Category Archives: Europe

Delayed at Borispol in Kiev

So there’s apparently a delay at Borispol airport in Kiev. Nobody at the airport seems to know why. But according to the Kyiv Post, the massive delays at Borispol were caused by an unpaid bill. According to the article, the billionaire oligarch who runs Ukraine’s largest airline failed to pay his airport bill for so long that they cut the airline off and shut down operations.

I can’t verify this, but I have some theories. First theory is that it was an honest mistake, the digital check got lost in the electronic mail, and that everything will be resolved quickly and amicably. Second theory is that someone on one side or the other is relatively incompetent and just didn’t do what they should have. Third theory is that this is a broader social issue around oligarchy in the region. Fourth is that this was a move to make money.

The official story is that there was a systems glitch. This caused payment not to be sent or applied. And everything would be straightened out quickly. But given that shutting off an airline would take a positive action on the part of someone, and that it would be guaranteed to cause massive disruption and frustration, it seems like it’d have to be a huge glitch that persisted over months with nobody’s common sense kicking in to fix it. Otherwise the organizations would work together to get it figured out and there would be no disruption. So that leaves us with one of the other two theories as being more likely.

What if some incompetent bureaucrat caused the shutdown? Given the region’s reputation for incompetent bureaucracies that seems like a likely candidate. Maybe the check or paperwork sat on somebody’s desk too long. Or maybe somebody went on vacation without approving whatever needed to be approved for continued service. Or somebody was just obstinate about process, paperwork or whatever and didn’t do the right thing by the passengers. That’s believable.

What if this were an oligarch fight? Aerosvit is owned by an oligarch, according to the article. But it’s not clear who owns and operates the airport. That may be another oligarch. So maybe this is a feud. Or maybe someone at the airport decided to stand up to an oligarch who refused to pay for services. Or maybe the airport was trying to squeeze the oligarch for more money or power or some other reason. That’s fairly likely as well.

But a complete shutout of Aerosvit isn’t exactly what happened. Instead, flights were coming in on time, but not allowed to leave for hours. So peasants passengers were forced to spend extra time inside the airport itself, not just backed up at other airports. And therefore they were more than likely to buy stuff – food, drinks, souvenirs, cigarettes, whatever. So really there was an economic incentive for the airport to keep people there longer than need be. Maybe not enough incentive to offset the loss of goodwill by the passengers and airline, but who knows. This would be just the thing to increase revenues in the short term – perhaps to pay for things like makeovers for security agents or ongoing expansions in advance of the European Cup?

Quick Tip on Train Travel in Bavaria

To save some money traveling by train in Bavaria, get a Bayern-Ticket. Get a few folks together and take advantage of the 29€ ride all day pass – good up to 5 travelers. Don’t know 4 other people? That’s fine just hang out by the ticket machines and ask folks. Seriously! Regular fare is 30€ or so, this way it’s only 6€. that’s for the local not the express trains. Express is about 50€ and saves only 30 minutes or so from Nürnberg to München. But for 10% of the cost it’s definitely worth it!

Hagia Sophia By Night

Beer, Bretzel and Haxe

Cloud And Castle


Edinburgh and a Short Scotish Meander

I headed to Edinburgh on a business trip. In town for a week. It tends to rain a lot in Scotland. Not that it rains hard, just often. Little sprinkles and showers all the time. Just enough to get you damp then dry out in between. It’s a bit worrying the first couple of times but after that you just zip up your jacket and keep going. There’s quite a lot of wind, especially at the top of the hills and ridges.

My first experience was my chatty cabby at 7am. Good folks to know, cabbies who grew up in the area they drive in. Asking about places to see inside the city here’s the list I wrote down. Mind you, this was early in the morning, accents and unfamiliar place names, so I may not have gotten these quite right.

  • South Queensberry bridges over firth.
  • Feaheys College. Really nice building. Tony Blair went to school there.
  • Westcoates. Donaldson’s school for the deaf. Impressive building. Copper roofs.
  • Craig Miller castle. Mary Queen of Scots lived there. Little France is down around there where her French retinue lived.

Here are a few recommendations of my own.

  • North Berwick is a sleepy little seaside village and a suburb of Edinburgh. There’s a volcanic island shooting up out of the Firth of Forth called Seal Rock. You can get a boat out to the island and back and spend some time out there. There’s an old cemetery there dating back from the late 18th century.
  • If you climb up Arthur’s seat take a jacket even if it’s borderline. Never know when a storm will come in and throw wind and rain at you with no shelter in sight. Nice hike. The whole Hollyrood park area is a great for hiking.
  • In the Pentland hills is a neat little prehistoric spot. There is a low hill that was some sort of stone or bronze age fortification with a moat around it. An underground path led to a granary. Being underground kept it safe from the elements, cool enough to protect it and let the locals keep out the vermin.

My boss and I took a day trip down to the Border Abbeys. The 12th century Monks at the Abbey of Melrose were sheepherders – at one point the largest sheep farm in Europe. Also metallurgists. They prized self reliance so wanted to make everything themselves. Wanted to never come into contact with the outside world and they were a silent order. But established a trading empire.

So they established a tradition of lay-brothers – people not high born enough to become monks who they schooled in the Cistercian traditions and ways so they’d be less tainted by the outside world. These lay brothers then built up the trade with France and Flanders and made the monks quite wealthy. Also prayed for the wealthy and so were rewarded. Eventually became very wealthy and became much less austere.

They were vegetarian because they felt that eating meat led to carnal thoughts. But the ill or infirmed were allowed meat since they were too weak for such thoughts and put of Satan’s grasp.

In the 14th century it was common to bury different parts in different places. So you could be buried at your birthplace, by your wife and other places you liked. It’s said that Robert the Bruce’s heart may be buried here.

While we were at the abbey there was a wedding. Good Scottish bagpiping. and a grand time was had by all.

Then we went to the island of Lindisfarne, famous for being the first city sacked in 793 by a band of seafaring Norsemen, ushering in the Age of the Vikings. It’s an interesting place since the tide completely covers the road twice a day. So you have to be careful when you drive out there that you’ve got time enough to come back. There’s ruins of the priory there, a nice castle out on a hill and a ratio of B&Bs to residents roughly 1:1.

Dining and Drinking

  • Try the restaurant Made in Italy – fantastic dressing came with the side salad. Like a creamy balsamic vinaigrette but not like any I’ve had.
  • Sandy’s Bell has artists cone and play traditional Scottish music. Usually not planned, just an open mic affair. Artists meet and play then swap off with each other. Listed in tourist literature but still filled with locals.
  • There’s a little Brazilian kiosk called Tupiniquium that does smoothies, juices, crepes and other nice things. The guy who runs it will let you know what’s fresh today and steer you toward something tasty. Located just at Lauriston Place.
  • In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Inside the Scotch Whisky Museum is a restaurant called Amber. Quite a great spot for dinner. Reasonable prices, excellent food – I had an absolutely singular dish of peat smoke haddock topped with a soft boiled egg in milk – a handful of good Scottish beers and of course a book full of whiskies to try, which are similarly excellent and inexpensive. Try the Hollyrood Pale Ale. It’s excellent.
  • Swing in to the Mussel Inn and hopefully you can get a table to try their excellent mussels. It’s a local place a block or two off the main street and is often crowded.
  • There’s an excellent French restaurant called Pierre Victoire. When my boss and I got there they immediately trotted out a delicious mackerel appetizer. If you know my boss you know he loves mackerel so that absolutely hit the spot.
  • There’s a bar down a bit southwest of the main street called Canny Mans. As a rule they don’t allow shorts, t-shirts, backpacks or credit cards. They recommend that you “dress casual but smart”. It’s worth the hassle to see the 80 years of decor and vestibules.
  • The Rat Pack piano bar stays open late and is a good time even if you’re not into piano bars. They play all kinds of music, not just that from the mid-60s. They do Elton John, Billy Joel and others.
  • As far as places to drink scotch malt whisky go, there’s no better than the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It’s a membership-only establishment so you’ll need to know somebody to get in or pony up pretty heavy.
  • There’s a little town on the way from Berwick (pronounced burrick) Upon Tweed to Dunkirk I stopped into for dinner. There is a restaurant called the Anchor Inn that I ate at. The kitchen officially shuts at 9 but they opened it back up so I could get dinner. Very nice! I had the walnut and mushroom roast. No meat in it. Was very good! Also the haddock is very good. Pan fried rather than deep fried.

…And Back Again

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with my first trip around the world. It was the impetus for starting meanderingwoods to begin with. Well now I’m headed back around the world. I’m leaving in less than a week.

As great as the first trip was, it had one fatal flaw. The direction we took – east to west – sent us traveling with the time zones. When we passed the International Date Line we effectively jumped ahead one day. We continued around and never got that day back. Our bodies ticked off one day less than the calendar. That means we lost a day of our lives in transit. Well I intend to get that day back.

Phileas Fogg had the opposite problem in Around the World in 80 Days – he didn’t realize he’d gained a day. He left from London, heading east. He kept very detailed logs of his journey and it totaled 81 days. But when he arrived home he discovered, to his surprise, that the folks back there thought he’d only been gone 80 days! It’s a bit like time travel, if only on paper.

So that’s what I intend to do. Go from west to east around the world to get back my lost day. Starting in Atlanta I’m flying to Bangalore, India (by way of Amsterdam and Mumbai). Then to Seoul, South Korea with a layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then back around to Atlanta through Detroit, and arrive shortly after I left Seoul. Here are a couple of graphical representations of that trip.


Download the original Power Point presentation.

Stay tuned for details….

Great Travel Tips Videos

I stumbled across a great set of videos over here on Hulu. It’s Rick Steves’ Europe: Travel Skills Special. This three-part video series takes the viewer on a loop around some of the major countries of Europe. Judging from the first few minutes – all I’ve watched so far – it’s very information dense. It’s also geared, at least the first in the series, toward the novice traveler. That’s not a bad thing, but just don’t expect to get a whole lot out of the first few minutes if you’re a grizzled veteran. For presentation, style and substance I give the videos two thumbs up.

While I’ve always considered Rick to be kind of a dork, he’s my kind of dork. And I’m also secretly jealous of him. He seems to do nothing but travel around the best places in the world, smile, and make pithy comments. How can you not love that?

Comparing Belgrade and Zagreb

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Belgrade and Zagreb, capital cities of Serbia and Croatia respectively, have much in common. The cities, as the countries, have a large portion of their history in parallel tracks. Both are Slavic lands and were, for the most part, engulfed in the same empires.

However, Belgrade and Serbia have a slightly less fortunate recent past. In 1999 NATO bombed the capital for two months in retaliation for strikes against Kosovo (now its own fledgling nation). It’s difficult to recover from that quickly. In 2000, citizens took to the streets to overthrow the Milosevic government in a nearly bloodless coup. But this meant temporary destabilization as power changed hands. And Croatia has a popular coastline on the Adriatic Sea to which tourists flock, providing tax revenue for the country.

Both peoples speak what amounts to slightly different dialects of the same language. Serbia prefers the Cyrillic script to Latin, but that seems to be changing. And Serbians seem to prefer affecting a deeper voice, both men and women.

Belgrade seems quite a dirty city in contrast to Zagreb. However, both feel very safe even at night. And both are cheap, though Belgrade moreso.

In both cities, young people congregate on the streets at night. They will either stand around in the pedestrian areas or fill up sidewalk cafes and bars as groups.

Belgrade also doesn’t seem quite as crowded with tourists in the off-season. That’s nice. But this will soon change, I’m sure, as Serbia prepares to enter the Schengen agreement nations. Ironically, Croatia, the better developed and more frequently touristed country, has not become a part of this pact.

Eastern European Rail Travel

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Traveling by train in Eastern Europe is unpleasant. At best. It’s slow. It’s inconvenient. It’s loud. It’s bumpy. Take the bus instead.

From Budapest to Zagreb I took the train. Meant to be a leisurely 5-6 hour affair, it was closer to eight. After the first hour we were 20 minutes late. I’m not sure how that’s possible.

And we spent about an hour on a bus, going between train stations. Apparently they were working on the track? So we boarded a pair of busses to go this distance. The one I rode on was a real throwback. I could imagine old Tito being proud of it, but since then it had definitely seen some hard times.

But the rail is still good for night trips when you want to nap. It’s cheaper and more comfortable than the bus for that. I was on a night train from Belgrade to Skopje and it was delayed approximately an hour. That gave me more time to sleep.

Again, it was a car that probably saw pretty heavy use under the Marshal’s mid to late term. It had a sink, but it was corroded, rusted and stained. The beds were uncomfortable and old. The sheets were so heavily starched they didn’t fold so much as stack like wood. But I got a night of sleep for less than the cost of a bus trip alone and less than the day train and a hostel.

I suppose the lesson here is that you should know when and whre to use the trains here. Only use them when you want a slow, leisurely stroll through the country. And a cabin that smells like smoke. And a thirty year old mattress.