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Krys's Travel log

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Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!

Log entries 151 - 160 of 1158 Page: 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Aug 19, 2011 04:00 PM Iguassu Falls (BR) - a long way for this debut

Iguassu Falls (BR) - a long way for this debut I wanted to check in online for my flights, well at least to Rio. Yet, this was not available. For no reason. My timing and all conditions were in line with the requirements. It seemed tome that TAM Airlines were still in their infancy with regard to online or mobile check-in. Anyway, I waited for the day of the departure and arrived at the airport with enough time to claim best seats in the cabin. And still, I opted for a comfort seat at one of the emergency exits, which attracted a ?60 fee, however. I went for it. It was going to be a long flight.

The 27A seat had plenty of leg room. As all seats in row 27. The flight was not busy. It was only I and another gentleman at seat 27K occupying the row. The airline was very strict that passengers, who had not paid extra could not occupy them. And there were many who tried.

The service kicked off really well. The flight attendants offered all a cup of still water and then came warmed towels. Not too bad for a first impression in the economy cabin.

Food was served half an hour after take-off. For the main course, the airline prepared three choices - chicken, beef or veggie pasta. I went for chicken. It was a thin sliced chicken breast in tomato sauce, served with creamy risotto and broccoli. Not too bad, I have to admit, and a nice serving. There was also a side salad with vinaigrette at a side and decent coconut and mango mousse. Wine was plentiful, too. The only drawback was plastic cutlery.

TAM Airlines were good with tea. They had several kinds, including green tea. Hot water was poured into a white polystyrene cup and hermetically sealed tea bags were provided. Again, not too bad. I was just wondering if this was the case for the transatlantic flights only.

Landed in Rio 25 minutes early. Immigration was painless. No questions asked. Rio's airport is most certainly not amongst the prettiest or best organised airports in the world. That is very poor for a glamourous, multimillion inhabitants city, which in a few years will host the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup!

The TAM guy at the transfer desk offered to re-book me on a direct flight to Igua?u Falls but could not find a seat on the morning flight and I did not really want to take the late afternoon flight, as I would have landed after sunset. This meant that I needed to wait two hours at Rio's GIG International Airport for the flight to S?o Paulo, transfer from the small CGH domestic airport all the way across the city to the larger GRU international and domestic airport. Not ideal!

My Rio to S?o Paulo flight, or the shuttle really, was not showing on the boards. I was checked in for it in London and did not the gate number. How was I supposed to check where to proceed. I asked one of the TAM staff, who said that the flight was not showing, because its number might have changed but confirmed that the flight existed and that it should leave from gate 29.

Although it boarded on time and was ready to leave 15 minutes ahead of schedule, it pushed back on time, and then got stuck just before the runway for some reason. Anyway, as I had a wind seat, I could only catch a small peek of the Marvellous City from the air. I snoozed for the majority of the short hop.

The TAM's free CGH-GRU coach shuttle, referred by the airport staff as the JJ Bus (JJ is TAM's aviation code), leaves hourly, on an hour. The transfer lasted 40 minutes and passed a few grand examples of colonial architecture still standing in S?o Paulo, overwhelmed by the sea of ugly concrete towers. I thought it would take up to 90 minutes to get from one airport to the other.

I had four hours of waiting for my flight to Foz. The TAM guy in Rio, who regretted there was no TAM VIP lounge for domestic passengers in Rio, told me that I would be able to relax in the lounge in S?o Paulo. He was wrong. Apparently, the airport authorities took the lounge away from TAM. I had to be happy with a few metal and plastic seats in the main departure hall, and a food and beverage cafe with no seats. I had been at this airport twice before (2004, 2005) and I was not looking forward to this. I grabbed a bottle of Coke (for the caffeine) and a sandwich and I paid ?10 for them! That's a robbery!!

The flight to Foz was late! We departed an hour late and got to Foz do Iguassu 45 minutes late. Fortunately, I had no luggage in the hold, so could storm out the terminal, jump in a taxi (BRL 45 or EUR19), and get to my hotel within 20 minutes. As I stayed inside the national park, I had to stop at the park entrance and get a ticket (BRL40.80), which also took time. I was dying for a shower. For I had been on three planes and at five airports airports for 24 hours!

I decided to stay at a rather expensive colonial and very pretty five star Hotel das Cataratas, managed by the Orient Express company for four reasons. One - it was a long trip, and I just wanted to splurge. Two - the proximity to the falls, which was matchless, allowing for flexibility in viewing. Three - sunset and sunrise at the falls at my doorstep without having to comply with park opening hours. Four - perhaps I will not visit the spot again, so what the hell?! The hotel charged BRL670 per night for a large and comfortable room with kingsize bed, and included breakfast; access to the heated outdoor pool; the gym; and souvenir flip-flops.

The falls were superb. Weather supported great viewing with good clarity air and reasonably moderate cloud cover. The falls were reported to carry ten times more water than normal due to heavy rains in the region. Water was more brown and wild than its usual white colour. Also the volume created more overspill falls in many parts of the escarpment, which normally are not covered in falling water...

The sunset was great.

Aug 18, 2011 04:00 PM South America - the first stop: Brasil

South America - the first stop: Brasil In about 24 hours, I will be at the Iguassu Falls. TAM Airlines, the largest Brazilian carrier, takes me from London to Rio to Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguassu. Not an ideal route, I know. I will have over 5 hours in Sao Paulo for the connection, but I will have to transfer from the domestic airport to the international airport across the city. My original plan was taking me to Rio first, yet when I first enquired about the available flights, there were no seats on the direct connection from London. I shifted the itinerary to land in Foz first, via Sao Paulo. But, in the meantime, the schedule changed slightly, and so did seats availability. I gave up changing the plan again (accommodation in certain places had already been booked) and got the tickets as they are.

Then, I bought the Star Alliance Brazilian Airpass, saving about GBP150 on the domestic flights, compared with the cost of the individual tickets purchased online with TAM. Not much, but definitely worth it, as the Brazilian Airpass allowed for some flexibility, and the cheapest online fares did not.

With quite a bit of effort, long hours at the computer and a few telephone conversations, and I managed to book all accommodation in advance (partly to secure good location venues for reasonable price, and partly as I was landing in some cities after sunset), and all flights, except one - Cayenne to Paramaribo, yet this route might not be served by any airline known internationally. There could be some sort of air taxis available or local carriers, but I will find out when I get to Cayenne.

I will try to fill this travel log as I go along. Hopefully every day. The route is as follows: Sao Paulo (in transit); Foz do Iguassu; Puerto Iguazu; Rio de Janeiro; Salvador de Bahia; Olinda; Sao Luis; Belem; Cayenne; Paramaribo; Georgetown; Kaieteur Falls; Bridgetown.

Aug 09, 2011 04:00 PM South American Trip - Visa for Suriname

South American Trip - Visa for Suriname It has taken five years and the acquaintance with over ten Brazilians to finally plan this trip. Before it kicked off properly, it started in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I had to fly in for a day to obtain a visa for Suriname. There were three alternatives to having to fly to Amsterdam, yet none of them suit me.

First one was to visit the honorary consul to Suriname in London, however he could only provide a permit for the visa on arrival if one was to enter the country via the JAP Paramaribo international airport. It was unlikely I was going to do that since I could not identify any delights from Cayenne in French Guiana to Paramaribo.

The second one was to send the passport to Amsterdam, however this would have to be done at least two weeks before departure, was risky (in case passport is lost in the post) and there was no guarantee it would arrive in time, and was a lot more expensive than obtaining a visa in person, due to high bank charges. For this form of visa obtaining required up front visa fee transfer directly to the Surinamese Consulate bank account in Amsterdam.

The third one was to get the visa in the Embassy of Suriname in Cayenne. Yet, processing times there were two working days. Not good if one arrives in Cayenne on a Thursday. Visa would only be ready on Monday the earliest.

I arrived at the consulate in Amsterdam at 09:05 a.m., five minutes after it opened. There were already some 30 people inside, mainly Dutch-Surinamese and Dutch. I pulled a number from a machine. It was 48. I waited about a quarter of an hour and my number was called. The tall, black gentleman at a wise age examined my application quickly and gave me another number - 586. This one was for the cashier. I waited another quarter of an hour, or less, before my number was called out in Dutch. Fortunately, Dutch is just a cheap version of German, so I managed to figure out it was my number being called. I paid ?40 for the three months multiple entry visa. Much less than what they'd charge in Cayenne and slightly less than I had expected. The consulate's website must have been outdated... Another 15 minutes and I was out of the door, grasping my passport complete with a colourful and holographic visa sticker attached to page 21.

If easyJet's schedule allowed, I might have managed to go to work the very same day by 10 a.m. Well, it did not. So, I booked a 5 p.m. flight back to London and took a 'flash-back' tour in Amsterdam wandering about the canals and checking what was new at the Red Light District.

Jul 15, 2011 04:00 PM Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Guyana, Barbados - budget

Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Guyana, Barbados - budget The budget currently stands at £3,090 total. Just over a third of the cost are the air tickets, including all domestic flights on TAM; a helicopter ride over the Iguazu Falls; a flight from Belem at the mouth of the Amazon to the capital of French Guyana, synonymous with a name of a very tasty chili pepper; a flight between the capital cities of Suriname and Guyana; a recreational flight to the Kaietur Falls in Guyana and a final air hop to Barbados.

The other chunk, also just over a third of the budget, is the cost of accommodation, a quarter of which is the very first night at the funky hotel just across the Iguazu Falls...

All other parts of the budget are much less chunky; taxis and entry fees (including the expensive Surinamese visa) are both 8%; drinks are 7%; and food - 5%.

From experience, £1000 a week is about right to fit my recent travelling style, but it normally includes a 15% contingency. So, Brazil and the Guyanas are going to be slightly more expensive than usual. Yet, I do allow myself some extravaganza...

Jul 14, 2011 04:00 PM Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Guyana, Barbados - flights booked

Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Guyana, Barbados - flights booked The holiday starts on Saturday and ends on Saturday, but the trip will start a day before and end a day after.

The route plots from London Heathrow airport terminal 1 to Rio de Janeiro, then on one of the world's busiest air bridge shuttle to Sao Paulo and on to Foz do Iguassu. Stop there. Then back to Rio. A longer stop there. And then to Salvador, Recife, Olinda, Sao Luis and Belem, at the mouth of the great Amazon river. That's for Brazil.

A quick flight to Cayenne in French Guyana. Perhaps a day trip on the Maroni river to visit a village of, forgive me but I think that it their ethnographic name, the Bush Negroes. Then a longer road trip to the capital of Suriname. A few days there to visit a couple of acquaintance, and hopefully a short air hop to Georgetown in Guyana. Then, the plan is to fly to the Kaietur Falls and on to Barbados for some R & R... Then, unfortunately via Toronto, back to London.

For now, I booked the LHR-GIG-CGH/GRU-IGU on TAM and the BGI-YYZ-LHR on Air Canada. I also secured seats on the IGU-GIG; GIG-SSA; SSA-REC; REC-SLZ; and SLZ-BEL.

What I need now is to book flights from Belem to Cayenne; Paramaribo to Georgetown and Georgetown to Bridgetown.

Jul 08, 2011 04:00 PM Republic of South Sudan, welcome!

Republic of South Sudan, welcome! Finally the day has come to welcome South Sudan as an independent republic on our planet! Officially, this is the 196th independent state in the world as of the 9 July 2011.

News agencies have been reporting a total euphoria out of the new country's capital, Juba. One of them stated:

"Free at last," said Simon Agany, 34, as he walked around shaking hands. "Coming away from the north is total freedom." Men and women coming out of a late night church service shook hands and congratulated each other, wishing each other "Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday."

Indeed, Happy Birthday, South Sudan! All the best!

Jorge Sanchez and Wojtek Dąbrowski had already visited the country, soon after the citizens of the south voted overwhelmingly for independence in a long awaited referendum earlier this year. Jorge has also kindly submitted a report to read for us with a doze of practical information how to get there. Wojtek made entries to his travel log.

Jul 01, 2011 04:00 PM Prague (CZ) - the re-discovery mode

Prague (CZ) - the re-discovery mode The weather forecast was crap. There was little, if at all any, sunshine in the morning! I went back to bed for a couple of hours then. The plan for later was to re-discover the Old Town Square, the famous astronomical clock, the oldest bridge in the city, the Mala Strana and the Prague Castle. Well, actually, I do not remember whether I was ever at the castle, so it would probably be discovering it for the first time.

Is Prague crowded or what?! I do encourage people to travel as much as they can, but please - so many people at one spot at a time is not I have in mind. It is much, much, much, much too many visitors in Prague. Visiting the city is therefore no longer pleasant. It might have been, if the tourists cared to notice, respect and consider one another.

The castle was cool. I think the most striking aspect of the complex were how grand the churches had been erected on the premises, and then how few Czech people nowadays believe in a supreme being. They transformed from the devoted Christians who built incredible churches, cathedrals and basilicas, to the most atheist society in the world. Anyway, I was also surprised to find the tomb of St John Nepomucen at the castle's cathedral. I had not expected that. It was a rather elaborate tomb, covered in silver and surrounded by silver sculptures of angels.

The luck stroke me on this trip. For it has been exactly a month since they re-opened the Gold Lane, which had been closed for renovations for over a year until 1 June 2011. It would have p, however, made a better impression on me if it was not so crowded. Such a narrow lane and so many people.

Now, what happened to the £0.20 pints of beer??! It was not that long ago, when this was the case. Today, I had to pay almost £4! That is a lot more than in London. Who would have thought that beer could eventually become cheaper in London than in Prague, huh?

A large stage was fixed at the Old Town Square and rock bands had absolutely no mercy with their equipment. One of them was actually rather good and played in style of the old time The Doors. I did enjoy the music, to some extent, but I was not at all pleased with the construction, which obscured the best views of the square.

Jun 30, 2011 04:00 PM Croatia to join the European Union on 1 July 2013!

Croatia to join the European Union on 1 July 2013! Today, as Poland takes over the EU Presidency, Croatia has finalised its negotiations to join the European Union. This means that, if all goes well, with the Accession Treaty, which could be signed within next 6 months, Croatia will join the Union in two years exactly, as the 28th member state. And that would be great!

This means that travelling, and the consequences of that (insurance, medical cover, etc), in Croatia will become more convenient and ever stress-free. And those, who'd want to settle at that side of the Adriatic will have it easier, too.

Now, who's next; Iceland? Montenegro?

Jun 30, 2011 04:00 PM Prague (CZ) - hello, it's been 14 years!

Prague (CZ) - hello, it's been 14 years! The last time I was in the Czech capital it was on the 12 October 1997. Quite a while ago. Most of the time at that time, I was crawling from pub to pub, so I cannot say that I remember much else from that visit. I did spend most of the time at the old town, but since weather was excellent and the company I was with was even better, we preferred sitting with beer and lager in our hands to the wandering about the town on a dry stomach. All the obligatory sights, such as the square, the clock, the bridge were ticked off promptly and we could then relax and argue over pints.

So, this time round, I am intending to reverse the programme and do more touristy stuff. And since I am here on my own, I am pulling all the strings myself. Now, all will depend on weather whether my visiting schedule succeeds. The forecast does not currently look good for Sunday, so the initial plan is to cover everything this evening and on Saturday. But who should believe weather forecasts?!

I arranged for a taxi to pick me up at the airport, so I waste no time on commuting and make most of the available time. Considering also that my flight to Prague was almost an hour late! And that the day gets shorter and shorter, exacerbated by the fact that Prague is south of London or Warsaw.

The trip from the airport took much longer than I had expected. It is only about 10 kilometres from the city centre and it took as if it was at least 25 kilometres away. Anyway, after checking in and relaxing at the Hilton Prague's large executive lounge, time came to hit the town and take some night photos. I did not take any map with me, although I had studied it a little before I left, and at a few corners I was not quite sure whether I was on the right track. But I made it to the Old Town Square with no problem, and then I just followed the crowd and instinct to get to the Charles's Bridge. I snapped and snapped. Prague looked rather photogenic at night, I have to say. It definitely looked a lot different than 14 years ago! Then, there were not that many tourist and ... dark-skinned touts handing out go-go clubs' leaflets, inviting to restaurants or to boat rides. Interestingly, the majority of them were West Africans, and most were from Cote d'Ivoire.

Weather forecast changed a lot, and it was better for me to call it a night early and roll off the bed promptly to catch some of the morning sun rays.

Jun 25, 2011 04:00 PM Budapest (HU) - discovering new sights

Budapest (HU) - discovering new sights Today, I only planned to visit the municipal park, complete with a castle, a lake of art and one of Budapest's most flamboyant swimming pools and baths. So, I slept in. In fact, I called the guest services centre that I was going to check out late. After breakfast, and realising that weather was not great for picture taking, I descended to the Budapest's answer to Champs Elisees and hiked to the park. I was skeptical at first, but the acacia tree lined avenue, which had no traffic at all (!!), was flanked with the city's grandest palaces, mansions and villas. Some of them required some repair, indeed, but the overall experience was superb. Also, I passed via the museum of the struggle with communism. Its roof was extended with a panel that cast shadow on the pavement saying 'TERROR'. Opposite the entrance, an artist's interpretation of the Iron Wall stood, complete with layers of rusty chains. A poster stating 'Katyn' was fixed on the building. Katyn was a place where Stalin and his  secret police (NKVD) murdered c.22,000 Polish officers, university professors and intellectuals in 1940, shortly after the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939. The museum was quite a shocking spot on this otherwise very pleasant and elegant avenue.

I was impressed with the castle on the island in the park. It had several medieval-looking towers, one massive gate with heavy iron grate, a baroque-rococo palace building and a small chapel within its walls. I never visited the park 12 years ago (at least I do not remember this), so I was pleasantly surprised with the sight. The lake adjacent to the castle was fixed with a number of floating and anchored 'sculptures', whose features ranged from a miniature garden to collided cars, to a space vehicle, to impaled head of Karl Marx painted pink, to a transparent sitting male, to a portable loo cabin. I would not call all of it art, but that's me.

Then, I headed to the baroque-rococo baths, probably the most attractive complex of thermal baths and an outdoor swimming poo in Pest, which also contained a bistro and a restaurant. I had a snack and a peek there, before returning to my hotel. I did venture into some of Pest's narrow alleys before taking a taxi to the airport. That was good, since weather improved dramatically.

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