Chasing the Sun, Part 2.75: This title is getting a bit cumbersome

January 12, 2008 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Historical note: I may not have mentioned this earlier but while I was in Australia, I got really terrible sunburn, and the whole time I was in Italy my skin was peeling like crazy.  So my clothes, which I had been wearing for several days at this point, in addition to being stinky were covered in flakes of dead skin.  It was pretty awesome.

Note: I wrote this while I was still on the trip, but didn't get around to posting it until now.

More of the same.  Still no luggage, and I leave in the morning.  I'm going to have to buy clothes tonight.

Chasing the Sun, Part 2.5: When in Rome, be a Pest

January 12, 2008 - Reading time: 3 minutes

Note: I wrote this while I was still on the trip, but didn't get around to posting it until now.

Rome is not as fun as Milan was.  People here are definitely more rude, and the staff at stores and restaurants all seem annoyed to have customers.  In other places I've been, I would say that it's because I look like a tourist, but I think I blend in pretty well here, and everybody starts talking to me in Italian.  I can get through basic transactions in Italian, and people do seem to speak good enough English that I can get things done, so I don't know what the deal is.  Anyway, my luggage was supposed to arrive this morning at 10am and nothing has arrived yet.  The (only slightly rude) person at the hotel desk assured me that usually luggage comes in the middle of the night, if it's going to come at all, so maybe they meant 10pm.

Aside from the rudeness from people I've interacted with, people drive like assholes and the road configuration is somewhat poorly defined.  I'd definitely have trouble driving here if I rented a car.  It's not as bad as Bulgaria, but definitely bad.  I see a lot of the selfish, mean-spirited driving that I associate with Atlanta.

Another annoying thing is the fact that the sidewalk is filled with people selling random junk, and beggars doing odd things.  As in Sydney, beggars on the street never approach people directly to ask for money, which is nice.  But in Sydney, they would sit out of the way and look pathetic, and it seemed to work OK for them.  Here, people would lie prostrate in the middle of the sidewalk, or in doorways (until they get shooed off), or in curl up as if praying on the ground in parking spots.  I'm not sure if they're just doing it to be annoying, or if they're hoping someone will trip over them or run them over so they can pretend to be injured.  Either way, it's annoying.

The people selling random junk are equally annoying, and they do accost you on the sidewalk.  When it's raining, they're selling umbrellas (they offer you an umbrella even if you're obviously carrying one); when it's sunny they have sunglasses; when it's dark they have trinkets that light up.  An especially irritating thing they have are these little disks that you shoot up off of a stick, and as they whiz through the air they whistle and light up.  That's fine, and if you do it right the disk goes straight up and then straight back down and you can catch it on the same stick you tossed it up from.  But instead they shoot them up at a slight angle, so that they land on people, and then the tosser (har!) starts yelling at the person like they're going to steal the disk.

Milan wasn't like this at all.  I liked northern Italy much better.  If I come back to Italy, I'll try Venice; maybe that's different.  Or Sicily.

Chasing the Sun, Part 2: Rome!

January 12, 2008 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Historical note: I did not succeed in my goal to fill all of the pages in my passport with stamps, though I got reasonably close.

Note: I wrote this while I was still on the trip, but didn't get around to posting it until now.

Rome!  Finally!  After deplaning, we all trudged off to baggage claim, where about 10 bags came off the carousel for the entire 767 full of people.  So I moved off to the huge line of people at the missing baggage desk.  Like any airport line, about 95% of the people were civil about the whole thing, and a few people got really worked up and belligerent.  The people at the desk handled it pretty well, considering.  I was told that my baggage was still in Moscow, which was only a little surprising.  My flight into Moscow was delayed, so I arrived at Sheremetyevo International Airport about 10 minutes after my flight to Rome took off.  The surprising part about that was the fact that a new ticket for the next flight to Rome (only a couple of hours after my original one) was waiting for me at the passport control desk.  I gave them my passport, they gave me a new ticket, and then read my luggage tag numbers to someone over the phone.  I was a bit surprised at the efficiency, but when the bags didn't arrive I wasn't shocked or anything.

Anyway, I got around to leaving the airport around midnight, so I had to get an unlicensed taxi to take me to the hotel.  Not a huge deal, and he didn't fleece me (as far as I can tell) but the receipt he gave me was printed on receipt stock for what appears to be a strip club.  Good thing I'm not expensing this!  That one would be hard to explain to the people at the office ...

One thing that annoyed me slightly was that I didn't get a stamp in my passport when I entered Italy.  I have a goal of filling all of the pages in my passport with stamps before it expires (January 2010), so when I don't get the stamp it slows the process down.  Also, aside from the people at the lost luggage desk, and the unlicensed taxi driver, all of the people I've had to deal with have been kind of rude.  Maybe it's just the night shift.

Anyway, I'm off to bed.  More later.

Wait for it

December 30, 2007 - Reading time: ~1 minute

I have a couple more posts, for Rome and Prague, but posts written on the Tablet PC require a certain amount of editing to account for poor handwriting and bouncy planes.  The Tablet does remarkably well at recognizing my handwriting, but there are a lot of spacing issues and things like "I" being replaced with "¥".  I spent a bunch of time yesterday putting up photos and the first few posts, so I'm going to step away from the computer for a while and do other stuff, like clean up the apartment.

Chasing the Sun, Part 1.6: Maybe I *am* the only one ...

December 29, 2007 - Reading time: 5 minutes

Note: I wrote this while I was still on the trip, but didn't get around to posting it until now.

I'm taking a few minutes to write about the comical experience I had making a transfer in the Shanghai airport.

If you want to go to China, you have to get a visa in advance.  Everyone tells you this, but I didn't really pay much attention because I was only going to be in Shanghai for about 3 hours while I was transferring from one flight to the next.

When I checked in at Incheon, the person looked at my ticket, then at my passport, and said "hey, you don't have a visa for China."  I told her that I knew, and was just transferring, and asked if she would make sure that my luggage got checked through to Rome.  She was OK with the rest, but said she couldn't check my bags through China - I would have to pick them up and re-check them.  "Sorry, but that's China."  *shrug*

On the flight to Shanghai, when they passed out customs and immigration forms, I took copies but the flight attendant said I wouldn't need them if I was just transferring, which is what I would have expected.  It's also why I was surprised when I got off the plane, and the only way to get to my bags was through immigration.  So I hastily filled out the form and went to the "all passports" lane.  The lady at the desk flipped through my passport and said "you don't have a visa!"  I explained that I was just transferring, which confused her a bit so she picked up a phone.  A conversation in Chinese ensued, and then she hung up, took my passport, and said "wait here a minute."  Another woman ran up, took my passport, and told me to follow her, so we ran to another desk, where another conversation in Chinese ensued with the man at that desk, and after some rummaging about the desk (a few other uniformed people gathered around, including some police officers) he produced a stamp, stamped my passport, and gave it to me.  The crowd disbursed, and I moved on to the next line, which was customs.

Once again I hastily filled out the form, gave the form and passport to the person at this desk, and after a quick perusal of my passport, he said "hey, you don't have a visa."  So I flipped through the passport and showed him the stamp, and explained that I was just transferring to another flight.  He picked up the phone, another conversation in Chinese ensued, and then he gave everything back and said "OK, you can go on."

On to the airline check-in desks.  After some wandering around, I found the Aeroflot desk, waited in line, and when I got to the front I handed the ticket agent my ticket and passport.  She flipped through the passport and said "hey, you don't have a visa."  *sigh*  I showed her the stamp, and she said "huh."  She tried to ask the ticket agent sitting to her left about it, but was waved off for a moment, so she set the passport aside and started looking up my ticket.  I also gave her my Skymiles (Gold Medallion) card, to make sure that I got miles for the trip.  She took it, tried to ask the ticket agent sitting to her right about it, and was once again waved off so she set it aside and kept working.

She eventually printed out a boarding card, but the gate agent to her left, who had wandered over at this point, took it and ripped it up.  Huh?  There was some conversation in Chinese, then she said "She says you don't have a visa."  So ... I showed her the stamp, and she picked up the phone ... another conversation in Chinese; at this point a manager of some sort has shown up, and a large conversation ensues.  Finally they agree that the easiest thing to do is to just let me leave, so they print out the boarding pass, but then the ticket agent to the right jumped in and ripped it up, much to the surprise of the half-dozen other people now milling around.

Huh?  More Chinese, and attention turns to my Gold Medallion card.  A book comes out, and more conversation, and more typing, and then a new boarding card comes out - First Class.  Hah!  I definitely didn't deserve an upgrade, but wasn't going to complain.

So that's how I'm flying First Class in Aeroflot.  It's actually not so bad; I'm in a 767, not a Tupelov (actually I had hoped to get in an Ilyushin Il-96, but no such luck), and the service has been pretty good.  Nice food, too.  The seats don't have built in video, but they do stretch out flat, and after takeoff the flight attendants brought out little hard-drive based movie players which had the same selection of movies and TV that I would have expected from Video on Demand on any other airline.

So ... Next stop: Rome.

Chasing the Sun, Part 1.5: Incheon

December 29, 2007 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Note: I wrote this while I was still on the trip, but didn't get around to posting it until now.

I wasn't supposed to spend any time in Korea, but my flight out has been canceled.  It's cold and nasty here, and Incheon is a fairly small town, but I had the opportunity to walk around and stretch, which was nice, and also had some excellent seafood fried rice.  The fried rice in this part of the world is different than what you get in the US, and it's much better.  The rice made being stuck here an extra day worthwhile.

Chasing the Sun, Part 1: Sydney

December 29, 2007 - Reading time: 5 minutes

Historical note: this was my second round-the-world trip.  The first one was for work.  This one was using Skyteam's Round The World pass, which - at least until a few months ago - is something I would absolutely recommend.  Anyway I'm still the person who posted this.

Note: I wrote this while I was still on the trip, but didn't get around to posting it until now.

I have to admit - I miss the travel.  Airports, airplanes, delays, lost luggage, tourists, rental cars and taxis; all worth it if you get to see somewhere new  and different.

So this winter, instead of being fiscally responsible, I've abandoned work for a few weeks and am taking a trip westward 'round the world.

I gather that normal people don't do this-my evidence being that my goals for this trip so baffled two travel agents that I ended up buying the plane tickets myself (the SkyMiles travel agency quoted me over $10,000 for the trip - are you kidding?).

My original goals were:

  • Go places I've never been
  • Go places that are warm, sunny, and have beaches
  • Circumnavigate the globe

I ended up compromising on the second one, mainly due to the availability of flights and some pickyness regarding destinations.

My first stop was Sydney, which I just left. I'm writing this on  my trusty Tablet PC, sitting in seat 44A of a JAL 747-400.  I've never flown JAL, and I don't have any points with One World, which is why I'm stuck in coach (most of the rest of the trip is business/first class).  It's been a while since I flew coach, and it makes the trip a lot less pleasant.  The food is nice though, and the plane isn't too full, so it's not so bad.

Sydney was absolutely wonderful.  I only had a week there, and I really want to go back.  I haven't been many places where I thought I would like living, but I could definitely live here.

I figured driving on the wrong side of the road would be a challenge, but it wasn't - the only things that I was consistently bad at were turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals, and opening the door instead of pulling up the hand brake. My rental car was a Ford falcon, which was fine but not spectacular. I didn't fit well in it and was always a bit uncomfortable.  I took it as for south as the Bega Valley, which had a nice little town and an eerily empty beach.  Probably not worth the drive, but that's OK.  In the end, I could have done without the car and been just fine.  Lessons learned for next time.

There are a lot of professional street performers (everybody says "like mimes?"  No, not like mimes.  Not like mimes at all.) in Sydney, and some of them are quite good.  There's also a very useful ferry service, which was new and interesting to me.

One thing that generally surprises me during international travel is the fact that wherever I go, the same restaurant and shopping chains are there; TGI Friday's and Kentucky Fried Chicken are especially common.  Not so in Sydney.  The only American restaurant chains I remember seeing are MC Donald's, Hungry Jack's (only tangentially a US chain), and Krispy Kreme.  I liked that at first, and ate very well the whole time I was in Sydney, but later on I wondered what the deal with that is.  Not that everybody has to have American food chains, but how come Australia has so few?

Another thing that surprised me was the lack of steak restaurants (and Fosters beer for that matter).  Restaurants serving steak that I went to served very polite and balanced portions, and were generally delicious.  I blame Outback Steakhouse for the preconception that Australians are beer swilling carnivores, though it's possible that the rough, meat-heavy steakhouse is more common in other parts of Australia, like Perth.  An interesting note about Sydney is that if you appear intoxicated, bars and restaurants are not allowed to serve you drinks.  I didn't find this out firsthand-they make sure to point it out.  I'm just saying.

At any rate, Sydney was really fun and I had enough missed opportunities that I really want to go back, for at least a couple of weeks, to cover more things.

Next stop: Rome.