Turbulence. (#Algiers #Algeria)

Finally. It was time to go.

I booked this flight about 6 months before departure. Accommodation sorted. At least 1 tour sorted. Basic foundation was already set.

But since this is me we’re talking about, nothing goes smoothly. So of course, bulls*** started just a few hours before my flight. Money, of course, because why not. But I wouldn’t let it deter me. It’d been almost 2 years since my last proper vacation (and I still have to finish those blog posts from that trip… so ashamed of myself.). Yes, there have been a few short jaunts in between, but nothing as long and far away as this. So no matter what, I was leaving. I needed a break from work, from life.

From New York City to Paris, France; a 5 hour layover there; then from Paris to Algiers, Algeria. I know that going through customs in a different country is annoying, but it’s to be expected everywhere and I deal with it. However, I wasn’t expecting to be interrogated by Algerian police.

You read correctly. I was interrogated by Algerian police.

I handed over all of my travel documents at the customs desk and thought that all was well, until I was told to “hold on for a moment”. I knew that some bulls*** was bound to happen because again, that’s just my luck.

Here we f***ing go…

Along with being exhausted, tired/sleepy from limited sleep, and in some pain, I was also angry and kinda scared. My French language skills are very limited, despite my attempts to practice before I left for this trip, and I don’t have any Arabic language skills. So while an officer was telling me that I’d be fine, my face clearly showed that I knew otherwise.

(As an aside, it “helped” a bit that another American woman – a government worker at that! – was also being interrogated. She said to me, “This is terrible, isn’t it?” I nodded with a scowl on my face.)

They opted to interrogate me outside of the officers’ quarters. A female officer who spoke English interpreted & translated for her fellow officers, and asked surprisingly specific questions about why I was in Algeria, what I do for a living, who I see and the age range of the population, etc. ad nauseam. Thank goodness, I didn’t have any reason to lie and was also smart enough to have access to certain things on my mobile phone to prove myself.

TIP: if your mobile phone allows, store your most important documents on something like Google Drive, and make those documents available offline while traveling. It may make a big difference for you in case of emergency.

After what seemed like forever, they let me go. One of the officers hailed a taxi for me and I went to my hotel. But alas, as is my luck, there was more turbulence ahead.

To be continued…

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United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi part 2.

The day after we returned to Abu Dhabi, we went on a desert safari that took place in the evening.

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The day after we returned from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, we went on a desert safari that took place in the evening. (Step-dad stayed in since his stomach was still hurting.) Travel Friend left Dubai – as he was departing via Abu Dhabi airport to return to the States the next morning – and met us in Abu Dhabi to go with us on the safari. Another travel group member (Travel Friend 2), who was in the United Arab Emirates at the same time as us, drove from Dubai and wound up going with us at the last minute. We had a good time.

We went on the evening desert safari with the Abu Dhabi Desert Safari company in Al Khatim Desert. There isn’t much to say; hopefully the photos speak for themselves. (I didn’t include all photos; I didn’t want to post photos of anyone just in case they prefer privacy.)

After returning from the safari, step-dad was up & about, feeling better. Even though we didn’t get back until a little after 21:00, our host (an expatriate who’s also a travel group member) surprised us by taking us on a bit of a tour of her part of the city. (Travel Friend 2 went straight to the airport after the safari to catch her flight home.) There isn’t much to say here either; hopefully the photos speak for themselves.

By the time we finished eating, it was almost midnight so we called it a night. Tomorrow was our last full day there, Travel Friend had a red-eye flight, and we (the 3 of us) had a couple of things to do before our departure.

United Arab Emirates – Dubai in 36 hours or less.

Dubai was never on my list of places to travel, but since I had the opportunity to go, I wasn’t going to pass it up while visiting the United Arab Emirates.

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Dubai was never on my list of places to travel, but since I’d be there, I wasn’t going to pass it up while visiting the United Arab Emirates. While booking & planning, I initially planned to spend 2 days there – hopefully enough to get a feel for the city. I changed my mind and decided that less than 2 days should suffice, and I’m glad I made that decision. I’ll explain why later.

We left Abu Dhabi on Saturday afternoon for a short jaunt to Dubai for a little over 24 hours. Dubai is 90 minutes drive from Abu Dhabi without traffic, and easy to reach by bus or car (rental, taxi, etc.). We took a cheap Greyhound-style bus for 25 AED one-way.

Emirates Express.
Emirates Express.

It took us longer than 90 minutes because there was a dust storm that caused multiple accidents; we saw at least 30 damaged or destroyed cars on the roadside. 😐

Upon arriving to Dubai, we took a taxi to Citymax Bur Dubai. There wasn’t much time to spare before we had to leave to head to Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world for our evening viewing.

We planned to meet afterwards with a travel group member, but Dubai Mall (located next to Burj Khalifa and the largest mall [by total area] in the world) is so big that we couldn’t find him, and my phone died. We (minus step-dad) were also supposed to see other people from the same travel group for a party. But by then, I’m exhausted & sleepy from jet-lag and walking around; we’re annoyed about not finding the person in that humongous mall; and we were hungry. So we returned to the hotel instead. I messaged the travel group members to explain what happened, we ate at one of the hotel’s restaurants (Indian Claypot), and stayed in until check-out time Sunday afternoon.

Another person from my travel group met us at check-out. He knew where the Gold Souk was, so he led us there.

NOTE: The United Arab Emirates heavily regulate their precious metals, so unless one buys jewelry on the street (NOT recommended), one is assured that the gold (or other precious metal[s]) is of top quality.

While me and my friend walked around, step-dad and Travel Friend sat down. Step-dad didn’t tell us right away that he wasn’t feeling well (typical man), so I got annoyed when I found out. Luckily, Travel Friend had a hotel room nearby and step-dad rested there while the 3 of us went to eat. (To make a long story short – step-dad loves spicy food but this time, the food at Indian Claypot was extra spicy and tore up his stomach the next day. I bought him a couple of medications, but bread, crackers & ginger ale did the trick and he was better by the next evening.)

Shameless plug – if you travel, especially abroad, make sure that you buy travel insurance. Annual travel insurance is cheaper than per-trip insurance. Along with step-dad getting sick (thank goodness it wasn’t worse), 2 members of my travel group died in Panama a little over 2 months ago. Their deaths gave me the needed push to buy travel insurance from now on.

After we ate, we hung out a bit while step-dad rested. We left Travel Friend’s hotel a little after sunset to return to Abu Dhabi; we’d see him the next day. We got a taxi to the bus station, where we caught a bus back to Abu Dhabi and stayed with another travel group member for the rest of our stay.

______________________

Dubai is a lively city and reminds me of Manhattantimes 10. 😐 For me – a born & raised New Yorker – to say that, means something. I can also speak for my friend and step-dad (also born & raised New Yorkers) when I say that while we think Dubai is a beautiful city, it was quite overwhelming (especially as an introvert) to be around so many people, lights, and tall/large buildings & structures. So as I said in the beginning, I’m glad that we stayed for only a little over 24 hours.

Stay tuned – desert safari next

Why awesomely cheap airline flights are actually terrible

Interesting viewpoint on travel with discount airlines and how traveling with these airlines may affect the environment.

Montenegro 06.29.2013.

Montenegro is a tiny country situated in southeastern Europe. With a little over 632,000 people, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and it was a day well spent.

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Montenegro is a tiny country in southeastern Europe that’s bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast. With a little over 620,000 citizens, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and I had a nice day.

From our base in Dubrovnik, the Croatia-Montenegro border is about an hour away and, therefore, easy to reach by car or tour bus (we used a tour company).

Croatia-Montenegro border.
Croatia-Montenegro border.

Montenegro has a storied history, but those of us familiar with the country’s recent times may know about the turbulence it experienced during the 20th century, especially toward the end of the 20th century. I won’t go into it on this blog, but you can read about it on Wikipedia (more accurate than many Wikipedia links). Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia on 3rd June 2006 and reached European Union candidate status in 2010. Montenegro used German marks for currency at one point – it never had its own currency – but now uses the euro.

Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, which affords it a nice coastline – 183 miles (295 kilometers) – with temperatures averaging over 80º Fahrenheit (27º Celsius) during summer months. It was hotter than average when I went. Our tour bus drove along the coast, and the photo below shows one of the first towns we stopped in to take photos. I can’t remember the exact name, but it was close to Herceg-Novi, near the Croatia-Montenegro border.

Lots of water.
Lots of water.

We took a short break on the way to a guided tour. Check out the view.

Our guided walking tour was in the old town centre of Kotor, Montenegro, situated on the Gulf of Kotor. It’s recognised as a World Heritage Site and chock full of history. It’s now popular with cruise ships; when we went, there were many ships, boats & yachts docked in port. Since Montenegro shares the Adriatic Sea with Italy (among other countries), visitors interested in history will notice the heavy Venetian influence embedded in Kotor’s architecture and overall atmosphere.

Sitting at the dock of the bay, wasting time.
Sitting at the dock of the bay, wasting time.

And check out the view from the top – an outside restaurant & bar.

After leaving Kotor, we drove along the coast to Budva, which is making a name for itself as a Riviera town. Before we got to Budva city proper, though, we made a quick rest stop to photograph the following beautiful sight on the Riviera – Sveti Stefan town-hotel.

The Budva Riviera is popular during the summer months; there’s plenty of sun, sand & sea mixed in with casinos & vibrant nightlife. Montenegro, in general, is popular with Russians, and this is more so with Budva. There are signs translated into Russian, and Russians finance a sizeable amount of house (and other) construction projects along the Budva Riviera.

I couldn’t get many photos of Budva because my main camera died 😐 but at least I have memories. For you the readers, however, here’s a snapshot of my late lunch in Budva.

I know how to pronounce the name of this meat-based dish, but can't find it anywhere on the internet. Either way, it tastes as good as it looks, in my opinion.
I know how to pronounce the name of this meat-based dish, but can’t find it anywhere on the internet. Either way, it tastes as good as it looks, in my opinion.

We made our way back to Croatia soon after Budva.

I enjoyed myself, especially in Kotor since I like history and old structures. I’d consider returning to Montenegro on my own, staying for no more than 2-3 days to explore historical sites. If you’re more into sun, sand & sea vacations, consider staying anywhere along the Budva Riviera for longer than that.

10 Beautifully Simple Things You Forget To Do In Your City

It usually amazes me when someone from here tells me that I’ve visited places here that they’ve never visited before… and they’ve lived here all or most of their lives (!!!). Here’s a short & simple guide for those of you who don’t explore your own hometowns. You may think your hometown is boring or worthless or useless, but maybe if you take on these simple suggestions, you’ll re-discover your city in a new light.

On the road again.

So by the time you read this, I’ll be heading to…

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It has been a while since I’ve taken a proper trip anywhere. Don’t get me wrong… going home is always great, but it isn’t a vacation. The last time I went anywhere besides home was a little over a year ago, when I went up north to the Lake District for a short weekend. (I still need to write about that trip. *hanging head in shame*) Oh yeah, there was also that day trip to Bristol that didn’t turn out quite the right way.

Despite my current financial challenges, I knew that it was well past time for me to go somewhere. So just like with Portugal, I paid for this trip little by little, and I’m going with the same travel Meetup group. (For now, it’s easier that way because the group founder made the arrangements – flights, accommodation, side trips [included or optional], etc. – and due to being so busy, I didn’t feel like doing tons of research for deals like I normally do.) This is a trip I would’ve taken last year but unfortunately, finances held me back worse than they do now. I’m glad that I got a 2nd chance.

So by the time you read this, I’ll be heading to Dubrovnik, Croatia (Wikipedia link) for a few days, with a side (day) trip to Montenegro. Since I don’t have the best track record with writing up my trips (*hanging head in shame again*), I’m considering blogging about this trip with photos – a few words about each photo, while hopefully the photos will speak for themselves. Photo-blogging isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s easier, if you understand what I mean.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Take off.
Take off.

Tourist for a moment.

Because this is history in the making, I’ve taken a few photos that commemorate the Olympics in mind, body & spirit.

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I don’t consider myself a tourist, in general when traveling & since living here for a little over 2 years. I have a somewhat biased view of tourists, especially of my countrymen & countrywomen, that I’ve discussed here a few times. But since I live in the midst of what is now & will remain history, I can’t help but be just a bit excited, as an expatriate, about the 2012 Summer Olympics taking place in London (and other cities throughout the United Kingdom) – a major coming together of nations & myriad activities. I decided to hang around instead of escape the country for a few weeks, like some people here are doing/have already done. Now granted, that feeling of excitement is quickly gone once it’s time to battle traffic going to & from work (and many Britons feel the same) 😐 but hopefully you get the idea.

Because this is history in the making, I’ve taken a few photos that commemorate the Olympics in mind, body & spirit. I’m still dealing with medical issues and can’t blog as much as I’d like (I have probably 20 drafts waiting for me to complete them), but I’m going to try posting more photos with simple writing so that I don’t aggravate my medical issues or your eyes from too much reading. That way, you’ll get to see a post or two & watch everything from my point of view, while I try fulfilling my Post A Week challenge.

So check out the following photos, and there will be more coming over the next few weeks. (P.S. That includes the Paralympics – often neglected yet just as important & exciting as the Olympics.) Enjoy.

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Not your typical tour.

I receive lots of travel e-newsletters & have quite a few blogs in my reader. They inspire me to travel the world (or at least imagine doing it) and give me ideas about things to do in my neck of the woods.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/122009770768084993

I receive lots of travel e-newsletters & have many blogs in my reader. They inspire me to travel the world (or at least imagine doing it), help me refrain from moving back home, and give me ideas about things to do in my neck of the woods. One of the e-newsletters that I receive is Time Out, a great resource worldwide for things to do in some major cities across the planet. Prior to the riots, I received my usual Time Out e-newsletter and a free walking tour caught my eye. A few words stuck out:

Alternative.

Walking.

Free.

Those words, to me, meant that this was a different way to see the area – not your typical (double-decker) bus tour with a bunch of annoying loud American (or insert other country here) tourists and a tour guide holding a megaphone while reciting the typical boring basic (insert any city here) facts. Most importantly, this is free. In a world where the rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer every day, anything free is a godsend. And finally, I like learning about places on an intimate level. I appreciate the good, bad & ugly about places: history, culture, architecture, art, future urban planning, and quirky facts that most others aren’t interested in and/or won’t know.

So I looked at the website listed in the e-newsletter and contacted the person (or people) who run the tours. After a few snafus that were out of my control, I finally got a chance to take the tour. Luckily for me (and you), the tour occurs year-round.

I’m glad to say that I enjoyed myself and wrote a TripAdvisor review about it. Check it out in the link above, as well as a few of the many pictures that I took during the tour below.

Tour guide.
Tour guide.

Shadows.
Shadows.

Bangladesh's national bird.
Bangladesh's national bird.
Jimi.
Jimi.

Local man, aged 90 something.
Local man, aged 90 something.

Burden.
Burden.

If you want a down-to-earth, unpretentious, interesting & (maybe) fun way to explore just one area of this large metropolis, take this tour and my word for it. Enjoy.

The Alternative London Tour
http://www.alternativeldn.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/alternativelondon
https://twitter.com/#!/alternativeldn

My guest post on Solo Traveler Blog.

My post is now live as of 05.21.2011. Check it out, leave honest feedback here and/or on the post itself, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it.

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About a month ago, the owner/founder of Solo Traveler blog, Janice Waugh, asked a question on a Facebook group that we’re both part of.  She asked if people would volunteer for her May theme, Iconic Cities, due to popular demand by her readers.  One of the cities was Sydney and I’ve been there.  While I hate putting myself out there for reasons I’ve mentioned on here many times, I figured it’d be nice to give ideas to those who’d be interested in traveling solo to Sydney one day.  (It’s also a nice way to advertise this blog; however, that’s the least important reason to do it.)

Well, to my surprise, Janice sent me a private message asking if I’d write something.  I obliged.  I was late handing it in because I had to head home to handle some business/tie up some loose ends, but I finished it as soon as I got back.  And while Janice was away traveling solo in Jordan, the associate editor of Solo Traveler, Tracey Nesbitt, made contact with me and helped me with my write-up.

My post is now live as of 05.21.2011.  Check it out, leave honest feedback here and/or on the post itself, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it.  The post includes information about accommodation, solo travel, and my pictures of things to do & see.  My humble thanks goes to Janice & Tracey for giving me this opportunity, as well as thinking that my writing is decent enough to post on their blog (which is my favorite travel-related blog, by the way).

Here it is:  Solo Travel In Sydney