Donate Button



Donate today BECAUSE Logan will probably use the money to fund his upcoming RPG. More entertainment for YOU!

Monday, April 28, 2014

VARNA TO PLOVDIV BULGARIA

VARNA, BULGARIA

Flag Hostel could have been somewhere I stayed for quite some time but - as often happens - the people running it caused me to move on.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you "If you want Logan to leave the room, turn on the TV."  Double that with 'foreign TV' and 'awful dubbed shit'.  Naturally, the guy running the hostel was interested in watching a good deal of TV in the tiny common area.  The only area with a table for the computer.

I'd checked out "Yo Ho Ho Hostel" which Adam had mentioned.  They're a party hostel with a chummy hostel vibe.  Nearly full compared with the nearly empty of Flag Hostel.  Noisier as well - people who believe music should always be on.

I prefer silence.  And headphones.

Varna itself was 'nice'.  Not thrilling, but nice.  Really nothing all that interesting aside from the amazing Alba Restaurant.  One restaurant isn't really enough to make me stay.  There are also various day trips one can make from there but it really wasn't of interest to me.  I just wasn't 'feeling it'.

So I left my keys and lock on my pillow and ninja'ed out early in the morning to catch a morning train...

Because train station restrooms are such a joy, I availed myself.  Four of the six cubicals were blocked off because cleaning is hard - despite they charge you for using them.  The remaining two had been frequently fouled by their inaccurate loathsome clientele.  Used my bags to barricade myself into the squat toilet as the door locks had long ago been destroyed.  The six squares of toilet paper they give you are never enough, be sure to pack your own.

To celebrate not getting a fatal disease from the bio-hazard bathroom, had a couple espressos and smoked some cigarettes then escaped by train.  I am a leaf on the wind!



ARRIVAL IN PLOVDIV

Even if you knew where to go, it's too far to walk from the train station to the old town.  The good news is it's only 3.50 lev by taxi.  Because the guy was chatty and nice, I just gave him five.

The first place I checked out was "Hiker's Hostel".  This was a dirty, nasty "What the hell" place for seven euros.  "Would you like it?"   Er, gosh, I might be back later.  Or slit my wrists and die in a fire.  The next place I checked out was a huge marble building for nine euros a night.  Gosh.  Much better.  And I have a dorm room to myself.  Yeah.  I can live with this.  Glad I walked the extra ten meters to 'Plovdiv Guesthouse'.  The downside is the owners were pretty nitpicky in their pricing.  An extra euro for this, an extra euro for that.  Silly.

Did a little exploration of the town - it seems interesting.  More scrutiny tomorrow.



MAKING RAKIA

In England obtaining things from a 'fellow you met down at the pub' is a normal way of doing business.  Especially for Hagrid.
It's where I obtain information.  When talking to a couple guys in a Varna bar (Bulgaria), they told me about home made rakia.  It's a big deal here.  You can make up to 10-12 liters per year for 'personal use'.  After that, a heavy tax of a euro or two is charged per liter.  This is an old law that's been enforced for quite awhile.  As a result, many secret stills and hidden brewing lairs are set up by 'hicks' around the country.  People will have their drink!



FOOD IN BULGARIA

Thus far, my ranking of restaurant food for three of the countries in Eastern Europe:

Bulgaria - I've only had great food here and look forward to eating more.
Republic of Georgia - Good, but the selection is limited.
Ukraine - McDonald's tastes better and is cheaper.



LANGUAGES

I often marvel at how many languages I go through in one day.  This is not to say "Oh, I am cool, I can speak lots of languages."  Anyone who has heard me speak various languages knows that my vocabulary is severely limited.  Mostly this is a combination of such a bad memory things leave after a couple minutes and laziness.  I've never sat down and studied any language other than German.

Even with an extremely slipshod 'learn as you go' program you can still pick up a lot of stuff - and it is all useful.

If I actually spoke a few languages fluently, I'd probably not even think it worth mentioning that I was talking to someone in Russian, etc.



RUSSIAN TERRORISTS

Bulgarian's attitude toward Russians.

Unlike in Ukraine where it could be kindly summarized as 'mixed feelings', here it seems to be neutral or against.

At a corner store, I made the mistake of speaking in Russian and was told, "я не хочу россиянам".  ('Yanie ha choo Ruscianam', aka 'I don't want Russians').  Since it rhymes, I countered with 'yanie ha choo Pikachu!'

Fortunately they knew who Pikachu was, thought it was hilarious and I was forgiven for speaking in the language of what they called 'terrorists'.

Does this mean all languages from this part of the world sound the same to Logan?  Yes.  Hence, I'm going to stick with English and German.  So far, about 60% of my conversations have been in English, 40% in German and 5% in Russian.  Note, this study has a 5% margin of error.

German just keeps on being useful.  Unless I speak to Germans who all speak flawless English.  Also, unlike foreigners who have learned German, natives tend to say "Ah, you speak decent German, not a bad accent - you must be totally fluent.  Into the deep end with you!"  Where I drown.  Not with other foreigners.  There is no deep end!   Much easier.



LOGAN'S TRAVEL MENTOR
Folks, the normally camera shy (he's a private person) Adam allowed me to get a couple photos for posting on Facebook with him. In addition to showcasing my extraordinarily large Ukrainian given (well, OK, self inflicted) gut they are the only photos of Adam. He channels the Evil Cat many of you have come to know. This guy has had several extremely interesting careers. I won't mention them because he is a private person. I will say they are outside the 'norm' enough that they would make an interesting book. He's been traveling seasonally for close to three decades, has a couple of masters degrees, is contemplating a doctorate and a teaching position. He's been approached by various newspapers who wanted deep background on different shit - which he doesn't like to give them. Possibly because he knows they're just looking for a sound bite. Yes, he is wearing a 'Blackwater' tshirt. Why no, we won't go in to how he got it but I will say he didn't have to pay for it. This guy has been my travel mentor for about three years and knows a lot of shit. I appreciate learning from him, making his life hell and occasionally breaking his toilet seats. Shitting all over and destroying your property is how Logan shows affection.



KEEP YOUR SHIT TIGHT
Beyond this you are inconveniencing other guests, making the hostel look messy etc. When people see your stuff like this, you get a 'neutral' mark. Nobody will ever say "Hey - thanks for keeping your gear tight". They will think dark thoughts about you if it is 'looser' than this. Because I keep my gear tight it doesn't count against me like so many other things I do and say.  One of the things I learned from Adam I'd have never thought of on my own.

If someone says "But I didn't sign up for the military!"  If you did you'd be cleaning.  And doing push ups.  Communal living means respect.  If even a couple people get sloppy with their gear, the room goes to hell quick.

You should be able to access everything in the dark.  Only the biggest dickheads turn on the light "just for a second" to get stuff.  If you have to use a flashlight that's OK but a pro knows where all of their stuff is by touch.



VIDEOS

Train in Bulgaria



COSTS

Train Varna to Plovdiv, first class 26 lev
Espressos at train station, 1-2 lev
Cigarettes, 5 lev/pack

Saturday, April 26, 2014

BUS, BUS, MAGIC BUS!

ODESSA TO VARNA

Because long time readers of the blog enjoy Logan's pain like a vampire does blood, here is a recounting of the trip.

The mortar shells of the rebels had still failed to be launched as I boarded the bus.  The paint on the side proclaimed it to be a 'first class bus'.  They adhere to rigid truth in advertising all over the world.

Toward Moldova the bus plodded, picking its way carefully through roads already prepared for the next post apocalyptic "Fall Out" game.  Swerving down the one lane road the driver decided the grass was continuously greener anywhere but his assigned lane.  Many smaller cars and a couple other buses were ruthlessly bullied onto the shoulder or worse.  Any bus calling itself a 'sleeper' was turned into a lair on these roads.

Along the sides of the road, various stone crosses had been set up in spots where the drunk, unlucky or careless had met their end.  Like a ship offloading floating mines to honor sailors lost at sea, these will not only see but cause more death.

The hamlets in both Ukraine and Moldova were alike in that the traffic passing through received a lingering look as though this would be the day's entertainment.  Gray sullen buildings surrounded by unremarkable fields, as exciting as a drive through Kansas.

Felt sorry for the Ukrainians at the Moldovan border.  This is a quiet dull border with little traffic.  The offices are made from three shipping containers so that you know what living in a freezer is like.  A zombie outbreak would probably be a welcome change of pace.

In the past, I've fired pistols, shotguns, sub machine guns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launcher and so on.  Today was the first day I'd ever been 'felt up' by a sub machine gun.  It was on the guard's back and the bus was pretty narrow when he turned.  Felt like he then bobbed up and down a few times.  Afterward, I wanted a cigarette and a cuddle with the SMG but he was gone.  Heartbreaking.

A class of young, chattering, enthusiastic and drunk naval academy students took up most of the bus.  At a border, one of the girls checked out the outhouses.  Simple wooden buildings with a hole cut in the floor and twenty male visitors with bad aim.  "So sorry!"  she shouted.  "This is Ukraine!"

I laughed politely though this wasn't the first time I'd heard that phrase.

All of the currency exchanges were either closed or lied about not having dollars and euros - despite being able to see them in the drawer.  Rather than add to my mini 'Jason Bourne money collection' I exchanged with the professor leading the maritime class at a very favorable rate.  For him.

The bus ride started at 1 PM and arrived at 8 AM the next day.  We'd passed through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and into Bulgaria.  These borders were all lightly trafficked.  A border guard would board the bus, collect the passports, leave with them and they'd return from a bus worker stamped later.  The seat of the first class was uncomfortable enough I feel as though I'd received a spanking.  Not that perverted 'please spank me' British thing but an American 'go pick a switch'.



BUS PROTOCOLS

Taking long distance buses within the USA is a fairly rare occurrence.  Generally, the people using something like Greyhound are either extremely poor, foreigners, people without a license or convicts just released from/broke out of jail.  The toilets generally work, regular breaks are made and the only thing you have to remember to do from time to time is jump up brandishing a shiv and yelling "Don't touch my stuff!"

1)  Watch the driver carefully.  Not to see if he will snap or drive you into oncoming traffic though this is always a possibility.
If the driver gets out for a smoke, you may have time to dash to the bathroom.  Should he sit down to eat, chow down.  When the driver is climbing back into the bus you should be right behind him.  People often get left behind thinking the bus will wait for them.  Sometimes it does.  Those incompetent and inconsiderate enough to hold up an entire bus rightly receive the hatred of everyone else on the bus.

2)  Use the restroom whenever possible.  Finding out when the next stop is can be tricky.  You should always carry toilet paper and water with you - don't expect to find either en-route.  Even when you are assured the bus comes equipped with a toilet they are usually locked because nobody wants to clean them.  Or broken.  Or so disgusting and cramped that using them would leave you in worse shape than just wearing an adult diaper.
The night before traveling on a long trip is not the time to try a new restaurant or 'interesting' food.  The less you eat and drink before leaving and while on the road the happier you'll be.

3)  Guard your gear!  Tourists love to leave iPads and other electronic gizmos worth three months of someone's gross pay on the seat when they go to the bathroom or fall asleep then are indignant when they wake up without it.
Valuables such as computers go in a small backpack that goes everywhere with you.  Passports and credit cards are often put into this pack but a security pouch worn under the clothing is much safer.  Losing those important things while overseas can mean a week of fighting with bureaucracy rather than enjoying your vacation.

4)  Talk to your fellow passengers - especially the natives!
It requires being outgoing.  People traveling with others generally only speak with their companions.  They miss out on meeting interesting foreigners.  On the most recent bus trip, I met up with a physicist who was a teacher at a naval academy and who spoke six languages fluently.  Putting yourself out there and talking to people also garners goodwill with other passengers.  They will happily point out important information you would have missed not speaking the language - this break is only five minutes, there is something interesting/historical/significant, this is your stop and so on.

5)  On long trips going to different countries, always exchange local currency before boarding the bus.
  Although most border crossings have currency exchanges, your bus may not go anywhere near it or have time for you to use it.  The currency exchange may not have dollars or euros for you.  They may lie about this.  Take care of it before you board the bus.


Prices (Bulgaria)

Fine dining; main course, appetizer, two beers - 22 lev
Wine, from wine store - 10 lev
Bag repair, 4 lev
Bag re-repair, 2 lev (it was my fault on this one)


Monday, April 21, 2014

HOW TO RESEARCH




BULGARIA RESEARCH

Since it is only four days until I (and you, through the magic of the internet, hence 'we') set off to Bulgaria, I figured it was time to do just a little bit of research on it.  Not too much.  Don't want to ruin any surprises and get too much misinformation.

The reason I'm putting down all of this in the blog is two fold.  First, so I don't forget it.  Yeah, my memory isn't great.  The second and more important reason is so people who are wanting to research a vacation can see my thought process.  Doubtless, you'll come up with your own tricks for researching new places but this may help.

First (and possibly only) stop is Wikitravel.

Because reading that much text is dull, here are snippets with my thoughts on them.  All italics are mine.

"Bulgaria is one of the few exotic nations of Europe, due to the fact that it boasts sublime beaches, lovely churches, winter sport opportunities, to name a few."

Never thought of Bulgaria as particularly 'exotic'.  Honestly, none of the European nations I've been to thus far has struck me as 'exotic' the way say India is.  They can have amazing architecture and interesting customs but for an American Europe hasn't been exotic as of yet.

"Even though it is one of the 75 richest countries in the world, Bulgaria remains as the poorest member of the European Union."

Bad news for them, good news for me as I might be able to afford it.  Yea!

It appears that I've had the good fortune to miss their holidays.  Unless you are traveling to a country specifically for a certain holiday they are best avoided.  Costs go up, lodging and transportation become more expensive and sometimes difficult to find - as it did May Day last year.  Oh crap, I just looked at the calendar!  It's almost here again.  Well, shit.

Bad news, it appears that this country is indeed part of the Schengen Agreement area.  This is potentially bad for me but we'll see what happens.  For those not familiar with it the countries in this agreement count as one big country for the ninety days in then stay out for ninety days.  What this means in terms of my trip is I will either be staying longer in Macedonia/Albania or going through all of them a bit quicker to get to Greece. We'll see.

"There is no railway connection to the Republic of Macedonia (it is being built at the moment)."

This reminds me of that great quote from the movie Eurotrip:

Scott: "Yeah... um, listen. We're trying to get to Berlin, Germany. Do you know if there's a train coming anytime soon?"

Tibor: "Oh yes! Very soon! They are building it now!"

Is there anything that movie doesn't have?  While I won't be able to take the train from Sofia to Macedonia there is still an eight hour train from Varna on the eastern part of the country to Sofia in the western.  According to their webpage, a first class ticket is about 30 LEV (21 USD).  Considering the second class isn't cheap enough to make any difference (4 USD) looks like first class.

"Travelling by train is inexpensive, but also slower than by bus. Trains are most useful when travelling along the two major train routes: Sofia - Varna and Sofia - Bourgas. You can travel both routes overnight, but you should make your reservations early because these night trains are often fully booked."

Good advice and happy to get it there.  Personally, I don't care if it's a night or day train.  Travel by a night train does save you a bit of money because it's one night less than you get to spend in the hostel but sleep doesn't come easy on the trains.  Also, you miss out on all of the scenery.  The important thing is what time you reach your destination.  Remember, arriving after the sun goes down is unwise.  That's when the Morlocks come out.

"As of April 2013 the rail ticketing in Bulgaria is still somewhat Byzantine. After buying round trip ticket before boarding the train on the return you have to obtain a stamp on your ticket at the cashier. Otherwise you will have to pay a fine to the conductor or be kicked off the train to get the stamp. For example we bought round trip tickets at the Sofia train station to visit Plovdiv. The cashier stamped the ticket in Sofia and explained this was a round trip ticket (Sofia-Plovdiv-Sofia) at 14.40 Lev per person. Unfortunately after we boarded the return train, the conductor informed us we failed to obtain a stamp and had to pay a fine of 14 Lev per person or exit at the next station."

Extra fun there.  Hopefully, I won't need round trip tickets but I will try to get some sort of stamp on them regardless.

"One should be extremely careful about using a taxi in Bulgaria. Especially since you are a foreigner, you can definitely become a target of unscrupulous taxi drivers. When in need, get familiar with the most well known taxi operators in your area, your route and expected bill. Generally the safest way of using a taxi is by ordering a taxi by phone. Some fraudalent taxis even mimic others' logos and labels on their cars. Definitely avoid using taxis waiting at airports and railway stations!"

Later in the article: "It is recommended that travelers use taxis with meters that have posted clearly marked rates on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield; these taxis charge generally less than the taxis with no meters."

This is pretty standard for most poorer countries.  For some reason, taxi drivers are the rip off artists of the country.  I'm not sure why the governments continue to allow taxis to immediately give tourists a bad impression of their country.  Generally, it's best to walk past all of the taxis waiting in the airport and railway and go out onto the street.  But since I don't know what is a legitimate taxi and what isn't, there are still going to be issues.

According to wikitravel,  it looks like I'll be using English and German.

"Never exchange money out on the street. Beware of people on the street who offer high rates of exchange or who may ask you to make some change for them."

Get ready for a shady country.  Got it.

It appears their big ethic food is Banitsa.  Cheesy bread.  They also eat moussaka - good deal.  Assuming this food is actually available on more than just the web page, that should put them well above Ukrainian restaurant food.

More importantly, one of their national drinks is Rakia.  Although this can be made of different vegetables, the common stuff generally tastes like black liquorice.  Good for me, I like that taste.

"Due to the potential for fraud, credit cards should be used sparingly and with caution - for example, in large supermarket chains or reputable hotels. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture credit card information and PIN numbers to make unauthorized charges or withdrawals; these practices are somewhat common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which bank's ATM to use, a good rule of thumb is to use one located inside of a reputable bank branch. In general, it is best to use cash instead of a credit card."

Brings back memories of Central America...

"It is sad to say that Bulgarians, much like Greeks, have a bad reputation for their smoking habits. Smoking is the national pastime, and evading the fumes of cigarettes is even more difficult than evading exhaust fumes in the streets. Effective June 1, 2012 smoking in all indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants is banned."

Yea and boo.  As a side note, I've found that in many countries that supposedly have banned smoking inside that it is often still done.  For smokers, 'if you get an ashtray you are OK'.   If not, light a non-smoker on fire.

Under the section marked 'Hospitals', there is a note, "Medical personnel is very good at their job."  Does that make anyone else nervous?


Under the section entitled 'Respect', "For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offence (i.e. nationalists and skinheads). Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option."

I had no clue there was any sort of strife between these two countries.  Good to know.


Glancing through the Wikitravel page on Varna didn't really reveal anything useful or that interesting.  Doing a general search on Varna images shows nothing really that special either.  Doesn't look bad but nothing particularly eye catching.  Typical large port city in Europe.  Hopefully, we'll find something nifty once we get there.  Note that getting a place close to the beach - unless you're a big fan of hanging out on a crowded beach - is seldom a good idea.  The places there tend to be more run down and expensive.  Inland is nicer and often cheaper and still within walking distance of the beach should the mood take you.


The important thing when checking out Wikitravel is to note both what is on and missing from it.  For example, the town of Balchik looks pretty cool but it isn't listed on Wikitravel.  This means it is not on the 'tourist trail' - meaning the infrastructure for tourists doesn't exist.  This wouldn't be a problem in Asia where places to stay are still affordable.  However, in Europe you might be screwed.  Checking on a website like Hostelworld shows that the rooms are over thirty dollars.  Note, don't be fooled by the $15 or $17 price tag.  That shows per person.  Try booking just for one and see what happens.

Although I've gone way off the tourist trail in the past (see Nepal) generally all of the interesting stuff to see and tourist infrastructure (hostels, restaurants, etc) are in the popular towns.  Although going off the track sometimes gives unexpected gems, generally it doesn't.  The exceptions come during exception situations - such as when you are living and working there.

Another way to find the tourist trail is to cross reference sites like Hostelworld with it's 'top cities' per country.  In this way I discovered Plovdiv which looks good and Veliko Turnovo which looks like I'd be humping my fat ass up and down steep hills all day.  Since I don't carry my own defibrillator and am still smoking, think I'll give that city a pass.

To summarize - a couple hours research has given me a powerful need to eat.  Wait - not that.  But soon, food will come.  Anyway, I've gotten a little better understanding of Bulgaria and managed to add one more destination within the trip - Plovdiv.  Guessing my route will now be Varna-Plovdiv-Sophia-Macedonia.

There are quite possibly a lot of other neat places to see but I prefer to use my policy of 'harass the locals' to find out what is good than spending hours looking up stuff on the internet.  For people with less time to travel the reverse is probably a better idea.  Look up a lot of stuff and build that dream.

Happy travels!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

RUNNING A HOSTEL

RUNNING A HOSTEL
Thanks to Eric H for this freaky picture.

Background:  I've stayed in hostels and hotels every night for the last three years.  I've worked at two different hostels in the Republic of Georgia for a total time of approximately nine months during that time.  Through living at, running and talking to people with a lot more experience at running hostels, I've picked up a few things to share with you.

Few people wake up one day and say "I'd like to go to some foreign country and own a hostel!"

To many however, this lifestyle is more attractive than sitting in a cubical doing meaningless work for people you despise with coworkers you'd gladly set on fire in a job you learn to loathe...for years.  (Can you tell I didn't like my job?  I should probably let that resentment go.)

Hostel ownership is one of the few businesses you can get back your entire investment in less than one year while being provided with lodging.  In other words, it's both your money maker and your house.

You get to live in a foreign country.  Perhaps the love of your life lives there, you want to immerse yourself in a foreign language or just want a different life.  Done correctly, it can be lucrative.

The downsides are also numerous.   Hostels are usually more of a 'gray' business.  The rules vary country to country and you may have to do 'tricksy' things to not only own a business but keep your visa current.

The rules of owning a business can change after months as well.  This is different in every country.  Do research to find out what you can and can't get away with.

Always promptly pay your taxes.  Even if the country/government/current dictator decides they don't like your business, your chances of getting into trouble lessen considerably if the government is getting its cut.

Additionally, a hostel will probably convince you never to have children.  Every week you get to deal with some entitled child whose parents are grateful to fund their vacation just to get rid of him or her.

Hostels are a purely temporary set up.  Changes in laws, revolution and such may force you out unexpectedly.  You will always rent - never own - your building.  Fortunately, if you run the hostel successfully for a couple years you will have the ability to easily pick up, move and start again elsewhere - even if you leave everything behind.

Those are the upsides and the downsides of owning a hostel.  Should you decide the upsides are worth it then here are the eight major things successful owners concentrate on.


1.  CLEANLINESS

As the best hostel owner I've ever met says, "Clean, clean, clean.  And when you are done cleaning, clean again."

If you don't like cleaning, don't open a hostel.  You will either have to clean yourself or hire a cleaner.  Probably both.  Although most hostels post signs like 'your mother doesn't work here, clean up after yourself', many of the entitled immature children that pass through simply don't.  So you end up cleaning up after them.

Once or twice a week, you will need someone to come through and give the place a determined 'deep cleaning'.  Chances are this will be a local who gets paid decently according to the local rate.  While this isn't much to 'western eyes', it still cuts into your profit.  The work ethic of many people from other countries is very different.  Cutting out personal calls, visiting with the guests, why they're not allowed to have family and friends over to visit and such take time to instill in them.  Sometimes they just fail to show up for work.  The old saying 'good help is hard to find' is often doubly so outside of the westernized countries.  This may give an insight as to why their countries' economic state is the way it is.


2.  BEDDING

Clean sheets, comfortable beds and good pillows are critical.  People show up to a hostel primarily to have a place to sleep.   If the bed is uncomfortable or in the shape of a banana, they won't spend much time there and will spread the word.

The sheets and pillowcases do not need to match.  If there are 'wear holes' (holes made by too much friction or use) or stains, throw out these sheets immediately.  Even if recently laundered, they will get the 'yuck' reaction and you get another bad review.

Become an expert on bedbugs.  A review mentioning them can cripple your operation for an entire season.  The best hostel owner I know can (and has) lectured me for twenty minutes on the lives and habits of the bedbug.  He owns the caustic (illegal in many countries) chemicals which alone can get rid of them.   Covering the beds in plastic does nothing.  Know and destroy your enemy before they can destroy you.  Sadly, the same cannot be said about the infested dirty hippies.

Most hostel owners attempt to cram too many beds per room in order to maximize profits.  This causes the place to be very cramped with people's possessions scattered all over.  When new guests come to see this, they will find somewhere else.

The minimum number of beds to start with, I'm told, is ten plus a private room.  In addition, you'll need places for the staff to sleep.  If it is a stained mattress on the floor, this will give all newcomers quite an initial impression of your place.

Having a keypad electronic lock on the front door allows for drunken guests to let themselves back in at three AM without the need to continually get up.  Other places have a lock down time (where people are either locked in or out) though this tends to make them less popular.  Still other places have some unfortunate locals who sleep on mattresses near the door to let people in and out.

If the person running the hostel is required to get up every time someone wants in or  out, they will get burned out very quickly and begin to passionately hate the guests.

Short of a full time door guard, the electronic lock is the best solution I've seen thus far.  Law in many countries is illusory or less.  Being able to regulate who enters the building is a big deal.


3.  WIFI

Get the best WiFi available.  This is the major source of travelers' entertainment and research.  Bandwidth using Skype calls from those who can't bear to be away from home for more than a day but for some reason are abound.  Bad bandwidth means the guest will be using it to tell other people how crappy your internet is.

Because some owners are so anxious to save money, some even turn off the internet at midnight to save a few precious pennies.   Tourists keep strange and varied hours.


4.  SHOWERS AND TOILETS

The ratio of showers and toilets to beds is ten beds per.  If you have say fifteen beds and less than two showers and two toilets this will create waiting, lines and resentment.  Again, these should always be spotless.


5.  LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Everyone on staff needs to have decent local knowledge.  In addition to knowing where all of the nearby bars, restaurants, attractions and stores are hostel personnel need to know the traveler routes.  These are the buses, trains, airplanes tourist regularly use.  How long they take, how much they cost, when they leave and so on.  Within a week or two the hostel owner can learn this and put up signs with this information.

For the owner, local knowledge will also include where to pay their taxes, who needs to be bribed, how to keep your visa up to date and so on.


6.  KITCHEN

Having a fully equipped kitchen with lots of refrigerator space for guests is less common in Asia where the food is generally cheap.  In places where food is over 5 USD per meal, having a kitchen will allow travelers to keep to their budgets by preparing their own food.

There are many hostels which attempt to make money off the guests by serving meals and not allowing the guests access to the kitchen.  While they may make some money from this, generally it seems most guests eat elsewhere.  Since the kitchen is not accessible to the guests, their cost per day goes up and they stay a much shorter time at the hostel.


7.  LOCKERS

There are two different lines of thought on security lockers.

Large lockers capable of holding a large laptop are the absolute minimum.  If these are in the common area, they are unlikely to get jimmied open.  Lockers must be free though a large deposit for the key can be required.  If the lockers are the 'use your own lock' variety, the owner will either have to own bolt cutters or risk having the police smash them open should they feel the need to acquire one of your dumber residents possessions.

Other nifty lockers are located directly under the bed.  These have advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages are you can get all of your stuff - backpack and all - into them.  Less crap littering the floor unless your resident is especially messy.  The disadvantage is that some drunk guy coming in at three AM will noisily rummage through his looking for more money to give to a very special stripper.  Noise in the sleeping area causes bad reviews - even if you are not at fault.

Having lockers lets would be thieves know anything good will be stored in the lockers - hence possessions are much less likely to be rummaged through.

Lockers must not be able to be easily forced open or picked with a screwdriver.


8.  LOCATION

This is the tricky and most costly one.

Ideally, your hostel should be in or near the 'old town', near places tourists want to go.  Sure, the property five miles away is considerably cheaper but the number of people dumb enough to stay there cuts down considerably on your profits.

If your hostel is close to clubs and other noisy spots, your quiet guests will quickly abandon it.  An ideal location is several blocks away from the closest club.  Not only will your hostel be quieter but drunken guests will have a chance to throw up and sober up during walk home.


THINGS TO AVOID

These things will get rid of your backpacker business quickly.

People wanting to show up just to have sex at your hostel.  If they are renting the private room, this is forgivable but there are a lot of skanky people who will show up and want to have sex in the dormitory.  Then they get upset when other people rate or film it.  If someone shows up without luggage and you let them in, you're a moron.
Renting to locals is usually a very bad idea.  The more locals you have staying at the hostel, the less foreigners you will have there.  Even if they aren't showing up just to have sex, they are generally much louder, messier and more irritating guests than foreigners.  And that's saying something.


TO PARTY OR NOT TO PARTY...
Much can be said for the pro's and con's of a 'party hostel'.  Generally, either younger owners or very broken older ones are needed to create and keep the 'party hostel' atmosphere.  If you set up a bar and sell beer and play music at your hostel, you will attract a more drunken, loud crowd.  Enjoy cleaning vomit off your beds?

The more closed doors between the common area and the beds, the better.  Many party hostels have no doors between where people sleep and party.

Party hostels also have a tendency to get bitched at by the neighbors.  This may cause the person renting you the property to cease doing it.  Remember - in most countries there is no meaningful contract - it is month by month.  If the landlord/lady decides you've irritated the neighbors enough, you don't get to rent that place any more.  This happened to one person who bought a hostel in Crimea and had it for less than a season.

Avoid spending more money than you absolutely have to.  If you can't easily make back your initial investment - including all bills, rent, etc within twelve months you have spent too much.  This is why profitable hostels don't have matching sheets, towels and fancy paint jobs.

Anything 'nice' in the hostel will be either stolen or destroyed by stupid people.  There were a lot of couches and chairs in the common room of an Egyptian hostel I was staying at.  Yet one of the tourists chose to sit on a radiator.  The radiator immediately broke off the wall.  The initial tourist response was to move away from the radiator.  Had not the staff witnessed it, doubtless it would have been left to be discovered later.   People don't want to pay for things, even if they are at fault.
Everything in a hostel should be sturdy, functional and not worth stealing.

Although some people think a TV/DVD/music player is necessary, often these are co-opted by the native staff.  Few things are as irritating as a TV on a foreign channel - especially when you suspect the person who set the volume is at least partially deaf.  And interested in having you join that team.  Hostels without television have a higher chance of the guests actually interacting.  Which would be a better memory of the trip - making new friends or watching The Goonies yet again?  As a hostel owner, it is in your interest to have people make friends rather than stare zombie like at the television - it gives your hostel better reviews.

Every backpacker coming through will need to do laundry.  Since you've probably got a laundry machine to do your sheets, offering a washing service for their clothing makes sense and brings in a bit of extra revenue.  Not offering it means they do their clothing in your sinks and hang it up all over the hostel.


SETTING A PRICE

When deciding the price per bed figure out if you want to compete on price or quality.  Both is a losing battle - quality costs more.  The question to ask yourself is do you want to attract the kind of crowd that wants to save a euro per night?

The magic question for most people is 'how much to get started in the hostel business?'  This varies widely depending on location but at a general guess, if you're starting from scratch you'll probably need about $2000 for the initial stuff (beds, sheets, some fixing of stuff, pots, etc) and first and last months rent at a minimum.  Often, you can find 'turn key' hostels for sale for two or three times that.

For Americans who statistically don't know what a 'savings account' is, that's a lot - but cheaper businesses are hard to find.


LAST NOTE

Hostels live and die on reviews and word of mouth.  If you don't have positive reviews on such sites as Hostelbookers and Hostelworld, you aren't in business.


Special thanks to Nichole U and Jim G for editing and 'Evil Cat' for giving me a lot of insider information.  Thank you.



ON UKRAINE

From Evil Cat:

The point would be better illustrated asking why Poland was so successful at transiting (socially and economically) to EU membership from being a Soviet satellite state....That the homogeneity of the population helps explains Poland's rise that does not mean that the heterogeneity of the Ukrainian population alone explains Ukraine's marked lack of progress.....there are many contributing factors...a lack of rule of law and thus no respect for the law whenever there is an attempt to apply it....endemic corruption....nostalgia for the Soviet Union amongst retirees and ex military servicemen...a distinct lack of civil society engendering an absence of polite public discourse....a hollow and uneven capitalist economy which encourages a jarring 'me-first' selfishness....and a religious environment where 4 extremely reactionary conservative churches compete to criticize and reject Enlightenment thinking, modernity, and western liberal democratic values......These are the reasons why Ukraine is (to use the technical academic term)....fucked.



VIDEOS

TIU Front Page Hostel
Now the corrections from the owner of the hostel:  1)  I am not in the Republic of Georgia - I am in Ukraine.  Shows that I've been in enough countries that I no longer know where I am.  2) It is a lending book library.  3) The reason the bathroom upstairs is wood paneled is that it use to be a sauna.

This Is Russia Bitch
Friend of mine in Ukraine sent this to me.  I highly recommend watching the whole damn thing.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

ROBOT SEX

ARTICLE FROM THE FUTURE - DWINDLING POPULATION

I was reading an article from the future about what is starting to kill humanity off.  Sadly, I didn't get a good look at the date on the news piece but had to quickly scan it to get the gist.

It showed Ted, a pretty normal looking guy coming home after a long rough day at work.  As he walked in, a pretty young lady entered the living room.

"Ted, you're home!  And just in time to - I just finished with the laundry!  It's still warm from the dryer!  Lets make love on it!"

A couple more delighted squeals from other young women who wished to aid with this noble endeavor as a smiling Ted dropped his briefcase and hurried after the young lady.

Hyper realistic sex toys have met robotics.


I think the company that makes them was called - will be called Sextel.  Is this the adult version of Mattel?  Sex + Intel?  I don't know.  Best to get stock in both Mattel and Intel I suppose.

From the commercial and news story - they seem combined in the future - these are selling like hotcakes.

705% more sex
87% less drama
67% less bitching

In law robots sold separately.  Apparently, not popular models.  They do sell some, usually bought as gifts by angry live ex-girlfriends.

The writer of the article was concerned because people weren't having babies any more and women were getting more ignored.

Will this be in the distant future or will I receive one for a birthday?  Stay tuned!



URBAN FANTASY

I've been reading a lot of the 'Urban Fantasy' genre.  Usually, books written by women are much different than those written by men.  Here are some examples of how:

a) Women always use knives.  Not sure what the fascination with knives is all about.  Even when a sword would be more efficient - or brass knuckles - no.  Despite the creativity often shown in the setting, for some reason women prefer knives.

b)  Ignore any book with a cover which looks like it is actually a 'romance' book.  It is.

c)  Women writers seem to love to populate their worlds exclusively with good looking men.  Even the evil ones.  The protagonist seems to be inwardly extremely horny but outwardly restrained.  Sadly, we have to constantly hear about how horny they are.

d)  Even when the female protagonist should be acting on a clear course of action, they are constantly inwardly distracted about the most inconsequential things.   "I must stop this evil ritual to save the world!  Did I leave the oven on?  Oh Dustan is so hot!"  While I personally have no experience in how women think it makes the protagonist sound necrotic and flighty.  If women do actually think like this, it would go a long way toward explaining why I am a bachelor.

e)  If there is a vampire in the book, chances are that you have been fooled and the book is actually a 'romance novel' dressed up as 'urban fantasy'.

This one is for both male and female writers - the hero or heroine will either figure out the good solution by luck or somehow intuitively stumble across it at the last possible minute as the author attempts to keep readers turning the pages.



MOVIE TALK

What the hell is up with Hollywood?

Just got done watching yet another remake of 47 Ronin.  They have to put the year after these so you know which one you are talking about!  47 Ronin (2013).

You might have gotten it confused with the 1941 version.  Or the 1958 version.  Possibly the 1962 version.  But Logan, these are all old movie!  They haven't done anything recently, have they?

Discounting the 1994 version and the 1993 and 1995 TV episodes, absolutely not.

Well, OK.  Surely there can be nothing wrong with a small budget tastefully done film though?

Perhaps, but in the most recent (2013 version) they wasted an awe inspiring $175,000,000.

Did you know that was very close to what it cost to make part one of the Hobbit?

Either the executives are so old they remember with great fondness one or more of the original much lower budget ones and are thinking 'this can make me money' or they are have window lickers with no common sense working at Universal.

Even Logan who is in no way connected with the movie industry could have been asked:

"Hey, we have 180,000,000 dollars we want to toss at a movie.  Would the Hobbit (part 1 of 3) be a good choice?"  Sure.  "Would another remake of 47 Ronin be a good choice?"  Nobody gives a fuck about 47 Ronin aside from possibly some people actually descended from them who live in Japan.  Nobody else.

"But Logan, we're going to have Japanese fantasy monsters and mythology intertwined in this movie!"  See above about nobody giving a fuck.  I've seen them and thought "Sorry - these may be causing death and devastation but they look pretty sissy to me.  The scariest part of meeting one would be the shame of being killed by something like that."

Looking at the gross the movie made bears this out - $38,000,000 and change.  Can Universal suck up a $140,000,000 loss?

Sure hope they don't want a 'bailout' - the US Government is the kind of place that just might give them one.



UKRAINE AND THE EVIL CAT

Evil Cat would have made the kind of university teacher that people remembered throughout their lifetime.  Maybe with fondness, maybe not.  But memorable.  Universities have lost out by not having him on their staff.  However, the stereotypical retiring academician would probably freak out having this guy around.

One of his great strengths is that he can explain complicated shit easy enough that Logan can understand it.  As those who know Logan will say, Logan is a simple creature.

I'd asked him why countries like Poland were able to get their shit together when it appears that countries like Ukraine will never (ever) be able to do so.  "They're all Poles."  Here in Ukraine, 30% (or so) of the population is ethnic Russian.  This is why they have a lot of bad shit happen.

For example, they can't agree on one language for the country.
Some people still want to go back to being Russian - but they don't want to move.

But just as interesting is the fact they have so little interest in just getting along with each other in a civilized society.  They regularly do stupid stuff like blocking in each others cars, drive like idiots, steal light bulbs out of the hallways of their own buildings.

Heck, even their elected officials in parliament like to have a good ole fistfight from time to time.  Think about that.  How often do other governments have a brawl between their elected officials?

I'm thinking the country won't change for the betterment of the citizens.  The citizens won't change for the betterment of themselves.

This doesn't really distress me - I'm just a visitor.  The difference between this country and others is interesting.  Finding interesting stuff is why I travel.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

CURRENT UKRAINE SITUATION

Logan's Totally Uninformed Opinion on What's Currently Going on in Ukraine!

(Note, still probably better than Fox News which goes out and surveys people to find out what they think is going on...  It's easier than real journalism.)

In two months, they are suppose to have an election.  As in the TV series South Park, they will have a choice of votes between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.  Or, in this case perhaps the 'Chocolate King' vs the 'Gas Princess'.  Gosh - that makes them sound like characters in a romantic fairy tale.  Unless prevented from doing so, Darth Vader will also run in the election.  He vows "I alone can make an empire out of a republic, to restore former glory, to return lost territories and pride for this country...".  I don't rate his chances of winning high.

In fact, things have gotten so weird that even a biker gang President Putin rides with has shown up in Crimea to 'sort things'.  It is interesting that the president of a country rides around with a biker gang from time to time.
I can't make this shit up.

Having the president of a country invade at the head of a large biker gang would be quite a visual image.  Perhaps reminiscent of 'The Humungus'.
Imagine instead a Russian flag behind him.  His message also matches Putin's:  "Just walk away..."

Meanwhile, after invading the sovereign territory and completely getting away with it (let's face it, other countries haven't demonstrated giving a shit about Ukraine) Russia has decided more stick instead of carrot.

"Remember that good deal we were going to give your last president on the gas you guys need from us?  The one we were going to give you to not be interested in getting with the EU?  Well, fuck you.  We're raising gas prices."

This is a confusing move.  From what a Russian guy told me, there is a lot of unspecified 'confusing stuff' going on within the Russian government as well right now.  Like deciding 'Screw it - lets go after another piece of land.'  Don't think that even if they get Alaska it will generate much emotion within the USA.  It's not mainland, it's cold and well crap - I got work on Monday...

As to the people in Ukraine, they still seem split three different ways on how they think it should go.  Some are pro-Russian, others are pro-EU and many are 'Let's just keep Ukraine in Ukraine.'

One of these three choices isn't working out worth a shit but nationalism keeps it on the table.  Most people seem to just be going on with their lives.  This is a huge contrast to the sensationalistic crap CNN is trying to roll out about a possible start to WW3.

Lets consider money.  Ukraine it'self is pretty much out of gas and oil.  I presume it was mined out and shipped back to Russia in the good ole days of the USSR.  That's their main import from Russia.  Their main export, iron mostly goes to their biggest customer, Russia.

Despite what the people think with their strong sense of national identity, Russia has them by the balls monetarily.  In addition to Russia being their biggest customer and supplier, Ukraine owes them just a little bit of money.  About ten billion dollars.  In a country where the presidents normally flee with tons of cash as their way of resigning from office, this seems a bit exorbitant.   It does make me wonder if Ukraine wouldn't have been better off just selling Crimea for 10 billion dollars.  Guessing a lot of people from there wouldn't have been too happy about that...

The big question doesn't really concern 'where will Ukraine be after the elections.  As we've stated before, nobody outside Ukraine really seems to give a shit.  Sure, the USA put a couple minor sanctions on Russia but everyone is more concerned about how that will affect the bottom line than actually getting Russia to give back Crimea.  Heck, the neighboring countries are more concerned about 'what does this mean for us' than the actual situation in Ukraine.

Well, Russia itself is still in a state of flux.  Putin is doing stuff that should make people a bit concerned - like bringing back the 'health and fitness' programs we last saw in the USSR.  People are 'expected to participate'.  Hell, if they tried to do something like that in the USA they would probably have riots surpassing the 'Occupy Movement' in what it actually achieved.  Which was 'raising awareness' and 'encouraging dialog'.  (In other words, pretty much nothing as I'd stated at the time it was going on.)  Force a fat man to stop eating his fast food burger which he is too lazy to use his own hands to feed himself and he may just get up enough anger to riot.  Unless that fat man is in a state with legalized pot.  Hard to get worked up and mad when you've had enough pot.

But as to Ukraine, only Russia really seems to care.  Sure, the EU would like to have closer relations with Ukraine.  However, Russia might this (or worse still, Ukraine joining the EU) as a large mishapen penis sticking into their country, as illustrated below:

Not a terribly happy thing for Russia and no lube.  Hell, even China is getting cozy with the EU.  Maybe Russia is starting to feel like Jay in this short movie clip.

Perhaps this is how Russia would like to see the map look:
 Now who has the penis in them eh?

If someone drove tanks into the (continental) USA, Americans would doubtless shoot at them with completely ineffectual weapons, as Tom Hanks demonstrated in "Saving Private Ryan".

Of course, Americans generally have more effective weapons...
It shoots through schools!  Good times.  Pictured above, typical American preschool teacher on her way to work.  And the training some American children do here.  Possibly to combat their teachers.

However, in Ukraine, the response has been one of...well...nothing really.  There is a lot of useless double talk and mincing around with words but everything always seems to come back to the May 25th elections.  Putin seems happy about that.

Ukrainians seem to think that everything will get sorted out then.  Russia is probably also waiting.  If someone pro-Russia is elected (despite them seizing just a little bit of the country here it could happen) they won't have to do anything else to get the rest of the country.

I'll go on record and put in my prediction for a good ole post election riot, just like their neighbor Turkey.  Hell, they can't even agree what language to speak in this country.  Agreeing on a new president seems bloody unlikely.  Hence, I predict the country will become a flailing shit storm for awhile and probably Russia will either control the new leadership or bribe the country.  This is a country that understands and appreciates heavy bribery.


Logan Horsford is not an international news affiliate.  He has never written for nor been published by such respected news agencies as Yahoo! News, HuffingtonPost, CNN, Google News, New York Times and Al Jazeera.  Even the dubious and seedy Fox News has failed to contact - or more importantly - pay him.  This could be in part at Logan's stubborn refusal to learn more than ten words in Russian or even his complete lack of expertise on nearly all subjects.  Though Logan was born in the USA, he managed to escape at the tender age of forty five and now lives almost exclusively in countries considered by most in the USA to be 'third world countries'.  Simply, because that is all he can afford.  If you wish to contribute to Logan's ongoing stomping around the world, please feel free to give a donation via paypal.com to logan9a@yahoo.com.  All donations are appreciated.

For those not familiar with my lifestyle, at the time of this writing, I've lived in Ukraine for two months...



AND NOW, A MESSAGE FROM THE RUSSIAN BOARD OF TOURISM

This is a video of daily street life in Russia.  Here is the news story from that abhorrent video.

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 - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

For videos with a Loganesque slant, be sure to visit here. You can also Facebook Logan.

If you enjoy this blog, please donate! Help Logan keep on traveling.