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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adios New Orleans, Hello FUN

 

Although I have crossed “The Mighty Mississippi” many times by land and by air, at just pass 4pm on a beautiful Sunday afternoon this will the first time I have sailed it's muddy waters.

 

CCL Dream Mississippi ViewWith the safety drill quickly over with the Carnival Dream begins what I am told  will be an almost eight hour journey down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

 

 

Our “Sail Away Party” is FUN but what is even more exciting is enjoying the views along the river as we snake our way downstream.

 

 

Mississippi Badging

Mississippi Badging

 

 

Adios New OrleansAdios New Orleans, Hello Key West.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Megabus, Lowes And A Dream

 

Just before 1am we are standing on Tennessee Street waiting for a bus but this is no ordinary bus, this is “The Megabus” that is going to take us from here to New Orleans for less than $17 per person. It has not been since my college days that I have ridden a long haul bus in the US so I am sort of looking forward to reliving the experience.

As we leave the bus stop we are given a stern warning about drinking and smoking on the bus but it is difficult to take it serious when it is done with a “Southern Twang”. A 15 minute stop somewhere near Pensacola for other chance at “Southern” exposure then we are on the road again.

I vaguely remember hearing “Mobile” in my sleep before dawn's early light is giving me a morning view of the New Orleans skyline. Around 7am we come to a stop on the streets of New Orleans not too far from the outskirts of the French Quarter.

 

20150503_071902Although our parental plan calls for us to take taxi's from here to the cruise terminal, we are trumped by our group of new graduates mostly from the business school who would rather save us the money and walk. I vote to give them all jobs at the Congressional Budget Office.

Our walk begins with a near miss of being hit by nothing less than a taxi. It is a beautiful morning as we make our way along the streets of New Orleans. A few of the first timers to the city are surprised that bars are open at 7am but hey, this is New Orleans.

 

 

We lose a luggage wheel along the way but this problem is quickly solved with a new set of wheels thanks in part to Lowes. I see the potential that most of our cruise expenses can be subsidized before we even set sail.

For a “Big Easy” first timer no trip to the city would be complete with a stop at the world famous Cafe du Monde. We beat the early morning lines and enjoy eight orders of the good stuff on the outside patio.

Another attempt to get a taxi at only $7 per person is thwarted so we continue our walk along the New Orleans Riverfront.

Through a shopping mall our destination is now within easy striking distance. At the top of a steep set of stairs we say good bye to our friend from Lowes but hope he'll be there when we return. Our Dream adventure is about to begin.

 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Milano By Day

Italy, Milano Highlights

 

 

After a seven hour and forty one minute flight we touch down in Milan about ten minutes ahead of schedule, one of us fully rested, one not so lucky.

 


2015-04-03 02.37.48“Buongiorno” from a smiling Immigration Officer, an easy walk through Customs and just like that we are officially in Milano.

 

 

 

 

I always wonder why other countries immigration and customs airport entry procedures are not as easy and nice as in most cases all across Europe.
A stop at Hertz and less than thirty minutes later, “The Blue Panda” is headed to “The Duomo”.

The Milano morning traffic is a bit more hectic than expected but eventually we end up navigating our way to a parking spot within eyesight of the main train station.

 

 

2015-04-03 15.39.34Stazione Centrale

 

 

At a parking rate of 1.20 euro per hour we think we have found a good deal and set off for about a 3 hour self guided walking tour.

We could not have asked for better weather as we head towards the Milan Cathedral (Duomo). Along the way we are entertained by the sights of the city including a traffic stop juggler. Shop windows are decorated in brilliant colors, some of them with designs that celebrate the upcoming Easter holidays.

 

IMG_0004In one area Peruvian street performers woo the crowd with soothing music and a walking street is filled with pedestrians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0010The talents of street performers are sometimes amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

At one point we watch an artist at work using vegetables as his sole medium. A rose made out of carrots is astonishing.

 

 

 

2015-04-03 12.15.37Piazzo Castello

 

 

It is just so gorgeous as we sit at Piazzo Castello and relax by the water fountain. A walk down Via Dante and the majestic Duomo comes into view. Although I have visited the Duomo before it still is and will probably always be impressive to me.

 

 

2015-04-03 12.53.22Milan Duomo

 

 

Our travel budget and Swiss bank account is way too small to do any shopping at Galleria Vittorio but it is still nice to dream of one day having a complete Italian wardrobe makeover.

 

2015-04-03 13.38.33We love the soft blue that seems to be the in color this season and I now regret not taking out a small loan to be a part of the current fashion trend.

 

 

 

 

 

2015-04-03 14.31.11A fresh and affordable lunch at Mr Zuppa then it is a brief visit to the main train station before we are on the road to Verona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Transnistria, A Day Tour Of Tiraspol

 

My tour of Tiraspol sort of officially begins but then it is quickly interrupted by a gentleman who approaches my guide as we are walking away from the train station. An engaging conversation takes place and I am impressed that my guide who is American is holding his own communicating in Russian. Tim gives me a quick insight into the conversation which is interesting to me.

 

2015-01-21 14.24.39The other man is a taxicab driver who Tim used during the New Year holiday celebration when he had a run in with the local police.

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly, the taxicab recognized him as we were strolling by. As is the norm here, so I am told, at the time of Tim’s run in with the police they took a laptop computer from him as a part of the items he had in his personal possession. In trying to retrieve his personal items at a later date, Tim was told it was this taxicab driver that stole it from him. In reality the story was just the opposite. Here there is no real crime just corruption and this is one example of it. Fortunately this gentleman has promised to help Tim get his computer back.

 

 

 

2015-01-21 14.41.21

 

 

An unusual introduction to Transnistria but it demonstrates how it's citizens have little trust for government officials. Here I am told there is also little interest in the political system because of the way the government works. Similarly, I read that in Chisinau it took three attempts to elect the Prime Minister because voter turnout was below that required for the election process.

From the train station it is a short walk into town and I need to lighten my load so we hop on the No.2 bus for a ride to my apartment for the night. Although on the outside many apartment buildings look dilapidated on the inside can be a completely different story.

 

2015-01-22 00.28.17My apartment is in the process of being renovated and although a bit colorful it is still more than adequate for me for one night.

I enjoy the experience of being accommodated like a local.

 

 

 

 

Back on another bus and we hop off at one of the famous parks in the city. Mostly deserted this time of the year, however, over fifty years of Soviet amusement park history is still here.

 

 

 

2015-01-21 15.22.02

 

 

With rides made of mostly cast iron they will probably still be here for another thousand and fifty years. Famous among the rides here is a Ferris wheel similar to the one at Chernobyl although this one does not have a glow to it.

 

 

IMG_0001From the park we take a stroll towards Transnistria University which was founded by a Ukrainian poet.

Even today there is still a close bond between Transnistrians and Ukrainians.

 

 

 

 

 

Near the university we stop at a bakery/cafe that is popular with students because of it's cheap quart size beers. We both have hot tea while I sample a local pastry filled with potatoes.

 

 

2015-01-21 15.51.11

 

 

A stop at a souvenir shop then we pause a few minutes in front of the Transnistria Central Bank where they print “Monopoly Money”. The currency here is very controlled and can be pretty much only used and exchanged here.

To my surprise some of the best Cognac in the world is produced here. A bottle that would cost you about 40 euros elsewhere can be purchased here for about 2 euros.

 

 

2015-01-21 16.52.21Not knowing much about the Orthodox faith, I find it a very cool learning experience when we visit the Christmas Church.

Built in 1999 this church is a part of the Moldovan Orthodox Diocese.

 

 

 

Taking in the works of art which I am told was painted by Transnistria University students is amazing as I listen to a beautiful and harmonic sound that echos from a hidden choir.

 

 

 

2015-01-21 17.13.09

 

 

From the Christmas Church we take a short walk to visit a few on Tiraspol more notable monuments which are less than a ten minute walk away.

For me, the most sobering one of these monuments is a memorial similar to Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Just a few feet from an old Soviet tank an “Eternal Flame” burns for about one thousand soldiers who lost their lives during a 1990's war with Moldova.

Just across the street from this memorial is one of the largest remaining statues in the world of Vladimir Lenin former Soviet Union communist leader. For some perceived security reasons pictures of this statue can only be taken from across street as the Parliament Building is in the background. Although some believe close up pictures cannot be taken because they might capture government workers doing nothing.

 

 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tear Gassed, In Kosovo

 

 

2015-01-27 17.30.20After a double border crossing and picking up passengers along the way we arrive in Pristina in the early afternoon. Stepping from the bus into the cold air of a small but busy bus station I approach a local passenger from the bus for some guidance in visiting Pristina.

 

 

As I am having this conversation I am joined by another passenger who is seeking basically the same information. We are told we have picked an interesting day to visit Pristina as a big protest is planned in the city. This seems like a good way to get a pulse of the city and peaks my interest. My first destination in Pristina is determined.

Overhearing our discussion another passenger from the bus joins in and he offers to guide myself and the other passenger around the city. As outsiders neither one of us could have asked for a better situation and we get a great education about Kosovo along the way. 

 

 

2015-01-27 13.30.26On our walk to the city center my attention is drawn to a tall building in the distance with a larger than life size billboard with a smiling face on it.

 

 

 

Approaching the building it all makes some sense as stories beneath this billboard is a statue of none other than former US President, Bill Clinton.

President Clinton along President Bush and NATO forces were all instrumental in freeing Kosovo from Serbian aggression and “ethnic cleansing”.

 

 

2015-01-27 13.43.09At a new Catholic cathedral on Bill Klinton Blvd we cross the street and continue toward the area for this afternoon's planned protest.

We pass small groups along the street with a few group members carrying Kosovo flags.

 

 

Soon we arrive in an area where a larger crowd has assembled and the activity level has picked up. I find it interesting that across the crowd from us a bright yellow cat with big white teeth is smiling down on us from a building where it is painted.

Standing on the perimeter of the crowd our guide for the day, Max, is determining our next course of action as he is trying to navigate us to the Kosovo Museum. Our direct route to the museum is now blocked by the protestors.

As he is contemplating this the activity level of the crowd intensifies and in what seems like a split second later shots of tear gas are fired in our direction.

A stampede of hundreds begins and a big part of it is headed our way. With a jump now in my heart activity the only thing I can think to do is run and that is exactly what I do as I watch a few people fall and almost get trampled.

 

 

2015-01-27 14.04.10

 

 

Soon my eyes are burning and a nasty taste fills my mouth as my breathing begins to labor. The air is now filled with the irritating gas even as we have moved away from the initial dispersion area. A man who apparently was closer to this area passes us with bright red blood shot eyes. There is a bit of panic in the air as ambulance and police sirens can be heard wailing across the city.

We have seen enough and Max works on an alternate route to get us to the museum. Although crowds are gathered along our new route the intensity and protesting level is a bit more subdued than at the focal point.

 

2015-01-27 14.24.25We eventually make it to the Kosovo museum where Max says his good byes but gives an invite to his home in Montenegro at anytime.

I promise that I will take him up on that offer.

 

 

 

Admission to the Kosovo Museum is free and although its displays are simply they tell a sad part of Kosovo's history. The “ethnic cleansing” that took place here up into the late 1990's is ridiculously sad. As we get ready to leave the museum I find the main entrance door is locked. I am standing there for a few minutes when an employee approaches and informs me that the museum is closing early because of the protesting activities going on in the city.

 

 

 

2015-01-27 14.50.53Guns Of Kosovo War

 

It takes some navigation around unknown streets and through a city park to avoid the protesting that is still going on. However, taking Max's advice we head back towards the university but I am surprised that some of the protesting activity has now moved in that direction. Late into the afternoon the air is still filled with gas and the crowd now at the intersection of Klinton and Bush Blvd has grown larger.

Although at first this seems like an obstacle to getting back to the bus station some more off the main path navigation and soon enough I am enjoying a “Pita Pizza” with a delicious sausage topping.

 

2005-01-01 01.01.51Big snowflakes are falling as the bus station comes into sight and I think what a cool way to end what has been an exciting experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Transnistria, Tracked Down In Tiraspol

 

From what I think is time to kill, I do a little exploring around the train station while avoiding what seems like forbidden areas. Climbing a set of stairs puts me on a pedestrian bridge that crosses multiple tracks below.

 

2015-01-21 13.48.50Although there is an increased chill in the air, feeling like a “Lionel Kid” I stay for a few minutes to watch a Soviet made locomotive at work.

 

 

 

 

Back at our planned meeting point there are more than a few men hanging around who could easily be my tour guide. However, knowing only about two words in Russian I am hesitant to approach any of them but I have developed a plan if my guide does not show up.

In an email I was given an address and hotel name to use when I registered at the border crossing which I managed not to do. At this point I hope it is all valid information as my plan is to take a taxicab to the address if all else fails.

In making my arrangements to meet under these conditions I thought for sure that when I arrived in Tiraspol I would standout like a sore thumb among the locals. Before leaving Chisinau I did send an email picture of myself but I am not sure if it was received.

Another ten minutes of waiting and I hear my name in a question form being called from less than fifteen feet away. The whole time I had been pacing in and around the park so was my guide.

 

 

2015-01-26 10.06.42To my surprise, apparently my smaller than usual backpack, black (fleece lined) cargo pants and knitted sock cap made me seem more like a local than someone he was expecting.

 

 

 

We laugh it all off until I tell him that I never registered at the border which is a requirement for visiting Transnistria.

I can see the wheels turning inside his head as Tim mulls this little dilemma over. In what seems to me to be said with a nervous smile Tim tells me, "we will worry about it later".