Travel Mishap

Morocco: Casablanca – Marrakech, 28 December 2015

Marrakech

In the morning, I took the train from Casablanca to Marrekech. I got to Casablanca Voyager train station by the Casablanca tramline (7 DH). The trip was about 19 min. The schedule posted on Seat61 is slightly outdated (states that trains leave 20 past the hour), but worked out in my favor (they left 50 past the hour), because I was a little bit late to the train station. I tried to get a first class ticket, but they weren’t selling them, so some money saved (90 DH). They seem to be using the newer trains, which are faster – the journey took a little over 3 hours. While waiting for the train to arrive, I popped into a cafeteria by the platform, and got myself a 20 DH sandwich. Sitting on my roller carry-on, munching on my chicken sandwich, while waiting for my train, all was right with the world.

Boarding second class was quite a mad house, but after walking through a few private cabins, I managed to find one with some empty seats, with the other seats filled with some lovely ladies. It was a very pleasant 3+ hour ride from Casablanca to Marrakech, whereby these lovely ladies just stuffed me with chocolate wafers!

Pulling into the very modern Marrakech train station, it seemed like yet another tourist death trap, with taxi drivers approaching tourists to offer taxi rides. I decided to try walking to the Le Meridien N’Fis (it’s about 1.5 miles from the train station). Eventually, I did get picked up by a taxi driver, who was out hunting for tourist meat, but I negotiated my rate to 15 DH.

After a short rest at my hotel, I ventured to the Marrakech medina, which is about a 20 min walk from my hotel. The medina was quite the adventure that I did not emerge from. I did not pick up a map, nor did I have GPS on my phone. What transpired in the next 5 hours was me just getting very, epic-ly lost.

Marrakech

Things started off well enough. I located the Koutoubia Minaret. I moved towards the outer limits of the medina, and stopped off at a nice snack store, which sold a crepe-like pastry filled with potatoes and spices. It was 7 DH for one, with a cup of tea. I finally made my way into the medina, and that’s when the craziness began. At every corner of the medina, there’re generally young men standing around, offering to bring you around, or offering to practice English/French/whatever. Well, avoid them – if they accompany you, there’s a good chance they’ll be demanding money from you for their ‘services rendered’.

Marrakech

Being in the medina is like a corn maze. My initial game plan was to try and use the minaret as my guide, but in the medina, you can’t see anything. Also, a lot of the stores looked rather similar, so that wasn’t helpful. After a while, it seemed like I was just going round and round and round. My hotel provided a complimentary entry (otherwise, 40DH) to the Maison de Photographie, which offers great views from its rooftop. Eventually, I located it with the ‘help’ of a ‘student’. The rooftop is excellent for a bird’s eye view of Marrakech, and if you love taking photographs, it’s an amazing spot for sunset photography of Marrakech.

Marrakech

After leaving the Maison de Photographie, I wanted to check out the Djemaa El-Fna, and have my dinner there. I was trying to follow the signs, but at some point, I lost it, and wound up just walking round and round the medina, and ended up in some residential neighborhoods. Eventually, after some two hours of walking around, I finally managed to find an opening, where I spotted the Koutoubia Minaret, and made my way to Djemaa El-Fna, which is beside the Koutoubia Minaret.

Marrakech

The Djeemaa El-Fna is packed! There are dancers, acrobat acts, food vendors, and arcade-like games. I just went to the first stall with grilled meats, and settled down to a dinner of beef skewers (30DH, but they charged me 35DH). I was overcharged for some mysterious reason, but was too tired to argue with that. After an excellent dinner, I walked back to my hotel. The medina is actually a fun experience, but do take a map, or it could turn into quite an exhausting walk! It is also generally more manageable, if you don’t react as strongly to tourist scams as I do – I just hate getting ripped off.

Marrakech Marrakech

Costs

Transportation: 112 DH (7 + 90 + 15)

Food: 42 DH (35 + 7)

Accommodation: 4000 Starpoints

Total: 150 DH + 4000 Starpoints (15 USD)

Marrakech

Advertisements
Categories: Morocco, Travel Mishap, Travel Scam, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: | 1 Comment

Morocco: What’s a trip without a misadventure? Rabat to Casablanca, 27 December 2015

Rabat

Rabat

I was up by 5 am, so after breakfast at the hotel, I decided to take a stroll to check out Rabat’s medina in the daylight. I started out from my hotel around 8am, and stopped by Hassan Tower, and the mausoleum of Mohammad V, as it was along the way. The mausoleum of Mohammad V has very intricate carving, and you can also check out the costumes of the guards, both on horses, and those who guard the four gates of his mausoleum. I do feel rather bad that his final resting place is now swamped by tourists who have no qualms about photographing his coffin.

Rabat

From there, it is a short walk to the waterfront. There seems to be some nice restaurants there, so I imagine that’s a nice spot in the evening, if you are looking for some romantic dining. In the early morning, fishing boats were docking, and nets of seafood were being put on trucks, presumably for distribution to the different restaurants in the city. I simply followed the waterfront before winding up at the Kasbah.

The Kasbah still has some pretty dwellings (think blue windows/doors on white walls), and when you get to the end of it, you will have an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean. As a touristy place, there are generally a number of men hanging around, offering to show you around. Just keep moving. I saw a gallery/café along the walk, and after taking in enough of the Atlantic Ocean breeze, I simply ended up at the café for some mint tea, and to get in some writing for the day.

Rabat

At around 10, I made my way back to my hotel to pick up my stuff, as I planned on taking the noon train to Casablanca. I checked out, and rolled my luggage to the tram. The major train stations offer a ticket vending machine, which has an English option, and sells tickets for immediate departure. They don’t always work, or if they do, they might have other issues, like only accepting exact change. Good luck! Or as they say in French, bonne chance! I did get one to sell me a first-class ticket to Casablanca (55 DH).

Rabat

Casablanca

And, that’s where my day’s adventures began. Casablanca has three train stations. My ticket brought me to Casablanca Port, which is the train station at the waterfront, and closer to the airport. Not liking the look of all the over-eager (scammy) taxi drivers, I saw a sign that read “bus ancienne ville”, and hopped onto bus 900, without questioning my decision (7 DH), all the time thinking that the bus will take me into town. Well, it took me into town. It took me into a town two towns away from Casablanca. So, 40 mins later, I wound up in the town of Mohammadia. By the time my spidey senses told me that I messed up big time, I had to think of a quick fix-it that would not bankrupt me. Thankfully, the bus went by the Mohammadia train station, so I simply hopped off the bus, and hopped onto the next train to Casablanca Port, again! Thankfully, this mistake just costs me 22 DH, and 1 hr of my time, and another doofus story for the ages (now, the story unfolds about why I travel alone).

Casablanca

Anyway, this is related to why I take buses – to avoid scam artists. Getting off the train, my day’s misadventures didn’t end there. The train stations in Morocco are essentially a death trap for tourists. I got picked up by an asswipe of a scam-artist taxi driver soon enough, who refused to use the meter. If I had more energy, I would have fought this more, but whatever. In the end, I wound up paying 35 DH (he demanded 40 DH) for a very short taxi ride, which should have cost closer to 15 DH. He was so lazy, he didn’t even want to turn into my hotel.

After resting a bit, I decided to head out for food. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with more crowds, so I avoided the medina and its souk. I simply went into the first place that had a menu with fixed prices, and ended up with a shwarma platter (45 DH).

Casablanca

In Casablanca, there is also a rather extensive tramline in Casablanca, so if you want to avoid such incidents, that is an option. Rides are 7 DH per trip – be sure to keep your ticket, because it works on a tap-in/tap-out system. But as the distance wasn’t too far, I just walked both ways. I ended the night by hanging out at the rooftop pool of my hotel, which offered nice views of the city of Casablanca.

Casablanca

Costs

Transportation: 112 DH (55 + 15 + 7 + 35)

Food: 60 DH (45 + 15)

Accommodation: 70 USD (I stayed at a 5-star hotel)

Total: 88 USD

Categories: Morocco, Rail, Travel Mishap, Travel Scam | Tags: | Leave a comment

Guatemala – Antigua to Guatemala City, 23 September 2010

Today, the main item on the agenda was to get from Antigua to Guatemala City for my flight out on 25 September.

Another instance of untrustworthy travel agencies, which left me standing in the central plaza, waiting for a minivan. I bought a ticket from one of the agencies at the central plaza (about 40-50Q, be sure to negotiate!) for a bus at a designated time. The minivan never showed up, and once again, no apologies were offered. In the end, I ended up on a minivan that was from a rival company. If you are ever getting tickets from any of the agencies south of the fountain, go for the one that is a little more to the east side. It was the one that was a little more to the west that was unreliable.

After arriving in Guatemala City in the late afternoon, I checked into Barcelo Hotel, which was in Zone Viva. After a bedbug scare in Playa Del Carmen, I decided to go with safe options that would definitely be clean, and avoid backpacker operations for this trip. Barcelo is pretty decent value for money. For about 60-80 USD, you can get a single room with a hearty breakfast thrown in. There are also plenty of facilities, including a pool, a well-equipped gym, and a futsal (!!!) court. They also offer free airport transfers both ways, and it is in the middle of the business district, and surrounding by 24-hr fastfoods, so starving or being out of money wouldn’t be one of your chief concerns. My room came with a balcony, a large array of bathroom amenities, and a pillow menu, too. I would highly recommend it for middle-of-the-road traveller.

Somewhat broke, I couldn’t afford the fare to the old district, so I simply walked around Zone Viva. It is pretty modern, with malls, and the requisite international chains like McD, and there are clubs around, but it didn’t appeal much to me. I tried some Mexican fastfood, and it was pretty offer. I think I have been spoilt by the real deal.

Large single room

Well-stocked toilet

Well-stocked room

Mall in Zone Viva, Guatemala City

Zone Viva

Categories: Guatemala, Travel Mishap | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Guatemala – Antigua, 20 September 2010

The grand plan was to go from Flores to Guatemala City, and then on to Panajachel, so that I stay at a lakeside cabin and admire the beautiful Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as planned. As I got to Antigua, the tour agent said that all buses to Lake Atitlan are not running, as the roads are blocked by strikes. I was told to go back and check at 11 am, but I was too lazy and tired, and decided to just stay in Antigua, which is quite a charming town.

I believe Antigua’s claim to fame is one of the earliest intact Spanish towns. Although I have never been to Spain, the architecture certainly reflects this – the town has very rich colours, alike Flores, and cobblestone streets. There are also many churches, quite a number of which lie in ruins due to the great earthquake.

I ended up staying in D’Leyenda Hotel based on recommendations on Tripadvisor. Most of the good hotels in Antigua did cost quite a bit, so I thought this was a pretty fair price (around USD 60-80). It was a small hotel with about five rooms, and excellent, personal service. My three night stay here was very enjoyable.

The rest of the day was spent randomly walking around town. It was pretty rainy, so it didn’t take much for me to decide to retire for the day. I also gave up my plans to head to Panajachel. It is a shame, but missing my flight back to the US will be no fun either.

Antigua

Cool restaurant with knick knacks of all sorts

Hotel D’Leyenda

A nice touch.

Categories: Guatemala, Travel Mishap, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

Mexico to Belize – Playa Del Carmen, Chetumal, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, 16 September 2010

Twas a long travel day, from Playa Del Carmen to Chemtumal to San Pedro, finally ending in Caye Caulker.

I started out on a bus from Playa Del Carmen, at the bus station near 5th Ave North, thinking I had the bus timetable down pat. But it turns out that I got it confused with the other bus station that was a little further up. It was a little too late for me to walk to the other bus station, so I just waited around, and took a second class bus from this bus station to Chetumal.

After a five hour bus journey, I arrived in Chetumal. I guess in the future, I really should do more research. I bought my boat tickets from Chetumal to Caye Caulker from the bus station, but when I got to the water taxi jetty, I realized I paid a few bucks too much for the San Pedro water taxi. It was quite a sight, as the shops looked more like make-shift shanties (think it was closer to 20 usd if you got one at the little shack itself). Oh well…

Little shack that sells tickets

With an hour before the water taxi departs, I decided to walk around Chetumal. There were remnants of the Grito celebrations in Chetumal. Somewhat hungry, and peso-poor, thankfully, I did manage to have a delicious oregano and cheese pizza at a Middle Eastern restaurant.

Chetumal Governor Palace

The boat ride was a little surprising. I was expecting it to be fancier, but thankfully, it was not too choppy, and I avoided a land border crossing.

Arriving at San Pedro, I had another classic visa encounter. When I was in Iran last year, the customs don’t deal with Singaporean passports very often, so they actually had to flip a booklet to try and figure out what to do with my passport. At the tiny counter at San Pedro Town, Belize that was “immigration”, the lady at the counter had to call some other authority to figure out if I was allowed into Belize (yes! Singapore passports don’t need visas!).

“Immigration” in Belize

More waiting in San Pedro Town for the next water taxi, there were some serendipitous encounters. Right outside the water taxi jetty, I saw many little kids throwing baseball with each other. And the TV was showing Sleepless in Seattle. This is the first time I am watching this, since I moved to Seattle. Someday I might watch the whole film.

Kids playing baseball in San Pedro Town, Belize

I arrived at Caye Caulker after dark. It really reminds me of Havelock Island, India, though it is much smaller. It has a laidback charm, and there are many seafood bbq joints along the road. There are also no proper roads on the island, just beach paths, and one of the more common modes of transportation are golf carts. The buildings on the island are also mainly made of wood, remind me of kampong houses, but are painted in beautiful pastel colours.

My chicken on the BBQ!

One downside? Accommodation was pretty pricey. I stayed at Blue Wave Guest House, in a private room for 60 USD. It had a nice little balcony that looked out to the sea.

View from Blue Wave Guesthouse

Categories: Beach, Belize, Mexico, Travel Mishap | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Mexico – Cancun, 11 September 2010

Today was a travelling day that started out early in the morning in Seattle, and ended in the evening in Cancun.

Two main observations from all the traveling, one of which has nothing to do with traveling:

1) I am seriously considering never checking in my luggage, unless necessary. Without check-in luggage, I made a world record in clearing customs. Although of course, my world record at clearing customs meant I spent more time than anyone else, waiting for the bus from Cancun International Airport to Cancun.

2) I am still as horrible as I can remember with reading maps. I went in the wrong direction about 3 times, and got so horribly lost, that a 15 minute walk ended up being a 2 hour hunt. Yes people, DON’T EVER HAND ME THE MAP! Well, on a brighter note, I managed to see the Municipal Palace in Cancun, which was all dolled up for Grito, and I also managed to eat a 15P hot dog. (about 1.30 USD)

Municipal Palace

Excellent (probably artery-clogging) Hotdog

Categories: Mexico, Travel Mishap | Tags: | Leave a comment

Myanmar – Yangon to Bagan, 21 September 2009

I got to the domestic airport real early in the morning. It was surreal, especially the area waiting for check-in. It looked like a scene out of a ghost film, or a zombie apocalypse. There were areas which used to be stores or something, but it was empty of goods, or windows, or doors … just boxes. The whole area was also flooded with a very deep, orange light. It was only after the check-in area, and when people started streaming in, did it feel like an airport. I got some breakfast of siew mai and tea, while watching some advertisement, whereby Singapore was the backdrop. Weird! It was probably the season for Japanese tourists, as they are so many of them!

It was a crazy day of journeys of randomness. I wanted to go to Mount Popa, but didn’t manage to find the pickup at the local bus station, as mentioned in Lonely Planet. However, the lady selling bus tickets told me to go to Chauk, and somehow find my way up to Mount Popa. This was an epic bus journey, winding through the countryside – the countryside in Southeast Asia really looks the same. I never could tell the difference in landscape from one country of Southeast Asia to the next. Well, I guess there was lots of betel nut chewing. These were available in little packets, like candy!

After the drop off at Chauk, I was supposed to miraculously find my way to Mount Popa. First, I bumped into a guy with a horse cart, who offered me a ride to Mount Popa for 1000 kyat. That was 1000 kyat down the drain, because he just drove me 100 m, and left me there. Thankfully, I met a motorbike driver, who then offered to drive me to the Popa Mountain Resort. He also offered to turn back and pick me up the next day. I decided to stay there on the recommendations of G, our resident Burma expert.

Popa Mountain Resort is certainly a great recommendation. It was set atop a little hill, so it had great views of surrounding areas. They also have an infinity pool with a great view. It appears that I am the only guest. I asked for the US70 cheaper room, but as I was the only person around, they upgraded me to the large suit, which had a king bed, and a porch with a nice view. Unfortunately, there’s no real food around, so you kinda have to dine in their restaurant. Their restaurant is nice, but some choice elsewhere would have been nice.

G also suggested I go visit Mount Popa, which has spiritual significance for Burma. I obtained a map from the hotel reception, and just trekked through the jungle. The journey was kinda scary, as I was just following a vague path, with no cellphone reception, and nobody in sight for miles. But I just kept walking and hoping I’ll somehow make it there.

The climb to Mount Popa was fairly simple, but the monkeys there were vicious. Thankfully, a very nice Burmese family from Mandalay adopted me. The father of the family wanted to thank some of the deities for bringing him good fortune. I definitely needed their help, fending off the monkeys, and their explanations of the various deities’ functions were also very helpful.

After trekking back to the resort, I took a nice soak, had an early dinner, and turned in early. In the middle of the night, there was some crazy shaking in my room – I later found out this was an earthquake. My first earthquake, ever!

Inside a Shop Selling Bus Tickets, Nyaung U

Old School bus station

Popa Resort Pool and Taung Kalat in the Background

Gorgeous view from Popa Resort infinity pool

Taung Kalat, Mount Popa

Taung Kalat

Donors to Taung Kalat, Mount Popa

Donors to Taung Kalat

Categories: Myanmar, Travel Mishap | Tags: | Leave a comment

Myanmar – Yangon, 18 September 2009

The journey to Myanmar started way before the trip itself. It was one of the first times (actually, the first time) I ever had to make a visa. The visa process was slightly insane. I actually had to write a letter designating my purpose, accompanied with an itinerary, and also a hotel confirmation with a place in Myanmar. For that purpose, I booked myself into Ocean Pearl Inn in Yangon, which you can find on websites like Hostelbookers. It was cheap (10 sgd per night for a room with attached bathroom), and it looked to be an okay place. Lonely planet has much to say about the military junta, and how many of the business interests are linked to the military junta. Well, I’m pretty sure where I stayed wasn’t part of that. If not, that’s some reach. I don’t have really strong opinions about the link between economic exploitation by the military regime, but I also do like the idea that my money is going to some small operator, and not some MNC.

Mission started with a hiccup. As I was checking in for my flight, the ground crew asked me for the credit card which I used to book the ticket. I conveniently left it at home. Thankfully, they let me re-book my ticket at the same rate using my other card.

I arrived at around 3 pm, and Ocean Pearl Inn provided a free airport pickup, so hurrah to that! Ocean Pearl Inn is located some ways from downtown, but it isn’t that out of the way. The rooms are basic, but clean, and the front desk are not only friendly, but also double as your helpful travel agent and money changer. I pretty much just did transacted everything with them. They also have a generator, which really helps with the power failures. I came with grand plans to do things on the first day, but after taking care of business, I just walked round the block, grabbed some grub, and had an early night.

First impression: Yangon seems somewhat decrepit, yet familiar. I guess see the similarities between former British colonial towns.

Aerial View of Myanmar

Aerial view of Myanmar

Rice Shop, Yangon

Rice shop, Yangon

Categories: Myanmar, Travel Mishap | Tags: | Leave a comment

Itinerary: Canada – Quebec City and Montreal, 18 – 26 October 2007

I am going for my first international conference as a graduate student – in Quebec City, Canada! This is also my first visit to Canada, so I decided extend my trip for a couple of days, and visit Francophone Canada!

18 October 2007: Singapore – Detroit – Quebec City

19 October 2007: Quebec City

20 October 2007: Quebec City

21 October 2007: Quebec City

22 October 2007: Quebec City – Montreal

25 October 2007: Montreal – Quebec City

26 October 2007: Quebec City – Detroit (that was not the plan!!!!)

27 October 2007: Detroit – Singapore

Categories: Canada, Itinerary, Travel Mishap | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

This is the title of my trip to Europe… And well, here’s some aftermath musings about Europe…

Whoever said that life is about journeys as much as destinations much be a very wise man/woman, for certainly, few journeys of mine were without excitement.

Train Journeys
  1. Prague to Vienna: Standing on a platform that writes Vienna as a destination, one would safely assume that the carriage that one was in would be heading towards Vienna. However, as I entered the train, and I noticed a sign on the door saying Praha-Budapest. What happens? The alarm bells in the head start ringing, and of course, this ringing was heeded, when a Thai guy (whose reserved seat I unknowingly occupied) started asking a local where this train was headed towards, only to be told that the train would split at some point. At this point, I joined in a conversation, putting in a request for the nice local to read a footnote, so that I would know which carriages were moving towards Vienna, and of course, I found out in time that I had to move my packs.
  2. Vienna to Klagenfurt: I was caught with an invalid ticket, and was fined by the conductor. 😦 To add to my misery, I was about to step out of the train, when one of the officials told me that the train was totally out of alignment with the platform, and so I had to wait, all these in the rainy (gloomy) Sunday. (more on Germanic Sundays later) However, a bright side was the scenic rail journey, where I actually saw nice little Austrian villages, and a castle perged atop a mountain!
  3. Paris to Frankfurt: Leaving the hotel early, I arrived at Paris Nord approximately an hour earlier than the departure time, out of pure kiasuism, which was to serve me well in the series of events that followed. After staring at the screen the umpteenth time, and walking round the station, I simply couldn’t find the train that left for Frankfurt in Paris Nord. That was when my common sense made me refer to my Eurail Timetables guide once again. There, in a little footnote, it said that of ALL trains, only the particular train that I chose departed, not from Paris Nord, but from Paris Ost. However, with 35 mins to go, and just one metro stop away, of course, that seemed possible, and all haste was made, to ‘chase’ the train, so to speak. Arriving at Paris Ost, all was not well. After being directed to the wrong windows twice, I finally arrived at the right ticket window, only to find a long queue. With just 15 mins left, and a pair of boys between me and the train window, I calmed down a little, only to be thrown back into a panic frenzy, when the two boys allowed a lady to cut the queue. And THIS LADY, after cutting the queue, TOOK HER OWN SWEET TIME. And after this lady was done, another elderly gentleman tried to cut my queue as well. But this time round, I politely, but very firmly informed him that this was not possible, as I was about to miss the train. But thankfully, all procedures were settled minutes before the train left, and I was seated on the train, around 3 minutes before the train pulled away from Paris Ost. Thank God!
  4. Frankfurt to Wurzburg: Arriving at the train station early as usual, and double checking the platform where the train to Wurzburg left, I complacently stepped into the train that was parked at the platform, naturally assuming that that was the designated train that I intended to take- only early. However, at 08 34 (it was supposed to leave at 09 05), the train just pulled away from the station, leaving me stunned, but already on the go! But thankfully, after straining my ears, paying attention to the bullet train speed German of the driver, this train was delivering me to Wurzburg as well. Whew!
  5. Wurzburg to Augsburg: My first encounter with the Inter-City Express, or ICE in short. This is a really posh train, with lots of leg room, designated places for you to hang your cloaks and place your umbrellas, not to mention, chairs that could recline with the least disturbance to the person sitting behind you. A luxury which I was determined to live up, since I already paid the price with my rail pass.
  6. Munich to Fussen: The train timetable seems to indicate that the train from Munich goes to Fussen, though the daily board seemed to contradict this, as there’s no indication that the train leaving Munich (or any train leaving Munich for that matter) was going to Fussen. And of course, this discrepancy was explained, when hoards of people just dropped off at Buchloe, along with my jaws. With my herd instinct, I followed them, and YES, they were all heading towards Fussen! Well, thankfully I found out soon enough that I had to CHANGE TRAINS AT BUCHLOE.
  7. Frankfurt to Brussels: Being poor but yearning for luxury has its price– you get chased away all the time. Not having made reservations on the luxurious ICE, I was threatened once, and chased away a second time from my seat. Threatened first, because the guy who reserved the seat was nice enough to let me continue sitting where I was, simply taking the seat beside me, but chased away the second time, because after the guy left, another bunch of weirdos (yes, they were weird, and I would still say they are weird, even if they didn’t chase me away) boarded the train, and claimed their reservations. Fair enough.
  8. Brussels to Antwerp: The time between leaving the train that brought me to Brussels, and boarding the train that would bring me to Antwerp was very short, and add that to my total ignorance of the platform from which the train heading towards Antwerp was to leave, is a perfect recipe for a mad dash. And of course, it doesn’t help that it took a while to even FIND the board with the train schedules! After all the hussle and bustle, I had approximately 4 minutes to get to a train platform that was about 150 m away, and what could I do but RUN WITH MY 12 KG BACKPACK?!

Air Journey

There’s only one small episode involving my first flight on a budget airline. Near the estimated time of arrival, an announcement from the pilot came over the PA system said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems that the flaps on the wings are not working. However, I do not think this is a serious problem. This flight will just have to take a longer time, as we try another approach to landing. However, the landing will probably be a rough one.” Well, the detour took almost an extra hour, and when I landed, it was then that I noticed it was as “minor” a problem as the pilot made it out to be– all the fire engines were out and waiting. But, ALLELUJIA, AMEN!

Foot Journey

An unfortunate sequel to the previous incident. Arriving in Prague at 9 pm plus, I wasn’t exactly freaked out, as there was still ample ‘day’ light. However, as I finally made my way out of that maze of a train station (with the help of some Chinese backpackers, but not before bumping into quite a number of touts) it was already dark, and hence, I was determined to walk really fast, and hopefully, find my hostel (which described itself as a five minute walk from the train station) soon. However, after some walking, I finally asked two cops whom I saw, only to find out that I was heading in the opposite direction. Well, I turn back, with my 12 kg pack. After another 20 min of walking, I finally stopped once again to ask another group of teenagers for my elusive hostel location, only to find out that I had to trek all the way up the hill, only to go down again. By then, it was 22 30, and I had depleted all my energy, not having eaten a thing since breakfast, and I simply wasn’t ready to trek up a hill with a 12 kg pack, especially in the dark. And hence, I just flagged a cab. If they wanted me to pay a king’s ransom, I would have paid it. I was really quite nastily surprised to find my hostel nestled amongst some rubbish dump area, and on the second floor, but the Bohemia decor persuaded me to stay, instead of abandoning it for some posh hotel that I could have easily paid for, with my card in hand. Wise economic decision.

Coach Journeys

I swear I won’t ever take long distance coaches again, as they are most literally, a pain in the ass, the most painful of which, was the journey from a sleazy (my own opinion) Antwerp, to London. After going through a check-in process in my London-Paris coach journey, with a waiting lounge with the same coach company, I obviously expected some check-in procedures and a proper bus station in Antwerp. Imagine my horror, which I arrived at the office, only to find it closed, since 15 00 (the coach was to leave at the after dark hour of 23 15), with no hopes of it opening anytime soon. Without a choice, I was forced to seek refuge in a nearby pub, where a drunk guy almost had a brawl with the waitress! And, when I ventured to explore the area round the ‘bus station’ (just a concentration of bus stops actually), to see if there are any reception areas or check-in counters, I was stalked! And well, relief was not to be found with the bus as well. When I boarded the bus that finally came, only TWO seats were left, and I was unfortunate enough to sit in front of a family that chattered non-stop, and had a kid who just wouldn’t stop kicking my chair. And of course, my troubles were not to end just here. At the French customs, though I breezed though the customs, the whole bus was held up for almost half an hour, as four guys were subjected to rigorous questioning. This resulted in the bus missing the ferry. And of course, these troubles with customs officials continued on the side of the British customs. Our coach was singled out for baggage checks, and though I breezed though the customs once again, the bus was once again held up, that after what I estimate to be an hour, the bus driver finally announced that the same four guys have been detained. And well, for some poor backpackers, and for the bus driver as well, the transit at Canterbury was missed, and so, the bus driver had to drive all the way to London, before he got his rest.
The Lowdowns of the Trip:
  1. In my absolute boredom and itchy-handedness, I deleted my pictures from London and Prague, on the third day of my trip. It was only out of pure decency of the awareness that it was 0800 in the morning, that I did not let out a blood-curling scream at my own stupidity. GRUMBLE!
  2. The Klagenfurt Incident: Stupid complacency is a killer. Arriving at Klagenfurt (and yes, tell me, who’s heard of that place) without the slightest inkling of how to get around, and without booked accomodation results in apprehension. The awareness that I was the only backpacker (not to mention CHINESE backpacker) around, with the pathetic fallacy of the howling winds, and the relentless drizzle, and you get a very wet, miserable, and frightened me, not to mention numb toes in sandals. Hence, I was most willing to check into the first hotel that came my way, even though it cost a grand, pocket-hole-enlarging EUR 77. And of course, to add my present misery, was my fear. For the first time, I was all alone in a hotel room. Maybe I wouldn’t have experienced this fear, if I were in a very modernly-furnished room. But, it was here that I first had the “out of place, out of time” feeling. This was a room with tapestries of people in elaborate customes; heavy red curtains; carved wooden wardrobe with a key; a full-length mirror that confronts you the moment you wake up; a small mirror set in gilded bronze, with two candles by the sides. Growing up in a young nation, I never lived in an old building like this in my entire life. This was akin to asking me to spend the night alone in Dracula’s castle– I was totally freaked out. But thankfully, nothing happened, and the good bed allowed me to sleep away my body aches.

The Highpoints of the Trip:

It must be the accidental discoveries: 🙂

  1. The ‘Secret Garden’ in Prague: I didn’t consult my map, as I headed in the general direction towards Charles Bridge, so that I could return to the old town of Prague. However, as I was walking along a small footpath, I saw an open door. My curiosity drew me towards that door, and I just stepped in. Lo and behold! I ‘discovered’ a well-landscaped garden, complete with statues, fountains, and a gardener with a strawhat! And further in, there was a wall that resembled the facade of Mordor in “Lord of the Rings”, but beside it, a theatre-like structure with beautiful frescos. Of course, throw in the peacocks that roam these gardens!
  2. Bird’s Eye View: After an exhausting 287 steps on a seemingly never-ending spiral staircase with no handlebars, I was treated to a beautiful view of the whole city of Prague– breath-taking wonder! This feat was not repeated, at the Vatican, which had more than 300 steps though. 😉
  3. Viennese Splendour: After all the previous days of walking, I finally decided to just buy a tagkarte in order to use the local transport system, and after falling asleep in a few trams here and there, I woke up to a beautiful fountain at the Belvedere, seducing me to drop off and take a walk. Not knowing that I actually entered from a side entrance, I was of course, MOST SURPRISED, when a HUGE and SPLENDID landscaped garden just very much ‘unfurled’ before my as I walked through the gates. Nothing can buy discoveries like these, and my great and cheap hostel, which is my favourite hostel in Europe.
  4. Klagenfurt: After recovering from my miserable state, I took a little walk around the hotel area. The rain was lightening up, and when the mists cleared, I suddely saw a huge blue mountain right at the back of the street, amazing, eh? I found out that Klagenfurt is actually famous for a lake, Wothersee (Vo-ter-zee).
  5. Somewhere Over the Rainbow: There’s no rainbow without rain, and just as Elly was complaining about the dreary weather that came with the rain, I looked up, and saw a most beautiful rainbow that was enough to cheer Elly up, and make her brighten into a smile!
  6. The Quirky Shops of Frankfurt: Has anyone heard of a Nutelleria or a Maggi specialty store? Well, believe it or not, they CAN be found in Frankfurt! The strange stores people set up! (yes, head towards the Nutella shrine, all ye faithful out there)
  7. My Dream Bookshop: In Oxford, I found the bookshop, that fit my idealised image of how a bookshop ought to be. Going into the basement of a smallish looking Blackwell, suddenly, shelves upon shelves of books presented themselves to me, laid out in a rectangular pattern, on two tiers. Here, I got what I declare to be the bargain of my lifetime– An “Oxford Companion to Archaeology” edited by Brian Fagan just for GBP 12, a massive reduction from the original price of GBP 50. I simply love this place!
  8. Meeting quirky people like Christine who can tease me about my gluttony after knowing me for only two days! 😉

Klutzy & Funny Business

  1. Vienna: I walked into the Natural History Museum, even though it was the Museum of Fine Arts that I intended to visit. Well, oh well… And of course, ended up eating almond cake, which I mistook for baked ice-cream.
  2. Rome: I got lost twice, travelling in my usual style of ‘general’ directions. But of course, getting lost has its perks, especially when you ‘run into’ a marching military procession, or find a piazza with one of those guys posing as an Eygptian mummy in front of a fountain. I also found out that stupidity has its rewards, as I bought a ticket to the Palatine, only to discover afterwards that this ticket is valid for the Colosseum as well, allowing me to cut the colossal queue of the Colosseum! 😉

Train.jpg

Categories: Book Shops, Rail, Travel Mishap, Travel Tip | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.