Bit of old, but nevertheless hyper-useful news. Kayak Explore is an awesome site that will let you browse your trip options on a map using criteria varying from price and time of the year you’d like to travel to what sort of sports you’d like to do once you get there.
I believe Ryanair must by now be the most hated airline worldwide. I base this on my personal experience, numerous rants among both friends and media and somewhat on the fact that Ryanair is the single airline which has a committed I Hate Ryanair blog filled with misery and hatred stories about Ryanair customer experiences. Surely whoever runs Ryanair must have experienced an intense reversal of all marketing principles with those concerning customer service at the very top.
According to Ryanair, it has reformed its online booking sites following demands from the European Commission to make booking tickets online cheaper and less confusing. To the contrary, not only have they made the online experience a process in which one always has to look behind one’s shoulder to see if they aren’t charging you for yet another thing, but also made the check-in a confusing and potentially costly experience. In addition to having to pay for any check-in baggage (1 extra bag costs £10 when bought online and £20 at the airport), you now also have to pay for check-in itself if you do not check-in online or don’t remember to print out your boarding pass (another £15 or so for the unlucky ones).
My last trip from Krakow to London felt like the Polish government offices 10 years ago: ‘go to room nr. 3 and ask to have this filled; room nr.3, ms. Anna tells you to go to the seventh floor to buy a stamp and return later, of course stamps are out, ms. Anna pops out for a coffee, re-enter Orwell. ‘No, of course you can’t pay your extra charges at the check-in desk, go to that part of the airport and stand in another line to pay your charges then you can come back so we can check if your luggage is overweight and if you don’t need to go to another part of the airport.’
Recently Ryanair came up with a competition for its customers to invent new things they could charge for. Roumours of Ryanair charging for toilet use have been around for a while, but I think finding out what will be next is just a matter of time. The prize for coming up with the next best rip-off is a 1,000 EUR. Some of the already published suggestions are:
· Charging for toilet paper – with O’Leary’s face on it,
· Charging €2.50 to read the safety cards,
· Charging €1 to use oxygen masks,
· Charging €25 to use the emergency exit,
· Charging €50 for bikini clad Cabin Crew.
I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel. I’m not a fan of handing money over to hotel corporations for a lot of reasons, though most of my reasons aren’t actually the fault of hotels themselves – I just happen to prefer the alternative places to stay when I go traveling. I have been a proud member of Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club networks for years now and have had so many positive experiences through them that I rarely feel the inspiration to go back to the old ways of staying places.
The thing that stirred my attention recently is Airbed & Breakfast, a social network of people willing to share their homes for money in return. Prices are usually cheaper than those of hotels and as with Couchsurfing you get a chance to connect with locals that can keep you company or at least direct you to sites and events you may never find through guide books. You can rent a room, an entire place or simply stay on someone’s couch. In the US prices per night start at around 20 dollars and go as high as you wish – an average room will be around 80 dollars. You can view pictures of places and owners and also see the exact location on a Google map. Users are also reviewed by people who stay with them, which can build some credit of trust between members.
The old question is whether you’ll be comfortable to stay at a stranger’s house or host one yourself – in principle there is no way to track the new users, but it so far seems like the site is creating a strong community of users that track one another. I’ve dealt with these questions myself before traveling to different countries via Couchsurfing and hosting travelers at my home last year, but after years of using the network I don’t have a single bad experience in my records.
Oh, Romania, what a strange place you are. I’m back in this country again and again my feelings about the place are a little mixed. The purpose of this trip was to attend a friend’s wedding, but to get to it, I had to fly through Bucharest, spend a sleepless night because of the heat and gangs of dogs going about their nightly business, get in a car the following morning and spend 8 hours listening to the Romanian world chart hits. I guess the cracks in the roads and the on and off traffic did provide variety, but not so much entertainment. Sibiu, which is where the wedding was taking place, was a cute place, but god do I not understand how all its tourist commit to taking the hike out there.
The wedding turned out to be a blast, though in a pretty extreme manner. I thought Polish weddings were hardcore, but this one with its streams of paulinka, fire torches, and a whole wild boar on fire kind of blew it all away. I have plenty more stories to tell about the time there, but I’ll have to save that for another time.
To hit it from the good old EU point, I sometimes really can’t believe this country is where it is. The worrying thing is that I hear it’s gotten a lot better. It feels a lot like some places in Russia, which should be fine, but this is now considered as a part of the EU. Walking or driving though Bucharest is like a long sail though an ocean of ugly grey blocks, row after row, covering the horizon. Stray dogs are ubiquitous, whether you’re looking at the center or the suburbs. The traffic is fast-paced and reminds me of the rivers of cars I used to see in Moscow. I still find places in Transylvania charming, but the towns between and even the capital for the most part – not so pretty after all. Bucharest is a peculiar place though. I think my favorite thing about it are the electricity lines hanging everywhere, which draw great lines across the city and remind me of the fire escapes in NYC – not pretty, but with personality. The bubble in the middle of it really is very interesting both architecturally and otherwise. It definitely has kept its character, which is somewhere in-between being gritty, fast, and majestic. A country and city of great contrasts for sure.
I got back from Mexico City just a couple of days ago. 20 mln people, all in one city. One of the most impressive things on this trip was the descent on the plane and seeing an endless concentration of urban activity, spreading over miles of flatland and mountains. I took two side trips, one to Teotihuacan and the other to Acapulco, which allowed me to see the city’s outskirts both north and south. Again, the suburbs just would not end and their density did not change into anything resembling suburbia, but remained concentrated right until the last street. The city bustles with activity day and night – it’s really like an ocean of people in constant motion. The metro system works remarkably well, though it does get packed at peak times. I heard they use those people-squash pushers like in Japan to fit as many people as possible when the traffic is high. The system is so vast that you can easily spend an hour or two sitting (though more often standing) on the metro.
The diversity of Mexico City’s neighborhoods reminds of that of London or NYC, but are still far less commercial and more crowded with side-street stalls and tilted churches. I did not feel threatened at any point and people there were really welcoming and helpful, though not as English-speaking as I expected. We stayed with a Venezuelan/Chilean family, which had moved there about 3 months ago. Great exhibitions, Chilean wine, and delicious food were only some of the highlights of our stay there.
Oh yeah, feel free to check out my Mexico photo album here…
A few days back I took part in my first Hospitality Club meeting. At first I was reluctant to go not knowing anyone and never been to such a thing before, but it turned out to be a very fun crowd indeed. It took place at a little place called Piaf and crammed in about 70 people. I don’t think I’ve ever been in one room with people who have traveled more, were from more diverse backgrounds and had a wider range of interests.
Through the past two weeks I’ve been hosting people from the club for the first time. I had two Brazilian girls and then two Mexican guys – all very fun, well-traveled and young people with interesting things to say. When I first stayed with someone as a guest I couldn’t really imagine why people would be hosting so much, but now that I’m doing it myself, putting back into the hospitality system and getting to know new fun people doesn’t seem like that much of a bad thing after all.
I’ve been to the States three times now and my two previous trips consisted of Texas exclusively, but I can’t say I’ve seen that much of it. Despite being a city animal, I am also a huge nature lover and have finally gotten to see Brazos Bend, which I had heard of so much before. The landscape was swampy and crowded with trees that cast reflections in the swampy waters. On the banks of the walkways aligators would be sunning and not making much of your presence. The place had lots of views of birds of all kinds as well and in general was a wonderful walk.
Christmas was great and soon after we left to go to Austin and visit an uncle here. We took a walk through downtown and I finally got to see how cute this town is in daylight. We’re setting off to go to Waco in a couple of hours and will spend New Year’s Eve there. I didn’t bring my camera on this trip, so no pictures from this one…
I didn’t really mean to have a post on Boston, since it was just a one-day affair, but I have all these pictures sitting on my computer and felt that at least some should be on my blog. I was there a week ago, but can’t say I was overwhelmed with the city. It was kind of interesting, but also kind of monotonous and rugged at times. I liked its Italian part, one hilly residential district, and a few buildings, but other than that I can’t say that much caught my eye. To be fair though, I had just a few hours there, so my perspective is based on first impressions only.
I’ve been thinking about what to call this post and thought of many titles that could be a lot more original than Frank Sinatra’s theme, but that’s just about the top song on my list since I’ve been here, so that’s what it’s going to have to be.
My first day in NY was exhausting, but absolutely fabulous. I walked for about 5 hours stopping just for a short lunch in Chinatown. I would like to do it chronologically, but I cannot help letting the Brooklyn Bridge taking the first place in my story. I think it is the most beautiful bridge structure I have ever seen and makes the best model for taking pictures I’ve ever come across.
I started my walk at the World Trade Center to take pictures of Ground Zero. I could not really connect to it when I first saw it, but at the end of my walk I overheard a New Yorker talking about how high and thick the buildings were, which was still hard for my mind to wrap around. I also went to a photo exhibition, which I have to say was touching. Photo-wise, though, not quite as impressive as the whole build-up made me expect.
Once I was done with Ground Zero and then Brooklyn Bridge I headed back into Manhattan over Manhattan Bridge, which was a whole different experience. Simpler, more industrial, and a lonelier experience than the rest of New York. Gray, sliced up by sunlight and graffiti, and resounding with the trains and construction work, it was a great contrast to Brooklyn Bridge. Lone cyclists and gray people not looking into the bridge affair were the only seldom companions on long way over. At the end of it all the graffiti made me feel a little too lone, but it was some of the best graffiti I’ve ever seen. Oh, the bridges of New York – amazing.
From Manhattan Bridge I made my way to Chinatown, where I had lunch with a real Chinaman with a Californian accent. From there, I strolled on into Little Italy, Soho, and then made the final circle by reaching Ground Zero. New York is amazing. Everyone who knows me must have now heard of London, but these are like night and day. Walking through New York is like turning a corner and seeing a new landscape everytime. In half an hour you can go from hearing and eating Chinese, to watching the Godfather live, to Jay Z wannabes, to Broadway, to everything. Walking NY is great on your own and this was the best walk ever. Could I live here? Think I could get used to it pretty quick. NY is a mix of textured energies, colourful streets, and changing lives.
Personal experience? My history with couchsurfing includes four nights in the centre of Moscow (with a set of keys and a beautiful bedroom) and a night in Vienna in one of the most retro-styled apartments I have ever seen. Everyone I have ever met through this website was welcoming, well-traveled, and honest. This is not to say that I would necessarily be ready to do it on my own with any given member, as this gives a lot or room for error, but I think that if you’re traveling with a friend and find someone who has a very good record – well, for me it’s a why-not kind of thing. When I first used this website I was (and still am) completely taken aback with people’s ability to open their homes to almost complete strangers. I find it truly remarkable that so many people from all over the world have created a network of give-and-take of trust and hospitality.