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Sunday, May 5, 2013

LOGAN'S ILL FATED EUROPEAN ADVENTURE

NOTES ON TBILISI AIRPORT

You can enter and hangout within the tiny airport as long as you want.  If you want to smoke, you can do so outside or even in the lamest Burger King in the world.   This BK has no beef, no shakes and very little to commend it.  Less if you are a non-smoker.  There is a fairly heavy police presence around the airport so you get less beggars and they are all on the outside.

Remember, unless you want to lug around completely useless foreign currency in your own game of "Jason Bourne", get rid of your Lari (GEL).  Outside of Georgia they are as welcomed as a truck load of dead rats in a tampon factory.

The weight of the 'big bag' (for those keeping track) is down to 14.3 KG.  Less is always better.



ARRIVAL IN LATVIA

Down to my last pen as the changing air pressure of the plane caused more small explosions.

Customs was a breeze.  The lady looked through my passport, wordlessly swiped it and handed it back.  That is the easiest time I've ever had in entering the EU.  I waltzed through the 'nothing to declare' line reading my notebook for what bus to catch.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could tell they were wanting to stop me but didn't.  It's rude to interrupt someone reading...  Yes, that was planned.  With a soccer ball worth of medicine in my bag and double or triple the legal number of cigarettes I wasn't anxious for them to have a look.

By the time I arrived in Latvia, my hands were literally shaking with fatigue.

To their great credit, none of the taxi drivers at the airport tried to hawk their cabs at me.  It shows a lack of sophistication and a dearth of poverty when they do.

Before my tale of woe and nice people who tried to help, I'd like to point out that the lat is the most valuable currency I've ever come across.  It's roughly two US dollars to buy one lat (LVL).  Wow, that sucks.  And a five is the smallest bill.

Since I'd done a little homework I'd discovered there was a 3 LVL shuttle that took people from the airport to their hostels.  Climbing on that, I didn't realize it was the last thing to go right for me in this country.

In the not too distant mother Russia, they have a holiday called "May Day".  Guess what day it starts?  Yes, the same one I'm Latvia.  This is a huge problem because Russians seem to celebrate this day by all leaving their country and going to other Russian speaking countries.  Like Latvia.

Everything was full.

I managed to get booked for one night at a hostel but that was it.  The "May Day" celebrations last about a week and a half.  Everything up to the 70 EUR per night hotels was booked solid.  Since I start freaking out when I have to pay 10 EUR for a place to sleep, 70 EUR was a bit beyond my budget.  And made me squeal like a pig.

Honestly, I was too stressed out to do much sightseeing but what I saw was a clean, modern city.   There was even a 'Cinnabon'.  Yes, I managed to resist it.  In hindsight, should have gone.  Lot of changes from Georgia.  Cars stay in their own lane.  Pedestrian crossings weren't just put there because they had extra paint left over.  The buildings were built with skill and aren't in danger of collapse.  They even have fire escapes.

Perhaps there is no clearer symbol of 'first world' as opposed to 'third world' countries than the lowly fire escape.  If you don't have one, it sends a message.  That message could be you live in a single story house.

So I wandered around fretting.  A friend of mine in Georgia has some extremely nice people who are very good friends of his in Riga and they said not to worry - they would find a place.  They looked for hours without success.  They did feed me and give me beer though.  While sitting in their establishment (which will be undergoing a name change to "Rockabilly House") I got to see something very unusual.  Though the surprise is probably a bit destroyed by mentioning the name of the establishment.

"Pete Anderson and the Swamp Shakers".  This was a four piece 'rockabilly' combo that operated with a great deal of enthusiasm.  Not bad music either.  Yes, when they found out I was from the states I got to talk to the leader a bit.  He asked me questions like if I could sing or play an instrument.  No.  Hell no.  I couldn't help but thinking as I sat around watching them play that if the USSR had kept going for another few years they would be sneaking out to play 'decadent western rock and roll music' while working a day job in factory number seven.

It's amazing how much American music they play there - and different from Georgia where they seem to play the same twenty Georgian songs over and over.

After accepting I would not be able to stay in Latvia, the great idea of 'duck into a nearby country and wait for the soviets to bugger back off home' came to mind.

Full.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and even Poland were full.

What the hell.

It  was saddening not only to leave Latvia but to realize my entire plan had been blown.  Perhaps it would have been a lot cheaper had I gone with my original plan and gone to Spain along the northern coast of the Mediterranean.  Perhaps not.

So, it looked as though I'd have to push on to Berlin.  I had a vague feeling I wanted to go to Berlin.

Back in the old days, before the internet, Logan worked in army intelligence.  Note to my Georgian readers, this does not mean I am currently CIA.  It is a Georgian  pastime to accuse various Americans of working for the CIA.  Sadly, they don't seem good at this game.  Anyway, for anyone who has ever worked in the intelligence field during the Cold War, Berlin had a special mystique.

Spy swaps, spy vs spy, the Berlin Airlift and all of those shadowy things happened there.  I know that is all in the history books but I was hoping to catch just a whiff of the old spirit.

Nothing.

My trip isn't starting off very well.



IMPORTANT NOTE FOR TOURISTS IN THE BALKANS

If you are going to go in May and June (yes, another Russian holiday then), pre-book.  I'm not exaggerating.



BERLIN

Berlin turned out to be just another ultra modern city.  If any of the old, intriguing Berlin still exists, I've not yet found it.  I've still got a couple days left to look for it but it's probably not there.

On the good news, I've blown a whole bunch of money (70 EUR) get some new shoes.  The cheap Georgian tennis shoes I'd purchased literally caused me to think I was growing spikes through the bottom of my feet or they were on fire somehow.  The new shoes are gaudy and ugly.

I also decided that since the battery wasn't charging in my MP3 player (which is used daily) it was time to get a new one.  Tomorrow, I will return it and try to get a better one that doesn't shut itself off at random.



PHILOSOPHY

It's always baffling to me when someone is traveling for a month or so how they love to yack on skype. When they're with a group, they have the same conversations they would at home. Not really much of a vacation...

To those who want to do the overly protective, 'their family and friends would worry' sappy drivel, just think "What happened before cell phones or even the cable under the ocean for transatlantic calls?" Well, they traveled anyway - that's what. And they had new stuff to talk about when they got home because they didn't discuss it nightly...



PRICES

Georgia:

Burger King chicken sandwich, onion rings and a can of pepsi, 26 GEL.  Wow.


Latvia:

Dorm bed, 7 LVL cheapest though many are 10 LVL

Cafeteria meal I got sick after eating, 5 LVL


Berlin:

MP3 player that doesn't work, 30 EUR


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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois |

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