Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wrap up: Flight, qualitatively

A few days ago I listed the flights I had taken and their distances. But today I want to recall the nature of these experiences on budget airlines, mostly Ryanair.

Ryanair plane exterior and interior.

"We love Ryan" - My Italian friend (We hate Ryan but still use it.)
The Ryanair legend goes like this: Flights are so cheap that you can hop on a morning flight to London, have lunch with a friend, and hop back home by evening.

In reality, most one-way Ryanair tickets probably cost $50 for intracontinental flights of 45 minutes to 2 hours long. However, there are many many hidden costs of using Ryanair.
  • Ryanair uses "secondary airports". These are pretty much cargo airports before Ryan came along. They're often REALLY far from the actual city that Ryanair advertises. Why these airports? They're airport usage fees are lower than those of the well-known passenger airports. There is frequently no convenient public transportation from the city center to these airports. You have to take a bus for an hour and costs anywhere between 10 - 15 euro.
  • Ryanair flights extremely early. I bet that the 6am flight at any airport is a discount carrier. Think backwards: 6am flight 4am arrive at airport 3am bus to airport .... 2am wake up and check out of hostel. It's like not sleeping at all. Pretty much every trip I took, there were nights like this for me. Even if the airport is accessible via public transportation, you can be that they don't run at 3am. Instead of taking a city bus/metro to the airport bus stop, you have to take a taxi. Plan on another 10 euro, if you split it with your travel companion. 
  • Or they flight extremely late. When I flew Pegasus airlines from Marseilles to Istanbul, my 3-hour flight was schedule for 2am and then delayed until 3am. I arrived in Istanbul at 7am without having slept a wink and spent 1/3 of my time in Istanbul as a zombie.
MP2, you know, not Marseille Provence airport but the other one. The 2 stands for second-class discount airlines passenger.

"It's like a bus. With wings." - My Vietnamese friend (I've taken nicer buses.)
It's like a bus because you fight for the seats and you should bring your own food.

Ryanair virgins will scrutinize their boarding pass (web checked in and self-printed, of course) and realize that there is no seat number! That's right. You have to fight for your window or aisle seat. Part of the seat-seeking strategy requires calculating whether to board via the front or rear door of the plane. Yup, the plane is always on the tarmac and not connected to the airport proper with the passageway.

They do sell food on the flight by at highway robbery prices.

I have taken very nice buses with assigned seats, free coffee, and seats that recline to almost flat.

The dreaded luggage box (Pack light. And wear all your extra clothes on your body.)
Passengers are permitted ONE carry-on. Purses, cameras, duty free store purchases must all fit within one piece of luggage, which must itself fit in the Ryanair Cage.

At Beauvais airport, a young woman in front of me managed to stuff her duffel bag into the box. But while pulling it out, the handle broke off. No emotion from the Ryanair staff looking down at her kneeling on the floor trying to pull out her broken bag.

I am very proud of being able to travel for 14 days with only this backpack, in which I also put my blocky DSLR case and an empty big brown purse. As you can see, it's a school-size backpack, not a hiking pack.

Tips of getting around the luggage restrictions: Wear 5 layers of clothes. Most flights within Europe aren't more than 2 hours long so you'll only sweat for 2 hours... Also carry a coat with lots of pockets where you can put the heavy items and your snacks for the flight.

No customer service.
Some of you may know that my trip to Lisbon was unplanned. This was due to the volcano ash cloud over southern Portugal that caused Ryanair to cancel my flight. While the ash cloud was beyond Ryanair's control, the ticket rebooking fiasco could have been prevented. Ryanair's website screwed up. Instead of allowing passengers of canceled flights to rebook for free, the website charged us as if we just decided to change our tickets. This lead to a two hour wait at the Faro airport where Ryanair did not have a dedicated ticket counter. Instead all our rebooking requests were handled by a single overtaxed airport employee. Because we didn't use the internet to rebook, we were charged a 10 euro fee, even though the Ryanair website screwed up and we couldn't have rebooked online anyway...

Ryanair is almost more trouble than it's worth. 
Ryanair is planning to eventually go transatlantic. It'll be the worst 8 hour flight in the world. But it means I can go visit all my lovely Europeans friends.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wrap up: Flight by numbers

I've flown a lot in the past few months within Europe, mostly on discount airlines. These are the flights I've taken, in chronological order.
  • Detroit - Washington Dulles - Copenhagen (4446 mi 7155 km)
  • Copenhagen - Amsterdam (394 mi 633 km)
  • Amsterdam - Copenhagen (394 mi 633 km)
  • Brussels - Prague (434 mi 699 km)
  • Århus - Oslo (224 mi 361 km)
  • Oslo - Århus (224 mi 361 km)
  • Billund - Barcelona (998 mi 1606 km)
  • Faro - Billund (1519 mi 2445) 8732
  • Århus - London (500 mi 805 km)
  • London - Århus (500 mi 805 km)
  • Billund - Edinburgh (485 m 781 km)
  • Edinburgh - Paris (503 mi 811 km)
  • Paris - Marseille (441 mi 710 km)
  • Marseille - Istanbul (1242 mi 1999 km)
  • Istanbul - Copenhagen (1266 mi 2037 km)
  • Copenhagen - Krakow (484 mi 779 km)
  • Krakow - Malmo (461 mi 743 km)
  • Copenhagen - Frankfurt - Detroit (4571 mi 7355 km) 
Total distance flown: 19,086 mi 30,716 km 

Number of trips on airlines:
  • Ryanair: 9
    The grandaddy of discount airlines, notorious for charging for every service possible and eliminating every measure of comfort.
  • Lufthansa: 2
    So luxurious in comparison. 
  • Wizzair: 2
    Hungarian discount airlines whose female flight attendants wear hot pink blouses and too much  makeup. The company colors are purple and pink.
  • Pegasus: 2
    Turkish discount airlines. 
  • KLM: 2
  • Norwegian: 1
    A discount airlines too but a nicer one. 
  • SAS: 1
  • United: 1
Percent of flights on discount carriers: 70%
Percent of flights within Europe on discount carriers: 88% (Gokcen airport in Istanbul is technically on the Asia side of the city, but you know what I mean.)


Leaving Warsaw. You can tell it's Wizzair by the pink wingtip. You can also see the Palace of Culture and Science if you look very very carefully and other skyscraper of Warsaw city center.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wrap up: Numismatics

I'm still sorting through photos and uploading them to facebook, gradually. It make me miss Århus and my travels and all my friends.

When I was packing, I gathered my loose change together and took this photo. They are mostly zloty, lira, pound, Swedish kronor, and a couple Euro cents. Oh! I spy a dime too.

(No Danish kroner in this photo. I wrote briefly about Danish money here.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Closing words

I'm back in Ann Arbor now.

This is an email (with some edits) I sent to some friends I met in Århus, who are all back in their home countries now, just before leaving Århus. It's as close to a summary of my exchange as I came come up with, not that it's possible to sum up life experiences.

Dear Friends, 

This is my last email from Europe. I'm getting on the train to Copenhagen and then flying to Detroit airport and continuing on to Ann Arbor. So there are a few things I like to say before leaving. 

This has been the best six months of my life because of the times we had together in Århus. I know that a lot of Americans, Canadians, and Australians use this time as a vacation to travel throughout Europe, but for me, it's been so much more.

At some point, all of you have asked me what my favorite city was. I usually say Istanbul, London, and Berlin. But that's just naming cities. A better question would be to reflect on the memorable experiences I have had. Then Århus would without a doubt be my favorite city because I got to meet all of you here. I loved all the times we spent here in the darkest, coldest months. 

When I was traveling around, I felt comforted knowing that I would come back to Århus, my temporary "home". It felt like a home because I knew that all of you would be here and we'd have dinner and talk and just hang out. You all are much dearer to me than Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or Nike of Samothrace at the Louvre (even though I was thrilled to see them both) because we shared good times together. You all are the difference between a six-month exchange and a European backpacking holiday. This experience is much richer and much more rewarding.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Travel photos

My most recent and last trip was to Krakow and Warsaw. When I got back to Århus on Thursday night, I looked at the photos I took there. I was taken back by how few photos I had taken in Krakow. I generally don't look through my photos when I'm traveling because I prefer to see them on the computer screen but don't have a computer to copy them onto. This means that I don't know what I had taken until I come home. 

The one photo I took of a landmark in Krakow

I've taken a lot of photos since I've been in Denmark (some of which you've probably seen on facebook). I made it a point to take my camera out with me more. When I'm traveling outside Denmark, I always have it with me. If left to my own devices on a full day, I usually take around 200 photos. Quantity is loosely related to quality. You can't have a good photo if you don't take any so I aim to take a lot. This is why I was somewhat disappointed in my photos from Krakow. 

However, I have a personal goal that in each day of traveling I should take one good photo. In Krakow, I took several photos of friends that I really like. Definitely more than one "good photo" each day. What's more, I got to spend time with a friend of mine taking photos of each other. Really, why did I go visit tourist attractions? We could have stayed at home and just taken photos of each other and I would have been perfectly happy. We'd have the photos and the memories of our photo session. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Travels: Measures of Tourist-itude

I have no idea how I'm going to catch up blogging. I want to write about Paris and Istanbul even though I've been back from Poland too. And I have yet to upload photos from Istanbul to facebook. 

I found that in Istanbul, you can judge how touristy a place is by two factors: the quality of its bathroom and the admission price.

Best bathroom: Topkapi Palace gift shop. The best part was that it's in the gift shop. since it's not inside the palace, you can go without buying a 20 lira ($13 or 10 euro) admission ticket.

My couchsurfing host and I went to a kebab shop on a side street off Istikal Avenue which had a squat toilet. This didn't surprise me since it was an entirely non-touristy kebab shop.

I was surprised by the squat toilet at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum because I thought it was popular tourist spot. Well, after going to the museum, I realized it wasn't THAT popular... Or maybe I didn't find the one for tourists in the exhibition wings. This was in building which has the museum's offices.

Topkapi Palace: 20 lira. (I didn't go.)
Hagia Sophia: 20 lira. (It's now a museum, not a place of worship, so they charge substantial admission.)
Istanbul Archaeology Museum: 10 lira.

Oh in Turkey they don't do student discounts either.

Oh yes, some photos of things I had only seen in photos before going on this amazing trip:

The famous Deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia

Alexander the Great, first guy on the left, though not the guy in this sarcophagus.

Very sad women and some gawking tourists.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travels: Origins

I was also frequently greeted with "kunichiwa". Eventually I wasn't bothered so much by being misidentified as Japanese because they are definitely the most common Asian tourists in Istanbul. There were some Koreans and very few Chinese. Statistically they'd have a higher chance of guessing the correct nationality, I suppose. It didn't change the fact that I got unwanted attention, regardless of the language.

One evening a Turkish friend and I went to a restaurant where the maitre d'expressed surprise that I was from America. At least that's what I think he meant. I heard my Turkish friend tell him "Amerika", probably saying where I was from. But then he looked at me and waved his hand over his face, drawing attention to my face as if to double check that I really was from America. 

During my whole time away from the US, I've noticed just the racial diversity in the US is an anomaly compared to many other countries. In Denmark, for example, the earliest immigrants only arrived in the 1960s. The country is still struggling to include non ethnic Danes in the country. But in the US we know that there are many Americans who aren't white. However, it seems that abroad, people don't realize this reality so much. To people I've met abroad, I hope that our friendship has shown you what America is like apart from the movies and TV.

Travels: Not so wonderful thing about Istanbul

I had some warning that traveling alone in Istanbul may be more difficult than doing the same in Spain. My Rough Guide to Europe had the following in the Culture and Etiquette section on Turkey:
Single female travelers may experience some harassment. A common approach is being stopped to answer a quick question. Be aware that a quick question is never a quick question and you could find yourself embroiled in a desperate attempt to solicit your phone number or arrange a dinner date. 
I wasn't sure if I would encounter the described harassment in Istanbul since it is more liberal than elsewhere in Turkey. In fact, I thought it would be rare because I find that cosmopolitan cities seem to have more with each other than smaller towns in the same country. I also thought that because I'm not white or blonde, that

Unfortunately, I was harassed a lot in Istanbul. Their tactics were just as described in my guidebook. As I walked by, the most common conversation opener was "Where are you from", which was often repeated if I ignored them. Some of them would say something about the sights near us like "Oh you are visiting Aya Sofya". But I did ignore them and just kept walking.

I'm not sure what their intentions were or where the conversation would lead if I even made eye contact. I never responded to their calls. I just kept walking. I suppose some would eventually try to sell me something. Or that's what I hope because that it gives them a reason to me, for the lira in my pocket. But according to The Rough Guide, it sounds like some of them want to have dinner with a random non-Turkish tourist woman.

These "friendly" men were in particularly high concentration at the square between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, middle-aged men just hanging around the square while tourists criss-crossed in front of them. This only happened when I was by myself in the historic quarter of the city where the main tourist attractions were: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia. This didn't happen to me when I was elsewhere in the city that were less touristy and I was accompanied by a Turkish friend. I don't know if it was because I was alone or because I was in a particular part of the city.

I can tolerate friendly haggling with a souvenir T-shirt vendor but I became uncomfortable when he started to say he broke up with his girlfriend "yesterday." And proceeded to have me stay for a cup of tea with him at his stall. I paid for two t-shirts and practically ran away.

The harassment was enough to make me really cranky and suspicious of men walking my way on the sidewalk. I know that people will tell me that that's just the way (a certain) Turkish men and foreign women interact, I'm a tourist, I was alone, blah blah. But none of those circumstances is an excuse. This behavior gives me the creeps. It rubs me the wrong way. It's just not an appropriate way to treat women.

But my time in Istanbul also included many fond memories such as -- like I recalled in a postcard to a friend -- having tea on the top of a parking lot overlooking the city and the Bosphorus glittering in the evening sun. That moment made me want to stay in Istanbul forever.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Unphotographable Travels: Istanbul from above

My flight left Istanbul at 11pm and gave me the most beautiful take-off view of any city I've seen from the air. I saw lights outlining the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn and the bridges that span them. Ships dotted the black waters in the waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It looked like a game of battleship.

In the distance was an intense thunderstorm. I saw lightning pierce through clouds. It looked just like photos I had seen, long lightning bolts that lit up the gray clouds. Oddly, I couldn't hear the thunder from inside the plane, just the hum of the engines. Fortunately our plane wasn't in the storm. The sky was clear around us, allowing me to see the yellow lights on the ground and the white lightning in the clouds.

The airport was on the Asia side of Istanbul so we crossed into Europe. Then the darkness surrounded us as we flew over Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland before landing in Copenhagen.