Feb 28, 2016 – Complications, Catching up on a month of Crazy Travel…and on reaffirming old feelings

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bbqboy travels in feb 2016

Above: 14,160 km travelled over the last month. 11,770 by plane, 2,042 by train, 348 by bus.
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Sometimes when you come back someplace you’re afraid that you might not like it as much as you did on a past trip. You’re afraid you may be disappointed. Or, if it was a place that maybe you weren’t crazy about the first time, you hope that you see the place with new eyes. Maybe enough to change your opinion about it.

We’ve had a whole bunch of places that we’ve come back to over the last month and it’s actually comforting to us that we felt the same way about them as the first time around. I say comforting because it reaffirms past thoughts and opinions we’ve written about on the blog. We didn’t get them wrong. I’ll get to that, along with specific examples, soon.
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Firstly, a few complications we ran into recently.

If you’ve been keeping up with our Newsletters (yikes, my last one was November 19th. I’ll try to do these monthly going forward) you’ll probably wonder why we’re no longer in South Africa. Our originals plans were to try to extend the typical 90 day tourist visa and spend another 3 months. Unfortunately prolonging our visa was not as easy as it first seemed…our advise from talking to an immigration officer: arrange for an extended visa before going to South Africa.

So we decided to fly back to Europe as per our return ticket (a requirement when entering South Africa). Then we had another complication. We had flown to Bucharest – London – Cape Town back in November. We didn’t want to come back to Romania. So I called British Airways, telling them that we just wanted to pick up our luggage in London and not continue on to Bucharest. No problem right? I wasn’t asking for a refund for the London – Bucharest leg and you’d think BA would be happy to be able to keep my money while also selling that leg to someone else.Wrong again. “That’s a change in the itinerary” said British Airways. We would have to pay the equivalent of $250 US each to change the ticket if we wanted to pick up our luggage in London. Screw that, we’ve paid so much money to the airlines over the last year for overweight luggage (don’t get me started on that) that we weren’t going to pay more to change our ticket. So we decided to retrace some steps from last fall, ie. fly back to Romania. Except this time we wouldn’t stay in Romania (not among our favorite places) – we’d get on a train ASAP and go to Budapest (one of our favorite cities).

So, that’s how, over the course of one weekend we spent 34 out of 48 hours travelling: 12 hours from Cape Town to London where we had a 3 hour layover, then another 3 hours on to Bucharest. We landed there mid-afternoon on a Saturday. We checked into the airport hotel, had dinner, went to sleep – then at 5:30 am the next morning we took the train from Bucharest to Budapest where we arrived at 10 pm, a full 16 hours later. And of course there were a few misadventures along the way which I’ll get to.

Below: Last sight in Cape Town. I was very sad to leave. Lissette less so.

leaving south Africa

Below: Views over Heathrow airport on the way to Bucharest.

over heathrow
Hopefully readers will learn from the above what we had to learn first-hand experience. I could have done a better job planning.

 

Anyway, I mention above the reaffirmation of old feelings. Here are a few:

 

Why we’ve had our fill of Romania

We stayed a month last fall in Romania. While interesting (and we have no regrets having stayed in Brasov) we were pretty happy to leave. I wrote about it here (click on the link or the photo below).

Brasov-Romania-in-Photos.-And-our-no-fluff-feelings-about-the-place-875

 

.This time we were barely here 12 hours yet had plenty of experiences to reaffirm our feelings:

- I had arranged for pickup at the airport by the hotel shuttlebus. We arrived and there was nobody there. The last time here the same thing had happened. The reason I had pre-arranged was an airport where telephones don’t work and where information staff is useless. Luckily, this time around we were able to get wifi and call the hotel with skype. Their reason for not having the shuttle bus there? They thought I had requested a 3 am (not 3pm) pickup. How can that misunderstanding even occur? Wouldn’t someone ask for clarification if not sure? Who asks for a 3 am pickup on a Sunday morning at the end of January?

- Taxi the next day to the train station. When I paid the taxi driver he told me “no change” for my large bill. Of course, another damn Romanian taxi driver. I ended up overpaying.

- It was 5:30 am and there was no one around except for this one man who smiled and presented himself, with a plastic card, as the “train’s inspector”. He helped us haul our luggage on board, then presenting another card asked if we would give a ‘donation’ to poor children. I took out 10 Lei (about 2 USD). He looked at me with disgust “not much, with this cannot pay for coffee”. I don’t know why I let this go but took out another 10 and gave him the 20 Lei. “You no can give 30 Lei, 20 no good” he said. At this point I lost my patience and waved him away.

10 minutes later Lissette and I are sitting in our seats when another guy comes in, flashing a plastic card, and asks for donations for “sick children”. I told him that we already donated to his friend.

“He no good, not legitimate” he says.

“He showed me same card that you are showing me” I said.

“But he no good. Maybe you can give me donation” he says.

“No, sorry” said I.

Looking pissed, he walked away.

I then remembered the dour, generally miserable faces we had seen through our  stay last year. The smiling face of the guy who had helped us on the train with our baggage should have been the first tip-off that we were being scammed. I’m sorry, but nobody will smile at you for nothing in Romania. That was confirmed a couple of minutes later when a guy with an official cap stepped on the train. His face was set in a permanent scowl. He probably hadn’t smiled in 10 years. Ah, finally a person in an official capacity. He stamped our tickets.

- Thinking of taking a long distance Romanian train? We had bought pre-bought 1st class tickets for the train. There was nothing 1st class about it. There were two toilets on the carriage. One had already overflowed onto the floor, the other was half full of stuff I wouldn’t want to describe. The floor was sticky with piss. Being that it was 5:45 in the morning they were probably leftovers from the previous day. Believe me, it was a long 16 hr train ride.

- A last experience – although benign - sums up Romania for us. You want to order room service? Most airport hotels (and I’m talking about the same one I had mentioned above) bend over backwards to accommodate you, especially if they’re charging you triple the price you’d find in a restaurant. I had ordered something simple: a hamburger. Lissette had also wanted a burger, but she wanted it with fish. Lucky for her they had ‘salmon fillet’ on the menu. Simply just make a hamburger with the fish fillet instead of the beef, right? So had I called up room service and made my request. The guy at the other end of the line said that he would have to call me back, that he would have to ask if it was “possible” to make the change. He called me back 5 minutes later saying “I’m sorry sir, to put fish in burger is impossible”. I protested “but you just have to take the fish and put it in the burger instead of the beef. All else is the same”. He apologized but insisted that the request was “impossible”.

That sums up everything. I think the problem with Romania is that Communism is too recent and too ingrained in the mentality. The people, generally speaking, are insular, don’t care, and are not open to change. Ask a taxi driver if they speak English and there’s a good chance they turn to you, point at the ground, and say “Romania, speak Romanian”. After 3 months in friendly, anything-is-possible South Africa, the contrasts with Romania couldn’t have been more startling.

 

Below: A few photos of the Romanian landscape as we slowly rolled towards Budapest…it has been the only snow we’ve seen in a month back in Europe

romanian landscapes in winter

romanian landscapes

 


Feeling the love in Budapest

We spent 2 months last summer in Budapest and fell in love with it. An international, cool and friendly city with lots of history. This time we stayed 3 weeks, re-uniting with old friends and working out at our favorite gym. When most people think of Hungary they think of unfriendly people and right wing governments. Our experience with Hungarians is the contrary – we’ve met so many interesting and open people. Younger people are very educated and most speak at least two other languages (they learn a 2nd language in primary school, a 3rd in secondary. English and German are the most popular to learn, but it seems Russian is making a comeback). We’ve met so many great people in Budapest, it is a place we will always come back to, one of the reasons being that it is the transit point for us between Schengen and non-Schengen zones. In April we’ve have to exit the Schengen zone so we’ll have to pass through Budapest again on the way to Croatia (non-Schengen).

Below: Foggy day in Budapest. Unfortunately we experienced a lot of this kind of weather during our 3 weeks in Budapest.

parliament, budapest

 

Looking to spend some time in Budapest? If so check out this post, written last summer, on what to see (and what to skip) in Budapest.

views from Gellert Hill, Budapest

 

 

Vacation!! 

A few weeks ago (Feb 12 to be precise) we decided to take a 2-week vacation through Austria and Germany. Places visited: Vienna, Bratislava, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Wurzburg. I’ll be writing about these places over the next few weeks.

A few photos:

vienna, austria

Above: Opera house and tram, Vienna

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Bratislava, slovakia

Above: St. Michael’s Gate, Bratislava

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bamberg, germany

Above: Bamberg, Germany

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nurnberg, Germany

 Above: Urgg, horrible day in Nurnberg

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wurzberg

Above: Wurzburg, Germany

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One thing you’ll notice is the lack of snow. We’ve never been in Europe during winter and it’s not what we expected. I’ve had these romantic ideas of snow-covered old towns but all we’ve had are dreary, gray days…and a lot of rain. Is this how it usually is in Europe in February?

Despite the weather we had a fantastic vacation, especially in Germany. Germany is Lissette’s favorite country “the most civilized country in the world” in her estimation. I’ll get to that when writing my post on Bamberg / Nurnberg / Wurzburg. But part of the reason are the people. Have a look at this post, especially pertinent considering where we are now. Again, it’s nice having previous feelings reaffirmed.

nationalities-on-the-friendliness-scale

 

Back to Prague – where it all began

Two days ago we arrived in Prague. Budapest might be Lissette’s favorite Eastern European city but I think Prague is mine. Part of the reason is that it was where we started our life of full-time travel 2 years ago. So there’s a sentimental reason. The other reason is that Prague is just stunning, more so than Budapest. Which brings me to another question I always get from people – where to go, Budapest or Prague? I addressed that in this post:

Prague-or-Budapest-which-to-visit1

 

.We’ll be here for a month, taking a break from travelling to catch up with work as well as some dentistry (we have a favorite dentist here). We’ll also be working on our plans for the coming months which depend largely on our tenants back in Montreal. Things should become clearer over the next month. In the meantime, have a look at the views from our really sweet Prague apartment (rented on Airbnb)

prague views

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Which brings me to another point. Who rents a hotel room anymore?? Everywhere we go we rent through Airbnb, from Cape Town to Budapest to Vienna to Bamberg and now Prague (where we are paying the equivalent of $30 US/night for a very spacious apartment). I don’t understand why people still go to hotels…anyway, I can’t repeat it enough – try out Airbnb, it will change the way you travel. Sign up using this link and you’ll save on your first Airbnb stay.

bbqboy airbnb

 

 

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If you’ve gotten to this point, thanks for reading this very long-winded Newsletter. I’ll try to be more regular (and briefer) going forward :) .

 

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Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading your recap of the past several months. I laughed out loud reading about the fish burger debacle. Geez! It’s not rocket science – put the fish in the buns! Too funny! Looking forward to your vacation posts. By the way, although I love AirBnB, I’m still a lover of hotels – especially boutique hotels. Sometimes you just want the service that comes along with a good hotel stay – you know?

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Dana. Yes, it depends how you travel. When we were travelling on 1-2 week holidays we’d stay somewhere for a night or two and we would stay in a hotel. But now as full-time travellers it doesn’t make any sense financially to do that. I remember we could easily pay $200+/night staying in a hotel…now we’re paying $800-$1000 /month staying in an apartment with kitchen etc.

  2. Sounds like madness lol! That’s a lot of flying and traveling you’ve done in such a short amount of time. I’ve heard some not so favorable things about Romania and you just confirmed it for me; so thanks for that. Beautiful picture of Germany by the way. I think I can take being on the roads a month at a time and another month to relax at home – you guys are true warriors!
    Hung Thai recently posted…I WENT ON A BLIND DATE WITH KYOTO AND SHE BIT ME + GIVEAWAYMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Warriors LOL! Thanks Hung Thai. We actually travel in pretty good style, I think the crazy travel over the last month was an aberration for us.

  3. Great newsletter…I really enjoyed reading this! Also beautiful photos…I am loving the one of the fog in Budapest!
    Valerie Price recently posted…Exploring Eastern State Penitentiary Part 2My Profile

  4. Enjoyed the update. Interesting about Romania because the Transylvania area the hottest thing right now according to Lonely Planet. And I’ve seen the usual bunch of bloggers with nothing but nice things to say. But that’s why I enjoy your blog, you don’t sugarcoat and you cover the good and the bad.

    Airlines suck and they’re making record profits – all on charges for ‘extras’. I don’t know who regulates this stuff but just seems they get away with anything these days

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the kind words Jack! Yes, about Romania – we’ve been to a lot of places in the last year but I have to say Romania was the least favorite. We don’t regret going but it didn’t fill us with a desire to ever come back. In fact, travelling through Romania is pretty rough and it just seems that as a tourist you have a bullseye on you. That got old fast.

      I wrote a post previously about getting totally screwed over by a shitty airline called Smartwings. Read about it here and check out the comments – I got in touch with a guy at Conde Nast magazine who’s job it is to settle issues between customers and airlines. Basically they write their own rules and you, as the customer, have very little recourse.

  5. Hi Frank~

    Wondering about your dentist in Prague. I’m shopping for a great dentist. I’m in California but would love to find something more affordable. It’s crazy expensive here! Does your dentist speak English? Less expensive than Canada/U.S.?

    Thanks so much!

    Best,
    Helena

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Helena,
      Our dentist: http://www.dental-office.cz/en/ When we were here a couple of years ago Lissette had a little emergency with one of her implants. They did a great job and were very cheap in fixing it. This time around we’re going for a checkup and a cleaning (and more if required). If you like I can update you on prices when we have it done. By the way, if you’re looking for implant work Budapest is known for its doctors and our friend Viktor arranges “dental holidays” info@hungary4u.co.uk.

      But the Prague dentist we use might do everything you need. Yes, he speaks English, they all do there.

  6. Really! Again? Ugh, Frank… I was hoping to hear better news about Romania this time around. At least I now know what to expect when I get there. Happy faces = scam. Enjoyed your newsletter as usual :)
    Paula recently posted…Bare Naked BloggerMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you Paula! Sometimes it’s better not to have surprises, just means that our perceptions were accurate the first time around. We’ll always have to get out of the Schengen when spending time in Europe, but Romania is a place that I think we’ve had enough with. I can’t fault the Romanians with all they’ve gone through, it’s just the way it is..

  7. lol i see Romania just didnt gel with you! All I remember is the trains were a lot better than the Bulgarian trains. Actually I remember the trains being quite nice and modern on CERTAIN ROUTES in Romania. As for the donations, well, who knows really where the money goes? I would probably ignore them to be honest. Which might sound cruel but you never when you start something where it’s going to end. Also, many countries are very inflexible when it comes to menu choices. If it doesn’t concur with what’s on the menu in Japan it is almost always ‘not possible’. Even at McDonald’s they dont have any flexibility, you cant change a soft drink for a shake in a Value meal for example. And the only answer you’ll ever get is ‘not possible’.
    Andrew recently posted…Travel Bloggers – Urska from Slovenian Girl AbroadMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, I’m sure Bulgarian trains aren’t anything special either. You can ask our friends at Westwards about Romanian trains, they took a sleeper train and ended up getting bedbugs (the same train we had taken Budapest – Brasov…without the bedbugs).
      No donations, that money was going straight into their back pockets. Easy to get some kind of card, have it laminated, and show it to some tourist that doesn’t read Romanian. Was a total hoax.
      I don’t think you can compare a set menu at McDonalds to a menu at a hotel restaurant…It’s not like I’m ordering the Big Mac trio with fries and a soft drink :)
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Feb 28, 2016 Newsletter – Complications, Catching up on a month of Crazy Travel…and on reaffirming old feelingsMy Profile

  8. Oh Prague… what’s not to love? Usually, when we travel we don’t often return to previously visited places (unless passing through while traveling) because it always seems as if there is some place new to discover. Prague, though, Prague I would go back to again – and again, even though the smoking wreaks havoc on my lungs. We visited Germany Munich & Nuremberg for the fist time in 2015. Not nearly enough time though, only a week divided between the two cities. Now that we’re in the know – we both want to return to see more of Germany. That, and I’m 1/2 German so it was very cool to visit my country of heritage. Enjoy Prague. Have 1 or 2 or 12 of those cinnamon round curly things for me!
    Patti recently posted…The Road South: Savannah Part 2 ~My Profile

    • p.s. I “love” staying in hotels. :) I’m pretty picky about where I sleep – or can actually sleep – and my lungs are very intolerant of cigarette smoke and pet dander, so checking into a hotel is often the best choice for me. But, that’s not to say we haven’t rented apartments in cities. We had a super cute 1 big room apartment in Prague with a view of the rooftops that I never got tired of. We were able to do so because the building was smoke-free. We spent 3 weeks in Paris and we had to change apartments 3 times because the smoke was so bad in the old buildings I ended up super sick because of it. And that my friend, is why some people still stay in hotels. Ha! Ha! :)
      Patti recently posted…The Road South: Savannah Part 2 ~My Profile

      • Frank (bbqboy) says:

        Actually, I couldn’t disagree with you more on this one Patti.
        Excepting one apartment (in Trieste which I wrote about here) we’ve never had an issue with smoke in an Airbnb apartment. I always make sure that it’s a non-smoking apartment and owners usually stipulate no smoking in their apartments anyway. Hotels we’ve had bad luck though, whether it be staff smoking under our window or neighbors smoking on their balcony and having it waft in.
        I feel exactly the same way about cigarette smoke as you do Patti, hate it with a passion.
        Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Feb 28, 2016 Newsletter – Complications, Catching up on a month of Crazy Travel…and on reaffirming old feelingsMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Both my parents are German born and I wish I had learned it as a child. But people so nice and everywhere we went they spoke English perfectly. It’s a country we want to spend more time visiting.
      This is our 3rd time in Prague and we always enjoy it. You’re right about smoking but it’s all about relativity and moving northwest from the smoking capital of Europe (Romania) to Budapest and now Prague it doesn’t seem that bad..;)
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Feb 28, 2016 Newsletter – Complications, Catching up on a month of Crazy Travel…and on reaffirming old feelingsMy Profile

  9. I cannot believe that the airline company wanted to charge you to skip one leg of the trip… As you, I would have expected they’d be happy to sell it again! I can fully understand your feelings towards airline companies…
    Anyway, happy to read that you’ve been back to cities you like, and that you liked it as much as the first time you went there. When I go back to places I enjoyed I’m also scared of feeling disappointed, but so far no place I liked has disappointed me. Fingers crossed :)
    Laia recently posted…How to travel around the world with carry on luggage onlyMy Profile

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