A Travellerspoint blog

Just a quick check-in 24 hours prior to departure

I moved out of Port Townsend today. I've had a bedroom there for the past 18 years. Very sad but at the same time I know that I moved out of town to A. travel to Europe for two months and B. go to law school. Just got to my mom's place in Olympia. Laura and I unpacked the car and are tying up the loose ends before take off tomorrow night. Exciting!

Posted by DavidJFabe 22:12 Comments (0)

Estonia bound

Cruises aren't travel, they're hedonism. That said, count me in.

Over the past week I've been watching the Rick Steves episodes that correspond to the various places that Laura and I will be visiting. A few days ago we watched the Stockholm episode in which he devoted a sizable chunk of time to the joys of cruising from Stockholm to Helsinki, Finland (I seem to recall water-slides and duty-free liquor sales... among other things). Mr. Steves kept mentioning the affordability of the cruises so we pulled up the website for the cruise line - Silja-Tallink.

As it turns out they offer cruises to a few destinations. It's not that we wouldn't be interested in visiting Helsinki, I'd love to, but after weighing the options we settled on Tallinn, Estonia. The ticket price (about 40% less) and the novelty of visiting not only a former communist state (Laura's first) but a former state of the Soviet Union (my first as well!) proved to be too much to turn down.

The cruise is ~16 hours each way and leaves at 5:45pm - getting in around 10am, from both directions. According to Rick Steves the "Smorgasbord" on the cruise is among the best that can be found in Scandinavian Europe which, in turn, is a cultural experience that shouldn't be missed. I should also mention that this one is both all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink. It wasn't cheap but for a nice 2-day side trip it couldn't be passed up ($140) - especially considering the fact that we're saving so much by staying with our generous friends and family on much of the rest of the trip.

Estonia, among the other Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania + St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad) has been one of my top travel destinations. I'm really excited to be going even if it's only for about 8 hours.

Posted by DavidJFabe 22:24 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Why didn't I wait to buy my plane ticket?!?!?

British Airways screws me for being responsible...

Ohhh the pain of being a fool...

Thinking that I was being smart and responsible I purchased my plane tickets for this coming summer trip back in early February at a price of $1,550. In comparison to the cost of tickets that I've purchased over the last couple years it was a bit higher but all the travel advice I got was to buy early because airline ticket prices are going to jack WAAAAY up when oil prices climb. I figured that the advice was sound and decided to jump on it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the cheapest that the tickets were going to get. Back in March I checked the same itinerary and found that the price had dropped to $1,223. I immediately shot an email off to British Airways in the slim chance that they'd be willing to refund me the difference. Of course the answer was "No". A couple days later the price was back up and I figured that it was just a fluke.

Last night I checked the flight again... $950. That's 33% cheaper than I originally paid. Now I feel very foolish. The difference of $600 is roughly equal to one of my two-week paychecks in the winter. I should have purchased my tickets through Orbitz or another site that offers a price guarantee. Stupid me!

Posted by DavidJFabe 18:50 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

2005 Travel Blog

Oh the times that we had

I just ran across the travel blog that my friend Emily kept for our trip through Eastern Europe/Turkey in 2005. It was my first visit to non-English-as-a-first-language countries and while sometimes trying the experience was overall amazing. Emily relates a few of the happenings on our trip with incredible wit. Here's the link http://windspinner.blogspot.com/ (blogspot has a weird setup - you have to click the month on the left side to view each month of the trip. Otherwise you'll just get the last couple entries).

I have to repost this:

The Midnight Express

For those who don't know, last night we took the night train from Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, to Istanbul, Turkey. Now, there are SO many witty little titles I could have given this post-- "Barnum and Bailey's" or maybe "Turkish Delight" or something... But, based on the movie Midnight Express, which I've never seen, and that people warned me not to watch before going to Turkey, I suppose I'll use that one. :)

We got a cab in Veliko to the train station... It was about a 10 minute ride for 1.78 leva--About a buck. Not too shabby. We got to the wee station in the middle of nowhere with a gypsy camp nearby, and sat. And waited. A man came up to us and started talking and being very VERY chatty. Uncomfortably so. After 5 long minutes of awkward "conversation" he asked if we had any foreign coins from Czech Republic or Slovakia or Serbia or something. He "had a coin collection" and wanted to collect more... We said that no, we didn't, and he just walked off. It was very strange.

In a short while, we saw a familiar face--The hipster owner of the hiker's hostel, where we stayed, and her hipster friend who has a car who gives lifts to travelers up the big-ol hill to the hostel. He was munching on snacks that looked like those packing peanuts we use in America that melt in water and smell like detergent. David played his ukulele, he bobbed and danced while eating his styrofoam snacky snacks. We told the owner of the hostel about the weird guy with the "coin collection" and pointed him out. She said he's someone who rents out rooms, he hates her because he says she always steals his customers (personally, I think she gets customers because he's sleazy and pushy, and she's way awesome). Very interesting. In any case, our train was late, by only 20 minutes or so, but still late. We said goodbye to the hostel people, and hopped on the train. Our tickets were checked, and a little pudgy balding Turk with a kind face directed us to our sleeper car. Each sleeper has 2 beds and a little bed WAY up by the ceiling for kids, I guess. So, he put the boys in one car, then opened up another pre-occupied and very dark room and gestured for me to go inside... Ladies first? I could feel my eyes getting wide and panicky, especially since the train was in motion, bumping along the track, we were in a very small hallway, and I had my giant backpack on... I felt like a bunny used in animal testing--frantic and a little confused. I pointed to the room with the boys, and the chubby Turk closed the occupied room and let me into the boy's room. YAY! I win.

Compared to the rest of the trains we'd been on, this one takes the cake as the best. By far. The rooms were nice and non smoking, the toilets in the bathroom were relatively clean, at least at the beginning of the trip, the toilets had seats, and the bathroom even had a shower. They gave us freshly pressed sheets in sealed plastic bags. We made our beds, honestly more comfortable than many we'd stayed in in the past, and enjoyed the ride. At first, david took the loft and read, and Justin and I took the bottom bed and promptly fell asleep.

At 2am, we heard a knock on the door--Bulgarian border cops. We opened it up, handed them our passports, and they took them, saying the all too common "Moment"... We got nervous. We WILL get these back, right? Sure enough, we did, about an hour later. The customs man came through, and we were nervous about our "national treasures" that we had stashed up top in the lofty bed. He couldn't speak a lick of english, sized us up, noticed that we were but lowly and, at this point, stinky students, and walked away. Hooray! The train sat there for a while for no good reason, and so we drifted back to sleep.

Another hour later, we were woken up by a clatter of people running down a train platform at 4am while our train was still in motion, ever so slightly. These people had obviously done the Turkish border before... We got up slowly, and pudgy Turk showed us that we had to get off the train, get our passports stamped, then get back on. So, we did. We stood in line in this very surreal situation... People crowded the front, a man outside kept wheeling a squeaky wheelbarrow back and forth, and it was freaking 4am. Finally, we got to the front, and the man looked at our passports, looked at us, and did that damn hand gesture direction thing that delivers the most accurate directions in the world. We walked out of the office, and all we could see were a couple of hot dog stand type things. Was this where we got our visas? We asked an official, and he told us to go back into the office we were just in. AHH!

I noticed a man inside who had an American passport and who had gotten through. I asked him where he got his visa, and he showed us this very small, unmarked, dimly lit stand. We literally ran accross the train platform to this place. Thank GOD David's dad had given him some euros. They don't accept Bulgarian money to purchase visas, but euros are all good. It costs 20 bucks each, we gave them 20 euros each... no change. Yes, we got a bit ripped off, but it's better than the 100 dollar visa fee that was in place until just this month, and it's better than not getting a visa at all. We bolted back accross the train platform. We were the last ones milling around. We got stamped and hopped back in the train. What an experience.

I believe it's because of the constant uneven and jolting motion of the train that makes your stomach unsettled... both Justin and I had tummy problems. I popped an immodium at the beginning of the trip because I didn't want to be in the toilet the whole time. Justin went to the toilet after getting our passports stamped. David and I waited. The train hadn't started yet. Very soon, Justin returned with a shocked look on his face.
"That was quick!" I said.
"I couldn't go. There is a family outside the bathroom--a couple men, a few women--and they're carrying sheets with animals in them."
David and I both laugh, thinking he's kidding.
"They have about 5 bags made of sheets that they set on the ground... There have to be puppies in one, it sounds like it. One of them is chittering." Justin said.
"Chittering?"
"Yeah, it sounds like ferrets or something."

Suddenly, there was a rush, and we heard the bathroom door open (we were the first car next to the bathroom). There were hushed voices, and we could hear the puppies in the bag through the wall... The "chittering" bag was left right in front of our door. We stealthily locked it. We listened harder and the sound was either birds or monkeys, but the way it was moving, we decided there were probably monkeys in this bag outside of our door... And then, as if out of a horror movie, my eyes focused in on the handle of our door... It slowly moved down, as someone--the man with the monkeys, tried to get inside. GOD I'm glad we locked that thing. We looked out the peephole, and watched as he rushed down to the other side of the car into the other bathroom and locked himself inside. What the hell was going on? We were, at this point, in fits of laughter... Sacks of animals hiding out in the bathroom.

A few men with flashlights surveyd the underside of the train, making sure nobody was stowing away. Finally, it began to go, and then, suddenly, one of the men with flashlights pointed to the entrance closest to the bathroom next to ours and yelled something in Turkish. The train screamed to a halt. YAY, they caught the animal smugglers! But no, it was just a train attendant who had forgotten to get back on... Now this revealing of the people was up to us...

Justin was brave enough to exit, once again, and he found pudgy Turk and told him about the situation.
"There are people hiding with animals in the bathroom!" Justin said.
Apperantly, pudgy Turk said "Yes!" smile "Cheep cheep!" making the sound of whatever the hell was in the monkey bag. He was in on this managarie! He did, however, go to the toilet closest to our car and made them get out. All we could here were dogs snarling and barking and then they were somewhere else. Good lord. We were in absolute stitches! What is all this??

Finally, we began to fall asleep again, though still often chuckling about the weird animal deal. Even though Justin and I were crammed in the bottom bed, we slept pretty well. Around 9, we pulled into the outskirts of Istanbul. My god, I never thought I'd be so grateful to see a large body of water. It's beautiful. It took nearly an hour to get from the outskirts of town to the final stop in the heart of town. We rode past a large fish market full of glistening silver fishes, seagulls hovering above with the hopes of scoring a quick nibble. We passed ruins of walls, and many mosques.

We arrived at the end of the line, pudgy Turk wishing us a good trip. We got off and were expecting to find the people from our hotel waiting to pick us up--no luck. We were approached by many people, hoping to give us a place to stay. We decided to get a taxi. The driver was very nice, although he did overcharge us a bit. I forgot you can haggle here, and I think he was a bit surprised that he got such a good deal as well. I'll remember that for next time. Regardless, the ride was 15 minutes or so long for about 12 bucks... And he really went out of his way to find our place. He'd never heard of Nayla Palace, and he periodically asked locals and even got out of the taxi to ask someone to show him where to go. Very good service. He tried to teach us a bitta Turkish, but in my tired state it was all lost on me. On our drive to this place, we saw so many beautiful rug markets--where we're staying is I guess in the central rug selling district.

We finally made it to our place. It's pretty shabby, but a good deal for the location. We're right in between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya--about 2 blocks away for each. We checked in, took showers, and ate the breakfast provided by the pension. There's a hostel/internet cafe directly accross... I guess you'd call this a lane... and we're thinking of staying here instead. It's VERY nice. Really beautiful. Anyway, we're gonna lug ourselves around Istanbul today, and crash big time tonight. Welcome to Turkey.

OH man, the animals-in-the-bag story. I've told that one more times that I can remember.

Posted by DavidJFabe 02:00 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

2006

Some photos from my trip in 2006 AND a travel map showing the course that I followed

I've started uploading photographs from my trip in 2006. I've also created a travel map using the handy little travel map creation tool that Travellerspoint provides. Voila:

So, enjoy the few pictures I've uploaded and I'll be back by in the next few days to add more excerpts from my 2006 journal. I'm probably not going to upload every entry and many not in their entirety but I hope to get a few of the more choice cuts on here before I leave in June for the big trip.

Posted by DavidJFabe 21:11 Tagged photography Comments (0)

Name Change

I like fecal humor, what can I say?

storm

As some of you can tell I've changed the name from "American Poops in Foreign Toilets" to the more trite title "David Faber's Travel Blog". The decision was hard to arrive at but after feedback from my father and Laura I came to the conclusion that not everybody gets the joke. So, name changed. Hopefully I'll come up with a better name for the blog that doesn't offend the sensibilities of my readers... Sorry Soniku, you're name for the blog was much appreciated by me but not by the family. We'll try harder next time.

Posted by DavidJFabe 14:27 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Bosnia/Croatia trip

David and a group of Serbs attempt to visit Bosnia and Croatia. Living life in ethnic danger? Hopefully not.

Just got off of the phone with Mateja. Looks like we've set our dates more firmly for Bosnia/Croatia. I'll be arriving in Beograd the evening of July 2 from Vienna, Austria and then we'll be setting off for Sarajevo the next morning.

The plan:

Sarajevo - July 3 & 4
Mostar - July 5
Dubrovnik - July 6 & 7

Then we're going to catch a ride down south into Montenegro in order to hop a night train to Nis on the 8th.

We haven't yet figured out how large our group is going to be. So far we have Mateja, Andreja, one of Mateja's friends and me. Andreja's girlfriend might come along. And then there's always the possibility that we'd increase our size by one more though that could start to get somewhat unruly when booking hostel rooms... Once Mateja lets me know the size of the group I'll be making the various bookings. I found some killer locations and I hope the rooms are still available in the next week or two when Mateja gets back to me.

I'm really interested to find out what the experience will be like for a group of Serbs traveling through Bosnia and Croatia. Since the hostilities of the 1990s are still fresh on some people's minds it might get uncomfortable from time to time but I would imagine it's a pretty important experience. After all, Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia were at one point located in the same country - Yugoslavia. Mateja's best guess is that Serbs traveling with an American will be safe from any sort of aggressive Bosniaks/Croats and an American traveling with a group of Serbs will be safe from any aggressive Serbs. Not that I ever really worry about people assaulting me but it's nice to think that such diplomatic immunity might play into it.

This particular leg of my trip is really psyching my out. When I went through Sarajevo and Mostar in 2005 the weather was terrible and my traveling companions had hit the doldrums so it wasn't the most exciting time to be there. All that despite the fact that I was there researching the effects that the wars of the 1990s had on ethnic relations and Sarajevo was pretty much ground zero for the worst of the fighting. So, I'll be making up for that missed opportunity - especially neat because Mateja's friend has a Bosniak friend who's going to be showing us around.

Dubrovnik was also a major disappointment in 2005 because I had one of the worst migraines of my life. Not sure what brought it on but I ended up having to sleep for 80% of our time there. Again, I'm looking forward to rectifying that disastrous visit. Dubrovnik is well on its way to becoming one of the hottest tourist locations in the world and I'd rather see it before it's basically impossible to enjoy. Though with it's prominent feature on the Travel Channel it might already be too late. Not to enjoy but you understand what I'm saying... It might be crammed with tourists. Screw it, it'll be beautiful anyway.

I'm off to bed now. Laura's coming home from New York tomorrow and I have to pick her up in the evening. I'm looking forward to seeing her even though I'll only have her for the duration of the ride home - she's got to go to bed and work in the morning.

Posted by DavidJFabe 02:30 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged preparation Comments (0)

2006

Serbia and the joys of JAT, Serbian friendships and Tango Apple soda.


View 2006 Former Yugoslavia on DavidJFabe's travel map.

Last week I spent a couple days at my mom's new house helping her move. In the process I discovered the travel journal that I kept for my trip to former Yugoslavia in 2006. For posterity I figured I'd spend the moment updating this blog with the first of those older entries. Unfortunately, no photos correspond to this entry but the next one (which I will hopefully put up before the week is out) will have plenty of pictures. So, without further ado:

Leaving - September 7, 2006

I slept at Michael and Jenny's apartment the night prior to departure. Michael had graciously offered to drive me to the airport and we stayed up perhaps later than we should have watching "Dazed and Confused" and "The Girl Next Door" (2009 - I don't even remember watching "The Girl Next Door". Not a very memorable film, I guess...). Somewhere between 7 or 8am I woke up to the sound of Jenny and Michael discussing the clogged toilet upstairs (2009 - already my blog is fecal!) and pumped with adrenaline due to the coming journey I failed to get back to sleep.

My sleeping trouble wasn't helped by the fact that I'm somewhat afraid of flying and was sharply aware of the fact that in the weeks preceding there had been two significant plane wrecks internationally. One in Pennsylvania, proving that even American planes were still prone to disaster, and the other in Ukraine - which did nothing to quash my fears of flying on the Yugoslav national carrier "JAT" (pronounced "YAT" with the soft "J"). Fears must be faced, though.

I showered and eventually woke Michael up so that we could get on the road to the airport. When we got into the car he discovered that he had left his wallet at his parents' house and we detoured to retrieve it. Thankfully the recovery was easy and we were on the road in no time.

Unfortunately, when I departed from Michael's car I managed to accidentally leave my hooded sweatshirt in his back seat. Those who have gone on backpacking trips in the past understand the value of variable-use articles of clothing. This sweatshirt was important to me not only because it was the sole piece of warm clothing that I had planned to bring along but also because in a pinch you can put the hood over your eyes to block out the light in a hostel dorm room, while on an airplane or while taking the night-train from Belgrade, Serbia to Ljubljana, Slovenia. When you're backpacking anything that helps you sleep is much appreciated.

C'est la vie.

The flight from Sea-Tac to Chicago was largely uneventful. I slept for a few minutes here and there. The rest of the time was passed reading a book titled "Forever Peace" which is the follow-up to Joe Haldeman's 1976-Hugo-Award-Winning novel "Forever War", which I had read the previous time that I was in former Yugoslavia.

When I disembarked in Chicago I had to make my way to the international concourse. I was amazed at the size of O'Hare's domestic concourse. The place was positively massive and I would have felt overwhelmed had I the time to gawk but I was a man on a mission. I frantically searched for the international departures concourse which was conspicuously referred to as Concourse "M" in all of my literature (including my ticket) but called Concourse "5" by all signs and employees. Thankfully I resolved the confusion quickly and despite some further confusion with the bag-check counter I made my connection with ample time.

The flight was again uneventful and fairly comfortable - I was starting to get the impression that nothing was going to go wrong on this trip but I still had that dreaded JAT flight from London to Belgrade...

Walking into Heathrow in 2006 was a night-mare. Terminal 5 was being constructed for British Airways' exclusive use and the entire airport was in disarray. It looked like a construction zone everywhere. Security was as intense as I imagined it was in New York following 9/11. I was afraid that my bag might not have been transferred to the JAT flight and as the security line took longer and longer I was afraid that I wouldn't be transferred either.

All around me people were screaming and yelling at security guards because they were missing their flights. We were crammed into what appeared to be some sort of corrugated metal warehouse in conditions that reminded me of a mosh-pit at a rock show. After about two hours in line, and with only about 25 minutes to spare I finally pushed my way through security and out into a room that had no JAT check-in line. Thankfully only a few people were in the room and I was instructed to speak to the Alitalia Airways desk - they handled JAT's flights in Heathrow. It was at this desk that I met two people that I would end up spending the next 13 hours with, Jakob and Amy.

Together we navigated the labyrinthine international departure construction zone eventually finding our gate with moments to spare. Or so we thought. Once checked-in and surrounded by Serbs an announcement was made that, due to a "technical difficulty" our plane would be delayed at least 45 minutes. Groaning for the various people who would be waiting for us at the Belgrade airport we awaited further notice that the plane would be delayed not 45 minutes but until 6pm. I pulled out my travel clock. 1:34pm. We'd be five hours late and I had already been up for 24 hours.

JAT handed out £6 food coupons which amounted to very little money in the Heathrow airport. I found a sandwich shop but was more excited about the fact that they sold Apple Tango. Tango Apple is a delightful apple-flavored soda that I hadn't had the opportunity to drink since 1999 while on a trip with my father in the UK.

After eating I "entertained" myself by trying to find some way to email Mateja, who would be picking me up in Belgrade.

At this point I feel it prudent to take a minute with which to tell a story about Mateja: In the spring of 2005 I spent three months touring around Eastern Europe researching the effects that the wars of the 1990s had wreaked on ethnic relations in former Yugoslavia. My primary contact on this trip was Mateja and he couldn't have been more helpful. I owe him big for everything he did but most of all for what I'm about to explain. On May 2 my traveling companions and I made the trek from Ohrid, Macedonia to to Nis, Serbia (Mateja's home town). We couldn't get an exact report from the bus station as to how long the trip would take but some people at the bus station told us that we should be arriving no later than 11pm. I called Mateja and made arrangements with him to meet us at the bus station. Unfortunately, we didn't show up until 3am but like the good friend he is there Mateja was sitting patiently in the bus station. He drove us to the hotel and didn't say another word about how late we were. The next day while speaking with Mateja's brother Andreja I was informed that it had been Mateja's birthday... I felt like a jerk.

This was the story that was on my mind as I realized my London-Belgrade flight, which was supposed to be a leisurely afternoon affair, was quickly turning into another late-night arrival. I found a coin-operated internet terminal for which Jakob lent me £1. When I checked my email I found a confused email from Mateja. I sent him an email letting him know that the flight was going to be somewhat late and that maybe he could call the airport for updates and to NOT go wait for me there yet.

After some chatting with Jakob and Amy the supposed hour of departure was getting near. A man wearing a JAT uniform approached the huddled group of hopeful passengers to announce that the flight had been delayed again, this time until 10pm. As it turns out the plane we were supposed to use had broken down completely and a new plane was being flown in from Belgrade. I bummed another coin off of Jakob and hit my email frantically searching through messages from 2005 for Mateja's phone number. After a few minutes I located the number and placed a call using my credit card.

"Molem?" (Serbian word meaning something along the lines of "please?" or "may I help you?")
"Mateja! It's David! The flight's been delayed again - this time until 10pm. It looks like I won't be getting in until.... (doing the mental math) 3am..."
"... (pause) Are you sure?" (obviously reflecting on the previous year's late-night arrival)
"I hope so!... Unfortunately."
"I'll see you then."

I did my best to sleep on the concrete floor of the departure "lounge" and finally at nearly 11pm we boarded and were underway. Everybody on the plane let out a cheer when they announced that we had been cleared for take-off.

The flight over continental Europe was impressive in the middle of the night. More so because I was starting to hallucinate from lack of sleep. City after city of twinkling lights in the blackness stretched out as far as the eye could see. I assumed we were over Germany. I slept for about an hour on the plane and was awoken to the sound of the landing gear being brought on-line. We touched down and I disembarked through passport control and into the baggage claim where I found Mateja.

Mateja greeted me saying "Please don't do this to me again. Next time screw JAT - fly British Airways." (one of the reasons why I'm now a British Airways Executive Club member) I expected a punch to the eye or maybe a knee to the groin but he was as pleasant as always. We gathered my bag from the carousel and headed to his Belgrade apartment where I was very happy to finally get a decent amount of rest.

Posted by DavidJFabe 18:22 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

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