Tonsai Bay in Summer and in Winter – When to Visit Thailand?

My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…

My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…

December 2016:

Our first trip to Tonsai was during the Christmas holiday in 2016. We flew into Phuket, spent the day on the famous Patong beach, and hopped on a ferry to the much more chilled-out Tonsai Bay. The late-night party life hasn’t been our thing for years, so it was nice to head to a more secluded area. In fact, Tonsai Bay is only reachable via longtail boat from Ao Nang beach in Krabi. This makes it all the more exclusive!

There are a few ways to get to Tonsai. Most likely if you’re in the area you’ll hear that most tourists are going to the nearby Railay Beach resort area. You can get a longtail boat for around 100 THB per person from either Railay East or from the more accessible Ao Nang beach. My suggestion is to head straight for Ao Nang and, in the high season (December), there will be plenty of others willing to share a longtail boat. If there is no longtail boat available, you can walk from Railay beach, but if it’s high-tide you have to hike up and over some pretty treacherous terrain. Not recommended if you have lots of luggage.

Upon arriving, one must walk about half a kilometer up a small hill, through the forest and past hordes of thieving monkeys. After arriving at our $6 per night bungalows, we immediately felt at home. Not too crowded, very relaxed atmosphere, Bob Marley on the loudspeakers, helpful and friendly staff, and a fire show every night. The seating area at Chillout Bungalows included several hammocks, some picnic benches and even a few tree houses. Surrounding the bar area were several food stalls where anyone can find a delicious bite to eat. Chillout is located on Tonsai’s only main strip which is lined with more relaxing bars, some restaurants and a few more similar bungalows.

The bungalows themselves were incredibly basic. One bed, one shelf, one bathroom, one fan, and electricity only between 6PM and 6AM. We were officially off the grid, and it felt fantastic! Life was good. We had five full days ahead of us to relax in the sun and go on adventures.

During this trip, we spent a couple days on the beach, a few days on excursions in Krabi, and one day island-hopping, snorkeling and kayaking. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. We were sad to wave goodbye to Tonsai and longed to return someday.

July 2018:

Fast-forward 19 months to July 2018. We had a flight booked on July 27th to leave China for good and start a new life in New York City. We were going a bit crazy because I only had one day to pack between school finishing and leaving the country. Also, my birthday was coming up. After lots of back-and-forth decision making, we decided I would take an entire week, unpaid, off from work to go to Thailand for a full 9 days. After all, it was our last chance in Asia!

Olena and I are avid travelers, but we never return to the exact same place. We’ve always considered it a waste of time and money because the world is so big and want to see as much as possible. Well, with visions of our time in Tonsai at Chillout Bungalows swimming in our heads, we booked four nights at Chillout and a flight into Krabi. We were determined to repeat our experience on our last trip. It was so exciting! This time, we planned to take fewer excursions and just relax on the beach. It was going to be amazing!

I think you see where this was going. Our second trip to Tonsai was absolutely nothing like the first. For starters, the weather. No one bothered to tell us and we never bothered looking, but July is right in the middle of Thailand’s rainy season. In fact, two ships carrying tourists had capsized the day before we arrived, killing more than 50 people in the very same bay we planned to take a ferry. To the North, 12 boys had been trapped in a cave because of rapidly-rising water. When we arrived in Krabi, a torrential downpour started within minutes, right out of the sunny blue sky.

The rain was so bad that, when we arrived at Ao Nang beach, where tourists had lined up in December for a longtail boat to Tonsai, we found the beach deserted, waterlogged and devoid of any boats. We were informed that no longtail boat would go that day because of the weather.

Our spirits would not be crushed! We were determined to get to Tonsai. We grabbed a Tuktuk to Ao Nan Mao pier, got on a longtail boat to Railay Bay, walked over a kilometer in the rain to the aforementioned treacherous path, climbed up and over carrying 20kg each on our backs, and finally made it to Tonsai. The walk through the Railay area was depressing. The beach, crowded with tourists last time, was as empty as the food stalls that lined the streets. Arriving at Tonsai, waterlogged and exhausted, we still felt a spark of joy at our accomplishment. This spark, however, was quickly extinguished by the weather and the low season. Walking up the path to Chillout, no monkeys barred our way to beg for fruit, no happy locals greeted us on our way, all the bars we passed were either closed for good or completely empty, and to cap it all off, some rich guy had bought a bunch of land in the center of the area and cut down most of the trees. What had once felt like a secluded walk in the forest felt much more exposed and public.

Arriving at Chillout, we found the bar also empty and almost no one staying in the bungalows. No fire shows planned for the evening, no music on the loudspeaker, just the dreary-eyed people who ran the place during this low season. With all of this against us, the lack of electricity and comforts of home were much more noticeable. Back in our rooms, instead of an off-the-grid lifestyle and chilled-out atmosphere, we instead noticed the dirty sheets, wet bathroom and lack of light. We made the best of it, went swimming in the rain, but ended up canceling our next few nights and moving on to Phi Phi island, where our adventure took a much more positive turn.

The moral of the story:

Know the season of where you’re traveling, and never expect a journey to the same place at a different time to be the same as the first trip. In fact, I think that in life we should never seek to repeat exact experience because it lines you up for disappointment. Let every experience be its own, and try to keep your chin up! As I said, we still had five more days and ended up having a fantastic time in Phi Phi. The weather improved, our spirit was revived, and we learned a lot from the experience. Tonsai Bay, it was amazing while it lasted, but it’ll never be the same again.

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5-Day New York City Guide 2018 (Guest Post)

If this is your first time in NYC, you know why you’re here: you want to see Times Square. Sure, go see it. Everyone should see it once in their lifetime (and only once). Do some touristy stuff on Day 1. Day 2: West Side, Day 3: Central Park, Day 4: East Side and Day 5: Downtown.

Ok, here’s a suggestion of how I would do it, given 5 days. There is a lot of walking because New York is all about walking, by Jesse Richardsoriginally posted on Quora.

Day 1: Ugh, Midtown

If this is your first time in NYC, you know why you’re here: you want to see Times Square. Sure, go see it. Everyone should see it once in their lifetime (and only once). Do some touristy stuff. Go ahead, get it out of your system. We’ll wait. And I hear there’s a nice Applebee’s for lunch around there.

1. Times Square
2. Rockefeller Center
3. Bryant Park
4. NY Public Library 
5. Grand Central Station
6. Empire State Building
7. See a show (Broadway or Off)

Day 2: West Side

Now the good part starts. Let’s walk around some of my favorite neighborhoods. Start at the Flatiron building and walk south on Broadway to Union Square, and south some more to Washington Square Park. Then take Bleecker all the way through the West Village. Don’t be too prescriptive; you’ve got plenty of time to wander around. To finish off the day, walk the whole length of the High Line north. It will be crowded, but it’s worth it.

1. Flatiron bldg
2. Madison Sq Park
3. Eataly
4. Union Square
5. Greenmarket (certain days)
6. Forbidden Planet & Strand
7. NYU
8. Washington Sq Park
9. Bleecker Street
10. Get lost in the West Village
11. Meatpacking district
12. The High Line

Day 3: Central Park

And now, the most beautiful work of art ever created: Central Park. Afterward, there are a few million more pieces of art in The Met. Here’s a recommended path:

1. Columbus Circle
2. Chess & Checkers house
3. The Dairy
4. The Mall
5. Bethesda Fountain
6. Pass by the Bow Bridge
7. Strawberry Fields & Imagine mosaic
8. The Ramble
9. Belvedere Castle
10. Shakespeare Garden
11. Great Lawn
12. The Met

(If you are ever able to go to Central Park for a second day, check out the north half, including the Ravine and Conservatory Garden.)

Day 4: East Side

Back to another tour of incredible neighborhoods.

1. Chinatown
2. Canal St.
3. SoHo
4. Lower East Side
5. Katz’s Deli
6. Alphabet City
7. Thompkins Sq Park
8. St. Mark’s Place
9. East Village
10. Take the L one stop to Williamsburg
11. Wander around Williamsburg
12. Check out the Pier

Day 5: Downtown

Follow the beautiful series of interconnected parks around the tip of Manhattan, giving you spectacular views of the harbor and Statue of Liberty. Then, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see even better views from the Brooklyn Promenade.

1. Rockefeller Park
2. Tom Otterness sculpture garden
3. South Cove harbor and Esplanade
4. Robert F. Wagner park
5. Battery Park
6. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
7. Elevated Acre
8. South Street Seaport (the museum is nice, too)
9. Brooklyn Bridge
10. Brooklyn Heights
11. Brooklyn Promenade
12. Skybridge down to:
13. Brooklyn Bridge Park
14. and DUMBO

Day 6: Soak feet.

Don’t do too many touristy things. Just wander in the world’s best neighborhoods.

(All photos by Jesse Richards.)

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Marina Bay Rooftop Bar & Infinity Pool, Singapore 2018

One of the highlights of our trip to Singapore was visiting the Marina Bay Rooftop. We almost spent the ridiculous $500 per night for a room just to get a chance to take a dip in the worlds highest infinity pool. We ended up splurging a much more modest $200 on a different hotel with its own spectacular infinity pool, but we still visit the Marina Bay Sands and got a peek at the infamous pool!

One of the highlights of our trip to Singapore was visiting the Marina Bay Rooftop. We almost spent the ridiculous $500 per night for a room just to get a chance to take a dip in the worlds highest infinity pool. We ended up splurging a much more modest $200 on a different hotel with its own spectacular infinity pool, but we still visit the Marina Bay Sands and got a peek at the infamous pool!

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Volunteering at a Dogsled Farm – Snowdragons, Austria Part 5 (Guest Blog)

The next two days, some friends visited for watching the race. Lukas was able to keep his third place, even it really took him a lot to keep up with the others. The track was obviously very challenging. Still, we had a lot of fun, everything was organized very well, but we were happy when everything ended on Sunday with the ceremony and with a final emotional song I am from Austria (the secret Austrian hymn).

Last time, I was two days before the European Championship really worried, that I wouldn’t be able to join Lukas, because I got ill. Luckily, I felt one day before much better and I told Lukas that I will definitely join him. It was actually the first day since a week my nose was not running – what a nice feeling 😛 Lukas and I had to make some preparations, we weren’t sure that there will be electricity in Ottenschlag, so we needed to buy a generator to heat up the caravan, and a few more things. In between, we still had some time for fun with the dogs. It was pretty much raining the whole week, and Braxi obviously didn’t like to be wet anymore, so he sneaked into the house. I dried him with a towel, I think he liked it 😉

By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, awesome photos, and adrenaline-packed videos here:

European Championship in Ottenschlag / Austria

The next morning, we started packing the caravan and loading the dogs. The final decision on the dogs joining us, was in the lead Foppa and Lily, behind them Simba and Atreju, then Arthur and Angor, and as Wheel dogs Punkti and Blesk. They always get really excited and it is not that easy to get them from the kennel to the transporter as you imagine 😛 They pull really hard, because they fear that you will let them behind and of course because they sense that there is something exciting about to happen. After loading all dogs, we said Goodbye to Miriam and Maria and were on our way to Ottenschlag. The weather conditions weren’t that good, it was raining and very foggy, although it was at least cold enough for our dogs to run. It took us some time to arrive in Ottenschlag, due to the bad weather conditions and our very long vehicle – just to remind you, we were about 14 meters long.

Finally, we arrived around lunchtime in Ottenschlag, there were already a lot of other mushers with their dogs. We got a place next to an Austrian friend of Lukas, her name is Ines who was there with her girlfriend Sajma (from Switzerland). It is really crazy, how many people and especially dogs are there.

Of course, with so many dogs so close to each other, there are some frictions. We had one with one of our neighbors. All musher friends from Lukas were doubting that they were purebred Huskies, and the Musher always let the dogs run free when he got them out of their boxes. The mushers were kidding around that if that would be real Huskies, they wouldn’t stay in that area, they would be running off as far as they could. Additionally, one of the dogs always came a little bit too close to the other dogs’ area, which always triggered a barking and growling concert 😛

We always took the dogs out of their boxes to the so-called “stake out”, where they were attached to a line, so that they couldn’t run off to other dogs but still had the possibility to walk a little bit around and pee or poop. When you let out the dogs out of their boxes, you hold them on their collar and lead them to their place where they got leashed on and back the other way around. I don’t why, but getting the dogs out of the box was never a problem, but getting them back inside, definitely was! At least with a few dogs, and especially with Punkti! I either compared him with a wild going horse or an ox 😛 Not that they didn’t want to get in the box, no they wanted to, so badly, that they were going crazy and pulling so hard, that I almost couldn’t hold them. We had the strongest dogs with us, Atreju, Angor, and Punkti! Lukas was making fun of me, because my muscles in my arms got really sore from holding the dogs, that he always said that if I keep going on, my arms will get longer and very soon I can walk around like an ape with my arms first 😉

Most of the day, I spent actually running around and looking at the other dogs or cuddling with our dogs. They just love to cuddle J

It is amazing to see, how many nationalities are attending on such an event, there were people from 18 countries which were; Italy, Moldavian, France, Slovakia, Romania, Belgium, Serbia, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and of course Austria.

We had quite a short night, due to the fact that somehow a lot of mushers let their dogs out in the middle of the night, although it is forbidden. There is a rule, which says, that the dogs have to be in their boxes between 10pm and 7am. Well, not all of them were following the rules, and when the dogs are out of their boxes they start barking. Very loud. Nevertheless, the morning started early with letting the dogs out and feeding them. Lukas starting time would be at 10.10 am, so we started preparing the dogs shortly before and you could feel the excitement within the whole place. There are different categories where the mushers can run with their dogs. Existing categories were cart run with ten, eight, six and four dogs, Sprint Bike with two or one dogs, Sprint Scooter with one or two dogs, and Canicross with one or two dogs. Can you imagine, CANICROSS with two dogs???? You remember, when I told you that running just with one dog is already a challenge and then with two dogs?? Wow! I watched them running, and I had to laugh because I recognized that expression their faces “don’t fall, don’t fall”. and that was also very difficult, due to the mud.

Within the categories there were even more categories, whether gender or age or if it is a middle or long distance or just a sprint. Shortly, before it was Lukas turn, Lukas got a call from Birgit that Braxi did somehow run off. We have no idea how he did it because there is everywhere a fence around but he wasn’t on the property. Unfortunately, exactly what day the hunting started, the hunters would be out for the next three days. We got really upset, but luckily shortly after that call, Birgit called again and said he was back. He was totally out of breath, limping and smelled like fish! We have no idea where he was, but at least he got back. We guessed that he tried to follow us, but who knows he won’t tell us. We also couldn’t find a hole in any of the fences. As I said, Braxi won’t tell us 😉

Then, we leashed the dogs on to the cart and then (Ines and Sajma helped us) we run together while holding the dogs to the starting line. I had to hold Foppa, he is always so excited and starts jumping over poor Lily, so I hold him the whole time tight. He was really eager to start, we’ve got some pictures of that 😉

After the first race, Lukas was in third place. On the first was one Czech guy with incredible 44 minutes time for the 14.7 km, on the second place one guy from Switzerland, Thomas, we got friends with him, with 54 minutes and Lukas with 58 minutes. In fourth place was again some Czech guy, with only 40 seconds after Lukas. Lukas said, that the first and second place is too far away for him to reach, but he really would like to keep the third place. But therefore, he needs to get a time advantage for all three days and it was already a close catch.

The next two days, some friends visited for watching the race. Lukas was able to keep his third place, even it really took him a lot to keep up with the others. The track was obviously very challenging. Still, we had a lot of fun, everything was organized very well, but we were happy when everything ended on Sunday with the ceremony and with a final emotional song I am from Austria (the secret Austrian hymn).

The ceremony ended around 7 pm, therefore, we decided to leave on the next morning. we didn’t want to have the stress of driving in the dark. I enjoyed it a lot, but I was very tired and finally happy, that after arriving, packing out and taking a super long shower I could have a nice long nap.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Tomorrow, Maria and I are flying to Paris, to Walt Disneyland! Stay tuned for my next post 😉

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YouTube Diet: How $5 YouTube Promo is like a Fad Diet

Paying a stranger on Fiverr to promote your YouTube channel is very similar to a fad diet. One promises 1,000 views while the other guarantees that you’ll lose 10 kilos in one week without exercise. Neither result in success…

Paying a stranger on Fiverr to promote your YouTube channel is very similar to a fad diet. One promises 1,000 views while the other guarantees that you’ll lose 10 kilos in one week without exercise. Neither result in success.

As a novice YouTuber, I was completely lost. My videos weren’t getting any attention on Facebook and I had no idea where to start. I joined some Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members promoting their videos – but there was lots of link dumping and no discussions or advice. When I asked how to convert views to subscriptions, someone recommended that “I try harder”. So I turned to Google.

One of the top search results took me to Fiverr, a website where you pay $5+ for all sorts of services including YouTube promotion. Curious, I paid $5 to promote 4 of my videos – within 24 hours I had over a thousand views on each one. But the so-called genuine viewers only watched a minute of my five-minute videos, gave me no likes, subscriptions, comments or feedback. It set me back more than anything because YouTube records and values watch time.

I thought things would change if I paid for some genuine subscribers instead of views. I got over 100 subscribers within a few hours, half with gibberish names, no profile photo or uploaded videos. The others had real names and had posted videos in the past that had no views at all – how is that even possible?

Not wanting to give up, I decided to look for more groups on Facebook. Most of them are unfortunately just more places to dump links which gets you nowhere, trust me. Other groups don’t allow posting links and are all about advice and discussions. These are great but still not what I was looking for.

I finally discovered Youtube for Travel Bloggers. This group only had 600 members when I joined, so I was a bit skeptical. But then I discovered their themed threads where 15 – 40 people can post links and the others like or comment or subscribe to your channel or videos. Everyone in the thread reciprocates.

Since all of the members are travel bloggers, you end up connecting with people who are genuinely interested in your content, give great feedback and understand your goals/struggles. It takes a while to reciprocate and watch 14 videos and come up with original comments – but you will learn something new from every video you watch so it’s a win-win.

Just like with weight loss, gaining popularity on YouTube doesn’t come overnight and requires a lot of hard work. If it was easy, everyone would be dropping out of university and buying video cameras to get rich.

It’s important to learn to utilize your resources. Fiverr, for example, can be a great tool to use if you wish to enhance your YouTube instead of pay for promoting them. For just $5 you can get a great intro, outro, subtitles or a logo. This will get you much further in the long run than 1,000 views.

The bottom line is – don’t trust anything that promises you a shortcut to success: they don’t exist. Either way, would you really want your video to go viral just because you paid for it?

These are the kind of videos I make. Subscribe to check in on my progress! 🙂

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To Japan (Guest Post)

On Sunday, March 01, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors…

Today, I will travel to Japan after dreaming about it for years! I won’t have time to write about it until a few weeks later, so let me share a blog post written by a dear friend about her journey to Japan a few years ago.

On Sunday, March 1st, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors. I grabbed a support pole and turned in time to see him standing alone outside as the bus pulled away. I stared out the window on the way to the airport and took deep breaths as I forced myself to hold back the tears.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, as well as more pictures, here:

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and an artist, check out her art here:

The Prague airport is one of the easiest and relaxed airports I have ever been through; it’s also one of the smallest. With my carry-on bag and purse I was through security in less than 5 minutes. No taking off my shoes. No pat-downs. No mean glances or rude comments. I made my through the airport, grabbing a pastry on my way to the gate on the other side of the small airport.

About 2 hours later, I was in Amsterdam. With only a 3-hour layover, I focused completely on getting to my gate. My stomach was churning with the thought of missing my flight or being delayed in any way. I followed sign after sign, walking quickly pulling my bright pink bag behind me. After 20 minutes of walking, I got to a series of windows/booths. I took out my passport and waited in line for my turn.

When I got to the front of the line, the passport agent squinted at my passport and I handed him my biometric card which shows that I have gone through the mess that is getting a visa to work in live in the Czech Republic. He stared at both for a long while before saying, “You know this is about to expire, right?” Before I could respond and explain that I know and that I’m a good citizen of the world with plans to follow all the rules and renew it when I got back from my trip, he had stamped my passport and handed it back to me, calling the next person in line and ushering me on my way.

Still doing my best to follow the signs to my gate, I turned left and followed the crowd down a flight of stairs and through a hallway to a very huge crowd waiting in a series of lines. After 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line, only to be told that I had been waiting in line with people trying to exit the airport. I had apparently followed the wrong signs. Shoving my way through the crowd, down the hallway, and up the flight of stairs, I saw my error. With all of the construction in that one area the hallway I was supposed to walk down was partially obstructed. Sighing in relief, I continued my way down and through the airport.

I eventually made my way to the gate which had it’s own set of security and metal detectors. I waited in line with a large number of Asian people. It’s safe to say I was the tallest person in line. 30 minutes later, we were allowed to go through the security for this gate which felt like a miniature version of the one I went through earlier that day. The security for this gate was significantly more strict than the security in the Prague airport. I had to take off my belt and shoes. In addition, I had to take every single electronic device and cord out of my bags and into it’s own bin.

After another 30 minutes of waiting, they were finally boarding. Knowing that this was a 10 hour flight, I had chosen an aisle seat ahead of time so that I could get out and stretch my legs with ease. I didn’t want to constantly ask my seat-mates to move simply because I develop spontaneous restless leg syndrome on planes. Unfortunately, this notion did not deter the two women sitting next to me in the middle and window seats. Clearly a mother and daughter duo, I had no success at falling asleep or even making it through a full movie as they were asking to get out every 1-2 hours.

I don’t remember all that I watched or did on the plane for those 10 hours but I do remember watching You’re Not You with Hillary Swank and Emmy Rossum. I remember this primarily because of how much I was crying. If you don’t know, the movie is about a successful pianist that develops ALS and the dysfunctional college student that ends up taking care of her. Super emotional. I mean, me. Well, the movie did have its moments but my reactions were merely exacerbated by how I was feeling being separated from my husband. In a nutshell, it was a salt-waterfall down my face for a solid 2 hours.

At one point, I was fed. The airline gave each person two options: A Western option and an Eastern option. Before I tell you which option I chose, I actually re-read a lot of my blog posts recently and I noticed one thing in particular: I force myself to try new foods quite often. More often than not, the meal is only okay and I don’t eat half of it because I don’t like a particular spice or sauce but despite this, I try it and then I continue to try new things. I asked the flight attendant to describe the dishes to me and I foolishly chose the Eastern dish. In the moment, I was proud of myself as the Asian flight attendant raised his eyebrows and nodded in surprise. I thought that he thought, “Wow, the white girl is trying the Eastern dish. Impressive.” Smiling, he handed me the Eastern dish, which I only ate 1/2 of. Now, I say I foolishly chose the Eastern option not because it was bad or unpleasant but because I am a notoriously picky eater and I was on a 10 hour flight without many other food options, if any at all.

At 12:35pm on Monday, March 1st, I landed in Fukuoka, Japan. Before exiting the plane, everyone was handed a small document and I was clueless. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that document or where I was supposed to go. I had done research before traveling but I didn’t see anything about having to fill out any special document or have any information prepared. Plus, as I only had a 3.5 hour layover before going to Osaka, my stomach was in my throat again.

I followed the massive amount of people and waited in line and then did my best to fill out the document which was confusing and unclear. In fact, I ended up grabbing extra copies and filling it out three different times. When it was my turn to talk with the customs/documents people, I clearly screwed something up. The agent did not speak English well or at all and she was very adamant about having the address where I was staying. I kept on saying that I was staying with my sister in Osaka and I didn’t know her address or what hotel we were staying in. I wrote down half of her address in Hiroshima from what I remembered but it was probably wrong and not all there and not in Japanese. She asked for my sister’s phone number and I nearly threw up my hands in despair. How was I supposed to know any of this information! Two agents ended up coming over and saying very softly that it was okay this time but I needed to be prepared next time. After a firm finger wagging, Japan became the second country after the Czech Republic to get my fingerprints. That’s right the good ol’ US of A doesn’t even have my fingerprints. With that and a photograph, I was given a 90 day tourist visa.

I walked down a hallway, and then down an escalator to another section where I had to wait in line for something that I didn’t know anything about or understand. I grabbed a form and started to fill it out as I slowly made my way to the front. The customs agent looked at my form and my bag and my face before he spoke words that were so soft and low it was as if he was whispering in a movie theater located inside of a testing center inside of a library. After asking him to repeat himself three times with no success I decided to nod my head which satisfied him and then he gave me my passport and bag and let me go.

After this, I had to take a bus completely around the entirety of the airport. I had entered in the international terminal and I needed to go to the domestic terminal so that I could fly to Osaka and that required a 20 minute bus ride around the entirety of the airport. I hoped and I prayed that I was on the right bus going to the right place and I guess I was because I got there. I entered the domestic terminal, found my check-in area and waited in a long line so that I could send my bag through an x-ray machine again. Apparently, the airplane was SO small, that they had to check my bag. It was just way too big to fit in the overhead section of plane.

After this, I made my way upstairs so I could go through security. This security looked like it was from the 1970s. It was both bulky and really small. All of the baskets were way too small. I had to put every single item into it’s own bin and even then, they were all too small., I had to scan my ticket at an electronic point and I apparently scanned the wrong bar code because it flashed red and someone had to come to help me. After going through security, I made my way to what I thought was my gate which looked like saloon doors in front of a large hallway next to a bunch of shops. I bought a sandwich from one of those shops and sat down to wait. After 30 minutes or so, I made friends with a German and we went to the saloon doors to ask if we were supposed to do something. Apparently, we were just supposed to know that we had to walk up and scan our ticket to go through the saloon doors and through a hallway and down some stairs to enter a shuttle to take us to our plane.

One hour and 20 minutes later I was in Osaka, Japan.

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Throwback Thursday: Italian Adventures

How canceled flights, stolen deposits, and ankles sprained by angry volcanoes made our trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii impossible to forget!

How canceled flights, stolen deposits, and ankles sprained by angry volcanoes made our trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii impossible to forget!


“Ickily! Easyjet is offering flights to Rome for less than 2,000CZK!”

This was the excited exclamation several months ago from my girlfriend Olena, who is an expert when it comes to finding cheap deals on travel, food, going out and the like. At first I was naturally skeptical, “Yeah, of course, then there’s all the hidden fees, right?” Well, it turned out (as she loves to hear me say) that she was right. A few clicks of the mouse later we had two tickets to Rome Fiumicino airport in June. Aside from the cheap accommodation we booked through Airbnb, we had absolutely no itinerary planned and nothing booked, but that didn’t matter. I would reschedule some lessons and we would leave on a Thursday night and arrive on Monday evening, only missing a bit of work. Satisfied and filled with excitement for the coming journey, we shelved the rest of the planning til later, only occasionally bringing up the trip as the weeks went by.

Flew by would probably be a much better way to describe how the following weeks passed. One minute we were still freezing in Prague and the next we were lying on a beach under the Italian sun… But I’m getting ahead of myself. This all sounds very well and good, but our journey was not at all without its complications…

Thursday, June 11th, 2015:

The Travel Gods first strike while I’m sitting in my last lesson of the day, three or four hours before our flight. My tablet is playing a listening text for my student whom I am preparing for the FCE exam. While the listening plays from my tablet, a message from EasyJet pops up. I’m not usually in the habit of checking my emails during lessons, but I cannot ignore the preview of the message: “We regret to inform you that…” My heart immediately starts racing, Attempting to hide my suspicion of an impending disaster, I open the email to find that our flight has been cancelled.

I continue the lesson with my student, but I can’t really focus. What are we going to do? Can we reschedule? Will there be another flight we can take? How much is this going to cost? Will we even be able to go on our trip? Over the past week we’ve spent a great deal of time planning this trip, and in my backpack are not only our flight tickets but several entrance tickets to the sites we are hoping to visit…

Finally the lesson ends and I have a few minutes to review the email in detail before catching my train back to Prague (I work in a small town south of Prague, about 40 minutes away by train). It turns out that it isn’t our flight there that has been cancelled, but the flight back. This comes as a relief, but only a small one. Many things still need to be worked out.

Jump ahead to my train ride home, where I am on the phone via Skype, talking into my headset to a Customer Service representative in India who claims to go by the authentically Indian name of “Tom.” Apparently, there is great news! We can simply leave on the same EasyJet flight the next day, arriving Tuesday night instead of Monday. An extra day in Italy, isn’t it great?

My impatience starts to escalate, “I’m sorry Tom, but unfortunately we have jobs and we can’t just call out of work as we please…”

“I understand your situation sir,” says ‘Tom,’ “but because I can offer you a flight within the next 24 hours, we are not obligated to pay for a ticket on another airline for Monday night. You can leave on the Tuesday night flight with no problem.”

Our conversation continues in circles like this for nearly half an hour and after various threats of bad feedback and of flooding social media with EasyJet horror stories, I’m finally able to convince a representative to let me find a flight from another carrier, for which they will ostensibly reimburse me. I call Olena, who is also on the way to the airport, and explain the situation. We decide to wait and figure it out after going through security at the airport. After all, we have several days to figure it out while in Italy.

Our arrival in Rome proves to be later than we expected because, of course, the flight is delayed for three hours. A very nice woman notices us talking and informs us of the delay, and we thank her for the information. Well, at least that gives us time to conduct research into possible flights…

…which yield very poor results. If we want to leave Rome on Monday night as planned, it would mean not arriving in Prague until Tuesday morning with an eight-hour layover in Paris. I’m not one who can sleep in airports, so that is not an attractive option before a seven-hours day of teaching.

Several Customer Service calls later (This time I speak to “Linda” and “Peter”) we decide we’ll just have to call our bosses, explain the situation, and come home Tuesday night. For me this means a loss of 1,500 crowns (about $60) and a few disappointed students, but for Olena it means over-using her holiday time and missing important face-time with Tomáš Baťa, the founder of the fashion company Baťa for which she is a new employee. She’s been looking forward to meeting this fashion guru for some time, so it comes as a real let-down. Now find ourselves reciting a mantra that will become familiar to us throughout the trip, “It could be worse. Let’s not let this ruin our trip.” After all, we had an extra day in Italy!

We then turn to the next problem at hand. We are going to be too late in Rome to get normal public transport to our accommodation, so we have to find another way. Our host informs us that a taxi would be over €60, and we prepare for the first of many extra expenses on the trip.

Fortune begins to shine a small ray of line upon us when we arrive in Rome at 2:00 AM Friday morning. As we wait for our luggage, we spot the same woman who told us about the delay. We ask her how she plans to get to the center, and she said by taxi. We agree to share the ride with her, cutting the cost in half for all of us.

Waiting for a taxi outside in the pleasantly warm Roman night, our new companion realizes that she has no cash and goes off to find an ATM. Olena and I are having a hard time locating the taxi, so I decide to run over to a bus that’s loading on passengers and ask where it’s going. The driver says they’re going to the city center, and the cost is €7. We’re now left with a moral dilemma: Let the bus go and wait for our new cohort, or take the bus and leave her in the dust. Well, we’re already feeling our wallets thinning, so we take the latter option.

“This is gonna follow us for the rest of the trip, you know.” Olena says as our bus pulls out. “Karma is gonna pay us back for this.”

“Don’t worry. She will understand… right? Besides, our karma can’t be that low. Let’s just call this strike one…”

A half-hour journey later brings us to the central train station, where we have to pay for a €20 taxi ride to our host’s apartment. The bill I plan to send EasyJet now stands at €34, and it will continue to rise.

Our host is understandably annoyed at our late arrival (nearly 4 AM) and leads us to our room. The accommodation is great, but she could have been a bit nicer. Oh well, we thought again. It could be worse. At least we finally have beds to sleep in… for about four hours. We are scheduled for entrance into the Vatican at 10:30 tomorrow, so our sleep after such a long day of travel ends up being less than satisfactory.

But we made it, we’re in Rome! Ahead of us we have a tour of the Vatican, the ancient Colosseum, the Roman Forums, sun-drenched beaches, and a trip to Pompeii to cap it off. We are not to be brought down!

Friday, June 12, 2015:

Seemingly five minutes later, I awaken to the Chocobo theme from Final Fantasy VII that serves as my phone’s alarm clock. I’m not particularly exhausted; I seem to have slept fairly well in the last four hours. I turn over to make sure Olena is awake and get a groan in response, which in her language means only kisses will wake her up, and I am happy to oblige.

We shove some croissants down our throats and brew up some instant coffee and are out the door by 9:45. We finally figure out where to buy a ticket for the bus and are on a packed bus minutes later. We barely have room to move, and it must be over 30 degrees in the bus. Nevertheless, we’re excited for our trip to the Vatican, a country to which neither of us has been.

We head in the general direction of the Sistine Chapel with the help of Google Maps, but it turns out the whole city is surrounded by a ten meter-high wall with one entrance half a kilometer away. We have about five minutes to get there…

Having purchased tickets online, we pass the throngs of people waiting in line with well-deserved schadenfreude. They will be waiting the better part of an hour while we sail through the front entrance. The extra €4 we paid for advance tickets were well worth it. Things are looking up after all.

I may be an English teacher, but I am not nearly eloquent enough to describe the beauty of what we saw in the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. I will let Olena’s skillful photographic eye guide you through our winding journey through halls of statues, tapestries, ancient maps, mosaics, and of course the Sistine Chapel itself. I encourage you to look at her Facebook page, where she will undoubtedly post pictures from our trip. I’ll put up a link at the end of this post. She got some great shots, and we even managed to sneak in some forbidden pictures in the – “Silencio! No photo, no video!” – sorry, that guy is really giving us a hard time. We would NEVER take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. No way, no how.

Our eyes still dazzled by the wonders of the Vatican, we head to a nearby cafe to meet up with Hana, an acquaintance of Olena. She works as a tour guide in the Vatican and is from Ostrava, in the Czech Republic. The information she gives us is incredibly helpful, and she even leads us around down a few streets to find some cheap pizza, our first of many pizza lunches. On the way, I pick up a sun hat for €5 which, knowing myself, I will undoubtedly lose in no time.

So. We’re still exhausted despite the overpriced yet delicious espresso but it’s only 3PM. We need to take advantage of our limited time in Rome. So what do we do? We take a metro as far as we can to the outskirts of Rome. A short walk from the metro station and we’re lying on the beach, relaxing. We still have another two days in Rome, so why try to force it on us while we’re so tired? Besides, the beach is nice, even though it’s a bit cloudy and windy. The water is nice too, and we enjoy a quick dip. We even buy one of those giant fabric tapestries that the meddlesome vendors are selling and sip cheap wine as we watch the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. The stressful journey to get here seems distant, and we let the evening wind wash away our troubles of the previous day.

Saturday, June 13, 2014:

The chocobos wake us from deep sleep after a hot but restful night back in our little room. After some breakfast and coffee, we’re still not exactly sure what we’ll do today. After lots of Googling we decide to hit the Colosseum first. Most of the sites we want to see are in that area, so it’s a logical place to start.

We make a pit-stop at the central train station to pick up our Roma Pass which will not only give us free entrance without lines to the Colosseum and the Forums but will also give us unlimited access to Rome’s rather extensive public transport system. That done, we head to the Colosseum. Outside the entrance I pick up another €5 hat because, yes, I lost the first one. But don’t worry, I’ll lose this one too in a few days I’m sure.

We experience that familiar feeling of schadenfreude as we float by the lines of people waiting to buy tickets. We do a circuit of the ancient amphitheater and are amazed by the size and splendor of this structure which was built such a long time ago. The word “awesome” is one of the most overused words in the English language and thus has lost its true definition which perfectly describes the scene around us. This isn’t the first time this thought crosses my mind.

My camera is acting up, so I decide to stop using it for the rest of the trip and let Olena be the photographer. She not only has a much better camera but also a better eye for photography. I still snap the occasional selfie with my phone’s camera though. Again, check out her Facebook page for some pretty fantastic pictures.

Our next stop is the ruins surrounding the Forums, where we pass temples to various gods. Olena intones that the gods better appreciate how much money was spent on their worship given the multitudes of people who could have been fed with the same money. I agree, but hey. That’s ancient history. (bada-boom-TSH!)

It’s 33 degrees and we are starting to get really tired again, but we trudge on past more gorgeous ruins. We end up in Piazza Venezia and find ourselves jaded by the wondrous things we have seen. After all we’ve experienced, it’s getting more and more difficult to appreciate the smaller buildings. “Meh” we say, as we pass the Basilica di Santa Maria. “Psh” we mutter as we saunter by the Trajan Forum. “I think it’s time for a pizza break, huh?”

A short tram ride brings us to a small pizzeria where we enjoy some more cheap yet delicious pizza. We sit by the river and munch while discussing what to do with the rest of the day. We know we want to watch the sunset near the Castel Sant’Angelo, but it’s too early for that. We decide to go and relax in a park for a bit, while seeing the famous Spanish Steps on the way there.

Again, we seem to be a bit jaded by what we’ve already seen, so the Spanish Steps honestly just seem like a glorified flight of stairs. I’m sure it would be more impressive if we knew a bit more about them, but for now we just curse the heat as we trudge up the ancient staircase. A quick look at Google Maps shows us that the Hard Rock cafe isn’t far, so we head there. It’s kind of a tradition for Olena and me to get a drink at the Hard Rock in every foreign city we visit.

Well, we visit the Hard Rock, but we definitely don’t have a drink there. The smallest bottled beer would run us 6.75€ and a large draft beer would be more like 13€. Yeah, no thanks. But the place was pretty cool and the bathrooms had toilet seats. Seriously, you’d be surprised what a rarity that is. For some reason, most public toilets in Italy don’t have toilet seats. If you’re more learned than we are, please enlighten us as to why this is…

We head to the nearby Villa Borghese park to relax. We make a few organizational calls, arranging our trip to Pompeii and our last night in Rome. It’s here that the Travel Gods strike again.

Our plan has been to head to Pompeii via a ride share service, then head back Monday night to stay at a really nice hotel room in Rome that we’ve booked for an amazing 600CZK each ($25). Turns out that has deceived us and this is no hotel but some kind of vacation home that you’re supposed to rent for more than a month… The stay is €44 for one night, which is a great price, but we are informed that there will be a €50 cleaning charge plus a €7.5 “tourist tax” and a €20 fee for arriving late in the evening.

We decide to cancel this booking, but we still have to pay the €44 for the stay. EasyJet’s bill continues to rise…

Anyway, it works out okay because we decide to just stay an extra night at our hostel in Pompeii and go straight back to the airport from there on Tuesday. This will prove to be a good decision because we will need the extra time in Pompeii.

So, back at the park. We head towards what looks to be a small lake on Google Maps, and it turns out there are some rowboats you can rent for a 20-minute romantic voyage around a small yet beautiful stone temple to Asclepius, the god of medicine. Olena assumes the Cleopatra position as the front of the boat while I do the dirty work. It’s all very romantic, yadda-yadda-yadda =P

Now it’s time to watch the sunset so we take a bus close to the St. Angelo Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in Rome. We buy a couple cheap bottles of wine (come on, give us a break, we’re in Italy) and sit by the river. We play music from our smartphones, reflect on the beautiful day, and clink our glasses (well, bottles) as the sun sets on a toast to another fantastic day.

Sunday, June 14, 2015:

It’s not even 7:00 when the chocobos rouse us from our rest, and we hastily get ready to leave Rome behind. In less than two hours we’re meeting up with our driver with whom we arranged a drive to Naples. If you’re ever in Italy, Blabla car is a great way to get around. 10€ each gets us to Naples in less than three hours. The driver and his girlfriend are really nice and they even take us exactly where we need to be in Naples. We pick up a Pompeii card, a similar pass to the Roma Pass, and schlepp our luggage through the narrow streets of Naples. Our walk takes us by some stunning views of the city. “So, when are we moving here?” Olena asks, not for the first time.

We were informed by our driver that we were not permitted to leave Naples without trying some of their famous pizza. Apparently the Margherita pizza was invented here in 1889. According to rumor, famous chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi created the pizza to resemble the colors of the Italian flag. He made the pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy while she was visiting Naples.

We find a reputable-looking place and decide to sit down because we have a bit of time to kill before catching our train to Pompeii. We order up two of the best pizzas we’ve ever had for only €6 each. I’m no George R.R. Martin, so I won’t go on for three paragraphs about these pizzas, but I easily could if I tried. We even manage to save a bit for later.

Our bellies content with these oily yet scrumptious delights, we descend into the metro into one of the coolest stations we’ve ever seen. It’s got an “under-the-sea” type theme, the tiles and paint making wave patterns on the ceiling. “I would totally be making fun of someone in my shoes in Prague” Olena remarks about her touristy camera-clicking, never missing a photo op.

From Napoli Centrale we hop on a commuter train with the catchy name of “Circumvesuviana” (can you guess where it takes us?) It being a nearly cloudless day, we are treated to fantastic views of the volcano as we roll by. It’s an active volcano, and we joke about it erupting with only half smiles and nervous giggles.

The train station in Pompeii is a circus of street vendors selling any kind of souvenir you can imagine. My second hat is already gone, left in our Blabla car driver’s Subaru, and I’m not going to buy another one. There’s a line, and I’ve crossed it.

After politely shaking our heads at the hordes of vendors in this carnival of consumerism, we hop on a bus, courtesy of our Pompeii Pass. It’s only a five minute ride to our hostel.

And what an awesome hostel it is! We are greeted by the friendliest couple we’ve met so far who welcome us with stereotypical Italian friendliness. We have found so far that Italians are quite friendly in general, and these two don’t disappoint. Every time we have a question they are happy to oblige. They lead us to our private room complete with a double bed and a private bathroom and best of all, air conditioning. These hot nights have been brutal, and the AC is a welcome addition. Best 600CZK ever spent. If you ever stay in Pompeii, look up Agora Hostel.

It’s already 4:00. Our plan was to go up Vesuvius tonight by bus, but our host suggests waiting until tomorrow because it’s getting late. Instead, he recommends something completely unexpected: a trip to the romantic little coastal town of Sorrento. We take his advice and hop on a 20-minute train ride.

The town is absolutely gorgeous. I’ll say it again: look at Olena’s photos to see what I mean. The view of the Bay of Naples is breathtaking. At the very least, look it up on Google Images.

We walk down a narrow path to the beach area maybe 30 meters below us and look for a place to swim. There are many paid beaches around, but it is Italian law that each town has to have at least one free beach. We find just the one, a very small and crowded patch of sand, but we don’t care, we just want to dive headfirst into that beautifully clear blue water. With the corner of our eye on our belongings, we make the blissful plunge.

We stay at this beach for several hours, until the sun touches the horizon and we start to get a bit cold. As it goes down, we reflect on the wonderful trip we’ve had so far. The Gods of Travel may have got the upper hand at the beginning, but we are making the best of it, and the best definitely is the best.

Monday. June 15, 2015:

It was a blessing in disguise that we had to stay an extra day, because it would have been a shame to pack up and leave from here. We still had a lot to see. There was Vesuvius, and of course the ruins of the ancient city destroyed by its eruption.

After a delicious breakfast and some coffee, we hop on a bus that takes us up the mountain. We get some amazing views on the winding road and are almost to the top after only 45 minutes. We’re informed that it’s about a 20-minutes hike up to the crater at the summit. On our way up, the clouds start to move in and our view is completely obstructed. At first I think this is a real shame, but Olena reassures me, saying that it’s actually pretty cool how the clouds are moving. The frequency of her clicks from behind me confirm that she’s enjoying the sights, clouds or no clouds. I decide that she’s right. Why complain about the conditions we’re given? It’s a blessing just to be up here.

Olena has told me that she was not allowed to take any sand from Hawaii back to the USA because the gods punish anyone who does so. She almost took some sand home anyway but discarded it at the last second, apologizing to the gods. We haven’t been told such a thing about Vesuvius, so we select a particularly colorful handful of volcanic rock from the ground and tie it up in a baggie with plans to take it home. I’m starting to get a little bit nervous about the level of bad karma beginning to surround us. First there was the woman we left high and dry at the airport, now we’re stealing from Vesuvius… That’s two strikes, and perhaps there are more gods than just the Travel Gods…

Finally at the top, we make the circuit around the crater. It is a truly unbelievable sight. The crater is more than 250 meters deep and up to a kilometer across. The mountain used to be three times its current height of 1200 meters before its explosive eruption in 79 AD which destroyed the surrounding towns and killed 16,000 people. The molten rock shot 33 kilometers into the air at 1.5 million tons per second, the temperature of which was 1.5 million times the temperature of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. Those numbers might be unbelievable, but not as much so as the spectacle before us. It was truly amazing.

On our way back down the mountain we stop at a souvenir shop, where I haggle quite a bit with the vendor. Olena buys a really nice ring made of volcanic rock and I buy her a heart-shaped necklace of the same material. A bit more haggling gets me a hematite ring thrown on top, and the woman gives me a really dirty look and clearly doesn’t like me. “What if she cursed you?” Olena jokes. I laugh along with her, but the edge of my mouth shows a nervous tick. I can think only one thing: strike three.

As we walk down the mountain towards the buses, we realize we only have about ten minutes until the bus leaves. If we want to see the ruins of the city too, we have to hurry. We begin to jog down the hill, in the face of the looks of concern that we keep getting from the people who see us doing so. Oh well, I just don’t want to sit around in this heat for another hour while being badgered by street vendors. We’ve got ten minutes and maybe another 600 meters to go. Then we’ll be on our way. If we can just- CRACK!

My vision goes blank as a howl of pain escapes my throat. I’m vaguely aware of several people surrounding me to check what happened, because now I’ve fallen to the ground and am still involuntarily moaning in pain. As my thoughts clear I locate where the pain is coming from. It seems I that, while running, I caught my foot in an uneven patch of rock and landed directly on my left ankle, which is where the cracking sound came from. My first though is first   and then the more immediate question of “How the hell will I get down from here?”

Okay, time to start thinking logically. I gauge the pain and realize it isn’t quite as bad as it was right after the fall. Maybe it’s just adrenaline, but I can use that. First I need to try to stand on it, because if I can’t it’s probably broken.

I am able to make some stumbling steps, and yes, I can stand on my left foot. Good sign, but it’s far too painful for me to walk all the way down to the buses. Plus, the bus comes in six minutes, and the next one isn’t for an hour. What can we do?

Olena flags someone down and tells them to call a car to take us down.  We have seen one going up, so it’s definitely possible. Not long after, fortune shows a wan smile as a park ranger’s car comes from the top of the mountain. We flag it down frantically and it takes us to the buses.

I sit down at the small cafe near all the buses and can’t help sobbing in pain. I’m trying to stop, but it’s some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I’ve always been a bit reckless, but I’ve also been really lucky and have never had a very serious injury. I quickly pop three ibuprofen from my bag and eat a Mars bar to go down with it.

A very nice Italian man offers to call us an ambulance because the bus will take a long time, and won’t go straight to the hospital. My ankle could easily be broken so I definitely need to get it checked out. We agree, but my American brain can’t help but picture this bill for this. We’ve already paid much more than we’d expected on this trip. I don’t know how much I can afford. But there is no escaping the fact that this is the only way.

It’s almost an hour before the ambulance comes, but luckily by then the pain has subsided to a dull ache and I am no longer humiliating myself by sobbing. I could probably get into the ambulance myself, but they put me on a stretcher. I’ve never been in an ambulance before so I’m pretty scared. Especially because I am in a foreign country and have no idea what their policies are.

Right when I get into the ambulance the medic takes out a needle and a tourniquet. I start to panic, demanding to know what they are going to do to me. The medic doesn’t speak English very well, so he just keeps saying “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” I finally get him to confirm that they’re not giving me any drugs, and it’s just an outlet for quick access at the hospital if they need to use it. Standard procedure. But still, the panicked feeling is there.

Olena has climbed into the back of the ambulance with me and is holding my hand, God bless her. She won’t even sit in the back of cars because it makes her nauseous, so I am very grateful that she’s there. I know it isn’t easy, especially on the windy roads down Vesuvius. As the sirens blare and we speed on towards the hospital, I catch a glimpse of Vesuvius and think again: strike three. Touché, Mountain God.

At the hospital, they wheel me into a room where we wait for about ten minutes. Now my ankle doesn’t hurt so much and I’m worried that we’re just wasting time. I finally get an X-Ray and wait in suspense to finally be told that nothing is broken. It’s just a really bad bruise. I am told to take ibuprofen and no to walk on it for five to six days. I can’t help but think of the ruins we wanted to see today, and the Cat Empire concert I have coming up in two days. Still, I’m happy it isn’t broken, and I’m glad I got confirmation.

Now we’re left with the problem that we’re eight kilometers from town and have no way to get back. I have one of the guards call a taxi, and in thirty minutes, around 4:00, it arrives. The meter is already at €25 when he arrives because of the drive there, and a trip to the ruins costs me a solid €40. But amazingly, the ambulance ride and the X-Ray were free. I wasn’t even asked for an insurance card, only my passport. Point one for the Italian healthcare system.

I still haven’t given up on seeing the ruins, especially knowing how badly Olena wants to see them. For her Pompeii is a life dream and the main purpose of our trip. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ruin that, so I stumble with her up to the entrance. It hurts a bit, and I really shouldn’t be walking on it, but I can get by.

I don’t see as much as Olena does because I’m mostly sitting while she walks around taking pictures, but it’s still really cool. It boggles my mind that this was once a bustling city whose life was cut short in an instant, not to be discovered for 1,700 years.

We walk through the main square, into private homes complete with baths and fireplaces, through public bath houses and temples to various gods. The temples are plentiful, but clearly the gods were not sated in the end. As we walk towards the exit (well, as Olena walks and I hobble) we pass by the amphitheater of Pompeii which is having a special exhibition of the bodies that were excavated from the ruins. Plaster casts were able to preserve several bodies in exactly the same position they were in when they died. One shows two people huddled together, many with their hands shielding their faces, and even one mother with a child on her lap. It’s horrifying yet fascinating at the same time. I can’t imagine what those last moments must have felt like, futilely trying to fend off the inevitable. The exhibition is called “Stolen from death” – a very fitting name.

Somehow I manage to stumble my way back to the hostel with Olena’s help and we enjoy a €5 carbonara dinner. I am utterly exhausted from the stress my body has sustained, so we call it a relatively early night, especially since we have to be up for a big day of travel the next day. We cap it off with the season finale of Game of Thrones and hit the hay.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015:

We wake up around 8:30, and I examine my foot. It seems to be in just about the same condition it was in before: a dull ache and not too painful to walk on. I think I will make it home without damaging it more.

We have breakfast one last time at the hostel and begin our long journey home. It’s a pretty uneventful trip on several forms of transport: A bus to the center of Pompeii, the Circumvesuviana to Naples, a train to the Rome main station, a bus to the airport, a plane to Prague, and a bus a and tram home. I check on my foot when I get home, and it’s starting to get really purple in some places, but it still doesn’t hurt to walk and I know it’s not broken, so all I can do is wait and stay off it as much as I can.

The Travel Gods cost us quite a bit of money, the Mountain God messed up my foot, and we spent quite a bit more money than we’d meant to, but it was a fantastic trip. Olena and I have been to many places together but never have we had a trip as action-packed as this one.

I am happy that I don’t have to work until later tomorrow, because I have a lot of things to do. Maybe I’ll even sit down and write up a blog about our trip. For now, we drift off to sleep with dreams of ancient ruins, Italian beaches and romantic sunsets swirling through our minds.


Well, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Special thanks to Olena for being an awesome travel companion and for finding the tickets in the first place. Feel free to post any comments or questions, and be sure to check out this page because I’m sure there will be photos sometime in the next few days. Give it a “Like” while you’re at it:

For those worried about me, don’t. This was all a true story, and it was quite bad when it happened, but I promise you I’m fine. I think my foot should heal in a week or two, and I’ll never run down an active volcano again 😉

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan (Guest Post)

The Children’s Peace Monument (just below) was built in dedication to all the children who died as a result of the bombing. The sculpture is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki (佐々木禎子), a young girl who died after the bombing due to radiation. She truly believed that if she folded 1,000 cranes, then she would be healed…

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

One last post from Rachel Kitai about Japan. Please visit her blog to read more about her travels in Japan, Europe and the USA the original post also has some beautiful photos:

Rachel is a traveler and artist, please see her art here:

After visiting the Hiroshima Castle, we biked over to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The Coopers started by playing a game of keep-away while I photographed them and kept an eye on Alex.

Once we were finished playing, jumping across rocks, and building imaginary forts, we made our way to the center of the Peace Park. Our first stop was the A-Bomb Dome, also named the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Before the bombing, this area was a thriving commercial area and this building, the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, was the only building in the area that remained standing after the bombing. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s currently being audited/checked to ensure that it’s not structurally unsafe. Apparently, four years to the day after the bombing, it was decided to make the downtown area a peace memorial instead of redeveloping it.

There are several other memorials/statues in the area in honor of specific groups of people. The Children’s Peace Monument (just below) was built in dedication to all the children who died as a result of the bombing. The sculpture is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki (佐々木禎子), a young girl who died after the bombing due to radiation. She truly believed that if she folded 1,000 cranes, then she would be healed. Around the statue were thousands and thousands of folded paper cranes. Children from all around the world send their folded paper cranes. There were several clear plastic boxes stuffed full of cranes. It was beautiful. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take a picture. Sorry, guys.

The monument below is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. Around that time, thousands of students were “mobilized” to help with the war effort by completing primarily factory work. This was built to honor nearly 7,000 of those mobilized students that were killed in the bombings.

Pictured below is the Memorial Cenotaph. It is made entirely of concrete and has the names of every person who was killed by the bombing. If you look in the center of the picture, below the arch, you can see the Peace Flame (eternally lit) and the A-Bomb Dome. Written on a plaque in front of this arch is “安らかに眠って下さい 過ちは 繰返しませぬから” which was translated as “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”

While thoroughly exploring the area, Aly and I each sipped on a Fuzzy Navel. When finished, we went to an underground shopping center to eat an amazing lunch/dinner. We started the meal with a huge mountain of a salad topped with a perfectly poached egg. Aly and Will weren’t fans of poached eggs so I scooped that off the top and ate my salad drenched in the delicious yolk of an amazingly tasty egg. Then, we ordered a bunch of stuff and shared it between all of us – a seafood pizza with pesto, an amazingly good Japanese bento box, and some other stuff that is clearly being overshadowed by that poached egg and seafood pizza. It was so good ya’ll.

After eating our fill, we biked home in the dark. It was so lovely. While biking, we were singing “I got my tight pants on..” but a few minutes into it, I changed the lyrics so that it was Wyatt wearing the tight pants. “Everybody sees Wyatt in his tight pants. He’s got his tight pants. He’s got his tight pants on.” Wyatt giggled non-stop. I was kinda scared he was going to fall off his bike. He kept on trying to sing, “Aunt Rachel has tight pants…” which just didn’t work but A for effort, Wyatt.

Aly and I went to a grocery store while the boys went back to the Cooper home and it. was. glorious. Czechs aren’t really into snacks… well, they are but it’s just chocolate and candy; Like, it’s impossible to find decent crackers anywhere. I’m way more into the savory. This store had so many savory snacks. I wanted to buy them all. They had so much seafood, guys! SO MUCH. And it actually looked good. I miss good seafood – not ridiculously puny shrimp that look like they layed out in the sun for too long but huge prawns. That’s right, they were so big they have to be called something different. And scallops and lobster and such beautiful goodness. I think I bought only one or two snacks though. And then we biked home with grocery bags hanging from our handlebars.

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New York City Explorer Pass vs. Sightseeing Pass

Quick facts about both passes:
– They both offer free entry to over 80 attractions (though some are already free anyway)
– They both offer to pay by the day or pay by attraction packages
– The included attractions are quite similar for both passes
– They both exaggerate how much each attraction costs when bought separately

A quick Google search of “Which Tourist Pass to use in New York City” will no doubt leave you scratching your head. Under all the ads from Viator, TripAdvisor and Groupon, you’ll see links to the many different tourist passes offered in New York City. The most popular are the New York City Explorer Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass. You’ll have to advance several pages into the Google results to finally find personal accounts written by people who have actually done the research and planned out an itinerary that makes sense. If you’ve made to this page, congratulations! I am a real, live person here to tell you which pass is actually worth it!

The Travel Bug Bite has already posted about how the New York City Explorer Pass saved us over $100 with its 5-attraction pass. I’m not here to say one is hands-down better than the other. Instead, I’ll take you through the process we used to decide where to go and which pass to purchase. If you’re in a similar situation, great! If not, this article should still give you some idea about how these tourist passes work.

Quick facts about both passes:

  • They both offer free entry to over 80 attractions (though some are already free anyway)
  • They both offer to pay by the day or pay by attraction packages
  • The included attractions are quite similar for both passes
  • They both exaggerate how much each attraction costs when bought separately

Prices and attractions:

New York City Explorer Pass

  • 3 choices – $89
  • 4 choices – $119
  • 5 choices – $134
  • 7 choices – $169
  • 10 choices – $219

You can get a quick 5% off for entering your e-mail address so our 10-choice card would be $208.05 per person.

New York Sightseeing FLEX Pass

  • 2 attractions – $64
  • 3 attractions – $89
  • 4 attractions – $110
  • 5 attractions – $135
  • 6 attractions – $150
  • 7 attractions – $165
  • 10 attractions – $199

The 10-attraction Sightseeing Pass is already $10 cheaper, plus we got a Father’s Day discount which made each ticket for 10 attractions only $159.20! We found that it would still be worth it for the original price though – read on!

How Did We Decide?

No matter which package you want, whether a quick two-day trip or a longer trip like ours, it comes down to what you want to see and how much it would cost to pay for everything separately. Me being my stingy self, I wanted to find out how much money we would save if we went to the most expensive attractions that we wanted to see. To get a general idea, you can see the value on each of the company’s websites: Sightseeing Pass here and the Explorer Pass here. Take these with a grain of salt though because some of the prices are exaggerated. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History are both “Pay what you want” and the listed fees on the websites are actually the “suggested admission” prices. Don’t waste one of your valuable “Attractions” on these!

Here is our suggested method of planning your trip:

  1. Make a list of places you want to go
  2. Check each attraction’s website to confirm its cost
  3. Since each pass is around $200 for 10 attractions, make sure your average price per attraction is over $20.
  4. Read the fine print! Does any attraction say “only covers blahbitty-blah?” Does it require booking in advance? Be sure to check these things before making your choice. Nothing worse than getting all the way to Ellis Island only to find out the tour doesn’t actually include going inside the Statue of Liberty!

After looking at the list on both websites, we decided on the following attractions:

  1. Empire State Building – $37

For the Main Deck on the 86th, the 102nd floor is $20 more and not included. Also, for the Sightseeing Pass, this attraction isn’t technically included. You need to redeem your $40 Attraction Credit and book this for free through

  1. Top of the Rock Observatory – $36

$5 extra for Sunset Times not included.

  1. One World Trade Observatory – $32

Only available on the Sightseeing Pass, not the Explorer Pass.

  1. Coney Island Luna Park – $49

The $49 fixed date pass includes ALL rides when purchased separately. The Explorer and Sightseeing pass both exclude the iconic Cyclone roller coaster and any “Extreme Thrill” rides. We decided to use this on the Sightseeing Pass and pay the $8 each if we want to ride the Cyclone.

  1. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – $25.50

NOT including access to the pedestal and crown of the statue. Only includes ferry and access to the Immigration Museum. To get to the Crown, you need to book months in advance here for $21.50.

  1. Hop on, Hop Off Bus – $59

Downtown Tour, Uptown Tour, Brooklyn Tour, Night Tour and Ferry Tour. Unfortunately, the Night Tour and Ferry Tour count as separate attractions.

  1. Hop on, Hop Off Night Tour – $0

Valued at $0 because the $59 when purchased separately here lets you ride all four tours, including the night tour, for one price. We already counted that $59 above, so we can’t count it again here.

  1. Spyscape – $39
  2. I ntrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – $39
  3. 9/11 Memorial Museum – $24

Grand total if purchased separately – $340.50

Total savings with the Sightseeing Flex Pass – $141.50

Total we will save because of the Father’s Day discount: $181.30

Wow! So either way, even if you aren’t lucky enough to score the discount we did, you’ll be saving some serious money!

The Verdict

When it comes right down to it, these are very similar passes offering an almost identical list of attractions for a similar price. We went with the Sightseeing Pass because it includes One World Trade, we got a discount on Father’s Day, and it was already $10 cheaper. Make a list of attractions check the prices and fine print, and you’re sure to save with either pass.

Want your own pass? Use the affiliate links below! It’ll help The Travel Bug Bite grow =)

New York Sightseeing Pass:

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Hunting the Aurora Borealis in Norway (Guest Post)

Actually, I hate the cold. since I can remember I am trying to flee into countries where the sun is shining and it is at least 25 degrees. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way it looks when outside everything is covered in white and the sounds are dulled, everything seems so quiet and peaceful, but I cannot handle the cold…

Decision & Preparation

Actually, I hate the cold. since I can remember I am trying to flee into countries where the sun is shining and it is at least 25 degrees. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way it looks when outside everything is covered in white and the sounds are dulled, everything seems so quiet and peaceful, but I cannot handle the cold =P

By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, including all photos, here:

So that’s why I decide to plan my next trip to Norway. Well, not on the mainland of Norway, but on the island, Svalbard. Svalbard means “the land with the cold coast”.

My colleague and friend Hayath, did find a nice three day trip to Svalbard called “Hunting the Polar Lights” to a reasonable price and we decided to go there. Honestly, I didn’t inform myself in advance about Svalbard or Longyearbyen, the place of our destination. I kind of thought, Hayath did. Three weeks before the trip, I went to a book shop and wanted to buy a travel book about Norway. When I found a book about Norway, I was looking for the place Svalbard or Longyearbyen, but couldn’t find it. I started doubting that it even belongs to Norway, so checked Google Maps where Longyearbyen is located. Well, I found it on the card a few centimeter above Norway.

That’s what I saw on Google maps and somehow I couldn’t move the card with the mouse down. I will get back to that later. All I knew was, that there was no book about Svalbard in this shop. So I just gave it up and was wondering why we needed to go so far north, but somehow I forgot this thought, due to the fact that a spontaneous trip to Budapest came in between.

20.11.2015 – 9.15 am

On our way to Norway

So many things happened lately, that somehow the date of departure for our trip to Norway appeared very suddenly. We are almost 17 hours on our way and now, finally sitting in the plane to our final destination Longyearbyen, Svalbard. It is 9.15 am and I only slept around 3 hours but when I look out of the window I see such an amazing landscape that I am way too excited to fall asleep. Hayath fell immediately asleep as soon as the plane took off. For us both, it is the most northern destination we ever traveled to. Additionally, this is the first destination for us where it is cold. I feel like a little child which is absolutely amazed and thrilled by the view of all the snow.

I wished/hoped the whole time for a lot of snow, but now that I see it, I kind of didn’t expect it to be like in TV, it is almost like “oh – you asked for snow? Here you’ll go” 😀 – ok I know, by now you probably figured out that I have never been skiing or went for winter holidays that might be the reason why I am so overexcited 😉

Did I mention that right now there are Polar Nights? Meaning, there will be no sunlight. I actually knew that, but ignored it. At 11.15 am, we see the last rays of sun, getting dark again, my body clock is totally confused.

Fun facts:

I dream a lot, actually I dream every night and I do remember every morning what I dreamt. When I would have written down my dreams, I could have probably published several books. At one point before the trip, Hayath started doing jokes about that I would let him be killed by a polar bear so that I just get the perfect selfie and somehow this lead me to the following dream:

One and half weeks ago, before we headed off for Norway I dreamt, I would do a parashoot jump out of a plane over the sea, with a landing in the water. Somehow, I forgot to wear something warm but it was too late and I had to jump. In the water, I was hunted by a polar bear – I tried to flee and swam very fast but suddenly, that bear wasn’t a bear but a very hairy man. I managed to get on land and started searching for warm clothes when I woke up. Kinda disturbing dream, although Hayath thought that this is just the proof of his prediction with the polar bear … but why then the bearded man??? never mind, let’s start the trip 🙂


First day in the cold

We survived the first day in the cold, although I wouldn’t say that we survived the whole day. We had a shuttle bus bringing us from the airport to our hotel and the guide in the bus, seriously, that was Santa Claus! He is a very huge, impressive person with a deep voice and rolling “r” and whenever he said “Aurora Borealis” you get goose bumps 😀

Well, he was telling us a bit about Longyearbyen and warned us, that the news channel BBC is on the island and is filming ten people on Svalbard. It shall be a documentary about the daily life of people on Svalbard, and just for the case that the guy next to you is not your husband you should inform them in advance that you don’t want to be filmed 😀 Hayath and I, we didn’t tell all our colleagues that we are doing this trip together to avoid rumours, but when we will be filmed anyway I thought, it doesn’t matter anymore and I can also mention him in my blog – so that’s settled 😉

Shortly after our arrival, we noticed that somehow, no matter where we were looking at, it was written: “Longyearbyen, next to the north pole”. That would explain, why I couldn’t scroll any further down on Google Maps, there was no “further” 😉

Let’s say it this way – we managed traveling to the last civilized location before the north pole without knowing it 😉

When we arrived and packed out, we had something for lunch and lay down for two hours – it is really confusing that it is dark all the time. When we had lunch, we thought the whole time it is dinner time. In our hotel room, Hayath was absolutely fascinated that I packed so much beauty equipment, in fact, he was so fascinated that he had to film it.

Our first activity was something more relaxed. After our nap, we got ready, put on our warm clothes and went into the cold, where a bus picked us up and drove us 10 km from our hotel to a hut, called Camp Barentz. Arriving at the camp, a few people were awaiting us outside and suddenly our bus driver just said “that’s BBC”. Hayath and I looked at each other and laughed – we knew it 😀

Camp Barentz

It was a very nice and cozy evening with international people sitting around the fireplace, enjoying their reindeer soup and some Norway shots while listening to the stories how Willem Barents in 1596 discovered the island. It was such an enjoyable evening with a lot of stories, laughter and interesting facts to learn, as for example how and why the aurora borealis occurs.

Camp Barentz was build exactly where the original first hut was built and is also an original copy to that hut. Helga and Kristin live both about three years in Longyearbyen. The BBC Team is filming Kristin, which I didn’t know but figured out very quickly due to the fact that I was interested in how Kristin came to the decision to extent her studying abroad to a permanent stay.

All of a sudden, the cameras were all directed on us. Actually, I can imagine people being annoyed by that, you are there to have a good time and chill and suddenly all spotlights are on you. Well, I didn’t mind that much, I was anyway planning to become famous 😀

All in one, we had a lovely evening – no aurora borealis – but cuddling time with Husky Mikkey, quality time with Helga and Kristin with whom I directly fell in love with 🙂 The evening ended much faster then all of us were hoping for and when we left the hut and I wanted to go to the bus, I was held up by the camera man asking me if he is allowed to ask me some quick questions and film me …

ME??? sure “this is MY moment” hahaha I think I totally screwed it. My face didn’t work properly, due to the cold it did some weird expressions and I couldn’t see anything due to the strong lights of the camera, blinding me and I REALLY felt strange 😀 He just asked me where I am from, how long I am here and what I think of this evening, and if I am disappointed that I didn’t see the polar lights and some more questions. I tried to answer the questions as nice as possible and then I had to sign a contract that I won’t claim any rights of this tape and so on. Of course, Hayath was making again fun out of me after that “our new celebrity” he is just jealous 😉

Totally motivated after that excursion and may be because we took a nap after lunch, we went out again as soon as we arrived at the hotel. So we went for a stroll on our own and felt like explorers 😀 Although it was already after 11pm, you really got the impression we were the only living creatures in that town, kinda ghost town, no people outside and it’s a FRIDAY!!!



Hiking – or how Hayath almost died

Most of the day we spent inside, watching TV, talking, and even sleeping. This darkness is really getting to you. Additionally, we booked a hiking trip to the Mountain Sverdruphamaren or Plateau Mountain, which has a height of 433 meters. Hayath looked at me very worried when we booked the excursion, but I got him convinced that 433 meters isn’t that high. That is why we pretty much didn’t do anything on that day, but rest.

Around 7pm we got picked up by our guide Adrian. Actually, there should have been two more people coming with us, but they just didn’t appear. Therefore, with a little delay we went by car to the city church, that is where our journey should start.

Adrian, our Romanian guide is very talkative and told us a lot of interesting stories, of which Hayath unfortunately didn’t catch too much due to the fact that he was more busy dealing with his bad condition =P I told him at least hundreds of times he should quit smoking (@Hayath: when you read this, please don’t hate me ;-)) While he was trying to climb this mountain without getting out of breath, I used the time and asked Adrian as many questions as I could. Adrian used to work in Sweden for a guy called Chad Blakely, who is the owner of the company Lights over Lapland. He told me, in that area you can almost see every day the aurora borealis, due to the fact that in that area the blue hole phenomenon exists. I kind a cursed ourselves for not informing us too well, because Adrian said that actually you are more than lucky seeing the lights on Svalbard, we are too far north for the light ring. Nevertheless, I am always saying everything has somehow a reason why it is happening and traveling to the most northern point of the world where civilization is, is not too bad, isn’t it?

Adrian told us that within Longyearbyen, there are around 2000 people living of 50 nationalities. We are in a tax free area, so if we want to have a car, mobiles, cameras and all kind of technology stuff it would be wise ordering it and let it deliver to Longyearbyen to some friend so we can pick it up there. I made sure, that he friended me on Facebook, just for the case, you’ll never know 😉 Living here is pretty much affordable because of the tax free zone and when you decide to live in Longyearbyen, you will get 30.000 NOK as a welcome gift. As long as you can support yourself, you can do whatever you want to do. There is only one small hospital, no real jail – although the biggest crime happening here is a pub fight, so probably not necessary. The town even got a Facebook group, so when someone is losing their jacket or it got stolen for example, this person is posting into the group if someone found their jacket and that they don’t need the stuff within the jacket, this person shall just return the jacket and as a price he/she offers a beer. 😀 I like this kind of problem solving. There is no Visa necessary, one of the reasons why so many nationalities occur on this small place so far north. There are some limitations, it is forbidden to die there or to give birth! hahaha – yes you read it correctly, due to the fact that they only have this small hospital, they don’t have the capacity and possibility to take care of these kind of issues.

Meaning, when you are pregnant you have to leave the island at least a month before birth and return after giving birth. Well, there had to be some limitations, therefore, you live on that very spot where you find Santa’s Mailbox, a small price to pay, isn’t it? 😀

Getting back to the hiking – which wasn’t over yet, YES I had that much time talking 😀 I had in between the feeling Hayath is going to die due to lack of oxygen or he is going to kill me! He sat in between three times down, into the snow, breathing heavily and saying with such conviction that he is not able to move one step further, that even Adrian suggested that we could return and he will drive us to some lookout place. I just couldn’t accept the fact that we will not make it to at least the 400 meters line to have the view. So I used my best skills in convincing and tried to persuade Hayath, that this is all in his mind and his body still can move, it is only he, who is thinking he cannot make it, and it is not much further, only a little bit!!! hahaha I really thought, if he had still his strength he definitely would have killed me 😀 BUHUUUT, he did it! I am so proud of him, and these pictures are the best reward 🙂

Interesting Facts:

Just for you to get an impression HOW cold it was. I took my iPhone 6 out, to take some pictures. After a few minutes, my fully charged iPhone just switched off and it took me in total 15 minutes next to the heater, to turn it on again!

Then, we had to go all the way back down – didn’t tell Hayath about that 😀 when we returned, we had a big dinner in our room and Hayath fell asleep with all his clothes on. He deserved it 😉


I couldn’t believe that this is already our third day and we still haven’t seen the aurora borealis. I woke up around 8am – who cares actually about the time? it is anyway ALWAYS dark outside! Never mind, I woke up and tried to wake up Hayath, I wanted to go out for a little bit exploring and hopefully seeing the lights! No matter what I did, he didn’t move so I decided to go out on my own. I went out and I wasn’t gone for 100 meters when a snowstorm started.

I had a few nice shots, but there was no way that you could possibly see the aurora borealis in this snow. So I decided to go back – that was more difficult than I thought I really had to fight against the wind and snow. When I arrived in front of the hotel, Hayath was already looking out for me. We went inside for breakfast and decided to try it afterward again. But first, we booked a dog sled tour, the one thing I was looking forward the most 🙂

So finally, it was time for getting picked up by the van who would bring us to our dog sledge adventure. Next to us, there was one couple joining us. I just noticed that it is obviously not that common that a man and a woman travel along, being just friends. Every time we did get the same reaction to our answer “yeah, sure JUST friends/colleagues”. Seriously, people it can be possible! Never mind, well so we were picked up in the afternoon – could have been in the middle of the night, won’t get used to the dark – and in the meanwhile it started snowing like crazy again. So all in one, perfect conditions 😀 when we arrived at the place, we already heard the dogs barking. They obviously were awaiting us excited.

But, before we get on the sleds, we needed to be prepared for it! Proper clothes, seriously, I almost couldn’t move 😀 please, convince yourself. I had to wear OVER my clothes and jacket, overall, thicker boots, gloves, glasses and a head torch.

Well, no there is no chickening out possible. We had to hold the lead dogs, until all six dogs were suited up in front of the sledge. Then one person had to sit down on the sledge – Hayath – and the other had to get on the sledge and we were off. The dogs ran with such a speed, I had to take care that they didn’t overtake our guide Sandra, who was in front of me. It was pitch dark, the only light I had was the light of Sandra infront of me and the light of my own head torch. The snow was lightening the area a little bit up. It was so much fun, but on the same time so exhausting. You had to hang in with every turn we took, always be in a squat position being able to push with one leg the break in the middle, and to hold yourself with the other one. I felt so much adrenaline, a feeling between ‘that’s so freaking awesome’ and ‘oh gosh, please don’t let us skip over!’ We did one round, meaning at one point we turned around and went the way back and you had the possibility of switching places with the person sitting on the sledge. I asked Hayath if I could stay on the sledge and not to switch, I think he didn’t mind 😉 so I stayed and managed to bring us back without landing in the snow. Totally exhausted, but veeeery happy we arrived and were allowed to help to get one dog after the other to their houses. Of course, they all deserved a lot of petting and good words, they did a great job!!! Sandra asked us, if we would like to see a purebred green dog – what a question! They are so huge, but so lovable.

When we were on the way to the hut, to get a hot chocolate I saw the cage with the purebred puppies. Well, puppies … you see how big an outgrown dog is, So this is how big puppies are, when they are one month old.

After I almost couldn’t feel my hands anymore and the puppies almost ate me, we went finally to the hut.


We were really sad this morning. Although it seemed as if we were already ages on this island, on the same time we thought we just arrived. It would be so strange, going back to crowded streets, big houses and well, yeah even sunlight! After breakfast, we packed our stuff and got picked up by the bus and left for the airport. On the airport, I couldn’t resist buying at least some souvenirs.

Everything went very smoothly, we arrived in Oslo a little bit with time pressure due to the fact that we didn’t have too much time to get our connecting flight. Though, by the time we reached our gate we were told that our flight was canceled and we missed the flight we could have taken instead. Nice! That was really convenient, especially because I had to be on the next day at latest 11am in the office for my business trip to Germany and the next flight available to Prague would land at 11am. What can I do!? I had to re-plan everything and we had to stay over the night in Oslo. At least, everything was covered by our airline.

Not really the kind of ending you wish yourself on a journey, but we got a nice hotel and a nice dinner sponsored.

And on the next day, everything went smoothly. We arrived on time in Prague, and I also managed to get to Germany for my business trip. Too bad that I didn’t manage to see a polar bear, nor the bearded man 😉

He was my consolation prize 😉

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