Array ( [total] => 91 [pageSize] => 24 [page] => 1 [results] => Array ( [5253] => Array ( [iID] => 5253 [tTitle] => Lviv culture [tSlug] => lviv-culture [iTime] => 1310508000 [iUpdate] => 1310508000 [tDescription] => Niamh heading back to Ireland in preparation for going back to the-place-we-don't-speak-of, that is, Salone, Benno and myself took a train to, what is said to be, the cultural capital of the Ukraine, Lviv. Still a 14 hour train ride, in part because the wheels have to be replaced on the former Soviet border, the wagon, the only one going only to Lviv, the rest of the train continuing to Moscow, was pleasantly comfortable, due to it being a first class wagon. Not too cheap though, ticket and sleeper coming in at just over 50 euros. The city, enjoyable, reminds me of a smaller version of Kiev and is neither as impressive as either the capital of the Ukraine or Budapest, though at the same time it does still feel more typically Eastern European than Budapest does, now. English isn't very widely spoken, and menus are often only available in Ukrainian, but with a little help through the many wifi networks, even just a tool like Google translate helps a lot. The first thing we noticed, walking out of the train station, was how quiet the city is. Right in front of the station, a major road is being redone, but none of the machines, nor any of the workmen, were actually doing anything. A day later, walking around town the city felt pretty much as quiet. Peaceful perhaps, or was it placid? Asking for an interesting place to eat, our hostel's receptionist pointed us to a cellar bar called Krievka, done up like a communist underground resistance headquarters from during Stalin's heydays. The entrance not marked and, when we finally did get in, guarded by a young man in khaki uniform toting a Kalashnikov and demanding the password, finally letting us in only if we drank a honey flavored vodka to prove our allegiance to the motherland, we missed our calling at first, instead ending up on the wrong floor, at a place called "The most expensive Galician restaurant". Not to be confused with it's Spanish counterpart, the eastern European Galicia is an area named after a small village in western Ukraine first mentioned in the 1200s and now is partially in Poland, partially in Ukraine. There, at the restaurant, the food and drinks were decent, if a bit overpriced. The best experience, though, was our entrance. The entrance door also not signed, we took a side door, which brought us to what seemed to be someone's tiny living room, where a gentleman in a house coat ushered us through to another side door, on the other side of his tiny room, after which we suddenly found ourselves in the restaurant itself. Not too unlike Krievka, where half the venue can only be found through 'secret' passageways. Our second day's excursion brought us to the city's main cemetery. Not as impressive as Budapest's, but at least as popular, many different tour groups walking around on the grounds. The walk to the cemetery saw us pass through the grounds of the medical university, which was perhaps as enjoyable as the nearby cemetery. After walking back, we visited a few art galleries and, in what probably once was the Jewish quarter, a lovely coffee shop called Shtuka. Lviv, like Brussels, once had a river running through it, which was covered up. Here, to create the city's main drag, as part of the design for the city's opera building. In Brussels, it was to cover up the stench of what had become an open sewer. Buying a train ticket to Odessa reminded me of traveling through Russia a few years ago. Though the train station did have an information booth, with a lovely lady who actually spoke English. Because our train was going to leave the next day and was going to Odessa, we had to get our tickets from one of only three specific desks out of the 20 or so in the departure hall. An hour in line and the ticket lady first claimed no trains were actually going, tomorrow night. Only when the piece of paper the English speaking lady had given us was finally inspected did we first get a verbal scolding and, later, our tickets. A 140am departure is, of course, not in the evening. Interestingly, our ticket didn't list the time our train is supposed to leave Lviv, but only lists the time it is to leave it's place of origin. 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110713 ) [5209] => Array ( [iID] => 5209 [tTitle] => Shop till you drop [tSlug] => shop-till-you-drop [iTime] => 1304719200 [iUpdate] => 1304719200 [tDescription] => If you've ever traveled to a really out of the way location, the type not visited by tourists or anyone with even a limited desire for some of the comfortable trappings of civilization, you've seen them. Those (un)lucky enough to accompany you, traveling with bags and bags of, what seems like, fairly regular consumer goods, clothes or decorations for in the house, or just groceries. Not because these people want to resell what it is their shipping in, but simply because the, what you think are ordinary, products, can't easily, or reasonably, be gotten hold of at your journey's destination. Today, we had to get some toothpaste, and left the supermarket with 50 euros of shopping. For a mere 6 or 7 kilos worth of goods. By doing so, we were saving 50 to 75 euros on what it would cost to buy the exact same goods in the Sierra Leone supermarkets. Indeed, our return flight to Gambia is about 280 dollars and allows us to take some 30kg as checked in luggage. If we'd fill up our luggage with, say, 30kg of cheese, canned tuna, honey and soap, we would more than easily earn the cost of our journey back upon reselling the cheese against the leading rates in Freetown. Weird but true. 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110507 ) [5208] => Array ( [iID] => 5208 [tTitle] => Travel blues [tSlug] => travel-blues [iTime] => 1304546400 [iUpdate] => 1304546400 [tDescription] => Walk, taxi, sept-place, taxi, sept-place, walk, taxi, ferry, taxi, reads Saint Louis to Bakau, just off Banjul. From the northernmost coastal point of Senegal to just outside the capital of Gambia, in about 11 hours, using public transport. I don't think faster could have been possible. And it's only 550km. When getting out of our sept-place in Kaolack, halfway between Dakar and the Gambian border, we had to find a way onwards to get to Gambia. Already before our car had come to a halt, four guys had stuck their heads into the car, selling specifically us, not the other five passengers, their services. First ignoring them, getting out and getting our luggage from the back, I had to fight off several of them who tried to appropriate our bags. Not to steal them, but to carry them off to their taxi. Then, trying to make sense of our options, I had close to a dozen guys standing around me, all telling me, with raised voices, in French, at the same time, what it was that we needed to do, several of them constantly touching me to get my attention. When I slowly started to understand we had to get to another gare, one which turned out to feel like a place where everyone was trying to run away from the apocalypse, hundreds of cars and mini busses preparing to leave at the same time, disorderly arranged, most strapping luggage to their roofs and many going to the same destination, all, at the same time, waiting to fill up, a policeman intervened, silenced the crowd and helped us to abstract sense from the nonsense. We got a taxi across town and were off. At our next stop, the border crossing itself, a similar thing happened, but now with a group of women all wanting to change my CFA into Dalasi, the Gambian currency. Then, after crossing the Gambia river on the ferry, we were reverse racially profiled, when all the whities on the ferry were taken apart for drugs inspections. Bend over. 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110505 ) [5206] => Array ( [iID] => 5206 [tTitle] => Going north [tSlug] => going-north [iTime] => 1304287200 [iUpdate] => 1304287200 [tDescription] => We experienced, the previous day, how tediously slow public transport can be in Senegal. Today we were going to get to Saint Louis, on the far northern coast of Senegal, a good 300 kilometers from Dakar and on the border with Mauritania. We got up at 7:30 and got to the bus station a good hour later, where we found no sept-place leaving for Saint Louis. Perhaps it was because it was already too late, but clarity on this was lacking. We had to settle for two seats on a large bus and because in Senegal, and many other African countries, busses only leave when they are quite or even extremely full, the bus slowly filling up meant we only left the bus station after 12:30. Bad traffic on the Dakar peninsula and the heavily loaded and therefore slow bus, meant we arrived in Saint Louis just under eight hours later. We had prepared for no sanitary stops, meaning drinking almost nothing and eating sparely, and we were right in doing so. Snacks, and drinks, can be had whenever the bus slowed down, when hordes of venders jump into the bus trying to get rid of anything from peanuts to crackers to dishwashing liquid to frozen yoghurt, and it's amazing how some 80 passengers all can survive a nearly eight hour journey with none of them having to use the bathroom. Or... are they? And, on top of that, when we arrived at the bus station, we weren't the first ones in the bus to wait for it to leave. Those already waiting had not had a toilet break upwards of 11 hours. Maybe everyone here has a stoma? 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110502 ) [5204] => Array ( [iID] => 5204 [tTitle] => Banjul to Dakar by road [tSlug] => banjul-to-dakar-by-road [iTime] => 1303941600 [iUpdate] => 1303941600 [tDescription] => Getting from Banjul to Dakar, overland, is a bit of a hassle, particularly the negotiation surrounding the public transport from the border crossing to Dakar. Though fixed price, the hassle is still such that even locals, traveling from Banjul to Dakar, asked us whether they could team up with us in hiring a shared taxi to minimize the annoyance. No less than three times did we unpack our luggage from our sept-place, because the agreement on the price was badly communicated back to us, each time the driver's handler trying to squeeze more money from us. This, while what felt like a whole school of children and a horde of grownups were constantly interfering, grabbing at our clothes and bags, shouting what they thought were clarifications and trying to sell mangoes, water and cashew nuts. In the end, Niamh and I, together with an Italian couple and three Gambians, hired the sept-place at 6000 CFA each, just short of ten euros, plus a bit extra for luggage. in retrospect, perhaps this was offered all along, but the shouting, the use of horrid French, on both sides, and horrid English, on the Senegalese side, and the large crowd constantly intervening, made that what could have been resolved in a minute something that took nearly 45 before we were on the road. Before driving off to Dakar, we first had to get to the Banjul to Barra ferry, crossing the Gambia river, from where we had to charter a car to the border. At the border, formalities were quite painless, but directly upon crossing, we were besieged by a dozen or so drivers trying to sell us a ride to the nearby bus station. This is a short walk, hence their quick and steep price drop when we started to move in the direction of the gare routiere. We arrived in Dakar around four in the afternoon, a good eight hours after leaving our hotel in Banjul. A 30 minute walk to our hotel, we had no more local money after using it up for our journey and the first few ATMs failed, was interrupted by a few well deserved roadside beers, after finally finding a working cash machine. Dakar's hotels are surprisingly expensive, whether you are staying on the fringes of the city or in town. Our very basic, if decent enough, lodgings at Chez Nizar, though en suite, cost about an average three weeks local wages. And it really doesn't get any cheaper. On the upside, nice and fast Internet from the cafe downstairs. 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110428 ) [5201] => Array ( [iID] => 5201 [tTitle] => Escape from SL [tSlug] => escape-from-sl [iTime] => 1303509600 [iUpdate] => 1303509600 [tDescription] => Perhaps it seemed like a wise decision at the time, but Freetown's airport being on the other side of a huge bay, one of the deepest natural harbors in the world, is primarily horribly inconveniently located. Whities flying in or out of Lungi international airport typically either take a chopper into town, for which the going rate currently is 120 USD, or one of the water taxis, each of which still charge a painful 40 USD, one way. Alternatively, one could drive around the bay, perhaps an eight hour ride, or take the government-run ferry from the far side of town. Cheap, but known for its prevalence of pickpockets. And, on a regular day, coming from or going to our side of town, from the ferry, typically takes a good 90 minutes, any time of the day. Going out of our way, the day before our flight to Gambia, we wanted to buy tickets for one of the water taxis, only to find that, on a Saturday, none of them service our Asky flight departing at seven in the evening. Then, the last few months, Saturday mornings have been used to clean up downtown Freetown, in preparation for next week's independence celebrations. During cleanups, it's said that cars spotted downtown on a Saturday morning are stopped by police, their boots filled with sludge being collected from the city's gutters. Pedestrians, found downtown and not part of the cleanup team, are beaten by police into submission. Or, at least, that's the story. So, not wanting to risk catching a late, potentially delayed, ferry, we had to get to the far side of town by taking the long way around, crossing the Freetown peninsula, then heading back into town. To catch our seven o'clock flight, we decided to leave at nine thirty in the morning, to get to the airport, perhaps some 25 kilometers away as the crow flies. Arriving at the ferry, the departure area was actually surprisingly pleasant. Complete with several rather nice cafes, serving both decent coffee and excellent sandwiches. And perhaps because either most people were afraid of the city's cleaning crews or because this was a Saturday morning, the ferry itself was also enjoyably quiet. The crossing was good, the taxi ride to the airport on the other side a breeze, while we saved ourselves some 70 USD in the process. Clearly, when flying in or out of Lungi and having to cross town on a weekend or holiday, taking the government run ferry is more than good enough. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2697 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1076 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462170766 [iHot] => 2 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 8.62 [fLongitude] => -13.202 [tLocation] => Lungi international airport [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110423 ) [5164] => Array ( [iID] => 5164 [tTitle] => On the tracks [tSlug] => on-the-tracks [iTime] => 1301868000 [iUpdate] => 1301868000 [tDescription] => Not yet having to decide on what to do for getting back to Nairobi, together with a Canadian I was to share a first class cabin on the train to Mombasa. Only for the Canadian to change his mind, joining two Germans in going on a sudden safari. Upside: I can travel in style, pretending to have booked a whole cabin just for myself. The train station in Nairobi is surprisingly unimposing, while at the same time giving the impression of having been picked up and transplanted from some out of the way town in England, in the 1930s. Though, not unlikely, it was indeed built around that time and, most certainly, according to English designs. Having gotten rather frustrated with the surprisingly sorry state of affairs of Kenyan Internet access, I got to the train station early, having given up on being able to do some work beforehand, where only a few whities were waiting to board the Mombasa train, while a score or so ticket salesman clustered around the entrance of the station, impromptily were selling tickets for the commuter trains leaving every hour or so. Though the trains still run in Kenya, as well as in Tanzania for that matter, and while the east African states regularly talk about expanding the rail network, now to Rwanda, Burundi, as well as to Juba in the future Southern Sudan, the network still only slowly degrades, leaving more and more to be desired. And one way in which this is exemplified is that at the most prominent train station in Kenya, a no longer operating restaurant, "closed for renovations", has been so for nearly two years. Also interesting, several of the signs at the train station are in English, French and... German, implying the railway station might have been built even before the first world war, when the Germans still controlled the Tanzanian mainland. Additionally, the whites on the train are, obviously except for me, horribly young, painfully unattractive and, mostly, terribly British. 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110404 ) [5086] => Array ( [iID] => 5086 [tTitle] => In Uganda [tSlug] => in-uganda [iTime] => 1295737200 [iUpdate] => 1295737200 [tDescription] => I shared my flight from Accra to Nairobi with the Ghanaian soccer team. Kampala is in much better shape than I remembered, though this might be related to my now coming from Sierra Leone, last time arriving from Thailand. Nevertheless, it's really good to experience the existence of a local middle class. On my third day in town, I went for a stroll. Well, a walk. And stumbled upon three malls, a host of supermarkets, plenty of restaurants, in every price range imaginable, several day care centers and a handful of gyms. Obviously, this could not all be surviving on the country's expat population or non-indigenous upper class. On that same day, I had a visit of the less than enjoyable Kampala version of the Delhi belly. I had to resort to asking a furniture store for relief, where their toilet didn't turn out to have neither water bucket nor paper. My book suffered. I'm here to rebuild the website. URN is a news service, providing radio stations with national and regional news (for a fee). Their corporate website as well as their article management system will be overhauled. Morocco In other news, I managed to get my pics and stories up from Niamh and my time in Round the world trip for under 2000 euro A while back, 'travel hacker' Steve Kamb claimed he was going to do a round the world trip for just over 400 USD. Impressive, you might say, but he wasn't going around the world and the hacking involved vacuuming up airmiles wherever possible, in the year prior to his trip, then spending them on his trips. In other words, the guy still has to prove he manages it (he should be on his way now) and his feat is not at all straightforward to reproduce. For mere mortals, a round the world ticket typically starts at perhaps 2000 pounds, excluding taxes, if you're booking through British Airways, though this would only give you some six stops. Kamb claims his itinerary, with no less than 16 stops, would normally cost 6000 USD. I present to you a proper round the world trip in 11 (well 10) stops and 2 months for under 1800 euros. This spring and summer, bookable online right now. All prices were confirmed in the last few hours. + Eindhoven - Londen Stansted, 22.99 euro, 30 April 2011, RyanAir + London Gatwick - New York EWR, 168 GBP (197.69 euro), 6 May, Iceland Express + New York LaGuardia - Los Angeles, 179.40 USD (131.93 euro), 12 May, SouthWest + Los Angeles - Auckland, 604.35 USD (444.44 euro), 23 May, Air New Zealand (through + Auckland - Melbourne Tullamarine, 189 AUD (137.55 euro), 30 May, JetStar + Melbourne - Kuala Lumpur, 329 AUD (239.43 euro), 3 June, AirAsia + Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok, 104 MYR (24.98 euro), 8 june, AirAsia + Bangkok - Delhi, 2690 THB (64.48 euro), 13 June, AirAsia + Delhi - Sharjah, 131 euro, 18 June, AirArabia + Sharjah - Alexandria, 178 euro, 23 June, AirArabia + Cairo - Brussels, 109.99, 26 June, JetAir Total: 1682.48 euros. Taxes and whatnot inclusive. If you want to be difficult about it, some airlines do charge you extra for paying with certain credit cards. Then again, JetStar often has super deals from Australia to South East Asia. Also, several of these flights, at these prices, only allow for hand luggage. So, throw in an extra 100, or so, euros to cover additional expenses and you can fly around the world for under 1800 euros. Not too shabby, eh. 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[iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110123 ) [5059] => Array ( [iID] => 5059 [tTitle] => Quiz, progress and traveling with an iPad [tSlug] => quiz-progress-and-traveling-with-an-ipad [iTime] => 1294182000 [iUpdate] => 1294182000 [tDescription] => To have the inner and outer tire replaced on my bike, I pay 7 euros. In Sierra Leone. In Holland, I pay 35 euros. That's the cost of progress. What to do before traveling with an iPad Whether you've got a 3G or wifi only iPad, if you are traveling abroad, chances are you won't have easy or constant access to the net. So this is what you do to stay on top of things. + cache the relevant Wikitravel pages through PocketTrav. + cache the relevant Wikipedia pages through Simplepedia. + cache detailed maps though Google Earth or the built in Google Maps. Google Earth is better, because that will also cache Wikipedia articles on the maps you're caching, but is also more picky as to requiring a connection. Charles (see below) suggested OpenStreetMap as an alternative. + consider getting relevant Lonely Planet sections as PDFs. Or if you're going to the 'right' location (and live in the US), one of their iPad optimized guides. + when you have web access, use Wikihood to see what sights are nearby. + Relevant web pages can be cached using Read it Later or InstaPaper (thanks Charles!). O'Casey quiznight is back Thursday January 6 sees the start of a new year of quizzing. 8pm at O'Casey blues bar. O'Casey blues bar is right next to Alex's. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 3593 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1018 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462236435 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 1 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 8.47522 [fLongitude] => -13.27 [tLocation] => Home [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20110105 ) [5083] => Array ( [iID] => 5083 [tTitle] => Disillusion [tSlug] => disillusion [iTime] => 1293663600 [iUpdate] => 1293663600 [tDescription] => The last stop on our trip is Marrakech, Hollywood stars' favorite African getaway, though orphans aren't too easily picked up in these parts (and certainly wouldn't trigger the same emotional response those poor undernourished black buggers do). Prices are much higher, both for sleeping and eating, compared to our other stops in Morocco, not in the least because several low cost air carriers now shuttle between Marrakech and different parts of Europe. Originally, I wanted to complete our circular journey by taking the bus from Fez to Marrakech, at nine hours a rather unpleasantly long undertaking. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and though I don't like backtracking, the eight hour train journey, taking us through each of our previous destinations, is shorter, cheaper and more comfortable. The scenery on the train journey from Fez to Marrakech is also gorgeous. Even now, at the start of winter, the rolling hills and sweeping vistas display gorgeous and superbly green views. Funnily enough, the train's automated announcer is introduced by standard samples coming straight out of Microsoft Windows, each time she starts talking being presaged by the sound for a new message arriving in your inbox. Marrakech, unfortunately, is a disappointment, as far as first impressions go. The central square is so crowded, and predominantly with foreigners, and so busy, in a disorganized kind of way, that it feels like the world is about to end, right there, and that everyone has come to watch. Not French, but English is the primary language after Arabic, prices, of everything, are way to high, the medina's streets are open to motorbikes and cars, here the streets are wide enough, and the medina itself feels sterile, with the outer edges particularly characterless. It's as if Marrakech is the west's idea as to what a Moroccan medina should look like: selling everything under the sun, but neatly laid out, with here and there a local woman garbed up in head scarves, while the visitors can slosh around in t-shirts and short skirts while ordering food and drink in their own language. I'm glad we visited these other Moroccan cities first, before coming here, showing us a bit more of the 'real' Morocco. Our first impressions of Marrakech made us want to visit Essaouira, until old friends told us they were gonna arrive in Marrakech just after the new year. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2600 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1056 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462226875 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 2 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 31.6257 [fLongitude] => -7.98968 [tLocation] => Jemaa el-Fna [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20101230 ) [5069] => Array ( [iID] => 5069 [tTitle] => Playing it again, and again, and... [tSlug] => playing-it-again-and-again-and [iTime] => 1292799600 [iUpdate] => 1292799600 [tDescription] => As these things go, Niamh's plane arrived an hour late. However, no one at the airport was able to tell me anything about her flight, remaining on the board with only the cryptic 'delayed' next to it, up until when the plane actually landed. Not too much of a hassle in itself, as food and drinks at the Casablanca airport are both cheap, at least at airport standards, and pretty darn good. However, I also had to get up at 6am in order to meet Niamh at the airport at her designated arrival time. And that with all my luggage, dropping them off at the hotel we were going to stay at. My early get up and go and Niamh's lack of a proper night sleep meant that we didn't do much on our first day together in two months besides having a nice meal, followed by the walking tour the Lonely Planet recommends, which shows off the few French built art deco buildings in the area around the Mohammed V square. A day later, having rested, we checked out more cafes and restaurants, including what is just short of a tourist trap, Rick's cafe, inspired by the movie Casablanca, which wasn't even shot in Morocco. In the evenings, Issam (no joke), plays it again, and again, and again... The place, though really way too expensive, is quite lovely. It's probably more enjoyable to have lunch or dinner at the nearby La Sqala, just inside the walls of the medina. Also a very nice setting, and with much more reasonable prices. And cute kittens begging for scraps. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2142 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1045 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461891292 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 10 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 33.6028 [fLongitude] => -7.61928 [tLocation] => La Sqala [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20101220 ) [5063] => Array ( [iID] => 5063 [tTitle] => To the ends of the world [tSlug] => to-the-ends-of-the-world [iTime] => 1292367600 [iUpdate] => 1292367600 [tDescription] => The Phoenicians pioneered the color purple as a royal color, with Roman royalty being the most ready customers, having exclusive access to the uncommon dye. Though the color purple came from their natural heartland, roughly current day Lebanon, the similar royal blue, or indigo, came from off the shore of what is now Morocco. Indeed, Morocco has been a prized possession for millennia. First Phoenicians, then Romans, barbarians (called Berbers by the Romans), Mauritanians, Arabs, Ottomen, Portuguese, Spaniards and French, roughly in that order, all tried their hand at controlling the country at the edge of the world. Of course, sometimes also in reverse, during the short reign of the Umayyad Caliphate, Morocco was the springboard for the conquest of the Iberian peninsula, resulting in what was the fifth largest contiguous empire ever, before the Umayyads were chased into what is now Spain. Though Niamh coined the term militant tourism for my style of travel, I'm much more organized as well as picky as a decade, or two, ago. The interwebs also allow you to, facilitating you researching your destination in any depth you like. Though I've been recharging my batteries for the last month in Holland, Niamh is fresh out of the challenge that is Sierra Leone, so I wanted to find a reasonable place to stay for our first few nights in Casablanca, our point of arrival. Surprisingly, though a city like Marrakech has perhaps 100 or so budget hotels bookable online, Casablanca only barely has a handful. And many get the most horrendous reviews, specifically on the quality of staff. I managed to find the two of us a reasonable place (I hope!), but as I'm arriving a few days earlier, getting myself hooked up with a reasonable place without paying too much was tricky. Due to fog, my arrival was delayed by almost five hours. We had to make a stopover in Marrakech, from where we left hours later. By the time I walked into the arrivals hall at the Casablanca airport, it was nearly 430 in the morning. However, by that time, my arranged pickup was nowhere to be seen and I had to call them in again. I came prepared enough, with iPad, book and Wired. And I had a whole row of seats to myself. But not for long. Pulling out my iPad, three kids quickly crowded around me, their eyes glued to the screen. And I wasn't able to get rid of them for the duration of the journey. Annoying as that occasionally was, the kids constantly asking for my attention, they were also exemplary for the 'failing' (that's sarcasm) of Dutch multiculturalism. All three kids were born of Moroccan parents. Their parents spoke Arabic with each other, though all kids used Dutch with each other. In fact, this being in-between St. Nicholas and Christmas, their two hottest topics were these very holidays, several times them breaking out in very Dutch holiday songs. A third important topic was where it was I lived. I explained I currently live in Africa. "Mom, mom", in dutch, "he lives in Africa!" then to me "can you teach me some African?" the oldest of the three, a boy, had been in Morocco before, though he was born in Holland. "You know, in Morocco, they constantly use their horns when they are driving! Even when there is no one around or nothing is happening. Toot toot. It's weird. I don't understand it." the girl, a headstrong and talkative little puppet, had to tell us that last year she came in first with regional gymnastics competitions and that she's really good. Whenever she couldn't hear or understand something, she politely said so. "excuse me?" (wablief?) "What is that you're saying?" one of the boys asked the girl. "it's when you don't understand something!" and to clarify even further, "I live in Maastricht." which is in the south of the Netherlands, where people tend to speak a tad more politely. All in all, these three overly hyper kids, I'm sure their parents where happy as it was, this guy practically taking care of their offspring for the duration of the journey, made very clear that what is typical for the multicultural society that is the Netherlands. Sure, first generation foreigners will have trouble adjusting, while second generation foreigners will feel stuck in the middle (these kids will somehow have to match their parents and their grandparents worldview with what they grow up with outside of the home), but one generation onwards, these children their offspring will, for all intents and purposes be as Dutch as the next, only perhaps a name and their looks setting them somewhat apart. Though I doubt even the former. I suspect that, as integration moves forward, foreign families will more and more look for giving their children names that might be indigenous to their culture, but also to their host culture. Case in point, one of the three kids was called Adam, the girl was called Sarah. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 3305 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1041 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462106326 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 33.5923 [fLongitude] => -7.61524 [tLocation] => Hotel Oued-Dahab [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20101215 ) [4928] => Array ( [iID] => 4928 [tTitle] => Arrival in Freetown [tSlug] => arrival-in-freetown [iTime] => 1281823200 [iUpdate] => 1281823200 [tDescription] => Flying in to Lungi, Sierra Leone's airport and the only commercially operating airport in the country, treats a window seater to stunning views. Well, if you're lucky enough to sit on the correct side of the plane. The airport and town are on the two sides of the bay of Sierra Leone, which also is the third largest natural harbour in the world. Not that that's in any way convenient, because to get to or from the airport, you'll have to cross the bay, somehow. Choppers, at 80 USD for a one way trip, are an often used mode of transport (and have known to fall from the skies), but the best balance between cost and speed are the speedboats, which put you across for a still pricey 40 USD. Slower and cheaper options are available, but they can take many, many hours to see through. Nevertheless, all this, as well as Freetown's still challenged state of affairs, can't be seen from the plane. The north of the bay, which holds the airport, is an oasis of meandering rivers in between lush vegetation, while the south side of the bay sees the town sprawling on the slopes of a mountain range literally crashing into the sea. Indeed, not at all unlike Cape Town, though the built up areas are smaller, here, and the mountains are closer to the sea. Niamh has been put up in one of the Goal houses, in the slightly posher part of town, not far from the nightlife Mecca that is Aberdeen. We're sharing a ground floor, still from which we can see the sea in the distance, but with a bit of luck we'll upgrade to the first floor, where we'll have a nice big balcony to see more of the sea from. We. Will see. In order to avoid the extortionist cost of flying into Freetown from Europe, my crabwalk allowed me to see a few loved and lovely locations, as well as save on the overall cost of the flight. One of the passengers on my Arik flight from Dakar, through Banjul to Freetown had hopped on in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, where he flown to using Viking, a Scandinavian low cost airline, which had brought him from London to Banjul for 250 pounds. Adding to that the significantly cheaper flight from Banjul to Freetown, around 125 USD over my 250 USD from Dakar, a mere 20 minutes away from Banjul, the total cost of his flight from Europe to Freetown was in fact a tad cheaper. But he didn't get to see either Hungary, Serbia or Italy. Sierra Leone, being the back arse of nowhere, is the international air travel's black hole. Airlines go out of their way to make it hard for their customers to book flights to Freetown, to the extent where some don't even mention it on their website, like Royal Air Maroc. It means that getting in or out is both expensive and a hassle. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4666 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1018 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462204575 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 1 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 8.47522 [fLongitude] => -13.27 [tLocation] => Home [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20100815 ) [4926] => Array ( [iID] => 4926 [tTitle] => It's time for the African renaissance [tSlug] => its-time-for-the-african-renaissance [iTime] => 1281736800 [iUpdate] => 1281736800 [tDescription] => The flight to Senegal had about 98% Africans, all traveling with, what seemed to be, way too much baggage. Then again, it seemed they knew what they were doing, as the MeridianaFly lady who was checking carry on luggage at the gate, didn't pick out anyone I noticed. The Meridiana flight to Dakar leaves at the ungodly time of six in the morning. My eticket didn't mention it, but checking the carrier's website, specifically this flight was said to have its check in desks closed no later than 75 minutes before departure. I had planned to take an airport shuttle in the middle in the night, going to bed early and catching some sleep. But as I still wasn't snoozing at 12 midnight, I figured, hell, why not take an earlier shuttle and hang out at the airport. At least there, if I'd fall into a deep sleep, I would probably still not miss my flight. Getting on the shuttle bus, leaving at 1230 from the central train station, felt like getting on local bus transport in Africa. Way too many people were trying to get on, all pushing and shoving at the entrance. A good thing the conductor gave preference to those already having purchased a ticket. I got on, but many didn't. Though I suspect Malpensa shuttle chartered a second bus from somewhere later on. At Malpensa airport, wifi was expensive, though I accidentally bumped in to an open network which. While charging my devices, downloading torrents and watching House, three Tunisian Frenchies came up to me, asking if I could pull up a YouTube video from a mate of theirs, from their banlieu in Paris. A bit of a challenge, everyone left happily a few minutes later. "Thank you, Apple man!" Flying MeridianaFly was my first intercontinental budget flight. Food was limited to the type of Sandwich regular airlines serve on short hauls, but legroom was fine. On another up, they also do a Freetown - Banjul (The Gambia) return for 250 USD. If we fail to make it to Morocco for Christmas, for reasonable money, then perhaps... The Gambian renaissance Flying into Dakar, the one major landmark, the Renaissance Monument, is easily spotted, having been built right next to the airport. Celebrating African independence (from their colonial overlords), it was built by North Koreans for no less than 30 million USD. And to show what the new Africa is about, the country's president requires a third of the proceeds to go into his pocket because of him claiming to own intellectual property rights.
Size matters
Not that any proceeds are yet being taken. A guard at the site told me the monument won't actually open until December, when visitors will be able to take an escalator to the top of the creation, which is higher than the Statue of Liberty. I did get a glimpse of the insides. I was puffing away, in the shade, next to the entrance, when, what was later claimed to be the 'owner' (though he was white and seemed to be Spanish), went in to show some peeps around. What I assumed was a North Korean was guarding the door on the inside. Oddly, the flags in front of the monument have all been ripped to shreds. And why is it pointed almost, if not exactly, due west? Besides the monument, there really isn't very much to see in Dakar. It's just another African city. Though more interesting than some. The layout and style are more similar to other African coastal cities like Maputo or Dar, more interesting than out of the way places like Lusaka or Gabarone. And, surprisingly, there's quite a bit of public art in and around the city, the culmination of this of course being the African Renaissance monument. In the city, the downtown area being very active, the few main streets have plenty of more proper shops, including nice enough restaurants, bakeries, cafes and clothing and shoe stores. It seemed that many, if not all, of the more upmarket ones, were ran by either Frenchies or, perhaps, north Africans. Unfortunately, due to Ramadan just having started, many of the eateries have adjusted their opening times. Capes After visiting the monument, I hobbled over to the the African continent's western cape. The tip of this peninsula is actually occupied by a Club Med, meaning that you can only see the tip, not go there, having to settle for nearly the western tip of the African continent. True, the southern tip also isn't very inspiring, but at least you can check it out. Without being harassed by local traders who play the pity card. Originally expecting these two visits to cost me the better part of the day, still early, I headed into the downtown area, where, after walking around for a bit, I ended up sipping beers at the Savana hotel, near the southern tip of the Dakar peninsula. Afterwards, I discovered that most of the tip is occupied by one of the many urban ruins in town, a former, but still quite impressive, army barracks.
Overlooking Dakar
Zigzagging through town, I ended up at yet another remnant of the horrible colonial past. Though Senegal's government, that is, its president, feel it proper to spend 30 million USD on a piece of painted and cemented bronze, the art nouveau facade of the Dakar train station is still standing, yet the rail link with Mali was discontinued over thirty years ago. Of course, the TAZARA's only reason it still exists is because of China's economic interest. The SA to Mozambique rail link suffered the same fate as the Mali - Senegal connection. And then there are the defunct or nearly defunct SA - Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe - Zambia and Kenya - Tanzania connections. And the Sierra Leone railways also defaulted over thirty years ago. Perhaps these people simply enjoy being packed like sardines in crappy busses to travel along potholed roads. Ah, the mysteries of Africa. Another touristy site is the Lac Rose, or Pink Lake, quite a bit out of town. Because of certain algae deposits, the lake has turned an odd shape of pink. I had wanted to go, but after realising the distance from town as well as checking out some of the photographs, I'm not as impressed. Once were slaves Which leaves a visit to the island of Goree. The Dutchies might catch it, indeed, named after the Dutch island of Goeree, after the Netherlands took over the island from the Portuguese, some 400 years back. The island, some 2k from the Dakar shore, was a very minor slave trading outpost and is a UNESCO world heritage site. A pity the island's main buildings are all in ruins. On the boat over, two locals tried to curry my favor for business. One woman selling jewelry, one gentleman wanting to be my guide. However, the island is so small, guides aren't really necessary. Plus, overhearing one guide to a few of his tourists, it sounded like he was significantly overstating the slave trading history of the island. It's generally more fun to explore on your own anyway, though that also typically means you get to fend off more gold diggers.
Overlooking Goree
It's intriguing that Dakar's main cultural sights are all remnants of a past that's not pur sang Senegalese. The renaissance monument was built by Koreans, the western cape has been appropriated by Club Med, the island of Goree is a dilapidated colonial outpost and much of downtown was built by the French. That's not to say the Senegalese are not building. In fact, much of Dakar seems to be one huge construction site, plenty of private construction going on, as well as a few government funded creations. Some sources claim that Dakar has 300.000 street kids. An awful lot, as the population is estimated as between 1 and 2 million. However, there are quite a few about. These, as well as plenty of others, make a point of talking to anyone who's considered to be a walking wallet, so I've already heard a number of times that Senegal and Iran have a great connection. I'm not too well versed in the political links between Senegal and Iran but, for one, many of the taxis are actually, surprisingly enough, Iranian. And what's with the horses and horse carts? Not something I've seen in other African countries. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 6786 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1015 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462204944 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 44 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 14.7221 [fLongitude] => -17.495 [tLocation] => African Renaissance monument [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20100814 ) [4917] => Array ( [iID] => 4917 [tTitle] => We be hangin' [tSlug] => we-be-hangin [iTime] => 1281045600 [iUpdate] => 1281045600 [tDescription] => Getting back from Belgrade almost was a breeze. The train left half an hour late, but managed to arrive exactly on time. But we almost had a cross border incident. Immigration, or perhaps customs, it's always hard to keep them apart in slightly more bureaucratic societies, asked us for our passports shortly before crossing the border. Then they asked us for proof of lodging for the past few days. Which we didn't have. When we arrived at our hostel, we swapped our passports for registration cards, which isn't uncommon in countries which once belonged to the eastern bloc. However, as is also more and more common, these registration cards carry less and less weight, in most places to the point where they serve no function at all, but being the remnant of a fading flavor of bureaucracy. When we checked out of the hostel, on the morning of our departure, we received our passports again and we took out the registration cards. I asked the boy at reception if we still needed the cards, to which his response was "nah", after which he shrugged his shoulders and zoned off. I asked for a dustbin, ripped up the cards and gave the shreds to the guy, which he threw away for us. And then, a few hours later, we had customs ask us for the very same cards. Sure, the burden of being familiar with the law lies with us, tourists, but explicitly being given very wrong information after a straightforward question makes it rather impossible to do the right thing. Meanwhile, we were being told we had committed an offense. The cards were for registration, which was common in all countries, or so we were told. In Serbia, registration had to happen within one day, in Italy within three days, in Croatia within three weeks. We were told we had to join the officers, getting off at the next stop, where we would have to go to court, where a judge would hear our case. And fine us. Extremely annoyed with our hostel, but staying friendly towards the officers, we explained what the situation was and why we didn't have the cards. The first officer was then joined by a second, who told us roughly the same story, all in English, shortly after which a third officer showed up, possibly a superior, who told us the same story yet again. We had to open up our luggage for them to see what was inside, after which more explaining followed. Again, luckily, all in English, and all very civilized. Then,the first of the three mentioned that the fine which would follow was not going to be cheap, expensive, in fact. I assumed this allowed them to give us an opener to offer bribes. Yet I was not going to do any such thing unless explicitly asked for in case I'd misread the nonverbal communication. The third guy asked once more: "So you had those cards in Belgrade?" and i explained the situation yet again. "And you said this was your first time in Serbia?" which i affirmed. "Next time, make sure you keep your registration card with you." after which we were handed our passports back. Still, not everyone was as lucky. One unlucky backpacker we saw walking off the train with the three officers. Nonetheless, one stop down the line, perhaps 30 minutes later or so, he climbed back on the train again. Seemingly having complied with whatever penalty he was presented with. Overall, I was impressed with the officers speaking English very well, responding reasonably and seemingly also being very efficient. Hurrah for Serbia. But not for its receptionists. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2535 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1009 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461978068 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 46.0954 [fLongitude] => 19.6743 [tLocation] => Train station [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20100806 ) [957] => Array ( [iID] => 957 [tTitle] => TAZARA, a challenge [tSlug] => tazara-a-challenge [iTime] => 1261609200 [iUpdate] => 1261609200 [tDescription] => The Chinese were already meddling in African affairs in the 1970s, when they were contracted to build the TAZARA railway, which connects Tanzania to Zambia. As can be expected, the eastern terminus is in Dar Es Salaam, the 'haven of peace'. The western terminus, on the other hand, is in the hole called Kapiri Mposhi, for which it's reason of existence is pretty much just being the Zambia terminus of the TAZARA railway. Kapiri, some 200 kilometers north of Lusaka, can theoretically be reached by train, as Zambia has its own train network connecting Livingstone, through Lusaka, with the Copperbelt in the north. However, not only are the two train networks not directly connected, there being two train stations in Kapiri, taking the local Zambian trains is also not advised, meaning you're left with taking a bus from Lusaka to Kapiri. I had booked our TAZARA train tickets some four weeks earlier, expecting the seats to fill up quickly in the run up to christmas. I was reasonably right, though mostly because the TAZARA office in Lusaka only sells 8 beds on each train that leaves Kapiri. Of the over 120 beds that are available on each train, that's not a lot, at all. And because the cabins are male or female only, it's not uncommon for couples or families to reserve a whole cabin, to allow the family to sleep together. So, when I wanted to book, all 8 available beds for our train had been booked by one family. It took another week of phone calls and arrangements for me to be able to buy two tickets, which presumably had to physically come from Kapiri.
The train station in Kapiri Mposhi
In the not too distant past, four trains a week plied the distance between Kapiri and Dar, and vice versa. But as this is Africa and everything slowly degrades without being serviced or upgraded, the service is now down to two trains a week, each way. And, as the train ended up being overbooked, this is clearly not because there's a shortage of demand. There's practically no budget airline industry in Africa, outside of South Africa and although Zambezi Airways is offering some decently priced tickets on several routes, including the Dar to Lusaka route, for the period around christmas, it didn't include the christmas period itself. Niamh and I are flying back from Dar to Lusaka, a roundtrip only costing us a bit over 200 dollars, where the regular rate is closer to 400 dollars for a round trip. Our first class sleepers on the TAZARA came in at about 50 dollars, one way. The Friday train's first class sleepers go for 40 dollars. Other classes include second class sleepers and third class seaters. The obvious downside is the time it takes to get from one end of the train line to the other. We left at 8 in the morning for the Lusaka bus terminal. The lady at the TAZARA office told me I would have to book a bus ticket to Kapiri one day in advance, to make sure we would have a ticket. I did, but when we arrived at the bus station, having a ticket didn't amount to much. Our bus was already fully occupied, meaning we had no choice but to take the next bus. Having a ticket in hand for the bus actually waiting on the platform didn't make any difference whatsoever. We could have just gotten a ticket on the day of departure. Additionally, though we were traveling on 'Euro-Africa lines', and, no, they don't travel between Europe and Africa,, which is slightly more upmarket than some of the other services, we still had five seats in each row, meaning everyone was crowding everyone else. Though, the regular, smaller, busses, tend to be even more crowded, even though they run for most of the day and you definitely don't need to book in advance. After a rather vocal preacher had livened up the ride during the first 30 minutes, the bus dropped us off some 3.5 hours after departure at the bus station in Kapiri, where a dozen or so touts tried to sell us their taxi services for getting to the TAZARA terminal. Selecting one and getting into his car was followed by a boy trying, but failing, to steal one of our backpacks from the back seat. Five hours after leaving home, we arrived at the terminal, still with three hours to spare before our train was scheduled to depart. The bus from Lusaka straight to Dar takes a scheduled 27 hours and costs about the same as a first class ticket on the train. However, the scheduled travel time on the train is 43 hours, two whole nights spent on the train. Our locomotive broke down in Makambako, not long after crossing the Tanzanian border, which was partially responsible for the 12.5 hour delay we ended up having to deal with, bringing our door-to-door travel time to around 64 hours. The border crossing at Tunduma, which straddles both sides of the border, went surprisingly smooth. The Zambian immigration officer stamped our passports without looking at our visas, meaning that if you've overstayed your visa in Zambia, leaving by TAZARA is the way to go. Shortly after, the Tanzanian immigration officer also didn't take up much time stamping our passports for entry, while it was also possible, and easy, to get a visa upon arrival, as some of the foreigners, black and white alike, had to do. Though I had booked our room in Dar, and reconfirmed while on the train, I had a strong feeling that if we'd arrived only minutes later, the receptionist would have given away our room to whomever had come first. As we arrived around 1am and all hotels in the area were fully booked, we only barely got away with a first decent night after two hot nights on the train. Electricity on the train is only on in the evenings, and even then air conditioning and fans are not available. As not all the windows open, this can result in your sleeping cabin ending up being a little sauna. Not great, considering that there's also a premium on running water. Though there's actually a working shower in some of the coaches, the toilets don't flush and don't come with toilet paper. There is a dining cart which serves very decently priced and very reasonable meals the whole day through. Unfortunately, they don't accept Tanzanian shilling in Zambia and no Zambian Kwacha in Tanzania, which is of course ridiculous. The barman on our journey, on the other hand, was more flexible, accepting both currencies throughout the journey, though he was much more reluctant to exchange money. Not in itself a big issue, as on the border in Tunduma, hordes of touts exchange money and sell sim cards and airtime. However, we, not knowing that the restaurant was not going to accept Kwacha once crossing the border, didn't give them much attention. Also, though Zain, formerly Celtel, numbers are supposed to be portable across their whole network, from country to country, mine stopped working once we had crossed the border. The ride across the great rift and through the mountains in western Tanzania is awfully pretty and even though our journey took about twice as long as what it would have taken us if we'd taken the bus, I probably would still recommend the train. Just being able to get up, walk around, have some food and drinks and whatnot is worth a lot. What was more worrying, specifically in the mountains, were the scores of train carriages wrecked on the sides of the tracks. As were some of the bridges which were so small that, even hanging out of the window and looking down, were impossible to see. In Dar, a tout offered us a taxi ride and we followed him up to the front of the train station, where he demanded an absurd 30000 shilling, some 15 euros, for a ride into town. As the walk from the train to the taxi stand was long, it was going to be impossible for him to go back and pick up another set of whities, meaning our bargaining position was strong. We got the ride for 10000 shilling. Still too much for the distance, but considering this was 1230 at night and the number of taxis was limited, this was not a bad deal. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 9677 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 975 [iOldID] => 1336 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462213228 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 11 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -8.8235 [fLongitude] => 34.8198 [tLocation] => Train station [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20091224 ) [944] => Array ( [iID] => 944 [tTitle] => Staying in [tSlug] => staying-in [iTime] => 1253916000 [iUpdate] => 1253916000 [tDescription] => When I got on the plane in Chiang Mai, I turned out to lug around a total of 55 kilos. A bit over the maximum allowed weight, ahem. I would have been ok with it from Bangkok to London and then, later from London on to South Africa, but the many budget flights, both in Europe and between South Africa and Zambia, would pose a problem. So I had to start shedding weight. I immediately gave up my nice external screen as well as the PS2 with all its peripherals and games I had just recently acquired. Now to lose books and more. Between Budapest and Eindhoven, I'm only allowed 15kg of check in luggage... And then, as a going away present, Chai gave me a statue of a cow, in metal, weighing some 3 kilos. Hm. The international terminal in Saigon is surprisingly quiet, drinks and food surprisingly expensive, cheapo sandwiches going for 7 dollars! And my flight is delayed. In the morning, I considered going out to Chinatown, but with the rain which had decided to come down, I ended up staying in, enjoying the sounds of a nearby wedding, where an extended hummer and a stretch limo were proof of the money backpackers bring in to the city. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2519 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 960 [iOldID] => 1323 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462221532 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 10.7666 [fLongitude] => 106.689 [tLocation] => Madam Cuc's [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20090926 ) [932] => Array ( [iID] => 932 [tTitle] => Feedback needed, motherf**kers! [tSlug] => feedback-needed-motherfkers [iTime] => 1249768800 [iUpdate] => 1249768800 [tDescription] => Over the past few days, I revamped my website. Let me know what you think. What works? What doesn't? It was time for a new aesthetic. The design is based on work by Styleshout, always a source of excellent free designs. Prototype and were replaced by jQuery, LightboxJS was replaced by Slimbox. I've now also taken a very different approach in relation to 'membership' of this site and commenting. I've integrated the very interesting, possibly excellent, Google Friendconnect, which now is supposed to take care of article ratings and comments. Besides this lowering the threshold for users to become a 'member' of this site, I hope it will also reduce the amount of spam comments I've been getting, specifically recently. There are no more ajax requests on the site. It seems that using jQuery and some unobtrusive javascript also does the trick. One advantage of this is that photo collections with articles now don't need to be paged to see all photos. The archive has been revamped as well. The calendar view, though very pretty, was taking too long too load, regularly timing out. In related news, I've also closed a few of my websites over the past few weeks. now redirects to the assignments page on this website, now redirects to and has been taken offline., I suppose the website which ignited my love for web development, has been retired, redirecting users to the Travelhog group on (and, incidentally, I'd suggest using Diigo, not oneview, for something like this in the future). You can still make your bookings, now from travelogues page on this site. So, do let me know what you think. I'm curious. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4860 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 560 [iOldID] => 1311 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461969886 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 1 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 18.7936 [fLongitude] => 98.9943 [tLocation] => Baan Chinnakorn [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20090809 ) [926] => Array ( [iID] => 926 [tTitle] => Food and fun in Malaysia [tSlug] => food-and-fun-in-malaysia [iTime] => 1248559200 [iUpdate] => 1248559200 [tDescription] => To our surprise, smoking is still allowed pretty much everywhere in Kuala Lumpur, outside and inside. Restaurants that don't allow for smoking inside are the unusual exception. Even at the breakfast table of our hotel it's possible to puff away at your heart's desire. Though that doesn't mean the packets of smokes on sale don't carry the same nasty pictures as in Thailand, which now has a nearly total ban on smoking inside of cafes and hotels. The worst, one I've not (yet) seen in Thailand is a picture of a dead, aborted I presume, baby, with the message that smoking causes miscarriages. Prices are significantly higher than in Thailand. Though restaurant food is affordable compared to European standards restaurants are typically 50% to 100% more expensive than in Thailand, it's particularly the beers which can make the restaurant bill pricey. Yesterday, we had some excellent food at the very pretty The Old China Cafe, where the jug of beer we had ended up taking up half the bill. Walking upstairs in the restaurant, to check out what the background story in the menu claimed was an 'antique gallery', I stumbled upon something of a reception for laid-off actors. Walking in, all eyes quickly focused on me and I was invited to join for drinks and snacks. I stealthily made my getaway. It's not unreasonable to compare Kuala Lumpur, KL, with Bangkok, both capitals of South East Asian tigers Thailand and Malaysia which, together with Indonesia, experienced GDPs growing well above 7% per year in the 1980s and 90s. However, KL is surprisingly small, with less than 2 million inhabitants, while Bangkok has over 8 million. The downtown area of KL is manageable on foot, with the major sites in a 2 by 2 kilometer square. Also, the racial makeup of the city and, so it seems, the country, is completely different compared t Thailand, resulting in a very different cultural outcome, noticeable in everything from religion to architecture to food to cultural focus. The dominant religion of Malaysia is islam, with some 60% of the country practicing it, brought to present day Malaysia by Indian traders from the 15th century onwards. However, with invasions and takeovers by, in succession, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, and also the introduction of foreign labor as well as the migration of many regional adventurists, some 20 percent of the country practices Buddhism, some 10 percent is Christian, with about 6 percent being Hindu. Indeed, about 60% of the population is ethnic Malay, 24% is Chinese and some 8% are Indians. However, walking around KL, it seemed the percentage of Indians is much, much higher, not in the least witnessed by the existence of Little India, at least rivalling Chinatown in size, if not being significantly more active, economically and culturally. Islam isn't as prominent 'on the streets' as it is in most middle eastern countries. However, Malaysia does deploy the sharia, at least to some extent, and in one of the newspapers we bought, a critical article was headlined with "Is whipping the answer", after a woman was sentenced to six lashes for drinking alcohol. On several occasions, walking around KL, I was reminded of Tokyo, much more so than Bangkok. A visit to Kuala Lumpur isn't complete without a view of the clubhouse where it all started (hashing, that is) in 1938, the Royal Selangor Club, though it's now an exclusive members only clubhouse (I nearly creamed my pants when stumbling on the original Hash House.), and a visit to the Petronas Twin Towers ('the highest twin towers in the world'). Tickets to the skybridge of the Petronas towers, about 170 meters off the ground, are free, but 'only' 1700 are given away each day, from 8:30AM onwards, when the ticket booth in the basement of the towers opens up. After a few beers at the rooftop bar of the Backpackers Travellers Inn, we had too short a night's sleep, but still managed to get up at seven this morning, and after breakfast got our asses over to the towers to queue up at 8:45. When all the tickets had already been given away. On a cloudy and rainy Sunday morning. Apparently, tourists start to line up at 7 in the morning. Yes, even on a Sunday. As an alternative, you can go up the KL tower, the fifth highest communication tower in the world and at 421 meters, only some 30 meters lower than the Petronas towers. The tower's marketing materials still claim the tower is the fourth tallest, but with the recently built Borj-e-Milad in Tehran, at 435 meters, the KL tower slipped a place in the list. The viewing deck on the KL tower is more than 100 meters higher than the public gallery on the Petronas towers. On the other hand, the price to get in is a scandalous 38 Ringgit, some 8 euros. If you're wondering (or even if you're not), of the ten tallest towers in the world, only two are in Europe, and both of those are in Eastern Europe (in Moscow and in Kiev). Interestingly, the tower is also used as an Islamic falak observatory, to look for the crescent moon to mark the beginning of Ramadan. With a lot of the architecture in KL, the Muslim influences are apparent. In the KL tower, Iranian craftsmen from Esfahan were responsible for multiple typical islamic artistic designs, including several muqarnas. Kuala Lumpur has partnered with three sister cities in Iran, Mashhad, Esfahan and Shiraz. When we arrived, the yearly towerthon, a race to the top, using the tower's staircase, had just ended. Later, in unrelated news, we forgot to pick up our umbrella, which we weren't allowed to take up, from reception. I suppose this is the fate of umbrellas. If umbrellas were people, suicide rates amongst umbrellas would probably be the highest in the world. After the rather impressive views from the KL tower and visiting the attached mini zoo which, amongst other things, housed huge spiders which were fed with baby mice, we strolled around town, taking in some of the more major sites. The city is only just over 150 years old, founded in the mid 19th century by adventurists, after tin was discovered at the confluence of the Klang and Gomback rivers, now in the heart of KL, them naming the area 'muddy confluence', that is, Kuala Lumpur. So, with the strong British influence at the time, the city was spaciously laid out and obviously had strong British colonial influences. Perhaps most surprisingly is the central square, independence, or Merdaka, square, which is a grassy field, and a former cricket ground. Then again, this was a British colony. Also, the city has quite a few very attractive, though sometimes rather dilapidated, art deco architectural gems. We're staying in the D'Oriental Inn. Pretty decent, and an actual hotel, not a hostel, while being affordable. Pleasant, after getting a whiff, last night, of the Backpackers Travellers Inn. We even received a welcome drink. Orange or mango juice. In a tiny glass. Excellent! Oh, and free wifi of mildly acceptable quality. On the downside, we're pretty much in the middle of KL's version of the Chiang Mai Night bazar. Another superb meal was had just off Asian heritage row, at Kasim Mustafa. We went in for a quick snack, but left with tummies filled with garlic nan, cheese nan, sauces and two huge chicken skewers. Super yum. Airfares, give me low airfares I recently was made aware of, which claims to offer, you've guessed it, low airfares. A grand idea and using a different concept than simply being yet another search engine for airline prices. It's hard to compete with the likes of Expedia. The concept is to compare existing booking engines, in a way not too dissimilar to what does for hotel bookings. However, there, results from the different providers are all compared on one page, whereas simply spawns windows with the search results on different booking engines for the flight you're interested in. And then only a maximum of three. What's worse, it has issues recognizing the locations you type in, unless you select them from an autocomplete dropdown, which sometimes takes its time appearing. As a test, I tried searching for flights between Bangkok and Johannesburg. First of all, for Bangkok I had to select one of the two airports there, whereas most booking engines allow you to select 'all airports' in a given city. Second, as said, I could only compare three engines out of the (only) five had available (but not Expedia). Third, two of the three booking engines returned no results and even complained about my search criteria. I was left with search results from only one booking engine. To be fair, I also checked for domestic American flights. After all, the online travel industry is still dominated by US based companies. Checking for flights from New York to Miami, I now was able to select 'all airports' for New York. Also, my range of available booking engines now totaled 11, but I was still only able to select three. Now, however, my web browser Safari blocked one of the three websites, leaving me with two. Both offered a range of options, but both were offering pretty much the same range, with the cheapest ticket coming in at 169 USD. I have to say, a return flight from New York to Miami for under 170 USD is cheap, but using was not much of a help. Indeed, if I'd checked Expedia, which I would have done under normal circumstances, I would have found an airfare of 169.20 USD, making use of pretty much pointless. The site uses the same system for hotel bookings, making it very similar to the afore mentioned However, here, too, only three booking engines can be compared at a time. A test for hotels in Chiang Mai resulted in one of the three booking engines not recognizing Chiang Mai, while none of the remaining two were able to beat the prices which came up with, though all three had the same hotel listed as the cheapest available. also allows you to book vacations and lists news, which simply seems to be an aggregated RSS feed. Overall, the site seems to have been put together in too short a time, without too little thought, providing too few benefits. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 9050 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 939 [iOldID] => 1305 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462048877 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 66 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 3.15281 [fLongitude] => 101.704 [tLocation] => Menara KL Tower [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20090726 ) [914] => Array ( [iID] => 914 [tTitle] => Online altruism [tSlug] => online-altruism [iTime] => 1239919200 [iUpdate] => 1239919200 [tDescription] => Not very surprisingly, I have a strong interest in how ICT solutions can alleviate issues in developing countries. Indeed, I've been contributing my share over the past few years. However, more recently, some great minds have come up with interesting projects with an integral web-based component to allow pretty much everyone with an internet connection and some dough to more directly contribute to individuals with challenges in developing countries. Typically, these projects try to facilitate small enterprises and, in a way, bring microcredit to the masses. Here are a few interesting projects out there: + Kiva. Allows you to directly loan money to budding entrepreneurs in developing countries. Quite cool, but rather indiscriminate. I'd be interested in sponsoring businesses in only particular regions of the world or with a particular focus. There's no way to be notified when relevant opportunities pop up and with Kiva being so popular, you'll blink and miss 'em. + Links volunteers (typically in developed countries) with projects (in developing countries). Interesting concept, but I feel the nature of the concept is easily too non-committal to make a real difference. In other words, as a volunteer, it requires a lot of altruistic commitment to stay interested in the long run. + 1%club. In Dutch. Similar to Kiva, allows you to select projects you can sponsor directly. However, where Kiva deals in repayable loans, The 1%club deals in donations. I'd be a bit worried about the online reports being seemingly the only way to confirm progress on the projects sponsored. + Similar to Kiva and the 1%club, but solely focused on the US and charity oriented. That is, with Kiva, you expect to get the money back, with this one, you're giving it away. With lower profiles and results, there's also laluz (in Dutch) and playitforward, very pretty, but with an awfully slow website which is not cross browser compliant. What projects did I miss? In unrelated but web news, the website jooblii, where you can find out what's going on when, is beautifully designed. And travel related. On another unrelated note, I purchased the Nokia 1680 which supposedly is supported by Beetagg for scanning 2D barcodes. Not so. Upgrade or foggedaboudid? [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 3799 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 560 [iOldID] => 1292 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462092281 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 18.7936 [fLongitude] => 98.9943 [tLocation] => Baan Chinnakorn [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20090417 ) [913] => Array ( [iID] => 913 [tTitle] => A wet dream come true [tSlug] => a-wet-dream-come-true [iTime] => 1239746400 [iUpdate] => 1239746400 [tDescription] => Three days in Delft were a whirlwind but fun. Typical Dutch foods you can't easily get abroad. And cheap cigars. But so cold! The LCD screen I was carrying with me from Johannesburg to Chiang Mai, I carried around in its original cardboard box, nicely wrapped up in plastic at OR Tambo. Already after my first trip, arriving at Heathrow, the box was bent out of shape. When leaving, I accepted the possibility the screen might not arrive in one piece. And knowing most airlines' policies on shipping electronics, I was prepared to arrive empty handed. Still, with the out of shape box, I walked over to the luggage handling desk in Heathrow and pointed out the problem, suggesting that I open the box in front of them to see whether the screen was still in tact. The lady helping me pointed out I had signed a limited liability form in relation to the shipment of the screen, and that I could open the box and check whether the screen was still intact, but that it wouldn't make a difference either way. "So 'limited' liability really means 'no' liability", I countered. "Yeah, pretty much". I didn't bother opening the box. Still, in Chiang Mai, four flights later, the screen arrived in one piece and works, though I had to break open the box to get the screen out. This week is Thai new year, roughly the beginning of spring as well as the start of the rainy season. Theoretically, the one week holiday should help me work on my backlog, though it's also too easy to party. Until 1888 the Thai New Year was the beginning of the year in Thailand. Thereafter, 1 April was used until 1940, when the Thai calendar was synchronized with the rest of the world (well, the West). Originating as a form of purification, lightly sprinkling people with water has evolved into extensive all encompassing water fights on the streets. People drive around in bakkies with containers filled with water, dousing bystanders and being doused in return. As April is the hottest time of the year, it's not a bad way to cool down. The term Songkran derives from the Sanskrit "Sankranta" and means "a move or change", that is, the move of the sun into the Aries zodiac. Originally this happened at the vernal equinox, the proper beginning of spring, but, as the Thai astrology did not observe precession, the earth's 'wobble', the date moved from March to April, until it was fixed to run from April 13 to 15. It's a veritable water fest. In the process, though I tried protecting my electronics using plastic sealable bags, my cellphone and my camera seemed to have succumbed to the watery onslaught. Time for what? The Canon SX1 and a G2? [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 3671 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 8 [iVoters] => 5 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 560 [iOldID] => 1291 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462164975 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 50 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 18.7936 [fLongitude] => 98.9943 [tLocation] => Baan Chinnakorn [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20090415 ) [896] => Array ( [iID] => 896 [tTitle] => Travel and travel websites [tSlug] => travel-and-travel-websites [iTime] => 1229209200 [iUpdate] => 1229209200 [tDescription] => With the recent death/hibernation of, where all working travelogues were moved to oneview, I haven't stopped being interested in travel nor travel websites. Recently, a friend alerted me to the Dutch site, which is a slick looking travel-centered social networking website, where you can log your travels, add photos, also from photo sharing websites, and share trips with other members traveling with you. So, in effect, is something of a collaborative travelogue platform. This has potential though I think the major pitfall for this platform will be the challenge in finding the right target audience. Though the interface is pretty, very web 2.0, usage is a bit more complex than for most social networks, while many of those that are truly interested in logging their travel stories are probably already doing that on other platforms, needing a good incentive to actually move over to this new platform, however slick. Another new platform, this one publicly launched only two months ago, is GeckoGo, which seemingly goes for 'the minimal look', a bit comparable to Flickr (and, yes, I know, I just haven't shot any photos in the last 5 weeks!), but not really getting it right. There's, visually, clearly still some tweaking to be done. However, one interesting feature is the interactive map on the homepage which shows you the best countries to visit based on the type of holiday you're looking for and the month of the year you want to travel. Not very complex to build, sure, but quirky and, more importantly, useful. At least for the armchair adventurist. As you might know, I like mapping applications (and I'm close to building a new one for Johannesburg), so it's nice to see that GeckoGo uses maps on other pages as well. For example, if you take a look at the Thailand page, a small Google map displays user contributed attractions in a reasonably accessible way. Downside, though, is that it only shows five locations at a time. I would want to see all hotspots shown on the map concurrently. Likewise, Chiang Mai has no less than 50 attractions listed, but spread over 10 pages. It would be much more practical if I would be able to see all locations on one map, without having to page through them. Lots of user contributed photos too, which is nice, but what seems to be lacking is someone actually checking them for quality. And what, really, is the advantage for users of submitting photos to a travel site over, say, Flickr? Wouldn't it make more sense to match the GeckoGo user's account with their Flickr account and then matching on, say, tags? But, I'm impressed with the amount of information available. At least for Chiang Mai. Compare GeckoGo's Chiang Mai page with the comparable page on WikiTravel. Also not bad, and the latter has the lovely clean look copied from Wikipedia, but the user oriented GeckoGo does have a potential edge over WikiTravel. Though, as said earlier, they should revisit the way they present their information. Also, they seem to make a point of not being WikiTravel. One of the benefits of themselves which they mention is that the user can "Get REAL travel info, not encyclopaedia entries". Above, I mentioned Their USP is the ability for their users to keep track of their trips. This is one thing lacking from GeckoGo. You can select the countries you've been to, a gimmicky thing which has been available on the web for years, but also without real value. GeckoGo does tie your location to other users going there in the near future. It's something which other travel websites have been doing for a while, but still a nice bit of functionality. Though I don't think I would initiate contact with someone coming to the city I'm in, unless I was traveling myself perhaps. What might be better is if I could see who's coming to my neck of the woods and resides in my extended network. This would be a form of implicit quality control of these individuals and would lower the barrier for contacting them. Not surprisingly, GeckoGo allows you to import contacts through your email accounts. Out of the 3110 contacts in my gmail account, a sum total of zero were already on GeckoGo. And that's pretty much where the interaction with other websites ends. I would have liked Flickr integration, to name one. But why not throw in Twitter (or, say, FriendFeed) integration as well? Then, the only way to blog about your travels and have them show up on GeckoGo is to blog directly on GeckoGo. What if I'm already blogging somewhere else? I'm not going to then blog in two locations. Why can't I simply show my existing blog posts from elsewhere with my GeckoGo profile? Or link to my blog posts on particular locations? Still, the difference in objective and setup between GeckoGo and vakantiegangers or WikiTravel is obvious. GeckoGo wants to create a user-driven global tourist guide, like, for example, the Italy Travel Guide, or the Thailand one mentioned above. Not so much with neutral information, like WikiTravel, but with personal opinions. This is clever as the personal aspect has a certain value more objective information doesn't have. However, it can be only a matter of time, assuming GeckoGo gains a significant user base, before spammers and advertisers will infiltrate the ranks and start polluting the data. And I suspect this is already happening. Take a look at the comments for the entry for the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. The later comments are much shorter. Though it seems GeckoGo also sorts comments and reviews by length, not by date. This promotion of verbosity I have not seen before and is intriguing. Obviously, this won't really work with comments, as you immediately lose the threading. That GeckoGo's presentation still leaves something to be desired can also be seen in how it displays accommodation options for the area you're checking out. Although booking is possible through a special tab in the top level menu, it's not possible to book accommodation directly from their respective pages when actually looking at the details of a hostel or guest house. This means that if you find a hotel to your liking, you have to note down the name and location, and then hope it will come up when you go through the booking process. The hotel search engine they use, by the way, is courtesy of, which is also still available on It's an excellent service for it checks multiple booking engines at the same time, able to offer each hotel at the cheapest rate. GeckoGo also mimics Yahoo's answers forum, focusing on travel questions. Interesting and practical, but with now only some 1500 questions in the list, this will need some time to become truly useful. You can currently win a trip to Indochina if you sign up with GeckoGo, though I'm not sure if this covers more than Vietnam and Thailand. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4586 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 911 [iOldID] => 1270 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462120734 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -26.1407 [fLongitude] => 27.9941 [tLocation] => The Buxt residence [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20081214 ) [890] => Array ( [iID] => 890 [tTitle] => Water, charities, travel [tSlug] => water-charities-travel [iTime] => 1225926000 [iUpdate] => 1225926000 [tDescription] => DDR. Shows at The Bag Factory. Long distances. Fish 'n' chips at Ocean Basket. Coffee at the Wild Bean cafe. High inflation. Happy Meals with Hello Kitty toys. Pretoria hash. Bunny chow. Bad drivers. Pub quiz at the Keg & Filly. Oriental Plaza. Pool parties. Highveld. A good cause A different way of supporting your favorite charity is by installing a small application from A good cause. After installation, when you shop at selected shops, part of the proceeds of your purchase will go to the charity of your choice. Their blurb, however, is questionable, claiming that 75% of the purchase price will go to your charity. That's a crapload of money. An unlikely crapload. A quick look at their list of participating shops, however, shows that for some services the percentage which goes to your charity actually does seem to be 75%. Impressive. The Apple store also participates, but there, your favorite charity will only get 0.75%. I suppose it's a good way to support your cause, specifically, because the seller is actually paying, not you. Nor surprisingly, the majority of charities are relatively high profile. Obviously, this is both good and bad. They don't have a Mac client, yet, however. is dead. Long live TravelHog. Yes. After nearly 8 years, is as dead as the dodo. The collection of travelogues has been pruned and the remaining travelogues were moved to the social bookmarking website oneview, where there's a TravelHog network. Join oneview and then the TravelHog network and submit your own travelogues. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4412 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 903 [iOldID] => 1264 [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462178606 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 9 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -26.101 [fLongitude] => 28.0594 [tLocation] => Vernon, Christo and Peter residence [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20081106 ) [869] => Array ( [iID] => 869 [tTitle] => A trip to Cambodia [tSlug] => a-trip-to-cambodia [iTime] => 1224367200 [iUpdate] => 1224367200 [tDescription] => Having been in Cambodia for not even half a day, already the feeling has come up that every local you meet is trying to make money off of you; that you have to constantly be on the lookout for scams while the scammers know every trick in the book to make it impossible for you to find out whether you are really being scammed, or not. Prices in Cambodia are, across the board, higher than in Thailand. Cambodia has one major tourist attraction, Angkor Wat. There, three day passes to this world heritage site go for a whopping 40 USD. So, obviously, if you come to visit Angkor Wat, you have money and are fair game. Cambodia is also a USD based economy. I suspect that, even in the very recent past, Thai Baht was accepted almost as easily, but with the border skirmishes at the Prea Vihear temple, where Thailand really is pulling the shortest straw, the Baht is now only, seemingly, accepted at the border. Driving from the border to Siem Reap, the rice fields stretched endlessly on both sides of the mostly rocky dirt road. In, or is it 'on', the water soaked fields, kids and teenagers were swimming and fishing, casting their nets for the evening's meal, or perhaps to make an attempt at making a living. At the end of the day, walking around Siem Reap, all the restaurant menus I checked were priced in USD. As were the goods in a convenience store just around the corner from my guesthouse. Not a 7-11, put painted in their colors to make you think so. There, I used an ATM to withdraw money. My bank card didn't work, so I tried my credit card. A two dollar fee, no doubt on top of a fee from my credit card company, followed by the choice of how much I'd want to withdraw. I was given a cap of 2000 dollars, and for a second I figured that the local currency, the Riel, might just be using the same sign as the dollar. But, no, according to the current exchange rate, this would have meant that the machine, if serving Riels, would allow me to withdraw less than one USD. I keyed in my desired amount, expecting the equivalent in Riel... but received actual USD. Paying in USD, you typically get your change in USD as well, except for the small bits. At the earlier mentioned convenience store, .05 USD in change I received in two or three Riel notes. I'm staying at Babel, a new guesthouse, fairly central, in a street with a dozen or so guesthouses. Decent, the place has many details which are just a little bit off, like the lock on the door occasionally jamming, a tiny TV (but with cable), wrapped up, but crappy, bars of soap in the bathroom, a toilet seat which fits almost perfectly and hot water which runs out after one or two minutes. Now, I don't mind this much. It's a nice place, the bed is good, the room is fairly large and affordable and they have good food. What is annoying is that a major reason I chose the place was their claim of having "WIFI in the lobby" and "WIFI in the room". This is nominally true, but only because there's a semi-public network blanketing the city. You need prepaid scratch cards to access the service, and no one knows who's selling the cards! Everyone points to the actual service provider's office, a mere two kilometers away. For posterity: traveling from Bangkok to Siem Reap With, seemingly, scammers around every corner, I know I would have been helped by more background information on this journey. So here goes. Everyone, including the Lonely Planet, advises against taking the bus tours from Bangkok to Siem Reap, advertised on Kao San Road. They're informally called 'scam busses': Once in Cambodia, they drive so slowly that you have no choice but to stay at the guesthouse of their choosing. Then, if you make a fuss, you get a much larger fuss thrown back at you. One person I spoke to on this even mentioned she and her companion were physically threatened when they wanted to go somewhere else. So, I took a regular public transport bus from Bangkok's northern bus terminal to Aranya Prathet, close to the border crossing with Cambodia. I booked two days in advance, but this didn't turn out to be necessary. The bus wasn't even a quarter full when it left on Sunday morning, 8:30am. However, two Canadians I met at the border had taken a bus 30 minutes earlier and ended up with a bus so crowded, some travelers had to stand in the isle. I paid 250 Baht for this trip, around 5 euros. The bus was air conditioned. With the pouring rain during the first half of the trip, this was actually quite fresh. Arriving in Aranya Prathet, a good four hours later, I had started chatting with an older local passenger who turned out to be working in the road from the border to Siem Reap which, as everyone can tell you, has been in notoriously bad shape ever since Cambodia opened up for tourism after the Khmer Rouge was kicked into submission. The man had been working on the road for the last two years. Work had now stopped because of the border skirmish but he was convinced that in 8 months or so, the road would be completely finished. He told me that the first 50 kilometers or so were now in good shape, but that the last 100 still needed the hard top. He figured a drive from the border to Siem Reap would take three to three and a half hours. When I got off the bus in Aranya Prathet, tuk tuk touts tried to get me on their vehicles, though they weren't overly aggressive. It was still some six kilometers to the border, so walking really isn't an option. The gentleman I spoke to earlier showed me that, half a block away, converted pick up trucks drive passengers to the border for 15 Baht (0.30 euro). Then, during the walk from the truck stop to the Thai border post, the hassling started. The two Canadians I bumped into a bit later as well as myself, both of us were being trailed by a, what I think was a Cambodian, constantly making remarks about what we needed to do and where we would have to do them. All bits and pieces of information completely useless; I could see where the immigration was. The Thai border crossing was hassle free. The Cambodian crossing is a few hundred meters down, after a stretch of road with huge casinos on either side in, what I assume, is basically a lawless no man's land. The two Canadians had gotten their Cambodian visas at a place that might have been a consulate in Aranya Prathet. Their visa had the price on it, 20 USD, which is the same amount the Lonely Planet claims it should be. However, they paid around 1200 Baht, which is closer to 40 USD. Back at immigration, I got my Cambodian visa from a guy in the appropriate border police uniform, in sight of the actual immigration post, where your passport is stamped but where, I assume you can not get a visa. I had to fill in a few forms, while my minder was yakking on one side of me and a new minder was trying to get me to use his bus service, yakking away on my other side. Both these minders were wearing an official-looking badge, while I was doing the paperwork with the border guard, in sight of the immigration officers. I also had to pay 1200 Baht, though my visa doesn't mention the fee. It is quite possible that, with the border skirmish going on, the price in Baht has gone up (twofold!) while the price in USD has stayed the same. It is equally possible both the Canadians and I were scammed out of 20 USD. After I got my passport back and had it stamped, the second tout was back to greet me again. I had tried to get some information on onward travel from the official who stamped my passport, but with little success. The Lonely Planet states that free transport is supposed to take you to the Poipet Tourist Lounge, some five minutes away. The free transport we got took us to an exchange booth, 90 seconds away, next to a shop which claimed to be a bus and taxi stop. The tout had already made it clear that bus trips to Siem Reap would cost 500 Baht, 10 euros. The Lonely Planet mentions 40000 Riel (which, at least at the time the Lonely Planet was printed, was 10 USD). At this bus 'station', I also asked for the price in Riel, which was quoted at 45000 Riel. By then, the Canadians had exchanged money at the cambio, for 3000 to the Dollar. With the financial crisis currently going on, as well as the border issues with Thailand, it was impossible to say whether this was a scam or not. However, later on, in Siem Reap, we learned that the exchange rate is actually still 4000 Riel to the Dollar. So, although the price in Riel for the bus to Siem Reap might just have been the actual going rate, the price in Baht most certainly wasn't. With no, or overpriced Riel at our disposal, this, however, didn't matter, both prices being too high. Meanwhile, this is for a 150km trip, just having driven some 250 kilometers on the Thai side of the border for half that money. And, we were told, the bus would take six hours... or more. It was here, at this bus 'station', where I also chatted with three tourists who had taken the Koa San bus to Siem Reap, the infamous scam bus. What had they paid? A mere 200 Baht. For the whole frackin' journey. I pitied them, though, because, indeed, this would mean an unpleasant six hours in the next bus, which they were waiting for, for it only departed at 3... or 4... in the afternoon and it meant they'd most likely have to deal with an unpleasant arrival in Siem Reap. Taking a taxi was also an option. Quoted at 600 Baht per person, with four in a car, we were told this would take only 3 hours. 2400 Baht, 50 euros, for the whole vehicle, quoted by the Lonely Planet at 40 to 50 USD. We managed to pay 1800 Baht for the three of us, with the 'risk' that the driver might pick up an extra passenger along the way. And, indeed, a chatty young woman took up the front seat for some 40 kilometers of our journey. But, at least, we were on our way. We drove into Siem Reap a good three hours later, only for the taxi driver to halt right on the edge of town. A bunch of guys in carts resembling tuk tuks gave us what felt like a bogus story on the taxi not being allowed into town, because of its license plates. We had to switch to the tuk tuks which, after some back and forths, were said to be part of the deal, that is, at no extra cost. Two local-style tuk tuks, the Canadian couple in one, myself in the other. We made it appear we were one group and going to the same guest house, though only I had actually made a booking. The head-tout was driving with me. At first, he wanted to push a 'happy smoke' (hash or weed) and then he wanted to push a tuk tuk or taxi for visiting Angkor Wat. A tuk tuk (for two people) at 15 USD per day, a taxi at 30 USD per day. Indeed, not overly wild prices, but both myself and the Canadians were already strongly considering biking the temples. Arriving at the guesthouse, Pie, for that was his name, tried his ploy on the Canucks, but with no success. He then did a spiel on not having gotten anything from us, while he had to pay for gas to drive us there. Interestingly, he seemed seriously dismayed and though I in no way felt responsible or wavered on my desire to rent a bike, on a human level, I did feel some pity for the boy: you can't begrudge a man's desire to make some money. 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