24 Hours In: Barcelona

We had a little over two days in Barcelona, but sometimes travel fatigue gets the better of you and you wind up spending a day hanging out in the hostel and doing a whole lot of nothing.

On day 1, that’s exactly what we did.

Day 2, we ventured out into Barcelona for an afternoon free walking tour and were under the graces of a warm and windy day.

Our first stop was the 14th century Placa del Rei, or the King’s Watchtower, where King Ferdinand and his lovely  wife Isabella welcomed back Christopher Columbus from his voyage. Considering America wasn’t even a thought yet, it’s surreal to stand in front of a building that’s three times as old as your country.

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Our next stop was the Barcelona Cathedral, for which construction was began just a few years ago, in 1298. The architecture speaks for itself, and you could spend days taking in each detail. The building is decorated or constructed so every inch floor to steeple commands attention.

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The next point of interest is even older than the cathedral. We visited the old Roman city walls. Remember, at its height the Roman Empire stretched west into Spain and north nearly into Scotland. Here’s a bit of the Roman ruins, and the fortress, currently used as church space.

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The bottom arches are what remains of the Placa Nova, entrance into the old Roman City.
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Note the different layers of brick over time.

We turned the corner and arrived at Placa Sant Felip Neri, A Romantic Square with a Sad History. During the Fascist regime, children hid in a bomb shelter under the church. Bombs were dropped over this square, sending shrapnel and explosives across the square and into the church. 42 people were killed. This harrowing event in 1938 is commemorated by a small plaque, but the evidence is unmistakable.

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After a few moments of silence, we walked on to a picnic area where we learned about the Catalonia movement for independence. (Catalonia is the region in Spain that includes Barcelona.) In every street in Barcelona, you will see flags hanging over balconies and in store fronts and that signifies support for independence from Spain.

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Long story short, the Catalans have always identified as a group independent from the rest of Spain, and they have been fighting (and losing) independence battles for hundreds of years. Now with the referendum going to Madrid, they have a real chance of breaking off from Spain and becoming the Catalonia they want. There’s a booming sense of patriotism.

We ended the evening in front of the Arc de Triomf, found ourselves some lovely Spanish wine, and cozied up to watch the day fade into night.

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Travel Diary: Getting from Skopje to Pristina

It’s 90 minutes by car, but up to three hours by bus. The Balkans’ definition of bus and our definition were clearly misaligned during this trip. When I think bus, I think of a temperature-controlled bus with WiFi, toilets, and comfortable seats.

This bus did not fit any of this criteria. It was a mini-bus that seats 16, with limited luggage storage, no WiFi, and definitely not any toilets (not that I would use them, anyway).

We shlepped our bags on board and made our way to the back rows, hoping no one would expect us to put our bags in the luggage hold. We found ourselves across the row from an American expat working for the World Bank (called Mark Deux), and a UK train employee named Mike. Too many M’s. Mark, Mike and Mark Deux set the world right talking about finance, startups and international affairs. I attempted to drift in and out of sleep but the roads in the Balkans are not known for their newness or smoothness so sleep became impossible.

A clipboard made its way around the bus where each person has to write down their name and passport/ ID card number. This, in theory, is supposed to make the border crossing much quicker. What actually happens at the border is a Macedonian border official collects the clipboard and takes it back to his little post. Then he comes back and has to collect each passenger’s passport/ ID card and return those to his post. After about ten minutes of hem-hawing, the passports are returned to us. Sometimes we get a stamp; sometimes we are disappointed. The odds are 50/50. Then the exact same process is repeated at the Kosovo border.

The border control is unremarkable, and the bus driver behaves normally by stopping at places that are most assuredly NOT typical bus stops to pick up random people. His homies, I’m guessing. These people pay when they get on, an indiscriminate amount, sometimes 1 euro and sometimes 3 euro. There’s definitely not a system.

We’re about an hour away from Pristina when we pull into a petrol station. I assume it’s to pick up fuel, but then Mark Deux investigates and the Batman driver and his Robin are taking a smoke break! We’re an hour away; honestly, you couldn’t wait? Mark and I run into the “convenience store” and pick up a crisps and chocolate breakfast. Someone runs in and asks us, in very broken English, if we’re with the bus. We say yes and run out to see everyone moving their luggage from our little bus to a large, cushy coach.

What is going on? We grab our bags and head to the coach. Turns out, our bus BROKE DOWN, and this coach has come to rescue us. Stellar. We are waiting in the stairwell of the coach to get onto it and I get frustrated. I snap at the person in front of me to move.

That’s when it becomes abundantly clear that the bus is full. There are no seats. So the 15 or so of us that were on our rinky dink bus are now standing in the aisle of the coach, hovering awkwardly over sitting passengers.  I move my way straight to the front and dig in to my breakfast: a Milke Oreo chocolate bar and tomato pesto crisps.

It’s probably only ten minutes later when people begin disembarking, but it being so awkward for me it felt like 20 hours. Someone moves and I gesture for the person behind me to take a seat, which she refuses. I don’t offer twice so I take the empty seat. One by one, people slowly begin filing out of the coach and the standing room passengers begin finding seats.

The coach enters Pristina and nearly the entire bus empties into the middle of a random intersection. That’s when it occurs to us that there’s a decent chance this coach’s final destination is not Pristina Bus Station. It could be going to Serbia. The coach driver could have had Rakija with his breakfast and forgotten his destination. When we turn away from Pristina city center and toward Mitrovice, my anxiety swells.

Just when I think we’re headed into a different country, the coach veers sharply to the left and off, on the side of the road, is the underwhelming Pristina Bus Station.

Whew. Mark Deux and Train Mike file off of the coach. There’s a running joke that whenever we board the bus to somewhere, it is always raining in our final destination. Pristina is no different. It was raining. A cold, piercing, hair-frizzing rain.

We part ways with Mark Deux and UK Mike, drag our sopping selves and our damp packs into a completely unmarked cab and arrive back to the hostel twenty minutes later for less than $4.

 

Visa Requirements of The Americas and Islands

We have been researching visa requirements for countries around the world and have been unable to find a readily available list. So naturally we decided to make one for ourselves, and now share it with you!

The following information was obtained on the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/ – as such, it is only applicable to U.S. Citizens / Passport holders. If I have missed anything, or you would like to see something that is not there, please leave a comment.

Cheers!

Country Visa Required for Tourism Duration Allowed Visa Cost (If Available) Restrictions
Anguilla No Onward Travel. Sufficient Funds
Antigua and Barbuda No $27 Departure Tax, Onward Travel, Sufficient funds. Lodging information
Argentina No 90 Days $160 Reciprocity Fee (Valid 10 years) Reciprocity fee must be paid online BEFORE visiting.
Bahamas No Short stays only Onward Travel.
Barbados No 6 months Onward Travel.
Belize No 30 Days $25/month after 30 days up to 6 months $50/month after and additional documentation Onward Travel. Proof of Funds ($60/day minimum). $39.25 Exit Fee by air, $15 by land if less than 24 hours, $18.75 more than 24 hours.
Bolivia Visa on Arrival Valid 5 Years (3 times a year, no more than 90 days) $160 at Consulate, $135 at air or land crossing. Onward Travel, Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever, proof of economic solvency. Exit tax assessed. 4cm x 4cm passport photo, hotel reservation or letter of invitation in Spanish.
Brazil Yes Visa must be obtained in advance from consulate
British Virgin Islands No 30 Days Onward Travel, accommodation, economic solvency.
Canada No 180 Days N/A N/A
Colombia No 90 Days Visa on Arrival. If visa valid longer than 3 months, you must register it online or at Migration office within 15 days. Onward Travel.
Cuba
Dominica No 6 Months Onward Travel, $22 departure tax.
Dominican Republic No 60 Days $10 Tourist Card
Ecuador No 90 Days per Calendar Year Onward Travel,
El Salvador No 90 Days $10 Tourist Card Visa may be obtained in advance for no charge. Onward Travel, Economic Solvency and/or Proof of US Employment
French Guiana No 90 Days Yellow Fever Vaccination
Grenada No 3 Months
Guadeloupe No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Guatemala No 90 Days $30 departure tax by air.
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras No 90 Days N/A Onward Travel. 40 USD if departing by air.
Jamaica No Onward Travel, Economic Solvency, departure tax (usually included in airfare).
Martinique No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Mexico Stays less than 72 hours within 20-30km border zone, no. Outside of zone, FMM required. N/A
Montserrat No Onward Travel, economic solvency. Departure tax at airport or ferry dock.
Nicaragua No 90 Days

$10.00

Tourist Card purchase on Arrival. Onward Travel. Evidence of funds.
Panama No 180 Days N/A Onward Travel. Proof of funds ($500 minimum)
Peru Visa on Arrial 90 Days Free Yellow Fever Vaccination recommended. Onward travel.
Saint Barthelemy No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Saint Lucia No, as long as you prove onward travel Onward Travel. Six month Validity
Saint Vincent and The Grenadines No Passport Valid at time of entry. One page for entry stamp.
Suriname Yes 90 Days $25 Tourist Card Return Ticket required. Visa required prior to arrival. Yellow fever vaccination if arriving from Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil
Trinidad and Tobago No 90 Days N/A
Turks and Caicos Islands No 90 Days Immigration form must be filled out if staying longer than 24 hours,
Uruguay No 3 Months Departure or Airport Tax on departure.
Venezuela Yes 90 Days per Calendar Year

$30.00

Proof of Accommodation, economic solvency, onward travel, exit tax by air, Yellow Fever vaccination if arriving via some countries.

Travel Diary: Getting to Barcelona

After a month’s foray in the French Midi-Pyrenees region, we decided to take a coach down to Barcelona. We arrived at the train/ bus station in Toulouse, France way before our 5:30 bus was scheduled to depart. We killed time doing what normal Americans do: eating.

The sun began sinking around 5 and the temperature sank with it. When we left for Europe in July, we had mild autumn temperatures in mind; single degree Celsius was not on the agenda, but that’s what we were experiencing in Toulouse. Minutes passed; 5:30 came and went. I was cold. We had no idea where our bus was. About a dozen people were waiting at the same bus platform, so we knew our location was right.

Nearing 6pm, a portly French man in a neon green vest told no one in particular that there’d been a terrorist threat on the train station down the road from where we were; the police closed the street so the coach couldn’t enter the bus station. Then he left. At this point, I began to get exceptionally impatient. What’s the point of standing somewhere if the coach cannot come and get us?

Another half of an hour passes and this same portly man comes rushing back to us and tells us to follow him. This sounds like the beginning to a horror movie, blindly following someone like this. We leapfrog through the congestion and find the bus literally parked in the middle of a road, letting its British passengers off, a bagman simultaneously unloading the weary travelers’ luggage and loading us impatient travelers’ luggage onto the coach. We file in with great haste and take off.

The British driver announced to us that since the main road had been closed, he has to travel north out of Toulouse (exactly opposite of the direction we should be headed) and circle back around south. Fingers crossed that the traffic will abate by that time. Before we even left the traffic circle, the sun was gone and we were covered in darkness.

Despite multiple coach experiences where there was a complete absence of WiFi or power outlets, we remain foolishly optimistic that coach = WiFi. Color me surprised, this was not the case. We spent two hours on and off connecting to the network only for silly Mac to say the internet was unavailable and all kinds of “you shall not pass” excuses. Final result? Sporadic internet for a five hour journey.

So I read on my Kindle and slept.

Somewhere between Toulouse and the border (which doesn’t exist because, Schengen), it began to rain. When we finally arrived to Barcelona five hours later, our saucy British driver says over the speaker: “Here we are in Barcelona. Enjoy the rain!” Which had actually turned monsoon causing us to become thoroughly soaked the minute we left the coach. We grabbed our bags and ran inside the bus station. Our hostel was booked yet we had no idea how to get there. Taxis waited with bated breath to take us anywhere at extortionate prices. Taxis aren’t really our thing, so we decided to walk.

In the cold.
In the rain.
To the hostel.

Thankfully, the rain let up a bit so we were walking in a kind of heavy drizzle. We reached the hostel, like a pair of wet dogs, like a shivering Mary and Joseph, looking for our cozy beds. The receptionist was a bit surprised to see us so drenched, but we promptly dried off and checked in. We splurged for the private room, which to me is perfect because it’s an excuse to unpack everything and throw things everywhere. Claiming territory.

About 1am, we finally let ourselves succumb to the throes of the sheets and fell into a deep, dry slumber.

24 Hours In: Istanbul!

Our whirlwind of Europe is finally coming to an end – final destination Istanbul, Turkey!

After 22 hours of busses, trains and planes we arrived to Istanbul welcomed by a steep hill and many cobblestones. Note to self: don’t fly into Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in the future.

Connection from Gokcen Airport was achieved through an hour plus ride on a coach (14 Turkish Lira, TL) and two train / tram rides (4TL)…or we could have taken a private transport for ~90TL.

We arrived somewhere near the touristy Taksim Square on a steep hill next to the deepest construction pit I have ever seen. There are buildings under construction everywhere.
Navigating the cobblestones and taxi packed sidewalks, we slowly made our way to Taksim station – tantalizing aromas of sweet, spicy and fragrant combined for an unforgettable combination. This is my first impression of the city, and one I will likely not forget. Melody wanted to sample the wares from every restaurant we passsed. Everywhere we walked we have received a cascade of shouts offering taksi rides or a sampling of foods and drinks. For the easily overwhelmed, this is not the place to visit.

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The metro system in Istanbul is, by and large, efficient and effective. There are your standard metro ‘subway’ type cars, street trams, and even ferries…all of which you can take a ride on for 4 TL. For this purchase price, you receive a little plastic coin about the size of a nickel. There is an option to purchase a metro card, but our pleasure for walking meant we did not go this route.

With our little coins we took a short connector ride underground and then a slightly longer ride on an overground street-car, reaching our hostel in good spirits.

Even at 11pm, there were many shops open and crowds of others milling about. In the short walk we were hailed no fewer than 20 times for dining – did I mention you get shouted at?

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December 7, 2015

 

 

Travel Diary: Copenhagen’s Disappointing Walking Tour

View from the SkyIt all started when we took a train to Copenhagen city center to do one thing: a free walking tour at 3pm.
We found the main square and waited for 20 minutes. It’s an oddly warm day in Denmark, so we’re sitting and sweating. I’m admiring the 2-story Burger King on the corner, and Mark is observing this guy as part of some kind of stag party doing really socially awkward things to embarrass him.

We’re looking for a guide that, per reviews, is wearing a green shirt with a green umbrella. 3pm comes and goes with no mass tour assembling and no green t-shirt tour guide. According to Google Maps, the pickup point for the walking tour was at the entrance of a hotel. We go to the hotel and ask the lovely gent at the desk where the meet point actually is. He tells us to go out of the hotel and turn left, then we would see the meeting point behind the hotel.

We follow his instructions into a narrow pedestrian way that’s filled with the sweet aroma of hookah. Our eyes scan both sides of this walkway, and we don’t see any signage pointing to a walking tour. I’m well past frustrated and teetering on embroiled.

Mark checks the reservation and it says to meet at the steps of town hall. We go to town hall and wait for over 15 minutes. The original tour has long departed. We decide to wait for the next one, at 4. We go get overpriced froyo, sit on town hall steps and wait.

4pm comes and goes. No gathering of tourists. No guy in a green shirt. I go so far as to approach strangers in green shirts and ask them if they’re tour guides. We wander around a narrow street and into a shop with blue and white tourist info sign and ask about the tour. She lets us know that there wasn’t a walking tour today. Color me surprised.

We decide to take the high road and instead of chew this woman’s ear off, to go to Malmö, Sweden instead, since we’re in the business of collecting countries and all.

She shows us the schedule of the coach times to Malmö and transit times. It’s an hour to Sweden and an hour back to Denmark. While we can get to Sweden before day turns to night, the last coach back from Malmö departs 2 hours later, at 6pm. That didn’t work because we had an early am flight from Denmark the next day.

 

Disappointed by the lie that was the free walking tour and the unusable coach to Sweden, we schlepped back to the AC Bella Sky and enjoyed two Scandinavian priced (read: unreasonably expensive) appetizers.

Summary: If you want the walking tour, find the tourist office first and ask if they’re even doing a tour. And if you want to do a day trip to Sweden, leave Copenhagen before 9am. It’s $10 each way.

August 29, 2015

Travel Diary: Prettiest Airplane Ride from Kosovo to Slovenia

We don’t mean the airplane and we’re definitely not talking about the flight crew. What was most breathtaking is everything we saw outside of that tiny prison window as we flew from Pristina, Kosovo to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We’re flying on this tiny Adria plane, which might as well have been a prop plane considering the size of it – two seats on each side, and all of the luggage had to go into the hold. No charge, naturally, and no issues with the plane, boarding or passport control.

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It’s an hour flight, and that’s reassuring despite the winter turbulence. We closed the window blinds after takeoff because the sun was coming in full force into our tired faces. What I saw below when I finally opened the window covering took me totally by surprise. Delicious snow-capped scenery, exactly like the candies. And I became like a kid in a candy store. Little did I know the Slovenian mountains rival the Alps in beauty, majesty and pure wow factor.

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Adore that black and white contrast. Wow. The snow-caps were just too much beauty, and I felt tears in my eyes from sheer joy. Combined with the 3:30pm sunset, the colors of the sky and the rugged mountain peaks were a fantastic treat that only winter affords.

I wanted to turn around to the rest of the plane and say, Look out your window!  You don’t know what you’re missing!

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We got about 10 minutes of this before we finally made our descent, and a decision to return to Slovenia before we ever touched down in Ljubljana.

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November 30, 2015

Currencies Across Europe

Depending on who you ask, Europe has as many countries as America has states. If you’re planning a sojourn across the continent, you can choose to stay in the euro zone or hop among countries with different currencies. We are a bit of currency collectors ourselves, reveling in the shape and design of a foreign bill or coin.

Because we’ve spent a lot of time in airports and currency exchange booths, we’ve just about got this down to a science. To help you plan your journey, or sate your curiosity, you’ll find:

All the countries on the euro

These countries are on the Euro, from north to south:

Ireland
Finland
Estonia
Latvia
Lithuania

Germany
Netherlands (Holland)
Belgium
Austria
Slovakia

France
Luxembourg
Spain
Andorra
Portugal

Italy & Vatican City
Slovenia
Greece
Kosovo
Montenegro
Cyprus

Everyone else uses a different currency!

Balkans

Croatia – Croatian Kuna
Bosnia & Herzegovina – Convertible Mark
Macedonia – Macedonian Denar
Albania – Albanian Lek
Serbia – Serbian Dinar

Scandinavia

Norway – Norwegian Krone
Sweden – Swedish Krona
Denmark – Danish Krone
Iceland – Icelandic Krona

Central Europe

Switzerland – Swiss Franc
Poland – Polish Zloty
Czech Republic – Czech Koruna
Hungary – Hungarian Forint

Black Sea Area

Bulgaria – Bulgarian Lev
Romania – Romanian Lei
Moldova – Moldova Leu
Ukraine – Ukrainian Hryvnia
Belarus – Belarusian Ruble
Russia – Russian Ruble

United Kingdom

England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all on the pound. Even the notes will vary in design from Northern Ireland to Scotland, say. However, we were told that if you want to use your Northern Ireland pounds or your Scottish pounds in England, you may have some trouble.

Travel Diary: Milking a Goat

As someone who was raised in the city, I found it incredibly novel to be on a farm in rural Bulgaria. This experience put an entirely new definition onto the word rural. It happened to be mentioned in conversation with our lovely hosts, Joe and Julie, that I had never been on a farm or done any farm-like things. This includes milking a goat. They offered the experience to me, and I promptly added it to my list of must-dos.

One balmy evening, at around 8:00pm, Mark, Joe and I set off in the car to meet their friend with the goats. I shall call him Tony because I forgot his name. We arrive to Tony’s house and he meets us and we start walking up a rocky, dirt road. Joe leaves. Up and up the three of us climb. We have to go pick the goats up from their little goat daycare. All the people in this village in Bulgaria drop their goats off in the morning and then pick them up in the evening. Absolutely adorable.

We arrive to the goat daycare just as they are dismissed for the day. Tony has two goats – a black one and a white one. He quickly locates them and then we begin our walk back down to Tony’s house. It’s not just us and Tony. Children, their parents, and their babas* come to pick up their goats. There’s a dozen people and many more goats all sauntering down this hill. All of the goats have bells wrapped around their neck, creating a symphony of bell tolls and goat noises and baba chatter. I find it hilarious.

Goats are rather stubborn. You probably knew this. I had no idea. So every now and again your goat will decide to just stop to take a pee or it will stop to kick someone or it will stray away and try to nibble some grass. Or it will try to run away from you. So you have to kind of thump them on the noggin to keep them walking the direction you want to walk.

My beloved goat. Not sure if she knows what's up, but I'm about to show her.
My beloved goat. Not sure if she knows what’s up, but I’m about to show her.

I’m growing severely attached to Tony’s white goat that’s loyally walking next to me on this sojourn back to the house. I give it a pet name. We get to Tony’s house and he takes the goats and leads them into their little goat area. I watch him as he takes the goat and he ties the goat’s lead around a post and he secures it. He distracts the goat from what we are about to do – confiscate its milk – by giving it a wholesome snack to munch on.

I squat down in front of the goat and Tony is right behind me. He makes an O with his thumb and his forefinger and, using it as a tourniquet,  wraps it about halfway up the goats “tit.” I say in quotes because I couldn’t help but snicker every time he said “tit.” It was with an English accent and positively delightful.

I digress. So you make an O with your thumb and forefinger, wrap it halfway up the tit, and then close your remaining three fingers around the rest of the tit. And you squeeze. Not a  pansy squeeze. You work every single muscle in your hands to get out just a second’s worth of goat milk.

The tit is warm. The milk is warm. My hands are warm and sweaty and I’m nervous this goat is about to kick me in the face.

Repeat this process for about ten minutes. And you’re in the clear so long as the goat is eating something and is apathetic to your groping and milk stealing. It’s much harder, as a first timer, than it really looks.

We fill up a pail that’s maybe a liter of milk, maybe more. It’s hard to tell. To me it felt like a gallon. Afterward Tony asks me if I want to milk the other one, too.

I can’t. My hand is cramping and I begin to worry I’m going to have a super muscular right hand and a bony left hand.

And now I can officially say, with pleasure, I have tickled a goat’s tit and milked it for all it has.

24 Hours In: Prishtina, Kosovo

I lied. We’ve been in Kosovo for three days, but today was the first day we actually went out and explored anything of Prishtina, the capital. We’ve been too busy at the hostel chatting up the guests.

There’s a really good energy about Prishtina, and despite it being a very small capital with a limited number of things to do, it’s quite amazing to be in a place that has been through a hellacious amount of conflict.

Initial observations about Prishtina:

  1. Euro is the currency and cash is king. If you’re staying for 3 days or less, 50 euro should cover your expenses. Yes. This is probably Europe’s cheapest capital city on the euro.
  2. Qepabs (Kebabs) are very popular here and you can get a very hearty plate of meat, salad and the largest bread I’ve ever seen in my life for 3-4 euro.
  3. The 2 liter beers are back! We first saw them in Bulgaria and couldn’t believe our eyes. A 2L of Lasko, the Balkan beer, will cost about 2.75 euro. Drink to your liver’s content.
  4. Tipping is not required. No one expects it. If you need to get rid of your euro change, then tip. You’ll make someone very happy.
  5. The Newborn monument and the Bill Clinton statue are about a 5 minute walking distance apart. In our opinion, the statue looks nothing like him but it’s super fun to chill with Monica’s former flame.
  6. People speak Albanian and English. Mostly Albanian. People love to say that their English is very poor, then go on carrying a full conversation with you.
  7. Good, velvety smooth gelato costs 1 euro for two scoops. Take that, Italy.
  8. Limited number of pedestrian walkways so your best bet to cross a street is to just saunter into the street and rely on the vehicles stopping and waiting for you. I’m still adjusting to this. Mark’s a natural at stopping traffic.
  9. No underground or metro system to speak of. I suppose that’s still in the works.

And the big one…

Getting to other cities! Yes, Prishtina is not a place where you can lose yourself for an entire month (or is it?), so you’re going to want to head to a different place eventually. This is where the internet basically sucks, because anything I can find in English has information that is totally wrong. So, transportation facts:

Traveling Belgrade to Prishtina:

YES: Buses do travel from Belgrade to Prishtina. There are two in the afternoon – one at 12:00 and the other at 4:30pm. If you buy them in Serbia it’s about $20 for two people. Cash only. There are two places at the Belgrade Bus Station to buy tickets. Look for the bus in the number 10 spot.

The trip: About six hours on a bus without WiFi or charging ports. Two stops are made; one in Serbia and one in Kosovo. If you are not an EU citizen, you will have to give your passport up twice at the border; once at the Serbian border, and again at the Kosovo border. We did not get stamps in our books, either.

Traveling Prishtina to Skopje:

This is hearsay as we haven’t done it yet, but the trip is about 2 hours one-way and costs 4 euro. There is both a train and a bus; the train is faster and cheaper but there is only one a day. It leaves at 7:00am and there’s a return train that comes back to Prishtina at 4:00pm. Once we do this trip, as we have to (it’s the closest city with H&M), we’ll update this with absolutes.

Traveling Prishtina to Prizren:

90 minutes away for 2 euro. A prize in Kosovo, really. Prizren is where many Peace Corps members are teaching English for a couple of years, and it’s also Kosovo’s second largest city with many historic artifacts. Definitely worth a day trip, and one we will be taking very soon.

Traveling Prishtina to Tirana:

Mixed reviews on Tirana; some people love it, other people say it’s a “shit hole.” We won’t know until we see it for ourselves. What we do know is that it’s about 5 hours away, so it’d have to be for a weekend, at minimum.

Have questions for this small yet vibrant country? Drop us a line!

Everyone loves a newborn, and we are very excited to spend a month here in Europe’s newest capital.

newborn

Cheers!

Prague Must See: The Story Behind the Heydrich Terror Memorial

The National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror is a living, breathing testimony to how the efforts of one person (or seven people) can truly rewrite the ending to one of the world’s most awful stories.

Background: Adolf Hitler was evil, no doubt, but Reinhard Heydrich was arguably worse. Heydrich is considered to be the “architect of the Final Solution,” to exterminate every member belonging to European Jewry. He was the Chief of the Gestapo, and essentially Hitler’s right hand man. Prague was occupied by the Nazi regime and was leniently governed since Czechs were making materials the Nazi regime was using. Heydrich decided the soft governance was misplaced, and decided to manage the area with absolute ruthlessness.

Meat: People in Prague were developing resistance strategies. They were pissed. Seven men (called Operation Anthropoid) decided to assassinate Heydrich to prove that men at the top of the Nazi pyramid were not untouchable. They watched Heydrich take his route from his home to Prague Castle (where he ruled) every day for weeks. Heydrich lived up a steep, curvy road and the plan was to shoot Heydrich as the car slowed to make it through the curve.

Problem: When Heydrich’s car slowed around the curve, the assassin’s gun jammed. Heydrich spotted the assassin and ordered the car to stop. A second assassin threw a grenade at the car, sending shrapnel into Heydrich’s arms and legs, but it wasn’t enough to kill him.

Yet.

Heydrich was operated on through countless hours and appeared to make it through the surgeries just fine. However, right after he ate his first meal post-surgery, he went into shock and died.

Meanwhile, the assassins were convinced the mission to kill Heydrich had failed. They went into hiding to regroup.

Retaliation: Hitler ordered an investigation and decided that the entirety of Prague would be subjected to collective responsibility. Over 10,000 people were arrested and 5,000 were deported to concentration camps. When Hitler was told the Czech village of Lidice was hiding the members of Operation Anthropoid, the Nazis razed it and killed everyone, signaling to the rest of the country, “This is what will happen to you if you don’t cooperate.” 

The members of Operation Anthropoid were loyally hid in the church of St Cyril and Methodius in Prague until they were betrayed. Nazis raided the church and three of the seven men were killed in the prayer loft. The other four fled to a crypt below the church. The Nazis opened fire from the outside until they discovered this tiny window that opened into the crypt. The crypt was flooded with tear gas and then with water provided by the Prague Fire Department. The four committed suicide.

Bullet holes from the Nazis
Window where the Nazis used Prague firehoses to flood the crypt

The man who betrayed the members of Operation Anthropoid tried committing suicide, but was ultimately hanged.

Present: You’ll see bullet holes in the wall, shrapnel remains, and what we’re pretty sure were blood stains on the floor and walls. You’ll see evidence that the men, before committing suicide, tried desperately to create another way out. It’s harrowing. For less than the price of a coffee or tea, you can see and feel what the men who rewrote history saw and felt in the moments before they chose their fate.

Inside the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror
Inside the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror

Please click here for directions and hours of operation. It’s about two hours to read the information (in both English and Czech) and move through the crypt. The church was not available to move about inside, but you can peer in through thick clear glass.

Mission Statement – Why We Travel

Starting in 2013, we began our journey by driving around the United States of America with the only intention being to gather pictures of ourselves next to each state welcome sign. That trip turned into something much more – it sparked the realization that as large as the United States seemed to be, we were missing out on something by staying within the bounds of our home country – a global perspective.

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There are 24,642,757 square miles of habitable space in the world and 7.2 billion people living within 196 countries. With all of these people within all of these countries it doesn’t seem fair to be speed travelers spending two days in capital cities to make determinations about the world. Such quick stays are unlikely to provide much perspective on the way life is lived.

Scoping out this guy's wagon. We kind of like it.
Scoping out this guy’s wagon. We kind of like it.

We want to experience difficulty communicating, difficulty getting around, and completely surrender of the congested, exhaust filled wide highways that belt the United States.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, we have traded in a life of huge highways for two lane roads that

In Costa Rica we drove on roads with potholes so large they could break axles.

Bulgarian posters in memory of those passed.
Bulgarian posters in memory of those passed.

In Bulgaria we have stayed in villages with less than 500 people and even fewer resources. Where the best internet we could update our blog from was a half lit connection from an iPhone nestled on the top of the roof, traded American standards of plumbing for long drop toilets and experienced what it meant to reuse and repurpose everything you buy and everything you produce.

We wanted the edge – where you’re wondering why you would ever sign up for a cross country bus with no toilets.

We have been robbed of sleep, found like-minded travelers, and met people living on less money than we made in a week in The United States, yet were a great deal happier and more giving.

While our travels have been filled with challenges and difficulties, we have also received some of the warmest welcomes from people in countries that notoriously ‘despise’ Americans. We have experienced first hand how schools in Finland are operated. We have learned of historic figures that have made pretty dramatic changes within countries that we would never have read about in our history books. We have seen landscapes that make you say, “Wow”.

It’s true, we have also participated in some of the touristy bits of travel, but that is just another part of the experience.

If anything, our appetite for travel has grown during the last 2 1/2 years. We have learned as much (if not more) about ourselves as we have about the world. Our desire to see the world has continued on an exponential growth curve as we have more experiences – ultimately filling us with a greater number and complexity of questions.

While we are not always sure where our experiences and journeys will take us, we will continue to eagerly pursue them.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves.

Travel Diary: The Adventures of Mailing a Postcard in Dublin

This short story is proof that mundane tasks can turn into an adventure with the proper person. Mailing a postcard is not as easy as it sounds. Dublin is the only place where we found a sign that said post, much like the one below, that directed us into a supermarket.

Courtesy of Breaking News, Ireland. Ever so small and kind of easy to miss.
Courtesy of Breaking News, Ireland. Ever so small and kind of easy to miss.

We pass a sign that looks like this and peer in. This is a supermarket; that can’t be right. So we’re walking around South Dublin looking for a post office. A real post office, one that would be green with ample harps and lots of other Irish things. We keep seeing oval green mail drops in the street anxious to receive our mail, but as our postcards do not yet have stamps affixed to them, we can not send them on their merry overseas journey.

Though the post office signs are small, the mail drops are really hard to miss. Daily collection varies from 4:00 to 5:30pm.
Though the post office signs are small, the mail drops are really hard to miss. Daily collection varies from 4:00 to 5:30pm.

After about twenty minutes, we turn around and search again for this tiny sign and go into the supermarket. Everything about this feels odd. We’re in the Donnybrook market, and I see what looks like the beginnings of the warehouse. There are people milling about, so I follow the path all the way to the back of the store. There are those long clear plastic flaps right in front of me, and to the right, I see a two-person queue (that’s a line for my American audiences). Right in this tiny L-shaped, dimly lit area is a post office. There’s two tellers behind bulletproof glass. I go up and ask them for five international stamps, please, which they have to print. She comes back and tells us it’s six euros.

Not a problem, a bargain I think, for such a long journey, and Mark swipes our credit card, which promptly gets declined. The employee sees the error and tells us, debit or cash only. At this point, Mark uses the debit card, and that also gets declined. At this point we didn’t have any cash – so I start to worry. The employee clarifies: “Irish bank cards or cash only.”

Weeeelll, that kind of changes things a bit! We ask where the nearest ATM is, across the street, and walk over only to find out it’s Out of Order. The next ATM is a good ten minutes away, and we have twelve minutes to get our postcards in the mail for the 5:30pm pickup. What a maddening deadline. The next twelve minutes is us running to the ATM, waiting eons to withdraw cash, running back to the post office disguised as a supermarket, waiting in a now very-long queue to pick up our postage stamps that we quickly affix to the postcards and bid them adieu as we drop them promptly at 5:29pm.

Mission. Totally. Accomplished.

The Evolution of Our Travel – So far.

As we wait at Varna Airport* in Bulgaria to board a flight toward Istanbul, Turkey for a connection, I cannot help but think about just how much our travel plan has changed since we began planning.

What was originally to be a 48 day, non-stop movement blast of every country in Europe has become something much more satisfying.

We are currently 80 days in, with a scheduled 68 more on the calendar. Wow.

We may not have visited every country yet – in fact we have only been to 16 – but the things we have experienced more than make up for that.

A quick overview of where we have been and what we have done so far:

July 8 – 15: London, England – Crown Jewels, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, British Museum, Jewish Museum (Melody), National Gallery (Melody), Imperial War Museum, Beefeater Distillery, London Overground / Underground, Tube Strike, Long walks to our AirBnB (learned from this mistake), fined 20 GBP for not buying proper ticket on tube.

July 15 – 21: Oslo, Norway – Overpriced pub night first night, Pier 41, Historic Oslo, Drove up to Lillehammer, Port of Oslo, Took bad pictures of Opernhaus, had most expensive quesadilla of our lives (post about that here), overall felt very financially abused, Experienced what it is like to have a dog that has an indefinite amount of energy,

July 21 – 28: Glasgow, Scotland – Took bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow and picked up rental car, learned that speed is in MPH, not KPH, went to Glengoyne Distillery, drove to highlands (Ft. William & Glencoe), hiked up to waterfall, stepped in marsh land up to our knees by same waterfall, saw Glasgow and had a great burger, went to Edinburgh and were a little underwhelmed, visited Museum on the Mound (free), Glen Nevis Park, Contributed to Yarn Project at Renfield St. Stephens Church.

July 28 – August 6: Dublin, Ireland and Northern Ireland – Temple Bar, Trinity College, Giants Causeway, Watched an aging dog (Lucky) with medical problems, spent a couple days at vet with Lucky due to said problems and learned that vet care is quite awesome in the middle of the night, Hiked in Wicklow Mountains,

August 6 – 7: Brussels, Belgium -Delirium Bar

August 7 – 11: Paris, France – Louvre, Eiffel Tower (day and night), Champ de Mars, Luxemborg Park, Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, Had to walk home at 1:30 AM 10km because metro closed earlier than we thought.

August 11 – 14: Prague, Czech Republic – Walking tour of Prague, Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, Gastronomy Museum, Old Jewish Quarter, Jewish Cemetery, Old Town Square, beers along the river, Old New Synagogue, beers in the street, Black Angel Bar ( great craft cocktails in a speakeasy environment), Franz Kafka statue, St Cyril & Methodius / Heydrich Terror Memorial

August 14 – 29: Helsinki/Artjarvi/Oramatilla, Finland – Taught at Finnish School (Melody), carved 3 walking sticks, picked a LOT of cherries, picked black and red currants, picked gooseberries (had no idea these were a thing before), attempted a bike ride, aborted bike ride, laid foundation and placed bricks for BBQ relocation, raised elevation of ground around greenhouse, trimmed apple and cherry trees for days, resurfaced a table, used an infrared heater for table, drank lots of homemade cider / beer, learned to make mead, helped make mead, learned some Finnish, experienced a Finnish birthday party, taught modded Minecraft to someone in another language, SAUNA!!!, adapted our favorite recipe for use in Finland, set the world right during late night drinking sessions.

August 29 – 30: Copenhagen, Denmark – Nuhavn, attempted walking tour twice, failed to locate walking tour twice,

August 30 – September 1: Berlin, Germany – East Side Gallery, Humboldt University, Walking tour of Berlin, Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Brandenburg Gate, visited Hotel where Michael Jackson hung baby out of window, Checkpoint Charlie, straddled former Berlin Wall. Volkswagen showroom.

September 2 – 6: Rome and Vatican City, Italy – Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Sistine Chapel, Church of St. Augustine, Vatican Museum, Villa Doria Pamphilli,

September 6-9: Naples, Italy – Beautiful decorations in subway stop, couldn’t find a cab to save ourselves, Pompeii, driving in Naples (YIKES!), drove along the Amalfi Coast (didn’t quite reach Amalfi), experienced fairly rude service overall at every restaurant we went to (save one).

September 9-10: Sorrento, Italy – Due to weather unable to do our boat tour in the morning, got ripped off by cabbie for ride to pick up rental car, ate a burger for lunch and skipped dinner, had our first bad AirBnB Experience, drove along the Amalfi Coast (still didn’t quite reach it), fell asleep hot, unconnected (no wifi) and hungry.

September 10-11: Rome, Italy – took lovely train ride back to Rome from Naples, had some confusion reaching our hotel (there are two Best Westerns by the Fiumicino Airport), walked along beach, learned that restaurants literally do not open until 8pm by the beach, had best dinner of our Italian trip.

September 11 – 25: Sofia/Popovo/Varna, Bulgaria -Stayed at our first Hostel of the trip in Sofia (excellent experience), took bus to Popovo (not a great experience), met Joe and Julie our hosts and had a nice dinner, expanded and repaired a stone path that was damaged by the pigs, learned to cob, cobbed a part of a wall, milked a goat (Melody), harvested Maize, shucked Maize, de-kerneled Maize using hand crank machinery (excellent!), used long-drop toilet (wha?!), had traditional Bulgarian dinner (very fun and awkward as a foreigner), found old communist radio, learned about old communist radios, walked across train tracks to get to our train, visited Bulgarian version of Walmart (hint: not as big, nor as well stocked as you would think), laid garden beds, held chickens, pet sheep (Melody), straightened out a pig’s tail, trained the dogs to sit, adapted our favorite recipe for Bulgarian food availability, saw the Milky Way – every night, fought to get internet for Melody’s school / students, bought clothes at a ‘second-hand’ store, learned how to make bread (Melody), made bread (Melody), painted with Lime / coffee mixture, went to Bucharest, Romania to pick up a friend, showered using a wood-burning water heater, bathed in the kitchen sink, picked walnuts / hazelnuts, took train to Varna (much better public transportation option), stayed at second hostel of trip (excellent people, excellent city), went to Bulgarian ‘night club’, set feet in the Black Sea, ate very cheaply, lamented how expensive The United States really is, went to Primorski Park, drank really really cheap beer, discovered that beer is sold in 2L bottles for the equivalent of $1.39.

September 25: Istanbul, Turkey – learned that you don’t need a visa to connect in Istanbul, learned that Istanbul airport is REALLY busy, learned Turkish Airlines is a very nice airline to fly (new favorite), slept at airport waiting for our connection, vowed to return to actually see Istanbul.

September 25 – 26: Toulouse, France – met our first friendly French person.

September 26 – Present: Seix, France – Met Peta and Keith, our new HelpX Hosts, assessed project and learned it would be much more difficult than originally anticipated, removed existing retaining wall for garden bed, sorted stones, dug foundation for new retaining wall for garden bed, sorted stones, poured foundations, sorted stones, laid part of wall, sorted stones, chipped stones, smashed stones, stones, sorted stones, laid more wall, weeded a garden bed while Peta and Keith sorted stones, laid remainder of retaining wall (phew!), dug foundations for new steps to be laid next to retaining wall, poured concrete and laid steps, had concrete that was laid around pavers ruined by HUGE hailstorm, climbed Mount Mirabat, experienced first rate doctors help with medication for less than $30 (Melody) after hike up Mirabat, sterilized a lot of pots (Melody), went to downtown Seix, visited Foix (didn’t make it to the castle sadly), observed pigeons instead of visiting castle, tended many garden beds (Melody), washed A LOT of dishes, first indoor clothes dryer of trip, celebrated birthday with wonderfully made cake made by Peta, had delicious meals prepared each lunch and dinner,

Overall, we have experienced many times of magnitude more than what we thought we would. We have learned, sweat, bled, laughed, smiled and drank ourselves around Europe in a fashion that we feel grateful and satisfied about.

Don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

*Started post on Sept 25, posted on Oct 10.

Guinness Storehouse Made a Customer out of an Unlikely Guest

If you’re a modest beer fan or with someone who is, the Guinness storehouse is a sensory overload. Six floors of beer and Irish history will fascinate and bewilder you. I wasn’t a fan of Guinness (too dark, too heavy, too bitter) until I took this tour. I’m glad Mark really wanted to go, and in a selfless act of love I went along.

Planning the trip, you’ll do best allowing three hours for it. Stepping into this building is like stepping into a time machine. You’re lost in the process, the maze that is the storehouse, and after enjoying the best Guinness you’ll arguably ever have, you’ll probably not want to leave.

Entry is 10% off if you book online, which we did. I was surprised this isn’t a guided tour. Everything is self guided and at your own pace, which is typically disappointing to me because I remember less if I’m reading it. However, Mark’s wealth of knowledge made it seem like I had one anyway. At one point, he was explaining the process of where the stout goes after its different stages and a small crowd had gathered around him. I was disappointed that an audio tour wasn’t available in English either, but it is for eleven other languages. Complimentary of course.

At the entrance is a piece of paper in the floor with thick glass covering it. That is Arthur Guinness’ 9,000 year lease in the 1750s. Can’t imagine what people are going to make of this note when it expires though.

Barrels of GuinessBarley at GuinessThen the tour begins! There’s a huge area of barley which I could not resist running my hands through and feeling the texture between my fingers. Videos of the barley growing/ collection process play on overhead projectors. There are a LOT of people. I didn’t really grasp why organizations limited the number of visitors to a place until we were in here. The line moves relatively quickly, through the general fermentation process.


Guiness Storehouse

This storehouse, St James’ Gate, is absolutely enormous – 55 acres of dark, beautiful Guinness-brewing sensationalism. The public is allowed through six floors, but they’re not fooling me – I know there’s much more to this enterprise than Guinness lets on. Over three million pints are made here – DAILY. That’s a modest amount of Guinness, right? Nearly 75% of all of Ireland’s barley goes to making this iconic stout – the most popular in the world, in fact.

It could be a little bit of madness, but I swore up and down I would never enjoy a Guinness, and yet here I found myself, next to Mark, enjoying a properly poured Guinness at the ever-impressive yet crowded Skybar.Guiness at Skybar