Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

To get to the Azeri border I have to change 3 marshrutkas and at the end take a taxi. Thankfully I meet a lovely lady who is an English teacher and she finds a cheap taxi for me. The taxi even stops so I can exchange my last lari to manat. No commissions, no scam.

I walk through the border and the Azeri side is surprisingly strict. They inquire a lot if I had visited Armenia. Since I didn’t know they are at war, I am smiling and telling them: I didn’t have time on this trip, but maybe another time…ha-ha-ha.

They don’t smile.
Nevertheless, I go through. 10 taxi men immediately attack me and ask me where I am going….when I say ‘’I don’t know’’ they are even more confused than me.

I avoid the taxis and go into a marshrutka with an unknown destination. I decide to head to Naftalan…or Ganja- anyway-in that general direction. An elderly man, hereby known as perv #3 tries everything in his willpower to convince me to go to the north-the mountains with him. He pays for my marhsrutkas and keeps talking me into it. Little does he know, that I have reached my patience quota of pervs, so I pay him no heed and when we reach Zaqatala, I proceed to board a marshrutka headed to Gandja. It is already a very long trip, a long day, and I have 3 more hours ahead of me.

First impressions:

-Azeri people are darker, looking more Gypsy or Turkish-like
-Their music is very oriental- Turkish like
-There is no WiFi anywhere as opposed to Georgia

-The country doesn’t feel Muslim
-The country feels much richer, buildings are modern

-The people aren’t so nice or hospitable towards me, they are more avoiding me.
-The drivers drive muuuuch muuuuuuuuch slower

Upon arrival in Ganja, I realize I am in the middle of nowhere- taxi drivers attack me- but what am I supposed to tell them?
I begin looking for WiFi, asking a blond good looking merchant guy about directions. He says there’s no WiFi, no restaurants around, he basically says no to all my questions.
That starts well. I get a weird vibe of pushy but generous men, curious but prude, careful but very into your personal space.
I walk for a while and stumble into a hotel. I take WiFi , book a hostel and order a taxify. There is construction on the road leading to the hotel, so I go on the road where there is only 1 car parked appearing to be waiting for …me?!? I check quickly the plate number and it looks legit similar.
I get in and I am surprised for a moment that there are 2 men at the front seats. Never mind, I give my presumed driver the hostel address and he starts driving…
After a minute…he says in broken English :’’Well, I am no taxi, but I drive you. No problem.’’ I say: “You are not a taxi? Not taxify? You are not ‘’name of driver’’?’’

This can only happen to me. Most people do everything their power not to get kidnapped on holidays, but I walk right into my own potential kidnapping.

The confusion is absolutely hilarious. The two men probably think I am crazy because I burst into a wild laughter- it brings me to tears. This image in my head still makes me smile so wide-from ear to ear.
The men still drive me to my hostel. I learn they are army men and had just finished a very long 37 hour shift.
Ganja looks very pretty and nicely illuminated. It is the old capital of Azerbaijan. I learn there is a 4 day holiday/ spring welcoming/Novruz in the country. There are central markets with decoration and music stages.
They park the car and we walk at a pedestrian street- very clean and modern.
They carry my bags without asking. It is hard for me to make sense of the situation. But I roll with it. Are they actually sweet or trying to take advantage of me?
They don’t speak good English so they give me wifi hot-spot and I use google translate.

They assure me that they are conscious citizens and I should not worry. They are definitely sweet. We ring my hostel bell but nobody answers ( a sign). My new friends tell me this place isn’t good-they will take me somewhere else and they will take me to eat. I don’t accept the crazy offer right away. They say ‘’Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, we are good people’, my brain clicks- YES. Just say YES.

The wind is very cold and strong here. I am smelly, cold, exhausted and hungry.

They take me to eat in a typical place and I notice there are only men everywhere, both on the streets and in the restaurants. The traditional food resembles Turkish aka Bulgarian (sarmi, rice, meat and potatoes.)
There is no alcohol on the menu. Ayran and tea are mandatory.
They sit across from me to reassure me and show me not to be afraid. My new friends have 20 years contracts with the army during which aren’t allowed to travel Anywhere!!! They are at war with Armenia for territories and tell me not to visit there. Well- that explains the border questions.
I promise to return the favor when they travel abroad but my heart aches for them being prisoners of their government. I avoid telling them about my travels or the Georgian cuisine.
One of them says not to worry in case of problems to call him because his dad is the chief of police or something like that and they will help me at any time.
My army friends label me as interesting, original and funny.
They book a state run hotel for me and drive me there. The rooms are so fancy and I am so happy!!!
We make arrangement to meet when they don’t work tomorrow night.
I have this amazing big bed and I’m alone. I take the longest shower and pass out. The reception tries desperately to call my room all morning and invite me downstairs for breakfast.
I wake up at 12 when they call again and I finally understand that this breakfast is included and it’s Today! My Russian knowledge is growing by the day. The staff in the hotel is so friendly and curious about me. I am again- the only woman. It feels somehow like an apocalyptic men world so far.

Important Notice!!! Everyone here has a uni brow.

I decide to check the bazaar. It is time to get some fake branded Guccis and Chanels/Manels. I take a taxi to the markets and I try to negotiate with the merchants- things are not as cheap as Bulgaria.
Going through the bazaar shops is tiring because the merchants all follow me and then want to know where I’m from etc. I try to smile and be polite, so I drive most prices down.
A shoes merchant gets curious about me too- like everybody- he asks me why do I travel alone? He offers me coffee and his business card-if I run into trouble.
I end up buying: 2 shirts, 1 jacket, sneakers, 1 skirt and a dress for 65 euros. I could buy a lot more, but I remember the amounts of clothes I have back home.

Ganja’s tourist attractions are not too exciting for me, and I am super tired from the shopping.
I only go to see the famous house of glass bottles.

I see many gypsies. And every single man has a uni brow.

An interesting phenomenon: there are so many cafes but they don’t offer anything sweet, they are in fact restaurants.
The tea culture is very rich here: they drink a lot of black tea, and not much coffee.

After the markets I go to one of those cafes and end up just getting a hot cocoa. Nothing is as simple as it sounds. There are 6 servers-all men again- trying to serve me and everything I ask about, they call for someone else to help them out, although I ask in Russian. ‘is this building the university?’.
They really have a blank look about them. The same situation occurs with the taxi drivers.
I try to get back to my hotel: A very prominent hotel. I say the name of it, I show them the map on my phone and on a paper map, I tell them 10 different street intersections, locations and landmarks, I tell them to check their Google maps and nothing. Just a lot of shouting and talking. And that same blank look. There are around 8 taxi drivers discussing this complex situation. (sarcasm) They expect me to guide them in their city. I become exasperated. That 15 minutes of my trip was the most annoyed I ever get.

Back at the hotel I agree with my friend to go eat but he says he can only at 10 pm and I’m already starving.

I go explore a restaurant similar to the other last night in the neighborhood.
Why why why- there are again ONLY men on the streets and in the restaurant. They are all staring at me. I attempt to order and a man helps me. He speaks English!
He is a Turkish Construction/Real Estate businessman eating there with his employees. He invites me to their table. I say Yes.
He tries to flaunt his wealth in awkward ways.
‘Usually I don’t eat in such shitty places, usually I have 2 security guards with me, I have a flat in Baku facing the sea on the 22nd floor, you can stay there if you want, I buy only original brands, I have businesses in a few countries, I had scholarship for university, I have 3 degrees, my employees respect me a lot, I have 180 employees.’
He says: don’t look at me now, now I’m after job. (because he was dressed sporty).
I say: don’t worry, I’m not looking at you (And I laugh internally).

But him and his colleagues are nice and funny, I sample more cuisine.
The Turkish guy offers me a drive back to the hotel and says to call him after I meet my friend so we can smoke shisha or drink jaeger with coke. (The drink I hate the most- bad luck).
He says women are Queens in this culture and puts me in front seat of the car- while his employees are behind. He even asks if I need any money.
Both him and my army friends are quite dumbstruck when I talk about how I travel alone and how I don’t like kids. I don’t think other women ever told them this.
Everyone is also surprised I’ve come to Ganja.
What most fascinates me about my new friend is when he shows me the buildings they are working on. All the modern architectural wonders in Baku. I am deeply impressed and interested to hear more about their process. From idea to realization.

Later on, he brings his business card at the hotel and says he has stayed in this hotel for a few weeks while working on projects.
He offers if I need, I could stay in his empty apartment in Baku, I could just call him. He needs to fly to Turkey soon though-for work.
He has such a superior attitude, it’s laughable. I immediately get a bad vibe from him, so I don’t respond to his messages and don’t accept his generous invite.
Until I leave Azerbaijan-he keeps texting me and I keep ignoring him. Then he miraculously texts from Baku/so did not go on his business trip/.

Always trust your instincts.

My army friend cancels and it’s OK.
I lock the door of my fancy hotel room, watch some Kazakhstan music channels and fall asleep.

Next morning I have an offer to wait for my army friends to finish work at 13, go smoke shisha and they drive me to the bus station but I know it will take too long and don’t want to arrive in Baku too late/too dark.
I research Naftalan which was my original plan because of the petroleum spa treatments and decide it is not worth to spend a night there. I don’t have so many diseases that need curing yet.
I feel guilty I will not get to see again my two guardian angels from Ganja. Rest assured- I will never forget the goodness of your hearts.

It is time to see Baku- the pearl of the Caucasus

————————————–

The bus station is completely surrounded by men and their cars offering a ride to Baku, only 5 manat more expensive than the bus. I consider the option but decide I don’t want to be quizzed again about my travels and life history.
Little do I know, the woman next to me on the bus is going to do exactly that…and more.

This time, I make some kind of plan (wow). I contact my Azeri friends from the Tbilisi hostel and one of them says he will greet me at the bus station. He recommends a hostel too.

The bus to Baku takes forever. Not because it’s a long trip, but because every driver here is also a postman. He delivers 3 packages and makes 3 stops in the first hour.

The lady who is sitting next to me starts trying to speak to me, and I can’t even pretend to listen to music because she insists I go to her town and meet her nephew who is an 18 year old boxing champion.

The bus makes a stop midway and we go for tea. There is no food or any other options on the menu. Everyone is just sitting in a large room drinking tea accompanied by candies.

The lady insists to pay for me. I draft a plan in my head and reach my friend in Baku to tell him to write me in Azeri we have dinner plans. The translation works and the lady leaves me alone.

Suddenly- I see it. The Caspian Sea and all the oil platforms. It’s so gray. The landscape is very deserty with sandy colors.

BAKU- final stop

The arrival at bus terminal leaves me speechless. Women- at last! LOL- just kidding. No women!!! Once again there are 1 million men and taxi drivers. As well as in the metro.

My friend meets me and I am actually relieved that someone will guide me and I don’t need to ask directions.
Unfortunately, we discover the hostel I booked is quite shit, so we explore a few meters down the street and end up in Amsterdam hostel. Cool vibe and employees.

I am sure at that point Booking.com can’t keep up with my change of plans and are probably getting annoyed with me. Thank you in advance for accommodating my change of plans.

Tonight celebrations are on the menu. My friend contacts his cousin (that I also know from Tbilisi’s hostel) and his girlfriend and we head out to the center to eat delicious food.
His girlfriend is so beautiful and confident, strikes me as such a strong, independent and intelligent woman. One is immediately drawn to her aura.

My friends say:’ don’t be surprised if you get someone following you. Men are quite shy here, but this is their way of showing they like you.’

They tell me of a case from England where a girl was being followed for days and she called the police. The Azeri man was detained and said they should call the embassy which explained this culture deviation and he was released.

We walk around the pedestrian city center of Baku which reminds me so much of any other European city with lights and chandeliers, and paved streets with boutiques and souvenir shops. We go through the old town with its little streets, hidden alleyways and dead ends. We listen to traditional music and I feel like I’ve landed straight into a fairy tale. We see the Formula 1 fences and seats being installed. The race is just a few weeks away. We reach the sea-side boardwalk. Everywhere is very clean and in order.

My friend was a tour guide during the Eurovision contest, so he tells me a lot about the country’s history. This was the first Muslim country to become a republic and Baku means Windy city. (Wholeheartedly agree with this as it is freezing).

We get some unique tea, olives jam and shisha.

The next day, I change  hostels and chose a very modern and clean one, although not social. I am very surprised to see there are  no walking tours and pub crawls. It seems like I am on my own. The receptionists always says : I don’t know-look around or ask other travelers.  She spends most time crying and arguing with her Indian boyfriend on the couch.  The care and hospitality here can’t reach the Georgian level.  There is free and unlimited tea in the hostel .The other travelers are mostly Iranian and Indian. What was also quite strange is that the other tourists are always inside the hostel?! They never go out to visit anything.

In Baku, there is a Nutella caffe with amazing creations. This is where I get breakfast and I am certain then I have never had a sweeter breakfast.

I also see a Kinder place to eat other incredible desserts.

I tour the seaside and am amazed to see the Carpet museum and the new mall that takes inspiration from the Sidney opera. I LOVE how creative they are with architecture.

Here is also where I get myself a stalker! It is actually a guy whom I’ve asked to take pictures of me about 20 minutes prior. He was walking around with his friend/girlfriend and now here he is -stalking me. Ugh! So creepy.

Just following me and staring without saying a word.

Unfortunately for me, there is no wide-spread wifi in Baku, but I manage to take a taxify and see him in the back window brooding. He looks so sad! WTF!

The taxify takes me to a huge meat and food market instead of clothing one. Oops. I see pork meat being sold. I walk from there to the train station- kind of getting used to the outlook of the city . I withdraw money and go to the shops there where I get my infamous red dress and some fake brands.

I return to my hostel to rest. We have a pizza dinner with my new friends then head to a popular wine bar. They always insist on paying!!! We get quite drunk with my friends and begin playing Never Have I Ever. Crazy game. The live music inside this wine bar is amazing. Then we proceed to another bar in old town which is small but super fun.  We dance a lot and sample all the shots on the menu. MY TIME HAS COME AND ON THIS TRIP This time- I pay. Finally. Its 1AM, we take a taxi to a viewpoint. The ride is a blur but the taxi driver is racing like a race driver. The flame towers are not illuminated sadly but the rest of the view is stunning. The Eurovision building is twinkling like stars, you can also see the new building that will be a half moon. Oh, there is no beach in the city, you need to drive to villages around. Me and Hikmat continue the party by asking the taxi driver which club is open but the others go home. Here, as well as Tbilisi, partying is only on Friday and Saturday. It’s Thursday so clubbing is limited.

Me and Hikmat end up in a huge Arabic club which he did not like. He gets annoyed how many local girls there are dancing to the Arab music and Arab tourists. I feel bad for my friend, having to witness this unpleasant image. Oh, have I mentioned that he lives in Latvia, so he is also kind of a tourist in his own country. We dance a bit and I am having fun but he wants to leave and we take the eggplant style taxi.

Eventually I book a walking tour online but when I show up on location, only the tour guide is there. Wow! I decide to skip.

My friends are busy on the weekend, so I make my own plan.
NOTE: I am so thankful for having met them in Tbilisi- They make my trip a thousand times better and memorable. At the end, we mostly remember how we were treated . And I remember laughing and smiling a Lot.

I visit the Heydar Aliev cultural center- absolute highlight of my trip. I spend 4 hours there and it is not enough.
4 hours- I smile from ear to ear. I am the last one to leave, they have to literally kick me out.

Adding another tab on my life chapters. Another deeply personal and emotional moment for me. The visits to Oslo’s opera, Amsterdam’s The Eye, Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow, Niteroi’s Art museum, Valencia’s city of Arts and Sciences..and now Baku’s cultural center. Each and every time is the same intensity of feelings. I am in utter awe facing the genius of white, smooth, modern architecture. And it is just as stunning(if not more) from the inside.

The exhibitions leave me speechless. Here is where I gain respect and deeper understanding of the Azeri history and culture. Their iconic president Heydar Aliev absolutely deserves this homage.

I go back to my hostel and decide to stay in. I am really cold and emotionally drained. Friday night I am boring and anti social. I watch some Netflix and reflect on how long this trip feels like. It’s the first time I feel that 2 weeks might be a bit too much. I could have done it in less time. I wander upon if I am just lazy or exhausted. My clothes are all dirty and I am so tired of combining them. My face and back are splatters with pimples. I need more makeup but I am tired of applying so much makeup.- HEY! Traveling isn’t always unicorns and roses.

Since it’s my last day-I need to go get souvenirs and the promised Georgian and Azeri books for my colleague.

I make a surprise last minute friendship with my room mate from India and we go for dinner. She is an English teacher here. In the restaurant, we meet one of her students who is Turkish and is so happy to see her and practice her English.

She has to greet some professors at the airport , so we agree to go clubbing later. I google some popular bars in the area that I can check before I fly away at 4 am.

That’s a whole new adventure.

Bar1: cute barman! I sit next to a prostitute with fake hair, eyelashes, boobs and lips. She is nice but later on becomes a stalker ;(

Bar2: empty

Bar3: very dark and cozy atmosphere. Funny menu. I make friends with the 2 guys next to me. A guy across the bar buys me a drink, comes talk and offers to show me around the national parks. He is organizing events like the formula 1 and inviting famous singers. He says this year is James Arthur. I tell him I leave in 2 hours to the airport 😀

I say I need to go to another bar and return to the 1st bar.

Bar 1 The prostitute offers me to chat up the barman who likes me. We take a picture and I see he has already added me on fb!?! How!? 😀

I meet some expats working here in gas and oil. They are Irish and we head to another bar.

Bar 4: It is still quite empty but I need to head to the airport at 2AM, so I cannot wait for it to fill up.

Bar 5: Funky bar, but my new friends are a bit too calm, and I don’t want to get drunker.

I head back to my hostel having made 7 new friends and I take a short nap.

I get a taxi to the airport, a 30 min ride for 4 euros, and along the way, there are so many amazing designs and modern buildings. The roads are super clean, new, smooth and large.
I take a last glimpse back at the Cultural Center. I am SO IN LOVE with it.

The airport is also an emblem of modern architecture. Inside of it there are different capsules: for painting, music, cuisine, etc.
I take the watercolors and paint away.

I am super sleepy because of all the booze so the flight feels short. In Minsk I also make a bed and sleep on the benches. When I fall asleep the airport is empty and wake up, there are so many people around me. The Minsk airport is very poor with horrible design, very strict border control, and no food options. I however spot 2 celebrities going through: A Metal band and an Italian singer from the older generation which names I will not disclose.

I am back to Prague. Taxis are exactly 5 x more expensive.

Georgia

Georgia 

Hi dear reader, let me tell you about the YES MAN style trip I undertook from March 9th until March 24th 2019.

Initially, I wanted to do a meditation retreat in India (where it’s also warmer) but I couldn’t find a cheap deal. And everyone, especially my dear friend Jeff from Prague has been raving so much about Georgia, it is very trendy at the moment. I don’t know much about the Caucasus region. I have only heard they have good wine and amazing food and my friend Nedko said they are very hairy creatures.

Without further ado, without any planning, without booking accommodation or even downloading maps, I set off to the airport.

My luggage for a 2 week adventure:

2 pairs of jeans

1 black leggings

5 pairs of undies

5 pairs of socks

1 bra

2 tank tops

2 sweaters

1 shirt

1 skirt, 1 dress

1 pair of sneakers/ fancier, not sporty

Towel

Swim suit

Make up palette, foldable hair brush

Hotel mini toiletries

Shaver

Tooth brush, tooth paste- mini

2 pairs of earrings

2 necklaces

6 rings

2 mini containers of foundation and face cream

What I regret not taking?

  1. Face lotion and cleaner
  2. A blazer(it was freezing)
  3. Sporty pants
  4. Pajamas

Let’s get down to business. Country #59

At the airport gate I analyzed the facial features of the Georgian people. They had big fish eyes and black hair. They were rather short and carried many bags and many souvenirs from Prague. They appear open to socialize and are not shy to look at strangers in the eyes. They are loud and warm.
I noticed everybody is wearing a cross and also ‘’cross themselves’’ regularly. I noticed this throughout the country. They do it every time they see a church- even if it’s in the distance, seen from the car.

When the Wizzair bus drove us to the plane, it didn’t open the doors for a while. The Georgians began protesting shortly, shouting and swearing. They are so expressive. My impression was shaped further by my encounter with the passenger sitting next to me. He spoke to me right away and offered me to visit his city after 10 minutes. Normally I would have been freaked out, but you can see the style of trip I am talking about here.

This is the say YES to every adventure, to every offer, to every opportunity. You know me, I live to blend in the culture, live with the people, learn their customs, be Georgian for week. And here the chance presents itself to me.

Tornike lives with his parents and his dog in Kobuleti, a small town at the Black Sea- close to Batumi. He explains if I speak to Georgians and I am open to conversation, I will never be stranded here. Someone would always show me around and treat me with great hospitality. When I opened the Wizzair magazine, I found a very informative article about a woman renting a car and staying at 5 stars hotels- traveling through Georgia…I thought to myself: ‘’OK- totally useless trip, but let’s read anyway.’’ And there was this quote:
‘’In Georgia, every guest is a gift from God.’’
Oh goodness, everything was tying up together so naturally.

He also told me Georgia is a neutral state in regards to the neighbors- Armenia and Azerbaijan hate each other. And that Abkhazia wanted to remain closer to Russia after the Soviet Union collapse. So now the only way through is to go through Russian border. They even use rubles and have their own language. And there are many Abkhazian immigrants/refugees who get a lot of social benefits from the Georgian government.

NB! A woman faints and loses consciousness on the seat across the aisle. At least 30 people shout, make noise, go get help, go to aid her, give their waters, and pills.
They are so…human. And we all know this species is extinct.

I learn they were all drinking Chacha (50% -the Georgian Rakya) on the Charles bridge earlier that day, dancing and singing. Toka shows me the video- I see the Czech robotic people staring with a blank expression. Hm. I am happy to be amongst the humans. They are my tribe.

After the flight, crossing the passport control is easy, it’s actually 4 AM, I don’t know where I will sleep tonight or how to get to the city- any city. I let myself be guided by my new friend.

I haven’t exchanged any currency, I don’t have mobile data, I don’t purchase a SIM card at the airport. If I disappear now, nobody would know. And that’s the absolute beauty of this.

First he helps an elderly woman passenger with her bags and we are off.
I am writing this from the little bus taking me on the next stop of my adventure-my future host Tornike (Toka- it took me a while to learn your name: D), graciously paying for my ticket.

The plan: No plan. Going with the flow. Discovering and living my best life. It’s the thrill. The thrill of the travel has taken over me again. And I hope it stays with me for a while.

Me and Toka arrive in his city of Kobuleti around 6AM, it looks quite small, like a village. There is nobody on the streets, only darkness and huge homeless dogs barking at us. We arrive at his house and his mother wakes up offering me food. She has already set up a guest bedroom for me. With ensuite bathroom. They have no heating, or hot water but I could have passed out anywhere.

I wake up very early. The room and bed were so cold and I hadn’t predicted that I will need an adjustment in time zones. I haven’t even researched what would be the time difference. There is breakfast already laid out for me. Tea with raspberry jam (you put it inside and mix), fresh cheese, toasted bread. There is nobody in the 4 floors house, so I explore.

Where the hell am I? I just know: It is stunning, I see the mountain tops and also the sea.

Toka’s labrador Jack is very big and sweet. The house is huge and undergoing construction, I discover also a secret room behind the library-very cool. Toka says in summer many Azeri tourists visit and they host them.
My friend and his family are not rich. They don’t have a lot, but they share everything with me- a total stranger. They made me feel so welcome, like I have known them for years.

My host takes me upstairs and to my surprise there is a dentist lab (he is a dentist) and his 3 colleagues working (on a Sunday) dental technicians. They are making porcelain teeth and make me very good coffee. They don’t speak English so my communication is a mix of broken Russian, Bulgarian and broken English (with everyone in Georgia, but my Russian got quite good by the end of this trip). It works well since we are always smiling at the misunderstandings. We go on a long walk in Kobuleti, Toka shows me a dance rehearsal which absolutely mesmerized me. Such energy and synchronization. I get teary eyed there. I am in love with My plan of No plan.
The moment comes- I FINALLY see it, the other end of the Black sea, somewhere on the other end, is my country. On this end, there is no sand, only colorful stones and the sea is as calm as a lake.
I ask Toka everything about everything. We see some workers cutting down trees and 10 men watching them and giving their opinion. Toka says this is the Georgian national sport. Haha. Georgians are truly Bulgarians first cousins. There is so much construction happening around, but nothing seems to be finished. Toka says they had 3 consecutive wars and this slowed down the progress of the country drastically. Plus Russia had cut them out for 10 years following the fall of the Soviet Union and people had no food or electricity. I meet Toka’ s sister, her children who also learn Russian at school. Everyone is together, neighbors, dogs, cousins, everyone knows each other and salutes each other on the streets. Toka tells me Georgian people have very big noses so it’s common to get a surgery. We go knock at his friend’s door, a police man with 7 cats but he is sick so he can’t offer us a ride to Batumi.
At any point when I attempt to withdraw or exchange money Toka refuses. He says he would be deeply offended.
We take the marshrutka to Batumi, clearly a much bigger and modern city. They strive to build modern architecture buildings and illuminate them beautifully at nighttime. Along the beach, on the promenade there are many love themed statues that one can take a picture with, most renowned one being Ali and Nino, the lovers that never touch. Watching this installation move was very sentimental and personal to me. It’s a sad love story. But aren’t they all? It seems the strongest of feelings is causing the most impossible of shitstorms. Mere millimeters away, yet they always miss each other and can never connect. It is tragic. And it is beautiful.
My host, ever the patient gentleman takes me for some traditional food. Exquisite food and exquisite service. He doesn’t accept my offer to pay again. We can’t finish our lunch and as per my tradition, I take the leftovers and we give them to a homeless woman. As an expert tour guide, Toka shows me around the center of Batumi, the astronomical clock, the future polytechnic University building which is also in construction and its unknown when it will end.  A strange use of a massive skyscraper with a ferris wheel attached to it, so the students can take a book from the library and read with a view of the sea. Amazing idea. Let’s see if this building will be completed.
Overall, the architecture here is such a strange mix. Turkish, French, contemporary, it is a delight for the eyes to see glass walls with oriental ornamented balconies attached, Gaudi inspired mosaics, the infamous 8 legs cafe (also in construction), a few piazzas and castle like buildings, predominantly abandoned.
I spot many clubs but Toka says the city is empty now. Better to come in summer. Take a minute to reflec on how proud Georgians are from their language. The sphere building and the modern Tbilisi bridge both project the alphabet as a genetic code with innovative lights.

We stop for a coffee break although my host doesn’t drink it (and also doesn’t drink alcohol), I had the best ice frappe in my life from the most disciplined and military organize waitress I have seen.

The sea-side park has many European like fountains and the signs in the city are translated in English. I see great potential and future in the city. It is lively and it has many attractions.
People are eying me curiously. Toka says they think I’m Russian and also – I am the only tourist there right now.
I am debating whether I should spend the night in Batumi, but this 6 hour walk killed both of us. Plus, Toka offers I decide tomorrow and he was right. I think when I follow my general rule: always say Yes, I always win. It also takes the pressure off making other decisions.

Upon our return, I try their home made wine and cha cha, what can be more authentic than that?

We speak about how Toka doesn’t like to be away from home too long. He misses his bed and his house. He has everything he needs here. Food, water, friends. He says he likes how calm and lazy it is. I guess it’s good to have a place you totally feel at home at.
He also says he doesn’t understand the European women but Russian and Slavic he knows what to tell them and how to behave because they appreciate the man to be dominant and a leader. Haha!

The next day, I wake up super late and it turns out, the Prometheus cave is closed on a Monday but I have to keep going. I finally exchange money and Toka says everywhere it’s good to exchange here. Nobody takes commission.

We go to the sea shore again upon my request so I can hear and memorize the sound of the waves. Jack swims and plays. Toka chats to another one of his neighbors. Everyone is so approachable.
It is time for me to go. Toka takes me to the marshrutka and pays for it again. He insures the driver knows where I am going. We say goodbye.
He tells me:Don’t cry. And I can call or write him anytime I need help.
Humanity at its best.
Do good and throw it in the sea, the elders say.

Notable facts:

-There is no Coke here, Pepsi rules the country and you see the Pepsi signs everywhere.
-Many buildings left to their own demise in the middle of construction.
-Marhrutka is the main transport and they drive insanely crazy.
-Nobody scams with the prices.
-The air is clean.
-There are a million homeless dogs / as opposed to cats in Azerbaijan
-Toka’s character, his accent, his behavior and openness, his kindness, his nose- everything reminds me of my father. And my father’s name is George 😀 I am now certain my father is Georgian.
-The toilets on the road are always Turkish style. They sometimes don’t have doors or any kind of separation. They are always awful and lack toilet paper. Just be prepared my ladies.

The adventure continues. 7PM: After the long long trip, carrying a lemon tree for a woman, practicing my amazing Russian, a guy giving me his seat on the Marshrutka, I get off in Borjomi and see no hotels or hostels. The tourist info center is closed. I ask in a bakery where I could find a hostel, they don’t know and they tell me to go up a hill. I encounter a guest house Casa owned by Spanish speaking Georgians. The son is also the mayor.
The room is cosy, but I can see they are not ready for tourists. Everyone says: come in summer. There is no paper in the toilet, no towels, no hot water.
He says in 2020 there will be the ski championships in Borjomi, there will be many tourists. He also owns a tour company and tells me what I can see around.
He invites me for homemade wine tasting but I am very tired. I take a headache pill and decide to say Yes again. The wine is great, He says if I stay one more night, I will only pay 10 lari. Big discount.
Its 11 PM, perfect exploration time. I love night touring. I go around the city and discover the central part with many hostels. Oops. The only restaurant is closing.

I decide to install tinder and see the people around. There is nobody but one guy, a blond, rare sight in Georgia! Next morning I decide to meet him and go to the Central Park and mineral baths. His English isn’t great and we eventually don’t meet.

I head to town and the park with all my luggage. The park is filled with rides, shooting ranges and amusement activities, all closed. What a perfect timing Kristina. The park ends and here begins the endless muddy climb to the baths.
People I encounter say it’s always 10 minutes away. Time passes. I get sweaty and tired. I start to sing Joe Dassin- Le Café Des Trois Colombes.

I turn around, a blond guy behind me. He says something in Georgian I say I don’t speak it. He says his name and…. It’s actually the tinder dude. Hahaha
We walk to the baths, we don’t pay because he is some sort of a famous football player and he knows everyone. There are no showers and the baths aren’t as warm but hanging out with the local guy is actually fun.

After the baths we decide to eat. And then we go get his 4×4 off road truck. We drive off up up up in the mountain.
My turn: I ask if I can drive and I am having a blast. Tourists actually pay money for those excursions. Too bad for them.

I get in touch with my friend in Prague: Jeff, and he tells me to meet his friend Gaga around 6pm, until then I visit a huge abandoned hotel where only 3 families live.

I meet Gaga and we go for tea. He is very smart and works in the national park administration. He has traveled a lot and also only travels alone.
Gaga generously offers me accommodation at his and Keti’s farm. I accept. Say YES.

I set off to Atskuri.
It’s so peaceful here.

Gaga’s directions : cross a thousand year old bridge and turn left after the castle. I am lost after the bridge and I call Keti. Thank you dear work for providing me with a working work phone. Keti and her neighbors pick me up off the road and we visit the garlic plantation to decide if they need a tractor. Keti is so inspiring to me, so connected to her land. She has a dream to build a bee therapy house. She wants to develop the eco- tourism and I really think she can succeed. Her passion is contagious. She makes a simple lunch: eggs, greens with nuts which I loooved, chacha, amazing tea.

She says she has many friends who don’t understand how busy she actually is. Because they work 9 to 5 and then are free, but working her land is a non-stop job.

Other topics in our conversation:

-It is very easy and common to hitch hike in Georgia
-Don’t ask Georgian people, they will always say no-just give them an order
– Georgian is in the top 5 most beautiful languages in the world.
– Her aunt guessed in the coffee that Keti will buy a farm.
-She has 2 tattoos. One of her late son and the view from the ‘’living room’’.

Please consult photo.

As I am writing this I am sitting next to the Fortress at the river bed about to hitch hike to Rabati fortress. The newest fortress in the world which quickly becomes my favorite spot in Georgia. It is quite empty and I don’t know why it is so underrated.

Reminder: thank Jeff.

It is my time to shine- I am in Tbilisi. The difference is Very noticeable. So Much Noise. It’s like the whole country lives here. There are many beggars in the metro and a few scams to be avoided, unexperienced travelers beware! Take your time and buy tickets from trusted sources.
Gaga recommends me some hostel. It takes me a while to find where it is. It is a small and cute one with 2 resident cats. I head to the big bazaars around the train station to buy souvenirs and some cheap branded clothes. There is every brand imaginable, but the Turkish versions of them. Perfumes are 2 euros.

The feeling of sadness overtakes my walks in the Georgian capital. So many poor grandmas selling whatever they can find. It is a poor country and I feel helpless here. I love grandmas and want to help them all, but how can I? This feeling doesn’t leave me for the rest of the trip.

That night I meet somebody on Tinder again. Out of the millions of options, it turns out that my meeting is with somebody that I ALREADY KNOW FROM 5 YEARS AGO, a friend of my friend from Bratislava. While I am always amazed by coincidences, this one tops it all up. We have a lovely dinner and I can’t get enough of the eggplant with nuts and sauce. However the wine…I am starting to get tired of it.

We proceed to get a few more drinks at the weekly couchsurfing meeting. That turns out very empty and disappointing. The CS community is not strong here and I learn that Thursdays are calm. No party.

My second day in Tbilisi is more exciting, I head to the free walking tour and learn a lot about the city’s history. Recommended!!!

3 surprising facts (out of many, many more):

-did you know that Saint Nino, St. George’s cousin brought Christianity to Georgia? 30% of women are named after her.

-there are 560 types of wine in Georgia.

-at a Georgian feast there is always the toast master Tamada who’s responsible to make lengthy speeches.

I change hostel to the Infamous Fabrika( recommended by Jeff, I love you Jeff! ). It is the BEST artsy/hipster spot: a hostel+hang out place+design shops+bars+cafes. I absolutely adore this place. Visit their website to find out more. https://fabrikatbilisi.com/

Later I go for dinner with a new Swiss friend and we sample strange dishes, all of them so unique and delicious. Georgian cuisine…it deserves all the praise it can get.
My friend joins the pub crawl, but it appears rather small to me, and I want to make my own pub crawl and not follow the crowd. (no surprises here).

By that point, it is worth saying, that my feet are killing me every step I take and all my clothes are dirty and gross. It is also challenging to stay awake and keep experiencing things. Traveling is not roses and butterflies- and sorry if I have given you this impression with this endless article.

So far. So good. No major incidents, nothing stolen, no scams, no creeps.

They say Tbilisi is the new Berlin. Indeed. The place is bustling with techno clubs and dodgy dark bars playing minimal beats. Not my style. In the club I go have a cigarette as a social/ friends maker tool. It works. I meet some Russians and a local guy. He directs to me to another place where the music might suit me better. No regrets, the views from this club situated on a hill in old town are stunning. I continue my journey through the Friday nightlife.

Warsawa bar, El centro, Bauhaus- I wouldn’t recommend any of those.

I find wifi spots and take a taxi to the last place- a club close to my hostel. At the bar I meet a birthday boy and get him a tequila shot. A new friend- check! On the toilet line up, everyone wants to be my friend. We exchange social media, but I barely remember who they are the next day.

The following day is also my favorite- my solo modern architecture tour. I live and breathe modern architecture and I don’t care much about old ruins.

Tbilisi Music Theater and Concert hall- I spend a long while touring the building. There is something so nostalgic about how they abandoned it to battle the elements. Looking inside and observing its stunning curvatures and reflective delicate glass panels. The way it opens up to the city and connects with the other architectural elements. It’s hauntingly beautiful and abstract. I would invest a LOT to see this piece fulfilling what it was created for. Why did they give up on this beauty as well? When you start something, when you are so close to finishing it. It is covered in dust-so sad to see its potential wasting away.

Back in my hostel, I meet 2 Azeri guys in my dorm. They are simply AWESOME! However, they decide to join the pub crawl and I skip it again. To be social or to be alone! The endless dilemma. I decide to see the night view from the amusement park hill with the funicular. This view makes me teary eyed! This is the cherry on top of my Georgia cake- and I know then I am done with Tbilisi. What can be better than that?

It’s 11 PM, I contact the birthday boy from the previous night and we decide to check the mineral baths in the city center, open 24/7. However, they are reserved. I don’t want to party so we return to Fabrika for a few drinks. The guy teaches me how to write my name in Georgian. It is so beautiful!

A few notable events throughout my days:

  • A merchant returning me money that I gave him in error.
  • Taxi drivers not accepting my tips.
  • I say that there is a LOT of police in Georgia and my taxi driver says police is necessary because the people need control, they can easily be swayed away and become criminals.

The next day, when I head to the wine region of Signaghi, is where my troubles begin. And they last precisely 24 hours. Until my luck returns back to me, a little bit of suffering is involved.

The tale of the three creeps

Creep 1 was the gypsy man who followed me around from the metro, everywhere I went. I was checking shoe shops and he was always around, when I changed directions. I confronted him, but he didn’t understand what I am saying. He followed me until I approached the policeman in the metro station (who didn’t speak English either nor understood my complaint).

Creep 2 was the old grandpa who lived with his adorable grandma in the guest house in Signaghi. The granny was out in the shops, and upon leaving after breakfast, he tried to forcingly kiss me on the mouth. Gross.

Creep 3 was the man on the Azeri border. Who also followed me and insisted for about 1.30 hours in the marshrutka that I join him in his city so he shows me around.

Being nice to people (to men) is confusing for their small brains sometimes. They think you like them. However, I will not change my approach or character. I can’t.
Be kind and be brave. (Cinderella quote.)

Nevermind, Signaghi had stunning views and I enjoyed my time there. However, I don’t recommend this destination. It is not worth it and from there- getting to the border and crossing it was a pain and a half.

I want to give special Thank you for all the humans who helped me live this adventure. I will never Ever forget your kindness.

Philippines

Philippines
September 2016

Manila

Upon arrival, I immediately purchased a sim card because I was sure many people would want to call me for my Birthday and shared the number with my closed ones. Please remember this detail.

Well, where to begin? I am sure you are familiar that the Filipinos are the latinos of Asia. Music, openness, selfies.

Jon had booked a very central hostel for us http://www.tambayanhostel.com/  It was at least where he thought the center is. Haha

Manila has the slowest and heaviest traffic in the world (official stats) and it is a Huge city.
(the densest in the world — at 46,000 people per square mile, twice the density of New York City )

To go to any island, you need to go back to this airport and then head back to the islands. To go to the airport and not miss your flight, depart a few hours in advance.

A lot of people from the islands come here to make money.
Filipino workers are notorious for cheap labor in Dubai for example. In multinationals such as Microsoft and SAP, we open service centers there. They also make excellent English teachers because they all speak English. As a dominant immigrant population in Dubai after the Indians, I met many when I lived there. And once you meet 1, they introduce you to 20 more, they all want to have a white girl friend. Yes, that is exactly what they told me lol.

The hostel had an interesting set up and Jon and I shared a room with a bunch of guys who snored. The area was quite strange. There were many clubs but they were all empty and the streets were dark and looked dangerous. On our exploration of the hood, we discovered:

-Robinson’s mall http://www.robinsonsmalls.com/mall-info/robinsons-place-manila where we saw the Sully movie (10 stars) and stumbled upon a dance competition

-We also went to the biggest mall SM City Manila and there was Xmas music and decorations (it was beginning of Sept!!) and  we also stumbled upon a taekwondo competition, the kids were super talented

-Jollibee restaurants, which offer Filipino fast food. Fries with pasta!….yay

Typical of me, I made friends with the receptionists and when they were leaving work, I invited myself and Jon to their friend’s birthday party in some other part of town. It was exciting to party with the locals. Getting there gave me a real impression about the city: super noisy, dirty, over populated, but smiley people who all speak English.

The bar was really large like a warehouse, but it had little light and no air so I felt a bit claustrophobic. We let our new friends order food for us, it was mostly chicken fried in different ways with sauces.  Please note the abundance of chicken fast food here. They love it so much. The drinks were a variety of cocktails that came in huge plastic containers. The Filipino crowd was super fun and approachable and also quite handsome/beautiful, well dressed and in a way- Americanized. I noticed a prominence of gay guys that I did not see anywhere else in Southeast Asia. (without counting the ladyboys). We tried to change bars but the entrance fees were quite high, so we went back to the hostel instead.

I loved how active Filipinos are. However, just judging by interaction, they are a bit…NON-serious. They don’t take commitments or friendships very seriously.  They are chatty and always maintain an adorable smile but are not completely reliable. (of course exception for my great friends F and M who helped me in Dubai or tried to)

Well, we just wanted to head to the islands. Jon was taking me somewhere as a surprise for my 27’th birthday.

The next day we headed to the airport and we had to pass security scans even at the entrance. Shortly inside, a tv crew and a journalist interviewed me and asked if I heard about the bomb scare and where am I going and what do I think of the country ☺.

It was amusing and I was proud to be able to improvise and make up so many random answers.

FAME- An early bday present I guess.

I never found the footage, but here you go:  a photo caught in the moment

 CORON

The secret location was not EL Nido- as many of you might have expected. El Nido has beaches and lagoons, and islands, and paradisiac beauty, virgin nature and colorful aquatic life.

In Coron, there is all that Except the beaches and for a Big fraction of the price of the touristy El Nido. ☺

Jon was smart about it and when we landed with the small plane- there was nothing around-no signs of where we might be headed and no tourists.

We arrived at the port and our hotel sent a boat to fetch us. The hotel was on another island, a 10 min boat ride away. The hotel island had coconuts, a friendly dog, the rooms were simple,no pool,  no wifi, had its own restaurant and many spaces to relax. I wish I had brought a book then.
http://www.discoverydiversresort.com/

We explored the city and climbed Mt Tapyas -720 stairs to the top of the highest hill to discover an amazing view of all the little island hills. I still don’t know how we made this walk up, please bring a lot, a lot of water.

There was not much to see around Coron city/village and Jon probably saw more of it because he went looking for medicine for me (it has become some weird birthday tradition for me to get sick) also sunscreen and aloe vera for his massive sunburn. 
We negotiated for 40 $ extra a private boat tour of 9 beautiful stunning locations because Jon insisted we don’t follow the touristic tours and we make our own way not waiting for other passengers. We also picked the food and drinks that they were going to serve us during the tour.
This day will forever stay in my memory as the most amazing nature and clearest turquoise waters I have ever seen. EVER.

We visited those locations:

A private little island that you can rent for a party/birthday with its own beach. The water was shallow but there was a bit of garbage on the shore.

A coral garden to snorkel and explore the tropical fish and amazing corals.

Hidden Lagoon is the most notorious place in Coron. It is putting it mildly: paradise on earth. Awestruck by its beauty, I still get shivers thinking of how lucky I am to have been there: the wind in my hair, on our private boat, tasty fish and rice being cooked just for us, rum and drinks in the cooler waiting to cool us down and this view all around us.

After our swim, we visited a shipwreck where Jon dove.

We spent the rest of time having lunch (most delicious Fish and rice I ‘ve Ever had, plus we were starved from  jumping in and out of the water) and exploring Kayangan lake and its caves which was equally stunning. I didn’t want to leave and I should have stayed there….forever.

Okay, to be honest with you all- we were quite DUMB lol. We put sunscreen once, did not always wear the hats, drank booze. We both got sun sickness. Me more extremely with fever, throat pain and voice disappearing. ☹ damn you sun, you saw how much fun I was having and punished me for it. Jon had some serious burns that bubbled up. The hotel gave us some aloe but it was too late for it.

What we did not like in our hotel is that they charged us for the boat rides to town, the food was pricey and the cocktail I had was awful, there was not even tv lol, and they charged around 20% tourist charge (always read the small Expedia print!!!! Remember when you book anything that this is a special Filipino law). We got out of paying the boat rides because Jon defended his rights. Always negotiate or try to.

No words, even in my genius creative writing, can’t properly describe our one day excursion. Just look and salivate:  

Coron was finished for us and we needed to go back to Manila, in order to go to the next place–→ BORACAY!

Boracay

From the old airport, it was a long bus ride and then a ferry to the island. Beware as there are scammers drivers offering rides to the ferry, just line up at the little tents where most people go. They offer a package, Bus+ferry+van to hotel + Van from hotel, ferry, bus to Airport when you depart.

This is where I was going to celebrate my birthday and even though I was sick, I was so so excited because I have only dreamt of one day going to Boracay!!!When I heard the song in my youth, I thought it was a made-up place.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2mLqN5JRiw

It’s very real. Boracay is how you could expect it to be: very small streets, 2 cars barely pass, a main beach lane, many restaurants along it, touristy activities like jet ski, para sailing, excursions and tours, pub crawls, shisha bars, young people (most of them were filipinos) and ONLY the most perfect Beaches I’ve seen in my life (except the ugly white nylon protecting the restaurants from wind blowing the sand. Well, that was Fugly. Lol )

Still the main beach was amazing, please check my video below of angry Chinese man throwing Crock at the harmless water.

Also note, there is a midget bar where all staff are little people!
https://www.facebook.com/HobbitTavernBoracay/?rf=189572161053332 

Boracay is also the place where I met my future assailants who robbed and assaulted me when I visited them in Dubai, so I will avoid focusing this story on them.

The Boracay sunsets, the softness and pureness of the sand, the crystal water, the charming restaurants, the transparent canoe we rented- well, Boracay is one destination I would Love to come back to.

On my birthday night (September 10th)

Taking a moment here to describe our Airbnb place
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8622654
(quite difficult to find) Ultra modern, at the beach with a pool in the living room in front of the TV! Well, this is how a girl should be spoiled. Thank you Jon and thanks to the Universe. And also- screw you Universe! Because on my own birthday, I had zero voice to say thanks to the well wishers, could not drink a lot because of medications, and had such low energy. The rentable apartments were owned by a Canadian. So all you rich readers of mine, Philippines is a 100% Krissi guarantee place to invest in. I would if I could.

We toured the markets because I needed a new bikini but found nothing for my taste. I got my nails done and this was the longest service I had. It took 2 hours but the nails lasted forever. We did find some unique flip flops shaped like fish and other animals which were hand made and a typical souvenir. I loved them! Jon also took me para-sailing which was something I always wanted to do- but those guys in the boat jetted us 10 km up in the sky and I freaked out. They didn’t understand to go lower and just took us completely down which made me look like a bit of a pussy. But I am. I dislike all extreme adrenaline hype attractions like roller coasters.

We decided to ignore my sickness. I put a lot of makeup, dressed up with my Texas dress (bought 5 years ago, always fits like a glove) and went to a restaurant and then a Pub crawl. The attendance was 95% filipinos, the rest was us and some Indians. Check the photos! I looked for them really hard especially for the blog post! Good times. It brought back memories of photo sessions on the beach, shot glasses necklaces and cutting and styling off my pub crawl tshirt. During the pub crawl, we made some local friends, we saw a few bars on the main beach shore alley and some hidden ones in the city, we danced a lot and also met a fun british couple. The lady was a professional dancer in a circus and with my charming and approachable personality I convinced her to dance in the circle and show us what she got. Well, she got nothin. Lol. 😀 but she was very lovely and her boyfriendo got us many drinks. They live in Singapore.

Here comes the sad part, get the tissues. At midnight NO ONE called me to wish me Happy Bday on my filipino sim card. 😀 Eventually, I was the one who skyped out to receive my wishes. Oh well!

We ended the pub crawl at very Late o’clock, quite drunk, we headed home under heavy rain and the next day the little streets were super flooded.

On my actual BirthDAY (September 11th)

I woke up to a surprise breakfast, coffee, juice, huge cake, a homeless cat by my bed, a gift and a card.

It was very romantic and lovely.
Later, we got the big cake and joined our new friends( I still did not know that those Bastards will be the ones who will rob me in Dubai). I would have never imagined my future robbers would be those people who shared so much laughters, dance and fun times with me on my birthday. We got many drinks, took many pictures. We partied with them and I cut the cake in many, many pieces and went around the bar to share my birthday joy with strangers. They were all sweet and I found it was the perfect way to begin this new year of my life. We went to another bar that had black lights and everything glowed neon- which is basically my dream lol, and also- hosted a beer pong competition.

I personally prefer flip the cup, but we played and I performed amazingly. By the time I turned, a big crowd had gathered watching my successful throws and cheered for the most beautiful birthday girl.

I think what happened ultimately (i don’t remember anymore) is my parents tried to reach me on Jon’s phone and I was talking to them on the beach. It was emotional. We were very far apart. I had grown up! Not a little girl anymore.

Still pretty bad at taking the right or mature decisions, but still look at where it led me, just look at where I was then: hopefully all wrong decisions lead me to these destinations.
Here, readers is my daily wisdom. Don’t be afraid of screwing up, it’s part of growing, it’s indispensable for pushing yourself further. I failed and made mistakes, maybe I didn’t even learn from them, they stung, life kicked me when I was already down, I was digging my own hole deeper and deeper. But when you are out of the hole, you observe the hole and you say: Hell, yes. Hell, yes. Look at all I lived through. I truly lived and it looks glorious. I am a legend! Cheers to me!

It’s a colorful life, so my advice is as hard as it seems is to Enjoy the time in the hole.

The next day we wanted to do some touring around the island. We took a random tuktuk to take us to the other beach: Puke. Then, we drank coconuts, took romantic beach pictures (this is where there are a lot of wedding photoshoots) and I saw those Instagram worthy transparent canoes! I begged Jon and he paddled me around in it while I kind of helped and observed the sea life. So many blue star fishes! Amazing, I wish it was much longer but Jon was rushing everything. To be honest, I would have loved just a complete beach day, but he wanted to go explore all the time. Men!

It was time to head back. Be aware that the sea could be quite uneasy so take the ferry in advance.
Our return was marked by an unfortunate event. We had to get the bus to the airport but the office did not let us because the house keepers had reported that we have broken a vase in the Airbnb place. We were shocked that they lied in such a way and we were afraid we will miss the flight because of dishonest people. This ruined a bit my impression of filipinos as well as my birthday mood. But at the end, we were let go and Jon received an apology email from the Canadian airbnb owner.

The end of this glorious trip was in the same Manila hostel where me and Jon had to say goodbye for a bit- I was going to south korea to teach English for 1.5 months.

 

What I loved:

  1. The friendly and easy-to-talk to locals
  2. Every experience we had in Coron was out of a fairytale. THE CAVES! Out of this world beautiful nature.
  3. Boracay was everything I dreamed about for my birthday and much more! The main beach, I could stare at this water for centuries.
  4. Our Airbnb place
  5. The fact that the nature is still VERY preserved. Not too touristy yet and I hope it stays this way.
  6. EVERYTHING! -Thank you Jon!

What I did not like:

  1. Okay, be cautious. Filipinos might seem friendly but could have ulterior motives and the country is very Americanized in the sense of them embracing Kardashian behavior and culture. (SO MANY SELFIES)
  2. There is terror and disturbance in the south of the country, be careful when choosing which islands to visit
  3. The local food for me was nothing special
  4. Manila is as dirty as a dumpster
  5. Transport between islands is inconvenient

*notable moment: in Dubai i met a Filipina named Fetus. Her parents thought she was majestically white, hence this name…..oh … OK :S

Cambodia

CAMBODIA

(Siem Reap-August 2016)

The train from Bangkok to the Cambodian/Thai border took forever to depart. One hour and a half of unexplained delay (plus a 7 hour trip). I was still super excited to see Cambodia, although the trip was bitter sweet. Jon was working and he wanted to see Angkor Wat and the temples So badly! Instead, I went with my Canadian friend L who was awesome company and knew how to drive a scooter fairly well, well….. hahaha!

Cambodia for me was the most culturally interesting as well as cheapest south East Asian country.

Still, please take my opinions with a grain of salt because I only stayed there 4 days. I wish I could have explored other cities more south as well as the capital (that I never remembered the name of). I do plan to go see their seaside on another occasion.
I managed to discover a lot in those 4 days, mainly good things, but some sad things too. Poor Cambodians look much poorer than Laotians or their Thai neighbors. There are signs everywhere: ‘’don’t give money to begging children, because they need to be in school and not to take on begging as a career.’’ Well, that explains Angelina’s serial adoptions of Cambodian kids.

Image result for signs dont give money to begging children cambodia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s return at the logical chronological order of events.

In the train some locals came to sell Really bizarre looking snacks, so I did not buy any because I needed my stomach functioning to try Cambodian food.

Upon arrival at the train station close to the border, me and L met another Canadian/Indian girl who was super friendly and we decided to figure out this mess together. And believe me- BOY! It was a mess and a half.

1-We got a tuktuk that promised to take us to a place where we fill in Visa on arrival documents and take passport pictures. Tuktuk took us to some sketchy empty back offices next to some sort of mall. They tried to scam us but did not succeed, gave us some papers to fill in but I was very skeptical. They took L’s passport pictures and we were out of there. We did not pay them anything, so I am still unsure to this day what their scam idea was.

2-Out of the office, we grabbed some food in the mall and went to the border. There were various line-ups and just a huge mess. We asked around and everyone gave us different directions.

3-We just proceeded to cross the border basically just kept going straight…I felt like I am already in Cambodia but I wasn’t even sure! We saw many casinos.

4-Much later, after some walking along and inside buildings, corridors and through barriers, we encountered an office asking for our stamped passports and some papers.

5-Time to backtrack (Lol) to find which offices or officials we didn’t see. We found a tent on the opposite side of the road which apparently was the Visa bureau. We gave them some cash and hoped for our change back which took a while. They stamped our passports and gave us some papers to fill.

6-Time to go back to this other office. They accepted our papers and we were in Cambodia!
Okay, it doesn’t sound That bad but believe me it was really confusing, reminded me about the Nicaragua/ Costa Rica border.

We received a thousand offers for rides to Siem Reap and accepted a comfortable van to take us there. I thought it was just another scam, but the price we paid was alright divided by the 3 of us although we had to change tuk tuks a few times and it was confusing.

From my ride I remember two things:

-When does it end!!! Why in SE Asia distances look so short but in reality it takes you 10 frigging hours?!?

-Cambodia is as flat as a pancake! There were not even mini-hills in the distances! Really interesting.

No matter, we had different issues to solve –which hostel to stay at?  LOL. I wanted a big pool, social atmosphere, free breakfast and cheap rooms of course. And all that is entirely possible in Siem Reap for as low as 6 dollars a night in shared dorms!!! L wanted comfort and not to share rooms.

I changed three hostels because I wanted to explore, so I was not always with my friends although we did meet.

You dear reader are perhaps not interested in the details of our accommodation, but just know- there is anything and everything in Siem Reap. Just check out the below video of our hostel barman and barmaid having an epic karaoke. I absolutely LOVE this town and even considered working a bit there.

I tried to do a quick search but can’t find the names anymore. One of my hostels was this one:

Onederz

I did not get to fully enjoy the party scene, as my friends were tired of touring temples all day and I was not in the mood to venture alone. The bars are frigging amazing tough, the restaurants as well. The city center is walk-able and safe. My second hostel was in some dark alley, and I walked through dark local side streets which was really sweet! I love going Deeeeep and trying to blend in with the locals. See how they really live and how their houses look like. But, of course, kind of impolite to take photos of it. Sorry!

Second day:

We booked a tuk tuk for a small tour which must have cost us 15 dollars each.

The tour was from 7 am until 6 pm. IT WAS EXHAUSTING, not only physically but emotionally. There was so much to absorb: thousands of years of civilization and their cultural footprint. At moments, I was absolutely out of words of how breathtaking it all was. How did they carve the stone? How the hell is it still intact? Absolute geniuses. The Khmer empire.

Be aware that the tuk tuk driver won’t explain you much and they often don’t speak English at all. Book a tour guide or research in advance as L had done, so he was reading us the stories as we switched temples. The small tour we took-you can see below here in red. We saw 7 temples and ended the spectacle to see the sunset at Angkor Wat: the biggest religious temple complex in the world. Everywhere we looked- there were MORE temples. If I remember well, there were 60 temples around Siem Reap!!! So, if you can afford the time and energy, DO rent a scooter and visit them at your leisure.

I do regret not doing the Big tour the following day, but I was so exhausted, I just wanted to relax in the pool and rest my destroyed feet. My Canadian/Indian friend described the Big tour as something even more incredible. Temples with water gardens with orchids, buffalos, elephants and big birds swimming around. It’s a fairytale! It’s the most inspiring place with a very special creative energy. I have to say hanging out with her was really enriching as well. She was someone very environmentally friendly and nature oriented. She had just done a climbing camping trip in Thailand and was also a photographer and artist. She sketched in the middle of the jungle covered (Lara Croft) temple and it was such a pretty sight. Please see pictures bellow:

So :

I LOVED

1-The Bayon temple with more than 200 exquisitely crafted engraved faces. You can see my attempts at taking fun photos bellow.

2-Ta Prohm temple where Lara Croft movie was filmed was also spectacular and immense. Lara Croft’s temple just made me feel like inside a video game! It was unreal how the trees have invaded and blended into the rock. All those temples require your full attention, in eyes and mind. There is SO MUCH to see. So many details and it just keeps going. (Very easy to get Lost!)

3-AMOK! Cambodia has the best food hands down in the region or the world. <3

4-Noone tried to scam us. People are really poor but not as sketchy as Thai Generally I found them humble and helpful.

5-Siem Reap was a perfect little town that does feel touristy but is incredibly fun and you can’t grow tired of it.

I did not like

1-The children begging around all temples

2-Angkor Wat is definitely NOT the most spectacular temple but it is the most popular (so there are big line-ups AND very slow Chinese tourist afraid of climbing down steep stairs). Please be aware when you divide your visiting time. Also- the sunset experience was a bit lame to be honest Lol.

3- Me and L took a scooter to explore the neighboring cities and get to the big lake Tonie Sap where we were hoping to see the floating villages. Well, scooters or cars or nothing is allowed around the lake. You HAVE to take a boat which is the only way. We were quite disappointed.

Speaking about the unfortunate scooter adventure, Haha! On the way, we almost crashed (1) after putting gas in at the gas station and everyone laughed. We took a coconut break along the river where they have hammock bars. So relaxing! And I needed intense hydration in the heat and with all the exploring we were doing. Missing coconuts SO MUCH. We discovered a floating village with houses on stilts and people there were living in very poor conditions. I was still glad for the reality check. This was the real Cambodia and not the modern Siem Reap. L

We proceeded to explore temples we saw on a map and ran into our other travel companion completely accidently! Small world ^^. When L went to take the scooter though, he pressed the gas instead of break, so that was the mini crash (2). On our way back to the center and hostels, there was a Giant tropical rain storm. As L was operating scooter for the first time, we seeked shelter in some car/motor repair big warehouse. We braved the rain afterwards which was imminently led to mini crash (3)! It was just so slippery and so much damn rain.

Thank you L for being so brave <3 I know I couldn’t have done it. Also, thanks for making my Thai and Cambodia trip 10x more fun. It could get lonely traveling alone and it could get annoying traveling with someone, but with you- it was great!

The following day, I decided to head back to Pataya Thailand but took the plane instead.

Thailand

Thailand

June 2016 and throughout summer of 2016

First and foremost, if you can AVOID flying with Aeroflot, DO IT. Do Not use this airline. They were extremely rude, wanted to overcharge me for luggage, did not understand their job and almost made me miss 2 of my flights. I had to run, they did not accompany me.

Thailand is the most popular South East Asian country to visit because they give out visas on arrival easily. Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya are all framed extremely cheap, beautiful and the locals- smiley and friendly!

Since I lived in its northern neighbor (Laos) I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand on a numerous occasions and get to know the culture a bit better than the regular alcohol and ladyboy curious tourist.

Bangkok:

Upon my arrival, we stayed in fancy hotel So- Sofitel beautifully decorated, and they welcome you with flowers and a purple drink. We took a hotel tour as every few floors the design and theme of the rooms changes. Ours were the bestest- see pictures below. We were also lucky, since there was a very popular pool party (once a week in different hotels around town) in our hotel that is free for hotel guests. Stunning views, drinks, and hot people. I loved the music and how my outfit glowed in the dark. That was my first impression of the city. In the banquet hall area of the hotel there was a BMW employee’s party and I found the locals dressed extremely stylish and original.

We started touring the city and went to get some pad thai at the Asiatique riverfront. A very modern and quite expensive touristic place.There were robots/transformers to rent for kids and I found that really awesome. Wish I was a kid again. What I noticed as unique were the soaps shaped like boobs or penises! They also smelled so good.

The following night, we went to Nana Plaza where we were told we can spot the ladyboys bars. There was heavy rain that night. I also tasted street food and it was cheap and tasty. We proceeded to visit a few strip clubs. Ladyboys were grabbing Jon’s bum, catcalling him and I found that hilarious! A country where girls are not harassed, ouf! Finally! Inside the strip clubs however, it is really expensive to drink and they are so pushy for you to order drinks while the strippers act so so bored, barely moving and some of them looks like 12 year old boys /or ladyboys, as only their breasts were showing, I was really not sure about genders.

NB! Do negotiate with the tuktuk drivers because they always rip off the tourists.

Once, we witnessed a taxi driver who was not happy with a foreigner and showed him his gun!

My second time in Bangkok, it was to meet a friend from Canada. We managed to watch some Thai boxing which was super exciting. At least the first few fights. I was shocked how expensive tickets are, so please don’t bother buying the front seat tickets since you can move freely once inside. Buy the regular tickets. Unfortunately, they put tourists far from the locals who scream their bets like crazy all the time. I would have loved to be amid this crowd but maybe I wouldn’t have been able to focus or hear my thoughts. They were also the decisive power when it came to disqualifying one opponent who was not very energetic or passionate about winning which surprised me! We met there a Dutch guy and proceeded to Khao San road where we met more people. Together, we danced on the streets till dawn and I tried scorpion, it was awful! We were drunk and happy in a tuktuk trying to find a karaoke place!

Khao San Road it’s where I had the most fun in Bangkok! There is so much to do! Little streets, lights, massages, buckets of booze, scorpion or spider sampling, street food heaven, funky t-shirts and souvenirs, open air street bars, offensive bracelets makers, the couch surfing meeting, dark tunnel streets with homeless cats and dogs, balloons with funny air inside.

For research purposes, me and my friend one day attempted to find the Bus terminal. Well, we got frigging lost. It was so so hot! After some time spent in desperation and wrong directions, we found some fenced off gardens and jumped the fence with our backpacks. No matter who we asked, they gave us different directions. Well, it was a workout. Note that any thai person can offer you a ride on their motorcycle, but they really ask too much! (in any case, just accept if you are super lost).

I stayed a night in my friend’s hostel which was containers stacked and super colorful called the Wanderer Hub. I liked the hostel a lot. We also tried another close to the train station. It was clean and modern. However, I found reviews really matter in Bangkok…uhhh,just keep reading.

Me and my friend then departed to Cambodia by train. But man…that’s a whole new story.

On my return, I was alone and I wanted to be close to Khao San road, so I booked the closest and cheapest hostel around. Hello Guest House. I would certainly name it Bangkok’s most disgusting hostel with rude staff and a used tampon in shower: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hello-Guest-House-Bangkok/Bangkok/69824#propname

On my last trip to Bangkok, I was with Jon again as he came to say Goodbye to me. I was done with Laos and was going to head back to Europe. Coincidentally the king of Thailand had passed away and the whole country was grieving. No parties, no noise, everyone and everything, every building, every public toilet, every clothing shop- ALL BLACK. They adored their king. So, needless to say, I wasn’t going to make it to Full moon Party. It was all cancelled. That is still on my list!

Be aware of taxis in Bangkok. Most drivers are from the villages. They have no clue where you are going. They do NOT speak English or use google maps, not even paper maps. Once we took 1 from the hotel and it wasted 2 hours looking for a robot restaurant. We requested to take us back to the hotel and argued not to pay. At the end, the hotel paid him.

Eventually, I found this robot restaurant! It is really tasty and fun. Quite far away and hidden in an abandoned shopping mall. But the robots are dancing on Lady Gaga while serving you delicious food!

We visited as well the floating market Khlong Lat Mayom which was so far away and was not floating at all. But we tried some unique foods, saw a salamander and discovered another area! Bangkok is so big.

Please remember that the area where all fancy hotels are is boring as hell. There is nothing to see and nowhere to eat. And only taxis available.

Anyway, when the king died, cops were patrolling even Khao San road to make sure no music is played loud. It was awfully depressing.

The best part of my experience was visiting the Unicorn Café. Like designed for me! It was paradise. I so want to bring this concept to life in Europe and even have the interior design in my head. If you are an investor or someone with nice savings, please write to me lol.

At the top of our hotel Banyan tree (beautiful big rooms, best pillows, robes, fruits and exotic fruits brochure, flowers, and scent of the day, free massage) there was the most famous roof top bar- Vertigo. On the 61th floor! The service was lacking tough. No one came to serve us and when they did, they never brought our orders. We just left.

Our last night together, we enjoyed some New Zealand food-fish! It was so so so good! Always wanted to visit NZ.

Pattaya and Ko Lan island:

Me and my friend from Canada went to Cambodia and then I came back alone to Pattaya. In a few short words, this city is: For rich Indians who can pretty much only get visas for Thailand and extremely surgically modified Russian prostitutes. I was excited! To get to my hostel was a whole new adventure. I arrived very late in a huge tropical storm. The bike guys wanted too much money, so I got onto some kind of truck which didn’t even know where to stop. Well, I got there anyhow. I stayed in 18 Coins hostel. They set up the AC to -100 degrees and the staff is the rudest I have seen so far. No facilities for socializing, luggage, no one cleaning the toilet areas, etc.

The main avenue in Pattaya is full of Ping Pong show promoters, clubs, Indian tourists, massive packs of Indian older men. Subsequently, I changed my hostel to a faraway one, a much calmer place: Jomtien beach- Jomtien Hostel. Oh what a bliss! Breakfast included. Beautiful, clean, peaceful rooms.

But getting to this part of town, was a whole other adventure! From the ferry port, I asked so many bikers, tuktuks, trucks and even random cars for a cheap ride, but was out of luck. At the end, a touristic private mini bus told me to hop in at the front seat. The man drove me around with his clients to a hill with amazing views, but my phone was dead to take photos. The driver who didn’t speak much English and was around 50 years old kind of liked me, so he drove me for free and even paid my lunch (it was amazing to try local food ordered by a local!) and told me at night, he will pass by my hostel and pick me up to go party! Well, uhhhhhh. I, of course told the receptionist to tell him I left already. He did indeed came looking for me, but I was out with my roommate.

My roommate was an Indian guy. It happened to be his birthday! He had a scooter and we hit the downtown. We also met a Pakistani friend of his who he met in Phuket. The Paki guy was staying downtown in a fancy hotel. He was not as poor as us! I have to say- I had a BLAST with those two! We got drinks, danced in an Indian club (the music was epic!!! The men were throwing their money on the floor as a thanks to the club owners for organizing this soiree!!! There were buckets of cash! Tempting to reach down and pretend to tie my shoe while I grab some….oh well. One old prick asked me ‘’how much?’’ They thought I was a Russian prostitute. L It was kinda sad.) We danced with an old funny grandpa on gangsta rap. His whole family taking photos. We saw a ping pong show and Thank God for my friends who basically negotiated for it to be free with free drinks! I will spare you the details of the Ping Pong show as some of you might be sensitive. But I thought it was entertaining! I loved the bars in Pattaya. So many to choose from.

Gotta tell you, even after this unforgettable party, the moment that will stay with me FOREVER is this one: Me and my two friends on a blanket on Jomtien beach sipping wine and eating rice watching the beautiful sunset. This is when the Indian guy (we never exchanged contact information) recited a poem he wrote. He is a philosopher. I just felt at peace, complete harmony and admiration. I learned SO MUCH from them. About their culture, their differences, the Kashmir conflict, the food in North and South of India, the Pakistani language, what brings them together. It was what traveling is all about!

The rest of days, I spent tanning, trying some shallow swimming (there were giant jellyfish), drinking coconuts and reading The 10 rules of Love on the beach. I loved it but I was missing my boyfriend. It was time to head back to Laos.

Ko Lan island is super super super super, extremely polluted island and I felt so bad, I started cleaning the beach and got 2 bags of garbage. I was there just for a day with the ferry. If I were you, I could skip that.

Noticeable things: Bulgaria Yogurt milk in the 7/11. P.S. There are 7/11’s everywhere!

Best hostel: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Jomtien-Hostel/Pattaya/34389?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuaLP8K2x1QIVLhbTCh3ZxgmLEAAYASAAEgKPGPD_BwE&s_kwcid=AL!591!3!183293718124!b!!g!!&source=adwordsdynamic&network=g&creative=183293718124&adposition=1t1&uniqueclickID=9825965108907239422&sub_keyword=&sub_ad=b&sub_publisher=ADW&ef_id=WSrP9wAABcTYMC7z:20170730155047:s

Worst hostel: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/18-Coins-Cafe-and-Hostel/Pattaya/99328?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0PObla6x1QIVx-AbCh35cgOcEAAYASAAEgKwnPD_BwE&s_kwcid=AL!591!3!183293718124!b!!g!!&source=adwordsdynamic&network=g&creative=183293718124&adposition=1t1&uniqueclickID=454126764723653218&sub_keyword=&sub_ad=b&sub_publisher=ADW&ef_id=WSrP9wAABcTYMC7z:20170730155123:s

Koh Samui:

Getting to those islands is kind of a struggle! Flights are impossibly expensive, so go to Surat Thani and take a ferry. As mentioned, since the whole country was in mandatory 1 month grieving, the island was pretty calm. I walked for 2 hours because the tuktuk dropped me far away from the main area. Along the way, I checked 5 hostels and even beach mini huts. I said No each time. Something was pulling me forward and I knew it when I saw it. The best hostel I have seen in Asia! Modern, sharp, cheap, clean, colorful, social. Hell Yeah! Stay there- Behind the scene hostel.

I thought the island generally was a bit boring or maybe I did not want to spend any money and visit waterfalls or ride elephants- I have done it all already! And I had a stomach issue. I found an amazing Italian restaurant and swore to go there on my last night. Incredible food and atmosphere! I love lights. I am in love with lamp. Go there – Taverna Samui.

In my hostel, there was a German girl and we hit it off. Went for shisha and beach fire performance on the shore. It was a blissful moment. The moon, low music, cocktail and shisha on beach beds.

A French Egyptian from the hostel rented a scooter and we went to the big Buddha statue to see the sunset. Meh. Nothing special.

Best hostel: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Behind-The-Scene-Hostel-Club-Samui/Koh-Samui/85336?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoaaX4K-x1QIVajPTCh1KmAVQEAAYAiAAEgKd-vD_BwE&s_kwcid=AL!591!3!183293718124!b!!g!!&source=adwordsdynamic&network=g&creative=183293718124&adposition=1t2&uniqueclickID=8905767434955813536&sub_keyword=&sub_ad=b&sub_publisher=ADW&ef_id=WSrP9wAABcTYMC7z:20170730160010:s

Best restaurant: https://www.facebook.com/tavernasamui/

Surat Thani:

I was pretty damn exhausted and stayed 1 night in this city. Very local. No tourists at all! Found a nice hostel. Very clean. Saw the night market and got some street food. Don’t experiment too much with that…since it disturbed my stomach.

Udon Thani:

Flying from Vientiane to Thailand was too expensive! So we drove to the border, crossed and took a tuktuk to the city airport. The city is really….ugly. They do have shopping malls, fast food and supermarkets at least, unlike Laos, so I could finally buy some much needed products like a frigging hairbrush lol!


The Bottom Line

What I loved about Thailand:

1-The street food is tasty and unique. Beware that the pad thai includes little warms traditionally.

2-The tourists are so friendly and in such a good mood! They are up for anything and make traveling alone special. Jordan from Jordan- you the man!

3-I loved being treated like a royal with vip rooms, free massages and cocktails in the hotels we stayed at.

4- Pool parties and roof top bars

4-The thai massages

5-Coconuts and mangosteen

What I didn’t love:

  1. The tuktuk and taxi drivers always trying to cheat or don’t know directions
  2. Most clubs, you need to pay an entrance. A Club we visited in Bangkok was 10 dollars!
  3. The pollution and traffic!

Why I WILL be back:

  1. I know…so stereotypical, But I Have to see Phuket and Ko Phi Phi of course, I heard such good stories
  2. FULL MOON PARTYYYYYYYYYYYY in Koh Pha Ngan. I cannot believe that I didn’t go yet. It is everything that represents me: Neon, Beach, Drinks and Dancing
  3. Chiang Mai mountains
  4. Chiang Rai white temple
  5. Real floating market
  6. Beach hut stay and snorkeling in Koh Tao

Travel Cheap

www.couchsurfing.com

(Acronym: CS)

Through this website, you can stay at locals at your destination. There is no need to reciprocate the service. Sometimes the local can show you around and take you out. The host can also give you the key to their place and let you organize your own schedule. Likewise, you can host travelers in your city! Do you have a couch, bed, or even some floor space? Both couchsurfing and hosting is an enriching experience that costs nothing but creates a lifelong memory and sometimes-friendship.

My experience with CS accounts to more than: I was a couchsurfer 40 times; I hosted 25 times; I have 70 references; I have attended CS meetings in 5 continents; I have found work through CS connections; I have found sports activities and daily trips; I have found love and friends

Tips:

  • Coushsurfing also holds weekly events. Even if you are not a frequent user, or you are new to town for example, you can come socialize and meet people. The biggest event I have attended was in Rio with 200 people. We each had a name tag. Delicious food and all fun people sharing one interest: Traveling.
  • Fill out your profile and get some references. That always helps!
  • Be aware of hosts with negative references, who request money for your stay, or for creeps. I have had negative experiences (7 being hosted and 2 hosting) but the positive ones outshine everything.
  • Bring a little souvenir for your host! Make a good first impression.

DAILY SAVING: 40 $

www.warmshowers.org

Although I haven’t used this website, it follows the same pattern as CS. However, this site is focused on travelers traveling by bicycle.

www.workaway.info

Combining volunteering work and travel, this platform gives you the chance to really become one with the locals. I have tried this in Colombia and South Korea, but I wish I discovered it sooner. There are all kinds of activities from farming to graphic design. The concept is: a roof and food for a few hours of work daily. You are not getting paid, but you are saving so much and learning at the same time!

Tips:

  • You can meet fellow workawayers around you and connect.
  • You need to register to this website and pay a small symbolic yearly fee.

DAILY SAVING: 70$

Google: free walking tour *name of the city*

I would say with confidence that 90% of developed countries capitals have a free walking tour. The concept is simple: a local gives you an entertaining tour of the city and you tip them if you appreciated the time spent. Usually a tour lasts 2-3 hours. All tour guides I have encountered were charming, knowledgeable and presented amazing curious facts that not even a citizen of the country knows! I love the free walking tours and I have been on many across: Asia, South America, Europe, and Middle East.

My favorite part is the end! Haha. Not because it ends but because I can ask the tour guide anything- from the cheapest bar to the best souvenir deals. Afterwards, we usually also form a group of people who want to continue the fun and party.

Tips:

  • Free walking tours also organize cheap Pub Crawls, Food tours, Art tours!
  • So, please, just google: Free walking tour + the name of the city = enjoy!

DAILY SAVING: 40$

www.showaround.com

This is a similar idea but the guide usually takes a higher wage and serves private groups like you and your friends! You can still save $ because this is not a certified guide employed by a travel agency and you can make a friend! For nights out, you can also check out: Zoolafix.com

www.groupon.com

Why a vouchers site? Well, because, believe or not, there are a LOT of deals on popular attractions or day trips. Just sort the site to where you are and research. You can see the Burj Khalifa for half the price if you search well. Also, never forget that this is a local tool. You can get really discounted food deals.

DAILY SAVING: 20$

www.around-the-world.com

If you plan a trip of a lifetime, this is your chance to save big. Do you want to see the whole world? Do you have a year off? Buying an around the world ticket could end up being 80% off all the airfare you would have bought separately. This is a package of 4, 6, more tickets taking you to pre-determined destinations and be careful to respect the timeframe and not to miss your flight. I met people on an Around the world tickets in Santiago, Chile and they said it works very well.

SAVINGS DEPEND ON TRAVEL PACKAGE

www.fly4free.com

Discounted deals for flights, packages, last moment offers.

www.kiwi.com

www.skiplagged.com

Both sites follow a similar idea. They will book you on multiple connections, separate tickets and sometimes airlines, so you can get the cheapest possible price. Prepare for a lot of transfers, don’t be afraid of flying and don’t bring check-in luggage because you will have to recheck it.

www.blablacar.com

Ridesharing is not a new model, but people forget that this exists across the globe!
Perhaps the locals will use another site or a facebook group, but imagine how much cheaper and more exciting traveling could be. I have taken blablacar in North America and Europe and it was always pleasant.

DAILY SAVINGS: 15$

www.backseatsurfing.com

This website aims for hitchhikers.  You could also just hitchhike on the side of the road and I totally embrace and support that but this is a more organized platform. I have only hitchhiked across the Caribbean islands and it was incredible! It warms my heart when people help each other like that. I think I am just unfamiliar with the logistics otherwise. I am not sure how to hitch a ride hence why I haven’t done it more.
But, oh! The stories I have heard. Friends have toured the whole of South America hitchhiking. A girl I met in Maceio, Brazil, from Turkey has done it in the Middle East as well. She also only slept in tents or the occasional CS, but she was indeed a very brave individual. A couchsurfer at my place had hitchhiked from Ukraine to Laos. The savings here can be huge for the patient ones.

Tips:

  • Please ask a local if it is safe to do hitchhiking in their respective country and most importantly- if it is legal! I am not 1 to follow rules, so my rule is if you see someone else doing it- then it’s a go!
  • In some islands you had to put your index finger to the side. These small difference apparently made a big difference.

DAILY SAVINGS: 50$

www.fromatob.com

I love this website! When it comes to comparing which transportation option is cheaper, this could save you. In some parts of the world, a train is the cheapest, slowest option and in others- a very exclusive method of getting somewhere.

www.peopleperhour.com

Hmmm, I am not, unfortunately the most adept on this topic. As much as I would love to be a digital nomad, most of these jobs have to do with technology and technology is not my friend. :/ Just look at the speed of which I am maintaining this blog. One day, with your amazing help, this blog will be so mega popular, that I will have the motivation to just go and support myself writing on the road. J One can dream.

However, can you program, code, design, Photoshop, content edit ETC.? Well, through this website, you can accomplish tasks for employers who will pay you and then you got your travel money! Everything is done virtually and payments are through paypal.

There are multiple sites for remote jobs if you do a simple Google Search. I have indeed applied for a few but have had no success yet. Most require you to be in a specific country or time zone tough or to have a working visa for a specific country.  But hell, if you can combine sunbathing and making an income, you are my hero!

www.hioffer.com

Another example for remote work but this time for English teachers. If you are a Native English Speaker, you have a much higher chance, and believe me, they check your accent on the interview. The hours + pay are simply amazing. The students are Asian mainly Chinese. You want to work 10 hours a week and make 25 $ per hour? Yeah, don’t we all! Imagine living in Thailand with this pay, you could be able to afford amazing things.

www.meetup.com

Meetup resembles Internations and Couchsurfing but it is very popular now. There are social groups and activities for every taste. Hiking, dance, reading club, language exchange, party. I like Meetup but the interface sometimes hides events around you if you aren’t part of the specific groups. Recently, I used it in Prague where there is a weekly Expats meeting or picnic (50 people).

Tinder social

Tinder isn’t only a dating app. On the right side of your swiping options is the Social part of Tinder where groups of friends can match your group and you can all plan an outing together. I have mainly used this feature in Dubai and had a lot of fun! To be honest, I have also used Tinder itself for making friends while traveling and it has worked fine especially in South Korea and Portugal! Try it out 🙂

Couchsurfing hangouts

CS also has a social part just like Tinder where you can form groups and organize a meeting. My experience so far has been a bit chaotic.

 

DAILY SAVINGS
 
AREA ACCOMODATION TRANSPORT TOUR Others Total Daily Saving
 
  Workway Hitchhike Free Walking Tour Flights/ Deals on attractions and food
  saving on Bed+Food saving on Bus, Train, Public Transport saving on Private tour operated tours
  70$ 50$ 40$ n/a 160$
   

 

Dubai

From MARCH – JUNE 2017

A little poem

My labyrinth has no exit

My crossword’s words don’t cross

These pieces from my puzzle won’t fit

My life-an unsolvable riddle,

But I won’t quit

20170530_170247Is it really a coincidence that Dubai rhymes with Lie?
Well, just use your imagination.

I have spent 3 months going back and forth between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in attempts to find work or more precisely- the work of my dreams.

In those 3 months, I managed to get robbed, assaulted, lied to that I will get a call back, lied to that I will begin work, lied to that they are preparing my visa, lied to that the company has an HR department, lied to for interviews and positions, did not get paid for work I did, betrayed by trusted people, being offered indecent and immoral proposals for work, ditched, sworn at, yelled at, kicked out of my own place, etc.

My mom is eager for me to get away from this strange blend of money hungry individuals forming a society with not an ounce of humanity left.

Most of the time in Dubai, I had nowhere to sleep and I didn’t eat regularly. Often, I waited 6 hours for a friend to give me a ride back to his far away neighborhood after his working hours where I stayed a week. P.s. I want to thank him for his hospitality.

The WORK
  • I have sent 1000 cv’s or More, my right eye began flickering and vibrating from exhaustion and staring at the screen until the early morning hours.
  • I went in person, taking people’s recommendation to give away CVs, presentable in high heels and well dressed. It brought me 8 blisters, 3 bleeding and no callbacks.
  • I then proceeded with Linked in connections. I added people and chatted them up. No response.
  • Networking was my best chance. With my charisma and ease of communication I met many people who were however much more interested in having drinks, going to a tango class or inviting me to stay in their villas.
    A multi-billionaire Indian man also offered me to take me shopping. He said I need a new purse, and dresses. He said I could stay for as long as I want at his house with 7 pools across the Burj Khalifa. He said I have a great ass and asked to know about my bra size. I was too shocked to respond. After all-this was a business meeting discussing job opportunities. He promised me work by next week as admin in one of his companies. Then we met his connection-the director of a major fashion brand for Dubai. He also showed me the job listings for this brand and said I could pick. As I refused all his advances and offers outside the professional limits, he then stopped responding to me. I messaged him very nicely that I am ready to begin work. Sent him my passport copy for visa processing. Silence.
    Then there comes another Israeli individual working in fashion who was encouraging me like a proper bully manipulator to flirt with these older men, pretend that I am interested in order to secure a job, to accept their offers for free clothes and play their game. He actually yelled at me twice that I am way too honest and don’t know how to lie.
    The one person I met networking was actually the man who became my boss for a month- Fadi Al Baghdadi. He lied to me the most-about so many things. At the end, he ended up Not paying me my salary at all. Hurray Dubai~~~

Is it still worth it? To compromise my own beliefs and myself for an unreachable promise, buried behind the blinding blinking sparkly glitzy lights of this world wide famous mega-polis.

I had what is called the Bright Lights symptom.

I came here because of the Expo 2020, people’s promises created great expectations for me for well paid career in Exhibitions and Events with no taxes, an exciting and upper class lifestyle, my own place, car, a view of the beach. That was the vision. But the reality of Dubai is this:

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT MOVE TO DUBAI:

1- Currently the market is so slow that you have better chance to find work (and maybe better-paid one) in Pakistan. Literally, my first friend from Pakistan left Dubai for this reason. Everyone is getting laid off. The job ads are so few, since I monitored them daily.

2The pay. I am a Canadian and got offered a few times to come in for interviews for a salary of 500 USD, including accommodation in a shared room with 4 more girls and food. 500 USD monthly…in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It was outrageous. I now was supposed to make 2500 USD, which sounds down right incredible. My rent is half that. The transport, cellphone bill and food- and maybe I could have saved enough to send for my student loan in Canada.

3-The rent. Never in my life would I have imagined seeing so many grown-ass men and women living in a shared flat OR worst- shared room!!! No privacy, a thousand rules, no guests allowed.
Terrible landlords. They moved my things out of my room at night when I was out attending a concert because they found someone who can pay 100 USD more for it. Then they did not allow me to go in and see if everything is indeed moved because it is not my room any longer. They are always late, never reply, never keep their promise, and never care about you at all. They called me just the other day to tell me the price will be higher because I am not staying more than 3 months. They keep changing the rules of the agreement because here no one signs anything.

4-The people. You know from my posts that I am all about the people. But these creatures here are not human. LOL. Just a quick brainstorm: flaky, liars, slow, show offs, just talk and no follow through, terrible work ethic and no integrity, materialistic, players, fake.

5-The Indians. Yes, they are people too and I am sorry that I have to make this a separate point. There is an 80% chance a girl is asked numerous times if she is married when she enters the taxi or for her phone number or to take the driver’s number because he can be her personal driver. One man started creepily describing all the girls who he liked in his taxi and that he cannot handle himself. Once I went to an interview in the industrial part of Dubai and when I got off the cab it was as if I was in India. Hundreds of Males staring me down. Where are the women? I was dressed well and it was extremely uncomfortable to walk down the street under their watchful looks. They really have no common sense and are very pushy if you make the mistake to talk to them.

6-The driving. In Dubai, there are no police officers, they only trust the speeding cameras, therefor all other road infractions are disregarded. People drive like maniacs, never signaling and zigzagging. One thing I noticed is that traffic lights are significantly slower than anywhere I have been before. You can take a nap and have a dream while you wait for them to turn green.

7-The rules. It is a Muslim country, so modesty is recommended, but this is not even what I mean! They are so inconsistent with their own rules, be it dress code, showing ID, smoking weed.

I mentioned earlier that I was robbed. Well, this was a great welcoming. It happened on Bulgaria’s national day- March 3rd. Also- my 1st night in Dubai. It was a traumatic experience and I cried for 3 days and 3 nights after. My friend brought me away to Abu Dhabi where I stayed with his mother the following 2 months. However, I could not report the robbery to the police, because I was staying at a guy’s place and I would have gotten in trouble as well.
A bigger infraction that happened at the end of my stay was the fact that I did not get paid for a month of work in the company Abstract brand communications. The boss was a pathological liar and never even processed my working visa application. He knew I had to leave the country  because my visa will expire and avoided my calls, emails, messages and coming to the office for a week. He then locked me out of the office and told the other colleagues to not let me in. I told him that I will raise a complaint to the authorities. I did- and guess what. Nothing. I have no rights here without a Labor ID even though I am allowed to begin work while my work visa is being processed. I would have been the one to get in trouble! I am still in shock that I practically lost 2500 USD and nothing wrongful was committed according to Dubai’s laws. There is so much I can talk about my work space, but let me just say that all the workers were owned 2 salaries and everyone’s medical insurance was expired which is completely illegal. Those workers (99% Indian with a salary of 500 usd a month) did not protest and were very passive about it.

Dear darling Dubai…why don’t you try and control the rent and labor regulations, but you try to control if a foreigner drinks water on the metro?

8-The nowhere. Unless you like desert, there is really not much else around. I miss pedestrian areas, sidewalks, pavement and parks. Be aware that Dubai is one giant construction site. And a construction site is not a pretty sight.

9-The green factor. Locals throw their garbage on streets out their cars and in parking lots. They don’t recycle. They built all those artificial islands destroying a lot of sea life. All the water here is from the sea and is treated and retreated to be drinkable.

10-The sand storms. Sand in your ears, eyelashes and hair for days!  Happened to me before an interview.

If however you come to visit Dubai, you will enjoy it.
I call this place the Vegas of the Middle East. This is why I am here. I actually enjoyed my previous 2 visits, so I decided to give it a full go and made it my 4th destination in 4 months for Looking for work.

Take a look at the top 10 things you have to check out in Dubai or Abu Dhabi:

1-Ladies night, free drinks, free appetizers! Usually on Tuesdays but you can find one any day of the week. Yes please <:)

2- Boa club. Dubai has many venues, always new ones to discover but this one is my favorite

http://www.dubainight.com/dubai/boa-lounge-club–dubai/bar-boa-lounge-club–dubai,2,0,72558.html

3-Many expos, check world trade center schedule; Many free concerts

http://www.dwtc.com/en/Events/Pages/default

4-Food from all over the world, I recently discovered Poke Poke, Hawaiian fast food

5-Many events for expats, both professional and for entertainment. It is easy to make friends here, but be aware- those are party friends
www.internations.org  and www.meetup.com

6-The beach is clean and free. (to this point I add Miracle garden and Global village)

7-The weather is always nice, no need for winter clothes, but have a jacket for the AC offices and malls

8-The giant mosque in Abu Dhabi is beautiful

9-There is free gym and pool in each residential or office building

10-The mobile services are cheap, internet and calls. Du mobile did a fine job.


If you want to reach some cool people:

Herbin, the guy who robbed me with his girlfriend: +971 55 947 7002

Ameer, the rich man who asked my bra size and lied for work: +971 55 468 7700

Fadi al Baghdadi, the guy who didn't pay me: +971 55 882 77892

http://www.abstractbc.com/  : (the company)

20170525_165126
the cheque that was supposed to be mine but was never signed and disappeared
20170529_200520
20170529_000721 20170528_204830 20170526_150001 20170517_185436 20170517_185315 20170516_184346

20170513_022250 20170512_010254 20170331_181548 20170327_200805

20170514_220756

The road back from Asia

9 November 2016

My sunglasses canada
My earings south korea
My shorts south africa
My top brazil
My hat laos
My swimsuit bulgaria
My bracelet thailand
My backpack bolivia

So what about me? Where am I from?

I don’t want to travel anymore.

AS the universe has a dark side-Let’s explore The dark side of traveling.

  1. Discovering everything is the same everywhere. Hopeless. All locals I met in every South American country were describing to me their corrupt government and careless politicians. Coming from Bulgaria, believe me, all Bulgarian say the exact same thing. Yet all south Americans claimed their country is The most corrupt of all the world.
  2. The flight delays.
  3. So many health, immigration forms to fill
  4. Landing/entry/exit fees to pay
  5. Directions to take
  6. Not to drown
  7. Not to burn
  8. Not to get an exotic spider bite
  9. Not to waste money but still spend enough to experience the essentials
  10. Oh! And the best and worst of all- people. Such a paralyzing and powerless feeling when confronted with a terrible attitude- for no other reason other than you being foreign and unfamiliar, thus undeserving of a person’s smile, help, attention and effort. But wait. Hello people??? Aren’t we all co-dependent? Why do we act like we aren’t? Like we are Above those things.
    What if You are stuck alone on an island. What will you do? You will expect help. You will HOPE, pray and cry for help. You will depend on it. On someone else.Well, this world is going to hell and I know you all can feel it.
    One by one, the places I visited, like a plague become more politically unstable! It’s so hard to watch this beautiful world fall. I set out to explore this beauty and blend of cultures, yet I see so much More ugliness in it. A Thai man throws his garbage carelessly behind him. A Lao man answers his cellphone and has a long and loud conversation during a classical orchestra performance in the concert hall. …my head is spinning in a whirlpool of examples. A Korean man faints in the metro, no one blinks an eye (I offered him help and assisted to sit him down on the stairs and offered him from my coke but he looked too embarrassed).

    Hmmm, at every corner someone trying to hassle you. So this is the new trend, the fashion, the worldwide phenomenon: Loss of respect, manners, caring, being human.

    Gosh it’s tiring looking for them… Where did the humans go?

The road back from South America

April 26th, 2016

Have you noticed how South Americans and Latinos love the letter ”S”?

Salvador
San Jose
Santo Domingo
San Juan
Santiago

I visited all of them!

Yet the hardest trip I took was the travel back home.

Writing this at the airport. My current trip involves:
Costa Rica->Miami->12 hour layover (praying not to over drink there or get injured since my insurance does not cover the USA)->Montreal.

Not only it was seriously demanding with all these connections and flights but I was also exhausted hangover and dirty.

My jeans used to be white… My socks smell like a rabies radiation…My mind is still wandering around somewhere else. Still faced and numbed by the splendor of Iguassu falls, up in the ancient mountains following Inca tracks, laying and absorbing the sun on the fresh salt flats of Bolivia…where is my mind?
The post travel depression is a serious condition not to be disregarded

Advise for when you start your own personal journey:
  1. Go with the mindset that people are put on this earth to help each other not to be scared of each other.
  2. Be flexible. I wore my yellow shirt as a skirt when I needed an urgent fancy outfit and I am wearing my blue skirt as a shirt when nothing else was clean.
  3. Know when its time to leave. This one is tough…When traveling is becoming more of a tedious obligation and plan-making than an enjoyable social time and when you don’t feel like meeting new people anymore, its perhaps time to go home and put things into perspective.
  4. Think about your trip but don’t miss it. Only take the best of your experiences back with you. Did u see and discover what you aimed to? There’s no need to stretch it on just to prove you can do it. It goes like that with everything. When the smile fades away, its good to give it a break.

Another fun fact and a Bonus vocabulary lesson:

bear- oso
beard- barba
beer- cerveza
bird – pajara

jajaja