Thursday, 26 January 2012

Vacation from Vacation

I need a vacation from vacation. This has been high-speed travel and I wish to slow down for a while. In the next bit I will be in Greece although I will watch out for reports of unrest...and then soon I will be in Italy.

Since this is my last stop in the Balkans, in general I've noticed that the region leaves the toilet seats up, even in female washrooms. And if you order coffee, they usually give you a glass of water with it which is good practice because coffee without water is like sandpaper on your tongue. Copy, other countries, copy!

The Coldest City

Salonica, Greece's second-largest city. Smokers - people talking into cellphones in cafes - Paris-style cafes - architecture that reminds me of Paris - the most impatient drivers honking at all times of day and night - the humidly cold Mediterranean wind and rain - very early shop closures (2:30 pm).

Ble, a museum bakery I wandered upon, is like a museum/place of worship. There are monuments of bread displayed on its walls and shelves, huge breads. There is dark lighting and the first thing you see as you wander up the steps is some type of chocolate pot that is effusing vapour. There is heavenly music. The cakes and other desserts are displayed under spotlights in glass cases.

Bus Adventures

Ever since I left the Schengen zone starting from my trip away from Slovenia, my passport has been looked at with suspicion and it's been checked a number of times before I get a stamp on it first for travel through Croatia on the train, then Serbia, then Bulgaria, and then exiting Bulgaria into Greece. I'm not used to having people take my passport away and I'm wary of people doing it because I'm afraid they'll keep it or something but so far that hasn't happened.

From Belgrade to Sofia and then from Sofia to Thessaloniki I took the bus. So on the Serbian bus I had to apparently pay the driver for putting my luggage in the storage compartment. It was bad enough to pay in Euros instead of the local currency the first time (I'd spent all my local currency prior to getting on the bus because I had thought I didn't need any money until I got to Bulgaria). I had no idea that I had to change busses halfway through - I almost stayed on the bus to somewhere else until a person told me to get off - but I had to do it all over again on the second bus. This time the driver didn't accept Euros quite as easily. I ended up paying for almost three times the amount the job was worth but I was too incompetent to argue in Serbian and I just left it at that. Angry though.

So in Sofia I checked the train timetable that came with my train pass to see what times the train for Sofia - Thessaloniki would come. I had to do this because there didn't really exist any Greek rail timetables online. It says there is one at 17h22 so I show up at the rail station at 17h00 and a non-official-looking station official informs me that there are no trains. I must take a bus. I don't believe him so I go up to the ticket counter and they say the same thing. Then the official leads me to a travel agency which informs me that there will be a bus leaving in five minutes. Then both the official and the travel agent's assisstant rush to the bus stop and before I know it I'm on a bus to Thessaloniki.

Ljubljana, Beograd, Sofia

Ljubljana (Slovenia)
The city with an unpronounceable name, the city with lots of j's, the beloved city. This is the only place with cool weather where people are still eating outside. This is the new Reykjavik - the houses and people look the same as there, Slovenian and Icelandic have the hv [kv] sound which is quite rare, and they have the same type of hot dog stands.

Belgrade aka Beograd (Serbia)
Concrete - Stray dogs - Trams - Crumbled buildings - Abandoned Buildings - Bakeries - People eating stuff from the bakeries on the go.

Sofia (Bulgaria)
So I was hungry for breakfast and next to the place I am staying at in Sofia is a little eatery. I go in, there are nice steam trays with cabbage rolls and the like but then I see a dish that looks like an omelette with potatoes and egg sort of like a frittata. I would rather have that than cabbage rolls for breakfast so I order it and sit down and take a big turns out to be a pasta and sweet custard bake! What in the name...?! I doused it with vinegar and tried to eat the rest but couldn't down it all.
Then I get a postcard from a shop in the metro station and I want to buy a stamp but then the shopkeeper says no stamps here, I must go to the Central Hall near the McDonald's. I remember a sign pointing to Central Hall and I remember seeing a McDonald's near this area from the tour that I took yesterday, so I go near there. Walking around, I see nothing so I go into a stationery shop because they must sell stamps there, right? This must be the place the shopkeeper was talking about. What I understand of this woman's English is that the post office is located on the second floor of this building, where there is the parking garage. So I go to look for the parking garage in this edifice and I see stairs so I take it and I end up at an abandoned floor with an abandoned tattoo parlour and some other random, not open shops. On the third floor there's some random official-looking office and asking for the post office, the guy leads me downstairs and then points across the street and across a parking lot to another building that looks almost like a church. Once inside, it looks just like a Balkan version of Pacific Mall in Scarborough. The shops are set up in exactly the same way and there are lots of food stores. So very local. There are stores specifically for selling fish, cheese, yogurt, candies - and lots of candies, especially Turkish-style candies - and some fastfood places. And then tucked away in a little corner of the second floor of this building is the post office. Who would've known that in this church-like building was another world?

Monday, 16 January 2012


I decided to go to Salzburg instead of Vienna to avoid the many big cities I've been visiting one after another - to avoid the crowds, and the tourists. But surprise, surprise, it's here in the city of salt and Mozart and The Sound of Music that I hear the most English. I arrive on a Sunday and the town is teeming with barely any Salzburgiens, but many tourists.

So I took the castle tour yesterday.


A list of things that seem to be popular in Prague according to the four days I was there:
  • Dogs
  • Animals in general
  • Pizza
  • Sportingwear shops

The people I met were very helpful.

There are many Chinese restaurants in here but of course it is Czech-Chinese food probably via Vietnamese. Since a lot of Vietnamese people immigrated here. It's always interesting to see a pocket of an Asian country immigrating to the most unlikeliest of places, like here and also Thai people to Iceland. Maybe not so unlikely after all.

My friend who lives in Prague showed me around and told me that you won't really be able to get an authentically Czech souvenir in the shops since the shops are run by Russian immigrants selling stuff you would traditionally see in Moscow, like some Russian puppets or something. And then some tourists buy them and take them home and show them to others to remind them of the Czech Republic. Interesting...a new tradition?


I've left a very nice respectable city called Berlin now and I have gone to Hamburg. I was here about 7.5 years ago so all the memories come rushing back to me. I was eating at a restaurant and I may have even eaten in the same one so many years ago! It's like the real deja vu.

Esepcially since I landed here on a Sunday when most of the shops are closed, I feel that Hamburg is a more slow-paced city and I liked that when compared to the hustle and bustle of Berlin. When I was younger I wanted to live in a 'bustling city' but now I think a mid-sized city like Hamburg suits me better.

Here the names of food are hilarious - there's a brand of salt and pepper called Happy Foodnd then a brand of sugar packets called Lucky Sugar. Such positive food!

Also here there are many automatic things. Off of the subway (U-bahn) is a set of escalators that look like they're out of order until you go near it and then it activates. Hamburg's way of saving electricity costs? Then I went to a museum where artifacts were pretty old yet out in the open. In one room it was as if there were no lights until I stepped closer and spotlights came on. Very individualized service - and all from machines!

Finally there is a ticket for standing on the U-bahn platform, costs 30 cents, valid for one hour. Oh, Germany.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Pricce of Water

Water in restaurants cost money. I keep on forgetting that. Unlike Canada, if you ask for water, they give you still water from a bottle then charge you unless you specifically ask for tap water.

And then of course there are the public WCs especially in train stations you have to pay for them. Which may be a better system than a non-paying ugly stinky messy thing, but I'm just not used to the price.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Use it up, wear it out, make do with or do without

January 4:
Britain is so hot! It makes me think that I've packed too much and too inappropriately for European weather...everybody is wearing tweed jackets. How come I didn't notice this last time I was here? And here I am with this sporty purple jacket of mine. I feel so out of place. Oh, and my all-natural deodorant stopped working like 10 hours ago. And the accent - will everybody stop talking with a British accent already! I'm way too tired to process it (it's 3 AM Toronto time). Then, I remember that I will soon be saying goodbye to English as a native language altogether. In the airport's stores I see McVities, Walkers and Jaffa Cakes and it brings back great memories. The little carts that drive people around in the airport don't make a beeping sound here but rather a sort of techno beat. I'm assuming this is to control the amount of noise but it's not very effective at signalling people to its oncoming presence. I always think the sound is coming out of a radio somewhere but then I turn around and see a cart instead.

I must say that the overnight British Airways flight was superb. It's been a long time since I've had a "free" pillow, blanket, lots of seat space, headphones, toothbrush and both dinner and breakfast (although the breakfast consisted only of a 400-calorie muffin, it's better than nothing).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pearson - Heathrow - Tegel

One month after I come back from Edmonton, I'm going on my semi-pan-European trip. Technology use for travel blogging has changed throughout the years - London 2008 I paid for computer and Internet use at the airport. San Francisco 2011 I brought my laptop and blogged from there. Now I'm blogging from my phone.

So it will be easy to keep you posted. :)