Category Archives: Travel

Mostar

We took a day trip to Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovinia. This town was under Ottoman rule with local people running the place. Even though the Turks did not come and personally control the town, Islamic culture, architecture, and food remain present. The town is very much trying to market this fact, making the famous bridge the iconic city symbol on its city flag. The architect for the bridge was the student of the architect that created the Taj Mahal. Mostari is the word for bridge keeper, and that’s how the city got its name. It is quite the city symbol. Even though it was a bit of a rainy day, the bridge pops from the photo with its white stone.

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Minimalist Travel

If you are American and haven’t traveled much lately, I can only say that things have changed pretty dramatically when going abroad. I had avoided most travel after 9/11 until a couple of years ago when I finally resumed travelling. I definitely noticed how much the world has changed.

Back in the day, let’s say the 80’s, before the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of China, I traveled a bit both as a student and for work. In general, I found that it was best to bring the stuff with you that you thought you needed. This view arose for two reasons: 1) it could be a hassle to find what might be commonplace in America; and 2) it was, in all likelihood, going to be more expensive. I now reject this view and conclude that Americans are living expensive lives paying more for the same inexpensive stuff precisely because they live expensive lives.

In the past, I would have even brought batteries for my electronics. Not anymore. Do NOT buy an international cell phone plan unless you need to call back to America with your number. Most stuff for general living in most places is simply cheaper. I will give some examples.

For example, food (specifically raw vegetables, fruit, meat, not processed food) in grocery stores in the Netherlands is probably about 2/3 the cost of food in American grocery stores. And better quality. Bakery goods are cheaper than US bakery goods too. In places like Bulgaria, cooked food is nearly the same expense as raw food if you are eating at non-restaurants. A giant slice of take-away pizza at one of the pizza shops will cost about 75 cents; two are an adult meal. There are little shops that specialize in takeaway grilled meats and cooked vegetables, and the cost is only slightly more than the raw foods. But one doesn’t bring food abroad, so let’s discuss other stuff.

I brought an Apple iPad with a cracked screen with me on my trip. I got it fixed in Bulgaria for $75 by a super-skilled Bulgarian tech guy who had repaired Apple products in the US and returned to Bulgaria. I had priced it in America, and Apple wanted $400 at their store, which basically means “buy a new iPad.” The machine works AWESOME now.

Eveready batteries were cheaper abroad than in America. I couldn’t believe it. But I didn’t buy them because I bought Aerocell batteries, a European alkaline battery that is just as well made from all appearances, and I paid about half the price.

Cell phone SIMS are very cheap. I bought a Bulgarian card with 100 minutes and 1GB data for $5. In the Netherlands, I paid only $10. International calls will probably be more expensive, but they are probably cheaper than using your out-of-sight American plan. Frankly, I can’t believe that Americans tolerate their astronomical cell phone bills.

Clothes. Even clothes are cheap. With Chinese manufacturing and a market economy everywhere in the world, textiles are everywhere. Which means that you can leave your American clothes behind and pick up some clothes that are local and you’ll stand out less. And you can bring them back to America and it won’t have been any more expensive.

The point that I am making is that America no longer is the marketplace with the best quality products at the lowest cost. Globalization and the market economies everywhere have completely altered that past reality. Admittedly, you will NOT find 150 brands of cereal in the store, but you will find distinct local varieties at lower costs than America. For example, in food, there are varieties of stuff that we would find familiar, but even better, and at low cost. In Croatia, I buy an Oatmeal that has some other grains blended in it, and the nutty, tasty flavor is great and it’s cheaper than American oatmeal.

And it goes even further. Some policies abroad, like the regulation of medicines, mean that the cost of medicine is much less than in the United States. Kate got needed antibiotics for an infection straight from a Malaysian pharmacy for a few dollars; the co-pay in America would have exceeded it. This is why “travel medicine” has arisen where people go to India for major surgeries because the total cost for the surgery, hospital, recuperation time, medicines, and travel expense are less than what would paid by having the work done by the doctor down the street in the United States. Think about that.

It has gotten to the point where if you have a work-at-home job for a US company, it makes economic sense to work from abroad. There may be many factors (two: friends, family) that probably dictate otherwise. But the economics of earning a high wage and living where it can be leveraged is obvious. Because the past advantages of living in America no longer apply. The sales pitch that “America is Number 1” seems to me to be more like whistling through the graveyard of trying to avoid a certain fear more than a real sales pitch.

But I digress, and so let me return to the original topic. When you travel abroad, bring what you need, assuming that it is durable. If it isn’t durable, then you might consider leaving it behind. And, finally, a word of caution. People abroad are not dumb, and they understand that you may have no idea what the price is and they will exploit this informational advantage. So, know what you are buying and know the local price. Be dismissive of outrageous prices. I PROMISE – They will come back and ask you what you are willing to pay. You can strike a good deal, but you must be willing to play the game. (If you want to read an example, click here.)

Walk over to the fort next door

If you watch Game of Thrones, then you know the Red Keep. It’s adjacent to the old town, but is a fort apart from it, and it protects the entrance to a protected little cove. It’s not a small fort, but it’s a lot smaller than the old town, and so they built it much higher. Thus, it allows a better lookout on to the Adriatic and over the old town as well. They film many scenes here because it’s not occupied, and I am sure setup and set management is much easier than within the old town.

I don’t usually post photos of myself, but Kate took a good one, and so here I am with at the top of the fort, with the adjacent old town and Adriatic behind me. Visit Dubrovnik, it is really a very rare place. But if you visit from April through October, be prepared for unbelievable crowds.

johndub

Old Timers

That’s what they call an antique car in Europe – Old Timers. In the states, I drive a 50+ year old car (a ’62 Volvo P1800). I was pleasantly surprised by having the opportunity to have a number of car shows occur while I was visiting in various cities (Tilburg, Krakow, and Dubrovnik). I photographed quite a few vehicles for my car buddies, but I will post just a few here.

Citroen
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Cadillac Roadster
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British Hillman (Won 1st place in Tilburg show)
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Polish Fiats

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’65 Volvo P1800
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E-Type Jag

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Jensen Interceptor

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Bug-eye Sprite or Austin Healy (I can’t remember)

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Bucatti

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Austin Healy
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Rolls Royce
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Durant
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Fiat Barilla (Red)
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Audi
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Opel and Volvo 144
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Mercedes (Dubrovnik clock tower at end of Stratum)
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What do four emojis say about Finland?

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Finland supporters have secretly been supporting the submission of four emojis to the super-secret emoji selection board in Silicon Valley that decides what goes on our smart phones. I guess involvement in this stems from the old Nokia days where they controlled handset production. And here are the four emojis that Finland believes describe their country.

finlandemoji
Clockwise from top left: Sauna, socks (presumably for colder-than-cold weather?), girl power, and heavy metal.

The sauna emoji was a no-brainer as many homes have their own personal sauna and it is even part of the business culture. And socks was obvious, unless it means something other than dress warmly. But the ones that I thought were really interesting were “girl power” and “heavy metal.” Finland has had a women president, and they are incredibly progressive, but this was really a pleasant surprise. As far as heavy metal, the only thing I know is that they host the wold championships in air guitar, and that there is a lot of heavy metal all over northern Europe. I don’t know what the post-modernist literary illuminati would say about this latter emoji. Maybe it’s just FUN!

BUT, here’s my question. What about the ice-fishing shack?  For more emoji fun (and to download more emojis), visit this Finnish web site.

Running Away From America….er, I Mean, Returning to the Motherland

This most recent election has given many a thought of leaving America. I am just on travel, so I plan to return, but leaving America may not be as hard as one might imagine. I will explain.

Since I was headed to Europe, I thought I might do a little genealogy back in Finland. My family is 100% Finnska, and so most of the branches of the family tree are in Finland, not America. I was aware of the 90-day Schengen requirement which requires that one depart after 90 days, and so I looked on the Finnish web site about extended residency. To my surprise, I discovered that they had a long-lost-grandchild permit. Prove that you are the grandchild of a Finn, and you may receive a permit to reside and work in Finland for up to four years. I know what you are thinking – that’s the length of the Presidential term.

Anyway, I will write a post about the process of applying, but suffice it to say that I completed the three or four page application. The only challenge was obtaining the my birth certificate, my parents’ birth certificates, and then the Finnish birth certificates of my grandparents. It took me about 60 days to acquire the documents and obtain all the necessary governmental stamps (known as Apostilles) that make them valid for submission in a foreign country like Finland. Cost: About $500. They shipped the card to me at the Finnish Embassy in Bulgaria about 3 months later.

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There are many ways to live in foreign countries. You can buy property. You can be a student or a retired person (which means that you have show means of support). If you are wealthy enough to afford another passport, you can, essentially, purchase one (which costs about $5M in Switzerland or a couple of hundred thousand for a Bulgarian passport). My heritage and the Finnish laws support my ability to live in Finland with no other qualifications other than proof of lineage. Pretty cool. I plan to visit next year.

Dubrovnik, 2

I cannot say enough about how visually stunning Dubrovnik is. With a student ID, the rampart walk was only $4, so I went around the old town. Here are some views. The first is a view of one of the squares with impressive buildings around it (e.g., bell towers, churches, etc.).

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The second is a gimmicky photo of the marina through one of the windows in the wall.

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Last, here is a photo that shows you where our apartment is located; the distinctive chimneys give away the location. My view is along the ridge to the right.

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I can post more photos, but there are many out on the Internet. It’s the one place in the last six months that has really inspired me to take some photos.

John