no problem and want to take of, but they have an internal argument in Macedonian for some 20 minutes discussing what they should do with me. Finally I tell them I will go back to the street to hitchhike and takes of, but instead goes to a guy 20 meters away to ask him for directions to a hotel. He tells me one nearby and even though it is not on the address he tells me I find it thanks to some other helpful people. After a quick bargain I get a room for 10 Euro, even with a TV showing a Bulgarian music channel. Before falling asleep I write a long blog entry in my mobile about this day, which mysteriously disappears.

Macedonia Kumanovo

Tip: When going to Kosovo ask to NOT get a stamp in the passport, because a Kosovo stamp could make it difficult for you to enter Serbia.

Hitchhiking to Kukes, Albania

Monday, August 12th, 2013

The next day I walk out of Bar, Montenegro towards east and then start hitchhiking. There is no shadow in sight, but I get a ride fairly quickly with a nice local now living in Australia. The man is after his pension flying back several times per year thanks to his earlier job at an airline, and he still have a house here. He tells me that he can drive me to Ulcinj, which is about half of the way to the border and the only town between where I am now and Albania. Half way he stops and lets me off in a hotel restaurant along the road while he drives to meet his family for 15-30 minutes.

Montenegro hotel
Hotel view

Montenegro island

In the meanwhile I sit to drink an overly priced coffee waiting for the man to come back. The only other man in the restaurant offers me a ride but I decide to wait for the first driver. When he comes back, he drives me to Ulcinj and quickly shows me the main street of the city from the car before driving me to the exit street which goes to Albania. There, two other hitchhikers have just arrived. They are not so talkative and I am polite enough to walk away and stand AFTER them. They get a ride quickly, probably paying a bit for the ride.

Montenegro street sign
Hitchhiking spot between Montenegro and Albania

A police car comes and I start thinking about if it is legal or not to hitchhike in Montenegro, but they are friendly and picks up two hitchhiking Roma people. I ask them if they go to Albania but sadly they are not. Several cars stop for me and offers me a ride for money, but I wait for about an hour before getting a free ride. This time the drivers are a Kosovo couple which are going back for a 2 week vacation from their current home in Switzerland. Although they are driving the whole way to Kosovo, which is on my path, I want to spend at least one night in Albania so I ask them to let me off in Kukes which I know they will pass. Both the couple and the man in Montenegro told me not to hitchhike in the area of Kukes or even stop there, because of armed robberies and high criminality, but I decide to learn for myself and I have seen on Google Images that this region have beautiful mountains which works like a magnet for me. The couple driving me usually never even stops in Albania, being a bit scared of the people there although they come from a country which consist of 92% Albanians.

Albania nature
Beautiful view from the road in Albania

Anyway, we have a lot of interesting talks on the 1+ hour drive and then the guy drives an extra 2 km to drop me off in the outskirts of Kukes instead of on the highway. I start walking into center, not the way a sign points out where the center is but where two men tells me it is, in another direction. It seems correct and the first impression of the town is that I am an alien here, but that the people are very curious in a positive way and that several of them even speaks English. I ask around for a place to eat but there are only bars without food and hotel restaurants, so I choose the later and try some local meat and beer in company with another man and a television. The movie is also in English, not dubbed, and is about trafficking, with a Swedish actor playing a Russian guy. I try to explain that he is a Swedish actor to the man and the waiter, but they do not understand and say “Da, Russian”. Finally the owners wife come to sit down and switch TV channel in the middle of the movie, which makes a perfect time to leave for me.

Kukes Albania food

Going towards an Internet sign I arrive to a bicycle store (the Internet cafe is long gone). I manage to explain to a man there that I am looking for a low cost hotel, and he walks me around the city trying to find one for me. Almost all people we are passing starts speaking to me, usually “Do you speak English/Italian?”. I get the explanation from one of them that a lot of people here have learned Italian on TV. A group of children joins us and soon we are 5-6 people walking. The Kosovo couple have told me that in Albania kids, especially Roma kids, will surround me asking for money. But these kids never even mentioned money, they were just curious and wanted to practice their language skills. Finally we find a 7 Euro hotel (special price?) with TV, air condition and a huge balcony towards the main street, the best balcony of the whole building. Outside the balcony I still see some kids pointing and discussing where I disappeared.

Kukes Albania hotel
Hotel room. It is always difficult to find a single room, but usually it is possible to pay for only one bed after some persuasion.

Kukes Albania hotel view
View of Kukes main street from the hotel room

Kukes Albania dust storm
Sudden dust storm passing by in the evening

In the night I take a walk to see the small city and naturally starts walking out of the city towards the mountains. In the end of the city, about 5-10 minutes away from the center, is a petrol station and I start talking to the men working there. They do not speak English at all but we start to talk about the mountain and I tell them I am thinking to walk to the top the next day. They are skeptical, buy say it might take 5 hours, later changed to 3 hours, to the peak. Finally another man is coming and translating a bit. I get very little information about the mountain, and I realize that nobody of the men have actually walked on it themselves.

Kukes Albania lake
View of a nearby lake from the gas station

Kukes Albania mountain
The mountain Gjallica seems near but it is actually at least one hours walk away from Kukes

Kukes Albania new friends
Lovely gas station people, sadly not talking English but that also makes the conversation more fun using hand gestures, a travelers best friend

Kukes Albania cloud

Kukes Albania sunset

After some hour of hanging out with my new friends I depart back to the city, still thinking about the mountain. On the way I find an internet cafe and start to search for information about the mountain and an eventual walking trail there, but finds no information. Finally I decide to stay one more night to mount the mountain!

Kukes Albania dinner

After a quick dinner I go to a nearby shop just before they close, in preparation for the next days trek. Sadly they have no fruits or even bread, so some unhealthy fast food will do. Finally I go back to the hotel room to throw everything out from my travel backpack and pack it for the mountain trek instead.  Time to sleep, with the alarm clock put on 5:40 AM.

Bar, Montenegro

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Early morning again. Last night I had checked into a homestay in Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Today I was going to continue my hitchhiking, this time to Montenegro. When I open the door going out from my bedroom the homestay woman is sitting there watching TV quietly, not to disturb me. I take a shower and she offers me a coffee which she has put on the balcony, with a view over the surrounding mountains. The coffee is not the best I have had but the balcony is very relaxing. After the coffee I work for a short time and then sets off. First I walk to see the free outdoor “pool” which I missed yesterday, then into town walking quickly through the old town followed by a breakfast near the river and finally a coffee in a bar before heading out of town.

Montenegro Bar

There is no shadow but I get a ride rather quickly in a van with two Albanians. They do not know if they are going to pass Montenegro, or even which country they are currently in, probably because they are using a GPS. In the van they have a sauna from Estonia which the driver is going to install in his home in Albania. He has driven for 35 hours straight without any sleep when he picks me up, as the other man has no driving license. I help them to find the border, and we get stopped 3 times in the security before entering Montenegro. Every time we get stopped the man not driving gets really nervous and keeps repeating “oh fuck” while the driver is out of the car, “fixing” the problem. The border controllers all wants money, the driver says he has a lot on him, just the amount which is legal to take in, but he does not bribe the controllers but instead threat/fight with them until they give up. We finally drive on and the drivers friend falls back and forth into sleep, but the driver still seems very awake but without any idea about which city we are in or how far it is to their destination. They let me go 10 kilometers away from my destination, the city of Bar, which I know they will pass but there are some misunderstanding or they want to get rid of me.

bosnia_herzegovina_montenegro_border
Once again stopped in the border control

Montenegro beach resort
Passing by beautiful but over crowded beached

Montenegro beach swimmers

Montenegro beach

Montenegro coast

Montenegro ferry crossing
A ferry taking us to the other side of a lake

Montenegro mountains

Montenegro Euro ice cream
Euro ice cream. Montenegro use Euro as currency although they are not in the European Union.

I start walking but manage to get a ride with a man who first wants money (private taxi is common in Montenegro) but then agrees to drive me for free. He drive through Bar and drops me off in the east side of the city. Bar, which I saw on my picture of Google Maps and decided to stay in because it is near the Albanian border, seems at my first impression not to be that nice at all. Having no idea about the layout of the city I start walking in one direction which leads to a harbor. I walk through it, finds an ATM and then sits down in a restaurant for some local food. The restaurant have WIFI so I check for accommodation in Bar but no results come up. After my lunch I walk to the beach which the restaurant lady have told me is near, and there get a tip on where to go from one of the street sellers. I find the area and walks around asking for a room before finally finding one for 10 euro with balcony and internet. When checking in with my passport I joke with the girl about how horrible I look at my passport picture. Her answer is “Yes, what is this?” instead of the common polite answer. After a shower to cool down followed by a short time for relaxation I walk down for a swim in the ocean just in time for the sunset. Then I walk back to the hotel/pension for their 3½ euro dinner, which is the same price as you get an omelet for at the sea side. At the hotel I start talking to one guy working there and finally goes to bed a bit later than planned.

Montenegro Bar food
Lunch

Montenegro Bar coast
Beach walk in Bar

Montenegro Bar beach
Beach at day time. When I pass by an ambulance comes to rescue somebody, probably because of heat stroke.

Montenegro Bar rooms
The area with the rooms for rent, a 5 minute walk from the beach

bar_montenegro_hotel
My room with 3 beds, WIFI, fridge and balcony

Montenegro, Bar hotel view
View from my window/balcony

Montenegro Bar
I took this picture in the morning while walking out of Bar

Trebinje (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Although a bar girl in Dubrovnik tells me there is very little chance I will find a ride from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the history of the two countries, I wake up early in the morning to give it a try. The man in the over priced hostel have told me that I should ask for the border town Metkovic and I tell the Croatian/German man who picks me up that this is where I am going. After about 15 minutes talk while driving I realize that this is the totally wrong direction and jumps out. Half an hour later I am in a new car going the other direction, this time with an Austrian couple who is late to the airport to pick up a friend.

Croatia, Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik, beautiful but expensive and filled with tourists

The couple kicks me out in a road junction and tells me that this is the way to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It takes me about an hour to get a new ride to the border, which on my Google Maps picture looked really far away but actually was only 500 meters from where I got dropped off. My new drivers are 4 young Croatians which are going to the Black Lake in Montenegro to camp for the night before heading back. I think about joining them but don’t want to miss out on Bosnia and Herzegovina so I stop in Trebinje instead.

Google Maps South Europe map
My picture of Google Maps which I use for traveling

As soon as I am dropped off in Trebinje by my ride I walk by and enters a pub with locals looking strange at me. The pub girl is not speaking English and I quickly realize I have no local currency. On the wall is a poster of a half naked girl together with two televisions: one playing local folk music and the other showing a drunk old man flirting with a young beautiful girl. I find a nearby gas station that lets me take out money even though they do not have an ATM machine. First the guy wants to give me Euro, but when I finally get my hand on some local currency I go back to the pub to drink a Jelen, a 5% beer which goes directly up to my head (I later realize that some places in Bosnia and Herzegovina also accept Euro).

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: bar
Local bar with titties on a poster and folk music on the TV

Next I go to a 4 star restaurant to try some local food. The food is good and about half price from Dubrovnik, but when I try to leave an old man stops me and invites me for a drink. One drink gets several as he does not take a no from me before 2-3 hours later and some grappas and beers has gone down my throat. The old man, which is 80 by his own words, tells me he is the Godfather of Trebinje but is now living in England, only to be back for the summer (6-7 months) in his home town. He knows everyone in the bar and after a while we sits down at a table of his friend, who has a masters in musics and who seems to be a over intelligent alcoholic. We have some interesting conversations (instead of the 30 times repeated stories of the 80 year old man) and then suddenly the old man disappears. Shortly after, his friend also goes away, at least saying goodbye to me and I am free to find a place to sleep.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: restaurant
The restaurant with Facebook on the computer

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: food

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: champagne

I have got a list of homestays from the newly founded tourist information in Trebinje so I ask a girl on the street where it is. I don’t know if it is again the friendliness of the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or that she see that I am drunk (I feel perfectly fine at this moment) but she calls the lady of the homestay and then walks me 5-10 minutes away to meet her. The lady we meet is an extraordinaire woman in colorful clothes (or was it a towel?) and with a big smile. She lets me choose which of her two bedrooms to use and asks me (without speaking English) if I want to go to the nearby free swimming pool. I say I want to sleep for an hour first, but as soon as I lay down the alcohol is catching up on me and that hour becomes 14 hours.

The next morning I go up at 7 o clock and the lady is watching TV quietly outside my room, asking me if I want a coffee. I am a bit sad that I will not stay more with these amazing people in Trebinje, but the road calls for me an I feel rested and ready for another adventure.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: street
Starting to finally walk away from the restaurant

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: homestay woman
Lovely homestay lady

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: free swimming pool
Free swimming pool which is also used for other sports

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: river
Beautiful river, which is supposedly the biggest river in Europe which naturally disappears into the ground instead of ending in a lake or sea.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: bridge
The mountains around Trebinje

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: river
Trebinje is very picturesque in many ways

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: river

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje:  street art

Bulgaria protests

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Bulgaria protests against the corrupted government, now at the 26th day with reported more than 100 000 people gathering protesting from the early morning to midnight.

Bulgaria protests Bulgaria protests Bulgaria protests Bulgaria protests Bulgaria protests Bulgaria protests Bulgaria protests

Reconstruction of Sofia Women’s Market (Zhenski Pazar)

Friday, May 17th, 2013

One of the most famous spots in Sofia (Bulgaria), the Zhenski Pazar (Women’s market), is currently undergoing a reconstruction. This charming market if mostly focused on food like fresh vegetables and fruit, homemade honey and wine, but you can also find clothes, plumbing equipment and other random things. Even though the market is in the center of Sofia, walking around the market area gives you a feeling of exiting the city and being somewhere totally different.

Now this market will undergo a total redesign, with the first step being to reduce the number of market stalls in one area from 114 to 65, giving more space to open areas. There is also a plan for creating an amphitheater later on.

Here are a few pictures from the market taken during the past years:

Womens Market

Womens Market Sofia

Zhenski Pazar

Zhenski Pazar market

The Zhenski Pazar is even open in the winter:

Zhenski Pazar in the winter

Zhenski Pazar in the winter

The demolition of the market has already began:

Zhenski Pazar reconstruction

Zhenski Pazar demolition

On THIS LINK can you see the planned design for this enormous Bulgarian project, which is estimated to cost around 3 million Euro and be financed together with a private partner.

It is really sad to see this old market go, giving way to a new modern Sofia.

Nan to Uttaradit (through Den Chai)

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Next step after Nan was Den Chai, the closest town with a train station. I was already loving Nan and during the walk to the bus station I continued to encounter really nice places and people, and almost decided to stay for one more day. When arriving to the bus station I find a mini bus from Nan that leaves around every hour (when it is full) and takes 2,5 hour (price is 94 baht). Again, like the trip to Nan, the driver asks me where I want to be dropped off, this time thanks to a guy with a computer and translation software.

Nan Thailand breakfast
Breakfast for 20 bath (50 euro cent)

Nan Thailand garage cafe
Nice cafe run from a guy’s old garage

Nan Thailand home restaurant
Restaurant on the yard of a woman’s house, with the neighbors dropping by

Bus Nan  to Den Chai
Man in the mini bus to Uttaradit who translated what the bus driver wanted to ask me through his computer software

When we arrive to Den Chai there are only me and the driver left in the mini bus. The town is small and the driver stops near the train station to ask the locals for a guesthouse or hotel. There is none in Den Chai. I tell the driver that he can drop me here, with a plan to check the train times and then walk around to search for a place to sleep for the night. The driver insists to drive me the last 20 meters to the entrance of the train station, and even follows me inside but then finally disappears. Luckily there is a train leaving what is supposed to be within 20 minutes, but what actually is 1½ hour. I finally take that train to Uttaradit which the guy in the ticket counter tells me is a bigger city.

The trip takes about an hour and cost 11 baht (30 euro cent) for a 3rd class open seat, probably the cheapest train trip I ever took in my life, and still very enjoyable! According to the train table my trip should be only two stops but it was probably 15 stops, so for a while I thought I was in the wrong train.

Den Chai train station
A very empty train station in Nan

Den Chai empty trainstation

Den Chai to Uttaradit kid
Asians can’t get enough of Angry Birds

Den Chai to Uttaradit train food
Smiling food sellers on the train

Den Chai to Uttaradit train soup
Soup lady

Den Chai to Uttaradit train view
People swimming everywhere in the rivers we pass

Den Chai to Uttaradit view2
Cure train station

Arriving to Uttaradit in the afternoon I manage to find a hotel for about 200 Baht (5½ euro). Uttaradit is also a really nice town and almost the whole town is built up from outdoor markets of all kind and at all hours.

Here is the train time table if somebody have use for it. For what I understood rapid trains cost about 2-4 times the price of a normal [slow] train. 1st class is usually fixed seats with AC, while 2nd class mostly have fixed seats with fan. 3rd class are open seats with fan. Not all trains have all classes available and the specific classes can differ from train to train.

Thailand northern train line timetable Den Chai to Uttaradit train ticket

Laos / Thailand border (north)

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I had chosen a “difficult” border crossing both out of curiosity and as a challenge. It was not in the maps and people I talked to did not know of it.

My border crossing day started in Pak Beng, a lovely town in Laos that is worth a nights stay if you are comfortable with doing nothing. I had asked several locals about a bus to Muang Ngeun where I had heard that the border to Thailand should be. They had told me different departure times but most of them said 9 o’clock so I decided to be there at 8 just in case. Because of walking from the bus station the previous day I knew that the bus station is 30-40 minutes away by walk but this morning I had the luck to hitch hike with a policeman instead. After managing to explain where I was going to the ticket guy at the bus station he tells me I probably have to wait 3-4 hours for a bus (well, at least there IS a bus). In Laos it is common in Laos that the buses leaves after a minimum amount of people have arrived to take it, and in this case there was a bus from Muang Xay (Oudomxay) later that day that probably would bring some people who wanted to go the same direction.

Pak Beng
View in Pak Beng. Several people just pass by this village quickly with the 2 day river boat, but it is also possible to reach the village by bus.

Pak Beng bus station
Pak Beng bus station, with bus that just arrived from Muang Xay

After a coffee and some free rice that I get for free for teaching a lady a few words in English I decide to hitch hike to Muang Ngeun. But without cars passing by and the rain starting, I give up after a while and decide to walk back into Pak Beng instead.

Ok, time to exchange some money to Thai Baht, send a postcard and visit a temple. 3 hours later (11 am) I am back at the bus station, thinking there is no bus because some people told me it leaves at 2 or 3 pm, but the timing is perfect and 10 minutes later I am sitting in a small open-roof-truck that sometimes are used as buses in some countries.

The drive takes 1,5 hours including some time to wait for a ferry to take us across a river. The cost for the bus was 35 000 LAK (4 euro) which is pretty expensive for being in Laos, so I am happy to hear that the driver is also going to Thailand and drives me all the way to the border (1+ km outside of Muang Ngeun).

Laos changing buses
After about 10 minutes of driving from Pak Beng we are at the home of the bus driver and changed from a small (white) truck to a big (blue) truck.

Laos bus with people
The road is pretty good on some parts of the drive, the best and newest road I have encountered in Laos. The worst thing with these buses are definitely the sun.

Mekong River crossing
Mekong River crossing on a 2-car ferry with a mattress for sleeping inside when the ferry driver is not working.

The border crossing is fast and easy and after passing it I ask a mini bus driver if he is driving to Nan, having heard that name before somewhere. He tells me 100 Thai baht (3 euro) which I think is a bit expensive, thinking the city is only a short distance away and being a bit confused with the new currency. I start walking in the direction which somebody tells me there is a bus station, still not having an idea of which city is most near or where I am. After a short distance a man stops me and when he hears where I want to go he takes my hand and walks with me downhill again to the same mini bus man. After checking his map I realize that Nan is around 2 hours drive away and suddenly his 3 euro option is totally OK. Even more so after noticing that I have the 12 seat air conditioned mini bus for myself. What a difference to Laos, where people sometimes are sitting on top of each other!

Thailand empty bus
I can not believe it, a mini bus all for myself

Thailand luxury bus
Still impressed by the mini bus and the on-board speaker system

Thailand view
Nice view on the way to Nan (Thailand) from the border

On the way to Nan we pass the bus station, which was 20 minutes driving (in the mountains) away from the border. Sitting in the high class mini bus it is difficult not to enjoy the sudden luxury. Even more so when the driver calls a translator which asks me where I want to be dropped off. I tell him “Nan guesthouse” – meaning a guesthouse in Nan – but when arriving realizing that there actually is a guesthouse with that name.

After spending the night eating my missed Pad Thais and the next day walking around in Nan I really enjoy this charming city!

Thailand Nan guesthouse
Nan guesthouse, not bad for 6 euro per night for a double room

Here is a summary on how to cross the Huai Kon border from Laos to Thailand:

1) Take a bus from Pak Beng (with unknown departure time) to Muang Ngeun
2) From Muang Ngeun walk or hitch hike 1+ km to the border
3) Pass the Laos border with your Laos departure card (you can get a new one if you lost it)
4) Walk about 1 km more to the Thai border, or pay a woman on motorbike 20 Thai baht (50 euro cent) to take you there
4) Fill in an arrival form and pass the Thai border
5) From here it is up to you, but an option is the mini bus (van) to Nan 2 hours away. There is also a ton of small villages on the way to Nan as well as some bigger cities (20-30 000 inhabitants) like Thung Chang and Chiang Klang.

Manila, Philippines

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

To prolong my Thai visa with a month I had to go out of the country and then fly in again, because by land the visa extension is limited to 2 weeks. This was lucky because even though I always wanted to visit Philippines I didn’t have any plans to go there during this Asia trip. But now I found a cheap return ticket (one way is not allowed anyway) and the next day I found myself being in Manila, the capital of Philippines.

Arriving at 4 am in the beginning of the week I was surprised to see that the city was still alive and moving. There are no public transport at this time besides taxi and the area I arrived to is a bit expensive, so I get a cheap taxi to another area which some helpful local recommended to me 5 minutes earlier. The area I arrive to is the party area of Manila. Everywhere lady-boys and taxi-men are yelling after me, dark alleys with people hanging around and strip clubs (“Gentlemen clubs”). But people are really helpful and about half an hour later (around 5 am) I am checked into a hotel and laying in my bed, starting to realize that I am in the Philippines.

The next morning I force myself up at 9 am to get the complementary double breakfast. Double because I have a double room, although its pretty small. Next to me for breakfast sits one foreigner and his lady-boy. They are really friendly people and when the lady-boy leaves the guy tells me his wife is luckily coming firstly next week.

Back in my bed, which covers almost the whole room, I am thinking I can not wait to explore Manila. Just one more hour of sleep…

Philippines, Manila - street

Philippines, Manila - barrio

Philippines, Manila - homeless people
An enormous amount of homeless people in Manila

Philippines, Manila - apartment spider
Huge harmless apartment spider

Philippines, Manila - happy people

Philippines, Manila - jeepney bus
Local buses are called “Jeepneys” and cost about 20 cent USD

Philippines, Manila - chicken legs
Chicken legs

Philippines, Manila - one day chicken food
One day chicken and chicken balls

Philippines, Manila - dog for sale
Buy me

Philippines, Manila - chinatown street sellers

Philippines, Manila - Chinese water snake NYE
Chinese New Year (year of the Water Snake)

Philippines, Manila - la vida room
La Vida Room for 3 hour “naps”

Philippines, Manila - maintenance
Manila maintenance

Philippines, Manila - naked girls sells newspaper
We all know that naked girls sell magazines, and now also newspapers

Philippines, Manila - mountain
 Beautiful mountain Batulao (only 800 meters) with it’s 10 peaks

Philippines, Manila - trekking
Looking back half way

Philippines, Manila - mountain guide
Mountain guide who should have been in school instead

Philippines, Manila - mt Batulao camp
Mt Batulao camp “Don’t change the mountain, let the mountain change you”

Philippines, Manila - chicken fight planning
Chicken fight – trying to decide which chickens will fight each others depending on their size

Philippines, Manila - chicken fight planning
More chicken owners coming into the ring of smiling discussion

Philippines, Manila - chicken fight preparing
Preparing the chickens. The fight is until death.

Philippines, Manila - chicken fight starting

Philippines, Manila - chicken fight
The fight is going to start

Philippines, Manila - chicken fight end
And about 2 minutes later it’s over

Philippines, Manila - refreshing drink
Sweet drink

Philippines, Manila - night buses

Philippines, Manila - electrician

Philippines, Manila - penthouse

Philippines, Manila - people

Philippines, Manila - smiley

Philippines, Manila - street art

Philippines, Manila - Tagaytay
Tagaytay view over Taal Volcano Island

Philippines, Manila - taxi driver asleep
Taxi driver asleep

Philippines, Manila - traffic
Pollution

Philippines, Manila - karaoke
Last night in Manila with new friends and karaoke

Popular islands in Thailand

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Thailand has some of the most popular islands and beaches in the world. But there is a debate about which places are the most visited.

Thankfully, Google has the answer! The list below is compiled from which islands the most people search information about on the Internet and should give you a hint of their popularity. Of course there are different ways of compiling a list like this, so take it with a grain of salt.

  1. Phuket
  2. Ko Lanta (Lanta Islands)
  3. Ko Samui (Samui-Pha Ngan-Tao)
  4. Ko Phi Phi (Phi Phi Islands)
  5. Shared place:
    Ko Chang (Ko Samaesan group)
    Ko Tao (Samui-Pha Ngan-Tao)
  6. Similan Islands
  7. Ko Samet
  8. Shared place:
    Ko Pha Ngan (Samui-Pha Ngan-Tao)
    Ko Tarutao (Tarutao – Tarutao Archipelago)
  9. Ko Kut (Ko Chang Marine National Park)
  10. Ko Yao Noi (Phang Nga Bay)
  11. Ko Pu (Mid Krabi)
  12. Ko Mak (Ko Chang Marine National Park)
  13. Ko Sichang
  14. Ko Yao Yai (Phang Nga Bay)
  15. Ko Tapu
  16. Ko Kham (Sichang group)

If you in the other hand want to find an island that is less visited there are thousands of islands in Thailand so you can easily have your pick. A lot of these islands have almost no Internet searches BUT they can be located near a popular island which means that there will still be a lot of people visiting them on organized day tours.

Popular islands in Thailand
Koh Chuak near Ko Lanta

Ko Phi Phi

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Ko Phi Phi was one of those places that surprised me – in a good way. I had expected a very small island, packed from one corner to another with tourists. Ok, so there were tourists, a lot of them, and most of them ridiculously drunk as soon as the street sellers started selling their buckets of hard liquor every evening. But it was surprisingly easy at the same time to get away from that and wander into the nature with a lot of hidden trekking spots.

Another trick is to be out somewhat early in the mornings and you will have the streets all for yourself, although many places will then be closed. This trick will not work that well on most of the beaches though as the low tides (2 per day) really makes a big negative effect exposing the flat dirty bottom of the – in daytime beautiful – Phi Phi beaches.

Even with the beautiful (but limited) nature together with a few local gems which the main stream didn’t find, or more probably didn’t care about, I would say that Phi Phi island is mainly a party island. Depending on what you want to do on Ko Phi Phi there are different areas to live in. The central-north area is for the party people, the east-north for high-end sun worshipers and finally the south-east for couples and families. Now it’s up to you, what kind of island life do you want to live?

Ko Phi Phi viewpoint
The two sides of the ocean meats on a very narrow land area, which is also the city center of Ko Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi tourist line
Tourists comes back after a day trip on one of the modern 3 engine speed boats

Ko Phi Phi shallow beach at Loh Dalum Bay
Almost all the beaches on Ko Phi Phi are really shallow. This one is in the Loh Dalum Bay, probably the most popular and dirty beach in the center-north.

Ko Phi Phi mussels lady
Lady picking mussels on the beach to sell to the restaurants

Ko Phi Phi monkey beach
Monkey on Monkey Beach. If you go there, go early before big groups of people start coming in.

Ko Phi Phi low tide
Low tide on one of the south side beaches near the harbor

Ko Phi Phi fruit sallad breakfast
Breakfast. Fruit salad with yogurt and honey.

Ko Phi Phi fire show
Fire show in the party area (center-north side)

Ko Phi Phi buckets
Buckets sold for 200 BHT (less than 7 USD) – sometimes 2 for the price of 1

Ko Phi Phi boats in harbour
Boats in the harbor, most of them used for tours or taxi

Ko Phi Phi football game
Fotball match

Ko Phi Phi climber
Can you spot the climber?

Ko Phi Phi boat taxi
Taxi boat with very individual prices

Ko Phi Phi board game
Local board game

Ko Phi Phi sunset

Ko Lanta

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

After living city life for a while it was time for me to find a beach. I checked Google Maps and found that Ko Lanta (or Koh Lanta) was pretty near so that is where I went. From the border of Malaysia (Padang Besa) I took a 2 hour bus to Hat Yai in Thailand for about 8 BHT (0,3 USD). There is no official bus stop so you just need to wait along the road and wave in the bus when it comes. A nice lady working at the exchange office gave me water and an orange and kept me company, which was a really nice welcome to Thailand.

I initially wanted to stay one night in Hat Yai but the wish for a beach was too strong, so after eating something in the outdoor market I found another bus that took me to Krabi. This bus departures from the Hat Yai bus terminal and was a bit more expensive, 239 BHT (8 USD). The bus takes 5 hours and is chilling cold, but everyone is provided with blankets and the trip passes by rather quick.

I arrived around 11 in the night to Krabi. That was it for the day. Exiting the bus and starting to walk, searching for a place to sleep, a bunch of motorbike taxi drivers tried to convince me that there were no guesthouses or hotels in this area, but that I had to get into the city about 3-5 km away, and that there only were places for 1000 BHT and up. Of course they were trying to cheat me and after asking in an outdoor restaurant I find a luxury hotel nearby where I pay 500 BHT (17 USD) for a double room with WIFI, television and AC.

The next day I go out for breakfast followed by finding the correct road where the minibus to Ko Lanta will pass. The bus almost misses me but sees me in the last minute and pulls over. The 3 hour trip (130 BHT = 4 USD) pass by two car ferries but even though it’s almost high season the cue is minimal and everything goes smoothly, except for a child throwing up inside the minibus.

Finally in Ko Lanta I manage to withdraw some money and get a lunch, before asking a taxi driver to take me for free (they get provision) to a nearby hotel with bungalows which he recommends. The price for a bungalow with huge bed, bathroom, fan, WIFI and breakfast is 600 BHT (20 USD) per night, and with the beach nearby I finally get my dip in the ocean before the rain starts.

Ko Lanta
This picture was taken from the beach Koh Ngai which is one hour boat trip away from Ko Lanta. The islands around Ko Lanta can be really beautiful, but for me Ko Lanta itself is nothing above the normal when it comes to visual appearance. The true charm of Ko Lanta is the amazing local people together with a semi-laid back style, at least comparing to the nearby Ko Phi Phi and Phuket.

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

To travel from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur there are several options. My idea was to see something on the way and this option is also faster than taking the train which a lot of travelers do.

Here is my travel itinerary:

First, take the local Johor Bahru bus from JB sentral to Larkin terminal. This bus ride takes 10 minutes and will set you back 1.70 MYR (0.6 USD) . I chose to go to KL through Melaka and from Larkin terminal there are several bus companies to choose between which means that you will usually not have to wait for more then an hour for the next bus to departure. Price for the ticket from Johor Bahru to Melaka  is 19 MYR (6 USD) .

Melaka is a beautiful city which is also on the UNESCO list. The bus trip to Melaka from JB takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes (with one quick toilet- and provision stop) and will pass endless plantations of palm oil. When the bus arrives to Melaka you need to take bus 17 to the center, duration around 20 minutes and cost 1.30 MYR (0.4 USD).

If you decide to stay for the night in Melaka the hotels are cheap here, around 27 MYR (9 USD) for a single room and 35 MYR (12 USD) for a double room, or if you prefer to sleep in a dormitory the cost is as low as 15 MYR (5 USD).

Melaka is really touristic in the historical part of the city, but if you want to see a more genuine part of the city you can easily walk to the modern areas where there are almost no tourists. Also, although touristic, to walk on the streets around “Jonker walk” in the night during Friday-Sunday is really nice when the market is happening (if there is no rain).

When you finally get tired of Melaka and want to continue to Kuala Lumpur there are buses about every hour from the Melaka terminal. The trip to KL takes about 2 hours and costs 12,20 MYR (4 USD).

Total travel time with the above described way from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur is minimum 5 hours and costs 33 MYR (11 USD). There are also direct buses to Kuala Lumpur from Larkin if you are in a hurry or want to get away even cheaper.

Finally, here are some of my pictures from Melaka:

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - artwork in progress
Company from 5 generations back making these wooden signs

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - Chinese New Year
People are already preparing for Chinese New Year celebrations everywhere

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - Jonker Walk karaoke
Jonker Walk karaoke, a bit empty because of recent rain

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - Malaysian beer
Malaysian beer have “great European heritage” as they are brewed under the supervision of Carlsberg Denmark

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - squid balls
Squid balls in the making. Later on they put BBQ sauce, mayonnaise and shredded fish on top of them – yum!

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - friendly temple guy
Nice man I met in a Malaysian temple who worked there after his retirement. He showed me around, telling me the story behind every detail of the temple and then he brewed me some breakfast tea.

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - golden paper for luck
Presents from the man above. These papers with golden detail people fold like a fortune cookie and then burn for good luck.

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur - Melaka - Melaka breakfast
Breakfast before moving on to Kuala Lumpur

Singapore to Johor Bahru (Malaysia)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Today I arrived to Johor Bahru from Singapore. To travel from Singapore to Johor Bahru is fast, cheap and easy and here is how you do it:

First of all, to arrive to Singapore it is recommended that you have an exit ticket out from Singapore as well. Without this you might not be allowed into Singapore if the border control (or airport) ask you to present it. If the next country you will travel to requires a visa, you also need to show that you already have this. Note that you can be stopped already at the airport in your departure country by the airline you are flying with. This is because they don’t want to fly you back for free if you don’t get into Singapore. Someone who isn’t me almost missed their flight because of this and had to take a picture of the Malaysia railway web site which have a pre-book page that looks like a booking confirmation page and that worked as proof for the airline, but I wouldn’t recommend this solution.

Ok so you got into Singapore, great, first step completed! Now for the easy part. Take local bus 170 from Woodlands to JB Senter (center). You can also catch this bus from several areas of Singapore, so if you are lucky you don’t even need to go to Woodlands first. In other case there are several buses and even a metro train to Woodlands. To get to Woodlands you will pay around 2 Singapore dollar (1,6 USD) and then the same price for bus 170 to JB, which leaves around every 10 minutes.

The bus will let you off at the border, about 10 minutes trip from Woodlands. To cross the border you need a passport which, as usual for all border crossings, doesn’t expire within the next 6 months. Most nationalities will not need a visa for Malaysia, but check online in advance just to be sure. The crossing of the border usually takes 5 minutes and on the other side you wait again for the next bus 170 to arrive, or the same bus you came with if you are lucky. After the border the bus ride is about 5 more minutes before you reach JB Senter.

In JB Senter you will actually arrive within a shopping mall. If you plan to take out money here from your VISA card, be aware that the ATM machines have mirrored number pads.

That’s it, a total trip of about 20 minutes from Woodlands to Johor Bahru center, or approximately 1 hour from Singapore center.

Singapore: boat house
A two year old island and buildings in Singapore

Singapore: metro train station
Security outside a metro station in Singapore

Malaysia: Johor Bahru street food
Small street in Johor Bahru with street food stalls and tables. Example of prices: 2 Malaysian ringgit (0,7 USD) for a Coca Cola and 4 Malaysian ringgit (1,3 USD) for a noodle and dumpling soup.

Sri Lanka – a travel story

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Part 2 – enjoy the road, not the goal

The next day i go up early but take it easy as somebody told me what time the last bus goes, already at 9:30 am, don’t ask me why. My first step to go to Adam’s Peak will be to pass by the small town of Ella. When i get to the bus station i ask two different people working there but they both tell me i need to go to Matara to take the bus from there. I do what they say, thinking that I will miss the last bus but instead I arrive just in time. One and a half hour later I am back in Dickwella, not surprised at all and just smiling.

The bus continues and after a while 3 young monks enter the bus. Usually people here are very polite and stand up for elder people, but this time the old people sitting most near the door where the monks enter stand up immediately, giving their seats away (later on I understood that those seats are reserved for monks). I also realize that the monks pay for the bus trip, something I have been curious about earlier as I have seen monks before on the bus stations here.

Finally we arrive and i jump out of the bus, after verifying both with the bus driver and a passenger that this is the right city. But after a tuk-tuk driver wants 1000 rupees to drive me to Ella I quickly realize that I jumped off in the wrong city, Wellawaya. This is obviously not my bus day. The tuk-tuk drivers tell me there is no more bus to Ella today, but of course 30 minutes later I am sitting on a bus on the way, once again, to Ella.

The road to Ella turns out to be beautiful with a great mountain view and even one waterfall. Probably there was just mis-communication again, and I needed to change bus to go here. Anyway, when arriving to Ella I see a really touristic small town but still nice in its own way. I get a double room (there are no smaller) with warm water and WIFI for 1200 rupees and manage to publish my first blog post about Sri Lanka. The next morning I need to go up early again, around 5:30, so I make it an easy evening with some food (curries and lassi) and finishing off with a beer. In the restaurant I hear some travelers complaining about how expensive Sri Lanka is. Again I see how different people think about one and the same place, and why you need to know a person well first to understand what you should make out of the persons travel tips. I would recommend to follow local peoples advice, and from people not working with transportation or similar tourist occupations. However, I am glad people have different interests and think in different ways, in other case we would all end up in the same place.

The next day I am standing at the train station in Ella at 6:30 in the morning.

– “Have you got any money? Yes, a little.” the English learning program on the radio teaches me, while playing children music in the background. While I stand warming myself with the sun in the face people are starting to show up, walking on the rail track like it was a normal pathway.

Sri Lanka travel - Ella train/railway station
Ella railway station in the sunrise

From Ella I take a train at 6:40 in the morning to Hutton. Because the last days travel was a bit tiring I choose to sit in 1st class. Usually I like to travel like the majority of the locals and even though there are Sri Lankans also in 1st class I feel a bit weird being there in the beginning, but after a while I fall back into the comfortability and just enjoy it. Here I have a booked seat, a waiter, food and drinks to buy, a TV and even WIFI that works sometimes, mostly when the train stops at a train station  Next to me sits a guy from Amsterdam that I met on the street the day before and was surprised to see again on the train platform in the morning, us being the only two foreigners there waiting for the train. We have a nice talk and combined with the interesting view, the 4+ hours my train trip takes passes almost to fast. When arriving, I get out of the train and thinks that now it will only be 10 minutes walk to a guesthouse near the trail to Adam’s Peak. Again, thanks to a tuk-tuk driver I realize that I should have read up a bit more about the destination. There are actually 2 more bus rides that takes one hour each before I reach my destination. I double check the information online this time and then jump into the first bus. Two hours later I arrive and find a guesthouse with a good location quickly thanks to a Swedish guy I ask in the bus. We even decide to share a room and spend the evening talking. We also decide to check out the start of the trail and end up taking a dip in a lagoon we find. Later that night we play some games with two Austrian girls before going to sleep somewhat early.

Sri Lanka travel - Train
People riding in the doors of the train

Sri Lanka travel - Ella to Hutton
View from the train to Hutton

Sri Lanka travel - Train crowd
A lot of people pressed into the train, most of them have to stand for several hours. The buses and trains in Sri Lanka is a service from the government and are kept at a low price which the other private companies have to follow.

Sri Lanka travel - Hutton bus view
View from the bus to Adam’s Peak

In the morning we wake up late because of problem with the alarm clock and start our walk at 3:20. The idea is to be at the peak at sunrise. People have told us that the walk will take around 2,5 hours but we manages in 1,5 so the late wake up turned out to be no problem at all. Clouds. The sunrise is not visible but I enjoyed the walk so much that the sunrise feels unimportant. I instead find some guys that lives up here selling tea to the tourists, and we get invited to their home for a while to warm up before the walk down again.

Finally arriving back to the guesthouse a superb breakfast awaits us, before taking the two buses back to Hutton again where we depart from each other.

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak
Arriving to Adam’s Peak in the afternoon, after a long trip from Ella

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak lagoon
Lagoon perfect for a quick dip in the evening

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak sunrise
View from Adam’s Peak just before the sunrise

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak bells
Bells at Adam’s Peak which you are supposed to ring (one time for each visit you have done to the peak) and then make a wish which you want to become true

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak hut
The hut at the top of Adam’s Peak where we got invited for tea

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak stairs
The path down from Adam’s Peak. There are steps the whole way, so the path is easy to find.

Sri Lanka travel - Adam's peak tea lady

While I am sitting alone waiting for the train from Hutton to Kandy a group of school girls surrounds me. At first I think they are around 12 years old, but when I ask the girl flirting with me she tells me she is 18. She tries her best to use her very limited English to speak to me, while being really shy and hiding her face in her hands several times. Her classmates help her the best they can, and we can at least understand a few sentences both ways. This time I have chosen 2nd class and when the train arrives everybody pushes into the carriages. I realize quickly that there is almost even no standing place in the normal carriages so I take a place in the restaurant carriage. Here there are no chairs so the lucky people sit on the tables, while the less lucky sit or lay down on the dirty floor, or stand up like me. Luckily I only have somewhere between 2-3 hours train ride, and although I only slept a few hours last night I feel somewhat ok. Hopefully I can stay 2 nights in candy to get some rest, and then head over to the capital, Colombo, the last night before my flight to Australia.

That’s my 10 day transit in Sri Lanka. Next time i will stay for at least
2 months!

Sri Lanka travel - Hutton to Kandy
Train from Hutton to Kandy, 2nd class wagon

Did you miss part 1?
Sri Lanka – a travel story

Sri Lanka – a travel story

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Part 1 – a land of smiling faces

I didn’t plan to write a travel log for Sri Lanka, only to do a few posts about it, but this country and its people inspired me so much so how could I resist.

Before coming to Sri Lanka I did absolutely no pre-planning or research besides checking up the day before arriving how much the currency was worth to be able to tell what things cost. When exiting the airport I had no idea what to do next. I knew the airport name was Colombo so I thought it was close to the city Colombo, but after asking around I decide to go to Negombo instead which seems to be a nicer place. I take a taxi and arrive to a guest house what I think is half an hour later, but which is difficult to recall as the time is now 5 am and I am a bit groggy after not sleeping so much the last two nights during my transfers in Istanbul and Dubai. Luckily enough I write down a tip the driver gives me about where my next destination should be, Mirissa.

After arriving and checking in I go to sleep and wake up 12 hours later, at 5 pm. I ask the guesthouse people who tells me that the sun goes down as late as 7 pm here so I still have some day light. I start my day (which is actually the evening) by walking down to the beach some 20 meters away. Here I chill out for a while and then walk into the town center to find an ATM machine, as I have no money to pay for the guesthouse or even for food. On the way I find two Chinese girls who I join for a dinner. After the dinner the girls head back to their hotel and I ask around and find a hidden local bar where I spend some time before walking back. On the way back I get lost in the dark but I have a business card from the guest house so I manage to find a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) that can take me there, after the driver asks about 10 people for the direction. When I arrive back I decide to explore my own area a bit more and find after a while an on-going football match on the beach. I have a nice talk to a guy watching the game with his friend and he tells me that this is the final game. The crowd are really into the match but also social at the same time, sitting with the arms around each others shoulders. Fireworks go off now and then, which seems to be a common thing here in Sri Lanka. After a while, not being a soccer fan and just staying for the people and atmosphere, I decide to call it a night.

Sri Lanka travel story - Sunday mass
Sunday mass in Negombo

Sri Lanka travel story - Beach football match
Beach football match

The next morning I go up early to go for a swim, being the first in the water. Afterwards I visit a fish market that somebody told me about the earlier night. The market is great and especially the fisherman on the beach are really interesting to watch and talk to. I take a ton of pictures and then head back to the guesthouse to pack my things and go for the bus station. Here I take a bus to Colombo and then change to another bus for Mirissa. I would like to try hitch hiking but because of my limited 10 days in Sri Lanka I decide not to this time. The trip to Mirissa is somewhat long, about 7-8 hours probably, and I arrive in the dark evening. A tuk-tuk driver gives me a free ride to a guesthouse a bit outside of everything but within walking distance from the beach. The free ride is of course sponsored by the provision he gets from the guesthouse for taking me there. The guesthouse only opened a few weeks ago, with me as the 4th guest, and is run by a really friendly family. I decide to be lazy and eat the dinner at their place, and then take a walk to explore the area but as everything is dark and closed the walk becomes very short.

Sri Lanka travel story - Fishermen
Fishermen next to the Negombo fish market

Sri Lanka travel story - Tuk-Tuk
Tuk-Tuk “taxi”

My third morning in Sri Lanka I buy a SIM-card to be able to connect to the internet and work. Not a bad deal, the SIM-card + 1 GB data for about 3 euro. On the way back I see a new street and walk in to explore it. Suddenly I hear a guy shouting after me. It’s a massage place and the owner, a 70 year old man, ends up giving me a 30 minutes neck massage. After the massage he invites me for tea and sells me an inhalator to get rid of the last cold I have since my Istanbul transfer some days ago. We talk a lot and he keeps trying to talk me into coming back a few hours later to meet his daughter, but i kindly tell him i have other plans. He also recommends a Buddhist temple near the city Dickwella which seems like a nice next destination.

After the talk I start walking home, but instead end up walking up a hill to another smaller Buddhist temple with a beautiful view over the whole area. On the way down, exploring a new path, i meet a local rasta guy who rents out surf boards. i go for a sunset swim and then want to find the guy again, asking for a lesson the next morning (although i already know how to surf but you can always learn more). Now it’s pitch black and i can not find his house, so finally i decide to trace my steps back up the hill again to the temple and then the path i walked last time. When i reach the temple I meet the only monk living there, together with his family and crazy dogs. He shows me the path which i can not find in the dark and I start walking down on it. after a while some more crazy dogs stand in the way and i have to find some villagers to hold them back while i cross. Finally i find the house but the guy is not there, only a neighbor who tells me the rasta guys name. I decide to walk to the beach to ask for him, but on the way I meet somebody in the dark and tries the name on him (while i still remember it). It’s not the guy but his cousin, good enough, so I manage to get a surf lesson booked for the next day.

I then walk down to a beach bar with mostly couples and not so much things happening, but good enough for two beers and some relaxing thanks to great music. When I finally decide to walk home I come across a group of Sri Lankans sitting in a ring in the sand. They invite me, and I realize I have met at least one of them before. They are all tuk-tuk drivers, sitting drinking local rum mixed with sprite. I get some drinks and we even manage to find another bottle from some “black” store as everything in the area is closed already. The new bottle of rum disappears surprisingly quick and we split up for the night, just after finding one guy who makes me a nightly omelette for about 10 cent.

Sri Lanka travel story - Merissa hill view
Merissa hill view from the Buddhist temple

Sri Lanka travel story - Merissa Buddhist temple
Buddhist Temple on the hill

Sri Lanka travel story - Merissa tuk-tuk friends
Beach party with Tuk-Tuk friends

The next morning I go up at 6:40 to meet the surfer and enjoy some waves. It’s amazing how nice it is to surf when the ocean is not filled with surfers, only me and the rasta guy plus two Austrian guys sharing the waves. After some hours, when the sun is high and the arms are tired, I decide to give up and go for a mixed fruit pancake breakfast. At this time I also realize that my nipples are hurting and my face is starting to get red.

When I finally get back home I see that the checkout time is only 30 minutes away, so a quick shower, some packing and then I am out on the road again. After 3 buses refuse to stop for me I realize there are actual bus stops you need to stand at. When I find the nearest bus stop I meet two German people and we share a ride with a car that is going our direction, paying 10 cent each for the drive. On the way I ask them about their favorite place on the island which they tell me is Adams Peak, so I decide that will be my stop on the way back north later in the week. The Germans jump off in the outskirts of Matara but I manage to get a ride the whole way to Dickwella with the same driver, just after a quick stop to his brother to drop off some things.

In Dickwella I decide to get a home inside the city this time, to mix things up. After finding a place and taking a shower I eat a lunch for about 1 euro and then go to the Wewurukannla temple. The temple is really nice and I spend some time there, ending up going for a tea with a guy working there and getting his home address (this is very common in Sri Lanka). On the walk back to the city there are so many smiling faces and people greeting me I can not stop thinking about how positive and welcoming Sri Lanka is.

Finally back in town I see the beach and go there to relax for a while looking at the ocean and beautiful sky, although I missed the sunset and it’s now dark. Not many minutes pass by before a guy sits down and starts speaking to me. He tells me about loosing his wife and several family members in the 2004 tsunami, and again – I get his home address and he says I need to visit his restaurant the next day. I tell him that I am going away tomorrow but we can go now, so we do. He parks his bike (unlocked) in the city and we take a tuk-tuk to his house, where I meet his brother and get another cup of really tasty tea, with the tuk-tuk still waiting outside. This gentleness and hospitality in the people I have probably only seen in Palestine before coming here. After a while we decide to send away the tuk-tuk (I dont know why it needed to wait anyway) and walk to his restaurant. The restaurant is located on a beautiful beach (well, its still pitch black) but it’s not open for business yet for a few months. Everything on the restaurant is built from scratch because the tsunami destroyed all what was on this land earlier. After the restaurant visit we find the same tuk-tuk again, which I now realize he asked to come back although there are hundreds of tuk-tuks just a few meters away, and goes to my home where I say goodbye to him and wishes him all the best luck for the future with his family and restaurant. He seemed so sad when he left, although we only known each other for some hour. The owners of the guest house where I am staying (who does not speaking English) seems to have some great fun about me and my new friend, but in a friendly and familiar way.

I get in, take my 3rd shower of the day and start writing – inspired of my last days of constantly great experiences. Just one more stop of the day, out to town to find some food, and then getting to bed looking forward to what will happen tomorrow.

Sri Lanka travel story - Dickwella Wewurukannla temple
Dickwella Wewurukannla Buddhist temple

Sri Lanka travel story - Wewurukannla pansala man
Man inside the Wewurukannla Buddhist temple

Sri Lanka travel story - Dickwella new restaurant
The new restaurant soon to be opened in Dickwella

To be continued:
Sri Lanka, a travel story (part 2)

Rama, Nicaragua

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

After Bluefields I take a panga/speed boat to Rama. This journey takes 2 hours and goes on a beautiful river with a few families living scattered out along it. If you plan to take this trip I recommend you to bring a big plastic bag for your luggage (or yourself) because the panga doesn’t have a roof or any other cover, and it rains quite a lot in this area even though I was lucky.

The panga trip feels quick and when arriving to Rama I check into one of the hostels I find while walking the city. As soon as I move into my new room I see a particularly strange part of the interior design that I don’t know what to think about. The room number is written on the toilet paper holder. Not only this, but the toilet paper holder is not placed in the bathroom but in the livingroom/bedroom.

I leave the hostel and go to an outdoor restaurant/BBQ instead, but they only have one table so I sit down with a family already sitting there. This has happened to me before in India, but that time I ordered what I was thinking was two big main dishes and get two small meat balls instead, while my table mates are eating a huge dinner. Back to Rama, I have both dogs and people looking at me while I eat. One guy comes to the table and asks me for a little bit of food, but I give him some money instead. The woman next to me comments, after the guy left, that he will only use it for booze.

After the restaurant I find a pub and sit down in the bar area. Only 5 seconds passes before a drunk guy invites me to his table. They are two friends sitting there, and the guy inviting me likes to impress his friend by showing that he can speak English with me. I want to practice my Spanish as well but every time I speak Spanish the guy tells me to speak English instead. The conversation is poor as the guys English is really limited, and I quickly realize he translates wrong every time to his friend. I tell them that after my beer I need to go, but the guys kind friend order everyone one more beer. We “speak” a little bit more and I realize the guy trying to speak English is “translating” to his friend that I will pay for all their beer during the night. I quickly drink up, tell them how nice it was to meet, pay my own beer and call it a night.

Bluefields to El Rama with panga (speed boat)
Panga coming in from Bluefields after an 2 hour ride on the river

El Rama hostel with toilet paper in living room
Strange interior design in the hostel, with the toilet paper
holder outside the bathroom (in the bedroom)

El Rama river with drunk guy
Long canoes carrying passengers and goods along the river
“Rio Escondido”, meaning “hidden river”

Hospital visits in Nicaragua

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

In the end of my stay on Little Corn Island I had a strange pain in my lung that came when I was inhaling. Because there is no hospital on the island I waited to check this to when I arrived to Big Corn Island shortly after. There, after 2 hours waiting for my turn the nurse (through a translator) tells me “Here we only test pee-pee and poo-poo”. There are actually an ultrasound machine on the island, but not at the hospital she tells me. When I trace the place down the people working there inform me that the ultrasound machine is only there one day per month. Anyway, there is a machine in Bluefields where I already have planned to travel to the next day, perfect.

When I arrive to the hospital in Bluefields the reception woman redirects me to the sub director of the hospital. I find him and am lucky enough to find somebody to translate for me again. After a short discussion I get an ultrasound order and the translator/nurse shows me the way.

-“Do you believe in God” she asks me. I wonder where this will go, and curiously answers her question. She tells me that this is a making of God, that I can skip the waiting list until November [2 months later] and do the ultrasound test already today.

In the waiting room there are only me and a dozen of pregnant women, together with a statue of Jesus. Some hours goes by and then it’s my turn.

After the test is finished I get an old lady, who is also visiting the hospital, to translate my test results for me. She just concludes the whole document into one sentence:

“Everything is cool”

Nicaragua hospital; Free health care

Nicaragua hospital; Jesus

Nicaragua hospital; Ultrasound

Bluefields, Nicaragua

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Bluefields gave me a really good vibe straight away. Maybe was it also the feeling of being on the road by myself again, an incredible feeling of freedom and uncertainty which I have become addicted to. I was also glad for all the possibilities of being in a big town, in comparison to living on Little Corn Island.

Although I do not see any other foreigners in the city it doesn’t make people stare at me. Actually I have noticed the same in a lot of places in Central America, which is nice as I am quite tall and impossible to blend in into a group of locals. The feeling here is a bit raw, in a positive way, and people seems very real without any social layers telling them how to be or act.

Bluefields have a reputation of being the refueling port for Colombian drug smugglers  and this is confirmed when the music on the radio in a restaurant is interrupted by a news announcement. The traffic here are mostly Marijuana and “white lobster”, also known as cocaine. The nickname comes from smuggling boats that dumps their cargo before getting caught by the police. Then local speedboats find these packages, or they get washed up on the shore for some lucky(?) person to find it. Within one day of arriving to the city a guy on the street already tries to sell me something. This is nothing new in the Caribbean, but is usually more concentrated in the areas where the tourists are located.

The place where I am staying is a dirty family owned hotel placed next to what I suspect is a brothel. The cost for a single room is C$120 (less than 4 euro) and included in the price is shower-creme/shampoo and a condom from Vietnam. After dropping my toothbrush on the floor I quickly decide to buy a new toothbrush.

Somewhere between 2 and 5 every morning the neighbor’s rooster wakes me up. I am somewhat used to this from living on Corn Island where, again, my neighbors had several roosters as pets. I try to visit a cock fight one night to get my revenge, but the fight is mystically cancelled. Cock fights are legal in Nicaragua and somewhat common in a selection of the country’s cities. In Bluefields the cock fights can be found s few times per week behind a house in the Fatima neighborhood.

When walking around in Bluefields, even in the middle of the center, you quickly realize how open and welcoming all the apartments are. You might think an apartment is a restaurant until you take a glimpse inside and see the family in front of the television. This feels like a big contradiction as most houses have high security with metal bars or barbed wire but at the same time are so open to visitors.

There are a lot of cars in the city, and with at least 80% of them being taxis you never have to wait more than a minute to find a ride. The cost for a normal taxi ride here is C$12, about 40 Euro cent.  In Nicaragua people share taxi but pay individually, which means that the taxi you jump into might not go to your destination first, but why hurry?

A strange fact is that about half of the cars have no number plates. On [Big] Corn Island no number plates are standard but on the mainland the idea is for all cars to have them. Bluefields seems to be in some kind of gray zone for this law and I can not find any local that can explain this phenomena.

The nightlife in the city is really good with a lot of great bars to choose from. Don’t be surprised when everyone clears the dance floor after each song. This is because there are a few seconds pause between the songs and with very varied music people only dance to the songs they like, but most of the songs fills the dance floor again (probably with the same people as before). Don’t expect to meet a lot of other foreigners in the bars or night clubs, although people here tell me that in May the high season starts with a month long party and then there should be more tourists passing by. I was lucky to instead stay in Bluefields on the 30th September when the Feast of Saint Jerome takes part, which is celebrated with fireworks and people dressed out like fat ladies with face masks.

How to summarize a city like this? One day when walking into a pharmacy to ask for a headache pill to cure my small hangover the clerk working there recommended me to drink a small beer instead.
That is Bluefields.

Bluefields Nicaragua, harbor

Bluefields, Nicaragua: harbor with pigs
The port in Bluefields with speedboats (“pangas”) to for example
Corn Island and Rama

Bluefields, Nicaragua: restaurant interior
Interior of a restaurant

Bluefields Nicaragua, rondon
Rondón with Gallo Pinto (rice with beans). Rondón is traditionally
from Bluefields but can now be found all over Nicaragua.

Bluefields, roulette on a fair
Nicaragua’s answer to Roulette. The colors of the board matches
he colors of the money bills of Nicaragua, that it also attached to
the spinning wheel.

Bluefields, Feast of Saint Jerome
Big crowd celebrating the Feast of Saint Jerome

For a small 7 minute documentary about music and culture in
Bluefields, visit this link.

Caribbean Islands – Corn Island(s)

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

My 1½ month stay on Little Corn Island, a Caribbean island in Nicaragua, ended a few days ago. I came to the Corn Islands by chance after a tip from some random person I met during my backpack trip in Central America. The idea was to stay for a maximum of one week, but that changed as I got a deal with a scuba diving center on the island. To stay on the island for more than a week without working or having some sort of project would be difficult for most people, because there is not much to do during the days besides chilling out on a beach or go snorkeling. The night life is okay even though there are not that many places to choose from: three local bars and one touristic. Most people choose to go to bed ridiculously early and going up early as well, sometimes for the sunrise.

Corn Islands are two islands, with the main island called only “Corn Island” while the smaller island is “Little Corn Island”. The bigger island has an airstrip, roads and cars (without number plates) and almost no tourists. Even though you “have” to pass this island to get to the smaller island, the majority of the tourists don’t even spend one night here but instead take a taxi directly from the airstrip to the speed boat that leaves two times per day to Little Corn Island. This is a shame because [Big] Corn Island is really nice and is struggling to get their part of the tourism business. But at the moment the airstrip is being rebuilt do be able to receive direct flights from Florida, which probably will explode the number of tourists traveling to both of the Corn Islands in the future.

Little Corn Island on the other hand is built up on tourism. The island looks like the typical Caribbean island that you see on pictures in magazines and there is no problem to find an empty beach that you can have for yourself while eating coconuts just fallen down from the palms. Besides coconuts it’s possible to find mango and avocado on some of the small tracks when there is season for it.

The island is perfect for relaxing with no cars or motorized vehicles at all. Even though Little Corn Island is small you can explore paths that go into uninhibited areas of the island or just take a walk in the nice local areas north of the harbor. Passing the boats “Live your life” and “Happiness” you will get a feeling what life on the island is like.

The prices on Little Corn Island are definitely more expensive than on the mainland of Nicaragua, or even comparing to [Big] Corn Island. This is mainly because of the long difficult way the shipped goods have to take to get to the island, but also because of the growing tourism industry. Most prices are written in US dollar, making it more difficult to compare prices with the mainland. There are no ATM machine to withdraw money on the island and only the foreign restaurants accept credit cards (with a 5% fee) which is a shame for the economy of the locals. Luckily there are a few restaurants where you can ask for cash-back for a 8-10% fee.

Scuba diving is one of the main attractions of Little Corn Island and the Holy Grail for the scuba divers that come here is to see the Great Hammerhead shark. Besides the Hammerhead shark there are also a chance to see Barracudas, Dolphins (rare), Nurse Sharks, Reef Sharks (rare), Spotted Eagle rays, Stingrays, Turtles (semi rare) and a lot of mid- and small size fish and ocean creatures, together with beautiful corals of all kind. If you are not into scuba diving you can rent snorkeling equipment for US$5 or go on a guided snorkeling trip with a boat for US$15 including equipment.

My last two weeks on the island the power generator was broken which was a big problem for a few places which could not afford to run their generators and had to shut down during this period. But even when the island’s main generator is working the electricity is only on during half the day between specific hours.

Although the island life is very slow and uneventful I will miss Corn Island, even the big tarantula that lived in my kitchen.

Some other notes about the island:

  • Strong thunderstorms with rain are very common
  • The homeless dogs are more happy here than on the mainland, due to the fact that the tourists feed them
  • There are a lot of mosquitoes on the island, but most places to live have mosquito nets
  • If you hear load drums in the night, don’t worry. Once a year the school kids do a parade on the Nicaraguan Independence Day and the whole month before they practice. Even though the drums is only played by 2-4 kids the sound is like from an army.
  • A few people give a bad reputation to the locals here. As a normal common sense, don’t borrow money that you are not ready to loose. The same goes for paying in advance.
  • The crab divers on Little Corn Island mostly go free diving, instead of scuba diving with bad result like on the big Corn Island.

Little Corn island, Nicaragua

Little Corn island

Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Corn Island: turtle

Corn Island; tropical paradise

Corn Island tropical beach

Corn Island: stingray

Corn Island, snorkeling

Corn Island resort

Corn Island: Nurse sharks

Corn Island: Nurse shark

Corn Island Nicaragua

Corn Island harbor

Corn Island Caribbean beach

Corn Island beach with coconut

Corn Island

Akumal, Mexico

Monday, September 24th, 2012

In the start of my Central America trip I visited a beach in Akumal, Mexico. Akumal was founded in 1958 as a place for scuba diving and has today more than 1000 inhabitants. The city name “Akumal” means “place of the turtles” which is a very good description of this place which you will notice if you go snorkeling here.

Akumal, Mexico

Akumal beach

Turtles

Sea turtles in Mexico

Turtles in Mexico

Akumal Messico

Turtles have been around on this earth for about 200 million years, can get more than 2 meters long and weight over 900 kg.

Caribbean Islands – Caye Caulker, Belize

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

One of the first Caribbean islands I stayed on during my travels in Central America was Caye Caulker in Belize, which probably is the most famous (and smallest) of Belize’s islands. While the people on this island is more “Caribbean” than anywhere else I have been, the look of the island is not the typical “Caribbean island” that you would think of. There is actually only one minimal beach on the island, and it’s almost not worth the definition “beach”. The rest of the coast line is mangrove, which is good in its own way as this protects the coast and sea life.

Caye Caulker "beach"

The island of Caye Caulker is only 8 km long but most of its life is focused on an even smaller part than that. One main beach walk is the focus of the tourists and behind it exist two parallel streets with only locals. Again it’s sad to see such an obvious segregation, but at the same time it’s perfect if you want to spend time with locals without any other tourists around.

Caye Caulker children

To get to Caye Caulker there are two options, either take a water taxi from Belize City or fly. It’s unbelievable how many of these small Caribbean islands that actually has an airstrip, but the water taxis is convenient and fun, with most of them having a roof that covers you and your luggage against the occasional heavy rains.

Caye Caulker water taxi

Main language on the island is Bay Islands Creole (“Caribbean English”) that sounds like how you would imagine a pirate talking Jamaican. On top of this the island is full of Rastafari- and hippy people who make the atmosphere very social and relaxed. It’s virtually impossible to walk the streets or even sit in a cafe without somebody greeting you in some random strange way every now and then.

Caye Caulker Rastafari

Caye Caulker Rastafari movement

Caye Caulker Lazy Lizard pub

There are no normal cars on Caye Caulker but instead a ton of golf cars and mopeds that both the tourists and the locals use. The only street signs here says “Go slow” which also is the island motto and even includes walking.

Caye Caulker - Go slow

Once a year on the island there is a Lobster festival with huge amount of lobsters served together with music and a beauty competition. I managed to synchronize my stay perfectly with the festival without even knowing about the festival before arriving to the island.

Caye Caulker lobster factory

Caye Caulker lobster parts in water

Caye Caulker - Lobster festival

It’s impossible for me to choose a favorite Caribbean island as they are all different and unique in their own way, but Caye Caulker is definitely worth a visit if you like a relaxed environment where you can just spend some days doing nothing. Whenever you occasionally want to actually do something you can rent a kayak, go scuba diving with Nurse sharks, go out to one of the touristic clubs in the night or visit the neighbor island San Pedro where you will find more people and movement.

Enjoy the rest of my Caye Caulker pictures:

Caye Caulker
Lazy Lizard pub

Caye Caulker - The Split
“The Split” – End of inhabited part of island and start of the other island. The local kids usually compete swimming between the islands, although there is a strong current in this area.

Caye Caulker - Stingray
Stingray found when snorkeling

Caye Caulker - sign "smile"
“A Smile improves your Face Value!”

Caye Caulker - hanging shoes
Thrown up shoes next to a football field for kids

Caye Caulker - empty sea shelves
Empty sea shelves cleaned for food

Caye Caulker - private dock / "beach"
Private “beach”

Caye Caulker - kitchen "close(d)"
“Close(d)”

Caye Caulker - hurricanes
Hurricane information board for 2012

Caye Caulker - hidden crab
Crab hiding in it’s hole

Caye Caulker - funny fishes
Sergeant major fish trying to bite me

Caye Caulker - crab
Hermit crab in it’s shelf

Caye Caulker - balancing kid
Kids playing in sunset, balancing on a “pirate plank”

Chicken buses in Central America

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Here in Central America there are not too many options when it comes to HOW to travel. In a few places there are shuttle buses or ferrys, but most of the time the only option is the chicken bus. These buses are old school buses from North America and the name “chicken bus” comes from that people often take live animals with them in the bus.

The sign “school bus” is still in big print on some of the buses, together with some really nice decorations, usually in the form of religious stickers that are unique for every bus. There are always a “throw in” guy working on the bus that shouts the destination (or a short version of it) out of the open front door of the bus to people on the street. The speakers inside the bus is loadly pumping out music of all kind, everything from Mano Chao and Bob Marley to reggeaton and dancehall. People are speaking loudly and the athmosphere is social and warm, as well as the temperature. Every window is pulled down and delivers a strong wind draught in the face as long as the bus is moving. When the bus however stops it´s like sitting inside an owen with sweat running down your back. Luckely enough the bus seldom stops more then a few seonds at a time to let people on or off the bus. Even on a 6 hour ride you can not be sure that there will be a break for food or toilet visit, and if there is, the “toilet” is usually a forest if you are lucky, or the side of the bus.

Now and then not only normal travelers (which is you and the locals) jump on the bus but also a bunch of street food sellers. These sometimes even follow the bus to the next stop while in the meanwhile offer you food like homemade tortillas and fruit in plastic bags, together with water or juice that also comes in plastic bags here with a straw. For the price of 60 cent you can easily get something good to eat together with something to remove your thirst.

All trash, that is, plastic bags, are thrown out of the windor which of course results in a lot of trash along the roads, which probably in the end washes out in the ocean and gets collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

I usually clean up the ocean when going scuba diving or snorkeling, but when seing the ocean in a lot of places here it is easy to loose the idea that that will make any change.

Back to the subject, here are some pictures of chicken buses from Central America:

Chicken bus: Belize "school bus"

Chicken bus Central America

Chicken bus change wheel

Chicken bus: chicken in box

Chicken bus in El Salvador with surfing decals

Chicken bus with food sellers

Chicken bus free rider

Chicken bus Honduras

Chicken bus in Honduras with fried bananas and chili

Chicken bus: inside panorama

Chicken bus in Nicaragua decorated

Chicken bus in Nicaragua, dog & message

Chicken bus in Nicaragua with hands

Chicken bus in Nicaragua, inside

Chicken bus in Nicaragua with food- and drink sellers

Chicken bus on backyard

Chicken bus with people on roof

Chicken bus: police sleeping with shotgun in his face

Chicken bus Rabinal (Guatemala) with Jesus hood

Chicken bus crossing river with ferry

Chicken bus river crossing

Chicken bus, sleeping man

Chicken bus with smiling man & Jesus

Chicken bus smoke

Chicken buses Belize

Chicken buses Central America

Chicken buses Guatemala

Chicken buses, Esteli - Matagalpa luggage

 

Dangerous travel destinations

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

A hot topic between travelers is which cities or countries that are the most dangerous to visit. Everyone have their own opinion and the list of dangerous places is as long as the list of people adding a place to it according to their experience or what they have heard. The same goes for which places people think are NOT dangerous, and the two lists are strangely similar.

So what is the background to this phenomenon? Here are a few ideas of what can tribute to people’s opinion:

Mean world syndrome
Two of the biggest influences on people today are television and newspapers. Because bad news sell better than good news people get brainwashed and start to believe that the world is worse than it is.

Beliefs & Life experience
Any impression people are getting from ANYTHING is based on their base beliefs and past experience in life, which in turn is connected.

Different travel patterns
People have their own way of travel, their own personal style and preferences. Depending on if your travel is based on travel guides or companies, recommendations or pure improvisation you will much likely experience different things even when traveling to the same destination.

Random meetings
We usually base our impressions on who we meet and speak to, and even if people have the same travel patterns and style they will meet different locals because of general randomness in life. Even if the locals have a general idea of their own city the opinions differ a lot depending on their social status and living style, experiences and so on (beliefs & life experience). These opinions will then mirror to the travelers that meet them.

WHO is it dangerous for?
Another perspective is that people think if a place is dangerous for some people, it is also dangerous for them. There are for example a lot of places which are more dangerous if you are in a criminal gang or working as a police. But that doesn’t mean it is more dangerous for local people or tourists.

Dangerous travel destinations

Posters in Guatemala City for lost or killed people

Travelling alone VS travelling with a friend

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Sometimes we travel alone and sometimes we travel together with one or more friends. Both variants are great and should be experienced by everyone. When you are travelling alone you have no one to adapt to, never having to make compromises. Every decision is your own. Things are more difficult but you feel more pleased after accomplishing them. You have time to think about life, sometimes too much time. Meeting new people is on autopilot, it happens automatically and all the time.

When travelling together with a friend on the other hand people tend to cling together, or at least not have the same need to meet new people. You always have someone to share all the new experiences with and someone who you together with can make good decisions. Your combined shared knowledge becomes a strength as well as your combined muscle power.

Be sure to take a friend you know well, or have a backup plan if you get tired of each other. Many friendships have been destroyed because of travel, but many friendships have also become stronger.

Enjoy however you are travelling and make the most out of it!

Travelling alone VS travelling with a friend

Central America visa

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Many people come to Central America to backpack during a long time but get visa problems after 3 months. This is because one small fact that is really easy to miss out on. 4 countries in Central America have gone together in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement. That means, on the embassy websites for each country it might say that a tourist visa let you stay 3 months in that specific country. What it doesnt say is that 3 months will NOT be renewed when you cross the border to the next country. The 3 month period is the TOTAL time you can spend in all of these 4 countries together.

So which are the CA-4 countries included in the Border Control Agreement? Here is the list:

  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua

It is possible to extend your visa within the CA-4 countries during your trip, but if you are unlucky you need to go back to the country you arrived in initially to do this.

As always, check with your local embassy if you need a visa or not to travel to the countries of your choice.

Central America visa

Central America trip so far / back to work

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

While my vacation ended this week, my Central America trip is not to an end yet. I had a great time visiting caves in Mexico, Scuba diving in Belize (with Nurse sharks) and Honduras, trekking volcanoes in Guatemala, wave surfing in El Salvador and visiting small villages here in Nicaragua trying to find the rain forest. Currently I am in Puerto Cabezas and moving on to the Corn Islands (Las Islas del Maíz) tomorrow. Hopefully this web site will become more alive from now on with both new material and recaps of some of the places visited.

Until then, here is a list of where I spent the nights during the last two months, traveling together with a friend I met in Italy some years ago:

Mexico, Cancun
Mexico, Playa del Carmen
Mexico, Tulum

Belize, Belize City
Belize, Keykaulker island
Belize, San Ignacio

Guatemala, Flores
Guatemala, Rio Dulce
Guatemala, Rabinal
Guatemala, Guatemala City
Guatemala, Antigua
Guatemala, Panajachel (Lake Atitlan)
Guatemala, Port of San Jose

El Salvador, Garita Palmera
El Salvador, La Perla
El Salvador, Playa el Tunco
El Salvador, San Salvador
El Salvador, La Libertad

Honduras, Santa Rosa de Copan
Honduras, La Ceiba
Honduras, Utila
Honduras, Zambrano
Honduras, Tegucigalpa

Nicaragua, Esteli
Nicaragua, Managua
Nicaragua, Rio Blanco
Nicaragua, Siuna
Nicaragua, Rosita
Nicaragua, Puerto Cabezas

Today I also realized that with this trip I passed 50+ countries visited, not that I count ;o)

Central America backpacking trip

Spending the summer in Central America

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I’m off to Central America to do an improvised road trip for a few months during the summer vacation. It’s possible I will do a few updates on the web site during the trip, but if not you know where I am and will probably at least do a shitty short recap after the trip together with some thematic photographic blog posts whenever I stay on one place long enough to have time to put it together.

Have a great summer!

Brussels airport - sunrise

Brussels airport - sunrise

Brussels airport - gate with sunrise

Margaret Island, Budapest

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Margaret Island is a 2½ km long island in the middle of central Budapest. To visit it you have to take either Margaret Bridge or Árpád Bridge that crosses the river Danube between Buda and Pest, and get off the bridge in the middle of the river. Margaret Island is used for parties, recreational sports, jogging & walking as well as just chilling out with a beer and some friends.

Margaret Island Budapest

Margaret Island Budapest

Margaret Island Budapest

Margaret Island Budapest

Margaret Island Budapest

Margaret Island Budapest

Ruin pubs, Budapest

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Budapest is said to have some of the best pubs in the world, and a trend here in Budapest is the ruin pubs that are getting more and more common. A ruin pub is a pub with very simple interior that is opened in an abandoned factory, garage or building. These ruin pubs are usually outdoor which means that most of the pubs are only open in the summer. The style and feeling of the places, as well as the people it attracts, reminds me of the illegal parties in Berlin or the squats in Milan, with the biggest difference being that the ruin pubs in Budapest are usually legal. Somehow these legal Budapest pubs still have the tendancy to close after a short time and popup in a new location again after a while.

Three of the more famous ruin pubs in Budapest are 400, Ellátó Garden and Mika Tivadar Bar which together makes up the “Bermuda Triangle”, all placed in the center at Budapest 7th district.

Gellért-hegy, Budapest

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Gellért-hegy, or Gellért Hill, is a 235 meter tall hill located next to the river Danube in central Budapest. The hill is part of an area listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and the park that covers the hill makes a great walk as well as offers a landscape view of the city. On top of Gellért-hegy is Szabadság Szobor, the Hungarian Statue of Liberty built in 1947.

This morning while jogging on Gellért-hegy I brought my camera and took the following pictures. As you can see the Bridges in Budapest is a big part of the city’s landscape and makes a beautiful detail.

Gellért-hegy with Liberty Bridge
Gellért-hegy with Liberty Bridge

Gellert Hill with Szabadsag Szobor
Gellért-hegy with Szabadság Szobor

Elizabeth Bridge Budapest
Elizabeth Bridge

Chain Bridge Budapest
Chain Bridge

Budapest history museum
Budapest history museum

Gellert Hill statue with ass full of chewing gums
Statue with ass full of chewing gums

Liberty Bridge Budapest
Liberty Bridge

Liberty Bridge and Petofi Bridge
Liberty Bridge and Petofi Bridge

I Love Budapest street art
I Love Budapest street art

Budapest bridges

Budapest rooftops

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

I moved to Budapest! In the beginning I was afraid the weather here would be to cold, but actually it’s even warmer here than in my last living place, Cyprus. The city is beautiful (it’s not my first time here) and reminds me of Berlin, which is really positive. My plan here is to connect to outdoor sports people, as it was difficult to find people with that kind of interests in Cyprus.

One of the random things that I fell in love with here in Budapest is the rooftops. The roof of the city is very beautiful and like a hidden labyrinth with spread out treasures not known to the people down on the streets. Here are a few pictures that I took today on this theme:

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Szabadság Szobor (Budapest)

Budapest rooftops

Budapest rooftops

Cyprus bus

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Although the locals say the Cyprus bus transport system have become much better since the last years, it’s still very basic and sometimes random. Only some bus lines are always in time it seems, while some other bus lines are randomly late or even skips a bus now and then. One of the bigger problems with the bus on Cyprus is also that the intercity lines are very infrequent and usually without any buses whatsoever during night time. On top of this the timetables are inaccurate or just difficult to understand. For example “06:00-09:00 (every 60 minutes) , 08:00 , 09:30” means that there is buses 6 & 8 o’clock, but not at 7 o’clock according to the bus drivers.

I still love traveling by bus and when you finally get on a bus in Cyprus the rest of the trip is definitely enjoyable. So if you still plan to travel by bus on Cyprus – here is the Cyprus bus official web site:
www.cyprusbybus.com

Cyprus bus
Larnaca bus station is just a normal bus stop along the beach walk


Aphrodite’s Rock, Cyprus

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Aphrodite’s rock, also called Petra tou Romiou, is one of the popular things to visit here on Cyprus when you had enough of all the archaeological sites that Cyprus is also famous for. Aphrodite’s rock is situated on the coastline between Limassol (Lemesos) and Paphos and is supposedly the birth place of Aphrodite. There are several variations of myths and rumors about swimming around Aphrodite’s Rock, with the most common one saying that you will get ‘eternal beauty’ if you swim around the rock 3 times.

Petra tou Romiou translates to “the Rock of the Greek” and is related to another legend of the same place, where Digenis Akritas threw the rock on a Saracen ship.

Aphrodites Rock

Rock of the greek

Plastic ribbons on a bush near Aphrodite's rock
Plastic ribbons on a bush near Aphrodite’s rock

Petra tou Romiou

Linopetra Saturday market, Limassol (Cyprus)

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Linopetra Saturday market is a car boot sale that is open on Saturdays between 8 – 13 o’clock. It is located on a car parking area near Ajax Hotel and Esso gas station, on the east exit of Limassol towards Larnaca. A part of the area is still used as a free car park during the market which makes it even more accessible.

The Linopetra market offers cheap vegetables & fruits, clothes, perfume, music & movies, electrical tools, antiques as well as some market food and drinks.

If you have things that you want to sell on the Linopetra market, call Jimmy on 996 128 32 for more information.

Perfume and clothes sold from home built shop
Perfume and clothes sold from home built shop

People going crazy over sunglasses (with cloudy sky)
People going crazy over sunglasses (with cloudy sky)

Car used as a table for selling all kinds of things
Car used as a table for selling all kinds of things

Fruits & vegetables, with roof almost blowing off
Fruits & vegetables, with roof almost blowing off

Kitchenware & clothes sold out from a van
Kitchenware & clothes sold out from a van

Market & parked cars, with mountains in the background
Market & parked cars, with mountains in the background

Kourion, Cyprus

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Today I was in the area of the bus station here in Limassol so I thought why not to go on a day trip somewhere. I had got the tip about Kourion before and I knew it was not far away so even though it was already midday I decided to go.

To go to Kourion from Limassol take bus 16 from the bus station near the water tower in the west side of the city center. You can buy a one day ticket for 2 euro which allows you unlimited trips. Be aware that the last bus back leaves already around 5 pm.

Kourion is the last stop of the bus and the trip there takes about 40 minutes, or 15 minutes with car. When you exit the bus you see a restaurant and behind it the road up to Kourion. You will pass an entrance where you have to pay 1,70 euro per person.

Kourion was an old city in Cyprus and the buildings that today are still visible were built during the 3rd to 5th century A.D. The most famous building here is the old amphitheater which held gladiator games when it was active.

Within 15 minutes walking from the archaeological site (outside the entrance) is the Kourion beach with a few restaurants and camping spots. Although nobody is swimming here yet the Cyprus weather is getting better with a lot of people walking around in t-shirt.

When I finally decided to head home to Limassol I wanted to try the hitch hiking here in Cyprus. Not to difficult it seems, or I was lucky, as the first car stopped and picked me up. Inside was a really nice Bulgarian man who lived in Cyprus during the last 4 years. To thank him for the ride, and to surprise him, I give him a martenitsa.

Kourion

Kourion theatre

Kourion archaeological site

Kourion Cyprus

Kourion view

Kourion mosaic

Kourion, old and new

Kourion horses

Kourion horizon

Kourion beach

Kourion beach Cyprus

Kourion beach rocks

Kurion, woman reading in nature

Martenitsa

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

First of March is Martenitsa day in Bulgaria. This is the celebration of spring and starts with people buying a red- and white striped ribbon made of yarn that they give to their loved ones, who put it around their wrist. The meaning of the red color is life and health, like the red cheeks, and the meaning of the white color is purity. The idea is that the Martenitsa will bring health to the bearer of the wrist band.

There is also a folklore telling the story of a dove that was sent with a white stripe tied to it’s foot as a message during the war. On the way to deliver the message the white stripe got blood on it and that’ this is the origin of the colors. But there are many different stories like this and nobody knows for sure how it all started.

During march the people wearing the wrist are looking out for a stork, a swallow or a tree with it’s first bud. When they see this they tie their wrist band on that tree (or the tree closest to them). After some time the trees here are filled with red- and white striped ribbons. They can also tie a blue object to the ribbon in the tree to protect against bad spells.

The last years this tradition has become more and more commercialized which helps the tradition stay alive. In some surrounding countries similar traditions used to exist but are now a memory of the past or stories from the grandparents.

These pictures are from two years ago as I just two days ago moved to Cyprus from Bulgaria and are not there to see this beautiful tradition this year.

Martenitsa
A Martenitsa ribbon tied on a tree branch

Martenitsa day
A tree full of flowers and Martenitsa ribbons

Martenitsa seller
Martenitsa street seller (from this year)

Martenitsa sale stand
There are as many different types of martenitsa as there are sellers

Cyprus climate

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

The first big difference between Bulgaria and Cyprus, which I also had expected, was the Cyprus climate. The Cyprus weather was far better then in Bulgaria although there currently is a storm here with ice rain. Also in Cyprus is a micro climate during the winter which means that the weather changes very quickly, today for example there was blue sky and sun and then just 5 minutes later ice rain again. With the rain is the same, every 10-15 minutes it switches between rain and no rain. The wind though is pretty steady and hard, but I expect better weather here in Limassol within a few days. In the meanwhile all my days are spent walking around looking for a room or apartment to rent, talking to as many people as possible and at the same time learning about the city areas and culture here.

Cyprus climate

Cyprus weather

How to travel the world

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

How to travel the world

A lot of people want to travel the world, but they don’t know where to start, or they know but they need that little push to get them started. Here is a short guide of how to travel the world:

1) Get a mobile incomeFind an income that you can earn even on the road. This can be either through the computer or any physical work that you are good in.

2) Quit your job – This is the most common big problem that people can not persuade themselves to do. Especially if you have a high level fixed income and a job in these times of economic crises. But seriously, how happy are you about your job? Is your dream life to work with this exact job, or is your dream life waiting for you?

3) Leave your apartment – This is also very difficult for a lot of people because they have a long history of experiences and memories attached to their apartment. But think of it this way, IF you leave the apartment you will find new places where you will have the same attachment to, and if you don’t leave your current place you will never experience those amazing places.

4) Give away all your belongings to charity and friends or sell it – Yes again you have a lot of memories attached to them but why are you keeping them? Maybe you can take pictures of them to keep the memories? Or save some things at your parents or friends place and every time you go back to your “home” country it will be easier to get rid of the things you didn’t even spend 5 minutes thinking about during the whole year.

5) Choose your first destination – If you feel very insecure with this travel the world thing, choose a place where you easily can get home again. If you really want to take a big step out there, travel somewhere far and very different but at the same time to a place where you will have low living costs. Enjoy your first one way ticket and don’t plan for how long time you will stay or even your next step.

6) Pack your bagKeep it light, you don’t want to carry around a lot of things for the future years to come. Also remember that the more luggage you have the more you look like a tourist and it will become more difficult to merge together with the locals.

7) GO! That’s it, now you are on your way. When you arrive, use Hospitality Club, CouchSurfing or similar service to save money and to get to know locals quickly.

8) Enjoy your new life style and don’t look back!

How to travel the world for a year

Airlines to Cyprus

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Next week I am moving to Cyprus! I know I was supposed to settle down here in Sofia for a while but after only a few months my travel passion started to apprehend me and I felt it was time to move on for a while. Also the winter here have been unusually hard but now when I finally move on the spring has come.

Anyway, for you people interested in visiting the only city in Europe that is in two countries at the same time, here is a list of the cheapest airlines to Cyprus:

All the Cyprus flights above can be found for less than 100 euro one way. There is also a ferry from south Turkey to Cyprus if you prefer to go the land way, well, sea way. The ships that used to go from Greece are cancelled and there is no information on when they will start to work again, if ever. Last but not least there is a freighter cruise that goes from UK to Italy and then on to Limassol in Cyprus. For more information, click here.

See you in Cyprus!

Airlines to Cyprus

Moshav & Kibbutz in Israel

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

While hitch hiking in Israel me and a friend got a ride by a guy who’s family are living in a moshav, and who were himself planning to live there in his near future. He invited us to visit the moshav and we ended up staying there for two days, living as a part of his family.

A moshav is a type of community or settlement with the members of the community owning their own farms, in comparison to the kibbutz where the community shares the farms. In a moshav the people get a specific amount of land for farming when they get married. Nowadays it is more difficult to find good farming land which have resulted in some of these farms have been placed in the no mans land between Israel and Jordan, thanks to a agreement between the two countries. The same agreement gives Jordan a bigger ownership of the Dead Sea which is getting smaller and smaller every year because of mistreatment by the salt companies.

In this specific moshav where we were staying, the Zofar moshav, 2 out of 3 people were workers from Thailand. These people work on the farm land but with no other integration in the community. They even live in specific areas of the moshav which is only for them. Walking around in the moshav you can hear the loud music and karaoke singing from these areas, and to walk there feels a bit like walking around in Thailand.

Besides the no integration part of the Thai people, the feeling of a moshav or kibbutz are of utopia. Everything is perfect, beautiful and calm. The relationships between the different families are close and only a few people or families have chosen(?) to be for themselves. The area around the moshav is amazing desert and perfect for walking, jogging or even taking the motorbike or quad out for a spin. Still, with the desert looking like it will never end you know in the back of your head that if you need to go to a town it is only some hour away.

Not only can a moshav be self sustainable and also sell what they produce, some of them are using solar power both for themselves and to sell the extra power they don’t use. This usually means a small initial investment that is already payed back within 5 years, and then 15 more years of around 2 000 euro per month earned per family for the power they sell to the power companies.

All in all a moshav is a very nice way of living and it seems that also the young people are interested in keeping this tradition alive, although sometimes with newer technologies and ideas.

Moshav
Zofar moshav

Agricultural worker
Farm worker

Family house
Family house with solar power

Family dinner
Family dinner with amazing food, wine & kippas (hats)

Farm dogs
Well trained dogs that do not enter into the houses

Cat and toy
Curious cat

Ping pong table
What is a sunny day without playing some ping pong?

Tea pot with palms
Tea and palms

Sheep fucking
Sheep’s having some fun

Family breakfast
Breakfast (Jachnun; dough with spicy tomato sause) with the neighbours

Dog upside down
Dog taking a rest upside down

Bird cage
Bird cage with tons of birds…

Hungry cat
…And one hungry cat outside

Lunch plate
Again food.. This time a quick lunch before hitting the road

Israeli desert
Beautiful desert with camels

Negev desert

Moshav farms
Farms in the distant

Moshav tomato farm
Tomato farm

Moshav paprika farm
Peppers farm